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The Corn Islands: Big Corn vs. Little Corn

East beach Little Corn Island

So you’ve read our article on Nicaragua’s Corn Islands and have decided that the off-the-beaten-path Caribbean adventure is indeed worth a visit. The key question now is which of the two islands, Big Corn or Little Corn is right for you.south beach on Big Corn IslandLocated 50 miles off Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast, these two islands are nowhere near the better known Caribbean islands, but still have the same stunning features –white-sand beaches, crystal clear water, breathtaking sunsets and palm trees as far as the eye can see. What sets the Corn Islands apart from the more well-known Caribbean islands is the lack of 5* luxury resorts or fancy spa hotels and forget about an afternoon of cocktails at a swim up bar.

What sets the two islands apart is the fact that while Big Corn has an airport, roads, cars, international cuisine options and 24-hour electricity, just a 25 minute boat ride away Little Corn Island is a very remote island where aside from getting out on the water, the only thing to do is relax.

Little Corn Island

Getting to Little Corn is the only real adventure; the rest is truly about relaxation. Little Corn is reached first by flying in to Big Corn from Nicaragua’s capital, Managua, making your way down to the ‘dock’ and jumping in a simple motor boat which takes you to the smaller island. The day before we traveled to Little Corn, one of the boats had capsized at sea, and although rescue boats were immediately at hand and no one was hurt. Pack your belongings water-tight and hold on, because if you are up for that little adventure, you will land on a tiny island without any motorized vehicles and a laid-back way of life.

Little Corn ferryHere, wheelbarrows are the common means of transport. Don’t expect paved roads (although on the West side of the island there is a paved footpath), and there’s no electricity either – at least not before 2pm each day, so switch off your Blackberries, pull up a hammock and get ready to relax for a few days.

Walk around the 1.6 sq km island in about two hours, and cross from west to east side in about 10 to 15 minutes. During the day, you might meet Frank, who will climb up a tree and cut down a coconut for you for a buck. You can do it yourself for free, as did fellow vacationers we met here.

Frank cutting coconuts on Little Corn IslandIf crossing at night, bring a flashlight, as the main east-west path is actually a trail through the jungle, although the closer to the beach you get, the path is lit by the millions of stars in the sky. Take a boat trip out off the coast and snorkel, or join the many avid divers who enjoy the great diving off the coast of the Corn Islands.

In terms of food, don’t expect anything fancy. Shops sell basic essentials and there are a few simple restaurants along the main path on the West side of the island, including a pizza place, a café with muffins and quesadillas, and a few places that serve cheap, local food. The island doesn’t have an ATM (yet) and cash is essential, so make sure you get enough cash while you are on Big Corn Island.

Huevos Rancheros on Little Corn Island

Who might prefer Little Corn Island?

  • Adventurous travelers who don’t mind packing a flashlight and insect repellent when going on vacation
  • Travelers who like to get to know a place and its people well, and meet other travelers
  • Families with kids looking for family-friendly adventure
  • People who don’t mind basic accommodation, are not freaked out by the occasional spider or mind eating at local hole-in-the-walls

Fresh catch on Little Corn Island

Where to stay on Little Corn Island

We loved that even with quite a few hotels for such a small island, it felt like an unexplored piece of land in the middle of the ocean. The beaches are gorgeous and yet completely empty, the people are friendly and you can get a good feeling of how the islanders live rather than being tucked away in a resort somewhere.los delfinos hotel room Little Corn Island

  • Grace’s – Cool Spot for shoestring travelers with no fear of insects (US$15 for a beachfront bungalow for 2 people with shared bathroom, US$25 with private bathroom, no wi-fi)
  • Carlito’s for travelers who don’t need much comfort (Beachfront bungalows with private bathroom US$30, no wi-fi)
  • Hotel Los Delfinos for the budget conscious (US$50 for a double room with hot shower, free wi-fi)
  • Little Corn Beach & Bungalow for a bit more comfort (from US$32 + 15% tax for a double room with hot shower, free wi-fi) You can read our full review here.
  • Yemaya Island Hideaway – The most exquisite hotel on Little Corn Island. The bungalows are stylish and spacious and each one comes with its own private plunge pool. Pure luxury! Rates start at US$98, depending on the season.

corn island hotels

Big Corn Island

Coming from the mainland, Big Corn feels tiny, but returning here from Little Corn, the island earns its name. The population is 7 times that of Little Corn, and yet Big Corn still feels sleepy. The island is still walkable at 6sq km, although here hopping in a cheap cab makes much more sense to get from A to B. You can easily cut across the airport runway whenever the two planes that fly in and out each day are gone.

big corn island beach Despite the more developed infrastructure on Big Corn, there is not an awful lot to do here either. No shopping, little entertainment and relatively few hotels scattered around the isle. The electricity is on 24 hours a day, which makes getting online easier, and lazing around watching TV possibly an all-day activity.

Diving and snorkeling are possible from here, as is cruising around in a golf cart. enjoy the fabulous beaches, drink cocktails while watching the sun set on Southwest Bay beach, where the Arenas hotel even has white leather lounge sofas right on the beach. Nicaragua is big into baseball, so fans of the sport (or anyone looking for entertainment) can head to the well-built baseball stadium which turns into the place to be for the entire island once a week.

Sunset on Big Corn IslandBig Corn Island does not feel as secluded as Little Corn and is missing that deserted island feeling. Whereas on Little Corn, you can spend your days walking through the luscious green coconut palm tree woods to find small beaches around the island, Big Corn has only a few beaches (though bigger than the ones on LC). In fact, the whole north part of the island seems rather rough and not suitable for swimming.

The food choices on Big Corn are considerably more expensive, but the island has everything from Caribbean and Indian curries, to Italian, vegetarian and top sea food choices.

Who might prefer Big Corn Island?

  • Travelers who prefer a little bit more luxury and easier travel options.
  • Those who prefer taxis or golf carts rather than doing everything on foot.
  • Tourists who just want to relax in one place rather than doing much exploring.

south beach big corn island

Where to stay on Big Corn Island

The range of hotels is wider on Big Corn, with more shoestring cheapies as well as a higher level of luxury.

  • Beachview Hotel for shoestring travelers (US$15 for a double with shared bathroom, US$25 with private bathroom, TV and AC)
  • Martha’s B&B – great rooms, brand new TVs and delicious breakfast (US$50 + 15% tax, free wi-fi)
  • Arenas Hotel for a comfortable beach vacation (rooms starting at US$75 for 2 people, free wi-fi)
  • Casa Canada for the most luxurious getaway and the only infinity pool on the island (US$65 + 15% tax, free wi-fi, including breakfast)

Marthas B&B Big Corn IslandHave you visited the Corn Islands? Which island do you prefer: Little Corn or Big Corn? Where would you go for the perfect Caribbean vacation?

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Is it safe to travel in Costa Rica?

costa rica pura vida

A few years ago I would have answered the question of safety in Costa Rica with a sound YES, but after my latest trip at the end of 2018, I feel a little bit more wary about wholeheartedly recommending Costa Rica as a travel destination – especially to a solo female traveler – than I would have when I visited Costa Rica for the first time, as part of a Central America backpacking trip in 2011, and then again for a two-month housesit in a seaside villa in 2012.

My experiences traveling Costa Rica

The first time I visited Costa Rica, I entered the country overland from Nicaragua, having just traveled through Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. I had sketchy moments in all of those countries, including gunshots outside the hotel I was locked up in in Honduras’ capital Tegucigalpa, an attempted bag slashing in Guatemala, and a being told to put my guidebook away in San Salvador, to not clearly out myself as a tourist.

Back then, arriving in Costa Rica after traveling through several poor and politically unstable countries felt like arriving in North America. Just a few miles south of the border we were able to drink the tap water again, there were hot showers, ATMs abound, and American hotel and restaurant chains including Hard Rock Café and Taco Bell. While I had always felt a little tense and ‘on guard’ while traveling through Costa Rica’s neighboring countries to the north, this tension immediately eased and I started to let my guard down. Costa Rica felt so much safer than the rest of Central America!

is it safe to travel in Costa Rica

When I revisited the country a couple of months ago for a 3-week road trip, I didn’t feel as safe, however. I was already more vigilant and aware of my surroundings, and I had bought travel insurance before the trip. My pre-trip research had led me to several Tripadvisor forum threats and articles about tourists getting their rental cars broken in, armed robberies, tourists raped and two female tourists were raped and murdered just a few months before my visit. In January 2018, an entire tourist bus was robbed at gunpoint on the Caribbean Coast – something that you usually only hear happening in Guatemala or Nicaragua. There had been enough incidents in Costa Rica recently for the UK to publish a travel advisory.

And as my Costa Rica trip was coming to an end, news of a female tourist that had gone missing slowly broke. As I returned to the U.S., I watched the story of the missing girl unfold, which eventually turned into the horrible news of the third female tourist murdered in Costa Rica in 2018. It was her last night in the country, and she was supposed to fly back to Florida the next day, spending only one night by herself in an Airbnb after vacationing with her sister-in-law. She wasn’t even a solo traveler, just one night by herself after a girls trip that should’ve been her birthday trip, just as this was my birthday trip, too.

is it safe to travel in Costa Rica
is it safe to travel in Costa Rica

Is Costa Rica becoming too dangerous for female travelers? asked The Costa Rica Star a few days ago, stating that all of the female travelers who were killed while vacationing in Costa Rica “were seasoned, well-traveled females, who nonetheless wound up as victims of murderers and predators.”

I know that a lot of travelers, especially female travelers, will now rethink their travel plans to Costa Rica, which is why I wanted to talk about my own experiences traveling Costa Rica and how safe I felt there, and also share some safety travel tips for Costa Rica with you.

It is difficult for me to say ‘Go to Costa Rica anyway!’ or ‘Stay away from Costa Rica’. Because I myself have traveled to several countries or cities where other travelers had bad experiences, but I personally had a great time. In Ecuador, I went to a beach town where two female travelers from Argentina had been murdered the year before. I visited to Koh Tao, which had made news for several tourist murders. I traveled to Colombia on my own after reading a fellow female traveler’s horror story of getting robbed at gunpoint. And that trip turned out to be one of my best trips of all time.

While I feel that the murders in Costa Rica are still isolated cases (they were not connected to another), I don’t think they should be completely left out of the picture when planning a trip to Costa Rica – no matter if it’s solo, on a girls trip or with a boyfriend. I strongly recommend to take safety precautions if you are planning to travel by yourself, look through travel forums on TripAdvisor or Lonely Planet to find the most recent safety information.

Before sharing some safety tips, I wanted to point out that you should take into consideration that crime is not the only safety issue in Costa Rica – there are a number of non-crime related safety issues in Costa Rica, that you should consider, too:

Natural hazards in Costa Rica

VOLCANO ERUPTION: Costa Rica is home to five active volcanoes and over 200 dormant volcanic structures, and volcanic eruptions are a common occurrence. It is rare that people die during an eruption, but it has happened, and an eruption can effect your trip and the places you’re able to visit.

EARTHQUAKES: Costa Rica is also sitting on the edge of the Pacific Rim’s Ring Of Fire which means earthquakes are common. I myself have experienced several earthquakes in Costa Rica, which is not a pleasant experience, and again, can affect your trip if roads and other infrastructure are damaged during an earthquake.

MONSOON RAIN: Monsoon rains are quite intense in Costa Rica, and in 2018 they led to several fatalities involving tourists. A newly-wed man who was on his honeymoon with his wife was swept away and died when the couple got caught in a flash flood, and four Americans, part of a 13-people bachelor weekend, drowned when they went rafting in a river that turned into a deadly torrent after heavy rains.

Monsoon rains can also affect your trip if they cause travel delays, landslides that cause road closures, and limited activities, so make sure to check the weather for the month you’re planning to visit. July – October are usually the rainiest months, but this year, it rained well into November, which made driving during our road trip dangerous at times.

Crocodiles

Believe it or not, but Costa Rica takes the #3 spot in the ranking of countries where tourists are likely to be attacked / bitten by a crocodile, according to a nature guide I took a tour with on this last trip. We encountered crocodiles in several locations, including a close encounter in the swamps of Cahuita National Park. There has been a growing number of crocodiles in recent year, so don’t underestimate their speed and how close you can get to them. Crocodile sightings on popular surf beaches have also increased.

is it safe to travel in Costa Rica

Safety advice in Costa Rica

Looking at the bigger picture, I think that natural hazards are much more prevalent than crime, especially murder and rape, and tourist-targeted crimes in general, but be aware that petty theft and pickpocketing are not uncommon in Costa Rica.

Here are some safety tips for Costa Rica:

Avoid carrying lots of cash

Since pickpocketing can happen, especially when you take buses around the country or in San Jose, I’d advice you to not carry around too much cash, and while traveling in between cities, have it in a safe place on your body (I am using both a money belt and pickpocket-proof tanktops with hidden pockets). Have your cash in several places, not just one.

Debit / Credit Cards

Costa Rica has become much more receptive to card payments since my last visit – take advantage of that and don’t carry around hundreds of dollars in cash. If you lose your debit or credit card, you can cancel them quickly, but if you lose $500 in cash, you won’t get them back.

Valuables

This should go without saying, but don’t flash your valuables. An iPhone, a tablet or an expensive digital camera are very attractive to a lot of people, especially those living in small beach towns without access to the newest gadgets or the funds to buy them. Don’t leave your valuables out of sight when you’re at the beach, and have your backpack always on you when you travel on buses, don’t ever put them in the overhead compartment.

Thieves are very clever and if you are approached by someone and something feels off, it might be a spiel to distract you so that they can get to your valuables.

Taxis

There are plenty of unofficial taxis in Costa Rica – if you do take taxis, make sure that you take an official taxi (including the airport!). Taxi robberies have occurred in Costa Rica.

Rental Car Theft

Car break-ins are anything but uncommon in Costa Rica, so make sure to never leave any valuables in your car, even when you’re leaving the car only for a short while. If you are in transit and stop for a meal somewhere along the way, I recommend covering your suitcases or using a manned car park.

Travel Insurance

After having our beach bungalow broken into in Colombia a couple of years ago, I have become much more diligent about buying travel insurance. Better safe than sorry. Make sure to take down serial numbers of all the electronics you’re bringing to Costa Rica (tablet, camera, phone, etc) – most insurance companies require the serial numbers if you file a claim.

Adventure Travel Activities

Since Costa Rica is known as an adventure travel destination, make sure that the insurance package you purchase covers the activities you’re planning to do. After carefully reading the small print of the insurance company I usually use, WorldNomads, I noticed that ziplining, snorkeling, tubing and white water rafting were covered under their Standard package, but diving and abseiling were only covered in the more expensive Explorer package. Check beforehand if you need additional coverage for the activities you’re planning to do.

Safety tips for solo female travelers in Costa Rica

Trust your instincts

First and foremost, always follow your instincts. If something feels off, you are most likely right about it. The sad thing is that Stefanie, the girl that was murdered in Costa Rica last month, knew something wasn’t right and texted her friend that the place she was staying at felt sketchy – but it was too late. If you feel uncomfortable in a hostel or Airbnb, leave. That goes especially for remote bungalows and cabins.

Inform people of your whereabouts

I have to admit that I am particularly bad with this when I travel alone – I visited a remote village in the Amazon, a 2-hour boat ride away from the closest town, and without any internet or cell phone network, without telling anyone, and jumped on the back of a motorcycle with a stranger not once but twice in the Philippines – without telling anyone. I’ve gotten better with informing people where I am and what activities I’m doing, and I have also started using my cell phones location services – see below.

Use your smartphone’s location services

This is a great way for people to locate you should you go missing or get hurt during a hike, unable to move. Most people dislike these services and don’t want the  tech companies that use location services, but for safety reasons while traveling alone they can be useful, and my family is always relieved when they can spot me on the map somewhere. The New York Times published a useful article last year when and when not to use location services on your smartphone.

Use your phone for more than just taking selfies in the waves 😉

Know basic self defense moves

If you do travel alone, it doesn’t hurt knowing some basic self defense moves, and be it something basic like how to use your key as a weapon, in case of an attack. It is sad that we live in a world where we always have to be alert, and even though I find that most people are good, I can’t deny that there are bad people in the world and again – better safe than sorry. If you cannot afford a self-defense class, check out these videos on Youtube:  

Airbnb vs Hotel / Hostel

Considering that the last girl murdered in Costa Rica was staying in an Airbnb – and in a seemingly safe one, in a gated apartment complex with a security guard (who turned out to be a sexual predator / her killer), I’m a bit cautious about recommending Airbnb’s to solo travelers right now, even though I myself stayed in one (an easily accessible beach bungalow without security guard, cameras, etc) and had no problems whatsoever. If you do prefer vacation rentals over hotels, just make sure to read the description and reviews carefully and only book a place that you feel 100% comfortable with. And if you get there and things don’t look as expected or / and you’re feeling uneasy – don’t be afraid to leave early. Remember that hotels and hostels do have the advantage of having a receptionist / staff around, which might give you more piece of mind than the solitude that comes with an Airbnb.

Do your research

A quick Google search is the first thing I always do when I travel somewhere – and even just putting ‘Costa Rica’ into the search box and clicking on the ‘NEWS’ tab will show you recent events in Costa Rica. Many things like crocodile attacks or earthquakes don’t make international news, and even the most recent murder, which made news in the U.S. because the girl was a U.S. citizen, wasn’t reported in Europe. If you google the specific place you’re planning to visit, you’ll get more detailed news about that town, and I also recommend reading forums like Tripadvisor’s for the latest travel news. When I traveled around Colombia, where I felt a little uneasy in the beginning, I also always talked to other solo travelers, asking them about their experiences and how safe they felt on buses, etc.

Be cautious when venturing off the beaten path

If you are like me, you want to get off the beaten path, but if you are a solo traveler, keep in mind that safety is a bigger issue than it is for solo male travelers. If you are planning to visit lesser popular places such as Tortuguero (where one female tourist was murdered in 2018) or the Osa Peninsula, try to find another traveler to team up with. If you feel confident traveling alone, remember to inform someone of your plans.

Don’t visit the beach alone at night

…and also not with someone you just met. The female traveler who was killed in Santa Teresa, a popular surf spot on the Pacific coast, was walking the beach with another female traveler when the women were attacked by two men (the other girl was able to escape).

In Puerto Viejo, the main tourist hot spot on the Caribbean coast, we were offered drugs on a daily basis, and some of the guys who tried to sell us drugs seemed rather sketchy. In December 2018, a male photographer was murdered at night on the beach in Puerto Viejo when he got up early to photograph the sunrise.

is it safe to travel in Costa Rica

Is it safe to travel in Costa Rica?

So, would I say it is safe to travel in Costa Rica? I still think that Costa Rica is still the safest country in Central America, and I don’t think you should be put off by the recent murders, which are, as I mentioned before, still isolated cases. It is important, however, to be aware of the fact that crime and yes, even murder, do exist in Costa Rica, and to always be on guard.

I personally was more afraid of the natural hazards that I listed, but because I was aware of the recent tourist murders, I was much more aware of my surroundings when I went for solo runs on the beach (the Spanish girl murdered in August 2018 in Tortuguero was killed while out on a run) or when I stayed in a beach bungalow without a proper gate.

That said: Did I have an amazing vacation? Absolutely. Would I go back to Costa Rica? In a heartbeat!

Remember that nearly 3 million people travel to Costa Rica every year, and the number of tourists affected by crime or accidents is diminutive, considering how many travelers the country welcomes every year.

Tourism is a huge part of Costa Rica’s economy, so the government does as much as possible to keep the country and especially foreign visitors safe. There’s an entire section of the police dedicated to tourists, and after the recent tourist murders, police presence was increased in popular tourist destinations. As I mentioned above – natural hazards or theft or an accident are probably more likely to happen on a trip to Costa Rica than assault or murder, so make sure to research the right travel insurance for you.

Is Costa Rica safe? Further reading:

Here are some great articles and websites I found while I was researching this article:

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Please don’t go to Samara Beach…

samara beach sunset1

Costa Rica may be a well established destination on the tourist trail, but the Nicoya Peninsula is still very much the country’s own Wild Wild West. Lucky for us, what started off as a transportation nightmare led us to discover our favorite beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast: Samara Beach.

Why Visit Samara Beach?

We had no plans to visit Samara Beach. Sure, it was suggested in the guidebooks like countless other Costa Rican beaches. However, despite naysayers’ warnings that efforts to traverse the entire peninsula by bus would prove futile, our plan was to get from Playa del Coco in the north down to the popular, once-isolated beach town of Montezuma on the very southern tip of the Nicoya. We pushed along all the way to the sleepy, scorchingly hot inland city of Nicoya, the peninsula’s namesake, before realizing, weary and dusty from an already long afternoon of bus travel, that there was indeed no way to get down to Montezuma without paying a private taxi $120 to make the remaining five-hour, tire-busting trip.samara beach surferSamara beach Costa rica

Palm tree at Samara Beach Costa RicaAfter chatting to several very helpful taxi drivers and a group of American language students on their way back to Samara Beach after a trekking adventure, we spontaneously decided to join our fellow ‘gringos’. The next bus to Samara Beach left just thirty minutes later and arrived within an hour.

As soon as we arrived, we were enchanted by the beauty of the beach from the start. We basked in the late afternoon sun, admiring the tropical palm trees which line the miles of wide, white sand beach. The town itself is really only a collection of hotels and restaurants along one road perpendicular to the coast and a smattering of hotels and beach lounges on the beach.

Despite the well-developed tourism here, this beautiful beach location is noticeably absent of all-inclusive resorts, and the tourists here are different than the older retirees of Playa del Coco or aging hippies at Montezuma, populated instead by younger couples and smart travelers looking to escape all of that.Samara beach boatsamara beach cloudy sunset
samara beach from water

The area is certainly almost exclusively populated by tourists, ex-pats and locals working in tourism, but Samara Beach does not feel contrived the way that many Costa Rican destinations have now begun to feel. There are no chain hotels, no fast food restaurants, and no multi-story buildings. When you look back at the land from the water, the buildings peek out from amongst lush jungle and striking cliffs. The best thing about Samara is that the endless amount of sandy beaches always feels  fairly empty, no matter how full the hotels actually are.

The ocean here is shallow, and the waves are present enough to learn to surf but unforgiving enough to enjoy a day splashing around in them, not the case in many locations up and down the Pacific coast from Mexico through Nicaragua (exception: San Juan del Sur). After a day in the waves, there are sunset beach lounges with mellow music, creative cocktails and international cuisine. The magical sunsets during our stay turned the sky various shades of purple and pink, causing a wall of bikini-clad amateur paparazzi to form, trying to capture the stunning scenery.Sunset at Samara BeachEven though there are quite a lot of international (mostly American) tourists, Samara Beach still manages to feel like an off-the-beaten-path location – which, of course, the town is not. Visitors here can surf, kayak, take a boat ride, book a sport-fishing trip, go diving, head inland to the jungle nearby for canopy tours, or rent a bicycle or hop on a horse and ride up and down the miles of deserted coastline. Samara Beach even advertises itself as a key spot for destination weddings. The hotels remain reasonably priced, although budget accommodation in Samara Beach, as in Costa Rica in general, is harder to come by. We stayed at Casa Valeria, which Frommers called the best budget option on the beach back then. The hotel has 9 stand alone beach bungalows for $50 and a pair of cheaper rooms for $30. (Note: Casa Valaeria is still around, I found a standard room including breakfast for $38 on Booking.com in 2019, but I do think that there are now newer, better options in town.) There is a new hostel in town, Hostel Matilori, which cost around $16 per person per night in a dorm or $40 in a private room – the advantage to the bungalows and other hotels is that the hostel has two shared kitchens. (Update 2019: The hostel is not so new anymore, but still has great reviews. You can book it here.)Casa Valeria Hammocks & bungalow Samara BeachSamara beach & ocean

Samara Beach is the Costa Rican vacation we really wanted, fulfilling perfectly the image still being sold in the travel brochures. The level of tourism here makes for the perfect peaceful escape – all of the organization you need and none of the banana-boat and disco clubs you don’t. The problem with Samara Beach is that it is at its tipping point, and while the balance is now is perfect, more tourists arriving each year might convert the place into another overly Americanized beach like Montezuma, Playa del Coco or Jaco Beach (lined with Quiznos and Pizza Huts).

This is why we beg you…please don’t go to Samara Beach. But if you do go, which you really should, please don’t tell anyone else about this perfect Costa Rican beach location.

Practical information for visiting Samara Beach

How to get to Samara Beach

The closest airport is Liberia (about 2 hours by car from Samara), but you can also fly into San Jose and get to Samara by car (4 hours) or bus (about 5 hours). A taxi from Liberia airport is between US$50 and US$60. Important: Negotiate the fare before you get in the cab!samara beach horseback riders

To Samara Beach by bus: You can take a bus from San Jose or Liberia to Nicoya, and then change onto a bus to Samara. The bus company that runs from Nicoya to Samara is called Empresa Rojas. It takes about 90 minutes to get from Nicoya to Samara.

Alfaro express buses go directly from San José daily at noon from Avenida 5 between calles 14 and 16. The trip takes 5 hours; check here for current timetables and fares (2017 fare: ₡4,395/ US$7.95). 2019 fare: ₡4.470 / US$7.97)

To Samara Beach by car: You can rent a car right at the airport in both San Jose and Liberia. The roads are simple country roads but okay to drive on. If you don’t want to drive all the way to Samara from San Jose but would like to have a car to explore more of the Nicoya Peninsula – you can also rent a car in Samara.

samara beach with palm trees
Where to stay in Samara

Budget:

  • Las Mariposas – hostel right on the beach, private single rooms from US$35, doubles from US$40, dorm bed US$15 – review score 8.5
  • Woodstock Hostel – close to the beach, but further away from the center. Double room US$31, dorm bed US$15. Review Score 8.9
  • Oasis – 2-bedroom house right on the beach from US$35. Review score 8.9
  • Hostel El Dorado – double room for US$40, review score 8.6

Value:

samara hotels

Splurge:

  • Samara Chillout Lodge – New adults-only boutique hotel in a quiet area away from the beach. Rooms from US$95. Review score 9.5
  • Las Perlitas – Beautifully decorated hotel with pool in the center of Samara, doubles from US$99 incl breakfast. Review score 9.5
  • Hotel Leyenda – Small hotel with beautiful swimming pools and gardens. Doubles from US$99 including breakfast. Review score 9.1
  • Hotel Samara Paraiso – small hotel with swimming pool near Izquierda Beach. Apartments and bungalows from around US$120. Review score 9.4
  • Colina Del Mar – Intimate hotel away from the beach on a hillside, stunning nature setting. Small swimming pool. Rooms from around US$149 including breakfast. Review score 9.3
  • Nammbu Beach Front Bungalows – Playa Carillo. My favorite beach just south of Samara – if you want complete serenity, this small boutique hotel is for you. Rooms from US$150
  • la isla que no hay – Two bedroom house in the center of Samara from US$199 per night (sleeps 4 people), swimming pool. Review score 8.9
  • The Hideaway Hotel – on the far southern end of the beach, between Samara and Playa Carillo. Swimming pool and on-site restaurant. Double rooms start at US$278 – review score 9.1

samara beach costa rica

Airbnb’s in Samara Beach

Check out Airbnb homes in Samara by clicking on the map below. There are also Experiences, i.e. tours run by locals, that you can book via Airbnb.

 

Where to eat in Samara Beach

There are several inexpensive sodas, local restaurants in Samara. These simple restaurants serve up Costa Rica’s main dish: casado. A casado usually includes your choice of beef, chicken, pork or fish, rice and beans, salad, a vegetable side dish, and fried plantains. Vegetarians can ask for fresh cheese or eggs instead of meat. A casado is between US$4 and US$6.samara beach casado
Other places worth checking out:

  • Samara Organics MercadoCafe (Natural Center, in front of Gusto Beach Restaurant, Sámara, 50205, Costa Rica)
  • Ahora Si! (Samara’s first vegetarian restaurant)
  • Bohemia Cafe (great breakfasts, smoothies and light fare in the center of town)
  • Lo Que Hay (Mexican restaurant right on the beach)
  • Luv Burgers (Vegetarian Burgers)
  • Restaurant Giada (Italian restaurant right in the center of town, look for Hotel Giada on Main Street)
  • Roots Bakery & Cafe (Fantastic bakery /coffee shop / breakfast place in town. Near Hotel Giada)
  • El Lagarto (Best place in Samara for steaks, barbecue and seafood)

samara beach lo que hay filled avocados

Short note: I first visited Samara Beach in 2011, and I have gotten many emails from readers over the past few years asking me if Samara “was over”. i.e. if it had been discovered by mainstream tourism. After a short return in 2012, I finally returned to Samara this past winter and I am happy to report that I found the exact same tranquil beach paradise that I found when I first ended up in Samara nearly a decade ago.

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: B&B Casa 69 in San Jose, Costa Rica

hotel tip of the week

A trip to Costa Rica is about spotting incredible wildlife, surfing perfect waves and soaking up the sun and the capital does not reflect the wonders that the rest of the country has to offer. San Jose lacks the colonial charm of other Central American cities and unfortunately fails to fill the space with a modern, chic vibe. The result is a practical city that most travelers use to transfer in and out of on their way to the beaches, volcanoes and the airport. But sitting up on the roof terrace at Casa 69, watching the lights twinkle out and up into the mountains beyond the city managed to make even San Jose feel pretty magical.costa rica casa 69 san jose terrace at nightDay and night, Casa 69 Bed and Breakfast feels like a refuge from the city and feels more like a home than a hotel.  Entering the yellow walled property through a blue metal door off a side alley puts guests straight on a walkway in what feels like a lush green jungle garden, and leads into a living room with a large L-shaped couch and arm chairs to sink into, a big TV and a computer and a printer as though in someone’s private home. Across the hall there is a dining room with a dark wood table and shelves with maps, pamphlets and guide books. The check-in is in here, at what is the kitchen counter. The breakfast nook is cosy, bright yellow room where from 7-10am, the breakfast of coffee, tea, bread, butter, jam and fruits is served each morning. Heartier breakfast meals are available for around $5 each.

costa rica casa 69 san jose restaurantOur room was all the way up at the top on the roof, and we had those great mountain views from our bed. The black and white comforter and sequin pillows felt a little flamboyant (I go for big fluffy pillows and gluttonous amounts of comfort) but the king-size bed felt amazing after a long travel day. While the room extends that feeling of staying at a ‘friends’ house, the en-suite bathroom brings value to the room, with its recently renovated feel, excellent shower, pedestal sink, great use of space and crisp, clean design. The hotel’s Wi-Fi wasn’t great though. It works best nearest the router, which means some rooms get a great signal, others get none. Ours was intermittent at best.

costa rica casa 69 san joseLooking out at the city beyond, watching the thick rain clouds pour over the mountains in the afternoon and clear up by night fall feels great, though at some point the intense coils of sharp metal wire and wrought iron bars bring back the reality of the city beyond the walls of the hotel. San Jose is not a particularly dangerous place, and we felt perfectly safe walking into central San Jose to the Paseo Colon pedestrian area, a 20 minute walk from the hotel passing  the national museum, a tourist market, churches and restaurants along the way. Casa 69 is just across from the Nicaraguan embassy, a minute from an Irish rock pub, and around the corner from a typical Costa Rican ‘soda’ serving up typical Tico food and a Pizza Hut for travelers in need of fast and easy comfort food.

costa rica casa 69 san jose We left at 5am the next morning and the night manager was up and happy to call us a cab, just as had been promised the night before. This was the first gay-owned B&B we had stayed at in Central America, and we were impressed with what a well-oiled machine it is, with friendly owners and staff all around, plus several cats and puppies to warm even the coldest of hearts.

Stand Out Feature: King Size Bed

This isn’t the most original, and honestly, the rooftop views are pretty stellar. But the large bed was unexpected and felt extravagant. It is also comforting to know about a dependable, comfortable place to stay in San Jose for all those times we transfer through this major travel hub.

costa rica casa 69 san jose pillows

Room for Improvement: Security and a suggestion

Our rooftop room had sliding glass doors, which were great for floor to ceiling views, and then a wrought iron gate which closed and locked in front of the doors. But the sliding glass door itself did not lock and could easily be opened. Granted, a thief would have be pretty wiry to get in under the last wrought iron bar and into the room, plus pretty sneaky to make it into the house, through the living room, kitchen, up three flights of stairs and to that door to begin with, but I want my door to lock no matter what.

A second suggestion is regarding the breakfast element of the Bed & Breakfast. The nature of travel to San Jose means that many guests are likely up and on their way to a bus or the airport before the 7am breakfast time. The owners knew we were leaving early and a couple had left the day before at 4:30am. Because breakfast is included in the room rate, I’d like to see Casa 69 (and all B&Bs for that matter) up their game a bit and offer a takeaway breakfast bag with a bit of bread and butter/jam and a coffee to go.

Overall: Casa 69 in San Jose

Casa 69 is a friendly, stable spot to stay in San Jose, perfect for arriving to or leaving from for long flights or bus rides and a stay of a week or so would allow guests a sense of home in the Costa Rican capital.

casa 69 in san jose costa rica
Location:
Casa 69,  69 calle 25 , Barrio California, San Jose (80 meters south of the Embassy of Nicaragua, yellow house, right hand, house # 69)
Price: Starting at $45.00; breakfast included
LGBT Friendly: Definitely (gay-owned)
Digital Nomad Friendly: Iffy – Wi-Fi connection better downstairs
Amenities: Free wi-fi, complimentary breakfast, rooftop terrace with sun chairs, patio and big lounge room on the ground floor
Website: 
www.casa69.com Casa 69 on Facebook

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: La Estancia in San Salvador

hotel tip of the week

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Welcome to our weekly series Hotel Tip of The Week. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves.

Set along a winding road in a quiet side street, there is no sign marking La Estancia, but almost every cab driver in the city knows the place. If arriving on foot, look out for a purple gate. Popular among Peace Corp volunteers and budget travelers from around the world, La Estancia’s chintzy wood paneling and decades-old furniture feel like a well-worn pair of shoes – the ones that look ugly but are your go-to, reliable pair.

The hotel has two dorms and four $30 double rooms. Our room, Room #5, is apparently the best. It had two double  beds, a large, clean private bathroom with hot water (real hot water, not an electric shower head), a TV with a DVD player and DVDs, and even a private (small) outdoor patio with a plastic table and chairs.

The dorm rooms have six beds and appeared safe and secure for $12, and dorm guests can also enjoy a range of DVDs on the 42-inch flat screen in the living room. Here there are two comfortable couches and a reclining chair, a DVD library and a small library as well with a good selection of books thanks to the many longer-term volunteers who pass through the hotel. A second living room has a TV (no DVD player), two couches and opens up onto a tiny patio space with a fountain. The wi-fi works well in all shared spaces and we were able to get some good work done in between all the DVD watching (oh, and sightseeing, of course). The fully-equipped kitchen, open to guests, is split into two parts – a cramped cooking/washing up space, and an open space with a very clean fridge, 8-seat round table, and plenty of dishes and silverware.

Breakfast is served out here, although it leaves much to be desired (see Room for Improvement below). Free coffee is available all day though, and cooking for yourself is no issue at all, thanks to the two mega-supermarkets located at the Metrocentro just five minutes’ walking distance from the hotel.  In fact, it is the hotel’s location that we found to be the best aspect of our stay at La Estancia.

Stand Out Feature: Location, Location, Location

La Estancia is five minutes from the Metrocentro Mall on Boulevard de Heroes, which is a North American style mega mall with supermarkets, restaurants, coffee shops, a 12 theater Cineplex and a healthy range of shopping options from high fashion to basic needs. Depending on how long you have been on the road, even those who like to avoid such mall monstrosities can appreciate the chance to run every conceivable errand around the corner from their hotel.

The Metrocentro is also a major transportation hub. Almost every city bus line and taxis pass by here, which makes getting home from a day of exploring the city that much easier.

Room for improvement

Breakfast is included in the price, but it is prepared grudgingly by a member of the cleaning staff. It just did not taste good. A toaster oven and a loaf of white bread is made available for anyone to prepare their own toast – certainly a wiser option.

Overall: La Estancia San Salvador

El Salvador’s capital city of San Salvador, more specifically the swanky Zona Rosa district, has attracted several four and five star international hotel chains which jut enthusiastically out of an otherwise muted city skyline. Far from this glitz and glamour, visitors on a budget might have a hard time finding affordable, yet comfortable accommodation in the capital. La Estancia may not sparkle, but in terms of practicality, this budget hotel is hard to beat.

La Estancia San Salvador – the details

Location: Av Cortés 216, Centro, San Salvador
Price:
US$12 for a dorm, $15 per person in a private room
LGBT Friendly:
Unknown to us
Amenities:
Wi-fi, kitchen, free coffee, DVDs, hot showers
Contact: +
503 2275 3381

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Polaroid of the week: Dinner plate decorations on the Santa Lucia, Suchitoto

polaroidoftheweekphoto11

We spent the weekend in a beautiful town called Suchitoto in the north of El Salvador. The main sight is the Iglesia Santa Lucia, a white church that has a stunning façade with six ionic-style columns and three towers on top. After posting a picture of Santa Lucia on our Globetrottergirls Facebook Page, Juergen from Dare2go.com made us aware of the dinner plates on the roofs of the three towers, which we had not seen. So we went back the next day to take a closer look – the roofs are indeed covered by dinner plates! Apparently, the plates were donated by a bride who was married in the church as a sign of appreciation.

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Hotel Tip of The Week: La Barranca Hostel, Suchitoto, El Salvador

hotel tip of the week

Welcome to our Hotel Tip of The Week series. Being on the road every day of the year means we stay at countless hotels along the way. For all the dingy, disappointing budget digs, there are as many budget accommodation gems. We post one hotel tip of the week, every week, of places we feel confident recommending after having tried and tested them ourselves. This week: Hostel La Barranca in Suchitoto, El Salvador.

suchitoto hostel

We had arrived in Suchitoto, El Salvador during a music festival, and while this guaranteed us an eventful time while in town, our only accommodation option the first night was a room at a well-known but sub-par American-owned place. While strolling around town, we came across Villa Balanza restaurant, and as they had received a glowing review in our Footprint guidebook, we decided to sit down here for a bite to eat and ended up booking a room at the hostel for the next night at the same time we paid our restaurant bill.

This is not your typical backpacker hostel with restaurant (read: bar) attached. La Barranca is a peaceful hostel set at the bottom of a rather long, steep hill, a five minute walk from the restaurant with views of the major tourist draw, the famous Lake Suchitlan. The way down the hill with luggage is a challenge, even harder is the slog back up after check out, but for those who are reasonably fit (or have a car) the serene setting of the accommodation is more than worth it.

Lago de Suchitatlan

La Barranca is made up of a two story main house with five bedrooms upstairs over a very homey kitchen and living room downstairs. A second building just behind it houses another five rooms with doors opening out onto a peaceful courtyard with tables and chairs. Staying here feels more like staying in a suburban home, with all the appropriate comforts. The clean, well-decorated rooms have double beds, plenty of space and en-suite bathrooms. (The bathroom is built into the room, has a saloon-door entrance and is open on top, so we recommend staying at La Barranca with someone you know fairly well, as you will be sharing your bathroom noises with everyone in the room.)

The kitchen has beautiful mahogany cabinets, a squeaky clean fridge, all the necessary appliances and is roomy enough to fit a decent sized kitchen table with space to host dinner for a few friends.  The living room is equally spacious, with a couch, chairs, a TV, and a computer with internet for those who do not travel with their own laptop. For those who do, including us digital nomads, La Barranca offers free, hi-speed Wi-Fi, which works perfectly everywhere in the main house, fairly well outside in the courtyard, but unfortunately did not reach to the rooms in the second building.

Stand Out Feature: The restaurant – Villa Balanza

As we mentioned, our meal at Villa Balanza hugely influenced our decision to stay at La Barranca, run by the same family.  Set just off of a quiet park five minutes from the Suchitoto’s central plaza, this restaurant serves up stylish versions of typical Salvadorian food for just pennies more than the street food vendors in town, while the quality of the food would rival any Latin American restaurant in any major city.  The food itself is just one aspect of what Villa Balanza is really setting out to do, which is to define through food, art and history, what it means, and what it has always meant, to be Salvadorian. Hanging over the entryway to Villa Balanza is a large scale (‘Balanza’ means ‘balance’ in Spanish). On one side sits a 750 pound weapon from the armed forces during the fairly recent civil war, on the other, a stack of tortillas. The scale is meant to symbolize the counterbalance of the town’s history in the war with the country’s deeply rooted traditional ‘culture of corn’. Inside the restaurant, the walls are lined with a mix of contemporary oil paintings, centuries’ old photographs and some of the most delicious food in town.

Sculpture

Room for improvement: In-room wi-fi

This is often a frustrating, if not downright picky, request as so often hotels in countries like the USA and Germany rarely offer free wi-fi at all. However, for those who spend time travelling in Central America, free wi-fi is a given in almost all hotels, especially those in the budget category. Plus, La Barranca offers free-wi to guests. With a second router, the hostel would have gotten perfect marks from us, as we often work late into the night after a day of sightseeing, and would have preferred working from our room rather than out in the living room until after midnight.

Location: Barrio San José N° 7 Next to the San Martin Park, Suchitoto, Cuscatlan, El Salvador
Price:
$25 per room per night
LGBT Friendly:
Yes
Amenities:
Kitchen, wi-fi, lounge, yard

Tip: Check out Booking.com for the best places to stay in Suchitoto!

Suchitoto hostel

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You put your left foot in…The Travel Closet | Gay Travel

dani and jess in the eno hammock

After months of traveling through some less than gay-friendly locations, we find that we wrestle with what has essentially become a half in, half out of the closet lifestyle. As gay travelers, are there times when we should go back inside the closet? And if we do go back in, how far is too far? Dani and I certainly haven’t crawled back in and shut the door, but we do play a bit of hokey pokey while we travel, putting one foot in, one foot out of the travel closet.After living in gay-friendly locations like London, Brighton and parts of Germany prior to shifting into full-time digital nomadism, it has been nearly a decade since either of us have ever really had to deal with this issue. Traveling through Central America for seven months this past year, however, we found that there were automatically times when we just knew it would be better not to hold hands, and to keep public displays of affection to a minimum, and other times where we were pleasantly surprised at the openness of the gay community and joined right in.gay travel closetBringing extra attention to ourselves in foreign countries where gay rights are about as low on a political agenda as cleaning up political corruption seems like it is not a smart idea. There is no question that coming out and being open are the first steps toward full acceptance within wider society, but as eternal foreigners, it is hard to be willing to take those risks in other countries, especially when homophobia seems to be increasing in some areas despite progress being made in others.

In Brazil, a country with one of the largest gay communities in Latin America and over 150 Gay Pride Parades throughout the country (including the world’s largest, Sao Paolo, with over 3.3 million partygoers each year), over 250 members of the gay community were killed in 2010. How to approach such a country as a gay traveler? Engage in the community and take that risk, or keep quiet, soak up the sun and move on without saying anything at all?While traveling in London, Munich, Milan or New York, we never hesitate to hold hands and smooch as any other couple does. Those who are shocked or stare can learn a lesson or two – yes, this is what a lesbian couple can look like, and no, us loving each other has nothing to do with anyone else’s satisfaction. In fact, even in Mexico City, we felt completely at ease touring the metropolis hand in hand, as the city was surprisingly gay-friendly. In such large cities, at least in the west, we feel that we not only have the right to show our affection for each other, but that it should not even be a consideration to hide who we are. In the case of Mexico, the country even has stronger LGBT rights than the U.S.!gay travel closetHolding hands through Honduras, or almost anywhere in Central America, was a different story entirely. With the exception of Belize (where homosexual acts are a punishable offense), gay and lesbian couples have the right to show their affection in public. However, although loved-up heterosexual Latinos engage in full-blown make out sessions throughout the region, we never once saw a gay or lesbian couple as much as hint at affection. Additionally, with the exception of Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica and a few very private (and exclusive) gay resorts in other Central American countries, gay-friendly tourism is nearly non-existent here.

Headline of a newspaper about gay adoption: Condemn gay adoption!

However, we tend to be travelers first; we would never say that regions that are not gay-friendly are off-limits. Instead, adhering to the age-old ‘When in Rome’ adage, we follow suit and keep our public affection to stolen winks and private kisses.

For a short term vacation, this would hardly be an issue for us at all. However, as long-term travelers, this half-in, half-out of the closet stance can be an incredibly difficult status to maintain. There is certainly frustration at the very thought of being closeted, even if for safety reasons, and it is emotionally straining to essentially revert back to a lifestyle of not being as ‘out’ as we have otherwise always been.gay travel closetA fellow gay travel blogger recently mentioned that in the last three months of Central American travel, he has never once come across another gay backpacker. But maybe he has. Maybe it has just been easier for gay travelers to keep that foot in the closet. 90% of people we’ve come across, locals or foreigners, have had no idea we were gay either. We certainly don’t hide it if asked, but we tend not to bring it up, either.

We want to know what you think – gay or straight, long-term traveler or  holidaymaker.

Are you a gay/lesbian traveler? Are you open all the time when you travel regardless of the consequences, or have you gone back into the gay travel closet? Do you live somewhere where a gay tourist might be in danger if they were to be open about their sexuality? We welcome any and all comments on this!

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Belize on a shoestring

isla de san pedro

Although technically a part of Central America, a trip to Belize, with its white sand beaches and English-speaking Rasta culture, is decidedly Caribbean. A trip here is more similar to Jamaica holidays or Caribbean vacations than to its neighboring Guatemala. The clear blue sea and laid-back culture makes Belize a top travel destination, it also means it is much more expensive than elsewhere in Central America. Belize on the cheap is definitely not easy. Even as an experienced budget traveler, more money will fly out of your hands in Belize than anywhere else in Central America or Mexico. Snorkeling costs at least $40, diving gear runs $100 for a day out on the world’s second largest reef and any tour will vary from $40-80: adventure cave tours, tours of Mennonite villages, nighttime jungle tours.

 

You need to book a tour, however, as access to all of these amazing opportunities in Belize can not be done without a guide – but if you go to Belize, you must take part in at least a couple of these tour. Skimping on these high-expense activities means factoring out the adventure and amazing natural and cultural experiences unique to Belize. What would be the point in traveling to Belize at all? Instead, it is best to know beforehand the best ways to reduce expenses in other areas in order to maximize fun and, with careful planning, stay within your budget in Belize. Belize on a shoestring is possible, but requires some planning.

Belize on a shoestringHere is how we managed to keep our trip to Belize on a shoestring:

Travel to Belize in low season

But, doesn’t low season sometimes mean rainy season? Yes, in fact, it was hurricane season when we visited Belize and we did indeed get stuck on Ambergris Caye as the locals boarded up windows in preparation for a tropical storm that never came. While it might rain for part of your time if you travel during the fall, the financial benefits outweigh a few rainy days – and we were able to take part in all the activities we had planned anyway.

In the low season (Spring or Fall), prices are negotiable. In the Summer or Winter, they are not. We got two deals for hotels on Caye Caulker: at Jeremiah’s Inn we paid US$15.00 including tax (normally US$30.00 plus 9% tax) and at the Barefoot Caribe Hotel we paid US$25.00 for a double room instead of US$35.00. In San Ignacio, at Mayawalk tours, we were able to reduce our ATM tour rate from $75 to $65 each. (Note: If I don’t link to a place I mention, I wouldn’t recommend staying there.)

Discount: up to 50 %

Belize

Stock up before you go

Toiletries are expensive in Belize. If you want to visit Belize on a shoestring, buy everything at home before you go. If you are a backpacker or digital nomad, get your supplies in whatever country you are coming from. You will need to get a nice big can of insect repellent and sunblock – in Belize these cost us $15 and $19 respectively, while in neighboring Guatemala the same exact products would have cost us $6 and $7. Not having to buy essential toiletries in Belize will save loads of money.

Hunt for cheap food in Belize

The reason why we found eating in Belize more expensive than in neighboring countries is that we did not find as many street food stalls or sandwich places as usual, and supermarkets within walking distance of hotels are anything but super, with half empty shelves and products like Pop Tarts and Kellogs Rice Crispies, but no fresh fruit or fresh orange juice, for example. As hostels are also hard to come by, preparing your own food is not often an option. Caye Caulker has one hostel with a kitchen, Travelers Palm Backpackers Hostel. Otherwise, most nights will be spent in hotel rooms with no cooking facilities, which makes traveling in Belize on the cheap difficult: eating out three times a day is expensive.

Luckily, there are some cheap restaurants – you’ll just have to hunt for them. We had Indian in San Ignacio for under $10 for the two of us leaving stuffed, on Ambergris Caye we recommend the Latitudes Café for cheap breakfast and Ruby’s Deli for giant, cheap, strong coffee. If you like fried chicken, you can get a takeaway almost anywhere in Belize for cheap.

On average, a meal in Belize will set you back at US$3.50 – US$7.50

Note: The Cayes are more expensive than mainland Belize.

Belize

Take public buses in Belize

The public transportation system in Belize consists of the same 20 year old ‘retired’ North American school buses crammed with twice as many grown adults as the number of pint-sized school children they were meant to hold. Not the glamorous way to go, but certainly cheap and efficient. Distances are short in Belize, where a ride east to west cross country lasts only three hours, so don’t waste money on private shuttles or taxis, they charge up to ten times the price of the bus and get you there no more quickly. Tickets are cheap and the ride is most definitely entertaining – buy yourself a bottle of all-healing home-made seaweed milk, a ham and cheese sandwich and the newspaper from the vendors who board the bus, and you’re set for the trip!

Cost: US$0.75 – US$5.00

Belize on the cheap

Shoestring Accommodation in Belize

Belize has only very few hostels, and many more guesthouses and hotels, where a double room is no more expensive than a private room in a hostel. The cheapest accommodation was a hostel we found on Caye Caulker with $12 in a dorm. Caye Caulker is the backpacker island, it is smaller, more relaxed and there are several budget hotels of similar quality for around $25-$35 a night (two people sharing). The only hostel-like place on Ambergris Caye is Pedro’s Backpackers, outside of San Pedro, where a double room costs $25. We did stay here, and the room was the smallest we have ever stayed in, plus we left a bit itchy. Research well before booking on Ambergris Caye as it can be pricey, and cheap accommodation fills up quickly. It may be worth comparing hotel prices with Airbnb prices, especially on the Cayes, depending on what time of year you’re visiting Belize.

 

 

On the mainland in any major town or tourist hub, you will find several budget guesthouses that charge around $20 for a double room, but be careful as quality definitely varies.

Cost: $12 –$15 per person per night in a hostel / $20 per person in a private room

Belize on a shoestring

Happy Hour in Belize

With Reggae music blaring, hammocks swinging and crystal blue water surrounding you, no doubt you will be in the mood for some drinks while in Belize. Even for long-term travelers, something about traveling in the Caribbean makes you feel like you are on ‘vacation’. Unfortunately, drinking can be very costly, much more so than in the rest of Central America, with a small beer costing up to $3 even at a local dive. But don’t worry – go to Happy Hour if you’re traveling Belize on the cheap. Most bars have 2 for 1 drinks and some even have all you can drink for $20. You can also save money by sticking to Belikin beer (made in Belize) and local drinks such as rum punch, which usually costs around $1.50 and does the job quite nicely.

Belize on a shoestring

Do your research before visiting Belize

However you choose to cut your costs – cheaper accommodation, less drinking, and/or opting for public transportation, a trip to Belize requires more careful planning and shopping around with various tour companies than neighboring countries where a few extra Quetzales or Pesos won’t dent your budget the same way several dollars each time will in Belize. In San Ignacio, we chose Mayawalk tour agency for our ATM tour, whose original rate (pre low season discount) was $75, whereas a few of the other agencies wanted $90 per person for the same exact tour. Lower prices is one important reason to do your research, and another is to maximize value for money.

 

 

On Caye Caulker, most tour agencies will do a full day snorkeling tour for $40, but shop around and see what you get for that price. Some companies do exactly what it says on the box – take you to three snorkeling locations and provide a soggy lunch. With Harry and Steve of Blackhawk tours, for the same price we got an excellent guide (Harry) who took us to three locations, Steve made us lunch, snacks, gave us water, plus bottomless cups of rum punch, nachos and homemade salsa and ceviche (made on the boat that day) for our hour long trip back to the dock.

Belize on the cheapHave you been to Belize? If you know any bargains or cheap places to stay, please share them in the comments below. Prices in this article are quoted in US Dollars.

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Street food junkies on the hunt in El Salvador: Pupusas

pupusas salvador

El Salvador does not have a variety of street food, especially dearth are the vegetarian street food options. In fact there is really only one, single type of street food worth eating in El Salvador: The Pupusa. These magical little filled dough pancakes more than make up for the lack of options.

Pupusas are like very thick corn tortillas are stuffed with the below ingredients and flattened down by hand before being heated on the grill.

Ingredients include:

• Cheese (vegetarian)

• Refried Beans (vegetarian)

• Cheese and refried beans (vegetarian)

• Chicharrones (pork meat)

• Pollo (Chicken)

• Chicharrones / pollo & cheese / beans

Pupusas are on every menu in every restaurant, but it’s best to belly up to a table at a pupuseria, which is a very local restaurant dedicated entirely to serving up steaming hot pupusas. No hemming and hawing over what to eat, no menu to peruse. Instead, just walk in, indicate how many of which type of pupusa you want and enjoy a cool beer while you wait. There is even a special flat grill dedicated to pupusa-making which is for sale in every appliance/home store in El Salvador. We considered shipping costs for one of these more than once, but alas, to what home would we send it?

Once your stack of pupusas has arrived, top them with curtido, a pickled cabbage salad similar to coleslaw bur marinated in vinegar (actually tasty!) and pour on a medium hot red salsa. The ingredients can vary slightly, but are almost always identical. In El Salvador, the default dough is made from corn, but there is also a rice dough version. Stick with corn, we advise, unless you – like us – gorge so often on pupusas that you really need the change up.

Should you ever find yourself hungry on a bus in El Salvador, do not worry, as waves of women with baskets or trays of pupusas will constantly jump aboard and squeeze and shimmy towards you squealing ‘puuuupuuuussaaaaas”.

Not only have the Salvadorians dedicated an entire type of restaurant to these delicious doughy disks, they have also dedicated an entire day to honor them: National Pupusa Day on November 13th. We were lucky enough to be in El Salvador on this holy celebration. However, because we took to downing 3-4 at least once a day, every day we spent in El Salvador was our Pupusa Day.

The best part about pupusas is that they are not only tasty, they are cheap, varying between 25 cents and 50 cents depending on where you get them. The best price meets best quality at about 40 cents per pupusa. Even the biggest eaters need no more than four to fill up, which means lunch or dinner for around $1.60.

Throughout Central America you will see street food stands with ladies preparing pupusas, and there is usually at least one pupuseria in any medium-sized city. In Guatemala they were too large, and the cheese was decidedly not delicious. In Honduras they were lackluster; their makers were not dedicated to art of the pupusa. Salvadoran pupusas are definitely the best, with just the right amount of dough combined with a much more delicious cheese, called Loroco, than found in other Central America countries.

Tip: We had our best Pupusas at a professional pupuseria in the small mountain town of Alegria. Next best were the two stands nearest the church on the central square in Suchitoto. The pupuseria next to the café had the best rice pupusas we sampled while in El Salvador.

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