Nicaragua rocks!

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The entire country rocks, literally. Yes, we did love Nicaragua that much, but actually we are talking about the fact that each evening, Nicaraguans around the country, gather together with friends and family, either in their front room or even outside, and rock the evening away in their rocking chairs.

But even in the early mornings, as we made our way through the already-blazing hot streets, we caught glimpses of men and women, sitting in their cool living rooms, peacefully reading the paper and sipping their coffee in their rocking chairs. The fact that the Nicaraguans build their houses with such an open front and keep their doors and windows wide open is a reflection of their open, even gregarious nature. Welcome, it says, talk to me, we are all a part of life in this town.

Luckily, the rocking chair tradition is not limited to private houses – we had rocking chairs in many of our hostels and even in a few restaurants. It was a fun way to try out one of the aspects of ‘being Nicaraguan’.

As the sun set, we enjoyed some Flor de Cana rum and watched the world go by from our rocking chairs.

And yes, it rocked!

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Hostel El Colibri in Leon, Nicaragua

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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.

Leon, Nicaragua has quite a few of those uber-cool popular hostels – which have limited double rooms, cavernous always-packed dorms and bars blasting Manu Chao and offering cheap beer to backpackers from around the world. We don’t mind hanging out in these hostels. We went often for the cheap beer and food, and it’s fun to meet the international crowd. In Leon, this means hanging at the Via Via and Bigfoot Hostel right across the street from each other.  But during our two weeks in the city, we were always relieved to go home every night to our secret little Nicaraguan home from home – The Colibri. This hostel won’t be for you if you are looking to party hard, but if you are looking for peace and quiet, this hostel offers everything you need to feel at home.

The clean, if dark, double rooms go for only $15 per night – and you won’t find anything cheaper unless you stay in a dorm either here or at one of the other hostels in town. There are also triple and quad rooms available. Each room has bedside lamps, a fan, and comfortable beds. Some rooms also have outdoor seating – one with two rocking chairs and another with a little breakfast nook. Bathrooms are shared with cold water, which is all you need in the Leon’s 90 degree (35 Celcius) heat. The price per night includes a basic breakfast with toast & jam, juice and coffee.

The Colibri, like most Nicaraguan houses, is built in a rectangle around two courtyards, one in front and one in back. The front space has two high quality glass patio tables with umbrellas and comfortable chairs, while in the back there is a green garden (with hummingbirds) plus a covered patio with two tables and two hammocks. In between is the kitchen (see Stand Out features below) and an eating area with enough seating for a medium-sized restaurant, where the bottomless coffee machine is kept (and kept full!).

Hostal colibri leon nicaragua

Stand Out Features

The Kitchen: No matter how much we like a hotel, we feel most at home when there is a clean kitchen, and the Colibri definitely delivers in this category. The kitchen is spacious, with loads of counterspace for several people to prepare food at the same time, all the utensils, pots and pans to create a tasty masterpiece with all the goods you pick up in Leon’s excellent central market nearby. We also give bonus points for the refrigerator – it is kept spotless.

Internet: The wi-fi connection at The Colibri is excellent. We almost always had maximum reception which was consistently reliable and Skyping was a breeze. For those who need to get work done or call friends from home, this was one of the best accommodation choices we have found for that in Central America.

Location: El Colibri is just a few minutes walk from the Cathedral and Central Park, and a big supermarket (La Union), movie theater (with film in English), Leon’s main market, clothes stores, internet cafés, parks, other hostels, El Desayunazo breakfast restaurant, and lots of other restaurants are within just a few blocks. The hostel could not have a better location!

Room for improvement – The Friendliness Factor

To us, the manager of the Colibri was helpful, talkative and friendly. Unfortunately we heard conflicting accounts from fellow guests at the hotel.  One couple shared a great rapport with the manager and found her helpful as well. However, another couple at first felt she was grumpy and a few days later reported that she had made a fuss with baggage storage after they had checked out, as they wanted to explore for a few hours before they moved on to Laguna de Apoyo. She stored our luggage with an at-your-service attitude and a smile, so hearing this was a surprise. Most relationships are relative, and different people get different vibes from people, but it is the job of the hotel staff to make sure all guests have the same feeling of welcome.

Hostel colibri leon porch & chairs
We felt most welcome at this peaceful budget hideaway in Leon, and even taking the friendliness factor into consideration, we can highly recommend The Colibri to our readers.

Extra tip: The Colibri has a sister hostel two blocks to the west. La Iguana is a brand new super chic hostel. The hostel has a cafe onsite and all rooms have private bathrooms, and is a great deal for $25 a night.

If you do stay at the Colibri, we would love to know how you felt about your stay, what your stand out features would be and room for improvement would be.

Location: The Colibri is located in 1 Ave Norte, 50 meters north of the church La Recoleccion.
$15 for a double room, $10 single room, $6 dorm
LGBT Friendly:
A resounding yes
Excellent high-speed wi-fi, bottomless coffee, excellent workspace in front and back, hammocks
Digital Nomad Friendly:
See those amenities? Definitely!

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Spring break alternatives in Central America

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The buzz around spring break 2011 destinations has begun with internet top ten lists spouting out the usual spring break ‘hotspots’. Some people might prefer the predictable debauchery in places like Cancun, Acapulco or Panama City, but for those looking for beach holidays with warm weather, cheap beer and, for the young ones out there, a lower drinking age, we have some alternative spring break destinations tips, after spending the past eight months traveling through Mexico and Central America…

Skip Cancun/Cozumel -> Explore the Yucatan

There are countless Cancun spring break package deals for those looking for the ultimate party. But Mexico’s Yucatan has much more to offer than the package party scene. Just a short ferry ride from Cancun is the tiny island of Isla Mujeres, easily our favorite beach spot in Mexico – for a country of thousands of miles of beautiful coastline, that is saying something. The island is so small you can see beach on both sides while standing in the center. The north end has ankle-deep crystal clear water stretching out over 100 feet in front of you. Visit the many restaurants, bars and very chill lounge bars by golf cart – the main mode of transport on Isla Mujeres.

Back on the mainland, visit Puerto Morelos, a sleepy fishing village which is an easy 30 minute bus ride away, or head down past Playa del Carmen to the beautiful beach town of Acumal, an almost undiscovered beach paradise. There are hotels and timeshare resorts surrounded by several small restaurants , but this is an insider spot, and very near to Tulum. Here, visit the indigenous Mayan ruins which have the most beautiful backdrop of any we’ve ever seen – the brightest blue water that looked photoshopped to our bare eyes.

Skip Acapulco/Mazatlan -> Go to Mazunte and Zipolite

On Mexico’s Pacific coast, Acapulco has had some bad press recently as dangerous drug-related incidents continue to happen here and while it and Puerto Vallarta have traditionally been spring break hotspots, we much preferred the two tiny pacific coast beaches of Mazunte and Zipolite. The two beaches, separated by a 15 minute ride, offer up all sun, beach and beer you need.Visitors here tend to be total hedonists, but hedonists who like a laid-back vibe. Zipolite is Mexico’s only nude beach (though this is frowned upon by locals), and at both beaches there isn’t much more to do than lay out (nude or not), explore the nearby jungle and party the night away with beach bonfires.

Skip Costa Rica -> Head to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Costa Rica is gorgeous – who wouldn’t love the stunning beaches, wild animals and great nightlife. In fact, we are in Costa Rica right now and loving it! However, culturally and economically Costa Rica is much more similar to a vacation in the United States or Europe. This is why we suggest heading to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua instead. The Nicaraguan beach town has everything you would ever need for parties, but spending a week in this chilled out surfer town will easily cost you half of any trip to Costa Rica. Beers here will run you $0.50 instead of $3 per beer in most Costa Rican vacation towns, dinners don’t cost more than $16 for two people, while in Costa Rica even a trip to the local ‘soda’ or diner, sometimes cost us $18 for two– no beers included. There are several neighboring beaches which are even more beautiful than the town beach, easily reachable by rent-a-car or group transport, and supposedly the best surfing in all of Nicaragua.

Skip Panama City, Florida -> Go to Panama City, Panama

The beaches of Florida are stuffed to the gills with wet t-shirt contests and binge drinking – the classic spring break party madness. But rather than go to Panama City in Florida, you could spend the same amount of cash dancing salsa with sexy strangers in Panama City – Panama. The city has the most beautiful skyline in all of Central America and a sexy nightlife to match Miami, plus you can visit the Panama Canal and ride the train along it through the lush rainforest. If a beach is a must, Bocas del Toro is Panama’s party place on the beach. The chain of small Caribbean islands off the coast of Panama has a motto of ‘take it easy’ by day, while people go snorkeling, surfing, or just chill out and take in the sun. By night, the drinking, dancing and party offer up the perfect spring break vibe.

Skip Jamaica -> Head to Belize

What draws so many people to Jamaica – its crystal clear azure waters, verdant jungle countryside, laid-back attitudes, reggae, plus no foreign language to muddle your way through – can all be had in Belize at a fraction of the price. We visited both popular Cayes (pronounced keys) off the coast of mainland Belize – San Pedro and Caye Caulker. The two cayes are very different, with San Pedro home to a large, and mainly older, US ex-pat community (who still like to party hard, so don’t let the ‘older’ bit completely turn you off), and Caye Caulker is a much more laid-back, car-free island with dirt roads and one main dancehall, though there are plenty of spots serving up the local rum punch for next to nothing. The snorkelling through Shark-Ray Alley here was the best we have ever experienced, as we saw not only loads of sting rays and sharks, but also turtles, loads of schools of fish and amazing coral. We don’t dive, but the tours off the Cayes are the best in Central America, and we don’t eat fish, but the just-caught fresh seafood is supposedly super cheap and delicious. We do drink beer, however, and we loved washing down our food with the Belizean Belikin beer. Tours on the mainland of Belize can also be organized, with everything from visits to Mayan ruins and ziplining to the ultimate caving adventure – the ATM tour – one of National Geographic’s top recommended adventure experiences in all Central America, and by far the most adventurous activity we have undertaken during our time here.

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The Tops and Flops of 300 days of travel

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Last week we celebrated our ‘300 days of travel’ milestone and reflected on the last 100 days, which we spent in Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Here’s where talk about the best and the worst things to happen to us in the last 100 days. It’s not all suntans and glamour (although, most of it actually was this time!)

Top travel moments

Hiking volcanoes
The Central American isthmus is located on what’s known as the Ring of Fire – a chain of volcanoes which stretches down the pacific side of each country. The volcanoes, some active and some dormant, can often be climbed, and in the last 100 days we climbed two volcanoes. First Dani conquered Pacaya, the popular active volcano outside of Antigua. She saw glowing lava and amazing views of other volcanoes after the intens