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Destination Tips

5 Top Countries for Nurses to Travel to for Work

© Mykwain Gainey, www.mykwain.com

All around the world, nurses do an incredible job at the front line of medical and health care. For those training to be a nurse or already working in nursing, this career offers an incredible opportunity to work almost anywhere, with no community worldwide where nurses cannot offer their skills, expertise, and care. From answering questions about patient issues via telephone to helping them decide on the best medical alert system. Whether you are studying to become a nurse and considering working abroad or are a nurse who is looking for a change of scenery, there are plenty of countries around the world where nurses can enjoy a fulfilling, meaningful career along with a great lifestyle. Here are some of the best countries around the world for nurses to work:

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the healthcare system is divided between private care and state-funded, and there are opportunities for nurses to work in both. The public system makes up around 80% of the healthcare providers in the country, while the remainder is provided by private hospitals and doctors. Healthcare is a well-supported industry here, with state funding making up around 10% of the GDP, just over the average. Nurses in New Zealand are equipped with modern working environments with the latest up-to-date equipment and technology. Doctor’s appointments here are paid for by the patient, but treatment in state clinics and hospitals is free.

There are many great reasons to consider moving to New Zealand as a nurse, including:

  • They’re currently on a recruitment drive, with a goal of increasing their nursing workforce by 25.000 in the next ten years.
  • Expats and nurses who trained overseas make up over 40% of healthcare professionals in the country.
  • There’s a high chance of your working visa application being accepted if you have the skills needed to fill one of the several advertised roles.
  • A minimum amount of four weeks paid annual leave in a year along with generous salaries.

Australia

Similar to New Zealand, the Australian healthcare system also has a combination of private and public healthcare available, and while some doctor’s appointments are paid for, most healthcare is free for those taking advantage of the public system. Australia also invests heavily in healthcare, so nurses working here will benefit from a modern working environment and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

There’s a high level of demand for nurses in Australia and a very proactive recruitment drive. Nurses at the top of their field are often ‘scouted’ by the government. Nurses who have qualified with an advanced degree from Baylor University Online will need to undergo an International English Language Test regardless of their first language in order to qualify for Australian nursing registration. Holding qualifications that are recognized by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Board may make it easier to get a visa, but Australia recruits talented nurses from all over the world. Nurses can enjoy:

  • A wide range of places to live and work from rural areas to busy modern cities
  • A high level of investment in education and further qualifications for healthcare staff
  • Reciprocal healthcare provided for yourself
  • Great work/life balance
  • Generous salaries

Australia

Denmark

Denmark is a country offering a unique opportunity for nurses who want to work in a healthcare system that is completely state-funded. It is also one of Europe’s top countries for healthcare provision, with an incredibly well-organized system and exceptionally modern working environments. In Denmark, nurses report extremely high levels of job satisfaction and are happy with their roles.

EU nationals do not need a visa to work in Denmark but nurses from the U.S. will need to apply for the right to work in the country. Irrespective of where you are coming from, you will need to be authorized by the appropriate healthcare governing bodies in order to start working here. It is also required for all nurses moving to Denmark to work to be proficient in the Danish language, and you may be asked to take a language test in order to be authorized to start working.

Nurses in Denmark can expect:

  • A friendly and informal work environment with equality between healthcare professionals, who all go by first names only
  • Six weeks of paid annual leaves per year
  • One of the best nursing salaries in Europe

copenhagen
 

Canada

With a modern public healthcare system in place, Canada is an excellent choice for nurses who are looking to move from the U.S. thanks to its proximity to the country and non-existed language barrier. In order to work in Canada as a nurse, you’ll need to first submit an online form to get the documentation process started, which can take anywhere from three to eighteen months depending on your personal circumstances. You’ll also need to take an examination to get a board certification from the College of Nurses of Ontario before you will be able to practice as a nurse here.

Nursing in Canada comes with:

    • The easy visa application process for U.S-based nurses
    • An average salary of $51,000 per year
    • Modern working environments

canada flowers

The UK

Similar to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the UK is an excellent choice for nurses who want to work abroad without the language barrier. Working for the National Health Service is the most popular option for nurses in the UK, but there are private hospitals and clinics too. There are plenty of opportunities for advancement, and life can be excellent as a nurse once you reach higher levels. Entry-level nurses start out on around $30,000 per year which can increase to as much as $43,000 annually with experience. In order to become a nurse in the UK, you’ll need to be qualified with at least a degree in pre-registration nursing. You’ll also need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and complete an assessment.

Nurses in the UK can expect:

  • A range of settings to work and live in, from rural countryside areas to major cities
  • Plenty of opportunities for career progression

Whether you’re down for learning a new language or want to work somewhere without a language barrier, nurses can find meaningful work all over the world. Where will your nursing career take you?

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Savannah, GA – To tour or not to tour?

african beers at savannah craft brew fest

If you had asked the two of us about city tours a few years ago, we would have rolled our eyes at you. Tours are for package tourists, we would have told you, followed by: Travel is about soaking up local culture, not going on tours. Fast-forward to the present day, to a couple that now lives and breathes travel, and our opinion has changed a bit with experience.

Do not misunderstand – we would never advocate organized tours as the principal way to see a city (that is just lazy!). There are, however, definite advantages, especially for time-starved visitors. Certain tours make finding out more details/facts about the city, seeing more neighborhoods and getting your bearings in a city much easier.

When we arrived in Savannah for our five-day stay, we were shocked at just how many tours this small Southern city of just 137,000 has on offer – a number easily on par with New York, Paris or London. Alarm bells sounded, red flags were raised…Savannah’s breezy city center is compact and can be explored on foot in a day or two.

Do you really need to take a tour in Savannah at all?

savannah carriage tourWe say yes…Savannah has one of the most unique, interesting stories of all U.S. cities, most of which would go overlooked on a series of leisurely strolls across the famous squares and Forsyth Park without a guide. Taking one of the hop-on, hop-off tours (we liked the Savannah Trolley Tours) can be a good way to dip into a quick history lesson and get a sense of the size of the city center.

The two of us are absolute movie geeks and Savannah, known as the Hollywood of the South, has starred next to Kevin Spacey and Tom Hanks as a key film location in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Forrest Gump – among many, many other films. And so it was that, with limited time to see city between our stints both judging and partaking in the Savannah Craft Brew Festival over Labor Day Weekend, we chose to take a movie tour over the Black History Tour, which ran at the same time.

The truth is, Savannah Movie Tours was actually the most disappointing tour we have ever taken.

Tricked by the shiny wrapping, this was an utter disappointment – what we would have given for a ‘Do Over’. The 90-minute outing, which costs $25 per person, stops at various movie locations and flat screen TVs inside the bus show clips of the movie set in the location. Much of the information given was the same as the hop-on, hop-off tours, plus the clips were too short and paying attention to the clip and the boring guide (we kept track of his ums and uhs until we lost count) at the same time was too hard. Maybe we couldn’t keep up because the air-conditioning was cranked up so high in the bus that it actually froze our brains. Everyone on board was shivering (outside, a 100 degree southern summer heat), and Jess nearly lost it when, at the end, the guide had the nerve to ask if we wanted to stop at the famous Leopold’s ice cream. Were the 12 of us freezey-pops not enough?!best tours in Savannah

Pick a Savannah tour – just not any tour

So how to find the best tours in Savannah? Check reviews and recommendations on sites like TripAdvisor before you book, plain and simple. Below is a listing of the types of tours available in Savannah. Each type often has 2-5 tour companies offering the same thing:

  • Savannah trolley tours
  • Savannah hop 0n, hop off tours
  • Savannah walking tours
  • Savannah haunted walking tours
  • Savannah foodie tours
  • Savannah movie tours
 

 

  • Savannah horse carriage tours
  • Savannah ghost tours
  • Savannah riverboat tours
  • Savannah historic homes & gardens tours
  • Savannah black history tours
  • Savannah pub crawls and martini tours

best tours in Savannah

The best tours we chose in Savannah

For history buffs, several historic homes offer tours of the house and gardens. These shine a personal light on history as you catch a frozen moment of a bygone era – how the bedrooms looked, the history of the house, what the customs were. We especially loved the tour of the Mercer Wiliams House, the home of the flamboyant Savannah playboy Jim Williams, familiar to some as the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Having never heard of Savannah icon and Food Network cooking star Paula Deen, we couldn’t miss learning about her in Savannah. Fans line up to eat at her Lady and Sons restaurant (get there early, the lines are looooong) and there are also Savannah food tours. True foodies might best enjoy the Savannah food tour – a great introduction to Southern cuisine with strong reviews on Trip Advisor and this USA Today article.

For people who are interested in African American history in the South, the Black History Tour includes remnants of the Underground Railroad, Old Black Communities and slave burial grounds.

savannah wright square at night

Savannah is also known as one of the most haunted cities in America. The city’s history is filled with plagues, wars, duels, and murders and every cemetery and Gothic mansion has a ghost story of some type to tell. Not surprisingly there are 31 ghost tours: A Savannah sixth sense tour, a Ghosts & Gravestones tour, a creepy pub crawl, a Savannah Hearse tour (check out Amanda’s coverage of the Savannah hearse tour over at A Dangerous Business), to name only a few.

With a late evening free, we opted for a simple walking ghost tour. It was not electrifying and more like a non-ghost walking tour, until we toured the Juliette Gordon Low birth house (founder of the Girl Scouts), whose ghost stories were creepy enough to get the hair on the back of our necks standing on end.

Whether you are immune to tours or addicted to them, Savannah confronts you with a seemingly infinite amount of shiny packaging… just make sure to do your own research before choosing a tour. Most importantly, sit down on a bench like Forrest Gump in each of Savannah’s 24 breezy squares and take in the mingling of the city’s eccentrics, its visitors and the daily life of the Savannah locals. It is free and the best entertainment of all!

best tours in Savannah

For comprehensive listings about the best tours in Savannah, check out VisitSavannah.com and TripAdvisor Savannah, two great resources on what to do in Savannah.

Have you been to Savannah? Would recommend any Savannah tours? In general, how do you feel about taking tours while visiting a city?

 

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How to book a houseboat in Kerala

kerala backwaters

Exploring the backwaters of Kerala on a houseboat cruise is truly a once in a lifetime experience (you can read about our three-day Kerala houseboat cruise here), but how you plan for this trip can make or break your experience. There are a few things you should know before you book your houseboat in Kerala in order to avoid being disappointed.

backwaters kerala houseboatWe spent over two full days in two different cities trying to sort out our houseboat. The experience is a bit DIY, with the quality varying greatly. We looked at seven different boats and considered several others, and discovered that no boat / owner / tour operator is quite the same. That is why we put together these tips on how to book a houseboat in Kerala in order to make your cruise out on the backwaters the magical experience it can be.

Know the different options for houseboats in Kerala

Regardless of your budget, there are a few things that should come standard when you book a houseboat in Kerala. There are day cruises or overnights. We would definitely advise a two-night cruise. One night is too little, but we found three nights to be unnecessary.

Your boat should be a traditional kettuvallam, the ones with thatched roofs, and ideally it has an upper deck with at least one sofa. Several boats we saw only had chairs, but a backwater cruise is ultimately about relaxation. Having an upper deck gets you more space; privacy from the captain/crew and the higher perspective is perfect for snapping incredible pictures and watching villages go by from above.

backwater houseboat sundeck

The following things should be included in the price when you book a houseboat in Kerala:

  • Three meals per day, plus an afternoon snack – make clear whether you want western style of Indian breakfasts
  • Tea, coffee and water
  • Welcome drinks
  • Fruit basket
  • Towels and soap
  • A working fan in each bedroom

kerala houseboat fruit basketThe boat won’t stock alcohol or soft drinks for you, so stock up on however much you’ll need. We brought snacks on board as well – but never got around to eating them since we were so incredibly well fed.

Start your Kerala houseboat trip in Alleppey (not Kollam) 

Houseboats in Kerala are not regulated and therefore the quality of boats can vary widely. We looked at seven boats before choosing one, and while this is extreme, we suggest you look at least three houseboats before committing.

Travelers to Kerala might start off from Fort Cochin, and this quaint little town has plenty of tour operators offering days and overnights in the backwaters. However, with the huge difference in quality, you need to see the boat. If you have pre-booked, you have lost all your leverage to re-negotiate if you do not like your boat.

Some people (and guidebooks) suggest setting off from less popular Kollam for better luck than popular Alleppey, also known as Alappuzha.

backwater houseboatsTo this, we say that there is a reason Kollam is less popular: it is a basic, unremarkable city with little to offer visitors (terrible hotel selection) and limited selection of houseboats. In addition, the tours offered that leave from Kollam tend to head to and around a lake and back, while tours from Alleppey, a 1.5 hour drive (or 8 hour water taxi ride) north has more flexible trips and over 350 boats to choose from in the off season alone. This is why we recommend you travel to Alleppey to book your houseboat in Kerala.

Skip the water taxi option

When shopping around, at some point, there will be mention that there is a water taxi between Kollam and Alleppey. This is true – there is a 300 rupee ferry ($6) that leaves everyday between the towns, and you will see the same sights as on a houseboat cruise. However, the ferries are rust buckets, loud, smell of gas, packed to brim with commuters and there are no bathrooms. If you are a terribly strict budget this might be an option, but for everyone else, we advise you to opt for the infinitely more relaxing houseboat.

backwater cruise companies

Show up at the dock on the day you want to sail (Off season)

If you are in India during the off season, booking a houseboat is much easier than high season. Simply take a tuk-tuk to the dock on the morning you would like to depart and start shopping for a boat. You can look at several, choose one and go back to your hotel and get your things. In that time they will go buy all supplies and get ready to welcome you abroad. There is no point planning a day in advance, because unless you get there that day around 9am, all the good boats are gone out on the backwaters until the next morning anyway. This way you can avoid being smooth-talked into reserving a boat you’ve never seen.

In the high season, we still recommend getting to the dock yourself and looking at the boats, but it might be best to do it one day in advance. Just make sure to show up before 9:30am so you have the chance to see many boats to book for the next day.

Golden Rule: you must step aboard the boat and approve it before setting sail.

Bargain, bargain, bargain for your houseboat in Kerala

Kerala tourism is well-developed and the houseboat operators are well aware of the top price that foreign and Indian tourists are willing to shell out, but they are also ready to bargain with you. This is India after all.

We paid 7,000 Rupees ($125) per night for a two-bedroom boat with all food and transportation costs included. This works out to just over $30 per person, all daily expenses included, though air-conditioning will double the price to $250 per night at least.

backwater houseboat bedroomThis means that in total for a two-night cruise, we paid 14,000 Rupees. But we were initially quoted 20,000 Rupees for the same exact experience, meaning we reduced the price by 30 per cent. If bargaining makes you uncomfortable and you have the budget, we are not saying that this is essential. However, the profits on these houseboat trips are extremely high for the owners of the boat and we prefer to cut the overall cost and then give the chef and captain an extra large tip at the end instead. Just haggle, stick to your price, take their card (oh, they all have business cards) and walk away. After a while, you will get the price you are willing to pay for your Kerala houseboat trip.

If you don’t have time to find a houseboat in person:

I realize that not everyone has the time and convenience to spend time in Alleppey or Kollam and is able to scope out the best houseboat operators in person. If you want to book your Kerala houseboat before you arrive in India, check out these boats on Booking.com, a trusted online travel agency.

Tip: If you book a houseboat online, make sure to read reviews carefully – especially recent reviews. For the price you are paying (you’ll pay more if you book online), you’ll want to make sure you get the best possible experience.

Extra tip for the bug squeamish
You have chosen a well-maintained houseboat, so there should be no big issues, but when docked at night you are open to the elements. While we ate there were many bugs flying around the lights, even while we ate. If this will bother you, consider specifically requesting a houseboat with a downstairs patio enclosed in glass. We are not sure how many have that and what the price differential is, but saw quite a few float by, even in the low season.

india kerala backwatersWe hope these tips help you find the perfect houseboat for your backwaters cruise. This experience was the highlight of our five weeks in India and we wish the same for you!

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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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Hotel Tip of the Week: Hotel Hesperia Sevilla | Spain

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 disappointing  digs, there are as many 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: Hotel Hesperia in Seville, Spain.

Hotel Hesperia Seville
A few years ago we flew in to Seville for the first part of our Train through Spain vacation and, both enamored by this steamy southern Spanish city; we knew we would be back. When the time came for us to visit again this year, we also knew that we would again book in to the Hesperia Sevilla. The Seville hotel sits right in that sweet spot of location, price, service and room quality that made our decision to stay there again this year easy to make.

After a quick 15-minute ride from the international airport, we found ourselves standing in the cool marble lobby at the Hesperia Sevilla, which oozes Spanish style from its public spaces to the Art-Deco style rooms. Because the hotel is located outside the historic center, the bright rooms here are a spacious, purpose-built 24 square meter size with deep, comfortable beds, making it just as satisfying to spend time in the room as enjoying Sevilla. The bathrooms are equally spacious and bright, towels are perfectly fluffy, and toiletries include everything from the sewing kit to a full-size toothbrush.

Hotel Hesperia SevillaThe free in-room wi-fi connection worked without a hitch. Simply pick up a password at the front desk and sign-in one time and you are connected for the duration of your stay. The staff at Hesperia Sevilla, though not masters of the English language, is guest-oriented and helpful, while the large leather couches arranged in the lobby are great to sink into meet with friends at night or read the paper in the morning. The on-site parking lot is great for those guests traveling by car. We opted not to eat at the hotel Tapas bar, choosing to dine instead at a couple of ‘cervecerias’ nearby.

We appreciated the location of Hesperia Sevilla, in a bustling neighborhood where locals drink their morning coffee, gossip over late lunches with friends or enjoy tapas late into the night at the many tapas bars. The four-star Seville hotel conveniently sits right on the main Avenida Eduardo Dato so cabs are readily available, but Hesperia is only a 15-minute walk to the center of the Andalusian capital, just up the road from the train station where high-speed AVE trains leave for destinations throughout Spain, and around the corner from good shopping/dining options at the El Corte Ingles shopping mall, a Spanish shopping institution.

Stand-Out Feature: Value For Money

Hesperia Seville offers competitive rates for a four-star Spanish hotel. The hotel works closely with several booking websites and also offers deals and packages on its own website. When a bed in a shared dorm room can cost around $25-35 per person in most European cities, a rate of $70 for two at Hesperia Sevilla is that much more attractive. The hotel is perfect for business travelers (offering business & meeting facilities) but the price and location make it also perfect for families, couples and even large tour groups.

Room for Improvement: The Noise Factor

In a city like Seville, where there are ways to fill your day from morning until the wee hours, most guests spend limited time inside the hotel. If that sounds like how you travel, the paper-thin walls might not bother you in the least. But for loved-up couples or parents with vocal children – your neighbors will hear you and you will hear them.

Overall – Hotel Hesperia in Seville, Spain

We found Hesperia Sevilla to be a bright, stylish mid-range hotel in a great location with all the necessary services and facilities to meet the needs of both business travelers and tourists to Seville.

Hotel Hesperia Seville

Location: Avenida Eduardo Dato, 49, Sevilla, Spain
Price: from 50 Euros for a double room
LGBT Friendly: yes
Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
Amenities: wi-fi, meeting rooms, desks, mini-bar, oversized bathtubs

Like this hotel? Book it here.

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Costa Rica on a Shoestring

costa rica sunset

Costa Rica is the gem in Central America’s tourism crown: lush, green jungles, wild animals, breathtaking beaches and a well-developed infrastructure make a trip to Costa Rica as easy as it can be adventurous, suitable for many different types of visitors. The level of development, however, has also raised prices on goods and services, hotel rates and transportation to a level that most budget travelers (falsely) believe to be out of their range. It is certainly easy to plow through some serious cash here, but with a bit of planning ahead, you can visit Costa Rica on a shoestring – in fact: it can be nearly as inexpensive as its neighbors!Costa Rica on a shoestring
Many travelers we met along the way spoke with disdain about Costa Rica being over-priced and too expensive – those who were the most outspoken on the topic had opted to skip the country altogether. Since I had lived here for a year back in the day, there was no question that we would travel through. What we intended to be a two week trip was extended to three. In that time, our Costa Rica travel budget ended up to be less than both our Guatemala and Nicaragua budgets, coming in at just under $27 per person per day (based on two sharing accommodation). Read on for a few simple tips on how to travel through Costa Rica on a shoestring budget.

How to travel Costa Rica on a shoestring

Take the bus

Taking private shuttles or taxis to get around can easily eat through your budget, but this can be easily avoided by taking the bus. The bus system in Costa Rica is organized, and the buses are safe, comfortable and nearly at a North American standard. The chicken buses (old American school buses) seen throughout the rest of Central America are few and far between here. The buses run between all the major towns and on schedule, and while a private shuttle can easily cost from $40 to $75, a local bus charges less than $10 for the same route. MyTanFeet has an excellent guide that covers everything you need to know about taking public transportation in Costa Rica.

Eat at a Soda

Found everywhere throughout Costa Rica, a ‘soda’ is a typical Costa Rican restaurant which serves up ‘comida tipica’ or a menu of typical Costa Rican fare, mainly in various forms of casados: a huge plate of rice, beans, red and white cabbage salad, pasta and meat, or extra vegetables for vegetarians. While a restaurant in a tourist spot often charges between $10 and $15 per person per meal, the price of a ‘casado’ varies between $2 and $7, depending on the casado you choose and the place you are at – sodas in tourist destinations obviously charge much more than in cities like Heredia or Liberia.

Costa Rica on the cheap

Drink Tap water

Unlike the rest of Central America, drinking the tap water in Costa Rica is perfectly safe. If you have been traveling throughout the region, you might think only a crazy person would fill up bottles with tap water, but the water in nearly every Costa Rican town is drinkable (ask at your hotel/hostel if you’re unsure). With bottled water costing between $1 and $3 a bottle, refilling your own bottles will save you a hefty sum of pocket change.

Buy beer in the shop, not the bar

At $2.50 – $3.50 a bottle in most bars, beer in Costa Rica can quickly eat through your daily budget. Of course in a country with so many relaxing beaches, sometimes a beer is a must. Plan ahead and grab yourself a few cold cans at a local shop for half the price and enjoy your beers on the beach just a few meters past the beach bar itself.

Costa Rica on a shoestring

Book a trip for the off-season

Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination for North Americans and Europeans alike, and prices shoot up during Holidays, Christmas and between January and March. Planning a trip to Costa Rica during the low season, May to November, can save you as much as 50 per cent on hotels and flights. The low season is also partially the rainy season, but with the exception of a few rainy weeks, downpours usually only last a couple of hours in the morning and the sun shines for the rest of the day.

Opt for a hostel

If you want to visit Costa Rica on a shoestring budget, hostels are the way to go. The hostel scene has come a long way from the dingy twelve-bed dorm rooms, and not only are hostels cleaner, brighter and more affordable than ever, most also offer private double rooms for a fraction of what a hotel costs. We stayed in countless small hostels, run by people who care about their guests and take pride in offering a cozy, clean place to stay. Some hostels even offer a swimming pool, a bar, a lounge, books, board games, and free breakfast. You are also more likely to meet other travelers at the bar or in the common areas, whereas most hotels have a much more anonymous feeling to them. A private room in a hostel costs between $20 and $30 per couple, whereas a hotel room runs from $50 upwards.

Costa Rica on a shoestring

Budget Travel Tip: With such a well-developed tourism industry, National Park tours and adventure activities in Costa Rica are usually very much worth the money, so make sure to budget in $15 – $75 per tour during your time in the country. Putting these budget tips into practice should save you plenty of money to take at least a few top quality tours. In Manuel Antonio National Park for example you’ll be guaranteed wildlife sightings if you invest in a nature guide, and you’ll learn a lot about the local flora and fauna. Recruit a few fellow travelers so that you can split costs – the more people share a guide, the cheaper it gets (and again: hostels are a great place to connect with other travelers).

 


Have you visited Costa Rica on a shoestring? Feel free to add your money-saving tips for Costa Rica in the comments below!

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Belmonte Vacanze in Tuscany, Italy

hotel tip of the week

I had spent 12 days in Tuscany before the true meaning of the Italian expression ‘Dolce Vita’ became clear. This happened roughly two hours after checking in to our apartment at Belmonte Vacanze near Montaione in the Chianti region of Tuscany. The Italian expression means ‘the sweet life’, or the good life, and while the lifestyle involves a dedication to eating platefuls of pizza and pasta and necking down countless carafes of delicious Italian table wine, to really feel the Dolce Vita, you must reach a state of such intense relaxation that the concept of stress is lost from your mind entirely.

This feeling struck us both somewhere between attending the early evening on-site wine-tasting at Belmonte Vacanze and watching the glowing spring sun set over the rolling green hills with a belly full of truffle fettuccine.

Belmonte Vacanze Sunset

The resort property has a variety of double, triple and quad apartments in three buildings set on 200 hectares of truly breathtaking countryside. Each apartment offers comfortable beds, a bathroom, a living room with a sofa and large dining table, a fully equipped kitchen with four stove hobs, all yellow 1950s American style refrigerators and an outdoor patio with a second table for al fresco dining. There is high speed wi-fi in all apartments.

Kitchen at Belmonte Vacanze

As comfortable as the apartments are inside, the well-manicured lawns outside allow guests to sun themselves in their own front yards while sipping their morning coffee or a glass of red or white each night. Here you can enjoy the breeze as butterflies and birds whiz past your head, or play peekaboo with the tiny green Tuscan lizards that scuttle by along the hot concrete sidewalks nearby.

Belmonte Vacanze holiday apartments in Tuscany

The Lotti family, who own and run these Tuscany apartments, have thought of every last detail to keep their guests free of stress, including a morning delivery service from the local market. Using a shopping checklist, you can order milk, coffee, chocolate croissants and anything else you might need for breakfast, and the market delivers the food to your doorstep first thing in the morning. On arrival, we were also presented with a full listing of restaurants and services in the local area and a map.  The family is incredibly attentive in this way, and get to know most of the guests on a first name basis. A visit to their Facebook or Twitter page reveals online conversations with past guests – from greetings and well-wishes to promises of plans to see each other next summer.

Belmonte vacanze breakfast on terrace

Belmonte Vacanze’s web presence is maintained by Lauro Lotti, whose grandfather bought the property over 40 years ago. Back then, farming of olives and grapes, as almost everywhere in Tuscany, was the main source of income. Today, as in most of Tuscany, tourism is the focus at Belmonte Vacanze.  Lauro and his parents, who took over the property in 2003 and converted it into self-catering apartment rentals, go above and beyond, pouring their heart and soul into customer satisfaction. They also focus on creating an environmentally-friendly resort, incorporating eco-friendly policies at every turn.

Belmonte vacanze vacation rental apartment

The resort is perfect for families of all sizes, offering everything from a large, clean pool, bikes for rent, horse stables with eight horses (kids can be dropped off for a day of riding lessons and activities), a playground and acres and acres of safe space to play. With the kids here having so much fun, the parents seemed to feel just as relaxed as the loved-up childless couples drinking Prosecco and gazing out at the verdant view. Belmonte Vacanze is also a pet-friendly vacation property, providing plenty of space for pets to roam.

View from apartment Belmonte VacanzeStand Out Feature: Location

Not known for its nightlife, Tuscany holidays are all about spending your days out enjoying the countryside, villages and towns. Belmonte Vacanze is perfectly located for exploring Tuscany. The property is just 15 minutes from (our secret gem) Montaione in one direction and the medieval towns of San Gimignano (our absolute favorite Tuscan own) and Volterra in the other. The popular city of Siena can be reached within an hour, and you can even comfortably visit the Northern Tuscan cities of Pisa, Florence and Lucca and be back by sunset. During our stay we made the 2 hour ride to the Cinque Terre region one day, and the beaches along the Tuscan coast can be reached in about 90 minutes.

Belmonte vacanze olive trees & view

Standout Feature: The Friendliness Factor

We can’t emphasize this enough: the good people at Belmonte Vacanze run a family-friendly, LGBT-friendly, couple-friendly, pet-friendly and environmentally-friendly resort – all while managing to simply be the most people-friendly hosts we met in Italy.

Standout Feature: The Swimming Pool

The swimming pool is the centerpiece of this Tuscan farm holiday resort, and when the sun is shining, guests of all ages gather here to swim, tan, or gaze out at the view. Dozens of comfortable deck chairs surround the pool, with another handful point away from the water and out at the Tuscan hills. This is easily the most relaxing and fun element of the property.

Belmonte vacanze pool & view

Room for improvement: Signposting

After you book your stay at Belmonte Vacanze, go directly to the website and copy down the directions word for word. Once in the car and on your way, enter the exact address into your navigation system. Using both, you should arrive without a problem. Directions in Tuscany can be difficult to follow, which is why reading the directions on the website is key to stress-free arrival. It would be great if  Belmonte Vacanze would have a few signs along the way from the highway and San Gimignano. Tip: In addition to following the directions on the website, follow the signs along the way to Parco Benestare. You’ll run right into Belmonte five minutes before reaching the nature park.

Overall: Belmonte Vacanze in Tuscany

Belmonte Vacanze might be a family operation, but this is no mom and pop affair. As guests here, we felt we had the full attention of a four or five star hotel with the freedom of having our own apartment. Despite spending nearly two weeks in this fairytale region of Italy, it was our stay at Belmonte Vacanze that became our defining moment of what it truly means to escape to Tuscany.

Location: Via Torri 62, 50050 – Montaione
Price:
Starting at €35 per person per night, but check the website for special weekend or last-minute offers.
LGBT Friendly:
Absolutely!
Amenities:
swimming pool, sunchairs & umbrellas, fully equipped kitchen, living room with dining table and sofa, each apartment has its own balcony or terrace, wi-fi internet, free parking, sulfur springs, horse stables, tennis court, table tennis, playground, barbeque, bicycle rental, laundry facility.

Book your stay at Belmonte Vacanze on Booking.com.

Bedroom belmonte Vacanze

Like this hotel? Book it here.

 

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33 things we love about Costa Rica

costa rica sunset

These thirty three things are just a start –  things we loved about Costa Rica, along with some Costa Rica facts you may not know. There were so many positive aspects of our time in Costa Rica, we could easily list thirty three more! But we’re excited to hear your thoughts on this, too, so please feel free to add your favorite things about Costa Rica in the comments at the end!

1 Samara Beach
We won’t go on about this one, as we as you to please not go to Samara Beach, but the combination of jaw-dropping sunsets spotting, padding along the beautiful stretches of soft, clean sand and numerous places to enjoy champagne while looking out on to the water makes Samara Beach of the best beaches we visited in Central America.

Costa Rica samara beach Sunset
2 Comfortable public transportation

After spending a few months holding on for dear life on chicken buses throughout Central America, Costa Rica’s comfortable, clean and organized public transportation just felt good.

3 Sloths
They might look creepy, but these sleepy creatures sure are cute!
Costa Rica facts4 Gallo Pinto
This dish is not just rice and beans…the combination of black beans, rice, and magical spices make this Costa Rican (and Nicaraguan) easily our breakfast favorite.

5 Casados
Meaning ‘married’, a Casado is a marriage of rice, beans, veggies (and meat) on one plate. This typical, healthy and filling Costa Rican meal is an economical choice and sold at any ‘soda’ or local restaurant in the country. Casados make finding healthy veggie-friendly food a breeze.
casado vegetariano

6 A truly gay-friendly country
The theme throughout this post is the relaxed, accepting and peaceful nature of the country, and this also extends to the acceptance of the gay community…relative to the rest of Central America, of course. Although people not looking for it may never notice, Manuel Antonio is known as a kind of a mecca for gay travelers, with hotels and package deals targeted directly at the gay community, and there are plenty of gay bars (for boys and girls) in San Jose. This is one of the Costa Rica facts we’d heard rumors about, but didn’t believe it until we got there.

7 So many surfers
There’s nothing better than the relaxed vibe that the massive surfer population brings to the country, plus watching them sprint along the beach and ride the waves in some places is like a surfing championship every day of the week!
Costa Rica facts
8 The beaches of Manuel Antonio
Palm trees, coconuts, monkeys, and sparkling blue water…how can we not love Manuel Antonio. Just watch out for the mega-strong waves at high tide!

9 Licuados
With the variety of these refreshing, healthy fresh juice mixes in either water, milk or yogurt, we never had a sip of soda while in Costa Rica.

Licuados in Costa Rica
10 Pura Vida

Different to the international laid-back surfer vibe, Pura Vida is an entirely Tico feeling. This expression, which means ‘Pure Life’ is used as a greeting, a farewell, an excuse and a reason, and incorporates Costa Rica’s positive feelings about living life healthily, slowly, and peacefully (this country has no army and focuses on eco-friendly policies).

11 Guaro
Oh…how Guaro burns…this Costa Rican grain alcohol can’t possibly compare to Nicaragua’s award-winning Flor de Cana rum, but it’s available everywhere, it’s cheap, and after a couple of shots, who remembers anyway 🙂
Guaro shots & Imperial Beer

12 Cycling along the Caribbean coast
We absolutely loved this day out – we go on and on about it here.

13 The wildlife
From the Pacific to the Caribbean, no matter where you look you spot exotic wildlife in Costa Rica!
Costa Rica facts

14 Panaderias
The Ticos love their bread and after a lack of yummy baked goods in Honduras and Nicaragua, we were happy to see a panaderia or pasteleria (bakeries) on almost every corner in Costa Rica.

15 Punta Uva Beach
Okay, yes another beach – but Costa Rica has got the most gorgeous beaches! This beach just 4km from Puerto Viejo is simply breathtaking.
Punta Uva paradise
16 Both coasts are beautiful

No matter what side of the country you are on, you’re set for a quick trip to the beach. Nearly all Central American countries have access to both the Pacific and the Caribbean, but that’s not necessarily something to boast about. Nicaragua’s eastern coast is made up primarily of the infamous Mosquito Coast, while Guatemala’s Pacific beaches are not really even worth the trip. Costa Rica, on the other hand, is blessed with miles and miles of beautiful beaches, from the Northwestern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula down to the Puerto Viejo in the southeastern Caribbean region.

17 Drinking Tap water
Stick your glass under the faucet and let the water pour in! Drinking tap water here is as risk free as at home, and although it took us a few days to trust that drinking the water wouldn’t make us ill as in neighboring countries, it felt amazing to stop buying water everywhere we went. One of the Costa Rica facts we could not believe until we got there (from Nicaragua, where drinking water from a tab is a big NO!)

18 The cloud forest of Monteverde
Monteverde is one of the highest places in all of Costa Rica, nestled between green mountains and like the name indicates, often covered by clouds. The rains cause Monteverde to be one of the greenest places we’ve seen on our travels.
monteverde cloud forest costa rica
19 Sodas

Sitting somewhere between a food stand and a restaurant, sodas are like local Costa Rican diners. Located on every corner (next to the bakeries), they serve up typical dishes and a licuado for $3-$5, making it possible to travel Costa Rica on a shoestring.  Sodas are as great for your health as for your wallet, as the meal usually contains vegetables, rice, beans, meat (or extra veggies for us herbivores), plus the fruit in the licuado.

20 Flowers everywhere!
Costa Rica is certainly wild in terms of its population of various exotic animals, but the flowers in the country are equally as exotic and found everywhere. We don’t know the names of most the flowers we see, but they certainly put an extra bounce in our step.
Flowers in Cahuita Costa Rica
21 Butterflies

Costa Rica is home to 1,251 species, over 90% of all Central American butterflies. The Blue Morpho maybe the most remarkable one, but at times we were walking on paths being both followed and led by groups of fluttering butterflies.

22 The Caribbean village of Manzanillo
Manzanillo is a little village on the southern Caribbean coast and it still feels truly Caribbean and unspoilt by tourists.

Manzanillo caribbean house
23 People watching at Parque Central in Heredia

Heredia is a typical Costa Rican city, unspoilt by tourists, and even though only 11 kilometers from the capital, worlds apart from San Jose! Unlike the capital which has unfortunately begun to feel a bit shady in certain areas, Heredia is safe and relaxed, with a good variety of restaurants, excellent shopping, interesting architecture and a Central Park which is great for watching the Ticos in their day-to-day lives.

24 Hummingbirds
Costa Rica must have hundreds of thousands of hummingbirds – we saw these tiny little birds along both coasts, in the rain forest, the cloud forest and in the towns. We could watch them forever flying around with their record-breaking wing flapping!
Costa Rica facts
25 The fantastic Costa Rican coffee

The coffee here is known to be one of the best coffees in the world, and drinking it in Monteverde, surrounded by coffee plants, fresh from the farm, made it taste even better.

26 Stella’s Bakery in Monteverde
Far away from the most populated area of Santa Elena, Stella’s bakery & restaurant is set along the road to Monteverde and it is more than worth stopping by. Stella’s Dulce de leche strudel really is to die for, and there are so many other goodies (both savory and sweet) to choose from, you will probably end up taking something home for later or returning the next day.
stellas bakery Dulce de leche strudel
27 Waterfalls

Waterfalls here are practically a dime a dozen, except they are some of the most amazing we have seen.  You pass them just driving down the road or hiking along the beaches and it never gets old!

28 Cabinas el Pueblo Hostel in Monteverde
$10 per person for a clean room and breakfast included, plus a staff that provides priceless info about Monteverde, we can certainly recommend staying at the family-run, centrally-located Cabinas el Pueblo Hostel in Santa Elena, Monteverde, Costa Rica.

Cabinas El Pueblo Monteverde Costa Rica
29 The cheeky monkey families in Cahuita

The little village of Cahuita has a National Park which can be visited free of charge. Much emptier than Costa Rica’s more famous Manuel Antonio National Park, you can sit down anywhere and watch the monkey families with the baby monkeys swinging through the tree tops.

30 Miles of deserted beach near Montezuma
We might have been disappointed by Montezuma’s development but we were happy as clams about the endless stretches of sandy beaches along the coast. You can walk for miles and miles without meeting another soul.
Montezuma beach in the morning
31 Taco Bell

Yes. We went to Taco Bell. Twice. And yes, the Americanization of the country is a shameless train wreck, but after months and months of rice & beans, we couldn’t pass up a cheesy Gordita crunch!

32 The bronze statues in San Jose
Costa Rica’s capital didn’t do much for us, but we found some fantastic bronze statues by several well known artists (such as Botero) throughout the downtown.

Costa Rica facts
33 The friendly Ticos

Costa Ricans are super friendly and welcoming. Proud of their beautiful country, they are always happy to chat with travelers or tell you which places you should check out during your visit. These great people are affectionately known as ticos, for their endearing and unique use of the Spanish diminutive – from momento, instead of adding ‘ito’ – momentito, Costa Ricans add ‘ico’ – momentico.

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What’s for breakfast in Laos?

fried rice laos

Unlike when we arrived in Thailand, we were entirely unfamiliar with Lao cuisine. Thai restaurants are a dime a dozen in Europe and the U.S., but the only thing we knew to expect about the food in the former French protectorate was that we would be eating a lot of rice.

That did turn out to be true, although in northern Laos where we spent our time, we ate mostly sticky rice – and that at least twice a day. Most of the dishes are very similar to Thai cuisine – red and green curries, vegetable stir fries, and even Pad Thai was on many menus. But the breakfast dishes in Laos were brand new to us – we had never heard of the dishes with names like cheaw makork or khao piak sen.

So we decided to just order and see what we got…

Best of breakfast in Laos:

Lao Garden Breakfast

The Lao Garden Breakfast turned out to be a delicious, fluffy omelet with steamed vegetables on the side, served with a little container of steamed sticky rice (khao niao) and a delicious home-made tomato chili sauce for dipping the sticky rice.

breakfast in LaosWarm Lao Bread

Like you, we expected to see bread on the table after ordering this, but Warm Lao bread does not have much to do with the bread we know – it is completely made of rice. Sticky rice is hand-formed into a large, round inch-thick patty. The patty is then dipped in to a thick scrambled egg mixture, so that it comes packed in an omelet pocket. This is then pulled apart and dipped in the chili sauce. Not only is this cheap and filling, it is one of our absolute favorite Lao foods.

laos breakfastChew Makork

Hard boiled eggs, sliced into quarters, line the outside of a plate filled with sautéed vegetables in the center. On the side, you get your big serving of steaming hot sticky rice and the chili herb paste. You eat the eggs and veggies together, and, as always, ball up pieces of sticky rice with your fingers, dip into the chili and eat that with your fingers.

laos breakfast

Baguette with condensed milk

Yes, you read that right. The French influence comes from 50 years during which Laos was a protectorate of France (1893 – 1954), so in addition to crumbling French colonial architecture in cities like Luang Prabang, the baguette still remains a daily staple in Laos. There are baguette stands everywhere, even in rural villages, but rather than a healthy helping of ‘fromage’, these baguettes come two ways. One is the $1 lunch/dinner option – piled high with chicken, ham, lettuce, cabbage, avocado, egg, even plastic cheese singles – and the other is the breakfast baguette, a truly Lao/French fusion food. Here you cut the baguette open, pour half a can of sweetened, thick condensed milk over it, and voila: A simple but delicious sweet breakfast baguette, best enjoyed with a cup of delicious Lao coffee, which also usually comes with three or four spoonfuls of the same condensed milk.

luang prabang night market baguette lady

Other Lao breakfast specialties

Noodle soup is probably the most popular breakfast in Laos, but as vegetarians, it was hard to find some that wasn’t made with chicken broth, so we didn’t eat much of these below…

Khao Piak Sen

Khao Piak Sen is the typical Lao noodle soup, made from rice noodles, and served for breakfast as well as for lunch and dinner. The soup usually comes with chicken or pork, but a veggie version can also be found in some places.

lao breakfast Kao Piak sen

Khao Soy Noodle Soup

Khao Soy is another type of noodle soup, this one is influenced by Burmese cuisine.  however, this one is influenced by the Burmese cuisine. Also widely spread throughout Northern Thailand, Khao Soy is made from rice noodles, is spicier than Khao Piak Sen and contains lots of spices and hunks of vegetables (shallots, garlic, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and chillies) along with either pork, duck or chicken.

Lao-Food-Khao-Soy
Lao Khao Soy (c) www.laovoices.com

Youtiao

Youtiao is also known as a ‘Chinese donut’ and one of the many items that made their way into Lao cuisine from China. It is usually served as a side for rice porridge (congee) or Khao Tom.

youtiao

Which one of these would you want to try the most? Or have you been to Laos – which one was your favorite breakfast?

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A stroll through Casco Viejo, Panama’s historic quarter

Casco Viejo Panama

When we arrived in Panama City, the first buildings that came into view were modern monoliths like we hadn’t seen since Mexico City eight months earlier and seven countries to the north. Panama’s capital has a skyline to rival most major US cities, and being located right on the water, the sight is breathtaking. Panama City streetHowever, as contemporary as these skyscrapers and super condos are, they are the exception to the rule here in Panama. Put simply, the rest of Panama could not look more different than this area of the capital. Only a few minutes away from the  skyline so reminiscent of New York City, however, you enter a completely different world: Casco Viejo, Panama’s historic quarter. Casco Viejo churchDeveloped in the early 16th century, Casco Viejo is the oldest neighborhood of Panama City, set on a little peninsula bordered by the ocean on three sides. Casco Viejo is as antiquated as the skyline is modern.

Casco viejo buildingsCasco viejo streetThe flair that Panama City must have had in the late 19th century is still tangible when strolling between the colonial buildings and church ruins. In the well-maintained or newly renovated buildings, it is easy to imagine the bravado that must have been racing through the city’s veins, the amount of confidence Panama must have had in the late 19th century at the prospects of the prosperity to come, thanks to the construction of the Panama Canal, which would cement the city’s and country’s place on the world stage.
Casco Viejo alley
Casco viejo buildings
Casco viejo ruinToday, however, that mix of former greatness and crumbling buildings reminded us, although neither of us have ever been, of what Havana, Cuba must feel like. In contrast to other colonial towns in Central America, the buildings in Casco Viejo are considerably higher and have between two and four floors instead of only one.

Casco Viejo buildings
Havana Viejo in Casco ViejoOn a stroll through Casco Viejo, you will see several 15th century churches, green plazas and several grand buildings which house embassies and government bodies. Considerable funding, both national and international, has been invested in renovating Casco Viejo, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. Casco Viejo pink buildingThe area has started to flourish once more, and high-end hotels and restaurants (see below) have moved in, as well as some mid-range spots we fell in love with including Caffe Per Due, an Italian restaurant with to-die-for pizza, or Café El Vienna, a German-run coffee house (the latter has sadly closed since we visited).
Casco Viejo building & street
Casco Viejo PlazaDespite World Heritage status, until just a few years ago, tourists were advised not to visit Casco Viejo. The area was dodgy, thefts and muggings occurred, and most of the buildings were run down and abandoned. In 2005, a tourism police force was put into place to reduce muggings and theft, and the number of crimes has been declining ever since. Casco Viejo building & street

Whether it is because of the heavy police presence in the area or despite it, Casco Viejo feels very safe today. While we love exploring off the beaten path, there are some sincerely shady areas in Casco Viejo (multi-storey makeshift shanties and such) that would be better to avoid, especially at night.Casco Viejo arcades

Most of Casco Viejo’s buildings have had a fresh coat of paint slapped on, several have undergone major renovation, and the area has now been converted into one of the most well-preserved colonial towns of Central America. Casco Viejo churchThe influence of the Europeans is ever present and the high buildings, featuring the typical Spanish window shutters and grand French balconies, but the combination of renovated and run-down means you never forget that you are in Panama. Balcony Casco ViejoFreshly-painted iron-gated balconies feature colorful flowers, while right next door, it is the colorful laundry which catches your eye as it hangs over the old rusty balconies which seem as though they could collapse at any moment.Casco Viejo old building balcony
Casco Viejo old building balcony
casco viejo old balconySome buildings seem one breezy day away from falling down, but seen through the eyes of the temporary traveler, the buildings add to the neighborhood’s charm.

Casco Viejo old broken building
Casco Viejo Balcony with Teddy
Casco viejo doorThe indigenous Kuna women arrive in the early mornings, in their traditional dress, to set up their market stalls near Casco Viejo’s waterfront, where they sell their famous and unique hand-made ‘molas’ (clothes in Kuna language) and blankets in the typical bright colors. Kuna Woman in Casco ViejoOver in the business district, where people identify more with the U.S. than with their own Panama, the Kuna presence is nearly non-existent, just one example of how the two areas of Panama City feel like two entirely different worlds.Casco Viejo Kuna marketEnd your stroll with a walk along the promenade, which offers marvelous views of Panama City’s skyline, especially at night. Pick up a Panama hat (you’ll never find them cheaper – surprise, surprise – than here in Panama) and other souvenirs.Panama hats in Casco ViejoGet yourself a raspado, or shaved ice topped with fruit syrup and condensed milk, from one of the food carts and try to gobble up your ‘snow cone’ before it melts in the hot Panama sun.Ice man

 

Where to eat in Casco Viejo:

    • Caffe per due (Av. A, Casco Viejo) – Beautiful Italian restaurant with scrumptious pizza and pasta dishes
    • Tiempos Specialty Coffee (inside the American Trade Hotel) – fantastic specialty coffee shop, great for breakfast.
    • Nomada Eatery (inside Luna’s Castle Hostel) – bohemian coffee shop and restaurant with fresh food and tasty cocktails
    • PalettAmerica (Calle 8a Este) – ice cream parlor with amazing exotic fruit flavors 
    • Casa Sucre (Calle 8 y Avenida B) – cozy coffeehouse with delicious breakfast and coffee
    • Restaurante Santa Rita (Av. Eloy Alfaro) – excellent fusion of Spanish tapas and Argentine parilla: meat dishes, sea food & fresh fish, tapas
    • Mula Bar (upstairs at Tio Navaja restaurant) – lovely cocktails in an intimate setting
    • Fonda Lo Que Hay (Calle 12 Este Entre Avenida Central & Avenida B) – unique Panamian dishes with a twist. Run by one of Panama’s most famous chefs, Jose Carles, who also runs Donde Jose (see below)
    • Donde Jose (Av. Eloy Alfaro) – Panamanian cuisine, prepared and served fine dining style in a beautiful setting.
    • Tantalo – thriving rooftop bar & restaurant atop the Tantalo Hotel. Elegan fusion cuisine and a fab happy hour.
    • The Dining Room (inside the American Trade Hotel) – Most elegant restaurant in Casco Viejo.

El Cafe Vienna

Where to stay in Casco Viejo:

Budget:

  • Luna’s Castle Hostel – backpacker hostel in an old refurbished French-colonial mansion. Terrace, hammocks, communal lounge. Bed in a 10-bed dorm from US$16, including breakfast
  • Vive Casco Antiguo – Small but stylish apartments with one bedroom, fully equipped kitchen, washing machine and TV, and a balcony. Apartment per night from US$65
  • Magnolia Inn – beautiful Inn in a wonderfully renovated French-colonial villa with terraces. There’s a shared kitchen and a shared dining room. Dorm beds from US$14, private double rooms from US$80

Mid-range:

  • Tantalo Boutique Hotel is located right in the heart of Casco Viejo. The contemporary artsy rooms have a balcony, the hotel has a fantastic restaurant and rooftop bar. Double rooms start at US$80
  • Villa Palma Boutique Hotel: Small boutique hotel in Casco Viejo that combines traditional elements with modern features. There’s a sun terrace with a hot tub, and the hotel has a restaurant and bar. Double rooms start at US$108 per night.

Splurge:

  • La Concordia Boutique Hotel is a small hotel with stylish, beautifully designed rooms (including standalone bathtubs) and a lovely terrace. Some rooms have a balcony. Double rooms from US$204, including breakfast
  • Central Hotel Panama: Modern hotel behind a historic colonial facade. Features an outdoor pool and a spa center, including a sauna and fitness center. Double rooms start at US$170, including breakfast.
  • American Trade Hotel – right in the heart of Casco Viejo. Guests can enjoy an outdoor pool and rooftop sun terrace, a gym, a restaurant and there is a jazz bar onsite. Rooms are modern and stylish, bathrooms come with a rain shower head. Double rooms start at US$249 including breakfast.

Panama city skyline

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