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Latin America

Struck by a wave of charm in Valdivia

sea lions in valdivia

During a trip through Chile, odds are that unless you are Chilean or have unlimited time to travel, you probably won’t visit Valdivia.

Why would you?

Although it is the largest city in the south of Chile, it roughly four hours south of tourist-friendly Pucón and the same distance north of Puerto Varas, a popular stop with the South American cruises, and has no major tourist attractions to speak of.

valdivia riverside and fish market
Covered fish market and Valdivia from the river

We love these kinds of cities, the ones that are entirely unconcerned with tourists.

Their beauty is a natural one, no make-up, nothing over the top, out in plain sight for us to discover.

That’s why we fell for places like Valladolid in Mexico (we ask you not to even go there), Kamphaeng Phet (the town that tourism forgot) in Thailand and now Valdivia in Chile. While there is no earth-shattering attraction, it turns out that an event here actually altered the Earth forever.

valdivia streetLet’s back up a bit first. To understand Valdivia, the easiest place to start is by heading straight down to the river at the center of town. Not one river, actually this is where the confluence of three major rivers, the Calle-Calle, the Valdivia and the Cau-Cau.

It was here at the famous outdoor fish market, that, despite the bloody fish guts splattered on the floor, for us Valdivia began to sparkle.

valdivia market fish vendorIt is bursting with gorgeous produce on one side – fresh fruits and vegetables, a variety of colorful tubers, eggs, cheese, big cubes of dark green seaweed and another thick, rubbery type that looks more like animal intestine but is indeed seaweed straight from the area’s river system. Varieties of freshly caught river fish with strangely large teeth, or whiskers and tails stare across the aisle at the vegetarian-friendly section as fishmongers clean them, tossing their guts right onto the floor and then hosing them into the river behind them.

valdivia market algaeHundreds of birds hover and swoop in for this free fishy lunch, competing with six massive sea lions who roar, play fight and flap about lazily on a floating wooden pier just off river bank, both sure that they are the true main attraction.

The sea lions win, flippers down.

sea lion valdiviaAt one point Dani thought a space ship had landed in the market when seeing my eyes so wide with disbelief. The largest of the sea lions had made its way past the metal security gates and flopped right into the market itself. Hundreds of tourists with their cameras suddenly circled (at a safe distance) taking pictures with their phones, cameras, iPods and (annoyingly) iPads.

Dani jumped down right near him, of course, to get her shot, and though the market vendors were obviously used to this beast’s visit, they were amused with Dani’s eagerness to get the shot and kept urging her to touch him. She didn’t, instead letting some of the mongers lure him back into the water by dumping ever more fish guts into the water.

valdivia sea lion attackA stroll along the river brought us to the spot where river tours leave from – right in front of Fucoult’s Pendulum. You’d have to be much smarter than us to understand more than a basic gist, but we gleaned that the swinging of the pendulum proves the earth’s rotation.

In Valdivia, it turns out, this is more relevant than we would have thought.

valdivia submarineWe hopped on a one-hour river tour here (Spanish only) that gives a great outline of the history and industry of the city, but it was here we learned that Valdivia was the most affected city of the 1960 Great Chilean Earthquake, the strongest earthquake ever recorded in history.

Registering a 9.5 on the Richter scale, the quake was so powerful it actually altered the Earth’s axis and shortened the length of every day on Earth by a few milliseconds.

Tsunami waves of over 80ft (25m) battered the Chilean coast and actually devastated a town in Hawaii. Learning this, and that waves as high as 35 ft (10.7m) were recorded over 6,000 miles (10,000km) from the epicenter – as far as Japan – while sitting on a small tour boat was not exactly where we would have chosen to hear of this earth-shattering event.

valdivia riverOur visit was calm and focused on experiencing the everyday life of the city’s residents. The weather was sunny and warm, so hundreds of people were out on the river in kayaks and paddle boats, with more serious rowers speeding up and down it, parallel to the length of the city. While we were there, we ate well in several restaurants with fair, local prices.

In particular we would recommend a stop in at La Ultima Frontera, just a few blocks up and away from the river, for their great priced and delicious lunch specials. For a boozy afternoon break, stop by the very local Cafe Palace, where we had a giant bowl of Patatas Bravas and 2-for-1 pisco sours for a total of $8. There is primary forest to be visited outside of the city and incredible wildlife just across the river, but we were focused on a city getaway in the middle of a month of Patagonian adventure. We spent the afternoons visiting museums, like the contemporary art museum, and stopping in cozy, if nondescript, cafes, noticing each time that if a place offered free Wi-Fi, the internet connection always worked.

Valdivia from modern art museum
Valdivia from the Modern Art Museum across the river

This is how we feel in general with most of Chile. While lacking in the crumbling grandeur (and constant threat of economic disaster) of neighboring Argentina, in Chile everything just works. The economy here is strong and the infrastructure solid. Even in remote areas, roads are paved and internet connections are speedy. There is a sense of order here, throughout the country that we found even in bohemian Valparaiso and seven-million strong Santiago.

In Valdivia, the waves are calm enough again to witness the subtle aspects of charming Chilean life.

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Conveniently picturesque – a getaway to Uruguay’s Colonia del Sacramento

uruguay classic cars colonia del sacramento

Sitting at a table at ‘El Drugstore’, a popular restaurant in the historic center of Colonia del Sacramento, sipping a medio-y-medio while looking out at the Basilica del Santisimo Sacramento, I felt at ease for the first time since our attempted robbery in Montevideo. It might have been the mix of moscato grapes and pinot blanc sparkling which mix to make Uruguay’s special wine, or the passionate singer who entertained the guests with Spanish love songs. The scene felt like out of a movie, the manicured town square just a little bit too perfect.

Colonia del Sacramento Medio y Medio and churchWe booked four days here despite being warned that Colonia could be ‘done in a day’. Catching up with work and relaxing in the picturesque little town was exactly what we needed.

Picturesque Colonia del Sacramento

Colonia del Sacramento is a former Portuguese colony founded in 1680 that has become a long weekend playground for residents of Buenos Aires, the reasons for which, however, are not purely touristic in nature.

Colonia del sacramento uruguayColonia is a charming, compact UNESCO World Heritage site that really could be visited in a single day, a soothing contrast to the sprawling Argentine capital that sits just a 50-minute ferry ride across the Rio de la Plata river. Here tourists from around the world step carefully along original and very rocky cobblestone streets lined with one-story colonial buildings filled with cheek-pinchingly cute cafes and restaurants and several modest attractions like the old lighthouse, the country’s oldest church, Iglesia Matriz, the city’s old fort and the 17th century port which juts out into the river.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayHere you eat ice cream and stroll, and the second day in town you can rent bicycles, scooters or even golf carts to escape out to the beaches just 15 minutes outside the city. We would also recommend riding, driving or carting around the Colonia beyond the historic center, which has an entirely different and much more Uruguayan feel.

Colonia del Sacramento Unesco UruguayWe spent most of our days between sightseeing and working away in one of the many little cafes. As was our routine in South America, we hung with the local stray dogs and watched the sun set across the Rio de la Plata.

Colonia del Sacramento Pupppies and sunsets

Money, money, money: Convenient Colonia 

Although it is truly picturesque, Colonia’s popularity might have slightly less to do with an influx of international tourists and more to do with residents of neighboring Argentina, in particular Buenos Aires, who flock here for entirely practical purposes.

Argentina is again suffering bouts of extreme inflation, devaluing the peso. There is no access to US dollars from banks anywhere in Argentina, which means that while parents hand out ice cream and climb to the top of the lighthouse with their kids, they are there to endure the long lines that wrap around the block to withdraw large sums of US dollars from Uruguayan banks. Both parents and business people are involved in bringing massive amounts of dollars back into Argentina, either to save under their mattresses or exchange on the blue market.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayColonia is also a practical escape for the Buenos Aires expat community, who make quick weekend trips here every three months when their visas expire. North American and European expats hop across the Rio de la Plata and upon their return, have a fresh new three-month tourist visa to continue living in Argentina without having to apply for any sort of official residency.

Our tip: How to best stock up on $US dollars in Colonia del Sacramento

For people who are traveling from Uruguay to Argentina, you will need to stock up on US Dollars, too, as you will save hundreds, even thousands of dollars by exchanging them on the blue market for pesos while in the country. Our advice is to entirely avoid the massive ATM lines in the barrio historico and venture out beyond the cobblestone into the ‘real’ Colonia. There are plenty of little details to discover and the further out you go, the shorter the lines at the ATM (we never waited more than five minutes near our hotel). You can also bring your passport and withdraw $$ with a teller inside the bank in order to avoid paying any ATM fees as well.

Colonia del Sacramento UruguayNo matter what your purpose of your trip is to Colonia del Sacramento, do your hotel research, book at least a week in advance if you can and stay for a few nights to really soak in this charming city and the surrounding sleepy countryside and secluded beaches.

Colonia del sacramento uruguay

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The five best beaches to visit in Central America

costa rica beach nicoya

If you’ve taken the time to travel in Central America, or even considered settling down and possibly living in Costa Rica or another of the beautiful locations on this strip of land, then you must have already started exploring the beaches in the region. This can take months of traveling. Want the detail on the best beaches to see across Central America? Here are some to try!

The five best beaches to visit in Central America

San Blas Archipelago, Panama

There are 378 islands in this gorgeous arc, lying off the north coast of Panama. But only 49 are inhabited. Just imagine the endless strips of untouched sand and sea that you’ll find here. The Kuna, the indigenous population here, are friendly people who still enjoy a traditional lifestyle and if you visit the smaller islands in the Archipelago, there`s a chance there may be a member of the Kuna tribe waiting on shore to collect $1 from you, in exchange for all day use of the beach. So if you are ready to travel to your slice of paradise, definitely do it here! Tropical fish, shallow water, local population…you couldn’t ask for anything more.

Starfish PanamaTabyana Beach, Roatan, Honduras

For a more affordable price, you can experience some of the best that Honduras has to offer. Roatan Island varies quite a bit depending on which end you go to – the southern end is mostly rocky volcanic shore, whereas West Bay is gorgeous. Tabyana Beach isn’t totally out of the tourist way, but the sand is still beautifully clean and the sea just as amazing! Cruise ships can even dock nearby for a day, so don`t be surprised if it is slightly more crowded on these days. Otherwise, it’ll be like most of your Central American traveling – long secluded stretches of sand and sea! Taxis are also a great way to visit multiple secluded beaches here. But make sure the taxi stays with you all day – remote means remote, and you’ll be stranded if the driver decides to leave! Haggle for the best price, too, before you set off. Then, enjoy!

Hacienda Baru, Costa Rica

This private Natural Reserve will offer you something unique during your months of Central American travelling. Not just a typical seaside, this Reserve has four different types of forests, amazing wildlife, and guides who will lead you through it all for a great price. Take the bus from San Jose or a plane to Quepos Airport, after which a 20 minute taxi ride will lead you to the entrance of Hacienda Baru. Walk, clamber in the canopy, or enjoy a horseback ride – visits into the Reserve are daily, and will open your eyes to the stunning natural world of Costa Rica!

best beaches Central America

Whale’s Tail Beach, Ballena Marine National Park, Uvita, Costa Rica

If you have spent a few travelling months in the Central American region, chances are you will have discovered this unique National Park, with its beach shaped very much like a whale’s tail. It is slightly less-known than some of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist attractions, so enjoy it before it truly is discovered by the tourist hordes. With some of the most extensive reefs in the Pacific, and frequent whale sightings, this travel destination in Costa Rica is one you won’t forget.

Isla Bastimentos, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Just a 10 minute boat trip from the town of Bocas del Toro, this secluded island has beaches which are just wilderness waiting to be enjoyed. You can venture into the main city of the Old Bank, a West Indian historic town, or head further south to the mangroves of the Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos. Either way, if you’re traveling for months in Panama, this is somewhere that you won`t want to miss.

best beaches Central America

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Cycling along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast

Cycling along the Caribbean Coast in Costa Rica

“EEEeee! This is just like Eat Pray Love!” Jaime squealed as we pedaled away from the bike rental shop on our shiny new bikes to explore the Caribbean beaches of the Costa Rican coast. Cheesy as it sounds, I think we all found the experience to be liberating, exhilarating yet completely relaxing.

Puerto Viejo cycling

We had just met Jaime, the Breakaway Backpacker, in person for the first time the day before in Puerto Viejo, and even though he had not ridden a bicycle for quite a while, he was up for a bike ride along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Jaime had just landed in San Jose a few days earlier to start his solo round-the-world trip, and Puerto Viejo Costa Rica was the first stop on his yearlong journey.

Puerto Viejo Costa RicaPuerto Viejo itself is a fun town and has everything in terms of hotels, bars and restaurants, but the beaches in town pale in comparison to the spots further down the coast. Bikes are available for rent throughout town for US$5 per day, complete with locks and a big basket to hold your beach gear, so we set off by bicycle along the well-paved coastal road in search of a spot to swim and soak up the sun.

Bicycle rental Puerto Viejo

The road hugs the coast the whole 8.7 miles (14 kilometers) from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo in the far south of Costa Rica, weaving along from just on the coast to a bit more inland where a glimpse of the beach is only possible through the thick jungle. Although there are patches where potholes are plentiful, the vast majority of the road is absolutely perfect for bike riding, traffic (both bike and car) is minimal, making it possible for us to spend the way out of town chatting away. Other times we rode along in peace and quiet, each enjoying our own little moments of solitude with the sun shining down.

Manzanillo Vendor woman at the beachJust about a mile outside of town we reached Playa Cocles, and if we had stayed there all day we would have been more than satisfied. The waves here are strong, and we watched surfers and sipped fresh coconut water before heading to Punta Uva, a thirty minute ride further along the coast. From the minute we parked our bikes under the palm trees near the National Park sign, it was clear this beach was our absolute favorite. Beaches rarely get better than this. Set in a bay, the beach in protected by a tropical tree covered cliff which keeps the waves out and the water perfectly flat, nearly motionless. Looking back at the lush jungle while floating freely in the water was invigorating. Despite it being Saturday afternoon and cloud-free skies, we shared the entire beach with no more than 20 people.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica

We could have stayed here all day, but instead convinced ourselves to take advantage of our fabulous bikes and move on to Manzanillo. Whereas the first part of the road from Puerto Viejo to Punta Uva is lined with spacious hotel properties, a few resorts, high end restaurants, surf shops, and a smattering of cheapie mom and pop restaurants, the second half of the ride is almost entirely through the jungle.

Puerto Viejo cycling

Along the way, we dismounted just off the road to goggle at hundreds of hand-size Golden Orb spiders hanging in webs that must have taken generations to build. On the way back, in exactly the same place, Jaime squealed a second time, but this time to warn me about the 5 foot long black snake slithering its way across the road.

Golden Orb spider web

Manzanillo has the most Caribbean feeling of all the beaches. This cheerful, colorful little town is populated mainly by English-speaking Afro-Caribbeans living in smaller houses, some on stilts, plus a handful of bars, restaurants and hotels.

Puerto Viejo cycling

The beach is as long and wide as the town is small – the sprawling sand stretches for miles, but we only had time here for a quick bite in the local soda (simple Costa Rican restaurant), before jumping back on the bike and power-pedaling those 14 hilly kilometers along the road through the jungle, past the spiders, around the snake, back toward Puerto Viejo before sunset.

Puerto Viejo Costa Rica

The road was ours, only passing the occasional car or bike, until we hit Playa Cocles again. Here, we joined a heavy flow of bicycle traffic all heading back to Puerto Viejo, at time five bicycles wide, as groups of tourists on Caribbean holidays joined surfers riding one-handed, clutching their boards under one arm after a day out on the waves. We returned the bikes 8 hours and 28 kilometers later, sun-burnt, saddle sore and smiled the whole way back to the hostel. A truly life-affirming day indeed.

Puerto Viejo cycling

Continue reading: Is it safe to travel in Costa Rica?

In this article, I look at safety in Puerto Viejo Costa Rica but also other popular places in the country. This guide is aimed at solo travelers and female travelers, but some of the dangers mentioned in the article are relevant to all travelers, no matter if you’re traveling solo, in a group, with your partner, male or female.

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How much does it cost to travel in Central America?

Border Crossing Costa Rica Panama

Long-term travel is all about the benjamins. Your budget becomes your bible, how much (or little) you spend determines how long you will be able to keep up the lifestyle of constant travel. We have already posted our six-month budget and our 1-year budget, but both of these include time spent either in the U.S. or Europe, which are much more expensive and so don’t adequately reflect the cost of traveling in Central America. So how much does it cost to travel in Central America?

In this article, we are breaking down the costs of traveling through all of Central America: Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama – in order for those planning a trip to have a rough idea of how much traveling through Central America costs.

Overall Central America Budget Breakdown

We spent exactly six months traveling through all Central American countries – Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama – spending a total of $10,685.65 for both of us.

That is about $890.47 per person per month, or $30.36 per person per day (for the exact amount of days we were in Central America).

how much does it cost to travel in Central AmericaOriginally we had a rough goal in mind to shoot for under $1,000 per person per month, but we ended up spending even less thanks to keeping a close eye on our spending. This number is the average over six months, but there were major differences in how we spent our money in the various countries, so we have also broken it down per country:

Central America travel budget breakdown per country

Belize: $54 per person per day

Belize was by far the most expensive country in Central America, but we enjoyed our time there immensely. We could have spent less here, but couldn’t pass up the adventure ops available like snorkeling and caving, which would have been much more expensive in Europe or North America. Minus the adventure, Belize would have cost around $40 per person per day. If you want to keep your Central America travel budget low, we’d suggest skipping Belize.

Accommodation: $7.50 – $12.50 per person in a double room average A double room cost $25 on Caye Caulker, but only $15 in San Ignacio.
Transport: A long-distance bus from Belize City to San Ignacio near the Guatemalan border was $3.50, boats between Belize City and Caye Caulker were $10.
Food: $10 per person including beer. Beer $1.50 – $2.50.
Activities: Full day snorkeling tour $40, cave tours between $45 and $70 per person.

Belize snorkeling

Guatemala: $23.12 per person per day

We splurged constantly in Guatemala. We took advantage of the high quality international cuisine in Antigua and around Lake Atitlan, putting away pots of fondue and bottles of wine, and discovering the wonders of Israeli food. Still, we managed to spend less than $25 per person per day by staying away from overpriced tourist shuttles and keeping our booze easy and local, plus we chose budget accommodation under $10 per person in a private room.

Guatemala hostelsAccommodation: On average we spent $9 per person per night. The cheapest private room we stayed in was $4.90 per person, the most expensive was $16 per person.
Transport: Local buses cost between $0.50 and $3.
The most expensive bus we took was a night bus from Flores to Guatemala City for $29 each. After that, we only traveled by local buses and never spent more than $3.
Food: $6 – $10 per person including drinks. Beer $1 – $2.
Activities: Pacaya volcano $13, Tikal including transport & guide $30, ruins in Antigua $5

tienda Chichicastenango Guatemala

Honduras: $28.68 per person per day

Honduras can be done on the super cheap, but as we spent the Christmas holidays here, we treated ourselves to nicer hotels (maximum $25 for both of us together) and special holiday meals. Only for that reason did we end up spending more per day than Guatemala or El Salvador. We avoided the famous islands of Utila and Roatan, however, and visitors to the islands would most likely also average similar costs, as the mainland is considerably cheaper than these popular diving isles.

Accommodation: between $7.50 and $12 per person in a double room
Transport:
Buses are between $2 and $4, the most expensive bus ride was $7
Food:
$5 – $7 per person including drink. Beer $0.60 – $1.50.
Activities: The most expensive activity was visiting the Copan ruins at $15 per person

Central America travel budget

El Salvador: $24.05 per person per day

Accommodation was the most expensive aspect of traveling in El Salvador – we found everything else (transport, food, drinks) super affordable. We did fall hard for pupusas; eating them every meal (almost) kept our food costs way down. In general El Salvador doesn’t have much in the way of expensive tourist sites, museums are free on certain days, and even surfing can be done for $10 to $20 per lesson.

Accommodation: $10 per person in a double room with shared bathroom, $12.50 per person in a double room with private bathroom and hot shower
Transport:
Buses are seriously cheap here, between $1 – $2, with the most expensive bus ride costing $4.
Food:
A meal was around $4 per person, including drinks (beer). Again, pupusas cost 40 cents each, and beer is usually $1.
Activities: The most expensive activity was a guided hike in Alegria for $7.50 per person.

how much does it cost to travel in Central America

Nicaragua: $31.81 (including the Corn Islands)/$20.76 (excluding the Corn Islands)

In Nicaragua, we treated ourselves to a well-earned splurge, and made the pricey trip out to the Corn Islands. This raised our daily average significantly, but not everyone is going to make the trip to the Corn Islands. Without the Corn Islands trip, Nicaragua would have been the cheapest country in Central America for us. Even with eating out twice a day almost every day, we barely spent more than $20 per person per day.

leon hostelsAccommodation: $7.50 per person in a double room average
Transport: Buses were usually less than $1; the most expensive ride was $1.80
Food: Breakfast was between $2 and $3.50; dinner was $4 and max. $7 with beer between 50 cents and $1.20.
Activities: Movie theater tickets cost $1.90 (snacks around $1.80), daily bike rental $3.90

how much does it cost to travel in Central America

Costa Rica: $26.62 per person per day

Rumor has it that Costa Rica is more expensive than the rest of Central America, but we had a great time and easily kept costs down. Sure, it was quite a shock to see the prices in Costa Rica after coming from super cheap Nicaragua, but they didn’t vary much from prices in Honduras or El Salvador. Spend your money wisely, and those extras such as zip-lining, guided hikes and National Park visits won’t break the bank, or put you above budget, but if you’re not careful (and you like to drink beer), it’s easy to burn through Colones in a snap. There is cheap accommodation in Costa Rica, but the quality you get for $20 here is certainly far less than in the rest of Central America.

Accommodation: $10 per person in a double room
Transport: $1.20 for short distance bus rides, $2.50 for medium-distance rides, $8.00 for long distance bus rides
Food: A meal in a restaurant or in a soda runs at around $5 to $9. Beer $2 – $3.
Culture: The National Parks in Costa Rica are exceptionally beautiful and well worth the entrance fees, which range from $10 to $20. Ziplining is around $50 from the cheapest provider in Monteverde.

Central America travel budget

Panama: $35.71 per person per day

Like El Salvador, Panama also uses the U.S. Dollar, but here the inflation caused costs in Panama to be significantly higher than anywhere else in Central America. Goods and services here are often priced equally to the US thanks to a seriously large ex-pat population (especially in Panama City), but with beer still average 75 cents a bottle…who’s complaining! The islands of Bocas del Toro were above average in price, while the mountain town of Boquete was easily affordable. As a global city, Panama City is home to the finest luxury accommodation as well as 25 cent bus rides and street food for $1.

Accommodation: $10 per person per night – the cheapest accommodation was $6.50 per person in a triple room, the most expensive was $12 per person (also in a triple).
Transport: $1.50 for short-distance bus rides, $7 for medium distances, 12.50 for long distances. Inner city buses in Panama City cost between $0.25 and $0.50.
Food: A meal is between $3 and $8, depending on the location.
Culture: The Panama Canal visitor center at the Miraflores Lock is $15, a ferry ride to Taboga Island is $20 for a return ticket, and movie theater tickets are $3.

How much does it cost to travel in Central America

How much does it cost to travel in Central America: Practical information

  • We were able to stick to our budget mainly because we used Lonely Planet’s Central America on a shoestring guidebook, which has super useful budget information for each individual country. It’s not a light book and it takes up quite a lot of space, but carrying it was well worth it for us (not only for budget tips, but also hostel recommendations, maps, and up-to-date information on how to get from A to B.)
  • We chose almost exclusively very cheap local transportation (chicken buses) instead of the more expensive tourist shuttles.
  • We ate at cheap local restaurants but also opted for pricier tourist restaurants and fancy coffee shops more often than other travelers. If you eat where the locals eat and sleep in dorm rooms, you can travel Central America on less money than we did.
  • Note that we didn’t party a lot while we were there – we know lots of backpackers who party much more in Central America than we did – so if you’re planning on going out a lot, make sure to add that to your Central America travel budget.
  • Wondering what to pack for your trip to Central America? Check out our packing list for the things we can’t travel without and the gear we’ve ditched over time.

Have you traveled through Central America? If you have, what countries did you find budget-friendly? Where did you splurge? Was your Central America travel budget similar to ours?

 

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Enjoy the flavor of the Caribbean on a Cruise

Dream Beach

The Caribbean is one of the most popular and exciting cruising destinations in the world as it guarantees you cone of the best spectacles and experiences. You have an opportunity to choose between the Eastern and the Western circuits which are still the most dominant cruising circuits in the region.

The two circuits have a lot of similarities in terms of year-round temperatures, sea time, outstanding snorkeling and diving, and historic cultural landmarks. However, the Western circuit has a slight edge over the Eastern circuit in terms of attractions and activities. The following are some of the major reasons why one should consider a Caribbean cruise:

Multiple Excursions and Adventures

There are many instances when you feel that you do not have a sense of adventure, but cruising across the Caribbean can help you rediscover your sense of adventure. Each Caribbean port offers you a list of things to do including excursions to rediscover your adventurous nature. Example of such excursions and adventures include;

  • Zip-lining in the thick jungles of Antigua
  • Cave tubing in Belize
  • Swimming in Grand Cayman with stingrays
  • Exploration of the ancient Mayan ruins located in Cozumel
  • Relaxing under the waterfall in Ocho Rios, Jamaica
  • Shore excursions in New World plantation houses

tubing

The physical activities associated with such adventures promote optimal health by boosting your mood and energy levels.

The winter sun

A Caribbean cruise gives you an opportunity to enjoy the winter sun. This is a perfect opportunity for you to escape winter and go to the Caribbean to enjoy some natural light and absorb healthy sun. Natural sun helps your body to produce Vitamin D which is good for your mood and health.Being out at sea helps you calm down as you enjoy fresh ocean air. The Celebrity Caribbean cruise destinations are the most exciting for families that want to enjoy themselves on a small budget. Apart from the comfort, they also offer an all-inclusive entertainment and dining for families as they enjoy the amazing winter sun along the Western Caribbean coast.

Rejuvenating Spa Opportunities

A Caribbean cruise provides you with a perfect opportunity for rejuvenation as you refresh your body, spirit and mind. Examples of luxury spa treatments that are available on a Caribbean cruise include:

  • Soothing facials
  • Acupuncture treatments
  • Scrubs
  • Body wraps
  • Massages
  • Pedicure
  • Manicure
  • Salon services
  • On board workouts

You can pamper yourself onboard a Caribbean cruise as you take advantage of the many opportunities to look your best.

Convenient Home Ports

A Caribbean cruise in the western circuit is characterized by convenient home ports that are located along the Gulf Coast in the Southern parts of the Unites States. Passengers can embark in any of the ports to enjoy the Royal and Carnival Caribbean. Some of the notable home ports that are convenient for a Northern American winter travelers include

  • Miami in Florida
  • New Orleans in Louisiana
  • Mobile in Alabama
  • Houston in Texas
  • Galveston in Texas

In conclusion, a Caribbean cruise guarantees you an amazing experience if you are in need of adventure and exploration. Some of the major attractions include; convenient home ports, winter sun, ancient monuments, outstanding water sports. The Caribbean Islands are incomparable and it is a good idea to make plans for a cruise in the region.ajaccio yacht & cruiseship

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6 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your St. Lucia Vacation

Sunset

If you’re looking for a great vacation spot in the Caribbean, check out St. Lucia. This popular destination offers beautiful beaches, lush rain forests, and favorable exchange rates. But before you head out the door, let’s look at some things to do before you visit.

Accommodation

The choice of places to stay includes everything from inexpensive motels to luxurious resorts. Choosing a hotel or Airbnb costs relatively little with single rooms beginning at $50 per night. But for those wanting pampering and relaxation, check out the Serenity at Coconut Bay hotel and resort. Included with the many amenities are suites with butler services. This adults-only resort also offers poolside attendants at all five of the pools, cabanas, and a water park for channeling your inner child.St. Lucia

Volcanoes and More

Long dormant but still exciting is Soufriere Volcano. This beautiful area features waterfalls, sulphur springs, geysers, mud baths, and nature trails. At Hummingbird Beach, let a local take you out on a speedboat instead of paying tourist prices for the official excursions. You’ll enjoy the ride and get the inside scoop on the island as well.Petit Piton, St Lucia

Rainforest Adventure

The Bois D’Orange Swamp and Boriel’s Pond areas are rainforests offering a splendid place for bird watching. Local species include the St. Lucian Parrot, the White Breasted Thrasher, and the St. Lucia Peewee. If you’re looking for adventure, try zip lining through the canopies of the rainforest. Visit the nearby Morne Fortune (or Hill of Good Luck) where you’ll see an old fortress began by the French and finished by the British during the 17th century.

Hiking the Trails

If hiking is something you enjoy, visit the trails of The Barre De L’isle Rain Forest including a steep climb up the Morne la Combe. The hike takes about three hours but it’s worth the view. For a special treat, stop at Diamond Falls. This 50-foot tall waterfall features water full of many different minerals and volcanic material giving it beautiful color.St. Lucia Pitons

History and Local Culture

See Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. It’s a wonderful place for learning the history of the island with historical sites like La Toc Battery, the Cathedral, and the Central Library. Stop by Castries Market, where friendly vendors like talking about their wares on Saturday morning. If you’re hungry, try the roadside stands for cheap and delicious food featuring beans, plantains, rice, sweet potatoes, and coconut along with pork, beef, chicken, or fish. There’s plenty of fruit for munching too. Enjoy a tasty meal for around $5 for lunch and $15 for dinner and avoid the pricey touristy restaurants.

Saving Tips

If you’re looking to save money, visit the many duty-free shops where designer goods, perfume, and jewelry come with huge discounts. Plus, travel during the off-season beginning in late April and running through October. Prices plummet about 30 percent during this time of year.Rodney Bay

No matter what your interests, there is something for everyone in this island paradise. Your best adventures come from taking in the nature and beauty of St. Lucia.

Photo Credit: All photos used via Flickr’s Creative Commons Licensing. (1) St Lucia by Michael Sean Terre7ta; (2) Petit Piton by Simon Phipps; (3) St Lucia Pitons by Pablo Marx; (4) Rodney Bay by Andrew.

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Eating our way through Central America

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Travel can be about discovering new place and meeting new people, but one of the most exciting aspects of travel is the food! Every time we cross a border, we look forward to sampling new street food, discovering new fruits or vegetables, or trying out a local specialty. As vegetarians traveling through Central America, there weren’t many non-meat specialties, but we never had any trouble finding plenty of delicious food to eat! Sure, we had many, many plates of rice & beans and way too many eggs as we made our way from Mexico to Panama, but we managed to find a favorite dish in every country.

Here are some of our favorite dishes as we ate our way through Central America:

Street food tacos in GuatemalaWhen we arrived in Guatemala, we still missed Mexican street food (a lot!) and so we were happy when we found a street food stall in Antigua that sold flautas… but wait, here they were called tacos, and while they weren’t as good as Mexican flautas, it was a tough call between the tacos and the tostadas for our Guatemalan street food.

It was in Guatemala where we started to have the typical breakfast consisting of black beans, eggs, rice and tortillas… a breakfast we would have dozens of times during the next few months (who’s complaining!).

Desayuno Tipico GuatemaltecoIn El Salvador, we fell in love with pupusas. Thick corn tortillas are stuffed with cheese, refried beans or both (or meat) and served with a vinegar-cabbage salad and a hot salsa. We ate pupusas every day and had at least one at almost every meal. No matter if we had them at a street food stall, in a restaurant or a special pupuseria, they were always delicious (except for that one time on the bus in the 102 degree heat). Pupusas cost $0.20 to $0.40 a piece, making them a ridiculously cheap meal.

El Salvador pupusasHonduran food did not impress Jess, but I went crazy for Baleadas, which are large thin flour tortillas filled with egg, refried beans, salsa and avocado – almost like a breakfast burrito, but folded instead of rolled.

Baleada in HondurasNicaragua had some of the best food of our trip so far, even though the dishes did not vary too much. We just loved the fresh fruits! We had a pineapple a day between the two of us, loads of watermelon, papaya (which even Jess, usually a papaya hater, thought tasted good) and zapote, a bright red fruit with a fuzzy brown outside similar to a kiwi. We loved the Nicaraguan beer and we devoured every single breakfast we had in Nicaragua, which remained the basic eggs, toast, rice and beans, but now instead of regular rice and beans, we were eating Gallo Pinto, which is rice & beans in a special sauce mix.

Banana vendor in Leon NicaraguaWhile we stayed in Leon, we went to the market every day and bought fresh fruits and vegetables.

leon market papayaThe vegetarian lunch plates were usually big enough for the two of us to share:

Lunch in Nicaragua: plantains, rice, beans, cheese, yucca and eggsThe plate comes with eggs, yucca, fried plantain AND plantain chips, rice & beans, deep-fried cheese cubes AND fried cheese plus cabbage salad on the side. Not very healthy, but delicious – plus, remember all that fruit we were eating…right?

Tostones with cheese in NicaraguaWe also loved these waist-expanding tostones (flattened & fried green savory plantains) topped with fried cheese cubes.

veggie plate NicaraguaDinner meant usually more rice & beans, more plantains, and vegetables in a sauce of your choice.

Veggie plate in NicaraguaThe vegetarian sandwiches, stacked with vegetables and a chayote patty, and served with fried plantains AND plantain chips, were also very tasty.

Veggie sandwich in NicaraguaWe bought Bunuelos, little cheesy dough balls served with a watery honey syrup on the streets of Granada:

bunuelos NicaraguaBut seriously, the best food we had in Nicaragua were the amazing breakfasts:

Nicaragua breakfastGallo Pinto with fried eggs and a SPICY sauce which will wake you up for sure!

Our love affair with Gallo Pinto didn’t need to end in Nicaragua, as it is practically the national dish of neighboring Costa Rica, although the best vegetarian food in Costa Rica are the casados, big plates filled with rice, pasta, black beans, steamed or grilled vegetables and a salad. Sometimes they also have plantains or cheese, and they are always under $5 for a super filling dinner.

Casado vegetariano Costa RicaYou can order a casado with pretty much any kind of meat, but for us the casados vegetarianos were perfect, and not once did they disappoint.

Casado Vegetariano Costa RicaCosta Ricans get more creative with their cuisine in some of the nicer restaurants. We had a good splurge and ordered these fabulous yucca fries and cheese-filled yucca balls – totally worth it!

Yucca plates Costa RicaPanama does not cater to vegetarians the way the other Central American countries do, and while the food is very meaty, you also do not find a lot with tortillas. This means all the tortilla foods – tacos, flautas, baleadas, tostadas, are no longer available as street food. Of course veggies can still get heaping plates of potato salad, rice & beans and plantains for around $2 to $3, and fruit is easy to find and fill up on.

panamanian vegetarian mealIn Panama, we felt the proximity to South America in the cuisine, one example being that there were empanadas everywhere, and because of the excellent variety, it was here in Panama that we were finally able to choose from loads of veggie options – cheese, egg and potato and (this is genius) empanadas filled with Gallo Pinto (we gobbled those up too fast for photos, the one below is egg and potato):

empanada with eggs panamaEvery Central American country (and Mexico) offers up incredibly delicious, freezing cold and surprisingly large licuados – fresh fruit juices, like smoothies, but prepared either with water or milk. You can usually get your licuado with any one tropical fruit or all mixed together. To die for!

Licuados in Costa RicaFruit made up a significant part of our diet, as the plastic bags or cups of fruit are faster, cheaper and healthier than any other ‘fast food’. For less than $1 you get a big cup filled with pineapple, watermelon or papaya. We found this mouth-watering strawberry-banana mix, topped with cream, in Todos Santos, Guatemala, for 5 Quetzales, or $0.60.

Guatemala Banana & Strawberry MixAre you as hungry as we are now?!

If you’ve traveled through Central America, we’d love to know your favorite foods! If you’ve traveled to South America, do you have any suggestions for us for when we finally get there?

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Hotel Tip Of The Week: Casa Valeria in Samara Beach, Costa Rica

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Welcome to our weekly 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 to show you how budget travel can be possible as well as enjoyable.

One sweltering Sunday afternoon in the landlocked town of Nicoya, Costa Rica, we stood at the bus station with hopes to get down to Montezuma, but it was late and the only direct bus driving anywhere toward the beach was headed for nearby Samara Beach. We had no idea this would become one of our favorite Central American destinations when we spontaneously hopped on and an hour later were walking up the main street, our noses sunk into our Footprint guidebook for advice on where to stay. None sounded great and by looking around most seemed far above our budget. On a whim, we checked out Casa Valeria.

Luck was with us that day, as it turns out, as we couldn’t have been more satisfied with our choice of accommodation in Samara Beach. Casa Valeria sits on one of Samara’s two main streets, which runs parallel to the beach and hosts a slew of beach front hotels and restaurants. The hotel is a bit plain compared to its neighbors when seen from the street, but as we poked our head around the large entry gate, we were pleasantly surprised by the view: five stand-alone beach-side bungalows on either side of a yard with palm trees, plenty of tables and chairs, and hammocks further down towards the beach.

Casa Valeria bungalow Samara Beach

Rather than book into a bungalow for $50, we opted for one of the two budget rooms for $30, knowing we would spend most our time out at the gorgeous beach at less than a minute walk from the door to the water. The rooms are simple, but the beds are big, clean and comfortable, the waves lull you to sleep at night quickly. Every room has a private bathroom with a hot water, fluffy towels and creative décor.

Unlike the standard hotels in the area, Casa Valeria offers a practical experience. Rather than setting up an overpriced restaurant on-site, Casa Valeria makes available a large kitchen for guest use. The kitchen is clean, and while nothing fancy, has the necessary dishes, pots, pans and silverware to cook up and serve simple but complete homemade meals. Two showers are set up in the middle for washing off the sand, and plenty of clothesline space is present, outside but well-hidden, for guests to hang their wet clothes to air dry overnight, keeping your room free of that musty half-wet swimsuit smell.

Samara beach from casa valeria

Stand Out Feature: Value for Money Bungalows

The beach bungalows are excellent value for money: for $50 per night, guests stay in a private bungalow that couldn’t get closer to the beach, and yet a five minute walk from a well-equipped supermarket and plenty of restaurants and bars.

Stand Out Feature: A spacious kitchen

The usage of a good kitchen is one of the few advantages of hostel stays compared to hotels, and even though Casa Valeria is geared more toward mid-budget travelers, the kitchen, with its large fridge and plenty of counter space, is a great way to save cash on a at least a couple of meals and certainly on coffee. For budget travelers, Costa Rica accommodation can be pricey, so a beach front hotel with its own kitchen means a couple (or two friends) can quite easily stay here for around $40 per day per couple, food included.

Casa Valeria Hammocks & bungalow

Room for improvement: Lack of Wi-fi

We almost never stay somewhere without Wi-Fi and Casa Valeria was an exception to the rule. One evening as we sat writing (and probably getting more work done without distracting gossip blogs, videos and Twitter) we overheard the son pointing us out to his mother, explaining the need to install wireless internet. His argument was convincing and we’re fairly certain that Casa Valeria will over Wi-Fi sooner rather than later.

Overall

Casa Valeria is one of the best budget beachside hotels that we have seen so far. The owners are a very friendly family who keep the hotel and the yard spotless. The extras (free coffee, clothes lines, beach showers) are the icing on the cake. Casa Valeria embodies one of those strange travel conundrums, where budget hotels at times offer much better free and guest friendly services than their luxury counterparts up the road. It is a place where you can truly forget and ‘log off’ for a week or two – right at the beach and at the same time close enough to all the delicious restaurants, juice bars, nightlife and a small, but quality supermarket to gather ingredients for some cheap and easy cooking.

Casa Valeria GardenLocation: Beach front in town, near supermarket
Price:
Double room bungalow with private bath and hot water $50, budget double room (no entire bungalow) with private bath $30
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BT Friendly: As far as we could tell, yes. Not directly discussed.
Amenities:
Kitchen, hammocks, outside sitting area, coffee & tea, kitchen with fridge, stove, books
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Not until they get wireless internet
Website:
No website, but listed with phone number here.

Sunset Samara Beach Costa Rica

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Why you need to see Mexico…now

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Surrealist painter Salvador Dali said he couldn’t live in Mexico because it was too surreal for him – a piece of information sure to stir up intrigue in anyone familiar with the artist’s work. But what made him say this? And why should you visit the very place this mind-bending artist couldn’t handle? Read on to find out why a holiday to Mexico could make you glad of the persistence of memory…

Mexico City Street ArtMexico’s weird and wonderful landscapes are one thing you are unlikely to forget once you’ve seen them, and the country’s views could well have inspired Dali’s ‘surreal’ label, with breath-taking mountain ranges, sprawling desserts and tropical rainforests all vying for attention. In fact, the second-largest remaining tropical rainforest in the Americas stretches through Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, and is home to equally enthralling creatures such as the white-lipped peccary, the tapir, the scarlet macaw, the harpy eagle and the howler monkey. Also, The Nature Conservancy reports that five large cat species live in the lush greenery there.

Tulum ruins But let’s take a step back and look at Mexico’s position on the map, and what this means for the holidaymaker. This stunning country is bordered by the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, the US and Guatemala. While the majority of the Mexican northern and central territories are located at high altitudes, the yearly temperature average doesn’t normally fall below 20 °C, but does reach up to 28°C. In other words, Mexico is nestled in surroundings that make it a diverse and interesting landscape and it enjoys lovely weather that is not unbearably hot.

For those who want a holiday full of fantastic sights and activities, Mexico is perfect. Tourists can go diving to explore part of the world’s second largest coral reef at the Parque Marino Nacional Arrecifes de Cozumel, or snorkel with whale sharks in Cancun. History buffs can enjoy the city’s rich selection of museums or visit the ancient empire of the pre-Hispanic Aztec capital – the ruins of which were found under the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral – and see two religious temples, pyramids, serpent carvings, and shrines.

Palenque ruinsIf you want to laze around on a stunning sun-kissed beach, Mexico can deliver the perfect backdrop to your holiday snaps with its 450 different beaches.

Food in Mexico is a vibrant melting pot of different influences from South America, the Caribbean and Africa, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have its own clear identity too. Dishes based on corn and vibrant, spicy foods with tongue-tingling chilli flavours are available in abundance in Mexico, and a new and exciting food experience is always around the corner if you’re prepared to be adventurous!

Mexican Street FoodWithout wishing to argue with one the most famous artists of all time, thanks to it’s beautiful landscape, exciting and colourful food offerings and amazing history, perhaps there’s a better word to describe Mexico.

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