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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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Vegetarian Dixie: The Best of Southern Food

savannah breakfast at clary’s

We. Love. Food. One of the best things about traveling is the new food we try in each new place we visit, and our NYC2NOLA road trip was no different. We were super excited to try all the local specialties and from New York until we hit the South, this was a piece of cake. However, it turns out that finding vegetarian dishes in the Land of Dixie is a challenge when plates are normally piled high with pork, chicken and shrimp. We did manage to belly up to some fabulous southern restaurants for some traditional soul food. If you’re planning to visit the Southern USA and are looking for some great vegetarian food, these are some places we loved:charleston mac n cheese sandwich

Vegetarian food in the Southern USA

Vegetarian food in Atlanta, Georgia

Mary Mac’s Tea Room
While visiting a college friend and Atlanta local on our road trip this summer, she insisted we dine at Mary Mac’s, an Atlanta institution which has been serving up classic Southern cuisine since Mary MacKenzie opened it in 1945. 60 years later, this old school southern restaurant serves up southern staples like country-fried steak, chicken pan pie with gravy and sweet potato soufflé, and always with the utmost, genuine southern hospitality. To start, all diners (most of whom are locals – this ain’t no tourist trap) are served ‘potlikker’ (broth of cooking up greens) with bread – and though this usually have chicken in it, the waitress organized us two vegetarian bowls of the stuff. Mary Mac’s is meat-heavy Dixie food, so we both opted for the vegetable plate of four sides, which was a great way to sample several small plates of Southern food. We were already familiar with the Southern Vegetable Plate concept from our road trip stops at Cracker Barrel along the way.

vegetarian food southern USABetween the two of us we had broccoli soufflé, cheese & vegetable soufflé, fried green tomatoes, mac’n’cheese, coleslaw, a vegetable medley, fried okra, and of course, a side of fresh home-made corn bread on the side. For dessert the three of us split the banana pudding, bread pudding and Georgia peach cobbler, which were all seriously good, before waddling out to the car.

Vegetarian food in Savannah, Georgia

This open-minded everyone’s-welcome city may not have many purely vegetarian restaurants, but plenty of places in town have veggie-friendly options on the menu.

Breakfast at Clary’s
You might know Clary’s already from the movie Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which hosted many of the scenes of the film. This traditional diner opened over 100 years ago, so they know a thing or two about pleasing local customers to keep ’em coming back for more. Veggie options here include mouth-watering Stuffed French Toast, Eggs Benedict or the ‘Elvis’ – thick-sliced sourdough toast stuffed with peanut butter and bananas, the sandwich the King made famous. You can also try classic Southern items such as griddle cakes (pancakes), Caramel Pecan Sticky Buns, grits or Biscuits & Gravy.

savannah breakfast at clary's

The Westin Savannah Harbor Golf Resort & Spa
We have a special place in our hearts for our home-base in town, the Westin Savannah Harbor– where we not only had the most comfortable beds we have ever slept in, but a staff that went above and beyond the call of duty for us. We happened to be in town for the Savannah Craft Brew Fest, which was held between the Westin and the neighboring convention center. We got to talking food to Westin’s General Manager Mark Spadoni, and once Mark discovered that we did not believe an intersection of classically Southern and vegetarian food to be possible, he put a challenge out to the head chef to create just that: a classically Southern vegetarian dish. Less than twenty minutes later we were each served a soft, succulent grit cake topped with fresh cherry tomatoes and green asparagus, lightly covered in a subtle, yet tangy sauce. Until that night we hadn’t touched grits (they just seem so slimy), but this grit cake blew us away with its flavor and consistency. Mark made sure to follow this up with two pots of blueberry crumble cake – which literally melted in our mouths.

savannah grit cake at the westinThe ‘Vegetarian Food Challenge’ was a one-off, but we also had the Sunday brunch held in the hotel’s Aqua Star restaurant – which might just be the best brunch in town! Brunch staples such as made-to-order omelets and waffles, blintzes, hash browns and all the meat you could want (bacon, sausages, beef medallions, lamb, etc), an entire table of sea food and sushi, fresh made-to-order penne pasta dishes, garlic bread, salads, and a dessert buffet that would alone be worth the price: fresh macaroons, éclairs, pies and cakes of all varieties, ice cream, homemade chocolate truffles and pralines, chocolate covered strawberries, bread puddings, crème brulee and mousse, and the Westin Savannah’s signature dish – bananas foster.

sunday brunch at the westin savannah

The Distillery
The Distillery is first and foremost a beer lover’s bar, with hundreds of craft brews to choose from, and though not really a veggie-hangout, we left the place absolutely stuffed. Along with the Black Bean Burger (which we went back for it again the next night) we sampled the grilled cheese, deep fried pickles (surprisingly good) and soft pretzels with a variety of dips. We could also have ordered  a hummus plate with veggies and pita bread, sweet potato or stout fries served with home-made Creole remoulade or chili & ale cheese. We could have ordered a salad without the meat, as well, but somehow the deep-fried pickles seemed to go so much better with craft brews. To top it all off, the owner Michael decided that us two out-of-towners needed to try his ultimate southern dessert creation – a deep-fried moon pie a la mode. Whether this sounds delicious, disgusting or just plain dangerous to your health – order it. Just once. It’s so good!

savannah deepfried pickles at the distillery

Vegetarian food in New Orleans, Louisiana

In the land of gumbo, jambalaya and po-boys, it was not easy finding vegetarian food in the Big Easy – but we managed to find a few top spots for vegetarians in town.

Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sisters
One place where we found plenty of options was at the Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch, which we would recommend to anyone visiting New Orleans.  The tables are set in a shady, breezy courtyard  surrounded by flowers under a canopy of trees. A jazz trio entertains guests with live music at the perfect volume to still hold a conversation. The sprawling brunch buffet has a generous selection of breakfast and lunch items and if you are not a vegetarian, you can eat your way through dishes like creole seafood omelets, ceviche, spinach and crawfish pasta, seafood mousse, roast beef and chicken breast and shrimps. We enjoyed brunch staples like eggs and potatoes, creative waffles and delicious salads, and with the bottomless coffee we enjoyed classic Southern desserts like Pecan Pie, Bananas Foster or Mardi Gras King Cake. Do not waste your time like we did at the disappointing Gospel Brunch at the House of Blues – which serves up a limited brunch (eggs and hash browns, the only veggie options), put on a forced show to tourists and they kick you out when the show ends after an hour. The Court of Two Sisters brunch is an authentic, relaxing experience any day of the week.

jazz brunch at the court of two sisters new orleans

The French Market
This foodie market is a collection of some of the freshest, healthiest options in New Orleans. We loved Meals from the Heart, where we gobbled up a Black Bean soup with fresh avocado. Then we ordered an amazing salad with cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, pistachios and apples from Albertos Cheese & Wine, right next door. More than just simple stands, these two market eateries have completely different, yet equally veggie-friendly dishes. Meals from the Heart is run by a friendly New Orleans native, while Albertos is run by Spanish Alberto and his Mexican wife. We even went back to Albertos for a second salad we just could not forget about – the mixed vegetable salad with walnuts and gruyere cheese. Yum!!

vegetarian food southern USA

Mahony’s Po-Boys on Magazine Street
Po-boys are traditional Louisiana sub sandwiches, the most classic option is stuffed with shrimp so not a dish we thought to try. One day while strolling along Magazine Street, we discovered Mahony’s Po Boys, a laid-back po-boy shop with several veggie options. We couldn’t resist being able to sample this NOLA staple, and tore in to the eggplant parmesan po-boy. We rate it as only okay, but that is because we compare it to what might be the best sandwich in the world – the New York-style Eggplant Parmigiana sub sandwich. However, the other options – like the grilled cheese po-boy or fried green tomato po-boy – we would probably have really enjoyed. We had the the fried green tomatoes on the side and loved them.

vegetarian food southern USA

Café du Monde
Dani’s favorite thing about being vegetarian on the road is that any and all local sweets are not only an option, but an exercise in intercultural understanding. Translation: it is our duty to try the sweets. We could not leave New Orleans without stopping in at the city’s most famous institution: Café Du Monde. This French-influenced, Chinese staffed New Orleans cafe on the Mississippi River has one of the simplest menus in town. Eat the famous beignets (deep-fried dough pastries covered in a thick layer of powdered sugar) and drink the Café au Lait (coffee with milk) made with chicory. The beignets were so good,  we ordered a second plate right away.

beignets & cafe au lait new orleans cafe du monde
This is not a comprehensive list of veggie-friendly Southern restaurants, so please add your suggestions on where to get great vegetarian food and also any tips on other typical southern dishes we need to try on our next trip through the south.

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Five Epic European Road Trips

southern iceland dani car

Everybody loves a good road trip, and Europe has more scenic roads than you could cover in a lifetime. Majestic castles in Austria, half-timbered houses in Germany, rolling green hills in England, Alpine landscapes in Switzerland, majestic fjords in Norway, and vineyards lining the country roads as you are driving in France – these are just some of the things that lift my heart and keep me driving. As more and more European countries are re-opening their borders for tourism post-COVID-19, travel to Europe is starting to pick up. European road trips are one of the best ways to travel around Europe while staying safe. RV rental companies have already seen an increase in bookings,

If I had to pick just five, this would be the list of my favorite road tips in Europe:fiat 500 & san gimignano

Five Epic European Road Trips

1. The Amalfi Coast | Italy

The Amalfi coast in the south of Italy is the country’s most beautiful stretch of coastline, where quaint terraced villages are spread through the hillsides stunning views of the Mediterranean Sea are around every corner. The coast route follows the shoreline from Sorrento in the north to Salerno in the south. Your hearts will pound as you hug the road past steep cliffs, and soar when you pass the many vineyards where you may wish to stop and spend a few days. The four main towns on the Amalfi Coast are Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Ravello, and stops in all of them are essential! This is without a doubt one of the most picturesque European road trips.

Best time for a road trip: March to May, when Spring is in full bloom and the summer tourist season has not yet begun.
Recommended number of days: 2 to 4 days
Level of difficulty: It is a beautiful drive, but challenging. Drivers should be confident on winding, narrow roads.

Cinque Terre coast1

2. The Highlands | Scotland

Scotland’s Highlands are unlike anywhere in the world and a Highland road trip covers some of the most spectacular places in the UK. I recommend a loop, starting your trip in Glasgow and finishing in Edinburgh, heading north through the mountains and locks that make the Highlands so famous, and then heading back down to the Scottish capital. Start in Glasgow and head to Loch Lomond before continuing north to the small outpost of Fort William from there. Here you can hike the mighty Ben Nevis, the highest mountain of the British Isles, or head west towards Mallaig with a stop at the picturesque Loch Shiel. From Mallaig, take the car ferry over to the Isle of Skye, and head back to the mainland via the Skye Bridge. Fro here it is a short drive to fairytale-esque Eileen Donan Castle.road trips in EuropeDepending on how much time you have left, I recommend driving further north to the fishing town of Ullapool and the little village of Lochinver, with its white-sand beaches. Otherwise drive straight east towards Fort Augustus, which is the perfect base to explore Loch Ness. Drive along the Loch to the quaint town of Inverness and take the scenic route via Pitlochry to Edinburgh, and you will see most of the iconic Scottish landmarks like the Lochs, Whiskey distilleries and Highland cows.

Best time for a road trip: April – October
Recommended number of days: 5 to 7 days
Level of difficulty: Roads are narrow and driving is on the left – drivers should be experienced and confident.

Scotland highlands sheep

3. The Romantic Road | Germany

The Romantic Road in the south of Germany offers some of the most stunning scenery of the country. Driving from Würzburg to the foothills of the Alps near Neuschwanstein Castle, you will pass sweeping views, ancient cathedrals and castles, castles, castles. You will drive through the pretty Tauber Valley before you arrive in Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which dates back to the 13th century with medieval streets and thick city walls – doubtlessly the pearl of the Romantic Road! Other highlights include the gorgeous town of Nördlingen, Augsburg with its stunning cathedral, Hohenschwangau with its jaw-droppingly beautiful Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau Castle and the nearby historic town of Füssen. If you have more time, you can drive up to Munich from here and end your road trip in one of Germany’s most traditional cities. Don’t forget to pack your lederhosen!

Best time for a road trip: Spring or summer, but fall is also a beautiful time to visit.
Recommended number of days: 5 to 7 days
Level of difficulty: The road is fairly easy to navigate, though it can get narrow at times.

European Road Trips

4. France beyond Paris | France

This road trip is the ideal way to combine a trip to Paris with an additional few days to explore the idyllic French countryside. I would recommend starting in Paris and driving through Chartres, Le Mans, Rennes, Caen, Rouen and then circling back to Paris. Just outside of the city, stop in Versailles to see Napoleon’s remarkable palace, and then move on to Chartres, home to a UNESCO World Heritage cathedral, before exploring Renne, which still has plenty of well-maintained wood-edifice buildings typical for that area of France. North of Rennes is the spectacular Le Mont-St.-Michel, a rocky island set in the English Channel, just off the coast, that is almost entirely inhabited by the medieval Benedictine Abbey and church – not to be missed! Rouen is home to the extraordinary cathedral made famous by Monet’s painting, and makes for a fabulous last stop on this French road trip.

Best time for a road trip: Between April and October
Recommended number of days:4 to 5
Level of difficulty: All roads on this trip are easy to navigate.

road trips in Europe

5. Dublin – Kilkenny – Cork – Galway | Southern Ireland

Traveling around Ireland by car is on many people’s wishlists, and this is indeed one of the most beautiful European road trips. Southern Ireland has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country, especially along the coast. Our Southern Ireland road trip starts in Dublin and brings you to Kilkenny, Cork, Limerick and Galway, and ends back in Dublin. This road trip is the perfect way to get to know the culture, landscape and history of Ireland, passing impressive castles as well as picturesque Irish villages. Some of the highlights of this road trip are County Kerry, which has a rugged coastline and tall mountains, and is especially famous for the Ring of Kerry, a circular road that follows a trace of coastline of mountainous fingers jutting out into the ocean. The infamous Cliffs of Moher, which tower 700 feet above the ocean, are another highlight of this trip. Earthtrekkers have a detailed 10-day itinerary for this ultimate Ireland road trip.

Best time for a road trip: Between March and October
Recommended number of days: 5 to 7 days
Level of difficulty: Left side driving and narrow roads. Not for novices.

European Road Trips

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33 Things We Love About Santiago de Chile

Santiago de chile

We spent nearly two months in Santiago and came to love it more with every day that passed. There are certainly more than only 33 things to love about Chile’s capital, but we wanted to share the 33 most memorable things that made Santiago so special for us. And we hope that you’ll find a few facts about Santiago de Chile in this list that you didn’t know yet!

1 Santiago’s subway art

We mentioned this in our Polaroid of the week series and there’s a good reason we’re bringing it up again here. Santiago’s subway stations each have their own art throughout – murals, sculptures, paintings and contemporary design.

Santiago de Chile facts

2 Work out machines

We took back our health and wellness in our Santiago condo, but even without the spacious three-bedroom housesit, staying fit would have been possible on the many workout machines found throughout the city’s green spaces.

Santiago workout machines3 Dog houses

Seeing stray dogs in the streets is always heartbreaking, no matter where we travel. Santiago was one of the few places where we didn’t immediately want to rescue them all Not only are they well-fed and treated so nicely by people who pet them and give them love, but the city even provides them with doghouses in the parks.

Santiago de Chile facts4 Mote con huesillo

This typical Chilean drink might be too sweet for some, but I found it refreshing after hiking up to Cerro San Cristobal for an hour in the sweltering summer heat. Mote con Huesillo is a strange drink that consists of dried peaches and cooked wheat in sweet tea which is not drunk but eaten with a spoon.

mote con huesillo5 The cemetery

Santiago’s Cementerio General turned out to be one of the most impressive cemeteries we have ever visited. Filled with grand mausoleums, ornate graves, obelisks and statues, it is one of South America’s largest cemeteries with nearly 2 million burials – including President Salvador Allende’s massive family mausoleum.

Santiago Cementerio General images

6 The Andes mountains surrounding the city

We loved seeing mountains on almost all sides around Santiago. Not sure if it is because both of us are from flat places, but seeing the snow-capped peaks of the Andes never got old.

Santiago de Chile facts7 Cafe con piernas – Coffee with legs

We have talked about these quirky coffee shops in detail already – read all about them here.

Santiago Cafe Con Piernas

8 Lastarria Neighborhood

The Lastarria neighborhood is without a doubt one of Santiago’s prettiest neighborhoods: grand, beautifully restored buildings mixed with colonial charm with restaurants and cafes spilling out on the sidewalks. We loved wandering through the streets here, especially during our Foto Ruta photography Tour, which allowed us to zoom in on the little details throughout the neighborhood.

Barrio Lastarria Santiago de Chile

9 Swimming pools with a view

There are two public swimming pools in Parque Metropolitano that have some of the best vistas of Santiago: Piscina Antilen and Piscina Tupahue. You can hike to the latter one from the Cerro San Cristobal viewpoint and be rewarded with a refreshing experience!

Verano del 2008, Piscina Antilen, Santiago
Piscina Antilen via Armando Lobos on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/armandolobos/2254296096/

10 Le Fournil

This French bakery and restaurant is by far our favorite eatery in Santiago. Admittedly not exactly Chilean cuisine, Le Fournil set out to bake the best bread in Chile and we say, Mission Accomplished – the breads, pastries and full breakfasts are to die for.

santiago breakfast le fournil

11 La Piojera on a Friday night

This famous ‘fleahouse’ is the perfect introduction to Chilean drinking culture. The bar is known for its notorious terremotos, which means earthquakes, which are half liter cups filled with Pipeño (a sweet fermented wine), pineapple ice cream and Fernet (a strong herbal liquor). Headaches are guaranteed on Saturday mornings, but the Friday night atmosphere packed with locals provides a true South American experience.

Santiago de Chile nightlife12 The beautiful churches

We were surprised how many churches there are in Santiago, and there is such a variety of different styles: colonial churches dating back to the 18th century, neo-renaissance, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur-inspired Basilica de Sacramentinos, neo-gothic and baroque architecture. Even though the external weren’t always remarkable, the interiors were always stunning.

Santiago de Chile churches

13 Street art

Buenos Aires has an amazing street art scene, and coming from there to Santiago, we weren’t sure how this capital would compare. Even though the city has such a different vibe, street art here is gorgeous, intelligent and everywhere! The best neighborhood to spot the most street art is Bellavista.

Santiago de Chile street art pictures

14 The old-fashioned phone booths

Even though most of the phone booths are understandably out of order, they make gorgeous little spots to take cover from the rain around the city.

santiago phone booth

15 Peluqueria Francesa

This traditional 19th century barber shop is still up and running, as retro as it is functional, and the restaurant of the same name right next store pays tribute with antique memorabilia that fits with the barber shop theme.

Peluqueria Francesa barber shop Santiago de Chile

16 Fresh watermelon everywhere

We loved the pop-up stalls on the side of the roads during the summer months selling fresh watermelons. If you don’t want to carry an entire watermelon, you can just get fresh cut-up pieces.

santiago de chile fresh water melon17 Innovative contemporary architecture in the Las Condes and Providencia neighborhoods

In contrast to boring steel and glass blocks of financial districts around the world, Santiago takes serious pride in expressing their booming economy and optimistic future through its architecture. The country’s best architects have been called upon to create such unique skyscrapers, office towers and downtown hotels.

Contemporary architecture in Santiago de chile

18 Free walking tours

We mentioned it before – Santiago is not exactly filled with tourist attractions, but there are three different free walking tour companies in the city that operate entirely on a tipping basis and let you choose between a total of five different walking tours! Santiago might not have as many tourists as other South American destinations, but the ones that come and visit can get a great tour with only few people and an insightful local guide. Nobody should miss going on one, as we suggest in our quick guide to Santiago.

19 The traditional pharmacies

Where can you still find pharmacies like this nowadays?!

santiago pharmacy20 Fish market madness

Visit the fish market at Mercado Central in the morning when the trucks with the day’s catch and witness an intense commotion, or wait to dine on fresh seafood in the cute restaurants right in the market later in the day.

Santiago de Chile fish market mercado central

21 Public sculptures

We loved the public sculptures so much that we decided they deserved their own post – take a look at some of our favorite pieces in Santiago here.

Santiago de Chile facts

22 Parque Bicentenario

This park have free sun chairs and umbrellas, wide green spaces, flamingos swimming in the pond and is one of the most fun outdoor spaces in the city. By far our favorite park, we spent many afternoons here with the puppies in our care, and which is why we recommend heading here if you want to go beyond central Santiago.

Parque Bicentenario Santiago De Chile

23 The views from Cerro San Cristobal

While Cerro Santa Lucia, the other famous Santiago viewpoint, might be considered the prettier one, San Cristobal has the better views. From here you see how spread out Santiago is, and with the Andes in the background, we always felt like we were in such a special place.

santiago and andes

24 Resale shops on Bandera Street

When we heard about the second-hand stores on Bandera Street, we didn’t think all that much of it but stopped by anyway. What we found was loads of  stores selling quality clothes, leather jackets, business suits, handbags and shoes – all of which fit non-Latina body shapes!

25 Pizza machines in the subway stations

We are not sure about the quality of these pizzas (yeah we are, it’s probably not that good!), but just having the option to throw money in the slot, click on the toppings that you want and hold a steaming pizza in your hands three minutes later is probably amazing after a night out. One of my favorite facts about Santiago de Chile!

santiago pizza machine

26 Sunsets with a mountain backdrop

We were ooh-ing and aah-ing almost every night when the sun set and the sky started to turn orange, purple and finally dark blue. We highly recommend to visit one of the many hotel rooftop bars or the Cerro Santa Lucia or San Cristobal lookouts if skies are clear.

santiago sunset

27 Fruit and vegetable vendors

Even though there are plenty of big supermarkets well stocked with fruits and vegetables, the city is filled with fresh fruit and veg, from the main market, La Vega, and simple fruit and vegetable vendors selling their produce from their own personal carts around town.

fruit and vegetable cart in santiago de chile28 Bike friendliness

Santiago has surprisingly many bike lanes, called ciclovias, which are usually lined with trees, have space for joggers as well and run for miles across the city.

29 Strawberries in January

We were lucky enough to be in town for strawberry season, and when it hit, it seemed like there were strawberries for sale everywhere in town, for as little as $1 per kilo! The strawberries are all natural and taste like strawberries of old, how they are supposed to taste. We devoured so, so many kilos.

strawberries santiago

30 The nightlife in Bellavista

Bellavista is the place to be on a Saturday night – the bars, pubs and clubs around Pio Nono street are bursting with cheap booze deals. We loved the atmosphere especially on warm summer nights when most of the parties spilled out onto the streets.

31 El Huerto – the best vegetarian restaurant in Santiago

While Buenos Aires turned out to be a paradise for vegetarians, in Santiago it was harder to come by decent vegetarian food. Luckily we made our way to El Huerto (which is nowhere near anything we wanted to visit), as it turned out to be our favorite vegetarian restaurant in town.

El Huerto Restaurant in Santiago De Chile

32 The contrast in the architecture

The contrast between the typical colonial houses, and the glass towers in Providencia and traditional German half-timbered houses show Santiago society’s many sides.

Santiago de Chile architecture33 Pedals an the art of multi-tasking.

Sure you could just enjoy a rest on a park bench, but why not combine that with a lower body workout?! We love these little foot pedals you find in front of many benches throughout the city – and took advantage whenever we could. Jess pedaling in SantiagoHave you been to Santiago? What are your favorite things about the city? Were any of these Santiago de Chile facts new to you? Share in the comments below…

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The Best Beaches in the World – Globetrottergirls Edition

caribbean vacation

This year will go down in history as the year of the beach for the two of us!

All those days in the office before we started traveling long-term, our thoughts would drift to what it would be like to live on the beach and wake up to the crashing of waves on the shore, the sound of seagulls and being barefoot through the sand. Well in 2012 we certainly got our wish in a year that saw us living over five months on the beach. We spend longer stints in Mexico and Costa Rica, and took trips to the sandy shores of Singapore, Malaysia, India and our number one spot that often gets overlooked by its famous neighbor Thailand.

Read on to find out what the five best beaches were for us in 2012:

5. Varkala, India

While we didn’t see what all the hype was about on the beaches of Goa and Kerala, we did fall for the cliffs of Varkala, about an hour north of Trivandrum in the far south of India. What the laid-back village lacks in culture is easily made up for by walking the paths along the gorgeous cliffs, looking out over the wide beaches below. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants for every traveler’s budget, and the sunsets here were breathtaking.

Varkala Beach India best beaches in the world4. Samara, Costa Rica

Long-time readers will know that Samara has been a favorite beach of ours since we first ended up there on whim back in 2011. This October we were lucky enough to return for a few days and were excited to find that this Costa Rican beach hasn’t lost any of its charm. Although the waves of  Samara are perfect for newbie surfers, the long stretch of sandy beach feels empty even in the high season, with restaurants and hotels well hidden behind the palm trees that line the shore. In a country so popular with international tourists, Samara is one of the few secret spots that combines a great selection of accommodation and relatively few tourists.

Samara Beach Costa Rica

3. Langkawi, Malaysia

We had never even heard of Langkawi, an island off the Malaysian coast in the Andaman Sea, but somehow we found ourselves promising a Canadian expat we would go there when she so passionately insisted we visit the favorite part of her adopted country. We ended up spending a week there, and Cenang Beach was by far our favorite beach on the island. Powdery, soft white sand, clear and shallow water, palm trees and incredible sunsets. This is really the perfect vacation island for travelers from near and far, and we’re not sure why Langkawi hasn’t made it on any of the many “Best Beaches in the world” lists yet.

Langkawi Malaysia best beaches in the world2. Mahahual, Mexico

Odds are, you have never heard of Mahahual, unless maybe you have taken a short Caribbean cruise. A popular cruise port once or twice a week in high season, Mahahual is otherwise a small, relaxed fishing town on the Yucatan peninsula with incredibly warm, turquoise water. This was the closest place from the remote beach house we housesat this past summer, and we found every excuse to make the trip. Making sure not to be there on ‘cruise ship day’ we would lay in the rows of empty sun chairs lined up along the beach, working on our tans and sipping cool Mexican beer. Heaven on Earth!

Mahahual Mexico

1. Otres Beach and Koh Rong, Cambodia

Cambodia takes the crown for our favorite beach in 2012! There are actually TWO beaches here that tie for first: Otres Beach, on the mainland, and Long Beach on the little known island of Koh Rong. Just a quick tuk-tuk ride from the popular beach town of Sihanoukville, a trip to Otres Beach means avoiding the touts selling tourist trinkets, and focusing on what is important: relaxing in your sun chair with a cool coconut, staring out at sea. The few restaurants and bars here are of better quality than in town and somehow it feels like the sunsets are, too!

best beaches in the worldFor those of you who are serious about your deserted beaches, Koh Rong’s Long Beach was an amazing experience. The small island two hours off the coast of Sihanoukville only has a handful of guest houses and not much to offer in the way of diversion, but with the seven mile stretch of crystal clear water on the other side of the island, we could have cared less. We were particularly unimpressed with the side of the island where the port is and even considered leaving a day early, until we were told about a path that leads over to the other side of the island. It is an hour-long hike across an entirely untamed islands, which included much tripping, a bit of falling, profuse sweating, more swearing and a 75m descent straight down by clinging to a rope that mysteriously appears the minute you need it to finish the way down. Walking out into the clearest water we have ever seen, however, made the hike entirely worth it. Of course, we found out later you can rent a boat, round-trip, for $25 to take you and ten of your closest friends from the port on a 15-minute ride around to the otherwise deserted Long Beach. But we preferred working hard to reach our absolute favorite beach of 2012!

Koh Rong Cambodia best beaches in the world

Now we want to know from you – what are the best beaches in the world for you?

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33 things we love about Guatemala

Chicken buses lined up in Antigua Guatemala

No matter how well you know a place, there is always so much more to discover. Though Jess lived here for two years, the 10 wonderful weeks we spent in Guatemala led to some of our most magnificent discoveries and experiences of our travels so far. Read on for a list of 33 things, in no particular order, we absolutely love about Guatemala, including some interesting Guatemala facts – things you may not know about this small Central American nation.

1 The impressive Maya ruins of Tikal – We had visited several ruins in Mexico and Belize, but Tikal is by far the most spectacular of them all.

2 Lake Peten Itza – Unlike the more famous Lake Atitlan, swimming in Lake Peten Itza is perfectly fine. Jump in off one of the many piers and dry off tanning on the dock. If you see Miguel (a highlight all its own – below) ask him to take you to the zoo on a little island in the middle of the lake. You’ll see all wildlife native to the region.

3 Our friend, Miguel de San Miguel

4 The boat ride through the jungle on the river between Rio Dulce and Livingston.

5 The children of Chichi who were our friends and guides throughout our time there.

6 The Mennonite Bakery in Xela – Open Tuesdays and Fridays only, this tiny bakery outside the center in zone three offers up fresh homemade breads, pastries, butter, peanut butter, jams and yogurt made by the Mennonite community based outside of Xela. Get there early, as the goods go quickly! (Check on Google if the bakery is still around, if you happen to find yourself in Quetzaltenango).

7 Women carrying giant baskets on their heads – Although this happens in many parts of the world, in our own experience, Guatemalans seem to do it the best. It is unbelievable how big /full these baskets can be.

8 The colorful ‘trajes’ or dresses of the Guatemalan women – We loved this in Mexico, too, with the difference being that in Guatemala the traditional dress is just so vibrant. Plus the little girls are so darn cute in their miniature versions!

9 The volcanoes – Volcanoes in Guatemala, which jut aggressively out of the verdant countryside, smoke, erupt and shake on a daily basis. All that volcanic activity is even more intriguing when you climb one yourself.

10 The Maya village of Todos Santos in the Western Highlands, although we ask you to please not go there.

11 Yellow House hostel in Antigua – After trying out a few other hostels and hotels in Antigua, we finally found Yellow House, which is the perfect combination of light, spacious rooms, huge free breakfasts and super cleanliness for under $20 a night.

12 The huge, cheap licuados (freshly blended fruit juices).

13 The beautiful colonial town of Antigua.

14 The craziness of a chicken bus rideAlthough some people warned us of their safety, we traveled Guatemala almost exclusively by chicken bus. We will never forget hanging on for dear life, smashed in between families of six on either side of us, marveling at the ‘ayudante’ or helper as he squeezes with ease through the packed bus collecting money, exiting through the back door with the bus still in motion, climbing up the ladder to the top, and getting exactly the right bags down for the passengers disembarking before the bus has even come to a screeching halt in the middle of what appears to be deserted countryside, wondering where the people who got off even live, and also how the helper made it back in the bus so quickly?!

15 Hiking between villages along Lake Atitlan.

16 The colorful cemeteries, such as the one in Xela or Chichi.

Guatemala facts

17 The Caribbean feel in Livingston, completely unlike anywhere else in Guatemala.

18 Eating steaming hot Buñuelos.

19 The way that traditional indigenous life becomes a part of the everyday experience. It is amazing to ‘get used to’ such a different lifestyle, but in the end, we are all very much the same.

20 D’NOZ antipasti platter & huge bagels in San Pedro La Laguna. (Update: Sadly, D’NOZ has permanently closed.)

21 The amazing markets – Guatemala has an incredible market culture, and we love to visit  both the food and handicraft markets to soak up the atmosphere of the busy traders bargaining prices.

22 Canoeing on Lake Atitlan under that shadow of the impressive San Pedro volcano and the Indian’s Nose mountains.

23 Cowboys – Most of the men in Guatemala have long ago shed their own traditional ‘trajes’, but the cowboy culture is very much alive amongst the men complete with hats, big belt buckles and horses.

24 Watching Volcan Fuego erupt from a rooftop terrace in Antigua

25 Marimba music, the traditional music of Guatemala.

Guatemala facts

26 The many fiestas all over the country – including traditional dances, masks, voladores and lots of fireworks.

27 The ruins of cathedrals and churches in Antigua.

28 The island town of Flores in Lake Peten Itza – With its red roof tops and church on a hill top, Flores seems more like a town in Turkey or eastern Europe. The people in this small island village are some of the friendliest we met in Guatemala.

29 Lush green gringo-safe, amoeba-free salads and fast wi-fi at Sundog Cafe in Rio DulceThe town itself, also known as Fronteras, is more of a stopping off point for onward travels. If you do stay, eat all the roughage you want here.

30 The exotic flowers for sale in the markets and along the highway.

Guatemala facts

31 Visiting Maximon in Santiago Atitlán – The popular Mayan folk saint who is worshipped in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, and the figure in this Lake Atitlan town is the most celebrated of all those scattered throughout the region.

32  Fact: Guatemalan Coffee.is.the.best.

33 The Israeli restaurant Hummus-Ya, and especially their Shakshuka dish, in San Pedro La Laguna. We think we would go back to the Lake just to have this one more time…

Guatemalan food

If you found this interesting, why not check out what we love about Mexico and Belize.

Have we forgotten something spectacular about Guatemala? Do you love something we haven’t mentioned? Please add to our list below!

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11 things we love about Belize

Caye Caulker split belize

Belize was meant to be a quick week on the way to Guatemala, but ended up being eleven excellent, adventurous days like none other on our trip. We love Belize! And in celebration of our new love of this country, read on for our listing of eleven things we love about Belize, one for each day:

i love Belize1. 174 miles of beautiful coastline – Belize might be small, but the entire eastern side borders the Caribbean Sea, with many white sand beaches and turquoise waters.

we love Belize2. Banana Bread – the supersoft Belizean banana bread is unrivaled, especially when it comes fresh out of the oven.

3. The amazing caves in Western Belize: Both Barton Creek Cave and Actun Tunichil  Muknal are home to amazing rock formations, floor to ceiling stalactites & stalagmites, and fascinating Maya artefacts.

we love Belize4. The cultural mix in Belize – we were surprised by the peaceful mingling of Latinos, the Garifuna, Mestizos, Maya and Mennonites.

5. The beautiful, undiscovered nature – Traveling through Belize, you see green everywhere: woods, fields, meadows, and much of it still seems so untouched. Many of the caves and Maya sites have only recently been found.

6. Belikin Beer, enjoyed ice cold.

7. The laid-back lifestyle on the Cayes – ‘Go slow’ is the motto of Caye Caulker, and that is exactly how life is lived. How could we not love Belize?! Stay away from the Cayes if you’re in a rush, because nobody else is (including service staff at bars and hotels).

8. The ‘small town feel’ to the country – Everyone will stop for a friendly chat, and within days, you already feel at home. With a population of 300,000, Belize is small not only in size, but also in population. It is likely to run in to locals you meet in one place while exploring somewhere else way across country.

9. Swimming with sting rays, nurse sharks, turtles, barracudas, and tons of other fish on the Meso-american reef (plus the beautiful corals).

10. The ‘swing bars’ on Caye Caulker make even the longest term travelers feel on holiday.

I love Belize11. The diversity of the country: from tiny islands, subtropical woods, mountainous rain forests, fruit orchards, cattle meadows, caves and waterfalls – all filled with abundant wildlife. Did I mention that we love Belize?! 🙂

Have you been to Belize? There are still plenty of places we have left to visit in Belize, so please feel free to join in and share the things you love about Belize in the comments below.

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33 things I love about Mexico

chichen-itza-dani-jump-mexico

I spent around nine months in Mexico – a country I know I’ll visit over and over again. I have traveled along the Pacific Coast, done several road trips in the Yucatan, I’ve eaten my way around Mexico City, and visited more Maya ruins than I can remember. I have so much love for Mexico – and I’d like to share some of the things I love about Mexico with you:

things I love about mexico
1. Mexican Food – Mexican food is completely different to what we expected, but it turns out we love almost all of it! From Tlayudas and panuchos to bean quesadillas and potato tacos plus chilaquiles and tortas (filled sandwiches – Mexico City has the biggest ones) it has been amazing to discover the food here!
 
2. Driving golf carts around the island of Isla Mujeres. This little island in the Caribbean is one of the things I love about Mexico the most – one of my favorite places in the entire country.

isla mujeres mexico

3. Mexicans – Friendliest people on the planet!

4. Markets – Though at times they can be shocking (squealing pigs the minute before their eventual slaughter and large yellow chicken feet spring to mind) the markets in Mexico are amazing to explore. The 20 de Noviembre market in Oaxaca was our favorite for the best selection of food (including the hundreds of mounds of deep-fried grasshoppers!) and mezcal.

5. Huevos motuleños – Yes, yes, we already said we loved the food, but this all day breakfast food quickly became our favorite after we discovered them during a long wait in Palenque for a bus to Merida. Huevos motuleños involve a fried tortilla topped with black beans, fried eggs, sauce and plantains, plus ham for the meat-eaters out there. Heavenly!

6. Cenotes – considering we had never even heard of these underground waterholes, swimming in the cenotes on the Yucatan felt a bit daring and definitely refreshing.

cenote mexico

7. Victoria beer – There, we said it. We love Victoria beer!

8. Mexico City – It’s a magnificent mega-metropolis which requires some patience and understanding, but Mexico City is a hub of creative, forward-thinking groups and individuals with art, markets, and music everywhere you turn. Sure it has its problems, but what city doesn’t? It’s the combination of it all that makes the city so great: Posh areas like Polanco are offset by more run-down parts of the Centro Historico where culture and tradition seep into your soul. How cool to see Mariachis and Mayans catching cabs, Mexican rock bands headbang on a plaza next to a salsa club, sleek and stylish club-goers passing by happy families in the park until the wee hours and openly gay men and women walking hand in hand with their partners more often than in any U.S. city we know of. Frida and Diego (Kahlo and Rivera that is) can be found everywhere, and there are hundred of art museums, exhibitions and co-operations with institutes world wide. Mexico City is chaotic, yet quaint, crazy and creative. We miss you Mexico City!

Mexico City

9. The Caribbean coast – especially Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, where you can walk 40 to 50 meters out into the crystal blue water and it only comes up to your knees… but there are so many beaches along the Caribbean coast that are stunning – including Tulum, Akumal, and our own private beach in Xcalak.. they all deserve their own spot in my list of things I love about Mexico, but I’ll try to keep this short 😉


10. Valladolid – we fell in love with this little Pueblo Magico (magic village) on the Yucatan, but we’d like you to please not visit Valladolid.

11. Mariachi Bands – always fun to listen to, even if they don’t quite hit the notes.

things I love about mexico

12. Agua fresca – We might actually be able to slowly wean ourselves off Diet Coke thanks to these giant one liter drinks of water blended with fruit. We especially like Cantaloupe and Guayaba ‘aguas’.

13. Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul – Stuffed with her art, personal belongings and pictures, it makes you feel like you really get to know her, plus the gardens are gorgeous.

14. The cattle in front of our house in San Luis Beltran, Oaxaca.

15. The colorful traditional clothes worn throughout Mexico, from the many wool variations to be found in Oaxaca and San Cristobal de las Casas to the beautiful long white gowns embroidered with flowers that the woman of the Yucatan wear.  Oh, and real life cowboys!

Sure, we know this continues on from Guatemala down through South America, but there is also something so unifying about how even the non-indigenous men/women will wear very traditional Mexican clothing rather than identifying with global fashion. It seems like for many here, people are Mexican first, class/race/socio-economic status comes second.

16. Diego Rivera Murals in Mexico City – The murals are so insightful into Mexican history and culture, and you could spend more than a day hunting them all down throughout Mexico City. Diego’s influence as an artist was enormous here.

17. San Cristobal de las Casas – the prettiest colonial town we have seen so far.

san cristobal de las casas

18. The tacos from the taco vendor in Calle Uruguay – Near the bakery Pasteleria Ideal in #74  in Mexico City, you’ll see the large group of people crowded around the vendor – that’s the spot. Try an agua fresca here too – delicious.

19. Lizards galore! Mexico is filled with lizards big and small, from our pet gecko in our apartment in Playa del Carmen (and its subsequent tiny tiny little babies), to the giant iguanas in Tulum, Valladolid, Isla Mujeres and Chichen Itza. Plus we have come within a few feet of countless crocodiles, something we never thought was possible!

20. The historical ruins – The Mayan and Aztec ruins in Mexico are so majestic! We visited Teotihuacan near Mexico City, Monte Alban near Oaxaca, Palenque in Chiapas, Tulum and Chichen Itza on the Yucatan.

palenque mexico

21. Mexican bakeries  – Even just window-shopping makes our (read: Dani’s) mouths water. Cakes, fresh fruit and yogurt parfaits, cupcakes, sweet breads and freshly baked rolls are all delicious. Special shout-out to Pasteleria Ideal in Mexico City!

22. Cheladas and Micheladas –Beer mixed with tomato juice, salt, pepper and hot sauce. This is basically like a Bloody Mary but beer replaces vodka. Genius!

23. The tuk-tuks in Oaxaca.

24. Mexican buses –  The buses in Mexico are top standard, reliable and clean. ADO, OCC and Oriente all provide great service, though ADO’s films and air-conditioning are good for longer trips (more expensive, though).

25. Hostal La Candelaria in Valladolid. The best hostel we stayed at in Mexico. Clean rooms, two kitchens (one outside), a gorgeous garden, and very friendly owners. Plus two of the cutest little Chihuahuas of all time.things i love about mexico

26. Free wi-fi – In any public park or square in even the smallest city/town, at least a dozen people can be found with their laptops, not only using the free wi-fi, but also charging their computers. The parks have outlets for charging! Who needs Starbucks, when you can have free wi-fi in the park!

27. Lucha Libre – Mexican Wrestling rocks. Yes, it’s fake, but the crowd goes crazy and we loved it!

28.  Policemen, on horses, preferably with sombreros.

29.  Fruit in a bag, freshly cut and topped with spices & lime, for $1.00. One of the things I love about Mexico most!

30.  Getting our laundry professionally washed – For less than $4, a lady with a brand-new washer and dryer will scrub out stains, wash and dry your clothes and then iron them all down, flat as pancakes, leaving you with a stack of clothes a quarter of the size of the dirty, stinky ball you brought to her.

31. Mexican mannequins. How can you not love ‘em? 😉

things I love about mexico

32. The Beaches on Mexico’s Pacific Coast – the Riviera Nayarit is gorgeous!

33. Road tripping in the YucatanSpanish-colonial villages, fantastic food, beautiful Caribbean beaches, cenotes, Maya ruins galore, lush green jungle – the Yucatan is spectacular, and the roads there are in good condition, which makes it easy to drive there.

What are your favorite  things about Mexico?  Let’s reminisce together in the comments below!

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Top 10 things to do in Las Vegas: Non-Gambling & almost free!

Las Vegas Strip

We never meant to start our globetrotting adventure in Las Vegas. Instead a series of random circumstances led us to start in Sin City, but after three and a half cold & rainy years in England, the sweltering and sunny Nevada desert seemed the perfect kick-off for our around-the-world journey.

Neither of us are any good at gambling, and with no desire to lose all our savings to slots and booze, we set out to explore how to enjoy the city of Vegas beyond the sin.

best things to do in Las VegasHere are our Top 10 Non-Gambling Things To Do in Las Vegas:

1. Stroll up and down the Strip

The 4.5 miles between the Mandalay Bay Hotel in the south and the Stratosphere hotel in the north offer nearly infinite people-watching pleasure. Either belly up at an outdoor bar/restaurant like the tequila and taco treasure – Planet Hollywood’s Cabo Wabo, the silly slots and parrots outside the Flamingo’s Margaritaville bar, or for an Ocean’s 11 replay, score a spot at the fountain in front of the beautiful Bellagio hotel. If it’s not too hot, definitely go for a walk – there are so many things going on along the Strip, you’ll miss them if you take taxis every time you want to go somewhere.

People-watching throughout Las Vegas, you are almost certain to see at least one, but probably more of the following: the heaviest (or even thinnest) person you’ve seen in your life, too many tattoos, people from countless countries, the most eccentric, or eclectic groups of rich or poor, lucky or un-lucky bunch of average Joes or crazy Susans and other interesting creatures than you’ve ever seen in your life. Lean back, sip your margarita and enjoy.

The best free entertainment in Las Vegas, right on the Strip, are:

  • The Water Show at the fountains in front of the Bellagio Hotel (every 30 minutes from 3pm to 8pm and every 15 minutes from 8pm to midnight on weekdays, every 30 minutes from 12pm to 8pm and every 15 minutes from 8pm to midnight on Saturdays and Holidays, every 30 minutes from 11am to 7pm and every 15 minutes from 7pm to midnight on Sundays)
  • The Light Show at the Eiffel Tower at the Paris Hotel (every 30 minutes on the full hour and half hour from sunset to midnight)
  • The Volcano Eruption at the Mirage Hotel (every full hour from 7pm to midnight)
 

2. See Vegas from above on the Eiffel Tower

best things to do in Las VegasThe Las Vegas Eiffel Tower Observation Deck (120m/460ft) doesn’t come anywhere near the height of the true blue Parisian version (324 m/ 1,063 ft) but it offers fantastic views over the Strip, Las Vegas and the desert beyond.

Tickets are $20 per person ($11 per child) – pick up one of the free Vegas brochures that are available up and down the Strip for a 2-for-1 discount. There is also a $50 family ticket (2 adults and 2 children).

Don’t want to risk waiting in line? Buy a Skip-The-Line ticket – they start at only $22. I’d recommend this if you’re visiting on a busy Holiday weekend.

things to do in Las VegasIf you want to see the bright lights of Las Vegas at night, be aware that the night time tickets for the Eiffel Tower are a bit more expensive, and lines tend to be longer. A night time ticket (after 5pm tickets are $24 / $21 for children).

3. Fremont Street Experience –  ‘Old’ Vegas

A trip to the Fremont Street Experience inspires the nostalgic, classic Las Vegas of the early 20th century before Sin City became the epitome for bigger, better, more.

best things to do in Las VegasMany of the famous hotels and casinos such as the Golden Nugget are still operating and you can feel the special flair that Vegas must have had in the 1950s.

In the 1990s, a roof was built over Fremont Street and area of Old Vegas was repackaged as the Fremont Street Experience in an attempt to draw visitors back after numbers sunk thanks to the explosion happening over on ‘The Strip’. We could give or take that darned roof overhead, but the casinos are more fun, there is more free entertainment, the staff is more friendly and apparently the odds are even better.

Tip: If you are visiting the Freemont Street Experience, make sure to stick around until the evening which is when the incredible Viva Vision light show begin to run every hour. The schedule varies depending on the season, but start times range between 6pm and 8pm – check the schedule before you head there.

4. Explore the magnificent hotels (and free shows they put on!)

Competition among the hotels on the Strip is fierce, and Las Vegas is one place where the concept of ‘Less is more’ has gone completely lost.

Every hotel is an adventure in itself! Circus Circus has a big top, New York New York has its Statue of Liberty & Brooklyn Bridge replicas and even a roller coaster. Paris has its own Eiffel Tower, and at the Venetian you can take a gondola ride on a canal without the long flight to Italy.

best things to do in Las VegasThe Bellagio has its famous fountain show and Italy-inspired design, while the Mirage is home to Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, where you can see Bottlenose Dolphins, White Tigers, White Lions and Leopards – something that especially kids will love. And not to mention daily volcano eruptions, which is one of the best free things to do in Las Vegas. The eruptions, which come with explosions, fireballs and lava, will not only wow kids. (They take place every day at 6pm, 7pm, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm and 11pm). best things to do in Las VegasIn Vegas you can walk by the Egyptian pyramids at Luxor, there is a replica of the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, a pirate battleship at  Treasure Island and and and… who knows what they will come up with next.

5. Take a ride in Las Vegas

Several hotels in Vegas have added an adventure ride to their premises, but the most spectacular rides can be found on top of the Stratosphere tower:

Three extreme rides on top of the 350m (1,149 feet) tower – Insanity, which dangles you over the edge of the tower, Big Shot and X-Scream. If that’s not enough of an adrenaline rush, you can now also jump off the tower with the Stratosphere’s latest thrill: the Vegas Skyjump ($129 per jump).

If you’re heading to the Stratosphere Hotel and plan to go on one of the rides – it’s worth buying one of their packages:

  • one Thrill Ride + SkyPod admission are $29.00*
  • two thrill rides + SkyPod admission are $34.00*
  • three thrill rides + SkyPod admission are $39.00*

Admission to just the Skypod obversation deck for the views over Vegas is $20* – so adding a thrill ride isn’t actually that much more expensive.

*2020 prices

For less of a thrill ride, but the most spectacular views, you can’t miss the High Roller Observation Wheel at the LINQ Hotel. This giant 550-foot tall Ferris wheel (the tallest Ferris wheel in the entire world!) opened in 2014 and has been a huge hit with Vegas visitors ever since. The 360-degree panoramic views of the Las Vegas Valley and the Strip are breathtaking.

Tip: Don’t want to waste time waiting in line? Buy skip-the-line tickets from only $32 here.

things to do in Las VegasOther rides in Las Vegas include:

  • The roller coaster at New York New York ($14 for one ride, $30 for an all-day pass)
  • The LINQ Zipline: 10 side-by-side zip lines from the top of the 114-foot-tall launch tower at The LINQ Hotel, traveling 1,121 feet above the entire length of The LINQ Promenade to the base near the High Roller Ferris wheel ($25 for a seated flight, $35 for a superman flight). Booking online will save you at least $5, and you can often find Groupons and other promotions online
  • The Las Vegas Cyber Speedway racetrack at Sahara
  • Various rides in the Circus Circus Adventuredome (an all-day ride pass is $39.95, a junior pass – $19.95 (under 48 inches tall)
  • The SlotZilla Zipline at Fremont Experience ($29 for the shorter version:7 stories high, 2 blocks long; $49 for the ultimate experience: 11 stories high, 5 blocks long, flying superman style)

6. See a show in Las Vegas

Vegas has always drawn the biggest stars of entertainment to have their own permanent show – there is something for everyone: comedy, cabaret, circus, burlesque, hypnosis, musicals… The biggest thing at the moment seems to be Cirque du Soleil, with currently 7 (!) different productions in Vegas.

best things to do in Las VegasHere are some of 2021’s top shows:

  • “Le Rêve: The Dream” (aquatic show with incredible underwater performances)
  • “O” (most of the performance takes place in a water stage)
  • Cirque du Soleil’s Michael Jackson’s musical spectacle “One”
  • Absinthe (a mix of circus and burlesque)
  • Blue Man Group (music & visually stunning act – family-friendly)
  • “Mystére” by Cirque Du Soleil (acrobatics meet circus – most family-friendly Cirque du Soleil show)
  • Mat Franco’s magic show
  • Penn & Teller – another longtime Vegas classic

7. Shop ‘til you drop

Las Vegas offers some great shopping opportunities for shopaholics: Not only do most hotels have ‘shopping streets’ under their roof (Via Bellagio,the Wynn Esplanade, Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian, Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace, Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood, Mandalay Place), there are also a couple of malls on the Strip:

I. The Fashion Show Mall

Located opposite the Wynn hotel, the Fashion Show Mall has more than 250 shops and restaurants – clothes, shoes, accessories, technology, books, etc – incl. stores like Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Sketchers, Abercrombie & Fitch, Mango, Apple, Levi’s, Nordstrom, Bath & Body Works.

best things to do in Las VegasII. Crystals at Las Vegas CityCenter

The more up-scale shoppers will find satisfaction in the long awaited newly-opened CityCenter which includes shops like Prada, Christian Dior, Bulgari, Carolina Herrera, Hermes, Roberto Cavalli, Cartier, Versace, Tom Ford, Miu Miu, Paul Smith and Porsche Design.

8. Wildlife in Las Vegas

Even animal lovers get their money’s worth in Vegas – with several hotels having some fantastic animal habitats:

  • Shark Reef (not only aquarium, Shark Reef also displays reptiles, such as golden crocodiles, and turtles at the Mandalay Bay ($20)
  • Wildlife Habitat at the Flamingo Hotel (with Chilean Flamingos, African Penguins, exotic birds, fish and turtles, ducks and swans – in a beautiful lush environment with waterfalls – FREE OF CHARGE!)
  • Secret Garden (including white tigers, white lions, snow leopards, and black panthers) and Dolphin Habitat at the Mirage ($22)

9. Get outta town

Red Rock Canyon, Hoover Dam or the Grand Canyon – check out our Best Day Trips from Las Vegas article for more things to do outside of Sin City.

best things to do in Las Vegas

10. Vegas Challenge: The Buffet of Buffets

Success in Las Vegas comes from rising to the challenge. As we mentioned above, the gambling girls we are not. Our challenge, our Everest if you will, was food-based. It was the Buffet of Buffets – a 24-hour pass to seven of the biggest and best gut-busting buffet in Vegas:

  • Caesars Palace: Bacchanal Buffet*
  • Paris Las Vegas: Le Village Buffet
  • Harrah’s Las Vegas: Flavors, The Buffet
  • Rio: Carnival World Buffet
  • Flamingo Las Vegas: Paradise Garden Buffet
  • Planet Hollywood: Spice Market Buffet

The Buffet of Buffets pass is $69.99 on weekdays and $79.99 on weekends. Weekend Pricing begins at 8pm on Thursday evening. Weekday pricing begins on Sundays at 8pm. On Holidays you have to fork out $99.99 for the pass. If you want to include the Bacchanal buffet at Caesar’s Palace, you pay an additional $25 for a brunch/lunch visit and an additional $35 for a dinner visit. If you have a Caesars Rewards card, you get a $10 discount.

While we may have taken the challenge very literally, (the Globetrotter Girls can proudly boast hitting 6 out of 7 buffets within 24 hours!), instead of testing all 7 it might make more sense to try out 3 or 4 in the better hotels. While the price for the pass has more than doubled in the past ten years, the Buffet of the Buffets is still cheaper than even two buffets would cost separately in most of the hotels. Our favorite was the Le Village buffet at the Paris hotel, and I’d skip the Paradise Garden buffet at the Flamingo Hotel if I was going to do it again.

Pro Tip: The Las Vegas Explorer Pass

Depending on how many attractions you’re planning to visit during your time in Las Vegas, it might be worth checking out the Las Vegas Explorer Pass. This pass covers dozens of Las Vegas attractions and will save you lots of money if you want to check out a bunch of things that I mentioned in this article. The Explorer Pass includes things like the High Roller Ferris Wheel, the Hop-on Hop-Off bus tour, the Stratosphere Observation Deck plus the Stratosphere thrill rides, the Eiffel Tower Observation Deck, Shark Reef Aquarium, Madame Tussaud’s,

Additional perks are a meal at Planet Hollywood and a one-hour open bar at Senor Frogs, a 2-day pass for the Monorail, admission to a comedy show and a variety show, an Escape Room, several museums and exhibitions, a Hoover Dam Tour and more.

You can find out more information about the Las Vegas Explorer Pass here.

 

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The Tops and Flops of 200 days on the road

Globetrottergirls at the Cave

Following our reflections on 200 days of travel, here are the tops and flops of our last 100 days on the road which we spent in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and El Salvador:

Top travel moments

Snorkeling on Caye Caulker, Belize

Sitting on a boat, sailing through the Caribbean on a Tuesday afternoon drinking buckets of rum punch after an incredible day of snorkeling with nurse sharks, barracudas, turtles and sting rays along the world’s second largest reef, the Mesoamerican Reef off the coast of Belize and realizing how truly satisfying it is to longer work in an office.

Spending a month in a beachfront apartment in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

We rented an apartment in Playa for one month in order to focus on our freelance projects – although we worked the entire time it was nice to have a ‘home’ again for 4 weeks and not have\to pack our backpacks every other day. Nothing can beat relaxing on Playa’s beautiful beach after a hard day’s work, or on your lunch break!

Driving a golf cart around Isla Mujeres, Mexico.

We really disliked Cancun, but just a ferry ride away from the Yucatan’s biggest city is what must be Mexico’s coolest island. Walk from the beach 40 meters straight out into crystal clear knee deep Caribbean water, and when you are done, hop on your golf cart and head to your next chill out spot. Everyone on Isla Mujeres drives golf carts, and it’s wicked, if not bizarre, to put the pedal to the metal and drive the carts on real roads.

Todos Santos, Guatemala

Getting off the bus in Todos Santos, Guatemala and feeling like we were well and truly off the beaten path as both men and women in full traditional Mayan gear gossiped about us in the Mayan language of Quiche, staring and gawking at the gringas.

Kite-flying with the kids of Chichicastenango, Guatemala

We were lucky enough to be in Chichicastenango for ‘Todos Santos’ (All Saints Day) on 1 November, which is marked by the beautiful tradition of kite-flying, often in the town cemetery to remember the dead.  While in Chichi we slowly gathered a group of local boys who started off following us asking us for shoes and toys, but eventually became our guides, showing off their town and especially the colorful cemetery on a hill. All of the boys were very excited about the kite festival, but couldn’t afford their own kites. So we bought them each one and beamed as we watched them proudly showing off their kite-flying skills – by far one of our best days in Guatemala. Did we mention that that was just after seeing a Mayan ceremony which included a live rooster sacrifice?

Worst travel moments

Crossing the border with Dengue Fever

In a word, and go ahead and quote me on this – Dengue sucks. In many words, I (Jess) had no idea I had dengue, associating my initial symptoms of fatigue and headache with our adventurous ATM tour the day before. The day we crossed the border from Belize to Guatemala, my legs were so sore I could barely walk, my fever was out of control, and not even the strongest Paracetomol (800mg tablets) could keep my headache at bay. But still, the symptoms worsened, and I attributed the fever, fatigue, insane soreness, and the feeling that each of my eyes was placed in a vice to the flu, nothing more, and even woke up at 4am for our sunrise tour of Tikal. I was trying not to be a ‘baby’ suffering from the flu, but when the pharmacist suspected Malaria or Dengue, and the lab confirmed the latter, suddenly all the pain made much more sense. In total Dengue knocked me down for two weeks. After the fever broke, and the extreme itchiness subsided, the fatigue and indifference began – I didn’t care about much, just wanted to sleep and hang out, nothing more. A few positives came out of the fever – Dani and I spent more time getting to know Flores and the beautiful Peten Itza lake, and after thinking I was a wimpy sickie, I realized that I was one tough cookie with Dengue – crossing the border (on foot, and buses and minivans and tuktuks, oh my) and schlepping my way through a lot of climbing at the Tikal ruins.

Every bus ride in Guatemala

Our first bus ride from Flores to Guatemala City was on an overnight bus with a driver from hell who shaved a good two hours off the ride. His goal appeared to be to beat the bus that left an hour before us. We beat that bus by an hour and were happy to have survived what must have been one of the bumpiest bus rides ever.

Another horrible ride was the chicken bus from Cuatro Caminos to Huehuetenango when we were thrown off the bench every time the bus went around a curve – and there were a lot of them! We were sore the next day from holding on with all our might. Even worse was the ride from Huehuetenango to Todos Santos – only 40 kilometers, but it takes nearly 3 hours: the oldest chicken buses you can imagine have to cross one of the highest mountain passes in the country and at some point, the paved road stops and you continue the trip on a dirt road. Fortunately, Todos Santos was more than worth the stress.

Top travel mishaps

Attempted theft

On a crowded chicken bus from Antigua to Chimaltenango Jess’ bag was sliced open by the lady who sat next to her. We are usually very careful with our bags but in a bus where they squeeze three grown-ups on a seat that was made for two school kids, it is actually not that easy – fortunately Jess realized what was going on before the woman could get anything. The lady suddenly had a very important phone call and got off at the next stop, before we said anything to her.

Other than that, we were pretty lucky again, except for the Dengue and Dani’s bout of Giardia.

 

Top food moments

Dani’s food discovery may have made her entire year: Huevos Motulenos are a Mexican dish that is typical on the Yucatan peninsula. It is a breakfast dish consisting of fried eggs on tortillas, with black beans, fried plantains and salsa, often also peas (and for meat eaters ham).

Jess’ top food moment was experimenting in the kitchen in our Playa del Carmen apartment – preparing our own versions of the amazing street food recipes we had sampled throughout Mexico.

Buying the still warm freshly baked Banana bread on Caye Caulker when they come around and sell it to from their baskets is pure heaven.

Discovering and devouring delicious Pupusas in El Salvador – they are the national dish, and can be found at any street food vendor, most of the restaurants and ‘Pupuserias’ – entire restaurants dedicated to just one thing: Pupusas! Essentially a filled tortilla, they come filled with cheese and beans, just cheese, or pork and cheese – in which case they are called ‘Pupusas Revueltas’. All are served up with cabbage and tomato salsa.

Our top stop in the last 100 days

Antigua, Guatemala

Of all the stops in all the towns, Antigua takes the cake as our favorite stop in the last 100 days of travel.  Antigua is an international, forward-thinking artistically minded UNESCO protected city with some of the most delicious restaurants and top quality bars in the country, not to mention over 70 Spanish schools, countless art galleries, poetry readings,film and live music nights. After months on the road, Antigua is the place to rest up, clean up, grab a bagel or hell, even some fondue and wine, maybe learn some Spanish or volunteer with kids, animals or in health care, or just hang out and meet people for days at a time, all while connected to excellent wi-fi internet like nowhere else in the country.

Maybe we are biased, since I (Jess) lived there for two years back a few years ago, but even now, seeing it with new eyes and through Dani’s eyes as well, Antigua was easily the most enjoyable of all our stops. If you took away all the good food, and art and kicked out all the gringos, the stunning colonial architecture and romantic ruins surrounded by three immense and (two) still erupting volcanoes would still make Antigua a magical place to visit. We stayed for two weeks in Antigua at the Casa Amarilla, or Yellow House, by far the cleanest, most relaxing and best value for money (amazing free breakfast) of all the hostels in Antigua.

Other favorite stops

Valladolid

Valladolid was easily our favorite place in Mexico – a charming little colonial town on the Yucatan with very few tourists, small enough to be explored by bike and has a very peaceful feel to it.

Flores

We were going to use Flores ‘only’ as a base for our Tikal visit, but this tiny island in Lake Peten Itza, with its tiny alleys and red-roofed houses, charmed us so much that we stayed longer and enjoyed a nice couple of days there, taking boat rides on the lake, meeting Miguel, swimming and watching the beautiful sunsets.

Todos Santos

Todos Santos is probably one of the most ‘Guatemalan’ places in all of Guatemala: a small town tucked into a valley in the Cuchumatan mountains, where the locals still wear the traditional colorful clothes they have been wearing for centuries, hand woven by women on their front stoops. We saw a total of five other foreigners over three days and we hope the long, bumpy bus ride to get there continues to discourage a mass influx of tourism.

Least favorite place

Transport towns: These towns essentially exist solely as a transport hub, and are bigger and grosser because of it. The town of Palenque (not to be confused with the beautiful nearby ruins) is a run town transport hub in Mexico that we definitely didn’t like (although Dani did discover Huevos Motulenos there), and Huehuetenango, or Huehue (wayway) in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, has absolutely nothing special to offer the visitor, serving mainly as the most logical overnight rest stop for travelers crossing the border from Mexico, and for those heading to Todos Santos.

Merida, in Mexico, was not one of our absolute least favs, but it was our most disappointing city. Merida had been described as a ‘magical’ colonial city but if you ask us, it could use a slap of paint and two slaps in the face – it’s a bit shabby and run down and could do much more to attract visitors. The Merida trip wasn’t a total bust, however, as we went on our amazing cenote tour from there, exploring several of these ‘underwater sinkholes’ in a horse-drawn carriage.

Top travel recommendations

Take the Chicken Buses in Guatemala

Yes, we did mention that the rides were some of our worst moments, with stomach-flipping turns and hours of hanging on for dear life, but we still highly recommend taking chicken buses everywhere in Guatemala. It’s easy to get caught up in the gringo-trap of taking shuttles, which are easier and can be more efficient at times. However, chicken buses are cheaper, way faster, a wide-variety of homemade foods (and drinks) are brought right onto the bus for you to choose from, and you could not be more ‘immersed’ (literally) in true Guatemalan culture than you are on a chicken bus. In terms of money-saving – we took a second class bus from Tikal to Guatemala City for Q240, or $30, each. No chicken bus ride after that cost us more than Q50, or $6.25, over very long distances. Shuttles can cost between $10-20.

Don’t believe the beach hype in El Salvador

Along the ‘gringo trail’ there is much hype right now about the beaches of El Salvador, one of the world’s top surf spots. If you know your way around a board, or want to learn how to surf, then definitely hit up El Tunco, El Zonte, El Sunzal and maybe La Libertad. El Tunco has the cheapest surf lessons and great waves. If you don’t surf, these beaches can offer you nothing more than a giant pile of rocks and nowhere to lay out. The Costa del Sol, on the other hand, is rumoured to have long spacious sandy beaches. The sandy rumour is true, but the beaches are not well maintained and hotels are miles apart, meaning if you don’t like your first choice and don’t have a car, it’s a mile walk with your backpack to the next affordable hotel – affordable meaning $30 a night at least, but probably much, much more. The accommodation options are limited to expensive all-inclusive hotels which cater to day-trippers from the capital rather than overnighters, and the hotels are run-down, shabby shadows of a long gone glorious pre-war past. You want beach? Go to Costa Rica or to Playa del Carmen in Mexico.  For a true El Salvadorian experience, head to the quaint Alegria, inspiring Suchitoto or foodie-favorite La Ruta de las Flores.

Flores, Guatemala

Don’t just stay here as a base for your Tikal trip – stay for a couple of days and spend time on the Lake Peten Itza – there is even a zoo in the middle of the lake and unlike the more famous Lake Atitlan, Peten Itza is clean and perfect for swimming.

Belize

If you want to choose one spot on the islands in Belize, choose Caye Caulker every time! Go snorkeling and ask for Harry and Steve to take you. Their company is called BlackHawk Sailing.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

When visiting the Yucatan, Isla Mujeres makes a great day trip, but you can also stay overnight in one of the islands many hotels. The island is just a short boat ride off the coast of Cancun but in contrast to Cancun, there are no skyscraper hotels and overpriced restaurants. Instead you will find empty beaches (at least in low season), colorful houses, cheap restaurants with great Mexican food and excellent beach bars.

Tip: The ‘local’ ferries that leave from Puerto Juarez (just north of Cancun) are much cheaper than the ‘tourist’ ferries that leave directly from Cancun and they go to exactly the same place on the island.

Keep reading:

Our Tops and Flops of 100 days of travel: Las Vegas, California, Arizona, Mexico

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