Summer 18 in Europe – Ibiza Edition

 

C65B7054-9DF7-4594-8E6E-7888A8FFF0EB

Ibiza is one of Europe’s top party destinations and is well known for its summer season hosted by the world’s best DJs. It is also known to be quite expensive (and this isn’t wrong in some instances).

I first visited back in August 2014 – ironically we flew out on the same day that this article was posted : http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/28472079/top-djs-say-ibiza-is-too-expensive-for-young-people. Givenchy’s Ricardo Tisci celebrated his 40th birthday that week and basically every celebrity was there with him so clearly we were living beyond our student means! However the energy in Ibiza was like not other so when the opportunity arose again, I couldn’t resist a 2nd trip.

7BF32C55-CFB0-4CD0-A92E-814A372FBCEF.jpeg

The original Ibiza crew in 2014 outside Ushuaïa, about to see Swedish House Mafia!

This year, I visited in July (the season runs from late May to October). I flew from Stansted with Jet2 for £200 return (bought only a month before travel…cheaper if done earlier, if you fly crazy hours or book with Ryanair). It was my first journey with Jet2 and I was nervous but that all eased when the pilot made a Love Island joke! Their customer service is excellent, everything is easy to navigate on their site and they gave us each a £60 voucher off our next holiday when the return flight was delayed by only one hour!

Whilst in Ibiza, me and my good friend Drew stayed in Hostel Juanita in the old town (£212 each for 5 nights). Staying in the old town is perfect because it’s authentically Spanish and you’re within walking distance of lovely sights, parks and cafes as well as the high street. I stayed in Playa D’en Bossa during my first visit but it was a pricey all inclusive hotel which just felt touristy and offered zero relaxation opportunities so I wouldn’t rush to stay anywhere near there. Also San Antonio is the cheapest area to stay in but is where the rowdiest tourists choose to stay so it’s up to you!

B5C47E07-CD12-47E4-B9C3-358E5A4DF3DD

Old Town strolls

509EF782-BCAB-482E-B2AE-C8B2301B391A

Another way to save a fortune is to embrace public transport. The buses are cheap, air conditioned and usually play music on board. The journey from the airport to our hostel in town cost €3.50 and this was the most that we paid for a single journey (the party buses which do a loop of all the main clubs all night charge €3 to €3.50 each). Other single bus journeys are about €2.

Food shouldn’t be a big expense out here if you don’t want it to be! We only ate out and spent about €95 on all our meals including drinks at the table. My favourite places to eat at were:

Sa Vida – €25 for a litre of sangria!!! Good for a light lunch tapas style

B0C43D24-A45E-46B7-9A7F-08081E698263

Tapas feat Drew’s jawline

85585C0B-A8F5-44D6-B712-AD1CA574E9F1

Squid ink croquetas

La Cava – they do filling breakfasts with drinks included for less than €10

Gelato – really nice brunches and/or ice cream too

0A92327F-32A2-42A9-BE7F-FD895C92903B

Es Noray– one of the many bougie restaurants by the port. Great views of all the yachts whilst you enjoy paella and it won’t break the bank.

And yes, I did have my usual Chinese meal abroad, this time at restaurant Hong Kong…delicious and very well priced.

Nightlife

This potentially will be your biggest spend. Club entries can be extortionate but drinks prices actually go beyond this. People are split on how to do this – if you love a certain DJ and want to see them in a certain place, then some advise booking in advance which means you’ll pay the full price. Ibiza spotlight has the season’s calendar for every club and DJ/artist varying from Calvin Harris, Chase and Status, So Solid Crew to Stormzy’s #MerkyFestival (which sold out before I knew I coming sadly). However we wanted to be flexible and find the best deals so this is what we did:

The only thing we bought in advance was our boat party with Oceanbeat. I bought it for £71 (booked through trip advisor) for the afternoon on the boat, welcome cocktail and cake, beer and/or sangria on tap, another huge cocktail, champagne showers, swimming time and plenty of dancing. Plus an after party and entry to a small club. They don’t tell you in advance which clubs it’ll be but it won’t be a main one so I would buy the club tickets for where you want to go in advance to avoid disappointment.

350D1FE8-5348-409A-A350-A3980F97B7ABE8662665-8FD4-4A6F-9742-B3A87BED549D

3A99BEE4-B15E-41EF-B950-A25B57591FDA

In Ibiza, there are plenty of club reps who spend their days on the beach trying to sell you deals for club entries. Often they can save you money but make sure that you’ve done some research to compare prices, know what you want to do and understand their t&cs. We managed to get ourselves free happy hour drinks for 2 hours at one of their bars, entry into the Zoo project, entry into Amnesia to see the legendary DJ Carl Cox AND free entry into Heart for the price that it would’ve cost just to get into Amnesia (€70)!

The Zoo Project – held at an abandoned zoo on Sunday’s in Benimussa Park. Everyone dresses up as animals or mythical creatures, with plenty of glitter for completion. It’s a day rave which finishes at 11pm so no excuse to not enjoy it! You’ll find different stages with different music and dancing (some crowd involvement too) plus their drinks seemed to be the most reasonably priced on the island! If you return your cup to the recycling station, you were given back €1 which had everyone willing to recycle.

45B431CE-2D84-4603-BCE0-2279F685BEFEAEEE9A9C-47FD-48C6-974A-B1ABFFD9CD0D9C7485AC-EECD-4F71-BA0B-60132D08B7A0C85AA22F-50F9-46F8-A5E8-465BAA162ECB

Amnesia is one of the super clubs and it’s worth going to at least one when in Ibiza. Others include Ushuaïa, Pacha, Privilege and more. This is where you’ll see the best DJs and experience a night out like no other!

ADC09FF3-2A6A-4B66-A801-D9F207743BA4.jpeg

If the idea of a super club isn’t appealing, then there are plenty of alternatives which are cheaper or even free. On our first night, we had drinks outside Mambo Beach on San Antonio strip. The best thing to do here is BYOB or buy cheaper (normal priced drinks really) from sellers outside and stand near enough the bars to enjoy the music.

57A3B498-2D15-4D33-9B2F-F17FB656F54D

The San Antonio strip

Top tip for your night out…just avoid buying drinks when in the clubs! Enjoy it at dinner, in your hotel before you come out or on the strip. Water is also pricey but you have to stay hydrated somehow!

Ibiza in the day

This island has so much to offer in the day which can be missed if you’re constantly hungover! It’s worth trying to see a few things whilst you’re here:

Spend time at the beach! Playa D’en Bossa is one of the most popular beaches and with that comes crowds and numerous party sellers. It’s a great place to carry on the party but if you want some chill time, it’s worth going further afield. If you plan to a spend a couple of days at the beach, it’s worth buying an umbrella at the shops nearby to bring along as the beach clubs charge a lot for theirs.

We also visited Playa de Salinas (near the salt lakes) which was much less crowded, more scenic and I had the most interesting conversation with some of the beach sellers here. Plus you actually can get street food here such as tamales and empañadas along with cheap cocktails. The beach has plenty to explore and a nudist part if you fancy it.

E6A8ED86-2558-446D-BAD8-CDB7B8E65027

Playa D’en Bossa

79F3893C-4C1D-419E-8EE6-8CCDF41D3FE5

Playa de Salinas 1

AF6E95F3-3C84-4C97-95BB-13642303D947

Playa de Salinas 2

0823DD39-F4C9-460F-9078-9B480661AAB1.jpeg

Playa de Salinas 3

Visit a hippy market – they happen at different parts of the island all week. I went to the Wednesday one Punta Arabí which celebrates its 45th birthday this year. It’s free entry and has many market stalls, entertainment, music and a dedicated kids area. A great place to get souvenirs and appreciate the local talent.

0CD5DF2F-90FF-46B4-AA79-6E7EAF2B228B4B21AC6D-D71B-41FB-8AC8-A7D0500453E1

5F0F27A9-29D4-4C5A-BDAC-E8B58AF6DB7F

D7DE2AE7-D9CF-4184-B0B8-D72B18EE4E3E

Scenic walk to the market

Dalt Vila (Upper Town) is actually a World Heritage Site and a must visit. It’s in the Old Town and is a short steep walk up to the most incredible views of the island. This complex includes a few cafes, cathedral, museums and the prettiest side streets.

0E739456-50D6-499B-B75B-16C6BF22718D6C4765A7-9410-4B2B-9DA6-73D25EEB931C33154370-7B24-4E50-9741-A8E5F5034D53

046D38E6-E526-44E0-8D3F-D0E7FE24057C21488E2C-AD49-49C8-BCBE-7730014ABB3B2211B405-BFFD-47CB-BCEB-0CFB2E2E58DD

Puerto de Ibiza (Ibiza Port) – where you can go and lust over yachts! It’s so scenic for a walk any time of the day but sunset is the best in my opinion. There are also plenty of places to eat and drink and shop nearby.

E2A9F741-DBBA-4643-B799-9EC3365A225B

Views of Dalt Vila from the port

2EA55981-53EA-43D7-BEA2-CA4FBEEAEE6D086117F1-E874-429E-8443-8B2AE9B1C830

So that’s my 5 days in Ibiza in a nutshell. Ibiza spotlight is so useful to help you plan both the day and night activities! Also for buses, Ibiza bus can guide you on timetables and specific routes if you understand Spanish (although google maps will guide you to the bus stops without always telling you which number to catch). Finally my all time fave app triposo for offline maps. A small amount of Spanish will make your life easier when navigating buses and chatting to local sellers.

To summarise, the total money spent (return flights, accommodation, all food and drink, nights out, transport and souvenirs ) = £865. The full experience of Ibiza in peak season can be enjoyed with planning and smart spending. It really is a one of a kind island with something for everyone!  What are your thoughts on Ibiza? I’d love to hear below!

 

J Xo

 

 

Bienvenidos a Miami

Welcome to Miami!

42CA081D-67E7-4E1C-8A65-53A937FAAC49

After a whirlwind 5 weeks in Central America and Mexico (all posts can be found here), I was excited to finally make it here. Ever since I heard Will Smith’s song, I had been keen to go and be bougie in Miami (although young Jess didn’t know of this term at the time!).

We travelled from Cancun on the 6th of May with American Airlines. Then I experienced my first American wonder with a lyft ride to our Airbnb  for $12 in a shared ride. We don’t have Lyft in the UK but my American cousins told me about it once so I decided to try it. I couldn’t believe the prices and I actually prefer it overall to Uber (hoping it comes to London one day!)

Our Airbnb was the cutest flat and we genuinely had the best host. It was important for us to cook some meals for variety and cost which you’ll appreciate here! My second American wonder was Target which I shopped at for the first time for groceries…again a London version would be great!

So this is what we got up to in our 6 days here:

Wynwood

The edgy and upcoming neighbourhood where we stayed. The buildings and pavements here are full of graffiti and there are so many cool places to eat, drink and enjoy art.

4525CF15-0EBE-4805-9B4A-87F6B21768C6BE75F728-0729-46CF-80FE-FCF03F0E2AF89C70974F-E7D2-46E1-9766-507F33ABEBFE

AC4660E2-8B12-4211-A8DF-303F0FDBBA01

“I am the work of art”

49275924-3E6C-4003-AF52-9361453A0738

9BC55965-5AF4-4830-B272-4D934AD54812

“Together we’ll go further”

Wynwood Walls is a free modern art gallery right in the middle of Wynwood. Make sure you check out both buildings as well as the outdoor areas for the full experience.

17B2F503-02CB-4E1D-A22A-00B1E0E638B65EF4D714-1721-42CF-9A8D-521145AB069301B08D65-0210-4439-AEF0-4D093EEF5FE7

61E50AE0-F5EC-46CB-9761-66FF7D2C0F45.jpeg

Arepa Bar – This restaurant do the tastiest burgers (mine had plantain in, I mean!) Check out their insta page for mouthwatering food pics!

6F0C7659-0B58-4BDF-A135-C2BFDFC1E0CA

Beef burger with plantain and chips

Freshii – this is a great place for veggies/vegans and has fresh, healthy food. I had the detox juice with the baja burrito (quinoa, avocado) and Albert had teriyaki rice bowl. The periodic table of fruit and veg is quality!

Cielito – for the coolest ice cream in Wynwood. There’s plenty of scope (pun unintended) to mix and match to create your perfect ice cream.

FB469B69-D763-4368-9C47-FD586593B768

The unicorn!

4E8CDB59-A33C-4128-9B30-9C555EAAADBA

Wynwood Marketplace – this open area has food and drink on Thursdays – Sunday’s with market and food stalls in the day and finishes with the bar and dancing late into the night.

79CE63F4-E6C2-4887-A1D7-0BFF92313CBE

Cayo Taco – they serve tacos which looked amazing but I was all taco’d out from Mexico the week before. However we came here for Murk Monday’s which is a free event. There’s a “secret” door through the restaurant which opens up into a cosy club. It was good fun with house music and live drummers!

Wood, Wynwood – lively bar with really good music. It seemed to be open most days, but was the livest on the weekend. It’s free to enter but you have to get in quick to avoid the huge queues.

Miami Beach 

Of course no visit to Miami is complete without its famous beach! The Miami Beach area is actually like its own island with connections to the mainland. The main attraction is its beautiful sandy white beaches but we also tried to see other parts of it too.

301E2F71-2FC7-4C31-A00F-B7369BCDBE81

On the beach, we saw many models doing their thing so I decided to create my own shoot!

Lincoln Road – a beautiful street to walk around full of shops and restaurants. Bonus being that it leads straight to the beach! Money saving tip: if you want to hire beach chairs and equipment then go to the beach in the afternoon as they have cheaper rates then.

1B02C78C-E5D9-4C97-9E64-8886E612AF4B

Collins Park – It’s a cute spot to sit in and people watch. It has these colourful rocks which I thought looked similar to the ones near Las Vegas!

The park also has statues of various important Latin American men and the story behind them (interestingly each statue had been gifted to Miami by a different Latin American country).

Finally you can visit The Bass here which is an art museum open Wed-Sunday’s (entrance fees apply).

D1D2DB7C-49D3-4637-A606-09419220A356

EBB20439-945D-402F-9483-BB56D352CB11

754E15F3-5E8F-4BED-B738-B6A909584BA2

Jose Martí is a Cuban hero from the 19th century and if you ever visit Cuba, you’ll see so much has been dedicated to him

The Museum of Ice Cream was on whilst we were there so we paid it a visit! $38 pp for entry to various floors with different ice cream flavours and styles, testers and fun facts. A fun place to go if it pops up in your city!
5A855EB0-980A-4105-9A42-E5237E160FD2

A3A9410E-D463-4E43-B845-BC31F02EEDBD

Bella Cuba – the first of a few different Cuban restaurants that we went to. We had a light lunch here of chicken empañadas, yuca fries, chicken noodle soup and sweet potato fries..no your mouth is watering! Really good prices and plesasant service.

0569996C-5A7B-4F73-9289-D45220FB6B12

Tropical Cafe, South Beach. It is SO cheap and their Cuban sandwiches are very filling.

Caffé Di Mauro – a delicious Italian restaurant for those who want a varied food experience. A great place to come for a romantic or group dinner.

Mondrian South Beach Hotel – Come here for happy hour from 5-7pm. I had the love hate cocktail ($9) which has a good kick to it! Enjoy your drinks outside either on the sofas or hammocks for a great view of Miami during sunset. This hotel is fancy af so I felt my best bougie self here!

4BDE8049-172E-48A7-9D06-DD59EA9FA10CAD3FB80B-6D3F-453B-AA5A-C81F39E6696EAA9BEED7-EE88-4743-B22D-C31DACAC9BB070AE6D00-9EAA-4DA8-8D1A-CBCC0F22BB15

Havana 1957 -this restaurant is on the corner of Española Way. We shared the special for $20: chicken, rice, beans, salad and plantain and it was the best meal we had in Miami, hands down!

True to its name, Española Way is a street full of Spanish and Latin American restaurants. Everything here gets really busy so eat at a quieter time of day for the best experience (e.g. late lunch or early dinner).

88A555E4-941A-4C04-8EA0-BA343F4D7A00

Ocean Drive is in the South Beach area and another place you have to visit! The key is to find a rooftop bar during happy hour and people watch – we chose Voodoo Rooftop Lounge for this. You will not be ready for the wild vehicles that we saw being driven!

64B4C971-0FEB-4D93-BE63-C32485B8AFE3

Little Havana

This neighbourhood is Cuba in the 21st century. Many Cubans came to live here through the years and have brought their culture with them. Their famous street Calle Ocho (8th Street) has a Latin Hollywood star walk which leads you to the Dominoes Park. Here you will see old Cuban men playing dominoes and smoking cigars. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars to enjoy nearby.

8BA9DD87-8007-4820-A26F-F1E293A84BA8EACF3A68-A3DA-4FDE-83D3-57ED205905A6

Old’s Havana – This is a busy restaurant in the area but the service copes well with it. We had the ham, chorizo and potato dish with rice and beans and salad. Plus a cafecito (baby coffee) on the side. Everything was delicious!

Azucar – the infamous ice cream shop with the most beautiful tiled floors. I had the Abuela Maria (guava and vanilla) flavour which is one of their top seller flavours.

7DE38156-94B1-4804-A789-5266DBAFBA8D

Ball and Chain – You should come here for the free live jazz if nothing else! They also have live salsa before 6pm. We had happy hour drinks here and the pastelito daiquiri was so good (and it came with a guava pastelito).

You may have noticed that I like the guava flavour! This all started when I visited Cuba so it was poetic to enjoy the flavours again in Little Havana.

Cuba Ocho – for salsa! It’s free to enter this bar and their rum and cokes are strong. Everyone else seemed to be a pro at salsa but it was fun to get involved!

Marlins Park – for a live Baseball game. We payed $13 each for front row seats (bought on Stubhub). It was a really cool experience and definitely worth a visit when in Miami!

Tip – It’s only a 20 minute walk from Little Havana so you can combine the two to save travel costs.

C3303989-3D59-40B0-BB1A-BC55B12DA00E

Vizcaya House and Gardens – an old stately home with beautiful rooms and an even more impressive garden. It’s so scenic that people get married here. We saw a few engagement shoots, prom shoots and a potential wedding (the woman came out of the toilet in her white dress and women who appeared to be family members started crying!). It’s $18 per adult entry and is open everyday except Tuesdays.

9DA71ADB-C825-4AAE-9B1E-55ACE49B8E283EF83970-5FD7-46CA-85BC-41EDED5E8840

A3CEB5D0-50AA-4BE1-B4BC-9EE9FB1793BF

King of the House

221A2687-5CE3-4234-81CA-CD0C8F3ED59C1291F039-1BBB-4A07-9DBD-208B6A79640B0A416AF1-491D-4018-8BD4-540FFBFE7880

BDF0B535-D146-4BBB-8E77-F4E28FC4A7D5.jpeg

 

There is so much to see and do in Miami that it’s easy to get carried away! However here are a few more tips to make it affordable:

Get your money’s worth in your accommodation! If you have a friend who lives out there then lucky you! Otherwise Airbnb is ideal so you can cook a few meals and have drinks before nights out. If you’re travelling alone, check out hostels in Miami Beach to cut transport costs to the main areas!

Make use of the free trolley in Miami Beach. There are 3 lines to take you around either North Beach, Middle Beach or South Beach and they intersect at various stops.

Buses are okay if travelling short distances but aren’t that cheap or efficient if your route requires a change. So check and compare the cost with lyft as you can car share to make it cheaper.

HAPPY HOUR! Almost every bar and many restaurants offer it so it would be rude not to! Also keep an eye out online for the events happening during your stay.

You can take in so much culture and beauty just by walking the streets of Miami. Little Havana and Wynwood are great examples of places for this but also Little Haiti which we unfortunately didn’t have time to go to.

A final shoutout to Rose (Wonder Where I Wander) whose great piece on Miami helped me plan our trip!

I hope you enjoyed this post! Do let me know your thoughts/previous experiences in Miami or more in the comments below…

 

J Xo

 

 

 

 

Mexico part 2: Sun, Sea and Mayans

 

 

515A6817-D475-489B-985A-A21AF2144862

Mayan handshake – also represents yin yang

Welcome to part 2 of my Mexico travels. Before you go any further, make sure you’ve caught up with part 1 and the Best of Central America Series too (from Costa Rica where this trip started in March, all the way up to Belize!)

So my month long G Adventures tour ended in Playa del Carmen (28th April ‘18) and I travelled to Cancun via taxi ($40USD) which took an hour. The local buses are cheaper of course but I was being boujee as my bag was heavy and we’d had too much fun at Coco Bongo last night! Cancun is well known for its spring break antics but luckily for us, the end of April is outside of this time. We had a week here and had booked 2 different accommodations as we couldn’t agree on one!

First we stayed at Casa Tortugas Boutique Hotel which is conveniently a 2 minute walk from the beach (Playa Tortugas). It is also 5 minute drive away to the start of the Hotel Zone (or a few minutes more by bus – just a minute walk to the stop – for 12 pesos one way and downtown Cancun is not too far in the opposite direction).

It has apartments within a hotel complex with an outdoor chill area and pool, overlooking the lagoon. The family who own it are so lovely and welcoming!

9A12F632-6421-4BE9-972F-08C9A2D0C228

Communal lounge area

4C7DA841-6577-40E2-9379-745528F04A2F

Sorry gals, only the parrot comes with the Hotel

BF45976B-01CE-4767-BE98-FD5C8A9D0C21

Overlooking the lagoon – you can’t swim in it as there are crocodiles! The hotel pool is lovely though.

730FF849-DB37-4F85-B490-DE3D5346B12A

¡Salud!

9C91B34D-29C1-4E31-A8D9-CDF267741C2D

The lagoon at sunset

For the second half of our week, we stayed in Ocean Dream Hotel in the Hotel Zone. The main hotels and resorts are on this long stretch of road which begins with the clubs and restaurants in the centre and it seems to get more expensive the further you drive along! We were lucky to have a room facing the ocean and a private beach to enjoy! At night, you could see the lit up cruise ships slowly making their way across the ocean.

67FB13E4-EF2F-4D1E-8A3F-2F8CBFDAB5E7

Through the door to our balcony

BF2E11A7-79C5-4A53-9ECF-CC6C603F9DEB

Incredible views from our balcony

E57CD968-CF06-4B4F-9851-888F68710353

“Ghost ship” in the far distance

There is a lot to do in and around Cancun so here’s a summary of what we got up to:

Playa Tortugas – Turtle Beach. We visited this on day one as it was our closest beach to Casa Tortugas. It is more local than touristsy which I always enjoy. We were papped by a Mexican woman who wanted to show her son that she had met us…not quite sure who we were supposed to be though!

4A10E87B-44E1-4F4C-B7AF-DBBC9D0F30F9

Isla Mujeres – women’s island – as it was apparently once inhabitated just by women. The Mayans would send women here from Tulum to pray for 3 days every month (perhaps menstruation related?!). To visit this lovely island, you can take a ferry from a port site (Playa Tortugas had one) for $19 USD pp open day return. The morning ferry has entertainment on board with a saxophone player. They will offer to take your pic before you board…wait until you arrive at the island as a more scenic and free photo op awaits you.

The beaches on this island are so beautiful and quite peaceful relative to crowd numbers. You can also wander through the markets and explore the town on hired golf carts.

F07B959B-9879-4A51-9531-3F1519982B67

9642D377-A6BB-4084-AAA9-85B668AE1260

EE39B0EF-3F7C-4DD3-8349-3E645D7B38DF117B91AC-446C-4D0D-A51C-784AE2FB43ED88E97EF2-074E-4197-AD09-12751E835DF74A9804E3-4881-4397-A24E-97DEDFF25C9F

Chichen Itza

One of the 7 new wonders of the World and the 2nd one that I had visited (the 1st being the incredible Machu Picchu in May ‘17). We went with Eknx tours ($75USD pp) which was arranged by Alex, the son of our host in Casa Tortugas.

Our first stop was a small town called Valladolid to visit the Mayan designed catholic church and have a stroll around.

5B5C2361-261E-4CAA-B377-AD7F8E56DFB1A5063237-CD56-4D47-83D3-4BC312BC77C1

F27E555E-8052-489C-ABF6-37853BC36DBE

6A6959A4-A287-4570-832F-DF9B69763B5E

Then we visited a Mayan arts and crafts centre, had a demonstration of making tortillas and enjoyed a buffet lunch (included in our price).

33774B39-6CB0-4A50-8A20-8E4603F8551C

42BB1057-5A4C-4526-B651-7614C8A8AE53

As you know from my previous blogs, Jamaica drink was my favourite. However tamarindo is delicious too and here I tried Chaya juice which was very refreshing

Next we made it to Chichen Itza and explored the ruins around it. Our tour guide for the day Rafael showed us around and explained the different ruins before letting us loose to wander. There are many market stalls inside the complex too which was a bit unexpected but far away enough to not spoil the views.

D437CE87-F6D8-4029-8057-4FEC9731BE58

50745B41-D30A-405C-8C21-E8FC954BAACE0C5EF08B-72D4-4C4F-AD23-B3195D2185FA

E3078362-910E-48A2-B978-A67CDF819BCC

961023EB-A200-43A9-A7E2-870269E9C6C1

Sacred Cenote – used for many human and material sacrifices

0D91976B-7259-457D-811C-6CDE4606DB55

The Observatory – designs all around the world have replicated it since

 

If you clap hard enough, it echoes around..the sound is incredible!

F99E1547-23FB-4FEF-B8F8-DE32180FC133

Last stop of the tour was to another cenote for a much needed cool down swim. Cenotes were thought to be passages to the underworld so it was a bit surreal casually entering one. The water is deep inside so less confident swimmers and children should wear life jackets.

41AA5CCF-B636-41FA-B167-BD755EC51CD984FA678E-81E5-4CBD-8C24-D99FD0FFEFC1

We learnt so much on this tour about Mayan life. For example about Kukulkan (a word that some streets and roads were named after) which is a Mayan feathered snake deity. The Temple Kukulkan is the central temple of Chichen Itza (or El Castillo in Spanish). During spring and autumn equinoxes, the light falls on the temple in a certain way to cast a shadow which looks like a serpent going down it!                       We also learnt about various Mayan sacrifices to please Gods (including that of their best athletes who won competitive games), the original observatory and more.

Tulum

We booked a half day tour to visit the ruins here for $29 USD pp from mycancuntours.com. Tulum is just over a hour drive away from Cancun and the ruins are beautifully located next to the beach. The site is smaller than Chichen Itza so all can be seen in an hour maximum. The full day tours also include lunch, beach time and a visit to Playa del Carmen or another ruin site.

0C26EE53-58B6-4EE5-A8CE-05F760571471B4C17B15-7070-4916-A3CC-8FE04CEF897DBC8CF89E-01AF-4CB9-BFF1-57144090216F14AD4664-5526-4233-BC8E-21A8D4AFF132

36741A3E-6E68-4736-B4B7-E7E7BF8D58AD

FC0382E1-9CC0-41B5-B861-96D2FC77090D

Tulum was an extension of Chichen Itza and was connected to Isla Mujeres for the movement of goods and women. It was then abandoned when there was a drought for 80 years and the many sacrifices to the Gods didn’t work. Kudos to the Mayans for trying for so long!

We passed through the tequila factory on the way back for a demo on the tequila making process and some free tasters to end the day.

C5492A1A-635C-4284-AAFB-BE1121F8B5907E41A73F-3331-45F4-B393-2698F4DB8E2E8AD4C492-E4DD-4616-AF13-AE953F6FB745FD6C5705-36C2-4E2A-AAE9-FFF3656623ED

Food and drink highlights:

To balance out our spending on tours etc, we cooked all breakfast and some of our other meals at our hotels or took snacks to the beach, getting cheap food and drink supplies from nearby supermarket Chendrai Selecto. For the rest of our time, I’ve summarised a few favourites below :

Chilis – American style food with quick service. My buffalo chicken burger was very tasty but any chicken dish is good (I did try everyone else’s too!)

Taco Factory – for chicken tacos and my favourite Jamaica drink. A very cheap lunch with a free refill of nachos for your starter.

Casa Tequila – this is a lovely fancy restaurant for dinner and tequila. Their nachos for starters are the best I had on my trip. I also had their pastor (pork) tacos and my favourite Spanish tipple sangria.

3A60746D-1FA8-4015-9071-A6D52992D13A

Natura – they serve natural juices and delicious food with a whole lot of flavour. We shared the beef fajitas which were 100!

Mextreme – this is a lively restaurant and gets very busy so I recommend going for a slightly earlier dinner to get a seat quickly. We were given a free starter card outside so we claimed it for a shared platter and then for our mains, the shared taco party which had a variety of taco fillings. The restaurant has live music and pleasant waiters with very sturdy heads…you’ll see what I mean if you go!

D29A2195-A513-4CE1-AA79-921D6EA7ED40

D5B1E243-CE4F-4C8E-8D23-FE34C907EFA5

Our creme de la creme waiter Julius Caesar casually photobombing

a

CACEA4DB-09CD-4B5D-A971-8F220E5A58A4

A taco party!

Golden Sea Chinese – because I have a little tradition of one Chinese meal wherever I go. Their food was delicious (spicy chicken my personal fave) plus the unexpected entertainment of drunk old Chinese people doing karaoke at their table!

Coco Bongo Cancun – from my last blog, you’ll know that I went to the Playa del Carmen one but I would’ve been a rude host to not show Albert this one. Unlimited drinks and the show plus dancing makes it oh so worth it!

AED76ACA-BB39-4A14-870D-D53D85D79EDA

Carlos’ N Charlie’s – this restaurant/bar is one of the few bars which has free entry. Also their drinks prices are pretty good compared with others. We went on a Friday night which was Latin night so lots of salsa and tequila! We also came here for Cinco de Mayo which isn’t a celebration in Mexico really but the margaritas were tasty!

864A4273-792C-457F-8F33-3598EDF0FC74

Fat Tuesday’s Cancun – another place with free entry and usually has hip hop and RnB playing.

James – you get a beautiful view from the rooftop so it’s perfect for a date night. The view will cost you a bit though so dress for the occasion!

2F8C93FD-0DD3-4F2D-8B13-7C204533B687

Top tips for Mexico

Use Mexican pesos where possible as the exchange rate is excellent (especially for us Brits!) If you opt to pay in dollars which most places will accept, your change will be in pesos at a poor rate. My favourite was “buy this fridge magnet for $1USD or 10 pesos (whilst we were there, 1USD = 17 pesos roughly so you do the math). Some tourist tours will quote the prices in dollars only so then you can get your haggling hat on.

Enjoy a drink at your hotel/Airbnb before going out as drinks are quite pricey. A lot of clubs will have an entry fee with open bar for $40 USD and above a night (per person) but we opted for the free entry places instead. Coco Bongo is one place I would recommend paying for though for the whole experience…make sure you check for any discounts on their website (Monday’s are cheaper for example).

Use the local buses to travel around town – for only 12 pesos per person, it’s an absolute bargain compared with taxis (who will ask for tips too).  You can catch any bus to go along the Hotel Zone but to go downtown or elsewhere requires a bit of working out. Bonus is they run throughout the night too!

Be prepared to tip almost everybody – not just waiters (restaurants usually added it on anyways) but taxi drivers were also hinting strongly for this.

A little bit Spanish goes a long way. Even though most people can speak English well, I’m big on trying to communicate with the locals in their native tongue and they love the effort made, no matter how small.

BB7C628B-39A6-4370-880C-444B66F1AA8A.jpeg

Thank you for reading my Mexico post and I hope it’s inspired you to visit. I definitely want to go again but next time to Mexico City…maybe in time for El Día de Los Muertos (huge day of the dead festival celebrated after Halloween)!

Any comments and feedback as always are welcome below.

 

J Xo

Best of Central America: 7. Mexico

D707FDB8-116D-4952-A18D-A6C284426CAF

Mexico is a country that I have longed to visit for years and the one I was most looking forward to on the tour. I had a few days with my group and the rest of the time in Mexico was with Albert (see part 2).

From Caye Caulker, Belize (where we had spent the past few days), we took a ferry back to Belize City and then another chicken bus to the Belize/Mexico border. It cost $20USD to exit Belize and entry to Mexico was free. However if you are staying there for more than a week, you pay 533 Mexican pesos.

Mahahaul

We spent 2 days in this cute town which is a popular destination for cruise ships. We stayed in Koox Matan Ka’an Hotel which was pretty great. It’s close to the beach, very scenic and has a rooftop area for drinks and a swim overlooking the town.

455107F3-E5FD-4BD3-913E-E0A4ECBFE3C3

5BC9A661-A693-48DE-B81A-1A177316B85D

Now when you arrive here in the evening, it seems quiet and quaint. However the next day when we went to the beach and 3 cruise ships had stopped here for the day, the madness ensued. The beach is full of restaurants, bars and outdoor massage parlours with everyone trying to get your attention. It is hectic so it’s best to find a spot closer to the sea and escape for a swim or snorkel! We spent the day by El Fuerte restaurant’s beach as the loungers and umbrellas were free as long as you consumed something.

55C1D653-603E-4B94-A970-85BE3A31C70E20139AA2-DFC1-493B-ADBB-9A3154D5DE01

The nightlife in Mahahaul doesn’t really exist as most things shut down once the cruise ships leave. So we entertained ourself with drinks on the roof of our hotel, overlooking the sea!

E651D76E-B2F5-43D0-814F-0B3B01342E45

4647F106-F484-4755-845F-9461F04FD4BA

The dream team

FD33A6CA-E2EB-4A1E-BC98-5788C6391046

Attempting the infinity pool look with my three new Norwegian sisters

365D6DE1-6DBF-410D-B1D0-083CE21F61C0

Our tour guide turned happy hour barman

Playa del Carmen

From Mahahual, the bus ride to Playa took a few hours. We stayed in another Koox hotel here – it looks tiny and unimpressive on the outside but the rooms which were studio apartments were the best we’d had on our tour!

It is a great place to visit the beach, cenotes or even a trip to Tulum or Cancun…this is covered in part 2.

For the best night out OF YOUR LIFE, you have to go to Coco Bongo. It costs $70USD which includes entrance, unlimited drinks all night and the show (we also had a reserved area for the night). I couldn’t do it justice trying to explain how amazing the whole experience.. trust me on this one and we can reminisce about it after you go!

02607C87-077F-49E0-BB3E-4987CA26F6A5B0421FED-9B71-4410-B0AC-B86232E8F8E6B867D35B-20AF-48E8-9BA6-9B78B3C6276B

FF59AB0D-BFEB-447D-A92A-1149D2D8E30F

The balloons were also included..

Food and drink highlights:

El Mahatí during our pit stop in Chetumal. I had chilaquiles (nachos base with cheese, salsa, guacamole, beans, avocado +/-meat and egg) – something to try in Mexico for sure.

D6EB364E-666F-432B-86C4-2A89614293E5

Nohoch Kay Beach Club in Mahahaul – for divine shrimp tacos.

Camaroncito Caribeño in Mahahaul – here I had a huge chicken fajita which was filling and cheap (100pesos – just under £4).

Los Chilakiles in Playa del Carmen – for lunch I had tecanto chicken (you get to choose how spicy or not you want the salsa for each dish) and the next day for breakfast, Mexican style eggs. They serve delicious fresh juices too.

La Patrona De Playa (Playa del Carmen) – pastor tacos (pork with pineapple and salsa…something I hadn’t eaten before but fell in love with instantly). Again a must try in Mexico.

You’ll notice that the tacos are small and soft – this is how they’re done in Mexico. I asked about the hard shells but no one knew what I was talking about!

BFADB542-1D92-47C5-A291-821EFE1AF894

And that marked the end of my month long travel with G adventures! I learnt so much about Central America and fell in love with the culture and energy the locals had. Plus I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to tour with!

Thank you so much for following my Best of Central America blog series. Keep an eye out for part 2 of my Mexico travels!

 

 

J Xo

 

 

Best of Central America: 6. Belize

CF209B4D-B907-4CEC-BE0C-6577E57334A8.jpeg

Belize is an interesting Central American country in many ways. It was once known as British Honduras and is currently part of the Commonwealth. Therefore its main language is English unlike the rest of its Spanish neighbours. The currency is the Belizean dollar which has the face of a young Queen Elizabeth II on the notes! It feels like a Caribbean island as the population is ethnically mixed and the accent has a lovely lilt to it.  And finally, it is the only country in the world with people on its flag!

8EDAAD04-A3C6-47C0-AC59-4636D26F0313.jpeg

From Tikal in Guatemala, we travelled by bus to the border (10 quetzales exit fee) and it was free to enter Belize. They don’t like you bringing in fresh fruit from Guatemala and it will be one of the only things that they ask you about!

We continued on to San Ignacio where we spent the next 2 days. We stayed at Midas Belize which is a cool hotel featuring a pool with volleyball nets, a lively bar and plenty of reggae music! We had breakfast at the hotel which was a mix of American and Latin classics for a good price.

The main activity I did was caving in ATM cave (also known as Crystal Caves due to the shiny appearance of the rocks in “Wonderland”). It’s a whole day activity and cost $90 USD which included transport for the day, our great guide Miguel, entrance to the cave, a lovely lunch of chicken fajitas, swimming in a natural lake and plenty of rum to end the day.

This is not an activity for the faint hearted as it is quite physically demanding. Also a few areas are very tight so we were literally crawling through but it was a great experience. Our guide knew everything about Mayan history and we learnt a lot about their changing sacrificial rituals in an attempt to please their gods plus a few interesting practices such the moulding of skulls of royal babies with blocks of wood and insertion of jade teeth grills when they grow up!

146E7F94-8290-4383-AA75-88637E8FE80C

B994569E-F388-41E2-B925-3FA97ED70F75

Mayan cooking pots. We also found the skull of a 7 month old who was sacrificed

F24B5A10-360E-4430-8382-B84E18A01F9A936D4935-06C2-44B1-B66A-C1445EBE13E8

If full on caving isn’t your thing then you can go tubing which is much gentler and involves being in an inflatable for most of the day as you explore. Back in town, there are a few Mayan ruins to visit, markets to explore or you can take yourself on a tour in a hired golf cart.

We visited the cool Ko-Ox Han nah restaurant in town which has ridiculously long queues to get in because their food is that good. Definitely worth the wait but I would recommend going at least an hour earlier than you’re planning to eat! I also had incredible fried chicken from Hode restaurant which offer takeout service.

For drinks, Sports bar is good as it is cheap and cheerful (as long as you stick to local brands otherwise the difference is almost 3x in price!!!).

Caye Caulker

9D3B9E7F-BCF5-4FAE-8B12-5510E3805E15

From San Ignacio, we took a chicken bus (old American school bus) all the way to the ferry port and then set sail to actual paradise. Caye Caulker is one of the most beautiful islands that I’ve visited so far. It is a no filter kind of place where everyone is happy and chilled.

84481AFB-2D2E-4628-A3DA-CA6C3E66898E720BE473-09F4-4450-9B8B-3819E761519FC857CCA9-6C8E-4F2F-A779-1898DE3B34382A780D5A-62E7-4277-8DDB-5D97D339182D

We stayed at Enjoy Hotel  which is enjoyable (I couldn’t resist!). It’s in a great location with a yoga cafe on one side and Sports bar on the other side and the beach being yards away!

Another included activity in our tour which I loved was “Bike with Purpose” – a guided bike tour around the island led by the local teenagers. They all attend the only secondary school on the island (Ocean Academy) which opened in 2008. Prior to this, the kids of this age (11-17) would have to get a ferry across to Belize City to continue their schooling. It was clear that they are all talented, driven and proud of their island which was lovely to see.

223AC578-0FA8-4575-8C27-680A1CAF03D89A20357E-54B7-430A-B8FD-350D7362EBD2543839B8-1F79-4F9E-83EE-1CB24D6F70DB0807EBB8-DB37-4D44-ABE5-8BD3435753AB5EDEDCEA-B2E1-46E7-9353-1AEC32D66D3CD8898721-9A7F-4879-B051-8FB996D79A30B8E658BD-749D-4A0E-91A2-B8690F2D2E97

4F214D48-0A1E-4420-B9FE-9C67422918D6

Look at their beautiful school!

D3E20DF8-DCFC-43DB-8CBE-871ABBC8BE1A

One of our guides made me this funky hat out of leaves!

Naturally there are also plenty of water activities to do here. We went on a snorkelling tour ($70USD) which was my first time ever so I was super nervous but had an amazing time. This Mesoamerican reef is the second largest in the world (behind the Australian Great Barrier Reef) which added to the experience!

We had the best day with our charismatic and talented tour guides from Raggamuffin tours. We were lucky to see turtles, nurse sharks (which I was reassured are harmless as I jumped into a crowd of them…and luckily they swam away!), as well as plenty of smaller fish. We were then treated to lunch, ceviche and nachos with rum of course!

BB5FCC36-2B26-450C-8B4E-E5553C7D5398C3772FBE-B101-431D-BB7C-D5871C9FFC31

Steph’s GoPro pics 1: Our guide Chris

Steph’s GoPro pics 2: Nurse sharks!

Steph’s GoPro pics 3: Just keep swimming

B4E17575-843A-4C0B-A296-373108D3D9F3A6391132-7300-4CEE-9B2B-874C61423EE8

Our tour ended at Koko King Beach which is a 10 minute boat ride from the port behind Enjoy hotel. You have to spend a minimum of $10USD at the bar then you get a wristband to board the boat back for free. (Tip: the beer buckets will help you reach this amount quickly!) This beach is definitely worth it for the volleyball and free inflatables in the sea plus chilled vibes and insane sunset views.

9A810A5B-B8BB-44B8-841B-C230950A6DC9D1000FB3-3017-4B6A-AD47-ECF8EC68073C

The Split is the main beach area on Caye Caulker. It has beautiful white sand and gets lively with music once happy hour kicks off at Lazy Lizard bar.

144C7C2C-6A27-413A-8B5C-CB39A46E6A2F

Food and drink highlights:

Everywhere has happy hour during the day and all Belizean food is delicious and generously portioned so it’s hard to go wrong.

Bamboozle – here is where we had our first taste of fried jack which is a huge fried tortilla filled with meat or veg. It reminded me of the batter of a Yorkshire pudding which I love!

1934CA30-092A-4725-B517-CC2E8C8D64FD

Namaste cafe – they do delicious breakfast and drinks for a reasonable price. They also have free yoga sessions on the roof daily (including yoga mats and weights if required). Classes run at 9am most days with some afternoon sessions (up to date times are on the board outside) and you can donate a small amount after the session.

Barefoot hotel – another great place for breakfast. We also had fried jacks here which were good but less batter like compared with our first ones.

02BB8EA8-F838-40DC-BBEB-CE065C24312D

Fried jack with scrambled eggs and beans

Snack N Dip – a beach bar which also does great lunch takeout deals.

WishWillyBar and Grill – we had a group BBQ for 30 belizean dollars each with all you eat and all you can drink rum.

Sports Bar – we loved it so much that we started ALL our 3 nights here! Each night had a different theme (the African drummers were a treat) and there is a free shots round of fireball to the sound of Pitbull’s fireball!

Reggae Bar – a great place to go once Sports Bar closes. There are swings by the bar and a couple of poles which the guys were more keen to dance on than the women.

Final words on Belize:

Prices are quoted in either Belizean or US dollars but use the same $ sign. It is a fixed rate of 2 Belizean to 1 US dollar. You can pay with either dollar and will get change in one or a mixture of both so just check your change! (although we had no bad experiences with this).

Go slow…that’s the motto we saw and heard all over Caye Caulker. Everything and everyone is relaxed and you will leave here feeling very zen.

DAAAADF1-68CC-4E4A-BD59-7284B04AEFC6.jpeg

Comment below if you’ve been to or would love to visit Belize. And stay tuned for the last in this tour’s series…the lovely country of Mexico!

J Xo

Best of Central America: 5. Guatemala

F300E075-A3FA-4153-BD8C-45EF3178DC56

Guatemala is the 5th country of the Republic of Central America which gained independence on September 15th 1821 (and our 5th country of this tour). We had dipped our toes into Mayan territory in Honduras but from here on, we learnt so much more. It was another place which hadn’t been on my radar much prior to the trip so I was excited to see what it had to offer in our week here (12th to 20th April).

The local currency is called quetzal (also the name of the National bird!).

As with the other Central American countries, we travelled here via private bus. We had just spent 48 hours in Honduras, having already passed through Guatemalan borders so didn’t need to pay again. The journey was long and took us through the capital Guatemala city to finally reach our first destination.

Antigua

This was the halfway point of our month long tour which meant saying goodbye to our tour leader and a few fellow travellers and welcoming the newbies. For anyone who has done a tour abroad before, you know how quickly you can grow to love or hate the group as all those hours spent travelling in a small bus and sharing dorms can really make or break you! Luckily for me, they were like family.

CE5F52B6-D357-4AF8-8128-B7AABC261675EFC911A7-968A-44F1-B8A6-6D0CB4920CFE

We spent 3 days in this gorgeous Spanish colonial town. We stayed in our second Lemon tree hostel close to the town centre. It is usefully attached to an ale house!

Antigua is full of colourful cobblestone streets, bright yellow churches, cathedrals and the infamous golden arches (Arco de Santa Catalina). It is a good sized town to explore by foot, made easier by the American style grid system of their streets.

D8948623-94F3-4D7B-9D94-2A49AC6CD2CE8725BB1D-2787-4A6D-B1A0-DEC6ACEAE97768CB1D16-B7CF-4198-A3A8-7C44BA6FD41A9A566692-8AC8-43DE-A39E-A584E26C7B7D16D2B38E-2553-46C9-ADCE-02DCA68FF2169878D013-7849-40DA-821F-FB92B5BD8195

I also visited Convento de las Capuchinas (40quetzals entry for adults or 20 for students) a convent with a museum which looks at the role it played in Antigua’s past, religion through the times and the life of the nuns who founded it. After the original site was destroyed by earthquakes in the 18th century, the founding nuns relocated to new Guatemala with altarpieces and other things of value. It is an interesting museum and has a few quirky displays.

16544A51-CC71-4706-A140-EC69545DFB752C5FCAE4-02EB-420B-A590-C393AFF23E85

FE9C8240-1CA4-4EA8-85AA-367E92E4CE8B

Disclaimer: not a real nun

D362FC6A-049A-430A-9F1F-0D6683EEAB2F

Jade is a very precious stone in Guatemala and can be bought anywhere from the market stalls to jade shops. I visited Jada Maya where as well as the opportunity to buy lovely jewellery (including a replica of one of Princess Diana’s necklaces), you can learn more about jade in their little museum. Another cool thing they offer is a book with every date in it and its corresponding Mayan sign so you can find the one for your birth date for personalised accessories.

97AA89C9-AC2D-4258-8D8A-4AD25D23F8D7.jpeg

The markets are an incredible place to visit even just to have a wander around. Some are located outside and others indoors in various locations (we visited the ones by the Arches and also the convent above)

9D5B08EC-F923-446F-BBC7-24FB8E647F97

The viewpoint (Cerro de la Cruz) is the best way to see the town on a clear day. As you may have noticed from my other blogs, the best views of a Central American town are from a huge cross on hill! It is a short steep hike up to the point but very impressive once you get there.

30FBFB77-4FD6-4F0C-8B71-4CC7C58E6AE6

By this point, you’ve already climbed a bit of a hill and there’s still more to go!

76F9F268-8C27-48AC-ABE4-1983C1ACBEB5

Another great activity to do here is have a salsa class! For 50q per person, we had a private hour lesson which everyone loved followed by some rum to cool down!

Whilst we were here, Guatemala was also preparing for election…not a presidential one but to decide if part of Belize should be part of Guatemala (I understood there was a lot of history behind this). So the weekend prior to this was known as “la seca” – literally the dry, where no alcohol was served. It just meant that the Friday night before was a huge party!

The one activity I was completely unprepared for and sad to have not done was hiking the volcanoes. There are a few to choose from and can be day or overnight hikes (Acatenango, Fuego and Pacaya). The attraction is seeing active lava spurting up which I was told by fellow tour members is an impressive sight..although recent events may deter some understandably.

Food and drink highlights:

Rainbow cafe – we were treated to live music whilst we dined. Everything on the menu looked delicious. I had the red pepper and mozzarella quesadillas which were divine. Tip: have an early dinner (before 8) to enjoy 2 4 1 happy hour too!

AA97432A-4D65-4D72-83B9-647B74EE1CE2

Macinare caffe – this had the best meat that I’ve had in this area! Not many great alternatives for non meat eaters unfortunately.

E0E9C54A-5B58-4FA2-821B-F75432BB75E8

And the avocado is an extra $1..well worth it though!

Montagu – really cool concept of open kitchen, closed door. It felt like you were in someone’s kitchen as everything was cooked right in front of you. The shrimp and bacon tacos on blue tortilla were incredible. And my hibiscus sangria was too good!

0B7EBF7A-6FF4-42D8-9AB5-71C1A1F6DC44.jpeg

Bagel barn – I had breakfast here twice as it was so good! First one was granola and hot chocolate which was healthy but filling. Second was the mcbarn bagel (garlic cream cheese, ham, cheese and potato) plus chain latte for 56q was pretty affordable!

CA783794-CA33-45B5-930A-0623198EA0A5

La Casa de Sopa (for more quesadillas and sangria). Huge portions and decent taste.

Lucky bar – really fun vibe with games such as beer pong and decent priced drinks. Not entirely sure the aesthetic behind the old bras hanging up though..!

4998A026-9CA4-43D2-AE4D-1862350D6A02

La sala – a great club filled with a nice ratio of more locals than tourists. The music is popping, the dancing is on fire and everyone had the best time. If the heat is too much downstairs, you can sit upstairs which is an open rooftop with its own bar.

San Juan La Laguna

We arrived at this Mayan town via bus and boat (for sure the choppiest boat ride yet). The streets and roads are quite steep so we stopped off at Panajachel on the way to leave our bags in our next hotel before getting the boat across.

C9552512-19C3-461E-AC19-019AB871C1E1

Our first encounter of Lake Atitlan

60413AF1-0559-4065-B9AA-387254A79B97

We stayed with local Mayan families which was an amazing experience. Their homes are cleverly designed for the climate and I loved the open plan design of the kitchen and living space. Our host mum was one of many women in the town who own their own textile and clothes shop.  Any item of clothing you buy is so beautiful designed…but interestingly only the women wore traditional clothing.

We went on a tour of the town to experience modern Mayan life. The locals of the town still speak the Mayan language and only a few do Spanish so this was a perfect opportunity to learn a few new words!

Our first stop was a demonstration centre where the women showed us how they make and dye cotton before sewing it to create scarves, hats etc. Anything you buy from their shop has a tag with the name of the woman who made it and all the money goes towards supporting their kids education.

C38DDC94-39E7-45AB-9CEF-B1A4CF205B0D

24CF0F58-C626-419F-BD35-71E958762391

This method of weaving was very similar to the Incan style I experienced in Peru last year!

E0933E6B-8986-4684-8627-627BC05AC08D849B8C08-47A7-4B0E-90F4-72F2ABAA381B

The next stop was a herbal garden where we had a session on the different healing properties of various plants. As the island is small, they haven’t got huge modern medical services so they rely on holistic methods which are provided by “midwives”. My favourite taster was definitely the lemongrass and liquorice tea which is supposed to help with stress.

8AB1DF9A-A975-4D6C-848C-1C5B69498651E3EEC7BD-5207-4A40-B0F4-2741A0E8D6BF66960CC6-7171-4186-BDF8-79F82844CFAB

Last stop of the day was to the arts centre which had the most beautiful paintings and accessories by local artists which are all available for purchase.

24AF82F0-3181-4D5C-BCEB-5C085CCFFB70F9B4C7C0-AD90-4A12-9DC2-B2C090A63068

The food and drink provided by our families was of course delicious and consisted of traditional tortillas with meat or veg substitute, plantain, beans, rice and veg.

A lovely restaurant we discovered was Chichoy restaurant in Tecpan, which we stopped off at on our way to San Juan. My meal of tortilla with chorizo, beans and Jamaica drink cost only 41q. There was a Mayan woman demonstrating how tortillas are made traditionally with the clapping motion which we got to practice with our families (and it is harder than it looks!)

21FFFC2B-5758-4EBF-BF4C-7D17BAABEDC2

Panajachel

We travelled from San Juan by boat via La Casa del Mundo (situated on Lake Atitlan) where we stopped for breakfast. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s definitely worth planning your itinerary so you can pass through. The views of Lake Atitlan are sensational and you can go for a cheeky dip or just take it all in sat comfortably in a hammock.

B00CBE2F-EFD0-4610-B428-62E647915DC1

Casa del Mundo

2BBA32FC-664D-4659-A54B-C93DBFE4C605.jpeg

Overlooking Lake Atitlan

Back at Panajachel, we had the day to explore the town’s markets and chill by the beach. We stayed for one night at Hotel K’amol B’ey which is definitely one of the prettiest accommodations with plenty of grassy areas to sunbathe and relax.

There are a number of Deli’s here which basically serve the same food (which is equally good). We ate at Deli Jasmin for lunch and Deli llama del fuego for dinner. For drinks, Pana Rock (which has all the vibes of Hard Rock Cafe even in their merchandise) is a fun place for live music!

Top tip: if you fancy a post night out meal from one of the street vendors, don’t try and feed the stray dog that starts to follow you as their friends will soon join and literally all follow you home!

Rio Dulce

This translates as the sweet river (Spanish is just such a lovely language!). We arrived here via private bus and then took a boat to our eco lodge Hacienda Tijax for the next 2 days. You are at one with nature as the bungalows are within a jungle on this island. All the beds have nets but still insect repellent is your best friend here!

0B369E47-934A-4F2F-8F64-D21AF75B5A3AC3BE9E13-7211-4877-9F64-38F6427D283D

There is a restaurant and bar on site where we had most of our meals. The menu limited and not the cheapest so going elsewhere for a couple of meals is a good idea if you’re on a budget…however do try the pulled pork sandwich as it’s one of the best items on the menu.

A few activities to enjoy include sunrise kayaking, a nature hike or to visit towns such as Livingstone (where you get to experience African culture fused with Latin culture). To go anywhere, you need to take a boat which varies in cost depending on the distance and the last one of the night is usually arrives back by half 10 (20q round trip to the nearest town). Or you can chill by the pool with a book, music and a drink as most of us did!

BF243652-987A-4606-8494-17B16EBFB3A2

We did go across to town one night to enjoy dinner at SundogCafe (which served the biggest pizzas I’ve ever seen) and visit the funfair briefly before coming back to enjoy beers under the stars. Honestly this place is a little paradise and a nice chill spot which is just what we needed at this point!

Flores

Another beautifully named place meaning “flowers”. It’s ideal to spend a day in before moving on to Tikal. We spent our one night here at Hotel Peten.

Flores is the perfect Instagram town as every door and building is just so quirky and colourful. You can explore the town in basically an hour as it is tiny. There are a few great places to eat, one being Cool Beans which has quite an extensive and decently priced menu. You can sit on hammocks inside or dine outside by the river and they also have free books which you can take to keep (we gave a donation of a few dollars).

32A1FA81-C841-4428-831C-6FD5B26586FC19C09720-5426-4D19-A52A-499022BD289B

43F0C2E2-E046-4F5F-8A46-986A755CCA11

Unexpected flooded area where the path ended!

CCA65CE7-AC8E-43B8-8E17-33780C4253C8

A great way to spend your evening is to have a boat party. There will be people everywhere offering you and friends this opportunity. We payed 250q each for unlimited drinks, dinner and the party which also included karaoke later on! We visited Jorge’s Rope Swing which is a house (presumably Jorge’s) on the river with a rope swing and boards to jump off too – great for an adrenaline rush! To end our night, we visited the club next door to our hotel which was great for more dancing (a woman fully dressed in traditional Mayan dress stole the dancefloor!)

9F533941-C7DD-47F2-B78A-0D740CCBDB77

FC036757-5754-4E0A-9C61-9DE9EF80CA29930FAE3B-14CD-4031-8D09-C05506210BB4EA6A0B44-B07E-4E5D-80E2-F4D7C736C84D

Tikal National Park

This was sadly the final stop for us in Guatemala (the entrance fees were included in our original tour price) and is an absolute must see. We spent half the day here learning a lot about ancient Mayan life with our excellent tour guide. The ruins are surrounded by lush trees (including the National tree of Guatemala) but the temples are very exposed to the elements so think hat, sunscreen, insect repellent (plenty of water as it is tiring) and maybe raincoats depending on the season! It also means you get to see some wildlife..we saw howler monkeys and toucans in the trees.

63A1EA48-7EA5-4106-8F1D-BCDEEFE758F3

National tree of Guatemala

Tikal was important in pre-Colombian Mayan times and has impressive architecture including the 4 temples which were cleverly built to observe the Sun perfectly on either the winter and summer solstices and September and March 22nd, depending on where you stand.

You can also climb up a few of the temples via the specially built steps and the views from the top are magnificent.

C4330F39-EA3E-4D72-82E7-13017A81975AAA321531-1F24-45AB-A916-BED3BFFDA668CBED2122-6219-46C6-96AF-14D8D60509FBE4CD3885-7CB1-4745-BE18-F92F302EB52A4D2E782B-4DEB-44A6-AAB8-258CA111ECB4

There have been new discoveries made at Tikal recently so watch this space! And from here, we set off to our 6th country…Belize!

Final words about Guatemala:

As you may be aware, one of the active volcanoes Fuego erupted at the beginning of June, causing devastation to neighbouring villages and towns. I wasn’t sure about finishing this blog given the current situation that Guatemalans are dealing with. However the country is so beautiful that I wanted to share my experiences so hopefully you’ll be inspired to go once safe to do so as Guatemala has so much to offer.

J Xo

Best of Central America: 4. Honduras

402F70AE-BA97-4BA6-A13B-D04B33CCF819.jpeg

For me, Honduras was the country I was a little anxious about visiting for a few reasons. But this tour gave me the perfect opportunity to get a feel for the country. We spent a short 48 hours here and I was pleasantly surprised by how lovely it was!

Hondurans call themselves Cataracha – not quite as catchy as the other countries nicknames!

Exiting El Salvador was free. We passed by private bus through Guatemala ($2USD entry) to enter Honduras ($4USD).  As we were only spending 48 hours in Honduras, we only paid the exit tax once.  Honduran currency is lempira and I advise you use this (can exchange dollars at the banks for excellent rates or direct from ATMs).  Otherwise you will get a rubbish rate paying directly in dollars.

We spent our 2 days in the town of Copán which was once an important centre of Mayan civilisation. It still has many Mayan features and is just the prettiest place. We stayed in Brisas de Copan Hostel.

A21356B3-409B-4EB1-8E6A-BABB14E27A62

91BEAD80-D36B-4281-86E7-D4D70E6F8ABC

These red tuc tucs can take you around town (about 10-15 lempiras pp) and even a bit further out for slightly more…an interesting and very bumpy ride!

D18FF4DE-3C68-4F5B-B950-AED166221F22BD51D4D2-BAA4-4C15-A179-E61ED1014D2E7FD89832-0627-4BAD-88E4-F633A7BF7C69

My Copán activities –

Laguna hot springs – which has many pools with various temperatures(from very warm to freezing), a mud bath area and steam area. There was also a cool bit in a cave which we awkwardly entered and left as a couple were getting very cosy in it!

The river that flows around some of the pools is boiling hot so don’t fall in!

We visited the springs with a fellow tour group who were doing Central America in the opposite direction so enjoyed rum and a barbecue with them.

Tours here cost about $22 if you shop around town.

D9D10441-26DD-48B7-8DB7-2D18AF366EB2

D91D77D9-115B-40D4-93CA-FF9B500FB84B

181B8866-D37E-425E-A748-FCD33F1B8468

Macaw Mountain – this is a bird sanctuary which tries to return maltreated or wrongly domesticated wild birds back into the wild…ranging from macaws to owls, toucans and more. It’s such a lovely idea and great to see the different stages of their recovery. No speaking to the toucans though, even if they say hola (see below)!

It costs $10 USD each on the door…we didn’t pay extra for a guide but tipped well.

We were offered the chance to have macaws on our arms or even head for pictures. However I could only manage one. They are magnificent birds but also heavy!

C6427BA2-0E24-4291-B7EC-25D3F3CF5ADE

9BCF174D-484D-486E-91A4-7FAE7A1941C405BDA86D-7C6F-4A9B-9581-22315B7B53DFB9C74CA9-5FC0-4B4D-96CE-9B8EA534730247CCFCBF-EC57-43C1-B73B-1BA84B80E6F2

 

Food and drink highlights:

Llama del bosque – beautiful restaurant with plenty of seating inside and out and the speediest waiter I have ever met! They have an extensive menu of Latin American as well as international dishes. I had a pupusa again as I couldn’t resist these from El Salvador. Also their piña coladas are delicious.

Sacbe Maya – does fairly cheap traditional breakfasts, with tea or juice included.

Hello Mono – for drinks and karaoke! We challenged the fellow tour group to karaoke and won of course!

Honduras final tips:

Your Honduran passport stamp will look strangely like a souvenir…you’ll see what I mean if you visit!

Do visit the Copán ruins if you want to see free flying macaws. This is the perfect introduction to Mayan culture which will feature quite a bit in my next few blogs…next up, Guatemala!

J Xo

Best of Central America: 3. El Salvador

E6DC7E1B-49DF-4709-A0F1-1D16C79FDD0C

El Salvador (which literally translates as The Saviour) is the smallest of the Central America countries. As you probably guessed from my first posts of the series, it was also previously part of the Republic of Central America. It was interesting to move through here as security was visible outside most shops and in the streets which I hadn’t seen in Costa Rica or Nicaragua.

We paid $3 USD to leave Nicaragua and nothing to enter El Salvador (arriving by boat at the port town of La Unión).

We spent a chilled 3 days (7th to 10th of April) here exploring the street art, local arts and enjoying local food.

9D58E343-9255-4C09-A894-1ED49485078C

Boat ride from Nicaragua arriving at La Unión

Suchitoto

This is a beautiful town filled with pretty buildings and the cutest town centre! We stayed one night here in Hotel Posada Altavista.

The town can be enjoyed by simply strolling around and taking in all its colours and scenery. We visited the indigo dye shop where we were given a demonstration of the natural dyeing process. You can have a cotton tshirt dyed for $20 USD (any shade of indigo and design including tie dye) as well as buy other handmade souvenirs.

C191C64E-A8C4-4524-9014-5E0ED72BC3CF

AF12E3F6-D010-45DA-A35C-2D3D5676C07E

Iglesia Santa Lucia

B94B1890-9024-442B-98DB-C9EE5E5F1B69

12704618-D21A-45B5-B07B-4591A9B4E4C6

Freshly dyed with pure indigo! You repeat the cycle to deepen the colour and to get the tie dye effect, she cleverly tied elastic bands so the indigo couldn’t get through those areas. The sulphur smell proves its purity!

6B85753D-76D7-45E9-9BDD-56A969B9A87D9E0F3D2E-D846-42FF-B068-19AB5507E6A0

We also had the privilege of visiting a living legend called Doña Victoria. She had an important role in fighting for women’s rights in El Salvador, particularly with domestic violence. Her family rolled cigars and most unfortunately were killed during the war but she continued their cigar rolling legacy, even to this current day. We had the chance to roll a cigar with her and keep it which was cool but she didn’t seem too impressed with some of our efforts!

8A4740AD-CBCA-4870-9E27-89767219109A

This mural is painted on all houses which support the movement for women to be free of domestic violence

The local food here is called pupusa…it’s filled with a variety of vegetables or meat and cheese, however you like. Prices start from 50 cents! (Honestly the cheapest thing I ate on this trip and I may have eaten it for breakfast and dinner most days…!)

And for a good night out, el chucho aguacatero (opposite our hotel) has great music and plenty of tequila!

Ataco

We arrived here on a Sunday afternoon (3 hour bus ride from Suchitoto) and the town centre was bustling with markets and music in the streets. It is another small town also filled with beautiful street art and murals.

4917CBCA-F6F9-4A04-9150-B63F56116EA82C70E36F-99FC-4BF3-87BD-93877AF25359CD9CEE77-359D-48C2-9C21-296016FE5C0C

48064B99-81AE-43A4-AB5F-42A3198140D1

F565462D-E147-47EE-A610-9F49109753DD

We stayed in Segen hostel which is a short 5 minute walk to the centre.

Interestingly, Monday was dead in comparison and nothing opened until 10am. I’m not sure if this is normal so I would say it’s best to avoid an early Monday start!

We spent the day visiting the 2 identical churches in town and then walking up the hill to the viewpoint of the town from the Cross. A lot of Central America seem to have these epic viewpoints which are visible from a literal cross on a hill! We had 2 young brothers decide to show us the way despite us kindly declining the offer and then they patiently waited for us as we explored. I was worried that they were supposed to be in school and were instead helping tourists for tips but they assured us that they had finished for the day. I avoid taking pictures of young locals so you’ll have to trust that they were the cutest!

8923C05A-B693-4897-A771-A3EBFFA64B5C

One of the 2 blue and white churches

22090616-CAEC-4F7B-9CD7-F72C866CBB5A

BF9816A1-AF23-4ABD-9C67-D9CA01DC0CFE

We were lucky to make it up here and take pictures before the torrential rain started!

4F0F291C-6CA7-4743-9B9B-AF0B8244331F

303AAE86-8AAF-4607-8626-81EAF510F154

Beautiful mural representing the town

Food and drink highlights:

Pollo campero in La Unión – El Salvador’s answer to tasty fried chicken. My meal cost $3.75 USD for chicken burger, fries and a Jamaica drink.

Pupusas – can be found at pupserias or any local restaurants! An absolute must try.

3FAF8B70-EF9D-449F-AC3C-C0620FBC95D3

La Estancia – a lovely restaurant attached to a hostel in Ataco. It is mainly good for breakfast – the typical breakfast of bread, scrambled eggs, beans and fried plantain was a delight.

23D0E85B-A6D9-4A20-BFDA-6335534B2EDD

Sibaritas – a more upmarket restaurant in Ataco but still well priced. It cost me $8.99 for the special which included BBQ ribs (or other choices of meat) mashed potato and veg, brownie and ice cream desert and a tea/coffee.

Local beer “Golden” was really good.

El Salvador final words:

The local currency is actually US dollars. Everything is so cheap that it felt like the most budget friendly country of the continent. Try and use the $1 coins (very bizarre!) before you leave as they are difficult to get rid of afterwards.

The capital and bigger cities can be more dangerous so it’s important to research before you visit. Our tour avoided these areas so I would love to hear from anyone who has visited another part of El Salvador!

J Xo

Best of Central America: 2. Nicaragua

E383CDCB-28D3-4500-8C9E-3BB1F581B813

Translates as: Nicaragua. The happiness of living in peace

After literally living the pure life in Costa Rica, I was excited for the next 7 days in country number 2. Nicaragua has an interesting history…particularly the fact that it has gained independence three times (first from the Spanish, then the Mexicans and finally from the Republic of Central America). Although Pura Vida wasn’t a thing here, we discovered that Nicaraguans are just as lovely people. They are known locally as Nico (males) and Nica (females)… “Soy Nico/a – I am Nicaraguan”.

We were travelling on Easter Sunday which was hectic as it was the end of the week long holiday for everyone!

Ometepe Island

Once we had crossed the border (we paid $8 USD cash to leave Costa Rica and $13 USD to enter Nicaragua), we boarded a local bus and then a private bus to the ferry port at San Jorge (taxis can take you here too). Local buses are called chicken buses and are basically old American school buses…so not much space if you have big luggage! Plus you have to be quick to make it off at your stop as it’s likely to get crowded. But they play music loud and sell snacks onboard so it’s quite the experience!

BC718ED5-3AE8-4BD4-8320-61A39E839B68

From the ferry port, it’s an hour ferry ride to Ometepe Island. As it was Easter Sunday, everywhere was buzzing with music and dancing which was lovely to see. If you don’t have an issue with sea sickness, I highly recommend sitting on the top deck as you get an incredible view of both volcanoes. The ferries run on the hour and should be boarded at least 20 minutes before departure for a good seat (price was included with our tour).

Ometepe is the largest freshwater volcanic island in the world (it sits on Lake Nicaragua which is the largest freshwater lake in Latin America). It is shaped like an hourglass and has 2 volcanoes on each half – Concepción and Maderas.

6C57AA0B-C6E2-42C0-A5E1-B4A884436EB8B419DDAD-BF52-4DCC-A43D-AFE9991CA6C7

F7602F5A-BA0C-4C3A-BE93-6C496E83812C

Concepción and Maderas

E4D0B801-354F-4BB8-8F29-7EEC69B66C06

Arriving at Ometepe!

 

We stayed with a family for 2 nights as part of the Puesta Del Sol Community Guesthouse stay in the village of La Paloma, near Moyogalpa. I really enjoyed having a unique insight into their home, life on the island and being able to use my Spanish whilst trying to teach their adorable toddler a bit of English. Plus Carla (our host mum) and her mum (abuelita – little Grandma!) cooked us the tastiest meals. The families have had hundreds of foreigners stay with them over the years so if you visit, do keep up the tradition!

4790FBB4-85AE-486C-A149-885FD96D1840

The garden of our host family!

One of the best ways to enjoy this island is to hire a moped for the day ($30 USDpp) and go on an adventure. You can also hire dirt bikes or ATVs or take a leisurely bike rides some of the way. I managed to crash and knock myself off the moped during my practise run so had to piggyback with my saviour Dannie! We started by the barely used airport and travelled around the island, stopping at the beautiful Playa Santo Domingo where we had lunch and a swim, before riding through the town centre to our village.

9B2526D9-7401-427B-8A35-8F35B60F65EB

Our starting point

 

19A65033-0EF6-402D-9109-CBA5E29FA6AE

Got caught up in a bit of traffic

26142AAF-37CE-48DD-B3ED-D5A48D04BD4A

Playa Santo Domingo

66E28048-96B2-4BCE-BF1F-22E24DBBACDD943DDD05-B404-43F2-B4B0-3A259783D87E

EF15B5FB-388B-4043-8F01-76528FD05B34

A few well known Latin American figures

87E2096B-9F08-4535-85E0-E15F31BCCB22

FYI I did wear my helmet during our ride..!

 

All our families homes were close to the communal outside space which was by the lake with hammocks and beautiful views. Our first evening was spent here watching the sunset, playing games and enjoying drinks from the bar. There is also the option to paddleboard here which would be best at sunrise or sunset. On our last night, we had a group dinner and the kids of the village showed us their traditional music and dancing which was a lot of fun to join in!

42F1F746-CEC4-42BD-BD48-D1CFCCB5440D

 

 

Granada

Our next stop was the lovely colonial city of Granada. On our way we visited Playa Hermosa, part of San Juan Del Sur. It is a private beach located on the Pacific Ocean and it is beautiful as the name suggests. The waves are strong so great for surfers…otherwise you can enjoy the beach, hammocks and the cutest turtles that we discovered in an area near the showers! There is only one restaurant on the beach with a limited food menu so you could bring alternative snacks. Entrance to the beach costs $3.

36280734-702D-4CA5-BAA3-9E1A5EEE295C5D0821E1-9092-43C8-90DE-1D23A042AAA2

In Granada we stayed at Lemon Tree Hostel. It is centrally located so just a few blocks walk from Central Park. It had quite a few hammocks and an outdoor pool so pretty good for a hostel!

A9DB6BE8-D2F3-4B31-BFBA-9B3326885963

There is plenty to see in the centre of Granada and it’s all so pretty! The yellow cathedral is worth a visit as well as the markets and quaint cafes surrounding it. For a great view of the town, you can climb up the Tower La Merced Church for $1 USD.

E6909B5C-09C1-402B-8BA7-25E6BE04E96F3D1A1151-0C0D-4FD4-B461-8BB6D78211D0F1C6CA29-C34A-4841-9D70-38503B8B5A829308E211-913B-4D6B-8594-FDF34A21A84C

DA979DBC-271A-4EA4-806C-AC792CE5BA72

We visited Cafe de las Sonrisas (Cafe of smiles) which is run by super talented deaf and blind people…they make hammocks from recycled materials and other souvenirs which you can buy in the connecting shop. The cafe has been cleverly designed to help the staff serve you no matter their needs which was just great!

6EB72CDA-0CFB-4FD9-ACA1-4859A161B21C

9D2D6957-6ACF-43F8-8821-B1ECB28EBE1B

Surely the biggest hammock ever…?!

4A9D474C-765C-4CBB-B701-D355D70B949EDD3381D3-51B2-41F3-8F6D-6AB7B95F9597

One of my favourite activities of this trip was our 5 in 1 tour with “No Rush Tours”. It started with a brief visit to the old railway station and fort then we visited the cemetery which is mostly white and had some beautiful headstones.

0D3BBF8D-353A-45F4-ACB3-7AD4947A6D0ED14A79A1-FD5D-4D90-972A-EDF2BBD1325427FA452A-EA17-4227-BA66-8BDC68C4B40D

Next was our party boat ride around the isletas (islets in English). These 365 islets were created in Lake Nicaragua when Mombacho volcano erupted a very long time ago. They vary in character from monkey island (housing orphaned monkeys), some covered in various beautiful plants to islets owned by the richest family in Nicaragua and their exquisite homes.

85A65676-8C29-403C-B3A0-BCE078E32EFDE59031D6-BAE8-4A25-8A98-258A987FDCA4CAC91422-CA12-4191-87EC-E96B921452C37B2F82A5-3B6C-40D7-BA59-0C993B830F5B

Laguna beach club was our next stop which was a gorgeous off the beaten track place to relax, swim, paddle board and have lunch. This meant we had plenty of energy afterwards to navigate the large Masaya Market which is perfect for all your souvenirs needs.

219E4FBA-D419-4857-AD61-749D43AEDC6C61CC3216-C5D4-4AB2-811C-9C51238B39BC

Our last stop was to Masaya Volcano National Park. We spent some time in the museum learning about its history and geology. The ancient people believed eruptions signalled the Gods anger so people were sacrificed to try and appease them. Later on, the Spanish believed the volcano to be the “Gates of Hell”.

We waited for sunset to draw near then drove up to the top to view the lava. Yes you stand there and watch real lava spitting up towards you! It was the most incredible thing…but you can only spend about 20 minutes up there due to the toxic fumes. Ideally anyone with respiratory problems should use a towel to cover their mouth and nose.

5A0A3485-CF7E-432F-B54E-909F989E2473363C5E49-2CD9-425B-A7CC-9B3694FBEFD1

This whole tour cost $65 USD which included our amazing tour guide Ramón, transport and many litres of rum! Check out their tripadvisor page here to see how much others loved it too!

León

We passed through on our way to Poneloya. Like Granada, it is also a colonial city and is the second biggest city in Nicaragua after its capital Manuga. My favourite building was the incredible white cathedral which has a cool rooftop and views of the city and beyond (don’t try and walk on the half spheres up there as I was told off and almost removed for that!)

Wandering around the centre you will find various statues, powerful street art relating to the revolution and many markets.

6A14299F-A135-41F3-8B46-0604D2FB31D35262E0D0-8FA1-4E97-97D8-2E2304BFABB104F09B73-919E-4EB2-844B-CFB4E1D4CD363588487A-1A71-4587-99BE-24DE2D5B6E18AF14A881-19F2-41D4-B267-A5CCAC1AA25B

Poneloya

We stayed at Surfing Turtle Lodge here. The boat ride to reach the hostel is short but it was the most rickety boat ever!

The hostel is largely run by volunteers who work behind the bar, organise entertainment during the day and night and are there to have a good time. You have a tab for your meals and drinks which you pay when you check out…always a dangerous thing!

Here you can enjoy a yoga class for $5 USD, free volleyball tournaments, beach time including surfing plus happy hour and themed nights (we experienced pirate night). If you’re lucky, you’ll see the turtles being released as we managed to!

If you fancy a trip to the town for cheaper food or a change of scenery then you can get the boat across in 20 minutes.

CD37439D-DE6D-4B2A-B127-BDB0118DA54099D67E61-86EB-43AF-A916-9497B669186D22800C25-1A8C-4D1A-B32E-31712674526873601BB8-D2A7-4EFE-8BC3-B7CD3D51492388EBA607-788A-4B8E-929A-FE9F202DA35135643434-380B-44B6-9DC1-9417D41470C58CF316D3-46E2-405D-BC24-9F80ECBEF41F

Food and drink highlights:

Number one was definitely the food with our host family in Ometepe. They introduced me to two incredible drinks which I enjoyed throughout the trip. First was “Agua de Jamaica” which is a red hibiscus juice and is great on its own or as a mixer and the second was “tamarind” – tasty to eat as well as drink.

Nectar in Granada – $1 taco Tuesday (including tacos and beer each for a dollar)!

E48CF9DA-0EB5-4D0D-AD68-1B05215318FE

Kathy’s Waffle House in Granada – perfect for a huge breakfast of waffles, pancakes or traditional breakfast.

02FEEC27-71F0-4B4D-B23E-6FE0C565A21D

Tostones at Surfing Turtle Lodge –  fried plantain topped with cheese and meat…SO good (also tasty without the meat!)

C08A9E06-B2B8-43B8-A338-3C749E65B80A

Toña – one of the local beers. I’m not a huge fan of random brands on clothing but the toña tops were so cute and worth buying!

Selina’s in Granada – bar number 1 of 2 during our night out. I fell in love with it as it has the coolest interior design…perfect setting for date night!

Reilly’s in Granada –  is there anywhere that you can’t find an Irish bar!? This was the last stop of our night out and my favourite of all. It was mainly filled with tourists but a few locals dotted around and we danced salsa on the dance floor with no roof! Drinks prices were variable but slightly cheaper than Selina’s.

Nicaragua final words:

The local currency is Córdoba – named after the country’s founder. Dollars can be used in places (notes only) but you will get better rates paying with Córdoba.

For anyone like me who isn’t mad keen on fresh coconut water from coconuts, the vendors in Granada will convert you.

31562900-EC3F-4A11-A9C6-267F6957E425

Coconut bliss

Another cool activity which you can do is volcano boarding! Unfortunately we didn’t have time to but I’ve heard good things. For $30 USD you go down the small Cerro Negro Volcano in León…on a board whilst wearing a jumpsuit!

I hope this has convinced you to consider visiting Nicaragua if you haven’t done so already. Next in the series will be El Salvador…

 

J Xo

Best of Central America: 1. Costa Rica

B74FA8D7-04AB-40E3-AFBE-A8230607EE5F
Costa Rica was our first destination. It was one of 5 countries in the Federal Republic of Central America – independence occurred on September 15th 1821. Historically, it has been a pretty peaceful country, having only had one 44 day civil war which ended in 1948 and resulted in the dissolution of the Costa Rican Army. The money is used instead to fund other things such as education which shows as they have a 97% literacy rate in the country.

I arrived at Juan Santamaría Airport in San José on the 28th of March and travelled by private taxi to La Fortuna (fortune in Spanish) to catch up with the tour group. As I had suffered heavy delays at Gatwick with my Norwegian Airlines flight, I missed out on spending time in San José and my week in Costa Rica was cut short to 5 days.

La Fortuna is a lovely town, overlooked by Arenal volcano which is still active. This provided a perfect backdrop for one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen!

136B277E-12EC-46D1-A2A3-C5A15B7212D7

Hotel views of my first sunset in Costa Rica

We stayed at Hotel Las Cabañitas which is a 15 minute walk to town. It’s a cute hotel with cabins as bedrooms and an outdoor pool! It is also opposite a Soda restaurant which you’ll see below is a great place to eat.

The town centre is small and can be conquered in an afternoon. Around the square are many shops, restaurants, bars and also a few banks. Costa Rica was preparing for their presidential elections so the town was filled with people driving around honking with their preferred party’s flag on show…I didn’t know how vibe would be around a Central American election but this was pleasant!

We visited Catarata Río Fortuna (the waterfall) which can be reached easily from the town centre via the official red taxis (about $2 USD per person). Entrance to the park costs $15 USD. Once inside, you can walk along the Orchid trail…as beautiful as it was, we had clearly missed the season as we only saw 1 flower!!! It is then a 500m walk down steps to the waterfall.

0D7FCBF8-5605-4F75-96BB-755455613048

It is so beautiful yet powerful so you’re not allowed to swim too close to the bottom (lifeguards are on duty to blow the whistle if you do). Alternatively, you can swim next door in the calmer stretch of water. This was also a good spot to have a picnic. Don’t forget to save a bit of energy for the 500m steep walk back up!

4A2C457A-9F0B-41E4-ACF2-D61DC8CA68864F8FFE49-D09C-427E-B6D3-8AFF52412BB2

There is also an observatory which you can do a short hike up to. There are minimal signs at the beginning but it’s a simple path, you cross a slightly creaky bridge and then final steps to the viewpoint. We even saw some people ziplining across which looked spectacular with the volcano in the background!

9E953839-CE07-470B-A0EF-ED835AF596B171195E92-3699-4D73-9466-D2DC460C6A9AE68DEE7D-FD72-4639-A54C-3D1DEC98C8DC

The other main activity we did was to visit El Chollin hot springs at night. There are many hot springs in the area to choose from, however this one was free! We had a bus to take our group there but taxis would be a great alternative. It has a fast stream of water at the beginning to be aware of as a few people got carried in it but it’s calmer when you get past all the rocks. Everyone brings their own drinks and the locals even had a barbecue going so it had a nice communal feel to it. Headlights/torches are a must as it is pitch black otherwise…some people had brought lanterns which created the cutest ambience! Also there is nowhere dry to leave your stuff so essentials only!

Both places were very busy with locals as we were there during Semana Santa (Easter Week) so most people had the whole week off as holiday! People from Costa Rica are called tico (males) or tica (females) and are some of the loveliest local people you will meet. My favourite phrase of the trip was “Pura Vida” which literally translates as pure life. Ticos use it in all contexts and are happy if you use it too!

My food and drink highlights in La Fortuna:

Soda – there are multiple of these around town, serving reasonably priced traditional food. The one opposite our hotel had the best chicken fajitas I’ve eaten in a long time!

BB2542CA-85E2-43FA-A617-B01D94ECC958

Still good even without the actual fajita!

Lava Lounge – really cool restaurant and bar in town which has live music at night. I had a delicious fish dish there “el pescador” and tried the local beer Imperial. I’m not a beer drinker but it is light so went down well.

32DBB1D3-9C20-46A5-89EC-D20B39D97D1A

Nanku – We had drinks here after the hot springs including chilli guaro (which are super spicy shots and not for the faint hearted!) plus amazing beef nachos.

After a short 2 days here, we travelled to our last stop in Costa Rica called Monteverde. The journey included a bus to Lake Arenal (which was created following a volcanic eruption) then a breezy boat ride across it to our second bus.

Monteverde is a gorgeous town which is visited for its ecotourism. You can do all sorts of activities there from ziplining to horseback riding to night time nature walks and more. The weather is unpredictable here as there would be rain then rainbows one minute and scorching heat the next (carrying round sunglasses and a rain mac simultaneously was essential!)

8F6BCC9B-A6B5-4E79-8C04-618A5292E5BB125281A2-FACD-43D5-8287-4A9CA8474A09

We stayed at Cabanas Linda Vista which was a cute hostel with beautiful views, particularly at sunrise and sunset.

85D7FE01-260D-4B98-A3B6-B50CCB8F8F9B

Balcony views from our hostel

One of the main activities to do here is ziplining on what is said to be the longest zip line in Latin America. It costs $50 USD pp and you go across at least 10 ziplines, starting small and working your way up to do the superman pose (which means no hands!) and you are “flying” over the treetops. This view was SO beautiful that I had happy tears streaming down my face! The tarzan swing at the end is one of the scariest things I’ve done but all 100% worth it for the adrenaline rush! We were so lucky that it was the most clear day of our time here.

E3A0970B-CB82-44B7-8234-176E476E775FFC8269D9-C78A-43EB-A325-4F46DE170DB3EA384308-D235-4FD7-95C8-064E4CFB56A1

I also went on a coffee, cocoa and sugar cane tour ($32 USD) at El Trapiche which was informative, fun and perfect for all ages. They run guided tours at 10am and 3pm everyday except Sunday’s which only has the 3pm tour. We got to grind coffee beans whilst riding a bike, make our own sugar to take home, learn about both the traditional and modern processes of harvesting and making each product and of course many tasters of chocolate, coffee and sugar cane (including a super strong shot!). We even spotted a few sleepy sloths during our tour which was my first encounter of them.

699B5EF5-8E99-4AD4-9FF8-AB0DDFEBE50C

C3D6DEB3-EE47-43C0-A38B-793CDFAFB485

Travelling the traditional way…the animals were clearly well looked after and very strong

5984DF8B-400D-4CDE-AC8C-DDB4DEBD610B

Cocoa beans growing

43350489-C832-4B1B-BE11-DF7FB0AC63C3

You get a mango taste when you suck the outside and a very bitter chocolate taste if you bite inside

1AA23596-D642-4091-83BA-A46D9561ACC4

C9D70351-97C0-4BB0-B36B-B77B47F8EDC6

Root plant – arracante

89F0EDFC-D6D2-4D58-AA03-0C72556F2ADD

8B50D0A6-C6FE-432D-B365-C6E492EBBBFC

Made from sugar cane

03CF531E-5679-4442-8072-32441702DAEB

Baby coffee beans

9DEECEE5-D72F-443C-A311-B811337171D7

6A0AC293-62A8-4D58-8F27-8E0369EC8C52

All the different coffee beans…sadly the best quality is exported and Costa Ricans are left with the cheapest to drink

Best fact of the tour: Costa Rica and Colombia offer degrees in coffee. So you can become a Master Roaster!

If you’re keen on weird and wonderful nature, you can visit the Ficus tree and climb the tree from the inside. It reminded me a bit of the Whomping Willow tree from Harry Potter! The inside of the bark gets tight as you ascend so we had to wait for people to get down before we could go up safely. The best way to get there is to navigate yourself to Cloud Forest Lodge Hotel and turn left just before the entrance sign to the hotel..you should see an opening in the woods immediately and the tree is a few metres in. It wasn’t easy to find so if in doubt, ask that hotel for help!

24D2C485-D2FB-4DDA-B133-6EDB0960CCEC

37F7CFC0-20AB-40CE-B5B9-B1488C50F9E7

Monteverde Food and drink highlights:

Taco Taco..this place was my favourite of the country. I had half of a large yet divine tempura avocado burrito and mango and mint smoothie. Prices are great and the owner is American so helpful for those with limited Spanish. Even their bathroom was pretty!

Soda of course…this time for meat enchiladas.

163A5265-E86C-43E5-92D9-5CA76AE9A4EB

And just like that, our time in Costa Rica was done and we were on our way to Nicaragua on Easter Sunday.

A few final words about this beautiful country:

*The local currency is Colón (named after the Spanish translation of Christopher Columbus’ surname). You can pay in US dollars pretty much everywhere you go (notes only) and they will give you change in colon for a fairly decent rate.

*The tap water is safe to drink! This wasn’t the case for the rest of the trip.

*This was the first of a few countries to have elections whilst we were here…each one interesting to observe!

*Costa Rica uses renewable energy! Pura Vida!

I would love to visit again as there are so many other parts that I want to explore…have you been to Costa Rica? Share your thoughts or tips below!

 

J Xo