Quito, Ecuador: A Photo Diary

I visited Quito, Ecuador with my brother in April, 2016. We arrived via a 24 hour bus from Cali, Colombia. It was a quick trip in Quito, we were more passing through rather than fully experiencing the country (I’ll definitely be back!). Nonetheless, we were able to see a bit of the beautiful, sprawling city of Quito, Ecuador.Quito Ecuador What to Do

changing of the guards

We started off with a fascinating changing of the guards ceremony in the city center. We were lucky enough to be in Quito, Ecuador on a Monday morning at 11 am, just in time for the ceremony. It typically happens once a week, every Monday at 11am.

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The ceremony lasted about an hour. After that, we walked around the city center, checking out the tourists and the tourist shops. We felt a little restless, so decided to venture outside of the city center for a hike up the hill.

Quito, Ecuador: Walk through the city

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We walked up the hill to the Virgin of Quito madonna statue – it’s on a 200-meter-high hill in between Central and Southern Quito. The hill is named El Panecillo, and it originated from a volcano. It was a tough hike up loads of stairs, but the views in the end made up for it.

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We may have even made a friend on the way up…

I wish I could have kept him!

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At last, we made it to the top.

Quito Ecuador Madonna atop El PanecilloThe statue at the top is a Madonna, made out of aluminium. It’s beautiful, and even more striking in person.

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post-hike… put a winky face in the comments below if you can see my sweat marks from my purse 😉

I decided that after such exertion, we deserved a reward. We headed down to the shop I had my eye set on – the chocolate shop. Quito Ecuador Chocolate Republica del Cacao

I paid an embarrassing amount of money for a bar of high quality chocolate and some dark chocolate covered bananas. Pro tip: if you ever find chocolate covered bananas, GET THEM. These are incredible, and I have to admit, they didn’t last long (and I refused to share… #sorrynotsorry).

Though our trip to Quito was short, I very much enjoyed what I saw of Ecuador and hope to go back soon. The city is beautiful, and what I saw of the countryside on the way in was even more stunning.

Quito Ecuador City Views Spring

Important Note

Ecuador suffered a massive earthquake of a 7.8 magnitude the day before we arrived. It was devastating to see the effects of the earthquake. Buildings had crumbled into the streets and a lot of people were injured. The earthquake hit the strongest in a sparsely populated part of the country, but still over 600 people were killed, and over 16,000 people injured.

When I visited Quito, the country was in a state of emergency. It was heartwarming to see all of the volunteers coming together to donate and set off to help. I wish I could have helped, but I already had onward travel planned. This is one of the reasons I recommend not planning ahead while traveling.

The Specifics
  • We stayed at the Secret Garden. I definitely recommend it – it’s quiet, has a great rooftop, and I took my first hot shower in months here. They have another hostel in Cotopaxi which won top 1% of hostels worldwide, but I haven’t been. 🙂
  • Food in Ecuador is super cheap. Expect to pay about $1.50-$2 USD for a meal from a local restaurant.

Questions or Comments? Leave me a comment below!

 

 

Getting To Machu Picchu: The Lost City of the Incas

Machu Picchu is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world – and for good reason. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

I visited Machu Picchu in May 2016; it was the end of my first trip to South America. I started off by spending a few days in Cusco, the adorable little city that acts as the hub for tourists to acclimate to the elevation before going to Machu Picchu, which is located in Aguas Calientes.

Top Destinations for First Time Travelers

I stayed in Cusco for five days before heading to Aguas Calientes to visit Machu Picchu. I didn’t think I had any problems acclimating to the elevation, until I took a flight of stairs to get to my hostel dorm. It was a bit tough to get up, but I’m not sure if that is from the elevation or the shape I am in 😉

I booked a tour from a local tour company to get from Cusco to Machu Picchu, which cost $200 USD and included the following:

  • Transport by van to the railway to get to Aguas Calientes (there is a 3 hour drive before a 30 mins train ride), and back to Cusco
  • Hotel room for one night (one room, two twin beds, shared with my brother)
  • Lunch, Dinner on day one; Breakfast on day 2
  • Tour guide for your exploration of Machu Picchu
  • Ticket entry to Machu Picchu

This tour did NOT include the following:

  • train service from Hidroelectrico to Aguas Calientes (a 30 min, $30 train ride, or about 3-4 hour hike)
  • the bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (a 10 min, $18 bus ride, or 1 hour hike)

We left on this tour early in the morning on Day 1. We met at the city center, hopped in a taxi van, and were driven about 3 hours out of Cusco to Hidroelectrico. We had a pit stop to use the restroom and grab a coffee/lunch/snack if we needed it. We drove a bit more and then had another stop off for lunch, at an open concept, local restaurant surrounded by mountains.

We arrived in Hidroelectrico (where the road ends) at about 2:30 PM. My brother and I were interested in a little hike, so we strapped our backpacks on and began the trek along the train tracks to Aguas Calientes with the rest of our group.

Getting To Machu Picchu

Getting To Machu Picchu

The hike had some beautiful views, and took us about 3 hours to get to Aguas Calientes. We trekked up the mountain into the city just as the sun was about to set. We were assigned a room at the hotel, had a briefing with the tour guide, and then went to sleep, as we had an early morning.

Getting To Machu Picchu

We woke up at 4 am the next day to head up to Machu Picchu. My brother and I had purchased round trip tickets for the bus to get up to Machu Picchu the night before. Another option is to hike up the mountain; it’s a very steep, 1 hour hike, which you’ll have to begin at 4 am. I’m not a morning person, so bus tickets were worth the $36 round trip to me. Pro Tip: if you are in decent shape before going to Machu Picchu, you can save a pretty penny on transport by hiking.

We got in to Machu Picchu early in the morning and walked through the ruins with a guide. It was so foggy, but the guide said it could clear up before we left.

Getting To Machu Picchu

Getting To Machu Picchu

After our guided tour, which was very informative, we had a couple hours to wander. The llamas were all over the place. I actually had to jump out of the way while walking up some stairs to avoid getting stampeded by a llama!

Getting To Machu Picchu

Getting To Machu Picchu

We walked up to the top of the mountain for the best view – but it was still a bit foggy.

Getting To Machu Picchu

Overall, it was a great trip. If you’d like to see Machu Picchu, I’d highly recommend going sooner rather than later. The tour guide mentioned that the tourism at Machu Picchu is causing some erosion of the mountain – meaning that it could be shut down to tourists as soon as two years from now!

Tips for Visiting Machu Picchu: 

  • Save money by hiking versus taking expensive transport
  • Bring food into Machu Picchu – there is one restaurant there and it’s very expensive
  • Don’t overpack – this will make it easier to hike and get around in general
  • I would recommend not booking a tour, or booking a 3+ day tour, to get the most amount of time at Machu Picchu (I was only at Machu Picchu for about 4 hours total; not very much time considering how long it took to get there)
  • Bring water
  • Wear layers, as it gets very cool and windy
  • Bring an umbrella and rain poncho even if you don’t go during the rainy season
  • If you have time, spend a couple days in Aguas Calientes. It’s a cute little town and full of natural beauty – take a soak in the hot springs or take a hike outside of the town to see waterfalls

Machu Picchu

 

 

 

 

Is Colombia Safe? : What Happened

I haven’t written in a bit because I haven’t been sure how to word what I wanted to say. I was in Colombia for two weeks, and I wanted to write a bit about how it was there. I decided not to take my camera out and about in Colombia most of the time, due to the amount of muggings that happened to my friends and people I met there. I wanted to do a post of all of the beautiful art in Colombia, but I don’t have many pictures. What I DO have, though, is a lot of crazy stories about what happened in Colombia. A lot of people have asked me what it was like there, tourist-wise and safety-wise, so I’m going to give you the full rundown.

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I would first like to say that although it felt really dangerous in Cali (it is the most dangerous city in Colombia, which is one of the most dangerous cities in South America), I did have a lot of fun there. The hostel that I stayed at was great (check out El Viajero if you go to Cali), I met a lot of really awesome people, and I really enjoyed being there. I did get a bit stressed out hearing about what was happening to other people, so I didn’t go out any more than I needed to. I basically just went out to get food and groceries, plus one day I walked to the park (which was about three blocks away…).

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These are the craziest things that happened in Colombia.

  1. the day I arrived, I made some friends. They told me that they were out the night before, and right outside the hostel, a large man came up to them. The man put a knife to the girls stomach and tried to rob them. The guy and the girl ran to the hostel and kept all the money they had just gotten out of the ATM, successfully getting away from the mugger.
  2. people were snorting cocaine in my dorm room. That moment is when I made the decision to live in luxury in a private room.
  3. I met an Australian girl at the hostel. She arrived the day after me. A few days into her stay, she went to a futbol game. It ended late at night, and she had to wander the streets to look for a taxi. She was with one guy. While they were walking and looking for a taxi, someone came up and started beating up the guy she was with. The attacker was trying to rob them. Someone else came from out of nowhere and peeled this attacker off of the guy she was with. They ran away and were able to get a taxi back to the hostel.
  4. I got really extreme food poisoning and was sick for two days. This prevented me from going to Ecuador when I had planned to leave, which prevented me from being in the middle of a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Had I left when I was supposed to, I would have been on the coast of Ecuador when the earthquake hit. I never thought I would be grateful to have gotten sick.
  5. Almost every time I walked around (it didn’t matter if I was alone or with someone), almost every single guy I walked past would make disgusting kissing noises. Some of them were nicer than others, some just said “hola mi hermosa,” but some of them got pretty vulgar. It wasn’t the most enjoyable thing, but it happens at home also.

All of these stories together sound really bad. But I did go out dancing one night (I didn’t bring anything with me of course), and aside from getting a lot of offers to buy drugs, nothing major happened to me. I didn’t get mugged, I didn’t get assaulted, nothing happened. I actually danced with a local older gentleman who attempted to teach me some salsa and even sent a beer over to me after he saw how miserable I am at dancing. I accidentally ended up in a gay bar. It was a fun time, even though I’m a grandma and wanted to go home at midnight.

All in all, I really liked Colombia, and I met a lot of people who had been there for months and had no incidents. It really comes down to being smart, not wandering the streets at night, don’t carry valuables on you, and pay attention to your surroundings. I would love to go back to Colombia and see the northern part, which I missed on this trip. Colombia is beautiful, and can easily be done in a safe way. Santa Rosa de Cabal (where we did the coffee tour) is a really safe and cute town. Bogota was very cute and artsy. I would still recommend Colombia to anyone traveling in South America.

How to Spend a Week in Costa Rica

I travel. A lot. I’ve spent some time in Costa Rica. It’s an amazing place. A lot of people want to go there. If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, make sure you add these incredible places to your itinerary. This itinerary includes beaches, mountains, and both the Pacific and Caribbean side of Costa Rica. This itinerary can be made as expensive or inexpensive as you desire. Let’s start planning!

Day 1: Fly into the international airport in San Jose. Pick up a rental car from the airport – it’s by far the easiest way to get around. I would recommend an airbnb for the first night, to ensure maximum comfort and privacy. This is the one I stayed at (and loved!).

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Day 2: Take the three hour drive to Dominical. It’s on the Pacific side, has great beaches, a super cute downtown area, and lots of options for lodging. You can stay in a hostel for $10 a night downtown, or you can go luxurious with the best airbnb I’ve ever stayed at. My favorite restaurant here was Cafe Mono Congo – they offer a great variety of healthy, homemade foods. Patron’s has the best wifi, if that’s what you’re into.

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Relax at your place or on the Dominical beach the first full day – this is the perfect time to start those beach reads. There are a few places to buy fruit and souvenirs on the beach, so you may want to carve out some shopping time also.

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Day 3: Visit Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s about an hours drive from Dominical, but totally worth it. You are almost guaranteed to see monkeys (it would be really odd if you didn’t), plus there are sloths, deer, butterflies, waterfalls, and other wildlife. Plan to spend a whole day here; bring a lunch and wear your swimsuit. Be careful of the monkeys on the beach – they will try to steal your food! Bring a lot of water also – there is nowhere inside the park to buy more.

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After a full day of hiking and swimming at the park, go back to Dominical for the incredible sunsets.

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Day 4: This is where we go to the Caribbean side! Pack your luggage, and make the drive to Puerto Viejo. Stop at a little soda (a small, family owned, local restaurant) for an inexpensive but delicious lunch. There are tons of sodas on the way there. I took the route through the cloud forest of Costa Rica, so make sure you have time to stop and take some pictures.

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Puerto Viejo is a very cute and very small little town that is almost on the border of Panama. I decided to go budget-friendly here, and I stayed at Lion Fish Hostel, but there are a ton of options if you would prefer to go higher end. After checking in to your accommodation, I would recommend spending the afternoon at the beach in Puerto Viejo, then grabbing some dinner & drinks at any of the beach-front restaurants.

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Day 5: Take a stroll down the short jungle pathway in the morning. This is a short walk, right along the beach, but you are in the jungle. I saw sloths and howler monkeys while walking this path. After your walk, stop at Como En Mi Casa art cafe for breakfast. They offer a huge menu of fresh breakfasts, all homemade. You can go savory with a massive pancake, or healthy with smoothies, fresh bruschetta, and juices. They have the best coffee in Puerto Viejo by far; and everything is organic.

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After a filling breakfast, rent a bike and cruise down the street to Playa Chiquita. This beach is by far the best beach in Puerto Viejo – and it is usually completely deserted in the mornings. Pack a picnic, your book, and sunscreen, and take the 15 minute ride to the beach. This was actually the best beach I found in Costa Rica. If you feel like going out, there are restaurants on the way to the beach that offer smoothies, salads, burritos, pizza, and an array of tropical beverages.

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Ride your bike back in the late afternoon, and spend the rest of the evening relaxing in a hammock, or head over to any of the restaurants for a nice dinner and some more tropical drinks.

Day 6: Depending on your flight going out the next day, you may need to head back to San Jose today. If you can wait and head back tomorrow, check out either of the following places on your sixth day: Jaguar Rescue Center (if you want more wildlife), Cahuita National Park (hiking), or Terraventures Jungle Expeditions (if you are feeling adventurous – they offer great zip lining).

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Day 7: Pack it up and head home. Reminisce on how amazing it is to travel. Remember how great you feel and start planning your next adventure. 🙂

Thanks for reading! What did you think of my itinerary? Let me know in the comments if you’ve been to Costa Rica, or if you plan on going!

 

Chasing Waterfalls in Santa Rosa, Colombia

I woke up this morning at 7:40 am to get ready to hike to the waterfall. At 9am, after I showered, sipped coffee, and demolished some oatmeal, our guide met us at our hostel to pick us up. We hopped in the back of the jeep and headed to the mountains.

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We walked down the super steep hills until we got to this really sketchy looking bridge.

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It was a little difficult, but we made it across, and hiked on. We had to stop every so often to hug a tree. You know… priorities.

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After about an hour hiking, we made it to the waterfall.

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It was beautiful. And difficult to get to. We had to take our shoes off and climb through the river to get the the falls.

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We found a little spring where I filled up my water bottle. We climbed over rocks. Barefoot. It was very wet. The falls were spraying water all over us. I was soaked without even going in the water. We turned around and went back a ways, and ate some corn cakes.

Colombia is big on corn cakes. It’s just ground corn, flour, and sugar, smashed into a thick pancake shape and then fried. After our corn cakes, I found a butterfly. I started taking pictures of it (I’m working on macro photography). And then…. it let me pick it up.

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What! I never thought this day would come. The butterfly kept flying away and coming back. It landed on my arm, my hand, even on top of my camera. The little guy and I became friends.

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What a beauty, eh?!

Eventually I had to let the butterfly go, and we headed back to the jeep. After crossing the terrifying bridge again, we stumbled upon black beauty.

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I pet her, hugged her, and we moved on. Up the extremely steep hill we went. I thought I was going to die a few times, but I made it. It probably would have been easier had I known what was waiting for me at the top.

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My god! I told the cooks at the restaurant that I don’t eat meat or cheese or dairy or eggs (they asked me a few times, because they thought it was so weird), and they made me this amazing plate! That little yellow baby is a fried plantain. It tastes like a sweet banana, fried. It’s incredible. I almost jumped up and down when I saw this.

We had a great day at the waterfall, followed by a topless jeep ride home. We stood up in the jeep and let the wind fly through our hair (well, I did). It was a perfect ending to the trip.

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This trip cost $70.000 pesos for both my brother and I (total). That evens out to about $22 TOTAL- food, transportation, and our own personal tour guide included. That is so crazy to me. $11 each for a half day of hiking, lunch, snacks, a personal photographer, and an unforgettable experience. If you are looking to travel on a budget, I would definitely recommend Colombia. It’s beautiful, there is so much to do, and it’s almost impossible to spend a ton of money. Now have I convinced you to go to Colombia?

Spanish words learned today: mariposa (butterfly), finca (farm), and caminar (to walk).

Thanks for reading! Let me know in the comments below if you would ever go to Colombia 🙂

Coffee Tourin in Colombia

If you know me well, you know that coffee is one of my favorite things in the world. You may know that quite a few years ago, I worked at Starbucks, and I became a certified coffee master (yeah, that’s a thing). You may know that I travel with a french press. So, when I got to Colombia, I knew there was one thing that I had to do. I absolutely needed to go visit a coffee plantation. I NEEDED it. So, we went. Juan Carlos, our guide, picked us up in this sweet ride from our hostel to take us to the plantation.

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We headed up into the mountains and got to work.

 

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Just call me “Coffee Farmer Amanda.”

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My brother helped out too. I think I was pretty good at this, and am now considering a career as a coffee farmer. This is the kind of office I could work in.

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I learned (in Spanish) that the red berries are the ripe ones.

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Well, I would have learned that if I didn’t already know it. 🙂

The next step was popping the seeds out and roasting them. We took our pickings to the lab and got to work. We roasted up some beans that had already been dehydrated. I posted the whole thing on Snapchat – follow me there to see more of my travel adventures.

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Juan Carlos let us grab a spoonful of beans every so often to see the varying toasts and smell the beans. Mmmmm. They smelt like a combination of popcorn and heaven.

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After toasting them, we had to let them cool for a bit. Then it was grinding time, followed by my favorite part, coffee drinking time.

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That was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my life. We made it in a cone filter, followed by a percolator to taste the differences. A percolator makes it more like espresso, where the cone filter will make it a bit lighter, like your regular cuppa joe. After drinking lots of coffee, we walked through the plantation a bit.

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It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve been so far. Not bad, Colombia.

I would highly recommend a coffee tour if you go to Colombia. The tour I went on was with a company called Finca El Placer. The tour cost $10 USD a person, which was amazing. It took about 3 hours and was completely incredible. I can’t recommend it enough.

So… have I convinced you to go to Colombia yet?!

20 Craziest Travel Experiences in Central America

I can’t believe I’ve been in Central America for one month now. Time flies when you’re having fun! Because my craziest travel experiences in Europe post went over so well, I thought you will enjoy the craziest travel experiences I’ve had so far in Central America. Without further ado, here are the craziest experiences I’ve had in the past month…

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  1. Getting denied access into Panama. Seriously terrifying. See here for more.
  2. Crashed a motorbike in Ometepe, Nicaragua. My poor sister, it was both of our first times on a motorbike, she was sitting behind me. I only crashed once though!
  3. Went without clothes for three days in Bocas del Toro, Panama, after a bed bug infestation. I seriously wore a bathing suit and sarong for three days straight. On the bright side, I learned a ton of ways to tie a sarong. 😉
  4. Watched a monkey steal someone’s pineapple in Costa Rica (Manuel Antonio National Park)
  5. Got cussed out in Spanish for putting too many clothes in the washing machine. After I left, the guy moved a dark shirt into my whites, resulting in me having to throw out a few clothes.
  6. Almost drove over a monkey in Dominical, Costa Rica. Crazy little guys.
  7. Laughed until my stomach hurt while on a deserted island with people I’d met that day.
  8. Tried to find an airbnb without an address in San Juan del Sur. My sister and I were trying to locate it from a bar. Needless to say, we ended up drinking a few beers and staying at the hostel next door, which turned out to be better (and cheaper) than the airbnb we were looking for.
  9. Rode a public bus in Central America. Seriously, who needs a roller coaster when you could just pay $1.50 to drive on the side of a cliff at dangerously high speeds?
  10. Said goodbye to my family at the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica without knowing when I’ll see them again. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that I shed some tears as I drove away from the airport.
  11. Saw sloths, dolphins, starfish, and went to a deserted island all in one day (Bocas del Toro, Panama).
  12. Shared a room with a male bagpiper. The hostel didn’t let me know that someone else was coming (I had been alone in a two-bed dorm room for three nights), so I was watching Netflix half naked when the receptionist and the bagpiper walked in. Lesson learned – start wearing clothes.
  13. I met a Trump supporter from Florida in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. The first person I’ve ever met who voluntarily supports Trump! I asked a bit about it, but didn’t want to get into too big of a debate, so I had to let it go.
  14. Went on a boat tour in a torrential downpour. I was in the front row of the boat, in the pouring rain, without an overhead cover for over an hour. I was soaking wet before I jumped in the water to go snorkeling. Matty and Elle and I were laughing our heads off. Worth it 🙂
  15. A bat flew into my head in Costa Rica.
  16. I saw an unidentified wildlife species (later found out it was an anteater) while I was getting my tan on in Costa Rica. It was so close to me. I watched it drink from a little spring. It was adorable.
  17. Stayed in a dorm room in Boquete, Panama, with an 83 year old expat (Bob from Texas), a local Panamanian (Jose). I translated for Bob and the Jose while they discussed the possibilities of Jose falling through the top bunk and squishing Bob in his sleep. That could have been the most awkward conversation of my life, translating to tell Jose that he was too gordo (fat in Spanish) to sleep on the top bunk – according to Bob. Jose insisted that he only weighed 280 lbs, and that it would be fine. Bob ended up sleeping on the top bunk.
  18. Getting on a bus to San Jose, Costa Rica, thinking it was a one hour drive – only to realize about 4 hours in that it was much longer than that. The bus driver stopped at a restaurant about 5 hours in. I’ve never eaten so fast in my life.
  19. Realizing at 10 PM that Matty and I may have to sleep in a park after being unable to find a place to stay for the night in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Luckily, an angel (a local named Reynaldo) helped us find a little hole in the wall hotel, with aircon and a private bathroom. The locals in Panama are just incredible.
  20. Hiking the tallest mountain in Panama! I hiked for 5 hours at a steep incline (definitely the hardest hike I’ve ever done), to see a wonderful view of… clouds. I couldn’t see anything, but it was worth it knowing that I climbed the tallest mountain in the country. I hiked solo, and about half way to the top, a local named Jose Louis asked me in Spanish if I was hiking alone. I said yes, and he decided to silently accompany me for protection. He was so nice, he even tried to catch me when I slipped and fell. I got to practice my Spanish on him, and he practiced his English. He was hiking in jeans and ripped rain boots, and he was going twice as fast as me. We bonded over pretzels and water.

BONUS: I inspired two people to start their own travel blogs! I am so grateful when people tell me that I’ve inspired them, it makes me very happy. Check out Matty’s website and Elle’s website!

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Central America has been amazing. As with any place, there are pros and cons, but it has been a much better (and safer) experience than I imagined it would be. The locals here are so sweet and so willing to help, without expecting anything. I love it so much, that I’ve altered my travel plans to come back. After South America, I plan to fly into Guatemala and travel North through Belize, Honduras, and Mexico. I am very excited to see the rest of Central America.

What did you think of my experiences? Have you thought about traveling to Central America? Where would you want to go? Let me know in the comments below – you know I love talking travel. 🙂

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Access Denied: Getting Rejected at the Panama Border

I had one of the craziest days of my life trying to cross the border into Panama from Costa Rica. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up.

 

To understand the story, I’m going to supply you with some information: to cross the border from Nicaragua a few weeks ago, I had to have proof that I had a plane ticket going back to the United States. While crossing this border, I was with my sister, who was traveling with me for a few weeks. I told the guy at Immigration that I was on the same flight as my sister (which was a total lie), and he just stamped my passport and let me pass.

So, the day of the border crossing into Panama, I woke up early and went to a solid vegan breakfast with my new friend, Matty. I had to say good bye to my precious vegan restaurant (if you are ever in Puerto Viejo, go to Como en mi Casa)! I celebrated with a very thick vegan pancake, covered in jam and fruit.

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After breakfast, we headed to the border. Matty had made a friend who had a rental car, and wanted to see the border, so he gave us a ride there. He dropped us off, and we saw the famous bridge that goes across the river from Costa Rica into Panama.

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We paid the departure tax ($4), and got our stamps from Costa Rica immigration. We walked the bridge into Panama, paid the entrance tax ($6 per person), and then headed to immigration. This is where the story goes south.

Matty went to the immigration officer first. They asked to see her plane ticket back home. She was able to pull it up on her iPad, so she showed the ticket to the officer, got her stamp, and was free to go. I, on the other hand, do not have a flight back home, because I am not going home. I went up to the officer and explained my situation. I told him that I am traveling the world, with no return date to the United States. I told him that I am traveling by bus, so I don’t have a plane ticket. He listened, and then told me that I cannot get into Panama without a plane ticket home. He didn’t care that I was going to Colombia in less than two weeks; he cared about when I was going back to the United States. This was a problem.

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What does one do in this situation?

I bought a plane ticket home.

I use Chase Sapphire Preferred (my FAVORITE credit card for travel hacking and in general – they give excellent rewards), and I know that I can buy a plane ticket and then get it refunded by calling them within 24 hours. So, I bought a ticket home for $343.72 at an internet cafe (after paying $4 to use the internet) and showed it to immigration. They verified the ticket, stamped my passport, and waived me along.

SUCCESS.

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Things seemed to get easier after this. We got on a bus that would take us to the boat we needed to get on. We got on the boat with only a few problems (we did a money exchange with the taxi driver – LOL). The boat took us to Bocas del Toro, our final destination. Yay! Everything worked out.

UNTIL IT DIDN’T. We decided that we wanted to stay on this little island that had a really rad looking hostel. We got a water taxi for $1.50 each to take us to this island. We walked in and fell in love with the hostel (seriously, check this out – it has a trampoline to jump into the water!). We had to wait a few minutes to talk to the receptionist. When she arrived, we inquired about a room for the night. She gave us the look (you know, sympathy mixed with a bit of ridicule) and told us that there were no rooms for the night. She said there was one other hostel on the island, but she was pretty sure it was full.

At this point I was exhausted. It was 5 pm, we hadn’t eaten since breakfast, and I just wanted to set my bag down and take a shower. Matty said that she would run down to the other hostel, and I could chill out at Aqua Lounge and wait for her. I felt so relieved when she said that. I slid into a booth at the hostel bar, connected to wifi, and drank my water.

Matty came back about 15 minutes later and told me that the hostel had two beds left and we could stay there. Yes! We grabbed our bags and walked 5 minutes down the sand to the only other hostel on the island. The hostel was on the beach; it had wifi, an adorable restaurant, hammocks, and lounge chairs. It was perfect! We threw our bags in the room and got in our swimsuits. We locked the room and ran out to the beach, into the clear blue Caribbean waters. It was paradise.

UNTIL IT WASN’T. After a very refreshing dip in the ocean, after we talked at length about how great everything turned out and how lucky we were, we went back to the room. We noticed we had roommates now, and someone had moved one of the pillows from my bed to theirs. I didn’t mind, but I said something to Matty about it and we looked over at the stolen pillow. AND THEN WE SAW IT.

BED BUGS. The hostel was infested with bed bugs. We took a picture of the bug and looked it up on google to confirm. Once we were totally positive that it was a bed bug, we packed our bags super quick and ran out of there. No one was at reception – by now it was 9 PM, and reception was closed. The guy at the hostel bar was helpful; we told him what happened and he refunded us. He admitted that they had a bedbug problem a few weeks before. These little bugs are so disgusting and basically taking over the world (according to google). After a lot of research, Matty and I found out how difficult it is to get rid of them. Eeewwwwww.

So. Now it was 9PM, it was dark, and we were on an island with no place to stay. We tried the expensive-looking hotel next door, but reception there was also closed. We found a stranger who owned a boat and got a water taxi back to the main island. We walked 10 minutes to the hostel that we were looking at on the main island before, then realized it was closed. We were starting to feel a bit defeated, and I was seriously considering sleeping on the beach at this point. Then we met an angel.

While we were standing in the middle of the road, close to tears, a local walked by and asked how we were doing. The people in Bocas del Toro are extremely nice and friendly, but not in a creepy way. We told the guy our story. He introduced himself as Reynaldo, and we told him our names. He said he knew of a hotel down the road that we could go to; he knew for sure there was a vacancy there. He led the way. He even carried Matty’s bag (she has an insanely large bag that she had been dragging around on a trolly type thing). We walked a bit more to this hotel, and when we got there, Reynaldo started yelling out for Dennis (because this hotel was closed also), and an American man named Dennis came sauntering out of the house. Matty explained our situation and asked him if we could stay there. He looked at us with no expression, and just said “No.” I thought for sure that he was joking. I waited for him to smile and say “oh, I’m just kidding, come on in.” It was silence for a few moments before I asked, “Really?”

“Yes, those bed bugs are a pain to get rid of, and I don’t want to deal with that,” says Dennis. He turned around and walked back into the house.

At this point, I completely gave up. I actually shed a few tears. I honestly believed that we were SOL and we would be sleeping in the park, like homeless people. But our angel Reynaldo perservered. He would not give up. He looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t worry, I know another place, and it’s right over there.” It was right down the street. I left Matty with the bags and headed over to check this place out. I held back the story about the bed bugs and inquired about a room for two. The owner of this little hotel was the cutest little lady who speaks only Spanish. She gave us a room with two beds, air conditioning, and our own private bathroom for $40/night.

SUCCESS.

We grabbed our bags, got the key and the wifi password, and collapsed into our beds. Finally we could sleep! We took showers and headed off to dreamland. The longest day ever was over. I slept great, except at one point I woke up from this little guy outside my window continuously screaming “HOLA! HOLA! HOLA!” I took a look in the morning and found the culprit.

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He was so cute, I couldn’t be mad at him.

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Though it was a hard day, I almost titled this post “the best worst day ever,” because a lot of good things did happen. We got so much help from strangers who expected nothing. We got a full refund from the hostel that had bed bugs. We were able to get a water taxi back to the main island when all hope seemed lost. We ran into Reynaldo, who helped us tremendously out of the goodness of his heart. We went to an adorable French restaurant and had a very nice dinner for $12 each. I was with Matty, who made everything more fun. All in all, though it was a hard day, we got through it together and nothing too bad happened.

When traveling, I try to remember that some days will be hard. Some days it’s a struggle just to find food, water, and shelter. Other days this life is truly blissful. Though some days are hard, I would never give up traveling because of the hardships. Having a hard day inspires growth and makes me so much more thankful for the good days I have. I feel so lucky to be here in Panama, in 85 degree weather, surrounded by beaches, palm trees, tropical fruit, and insanely cheap smoothies. I’m working on my Spanish (I WILL be fluent before I leave South America!) and I am making amazing connections with people around the world. I couldn’t be happier.

Thank you so much for reading this super long post – stay tuned to see what Matty and I get up to in Bocas del Toro! 🙂

P.S. I called my credit card company from the infested hostel and got my plane ticket refunded – Chase Sapphire is the best! I was able to call from my cell phone even though I don’t have a cell phone plan. I am currently working on a video about how to use your cell phone without a plan. I’ll let you know when it’s up!

How to Live in Costa Rica for Less Than $30 a Day

Hola!

I am currently stationed in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. I’ve been loving it here – the sun, the beach, the forest, the monkeys, the ocean. I feel like I’m living in paradise. There is even a health food/vegan restaurant here. How could this get any better?!

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A typical day for me looks like this: wake up around 7am. Get ready, go for coffee around 8. Take a long walk on the beach. Go to healthy restaurant for breakfast. Go to the beach, lay in the sun for a few hours, read. Go back to healthy restaurant for lunch. Work on website/YouTube/misc. Make dinner or eat fruit at hostel. Sometimes go for a run. Watch Netflix (currently re-watching How I Met Your Mother – love that show!) and then go to sleep around 10 pm.

I love every part of my days here. Healthy food. Exercise. Sun. Freedom. The best part is, I’m doing this all for under $30 per day.

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Say what?! That sounds crazy. Costa Rica isn’t cheap – it’s relatively expensive for Central American standards. But I’ve managed to live how I want to live on a budget – without feeling like I’m on a budget. I mean, hello, I’m eating out twice a day.

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Let’s break down the cost of my life here:

Hostel: I am staying in a shared room with two beds. I pay $12 a night, and 90% of the time, the room is all mine. I also pay $1 a day for a locker. This hostel is a lifesaver for being so cheap – it’s what allows me to spend more on food. If I wanted to pay even less, I could get a bed in a 10 bed dorm room. But… that’s not my style. Total: $13/day

Entertainment: I get my reading material from a book exchange. So I take a book, and leave a book. Going to the beach is free. Going for runs is free. Walking through the jungle is, yep, FREE. Netflix costs me a whopping $9 a month, which per day is basically nothing. Total: FREE.

Food: I usually cook and eat my own food while traveling. But I am obsessed with this restaurant down the street (the vegan one), so I’m taking advantage of it while I can. I usually spend around $15 total to eat out twice. If I get something expensive for one meal, I balance it out with something less expensive later. Sometimes I will eat fruit for 2 meals a day, and eat out only once. Tap water is drinkable here, and I usually fill up my hydroflask (reusable water bottle) at the hostel a few times a day. Total: $15/day

Transportation: I walk everywhere. I have rented a bike one day, for $5. Since I’ve been here for 5 days, that averages out to $1/day. Total: $1/day

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Let’s total it up: $13 + $0 + $15 + $1 = $29. So I’m living the life here for $29 a day. That is less than it costs me to live at home – a lot less. And I’m staying right next to the beach, seeing monkeys every day; I’m living my dream life. My overall budget for my entire trip is $50/day. I made it work in Europe by couchsurfing, taking buses for long trips, walking a lot, and eating in often. I like to have fun with my budget, living different lifestyles in different countries. I have loved being in Costa Rica, spending my days in a swimsuit by the ocean with a good book, eating healthy food, and doing whatever I want.

Staying below budget is just the icing on the (vegan) cake. 🙂

 

 

Paradise Found in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I thought Costa Rica couldn’t get any better after our family vacation in Dominical. However, Costa Rica does not disappoint. There is not a town here that isn’t stunning.

I rented a bike on my first day here and rode about 20 minutes south to Playa Chiquita. Isn’t that the cutest name?! It was gorgeous, and better yet, deserted.

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The water was clear and warm. I laid on the beach and let the waves slap my feet.

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I stayed here all day; drinking water, getting sun, reading, and listening to newly downloaded music.

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I also may have tried to climb the lone palm tree. 🙂

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I think I know where I’ll be hanging out for the next two weeks!

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