Best of Central America

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After spending an awesome few months travelling the length of Central America, from Cancun in Mexico to San Blas in Panama while taking in as much as I could of each country. I thought I’d run a little summary of my highs, lows and favourite picture from Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

Mexico

Just a small part of the trip due to cheap flights into the resort airport of Cancun. We took in Cancun and Tulum before heading to the border with Belize.

Highs
– An easy introduction into Latin America
– Gorgeous beaches of Cancun and using the pool/bar of the Ritz for free
– Scuba Diving at the Underwater Museum
– Swimming in a cenote (a crystal clear freshwater lagoon) where limestone rock has given way into an underground river
– Delicious sugar cane mojitos with free buffet in Tulum

Lows

– Cycling a very heavy bike in 40 degree heat turned out to be a bigger challenge than expected

Favourite Picture

Converted VW Beetle (an iconic car of Mexico) used to make sugar cane juice for mojitos in Tulum.

Sugar Cane Beetle

Belize

Such a relaxed country that feels so British Caribbean. The people really were the highlight of Belize, you will struggle to meet such friendly and relaxed souls anywhere else in the world.

Highs

– Hearing people shout “You got to Belize it!”, “Unbelizeable”, “Drink but don’t get drunk” and “Woah man, it is hot today”. Really made us laugh!
– Relaxing and reading on the beach in Placencia
– Luckily finding a tubing company to float through caves and appearing on local TV

Lows

– Despite 3 attempts, not being able to dive the Blue Hole due to weather and lack of numbers to make a trip

Favourite Picture

Many a day was spent relaxing in the beach town of Placencia on these colourful sun loungers. Bliss.

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Guatemala

We popped into Guatemala as we travelled south through Belize to see the stunning Mayan ruins at Tikal before returning to the country after we’d visited Honduras. On our second stop we spent much of the time taking a crash course in Spanish, soaking up the town of Antigua and visiting Lake Atitlan.

Highs

– Climbing temples lost in the jungle Tomb Raider style at Tikal
– Cooling off in a bar in Flores watching the sunset
Learning Spanish and attempting conversations about football with my fantastic tutor Rolando
– Staying in a Guatemalan apartment in Antigua and being able to settle in a place for a couple of weeks

Lows

– Foolishly jumping into a lake with my sunglasses on top of my head only for them to sink to the bottom
– Going from the high of speaking Spanish with my tutor with a clear accent to not being able to understand another person’s accent

Favourite Picture

I’ve chosen this as the view from the tallest temple at Tikal where you can see others poking their heads above the canopy. I also loved Antigua where I became addicted to Instagram.

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Honduras

Honduras was a strange one. It really has the highs and lows of travel. One of the main reasons to visit was Katrina taking her PADI Open Water course while I took the rescue qualification. Sadly while here we had trips to the hospital and police station but still came away having loved the country.

Highs

– Qualifying as a PADI Rescue Diver – just one more step towards Divemaster
– Taking in the La Ceiba carnival, the largest in South America
– Zip lining in the jungle followed by a massage and a dip in natural hot springs
– Climbing underneath a waterfall in the morning and spending the afternoon relaxing at a brewery

Lows

– Katrina being taken ill and going to the hospital for an endoscopy
– My wallet being stolen in La Ceiba

Favourite Picture

I’ve chosen my picture of the amazing Pulapanzak waterfall which you can climb right behind and jump around pools underneath. Great fun!

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El Salvador

Our stay in El Salvador was relatively brief. We came here for a bit of surfing and to see a lesser travelled part of the region. We turned out to be pretty poor surfers but enjoyed the chance to cool off thanks to some less sunny weather. San Salvador gave us a taste of urban metropolis for the first time in a while.

Highs

– Taking in the incredible scenery of the Pacific coast
– Sampling some great food in Juayua
– Making the most of western life in San Salvador’s malls and cinemas

Lows

– Finding out I’m not very good at surfing while getting caught in a riptide

Favourite Picture

I love this shot of a surfer meeting his match on this wave in Playa El Zonte. Watching other people fall off made me feel slightly better about my own performances.

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Nicaragua

A fertile land of volcanoes and lakes would sum up Nicaragua pretty well. We took in Leon, Managua, Masaya, Granada and Ometepe. Despite being bogged down with a mysterious fever like illness I loved my time there, so that must say something for the country.

Highs

Climbing an active volcano, sliding down in on a sled before climbing another, sleeping on the summit and descending the next day for a refreshing lake swim
– Scuba Diving in a volcanic crater lake
– Playing ‘Quetzalympics’ with a random bunch of people we’d just met
– Getting over my paranoia of horse riding amongst the beautiful scenery of Ometepe

Lows

– Feeling incredibly ill when all I wanted to do was explore
– A strangely high number of incidents of waiters trying to exploit tourists

Favourite Picture

Upon arriving at the peak of the El Hoyo where we to camp for the night we could not see the sunset as the fog rolled in. Thankfully sunrise in the morning made up for it!

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Costa Rica

The jewel in the crown of Central American tourism, Costa Rica is where you will find many holiday makers. We spent just a week here but enjoyed the experience back on the beaten track.

Highs

– White water rafting on Class III & IV rapids near La Fortuna
– Watching all kinds of wildlife like Attenborough in Tortuguero
– Randomly finding a softball game in Puerto Limon being played by some very out of shape players gave us a good laugh

Lows

– Spanking our budget with the highest prices we’ve had so far
– Being a little disappointed by other tourists behaviour when watching turtles lay eggs on the beach

Favourite Picture

I love my photo of this lizard blending into its habitat in Tortuguero. This part of Costa Rica was like a mini Amazon rainforest.

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Panama

Central America saves the best till last. Panama has gone straight into my top 5 favourite countries. We took in Bocas del Toro, David, Santa Catalina as well as longer stays in Panama City and San Blas. A combination of stunning scenery and the buzzing capital city kept us well occupied.

Highs

– ‘Glamping’ on the pristine Red Frog beach in Bocas del Toro
– Scuba Diving with sharks, rays, eels and countless fish in Coiba, part of the same chain of islands as the Galapagos
– Celebrating Katrina’s birthday in the luxurious Trump Hotel in Panama City, the tallest building in Latin America
– Getting stuck in the paradise that is the San Blas islands while waiting to sail to Colombia

Lows

– Going to visit the Baha’i temple outside Panama City to find it closed for renovation work

Favourite Picture

I went a bit photo mental in Panama as I’m sure my Instagtram account will show. However the one I keep looking back on is this incredible island in San Blas. Will I ever see paradise quite like this again?

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Capture the Colour

Following my my last blog post I received an email from someone about a photo blog competition by Travel Supermarket called Capture the Colour. The idea is you post 5 pictures, each focusing on a particular colour – Blue, Green, Red, Yellow and White.

Here’s my selection from a variety of my travels.

Green – Lizard in Costa Rica.

This cute little fella was seen while canoeing in the waters around Tortuguero and featured in my my recent blog post. These lizards are known locally as Jesus Christ Lizards for their ability to run across the water. After taking this photo he made a speedy getaway across the plants!

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Blue – Love is in the Air in England.

Possibly my favourite photo taken in the UK during a ‘Staycation’ in 2010. While working for BAE Systems I scored some tickets to the Royal Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. This incredible display by French version of the Red Arrows, the Patrouille de France, took my breath away. Taken on a (sometimes rare 😛 ) clear summers day!

Love is in the Air

Red – Bruce Lee Warriors at the Shanghai Expo.

On a dull, grey, wet and smoggy Shanghai day during the 2010 World Expo these artistic statues depicting Bruce Lee as the Terracotta Warriors supporting iconic Chinese buildings brightening the gloom. I love art that mimics or references things. And after all, Red is the colour of China.

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Yellow – Belizean Sunset.

Another photo from my current Central and South America trip is this stunning sunset that welcomed my arrival in Dangriga, Belize. After a long and sweaty afternoon on buses it was a welcome relief to chill out with a cool Belikin Beer (“drink but don’t get drunk man”, said passing Belizeans on bycycles) and watch the light fade. A little stereotypical for Yellow, but sunsets are the best!

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White – Mini Romanian Snowman.

We all love making snowmen in the Winter right? I spotted this cute wee snowman on a short trip to Bucharest a couple of years ago. As I was walking down the avenue a little boy was killing time to make this on a bench while waiting for his mum in a shop. I snapped the photo just after he was dragged away home.

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As part of the contest I now need to nominate 5 other people to take part. So here goes.

Dollface Travel – Myself and Katrina get quite competitive about photography!

Hazell Eyes – I’m sure Hazell can come cup with some good ones of SE Asia.

The Adventures of a Dr – There’s been some amazing Latin American photos on his blog lately.

Chasing Horizons – I just love the photo on their home page.

Heather on her Travels – I’m sure Heather has a ton of cool photos and she gave one of my posts a nice mention here.

I’m definitely seeing Megabus in a new light on this Central America trip. The buses have already made an impact on Katrina.

DollfaceTravel

London Bus

Buses in Central America are not like in Britain, you don’t form an orderly queue waiting to pay the driver and then take a seat and the bus tends to leave at a scheduled time, not waiting until it is totally crammed. As anywhere buses can vary greatly, we went on air conditioned coaches which showed movies dubbed in Spanish in Mexico, however, at the other end of the scale we went on colectivos in Guatemala which practically had people sitting on other’s laps. In Belize the buses were mainly old American school buses. These could be a bit of a challenge to get on at times especially with our bags, as we found in Belmopan, the capital. This was our first experience of getting on the bus in the late afternoon as well as on a Sunday and not one I’d like to repeat. In order that others might…

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Good Luck. Bad Luck.

Sometimes when you’re travelling you just get lucky that things seem to line up and come together and other times you just end up being disappointed something hasn’t met your expectations. That’s what happened to me in Belize.

There’s 2 main things that we’d planned for Belize – tubing and diving the Blue Hole.

First the tubing. We’d tried to organise booking with a company that had been recommended to us but never managed to agree a meeting point. Because of this we’d decided to pop over to Guatemala to visit Tikal first.

However on our way to the bus station in Belize city we came across a great big coach with Cave Tubing written on it. Bingo that’s that all sorted we thought. When we said to the guys there what we wanted to do they said not only would they take us but for half price and would drop us off on the way to the border – brilliant!

A lucky spot!

A little while later we found ourselves waiting further in Belize City having still not set off. It turned out we were waiting for a television producer for the trip was the be shown on TV here in Belize. Being the only foreigners on board (except a delightfully funny woman from the Bronx originally from Belize anyway) we drew quite a bit of attention. I’d love to see the end cut someday.

The tubing itself was great fun, floating through a cave system in the Belizean mountains with just the lights of head torches to see where you’re headed. I highly recommend it! Our guides were excellent and typically Belizean, laid back, friendly, witty as well as informative.

Then comes the bad luck. On our return to Belize our intention was for me to dive the Blue Hole – long regarded as the world’s best dive site. After emailing a few places I thought I’d found a company doing the trip from Placencia. This turned out to be cancelled due to a lack of numbers while two further trips have been cancelled too due to the bad weather – it seems the rainy season has set in here a few weeks earlier than expected. I can’t put into words how disappointed I am!

Anyway, despite my highly anticipated dive being cancelled I still managed a trip out to the barrier reef, second only to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The diving in the rain was incredible, never have I seen so many Moray Eels, Lionfish and strikingly beautiful soft coral. Nor had I ever dived in the rain before, a slightly strange experience and after the hour long and back breakingly bumpy boat journey to reach the reef along with the 5ft swell, I can fully understand why the longer trip to the Blue Hole had been cancelled. 3 hours there, 3 hours back on a small boat leaping into the air would have made for a rather tough journey.

Sting Ray

There’s a Monty Python lesson in here somewhere – Always Look on the Bright Side of Life!

A Quick Blast Through Mexico

Mexico was never really a big part of the travel plan, the reason for coming here was Cancun was the easiest and cheapest place for myself and my girlfriend to meet coming from Canada and Europe. We didn’t intend on doing anything here really.

This changed when I found the Cancun Underwater Museum which looked incredible to someone like me who’s addicted to scuba diving!

It wasn’t possible to dive the museum on day 1 so that fell to going to the beach. And wow what a beach, crystal clear blue sea and white powdery sand.

Sadly, the many hotels that are on the beach try to deny access to non guests and there are limited public access points.Luckily for us, once you are on the beach it can be easy to use some facilities at hotels. Thank you very much Ritz-Carlton, you make a tasty margarita and have a luxurious pool! As silly as it sounds, I’d actually be tempted to book one of their hotels one day now as I know how good they can be while the Melia that denied access I might avoid. Funny how little things like that can influence your opinion!

As for the museum, it felt a bit like a wreck dive with many different cement sculptures. The idea of the museum is that is will eventually become the home to a new coral reef on top of the artwork and help reduce to the pressure on Cancun’s other coral reefs, a very nice idea I think.

Immediately after a short descent to 10 meters we came to an inspired replica of the terracotta warriors. Some of which you can put your regulator up to and purge bubbles through the sculpture so it looks like they are exhaling underwater! The sculptures are already developing plant life on them which perhaps takes away a bit of the drama but is good for the longer term plan.

Later in the first dive we came to a sculpture of a VW Beetle (a car formerly made and still loved in Mexico) as well as a cube of bricks. Both were already becoming home to small fish.

My favourite part of the experience came in the second dive. I didn’t realise the museum was spread over such a large area so when we came to a sculpture of a man at a bar, writing something with a tankard near his hand and a dog asleep by his feet I was really taken aback. It’s nice that for someone who grew up in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a little part of home sat at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea!

Photo from Brits at their Best

On the way to the border with Belize where this trip was really planned to begin we stopped off at the town of Tulum – known for its Mayan ruins by the sea. However it wasn’t these that we enjoyed the most (especially after a visit to Tikal in Guatemala, but more on that in a later post).

All around the coast in this area are features known as cenotes. This is where the limestone rock collapses due to the vegetation above and to form a hole down into water running below. Near Tulum is the Grand Cenote where you can swim down into the caves with tropical freshwater fish (like you may have in an aquarium at home) as well as with terrapins. It really was a refreshing and well needed experience after the cycle from town in sweltering temperatures.

Cenote

Although a bit touristy, Tulum was a fairly relaxed place with one of my favourite treats of the tropics – sugar cane! And I’m not sure you’ll see a better sugar cane juice vending stand than a converted VW Beetle! It was an especially good addition to a mojito!

Sugar Cane Beetle

P.S. If you’re reading this before you leave Mexico to enter Belize and are using the Lonely Planet guidebook for Central America. There might be a couple of things I can clarify.

1. For a bus to Belize from Chetumal you need to go from the new market, not the bus station in an old American style school bus.

2. When leaving Mexico you may be charged 200 Pesos to leave via land. If you arrived via air be persistent as this tax should be included in the cost of your air ticket and therefore not be valid. If you are reluctant to get your wallet out they should just wave you through.

A Quick Blast Through Mexico

Mexico was never really a big part of the travel plan, the reason for coming here was Cancun was the easiest and cheapest place for myself and my girlfriend to meet coming from Canada and Europe. We didn’t intend on doing anything here really.

This changed when I found the Cancun Underwater Museum which looked incredible to someone like me who’s addicted to scuba diving!

It wasn’t possible to dive the museum on day 1 so that fell to going to the beach. And wow what a beach, crystal clear blue sea and white powdery sand.

Sadly, the many hotels that are on the beach try to deny access to non guests and there are limited public access points.Luckily for us, once you are on the beach it can be easy to use some facilities at hotels. Thank you very much Ritz-Carlton, you make a tasty margarita and have a luxurious pool! As silly as it sounds, I’d actually be tempted to book one of their hotels one day now as I know how good they can be while the Melia that denied access I might avoid. Funny how little things like that can influence your opinion!

As for the museum, it felt a bit like a wreck dive with many different cement sculptures. The idea of the museum is that is will eventually become the home to a new coral reef on top of the artwork and help reduce to the pressure on Cancun’s other coral reefs, a very nice idea I think.

Immediately after a short descent to 10 meters we came to an inspired replica of the terracotta warriors. Some of which you can put your regulator up to and purge bubbles through the sculpture so it looks like they are exhaling underwater! The sculptures are already developing plant life on them which perhaps takes away a bit of the drama but is good for the longer term plan.

Later in the first dive we came to a sculpture of a VW Beetle (a car formerly made and still loved in Mexico) as well as a cube of bricks. Both were already becoming home to small fish.

My favourite part of the experience came in the second dive. I didn’t realise the museum was spread over such a large area so when we came to a sculpture of a man at a bar, writing something with a tankard near his hand and a dog asleep by his feet I was really taken aback. It’s nice that for someone who grew up in Lancashire and Yorkshire there is a little part of home sat at the bottom of the Caribbean Sea!

Photo from Brits at their Best

On the way to the border with Belize where this trip was really planned to begin we stopped off at the town of Tulum – known for its Mayan ruins by the sea. However it wasn’t these that we enjoyed the most (especially after a visit to Tikal in Guatemala, but more on that in a later post).

All around the coast in this area are features known as cenotes. This is where the limestone rock collapses due to the vegetation above and to form a hole down into water running below. Near Tulum is the Grand Cenote where you can swim down into the caves with tropical freshwater fish (like you may have in an aquarium at home) as well as with terrapins. It really was a refreshing and well needed experience after the cycle from town in sweltering temperatures.

Cenote

Although a bit touristy, Tulum was a fairly relaxed place with one of my favourite treats of the tropics – sugar cane! And I’m not sure you’ll see a better sugar cane juice vending stand than a converted VW Beetle! It was an especially good addition to a mojito!

Sugar Cane Beetle

P.S. If you’re reading this before you leave Mexico to enter Belize and are using the Lonely Planet guidebook for Central America. There might be a couple of things I can clarify.

1. For a bus to Belize from Chetumal you need to go from the new market, not the bus station in an old American style school bus.

2. When leaving Mexico you may be charged 200 Pesos to leave via land. If you arrived via air be persistent as this tax should be included in the cost of your air ticket and therefore not be valid. If you are reluctant to get your wallet out they should just wave you through.