Showing posts with label Central America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Central America. Show all posts

Where We Stayed: Central America

Here's a quick guide for everywhere we stayed during our trip in Central America.

Why You Can't Miss A Belize Sunset

One of the highlights of any stay on Caye Caulker are the absolutely perfect sunsets at the end of each day. From the time the sun even begins to just dip a little, the whole island is drenched in golden sunshine with the west side of the island offering the best view point. People start heading to the west side from as early as late afternoon to secure themselves the best spot to enjoy this magical time.

Flying Over The Great Blue Hole

The number one reason that Belize had so aggressively pushed it's way up to the top of my bucket list was The Great Blue Hole, a giant underwater sinkhole in the middle of Lighthouse Reef. Only a short trip away from Caye Caulker, it is a must see for anyone visiting Belize, and can be visited either by scenic flight or a full day diving excursion. Since neither Thom or I had any diving experience (I can be a terrible snorkeller at the best of times), we decided the best way to visit this natural wonder was from the skies above.

Island Life Part 2: Caye Caulker

Palm trees, palm trees everywhere. Caye Caulker is a perfect slice of island paradise, found just off the coast of Belize in the Caribbean Ocean. The baby sister to it's larger neighbour, Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker is known for it's white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and that island life vibe that everyone is eternally searching for. It's the kinda island where time literally runs slower, shoes are definitely optional and the local dogs are not stray, but rather community dogs with many welcoming homes of the locals.

The Adventure Hub of Belize

Our first destination in Belize was San Ignacio. Located only half an hour or so from the boarder of Belize and Guatemala, we had decided to stay out here primarily to visit Tikal National Park. Since we only had a couple of nights to spend in this region I definitely didn't put as much effort into researching San Ignacio as I should have, but it had so much more to offer than we expected or had time for.

Exploring The Ruins of Tikal

I'm not even sure where to start when it comes to writing about our trip to Tikal National Park, in the Petén region of Northern Guatemala. It was completely different to any other Mayan site we had visited in Central America, and a huge day of touring. It could have been the massive jungle surrounding the ancient city, or the sounds of monkeys chattering to each other in the trees, but I think the main reason that Tikal is so surreal is the absolute feeling of peace and calm; and lack of crowds around the park. Spread over a huge amount of land and hidden amongst the flora and fauna of the National Park, it's easy to see why Tikal has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Stories From The Costa Rican Jungle

Costa Rica is one crazy place! Overflowing with naughty monkeys, lovely locals and more natural wonders than you could poke a stick at, there is absolutely something for everyone and it was also a wonderful honeymoon destination! Our days in Costa Rica were pretty jam packed with activities and full day tours, but here are some of the more random stories and helpful hints we picked up along our travels through the Central American country.

Sloth Hunting In Manuel Antonio

The day was finally here. Our last full day in Costa Rica was the day we had organized to visit Manuel Antonio National Park. And the main reason I was jumping out of my skin with excitement? SLOTHS!! As someone who lives in Australia, sloths are an elusive tropical animal that we can not see in real life unless we travel to Central or South America, so I was beyond excited to be visiting the home of the biggest colony of sloths in Costa Rica. 

Where You'd Rather Be: Makanda By The Sea

After a few days of high adventure in La Fortuna and kicking back in our jungle treehouse it was onto our next destination, Manuel Antonio, just south of Quepos on the Pacific Coast. We were ready for some beaches, relaxing and focusing on our main goal: spotting a mysterious sloth in the wild. The accommodation I had booked in Manuel Antonio was what I was looking forward to most. Hotel Makanda by the Sea, an adults only retreat, hidden in the rainforest and boasting an infinity pool that overlooked the Pacific Ocean.

The Essentials: Manuel Antonio

Location: Quepos, Costa Rica 

Time Zone: Central Standard Time (CST), UTC -6.

Getting There: The only international airport on Costa Rica is Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose (SJO). SJO is located just under 3 hours away from Manuel Antonio if you're travelling by car. Taxi rides and transfers organized through the hotel cost about $150 USD for the transfer. You can get a domestic flight to Quepos Airport (XQP) from SJO and many of the other domestic airports around Costa Rica that generally only take about 25 minutes. Surprisingly, they can be cheaper than the transfers if the times work for you.

Language: Spanish. Many people working in the tourism and service industry, such as hotel and restaurant staff, taxi drivers and people working at the National Parks speak excellent English.

Climate: High temperatures all year round. Rainy season between May and November, with dry season from December through to April. Very humid and sticky through the drier months.

Getting Around: You can get around pretty much everywhere in Manuel Antonio by taxi or walk. Taxis between the main road of hotels and the main beach and Manuel Antonio National Park cost about $10 USD per ride. You can walk between the National Park and the main beach in about 15-20 minutes.

The Money Sitch: There are absolutely no ATMs inside Manuel Antonio National Park. However, you can do a cash withdraw from the ticket box when you buy your ticket - this does have large fees associated with it, both in a commission fee to the 'banker' at the ticket box and also in international transfer fees, but it is good to know if you're desperate. The most accessible ATM we found was at the small strip of shops on the corner of the 618 Freeway, Provincia de Puntarenas and the road that leads down to all the major hotels.

Internet Access: Great connections in most hotels as well as many restaurants and cafes.

The Main Streets: The "618 Road" (that's the only name Google maps will give me) runs right down the hill all the way to the main beach of Playa Espadilla and Manuel Antonio National Park. You can find souvenirs and shopping between the park and the beach, with restaurants and cafes also lining the street.

Best Time To Go: Mid-December to April during the dry season, although be prepared for some very hot days and high humidity.

Can't Miss: Manuel Antonio National Park is the main focus of this region of Costa Rica. Not only does it offer some of the most beautiful beaches with white sand shores and crystal clear water, the wildlife in the park is insane, with monkeys and exotic birds everywhere you turn. It's also one of the best places in the country to get the chance to spot a sloth in their natural habitat. Make sure you take a walk down the Sloth Trail in the national park for your best chances. There's also no shortage of adventure activities to be found in Manuel Antonio including 4WD, ATV and off-roading tours, kayaking, canoeing, wildlife safaris and night walks, hiking, camping, ziplining and aerial adventure parks.

Good To Know: If you're arriving to Manuel Antonio via Quepos Airport there will not be transfers and taxis waiting at the airport (it's not the type of domestic airport you're probably used to). Make sure you organize to be picked up from the airport before you land to avoid waiting.

The Arenal Hanging Bridges

So our epic adventure in La Fortuna continues! Here's a quick recap... We were exploring the jungles around La Fortuna with Eco Terra Costa Rica, a local tour guide company who had planned out our whole trip! Our day had started with an early pick up at around 5am, and by lunch time we had already visited Rio Celeste and La Fortuna Waterfall (both outstanding)! You can check out part one of our adventure here. But on to part two! The second half of our day included a beautiful lunch overlooking at infamous volcano, before a hike through the forest and across the Arenal Hanging Bridges. 

Finding Río Celeste

From the minute I started planning our trip to Costa Rica I wanted to find a way to include a trip out to Río Celeste Waterfall. A tiny pool of sparkling, astonishingly blue water found deep in the luscious green jungle. What could be more magical?! The more I began to research Costa Rica, the more I realized that I wasn't going to be able to visit everywhere I wanted to in the short 5 days we had in this beautiful country. Despite it's relatively small size, the landscape of Costa Rica - with it's mountainous jungles and winding roads - meant that driving between towns often takes a lot longer than you would expect. But I was still determined to get to Río Celeste, even though it was located almost two and a half hours away from where we were staying in La Fortuna. Luckily, Eco Terra Costa Rica came to our aid and did what no other company were willing to do. They planned the perfect, absolutely enormous day for us, fitting in everything we wanted to visit.

Staying in a Costa Rican Treehouse

Our first home in Costa Rica was at Heliconias Nature Lodge, which was located about 20 minutes away from the La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano areas. The lodge has a unique vibe, making you feel right at home as soon as you arrive, which might be because the lodge is run by a local Costa Rican family. They definitely make you feel right at home, like you're part of the family as soon as you arrive. After our long transfer from SJO airport, we arrived in the dark and were shown up to our beautiful treehouse accommodation. I couldn't wait to see it in the daylight! 

The Essentials: La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Location: Alajuela Province, Costa Rica. 

Time Zone: Central Standard Time UTC -6.

Getting There: Arriving into Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, I would highly recommend organizing a transfer to get to La Fortuna.  By car it takes about 2.5 hours to reach La Fortuna from the airport, and that's if you're driving directly! We organized a transfer through our hotel that met us right at the airport gate, it was so easy and efficient. You can also grab a short domestic flight from SJO to the local airport FON. It's about the same price as the transfer, but only leaves once (sometimes twice) a day so check if your flight times match up.

Language: Spanish. Many of the people working in the tourism industry also speak great English.

Climate: Tropical climate, very warm during summer and wet and dry season. You can often expect some patches of rain even during the dry season.

Getting Around: Depending on where you're staying it can often be quite difficult to get around, as natural attractions are spaced out and far away from each other. We visited as much of La Fortuna as we could in one day on a private day tour, so our transportation was pretty much taken care of during our time in La Fortuna. If you're planning to try and get around yourself I would probably recommend hiring a car as the easiest option, as public transport is extremely limited.

The Money Sitch: For our time in Costa Rica we get out all our cash when we landed at the airport. It was more than enough to get us through our time in La Fortuna so we didn't have to go on an ATM search. Most attractions, stores and restaurants do accept credit and debit cards, but I would always carry some emergency cash just in case.

Internet Access: During the days in La Fortuna we were mostly deep in the jungle, swimming in waterfalls and hiking amongst the monkeys, so we didn't try and connect to wifi. Out hotel had excellent high-speed wifi for us to catch up with the online world in the evenings. A couple of the restaurants we ate in also offered wifi.

The Main Streets: La Fortuna de San Carlos is the main street, however if you've chosen a jungle experience accommodation style like we did you will probably quite far away from the main street. Unless you choose a hotel/hostel on that main street I would recommend choosing somewhere to stay that is amazing enough that you don't want to leave.

Best Time To Go: Mid-December to April, the dry season boasting plenty of sunshine to explore everything Costa Rica has to offer.

Can't Miss: Rio Celeste Waterfall, La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano and Arenal Hanging Bridges, Tabacon Hot Springs, Arenal Observatory, Monteverde Cloud Forest,  Kalambu Hot Springs Water Park, Venado Caves, Proyecto Asis Wildlife Rescue Centre

Check Out: The Tulum Beach Strip

Visiting Tulum, there are two different places you can choose to stay - either the Tulum Beach Strip or Downtown Tulum. About 10-15 minutes away from each other, in my opinion you just can't go past the beach strip. With the most luxurious and unique hotels, beautiful boutiques, bikes everywhere and some of the best food you can find, you really can't go past the beach strip! Whether you decide to make the strip your homebase or not, make sure you take the time to take a walk or bike ride along the sandy road and check out all the real Tulum.

Beach Luxury: Staying at Coco Tulum

It is the perfect Instagram accommodation. Straw roofed beach huts, sitting on the edge of the ocean, with everything as crisply white as can be. Coco Tulum was one of those honeymoon accommodation options that just seemed to picture perfect to be true. It was pictures of the hotel's beachfront bar that originally caught my attention on Insta, it seemed like somewhere that was just too pretty to be true.


Where The Ancient City Meets The Sea

Mexico has no shortage of ancient Mayan ruins, but the ones in Tulum are unlike any other. Sitting proudly on the edge of a cliff and overlooking the azure ocean waves, the Mayans that built the Tulum Ruins really found the prime location. If you're visiting Tulum you really can't miss a trip to these iconic ruins, it is a beautiful way to learn more about the history of Mexico and the Mayan people.

Para Para, Paradise

I can't really explain how excited I was to not only find a pretty beach I had seen on Instagram, but also direct us to a specific palm tree. Might not sound like a lot in the days of geotagging, Google maps and Instagram places, but when you find a tree you're looking for it really does feel like a big deal! Ranked as the best beach in Mexico, Playa Paraiso (paraiso obviously meaning "paradise") is a huge stretch of white sand, covered in tall palm trees with turquoise water from the Caribbean Ocean as far as the eye can see. This palm tree is located at the edge of the beach that belongs to El Paraiso Hotel Tulum, just before the public beach.

Cenote Hopping Around Tulum

One of the absolute best and most unique things about Mexico has to be the cenotes that can be found all thoughout the country, particularly along the Riviera Maya on the east coast. A cenote is a natural pit or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone that exposes the crystal clear water underneath. The sinkholes are the perfect place to cool down and enjoy the long summer days, and if you're lucky you might even get some of the smaller ones all to yourself. On our last trip to Mexico we visited Ik-Kil Cenote, found near Chichen Itza, and it was one of our favourite days. So this time around, we dedicated a whole day to visiting local cenotes around Tulum.
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