At the end of this seven month travel itinerary, we found ourselves on board a cruise ship for the first time in five years. Over the past thirty years we have cruised about a dozen times. There are some really great things about cruising….and some not so great things. But overall our one week aboard Rhapsody of the Seas Southern Caribbean (Royal Caribbean) was a good experience, and a relaxing week after our whirlwind in Bolivia.
Let Me Be Honest
So I’m going to be brutally honest about the things I enjoy about cruising and the things I don’t. So if you are a big fan of cruising fair warning…you might get defensive. But this is my opinion and you can take or leave it, so here we go.
Not Like It Used to Be
Alas, cruising is just not like it used to be. Our very first cruise, in 1992, still to this day remains one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. The service was impeccable. The food was unforgettable. The ship, though small (we were on Norwegian Cruise Line) was spotless.
Today service and food both are not near up to the standards of that first cruise. Unfortunately I would say the food on this cruise on the Rhapsody of the Seas was the weakest I’ve had. And although our nightly wait staff ( Emily and Princess) were lovely…the dining room seemed understaffed and a bit harried. Our room steward on this cruise was Roxanne and she was great.
Today the cruise lines nickle and dime you for everything. Years ago a cappuccino was part of breakfast…not anymore. Pay extra. Years ago yoga or cycling class was free in the fitness center…not anymore. Pay extra. Years ago room service was included if you wanted it. Not anymore…pay extra (except for continental breakfast). Back in the day everyone dined in the dining room and a buffet was a special event…now its a cafeteria style all day long feast where people over indulge to excess. But at least you don’t pay extra.
Relax and Enjoy
Today we cruise from time to time (last one was pre-pandamit in 2018) and when we cruise we approach it with low expectations. We enjoy the pool and always get a room with a balcony if possible. We love sitting on our private balcony. We enjoy the dining room, but are not fans of the buffet. We enjoy the Broadway style shows, but aren’t big fans of comedians or magicians.
This seven day cruise on board Rhapsody of the Seas Southern Caribbean departed from Barbados where we had spent a relaxing week in an Airbnb. We docked in five island ports over the seven days; Grenada, Bonaire, Aruba, Curacao and Trinidad & Tobago. Three of these were new to us, bringing our country total to 125.
We chose to do only two excursions during the week. We did a bicycle tour in Bonaire, which was really beautiful but difficult due to the high winds. And we did a kayak bird watching tour in Trinidad & Tobago which we loved. On the kayaking tour we saw an astonishing array of birds and wildlife in Caroni Wildlife Sanctuary on the island of Trinidad. In the other ports of call we enjoyed just strolling around the colorful Caribbean ports.
My favorite cruise itinerary was eight years ago when I took my mom on a cruise for her 75th birthday. My sister came too and we visited St Petersburg Russia, Copenhagen, Sweden, Estonia and Finland. It was great.
The longest cruise I’ve ever done was 28 days! This was when my husband and I used a cruise ship that was repositioning to get from Australia to Seattle. Even though it was LONG, it still was one of the funnest, most relaxing and most interesting cruises we have done. We made stops in Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Hawaii. I would consider a repositioning cruise again.
My Favorite Things on Rhapsody of the Seas
This ship is one of the smallest in the RCL line. For a short cruise like this one I like a smaller ship. I loved our dinner wait staff, but like I said before the food was unfortunately just mediocre.
Our room was very spacious and surprisingly had a lot of storage. I am always amazed how they squeeze storage into every nook and cranny in these rooms. We were very comfortable; thebed was great and the balcony was awesome. Our room steward was fantastic, and the room was very quiet.
We only went to a couple of the shows, but the ones we saw were just okay. I think the larger ships tend to have better entertainment. On our one day at sea the cruise staff had so many different things to do and that gave us lot of choices. I enjoyed the cake competition and the parade of flags the most.
Everyday we played trivia at least once, it’s one of our favorite things to do on board any cruise.
I love formal night in the dining room, although most people don’t dress to the nines like back in the day. But since I don’t really have much of a reason to get dressed up very often, I like to have fun in a pretty dress. On this seven day cruise we actually had two formal nights on board Rhapsody of the Seas Southern Caribbean.
My Least Favorite Things
The buffet is annoying to me…people get so worked up over food. I only ever had the salad bar in the buffet during this cruise because fighting for food is not my idea of a good time. There was never a line for salad bar…hmmm. I must point out though, this buffet on this smaller ship was extremely small compared to some ships, so that played into my annoyance.
I’m not a big fan of dining with strangers, so we always try to get a table for two in the main dining room on our cruises.
Anytime you throw a couple of thousand people together there are going to be people who are entitled. This is a big issue for me in any group situations…loud, pushy, or just plain rude. I do my best to take a deep breath and move along.
The ship seemed understaffed, particularly in the dining room during breakfast. One morning we waited 45 min for our food. Not acceptable.
On the final day disembarking was the most disorganized I have ever seen. What a cluster! No signage and no helpful personnel as we tried to find the right bus to the airport.
I’ve cruised enough times on RCL to have Platinum status. It’s a low ranking frequent cruiser status that comes with a couple of minor perks. But the really big time cruisers are Diamonds and they get some awesome perks. Because cruising is not something I want to do very often, I have no plans to reach Diamond. But for those who do love cruising, all cruise lines have great loyalty programs including Royal Caribbean. I suspect we would choose Royal Caribbean again, although we usually choose based on itinerary not cruise line.
For the price, cruising is an economical way to explore multiple destinations and is particularly good for families, singles or the elderly. It has a lot of advantages, and despite some of the disadvantages you can’t beat the price per day for what you get. It’s also really nice to wake up in a new place each day without having to pack your bags. However, a short port of call will never give you the opportunity to really get to know a country deeply – which is something we value highly. So we will only cruise occasionally.
Thanks for reading my post Rhapsody of the Sea Southern Caribbean. However you like to travel, it’s time to get back out there people…start making some travel memories today.
Our next stop is the USA. We begin with a three week tour from Atlanta to Boston before returning to our home state of Washington for the entire summer. Looking forward to being home in the USA for four and half months before heading international again mid September. Blog posts coming about our Eastern USA stops.
When I was in grade school, one of my favorite subjects was Social Studies. I loved learning about cultures from faraway lands, the history, costumes, traditions, and way of life. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this interest at a young impressionable age would become a lifelong obsession – to learn and understand the meaning of life for peoples of the world. And this is how it came about for A Very Big Bolivian Adventure.
In fifth grade, one of my favorite teachers, Mrs. Guerske, introduced our class to a Social Studies unit on Bolivia. I was beyond fascinated as I spent hours reading and looking at the photos of the hard-scrabble life of the Andean people. For decades after, Bolivia was filed away in my mind as a destination I needed to see.
A Very Big Bolivian Adventure
And so it was in year seven of The Grand Adventure we made our way to Bolivia and A Very Big Bolivian Adventure. You might be surprised to learn that Bolivia is one of the world’s fastest emerging tourism destinations. However, the Covid period took a toll on tourism in the fragile country. As tourism rebuilds, Bolivia is currently experiencing serious economic problems and political unrest due to low pay and political dissension. During our visit we witnessed countless protests and strikes and a lack of access to US dollars available in the banks. For the most part these things did not affect our visit, except in one serious case which I will elaborate on below.
We wanted to cover a lot of territory in Bolivia, and didn’t feel confident to handle those logistics as independent travelers in this country. So we took a recommendation from a fellow full-time traveler and booked our tour with the highly regarded Intrepid Travel. I have absolutely nothing bad to say about Intrepid, and particularly our guide Wendy, who made this tour the once in a life time experience it was. She is amazing.
The Group Day One
Our ten day tour began in La Paz (see our post Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia), where we met the 10 other guests who would be traveling with us. The weirdest coincidence though, eight of the twelve guests are from the greater Seattle area. What are the chances?
It’s rare we travel in a group, or even with a guide, but as I said before, this country warrants it. In the past we have had some group tours where there is always that one difficult person…the complainer or the whiner. Not this group. These people were outstanding, adventurous, educated, fun and well-traveled. I now consider each and every one a friend.
Highlighting the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
We covered 1800 km (1100 miles) during our ten day tour. It was a lot of driving. And we saw some incredible things. I can’t possibly talk about it all, so I am choosing to give you the highlights – the good, the bad and the ugly. So here we go;
Day Two La Paz to Uyuni
We took a private and comfortable bus for what should have been an eight hour drive to Uyuni. Our guide Wendy had told us there was a possible teacher strike that may block the road, but we were proceeding anyway. After a pleasant and uneventful six and a half hours we came to a roadblock. Not teachers however. It was a protest regarding the lithium miners demands for more of the profit from lithium extraction in the salt flats. Learn more about it here.
The road block was actually two – one where we came to a stop and another 20 mile ahead. There was no getting through. We waited for two hours and when it became clear the protestors had no intention of opening the road, Wonder Woman Wendy went to work. She contacted the 4-wheel drive operators in Uyuni on the other side of the two road blocks. Using their vehicles they came to us off-road through the desert. It took them two and half hours to reach us. When they were close we unloaded our bags from the bus, walked solemnly and quietly through the strikers per instructions from Wendy. There was some concern they might harass us but they did not.
Once we got through the strikers, suddenly the 4-wheel drive vehicles appeared, the drivers threw our bags on top, we jumped in and were off, no headlights into the bush. It was another two hours through the desert to reach Uyuni. I was never so grateful to see a bed. Wendy ordered pizza for everyone but it was midnight and I was beat. No pizza for me.
A side note – this road block continued through the next day. Anyone traveling on their own or in the larger regular express busses that make their way between La Paz and Uyuni had to sit there for two days.
Day Three Happy to be Here
As a result of most people still being stuck on the road, on this day we saw few tourists. Today was the Bolivian Salt Flat day, the raisin de ‘etra of our tour. And after last night, we were looking forward to some fun.
This day was warmer than I expected, in fact hot, so all of our cold weather clothes we have been hauling around the world just for this experience went back into the suitcase.
The massive Bolivian Salt Flats are the largest salt flats in the world. I had to keep reminding myself it was not snow. Everything about it confuses your brain. It’s bright and white and stretches as far as you can see. Google says ;
Salar de Uyuni, amid the Andes in southwest Bolivia, is the world’s largest salt flat. It’s the legacy of a prehistoric lake that went dry, leaving behind a desert like, nearly 11,000-sq.-km. landscape of bright-white salt, rock formations and cacti-studded islands. Its otherworldly expanse can be observed from central Incahuasi Island. Though wildlife is rare in this unique ecosystem, it harbors many pink flamingos. ― Google
All the local guides have learned to have fun with the photo opportunities the flat and endless salt plain provides and we had a fascinating day.
Despite how incredible the endless salt flats were, the unexpected outcrop known as Incahuasi Island was beyond anything I could have imagined. Absolutely stunning to find this cactus-covered rock protruding from the miles and miles of white.
We ended this remarkable day at one of several salt hotels. These structures are made from salt blocks cut from the flats. People have been known to lick the walls just to be sure…I declined but it was a fascinating and also very rustic place to sleep for one night.
Day Four Pretty in Pink
We traveled away from the salt flats and into the Altiplano and enjoyed views of volcanoes in every direction we looked. The road was long as we rose higher and higher but we stopped often for photos and potty breaks. But the most scenic part of this day were several stops we made to see the flamingoes. Bolivia is home to several kinds of flamingoes who do not migrate but live permanently in this region feasting on the red-hued algae abundant in the volcanic lakes. Who doesn’t love seeing a pink flamingo in the wild?
As we finished this day we reached our highest altitude for the trip, and also the highest altitude I have ever been at on earth… 16,100 feet above sea level. And we felt it with every step we took.
Our accommodations on this night were rustic dorm style but the view from the dining area was other-worldly.
Day Five – The Ugly
Was it something I ate or the altitude? I doubt I will ever know. But the ugly reared its head in the middle of the night and I was very sick; diarrhea, bloating, chills, headache and unable to breath. Unfortunately this was a ten-hour-drive day in the 4×4. My car mates and my husband and of course Wonder Woman Wendy did everything possible to see to my comfort as I slept and moaned through the day. Arne did manage to take a few photos of some of this day’s scenery. I was so relieved to arrive back to our hotel in Uyuni. Please note – Wendy was monitoring my oxegen level and if necesary, would have evacuated me if I was in danger.
Day Six – Potosi
We took a bus to Potosi, a silver mining town in the hills of Bolivia. Although I still felt sick I was at least upright. I attempted to go on the silver mine tour with group but bailed at the last minute and went back to the hotel. The next day however I did enjoy the really well done National Mint, a museum of mining and silver known as the Casa Nacional de Moneda.
Day Seven to Nine – Sucre
Another bus; this day to Sucre. Both Sucre and La Paz are considered capitals of Bolivia, it’s a strange system. Wikipedia says;
“La Paz was established as the seat of government for the legislative and executive branches, while Sucre retained the seat of the judicial branch of the Bolivian government. To this day, Sucre remains the only official capital of Bolivia, but La Paz is considered by many as the de facto capital.“
Sucre is a more modern, colonial city compared to La Paz. It is flatter and very beautiful. We enjoyed a fantastic hike outside the city on a portion of the Inca Trail. I was so glad I was up to doing that, even though I still wasn’t 100% myself. One of my favorite things we did.
Sucre has a large and colorful mercado which we toured and learned from Wendy a lot about the products of Bolivia and the way of life for the people of the mercado.
The Textile Museum Museo de Arte Indigena, was a fascinating story of the indigenous textiles of Bolivia. I am always interested in textiles and I am so glad we took time to do that on our own. I also was able to purchase a small and beautiful item made by a local women to take home as a souvenir.
We visited the dinosaur footprint park, Parque Cretacico, which was honestly far more interesting than I expected. A cement manufacturing company scouring the mountain for raw material stumbled upon the dinosaur footprints estimated to be 68 million years old. This is the largest collection of dinosaur footprints in South America with over 5000 prints of at least ten different species. The tectonic uplift of the former lake bed creates this strange and eerie phenomenon, so it appears as if the dinosaurs walked up the side of the mountain like a gecko might today. The limestone face of the wall secures the footprints for eternity. Fascinating.
On our final night in Sucre – our Very Big Bolivian Adventure was coming to an end. We celebrated together as one of our group was leaving in the morning, while the rest of us boarded a flight in the morning back to La Paz.
Over the ten days we have grown close with our new friends as we all endured the joys and hardships of a ten-day overland tour of Bolivia. Back in La Paz we said our farewells, enjoyed one final dinner together, and thanked our amazing guide Wendy for her incredible guidance during A Very Big Bolivian Adventure. Then it was time to reorganize our bags once again for our next destination.
Bolivia is truly a remarkable, beautiful and culturally rich place, despite some issues it is dealing with. I want the best for the wonderful people we met, and all those we didn’t. I hope for better relations between the USA and Bolivia, and I hope more visitors will come to experience the color, culture and geology of this extraordinary country.
I wish I could tell Mrs. Guerske how I have fulfilled this lifelong dream. Viva Bollivia! Gracias.
We spent a week in La Paz Bolivia recently, purposely planing a long visit to give us time to acclimate to this city in the sky. La Paz was our jumping off point for an overland Bolivian tour. And at 11,893 feet (3625 meters) we knew we needed to take our time. And we have the time, so we spent 8 lovely days Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia.
The last time we spent time at this kind of altitude was 13 years ago when we arrived in Cusco Peru (elevation 11,152 feet/3399 meters) to do the 5 day Inca Trail Hike. Before leaving home our doctor had given us some prescription meds to help with altitude sickness. In hindsight, the extreme nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness I experienced in Cusco (enough to bring a doctor to our hotel room) I believe was due to those meds.
So this time we decided to not take any medicine. Instead we planned a long acclimation period, drank a ton of water, gatorade, tea and coffee, and did not drink any alcohol. We ate very light meals and allowed ourselves plenty of sleep. After just two days, we felt rested and no adverse symptoms, other than just a light headache and a bit of breathlessness.
We also think spending a week in Mexico City (7349 feet/ 2240 meters) probably helped as a stepping stone to Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia.
But still a bit muddled…
I will say however, our brains were a bit muddled the whole time. My husband Arne who serves as our CFO on the grand adventure could never quite get the exchange rate correct in his head. And me, the COO, could not get the dates straight…which resulted in us thinking our tour was beginning a day earlier than it actually was. Or maybe we are just getting old…
Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia
La Paz is the highest major city in the world. It was founded by the Spanish in 1548, but long before that time the indigenous Aymara and Quechua people and before them Inca people inhabited the region. Throughout what is now La Paz, El Alto, and surrounding area, archeologists have found sites of the aboriginal tribe Tiwanaku that had existed for at least 1500 years (there is a lot of intense debate of these dates see below).
When the Spanish arrived, they created “a commercial city, lying on the main gold and silver route to the coast. The Spaniards came for the Bolivian gold found in the Choqueapu River that runs through present-day La Paz. The Spaniards took the gold mines away from Aymara people and made them work as slaves. The primarily male Spanish population soon mixed with the indigenous people, creating a largely mestizo, or mixed, population.” Source Wikipedia.
Climate and Geology
The climate here is odd. It is tropical at 16 degrees south, the same as Tahiti French Polynesia. However the altitude in La Paz at 12,000 feet has both a rainy and a dry season but the high temperature throughout the year only varies between about 54F and 58F. It’s quit distinctive, and unlike any climate we have been in before.
The area around La Paz is made up of a sandy, loamy, glacial like soil…very unstable. The city is built on unconsolidated glacial deposits from the past ice age through which Choqueyapa River has cut to form the steep sided canyon. Because of high rainfall, unconsolidated sediment, and steep slopes landslides are a common occurrence in La Paz.
Beautiful, Surprising, Huge, Cultural and Delicious
We planned a week, thinking most of that I would be sick, but since we acclimated easily we had lots of time to enjoy this fascinating city. I’m embarrassed to say I had no idea what a beautiful place it is. So once we realized we had a lot of extra time, we planned an itinerary to see the most that we could. We had warmer weather than we expected too, so everyday we got outside and explored. The area known as La Paz is actually two cities. La Paz sits in the valley and snakes out and up in all directions from the original site on the river. Population of La Paz is 900,000. The city of El Alto sits on the mountain plateau above La Paz and stretches as far as the eye can see. This is the location of the international airport, Manuel Márquez de León International Airport, the highest international airport in the world. El Alto has a population of 1,100,000.
Here are our suggestions for how to enjoy Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia.
One of the most surprising things we found on arrival in La Paz was the outstanding gondola transit system. Mi Teleferico is the largest gondola system in the world. This rare, well planned, people-mover is designed not for tourists, but as a way of moving the more than 2 million residents around this mountain region. Wikipedia says – “Mi Teleférico, also known as Teleférico La Paz–El Alto, is an aerial cable car urban transit system serving the La Paz–El Alto metropolitan area in Bolivia. As of October 2019, the system consists of 26 stations along ten lines: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, Orange, White, Sky Blue, Purple, Brown, and Silver.”
It is clean, efficient, fun and cheap costing only about 40 cents (USD) per ride. It is not designed to make money, rather to eliminate street traffic, connect areas of the region and provide the people an efficient and inexpensive way to navigate the two cities. About 150,000 people use the system everyday.
We took the time to ride all the lines during our visit, just for fun and for the views. Seeing this wonderful city from above really gives you an appreciation for the ingenuity and population. I highly recommend it when visiting La Paz and El Alto. The views are spectacular.
Guided Walking Tour
Using Get Your Guide we connected with the local tour company of Hanaqpacha Travel to spend three hours with a local guide walking and learning about the city. Our guide Fernando and Jenny, a guide in training, were excellent. Great English, very knowledgeable and fun to be with.
We explored many of the historic areas, learned about local historic figures and past violence and troubles. We learned to navigate the cable car, got insight into the two cities, the markets, and Cholita women.
The Witches Market
One of the most intriguing things we did was explore the Witches Market. This area of shops is where dozens of local women sell curious, obscure and strange items from llama fetuses to dried herbs and talismans that are a part of the Aymara rituals and spirits world. After hundreds of years of the Catholic Church suppressing the Aymara way of life, in recent decades these ancient customs have been allowed to come out of hiding. They never stopped these rituals; they just had to keep them tucked away. Today in La Paz you find a curious mix of ancient mystical beliefs and the Catholic religion.
One disturbing thing we learned though I need to mention. Our guide explained to us that the llama fetuses are used as a good luck talisman, buried under buildings and homes to appease Pachamama – Mother Earth. The larger the building the larger the animal. But deep in this belief is rumored human sacrifices that continue to this day. Our guide says it’s a common rumor that this may or may not happen…but why? He said that the larger the building, the larger the sacrifice must be to Pachamama. And there is rumor that some construction sites actually take homeless or drunks off the street and sacrifice them. Of course we found this horribly disturbing. Our guide was also sufficiently disturbed, but claims this ancient practice and the rumor has persisted throughout his lifetime. I found this article if you want to read more. Not a pleasant thing to think about.
On a lighter note, the Aymara & Quechua people and the Cholita women (I found this amazing article about the Cholita) are fantastic artisans and surrounding the Witches Market (where you can also take home your own good luck talismans) are dozens of shops selling beautiful hand made items. Popular weavings of bright colors are made into bags, headbands, wallets and even shoes. Alpaca sweaters, shawls, hats and scarves are gorgeous and inexpensive. You can see the women knitting on the street or in the stalls. We purchased gifts to take home and were amazed at the quality of work and cheap prices. The market also has handmade leather items, silver jewelry and ceramics.
The Lovely Cholita Women
Throughout the city the Cholita women sell flowers, produce, snacks and traditional foods on the street. You can also find outfitter stores for tourists in need of down jackets, hiking shoes and just about anything else you might need for your time in Bolivia.
We booked a food walking tour with Red Cap Tours. Our guide Amara was great and we were joined by another couple from Singapore. It’s always so fun to taste a city through a local guide. We had a great time. We tasted several Bolivian specialties including Anchipacha which is a popular grilled beef heart and potato kabob, and Cholita a very popular sandwich snack of pork and pickled veg and named after the Cholita women. Next we had Api, a warm creamy drink made from purple corn and popular for breakfast. With the Api we enjoyed a favorite morning street food called Pastel de Queso. Loved both of these.
Next we went into a restaurant to try two different kinds of pork – Chichorone is a popular crispy fried pork dish and Fritanga is a braised pork. Both were delicious. With the pork we had steamed potatoes and “dried” potatoes, a favorite of locals. The potatoes are dried in the sun for weeks then reconstituted.
We ended our tour enjoy Pique Macho, a dish of potatoes, beef and sausage in a rich and spicy broth and the national alcohol called Singani which is usually mixed with citrus and sours much like a pisco sour.
It was a great tour. We rolled home after so much food.
We visited four different museums during the week we were Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia. There are several more as well. I’ve listed the four here, in order based on the quality of what we saw;
National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore
National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore – If you only do one thing in La Paz it should be this. One of the best museums we have ever been in, even though it was presented only in Spanish. We still thought it was outstanding. Well funded by the Central Bank of Bolivia, and it shows, the exhibits are beautiful and professionally presented. We particularly enjoyed the textile and clothing section, the ceremonial mask section and the section on indigenous use of bird feathers in costumes and head dresses. A fantastic museum.
Museo Nacional de Arte
Museo Nacional de Arte – through art this beautiful museum tells a wonderful story of the people of the Andes, Bolivia and La Paz. I highly recommend taking the guided tour. Our guide Robert was incredible. For an hour and a half he gave a personal tour of the entire museum, helping us understand through the beautiful collection the culture, history, trials and tribulations of this amazing place.
Museo costumbrista Juan de Vargas
Museo costumbrista Juan de Vargas this museum is a bit of an mis-mash of things, but is worth a visit for the unique gold display of ancient Andean breastplates, jewelry and head pieces. It is also housed in a beautiful Spanish colonial building on multiple levels.
Museo Tambo Quirquincho
Museo Tambo Quirquincho – this museum was pretty disappointing, although it is housed in a lovely old Spanish building that once housed a market. But the art collection was unimpressive. Skip it.
One of the most important archeology sites in South America, Tihuanku sits about a two hour drive from La Paz. We signed up for an all day tour to visit the site with a guide through local company HanaqPacha Travel. It was a long drive in heavy traffic but I am still really glad we did it.
How Old is it Really?
There is much debate about the actual age of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide Teodoro, like many Bolivians, believe the site dates back as much as 10,000 years and was also visited by Aliens. UNESCO however, says the following;
“The city of Tiwanaku, capital of a powerful pre-Hispanic empire that dominated a large area of the southern Andes and beyond, reached its apogee between 500 and 900 AD. Its monumental remains testify to the cultural and political significance of this civilisation, which is distinct from any of the other pre-Hispanic empires of the Americas.”
Thinking has changed over time…
One of the reasons for the debate of the age of the site is the earliest archeologists incorrectly compared it to archaeoastronomy. To explain this better here is Wikipedia’s assessment;
“The dating of the site has been significantly refined over the last century. From 1910 to 1945, Arthur Posnansky maintained that the site was 11,000–17,000 years old based on comparisons to geological eras and archaeoastronomy. Beginning in the 1970s, Carlos Ponce Sanginés proposed the site was first occupied around 1580 BC, the site’s oldest radiocarbon date. This date is still seen in some publications and museums in Bolivia. Since the 1980s, researchers have recognized this date as unreliable, leading to the consensus that the site is no older than 200 or 300 BC. More recently, a statistical assessment of reliable radiocarbon dates estimates that the site was founded around AD 110 (50–170, 68% probability), a date supported by the lack of ceramic styles from earlier periods.“
It is believed that the Inca culture took some inspiration from this earlier Tihuanku culture. The Tihuanku also likely had some contact with the Wari culture during this pre-columbian period in the Andean basin.
The first recorded knowledge of the site was by the Spanish in 1549.
Since we were booked to go on an overland trip that included the first night in a hotel in La Paz, we decided to spend our week in the same hotel to make things easy. The Qantu Hotel ended up being in a perfect location with easy access to everything. Our room was small but clean and comfortable. Breakfast every morning was hearty and the staff very kind.
Throughout the week we explored different dining options around the central part of La Paz. Because of the backpacker set that visits here, there are many hostels, brewpubs, and simple and inexpensive eateries. There is also a wide variety of international cuisines available from Mexican, Italian or Cuban to Indian and Chinese. Of the places we ate we can recommend the following;
Popular Cucina Boliviana was by far the best meal we had, an in fact the best meal we had in a restaurant since my birthday dinner in Roatan last January, or maybe Pujol in Mexico City. No matter this was very creative menu that changes weekly. Our three course meal was delicious. A must do.
Tia Gladys is a tiny little hole in the wall that we walked by a few times before noticing it. Very popular for inexpensive, local Bolivian dishes as well as soup, salad, pizza and more. We tried the popular Bolivian dish Pique Macho here.
Cafe del Mundo is a lovely spot, frequented by the international backpacker crowd. Great service and international menu. Also a popular for afternoon pastry and coffee. I had a delicious soup here called Sopa Abuelo. Delicious.
La Groseria is another lovely spot overlooking the popular Sagarnaga street with a wide variety of coffees, beers, Bolivian favorites and international options. While I tried the local version of Chicken Milanese, Arne tried a quinoa bowl. Quinoa is a staple food here, an ancient grain harvested from Lake Titicaca.
La Boliviana this unlikely brightly colored place looks like an ice cream shop but has a quirky menu and daily special with a twist on local cuisines. We had a three course lunch that included wontons and falafel, meatballs and curry. We enjoyed it all.
Gracias La Paz
I am so grateful we had the time to explore deeply this amazing place…full of mystery, ancient customs, interesting food, and a culturally rich and diverse people. If you can, I highly recommend you visit La Paz. I’m sure you will be as intrigued as I was. Living in the Sky – La Paz Bolivia. Muchos Gracias Mi Amigos.
Please check back next week to read about our ten day overland trip in Bolivia with Intrepid Travel.
Despite our hundreds of countries and thousands of miles covered over the years, we had never made it to Ciudad de Mexico until late 2021. At that time we came just to enjoy a week long Eating My Way Through Mexico City food tour…thinking that was all there was to do. Boy were we wrong. So, we couldn’t wait to get back to this fascinating and historic place because there is just so much to love about Mexico City.
Ciudad de Mexico
Beyond the food – which is phenomenal and inexpensive, CDMX has some of the friendliest people, most beautiful architecture, incredible ancient and recent history, fantastic parks and green spaces, so many museums and… well should I mention the food again? So on this our second visit, we dug deeper to find more of the heart of this place which helped us to realize there is so much to love about Mexico City.
Museo Nacional de Anthropologia
We spent three amazing hours at the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia and you could easily spend an entire day. A vast and impressive collection that chronicles the ancient and recent history of the geology, people, and arts of Mexico. One of the best museums I have ever been to any where in the world…and that is saying something. Tours are available but it is simple enough to do without a guide. Entry fee is around $5. The museum also houses a fantastic restaurant with foods that focus on each distinctive region of Mexico. Do not miss.
Free Walking Tour
On our last visit we did an incredible free walking tour (tip-based) in the regions surrounding the beautiful historic centro area. I highly recommend that if it’s your first visit to Mexico City. This time we decided to do a free walking tour of the Roma Condesa, the neighborhood where our hotel was. We used Estacion Mexico, the same tour we used last year. Our guide Eduardo was funny, knowledgeable and passionate about this place. We loved it!
We try to do cultural performances whenever we can. And we often do performances just to see local performance venues. This Ballet Folkloric gave us both opportunities. The show was one of the best I have ever seen with music, dancing, acrobatics and more…performed in one of the most beautiful theaters I have ever visited, the Palacio de Belles Arts. Do not miss this show.
Eat Like a Local Mexico City
When we visited before, we spent five days with Eat Like a Local Mexico learning, tasting, cooking and seeing the wonders of the history and culture of Mexican food. We enjoyed our new friends and we definitely wanted to tour with them again. Eat Like a Local Mexico owner Rocio created a personal tour for us and guided us herself. A special treat for us was starting our tour with a cooking class learning to make Octopus Tacos with Chef Diego at Temporal. Then we worked our way around the city enjoying so much wonderful local food from tacos pastor to tamales and the finale was a very unique dessert made from mushrooms. Be absolutely sure to book with Eat Like a Local Mexico when you visit Mexico City. Don’t choose any other food tour…and don’t eat before your tour!!
I booked our dinner reservation at Pujol seven months in advance, because I did not want to miss having dinner at this restaurant, one of the top five restaurants in the world. It is expensive, but it was a wonderful experience to enjoy some very unique and beautifully presented dishes. And the service was outstanding. Cost was $165 per person before alcohol or tips for the prix fixe dinner. This price and experience were similar to the prix fixe dinners we had in both Maui at Merriman’s and in Giverny France at Jardin de Plumes.
Pronounced Loo-Cha Lee-Bra, this national Mexican past time is a spectacle and a lot of fun. I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy it but I loved it. It’s a real performance that requires a lot of athleticism and choreography for the scripted wresting match. The masked gladiators are wonderful performers. Lucha Libre started more than 100 years ago. Today thousands of people come out several times a week to enjoy the show and cheer on their favorite masked gladiator. You can attend this on your own, but we chose to go with our guide Alberto from Tours by Locals. I’m glad we did because he provided us wonderful insight, history and stories, as well as other details about beautiful Mexico City and the surrounding area.
Wow. This place was way better than I was expecting and we loved our guide Hilary from Tours by Locals. We spent the entire day exploring this ancient site located about 25 miles northeast of Ciudad de Mexico. Teotihuacan construction began in 100 BCE, long before the Aztecs. The actual name of the people who built it and lived here is unknown and there is no written record. But they left behind this vast site that today is still being discovered. The Aztecs settled here and ruled the region much later from about 1200 CE until the Spanish obliterated them in the 1500’s. Archeological research and discovery first began in 1904.
Today Teotihuacan is a UNESCO Heritage Site and the second most visited site in Mexico after Chichen Itza in the Yucatan. I highly recommend visiting this fantastic ancient cultural site when in Mexico.
The UNESCO heritage site south of the center of Mexico City is where the remains of the original lake and canals still exist. When the Spanish arrived they drained and filled in most of the lakes and canals that were built by the Aztecs. Today only the Xochimilco canals remain. Here the people have for generations used the rich fertile soil for agriculture. The floating gardens are the small islands in the lakes and canals that have been secured using willow trees. Today’s agriculture is primarily flowers, and the gorgeous blooms make their way to homes and businesses, restaurants and hotels all over the city. The tourist boats might seem a little kitschy but we did the boat ride early on a Monday and had the whole place to ourselves. We really enjoyed seeing this unique way of life with our guide Juan from Tours by Locals.
Coyoacan and UNAM
On the same day we visited Xochimilco (see above) with our most amazing guide Juan, we also visited the amazing murals at the Universidad National Autonoma de Mexico. UNAM is the largest university in Mexico and home to one of the most astonishing works of art I have ever seen. The tiled building that houses the central library is a UNESCO heritage site by architect and artist Juan O’Gorman from 1952. This incredible work of art tells the story of all of Mexico from ancient times to present day. It is truly a remarkable thing to see, and having the significance of the art explained to us in detail by Juan was absolutely fascinating. Learn more here.
Our next stop was the amazing Coyoacan neighborhood…a fantastic artist neighborhood and home to the Frida Kahlo Museum. But Coyoacan has more. A vibrant and wonderful place to explore, full of shops and history. We visited two significant churches; a former monastery Church of San Juan Bautista, and Capilla de la Conchita a remarkable chapel built by Cortez in 1525. We walked around the colorful parks and streets and had a delicious lunch. Juan took us to a teeny coffee shop that has been operating since 1953 and we also had the famous Coyoacan Churro. I really love this neighborhood.
We also made a brief stop in the high rent district San Angel – the Beverly Hills of Mexico City. Where the Spanish built the summer homes and still today the rich and fabulous live here. Cobblestone streets and fortress style mansions line the streets.
We also highly recommend The Red Tree House hotel. This is the first time we have ever returned to stay a second time in a hotel because of an excellent first experience. This boutique style hotel is a favorite among Americans. Book well in advance if you can. Comfortable and in the great neighborhood of Roma Condesa and the service is fantastic. The Red Tree House offers a delicious breakfast and nightly wine and beer happy hour. Don’t miss it. Rooms range from low $100 USD and up.
Getting around is easy by Metro, Metro Bus, Uber, Didi or Taxi. Something for everyone. We took a taxi from the airport on arrival but then used Uber or the Metro the rest of our trip. Many locals speak English but if they don’t they are always willing to work to help you understand. If you stay in the main tourist areas and more populated neighborhoods and shopping areas you will always feel safe.
We will be back
I now consider Mexico City one of my favorite cities anywhere in the world. Yes I love Paris, Barcelona, Jerusalem, New York and more. But something about Ciudad de Mexico has really captured my heart. Thank you to the local people for helping me see there is so much to love about Mexico City. And there is still so much more to see…so Hasta Luego Ciudad de Mexico. Until we meet again – Muchas Gracias.
A repost today from 2021. Next week we will have an all new post about amazing Mexico City. Watch for it!
A little more than two years ago we were in an Airbnb on the island of Langkawi, Malaysia. It’s unusual for us to watch television, but this Airbnb had a great variety of international programs, and I watched a series about Mexico City street food. Oh my god. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I needed to go experience Mexico City street food. And that is how I came to be eating my way through Mexico City.
I Apologize Mexico
First, an apology to Mexico. As we have traveled all over the world these past five years on the Grand Adventure, we never added Mexico to our itinerary. As Americans, Mexico seems so easy to get to…and I had visited a couple times. So we kept skipping it. I’m sorry Mexico…I was wrong. The touristy places I had visited (Mazatlan, Cabo, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco and Zihuatinejo) did not show me the real Mexico. Until Mexico City.
The PanDamit gave us the opportunity to reconsider Mexico given the easy access from the USA. So I began a correspondence with a Mexico City food tour company called Eat Like a Local Mexico. Eat Like a Local Mexico offers multiple food tours, but does not usually work with clients looking for a multi-day eating tour. But owner Rocio was amazing and over a period of several months we corresponded and created four days of eating my way through Mexico City during our six day visit to Mexico City.
Red Tree House Bed & Breakfast
We landed at Benito Juarez International Airport on a Monday night in November. We took a cab to the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma Sur and the bed and breakfast that had been one of a few recommendations from Eat Like a Local. The Red Tree House Bed and Breakfast turned out to be one of the best inns I have ever stayed in. Again, my apologies Mexico…it was so much better than I was expecting. The service, staff, accommodations, location and breakfast were all five star.
Eat Like A Local Mexico 101
On our first full day we met Rocio and guide Astrid from Eat Like a Local Mexico at a lovely little coffee shop a block from our hotel. Our tour, which was supposed to be a group tour, ended up being a private tour because the other group had canceled at the last minute. So off we went with Astrid, a tiny, energetic local who intricately knows the traditional Mexico City food scene.
We spent the next six hours with Astrid showing us local street food as well as visiting two of the most famous markets, the Merced Mercado and the Jamaica Mercado. Such a colorful wonderland. We ate so much I can’t even tell you! But see the video below for more.
That night we made our way without a guide to the Frida Kahlo Museum. I highly recommend this when in Mexico City. The museum is in her home, the same home she was born and died in. I learned so much about her remarkable life. Don’t miss it.
Eat Like a Local Night Street Food
Next day, we took a “free” historic walking tour starting in the historic center of Mexico City. We always try to take a free walking tour wherever we are. Such a great way to learn local history, learn about culture and politics and all from a local. Our tour was with Estacion Mexico.
After a quick rest back at the hotel we met up with Astrid again at another coffee shop within walking distance of our hotel to start a Night Food Tour as I continued eating my way through Mexico City. We were joined by another American couple from our home state of Washington. Small world. Using Uber, the metrobus (clean and efficient and cheap) and walking, we crossed the city with Astrid to visit the hidden joints only the locals know about. It was incredible. We ate street tacos, mole,and flautas, drank pulque, and much much more.
Eat Like a Hipster Local
Day three we slept in a bit then Rocio picked us up at our hotel for a private tour she designed just for us. The food this day was unforgettable as we focused on more of the nouveau foods coming out of Mexico City. We had chocolate, cheese and craft beer. We tasted mezcal and had the freshest and most delicious hipster tacos. I am in love.
Casa Jacaranda Cooking School
Our final day of our foodie tour was spent with Casa Jacaranda Cooking School. Starting at 10am and going all the way to 6pm we explored the Medellin Mercado, then at the Casa Jacaranda kitchen we cooked mole, fresh tamales, corn tortillas, salsa and more. This was such a marvelous experience all around – I would not hesitate to do this cooking school again.
Tasty Tuesday YouTube Video
Check out our Tasty Tuesday YouTube video here about eating my way through Mexico City.
We Will Be Back
There are several other excellent things to do in Mexico City, other than eating, so next time we will stay longer. And there will definitely be a next time. I fell in love with this clean and beautiful city, so much more than I expected. Eating my way through Mexico City opened my eyes to a culture and cuisine I had been missing.
We spent an entire month in this awesome little place. Let me take your hand and introduce you to San Juan del Sur with Eight Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua.
I’ve wanted to visit Nicaragua for a long time. But since 2018 there has been a lot of bad juju here, and so I patiently waited to see what would happen. Well, it was worth the wait. Particularly since we wanted to visit the smaller coastal towns, and not the larger cities, where more of the recent trouble has been. Statistically both Costa Rica and Mexico have a lot more random acts of violence than Nicaragua. But Nicaragua continues to be misunderstood.
Americans flock to Mexico and Costa Rica but continue to fear visiting Nicaragua. We felt very safe during our visit to both Granada and the tiny fishing village of San Juan del Sur. We did not spend anytime in Managua. Yes we are so glad we came. And if we visit again we would also consider the popular Corn Islands in the Caribbean side and Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. But for this visit we spent most our time in San Juan del Sur. And now our recommendations – Eight Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua.
More than Surf and Parties
San Juan del Sur is home to lots of American and Canadian expats, as well as a destination for the younger surfing and partying crowd. We chose to stay about a ten minute walk outside of town, which proved to be a good decision because it was quieter on the weekend nights. We don’t party all night (those days are long over) nor are we surfers. Both activities are really popular here, although it never seemed to be super busy or loud. But, luckily, we found a lot of great stuff we could do beyond the surf and nightlife.
San Juan del Sur, being a casual beach town, is pretty laid back. While in other parts of the country wearing shorts or swimwear around town would be frowned on, here it is accepted. On our daily runs here we also felt safe, and many local people frequently gave me a thumbs up and a cheer as I ran by “bueno bueno!”.
The area around San Juan del Sur has both poverty and wealth. Nicaragua is, unfortunately, the poorest country in Central America and the average person lives very simply. The average income is about $300 USD a month. A teacher earns about $500 and a doctor around $2000. However, there are also big mansions and construction on large secluded resorts. These are for the expats that come here due to the incredibly inexpensive property values and cost of living. An American could comfortably live here for about $1200 – 1500 per month. You would give up some creature comforts like bagged salad from the grocery store, a Starbucks frappuccino or Target bi-weekly shopping trips but you know, $1200, so…
The weather is nice and warm in February, averaging about 85f everyday. But the wind was obnoxious. Apparently, and unbeknownst to us, February is the windiest month. But that said the locals all claimed this wind was “not normal” gusting in the 25-35 mph nearly every day. Generally the dry season is November to April and there is much more rain from May – October. But the difference in temperature between the hottest month of April and the coolest month of January is only about 5 degrees Fahrenheit
We did not wander far from the San Juan del Sur area, and when we did it was usually on foot. From our condo we could get to the town by either wading across the ankle-deep river, or when the river is low enough there was an enterprising young lady who would set up a bridge. For about fifteen cents you could cross her bridge. Otherwise the longer way to the town was about a mile and a half. However, at times the high tide makes the crossing impossible. There is a boat that operates, but only when someone wants to make some money so you never know. There are buses, which are old USA school buses (we did not use), and lots of taxis. We also used a hired driver from Southwind Travel and rented a side by side ATV for two days.
When possible we tried to use local tour companies, guides, taxis, shops and restaurants in support of the local people. And along the way we discovered Eight Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua.
Like in most places we visit, we did not have a car, although we did rent a “side by side” ATV for two days. But we headed out on foot to hike to two local beaches. To the north we did a ten mile round trip to Marsella Beach. To the south we did a six mile round trip to Playa Pena Rota. These long dusty hikes aren’t for everyone, but we enjoyed our hiking days. It makes sense not too stray too far from civilization for safety reasons, but we enjoyed these two separate beautiful beaches in the area. The geology at sea level is both rocky and sandy and made up of sedimentary rock that forms beautiful shelves along the coast, as well as interesting formations.
Another hike we did was to the giant Jesus, officially known as Cristo de la Misericordia. This short but very steep hike not only gets you up close and personal with the iconic landmark, it also gives you the best view of San Juan del Sur town and beach. On the days we rented the side by side, we did some more amazing hikes…see more below.
2. Cooking Class
Since cooking (and eating) the local food is always high on my list, we signed up with Pacific Adventuras for a cooking class in a tiny town about 20 minutes from San Juan del Sur. The class was only $30 per person and was one of our favorite eight things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua. We requested to learn two of the regions most popular dishes; vigoron and tostone. We enjoyed the class with Chef July of Rancho Tere and our guide Cesar so much we signed up for a second class as well. At the second class we learned to make another popular local seafood stew dish and it was fantastic.
3. Rent a Side by Side ATV
We decided to splurge for two days and rent a side by side vehicle. These are the vehicles of choice here to get out onto the rough terrain. Expensive by Nicaragua standards at $130 USD per day, it was totally worth it for the adventures we had. We booked our side by side through Southwind Travel, the same company we used to transport us from the airport and back. The side by side is an open vehicle cross between an ATV and a Jeep. We loved our time and packed a lot into our two-day rental.
4. Up to the Canopy
With the Side by Side we wandered up into the canopy to a place called Parque Adventuras Las Nubes. Here there are many options including zipline, but we decided to just do some mountain hiking around the canopy in hopes of seeing animals and birds. The visit was $18 per person and we went on a guided hike through the beautiful area. Before the hike started our guide drove us up to the top of the canopy over the most intense road I have ever been on. Our side by side would not have had the power to make it up this mountain, over boulders and through deep crevices…but his vehicle did.
Once on the hike, we had stunning view back down to San Juan del Sur to the west, and to Ometepe Island in Lake Nicaragua to the east. We saw lots of birds, hundreds of butterflies, one sleepy sloth, one shy tarantula, monkeys and learned about flora. It was a great learning opportunity.
5. Lunch with a Local Family and Mountain Pool
Possibly the best thing we did in all of Nicaragua was on the second day of our side by side rental. Again through Pacific Adventuras and with our same favorite guide Cesar, we drove an hour and a half south, nearly to the Costa Rica border. Most of this drive was on long, dusty, rocky terrain, through rivers and dry creek beds.
Eventually we arrived at our destination, the home of a local family in a very remote area. Robin, the owner of the land, took us on a hike up to a waterfall (not much water this time of year), but the natural pool was not dry and we took a refreshing dip. The hike was a bit challenging, but since we hike a lot we didn’t have any trouble. Only once my husband had to give me a hind side push to get me up a rock. It was really remarkable to be out in the middle of nowhere and see the geology, nature and way of life.
After our hike we returned to Robin’s home where his wife had prepared a simple yet delicious lunch for us made 100% from staples they grow or make on their beautiful property. Their farm includes cows, goats, pigs, chickens, and turkeys, as well as rice, beans, vegetables, fruit and more. What a wonderful day that was.
This part of Nicaragua has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The beach in San Juan del Sur itself is nice, but the prettiest beaches are north and south of the town. As mentioned above we hiked to two beaches. Then the days we had the side by side we set out to visit several more that are too far to walk to from SJDS. Over the two days we visited the surfer beach of Playa Maderas, where we watched the amateur and first-time surfers give it a go.
We also spent several hours at Playa Hermosa, one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. You might recognize it because Survivor Nicaragua 2010 was filmed right here. At that time it was just an empty gorgeous beach, close enough to SJDS town for the crew’s needs. Today though, Playa Hermosa has a lovely restaurant and some hotel rooms too. It’s $3 to enter and the relaxing hammocks and beach chairs made it a favorite of mine.
On day two of our vehicle rental and after our waterfall hike we stopped to check out two more astonishing beaches in the far south part of the region. Ostional Beach is a local fishing village beach and Playa Coco is a beautiful beach that is also home to a turtle hatchery. I recommend both of these.
Through social media we met a woman from Washington State who connected with us. She lives here half of the year (like many Americans and tons of Canadians). She was so kind to pick us up and take us to some more beaches we would not have seen without her assistance. We had beers and also went out to dinner. Gracias to our new friend!
We also spent one day at Hush Resort located at Playa Maderas. We decided to take a class at Hush in the morning (a holistic tapping class) and then spent the day enjoying the pool and restaurant at this beautiful resort overlooking this stunning beach.
7. Shops with the Locals
To get our food supplies we had to shop a couple times a week. We found a favorite produce vendor, a favorite fishmonger, a favorite bakery and a favorite carneceria (butcher). On shopping days we would head out with our backpack and reusable shopping bags and gather what we needed. There is one store (Pali) that could be defined as a “super” market, but it wasn’t very super and I didn’t love it. Not to mention the fact that it’s not locally owned (owned by Walmart). So, we were much more inclined to make the effort to visit the small businesses in town to get our supplies. Plus it’s fun, when you aren’t in any hurry why not?
There is also a small mercado. We did get some produce here as well, and went in search of a colander when we discovered there was not one in our condo. We found exactly what we needed.
On two occasions we visited one of several tiny pharmacies in the town for sunscreen, Benadryl, and a new hairbrush. I was hoping to find a hair dryer, as surprisingly our condo did not have one. But apparently we would need to go to the bigger city of Rivas for that kind of thing. I managed four weeks without a hair dryer.
8. Excellent Restaurants
We did not eat out very often, using the kitchen in our condo most days. But we did discover some delicious little gems in this town over the four-plus weeks we were here and they certainly fall into Eight Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua. There are many more but here are our recommendations;
IKAL – we watched the Super Bowl here and enjoyed a giant burger
Rockys Dough – found this delicious little donut shop and I had to give it a try
Dale Pues – a favorite local spot is kind of hidden but we enjoyed a good meal here
El Timon – we had Valentine’s Day dinner here and ordered the giant seafood platter for two
The Beach House – right on the beach, the top restaurant in SJDS, the sushi was our favorite
Rancho Tere – the restaurant where we took our cooking classes is a very popular local spot with excellent local food.
And still more restaurants…
The Art Warehouse – natural foods restaurant; I had a vegan bowl that was one of the best I’ve ever had.
Sabores de mi Patio – this brand new hidden little neighborhood joint was super delicious and inexpensive. We really enjoyed the food and the service.
Pizza House SJDS – located in the building where our condo is, this tiny place serves a delicious pie.
Nachos – this is were we ate with our new friend from Washington. It was cheap and delicious.
Tuanis – not in downtown but an easy walk out at the port this very popular spot for food and nightlife has the most amazing BBQ plate on Sundays. So glad we got here on our final night. Delicious.
Gastro Garden – a fun hidden garden that is a food court. Perfect for groups or if you want to taste some international options. Pizza, Thai, BBQ, sushi and more.
Pico’s Po’Boy – this tiny shop opened in our building while we were here and it has delicious sandwiches
Mammamia – We probably never would have eaten here if we hadn’t gotten a recommendation. Teeny little hole in the wall with pasta and pizza but the bread was incredible!! Order the bruschetta.
Indio del Sur – popular breakfast and lunch spot we enjoyed the Nica Tipico $4
Hush Maderas where we took the Tapping class had a really good menu and we ate delicious Dorado (Mahi Mahi) This beautiful plate was only $11.
Simon Says – we only had coffee here one morning but the menu looked really good and the garden is a lovely hidden gem.
The Hip – A little taste of Canada (for all the Canadian expats) and we had a wonderful fresh salad here.
We stumbled on the Nicaragua Craft Beer Co. so of course we had to visit there too. Outstanding beer! We did the tasting menu and had some appetizers too.
Things to Know Before You Go
What’sApp is the way to communicate here, like many countries. Although What’sApp is not that popular in the USA, when you travel you should definitely have it on your phone. It’s used for reservations, taxis and general communication.
The local currency is the Cordoba, and we try to operate in the local currency but US dollars are widely accepted and also available at the ATM. Credit cards are also accepted at many places.
We don’t recommend renting a car because there are often police stops to check insurance etc. If you don’t speak fluent Spanish that can be a problem. When we rented the Side by Side we were ready for this possibility but it didn’t happen. Taxis and tourism transport vehicles are abundant. Also, on the rural roads people drive really fast, but on the city streets and highways they seem to keep the speed down. But they love to pass!!
Neither of us are fluent in Spanish but we know enough to get by. There is less English spoken here than in many places we have been. After almost three months in Central America (with another month to go) our Espanol has improved tremendously. Agradecida por la oportunidad. Muy Bien.
Don’t drink the water. Filtered water is widely available.
Know your ability as far as the surf. It is strong. Don’t go in if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are lots of surfing classes for beginners. Check out Casa Oro. And don’t swim in the river. Crocodiles. ‘Nuf said.
While in SJDS I had my teeth cleaned. Nicaragua has a lot of dental tourism, though not as much as Costa Rica. I had an implant done in Costa Rica (read about it here) several years ago and so I had no fear in having a cleaning here. They did a wonderful job at Forever Smiles and it was only $50.
Why You Should Consider San Juan del Sur
Although I sound like a broken record, I am surprised how many Americans flock to Mexico and Costa Rica but avoid Nicaragua and Guatemala. Mexico and Costa Rica have vastly more violence, including against tourists. Nicaragua’s issues are primarily political, and a tourist sees little of this. The main issue for visitors is petty crimes, crimes of opportunity when you don’t protect your belongings, and theft which occasionally involves weapons.
I am writing this on the day the shootings occurred at Michigan State University back in the USA. These random acts of gun violence have become so common place in the USA, and yet we are conditioned to think Nicaragua is more violent! You can travel safely and inexpensively in San Juan del Sur, with caution and preparation just as you would for any other destination. And you will love it. I personally would even consider living here.
Eight Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua
Thank you for reading my post Eight Fun Things to do in San Juan del Sur Nicaragua.
If you are even an occasional follower of this blog or my social sites you know I love food! And even more than eating, I love to learn about local foods while I am traveling. Some of our all-time most rewarding experiences in our travels have been engaging with locals, learning to cook regional food. During our recent visit to San Juan del Sur we thoroughly enjoyed a Nicaragua Cooking Class. Let’s talk about it.
What is Nicaraguan Cuisine
Although it has some similarities to Mexican cuisine, we found the delicious foods of Nicaragua more similar to Guatemala. One of my all time favorite cooking classes was in Antiqua Guatemala. In that class we used a lot of the same ingredients that we see here in Nicaragua; beans, rice, corn, onions, chicken, plantains, yucca and pico de gallo. And Nicaraguan coffee is also much like Guatemalan coffee…one of my favorites.
San Juan del Sur
We spent a month in San Juan del Sur, a Pacific Coast beach town about an hour’s drive from Granada. On arrival I did some research and found a local tour operator called Pacific Adventuras that offered several tours in the San Juan del Sur area, including a Nicaragua cooking class. So of course we signed up right away!
Rancho Tere, Escamequito
We were picked up in San Juan del Sur by Chef July, who owns Rancho Tere Restaurant with her family in the small town of Escamequita about 20 minutes from San Juan del Sur. July speaks very little English, so we also had Cesar with us as an interpreter. He is actually studying at the university in Managua every Sunday to improve his English. We had a wonderful time practicing English and Spanish through the day.
When we signed up for the Nicaruagua cooking class we requested to learn about vigoron, one of Nicaragua’s most loved dishes. It consists of a cabbage salad, boiled yucca, and chicharron, all wrapped in a banana leaf. This dish is often eaten without utensils, and it is frequently served to visiting family and guests, as it is generally easily and quickly prepared. Wikipedia. So Chef July was eager to share this popular dish with us, and she also chose to share with us how to make tostone.
Tostone is a dish we had eaten several times since arriving in Nicaragua and we loved it. The word tostone refers to the twice fried plantains that serve as a vessel for toppings such as cheese, meat and pico de gallo.
Nicaraguan food is made from simple, local, fresh and easily accessible ingredients. Honestly isn’t that the way all good food should be made? Chef July introduced us to yucca. We actually have eaten yucca before, but never worked with it in a recipe. It is a staple food in many Central American countries as it is cheap and easily accessible. It has a consistency very much like potato.
For the vigoron we placed the boiled yucca in a bowl (often served on a banana leaf) then topped it with a cabbage salad very finely grated and mixed with lemon juice. Next topped with delicious homemade pico de gallo made from fresh tomato, green pepper, and a new ingredient to me, called culantro. Culantro is similar to cilantro, but a much bigger leaf. It’s always fun to learn about something new. The last ingredient for vigoron is the chicharron, a popular snack food, which we call in the United States pork rinds.
The entire dish took about 20 minutes to make and it was very filling and delicious. And also pretty.
Another very common ingredient in Central American and Caribbean cuisine is plantain. Did you know there are more than 1000 varieties of bananas? The plantain is a firmer and less sweet variety used mostly for cooking. If you read our blog post about Granada, we ate a delicious hamburger in Granada that used a plantain tostone bun. So yummy.
To make the twice cooked tostone you first cook the plantain chunks in deep oil for about three minutes. Next using a towel so you won’t burn yourself you smash the chunks into disks with your hands, then fry them again in the oil. This is the tostone. We then fried the delicious local queso (that has a high melting point) and placed each piece on top of the tostone disks, topped with pico de gallo. So, so delicious. You can also top a tostone with meat, beans, avocado…lots of yummy things.
This dish was easy and delicious. Don’t try this with regular bananas though, you need the firmer plantains. It is possible to find plantains in the USA, sometimes at supermarkets but also at Latino markets.
Fat and Happy
We really enjoyed our cooking class at Rancho Tere. In fact we are planning to go again and learn some more delicious local foods. Because spending time with locals, learning their foods and customs, is the best part of our Grand Adventure and My Fab Fifties Life. We loved our Nicaragua Cooking Class. Muy Bien.
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