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South & Central America Travel

    South & Central America Travel

    Twelve Things To Do On Roatan for Non-Divers

    Roatan Island Honduras

    Location: Roatan Honduras

    Diving is king here on this tropical island, in the Caribbean, just off the coast of Honduras. But if you are not a diver, there are still lots of things to do. Whether you are here for a long snowbird stay or just for a brief visit from a cruise ship, take a look at our Twelve Things To Do On Roatan for Non-Divers.

    This is my honest opinion on the things we did during our five weeks in Roatan, Honduras.

    Roatan Sunset

    Take an Island Tour

    One of our most favorite things was a full island, full day tour of Roatan. If you only have one day this might not be for you, but those staying longer definitely should do this. We booked with Omar Tourist Transportation and our driver Dario was amazing. We discussed the things we were interested in seeing and he made sure we saw those and much more. He also took us to the most amazing place for lunch, an out-of-the-way, over-the-water spot with delicious food called La Sirena. We would never have known about that without Dario. One of our favorites of our twelve things to do on Roatan for non-divers.

    Island Tour

    Daniel Johnson’s Sloth Hangout

    I really wanted to hold a sloth. I know this is against some people’s beliefs, but for me, it was on my bucket list. So on our full day island tour we stopped at Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hangout in French Caye. There are other things to do at Daniel Johnson’s but I was only there for the sloths, so we were in and out quickly. There are many tours to Daniel Johnson’s or you can arrive on your own and entrance fee is $12.

    Hanging with Sloths

    West End Snorkel Tour

    We booked a snorkel day right in West End where we were staying with Roatan Tour Guide Association. Dani runs Roatan Tour Guide Association and he was great. He took seriously my concerns about my motion sickness (something I have dealt with my entire life) and created a tour just for me. The coral reef that surrounds Roatan is part of the second biggest in the world (the MesoAmerican Reef) and it really was a wonderful thing to see…and all the fish too. Definitely work with Dani.

    Snorkel in West End

    West Bay Beaches

    We took one day to visit West Bay. It’s very different than West End where we were staying. West Bay is home to many resorts along a long sandy white beach. It’s very pretty but also crowded so if you want a beach spot arrive early. Personally I am glad we stayed in West End and not West Bay.

    West Bay Beach

    Water Taxi Between West End and West Bay

    Whether you are staying in West Bay or West End, you should take the water taxi just for fun. It’s five dollars one way and a great way to get out on the water and see the island. It’s also a great service to get between the two small towns; West End which has more restaurants and shops and West Bay which has more resorts and a bigger beach.

    On the water taxi

    Gumbalimba Adventure Park

    Okay I didn’t love this place, but it had a few fun moments. Lots of cruise groups come here but it was pretty quiet the day we visited. You start with a guided tour learning about flora. Next some rather outdated dioramas of the history of the island. Then you get to see animals which I really enjoyed. Giant iguanas, beautiful scarlet macaws (the national bird of Honduras) and white faced monkeys. If you want to hold the monkey or birds the guides will help make this happen. These animals are wild, but know to come to the guides and they will get a treat.

    We also spent a little time on the beach here…chairs were not in great condition, nor was the restrooms. We ordered a hamburger and it was awful. Entrance fee of $35 seemed really expensive for this rundown Gumbalimba Adventure Park.

    Scarlet Macaw at Gumbalimba

    Carambola Botanical Gardens

    We took the local “bus” three miles from West End to Carambola Botanical Gardens. Their website is not very well maintained, but the gardens were fun to see, if you like natural sites like this. I do and so we went. You can also hike up to the top of the mountain on a poorly maintained trail for a beautiful view.

    Hiking in Carambola

    Take a Cooking Class

    We found a lovely local lady who came to our condo and we cooked Honduran food together. We booked this class through Viator Cook With a Local. First we went to the market to get all our ingredients which was fun. Then we spent two hours prepping, cooking and eating a delicious meal. It was a wonderful day. Definitely request Karla if you do this class. She was wonderful.

    Cooking with Karla

    Make and Eat Chocolate

    There are two chocolate making facilities in the West End and we visited both Mayan and Roatan. Roatan Chocolate Factory was very close to where we were staying and we stopped there several times to get some things from their bakery. Then on my birthday I decided to spend a couple of hours in a chocolate making class. This is something I have never done before and I really enjoyed it – especially since the earlier class that day was big for the cruise crowd but in my class I was the only one. And of course I got to eat what I made. $40 if you book direct, it’s a lot more expensive if you go with a tour group. I really enjoyed this activity, and my guide Jackson was amazing.

    Making chocolate

    Overnight Visit to Utila

    We took the ferry to the small island of Utila for two nights, just to see what that was all about. It is very tiny and very focused on diving BUT we had an awesome morning of snorkeling so I am so glad we went. I saw lots of things I’ve never encountered snorkeling before including a gorgeous Eagle Ray, a Reef Shark and a Puffer Fish. There a many, many places to stay…but don’t expect luxury. Our simple and a bit run down hotel Coral View Beach Resort was clean, and the bar and food was excellent. We snorkeled right off their dock.

    Snorkeling right off the dock at Coral View Resort (Mainland Honduras in the distance)

    Visit Microbrewery

    A bit out of the way but definitely worth it is the Roatan Island Brewing Company. Only open 11am-5pm Wed – Sunday, they serve an excellent selection of their own microbrew (changes regularly), superb food too, all under a beautiful palm canopy. A must visit.

    Happy Hubs at Roatan Island Brewing

    Try Some Local Foods

    We always love to eat – and on the island of Roatan we had some wonderful local foods. You definitely need to try Conch while visiting. Available in different preparations, we enjoyed Conch fritters and especially Conch Ceviche.

    Conch Ceviche

    As you might suspect, being an island, seafood is abundant. The shrimp here was the best I have had anywhere in the world! We also tried Lionfish for the first time. You will find lots of Grouper, Red Snapper, Wahoo (Ono) and sometimes tuna available.

    Coconut Shrimp

    Two local specialties we fell in love with. Baleadas are a Honduran specialty. Like a very big taco, but the tortilla is much thicker and soft. A baleada always has beans and queso. Then you add your protein. Super cheap and super delicious. We tried pollo, pastor, and egg and avocado.

    Baleada
    Cheesy Pupusa

    The next local specialty I LOVED was the pupusa. Native to both Honduras and El Salvador, we first had these on our visit to El Salvador a few years ago. The ones we had here in Roatan were fresh made to order. They are like a corn cake filled with lots of yummy goodness. Just amazing.

    As I mentioned above, you must eat the locally made chocolate from wild cacao trees while you are here. So good.

    Twelve Things To Do On Roatan for Non-Divers

    Though not as upscale as Maui or some other tropical destinations, Roatan has many activities to enjoy even if you don’t dive. So hopefully this post Twelve Things to do on Roatan for Non-Divers helps you see why you should visit this hidden gem in the Caribbean.

    Next week we will have another post about West End, Roatan.

    See last week’s post Fearless Travel – Conquering Your Fear

    See our Sixth Annual Travel Awards 2022 here.

    See this week’s top performing post here Maui on a Budget.

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    North America Travel  --  South & Central America Travel

    Relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico

    Location: Puerto Escondido Oaxaca Mexico

    We really were looking for somewhere to relax and enjoy some quiet time, after a whirlwind week in Mexico City. I had heard good things about the state of Oaxaca but we had never visited. I didn’t want to go to another big city after being in Mexico City, so we settled on the small town of Puerto Escondido. Here is what we did during our 17 days relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico.

    Sunset Puerto Escondido
    The Beach near our Airbnb

    Where is Puerto Escondido

    Oaxaca
    The State of Oaxaca

    Located on the Pacific Coast in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, it’s 246km from the city of Oaxaca and you can drive it in about four hours. However, a new highway will open soon and will cut that time in half. We flew from Mexico City on Viva Aerobus. The flight was about 50 minutes.

    History of Puerto Escondido

    Though pre-hispanic peoples lived in this region from time to time, the area was not really settled permanently until the 1930’s due to lack of fresh water. The word Escondido means hidden, and refers to an ancient story of a captive Mexican woman escaping and hiding in the jungle from her pirate captors.

    Puerto Escondido
    Puerto Escondido shopping area

    Today it is one of the most popular beach and surfing destinations for both Mexicans and international travelers. But prior to tourism the mountains around the town were known for coffee growing and the port was used to ship coffee.

    Mexican coffee
    Coffee roasting in Puerto Escondido

    Surfer’s Paradise

    We found the area home to the surfer crowd, much younger than us. We had no interest in surfing or partying, but there is a lot of that going on. Since the crowd is young, there is plenty of inexpensive lodging and dining available too. Parts of the area are very rural…sometimes I felt like I was in Southeast Asia, and sometimes it even felt like third world Africa. But we always felt safe and finding our way on foot with Google maps always worked. There are plenty of taxis too.

    Zicatela Surfers
    Zicatela Beach

    We noticed a lot of construction of condos and mansions being built on rough dirt and nearly impassable roads. We learned Europeans are coming here in droves and buying or building second homes because it is so inexpensive. Like in so many places, this is displacing locals and causing them to move further from town.

    Zicatela
    Beautiful homes on horrible roads

    Villa Tortuga

    Villa Tortuga
    Villa Tortuga lap pool

    We found a beautiful villa through Airbnb called Villa Tortuga located several miles from the actual town of Puerto Escondido and 2 miles to the small surfing village of Zicatela. The villas were beautiful, comfortable and with a view. Our villa included daily housekeeping and our housekeeper Mary also did some shopping and cooking for us and did our laundry. However, we found on the weekend even Villa Tortuga attracted a younger (and noisier) crowd. Listening to other people’s loud music doesn’t fit into my fab fifties life. We really loved the lap pool and the larger pool at the beach about a five minute walk from our villa. The waves are really big so we didn’t swim in the ocean, but sitting ocean side by the pool was our favorite thing to do. Airbnb $150 USD before tax.

    Villa Tortuga
    Villa Tortuga

    A Couple Things To Do

    Since our goal was to just spend time relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico we really didn’t do much else. However we did take an informative and delicious Food Tour with Puerto Food Tours – cost $60 USD per person.

    Fresh Tortilla
    Food Tour

    Our favorite activity was a Mezcal Distillery tour we took with Puerta Mezcal Tours. Owner Antoine was excellent and shared his enthusiasm for Puerto Escondido and Mezcal with our group of six at Ruu Piiil Distillery in Zicatela. I learned so much and we tasted eleven different Mezcals! $59 USD per person.

    Puerto Mezcal Tours
    Ruu Piiil Mezcal

    We found it safe to run in the morning although most of the time we were on dusty roads. One time I had to wait while the goats (and a very small goat herder) took up the entire road.

    Goats in the road
    Goat Traffic Jam

    We also walked to lunch in Zicatela at Savanna one day (about 2 and half miles from our villa) and took a taxi to another popular restaurant called Agua Sala. We had great meals at each – neither have websites.

    Enmoledas
    Delicious Enmoleadas for Lunch at Savanna

    We walked to tiny shops and tortilla stand close to our villa to get simple supplies for cooking at home. We walked one day to the Zicatella Mercado about 2.5 miles. We picked up some produce and had a nice coffee and croissant with a view.

    Zicatela Mercado
    Croissant with a view

    Relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico

    There is more to do here if you are so inclined…hiking, shopping, lots of street food and restaurants. There are cooking classes and surfing lessons and snorkeling tours, as well as whale watching. A popular activity is releasing baby turtles into the wild that have been hatched in a turtle nursery.

    Pool
    At the pool

    It’s a sweet place with a quaint vibe and awesome weather. We paid more than we needed to for our Airbnb, but generally everything else is dirt cheap. I can see why the young people love it…and it’s not too bad for us oldies either. There are many options to stay busy or pursue our goal of relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico.

    Barro Beach

    Looking to chill? I recommend relaxing in Puerto Escondido Mexico. Muy Bien.

    See last week’s blog post about Eating My Way Through Mexico City.

    Check out our YouTube video about Eating Local Mexico City.

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    Please Note – No Travel Friday blog for the next two weeks. We wish you a pleasant and safe holiday wherever you are and however you celebrate. Hoping for a joyful and safe 2022 with less strife and fewer travel restrictions. Thank you for your continued support. Stay safe. All the best!

    North America Travel  --  South & Central America Travel

    Eating My Way Through Mexico City

    Location: Mexico City Mexico

    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.

    Grapefruit and Tequila

    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.

    Breakfast at The Red Tree House
    The Red Tree House

    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.

    Brisket Tacos
    Amazing Corn

    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.

    Habanera

    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.

    Frida Kahlo

    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.

    Tongue Tacos
    Pork Sandwich

    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.

    Gringas Quesidilla
    Pulque Agave Sap

    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.

    Hipster Ahi Taco
    Hipster Chinese Taco
    Cactus Ceviche
    Mezcal

    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.

    The best tamale I have ever had
    Slow cooked Mole

    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.

    Muchos Gracias Mexico City. What a delight!

    See last week’s post Winter Hiking Road Trip Through Utah and Arizona

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    South & Central America Travel

    Seven Things to do in Punta Cana Dominican Republic

    On a Budget

    Location: Punta Cana Dominican Republic

    We spent twelve days relaxing and mostly lounging around our Airbnb pool in Punta Cana Dominican Republic.  Many days we never left the apartment…enjoying the sun, reading and just kicking back. That was really what we wanted to do.

    We were staying in the wonderful residential community of Puntacana Village, a gated, friendly and

    Playa Blanca

    beautiful neighborhood.  We loved the neighborhood for running (nice and flat and beautiful) and for the easy walk to restaurants and shopping.  We didn’t need much more than that.  But during our visit we also discovered some fun businesses to patronize and places see in the general area, both with and without a car.

    So if you are thinking about visiting Punta Cana, and are considering the less expensive option of not staying in a beachfront resort, we can recommend Puntacana Village and the following;

    1. Puntacana Village Shuttle – we used this shuttle several times from the Four Point Hotel at Puntacana Village.  The shuttle goes into to the beachfront gated resort area with several stops including the Westin Resort and Playa Blanca.  It’s free and runs every 30 minutes.
    2. Playa Blanca – using the shuttle to arrive at this beachfront restaurant and bar is the perfect start

      Altos de Chavon

      to a great day at the beach.  Playa Blanca has lounge chairs available for guests.  Just order a drink or two, maybe lunch, and the lounge chairs are free.  We enjoyed this beach three times and recommend it over the higher priced Westin.

    3. Altos de Chavon – renting a car one day we drove the hour and a half to the La Ramana region and Altos de Chavon. Altos de Chavón is a re-creation of a Mediterranean style European village located atop the Chavón River in La Romana, Dominican Republic. It is the most popular attraction in the city and hosts a cultural center, an archeological museum, and an amphitheater.  It was really beautiful and we enjoyed just walking around and having lunch.
    4. La Yola Restaurant – hands down the best meal we had in the DR and actually in all of the time we were in Central America and the Caribbean.  La Yola situated right on the water was superb in

      La Yola

      every way – beautiful waterside setting in a spectacularly designed open-air beach-themed building.  The service was impeccable.  The roving quartet a nice touch. The prices were reasonable.  But the best part – the delicious, locally sourced and freshly prepared food.  My red snapper was the best I have ever had.

    5. La Casita de Yeya Restaurant – not fancy but oh so delicious, this locally owned restaurant in Punta Cana Village gave us the opportunity to taste several authentic Caribbean/Dominican Republic dishes including Mofo, pork, stew and plantains.

      La Casita de Yeya

    6. Nadia’s Bike Tour/ Garota Tours – we met Nadia in the village and spent two hours riding around on bikes she provided us for our tour.  She showed us all over Punta Cana, giving us a peek into places, and resorts and neighborhoods we would not have even known were there.  We enjoyed this activity very much.
    7. Ananda Yoga – During our visit I took yoga classes on four morning at Ananada Yoga studio, right in Punta Cana Village.  The classes were excellent andprofessionally led by a bi-lingual instructor.  The tiny and very personal studio requires advance reservations.

    We enjoyed the small part of the Dominican Republic we were able to see.  I hope we can return again when we can travel farther afield on the island nation and enjoy a bit more diverse and authentic

    Our bike tour with Nadia

    Dominican Republic.

    Muchos Gracias!

     

     

     

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    South & Central America Travel

    I Left My Heart in Guatemala

    Dejé Mi Corazón en Guatemala

    Location: Guatemala

    Entirely unexpected.  Completely beautiful.  So much better than I imagined.

    Dear Guatemala.  You had me at Hola!  I hated to say good-bye.  I left my heart in Guatemala.

    Once again, I approached another Central American country with apprehension, based solely on the information on the U.S. State Department website.  I should know by now not to allow that to sway me totally. I should heed the warnings for sure, and carry on with caution.

    Yes, Guatemala has some dangers just like every other country I have been too (and the USA too).  Pick

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Livingston

    pockets are a problem, although we did not have an issue.  Like always, whether in Central America, Europe or anywhere else in the world we are cautious.  There are definitely some horrendous violent crimes, rarely against foreigners.  Unless you go looking for trouble.  Smart and cautious travel with guides when possible is the best way in this country. Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world, and yet there is a small population who hold extreme wealth while the rest suffer. There are some other issues in Guatemala, particularly government corruption.  However this is not something the average visitor will see.  The only thing we saw was one entry fee into the town of Panajachel that was illegal.  We also ended up paying twice for our boat on Lake Atitlan because the first guy was a scam.  This ended up costing us an additional $6.50.  Small problems – other than that we found the

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Semana Santa

    country no more dangerous than anywhere we have been.

    And the positives certainly outweighed the negatives.  In fact, I would put Guatemala in my top list of favorite places I have been.  And that is saying an awful lot.  Yes I left my heart in Guatemala.

    So Guatemala how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways;

    1. I love Antigua, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to.  Being there for the beginning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) was an incredible experience.  Although I am not Catholic, the Palm

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Antigua

      Sunday spectacle we witnessed was so full of tradition, majesty, history and faith I was incredibly moved.  I think I became Catholic for a day.  We have had similar experiences in other places around the world where faith is such an important part of everyday life.  On the Camino de Santiago in Spain, in New Delhi India, in Istanbul Turkey, in Seoul South Korea.  A few examples of the places where we felt privileged to witness how faith, history and community converge.  Additionally Antigua offers gorgeous scenery, delicious food and incredible history.  Seeing lava spewing from the active volcano Fuego was a definite highlight. We enjoyed two tours with Antigua Tours and my cooking class with La Tortilla was a highlight.  I hope to visit again.

    2. I love Lake Atitlan.  Here we spent a week enjoying the beauty of Guatemala, and not doing much else.  It was one of the more peaceful places I have been in the world; a crater lake surrounded by three beautiful extinct volcanoes.  The small villages surrounding the lake are each named after one of the apostles.  We spent our time in San Marcos, a teeny village known for its holistic

      Our view Lake Atitlan

      offerings, yoga, health food and hippies.  Our airbnb was one of the most unique we have ever had…a cave dwelling nestled into the cliff.  Memorable for sure.  We hiked and swam and did yoga every day.  Heaven on earth.

    3. I love Flores.  We went to Flores so we could visit the Mayan ruins of Tikal, about an hour and a half drive north.  Tikal was amazing…but the tiny town of Flores was such a pleasant surprise.  Situated on a tiny island in Lake Petenitza, the tiny town is colorful, historic, beautiful and yummy.  The town dates back to the 1400’s.  We enjoyed the very warm weather here and a highlight was a private boat tour of the very large and beautiful lake.  Muy bien.

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Flores

    4. I love Rio Dulce.  The region known as Rio Dulce encompasses Livingston on the Caribbean coast (Livingston is only accessible by boat) to the town of Rio Dulce on Lake Izabal.  A gorgeous stretch of water known as the Rio Dulce connects the two.  Our boat ride from Livingston to Rio Dulce was stunning as we

      Lake Izabal, Rio Dulce

      wound our way in an open boat through the narrow gorge, through which the Rio Dulce drains into the Caribbean.  Although VERY rustic, our accommodations in Rio Dulce served us well, and had some of the BEST Mexican food we have ever had.  From our tiny cabin in the marsh we took excursions to the ancient Castillo San Felipe de Lara, to the Agua Caliente waterfall known as El Paraiso and to the beautiful Boqueron Canyon, where we spent several solitary hours deep in the canyon on a beautiful sunny day.  We also learned the very humble ways of the

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      El Parisio Rio Dulce

      Guatemalan people and their use of the collectivos for transportation and saw our first manatee in the wild, although not as close up as we would have liked.

    5. I love a challenge. It’s a challenge getting around Guatemala, as it is still a developing country.  But some of those challenges made for memorable moments.  As mentioned above the collectivo experience in Rio Dulce was certainly unforgettable, riding in a van made for 12 with 23 other people.  During our time here we

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Many boats

      road in twelve different boats, mostly for transportation, but a couple for pleasure.  We also hired a driver for a private shuttle three times, and through that experience met a wonderful Guatemalan man named Alejandro who we hope to see again some day.  We felt safe in all of these situations and enjoyed the experience.  My least enjoyable experience was the plane ride from Flores to Guatemala city in a small 20 seat plane.  I got sick on this very bumpy and diesel-smelling ride.  Ugh.

    6. I love a bargain.  Guatemala is cheap.  Although we spent money on private shuttles, we could have  gone with less expensive non-private shuttles or public transportation known as chicken busses. We used the kitchens in our airbnb’s when possible, but eating in restaurants was very inexpensive

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Marsh cabin Rio Dulce

      and all the food we ate was amazing, fresh and local.  Our accommodations have ranged from $30 to $100 a night.  We loved our Antigua Airbnb for $80 a night and our spectacular Airbnb in San Marcos with lake view was $75 a night.  In Rio Dulce we paid $30 and Livingston was $70.  We ended up spending $100 a night at a Ramada in Flores after the hotel we booked was CLOSED on arrival.  That was something that had never happened before.  But all in all Guatemala is one of the least expensive countries of our travels. The gorgeous textiles made by the indigenous Mayan people are so inexpensive, buying the same thing online would cost five times as much. Alas my suitcase it too small…

    7. I love Guatemalan coffee.  Guatemala is known for its coffee, and I have to agree…it is now possibly my favorite coffee of the world.  Dark, rich and very flavorful, I am a convert.  Guatemala is also

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Coffee with Volcano view

      known for its chocolate.  Although I am not a big consumer of chocolate, the samples of chocolate I had were exceptional.  The Maya used cacao as currency once upon a time. More valuable than gold.

    8. I loved the people.  Everyone we met (except for the one guy who ripped us off $6.50) was amazing.  Few people spoke English and we actually enjoy being forced to expand our limited Spanish knowledge.  Many people however also didn’t speak Spanish, as the Maya who are my generation mostly only spoke their native tongue.  I loved the shy and traditional Maya, especially the beautiful women in their traditional dress.  These are not costumes but how they dress everyday.  The Guatemalan people

      I left my heart in Guatemala

      Mayan women, San Marcos

      were all very private yet friendly, hard working and religious, welcoming and helpful.  We enjoyed being a part of their culture and community.

    So I left my heart in Guatemala.  Possibly my favorite Central American country.  Of course our time in Mal Pais in Costa Rica ranks VERY high.  But Guatemala you are special.  Unique. Beautiful. If you have

    I left my heart in Guatemala

    Mayan women selling palms

    every considered visiting Guatemala you should do it.  And do it soon.  Supporting these developing countries through tourism is the least we can do, especially since America’s abandoning Guatemala after funding of guerrilla warfare during the civil war has caused much of the current economic situation Guatemala suffers.

    Guatemala’s upcoming elections could be a turning point for the country…but perhaps things will stay the same, and the slow climb out of the devastation from a two-decade civil war will continue at a snail’s pace.

    We hope for the best for this country and its beautiful people, where we have left our heart.  We will be back.

    God speed Guatemala.

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    South & Central America Travel

    Learning About Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Location: Central America

    Cultural Travel

    San Andres, El Salvador

    Exploring and learning about ancient cultures is one of the most rewarding things about travel.  Cultivating an understanding of the powerful communities that came before our own, helps us appreciate both historic and modern-day social structures.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

    It’s one of the reasons I so often encourage travelers to seek out these experiences and adventures.  Sure, go to the beach, enjoy that Margarita, go snorkeling.  But don’t miss the opportunity when traveling to grasp something about the majesty of the ground you are standing on and the hundreds of generations of people who have walked it, worked it, became part of it in their end.

     

     

    Cradle of Civilization

    Caracol, Belize

    Xunantunich, Belize

    We have spent the last four months in Central America, where several amazing cultures played a significant role, long before the Spanish arrived.  One of the most ancient of these was the Maya people.  Considered one of the six “cradles of civilization” world-wide, the Central American countries of Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and El Salvador were home to this fascinating civilization.  To clarify the term Cradle of Civilization, here is Wikipedia’s explanation;

    “The term cradle of civilization has frequently been applied to a variety of cultures and areas, in particular the Ancient Near Eastern Chalcolithic (Ubaid period) and Fertile Crescent, Ancient India and Ancient China. It has also been applied to ancient Anatolia, the Levant and Iranian plateau, and used to refer to culture predecessors—such as Ancient Greece as the predecessor of Western civilization.”

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Altun Ha, Belize

    Our travels have taken us to ancient lands of Egypt, Jordan, India and Bangladesh.  We have also learned fascinating ancient history about Eastern Europe, Northern and Eastern Africa, China, Southeast Asia, and Greece.  And so it was with great interest that I began to understand that right here in Central America another great civilization thrived.

     

    The Maya People

    But before I go on please understand that Maya is a living culture. More than half the population of present day Guatemala are Mayan.  Though the ancient civilization communities are no more, the Mayan people continue their traditions.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The oldest Mayan findings are in Belize, dating back to 2600 BC.  Ruins of great civilizations are strewn all around this

    Tikal Guatemala

    region, some excavated, many not.  Archeologists don’t all agree as to what caused the demise of the massive Maya communities in approximately 900 AD (well before the Spanish arrived).  But warfare between cities, over production of the land and drought are all thought to have contributed.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    The Maya people, like many other ancient civilizations, had an advanced calendar, written language and hierarchical social structure.  They were known as great architects (hence so many temples and entire cities still standing), artists, weapon developers and cultivators of the land.  They used the local raw materials in remarkable ways.  In Guatemala the cultivation of the cacao was (and is) important and cacao was used as currency.

    In addition it is known that they believed cacao offered both a cure and a sacrifice, and drinking cacao mixed with blood was a common ritual as was bloodletting.

    Visiting Mayan Ruins

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    During our time in Central America we visited many interesting ruins; two in El Salvador, four in Belize and the granddaddy of all, Tikal (outside the town of Flores) in Guatemala.  Each offered its own perspective on the rich and powerful Maya tribes.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Tikal, Guatemala

    Today Maya people in these countries can trace their ancestry back to these ancient societies and be very proud.  Many local Maya work hard to preserve the culture, arts and traditions and share them with visitors.  However, the Maya, particularly in the poorest countries like Guatemala, struggle. During the Spanish occupation and more recent political unrest the Maya have been continually pushed out of their lands…many to the mountainous regions no one else wanted.  Today you will find them subsisting in agricultural communities in the hard-scrabble rocky soil, or in the more populated cities such as Antigua selling crafts or food products.

    Mayan Cultures of Central America

    Colorful Mayan women at market

    I was particularly struck by the beauty of the Maya women, the colorful traditional clothing they still maintain today and the sense that family, hard work and religion is their life’s priority.

    During my short time in beautiful Central America I have been intrigued and surprised by the beauty of the people and the geography and especially intrigued by the history of the ancient people. Muy Bien! A fabulous experience when visiting Central America.

     

     

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    South & Central America Travel

    A Taste of Expat Life in Placencia, Belize

    Location: Placencia Belize

    It’s a refreshing change being in a place with people our own age.  It’s unusual.  We always find ourselves with younger people.  But here in Placencia, Belize we fit right in; fabulous fifties, retired, North Americans, English speakers.

    A taste of expat life

    Placencia pier

    Placencia is both a true expat village and a North American snow bird village, where Canadian and American retirees are in abundance.

    I’m really enjoying this colorful little Caribbean village.  My favorite town in Belize.  It has a very local vibe

    A taste of expat life

    Colorful

    despite the expat community.  There are significantly more expats than short-term visitors, but still there are many options for lodging for short-term.  Our Airbnb “Ally’s Guesthouse” is great.

    It’s a perfect chance for us to get the feel for what it would be

    A taste of expat life

    The lagoon view at our Airbnb

    like to settle somewhere for six months of the year or longer – something we see as possible in the future.  I could spend half a year here.  Not much to not like about this place.

    Placencia has the best beaches we have seen in Belize; warm water, white sand and clean – despite the sargasso grass that seasonally washes on shore.

    A taste of expat life

    Says it all about Placencia

    As usual we cook in our Airbnb, but Placencia has a nice variety of restaurants.  Our favorites so far include Mr. Que for BBQ where we had a full meal for $5 USD,  Barefoot for toes in the sand beers and De Tatch for seafood.  Hands down the best meal has been  Rumfish, where I unexpectedly had the most delicious beef short ribs. We also love the coffee at Above Grounds and Brewed Awakening, the ice cream at Tuttie Fruitie, and the cinnamon

    A taste of expat life

    Barefoot Restaurant

    rolls at John the Bakerman.

    Our Airbnb is about a mile from the farthest end of town, but the walk is easy and along the way are several excellent grocery stores, many other shops and all the restaurants mentioned above. Placencia is flat as a pancake, so it’s a great place for cycling, walking and a daily run.  But on the other

    Boardwalk

    hand, not a great place during hurricane season.

    There is a concrete boardwalk that runs the full length of town, set about 100 yards from the beach.  The boardwalk runs through a colorful collection of beach cabanas, shops and restaurants.  It’s my favorite place in Placencia.

    A taste of expat life

    Flat & easy for a run or ride

    Though we have spent most of our time doing nothing more than

    reading and swimming, Placencia has great options for sailing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking and more.  We don’t have a car, and you

    A taste of expat life

    De Tatch Restaurant

    don’t need one unless you want to get out-of-town to the Mayan ruins, waterfalls, hiking or other beaches.  For us, our time here in Placencia is just to relax.

    A taste of expat life

    Yummy coffee and shakes

    The locals are a mix of Garifuna, Maya,and Spanish descent.  Placencia population is about 3600. Everyone is friendly and helpful.  It’s a very laid back and casual culture.  Not a day goes by that I have not been offered to buy marijuana.  ‘Hey Mon – one love for da road, dis day? Sista like da weed?”

    No thanks.  I get high everyday just being on this Fab Fifties Life journey. Thanks for following.

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