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    Central America

    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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    Central America

    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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    Central America

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    A Step Back in Time

    Location: Malpais Costa Rica

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    No matter how you spell it, it’s laid back.

     

    Getting here isn’t easy.  We found ourselves bumping along dusty dirt roads on the six-hour drive from Coco Beach.  With each passing mile we were transported back to another time.  A slower time.  Malpais is lost in time.  It’s time to slow down in Malpais Costa Rica.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Rocky beaches

    Long just a fishing and cattle-farming village, Malpais (often spelled Mal Pais) has become popular among surfers and adventure travelers around the world. Recently, Forbes Magazine voted the beaches of Malpais and neighboring Santa Teresa as “One of the ten most beautiful in the world.”

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Our beachfront Airbnb

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Amazing sunsets

    I don’t know if I would put the beaches on my top ten beach list, but I would definitely rank it at the top for sunsets.  Our fabulous little hidden Airbnb offers a spectacular west-facing view of the Pacific and the nightly sunset show is sublime.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Dusty roads

    Malpais means “bad land” or “bad country”, with the name originating from the dry dusty waterless conditions during the summer.  The town of Malpais is teeny, stretching only about 6km from the village of Santa Teresa to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.  Santa Teresa is about 2km from our Airbnb.  Because Malpais is so small (just a tiny convenience store, a church, a school and one restaurant), we walk to Santa Teresa for our groceries and restaurant needs.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Surfer paradise

    This part of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is often referred to as Malpais – inclusive of Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa and Malpais.

    Surfing is now king in the area, taking over from to the old days of farming.  Fishing still also reigns and fresh fish is available most days at the pier. Don’t ask what time though – when the fisherman come.  That’s what time.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

    In Santa Teresa shops and restaurants, hostels and a few hotels cater to the twenty-something surfing crowd.  Young kids outnumber us fabulous fifties 100 to one.  I can’t help wonder where are these kids all from and how do they sustain this lifestyle?

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Tide pools

    There is a long sandy beach at Santa Teresa (where most the surfing takes place) but in Malpais the beach is mostly of unique rock formations pocked with deep holes where both fish and humans soak the day away in the bathtub-like water.  Well, until the tide comes in and covers these pools until the next day.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Tide pool

    No watch needed, your day consists of morning yoga, noon tide pools, dinner following the sunset.  Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody really care?

    What do you do if you aren’t a surfer in Malpais?  Relax. Read. Soak in the pools.  Yoga at sunrise and drink gin and tonic at sunset.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Howler Monkey

    Monkey watching is another favorite pastime.  Howler Monkeys are abundant (and loud) and a family of ten visit our Airbnb often.  White faced monkeys (smaller and squeaky) also make their home in the trees around the area.  There are butterflies and birds galore.  There are iguanas and many other lizards.  A fascinating collection of nature, including wild horses, pass through our little paradise.

    Slow Down in Malpais Costa Rica

    Moctezuma waterfall

    Paddle Boarding

    Fresh catch

    You can hike about 3 miles from Malpais to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve and beach.  Or rent an ATV and go to Moctezuma on the other side of the Nicoya Peninsula and make a visit to the Moctezuma waterfall (a past Sport Illustrated Swimsuit Edition shoot location). Its’ a lot of fun to rent stand up paddle boards and have a fun day out on the water.  Maybe consider a guided beach horse back ride, ziplining or go charter fishing.

    Or you can do nothing at all.  Just slow down in Malpais Costa Rica.  And that’s alright with me.

    Fabuloso!

     

     

     

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