During my stay at Blue Osa, I got the opportunity to learn about one of their special partnerships—the Corcovado School in the nearby community of Puerto Jimenez.
Aren’t they the cutest?
About 20 miles from Blue Osa, Puerto Jimenez is a small, tight-knit community of 1,780 (and growing), known for agriculture, commercial fishing and ecotourism. Nestled at the doorstep of Corcovado National Park, nature and adventure seekers come for the wildlife and adrenaline rush, but many tourists don’t realize the reality of the town.
Largely rural, many jobs are tourism based, which is not entirely positive because at the education level, children are affected. Public education in Costa Rica is based on learning by memorization, and doesn’t teach future generations critical thinking skills or autonomy.
Blue Osa has been working with the local school for some time and hopes to change the face of education on the Osa Peninsula.
Corcovado School is a privately funded school that rose out of the necessity to educate the young population of Puerto Jimenez and covers children in the preschool years up until Grade 6. If you were to meet the students, you’d find kids that are all smiles, curious and interested in the world around them.
The teachers, staff, and advising committee hope to build a school that the local community can be a part of, but also be proud of. Curriculum is place-based learning, which allows the students to experience events, building their self-esteem, confidence and cognitive abilities. Subjects are taught in Spanish and English to give the students a global education since both languages are spoken and utilized in a number of countries.
The truth is Corcovado School is in transition. The students need tools in the form of sponsorships and the teaching and administrative staff requires assistance with infrastructure. The cost to sponsor a child is $3,000 USD per year, which goes directly to their daily needs. Blue Osa is asking for a commitment of six years to sponsor a child, but even one year would make a difference.
If you’ve ever traveled to Costa Rica and fallen in love with it, remember that in many ways its local population is still developing and giving back in equal amounts to what the country gave you would not only feel wonderful, but right.
Want to help this Costa Rica charity? Become a sponsor!
If you want to sponsor a child at the Corcovado School visit the sponsorship page on their website or email them directly at: corcovadoschooldirector(at)gmail.com.
One day: I only had one day in my Costa Rica itinerary to explore San Jose and surrounding areas. After debating between Poas and Irazu Volcano National Park, I finally picked the latter due to its unusual, stark terrain created by its last eruption in 1963.
In fact, scientists and researchers alike called such eruption the “highway from hell,” as they believe it happened due to magma that took a nonstop route from the mantle over just a few months. I knew I would take some stunning pictures there, so I went for it!
What I thought Irazu’s crater would look like… [Photo: Wiki Commons]
Irazu Volcano via Public Transportation
The owner of the Monkey’s Tribe Hostel and fellow Couchsurfer Hazel was gracious enough to take me to Irazu Volcano National Park despite my tight schedule. I was skeptical when she mentioned we were taking public transportation there, I’m not going to lie. Yet, I was wonderfully surprised once at the bus stop! The coach was unusually comfortable, with reclining seats and large picture windows. It was also a pretty direct, stunning route, which made it the best Irazu Volcano tour on a budget.
Cartago panorama enroute to Irazu volcano
To get to Irazu volcano from San Jose, just go to downtown’s Central Avenue: right in front of the National Theather. From there, you will see a bus stop called Volcan Irazu. The first bus leaves at 8 AM every day and costs less than USD $1.
The ride takes about two hours and best of all? The bus drops you off inside the National Park (by the souvenir shop) and entrance fee is only USD $10 for foreigners. You will have a solid 2-2.5 hours to explore, as the bus won’t go back to San Jose from that same spot until 12:30 PM.
The Crater Lake (That Wasn’t There)
Spectacular scenery: green rolling hills, puffy white clouds, light blue sky. “Are we really going up to Irazu Volcano National Park? Doesn’t feel like it!” exclaimed Hazel upon our arrival. We were being blessed with an unusually-sunny day, as the way up is typically foggy (such is the volcanic climate).
As we finally reached the summit though, the city of Cartago below was slowly covered by a gentle mist. This only added to the incredible landscape.
The stark contrast of beautiful flowers and oddly-shaped leaves against the dark gray ashes left me in pure awe:
the barren terrain of Irazu
I kept walking, thinking we would be trekking for at least 30 minutes before anything “exciting” happened… Boy, was I wrong! Just a few minutes in, I was slapped in the face by the sheer size and depth of Crater Principal (“principal crater”):
Irazu crater during a drought: NO LAKE! But stunning nonetheless…
I was flabbergasted: WOW
Sadly, the province was experiencing a drought during my visit last month, so Irazu’s crater didn’t have its characteristic green-turquoise lake. At all. It had DRIED, fully!
Blame it on climate change.
I tried to look on the bright side though: this gave us the rare chance to admire the volcano in all its glory. The uneven surface, barren walls, and ashy bottom. In turn, we could also focus on other often-overlooked gems around the National Park, such as the unique flora and fauna that play with visitors (whether they like it or not!):
This little fella stole food from other tourists having a picnic! VIDEO coming soon 😉
while THIS fella stole MY snack! 😛
exotic flowers you may find at Irazu
Unique plants by the entrance of Irazu National Park
The Irazu Volcano National Park might be relatively small, but its close proximity to San Jose, ease of access, and rich landscape make it a must-see attraction when visiting Costa Rica — whether you go by public transportation or book a guided tour.
The past 3 weeks have been insane: from packing up my entire life out Florida to coming to Puerto Rico to visit family before I head out to Central America and onward to Asia. AH! Barely any time to breathe. In fact, I’m posting this during my 4-hr. layover, since the Costa Rica itinerary you see below kicks off TONIGHT!
For more details about my Latin American adventures, check out my Nicaragua itinerary as well. It’s fun, I promise 😉
My Costa Rica itinerary: Details of my adventures
Beautiful province of Cartago, Costa Rica, Wiki Commons
I flew out of Puerto Rico this afternoon, but due this inconvenient layover in Fort Lauderdale, I don’t get to Costa Rica until well past midnight (so technically tomorrow). Thankfully, I’ll be Couchsurfing with a wonderful lady named Hazel, who also happens to have her very own travel agency and hostel in downtown San Jose! I’ll be taking a bus from the airport to downtown, where she will send one of her taxi drivers to pick me up 🙂
I better sleep well on those flights, because it is up to a VERY early start that Wednesday, August 6! We’ll be taking a half-day trip to climb Costa Rica’s highest, and one of its most active, volcanoes: Irazu. Its stunning crater lake graced the intro of this blog post 😉
On the way, we will also be visiting the historical ruins of Cartago. This province has some beautifully-decaying colonial architecture, in addition to rich ecological diversity.
Heredia, Costa Rica by Erick Hit, Flickr
Unfortunately, I had to cut this day short, as I will also be doing some medical tourism while still in Costa Rica. That afternoon, I will be getting my typhoid fever shot, as it was way too expensive in the states + I wanted to ensure I had it before getting to Asia. There will be plenty of time for some sightseeing around the Ticos’ capital though, plus even some salsa dancing or foodie experience or 2 at night with my host Hazel!
Then, on August 7th, I take the TicaBus to Nicaragua, with the aforementioned adventures taking place until August 15th. IF I still have energy by the time I’m back to Costa Rica that night, I plan on going out and experiencing the nightlife with my Couchsurfing host PELUK! He is a bboy dancer and will be interesting to learn about his style and his suburb, Heredia.
DAYS 12-18: Blue Osa Peninsula yoga retreat
Backyard of the Blue Osa by Jessika F, TripAdvisor
What started this mammoth of a Central American trip: Aaron, the owner of the Blue Osa Yoga Retreat and Spa! He invited me to his property’s PRESS WEEK, in order to experience his beautiful hideaway in the Osa Peninsula. It is one of Costa Rica’s most unspoiled corners, close to some world-class reserves and wildlife. Because of this week-long stay is that I decided to come to the continent a little earlier in order to enjoy not only CR, but also Nicaragua.
My getaway in Costa Rica’s south Pacific region includes:
Round Trip Airfare from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez
7 Days / 6 Nights Accommodations
3 Farm-to-table meals, 1 Yoga Class daily
A 60-minute Spa treatment
One special Farm-to-table cocktail each night before dinner
Still tentative: 2 days of diving, Isla de Cano expedition with local dive shop
I chose to go Waterfall Rappelling / Tree Climbing one full day; then tackle the Matapalohalf-day hike, as I hear that its proximity to celebrated Corcovado Reserve should afford us with some spectacular wildlife sightings. the rest of the time I plan to be on the beach doing absolutely nothing. Except for maybe posting on Instagram once a day. lol.
DAYS 18-19: Golfo Dulce and departure
I really hope I get to go on that snorkeling/dolphin watching tour! Photo by Philipp Figueroa, Flickr
My last day in Costa Rica will be spent in downtown Puerto Jimenez, to see if I can take part of a dolphin and whale watching / snorkeling tour in Golfo Dulce! I still have to wait for a couple of more travelers to meet the minimum, so crossing my fingers tightly. As far as accommodation goes, I will be staying at cozy La Choza Del Manglar: a prime wildlife viewing spot in itself.
~ * ~
And this is IT! You probably won’t hear from me through the blog well into September, as I settle into my boarding house in Indonesia. This is why you should TOTALLY follow me through Instagram & Facebook, as it’s likely I will update those every couple of days as I stumble upon Internet between beaches and the jungle 😉
I’m scared and sad and anxious and excited as I leave my beloved island and continent behind to embark on new adventures and thrills. Wish me luck — and keep me in your prayers — as I trot through this intense transition… <3
FINALLY: I can tell you all about my month of travel insanity, which starts in 2 days! “Wait: you said MONTH?” That’s right! While my combo Costa Rica and Nicaragua itinerary spans a little over 2 weeks, it is just the beginning…
After some crazy adventures throughout Central America, I’m heading to Los Angeles for a day and a half layover; then it’s TAIWAN for an 11-hour layover in Taipei, hitting some exciting after-hour markets + nightlife; and finally, the BIG move to Indonesia on August 28th! *Squeals*
Not getting ahead of myself though: today & tomorrow are about Central America 😉
Masaya Volcano at night by upn.me
Nicaragua itinerary: Details of my assignments
I have partnered with Go Backpacking and Wandering Trader travel blogs for my upcoming trip to Central America, which kicks off this Tuesday, August 5th.
First up, I will be highlighting how Nicaragua is a serious contender against Costa Rica when it comes to adventure, culture and, most importantly, sustainable tourism. I will be supporting local guides and travel agencies; communities that sustain their families via homestays; in addition to staying at some unique lodges and hostels that organize volunteers and make donations to projects that directly benefit common Nicaraguans.
I finally took the plunge and bought a goPro by the way, so my YouTube channel will be teaming with new travel videos soon! I will be taking footage with my Canon G12 as well, climbing volcanoes, swimming in black sand beaches, getting lost in colorful colonial towns, and eating a variety of Latin food. Below are my plans for Nicaragua, day-by-day:
DAYS 1 & 2: late arrival to San Jose; visit Irazu stratovolcano & Cartago ruins
This is will be published either tomorrow or Tuesday before my flight, as I will also have a post dedicated to my Costa Rica itinerary. So come back then for the details! 😉
DAY 3: Costa Rica to Nicaragua Overland; Ometepe homestay
Concepcion, one of the volcanoes that formed Ometepe Island, by Jono Hey, Flickr
Rising around 4:30 AM in order to have time for a decent breakfast before taking the 6 AM TicaBus to Nicaragua. I will be getting off at the magical island of Ometepe, which was formed by 2 volcanoes inside one of the largest lakes in the world.
I have never visited a freshwater beach before, so my time in Lake Nicaragua will be special.
Yet another reason why my stay in Ometepe will be super special is because here I will be posted by Nicaraguan family through the incredible community known as Puesta Del Sol. It is basically 10 rural families that got their skills together in order to offer all-inclusive homestays to travelers, with 3 meals, for only USD $20 per person per day.
That is a steal, considering that’s what most travelers pay for a regular hostel bed anywhere else!
Most families don’t speak any English, so this is a great way to practice your Spanish, by the way. As you know, that’s my first language, so it will truly feel like a home away from home 🙂
DAY 4: Bicycle island tour, Ometepe
Punta Maria Jesus beach by Ometepe Secret Adventures
I have also partnered with the wonderful local guides of Ometepe Secret Adventures, who will be taking me on some incredible trips for the couple of days I’ll be in the island.
First up is a full-day bicycle tour 😀 Starting at 7 AM, we will go on and off the main road, while taking part of a bunch of adventurous stops and activities. These include:
Mirador del Diablo
Charco Verde Natural Reserve: Lagoon kayaking, monkey and birdwatching
Chico Largo Adventure: rappelling, suspension bridges, canopy zip line
San Jose Del Sur beach for lunch
Punta de Jesus Maria Beach for sunset
Dinner with my Nicaraguan family at Puesta Del Sol
As you know, I’ve had some struggles with my health in the past year, so I will be testing myself by going on this adventure. But I got to push myself and start somewhere…!
DAY 5: climb Concepcion Volcano; Nicaraguan hostel experience
STUNNING views from top of Concepcion volcano by BORIS G, Flickr
Concepción is one of two volcanoes that form Ometepe island: and I am climbing it today! We are taking the shorter, more scenic trail by the Sabana entrance, near the town of Altagracia.
Afterward, we wind down and refresh from our hike at the following spots, in order:
Ojo de Agua
Playa Santo Domingo
Finish line is at Little Morgan’s hostel, where I will spend the night. Apparently, this is legendary party place and must-stop for backpackers in the region, so I knew I had to experience it for at least one night!
Specially since I decided to skip San Juan del Sur due to bad reviews about the quality of its beach and extreme “party / gringo vibe.”
DAY 6: Fincas & ancient sweat baths
Temazcal Omeyocan ritual in Balgüe by Ometepe Secret Adventures
On Sundays, Nicaragua pretty much SHUTS DOWN, so no public transportation readily available. Thankfully, Ometepe Secret Adventures will take me to Balgue to visit:
Possibly Finca El Porvenir
Now the latter is the one I’m really excited about. How so? Well, Temazcal is a sweat bath ritual, practiced by ancient people like the Nahalt, Aztecs, and other tribes.
Later that afternoon, I’m going back to my Nicaraguan homestay, Puesta Del Sol, for my last supper and overnight in Ometepe.
DAY 7: colorful Granada & Masaya LAVA night tour
Granada, one of Nicaragua’s most picturesque towns, by BORIS G
There are mixed reviews about GRANADA. Word in the street says that it is a gorgeous, colorful city, but that it’s slowly turning into a tourist trap. Based on photos I really couldn’t skip it though, so I decided to stay 2 days and one night to experience it.
It also happens to be a good base for visiting the active Masaya Volcano, so it’s definitely worth the stopover for me.
I’m collaborating with Va Pues, considered one of the top local agencies and experts — whether you’re looking into Granada tours and/or a multi-day Nicaragua itinerary.
I decided to take a half day tour around Granada, plus a LAVA tour to the Masaya volcano after sunset. I am GIDDY about this one: really hope I get to see some fire!
DAYS 8-10: chilling in the beach town of Jiquilillo
The rugged beauty of Monty’s Beach Lodge and Surf Camp in Jiquilillo by Adam
After so much action, it’s time to wind down (but just a bit) at Monty’s Beach Lodge in Jiquilillo. They were gracious enough to offer me full room and board during my stay in the area, in order to interview the staff at the Lodge about their social tourism and volunteer projects they pioneer. Additionally, I plan to:
Take my very first surfing lesson
Climb the Cosigüina Volcano & see its crater lake
For the most part though, I’m hoping for some R&R — particularly yoga by the beach or their stunning ocean view deck. I’m sure I’ll be pretty exhausted by then and will need to recharge my batteries.
DAY 11: epic road trip from northern Nicaragua back to Costa Rica
OK, so this day is going to suck XD I will be leaving Jiquilillo, Nicaragua around 7:30 AM and won’t be getting back to San Jose, Costa Rica until about 8-9 PM.
Lots of connections–and flights are expensive.
If it weren’t because I was so fixated into visiting Cosigüina volcano, it wouldn’t have been so ridiculous!
Oh well… This is what I get haha.
As you can see, LOTS of excitement coming up not only on LatinAbroad.com, but also my Instagram, Facebook & YouTube channels, so make sure you tag along by following me! 😀
Tomorrow I will post the details of my Costa Rica itinerary, as I did not want this post to be over 1300 words long 😉
Got more tips for my Nicaragua itinerary? Tell me below!
To travelers and nomads, home is typically a state of mind. However, for FriFotos this week, I wanted to take you on a photographic journey to some of the places I’ve called HOME around the world. From sailboats to hammocks; concrete blocks to tiki huts: ¡Bienvenidos a mi hogar!
Home around the world: FriFotos photo essay
My humble home in Puerto Rico. Solid concrete = hurricane-proof!
The beginning and the end: my parents house and neighborhood in Gurabo, Puerto Rico. Closer to the city of Caguas, though!
The neighborhood I grew up in! A dead-end street with beautiful palm trees and mountains in the vicinity.
Due to hurricanes, most houses in Puerto Rico are made of solid concrete throughout: including walls inside the home. Only the wealthy can afford intricate homes, as it is more expensive and difficult to build and mold concrete houses. However, if you just want one big concrete box, that won’t be too expensive!
The million-dollar home in Tampa, Florida
The pool area, part of a yacht, the lake, and other million-dollar homes in the area.
In the summer of 2010, I was lucky enough to score a housesitting and pet sitting gig in an affluent neighborhood in Tampa, Florida. For 2 full months, I lived like a rock star! A yacht, a boat, fun neighbors, great food! I also got to hang out with the amazing family when they were around every couple of weeks. I bonded with my hosts so much that I now call them my American family. I even call the married couple mom and dad!
Whenever I can’t go back home for Christmas, I spend the holidays with them 🙂
My new American family!
Don’t worry though, my first familia will always be in Puerto Rico. I simply call them mami and papi to differentiate my 2 sets of parents 😉 lucky to be surrounded by so many wonderful people—much love indeed.
A hammock, overwater hostel, and a sailboat in Panama
Aqualounge Hostel in Bocas del Toro, Panama. Only reachable by boat!
My bed for a couple of nights in Bocas del Toro, Panama
While this hammock and overwater hostel in Bocas del Toro were my home for less than a week, I had an amazing time! Great drinking specials, quirky characters, and fun parties.
This trip got even better with 4 days sailing down the San Blas Islands—in great company as well. Just imagine this bubbly Puerto Rican, a loopy captain, 2 diplomats from the US foreign service, 2 retired lawyers, and a Kuna Indian fisherman…!
College campus in Morocco
The gorgeous campus of Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco (Amina Lahbabi)
In the fall of 2009, I studied abroad in Ifrane, a small town by the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, for 4 months. The American-style college is called Al-Akhawayn University and I had a blast! Gorgeous grounds, architecture, and people. The dorms were even better than in most colleges I’ve seen in the USA, which was crazy!
I felt most at home in the classroom of my World Religions class with Portuguese professor Jacques, though. Handsome, wise. He taught me so much about unknown cultures, religious traditions, rites, etc. I haven’t been that happy in many other places! Unfortunately, no photo of handsome Jacques available.
Cluttered roofs and sleeping on an ancient felucca in Egypt
Cluttered roofs and dirty apartments — commonplace in otherwise-fascinating Cairo, Egypt
I must have moved about 4 times during my year of Arabic studies in Egypt. Issues ranged from roommate conflicts to sketchy bowaabs (building doorman)—you name it! And even though my digital camera died within the first week in Cairo, my first flatmate—Natalia—took a good picture of one of the apartments (photo above).
Umm yeah…with my student budget (relying exclusively on a scholarship), I couldn’t afford a maid to keep the apartment dust-free nor a better view than that one. All in all, a very humbling experience. Seriously, cleanliness…one of the many things we take for granted everyday.
Relaxing morning, sleeping on a felucca!
It goes without saying that where I felt the most at home during my year in Egypt was while drifting down the Nile on a felucca for 3 days and 2 nights. Absolutely magical.
Sunset during my 22nd birthday (by Aswan, Egypt)
This photo essay is almost 800 words now, so enough of home for today! 😉
Hope you enjoyed it.
Yup, that’s me on the felucca once more. Had to save the best shot for last!
Where’s home to you? How many countries have you lived in?
Welcome to the roller coaster ride of my year in travel — and life. 2012 was full of not only travel bucket list adventures, but also several struggles and personal growth. In fact, it was one of my toughest years to date. Let’s take a look back and breath in the positive, breathe out the negative, learn from the mistakes, and most importantly: move forward!
There’s no rainbow without some…SNOW! 😉 My very first snowfall in Frisco, Texas
Local tourism: Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras and the Dalí Museum
As I currently live minutes away from downtown, I took part of the Gasparilla Parade (Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras) on January 2012. “The Invasion” celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (better known as Gasparilla). Rumor has it that the Spanish pirate captain invaded Florida’s west coast between the late 18th – early 19th century. No evidence of such “attack” or even the capt. himself appears in writing until late 20th century though, which makes his existence dubious. But who cares? It is still a heck of a party!
“The Invasion”! (Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures)
Also, I finally went to the new Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. It was an amazing experience see the works of my favorite painter, in addition to having some random fun by the Tree of Wishes in the courtyard!
By the courtyard and Tree of of Wishes of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (Matthew Paulson, Flickr)
My first travel conference: The NY Times Travel Show
In March 2012, I went to the New York Times Travel Show for the first time. For being my very first travel conference period, I feel it was a success! I later contacted some of the media agents I connected with throughout the weekend — and even got some comped trips later in the year. The networking that ensued forced me to think about my brand, how I market myself, and where I want LatinAbroad to be. Professional and personal lessons.
Also, I finally got to meet some fellow travel bloggers! Including some of my “idols” 😀
NY travel Show Expedia party with travel bloggers @CaptainandClark @MidlifeRoadTrip @live_for_travel
Top: Woman travel session (with legendary @JourneyWoman, Evelyn!). Bottom: Asia section with lovely dancers from Sri Lanka (left) and Thai display (right)
Life after studying abroad: My post-travel depression
Around April, my life after studying abroad was starting to get to me. More often than not, I was quite sad, unable (or unwilling?) to accept my new life. This post-travel depression hit me hard. I started to fight a lot with my new beau. In fact, it was one of those fights that helped me see that I really had to improve my day by day.
While I still struggle from time to time, I keep reminding myself that my long-term goals will allow me to travel for the rest of my life! I just have a wee-bit left to get done stateside 😉
American work culture and illness: More struggles ahead
In May, even more hurdles were put on my path. I struggled with the difficult American work culture and a new illness: RSI/carpal tunnel. Due to not having health insurance, I have still not been officially diagnosed, but the pain in my hands and dainty fingers doesn’t lie. I found a way to move forward by buying voice recognition software and learning to relax. A journey, not a destination…
June: More domestic tourism, TBEX and my 1st Blogiversary
I define domestic tourism as traveling to states or provinces of the country you are living in. This summer, I saw more of America by visiting the number 1 beach in the USA and going to the West for the 1st time. Where to? Keystone, Colorado for TBEX!
Me at Siesta Key beach FL: Number 1 in the USA
While TBEX was my 2nd travel conference, it was my 1st (official) travel blogger trip. I got to meet even more of my travel blogging idols and long-time online friends face-to-face. Among them, the legendary Lola DiMarco, Jodi Ettenburg, Michael Tieso, and Stephanie Yoder. Furthermore, I got my first translation deals! They are still on the works (none have gone live), but I know 2013 will bless me in that department 😀 As a TBEX 1st timer, this meant a lot to me.
Me (bottom) surrounded by some big names and travel bloggers! Guess who?
You know what else happened in June? It was LatinAbroad’s 1st anniversary! I can’t believe my baby travel blog is over a year old already. Thanks to YOU for all the support! This will keep going for years and years, I assure you 😉 I love it too much.
Champagne and a view: Couldn’t ask for a better ride! (Photo: Jennifer Huber)
Puerto Rico gringo invasion — and partial media trip!
In July, I had the great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to my island, Puerto Rico. With my gringo in tow, we visited my family and other quirky attractions in the island. The highlights?
A Russian restaurant, the Olympics, and a patriot’s dilemma
The end of the summer brought an unexpected local outing. I got to travel through food and visit an authentic Russian restaurant in Florida. I drank some Soviet-era vodka and ate some interesting Eastern European food.
I ate the Eastern European lobster pierogi. It was an interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too
Who would have thought this moment would cause so much commotion — in a negative way!?
A new travel cooking series — and financial anorexia
October brought with it some exciting new plans — and some old struggles. Hostel Cooking recipes debuted thanks to my good friend Josh Snore; while the Black Dog showed its ugly face again. I even accepted I suffer from financial anorexia. However, I pulled through — and they won’t beat me!
Never thought you could cook Moroccan chicken with couscous in a hostel, did you? Get the recipe here!
Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: My 2nd trip to the Yucatán Peninsula
In November, I had another great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to check out 2 of the boutique Xperience Hotels. This time, I would be heading to Mexico for the 2nd time to check out the laid-back beach town of Playa Del Carmen! I was beyond excited, as I could not see many attractions my 1st time around.
Our group tubing in a cenote. Of course, I’m the one posing pretty haha
Ek Balam “Jaguar” Temple: Mayan carvings
Christmas in Texas — and MY FIRST SNOWFALL!
Last month, my partner surprised me with tickets to go see his family in Texas for Christmas. It was a pretty laid-back trip, but with some great highlights!
Right out of the airport, I was taken to sample some good ol’ Texan barbecue. Omg.
Texan brisket and sausage
The Downtown Frisco musical light show and surrounding homes brought out the kid in me. I squealed like a little girl, I was so happy! 😀
The next day it was all about the spanking-new Perot Museum of Science was so much fun — but extremely crowded. I recommend you be the first through the door and have fun at the bottom floors first, as they are the most interactive. My favorite sections were the oil drilling and minerals, in addition to the human anatomy floor. There, you could see the many wonders of the human body via some excellent experiments and quirky gadgets. It was so unreal — perfect for kids, by the way.
Then, it was Max Donuts. And family banquets. Just SO. MUCH. FOOD.
Max Donuts and other delicacies
Southern veal sausage: spicy, juicy, delicious
Southern brisket right out of the oven
Just look at that sexy Texan bacon cheeseburger
Midwestern food in Texas
Southern biscuits: garlic, cheese, herbs, and a lot of butter!
But nothing, I mean NOTHING this year could top this one off:
MY VERY FIRST SNOWFALL!
That’s right: up until Christmas 2012, I’d never seen snow fall from the sky. Ever. And yes, it snowed right on Christmas Day! It was so so perfect, I even teared up a little, especially as my partner stepped outside in order to kiss me under the snow 🙂
It started to snow! It started to snow!
This is what extreme happiness looks like. Very 1st snowfall in my life, I even teared up!
Indeed, happiness is an understatement here. So of course, I had to shoot not one, but 2 videos. It was freezing cold, but I was so overjoyed I couldn’t even feel it!
New Year’s in Tampa Bay
In comparison to other years, the last few hours of 2012 were very laid-back. However, I spent them among friends and, most importantly, the man I love. 2012 taught me that I could love again, even though travel and a broken heart had stripped hope.
A great start to 2013 <3
And so, with a kiss and embrace, we said goodbye to 2012 — all while watching a good ol’ firework show over Tampa Bay:
2012 resolutions: Moving back to Egypt, Arabic degree, Oceania — FAIL
Last, but definitely not least, are my failed 2012 resolutions. Last year, I wanted to not only improve my Arabic and even earn a Master of Professional Studies degree, but also move back to Egypt. Plan A didn’t happen, as the federal government stopped funding that program and the situation in Egypt deteriorated (so did my job prospects).
What about Plan B, to become a flight attendant and fly all over the world, or even Plan C, which involved me moving to Australia and traveling all over Oceania? Well…
I started to take my finances so seriously that I set a plan to get rid of all my debt (about $50,000 of it) in 3 years or less. I just wanted to be free, be free of all Western world strengths and the flawed American work culture.
I decided I want to be a full-time nomadic translator, travel writer by 30.
And, most importantly: DEBT-FREE by then!
It might not be a perfect plan, but it didn’t matter in my head — it still ruled out Plan B. Then, I got a promotion in Florida and decided to stay put longer, as the new salary and benefits were in line with my new financial & other important long-term goals. There went Plan C…
But was my toughest year yet ruined because of all these changes? As you could see throughout this post, definitely not. Yes, I struggled. Yes, I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to.
But I grew. I learned a lot.
(AND I SAW SNOW. AND LOVE)
So: Cheers to 2013! I’m ready to learn, to be amazed, and to be blessed once more. Shall this post be a reminder of John Lennon’s words:
A motto to remember
How was your year in travel (and life) in 2012? Share your milestones!
Welcome to our Beach Thursday: Yucatán special! I know what you’re probably thinking: “Oh no, not another ‘things to do’ post!” But don’t fret. I am publishing an adventure-packed photo essay of things to do in Playa Del Carmen, based on my own trip and interviews with locals. I promise: you will love every single activity (and picture) 😀
Chichen Itza photo I took on my trip to the Yucatán back in 2008
Things to do in Playa Del Carmen: Day trips
Due to my short Thanksgiving break (Thursday – Monday), I had to be very selective about the places I visited. I wanted a good mix of history, relaxation, and adventure. As I would be more energized the first few days, I decided to visit the lesser-known Maya ruins of Ek Balam and Cobá. However, if you have never visited Chichen Itza, I recommend you go there instead of Cobá on your short Playa Del Carmen vacation.
I booked my tours via Karma Trails, a travel agency that partners with local tour companies that give back to the Maya communities. I was very happy with this practice! All tours included a short stop at a local Maya village, giving them the opportunity to sell their own crafts without a middleman.
That’s not sand – it’s ALL mineral-rich mud!
Me floating on the Rio Lagartos Dead Sea — I mean salt flats
My Ek Balam tour included a great morning spent at Río Lagartos as well. We got to float on the salt flats holding ponds and bathe in mineral-rich mud, which brought back memories of my trip to the Dead Sea in Israel! We also got to see some crocs up close and personal (!), in addition to several other birds and PINK FLAMINGOS! 😀
I was not comfortable being THAT close to the croc…but I survived it!
Flamingos! You can see many more of them if you visit between May – June by the way 😉
The highlight of the all-day, 13-hour tour was our guide Gianluca though — a funny, knowledgeable polyglot. It was pretty awesome that he had an iPad with many photos, maps, etc. to discuss Maya and Mexican history with us during the rides between sites. We learned not only about the Maya ruins we visited, but also got cultural tidbits from other parts of Mexico. The history buff in me LOVED this.
Ek Balam Maya temple carvings: The “mouth of the jaguar”
The second tour, Cobá Mayan Encounter, was action-packed! In the morning, we visited a Maya community, witnessed a Maya shaman perform a ceremony, drifted on a beautiful lake, and rode down several zip lines. We also got to do some rappellingdown a cenote + canoeing! Travel bucket list items checked 😀
Me riding the Coba Encounter tour zip line: the best one!
Cenote rappelling! Don’t I look excited?!
In the afternoon, we visited the wonderful Cobá Maya ruins. I decided to rent a bike and it was the best decision I made. We had our tour guide explained the history for the first 20 mins., then we got to explore the site at our own pace for a good 45 min. It was plenty of time to leisurely cycle around the ruins, take some good photos, and even climb the main “pyramid”! By the way, that’s in quotes because apparently, we’re not supposed to call it that way 😉
One of my favorite structures at the Coba Maya complex. This one was used as an observatory
Atop the tallest “pyramid” at Coba. Gorgeous jungle views!
The main structure at Coba. Don’t call it a pyramid! 😉
Other great day trips from Playa Del Carmen is the charming town of Valladolid and swimming with turtles in Akumal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to either town on this trip. I’ll definitely have to go back and experience everything else the amazing Riviera Maya and Yucatan have to offer!
Photo of Akumal Bay by Carl Hancock. Fun fact: Akumal actually means “place of the turtles” in the Yucatec Maya language! 🙂
Theme parks & reserves: Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, Sian Ka’an
As I opted to visit 2 Maya sites + adventure tours, I didn’t get to go to any of the theme parks. However, Xel-Ha, Xcaret, Xplor, and Sian Ka’an are highly recommended by several travelers and bloggers. I’m definitely checking them out on my next trip, especially the Xcaret night show (which I could have done one night, but Playa Del Carmen nightlife got me quite distracted!).
Xel-há Park (daily, 8:30 AM – 7 PM): for a close encounter with nature. Lazily float down the river, go snorkeling, SNUBA, walk underwater and even swim with dolphins here.
Xcaret (daily, 8:30 AM – 9:30 PM): archaeological & adventure park, excellent to learn more about Mexican culture. Food is great, too. Dolphin/shark swims & other water activities also available here. Make sure you stay for the night show, check out the wine tasting & try out one of the semi-underground spa treatments!
Xplor (Mon – Sat, 9 AM – 5 PM): for the adventurous souls. 14 zip lines (including one through a waterfall and into a cave!), swim in an underground river, and even drive an amphibious vehicle. Enough said!
Xplor Zip Line Water Landing by Dtraveller, Flickr
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve: located in Tulum, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is spectacular. It is a little out of the way, but worth it. Kayaking, fly fishing, and condoning our popular here. I recommend used to spend one night at one of the cabins on-site.
Coming soon! I still have to look for my notepad with all my restaurant recommendations 😉 I can tell you right now though: Go to Yaxche Mayan Fusion Cuisine Restaurant on 5th Avenue! Have one of the specialty Maya food mixed platters, Maya coffee (a ceremony in itself), and plantain flan for dessert (called pie de platano, with hazelnuts and cajeta, which is goat dulce de leche. TRUST me, you gotta have it).
One more thing to do in Playa Del Carmen: Beach massages!
So many Playa Del Carmen beach clubs offer cheap massages by the ocean, giving you tremendous bargaining power. I scored a 70-min. reflexiology massage for USD $18. BLISS! See if you can get one for less and report back 😉
Playa Del Carmen beach massages are great value! Photo: appaIoosa, Flickr
Got more recommendations of things to do in Playa Del Carmen?
Special thanks to Karma Trails for offering a complimentary Cobá Encounter tour. I was not paid for a positive review and all comments on this article are my honest opinion, though.
As you all know, I’m a budget traveler. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean I am cheap — it means I also seek value. So let me tell you right now: when thinking about where to stay in Playa Del Carmen, keep in mind that there are so many wonderful, locally-owned guesthouses and budget boutique hotels.
Do not go for the international chain hotels!
They are typically located outside of the center. Yes, the website might say it is located just a few miles away from Quinta Avenida — but what they don’t tell you is that is in a completely different complex. You can’t just walk down the middle of the highway to join the action now can you?
Where to stay in Playa Del Carmen: from boutique hotels to hostels
That being said, I spent 2 nights at the wonderful Aqualuna Boutique Hotel, just off Quinta Avenida (5th Ave.), on 10th and 14th St. It is literally steps away from all the action of 5th, yet a world away. From my room (number 1), I could hear nothing but the gentle sound of the courtyard fountain.
**Unfortunately, this Playa hotel is closed as of July 2016 🙁
Aqualuna Hotel from 10th St.
Bed inside my room. Firm, but comfy
Rooms from the hotel’s courtyard or “patio interior”
Additionally, there were several local restaurants within walking distance of the hotel, away from touristy 5th. This meant I saved quite a bit of money eating out. I would go back to this budget boutique hotel in a heartbeat.
I also stayed at a sister property, Hacienda Paradise, for one night. A more upscale hotel, this is where I would have my breakfast or take a dip in the pool during my stay at Aqualuna as well. While I enjoyed my stay at Hacienda, I feel the location and total lack of noise at Aqualuna make it my favorite of the two.
Hacienda Paradise courtyard and pool area from the lobby
My Hacienda room. Very nice!
On my last night, I decided to try one of the local hostels. I stayed at Hostel 3B. Absolutely loved the gigantic lockers (they even fit my carry-on with wheels!), silent dorms, comfortable beds and crispy clean linens. Excellent location, just a few steps away from the beach and 5th Avenue. Staff at reception was very helpful and friendly as well.
Hostel 3B: Cheap and Chic!
My only complaint is that the bathroom smelled terribly once I got there. I saw someone cleaning them, but the problem is that they have no ventilation whatsoever (I stayed in the old female dorm number 5, by the way). This made humidity stall. It had great water pressure, though. Why do I recommend it, then? Because I had the best sleep (and hot shower) I’ve had at any hostel, ever. And I seriously fell in love with the lockers…
Hostel 3B’s massive locker. I could even fit the new wheeled carry-on I bought later that day!
Hostel 3B female-only dorm
Other wonderful hostels that come highly recommended are Hostel Rio Playa, Green Monkey, Hostel Playa, andHostal Vive La Vida.
Another Playa Del Carmen accommodation option: Condo hotels
Just walking down 5th Avenue, I noticed several condo hotels in Playa Del Carmen. Rooms are similar to short-term rentals (more like apartments), while the grounds and amenities resemble a hotel. As a matter of fact, most of them are more luxurious than a B & B! A perfect example is Maya Villa Condo Hotel & Beach Club, the top-rated hotel of its kind in town.
Maya Villa’s gecko pool (Photo: Tripadvisor)
KITCHEN of one of the “flats” at Maya Villa Condo Hotel. Photo: Roberto B, Tripadvisor
Where to stay in Playa Del Carmen? Share your recommendations!
Special thanks to Xperience Hotels for offering a complimentary stay at Aqualuna Boutique Hotel and Hacienda Paradise. I was not paid for a positive review and all comments are my honest opinion, though.
Seriously, they got me singing: “la gente esta muy LOCA…WTF?”
When I signed up for the Playa Crawl, I figured I would be out and about until 3 AM. Given the fact that I had gone on a tour the day before on 4 hours of sleep, plus the lengthy nap I had taken earlier that day, I thought I could party and make it to Akumal by 8 AM.
That didn’t happen.
I should have known beforehand. Not only am I a quarter of a century old, but I’m not a college student anymore. And after reading what the Playa Crawl entails… What was I thinking?!
Best choice to get familiar with Playa Del Carmen nightclubs? Going on a bar crawl with Playa Crawl
You read right: Includes any cover charges, 5 hours of open bar, 3 different clubs, and unlimited bottle service on 2 of the venues. Furthermore, there’s no wait in line + you get a VIP booth at every club. And at the third club you don’t get bottle service? We got 3 rounds of SHOTS (in addition to the 2-3 rounds of drinks we got in-between).
For only US $69.99 per person, saying it is a bargain is an understatement. As a solo traveler, it was also a great way to meet other travelers. Our group consisted of 13 people (including our guide and Jorge). Our guide, Pepe, was a blast as well. He has been traveling the world, by getting instructor/guide seasonal gigs, for the past 10 years — he knows what he’s doing!
Our PlayaCrawl group! I’m in the dead center, strapless black dress
So…I got home at 7:30 AM.
And by the time we left, the party was still going! Yes, we saw the freakin’ sunrise from the last club. That’s the best part of the tour by the way: You get to stay at your VIP seating area at the last stop of the crawl until that club closes. Granted, drinks will be on your tab by then, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be all good at that point.
Playa Del Carmen nightclubs and lounges: Which did you go to?
What I really liked about Playa Crawl is that it truly encompasses Playa Del Carmen nightlife. Every night there’s a bar crawl, the venue selection changes. This is tailored to the group and night of the week. For instance, if it’s an older crowd, the guide will skip the loud dance clubs and head to the chill beach clubs instead. From the get-go, Pepe saw that our group was full of partiers, and so we visited the following clubs:
Kartabar (hookah lounge): Calle 12 and 1st Ave. corner
Kartabar was the perfect warm-up: A hip hookah lounge playing oldies Americana music and even some good 90’s pop and hip-hop. We were there by 1045-11 PM and stayed for 1 hour and 20 min. (this is the duration of every stop of the bar crawl, by the way).
Belly dancer at Kartabar
During our stay, we were graced by the performance of a beautiful, talented belly dancer in 2 occasions. As far as drinks go, we got 3 rounds of shots: One of tequila and 2 of what seemed to be a Blue Curaçao concoction. Other travelers had about 2-3 rounds of drinks themselves, in addition to the shots. Yours truly simply had an additional margarita (in true lightweight fashion).
View of 12th Street from our table at Kartabar
Mandala (dance club): Calle 12 and 1st Ave. corner
Before entering this night club, our guide Pepe said: “party begins now.”
I absolutely loved Mandala: From the red lights, to the colorful dance floor, to the semi-outdoor set-up. The impressive Buddhas were a nice touch as well. Our group was escorted to the second-floor balcony, half of which is roofless. The DJ played American Top 40s, with some reggaetón tracks to spice up the mix. On the few trips to the bathroom, I listened to some of the music on the bottom floor — more of a local, Latin mix.
Mandala’s bottom dance floor early in the evening
At Mandala, we had our first unlimited bottle service. While our waiter was mostly attentive, he kept forgetting about our pineapple juice. Once Pepe was firm about the request though, it was delivered right away. Also, even though we were in the VIP section, it felt somewhat crowded. Still, we had a blast!
one of Mandala’s Buddha at the 1st floor bar
Facing where the stairs to the 2nd floor are located
Palazzo (dance club): Calle 12, between 5th and 10th Ave.
Another hotspot of Playa Del Carmen nightlife, Palazzo was extremely crowded by the time we got there (around 1 AM). It rivals any (small) club in Miami or Cancun: Huge chandelier, comfortable VIP balconies, great electronic music.
At first, we were placed in one of the lower VIP tables. But…they were too small for our group. After simply making a comment, Pepe went ahead and talked to the manager of the club, who swiftly moved us to the upper VIP balcony. Score!
Palazzo VIP balcony from the bottom floor
Service was superb. Here: We never ran out of bottles and even got a premium tequila bottle for shots. From here on…extremely LOCO!
Palazzo VIP balcony view
Bonus – La Santanera: Calle 12 Mza 30 Loc 2, bet. 5th & 10th Ave.
If you are lucky enough to be hanging out with the owner or one of his family members that night? A 4th stop bonus! After Palazzo, our group was escorted to La Santanera. Owned and operated by the cousin of Playa Crawl’s Jorge, it is a breezy club where you will findmore locals than foreigners. The music is outstanding (deep house + lounge upstairs). It is basically the place you go to party until the sun comes up.
La Santanera bar. Loved the decor!
And I have nothing else to say about this hip club because… all I remember is dancing to great music, drinking from our vodka bottles at our VIP section until I saw the SUN come up. I didn’t get back to my hotel until 7-7:30 AM!
With my favorite Aussie in the group! Sitting at La Santanera VIP section. Pretty sure this was close to sunrise!
Alternatives to Playa Del Carmen nightclubs
Personally, I had a blast at all the clubs visited during the Playa Crawl. However, Playa Del Carmen nightlife offers a plethora of other options. Throughout my vacation, I also found the following venues to be quite attractive and fun:
Mamitas Beach Club
Calle 28 Norte Mza. 10 Lote 8 between Zona Federal Maritima and 5th Av.
Trendy, casual, and an amazing semi-outdoor experience. I personally love sipping cocktails and dancing while staring at crashing waves 😉 By the way, David Guetta will be here for New Years! The one night Mamitas will resemble one of the other nightclubs I mentioned (instead of its usual laid-back self).
Miss Spain contestants at Mamitas Beach Club (Noticaribe, Flickr)
Another casual club by the ocean, in the likes of Mamitas. It is BIG inside — loved the decor (swings by the BAR!), sand floor, and dancing space. There’s also a balcony to look at the waves 🙂 typical music played is hip-hop/R&B by the entrance; house by the beach.
One of Coco Maya’s dance floors early in the evening
The drinking specials for ladies are even better: Every night, no cover and open bar until 1 AM! This includes tequila, vodka, and rum with respective non-premium (i.e. no Red Bull). I would say they still live up their “every night is a ladies night” motto 😉 Guys only pay US $35 for a bracelet that includes cover and similar open bar. Yes, Coco Maya can become more like a crowded dance club after midnight. Still, it is relatively laid-back in comparison to the other Playa Del Carmen nightclubs I went to.
Coco Maya Beach Club’s thatched ceiling by 2nd dance floor
Coco Maya lounge area
Have you experienced Playa Del Carmen nightclubs? Tell us!
Special thanks to Jorge and Playa Crawl for the complimentary bar crawl. I was not paid for positive Playa Del Carmen nightclubs reviews, though. Comments are my honest opinion.