A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: scampyyy

brazil: south/southeast

rio → parati; sao paulo (ubatuba, ilha bela)

rio

Usually an inevitable stop if you are going to brazil... for very good reason!!! Rio is undeniable - it has everything: beach, city, forest, lake... TONS of opportunities to be active, go out, and enjoy brazilian culture - no matter what level/intensity you desire.

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STAY: There are a handful of neighborhoods tourists tend to stay in. Copacabana and Ipanema are the most well known because of their world famous beaches, but I wouldn't necessarily recommend staying there. Because they are the go-to neighborhoods, they are a little bit more expensive (but if you do choose Copacabana, stay at eHostel!). Botofoga's beach is probably the shittiest one (it's not very attractive and you can't go in the water), but I really enjoyed the staying in that area - it felt safe and had easy access to the rest of Rio (Limetime and Beach Backpackers Hostel are both within short walking distance of the metro). But my top recommendation would be to stay in Lapa - super cool neighborhood. It's considered "sketchier" but be smart and you'll be fine.

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DO: Must visit Cristo Retendor (go by train or avoid the crowds and hike up) and Pao de Azucar (sunset is incredible). Copacabana and Ipanema beaches are world famous for a reason, but if you're looking for a more relaxed vibe, check out Flamengo beach. Lapa is a must-go for a number of reasons: Lapa Stairs, Lapa Arches - I would recommend taking the Free Walking Tour, it will take you here and a number of other interesting places like the National Library, Cathedral, and Municipal Theatre. Go out in Lapa at night! The street is full of cheap food and caipirinha stands, you can hang out at the Stairs for a totally different vibe than during the day!! If you are looking to shop, check out the outdoor markets - particularly the nightly market along Copacabana beach (on the end closer to Ipanema) and "hippie" market near Ipanema (only open twice a week - check online for details). If you're interested in soccer, try and go to a game at Maracana Stadium - or at least go to the soccer museum there!

VIEWS: Check out Pedra Bonita (also the kick off spot for paragliding and hangliding) and Vista Chinesa (the two are close, located on the road connecting Parque Nacional da Tijuca and the Jardim Botanico - difficult to access without car); enjoy easy access views at Forte Duque de Caixas (near Leme), Parque das Ruinas (in Santa Teresa, near Lapa Stairs), and Pedra do Arpoador (between Copa and Ipanema, crowds come specifically for sunset); go on hikes a bit more challenging and (increasingly) further afield to Dois Irmaos, Pedra da Gavea, and Pedra do Telegrafo.

parati

Similar to Itacare given the fact that it is a relaxed, chilled out place to be with a bunch of beaches to choose from. Different given the fact that it is a colonial town, which gives it unique character. Definitely worth a stop - I wish I had had more time there and am keen to go back to keep exploring!

sao paulo

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I wouldn't necessarily recommend SP as a stop for someone passing through for a few days/nights. Don't get me wrong - I spent 4 months in SP and love it like my own home. But I think that's exactly it, you need time to truly get to know and appreciate this amazing city. If you are there for a couple days, there is tons to do, but it's just going to feel like another big city.

DO: Velosa in Vila Mariana for the best coxinhas and caipirinhas. Check out the graffiti displayed in Vila Madalena's Beco do Batman and Beco do Aprendiz. Nearby is the Bancas de Flores on Avenida Dr Arnaldo and an outdoor market at Praca Bendito Calixto on Saturdays. Museu do Futebol. Enjoy the concrete jungle's bubble of nature at Parque Ibapuera, which is also home to the Museu Afro Brasil. Definitely make time to visit the Se Cathedral. SP has no natural viewpoints, but you can get a good city skape on top of Edificio Martinelli and Banespao (check online for hours!). Several rooftop bars also provide views, like Skye Bar. There are tons of museums, I particularly enjoyed the Portuguese Language Museum, which is right outside the Luz metro station, and within walking distance of a number of other attractions: Luz Station, Municipal Theatre, Sala Sao Paulo, Latin American Memorial, Museum of Immigration, Copan Building, Edificio Italia, and Galera do Rock.

STAY: I would recommend staying in either Bela Vista (close to Avenida Paulista for centrality and Rua Augusta for nightlife) or Vila Madalena (this neighborhood is a bit more upscale, another hotspot for going out).

GO: Santos is the go to beach day trip for Paulistanos. Other destinations to escape to include Ubatuba and Ilha Bela, both super chilled out with tons of beautiful beaches and scenery to enjoy!

ARRIVING AT GRU AIRPORT: GRU is substantially outside of the city center, unless you arrive in the middle of the night or don´t mind spending way too much money on a direct option, I would absolutely recommend getting into SP via public transportation ~ it´s cheap and will get you very close to wherever you need to be, it just requires having your wits about you because it involves moving around a bit. Here´s how to do it:

From GRU´s terminal 2 follow the signs for onibus outside
Cross the crosswalk to the median strip, turn and walk left along this strip until you reach the city buses.
Look for the ones marked TATUAPE (blue, marked either 257 or 299 - if in doubt just ask, "metro tatuape").
The ride will cost 5.50 reais and take about 40-50 minutes, dropping you off right at Tatuape metro station.
Go upstairs, buy a metro ticket and hop on the metro!

  • There are metro maps all over the station to help guide you where to get off\where to change lines etc.
  • Before you arrive, find out which metro station is closest to where you are going
  • Once you arrive at your metro stop, take a look at the exit map. There are usually four different exits that will all give you a head start in a certain direction, check out the map and see which exit prepares you for the direction you are going.

I was a little nervous about doing this route the first time I arrived on my own, so I opted for a middle ground option which was a $40 bus ride (comfortable and with wifi) to Paulista, and then a taxi to my hostel from there (which was about $40 as well). The high end, most convenient option would be just to take a taxi straight to your destination, but considering that GRU is outside of the city this is EXPENSIVE. Like at least $100.

to go

-Campo Grande (--> Bonito
-Cuiba (Chapada dos Guimaraes and Nobles/Bom Jardin)
-Goiana
-Pirenopolis
-Brasilia
-Alto Paraiso de gois (chapada dos veadeiros)

Posted by scampyyy 13:54 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

brazil: north/northeast

salvador → itacare; chapada diamantina → aracaju → fortaleza → jericoacoara → lencois maranhenses; manaus

salvador

Such a cool city that is pumping with African influence! My experience is a bit skewed considering I was only there for Carnaval. That being said, what a place to be for carnaval! Not that I have anywhere else to compare it to, but from what I've gathered it seems like one of the best places to go because anyone and everyone can experience it.

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Tip #1: for Carnaval: book early!!!!!!!!!! before prices/spaces fill up

Tip #2: cameras are not advised due to potential for theft, but that will only happen if you allow it to. What I mean is, you are asking for it to be taken if it's just in your pocket. If it's attached to you, you reduce that chance.

Tip #3: The parade crawls along the main road that hugs the beach. The other side of the road has open air bars and restaurants, that require expensive tickets for entry/to see the parade. Skip the fee, don't just watch the party - be part of it on the streets! The bar-goers looked bored and pissed off they spent so much money.

STAY: Pelourinho, the historic center of the city (Acai hostel!)

GO: we stayed in Camacari, a few hours outside of Salvador, for a few nights with friends. Very beautiful and relaxing. Not so much a tourist hot spot, but that added to it's beauty. Nearby is Arembepe, home to Aldeia Hippie, a past refuge for the hippie movement located on an expansive beach.

itacare

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The potential to get stuck here is high because it is pretty much paradise. Beautiful beaches, relaxed atmosphere, it's hard not to love it. It's definitely no secret to tourists, and during high season it will be swarming (book ahead). It's a bit out of the way to get to, but not difficult and absolutely worth it. Nearest connection city is Ilheus (airport and bus station).

DO: Surf! Explore the various beaches. There are 3 main ones close to town (walking distance). Make sure to take a day and hike through the jungle to Praia Paraina - guides are advised but only to find the way (once you know it's easy to go on your own). There are number of various hikes and tours to waterfalls. We took a boat ride down the Contas river through mangroves to Cleandro waterfalls (small fee required) -- beautiful! Kayaking and rafting among other activities are also possible.

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chapada diamantina

Tip #1: tame your expectations!! I did a lot of research on this park before going, but none of it gave me the info I know now that I wish I had known before going. The internet shows you the photos of all the amazing waterfalls and attractions, but fails to remind you that the park is huge!!! Access to and from certain parts is not necessarily easy, cheap, or quick. And it turns out that all the most spectacular spots are in these hard to reach places. Which brings me to....

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Tip #2: go with a car and friends so you can use your time and money more efficiently!

Tip #3: investigate before hand - do your research and choose where you want to go and what you want to see. Like I said Chapada Diamantina is huge! There are a couple different base towns scattered on different edges of the park which provide closer access to certain attractions.

Most people stay in Lencois. Don't, at least for very long. There are definitely cool things to see, but it's a trap!! There are only 3 attractions you can get to without some sort of guide (Ribeiro do Meio, Cachoeirinha (shown to left), and one other that I forget the name of - but I think it's on the way to Cachoeirinha).

Tour Tip: There are tons of tour options available. We took the popular day trip to Mucugezinho/Poco do Diabo, Gruta Lapa Doce, Poco Azul/Pratinha, and Morro do Pai Inacio. I've only heard raving reviews about this tour, but a dose of reality is necessary: The first stop was awesome - you get to swim in a pool with an incredible waterfall. The Gruta part was okay, but too long. Poco Azul and Pratinha were major disappointments, the first is literally just a 5 minute photo stop with a million other tourists. The way the sun hits the water is beautiful, but the magic is spoiled by the tourist spot it has become. Pratinha is nice but also filled with tourists and tourists activities (snorkeling, ziplining, SUP, kayaking). Morro do Pai Inacio had stunning landscapes, but once again - polluted with tourists. I would recommend NOT doing this tour - spend your time and money on something else.

Stay in Capao, it's much more relaxed and less touristy than Lencois. From here you can go to Fumaca and a number of other places on your own. You are also closer to Vale do Pati.

Or, stay even further south of the park in Mucuge, for closer access to Fumacinha, Buracao and other phenomenal waterfalls and pools.

Tip #4: find Puma, the tour guide. He and his dog, Canela, know the area super well and can take you on awesome trips.

Tip #5: buy a map and trek/camp on your own!

aracaju

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From what I've gathered this is moreso a popular destination for Brazilian travelers rather than international travelers, but it's a nice stop if you are hopping along the coast! It's a developing city situated on miles and miles of beautiful beach with some of the best acai in Brazil!

fortaleza

Fortaleza (right) felt like a more developed, busier version of aracaju (with less delicious acai). The beach was nice considering it was across the street from high rises, but it was lacked the relaxing, picturesque vibe typically associated with Brazilian beaches.

DO: spend time at the beach. Amble down the piers. Check out the historic center. Go out.

jericoacoara

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Jeri reminded me to never let my expectations run too high. I was convinced that I would fall in love with it and never want to leave, as it ranks highly among the best beaches in the world. However, there were WAY too many people for my liking, which was probably a combination of when I went (July - holiday month for many Brazilians) and the simple fact that everyone else wanted to see what this world renowned beach was all about. Jeri itself is pretty cool, an easily walkable, small network of sand roads. But, in my opinion, the beach is ruined by the resorts that line it.

DO: join the hundreds of others for sunset at the por-do-sol dune (don't forget to clap). For another sunset view, make the short trek to pedra furada. Water activities - windsurf, kitesurf, SUP. Horseback ride. Look into day tours to nearby lagoons and other attractions. (Note: you don't need a tour to go to lagoa paraiso! Go to Jeri's center, find a 4x4 that is headed to Paraiso and tell them you want to go to Restaurante Nova Esperanca - where you can relax in a hammock in the lagoon for free, 15 reais each way).

lencois maranhenses

despite all the pictures I had seen prior to coming here, this place still took my breath away. If you are in the north east - make the trip here. It's not necessarily an easy/quick trip but it is worth it without a doubt!

TO/FROM: it is easier to get into from the west (Sao Luis) as this route consists only of a bus ride/transfer, as opposed to from the east (Jericoacoara or Fortaleza), which involves 4 or 5 different buses and an overnight stay somewhere. BUT either way is possible!

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From Jeri: truck to Jijoca (15 reais), bus to Camocim (reais/one leaves at 12:30pm), bus to Parnaiba (19 reais/one leaves at 3:30pm). Spend the night here (Parnaiaba Hostel). In the morning you can continue with public transportation to Tutoia to Paulino Neves to Barreirinas. However, it is also possible to arrange a direct private transport from Parnaiba to Barreirinhas (ask the hostel) - which ends up not costing too much more than the public transpo if you have a full car. Much more convenient!

STAY: there are 3 different places that serve as a gateway into the park. Barreirinhas is the most common. It's not a particularly attractive city, but it gives you what you need - a place to stay with a variety of options to get you in the park. Atins is supposedly what Jericoacoara was 20 years ago - isolated, undeveloped paradise. It definitely provided a more peaceful and attractive place to stay than Barreirinhas, but less activity, tour, and transport options (access via 4x4 or boatride from B). I never made it to the third gateway, Santo Amaro, but it seems like its more similar to Atins than Barreirinhas in terms of being less developed and having less tourists.

DO: visit the dunes!!!! There are plenty of options (flights, 4x4, buggy rides, horseback riding, day trips, overnight treks, etc), all of which I can only assume are equally incredible. Our day trip to Lagoa Bonita was about $20 and was beyond amazing. We spent the night in the dunes with a tour guide we found in Atins. Note: tours/guides are necessary.

manaus

Didn't spend much time here....

DO: Take a tour of the theatre. Walk around the street markets.

to do

-maceio (4-5 hr from aracaju)
--------jangadas from Praia de Pajucara
-tamandare via barreirros (praia dos carneiros)
-----------hostel 81
-porto de galinhas
-recife (9h bus from Aracaju) - stay: piratas da praia on boa viagem or azul fusca in middle of recife\olinda
--------oficina ceramica
--------museu do homem do nordeste
------------Olinda (40 min bus ride)
-------------------alto da se for views
-praia da pipa
--------boat to see dolphins at praia curral /praia dos golfinhos?
--------praia do amor for surfing
--------8km north: lagoa de guarairas, 3 hr kayak around lake/creperia marinas for sunset
--------santuario ecologico de pipa for views/hiking
-natal
--------forte dos reis magos for views
--------parque das dunas
-------best beach: praia ponta negra (morro de careca)
-fortaleza (buggy ride in 3 or 4 nights from natal - canoa quebrada, )
-icarae de amontada

Posted by scampyyy 10:23 Archived in Brazil Comments (0)

guatemala

1 month: Antigua → Lake Atitlan → Tikal → BELIZE → Livingston → Rio Dulce → Antigua → Lake Atitlan → Semuc Champey → Antigua

antigua

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About an hour outside of Guatemala City (no reason to stay there) is Antigua, the country's nexus. The city is beautiful with cute parks, cobblestone roads and colonial architecture, not to mention a backdrop featuring a huge volcano. That being said, the neverending flow of tourists and cobblestones can wear on you.

DO: Antigua is the best place to do your shopping (beyond the artisano mercado where you will satiate all your local handicraft needs is a local market that sells literally everything). Sit back and relax in Parque Central. Check out Cerro de la Cruz for views of the city. Visit the ChocoMuseo (the classes may seem tempting but there are better, more authentic opportunities elsewhere in the country). Take Spanish classes. There are a bunch of tour operators... we did a tour to Volcano Payaca (don't believe the photos that show lava - there is none; although you do get to roast marshmallows from the cold lava vents), but it's possible to do it on your own. For a more intense volcano experience, there are day and overnight opportunities to check out Acatenango and Fuego.

Tip: save your shopping spree at the mercados until your last stop in Antigua so you don't have to lug it around everywhere

lake atitlan

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A must! It's a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains and volcanos. There are a number of villages along the lake's edge, varying in size and action.

Panajachel (Pana): the entry point. Nice little town that has everything you need (visit the ATM before heading anywhere else on the lake). No need to stay here - you will find a boat going anywhere you want to go.

San Pedro: (top right) the backpacker hotspot. Possibility of getting stuck here is high, there are a bunch of hostels, restaurants, pharmacies, stores. And agencies that offer activities (hikes, paragliding, kayak rentals, etc), tours, and transportation to almost anywhere (meaning you don't have to get here via a boat from Pana). That being said, transport will pass through Pana, stop at Antigua and, depending where you go, Guatemala City.

San Marcos: (bottom right) not much to do here but chill. There is a spot where you can jump off rocks into the water, but we didn't want to pay the entrance fee so we explored and found our own little spot. No ATM.

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Tip: from San Pedro, take a boat ride here and return via tuktuk - fun ride with beautiful scenery!

Santa Cruz: beautiful scenery, but besides a few hikes there is nothing to do here. No ATM. There are several resorts/hostels to stay at here that provide resources, info, and activities so you can enjoy the serenity but boredom can set in especially if you have other places you're trying to go to.

DO: you have a great view of Nariz do Indio from San Pedro (left), but there is a sunrise tour that I wish I had been able to do.

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I wasn't too bothered to go to here considering how far out of the way it was, but combined with a quick detour through Belize to connect back to Guatemala in Livingston, it has turned out to be one of my favorite adventures. We left San Pedro at 4am and arrived in Flores (the city that feeds into Tikal) at 8pm. Flores is a cute little town on the water, but only necessary to spend the night before or after visiting the ruins.

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DO: It's possible to do Tikal on your own... but we did a sunrise tour which I would absolutely recommend. It provided transportation to the park before dawn (and back), a legit guide, and time to explore on our own for a bit after. The whole thing went from 3am until noon. The crowds were arriving as we were leaving... perfect!

→ easy jump off point to Belize City (can connect back to Guatemala via Punta Gorda / Livingston).

livingston

When coming via boat from Belize (Punta Gorda), definitely opt for Livingston over Puerto Barrios as your final destination (check tip #1). Keep in mind neither are particularly desirable, and you will have to get your passport stamped in PB before moving on to Livingston.

Tip #1: if you are making the boat ride from Belize to Guatemala, it takes some coordinating - boats that go all the way to Livingston are only an option on Tuesdays and Fridays (unless anything has changed). Otherwise they only go to Puerto Barrios.

Tip #2: you will be bombarded by people when you get off the boat in Livingston telling you about which hostel to go to. Try to shake them off. If you can't, just make sure to ask all the right questions to the hostel they take you to - price? AC? wifi? also ask to see the room.

rio dulce

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If you assumed, like me, that this refers only to a river, the logistics might seem a little confusing at first... but it actually refers to a city on the water's edge. This means it is accessible from other parts of the country via shuttle/bus/taxi; however, I would 1000% recommend coming via lancha (boat) from Livingston for 125Q. The setting is very relaxed, so I would recommend allowing yourself a couple days to enjoy it.

STAY: at Kangaroo Hostel!!! Hustlers at the boat dock were pushing this hostel, which made us apprehensive, but it turned out to be LEGIT. They sent a boat to collect us from the dock (the hostel is right on the water, totally isolated - but don't worry you won't go hungry, it has an awesome restaurant/bar). The owners are incredibly sweet and have tons of interesting stories to share as well as incredibly helpful travel advice.

DO: Day trip to Castillo de San Felipe. A more involved day trip involves a collectivo/short hike to Finca Paraiso - a hot waterfall that drops into cold river water. Mudbath possible. Bring snacks! If you did not come in via lancha from Livingston, experience the ride twice in a day trip to Livingston.

semuc champey

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This was another destination I was initially a bit confused about.. I saw the unreal photos of the tiered limestone bridges and turquoise pools, but I didn't understand how to do it logistically. Now I know: Semuc Champey is the monument, Lanquin is the city you will visit it from.

Location awareness: this area is very isolated which adds to it's magic, but also begs a warning that the journey there is not necessarily comfortable. It's long, and the last part is on unpaved roads. Just focus on the beautiful, untouched scenery you are passing through. Also, wifi access will be limited and you may run into some tarantulas.

Accommodation tip: make arrangements beforehand!!! You do not want to be scrambling for a place to stay once you get there, especially because there are only a handful and they fill up fast. You will arrive in Lanquin, where hostel reps will be waiting with a truck ready to take you to the hostel.

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Logistic tip: no ATMs, bring cash and avoid paying the credit card fee!!!!

STAY: My mom and I stayed at Utopia, which we enjoyed. Sleeping options included hammocks, bunk beds, private rooms, and bungalows. Considering the isolation, food options are limited, but the hostel offers all meals - dinner is served family style. It is within walking distance to Semuc Champey (meaning you can skip the tour and do it on your own). Zephyr is highly rated, and supposedly the rowdiest hostel in the area.

DO: the hostels will provide a list of activities and tours you can do. Learning about the process of making chocolate and actually doing it during the chocolate tour was unforgettable! Of course, visit Semuc Champey. You can do this on your own or with a tour, where a guide while take you caving (I won't go into detail, but unless you have major problems with the dark, claustrophobia, and/or water, you will love it), up to the viewpoint, and back down to swim in the pools. There is also an option to go tubing. TIP: do not take a packed lunch from the hostel - you will stop for lunch, but there is a food stand that offers a warm, hearty, cheap meal.

transportation

Unfortunately, over night buses are not a thing in Guatemala for safety reasons.

Posted by scampyyy 19:22 Archived in Guatemala Comments (0)

belize

1 week: Caye Caulker → Placencia → Punta Gorda

If you are in Guatemala and have time, I would definitely recommend taking a detour through Belize! A detour through Belize connects you to two different parts of Guatemala that are worth seeing (Tikal and Rio Dulce) and offers you a taste of a different culture (the culture in Belize stands out from other countries in Central America because it has a strong Caribbean influence). We went from north to south of Belize, starting from Guatemala's Tikal (Flores).

caye caulker

The bus from Guatemala took us straight to the dock in Belize City, where we hopped on a boat to Caye Caulker, along with tons of other tourists and Church groups. Caye Caulker is a nice place to chill out, but to be honest I was a little underwhelmed and ready to move on after a few days.

DO: Go diving and snorkeling. Find Terry's and eat there! Amazing jerk chicken and fresh barricuda. Hang out at the split.

GO: Take a day trip (or overnight) to other nearby cayes. We went to San Pedro to chill for a day - it's a bit more touristy/developed than Caye Caulker.

Tip: Don't go for beaches - there aren't any.

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placencia

Nice spot to chill out, with a bit more beach to enjoy than Caye Caulker. To get here you need to take a bus to Independencia and a taxi to the water taxi, which will finally take you there.

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punta gorda

from Punta Gorda, you can take boat transportation back to Guatemala.

Tip #1: check the timing/schedule of the boat!! Some days provide service, others don't - so plan ahead!

Tip #2: unless anything has changed, the transportation back to Guatemala is incredibly unofficial. The boat is tiny, the captain's priority is the condensed milk he is transporting, and you will get soaked. It may not seem like it, but you will survive - but consider yourself warned!

Tip #3: you will have to get your passport stamped in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, but don't stay for longer than that - find a water taxi to Livingston, where you can start your Rio Dulce adventure.

transportation note

the bus station in Belize City is CRAZY. Seats are first come first serve, so things are cutthroat - you need to be prepared to push and be pushed. Everyone waits in some poor semblance of a line in the waiting area until the bus pulls up. The attendant unlocks the gate and then it is a mad rush for the bus. If you don't get on it you will have to wait and try your luck for the next one. We missed out on two buses because people squeezed us out. Needless to say it is a pain in the butt, especially with cumbersome backpacks.

Posted by scampyyy 11:06 Archived in Belize Comments (0)

colombia

3 months: Bogota → Medellin → Santa Marta (Tayrona, Minca, Taganga) → San Gil → Bogota → Santa Marta (Tayrona) → Bogota

The cities people usually hit are Cartagena, Cali, Bogota, Medellin, and Santa Marta.

cartagena

I ran out of time to get to here, but it's supposed to have beautiful architecture and I’ve heard Playa Grande is a sweet place to stay for the day/overnight in a hammock.

Tip #1: because so many tourists go here, it's expensive, so just beware/be careful about what you're paying. My friend got a hammock at Playa Grande and was under the impression the price was a lot cheaper than it actually was and didn't realize until he had to pay.

Tip #2: be especially careful of yourself and your belongings. I heard a lot of horror stories about people getting mugged in Cartagena - doesn’t necessarily mean it will happen, but it does mean you should be careful.

cali

I didn't make it here either... or for that matter any part of the country further south than Bogota. Supposedly really good night life there though. But other than that I heard the city isn't too interesting and you get over it in a couple days.

bogota

It's a cool city! But not one you need to spend a lot of time in as a tourist.

STAY: in Candelaria neighborhood! I stayed at the Cranky Croc which was really nice and good location.

medellin

....is fucking amazing. People raved about it and I didn't understand how a city could be so cool but it really is. There is tons to do - my list is just the tip of the iceberg. Be ready for some late nights and good times.

STAY: Poblado neighborhood for sure, lots of delicious restaurants and clubs and a park where everyone goes to drink and chill and party.

DO: The Free Walking Tour is legit. The city has made major efforts to turned itself around since Escobar, primarily in terms of creating positive public spaces. The walking tour will take you to most of them and provide historical and social context you won’t get otherwise. Take advantage of the metro system - a pride and joy for Paisas. It’s nice, clean, and extensive system; it offers a perfect way to see the city for cheap. The metro also has a couple cable lines, created with the intention of connecting the poorer neighborhoods in the hills to the city in the valley. They offer impressive views, a glimpse into the poor side of the city, and a means to get to Parque Arvi, a nature reserve with tons of trails.

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Pueblito Paisa is a reconstruction of a small, typical Antioquian city. It’s on a hill so it offers good views of Medellin, but besides that it’s pretty much just a tourist trap.

GO: About an hour outside Medellin is Guatape, a crazy man made lake city with a huge rock (El Penol) that you can walk up in order to get incredible views. You can do it in a day trip but it's a cool little town that you could easily spend a night or two in if you're looking to relax (there are a lot of water-based activities, but we didn't look into them due to time and money).

santa marta

It's hot as shit here. Like literally so hot you don't want to do anything except lay in the sun because even doing that you sweat.. But it's amazing. Definitely not the most interesting city, but it is a really good jumping off point for a lot of places…

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STAY: I worked at Drop Bear Hostel and had the time of my life. It's an old cartel house of Escobars so it's legit a mansion. The rooms are big, there's a pool, a nice kitchen (half for hostel service and half for guests), a bar, a huge TV room with ping pong and pool tables and a comfortable lounge area, as well as tons of hammocks scattered all over the hostel. It's within walking distance to a grocery store but it is a little bit removed from down town (nothing a taxi ride can't fix). La Brisa Loca is a more centrally located hostel, but with a roof top bar the noise and party scene is basically inescapable.. Drop Bear allows for party and chill. The Dreamer is also popular, but it's even more removed than Drop Bear.

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DO: No matter where you stay, your hostel will have tons info about activities and tours. A lot of people do the Lost City Trek and say it's one of the best things they ever did. I didn't do it because of money, but I never heard anyone regret going. BUT, if you are strained for money, Pueblito is *supposedly* a legit alternative. Day trip to Minca ($15 tour includes a coffee farm tour, short hike to a waterfall, and time to explore the tiny jungle town). Day trip to Bahia Concha, Tayrona Park’s nearest beach to Santa Marta ($30 tour includes traditional lunch, motor bike transportation there and back, cliff jumping, beach time, and snorkeling – snorkeling was not impressive but the cliff jumping was a lot of fun and would have been difficult to find without a guide). Friday night Party Bus. Rodadero beach (touristy – lots of vendors). Surf at Costeno beach.

FROM SANTA MARTA:

Tayrona National Park: for some reason, I just did not understand the logistics of going to the Park at all, which in retrospect is kind of embarrassing because it's pretty straightforward. A local bus from Santa Marta will drop you off at the main Park entrance, where you have to watch a short informational video and pay the Park fee. Then you're on your way!

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A lot of people go for day trips or just for one night. If you have the time, stay for two so you have a full day to relax. There's 3 main places to stay... I forget the first one then there is Arrecifes and then Cabo San Juan. Cabo San Juan is the spot to be, that's where everyone goes during the day no matter where they are sleeping because that's where the best beaches are. It's likeee a two hour walk from the main park entrance I think. You can also get there by horse – not too expensive and pretty entertaining.

Tip #1: the park provides a ride from the entrance gate to the beginning of the hike. We didn’t know that and walked that distance which added at least 45 minutes.

Tip #2: Try to get there earlier rather than later so you can claim a hammock, the other option is tents... And if you get there too late like we did you'll get a tent without a mattress ha.

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Tip #3: Bring food. There’s a restaurant there but it can add up if you eat all your meals there (although at least once you have to get a shrimp dish for dinner.. One of the best meals I've had in my life!!). Also, there's no filtered water so either bring a filter, bring your own water, or expect to pay more than you want to for water there.

Tip #4: Rather than leave the park the same way, hike back via El Pueblito. I’m not going to lie it’s tough but sooo worth it. Not because of El Pueblito (it’s pretty much just some rocks on the ground) but the hike itself is beautiful and a lot of fun when you don't feel like dying.

Taganga is an awesome dirty little backpacker/fishing town about a 15 minute cab from Santa Marta. Not a lot to actually do there but you can get hassled by street vendors while eating some delicious ceviche and do a short hike to a nice beach called Playa Grande. At night, go to the Mirador bar/club. There's no where else worth going more and you can easily walk down to the beach from there to continue the party.

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Minca is a little jungle town that you gotta get to. I thought a day tour/trip was enough, but I went back and stayed a couple nights at Casa Elemento. It's out of the way and a trek to get there (45 minute bumpy motor bike ride) but you won’t regret it. Just beware of the sandflies.

Rancho Relaxo – past Tayrona Park and on the way to Palomino is this hostel that has the same bubble/off the grid feel as Casa Elemento. Family-like vibe, close to the beach. Opportunities to tube and hike to waterfalls.

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Beautiful and full of opportunities for activities and adventure!

DO: So many options... kayaking, white water rafting, paragliding, biking, bungee jumping, etc. We didn’t have money to do a lot of them so we chose the one that appealed to us the most: waterfall rappelling down the Juan Curi waterfall – so much fun; definitely recommended (only $15)!! We also did a lot of hiking; there are a few natural pools within relatively short walking distance from the main city area. (We went to Pozo Azul which apparently gets pretty crowded over the weekend with locals but when we went during the week had it to ourselves).

FROM SAN GIL: Barichara – a small colonial town just outside of San Gil. Some people may say to go for a few days or at least a night but we passed through during a day hike (bus to Barichara then hiked to Guane) and that was plenty enough for me. Chicamoca National Park – maybe the strangest place I encountered in South America. The setting is beautiful but it is ruined by the park's commercialization of it. There is a bizarre variety of attractions (ostrich farm, extreme swings, zipline, historical monuments, buggie rides, and a neighboring waterpark); the best part was the bus ride to the park and the tram ride across the valley that offered impressive views.

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I went for a day trip to during Carnaval and had a great time, but I have the impression it’s not a place a passing tourist needs to go to; although I’ve heard from a number of people who spent substantial time there that they love it.

transportation

Buses are actually pretty expensive in Colombia which sucks, but quality is good (although they are notorious for being sooo cold... I never had any extreme experiences but my friend was on one that was so cold he put socks on his hands haha). Anyways expensive buses also means that sometimes you could pay the same amount or even less to just take a flight. So if your doing major transportation like Santa Marta to Medellin or Bogota, check out flights too and see how they compare.

eat

Bandeja Paisa! But make sure you’re hungry… one plate includes rice and beans, tons of meat (pork, ground meat, chicaron, chorizo), fried egg, plantain, arepas, and avocado.

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Buñuelos! Little fried cheese balls. Arepas! By themselves they are soo dry and bland (it’s a corn based type of bread), but they can be modified and stuffed with all sorts of delicious fillings. Camarones!!! I had some of the best shrimp dishes of my life in Santa Marta, at Cabo San Juan in particular. Cazuelas!

drink

Chicha! corn based alcoholic drink. Super cheap. It was everywhere in Bogota (even sold in the street). It’s usually yellow but I also tried red and green flavors – red was my favorite. Aguardiente: I mean... not the smoothest alcohol but it’s cheap and gets the job done. Fresh Juices: MARACUYAAAAAA; mora (similar to blackberry) also definitely worth trying!

to do

I want to hit the coffee region (Manizales), Cartagena, and explore deeper into the northern coast.

Posted by scampyyy 19:15 Archived in Colombia Comments (0)

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