Pretty smile on a dirty street, Guatemala City as seen

Pretty, clean and safe is not what all trevellers are usually looking for. There are a real explorers out there that wont be easily satisfy by a little umbrella in their cocktail with a swimming pool on a side. This group want to see the diverse lifestyle on this planet. They want to discover and sink in a different culture. They want to see how people interact with each other in different, mostly roughest, environment. They want to understand the level of poverty, even crime sometimes. They don’t want to hide in posh hotels and turning their head at daily struggle. Yet, interestingly, very often they can found the reliance that goes towards the same direction.

Poor, dangerous with friendship and love. High-high, low-low. That how I see the world now, that what I think. Yet, there is still so many more places to see for me, so many cultures to touch, so many people to meet. I can see all those fakes smiles in western countries along with pure kindness in third world areas. Being in Kathmandu during the earthquake in 2015, I saw how Nepalese helped each other, I saw how French fire brigade had a breakfast for 4h, then going out to take some photos. I am not saying they did nothing, but way more could be done from them. I wonder why is that? I guess I need still to see more to, maybe, understand.

But coming back to the title, I definitely would recommend visiting Guatemala City, and Central America in general, especially for the mentioned group of trevellers at the beginning of this post, and to everyone really. Spearing this time to write what to see or eat, and where to stay, I will just say that you will enjoy no matter what, like I did.

 

The capital of murder, my trip to El Salvador

Writing blogs like this one gives me an amazing opportunity to achieve three important things. First, and probably most important, is that it will stay as way of a souvenir, reminding me places I was fortunate to visit. I recognize the second reason as a possibility to share my experience, tips, thoughts and observations with other travellers or readers. And last, but not least, is the fact that while writing all my memories, or at least most of them, are coming back to me again like a wave, like a wind of all those things I saw, touched, felt and tasted, almost experiencing them again.

Glad I finally can introduce, thought just in a small part, El Salvador to you. Currently holding, nicely said, a very uninviting title of being one of the most dangerous country. Somehow, yet again, from my experience numbers can lie or twist the first impression. Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, where one person got killed every hour, became to be my favorite place in this part of the world. I guess the fact that I found locals to be the friendliest, along with the tropical beauty around, helped to crashed the general opinion in my head. On another side this Centro-american land is apparently well known for experiences some of the highest murder rates in Latin America. It is also considered as an epicenter of the gang crisis, along with Guatemala and Honduras. Organized crime in El Salvador is a serious problem. It is estimated that around 36.000 of people belongs to the gang. Efforts to understand or deal with this phenomenon in the small Central American country have been insufficient. As mentioned, I am glad I visited Salvador, but had to start with cold information, just so you will research well areas to stay in. That will help you to prepare better for your trip and stay safe.

Probably not the best statistics to start with, and a breaking reason for many not visit this country. But let me tell you something, I traveled around there as solo female staying even in a very rough areas of capital and Santa Ana, and I could not, literally, see any good reason for not visiting. I stayed in El Salvador for 2 weeks in April 2016, twice in capital and once in Santa Ana. I traveled only by public bus, always being alone. Lack of English-speaking people around could be a problem indeed for many of us, but just with very basic Spanish, like I’ve had, you will be just fine. It is probably also good to mention that 95% of the deaths take gang members only and, I am afraid, police force. With good attitudes like, not walking after dark or in some most dangerous ares, you will be very safe and you will love Salvador, as I did.

Reasons why I loved Salvador most in Central America

Locals

The kindness, generous people, that I’ve met during my backpacking in Central America, I found in El Salvador. Either it was in a hotel, on the street, in the restaurant or just in the bus, people were always smiling to me, trying to help, chatting. They were very interesting in me, wanted to know where I am from, why I came, and how on earth I am alone here. All these factors made me feel very welcome. I received loads of warmnes from many true hearts. I just could not imagine a nicer nation, I think even in both Americas.  I will always remember all those guards with shotguns on the street always calling me to wave and say: buenos dias Anna, como esta. I was probably one of a very few tourists they saw before, as I never stayed in a touristic area, yet they weren’t reserved in any way towards me. Police were always stopping and asking me if I need a lift anywhere, people smiling all the time which make my whole experience just perfect.

Landscape

El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America. It has 307 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Fonseca, and it is situated between Honduras and Guatemala. The topography of El Salvador contain mainly mountains, but the country does have some narrow, relatively flat central plateau. The highest point in is Cerro el Pital at 2,730 m, and it is located in the northern part of the country on the border with Honduras. Because El Salvador is located not far from the equator, its climate is tropical in nearly all areas except for its higher elevations where the climate is considered more temperate. Lakes and volcanoes found in many areas too.

Rich range of a street food

As a one of the poorest countries in Central America, gastronomy business creates some earning opportunities for many of locals. You will just never get hungry in Salvador as food stands are available on every single corner in every possible place. Vendors do offer a wide range of many meals from a very local snacks (pupusas-hand-made corn tortillas stuffed with various fillings such as beans; tamales-corn dough pockets that are served with different fillings like sweet corn, cheese, meat or dried fruits; pasteles-fried dough patties filled with meat like chicken, pork or beef and finely chopped vegetables; soups), along with more western options like chips (here eaten with mayo and cheese- see Germany, you’re not the only one:), burgers, pizzas; and finally finishing at any kind of shakes, natural fruit juices and many different sweets to pick. Any stomach will be satisfied in El Salvador.

Santa Ana Volcano

One of the most amazing places I have seen in my life, definitely in my top five. For more info about volcano and how to get there by public bus, please click here.

Cost line

307 km of coastline along the Pacific Ocean contains a sandy beaches with beautiful tropical flora around. Cost is also well popular among surfers.

Cheap prices

El Salvador is one of the cheapest countries in Central America. You can travel on public transport in the cities for maximum of 0.25$. The bus from capital to Santa Ana (2h of journey) cost as little as 1$. Hotel`s bed with bathroom can be found from 10$. Breakfast or lunch found on the street from 1$. Good place to buy some clothes at a very low price.

Just remember to

Please note, if you are planning on going to El Salvador, do some research on area you will be staying in. Most of them are just fine, but few are controlled completely by gangs and nobody can access them. Police is not welcome there, if a solo officer will go to that part of the town, he will get instantly killed.

Never walk after dark and try to avoid not crowded areas. Do not flash with your valuables like phone or camera, as thieving is very common there. Eh, that’s the reason I don’t have many photos from there.

Understanding a daily life in San Salvador

But please do understand that people of El Salvador struggle on a daily basis. As much as  part “what I loved most” of this blog can sound as a fairy tale, we have to recognize that people of this country are in constant fear of being murdered or abuse in any way, especially young males. Here, I have to add, that you as a tourist are very safe, way safer than locals, they are just not as fortunate as you are. Again, poorest people are at greatest disadvantage that are forced to live in roughest areas where violence occur on daily basis. A large percentage of the population lives under the poverty level, which means their chance for a decent standard of living is low. Their situation is so bad that many of them risk a dangerous trip up to the United States to look for better opportunities.

Every private business have to pay a tax to one of the gangs that control the area, street. It is normal to see a dead body on the street sometimes, and that almost every shop got his own bodyguard with a shotgun, rifle or machine gun. Guns are visible pretty much everywhere, and are normal even for children. In western countries you can see a non-smoking signs, when in Sal Salvador no-gun sights are everywhere. Some people are forced to travel at night, which is a very dangerous thing. Many have witnessed a murder or are accused of snitching to authorities, while others have been evicted by criminals who wanted their home. Those with money or relatives in safer areas often seek refuge within El Salvador.  Young girls tend to get pregnant at a very young age, just to avoid being claim by the gang members. It is well know that police and government is highly corrupted. Having said that, being a part of a force, is probably the most dangerous job to do as of war between gangs and the government. Fear is notable almost everywhere, buses are full of holes from bullets. Gang members are on every street, patrolling their territory, making sure money are collected from  business owners.

So this is a daily life in El Salvador, the country I felt in love with. As much as I hope to visit again, I would love to see the improvement on mayny levels, especially in crime rate and economy. Yet again, please note that this is one of the most amazing countries in the world, and with proper attitude you will be just fine, and you will experience and appreciate the people and the land, like I did.

One funny trip to High Atlas Mountains in Morocco

Marrakesh is absolutely wonderful, vibrant, colorful, and filled with culture all around, that wants to grab you and never let go. But please, keep in your mind that there are even greater things to see around. Along with magnificent cost line, you can hike one of the highest range of African mountains, and even visit the desert. All three mentioned places are definitely worth seeing, so please try to add maybe one or two days to extend your stay in this country, trying not to just concentrate on Marrakesh city, that’s if possible for you of course. Definitely a strong recommendation from me is to buy few trips while in any city really. I guess, adding that they all are at a very affordable price may count too for a budget travellers. One day trip, that include transport and usually guide, can cost as little as 30$. Here, please take my advice to carefully recheck what is covered in the price. Some agencies do not include some entrance fees, and they wont inform you, if you don`t ask.

But coming back to the title of this post, I did book two tours. One to hike High Atlas and second to see the desert. The first one was definitely very different from the casual ones, I’ve ever had before. Why?

The following day of my trip I woke up with a very high temperature, very unwell with a sore throat. Kind of a thing you can expect when coming during late November from a cold Europe to a country wormed up to 28-30C. Despite being sick and not really up for hiking, I decided to go anyway. It was agreed that transport will pick me up from my hotel at 8.30. So, ready, I was waiting, then waiting a little bit more, then It was already 9.30. I got worried a bit, but I gave another 30 minutes to wait (I guess, I like to wait;), then I called agency to ask what on earth is going on, how could they forget about looovelly Annaaa from Poooland. Well, yes, they kinda did. Agent was very apologetic, and he said that somebody is coming back to pick me up in 10 minutes. Ok then, I thought, I will wait. After 10 minutes a man came and told me to fallow him, so I did. He took me to the cafe shop where 2 Moroccans were sitting, then he announce to me that I will go with them. I asked-ok, so we will catch up with the rest of the group? He said no, they are gone already, we will go alone. I said – no, I am not coming alone with you – but they were pressuring me that its ok, and we will go alone, I mean me and two of them…in their private old car. I recon, it’s because of my high temperature, I agreed. As soon as we headed off, I wasn’t sure If I will be alive by tomorrow, was scared and couldn’t understand why I did agree.

So what happened after? Nothing really. I’ve had the most wonderful private day trip and hike. Definitely one of the best tours, I have ever booked. Apart from the fact that as the only one I was in control of where will we stop and for how long, I’ve had a private guide while hiking Mountains. Here, I have to say hello to him, as my guide was so so nice to me, adapting the speed, of quieted difficult hike on rocks, to my speed, and the way I felt that day. Thought, as female solo, better not to fallow what I ve done, as you never know, this trip came as one of the coolest. We chatted a lot, so I’ve had a chance to learn about current political issues, economy and general lifestyle in Morocco. Please see my photos of this, scary at first, amazing at the and, day trip around Magnificent range of African mountains.

Goulash vs KFC-Budapest with kids

  As one of a very few capitals in the world to have a thermal baths in the city center, as a cool attraction to start with, along with a pretty hills around and amazing architecture, Budapest clearly outshine most of the capitals in this part of the Europe. Yet again, thought more and more popular as a city break destination, still not as popular as it should be, as it deserved. Easter part of Europe, and mostly Balkans, are one of the best places to travel on this continent. I really do think it is finally a time for tourists to start putting pins to the opposite side on a map of Europe.

  Very similar introduction of the city, you can find in many of my blogs, to start my post with, yet, going to be a little bit different. This time I did not travel solo, as always. I was accompanied by my sister and her two kids, changing a little bit my usual experience from crazy, almost obsessive huger for discovery, to a very lazy, ice-cream eating trip. Having said that, I enjoyed it a lot! Especially our fun in one of the biggest aqua park in this part of the Europe, something I would never do as a solo visitor.

 

What you will enjoy most

  • Stunning building of Parliament

    Definitely my favorite, neo-Gothic, neo-Romanesque and neo-Baroque, located by Danube River, the building of Parliament is one of the most impressive government quarters in the world. Must be seen from three different points of view: Castle Hill, to see blended panorama around; from the river, while taking a boat; and from the paths surrounded by. Thought when it comes to the time, evening makes this political building looking lake a fairy tale castle full of magic. My nieces really did enjoy and appreciate the view.

    EU with valid passport can enjoy a free tour of Budapest’s Parliament Building.

  • St. Stephen’s Basilica

    Impressive St. Stephen’s Basilica is the largest church in Budapest that can hold up to 8,500 people. Located in the city center, it is hardly to be missed. Although in architectural terms it’s a cathedral, it was given the title of ‘basilica minor’ by Pope Pius XI in 1931. Even that it took more than 50 years to build it, kids were not so impressed ;). 

  • Soak in the thermal bath

    Hungary is a land of thermal springs, and Budapest remains the only capital city in the world that is rich in thermal waters with healing qualities. I love them, but couldn’t really try. Please don’t make the same mistake. I can be a perfect relaxed day after a busy night out.

  • Tasting traditional food at Central Market Hall

    Built at the end of the 19th century, the Central Market Hall (officially called ‘Központi Vásárcsarnok’ in Hungarian) is the largest indoor market in Budapest. Located very close to the Chain Bridge could make a fantastic attraction while near by. Perfect also to try some very traditional food as sausages, meats, cheeses, fruits and vegetables. Market offers also plenty of vendors selling handicrafts, clothing, embroidery, chessboards and other souvenirs. Paprika and Tokaji are also sold there. Fish market is located in the bottom part, along with the drug store and small Asian grocery. Important to add that while focusing on Hungarian products, on International Gastro Days (Fridays and Saturdays), the Central Market Hall also features the food and cuisine of a foreign country.

  • Take a stroll on Andrássy Avenue to Heroes’ Square 

    Nothing better than to just take a walk via Andrássy Avenue to finish at the largest and most impressive square of the city that Laid out in 1896 to mark the thousandth anniversary of Hungary, Heroes’ Square (Hősök tere). Located also near the City Park, Heroes’ Square is one of the most visited sights in Budapest.

  • Discover historic Castle Hill

    The historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings in Budapest. Completed first in 1265, but the massive Baroque palace today occupying most of the site was built between 1749 and 1769. Constructed high on the hill became on of the most notable places in Budapest, from where, except the streets and building, you can view the beautiful panorama of the capital. Significantly enjoyed by kids and adults.

  • Spot the beautiful panorama from the top of Gellért Hill

    The hill was named after bishop Gellért (Gerard), who was thrown to death from the hill by pagans in the fight against Christianity in 1046. His statue, which faces Elizabeth Bridge (Erzsébet hid) and holds a cross, can be seen from many parts of Pest. At the top of the hill is the Citadel (Citadella), a fortress built by the Habsburgs after defeating Hungary’s War of Independence in 1849. Hill is located between the Castle Hill and Chain Bridge.

  • Take a free walking tour

    The city of Budapest offers many free tours run on a daily basis, that covers different parts and different attractions. Definitely work joining in to one, I think especially around the Castle Hill and Parliament.

    What kids will enjoy most

  • Aquapark

    One of the best places for families to enjoy. Aquaworld is one of the largest indoor water theme parks in Europe. There are 17 pools, including a swimming pool, a wave pool and a surf pool, and 11 slides. What else kids would ask for? Out-door swimming pools? Also available to enjoy there along with separate area called kids’ world, with children’s pool, slides and a playhouse. Aquaworld is surly a family favorite one. 15 of the 17 pools are open all year around, and one of the large indoor pools is connected to a heated outdoor pool also open throughout the year. As much as water can be enjoyed on every single level, the restaurant does not offer a great range of food, luckily goulash soup was available to try with freshly made bun.

    Getting to Aquaworld: A free shuttle bus runs every day between Heroes’ Square and Aquaworld. Taxi from the city center will cost around 30 euros.

  • Main park on the island called Margaret Island

    One of the best places to spend a Sunday afternoon. Margaret Island, apart from being an amazingly big and green park located on Danube River right in the city center, offers loads of activities like: bicycle rental, indoor & outdoor pools, playgrounds, a small petting zoo, kids vehicles rental and more.  Loads of small restaurants, food stands and ice cream vans are all around to pick a snack, lunch or dinner. No traffic make it ideal for a family outing, where loads of activities can be enjoyed. Margaret Island is not only a popular destination during the day, as it comes alive after sunset too. Definitely kids favorite place after aquaworld, even for a whole day. Can be rich from the land (from the bridge) or by boat. But the last one is the coolest transport to choose from, at a very affordable price.

  • Chain Bridge

    Spanning the Danube between Clark Ádám tér (Buda side) and Széchenyi István tér (Pest side), the Chain Bridge (Lánchid) was the first to permanently connect Buda and Pest. Kids loved it as of the possibility of hiking the bridge and taking a photo.

  • Cruise on Danube River

    The magnificent scenic divider and connector of Buda and Pest is best discover from a cruise or a ship. The first one offer a relaxing daytime sightseeing cruise that includes a stroll through Margaret Island. Quicker and cheaper options is probably offers on one of the public boats marked as D11, D12 (that run during the week) and D13 (that runs on weekends).

  • Fast food

    As much as I would love them to try more of traditional food, kids just loved the fact that pizza slices and gyros was available on every single corner. Not much to add to this one really.

  • Balaton Lake

    Perfect for a one day trip to take a break from busy streets of Budapest. The beautiful lake of Balaton is located 135 km from the capital, and can be reached by bus, train or car. I think second option is probably the best (around 25$ with return) as the main railway station is close to the city center with underground stop just under. Best time to visit the lake is between June until the end of August. The average water temperature of 25 °C makes bathing and swimming popular on the lake. Most of the beaches consist of either grass, rocks, or the silty sand that also makes up most of the bottom of the lake.

  • Small parks with playgrounds

    Small parks with playground for the kids are available in every areas in Budapest, even in the city center. The most important thing about them is, that they are very clean and safe as there is usually a bodyguard during the day and night, that is making sure, that no alcohol is consumed. Smoking is prohibited as well.