“Argentina has the waterfalls but Brazil has the balcony”. Choosing a gateway to see Iguazu Falls in Paraguay/Brazil/Argentina

Wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone the fact that Iguazu Falls are clearly the most known waterfalls in South America, and probably in the rest of the world. Easily and proudly competitive with Niagara Falls. Having seen “Latino” one, I can confidently say that Iguazu stand out and outshine as way more impressive. They are taller than Canadian one, twice as wide and are one of the greatest natural wonders of the world with the area around marked as the UNESCO World Heritage. Iguaçu Falls (Portuguese: Cataratas do Iguaçu, Spanish: Cataratas del Iguazú, Tupi: Y Ûasu “big water”) are situated near the border of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. Water falls of the Iguazu River that rises near the city of Curitiba, on the border of the Argentinan province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Paraná. The river, for most of its course,  flows through Brazil, however, most of the falls are on the Argentine side. They creates a natural water border between those countries and they are the largest waterfalls system in the world (275 waterfalls). The falls divide the river into the upper and lower Iguazu.  Below its confluence with the San Antonio River, the river forms the boundary between Argentina and Brazil. Falls are set among National Parks, which consist of subtropical rain-forests that are home to hundreds of rare and endangered species of flora and fauna.

   The falls are very well known for every backpacker traveling through the continent or just around Brazil, Argentina or Paraguay, marking a very important dot on their map. There are 2 most popular gateways to see those magnificent, violent and impressively big waters. First one is a Brazilian city called Foz do Iguaçu. Second, Argentinian town  named Puerto Iguazú. Close by Ciudad del Este, in Paraguay, that is separated from Brazilian town just by the bridge Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge), creates also an easy way to reach our destination. I have seen all three of them, so If you’re are in a rush, and can pick just one location, you may want to have a look at some comparisons below. I will also write briefly about Argentinian and Brazilian side of the waterfalls to help you pick one, if you can not see both side which, in my opinion, is ideal, but not always a case for everyone.

Iguazu falls from Brazilian side

  • Three possible sided to experience the falls: from the top, from the bottom (Devil’s Throat, please take a waterproof jacket!) and by boat.
  • You can opt for a helicopter ride (only available on the Brazilian side) that cost around 100$.
  • This side offers a bus service connecting the falls with other activities. That service runs from the entrance to the end of the park every 10 minutes in both directions.
  • You’ll get to see the entire panorama of cascades, this view cannot be duplicated on the Argentine side.
  • Better Viewpoints, but There’s really only a couple different of them.
  • Really cool bird park just outside the gates of the Brazilian National Park entrance.
  • As of a smaller are of the park, can be done in half of the day.
  • Entrance ticket is cheaper.

Iguazu falls from Argentinian side

  • Iguazú National Park is much bigger than its Brazilian counterpart, with more trails to walk along and some that lead you right into the open water. You’ll need at least a full day (or two) to see it all and walk all of its trails.
  • Boat trips available too.
  • The Garganta del Diablo, bridge above the falls, literally swallows you up as you walk towards the end. It is probaby the most impressive viewpoint where you appreciate the absolute enormity and power of the falls. The bridge extends all the way to the edge of the falls, as tons of water plunge aggressively into the far distance.
  • Available zip line.
  • You can get right on top of the waterfall, not exactly possible on Brazilian side.
  • On the Argentine side of the park there’s a small train leaving about every half an hour from near the entrance going all the way to the beginning of the trail to the Garganta del Diablo.
  • There are many more options on the Argentine side, and that is the side where you would want to spend more time.
  • 20% falling on the Brazilian side and an impressive 80% in Argentina

The biggest difference, in my opinion, between Argentina and Brazil was that in Argentina you can experience falls looking at them right down, like inside the waterfalls, while in Brazil you have the impression of standing kind of under the waterfalls. Two totally different thing that are possible only on each side. Very difficult to compare.

Foz do Iguaçu (city in Brazil)

Pluses

  • Foz do Iguaçu is a city, and that gives you the opportunity to stuck up on anything you may be missing.
  • The prices around are not to high, and probably close by Ciudad del Este participate in this fact too.
  • There are few big discount shops around for a budget backpackers. Cheap street food stand can be easily found all around.
  • Bus, that goes to the falls, is located in the city center very close to the bus station.
  • Zoo to visit.
  • More hotels, restaurants, and other amenities.
  • Not as touristic as Puerto Iguazú.

Minuses

  • Foz do Iguaçu is probably the worst city I have stayed in while traveling around South America.
  • Main bus station, that connect cities, is located far away from the center, which makes it difficult to just walk to your accommodation
  • Not many things to do around.
  • Not the friendliest people I have met.

Puerto Iguazú (town in Argentina)

Pluses

  • Pleasant, safe, quiet and cute little town, so It is easy to find your way around.
  • Closest to Argentinian side of the falls.
  • Loads of travelers around to meet.
  • People seems more friendly than on Brazilian side.

Minuses

  • Very expensive prices, as generally in Argentina.
  • Not many cash machines around, and some do not accept your cards.
  • Nothing really to do in the town.
  • Expensive restaurants, set for tourists.

Ciudad del Este (city in Paraguay)

Pluses

  • Very cheap to stay in, eat out, everything really.
  • Easy access to Foz do Iguaçu, just crossing the bridge from where you can catch a bus to the falls.
  • Very crowded streets, full of trading locals which give you the opportunity to discover locals daily life and environment around they live in.
  • Experiencing amazing, very lively vibrant city, a bit of a smuggling one, with busy streets packed with loads of stands. Well known for its cheap electronics equipment.
  • Markets rich of fruits and vegetables at very low prices.
  • Loads of cheap street food stands where you can grab a lunch for as little as 1$.
  • Extremely cheap accommodation.
  • Atmosphere on the streets.
  • Least touristic one on our list.
  • Very friendly people, very chatty, helpful, easy to interact with, more open to travelers.
  • Definitely one of my favorite places in South America.

Minuses

  • The only minus I found is an extra time you need to get to Foz de Iguazu to catch a bus to the falls. Having said that, you can get a taxi at a very cheap price to take you to the bus stop in Brazil.

Verdict

Of course, I will leave the choice to you. However, if I had to do it again, not having much time, I would stop in Paraguay (Ciudad del Este), and from there I would travel to the Argentinian side to see it. For whats it worth, whatever side you will pick, you will be blown away by the magnificent diverse nature of the area and the beauty of this violently falling waters.

How many days? One. Day tour around Sophia.

  Everyone of us, or at least most, do some itinerary before traveling. Its is always a significant question on the length of stay in each place, specially for a first-time  visitors. Capital, as usually the biggest city in the country, is no estrange to that doubt. Many of them in Europe vary from Barcelona, where you can stay for weeks, to smaller one where you can discover a place in just even less than few days. Good internet research always help to plan your trip better. And here I come with my blog post, to answer that questions.

So where are we this time? Sophia, a capital of Bulgaria, a beautiful country with stunning mountain range Vitosha, a volcanic mountain massif, on the outskirts the capital, visible all around. Vitosha is one of the symbols of Sofia and the closest site for hiking, alpinism and skiing. thought, when it comes to the rest of the country, I can not say that Sophia offers a lot. One day is all you need to discover the place. I would even suggest going to see Rila Monastery in the morning and do a sight-seen after. All could be done in one day. All the major attractions are very close buy, almost all located on one street. If you are staying in the city center area you can start your tour from Ancient Complex Serdica, site situated just above the Serdika metro station that displays the remains of the Roman city.

There is also a History Museum to see. Just 2 mins away you can see a Rotonda st. George, The Church of St George is an Early Christian red brick rotunda that is considered the oldest building in Sofia.

  Now heading forward on pl. Knyaz Aleksandar you can visit Ethnographic Museum (showcasing folk costumes & regional art & artifacts) and Russian Church. A bit further on a left hand side you can visit a stunning Alexander Nevski Cathedral, Built in Neo-Byzantine style, it serves as the cathedral church of the Patriarch of Bulgaria and it is one of the largest Eastern Orthodox cathedrals in the world, as well as one of Sofia’s symbols and primary tourist attractions. Heading more towards Crystal Palace, you can see on the way a building of a National Assembly.

Close by National Stadium Vasil Levski, as a very close by attraction too, but to be honest, can be skipped. At the end I would suggest adding a National Palace of Culture, but its located a bit far away, but can be easily reached by trolley line 1,2,5,8 and 9 just from the Crystal Palace.

This is a main itinerary for Sophia city center. Please keep in your mind that Rila Monastery is a must see place too, so if you want to spend one day around capital, please do add an extra day to see this stunning monastery hidden in a mountains.

Sticky drops of freshment, Skopje as Ive seen

  The stream of thoughts can probably come to loads of first time “Skopje arriver`s” minds. I guess mine was one of them. This small-sized capital of Macedonia creates an easy and quick access to the city center, so the surrounding architecture does strikes you right away! It can fool you so quickly, maybe even laugh at you a bit, with the mirror reflection you may give it back. The richness of almost overdone governments buildings can make you feel a bit striped off. You may be experiencing thinking that you haven’t seen quiet a capital like this before. What history did not leave, you can always bring it back, or can you really? The design and, co called project Skopje 2014, completely transformed the way Skopje city center looks like today. There are loads of stories, loads of reasons behind this “clearly original” change saying in plainest language possible. Big money got involved too. And there is that sour question at the end of your tong: who is this really for? Tourists, as in the first place? It’s not a secret that it is one of the fastest, more and more popular, and reachable growing industry. How about the people? How do they find themself around? And yet we still have a government, responsible for. Yes! A show off, or the way to stand out to bust the tourism way. But you really have to get to the bottom of all this. The path trough, almost baroque kitsch like drooping richness of, Skopje may leave you with loads of questions. Finding out more about point of view of locals may lead to a general disappointment, of yet again, showcase of a thick unbreakable money/power line between poor and rich.

 

 Tis, once plain, maze of Europe became a place for many neo-classic buildings and bridges along the river. Perhaps too white, too clean to fake you. Buildings may turn out too difficult to help you to get the vibe of travelling in the past. Yet, you can’t really say they are not impressive. Shall we be grateful Macedonia is showing us how newly done acropolis possibly looked like for Greeks back in a days? Perhaps. Could be a plus. It can be left only for an individual opinion. But the feeling of fakery is still a bit present. The project has two main aims: to draw in more tourists and to try to reclaim aspects of the country’s history from neighbouring Greece, appealing to the patriotism of many ethnic Macedonians. Walking by the rich bronze statues full of bridges definitely wont make your eye sore. You gladly will take your camera to photograph the things around. You will see, you will capture and then you will start to think. How? I do not see any problem investing in tourism. I do adore Moroccan king for doing so. So do Moroccans, as I spoke with many of them. Yet, the King do it differently. He want to keep the culture present, but just making the country more accessible, safe and inviting. But here we have a bit different situation.

 

We are discussing a country  where 21.5% of the population live below poverty line with minimal wage at 231 Euros. Macedonia is also very vulnerable to economic developments in Europe, with a strong banking and trade ties and dependent on regional integration and progress toward EU membership for continued economic growth. And yet on another hand we have a government spending loads of public founds. It been known that cost lay somewhere between €200-€500m (depending on who you talk to) and may have resulted in drop in minimal wage. Yet we have a beautiful new buildings and statues. Quiet two opposite situation that divided the nations. The project, known as Skopje 2014, instigated by prime minister Nikola Gruevski, is just as questionable and arguably as diverse as it was when first announced.

  Many Macedonians are questioning the scheme’s vast public expense – not to mention its aesthetic qualities. We have also this sticky problem of complete ignorance towards a very large Muslim community, religion and culture that, sadly, did not get to participate in project. I visited Skopje in March 2017. Being around city center area for few days, I witness antigovernment demonstrations everyday, thought peaceful, yet shouting for attention a lot.  But there’s no doubting it has put the city on the tourist map. 

 

 Foreign visitors used to come to Skopje primarily to wander around the beautiful Old Bazaar district, with its alleys, mosques and old hilltop fort. But now they can go in less than five minutes from drinking a Turkish coffee among people and architecture that wouldn’t be out-of-place in a traditional city of the Middle East, to being surrounded by faux-classical European architecture and imagery. Maybe not a bad thing. Diversity. Something for us. 

 

  So where this all bring us, tourist, the recipients of the project? I hope very close to Skopje. You have to remember that it is one of the most amazing countries in Europe, with magnificent landscape, mountain ranges, canyons (Matka Canyon) and lakes. All that comes at a very affordable price. Public transport is good and very cheap. People are very friendly and possible to interact to in English. Food is absolutely a heaven with a kebab to die for! So yes! Weather the project of 2014 worked or not, we will have to leave it for individual opinion. I think even for the one who are not so keen on it, Macedonia will not be disappointed in any single way. I absolutely loved my time in this Balkan country. I’ve met loads of warm people, and I saw a beauty of landscape. I am satisfy, happy and richer than the newly build Skopje surrounded architecture.

Finding some peace in Pokhara

  Arriving trough a tiny roads between Himalayas and lively rivers from a busy streets of Kathmandu to a calm and peaceful Pokhara almost seems like a way to nirvana. You can find there everything what`s missing from the capital. Not overcrowded streets are surrounded by a beautiful mountain range with deadly Annapurna looking at you from every corner, yet seems like she gives your mind a great piece of rest.

  Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of the capital. Could be a surprised fact to learn that by occupying an area of 464.24 km2 this city stands as larger than Kathmandu, 18 times larger than Lalitpur and 2.5 times larger than Bharatpur. Because of it`​s popularity and it`​s touristic nature, as of many available activities to choose from, this city is packed with hotels, hostel, restaurants, travel agencies, and anything travelers really need. It’s well known mostly as a gateway to the Annapurna Circuit, a popular trail in the Himalayas to hike. However, when it comes to this city it is not only about the highest mountain range in the world. Pokhara`s landscape consist of a beautiful and the second largest lake of Nepal, called Phewa with clear green waters that is an absolutely stunning thing to enjoy. On a sunny day, when the sky is clear, you can even see surrounded range as a reflection on a smooth surface of the lake. Inviting waters, apart from being the main resource for fishing, offers load of activities from kayaking to just lazy ride on the boat around the lake. Or how about just simple walk around where you can sit and enjoy at one of restaurants, cafes or smoothie making stands. That could be an option too, isn’t it? This way seems like a popular thing to do, as there is always loads of tourists along with locals around the shore.

Cycling around the area, even up to the top of Sarangkot, is a very popular activity as well. Alternatively you can hire a scooter or motorbike to discover the area a bit further and see more lakes as name “Pokhara” means the valley of the lakes itself, derived from “Pokhari” which literally means a lake. There are eight of them in total. Apart from the most popular inside the valley, previously mentioned Phewa, others are: Begnas, Rupa, Maidi, Khaste, Gunde, Dipang and Kamal Pokhari. Phewa, Begnas and Rupa are definitely three lakes worth visiting. Apart from beautiful calm surface of them, surely is wort experiencing a wilder nature of waters as rivers and waterfalls, which Pokara is famous for. The Seti River is much popular among the tourists. It runs through deep channels in the conglomerate rocks, from Bagar to SitaPaila and in some places, it flows through narrow gorge. Going through by the river sides below the hills we can see several beautiful and dashing water falls flowing downhill and finally flowing to the rivers. You can even enjoy them just by passing the highway to Baglung that consist few of them on the way. The city itself also has a beautiful waterfall and it is known as Davis Fall (In Nepali: Patale chango).

It truly is a breath-taking experience just looking at the Davis Fall in Chorrepatan. The water flowing in this fall comes from Fewa lake and the fall is worth visiting during the rainy seasons as it possesses its maximum velocity. But lets not get stuck there for too long, there is way more to see around. Absolutely magnificent cave is just two minutes walk from this falls. Basically the whole Pokhara valley is rich in cave system, and it almost seems like a vision of a city hidden under the ground. Mahendra Cave, for example, is located in the city of Pokhara and can be easily accessed by the visitors in just walking distance (few kilometers), taxi ride or just by public buses. It is named after the Late king Mahendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev. The cave itself is amazing and you can witness many natural shapes and images of the various hindu god and goddess on the stone made of the lime. Literally just a ten minutes walk from this cave, there lies another one named the Bat Cave. In Nepali language it is also called Chameri Gufa. You can guess correctly who residence inside, the name suggests it well. It is called after the habitats of the bats over the cave’s wall and the ceilings. Above all caves you can find a dense forest with a stream flows, ending as a sparkling waterfall tumbling into a mysteriously hidden world of darkness. In total Pokhara is renowned for ten mystical caves. Nevertheless, right now, only nine of the caves can be visited as the Eastern Power Station cave has been badly damaged, buried as it is under a huge landslide, leaving its beauty only for few lucky one.

  Near by Sarangkot hill is a must hike place as well. It is very popular to cycle or just walk all the way up, however, bus, taxi and scooter is an option too. Once there you can enjoy absolutely outstanding panorama of the surrounded valley underneath and the magnificent view of the mountains. On the northern direction we can see Dhaulagiri in the far west. Annapurna range is visible when the weather is clear on the same side. On the southern direction the village overlooks the city of Pokhara and its lake on the north-western outskirts of the city. Sarangkot is only 5 km from Lake Side, Pokhara, and is the highest view-point for a sunrise at just 1592m high, but the temperature drops already 5 degrees cooler than the city. The hill can be done easily by 45 minutes car ride to the top from Pokhara and then 45 minutes hike up to the main view-point. Many tourists come to Sarangkot for sunrise view and go back after few hours, but it will be good if you will get a chance to stay there for one night and enjoy the way city light outshine from there. Paragliding is a very popular activity that can be done from that area too. You can book that at one of many agents in Pokhara, or one at the top. 

Paragliding is a good way to start with when it comes to more adventurous side of Pokhara. The city offers everything from ultralight flying, and from skydiving and ziplining to bungee jumping, developing a complete holiday package for a perfect vacation to all kind of tourists. But there is a last , but not least, thing worth mentioning. Remember to also visit the old side of the city where you will be able to experience and feel cultural side of Nepal along with all old temples, statues and buildings around. Old Town is a real treat for the people who love to discover a new place from its roots and history. Best explored on foot, Old Town Pokhara, offers an unmatched view of the new parts of the city in the morning before the traffic and daily chores take over the landscape. Once there, you will come across a marketplace selling locally produced items; Bhimsen Temple, an old shrine dedicated to the Newari god of trade and commerce and Bindhya Basini Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga. You can find a good range of delicious street food. Its is a place to observe locals on a daily life too, getting on their daily routine. Thought not so overcrowded as Kathmandu, you will meet loads of Nepalese to chat to, talk to. You wont be disappointed with the way they will interact ttowards you.

  At the end I would like to mention that I arrived to Pokhara from Kathmandu, where I was during the earthquake. I spend 48 hours at the ground, sleepless, wet, tired. I did not only found a peace there, but a shelter. I felt safe there, as aftershocks were hardly noticeable and the whole city did not get damaged as capital. It will always stay as a very special place for me. But for you guys, I think it enough to know that it is a magical, adventurous place you just can not miss while in Nepal!

Postcard from Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Following the footsteps of our one and only Mother Nature, it’s clearly quiet significant that the Balkans are the quintessence of her arty work in Europe. This area notably stands out with their beautifully turquoise colored rivers, that you just want jump in to, amazing high range of mountains and a clear Adriatic Sea coast. What more would you wish for. The locals surly are aware of the beautiful land, they are very fortunate to live on mentioning it on every possible occasion. I personally left my heart in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Rich culture, spread by the different nations, history and still fresh feel of shadow of the violent war from 90s participate in the way Bosnia and Herzegovina looks like today. Thought most of the cities, like Sarajevo, has been almost fully rebuild, so well that you can hardly notice sights of any fights, the memories are still held in minds of most of the people who got to witness the horror of these dark days. Yet locals are happy nova days cherishing every moment, enjoying the daily life, sharing a smile.  It seems for me that architects had an easy job creating what you can call today’s urban panorama trough all the centuries. Designing anything from houses, town halls, churches to mosques could just possibly not go wrong in such a magnificent environment. It almost feel like the nature already did most of the work here. The history also made Bosnia and Herzegovina very unique. The influence of the different religions could be spot on every street in every town. The “fantasy” medieval castles and fortresses proudly stands next to the Ottoman influenced architecture. It looks like a chest board with the difference that all black and white squares, trough some historical conflicts, became to an acceptance, unity, tolerance and friendship? Is it too early to use the last world? No…..not in Bosnia and Herzegovina and that’s why I love it.

   Cities and towns are not to busy, not to crowded, people seems less stressed and rushed than western civilization. Balkans are still very undiscovered and untouched by mass tourism.sarajevo2.jpg This fact makes it easy to find a peacefulness literally just around the corner. 10 minutes drive from Sarajevo already can bring you to the stunning river side, lake or forest where’s nobody around, just you and nature. It gives you also the opportunity to listen to the most noncommercial music in the world….the music of nature. Birds, waters, even wind can enhance your experience around this remarkable landscape.

  Thought mentioning the virginity of this part of the Europe, please note that accommodation can be found easily in most of the places in Bosnia. The infrastructure works well too, makes it accessible from every neighborhood  country or just between domestic towns.  Hostels are cute, nice, very clean and affordable even for a budget backpacker. Eating out, whether it is a traditional meal or just a good old pizza, wont make any difference from own cooking as of taste and price.  ss.jpgMerchants are very friendly and not pushy whatsoever, they really don’t try to just make money of you. They will be around to help, but also will leave you in peace, giving you some space. That`s makes the experience of walking in old towns nicer. Yet, there is so many cute things from tea pots, glasses, dishes to cloths, you will be back to your hotel with a full bag. Why not, if you can, it really is 3 times cheaper than in Western Europe, not even mentioning the uniqueness of the staff there. I personally had to thrown away few pairs of jeans and shoes to make a space for the things I purchased there. Well worth it!DSC_0706

   Most of the people speak a very good English, the rest can communicate well too. This fact is very important in making connections with locals. You can hear loads of stories about the war that can give you a very good image if these past years. Though, you can clearly see that people moved on, yet they do well remember those bloody, violent, dark days that took so many lives. People went trough a lot, seen a lot and experienced. Hard to believe that western countries turned their back on. Though past shows very well that less resource less help you can get. History is the worst teacher ever, I got to know.

   But what war cannon take is the beauty of the land. Clearly Bosnia and Herzegovina got the most outstanding and most pretty rivers, lakes and hills in this part of the world. What else should I add to convince you to visit this country? I hope nothing. Be happy, appreciate what you have, respect others, travel, if you can, and visit this stunning country that will not disappoint you in any way.

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 full of culture, but 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 are definitely worth seeing, so please try to add maybe one or two days to extend your stay in this country and not to just concentrate on Marrakesh city, that’s if you can of course. Definitely a strong recommendation from me is to buy few trips while in any city. I guess, adding that they all are at a very affordable price may count too for a budget traveller. 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 do not inform you, if you wont 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 sick 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. 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.