Year has pass, and yet, no new trips, no new photos. Luckily, still got many memories from the past. Here, just some of the captures from a very cool trip I did with just my niece and nephew to the south of Poland. Zakopane offers many easy and beautiful trials around lakes, to and from the tops of mountains, around valleys and more. This makes this place as a great option to visit with young ones.
Ever experience the duality of activeness that collaborates between land and humans? Sounds crazy? Ten you have to visit Baños. But first let me explain my phrase, starting with the land.
Baños (from Spanish bath) is a town in central part of Ecuador, the country I have visited during my six months backpacking trip around South America. It is located in the land of Tungurahua province and serve also as a gateway to the nearby Amazon Basin. The area close by the town itself is absolutely unique. Volcano, high mountain range, rich in minerals hot springs, surrounded rivers and powerful, almost violent, waterfalls, that shapes the rocks around, are responsible for this fact. The volcano I mentioned is called same as the province, Tungurahua. It lies on the plateau just south of the town, and as of 2016 is still active. The pick of this stratovolcano, on 5,023 meters high, belongs to the Cordillera Oriental of the Andes of central Ecuador, and it`s located 140 kilometers south of the capital Quito. The interesting fact is that Tungurahua’s top was previously snow-covered and did feature a small summit glacier. As of increased activity from 1999, melted away. Nearby impressively high summits are: Chimborazo (6,310 meters) and El Altar (5,319 meters). These statistics can already give you the clue that this landscape must be magnificent. The fact that the volcano spectacular eruptions are visible from the town participates in it too. When the sky is clear at night, you can spot a red lava on the top, and trust me, that looks absolutely unreal. Combined with small earth shakes, that always accompany the eruption, can make you a bit thrill, but that feeling can be easily overtaken by the thoughts that you are witnessing and feeling something you have never experienced before. Its worth adding that when volcano is exploding is able to shoot an ash cloud 5,000 meters into the air. During the eruption dogs are barking all the time. How surreal is that? Volcano is so close to the town, yet you are in a safe environment to watch and enjoy this very rare moment, the moment when our earth shows you its real potential.
It is not a secret that magnificent volcanoes are usually surrounded by little, probably everyone favourite, hot springs. Baños is well known for its hot baths with the temperature that range from 64 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit, and are reputed to have healing properties. These waters are very rich in minerals and many contain sulfur as well as calcium, sulfate, magnesium, iron, chloride, potassium, zinc and many more. Baños is full of them, and they are open everyday all day long. You can soak your body and relax, and if you still not convinced, remember that you will be surrounded by a very pretty panorama. All hot baths are very cheap (2$ for the whole day till 16.00, 3$ for the evenings), so really once there, there is no excuse for you not to try it.
So you can clearly feel the power of this place. It display itself by recently active volcano, powerful high waterfalls and hot springs. I don’t think there’s more I need to add, to convince you that this area is fulfilled with force. The force that strikes through all the earth layers to finish right at the top, at the very soil you stand on! Its like almost this place is screaming for attention, exhibiting its magnificent strength. To show us that this land is overpowering the humans around, and we can not win!
I started this blog by mentioning the duality. Are travelers really visiting Baños just to sit down to sip a cup of tea? No, of course not. This area is perfect for adventures people. The whole town is full of agencies where you can buy a kayaking trips, hiking tours etc. Some walking paths, up to the high hills, are so easy and straight forward that can be done without any guide. Baños is known as a good starting point for exploring the remote Llanganates National Park, surrounded mountains and hills. The city itself has a beautiful main central park with few waterfall close by. Area is also perfect for a day biking trial that goes by loads of beautiful waterfalls nearby including: Virgen de Agua Santa, Inés María, Agoyán, El Manto de la Novia, Pailón del Diablo and Machay. It is worth adding that this town never sleeps. The cute narrow streets are packed with bars and restaurants that stay open till early hours of morning. Baños is small which also helps to navigate your way back to your hotel after night out, to be ready for the next adventures day! Ok, ok….if you really enjoyed your night out, then perhaps soaking in wonderful hot springs the next day to recover would be a better idea. Either way, you will love that place like me! And for sure, your time there will be far away from lazy, sleepy holiday. But that’s what we love, don’t we?
Having a break in the heart of the land where the democracy, philosophy and many more amazing inventions come from? Good! You wont even have to look hard as art will surround you in every single corner in Athens, and not only because Acropolis is visible from every edge of the city. Even that the unique combination of religion and literature, known as a Greek mythology, is not estrange to most of us, you will definitely leave this country with much greater knowledge about the ancient culture, history and art. But apart from the capital there is one more thing to discover. It is one of the most stunning monuments in the world, build on a high hill by Aegean cost. The location makes it definitely as a must see place, and the ruins remain in a really great condition. So here we go.
Bus towards Sounion leaves from the Pedion Areos Park bus terminal near the National Archaeological Museum. It is located close to the entrance of the park. Transport, as the direct one, should have a label with Sounion name on the front, so you really shouldn’t miss it. My hotel was very close, so I just walked there, but it is accessible by bus, metro, tram or taxi of course. Please note that during 2017 the Athens transport ticket system will transition from paper tickets to modern electronic tickets with the use of plastic smart cards (similar to London’s Oyster cards), so please recheck before for updates on transport in this capital. Distance to Sounion is 70 km long, so it takes around 1.5-2 hours. Great news is that almost the whole way there, you will be able to view the charming Aegean Sea, as the road lays very close to the beautiful coast line of Greece. Price for the ticket should be around 6-7 Euros for one way. You purchase it only in the bus, but not from the driver. Someone will pop in on the way with them to sell. I can’t remember if the merchant can accept cards, so maybe have a money just in case. Please carefully check a proper timetable, as during the summer holiday bus leaves every hour, otherwise every 2 h. I, as always, did not check it properly, so I`ve had to wait an hour. I took this opportunity to walk around the park. Not really my recommendation as its full of junkies.
I arrived quiet early, around 12.00. I think it is too soon if you are planning on staying till sunset. Journey terminates at the top of the hill, so you wont have to hike much to the monument. My goal was, of course, to watch the sunset, so I`ve had some spare time to look around. At the top you can find a restaurant and bar where you can have a hot meal, drink or coffee. Apart from that there is a beautiful coast line to look at too. I did go down to sit on the beach for a little while by the crystal clear water, but quickly run away after a completely naked Greek came towards me to chat. Around 14.00 I entered the Temple of Poseidon side.
The entrance fee is just 4 Euros (2015), and it is open till the sun will disappear in to the waters of Aegean Sea. I visited the place in January, so the staff closed the passage around 16.30. As you can imagine, the Temple is the main point of interest, but there is a route around the hill with some other remains of the ancient structures. So go and have a look! You will find sits there as well to have a rest in a stunning spot. That`s what I did. I sat alone for few minutes to watch epic scenery, when a cute turtle kindly decided to accompany me, so we watched the panorama together. The view from there is truly stunning and makes you understand why Greeks has chosen this place to cherish one of most important god in their ancient religion. Magic dusk light at sunset makes this place to look very special with the magnificent panorama of Aegean Sea that surround the cliff. When the spectacular sunset will finish, you have to leave as the side is just about to close down. As far as I remember, the return bus departs at 18.00 and is stopping at the same place from where it left in Athens. So really, it is an outstanding one day, or half day city break trip. As you see the cost is not high, and I know that some agencies will charge you around 100 Euros, so why not to do it yourself. Also, if it’s a summer time, why not to go there early in the morning. I have spotted a very beautiful sandy beach close by, where you could swim or just relax before going to see the temple. If you haven’t got much time in the Athens, you could also add Acropolis area to your day in the evening. Trust me, it is absolutely remarkable at night!
Similarly to my blog post about cost of traveling around South America, I will compare prices of each country in Central America. Hopefully this will help you to plan your backpacking trip better trough this beautiful part of the world. Please note that it is just a basic info, as we all have a different style of traveling. Some like to explore more and spend more money on it, some have a very tight budget and can spend daily way less than stated in this blog-post. I, for example, traveled around Central America from Panama up to Mexico City for 2 months, and I have spent around 3.600$, excluding all my flights. That is around 50-55$ a day. However, I stayed mostly in hotels, and I was always going out with people, if there was a party going on, spending a lot on drinks and street food. In expensive Costa Rica I was even going out everyday….what can I say. Apart from that, I visited most of the worth seeing places, and I did solo activities combine with organized tours. Having said all that, if you will stick just to hostels, not going out as often as me, you can easily do it at 25-30$ a day (including buses to travel from A to B). Anyway, let’s have a look at costing.
Overlook: Third most expensive after Costa Rica and Panama, thought not too pricey for such a popular tourist destination with one of the most beautiful Caribbean cost line.
Accommodation: In most expensive places hostels start at 12$, hotels at 35$ (Caye Caulker). Belize City offers expensive hostels from 15-20$ only because not so many of them around. Hotels start at 20$ there.
Transport: Affordable in general.
Buses: Public buses are very affordable and start from 3-4$ for 1h of journey. Chicken buses are the cheapest at 1-2$ for an hour of journey. Loads of private, expensive companies available to choose too.
Public: Cities and towns in Belize are very small with 8,000 living in the capital, so the public transport is not as complex and include only buses and taxis. In Belize City is probably best to use a taxi, thought Chicken buses can start from 0.50$ for a journey.
Taxi: No official data, but I paid 7$ for around 8 minutes of ride in Belize City (from docks to bus station).
Food: Not so cheap in restaurants, but rich range of street food available to pick. Caribbean chicken, rice and salad can be found from 4$ on the street in Belize City, but in very touristic Caye Caulker from 6-7$ as cheapest option for lunch. Restaurants offer a dinner from 10-12$.
Daily budget: Can start at 25$-35$ a day.
Overlook: Most expensive in Central America. Accommodation is affordable, but food is one of the most expensive in the world, with the cheapest 1.5L bottle water from 2$, and cheapest sliced toast bread from 2-3$. Aldi say……whaaaaaat???? 😉
Accommodation: Hostels in San Jose starts at 6$, hotels at 16$. By Caribbean Coast, hostels starts at 9-10$, hotels at 20$.
Transport: The best bus company I found, was Tica Bus. Very comfortable with toilet and wifi, but expensive to travel from Costa Rica. This company operates trough the whole Central, starting from Panama, all the way up to Mexico. Chicken buses operates between cities and towns at very affordable price.
Buses: Again, Tica Bus was my best option to travel around, especially between capitals. Ticket from San Jose to Tegucigalpa cost 56$, so a bit expensive, but there is not many companies to choose between anyway. For bus from Puerto Viejo (town by Caribbean Cost in Costa Rica) to San Jose, the capital, I paid just 10$ (5h of journey), so domestically is very affordable to travel.
Public: For most city buses fares range between 0.35-0.70$, to be paid in cash, as a general rule. Costa Rican bus drivers will pick you up anywhere, so just stick out your arm and flail wildly when you see your bus.
Taxi: Taxi starts (normal tariff) from 1.14$ with 1.16$ for 1 km after in San Jose.
Food: Very expensive to buy food even in discount shops. Meals at restaurants start at 15$ as the cheapest to be found, but street food can be more affordable, starting from 5$ for a take away small lunch-snack.
Daily budget: Can be done from 25$, but only covering own cooking and cheapest possible accommodation, no activity and transport, otherwise be ready to spend 34-55$ a day.
Overlook: Very cheap in all fields: eating out, hotels, transport. Possible to fully enjoy and indulge yourself.
Accommodation: Hostels start at 6$, hotels at 15$ (San Salvador). Santa Ana is just a little bit more expensive, hostels from 8-10, hotels 15-20$.
Transport: Buses are very affordable, especially domestically between towns and cities.
Buses: Buses that operate between cities and towns are very cheap. I think it can starts from 0.50$ for one hour of journey. I paid around 1$ to travel from San Salvador to Santa Ana (2h of journey) in a Chicken Bus. Tica Bus from San Salvador to Guatemala City, in Guatemala, costed me less than 35$.
Public: Public buses are very cheap and relatively easy to use. They do have stops, but you can get off anywhere you like, just tell the driver to stop. The ticket costs around 0.15-025$, depending on the length of your travel.
Taxi: Taxi starts (normal tariff) from 5$ with 3$ for 1 km after in San Salvador. Please note, this is an official info. However, I do remember they were way way (third) cheaper than presented data.
Food: Very very cheap to eat out. Possible to grab a good breakfast with coffee from 1-1.5$. Good big lunch can start from 2-3$. No point to waste your time to cook. Fresh fruits and veg on the street at a very low price too. Mercados are the best places to shop.
Daily budget: It can be well possible at just 20$ a day, easily can be done cheaper.
Overlook: Very similar to El Salvador, nice and cheap, so we love it!
Accommodation: Hostels start at 5$, hotels at 16$ (Guatemala City). Touristic Flores, from where travelers do biggest Mayans side (Tica) luckily at the same prices, if you will book in advance and look well before, otherwise hostels start from 7$.
Transport: Very similarly to El Salvador, Guatemala offers a very cheap local and international bus transport.
Buses: Few choices to pick, starting from the cheapest chicken bus that can cost as little as 0.50$ for an hour of journey. Shutter service available in most areas, especially touristic. Tica bus from Guatemala City to Tegucigalpa in Honduras costs 44$.
Public: Chicken bus starts from 0.20$ to get around the city.
Taxi: Taxi starts (normal tariff) from 3.40$ with 0.68$ for 1 km after, in Guatemala City.
Food: No point to cook anything. Ready made delicious food is very cheap. You can grab a breakfast for 1$ and lunches start at 2-3$, but from street stands. Restaurants can be very cheap too. Mercados offer cheapest and best fruits, veg, cheeses and meat.
Daily budget: Same like El Salvador, can start from 20$ a day, possible at 15$-17$ as the lowest.
Overlook: Can be affordable, just tiny more expensive than El Salvador and Guatemala, especially Caribbean islands and coast.
Accommodation: Hostels start at 7$, hotels at 13$ in Tegucigalpa. Most popular Roatan Island offers hostels from 8$, hotels from 18$.
Transport: From very cheap chicken buses to expensive shuttle transport.
Buses: Very affordable to travel between towns domestically in chicken buses and vans which cost around 1-2$ for an hour of journey. International Tica Bus cost 44$ from Tegucigalpa to Guatemala City, in Guatemala.
Public: One way ticket bus cost 0.48$ in Tegucigalpa.
Taxi: Taxi starts (normal tariff) from 2$ with 3.69$ for 1 km after in Tegucigalpa. Again, like in San Salvador, Honduras is relatively cheap, and I do think taxis are way cheaper than what is stated in official info.
Food: A little more expensive than Guatemala and El Salvador, yet still very cheap. Lunch can be found from 4$. Loads of discount shops to choose as well, as mercados, with fresh range of food. Street food stands offer snacks from 0.5-1$.
Daily budget: Can start from 20$ a day in cheaper places to 25$ in touristic areas like Roatan.
Overlook: Probably the cheapest on my list. Nice break for our purse when coming from Belize, like myself. Well possible to fully enjoy, even for a budget backpacker. Apart from traveling and discovering, it is very cheap just to relax at massage center, spa, etc.
Accommodation: In Mexico City hostels start at as little as 3$, hotels at 10$. In very touristic Caribbean cost town, Cancun, hostels start at 7$, hotels at 14$.
Transport: Very cheap for short distance travel between towns, more expensive with a greater distance, as buses are more exclusive, and you have less companies to choose from.
Buses: Can be very affordable, but distances are great in Mexico, and bus tickets can cost around 90$-100$ for 22h of journey (Chetumal-Mexico City for example). Good to do some research, as sometimes is cheaper (and more comfortable) to buy a plane ticket.
Public: 0.28$ for public transport in Mexico City.
Taxi: Taxi starts (normal tariff) from 0.55$ with 0.29$ for 1 km after (Mexico City).
Food: Very cheap. No point to cook anything (from breakfast to supper). 5 tacos can cost as little as 1.50$. Big burrito, with loads of cheese, even for 2 people, can be found at 3$. Portions are usually very big and satisfying.
Daily budget: Can start at 20$, but well possible even from 15$.
Overlook: Nicaragua is a very cheap, again, place to travel around. Eating out is the best option. Breakfast (rice, eggs, meat, beans plus coffee or tea) can start at just 1$, lunches from 2-3$.
Accommodation: In Managua (capital) hostels start at 8$, hotels 18$. In a very touristic Granada, hostels start at just 7$, hotels at 12-15$.
Transport: Vans and chicken buses are the cheapest, probably best to pick when traveling short distances. Longer journey is more expensive, as the buses offer a better comfort and sits.
Buses: Vans and chicken buses cost around 1-2$ for an hour of journey domestically. International Tica bus from Managua to Tegucigalpa in Honduras costs 30$.
Public: Public transport costs 0.25$ in Managua.
Taxi: Taxi starts (normal tariff) from 1.01$ with 1.02$ for 1 km after in Managua.
Food: Very cheap to eat out. Loads of stands on the street that offer a good lunch for as little as 2$, a snack or small lunch cost around 1$.
Daily budget: Can start at 20$.
Overlook: Panama City is a very expensive place, especially restaurants and bars. however, 1-2 nights is enough to explore it and move to the next location. Caribbean coast can be affordable, especially when it comes to accommodation.
Accommodation: In Panama City hostels start at 8$, but they are far away from the city center. In the city center hostels starts at 11$, hotels starts from 14$, but from 23$ in the center. Most popular Bocas del Toro offers hostels from 10-12$, hotels from 18-20$.
Transport: I think it is a bit pricey comparing to the rest of Central America, especially between Panama and Costa Rica. Bus is the cheapest option as flying can be very expensive.
Buses: International Tica bus costs 40$ from Panama City to San Jose. Bus from Panama City to Bocas del Toro (Caribbean island) costs around 27$, plus 5$ for water taxi.
Public: 0.25$ for a single ride in Panama City, but you need a card to use it. You can also pay to someone to swipe you in.
Taxi: Taxi starts (Normal Tariff) from 2$ with 2$ for 1 km after in Panama City.
Food: Eating out can be very expensive, especially in the capital. Lunches starts at 15$ in the cheapest restaurants. Sea food cocktails at fish market starts from 10$. Street food stands can be found, but not around Avenida Balboa (business center with skyline).
Daily budget: Can start at 35-38$.
After traveling around the Europe it was finally a time to cross the continent. I always loved Africa most, so it came to me as a natural decision to go there first. I pick Morocco, but not so sure why, as I’ve never heard much about this country before. I bought a ticket first, and then I started to plan my journey there. It was only for a week, so I can’t say it was too difficult, but I`ve had a major problem with my safety as for solo female. I remember, even the day before, when I wasn’t even sure if I will catch that fly or not. Luckily I did, and it turned to be one of my first and truly amazing visit to a new continent.
Few tips to have a peaceful stay
So starting from the beginning, as I mentioned, I was a little bit concerned about traveling to Morocco. Well, mostly because of a general opinion, I read on the internet. That was first and the last time I was reading such a things. Of course you should always be intelligent while planning where to go, and general political knowledge about the situation in the area is essential, but that’s pretty it.
Everywhere will be dangerous if you will act stupidly. I consider Marrakesh as 100% safe place to be for solo travellers. Just remember to: appreciate and respect the culture and the people around you, whenever you are, don`t wonder alone at night in non touristic areas, and keep an eye on your belongings as of thieving. Drinking alcohol in public places is not a good idea too, nobody will arrest you, but you may upset some Moroccans, as it is forbidden in most places, especially in front of mosques. Morocco is a Muslim country (98.5% of the population), so please do wear respectfully. Don’t show too much, whether you are a female or male. Even if you will decide to wear a short skirt nobody will do anything to you, but you might be harassed from time to time. Morocco really is a safe place. Tourist police is on every corner in all main areas, and they do speak perfect English, as it is one of the requirements to become one. They are very helpful, you can always ask them about directions, or you can report any problem. They are there for you. Moroccans speak good English in general anyway, especially males, as they use it for trade, so you wont be lost in translation at all.
Public transport is very poor in Marrakesh, probably due to the tiny roads around. Locals just get around on motorbikes and scooter everywhere, so watch out! However, bad city communication is really not a great problem, as taxis are very cheap. I would say the price range from 3-4£ for going from the south to the north (from the airport is way more, I am afraid). But that’s if you’re in rush, walking around Marrakesh is truly a delightful experience. Seems like there is always a new astonishing thing around the corner, whether it’s a building, market or a little tea shop.
It seems like the best idea to discover the area is just to get lost a bit and wander around. Names of the streets are in Arabic, so it’s not very helpful, but every now and then there will be a sign pointing the direction to Jemaa el-Fnaa, and from there it will be easy for you to find your way around. That is also another reason to book a hotel around that area.
When it comes to accommodation, try to stay in the city center, called Medina. I pick a hotel just 10 meters from Jemaa el-Fnaa, probably the best place to stay. And the reason for that is because it’s the most lively, colorful area that comes to life in the evening. Its seems like Moroccans sleep all day long to enjoy the lights, atmosphere, music or just a musk of a chilly wind of night. All shops are open till late, till people and tourist are still around. You will find everything you need in this maze. Thought, main food stands are way too touristic for me, as they serve the same dished in every single stand, try to look around, especially in small streets. The food is more traditional, way more delicious, and its likely that you will sit with locals. During the day time try to always eat on the roof, most of the restaurants in the center got one. The view on High Atlas range is just exceptional with the unique city architecture, palm trees and Mosques. That will change your meal time to majestic and magnificent experience. Don’t look for alcohol, they don’t sell it anywhere there….sorry.
If you love shopping then you are in the right place. I truly hate doing that back home, but even there I could walk around markets for hours! Everything is astonishing and very unique: clothes, shoes, hats, bags, tea pots, food dishes…just everything. I think, I will have to especially highlight bags.
The quality is incredible, with the big range from very small ones to very big. You can be sure that if you will get one, it will be outstanding back home, whenever you’re from. It was also the only place, so far, I have seen so many spices to buy around. I bought loads of them, especially saffron as It’s very cheap there. If I only knew before, I would arrive there with an empty bag, to be able to carry all that back home. Oh, I almost forgot to mention how important is to negotiate the price. Whatever you will hear, you have to divide in three and start, maybe even in four… especially when it comes to silver. If you see that the seller is loosing an interest, when you’re suggesting a very low price, higher it a bit. You both will always come to a good agreement.
At the end, just quickly, I want to mention that Marrakesh, thought touched by a mass, booming tourism now, is still managing to keep their truly Moroccan spirit. Culture is present everywhere. It felt like in Bolivia for me, where people still proudly wear their traditional clothes, selling them in the shops, instead of going for more modern and commercial ones. I loved the fact that they do enjoy Medina a lot too. You can really see that. When there is someone singing, playing an instrument or just doing a fire show, locals are all around. Well, the only thing I did not like was when pushy sellers were all over you, but please note that you can just say no, walk away, it really isn’t a great problem. Mostly they were very nice and helpful. I did visit many countries, but I really don’t have loads on my list I want to visit again. Marrakesh is definitely one of them. So what are you waiting for? Check the flight now and book!
Nova-days travelling and backpacking style breaks out of the old frame of commercial accommodations as non-alternative places to stay. Couch surfing gets more and more popular among, not even always young, travellers. There are loads of other options too. On a farm, while working, in own tenth, loads… That is how Panama came for me too, as a little sample of that new popular way. Though, maybe not so obvious, luckily, I got invited to stay at my friend’s house in Panama City. Yes, kind Clari, my friend I have met on a scent of Machu Picchu in Peru, took me for few days under her wings to provide me with a real Panamanian hospitality, and to show me this stunning modern capital of small, however packed with beauty, country. That what traveling is all about for me: discovering world wonders and meeting great people. Clari, as Panamanian born and raised, became to be the best guide to show me around. Apart from a good time with a friend, I was able to discover all the hidden secrets of this magnificent city. The city filled by tropical nature and surrounded with a skyline bigger than Miami, but at the same time still full of history to learn about. I am aware that Panama City is globally mostly famous for its canal, but there is still so many things to do and see while there. So what are these things?
I guess it is odd to start with the Fish Market as a first of the sight-seen, but apart from the big range of fresh and delicious sea food you will be able to spot the amazing panorama of the city from there. It can be as a good start. Market is located by the cost, very close to the Casco Viejo area, which makes it a very popular place to sit, eat and chill, especially in the evening, for locals and tourists. You can taste loads of cocktails made from all different ingredients. You can pick the ready one or just create your own. You might think it`s a bit pricey, but I have been told that all the stands offer the freshest, best sea food in Panama.
Casco Viejo, located in the center of Panama City, brings back the history and spirit from past centuries to this modern city. It is an old town dated back to 1673, after the original town of Panama Viejo got destroyed during the pirate attack. After some time it got left out when the modern trade-style era arrived to Panama City, among with the skyline architecture. Casco Viejo got renew a century ago, when Panamanian decided to bring back some history to this Miami-like city and restore the buildings around there. The location of this Spanish colonial quarter can be easily named as most cultural place now. The narrow streets of the place stands as foundation for many churches (some even 300 years old), squares, colonial buildings and statues. you can just go to wander around with no map, and you will find something magnificent on very corner. The area is full of hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops and bars. The last ones, I mentioned, are usually very crowded at night, as Casco Viejo is a popular destination for night life lovers. Actually, that would be my suggestion, to visit this place late afternoon to get a good look at architecture around, and in the evening to spot the panorama of bright lights, flashing from the great sky line building on the other side.
I have noticed that Panamanian are very proud of the canal. Almost seems like they think Panama holds the key to the one of the most important water gates in the world. Canal, that is a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and North and South America, dates back to 1515. It is worth to see it, but I don`t feel like you have to get inside to see the presentation, movie and museum. I did, but it definitely wasn’t my highlight. You can just see it from outside and that should be fine. The entrance fee is 15$.
Panamá Viejo, as a remaining part of the old Panama City and former capital of the country, is located at the edge of the modern city. Its been named as a World Heritage Site since 1997. You can see there structures dated back to 1519. Well worth to discover and entrance fee starts at 6$.
Good glimpse of the various Panamanian cultures & traditions. This site is a collection of housing and artifact replicas of the various cultures (old and modern) of Panama. While simple, it gives you a good idea that this relatively small country is formed by various ethnicity and traditions that survive to this date. The entry fee for foreigners is 3$ USD and you get a free guide (optional), 1$ for locals.
A hill in the heart of Panama City from where you can seen the wonderful panorama that include the canal, modern skyline and old Casco Viejo. Climbing is relatively easy and should take around 2 h, there’s no entrance fees. Apart from diverse panorama you will get surrounded by, you can see or read about loads of rare species of animals, that lives only there.
The avenue stands as a major financial district for Panama and the rest of Central America. Best known as one of the most expensive roads in the world, It is home to several very high building and points of interest including. The skyline at night is particularly beautiful as it is illuminated with the lights from these tall buildings.
Name “Dead Road” definitely does not come in a first place to any mind as a casual attraction. Originally named Yungas Road became well-known as a silent killer of thousands. Famous for being most dangerous road in the world that contributed to many deaths of drivers in the past and some cyclists in recent years. All as a result of how and where the road has been constructed. A combination of a single track road, 900m high cliffs, rainy weather, limited visibility, rockfalls, waterfalls and lack of guardrails participated in all death. Luckily, and finally, Yungas road was modernised to include two driving lanes, asphalt pavement, drainage systems and guardrails. New road has been opened in 2009, as an alternative of a must choice, replacing the dangerous 64 km stretch. All traffic being diverted to the new road. I am really glad motorists can now travel from La Paz to Coroico without fearing the journey may be their last. New road, apart from the fact that has already saved hundreds of life, left Bolivia also with one of the coolest, adrenaline giving and very adventurous tourist attraction in this country. People from all around the world visit this part of Bolivia to cycle down trough the original way. I did too.
Some statistics to give you the idea
“200 to 300 estimated death drivers yearly along Yungas Road and as late as 1994 there were cars falling over the edge at a rate of one every two weeks.”
“One of Bolivia’s most tragic road accidents happened on July 24th 1983 when an overcrowded bus veered off the side of the road and into a canyon killing more than 100 passengers.”
“Even with these improved conditions, Yungas Road shows no mercy. Nowadays, the death toll is limited to local workers and daredevil backpackers still using the infamous road. It is believed that more than 22 cyclists have lost their lives on Bolivia’s “Death Road” since 1998.”
To do or not to do
The answer for me is definitely YES TO DO. I wasn’t thinking even for a minute whether I should do it or not. It was surely one of the coolest thing I did in South America. However, it really is not for everyone. Most agencies will not be very honest with you, as they just want loads of people to sign for it for the profit. There is no limit of age, fitness etc, but since I have done it, I can set some average requirements. Here they are:
- Dead Road is suitable for confident cyclists to, of course, experts. A bit higher than average fitness and above. In particular for everyone aged 16 and more, but mostly done by younger group of people, usually at the age gap of 20-30. I did have two people at the age of 50-60 in my group. They both were fit and did well. Having said that, our group was one of the fastest, starting last, finishing first, so I am sure it can be done by not perfectly fit people, but maybe get some advice on best company to go with, if that’s the case for you.
- Most of the road is very stony and dusty. The whole road is 64 km long, and, thought, you mostly going downhill, you have to be a good cyclist with some experience to keep up with the group.
- You have to be very very careful, you need a perfect eyesight. The whole road is mostly thin and going via many waterfalls. Mentioning good eyesight meant to warn you that at the beginning road is extremely foggy, and it is difficult to navigate. Waterfalls are very tricky, as the group do not stop to pass them, you will go trough them at your max speed.
- Keep in your mind that it is pretty much “fast and furious” activity. You do not have a choice, but just go at max speed, well…at least my group was fast. So think twice if you want to do this. Trust me, I felt on my head, destroying the helmet, having an open wound on my left elbow, that got swollen as well. Yet, I still had 30 kilometers to go….gosh that was painful. Another guy broke his leg too.
- Cycling will last 5 hours, at high performance. Road is approximate downhill: 90% (one section contains a few small uphills). You have to be ready for sore hands.
- The drop in altitude means travelers experience both chilly conditions in the Altiplano highlands and hot humid conditions in the rain-forests below. Your body needs to be ready for it. Highly not recommended for people, that already feeling light-headed at the high of 2000m.
Once the answer is yes
- Even that you will be provided with food and water, take an extra bottle with you. You will start in very cold environment, but once half way trough, you will be surrounded by tropical hot weather, and that`s the time when your body will need some extra hydration, so you will drink loads at the end.
- Take a good waterproof jacket, as is usually raining near the top.
- As the temperature will be going up, proportionally to the distance cycled downhill, have something under to wear after, preferably with long sleeve, unless you will be provided with elbow protection.
- Take maybe old cloths. I thrown away my shoes after.
- Have some wet tissues, your face will be constantly covered with mud.
- Lucky you if you own GoPro, you can record the whole way by attaching your camera to the bike or helmet. Few of my group-mated done it.
- Do not book you trip if you just landed in La Paz. You body needs few day to adapt to the altitude. Yungas Road climbs to around 4,650 meters, from where you will start.
- Check the weather for the next day. No worries, you can book a trip just one day before, even before 17.00 pm. The bottom line is not to rain that day!
- Have a phone in your pocket. Thought you will have just quick breaks, you will have few chances to take some photos of this absolutely outstanding landscape and scenery.
- Remember! 21 cyclists and 5 guides have died since the road had been opened for mountain bike trips. It might not be the most dangerous road in the world anymore, but it is still the Death Road. Don`t be to cocky on the road.
- Most likely your agency will not cover the entrance fee for riding a bike. it is 50 Bs now – 25 Bs at the start and 25 Bs at the end of the road.
- You really should be covered with medical insurance for this!
Prices and booking
Dead Road is usually done from La Paz, the city in Bolivia. There are loads of agencies to provide you with their service, especially around city center area. Every single hostel and most hotels can book you in too. It really isn’t a problem to buy this trip. It is relatively cheap. Prices depend on agency and mostly the kind of the bike, you will be provided with. It will be between 50-100$, as of 2016. I rented the worst bike, and I think being cheap about the bicycle is not the best idea. Get a double suspension one and from a good agency. Never go with Luna Tours agency (see photos above to recognise uniform and logo). I went with them and was promised to be provided with photos and movies of us while cycling. They did film a lot, took loads of photos, and at the end agency provided us with CDs where all media suppose to be. After few moths, when I came back home exited to show movies to my sister and her kids (to show how cool is their aunt), I discovered that there is no photos or movies of us!!! Just old movies to promote agency. I was extremely disappointed and angry, I have only few photos from my phone.
Brief overlook of the day trip to do the Dead Road
- My meeting point was at the cafe in La Paz at 7.00 am where we had a breakfast, and we briefly discussed the plan for the next 10 hours. Please note that some agencies can pick you from the hotel.
- At 8.00 am our bikes got uploaded to the top of the van, we sat in, and we went off from La Paz, which is at a height of 3,600 meters (11,810 feet), to the foot of the Andes Mountains towards the summit, which was at 4,700 m.
- Approx at 10.00 am we arrived at the starting point of La Cumbre Pass. We then proceed to get the specialized equipment for each of us. The guides make recognition of our teams. We were also explained of all the rules at the road, how to sign with your hand, and what our schedule will be.
- We were fitted into our gear that was: a jacket, pants with knee pads to put under, gloves, and a full-face helmet. Then we tested our mountain bikes: breaks and sit high. Our guide rechecked all again to make sure all is safe, and we went off.
- Starting the adventure at around 11.00 am.
- First 20 kilometers is via new asphalt road to Coroico. Actual Dead Road will start after that length. In this bit we can get used to the bikes and enjoy the road before difficult part.
- Quick break for a snack before getting in to actual Yungas Road.
- Dirt road begins at a height of 2,700 meters (2,953 feet) above sea level. In the beginning of the Bolivian jungle. Exactly where the paved road ends begins the most dangerous road in the world.
- Keep cycling through rivers, waterfalls, along with the wide variety of beautiful flora and fauna with few breaks to keep the team together.
- At 15.00 finishing and arriving at the bridge, congratulating each other. At the end of the road, you will get a well deserved beer or coke and a t-shirt. I picked coke…hmmm, I must have being still in shock after my fall :D.
- After a little rest heading off for a well deserved dinner with swimming pool on the side and showers to refresh.
- At approx 16.30-17.00 heading back to La Paz, arriving at around 18.30-19.00.
Arriving, even trough a tiny roads between Himalayas and wild rivers, from a busy streets of Kathmandu to a calm and peaceful Pokhara almost seemed like a way to nirvana for me. You can find there everything that`s missing from the capital. Not overcrowded streets are surrounded by a beautiful mountain range with deadly Annapurna looking at you from every single corner, yet seems like she gives your mind a great piece of a rest.
Pokhara is located 200 kilometers west of the capital. Could be a surprising fact to learn that by occupying the 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 its popularity and its touristic nature, as of many available activities to choose from, this area is packed with hotels, hostel, restaurants, travel agencies, and anything visitors 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 the 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 through the lake. Or how about just simple walk around where you can sit and enjoy in one of restaurants, coffee shop or a smoothie making stands. That could be an option as well, wouldn`t it? This seems like a popular thing to do, as there are always loads of tourists along with locals around the shore too.
Cycling around the area, even up to the top of the Sarangkot, seems like a very popular activity. 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 Sita Paila, and in some places it flows through the narrow gorge. Going through by the river sides below the hills, we can see several beautiful and dashing waters falling 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 there. 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 gods and goddesses 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 and 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. In to 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 1592 m 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 this area. The city offers everything from ultralight flying, skydiving and ziplining to a 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 in 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 with Bindhya Basini Temple, dedicated to goddess Durga. You can find a good range of delicious street food as well. 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 towards 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, but a shelter. I felt safe there, as aftershocks were hardly noticeable, and the whole city did not get damaged as a 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!
This time spearing you some hassle to read, and me some trouble to write, a brief description about Lisbon to start with, I will take you straight to must see places once in this very capital of Portugal. Thought, there are many free tours available to pick, with a schedule offering almost any possible time and many places to start from, somehow there are travellers, like myself, who always prefer to do everything alone in their own time. This kind of a “extremely social and normal” group of people, again like myself, may find my guide useful. If you are planning on spending some time there and visit loads of places, I would suggest getting a Lisboa Card that can get you a free admission to many places, along with free use of Lisbon’s metro, buses, and trams. Anyway, so what is worth seeing in Lisbon then?
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos
This imperious 15th-century Manueline monastery was built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s “discovery” of India. It is also his resting place. The main attraction is the delicate Gothic chapel that opens up on to a grand monastery, in which some of Portugal’s greatest historical figures are entombed.
Address: Praça do Império, Belem. You can take a tram 15 from the city center.
Entrance fee: 10€.
Free on the 1st Sunday of each month and with Lisboa Card. For kids under 12 years old. Sunday and Holidays from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. – All citizens residing in national territory (ID required).
Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + Museu Nacional de Arqueologia: 12€. Mosteiro dos Jerónimos + Torre de Belém + Museu Naciona de Arqueologia + Museu de Arte Popular + Museu Nacional de Etnologia + Museu dos Coches: 25€.
Special discounts: Visitors aged 65 and older (proof of age must be shown): 50% discount. Family ticket: 2 adults + minimum 2 kids (age 13-18, documental evidence required) 50% discount. “Youth Card”: 50% discount. Student Card: 50% discount
Open 10AM-5.30PM (Oct.-April), 10AM-6.30PM (May-Sept.). Closed Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December.
A monument to sea exploration
The 50 meters high Padrão dos Descobrimentos (seen under) was built to mark 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death – one of Portugal’s greatest sailor. You can also get a nice view of the mouth of the River Tagus.
Address: Avenida de Brasilia, Belem. Accessible by tram number 15 from the city center.
Entrance fee: free
Open: 10AM-6PM (closed Mondays).
Torre de Belém
UNESCO world heritage site and one of Portugal’s most famous monuments. Perhaps a great suggestion to start with. Very close to the city center and harbour, Gothic towers dates back to 1500. It is very close to Jeronimos Monastery, just further to the west.
Address: Belém Tower, Av. Brasília, 1400-038 Lisboa, you can take a tram 15 from the center.
Entrance fee: 6€ or free with the Lisboa Card. Jerónimos Monastery/Tower of Belém: 12€.
Special discounts: Visitors aged 65 and older (proof of age must be shown): 50% discount. Family ticket: 2 adults + minimum 2 kids (age 13-18, documental evidence required) 50% discount. “Youth Card”: 50% discount. Student Card: 50%
Free on Sunday and Holidays from 10.00-14.00 for all citizens residing in national territory (ID required) and for kids under 12 years old.
Open 10AM-5.30PM (Oct.-April), 10AM-6.30PM (May-Sept.). Closed Mondays and 1 January, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 13 June and 25 December
Castelo de São Jorge
Towering dramatically above Lisbon, the mid-11th-century hilltop fortifications of Castelo de São Jorge sneak into almost every snapshot. Roam its snaking ramparts and pine-shaded courtyards for superlative views over the city’s red rooftops to the river.
Address: Castelo de S. Jorge 1100º 129 Lisboa. The nearest metro station is Rossio (Green Metro Line), but involves a 20 minute walk. Mini bus service 37 goes directly to the main entrance, while the tram 28 is more enjoyable option, but also does require a slight walk.
Entrance fee: 8.50€/5.00€/20.00€ adult/child/family.
Open: 09:00AM to 09:00PM (from March to October) and 09:00AM to 06:00PM (from November to February).
Take a tram 28
The Remodelado trams were built in the 1930s, and I do recommend the very pretty Tram 28 route. You can jump off and explore one of the passing neighborhoods, or use it as a way to get up the steep hills. Highly recommended to do so, to explore the city. The route screeches through the hills of Alfama before passing through downtown Baixa and on to the Estrela basilica.
Entrance fee: Single ticket for this 40 minute tour of Lisbon costs now 2.85€ whether you buy from the driver or ticket machine.
Elevador de Santa Justa: An Antique Elevator With City Views
A very odd-looking Santa Justa Lift, a neo-Gothic elevator and the most eccentric and novel means of public transport in the city, creates a very interesting panorama next to surrounded buildings. It was built as a means of connecting the Baixa with the Largo do Carmo in the Bairro Alto neighborhood, a trendy area of the city. At first glance, its riveted wrought-iron frame and battleship-grey paint conjure images of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and there is a connection: the French architect Raoul Mésnier du Ponsard, an apprentice of Gustave Eiffel, designed the elevator, which was inaugurated in 1901.
Address: south east of Praça Dom Pedro IV (Rossio Square) in the Baixa district and the closest metro station is Rossio. In the city center.
Entrance fee: A return ride cost €5.15 and included in the fare is the entrance to the viewing platform, which costs €1.50. Ride on the lift is included in the 24-hour public transport ticket that cost €6.30 and can be purchased from any metro station.
Open: 7:30 and 23:00h (7:30-21:00 winter).
Main square in the city is Praça do Comércio
The main square in the city is Praça do Comércio, a lively place with restaurants on both sides.
Cool down on the beautiful beach in Cascais
Close by Cascais can be a perfect place for a break from the busy streets of the city. The beach in very beautiful and it is only 30 minutes away from Lisbon, so could be a perfect one day trip to rest, swim, get a sunbath and just relax.
Train ticket: A single ticket from Lisbon to Cascais costs €2.25/€1.15 (adult/child). There are no return tickets so the price of a return would be €4.50/€2.30 (two single tickets).
During daylight hours there is a departure every 20 minutes. The first train departs at 5.30 from the main train station (Cais do Sodre). The last trains of the night depart from both Cascais and Lisbon at 0:30am, 1:00am and 1:30am. Here is a current timetable.
Sé: Lisbon’s Imposing Cathedral
Cathedral is a wonderful ancient complex that is steeped in history and no holiday to Lisbon is complete without visiting this magnificent monument.
Address: Sé Lisbon is situated on the main road from Baixa to Alfama. The nearest metro station is Rossio (Green Metro Line) but involves a 20 minute walk. Mini bus service 37 goes directly to the main entrance, while the tram 28 is more enjoyable option but does require a slight walk.
Entrance The religious sections of the cathedral is free to visit. The cloisters: 2.50€/1.00€ (adult/child).
Open: 7:00AM until the evening mass, held in Portuguese, at 07:00PM. The cloisters are open every day from 10:00 to 17:00
Take the Lavra funicular to Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara as 2 in 1
This is one of the most attractive viewpoints, with a pleasant garden and the castle standing on the opposite side. It is especially beautiful at night when the city is lit up below. Best to take the iconic Lavra funicular to climb up the hill of mirador.
Address: Largo da Anunciada – Rua Câmara Pestana for Lavra funicular, then the viewpoint is just on a right hand side.
Entrance fee: A one-way ticket cost €4 (€2 for children from 4 to 10 years old) with a return costing €5.40 (€3 for children).
Open: 07:00-22:45, every day except Sunday, when the opening time is 09:00.