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Nicaragua

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Crowne Plaza Hotel Managua
Crowne Plaza Hotel Managua - dream vacation

Octava Calle Suroeste 101, Managua

Hotel Internacional Managua
Hotel Internacional Managua - dream vacation

Rotonda Colonia Centro América, 1 c. a Este, 1/2 c. al Norte, Managua

Hotel Casa del Consulado
Hotel Casa del Consulado - dream vacation

Banpro 30vrs al oeste, Calle El Consulado, Granada

Hotel Don Carmelo Managua
Hotel Don Carmelo Managua - dream vacation

Ciudad Jardin, de la Clinica Santa Maria una cuadra al Oeste, Managua

Hotel Hex
Hotel Hex - dream vacation

Beilo Horizonte frente al centro comercial Multicentro, Managua

Malinche Leon
Malinche Leon - dream vacation

De la Sala de Emergencias, costado sur del Hospital Oscar Danilo Rosales, 1 cuadra y media al este, Leon

Hotel El Almendro Managua
Hotel El Almendro Managua - dream vacation

De la Rotonda Rubén Darío, Metrocentro 2 cuadras al Oeste y 1/2 cuadra al Sur. 2a Avenida S.O, Managua

Hilton Princess Managua
Hilton Princess Managua - dream vacation

Km 4.5 Carretera a Masaya, Managua

Hotel Plaza Colon
Hotel Plaza Colon - dream vacation

In front of Parque Central, Granada

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America by area at 130,373 km2 and the least densely populated. It has coastlines on the Caribbean Sea in the East and the Pacific Ocean in the West. It borders Costa Rica in the South and Honduras in the North. Nicaraguans (or "Nicas" as they are often called) like to refer to their country as the "país de lagos y volcanes"; the country of lakes and volcanoes. And those are indeed striking features as Nicaragua contains the largest freshwater body in Central America, Lake Nicaragua or Cocibolca. Inside Lake Nicaragua the famed Volcano Concepcion on Ometepe rises to about a mile in altitude, but other volcanoes such as Momotombo or Mombacho are also impressive.

Nicaragua's capital and largest city is Managua. Somewhere between a quarter and a third of the Nicaraguan population lives in or around the capital and it is thus the largest city and metro-area in mainland Central America behind Guatemala City.

Regions

Cities

  • Managua - Capital leveled by a 1972 earthquake and decried as bland, slowly coming into its own again
  • Granada (Nicaragua) - colonial beauty, favorite with expats
  • León (Nicaragua) - age old rival of Granada, famous for students, leftist politics and its cathedral
  • Masaya - charming "suburb" of Managua with artisan market and easy access to the pueblos blancos
  • Bluefields - the biggest city on the Caribbean Coast and major travel hub
  • San Carlos (Nicaragua) - gateway to the Rio San Juan region
  • Estelí - sip coffee where it's grown and use as a base for various excursions including cañón de Somoto
  • San Juan del Sur - surfer town, party mecca and an anchoring point for cruises around the Pacific
  • Jinotega - "The capital of coffee", a city in the north of the country, with its cathedral San Juan, Peña de la Cruz and Lago Apanás.

Other destinations

  • Big Corn Island - Caribbean island with diving, relaxing and fishing.
  • Little Corn Island - Caribbean island with diving, relaxing and fishing. The more popular of the two corn islands.
  • Isla de Ometepe - island in the shadow of two volcanoes
  • Somoto - home of the dramatic Canyon de Somoto
  • El Castillo - a Spanish fortress on the Rio San Juan and a good entry point for the nearby jungle
  • Laguna de Apoyo - nature reserve with dark sand beaches
  • Pearl Lagoon - chilled out Caribbean town
  • Solentiname Islands - a group of islands in lake Nicaragua famous for their naive painting and balsa figurines
  • Volcan Masaya

Itineraries

  • Ruta del Tránsito

Understand

Nicaraguans like to call their country "país de lagos y volcanes" - Land of lakes and volcanoes and this certainly an apt description of the overall layout, particularly of the Western half of the country.

Climate

Temperature is most influenced by altitude. On the Pacific side there is a pronounced dry (November-April, known locally as "verano") and rainy season (known locally as "invierno") but the further east you got the longer the rainy season becomes and the rainier the dry season gets. Torrential downpours in the rainy season (May–October) can catch you by surprise and soak you within minutes, even in the Pacific lowlands, so be prepared if you're traveling during the rainy season. In the Northern Highlands cloud forests dominate and thus cold, foggy weather is no rare occurrence. Temperatures might drop to the tens Celsius in the early morning hours on high altitudes but snow is unheard of. The Caribbean coast is overall much wetter with rain a common occurrence even in the "dry" season. The last devastating hurricane to hit Nicaragua was Mitch in 1998 and the country is generally not in the main pathway of hurricanes, but you should still heed warnings and absolutely evacuate at the very least to the Pacific side if there is any chance of a hurricane hitting the place you're in. Hurricane Otto, which hit the country and neighboring Costa Rica in November 2016 thankfully left no dead and less destruction than feared and arguably showed that Nicaragua I'd now better prepared for natural disasters than in the past.

Terrain

The most noteworthy features of Nicaragua's geography are visible at a glance: Lake Nicaragua in the Southwest with a mostly low lying plane west of it that experiences dry seasons and has historically been the densest populated and most agriculturally used part of the country. In the North high mountains gave rise to coffee and tobacco farming and this is where the country is at its coldest and also where most historical guerrillas be they Sandinista or Contra found their hideouts. From Northwest to Southeast a spine of mostly active volcanoes stretches through the country - including Lake Nicaragua - with the volcano Cosigüina at the heart of the eponymous peninsula marking the Northwesternmost end of this volcanic chain and the Solentiname islands the southeasternmost feature of volcanic origin in the country. The East of the country is dominated by tropical rainforest and has historically been sparsely populated. In the South the Rio San Juan meanders through a mostly low lying plane with rainforest to either side while in the North the Bosawas rainforest begins in the foothills of the Northern highlands and stretches almost all the way to the coast. The highest altitudes in the country are found in the North with the highest mountain - Cerro Mogoton (2,107 m; 6,912 feet) - sitting at the border with Honduras. The longest river of the country and all of Central America is the Río Coco or Wanki which forms the border between Honduras and Nicaragua for most of its length. Similarly the Rio San Juan forms the border with Costa Rica, though due to a 19th century treaty the river itself belongs entirely to Nicaragua. The Rio San Juan is often considered a national symbol by Nicaraguans, not unlike the German fascination with the Rhine in the 19th century, but due to its historical inaccessibility (before a new road was constructed the trip from Managua would take 12 hours by bus) few Nicaraguans know the river first hand.

History

Early history

Although Columbus (known in Spanish as Cristobal Colón) made landfall in northeastern Nicaragua on one of his voyages, it was the western half of the country that first drew Spanish attention. The Conquistadors wreaked havoc on most indigenous civilizations through war, assimilation, enslavement, disease and deportation however traces of indigenous cultures are still very visible in many aspects of modern Nicaragua. Nicaragua became a Spanish colony and cities such as Granada (one of the first European cities in the Americas that lasted) or its rival León were founded for administrative purposes among others.

Nicaragua declared independence from Spain in 1821 becoming part of the short-lived first Mexican empire for two years before joining the (also short-lived) United Provinces of Central America; by 1838 upon the breakdown of this attempt at Central American Unity, the country became fully independent. The Caribbean Coast came under British control and remained a protectorate administered by the local Miskitos on behalf of the British until liberal general and President José Santos Zelaya conquered the area, which was subsequently named (and is still known to some Western Nicaraguans as) "Zelaya department". However, British, Miskito and general indigenous influence is still very visible on the Caribbean coast and Creole English is still spoken in places like Bluefields or Corn Island.

It was also roughly in this time (the 1850s) that Nicaragua became a major transit country for people wishing to get from the US East Coast to the West. American railroad and steamboat tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt invested in the Ruta del Tránsito, and travelers such as Mark Twain passed along it.

The US Marines invaded Nicaragua several times. The invasions were almost always justified with domestic strife between conservative and liberal factions, but the US also tried to install leaders on friendly terms with them and - more importantly - their banana business. One of the cities that witnessed an invasion was San Juan Del Sur. General Sandino, seeing the US as invaders, took the war to them. This occupation lasted roughly six years, until the Marines withdrew from the country in 1933. Sandino is credited with the withdrawal of the Marines, but the change in Washington (from Hoover to Roosevelt) and the great depression certainly did not increase the US's will to occupy the country indefinitely. Sandino's victoy was, however, short-lived, as the US changed its tactic from direct occupation to supporting a regime favorable to their aims through more indirect means.

Somoza and the Sandinistas

The mid third of the twentieth century was dominated by the rise and fall of the Somoza dynasty. Anastasio Somoza Garcia seized power as the head of the Guardia Nacional (National Guard), which remained the center of power for all the Somoza years, after murdering Sandino after a peace-dinner held in his honor in 1934. Educated in the US and trained by the US Army, he was adept at managing his relations with the United States. Somoza is one of a few Latin American strongmen to whom the semi-anecdotal Roosevelt quotation "our son of a bitch" is said to refer. After his own assassination at the hand of Rigoberto Lopez Perez, Somoza Garcia was succeeded by his sons, Luis and Anastasio Jr ("Tachito") Somoza Debayle. While the Somozas did not hold the presidency at all times, it was clear to everybody who the real power was at any given time.

The Somozas came to power claiming to be liberals and much of their opposition in the early days came from the conservative camp and the political dynasty of the Chamorros. Somoza soon consolidated support from the business sector by either buying off or expropriating anybody who might threaten his family politically.

While the reign of the Somoza's did coincide with a period of relative prosperity and a small urban upper class could live comfortably as long as they did not run afoul of the regime, the Somoza family embezzled very close to everything, amassing land holdings the size of El Salvador and stifling development in some sectors of the economy to benefit their own ventures. Somoza Garcia for example let the national railroad rot because he was the middle man for all importation of Mercedes buses and the railroad was unwelcome competition. The railroad never recovered from that neglect and what remained after Somoza's fall and eleven years of civil war was literally sold for scraps in the 1990s.

Luis Somoza's reign is often described as relatively liberal and open-minded compared to the more dictatorial approach of his father and his brother, but when he died in office of a heart attack his brother took over completely, after he had already been head of the national guard and highly influential before. By 1978, opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption (the last straws might have been the blatant embezzlement of relief funds after the 1972 Managua earthquake and the murder of popular anti-Somoza journalist Pedro Joaquin Chamorro in 1978) had become commonplace and resulted in decisive anti-Somoza military campaign that managed to take Managua and topple Somoza on July 19, 1979, a date that is still celebrated every year by the Sandinistas.

The most notable anti-Somoza movement were the Sandinistas, named after the liberal general of the 1930s and fighter against the US marines, Augusto César Sandino. Due to the nature of the Sandinista government, with their social programs designed to benefit the poor majority, their support for rebels fighting against the military government in El Salvador, and their close alliance with Cuba, the right-wing US President Ronald Reagan considered them a threat, and at his administration's insistence, guerrilla forces (Contras) were organized, trained, and armed throughout most of the 1980s. Unwise policies by the Sandinistas (e.g. the literacy program was to be conducted only in Spanish) also led to a disaffection of the indigenous groups on the Caribbean coast, but a cease-fire of sorts was reached in the early 1980s, when the Sandinistas formed the RAAN and RAAS autonomous areas. To this day many indigenous leaders are wary of the Sandinistas in general and Daniel Ortega's government in particular, although there have been tactical alliances from time to time.

After lengthy negotiations a peace accord was finally reached in 1987, and a peace treaty was drafted by Costa Rican president Oscar Arias Sanchez who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. To the surprise of many, Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, widow of Pedro Joaquin Chamorro of the UNO (Union Nacional Opositora) coalition beat Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas. Contributing factors in Ortega's defeat may well have been the turning international tides, the public's weariness of military service and the bad economic situation (mostly caused by the war).

After the Contra War

Ortega and the Sandinistas lost the 1996 and the 2001 elections to liberals Arnoldo Alemán and Enrique Bolaños respectively. During the 1990s the country's economic policies changed direction, aiming to transform Nicaragua to a market economy through privatization and other aspects of the neoliberal economic program. However, the Sandinistas, still led by Daniel Ortega, returned to power in elections in 2006 when the liberals split the vote. Ortega won with 38% of the vote in the first round after a constitutional amendment eliminated the second round. He won again in 2011 with allegations of vote fraud stemming from his party's sudden increase to 62% of the vote, a number the party hadn't even come close to in all prior peacetime elections. The main right wing newspaper La Prensa still grumbles about the constitutionality of Ortega's reelection as more than two terms and two continuous terms had been prohibited by the constitution until a controversial supreme court decision ruled that provision of the constitution unconstitutional. In the November 2016 elections Ortega was reelected with his wife, Rosario Murillo now elected vice president amid allegations of fraud and a partial boycott by the weak and fractured opposition.

Unlike the Marxist atheist radical Ortega portrayed himself as in the 1980s, Ortega has significantly changed his public image, reconciling with the Catholic Church and erstwhile anti-Sandinista Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo, who now even appears on Sandinista campaign billboards. As part of the reconciliation Ortega now enjoys support from some that had taken up arms against him in the 1980s. Many former comrades - including his erstwhile Vice President Sergio Ramirez - denounce him as a sellout, dictatorial and corrupt. Ortega has also become much more business-friendly, paying lip-service to a "mixed economy" with private and government-owned enterprises side by side, while allowing rather free reign to private business, which has been credited with solid growth figures in recent years baring the great recession years. Ortega's wife, Rosario Murillo, is very much a public figure and current Sandinista PR is significantly influenced by her. Ubiquitous Sandinista propaganda designed by her include billboards with the faces of Sandinista leaders and a yearly slogan or "arboles de la vida"; stylized metal trees that can be seen all over Managua. Political passions can run high and as an outsider it is best if you listen politely but don't volunteer your opinion unless asked.

Nicaragua has suffered from natural disasters in the past. Downtown Managua was all but leveled by an earthquake in 1972, which killed more than 10,000 people. In 1998, Nicaragua was hit hard by Hurricane Mitch. Nicaragua remains the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti. Rapid growth in sectors such as tourism, and a better crime and security situation than its northern neighbors give reason to hope for a better future.

The Nicaragua Canal

Since the Spanish were able to make out the general geography of the country, there have been proposals to build a canal to link Atlantic and Pacific. Besides several routes through Panama, Nicaragua seemed an obvious choice, as the Rio San Juan already connects lake Nicaragua to the Caribbean and the lake's western shore is only about 20 kilometers from the Pacific at the narrowest point. However, from a 21st-century standpoint, the Rio San Juan is hardly navigable (the rapids close to El Castillo cannot be passed by anything much bigger than a lancha), and the average depth of lake Nicaragua is less than 15 meters, much less than the displacement of many modern container-ships. However the dream has always remained in the national consciousness. It was somewhat of a perennial issue in national politics until the early 2010s when President Ortega signed a contract (later approved by the Sandinista-dominated national assembly) with a Chinese company to build the canal. Construction began in December 2014 (though the actual extent of the works undertaken is not entirely clear to the public). The contract includes an airport, two deep water seaports and a major tourist facility on the Pacific side. The project is very controversial domestically and abroad, so expect a lot of media coverage on the issue in years to come.

People

There are about 6.1 million Nicaragüenses (often shortened to Nicas) in Nicaragua. The majority of the population is mestizo (roughly 70%) and white (roughly 17%). Nicaraguan culture is heavily influenced both by European and by Amerindian customs and traditions with some African elements on the Caribbean coast. Most Nicas are monolingual speakers of Spanish and roughly 90% understand it, but other languages are (in descending order of speakers) Miskito, Creole English, English, Chinese and Sumo. The biggest minorities all live on the Caribbean side of the country and include the Miskito (indigenous, formerly an ally of the British), the Garifuna (of indigenous and African ancestry) and the Rama people. Some of them speak indigenous languages or Caribbean Creole English. To this day conflicts arise from people of mestizo origin moving to the East of the country and appropriating land where indigenous or afrodescendent people had lived or violently expulsing them. Immigrant communities are usually minor in size but the German-Nicaraguan community was economically important in the coffee business until Somoza expropriated them as a "war measure" in World War II (which Nicaragua "fought" on the allied side). Other immigrant communities include Chinese-Nicaraguans and Afro-Nicaraguans. In more recent times sizeable expat communities have arisen in cities like Granada, however, immigration was always and still is dwarfed by emigration.

Because of economic and political reasons many Nicaraguans have left their country in the last decades - primarily to the US and Costa Rica. About 500,000 to one million Nicaraguans now live and work in Costa Rica, not all of them legally, which has caused tensions both on a personal and on a diplomatic level between the two countries. The Nicaraguan diaspora in the US consists of both political emigres not unlike the Cuban population of Miami and economic migrants. However, unlike its neighbors emigration to the US is neither as prevalent nor as culturally dominant a phenomenon as the presence of Latinos in the US might indicate.

Units of measurement

Although Nicaragua officially uses the metric system, some customary Spanish units as well as some American units are commonly used in everyday parlance and even by vendors and the like. A common unit of distance is the "vara" which is often given in approximations for distances when giving directions. Though the actual length of a vara is said to be a yard, it can in actual use range somewhere between half a meter and more than one meter. If asking for directions or distances try asking how long one would walk there unless it is a long distance as most Nicaraguans don't own cars and are thus not all that familiar with estimating large distances.

A common unit for volume is the American fluid ounce and beer is often sold in 12 oz. bottles (354ml, sometimes "metricized" as 355ml). If you see 12 oz and a price quote (or "doce onzas") it usually refers to the beer bottle of that quantity. Gallons are also sometimes used for large amounts of water. For more on American units see Metric and Imperial equivalents.

Weight is preferably measured in (imperial) pounds, roughly equal to 450 grams (and not metricized as 500 grams). Other units are the large quintal and arroba that are used for the price of commodities like sugar and coffee as quoted in newspapers.

Get in

Visa regulations

Citizens of the following countries/territories can enter Nicaragua without a visa: Andorra, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belgium, Belize, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Falkland Islands, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guatemala, Holy See, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Macao, Macedonia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Saint Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Swaziland, Sweden, Slovenia, Switzerland, Taiwan, Turkey, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, United States, Vanuatu, the Vatican City (Holy See) and Venezuela.

Visitors must obtain a Tourist Card for US$10 valid for 1 month to 3 months (depending on citizenship - Canada and USA are allowed 90 days) upon arrival, provided with a valid passport with at least six months to run. (Citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are exempt from the Tourist card requirement.)

There is also a US$32 departure tax which is included in airfares with major airlines (American Airlines, Copa Airlines and Avianca definitely). The tourist card is valid in the other CA-4 countries, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, although it sometimes requires a discussion with immigration officials that this accord is in effect, since they are quite compelled to sell more tourist cards.

By plane

You will most likely fly into Augusto C Sandino airport in Managua (IATA: MGA). Flights from the U.S. arrive from Houston, Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Atlanta. Managua is served among others by American Airlines, United, Avianca, Delta, Spirit, Aeroméxico, and Nature Air (from SJO). In addition to domestic flights within Nicaragua la costeña also flies from Tegucigalpa to Managua.

If your intended destination in Nicaragua is in the Rio San Juan region or Southwestern Nicaragua, or if you find a flight that is more favorable to you in some other way, it may make sense to fly to Liberia IATA: LIR or San José IATA: SJO airport (technically in Alajuela) in Costa Rica instead. Do keep in mind that Costa Rica is not part of the CA4, and you will pass through immigration both at the airport and when entering Nicaragua. As San José is served from more destinations outside the United States, this might also make sense if you intend to avoid travel through the United States. If you or someone in your party is a Nicaraguan citizen, do remember to get a multiple entry visa for Costa Rica.

There is an entrance fee to enter the country of US$10, payable in either US dollars or córdobas (C$). Try to have exact change.

Tourist cards are valid for three months for US citizens, as well as for people from the EU and Canada. There are taxis right outside the airport; however, these are relatively expensive (US$25 for the 20 km trip to downtown Managua). Alternatively, you can walk out to the road and try to flag down a regular cab. Some taxi drivers may try to overcharge, particularly seeing a foreign face, and may start with US$20, but a price around US$5–10 or C$125 - 250 (Nicaraguan cordobas) is appropriate from the airport (depending on the number of people and amount of luggage). Knowledge of the Spanish language is very helpful when haggling with taxis. You can also arrange a shuttle pickup to take you to nearby cities like Granada, a popular option for tourists who do not want to spend a night in Managua. It is recommended to have your hotel or language school arrange a shuttle when possible.

Talks are underway to start international flights to the small airport on Ometepe, which opened in 2014; as of early 2017 however, nothing had come of it. So don't hold your breath.

There are, as of 2015, no regular scheduled international flights to any other airports in the country, although some might be able to accommodate general aviation.

By car

Note that almost all rental car contracts don't allow you to take your car across the border. If you want to take your own car across the border, it can be done; however, it requires planning and a bit of bureaucracy, as the government tightly controls the used car market and doesn't want you to sell it without paying the proper fees and tariffs. See Carnet de Passage for crossing borders in cars

There are two border crossings to Costa Rica: Peñas Blancas west of Lake Nicaragua, and Los Chiles/San Carlos east of it. While the San Carlos crossing had long been boat only, the bridge finally opened in 2015 and it is now possible to cross the border by car on the Eastern side of Lake Nicaragua. Peñas Blancas has historically been the by far busier crossing but the opening of the bridge and the rising touristic profile of the Rio San Juan region might change that. Keep in mind that both border crossings are major bottlenecks for trade between Nicaragua and Costa Rica and there will be quite a few trucks waiting to cross. For the time being the boat route from San Carlos to Los Chiles remains open albeit with more limited departures than in the days of it being the only possible crossing.

There are three major border crossings to Honduras. Las Manos is on the shortest route to Tegucigalpa; the others ones are on the Panamerican Highway north of Leon.

There is a US$12 border crossing fee (usually payable in dollars, cordobas or the currency of the adjacent country). This fee is usually also collected even if you already have a CA-4 visa, though there is no new visa included. The "visa run" to get a new 90 days on your legal stay is thus only possible when going to Costa Rica and it's largely at the discretion fo the border officials whether they grant you the twelfth 90 day visa in a row.

By bus

International buses are available between Managua and San Jose, Costa Rica (also stopping briefly in Rivas and Granada), San Salvador, El Salvador (stopping briefly in Leon), and Honduras. Some buses will continue to Panama City or Guatemala City. The buses are relatively modern (many have air conditioning), and make stops for fuel and food along the way. However, if you plan on taking this form of transportation, you should plan ahead: buses between the major cities can fill up days ahead of departure dates. See the following companies: Transnica , Tica Bus and King Quality. Another option is to be picked up in the smaller cities along the route; ask for the local ticket office. There are also cheap (but terribly uncomfortable) "chicken buses" a few times a week between Managua and Guatemala City (US$20), that stop in major cities like Leon.

An alternative way to travel across the border is take a bus to/from a major city that drops you off at the border. You can then cross the border and board another bus. This is a common strategy for travelers, especially on the Costa Rican/Nicaraguan border. This method takes longer, but is much cheaper and can be done on a moment's notice.

When crossing the border from Choluteca, Honduras to Guasaule, Nicaragua, don't be intimidated by the men fighting over your luggage. They will want to take you by bicycle over the border to the bus stop on the other side. Often, if you ask for a price for the ride, they will insist it's for a "tip" or "propina". It's not until you reach the other side that they will try to pressure you into paying US$20 or more. Negotiate with them before you agree to a ride, and if they still pressure you at the end, just give them what you think is fair and walk away.

This border crossing is also your last chance to exchange your Lempiras for Cordobas, and it's best to know what the exchange rate is so that you can bargain for a fair rate.

All buses coming from the south enter Nicaragua at Peñas Blancas. There are air conditioned, relatively modern buses from the same companies as for the connection to Honduras; alternatively, you could get on a local bus to the border, cross it on foot, and take a bus or taxi from there. Please remember that the border is the last point to get rid of your Colones, as almost nobody in Nicaragua proper accepts them; if they do, it is only with horrible exchange rates.

By boat

Apart from cruises there are also the following options

From Los Chiles (Costa Rica) to San Carlos you can take a "lancha" (small boat) that takes you across the border for about US$10 The trip is scenic as the Rio Frio passes through a pleasant rainforest. Please note that you are allowed to take photos of everything except the border post about halfway through the trip as it is a military installation. The border formalities on both sides are pretty much the same as at the Land Crossing at Peñas Blancas, however in Los Chiles you will have to pay about US$1 for using the border area. There are two supermarkets in Los Chiles but only one (with more limited choice) in San Carlos so if you think you need anything stock up.

Reportedly a new regular passenger-ferry now connects La Union (El Salvador) with Corinto, Nicaragua.

By train

There are no passenger rail lines between Nicaragua and its neighbors. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find any train in Nicaragua, as the national railway was closed in 1994, and literally sold for scrap soon thereafter. (The situation isn't much better in other parts of Central America either for that matter.) Talks of ever starting a railroad again - whether local or national, whether freight only or for passengers as well - are inconclusive and never get above newspaper articles or speculation by mid-level or retired politicians.

Get around

By bus

Bus is definitely the main mode of travel in Nicaragua, and a great way to get to know the country's geography, people and even some culture (music, snack food, dress, manners). Most of the buses are old decommissioned yellow US school buses (though often fantastically repainted and redecorated). Expect these buses to be packed full, and your luggage (if large) may be stored at the back or on the top of the bus (along with bicycles and other large items). You'd better be quick or you may be standing most of the trip or sitting on a bag of beans. On most routes you can purchase your ticket a day or so in advance which will guarantee you a (numbered) seat (look for the number on your ticket and above the windows respectively). Some have not replaced the original seats meant to carry 7 year olds, so you may have sore knees by the end of the trip. People often sell snacks and drinks on the buses (or through the windows) before they depart or at quick stops. A typical fare may vary between US$1 or less for short (~30min) trips to US$3–4 for longer trips.

With the exception of city buses in Managua, which use contactless prepaid cards for fare payment, buses in Nicaragua are usually operated by a two-person crew. Besides the driver, on each bus there is usually a younger "assistant" manning the front door; he announces stops, collects fares, and helps passengers to board (often paying particular attention to pretty female passengers).

Most cities in Nicaragua have one main bus terminal for long distance buses. Managua has numerous terminals, each serving a different region of the country depending upon its geographic placement in Managua. Mercado Israel Levites, in the western part of the city, serves cities on the Pacific Coast to the north, e.g. Leon, Chinandega and all points in between. Mercado Mayoreo on the eastern side of the city serves points east, north and southeast, like Matagalpa Rama or San Carlos, Rio San Juan. Mercado Huembes in the southern part of Managua serves points south, like Rivas/San Jorge and Peñas Blancas.

Another method of traveling cross country are minibuses ("microbuses" as they are called). These are essentially vans, holding up to 15 people (some may be larger, shuttle sized). Minibuses have regular routes between Managua and frequently travel to relatively nearby cities like GranadaLeonMasaya, Jinotepe and Chinandega. Most of these leave from and return to the small roadside microbus terminal across the street from the Universidad Centoamericana (and thus the buses and terminal are known as "los microbuses de la UCA"). Microbuses run all day into the late afternoon/early evening depending on destination, with shorter hours on Sunday, and a definite rush hour during the week as they service nearby cities from which many people commute to Managua. The microbuses cost a little more than the school buses, but are faster, making fewer stops. As with the school buses, expect these to be packed, arguably with even less space as drivers often pack more people than the vehicle was designed to handle. On the other hand, most drivers (and driver's helpers) are friendly and helpful, and will help you store your baggage. They run to the main bus terminals in Leon and Chinandega, to the Parque Central and Mercado de Artesanias (and then leave from another park a couple blocks from there) in Masaya, and to/from a park 1 block from the Parque Central in Granada. There is more limited microbus service to other cities out of their respective bus terminals in Managua.

By plane

At the international airport there are two offices right to the right of the main terminal, these offices house the domestic airlines. These are great if you want to get to the Atlantic Coast. Prices change but it takes 1.5 hours to get to the Corn Islands as opposed to a full day overland. If you are trying to save time, then this is the best way to get to the Corn Islands or anywhere on the Atlantic Coast. Destinations include San Carlos, Big Corn Island, Bluefields two of the three towns in the "mining triangle" and new services to Ometepe and San Juan del Norte (Greytown). Planes book out quickly and the allowed baggage is very limited so check whether the saved time is worth the cost and the hassle. For more see their website

By boat

It is common for your bags to be searched prior to any boat trip. Rules on what can be in your luggage vary, but on the San Carlos - Ometepe - Granada boat alcoholic beverages are often confiscated upon boarding and handed back to you when you disembark.

Boat is the only way to get to the Solentinames and still the most popular way to get to Isla de Ometepe. Be aware that high winds and bad weather can cancel ferry trips. That might not be such a bad thing, though, since windy/bad weather can make the Ferry trip unpleasant for those prone to seasickness, and many of the boats used to access Ometepe are old, smaller ferries and launches. The fastest route to Ometepe leaves from San Jorge (10 minutes from Rivas and often connecting on the same Managua-Rivas bus) and goes to Moyogalpa. A much longer trip can be taken (and with only a couple of trips weekly) from Granada to Altagracia. There is a large modern ferry from San Jorge that makes daily trips to the new port of San Jose del Sur close to Moyogalpa.

Boat is also a practicable way to get to Big Corn Island. Take a bus to Rama, which is the end of the road. This road is in a good condition and the ride shouldn't be too bumpy. There is a weekly ship with bunk beds to the Corn Islands, and small launches to Bluefields and El Bluff multiple times a day. Or you can get on a speedboat to Bluefields or El Bluff. Catch the boat to the Corn Islands from there, or take a flight out of Bluefields. The first boat from Rama to Bluefields usually leaves at the crack of dawn and makes for a life affirming wet ride. Also, a large cargo boat takes two days returning from the Corn Islands to Rama with an overnight in El Bluff to take on cargo. There is now also a road (but don't expect much) from Rama to Pearl Lagoon, which can also be reached in a launch from Bluefields.

By taxi

You should always clearly agree on a fare before entering the taxi. In most of the country there are flat rates within one city that double at night, but rates in Managua or beyond city limits depend mostly on your bargaining skills. That includes establishing whether you are talking about local currency or Dollars and whether it is per person or for the whole party. Once you are in the taxi all your bargaining power is gone and there are no meters. The taxi drivers in Managua can be aggressive and there are loads so it is easy to find a fare that suits you. Taxis will take multiple fares if they are heading roughly in the same direction. Taxi drivers in all the cities are generally fair and well mannered and a nice way to see local scenery. For fares within smaller cities there is a set fare per person, so no negotiating is needed. In Managua the fare should be negotiated before getting into the taxi, and will increase depending on the number of passengers (in your party, not already in the taxi or getting in later) time of day (night is significantly more expensive) and location (going to or from a nice part of Managua may cost you a little more due to lowered bargaining power). The cheapest fare for one passenger is C$30 (2013), but the same route if you are a party of two may be C$40. A trip all the way across Managua during the day should not be more than about C$60–70 if not coming from or going to the airport. Tipping is not expected (though always welcomed). You can also split the cost of taxi to get to destinations that are close to Managua by like Masaya, if you should prefer to travel with modicum of comfort.

There have been increasing incidents of taxi crime in Managua. The most typical scenario is that an additional passenger enters the cab just a short distance from your pickup, they and the taxi driver take you in circles around town, take everything on you, and leave you in a random location typically far from where you were going. Check that the taxi has the license number painted on the side, that the taxi sign is on the roof, the light is on inside the taxi, and that the taxi operator license is clearly visible in the front seat. You may want to make a scene of having a friend seeing you off and writing down the license number. Care should be taken especially at night, when it may be best to have your hotel arrange a taxi.

You can book a taxi online through TaxiManagua. Fares within Managua start at US$20.

By motorcycle

Some of the residents are known to travel on motorcycles, with multiple children with a mom on a single motorcycle in some cases. If you see such a thing on the roads, don't be surprised.

If you plan to ride a motorcycle in Nicaragua be aware that a helmet is required and driving at night is very dangerous.

You can rent motorcycles at Nicaragua Motorcycles Adventures

By bike

Bikes are a great mode of transport in Nicaragua. They provide a free means of transport while allowing you to stop and see the country that normally would be driven right by. In more rural areas, Nicaraguans are very friendly and helpful, and the roadways, for the most part, allow for bicycles in the shoulders. As riders on horses are known to use the streets, most drivers will know how to deal with a bicycle, although the locals prefer motorcycles, if they can at all afford them. In big cities like Managua, the streets and side walks can be very unsafe for bicycles. Lanes are narrow and not meant for bicyclists. Roundabouts are also very difficult to navigate. Negotiating with traffic is almost impossible and typically best to wait for a clearing in traffic. Sidewalks are uneven and often have poles, potholes or other obstructions for effective riding.

As of 2016 bicycles (fairly similar to cheaper multi-speed US models sold in the US, such as Huffy) are widely used by both urban and rural Nicaraguans; spare parts (tires, inner tubes, pedals) and repair services are available in most towns, even small ones, although sometimes you need to ask around to find them. (e.g., the town's only bike repairman may be working out of his backyard, with no sign on the street). At any rate, knowing how to repair basic defects comes highly recommended, especially if you intend to make overland trips. If you don't already have a bike, cheap bicycles can be bought in most towns of any size, even more remote ones like San Carlos. In cities like Leon or Granada almost every hostel (and a few independent operators) has bike rental for ten dollars a day or less.

Managua now boasts a twice monthly critical mass ride (Facebook link in Spanish). Every first and third Sunday starting at 15:30 at Plaza Cuba in Managua. In other cities bike advocacy is still in its infancy but car traffic is not as heavy and you should have no major problems getting around on a bike.

By thumb

Hitchhiking is common in more rural areas and small towns, but not recommended in Managua. Nicaraguans themselves usually only travel in the backs of trucks, not inside of a vehicle, when they are traveling with a group of people (3 or more). Some drivers may ask for a little money for bringing you along - Nicaraguans see this as being cheap, but will usually pay the small amount (US$1/person).

By car

Roads on the Pacific Coast are generally speaking in an acceptable condition, though the rains at the beginning of the rainy season can hit roads in Managua paved with cobblestone particularly hard. Roads on the Atlantic side are an entirely different story. There are few paved roads and dirt roads can become impassable during the rainy season. Bring patience and spare tires and plan on taking longer than you would on the Pacific side. City driving is not a good idea in any of the cities, though you have few alternatives to driving in Managua, due to sprawling car-centric layout. If you can, hire a driver or take taxis. Buses are an option for getting around Managua, but only during the daytime and you need a rechargeable TUC card to pay the fare, which is reportedly only available to those holding Nicaraguan ID. Cities like Granada or León are much more walkable and you should ditch the car rather than trying to navigate the somewhat confusing network of one-way streets.

There are no tolls in Nicaragua and as of October 2016 diesel hovers above C$20 while gasoline (distinguished by octane count into regular and super) costs C$25-30. So compared to the US or Mexico gas at roughly US$4 a gallon can be considered expensive, but it is significantly cheaper than in most of Europe.

There is a general speed limit of 100km/h on freeways that you really should not exceed, as cows and horses roam the streets as if they owned the place. Inside of cities there is a 45km/h speed limit and on all other roads it's 60 km/h. Police have a particular skill in filtering out rental cars to collect "fines" from tourists, so drive defensively and within speed limits. The normal procedure for traffic fines is for the cop to collect your licence handing you a ticket, which you take to a bank to pay the fine. The bank will give you a receipt with which you can pick up your licence later. However, far from every police officer will follow this standard procedure every time and should you be in a hurry, they are likely able to accommodate you by allowing you to pay on the spot. Haggling about fines does happen, and if your licence has been taken by a police officer you may sometimes get around paying the fine by convincingly arguing your case at the police station.

A particular quirk of the Nicaraguan laws of the road is that you absolutely must not move your car a single inch after you were in an accident. If you do, you will be saddled with full legal liability for all damages. Wait until the police arrive and ask for permission to move your car if you have to. Should you be unfortunate enough to get into an accident resulting in major injury or death, you will be taken into custody until everything is cleared up. In most cases the easiest way out is to take a plea - deal, though you should talk to an attorney first if that happens to you.

Nicaragua has a lot of roundabouts (rotondas) and they serve as local landmarks in Managua. Changing the lane inside a roundabout or shortly before one is illegal and will be fined, especially if you're driving a rental.

Most country's drivers licenses are accepted for up to thirty days. If you intend to stay and drive longer, you would have to get a Nicaraguan driver's license which is only available to citizens and legal residents.

Talk

Spanish is Nicaragua's official language. Do not expect to find much English spoken outside of the larger and more expensive hotels. Creole English, (think Jamaican patois to get a first approximation) and indigenous languages are spoken along the Caribbean coast, and in the inland of the remote Bosawas national park (in the east of the country, thus the Caribbean in Managua parlance). Nicaraguans tend to leave out the s at the end of Spanish words, usually replacing it with an "h" sound (j in Spanish). Thus "dále pues" ("alright then", a common term when wrapping up a conversation) becomes "dále pueh". "Vos" is typically used instead of "tú", something that is common throughout Central America. However, "tú" is understood by native Nicaraguans as it shows up a lot in media, songs and books. As in most Latin American countries the plural form "vosotros" is almost unheard of outside of the Bible. When addressing a group, "ustedes" is the preferred form.

Nicaraguans, especially poorer people in more rural areas, sometimes spell words phonetically rather than the way they appear in a dictionary. This might include signs for small shops. Reading the sign out loud often helps making sense of it.

See

Nicaraguans like to call their country the country of lakes and volcanoes. Some of the most noteworthy volcanoes include:

  • Volcán Concepción and Maderas on Ometepe
  • Volcán Mombacho near Granada
  • Volcán Masaya near Masaya. If it is not considered too dangerous you can drive up by car.
  • Volcán Cosigüina that used to be one of the highest in the region but exploded in the 19th century, dotting the Golfo de Fonseca between Nicaragua and El Salvador with many small islets made out of its debris.

Other sights include:

  • Wildlife on Ometepe or in the protected areas of Indio-Maiz (southeast, Rio San Juan Region) and Bosawas (northeast, Caribbean Nicaragua)
  • Churches en masse especially in León (with one of the biggest churches of central America) and Granada
  • Lake-panoramas and sunsets along the shores of Lake Nicaragua (Cocibolca)
  • Museums and murals dedicated to the country's revolutionary past and its civil war (especially in Sandinista-strongholds such as León or Estelí)

Thankfully, Nicaragua retains much more colonial era architecture than its southern neighbor, and if you are coming from the south, places like Granada or León can be a breath of fresh air, compared to the rather bland modernist architecture you'll find there.

Do

There is an endless selection of things to do in Nicaragua, but some of the most overlooked are the fiestas patronales or Saint Festivals that happen nearly every day in some town or village in the country. Participating in the fiestas patronales is a great way to really experience the culture of Nicaragua, and such customs such as the dance of the Gigantona and the Los Aguizotes parade are truly unforgettable to see. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to determine what is going on and when.

Buy

Currency

If you are entering Nicaragua by land, get rid of those Honduran lempiras and Costa Rican colones as they are hard to exchange away from the border.

The national currency is called the córdoba oro (ISO code NIO, locally abbreviated as C$), known locally as peso, simply "cordoba" or vara(s), among other designations. Peace corps volunteers and expats sometimes say "cords" but Nicaraguans don't use that word.

The currency is devalued by 5% every year compared to the US dollar in what could be considered a sliding peg with built-in inflation. The córdoba thus traces and tracks the movements of the US dollar in its exchange rates to other currencies.

Most places accept US dollars (albeit sometimes at less than face value) but you will often get change in córdoba oro. Corodobas are essential when paying bus fares taxis, small meals and other daily purchases, try and have somewhere around C$500 in small bills on you at all times. Nearly all banks exchange US dollars to córdobas but lines are often long, and you may have to use your credit card to get money rather than your bank card. Make sure you bring your passport when exchanging money. All ATMs give out local currency and most can dispense US dollars too. Make sure that the ATM you're using is part of one of the networks listed on the back of your bank card. Though you may be able to find some ATMs that work on the MasterCard/Cirrus system, most will use only the Visa/Plus system. In many cases an ATM is in its own air conditioned (read: freezingly cold) mini-room with a door that you can close. You should opt for those over others, because the door is usually non-transparent thus protecting your data from prying eyes. It can sometimes be difficult to get change for a C$1000 or C$500 note as well as for a US$20 note. US$100 and US$50 notes are often not accepted at all except by banks; so if you are traveling from the USA (or another US$-using country), it is advisable to bring the bulk of your money in US$20 bills, with an ample supply of $5 and $1 bills as well (for places that quote the price in US$, but claim to have no small US bills to give change).

Cordobas come in bills from 1000 to 10 and in coins from 10 (rare) to 0.10 (10 centavos) but coins smaller than one cordoba are mostly just used to make change in supermarkets and can often be found lying around on the street. All coins except the 25 centavos and the C$10 piece are silvery in color and bills are either made from paper (C$500 and C$1000) or polymer (plastic; all other bills including the C$200) with both somewhat more likely to tear than US dollars or euros. Bills can be distinguished by their color and by their size, and higher value bills are larger than smaller value bills. It is not uncommon to find marks or damages on bills and this will usually not be a problem with córdobas, but dollars may be refused if they aren't in pristine condition.

Euros (banknotes only) are exchanged only at banks and the exchange rate is much worse than what you would get exchanging US dollars. If you come from a European country it would be easiest to make sure to have a bank account that allows to withdraw money in Nicaragua cheaply or for free.

In case you need currency exchange when the banks are closed or you want to exchange currencies that the bank won't exchange, there are private money changers known as "cambistas" or "coyotes". While most of them are honest and belong to cooperatives that have an eye on their honesty, there are some dishonest money-changers that try to pass of 1980s córdobas as genuine currency or are otherwise out to trick you. Keep the exchange rate in mind, do your own calculations (manipulated calculators have happened) to double check theirs and don't hand your money over before you had a good look at the currency you are about to receive. Money changers can be found at most border crossings and in Managua. During the opening hours of the banks they often offer better rates and shorter waiting times, but it is your judgment call whether you deem it worth the risk. To minimize risks, try getting your money in small bills, which also makes it easier to make change.

Most modern stores, especially Texaco (Star Mart), Esso (On The Run), La Union (supermarket owned by Wal-Mart) will take US currency, often at a slightly better exchange rate than banks or "cambistas" on the streets (make sure to look for cambistas' ID badges), with change in córdobas. Limit the bills to US$20 for best success. Cambistas have no problem with US$50 and US$100 bills. They won't accept euros, Canadian money, or traveller's cheques. There is a currency exchange right at the airport but rates are - as usual - abysmal and you are rather advised to look for an ATM in the airport (there should be several) and withdraw Cordobas there.

US and international credit cards are accepted in major store chains (Palí, La Colonia, La Unión). Many hotels accept credit cards as well; but, especially in remote areas, you'll often be charged a 4-6% surcharge for paying your bills with a credit card.

Souvenir purchases

If you are going to take one thing home from Nicaragua it should be a hammock. Nicaraguan hammocks are among the best made and most comfortable ever. The really good ones are made in Masaya, ask a taxi to take you to the fabrica de hamacas, the mercado viejo or the mercado nuevo. You will find the most variety and best prices in Masaya. A simple one person hammock should cost under US$20. Hammocks are also sold in the Huembes market in Managua, which has the only large local goods and arts and crafts section in Managua.

Nicaragua also produces excellent, highly awarded rum called Flor de Caña. This is the most common liquor drunk in Nicaragua. Those aged 5 (go for Extra Light over Extra Dry or Etiqueta Negra) and particularly 7 years (Gran Reserva) are a great buy for the money - about US$4–6 a bottle. Buy in the local stores as the prices at the duty-free airport shops are higher. Gran Reserva is the best value based on price and quality.

A trip to the artesan towns of the "Pueblos Blancos" is the most rewarding way to shop for local arts and crafts. The best and easiest location for tourists to buy artesan items is in the craft market in Masaya. There is a similar market with the same products (from a lot of the same vendors) in Mercado Huembes in Managua with slightly higher prices than in the market in Masaya. Located just 10 minutes from Masaya, 30 minutes from Granada and 40 minutes from Managua, these towns are the arts and crafts center of Nicaragua. Catarina is home to dozens of nurseries with plants as diverse as this lush tropical country can produce, and also boasts a beautiful view over the Laguna de Apoyo (volcanic crater lake) where you can enjoy the view from numerous restaurants. San Juan del Oriente is the center of pottery production. You can find dozens of mom and pop studios and stores, meet the artisans and choose from a dazzling and creative array of vases, bowls and other ceramic items. Some of the best shops with more original designs are a few blocks into town off the main highway. Finally, Masatepe is known for its furniture—particularly wicker and wood, and with a special focus on rocking chairs, the favorite Nicaraguan chair. Although you might not be able take any rocking chairs or ferns home with you on the plane, it is definitely worth "window" shopping in these picturesque towns. You can also find San Juan del Oriente pottery, Masatepe furniture and other arts and crafts in Masaya, Mercado Huembes in Managua, and in the streets of GranadaLeon and other places visited by tourists. Remember to bargain. Although you may be a tourist, you can still bargain.

Shopping to Western standards is found mainly in Managua in shopping centers, the largest and most modern being MetroCentro near the rotonda Ruben Dario. There are smaller and inferior malls at Plaza Inter and in Bello Horizonte at Plaza Las Americas. A new and large shopping center called Plaza Santo Domingo is located at Carretera Masaya at about Kilometer 6.

Shopping like the locals takes place at the mercados, or public markets. The largest (and must be one of the largest in the Americas) is Managua's Mercado Oriental. This market contains everything in individual stores or stalls from food to clothes to home electronics. Mercado Oriental is one of the most dangerous locations for tourists in the city. If you go, take only the cash you want to spend. No wallets, watches or jewelry and if you take a cell phone, take it in your pocket not visible to others. It is best to go with a local or better yet a group of locals.

Less frightening, safer and with a similar selection is Mercado Huembes. It is smaller and more open (less difficult to get trapped in a dark isolated passage). This market has the aforementioned Masaya artisan crafts at higher than Masaya prices. There are a few other markets similar in nature, smaller in size, farther away from the beaten track and not worth looking for due to lack of safety and less goods at higher prices.

The small balsa-wooden figurines that you can buy at many places are produced on the Solentiname islands where you can watch as they are made and can probably arrange to have one custom made for you. A lot of the people on the Solentiname archipelago also paint and some sell their paintings directly out of their homes or at the markets of ManaguaMasaya and other big cities.

Taxes and tips

Nicaragua has a national sales tax (or rather value added tax) of 15% that is called Impuesto al valor agregado and almost universally abbreviated IVA. Most small shops operating cash only will not charge it and most supermarkets will quote all prices including tax. However, it is common for restaurants to quote prices without tax and this is legal as long as the disclaimer "Los precios no incluyen IVA" is printed somewhere onto the menu. Tips are common only in midrange and upscale restaurants and are frequently added onto the bill under the heading "propina voluntaria" (voluntary tip) usually of 10%. While you might in theory refuse to pay this "voluntary" tip, it is a good idea to pay it if there is even a slight hance of you ever showing up in the same restaurant again. There is however no need to tip more than that. Tip and tax together can add 25% to the quoted price in any restaurant, so be aware of that before you order. In most other fields the quoted price will be the final price but taxi drivers (who are bound by law to flat fares inside all cities except Managua) tour guides and hotel staff certainly appreciate a tip and will remember your tip on the next encounter.

Eat

Nicaraguan food is very cheap for Western standards. A plate of food from the street will cost C$30-70 cordobas. A typical dinner will consist of meat, rice, beans, salad (i.e. coleslaw) and some fried plantains, costing under US$3. Buffet-style restaurants/stalls called "fritanga" are very common, quality varies quite a bit. A lot of the food is fried in oil (vegetable or lard). It is possible to eat vegetarian: the most common dish is gallo pinto (beans and rice), and most places serve cheese (fried or fresh), fried plantains and cabbage salad. There are a 'few' vegetable dishes such as guiso de papas, pipián o ayote—a buttery creamy stew of potato, zucchini or squash; guacamole nica made with hard-boiled eggs, breaded pipian (zucchini), and various fried fritters of potatoes, cheese and other vegetables. However, the very concept of vegetarianism is unknown to the majority of Nicaraguans, especially in the countryside, and saying you "don't eat meat" may get people to offer you chicken instead, which is considered distinct from "meat" (pork or beef).

If you like meat, grilled chicken and beef is delicious, the beef is usually good quality but often cooked tough. Also try the nacatamales, a traditional Sunday food, that is essentially a large tamal made with pork or beef and other seasonings, wrapped in a banana leaf and tied with a banana-leaf string (35-40 cordobas). People who make them often sell them from their homes on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays; watch for signs that say, "Hay nacatamales" ("We've got nacatamales"),

Indio Viejo is a corn meal (masa) based dished made with either shredded chicken or beef and flavored with mint. The typical condiment is "chilero" a cured onion and chile mixture of varying spiciness depending on the cook. Nicaraguan food is not known for being spicy, though either chilero or hot sauce is almost always available (but be prepared for strange looks if you use them extensively).

While nowhere near as omnipresent as in neighboring Costa Rica, salsa Lizano (a kind of Worcestershire-like sauce) can usually be had with your meal and is sold in most supermarkets. Soy sauce (salsa chinesa) and Worcestershire sauce (salsa inglesa) are commonly sold in supermarkets as well. If they don't have it, just ask.

The typical Nicaraguan diet includes rice, small red beans, and either fish or meat. Nicaraguans pride themselves for their famous gallo pinto that is a well-balanced mix of rice and beans and is usually served during breakfast.

Nicaraguan tortillas are made from corn flour and are thick, almost resembling a pita. One common dish is quesillo: a string of mozzarella-type cheese with pickled onion, a watery sour cream, and a little salt all wrapped in a thick tortilla. It can be found on street corners or in the baskets of women who walk around shouting "Quesiiiiiillo". The most famous quesillos come from the side of the highway between Managua and Leon in Nagarote (they also serve a local drink, tiste) and La Paz Centro. The best selection of cheeses, from quesillo to cuajada, is in Chontales.

A typical dish found for sale in the street and in restaurants is Vigoron, consisting of pork grind, yuca and cabbage salad, chilis can be added to taste.

Fritangas (mid to large street side food vendors and grills that usually have seats and are found in most residential neighborhoods) typically sell grilled chicken, beef and pork and fried foods. They also commonly sell "tacos" and "enchiladas" that can be delicious but have very little in common with their 2nd cousins-once-removed in Mexico. Tacos are made with either chicken or beef rolled up in a tortilla and deep fried, served with cabbage salad, cream, sometimes ketchup or a homemade tomato sauce, and chile on the side. "Enchiladas" don't have anything enchiloso about them (not spicy). They are a tortilla filled with a beef and rice mixture, folded in half to enclose the mixture, covered in deep fry batter and then yes, deep fried. They are served similarly to tacos.

One alternative to the fried offering in the typical menu is carne en baho. This is a combination of beef, yucca, sweet potato, potato and other ingredients steamed in plantain leaves for several hours.

One typical dessert is Tres Leches which is a soft spongy cake that combines three varieties of milk (condensed, evaporated and fresh, hence the name) for a sweet concoction. Your diet expert and your dentist will hate it, but as it is typically only eaten at special occasions, it is okay to indulge once in a while.

On the Caribbean coast you can have pretty much anything "de coco" (with or made out of coconut) try pan de coco (coconut bread)or gallo pinto with coconut. A famous delicacy of the Caribbean coast is rundown (sometimes spelled and pronounced ron-don) which consists of fish and some other ingredients cooked until the fish "runs down" as it takes a lot of time to prepare it should be ordered up to a day in advance and preferably for more than one person.

Fruit

Plantains are a big part of the Nicaraguan diet. You will find it prepared in a variety of forms: fried (subdivided into maduros/sweet, tajadas/long thin fried chips, and tostones/smashed and twice fried), baked, boiled, with cream or cheese, as chips for a dip. Green bananas and guineo bananas are also boiled and eaten as side dishes. Ripe (yellow plantains) (platanas maduros) can be eaten fresh as well, also people don't seem to do it too often; they are less sweet, and have a more "substantial" taste than bananas.

Passion fruit (known in international Spanish as maracuya, and in Nicaragua more commonly as calala) is fairly common in Nicaragua. Nicaraguans seem to prefer to use them for making sweetened drinks (refrescos) etc, but they can be eaten fresh as well. They are especially good with ice cream or plain yogurt.

Most of oranges you'll see grown in Nicaraguans' yards are of a sour kind; almost as sour as a lemon, or sometimes even a bit bitter, they are not eaten, but are squeezed for juice. You can do it as well; squeeze the juice of 1-2 oranges (which will amount to a few tablespoons) into a cup, fill the rest of the cup with water, and some sugar to taste - and here's your cup of lemonade!

Mangoes grow on huge trees, and are harvested by means of mesh bags attached to long poles; sometimes people just hurl a few rocks into a tree to pick a few fruit to eat. During some parts of the year, or in some towns with little trade, you may not see any mangoes available for sale, but you may find a lot of them on the ground under roadside mango trees. If you take the trouble to pick some of those least damaged by the fall and pests, and to wash them, you may find them actually tastier than those on sale!

If you travel to Chinandega, ask the locals who sells "Tonqua" It is a great fruit that is candied in sugar and is ONLY available in Chinandega. Most Nicaraguans outside of Chinandega do not know what Tonqua is. Tonqua is a Chinese word for a fruit, because tonqua is a plant that Chinese immigrants introduced to the Chinandega area.

Shopping for groceries

Nationwide supermarket chains include Palí (the cheapest and most crowded), La Union, and La Colonia (the most upscale one, with slightly higher prices and the widest selection of imported goods). A few Walmarts exist as well (mostly in Managua); in fact, Palí (and maybe some other chains too!) are owned by Walmart. Smaller towns, such as Ometepe's Moyogalpa and Altagracia, may only have smaller independent supermarkets.

Nicaragua being a small country, it appears that for most products most stores carry the same small set of brands. E.g., in the dairy aisle you'll usually find Eskimo (a Nicaraguan national brand), and may also see some products by Parmalat (an international brand) and Dos Pinos (out of Costa Rica).

Local grocery stores (pulperias) are typically tiny; in smaller communities, they are no more than kiosks, or simply someone selling a few products from his living room. Often, no refrigerator or freezer is available in small stores; so milk is sold in UHT boxes, and cheese is very salty (to slow spoiling). Panaderias and pastelerias, where available, sell fresh bread and pastries.

Most cities have large markets, where all kind of produce, bread, cheese, sweets, etc can be found.

When buying packaged dairy products in supermarkets, pay attention to labels: some of them (sour cream, milk in plastic bags, sometimes ice cream) may be adulterated with vegetable fats.

Drink

Rum is the liquor of choice, though you will find some whiskey and vodka as well. The local brand of Rum is Flor de Caña and is available in several varieties: Light, Extra Dry, Black Label, Gran Reserva (aged 7 years), Centenario (aged 12 years) and a new top-of-the line 18 year old aged rum. There is also a cheaper rum called Ron Plata.

Local beers include Victoria, Toña, Premium, and Brahva. Victoria is the best quality of these, similar in flavor to mainstream European lagers, while the others have much lighter bodies with substantially less flavour, and are more like the palid mainstream US lagers. A new beer is "Victoria Frost" which is similarly light.

In the non-alcoholic arena you will find the usual soft drinks such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola. Local drinks include pinolillo and cacao,which are delicious drinks from cocoa beans, corn and milk and usually some cinnamon, a thick cacao based drink; Milka; and Rojita, a red soda that tastes similar to Inca Cola or "Red Pop" (if you're from Texas or the southern United States).

Nicaraguans drink a huge variety of natural fruit juices and beverages (jugos naturales which are usually pure juices, and (re)frescos naturales which are fresh fruit juices mixed with water and sugar). Popular are tamarind, cantelope, watermelon, hibiscus flower (flor de Jamaica), limeade, orange, grapefruit, dragon fruit, star fruit (usually mixed with orange), mango, papaya, pineapple, and countless others. "Luiquados" or shakes of fruit and milk or water are also popular, most common are banana, mango or papaya with milk. Also common and very traditional are corn and grain based drinks like tiste, chicha (both corn), cebada (barley) and linaza (flaxseed). Most fresh drinks are around NIO10–20. As in other parts of Central America, avoid juices made with water if you are not conditioned to untreated water, unless at a restaurant that uses purified water (in Spanish: agua purificada).

If you don't like ice (hielo) in your drink just say so otherwise you will be getting huge chunks of ice that may or may not be made from purified water and thus defeat the purpose of avoiding tap water by ordering coke.

A word on bottle deposits: while almost all plastic bottles and cans don't have a deposit, glass bottles do. In some small pulperias (family-owned mini-stores for everything) you may not be allowed to take a glass bottle with you unless you bring them an empty bottle in exchange. So either you will have to drink your coke there or they give you a small plastic bag with a straw to take the drink (but not the bottle) with you. Street vendors of home-made soft drinks ((re)frescos) would often have them in plastic bags as well; spiced vinegars are sold in markets in such bags too.

Sleep

Accommodation can generally be had quite cheaply throughout Nicaragua. Options range from simple hammocks (US$2–3), to dorm rooms in hostels (US$5–9), to private double-bed ("matrimonial") rooms (US$10–35, depending on presence of TV, air-con and private shower room & WC). You will likely only find real luxury in major cities like Managua, León or Granada and in a very few resorts such as Montelimar (Somoza's old holiday residence) and even then prices almost never reach four figures.

High and low season are not as pronounced as in e.g. Costa Rica, but there is a pronounced spike in rates during semana santa (Easter week) which is the time of year most Nicaraguans take their vacation. Doubling and tripling of prices is not unheard of in e.g. San Juan del Sur during that time. There is another minor spike around Christmas / New Year's , but it isn't as pronounced. You can sometimes negotiate better rates during the rainy season, but don't count on it.

While Barrio Martha Quezada has typically been a budget destination for visitors to Managua due to its many inexpensive hotel options, it has become increasingly dangerous, especially for tourists, with robberies occurring in broad daylight. Unless you need to be in this area to catch an early morning bus from a nearby terminal, it is advisable to avoid Martha Quezada, particularly since it is far from what is termed the "new" centre of Managua. The area near the Tica Bus station has a reputation for being dangerous as well, and tourists may be well advised to take a cab directly to and from the station, even if the walk is short. Backpackers Inn near MetroCentro (5min by taxi from the UCA microbuses), Hotel San Luis in Colonia Centroamerica (5 min by taxi from Mercado Huembes bus terminal) are good budget options in safe neighbourhoods, as are numerous hotels of various prices in neighbourhoods around the new centre near Metrocentro and Caraterra Masaya (i.e. Altamira, Los Robles, Reparto San Juan).

Look for pensiones or huespedes or hospedajes as these are the cheapest sleeps costing under USD5. They are usually family owned and you'll be hanging out with mostly locals. Make sure you know when they lock their doors if you are going out at night. Hotels have more amenities but are more expensive. There are some backpacker hostels in GranadaSan Juan del Sur, Isla Ometepe, MasayaManagua, and Leon; otherwise, it's pensiones all the way.

Learn

Spanish schools and courses are available in most cities, especially Granada. Look for specific listings in local guides, or just inquire when you're there.

Schools offer homestay as an option. Living with a Spanish family helps to use your Spanish and you learn the culture as a bonus. The courses are usually 20 hours per week.

Work

Employment opportunities for foreigners are limited. Since the country has a strongly agricultural and touristic economy, it can be difficult finding employment prospects. Other than that, doctors and engineers are always in short supply, though wages are no where near even the standards of some other countries in the region.

One job of particular interest to foreigners is teaching. If you are a native English speaker and have a bachelor's degree, you can teach at any major Nicaraguan university. The same also applies for other fields. Be aware, however, that courses and majors at Nicaraguan colleges and universities are limited. However, a degree can help you secure a good job and enough spending money during your stay. Instructors earn about US$500 a month and have plenty of free time to roam around. Opportunities have also become available for other languages, particularly romance languages. However, if you desire to teach a course other than English, it is best to consult with the university of your choice and see if they are willing and able to have you teach your course. If this is something you wish to do, you are advised to create a syllabus in advance. It can help you, the applicant, obtain the position faster and easier compared to not having any material at hand available.

Foreigners also enjoy volunteering. In Nicaragua, there are various opportunities for community service. Most of the organizations in Nicaragua can be used in obtaining community service hours for any organization or any college/university requirement. Look into organizations like the Fabretto Foundation [1]. Abundance Farm [2], a small family-run farm in Carazo, accepts volunteers but screens them through email prior to arrival. It is a taste of the real Nicaragua and not for the faint at heart.

Nicaragua has an impressively dense network of hospitals, centros de salud and puestos de salud covering even remote areas. If you have appropriate medical knowledge, your help in one of those is certainly welcome, but you should be aware that supplies and anything that costs money are often severely lacking. Depending on your country of origin, you may also do (part of) your mandated practical studies in Nicaragua, but talk to your university before heading to Nicaragua.

Respect

  • Nicaraguan Spanish has a distinction between "formal" and "informal" you. The formal form ("usted" for one person, "ustedes" for several people) is used with strangers, older people and higher-ranking people. The informal form ("tu" or "vos" with one person; "vosotros" for several people is hardly ever used outside of the bible, but still correct (mainland) Spanish, Nicaraguans would talk to a group using "ustedes") is used among peers and friends and after you have been explicitly offered to address someone informally.
  • Don (for men) and Doña (for women) are a common term to politely address people with their given name. e.g. Don Ramon or Doña Maria. It can be loosely translated as Mr./Mrs.
  • Nicaraguans are very conscious about their appearance and don't understand why "rich" tourists would go around in shabby clothes or unkempt. It's true a smile goes a long way, but in Nicaragua a shower with your smile goes an even longer way.
  • While Nicaragua has a sizable irreligious minority and a growing (US-style) evangelical community, most people like their faith (usually catholic) the way it is, thank you, and don't take too well to it being ridiculed or overt attempts at proselytizing.
  • Men in shorts are not a common sight among Nicaraguans, and considering mosquito-risk, you should consider wearing pants or jeans
  • Some Nicaraguan women bath with a t-shirt on top of their bathing-suit. While you don't have to do that, females going topless at the beach is certainly a no-no.
  • It is common to be given nicknames by strangers based on your appearance. If you are visibly white, people will probably call you "chele" (from leche, milk). Nicknames such as "gorda" (fat lady), "flaco" (skinny man), or "negro" (black), are common and are not considered offensive.
  • In a similar vein as the above, people might comment on your weight or, if they see you again after some time, on gains or losses in it. As weight is plain to see, they don't consider it an offensive topic to talk about. In fact it is sometimes even treated as a topic fit for small talk!

Stay safe

Nicaragua has made considerable strides in terms of providing police presence and order throughout the country. Crime is relatively low. However, starting in 2008, reports of low-level gang violence began coming in from Honduras and El Salvador. The National Nicaraguan Police have been successful in apprehending gang members and reducing organized crime.

Do not travel alone at night. Pay for a taxi to avoid being assaulted in dimly-lit areas. Tourists are advised to remain alert at all times in Managua. Although gang activity is not a major problem in Managua nor Nicaragua, caution should be exercised. Tourists are advised to travel in groups or with someone trusted who understands Spanish. There are local organizations that offer translator or guide services. One of them is Viva Spanish School Managua.

It is also advised that tourists refrain from using foreign currency in local transactions. It is best to have the local currency instead of having to convert with individuals on streets or non-tourist areas. Banks in Nicaragua require identification for any currency conversion transactions. Use ATM machines that dispense the local currency. When using ATM machines, follow precautions and be aware of your surroundings.

Buses can be extremely crowded and tight in terms of space. An overhead rack tends to be provided for the storage of bags and other items, but tourists are recommended to keep their bags at hand, in their sight, at all times and maybe to put a lock on your bag. A good idea is having a smaller bag for items you positively cannot afford to have stolen and never leave it out of sight.

Collective taxis are also risky as organized crime has flourished in this transportation sector because of fixed passengers. In other words, drivers already know who they pick up and thus can mug the one extra passenger. This crime, however, is not common. When riding taxis, tourists are strongly recommended to close their windows, as theft through an open window does occur in (frequent) Managua traffic jams and at red lights.

Although extensive demining operations have been conducted to clear rural areas of northern Nicaragua of landmines left from the civil war in the 1980s, visitors venturing off the main roads in these areas are cautioned that there is still the possibility of encountering landmines.

You will need a little bit of money to go over international borders. Nicaragua charges a border toll of US$10 to $13 (depending on the "administrative tax"). This is on top of a CA-4 visa that's good for crossing the borders between Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Under the treaty establishing that visa, the border guards are not supposed to check people with such a visa, but they do so anyhow and charge tolls, which they claim are border crossing visa fees.

Stay healthy

According to the U.S. State Department's Consular Sheet for Nicaragua, the tap water in Managua is safe to drink, but bottled water with chlorine is always the best choice. The water in Esteli is especially good as it comes from deep wells. Bottled water is readily available, with a gallon at a supermarket around an American dollar.

Given its tropical latitude, there are plenty of bugs flying about. Be sure to wear bug repellent containing DEET particularly if you head to more remote areas (Isla Ometepe, the Rio San Juan Region, or Caribbean Nicaragua).

Dengue fever is present in some areas and comes from a type of mosquito that flies mostly between dusk and dawn. Malaria is not of serious concern unless you are heading to the Caribbean coast or along the Rio San Juan east of San Carlos. You may be advised by a doctor to get Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations before heading to Nicaragua.

Even though there is a public health system and many public hospitals, these are terrible options for tourists apart from the gravest emergency and even then only until a private hospital can send an ambulance. However they can usually deal with minor problems just as well as any non-hospital doctor could and charge you nothing. There are several private hospitals, in order of quality from best to worst are Hospital Metropolitano Vivian Pellas at Carretera Masaya Km 10, Hospital Bautista, Hospital Militar near Plaza Inter and a few others.

Despite promoting medical tourism, these hospitals rarely have English speakers on staff for dealing with tourists. If you insist or someone with you does, you may get an English-speaking employee. It is still best to have some Spanish or attend with someone bilingual.

If you have a problem and Cruz Roja are called (the Nicaraguan Red Cross ambulance service) and you have money or insurance have them take you to one of the private hospitals in the order mentioned. They will probably ask you anyway, but specify the private hospital or call the hospital for their ambulance.

Private hospitals are much less expensive than in the United States: a private room with private nurse in 2009 at Metropolitano was US$119 per day. An MRI of the knee in 2010 was $300. Emergency surgery in 2008 in Bautista including surgeon, anesthesia, operating and recovery rooms and supplies was US$1,200 with the private room under US$100 after that.

Connect

Nicaragua Embassy Washington DC 1627 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009 (202) 939-6570

Nicaragua Consulate General Los Angeles 3550 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90010. (213) 252-1174

Cope

Embassies

See the article Managua for foreign embassies in the country.

Nicaragua maintains diplomatic relations with (and has an embassy of) the Republic of China (Taiwan), rather than the People's Republic of China (the mainland).

Newspapers

While most of the TV channels are owned by Ortega, his family or the government, the newspaper scene is much more diverse and it is here that you are most likely to see criticism of the government. Most newspapers also have an online edition and they can keep you up to date with what's going on in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America. While both La Prensa and El Nuevo Diario are focused on Managua to a ridiculous degree, they have semi-regular "tourism" sections that are well worth a read if you speak Spanish and they are rather cheap at C$7 a copy (C$10 in more remote areas like the Caribbean Coast or the Rio San Juan Region).

  • La Prensa(in Spanish). Founded in 1926, La Prensa generally supports free market, neo-liberal economics and is largely pro-US. It is conservative on social issues. They loathe Ortega and everything he stands for and take (almost) any opportunity to say so.
  • El Nuevo Diario(In Spanish). Its offices are in Managua. El Nuevo Diario was founded in 1980 by a breakaway group of employees of La Prensa. Its politics are to the left of .La Prensa.
  • Hoy is a Managua-based Spanish language tabloid style newspaper with less tradition than the two mentioned above and even more of a focus on traffic accidents, crime and the price of tomatoes at various markets in Managua. However given their target demographic, it might be easier to read if you aren't that sure of your Spanish. Hoy also has articles on places of touristic interest which can also be read on their website.
  • El 19 Digital (in Spanish). This is the official outlet of the ruling Sandinistas and quite blatant in its political outlook. The place to go for speeches by Ortega and his Vice President/wife and if you want to know how they want to be seen by the world at large. They do however also have straight news, even though they are short on anything that could make Nicaragua or the Sandinistas look bad.
  • The Right Side Guide (In English). Everything you need to know about traveling and living on Nicaragua's Caribbean coast.

Robert Reid is one of my favorite travel experts in print or in person, even if he rarely manages to ever stay true to the title of his “76-Second Travel Show.”

Last year he wrote a story for our big sister site Skift about the trends driving different publications’ picks for their respective 2014 top destinations lists. It boiled down to three main angles:

The most popular pick for editors is a place linked to a specific event, anniversary or news-related topic, like the World Cup or the 100th anniversary of WWI (almost half of the total). Next are secondary destinations that appear overdue for a shout-out (over a quarter of the total, including destinations like Nicaragua’s Little Corn Islands, or Puglia, Italy).

Last is almost destination-agnostic, lists of new hotel sites or tours to plan a trip around (25% of the picks, including all of AFAR’s list).

Yesterday he posted his pre-emptive list of top destinations for 2015 — but not really. Instead of a the typical smattering of unexpected locales, under-appreciated gems, and revarnished classics, Reid instead explained a more interesting approach to helping others figure out the top destination that may be just right for them.

Watch below for his three pieces of advice.

The post The top destinations of 2015: A new approach to listicles appeared first on Gadling.

Pedro from Guatemala

Pedro from Guatemala

Journeymakers are the people you meet who make your trips more memorable. People who share their spirit & enthusiasm with everyone they encounter.

This month I’m partnering up with American Express for their 100th anniversary to highlight some of my favorite Journeymakers after 5 years on the road.

Who are Journeymakers? The people you meet on your travels who inspire you or somehow make your journey extra special.

The tour guides, locals, or others who find a way to enrich your travel experience.

It was difficult for me to choose, as I’ve met so many amazing Journeymakers during my travels. But these are the people who stand out the most.

Pedro The Volcano Man

Guatemala is where I met my first Journeymaker, Pedro. With my Spanish just as bad as his English, communication was basic as he guided us up the 9000 foot Volcano San Pedro on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlan.

However you don’t need to speak the same language to make a new friend. Pedro was joking around with us all the way up — stopping to point out his favorite flowers, mushrooms, and birds as we climbed.

When he isn’t growing coffee along the nutrient rich slopes of the volcano, Pedro guides intrepid travelers to the top, clearing a path through the jungle with his trusty machete.

The view from the summit was breathtaking. It’s humbling to know that he hikes this giant volcano every day to earn a living. Makes you appreciate how easy the rest of us have it.

Pedro’s enthusiastic attitude about sharing his knowledge of the local landscape helped make our volcano adventure feel extra special.

Sorina from Romania

Sorina from Romania

Sorina The Gypsy

While traveling through Spain I met a remarkable community of gypsy travelers who live inside abandoned caves. Originally from Romania, Sorina and her friends kindly invited me to hang out with them and spend the night in their cave.

We shared stories, food, and played music all evening. They explained how they support themselves by selling homemade crafts to tourists in Granada. Other members of the community would pop in and join us from time to time.

The next day I helped them all build a vegetable garden.

The generosity of Sorina & her friends will always stay with me — sharing their crowded cave with a complete stranger simply because I was curious about their lifestyle. It made me want to go out and return the favor for someone else.

Thanks to them, my time in Granada was the highlight of my trip to Spain.

Isaac from Panama

Isaac from Panama

Isaac The Jungle Guide

While traveling through Panama, I teamed up with a friend to visit the Darien Gap. We hired a local Kuna indigenous guide named Isaac to lead us through this mysterious wilderness where no roads exist.

Trekking deep into the rainforest in search of rare frogs, birds, and snakes — Isaac used his knowledge of the area to locate animals we’d never have spotted on our own.

But the journey didn’t stop there. Rather than pay for a guesthouse, Isaac invited us to stay with him and his family.

Fishing is a major source of both food and income for the indigenous people living here. We spent an afternoon on the river hand-line fishing in the rain, later grilling our fresh catch for dinner.

Thanks to Isaac’s hospitality and outdoor skills, we received a fascinating glimpse of life in Darien that not many people get to experience.

Rudy from Nicaragua

Rudy from Nicaragua

Rudy The Ex-Soldier

I first met Rudy while searching for street food late one night in the city of León, Nicaragua. After ordering a giant chicken empanada with rice & beans I sat down to eat alone.

Another customer invited me over to join him. “No one should eat alone” he said. A former soldier from the Nicaraguan revolution, Rudy was visiting from Luxembourg where he lives now.

He told me the odd story of Dr. Abraham Paguaga, a famous doctor with magic healing abilities. Together we tracked down locals to verify his tale.

Eventually we ran into a pair of elderly sisters who were treated by the doctor. They invited us in for tea to share how he healed them both from sickness when no one else could.

Thanks to Rudy, I learned something unexpected about an enchanting place. He sparked my curiosity and helped add a layer of intrigue to local history.

Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Fleming & Ellen from Denmark

Fleming & Ellen The Adventurers

While trekking 10 days across Greenland’s Arctic Circle Trail, I unexpectedly met Fleming & Ellen from Denmark at a remote wilderness cabin 50 miles from civilization.

We chatted for a few hours waiting for the steady rain outside to subside.

At 70 years old, they’ve hiked the 100 mile long Arctic Circle Trail 6 times now. They had also spent a month trekking completely across Greenland’s vast ice cap, pulling their own food & supplies on sleds…

If that wasn’t enough to impress, they’ve both hiked to Everest Base Camp and climbed Mont Blanc (Europe’s highest mountain at 15,777 ft.). They didn’t even start trekking until their 40’s either!

Before we parted ways, these incredibly inspiring senior citizen adventurers gave me tips for crossing a deep river further ahead on the trail, and ideas for my next adventure.

Thanks to Fleming & Ellen, I will never feel too old to seek out challenging new travel experiences. If they can do it at 70, so can we all.

Who Are Your #Journeymakers?

All these people shared their time & kindness with me while enriching my travel experience to help make it more memorable. Have you met any Journeymakers on your travels who deserve to be recognized or thanked?

Visit The Journeymakers Website to create a personalized postcard to thank someone who made your trip extra special.

Remember to share your story in the comments below too! ★

READ NEXT: Things To Do In Playa Del Carmen

Who has inspired or enriched your travels?

American Express

This is a post from The Expert Vagabond adventure blog.

Kate Couch

Last month, I said that my one and only goal was to find an apartment in New York. So did I succeed?

YES! I GOT A PLACE. I saw five apartments in total and fell in love with the second one on sight. The entire process was difficult and nerve-wracking and I think I gained several gray hairs over the course of the process. But I’m so excited to move in this week!

The rest of the month was very quiet — one of the quietest months I’ve had in the past few years. I went on a photo-taking frenzy in Rockport a few days ago because I had almost zero photos to put into this monthly post!

Rockport

Destinations Visited

Reading, Lynn, Newburyport, and Rockport, Massachusetts, USA

New York, New York, USA

Favorite Destinations

New York today, New York tomorrow, New York forever.

Chipped Cup

Highlights

Finding the apartment! I thought apartment-hunting in Boston was difficult; in New York, it’s worse. Tenants in New York have a lot of rights, and for that reason, landlords are very strict in who they allow to live there.

While in Boston a landlord would verify that you have a job and check your credit score, New York landlords do a lot more. Most apartments require you to make an annual salary of 40 times the monthly rent. (That works out to one third of what you make.) And when you’re self-employed, it’s even more complicated and requires years of past tax returns and several bank statements.

But I did my research, searched hard, and it worked! I’m moving to Hamilton Heights, Harlem! A lot of my friends were shocked to hear this; in fact, I was dead set on moving to Brooklyn until recently!

I’ll be writing about my decision to choose Harlem over Brooklyn later on, as it’s a huge topic that deserves a full post. The main reason? My biggest priority was to live alone in a really nice apartment.

While I looked all over Brooklyn, Hamilton Heights has much better value for money. Most rentals here are newly renovated and in excellent condition. Transportation is outstanding. On top of that, rents are lower than most decent Brooklyn neighborhoods, even lower than cheaper neighborhoods like Bushwick, Crown Heights, and Bed-Stuy.

How good is the transit? My sister commutes about 100 blocks from Hamilton Heights to midtown and it literally takes her TWO STOPS on the subway. How crazy is that?!

I like Hamilton Heights a lot, and I’ve spent a lot of time here, as my sister has lived here for the past few years. It’s convenient to several subway lines, the architecture is beautiful, and there are lots of cool bars and restaurants. I’ve walked alone at night here quite often and I feel very safe here. It feels like a comfortable, lived-in neighborhood.

The moment I walked into my apartment, I knew it was the one. It just felt so warm. It’s a roomy one-bedroom apartment in a beautiful, well-maintained brownstone on a gorgeous block. It’s actually the entire second floor of the building (!!).

The living room is big enough for a dining table and a desk as well as a couch. The kitchen is separate and has more counter space than any other unit I saw. The bedroom is on the small side, but it fits a queen bed and has tons of storage shelving built in. There’s a long, gallery-style hallway leading to the bathroom.

Best of all…I have an in-unit washer/dryer. That is the HOLY GRAIL in New York City!

Location-wise, the apartment is within four blocks of all the subways (1, A, B, C, D), multiple grocery stores, my sister’s place, a coworking space, some great bars and restaurants, my favorite coffeeshop in the neighborhood, and more! Walk a few more blocks and you’ll hit multiple gyms and a yoga studio with $5 classes.

So you could say that I chose the neighborhood with my head and the apartment with my heart.

Kim, Kate and Caroline in NYC

While I was too busy waiting to hear from brokers to hit up the New York Times Travel Show, I did make it to one of the post-show parties and got to hang out with lots of my blogger buddies! I always relish every chance to see my friends and it’s been a while since I’ve been at a big blogger event.

Oh, and while apartment-hunting, an adorable little man, the super of one building, asked me if I was a Columbia student. I patted his shoulder. “Sir, you flatter me. I’m neither that young nor that smart!”

Furnishing and decorating! OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS, THIS IS SO MUCH FUN. I’ve always loved art and design and I’m so happy that I finally get to design a place for myself!

You know, I actually never really furnished my post-college apartments in Somerville and Boston. I hung up my diploma — that was it. I knew from the beginning that my dream was to travel the world, and I couldn’t justify spending on money on something I’d be putting into storage before long.

Now, it’s finally time.

Kate, Lisa and Alexa in Rockport

My friends sent me off in style. Lisa and Alexa insisted on giving me a special going-away-day from Massachusetts, and we spent it day-tripping to Rockport, a little seaside town on the North Shore.

Rockport used to be a tiny fishing village; today, it’s popular with artists. It was actually the filming location for the Alaska scenes in the movie The Proposal. The only issue? Most of Rockport shuts down in the winter months! Definitely go in the summer.

We finished at home with a bottle of champagne and an HGTV marathon. I couldn’t have asked for a better day.

Rockport Bearskin Neck

Challenges

You don’t want to know how much money I spent this month. Moving is expensive, New York is expensive, furnishing a place from scratch is expensive…

Also, I’m growing my eyebrows out. I used to have much thicker, darker brows when I was younger (even when I was in my early twenties) so I’m experimenting to see if I can grow them back. It’s not a great look so far — pretty much the only thing more awkward than growing out your bangs.

SNOW! COLD! It’s hard enough living in the suburbs without a car of your own. Add freezing cold weather and snow and it’s no surprise I became a virtual hermit this month.

Other than these little peccadilloes, it was an easy January, and for that I am grateful.

Rockport

Most Popular Post

How to Arrive in Bangkok — Wow, this post did well! I love writing in-depth posts for the cities I know best.

Oysters at the Grog

Other Posts

Kate’s Picks: Where to Go in 2016 Before It’s Too Late — Japan for the exchange rate, Nicaragua before the canal is built, and Jordan to expand your friends’ horizons.

Scenes from England’s Lake District — One of the most beautiful places I’ve been in the UK.

Quit Fucking Around and Build Yourself a Fuck-Off Fund — This post was HUGE! And a very important message.

The Ultimate Girls’ Getaway to Koh Lanta, Thailand — My favorite place in the world. My third trip was my favorite.

Make This The Year You Start Your Own Business — Literally the only way you can have job security.

Seven Quirky Travel Accessories For Your Future Home — Some of my favorite new finds from Airportag.

Rockport

News and Announcements

Not a lot of big news to report. January’s challenge was to find and furnish a place, something that I’ve achieved for the most part.

But for February? Hmm.

Then I got an idea. We’re in a leap year — why not do something with the number 29?

So I decided — 29 days, 29 friends! I want to spend time with 29 different friends over the course of the month. Not necessarily new friends (though meeting new friends would be AWESOME!) — I want this specific challenge to be about reconnecting with the friends I already have.

And to add to the list, I want five of those friends to be people I haven’t seen in at least five years. I have a few in mind already.

So if you’re in New York and we know each other, drop me a line! Let’s hang out soon.

Castlerigg Sunset

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Everyone loves a glorious sunset. I’ll never forget this sunset at Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Lake District of England!

Rockport

What I Read This Month

I read a piece on XOJane that suggested completing an author in 2016. What a great idea — you read all the works by an author you love (or at least everything you can find!).

I had already planned on completing Junot Diaz this year, but I could easily do Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Elizabeth Gilbert, Toni Morrison, or Barbara Kingsolver. As much as I adore Lionel Shriver, her books take a lot out of me (in a good way) and they’re best spaced out over a long time.

But a suggestion for you? Steve Martin. Yes, that Steve Martin. His books are magnificent and very different from what you think they would be. My favorite is Born Standing Up; I also love Shopgirl, The Pleasure of My Company and An Object of Beauty.

Here’s what I read this month:

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs — This book is going to stay with me for a LONG time. Robert Peace grew up in one of the roughest neighborhoods in Newark. He was brilliant and hardworking, earning a scholarship to Yale. After Yale, he traveled the world, then returned to selling drugs in his old neighborhood and was murdered.

How could this happen? How could this be prevented? I can’t stop thinking about these questions. What if he had had a mentor? What if he hadn’t been so loyal to his friends and family above all other things? This book was tremendously eye-opening when it comes to race and especially class in America, and I can’t recommend it enough.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates — This is one of the biggest books on race in America. Written as a series of letters to his son on what it means to be black in America today, Coates weaves through the history of his life from Baltimore to “The Mecca” (Howard University) to New York, Paris, and beyond.

This book was more of a challenge than I anticipated — it’s dense, it’s difficult, it’s beautiful and not a single word is wasted. As racial violence grips America, I’m trying to read more so that I understand more (not least because I’m moving to a historically black neighborhood). This book isn’t the easiest read, but I feel like it should be required reading for Americans, especially in an election year.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie — This Kindle short is based off Adichie’s TED Talk on contemporary feminism in Nigeria and beyond. So it’s a quickie read — and I’m not sure if I’m being dishonest by including it in my book round-up here! It’s an argument for why feminism needs to be taken seriously and appreciated by all citizens of the world — but she delivers it in the most delightful, charming way. Definitely worth a read.

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling — I like Mindy Kaling a lot and I really enjoyed her first memoir. Like the Fey/Poehler/Dratch memoirs, she has great things to say about working hard in a female where women struggle to be acknowledged (not to mention women of color). But I think Kaling’s biggest strengths are when she writes about feeling like an outsider and faking it until you make it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that if we meet, we’d be friends. Her high school was actually one of my high school’s rivals. I’d love to tell her stories about the freaky incest-space-shadow-baby plays her high school would present at Dramafest.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert — I adore Liz Gilbert and will read anything she writes. This book isn’t quite a self-help book, nor is it quite a memoir — it’s a guide on how to bring more creativity into your life and how best to use it. It’s a quicker read than I expected, and I absolutely loved it. I feel like I have a whole new way of seeing things, both the creative work I do for my career and the creative work I do for myself. Definitely worth a read, and Gilbert is one of my favorite literary voices.

What I Watched This Month

Mozart in the Jungle. I put it on after it won a few Golden Globes and I ended up binge-watching all 20 episodes over three sessions! It’s a show about the secret lives of the best classical musicians in New York. It’s a bit soapy, a bit funny, and an interesting look at the life of a professional classical musician.

If you are a creative or work in the arts, you need to see this show. Seriously. More than anything, it’s about the relationship between art and money. And if you’re a musician, especially a classical musician, you’ll love it, too. It reminded me of my nights partying, skinny-dipping, and drinking with the musicians in Kuhmo, Finland, before watching them perform Bach and Sibelius the next day!

What I Listened To This Month

“Lazarus” by David Bowie.

As usual, I woke up, grabbed my phone, and opened Facebook. My stomach tightened when I saw that David Bowie was trending. I knew he’d been ill with heart problems and living out of the public eye for awhile. Had he left us?

And the first thing I saw was this video, which I watched immediately.

I was overcome.

He knew he was dying for a long time. And instead of withdrawing from the world, he chose to create a beautiful final collection of music, as unique as his material had always been.

I thought I would listen to this song once, be sad, and turn to my usual favorite Bowie songs, “Young Americans” and “Modern Love” and “Golden Years.” But I kept listening to “Lazarus” and marveling at how bravely and beautifully Bowie decided to leave this world.

RIP.

Snowy Harlem via Instagram

Coming Up in February 2016

Moving day is February 3! My dad is driving me down and helping me move in my belongings. Furniture will be arriving over the next few weeks. Let’s just hope the weather doesn’t look like that above photo!

I won’t be traveling anywhere in February (other than home to Boston for a bachelorette party two days after I move, amusingly enough), but I’m making BIG plans for the spring and summer. I’m also arranging lots of meetings with my New York-based travel contacts so we can put some cool trips together.

Guys, the travel tingles are returning. That makes me SO HAPPY. Last week I got an idea for a trip and I researched and planned it maniacally, my heart racing, until I realized it was 3:30 AM and I should probably go to sleep.

That trip might end up happening — or it might not. We’ll see. The important thing is my mojo is sloooowly coming back. For awhile I was afraid that I had lost it after pushing myself too hard for too long.

It’s still there. And it’s raring to go.

One last thing — I am deeply grateful to have what I have today. Five years ago, my dream was to earn $1,000 per month from my blog so I could afford to live in Southeast Asia. That dream obviously grew and changed over time as I grew and changed as a person.

To be at the point where I can live on my own in Manhattan — and still travel — is something that I didn’t think would be possible a few years ago. I’ve worked so hard for this but I’ve also had a fair amount of luck, not to mention privilege. I won’t ever forget that, and I’m enormously grateful to all of you who continue to read my material and allow me to remain a full-time blogger.

What are your plans for February? Share away!

Kate in Senggigi

What does budget travel mean to you?

For some of my friends, it means downgrading to a three-star hotel instead of a luxury property. For others, it’s giving up their private rooms for hostel dorms.

Budget travel is unique to everyone. The broadest definition of budget travel is being financially conscious during your travels.

I asked my Facebook fans a question: how low-budget would you go? Hostel dorms? Couchsurfing? Never eating in a restaurant, ever? They had a lot of great answers and I’ve included them throughout this post.

Leon Nicaragua

Extreme Budget Travel

I define extreme budget travel — or what I like to call traveling “on the hobo” — as traveling while spending the least amount of money possible.

“I had some Couchsurfers come stay with me that are doing a long term trip with a $0 budget for accommodation. If they can’t find CS hosts they camp. One was sleeping in temples in Myanmar. He said his average is $5/day but oftentimes only spends $3. They also only hitchhike everywhere.” –Nathan

Accommodation? Free only. Couchsurfing or camping in their own tent or van. Possibly sleeping in churches, temples or mosques. Free lodging via working gigs. Hostel dorms if there’s no other option.

Transportation? Free or very cheap only. Hitchhiking or traveling in their own vehicle. If anything, an occasional bus ride or public transit.

Food? Cheap only. Supermarket fare or cheap street food. No restaurants, ever. Maybe an occasional takeaway kebab.

Attractions? Free only. In cities, walking around and taking photos, enjoying free museums and attractions. In the countryside, hiking and exploring. Forget about paying for a ticket.

How to get by? Working from time to time. WWOOFing, Workaway gigs, working in hostels or bars, busking, random gigs along the way.

And while there are occasional exceptions, the above is largely how extreme budget travelers spend their time on the road.

Here are some examples:

We Visited Over 50 Countries In Our Van Spending Just $8 Per Day

This is How a Guy Traveled Through Southeast Asia On Just $10 Per Day

I just came back from a 5-months travel. I’ve done hitch-hiked over 15 000km, and have been living as a homeless for pretty much 4 months.

Amman Skyline

The Pros of Extreme Budget Travel

Travel longer. See more. The less you spend, the more time you have to see everything the world has to offer. The price you would pay for a midrange two-week trip could grow into a multi-month extravaganza when traveling on the hobo.

Enjoying the same sights at a fraction of the price. Nobody charges you to walk through the piazzas of Florence, nor do you pay anything to enjoy the white sand beaches of Boracay. It feels awesome to look around and know that you paid far less than everyone else!

Expensive destinations aren’t off-limits. One thing I noticed was that extreme budget travelers don’t shy away from expensive countries. You find just as many extreme budget travelers in Norway and Australia as you do in Laos and India.

“Curiously enough it’s easier to spend less in expensive countries. It’s easier to say no to a $25 hotel room and camp, than to say no to a $5 hotel room and camp. In Europe I’d go camping and couchsurfing all the time out of necessity, but here in Asia I’d happily pay for accommodation, because it’s cheaper. But of course that adds up and in the end I pay more. I remember spending 6 months in the US and Canada and I spend $0 on accommodation. :D” –Meph248 on Reddit

Having more local experience. You’ll get to know locals more intimately, whether it means couchsurfing in locals’ homes, working with locals, hitchhiking with locals, or shopping at the local markets. Plenty of travelers will pass through the same town without having a conversation with someone who wasn’t a waiter or hostel employee.

The time of your life — on very little cash. You’ll have great stories to tell your kids someday!

“I did $5 a day while touring the Balkans for a month. I managed! -Free lodging and food by volunteering at a hostel (even had my own room at the top floor) -Free private beach access through a guy I was seeing -Free drinks every night at the bar across the street because the owner swore I was Serena Williams

That about covers all bases! Lol” –Gloria, The Blog Abroad

The possibility of extending your trip indefinitely. If you pick up enough paid gigs in between, you can keep on traveling forever. This especially works well if you pick up gigs, either officially or under the table, in high-paying countries like Australia.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Pitfalls of Extreme Budget Travel

Reduced safety. If you don’t have funds allocated for accommodation or private transportation, what happens when none of the Couchsurfing hosts in town appeal to you? What happens if your bus is delayed, you show up in Tegucigalpa late at night, and you can’t afford a cab to your accommodation?

Not having money for instances like these sacrifices your safety.

“I would never want to absolutely rely on couchsurfing for the whole of my trip. I couchsurf where I can but when I can’t find a decent host I book a hostel. I think when you get too desperate to couchsurf you end up pushing the safety limit a bit and staying with dubious people.” –Britt, Adventure Lies in Front

Just how bad can the result be? Read this heartbreaking post by Trish on Free Candie.

Missing cool activities and social events. You meet a cool group of fellow travelers and they’re all going whitewater rafting. They want you to join — but you can’t do that. And sure, you can walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge if the $300 Bridgeclimb is out of your price range, but would you go to Leon, Nicaragua, and skip $30 volcano boarding? What about a $5 wine tasting in a Tuscan town? And even if it’s just a $4 hostel shuttle to the beach, which all your friends from the hostel are taking, you’re stuck on the much longer 25-cent local bus.

Less exposure to local cuisine. Yes, there’s fresh produce and markets and supermarkets can be their own adventure, but if you’re making pasta in the hostel every night, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of traveling — the food.

“As a student in EU having a long-term schengen visa on a third-world passport, I think I have hit the bottom after sleeping at airports, night buses, railway stations, common areas of hostels. taking pictures of food in local markets and then coming back to cook pasta in hostel kitchen :-(” –Anshul

No backup savings. In the event of an emergency — say, you need to fly home for the funeral of a dear friend — you don’t have the cash to do so. Most of the time, travel insurance will only reimburse you if it’s a member of your immediate family.

Isolation and discomfort. If you’re not comfortable in your accommodation, you have fewer options and may be far from the city center or tourist zone. If you’re limited with money, you can’t just pick up and leave — you might need to stick it out for at least a night.

“Ive couchsurfed once and they tried to convert me to their religion so i just left.” –Christipede

No alone time. If you’re a natural extrovert, this probably won’t be an issue, but traveling on the hobo requires you to socialize with lots of people on a daily basis, especially if you’re couchsurfing. If you’re an introvert, you’ll have difficulties carving out alone time to relax your mind. (Camping solo is one way around this, however.)

Mooching off others. Conversely, depending on others day after day can wear away at you. Sure, you can help cook and clean, or play music, and you know you’ll pay it back to other travelers someday, but you might get uncomfortable having strangers host and feed you for free on a regular basis.

“It’s funny. I’m open to going extremely low budget. As long as I can be self-reliant about it. Meaning I’d rather sleep (legally or semi-legally) on an abandoned beach or in a corner of a park than ask for someone’s couch. This is strange, I know, since the spirit of travel is tied so intrinsically into the good will of others. I guess I’d rather rely on others for their company (and their rum!) and then slip off to my tent for the night.” –Bring Limes

Resentment. Is this the trip you had in mind? Is this even the kind of trip you’d want? Wouldn’t you rather be in a nice hotel room, eating in restaurants, doing cool activities, and not having to work every now and then? After weeks of depriving yourself, over and over, you could end up feeling resentful. It might not be worth the savings.

“I feel like [extreme budget travel] would detract from the travel experience itself. If I was wrapped up in my head worrying about money and a budget the whole time it would take away from experiences. I certainly don’t travel luxuriously, but I choose to travel within my means without missing out on things.” –Megan, Forks and Footprints

Blue Night Shadows

A Lot of People Think They Can Do This

I’m an avid Redditor but don’t comment often. What makes me comments are posts like these:

“Me and my cousin are going on a trip in 2015 for 16 months around SE Asia. we plan on visiting 19 countries in that time: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri lanka, Tawain, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan

We dont really know what months to go to the different countries and theres not much info online about it, so im asking you we kind of want summer all the time around. Also what places should we see in different countries? Im thinking that 12k USD will be enough for this trip? no including air fare, is that close to accurate?”

Oh God.

First of all, no, $12K will not be nearly enough. I really hope he meant $12K each, because even $24k for two would not be enough for a trip like that, especially with countries like Bhutan and Japan on the list. The only way it would be possible would be through extreme budget travel, and just the idea of traveling that way for 16 months makes me want to curl into a ball and hide.

I get emails all the time from travelers who want to travel as long and as much as possible, so they squish their budget down to the bare minimum. They tell me that yeah, they really want to see as much as possible, so they’re going to couchsurf and camp and they’ll be able to stretch their trip to as long as possible. I give them advice, wish them luck, tell them to buy travel insurance.

Some of them end up traveling this way — and have a fabulous, life-changing trip. Others end up miserable and return home much sooner than planned.

My worry about these travelers is that they won’t end up enjoying themselves on what should be the trip of a lifetime. I believe that far more people think they can handle long-term extreme budget travel than can actually handle this style of travel on a long-term basis.

It doesn’t help that traveling on the hobo is romanticized in popular culture, complete with scenes of waking up on a farm in Provence, harvesting olives all day, then having huge dinners with wine every night before hopping on a train to the next idyllic destination.

In short, it’s fun to travel on the hobo if you’re doing it for fun. It’s not so fun if you’re doing it because you can’t afford anything else.

Bike Lady in Ferrara

Special Concerns for Women Travelers

I feel like there needs to be an asterisk when talking about extreme budget travel as a woman. Just like there needs to be an asterisk with almost every kind of travel.

If you haven’t read Why Travel Safety Is Different For Women, please read it now.

In that piece, I talk about how women are attuned to the risk of sexual assault every minute of every day. It never leaves our minds, and each day we make dozens of micro-decisions for the sake of self-protection. For that reason, we need to be extra careful when it comes to extreme budget travel.

“extreme budget travel is a luxury that men can have I think. as a woman, I always need to have a little extra to get myself out of a bad guesthouse or take taxis rather than walk. I’m sure some women have managed it, but i wouldn’t feel safe on a low low budget. I usually budget $50/day with an extra $500/month of travel, although I rarely use it all. it gives me enough cushion to get a single room rather than share a dorm with just one man, etc.” –Lily

Camping alone or sleeping outside leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Staying in a sketchy guesthouse with a badly locking door leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Hitchhiking with strangers leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Taking public transportation in a rough city at night leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Accepting food and drinks prepared by Couchsurfing hosts leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that women can’t do extreme budget travel — I know women who do it and love it. I know that some take extra precautions, like carrying pepper spray and a knife. And even then, many of them have done so safely; most of them have only had a few scary but ultimately non-dangerous incidents, like I have.

But it doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there. You need to evaluate that risk closely.

Kyoto Apartment

It’s Not For Everyone

If you want to try out extreme budget travel and you think you would enjoy it, go for it! I’m happy for people to travel in any way they’d like, as long as it’s not harmful to others.

There are plenty of people for whom extreme budget travel is a great choice. And they’re a surprisingly diverse group of people.

My issue with it is that I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to live this way on a long-term basis. In short, it’s not for as many people who think it’s for them. So many people attempt it, burn out, and leave their trip with regrets.

Costa Brava Mountains

Short-Term Extreme Budget Travel

What if you only did the extreme budget travel thing for a shorter time? Say, for a two-week trip or just for a month or two out of a yearlong RTW trip? What if you just did it when you traveled in Australia and went back to spending more money in Southeast Asia?

I think that’s actually a very smart idea. This way, you get to try it out, reduce costs in the most expensive destinations, and see if you are interested in doing it long-term.

“I don’t mind dorms for cheap travel, although a few weeks is the max I could do that without at least a few nights in a private. I’m planning to couch surf and WWOOFing a lot in Japan, since I want to go for a while without spending thousands and thousands. I can’t live on that low though- it’s boring to only have enough to eat and stay in the hostel!” –Alexandria

Marigolds in Pienza

How to Maintain Your Sanity While Traveling on the Hobo

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Walking a mile out of the way for loaves of bread that cost 20 cents less is the definition of insanity. Instead, reduce your big expenses like accommodation and transportation, or stick to cheap countries.

Travel slower. Spending more time in fewer destinations will majorly cut down your costs. When you spend longer in a destination, you’ll get to know the cheaper places, you’ll spend less time sightseeing, and your transportation costs will be lower.

Stick to cheaper regions — not just cheaper countries. Most people consider Thailand a cheap country but don’t take into account that the beach resorts in the south are MUCH more expensive than the rest of the country. Stick to rural, less-visited areas for lower costs. In Thailand, you’ll find the cheapest prices in the north.

Set up a separate bank account for splurges. Use it for special activities like seeing Angkor Wat, getting scuba certified, or having a restaurant meal in a fabulous food region.

Plan on getting private accommodation every few weeks or so. Just a few days in a room to yourself will make you feel so much better, especially if you’re an introvert.

Have a re-entry fund saved up and don’t touch it. This is money to cushion your return home. How much do you need? Depends on your situation. Some people like to have enough to secure a new apartment and pay for a few months of frugal expenses; others just need a thousand dollars or so. The choice is yours.

Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. Even if you’re committed to spending as little as possible, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you weigh your health against saving money. Not to mention that it will save your ass financially in the event that you get severely injured and need an air ambulance to another country. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Leaving the Generalife

One Last Tip: Check Your Privilege

When you’ve been traveling on the hobo for awhile, there will be dark days. You’ll be down to your last few dollars and unable to eat anything but rice and pasta. You’ll be tired. You’ll be lonely. You’ll be treading water and you won’t know when you’ll earn enough to leave town.

This happens to all travelers. We all go through tough times, but extreme budget travelers are additionally vulnerable because of their lack of money.

Even when you’re at your lowest, it’s important to remember that you hold enormous privilege. You’re living this lifestyle by choice, and you’ve experienced far more than the vast majority of the world will ever be able to.

Don’t refer to yourself as poor. Don’t take food donations meant for the needy. And for the love of God, don’t compare yourself to the homeless.

Instead, practice gratitude each day. Be kind. Use what you’ve learned to create a better life for everyone you meet, both on the road and at home.

And if you choose to settle down for some time — whether it’s just for a few weeks or something more permanent — open up your home to vagabonds like yourself. Feed them, give them a place to sleep, show them your favorite spots in town. It’s time to repay the kindness that you’ve been gifted on your journey.

Have you ever tried extreme budget travel? Did you enjoy it?The truth about extreme budget travel

Kate in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Now that I’ve settled down in New York after five years of travel, one of my goals is to travel more within the U.S. I have a lot of cities I want to visit this year: Austin, Nashville, Portland. But the biggest goal of all? Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico was a priority for late February. Or sometime in March. After growing up in New England, that’s been the most frustrating time of year, when you’ve been dealing with winter for months and months and just can’t take it anymore.

I started planning — but it wasn’t going to happen. I spent a lot more on home furnishing expenses than expected, I couldn’t find any flights with my miles, and I didn’t know any receptive hotels. Puerto Rico would have to wait, I decided sadly.

Then the most perfectly timed invitation landed in my inbox from Puerto Rico Tourism. Four days exploring the island in late February and early March. Would I like to join the trip?

Would I like to join the trip?! Of course I would!

I ended up having a wonderful time in Puerto Rico and I was surprised at just how much it has to offer.

Boat off Culebra

It’s So Easy

Normally, I have no qualms about traveling internationally. That said, I appreciated how much less work I had to do in order to travel to Puerto Rico, which is a U.S. territory. If you’re an American, here’s why it’s easy:

  1. You don’t need your passport — a license or ID is all you need to fly.
  2. The currency is the U.S. dollar.
  3. While Spanish is the main language of the island, English is widely spoken and everyone in the tourism industry speaks English.
  4. Your U.S. phone plan will work normally without having to get a SIM card or paying roaming charges.

Additionally, there are direct flights to Puerto Rico from all over the U.S. (but especially on the East Coast). I was also surprised to see that you can fly direct to Puerto Rico from as far away as Frankfurt and London!

Puerto Rico Beach

The Perfect All-Around Island

Plenty of people fly to Puerto Rico and never go beyond the confines of their resort. Not my thing, but I get it. Sometimes you need a getaway where you do nothing.

But if you want more than just a beach, Puerto Rico has it all. If you’re visiting for just a few days, like I was, you can easily fit in beach time, adventure time, culture time, and yes, even hanging-out-at-the-pool time.

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Beautiful Beaches

Of course, if you’re going to the Caribbean, you want to see some beaches!

Culebra island, east of the main island of Puerto Rico, is home to Flamenco Beach, which is frequently voted one of the best beaches in the world in travel magazines and on sites like TripAdvisor.

Meh. I’ll believe it when I see it, I thought. Could this beach really compete with the tropical beaches of the Philippines, the white sands of the Florida panhandle, the unreal urban beaches of Sydney, the raw and untamed beaches of South Africa’s Eastern Cape?

OH, DID THIS BEACH EVER DELIVER.

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto RicoFlamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto RicoFlamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Flamenco Beach is easily one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen. Perfect sand, bright clear water, and even though I visited in the heart of high season, it wasn’t too crowded.

For what it’s worth, I’ve heard that the neighboring island of Vieques has even better beaches. I can’t wait to check those out! Caroline from Caroline in the City wrote a great guide to Vieques.

Amanda Ziplining in Puerto Rico

Adventure Galore

Zip-lining is a popular adventure activity in resort destinations, and for good reason: it’s easy and requires no skill. I got to experience zip-lining at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis, in the mountainous center of the island, and it’s the most beautiful and dramatic place I’ve ever zip-lined in my life. (Not gonna lie — it was also the scariest. I kept my eyes shut a lot.)

My trip coincided with the opening of the new longest zip-line in the world: The Monster! The Monster has a total distance of 1.5 miles, or 2.5 kilometers, or 28 football fields. You do it while on your stomach, like Superman, and can achieve speeds up to 93 mph (150 kph).

(I know a lot of places claim to be the longest or the biggest or the highest zip-lines in the world, but this one is absolutely the longest. The Guinness Book of World Records people were there to certify it.)

IMG_4190Orocovis, Puerto RicoKate and Javier Ziplining

Plus: if you get stuck on the line, Javier will come out and rescue you, dragging you back between his thighs.

If you’re up for adventure, there’s far more than just zip-lining: Lillie from Around the World L wrote about visiting El Yunque Rainforest, and Cam and Nicole from Traveling Canucks wrote about doing a bioluminescent kayak tour in Fajardo.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Legendary Culture

Puerto Rico isn’t just a pretty island devoid of personality — there is so much history and culture and art. While there are lots of cultural options all over the island, San Juan is the epicenter and an easy place to explore.

San Juan, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto Rico

If you’re looking to maximize your time, head to Old San Juan. Here, you’ll find the island’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site (La Fortaleza, or the three forts that protect the bay) as well as colorful buildings in the old town and a handful of museums.

If you time your visit to one of Puerto Rico’s legendary festivals, you’re in for a treat. Here are some of the better known ones.

Puerto Rican Food

Food

I had no idea what Puerto Rican food was before arriving on the island — but I left having having experienced so many different flavors.

Some dishes to try:

Mofongo — A popular dish where a dome of mashed plantains (or cassava or breadfruit) surrounds a variety of fillings.

Lechón — The ultimate roasted pork! Piggy heaven.

Tostones — Mashed plantains formed into patties and fried.

BacalaítosBacalao, or salted cod, is popular here; bacalaítos are fried bacalao patties.

Morcilla — Every culture has its own blood sausage. This one is Puerto Rico’s.

Arroz con gandules — Rice and beans. With Puerto Rican spices.

Rum — Puerto Ricans love their rum! Try some Don Q.

Puerto Rican food is delicious — but be warned, it’s also very heavy. I don’t know how Puerto Ricans don’t all weigh 400 pounds. You might want to balance out your feasts with lighter meals. I waved a white flag and ordered ceviche on my final night.

Next time, I’d love to drive the pork highway, written about in this post on Twenty-Something Travel.

Ponce, Puerto Rico

Off the Beaten Path Destinations

There isn’t much in Puerto Rico that hasn’t been discovered — but there are plenty of lesser-visited corners.

With a packed four-day trip, I didn’t get too far afield, but I did get to enjoy the city of Ponce in the south. From the moment I saw it, I was entranced. It reminded me of Granada, Nicaragua, mixed with a little bit of New Orleans.

Ponce, Puerto RicoPonce, Puerto RicoPonce, Puerto Rico

An added bonus? Ponce and the south have a wonderfully dry climate, a major change from humid San Juan.

Santaella San Juan

Nightlife

One of my favorite parts of our trip was the final night in Placita, a collection of open-air bars in San Juan. (I was also thrilled my Puerto Rican buddy, Norbert of Globotreks, was in town and came to join us!) We went on a Thursday night and it was hopping, though Norbert told me it really gets going on Friday and Saturday.

If you go, be sure to check out Santaella. It’s one of the fancier places in Placita. My Puerto Rican friends say this place has the best bartenders in San Juan and they made me a delicious tamarind margarita.

The casual bars are equally fun and you can get local Medalla beers for around $2.

San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where to Stay in Puerto Rico

San Juan is the perfect base for a trip to Puerto Rico — it’s close to the airport, the city is fun, there are lots of nice beaches, lots of tour providers will pick you up from hotels there, and it’s easy enough to get all over the island within a few hours’ drive.

On this trip I stayed at two Hilton properties in San Juan: the Hilton Caribe and the Hilton Condado Plaza.

Here are photos of the room, view, and grounds of the Hilton Caribe:

Hilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Here are photos of the room, view, and grounds of the Hilton Condado Plaza:

DSCF4359Hilton Condado Plaza, San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Condado Plaza, San Juan, Puerto Rico

Both hotels are solid options — each has beautiful rooms, a nice outdoor space, ocean views, and beaches with calm, clear Caribbean water. But between the two of them, I greatly preferred the Caribe. It had much better pools, beachfront, and outdoor grounds, plus two Starbuckses on the premises (including one on the beach!). The Caribar has excellent tapas — I especially loved the ropa vieja arepas. That said, the rooms were better at the Condado Plaza.

Now — if you’d like something even more upscale, resort-like, luxurious, and secluded, check out El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, on the east coast. This is a Waldorf Astoria property and it’s the largest resort in Puerto Rico. They even have their own private island!

El Conquistador, Puerto RicoEl Conquistador, Puerto RicoChocolate Cake and Champagne, El Conquistador, Puerto Rico

I didn’t stay overnight here, but I got to explore it one afternoon. And while I normally can’t stand hotel visits on press trips (“Look at this amazing hotel…but you can’t stay here. Please blog about us?”), I enjoyed my visit here so much that it left an enormously positive impression on me. I need to stay here on my next trip!! Also, the desserts at Chops are unreal, especially their mile-high chocolate cake and piña colada cobbler.

If El Conquistador strikes your fancy and you’ve got the cash, go for it. It’s a special place.

Puerto Rico Beach

The Takeaway

I can’t believe it took me 31 years to get to Puerto Rico! I honestly had no idea it had so much to offer until I got to see it for myself.

Between the ease of visiting and how much there is to do, I know this is only going to be the first of many trips to Puerto Rico in my future.

Essential Info: Puerto Rico has public transportation, but the best and most efficient way to get around is by renting a car. You can get anywhere around the island within a few hours. It was just 90 minutes from San Juan to Ponce on the south coast.

I visited Culebra on a one-day Culebra Snorkel Trip with East Island Excursions. The trip includes a snorkel stop next to the island and a two-hour stop at Flamenco Beach, plus a simple lunch, some snacks, and alcoholic beverages. The cost is $99 for adults and $79 for children under 12.

Personally, I think the snorkel trip is a little bit expensive for what you get, compared to similar activities I’ve done in similarly priced destinations, and not enough time is spent on the beach, but it’s a fun, fast, and easy way to experience Culebra for a day.

Do note that on this trip, you can only get to Flamenco Beach by swimming from the boat. This means that if you want to take photos on the beach, you’ll need a dry bag for your camera. They sell some smartphone-sized dry bags at the dock; instead, I recommend that you buy a high quality bag before your trip. This is a good dry bag that will fit a DSLR camera and it comes with a bonus smartphone bag. The crew will assist you if you can’t swim.

If you choose to visit Culebra independently, there are ferries from Fajardo, but it’s quickest and easiest to fly from the mainland.

I went zip-lining at Toro Verde Adventure Park in Orocovis. An eight-line zip-lining tour costs $85; The Monster costs a supplemental $175. There’s also a shorter version of The Monster, called The Beast, which costs a supplemental $65.

Rates at the Hilton Caribe start at $179. Rates at the Hilton Condado Plaza start at $179. Rates at El Conquistador Resort start at $199. These are all low-season rates; rates increase sharply in high season.

I visited Puerto Rico on a campaign with Puerto Rico Tourism. All opinions, as always, are my own. Special thanks to Amanda of A Dangerous Business for taking several photos of me for this post.

Have you ever been to Puerto Rico? What’s your favorite all-around destination?Puerto Rico has it all! (Seriously.)

Laptop in Malta

There’s a question that I’ve been asked more and more often lately:

“There are so many travel blogs out there today. If I start, I’m going to be so far behind. Do I have any chance of making it a career? Is it even possible?”

A lot of people would say no — but I disagree.

I think now is actually a good time to start a travel blog. There’s more money to be had in the industry. Blogs and personalities become popular much faster. New social networks becoming progressively more prominent. In short, you’re open to a lot of opportunities that I didn’t have.

 

RELATED: How to Start a Travel Blog The Right Way

 

Here are a few tips from 2016 that did not apply to the space until fairly recently.

Chiang Mai Travel Bloggers

Know you don’t have to be the biggest travel blogger of all.

Just a few years ago, only the top tier of bloggers were making a full-time living from their blog, and only a few were making enough money to live anywhere more expensive than Southeast Asia.

That has changed. More people are making decent livings. You still see plenty of bloggers living in Southeast Asia, but an increasing number are living in pricey cities in North America and Europe.

A lot of new bloggers start with the goal of being one of the biggest travel bloggers of all. (Quite frankly, that was my motivation in the early days.) If you do that, you’re going to be chasing it forever. But if you don’t let fame motivate you — if you instead want to have a quality working career — you can absolutely make it happen.

Think of it this way: every TV actor dreams of having Viola Davis or Kerry Washington’s career, headlining a popular Thursday night drama. But you could also be a working actor appearing in small guest roles on everything from Law & Order to Brooklyn Nine-Nine to random commercials and the latest Judd Apatow flick, the kind of person where people say, “I know that face! What’s she been in?”

Those actors still make money from their craft. Many of them have a pretty good work/life balance as well. That’s something to keep in mind.

Kate Quaker Oats Murder

That said — most of the big names have slowed down their travels.

There was a time when the people behind the biggest travel blogs were on the road at least 80% of the time. That’s not the case anymore. We’re very tired.

I’m not going to name names because some people are keeping it quieter than others, but a great many popular travel bloggers have chosen to get year-round apartments with leases and travel far less often. (Most of you know that I am one of these bloggers, having moved to New York seven weeks ago.)

That means that if you have the opportunity to travel long-term, you’re going to be doing so in a way that not a lot of others are doing at the moment. That’s especially good for real-time platforms like Snapchat. More on Snapchat below.

Kate in Albania

Niche is good; personality plus specialty is better.

Niche is always a big discussion — people always talk about how important it is to HAVE A NICHE. You need to open that proverbial fly-fishing blog!

But in this day and age, I see it differently. I think the most important thing is to have a well-developed voice and personality along with a few specialties on which you can become an expert.

Alex in Wanderland, for example, has a specialty in diving.

Young Adventuress has a specialty in New Zealand travel.

Flora the Explorer has a specialty in sustainable volunteering.

These specialties are not the only subjects that these bloggers write about, so I wouldn’t go so far as to call them their niches. But they are areas that differentiate them and give them expertise and credibility. If I needed help with any of those subjects, I would go to their sites in a heartbeat. (Also, it’s worth adding that Liz didn’t even visit New Zealand until she had already been blogging, so yes, it is possible to develop a specialty on the road!)

This is especially important for all the women trying to differentiate themselves as a solo female travel blogger. There are a million of you now, ladies. Work on diversifying.

The most difficult part is developing your voice and personality, and that can only be done by writing, writing, writing.

Smartphone Challenge

Social media is more important than ever.

We’ve entered a time where social media can often eclipse the value of your blog. That was never the case early in my blogging years, but I’m seeing it more and more today, especially with Instagram.

At this point in time, Instagram is by far the most important social network. It’s widely consumed by “real people,” it’s prioritized by brands (translation: this is where the money is), and it allows you to show your strengths. A company may be more interested in advertising on Instagram than anywhere on your blog.

But this means you’re going to throw a lot of time and effort into creating a beautiful, engaging Instagram profile.

Snapchat is another big network on which I recommend getting started. It’s huge among “real people” and it’s still early enough that you can be an early adopter, like me.

Another place that can become a game-changer is Pinterest. Pinterest now regularly drives traffic to lots of my pages that don’t necessarily do well in search.

Other social networks are important. Some people swear by Facebook (and I do quite a bit with it); others live and die by Twitter. And by all means, yes, work on growing your Facebook audience in particular. But if I were you, I’d throw your time and resources into focusing on Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

Kate and Brenna in Koh Lanta

The time to get into video is now. Or yesterday.

Video is projected to grow more and more — a year and a half ago, Mark Zuckerberg said that he expected video to be the dominant content on Facebook within five years. I’ve said before that not doing enough on YouTube keeps me up at night. I just feel like I haven’t had to learn all the skills.

There is plenty of room to grow on YouTube — I’d argue that you can grow faster and far more effectively as a travel YouTuber than as a travel blogger. The time is definitely now.

FYI — Travel Blog Success is having a sale on their videography course this week. It’s 35% off. See below for more.

I actually bought the course last year but I need to make creating better videos a priority for this summer.

Angkor Wat at Dawn

I still mean it — get out of Southeast Asia.

This is one of the most controversial pieces of advice I’ve given, and I stand by it. Southeast Asia is tremendously oversaturated in the travel blogosphere at this point in time.

Is it possible to focus on Southeast Asia and still become a prominent travel blogger? Of course it is. You can stand out if you consistently create genuinely original content.

But most people who spend time in Southeast Asia don’t do that. They write “this is what it’s like to cruise Halong Bay” and “here are photos from my day at Angkor Wat” and “the best things to do in Ubud are these” and “this is how awesome Koh Lanta is.”

It’s good stuff, sure, and it will be useful to your readers who aren’t familiar with those destinations, but posts like those will not allow you to gain traction as a travel blogger. Major influencers will not be sharing these posts because they’ve been seen a thousand times before.

If you want to spend extended time in a cheap region, consider parts of Mexico and Central America (inland Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, inland Nicaragua), parts of South America (Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia), parts of Central and Eastern Europe (Balkans excluding Croatia and Slovenia, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, former USSR), and/or parts of South Asia (India, Nepal, Sri Lanka).

Because while plenty of people have written about those destinations, they are nowhere near the saturation level of Southeast Asia.

Bloghouse Mentors: Kate, Lisa, Cailin, Mike, Steph

Travel Blog Success Will Help You Grow Fast, Well, and Efficiently.

I push Travel Blog Success because it’s the best product out there. Why?

  1. The course will teach you so much at a fast rate. If you read the materials and put the work in, you won’t make the mistakes that the majority of bloggers make.
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  3. The Facebook community is the best travel blogging group on the web. Forget the giant groups on Facebook — the private Travel Blog Success group is the only place where I give out advice to bloggers publicly, and lots of other experts do, too.

And yes, I earn an affiliate commission if you purchase through that link. 26% on the main course, 15% on the others. But I only link to products that I actually use, like, and recommend. Always have, always will.

What do I always tell people? Wait until the course on sale. Because even though that means I’ll be making a much smaller commission, I’d still rather have you get the maximum discount.

Well, it’s on sale now. 35% off all courses. And since I last wrote about it, more courses have been added in addition to the main Travel Blog Success course:

  • Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards — A course on getting partnerships, both comped and paid
  • Bloggers to Bylines — A course on becoming a freelance travel writer.
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The sale ends Friday, March 25, 2016, at 11:00 PM ET.

San Juan del Sur Sunset

Because yes: It’s still possible to make it if you start today.

I know some people will disagree with me, but I think that in many ways, it’s a lot easier to get started now than it was when I did in 2010. The market may be crowded, but there is always — always — room for excellent content.

And whether you’re watching a brilliant sunset on a beach in Nicaragua or sitting on your purple couch in your Harlem apartment (which I may be as I write this), the life of a travel blogger is incredibly rewarding. Each day, I feel so grateful that this is what I do for a living.

Note: the links to Travel Blog Success are affiliate links. I only use affiliate links on products that I actually use, like, and recommend. This course is worth every penny and then some!I think now is actually a good time to start a travel blog. There's more money to be had in the industry. Blogs and personalities become popular much faster. New social networks becoming progressively more prominent. In short, you're open to a lot of opportunities that I didn't have.

Kate and Javier Ziplining

Every December, I put together a list of my favorite destinations of the year. I love picking out the places that made my heart beat the fastest!

Last year, the big winner was Nicaragua. In 2014, Finland was a memorable standout. In 2013, Japan hit the hardest. In 2012, I loved the Faroe Islands.

This year was far lighter on travel than the past. I only visited four new countries (Colombia, Slovakia, Poland, and Luxembourg) and much more of my time was spent closer to home — something that I think will continue to be a trend.

Furthermore, I don’t think any one destination stands above the others. As a result, this list is in a completely random, unranked order. It may seem a bit weird to include both giant regions and small towns on the same list, but this feels right to me!

One thing: keep in mind that these are destinations I hadn’t visited prior to 2016. So places like Paris, Savannah, and Cape Town are not eligible.

Here we go!

Krakow

Kraków, Poland

Kraków was one of my biggest travel oversights coming into 2016, and I’m so glad I finally made it happen. It’s no big surprise; it has so many qualities that I love in a destination.

A medium-sized city. Absolutely beautiful architecture. Low prices and very good value for money. Delicious food — both Polish and international (I actually ate at a Corsican restaurant one night!). Out-of-this-world ice cream, served in tiny Kate-sized portions. And a beautiful park that runs in a ring around the town that you can circle for hours and hours if you’d like.

Krakow at NightKrakowKrakow FlowersKrakowKrakow Treats

I did luck out in Kraków. I had perfect early fall weather. I met up with a great local-reader-turned-new-friend, Dominika, who took me out to cool places (including the cafe with the dessert above) and showed me her favorite spots. But what I remember most was the light. Just look at that top photo. It’s barely retouched.

The evening light in Kraków was so beautiful, it nearly brought me to tears.

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: September 2016 (full post coming soon!)

Flamenco Beach, Culebra, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico

Visiting Puerto Rico was one of my goals for 2016 and I was so delighted when an opportunity presented itself — especially since it came during the doldrums of winter!

What struck me the most was how perfect an all-around destination Puerto Rico is for Americans. You don’t need your passport, there are nonstop flights from lots of cities, English is widely spoken in the tourism industry, and your US phone plan will work. You can lie on a beach, zip-line through the mountains, or explore art and history. Puerto Rico has it all.

Orocovis, Puerto RicoSan Juan, Puerto RicoOld San Juan, Puerto RicoKate in San Juan, Puerto RicoHilton Caribe, San Juan, Puerto Rico

My favorite highlight of Puerto Rico: a day trip to Culebra Island. I was initially skeptical, but Flamenco Beach lived up to the hype — it’s one of the most incredible beaches I’ve ever visited. A wide expanse of soft pinky-white sand, neon turquoise water, and even a few tanks for good measure.

I need to go back for more — Vieques is calling my name and I hear the beach on nearby Culebrita is even better!

Read More: Puerto Rico Seriously Has It All

Colmar

Alsace, France

It was actually a struggle for me to choose between Alsace (the region) and Strasbourg (the city) for this round-up. I loved Strasbourg, but did the smaller city of Colmar deserve equal recognition? Or was I being unnecessarily contrarian just again, because SO many bloggers love Colmar and I wanted to be different?

Eventually, Alsace won out. Because the things I loved most were universal to the region. Fresh flowers bursting out of every free inch of pavement. Brightly colored shutters and doors on half-timbered houses. Delicious white wines and fabulous tartes flambées. Decent prices and friendly locals. Obviously French, but also very German, with an interesting history of being volleyed back and forth between the countries.

dscf9862Tarte Flambee in Colmardscf9870dscf9946 Strasbourg Street Sign

As soon as I left Alsace, I knew my time there had been criminally short. Right away, my readers started telling me that I had missed the best place of all — the village of Riquewihr. Apparently lots of people like to go on road trips through Alsace, tasting ciders and wines along the way. You wouldn’t have to twist my arm!

Read More: A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

Hudson New York

Hudson, New York

“You have to get away from the city at least once a month,” New Yorker after New Yorker told me, and after spending April without leaving the city, I knew I had to be better. I started researching local getaways and the town of Hudson kept appearing.

A small town in the Hudson Valley two hours north of New York on the train. Despite its small size, a town leading a foodie Renaissance in the region, with tons of chefs opening acclaimed restaurants. Filled with boutiques and cozy little shops and cafes. It sounded a lot like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, a town that I love, only with even better restaurants.

My friend Tess had visited recently and echoed all these things. “Plus it’s so cheap!” she exclaimed. Sold.

Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkCrimson Sparrow Hudson New YorkHudson OctopusMoto Coffee Hudson New York

Even though I thought I had my finger on the pulse of what made Hudson tick, there were surprises. How so many people had given up city life to move there. How massively LGBT-friendly it was.

The only thing is that I feel like I’ve seen all there is to see in Hudson. Perhaps that’s not a bad thing, though. Small can be good.

Read More: Hudson, New York: The Coolest Small Town in America

Salento Colombia

Salento, Colombia

When I planned my trip to Colombia, I assumed that the whole country would end up on this list at the end of the year. Truthfully, while almost everyone I know who has been to Colombia considers it one of their favorite countries, it just didn’t quite gel for me overall.

Timing was one reason — I was exhausted and it wasn’t a good time for any trip, much less a lengthy trip in a developing country. And I was traveling in my old-school backpacker style (albeit with private rooms) that I now think is becoming part of my past.

But while I didn’t fall madly in love with Colombia, I did swoon for the town of Salento. Small, beautiful, and brightly painted. So many delicious places to eat. A plaza that came to life on Sunday nights. A mirador overlooking the town. And so many coffee plantations.

SalentoCoffee Bean SalentoSalentoBeer in SalentoSalento

Salento was so chilled out, which was exactly what I needed after Cartagena and Medellín. And my day trip to the Valle de Cocora was a major highlight as well. If you’re planning a trip to Colombia, I couldn’t recommend Salento more!

Read More: Traveling in Colombia: The Best Moments

Shinn Estate Vineyards Long Island

The North Fork of Long Island

I had an image of Long Island held from my university days: isolated suburbia, rich privileged kids who flunked out of school and got their parents to buy their way back in, and not the prettiest accents of all time. Not a fair assessment, I know. It never was and I never should have let it cloud my judgment. I was an idiot in college. We all were.

That all ended when my friends and I took a day trip to the North Fork to explore the wine scene. I found a beautiful country escape with vineyard after vineyard, some truly outstanding cabernet francs, great restaurants, and the best strawberry rhubarb pie of my life.

Sparkling Pointe Long IslandLieb Cellars Long IslandKate at Sparkling Pointe North Fork Long IslandBriermere Farm Long IslandLieb Cellars Long Island

There was only one place where the Long Island stereotype reared its head — Sparkling Pointe, where the jewelry was large, the crowd was tipsy, the Yankees hats were omnipresent, and the accents were loud. But it wasn’t that bad.

Long Island is a killer destination. I’m blown away that such a good wine region is just a few hours from where I live. And that’s not all — one of my next goals is to make it to the Hamptons in 2017!

Read More: A Day Trip to the North Fork of Long Island

Coral Bay Sunset

Western Australia

How can WA not go on this list? It was the craziest, most exciting destination of the year by far. Not to mention one that I’ve yearned to visit for more or less forever.

What did it for me? It was the sparse, remote landscape, how you would almost never see other people and would then say hi to them out of disbelief that they were there, too. It was the crazy wildlife — the quokkas on Rottnest Island, of course, but also the manta rays and sharks in Ningaloo Reef. And dolphins and kangaroos. The crazy landscapes: bright yellow pinnacles in the desert, pink lakes throughout the region. Perth’s hip factor. The gorges in Karijini. Man. I could go on forever about Western Australia.

Dolphins Monkey MiaKate at Mount NamelessPinnacles DesertKalbarri NP WA Shark Bay Scenic Flight

Part of me feels in disbelief that this trip even happened. But the memories here are ones that I will cherish forever.

If you want to go somewhere not as many tourists visit, or somewhere that feels off the beaten path, WA will be a very satisfying destination for you.

Read More: My Favorite Experiences in Western Australia

Stellenbosch Vineyard

Stellenbosch, South Africa

It took three trips to South Africa to get me to visit Stellenbosch, the lauded wine region just one hour from Cape Town. What took me so long, seriously? Stellenbosch is amazing!

Beth and I decided to come here after a long, busy trip through Johannesburg, Kruger, and Cape Town, and we basically spent four days in a row doing little more than going from winery to winery, tasting wine with chocolate, tasting wine with cheese, tasting wine with meat, tasting wine with salt, buying reserve bottles to take home (none of which cost more than $11!!!!!), and reminiscing about the rest of our trip.

Wine Tasting StellenboschStellenboschKate in StellenboschStellenbosch Flowers in WinterStellenbosch Wine and Chocolate

I thought visiting Stellenbosch in July, their winter, would be hit-or-miss, but turns out it was a fantastic time to visit. The wineries were far less crowded than they would have been in high season. We had a few sunny days that resulted in beautiful photos. And there’s nothing like cozying up next to a fireplace with a glass of red on a cold day!

Read More: AK Monthly Recap: July 2016 (full recap coming soon!)

Haye-on-Wye

Hay-on-Wye, Wales

I had never heard of Hay-on-Wye before it popped up in my South Wales itinerary; uncharacteristically, I hadn’t even Googled it before arriving. But perhaps it was for the best, because I was stunned at how hard and fast I fell for this tiny Welsh town.

In short, Hay-on-Wye is the used bookstore capital of the world. They even have a world-famous literary festival that Bill Clinton called “The Woodstock of the Mind.” Between the bookstores, the cafes, and the many quirky shops (including an antique map shop, where I bought a 150-year-old map of northern Italy!), I could have stayed a week in introverted bliss.

Hay-on-WyeUsed Bookstore Hay-on-WyeHaye-on-WyeChandelier Store, Haye-on-WyeHaye-on-Wye

South Wales was a beautiful place, filled with gorgeous scenery and surprisingly delicious food, but no place stole my heart as quickly or as firmly as Hay-on-Wye.

Read More: A Dreamy Trip to South Wales

Old San Juan Cat, Puerto Rico

And that’s a wrap, folks!

At this point, I have zero trips planned for 2017. Which is fabulous!

I have some vague ideas — I think somewhere in the former Soviet Union could be a possibility for the summer months (Central Asia? Caucasus? Russia and the Baltics?), Putin-Trump situation notwithstanding. My dream destinations of Corsica and Sardinia are very likely for September or so.

I should visit friends in Austin, Las Vegas, and Seattle. There have been a ton of cheap direct flights to Cuba from New York on JetBlue — I’ll be keeping my eye on those. I’m enjoying Christmas markets in Germany so much that I want to come back next year. And of course, there’s this crazy travel blogging business, which could take me to any number of locales.

Anything is possible. This time last year, I had no clue that Western Australia or Colombia were even possibilities!

Now, I want to hear from you!

What was your favorite new destination of 2016? Share away!

My trips to Kraków, Alsace, Hudson, Salento, the North Fork, and Stellenbosch were entirely at my own expense. My trips to Puerto Rico, Western Australia, and Hay-on-Wye were sponsored. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Except where otherwise noted, all image credits: Gabriel Abraham Garrett

A month ago, I was newly unemployed and unchained in the panhandle of Florida. Now I live in an eco-village on a volcano, in the middle of a lake in Nicaragua.

I was working as a software engineer at a robotics startup in Florida when I got laid off. Sure, the experience was humbling, but I was already feeling demotivated. I want to work, but I didn’t want to return to the same thing immediately. I needed a respite, some freedom to decide how I actually wanted to live when my job wasn’t defining my hours and days.

I don’t need to tell you that working a corporate job isn’t always satisfying. The focus is often purely on profit, and it can be demoralizing to have no say in what we labor on—and, worse, see projects we’ve invested in over months get thrown out. Even the amount of time and energy we commit to getting ready to leave for work, and commuting there and back, is exhausting. At day’s end, we’re left with little to contribute to our communities—if we’re fortunate enough to have them outside of our nine-to-fives. Eventually, we wither; and if we don’t quit, we’re at best pruned.

I was curious how people interested in the idea of living together sustainably actually did it. With this in mind, I wondered how many changes I would have to make to find a life apart from a Western culture where what we do for a job is our primary, defining attribute.

After some internet research, I set off for Ometepe Island and an eco-village by the name of Inanitah. One of the changes involved living in a communal space and growing my food with permaculture. Another meant squatting over a maggot-filled hole to defecate. I guess that’s who I am now.

Eco-villages like Inanitah have been around since the late 1980s. Their principles include being as resourceful as possible, maintaining a shared sense of values, and encouraging community members to educate one another. In an anthropological context, they’re a fairly new style of human living.

Inanitah itself was set up on 22 acres of land purchased by Paul and Gaia, a German and American, roughly eight years ago. Paul had an interest in water systems and had spent some time studying and researching them. It was enough for him to set one up that fed from a spring on the volcano, providing water for the village and 30 other families living nearby. Paul and Gaia had also educated themselves on natural building, allowing them to construct houses and common spaces made of cob (clay mixed with sand and straw). They built kitchens, open-air temples, cabins, and shacks.

Image credit: Mapbox

Inanitah is currently functioning as a temporary community, meaning that most of its members don’t stay for longer than a year. Structurally, it only has capacity to handle a few dozen people. These factors don’t mean that eco-villages like it lack the ability to scale.

Despite the remoteness — or perhaps because of it — I’m surrounded by people from the city: Boston, D.C., New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago. Most were previously involved with work that’s different than the kind we’re doing here: software engineering, quantitative analysis, hair styling, life coaching, and filmmaking. There’s even a couple from the Netherlands who have been traveling for several years as digital nomads, with a Dutch film crew following them.

While everyone at Inanitah contributes some amount of work, not all community members do so equally. “Spaceholders” living in the village commit to a six-month stay and volunteer work that requires roughly 30 hours per week; they live for free. “Explorers” are volunteers who commit to staying in the village for a month, pay $450, and work roughly 15 to 20 hours each week. “Visitors” sign up for a minimum of a week’s stay, pay a rate of $650 per month, and contribute roughly two to four hours of work per week. No matter your tier commitment, everyone gets three meals a day.

The eco-village scheme isn’t perfect — it’s often still a business. On some level, it seems as though a good bit of profit is being made, which makes some community members uncomfortable. Some residents see certain costs as unnecessary. Paul, for instance, prefers to hire local Nicaraguans for construction tasks because if he doesn’t he must personally oversee the work of inexperienced volunteers who don’t know much about building. Hiring local helps him to complete these tasks without delegating management within the community. Perhaps as an alternative a local Nicaraguan could lead teams of volunteers so they could get experience in natural construction. Other fees collected from residents tend to pay for food that isn’t grown inside the village and must be sourced from other farms on the island. From what I’ve seen, more food could definitely be grown in the community to reduce food costs.

Those issues aside, imagine a place, and a life, where no effort or item goes to waste. That’s one of the primary values of eco-living. At a startup, I could pour hundreds of hours into a mobile application for a product that had no customers, only to see those efforts discarded when the project got canceled. Here, I can plant a fruit tree that will grow to supply food for a community (even after I myself have left it) and help other trees and plants to grow while cleaning the air around it. I can make a meal and watch others enjoy it in real time. I can teach skills in a workshop and then, in the days following, witness people use them. I can see the tangible effects of my work.

In the village, tasks are assigned on a day-to-day basis out of pure necessity. Someone needs to clean the kitchen. Someone needs to water the vegetable garden. Someone needs to help cook lunch. There’s an array of changing tasks each day from which people select, helping to ensure that they are mostly happy with what they contribute overall.

Our literal sustenance relies on permaculture, a relatively new form of agriculture developed in the 1970s that uses a variety of perennial plants in a food forest system. Essentially, permaculture is a food-producing system that mimics a natural forest. It offers a higher crop yield than monoculture, as a greater number of plants are placed more efficiently, and utilizes nearly 100 percent of available sunlight with its various layers. Also, the system does not rely on pesticides, partially because it’s harder for pests and disease to work their way through the variety of plants than it is to attack a homogenous monoculture vulnerable to all of the same pests and disease.

While permaculture is very much a developing field with its principles still in flux, the growth system generally follows 12 guiding principles of design no matter where it’s implemented. Some key components include working with the land you have by finding a use for every part of it and encouraging full reuse of resources within the system.

Inanitah produces much of its own food in permaculture gardens, reuses everything, and produces no waste. Fruit peels and excess food are fed to the wild dogs that live in the community or the pig that produces manure. All defecation is done into compost toilets, several of which are simply covered holes in the forest filled with maggots that help the decomposition process. While there’s some serious debate around food safety issues when using human waste in farming compost, it’s worth noting that it’s been a common practice for thousands of years and still is in many developing countries.

All non-degradable waste is compacted into plastic bottles to be used as eco-bricks for the construction of new cabins. All dishwater from the kitchen drains into banana tree fields at lower elevations. Fallen trees are used as firewood to prepare meals and heat the hot tub. Any ash produced by burned wood is used as a disinfectant for dishes and hand-washing.

Before any work begins, every morning there is one hour of meditation. That’s followed by an hour of volunteer-led yoga. Sharing a living and working space with a group of people around the clock wasn’t normal for anyone before landing at Inanitah. This makes mindfulness and meditation imperative for reducing stress and anxiety and maintaining a communal sense of perspective and calm. The yoga, in particular, helps with maintaining a healthy awareness of the body in what can feel like tight physical quarters.

Everyone in the village has afternoons and weekends to themselves. Mostly that means leisure time spent in a hammock, journaling, swimming, sunbathing, enjoying the hot tub, or slacklining. When we’re not working, it turns out that a great deal of knowledge gets exchanged. With an excess of free time and no television, people end up devoting a good many hours to learning from and teaching one another. Community members who have specific skills — whether in tantra, therapeutic yoga, or digital nomadism — offer workshops where anyone interested can attend. I’ve seen others offer massage therapy in exchange for advice about occupations.

We aren’t all going to uproot ourselves to live on a volcano tomorrow. Even though I lost my job, taking a hiatus from my other responsibilities to live in an eco-village for a short period of time has been a privilege. A 15-hour work week? Now that’s refreshing. But just because it may not seem sustainable over the long-term, nor does the prospect of staying here for the rest of my life feel realistic, there are valuable lessons to borrow from an eco-village lifestyle. There are practices to take with us when we return to our more stable and permanent communities.

First, there’s something to being more mindful about the amount of work we do once we clock in at the proverbial office, especially in the face of stalled productivity and so many of our personal needs going unmet. Both living with built-in leisure time and seeing education put back into the hands of people bound together in community is very empowering.

But obviously that doesn’t literally feed us. If we can start to tackle the issue of growing healthy food that’s more readily available and cost-conscious, people wouldn’t need to work as much to meet their basic needs. Healthy eating is paramount to a healthy population. As a result of urbanization in America, for instance, too many people have been cut off from easy access to nutrient-dense foods. Roughly 23 million Americans — nearly half of them low-income — live in food deserts, meaning they don’t have access to fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. In these defined cases, smaller marts with sugar-filled foods meet shopping needs in places where grocery stores are over a mile away from those living in urban areas without a car, or 10-plus miles out from those in rural communities.

As one solution, a number of smaller towns are currently building “agrihoods” that actually place healthy growing schemes at the physical center of communities—think ramped-up, very sophisticated community gardens. The Michigan Urban Farming Initiative is still constructing one in Detroit that has already offered 50,000 pounds of fresh food to local families free of charge. Similar ideas are being discussed for Philadelphia. While it’s not exactly permaculture, these gardens are high-producing per square foot and use hydroponics to further increase yield.

If you think about it, this kind of thing is actually a throwback. In February of 1942, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published an informational brochure promoting the at-home growth of leafy vegetables as much as possible between early spring and winter to help avoid food rationing in the country during World War II. At the height of the war, America had more than 20 million “victory gardens” — food gardens planted in public spaces, backyards, vacant lots, baseball fields, city rooftops, and window boxes. If it was possible to do it then, even in urban environments, then similar projects given the right promotion and advertising aren’t far from reality.

That being said, you don’t need to live in Central America to create a permaculture community. Permaculture itself can transform land. In 2000, Geoff Lawton traveled to Jordan and used principles of the growing system to plant specific plants in a particular pattern in order to remove salt from the soil and make the climate cooler, while growing an entire green ecosystem in the desert. He documented the project in an incredible 30-minute film called Greening the Desert.

Cold climates aren’t excluded from permaculture projects either. There have been permaculture design courses on offer in the Arctic, where students learned about eco-villages, natural building, water systems, and gardening all within a polar setting.

Ultimately, I view living in an eco-village as an experiment. Learning to live in a community and farm the food I ate are two experiences alone that have made it worth the cost I paid to be here. Long-term, and in an ideal world, we could all live in eco-villages if we wished and no money would need to exchange hands. If we’re looking for a future where we reinvent the way we work, integrate our activities into the natural world, and prioritize healthy human development, then eco-villages, in many senses, can be a model for our “neighborhoods of the future.”

This post was first published here as part of How We Get To Next’s The Way We Work series. It is reproduced here under a CC Attribution-ShareAlike license.

Visiting a developing country can provide some of the most authentic cultural experiences and human interactions on the planet. But it also can pose challenges, especially to those unaccustomed to the rigors of traipsing through countries with modest economies, or widespread poverty, or few tourism facilities. Or all of the above.

uganda africa country road

More so than travel through Western nations with well-established tourism infrastructure, visiting developing countries requires flexibility, diplomacy and patience -- and the keen ability to shelve preconceived notions about a place.

We queried three frequent travelers to developing countries to cull their best tips.

1. Do your research.

Online and print guidebooks are, of course, useful for researching a destination before traveling, but the information can be out of date. This is especially true for guidebooks that may not be big sellers and thus are not updated with regular frequency; developing countries often fall into that category.

As soon as she knows she is going overseas, Brittany G. Lane of Washington D.C. says she sets up a Google Alert for the country she's visiting. "Two days before I went to Tunisia there were major protests. The U.S. media hadn't reported on it yet, but Google Alerts picked up French and British news reports that were useful for me to read," said Lane, a research associate for The Urban Institute, which works on local governance issues in developing countries.

Message boards, such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree forum or the TripAdvisor forums, are excellent spots to seek out advice from seasoned travelers to your destination. Social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook are also good places to survey other travelers.

10 Hardcore Tips for Frequent Travelers

2. Learn to communicate in the local language.

Before you visit any country, you should learn a few basic expressions in the local language. This especially holds true in nations where English may not be taught in schools nor widely spoken. Yes, you should learn the basics -- "hello," "please," "thank you," "can you help me?" -- but also try to learn even more. Not only will this help you navigate better, but you'll also help create goodwill along the way.

3. Study local traditions and taboos.

Study them before you depart using resources such as CultureCrossing.net, a compendium of social customs around the world, and ViewChange.org, where videos from developing countries offer a glance at everyday life. But also "spend the first couple of days just observing," Lane said. Before her trip through North Africa, Lane said she received conflicting advice about whether to wear a head covering. After a few days in-country, the answer became clear. (Not necessary in most places.)

4. Constantly assess risks.

What do you do if a local family invites you into their home for a meal and it's difficult to decline their offerings? "You have to assess the risk and decide if getting sick is worth it," said Michael McColl, director of communications for Ethical Traveler, a San Francisco-based nonprofit.

Emily Sollie is the director of communication for Lutheran Relief Services in Baltimore and a frequent traveler to such countries as Haiti, India, Mali and Nicaragua. She recalls being welcomed to a rural village in Nicaragua by a group of poor women who offered her and fellow travelers homemade salads. Generally, it's not a good idea to eat raw vegetables in countries where the quality of the local water could be questionable.

"They were lovely looking and we wanted to eat them, but we had to turn them down," Sollie said. "We were gracious, but it was still awkward."

Traveling through a developing country will likely involve such risk assessment on a daily basis -- and not just about food. Is it safe to walk alone at night? Is that hotel clean and secure? Are you at risk of getting robbed on that train?

Money Safety Tips for Travelers

5. Choose transportation wisely.

Speaking of transportation ... developing countries may have their own modes of transport, but not all of them follow rigorous safety standards. If you aren't able to fly aboard an internationally recognized major airline, for instance, be sure you seek out info on a local airline's safety records. Same goes for trains and buses.

Input the company's name and the term "safety record" or "crash" into an online search. That's how Lane learned of a June 2012 Dana Air accident in Nigeria that killed all passengers as well as 10 people on the ground due to a suspected dual engine failure. "I had the choice recently to fly through Nigeria on that airline, and I chose not to," she explained.

6. Avoid giving to money to strangers.

It's one of the most heart-wrenching aspects of travel: someone obviously in more need than you asking for money.

"Begging is not natural behavior for most cultures," said McColl, who has visited more than 50 countries. "They probably learned it from other travelers before you -- travelers who were not thinking through and taking responsibility for their actions."

Better than giving the person in need a few coins from your pocket, McColl said, is to help those in need through a community organization, such as a local nonprofit, church or school. Seek out a respected local leader, and ask about a community initiative that feels like a nice fit for you. Alternately, you could research an organization once you get back home, or support a nonprofit organization that serves the community you visited.

child begging in cambodia

7. Don't give handouts to children.

Similarly, avoid giving items to children, no matter how tempting it may be, McColl recommends. "It could condition them to do it again, perhaps becoming more aggressive in doing so in the future," he explained.

You could avoid such potential negative impact by instead giving the item to the parents, a teacher or other community leader, McColl recommends. School supplies are always welcomed -- much more so than candy, especially in communities where regular dental care isn't readily available. You could also research in advance the needs of a community -- basic medical supplies or clothing, for instance -- and bring those items.

12 Ways to Feel at Home in a Foreign Place

8. Understand the role bribes play in some places.

In some French-speaking countries in Africa, it's known as a cadeau, or "gift." We might think of it as a bribe, but here's a case where shelving that preconceived notion is imperative. Paying such fees is a reality in many countries, and a few soles or rupees aren't going to break your bank.

Arguing over paying a so-called bribe could prove to be more trouble than it's worth. "It's not your time to make a stand against the rules of the country," Lane advised.

That being said, you should know the difference between a small fee and a full-on shakedown. Again, doing your research in advance should help you determine this.

9. Bargain fairly.

A lot of countries operate on bargaining, and taxi drivers or street market vendors fully expect you to haggle. Be fair when you do so. Again, a few extra coins aren't going to hurt you, but you also shouldn't walk away from the transaction feeling ripped off. For more haggling help, see Shopping Abroad: A Traveler's Guide and Let's Make a Deal: Haggling Abroad.

10. Eat and drink cautiously.

The standard overseas eating and drinking rules apply in developing countries; our article, Food Safety: How to Avoid Getting Sick While Traveling, covers the basics. Sollie only drinks water from bottles that are sealed when she herself opens them. Iodine tablets are useful if you need to purify water. (Read Drinking Water Safety for more options.)

Lane also always totes a stash of protein bars. "I find that I tend to make bad food choices if I'm really hungry," she said. You can stave off that hunger and thus be in a better position to make smart decisions if your stomach isn't growling.

11. Learn to listen.

This tip is taken directly from Ethical Traveler, and may very well be the heart of any travel experience. As an article on the group's website says: "Travelers from the USA in particular should be aware that many people -- especially in developing countries -- believe that having the ear of an American is tantamount to having the ear of America. So wherever you're from, listen well -- and with respect -- to all points of view."

We hear you.

You May Also Like9 Things to Do When No One Speaks EnglishHow to Be Safe and Culturally Sensitive When You Travel9 Must-Dos Before a Long-Haul FlightGet Our Best Travel Deals and Tips!Write About Your Latest Trip

--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma

Editor's Note: IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc.

Lonely Planet Nicaragua (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Nicaragua *

Lonely Planet Nicaragua is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Kayak through Central America's largest mangrove forest, experience life on a coffee farm, or chill out on idyllic white-sand beaches; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Nicaragua and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Nicaragua:

Color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, architecture, land & wildlife, arts, cuisine Over 45 maps Covers ManaguaMasaya, Los Pueblos Blancos, Granada, Southwestern Nicaragua, Leon, Northwestern Nicaragua, Northern Highlands, Caribbean Coast, San Carlos, Islas Solentiname, the Río San Juan and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Nicaragua, our most comprehensive guide to Nicaragua, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less traveled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travelers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Nicaragua. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

The Complete Nicaragua Travel, Retirement, Fugitive & Business Guide: The Tell-It-Like-It-Is Guide To Relocate, Escape & Start Over in Nicaragua 2017

Claude Acero

This new and extended guide will answer you all the questions before relocating to Nicaragua, it will let you discover the country of “la libertad" at your own pace before you even get there. This guide will help you: Get all the essential up-to-date trends, personal stories from expatriates, an insight of the mentality of the “Nicas", profound immigration information, business ideas for Nicaragua, real estate knowledge, from importing products to healthcare, basically all the essential information you need to start over in Nicaragua. Furthermore, you get a deeper understanding of the culture and local business manners, a grasp for the lay of the land and nevertheless, in-depth information for “evaders", who have to stay anonymous under the radar and considering Nicaragua as their new home country. This is not a "dull" guide, it's an exciting read written by a real expat, go for it now before the price goes up!

Nicaragua Wildlife Guide (Laminated Foldout Pocket Field Guide) (English and Spanish Edition)

Rainforest Publications

General guide to the wildlife you'll see in Nicaragua. Includes Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Insects, Birds, and Butterflies. Highly portable waterproof full color scientifically reviewed illustrations of the diversity of Nicaraguan Wildlife.

The Jaguar Smile: A Nicaraguan Journey

Salman Rushdie

“I did not go to Nicaragua intending to write a book, or, indeed, to write at all: but my encounter with the place affected me so deeply that in the end I had no choice.” So notes Salman Rushdie in his first work of nonfiction, a book as imaginative and meaningful as his acclaimed novels. In The Jaguar Smile, Rushdie paints a brilliantly sharp and haunting portrait of the people, the politics, the terrain, and the poetry of “a country in which the ancient, opposing forces of creation and destruction were in violent collision.” Recounting his travels there in 1986, in the midst of America’s behind-the-scenes war against the Sandinistas, Rushdie reveals a nation resounding to the clashes between government and individuals, history and morality.

Moon Nicaragua (Moon Handbooks)

Elizabeth Perkins

This full-color guide to Nicaragua includes vibrant photos and maps to help with trip planning.Nicaragua expert Elizabeth Perkins teaches travelers how to best experience the wonders of this Central American destination, from hanging out on the Pacific beaches of San Juan del Sur and shopping for crafts in Masaya to partaking in the ever-evolving nightlife of Managua. Perkins also offers detailed itinerary ideas, such as "The Best of Nicaragua," "Hiking the Ring of Fire," and "The Great Green North." Including experienced, firsthand advice on renting surf gear, studying Spanish, and strolling down the colonial streets of Granada and Leòn, Moon Nicaragua gives travelers the tools they need to create a more personal and memorable experience.

Nicaragua In Focus: a Guide to the People, Politics and Culture (In Focus Guides)

Hazel Plunkett

Whatever happened to Nicaragua? In the 1980s it was a byword for revolution, a bogeyman for US governments and a symbol of Latin America's quest for new paths to development and social justice. But since the Sandanistas' electoral defeat in 1990 it has dropped out of the headlines. In the 1990s Nicaragua has continued to be buffeted by international forces, although rather than troops, the U.S. now sends the International Monetray Fund. Nicaraguans' daily lives are dominated by a history of poverty, one which makes them the most indebted country in the region, although the retain a vibrant civil society and a rich culture. The country has resurfaced in the international media due to the disastrous effects of Hurricane Mitch, the worst natural disaster to hit Central America this century. Yet in spite of hurricanes and earthquakes, Nicaragua is still a country of great natural beauty, with lakes and volcanoes creating a spectular landscape.

Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

Explore the heart of Central America with National Geographic's Nicaragua, Honduras, and El Salvador Adventure Map. Hundreds of points of interest are highlighted including national parks and reserves, World Heritage sites, archeological sites, churches, shipwrecks, castles, and more. This map includes the locations of thousands of towns and villages along with a user-friendly index, plus a clearly marked road network complete with distances and designations for highways, roads, and other routes.

The front side of the print map includes Honduras and El Salvador, two countries whose coastlines offer wonderful opportunities to surf, scuba dive, snorkel, or just soak up the sun. Sites for these activities and more are noted, as are hotels, lodges, and resorts. Nicaragua covers the back side of the map, and its detail includes diverse points of interest from museums and historical sites in Managua and Granada to areas noted for windsurfing, fishing, and observing the country’s unique wildlife.

A hot spot for ecotourism, this region boasts tropical rainforests, white-sand beaches, colorful wildlife, and stunning barrier reefs for outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy. The ancient and colonial history of these countries offer additional attractions from the impressive ancient Maya ruins of Copan in Honduras to the rich architecture of Granada, Nicaragua. As the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America, El Salvador offers a rich nightlife in addition to its beaches along the Costa del Sol.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:710,000Sheet Size = 37.75" x 25.5"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

Lonely Planet Nicaragua (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Nicaragua *

Lonely Planet Nicaragua is your passport to all the most relevant and up-to-date advice on what to see, what to skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Climb a volcano on Isla de Ometepe, stroll through colonial Granada and Leon or drink coffee at sunrise on a cooperative farm; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Nicaragua and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Nicaragua Travel Guide:

Color maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries show you the simplest way to tailor your trip to your own personal needs and interests Insider tips save you time and money, and help you get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - including hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, and prices Honest reviews for all budgets - including eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, and hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer and more rewarding travel experience - including history, poetry, art, literature, architecture, music, politics, landscapes, wildlife, customs/etiquette Over 44 maps Useful features - including Walking Tours, Off the Beaten Track Itinerary, Activity Guide Coverage of GranadaLeon, Isla de Ometepe, San Juan del Sur and its beaches, Corn Islands, Pearl Lagoon, the northern highlands, Rio San Juan, Isla Solentiname, Managua and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Nicaragua, our most comprehensive guide to Nicaragua, is perfect for those planning to both explore the top sights and take the road less traveled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Central America on a Shoestring guide.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Alex Egerton and Greg Benchwick.

About Lonely Planet: Started in 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel guide publisher with guidebooks to every destination on the planet, as well as an award-winning website, a suite of mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveler community. Lonely Planet's mission is to enable curious travelers to experience the world and to truly get to the heart of the places they find themselves in.

TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice Awards 2012 and 2013 winner in Favorite Travel Guide category

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

'Lonely Planet. It's on everyone's bookshelves; it's in every traveller's hands. It's on mobile phones. It's on the Internet. It's everywhere, and it's telling entire generations of people how to travel the world.' - Fairfax Media (Australia)

*Best-selling guide to Nicaragua. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA, April 2012 to March 2013.

Exercise a high degree of caution

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The purpose of this Travel Advice is to provide up-to-date information to enable you to make well-informed decisions.

Crime

Street crime such as pickpocketing and bag snatching is common, and tends to increase during holiday seasons such as Christmas and Easter. Use only hotels that provide adequate security.

Remain alert when walking in markets, in the vicinity of the old cathedral in Managua, near Tica bus (the terminal for lines coming from Honduras and Costa Rica), at public transportation terminals and in poorer areas. Avoid the Mercado Oriental in Managua. Exercise common sense and ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Carry a photocopy of the identification page of your passport and a photocopy of the page that was stamped by local immigration authorities at the point of entry, and keep the original in a secure place. Do not carry large sums of money, especially while travelling on buses. Purse, backpack and jewellery snatching occurs while drivers are stopped at intersections and while pedestrians are walking on the street.

Violent crime, including armed robbery and sexual assault, occurs in ManaguaGranada and San Juan del Sur, as well as in Bonanza, La Rosita, Siuna and on Little Corn Island. Express kidnappings, in which victims are abducted for a few hours and forced to withdraw money from automated banking machines, also occur in these areas. If attacked, do not resist, as criminals often carry weapons and may become violent.

There have been incidents, some violent, of passengers being robbed by taxi drivers or by people posing as taxi drivers using unauthorized taxi signs on their cars. Take taxis from hotels or from main entrances to shopping malls, and make detailed arrangements for the return trip. Use only taxis that have red plates and that have a circle on the door that says Cooperativa or taxi services ordered by phone. Arrange with the taxi driver not to pick up any other passengers on the way to your destination, even if it is more expensive.

Police presence is extremely scarce outside of major urban areas. Restrict travel to tourist areas and to daylight hours. Hitchhiking in Nicaragua is highly unadvisable. Travel in groups whenever possible.

Demonstrations

Demonstrations occur occasionally and may cause traffic disruptions as well as threats to physical security. Clashes have occurred between law enforcement and protestors and between rival political groups. Incidents have involved the use of rubber bullets, rock throwing, tire burning, road blocks, as well as the burning of buses and other vehicles. Stay alert, avoid large crowds and keep informed of possible roadblocks.

Periodic violence may occur on the streets, particularly in Managua, as a result of protests. Access to the Managua International Airport and to the area of Carretera a Masaya (where universities, shopping malls and restaurants are located) may be affected.

Road travel

Despite regular security patrols by the Nicaraguan Army and Police, armed banditry occurs in areas near Bonanza, La Rosita and Siuna (the Mining Triangle) in northeastern Nicaragua. Carjackings have also been reported between Managua and Puerto Cabezas. Restrict road travel in these area to daylight hours, and travel in convoys of at least two vehicles. Due to this type of criminal activity, only travel overland to Honduras on highways with official border crossings at Guasaule, El Espino and Las Manos.

Driving standards are fair. Except for the Pan-American Highway, most roads lack shoulders, are narrow, potholed and poorly lit. Road signs are usually non-existent, and most streets are unnamed. Detours are common but are often not marked. Driving after dark is very dangerous. Roadside assistance is not available. Cell phone coverage outside urban areas is fair in the central and pacific areas, but can be lacking in mountainous areas and in the Caribbean. Keep your car windows closed and doors locked when driving through crowded areas.

Vehicles, especially taxis and buses, are poorly maintained. Avoid using public transportation, which is overcrowded, unreliable and often targeted by pickpockets. Avoid conversations with friendly strangers and do not reveal your intended destination. Do not agree to share a cab at the end of a bus ride, and be cautious of any advice and/or shortcut that could convince you to get off a bus earlier than planned. There have been many instances of travellers being assaulted in such situations.

Marine transportation

The Caribbean and, to a lesser extent, the Pacific coasts of Nicaragua are known to be drug transit zones.

General safety information

Exercise caution when swimming, as strong currents and undertows have resulted in drownings. Warning signs, lifeguards and rescue equipment are often lacking.

Fraudulent tour guides have been known to operate on the island of Ometepe. Consult hotel staff and local authorities for information on reputable tour guides.

Nicaragua does not have an extensive tourist infrastructure. INTUR, the governmental agency responsible for developing, regulating and promoting tourism in Nicaragua, offers some information in English.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Central America and Mexico. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In some areas in Central America and Mexico, certain insects carry and spread diseases like American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease), dengue fever, leishmaniasis, malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), and West Nile virus.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in Central America and Mexico, like rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical care is limited, especially outside of Managua. Certain types of medical equipment or medications may be unavailable in the country. Most doctors and hospital personnel do not speak English or French. Many institutions often expect immediate cash payment for medical care, except for a few private hospitals that will accept major credit cards for payment and in which doctors usually speak English.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Illegal drugs

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect heavy fines and jail sentences. The conditions in Nicaraguan prisons are extremely basic; prisoners are expected to supply their own food, bedding and medical care beyond basic first aid. A transfer of offenders treaty has not been signed with Nicaragua.

Laws

Canadians in Nicaragua may use their Canadian driver’s licence for no more than 30 days, after which they must obtain an international driving permit. Vehicle insurance is mandatory for foreigners (including residents).

Money

The currency is the córdoba (NIO). Most restaurants and hotels in Managua accept credit cards. Canadian dollars cannot be exchanged for local currency anywhere, but U.S. dollars (in cash or traveller’s cheques) are widely used. Exchange foreign currency only at banks or official exchange offices.

Climate

The hurricane season extends from June to the end of November. The National Hurricane Center provides additional information on weather conditions. Stay informed of regional weather forecasts, and follow the advice and instructions of local authorities.

Nicaragua is located in a very active seismic zone. Familiarize yourself with your hotel’s earthquake security measures. Volcanic activity also occurs. The San Cristóbal and Cerro Negro volcanoes are particularly active. Officials continue to monitor the Santiago volcano, located in Parque Volcán Masaya, approximately 25 kilometres south of Managua. Eruptions are possible. Ash fall and gas emanations are hazardous. Do not visit the park while it is closed. Follow the advice of local authorities in the event of earthquakes and volcanic explosions or eruptions.