Travical Summer 2017

I made it to 12 countries this summer! I know, it sounds crazy and unbelievable to my ears as well. July and August were busy months for me. In July I solo traveled to Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica. August I took the Golden Girls (My mom and aunt) to The Netherlands, Austria, Hungary, Israel, Greece, Bulgaria, Italy, The Vatican, and Madrid. This summer brought my total count to 31 countries visited.

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In the native shoe in Amsterdam. 

Man sometimes I wonder how I planned everything. Central America was easy because it was just me and solo traveling is the easiest way to travel. Traveling with the Golden Girls now that was a different story. Don’t get me wrong I had a great experience but it was challenging sometimes. From trying to decide which countries to go visit, how long to stay, where to stay, what to do, what’s the budget for each country, how are we traveling (student budget or nay), modes of transportation; these are questions you have to ask when traveling with a group.

Coordinating with a group can be difficult but I find that the best way to plan is for one person to take the lead. What does taking the lead mean, being responsible for researching everything, from the best routes to hotels to transportation etc. Another way to go about being the lead is to delegate different tasks for each person in the group to do, collect the information found and compile one document. As in any occasion working in a group you must always be prepared for one or two slackers.

Working with the Golden Girls was fairly easy because they pretty much left everything to me. From choosing which countries to visit to where to stay to basically anything you can think of. So for me it worked out great. Well except that one time I spent 3 hours planning tickets and hotels for a set itinerary to only have to do it all over again because one of the Golden Girls remembered that she always wanted to go to the Holy Lands. Mind you we had finalized the list of countries a few days ago but hey I made it happen.

The itinerary was 3 days in Amsterdam, 3 days in Vienna, 3 days in Budapest, 7 days in Jerusalem, 4 days in Athens, 3 days in Sofia, 2 days in Rome, and 5 days in Madrid. Honestly, I still can’t believe that we pulled off that itinerary in 30 days.

~A few pictures from a few cities~

To research prices I used different search engines to get the best deal. The ones I most frequent was Kayak, Google Flights, Expedia, and One Travel, Hotels.com, AirBnB, and Booking. Travel Hack 1: make sure you look the airlines baggage rules when determining what flight is cheapest. For example, if Airline A is $150 for a flight but charges a $40 for 1 checked bag and Airline B is $170 with no charges for 1 checked bag then by going with Airline B will save you $20. Travel Hack 2: make sure you check if the airline requires you to check in or pay for checked baggage online to avoid astronomical fees. For example, if Airline A charges $15 for pre-checked luggage done online vs. $40 to check in luggage at the airport, which is a savings of $25.

Overall, an amazing experience and worth all the airport hours I accumulated. Any questions on how you can book your own travical experience write a comment below.

 

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

The truth about Guatemala. Before starting this adventure I did some research on what to expect in Guatemala as well as some things to do and what do I find, a bunch of posts about how amazing Guatemala is. How people went for a week and ended up spending a month. Hmmmmm, let me honestly break down what Guatemala truly is.

For starters $1 = 7.14 Quetzals (Q)

Food

I was shocked when I first got to Guatemala about how things where so expensive. My first meal in Guatemala was believe it or not chicken wings (4 of them cut in half) and you wouldn’t believe the price, 40Q, which is about $5.75. Mind you these wings didn’t come with fries, shucks it barely came with ketchup. An order of French fries was 20Q.

Now, of course the street food was super cheap but I didn’t like the taste. Guatemala has a heavy corn influence so all their tortillas and all of their street food was of corn base. Mind you, I love love love corn on the cob and lose corn but I can’t get down with corn tortillas. 5 tacquitos was 15Q or if you are good at battering (not beating up the old lady but talking the price down) you can get it down to 10Q. A big piece of tamale with chicken in it was 10Q. If you like corn tortillas then the street food is for you. Therefore, you can eat for cheap with the street foods but if you are like me, your base is 35Q and upwards. In San Pedro I didn’t really find any street food but I did find a local restaurant that charged 35Q for tortillas, ‘soup’, and rice.

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Local dish call Pepin

Now the bread is a different story. The bakeries in Guatemala are delicious and super cheap. My favorite from the bakery was ‘the stones’. Stones are a very dense bread/muffin/loaf made with banana and chocolate chips throughout. One stone was 2-2.50Q. A big slice of ‘pizza’ which is really a big piece of bread with sauce and veggies was 3Q. So you definitely can eat for cheap by getting meals from the bakery but that would be a whole lot of bread. Then again, all the walking and hiking you do in Guatemala you wouldn’t have to worry about putting any weight.

In terms of food, my budget was about 50Q a day. I would have one good meal and then food from the bakery. One downside I found was that most hostels in Guatemala had no kitchens so I wasn’t able to cut down cost by cooking my own meals.

Excursions

 Hiking is the main thing to do in Guatemala. If you are not into nature, walking, or getting bite up then Guatemala might not be for you. But if you are into that then there is an excursion and a difficulty level for everyone.

Antigua

There are two main volcanoes you can climb Pacaya(easy) and Acatenango(hard) for hiking.

Acatenango, I would never be doing that lol because just to get up the volcano is 6+ hours depending on your level. Plus when you get to the top you can climb for another 3 hours to get to the top of Fuego(an active volcano). Acatenango is a 2 day excursion. You spend the night on top of the Acatenango and you best believe it is freezing up there once the sun goes down. You must make sure pack a wool hat, warm clothes, wool socks, and a blanket. Also if you are a light sleeper between the howling monkeys and snoring hikers don’t expect to sleep that night. But according to fellow travelers I met along the way said that the hike was worth it and beautiful. Chile, its just not for me.

Pacaya, now this is the hike I did. Super easy, well as easy as its going to get cause you know your girl was huffing and puffing while climbing. To climb up the volcano takes 45+ mins depending on how slow you walk. On the plus side the whole time climbing you are followed by locals offering ‘taxis’ in case you want to stop climbing. Now I use the word taxi very loosely because it’s really just a horse, yup you read right a horse. Once on the top, if it is a clear day you can see the other volcanoes in the horizon. You also get to roast marshmallows in lava (if there is) or in a steam hole. I paid 80Q for transport and a guide.

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super foggy at about 10am

San Pedro, Lake Atitlan

Here, you have kayaking, zip lining, and hiking. For hiking, you can climb San Pedro Volcano(hard) or Indian Nose Mountain(easy). Of course, I didn’t climb San Pedro but based on my research it is a 4+ hour hike up. Indian Nose was super easy to climb and by far the prettiest. It is a 30+ mins hike up the mountain with views of farms, cornfields, forest, and the city. The views were beautiful and picturesque. You can go for a sunrise tour, which I would recommend. Simply gorgeous. Depending on how many is in your group depicts the price. If it is just 1 person it is 150Q for transport and guide. The more people you have the more the price drops. Luckily for me I met a group of fellow travelers and joined in with them. One of the guys stays with a host family every time he visits Guatemala so the son was our tour guide and driver. Therefore the trip was based on donation.

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more views

You can go zip lining as well in Santa Clara. In the park there are only two lines, one regular the other you have the option of riding superman style. It is 20Q to enter the park and 80Q zip line. In the park there are other activities you can do like free falling. Parque Ecologico Chuiraxamolo is the name of the park. For the money you spend it is worth visiting the park. What you would pay for one excursion in Costa Rica you can do about 3-4 at the park in Guatemala.

Flores

I am not sure if visiting Tikal is an excursion but there isn’t much else to do there. Well actually, I was approached by a local to take a 40min boat ride to the other side of the lake where there is clear water to do some snorkeling. There is also kayaking and other water activities to do at the lake. But anyways back to Tikal, the price to enter the park is 150Q and 250Q for sunset or sunrise. I was able to get transport to Tikal cause of course it was an hour and a half away from Flores for 50Q. There is no need to pay for a guide because it is quite easy to get around the park but if you are bad at directions or reading a map pay for the guide.

Transport

There are two ways to travel around Guatemala, by chicken buses or by shuttles (whether it you spring for private/nice shuttles or regular ones).

Chicken Buses

 For me I didn’t feel secure enough in my Spanish to ride the chicken buses. It is the cheapest way to travel but also the most dangerous. The chicken buses get stopped and robbed often enough. As a solo female traveler I chose to not chance it. Now if I wasn’t traveling alone I would have chanced riding the chicken bus.

Shuttles

When booking shuttles don’t be afraid to shop around and haggle the price down. The cost to go to Volcano Pacaya for me was 80Q but some people in my shuttle only paid 60Q. My shuttle from Antigua to Lanquin to Flores and back to Guatamala City was 650Q. Of course by chicken bus can be much cheaper. For example some fellow travelers I met only paid 25Q each to go from Antigua to Pacaya by chicken bus but then again they were two males (big/fit ones at that).

So it is possible to travel cheaply around Guatemala but safety must come first.

Conclusion

Guatemala is a beautiful country full of adventure and things to do but it is not as cheap as other travelers make it out to be. In my opinion, Nicaragua is by far the cheapest of the countries in Central America (maybe certain parts of Mexico as well). It is definitely a must see country and if you are into nature and hiking then you definitely should check out Guatemala.

Semuc Champey, my favorite experience of the trip