Guayaquil, (Ecuador)

“The Pearl of the Pacific”, “Tribal Chief Guayas and his wife Quil”

Guayaquil, Ecuador, April 2017

The largest city of Ecuador cannot be missed on anyone’s trip through this beautiful country. For us, our second base after its impressive capital, Quito; although not for a long visit but for a rather short one. Unfortunately in such trips where we travel that far, we want to include as much as possible and always end up with a huge program to fit in just a few days, still, good enough not to panic nor rushing all around, and after all, very thankful for all the places we’ve managed to put a step on. At less than 1 hour flight from Quito what could dramatically change? The weather and the height. From around 20 degrees to over 30, very humid and tropical, and no height compared to almost 3000 m above sea level where we came from. After all, the truth is that a full day in the city is generally what you need for visiting everything.

Here in Guayaquil all the tourist attractions and sights can be seen in just a day therefore no need to over estimate the time unless of course, you are using it as your base to reach the Pacific. Guayaquil is your perfect gateway to the beaches at less than 2 hours, from Playas at the south to Salinas to the north. Combining the big city with some beach and pool time is a good way to break your trip in Ecuador and enjoy laid back rest. It’s not only the coast, but also your gateway to the Galapagos Islands. All the flights in Ecuador will have a stop over via Guayaquil before continuing to the Galapagos.

As opposed to Quito, Guayaquil is a very modern city with totally different kind of sights. Here do not expect to find such a vast colonial heritage one after another, huge monasteries and richly decorated Baroque churches. Instead, a small historic district in a hill at the north by the river Guayas and surrounded by some elegant late 19th early 20th century buildings along avenues and some towers slowly popping around; with a beautifully landscaped riverside promenade, the Malecon 2000; a project of urban regeneration that has won many awards and prices and given back to the city a prestigious space regarded until the 1980’s a run-down area and one of the unsafest places to be.

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Monteverde and Arenal, (Costa Rica)

“One of the greatest Cloud Forest in the world”

Monteverde, Costa Rica, January 2016

Continuing our tour in Costa Rica, we spared today for enjoying the nature at one of the most worldwide renown forest the country is famous for, the Cloud Forest. While you can find it at many parts in the country, the nicest one, also the “easiest” to reach is Monteverde. Being at 150 kilometres from San Jose, it is the nearest to the capital, since the other forests that actually surround the capital are Rain Forests.

Before coming here, the four of us were quite excited about the possibility to see animals. After all, those forests and overall the country itself, is famous for the incredible biodiversity. With such small land mass it houses the most % of biodiversity of anywhere else on earth. Our expectations were to be able to see sloths, toucans and the likes, but well, that did not happen! At least, not for us. Although they strongly promise you over the internet at the many tour operators selling you tickets for any activity in Monteverde that you will see animals, they also mention the unsocial hours for this to happen. So unless you are brave enough to arrive around 5.00am, later than that you will only see a plain forest without any animal, not even birds.

So 150 kilometres from San Jose where our base was, meant driving for almost 4 hours! Yes take that note. And thankfully we had a powerful big car, otherwise forget about even getting closer to Monteverde. While for the first half of the journey you will be driving on the Panamerican Highway, the following quarter will be on a tiny bending road, and the last quarter on an unpaved narrow road, climbing up and up the mountain. This section was never ending and the one to blame for the trip to be that long and tiring. (more…)

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Cartago, (Costa Rica)

“Very Noble and Very Loyal”, “Former Capital City of Costa Rica”

Cartago, Costa Rica, January 2016

On our second stop while in Costa Rica we visited the former capital: Cartago. Named after the Spanish city of Cartagena, name taken from Cartage in Tunis and taken to Spain by the Romans. Like it happened to many other former capital cities in Central America during Spanish colonial times, it was destroyed after many earthquakes and volcano eruptions hence the need to build a new capital city at a safer place, San Jose in this case.

The city, merely 25 kilometers from downtown San Jose is considered a major tourist destination in the country. Not sure why it gets such ratings though, I must really say here that bearing the ruins of Saint James Apostle Church and the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels there is nothing else worth to mention, nor to make the effort to come here should you be short of time and days while in Costa Rica. We visited as part of San Jose, and took us not even 3 hours to walk few streets and see all the sights. I cannot imagine any longer in this place, and this was the feeling not only of myself, but the other 3 friends we came together. A very big disappointment of place.

On the other hand, the only good side is the near distance to San Jose, for what makes it extremely easy to come here; also considering that San Jose was quite another disappointment for us, hence a good excuse to spend the time and so something, otherwise I would have gladly been at the hotel’s pool all day. Now I know, back then we did not know and had to give the city a try.

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San Jose, (Costa Rica)

“Chepe”, “Named in honor of Joseph of Nazareth”

San Jose, Costa Rica, January 2016

Arriving to the next country, Costa Rica, making it number 77 on the list of countries I’ve been to this date. To be honest, full of expectations and very excited to finally come here, yet as I will explain later on, it ended up in being a total deception. In this occasion we made San Jose, the capital city our base for the next 3 days, in order to visit Cartago, Monteverde and Arenal; then for another 2 days we made the base in Cahuita by the Caribbean coast, and finally, one last day back in San Jose to rent after 3 intense weeks of travelling non-stop before heading back to Europe.

This was a short flight from Managua to San Jose in one of the smallest planes I’ve ever flew. That was fun! Really fun. I love the experience of being in a plane never been before, and specially if this is a tiny one. It was a Costa Rican airline, Nature Air, on a LET 410 UVP E20. Everyone in this flight was excited to fly, all of the 19 tourists including myself. The only major downside are the super high costs of flying through Central and South America. We had no other option, unless to lose an entire day and travel by bus instead, something unfortunately we could not afford due to our very limited time.

So, San Jose. How to start. A city of mixed feelings, or two different cities in one. At one side you have many very nice and beautiful old buildings, although scattered through the entire city mixed with many other horrible buildings all over. The reason for such a great loss on architecture is like anywhere else in Central America, earthquakes and volcano eruptions; but gladly, a lot have survived in the case of San Jose, as opposed to Managua or San Salvador, the most seriously impacted. And in the other hand, it is a city full of beggars, overall insecure feeling, and where everything closes super early leaving you stranded even without restaurants where to go nor shopping centres opened! (more…)

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Masaya, (Nicaragua)

“The City of Flowers”, “The Folklore Capital of Nicaragua”

Masaya, Nicaragua, January 2016

The last day in Nicaragua, and so the quietest with the most relaxed day trip we’ve done so far while in the country. Visiting the small city of Masaya, nicknamed the folklore capital of Nicaragua, and its volcano nearby, one of the most active in the country. Enough to keep us busy for half a day and enjoy the other half resting at the hotel’s pool and a nice dinner before having to pack the luggage once again and onto the next country the following day.

Not an impressive site, nor too impressive, especially for the city of Masaya. We heard a lot before coming here that it was supposed to be a nice place, with plenty to do and enjoy because after all, it is the folklore capital of Nicaragua. So we though as such only to be disappointed. Really, there is nothing special, and after having been to Leon and Granada the previous days which both are incredibly beautiful, Masaya turned to be a simple vulgar city. Yes, few churches here and there and the Market of the Artisans, but that is all.

In the other hand, the volcano is nice indeed, but for us that we’ve recently been to so many volcanoes while in Indonesia, Guatemala, El Salvador, and days before the Momotombo in Nicaragua itself next to Leon; then seeing another one was a bit of the same. Still, it is worth to come here for sure! The views from the top are pretty cool. Far in the distance you can see Managua and farther beyond, the Momotombo volcano. Only that you need to be aware is that they only recommend you to stay at the top no more than 10 minutes. The sulphur smoke is very strong and irritates the eyes and creates breathing problems, hence why you should be quick at the top. (more…)

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Granada, (Nicaragua)

“La Gran Sultana”, “The oldest colonial city in Nicaragua”

Granada, Managua, January 2016

Our next move while in Nicaragua took us to what ended up to be the most beautiful colonial city we were in this entire trip. I can also already say this because I am writing this travel guide after returning to London and after having been in Costa Rica which was the last country we visited in the journey. While Leon was fascinating, Granada took majority of protagonism. So well preserved! And so much to see and do. We did actually struggle with the time as we could have spent easily much longer.

After our experience I can definitely tell you that while a day is more than enough for visiting Granada, we came a bit too late from Managua. Aim to take a bus around 9.00am and you will be very well on track without any rush and enjoying more than we actually did. Remember that the days are too short in Central America with sunset by 18.00pm, time you should also make your way back when the last buses depart towards the capital.

Granada is the 3rd largest city in the country and has always been rival city with Leon since colonial times. The fact that is lies near, yet far enough from the active volcanoes, means earthquakes and volcanic eruptions rarely affect the city hence why it has survived to our days with the original colonial core almost intact and extremely well preserved. I question myself the odds on why it has not been included as an UNESCO World Heritage Site yet. I’m sure it will make it to the list anytime soon, specially after the many ongoing efforts and projects of restoration currently in place and the many others planned. (more…)

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Leon, (Nicaragua)

“Santiago de los Caballeros de León”, “The second largest city in Nicaragua”

Leon, Managua, January 2016

Our first day excursion while in Nicaragua and after visiting its capital city Managua the previous day. The historical and colonial city of Leon, named after the city of the same name in northwestern Spain. It has the largest collection of colonial architecture in the country, yet only for its size being the second largest city in the country. For instance, once you visit Granada you will see that appears to be more colonial structures there than in Leon. Nevertheless, both cities are the masterpieces in Nicaragua, and both as impressive with their own character.

For churches and cathedrals Leon has no rival. It has the largest number of any city in Nicaragua, and majority of any other city across Central America excluding Guatemala. But the current location of Leon is not that of the first original settlement founded in 1524 by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba 30 kilometres to the northeast. The archaeological remains of Viejo Leon as it is known the original settlement are an UNESCO World Heritage Site for being the only Spanish colonial settlement that was never expanded, changed nor developed since its creation. After only 86 years since it was built, the nearby Momotombo volcano and earthquakes destroyed it. A rebuilt would have been not optimal for the proximity to the volcano and possible repeated catastrophe, hence the decision for building the new city farther to the west on a much secured location.

As you might know by now, Managua like any other Central American country lies in the Ring of Fire, with many active volcanoes and frequent earthquakes. And as I briefly described in the travel guide for Managua, the most recent and catastrophic earthquake flattened Managua in 1972. Thankfully the decision for the new emplacement of Leon has secured it through the centuries coming to our days almost intact and with more than 75% of its original colonial architecture. (more…)

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Managua, (Nicaragua)

“Indigenous Nahuatl, Mana-ahuac: Adjacent to water”, “The Bride of Xolotlán”

Managua, Nicaragua, January 2016

Our next country in this tour, Nicaragua, and base in its capital city of Managua for the next 5 days. With this we mark the country visited number 76, a whooping increasing number, although it is becoming harder and harder to raise the number, unless we start doing some cruising by the Caribbean, Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia, and the biggest “unknown” Africa which I must confess I am not too confident because of the safety there.

While not many years ago Nicaragua ranked as a dangerous country to visit, with their civil war troubles, troubled government, poverty and overall instability; it has recovered from everything to the point of being the safest country in Central America out of the 7 that form it. Of course, like everywhere in the world, minding and caring for your staff and knowing where you go and where you should not is a prime rule, but indeed and after coming from El Salvador where we were having eyes even in our backs, Nicaragua was very pleasant anywhere, and Managua quite a relaxed place to be.

The only downside of the city comes since the 1972 earthquake. It was 23rd of December with everyone in Christmas spirit celebrations when the fate changed forever. Almost everything was lost, an entire city flattened with very few buildings surviving, some of which in a poor state and crumbling and not possible even to use them up to this date. The old cathedral is the best example, left as a monumental reminder of what once was a historical city with beautiful buildings, and the few that is left here today. (more…)

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