Cuba Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Cuba

(Map of Cuba from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Cuba on a Shoestring Budget

US$35 | 35 CUC

Cuba’s economic and political climate makes it a strange country to visit in many regards and its two-currency system only complicates matters (more on this below). On average Cubans earn just $25 per month yet our suggested shoestring Cuba backpacker budget is $35/day which can take some time to get your head around.

One reason is that locals have an awful amount of basic necessities provided for free via the state, which leaves them with relatively little they need to buy. They are also paid in Cuban Peso rather than the more valuable Cuban convertible peso which is what foreigners use for virtually all transactions, which results in higher prices for visitors. As a result there are almost two separate economies in Cuba and most of your business will be in the pricier tourist-orientated one.

Hostel dorm-type accommodation doesn’t really exist in Cuba so renting private rooms in the homes of people who have a special licence to run what is effectively a small guesthouse (casa particular) is the best value you can really find. As a result paying for accommodation will take up a sizeable chunk of that budget. If you’re travelling solo that can be a real pain but couples or groups travelling together may be able to get by on less than $35 per day by sharing rooms and splitting costs.

Food and drinks are pretty good value and if you speak decent Spanish you might be able to travel on the local buses as opposed to the tourist ones and you’ll make a big saving if you do that. Overall though travelling in Cuba is certainly more expensive than many countries in thee region such as Nicaragua and expenses are roughly similar overall to the cost of travel in Panama with accommodation cheaper in Panama but other things being more expensive to balance it out.

See where Cuba ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in Central America.


More Comfortable Cuba Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 45 CUC

Cuba’s travel industry is still in its relative infancy but it is growing quickly and there are lots of different trips and excursions you can do in almost all the main travel destinations now. While it’s not quite North Korea, it’s not that easy to have a totally independent travel experience in Cuba so you will find yourself having to pay for more organised trips than in other countries. By upping your budget to $45/day you’ll have more freedom to take up these options on a virtually daily basis and it’d be a wise option anyway if you’re travelling alone given the lack of hostel/couchsurfing options.


Sample Prices in Cuba

Transport by Astro Bus (mostly for locals) – $2/hour travelled

Transport by Viazul Bus (mostly for tourists) – $4-5/hour travelled

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $5

Meat & rice at a peso place – $1.50

Cuban Libre or Mojito in a bar or restaurant – $2-3

Private twin or double room in a casa particular – from $20/night

Entrance to Museum of the Revolution in Havana – $8

Horseback riding tour in Trinidad (3 hours) – $15

These prices are as of December 2016. All figures are the same in Cuban Convertible Peso.

Compare Cuba prices to the cost of travel in Mexico.


Money

Currency – Cuban Peso (CUP) /Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)

£1 = 33.37 CUP / 1.26 CUC

€1 = 28.10 CUP / 1.06 CUC

US$1 = 26.50 CUP / 1 CUC

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

Cuba’s two currency system can be quite confusing for newcomers. The Cuban Peso is designed for use by locals while the convertible peso, which is pegged to the US Dollar is aimed at foreigners and the tourism industry. Most of your transactions in Cuba will be in the latter although you may be able to get some basic goods and foods in Cuban Pesos and it’s completely legal to do so. If you speak good Spanish it helps and by eating/shopping regularly in the local places, you can probably get by on a fraction of the budget listed above.

Note that when exchanging US Dollars for CUC at a Cuban back, you will be hit by a 10% conversion fee so Euros, Pounds or Canadian dollars are better currencies to bring.


MFT Recommends

No matter where in the world you go, getting travel insurance is highly advisable! We suggest using World Nomads, who specialise in providing cover for backpackers.


Street art in Cuba

street art in Havana, Cuba


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Cuba recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉


This article was published in December 2016.


Nicaragua Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Nicaragua

(Map of Nicaragua from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Nicaragua on a Shoestring Budget

US$20 | 580 Nicaraguan Cordoba

Nicaragua is one of those countries where hardcore shoestring types will manage to get by on very little. Getting around the country via the regular local chicken buses as opposed to the tourist buses which have schedules but often don’t stick to them will save you a lot of cash. Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America but it’s possible to see the bulk of it for $20 or less in terms of transport costs, if you take the hop-on, hop-off chicken buses everywhere.

Eating local food in local-geared restaurants is also very cheap and usually less than half the cost of the Western alternatives such as burgers and pizza. If you do that and also stay in dorms and use drinking in the hostel as the starting point for your occasional nights out then it shouldn’t be impossible to stick to a budget of $20/day. You will still have to be a bit smart with money and speaking Spanish will be of great help but with attractions normally costing just a $1 or so, there’s not much potential for extra expenditure beyond the basic necessities.

See where Nicaragua ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in countries in Central America.


More Comfortable Nicaragua Backpacker Budget

US$30 | 880 Nicaraguan Córdoba

Some travellers do report back that sticking to $20/day in Nicaragua is very difficult. However many opt for the transport options advertised in the hostels which are geared towards tourists and are often several times more expensive. If you’re not willing to rough it out on the local chicken buses, which can be a bit uncomfortable and rarely offer the most direct route, then you might want to extend your budget slightly towards $30.

Likewise if you’re planning on spending some time surfing in the Pacific, or chilling out on the beautiful Corn Islands in the Caribbean Sea, which are more expensive than the rest of the country, then you may wish to increase your Nicaragua backpacking budget to $30/day but even that is less than our shoestring budget for Panama.


Sample Prices in Nicaragua

Chicken bus or local minibus from Leon to Granada (3 hours including change in Managua) – $3 (some overcharging of foreigners common)

0.5 Litre local beer in bar/restaurant  – $1

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $4

Dorm bed in Leon – from $5/night

Private double or twin room in Granada – from $14/night

Visit to a typical museum – $1-2

Surfboard rental in San Juan del Sur – around $10 per day

These prices are as of December 2016.

Compare Nicaragua prices to the cost of travel in Costa Rica


Money

Currency – Nicaraguan Córdoba

£1 = 36.75 NIO

€1 = 30.98 NIO

US$1 = 29.24 NIO

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

US Dollars are widely accepted as an alternative currency.


MFT Recommends

Travel insurance is important as always. We suggest using World Nomads, who offer good cover for backpackers.


Street art in Nicaragua

street art in Leon, Nicaragua


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Nicaragua recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉


This article was published in December 2016.


Panama Backpacking Budget

cost of travel in Panama

(Map of Panama from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Panama on a Shoestring Budget

US$35 | 35 Panamanian Balboa

As one of the richest countries in Central America, costs are generally a bit higher than most parts of the region. Our Panama backpacking budget of $35/day reflects that and it’s comparable to the cost of travel in Costa Rica, another of the more expensive countries in the region. If you’re coming to Panama directly from North America or Europe though, you’ll still most likely find it very cheap.

It’s not that difficult to stick to this kind of budget with tasty and cheap street food available all over the country, while tap water is safe here and you can save a few bucks by just filling up a bottle as you will need to drink lots of water given Panama is a very hot place.  The cost of accommodation is a bit higher than its Northern neighbours and the temptation to indulge in Panama’s nightlife, some of which is geared towards its wealthy visitors, can push your expenses up if you’re not careful but maintaining this budget and still having a good time is not impossible by any means.

See where Panama ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in Central America.


More Comfortable Panama Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 45 Panamanian Balboa

Panama is not like somewhere like Nicaragua or Guatemala, where the travel industry is almost entirely geared towards more budget-minded travellers. In Panama, there is the potential to indulge in a bit of luxury every now and then and by allowing for $45 per day you can do that. The extra $10 could go towards a nice meal at night in one of the many fancier restaurants or possibly a short stay in one of the nicer hotels or resorts. You will still have to be a bit savvy though, particularly in the capital which is a popular shopping destination so it’d be wise to set aside a separate budget for shopping.

The cost of some of the sites of interest and attractions is also relatively high for the region so if you’re the sort who likes to visit museums and cultural sites on a daily basis that can also push your costs up and $45/day may be a more realistic budget.


Sample Prices in Panama

Bus from Panama City to David (6-7 hours) – around $20

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – $6

0.5 litre local beer in a bar or restaurant – $1.50

Dorm bed in Bocas del Toro – from $10

Private double or twin room in Panama City – from $25

Entrance to Miraflores Visitor Centre (Panama Canal) – $15

These prices are as of December 2016.

Compare Panama prices to the cost of travel in Mexico.


Money

Currency – Panamanian Balboa/US Dollar

£1 = 1.26 PAB

€1 = 1.06 PAB

US$1 = 1 PAB

(All exchange rates are correct as of December 2016)

The US Dollar has been tied to the Panamanian Balboa since 1904. You can use either in Panama and essentially they are the same currency.


MFT Recommends

The Casa Monalisa is perfect for solo travellers in Panama City. Sociable place with budget beds.


Street art in Panama

street art in Panama City (via BORIS GCC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Panama recently, help your fellow travellers out by sharing your typical daily costs in the comments section below 😉


This article was published in December 2016.


Costa Rica Backpacking Budget

Costa Rica backpacking budget

(Map of Costa Rica from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Costa Rica on a Shoestring Budget

US$35 | 18,500 Costa Rican Colones

Costa Rica certainly ranks as one of the more expensive Central American countries. The cost of travel is similar to that in Mexico and certainly more than in Guatemala or Nicaragua. It has a thriving tourism industry, much of which isn’t really geared towards budget travellers but it is still overall quite an affordable place to visit if you steer clear of the pricier tourist places.

Our Costa Rica backpacking budget of $35/day gives you enough for a dorm bed, some local food and drinks in budget restaurants and bars with a bit of money for day-time activities but not a huge amount. The country is pretty small and getting from town to town is really good value and you might not need much more than $20 to get from one end of the country to the other.

However it is expensive in other ways with activities and accommodation likely to take up a good chunk of your budget. Certainly as a solo traveller you won’t be able to afford a private room on this kind of budget as there is quite a leap from the cost of a dorm bed to a private here. Even couples or friends travelling together may struggle to stick to $35/day each if you are staying in private rooms everywhere. Real shoestring types might want to consider bringing a tent and camping which is quite easy to do in Costa Rica.

See where Costa Rica ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in all Central American countries


More Comfortable Costa Rica Backpacker Budget

US$50 | 27,000 Costa Rican Colones

Adding an extra $15/day will give you a bit more freedom to do more organised trips in the day or to spend more time in the national parks which can be expensive to visit. Costa Rica isn’t really the kind of place where you can spend days wandering around towns with the natural sights the main attractions here and they generally cost money to get to and some of them can only really be visited as part of a tour or with your own guide so to get the most out of Costa Rica consider upping your budget to something in the region of US$50/day.


Sample Prices in Costa Rica

Local transport from one town to the next – around 1500 CRC ($3)

Meal at an inexpensive restaurant – 4000 CRC ($7.50)

Typical local dish of meat, rice and fried plantains in a small local cafe/restaurant – 1600 CRC ($3)

Large local beer in a bar or restaurant – 1000 CRC ($2)

Dorm bed – from 5000 CRC ($9)

Budget private double or twin room – from 15000 CRC ($28)

Boat or Kayak tour in Tortuguero National Park – 25,000-30,000 CRC (roughly $50)

Zip-linging in Monteverde Cloud Forest – 25,000-40,000 CRC ($50-75)


Money

Currency – Costa Rican Colon

£1 = 771 CRC

€1 = 608 CRC

US$1 = 535 CRC

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)

US Dollars are pretty widely accepted in Costa Rica and usually at a pretty fair rate.


MFT Recommends

Spend a few days in rural Costa Rica by staying at the very chilled Hostel Casa Chirripo.


street art in Costa Rica

street art in San Jose, Costa Rica (via Jackie SallnasCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Costa Rica recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016.


Mexico Backpacking Budget

Mexico backpacking budget

(Map of Mexico from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)


Daily Travel Costs in Mexico on a Shoestring Budget

US$35 | 650 Mexican Pesos

Mexico is a large and generally fairly cheap country to travel in although there are a few notable exceptions. These are mostly the tourist resorts such as Cancun, where prices for almost everything are significantly higher than you’ll find in the rest of the country. If you avoid them then there is no reason why you can’t get by on something like $35/day and still have a really good time.

It is a country with lots of excellent local dishes and drinks so eating and drinking out is one of the highlights of a visit to Mexico and is generally very good value as even the fussiest of eaters won’t struggle to find something that grabs their fancy. Travelling around is reasonably priced if you can put up with long hours on buses but if you do want to visit the North as well as the South then you might want to allow for a bit more than this as it’s a lot of miles you will need to cover. Flying between destinations is considerably more expensive in Mexico with few budget airlines running domestic routes.

Accommodation though is very cheap particularly if you’re willing to stick to dorms and won’t take up a large chunk of this budget leaving you with plenty left over for other things.

See where Mexico ranks on our World Budget Travel Table.

Backpacking costs in Central America


More Comfortable Mexico Backpacker Budget

US$45 | 850 Pesos

Adding $10 will give you a bit more freedom to take trips or try a few more different activities out. You afford to do quite a bit of partying even on our shoestring Mexico backpacking budget and an extra $10 could go towards that if you so wished although nights out aren’t particularly expensive if you avoid the swankier places and in the more traveller-orientated towns girls can often get free entry and free drinks in many nightspots.

If you want to see most of the country as opposed to sticking in one region for a longer period of time then US$45 might be a better budget particularly if you are restricted by time more than money.


Sample Prices in Mexico

Flight from Mexico City to Cancun (2 hours 15 mins) – from 1200 Pesos ($65)

Bus from Playa del Carmen to Chetumal (4 hours) – from 175 Pesos ($9.50)

Meal at an inexpensive local restaurant – 80 Pesos ($4.50)

Local beer at a non-touristy bar or restaurant – 20 Pesos ($1)

Dorm bed in Mexico City or San Cristobal – from 80 Pesos ($4.50)

Dorm bed in Playa del Carmen or Tulum – from 140 Pesos ($7.50)

Budget private double or twin room in Mexico City – from 170 Pesos ($9)

Entrance to Chichén Itzá – 200 Pesos (including tax) ($11)


Money

Currency – Mexican Peso

£1 = 26.74 Pesos

€1 = 21.06 Pesos

US$1 = 18.56 Pesos

(All exchange rates are correct as of June 2016)

Some businesses in tourist destinations like Cancun may still accept US Dollars despite a law aimed at banishing the Dollar from the Mexican economy. However it is still advantageous to pay for things in Mexican Pesos and in most parts of the country Dollars are not accepted.


MFT Recommends

Be sure to visit Tulum which is one of the few places that both those interested in Mexico’s archaeological wonders and wonderful beaches will enjoy. The Hostal Chalupa is one of the best places to stay on a budget.


street art in mexico

street art in Oaxaca, Mexico (via Jen WlltonCC BY-NC 2.0)


Share your Travel Costs!

If you’ve been to Mexico recently, please let everyone know your typical daily costs by commenting below 😉


This article was published in June 2016


Backpacking Budget for Central America

Central America Backpacking Budget

This page suggests typical shoestring travel costs and recommends a possible backpacking budget for Central America.

backpackers map of central america

(Map of Central America from wikitravel, can be re-used under CC BY-SA 3.0)

Daily Travel Costs in Central America

$20/day : Nicaragua

$25/day : Guatemala, El Salvador

$30/day : Honduras

$35/day : Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba*, Mexico*

$45/day : Belize

*Not technically part of Central America but popular stops with travellers in the region.

This is based on travelling on the cheap by staying in hostel dorms or basic rooms where it’s cheaper to do so and by using local chicken buses which are a fun if slow way to get around the region. It allows for the odd activity each day but nothing like expensive diving courses or multi-day treks which will add to the cost of your trip. If you have travelled in the region recently and have a different idea of what typical expenses might be then please use the comments section below to let us and more importantly other travellers know. The budget allows for a bit of partying and but you will struggle to stick to this if you are looking to drink and go out every night.

Some travellers combine Central America with a few days or weeks in the United States, which is considerably more expensive. Read our USA backpacking budget for more.

Monthly Backpacking budget for Central America

Based on these costs, a typical total backpacking budget for a trip around Central America might be something like this:

1 month – £740, €850, $900

2 months – £1480, €1700, $1800

3 months – £2220, €2550, $2700

All figures are based on exchange rates correct as of January 2017. If you’re unsure, use dollars as a base and convert it to your currency at current exchange rates.

Touristy areas of Mexico or places such as the Bay Islands in Honduras are more expensive so avoid them if you are worried about funds running out. If you decide to visit Cuba, then the cost of getting there can also add quite a bit to your overall expenses so this budget is primarily based on travel in mainland Central America only.

Please note this does NOT include the cost of flights to/from the region, any visas/vaccinations or travel insurance. These things are impossible factor in as they are dependent on your nationality and where you are coming from but can quite easily double your total budget for the trip.

Read our Central America budget travel overview.


The Cost of Travel in Other Regions

South America | Southeast Asia | Europe


How much did travel in Central America cost you?

If you have travelled recently in the region then please use the comments section below to share with us your experiences of backpacking costs in Central America. Everyone travels differently so there will never be a definitive right budget for each country but the more people who comment, the easier it is for us to keep this page as accurate as possible. Thanks!


 This page was last updated in January 2017.


Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

Crossing the Darien Gap between Colombia and Panama

darien gap

NOTE – This article is now over 5 years old. Some of the info may be out-of-date.

The Darien gap is an 80km stretch of jungle between Panama and Colombia. It will be of interest to anyone looking to combine our South America backpacking route with our Central America routeA quick look on google maps would suggest that America is one huge continent and it should be possible to travel overland from Alaska right down to Ushuaia at the bottom of Argentina.

However this narrow strip of land connecting North and South America has no roads and the jungle is tough to cross even if you are fit and have an excellent knowledge of the local area (guessing you don’t)…oh and there’s Colombian rebel fighters in the area who are at war with the government and have been known to kidnap foreigners. If you do decide to chance it on foot and make it across the dangerous Darien Gap then it’s fair to say you have well and truly graduated into a hardcore traveller! (you’re also probably a bit of a nutter).

Trekking Through the Jungle

Some people do indeed cross the Darien Gap by foot every year, numbers are unknown but we’ve met people who’ve done it and are planning to do it again. Although Colombia is now pretty much a safe place, certainly much more so than 5 years ago, many of the FARC rebels (those who haven’t been killed by the government forces) are believed to have retreated back to the jungles of Darien Province thus making the trip even more dangerous.

You will probably have to use local guides if you do try and do this trip and you will have to pay for them, so the costs could well make this the most expensive option as well as the most dangerous. Other things to consider include the risk of malaria which is high and you will be trekking 80km through jungle so prepare to be eaten alive by all sorts of insects.

You can get more information on attempting the crossing in local towns on either side of the border and if you are lucky you may find other mildly insane travellers who are planning to cross the Darien Gap on foot. If you do go for it attempt the crossing in the dry season and take lots of food, water, a machete and hope for the best.

myfunkytravel.com is not responsible if your head gets decapitated by a Colombian guerilla 🙂

The Safer Options

1. Boats

As if the situation wasn’t bad enough there are no public ferries between Panama and Colombia and there haven’t been for many years. It is possible with improved security in the area that ferries may start up again one day but don’t hold your breath.

San Blas IslandsLuckily there is no shortage of sailing boats that do the trip and this is probably the most popular option and definitely the most scenic. Most people who have done the trip rave about. It is typically 4 to 5 days and includes a couple of days stop in the beautifully quiet San Blas Islands (left). From Colombia to Panama, it’s best to head to Cartagena and even if you don’t stay there head to Casa Viena hostel which has a whiteboard with a list of boats doing the trip and remaining spaces on each. Try and talk to the captain of the ship before deciding on one. Going the other way then Panama City is the best place to arrange the trip (ask in your hostel) and there is normally plenty of boats doing the route every week. It’s worth considering whether food/drinks are included in the price, what extras are included such as diving/snorkeling etc, maybe try and meet your fellow passengers/crew (make sure they’re not going to drive you insane) and also consider whether you suffer from seasickness because you will be spending several days on a fairly small boat.

The Darien Gapster (no idea if they are good or bad) is a company that does the trip for $200 which is about as cheap you are going to find. There route is quicker than the others taking just 3 nights and still stopping in the San Blas Islands.

2. Fly

One solution to crossing the Darien Gap has cropped up recently with Spirit Airlines who offer budget flights from it’s Fort Lauderdale base to Colombia and cities across Central America. Flights to Cartagena are as cheap as $1+taxes+baggege fee (about $65) as of October 2010. Flights to Central America are slightly more but it’s possible to fly to San Jose for around $130. This brings the total to around $200 for the trip (eg San Jose to Fort Lauderdale to Cartagena), possibly more or less depending on the promotions they have on. Therefore the cost is similar to the sailboat option and you won’t have to worry about seasickness plus you have the option of spending a few days in Miami (there are worse places to get stuck waiting for a flight).

Otherwise there are direct flights from most of the major cities in Central America to Colombia. Flights from Panama City are normally the cheapest but still $200 or more so for a relatively short distance. It’s the quickest but least exciting way to cross the Darien Gap.

3. A Combo of Boats & Flights

Capurgana hammock backpacker lifestyleThe cheapest option when everything is running properly but the situation is regularly changing and it’s hard to say with any certainty what is currently possible. Firstly head to Turbo in Colombia, get a boat to Capurgana (2 hours 30). Capurgana (right) and nearby Sapzurro are great chilled out backpacker friendly beach villages and well worth hanging around a few days. Get your exit stamp at the DAS in Capurgana the day before you leave. Catch a motorboat from Capurgana to Puerto Obaldia in Panama (45 mins COP25,000). From here Aeroperlas had direct flights to Panama City for $80ish but at some point in 2010 they stopped running. Instead you can catch another motorboat from here to Mulatupo which has an airstrip (1 hour) or to Miramar which is a longer potentially choppy trip but will take you further north to Colon Province from where it isn’t far to Panama City. Reverse steps for the trip to Colombia and again it’s probably best to head to Panama City and gather current information there.

You should treat this trip as something as an adventure because it is unpredictable and frustrating but one way or another should be possible, you may have to spend a couple of days hanging around in towns waiting for a boat with space for you so don’t do it if you’re on a strict time schedule or at least do some major research beforehand into the current situation.


pic of San Blas Islands courtesy of frischifresh on flickr and Capurgana courtesy of kontour-travel.com on flickr.

 


This article was published in November 2011.


August 2015 Update

Read this detailed post for more on the land crossing and it includes the sad story of Jan Philip Braunisch, a backpacker killed in Colombia´s Darien Gap.

The author reports that the land crossing is now more dangerous than ever but a small airline called ADA fly direct Medellin – Acandi then boat trip (20 minutes) to Capurgana etc. (No more direct flights to Capurgana).


 

Big Surprise on Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Big Surprise on Little Corn

beach on little corn island

By Capt. Lynn Jackson

Recently I decided it was time for another “off the beaten path” trip, which I enjoy as often as my finances will allow and as an independent female traveler. A friend recommended I take a look at the country of Nicaragua. My first reaction was “yikes”! Little did I know, The Corn Islands are located about 50 miles east of the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and only about 1.5 sq miles in size, but an oasis of tranquility, and a refreshing break from the hustle and bustle of the U.S.

I arrived on Little Corn Island at sunset on a local Panga boat and all I could do was smile from ear to ear. This little island had more personality than anything I had come across in a long time. My captain was a local from Big Corn Island where my flight arrived late from flight delays in Miami and then in Managua and I had missed the last Panga boat departure. I had already paid for my accommodations on LC so I was interested in any way possible to make the 17k trip before dark and save the expense of a room for the night. My taxi driver hooked me up with a local friend with a tattered panga boat. Even though it took over an hour of preparation to retrieve fuel and get the poor vessel to run without sputtering and smoking we eventually headed to the island of Little Corn and arrived just before dark. He dropped me onto the sand beach and the most unique tropical island complete with local dogs running loose, the smell of lobster grilling and music coming from one of the few cafe/bars on the island. Lobster being the main export certainly was a plus right at arrival and dinnertime.

map of little corn island nicaraguaHurriedly I checked in to my simple but clean room at Los Delfines Resort where I was looking forward to a nice cool shower. To my surprise the generator, which provides power to the village, had decided to take it’s own vacation and was expected to be down for two weeks. Now, you have to remember this is down near the equator in August and I’m from Florida and used to sweltering heat in August but hot doesn’t come close to describing the temperature and the humidity. However I am used to third world travel so I took it as just a small inconvenience, luckily my hotel had a backup generator which kicked on from about 5pm until about 2am so I was good to go.

Ready for a beer or three and dinner I headed for the first watering hole I could find. Little Corn is not what you would call a touristy island although I was very surprised at the large crowd I found at Tranquilo Cafe. There are no cars on the island which means no roads which means no street lights so I was glad I had done my homework and had brought my flashlight for walking after dark down the sidewalk. I was welcomed by friendly, fast speaking locals, expats and those like myself, whom were on a new adventure in unchartered territory. What a hoot! Being a boat captain and longtime scuba diver I felt right at home on this lush, remote paradise minus the comfort of a/c.

The next morning I dropped by the dive shop where I met the crew and signed up for some diving, being a Dive Master and considered a professional diver I was given a really great deal on my diving and also a discount on my room which wasn’t much anyway. Afterwards I headed down into the local village, only a few minutes walk, where the learning center was and dropped off the stack of children’s books I had found at a thrift store and brought as a donation. This area where the locals lived and did business saddened me. The buildings pieced together, trash littered the sides of the concrete path which ran the length of that side of the island and the children played in filth but they seemed happy and living a simple life which I have grown to desire for quite some time. I followed the walk until it ended and headed to a secluded beach for some photos and down time.

Later that evening I had my second lobster dinner on the porch of one of the local women who dishes up one of the tastiest seafood dinners around. Miss Bridget came highly recommended but she had no outdoor lights while the generator was on the fritz. I am not sure she had any inside lights to cook by but I thoroughly enjoyed my candlelight lobster dinner for $7! Next I was heading to Tranquilo Cafe for a night out with $2 beers and some of my new friends and the many backpackers who were exploring the island too. Being a female and traveling alone I sometimes get funny looks or a shocked expressions but I love to travel alone and here on Little Corn never did I feel uncomfortable or threatened or like a fifth wheel that sometimes came with being a loner. Of course I am always aware of my surroundings and make sure I don’t find myself in a seedy area alone and always keep my belongings close.

little corn music

The Dolphin Dive Center where my dives were scheduled was busy the next morning where the manager and crew were getting our gear ready and in no time we made our way to the dive boat on the beach. Being a diver who has traveled and dived all over the Caribbean I wasn’t too impressed with the dives. It wasn’t that they were not good dives but they were very similar to a lot of the diving I had done over the years. The water was warm and clear and that was enough for me to enjoy as well as everyone else aboard. Later in the week I made one of the night dives, which was spectacular with the unusual presence of phosphorescence and can be a real thrill for those who haven’t seen it before.

The following morning a short walk through a tropical path took me past some of the local women who offered meals on their front porches and in the yards for a small price. Local labourers were busy working on repairs to several shacks/homes and acknowledged my presents with a slight nod. On the other side of the island the colorful bungalows dotted the beach surrounded by hammocks, palm trees and white sand beaches while the waves lazily washed ashore.

My days were spent diving, snorkeling, exploring the island, reading in the waterfront hammocks and watching the kids play in the water with their friends and dogs. Afternoons were spent at one of the open-air cafe’s waiting for the generators to kick on to enjoy a cool shower and a short nap before the nightlife picked up. The local fishermen could be seen every day sitting in the shade preparing bait for their lobster pots while the recently established police department’s patrol woman stopped by the establishments making small talk. The community is also blessed with many supporters whom help and educate the locals on recycling, conservation as well as volunteers from Building New Hope who were aiding the dog population with baths, flea treatments, spaying and neutering as well as other vetinary services.

This was the life on Little Corn and I hope to make it back again in the near future but I have learned a few things if I should go back…. travel extra light, bring good walking shoes because you will be walking where ever you go, don’t bring your own dive gear it’s too much of a hassle, bring the bug spray (although the bugs were not bad at all while I was there) and make sure to bring your appetite for some wonderful seafood, rice, fruit and black beans.

 

About the Writer

Lynn Jackson currently resides on the Central Coast of Florida. She has spent her entire adult life on international travels across the Caribbean, Mexico and the America’s in search of the ultimate dive destination as well as a simpler life for the near future. Lynn is also one of few women who spent several years in the search for Spanish treasure off of the Florida Coast. She holds many dive certifications including Dive Master as well as her U.S Coast Guard 100-ton Master Captain license.

 


This article was published in December 2013.


Backpacking in Leon, Nicaragua

Sandinista Fever in Leon, Nicaragua

sandinista revolution

Viva La Revolution!

revolution museum nicaraguaLeon is a rebellious city in every way. It is totally different from its conservative rival Grenada and all its picturesque churches and attractive streets. Pretty it may not be, but Leon more than makes up for that thanks to thepassion of the people and a history that includes a violent and ultimately successful struggle for freedom.

The Sandinista revolution that took place in 1979 was largely inspired by events in the city which has always been traditionally left leaning ever since Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. Daniel Ortega, the driving force behind the revolution is the current president and remains extremely popular in this city. Visit the Revolution Museum (above) in the main square for a passionate if rather one-sided tour of the small museum (in Spanish) which houses many photos and artefacts charting the rebel uprising.

It’s all in the Walls…

steet art in leon, nicaraguaOne of the many fascinating things about visiting Leon is keeping an eye out for the street art and politically motivated graffiti on the walls around town. Some of the murals are strikingly artistic and tell the tale of the revolution perhaps better than any museum could. The graffiti is of the pro-Ortega, anti-US variety and while in other parts of the country you feel it could be part of some sort of government agenda, here you sense that it truly reflects the views of Leon’s loyally pro-Sandinista residents.

There are also still probably thousands of bullet holes that scar the cities walls following the fierce fighting that took place here in the build-up to and during the revolution. These are particularly noticeable around the main square.

Backpacking in Leon = Mojito Time!!

There are some cool bars in Leon and you’ll meet some colourful characters as you make your way around them. Leon is popular with travellers so there is a healthy international presence in some of them but those with a more local feel are well worth checking out. The city also attracts all sorts of liberal minded people from across Central America and the Caribbean with a healthy Cuban presence notable. It’s the sort of place you can go for a wander and it won’t be long before you discover a cool spot for a cheap evening cocktail. Mojitos are the drink of choice and you’ll find special deals on them in various bars and hostels around town. There is a real party vibe in some of the hostels, with Big Foot Hostel leading the way with parties and random drinking games. Free mojitos all night for the winner!

Out of Town

There’s plenty to see and do outside of town. Hop on a bus and you’ll be into beautiful Nicaraguan countryside in no time at all, and the pace of life takes a sudden drop from the hustle and bustle of central Leon’s markets. The Pacific Ocean is only 20-30 minutes away on the bus where you will find almost deserted long beaches. It can be fairly chilly thanks to the high winds that make for some huge waves and great surfing but often somewhat dangerous swimming conditions.

Some of the hostels also organise trekking trips to the nearby volcanoes, where you can even try your hand at volcano-boarding! You can also volunteer for several months as a hiking guide for an organisation which raises money for local street kids.

 


This article was published in December 2011.


Backpacking Destination: Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Lazy Days at Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

Guatemala is a pretty cool place to travel in and it doesn’t get much better than spending at least a few days on the banks of Lago Atitlan. The giant lake is not the only attraction as volcanoes, dodgy boats, funky little towns, chicken buses, colourful locals, spanish schools, cheap bars and very basic accomodation help make this a great place to hang around while travelling through Latin America.

PANA ROCKS!

PanajachelThe lake is a vast at 130 km² and is surrounded by stunning mountains as well as three volcanoes. There are many small towns and villages on the banks of the lake, and boats make the bumpy crossing many times a day between the main towns. When heading to Lago Atitlan you’ll most likely arrive in Panajachel (Pana for short). It is a good base with basic rooms for under $5 a night and some lively bars and nightly live music at Pana Rock! The main street. Calle Santander (right) has all you would expect from a popular backpacking town including internet cafes, laundry services, cheap restaurants and street food. From Pana you can catch boats to all the main towns including San Pedro, San Marcos, Santa Cruz and Santiago (fares range from Q10 to Q25….$1=8 Quetzals). All the towns have their own unique qualities and are worth a visit if not neccesarily a nights stay. San Pedro is similar to Pana just with less stray dogs and a bit more of a stoner hippy vibe to the place. There’s some good nightlife and nightly live music and movies plus some real dirt cheap places to stay so it’s worth stopping here a night or two once you’ve had enough of Pana.

LIFE ON THE LAKE

Lake Atitlan boatsThere’s plenty stuff to keep you occupied during the day here including hiking up the San Pedro or Atitlan Volcanoes. You can swim in the lake or rent a kayak from many places in San Pedro. Scuba diving is another option, Pana or Santa Cruz are your best bets for this. Guatemala is a popular place to learn Spanish and there’s many language schools offering cheap and intensive 1:1 tuition. There’s a load of volunteering opportunities here including helping local disabled children and ecological projects but it’s best to ask at your hostel or a language school for more info. Or you can simply hop between the different towns on the lake and get to know the Maya people who have lived on these shores for centuries. If there’s no public boats running, there’s normally many locals who’ll take you on their boats to where you want to go (negotiate the price).

WATCH OUT FOR THE WEATHER!

A word on the weather, the lake is 1.5km above sea level and needless to say the volcanoes are even higher. So basically this is at fairly high altitude and is far from the tropical paradise you might expect from this part of the world. It gets cold and wet here so pack as if you’re going on holiday in Britain! Otherwise Lago Atitlan is fantastic place to spend a few days or even hang around here for a few weeks while you improve your Spanish.

Useful Lake Atitlan Links

Lagomap: Local Run and easily the best info on Lake Atitlan

Wikitravel
GoNomad
Info on San Pedro

 


This page was last updated in June 2013.