Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Our favorites so far

This is Mike and Elise...
We are receiving requests on what was the best thing we did was so far. Elise and I have been discussing this and cannot come up with a single best thing. It is just too difficult to pick one thing from our trip let alone one thing from each country. Here is a breakdown of our highlights of each country in order from Mexico to Panama:

San Miguel de Allende
San Miguel de Allende
Lake Bacalar
Lake Bacalar
Yal-Ku part of Akumal Bay
Akumal Bay
 San Miguel de Allende is a gem in the hills of Central Mexico, which attracts throngs of North American snowbirds every winter and for good reason. The climate, vistas and historic buildings of the area simply invite one's curiosity to want more. Lake Bacalar (Lake of 7 colors) is also a nice spot and every bit as beautiful as the Caribbean but with fresh water. Finally, Elise's favorite place along Riviera Maya was Akumal Bay, for wonderful views and easy lounging.
Mexico's Achilles heel, is corruption which has penetrated all aspects of their society. Though nothing bad happened to us, we did speak with other people who experienced major headaches traveling here. Even with these issues Mexico still attracts millions of tourist each year which gives you, the visitor, the overall sense of being little more than a number on a conveyer-belt rather than a valued traveler.

Swimming in the jungle on the Mopan River
Kayaking in Barton Creek caves
Making Chocolate the old fashioned way
Visiting the Cayes
A wild Manatee about to submerge
Belize is a small enough country that one could easily see the highlights of this country in a couple weeks. For us, the best spots were filled with nature and wild spaces which always humbled us. We enjoyed swimming in the Mopan river with all of her unknowns and creepy hollows. Barton Creek caves was also a fun family adventure, paddling a kayak into a Mayan burial cave. The girls enjoyed making chocolate, like the ancients, in San Ignacio which also happened to be a great way to learn history as well. All of us really liked the Cayes, sometimes getting there left a lot to be desired but in the end it was usually worth the journey. Seeing rare animals such as the Manatee in their natural habitat is such a nice experience and teaches us all how to be better stewards of our planet. 

Guatemala :
Standing above the acropolis at Tikal
Elise sitting atop temple 4, well above the forest below
El Valle (the valley) on Rio Dulce
A sailor's haven in el Valle
One of the many outdoor markets in Antigua
View of Antigua below
 Guatemala has a lot of potential in theory but falls short in practice. Their slash and burn of the jungle along with zero building standards or zoning impacts our overall view of the country. This is the primary reason we left Lake Atitlan off the list, which was otherwise a scenic spot. Tikal rises to the top of the list with unbelievable size and scope of the Mayan ruins. Tikal is without a doubt our favorite set of ruins in the Mayan world and as a bonus not so touristy like Chichen-itze, in Mexico. Rio Dulce and El Valle were such sweet surprises for us, we never knew they were there, nor how significant they were for regional sailors. El Valle can only be described as "Otherworldly" with its limestone cliffs, flocks of birds and placid waters. And finally, Antigua, the colonial princess of Guatemala is on the favorites list because of its history and its people. Antigua is truly a unique place to visit even if the air quality is sub-par and half of the ATMs are hacked.  
Very well preserved stone carvings around Copan ruins
Old man sculpture near Zoe
The ruins of Rastrojon look pristine thanks to their early demise a millennia ago
Enjoying the water at Luna Jaguar hot springs.
Honduras has two special regions, the Bay Islands and Copan ruins. We visited Roatan, in the Bay Islands, two years ago and now had the pleasure of visiting Copan on this trip. For us Copan ruins are a very close second to Tikal ruins. Copan is known for the well preserved ruins because of the drier climate. Rastrojon ruins are unique because it provides a snap shot in time. The great condition of Rastrojon occurred because a cavern collapsed pulling people, buildings, food, clothing, wood carvings etc. into an abyss. Immediately after the tragedy the Mayans buried the compound until it was discovered a thousand years later. Finally, Jaguar hot springs was such a nice experience for the whole family that it had to make the list too.
On a serious note, it is sad that so much of Honduras is off limits to tourists due to cartel violence. In fact, San Pedro Sula is the most dangerous city in the world outside of a war zone. The epicenter of most of Latin America's problems start with the cancer of corruption. Until corruption is addressed nothing will change, this is the heartbreaking fact for so many good people over there.

 El Salvador:
The most beautiful shells of the vacation were found in El Salvador
Primitive beach communities
Great waves of all sizes are all over the place down here.
El Salvador did not work out for us, but I certainly can see the appeal for solo travelers and surfers. The country is still in transition after three decades of civil war and it could take many more years to rebuild the tourist infrastructure. Recently, the longstanding truce between the government and gangs in the country collapsed. Chaos is the best word to describe what is happening in EL Salvador. This is such a sad example of paradise lost. We did enjoy the beaches and shells though, enough to include it on the list.

Main Cathedral in Granada
The Caldeza, a pedestrian zone, in Granada
An old school hearse in Granada
Playa Marselle in the San Juan del Sur area of Nicaragua.
Buying fish directly from the fisherman on the beach.
Nicaragua is still either our favorite or second favorite country depending on how we feel about Panama at the moment. Granada is such a charming colonial town with all the comforts of a big city. Elise and I both like how only 5 to 10 minutes outside of town and you felt like you were in the countryside. The beggars in Grenada are a pain in the rear, but if you can stand your ground they eventually go away. San Juan del Sur and surrounding beaches are a must see for any surfer or beach goer. This is where nature meets the sea and where humans are a sideshow. The baby flying manta rays jumping all around us were a hoot to see and swimming with the bio-luminescence in the dark unforgettable, but as it happens, there weren't any pictures, just memories. The beach lifestyle is not for everyone but certainly agrees with us.  

Costa Rica:

Our view in Paquera from Hotel Vista Las Islas
Paddling kayaks in the dark until we saw bio-luminescence all around us.
Rincon de la Vieja national park
We enjoyed the Paquera area of the southern Nicoya peninsula. The bio-luminescence in the water under our kayaks and the glowing ray that swam beneath us was awesome to witness. The millions of butterflies we encountered in the forest near Paquera were a surreal experience and perfectly punctuated our time there. Costa Rica deserves high marks for the way they maintain their wild spaces for the enjoyment of all. National parks are special places and Rincon de la Vieja is special among Costa Rican parks. For Elise and I, the higher altitude and volcanic activity of this park put it right on our list of favorites.  Even though we have been to Costa Rica several times Costa Rica still reveals her wonders each time we go.

The trees in the mountains around Boquete
Starfish beach
Panama City
The view from our master bedroom at our condo
The soft bi-colored sands of Coronado
Panama is such an amazing place and we are happy to be settling down here for a while to recharge. From the moment we noticed the divided highways in Panama we knew it was a different place from the rest of Central America. Boquete and the highlands are still in our thoughts even though it feels like a lifetime ago that we were there. Special places like Boquete are difficult to find anymore given the urban sprawl of so many places. Though we did not like Bocas del Toro as much as we thought we would, we still liked Starfish beach enough to make the list. Of course, Panama City made the favorites because the big city is hip and growing and exudes energy. Finally, there is Coronado beach, which we love because it has everything one needs for a successful vacation. It is a perfect place to ponder next steps and enjoy the moments between breathe.

There is so much that we did not put on the list but are still worthy visits. In previous sections of our blog more clarity is given to each location and are in more depth. As is often the case, it is not so much "the spot" but how we react to "the spot" that we remember. Elise and I would not change any of these experiences for anything. These experiences have helped the four of us see each other more deeply, more thoroughly, and more patiently, imperfections and all. 

No comments:

Post a Comment