Underestimated San José

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After traveling Central America’s countryside and little towns, San José was a very welcome break from it all and the perfect city to end my Central American trip. I stayed 2 days in the city and it was enough to see the main things. Like the National museum with the history of Costa Rica and its butterfly garden.
The teatro nacional of Costa Rica of which its red roof apparently has its origin in Belgium. This Classical Renaissance building has a lobby out of marble with some statues that features artworks by European artists. There is an auditorium where performances are regularly being held.

Teotro Nacional the starting point of the free walking tours in San José

Museo nacional

Butterfly garden

Butterfly eating fruit at the butterfly garden in the museo nacional

The metallic school building Escuela Buenaventura Corrales which also was shipped from Belgium in the late 18 hundreds and put together. The metal plates all have  numbers and letters on them and are put together like a puzzle.

Metallic school

another picture of the metallic school building seen from a nearby park

The reason why I know this is because I did a free walking tour that started at 9 am at the teatro nacional. The guide was a little bit late and apologized for it, instead of a 2 hour tour, it was a 4 hour one which is long but we had several breaks and I really had the feeling I saw everything I needed to see to appreciated this underestimated city.
I guess the guide wanted to make up for the fact he was late, cause normally it’s not that long. It’s the longest free walking tour I have ever done but it was worth it.
There are 2 walking tours and I suggest you go with the guys in the yellow t-shirts as they have a better walking tour then those in the white t-shirts, I know I did both tours.
I read somewhere on the internet on someone elses blog that it’s a boring dangerous city, that’s the biggest bullshit I ever heard. Sorry for my language but San José is a safe city and it’s far from boring, they have some good bars and club where you can go out at night, but make sure you bring your ID with you or you won’t get in. They are pretty strict on that.

Back to the walking tour

What else did I see ? Statues of former politicians and presidents but also the one of the poor farmers in front of the national bank, some nice public parks, one of them is the national park with the national monument representing the war against the United States of filibuster William Walker in 1856. The Central market where some local food specialities, souvenirs and handicrafts are sold and the big white metropolitan Cathedral in the heart of the city.

statue of the poor farmers

The National Monument

national monument (picture I took on the second day when the sun was out)

Metropolitan Cathedral

Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral

Plaza de la libertad

Temple of music in Morazan park

In San José to my surprise I found a monument of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta (SMOM) it’s near the Morazan park with its temple of music and Angel wings statue.

little monument of SMOM

After the tour ended I headed to the Grand Hotel Costa Rica which is just in front of the national teatre where I started the city tour. It’s a very nice hotel with a big lobby area and great view over the national teatre and the nearby shops.

Grand Hotel lobby

Gran Hotel sitting area

View over the plaza with the teatro nacional

 

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Monteverde Costa Rica

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The last country on my Central America trip was Costa Rica and the place I visited was Monteverde. In the green mountain valleys of Costa Rica lays the town of Monteverde, very known for its ecotourism. You can do a walk in the cloud forest reserve during the day with a guide who will give you information about the fauna and flora in the forest.  Take a good rain jacket or poncho with you cause more likely you will get wet during the day. Afterall it’s a rainforest and yes I was glad i took a rain jacket with me when doing this 2 hour walk in the forest.

Monteverde green valley’s of Costa Rica

 

Entering the town of Monteverde

Cloud forest of Monteverde

here I am with my rain jacket on in the rainforest

You can also do a nighttour which gives you more chance to see animals than during the daytime. I did both but during the nighttour I saw more wildlife : various insects, a scorpion, frogs, tarantula and the Costa Rican sloth hanging high up in the tree. There was a snake on a branch, some birds in the distance and hard to make any decent picture with my huawei P8 in the dark as most smartphones once you zoom in, all get blurry.

the red eye frog

Tarantula in the hole

Scorpion

sloth sleeping high up in the tree

 

 

There is a hummingbird garden with different species of these little birds flying all over the place and feeding themselves to the sweet sugar-water stored in these plastic flower shaped bowls. If you put your finger against the plastic feeder, the hummingbird comes to sit on your finger it worked for me twice, really a fun experience. The zooming sound that these little birds make is like a similar to a small engine.

green hummingbirds

I am putting my finger against the little plastic flower where the birds put their beak in to feed themselves and wait for one of the birds to come sit on my finger

The blue hummingbird

hummingbird feeder

In Monteverde as in many other places in Costa Rica you can do adventurous activities like ziplining for example. I didn’t do it cause I had a ziplining experience in Zambia at the Victoria Bridge last may. Anyway you can do this in the rainforest which is a different setting then at the Victoria Falls but maybe for me it was to early go ziplining again.

 

Did you know El Salvadors St Ana Volcano ?

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Central America the home to hundreds of Volcano’s. When staying in Ataco I had to chance to do a Volcano activity, it’s about 60km away and the biggest one in the country. It’s situated in the Cerro Verde National Park and it was about a 1,5 hour hike when I reached the top. This volcano is an active volcano which makes the hike even more exciting. In the centre of the volcano there is a turquoise toxic lake, you can smell the sulphur. It’s a great feeling to stand on top and look down at the crater, it’s perfect for some great photo opportunities, also the area around is stunning for its views. Lake Coatepeque in the distance with some towns around and a smaller volcano on the opposite side. El Salvador has a natural treasure here and for me it was THE highlight of my Central American trip. I am serious about this El Salvador surprised me positively.
I was hiking not by myself but with a group and we were escorted by a policeman, because in the past tourists used to get robbed by hiking the volcano themselves.
It is much safer now and I never felt unsafe in El Salvador during my entire trip.

Cerro Verde National Park ticket office

food and drink stands

police escort

First view of the crater

on top of the world (my feeling at that moment)

Sulphur Lake in the crater

the different layers of the stones

View on Lake Coatepeque

View of the smaller volcano

 

 

 

Do you know Ataco ?

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Ataco

Ataco is a town in El Salvador that became very popular for tourists visiting El Salvador because of a great initiative by the government who sponsored it. The people of Ataco, not all of them off course but many started to paint the murals of their houses, the city changed quickly into the street art city of El Salvador. No graffiti but paint.

Ataco what you got ?

school

famous people (to name a few : Chavez,Castro,Mandela,Gandhi,Martin Luther King)

Man painting his house

I really liked walking around this town in search for great mural paintings. Can’t remember how many little streets I’ve done but I got enough pictures of some great Ataco art. There is also an art gallery in Ataco where you can paint yourself and one of the artists will teach you how, before you know it, you will have your own self-made painting and nobody will ever believe you made it cause the result is like if some local artist would have painted it.

art gallery where you can paint your own painting

Inside the art gallery shop

What else is there to do in Ataco, well Ataco itself is a small town good to spend a day , maybe two if you want to relax and take it slow.
There are craft stores, galleries, bars, restaurants, a market, more than one church and a nice park where you can chill.

touristic street with galleries and shops

Painting of the town Ataco

Church Conception de Ataco

Ave Maria Church

Ave Maria

 

 

 

 

 

Suchitoto’s Cornfestival

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Suchitoto my first stop in el Salvador. Suchitoto itself is a small little town looks like Antigua just smaller. After doing a little walking tour around town, I got to this amazing viewpoint over Lake Suchitlan with the mountains in the back it looked like the beginning of the jungle.

view over Lake Suchitlan

I would stay here for 2 days at the Posada Alta Vista and from the rooftop you could see the building that stands out the most in this town, the white church of Santa Lucia. I spend the weekend here saturday and sunday.

rooftop of Posada Alta Vista

Church of Santa Lucia

Sunday the church was packed with people, It was a special day and there was a special mass, much had to do with the corn festival, which is a very important food in El Salvador. The central square was full of food stands with off course drinks made of corn and variety of food made of corn. They sold t-shirt about the corn festival, all this to celebrate the beginning of the harvest of corn. Every year in August this festival takes place in Suchitoto. I didn’t attend the whole festival since in the afternoon I relaxed at a swimming pool at some restaurant not far from the hotel and it was more than welcome after some days of intense travel.

guys with corn festival t-shirts

food stands, serving corn drinks

souvenir stands

church with people standing till the door outside

police on horses patrolling the streets

relaxing at the pool

Santa Lucia church by night

 

 

 

Copan Ruinas

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The next country on my Central American journey would be Honduras. The most dangerous of all the countries is what you hear sometimes.

Honduras football flag in some restaurant in the town of Copan

The border crossing between Guatemala and Honduras went pretty fast, just had to fill in a few forms , give my fingerprints and then got stamped in. Before I forget I did need to pay a fee to enter the country, some kind of tax and you need to pay in local currency which in Honduras is the lempira. So i changed some of my dollars into lempiras. It was only 60 lempiras which is 2,5 Usd.

Street Art of the Copan Ruinas site in Copan

The Town of Copan Ruinas is very small, a peaceful place were tuk tuks were driving around town just like in San Pedro Guatemala. The main plaza with its church and a small archeological museum are the only places you can visit, next to the bars and restaurants.

small streets of Copan Town with tuk tuk driving down hill

The Church of Copan

The Central Plaza

The archeological Maya museum with the Honduras flag on top

The Copan Ruinas are not that big but worth a visit, I already saw bigger Mayan sites in Mexico like Chichen Itza and Uxmal but maybe it’s not right to compare since every Mayan site is nice in it’s own way.

Map of the site at the park entry

Parrot greeting me at the Mayan site

The First and last Maya Emperor

The way they build all this so many decades ago its amazing to see.
I always like to walk around more in these kind of places then in museums.
The thing I liked about these Ruinas as that it’s not full of tourists, even in town there were not so many tourists. Maybe it’s the reputation Honduras has in the outside world, I don’t know but this place deserves more tourists. You have the Ruinas which are surrounded by the green of the jungle for yourself, so great to make pictures without too much other people in the background.

The ball court with the main Pyramid covered by a sail

The amphitheatre

me at the amphitheatre

the pyramid stairs of the main pyramid that was covered by a big sail with the statue of the Maya emperor

 

Daytrip from Antigua to Lake Atitlan

While I only had a short stay in Guatemala’s city of Antigua which is a touristic place I wanted to do a trip not so far away. The capital Guatemala city didn’t really interest me that much, however Lake Atitlan with its tiny towns around the lake and its surrounding volcano’s was worth a visit.
A shuttle picked me up at Adra Hostel and took me to Panajachel which is the most important town at Lake Atitlan cause it’s from here you can take boats to the other towns around Lake Atitlan, also here you can get the better deals to do activities around the Lake cause there are many little tour agencies and besides that a lot of shops where you can buy cheap food and any other stuff you might need on your trips and tours.
I have been to many Lakes already in my life, I don’t get easily impressed. I’ve been at Lake Ritsa in Abkhazia, Iskanderkul in Tajikistan, Lake Powell in the US and for me the Lake of the Lakes, Lake Titicaca. Lake Atitlan is not going to top Lake Titicaca for me but I can understand why some flip-flop backpackers like to stay in one of these villages for several days, weeks and those who have a lot of time on their hands months.
I would not want to stay there longer than a day in each village just because I do think they all look pretty much the same. They are nice each in their own way, but all of them have coffee shops, bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, tour agencies. The difference between them is that some of the towns have nicer streets with nicer colors. The Lake itself and the volcanos that’s what makes it so nice. The nature that should be the reason to see Lake Atitlan. The small Villages of San Marcos, San Juan and San Pedro (referred as the party town) and Santiago was a nice bonus.
It’s also something different to go from one village to another by boat instead of a bus, which is the most common transportation used in Central America. I enjoyed my day trip and I understand the people who want to spend more days at the Lake and take their time to hang around in each village but also those who go there on a daytrip (me for example) and make a quick stop in a few villages on the lake just to walk around a bit to see what it’s like, experience the vibe and call it a day.
If you would like to hike the Volcano or do water activities your best option would be to stay a few days in the hostels or hotels at one of these towns around the Lake.
After I visited the towns that I mentioned above, the boat dropped me off from where I started in Panajachel from there a minibus picked me up at the agency of Adrenalina tours (the touragency I booked my tour with) in the calle Santander which is the main street in Panajachel with all the shops, restaurants, bars etc,…

Panajachel

Lake Atitlan

 

San Marcos

Arriving in San Marcos at Lake Atitlan the first village

Church in San Marcos

small streets of San Marcos

The local people

streets in San Marcos

fresh fish from the Lake

 

San Juan

San Juan 2nd Village

steep streets of San Juan

One of the Many Art Galleries in San Juan

 

San Pedro

3rd Village San Pedro

The most bussy town at Lake Atitlan

St. Peter in San Pedro

Church of San Pedro

Street Art

Coffeehouse of Guatemalan Coffee

 

Santiago

Spanish Plaza in Santiago with Spanish flags in the back

Church Spanish Plaza in Santiago

Antigua

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Antigua the city surrounded by volcano’s was my starting point of my Central American journey. It’s my first time in Central America and I was supposed to visit 5 countries, because of the violent situation going on in Nicaragua, I had to be satisfied with visiting only 4 of them. Nicaragua got cancelled for obvious reasons. Continue reading