Meet Raphael from A Journey of Wonders
Today we are talking to Raphael from A Journey of Wonders. He’s a Mexican traveler who wants to set stereotypes straight and encourage other Mexicans to go out and see the world. He has some great photography, excellent personal and thought invoking essays and great stories to tell on his blog so be sure to check him out! Meet Raphael from A Journey of Wonders Selfie at Iguazu Falls, Brazil Please introduce yourself. A little bit of your background of you and your blog. Hi, I’m Raphael, a Mexican-born world-traveler who just recently started his blog, A Journey of Wonders, to chronicle my adventures, provide useful and practical advice to middle-class people like me to travel more and of course, to bridge the gap between the different cultures of the world in order to create a better global understanding among nations and individuals. Let’s just dive right in. Tell us a bit of your life growing up in Mexico and when was that moment when you knew you wanted to travel? To be honest, I wasn’t much of a traveler until 2012 when I left for Europe to study abroad and the travel bug grew in me. Before that, I was a very average guy who didn’t really have any interest in traveling within my own country. Whenever I saw my friends showcasing their photos of their latest trip to NYC, I never felt any jealousy or wanderlust, it was just not for me. Europe changed me for the good and now traveling is my passion and my job is to encourage more people to pursue it! Guanajuato, Mexico Travel moments: share with us some of your best/worst, favorite, etc. My favorite moment is the time I climbed the Great Wall of Chine, therefore completing my goal of visiting the 7 New Wonders of the World before turning 30. It was the epitome of two years of traveling and it sure brought me an immense sense of satisfaction. You can read all about my journey to the Wonders of the World here (http://journeywonders.com/2013/10/28/seven-new-wonders-of-the-world/ ). My worst experience is probably the time that I visited New Delhi’s Akshardham temple. Due to strict security measures, I had to leave my backpack, cellphone, passport and photo camera with the driver the hostel set up for me. I entered and everything went perfectly, however, upon exiting the temple, the driver was nowhere to be found! I panicked for what seemed like hours (although I’m sure it was only 20 minutes) before the driver came back, turns out he was hungry and left the premises to eat something before coming back to pick me up. Suffice to say, he didn’t get any tip from me and I actually reported him to the hostel. I still shudder to remember my panic upon thinking that I lost my passport and being left stranded in New Delhi of all places! Rajasthan, India I once got stopped for one hour at the Santiago airport because the border agent suspected me of being a drug dealer due to my “sketchy” itinerary plans. After convincing her for one hour with my story, she insisted for me to strip naked in order to make sure that I was not smuggling anything. Suffice to say, I managed to get her number in the end. Sadly, I never got to courage to call her after this experience! You have been to a great number of countries. What are some of your favorite places and where is a place that you know you’ll never go back (if that exists) Easter Island, no doubt about it. Clichéd as it may sound, that place surely is magical, especially because of the unique Rapa Nui culture and the fact that I visited during low season so I was the only guest at my hostel and got invited by the family for dinner every single day. Hearing their stories sure was more fascinating than the impressive Moais themselves. The place I would never go back? Though call but I’ll probably go with New Delhi. Don’t get me wrong; I totally love India, just not their capital. Chaotic, polluted and filled with con artists and other type of criminals. Just shameful. Extremely shameful. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia Tell us 3 reasons why we should visit Mexico besides the all inclusive resorts and tell us 3 places in Mexico that are slightly off radar that we should visit. Because Mexico has the highest number of Unesco World Heritage Sites in the continent! Seriously, the amount of cultural learning that one might have in Mexico is practically endless! My three most recommended places are Guanajuato, a romantic colonial town that has a museum showcasing the unique Mummies of Mexico. If you cannot afford traveling to Egypt, this is your best option! Another good option is my home town of Acapulco (http://journeywonders.com/2013/12/28/acapulco-home-sweet-home/ ), it used to be a very touristy place, much like Cancun is right now, but tourism has slowly died which is good because this city is able to maintain its pure Mexican style and today, if you visit, you’ll be surprised to see a city with amazing beaches without any kind of American influence. A true masterpiece, I must say. Tiger Kingdom, Thailand Last but not least, are the magnificent Mayan Ruins of Palenque, sure, Chichén-Itza is objectively more beautiful and touristy but Palenque is the one place where you can truly be transported to Mayan times, with its lush jungle captivating your senses on the way to the Pyramids. It is truly a breath-taking experience! Do you meet many Mexican travelers on the road? What are some of your experiences with that? Do you find yourself gravitating towards connecting with other Mexicans? In Europe and South America, I only met Mexican students who were on an exchange and took some time off to travel around the area. Sadly, the percentage of Mexican world-travelers is quite low. The reason for that is because most Mexican spend their holiday time within the country or in the United States of America, a small sizable portion of them go to Europe but they do so on organized tours so the chances of actually meeting them at hostels is null. Part of the reason I started this blog was to encourage Mexicans to travel abroad by themselves, without wasting their hard-earned money on the middleman and, in essence, travel more with less. What are some of the misconceptions people have about Mexico? Not exactly misconceptions but more like overall generalizations that are really off base. In the mind of the average tourist, Mexico is a strange mixture of bloody gang wars and all-inclusive beach resorts where nobody speaks Spanish. The truth is that those two generalizations are not the real Mexico. The real Mexico, to me, is the colonial cities, the magnificent pyramids and of course, the exquisite food and culture that one can only find here! Taj Mahal, India You have a post about dating someone from another country…have any experiences to back this up? Well, without being specific about all the candid details, let me tell you that I’ve either dated or “dated” (if you know what I mean!) women from all continents now except for Oceania (and Antarctica, of course). And no, I swear I don’t go chasing after those encounters, they just happen in the most natural way! Promise! Lastly, tell us your plans for 2014 I’m moving to Cancun this march for work-related reasons and I hope to save some money in order to visit Central America during the summer and go to New Zealand at the end of the year on a work holiday visa. I literally cannot wait to see what the future has in store for me! Blog: http://journeywonders.com/ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JourneyWonders Twitter: https://twitter.com/journeywonders
5 Reasons Why We Loved Visiting Playa Jaco
Playa Jaco was the first beach town in Costa Rica to really explode in terms of growth and development and has given many opportunities to the town. However, as always with an increase in popularity with tourists you get some bad along with the good. Maybe you’ve heard not so good rumblings before but it’s always more great things than bad. There are many aspects about Jaco that will make you fall in love with it, beyond what is on the surface. We spent a week in Jaco as my first time there and Yeison’s first time in over 5 years. It has changed considerably since his last visit and he barely recognized half of the town. I was the fresh pair of eyes to observe and experience Jaco without any previous bias and despite what the rumors may say, Jaco is still a marvelous beach town in Costa Rica. Why We loved visiting Playa Jaco 1. Variety of Food One thing Playas del Coco lacks is variety of food and competition. As you walk through Jaco, you’ll see restaurants for all types of food: Italian, sushi, Mexican, Mediterranean. High quality international cuisine. The amount of businesses keep prices moderate and wallet friendly. We went to several sodas where you can get a casado and drink for around 2400 colones (~$5 dollars). 2. Scenery and Weather The nearby Rio Tarcoles keeps the jungles and hills surrounding Playa Jaco nice and green, even throughout dry season. Everything looks like a desert in Guanacaste since it’s incredibly hot and dry without water for many months of the year. Green is just so much prettier to look at than yellow! 3. Bird Watching It was common to see sightings of beautiful and colorful birds such as toucans and macaws around Jaco. You can hear the macaw lovebirds (they mate for life) and catch glimpses of the pairs flying from tree to tree. I love that it was normal to see them which is unusual for me! I’m used to seeing just howler monkeys around Guanacaste. Even though I’m not a huge bird lover, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by these gorgeous creatures. 4. Diversity of Activities Playa Jaco itself is not the prime place for nature and wildlife lovers but you need to go outside town just a couple kilometers to be in a jungle paradise. For outdoor lovers, there are a plethora of activities to enjoy such as hiking, kayaking, SUP, waterfalls, surfing, and more. If you’re interested in the outdoors but don’t want to get down and dirty, you can take ATV tours, boat cruises, ziplining, go horseback riding, sailing and much more. You can find activities for the mountains, ocean, jungle and river! 5. Infrastructure I have to admit, I was blown away by Jaco’s infrastructure. There are some very nice and modern buildings, high rise towers, and the street is in great condition. They even had parking lines! It’s hard to believe Jaco is a beach town in Costa Rica if you’ve seen what the other beach towns are like but it’s a refreshing change. Potholes? What are potholes? If you like this article you can like us on FB by clicking below Have you visited Jaco? What did you love or not love about it? Share in the comments below!
Hotel La Mariposa – A Gorgeous Hotel with the Best View of Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is in the top three most visited national parks in Costa Rica with many reasons why. The beaches are spectacular, the wildlife is astounding and it’s in relatively close proximity to San Jose airport. We booked a last minute trip to Manuel Antonio a few weeks ago with a couple of friends to explore this part of the country I’d never been to. The town of Quepos is located at the bottom of a hill and as you go up higher and higher towards the national park, you’ll see tons of hotels and businesses. Many of these hotels are of high quality with a rating of four or five stars but one in particular stands out among the rest. Hotel La Mariposa Hotel La Mariposa has the best view of Manuel Antonio National Park among all the hotels. Existing since the 1970′s, this hotel was built in the prime location on the hill for a full view of all of the surrounding areas: the national park, Punta Catedral and the ocean. View from the restaurant With tropical gardens delicately placed all around the hotel property, it is landscaped so it’s almost like there is a jungle in the hotel, not a hotel in the jungle. The hotel has a Spanish-Mediterranean design which is fitting for one that overlooks the Pacific ocean. As you walk up to reception, you might see toucans in the trees, lizards lounging on the branches and butterflies dancing around. It’s the perfect combination of nature and extravagance that gives visitors an unique experience for those who have come to Manuel Antonio to enjoy nature’s best without compromising luxury and comfort. The Restaurant We were greeted at reception by a lovely fellow and were served tropical fruit drinks. What a nice way to refresh ourselves after a long 5 and a half hour drive from Coco! As soon as you walk in, you can feel the breeze and begin to relax. The restaurant entrance is right behind the reception where it is overlooking the national park and ocean. It is partially covered and open with seating all around so you can enjoy the beautiful view in the morning while having breakfast or watch the sunset to the west, overlooking the pool. I wouldn’t mind having breakfast here every day! We ate at the restaurant for lunch and dinner and both days for breakfast. Their food is delicious, especially their dinner menu. One particular dish we all fell in love with was the tuna burger as it was meaty, juicy and cooked to perfection. That was our golden find at the hotel’s restaurant. not a bad view for breakfast Other dishes we loved were the stuffed avocado, calamari, the dessert (coconut flan and this chocolate brownie cake). I wish I took a picture of my stuffed avocado! It was filled with shrimp and chopped onions and peppers, one of the best I’ve ever eaten before. Breakfast is a buffet with yogurt, fruit, juice, cereal, toast, typical Costa Rican food such as gallo pinto and plantains, bacon, and sausage and there is an egg station if you want eggs or an omelet. One day they had pancakes and they serve different dishes every morning. Have I mentioned that we looove breakfast buffets? It’s one of the things we loved and miss the most about the hotel! It’s not terrible but service at the restaurant was a bit slow. We waited awhile for them to take our lunch order and we had to ask for the coffee ourselves in the morning. The great food definitely made up for it however! The Rooms Yeison and I went with our friends, a couple who were celebrating their 53rd wedding anniversary so we wanted to get them a special room. We stayed at one of the premier ocean view rooms and they stayed at one of the standard rooms. Funnily enough, they actually wanted the standard room after they saw it had a tub and a bigger deck with a hammock and we were happy to switch. It’s their 53rd wedding anniversary for goodness sake, we wanted them to enjoy it! standard room Although they didn’t consider this one a premier room, we loved the rustic feel of it. They still had a great view of the ocean, the tub was positioned right by the window so you have a serene environment to enjoy your bath and it was bigger than our premiere room. Deck with a hammock, lounge chairs and a great view The premier room had a more modern feel, with a large plasma TV, modern furniture and decorations throughout. The room was a bit smaller with no tub but you still got a full view of the ocean. The bed is very comfortable and you wake up to the sun shining, a great way to start another wonderful day. One thing that struck us as interesting was that there was no actual door to separate the bedroom from the bathroom. In our room, there was this big blind that you pulled down for privacy. In the standard room, there is a door to the bathroom but there is no back wall behind the tub so it is completely open. If you didn’t close the blinds, you would be exposed to the whole world (but people can’t really look in). The Pool The pool is amazing. I don’t know how else to describe it. My first experience with an infinity pool was when I moved to Coco and Yeison and I worked at a hotel that had one, but it was the smallest pool in the history of pools so it didn’t account for much. Then our next apartment complex had an infinity pool on top of a hill and I got a better feel for the reason why people love infinity pools. Yep it is amazing! This infinity pool is just beautiful. It stretched out over the whole pool area and looked over the edge of the jungle, facing towards the west so you get a complete view of the sunset every day. sunset by the pool The first day we spent the whole late afternoon in the pool, searching for squirrel monkeys in the trees, watching the sun go down and then enjoying the hot tub as the night fell. It’s where most of the guests also go so you can chat with other people and get the low down on the area. We heard one girl talking about the stuffed avocado which we tried the next day and fell in love with. There is also an infinity pool on the floor above at the swim up bar which is smaller but still very nice. You can walk down from the pool area to the standard rooms and there is also another grassy area with chairs to sit and enjoy the view of the national park. Yep, we had a marvelous time Three days were not enough to spend at Hotel La Mariposa. I could rave on and on about how beautiful the property and the hotel are. They’re planning on doing some renovations to a few of the rooms but there is no denying that their stunning view is one you won’t find anywhere else in Manuel Antonio. You can’t chalk all the compliments up to just the view though. For the perfect combination of luxury and nature, Hotel La Mariposa offers all that and much more. It’s internationally recognized and even in the book 1000 Places to see before you die. The rooms are very comfortable and spacious, the manager and front desk reception are incredibly helpful, the food is delicious, and the entire ambiance of the hotel is one that makes you feel one with nature (while having a drink at the bar ) Our Gringo mama :) If you like this article you can like us on FB by clicking below For more information about Hotel La Mariposa, check out their website and Facebook. Manuel Antonio has tons of hotels but this one has the best view and we had an absolutely fabulous time here! Our video
Peten: The Heart of Mayan Guatemala
This is a guest post by David from Davidsbeenhere. Check out his site for tons of travel information, guidebooks, and travel gear! He’s been traveling since 2007 and knows a few tips and tricks up his sleeve. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Here is his guest post about a few places to see in Guatemala. Petén: The Heart of Mayan Guatemala Petén covers one third of Guatemala’s total land mass, though by comparison a relatively small portion of this is actually inhabited. Nestled between Mexico and Belize, it is home to some of Guatemala’s most intriguing and mysterious geography. Hundreds of ruins are hidden away in the jungle, yet to be excavated. Additionally, the area’s diverse wildlife has begun to draw increasing numbers of tourists. In 1990, much of the north of the Petén was declared a Reserva de la Biósfera Maya (Maya Biosphere Reserve), becoming the largest protected tropical forest area in Central America. Inside the boundaries of the biosphere are the Parque Nacional Tikal, Parque Nacional Mirador-Río Azul and Parque Nacional Laguna del Tigre. Below are our suggestions for those who want to experience the true heart of Petén. El Remate El Remate is a sleepy pueblo located on the side of Lago de Petén Itzá, or Petén Lake. Though there are no sandy beaches, the swimming in El Remate is particular great because of the clear, clean waters of the lake. There are a number of hiking and horseback riding opportunities as well. When you aren’t relaxing by the lakeshore or enjoying local street treats, wander the wood carving shops where you can buy locally made goods from the skilled artisans themselves. El Remate offers plenty of accommodation options, and is a great place to be based if you’re looking to avoid the crowded hotels of Flores. Restaurant recommendation in El Remate: Though most visitors dine at the locak hotels, there is La Estancia Cafeteria (1¼ mi (2 km) south of El Remate, El Remate). Flores Flores is the capital of the Petén department and a great home base for exploring the nearby ruins. Additionally, it is the perfect starting point for a boat tour of Petén Lake. Boat tours will run you about $30. Local boatmen wait behind Hotel Santana and at the public boat dock to San Miguel. This island town was once the ancient city of Tayasal. Even if you aren’t planning on boating, it is still worth the detour to lose yourself for a couple of hours amidst the narrow cobblestone streets and old houses. If the nearby ruins are your main objective, there are fortunately a number of agencies in Flores. Restaurant recommendations in Flores: Café Arqueologico Yaxha (Av. 15 de Septiembre, Flores), La Luna (Calle 30 de Junio, corner Calle 10 de Noviembre Flores), Pizzeria Picasso (Calle 15 de Septiembre at Calle Centroamérica, Flores). Tikal National Park Visitors need to allot an entire day (about 4 hours) for the exploration of Tikal. It is hands down the most popular archeological site in Guatemala. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins are oriented around five impressive temples and pyramids. Though thousands of buildings have been uncovered, this is only but a portion of what was once one of the greatest Mayan cities of all time. The entire site is framed by the Parque Nacional Tikal, which is home to a diverse population of exotic animals such as various species of monkeys and exotic birds. If you bunk at one of the park’s lodges, you are free to visit the park outside of normal business hours, early in the morning beginning at 4 a.m. or after closing until 8 p.m. (Daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. / Q150). Tips: there are no snack vendors in the park, so you may want to ask your hotel to prepare a packed lunch for you if you don’t want to head back to the parking lot to eat. Bring lots of water, a hat, and sunscreen. Yaxhá Situated in the Yaxhá-Nakum-Naranjo National Park, the ruins of Yaxhá are a less crowed alternative to the ruins of Tikal, and a less expensive alternative to El Miradar. It is quite possible to spend an entire day exploring the ruins. Highlights include a ball court, multiple temples, and several hand-carved stele. The ruins are situated scenically above the dark waters of Lake Yaxhá. Head to temple 216 for the best views. (Daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. / Q80). Tip: there are multiple sites within this national park, with Yaxhá being the most popular day trip. Whether you plan to visit one or many of the sites, we suggest doing it with a tour company. El Mirador El Mirador, or The Lookout, is both the most impressive and the most isolated of Guatemala’s uncovered archeological sites. Tucked away in the jungle, there are only two ways to get there: a five-day hike or a helicopter ride, which is why the site only sees a handful on non-archaeologist visitors each year. The history of El Mirador remains enigmatic, and in recent years satellite images revealed that the area is significantly larger than previously believed. Archeologists have speculated that Mayans believed it to be the birthplace of the gods, or Ox Te Tun. The civilization abruptly and catastrophically collapsed around 150 A.D. for reasons that can only been speculated. Uaxactun Located just 12 miles from Tikal, Uaxactun is a village located along an unpaved road in the Petén Basin. Historically, this Mayan ancient city was at odds with Tikal. It eventually fell to Tikal and became a combined power that ruled over the Petén Basin for nearly 200 years. Uaxactun was well known for its elaborate astronomical observatory, which is located among the ruins in Group E. Other highlights include the well-preserved temples and the ball court. Tips: if driving yourself, be sure to rent a 4×4 vehicle to get there, as the roads are not meant for standard vehicles. Driving from Tikal to Uaxactun will takes about 1.5 hours due to the challenging road conditions. Please note that Uaxactun is run by the local community and therefore has basic facilities; so bring your own water and a packed lunch. A local guide can be contracted at the site. Entrance is Q25, cash only. The lowland jungles of Petén hold many ancient Mayan treasures, many of which have been painstakingly excavated for us to marvel at and enjoy. The best time to visit Petén is during the dry season (November to early May), when the paths are easy to walk and the humidity is less oppressive. There are also fewer mosquitoes at this time. Bio David Hoffmann is the founder of Davidsbeenhere.com, a travel website dedicated to promoting slow travel and helping others travel independently. David has traveled to 56 countries and has published more than 50 guidebooks on Amazon.com Kindle Store. He and his wife Ana use their experiences to help others plan their trips and organize private tours. For more on Guatemala, check out David’s 2013-2014 Guatemala guidebook for Kindle. Connect with David on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Playa Esterillos Oeste – A Surfing Beach with No Crowds
Nearly every popular surfing beach you go to in Costa Rica is full of people. At Playa Tamarindo, you need to watch out if you’re a swimmer for oncoming boards, at Jaco and Hermosa the waves are sometimes even too big to swim in and during peak season, Playa Grande is full of surfers, swimmers and sometimes even turtles! When we visited Playa Esterillos Oeste for a couple days, it didn’t take me long to fall in love with this beach. It may not have the Caribbean feel or look like the typical tropical paradise, but it was the atmosphere of the beach that I loved. Playa Esterillos Oeste You could see the local kids surfing until the sun goes down, visitors laying on chairs on the beach, having a beer, people huddling around bonfires and music playing. If you walk around the corner, you’ll even notice that Ariel resides at this beach! There is a Playa Esterillos Este that is actually just the other side of the same long beach but are separated by names. Our hotel, Hotel la Dolce Vita was located right on the beach and next to a couple campsites so there were scatterings of people here and there. If you keep walking either direction on the beach, you might find yourself walking alone without seeing another person for awhile. You can enjoy the dark sand and inviting warm waters all to yourself or have a private moment with your significant other as you watch the sunset or just enjoy the beautiful view. Playa Esterillos Oeste Location You can get to Playa Esterillos Oeste by taking the Costanera Sur, south from Playa Jaco. View Larger Map Accommodations and Food You won’t see any all inclusive resorts here or even chain hotels. Esterillos town is very small, as in the typical small Costa Rican town with one or two small pulperias, a couple sodas and restaurants. There are a few campsites if you’re looking to rough it out in the wilderness (although we saw one family hook up 3 TVs next to their tent) and you can find random places to stay here and there. Prices are moderate as none of these places are offering luxury accommodations but rather comfortable and modest places since majority of visitors are there to enjoy the beach. Surprisingly, there are a couple nicer restaurants in Estilleros town, with a new pizza place opening up and a seafood/Caribbean restaurant. Playa Esterillos Oeste Town Tired of crowds at Jaco and just want a bit of peace and quiet in a small Costa Rican beach town? Playa Esterillos Oeste offers all of the same great waves for surfers with some of the cleanest breaks. With friendly locals, a peaceful and laid back atmosphere, it’s a little piece of paradise that you can keep all to yourself. If you like this article you can like us on FB by clicking below This post is part of Travel Photo Mondays and Sunday Traveler.