Nicaragua will always hold a special place in my heart, so expect a plethora of posts about the land of Flor de Caña to be coming soon. But first, let’s talk BEACHES! In the surrounding area of San Juan Del Sur, you will find nine beaches that you can explore, surf, and enjoy being a beach bum  during your time in the south. I personally had the luxury of only visiting five of them, but each of the ones I have been to have a different personality and aspect to offer based on what you are looking for.

Playa Yankee
This beach is one of the more secluded beaches I have encountered. It is a wide stretch of land with good waves, beautiful views, and clear water. The only human encounter you will find on this beach is the small house before you enter the beach and the empty hut at the end of the beach that some of the local surf shops use for BBQ’s. This beach is usually $10 to get to usually one by using one of the town shuttles and has been the only beach where I have seen dolphins jumping in the distance!

Head to Playa Yankee and you will have the beach to yourself! Bring snacks/drinks because there is nothing there!

The tide comes up really high on the beach…here’s your evidence 🙂

❤❤ Such a beautiful and secluded beach ❤❤

Backpackers Tip: This is the best beach for camping, just watch out for sand flies!

❤ Camping at Playa Yankee with some of the crew from Hola Ola and our workaway ❤

Sunsets are just the worst in Nicaragua 😍😍

Playa Hermosa
The name says it all. This beach is so beautiful!!! If you only have time for one beach while you are in SJDS, I recommend you go to this one! It’s a $10 shuttle from any of the local surf shops and is the best location if you are looking to learn how to surf. The beach has a place to stay as well as a bar/restaurant.  The prices can range from $7-10 for food and drinks, so if you are on a budget like I am then I recommend grabbing a few $1 Tonas and some snacks from a local shop to hold you over.

Grab a table or hammock to leave your stuff and head to the waves!

There are surfboards for rent at the beach if you don’t have one!

There is a small area of rocks, so depending on the tide you have to be careful! I just love this picture.

My girl Dasha and I soaking up the rays at Playa Hermosa! We met in Granada and were inseparable for two weeks! ❤

Look at how beautiful this view is! My girl Dasha enjoying the view!

Stay for sunset! You won’t be disappointed.

Playa Maderas
This is the best beach to go to if you are really into surfing and can actually rip up the waves, or even get on your board (haha, I try!). The beach is small with a lot of rocks to the right of the beach, but the water is beautiful, the waves are great, and there is so much surfing to watch! There are two restaurants and a hostel on the beach, but they are expensive so bring your own stuff here as well! You can grab any shuttle from town for $5.

Look at all those waves back there!

Frozen drinks, salty water, and this view is all ya need!

Beautiful place!

Playa San Juan Del Sur
This is the first beach that you will see when you arrive to San Juan Del Sur, since the town sits right on it’s shores. This beach is perfect for sitting at one of the local restaurants and enjoying the sunset, or soaking up some sun during the day on the sand. Sadly, this is not the best beach to swim in as of November 2016. When I was here in November of 2015, it was a clean beach where a lot of locals and tourists alike would swim in. However, after the hurricane in November of 2016 the water became very dirty and the storm brought in a lot of trash so sometimes your ankles will feel trash floating around. Nonetheless, this is the beach of the town and is still beautiful to sit at and enjoy the sunset and sound of the waves. If anyone has or will be there after this blog has posted, please let me know if this has changed!

November 2015, when the water was more clear. What a beautiful sight at sunset!

Sunset in the background and Cristo in the distance.

This is the view of the entire beach of SJDS from the top of El Cristo.

I just love the sunsets in Nicaragua *in love*

Cristo watches over San Juan Del Sur as the sun sets

Playa Remanso
This was one of the last beaches that I visited and I regretted waiting so long to go! As soon as I stepped out of the shuttle and set my eyes on this beach, I fell in love! The view was beautiful, the beach was nearly secluded apart from a few locals, the water had just the right mixture of waves, rocks, and clarity, and there are so many areas to explore up and down the beach. Oh, and don’t forget the SUNSET! They were to die for! Sadly, in low season there are only a few shuttles that go here, but if you get a group together it’s easypeasy to head on over there for $5 each!

View of Remanso from around the bay

Nicaragua will always be one of my favorite places for sunsets!

Evening bonfires at Playa Remanso

❤ Mermaid Life for EJ ❤

Long stretch of land with just a few shops there

Have any of you been before?! Which one is your favorite?! If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?! Get your butt to Nicaragua and check out the amazing beaches of San Juan Del Sur! They are some of the most beautiful that you will see!

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Dancin Around The World has been volunteering in San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua for the past month at Hotel El Pacifico. Last year I was in Nicaragua in November, and after leaving the country I knew in my heart that I would be back again. I absolutely love being in Nicaragua. I am completely drawn to the food, the people, the culture, and the landscapes. There’s just something about this country that calls to me!

Typical day at El Pacífico 🙂

 

In order to travel and stay in one place long term, without spending a lot of money, I headed to workaway to find an opportunity.

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EJ (right) from Asheville, NC and Tabea (left) from Germany

Garfield: the unofficial mascot of the hotel

 

For those of you who do not know, workaway is a website that backpackers/travelers use to find volunteering positions around the world at hostels, hotels, farms, vineyards, etc. You can create an account here. All you have to do is sign-up, pay the fee for one year ($29 for a single person, $39 for a couple or two friends), and create a profile and description about yourself and what you offer. Once you have signed up, you can start contacting business based on countries, cities, and/or type of work. The general gist in each location is that you will be required to work a certain number of hours per day (4-6 depending on which opportunity  you get) and in return you are provided a bed, and if you are lucky food as well. Each business will list exactly what they offer and the amount of work that is required of you within the description.

When searching for an opportunity in Nicaragua, I knew I wanted to be right by the ocean and so I focused on San Juan Del Sur. Since I had already been to this city, I knew there would be ample amount of things to do, I already knew my way around, and it’s a beach town. It’s been on my bucket list for sometime now to work in a beach town, so I was super stoked when an opportunity came up! I applied for about five positions in the San Juan area by sending an e-mail about how I could help their business and what I had to offer. I received two rejections because they were already full, two did not reply at all, and one offered me a position. When I sent the e-mail to each business, I told them about all of the things that I could offer their business and why they should choose me. If you are looking for positions, I highly recommend making yourself stand out as best you can! For example, I mentioned that I had over five years of customer service, I speak fluent Spanish, and I have experience in organizing events and teaching latin dances. If you speak the language of the country you are looking for an opportunity in, it helps a ton!

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Wendy from Ghant, Belgium taking over the kitchen with her skills

 

El Pacifico Hotel is where Dancin Around The World has been volunteering for the past month. It is a hotel with twelve rooms, a pool, bar, and a view of El Cristo at all times. There are usually around six volunteers at a time and duties include checking clients in and out, making breakfast in the morning, washing dishes, chatting with clients, and tending bar. The deal with this hotel is pretty sweet because there is minimum cleaning required. In return for volunteering five hours a day for six days a week, you receive a bed and groceries to cook each week. When you’re traveling, the highest expenses are accommodation and food, so having these things covered saves so much money. More funds for cerveza and shuttles to the beaches!

EJ and I enjoying one of the local beaches on our day off!

 

My time at El Pacífico has been one of my fonder traveling moments and a place that truly started to feel like a home. The other volunteers became a little family to me as we would share our day with each other, cook and eat meals together, share rum on the beach, and enjoyed spending time together. I feel so blessed to have met so many great people, shared so many wonderful memories, and was able to be in a great town for the month of December without having to pay a ton of money! I truly am going to miss this place.

Our Christmas tree and white elephant gifts 🙂

Christmas dinner with the other volunteers

 

If you are looking for a way to travel for free than workaway is the best way to do it! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any questions on the experience or how you can do it too!

The ladies of El Pacífico 💜💜

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During our time in Nicaragua we had the great fortune to come across two great Salsa spots in two different cities. The first salsa spot that we found was a bit by chance and research. Before coming to Leon, I had done a quick google search to see if any blogs mentioned anything in the area and I came across one post that mentioned a location called La Olla Quemada; however after hoping for a legit salsa place in Antigua and being a little disappointed, I was a bit weary if this place would be worth our time.

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La Olla Quemada

We arrived in Leon on a Thursday and after we dropped our bags off at the hostel and begin walking around town in search of dinner, we saw a sign that said there was salsa every Wednesdays. Now, as we are getting used to this backpacking lifestyle, we tend to forget what day of the week it is. No joke. When you have no responsibilities and no job to make sure you attend, the days of the week tend to blend together. So, as we saw this sign we were very excited because we legit thought it was Wednesday. We made our way to the location to scope it out before we committed to it later in the night to only find out it was the night before. Whomp Whomp Whomp. We walked around a bit and ended up talking to a waiter outside of a restaurant and asked if he knew of any salsa places. He said the only place to salsa is La Olla Quemada, which happens on Thursday.

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We arrived at La Olla Quemada, paid our 50 cordobas ($1.75) entrance fee, and headed to the bar for a drink. The dance floor was already packed and the music was good, very good. We sipped our drinks (mojitos because it was so hot) and watched the dance floor. The dancers here were good, and it was easy to spot those that were salseros because they were all wearing Salsa Nicaragua shirts. We learned later that the Nicaragua Salsa Congress was happening in a few weeks (Nov 13th-17th) in Managua and they were trying to promote it. We danced a lot, sipped mojitos, and chatted with the locals. This place gets very hot because it is small and Leon in it self is hot, so be prepared! Dancers- you can bring your heels or you can decide not to. I brought them, but  did not put them on once as the floor was too packed and I saw that no one else was wearing them. If you are a female dancer and you want to dance with one of the local good dancers, you will have to suck it up and ask one of them. I found that they are used to tourists that don’t know how to dance so they did not dance with me until I asked one of them and they saw that I could actually dance (this happens a lot to us dancers though). Enjoy this place, its a gem in the hot city of Leon.

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Heating up the dance floor!

The second salsa spot that we were able to find is in Managua. We actually traveled to Managua from Leon for the sole reason of dancing at Fandango in Managua. I had heard from so many friends, locals, and guide books that this was the place to dance in Nicaragua- and they were right! We went there on a Thursday night and the entrance was free. We were lucky to actually have a large group that was with us this time, because our AirBnb host brought his gf, other renters, and his cousin to join us. When we arrived there were a good amount of people on the dance floor and a decent mix between travelers and locals. The DJ played a good mix of music with the majority being salsa with a few songs of bachata and merengue throw in as well.Salsa Managua

There were a mix of dancers at this location varying from those thatdanced soley when the DJ played salsa and a few tables that would only dance during a bachata song. I would say that there were more dancers present then there were individuals that didn’t know how to dance. Since we were there on a Thursday it was a little quieter than it would be on a Friday or Saturday. Our Air Bnb host said that it gets very packed during the weekends. Dancers- go ahead and bring your shoes to this location because there is room to dance and show off your skills! I was happy that I brought mine.

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What a great group at Fandango! Thank you to Inti, our AirBnb host!

Overall, dancing in Nicaragua was a real treat for us and the dancers were extremely nice and excited to dance with non-local dancers. If you are a dancer and traveling thru Nicaragua, you have to check out at least one of these two places; you will not be disappointed!

 

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As a traveler, the locations where you sleep are a large contribution to the experience you have in any location. When you live out of a backpack you begin to miss a place to call your own, space where you can throw your belongings, a bed to relax in after a day of walking, and room to just stretch out. Thus far we have had overall good experiences in the locations we have stayed, but that has come from a good amount of research on our part and recommendations from other travelers. If you are traveling yourself, I hope this information will help you to pick your next temporary home away from home!

Belize
Caye Caulker
AirBnB, Bay Breeze Apartments
Cost: $30 a nightIMG_0023
Review: This was the first location that we booked on our tour and therefore we booked it quite in advance and made sure that it had everything that we needed. This is located away from the main touristy areas on the island; however it was really nice being tucked away in the back of the island because it gave us a chance to see a lot of the island that we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise. This place comes fully equipped with what you need to cook at the apartment, has a rooftop area to watch the sunset, and it comes with two bikes per apartment (which we used every single day). Hilda, the owner, is the principal of the only school on the island so everyone knows who she is and where we were staying when we mentioned it. Highly recommended!

Guatemala
Flores
Los Amigos Youth Hostel
Cost: $8.50 for a single dorm bed
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Review:  We picked this hostel because it was the hostel that constantly came up when we searched for Flores (lame, i know). As it was our first hostel we were not very used to looking for the signs of a good hostel. This place was nice and was set up as a big garden with areas to hang out. The dorm rooms were decent with one fan to share with a room with 10 beds. The hostel has a restaurant, hot showers, bar area on the third floor, pool table,  and lots of available tours. If you are looking for a social scene then this would be the hostel for you. The only complaint we had about this hostel is that there were cockroaches in our room (we killed two, and by we I mean Oscar) and when we told the front desk they responded with “yeah, we know, but what can you do”. As a place of business you would like they would be more proactive when receiving a complaint. If you do end up staying here, the prices for the tours are a bit pricey and all of the tours and transportation we got we were able to find for a lower price in the area.

Semuc Champey
Utopia Eco Lodge
Cost: Dorm $8.50, Hammock $4.50

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Review: We stayed in the dorms as well as slept in the hammocks. We originally wanted to just sleep in the hammocks; however they were fully booked the first night we were there (they are pretty cheap). The dorm was clean, but a bit loud at night because everything is pretty much is open air, just like the picture. The hammocks were comfortable, as long as you had something to cover yourself with and make a pillow out of a sweater. The lodge had its own restaurant which I thought was a bit overpriced. The dinners were 50Q and Oscar and I had been used to spending 20Q for the both of us in Flores so we were a bit taken by surprise with that. If I stayed here again I would make sure to bring some snacks or make my own sandwiches ahead of time to save money. The staff was very helpful, the location was beautiful, and there were so many extra things to keep you busy (books, happy hour, games, tours, tv with DVDS and gaming). You will most likely see at least one tarantula walking around the hostel; your’e nestled in the jungle so what do you expect. 🙂

Antigua
AirBnB, Casa Del Sol
Cost: $15 a night for two people

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Review: This is one of our favorite places that we have stayed thus far. When we booked the location we did not realize how it was set up, but were very thankful for it! There are 8 different individual rooms, a shared kitchen and lounge area, and two shared bathrooms. The bedrooms consisted of a desk with a lamp, bookshelf, and depending on the room a nightstand. The location is impeccable as it is about a 5 minute walk from the center of Antigua and is in a very safe area with lots of restaurants, bars (the famous Cafe No Se is near), and shops. We originally booked this place for only two days, but after being in Antigua and at this airbnb we booked for the rest of the week and stayed for 7 days! Our favorite part of the house was how organized the kitchen was and all of the equipment that was provided. If you are able to get your hands on a night at this place, you are lucky! Enjoy!

Nicaragua
Leon
Sonati Hostel
Cost: $6 a night for a single dorm bedIMG_0838
Review: We booked Sonati as we were on the bus from Guatemala to Leon and we are so lucky that we found it. We walked into Sonati and our ears were immediately filled with Nicaraguan music being played and locals seated everywhere. The hostel was raising funds for a local community event and the event was going on for just about two hours. Sonati was a very clean hostel, friendly staff, impressive initiatives for the community, and a quiet place to actually get some rest after a day in the heat of Leon. We loved the pool in the middle of the hostel and used it quite often to cool down from being in the sun all day. If you are looking for somewhere in a good location and that is not a party hostel, this is the place for you!

Las Penitas
Sol y Mar Bed and Breakfast
Cost: $20 for one private room and bathOscar taking a moment to relax and watch the Nicaraguan waves
Review: We chose to venture away from AirBnb and the average hostel and to stay at a Bed and Breakfast that was recommended to us by a travel blog I had found searching the web. The location has a bit difficult to get to as not many locals knew where it was or had even heard of it. When we finally did find the location, we checked in to our room, and experienced for the first time the average Nicaraguan customer service. We learned later from other blogs and talking to locals that tourism is relatively new to Nicaragua so tourists will not receive the same customer service as they might in other countries they visit. The Bed and Breakfast was nice and clean and had a great location on the beach with great seats to watch the sunset and stare at the waves. We only stayed there one night as there was not a lot to do in the area and there was no WiFi, which we desperately needed in order to plan our next few weeks. There is no website so you have to go to the location in person or e-mail them here:  If you are looking for a quiet place to get away from it all, then this is the place for you.

Las Penitas
Surfing Turtle Lodge
Cost: $12 for single dorm bed in upper room

The view from the dorms.
Review: We never planned to come to this hostel, but arrived out of necessity. After our first night in Las Penitas we realized we did not have enough cash and would need to head to an ATM. We asked around and were told by multiple people that there were no ATM’s (cajeros) in Las Penitas. Leon is 20 minutes away from this town and out of pure laziness and time we decided to head to the Surfing Turtle Lodge because we read on their website that they accept Credit Cards. The journey to get there has several steps (bus, boat, donkey cart, and then walking), but in the end it is totally worth the journey. The lodge is located right on the beach and is the only thing in the area. They provide surfing lessons (although I personally think the waves are way too big to learn on), volleyball competitions every day at 4:00pm (winners get a free drink), life size jenga, ping pong, slack line, hammocks all over the lodge, and group activities every night (we played a scavenger game one night). We had an amazing time at this location relaxing in hammocks, playing games, and meeting so many great people from around the world. This place is a paradise in Nicaragua so if you get a chance, head on over there!

Managua
AirBnb: Casa De Inti
Cost: $25 a night for a private room w/ private bathroom for two people

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Review: This location is a hidden gem in the city of Managua that we were just lucky enough to find. The house is beautiful and has several different rooms with a shared kitchen. The owner of the house lives there as well and is always available to help with anything the guests need; he even joined us one night at a salsa club! The house is beautiful and is located in a very nice neighborhood with a few shops and restaurants. If you are trying to save money on food, I would recommend heading to the grocery store instead of eating at the local spots in the neighborhood because they can be quite expensive. I have only good things to say about this location and whenever we do return to Nicaragua (hopefully for our cousins’ wedding) we will be staying with Inti! Ps. The pool is AMAZING.

Granada
Oasis
Cost: $22 for private room

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Review: This hostel was recommended to us by several other backpackers that we had met during our time in Las Penitas so we headed straight there once we got into Granada. The majority of the time spent in Granada was lying in bed because we were both extremely sick with fevers so we didn’t have a chance to see a lot of the city. However, I was completely satisfied with the hostel and it was a good place to be during our time of sickness. The hostel has free breakfast in the morning (bananas, tea, coffee, and pancakes), a pool, hammocks, and a lounge area with lots of DVDs to choose from. The hostel was social if you wanted it to be and also a quiet place if you wanted it to be as well. Its location is right in the middle of the markets, near the bus station, and close to the center of the city. I would definitely recommend this place to any backpackers as it has been recommended to us by all backpackers that have gone to Granada.

San Juan Del Sur
Yajure Surf Hostel
Cost: $10 for dorm with AC

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Review: We chose this location because we were looking for something that was not a complete party hostel. The website advertises that it is on the beach; however its not as one would expect as its quite a distance from the water and is just located near the sand. The directions on the website describe a red bridge as a focal point to the find place, however about 6 months ago the bridge was destroyed but they never took the time to update their website. The hostel itself is very beautiful and has a ping pong table, TV with DVDs, a large pool, and a great hangout area. The website advertises breakfast is included, but that really translates into toast. I think could have had a better experience if we were staying with a larger group of friends; however since it was the two of us we didn’t enjoy it quite that well because it turned out to be more of a party hostel when that was not what we were looking for. Additionally, the location is pretty far from most of the in-town restaurants, stores, and bars so its about a 15 minute walk each day to get to something.

San Juan Del Sur
Mama Sara’s House
Cost: $18 for two people for one private room

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Review: We came across this location just out of pure luck while we were walking around the city. We already knew that we did not want to continue our stay at Yaujana Hostel  and that we needed something a bit more private. When
we arrived to San Juan, we did not know how long we would be staying there, but once we got comfortable at Mama Sara’s House we kept extending day after day for a total of 5 days in her home. The private room was equipped with a fan over the bed, armory to store cloths, a night stand, and shelves attached to the wall. It was so nice to be able to take things out of our backpack and put them away for the five days that we were there. The owner of Mama Sara’s (which I assume her name is Sara, but I always forgot to ask-oops) was one of the sweetest women I have ever met. She made us feel very welcome from the beginning to her location, brought us ice cold lemonade while we moved in, and each day would give us a snack or a complete lunch. The kitchen and lounge area were small, but the overall location was small so it never felt like there were too many people in one place. The patio has several chairs and provides a great location to watch the sunset and to see a bit of the ocean waves. I would highly recommend any type of traveler (backpacking or not) to stay in this location for a budget friendly time in San Juan.

Panama
Panama City
Mamallena
Cost: $12 for a single dorm bed

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Review: We booked this hostel  during our 24 hour bus ride from Nicaragua to Panama city after doing some research online. The hostel was located in a good area and it was very easy to walk around the city. The staff was very helpful and they have tons of signs up of places to visit, what to do, and where to eat. Most of the information is in Spanish, but I am sure if you asked a staff member they would be happy to help. The dorms were clean (with AC) and there were plenty of showers and bathrooms in the hostel that you didn’t have to wait a long time for one. The lounge area was pretty impressive from what we have seen at other places and consisted of an area in the front with a TV with tons of movies and a large couch. There was also a large lounge area in the back with tables and two large couches. The only thing I did not like about this place is that there were several cats in the place and it drove my allergies nuts. I spent the second night there with my eyes burning and sneezing left and right. I wish hostels would put on there website if they have animals in the hostels, but thats just a personal preference for me since I am allergic to cats.

 

Happy Travels! I hope my reviews will help other travelers to pick the right location for them.

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There are three ways to cross from Central America into South America from Panama to Colombia. The first, and fairly common, is to take a flight from Panama City to Colombia. These flights vary on prices depending on when you book and what deals you may find (usually somewhere between $150-250). The second, is to cross the Darien Gap via driving; however I haven’t come across any regular backpackers who have actually attempted the journey and/or survived doing it, as the Darien Gap is covered with the presence of the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who have been known for murders, assassinations, and kidnappings. The third, and obviously the avenue we chose, is to cross the open seas via boat and thru the San Blas islands. There are tons of companies that offer trips and very little information to help you decide which boat to choose. Thankfully, Oscar knows a bit about sailboats and was able to decipher what type of boat would be best for the both of us and honestly chose the captain because he was from Argentina  (haha).

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This was our personal cabin in the sailboat .

Day 1
4:00am: We woke up, packed our bags, and took the last legit shower that we would have for the next five days.

5:00am: We were picked up from our hostel (Mamallena) and crammed into a 4×4 Jeep with 6 other people (8 total), along with all of our bags.

5:45am: The driver stopped at a grocery store so that we could stock up on water, snacks, and alcohol for the next 5 days. Tip: If you are going on this trip, you really only drink for 2 days because the other days are spent on the high seas, so don’t go too crazy with the alcohol purchases.

8:00am: After a two hour journey thru the hilly and bumpy roads in the mountains of Panama, we enter the Kuna territory and pay the $20 tax that is required for each person. From there, the driver stopped at a hillside for a photo opportunity where we were able to see the many islands of San Blas.

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There is nothing like sitting on the roof of a sailboat in the middle of an ocean.

9:00am: We boarded a small boat with the rest of the passengers (13 total) and headed to the sailboat.

Excited for the journey to begin!!!

9:45am: The small boat arrived to the Amande sailboat. Sophie (from France) and Victor  (from Argentina), our crew for the next five days, greeted us upon arrival and helped each of us out of the small boat and onto the sailboat. Once we all were on the sailboat, crowded together with all of our luggage and the rest of the passengers, Victor and Sophie explained a few of the rules of the boats, decided where each person was going to sleep (straws were involved to decide who would be the unlucky individual to sleep outside the first few nights since the boat was over booked by one), and let everyone know that their english was limited.
The boat had six rooms in total. Two rooms at the front of the boat that held two individuals and where the two couples stayed (Oscar and I had a room in the front). There were two rooms in the middle of the boat that housed three people; one full bed and then a smaller bunk overlapping the full bed. The remaining two rooms were at the other end of the boat and each of those rooms had their private bathrooms. Sophie and Victor occupied one of those rooms, and since no one had paid the extra $100 for the private bathroom, straws were drawn once again to see who was the lucky one to stay in the room.

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Paradise

11:00am: We changed into our swimsuits (which then became our permanent clothes for the next few days) and jumped into the dingy to explore the first island of San Blas. The island was small and we easily walked the entire length of the island in under two minutes. There were a few houses on the island constructed from the palm trees on the island. The local Kuna’s were lounging in front of each of their houses and trying to sell their local jewlery and pattern work to each of us. We spent a couple of hours floating in the crystal clear blue water, discovering starfish, sand dollars, and little fishes. We couldn’t believe we were in such a beautiful paradise.

1:00pm: Victor came back to the island to pick up all of us and take us back to the sailboat for lunch. None of us knew what to expect from the meals on the boat, and I for sure was shocked by the cooking skills Sophie had in the little kitchen that the sailboat was equipped with. We were so lucky to have Sophie as our cook because each of the meals were absolutely delicious and some of the best meals we have had on our entire trip.

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Mornings on the boat

2:30pm: Oscar and I and some of the other passengers on the boat grabbed some of the snorkeling gear, jumped into the ocean waters and swam for about 12 minutes to a small island (maybe 8 feet long), which literally consisted of  a broken plastic pink chair and some driftwood from the ocean. We were told that there was a sunken boat near the tiny island, so we set out on searching for the hidden gem. We spent about two hours snorkeling in the area searching for the boat; however the water was too murky to find it. We had the pleasure of seeing the coral, numerous colorful fishes, and a ton of starfish.

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Beer time!

5:00pm: Victor picked us up from the island and took us back to the boat where we all rinsed off with a bit of fresh water and made our way to the top of the boat to relax while we waited for dinner. Dinner for the evening was lobster, which Victor had purchased from the Kuna people earlier in the day. I asked him how much the lobsters were and he said he paid $60 US for about 15 lobsters. Wow, what a deal! We watched as he cracked open each one and handed them to Sophie to prepare. This was one of the best meals we had on this trip!

8:00pm: The dishes were washed off of the back of the boat and we all grabbed a few beers  and made our way to the top of the boat once again to relax before we headed to bed.

10:00pm: SLEEP!IMG_1390

Day 2
9:00am: Oscar and I woke up quite late as we were one of the last few people to get up in the morning (oops). Breakfast consisted of toast, coffee, and small muffins. There was some fruit; however it had already been devoured by those who had the sense to get up before 9am.

9:30am: Victor started the engine and we headed to another area of the Kuna island.

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I never wanted to leave this place!

10:00am: We anchored near another group of islands. I wish I had written down the name of each one of them, but honestly they were hard to remember when you’re surrounded by so much beauty. The majority of those on the boat jumped into the ocean and swam towards one of the islands. This island was not as beautiful as the last one since there was a lot of sea grass right by the beach, which made it rather hard (and honestly just gross) to swim across. We spent the next few hours standing in the warm and clear water, taking photos, and chatting with the rest of the passengers on the boat. As I mentioned before, there was a lot of sea grass near this particular island and what we all found out later, also consisted of a bunch of jelly fish. As we swam back towards the boat, about half of us got stung (myself included).

12:30pm: Lunch consisted of chicken curry and was absolutely delicious. Curry. On a Boat. Who would have imagined?!

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All of us never wanted to leave this place

1:30pm: Victor packed us all into the dingy and took us to another island near by that houses the only bar in the area. We brought a few bucks with us and ended up purchasing a few drinks. We were surprised to find that the Kuna people have fairly high prices for Central America. One shot of rum and a coke costs $5 and two beers were $4. Other passengers on the boat were smart enough to bring their own beers. This island was beautiful and had a great view of the sailboat, the setting sun, and very picturesque locations on the island.

5:00pm: Victor returns to the island with Sophie in tow and offers to
buy everyone a beer, lucky for him however because th
e bar had just so happened to run out of beer at that very moment (coincidence? haha). We headed back to the boat where we were then informed that any alcohol that was desired to be consumed on the trip needed to happen tonight since we would be hitting the high seas the next day. The captains exact words: Youmust drink all of your alcohol tonight. With a challenge like this, one can only assume what happened.IMG_0403

12:00am: Victor and Sophie come out from their slumber (rather upset) and scolded all of us for still being awake and talking (oops, we all felt like teenagers again).
12:30am: SLEEP!

Day 3
8:00am: Oscar and I woke up thinking we were once again one of the last rooms to wake up, but it turned out we
were one of the first few this time. Everyone else was fast asleep.

8:30am: After a very light breakfast, the crew pulled out the sails and we headed to another island about 30 minutes away. This is the one and only time that the captain let Oscar help sail (yay tacking) and he was
obviously excited for this. I for one sat at the front of the boat and watched the beauty around me.

8:45am: Four dolphins appeared at the front of the boat, jumping into the air and swam right next to the sailing boat for a few minutes. Wow, what a view!

8:50am: I threw up from sea sickness

9:00am: We make it to the last and final island of the San Blas tour and it ended up being the most beautiful! This island was named after the owners (which of course I  have now forgotten).IMG_0409

9:30am: The captain had us all pile into the dingy and we set out to the island. This island has the clearest water I have ever seen. We spent the afternoon laying on the beach, swimming in the beautiful water, and snorkeling among some of the most beautiful coral I have ever seen! It was such an amazing feeling to be swimming in such beautiful waters and to see the ocean life just swimming around us; we must have seen at least 20 different types of fish. Absolutely a breath taking experience.

7:00pm: We feasted on our last meal together as a boat that did not involve a ton of sick faces and enjoyed the last few hours of fresh air before Amande set out on the high seas.

9:00pm: We all popped our first of many doses of Dramamine and headed to the cabin.

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Cartagena skyline in the background!

10:00pm: Amande pulled out the sails and set out on the high seas! All passengers were required to be in their cabins while the boat was sailing at night. Oscar and I fell fast asleep as the effects of the Dramamine pill set in very quickly.

Day 4
9:00am: We woke up and rose out of bed and quickly remembered we were sailing in the middle of the sea. The boat jolted as it went over each wave and from our room we could see water splashing over the window above our bed and from behind the boat. We stumbled out of bed during our first attempt of acquiring our sea legs and sat down at the table to try and eat breakfast.

9:10am: After trying to eat one piece of toast, I quickly realized that I would not be able to sit outside in the boat and would be doomed to stay inside the cabin for the rest of the 40 hours of the sailing trip. Damn you sea sickness!

9:30am: We retreaded back to our bed, popped another Dramamine, laid down, and closed our eyes.

1:00pm: Oscar threw up from sea sickness

1:30pm: Third dose of Dramamine for us both.

2:00pm: Maybe lying on our stomachs will help?

2:02pm: Nope, that made it worse.P1000637

5:00pm: I wanted water as this point, but the possibility of quenching my thirst did not outweigh the feeling in my stomach that I would get by getting up out of bed.

6:00pm: At this point  our bed is soaking wet, our pillows had become sponges for the water seeping in from the side windows, and our foreheads were targets from the drops of water from the window above us. We had no idea that a waterbed was included with the price.

8:00pm: God bless Sophie, our kitchen crew, she came into our room holding two ham and cheese sandwiches. I had been so hungry, but once again the option of getting up and being fed while my stomach turned into knots did not outweigh being fed. Sophie saved us both!

9:00pm: We popped another pill of Dramamine. Maybe just maybe our fourth tablet will be the one that makes all the pain go away?P1000667

Day 5
2:00am: Now at this time,  I had been lying and looking at the ceiling for the past several hours while listening to the smashing of the waves against the boat (in the morning after we had stepped on land, we were told that the waves in the evening were approximately 10 feet high). Every other minute the boat jolted as it jumped over wave after wave which made it impossible to sit up, move around, or do anything but lie on our backs and look at the ceiling.

2:30am: For the 100th time in the evening, I smashed into Oscars back or side after the boat jumped over yet another wave for the evening. Sorry love, I said yet again, as he groaned and tried to get back to sleep.20151122_153247-2

4:00am: At this point, I am legit becoming frightened for our safety on the boat because the sound of the waves against the boat are so loud and the boat is jumping over the waves at such a rapid point I was scared. My thoughts began to think of all the stranded at sea movies I had seen and I started wondering what I would do first if the boat decided to sink (No joke). I turned over and told Oscar I was scared and he sleepily touched me with one finger and said, its ok babe, and went back to sleep (thanks for the comfort, hubby).

6:00am: I opened my eyes, saw the window above our bed open, and finally felt fresh air after 40 hours on the sea. The sails were down, the boat was not rocking as much, and there was no pounding against the boat. We were finally near land. I got out of bed and stood in the kitchen area and watched as the boat neared land.  All I could think was THANK GOD.

6:30am: We anchored the boat in the harbor of Cartagena. We had finally arrived, yay!!!

7:00am: All of the passengers on the boat were now out of their cabins and taking in as much fresh air as possible. The captain hopped into the dingy with all of our passports and set off to immigration to get our stamps into Colombia.

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Most of the group hanging out!

8:00am: We made our way back into our cabin and started to pack up our bags. At this point we realized just how much of our stuff was wet. Too much. The room smelled so gross with the lingering smells of wet clothes, vomit, and sea water. I could not wait to get out of there.

8:30am: We loaded our bags and ourselves into the dingy and made our way to dry land.

8:45am: I stepped onto land and kissed the ground. Just kidding, although I thought about it.

10:30am: Arrived at Mamallena, our hostel in Cartagena, and had one of the best showers of my life!

 

Kuna Culture
We were not told much about the Kuna people before the trip, and I honestly did not to think to do any research before starting the trip because I had no idea what to expect or that the culture would be so different. The crew on the boat seemed to have a lot of knowledge of the Kuna people, so I tried as much as I could to accumulate the knowledge that they had.

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The Kuna women who came to the boat to try and sell items they have made

The Kuna people are originally from Colombia and arrived on the San Blas islands many many years ago and pleaded to Panama for them to stay on the islands. There are 378 islands within the San Blas area and
the Kuna people live on the islands for three months and then they move to a different island and into a different home. The only people within the Kuna community who do not move are the eldest couple who live on the last island that we explored. There are a few business’ on the islands and only a few of the Kuna people are allowed to have business and sell products to the tourists that come.

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Island adventuring!

The women in the Kuna culture are the dominant gender in the Kuna culture and are the main providers of the family. They are considered an adult after the arrival of their first period. Once this has happened, the women must make a choice to wear the traditional clothes of the Kuna people for the rest of their lives or they can wear the clothes of the rest of the world until they decide to wear the Kuna clothing. The Kuna women must be covered at all times and they absolutely do not like or respect when women walk around on the islands showing their stomachs or cleavage. The photo to the right here is the first day on the islands and we obviously had not been told that yet.

The San Blas islands are plentiful of coconuts, lobsters, star fish, conch shells, and all the fish that you can imagine; however the Kuna’s are the only ones who are allowed to consume these natural resources. If an outsider wishes to eat any of the for-mentioned items, then they must be purchased off of a Kuna community member. The captain told us that if you touch a coconut on the island and attempt to take or eat it, the Kuna people will fine you for about $125.

Overall thoughts on the trip
Sailing from Panama to Colombia is one of the most exciting things we have done on our trip so far, but also one of the most difficult due to the rough conditions of the sea, which led to feeling like crap the entire time. We saw the most beautiful beaches we have seen in our life in San Blas, snorkeled in the corals, met people of a community that I had no idea existed, made friends for a lifetime, and have a serious story to tell our kids in the future. Would I recommend it: YES, but please please please take Dramamine. No really, take one like every 6 hours.

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Our caption with a huge fish he caught! DInner time!

For those of you who are sailors out there and looking for a bit of information on the sailing aspect, here is a snippet from my hubby the sailor. Amande is an Atoll fixed keel 50 footer and having people over capacity really makes a difference in the overall experience (we had 3 extra people over capacity). Most catamaran’s go beyond 5-8 people extra, so despite having more cabins to sleep, our fixed keels at Amande’s size provided average comfort with space. Photo 21-11-15 07 00 36

It is impossible to plan a trip where the current, waves,  and wind will be perfect for this trip to Cartagena. Heading to Panama in Nov-Dec you will be running, if the boat decides to just use the sails. Amande had to use the engine and the sails to reach an average of 12 Knots. Due to the conditions of this trip it would have been 6-8 knots with just the sails. There was no need to tack for most of the trip either, since the wind was steady coming from the west a 10 to 25 knots. Therefore, if you can,  avoid sleeping on the bow starboard side if you have the choice. You will feel everything. The windy season starts in mid November, with more consistent conditions, but rougher waves. We were early on the wind season with the currents at our favor, but larger waves for November. Not my ideal conditions for just sailing. Due to the boat’s tight schedule and how fast these trips get booked, it appears most boats use the engine to avoid being at rough seas for too long. I would recommend you ask the agencies for boat information, verify if the captain has recently made the trip, and check if the captain is the owner (usually owners will take better care of their boats better if they sail, but it doesn’t always guarantee that they are good captains). We had a great captain, but the boat needed brand new windows and hatches. This is not very expensive to fix, so it was a major disappointment to get so much water in our beds just from the hatch/windows. The beauty of the islands and the amazing people we met truly made us forget about this (once we were back on dry land of course), but for future trips we hope they will fix this so others have a better (and drier) experience.

Bon Voyage my friends! Happy Sailing

 

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