Cuba, Mexico and Central America Itinerary

December 12, 2015

central america map

It’s happening. I finally quit my teaching job in Granada and booked a flight to the other side of the world.

It’s kind of a late announcement, since the job-quitting part went down a few months ago now, and truthfully I didn’t actually quit, rather, I ran the course of my contract and subsequently chose not to have it renewed. But one thing’s for sure: it feels awesome knowing that I have what could potentially be a trip of a lifetime awaiting me – just 5 days from now.

Before I get into the thrust of this though, I would like to make it abundantly clear that this is not going to turn into another “just quit your job and go travelling forever it’ll be amazing” type blog. Those blogs are annoying, reckless and completely unrepresentative of REAL LIFE. And honestly the permanent nomad life just isn’t for me; this trip, if all goes to plan, will last around 3 months.

Moreover, I will actually still be working while on the road as long as I have a laptop and internet connection (thanks to the perks of being a blogger, amateur web designer and SEO consultant) but several of the countries I plan to visit are notorious for poor or non-existent WiFi, so this will undoubtedly be a reoccurring issue.

And so, this favourable arrangement means I will be able to bring this sleeping travel blog back to life, and extend the realms of its content beyond Europe and into Cuba, Mexico and Central America. The (rough) itinerary is as follows:

Cuba (3 weeks)

Yes, I know this isn’t Central America but it makes sense to start here. I think it’s wonderful that Cuba has finally lifted the lid on its seclusion to the rest of the developing world by restoring diplomatic relations with the US. The economy, no doubt, needs one hell of a boost, and relaxing travel restrictions between the two countries will of course make a huge, long-term, positive difference for the quality of life of its people.

However, such colossal change will also, of course, mean the loss of the ‘classic, frozen-in-time’ Cuba that people who’ve visited wax lyrical about. So, purely from a traveller’s perspective, now is definitely the time to go, thus, why I have decided to start my trip in this captivating country.

I would like to complete a full circle of the island but realise that this is both time-consuming and expensive. The must-dos on my list, however, are getting to know the old town of La Habana, exploring the national parks in the east, lazing on the white-sand, Hemingway-trodden beaches of Cayo Coco and checking out the Che Guevara museum in Santa Clara.

I’ll be there over Christmas, which, what with Cuba being a communist country where Christmas isn’t generally celebrated AT ALL, isn’t such an exciting prospect. However, there is an alternative in Las Parrandas festival – a firework-fuelled celebration that takes place in Remedios. New Year, on the other hand, is celebrated as keenly as in other Western countries so this should be fun wherever I end up (thinking Trinidad or Cienfuegos but Havana would surely offer the greatest spectacle).

Mexico (2-3 weeks)

chacchoben, mexico

Chacchoben Mayan Ruins, Mexico (Source: FlickrCC bevrichardmartin)

Mexico is too big to see in 2-3 weeks, so I won’t be attempting to do that. Instead I will keep my trip focused on the south, perhaps heading as far west as Ouhaca. What draws me most to Mexico, as with most I’d imagine, are the numerous and mesmerising Mayan ruins. Chacchoben, Chichén Itzá, and Cobá are but three examples of historic temples in the Yucatan peninsular that capture the imagination of its visitors, with their dense overgrowth and mystical atmosphere.

Flying from Havana to Cancun (where I won’t be staying longer than it takes me to buy and use a one-way bus ticket), I’ll probably head south to Tulum to begin with, then either west and then south into Belize, to return north at a later date.

I hope to be able to touch base in Mexico, since there is (unbeknownst to me at the time of booking) no WiFi in Cuba, which I will need to work. I’ll probably be craving some city comforts at this point so Mérida will likely be an ideal refuge to recharge before continuing the trip.

Belize (1 week)

caye caulker, belize

Caye Caulker, Belize (Source: FlickrCC)

My number one priority in Belize is to get to the island of Caye Caulker, where I want to learn how to scuba dive properly. Out to sea is one of the world’s most popular diving spots, The Blue Hole, which I hope to be able to visit if just for the afternoon. Other than that I’ve no plans or expectations, but in a country where the beaches are like the one in the photo below, who needs plans?

On the other hand, I’ve heard that Belize isn’t the safest of countries so I will need to keep my guard up, especially as I will be travelling with a laptop, camera and iPhone (I will be amazed if I am not robbed at least once during the entirety of this trip).

Guatemala (2 weeks)

guatemala, mayan ruins

Temple I, Guatemala (Source: FlickrCC archer10)

Before researching the trip, I didn’t know anything about Guatemala other than it is perhaps one of mother nature’s least favourite sons. Landslides, earthquakes and tropical storms are common, volcanoes have been erupting left, right and centre since the earth was formed, and more recently they’ve added giant sinkholes to their list. So it’s fair to say it’s a pretty hazardous place then.

However, I now know that the landscape is wildly varied, that there are black-sand beaches where sea turtles come to lay their eggs, yet more Mayan ruins, abundant wildlife, lakes, waterfalls, and rock pools hidden in dense jungle and majestic volcanoes towering above old, colonial cities such as Antigua and Flores. I can’t wait to dive in (to Guatemala, not the volcano), although I’m sure whatever preconceived notions I have of Guatemala, it will take me completely by surprise.

El Salvador / Honduras (1 week)

From what I’ve read, both these countries offer plenty in the way of beautiful natural landscapes and lively, fascinating capital cities. As with Guatemala, idyllic beaches, exotic wildlife (like above!) and dense, green forests abound, and I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to cover either one adequately in a month, let alone 1-2 weeks, if I set out to explore both countries thoroughly.

However, I cannot ignore the disturbingly high crime rates in El Salvador and Honduras – the former apparently as high as 30 murders a day, and the latter not too far behind, making them first and second on the list of deadliest countries in the world. I love exploring new places, meeting new people and I know that the vast majority of homicides in places like this are gang related, but in this case I’d rather not take my chances, so I plan to move as quickly as possible through these countries or even take a flight to Costa Rica, where I am keen to spend more time.

Nicaragua (2 weeks)

nicaragua, bus, granada

Granada, Nicaragua (Source: FlickrCC a-barth)

My mission is to get to Granada, and stay for a few days. Not only is the surrounding area supposed to be beautiful, is great for hiking (on Volcán Mombacho) and paddling (on Lago Nicaragua) and about 40km from the capital Managua, but the city shares its name with my beloved here in the south of Spain, where I have spent most of the last four years of my life. I’m sure there won’t be a lot else in common except perhaps a few street names but I am nonetheless eager to compare the twin city and excitedly tell locals that I am also ‘Granadino’.

Costa Rica (2 weeks)

costa rica, jungle

Costa Rica (Source: FlickrCC whappen)

My route in Costa Rica will be determined by whether I arrive by plane to San Jose or bus via Nicaragua, but in either case I have a feeling I will love this country. All I’ve ever heard are good things. Firstly, it is a peaceful country with stability and prosperity. There is a high level of health care, education and democracy. Secondly, its extreme biodiversity offered by parks, reserves, volcanoes and beaches mean that activities like hiking, rafting, kayaking, surfing and zip-lining will be possible.

My top priorities are climbing Arenal Volcano and learning to surf (properly!) on the pacific coast.

Panama (1 week)

Given that this section of the trip is so far down the line, I really haven’t given that much thought to what I’m going to do yet. I know I’d love to head down the Panama canal on board a vessel of some description but I think you probably need a license or a small, disposable fortune to do that.

Supposedly the islands are beautiful and well worth visiting, but whether I will be able to do that really does depend on budget at the time.

I’m flying solo, I don’t know a single person in any of the countries I plan to visit, and, despite trawling countless travel sites and blogs, I really don’t have a clue what is going to happen.

All I do know is that I speak Spanish pretty well, I’m insured for just about anything that could go wrong, and – when I’m not working – each day will be a new adventure, full of new faces and places.

Wish me luck.

Any tips, thoughts or suggestions are MOST WELCOME! Please leave a comment if you’ve got something for me…

2 comments

  1. Comment by miguel cullen

    miguel cullen December 14, 2015 at 3:44 pm

    hiya,

    i went to the pacific coast of costa rica and didn’t have the best time

    i would not recommend going to tamarindo or monteczuma. i would say that monteczuma is too quiet, just a few surf shacks and early closing restaurants, with a beaut beach but it has no amenities on the beach.

    tamarindo is the opposite – too much US style glitz. altho with a beautiful beach. went to lola’s beach bar/resto on a moped nearby which was epic thoe.

    apparently caribbean coast is the perfect blend of things to do and beautful beaches. altho when we went it was too rainy . nice planning! 😉

    san jose is fun. got mugged by a paco head (just for cigs) and a trannie tried it on

    mx

    • Comment by Josh

      Josh January 22, 2016 at 10:43 pm

      Haha thanks for the heads up man! I’ll bear all that in mind when I finally make it that far. My flight is booked for mid March. Hope all is well amigo 😉

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