Five Perfect Photo Opportunities in Mexico and Central America

As a travel blogger and a social media enthusiast, I would like to list some of the best photo ops in Central America that will get your toes wiggling for an adventure!

5. Bacalar, Mexico

Where better to have a relaxing few weeks on the crystal blue waters and laid back town of Bacalar?

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The little town of Bacalar on the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is home to one of the most beautiful open, calming, clear blue waters I’ve ever seen. Walk along the streets and you can find lovely huts that take you right up to the water, rendering it a stunning spot to take photos.

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While you’re there, don’t forget to take a dive in the famous Cenotes Azul, going as deep as 200 feet! Let the large and deep body of water excite and scare you as you take a leap from the tree branch!

We made a wonderful community of friends from Couchsurfing, who showed us the best secret spots to eat and play in town! Bacalar became a sweet place for us to remember our great friends and the adventures we took.

#4. Carnival, Caye Ambergris, Belize

We had the wonderful opportunity to witness Carnival in several cities in Central America. However, Caye Ambergris (Belize) was my favorite.

The colors, the music, the energy, the food, the people-  everything is wonderful about Carnival. The beautiful thing about it is that you are bound to encounter it anywhere in Central/South America! Make sure you check and mark your calendars!

I loved Caye Ambergris because we were right by the water as well as all the festivities. After an exhausting night out, we were able to stumble right up to our hostel for a rest.

For a more peaceful getaway, Caye Amberghis is a great island hop spot to a nearby island, Caye Caulker, where visitors explore on foot and golf carts!

The nice fun fact about Belize is that everyone speaks English and takes US Dollars! There are also a lot of Creole people in Belize, with a completely different set of fascinating foods and cultures. Not to mention is the island frequently referenced in Madonna’s song, “La Isla Bonita!”

#3. Colorful Mercados (Markets)

Ah, beautiful markets of Central America. It’s almost comparable to my markets in Southeast Asia. The haggling, the tropical fruits, the cheap clothing. What’s not to love?

The reason I picked markets as one of my favorite photo opportunities is because it’s the perfect place to capture locals in their element. I love finding cheap horcatas or strange stalls of food to try out. Of course, I will first have to ask if it has carne (meat). market

#2. Colonial Streets – Central America

With a heavy influence from the Spanish colonization era, colonial towns in Central America.

EditThere are not enough words to describe the glorious cobblestone streets of Central American colonial towns. Honorable mentions to Antigua, Guatemala and Granada, Nicaragua!

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#1. Twin peaks: Volcan Acatenango and Volcan Fuego in Guatemala

Camping on top of a volcano makes it to the top of my list. There is no other feeling as exhilarating as sensing the earth rumble and a burst of lava fill the air right in front of us.

10399594_10207428749890366_760704894419302331_nAnd be honest, aside from being on a plane, when was the last time your legs have taken you above the clouds before? 12592512_10207428749650360_1420307703996003216_n (1)


Have you been to great photo ops while traveling? Please leave your favorite spots on comments!!! 

I’ve been slowly improving on my eye for photography, showcased on Instagram. I would love some feedback!!

3-Month Backpacking Trip: What’s in my bag?

Welcome back, my travel enthusiast fellows!

Packing for a backpacking trip overseas can be a gruesome task. In my experience, my biggest problem has always been over-packing. I remember, because when I studied abroad in Singapore, I brought two large suitcases full of things with me. I didn’t use most of them. When I decided to travel in Japan, I had to lug around my two giant suitcases, which became a huge pain.

Nowadays, over-packing would be detrimental in the long run as I carry all my possessions on my back. Over time, I’ve cut down the stuff I take from 2 luggages to 1 backpacking bag and 1 day bag. Like so: IMG_0454Without further ado….

What’s in my bag?

Previously in my post on Ways to Budget Travel, I’ve mentioned my love for my Osprey 48 liter bag + waterproof cover. Here, I just want to emphasize how important proper gear is to traveling.

I specifically chose this size because it easily fits into all airline carry on cabins. Especially with budget flights, I can just pack it up and just bring it in as a carry on without having to pay for a luggage. The state-of-the-art suspension system made all my material possessions in my bag feel weightless, and is a lot easier on my back.

Best price of $130 at Amazon!

I am a minimalist in the things I pack when traveling. I also like to under pack to buy some clothes in the country I’m traveling as souvenir. 😉 Because I carry everything in my bags, I like to keep all my clothes and accessories as lightweight as possible.

  • 1x stuff sack
  • 5x shirts (3 tank tops for comfort/going out, 2 formal)
  • 1x water resistant jacket
  • 1x stuffable dawn jacket (I highly recommend getting these for ultra lightweight and warmth)
  • 2x pants (1 comfort, 1 going out) 
  • 3x shorts
  • 3x dresses
  • 4x socks (sporty and comfortable)
  • 1x scarf/shawl
  • Underwear (lots)
  • 1x shoes
  • 1x flip flops
  • Waterproof bag set (for water activities)
  • Safety pins/needle and thread
  • Multi-tool knife
  • Duct tape
  • Ropes
  • Headlamp
  • Ao dai – since I’m planning on celebrating Vietnamese New Year, Tet, in Vietnam, I’m bringing my custom made ao dai. I don’t typically bring this on my trips! Here’s a picture for reference!

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First Aid Kit – whatever brand or name you use, here is the gist of medications you want to take with you.

  • Anti-diarrhea
  • Antibiotic cream
  • Band-aid
  • Antiseptic wipes
  • Allergy
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Pain reliever
  • Anti-mosquito/anti-itch cream (tropical countries)

Paperwork – I like to keep all of my paperwork in zip lock bag to protect them from water damage

  • Printout/screenshots of plane tickets 
  • Passport book/card (+2 photocopies to bring on day/night trips)
  • Vaccination records (depending on country)
  • Visas (Vietnam, for example)
  • Copy of TEFL certificate (If I plan to teach while abroad)

Travel cards

  • Capital One Quicksilver – 1.5% cashback on all purchases, no foreign transaction fees, no annual fees
  • Charles Schwab – no ATM fees, no foreign transaction fees worldwide. With this card, you can withdraw from anywhere at any ATM!

Day Bag

ADDITIONAL GEAR: IF YOU PLAN ON HARDCORE BACKPACKING + CAMPING

  • Camping tent and poles (poles can go on side straps, tent can go on bottom straps); I loved our Marmot tent because of lightweight and the air flow system. We had taken it on our trip to the freezing top of a volcano and survived thanks to it. The high price is worth the durability. 
Best Price at Amazon for $189.90

Final thoughts

Whether you’re traveling short term or long term, I hope that my list has helped you. Thanks so much for reading! I’d also like to know what you have in your bag. Let me know in comments below- Cheers!

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Interested in participating in the Weekly Travel Blogging Challenge? Feel free to make your own today!

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

These awesome people are also doing the challenge!!! Click to see their stories!

 

Backpacker Life

Whoa! This week’s photo challenge is Transient, which is right up my (and any other travel bloggers’) alley! Here are some of my favorite snapshots throughout my backpacking trip in various countries around the world.

Are you a travel enthusiast too? I’ve recently launched a Travel Blogging Challenge, that anyone can join! It’s a great opportunity for me to consolidate my travel photos and showcase your experience through travel stories, cultures, foods, advise, lessons, and more!

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New York City, the center of transience!
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Hiking up and down Grand Canyon in a day!
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Strolling through the ancient ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
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Hostel living
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Siem Riem, Cambodia
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So true, thanks Beatles!
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Colonial town, Antigua

Thanks for visiting! Cheers!! <3

Photo Challenge: Transient

Couchsurfing: Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers for Free!

People often ask me how I can afford traveling to so many places. Truth is, traveling doesn’t need to be expensive. In my recent post, I wrote about ways to travel cheaply. In this post, I would like to elaborate on Couchsurfing, and how it changed my life.

Couchsurfing a worldwide cultural exchange program that brings together millions of hosts and travelers. It is popular with budget travelers and backpackers, and the best way to connect with locals and experience culture. Best of all, it’s a free service for all! Especially in expensive cities where hotels costs over $100/night, Couchsurfing is a lifesaver.

I have been using Couchsurfing since 2014. My first host was an expat living in Hong Kong. He lived right by the beach, where he took us on a walk to see the sunset. We had long conversations about everything. He also gave us very helpful advice while exploring Hong Kong. I felt very safe and welcomed in his home, my only regret being that I wish we could have spent more time with him! Since then I have couchsurfed in Washington, DC, Chicago, Asheville, Honduras, Guatemala, New York, Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, and more!

My Awesome Experiences with Couchsurfing: 

Authentic Culture and Traditions. Living with locals is the most immersive way to experience culture. We share a house with the host, sometimes with their family and pet, too! Once we’re in the house, we’re practically family.

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Here’s a photo of my Couchsurfing family in Bacalar, Mexico

Depending on the host, we sometimes also get an opportunity to meet other couchsurfers, too! Hosts often take surfers to local hangout spots (which are especially fun on national holidays) that we would never have found on our own.

Couchsurf hosts live a very interesting lifestyles. Some have traveled all over the world, some choose to live off-the-grid, and some who love meet and talk to people from all over the world. They love sharing their local culture, history, and traditions. There is always so much to learn.

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Staying at a Couchsurfing off-the-grid cabin powered by solar panels in the Big Island, Hawaii.

In Hawaii, we had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful host at an off-the-grid log cabin in a tropical jungle. We were surrounded by fruit trees on all sides. We were able to walk around and pick passion fruits, jackfruits, coconuts, and other fruits to eat (for free)! We did not have access to the internet, which gave us an opportunity to write on our journals.

Food. I’ve eaten the most authentic foods while Couchsurfing. They are usually foods that locals would eat every day, and are incredibly tasty. In return, we would share our own traditional Vietnamese/American foods!

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An El Salvadorian dish prepared for us by our host’s mom.

Contributing. Unlike hotels and Airbnbs, Couchsurfing is a community. Once you stay with them, you’re like family. That means you do dishes, chores, and cooking. One important principle of being a surfer that a host once taught me, “Carry your own weight.” Contribute and don’t be a free loader!

Things to Know:

  • Read the hosts’ profile. Do not copy and paste your request to all hosts. Most host will ignore your request if your message is not personalized. They will usually include something in their description page saying, “Please include ___ in your request or I will ignore it.” It is their way of telling whether or not you’ve visited their page.
  • Be careful when sending Couchsurf requests to stay. It is important to check the hosts’ previous references and description page. Not all hosts are good people. We’ve met a host with strange behaviors and opted to leave the same night. That said, 99.9% of hosts are fantastic people. I like to see a full profile, complete with photos and hobbies so that I know more about the host before staying.
  • Each hosts’ preference is different. I’ve seen hosts who only host single travelers. I’ve seen hosts who live the nudist lifestyle (and will be walking around naked in the house). These information are written in their host profile upfront.
  • You may be sleeping on the couch, floor, bed, or tent. Over the years, I’ve met hosts who literally just have a space to set up on the floor.
  • Hosts may not spend time with you. Hosts have busy lives. They might not be there during work hours. In these cases, I like to spare my nights to spend time with hosts and get to know them.

Planning a trip and want to try Couchsurfing? Check out this article on 16 Places to Couchsurf in 2017.

What’s on your travel list this year? Please leave questions/comments below and let’s exchange!

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Floating on the Clouds: Volcán Acatenango

Everyone who visits Guatemala must visit Antigua, and anyone who visits Antigua, must try to climb Acatenango, a dormant volcano since 1972. It is the dream destinations for activities as a backpacker. Cultures, nightlife, colors, foods, nature, ruins… Guatemala has it all! One of the many reasons why Guatemala falls on the top of my favorite list is Acatenango.

Why must you climb this volcano?

Reason 1: Acatenango is a twin peak. That means, sitting right across from it is a twin sister, Fuego, who happens to be a very active and angry erupting volcano. The twin volcanoes Acatenango and Fuego draw hundreds of visits from travelers every day. Fortunately, there have been no casualties of people hiking to see the eruptions.

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Fuego, photo taken atop Acatenango

Reason 2: At over 13,000 feet high, Acatenango is the tallest volcano in Guatemala, and the third tallest in Central America. To put this in perspective, Grand Canyon is only 6000 ft deep. Therefore, scaling it is not for the faint of heart.

Not only is Acatenango very tall, the incline is ridiculously steep throughout the hike, averaging about 20 degrees incline. People who wish to scale the volcano are recommended to join a group guided hike. Cuong and I, being budget travelers and very, very brave individuals, decided to go on this trek by ourselves- no guide.

Going up 13,000 feet stressed the importance of traveling light. I only took the things that I truly needed: cellphone (which unfortunately got stolen on the bus ride there), tent and sleeping gear, outerwear, 4 liters of water (heavy, but paid off), 2 giant bags of red beans, 1 bag of apples, 1 bag of tortillas, and 1 bag of bread. All these things were essential in supplementing our energy. We also invested in two sturdy hiking sticks in preparation for the steep hike.

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This is the outfit I chose for the big hike.

The Hike took blood and sweat to climb all the way up to Acatenango. With the incline, I felt as if I was trying to climb a vertical wall. About 30 minutes into the hike, I was already out of breath. There was still over 8 hours left!

We took frequent breaks, and were able to admire the beautiful views of the nearby Guatemalan cities.

About an hour into the hike, we encountered park officials, who required that we pay an entrance fee of 50 quetzales (about $7, a pretty hefty fee for Guatemala). We thought that they may just be extorting money from us as corrupt officials. So we haggled it down to about 40Q.  It turns out they were legitimate, and were there because they started collecting fees to deter criminals and thieves away from the trail– perfect.

We set off again on long trails of dirt paths, switchbacks into the woods. Once we’re high enough, we started to see beautiful lush green floras. Large vines, thick shrubs, and huge trees surrounded us. The one downside of going on a grand hike without a guide is the inability to know where you’re going.

About halfway through the hike, we were lost. To make it worse, it started to rain. We weren’t going to make it to the peak before nightfall. Thankfully, we ran into two guys who were also hiking to the peak. Misery loves company. We were so happy to meet people who also don’t really know what they’re doing. We set up our tents next to each other and huddled to keep warm and talked through the night. Careful to not deplete our food supply, we restrained ourselves from eating large meals.

The higher we climbed, the colder it was and the thinner the trees became. Pine trees were abundant in this section of the volcano. Soon enough, we reached the cloud forest. It was bizarre to hike through the clouds, and see it around us. I thought of how being above the clouds meant that we can’t be rained on anymore.

Each we start again on the torturous, I would be reminded of why we took the break in the first place. In my head, I was kicking, screaming, and deeply regretted my decision to do this hike.

…. and then…

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Above the clouds!

There it was. A deep rumble coming from within the ground. It’s difficult to describe what I felt at the time. It was a mixture of excitement, adrenaline, and fear. It reminded me of the first time I scuba-dived with a whale shark, completely out of my comfort zone.

It was so large, dangerous and strange, yet so natural and comforting.

We were just a two miles from the lava erupting from Fuego.  We were close enough to hear and feel Fuego. The angry twin sister erupted every five minutes. Every moment I lost hope on this seemingly never-ending hike, Fuego erupted again, and renewed my determination to finish the hike.

Finally, we’ve reached the top! I thought this moment would never happen. Hours and hours of scaling up the massive volcano.

What they didn’t tell us about the peak: it was freezing cold. 

You’d think being on- or near- an erupting volcano would be at least tropical warm. Wrong. There was nothing shielding us from this force of nature. The air is paper thin, the wind is vicious, and it’s absolutely frigid cold. We set up our tent right across from Fuego, seeing first class views of the bright eruptions throughout the night.

That night, we laid wide-awake, freezing, breathing in ashes, and listening to the volcano roar. We watched as the lava fill the night sky with angry, bright red. We were enthralled by the rumble, captivated by the colors, and felt fear of mother nature’s true power. The satisfaction of watching Fuego far outweighs all the hardships we’ve been through. I can’t wait to come back.

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We set up our tent right across from Fuego, giving us first class views of the eruptions.

I would love to hear from you! Please leave your thoughts, comments, questions, and let’s exchange stories!

via Daily Prompt: Climbing