Central America, the isthmus connecting North and South America, consists of Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It is both culturally and geographically rich and diverse. Cloud-shrouded volcanoes, Mayan ruins, exciting wildlife and colorful colonial towns are some of the delights waiting to be discovered by the adventurous traveler.
1) Take a hike in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica – This is a sublimely beautiful National Park close to the small Caribbean town of Cahuita. So close, in fact, that you can walk directly into the park from town. The park covers over 57,500 acres of land and sea, including 600 acres of living coral reef. The 5.6-mile trail hugs the beach, with lush rainforest on one side and lovely views of the ocean on the other. Giant electric blue morpho butterflies flutter past, monkeys swing overhead and if your luck is in, you may spot a sloth hanging about in a tree. It’s a wildlife wonderland and the trail is flat and easy. There are plenty of opportunities to take a refreshing dip in the ocean too.
2) Swim in the turquoise pools of Semuc Champey, Guatemala – This destination is off the beaten track, but worth the long and bone-shaking journey to experience the unique cascading pools. The color of the water has to be seen to be believed. You can swim, go tubing or explore the nearby caves (a guide is required to visit the caves). Don’t miss the challenging hike up to Mirador, from which there are spectacular views. Situated high in the mountains, Semuc Champey is probably the most stunning natural wonder in Guatemala.
3) Meet an ex-guerrilla at the Museum of Revolution, Leon, Nicaragua – It isn’t every day that you get to chat with an ex-revolutionary, but this ramshackle, yet compelling museum provides the opportunity to do just that. The guides at the museum were teenage soldiers when they fought in the revolution. Now in their fifties and sixties, they are happy to share their experiences with visitors. The building was the scene of many battles, as the bullet holes on the walls testify. It is clearly in need of funding, but nevertheless, a visit is a fascinating and moving experience and an example of a nation standing up for their rights against an evil regime.
4) Live in the shadow of a smoking volcano in Antigua, Guatemala – Antigua is Central America’s most charming city. Guatemala’s popular tourist destination is a blend of crumbling ruins, bustling plazas, churches, handicraft markets, international restaurants and Spanish schools. The city has successfully managed to balance tourism with traditionalism. Nestled between three volcanoes, you never quite get over the wonder of glimpsing up to see puffs of smoke emerging from Volcano Pacaya. Every now and again, there is a minor eruption or you can hear rumbles coming from deep within the earth’s core. What with dramatic natural phenomena and a delightful city center, Antigua really does have it all. https://www.aroundantigua.com
5) Chill out in Caye Caulker, Belize – If you are in need of total relaxation, look no further than the tiny island of Caye Caulker. Spend your days swinging in a hammock, drinking cocktails at the Lazy Lizard Bar and snorkelling the coral reefs, where you can spot nurse sharks, stingrays and an array of vibrantly colored fish. The laid back Creole and Rasta presence gives the island an undoubtedly Caribbean ambience. The pastel painted wooden buildings, superb seafood, and absence of cars all contribute to making Caye Caulker a very special place.
6) Explore the ancient ruins of Copan, Honduras – These Mayan ruins are over 2000 years old and comprise of pyramids, tombs, and temples, many displaying intricate carvings. The ruins are an easy walk from the nearby town of Copan Ruinas. The town is probably the prettiest in Honduras. With its cobblestone streets, cute white houses and excellent range of lodgings, bars, and restaurants, it makes a great base for a visit to the ruins. Check out the tequila shrimp and enjoy the rooftop view at Twisted Tanyas, the best restaurant in town.
7) Surf at Punta Roca, El Salvador – Whether you are an experienced surfer or a beginner, this surfing mecca offers perfect waves, warm water, and miles of unspoilt beaches. Board hire and lessons are available and most of the local businesses are surf-orientated. It’s less commercialized and more low-key than nearby La Libertad and a perfect place to commune with the waves and kick back. Punta Roca plays host to several annual surf tournaments.
8) Venture into the heart of the jungle to explore the ancient Mayan city of Tikal – If you fancy yourself as Indiana Jones, this is the place to head for. It’s the largest and most important Mayan site in Central America. The fact that the ancient city is hidden in the heart of the jungle only adds to the appeal. From the tallest pyramid, you can enjoy panoramic views over the treetops and see other temples peeking through the canopy. Toucans, howler and spider monkeys populate the park and are easily spotted, but the elusive jaguar keeps a low profile.
9) Connect with nature at Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica – Monteverde lies 4,000 feet above sea level and comprises of coffee plantations and misty trails through eerie, but beautiful cloud forests. There are two small towns in the area, Monteverde and Santa Elena. They each have a sprinkling of restaurants, bars, and shops catering to tourists. Zip-lining, mountain biking, and hiking are all popular pursuits. There are numerous wildlife sanctuaries and gardens exhibiting the flowers and fauna of the area. http://www.monteverdeinfo.com
10) Take a stroll through the historic area of Panama City – Wandering the atmospheric streets of Casco Viejo is a highlight of a visit to the city. The crumbling colonial architecture, plazas and narrow streets are a world away from the downtown skyscrapers. The area combines old-world elegance with a touch of edginess. There are plenty of nooks and crannies to explore and some vibrant street art hidden away in the side streets. With restaurants, cafes and bars aplenty, it would be easy to spend a day enjoying the delights of Casco Viejo.
Originally posted 2017-08-13 19:05:39.
48 Hours in Bangkok
Bangkok is one of the most dynamic cities in the world and offers a wealth of culture, fantastic shopping opportunities, exciting nightlife and some of the best cuisine on the planet. The Thai baht goes a long way, making the city excellent value for western tourists. For LGBTQ visitors, Thailand is the most tolerant country In South-East Asia. The Thai Tourist Board are promoting Thailand as a destination for LGBTQ travelers with their ‘Go Thai. Be Free’ campaign.
Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang international airports both serve Bangkok. Suvarnabhumi is sixteen miles from the city, while Don Mueang fifteen miles away.
From Suvarnabhumi, there are lots of transport options into Bangkok including an excellent airport rail link, taxi, airport limo, express airport buses and public buses. From Don Mueang, you can take a taxi or a cheap, but slow train to Hua Lamphong Station.
Bangkok is a sprawling metropolis and choosing where to stay can be overwhelming. Accommodation options range from hostels and cheap hotels at only a few dollars a night to glitzy five-star hotels. Here are a few of the areas which are popular to stay in:
Khao San Road – The backpacker’s Mecca, packed with budget accommodation, bars and restaurants.
Sukhumvit – A modern area of the city in central Bangkok with lots of good neighbourhood shopping and restaurants. The transport links are good.
Silom – Close to Lumpini Park and Patpong, the red light district.
Chinatown – Hualamphong Railway Station is nearby, which can be handy and Chinatown itself is a vibrant and fascinating area.
If you happen to be visiting at the weekend, don’t miss Chatuchak market which comprises of thirty-five acres of around fifteen thousand stalls http://www.chatuchakmarket.org. It’s an opportunity to try some delicious street food (check out the mango sticky rice or Thai grilled chicken) and there are bargains galore to be had. It would be easy to spend a day at the market, but with only two days in town, time is of the essence.
Jim Thompson’s House http://www.jimthompsonhouse.com/visitor/index.asp is constructed in traditional Thai style and is also a museum and art gallery. Set in a beautiful tropical garden, it was the home of silk merchant Jim Thompson and is now a popular tourist attraction. It’s a peaceful oasis in the center of the city and also has a lovely café looking out over the garden.
Flag down a tuk-tuk and head to the Chao Phraya River, where you can take a boat across the water to Wat Arun. Otherwise known as the Temple of Dawn, it’s an ornate Khmer-style structure. Climb the steep steps for panoramic views across the city.
To round off your first day in Bangkok, head to Silom Soi 4 in the Sukhumvit area of the city. Here you will discover an abundance of LGBTQ friendly pubs, bars, and restaurants to choose from. For those who want to dance into the early hours, mosey along to nearby Silom Soi 2, where there are some excellent clubs including D.J. Station, Freeman, and Expresso.
After breakfast, arrive at the Grand Palace early to beat the crowds (or at least some of them). This complex of extraordinary Thai-style temples and palaces was built in 1782. Gold painted buildings and intricate mirror and glass mosaics dazzle under the sun. The star of the show is the stunning Wat Phra Kaew, otherwise known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most revered temple.
Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat along the river – it’s cheap and a great way to see the old city. The boat stops off at various locations and it’s possible to hop on and off wherever you want to. Check out Khao San Road, the backpackers’ mecca and a lively area at any time of the day and night. Guest houses, restaurants, bars, market stalls, tattoo parlours and travel agents all vie for trade and it’s an absorbing road to wander along.
After re-boarding the boat, carry on down the river and alight at Ratchawong Pier, the stop for bustling Chinatown. Explore the labyrinth of streets lined with shops selling everything from durian fruit to nodding lucky cats. The sights and smells of Chinatown are an assault on the senses. Dip into temples to light some incense and check out the Thieves market.
If you haven’t satisfied your appetite with all the wonderful street food that Bangkok has to offer, make a beeline for Tealicious Bangkok (492 Trok To, Soi Charoen Krung 49, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500). It’s a lovely little restaurant serving up delicious authentic Thai food using fresh ingredients. Tom, the friendly owner is usually on hand to answer any questions relating to the cuisine. The menu is extensive and there are plenty of veggie options.
To finish off your Bangkok sojourn in style, there’s no better venue than Sirocco Sky Bar. The elegant 63rd floor bar sits on a precipice over the city, 820 feet in air. It’s one of the highest rooftop bars in world. (The Dome at Lebua, 1055 Silom Road, Bangkok 10500). Cocktails are creatively concocted and expensive, but who cares – it’s your last night in Bangkok and the view of the city is phenomenal.
Originally posted 2017-09-11 09:30:55.
How Casual is Casual Diversity
Diversity, in numerous ways, is becoming more and more commonplace. People who used to search for themselves in the media they consume are now the ones creating that media, and as such it is more commonplace to find representative characters. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community especially are inserting themselves into the media they create. From books to movies and TV shows to comics, more and more queer characters are popping up. As a result, the addition of these characters is becoming the norm, contributing to a sense of “casual diversity” in media. But just how casual is this casual diversity?
For many members of the LGBTQIA+ community, they want characters that reflect their gender identity or sexuality to simply exist in the media they consume. We feel like we’ve moved away from a time that requires queer people to explicitly come out, both in real life and in books. We don’t owe a “coming out moment” to anyone, but creators are still trying to find a way to toe the line between making diverse characters and letting them simply exist and proclaiming their existence to readers.
I recently read two young adult novels that had LGBTQIA+ characters, and they were introduced in several different ways. Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge by Paul Krueger is a fantasy novel set in Chicago, centered on a young girl working as a bartender who discovers that perfectly mixed cocktails can give you superpowers. She works at a gay bar owned by a blind gay man and works with a very tall punk rock Canadian named Bucket, who is a trans man. Readers are introduced to the bar’s owner before the main character begins working at his bar, and find out he is gay only when he casually mentions his boyfriend. Bucket, on the other hand, has a coming out moment when the protagonist asks him why he works at a gay bar when he is very clearly not gay. He is almost obligated to come out to her in order to explain himself and his job. Likewise, in Seven Ways We Lie by Riley Redgate, there is a pansexual character named Lucas who has a coming out moment with the reader. Not only does he have to explain pansexuality, but he also discusses how he cannot come out to his friends because of his status as the men’s swim team captain and the stigma surrounding that.
Though I’m sure these two authors had good intentions with their inclusion of these characters, they, unfortunately, send an underlying but powerful message to LGBTQIA+ and straight readers alike in regards to the necessity and potential danger of coming out. The way Krueger and Redgate set up Bucket and Lucas required them to come out in order to make the diversity visible, but this was not necessary. Krueger could have mirrored his simple mention of the bar owner’s boyfriend and describe Bucket wearing a binder, and Redgate could have mentioned Lucas’ previous crushes to people regardless of gender. Instead, they felt that they had to make their characters’ identities as obvious as possible, which only encourages the idea that LGBTQIA+ people need to come out in order to be acknowledged members of queer or straight communities. Lucas’ story especially highlights the general ignorance about pansexuality as well as the rampant homophobia present in men’s sports teams especially. This sends a strong warning to queer readers about the dangers of coming out and the potential harmful backlash for male athletes in particular.
It is important for characters like Bucket and Lucas to exist and be known and seen in books and other media, but creators are still finding an easy way to simply let these characters exist while also bringing them to the attention of readers and normalizing their existence. It’s a delicate balance between inclusion for the sake of inclusion and bringing too much attention to something that needs attention. It’s been a long journey already, but creators still have a ways to go to figure out just how “casual” casual diversity really is.
Originally posted 2017-09-06 14:20:41.
Travel On A Budget
It seems to me like people are taking shorter vacations or opting for trips closer to home, for a variety of reasons. Maybe you work a job that doesn’t pay as well as you’d hope, or maybe you’re a millennial (like me) who’s allegedly spent way too much on avocados and can’t afford a vacation (or a house).
Whatever the reason, this new trend of “I want to travel cheaply so I can buy groceries when I get back” is more popular than ever. But how does one manage this? Vacations seem to be expensive no matter what we do or where we go. And it’s true. Vacations always cost money, but there are ways to drastically reduce your expenses while away.
Off season for the win
Why get sucked into the tourist trap every single year when you can hit up the same spots a week before their tourist season begins? This can be tough depending on the area since some tourist seasons are dependent on weather. But you know what places don’t change much from week to week, whether it’s April or August? You guessed it: the beach. Most vacation spots will have dates for their busy season listed online. Once you have the dates, go a week (or two) early. Prices will be lower and hotels will be less packed.
Hostels and B&B’s
Speaking of hotels, don’t go near them. I’m serious. Go anywhere else. They’re expensive and boring, and bed-n-breakfasts are the hip new thing (unlike someone who still says “hip”). Not only are they cozier, they often have decent prices and are more laid back than hotels.
If you’re in Europe, hostels aren’t what the horror movies make them out to be. They’re actually quite comfortable, right in the middle of the city, and way more affordable than a hotel. If you’re in your late teens or early twenties, youth hostels are an even better choice. They’re more youth-friendly and you’ll be surrounded by people closer to your own age. Make friends while you make great financial choices!
ATM vs. traveler’s check
Traveler’s checks were great when ATMs weren’t a thing, and they can still be useful if there’s no ATM in sight and you happen to know where the closest bank is. But more and more, ATMs are the best option on vacation. You don’t want to carry all of your spending money all at once at the start of the trip, so when you get low on cash, find an ATM. Because there might be fees, take out larger amounts at a time, to limit the number of withdrawals while away. To save money, set yourself a spending/withdrawal limit. It’s tempting to treat yo’self while vacationing, but remember that once you get home, bills and food are still a necessity.
You are a strong, independent woman/person/man who don’t need no help. If you’re traveling somewhere unfamiliar, skip the travel agency/service. They’re a rip-off. A good guidebook sells for about $20 and will have all the same information you’d get from a travel agent, without the hassle.
Blend in, eat local
If you ignored my hotel advice, then at least listen to this. If the front desk or concierge recommend a great restaurant right down the street, go anywhere else! Chances are they tell literally every guest to go to that one restaurant, and it will be packed (and not that great). You might end up having to go a little farther from your hotel for a bite, but finding local places are a far more interesting experience than the chain places. And are often cheaper, as they’re not targeting visitors and tourists.
A couple of months ago I went to Hawaii with my sister and parents. Before leaving, we’d all promised various friends and family that we would return with souvenirs for everyone. A local in Kailua-Kona was kind enough to warn us away from the touristy “ABC Stores” that seem to be taking over the islands. He said that if we wanted good, cheap souvenirs, we should go to Walmart (I know, I was surprised too).
Local shops are nice, too, of course, and it’s good to support small businesses (and not evil Walmart) but for large quantities of souvenirs, going the cheaper route goes a long way in not breaking the bank.
Free activities will free you
This one is easy. Go to the beach and find free parking. Sit in the sand and catch some sun. Splash in the surf to your heart’s content. Go hiking and find hidden waterfalls and creeks to play in. Anything free is your best bet (and gets you some fresh air).
Vacations mean spending some money, but it doesn’t have to empty your wallet. If you follow these tips and stay aware of what you’re spending, you’ll still have money left over for when you get home (and can buy all the avocados you want, maybe).
Originally posted 2017-09-06 11:10:28.
Also published on Medium.
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