Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Traveling during the holidays

Greetings my friends from around this incredible world! I hope everyone is spending time with their loved ones during the holidays. Whether traveling with them or spending quality time at home. :) With the holidays finally here, it got me thinking...and I started to look back at the times when I traveled during the holidays.

There have been a few times when I traveled during a holiday, whether around Christmas time or during a countries own holiday at another time of the year. I've had some pretty interesting experiences! But I also learned what it's like to celebrate in another place other than my home.

I celebrated Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Christmas in Panama City, Panama, and New Years in Montezuma, Costa Rica and Tikal, Guatemala. Here are my thoughts for traveling during these times of the year in these countries just mentioned!

Carnival - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Oh Rio! What to say about you? :) If there is only one party you can attend your whole life, it just has to be Carnival in Brazil. The colors are so vibrant! The festivities are EVERYWHERE....literally. During the day, there are beach parties but at night is where the action is at.
Just drop by any street party. You are welcome anywhere! It's not about doing all those 'bad' things you think of when going to a party at all. The vibe there was living a good life, being surrounded by friends, and dancing the night away! My kind of party. Though I've settled down a lot since then! Never really was a party kind of girl. I prefer adventure!
Besides all the fun street parties going on, you also can attend the Samba Parade at the Sambadome, along with thousands enjoying the festive floats, costumes, and excitement all around!
You can find tickets online to attend one of the Samba Parades held by all the Samba schools OR you can take a chance and dare I say it...purchase a ticket on the Black Market? Probably the scariest thing we did on that trip! Or maybe it isn't on the Black Market? I'll never know!
The tickets online go for around $80-100 or more and we were not going to pay that. We ended up buying tickets from someone in front of the Sambadome. I believe we ended up paying $15. SCORE! The festivities go on the whole night. We left around 4 am. Just make sure you are careful and grab a taxi! Do not wander around.
The low down?
It is NOT cheap to travel to Brazil at this time. Keep that in mind as you are planning your adventure. You'll need:
Your passport
A Brazilian Visa (for those living in certain countries that require it for travel to Brazil)
Book your hostel or hotel room months in advance!*
Extra money/Another form of payment**
And other necessities you usually have for travel - Make sure sun block/sun tan lotion is on that list!   
*If you DO NOT book your hotel or hostel in advance, be prepared to scramble OR pay way more money than anticipated. Hostel prices jump HIGH during this time. Let's say a typical hostel costs $15/night. During Carnival, it'll be $75+/night! If you don't book, you may be lucky with finding a room here or there but usually it's only for one person. If you are traveling with others, this means you may be separated. If you are not a planner, somewhat like myself, you don't have to plan this trip but just around Carnival, it is highly recommended you just plan this part of the trip so you don't have to worry about it then!
**Extra money/Form of payment if you do not book anything during Carnival. And to anticipate higher prices around that time. Taxi drivers will overcharge you. Trust me on this.
Bem vindo ao Brasil!
Christmas - Panama City, Panama

Oh how I loved Panama! I haven't been everywhere in this world yet but Panama is definitely on the list of places I would consider living or retiring in. ;) Just a beautiful country all around and I hope you'll put it on your list of places to travel to if you have yet to go there!
The sounds of gunshots...oops I meant FIREWORKS are heard every night --from days before Christmas and almost up to New Years! The first time I heard the loud fireworks, I won't lie, I was kind of scared!! :))
I found out about the importance of Christmas in Panama on my own. How?
Well, I was super excited to walk to the fish market the day before Christmas to pick up some seafood that I was allowed to cook in the kitchen at the hostel I was staying at. All the thoughts of what I was going to make on my mind. YUM! Well, when I finally made it to the fish market, everything was deserted. Not a fish in sight! Not even anybody there. My heart was crushed.
I started to wander around to find something else to do and it was then I realized that everything was closed! Christmas is extremely important in Panama. Not only was everything closed on Christmas, there were no stores open the day before as well. Those days were for sightseeing and getting a feel of Casco Viejo, which I appreciated very much.
And what I appreciated even more was that they did not cater to us travelers just because we were there at that time. If they had, that would have meant some people were not spending time with their families.
The next day, everything was lively again and my new friends and I enjoyed walking along the streets, making bargains with the sellers, and eating delicious street food!

The low down?
Christmas is important to the Central American countries. Just plan ahead. Make sure you have enough food, water, and a place to stay and you'll be just fine. :) Whether you are a solo traveler or with a partner or group, take that time to appreciate your surroundings and the area you are staying in.
As for finding a place to stay, I had no problems and the prices, to me, didn't seem to increase around this time. An all-around good experience.
Wait till you hear how I spent the day after Christmas before bargain hunting! That'll be my next post! :)

New Years Eve and Day - Puerto Viejo and Montezuma, Costa Rica

Spent the majority of New Years Eve at a black sand beach in Puerto Viejo. It was a calm, cloudy yet beautiful day and great way to end the year.
In the evening, there really wasn't anything too happening before the clock struck midnight! We learned that in Costa Rica, New Years Eve celebrations aren't a huge deal over there.
But what about New Years Day?
The first day of that year, we hopped on a bus from Puerto Viejo back to San Jose. From there, we took a taxi to another bus station and got on a bus that took us to Puntarenas, where we took the ferry to the Caribbean side, and hailed a 'taxi' or whatever it was (LONG STORY! I'LL FILL YOU ALL IN LATER!) to Montezuma, an hour away from the dock.
We had no reservations to any hostel and we figured that would be okay because it was the 1st and all the celebrations would be over. We. made. a. big. mistake.
You see, New Years Eve may not be a huge thing to celebrate there, but New Years Day IS! Every. single. hostel. was. booked. We had no place to stay and it was around 10:30 pm at night. We even tried to grab a hammock for the night and even they were all taken!
We found one more place that we surprisingly must have missed it on our search. We decided that if it was fully booked, we were going to miss out on Montezuma, and try for another beach town. We walked up to the manager, asked for an available room, and to our surprise, he said he had plenty open. We were excited! We weren't going to sleep on the street that night!
It didn't occur to us why he had so many available rooms while everyone was booked until after we got the keys and paid for the night...
The room was disgusting. Little bugs walking all over the walls, huge ants on the floor and door. Even the bed was just a huge piece of foam with a lot of loose 'white' pieces all over it. Most definitely the worst hostel I have EVER stayed at. Oh I wish I remembered the name of it to save you all! I'll have to do some research!
Long story short, we didn't get a good nights sleep and decided the next day to check out as soon as possible and if we didn't find a place to stay, we would just leave Montezuma with no exploring. Luckily, a room opened up at this nice little hotel and to my friends surprise, I agreed to it! It was not a hostel, but after that experience, even I recognize that it is an 'adventure vacation' that I was on and I should treat myself just once!
 We spent time at the pool, went to the beach, and ziplined with a fun swimming treat in between the adventure! By the way, for the best ziplining, I highly recommend Costa Rica!
The low down?
While New Years Eve is not really a big celebration in Costa Rica, New Years Day IS! Or at least, gets booked up fast! If you plan on traveling around this time of year, I would highly consider booking in advance to make sure you at least have a place to stay that day! Trust me on this. You do not want to stay at a hostel like the one I stayed at in Montezuma. And don't worry, I will try my hardest to figure out what the hostel is called!
New Years Eve and New Years Day - Tikal, Guatemala


Before I get into details, I will say I left LAX on Christmas and arrived in Guatemala the day after that. The day after Christmas in Guatemala was exactly the same as in Panama. No need to worry about a place to stay around that time.
I left Antigua by bus on the 30th and arrived in Tikal the next day, the last day of the year. Spent the whole day exploring Tikal and the magnificent Mayan pyramids while waiting for our hotel room to be ready. Just incredible here. Let your mind wander as you are exploring these mind-blowing structures.
Since Tikal is considered mainly a 'touristy' spot, though you will find Guatemalans there looking at their countries history, you should book in advance. Especially because there are only three hotels total in the park. If you cannot book one of the three hotels, you will have to book a place outside of the park and make the trek early to get there if you plan on going for the whole day.
It's my opinion to just try to book a hotel in the park to save that money on taxis and just be able to not only take in the pyramids, but to even just wander around the jungle!
Of course since it is a touristy place, they did have a New Years dinner celebration at all three hotels. I'd say more about the experience but that was the night I got sick, which you can read more here: Sleep Deprivation While Traveling

The best part of spending New Years Day in Tikal?
An empty jungle of course! Better pictures and all to yourself while everyone else is sleeping! Though to do this, you do have to wake up super early. 4 am that is! But listening to the sounds of the jungle and watching the sunrise...PRICELESS! To keep the sunrise magical, I have not posted any pictures of it. :)

Forewarning: The first few pictures are somewhat blurry but it's to show you the change from 4 am to before the sunrise.
The low down?
I may not have spent the end of the year and beginning of the new year in an actual city of Guatemala but I spent it in the jungle and you still need to book in advance if you want a place to stay! Tikal was full of people throughout the day so I knew then that we would have not stayed at the park had we not booked in advance. 
NOTE: There are NO drivers on New Years Day. We were so lucky that the van driver on the 31st offered to pick us up in Tikal and take us to Flores. If you do not have a driver on the 1st, you'll end up staying another day in Tikal or maybe you'll get lucky and find someone. Either way, it's Guatemala and Tikal and you'll love wherever you end up! Just depends on what plans you have and if you need to be anywhere or on a time crunch.
As for traveling anywhere outside of the jungle and rural areas, I can assume you should easily be able to find a place to stay.
I'd also like to add that Guatemala is beautiful, full of culture and like Panama, one of my favorite Central American countries. I also found the people there to be extremely friendly. This is one country you should put in your travel plans!
What are your experiences traveling during holidays?
I wish you all Safe Travels, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! :)