(This article is now featured on Huffington Post – click here to read). Since leaving the UK to travel the world last year, I’ve visited many beautiful and exotic beach destinations, but Fiji perhaps best encapsulates the idea of tropical paradise. Almost every way you turn you’ll find palm trees swaying in the breeze, turquoise ocean shimmering on the horizon, and brightly coloured flowers adorning almost everything. But with over 330 islands and thousands of hotels and resorts, deciding where to stay in Fiji can be difficult. Rather than spend my time in Fiji kicking back on the beach in just one place, I wanted to travel around and see which places stuck out to me.
It didn’t take long to realise that Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is pretty special, even as far as luxury resorts go. Perhaps it was the all-singing, all-clapping welcome from the staff, which even for Fijian standards was warm. Perhaps it was the fact that the resort has a ‘pillow library’. It might have had something to do with the breathtaking beach vistas, which perfectly encapsulate the idea of tropical paradise: palm trees sway gently in the warm breeze, and clear, calm waters sparkle under the hot sun and deep blue sky. Whatever it was, it took about five minutes to realise that this would be a luxury travel experience entirely out of the ordinary…
Lima, Peru’s sprawling and chaotic capital, has long been overlooked. Less picturesque than the country’s second city Arequipa, and less steeped in Inca history than Cusco, many travellers would often bypass Lima altogether. But things have changed. In recent years Lima has been steadily carving out a reputation as not only the gastronomic capital of South America, but also as one of the coolest cities on the continent.
After spending the past eight months travelling through Latin America, our two week layover in the US felt very welcome. It was so good to be able to communicate easily again (our Spanish sucked), and it was also good to enjoy that excellent customer service. Not that Latin America had bad service (apart from Bolivia…), but it’s just SO good over here. So when we arrived in Las Vegas, the city of hedonism, excess, consumerism and glamour, we thought we may as go all out.
“The only way to experience Yosemite is by sleeping under the stars.” I read this years ago and it stayed with me. I’d wanted to visit California’s Yosemite National Park for a long, long time, and this January we got the opportunity. Sleeping under the stars, however, was out of the question, because our visit coincided with the heaviest snowfall in years.
Despite many people telling me I’d find it hard to find healthy, varied options, on the whole Central America surprised me by how veggie-friendly it could be. The standout was Guatemala, but each country’s people offered up their own unique meat-free treats and happily tweaked their dishes for vegetarians. So how hard would it be to find the best vegetarian food in Panama?
Antigua Guatemala was the first place I fell in love with on this trip. This Central American colonial town has it all – incredible food, absorbing culture and jaw-dropping vistas – and over six months after my visit (where does the time go??) it’s still on my mind. I’m making it a personal mission to encourage as many people to go to Guatemala as possible; along with Peru, it’s my favourite country so far and an absolute joy to explore. If you’re considering visiting Antigua, check out the city guide I’ve written for Suitcase Magazine for some advice, tips and tricks.
(Check out Part I of this blog entry HERE) Inca Trail Day Three: Winay Huayna & Intipata So, day three of the Inca trail. After the challenge of Dead Woman’s Pass, we were told that day three would be both easier and more enjoyable. It certainly started well: we were treated to a lie-in until 6:00am! As a troubled sleeper, I was definitely feeling the previous 3:45 and 5:00 am starts, but it was still hard not to feel upbeat on what was widely rumoured to be the best day of the trek.
Out of all the things I was most excited about in South America, hiking the Inca trail was number one. This isn’t original. As Peru’s most popular tourist attraction, Machu Picchu has around 1.2 million visitors a year, although most of these get the train up from the nearby town of Agua Calientes. But for many backpackers, trekking to Machu Picchu is the only way to get there.
The last leg of our nearly six-week long Colombian adventure came to close where we started off – on the hot Caribbean coast. After several weeks in Medellin we caught a flight to Santa Marta to explore the best this region has to offer. And according to word of mouth, that was Tayrona National Park. While that certainly didn’t disappoint, my favourite place in this region – and probably Colombia on the whole – took me entirely by surprise…
Costa Rica has come a long way. Described in the 18th century as “the poorest and most miserable Spanish colony in all of America,” today it is by far the richest and most stable country in Central America. Long popular with tourists due to its wildlife, beaches and exceptional coffee, in recent years Costa Rica has been busy advancing its gastronomic reputation too. But this is a country where most national dishes (“tico” to the locals) revolve around rice and beans with seafood or meat. Remove that from the equation, and how does Costa Rica’s vegetarian food fare?
Of all the countries we’re visiting on this trip, Colombia has drawn the strongest reaction. The country’s reputation for drugs, kidnapping and murder is well established, but nowhere else is more infamous than Medellin, once dubbed the “most dangerous city on earth”. This was a city utterly torn apart by cartels and drug lords, and none were so notorious as Pablo Escobar.
Goodbye Central America, hello South! After three months travelling through Mexico, Cuba and Central America, our first stop on this new continent was Cartagena, Colombia. This historic city is Colombia’s most touristy destination, and was where we met up with our friends Dave and Jess – the first to visit us. Situated on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, Cartagena is hot and humid – the type of heat where you’re resigned to having a permanently sweaty face and damp t-shirt. That aside, Cartagena is the most incredible place to visit.
Like much of Central America, Nicaragua isn’t really known for its food. Bordered by Costa Rica and Honduras and set between the Pacific and Caribbean coasts, this country is celebrated more for its dramatic volcanic landscape than its culinary prowess. There’s a reason for this.
I feel I should start this blog post with a disclaimer. Costa Rica is beautiful. It has gorgeous beaches and wild jungles that are home to some of the most adorable animals in the world. It has a laid-back vibe and the people are warm and friendly. The weather is great and the food is good. We loved our time here. So what’s the problem?
Guatemala: home of towering volcanoes, spectacular Mayan ruins — and the best vegetarian food in Central America? It’s true. Guatemala has been such a delight to explore and such an unexpected culinary standout that I don’t even know where to begin.
I entered Nicaragua almost grudgingly. Guatemala stole my heart, and after a nightmare 19 hour night bus and too many frustrating misunderstandings to go into, we finally arrived in the city of Leon at six in the morning. Unable to check into our AirBnB until 7:30, we wandered the streets trying to find somewhere open for breakfast. Even at that early hour we could tell Leon was seriously, seriously hot, a shock after cool, temperate Guatemala. Tired, sweaty and pissed off, it’s fair to say I didn’t have the best first impression of this country. “You’re no Guatemala, Nicaragua!” But what do you know. After a long sleep in a comfy bed, it turns out that Nicaragua is pretty great after all.
Anyone who read my gushing blog post on Antigua will know that I love Guatemala – but there is, of course, so much more to this country than one charming colonial city.
There are places you know you won’t find any good vegetarian food, and there are places you think you won’t find any. Belize is the latter. The Central American nation has a lot of coast for such a small country, so fish and seafood form a substantial part of the traditional diet. Ceviche, conch and lobster are the national dishes, and the idea that a vegetarian movement would be strong here didn’t seem too likely. But Belize is veggie-friendly — far more so than I anticipated.
In May this year I quit my job, sold my possessions, found my cat a new home, said goodbye to friends and family and set off to travel the world. To describe this as something I’d been dreaming of doesn’t do it justice. Wanderlust evokes positive images, but this desire to travel and see the world was beginning to consume me. It was all I could think about, all I dreamed about, and it revealed a deep, persistent dissatisfaction within me.
Ahh, Antigua Guatemala. It seems crazy that I’ve been on this planet for almost 28 years and yet until a few weeks ago had no idea how utterly incredible Guatemala is. It honestly stunned me. Why don’t more people come here? It’s been popular with backpackers for years, but why it isn’t as common a holiday destination as nearby Costa Rica is beyond me, particularly when it’s vastly cheaper. Turns out, people are waking up to how sensational this country is. For years civil war and the subsequent poverty were adept at warding tourists off, but in recent years tourism is up 26%, thanks in part to the country’s reputation as being the Mayan heartland of Central America. But there’s so much more to Guatemala than…
I am woefully behind with blogging. Writing on the road is hard! We’re currently in Antigua, Guatemala and we love it. It’s by far and away my favourite destination so far and I really, really want to write about it, but first I have to do another post on Belize – in particular the Actun Tunichil Muknal cave tour. The Actun Tunichil Muknal cave (aka the Cave of the Crystal Maiden, aka the ATM caves) is a vast cave where the Mayans used to make human sacrifices from about 600 – 900 AD.
Some places you know you’ll love as soon as you see them. For us, Caye Caulker was one of those places. We were sold from the moment we set foot on this island. After flying back from Cuba, getting the night bus down from Mexico and then hopping on a water taxi from Belize City, any destination where we could dump our bags and relax for a while would probably seem pretty idyllic. But Caye Caulker truly is the stuff of backpacking dreams.
Havana is the strangest, most fascinating city you can imagine. Raw, tropical, vibrant and energetic, Havana is alive with an energy and spirit that pervades its entire culture. It’s a city of stark juxtaposition, where magnificent colonial squares sit alongside decayed and crumbling buildings, and classic American cars blast out the latest reggaeton music. Havana must be seen and experienced to be believed, but if you’re thinking of heading to this exotic island, here are ten things to know before you go…
Cuba is famous for many things. Rum. Cars. Cigars. Che. Food isn’t one of them. Aside from the staples (every Cuban citizen receives a regular supply of rice, sugar, coffee, meat, eggs and bread), food supplies are often limited and can run out without warning. Traveling the world as a vegetarian, Cuba was the country I thought would prove hardest to eat well in — or even moderately well. Its vegetarian food has a reputation for being either “completely uninspired” or “uniformly terrible” — but is the vegetarian food in Cuba really so bad? In a word, no. Definitely not. But I wouldn’t call it great, either. Let’s explore. HAVANA The first stop in Cuba is usually Habana Vieja, or Old Havana. As the…