Sunday, November 6, 2016

Don't Skip El Salvador

Most of the headlines that I have read about San Salvador, El Salvador is that it is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. It also has a record with one of the highest murder rates. But trust me, all of those are not true and it is always about how to be safe while travelling. Definitely, El Salvador is one of my favorite countries in Central America. I stayed at Ali's Downtown and I am recommending this hostel. Edwin is definitely the best! His place is just 20 minute walk to the Plaza Civica.

Also known as Plaza Gerardo Barrios, this square is located in the heart of the city. Opposite to it is the Palacio Nacional which was constructed in 1911. To fund the construction, the government charged one colon for every quintal of coffee exported. This building is now being used as office of the foreign minister and office of the president. It used to house the supreme court but now it is the defense minister's place. Of course, their offices are separated, each of them use big Salon.

Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador is on the right side of the plaza and is the principal church of San Salvador. Pope John Paul II visited this cathedral twice, in 1983 and 1996. Sadly, it was a site of a violent massacre that killed more than 40 people in 1980. But now with the current view and status of the cathedral, it is a picture of peace. 

The next day before Edwin took me to the Sta. Ana volcano, we stopped by first at Plaza Libertad. It is the location of the 'Monument to the Heroes', to commemorate the 100th year of the 'First Cry of Independence' in 1811. It is also the main plaza where the Salvadorans celebrate their independence day. 

Opposite to the Plaza Libertad is the 'The Rosary Church' (Iglesia el Rosario). Edwin told me that when Ruben Martinez submitted the design to the Vatican, it was initially rejected. But he explained that he will mostly use recycable materials and will use natural light. Eventually, it was built and is now considered as one of the most unique churches in the Americas. #DontSkipElSalvador

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Honduras Trip: La Tigra National Park

From El Picacho, I tried to negotiate with a cab driver to bring me to La Tigra National Park. It was more than 1 hour to go there. In the end, we agreed to a payment of 50 USD back and forth. He will bring me there and bring me back to the hotel. He was a very nice person with two kids but don't speak English but we understood each other eventually. So after the deal was closed, we drove to an uphill climb to Honduras' first national park.

The entrance is 10 USD. The park encompasses a cloud forest and eight hiking trails. I took the 'Sendero Bosque Nablado' trail. The trail is more than 2 hours hike and obviously, going down is easier. I was told that the place could be chilly so proper clothes is advisable. Also, guides are not really needed as long as you stick to the main trails.

The park is heavily forested with towering trees, orchids and large fens. The trails are easy to walk with, steps and small stairs are provided. The name of the park means 'The Tigress' and I was fortunate that I didn't see one. I was told that the park have several elusive creatures around. I actually didn't see any animals around but I must admit, it was a bit scary hiking alone in the middle of the forest.

La Tigra is the biggest remaining natural area near the capital Tegus. The park also supplies about thirty percent of the city's fresh water consumption. If you are planning to visit this place via bus, there are buses leave from Parque Herrera about four times a day. You will also need to bring anti-insect spray or lotion. If walking through the cloud forest and hiking is your passion, don't miss this park.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Honduras Trip: El Picacho

The name of this tourist spot in Honduras sounds like the famous online game now but it is totally different. From Hyatt Hotel, you can take a taxi to the mountain of El Picacho for 7 USD. The most famous landmark of it is the statue of Christ on the top. When I saw it, I couldn't help but compare it to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro which I also visited last year. Nevertheless, the place offers different atmosphere and approach in enjoying every moment of your visit.

The entrance to the main park is about 2 USD and they will give you a map. Surprisingly, El Picacho is not mainly about the famous statue. It also has parks (including for kids with complete playground) and a small zoo. From the entrance it is almost 30 minute walk to reach the top where the statue of the Christ is located.

While walking, you will see many spots to take a look at an amazing view! You can see the entire Tegucigalpa city. It was indeed a very refreshing moment for me. I was just sitting there and looking down to those mountainous places and how the simple lives of Honduran people happen everyday. 

From that spot, a few more walk and you will see the statue of Christ. Unfortunately, there is a separate entrance fee to reach and see the famous icon. It was around 5 USD or less so it is still okay.

On the front of the statue, there is also a perfect spot to see the amazing city.

Around it is a small park when people can walk around and sit for few moments. Historically, the statue was completed in 1998 after just one year of construction. It is 98 feet and in elevation at 4,353 feet. If you are in Honduras, try to visit this place and make sure to spend few hours to just appreciate the wonderful view of Tegus.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Honduras Trip: Tegucigalpa City

After more than six hours of bus ride to Honduras, I checked in my hotel and was a bit disappointed because it was raining. I was planning to roam around the city but unfortunately, that was not possible. Nevertheless, I enjoyed a bit of luxury in Hyatt Hotel. The next morning I prepared early to walk around Tegus (short for Tegucigalpa). The city is located in a mountainous area and the houses and buildings that surround it make a picturesque view.

From hotel, it was more than 30 minute walk to Plaza Morazan which is located in Calle Bolivar. This square is considered as the heart of the Tegus' old city. The most notable icon is the statue of Francisco Morazan (obviously, the plaza was named after him). He was a great solider and the president of Central American Republic in 1830.

It was Sunday when I visited the plaza and Honduras was still celebrating their independence day. There was a program that time and the kids that were performing were all smiles and were wearing an image of proudness of their country. It was mostly musical program that ended with flag raising in the main square.

Also located in the plaza is the Catedral San Miguel (also known as Catedral del Arcangel San Miguel). It was built from 1765 to 1782 and it is very well preserved. Unfortunately, it was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1823. 

When I entered inside the cathedral, I was strucked with amazement of the design of the main altar. There is a beautiful sculpture of San Miguel in a rock garden style. I can say that this cathedral is a "must see" when visiting Tegus.

Upon walking further, I saw this very noticeable structure. It was actually the old presidential house that was used from 1919 up to 1972. The main entrance has a stone facade. In 1972, it was renovated and is now home of the Center for Documentation and Historical Studies of Honduras. As oppose to what I read, Tegucigalpa is a very safe city. You can just walk around and the people are nice.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Nicaragua Trip: The Lion Cities

Nicaragua has 2 lion cities. The first one is 'León Viejo' (old Leon city) which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was founded in 1524 but unfortunately, it was buried by eruptions of the Momotombo volcano in the 1610s. In 1960, the site was excavated that resulted into a ruins park.

For foreigners, a 5 US dollar entrance fee is required. The site is rich in history and unbelievable stories. The fee I believe is being used to preserve the heritage site and its continuous restoration.

The founder, Francisco Cordoba was decapitated in the main square of the site. It was ordered by governor Pedrarias Davila. The sad thing about the place is that most of the ruins are still buried and only top most structures are visible. Each point of sites has a description both in Spanish and English. It is an important part of the history as it displays city planning from 16th century and it was never altered so the preservation is a huge plan of the government.

Also from this site, the famous Momotombo volcano can be viewed. It stands in the Lake Managua and just erupted in 2015. 

From the old, the new León City is situated 30 kilometers from León Viejo. The iconic symbol in the new León City is the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption of Leon. Because of its solid construction, it survived and have endured earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. This is the largest cathedral in Central America.

The new lion city also houses the monument of Maximo Jerez. He was one of the leaders that pushed the unity of Central America. He is considered as greatest political thinker in Nicaragua. The statue was built for his honor.

Nicaragua Trip: Managua City

After checking into the hotel and did a quick rest, I started to roam the city of Managua. This is the capital and the largest city of Nicaragua. The population as of 2015 is more than 1 million. This city is very clean! I was actually surprised. It is way cleaner than San Jose. From hotel, it was just a walking distance (around 30 to 45 minutes) to Plaza de la Revolucion.

Also known as Republic Square, this plaza is home to Managua's historical buildings. This place experienced a terrible earthquake in 1972 that most of the structures around it were almost destroyed. Somehow, some of them survived and restored. The square's main spots are as follows:

Old Cathedral. Also known as Catedral del Santiago and designed by Pablo Dambach. 

National Palace of Culture. Also built by Pablo Damach, this building survived the 1972 Nicaraguan earthquake. Currently, it is also the site of National Archive, National Library and National Museum.

Casa Presidencial. Also called 'Casa Naranja', was constructed to house the government officials of the republic.

Monument of Ruben Dario. It was built to commemorate his contribution to the Nicaraguan poetry. He was a very influential figure in the Spanish literature and journalism in the 20th century.

Next, just a 5 minute walk from the plaza is the tourist port of the capital 'The Salvador Allende Port'. There is a one dollar entrance fee. This place is filled with restaurants, markets, playground for kids and and area to just sit and relax and watch the sunset by the lake.

There is also a service being offered if you want to sail by the lake with a small cruise.

Of course I wouldn't miss to try the food from there. I ordered this big fried fish and I wasn't able to finish it so I had to ask to pack it for take away. Though it was a tiring day, it was still worth it. I was impressed by the cleanliness of this city and the very nice people who always smile.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Costa Rica Trip: Arenal Volcano & Hot Spring

After almost three hours of driving from San Jose, we have reached the province of Alajuela. Once the Arenal Volcano became visible from the shuttle's window, most of us were taking pictures of such magnificent view. The conically shaped volcano is 5,358 feet high. The volcano is also known as "Pan de Azucar".

Initially, it was considered as a dormant volcano but in 1968, it unexpectedly erupted destroying the small town of Tabacon. But in 2010, Arenal has become dormant. The driver stopped for 15 minutes so we can take more pictures out of the shuttle bus. It was not in the plan to go to top or hike it so picture taking was the second best that we can do from that location.

So we continued to our next destination: Baldi Hot Springs. Thanks to the geothermal activity beneath Arenal, the area surrounding the volcano is home to a number of hot springs and Baldi is one of the best.

It is also a hotel and it boasts 25 thermal water pools. Each pool offers different level of temperature or should we say "hotness". It was very relaxing and a nice way to enjoy and appreciate the nature. You know, just staying in the heat of the water felt like the best way of just chilling and sleeping for a while.

At 6 in the evening, we had a buffet dinner and the food was amazing. It had a lot of varieties and my favorite was the dessert section. I really fell in love with Costa Rica and I really hope that I could come back soon.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Costa Rica Trip: La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Less than an hour drive from Poas Volcano, we arrived in La Paz Waterfall and is located 31 kilometers north of Alajuela between Vara Blanca and Cinchona. This garden is set in the rainforest with 3.5 kilometers of walking trails and viewing platforms for the waterfalls that include El Templo, Magia Blanca and Encant.

After paying the entrance fee, an amazing view will welcome you. It is like the clouds are trying to kiss the trees and mix together that creates a beautiful sight in the eye that results to a truly magical experience.

It is not just a waterfall gardens. It is also a conservatory place where some wild animals are being kept and preserved. I actually asked the guide if it is a zoo because I have strong feeling against zoos. But he explained that it is not and that the government is doing its best to keep the animals in safe and sustainable environment.

The area is rich in bio diversity because of the altitude that varies between 4,000 and 5,000 feet that allows for both cloud forest and rainforest co-exist.

After seeing those animals, it was time to visit the waterfalls but a lunch was served first. It was literally rainforest as it started raining. Good thing they sell raincoat for 15 USD so I saved myself from a very wet afternoon.

The trails going up and down just to see the waterfalls was so tiring. But once you see and hear the flow of waters and how the nature seems like calling you, everything was worth it. It was indeed a magical place. I really loved it and the experience of walking in the middle of forest surrounded by chirping birds and echo of the waters. Never skip this tour as for sure you will definitely enjoy it!

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