Category Archives: Travel

Playa Maderas

San Juan del Sur on the western coast of Nicaragua in the country’s south is a very popular destination in Nicaragua for two reasons: drinking and surfing. It has a reputation as an epic party destination and is most well-known for it’s Sunday Funday weekly party. As such a popular tourist destination it is important to note, that the region is also catering for US tourists in terms of price!

We weren’t interested in drinking sessions, partying or surfing, but still made the trip out to the region and were happily rewarded for the effort.

Playa Majagual

Our stay at Playa Maderas

In our two days in the region we actually did very little, but the sun, sand and surf were wonderful for relaxing.

Playa Maderas

Rocky outcroppings of Play MaderasWe walked from Selinas Maderas to Playa Maderas, and explored the length of the beach and around the rocky outcroppings through to Playa Majagual.

We spent some time lazing on the beach soaking up the sunshine and enjoying fresh juice.

If you are into surfing, you can rent surfboards and/or book a surf lessons at the beach.

Exploring the area

Our second day in the region, we hitched a ride to San Juan del Sur where we rented a motorbike for $20/day. We had the intention of popping in to various beaches along the coastline, but with limited riding experience and gravel roads, we ended up visiting Playa Hermosa and again relaxing in the sun with delicious food and drink.

The highlight at Playa Hermosa was watching a tub full of baby turtles that had been obtained from the turtle sanctuary La Flor. The baby turtles were released into the ocean at sunset and it was a truly wonderful experience. The turtles were absolutely adorable!
The only downside was the number of tourists picking them up to ‘help’ them into the ocean, rather than letting them find it for themselves.

Food

At Playa Maderas The Jungle Dream is my number one recommendation for food. Their tacos are delicious, staff are friendly, it’s a super chill cafe and the prices are reasonable.

On the beach in front of Camping Matilda is a tiny beach hut run by a local family. The service was wonderful and welcoming. The food was very typical local food, and typical local price which was welcome as everything else was three or four times the price!

In San Juan del Sur we had breakfast at a cafe called Salud Kitchen and while it was certainly pricey, it was absolutely fantastic. The coffee was great, the avocado toast was delicious and the breakfast burrito was out of this world!

Accommodation

Not wanting to stay in San Juan del Sur, we found accommodation just near Playa Maderas at Selina’s Maderas. Selina’s is a chain of hostels found throughout Latin America, owned by “an Arab” (as stated by one of the employees).

The facilities at Selina’s were great, modern and clean and it was a good location. The staff, food and prices were less amazing. The staff weren’t friendly or helpful, the prices were upper end with no inclusions whatsoever and the restaurant menu was limited. When we did eat at the restaurant for exorbitant prices we were left hungry and disappointed. Your best bet is to shop at the grocery store in SJdS and cook for yourself.

We paid $16 per bed in an 8 bed dorm, and were grateful for the wonderfully hot showers.

Getting There and Away

You get to San Juan del Sur via Rivas. With a chicken bus the trip should cost only 30 Cordoba each way.

To get to Playa Maderas, you can be lucky enough to hitch a ride with someone, or pay for a shuttle ride at Casa del Oro for USD$5 return. To be honest, we bought return tickets and only ever used a one-way the rest of the trips we hitched or used our hired motorbike.

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Isla Ometepe

Isla Ometepe
Isla Ometepe is a figure eight shaped island in the centre-western section of Lake Nicaragua, with a population of 47,000 people. The island was formed by the two volcanoes, Volcan Concepcion and Volcan Maderas, connected by an isthmus.

With such a high volume of volcanic, fertile soil, Isla Ometepe has a strong focus on agriculture, with plantations of beans, rice, corn and various fruits.

With two stunning volcanoes, one active and one not-active; various beaches; natural springs; waterfalls; and beautiful nature, Isla Ometepe is also a tourist hot-spot.

Our Stay at Isla Ometepe

The main goal of our visit to Isla Ometepe was to hike Volcan Concepcion. Many claim this to be Nicaragua’s hardest hike. In addition to hiking, we wanted to see more of what the island had to offer. We spent three nights on the island, allowing us two full days on the island, one spent hiking and one spent exploring.

Despite it not being a particular hub for tourism, we stayed in Moyogalpa. For people planning to hike Volcan Concepcion, this is the best place to stay. For those more interested in simply exploring the island, staying in Balgüe would be my recommendation.

Volcan Concepcion

We booked our tour up Concepcion through our accommodation, Hospedaje Soma. The tour needs a minimum number of people to run (from memory it is a minimum of 2-3) and the cost is calculated based on the number of people in the group. With a party of six people we paid USD$21 per person for the tour, plus USD$3 entry fee to the Volcan Concepcion nature reserve. No food or water is provided so you must pack and carry your own.

The full hike to the crater at 1610 metres takes 9-11 hours, and is a reasonably extreme incline, so be prepared for some hard work!

Howler Monkey in the canopyWe were collected from our hostel by our guide Wilmore at 06:30 and driven the 10-20minutes to the base of the volcano. We registered and paid our entry fee, grabbed some walking poles and headed off up the mountain.

Our guide Wilmore was absolutely brilliant and absolutely the best guide we could hope for. He had a focus on safety, the environment and sharing knowledge about the area, it’s history, flora and fauna.

The hike is approximately 7.5 kilometres. The first 2.5 kms are reasonably flat terrain, the remaining 5 kms are a 25-30% incline. If we didn’t have walking poles we would have spent a great deal of time using our hands as well as our feet!

The lower section of the hike is through beautiful, dense, green jungle. We were lucky enough to see some white-headed capuchin monkeys and some families of howler monkeys. At the end tail end of the hike, we spent a half hour just watching the families moving about the trees.

From approximately 900 metres altitude the trail incline increases and the vegetation disappears. At some point the clear skies turned to cloud and we spent a large proportion of the hike walking through misty, wet clouds. Reaching the craters edge was exciting, not to mention a little scary as the high winds seriously affected our ability to stand upright. Despite the complete lack of visibility, it was incredibly exciting and rewarding to reach the crater’s edge at 1610metres. Quite the achievement!

The crater's edge of Volcan Concepcion, 1610m

Ride the Island

A great way to see the island is to rent a scooter, motorbike or ATV. We paid around USD$20 to rent a motorbike for the day. Due to leg pain from the hike, we had a late start and didn’t get to see much – but what we did see was fabulous!

Riding through BalgüeFirstly it’s important to be aware that there are few sealed roads on the island. The road from Moyogalpa to Balgüe in an S shape (west then east across the isthmus) is sealed and easy enough to travel. Basically anywhere else you need to be prepared for slow, off-road travel. This being said, places I would have liked to have visited include Volcan Maderas’ crater lake and San Ramon waterfall.

One of the funniest things about riding around the island is crossing straight over an active, functional airstrip without any kind of warning signs. Hopefully they actually put security at the road crossing when plane landings are anticipated!!

Ojo de Agua

A site that we visited in our adventure around the island, was Ojo de Agua, Eye of Water. There are mixed reviews of the place, and I would have to say that I thought it was wonderful – but I will explain.

Ojo de Agua is essentially a man-made public swimming pool in the jungle that is fed by natural spring water. The fact that it is a natural spring is quite clear in what you read, but there are fewer references to the fact that the spring water feeds into a man-made constructions. So many people are disappointed with their experience.

Entry costs around USD$3 per person, there are change rooms, toilets, a restaurant and many sun lounge chairs on site. There’s also a banana plantation and trails through the agricultural area of the site.

The pool has deep and shallow sections, a tarzan swing and a slackline. After a seriously epic hike, I found it relaxing and rewarding to enjoy some time by the pool.

Food

We had two fantastic meals out in Moyogalpa that are worth mentioning the restaurant Mar Dulce and the random, hard to find, local restaurant.

Reviewed as the best place to eat in Moyogalpa, Mar Dulce can be found on the main street in town. They have a decent range of food options covering both Italian, Mexican and Latin American dishes. We had a two person serve of mixed, chicken & beef, fajitas that were simply divine. The serving size was massive and we barely managed to finish it all.

The other restaurant that we ate at was a local restaurant with very typical Nicaraguan food at a great price. You  can find it on Google Maps under the name Pollo Cervecero bar y comedor. The staff only speak Spanish, but are more than happy to help you as much as possible with their snippets of english. The food was fresh, delicious, a great price (222 Cordoba for 2 people including beers – USD$7) and a great location by the beach.

We enjoyed our breakfasts at our accommodation Hospedaje Soma, included in the room cost was a choice of four breakfast menus, all of which were delicious and hearty.

Accommodation

Wanting to stay in Moyogalpa and not in the centre of town limited the accommodation options, however we managed to find a place called Hospedaje Soma and made a booking via Facebook Messenger.

We splashed out on a private room with shared for three nights at USD$30 per night including breakfast. The facilities were modern and clean. The staff were absolutely wonderful, knowledgeable and helpful. They were ready to answer any and all questions we could think of, and were happy to arrange our tours and motorbike rental.

They were an easy 10 minute walk out of town and it was a very peaceful place to stay. I would highly recommend staying there if you plan to stay in Moyogalpa.

Getting There and Away

As mentioned in my post about Granada, Rivas is the central transport hub for getting around southern Nicaragua.

Granada to Moyogalpa, Isla Ometepe

We travelled to Isla Ometepe from Granada, which meant first taking a chicken bus from Granada to Rivas for 50 Cordoba per person.

Passenger ferry from San Jorge to Isla OmetepeFrom Rivas you need a taxi collectivo to San Jorge Ferry Terminal. a Taxi Collectivo is just a taxi that functions similarly to a bus, when there are enough people to fill the vehicle, they depart. It should be quite cheap per person, but we got screwed over into paying 450 Cordoba (USD$14) for two of us for a 10 minute taxi ride!

There are two ferry types travelling between San Jorge and Moyogalpa, one is a smaller passenger ferry and the other for cars and passengers. The larger one is a bit slower but more stable, and slightly more expensive. In terms of scheduling, the passenger ferries are more frequent, and the larger ferry will have a scheduled time but then wait until it is full before departing. The passenger ferry cost 45 Cordoba per person.
Check this site as a guideline for ferry times.

Moyogalpa, Isla Ometepe to San Juan del Sur

We took the Car ferry to return to San Jorge for around 50 Cordoba per person.

On arrival in San Jorge we ended up taking a Taxi Collectivo directly to San Juan del Sur (rather than going via Rivas) together with another couple. We paid USD$7.50 per couple for this trip.

Note: If you are going to get scammed for transport costs it is pretty likely to be in Rivas! Bus prices are fixed, but you need to watch out for taxi drivers. You will be told things like “you missed the last bus and will have to take a taxi”. Tips for avoiding being ripped off, ask locals what the price SHOULD be for a particular trip and try to team up with others heading the same way as you to get a bulk discount or collectivo price.

Isla Ometepe

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Granada

Granada is a wonderfully colourful old colonial city positioned on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, a popular destination on the tourist route and the second stop on our Nicaraguan adventure.

Granada Cathedral

About Granada

The city of Granada in the province of Granada,  was founded in 1524 under Spanish rule.  It is located at the northern end of Lake Nicaragua and is a central point between two active volcanos, Masaya and Mombacho.

Granada’s location for settlement was a strategic choice, with access to fresh water, waterways for trade, and fertile volcanic soil for agriculture. The well positioned, busy trading port became a target for pirates and plunder. Making for a rich history.

The city is quite large, with a population of over 100,000 but, as the city is sprawled over a large geographic area, it doesn’t feel at all crowded. Granada’s city centre is buzzing with life, and is a display of well maintained, spectacularly colourful, colonial architecture.

Granada tends to compete with Leon as the most popular city for tourists to visit in Nicaragua. I feel it’s truly personality and interests that affect which one you prefer. As someone with a preference for quaint and charm, Granada was certainly my preferred city.

Our stay at Granada

During our days in Granada we did a combination of tours and self-exploration.

Get lost in the streets

My first and foremost recommendation for Granada is to get lost. Wander the streets at random, say hi to all the friendly locals, appreciate the brightly coloured buildings, the fascinating and intricate door designs and taste some of the treats for sale by street vendors (I generally stick to the fresh fruit options).The colourful streets of Granada

Cathedrals and Churches

All the churches have different architecture and colouring, and they are fascinating to visit. They each cost $1 to enter.

The main cathedral has a wonderful ceiling painting and the view over the plaza from the tower is gorgeous! Iglesia La Merced also has a spectacular view, some people prefer it to the cathedrals view, but I thought they were both equally interesting.

Mercado Municipal

The Mercado Municipal is the local market, you can buy anything and everything here: fruit, vegetables, fresh meat and fish, socks, underwear, shoes, brooms, bed linen, plastic buckets…the list goes on. It’s a really interesting place to explore, but be prepared for crowded, dark spaces.

There are some food stalls where you can buy a cheap, fresh,  local meal. I was nervous ordering food when I did not know what I would get, but my local lunch was absolutely delicious! It was a server of grilled beef, served with a gallo pinto (rice and beans) and a salad for only a dollar or two.

Doña Elba Cigar Factor

North of the city centre, near Xalteva church is a tiny Cigar factory called Doña Elba. Their daily production is 300-350 cigars all hand rolled and pressed.

You can get a free (donation based) tour of this tiny factory and if you want you can learn to roll your own cigar for $7.

The staff at the cigar factory were lovely and despite not being smokers, nor having a particular interest in cigars, it was a very pleasant experience.

Las Isletas Tour

Mombacho Volcano and Last Isletas in Lake NicaraguaThousands of years ago Mombacho Volcano erupted and threw rock and ash into Lake Nicaragua forming an archipelago of 365 islands. Most of the islands are vegetation and wildlife rich dur to the rich, fertile volcanic ground.

Many of the islands are inhabited or for sale, they are largely foreign owned due to the very high price tags. Two of the islands have monkeys, but they did not come to be there naturally and are simply to appease the tourists. Sadly they get fed Oreos and other things to bring them close to the tourist boats.

It was quite interesting to zip in and around the islands, to see the huge houses, and the variety of birdlife and vegetation, but it was disappointing to see the monkey so far from their natural habitat.

The Las Isletas tour cost $18 per person for a 3 hour tour. They run from  9-12 and again 2-5pm.

Masaya Volcano

From Granada an evening tour to Masaya Volcano is quite common, you can also self tour but we booked a tour. Masaya Volcano is the smallest but most active of the active volcanoes in Nicaragua. It is 635 metres above sea level, and the lava level is currently up to 270 metres above sea level.

We had hoped to hike the lava tubes, but as they are at 250 metres above sea level, they were under the current lava level.

For the majority, the tour is spent in a van travelling, and we had a brief visit at a museum on the way up. The main event however, is a visit to the volcano crater after the sun has set. Vehicles are sent up in batches, after arriving at the car park you are given 15minutes to look around and take your photos and you must then get back in the van and leave. As the volcano is so active, the sulfur fumes are dangerous and also it’s ridiculously popular, the visit is very short.

Despite being a short visit I considered it worth the time and money. I thought it was truly a great experience to look down into an active volcano, and see the glowing red, fast-flowing river of lava below!

The Masaya Tour cost $20 per person and was around 3 hours in duration. It was operated by TransTours, but we booked through El Caite Hostel.

Glowing lava in the Masaya Volcano

What I would do if I went back…

If I went back to the Granada region in Nicaragua I would take some extra time to do some hiking and ziplining at Mombacho Volcano; explore Chocoyero Nature Reserve to see El Brujo; and visit the craft markets at Masaya.

Food

Vigoron stall in Granada's central park

Two fantastic restaurants I can recommend in Granada, are more American cuisine and prices than Nicaraguan, but the food was absolutely delicious.

For great steak, my recommendation is El Zaguan. I enjoyed the surf and turf – steak with a full grilled lobster tail on top and it was absolutely amazing.
For fresh healthy, salads and wraps, as well as modern versions of local dishes, great coffee and smoothies, then The Garden Cafe is worth a visit. They also have a great little store and an amazing selection of books to read.

A local dish recommended to us was Vigaron, this can be purchased in the central park at the cafe/stall with the colourful umbrellas. Vigoron is a traditional dish served of Yucca, chicharron (pork crackling), pickled tomato, cabbage and something else green.

Accommodation

Through relatively random travel choices, we stayed at three different places in Granada. Two of which I would happily recommend, and the third I would strongly advise against.

El Caite is a hostel two blocks back from Parque Central. It was a fairly busy hostel but with a great location and good facilities. There was a really friendly vibe amongst guests. The only downside was that the staff didn’t speak much english and this leads to some issues with booking tours,.

At the end of our trip we had another two nights in Granada before flying out. We thought we would splash out on a private room, so we booked Hotel Casa Generalife but were most disappointed to find that our superior room with a garden view was simply a painted concrete room with no view, and the ensuite was only separated from the bedroom with a flimsy curtain. We promptly booked our second night at another hotel.

The night we spent at Hotel Glifoos was not in any way disappointing. The welcome was warm and helpful the hotel itself felt more homely, clean and modern. The facilities were better and it was a fantastic location. Only a block and a half from Parque Central but with no street noise.

Getting there and away

Granada – Laguna de Apoyo

Our first trip to Granada was from Laguna de Apoyo; we took a local shuttle from Paradiso hostel directly to Mercado Municipal in the centre of Granada for US$3 per person.

Granada - Rivas Chicken BusGranada – Rivas

If you wish to head south from Granada, to either Isla Ometepe or San Juan del Sur, you will need to go via Rivas. The local chicken bus departs from a stop three blocks south of Mercado Municipal and costs 50 Cordoba per person.
Note: the chicken buses always have their route name on the front of the bus so they are easy to identify.

Granada – Managua Airport

We travelled from Managua Airport by taxi to Mercado Roberto Huembes Bus station for 100 Cordoba per person.
From the bus station we took a chicken bus to central Granada for 21 cordoba per person.

Returning to Managua Airport for a 7am flight, we took a private shuttle for US$35 organised through the hotel. We were actually driven by the Hotel Glifoos Hotel Manager, David, who was a truly wonderful man.

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Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo is a lake inside the caldera of an extinct volcano. It is in the provinces of Granada and Masaya with the province border crossing through the lake.

About Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo
It’s a fresh water lake with a volume of approximately 2.58 cubic kilometres, and surface area of just under 21 square kilometres. It is 6.6 kilometres in diameter and 175 metres deep.

Laguna de Apoyo was declared a nature reserve in 1991, and is a popular place for people to visit for both day trip and a few days away. Many people with limited time visit as a day trip from Granada, but those with more time tend to stay a night or two.

Our stay at Laguna de Apoyo

Arriving in Managua at 10pm, we had organised an airport pickup to take us straight to our accommodation at Laguna de Apoyo, and we started out vacation with two days on the side of the lake.

Sunrise at Laguna de ApoyoThis was a brilliant way to switch from work mode to holiday mode. We arrived at night time, tired from travel, and we woke up to blissful calm. We watched the sunrise; easing into the day listening to the birds chattering, the howler monkeys howling in the distance and the wind lightly rustling through the leaves of the trees.

No matter where you stay by the lake, all accommodations provide kayaks and inner tubes for enjoying time on the lake. Some accommodations have a pontoon to which you can swim out and then enjoy the sunshine. The accommodations also typically have hammocks and beach chairs, some also have barbecues and picnic tables at your disposal.

We had a great time paddling around in the kayaks and lazing on the pontoon.

In addition to enjoying the water activities, you can walk along the waters edge to check out other accommodations, restaurants and quiet spots to soak up the scenery. I believe there are some hiking trails in the area and that the view from the crater rim is spectacular, but we didn’t get to either of these things. For those who dive, there is also lake diving.

 

Accommodation

There are several accommodation options by the lake and on the crater rim. We chose to stay on the Granada side of the lake, by the water at a place called The Monkey Hut.

The Monkey Hut is a great spot for peace and quiet, there weren’t many guests there and it was a very relaxed place to be. A dorm bed cost USD$16.10 per night, and includes coffee, tea, purified water and the use of kayaks, inner tubes, pontoon, hammocks, beach chairs. I made the booking via email and WhatsApp.

We loved the Monkey Hut for the peace and quiet, but if you are travelling solo or are a bit more social, then neighbouring Hostel Paradiso would be my recommendation.

The only downside of The Monkey Hut was the food. They did have a restaurant, but it was not on site, food was delivered plastic wrapped and the price/quality wasn’t amazing. Paradiso however was fantastic, with a huge range of options. It was a 3-5 minute walk between the two sites. At Paradiso we were able to get a day pass for free in order to make use of the restaurant (if you want to use the swimming facilities – kayaks etc. then you need to buy a day pass for USD$6)

Getting There and Away

We travelled to The Monkey Hut direct from Managua airport with a private transfer organised by Monkey Hut for USD$40 fo two people.

On their website Money Hut have directions for how to get there by car, taxi, shuttle or bus from Managua, Masaya and Granada.

Making use of the daily shuttle from Hostel Paradiso, we paid USD$3 per person for the ride to Granada. The shuttle goes between 3-5 times daily. Their website also provides some transport directions.

Laguna De Apoyo

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Looping around Nicaragua

Nicaragua has been on my “To See” bucket list for some time, so when a cheap flight popped up I had to jump on it. I then explored Nicaragua for 3 weeks with my partner.

Extended posts on each of our Nicaraguan destinations to follow.

A loop around Nicaragua

Telica Volcano, Leon, NicaraguaOur three weeks in Nicaragua took us in a clockwise loop around Nicaragua and ending with a trip out east to the Caribbean.

We flew into Managua, but being a big city and having heard negative things about it, we arranged an airport pickup to take us straight to Laguna de Apoyo.

A visit to Laguna de Apoyo was the best way to start our trip, by giving us time to slip into holiday mode relaxing by the lake. (2 nights)

From Laguna de Apoyo we headed south to the colonial city of Granada, where we explored the city and neighbouring natural sights such as Volcan Masaya and Las Isletas. (2 nights)

From there we travelled further south and a little east to Isla Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua, where we completed the steepest hike in Nicaragua, up Volcan Concepcion. (3 nights)

Playa Maderas, San Juan del Sur, NIcaraguaThe next destination was our most southern stop, Playa Maderas in the San Juan del Sur region, to enjoy some time by the beach. (3 nights)

We then headed north to Leon, in order to hike Volcan Telica and surf down the slopes of Cerro Negro. (3 nights)

From there we went to the coffee region of Matagalpa in the north-east, but when we found it wasn’t what we had hoped for we returned to Leon. (2 nights)

From Leon we bussed down to Managua in order to fly to the Caribbean for some days of sun and snorkelling on Little Corn Island. (4 nights)

To finish the trip we spent the last days in Granada writing postcards, and people watching by the plaza. (2 nights)

Budget and Bookings

Including flights, accommodation, tours, food and everything else we spent under €3000 for two people for 3.5 weeks including travel time. While the national currency is Cordobas, Nicaragua makes extensive use of the US Dollar. You can pay in either currency, but you will notice that the majority of prices are listed and quoted in US Dollars. Whenever bargaining, be sure to check what currency you are discussing!

Flights

We flew with United Airlines from Amsterdam to Managua return for €330 per person when a cheap deal came up online through TicketTippers.

The flights from Managua to Big Corn Island are through the regional airline La Costeña. We booked with a travel agent in Leon at a cost of USD$195 per person return, however if you book on the phone directly with the airline the cost is around USD$165.
Note: if you book online it is around the same price as a travel agent, but fewer of the flight times are available for booking.

Transport

Chicken Bus from Granada, NicaraguaWe predominantly travelled by Chickenbus and Microvan (UCA), where prices range from USD$1 to $3 for trips up to 3 hours.

An airport transfer from Managua to Laguna de Apoyo cost USD$40 for 2 people; and a transfer from Granada to Managua Airport for 2 people was USD$35.

Taxi’s anywhere can be ridiculously expensive as the drivers try to rip off the tourists. I have been scammed out of $15 for a 5 minute ride. Try to take Taxi Colectivo where possible as they will also pick up additional passengers and it brings down the cost for everyone.
Note: there are pirate taxi’s you need to be aware of. When taking a taxi check that the number plate has horizontal striped colouring Red, White, Red. Official taxi’s have these plates, and usually also the ‘Taxi’ bubble on top of the car. I also always take a photo of the licence plate before I get in and ensure that the driver see’s me doing so.

Accommodation

We mostly stayed in hostel dorms that we booked through HostelWorld paying between USD$6 and $14 per bed.

On a few occasions we splashed out for a private room, which we booked via booking.com paying between USD$19 and USD$30.

We saved some food costs by trying to always book a hostel that included breakfast. The best free hostel breakfast was most definitely at Hospedaje Soma on Isla Ometepe; the best paid hostel breakfast was at Hostel Paradiso at Laguna de Apoyo.

We occasionally booked rooms by sending WhatsApp or Facebook messages directly to the accommodation. This was typically a great way to find availability and costs for places not listed on the common booking sites.

Food

Laguna de Apoyo, NicaraguaIt depends on how adventurous you are with food as to what your food budget is likely to be. We enjoyed some street food, as well as some nice restaurant food. We found that some towns had really well priced meals at USD$6-9 like Granada and Isla Ometepe; but some places were closer to American pricing around USD$10-$18 such as San Juan del Sur, Leon and Little Corn Island.

There’s a great local restaurant, Comedor San Benito in Leon where you can get more food than fits in your belly for only $4. Another one is an amazing local shack called Rosa’s on Little Corn Island where you can enjoy a spectacular 3 course lobster meal for only $7.

By comparison you can eat a ridiculously amazing lobster and steak meal (surf’n’turf) for USD$18 at El Zaguan in Granada, or the most amazing breakfast burrito at Salud! in San Juan del Sur for around $8.

Activities

Tours were always the most expensive thing we did, but were a great way to experience numerous things you can’t do solo. Tours for things like volcano hikes and snorkelling trips will typically cost around US$20-25. The cheapest (paid) tour we did was a 3 hour tour through the islands of Granada for US$18, and the most expensive tour we did was a 6.5 hour tour and sunset hike up the active volcano Telica for US$45 including dinner, snacks and a free t-shirt.

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A week in the Balkans

View of Dubrovnik for the mountain with the cable carThe Balkans, or Balkan Peninsula is a region named after the Balkan Mountains, and that borders on the Adriatic, Ionian, Aegean and Black Seas. It is a large geographical region encompassing several countries. I spent a week in the region visiting four cities within these three countries: Dubrovnik, Croatia; Kotor and Budva, Montenegro; and Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

It wasn’t the most active sightseeing week, as we were plagued with constant rain. Regardless of the weather, everything we saw was fantastic, beautiful and my mother and I had an amazing time.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik is a city I have long wanted to visit. The old walled city was rumoured to be beautiful, and it most certainly lived up to expectations. Also for those Game of Thrones fans out there, various sites in an around the old city of Dubrovnik were used in the filming of the series.

I loved the city walls, surrounding a sea of orange tiled roofs; the old architecture and wonderful charm of this old town.

Some History

Croatia is a small EU country on the Adriatic coast, with a recent turbulent history. Croatia was part of Yugoslavia from 1918 through to the 1990’s. Yugoslavia was made up of what is now known as Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Slovenia, Macedonia and Kosovo. Croatia is a long country with a huge amount of coastline very popular for tourism, as a result it was of great economic importance to the ruling region of Serbia.

In 1991 Croatia made the decision to become independent and this didn’t go down well with the Serbs; who followed the announcement with a war that continued until 1995.

The beautiful sea of orange roofs in Dubrovnik old town, seen from the city wallsCroatia sustained heavy bombing and vast amounts of damage. With the tourist economy a sore point for the Serbs, they set their sights on destroying the Old City of Dubrovnik. As a UNESCO World Heritage listed site, this was considered an international war crime.

The heritage city of Dubrovnik was more than 50% destroyed in the war, though you wouldn’t know it today. Dubrovnik received money for rebuilding from UNESCO, though it only covered 20% of what was needed. The resourceful Croatians managed to raise the remaining 80% themselves.

To maintain the original look and feel of the city many craftsman had to relearn the traditional trades in order to rebuild using the same materials and same method as original construction. While many things could be remade using new materials and old methods the roof tiles proved a problem. As they could not remake the roof tiles, they bought up original tiles from owners of private houses in the region who had undamaged roof tiles and paid for them to have new roofs.

Dubrovnik Old Town

The city of Dubrovnik has a population of approximately 42,000 people, roughly 800 of whom live in the old walled city. Tourism to the city is absolutely crazy and they are now looking into the introduction of a cap on the number of daily visitors. In 2017 this tiny city had 1.18million visitors, not including the tourists coming in from cruise ship visits; on a summer day there may be 7000+ tourists trying to explore the town. For this reason I was rather grateful to visit during cold wet November, as the season was shutting down and stores were closing for the winter; there was not a single tourist queue to be found.

The Old Town was built during the 13th to 17th century on a small valley by the sea. the Northern and Eastern sides of the city are each on a hill, while the main street of town, Stradun is near sea level. As a result the old city has many steps, 5,435 in fact (the most direct route from the centre to our apartment involved 144 steps). The city is surrounded by a city wall 2 kilometres long, protected by five fortresses. The greatest enemy to Dubrovnik were the Venetians.

Dubrovnik was a small republic during the 14th to 19th century; and at that time 14,000 people lived within the city, with the gates always closed.

Onofrio Fountain, inside Pile Gate of Dubrovnik old townThere are a few notable constructions within the old city, amongst which is the Onofrio fountain. The Onofrio fountain is fed by a well some 12 kilometres away.  It is found just inside Pile Gate, the Western entrance to the city. It was designed by an Italian architect, and facilitated the peoples’ ability to live within the city walls without the need to leave in search of water. It’s a beautiful fountain with many taps, and intricate carvings. It also has a dog sculpture, ‘Kučak’’ guardian and protector of the values of the Republica, on top of it.

On April 6th, 1667 Dubrovnik experienced a terrible earthquake but surprisingly the San Xavier Church and anything built near the city walls survived. The earthquake affected architectural design in the city; with the construction of balconies being forbidden. The Earthquake marked the beginning of the end for this small republic.

Dubrovnik is 95% Roman Catholic, but the people are very accepting and respectful of other religions. Their city is has allowed the building of several religious buildings within the walls. There are Catholic churches, a Jesuit Church and a Franciscan Monastery. There is also an Orthodox Church, though it was built to face away from the main street, because if the pope were to visit they did not want him to be confronted by other religions.

Wandering the tiny alleys of this old walled city is a spectacular way to spend the time, as every corner oozes charm. I really loved Dubrovnik old town.

Recommended Activities

To learn some history of the city and get a local’s perspective on life in Dubrovnik, take an Old Town Walking Tour. The cost is 90 Kuna for 1 hour.

For the Game of Thrones fans, there are several GoT walking tours available.

Take a self-guided walk around the city walls and around St Lawrences’ Fortress. You do not have to complete both activities in one day; but the combination ticket is single use per activity. The ticket costs 150 Kuna.

Enjoying the view in CavtatTake a cable car trip up the mountain for some spectacular view of the old city and coastline. The Cable Car cost is 140 Kuna for a round trip; though active people may like to walk up and/or down using the marked trail. Note, if it is windy, the cable car will not operate for safety reasons.

Take a trip out to Lokrum Island; the  ferry costs 40 Kuna. On arrival you need to pay a parks entrance fee. Some ferries are more expensive, but already include this fee. Note: in low season, nothing is open on Lokrum – so be sure to bring food and water.

If you have extra time in the area, it’s worth taking a local bus to the neighbouring town of Cavtat. It’s a beautiful spot to enjoy a stroll and a lazy lunch.

Kotor & Budva, Montenegro

Kotor, MontenegroFrom Dubrovnik we booked a day tour to Kotor and Budva, Montenegro with one of the many tour operators in and around the city of Dubrovnik. We paid 315 Kuna per person for a full day tour with Amico Tours.

Montenegro is a small country, just under 19,000 square kilometres, with a population of 660,000 people. Like Croatia, it has a coastline on the Adriatic Sea.

Montenegro got it’s name from the Spaniards entering by ship, from the black (Negro) mountains (Monte) they could see from the sea.

Like Croatia, Montenegro was a part of Yugoslavia, who managed to gain independence in 2006. At the time they took on the Deutsch Mark as their currency, so when Germany changed to the Euro, so did Montenegro despite not being a member of the EU.

Kotor

The small town of Kotor, predominantly of Venetian Architecture is a walled city built around the 14th century. This small city is the 2nd largest walled city, 4.5 kilometres long, in Europe, according to my tour guide. The city of Kotor has a population around 13,000; approximately 1,000 of whom live within the city walls.

While we could clearly see that it was a beautiful city with stunning old buildings, and an impressive city wall which we would have liked to climb, the torrential downpour with only brief bursts of sunshine limited our options.

Budva, MontenegroBudva

Budva is one of the oldest settlements in Montenegro, at around 2,500 years old. Similar to Kotor, it is an old town built in Venetian times, though less money was spent on it in comparison to Kotor. It’s walled city is tiny in comparison to that of Kotor.

Budva is much more popular for tourists, with it’s 34 beaches and many nightclubs.  The party-tourism focus falls less within my interests than the smaller town of Kotor.

Mostar & Kravice, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Bosnia-Herzegovina is inland from the coast of Croatia and has very little coastline itself. Bosnia is the northern region of the country and Herzegovina the southern region. In this view I visited Herzegovina only. The day tour to Mostar and Kravice Waterfall from Dubrovnik cost around 350 Kuna per person, and I cannot recall the tour company I went with.

Within Bosnia-Herzegovina are three main religious groups: Bosniaks, Muslim Bosnians form the majority at approximately 50% of the population; the Croats: Croatian Roman Catholic are approx. 15% of the population; and the Serbs: Serbian orthodox christians at approximately 35% of the population. Muslim is the predominant religion as the country spent around 450 years under Ottoman rule.

Mostar Bridge, Bosnia-Herzegovina

Mostar

The city of Mostar is considered the most important city in Herzegovina, is the cultural capital and is the fifth largest city in the country. The city is split by the Neretva River, and the two sides of the river provided quite some segregation in community. One side was muslims and the other Christians/Catholics. This meant the city had two of everything, two schools, two universities etc.

The highlight of Mostar is the bridge connecting the two sides of the city. The term Most means bridge and the Mostari with the bridge keepers. The bridge was designed an built during ottoman reign though it was bombed in 1993 during the Bosnian war time and rebuilt soon after.

The bridge was listed by Lonely Planet as one of the worlds most beautiful bridges, and I don’t disagree. It is absolutely spectacular, a perfect deep curve over clear blue waters. It is simply stunning.

The old town of Mostar is worth visiting for it’s charm as well as its bridge. Beautiful cobble stone streets and old ottoman architecture.

Something that I consider worth mentioning about Bosnians, they cook fantastic meat. I had a Bosnian housemate for some time and she made the most amazing meat dishes. While in Mostar, I’d recommend eating at Šadrvan to enjoy some of the national meat specialities.

Kravice Waterfalls, Bosni-HerzegovinaKravice Waterfall

Our day trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina included a stop at the Kravice Waterfalls. The waterfalls are approximately 25 metres high split across approximately 20 waterfalls, falling into a beautiful lake below.

If you had enough time, this would be a fantastic place to spend a day to sit, picnic, swim and enjoy the beauty of nature.

Accommodation

We stayed in a private Airbnb apartment just inside the city walls on the sea side. It was a fantastic location, the apartment was neat and tidy, and the host very helpful.

At €36 per night for two people, it was reasonably priced.

If you aren’t already an Airbnb member; please sign up using my link.

Food

Being based inside the city walls and with constant rain we mostly stayed inside the city walls for our meals. I expected the restaurants within the walls to be the most expensive, and while they were probably more expensive than restaurants outside the walls, I was pleasantly surprised with the relative affordability.

We paid up to 200 Kuna for two people for lunch, which is approximately €26 or USD$32. For dinners the costs ranged from 300 – 400 Kuna; €40-€53 USD$49 – USD$65; for two people.



Transport

The shuttle bus to and from the airport is only 40 Kuna per person one way and is a 30-45 minute ride. It travels quite frequently and takes you directly to the entrance of the old walled city of Dubrovnik; Pile Gate.

Taking a taxi if the bus schedule doesn’t work for you is around €30 one way. They accept both Euros and Kuna.

We flew Amsterdam – Dubrovnik return with Croatian Airlines for €402 for two people. Note we travelled in low season and booked the flights some months ahead.

A Week In The Balkans

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12in12 Running Challenge

Running in BupdapestI try to stay reasonably fit and strong. One of the cheapest, easiest and convenient forms of exercise is running. So I run and I know it’s good for me (mentally and physically), but it’s not my favourite thing to do.

Every so often I sign up for a competitive running event because it’s a good way to scare myself into keeping active.

The History

In November 2016 my uncle was signed up for a running race called the Zevenheuvelenloop (Seven hills run) in Nijmegen, The Netherlands. He and his running buddy were unable to participate and handed their entries over to my ‘partner-in-crime’ and I. Soon thereafter we were signed up for the Bruggenloop (Bridge run) in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Around this time my partner came across a blog post written by two Dutch girls who were challenging themselves to run twelve competitive running events in 12 months in order to achieve 12 medals. When he told me about it, it would seem that I dared him to do it and somehow we both ‘signed up’ for running 12 races in 12 months.

The Challenge

We’ve set up some rules for ourselves for this challenge. The challenge is to complete twelve competitive, and officially recognised, running events in a twelve month period. The race you has to be 10 kilometres or over. The event has to award a medal.

We did not have any other limiting conditions on the way we completed the challenge. We completed a variety of events, all over The Netherlands (and one in Budapest) covering a range of distances: 10 kilometres, a car-chasing event,10 english miles (16K) and a half marathon.

If you want to sign up to an official 12in12 challenge, commit to 12 events of the same distance and receive a 12in12 medal; then there is an official challenge site 12in12.

The Events

Zevenheuvelenloop Medal#1 Zevenheuvelenloop
Nijmegen, NL 

November 20, 2016
Distance: 15 km
Time: 1:22:57
Avg Pace: 5:30 min/km

One of the most popular and scenic races in The Netherlands, despite the name it doesn’t have seven hills, rather it’s named after the street along which you run, the Zevenheuvelenweg.

Bruggenloop Medal#2 Bruggenloop
Rotterdam, NL 

December 11, 2016
Distance: 15 kilometres
Time: 1:26:59
Avg Pace: 5:45 min/km

Really fun evening race where you run through the sunset and everyone wears flashing green armbands. After the sun has set the sea of green flowing through the streets looks awesome. The run crosses several bridges and passes through a tunnel; it’s a great city tour of Rotterdam with many cheering spectators. This is probably my favourite medal simply based on it’s appearance.

Egmond Aan Zee Half Marathon Medal#3 Egmond Half Marathon
Egmond aan Zee, NL 

January 8, 2017
Distance: 21,1 kilometres
Time: 1:57:36
Avg Pace: 5:35 min/km

A run along the beach and through the dunes is not my ideal terrain, but it certainly was scenic! This was a tough race as I was not just fighting the cold, I was fighting the flu. I like that the medal is quite heavy, it’s reflective of the heavy nature of a half marathon along the beach in the winter.

Midwinter Marathon Medal#4 Midwinter Marathon
Apeldoorn, NL 

February 5, 2017
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 1:36:57
Avg Pace: 6:00 min/km

A very quiet and cold forest run, not the most inspiring event. We took the opportunity to do some sightseeing of the Royal Summer Palace after the race, since we were in the neighbourhood.

CPC Den Haag Medal#5 CPC Loop
The Hague, NL 

March 12, 2017
Distance: 10 kilometres
Time: 55:40
Avg Pace: 5:36 min/km

The first warm day of the running season, a super happy vibe in the city and a good crew of friends to run with; the CPC was loads of fun.

Enschede Marathon#6 Enschede Marathon
Enschede, NL 

April 23, 2017
Distance: 10 kilometres
Time: 52:37
Avg Pace: 5:12 min/km

As Enschede is a border city we combined this event with a weekend trip to a pink castle in Benrath and explore the city of Düsseldorf, Germany. Aside from our sightseeing, the event itself wasn’t particularly memorable.

Wing for Life Medal#7 Wings-for-life
Breda, NL 

May 7, 2017
Distance: 14.57 kilometres
Time: 1:27:04
Avg Pace: 5:59 min/km

With a group of five of us, we made a team called the “Suckers for Punishment” and signed up for the Red Bull Wings for Life relay. It’s an awesome race with no set distance, you simply keep running until a chaser car catches up with you. It’s a fund raising event to support sufferers of spinal cord injury. Absolutely truck loads of fun!

Leiden Marathon Medal#8 Leiden Marathon
Leiden, NL 

May 21, 2017
Distance: 10 kilometres
Time: 56:55
Avg Pace: 5:37 min/km

Leiden is a really cute town. Old architecture, bridges, canals and sunny weather made the run a very pleasant one.

Maastrichts Mooiste Medal#9 Maastrichts Mooiste
Maastricht, NL 

June 11, 2017
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 1:42:52
Avg Pace: 6:27 min/km

A beautiful but challenging run in crazy hot weather; with a cheeky loop over the border into Belgium (I can assure you though, I did not run with my passport in my pocket). This was the only race where I have ever been given cake at the end! It’s a traditional cake called Limburgse Vlaai.

Dam tot Damloop Medal#10 Dam tot Damloop
Amsterdam, NL 

September 17, 2017
Distance: 10 miles
Time: 1:37:30
Avg Pace: 6:03 min/km

The most popular race in The Netherlands is by far the Dam tot Damloop. Entries sell out within hours of registration opening. A run from the centre of Amsterdam to the city of Zaandam. After a break from running over the summer, this was quite a challenging run; despite the pain I was in, the huge volume of spectators cheering us on was a real motivator!
Note:  I forgot to wear my Garmin on this run, so stats are pulled manually from the official event site.

Bredase Singelloop Medal#11 Bredase Singelloop
Breda, NL 

October1, 2017
Distance: 10 kilometres
Time: 56:24
Avg Pace: 5:35 min/km

Breda is another cute town, with adorable architecture, cobble-stone streets, bridges and canals. The race finished near the church, which is the architectural focal point of the city.

Budapest Marathon Medal#12 Budapest Marathon
Budapest, HU 

October 15, 2017
Distance: 10 kilometres
Time: 59.26
Avg Pace: 5:53 min/km

We celebrated the offical finish of our challenge with a holiday and run in one of our favourite cities, Budapest. We had beautiful weather and it was a nice, different way to do a ‘city tour’. The best way to relax all the muscles after the run was a half day soak in the thermal baths and an evening river cruise down the Danube.

Brabant Marathon Medal#13 Marathon Brabant
Etten-Leur, NL 

November 20, 2017
Distance: 10 kilometres
Time: 56:24
Avg Pace: 5:35 min/km

Lucky run number thirteen. Despite our planned big hurrah of a final race in Budapest, we decided that to add a thirteenth race into the mix and wrap up our challenge with an event in our home town. As a recent local the entire run, apart from the start and finish 1 kilometre, was new territory for me. A nice way to see more of my new town. With the wintery weather, we had fantastic luck that we finished the race and got home just 5 minutes before the torrential rain began!

TOTAL

Distance: 174.52 kilometres
Time: 16:49:21
Overall Average Pace: 5:45 min/km

The Gear

Just in case you wanted to know what my standard sports kit includes

12in12 Photo Gallery

Click on the image in the slider to check out my photographic summary of each event.

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Navigating Northern Namibia

Yawning Cheetah at AfriCat in OkonjimaAfter an awesome Southern Namibia loop, I linked into a Northern Namibia loop. The 7 Day Northern Adventure tour started with a new group of people and surprisingly the same guide, Tongai. After a quick introduction of the route and highlights we all bundled into the truck and off we went.

I always book my tours through TourRadar where I can find loads of different tour options AND I earn travel credit each time I book, which I can use as discounts next time. If this sounds good to you, sign up using my referral link and we will both earn travel credits!

Okonjima

The first stop was an overnight in the AfriCat Nature Reserve in Okonjima. AfriCat is a project set up to rescue cats that have been injured, or raise animals who lost a parent when they were too young to survive on their own. Once animals have been rehabilitated or raised to a point of self-sufficiency they go through a few monitored phases of release back into the wild. Their first period of release also has the animals on a form of contraception so they first learn to hunt and survive, before they begin to breed.

Leopard at AfriCat in Okonjima

A large portion of Namibia land is privately owned farms, with livestock. With free roaming cheetahs and leopards, many farmers lose livestock to the predatorial cats, and as a result often shoot them. The AfriCat foundation assists in cases where these shootings don’t result in death, but they do more than respond retroactively. They proactively work to educate farmers of the hunting habits and behaviours of various predators, so rather than shoot the cats, take alternate measures to protect their livestock so they don’t fall into the hunting patterns of the cats. For example, Leopards typically hunt nocturnally, if livestock are kept in pens at night, they are not easy picking for a leopard and they leopard will hunt on free roaming antelope instead.

The AfriCat Nature reserve is 20,000 acres; while the main focus is on cats such as cheetahs and leopards, you will also find various breeds of antelope, hyena, warthog, and jackals. On a game drive we saw many beautiful animals, the highlights being a leopard and some cheetahs.

Etosha National Park

Zebras in Etosha National ParkTwo days in Etosha National Park was the following activity on our schedule. The name Etosha mean Great White Place, and the size of the park with a huge salt pan is certainly accurate to its name. It is one of the largest national parks in Africa with a size of approximately 22,912km2, roughly the same land size as the country of Belgium. The Etosha salt pan within the park covers 21%, 4,730km2 of the parks area.

Our animal sightings within the park included: elephants, lions, red hartebeest, blue wildebeest, kudu, springbok, black faced impala, burchalls zebra, black backed jackals, and three black rhinos. Most sightings were at various waterholes around the park in the early morning or late afternoon.

Animals drinking at the waterhole in Etosha National Park

Otjikandero

When visiting any country it is important to not just see the sights and animals, but also learn about the tradition and culture of the country and its people. As mentioned in the Southern Namibia post, there are X peoples, or tribes, native to Namibia. In the town of Otjikandero we paid a visit to a Himba village. While Himba were traditionally a nomadic people, the Otjikandero site was established as a permanent base with an orphanage and school programs. The lower school grades are offered on site by a teacher from the Ovamba tribe (despite Ovambo people having vastly different traditions than the Himba), higher grades are offered through boarding school programs if the children have the financial support to attend, on-site are also literacy programs for adults offered by a teacher from the Herrero tribe (which is very similar in tradition to the Himba).

Young Himba boy in Otjikandero The village is made up of various huts constructed from Mopani trees. Each hut will house a family of up to 6 or 7 people. Each hut takes approximately 2.5 – 3 weeks to build, and they typically last 5-6 years; though some replastering is done after each rainy season.

The village huts all surround a main kral, where livestock is kept overnight. The main hut in the village is easily identifiable as it is directly opposite the kral entrance, the other thing between the hut and the kral is a holy fire. The leader of the village, who resides in the main hut, always leads the tribe together with his partner.

In regard to traditions growing up, it is still common practice that boys are circumcised, girls are not; and that all children who reach puberty have their four front lower teeth removed over the holy fire. Also polygamy is still an accepted tradition within the Himba people, though if a man wants another wife, the other wife(s) must agree to it, and each family of the man has a separate family hut.

Twyfelfontein 

In 1946 David Levine, the first European settler to the area found a local water spring, in a semi-arid region of the country. The spring was brilliant for his cattle and sheep, though he was never sure if there would be enough water to sustain the farm, and he called the area “doubt fountain” twijfel fontein.

The Lion-Man stone engraving at TwijfelfonteinBefore David settled in this site, drawings/carving were found in 1921. The engravings are believed to be 2000-6000 years old and probably done by the San people. The engravings were made by using quartz to scratch images into the sandstone. As the San people were Nomadic hunter-gatherers, it is believed that the engravings were used as maps to share with fellow people to share and teach what can and cannot be hunted, and what can be found where, such as water sources. Artists often marked their work with an outline of their foot.

A common drawing seen in the area is a Giraffe. The Giraffe is a sacred animal, the bringer of water. The most important icon to be found was the Lion-Man. Each site will only ever have one lion-man, as each tribe only has one leader. The Lion man is depicted with five toes instead of four, and is representative of the Shaman.

While the site offered mostly engravings, there were also some paintings to be found and some natural rock formations. The visit to Twijfelfontein was truly fascinating and beautiful. Our guide Elizabeth did a fantastic job of sharing everything she knew about the site. Her love for the environment and history was made evident in the way she shared her knowledge.

Cape Cross Seal Colony

Cape Cross is a seal reserve on the skeleton coast. It is a protected area, home to the world’s largest fur seal colony. The seal colony is very loud and smelly to visit, but certainly interesting to visit briefly.

Swakopmund 

Sandboarding in Swakopmund

Swakopmund is the northern most city we visited on the coast of Namibia. It is a town with a population around 75,000, a reasonably small city. The old German architecture contrasting the new modern buildings is quite fascinating to see. Swakopmund has several activities on offer if you have the time.

The number one thing on my ‘To Do’ list was to sand board down some dunes! Eben and Christian from Khoi San Sandboarding collected us from the hotel and took us about 15 minutes out of town to the designated dunes. With a big dune hike to start and a quick lesson we were carving up the dunes pretty quickly. It was loads of fun and definitely an activity I would recommend!

Okahandja

The very last stop of the tour was a visit to the craft markets of Okahandja, the best place to haggle over some local souvenirs! Okahandja has the biggest open-air craft market in Namibia. Be prepared to be hassled for your attention and business, but do explore and enjoy the experience.

Northern Namibia

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Lonely Planet Black Friday Deal


Lonely Planet are offering an incredible BUY ONE GET ONE FREE deal at Lonely Planet’s online shop.

The offer runs from Thursday 23rd November until Midnight Monday November 27th.

Simply use the code ONE4FREE to get 2 for 1 on everything, from guidebooks and ebooks to inspirational coffee table books.

Be inspired for a whole lot less and start planning an epic escape or two!

Where will your next adventure be?
Nicaragua Lonely Planet

My most recent LP acquisition is to my next adventure destination…. Nicaragua!

My three week Nicaraguan adventure is rapidly approaching. It is time to start planning.

My new Nicaraguan Lonely Planet has some great information on places to go; things to see and do; how to get around; budgeting tips. The highlight so far is the fantastic summary of the adventure activities on offer…and unsurprisingly I added Volcano Boarding to my Bucket List!!!

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Scouting around the South of Namibia

Oryx; GemsbokSince my first trip to Africa, a visit to Namibia has been at the top of my wish list. In August as a birthday present to myself I booked a Namibian adventure. With this adventure having time constraints I booked a tour with Wild Dog Safaris, the 14 Day Namibian Adventure.

The reason for my choosing this particular tour was to see Kolmanskop, Deadvlei and Etosha National Park. Kolmanskop is quite a detour from the standard route, so it is not included in many of the Namibian tours.
I always book with TourRadar because I earn travel credits; do the same and sign up with my referral link.

Namibia

Namibia is on the west coast of Africa, directly above South Africa. It’s currency, the Namibian Dollar, is equivalent to the South African Rand and within Namibia the currencies can be used interchangeably.

Namibia has a population of around 2.2 million living with a land size of approximately 825,000 square kilometers. According to wikipedia it is the second least densely populated country in the world with roughly 2.7 inhabitants per square kilometer.

The mineral rich earth of Namibia led the main industry to be mining; diamonds, copper, tin, gold, zinc etc.

The traditional peoples of Namibia include the Damara, Nama, San, Himba, Herero, Kavango, Ovambo, Basters, Tswana and Caprivians; each with their own languages, culture and traditions. However, as is the case with so many nations, Namibia was occupied by white Germans for some time, followed by white Afrikaners. Afrikaans, English and German are the common languages you will hear.

7 Day Southern Swing

On starting the tour I discovered that the 14 day tour was actually two tours combined, the 7 day Southern Swing and the 7 Day Northern Adventure. Both tours looped the south/north region respectively, starting and finishing in Windhoek.

Windhoek

Windhoek is the biggest city within Namibia, and unsurprisingly also the capital city, with a population of 250,000. I spent very little time in Windhoek, and was quite happy about that as it seems to be just another city.

For me the best part of Windhoek was a visit to Joe’s Beer House for a meal. It is a spectacular themed pub/restaurant with a wide range of beer and food. The highlight was the game meat on offer! I ordered the Bushman Sosatie which offered a selection of Zebra, Kudu, Springbok, Gemsbok and Crocodile (on this occasion they were out of crocodile and it was replaced with pork). It was delicious, if you visit Windhoek, you must eat at Joe’s!

Bagatelle

Aardvark searching for antsBagatelle is a game ranch in the Kalahari desert. A visit involves driving through rolling plains of yellow-grey, low dry grass broken by intermittent raised ribs of mostly bare glowing ochre dunes.

The ranch is 10,000 hectares with accommodation and camping spots on offer, protected against the animals in the area. Through the fenced boundary of the accommodation it is possible to go on a game drive to see the many animals protected within the fences of the ranch.

In our one hour game drive our local guide David showed us the huge weaver bird nests that appear as matting in the tree branches. We saw an Ostrich sitting on it’s next of eggs. We found an aardvark happily and busily digging in the ground for ants. We also saw Oryx, Springbok, Blue Wildebeest, Giraffe, a Cape Fox, Yellow Mongoose and Meerkats.

To conclude a wonderful evening game drive, we stopped atop a dune to enjoy a sundowner cider and watch as the sky changed through the shades of red into darkness.

Sunset in the Kalahari Desert

Mesosaurus fossil farm

Our second visit on the tour was to a Mesosaurus Fossil Farm, owned and managed by a man by the name of Gil. Gil explained to us how he had come across the fossils on his property and how research began on what was found.

The Mesosaurus is a small crocodile type creature, 35-100cm in length. It had teeth which were long, but weak, that were used to filter food out of the water similar to the method used by many whales. The fossils contain only the prints of these animals, as it is thought that the water had a high acid contain, dissolving the bones. The mesosaurus is estimated to have lived in the region 270 million years ago; the findings support the idea of Gondwana (one large continent) as the mesosaurus fossils found in Namibia are the same as fossils found in South America.

While the fossils were fascinating, they were not my favourite part of the visit. What I found more interesting were the towers of rocks and the quiver trees.

Dolomite rock towers and Quiver treesAround the area were what appeared to be towers built of rock cubes, all neatly stacked.  This volcanic area had experienced periods where the magma bubbled up through the ground and formed pinnacles of Dolomite rock. In the desert one experiences a huge variation in temperatures, hot through the day and often below freezing at night. The extreme changes between hot and cold caused the rocks to crack, splitting vertically and horizontally, forming these towers of cubes.

The quiver trees around the property had a papery yellow-white bark, and am umbrella of interestingly angular branches with structured spiky leaves. People used to hollow out a branch and create a quiver for their bows; though I am unsure what kind of relation the ‘quiver’ tree has to the term ‘quiver’ for arrows, originally.

I found the rock cube towers and sharp lines of the quiver trees to be quite beautiful to look at.

Fish River Canyon

Fish River Canyon is a spectacular spot to visit. It is the second largest canyon in the world, created by water erosion 500 million years ago. The canyon is  27 kilometres wide, 160kilometres long and 550 metres deep. The size and depth of this canyon is truly a wonder to behold.

We arrived at the canyon before sunset to enjoy a stroll around the rim as the sun bathed the canyon in golden light.

The canyon used to be a popular hiking spot, but due to many injuries the canyon hiking has been restricted.  A multi-day hike is still an option for groups of three or more in the winter time, but there is an application process to follow. Reservations can be made via Namibia Wildlife Resorts (NWR); several sites on the internet claim bookings need to be made a year in advance.

Fish River Canyon

Lüderitz

Lüderitz Train StationLüderitz is a coastal town named after it’s founder, German national Adolf Lüderitz. It’s a quirky town that is several decades behind the times with colonial architecture and Art Nouveau designs. Many of the city’s signs and street names are still in German.

It appears to function primarily as a fishing village and gateway to the popular tourist destination of Kolmanskop.

Kolmanskop

Kolmanskop was named after a transport driver by the name of Johnny Coleman, who was once lost in a sandstorm and abandoned his vehicle opposite a small settlement.

Kolmanskop HospitalIn the settlement lived a railway supervisor August Stauch. In 1908 one of the railway workers showed him a stone he had found in the sand, and when it was determined to be a diamond the settlement quickly became a secured diamond mining town.

The town housed 300 German adults, 44 German school aged children and around 800 Namibian workers. The Namibian workers each signed up for a two year contract, during which time they were not allowed to leave at all.

With mining being done manually and the high value of diamonds, smuggling was a major concern. People used several methods to try smuggle diamonds out of the area including, carrier pigeon, swallowing the diamonds and also cutting their skin and embedding the diamond under the skin. As a result, the hospital had the first x-ray machine in the country in order to scan bodies for diamonds, as opposed to broken bones.

When the Namibian workers came to the end of their contract they were fed cod-liver oil and placed into quarantine for some time where the toilets had strainers to catch any diamonds that workers may have tried to smuggle before leaving.

Kolmanskop, abandoned residenceMining at Kolmanskop continued from the early 1900s through to 1927 (aside from a break during World War I), when more extensive diamond deposits with found at Orange River. At this time the entire township packed up and left Kolmanskop.

This deserted town has since been engulfed by the Namib desert and become a tourist attraction. For me, a visit to Kolmanskop was at the top of my Namibian “Must See” list.

This ghost town is spectacular to explore, eerie and stunning at the same time. On tour my time to explore was very limited, we had an hour tour and then a half hour to explore. If you have the time I’d highly recommend taking a few hours to wander at your leisure.

Sossusvlei

Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan in the Namib-Naukluft National Park. It is technically one specific pan but the name is typically used to refer to the area and neighbouring vleis (marshes).

The Namib is one of the oldest deserts in the world, it’s sand is grey and weighty, but the lighter, orange sand from the Kalahari desert has blown in from across the land over a period of 80 million years to build up the huge orange dunes found in the Sossusvlei.

The region is a popular tourist destination for the sand dunes and Deadvlei.

We started our visit to Sossusvlei with a sunrise hike up Dune 45. Dune 45 is over 170 metres high and is located at the 45th kilometre of the road from the Sesriem Gate and the Sossusvlei.

At the top of Dune 45

Early access to Sossusvlei is only available to visitors within the the main gated area, such as guests of Sossus Dune Lodge and the NWR campsite. These gates open an hour before sunrise, where the main gates open at sunrise. We were queued at the early entry gate 15 minutes prior to opening and once open we drove straight to Dune 45, where we were the first to start climbing the ridge of the dune to it’s peak for sunrise. The cold morning, high winds and ever shifting sand made for quite a challenging hike, which was 100% worth every bit of effort. The sunrise was stunning and the views spectacular.

Dead trees of Sossusvlei seen through a sandstorm

From Dune 45 it is a short drive to the access point for Deadvlei, from where you can hike in through the dunes for an hour or more; or pay for a short 4wd drive. On arrival we were hit by a sandstorm, which despite feeling unpleasant was actually rather beautiful. After our sunrise hike and with the sandstorm, we were all pretty interested in taking the 4wd option.

From the drop off point it is a 15 minute sand dune hike in to Deadvlei. Many years ago a river ran through the region, but after it dried up the trees began to die. The only surviving trees in the area are Camelthorn Acacia, which have very long roots and are capable of finding small traces of water. This is where the name Deadvlei came from.

Deadvlei is surrounded by large dunes on all sides including the popular to climb, Big Daddy. The sheltering dunes have protected the deadvlei and it’s trees, and the dead trees remain standing. The Deadvlei is a dry, cracked pale salt pan surface; with grey-brown dead trees sprouting out of this; set against glowing ochre sand dunes; and, in our case, crystal clear blue skies.

Deadvlei is an absolutely fascinating place to visit, and is visually spectacular, the colours and structures are truly beautiful.

Deadvlei

Seisreim Canyon

The closing activity of our tour was a short visit to Sesriem Canyon, originally Seisreim canyon for it’s six rims. The canyon was formed 30 million years ago by water flows and is 3 kilometres long.

The canyon is home to many breeds of birds, and probably a large number of other animals species. We enjoyed a short walk through a section of the canyon before the sunset brought our final day to a peaceful close.

Food Costs

Food is Namibia is quite affordable. Most of my meals were included in the tour cost, but based on the few meals I paid for outside of the tour, I would say that breakfast averaged around  NAD$70 (USD$5), a dinner between NAD$115 to $200 (USD$8 – $14) and lunch somewhere in between.

Accommodation

My pre and post tour accommodation was not included in the tour, and I booked an awesome glamping tent at Urban Camp through booking.com.

Airport Transfers

Airport transfers can be arranged through the tour company, the accommodation or online. I found that the tour company and accommodation both offered a one-way transfer for NAD$450, while booking only through city cabs was NAD$300.

Windhoek City Cabs weren’t responsive to the web form, but they were responsive to email, My pickup service was great!

Southern Namibia

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