Costa Rica, Guatemala, Belize, or Panama--which one?

Old Oct 26th, 2011, 10:46 AM
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You might check out Antigua, Lake Atitlan and Guatemala City, Guatemala. It has so much culture, nature, beautiful and friendly people (even more so than Mexico) with amazing handcrafts, volcanoes. My husband and I loved Mexico, but after a couple of trips to Guatemala, we love, love, love Guatemala and anything else just seems too much like America. There are some lovely boutique, historic inns in Antigua, so I'd make Antigua your home base - it is only about 40 miles into Guatemala City, which could be a day trip(s) for you. Consider taking a boat across Lake Atitlan, it is spectacular.
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Old Oct 26th, 2011, 11:49 AM
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Thanks, volcanogirl. I dug deeper and Chaa Creek's new Spa Villa (pushing $700/night including tax) does have air conditioning. Yikes! Most of the places we've loved best have been less than that for 2 weeks!

One of the advantages of the western highlands in Guatemala is the climate - springlike all year long. In Antigua and around the lake, figure on sunny days in the 70s with cooler nights - perfect!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2011, 09:34 AM
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Hi to all! My hubby & I are looking to take a vacay sometime probably in feb/march. We have taken several cruises & really enjoyed them. One port was Roatan, & I fell in love w/ it, so much so that I went back in the summer w/ a friend & stayed for a wk. One of the things I liked was that it still isn't too touristy, which so many places are now.
We're ready for a little more adventure. We've heard wonderful things about Costa Rica-but now we're also hearing that it's become so popular that it's getting touristy.
I think we'd like to try something really outside of our usual experience -- like Costa Rica 20 yrs ago.
It seems that much of Central America is now the new place being discovered. I've read what sounds like interesting things about Guatemala, mainland Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvdor, Nicaragua, Panama .....
I think we're looking for a varied experience. Certainly some eco stuff, rain forest, etc. We also love a beautiful beach, but neither of us can plop ourselves on a beach for 7 days. We love history & sightseeing, exploring other cultures.
And we love nightlife. It doesn't have to be fancy. We don't need hi-tech clubs & chi-chi restaurants. A bar on the beach w/ a local band where peo dance barefoot & get sweaty together can be way more fun.
We can most likely spend at least 10 days, maybe 2 wks.
I know this post is all over the place -- but we're kind of open to suggestions.
Help!
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Old Dec 2nd, 2011, 11:57 AM
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Shoot for 2 weeks, then start in Guatemala and end up on the beach in Belize or Honduras. My photos and recommendations are below. PS We don't consider CA to be a new place - have been visiting since the 80s. ;-)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections/
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Old Dec 3rd, 2011, 09:34 AM
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So, you're recommending Guatemala for most of the trip?
I just heard on the NPR that mainland Honduras has like the highest murder rate in the world (outside of a country actually at war).
You don't speak about any of the other places I mentioned. Do you not recommend them?
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Old Dec 3rd, 2011, 10:40 AM
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If you were interested in Costa Rica, there are still plenty of unspoiled places. Check out Bosque del Cabo - amazing. They have a cool video on their website. They don't even have locks on their doors.
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Old Dec 3rd, 2011, 11:28 AM
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Hi, again -
Costa Rica doesn't interest me and I love Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize so much I keep going back over and over and haven't made it to Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, or Panama yet. Maybe some day!

In Honduras I have felt safe in Copán, the La Ceiba area, and on the islands. I've used Hedman Alas buses and the occasional private shuttle (plus flights and ferries) to get around and have felt them to be comfortable and safe (except for getting seasick on the Utila ferry despite dramamine). Most of the crime in CA is gang related and in the large cities. Most of the crime against tourists is crime of opportunity - pickpocketing, stealing a backpack left unattended in a restaurant or on a balcony. I've pasted my personal safety guidelines below from previous threads. Happy trails!
____________________________________________

Sometimes I travel alone, sometimes with one or more of my kids and/or my husband, sometimes with a group in tow. I don't feel overly paranoid but have never had a problem and would like to keep it that way.

Here are my concessions to safety when I travel in Central America:
:: I avoid the big cities as much as possible
:: I don't "party"
:: Where recommended I take specific transportation (Hedman Alas in Honduras, for example, or avoiding chicken buses on the mountain runs in Guatemala, taxis after dark)
:: I know where I am and where I'm headed
:: I don't wear jewelry (not even my wedding band) and try not to flash camera equipment or money around
:: Some trips I carry a “throw down wallet” with an expired card or 2 and the day’s cash in it
:: I keep important documents and cash under my clothes (except what I need for shopping, buses, etc. for that time period) and keep close watch on my things, especially in crowded places and when I’m tired
:: I ask locals about safety in an area - evenings, hiking, etc.
:: I travel really light so I don't feel vulnerable getting my bag off and on buses, shuttles, etc.
:: I continue to build skills in Spanish
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Old Dec 4th, 2011, 10:07 AM
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Thanks, hopeful -- yes, I felt very safe on Roatan, & yes, I've heard the ferry to the mainland could be very rough. We went out to a deserted island in the bay for a snorkel trip-it was about halfway to the mainland-& going there was fine, but coming home was a roller-coaster ride.

When you say you don't party-what exactly do you mean? Do you never go out at night, or to a bar and/or dancing? Or do you mean you don't indulge in getting drunk, etc? Because we love music & dancing, etc., but I don't drink & my hubby only drinks moderately.

Ummmm.. what exactly is a chicken bus? Why do you love Guatemal, Honduras & Belize so much, and why no interest in Costa Rica?

Volcanogirl - thanks for the info, I will check it out. Where would you suggest going in CR that's off the tourist track?
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Old Dec 4th, 2011, 02:36 PM
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By "party" I mean in a rowdy drinking/drugs way, though in truth I don't go out much at night unless to a concert or a speaker. I'm either living with a local family and hanging out with them and studying in the evenings or traveling with my husband for some highly valued together time that we're reluctant to share our evenings. You'll be fine with your evening interests.

Chicken buses are the locals buses, usually refurbished and often much-embellished old US school buses. They're fine for local runs (to surrounding villages around Antigua, for example) but I avoid them on mountain runs after several near-death experiences. Drivers and maintenance sometimes leave much to be desired and when they're racing each other down mountainsides with steep drop-offs and no railings sometimes prayers aren't enough.

My interests are largely cultural - both contemporary indigenous and local cultures and ancient Maya cultures including ruins. My 3 favorites are awesome for those things - I've spent years total visiting them and have barely scratched the surface. I enjoy outdoor activities, too, like hiking, waterfalls, hot springs, and caving and they've never disappointed. I'm a diver and avid snorkeler and my husband loves to fly fish; Belize and Honduras are incredible for those pursuits. Costa Rica offers beautiful scenery but doesn't have the ancient Maya history, the interaction with indigenous folks, or easy access to great diving and snorkeling that they have, therefore it's not high on my list.

We've put down some roots ( www.becaproject.org ) in Guatemala and will live there part time eventually; I nearly always start there, then wind up in Belize or Honduras for blue water time. Happy trails!
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Old Dec 4th, 2011, 02:51 PM
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lojo, the Osa Peninsula is off the tourist track. Here's the video I was referring to. It's what I thought of when you said Costa Rica like it was years ago.

http://bosquedelcabo.com/home/index.html

Like I mentioned above, we also adore Belize, and it has more in the way of history that you're looking for and wonderful snorkeling.
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Old Dec 9th, 2011, 08:39 PM
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Thanks all! Volcano, that place looks gorgeous!

And I'm going to read all the info on those other links.

If anyone else has something to add or wants to put in their 2 cents -- please feel free!!
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Old Dec 10th, 2011, 10:33 AM
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BDC is awesome!
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Old Dec 15th, 2011, 04:56 PM
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Costa Rica. Where else can you see a chapel like this?

http://frontiercostarica.com/Frontie...the-Clouds.htm
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Old Dec 17th, 2011, 03:02 AM
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I am also completely hooked on Guatemala. I have been in all of the Central American countries except El Salvador and although I enjoyed all of them there is just something about Guatemala.
I visited twice this year so far and will be going back for New Years Eve.. that was completely a surprise and a last minute trip. I just booked two days ago. Antigua is one of the places I find my self day dreaming about.
I am going back to Costa Rica in April with my family . I haven't been there in about four years and although I know I will enjoy going back.
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Old Dec 19th, 2011, 08:36 AM
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Deb -- I'm sorry, what's BDC?
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Old Dec 19th, 2011, 09:32 AM
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http://www.bosquedelcabo.com/
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Old Dec 20th, 2011, 06:46 AM
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lojo, it's shorthand for the place that I mentioned up above - very popular place on this board.
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Old Dec 21st, 2011, 10:32 AM
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I like this travel website for country comparisons. Obviously it is written from the point of the backpacker market, but if you prefer independent budget travel and avoiding the mass tourist market it think it is also useful.

http://travelindependent.info/america-central.htm

If you just want to sit on a beach or clifftop with a beverage in your hand and chat with other North American tourists, you can probably skip it.
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Old Dec 21st, 2011, 02:24 PM
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Looks like an interesting site - thanks for posting!
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Old Dec 22nd, 2011, 10:54 AM
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I'd recommend going to Costa Rica and checking out Pachamama (http://ow.ly/7MOYG). I've been here for a month and it's amazing!
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