Getting back on my roundup game! Thanks for putting up with my very tardy monthly wrap-ups. These are some of the juiciest, most comprehensive and most detail-filled posts I write, and hence, they take me a long time to put together. Hope you don’t mind that they come served like fine wine… well-aged and with a bit of cheese on the side. (As if I know how fine wine is served. Boxed vino forever!)
This was the last stretch of my mainland Central America travels, and it was an incredibly diverse month in terms of travel styles, travel companions, types of destinations, and even countries — I went to three! I went from luxury resorts to cockroach-filled dorm beds to the spare mattress in a pal’s apartment, from surrounded by family to poignantly solo to in the arms of old friends, from a sun-drenched castaway island to a major metropolis to a tiny mountain town.
When it was time to start Caribbean island-hopping my way home, I admit I was ready to go. Mostly, I was just tired of moving — if I could do it all again, I’d cut out everything between Caye Caulker and Guatemala City and just hunker down in one of those place instead, but you know what they say about hindsight. Still, it may have been time to go… but Central America had a few last heartstrings to pull at before I departed.
Where I’ve Been
• Three nights in Hopkins / Belize
• Three nights in San Ignacio / Belize
• Three nights in Caye Caulker / Belize
• Four nights in Ambergis Caye / Belize
• Three nights in Livingston / Guatemala
• Two nights in Rio Dulce / Guatemala
• Two nights in Lanquin / Guatemala
• Five nights in Guatemala City / Guatemala
• Three nights in Copan / Honduras
• My giddy excitement at going to meet the ladies of the family — I even penned a poem! (And writing it was some of the most fun I’ve had stringing words together in a long time.) Putting together these two weeks was a lot of work but I just absolutely cherished this time with them, starting with a shriek-filled airport reunion.
• Our day trip to Bread and Butter Caye. I loved seeing the health and diversity of the reefs while snorkeling, watching my mom trying to catch sprats with her bare hands while (not) fishing, and just swinging in side-by-side hammocks!
• Taking our bikes for a spin. I love resorts and hotels that offer free bikes and really feel like we got a feel for Hopkins on our afternoon ride through the town — not to mention some great photos. Our simple meal at Driftwood Pizza was one of my favorites in Belize.
• Walking into Ka’ana! I love when I find a hotel that just pushes all my design buttons, and this was one of them. There was thought poured into every last detail, and I could have spent a week hidden away in this jungle paradise. As soon as we arrived we cancelled one of our offsite activities just so we could spent an entire day doing yoga, getting massages, and gossiping by the pool. It was amazing! And our evening cooking class, held right at the resorts, was one of the highlights of Belize for me. I can’t stop gushing about what a fantastic experience it was.
• Xunantunich. It’s always a pretty good day when you’re getting the chance to tick another Mayan ruin off your list, but our hosts at Ka’ana really outdid themselves when it came to our day here. It started out with a private yoga class at the base of one of the temples — so amazing I can still hardly believe that’s a thing — followed by a funny and insightful private tour, capped off with a horseback ride to a luxurious private river-side picnic site. It was pretty much a day for the memory books — this is definitely the kind of experience I aspire to create when I’m at the helm of family trips.
• Flying into Caye Caulker. The airport experience in Belize City was hilarious (see LOLs, below) but our laughter turned to awe as we soaked up the view. Getting picked up at the Caye Caulker “airport” — more or less a shed — in a golf cart taxi brought the giggles back on.
• ODing on travel highlights in Caye Caulker. I mean, how can you pick, when this one tiny island is home to sunset yoga, sunset booze cruises, and sunset stand up paddling? It was hard to pick a favorite moment of our sun-drenched long weekend here, but I think my sister and I’s silly morning walking pups from the shelter topped the list.
• Discovering Thai-like yellow curries in Belize and East Guatemala. My taste buds were pumped! From Ambergris Caye to Livingston to Copan, I found myself freaking out over amazing dinners that had me feeling halfway across the world.
• Manatees sharks, and turtles, oh my! How lucky can one snorkeling set of sister be? We loved every minute of our last-minute snorkel trip to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. I almost felt like we were bragging when we rattled off the list of all the creatures we’d encountered. Magical!
• My wild day in Rio Dulce. I’d been feeling underwhelmed so far by East Guatemala — Livingston and Rio Dulce were lovely, but I hadn’t exactly found anything to write home about yet. And then, in one unexpected swoop, I had a day for the history books (or, you know, at least my own personal travel blog) — swimming under a hot waterfall, riding on the roof of a collectivo, and swimming upstream through the most gorgeous canyon I’d ever seen. I couldn’t stop smiling! Way to go for gold, East Guatemala. Way to go for gold.
• Reuniting in Guatemala City. I’d been feeling a little lonely since waving goodbye to my fam, and though it was a total detour and not at all a part of the plan, I found myself boarding a bus back to Guatemala City. I spent five blissful nights with my friends who were living in Zona Cuatro… and it was one of my favorite parts of my entire six weeks of travel in Guatemala! It felt so good to be surrounded by old friends and exploring the new city they were calling home. Thank you Steffi, Sam, and Mary!
• Going viral. My Guatemala City post was one of the most shared I’ve ever written. I loved seeing so many Guatemala City residents proudly posting it. I was so grateful for getting to see a new side of a city so many don’t give a second glance — it was a post I was really proud of, and it was gratifying to see others so enjoying it.
• Cute little Copan. I had high hopes for Copan, and they were exceeded. Three days was the perfect amount of time to soak up all the charm of this tucked-away Honduran valley. Macaw Mountain and the Copan ruins were both better than I expected, and I loved wandering through town with a camera in tow. It was pretty much just the right amount of developed — not too touristy, but with the necessary amenities on offer.
Livingston and Rio Dulce
Lowlights and Lessons
• After nearly three months without a drop of rain, I woke up on the morning I was to meet my family to torrential downpour. While things cleared up when we hit Caye Caulker, wind and rain followed us for our entire first week in Belize, which was the entire time my mom was there. While we lucked into a few sunny mornings or afternoons, we saw a lot more gray skies than blue ones. I was so bummed — I would have traded two weeks of rain alone for one sunny one with my family! I always feel very responsible for everyone’s good time when I plan a family trip, and waking up to rain every morning had my anxiety levels through the roof.
• We moved too quickly. My mom didn’t want to be out of the country for more than a week, so we did just three nights at each resort. In retrospect, with the distance it took to get to, from, and between them as well as the inherent logistical delays of traveling as a group, we should have done at least four (especially at Ka’ana!).
• Our horseback ride in San Ignacio was kind of underwhelming, the only element I can say that about from our otherwise exceptional time there. It wasn’t really bad; I was just bored being forced back into a mane-to-tail plod after having such exceptional riding experiences lately. Clearly, I need to be a bit more discerning in the future.
• We had a super weird AirBnB situation in Caye Caulker. After our first night in the apartment, we were out paddleboarding and discussed how seriously we’d lucked out. A cute place, a good price, a super friendly host and right in the middle of the busiest weekend of the year! Clearly, we should have knocked on wood, because as we swooped back by the apartment to grab our beach bags, our host was waiting outside with bad news: we had to get out, as there’d been a double booking and the other party had paid more. He proposed we move into another of his apartments, a two bedroom being occupied by an older single American man who was “out all day anyway” (um let us think about it… no) or basically just get out and we’d get a refund. Too bad Caye Caulker is booked solid for Easter weekend for weeks in advance! We literally would have been sleeping on the streets.
I decided to play good cop and told the girls to go upstairs while I explained that while personally I would be totally 100% down with sharing an apartment with a random strange old dude who was probably also clueless to this arrangement (not true), my sister and cousin were just like slightly uptight in that when they book a private apartment they would like it to themselves. And, unfortunately, I totally get that they’re in a bind, but I just so happened to work for AirBnB and would have no choice but to report an incident like this to headquarters (also definitely not true.) I was my taking my phone out to start a dramatic fake phone call to the CEO when suddenly our host changed his tune and we could stay. I shutter to think where we would have ended up had my plot not worked — thanks for the mini heart attack, dude! (I promise, AirBnB is normally not so sketch! See for yourself and get $25 off your first booking by clicking here.)
• Saying goodbye to my family was tough. Yes, we bickered, and yes, we even had one big family blowup, but those seemed like distant memories when it was time for them to go. They left one by one and by the time my sister left I was gutted! I kind of mentally checked out of the trip after they departed as well — I was kind of ready to just move onto the next phase and get to Grand Cayman already. Had my host Heather not been arriving the same day I was schedule to, I think I would have just gone there earlier.
• Ambergris Caye was just not my jam. I had some nice moments there but overall it’s not a destination I’d recommend to fellow backpackers, especially when gorgeous Caye Caulker is right there. It probably didn’t help that I fell off my bike, cracked my camera’s LCD screen, lost my Mophie charger, and cycled thirty minutes to a yoga class only to be told outside guests weren’t allowed at the morning classes. Whoops! The one highlight? The ultra-clean beachfront hostel I stayed at there, Sandbar.
• Lanquin was also kind of a bust for me. Maybe that’s an understatement. I have a high tolerance for chaos and Zephyr Lodge just pushed it way too far. Cockroaches, tarantulas, and construction had me itching to get out of there, and Semuc Champey didn’t live up to the hype for me. Can’t win ’em all!
• For the first time in my freelancing career, a client straight up did not pay. After spending days on a graphic design job literally over Christmas (hence, I took time away from my family to do it), I waited months and months for payment before finally being told it wasn’t coming — none of it. It was a very awkward and upsetting situation, because I was acting as a subcontractor for a designer I admire and enjoyed regularly working for, though I did not respect the way the situation was handled. It left a horrible taste in my mouth — and stiffed me of a much-needed pay day.
• It was the first in a long line of somewhat hilarious mishaps that had me scrambling to get to the airport in time to meet my family. My bus into Belize was late, I had to walk across the border in the rain, the one and only highway leading to the airport was closed, and finally, my cab from the bus station caught on fire. It was actually hilarious, not just in retrospect but even right there in the moment — my driver had been driving with the windows down waving and hollering to every other person we passed and I had been thinking he must have been the most popular guy in town. So when the engine caught aflame he’s like, no problem! I’ll get one of my friends to drive you. And he literally randomly flagged down some friends who were driving by, windows down, beers in hand, and enlisted them to finish the rest of the journey to the airport. Sometimes, all you can do is just shrug — and put your bags in the trunk.
• Flying in Belize was just like nonstop comedy — The whole experience was hilarious, from the strict “no lobsters through the x-ray” sign at the gate to the security guard who chastised my sister for having liquid bug spray in her carry-on, but let her keep it anyway because, “[she’s] gonna need it.”
Then, the night before my flight out of Ambergris Caye, I asked my hostel to call a cab for me. “What time is your flight?” they asked. “It’s 6:30am,” I replied. “Great. So a 6:00am pickup then.” I was like ummmmmm but turns out they weren’t kidding. A seven minute ride to the airport was followed by the baggage handlers taking my bags directly from the back of the minivan cab into a small prop plane, which I strolled onto moments later. It was possibly the best departure experience of my life, and most certainly the most hilarious one. Take that, TSA!
• The day we arrived on Caye Caulker was Good Friday, and that meant that unfortunately, no alcohol could be sold. This was dismaying to both residents and tourists:
Olivia: So, we REALLY can’t order a drink?
Waitress: No. I’m sorry. Today is a terrible day.
I spent $1,420 this month, excluding business expenses. It’s important to note that after two months of backpacking sponsor-free, I accepted a media comp from two lovely sister resorts as well as a local airline in Belize in order to enjoy a family vacation with my nearest and dearest. Between my arrangements with these companies and my mom’s overwhelming generosity, it was a nice reprieve for my wallet.
But back to what I did throw down. As always and forever, my largest expense was food at $558. Meals in Ambergris Caye were particularly pricey. Next up was entertainment at $247, which included everything from my snorkeling tour in Cay Caulker at $70 to my Copan ruin entrance fee at $15. Accommodation clocked in at $191, offset by both the comped hotel nights and crashing with my friends in Guatemala City. Otherwise, I paid everywhere from $7 a night for a dorm in Rio Dulce to $22 a night for my share of an apartment rental in Caye Caulker. Transport was fairly pricey at $185 considering my flights were comped and I otherwise traveled overland (and, technically, over water), but I suppose I was on the move quite a bit.
I spent $102 on miscellaneous, which included everything from my $20 departure free from Belize to $4 for laundry to almost $70 spent on new and thrifted clothes — a rarity for me! I also donated $75 to charitable causes, spent $40 on spa treatments (I still think this needs its own category), and spent $22 on fitness — in this case, a gym fee in Ambergris Cate and two group classes Guatemala City. Overall, I was happy with my spending, though I could, as always, spend less by slowing down and try to cut down on my constant food splurging.
I actually had my best month ever for income (despite the no-pay client mentioned above, ahem). It was a great month for affiliate sales as well as two campaigns with brands I was proud to work with, Trover and Tylenol. In addition, I logged some minor income on SEO advertising a small design project.
I did a pretty good job of logging off while my fam was around, mostly just catching up on social media and email whenever I had a spare minute. I was proud of myself for getting all my posts written ahead of time and really living in the moment with them. Once they departed I buckled back down and focused heavily on work for the rest of the month.
Health and Fitness
While I hit a traditional gym just once (in Ambergris Caye), I was super active throughout this period. While my family was around we went biking, paddleboarding, snorkeling and yoga-ing, and when they left I continued running, biking and swimming where possible. In Guatemala City I tried two new classes — silking and capoiera. Silking was a hit, though I could barely get through a third of the class before my arms gave out. I’d love to try it again more regularly someday in the future and see how strong these guns could get, though! While I didn’t love capoiera quite as much, it was a unique experience and I did enjoy the music and the enthusiasm in the room.
I was in vacation mode when my family was around and ate to match it, though once they left I forced myself into a detox from alcohol and junk food. Guatemala City, where I was eating mostly home-made goodness, was a particular highlight. I also continued doing tons of yoga, and ended up writing a mega-post about how my relationship with it has transformed.
Island hopping from Roatan to Grand Cayman to Bermuda before finally returning to New York!
Since I left home for my Great Escape, I’ve been doing monthly roundups of my adventures filled with anecdotes, private little moments, and thoughts that are found nowhere else on this blog. As this site is not just a resource for other travelers but also my own personal travel diary, I like to take some time to reflect on not just what I did, but how I felt. You can read my previous roundups here..