Sardinia On A Budget – Costa Rei Edition

Sardinia On A Budget – Costa Rei Edition

Is Sardinia on a budget possible at all? It is, if you follow my tips.

Have you visited Cagliari and its surrounding, and are now looking for more things to do in Sardinia and now feel the urge to just lay at the beach, take long walks, have nice meals and a refreshing beer at sunset and just cool down after dinner? Are you looking for where to go in Sardinia?

Look no more! Costa Rei is a top holiday destination where you can be a total beach bum and it is quite easy to reach from Cagliari. And, guess what? It is one of the best beaches in Sardinia, so much so that Lonely Planet states that beaches in the area are “out of this world” .

You just need to hop on an ARST bus from the main bus station in Piazza Matteotti. Should you have your own car, you just need to drive towards Strada Statale 554 and then follow the directions to Muravera to reach Strada Statale 125, then take the exit “Costa Rei”. Driving should take no longer than one hour.

The bus ride is longer as it goes along the coast, but those 2 hours will fly away while you enjoy the amazing view over the many small beaches of the gulf.

Sardinia best beaches include Costa Rei

Sardinia best beaches include Costa Rei

Sardinia On A Budget – Costa Rei Edition

I admit I am a bit biased when it comes to Costa Rei, I have been coming here since I was a toddler and I have so many memories of this place. It is mostly geared towards families with children. It offers little in terms nightlife (just a few bars, a market, some live music in Piazza Italia – for more action head to the nearby Villasimius), but the long, white, sandy beach and the crystal clear water are free to access, making it an excellent cheap holiday destination.

No wonder a lot of people who visit Sardinia head straight there. If you are looking for things to do in Sardinia, besides snorkeling, you can also splurge and try all sorts of water sports – including water skiing, windsurf and kite surf. Just ask at any of the kiosks at the beach; they can also organise boat trips to the nearby Isola dei Cavoli and the various other beaches in the area (prices should be not over €40). Another option is asking at the information desk Butterfly Service.

If you have your own car or a bike, it will be easier to reach Cala Pira with its Spanish tower, Cala Sinzias, a nesting spot for caretta caretta turtles,

Cala Sinzias, one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Cala Sinzias, one of the best beaches in Sardinia

the tiny Monte Turnu and the further away Punta Molentis

Crystal clear water in Punta Molentis - no wonder it is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

Crystal clear water in Punta Molentis – no wonder it is one of the best beaches in Sardinia

and Porto Giunco (nearer Villasimius). If you have a taste for skinny dipping, closer to Capo Ferrato you will find a nudist beach – ask around for information.

A more hidden spot – slightly harder to reach – is Feraxi. From Costa Rei, follow the directions to Capo Ferrato, then drive further along following the signs to Feraxi. The road will turn into a dirt one, and you will eventually get to a parking lot which is on the right hand side. From there, it is a short – if only slightly slippery – walk to two small beaches. One is longer and sandier, the other one is encaved among rocks and is perfect for snorkeling. This is also a great mountain biking itinerary, and you can easily rent bikes at Butterfly Service in Costa Rei.

If you are looking for what to do in Sardinia on a late afternoon, you may want go on an easy hike near Costa Rei, opt for the lighthouse of Capo Ferrato: plan to be there around sunset time for the perfect view.

Where to stay and eat in Costa Rei

Most people who go to Costa Rei either opt for an all-inclusive village or rent a flat. There are many local agencies that can provide information – you can find them all by doing a simple google search. The cheapest option are camping sites where you can pitch your tent or rent a bungalow – they are perfect for those who are visiting Sardinia on a budget. Among them, Camping Capo Ferrato and Camping Le Dune.

As in any cheap beach holiday destinations, there are many restaurants for all budgets. Chaplin is specialised in seafood and is among the cheapest. You can have a good pizza at Escargot, which has a great terrace overlooking the sea. Sa Cardiga e Su Pisci is the priciest and most reknown restaurant in the area. 

I Menhirs, near Olia Speciosa, offers a traditional Sardinian menu with organic, locally grown produce, with appetizers, freshly made pasta and meat dishes (such as the traditional piglet), dessert and drinks for around 30 euro.

Su Tostoini, on the way to Villasimius, is a cheap pizzeria very popular with the locals and perfect if you are visiting Sardinia on a budget. Arrive early to get your table or put your name on the list and wait patiently.

Festivals and events

If you care for more cultural things to do in Sardinia that show a good part of the local traditions, the Carnevale di Muravera takes places around 10 August each year. Muravera can be easily reached from Costa Rei (about 30 minutes drive, or via public transportation). There are other village festivals in Castiadas and Villaputzu, also not far from Costa Rei. They are all free to attend so perfect if you are visiting Sardinia on a budget.

Find out more things to do in Sardinia on my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

To read more about the incredible beaches in Sardinia, check my post “The Ultimate Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia.”

 

Sardinia for backpackers – where to go in Sardinia: Cagliari

Sardinia for backpackers – where to go in Sardinia: Cagliari

Things to do in Sardinia: admiring a pink flamingo eating in the Stagno di Molentargius

Things to do in Sardinia: admiring a pink flamingo eating in the Stagno di Molentargius

Cagliari, Sardinia

Basilica di Bonaria

What to see in Cagliari:

If you are thinking of where to go in Sardinia, think Cagliari. Not only it is a great place to begin your visit, but also a perfect starting point for many more things to do in Sardinia. Once here, if you took the ferry you will land directly at the harbour near Via Roma, which is the main centre of town. If you took one of the cheap flights to Sardinia, catch the train to the city centre (Piazza Matteotti)– it takes no longer than 7 minutes. You can then reach Via Roma and start a walk that will take you through the picturesque neighborhood of La Marina, and then eventually lead you to the Bastione di S. Remy.

Visiting Cagliari is one of the things to do in Sardinia: here, Bastione di San Remy

Visiting Cagliari is one of the things to do in Sardinia: here, Bastione di San Remy

It is a bastion, a fort built at the end of the 19th century on the old walls of the city (dating the beginning of the 14th century), in order to link the neighborhoods of La Marina and Villanova with the one of Castello, above. Walking up the stairs of the Bastione, take a look at the spectacular view over the Golfo degli Angeli. Right in front of you, you will see the Sella del Diavolo, a cape at the south of the city that separates the beaches of Poetto and Calamosca. The legend says that demons, headed by Lucifer, were impressed by the beauty of the gulf and attempted to conquer it.

However, God sent its army, under the lead of archangel Michael, in order to fight Lucifer. In the battle, Lucifer was unsaddled and lost his saddle which landed on the water and turned into stone, thus giving the cape its saddle shape. Another legend says that Lucifer, during the fight, fell on the cape giving it its shape. Right next to the Sella del Diavolo there is Sant’Elia Stadium, historic stadium of Cagliari Football Club and currently being renovated. On the left, you can see Molentargius pond which is a colony for pink flamingos. If you want to take a look from above, go to Monte Urpinu. Otherwise, take a walk in the Parco di Molentargius to see them up close.

Going up some more stairs from the Bastione, you can enter the neighborhood of Castello, and see the Cathedral and the Palazzo Vice Regio, till you reach the San Pancrazio Tower, built during the Pisan domination of the island. The view from up there is spectacular. You can then visit the nearby Museo Archeologico di Cagliari and, exiting Castello, go towards the Roman anfitheatre, of imperial times, which could host up to 10000 spectators and were the main shows were those of gladiators. Going back, walk along the Ghetto degli Ebrei admiring the view of the roofs of Stampace and the Elephants’ Tower.

Other sites of interest include the Basilica di Bonaria, the lighthouse of Sant’Elia (which you can reach through a free hike offering an incredible view over the Poetto beach), the necropolis of Tuvixeddu and the Castle of San Michele.

If you would like taking part in a guided walking tour of Cagliari, Musement has day and night tours in English, French, German and Spanish and takes you to some of the most important attractions. It also organises guided treks and kayak tours to the Devils’ Saddle.

Cagliari is a good starting point for many more things to do in Sardinia. One excursion could be that to the Castle of Siniscola. If you are interested in a unique archeological site (a must see when you visit Sardinia) go to the nuraxis village of Barumini, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The ruins of Nora, near Pula, are impressive. Other day trips could be to the beautiful beaches of Santa Margherita, Chia, Tuerredda and Cala Cipolla. If you would like a wine tasting experience, go to Cantine Argiolas in Serdiana, where you can also visit the Romanic 11th century church of Santa Maria di Sibiola, fully immersed in the countryside. There are more Romanic countryside churches near Monastir and near Sestu.

Where to stay, eat and have a drink:

For a relaxing walk and an aperitif right before sunset, walk along the Poetto beach. It is easily reached by bus and there are many bars where you can have a drink and enjoy the cool breeze coming from the sea. If you can afford a taxi, go to La Paillote, at the top of Calamosca beach: it is a beautiful lounge bar with a view over a tiny beach and the harbour.

Poetto beach Cagliari: sunset view

Poetto beach Cagliari: sunset view

There are restaurants and accommodation for all budgets and taste. Fussy travellers can opt for the modern and comfortable T Hotel, which also has a good restaurant and is right in front of the beautiful Parco della Musica. For something in between, there are many bed and breakfast in the city centre. If you are on a budget, opt for Hostel Marina, beds in dorm of 4 to 6 beds are €22 per night: it is right in the heart of the city and near all attractions, restaurants and bars.

Craving seafood at lunchtime? Go to the fish market (Mercato di San Benedetto, in Piazza San Benedetto) and have freshly fried calamari, fish and shrimps for a few euros. For an excellent pizza (and pasta, meat and desserts!) go to L’Oca Bianca. Nearby, La Stella Marina di Montecristo in via Sardegna 140 offers an excellent seafood menu for no more than € 22 per person – including appetizers, pasta, seafood, fruit, dessert and wine and spirits. It is very popular among the locals, including Gigi Riva (former player of Cagliari who led the team to win the championship). If you can, book in advance. In the streets of the city centre you can also find many kebab places, pizzerias, and ice cream parlours.

Nightlife is lively – but locals tend to go out no earlier than 10 pm. The heart of the movida is around Largo Carlo Felice. Libarium, in Castello, has a great terrace and view of the city; Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione are lovely. A cocktail normally costs between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 4 or 5 euros).

Enjoying a drink at Caffè degli Spiriti

Enjoying a drink at Caffè degli Spiriti

Here’s my post about the best beaches in Sardinia. Also, check out my Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.

How To Make The Most Of Sardinia On A Budget

How To Make The Most Of Sardinia On A Budget

Places to visit in Sardinia

Things to do in Sardinia: visiting the Miniera di Montevecchio

Things to do in Sardinia: visiting the Mines of Montevecchio – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia

Compulsive travellers like myself, those who as soon as they have a free weekend pack their backpack and leave, sometimes forget to think about places to visit that are actually pretty close, and prefer crossing their country’s borders. Well, there is a place where you can click off from your daily life, without travelling too far, and where you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a vibrant cultural life. There are so many things to do in Sardinia, you will have a great choice!

Hiking the Canyon de Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Hiking the Canyon de Su Gorropu is one of the things to do in Sardinia

Searching for what to do in Sardinia? Hike a Canyon

Searching for what to do in Sardinia? Hike a Canyon

It is thus time to visit Sardinia, right in the centre of the Mediterranean, and the good news is that although it is almost mithologically described as a place for a few rich people, it is actually possible to have a cheap tour of it, and whatever your interests are, you won’t run out of things to do in Sardinia. The best beaches in Sardinia – which are the main attraction in the summer – all have free access. So carry your umbrella and beach towel and relax. Most hikes can be done independently. And almost any tourist location has a camping site where you can pitch your tent.

Is Aruttas is one of Sardinia best beaches

Is Aruttas is one of Sardinia best beaches

How to get to Sardinia:

Sardinia can be reached from Italy with a 50 minutes flight, and with no more than 3 hours flight from the rest of Europe. The main carriers that fly to the island are Alitalia and Meridiana, and British Airways has seasonal flights. Most budget airlines have flights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe. These are Volotea, Ryanair, Easyjet, Vueling and Air Berlin. There are three airports: AlgheroCagliari and Olbia. Any of them is a great starting point for a tour of the island. By booking in advance, making sure you catch a flight during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates a bit (being flexible), you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50.

If you are travelling with your family and children, want to have your own car, or if you simply like ferries (the average trip is 10 hours), you can catch one from Genova to Porto Torres (near Sassari, in the north of Sardinia), Livorno to Olbia or Civitavecchia to Cagliari. For prices, consult the websites of Tirrenia and Moby. Needless to say, if you carry your car on board the prices will raise, so calculate if this is really convenient. You can opt for a passage on the deck (cheapest option), for a reclining chair inside, for a first or second class cabin.

Depending on your budget and how many are travelling, and on the duration of your trip, you can rent a car or decide to visit the island independently, with public transportation. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport, some are actually quite convenient. But be sure to book in advance in order to catch good deals. For information on the times and routes of buses and trains visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia. Any decent hotel, hostel and bed and breakfast should be able to offer you information on how to get there and even on how to get to places to visit.

When to go

Something for sure is that Sardinia never lets down travellers, in any season. In order to enjoy its beauty you should really spend a year there. But you can still appreciate how wonderful it is even in a few days or weeks. The island is equally gorgeous in winter and in summer, but weather in Sardinia can get really bad in the autumn and winter, when it rains a lot. Should you care to see sea that is even more beautiful than in a tropical paradise, summer may be the best season, from the end of May to the beginning of October. Expect to meet more tourists in August, when most Italians go on vacation. July is a good month, with less tourists and longer days. September is by far the quietest month, days are shorter, and the heat lower.

Here’s my “Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia.”

Festivals and events in Sardinia

There are a variety of events throughout the year, and one of the best things to do in Sardinia is participating to a “sagra”. During the summer, each village has its own festival, with traditional dance, songs, music and food. Among the most famous events, on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”, where people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of Sardinia (Sant’Efisio) whose statue is carried from the church in Cagliari to the village of Pula. Jazz lovers won’t want to miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, not far from Olbia, currently in its 28th edition. It is a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (which are free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. Wine lovers will enjoy Calici di Stelle in Jerzu. Food lovers willing to try traditional food will have many options, among them the “Sagra del Maialetto” (piglet) in Baunei. If you want a taste of traditional carnival costumes, Muravera Carnival in August is a parade of traditional masks from Sardinian mountain villages.

What I suggest to do is a tour of the island which takes you to cities, archelogical sites, cultural events, and that allows you to enjoy nature with hikes, water sports and relax on the beach.

I will suggest Cagliari as your starting point, as it is the main centre on the island and a beautiful city. You can also start touring from Olbia or Alghero, the other airports, and go on a loop! I will also give advice on where to go in Sardinia, what to do in Sardinia, and on the best beaches in Sardinia.

Finally, here’s my post on the best beaches in Sardinia.

Off the beaten path Peru: Marcahuasi

Off the beaten path Peru: Marcahuasi

Off the beaten path hikes: one of the best things to do in Peru

Top things to see in Peru: Marcahuasi

Top things to see in Peru: Marcahuasi

If you are a budget backpacker who can’t find any more things to do in Lima and need to recharge your batteries, there are nearby places that, although only 100 km away, will make you feel like you are on another planet. One of these places is Marcahuasi. Let me not spoil it for you with too much of a description. But be ready to experience its mysticism and its magic, knowing that it is one of the most incredible places to visit in Peru, especially if you are looking for some off the beaten path. It is possible to camp there, but you should be very well prepared with a good tent, excellent gear, and carry all foods and necessities (and walk up 4 km on horses or donkeys to carry all your belongings to the area where you can camp).

Despite not being too far from Lima, Marcahuasi is so isolated and hardly exploited by tourism, and it will take you a good 5 hours to reach it, with a few bus changes. You will hardly meet any tourists on the way. Don’t plan it as a day trip from Lima, even if they may tell you it is doable, as anything may happen along the way (a flat tire on the bus, construction works on the road; extreme fog or rain that may not allow to drive back; buses not leaving for some unknown reason) that may delay your journey and make it impossible to catch the last bus back. Be sure to carry warm clothes (set at 4000 meters above sea level, it does get very cold even during the day) and rain coat, and possibly a good sleeping bag.

What to do in Peru: catching an old bus from Chosica to San Pedro de Casta

What to do in Peru: catching an old bus from Chosica to San Pedro de Casta

Everybody stops - there is a car with an engine problem at the front!

Everybody stops – there is a car with an engine problem at the front!

How to get there

Travellers who have been on trips to Peru will be able to tell you that 100 km in this incredible country may involve hours of travel. Head out well early in the morning: from your hostel in Lima catch a taxi that will take you to the paradero (bus stop) where colectivos going to Chosica stop. That should cost you around 5 soles. Then, hop on a colectivo to Chosica (5 soles) and once there, look for the buses going to San Pedro de Casta (around 10 soles). There is one that leaves at 9 am. The bus will take about 3 hours, along a dirt road that will leave most passengers breathless for the beauty and the fear (it does drive along cliffs, and the road is truly narrow so if a car or bus is coming in the opposite direction, it will reverse until a spot where the road is wide enough to let the other pass!).

Once you get to San Pedro de Casta, there is no way you can get lost: this is most definitely where you will spend the night. The village is truly tiny, and everybody knows each other. Chances are that the tourism office will be closed, but the lovely lady who owns the “restaurant” next door will be keen enough to call the employee in charge and ask him or her to show up, as there are tourists. You will have to register your name in the tourist book (where you will notice that at most there are 2 visitors per day) pay a fee to go up to the site (it is only 5 soles) and, if you want to rent horses, make sure you do require them a day in advance as there are very few in the village. The lady in the restaurant or the person in charge in the Tourism office will also point you to the nearby (and only) hostel.

Where to stay

There is only one, rustic “Hospedaje Municipal” where you can sleep (unless you are brave enough to camp in Marcahuasi): double private rooms with or without bathrooms (between 20 and 30 soles for the room). Forget about hot water: there are showers, but only cold ones, and in those dark, cold rooms you won’t really want to hop in a shower and risk pneumonia.

Not many trips to Peru include visits to San Pedro de Casta

Not many trips to Peru include visits to San Pedro de Casta

San Pedro de Casta

The village has little to offer – 3 rustic restaurants with plain but wholesome food (trout, potatoes, rice and little more), which also serves as tiendas (shops) and where you can drink the much needed mate de coca to fight the side effects of altitude. One of the best past-times in the village is to sit in the main (and possibly only) square to watch life go by: at around 1pm children head out of school and if you sit in the main plaza you will see them all run, rucksacks on, to have lunch in the comedor (eatery); peasants will go up and down the hills with their donkeys; the many village dogs (and a few cats) will be roaming about and bonding with tourists. The village surroundings are gorgeous: mountains, mountains and more mountains. It will get even more fascinating at around 2 pm, when the clouds will cover it and rain will start dropping, softly at first, then a real downpour. That’s when you want to head to one of the restaurants and start sipping mate de coca to fight the altitude, or anything warm, and read a good book.

Plan to have an early night: by 8 pm everybody is pretty much asleep in the village. There aren’t many things to do in Peru most remote village. There are no cars at all, so the only sound you will hear at night are donkeys randomly braying, the sound echoing in the whole village. You will sleep tight, even more so considering how quiet it is compared to chaotic Lima. People in San Pedro de Casta are truly friendly, so practice your Spanish with them: ask about their culture, their traditions, share yours, appreciate whatever help they offer, especially when they show you what to do in Peru when transportation lets you down (the lady from the restaurant next to the Tourism Office, for example, literally saved my trip arranging transportation to get back down to Chosica on a day when the buses decided not to run: she literally spent over an hour running from door to door, making phone calls, arranging a ride) and be thankful.

The trek to Markahuasi

An early wake up is definitely the best way to start. Aim to begin your hike at 6 am, when the sun starts rising. It normally rains later on in the day, with clouds starting to come down at around 10 and rain starting to drop at around 12:30. If you walk up early, you will have more chances to get a clear sky and a perfect view of the mountains and of the site. Make sure you do carry some snacks and plenty of water. It is a hard hike: from the already 3000 meters above sea level of the village, to the 4000 of Marcahuasi, along a steep (but well marked) path of little over 4 km (8 km in total, going up and back). There is nothing along the way – not a shop, not a bar. Only crops, nature and mountains. You won’t meet any tourists. At most, a few peasants and their donkeys (I think I met 3 during the whole hike). Chances are that one of the dogs from the village will follow you. It happened to me, and it felt great to have that quiet company and his incitement to continue walking any time I stopped on the way, exhausted.

One of my few encounters: a peasant and her donkey

One of my few encounters: a peasant and her donkey

Things to do in Peru: watching the sun rise over the mountains in Marcahuasi

Things to do in Peru: watching the sun rise over the mountains in Marcahuasi

Wow!

Wow!

Finally in Marcahuasi, Barbon takes a look around

Finally in Marcahuasi, Barbon takes a look around

You will think you have seen it all along the way – those spectacular mountains, rays of light shining through the clouds, a view of San Pedro de Casta from high up. Then, you will get to Marcahuasi and will feel entranced. Rock formations that resemble human faces, empty spaces, and a cold breeze that will chill your skin, the echo of your voice and your steps. Something is magic about this place, and you will be repaid of the long (and at times scary) bus journey, of the dust you breathed along the way, of the bone-chilling cold you felt during the night. You will know it then: hiking Marcahuasi should definitely be listed among the things to do in Peru.

Hiking Marcahuasi should definitely be listed among the things to do in Peru: the anfitheatre

Hiking Marcahuasi should definitely be listed among the things to do in Peru: the anfitheatre

Barbon and I posing in Marcahuasi

Barbon and I posing in Marcahuasi

Marcahuasi

Human faces carved in the rock – done by nature or by humans?

For more places to visit in Peru, click here.

San Blas sailing

San Blas sailing

San Blas sailing, Isla Porvenir, San Blas

San Blas sailing? This is your first stop!

San Blas islands Panama

San Blas islands Panama

Isla Porvenir, San Blas

San Blas

San Blas, Panama

A tiny – uninhabited – island of the San Blas archipelago

San Blas, Panama

Yes, it was THAT beautiful!

San Blas, Panama

Sunrise in San Blas

Portobelo, Panama

Portobelo bay – other (nicer) boats

My tent - palm trees and sand. Could it be more lonely?

My tent – palm trees and sand. Could it be more lonely?

Michu - cat on board!

Michu – cat on board!

Having a hell of a time in Panama

On the morning of February 8, eager for adventure, Max (my travel partner) and I meet at the bus station in Panama City with Ian, a Canadian who has a sailboat and that will take us to Colombia via the San Blas archipelago. Anyone who knows me, knows that for a few years now this was one of my dreams, and one of the highlights of my travels, to see the crystal clear waters of the archipelago, learn about the Kuna Yala, the indigenous people of the archipelago, and well… live this adventure. Too bad it was a misadventure, almost entirely.

At the bus station, we met Michelle and Gavin, Londoners, who will embark with us, and together with them and Ian go up on a rickety bus to Colon – so rickety that every time a passenger has to get off and the bus stops, it fails to gear into first and leave again. So rickety that one arrived in Colon it drops us off in the suburbs and not downtown, because it dies altogether. Anyways. Quick lunch at Colon, for me based on sauteed vegetables (I have eaten so much chicken in less than 3 months that I am about to grow wings on my back!) and then jump into a taxi which in theory should take us to the central station, in practice ends up driving us to Portobelo (about an hour’s journey, 4 of us are seating in the back and the road is bumpy) . Arrived in Portobelo – small town that has been called like that by Cristopher Columbus, the ruins of which remain after it was completely razed to the ground by pirates – we see the rest of the crew : two boys of Belgium and a girl from Germany, and the other two people who will embark with us – two Dutch girls. We then decide to go leave our stuff on the sailboat. First surprise: we are sailing with a cat ! A big cat about a year old, which is called Mici black and white, just rubs on me and Max. Then we get into the boat, below, and we wonder how we’re going to be able to stay there for 5 days. A HOLE perhaps would be more spacious. We are given the sleeping arrangements. Massimo and I are given the place of honor at the bow, a kind of triangular bed with a porthole above out heads and the water tank right below. The result is obvious: because it always rains, water falls from the porthole and since the tank is loaded, the mattress gets wet. In the evening we sleep being “nicely” wet. The bathroom consists of a toilet where the chain is not nothing but a pump that pulls water out of the sea, and there is a mini-sink to wash your hands – had it not been that there is not running water. Forget about the shower. We are told that in order to shower, we have to wet ourselves in the sea, leather up and then we would get rinsed with a hose. Max is horrified, thinking his beautiful curly hair. I am horrified thinking that since I am a worthy Tavani, I got my period just in time for the crossing. Anyways, we say that in the end will be worth it, definitely worth it, and it will be worth the $ 440 (compared to the average of 500 or 550 that are required to take the same route, and always under similar conditions in terms of size and number of people). I also ask myself how I will deal with my introversion and my need to be alone, while being in such a restricted space.

After putting our stuff on the sailboat, we go back to land to do the shopping: drinks are not included and we have to buy water and all that we need during the crossing. Luckily ( I say now ) we have been not bought too much compared to the rest of the guests. After the usual caribeñan rain, at 8 o’clock we are back on the boat, carrying with us large amounts of water, beer, snacks etc. I wonder where we are going to put all the stuff. The crew begin to prepare dinner, which ultimately consists mashed potatoes with carrots, and scrambled eggs with onion and tomato, a slice of bread, all served in bowls, to eat with a spoon, and without a table on which to lean – impossible to have one as there would be no room for cramping in so many people. After dinner, I get the first hint of nausea. I run to lie down on the deck, look at the stars, I chew one of my motion sickness pills and then decide to lay down in my “beautifully and delightfully” wet bed, fully dressed ( shorts, tank top ) . Shortly after, one by one the rest also go to sleep, cat included . Massimo collapses dressed, just like me.

In the morning, despite the slight rocking of the boat, I seem to feel good. I am excited as we will finally leave! Breakfast consists, for me, in a banana. Max, for some reason, decides he wants two beers – although he later regrets it, obviously. The others celebrate with coffee, fruit, cereals etc. At 10 o’clock in the morning we start the engine and the boat goes. Just outside the bay of Portobelo, surprise: WAVES and RAIN. Unable to stay inside unless willing to die of nausea, we must all stand out. I chew my motion sickness pill and try to relax. In all this mayhem, I have not brushed my teeth, washed my face of changed my sanitary pad: thank goodness I have light periods. Max sees the weather conditions (sometimes there are the usual downpours) and gets back inside to wear his bathing suit: the cat, placed at the foot of his backpack, does not make a move (he also feels sick, poor thing). Shortly after, he resurfaces, yellow face because of nausea. Anyways. The boat goes, we’re just going by motor as we are currently sailing against wind. Speed is about 3.8 knots. We are tight on that damn bridge. Things drop inside, out of their places, as the sea is so rough. But I finally manage to find a position that, although not the best, allows me to lay my head. I can’t turn my head, or even tilt it, unless I want to vomit. I shall stay as put as possible. Too bad that after a few hours I have to pee. I wonder if I can jump in the water to do it – better than under the deck, in the sweltering heat. I can’s, says the captain, but he suggests that if everyone turns to avoid looking at me, I can pee in the hole where water passes that cools down the engine. Ok – I say – I pee in the hole. After several maneuvers, including almost falling into the water and attempting not to vomit while moving, I set to pee. Peeing while trying to maintain balance requires a huge effort , also because I have the teller between my legs ! But I’m a tough girl, I will not give up, and shortly after I lifted myself, happy, ready to sit down and go back feeling nauseous. The others are all more or less ok.  They put on sunscreen ( the smell of which does nothing but increase my nausea) and happily eat tuna mayo sandwiches, the smell of which makes me even more sick. I can not even say “no thanks!” when they offer: I can only lift a hand to block anyone who wants to talk to me, ’cause I do not have the strength to answer. NB : Max does not speak English and the only one who knows how to put together (badly and with a horrible accent of Quebec ) two words of Spanish is the captain. So if I do not translate, Max is practically isolated, which, introvert as he also is, does not bother him much.

After another eternity the captain informs us we are through about one third of the journey. Then I start worrying: does this mean I have to feel so sick for 8 more hours? Well … I do swallow another seasickness pill, seems to be working this time and I’m pretty optimistic. Yes – I say – it will be worth the money, I will see the paradise of San Blas, the Kuna Yala and the eat lobster on the boat.

The relief lasts about half an hour, after which I am again forced to take another pill for seasickness. The others (except Max ) , meanwhile, are starting to play dice, laugh, read, move around. Yet another eternity and finally the wind rises: we pull up the sail and just go for a little sail, to hear the silence of the sea. I admit that the view of the sea ( waves, deep blue ) is magnificent, fascinating: just us, water, and wind. But if I turn around to admire the view, I get more sick. I give up. We restart the engine, the others are hungry again: again tuna mayo sandwiches and this time Max also has one. And here they begin questioning: you do not eat anything? (Not only did I not eat, but I do not drink either, and despite everything I have to pee, a sign that I’m completely dehydrating which bothers me more than a little). Another question: you have not taken anything for seasickness? (Just 4 tablets but hold on, I will now take the fifth). And then just ’cause my face (says Max) says it all, they stop talking to me (they just stare, as if to make sure I am still alive). After a few more hours of torture, the captain announces that “in about three hours,” we will arrive. Not having a watch at hand, the three hours seem to me … 20 or is it because I feel so sick? I wonder: 3 more hours? Well, between the motor and sailing, our speed is now 7 knots, or about 12 km per hour. Imagine what it means to sails 90 km  WITH WAVES at a speed of 12 km per hour on a boat of 12 meters. 11 hours for 90 km – and with this I have said it all. I think it would be definitely faster for me to swim the distance. No kidding.

I decided that no, it’s not worth it, and I prefer to throw $ 440 and as soon as we get to San Blas I have to get off and go to the ground and to hell with San Blas, the sailboat, the Kuna Yala and all of Panama: I am sick of it! We have been trapped in Panama since ever, being sick and all… I speak to Max, for as much as I can, and tell him that I am going to get off, but that he may stay on, because he does not suffer like me, and we’ll meet again in Cartagena. He says not to even mention that, and that in any case there is nothing to do for him with a group of people with whom he cannot even speak.  I’m am about to cry from being so sick and frustrated, and he convinces me to stay calm, soothing me and saying that as soon as we get to San Blas we will land, he tries to distract me and make me laugh (I have not even the strength to do that).

Once docked, after maneuvering to drop the anchor, comes the big question: Claudia, how are you feeling? And then I confess that I’m too sick, I want to get off. The captain does not make a fuss, he tells me that maybe we can make sure that I always sleep on the ground, and go from island to island by boat, as he wants me to enjoy San Blas archipelago and that the sea will not be as bad again, and that there will be only the final stretch for Colombia – or 12 more hours of torture – but by then I ‘ll be used to the sea. He says we’ll camp, we’ll play music, eat lobster, etc. . I tell him I do not think so, I’m too sick, but if he takes me to land we’ll talk about it the next day – they will spend the night anchored there. So, he prepares the dingy. Meanwhile, Max goes in to pick up our stuff (the cat finally re-emerged too), and we put all our heavy backpacks etc on the dingy. The sea is rough, but we only have to row a short distance and we should manage. Uploaded the stuff, Max must get on the dingy. He places his precious saxophone, and then slips on the slimy ladder, slams the arm, leg and almost looses a tooth, and falls almost entirely in the water. I panic. I also go up in the dingy, Belgian guy jumps in to help rowing. Super loaded, in the pitch darkness illuminated only by flashlight, the two begin to row – Massimo and I terrified try not to move so as not to disrupt the really precarious balance, but we note that water keeps getting in the dingy. Once on land there are a good 10 cm of water there! The dingy says a lot about the real capacity of the sailboat: maximum of 6 people. But ALL the companies load more passengers than they should ( a bit ‘ like the famous chicken buses of which I already wrote) .

Once on land, surrounded by darkness, the captain takes us to a small hotel on the island, inhabited by no more than 3 families. The guardian of the hotel leads us to the administrator of the island. The captain, with his poor Spanish (he wants to do the talking) explains that I’m sick and I need to sleep on the ground. Grumpy, the chief tells him that his hotel is full, that it is now allowed to dock on the island without permission. Almost sobbing, I ask humbly for forgiveness, and I tell him that it was all my fault that I felt so bad and I implore him to help us. He sends us another hotel, behind the airport (imagine a single strip of asphalt where only tiny aircrafts can land). There, a similar scene: the boss, obnoxious and grumpy, tells us that the hotel has no room,  that it is absolutely forbidden to camp on the island, he can’t do anything to help us and at that hour of the night (more or less 10 pm ) we will never find a boat that will take us to some other island. I’m almost to desperate. I can’t go back on the boat! Meanwhile, the captain convinces the administrator of the island to allow us to camp between the trees, behind the airport: he breaks through when the administrator cites article by article the constitution of the Kuna Yala and he asks if there is no article that says that the Kuna Yala must help those who are ill. The 20 inhabitants of the island within an hour know the whole story of my seasickness.

Armed with courage, captain and the Belgian get back on the dingy to go get our tent. Once they get back, we set to pitch our tent, lit only by flashlight. The tent is for two people, which means that once we put inside the backpacks (’cause it might rain, and there are all of our things), we can only sleep sideways, our feet on the backpacks. As the captain leaves, he tells us to meet again the next day to talk about what to do. While Max takes off his soaking clothes (realizing that jumping into the water he drenched also his wallet and all his money), I fall asleep, dressed, having not eaten anything all day, dirty and half- wet. Shortly after Max also falls asleep. I wonder what else we could ever happen … and a short while later, it starts to rain in the middle of the night and the rain comes in the tent through the air intake. As soon as the sun comes up, I wake up, I go out of the tent and put out the backpacks, so cam rest at least a little better. I take pictures of the beautiful dawn, and when I see a man on a zodiac coming to shore with his dog, I go have a chat with him. He is American, has an Italian wife, and he is also there with his sailboat. He tells me that the stretch of sea between Panama and Colombia is one of the hardest to sail, and that many people will feel bad and give up on sailing. I decide that no, I will never go back on the boat. I will go back to Panama City and take a flight to Colombia, too bad for the money. But I do not want to suffer like the day before. I still feel jolted … As soon as Max wakes up, after an hour or so of also battling with the rain, we gather our things, dismantle the tent, and talk a bit of what to do: and the decision is to spend a night in the hotel on the island, hoping that there is room for us, and return Panama City either by plane or on a speedboat to Carti then a car.

At 8:30 we are at the hotel (we practically slept in their garden) and the old lady who runs it (where was she the night before?) welcomes us willingly, saying she has a room for us, but only for one night. She calls the airport (ie the little house on the corner) and they tell her that the next flight to the city is on Thursday. She then organizes the transport for us on a speed boat (40 minutes) and the 4×4 (the road is very steep) and since in the archipelago there is no internet, she also calls a  hostel in Panama City to book us a room. I tell her that she is in my savior, and she smiles satisfied, her toothless smile. After that, leaving our stuff in our super-plain room that to us looks like a mansion, we go eat breakfast. I can only stomach bread. Max happily eats scrambled eggs. I feel better after a shower (cold of course, but I AM FINALLY CLEAN!).

Upon meeting the captain, we announce that we do not want to get back on the boat. He tells me that he will not return my $ 440 (thankfully Max has not paid). Who cares about money, I think: this is what I have to pay for not being seasick again. After all – he explains – to bard me and Max he had to say no to two other people who would otherwise be on the boat. And I should have warned him that I might get seasickness. I tell him that I had never really experienced that, I am accustomed to going on boats, also on this trip I have done it many times and I have NEVER felt bad. But you know what? I do not care. At this point I just want to go back to the room and SLEEP!

Back there, I set to do laundry: the lady wants to charge me10 dollars, evidently sees my astonished face and when I ask again “how much?” she agrees to lower the price to 6. Soon enough I am in bed and fall into a deep sleep for 3 hours. When I wake up , I go to the restaurant (across the runway for airplanes!) and ask if we can have lobster for the dinner. While we are in San Blas, we might as well enjoy it. They say yes, they will go buy it and cook it for us. Hurray! Things are changing to the best finally! ! I happily stroll back to the hotel and announce this to Max, who then starts foretasting the lobster and saying he will buy me dinner. Happy and content, and optimistic, we decide to take the speedboat to go to the nearby island, to the main village, and see if we can find an internet point to search for a flight to Colombia. Once there we realise that the village is no more than – LITERALLY – huts of reeds and wood, with toilets flushing directly into the sea (in fact the Lonely suggests not swim where there are houses) and there is no trace of internet. And there are also the usual piles of garbage typical of the whole country. Waiting for the speedboat to go back to our island, we see a line of children – dirty , filthy , barefoot and in their underwear, lining up for a bowl of cereal and powdered milk. They explain that they do this once a month, like a party (I used to dream of cakes, candies and coca cola as a child!!).

Back on our island, I decide that it might be worth going for a little swim, since we are in San Blas after all. The water does not seem too bad, although the standard of Sardinia are unattainable. I put on my bikini, my swimming goggles, and run out. I jump in the water … looks beautiful, transparent, but all I get to see is algae so I quickly get out, go back to my room and take a shower. Max thought better of it, not getting in the sea. San Blas was meant to be THE tropical paradise … I wonder how that’s possible, with all that garbage, the rain and all…

Post-shower , we decided to make our own the motto of two Italian boys met in the hostel in Panama City: Toda Joia Toda Cerveza (do you remember the song Toda Joia Toda Belleza ?) . In fact, there is nothing to do here. Once you read, you swim (but we do not like the sea here) you get bored and end up drinking beer. We feel a bit better thinking about the lobster that awaits us shortly. At 7 o’clock we step in the restaurant ( which is no more than a couple of wooden tables, cheap garden chairs, loud Scorpions music totally at odds with the setting). We order our lobster and the waiter (well, we call him that!) tells us that there is none. I insist saying that a few hours before I had a specific request, but I am told that they have not found any. In fact, the Italians “Toda Joia Toda Cerveza” had warned us that, although the sea is full of lobsters, locals eat the same things over and over: chicken, patacones and little else. So, chicken and patacones it is again, and cerveza in cans, not even chilled. Yuck. After dinner, Max says he’s still hungry, and back in the hotel at 8 pm, we eat a few cookies and also open a pack of whole wheat crackers. I am asleep by 9 pm – we must wake up early, we have our speed boat at 7:30 am!

Once awake I see that Max has a nice bump under his right eye: a beautiful mosquito bite. As he pulls himself up from the bed, he takes a cracker from the package he had left open the night before. Within a second, he turns around and sees the package is COVERED in ants, the biting ants! He runs to the bathroom to spit it out, the ants are also pinching him inside his mouth! I get pinched while I throw the package out of the room … OMG! It was the icing on the cake …

Once the speed boat arrives, I sight out of relief. Within 40 minutes, no sign of seasickness, we are in Carti, where a car awaits us and we are back in Panama City, in our hostel, by 11:20 am. Once in the hostel, we find that the internet is not working in the whole neighborhood. It seems that there has been a great explosion and the lines are off. How do we book a flight to Colombia? Anyways, if we can’t get it to work here, we are set to go to another area to find an internet point. We go eat a sandwich nearby and when we come back internet is up and running again. First thing first, I buy plane tickets to Colombia, so if all goes according to plan (never say never!!) we should be in Cartagena tonight.

Meantime, we decide that there is no way on earth that we will cruise the Amazon river for 3 days. I do not want to risk seasickness again, I do not want to be eaten alive by mosquitos, risk malaria, and sleep on a hammock for 3 nights. We are going to change our route and cross the border to Ecuador, and get to Peru from there.

So… the adventures go on!

Looking for advice on what to do and see in Panama? Click here!

For an inspirational post on a sleepless night, check this post