My very own top 3 hostel nightmares

My very own top 3 hostel nightmares

We’ve all spent at least one nightmare night in a hostel during our backpacking years, haven’t we? Well, I can count at least 3 that have been less than memorable in terms of getting proper rest, but which somehow managed to stick to my memory for the hilarity and absurdity of what happened.

Fighting the drunk hordes in The Terrace, Antigua (Guatemala)

I had only been in Guatemala for four days. This was meant to be the beginning of my 6 months adventure across Latin America. I was sure I had everything under control and I would be able to face any bad experience that may occur along the way. After the first three nights in Antigua, I decided to spend an extra night before making my way to Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, the lovely hostel where I had been sleeping was all booked up, so I decided to make online reservations for another one. As a backpacker on a tight budget, I was looking for something cheap. The Terrace, at $ 8 per night, breakfast included, in a 4 beds dorm, looked good on the pictures and it had good reviews on hostelworld. One of the most popular hostels in Antigua, indeed: there must be a reason for this, I thought!

Another church - as many others, destroyed by an earthquake

Another church in Antigua – as many others, it has been destroyed by an earthquake

I made my way there in the morning, wanting to drop my backpack and have time to browse around town more. I missed the front door a couple of times before actually finding the place – it was hardly visible. When I finally found the place, I walked in to be welcomed by a 20-something American receptionist (and her lovely dog). She seemed nice enough. The hostel seemed a bit old and in need of refurbishment but I did not think too much of it. I would only be staying here for one night after all. When I was shown to my dorm, I realised it would be worse than what I had expected. A dressed guy was sleeping in his bunk – considering it was around 12 pm, it was a bit odd to me. The dorm was tiny, to say the least. The only window faced an internal covered patio and hardly any natural light or fresh air would come in. You can imagine the stench. The toilet and bathroom in front of the dorm had the mouldiest rug and shower curtain I have ever seen. The wooden door was so rotten that I thought it would fall apart if I pulled it too hard. The electric shower had wires coming out – I thought I might get electrocuted if I did not pay attention (or even if I did).

After a day of walking around and a lovely dinner, still a bit jet legged, I wanted to have an early night and went back to the hotel. I then realised I had accidentally booked at a party hostel, were all the other backpackers except me were in their early twenties. Noise travelled easily in the badly organised place: young boys and girls were all getting ready to spend a night out and party. I thought that, as soon as they would leave, I could finally fall asleep. Wanting to be extra safe I even put my earplugs on. I jumped on the bed to find out that I could feel the wires – this was by far one of the least comfortable beds I had ever slept on. I thought of sleeping on the floor, but there was not enough room to do that. The synthetic sheets on my bed were so old that they would come off the matress, revealing stains. I kept my clothes on, in an attempt not to catch bed bugs (luckly, it worked).

Worried but exhausted I fell asleep but my rest only lasted two hours: that’s when the other guests started making their way back to the hostel. Completely drunk, they kept laughing loudly, screaming, opening doors (which I kept on closing). To top this off, despite my earplugs I could hear them gagging and vomiting (and then laughing about it). The entire affair must have lasted about one hour, without anybody from the reception intervening to stop the noise. When the drunken crew finally collapsed, I sighted and thought I could finally rest a bit more. Or not. One hour later, somebody entered the room, pointing a flashlight at my face, calling for a girl named Myra. I told him off, and said there was no Myra in that room: I was the only girl there and I definitely wasn’t Myra. He then asked if I knew where she was, as he had to wake her up for her bus. I told him to go away, I did not know who this Myra was and I had no idea where she may be.

That was the end of my attempts to rest – I decided to get up, shower, and wait for my ride to Lake Atitlan – where I found a super cool hostel and finally rested my sore bones. However, the cherry on the cake was finding out that The Terrace was actually meant to be the hostel where I was supposed to volunteer in Antigua – I had talked to the owner several times over skype, but I had forgotten the name and despite being offered the position I decided I did not want to work on my first week of travelling.

The lesson I have learned? Always always always check Tripadvisor for reviews, and also check the age of the reviewer. Always read the bad comments – they are usually honest comments. Try not to book online, as you may end up having to pay for a terrible room and thus get stuck. It is better to walk around a bit, check the rooms, the bathrooms, and the overall vibe of the place. And, more than anything else, stay away from The Terrace, in Antigua.

Dancing the night away in Cartagena (Colombia)

I was happy to find Mama Waldy when checking for places to stay in Cartagena, Colombia. Conveniently located in the heart of Getsemani, a cool area undergoing constant restoration, popular among backpackers and with a lovely relaxed feel to it. I soon discovered that the location was just about the only positive thing about this hostel.

Cartagena, Colombia

Tiny streets of Getsemani

Upon checking in, I knew I had made a mistake. This is possibly one of the worst hostels I found in my entire life. It used to be an old colonial house. By the look of it, this had never been restored nor properly cleaned. I arrived there at night, after a day of travelling, to find there was a party going on. My dorm was just on the main lobby, and since there were no keys to the dorms, people could walk in and out as they liked – and by people I mean people, not just guests. In fact, while I was there, somebody who was at the party just did. All the guests belongings were left around for people to grab them if they liked. The room was so dirty (paper, food, clothes, shoes and what not on the floor, under the bed, etc; no bins to place garbage), the bathroom so cramped, small and filthy, that I did not even consider using the toilet. I just locked my stuff away and ran out to eat and breathe.

As I got back past midnight, it was finally quiet. But the dorm was so hot and suffocating (there were no windows in any of the room, just a door to the lobby) that I soon realised I would be unable to sleep there. I walked out and I must have looked so disheartened that one of the owners saw me and asked what was wrong, and I plainly said that my dorm was filthy, hot, and I could not sleep there. He eagerly explained that they cleaned the rooms regularly but there was little they could do against messy backpackers. Possibly, what would help would be putting less beds in a dorm and maybe a hanger and a basket to throw away stuff? Anyways, he thankfully offered to put me in a private room, which was only slightly better – yet, no shower curtain, tiny bathroom, and covered in an inch of dust.

Breakfast was supposedly included, and surely paid for, but consisted of 2 slices of toasted bread (with, I guess, cream cheese or butter), and coffee. Not even served on plates. After all, the kitchen hardly seemed equipped. There was a laundry service. That’s if you fancy your clothes being hung to dry on the roof of the hostel. By which I do not mean hanging lines in the roof, but actual tiles.

What really bothered me the most about Mama Waldy was the music and noise. It only stopped past midnight and was really so loud that, if one is up for an early night and feel tired, one won’t be able to sleep. It felt like being in a disco, really. And since noise travelled really easily and by 6 am people would start waking up, my sleep would be cut short every day.

Running water in Suchitoto (El Salvador)

I arrived in Suchitoto after a very long day of travelling from Leon, Nicaragua, during which I took a bus to the village of Potosi, where I did my immigration formalities; waited on the beach for 3 hours without having the possibility to go back to the village in search of shade, water or food (by then I was legally already out of Nicaragua!), as the Nicaraguan marina would not allow the boat to leave due to the rough sea conditions; eventually, 2 hours on the speed boat along the challenging Gulf of Fonseca during which I got completely soaked due to the bumping and the waves, and various more hours on a bus from La Union to Suchitoto.

By the time I reached my final destination, I was grateful that my hostel room at El Gringo had not been given away, since it was so late. The owner drove me to the hostel, on the other side of town from where he lives. His wife showed me to my room and explained how the keys worked. They immediately left and there was no staff on site.

The reality of the hostel was not hard to spot. My room was below a restaurant, the only window was on a living room which faced an internal living rooom (mind you, that is a big word). The bathroom, which was shared with another room, was no more than a sink in the patio, a wall to separate a toilet and the cold water only shower. And for as hot as it is in Suchitoto, I was not ready to have a cold shower that late at night, and went to bed with my hair full of salt from the Gulf. The room was so humid that it was covered in mould stains and paint was coming off the walls. The sheets so small and so acrylic that they would slide off the bed, so that despite all my efforts to arrange them, I ended up sleeping on the matress. The floor below the bed was so dirty and full of dust, hair, and garbage, that I wondered if it had ever been cleaned. I was so tired anyhow, that I could hardly be bothered with any of this.

Suchitoto, El Salvador

This 97 year old lady keeps on rolling her cigars on a daily basis. What’s her youth secret?

A refreshing shower the morning after and a lovely day in Suchitoto almost made me forget about the terrible hostel. That was, until the new Canadian guest came in. Hard to avoid him since my window gave into the living room where he was relaxing on a rocking chair. So, we chatted along for a few moments, until eventually he decided it was bed time and he’d brush his teeth, and I laid on my bed to do some emailing. That’t when I heard a crushing noise, like that of porcelain plates being broken, and the poor Canadian kid screaming “what the heck!”. I ran out to check what had happened. Water was splashing all over and he was completely wet. The remains of the sink were scattered on the floor: apparently, the guy decided he’d lean on the sink with his hand while brushing his teeth, but despite being a fit guy the sink did not hold his weight and collapsed! You can imagine the hilarity of such a scene. We took pictures, we laughed and eventually we decided that if we did not want to flood the entire place, we had to close all the pipes. It worked, but it meant that we were not even able to flush the toilet.

Suchitoto, El Salvador

Los Tercios waterfalls look a bit like the Giant Causeway

The morning after I was glad to have an early start and having to leave at 6:00 am, leaving the other guest alone to explain to the owner what had happened, and that perhaps restoration and refurbishing was much needed in the hostel!

What’s your worst hostel experience to date?

Click here for more of my misadventures.

I love shopping in Cuba

I love shopping in Cuba

Mine is an adaptation from the title of Sophie Kinsella’s famous series “I love shopping”. In fact, it is meant ironically. There is no such thing as crazy shopping in Cuba, unless by “crazy” one means literally going crazy in order to find needed things. It is not even a matter of not having enough money to buy what you need and want: it is a matter of having the money but not finding it!

Before leaving, whilst packing my bag, I thought of carrying two pairs of flip flops. After all, one never knows when those rubber things may break and another pair may be needed. My sister, who travelled with me, said it would just be unnecessary weight. If my flip flops broke, I could surely buy another pair in Cuba and that was it. Or not. I swear I hardly saw shops selling flip flops in the entire island.

We realised on our first day in Havana that shops were different, to say the least. All merchandise is kept behind counters, and whatever you may want to see, you’d have to ask the person at the counter to show you. Not to mention that there normally is a line outside, with a guard letting people in and out and not allowing more than a certain amount inside. Shops are not very inviting. You won’t feel like going in, have a look around, try on stuff, and buy. Merchandise is hardly exposed in a nice way (it is all wrapped). The same applies to grocery shops – most of all for things such as soaps, shampoos etc. Whatever you need, you have to ask for.

I love shopping Cuba, Photo 02

Shopping in Cuba is a hard business

The other problem we had was that there are no real supermarkets, those where you may get lost and where you may be able to find anything you need – from fresh fruit and milk, to meat, cheese, bread, soap, detergents and what not. Cuba knows only shops, some smaller, some bigger, but in none of them you will be able to do all your shopping. A shop that sells bottles may only have soda, beer and rum. If you want water, you will have to go to the one next door. Fruits and vegetables are only sold by small carts in the streets or in the mercado agropecuario. Same with meet – there are small carnicerias, you can see them every now and then, but it seems like there is no meat there. I have not seen a fishmonger in the entire island, which is interesting since we mostly ate seafood. And even if you can find what you need – pasta, rice, or even toilet paper, there is only one kind of it. We noticed that it was a bit ironic to call “Cierro Montegro” la primera agua de Cuba, since it also is the only one. And the same goes for beer, sodas, etc.

I love shopping Cuba, Photo 03

Tienda

I guess that for anybody who is not used to the Cuban system it will take a while to shop for daily needs. When we wanted yogurt, the landlady at our casa particular was so kind to spend an entire day looking for it in Trinidad. When we needed toothpaste, we had to ask her, as we were unable to find a shop that would sell it.

Another thing we noticed is that there are some shops which seem to sell second hand clothes. We eventually realised this was the case. These are called tiendas particulares (private shops) and I suppose owners get their stuff one way or another (I am pretty certain that the clothes I gave away here and there ended up in some of these shops!) and then sell it. But you know, in an island that does not really know free commerce, people have to make do with whatever they have. Cubans hardly make a distinction between female and male clothing. If it fits, they will wear it. So you will see super-cool guys wearing a blue-girl t-shirt tight as a second skin. And you bet they will fix and keep fixing clothes. Nothing goes wasted.

The good thing about having so little choice when shopping is that you will not be wasting time wondering which cereals to buy, which t-shirt you want, and what not. You will have more time to spend with friends, relatives, talking and living life, you will be less consumed by the want for things, since you will hardly be able to get them anyways. At least that is how we – westerners coming from countries with a free market – felt. I suppose it was refreshing to us, but it may be tiring for Cubans who have to live a constant battle to get what they need.

The other side of the coin is that there is a huge black market, where people sell and buy just about anything and they hardly declare whatever money they make to the competent authorities. Casas particulares have to register whoever sleeps at the house, and the number of nights. So they have to pay taxes on that. But they do not register whatever meals you may be having there, and hardly any of the owners give customers a receipt when they leave. Some of them don’t say anything when they “forget” to give you receipts. Some others openly admit that this way they can round up a bit extra CUCs. And the rush to get CUCs from tourists can be seen in many other ways. Drivers will “accidentally” stop for breaks right outside their friends homes, who will rush out to offer drinks, food, sweets, bananas and what not. Surely they will get a percentage of the profits. Same with tourist guides. All drivers and all landlords know tourist guides. None of them will show you any accreditation, and you will have to negotiate the price, and you can bet you will again accidentally run into them on the way to a site and will end up hiring them.

The need for CUC is so desperate that even in state owned shops sales assistant will refuse to give you receipts. This is an account of what happened to us at the airport in Havana. A lady in front of us at the counter had the brilliant idea of paying her rum in Euro. But instead of making a conversion, and paying the exact amount she owed (say it was 20 CUC, so it would have to be 15 Euro), the cashier made the conversion 1 CUC = 1 Euro. She did not give any change, and she kept the rest. My sister asked for a receipt, as she claimed that she might be needing it when cathing our connecting flight in Paris airport. She then went back to the same shop to buy more, and again demanded a receipt. However, she had to argue with the sales assistant who did not want to provide it, claiming “she had already given one before.”

For as much as I appreciate the revolution, I wonder how it is possible, in 2013, to live in a country where there hardly is any free commerce. The poverty we saw, the rush to get the precious CUC in any possible “legal” way leads me to think that socialism, for as good an ideal it was, is hardly applicable to real life.

What is yet more interesting is that the myth of Che Guevara, one of the leaders of the revolution, one of the strongest critics of capitalism, is possibly the main source of money in Cuba. Any goods you may buy speak of him: t-shirts show his pictures, the same goes with paintings, postcards, hats. Bookshops mostly sell photography books of Che Guevara, or his biographies, his diaries, etc. Factories exploit his name by publicizing the fact that they were opened up by him.

I love shopping Cuba, Photo 04

Che Comandante Amigo…

Having read a lot of Che Guevara life, thoughts and ideologies, I can’t help but wonder if he would like the island today, if this is what he fought so hard for, if he would be proud to see that his face is on any painting, t-shirt and good tourists can buy, and he – the very critic of capitalism – is indeed the only capitalistic good in Cuba.

Want to find out more about this amazing country? Read here.

Casa particular vs. hotel? Budget accommodation in Cuba

Casa particular vs. hotel? Budget accommodation in Cuba

Casa particular vs. hotel?

This is a no brainer. Really! Are you planning your Cuba travels? Then staying in a hotel should not even be in your plans, as it hardly makes any sense when you have such a huge choice of casas particulares.

The most expensive casa particular will cost you 30 CUC for a double bedroom with private bathroom. Cheapest ones are around 15 CUC. Casas which rent room to foreigners are generally in the city centre, or immediately outside. They are very clean, and rooms are generally spacious. If you are lucky you will be staying in a colonial house, with rooms facing the patio and antique forniture. Rooms are usually cool, and you will hardly have to put the air conditioning on (which is usually available). When staying in a casa, you will be given keys to the main entrance. You will be able to go in and out as many times as you want during the day. Rooms are not normally cleaned while you are staying at the casa, unless you specifically ask for it. I guess, this is because most of the times owners do not have a spare set of keys. Casas are safe – I have heard only one account of a girl who had her stuff stolen, but when she faced the landlady, all her stuff was returned.

Breakfast is usually not included in the price, but for as little as 3 CUC you will have a full (and I mean FULL!!) breakfast, with fruit, eggs, toasts and bread, coffee, jam, butter, juice and what not. You can also have dinner at the casa particular, and I would highly recommend it. It is homemade food freshly made to order (as opposed to state owned restaurants where food is previously made and then warmed up) very tasty and one portion can easily feed 2. And if you go for the most expensive main course (lobster) you will pay no more than 8 CUC. Owners of casas are usually very informed people, they know drivers who can take you around, they can provide information on tours, timetables of museums, etc. And, what is actually nicer, you can sit down and talk to them, learn a bit about life and culture in Cuba, practice your Spanish, share your stories and experience.

The worst that can happen to you when staying at a casa particular is that you won’t find the room you booked. Casas can rent two, maximum 3 rooms at the same time. People who travel around in Cuba take it really easy, and may suddenly decide to stay in a place longer than planned. Whoever gets to a casa particular first, gets in first, or so it seems. It has sometimes happened to us that despite having booked in advance, when we got to the casa particular we found that it was fully booked and the owner wanted to move us to the casa of a neighbour, friend or relative. It is up to you if you want to accept to stay there or not. Owners will usually insist a lot and this will put you at a test if you are not super-patient – I don’t enjoy this kind of pressure, for example. But at the end of the day, the choice is yours, you are the one paying, and you should be free to decide where to stay and, if you do not like the other option offered, go to a different casa. Beware that Trinidad and Vinales are more touristy than other places and it may take you longer to find a casa by knocking from door to door. But if you have time, this is not a problem.

Hotels in Cuba are hardly worth the price. They are generally state owned, which means that nobody cares about making profits and keeping the reputation high. Just because you are staying at a hotel, and paying 4 times what you’d pay for a similar room in a casa, it does not mean you are getting a better service. They may have a pool, but this is usually nothing special, and the services offered are usually no more no less than what you can get at a good casa particular.

My policy is usually that of going for the cheapest option, and I hardly ever regret it. After all, if I am travelling around I hardly need any of the commodities of a hotel – I am ok as long as I have a clean, decent and safe room, and this is usually the case with casas particulares.

Get a taste of the real Cuba: for more information, click here.

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.

Tortuguero dos and donts – Costa Rica attractions on a low budget

Tortuguero dos and donts – Costa Rica attractions on a low budget

Travelling to Costa Rica without seeing Tortuguero would mean leaving out one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. The name of the place is a direct reference to the turtles nesting here in July and August, when the area is at its best and when everything is fully booked. Nevertheless, it is one of the interesting places to visit in Costa Rica during other seasons too, because of its nature and wildlife. Yet, as this is one of the wealthiest (and most expensive) countries in Central America, the costs of visiting the region and taking part in an organised tour may be a deterrent to many travellers on a budget. Worry no more: with a few, simple rules, you may be able to enjoy Tortuguero without spending a fortune. Here is a list of what you should and should not do.

Turtles in Tortuguero

It wouldn’t be Tortuguero without turtles

Dos

Do go in July or August if you care to see the turtles.

Do travel by public transport: the village is completely isolated and can only be reached by boat, via Cariari (the most common way) or Moin (less common and more expensive, but the scenery is beautiful). There are regular buses connecting San Jose Gran Terminal de Caribe to Cariari. The trip takes about 3 hours. Once in Cariari, you can get a Clic Clic or Coopetraca bus to the dock, and then a boat (bus + boat should cost around 5$).

Do travel during the day: the boat trip to reach the village is possibly among the best (and cheapest) Costa Rica attractions. Lush nature, crocodiles, sloths, monkeys, various species of birds. Keep your eyes open and camera ready, because this is your “free” visit to Tortuguero national park and chances are you will get to see more animals here than on any of the tours.

Do withdraw cash before getting to the village: there are no cars and no banks, and few places accept credit cards.

Do appreciate the simplicity of Tortuguero: one main dirt road; the side streets all connect to the beach.

Do enjoy the artesania shops on the main street.

Do be prepared for the weather: this is the rain forest. It rains year round. On any regular day there will be short but strong showers.

Do encounter the locals: the 2000 inhabitants are mostly of Jamaican descent, speaking a funny variety of Creole English mixed with Spanish lovely to listen to. They are very friendly and relaxed (too relaxed at times).

Costa Rica, Tortuguero sunset

A beautiful sunset in Tortuguero

Do remember that this is a tourist destination: the village lives off tourism, so there is a lot of competition among local businesses.

Do go the information centre: once in Tortuguero, it is right on the dock. This is the best place to ask for organised tours of the park.

Do keep in mind that there are many agencies in the village that attract tourists by offering “free” information. This is just a way to attract paying customers.

Do be aware that, should you opt for a guided tour, there are day or night ones, kayak or boat tours. For extra adventure, there are canopy tours (zip lines). Should you opt for a walking tour with a guide, this will cost 20$ per person, including the entrance fee. A good guide can point out animals and plants, but you won’t necessarily get to see all (or any!). Some animals are night creatures – the jaguar, of which the guide can point footprints, has been spotted 4 times in the last few years – or the various species of frogs that live in the park (which by the way can also be spotted in the village).

Do realise that sloths and monkeys live high up in the trees and with that thick vegetation they are hard to see. Snakes hide so well that sometimes not even guides can recognise them.

Do remember that the park can be seen independently, without a guide but just paying the entrance fee (10$): the best and even the most reasonable option if you are travelling to Costa Rica on a budget.

Do make sure to rent wellies, as the paths are extremely muddy and they will protect you should you have an unfortunate encounter with a snake.

Do carry insect repellent or mosquitoes will feast on you.

Do go for a walk at the beach: it is a pleasant way to cool off in the late afternoon and this is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

Tortuguero beach Costa Rica

The beach in Tortuguero – nobody swims. It is too dangerous!

Donts

Do not make hostels reservations: the village offers many options, for almost any budget. The average price for a double room with a private bathroom is 15$ per person, but if you take your time to walk around you will be able to find something for 9$ per person. Be a real backpacker and sweat under the sun (or the rain) to get a cheap hostel.

Do not eat at trendy restaurants: they are expensive (think 20$ for a pizza). Instead, eat at the sodas: they are basic eateries that tend to close earlier than most restaurants.

Do not miss local specialties such as seafood and the local version of “gallo pinto” – rice and beans – a national staple and accompaniment to any meal, here made with coconut milk/oil.

Do not forget to try some freshly made juice and fruits which are abundant and delicious in the area.

Do not swim in the sea: swimming is not recommended due to the presence of sharks and strong currents.

For more of Costa Rica attractions, or for more of the best things to do in Costa Rica, do check my other posts here.