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.

Why You Should Visit Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Why You Should Visit Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Travel to Lanquin Guatemala

When they travel to Guatemala, backpackers go to Lanquin to explore the wonderful Semuc Champey caves around 9 km out of town and to visit its natural rock pools. Any Semuc Champey hostel can organise guided tours of the caves and of the area. For as adventurous as a Semuc Champey tour can be (picture walking in a cave, immersed in the water till your waste, holding a torch, and eventually getting out in the open air to view Semuc Champey and being able to go tubing, jumping off cliffs etc), these can be pricey. Since I was on a budget, I actually just got a ride and walked there and pay the basic entrance fee once there, to then hike around the slippery slopes and eventually get changed to jump in its paradisiac natural pools.

Guatemala Semuc Champey

A view of the splendid Semuc Champey natural rock pools

I had to remember to carry cash as once in the isolated Semuc Champey hostels I wasn’t able to withdraw any! My advice is to also stop in Lanquin and do some basic grocery shopping before getting to the hostel. Hostels tend to be isolated here, they don’t allow kitchen use and serve meals that the guests will be pretty much forced to eat as there are no other eateries around. Hostels do sell snacks, but everything is more expensive compared to the regular shop in the village. To save at least something, it may be better buying drinks and snacks before getting to the hostel.

How to get to Lanquin:

The best starting point to travel to Lanquin is La Antigua Guatemala and chances are that even if from Lake Atitlan it is necessary to go through Antigua to then reach Lanquin. Atitrans runs regular shuttle services from Antigua to Lanquin, $ 25, but it must be booked in advance.

From Lake Atitlan, there is a shuttle from Panajachel Guatemala (going through Antigua) with Atitlan Tours for around $45.

It will definitely be cheaper to travel via chicken bus, but the trip will last much longer due to the number of changes and inevitable stops. A good option for those who are not in a rush and can stop somewhere random on the way.

Once in Lanquin, Semuc Champey hostels outside of the village usually organise a pick up service. Beware that while this service is free on the way there, but not on the way back (it is possible to hitchhike on the way back to Lanquin, but in Guatemala it is a custom to pay those who pick up).

The gorgeous pools of Semuc Champey - photo courtesy of Matthias Hiltner (flickr)

The gorgeous pools of Semuc Champey – photo courtesy of Matthias Hiltner (flickr)

Where to stay and eat:

The settings are all gorgeous. El Retiro is a good hostel right in front of the river, about 500 meters from the village, with some organisation issues (it may well happen that the reservation is lost once there, leaving guests with no place to stay).

Utopia hotel is a budget hostel closer to the Semuc Champey caves, and right in the middle of nowhere (that is, isolated), somewhere above the river. It offers accommodation for all budgets, included an incredibly comfortable open air dorm (surprisingly, there are no mosquitos although this is right in the middle of the jungle and it only costs around $6 per night), hammocks and river side camping for those on a super-tight budget (under $4 per night), and small private nooks – beware, the entire construction is made of wood so noise travels easily. Bathrooms are shared (and illuminated by candlelight) and showers cold. The kitchen prepares breakfast, light lunches (and packed lunches for those going on the organised tours) and family style dinners, and there is a bar. This is a good option to stay in Semuc Champey, but party person should beware it won’t be easy to reach any other location from Utopia. Utopia staff can organise transportation to other locations in Guatemala too.

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.

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

Costa Rica attractions: enjoy Tortuguero at its best

There are many places to visit in Costa Rica, but a trip to this amazing country would not be complete without a visit to Tortuguero. The name of the place is a direct reference to the turtles, which nest in the area between July and August. That’s when the park is at its best, and when the village is fully booked. Nevertheless, it is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica year round and it is possible to travel cheap if following my advice.

Costa Rica attractions: Tortuguero National Park

Reaching Tortuguero is in and of itself one of the top Costa Rica attractions. The village is completely isolated and can only be reached by boat, via Cariari (which is the most common way) or Moin. There are regular buses connecting San Jose and Cariari. All leave from the Gran Terminal de Caribe, and the trip takes roughly 3 hours. Once in Cariari, go to the estaciòn vieja, where most travellers get a Clic Clic or Coopetraca bus to the dock, and then a boat. A combination of bus and boat should cost around 5$.

The boat trip to reach the village is possibly the best (and cheapest) attraction: imagine lush nature, crocodiles, sloths, monkeys, various species of birds… My recommendation would then be to leave as early as possible from San Jose, in order to catch the boat well early in the day and have full view of the surroundings. Keep the eyes open and camera ready, because this is a “free” visit to the national park and it is possible to see more animals here than on any of the Tortuguero tours.

Tortuguero, Costa Rica

A gorgeous cayman in Tortuguero

Tortuguero:

The village is far off from pretty much anything, there are no cars and no banks in the village, and not many shops will accept credit cards. So, make sure to withdraw cash before getting there. There is one main dirt road and various side streets, all connecting to the beach, which is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica. The main road is home to a number of artesania shops. Tortuguero is surrounded by luxurious nature – think palm trees along the coast, rain forest and thick vegetation, and wildlife is rich. The fact that it is right in the rain forest means that it rains year round. Almost any unbearably hot, humid day will have some downpours.

The 2000 inhabitants are mostly of Jamaican descent, and speak a funny variety of Creole English, mixed with Spanish, that is really lovely to listen to. They are very friendly and relaxed (too relaxed at times, as seen in certain local businesses), but keep in mind that this is a tourist destination, that the village lives off tourism, so the locals will often engage in an open battle with other villagers to offer their services to tourists.

Turtles in Tortuguero

It wouldn’t be Tortuguero without turtles

Costa Rica attractions:

Once in Tortuguero, right on the dock there is the main information office and tourist agency, where it is possible to ask for organised tours of the park. Visiting Tortuguero National Park is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. Keep in mind that there are many agencies in the village that attract tourists by offering “free” information, as signs hanging outside would say. This is just a way to attract paying customers. There are day or night tours, kayak or boat tours. For extra adventure, there are canopy tours (zip lines).

By all means, the park can be seen independently, without a guide but just paying the entrance fee (10$), which is the best and even the most reasonable option for those travelling to Costa Rica on a budget. Whichever mode one picks to visit the park, make sure to rent rain boots, as the paths are extremely muddy and boots protect in case to be unfortunate enough to be bitten by a snake. Also bring insect repellent. Needless to say, in such humid weather, mosquitoes will attempt to feast on any living creature.

A walking tour of the park with a guide costs around 20$ per person, including the entrance fee. A guide can point out animals and plants, but remember that this doesn’t necessarily mean seeing all (or any!) of them. Some are night creatures – so is the jaguar (of which the guide can point footprints, at most, and which 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 by an expert eye). Sloths and monkeys live high up in the trees and with that thick vegetation they are hard to spot. Snakes hide in the vegetation and sometimes not even guides can recognise them.

The beach can be a pleasant place to cool off in the evening, but keep in mind that it is highly recommended NOT to swim in the sea, although it is considered one of the best beaches in Costa Rica. Shark attacks have been reported and the currents are very strong.

Tortuguero beach Costa Rica

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

Where to stay and where to eat:

The village offers many options to sleep and eat, for almost any budget. The average price for a double room with a private bathroom is 15$ per person, but take some time to walk around the village to be able to find similar options for as little as 9$ per person. Arriving early is a good way to have sufficient daylight time to walk around and the cheapest accommodation. The most convenient places to eat are called “sodas”, basic eateries that tend to close quite earlier than most restaurants. Local specialties include seafood. Try the local “gallo pinto” – rice and beans – a national staple and accompaniment to any meal, that in Tortuguero is made with coconut milk/oil. Freshly made juices and fruit are abundant and delicious.

For more information on places to visit in Costa Rica, click here!

Costa Rica, Tortuguero sunset

A beautiful sunset in Tortuguero