Wish List Wednesday - By Tiffany Rudd

Hi there, I'm Tiffany and I'm a senior sales consultant at ecruising.travel. Today, I'm bringing to you my Central America Taster Guide!

I often get asked, “where is your favourite place you have travelled?”, and I can never give a straight answer, as I don’t have just one. I have had amazing experiences as a traveller, and realise that my memorable experiences sound like a nightmare for others. I used to use the word “backpack” to a work colleague years ago, and watch her face cringe as if a bad smell had wafted to her nose;  the thought of anything less than 5-star hotels was too horrific for her system to accept.

I have travelled to all of the following, more than once over the last 18 years, with a backpack, on “chicken buses”, independent and adventure touring, 2 star, homestays and more recently a few 5-star combinations. But, on this Wish List Wednesday, I would like to show you a different way of experiencing the beauty and culture of Central America and hope the small taste you would encounter would entice you to come back to each country in depth.

Central America Taster:

First stop will be Mexico City.

Here you will feel the business and grittiness of a City that has been decimated by corruption and natural disasters alike. Remember we are in a city with a population of Australia, watch your bags and pockets.  3 Nights in the Zona Rosa neighbourhood will not be too confronting but will give you access to bars, restaurants and shopping in a bohemian setting. The area has seen a decline, but I still like it for the character.

You may question your photo skills when you look back and see so many buildings that are not straight. Nope, it was not too many cervezas at lunch, it is being in a city that was built on an island, so year after year it sinks just a little. We spend time in the Zocalo (the 3rd largest Square after Tiananmen and Red Square). Be sure to look at the amazing murals painted by Diego Rivera at Palacio Nacional. This tells of the history of the Aztecs through to the Spanish Revolution. The shrine of Guadalupe is a must-visit, if not for the religious meaning, but to witness some of the 11 million pilgrims who visit here, walking or crawling, seeking penance or a blessing.

Of course, we must visit Teotihuacan, the temple of the sun and moon). The Sun temple only has 240 steps but the altitude can impact your climb, so take it easy..... oh, and before we depart, a word on food – true Mexican Cuisine is not the westernised tacos, burritos and nachos you may be used to. And ensure you know the difference between drinking Mezcal and Tequila, haha... the hangovers do vary.

Its time to leave and make our way to Cozumel for an amazing voyage on Ponants’ Le Champlain...

A short flight from Mexico City to Cancun, grab a Cerveza for the 1-hour drive to Playa del Carmen ferry terminal and then jump on a ferry to Cozumel to arrive within 30 minutes.

As we have timed this to perfection, our embarkation is between 4-5 pm. I have recommended this sailing as we can experience a small ship feel (only a maximum of 184 guests) and are able to experience still a level of authenticity in this region without impacting the natural setting. The PONANT EXPLORERS series consists of small-sized ships, which combine respect for the environment, elegant design and cutting-edge technology. They feature Blue Eye, a unique multi-sensory lounge, the only one of its kind in the world, which is located in the hull below the waterline.

7 Nights/8 Days to experience “Natural and Cultural Wonders of the Western Caribbean”, we will be visiting ports in Guatemala and Belize (UN-BELIZE-ABLE). I do really appreciate this itinerary due to the historic value of the destinations and the natural beauty you will experience.  Ponant has created in their itinerary the offshore excursions to allow you to get closer to nature, or learn more about the Mayan culture. You have the opportunity to visit ancient Pyramids and local villages for a personal look at life here.

You have the opportunity to snorkel in one of the best marine parks in the World (this is where I learnt to snorkel correctly), the Blue Hole. You better BELIZE it!. You do also have the opportunity to do a flyover to truly take in the site of this marine park. 

You will experience finer French influence onboard, and be looked after in a luxurious, intimate environment, whilst knowing you are travelling with a responsible and innovative company.

At the end of the Cruise, we will finish back in  Cozumel. You could one or two days either on the Island of Cozumel or if you need some pool time. Playa del Carmen has many adult-only/all-inclusive resorts (though for me, catering to the American market, so I was not a big fan)... also, be aware, the beaches here are not very wide, and can get quite windy which is why so many people do gather toward the pools in resorts.

Because we are so close, and because I am in control of the keyboard, and because I have been a few times myself... I am going to strongly suggest a side trip to Cuba.

Viva Cuba!

There are direct flights from Cancun to Havana with an online carrier, Interjet, or you could use an indirect option like Copa Airlines. Cuba is truly magnificent! I am seeing changes in Havana since I first travelled there, but fortunately, the WiFi revolution has not taken hold, and you can wander around without everyone looking down at their phones.

I won't talk too much about Cuba, but if you have any questions, please do ask. I would recommend joining a land-based tour or, for a slightly more expensive option, hiring a driver and travelling privately.

This country which is still beholden to communism and embargoes is full of music, colour, beaches, nature and simple life. It is amazing, and so much more than a “Cuban themed bar or restaurant “ you may have visited. I love to talk about Cuba, but I love to also keep it a secret. You will not travel to Cuba for the food, but if you do visit, you will leave a piece of your heart. You may also need to detox as sometimes it is easier to buy rum than a bottle of water. Shame.

Onto Panama!

So, if you go to Cuba, you can then fly into Panama once you are finished, or you can also fly from Cancun to Panama. I would not describe this as a pretty City at all and do feel it is an advantage to speak some Spanish. A Hop-on Hop-off bus service runs, and this can take you to the Panama Canal, where you can venture through the museum and see the locks in action if you time this correctly.

The reason I have bought you down this way is to finish off your journey with a little more fun.

I would only suggest to allow yourself a day or so in Panama, and stay in Vasco Veijo area (the old city). It is quite a trendy area, but a great historic feel. Bars, restaurants, clubs and shopping PLUS some great photo opps. It is expensive, and you find it is either pricey or backpacker accommodation.  For the new city feel, stay in Bella Vista – this is where you see the skyline of the city – which at night, this is pretty spectacular.

And maybe before the next part, ensure you have bought yourself a “Panama Hat” - real or fake, depending on your budget.

Next Cruise Stop with Norwegian!

When I travel, I do like to have contrasts in my trips. This will be no different. After having you experiencing the small ship wonder of Ponant, your next adventure will be on Norweigan Cruise Lines’ Norweigan Sky, whilst we enjoy a  9-night cruise roundtrip from Panama

I have now increased the ship size to a 2004 passenger capacity and she was only refurbed last year (2019). We gain more facilities on board, but this is a really great itinerary and this part for me is about ending my travels with fun.

We visit Cartagena (amazing !!!! the old city is brilliant.) This is a small city, but leave the highrise behind and wander around Getsemani for the street art PLUS the BEST coffee at Cafe del Mural..though it did not open until 3.00pm so depending on the cruise timetable, maybe that is for next time.

Enjoy beach time at Kralendijk (the Caribbean Netherlands) ... I did say I like a contrast. There is still plenty of history and cross culture like the beauty in Aruba and the Dutch influence still in Curacao. There is also a stop in Costa Rica, with your chance to see a gorgeous, but slow, always smiling sloth.. between sloths and our quokkas, can't resist a smile.

This cruise will complete with a daylight transit of the Panama Canal.

I did say I wanted to finish with fun, and a sailing such as this allows you to spend your days swathed in history, or to enjoy another spot in the Caribbean.

How long will I be away?

This itinerary (without Cuba) has you away for 3 weeks and with Cuba, around 4 weeks but I hope I have provided a little inspiration that will leave you with some warm memories, and again, if like me, a plane ride home to start planning again.

Cruise Itinerary Inspiration: 

PONANT: https://www.ecruising.travel/product/78330/idyllic-beaches-and-pre-columbian-sites

Norwegian Cruise Line: https://www.ecruising.travel/product/94988/panama-canal-panama-city

Any questions or enquiries, please email Tiffany on cruiseadmin4@ecruising.travel or call 1300 369 848. 

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