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Cartagena Travel Guide: 13 Top Things To Do in Colombia’s Sexiest City – Cartagena, Colombia

This post is part 4 of 7 in the series Cartagena Travel Guide

The the main thing to do in Cartagena is simply gawk at the city’s beauty. We’ve visited plenty of lovingly restored Colonial towns in Latin America, but Cartagena is even more beautiful than stunners like Antigua, Guatemala or the Casco Viejo neighborhood of Panama City. Cartagena not only expects to be stared at, it deserves it with a languid Caribbean vibe, intense history and gorgeous restored Colonial architecture in the city’s historic center (which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984). After more than a month in Cartagena, here are our 13 top things to do besides wander the Colonial streets (and one thing to avoid).

Torre del Reloj Cartagena, Colombia

El Torre del Reloj, or the Clock Tower, marks a major entrance into the walled city of Cartagena, Colombia.

Things to do in Cartagena

The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (San Felipe de Barajas Fort), in the nearby Getsemani neighborhood, is the most robust fort the Spanish ever built and it still looks impenetrable. Construction began in 1536 and it was expanded in the mid 1600s. It’s been impressively restored and its stony bulk still dominates San Lázaro hill. Bring a flashlight since visitors are allowed into some of the interior corridors and tunnels which can be dark. There’s little shade so try to arrive when the fort opens at 8 am to beat the heat and avoid weekends if you can. That’s when Colombians can enter the fort for free and the place gets packed.

Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas - Cartagena, Colombia

The Castillo de San Felipe de Barajas (San Felipe de Barajas Fort) in Cartagena.

Cartagena’s Museum of Modern Art, on Plaza de San Pedro Claver, is small and we honestly weren’t expecting much. However, the two-story facility turned out to be home to a nice collection mostly by Colombian artists including Enrique Grau.

Church San Pedro Claver Plaza Cartagena

Lovely San Pedro Claver Plaza in Cartagena.

If you’re into torture devices, visit the Palacio de la Inquisición (Inquisition Palace) just off Plaza Bolivar is where you can see art, artifacts and bona fide torture devices used during the Spanish Inquisition. The building also has a small window from which inquisitors would shout out death sentences for those who didn’t pass their religious scrutiny.

Palacio de la Inquisición Museum torture Cartagena

Just a few of the bona fide torture devices used by Spanish inquisitors, on display in the Palace of the Inquisition Museum in Cartagana.

Colombia’s only Nobel prize winner, writer Gabriel García Márquez, was inspired by Cartagena and lived in the city off and on until his death in 2014. Many of the author’s most famous works, including Love in the Time of Cholera, The General in His Labyrinth, and Love and Other Demons, were set in the city.Those who want to get a bit more Gabo, as the author was called, can book the self-guided Gabo’s Cartagena audio walking tour (US$17 including an audio guide in five languages, including English, and a printed route map). True García Márquez fans will want to take part in the three-hour guided Route of Garcia Marquez tour which takes in 37 sites in historic central Cartagena, all of which are directly linked to scenes and characters from the author’s work and life (US$145 for one person, US$20 per person after that; participants must have read the books mentioned above).

sculpture Cartagena, Colombia

A local relaxes with some playful outdoor sculpture in the historic center of Cartagena.

We happily spent four days wandering the streets of Getsemani on our own, soaking in the bohemian vibe and the street art. However, there are a number of innovative and illuminating tours of the neighborhood available like the three-hour Explore Getsemani Tour (US$35 per person including bilingual guides) which includes lots of neighborhood history, drop-ins with locals, visits to shops and art studios, cocktails on Plaza Trinidad and a donation to a local charity built into your tour fee.

wedding Plaza Trinidad Getsemani Cartagena

The church in Plaza Trinidad in the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena is a popular spot for wedding and for wedding photography.

Even non-photographers will be tempted to grab a camera in photogenic Cartagena. Perfect those travel snaps on the four-hour Foto Tour (US$80 per person for groups of 2-6 people) during which Colombian professional photographer Joaquín Sarmiento (he’s shot for Reuters, the New York Times and Colombia’s El Tiempo, Semana and El Espectador publications) leads participants through the city dispensing technical photography tips and practical advice.

From the Cartagena Music Festival to the star-studded International Film Festival to the Hay Festival which celebrates all forms of creativity, Cartagena plays host to a nearly year-round calendar of annual festivals.

Carribean cartagena Colombia

You’ll have to buy some fruit before the costumed street vendors in Cartagena will let you take their picture.

Best on a budget

Though soccer is the undisputed sporting king in Latin America, Colombians on the Caribbean coast also love baseball and every Sunday Avenida El Pedregal in the Getsemani neighborhood is closed to traffic and transformed into a makeshift diamond for women’s softball teams. Find a perch on the centuries-old Spanish-built wall that runs along this street and you’ve got the best seat in the stadium.

Womens softball league Cartagena Colombia

Sunday softball in the streets of the Getsemani neighborhood of Cartagena.

The Zenú Gold Museum on Plaza Bolivar is home to a collection of more than 500 pieces of exquisitely crafted gold jewelry and iconography made by the Zenú people who flourished in Colombia from the 16th century. Amazingly, the museum is free.

 Zenu Gold Museum, Plaza Bolivar Cartagena

Hundreds of intricate gold artifacts are on display in the (free) Zenú Gold Museum in Cartagena.

Normally visitors have to pay a fee if they want to go inside the massive Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria. However, during noon time mass the doors are open and all are welcomed in for free. Inside, there’s a gilded altar and massive carved doors and it’s certainly worth a visit.

interior  Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria cartagena

Inside the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Saint Catherine of Alexandria in Cartagena.

To protect the city from pirates and other attackers, the Spanish built massive walls around Cartagena. Developed and expanded over 200 years, the city was eventually completely enclosed by more than six miles (11 km) of walls and fortresses. Much of these walls still exist, particularly along the side of the city that fronts the Caribbean. There are access points that let you climb to the top of the walls and walk along their wide expanse, which is particularly pleasant near sunset when the temperature starts to cool and the sky is spectacular.

City walls Cartagena Colombia

Walking the Spanish-built walls that encircle Cartagena.

Worthy Splurge

The beaches around Cartagena on mainland Colombia are nothing to write home about but there are plenty of options for day trips to nearby islands where the beaches are spectacular. Colombia Direct offers day trips in speed boats or yachts with catered lunches (from sandwiches to more gourmet fare) that get you to the protected Rosario Islands archipelago, about 60 miles (100 km) off the mainland, and back in style. Island picnics start at about US$35 per person plus the cost of the fully staffed and equipped boat of your choice.

View of historic Cartagena from city walls

A view of historic Cartagena from on top of the Spanish built walls that surround the city.

Avoid

Though conditions for the horses that pull carriages through the historic center of Cartagena have improved in recent years following accusations of widespread neglect, there’s still little regulation. You’ll see more of the city on foot anyway and also have the freedom to duck into a chic shop or grab a cocktail or a paletta as you ramble.

For clued-in, up-to-the-minute information about hotels, restaurants, bars, clubs and events in Cartagena, check out Ti Cartagena.

To get the full Cartagena Travel Guide, check out our top hotels in Cartagena and our top places to eat and drink in Cartagena.

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Pirates of the Caribbean Coast – Puerto Lindo & Portobelo, Panama

A snazzy new road means you can now travel from Panama City to the Caribbean Coast in two hours. This easy access has brought renewed talk of improving tourism infrastructure in this lightly visited area of the country but, as we found out when we visited Puerto Lindo and Portobelo, that’s largely still just talk.

Never stay in a hostel with no woman on staff

Puerto Lindo means “beautiful port” in Spanish, but it wasn’t. The slim, grey beach in Puerto Lindo was littered with trash and the pier was ratty and occupied by locals who failed to return our greetings. School seemed to be permanently out. Sitting around was the preferred day job.

Puerto Lindo Panama

Puerto Lindo. Not.

There are two places to stay in Puerto Lindo and the least bleak of the two, creatively named Hostel Puerto Lindo, turned out to be a filthy, neglected place ostensibly managed by a lazybones named William who kept asking us for money. The sheets, pillows, floors, shower and hammocks were tacky with a mysterious greasy film. The foam mattresses were too frightening to contemplate. The communal kitchen was a Petri dish. At least the fan worked, but US$7 per person it was a rip off. Hell, at US$2 per person it was a rip off.

That’s when it dawned on us that everyone “working” at Hostel Puerto Lindo was male and we vowed never to say in a hostel with no woman on staff again. Ever.

Making Diablos y Congos masks - Puerto Lindo, Panama

Impressively creepy devil masks like these are made by craftsmen in Puerto Lindo to be worn during the annual Diablos y Congos (Devils and Slaves) festival held on Panama’s Caribbean Coast.

The next morning we tentatively poked our heads into a few nearby homes where men were creating impressively ghoulish masks which are worn during the dramatic, wild, hedonistic Diablos y Congos (Devils and Slaves) festival which is held on the Caribbean coast after Carnival. Then we fled to nearby Portobelo, nine miles (15 km) away, hoping that it better resembled its name which also means “beautiful port”. We didn’t even bother seeking out the “sloth lady” of Puerto Lindo that we’d been told about. Yep. Not even sloths would keep us in Puerto Lindo.

Making Diablos y Congos masks - Puerto Lindo, Panama

A mask maker in Puerto Lindo shows off his art in progress.

Modern pirates of Portobelo

Compared to Puerto Lindo, Portobelo is a metropolis albeit a garbage strewn, ramshackle one with occasional shootings in the street like the one that occurred shortly after we arrived in which someone named “Oaky” was gunned down for allegedly stealing drugs from a cartel in Colon.

Portobello Harbor & Fort Santiago - Portobello, Panama

Portobelo harbor and the remains of the Spanish-built Santiago Fort.

The most famous place in Portobelo, by far, is Captain Jack’s hostel, bar and restaurant owned by a US expat who now simply goes by the moniker “Captain Jack”. He appears to be loved and reviled in equal measure, as all pirates should be. We did not stay there (Captain Jack doesn’t offer private rooms) but we did have a decent US$7 hamburger with the best fries we’d had in years (hand cut with the skin still on).

The open air bar/dining area also had WiFi and that, coupled with the good food, cold beer and generously poured rum drinks, conspire to create an irresistible magnet for every foreigner in Portobelo and, it turns out, there are many.

Fortress Jeronimo - Portobello, Panama

The Spanish built the San Jerónimo Fort in Portobelo, Panama to protect the harbor from pirates who were after the plundered gold the Spaniards hoarded in town before sending it back to Spain.

Among the “yachtie” community–an international group of people who live part or all of the year on their boats (which are very, very rarely yachts)–Portobelo is a popular, well-known port for repairs and re-provisioning. Yachties are not traditional travelers. They’re not expats. They’re a breed all their own – boisterous, boozy, a little bit snarky. Some of them have the distinct air of being on the lam.

Some boat owners offer sailing trips through the San Blas Islands and the talk in town often revolves around departure dates, prices and which boats have sunk lately as backpackers try to book the best passage.

Pirates Cove - Portobello, Panama

Pirates Cove and its gregarious owner Tommy.

With Captain Jack’s out of the running for accommodation, we headed to a place down the road called Pirates Cove behind the police station just off the main road. It’s run by a gregarious Panamanian named Tommy, fresh back from years in the US, who was doing his best to improve the run down rooms which had saggy mattresses, weird drop ceilings, dirty showers and ill-fitting polyester sheet with cigarette burns in them when we were there.

You can’t beat the waterfront location, however, and we are hopeful that Tommy has made some basic improvements by now. The outdoor bar at Pirates Cove is another yachtie magnet and good place to meet captains and get information about San Blas sailing trips.

Yacht Bar, Pirates Cove - Portobello, Panama

The easy-going waterfront bar at Pirates Cove is a great place for a cold one and for getting information from boat owners about San Blas Island sailing trips.

In between the cheerful open air restaurant and the blocks of rooms at Pirates Cove you’ll see a strange area of shallow cement troughs mostly filled with sea water. Look closely and you’ll see that the water is covering (and, therefore, protecting) rows of cannonballs, tiny cannons and even wood beams.

These items, we were told, are believed to be bits and pieces from one of Christopher Columbus’ ships (more on him later) which sank near Portobelo in the early 1500s. The 1500s, people! Others believe the remains could be from the wreckage of a pirate ship operated by Sir Francis Drake.

Ruins of Colombus ship - Portobello, Panama

This concrete trough full of sea water on the property of Pirates Cove holds what could be cannonballs from one of Christopher Columbus’ ships.

This apparently important booty is just sitting there soaking until restoration and preservation experts can verify the remains and figure out what to do with them.

Oh, and be aware that the wind in Portobelo can be epic, especially in January and February.

Historic pirates of Portobelo

Christopher Columbus founded “Puerto Bello” in 1502. The tiny town was re-named San Felipe de Portobelo by Spanish colonizers in 1586 when they took the town and its strategic port. The Spanish built the San Felipe Fort, San Diego Fort, San Jerónimo Fort and the Santiago Fort to defend the port, and the plundered gold stored in the local Customs House.

Portobelo was a primary ports for shipping stolen gold from the “New World” back to Spain and it suffered a long line of attacks from pirates, including Henry Morgan who trashed Portobelo in 1671.

Fort Jeronimo - Portobello, Panama

San Jerónimo Fort in Portobelo, Panama had 18 cannons but even that wasn’t enough to stop pirates from taking the town and the stolen gold the Spaniards amassed there.

San Fernando Fort, San Jerónimo Fort and Santiago Fort still stand and can be visited. San Fernando is across the bay and you can hire a boat for a few dollars to take you across to it. On the western end of Portobelo you’ll see Santiago Fort (free) wedged between the road and the bay. It’s worth a wander around. San Jerónimo Fort (also free) is essentially in the middle of Portobelo.

Santiago Fort Portobello, Panama

Santiago Fort in Portobelo, Panama.

In 1980 the forts in Portobelo were included in a UNESCO World Heritage Site as “magnificent examples of 17th- and 18th-century military architecture.” In 2012 the forts were placed on UNESCO’s List of Heritage in Danger because of “lack of maintenance and uncontrollable urban developments.”

Portobello and the Custom's House from Fort Jeronimo

The hulking Customs House in Portobleo and the fortified wall along the harbor.

Even today, the Customs House in Portobelo, where the Spaniard’s beloved gold was stored, stacked, counted before being shipped to Spain, is by far the largest and most imposing structure in Portobelo. It’s huge rooms now often house changing exhibits of local art and history.

Custom's House Portobelo Panama

Spanish colonizers stored and counted their stolen gold in the Customs House in Portobelo, Panama before shipping it off to Spain – if the pirates didn’t get it first.

Its also worth visiting the nearby San Félipe Church to check out the four foot (1.5 meter) tall statue of the Portobelo’s famous black Christ. Various legends surround the statue but a common element to the story is that a large box mysteriously appeared in Portobelo and when locals opened it the black Christ was inside. Every October 21 the town hosts a festival which draws pilgrims from all over to help carry the statue around town, then drink and dance until dawn.

 San Félipe Church Portobelo's famous black Christ Panama

Portobelo’s San Félipe Church is home to his black Christ, subject of much legend, a few miracles and an annual festival.

 

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How to Explore the Panama Canal – Panama

Traveling to Panama without visiting the Panama Canal is like going to New York City without seeing the Statue of Liberty. There are many ways to explore the Panama Canal including dramatic canal-side observation facilities, a nearby fort reached via a bridge that lets your drive over the Panama Canal at Gatún Locks and, of course, you can cruise the canal. We did it all since one of us (guess which one) is certifiably canal obsessed.

Cruise Ships Miraflores locks Panama Canal - Princess Cruises Seven Seas Cruises

Princess Cruises Line’s Island Princess and Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Mariner enter the Miraflores Locks on the Panama Canal.

How the Panama Canal moves ships from ocean to ocean

The original Panama canal consists of six lock chambers. Three are on the Pacific side (there are two locks at Miraflores and a third at Pedro Miguel) and three locks are on the Atlantic side (all of them at Gatún). Massive Lake Gatún lies in the middle.

Ships enter the first three locks and are raised a total of 87 feet to reach Lake Gatún which they slowly travel across. Then they enter the second set of three locks which lowers them back to sea level. Think of locks as water-powered escalators.

Our time-lapse video, below, shows two cruise ships passing through the Miraflores Locks and will demonstrate how this engineering wonder works.

Another time-lapse video, below, shows a container ship being lowered through the Miraflores Locks.

 

At the top of the two lock chambers of the Miraflores Locks we are lifted 54 feet over mean sea level of the Pacific Ocean

At the top of the two lock chambers at Miraflores we are lifted 54 feet over mean sea level during our tourist transit on board the Pacific Queen departing the Pacific Ocean.

Panama Canal smack down: Miraflores vs Gatún Locks

The Miraflores Visitors Center (US$15 adult, US$10 children) includes a museum, snack bars and observation platforms that allow you to watch mega ships pass gracefully through the Miraflores Locks right in front of your very eyes.

Ship transiting Miraflores locks, Panama Canal Visitors center

A ship transits through the Miraflores Locks and past the visitor center and observation decks there.

The Miraflores Visitor Center is located just outside Panama City and is a popular stop for tourists. Their restaurant lunch buffet is said to be as terrific as the views. However, Miraflores isn’t the only way to get close to the action in the Panama Canal.

The Gatún Visitor Center (US$5, children free), located close to Colon on the Atlantic side, has an observation area over Gatún Lock which is the longest lock in the whole canal since all three lock chambers are together here. It’s a simpler facility but it’s also the cheapest observation point on the canal, you can get closer to the action here and it doesn’t get nearly as crowded as Miraflores which can be wall to wall at times.

Gatun locks visitors center, PanamaCanal

The small grandstand on the right lets visitors to Gatún Lock get close to the action.

really close

Massive ships pass THIS close at the Gatún Visitor Center.

Now there’s a third observation option. It’s called the Agua Clara Visitor Center  (US$5 adult, US$2 children) and it’s the only place where you can get a good look at the newly opened larger locks. The Agua Clara Visitor Center also includes a restaurant, gift shop, snack bar and short nature loop trail.

The new Panama Canal

The new Panama Canal locks are the size of four football fields and able to accommodate larger so-called “NeoPanamax” ships which are so big they can carry 12,000 containers as opposed to the older “Panamax” ships which carry just 5,000 containers. 

When we were there this massive expansion project was still underway. Even after seeing the enormous machinery and massive engineering challenges involved in the canal expansion project it was still difficult to comprehend the scale of the work.

Panama Canal Expansion Project

The work being done to create much larger parallel locks at the Panama Canal is on such a large-scale that it’s hard to comprehend even when you’re standing there looking at it.

The expansion project, which cost more than US$6.5 billion so far, was started in 2007 and was expected to be done in 2015. The new locks were finally opened in June of 2016.

How to cruise the Panama Canal

If you’ve got the time and the money (at least half a day and around US$135 per adult and US$85 per child) you can experience the Panama Canal by traveling through the locks on a tourist boat. On board guides do a good job of explaining the engineering wonders of the canal and the process of moving safely through the locks.

The tourist boats are some of the smallest vessels that travel through the Panama Canal and it’s quite dramatic to be on board when the boat is squeezed into a lock along with massive cargo ships for the ride up (or down) inside the lock as water rushes in or is drained out.

Panamax ships in Gatun locks, Panama Canal

Cargo ships making their way through the Gatún Locks on the Panama Canal.

One-way canal cruises depart from either Panama City or Colon with bus transport one way. Half day cruises take passengers through three locks while full day cruises include all six locks taking you from the Atlantic to the Pacific, or vice versa.

We, of course, did the full day cruise through all six locks. You can take the trip through the Panama Canal from ocean to ocean in under 11 minutes in our video, below, from on board our Pacific Queen canal cruise tourist boat.

A free way to travel through the canal is to volunteer to be a deck hand on a small boat scheduled to move through the locks. The Panama Canal authority requires a minimum number of line handlers on all vessels traveling through the Panama Canal and many small boats simply don’t have enough hands in their normal crew. Captains looking for volunteers through the canal post notices at area marinas.

Sea dragon, Pangea expedition research yacht in panama canal

Though most of the vessels in the Panama Canal are enormous ships, some small craft like this pass through as well and they often need volunteers to be line handlers during the transit which represents a chance to make the journey for free.

Driving over the Panama Canal

The San Lorenzo Fort (US$5) is cool. The Spanish finished the fort in 1599 and its position at the mouth of the Chagres River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean allowed the Spanish to stay vigilant against pirates who were on the hunt for the treasures the Spanish were hoarding.  Today you can see massive stone walls, turrets and domes plus great views down the Chagres. The fort was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980.

San Lorenzo Fort, Panama Canal

San Lorenzo Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Chagres River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, is accessed by driving over a section of the Panama Canal.

Fort San Lorenzo, Panama Canal

San Lorenzo Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Chagres River where it meets the Atlantic Ocean, is accessed by driving over a section of the Panama Canal.

Getting to San Lorenzo Fort is even cooler than the fort itself because it involves waiting for the massive, metal gates at Gatun Locks to close then watching as a metal swinging bridge rotates to create a roadway over the canal. Then you drive over the Panama Canal.

Our truck gingerly entered the small bridge and we crept right past massive metal lock doors which were so close we could almost touch them as we passed. Water actually sprayed out from cracks and crevices in the doors which made the drive even more dramatic.

Drive over tha Panama Canal, Gatun Locks bridge

This shot was taken through the windshield of our truck as we drove onto a swing bridge over the Panama Canal. The thing marked 06 on the left is a massive metal lock door holding back tons of water so we can drive safely past.

Locked up on the Panama Canal

You can’t actually visit it, but there’s a prison on the banks of the Panama Canal. It’s called El Renacer Prison and Manuel Noriega, former dictator of Panama and nemesis to the US, calls it home.Though Noriega was on the CIA’s payroll at one time, he ultimately became the first foreign head of state to be convicted in a US court. The US wanted him so bad we even launched a short-lived but bomb-filled invasion of Panama to get this guy which pretty much destroyed the Casco Viejo area which is now the hippest neighborhood in Central America.

Panamanians call Noriega la cara piña (pineapple face) because of his famously bad complexion. Given the nasty stuff Noriega was involved in and the bad things he did to his own people (murder, money laundering, corruption, drug trafficking) you’d think they could come up with something meaner.

Panama Canal fast facts

  • More than 14,000 vessels a year use the 48 mile (80 km) long Panama Canal to cut 8,000 miles (13,000 km) and millions of dollars off their transport costs by short-cutting through the isthmus of Panama between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans instead of navigating the long and dangerous route through the Strait of Magellan or around Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America.
Regent Seven Seas Cruise Princess Cruise transit Panama canal Miraflores Locks

The largest cruise ships pay more than US$300,000 per Panama Canal transit.

  • More than one million vessels have gone through the Panama Canal so far.
  • The existing Panama Canal locks can accommodate ships up to 106 feet (32 meters) wide by 950 feet (290 meters) long. Many ships are built exactly to these specifications and they are called “Panamax” ships.  The expanded Panama Canal locks are able to take ships up to 160 feet (49 meters) wide and 1,200 feet (365 meters) long. Those larger ships are called “NeoPanamax” ships.
Miguel-lock_Panama-Canal.jpg Septe

It’s a tight fit for Panamax-size ships in the existing Panama Canal locks which is why billions are being spent to create new, larger locks to accommodate even larger ships.

  • Average transit time is between 8 and 10 hours.
  • 5% of the world’s maritime traffic goes through the Panama Canal.
  • The countries that ship the most goods through the Panama Canal are the US and China.
  • The concrete walls of the Panama Canal locks are 55 feet (17 meters) thick.
  • In 2013, 12,045 ships traveled through the Panama Canal generating US$1.8 billion in tolls.
  • Cruise ships pay US$134 per occupied berth which is over US$300,000 for a Panamax-size cruise ship. Container ships pay US$82 per full container and a Panamax ship can carry 5,000 containers. Vessels must also pay a myriad of additional charges and handling fees.
Zim New York entering Culebra Cut. Panamax sized container ships like this one can carry more than 5,000 containers. It costs full panamax cargo and cruise more than $450,000 in tolls and fees to transit the canal.

Ships like this one can carry more than 5,000 containers and pay more than US$400,000 in tolls and fees to transit the Panama Canal when fully loaded.

  • It cost US$375 million to build the Panama Canal including US$10 million paid to Panama and US$40 million paid to the French Canal Company for the rights to the canal which they’d originally started and abandoned.
  • The Panama Canal celebrated its 100th birthday on August 15, 2014. A lot of the original infrastructure, including the massive lock doors which hold back tons and tons of water, are still being used today.
Panamal canal giant lock gates doors

Lock doors on the Panama Canal are 47 to 82 feet (14.3 to 25 meters) high, seven feet (2.1 meters) thick and they’re hollow and buoyant which means that even though they weight up to 662 tons each it only takes a pair of 25 horsepower motors to move them. Did we mention that they’re also 100 years old?

  • Scientists learned the hard way that malaria is caused by mosquitoes, not bad air (mal aire), during the building of the Panama Canal. More than 5,600 workers died during the US completion of the canal and as many as 22,000 died during the failed French attempt at the canal, many of them from malaria.
  • In 2011 Gary Saavedra, a champion surfer from Panama, rode a static wave through the Panama Canal for more than five hours covering more than 40 miles (64 km) and setting a Guinness Book of World Records milestone for the longest wave surfed in open water.
Panama canal Mitre gates of gatun locks opening

Lock gates at Gatún opening to let a ship pass.

  • In 1928 Richard Halliburton, an adventurer from the United States, paid 36 cents for the right to swim through the Panama Canal. He’s still in the Guinness Book of World Records as having paid the lowest toll ever on the Panama Canal and it’s a record that’s likely to stand since swimming through the canal was promptly banned.
  • The United States had jurisdiction over the Panama Canal until full control went to Panama on December 31, 1999.
Centennial Bridge Panama canal Pedro miguel locks

Centennial Bridge in the background as a ship heads for the Pedro Miguel Locks during its journey through the Panama Canal.

  • The Panama Canal, which employs more than 10,000 people, operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Still want to know more about the Panama Canal? Read “The Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough, you big geek.

Princess Cruise Island Princess exiting Miraflores locks.

Princess Cruise Lines’ Island Princess exiting Miraflores Locks and entering the Pacific Ocean.

Bonus: There are two ways to sleep on the Panama Canal including in an abandoned US Army Radar Tower turned into a hotel on the banks of the canal and in Panama’s only houseboat hotel, right on canal waters. We’ll tell you all about that in our next post.

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River Rising – Rio San Juan, San Carlos & El Castillo, Nicaragua

The whole southeastern chunk of Nicaragua is set for rising tourism. A fantastic new road has greatly reduced the drive/bus time from Managua to San Carlos on the banks of the Rio San Juan, there’s now better boat trip service to El Castillo and a new airport in Greytown makes reaching that far-flung southern destination easier than ever. No more excuses. Here’s our travel guide to Rio San Juan, San Carlos town and river trips to the historic fort in El Castillo.

El Castillo Fort Rio San Juan Nicaragua

El Castillo Fort above the Rio San Juan was built by the Spanish to help keep pirates from navigating the river to Granada where they stored their gold.

Getting to San Carlos and the Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

Forget what you’ve read about the hellish journey required to reach the town of San Carlos, gateway to the Rio San Juan region in southern Nicaragua. A new amazing paved road now whisks you from Managua to San Carlos in about four hours. For much of the drive we had the wide, smooth road all to ourselves and conditions were so good we even used the cruise control for a bit, something that is generally impossible on crumbling Central American “highways”.

The road was built in anticipation of increased traffic to a new, more direct border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica following the construction of the Santa Fe bridge across the Rio San Juan. The bridge, which is four lanes wide, 1,187 feet (362 meters) long, 131 feet (40 meters) high and was built by the Japanese at a cost of US$30 million, is now finished. However, the bridge and the border remain closed due to bad relations between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Stay tuned…

Construction of Santa Fe Bridge over Rio San Juan Nicaragua Costa Rica

Construction of a US$30 million dollar bridge across the Rio San Juan to create a new border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The bridge is now completed but the border remains closed.

Where to sleep in San Carlos

San Carlos is a typical river town. Dirty, slow and unavoidable. It smelled a bit like fish, stale river water and boredom. Everybody seemed to have a dearth of free time. We looked at a few accommodations in San Carlos and quickly realized that Hotel Cabinas Leyko was the budget hotel choice for us. For US$25 we got a private double room with a bathroom, Wi-Fi and parking which is key for us. The hotel even let us leave our truck in their lot while we took a boat trip on the Rio San Juan to spend a night in El Castillo.

San Carlos, Nicaragua

San Carlos on the Rio San Juan is a typical river town: slow, dirty and unavoidable.

Boat trip on the Rio San Juan to El Castillo

There are two ways to get from San Carlos to the small riverside town of El Castillo: slow boat and fast boat. We chose the slow boat (US$4 per person each way) which was a clean, basic motorized boat with a roof and seating. Fast boats, which do the trip in about half the time, are US$11 per person each way.

Transportation on the Rio San Juan, Nicaragua

This is how you’ll travel on the Rio San Juan between San Carlos and El Castillo.

Our slow boat was full but not packed and the four-hour journey on the Rio San Juan was pleasant and even included some animal sightings (kingfishers, osprey, howler monkeys, egrets). We made a handful of stops to pick up or drop off passengers at riverbank docks serving the handful of people who live along the river.

The Rio San Juan is sometimes called El Desaguadero (The Drain) because its 120 mile (192 km) length drains Lake Nicaragua into the Caribbean.

Fortress of the Immaculate Conception - El Castillo, Nicaragua

The El Castillo Fort was recently refurbished by the Spanish, who built it in the first place.

The town of El Castillo, only accessible by river, almost feels like an island town – small, contained, protective. Or maybe that’s just the vibe coming off the demurely-named Fortress of the Immaculate Conception (aka the El Castillo  Fort), which is the one and main attraction in town.

The hulking stone fort overlooks the Rio San Juan and was completed by the Spanish in 1675 as part of a string of forts meant to stop pirates from navigating the river to Granada. Since 1995 the fort has been on a tentative list for consideration as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rio San Juan Fort - El Castillo, Nicaragua

The Rio San Juan snakes past the formidable El Castillo Fort.

The fort (US$1.75 per person), nicely rebuilt by the Spanish to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of the Americas, includes a tidy little museum where a guide informed us that “The bravery does not depend on the sex” as he was explaining how the daughter of a Spaniard managed to defend an attack on the fort after her father was killed during the battle. Sex-based bravery aside, the fort was a great place to wander around near dusk with good views of the river. We had the place to ourselves.

view of Rio San Juan from Fort El Castillo, Nicaragia

The El Castillo Fort overlooks treacherous rapids in the Rio San Juan which the Spanish hoped would slow pirate ships long enough for cannons to take them out.

As impressive as the fort are the Raudal del Diablo (Devil Torrent) rapids which rage away directly below it. That’s no accident. The fort was placed in this spot precisely because of the rapids which represented a natural barrier which forced pirate ships to slow down and navigate carefully at this notorious spot in the river giving the Spaniards a fighting chance to pick them off from above.

Devils Torrent rapids  Rio San Juan - El Castillo, Nicaragia

The Devil Torrent rapids as seen from the El Castillo Fort.

Canon El Castillo Nicaragua

We swear that flower was in that cannon when we got there.

Sleeping and eating in El Castillo

El Castillo is a tiny town but there are a surprising number of hotels and a handful of eateries to choose from. We intended to stay in the Hotel Albergue el Castillo directly behind the fort. Our Lonely Planet described the place as feeling like a Swiss chalet, however, the room we were shown felt more like  a stall so we moved on.

We finally chose Hotel Victoria where US$25 got us a spotless (if small) private double with bathroom and full breakfast. A torrential downpour arrived as we were checking in so we retreated to hammocks on the covered patio of the riverfront hotel and listened to the water flow and fall. We were not alone. Colorful birds darted between leafy tree hideouts to nearby platforms which the hotel’s perky owner kept stocked with tempting fruit.

El Castillo, Nicaragua

Main street in El Castillo town which is only accessible by river and has no cars.

When the rain finally let up we reluctantly hauled ourselves out of the hammocks and found Border’s Coffee. Owner Yamil Obregón is a young and talented Nicaraguan chef. He’s also a gay man and, he told us, had to fight the government for his right to open the place. We enjoyed perfectly cooked (from scratch) shrimp over pasta (US$7.50), terrific fresh fruit juices with no ice or sugar and wonderful organic Nicaraguan coffee made using real espresso  machines.

Unfortunately Border’s Coffee was not open early enough to get another one of those coffees before our very early morning boat ride back to San Carlos.

Bus stop El Castillo, Nicaragua

Waiting for our river boat back to San Carlos.

 

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Land of the Lenca – Gracias de Dios, Honduras

Our travel timing was accidentally perfect and we pulled into the town of Gracias de Dios in southeastern Honduras (about four hours from the famous Copán archaeological site) just as the annual Chief Lempira Day Festival was gearing up. Held every July 20, this is the most important festival among the Lenca people–the largest indigenous group in Honduras–and Gracias (no one says the “de Dios” part) is ground zero.

How to stop the Spanish (almost)

Chief Lempira - Gracias, Honduras

Legendary Lencan leader Chief Lempira is immortalized in this statue and in an annual day-long festival  in Gracias, Honduras.

The festival celebrates the Lencan leader Chief Lempira who managed to unite historically warring tribes as Spanish conquistadors descended in the 1500s. Chief Lempira ultimately cobbled together an anti-Spaniard force 30,000 strong which caused the Spaniards considerable trouble. The Lencan leader was eventually killed by the Spanish, however, and in his absence the popular uprising fizzled.

But Chief Lempira’s legend lives on. The currency of Honduras is called the Lempira and he is still a hero to the Lencans. His annual festival day transforms Gracias, normally a sleepy town of 25,000, with a parade, fireworks, rock concerts, an air force fly over, even the President of Honduras helicopters in for the event.

Money - Honduran Lempira

The official currency of Honduras is the lempira, named after Lencan leader Chief Lempira (that’s him on the 1 lempira note).

 

Fireworks and fly overs

Conqistador - Lempira Day Parade - Gracias, Honduras

The most adorable conquistador in the world taking part in the annual Chief Lempira Day parade in Gracias, Honduras.

The day started with a three-hour parade featuring homemade floats topped with waving children, groups of costumed paraders representing either the Spanish or the Lencans, marching bands and beauty queens of all ages, each wearing a heavy handmade dress decorated with beans, corn kernels and plants in designs representing Chief Lempira’s face, farm life and jungle scenes.

Three Air Force jets provided a dramatic finale to the parade but the emotional culmination was a solemn costumed re-enactment of Chief Lempira’s final moments at the hands of the Spanish, re-enacted by children wearing conquistador helmets made of silver paper and riding papiermâché horses. Check out our photo essay of parade highlights.

As dusk fell, spirits were lifted by a truly impressive fireworks display followed by live bands on a stage set up in the central park.

View of Celaque from fort above Gracias, Honduras

The high peaks of Celaque Mountain National Park seen from the Castillo San Cristobal Fort above the town of Gracias in Honduras.

 

The other 364 days of the year…

Even when there’s not a parade or a President in town, Gracias has a lot to offer. How do we know? Because we ended up spending about a month in Gracias after El Salvador wouldn’t let us in the first time we tried to cross the border.

A short stroll up a rise over Gracias took us to the Castillo San Cristobal fort. This beautifully restored aerie is also the final resting place of Honduran Juan Nepomuceno Fernandez Lido, better known as Juan Lindo, who managed to become President of both Honduras and El Salvador (not at the same time). Best known and loved for establishing the University of Honduras and writing a new constitution for the country, Juan Lindo retired in Gracias where he died in 1857.

Castillo San Cristobal fort - Gracias, honduras

Castillo San Cristobal Fort above the town of Gracias in Honduras. 

The Casa Galeano Museum, with displays in the breezy rooms of a former home, is a great place to sample traditional Lencan masks, pottery, history and lore, including the  legend of La Sucia, a mythical hag believed to present herself as a gorgeous temptress.

Iglesia San Marcos - Gracias, Honduras

Iglesia San Marcos on the main square in sleep Gracias, Honduras, is painted in lemon meringue colors. 

 

Hikes and hot springs

Gracias is only five miles (eight kilometers) from the entrance to Celaque Mountain National Park (Parque Nacional Montana de Celaque in Spanish) which is home of El Cerro de las Minas, the highest peak in the country at 9,347 feet (2,848 meters).

Waterfall in Calaque National Park - Gracias, Honduras

One of the many waterfalls in Celaque Mountain National Park near Gracias, Honduras.

Though the park is close, the drive takes 45 minutes due to the generally abysmal condition of rough dirt roads. It’s worth every bump, however. Though not heavily visited, the park has great facilities including comfortable, covered camping areas for pitching tents (50L, about US$2.60, per night), shared flush toilets and showers and a separate covered cooking and dining area. A network of well-marked and well-maintained trails and foot bridges wind through pines then steeply up into the highest cloud forest in Honduras.

River in Calaque National Park - Gracias, Honduras

Celaque Mountain National Park near Gracias, Honduras.

More than 200 species of plants, nearly 300 species of birds and a wide range of mammals and reptiles live here including jaguars, pumas, a unique salamander and the coveted quetzal bird. And that’s just the living stuff. The steep terrain of the park is also the final resting place of mastodons and giant sloths, which we could almost picture roaming and roaring through the Jurassic Park terrain.

To call these animals (living and dead) elusive is an understatement, but even the super slim chance of catching a glimpse of spotted fur or an irridescent tail feather in the distance was enough to keep us climbing up the short (1.5 miles each way) but steep Sendero Mirador de la Casacada (waterfall view point trail).

Hardy hikers can also take in the view from the top of El Cerro de las Minas, a 10 mile round trip that’s normally done in 2-3 days along the appropriately-named Sendero al Cielo (trail to the sky) since you end up at the highest point in the land.

Whether you tackle the peak or not, a visit to Celaque is best topped off with a soak in one of the natural hot springs that surround Gracias.

The potters of La Campa

The tiny village of La Campa, less than 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Gracias, is the epicenter of traditional Lencan pottery production. Using techniques that date to the 1500s, Lencan women create pots of clay, water and natural dyes. The dishes, cooking vessels and enormous urns are decorated with geometric patterns inspired by natural elements such as the moon. Displays at the Centro de Interpretación de Alfarería Lenca pottery museum give a good overview of the process and the art that’s being kept alive in La Campa.

Lencan pottery - La Campa, Honduras

Traditional Lencan pottery is sold directly from family workshops in La Campa near the town of Gracias in Honduras.

You won’t find a pottery shop in La Campa, but many of the potters’ homes and workshops are open to the public. Doña Desideria Peres is one of the best known local potters (anyone in town can direct you to her workshop). Examples of her reddish-brown glazed pots adorn the lobby of the Hotel Real Camino Lenca in Gracias.

If you’re inspired to spend the night in La Campa, head for Hostal JB two blocks from the church. The JB has five rooms in what used to be a private home. You can use the common living room, kitchen and dining room and there’s a a lovely garden, too.

La Campa, Honduras

The church in La Campa near the town of Gracias, Honduras.

 

The “Sistine Chapel of Latin America”

It’s worth continuing another 10 miles past La Campa to the Lencan town of San
Manuel de Colohete. Settled by some of Chief Lempira’s warriors, the big attraction
here (besides the verdant, hilly scenery) is the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Concepción,
one of the loveliest and oldest churches in Honduras.

San Manuel de Colohete, Honduras

Nuestra Señora de Concepción church in the town of San Manuel de Colohete has been called the “Sistine Chapel of Latin America.”

Built by the Spanish in 1721, the interior still shows traces of nearly 400-year-old frescoes and a wonderful wooden ceiling which was constructed without nails. Although some renovation has taken place, the church retains an ambience of elegant decay. If the doors are locked, ask in town for the key and locals will proudly show you their “Sistine Chapel of Latin America.”

Sleeping and eating in Gracias

We called Hotel Guancascos home while we were in Gracias and you should too. Located just below the Castillo San Cristobal fort, the 17 rooms are spotless and well-appointed, the staff is charming, free Wi-Fi works in the common area and in the three rooms under the restaurant, which is excellent. Owner Fronicas “Frony” Miedema, a Dutch woman who’s lived in Honduras for 24 years, will be happy to give you information about the area and arrange tours and transportation. When we were there the hotel was also in the final stages of gaining green certification, making it one of only a few eco-certified hotels in Honduras.

Restaurant Rinconcito Graciano, Lizeth Perdomo - Gracias, Honduras

Lizeth Perdomo whips up dishes using traditional Lencan recipes and organic ingredients at her  Rinconcito Graciano restaurant in Gracias, Honduras.

Do not miss the chance to eat at Rinconcito Graciano on San Sebastian Avenida. Owner, chef, guide and organic food pioneer Lizeth Perdomo cooks meals using Lencan recipes passed down from her grandmother like beef in a stroganoff-like gravy and a salad made with local large-leaf oregano and a watercress-like green straight from Lizeth’s garden. Meals are served on traditional Lencan pottery. If the restaurant is closed, ask for Lizeth at the shop across the street and she’ll come open for you. Lizeth also bakes a mean loaf of grainy whole-wheat bread, something about as rare as the gold they used to mine from the hills around Gracias.

Meng You, on San Cristobal Street is the place to go if you’re really hungry. Run by a Chinese family, the place has zero atmosphere and it’s strictly service with a sneer but the affordable (around 100L, around US$5) plates of fried rice or noodles are enormous–more than enough for both of us.

La Fonda, four doors down from the church, serves platos tipicos a notch or two above the ordinary (90L, about US$4.75) in a setting that is more Borscht-belt brothel (sweeping lamps with flower petals made of glass,  flouncy lace curtains) than Central American comedor.

Bar Museonear the unremarkable town market, is a local dive bar where women and tourists are welcome to join the crowd enjoying cold beer (20L, about US$1) and enormous Flor de Cana rum and cokes (40L, about US$2) amidst framed pictures of Marilyn Monroe and old cowboy knick knacks. Just don’t plan on using the grotty bathroom.

Lorendiana, on Principal Dr.Juan Lindo Avenida three blocks west of the central park, sells delicious, homemade all-natural popsicles (called paletas) in a wide range of flavors including passionfruit, pineapple, strawberry and green mango. Owner Diana Lorena’s
home-canned vegetables, fruits and sauces are almost too gorgeous to open and eat.

Preserves - Lorendiana - Gracias, Honduras

The canned foods at Lorendiana shop in Gracias, Honduras are almost too gorgeous to eat.

Kafe Kandil bar (where you used to be able to mingle with locals and Peace Corps volunteers until the Peace Corps recalled all volunteers from Honduras), is shockingly chic. Owned by a local artist, there’s great art (of course) good music, nifty decor and good drinks and international snacks (like mini pizzas).

Cafe Kandil - Gracias, Honduras

Kafe Kandil delivers unexpected chic in Gracias, Honduras.

They only do it once a week, but the bean and pork soup at Tipicos La Frontera, opposite the church, is delicious, filling, cheap and worth the wait. Look for the hand written sign on the door and be prepared for non-stop children’s TV shows while you eat. Directly across the street is El Jarron, where the most charming waitress in town serves up tasty and cheap platos tipicos (60L, about US$3) and excellent beef-filled fried tacos.

TIP

Rumors of an ATM were in the air, but when we were in Gracias it still hadn’t materialized. In the meantime, you can get cash advances on your credit card from the supermarket near the church with the big metal gates and coffee shop out front. Or just come with enough cash to get you through.

Iglesia de Mercedes - Gracias, Honduras

Iglesia de Mercedes in Gracias, Honduras.

 

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A Winning Town – Campeche, Mexico

It happens. You plan to stay in a city for a few days and end up staying for a week. That’s what happened to us in Campeche, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and beautifully restored formerly fortified colonial city now making its way as a modern port town.

Meticulously maintained colonial era columns, arches, cobblestoned streets and the lavish (and lavishly named) Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Pursima Concepcion adorn the main plaza in Campeche, Mexico.

Those same arches, columns, cobblestones and plazas get even busier at night when the temperature finally cools down to a level fit for humans.

Of the seven churches in Campeche the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Pursima Concepcion on the main plaza is the most imposing--both day and night.

General civic pride financed by huge sums of government money keep the colonial-era buildings in Campeche looking their best.

 

Over recent years federal and local governments have pumped millions of pesos into a beautification project designed to restore and maintain most of the downtown area. Hundreds of colonial era buildings have been brought back to life and they’re spruced up regularly with subsidized painting programs. When we were in Campeche citizens were in the midst of another painting frenzy and most downtown streets looked like long strings of Easter eggs or trails of Jordan almonds as each building in the block tried to out-pastel its neighbor.

The blues of Campeche.

 

Campeche is even in the process of burying its power lines below ground, creating an even more beautiful cityscape. As much as we enjoyed these beautification efforts, the citizens of Campeche seemed to enjoy them even more.

This vibrantly-painted corner is home to Salon Rincon Colonial bar. Walk through the swinging saloon doors and you're welcomed with a cold beer and a hot mariachi band being egged on by a crew of friendly locals.

 

Campechenos enjoy their city day and night and one of the best nightspots is an old-school bar called Salon Rincon Colonial. Scenes from the movie Original Sin, starring Antonio Banderras, were shot here but we found the pleasing mustiness, cold beer, mariachi band and welcoming regulars to be the real draw. Hey, anyplace where the bartender drinks with the customers and sings with the band is okay with us. See for yourself, in our video below:

 

Old Campeche is surrounded by a wall studded with seven imposing forts. That’s a lot of canons. Most of the forts are now open for tours and a few of them also house museums.

The curved entrance to the San Jose del Alto Fort in Campeche was designed to make it more impenetrable. Now it just looks elegant.

 

The most impressive of the fort-based museums is the Museo Arqueologico de Campeche in the San Miguel Fort. Every rambling room contained treasures from the Yucatan Peninsula including masks, steles, ornate bowls, jewelry, whole burial chambers, hieroglyphics and more. Our visit to this museum enriched our subsequent visits to the Mayan sites like Edzna and Calakmul where many of the pieces where discovered.

With seven forts built into the wall surrounding old Campeche there's no shortage of canons in this town.

Another angle on the San Jose del Alto Fort in Campeche, Mexico.

Part of the wall that surrounds Campeche, Mexico with the town's cathedral visible in the background.

 

Campeche is not only surrounded by a wall, it’s also surrounded by the sea and that means seafood! A string of palapa  restaurants line the shore serving up all kinds of just-caught goodness. A relatively-newly opened place not very creatively called La Palapa is located opposite the Holiday Inn. The food was superb if not cheap (about 115 pesos, or about US$9, for a big meal of fish cooked in garlic, rice, salad and tortillas) and we believe La Palapa is owned by the same people who run Salon Rincon Colonial bar.

The colors of Campeche are gorgeous during the day and dream-like at night.

 

Basically, Campechanos like to have fun. Baseball is big here and the local team is (fittingly) called the Campeche Pirates. Even fund-raising events are fun in Campeche as we learned one Saturday evening when we stumbled into the weekly public loteria game organized by the city library.

Loteria is a children’s board game that’s played like bingo but instead of trying to fill your card with boring calls like “B-4” you fill it with matches that correspond to Mexican vocabulary words. Get the right combination of El Borracho (the drunk), La Pera (the pear) and other calls and you win half the pot that the library ladies collect on each round.

We love loteria and find it very useful at building vocabulary. The library ladies looking over our shoulder to make sure we didn’t miss a match were helpful too and we felt a bit better once we saw that they were hovering over the Mexican players too.

Early in the sitting Karen actually won a round (not sure who was more surprised: us or the locals) and scored 25 pesos (about US$2). Later in the evening, when more than 50 locals of all ages had joined in the game, Eric won another round and pocketed twice that.

Karen winning a round of loteria in the main plaza in Campeche. We're not sure what's wrong with Senora Cranky Pants at the head of the table. Sore loser?

 

We’d soon blown our winnings on the scrumptious snacks being cooked up at carts set up around the plaza. Among other great bites, we enjoyed one of the best bowls of pozole (a rich and spicy soup thick with hominy and fresh meat) that we had in all of Mexico.

Wedding guests wearing indigenous costumes congregate on the steps of Campeche's perpetually busy Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion.

 

For all of the charming reasons we’ve laid out in this post we sensibly decided to stay in Campeche for much longer than we’d planned and we jumped at a basic but very clean room at Hotel Reforma right off the square where we got Wi-Fi and A/C for 200 pesos (about US$16) a night. Plus we got Jorge, the owner, who looked out for us in a paternal way that was kind, not creepy.

A bride, sporting one of the longest trains we've ever seen, enters Campeche's Catedral de Nuestra Senora de la Purisma Concepcion.

 

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