Solo Female Travel in Turkey — Is Turkey Safe?

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Is it safe for a woman to travel alone in Turkey? With the right preparation and research, absolutely. While I’ve done a lot of solo female travel in Turkey, I’m not an expert — that’s my friend Katie Nadworny, who has been living in Istanbul since 2013 and has traveled Turkey more extensively than anyone I’ve ever met.

I love Turkey. The jagged landscapes, the steam-filled hamams, the warm hospitality, the blue Mediterranean, the endless tulip-shaped cups of tea. I wish more people realized this! Turkey is a destination that gets a lot of bad publicity, particularly for women on their own — but if you have at least a little bit of travel experience, Turkey is a great destination for solo female travelers.

Take it away, Katie!

Why Travel to Turkey Solo?

Before I moved to Turkey in the beginning of 2013, I knew it would be a place I would always return to visit. I traveled to Istanbul three times as a tourist (in 2008, 2009, and 2011) and was so completely intoxicated with this wild, massive city that figured it would be one of those places I could come back to again and again.

I was wrong. Instead, I moved here. And I’m still completely enamored with the city on the Strait and this glorious country.

When I moved to Istanbul, I started traveling extensively around Turkey– and once I started, I never wanted to stop. Even after seven (seven!!) years living in Turkey, there are so many places that I still want to go to, and so many I would like to return to.

From the hiking trails that skirt the Mediterranean coast to the lush mountains of the Northeast shrouded in thick fog to the cultural wonders of the Southeast to the vineyards that are driving distance from Istanbul to the splendid beaches of the Turquoise Coast, Turkey has an abundance of places to visit.

Even after all this time, Turkey still takes my breath away.

Table of Contents

Why Travel to Turkey Solo?Is Turkey Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?Turkey Tours for Solo TravelersIs Turkey Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?Is Turkey Safe?Let’s Talk About Refugees in TurkeyWhere to Go in TurkeyBest Things to Do in Turkey as a Solo TravelerHow To Visit a Hamam in TurkeyBest Time to Visit TurkeyVisiting Turkey during RamadanHow to Get Around Turkey SoloHow to Get to TurkeyHow to Get Around Turkey by AirHow to Get Around Turkey by BusHow to Get Around Turkey by TrainRenting a Car in TurkeyEating Alone in TurkeyHow to Meet People in TurkeyStreet Harassment in TurkeyTurkey Travel and Safety TipsWhat to Pack for TurkeyTravel Insurance for TurkeyTurkey is waiting for you!About the Author

This is a Solo Female Destination Guide.

Want more? We have guides to Lebanon, the Balkans, South Africa, and more!

Katie standing on a rooftop in Istanbul underneath a blue sky.Traveling to Turkey solo for the first time? Start in Istanbul!

Is Turkey Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

Turkey is terrific for first-time solo travelers who already have travel experience but haven’t traveled by themselves before. There is a pervasive culture of hospitality here, and locals are almost always eager to help visitors experience their country.

The main complication in Turkey is that, once you leave the heavily touristed parts of Istanbul (like Sultanahmet), fewer people speak English. Which doesn’t mean people won’t try very hard to help you get around! Anyone you ask will be happy to give you directions, even if they don’t know where you are actually going.

Turkey is quite safe and I find that pickpocketing and stealing are much less common here than you would expect, both in Istanbul for a city of its size and in throughout the country.

Here’s a story that illustrates this: I went on vacation with my cousin to a beach in the south of Turkey. After spending most of the morning by the sea, we went to get lunch at a nearby restaurant.

We ordered and chit-chatted when suddenly my cousin realized she was no longer wearing her watch — her high-tech, quite expensive watch. She freaked out, jumped up from the table and went back down to the beach, hoping maybe she had dropped it, fearing it was stolen.

A few minutes later, she returned with her watch.

“What happened? Where was it?” I asked.

“I went down to the beach in a panic,” she said, “and these two Turkish girls saw me looking around, and came up to me and asked if I was looking for a watch, they had found one on the beach.”

That’s Turkey.

Turkey Tours for Solo Travelers

If you’re not quite sure if you’re ready to travel completely solo, another option is joining a group tour! G Adventures is a company Kate recommends. Their tours are very solo-friendly, they keep their groups small, they’re sustainability-minded, and they have several tour options in Turkey.

Here are some of them:

Absolute Turkey (15 days from Istanbul) — This comprehensive tour takes in all the best-known sights in Turkey, including Istanbul, Cappadocia, and spots up and down the Mediterranean coast.The Best of Turkey (8 days from Istanbul) — This weeklong tour includes Istanbul, several stops along the Mediterranean coast, and Pamukkale.Turkey: Coastlines and Kebabs (15 days from Istanbul) — This low-budget tour geared toward 18-to-30-somethings includes Istanbul, Cappadocia, lots of stops on the Mediterranean coast, and one memorable night at sea.Turkey Multisport (10 days, Istanbul to Cappadocia) — This active adventure tour goes from Istanbul to the Mediterranean Coast to Cappadocia and includes hiking, biking, and kayaking excursions.See all their Turkey tours here.

Katie standing on a hiking trail near the teal water of the Mediterranean om the Lycian Way.The Lycian Way is a great hike for adventurous female travelers!

Is Turkey Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Yes! If you are an experienced traveler, get out of Istanbul and go on an adventure!

If you feel comfortable hiking alone, take advantage of the waymarked Lycian Way along the southern coast; if you feel comfortable driving alone, head out on a road trip through the country’s varied landscape — perhaps a trip along the Black Sea Coast.

Go explore the complicated Southeast of the country to learn about the ancient and modern history of Diyarbakir or Şanlıurfa or Gaziantep. There is so much to do here, and you will not be bored.

Kate overlooking Turkey's desert, mountainous landscape.Turkey is a lot safer than the media would have you believe.

Is Turkey Safe?

“Is Turkey safe?” is something I am asked over and over and over again. Sometimes, I understand why; other times, the question seems so removed from real life here that I get frustrated.

Geographically, Turkey is sort of in the middle of everything, with Russian submarines slipping through the Bosphorus Strait, war continuing to roil the bordering Syria to the southeast, and refugees transiting on their way to Europe.

Turkey touches the Balkans, the Caucasus, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East; it’s one of the reasons there is such a rich cultural and culinary history here, and why Turkey always seems to come up in the news.

The hangover from the Very Bad Year of 2016 lingers when people think of traveling to Turkey. That was the year we had terror attacks from ISIS and others in Istanbul and throughout the country, with attacks on the since-shuttered Ataturk Airport and a nightclub and Sultanahmet Square.

That was also the year of the failed coup. I was living here then, experiencing what (in retrospect) was clearly a slow-building anxiety attack, and the coup still is the scariest thing I’ve ever lived through. AND YET.

Since 2016, the country has been quiet and safe, with no major terror attacks and no coups. Even in the thick of the Very Bad Days, life in Istanbul seemed to hum along. My parents even came to visit that year — six weeks after the coup! — and we had a splendid time together. It feels like everyone here let out a tightly-held breath sometime about 2017, and we’ve all been more at ease since. Life went back to normal.

As I always said then, until 2016, only one of the two cities I’ve lived in has had a terror attack, and that was Boston. The Boston Marathon bombing happened just after I left in 2013, years before terror came to Istanbul. (Note from Kate: I was actually at the Boston Marathon when the bombs went off. I wrote about that scary day here.)

We live in an age of terror, unfortunately, and I don’t believe that Turkey is any less safe than anywhere else in the world.

The fact that Turkey is in the middle of everything is actually one of the reasons it’s so wonderful. I meet people from all over the world here — from Iran and Nigeria and Iraq and France and Australia and Egypt and Israel and Mexico and Syria and Kyrgyzstan and beyond.

In an age where the news stokes such intense fear of “the other” (especially refugees and migrants), and when the US is shamefully closing its doors to so many people all over the world, Turkey is in many ways the perfect antidote — there’s nothing like meeting real, wonderful people to make you realize that all that fearmongering is shortsighted and idiotic. 

I often walk around at night in Istanbul listening to music in my headphones, which is something I would certainly never do in the US, and pickpocketing is infrequent for a city of this size. Often, I see people leave their laptops or phones on tables at cafes while they wander off…and no one takes their devices.

That’s Turkey. There is a sense of neighborliness here that I never really experienced in the US. If your perception of Turkey has only come from the news, I really encourage you to come here. The country is so much more than what they are telling you. 

READ MORE:

Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women

Two women and a child sitting on the rocky barrier to the Bosphorus, facing away.You should understand Turkey’s refugee situation before you visit.

Let’s Talk About Refugees in Turkey

I mentioned above that refugees transiting through Turkey is one of the reasons the country is often in the news. I think it’s worth touching upon the refugee issue and some of the facts (and misconceptions) around it.

Turkey hosts around 3.7 million refugees, the most in the world. (The country that hosts the second-most, Pakistan, doesn’t even come close: they host 1.4 million, less than half of the number in Turkey.)

The most common country of origin of refugees in Turkey is of course Syria, but there are many refugees from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, various African countries, and more. Most are trying to reach a better life in Europe, but anti-refugee sentiment has kept the majority in Turkey.

Through a fluke of history (and international refugee law), Turkey does not officially recognize most of its refugees AS refugees. After World War II, Turkey became a signatory to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which defines refugees as “persons who have become refugees as a result of events occurring in Europe.”

While many countries have since done away with the outdated geographical limitation of this definition, Turkey has not.

Syrians and other refugees in Turkey, therefore, are under “temporary protection,” with the understanding that they will eventually settle in another country. This assumption breaks down, though, when refugees are not able to leave. Some are officially registered with UNHCR as refugees, but resettlement is slow (to the point of often feeling impossible), because many countries (including the USA) have restricted the number of asylum seekers they will let in.

Because of all this, the majority of refugees in Turkey (98%, according to Relief Web) live in local communities, not in refugee camps. 

I think it’s easy to read the news about the refugee crisis and forget that this is a story about real people. The US barely lets any refugees in at all (a black mark of shame upon our whole generation), and Europe is restricting the flow and the integration of refugees as much as it can.

People are still dying in the sea or slowly wasting away in the wheels of bureaucracy or waiting, trapped, on the Greek Islands. But migrants are real people who deserve to live real lives.

The very few who have the option have become Turkish citizens, and others live normal lives in this country as much as they can. They open businesses and rent apartments and fall in love and ride the ferries. Migration is a fact of life, and Turkey is one of the places in the world where that can’t be hidden away. 

This is a topic that I feel particularly passionate about, obviously. So if all of that felt like too many numbers and too much information to take in, I encourage you to read this essay I wrote about travel and migration, and a friend of mine.

Katie in a patterned skirt, white top, and floppy hat smiling in front of the dark green Mediterranean near Kas.Looking for a GREAT beach town in Turkey? Consider beautiful, lesser-known Kaş.

Where to Go in Turkey

There are so many fascinating places to go in Turkey. Here’s an overview of my favorite places in the country:

Istanbul. The city of all cities, Istanbul stretches from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea and contains layers and layers of fallen empires. It’s the cultural center of Turkey, with a vibrant art scene, trendy cafes, rollicking bars, ancient ruins, stunning Ottoman mosques, and relentless energy. There’s no place quite like it.

Cappadocia. Perhaps one of the most iconic landscapes in Turkey is the fairy chimney rock formations in the Cappadocia region. People come for the spectacular sight of hot air balloons hovering at sunrise, but I recommend hiking through the region’s wild valleys to truly experience this place.

Pamukkale. Pamukkale means “cotton castle,” and the name makes sense when you see Pamukkale’s rippling white travertine pools. Walk up through the warm turquoise water to reach the ancient city of Hierapolis, a stunning site where the Pamukkale crowds thin out and you can have some quiet.

Kaş. Fethiye and Antalya are closer to airports and therefore get swarmed with tourists, but midway between the two is the Mediterranean city of Kaş. This is where you can go scuba diving in clear turquoise water by day, read a book in the sunshine on a quiet bay in the afternoon, and feast on meze all summer evening. It combines Mediterranean bliss with all the comforts of a city. 

Antakya. Geographically hemmed in by the Mediterranean and Syria, Antakya might look shady on a map but don’t be fooled: this city is the culinary peak of Turkey.  It’s safe, charming, and has a splendid archaeological museum that you can visit when you need to take a break from eating everything.

(Fun fact, after I visited Antakya, I started ordering kilos of homemade tahini from a guy in the city, because I’ve never tasted better tahini in my life. He sends it to Istanbul in a giant reused plastic tub!)

The Lycian Way. If you enjoy trekking, or if you’d like to go trekking and never have before, the Lycian Way is a stunning and easy option. The 30-day trail in Turkey’s southwest is waymarked and for most of the way, you can reach a bed and breakfast every evening. Plus the trail skirts past wild views of the Mediterranean coast, ancient Lycian ruins (including those at Patara and Olympos), and quiet fields lined with olive trees.

Ephesus. The iconic Library of Celsus is here, along with an amphitheatre and the comprehensive Ephesus Museum. Take time to explore the charming nearby town of Selçuk as well as the old Greek village of Şirince, where the locals make their own fruit wine.

The Kaçkars. The Kaçkar Mountains in Turkey’s northeast feel completely different from the rest of the country: they’re lush and green, with white goats wandering through foggy mountain plateaus. This is a great place to go trekking, roadtripping, or just eating: lots of gooey cheese, thick honey, cornmeal, and butter, the better to stay hearty and energized in the mountains.

Ani. Right outside of the city of Kars, perched on the edge of the Armenian border, is the ancient ruined city of Ani. The decrepit buildings seem to rise directly out of the landscape, eerie and quiet at the edge of the Anatolian plain. 

Hot air balloons flying over the jagged landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey.Taking a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is a must for solo female travelers in Turkey.

Best Things to Do in Turkey as a Solo Traveler

Take a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Get a view of the wild landscape from above at sunrise. Flights leave early in the morning and only go up in good weather, so I recommend making a reservation for your first morning in case you need to reschedule. 

Go hiking along the coast or in the mountains. There are many trails in Turkey, including the Lycian Way and the St. Paul’s Trail, and you can hire a guide to take you through the Kaçkar Mountains.

Visit the Hagia Sophia. The church-turned-mosque-turned-museum in Istanbul dates back to the 6th century and has stunning Byzantine-era mosaics.

Ride a ferry from one continent to another in Istanbul. The city spans both Europe and Asia, and a ferry ride between the two takes only 20 minutes.

Eat the local cuisine. Turkish food is incredible, and incredibly varied. Eat as much as you can.

Spend a long morning having kahvaltı, or Turkish breakfast. Turkish breakfast involves many small dishes of honey and kaymak (clotted cream) and jams and cheeses and olives and cucumbers and eggs and yogurt and pastries and more, all washed down with endless cups of tea.

Learn how to scuba dive in the Mediterranean among ancient ruins. Kaş and the area around it is particularly good for this, with an underwater world full of ancient cities and shipwrecks. If you’re new to diving, there are beginner lessons available.

Visit Ottoman mosques, Byzantine cisterns, and waterside palaces in Istanbul. The city was the capital of empires, and it shows. Some of my favorites places to visit are Suleymaniye Mosque, Theodosius Cistern, and Topkapı Palace.

Smoke scented waterpipes and sip tea at a nargile cafe. Hookah, waterpipe, nargile, whatever you call it; it’s quite common here and there are cafes that are lovely tea gardens to sit and smoke in. I don’t smoke nargile so much these days (I run and swim and dance and therefore like to breathe), but I still enjoy sitting with friends, surrounded by fragrant smoke.

Try authentic Syrian food in Istanbul or Gaziantep. With millions of Syrians living in Turkey, there are now MANY Syrian restaurants, and Syrian food is DIVINE. Istanbul is full of great places (especially in Aksaray), and Gaziantep has the unofficial nickname “little Aleppo” because so many people hailing from that Syrian city (only 75 miles away) have relocated there, and brought their cuisine along with them.

Visit Istanbul’s Princes Islands for the day. Istanbul has nine islands, four of which are easy to visit. Cars are not allowed on the islands, so take a ferry over and enjoy some rare nature and quiet.

Explore ancient ruins from many civilizations all over the country. Into early Christianity? Go to Ephesus and the Celsus library. Curious about the Lycians? Stop by Patara or Olympos. Fascinated about ancient Georgian kingdoms? Venture northeast to spot some stunning crumbling monasteries. There is a wealth here.

Hang out on a perfect beach. Turquoise water, sandy beaches, blooming magenta bougainvillea…this can describe so many beaches along the Aegean and Mediterranean Turkish coasts. 

Kate sits on a patterned sofa while drinking a cup of tea, wrapped in towels with a mischievous smile on her face after finishing the Turkish hamam.Kate’s first visit to a Turkish hamam was certainly memorable!

How To Visit a Hamam in Turkey

Hamams, or Turkish baths, are popular here among both locals and visitors, and this is an experience I highly recommend to solo female travelers. A friend and I are currently in the middle of an informal project to visit as many different hamams in as many different neighborhoods as possible — tough research, I know, but someone has to do it!

If you want to go to a hamam on your visit to Turkey, I recommend choosing one of the higher-end hamams because they will be better equipped to deal with foreigners who don’t speak Turkish, and they are very nice.

A favorite of mine is Kiliç Ali Paşa Hamamı, which is centrally located in a historical building in Karakoy. There are usually different entrances for women and men, and they are clearly marked. (The word for woman in Turkish is “bayan.”)

What should you wear to a Turkish hamam? Most women wear bikinis (at least bikini bottoms), though you can go without if you prefer. Hamams generally provide you with a towel. Usually you spend some time sweating out on a hot marble slab, and then eventually you are washed and scrubbed by a woman from the hamam. (She will ask you to take off your top at this point if you haven’t already.)

The washing and scrubbing is intense, and the perfect way to remove the dirt and grime of life that has probably made its way into your skin.

Afterwards, you’ll be provided with a dry towel or robe, and can sit around to drink tea or juice or ayran (a salty yogurt drink).

READ MORE:

Adventurous Kate Gets Naked in Istanbul

Katie balancing on a rocky jetty in the dark green Mediterranean.Consider visiting Turkey in shoulder season for pleasant weather.

Best Time to Visit Turkey

Turkey is a big country and the weather can vary wildly between regions. Istanbul is generally best around April-May and September-October, when the temperature is perfect.

The entire month of April is the Tulip Festival in Istanbul, when every green space is flooded with the flower — it’s a particularly lovely time to visit.

Summers in Istanbul can be sticky and hot and there aren’t many places to swim. If you’re visiting Turkey in the summer, head on down to the coasts, where the swimming season lasts through October. Summer can be a wonderful time to hike in the mountains, too.

In the winter, Istanbul still has a lot going on and the coasts have mild, comfortable weather — too cold for swimming, but perfect for day hikes and city wanders. You might see snow in Cappadocia and the mountains.

In terms of crowds, summer is the busiest season in Turkey, both in Istanbul and on the coasts. The most crowded time is during the bayram, or holidays, when Turks have vacation and often travel to the beach. Pay attention to the period just after Ramadan (Şeker Bayram) and the holiday of Kurban Bayram. 

Visiting Turkey during Ramadan

I have traveled in Turkey extensively during Ramadan, and your experience will really depend on where you are and what you are doing. In Istanbul, life continues on fairly normally, and in my very liberal neighborhood you can barely tell it is Ramadan — people still fill up the sidewalk seating at bars, drinking late-afternoon beers.

I’ve traveled to the beaches during Ramadan as well as to the more conservative Southeast region, and never had problems finding a meal.

The most difficult places to travel during Ramadan, for me, were the towns and villages around Lake İznik, just south of Istanbul. I went on a bicycle trip here with a friend, and it was almost impossible to find an open restaurant before sundown (and the local old men were not super pleased to see me flying into the center of town in my tank top and shorts). 

Turkey is a secular republic, so eating and drinking in public during Ramadan is not illegal and most touristed areas will have options for people who are not fasting. I would recommend reading the area and paying attention to what people around you are doing, and practice patience with taxi drivers or shopkeepers who might be a bit grumpier than usual.

I’ve written about visiting Turkey during Ramadan here.

(Note from Kate: I’ve traveled in Istanbul during Ramadan and found it to be a wonderful, festive experience. Enjoy the huge, cheap iftar meal specials and head to the Blue Mosque for post-sundown picnics!)

Katie bundled up in a coat and standing on a rocky path in Ani, Turkey.Turkey is easy to navigate, especially with its great bus system.

How to Get Around Turkey Solo

It’s easy to get around Turkey as a solo female traveler. There are flights, good roads, some trains, and a comprehensive bus system that covers the whole country in depth.

How to Get to Turkey

Most travelers arrive in Turkey by air. Most flights arrive in Istanbul, but keep in mind that there are cheap flights from all over Europe to Turkey’s coastal hubs like Dalaman and Antalya.

To find the cheapest flights to Turkey, I recommend using Skyscanner. You can set it for flights to anywhere in Turkey rather than Istanbul if you want to keep your options open!

There is one daily international train to Istanbul arriving from Sofia, Bulgaria, and Bucharest, Romania.

Buses to destinations in Turkey arrive from all over the surrounding countries.

Some travelers arrive in Turkey by boat — there are frequent ferries from Greek islands to Turkish islands and the mainland, and ferries cross the Black Sea from Ukraine and Russia.

Keep in mind that the Turkey-Armenia border is closed and the Turkey-Syria border shouldn’t be crossed by independent travelers at this time. Crossing from Turkey into northern Iraq is Iraqi Kurdistan, which has a different visa process to other parts of Iraq.

How to Get Around Turkey by Air

The easiest way to get around Turkey if you are traveling long distances and based in Istanbul is to fly. Istanbul has two airports and frequent, inexpensive domestic flights all over the country.

Most domestic flights will originate in Istanbul or Ankara. Turkish Airlines usually gives you small sandwiches on domestic flights, while the budget airlines like Pegasus do not. 

I recommend using Skyscanner to find the cheapest domestic flights in Turkey.

How to Get Around Turkey by Bus

Buses between cities in Turkey are frequent and much nicer than their American equivalent. Bus rides in Turkey include free cups of tea and Nescafe, snacks, frequent rest stops, and occasionally lunch stops as well (depending on how far you are traveling).

If you show up at the local otogar (bus station), you can easily figure out which bus companies are leaving at a time that works for you. Buses usually have assigned seating and women will generally be seated next to women, men next to men. This is assuming everyone actually follows their assigned seat, of course.

(Note from Kate: I was incredibly relieved when a bus driver in Turkey took me to sit next to an older woman on my overnight bus from Gorëme to Fethiye. It felt like people were looking out for me.)

For shorter distances, there are dolmuş (big shared taxi vans) and minibuses that drive between frequently-traveled destinations.

How to Get Around Turkey by Train

Turkey has a train system that runs throughout the country, though not as extensively as its bus system.

Booking trains in Turkey can be a challenge — while you can book them online at the Turkish State Railways website, it will be much easier to book them from a travel agency office once you arrive in Turkey.

Try to book trains a day or two in advance; if it’s during holiday times, book as early as possible.

Renting a Car in Turkey

If you’d like to see Turkey at your own pace, it is easy to rent a car and the roads in most of the country are good for a road trip.

If you’re looking for an affordable car rental in Turkey, I recommend using RentalCars.com.

Katie sitting down to a meal underneath mosquito netting, smiling and drinking a cup of tea.Eating your way through Turkey is an adventure.

Eating Alone in Turkey

If you’re in Istanbul or another major city in Turkey, no one will think it’s strange that you’re eating alone — many of us living in the city do it all the time. Istanbul is bursting with restaurants and cafes and you can always find someone sitting alone, reading or working on a laptop or writing in a notebook as they eat. 

Outside of cities, you’re more likely to get attention simply by being a foreigner who doesn’t speak Turkish, not because you are eating alone.

A popular kind of restaurant to get homemade food quickly is a lokanta, sort of a cafeteria-style set-up that was designed to serve workers in need of quick and hearty lunches. The food is fresh and, because you can see what’s available in front of you, you don’t need to understand a menu. You can simply point at what you like.

My favorite simple dish at most lokanatas is nohut yemeği (chickpeas cooked in oil and tomato paste) with pilav. 

If you go to a meyhane (fish restaurant), you’ll often be presented with a large tray of meze (small dishes) to choose from, which can also be useful if you don’t speak any Turkish.

Some popular choices are patlıcan salatası (smoky eggplant puree), giritli ezme (a cheese spread with walnuts and herbs), haydari (thick yogurt with garlic and herbs), acılı ezme (a spicy mash of tomatoes, peppers, herbs, and sometimes pomegranate molasses), and hardal soslu levrek (sea bass in a mustard and peppercorn sauce). 

It’s also easy to eat on-the-go here — Turkey has an abundance of street food.

There’s always döner (shaved meat cooked on a vertical spit), but I prefer balık ekmek (grilled fish sandwiches) and kumpir, which are baked potatoes stuffed to the gills with cheese and butter and all sorts of meat and vegetables, from corn to olives to beets to sausage to pickles — you get to choose what goes in the potato. It’s the most maximalist potato you will ever consume.

Kate and five other people smiling for the camera in the basket of a hot air balloon.You’ll make friends in Turkey when you’re squished together in a hot air balloon basket!

How to Meet People in Turkey

If you’re looking to meet people in Turkey while traveling solo, you’re in luck. It’s easy to connect with travelers while doing organized activities, and locals are friendly, inquisitive, and love a good time.

Here are some of the best ways to meet people in Turkey:

Check out Yabangee. Yabangee is an English-language site that’s primarily aimed at foreigners living in Turkey, and they arrange events regularly, from talks to trivia nights to dance parties. I recommend checking out their events page for the dates of your visit.

Stay in social hostels and guesthouses. Read through the reviews of hostels and guesthouses (and keep in mind that many Turkey hostels have private rooms!) and spend time in the common areas. (Note from Kate: I made a lot of friends at Agora Guesthouse in Istanbul!)

Check out local meetups via Meetup.com. Whether you’re into travel, running, movies, board games, or just want to meet a group of nice people, there’s a Meetup for that. 

Couchsurfing. The Couchsurfing Turkey community isn’t just for free accommodation, it’s also for socializing. The local Couchsurfers often put on events and meetups in a variety of destinations.

Join local tours and events. Turkey is all about activities! Doing a food tour or going on a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia is a great way to meet other people. Once the day is over, ask someone if they feel like getting a drink or dinner.

Put out feelers on social media. You never know — often a friend of yours will have a cousin or friend who is in Turkey at the same time as you, or knows someone who is living there as an expat long-term.

Tinder. If you’re looking to date or hook up in Turkey, it’s as easy as swiping right.

READ MORE:

How to Meet People While Traveling Solo

Men walking down a busy street in Istanbul.Street harassment can be rough in Istanbul’s more touristy neighborhoods.

Street Harassment in Turkey

The street harassment in Turkey varies wildly, and is mostly concentrated in the most touristed areas, like Sultanahmet or the Grand Bazaar. Shopkeepers will shout at you to come into their shops, will try to guess where you’re from, will do anything to get a reaction and get you to engage with them.

In other areas, you might get to occasional comment or whistle (lots of “Hey lady hey lady!”), but there is an antidote to all of this: you must practice the fine art of ignoring people.

As an American, I was conditioned to smile and react and if someone asked me to come into their shop or have a tea, to answer “No, thank you.” Wrong — don’t even bother doing this in Turkey. Just completely ignore anyone you do not want to talk to.

Any reaction is an encouragement for someone to keep talking to you. It takes practice, but it’s the most surefire way to not be bothered: active, aggressive ignoring.

People won’t touch you in Turkey, generally. All the harassment that takes place is usually verbal. And it is usually from merchants trying to sell you things. Get out of the touristy parts of destinations and it happens much less frequently.

In places that get very few tourists, I think you’re less likely to face any harassment. In a small conservative Black Sea town called İspir, my friend and I were incredibly conspicuous as the only two very-blonde foreigners on the streets.

I think everyone was so befuddled at our presence that they defaulted to hospitality, and offered us tea.

We drank a lot of tea on that trip.

The giant triangle-shaped rocks of Cappadocia, with a tiny Katie next to one for scale.Cappadocia is more than balloon rides — be sure to hike there too!

Turkey Travel and Safety Tips

Get data on your phone or get a Turkish SIM card. This allows you to follow the route you are traveling in a taxi on Google Maps, use Google Translate, and generally be more equipped to navigate the country. You can buy a SIM card at a kiosk at the airport. I use Turkcell; Vodafone and Turk Telekom are also options.

Keep an eye on the meter when taking a taxi. The meter is always required to be on, so if it isn’t, you can insist. If the cab driver won’t turn the meter on, get a different cab. Generally, it helps to talk to the driver about where you are going before you get in a taxi, and don’t be afraid to get out of taxis with rude drivers. For every jerk, there are plenty of taxis that are perfectly fine.

There is a common scam in Istanbul where a taxi driver will insist you paid him with a smaller bill than you did, and short change you. (So for example, if you pay with 100 TL, he’ll say you paid with a 20 TL note.) I have never experienced this myself, but just be aware.

If you are coming into a city by bus at night, try to know ahead of time how you are getting from the bus station to your hotel or wherever you are going. Some of the bus stations in Istanbul (especially the main one in Istanbul) can be a little shady at night.

Haggling is the way to purchase at markets in Turkey, including the Grand Bazaar. Never accept the first price — people are expecting you to lowball them. Have fun with it, but don’t get so caught up in it that you’re arguing for five minutes over the value of 25 cents with someone who makes far less money than you.

Ignore men you don’t want to talk to, don’t try to be polite. This is different from traveling in the United States. They will only stop if you ignore them completely.

It doesn’t hurt to occasionally invent a fake boyfriend if the situation calls for it. (Note from Kate: Sometimes I fake a call to a boyfriend or someone else before I get in a taxi, making a clear show of reading the driver’s license plate number out loud.)

Is the water safe to drink in Turkey? In some areas. The water is safe to drink in some cities in Turkey, but it’s not safe to drink in all of the country, particularly rural areas. While most travelers rely on bottled water, it creates a major waste problem.

For this reason, I recommend you bring a LifeStraw, a bottle that purifies water as you drink it through its straw. Alternatively, you can bring a reusable bottle and invest in a SteriPen water purifier (much better and faster than tablets).

See a travel doctor before your trip and be prepared on what to do if you get sick. If you get food poisoning or a similar illness, your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics that are easily available at pharmacies throughout Turkey. As I am not a medical professional, you should ask your doctor what you should do.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. Kate does this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and she considers it the most important thing she packs. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

Get an extra debit card. You should have two debit cards to two different bank accounts. If you only have one, I recommend you get a debit card from Transferwise. Keep a few hundred dollars in your account, hide the card deep in your luggage, and use it if your primary debit card is stolen.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Take your belongings with you.

If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves. They will grab it and run.

Be careful about your drinking. Drink less than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it. Be especially cautious in party spots like Bodrum and Marmaris, but drink spiking can happen anywhere.

Do not take drugs, even if you’re a party drug enthusiast. Drugs in Turkey can be cut with poisonous substances that can often lead to your death, and if you’re caught by the police, you’ll be in life-changing trouble.

Spend extra money on staying safe. If it costs you money to take a taxi rather than walk, or to stay in a guesthouse in a well-lit, central area, do it. It’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t pinch pennies on your safety.

Bring a digital Turkey guidebook. I always bring PDFs of Lonely Planet guidebooks — they have critical information, like details on transportation and the locations of medical centers, and a digital version adds no weight to your bag. You can buy the book or individual chapters, and I keep my PDFs in the Books app on my iPhone. I recommend Lonely Planet Turkey.

Katie jumping for joy in front of a Roman amphitheater.You don’t need to dress conservatively in many places in Turkey.

What to Pack for Turkey

What you should wear in Turkey varies depending on where you are. I go through most of the summer in crop tops and shorts (because it’s SO humid here in Istanbul), which is not a problem in my liberal neighborhood of Kadikoy and in most areas of the city that I spend my time day-to-day.

If I was going to a more conservative neighborhood, though, I might wear a knee-length skirt and a shirt that tucks in (though honestly, I mostly stick with the crop tops anyway). 

In coastal areas, where people are spending time on the beach, wear what you would wear at any beach town. Make sure you bring your bathing suit! A bikini can be useful if you are planning on going to a hamam, as well.

In more conservative parts of the country, it will probably be more comfortable for you to dress slightly more conservatively — I am a big fan of maxi dresses in general. I traveled around Southeast Turkey in the thick of the summer (it got up to 108 F/42 C) and I mainly wore long skirts with t-shirts and maxi dresses. 

Shorts have become MUCH more popular in Istanbul in the last seven years, even short-shorts. I still find that low-cut shirts bring on the most uncomfortable attention, so you should gauge your comfort level with that. Again, much of it depends on where you are, and what the locals around you are wearing. Turks are quite stylish.

It helps to have a scarf to cover your head and shoulders if you are going to visit a mosque in Turkey, though they are almost always provided by the mosque as well. I have a light cotton scarf that fits in my bag, and I carry that if I’m going to visit a mosque.

The dress code at Turkish mosques requires that women cover their heads, shoulders, and knees, though how much leg below the knee you are allowed to show depends on the mosque. (Sometimes I’ve been able to get in wearing a midi skirt, other times they’ve given me a skirt to cover up.)

I also recommend shoes that are easy to slip on and off for your own convenience, as you will have to remove them to visit the mosque.

Kate recommends shoes that come with quality arch support from The Walking Company, ideally the Abeo brand: black flats, black sandals, black boots, flip-flops with arch support, depending on the time of year. Also bring a pair of trail runners, which work equally well for hiking and working out.

A Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf is ideal for travel — they all have a hidden pocket for your passport or cash, and come in different patterns and weights perfect for Turkey at any time of year. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!).

A portable safe like the Pacsafe Travelsafe is vital for protecting your belongings. Kate considers it the most important thing she packs.

Finally, the water isn’t safe to drink in most parts of Turkey, so bring a LifeStraw or SteriPen water purifier and  reusable bottle to keep from buying plastic bottles and creating more waste.

The Blue Mosque at dusk in Istanbul.Don’t scrimp on the insurance here.

Travel Insurance for Turkey

One last note — it’s absolutely vital to have travel insurance before traveling to Turkey. If you get sick or injured on your trip, if you get robbed, or even if you have to be flown home for more care, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. Adventurous Kate uses and recommends World Nomads for trips to Turkey.

Travel insurance will help you in your hour of need if you get your wallet stolen from your hostel in Istanbul; they will help you get medical care if you come down with appendicitis or break an ankle while climbing the ruins at Ephesus; and if your flights get canceled due to storms, you can get accommodation and new flights paid for.

As always, be sure to read your policy carefully and make sure it’s a fit for you. See what World Nomads covers here.

Katie dancing in the bright white travertine pools of Pamukkale, holding a rainbow-striped umbrella.Pamukkale was made for Instagram!

Turkey is waiting for you!

Turkey is one of those places that just grabs you — I’ve met so many people who came to visit and kept coming back until they finally moved here. I am one of those people!

I remember on my first trip, I was so completely enamored with the smell of spices and the drone of the call to prayer and the caw of circling seagulls and the colors of the bazaars and breezes on the Bosphorus and the intense kindness of everyone I met. It was almost too much to make sense of it all.

I went home to the US and would dream about Turkey, those steamy summer nights surrounded by scented nargile smoke and clinking tulip cups of tea. I started plotting my return to Istanbul immediately. It’s an intoxicating place.

So come to Turkey, see what it’s really like to travel as a solo woman here. Swim in the Mediterranean or stroll the backstreets of ancient Byzantium or trek through Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys. Turkey has a way of wiggling into your heart. There’s nowhere quite like it.

Katie wearing a red dress and smiling on an Istanbul street with bright shops and hanging umbrellas.

About the Author

Katie Nadworny is an Istanbul-based writer, journalist, and photographer who specializes in the intersection of culture and politics in Turkey, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. Her work has appeared in National Geographic, The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The Independent, BBC Travel, Cornucopia Magazine, and PRI, among other places. She updated the Istanbul chapter of the most recent Fodor’s Turkey guide.

Her blog Katrinka Abroad combines personal essays with analog photography. You can find her on Instagram at @katrinkasasha and @katrinkafilm and on Twitter @katrinkasasha.

Read More About Turkey:

A Day in Kadikoy, Istanbul’s Hippest Neighborhood

Adventurous Kate Gets Naked in Istanbul

Freezing in a Hot Air Balloon in Cappadocia

Fethiye, Turkey: Come Here for Chilled Out Bliss

See all the Solo Female Destination Guides here.

Have you traveled solo in Turkey? Share away!

The post Solo Female Travel in Turkey — Is Turkey Safe? appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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Why Travel to the Colorful City of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua?

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I absolutely love traveling to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua! I planned on coming for three days; I ended up staying for eight. I haven’t felt such a strong pull to a place in a long time. At times it almost felt like a time warp — traveling back to a time when I was a 26-year-old party girl, only now with modern technology like AirPods and Tinder.

Soon I discovered the best things to do in San Juan Del Sur, from sipping cocktails on a catamaran to hiking up to the Jesus Statue, and of course, enjoying the Sunday Funday pool crawl. This city has it going on!

But if there’s anything that struck me about San Juan immediately, it was that it was just so colorful. Nicaragua stunned me with its bright colors, but San Juan brought it to a new level, both naturally and creatively.

Should you travel to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua? Well, I’ll let you read the post. I warn you, though — soon you’ll be as bewitched by San Juan del Sur as I am.

This post was last updated in February 2020.

San Juan del Sur BridgeWelcome to San Juan del Sur! We’re glad you’re here.

San Juan del Sur JesusOne of the largest Jesus statues in the world is in San Juan del Sur.

San Juan del SurI love the color in this San Juan del Sur photo.

San Juan del SurMurals dot the town.

San Juan del SurA popular spot on the backpacking trail.

Jesus in San Juan del SurJesus shows up all the time in San Juan del Sur!

San Juan del Sur Catamaran Ride Hidden BeachViews from a catamaran on a private beach

San Juan del Sur SunsetSunset on the beach at San Juan del Sur

Why Travel to San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua?

Nicaragua has long been cited as “the next Costa Rica” or “how Costa Rica used to be 20 years ago.” How true is it? Well, in some ways.

Nicaragua is a country filled with incredibly colorful cities, gorgeous beaches, unusual islands, fun activities, and wonderful people. And it doesn’t have the attention or infrastructure of Costa Rica — thus things are a lot cheaper, it tends to draw more adventurous travelers, and Nicaragua is more of a badge of honor.

Today, people primarily come to San Juan del Sur for two things: the beach scene and the party scene.

San Juan del Sur is a fun, beachside party town surrounded by excellent surfing beaches and mountains that carve out an unforgettable coastal view in Nicaragua.

You can spend your days horseback riding or taking a catamaran ride. You can spend your nights doing trivia, joining a pub crawl, or enjoying cocktails overlooking the sea.

If you’re looking for a happening, low-key beach town that attracts a lot more twenty- and thirty-somethings than families with kids, San Juan is the place for you!

San Juan del SurNicaragua doesn’t have a great rep, but San Juan del Sur is safer than you think.

Is San Juan del Sur safe?

Most people researching San Juan Del Sur want to know if the city is safe. The knee-jerk reaction to telling someone you’re visiting Nicaragua is, “It’s not safe!” And it didn’t help that Nicaragua faced civil unrest starting in April 2018, effectively grinding tourism to a near-halt.

As far as civil unrest goes, San Juan del Sur was never a target for violence, though often there would be blockades on the road there.

Today — I write this in February 2020 — Nicaragua has been becoming more peaceful and welcoming more and more tourism. I personally would not hesitate to visit now, though I would continue researching through my trip.

I encourage you to do research closer to your trip and find out the current situation. Avoid all political demonstrations — that’s good advice for anywhere — and know that the Nicaraguan flag has often been used as a protest symbol, so it would be wise to avoid displaying flags.

I recommend reading up on the UK’s travel advisory for Nicaragua — they tend to be more practical and less alarmist than US travel warnings.

Other than that, Nicaragua is similar to other Central American countries — as long as you do your research, stick to the tourist trail, and watch your belongings, you probably won’t have any safety issues.

The main concern for safety in San Juan Del Sur is petty theft. There are signs all over town that say “DO NOT GO ON BEACH AT NIGHT — YOU WILL GET ROB.” Absolutely avoid the beach at night. As a solo woman, I’m comfortable walking in the main part of the town at night, the part surrounded by restaurants and bars and guesthouses, but I wouldn’t walk alone in the outskirts of San Juan del Sur at night.

When choosing your hotel, I recommend choosing a place in the center of San Juan del Sur so you won’t have to walk into isolated areas at night. You can see my accommodation recommendations for all budgets further down.

Street harassment is insidious in Nicaragua. Unfortunately, I think Nicaragua has the worst street harassment out of the 80+ countries I’ve visited. Expect men to catcall you constantly. This is part of Nicaraguan culture. If you ignore them, though, it rarely escalates. It’s more of an annoyance than anything else.

For what it’s worth, I though the street harassment in San Juan del Sur wasn’t as bad as Granada or Léon.

Finally, San Juan del Sur is a party destination, and some people use this as an excuse to get insanely drunk. When you’re drunk, you’re at your most vulnerable. I recommend drinking far less than you would at home, or sticking to just two drinks over the course of an evening (and watching them like a hawk).

Is San Juan del Sur safe to visit? As long as you take increased precautions — do your research, keep an eye on your belongings, watch your drinking, lock up your valuables — chances are you’ll wonder what you were even worried about.

I think San Juan del Sur, and Nicaragua as a whole, are better suited for experienced travelers rather than newbies. If you haven’t traveled in the developing world yet, get your feet wet in Costa Rica or Belize first.

READ MORE:

Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women

Two women on the front of a white boat overlooking beaches in Nicaragua.A catamaran ride is one of the best things to do in San Juan del Sur!

Best Things to Do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

There is no shortage on cool things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. However, there’s one important thing to know — while many people come to San Juan del Sur to surf, you can’t actually surf right in town. The beach here is calm; you couldn’t surf here if you tried.

If you’re looking to surf in San Juan del Sur, you’ll need to travel to one of the nearby surf beaches, like Playa Hermosa. Read on for more information on how to do that.

Jesus statue on a mountain in San Juan Del Sur, a palm frond in the foreground.Jesus overlooks San Juan del Sur from above.

Hike to the Jesus statue

One of the world’s largest Jesus statues sits atop a hill overlooking San Juan del Sur. Hiking to the top is a perfect athletic activity for the day! And views at the top are spectacular — it’s one of my favorite places to pose for Instagram photos.

Hiking to the top requires walking up a very steep but paved road; if you have a car, you could drive most of the way. It’s a wonderful place to view golden hour and the sunset, but you’ll want to return to town before it gets too dark.

A beach near San Juan Del Sur, with still green water.Some of the best beaches are north of the city.

Visit the Surfing Beaches

San Juan’s beach isn’t that great — but the beaches outside town are incredible. Two of the most famous ones are Playa Maderas and Playa Hermosa.

Both Maderas and Hermosa are fantastic places to surf, whether you’re experienced or a first-timer. Lessons are available on both beaches; you can rent boards there or through Casa Oro Eco Hostel. Shuttle transportation, which can accommodate surfboards, is available through Casa Oro.

If you’re a hardcore surfer, you may prefer staying in Playa Maderas or Playa Hermosa. But if you like to experience a variety of things, I’d recommend staying in San Juan del Sur instead and just taking the shuttles when you’re in a surfing mood.

Oh, and that photo above is fro my catamaran ride — you definitely can’t surf there!

San Juan Del Sur beach at sunsetTaking a yoga class is a great way to decompress while traveling Central America.

Take a Yoga Class

It seems like every Central American beach town has an abundance of yoga classes, and San Juan del Sur is no exception. I took part in yoga at Zen Yoga, attached to the popular Buddha’s Garden restaurant. I found my all-levels class to be nice and relaxed, easy enough for first-timers but a decent workout for more hardcore yogis.

Before I got into fitness, I was self-conscious about being unable to hit certain poses in yoga — but I never felt awkward about it at Zen. The instructor corrected my posture discreetly and I immediately felt better.

In a party-heavy destination, it’s important to take time to center yourself. That’s why I think a yoga class is one of the best things to do in San Juan del Sur — it reduces stress and makes you feel peaceful.

The best part? Getting a fresh juice afterward and chatting with new friends from class.

Bartenders pouring drinks in the Loose Moose, San Juan Del SurA very Canadian bar crawl begins at the Loose Moose!

San Juan del Sur Pub Crawl

Have you ever been to a Canadian bar before? Bugaboo Creek doesn’t count.

With so many Canadians in San Juan del Sur (seriously, I met more people from Saskatchewan in Nicaragua than I’ve met ever), it’s only natural that a Canadian bar would pop up: The Loose Moose, complete with poutine on the menu, hockey on TV, antlers and maple leaves everywhere, and handheld masks of Harry and Lloyd from Dumb & Dumber (not sure why; the latter aren’t Canadian!).

When I wrote about traveling solo to a party destination, a pub crawl is the perfect way to get to know new people. The Loose Moose puts on regular pub crawls that visit several spots in town. Other bars have trivia nights, poker nights, and more.

Even if there isn’t a current pub crawl taking place, this is a good spot to have a few drinks and get to know some friendly Canadians.

Five women on horseback on a beach, facing the sea.Horseback riding on the beach — via Alex in Wanderland

Go Horseback Riding on the Beach

One of the most special things to do in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, is horseback riding on the beach. Rancho Chilamate offers a variety of horseback riding tours,

My friend Alex in Wanderland did this tour while we were in San Juan Del Sur and she came back gushing about how much fun she had. Alex has done a lot of horseback riding around the world — if she raves about something, you know it’s exceptional. I wish I had joined her.

The cowgirls who work on the ranch hail from around the world. They are fantastic, friendly, down-to-earth ladies and getting to know them was one of the highlights of my time in San Juan.

Kate and Alex sitting on the net of a Catamaran with a crew member in the background, in front of bright blue ocean.I loved this catamaran ride!

Take a Catamaran Ride

Of all the things in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the catamaran ride was my favorite. All around town are signs for catamaran rides. I planned to save it as a reward after completing a big work goal, but soon some girls invited us to join them that day!

It includes the boat ride, all you can drink (the mai tais are nice!), snacks (ceviche made from fish caught during the cruise, as well as chips, guacamole, and salsa), a stop at a beautiful private beach for swimming and beach hanging (complete with a bag of beers that they throw at you, and the cruise ends during sunset.

Also, hilariously, there was a bathroom on board, but I’m pretty sure none of us used it.

If you’re traveling on your own and looking to meet new friends, this is yet another way to do so. I can’t imagine not making friends on this booze cruise! Ask your accommodation or look around town for signs; they’ll have the latest information on pricing.

Partiers clustered around a pool, surrounded by palm trees, at Sunday Funday in San Juan del Sur, NicaraguaSunday Funday gets pretty wild!

Sunday Funday

Every week, San Juan has a legendary party — Sunday Funday! It’s basically a pool party pub crawl that starts at about noon and goes until dawn, if you dare. Today it’s the most infamous party on the Central American backpacker trail.

This was the most visceral reminder of Vang Vieng — people in San Juan and throughout Nicaragua walk around in Sunday Funday tank tops, just like the In The Tubing tank tops in Laos.

You go to four different bars, including the Naked Tiger, which is outside town and perched on a hill overlooking the region. People get covered in body paint; drinking games are rampant; guys cross-dressing in skirts and bras jump into the pools fully clothed.

Was it fun? It was INSANELY fun. But I, the resident 30-year-old traveler among the twenty-somethings, was happily home in bed at 10:30 PM.

Buddha's Garden Rasta Pasta -- zucchini pasta with vegan ragsHave some Rasta Pasta — zucchini noodles with vegan nut-based rags!

Eat Healthy Food

Many people who come to Central America eat nothing but comida tipico (some kind of protein, gallo pinto (rice and beans), plantains, maybe a bit of salad if you’re lucky) everywhere they go, especially if they’re on a tight budget. Frankly, it gets monotonous pretty quickly.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, is a great place to indulge in a bit of international cuisine and especially healthy cuisine.

Here are some of my favorite spots, all in the town center:

Buddha’s Garden: Raw vegan food! I recommend the rasta pasta (raw zucchini pasta with walnut bolognese) and any of their juices, especially the Drop the Beet.Taco Stop: Great tacos on the main strip. Don’t confuse it with the inferior Taco Spot on the same street.El Gato Negro: Delicious organic food, nice smoothies, and a creative cafe atmosphere. Open until mid-afternoon only.Cerveceria: An actual brewery in San Juan del Sur! Good tacos and salads.Bar Republik: Nice tacos (see a pattern here?) and nightly events at the bar.Casa Oro: This hostel offers a free cooked breakfast every day, which is pretty rare. Breakfast tacos were the best!

Casa OroThe chilled out communal lounge at Casa Oro Eco Hostel.

Where to Stay in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur has accommodation for every budget! You get a lot for your money here, especially compared to beach towns in nearby Costa Rica. That might mean taking advantage of the cheapness and staying for longer (like I did!), or that might mean splashing out on a luxury rental you couldn’t afford elsewhere.

The most important consideration in where to stay in San Juan del Sur is the location of your accommodation. This could make or break your trip.

If you’re looking to spend most of your time in the town, and want to be walking distance to restaurants, bars, and shops, you should stay right in town.

But if you’re looking for peace and quiet, incredible views, and want to lounge by the pool, you may prefer staying in a rental further out of town, especially if you have a car.

For that reason, I’m going to recommend properties both in downtown San Juan del Sur and outside the main town. They are two totally different travel experiences.

If you’re looking for a luxury place to stay in San Juan del Sur and want to stay in town, I recommend staying at Hotel Victoriano. This hotel, built to look like a Victorian mansion, is right on the beach with views of the cliffs, has a pool overlooking the sea, and has easy access to all of San Juan del Sur.

If you’re looking for a luxury place to stay in San Juan del Sur and want to stay a bit outside town, I recommend staying at LACASA. This three-bedroom house is perhaps the most Instagrammable property in the region, a gorgeous modern building right in front of a pool and its own stretch of beach north of the city.

Another option is to find a luxury home in San Juan del Sur on Airbnb. They have lots of CRAZY luxury rentals — see them all here.

If you’re looking for a mid-range place to stay in San Juan del Sur and want to stay in town, I recommend staying at Barrio Cafe Hotel. This hotel is right in the heart of downtown with cute, clean and comfortable rooms. They’re well-known for their restaurant and bar.

If you’re looking for a mid-range place to stay in San Juan del Sur and want to stay a bit outside town, I recommend staying at El Jardín. This hotel has a gorgeous pool and views of the mountains leading down to the ocean. Rooms are simple and colorful, and it even has its own private beach.

If you’re looking for a budget place to stay in San Juan del Sur and want to stay in town, I recommend staying at Casa Oro Eco Hostel. I loved staying here — there are private rooms as well as dorms, a gorgeous lounge area with hammocks, shuttles to the surf beaches, an excellent breakfast, and it’s right in the heart of town.

If you’re looking for a budget place to stay in San Juan del Sur and want to stay in town, I recommend staying at Puk’s Palace. This hostel has private rooms as well as dorms, and you can enjoy a swimming pool, views over the mountains to the ocean, communal “family dinners,” and free shuttles to downtown San Juan del Sur.

Best Places to Stay in San Juan del Sur:

Luxury: Hotel Victoriano if you want to stay in town, LACASA if you want to stay outside town.Mid-range: Barrio Cafe Hotel if you want to stay in town, El Jardín if you want to stay outside town.Budget: Casa Oro Eco Hostel if you want to stay in town, Puk’s Palace if you want to stay outside town.Check out more San Juan del Sur hotels here and check out San Juan del Sur Airbnbs here.

A bus and a white wooden hotel in San Juan Del Sur.

How to Get to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

If you look on the map, San Juan del Sur is very close to the Costa Rica border — so close that you might be tempted to fly into Liberia Airport in northwest Costa Rica.

I urge you not to do this. The border crossing from Costa Rica to Nicaragua is a huge hassle — it takes a long time, you have to walk a long way, and there’s little shade. It’s an ordeal and you’re better off avoiding it.

Instead, fly into Managua in Nicaragua. I recommend using Skyscanner to find the best prices on flights to Managua.

From there, you have several different ways to get to San Juan del Sur, a 2.5-hour driving journey.

Rent a Car in Nicaragua

Renting a car can be a good option in Nicaragua, but I think it’s essential if you’re staying in a property far from town. Being able to drive to the grocery store for provisions will make a huge difference in your travels!

If you want to save money on a car rental in Nicaragua, I recommend using RentalCars.com. They compare all the sites so you can find the best rates.

Book a private transfer from Managua Airport to San Juan del Sur

Booking a private transfer for a 2.5-hour journey might seem like a baller move — but in Nicaragua, it can be quite affordable. It’s the easiest way to get to San Juan del Sur — someone is waiting at the airport with your name on a sign, and you leave as soon as you’re ready.

Book a private transfer from Managua Airport to San Juan del Sur here.

You can also just ask a taxi driver at Managua Airport to drive you there. It’s a long journey, but most drivers will do it. (I took a taxi from Managua Airport to Léon, a similar distance from Managua.) You can expect to pay about $100.

Join a group shuttle from Managua Airport to San Juan del Sur

Group shuttles are my preferred way to travel in Central America — they are essentially small group transportation between two major tourism spots, saving you the time and hassle of public transportation.

A group shuttle from Managua Airport to San Juan del Sur will cost you roughly half the price of a private transfer. One company that does this is IskraTravel. Be sure to plan ahead, as most shuttle times are set in advance.

Take public transportation from Managua Airport to San Juan del Sur

I don’t recommend this. This is not a logical or direct route in Nicaragua and you’ll have to change buses multiple times while lugging your bags. Nicaragua is a cheap country; splurge on a group shuttle at least.

Best Time to Visit San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Most travelers to San Juan del Sur visit during North America’s winter months — from December through March. This is when you have some of the nicest weather in San Juan del Sur. Temperatures tend to range from a low of 76 F (24 C) to a high of 88 F (31 C).

High season in San Juan del Sur can be very crowded, and this is when accommodation is at its most expensive. If you’re planning a trip to San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, between December and March, I recommend booking accommodation a few months in advance if you can.

The hottest months of the year in San Juan del Sur are April and May, where temperatures hit highs of around 91 F (33 C). If you don’t do well in heat, I wouldn’t recommend visiting during the spring months.

While the summer months, June through September, tend to be rainy in much of Central America, San Juan del Sur is a fairly dry region. It tends to rain the most during this time of year, but rainstorms tend to be infrequent and short-lived.

Hurricane season in Nicaragua runs from June through November, and you could get hit with hurricanes anytime during that period, but most are from August through November.

I’m a big fan of traveling to Nicaragua during high season — December to March. Even though this is the most crowded and expensive time of year, Nicaragua never gets THAT crowded or THAT expensive. And the weather is absolutely perfect. But overall, you can have a great visit to San Juan del Sur year-round.

Palm trees in front of the Caribbean Sea in Little Corn IslandGo to Little Corn Island to experience Nicaragua’s Caribbean side!

Where Else to Go in Nicaragua

Should you limit your time to just San Juan del Sur? Not if you can help it! I adore Nicaragua — it’s my favorite country in Central America — and so many places in Nicaragua are stunning. I spent a full month there, but with a week you can see a cool place or two.

Here are some of my favorite spots in Nicaragua:

Ometepe. This mysterious volcano-topped island in a lake is a short journey from San Juan del Sur (too far to day trip, though. Learn more about what makes Ometepe wonderful here.

Granada. This picture-perfect colonial town is close to Managua, making it a good stop on the way to the airport. If you go, I loved spending a day at nearby Laguna de Apoyo.

Léon. Get a taste of the north with this wild, revolutionary city — not everyone’s taste, but definitely one for more experienced travelers and city lovers. Read more about Léon here.

Little Corn Island. This island in the Caribbean is one of my favorite islands on the planet — it’s tiny, low-key, friendly, and has the greatest vibe. Read more about Little Corn Island here.

View over San Juan del Sur

Travel Insurance for San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

One last note — it’s absolutely vital to have travel insurance before traveling to Nicaragua. If you get sick or injured on your trip, if you get robbed, or even if you have to be flown home for more care, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Nicaragua.

Travel insurance will help you in your hour of need if you have an accident while surfing; they will help you get medical care if you come down with appendicitis or trip on a patch of uneven sidewalk and break an ankle; and if your flights get canceled due to hurricanes, you can get accommodation and new flights paid for.

HOWEVER — double-check and make sure that they will actually cover Nicaragua. Some policies stopped covering Nicaragua when the civil unrest began in 2018. This is something that changes constantly so you’ll need to check before you buy.

As always, be sure to read your policy carefully and make sure it’s a fit for you. See what World Nomads covers here.

The beach at San Juan Del Sur

San Juan del Sur is waiting for you!

I absolutely loved my time in San Juan del Sur — and I hope it’s just as memorable a destination for you.

Go to San Juan Del Sur. Enjoy the tacos. Enjoy the hike to Jesus. Enjoy the HELL out of Sunday Funday. Go have the time of your life in Nicaragua — then come back and tell me all about it!

READ NEXT:

Solo Female Travel in Central America: Is it Safe?

What’s the most colorful city you’ve ever visited?

The post Why Travel to the Colorful City of San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua? appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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The Solo Woman’s Guide to House Sitting While Traveling

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Have you ever considered house sitting as a solo female traveler? If you enjoy traveling slowly, taking care of animals, and getting to know a destination like a local, house sitting might be a great choice for you. You can get free accommodation in exchange for taking care of homes and pets around the world.

But what’s house sitting like when you’re a woman traveling on her own? Is it still a good idea? Is it safe?

Look around and most of the posts you see about house sitting are written from the point of view of couples, for other couples. Perhaps because of this, some homeowners insist on taking house sitters who are a couple.

Does that mean that it’s not worth it for a solo female traveler to house sit? Not at all. Those couples-only listings are the minority. Ignore the listings asking for couples and you can find tons of wonderful, interesting house sits that will welcome a solo woman with warmth and gratitude!

I personally haven’t done any house sitting on my travels, so I called in an expert – April of The Unending Journey. April has done a lot of house sitting on her own, and she’s picked up a few furry friends along the way.

To be completely honest, after reading her post, now I want to house sit! April makes it sound awesome.

This branded content post is brought to you by TrustedHousesitters. Almost every house sitter I know uses TrustedHousesitters to find house sits around the world. April is one of them – TrustedHousesitters is the only platform she uses!

Table of Contents

House Sitting as a WomanHouse Sitting While Traveling  Pet Sitting While Traveling A Typical Day for a House Sitter How to Become a House Sitter TrustedHousesitters Why Pay to House Sit? Is it Hard for A Solo Woman to Become a House Sitter? Is House Sitting Safe? Do You Get Lonely While House Sitting Alone? How to Get Good House Sitting Jobs House Sitting Tips My Favorite House Sitting Experiences Is House Sitting for You? About the Author 

A white cottage with a porch and dark wooden front door in Key WestThis could be your temporary home while house-sitting!

House Sitting as a Woman

When my six months of backpacking around the world came to a close, I was heartbroken – I didn’t want it to end. Travel had seeped into the core of my being, but with dwindling funds, I was unsure how to continue. And that’s when a friend suggested I look into house sitting.

House sitting? Sure, I had heard of it, but it wasn’t something I had given much thought. Might as well take a look.

I started researching house sitting sites and soon I found TrustedHousesitters. I joined online and before I knew it, I had scored my first gig – free accommodation on the trendy Lower East Side of Manhattan in exchange for taking care of two adorable cats. 

Since joining, I’ve unlocked the door to a whole new way of traveling. I’m hooked on house sitting!

The New York skyline as seen from Hell's Kitchen, the buildings brown and silver underneath a blue and pink sunset.House sitting can make an extended stay in Manhattan affordable!

House Sitting While Traveling  

First off, what is house sitting and what does it involve?

House sitting is taking care of someone else’s home in exchange for free accommodation. It involves spending each night at the house and maintaining its upkeep, which often includes watering plants, taking out the trash, doing dishes, and keeping the place tidy. In most cases, you’re also taking care of the owner’s pets – most often dogs or cats.

So what’s it like? After a long day of exploring my new destination, I walk through the door of my house sitting job. I’m home, with a nice comfortable chair to relax into. Maybe I’ll make a cup of tea. Or stretch out on the sofa while catching up on the news.

Later, I sink into a bed that’s only been used by one or two people, not hundreds or thousands like in a hotel. In the morning, I fix breakfast in the kitchen while eating at the dining room table. 

Isn’t that how you wish traveling was like? All the comforts of home while being somewhere else in the world? Well, that’s how it feels when house sitting while traveling! You get to feel at home while taking care of someone else’s home.

For the most part, the homeowners are also travelers. They are eager for travelers to stay at their home and get to know the area where they live. Some owners will even give preference to people who have not been to that destination before. 

Two long-haired cats, a gray one in front and a black one in black, sitting on a striped blanket.How would you like to pet sit while traveling?

Pet Sitting While Traveling 

Most house sits involve pet sitting. When pet sitting, you need to remember that this is an important job, and taking care of the homeowner’s beloved pets always takes first priority.

For that reason, days are not entirely at your disposal — you must plan your sightseeing around the pets and their routines. It’s not a vacation, even though you get to explore new destinations.

This may mean starting your day with an early walk for the dogs, or grabbing an early dinner so you can come back to give the cats their dinner.

While cats and dogs are the most common animals in house sits, sometimes you could get smaller animals like guinea pigs or rabbits, backyard chickens (and their eggs!), or if you’re in a rural environment, even sheep or horses!

If the pets are particularly low-maintenance, some pet owners may allow you to go away for the night within a short distance to explore more of the region. But you must always clarify this with the pet owners in advance. 

No matter how your travels go, you will walk away from house sitting with at least one friend. A four-legged one, but still a good friend! And it’s a wonderful feeling to have someone there to welcome you home at the end of the day.

Sometimes when traveling, I deeply miss being around animals. But pet sitting helps scratch that itch.

A small brown dog on a leash on the beach in Koh Lanta, Thailand.A typical day while house sitting starts with walking the dog.

A Typical Day for a House Sitter 

A typical day for a house sitter depends on the kind of house and type of pets you are looking after. 

When caring for cats, my mornings start with serving breakfast followed by playtime and scooping the litter. For dogs, my mornings generally start with a walk. 

During the day, I get to explore my destination, get work done, or just kick back and relax. Some pets have special needs requiring you to be home at midday for a walk, medicine, or feeding. 

Evenings are for more walks or meals with the pets, then cuddle time – my favorite part of the day!

Throughout the day, I take care of the house. Usually it’s nothing major. My day typically involves tidying up, bringing in mail, watering plants, taking out garbage.

If you have a longer house-sit, you might have more in-depth tasks, like moving a car each day due to street parking rules, or gardening and yard work. If you house sit in the winter, you may need to shovel, clear the walkways, or turn the pipes on to keep them from freezing. 

At some point in the day, I send a text or email to the homeowners. A photo plus a fun story of the day helps the pet owners feel more at ease while away — I sometimes send these via the TrustedHousesitters app. It also shows them that you’ve bonded with their pet.

As a former cat mom, I loved receiving photos and updates when I was away. Remember, their pets are not just pets — they’re family.

A black cat peeking out of the hole of a blue play cube.“You can become a house sitter in just 15 minutes?!”

How to Become a House Sitter 

To become a house sitter, first make sure you have some sort of experience taking care of other people’s pets and/or homes. It doesn’t have to be professional. If you’ve ever watched a house or pets for a friend or relative, that’s perfect! Use it.

If you don’t have experience, start asking around so you have an experience to reference when creating your profile.

Once you have experience, you can easily create your profile on TrustedHousesitters. Your profile consists of a photo, a blurb about yourself, why you want to house sit, and what your experience is. This is where you want to be personable. Let your personality shine through. Be genuine and honest. 

Then, as you are new on the site, send out requests to friends and family for either reviews on past house sits or a character testimonial. Finally, to raise the status of your profile, you need to complete two easy verification steps: first to verify contact information, next to verify your identity. 

Once your profile is completed, that’s it! You can immediately start applying for house sits anywhere in the world. You can become a house sitter in just 15 minutes!

A deep blue cottage perched on the edge of the bay in Trinity, NewfoundlandImagine house sitting in a seaside cottage like this.

TrustedHousesitters 

Why TrustedHousesitters? That’s easy. It’s the only house sitting platform I use to find house and pet sits. They have an extensive collection of house sits around the world, and I appreciate the verification steps they take.

I find that the community on TrustedHousesitters is so warm and supportive. The homeowners on TrustedHousesitters are so helpful to the people who take care of their pets. They understand that everyone who has joined is some form of traveler.

I’ve experienced some house sits where the owners will provide accommodation the night before and/or after a sit to help accommodate the next stage of travel. It really is a community, first and foremost. 

TrustedHousesitters was created with the idea to help pet lovers and travelers help each other. Care for pets in exchange for accommodation. Get to know a new part of the world while making furry friends. It’s a win-win!

Pet owners save the expense of boarding their pets or paying a sitter to come over daily. Instead, they have someone providing their pets with care and attention in the comfort of the pet’s home.

And, as if that wasn’t enough, TrustedHousesitters is the largest pet and house sitting platform out there. If you’re house sitting as a woman, it offers a secure and safe way for travelers to interact with pet owners without giving personal information. No personal details are given out until deep into discussions for a house sit.

Even better, if traveling is your passion, house sits are available in 130 countries! That’s a whole lot of traveling opportunities. Imagine the cultures you can immerse yourself into, and all those wonderfully cuddly creatures. And you get all of that for a yearly annual membership fee. 

Beautiful brownstones in Newark, New Jersey.Brownstones in Newark, New Jersey — another great house sit for April.

Why Pay to House Sit? 

Honestly, I was a bit hesitant about paying a fee to join a housesitting organization. But soon I realized that it made sense. TrustedHousesitters provides a platform for homeowners to safely vet prospective house sitters, and vice versa.

Not only have they verified that every member is who they say they are, but they also provide a safe and effective way for homeowners to communicate with house sitters. No personal information is shared at first, so both parties are protected.

The annual fee for TrustedHousesitters is $130. Though it may seem like a lot at first, consider what accommodation in a major tourist city would cost per night.

One of my house sits was for two weeks in Newark, New Jersey, a 20-minute train ride from midtown Manhattan. Where else could you find lodging for two weeks that close to New York for just $130? You can’t even find a hotel for $130 per NIGHT that close to New York!

The annual fee just paid for itself. Even if you only want to house sit occasionally, the annual plan fee is excellent value.

Do know that there may be added costs involved in some sits. On longer house sits (3+ weeks), some homeowners may ask you to contribute to the cost of utilities. This is generally stated up front in the listing, so there are no surprises mid-sit. It’s up to you to decide if you are okay with paying extra. If not, then don’t apply. Just know to keep an eye out for this.

A long-haired gray cat turning sideways and striking a post like a model.How gorgeous is this Lower East Side cat?

Is it Hard for A Solo Woman to Become a House Sitter? 

House sitting as a solo female traveler can have its drawbacks, because some homeowners are insistent on couples only, for whatever reason. However, I’ve never found any difficulty in securing house sits as a woman on her own. Sometimes I think it’s actually to my advantage.

My top tip? Look for homeowners who are solo women. Several of my house sits have been caring after pets of other single women. Since we have that in common, it’s easier for each of us to relate to each other and support each other. 

I don’t bother with the listings requesting couples only as there are so many other opportunities at any given time on TrustedHousesitters. New opportunities open up every day. In my experience, there is nothing to hold you back when you house sit as a solo woman traveler. 

A tabby cat staring intently from underneath a table.Pets may be shy at first, but they’ll get to know you.

Is House Sitting Safe? 

Some women looking to house sit solo wonder how safe it is to house sit alone. Is house sitting safe? I say yes, it’s just as safe as staying in your hometown!

When house sitting, you have a house – or apartment, or condo, or even a farm – all to yourself. If you’re a budget-conscious traveler, that’s a big difference from sharing accommodation with others at hostels. You don’t have to worry about locking up your luggage or loud roommates snoring all night.

Additionally, some house sits are located in gated communities or doorman buildings, providing you with an additional layer of safety. Plus, there’s an adorable pet to greet you at the end of the day!

That being said, it’s up to you to do your research on a destination before accepting a house sit. What part of the city do they live in? Is it convenient to public transport? Are there friends of the homeowner nearby who can help you out in case of emergency? You can do this research on your own, or just ask the homeowners during the interview process. 

In most cases, homeowners like to speak to you before they make a decision on who will house sit. Not only are they putting their home in your hands, but they are entrusting you with their beloved pets, who are members of their family. 

A phone call or video chat helps pet owners get a sense of your personality. Do they think that you’re responsible and that you would bond with their pets? The chats are often informal, less like an interview than you’d think. If you’re close by, sometimes they prefer an in-person meet and greet instead.

These conversations are just as beneficial for you. It’s a great way for you to get a feel for the home, the pets, the neighborhood, and an opportunity to ask the homeowners all the questions you have.

I find that the more questions you ask, the more homeowners appreciate you. It means you have thought things through and are serious about taking good care of their home and pets. 

A black cat lying on a white blanket, a bit of mischief in his eyes.How could you get lonely when you have this friend to keep you company?

Do You Get Lonely While House Sitting Alone? 

I have never once felt lonely when house sitting by myself. The pets are there, and they are the best company. Just as much as you are there to provide them companionship, they return the favor in spades. 

Cats are my personal preference for house sitting. Once you gain their trust, they are around you all the time. They either want playtime or just a lap to curl up on. At night, when they snuggle in bed, it’s the sweetest thing! That sure beats sitting in a hotel room by yourself. 

White brick houses in Savannah, Georgia, with a twisting oak tree in front.I’d jump at the chance to house sit in Savannah!

How to Get Good House Sitting Jobs 

Getting a good house sitting gig involves work, diligence, and sometimes a little bit of luck. That being said, how would you define a good house sitting gig for you personally? Is it the location, the type and number of pets, the duration of the sit, or all of the above? Everyone is different!

The main key to landing a good house-sitting job is to apply early! If you’re looking to house sit at a popular travel destination, you’ll need to apply to a house sit as soon as it posts. Ideally, you should apply the same day the posting goes live.

Applying to a potential house sit that already has more than 20 applicants is pretty much a waste of time. In my experience, I’ve found that most homeowners go with someone who was one of the first to apply.

One nice thing about TrustedHousesitters is that each listing states the number of applicants a sit has received. With that, you can check the site multiple times a day, wait for the daily email sharing new opportunities, or you can save yourself some of the work with TrustedHousesitters app.

I love using the TrustedHousesitters app. You can create saved searches based on location, duration, and type of pet, so when a listing comes up that meets your criteria, you’ll get notified right away. This increases your chances of securing that perfect house sit. 

But the easiest way to get a house sit is to be flexible with the location and duration of a house sit, especially if you want to travel full-time house sitting by yourself. Maybe you have your heart set on house sitting in Amsterdam, but there are charming cities all over the Netherlands with canals and stroopwafels.

Another easy way to book sittings is to look for house-sits in the off-season. Everyone wants to find a house sit on the beach in summer, but how about house sitting in Southeast Asia during the rainy season? Or Michigan in the winter?

Being flexible opens up your options and allows you to apply to more house sits. You never know what fun new place you’ll discover. It’s all part of the adventure!

A black cat sitting on the arm of a couch, his arms on each side.Be sure to send a cute photo of the pet every day!

House Sitting Tips 

To become a house sitter and rack up glowing reviews, there are some small things you should do for every house sit:

1.     Send a daily update of the pets to the homeowner, even if they say you don’t need to. Though it doesn’t need to be daily, it shows that you care about the pets and it makes the homeowner feel so much better about being away.

2.     Clean up. Not only after the pets, but the house, too. I always leave the house the way I found it. Yes, that means doing cleaning at the end of the house sit – but no one likes to come home to a messy home. And if the house is messy, how well did you take care of their pets?

3.     Don’t use up supplies. Though many homeowners say to make yourself at home and use whatever is available, I always replace what I use, whether it’s butter or toilet paper. I always purchase my own food to prepare. A homeowner’s kitchen is not my private pantry.  

4.     Before applying for a potential house sit, make sure you’ve looked into transportation options. Some house sits are in rural areas and public transport may not be available. You need to ensure that you can get there so you’re not wasting anyone’s time. If you mention how you would get to the house sit in your introduction message, it can help to give you preference over other candidates. 

5.     If you work remotely, don’t be afraid to ask what speed and type of internet is available in the house. When traveling, I know I’ve encountered some slow wifi connections in hotels that made doing my work nearly impossible. So far, I haven’t had that issue while house sitting, but it’s always something to keep in mind. 

Colorful Victorian homes in Providence, Rhode IslandApril’s favorite house sitting discovery: Providence, Rhode Island!

My Favorite House Sitting Experiences 

My first official house sit on TrustedHousesitters was on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, taking care of two of the sweetest cats. On day three of my two-week sit, I awoke to find one of the cats sitting on top of my head! What a laugh I had! 

It showed me that I was providing the cats with such a comfortable environment that they had no reason not to do their normal routine. It was like the boss saying, “Nice work!”

But one of my overall favorites took place in Providence, Rhode Island. Admittedly, I had never given much thought to Rhode Island. But the house sit was available with hardly any applicants, so I applied and I got it.

The apartment was a dream for me, located on the second floor of a house built in the early 1900s. Character oozed out of every corner. The entire neighborhood was that way. Quiet streets were lined with colorful houses built in the late 1800s. Walking around the neighborhood every day felt like traveling back in time.

The two cats were absolute sweethearts, though I did have to work to earn the trust of one of them. I was told she was very timid with strangers and that she may not come out at all during the entire stay. Imagine my delight when on the third morning, there she was, no longer hiding! 

This sit allowed me to explore Providence. I fell in love with the city – its history, its architectural gems, its quirky shops…and that’s what I love about house sitting. If you’re open to anywhere, who knows what gems you’ll find!

A woman in a blue dress walking a whippet dressed as a handmaid in a red cape and white bonnet at a Halloween Dog Parade.If you love dogs THIS much, house sitting might be for you!

Is House Sitting for You? 

Before applying to become a house sitter, ask yourself what type of traveler you are. Do you travel for the party scene? Do you prefer the social atmosphere of a hostel? Do you like to get away from responsibilities on your travels? If so, house sitting probably isn’t for you. 

But if you’re the type of traveler who enjoys getting to know daily life in a location, who likes to get away from the regular tourist areas, and who is open to letting the day be whatever it may, then house sitting could definitely be for you. 

Finally, if you’ve thought about traveling by yourself but have never given it a try, house sitting as a solo female traveler is a secure, fun way to start your solo travel adventures. When you have a pet or two to keep you company, you’ll never feel alone. 

Ready to house sit?

Get started with TrustedHousesitters here.

About the Author 

April is a solo traveler with her own travel blog, The Unending Journey. She started traveling at 19 and was instantly hooked. Another passion of hers is hiking, and you will often find her on the trails while exploring new places.

Using pet sitting as a way to travel, she now has half of the year planned with pet sits already agreed to including in the U.S., Canada, and the UK. She enjoys sharing her travels with the pets she looks after. 

Have you done house sitting as a woman? Share away!

The post The Solo Woman’s Guide to House Sitting While Traveling appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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Solo Female Travel in Belize — Is Belize Safe?

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I love Belize — and I love traveling alone in Belize. This tiny country borders Mexico and Guatemala, but it hardly resembles either Latin nation. Belize is all about Caribbean culture instead — languid island vibes, reggae-influenced dance beats, spicy chicken stews, and some of the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen in your life.

Belize is like candy — a sweet and forbidden indulgence. If you’re looking to travel solo in Belize, you’re going to have a wonderful trip.

Truthfully, Belize was never high on my list of places to visit. I had heard nice things about the country, but it seemed more like a means to an end — a pricier stopover en route from Guatemala to Mexico. While backpacking in Central America, I met several travelers who opted to speed through Belize or skip it altogether to spend time in cheaper countries.

But then I got to Belize — and WOW, was I ever wrong. I loved the country so much more than I expected. People were skipping this?! Sure, Belize was more expensive than Guatemala or Nicaragua, similar to Costa Rica prices, but it had the goods to back it up — it was wild and gorgeous with so many cool adventure activities. I snorkeled with tropical fish, explored sparkling caves, and left Belize with tons of new friends!

Belize can be a great destination for solo female travelers — particularly solo travelers who are street smart or already have a decent amount of travel experience. I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about traveling Belize on your own. Let’s dive in.

This is a Solo Female Destination Guide.

Want more? We have guides to Costa Rica, Mexico, Central America, and more!

Table of Contents

Why Travel Solo to Belize?Is Belize Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?Belize Tours for Solo TravelersIs Belize Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?Is Belize Safe?Where to Go in BelizeBest Things to Do in Belize on a Solo TripBelize Travel and Safety TipsHow to Get Around Belize SoloHow to Get to BelizeGetting Around Belize by AirGetting Around Belize by BoatGetting Around Belize by BusGetting Around Belize by BikeHiring a Private Driver in BelizeRenting a Car in BelizeBest Time to Visit BelizeHow to Meet People in BelizeWhat to Pack for a Belize TripTravel Insurance for BelizeBelize is Waiting for You!

Feet in a green and yellow hammock with a boat on the beach in the background

Why Travel Solo to Belize?

Most people travel to Belize to enjoy a bit of warmth during North America’s winter months. But Belize is so much more than a beach to lie on for a week. What makes Belize an exceptional travel destination?

Outstanding diving and snorkeling. The Belize Barrier Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of the world’s most important coral reefs. You can become a certified diver here, or if you’re experienced, dive the Blue Hole. And if you’re not a diver, you can snorkel with sharks, turtles, and lots of tropical fish.

Chilled out island life. If you want to be somewhere life moves oh so slowly, consider Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye. Here the days softly blend into each other and your biggest decision is whether or not to have another coconut.

Adventure activities. Head inland in Belize and it’s all about climbing ruins, river tubing, and swimming through caves — and the sparkling, human sacrifice-filled ATM Caves are one of the most original and unusual activities I’ve seen around the world.

A lot of cultural variety in a very small country. At about 8,800 square miles (23,000 square km), Belize is a small country, and you can get from one end to the other within a few hours. But within this country you’ve got so many cultures — Caribbeans, Latinos, indigenous Garifuna and Maya people, Chinese, all kinds of mestizos (mixed folks), even Mennonites!

A mysterious and unusual destination. Everyone has an image of Mexico in their mind. Everyone has an idea of Jamaica in their mind. But Belize? It has a lot more mystery. When you get home, everyone is going to be asking you what it’s like. And you’ll have a lot of stories to tell!

Kate rides a bike down a sandy road in Caye Caulker, Belize.

Is Belize Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

It depends — I think Belize is good for some but not all first-time solo female travelers. If you already have a good amount of travel experience and have just never traveled solo, or if you have lived in a big city, you may have a better time in Belize.

Why is this? Because the street harassment is significant, especially on the islands and beaches. It’s hard to go anywhere alone on Caye Caulker without the men yelling stuff at you. It happens day and night, whether they’re on their own or with others, and it can make you feel threatened.

If you’ve only lived in a small town and haven’t traveled internationally before, even with other people, I wouldn’t recommend Belize for a first-time solo trip. You might have an easier time somewhere like Costa Rica, Scotland, or even Thailand.

Belize Tours for Solo Travelers

If you’re not quite sure if you’re ready to travel completely solo, another option is joining a group tour! G Adventures is a company with whom I’ve traveled before and I recommend. Their tours are very solo-friendly, they keep their groups small, they’re sustainability-minded, and they have several tour options in Belize. Most include some time in Guatemala or Mexico in addition to Belize.

Here are some of them:

Mayan Encounter (12 Days, Antigua, Guatemala to Playa del Carmen, Mexico) — This trip includes time in San Ignacio and Caye Caulker in addition to time in Guatemala and Mexico.Classic Belize and Tikal (9 Days, Belize City to Caye Caulker) — This trip includes time in San Ignacio and Caye Caulker in addition to a jaunt into Guatemala to see Tikal and Flores.Explore Belize (9 Days, Belize City to Caye Caulker) — A National Geographic-branded journey throughout the country with additional cultural inclusions like a visit to a baboon sanctuary and the ATM caves.Mayan Discovery (15 days from Playa del Carmen, Mexico) — This trip includes San Ignacio and Caye Caulker plus lots of Mayan sites in Guatemala and Mexico like Tikal, Palenque, and Chichén Itza (plus my beloved city of Mérida).See all their Belize tours here.

Kate floats in a cave in Belize

Is Belize Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Hell yes — if you’re an experienced solo traveler, Belize is a great choice. When I visited Belize for the first time, I had been to more than 50 countries. And I found Belize to be such a breath of fresh air, so unlike how I thought it was going to be. It’s a beautiful hybrid of Latin America and the Caribbean, so many different cultures living in one place, with amazing people.

Belize also has one experience that you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world: the ATM Caves. It is the single best thing I did in Belize and an experience that will blow away any jaded traveler.

I always encourage experienced solo female travelers to get off the beaten path a bit. In Belize, check out Hopkins, an up-and-coming beach town with a Garifuna community. You might enjoy the tiny island of Tobacco Caye.

Is Belize Safe?

Generally speaking, Belize is a very safe country to travel, even for a woman traveling alone. It’s no more dangerous than the surrounding countries, most of the crimes take place in parts of Belize City where tourists don’t go, and if you stay focused and use common sense, chances are you’ll have a perfectly safe trip to Belize.

While Belize is generally a safe country, though, Belize doesn’t always feel safe to women. The street harassment here can be vile and incessant, particularly on the islands. If you’re used to hearing street harassment on a regular basis, you’ll be accustomed to this; if you’re new to it, it may be jarring or even frightening.

I found that on the islands of Belize, many of the local men will hit on women nonstop — especially if she’s on her own. This usually starts out lighthearted but promptly escalates into increasingly sexual comments.

It’s hard to know how to deal with harassment when it happens, especially since the men in Belize often start out saying innocuous things with a big smile on their face before launching into the gross stuff. It’s particularly a tough dance in Belize, where the people are generally so friendly. I’ll respond to “Hi beautiful!” comments and the like, but the moment they go from friendly to sexual, I ignore them and walk away.

Other than street harassment, the other major safety issue in Belize is watching your drinking. It’s very easy to drink more than what you’re used to here. A lot of people camp out on the Split with beer buckets and spend the whole day drinking; many of the snorkeling and diving tours end with rum punch, which can quickly turn into several glasses, and the juice often masks the alcohol, leading you to believe you’re not getting that drunk.

When you’re traveling solo, it’s smart to keep your drinking to less than usual. I find that two drinks is a good amount. Keep asking yourself, “Do I want to have less control than I do now?” and make your decisions accordingly

One thing I noticed about Belize is that tour operators tend to be stricter here than in nearby countries, like Guatemala. Just days before I got to Belize, I was on a cave tour in Guatemala where people were jumping off high platforms in caves and squeezing through tight crevices with waterfalls, no helmets or life vests. In Belize, they’ll make you wear a helmet and life vest when you need it.

Don’t judge Belize’s safety based on crime rates in Belize City; Belize City is not reflective of Belize as a whole. Most tourists only pass through Belize City while in transit — like from the airport or bus station to the ferry terminal — and it’s perfectly safe to do so. As always, keep a close eye on your belongings while in transit in Belize City.

So is Belize safe? No destination is ever 100% safe, but in Belize, you are usually as safe as you would be in your hometown. The vast majority of travel safety in Belize comes down to common sense. Keep an eye on your belongings, do research in advance, watch your drinking, keep in touch with someone at home.

Read More:

Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women

Where to Go in Belize

If you want to maximize your time in Belize, I recommend you mix some island and/or beach time with some jungle time. Luckily, Belize does these two aspects very well. Here are some of the best places in the country to base:

Caye Caulker. This small island is popular with backpackers and budget travelers. You have easy access to all the diving and snorkeling activities, and this may be one of the most laid-back islands on the planet. Spend your days lazing about in a hammock or on the Split — this is a good place to go slow.

Ambergris Caye. Belize’s largest and most visited island is more high-end than Caye Caulker. San Pedro is a small, low-key city filled with bars and restaurants. You’ll find more resorts here, and easy access to water activities. San Pedro also has a large community of people who came to Belize on vacation and decided to move there!

Placencia. This town in southern Belize is home to one of the nicest stretches of beach in the country. Placencia is becoming the new luxury hotspot in Belize, though there are plenty of budget spots here. Come here for the beach, snorkeling the reef, and splashing out on high-end dining or hotels.

Hopkins. If you’re looking for an offbeat beach town, Hopkins is a great spot on the mainland. Hopkins is also home to an indigenous Garifuna community and is one of the best places in the country to experience Garifuna culture.

San Ignacio. This town in the Cayo district of Belize, close to the Guatemalan border, is the center for inland adventures and eco-tourism. The town isn’t very exciting, but you come here for the day trips: here you can explore the jungle, climb Mayan ruins, swim in caves, go tubing, and enjoy the peace of the wilderness.

Feel free to skip Belize City and Belmopan. Belize’s two main cities don’t have much tourist value, and you’re better off spending your time elsewhere.

Finally, Guatemala is an easy side trip. If you’re basing in San Ignacio, you can head over the border to see the Tikal ruins and the town of Flores. It can be done in a very packed day trip, but I recommend overnighting in Flores if you have the time.

Tents on the beach, camping in Belize

Best Things to Do in Belize on a Solo Trip

Spend three days sailing down the Belize coast with Raggamuffin Tours. This was one of the most insanely fun trips I’ve ever done. I was comped on my trip, and I’ve sent well over a dozen readers on the same trip since. You spend the days sailing and snorkeling the Belize Barrier Reef and you spend your nights camping on the beach.

Explore the Aktun Tunichil Muknal caves. The ATM caves, located in the west of the country near San Ignacio, are one of the most unique activities you can do in Central America — if not the world. You swim into an enormous cave where the rock formations sparkle with crystals. After you explore the cave, you come upon the sparkling bone remains of human sacrifices — shimmering skeletons. Absolutely no cameras are allowed, which is why I don’t have photos to share, but trust me, it’s unreal.

See the Mayan ruins. You don’t have to go to Guatemala or Mexico to experience Mayan ruins — Belize has excellent ruins of its own. One of the best sets of Mayan ruins to see is Xunantonich, which you can do as a day trip from San Ignacio. Other spots are Caracol, Altun Ha, Lamanai, and Cerro Maya.

Learn to scuba dive — or go on the dives of your life. If you’ve never scuba dived before, Belize is a great place to learn. There are scuba schools throughout the coast and islands, but the greatest selection is in Ambergris Caye. (Don’t cheap out on scuba school — this is one place where you should pay for quality.) Belize is full of outstanding dive sites, including the Blue Hole for advanced divers.

Go swimming with sharks. If you want to swim with sharks, Belize is a great place to do so. Many tours take you swimming with nurse sharks, a benign species. (The tuna were much scarier than the sharks.) You can also swim with whale sharks, but only while they’re passing by Belize, roughly from March through June.

Snorkel with all kinds of fish. If you’re not a diver, fear not — Belize is full of snorkeling options. You’ve got the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Belize Barrier Reef and all its interesting spots, including the Hol Chan Marine Reserve. Swim with the fish, avoid touching the coral, and you might even spot a turtle!

Get professional photographs taken in Belize. Professional photos of me on my travels are my absolute favorite souvenirs! Whether for Instagram or a professional portfolio, they are priceless. Flytographer offers packages with professional portrait photographers around the world, and in Belize they operate in Placencia.

Go river tubing in caves. One popular day trip from San Ignacio is going river tubing in the caves. Some stretches of tube-able river are seven miles long! The river is gentle here; don’t expect wild rapids.

See the wildlife. Belize is full of places to see wildlife, like the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, where they’re actively trying to grow the jaguar population, and you can spot large cats, armadillos, anteaters, and all kinds of birds.

Spend a day hanging out on the Split. Belize is a place that encourages you to be lazy (well, in between all the adventure activities) — and the best place to veg out is on the Split, where the two islands of Caye Caulker break apart, and which is home to a bar perched on bright turquoise water.

Get into Lobsterfest. Lobster season in Belize kicks off in mid-June and with it, Lobsterfest takes over the country. San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Placencia, and Belize City each have their own celebrations with concerts, beach parties, even beauty pageants, all accompanied by lots and lots of lobster.

Kate stands in a sarong on a boat on top of turquoise water.

Belize Travel and Safety Tips

“Caye” is pronounced “Key” in Belize. It takes a bit of getting used to!

Just because it’s an island, it doesn’t mean it has beaches. Many of Belize’s islands don’t have beaches, and Caye Caulker is more or less beachless. Ambergris Caye has some beaches, but if you want a really nice stretch of beach, head somewhere on the mainland like Placencia or Hopkins.

Not all dive sites are equal in Belize — especially the Blue Hole. The Blue Hole is the most famous diving site in Belize, but this site should only be attempted by advanced divers. I have multiple friends who attempted the Blue Hole as experienced divers but not quite advanced, and they struggled. If this is you, don’t worry — there are plenty of great dive sites in Belize that aren’t the Blue Hole.

Don’t use regular sunscreen in Belize — only reef safe sunscreen. Regular sunscreen can damage the reefs’ delicate ecosystems.

English is the language spoken in Belize. This is the remnant of Britain’s colonization, and Belize used to be called “British Honduras.” You won’t have issues with a language barrier. Indigenous and Creole languages are spoken in Belize as well. Spanish is spoken close to the Guatemala and Mexico borders.

See a travel doctor before your trip and be prepared on what to do if you get sick. On the Central America tours that I led in 2015, I was shocked that roughly half of my attendees got sick. Your doctor may advise you to take antibiotics that are easily available at pharmacies throughout Belize. As I am not a medical professional, you should ask your doctor what you should do.

Belize requires a yellow fever vaccination if you’ve traveled to a country with yellow fever is present. You can see the full list of countries here. Budget for this, as there it’s pricey and there is a vaccine shortage. I paid around $200 in the US and you can’t get it cheaper anywhere; the price is set. Get it for cheap while abroad if you can. If not, get it when you see the travel doctor.

Whether you’re actually checked for your yellow fever vaccination in Belize is unlikely, but it’s better to have it just in case.

Belize has malaria in some regions: There is no risk in Belize City and the islands, but malaria has been documented in districts of Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo. San Ignacio is in Cayo district. Some travelers choose to take malaria prophylactics; others do not. Again, that’s a conversation for you and your travel doctor. You may decide to take pills; you may decide not to. Either way, wear mosquito repellant and cover up, especially in the affected regions.

The zika virus has been documented in Belize. Read more on this from the CDC. Zika should be a concern of pregnant women, partners of pregnant women, and women who intend to become pregnant soon, but if you’re none of those things, you don’t need to worry. Once more, this is a conversation to have with your travel doctor.

Is the water safe to drink in Belize? In some areas. The water is safe to drink in urban parts of Belize, but it’s not safe to drink in all of the country, particularly rural areas. While most travelers rely on bottled water, it creates a major waste problem.

For this reason, I recommend you bring a LifeStraw, a bottle that purifies water as you drink it through its straw. Alternatively, you can bring a reusable bottle and invest in a SteriPen water purifier (much better and faster than tablets).

Haggling is the way to purchase at markets in Belize. Never accept the first price — people are expecting you to lowball them. Have fun with it, but don’t get so caught up in it that you’re arguing for five minutes over the value of 25 cents with someone who makes far less money than you.

Keep your valuables locked up in your accommodation and only take with you what you need that day. I do this with my Pacsafe Travelsafe and I consider it the most important thing I pack. Keep an extra debit card and at least $100 hidden in obscure parts of your luggage.

Get an extra debit card. You should have two debit cards to two different bank accounts. If you only have one, I recommend you get a debit card from Transferwise. Keep a few hundred dollars in your account, hide the card deep in your luggage, and use it if your primary debit card is stolen.

Never leave your bags anywhere unattended. Take your belongings with you.

Don’t flash your valuables or wear expensive jewelry. There’s no need for fancy jewelry or purses in Belize. I wouldn’t wear an Apple Watch in Belize City or on public transportation.

If you carry a purse, hold it close to you. I recommend a crossbody purse, made out of a tough material like leather or fake leather, that zips shut. I recommend many purses in this post. Never let it hang behind you — always keep it in a place where you can see it, and keep your hand on it if you’re in a crowd.

If you carry a wallet without a purse, don’t keep it in your back pocket. This is obvious to thieves. They will grab it and run.

Be careful about your drinking. Drink less than you ordinarily would at home — two drinks is a good limit. Only take drinks from bartenders, never take a drink from a stranger, and always keep it with you and keep an eye on it. Be especially cautious in party spots like Caye Caulker, but drink spiking can happen anywhere.

Do not take drugs, even if you’re a party drug enthusiast. Drugs in Belize can be cut with poisonous substances that can often lead to your death, and if you’re caught by the police, you’ll be in life-changing trouble.

Spend extra money on staying safe. If it costs you money to take a taxi rather than walk, or to stay in a guesthouse in a well-lit, central area, do it. It’s worth the peace of mind. Don’t pinch pennies on your safety.

Bring a digital Belize guidebook. I always bring PDFs of Lonely Planet guidebooks — they have critical information, like details on transportation and the locations of medical centers, and a digital version adds no weight to your bag. You can buy the book or individual chapters, and I keep my PDFs in the Books app on my iPhone.

I recommend Lonely Planet Belize if you’re just visiting Belize or Lonely Planet Central America if you’re visiting multiple countries in Central America.

How to Get Around Belize Solo

Belize may be a tiny country where you can go from end to end within a few hours, but there are lots of ways to get around the country — by land, air, and sea.

How to Get to Belize

If you’re flying into Belize, you’ll land at Belize International Airport in Belize City. If you’re looking for cheap flights to Belize, I recommend using Skyscanner.

If you’re traveling overland into Belize, the most common routes by bus are from Chetumal, Mexico, to Belize City; and from Flores, Guatemala, to San Ignacio. You can also take a ferry on Belize Water Taxi from Chetumal to San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

Getting Around Belize by Air

Being such a small country, it’s not necessary to fly around Belize, but if you’re on limited time and don’t mind spending the money, it may be a worthwhile option for you. Especially if you hate ferries (and as someone who survived a shipwreck in Indonesia and was nervous on boats for years after, I get it).

There are two airlines providing domestic flights in Belize: Tropic Air and Maya Island Air. Both fly to Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, and various points around the country. Flights to the islands take only 15 minutes. I recommend using Skyscanner to compare both prices of airlines simultaneously.

And if you’re REALLY a baller, you can hire a private helicopter to the islands for $1,400 for up to four people!

Getting Around Belize by Boat

If you’re visiting Belize’s islands, you’ll probably travel by boat. Ocean Ferry Belize and Belize Water Taxi run ferries from Belize City to Caye Caulker (45 minutes) and San Pedro on Ambergris Caye (90 minutes), and between Caye Caulker and San Pedro (30 minutes). Belize Water Taxi also offers direct ferries from Chetumal, Mexico, to San Pedro (90 minutes).

Some smaller islands run small boats from the nearest point on the mainland. For example, the boat to Tobacco Caye leaves from Dangriga at 9:00 AM each day, but other boats leave as soon as they have 4-6 passengers (or people willing to pay extra).

There is also the three-day sailing trip from Caye Caulker to Placencia with Raggamuffin Tours. While this is more of a snorkeling and camping trip than transportation, it was a fantastic way to travel down the coast!

Getting Around Belize by Bus

On the mainland, I recommend getting around Belize by bus. Buses run fairly frequently between the major tourist destinations, and most of the buses route through Belmopan, the capital. You can see bus schedules here.

Buses are cheap in Belize, but don’t expect air-conditioned luxury buses — chances are you’ll have a repurposed school bus with all the windows open for ventilation. Keep in mind that holidays often have different bus schedules; it’s good to verify with your accommodation or a travel agency in town.

Getting Around Belize by Bike

Renting a bike is a fun way to get around the islands and beaches in Belize. You can find bike rental shops all over the place. Even though islands feel safe, be sure to get a bike lock and use it.

Hiring a Private Driver in Belize

You can hire a private driver to take you from place to place in Belize, which is the most expensive way of getting around the country. This gives you the ultimate privacy, flexibility, and comfort, plus the drivers might know some cool places to stop along the route.

I don’t recommend hiring a driver for the full duration of your time in Belize, but it can be nice to do for one or two long legs of your trip, like from Belize International Airport to Placencia.

Renting a Car in Belize

Should you rent a car in Belize? I don’t think it’s necessary with the coverage the buses give you, but you can if you want to. I recommend scheduling your trip so it doesn’t end up sitting parked for days when you’re in the islands — for example, traveling from Belize City to San Ignacio to Placencia and back to Belize City, then returning the car and getting a ferry to the islands.

You could also use a rental car to drive into Guatemala, and I recommend checking with your car rental agency to see whether crossing borders would be an additional cost.

If you’re looking for a cheap car rental in Belize, I recommend using RentalCars.com.

Palm trees on the beach in Belize with a sailboat in the background

Best Time to Visit Belize

The best time to visit Belize is between early December and April — this is considered high season in Belize. The weather is warm and mostly clear. As a consequence, this is when most North American tourists visit, trying to escape the winter, and this is when Belize is at its most crowded and expensive.

For the absolute best weather, try to time your visit from mid-February to mid-April.

Low season in Belize runs from June through November. May and June are the hottest months of the year and July starts the rainy season, lasting through November. This can still be a fun time to visit Belize, and most travel companies operate year-round.

Hurricane season in Belize officially runs from June through November, but hurricanes tend to hit Belize between August and October.

Event-wise, lobster season begins on June 15, and this kicks off Lobsterfest along the islands and beaches — two weeks of celebrations around lobster!

September 21 is Belize’s Independence Day and the Belizeans go all out with celebrations — not just on the 21st but all month long.

Overall, you can have a great trip to Belize at any time of year, but you’ll have the best luck if you time your visit from December to April — or ideally, mid-February to mid-April.

Friends on the beach in Belize

How to Meet People in Belize

If you’re looking to meet people in Belize while traveling solo, you’re in luck. It’s easy to connect with travelers while doing organized activities, and locals are gregarious and friendly. When I went on the three-day sailing trip in Belize, I met a lot of people whom I stayed in touch with after.

Stay in social hostels and guesthouses. Read through the reviews of hostels and guesthouses (and keep in mind that many Belize hostels have private rooms!) and spend time in the common areas.

Check out local meetups via Meetup.com. Whether you’re into travel, running, movies, board games, or just want to meet a group of nice people, there’s a Meetup for that. 

Couchsurfing. The Couchsurfing Belize community isn’t just for free accommodation, it’s also for socializing. The local Couchsurfers often put on events and meetups in a variety of destinations.

Join local tours and events. Belize is all about activities! Going swimming with sharks or exploring the ATM caves or going sailing is a great way to meet other people in Belize! Once the day is over, ask someone if they feel like getting a drink or dinner.

Put out feelers on social media. You never know — often a friend of yours will have a cousin or friend who is in Belize at the same time as you, or knows someone who is living there as an expat long-term.

Tinder. If you’re looking to date or hook up in Belize, it’s as easy as swiping right.

READ MORE:

How to Meet People While Traveling Solo

Kate taking a selfie underwater as she swims with sharks

What to Pack for a Belize Trip

When packing for a Belize trip, you’re going to be packing for warm weather and being outdoors. Be sure to pack enough clothing and gear for your adventure activities planned. Here are some things that are especially good to pack for Belize:

Sports sandals — Essential for the ATM caves. These lightweight supportive sports sandals are better than flip-flops for light adventure activities. I’ve been wearing my Teva Tirra sandals since 2010. In the ATM caves, you need to both swim and wear active footwear, and this is a MUCH better choice than soaking your sneakers.

Flip-flops — Essential beach footwear. I can’t wear most flip-flops due to arch issues but I ADORE my Abeo flip-flops with arch support.

Trail runners — If you plan to hike or work out in Belize, bring trail runners — they work equally well as sneakers and hiking shoes, as long as you’re not doing super-intense mountain hiking. I love my Merrill Siren Edge Q2 Waterproof Trail Runners.

A sarong — If you don’t have one, don’t worry, you’ll find tons for sale on the beach in Belize.

Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf — These scarves are ideal for travel — they all have a hidden pocket for your passport or cash, and some come in light fabrics perfect for Belize. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!).

Rash guard — If you’re snorkeling, this is an essential item to keep your back from burning.

Reef safe sunscreen — This protects the reefs from harm. Always use it when you’re in the water, not just when you’re snorkeling the reef.

GoPro or underwater camera — You’re going to be a lot of cool stuff while snorkeling, and underwater selfies are so much fun!

Pacsafe Travelsafe — I consider my portable safe the most important thing I pack.

LifeStraw or  SteriPen water purifier and  reusable bottle — This lets you drink water safely in Belize without creating more waste.

Pink and blue sunrise with palm fronds in Belize

Travel Insurance for Belize

One last note — it’s absolutely vital to have travel insurance before traveling to Belize. If you get sick or injured on your trip, if you get robbed, or even if you have to be flown home for more care, travel insurance will protect you from financial ruin. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Belize.

Travel insurance will help you in your hour of need if you have an accident while diving the Blue Hole; they will help you get medical care if you come down with appendicitis or trip and break an ankle while climbing Xunantunich; and if your flights get canceled due to hurricanes, you can get accommodation and new flights paid for.

As always, be sure to read your policy carefully and make sure it’s a fit for you. See what World Nomads covers here.

Caye Caulker island fro a distance, a kite in the air.

Belize is Waiting for You!

I had such an amazing time in Belize — and I want the same for you! Belize is a fantastic country and I enjoyed it so much more than I expected to. I only hope that you have the same experience.

Go to Belize and have the time of your life. Then come back and tell me all about it.

More on Belize:

Sailing Down the Cost of Belize

Caye Caulker: a Good Place to Go Slow

Snorkeling with Sharks in Belize

Have you traveled solo in Belize? Share your tips!

The post Solo Female Travel in Belize — Is Belize Safe? appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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The Joys and Challenges of Traveling in Sicily

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Sicily travel kicked my ass and nearly destroyed me.

I did not expect that. Italy is my zone. I go to Italy once or twice a year. I’ve visited 17 of Italy’s 20 regions. I lived in Florence for four months. I speak Italian (not as well as I used to, yet more than enough to get by).

As a result, Italy is one of the countries where I’m most comfortable. I understand how things work. I know what to eat, what to wear, what to do at different times of day. I’m well versed in the passeggiatta and penalties of not validating your train ticket.

I thought I knew Italy — and then I got to Sicily.

This post was last updated in February 2020.

Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa

Sicily Travel

Sicily was the tenth region I visited in Italy (after Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Campania, Liguria, Lombardia, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and Puglia). Since then I’ve visited seven more regions (Trentino-Alto Adige, Piemonte, Basilicata, Molise, Abruzzo, Le Marche, Friuli Venezia-Giulia) and traveled extensively throughout the country.

To this day, I think Sicily is the Italian region that has the least in common with Italy’s other regions. Yes, even more so than Austrian-looking Alto Adige.

Sicily had a wildness in the way the overgrown plants spill onto the highway, in the way gargoyle-like rocks rise out of the sea, in the way children ride their bikes around piazzas at 1:00 AM.

But most significantly, I had a lot of communication issues. English was only spoken in the most touristy areas, and in the more rural areas, the locals spoke Sicilian dialect, which is very different from mainstream Italian.

As a result, even when I spoke Italian, we could barely understand each other. I would understand maybe one word, tops, out of the whole sentence.

I’ll admit that this was overwhelming and embarrassing for me on many occasions. Traveling seamlessly in Italy is a mark of pride for me, and I hated feeling so helpless during my Sicily travel.

I’m not the only one who felt this way. Amanda of Farsickness wrote in a comment on one of my earlier posts:

In a weird way I am so glad you felt that way about Sicily. I spent 2 weeks there in May and found it to be way more difficult than I imagined. I speak Italian and have lived in Italy and I felt lost and confused so, so, so many times. I kept thinking about how I wouldn’t recommend it as a destination to newbie independent travelers or anyone who doesn’t know at least some basic Italian. A beautiful island with killer food and wine, but easy and often, not relaxing.

I am so glad that Amanda said that. It made me feel like I wasn’t crazy after all.

That said, in spite of the difficulties, Sicily is an incredibly rewarding destination. It’s filled with so much natural beauty and so many cultural destinations. The people are warm and friendly. The food is delicious. Everything looks and tastes like sunshine.

Is Sicily worth visiting? Absolutely. Let me show you what it’s like.

The Joys and Challenges of Traveling in Sicily

Tips for Traveling in Sicily

If you’re planning to visit Sicily, get ready to plan more than you would for a trip elsewhere in Italy.

Here are my top recommendations for Sicily:

DSCF1931

Stick to the Beaten Path Unless You’re an Experienced Traveler

If you stay on the beaten path, visiting Sicily’s most popular destinations for foreign travelers, you won’t have most of the challenges that I had.

In Eastern Sicily, that means sticking to the Aeolian Islands, Taormina, Mount Etna, Siracusa, and the Baroque cities (Ragusa, Modica, Noto).

In Western Sicily, that means sticking to Trapani, Cefalù, Erice, Agrigento, and the western islands like Pantelleria.

In popular tourist destinations, Italian is spoken (not the Sicilian dialect that I found in other places) and English is often spoken as well. These destinations also have a more developed infrastructure for travelers and have a less harried, more relaxed atmosphere.

If you’re a less-experienced traveler, you’ll have a much easier time visiting Sicily on the beaten path.

READ MORE:

Where to Go in Eastern Sicily

Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa

Off the Beaten Path Has Its Own Challenges and Rewards

You absolutely can get off the beaten path in Sicily if you’d like to. Just know that it will be tougher in lots of ways. You’ll be dealing with things including but not limited to:

People speaking only the local Sicilian dialect, not Italian, and definitely not English.

Limited tourism infrastructure.

Roads in very poor condition.

Limited opening hours and dining options.

That said, getting off the beaten path can be very rewarding. You can end up getting to know locals who rarely see foreign tourists and are eager to share the best parts of their town (and food!) with you. It gives you a glimpse of what Sicilian life is like today, where Sicilians live their lives without catering to foreign tourists.

Taormina Shop

Learn As Much Italian As You Can

Even in popular areas in Sicily, it will benefit your trip greatly if you learn as much Italian as you can in advance. Just speaking the local language can put a smile on people’s faces and result in a smoother trip for you.

Before you visit Sicily, at minimum, I recommend learning buongiorno/buonasera/arrivederci/ciao, per favore/grazie, numbers one through 10, mi scusi and permesso (“regular excuse me” and “please move out of my way excuse me”), vorrei (“I would like” — use when ordering in a restaurant), and parla inglese? (“Do you speak English?”).

It helps to learn food words, too. Delizioso is always appreciated by chefs!

Keep a translation app on your phone so you can double-check translations on the fly.

My favorite way to learn a language? The DuoLingo app. It makes language learning a fun game!

Aci Trezza

Understand “Sicilian Time”

Like in Spain, you’ll find that most businesses in Sicily take a siesta in the afternoon, often from 1:00 PM until 5:00 PM or a bit later. Oh, and they might not be open when they say they’ll be open. Opening hours are often more like suggestions. Just know that if you have something important to buy at a shop, do it in the morning!

Dinner is eaten at a late hour — you’re best off waiting until 9:00 PM, and even then you’ll be among the earlier ones getting their aperitivo. People will be out having dinner well past midnight, even families with young children.

Also, make like a Sicilian and avoid being outside during the hottest part of the afternoon, unless you’re at the beach. Everyone stays inside and smaller towns start to feel creepy when you’re the only one out.

Sicily is very laid back. If you’re meeting up with a Sicilian, plan on a 15-minute grace period; if you need something repaired, it might take days. Know this going in and you won’t be disappointed.

Siracusa

Get a SIM Card for Sicily

What’s a good SIM card for Sicily? I recommend Vodafone. I picked up my Vodafone SIM Card at a shop in the Rome airport en route to Catania, but there are Vodafone shops in cities and towns throughout Sicily.

Getting a SIM card makes Sicily travel so much easier. I was beyond glad that I did. It gave us so much help when it came to navigation and translation, and wifi isn’t as common as it is in other parts of Italy.

I paid 40 EUR ($45) for 5 GB of data with calls and texting. I later ordered another gig of data online for 5 EUR ($6).

I was happy with the Vodafone coverage. It didn’t work on most of the land at our agriturismo (which wasn’t an issue, as they had good wifi), and we didn’t get coverage on some of the tiny roa ds from Avola to Ragusa, but other than that, it worked great.

One last thing — you need your passport in order to get a SIM card in Italy. Don’t forget to bring it with you.

Taormina

Rent a Car in Sicily

It is possible to travel around Sicily using only public transportation, but the quality, frequency, and connections aren’t as good as in the north. If you only have public transportation, you’re not going to see nearly as much of Sicily as you could with a car.

Renting a car in Sicily was a very smart decision — one of the best of our trip. It gave us so much freedom to do day trips as we pleased without relying on public transit. Plus, when we stayed at our agriturismo, it was the only way we could leave the area.

Getting a tiny car should be a priority. Streets are narrow in many Sicilian towns and driving our regular-sized sedan felt like like driving a tank. (We survived, but we wish we had rented a smaller vehicle!)

I would only recommend renting a manual car if you’re very experienced with driving a manual. My mom drove a manual for most of her life, but she hadn’t driven one in over a decade, and she was relieved that we had an automatic.

The reason? Sicily is very hilly. If you end up taking small streets, you’ll have tough driving ahead of you. This isn’t the kind of place to drive a manual if you’re iffy about it.

Also, book your car way in advance. Cars often sell out, especially automatics, and even after booking, we were told the night before our arrival (!) that our rental car provider didn’t have any more cars. We freaked out and booked last-minute with a more expensive provider.

If you’re looking to save money on your Sicily car rental, I recommend using RentalCars.com. They comb the rental sites to find you the best rates overall.

Sicily has some train lines and the rest of the country is accessible by bus. I recommend using Omio to plan out your Sicily travel by public transportation.

Siracusa

Watch Out for Crazy Drivers

The driving in Italy gets crazier the further south you go. The driving in Sicily is wild, fast, and often reckless. (And it doesn’t even stop once you leave Sicily — Malta is home to the most reckless driving I have seen, and I’ve been to more than 80 countries.)

Sicily is a place where you should drive more conservatively. Stay out of the fast lane. Look in every direction a few times before driving through an intersection. Remember that many people ignore red lights and stop signs.

Driver super-defensively to maximize your safety.

Sunset at Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa

Stay in an Agriturismo in Sicily

An agriturismo is a farm that doubles as a guesthouse. It’s a very popular way to travel in Italy, both for locals and foreigners. You get to relax in the outdoors, eat local food, and sometimes you can even help out in the garden if you want to!

Agriturismi (plural form) can vary enormously. They are available at all price ranges, from budget to luxury; some serve breakfast only, some serve basic local food, and some serve sumptuous feasts; some are designed for long, relaxed stays and others are simply local stopovers. It’s important to do your research when choosing your Sicily agriturismo.

If you’re looking for an agriturismo on Sicily, I recommend looking at farm stay listings in Sicily on Airbnb. (You can select “farm stay” as an option on the “unique stays” menu, and in Italy, a farm stay is an agriturismo.)

We stayed at Agriturismo la Rocca della Rosa in Zafferana Etnea, the base for journeys to Mount Etna. This was a lovely place to stay and I highly recommend it for your time in Sicily.

The agriturismo is in such a convenient location — rural and slightly off the beaten path, but we were able to make easy day trips to Mount Etna, Taormina, Aci Trezza, and our great-grandfather’s hometown of Castanea delle Furie. If we had been more ambitious (or willing to drive 2.5 hours each way), we could have gone as far as Cefalù or Siracusa.

The three of us shared a comfortable two-bedroom suite. And the pool was very welcome on a hot day. Best of all, the people that run this agriturismo are lovely.

See all Sicily agriturismo stays on Airbnb here.

Avola Beach

Give Yourself Downtime

Sicily travel can be exhausting — it’s the kind of destination that demands quite a bit of you. If you don’t give yourself ample downtime, you could become irritable. I’m glad I figured that out before it was to late. Soon it became apparent that we didn’t have time to go everywhere I wanted, which was disappointing, but the downtime made it worth it.

The perfect way to have downtime in Sicily? Head for the beach! You’re spoiled for choice on this island. Avola was home to the nicest stretch of sand we saw in Sicily, but there were many others.

Our best day of downtime, however, was in Aci Trezza — a low-key town on the water with rocky beaches and beach clubs on overwater decks. If you want a REALLY Sicilian day, relaxing at a beach club is the way to do it!

READ MORE:

Aci Trezza: A Laid-Back Seaside Town in Sicily

Mussels in Siracusa

Dive into Delicious Sicilian Food

What’s the food like in Sicily? It’s incredible. Like everywhere else in Italy, both Sicily and the regions in Sicily have their own local specialties. Even the towns have their signature dishes!

Here are some Sicilian dishes to try:

Arancini — Rice balls stuffed with anything from meat sauce to cheese and vegetables. The perfect snack food for any time of day (yes, I once had one for breakfast).

Pasta alla norma — Pasta with tomatoes, eggplant, basil, and ricotta salata.

Caponata — Fried eggplant with tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, capers, and other vegetables, on its own as a side dish or served on crostini or with other dishes.

All the fresh seafood you can find — It’s the Mediterranean — it’s good. Try everything. I once had a spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) that nearly made me cry, it was so good.

Frutta martorana — This is what Sicilians call marzipan. It comes from the town of Martora.

Cannoli — The world-famous pastry is from Sicily (which may be why you couldn’t find one in Venice). Keep in mind that cannolo is the singular form.

Oh, and granita. Which brings me to my next item…

Taormina Granita and Cocktails

Eat Granita Every Day

If you’re used to eating gelato in Italy, go Sicilian — it’s time for granita!

Granita is basically slush for adults, and I don’t know what they put in it, but it’s better than any slush I have ever had. It’s dairy-free, yet tastes so creamy! Sometimes it’s served with brioche. Some people even eat it for breakfast!

Try as many granita flavors as you can, but I especially recommend mandorla, or almond. Honestly, I have no words for how good mandorla granita is. You won’t find anything like that in your home country, that’s for sure! Simply heavenly.

I loved lemon and caffe, too. My favorite granita cafe was Bambar in Taormina, pictured above. Try granita with cream at least once, too!

Nuts in Sicily

Count Your Change

I hate to say it, but my mom and I noticed on four different occasions when visiting Sicily that we weren’t given enough change — and most of the time we didn’t bother to check, so who knows how many other times it happened?

Soon we were counting our change after every cash transaction, and we couldn’t believe how often we were given the wrong amount back.

By the time the final incident happened, when a granita seller handed me back a 50-cent piece instead of a euro, I snapped, “É vero?” (“Seriously?”) and held up the coin. He shrugged like it was nothing and gave me a euro.

Keep an eye on your change.

People sunbathing on the rocky coastline of Aci Trezza, Sicily, boulders in the water rising in the distance.

When to Visit Sicily

While it’s important to take the weather into consideration when you travel in Italy, it’s even more important when you visit Sicily. Sicily has some of the highest temperatures in all of Italy.

High season in Sicily is during the summer months: June to August. This is when Sicily’s destinations are at their most crowded, expensive, and hot. Low-to-high temperatures range from about 71-87 F (22-31 C), and it often feels blisteringly hotter.

Sicily is a popular beach getaway destination for Italians, and August is the month when Italians take a month off, shut their businesses down, and head for the sea (Ferragosto). I recommend travelers don’t visit Italy in August if they can help it for this reason.

If you know you have a hard time tolerating heat, I strongly recommend you visit Sicily between October and April. The weather will be a million times more pleasant.

Shoulder season in Sicily is roughly April, May, September, and October. Low-to-high temperatures range from about 53-82 F (11-28 C). Late spring and early fall feel like summer in Sicily. September and even October are still good beach months, as the water is warmed up, but they’re less crowded, as the kids have gone back to school.

I love shoulder season because temperatures are much more pleasant and popular destinations are less crowded and less expensive. It’s the best of both worlds.

Winter in Sicily never gets too cold — even in January, temperatures are 48-58 F (9-15 C). This might be light jacket weather for you — though know that Sicilians will be bundled up against the “cold” in their thick coats! Lots of tourists from Northern Europe visit Sicily in the winter to get a bit of sunshine.

If you’re interested in visiting Sicily for its culture, food, wine, architecture, ruins, and history — and have less of an interest in beaches — winter is a great time to visit. And you can even ski on Mount Etna! It’s not the greatest skiing in the world, but how cool is it to say you’ve skied on a volcano in Italy?!

One important thing to know: many resort-y destinations in Sicily shut down in the winter. The Aeolian Islands are essentially shut down; many hotels and restaurants in Taormina and Cefalù close for the season.

Overall, I recommend visiting Sicily in shoulder season if possible, but you can enjoy the island 12 months out of the year.

Mount Etna Sunset

Solo Travel in Sicily

Is Sicily a good destination for solo travel? It depends. After my experience, I’m not sure that I would recommend Sicily as a destination for most solo travelers. Of course, solo travelers (and solo female travelers) can go anywhere they’d like and have a great time; I just don’t think that Sicily would be one of the better choices — not within Italy, not within Europe.

I say this mostly because of the driving. When my mother, sister, and I traveled together, driving was a three-person job. Mom drove, I navigated, and Sarah looked out for rogue drivers. Once Sarah left and I took on her job, it was still very difficult.

I could not imagine doing that driving on my own. If you drive alone, even with a GPS, know that you will be going down the wrong streets all the time.

Additionally, the communication difficulties mean that you may spend a lot of time feeling isolated and lonely. You may want to stay somewhere like a hostel or agriturismo in order to meet more people, including fellow travelers who speak English.

That said, Sicilians are very warm and friendly people. Even if you’re not able to communicate, they’ll welcome you with open arms. And the island is full of so many cultural treasures that you won’t lack for things to do and places to see.

Finally, if you’re traveling solo in Sicily, consider sticking to the beaten path. You’ll have an easier and more relaxing time. If you want to travel off the beaten path, I recommend getting more travel experience elsewhere in Italy first.

READ MORE:

Solo Female Travel in Italy — Is it Safe?

Rows of boats in front of the pastel village of Aci Trezza

How to Make Sicily Travel Easier

If you’re interested in traveling to Sicily but are a bit nervous about its challenges, I have a few recommendations to make your trip better. Sicily is the kind of destination where it helps to have locals help you with your trip.

First off, consider booking a Sicily trip with JayWay Travel. JayWay Travel books custom private trips in Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe. Sicily is one of their specialties and they know the island backwards and forwards.

JayWay organizes your trip and hooks you up with activities like cooking classes and winery visits, as well as private transfers. After you chat about what kind of trip you want, they’ll know which hotels and agriturismi in Sicily will fit your needs best. They give you a SIM card or phone to stay connected. Basically, they build you a great trip and handle all the hard parts of Sicily travel.

JayWay’s Highlights of Eastern Sicily itinerary gives you eight days basing in Taormina, Ragusa, and Siracusa and doing excursions from there. JayWay’s Best of Sicily itinerary gives you 11 days in Palermo, Agrigento, Ragusa, Siracusa, Mount Etna, and Catania. And each itinerary is customizable.

Another option is to visit Sicily on a group tour. I recommend traveling with G Adventures, who organize small, sustainability-minded group tours all over the world.

G’s Best of Sicily tour takes you around the island in eight days, visiting Catania, Palermo, Monreale, Ragusa, Modica, Scicli, Siracusa, Randazzo, and Mount Etna.

Kate leaning on a fence, looking to the side, in front of the skyline of Siracusa.

Is Sicily Worth Visiting?

I hope this post has given you clarity about what it’s really like to travel in Sicily. This is a wonderful, vibrant, unforgettable part of Italy — but if you’re not prepared for its challenges, it can be disappointing.

In case you’re wondering whether it’s still worth visiting Sicily, my answer is a resounding YES. Sicily redefined what Italy could be, in my mind. It has a delightful mischief that I found tough to find in other parts of Italy, and I want to recapture that joy again.

I love Sicily — and I want to go back. As I write this update, I’m wondering where I’ll go on my next Sicily trip. Definitely Cefalù (it broke my heart missing it the first time!), the Aeolian Islands, diving into Palermo’s craziness, and I can’t resist a return visit to my beloved Siracusa, my favorite place in Sicily.

READ NEXT:

Where to Go in Eastern Sicily

Essential Info: I got my SIM card at Vodafone in Rome’s airport. Vodafone shops are in most towns. The coverage was great for Sicily and worked almost everywhere, though you may not have coverage in more rural areas.

In Zafferana Etnea, Sicily, we stayed in a two-bedroom suite at Agriturismo La Rocca della Rosa. This is a wonderful agriturismo with a pool, great food, and the kindest owners, Maria and Franz. You’ll love it here. It’s in a perfect location for exploring Mount Etna and northeast Sicily; the town of Zafferana is lovely, too (don’t miss Blue Gel gelato!). If you stay there, please tell Maria and Franz that Kate, Deb and Sarah say hi!

Find and book agriturismi in Sicily by selecting “farm stay” under “unique stays” on Airbnb. You can see all the farm stays in Sicily here.

We did the Etna Summer Sunset Experience excursion from Etna Experience, and it was a wonderful way to see the volcano up close and hike a small part of it, finishing with wine and snacks at a beautiful sunset spot. 54 EUR ($60) in summer, 44 EUR ($49) in other seasons.

While in Zafferana, we made easy day trips to Taormina and Aci Trezza as well as Etna and my great-grandfather’s village, Castanea delle Furie (the latter of which has zero tourist value and you should not visit). It’s best to have a car in Zafferana and vital if you want to do any day trips.

In Avola, Sicily, we stayed at this two-bedroom Airbnb apartment for $40 per night plus Airbnb fees. The apartment is clean, cool, modern, and located right by the main square downtown. Giovanni, the host, is an osteopath, has his office downstairs, and offers both massages and adjustments for very good prices! Compare rates on hotels in Avola here.

Avola is a bit of an offbeat place, and you’ll be the one of very few non-Italians in town, but it has a great beach. Keep in mind that downtown Avola is dead during the day but comes to life at night. There is a wine bar on Piazza Umberto that makes a FABULOUS cheese and salume plate. Spend your days hanging at the beach or exploring cities nearby like Siracusa, Noto, Modica, and Ragusa; I visited Siracusa and Ragusa and recommend them both.

Travel insurance is vital for Sicily travel — it could save your life or your finances if you have an emergency on your trip. I use and recommend World Nomads for trips to Sicily.

Have you ever been to a destination that challenged you as a traveler? Share away!

The post The Joys and Challenges of Traveling in Sicily appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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AK Monthly Recap: January 2020

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How did I start a new decade? Fast asleep. Seriously. My friends and I went out for dinner on New Year’s Eve in Havana, but we were so exhausted that we were in bed by 10:30 PM! (I pushed through and read my book until 11. WHAT A PARTY ANIMAL.)

This month, I returned to the nomadic life — a lifestyle I enjoyed from 2010 until 2015. Even though it’s only for a few months, I’m relishing in the freedom. (Well, the freedom of NOT HAVING TO PAY NEW YORK RENT, mostly. And NOT HAVING TO DEAL WITH THE NEW YORK SUBWAY.)

Oh, and another big milestone — this month this blog turned ten years old. I think the anniversary of the first post was February 6, but I got the blog all set up in January 2010! What a crazy journey it’s been…

Destinations Visited

Havana and Viñales, CubaMérida, Progreso, and Celestún, MexicoNew York, NY

Our home for two months in Mérida!

Highlights

Living in Mérida. I’m a bit sorry that I never wrote about my trip to Mérida last year — and even sorrier that I didn’t name it one of my favorite new destinations of 2019. (I traveled to tons of new places last year and the list was LONG — I had to make cuts.) Mérida is blissful. I adore it here.

Right after arriving, I saw two people I had met on my trip last year and they gave me big hugs and told me how glad they were that I came back. That really set the tone! Since then I haven’t been doing a ton of touristy things in Mérida — just working, spending time with friends (both old and new!) and going out to all the wonderful restaurants and bars.

Mérida is an extremely livable city. It’s warm year-round (though horrifically hot in summer, I’m told), it’s often cited as the safest city in Mexico, and there is a friendly expat community, including lots of travel bloggers. If you’re in Centro, it’s quite walkable, and if not, Ubers cost less than $3. And everything is so affordable! A cheap warm place is SO NICE after coming from New York.

Viñales made up for the rest of Cuba. For the most part, I didn’t really enjoy Cuba as a destination — but I got to Viñales and LOVED it. Such a peaceful, beautiful village surrounded by dramatic mountains. I loved spending a day hiking out to a farm, gazing at the gorgeous surroundings, and learning about rural Cuban life.

A fun beach day in Progreso. Progreso is the closest beach to Mérida, about 40 minutes away ($1 by bus, $15 by Uber). You don’t come here for a peaceful, unspoiled beach — it’s the Gulf of Mexico, not the Caribbean, so the water is bright blue but murky, not clear — but it’s a local Mexican experience, complete with blaring music, beer buckets, aguachile, and people of all ages having a rollicking good time. And the water was SO warm!

A gorgeous getaway to Celestún. Celestún is a beach town a bit further from Mérida — one hour and 15 minutes by car, or 2.5 hours by bus — but it’s very different from Progreso. The beach is quiet and calm with bright white sand and shockingly intact seashells. Celestún is also known for its flamingos and mangroves.

We went on a boat tour of the mangroves, filled with interesting birds, giant spiders (eek!) and even boa constrictors (glad I didn’t see any of those). Sadly, there were only a few flamingos, when at this time of year there are usually thousands. Climate change is wreaking havoc in Celestún, and the decimation of the flamingos’ habitat is one of the most visible effects.

Jagged Little Pill was an interesting night out…

A quick trip home to New York. Yep, I actually left toasty Mexico for freezing Manhattan — but for good reason! One of my biggest business events of the year, IMM (International Media Marketplace), takes place in New York in January. It’s basically a full day of speed networking in the travel industry, and I had a lot of positive meetings.

Other than that, I hung out with my sister and her dude; ate some New York pizza; ordered my usual Lion’s Head and Basic Bitch Hot Dog at my local bar, At the Wallace; got my mail; and spent time with my blogger friends, all in town for the same reason.

In case you’re wondering — I don’t miss New York. Leaving the city was EXCRUCIATING, and I don’t want to downplay that, but as soon as I left, it was like the spell was broken. That may change, but for now I feel like leaving New York was 100% the right decision. Plus, I’ll be back April 28 to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the primary.

Seeing Jagged Little Pill on Broadway. My friends at YesBroadway offered me comped tickets to the show and I took my friend Beth, who is a much bigger Broadway fan than me. We were 12 when Alanis Morrisette’s album was at its peak, so this was a nostalgic evening in the making!

The music was great, the costumes were so cool, the choreography was outstanding, the cast was fantastic, and they did this really cool scene in reverse motion — such an impressive feat. I really liked the show for those reasons.

That being said, the plot was awful — it took place in the present day and focused on the troubles of a perfect-seeming privileged family, primarily opioid addiction and rape. I found it to be a bizarre choice that had nothing to do with Alanis’s music. She’s written multiple songs about older men taking advantage of her — if you want a serious issues musical, why not make it about that?

Still, I enjoyed the show, I’m glad I went, and it was a fun night out! If Alanis was popular when you were a teenager, this would be a great show for you.

Sunset with bougainvillea in Viñales

Challenges

The bleach incident. Our house in Mérida comes with a weekly cleaning, and our cleaner left fragments of a solid detergent containing bleach in the washing machine. Lots of our clothes got flecked with bleach stains, including my favorite designer denim skirt. Sigh.

Some house woes. We LOVE the look of our designer house, but it looks like style overruled function — the internet is extremely slow, the cheapest plan the company offers (and sadly our offer to pay for a year’s worth of fast internet was turned down), the TV has awful speakers and one remote doesn’t work at all, and the high desks and low chairs make it impossible to work at them.

My boyfriend and I have been standing at the kitchen counter to work. This has been a good opportunity to get used to using a standing desk. I’m at about 40/60 standing/sitting at this point. But this is a good reminder to look closely at the desk and chair heights when booking future accommodation.

Failing a blogging challenge. A blogging group I’m in had a challenge: write seven posts, start-to-finish, in seven days. And because I’m insanely competitive, I decided to write seven solo female travel guides simultaneously — the guides that usually top out at 8,000+ words each. GAH. Why did I do that?!

I couldn’t get it done. I got ONE done — my Solo Female Travel in the Balkans post, topping out at 12,000 words. But I did make decent headway on six others (I wrote 35,000 words in a week!!!), and I learned that I enjoy batch-writing my guides, where I write the same section for all the destinations in a row. Maybe I’ll try three at once next time.

Classic cars are the rule in Cuba

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Solo Female Travel in the Balkans — Is it safe? — The Balkans are my favorite region on the planet, and I had a blast writing this regional guide (including mini guides to eight countries!). The Balkans are VERY safe to visit today, despite what many Americans think, but some countries are better suited for beginners and others for more experienced travelers.

Other New Posts

Can Americans travel to Cuba? I did in 2020. — My big Cuba post — tons of information on how Americans can travel to Cuba (it’s easier than you think!) and my most interesting experiences there.

PLEASE don’t day trip from Prague to Cesky Krumlov! Stay overnight. — I absolutely loved the small town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic — but it’s almost unbearable during the day. Stay overnight to REALLY enjoy it.

Solo Female Travel in Costa Rica — Is Costa Rica Safe? — If you’ve never traveled solo before, Costa Rica is one of the best countries you could choose, and definitely the best country in Latin America for first-timers!

Majorly Reworked Post

How to Make Friends and Meet People While Traveling Solo — Tons of updates to this post for 2020, including methods that are good for thirty-somethings and up. Who knew Reddit is a great way to meet people while traveling?

View this post on Instagram

Havana life. 😍 I’ll be honest — I enjoyed spending time in Old Havana, but I found the experience massively overstimulating. The older I get, the better I get at realizing how I react to certain environments. And as interesting as Old Havana is, it’s loud, it’s hot, men constantly yell things at you if you’re a woman, everyone is trying to sell you stuff, all the streets are so broken that you need to watch every step closely or else you’ll trip. (Keep in mind that I say this as a New Yorker — I thrive in cities.) Havana is beautiful and interesting and unlike anywhere I’ve been — but it’s a LOT. Especially when you consider the constant latent worry that as an American, you have no way of accessing extra money in the event of an emergency. So we left today and ended up in Viñales in the countryside — and right away, my stress has dropped from 99% to maybe 30%. I think I’m going to like it here. 🌴 Have you been to a country where you liked the countryside more than the city?

A post shared by Kate McCulley (@adventurouskate) on Jan 2, 2020 at 12:29pm PST

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Well, this Snapseed phone edit is very different from the final edit I did on my computer with Lightroom, but this photo from Havana was my most liked photo of the month. I love that this photo captures what Cuba FEELS like.

For more live updates from my travels, follow me on Instagram at @adventurouskate.

What I Watched This Month

Can we talk about how great Parasite is? We are making our way through all of the Oscar-nominated movies, and this is the one I’ll be rooting for on Oscar night. So incredibly original, so well-made, so well-acted, not a single flaw in the whole film. Go in knowing as little as possible. Don’t even watch the trailer if you haven’t seen it. You can rent it on iTunes.

Beyond that, I really liked Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, but I really wish someone had the power to get Tarantino to cut down his films a bit more! If he cut the flab, it would have been so much better. I loved the colors and the acting. OH, AND WE GET IT, QUENTIN! YOU’RE INTO FEET!

And frankly, The Irishman was overly indulgent. It was not nearly good enough to justify the 3.5 hour length. I watched it on a flight (sorry, Scorsese, I know you asked people not to do that) and even with four empty hours to fill, it was a SLOG. But there were some good parts. Forget DeNiro, Pesci and Pacino — Ray Romano was my favorite performance in that movie!

Jojo Rabbit had a fabulous child actor and was original and wacky, but I just can’t with a lighthearted Nazi movie. I think they made an effort that misfired.

As for TV, like so many others this month, I got into Cheer on Netflix. Now that is a GREAT documentary — it focuses on one of the top-ranked college cheerleading teams in the country — and it makes me want to watch more sports documentaries. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of my high school drama years, too. If you haven’t watched it yet, give the first episode a view — and I bet you’ll want to watch more. It’s the kind of show that sneaks up on you.

Fun beach days in Progreso

What I Read This Month

I’ve told myself that I’m not going to get caught up in how many books I’ve read this year. I have a lot of things I want to accomplish in 2020. As competitive as I am with myself, I’m not going to try to beat my record of 80, or even join a reading challenge this year. Reading is for fun. Total for 2020 so far: five books.

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators by Ronan Farrow (2019) — When Ronan Farrow was an investigative reporter at NBC News, he came across an explosive story: Harvey Weinstein was a serial sexual assaulter. The deeper he dug into the story, the more he found — but NBC refused to let him publish anything. This showed a pattern of major networks covering up sexual abuse, made even clearer when NBC’s highest paid personality, Matt Lauer, was also found to be a serial sexual assaulter.

This book was absolutely bonkers, start to finish. It left a pit in my stomach — there is SO MUCH covering up going on at every level. Predators are protected at any cost; accusers have their careers destroyed. But it feels like things have been changing since this story first appeared — that these predators will no longer receive their customary protection. I hope we’re truly at a turning point.

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong (2019) — In this epistolary novel, a young Vietnamese-American man named Little Dog writes a letter to his mother, explaining how his life, and his family’s roots in Vietnam, shaped him to this day. His mother and grandmother’s scars from the Vietnam war grew into abuse and schizophrenia. Growing up poor in Hartford, he was constantly “othered” by society and never found a place he fit in. As a teenager he began a romantic relationship with a “redneck boy” in the throes of opioid addiction. And through it all, he tells his story.

What an incredibly beautiful read. Vuong is a poet, and I love reading novels by poets — it feels like each word is painstakingly chosen and arranged perfectly. What I most appreciate about this book is how he tells so many stories simultaneously — the stories of his mother, grandmother, and his romance, all flowing into and out of each other, like a stream of consciousness, but it’s never confusing or indulgent. As brief and gorgeous as its title.

Aguachile — like ceviche, but even better.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore (2011) — Two boys named Wes Moore grew up within blocks of each other in Baltimore. Both grew up without fathers. Both started getting into trouble in middle school. One grew up to be a Rhodes Scholar, decorated veteran, White House fellow, and business leader. The other ended up serving a life sentence for murder. How did this happen? The free Wes Moore began meeting with the incarcerated Wes Moore, built up a friendship, and decided to tell both of their stories in this book.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for a long time — but I have to admit it didn’t go where I expected it to. I thought that Moore would tie similar events together, make the connections, and grow and grow their stories, ending with conclusions and point out where things went wrong for the other Moore — but it didn’t. Instead, he told random fragments from their youths, switching back and forth, no real reasoning why they were chosen, and didn’t even try to make any connections as to what happened.

In the afterword, he only briefly points out that lots of readers tried to figure out what the big conclusions were from this book. Did structure make a difference? Did mentorship make a difference? What about birth control? But Moore refuses to take part in that discussion, and that really surprised me. You can engage in the discussion without coming to an ironclad conclusion, and I think the book would have been much better if he had done so.

Women & Money by Suze Orman (2018 edition) — You can give the same financial advice to everyone — have an emergency fund, pay off your home early, get your 401k match — but how are women different? This book focuses more on the psychology of women and money. Many women, even financially successful women, tend to shy away from facing the reality of their finances; many women, even many women in same-sex relationships, give full responsibility of finances to their partners. How do we get healthier about our relationship with money?

One of my goals of 2020 is to be a lot better with my money, so I’m reading a few books. I find that reading about the psychology of money helps a lot — and things really are different for women. I also found You Are a Badass At Making Money to be super-helpful in this regard. It was a quick read, and I’m looking forward to seeing how I improve things in the next year.

The Financial Diet: A Total Beginner’s Guide to Getting Good with Money by Chelsea Fagan and Lauren Ver Hage (2018) — What are the things you should be doing with your money? This book will give you a good overview, and give you tips at how to keep expenses down in your day-to-day life.

This book is for total beginners. I don’t think I realized it when I grabbed it from the library app. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but if you’re in your twenties or really struggling and need a guide that will help you start in a better place, this book is good for that. Also a quick read.

Izamal — via Pixabay

Coming Up in February 2020

This is going to be an all-Mexico, no-flight month! I’ll be based in Mérida for all of February, but I have some side trips planned all over the Yucatán.

On the first weekend of the month, we’re heading overnight to Valladolid with visits to Chichén Itza and Izamal. The following weekend, we’re visiting the city of Campeche. The weekend after that, a big group of us are heading to Bacalar, a gorgeous lagoon, for a long weekend!

But besides that, it’s all about lovely Mérida. I may add in a few more day trips, maybe Uxmal or some local cenotes. And at the end of the month, my sister is coming to visit for a few days. She’s never been to Mexico and I can’t wait to share it with her.

On the 29th we will leave Mérida (sob!) and head to my beloved Isla Holbox.

What are you excited about this month? Share away!

The post AK Monthly Recap: January 2020 appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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Can Americans travel to Cuba? I did in 2020. Here’s what happened.

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I’m nervous in the waiting line at Cuban immigration, but I know I shouldn’t be. I did everything right.

Still, this is Cuba. I’m visiting Cuba as an American. Can Americans travel to Cuba? Yeah, we can. This country has been off-limits to us since 1959 — though that hasn’t stopped lots of Americans from visiting Cuba both legally and quasi-legally.

The agent calls me forward. I hand him my navy blue passport and half-smile, half-cringe. Yes, I’m here, and I’m American, and I’m sorry our country has cut you off, and I disagree with it — but hey, I’m here, and I want to get to know you. It’s an expression that will color my face for days, until a cooking class in central Havana sets me straight.

“Stamp?” he asks, holding up the stamp. Cuba is like Israel; they won’t stamp your passport if you don’t want them to.

Do I get a Cuba stamp? Will American immigration care? Will it get me hassle at the border for years to come? I only just got this new passport in April.

But I want it.

“Sí,” I tell him.

He brings the stamp down on my passport. “Welcome to Cuba.”

Table of Contents

Can Americans travel to Cuba?How to Get a Visa to Cuba as an AmericanVisiting Cuba as an American Without a VisaWhat else do Americans need to know before visiting Cuba?Money in Cuba as an AmericanWhere to Stay in CubaWhat’s Havana like?Cuban ConversationsAirbnb in Cuba, and Economic OpportunityHow to Use Internet in CubaKaraoke in CubaCuba is a Hard Place to TravelViñalesTraveling to Cuba: The TakeawayDon’t Mention Cuba to Your Bank

Kate wears a bright pink romper and stands in front of a bright pink classic car in Havana.

Can Americans travel to Cuba?

Can Americans travel to Cuba?

Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba. Americans can easily get a visa, and you can even fly to Cuba from the United States. The process is a lot easier than you might think.

Can Americans use credit cards in Cuba?

No, Americans cannot use credit cards or even ATMs in Cuba. Your bank will freeze your account if you attempt to do so. Here is how Americans are allowed to use money in Cuba.

Is there internet in Cuba?

There is internet in Cuba, but it’s very limited — most of the time, you need to buy a one-hour wifi card and visit an access point in order to use it. Find out how here.

Can you fly to Cuba from the US?

Yes, there are nonstop flights to Havana from cities like Miami, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and more. In order to take these flights, you must have a visa to Cuba.

Did Trump make it harder for Americans to visit Cuba?

Trump removed the “people-to-people” category for visas to Cuba, but you can get a similar visa under the “support for the Cuban people” category, and it’s still as easy to visit Cuba as it was when Obama was president.

Yes, Americans can travel to Cuba — there are multiple ways to do so. You can visit Cuba in a completely legal way, obtaining a visa in advance, or you can do what many Americans do — simply book a flight from another country, like Mexico.

Read on for the ways to visit Cuba legally when you hold a US passport.

A view of the lighthouse on the ocean in Havana underneath a blue sky.

How to Get a Visa to Cuba as an American

If you want to visit Cuba as an American and do it legally, you will need to obtain a visa in advance. There are 12 categories for visas:

Family visitsOfficial business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations Journalistic activity Professional research and professional meetings Educational activities Religious activities Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions Support for the Cuban peopleHumanitarian projectsActivities of private foundations or research or educational institutes Exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials Certain export transactions that may be considered for authorization under existing Department of Commerce regulations and guidelines with respect to Cuba or engaged in by U.S.-owned or -controlled foreign firms

There used to be a “People-to-People Activities” category, which was part of “Educational Activities” and one of the easiest categories to fulfill, but that category has been removed under the Trump Administration.

If you are a regular person who wants to visit Cuba as a tourist, I recommend getting a visa under the “Support for the Cuban people” category. The easiest way to get one is to work with a company like ViaHero.

ViaHero builds custom itineraries for trips, and each itinerary is designed by locals. While ViaHero operates all over the world, they are particularly good for Cuba because a ViaHero itinerary will count as valid documentation for the “Support for the Cuban People” visa.

Best of all, ViaHero will book your transportation in Cuba — usually a huge headache on your own — and they’ll walk you through getting your Cuba visa. You can learn more here.

If you have a visa, you can fly direct to Cuba from the United States! Seriously. There are flights from Miami, New York, Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta, and more. You can find cheap flights from the US to Cuba on Skyscanner. Some flight booking websites won’t show flights to Cuba, but Skyscanner does.

If you’re flying to Cuba from the United States, you’ll need to pick up the “pink tourist card” at the airport. You can get this at check-in or at the ticket office of your airline. (You can also buy it in advance, but this isn’t necessary. I wouldn’t waste your money on the $35 “processing fee.”)

Most travelers to Cuba get the regular or “green tourist card,” but if you’re arriving on a flight from America, you’ll need the pink tourist card.

If you have a visa but you’re flying to Cuba via Mexico or another country, you will need the green tourist card instead. More on that below.

Rows of different Havana Club rum bottles

Visiting Cuba as an American Without a Visa

The other way to visit Cuba as an American is a bit of a legal gray area: flying into another country and booking a separate flight to Cuba from there. Cancún is a popular option, as it’s often cheap to fly there and flights from Cancún to Havana take just over an hour.

You can also fly to Havana from Mexico City, Mérida, and several other cities in Mexico. And of course, you can fly there from Canadian cities like Toronto. For cheap flights to Cuba, I recommend using Skyscanner. Some flight booking websites won’t show flights to Cuba, but Skyscanner does.

If you choose to visit Cuba this way, you will not need to secure a visa in advance. The only thing you will need is the tourist card, sometimes called the “green tourist card.” You pick this up at the airport — you go to your airline’s ticket office.

In Cancún’s airport, Interjet sells the tourist cards where you get in line to check in for the Havana flight. The cost is 25 USD.

Cuban immigration doesn’t care if you show up without an American visa. It makes zero difference to them. The only thing they care about is the tourist card. And Cuba won’t stamp your passport if you don’t want them to.

What else do Americans need to know before visiting Cuba?

Travel insurance is required in order to visit Cuba. You may or may not be asked for proof of this (I wasn’t). I recommend getting a policy with World Nomads and printing it out so you’ll be able to show it.

Americans can’t spend any money at Cuban establishments on the restricted list. Many government-owned hotels are on the list, so you should double-check the list before booking your stay. You can see the full list here.

You should also keep your receipts. The US government is allowed to ask you for your receipts from a trip to Cuba for up to five years after you return.

A church in Old Havana, set against a blue sky.

Money in Cuba as an American

But visiting Cuba as an American is complicated. You can’t use ATMs or credit cards, even if you have a visa, which means that you need to arrive with all the cash you’d need for your full stay.

I have a bit of a cushion on my trip — I’m traveling to Cuba with my boyfriend Charlie and our friend Klara. Charlie is a British citizen with Czech permanent residency; Klara is a Czech-Canadian dual citizen. Both are able to use ATMs and credit cards in Cuba; if I run out of money, I can rely on them.

Soon, however, we learn that ATMs don’t always work in Cuba — even for non-Americans. Charlie arrived a day before me with some cash, planning to hit the ATM later to take out more, but ATMs in Havana aren’t working for him. At all. We keep trying ATM after ATM; none of them are working on any of his cards.

After a quick visit to the wifi zone outside the Hotel Ingleterra (more on that later) and sending a quick Facebook message to Klara reading, “BRING 400 EUROS, NONE OF THE ATMS ARE WORKING!!” — we try another ATM a few blocks away and finally, blessedly, it works.

It turns out that ATMs in Cuba don’t always like MasterCard. This is a good reason to have a lot of backup cash in Cuba, no matter what your nationality is.

So how do you handle money in Cuba as an American? You’ll be in good shape if you bring US dollars or Euros and exchange them on the ground. (In the past, US dollars got you a worse rate, but as of early 2020, US dollars and Euros both get you a good rate.) I expected to see exchange shops everywhere in Havana and was shocked when I didn’t see any.

People exchange money at the banks in Cuba, and there are always long lines. You’re best off exchanging money at your accommodation. You can also exchange money at the airport, but you’ll pay a much worse exchange rate.

If I had been traveling solo in Cuba, or only traveling with Americans, I would have kept enough US dollars for transportation to Havana Airport and a flight to Cancún in my underwear at all times. Seriously. I have never done that on my travels, but I would in Cuba. There is no financial safety net here.

And because you’re traveling with large amounts of cash, it’s imperative to keep it stowed safely. I highly recommend using a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf, which has a hidden pocket the perfect size for a wad of bills and comes in a variety of light fabrics that won’t make you sweat in Cuba. I even designed my own.

You’ll want to bring a portable safe, too. I use a Pacsafe Travelsafe and consider it the most important thing I pack.

Hide cash in secret places in your luggage, too. One of my favorite spots is in a maxi pad or tampon applicator. One of the few nice things about toxic masculinity is that some uptight men will refuse to touch menstrual products — and that makes them great hiding places.

Beyond that, Cuba has two currencies — Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and Cuban National Peso (CUP). Most of the time, travelers will use CUC, and it’s valued to the US dollar. CUP are valued at 24 to the CUC and are primarily used by locals.

The easy way to tell them apart? CUC has monuments on it, while CUP has faces on it.

View of the Capitol building and the streets of Havana after sunset.

Where to Stay in Cuba

Hotels definitely exist in Cuba — they tend to be large properties and beach resorts. But if you want to stay somewhere more local and special, and put money into the pockets of Cubans who need it, I recommend staying in casas particulares.

Casas particulares are rooms or entire apartments that Cubans rent out to visitors. They are often quite cheap, usually around $25 per room, and that’s what I paid ($25 for my one-bedroom in Viñales and $50 for my two-bedroom in Havana).

I loved both of the places where I stayed. In Havana I stayed at this two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the edge of Old Havana for $50 per night. It was large and spacious, and felt like an oasis, though it was very loud with the buses rumbling by on the street downstairs. It was fine with earplugs.

In Viñales I stayed at this one-bedroom, one-bathroom suite in a casa particular in town. It was large and spacious with two rocking chairs on the porch out front — peaceful in the countryside!

You can find casas particulares through Airbnb. I recommend using Airbnb to check out what’s available — see casas particulares in Havana here. If you’re new to Airbnb, get a discount on your first stay here.

The wonderful thing about casas particulares is that they’ll hook you up with the rest of the stay! Looking to head to Trinidad or Cienfuegos next? Tell your casa host, and they’ll call someone they know there and get a room reserved for you at the next place. They’ll even get you a ride if you need one.

My casas particulares also organized onward transportation, tours, currency exchange, and provided drinking water.

This is one of the things I enjoyed most about Cuba — the networks that people have. It’s a throwback in the best possible way.

A shiny purple classic car on a brightly colored Havana street.

What’s Havana like?

What do people picture when they think about Cuba? Classic cars lining the streets, crumbling colonial buildings, high-rise hotels, salsa bands, beaches lining the edges of the city? Kind of.

Here are my Cuban observations:

Cubans come in every color of the rainbow. I remember in the movie Moonlight when Juan, played by Mahershela Ali, says, “I’ve been here a long time. I’m from Cuba. Lotta black folks in Cuba. You wouldn’t know that from being here, though.”

You’ll see Cubans that look African, Italian, Ecuadorian, Scandinavian, and there’s a sizable Chinese community in Cuba, too. There is no one way to look Cuban, at least physically.

The classic cars really are a thing in Cuba. Everyone knows about Cuba’s classic cars, and it’s entertaining to see what drives down the street. You see a lot of Russian cars like Ladas. The nicest, shiniest classic cars are used for expensive taxi rides and city tours for tourists.

Roughly one third of the cars in and around Old Havana were classic cars; there were also plenty of grungy 80s hatchbacks and early 2000s taxis. Unfortunately the old cars have terrible exhaust.

Cubans have an interesting accent. It’s unlike any other Spanish accent I’ve heard, and the letter s gets dropped often. Viñales becomes “bin-yallih” and even más becomes “ma.”

Cubans really love their Havana Club rum. When I first got to Florence for my semester abroad, my roommates and I were so excited that you could drink Cuban rum in Italy! Here, it’s just normal. You can do a tour of the Museo del Ron, or just sit back with a cocktail.

My recommendation: try a Havana Special cocktail with rum, maraschino, and pineapple juice. The tastiest one was at Chacon 162; other standouts were the creamy piña colada on the rooftop of El Louvre Bazar and literally anything at Más Habana.

Throughout Havana you see vegetable carts pushed through the street. These carts are almost always laden with onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Occasionally you might see sweet potatoes, bitter oranges, or garlic, but there’s very little variety.

Cubans love their NBA jerseys. Most of them were Michael Jordan jerseys; LeBron jerseys and Celtics merchandise were popular choices as well. I’m fairly certain I didn’t see merchandise from any other sport. A bit surprising — I expected Cubans to be more fans of baseball than basketball.

Grocery stores are sparse. It looks like the bread aisle in Massachusetts after a Noreaster is on the way — shelves are mostly empty. And in other stores, you’ll see rows and rows of identical items, rather than several different brands. And it goes without saying that you see zero American brands in Cuban grocery stores.

Many Cubans are rough with their dogs. I grimaced at the number of Cubans whom I saw yank the leash on their dog’s neck, hard.

It feels like every Cuban is a talented singer, dancer, or musician. I loved almost all of the Cubans I met, and it seems like Cubans really take the time to savor and enjoy life. One of the ways is by sharing music. Just a casual band playing in a bar at 2:00 PM could be one of the best bands you’ve ever heard.

And that’s what I observed on the surface level. But to gain a greater understanding of Cuba, you need to talk to Cubans directly.

Kate stands in front of a mural in Cuba reading "Viva Cuba Libre" with a Cuban flag.

Cuban Conversations

A hot pink Corvette drops us off at a brightly painted building in Central Havana. We’ve signed up for a seafood cooking class — one of the most highly rated Airbnb Experiences we saw, filled with rave reviews.

Odalys has been waiting with plates of prepped vegetables. She shows off the three lobsters — not quite North Atlantic lobsters, but large and juicy. We’re going to be making lobster enchiladas today, but they’re not the kind of enchiladas you might expect — there are no tortillas in sight. This is lobster stewed in sauce.

Her friend Ivan serves as translator. “You can each cut the vegetables. Cut them small.”

Three sets of hands chopping the raw lobster, still in its shell.

We each take our place — me with peppers, Charlie with garlic, Klara with onions, dicing them up tiny. When we’re finished, Odalys shows us how to make the proper breaks on the lobster tail, locate its intestine, and pull it out long and straight.

As a native New Englander, I know my way around a whole lobster, but damn, I’ve never disemboweled one before! (Is, um, is this something we’re always supposed to do?)

Odalys shows us how to cut the lobster tail, still in its shell, and we stew it in the onions, peppers, and garlic. Odalys opens a bottle of crushed tomatoes and adds it to the sauce with lots of cayenne pepper.

Onions, peppers, and tomatoes. Same as the ingredients in ropa vieja, the only Cuban dish I’ve attempted to cook before. Same as the ingredients in the Cuban shrimp dish we had the night before.

And then it hits me.

Onions, peppers, and tomatoes, again and again. These were the only vegetables I saw on the carts. Maybe these vegetables are the ingredients of so many Cuban dishes because these are the only vegetables Cubans can access on a regular basis.

That moment knocked me over. Imagine if you only had access to a few vegetables.

As the lobster cooks, we squish plantains for tostones, chop up tomatoes, and add lime juice to our glasses filled with Havana Club rum.

Ivan leans in periodically to translate Odalys’s instructions, and he’s casually browsing the internet on his phone the whole time — an unexpected image. Most people in Cuba make the most out of their limited internet and focus intently, signing out the moment they are finished to save the minutes for next time. He’s one of the first to get a 4G package for locals, which is rolling out at this time.

We compliment Ivan on his English — he even gets idioms. “I get the weekly package,” he replies. “I watch Kimmel, I watch Trevor Noah.”

The weekly package, El Paquete Semanal, is something truly unique to Cuba — it’s a terabyte of data worth of TV shows, movies, apps, and classified ads. It gets collected by anonymous Cubans and distributed via networks across Havana and the whole island. They come to your house and copy the hard drive onto your computer. The cost? $1. The BBC did a feature on it here.

It’s internet without internet — an amazing way that Cubans have used their networks to connect with the world.

Lobster stewed in tomatoes, onions and peppers.

Soon, it’s time to eat, and the lobster enchiladas are sublime — fresh lobster bathed in tomato sauce with just the right amount of spiciness. Tostones, rice, and sliced tomatoes fill out the rest of the meal. It’s the best thing I eat in Cuba.

During the meal, the rum is flowing and I get up the nerve to ask Ivan the question I’ve been wondering for years.

“How do you feel about Americans?” I ask Ivan. “Do Cubans like Americans?”

“Of course,” he replies, and my body relaxes. “We’ve always loved Americans. We just don’t like your president.”

“Well, that makes two of us,” I say. “Were you happy when Obama came to Cuba?”

“Obama was more of the same,” he replies.

I pause. “More of the same? He did more to open Cuba than any other president.”

“It made no difference to us,” he says. Point taken.

Rows of stacked wood in front of the mountains of Vinales and tobacco fields.

Airbnb in Cuba, and Economic Opportunity

In 2020, the average monthly salary in Cuba is projected to be $1000 CUP, which is just $42 per month. That’s incredibly low. That’s why tourism is so critical here, especially when you buy from people directly — it has potential to change their lives for the better.

I was so impressed with Odalys’s operation. She doesn’t just teach the cooking class — she and her husband rent rooms out to travelers. They have an Instagram-friendly mural on the outside of the building. They partner with local drivers to bring people there. Everything is a hustle, and it pays off.

I noticed that at our apartment rental in Havana, too. Gladys, the owner, had several other possible income streams for her guests. She was happy to provide drinking water, for a fee, and to change money, at a rate that would earn her money,

Odalys charges $39 per guest for her cooking class. After Airbnb fees and food expenses, that’s probably at least $20 profit per person. Can you imagine how much that adds up over the course of a month?

I talk a lot about how Airbnb has made life worse for many people — especially cities where it’s massively reduced housing availability for locals, like Barcelona and Lisbon, and cities where Airbnb refuses to follow the law, like New York and New Orleans. And I think that we as travelers have a responsibility to use Airbnb responsibly.

But in Cuba, where locals are limited in their earning power, Airbnb is providing incredible economic opportunity.

Classic cars at an intersection in Havana, clouds of exhaust behind them.

How to Use Internet in Cuba

You see “free wifi” signs everywhere around the world — but in Cuba, it has a different meaning. Normally, “free wifi” means you can hop on the internet with no issues. In places like Belarus and Turkey, it usually means free wifi if you have a local phone number.

But in Cuba, “free wifi” usually means that there’s a wifi network nearby that you can use — but with the wifi cards you already paid for.

Don’t have any wifi cards? You’ll need to buy some. You can get them at the local Etecsa store; some hotels sell them, too. They cost $1 per hour, and some people on the street sell them for more, saving you the wait in line.

You can easily tell a wifi hotspot in Cuba because you’ll see people clustered around and absorbed in their phones. One popular spot in Old Havana is outside the Hotel Ingleterra; you can also find hotspots at Etecsa stores and in some parks.

Occasionally you’ll find a place where you can hop on the wifi without entering your card info. These places are rare, but they do exist.

I was shocked that my American AT&T phone plan actually worked in Cuba — though not for data. Rates were extremely high at $3 per minute, $0.50 per text, and $1.30 per photo or video sent.

Do not touch any banking sites or apps while you’re in Cuba, including sites like Paypal and Venmo. I had to fight the urge to check my balance. If you access any banking sites or apps while in Cuba, your account will be frozen.

And that’s a huge pain in the ass to deal with when you get home and can’t use an ATM or call an Uber. Or worse — if your phone plan is attached to your frozen bank account and you miss a payment, you might not even have working data when you get back to America!

Mojitos in a bar.

Karaoke in Cuba

Karaoke isn’t much of a thing in Cuba — but if anyone can track a karaoke spot down, it’s my friend Harvey (a.k.a. H-Bomb). He has sung karaoke in all 50 states and countries as far-flung as North Korea. He’s in Havana at the same time as us, and he’s found a bar — La Esencia in Vedado has karaoke starting at 9:00 PM on Wednesdays. We go to cheer him on.

Harvey introduces himself in Google-translated Spanish, announcing that Cuba is his 65th country where he’s sung karaoke, and launches into “La Bamba.” And the locals are loving it, cheering him on and taking photos of this gringo singing in perfect Spanish.

The rest of us sing a bit here and there — Rihanna and Madonna have their moments. But the funniest thing by far is that the English songbook has the songs and artists out of order, making the most hilarious pairings. We read through the book and CRY with laughter! Some of our favorites:

Bob Marley — “Man! I Feel Like a Woman”Tom Jones — “Oops, I Did It Again”Janis Joplin — “YMCA”Barbra Streisand — “You Shook Me All Night Long”Coolio — “Genie in a Bottle”Ray Charles — “I Like to Move It Move It”Whitney Houston — “Just a Gigolo”John Denver — “Another Brick in the Wall”Tony Bennett — “Like a Virgin”And finally, Shania Twain — “Who Let the Dogs Out?”

Admit it — you can hear ALL OF THOSE perfectly.

Chaotic Havana streets filled with people, a yellow car, and a church tower in the background.

Cuba is a Hard Place to Travel

I have to be truthful with you guys. While I had some wonderful experiences in Havana, after the first five days, I didn’t like Cuba much. And it pains me to write that because I really wanted to like it and I try to find the good in everywhere I visit.

Every day that we went out in Havana, especially Old Havana, I felt stressed. Walking down the street, people constantly asked if I wanted a taxi. If I was on my own, it was nonstop catcalls. The streets and sidewalks were so broken that you had to constantly watch your step.

It was noisy, hot, and unpleasant smells permeated the air. And as nice as those classic cars are, they produce a disgusting amount of exhaust that fills the air and clings to the buildings.

Unfortunately, it was very difficult to find decent food in Havana. The best food in Cuba tends to be in the countryside, not the cities. My friend Ayngelina wrote a guide to the best restaurants in Havana, which was very helpful, but aside from places on that list, we ate a lot of disappointing food.

And the one time we found a somewhat decent breakfast place — a restaurant called El Cafe with a hummus and roasted pepper sandwich — of course it was mysteriously closed for the rest of our trip. Not the biggest deal, but in a city where the food isn’t that great, you yearn to revisit the places that are good.

And it seems like everything was just such a hassle. Klara bought a ticket for 9:00 AM bus — then showed up and was told it was sold out, even though she had bought a ticket online, and they had booked her on the 4:00 PM bus without telling her.

I felt the need to escape the madness each day — to go back to my apartment in the afternoon and just rest or read.

Even after leaving Havana, I hated feeling feeling vulnerable as an American in Cuba — that if there were an emergency, I had no way to access money. Getting stranded with no money was a constant worry as I traveled the country.

It’s not that I disliked Cuba because it was hard — I’ve traveled to lots of challenging places. Lebanon had very little travel infrastructure, and Albania was super frustrating at times, but I had a great time in both countries.

And it wasn’t because of the lack of internet. I was eager for a digital detox. Twelve days without internet in Antarctica was blissful. The Rupununi region of Guyana was remote, unconnected, and mice pooped on my head from the rafters in the bathroom, but I fell in love with the nature and loved being off the grid.

Why didn’t I like Cuba as much as other challenging destinations? I found that the things I loved about Cuba the most — the people and the music — weren’t quite enough to make up for everything else. Since this trip, I’ve talked to many of my well-traveled friends and several of them feel similarly about Cuba.

Tobacco fields and mountains underneath a blue sky with puffy clouds.

Viñales

My trip to Cuba was in danger of being a bust — but then we got to Viñales, and it saved the trip. This bright green region was like a balm for my soul.

If you’re looking to travel from city to city in Cuba, you’ll need to book a bus or take a colectivo, a shared private vehicle. Buses to Viñales have been sold out for a long time, so we ask a taxi driver for a colectivo. He drops us off on a garbage-strewn road outside the bus station.

After asking locals, and being told to wait, and sitting on cement and smelling the garbage for 45 minutes, the man in charge beckons us over to a red classic car filled with travelers.

I’m jammed up in the middle seat in the front row between Charlie and the driver. Our driver charges down the highway, jovially honking at the other drivers he sees.

Soon the highway turns into curvy mountain roads, and then we’re surrounded by some of the most beautiful verdant scenery I’ve ever seen. The mountains here look like the limestone karats of southern Thailand, and it’s all surrounded by the bright green fields of tobacco.

Viñales is a small town. It’s laid out with casas particulares, restaurants, and bars. Super touristy? You bet. But after Havana, it feels nice to be somewhere that feels easier. Especially with bars like 3 Jotas that let you pour your own rum into your piña colada. (Oh, and less is definitely more when it comes to rum in piña coladas.)

The next morning, we head out on a tour of the surrounding area with Osniel, an English teacher and local guide from our casa, and two French guys. Many people who come to Viñales choose to explore on horseback; I’ve heard that not all horses are treated well here, so I’m happy to walk.

Two orange dirt paths in the Vinales countryside.

Four men work weeding tobacco in the fields.

A dirt path and mountains in the background.

Two boys, around 10 years old, sitting on the stacks of wood, each wearing cowboy hats and facing away from the camera (I give kids privacy).

After an hour’s walk along bright orange dirt paths, we come across a farm. Tobacco is the primary crop in this part of Cuba. The land was given to farmers after the revolution in 1959, and in exchange, the government takes 90% of what they produce, compensating them very little.

Enter tourism. We’re the first group to arrive at the farm and we order juices. Soon, others join us and we’re on a rotating circuit of learning how coffee is made, how rum is made, and of course you can buy any of these products to take home. (We grab cigars.) Tourism has made a big impact in this part of rural Cuba.

And though it might sound too touristy — it’s not. Everyone is wonderful. We take time to lounge around, drink in the atmosphere.

A pregnant dog snuggles up to us, her belly suggesting that she doesn’t have long to go, and a tiny black kitten screeches at the top of his lungs, sounding more like a goat than anything feline. Charlie picks up the kitten and names him Montecristo.

From the farm we hike past more gorgeous mountains to a cave and one of the French guys dares to take a dip in the ice-cold darkness. After another stroll, we head back to the farm for lunch, then take the hourlong walk back.

At night we feast on ropa vieja for the first time in Cuba, much better than the version I made in my Instant Pot in New York, the beef cooked slowly with onions, peppers, and tomatoes.

Viñales was a joy. I’m so glad we went.

Kate standing in front of green tobacco fields, facing away, in a purple workout top.

Traveling to Cuba: The Takeaway

Osniel books us a ride back — a classic car, natch — and we return to Havana Airport. Looking at the departure screen, I shake my head at the list of cities — Miami. New York. Atlanta. Half of the international departures are to the United States and people have no idea that this is possible.

There is absolutely no reason for the ban on travel to Cuba today. It is a ridiculous grudge that our government has held for more than 60 years. I’ve traveled to more than 80 countries around the world and I’ve seen that the US has close relationships with countries who do far worse than Cuba.

Cuba is not a threat. This embargo serves nobody.

If the United States were serious about retaliating against the countries who have caused harm to the United States, they’re better off starting with Russia, for hacking the 2016 election, and Saudi Arabia, for sanctioning 9/11 and killing Saudi journalists living in the United States. Hell, China and Myanmar are actively carrying out genocides at the time of writing, and it’s a lot easier to travel to them than Cuba.

I hope that we get a president who continues the baby steps Obama made and allows our countries to reconnect once again.

As far as travel to Cuba goes, however, I would recommend doing things a bit differently. Five days was way too long for Havana; I think you’re better off with two full days. I’d even recommend staying in a posh neighborhood like Vedado, away from the chaos of Old Havana.

Would I return? I’m not sure. Klara traveled longer in Cuba, both with her dad and on her own, and while she loved Viñales and enjoyed the beach by Trinidad, she found the rest of the country to be an enormous hassle. I have the feeling I’d feel the same way.

Our plane touches down in Mexico City and I sigh with relief. Sure, I’m excited for tacos and internet. But more importantly, I have access to money in case of an emergency. The uneasiness has left my body.

Green and purple stained glass windows in the Museum of Perfume, Havana

Don’t Mention Cuba to Your Bank

A few days later in Mexico, I reimburse Charlie for travel expenses. And I write “CubaMerida” in the memo. THAT was a mistake.

Normally transactions go through in moments, but I get an email from the bank saying that this transaction is going to take a little longer on their end, and it won’t take more than a few days.

Soon I have another email from the bank in my inbox, asking why I put “Cuba” in the memo of a transaction. Was I spending money in Cuba?

Shit.

I email them back saying that I was reimbursing Charlie for photography. (And true, he did take all of the photos of me on this page.)

The bank emails me back, pointing out that a month earlier, I sent a payment to Charlie with the memo “flights.” “Did you also pay Charles for flights to Cuba?”

ARGH. For the record, I didn’t. Those were different flights.

I angrily forward them the confirmation of my flights from Prague to Boston and back, the actual flights I had reimbursed him for a month earlier.

I post about this ridiculousness on Facebook and am flooded with tales from friends who went through the same thing. Turns out you can’t say Cuba anywhere. One friend even had his Venmo account frozen for reimbursing his friend for a Cuban sandwich!

Lesson learned — Americans can travel to Cuba, but be careful how you talk about it afterward.

Thinking about the Caribbean?

Puerto Rico Seriously Has it All

A Beautiful Week in Antigua and Barbuda

A Getaway to St. Croix

Essential Info: If you’re an American, I highly recommend getting a visa to Cuba through ViaHero — they will give you a customized itinerary, handle tough bookings like transportation, and this will count as the “Support for the Cuban People” category for your visa. Learn more here.

In Havana I stayed at this two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the edge of Old Havana for $50 per night. This was a great apartment; it served as an oasis and the owner was lovely. It is, however, located right on a bus route and extremely loud buses rumble by all night. I recommend bringing earplugs. Check out more places to stay in Havana here.

My cooking class with Odalys in Havana was booked here through Airbnb Experiences. I highly recommend doing this on one of your days in Havana. This was the best meal I had in Cuba and I appreciated learning about Cuban life with Ivan. $39 per person.

It’s tough to find good food in Havana, but Ayngelina has a guide to Havana restaurants here. I enjoyed Paladar Omar, one of her suggestions, and we had a great New Year’s Eve dinner at Genesis.

In Viñales I stayed at this one-bedroom, one-bathroom suite in a Casa Particular in town. $25 per night plus $5 each for breakfast. This was an excellent place to stay with a friendly family hosting and I loved staying here. Check out more places to stay in Viñales here.

We booked our Viñales tour through Osniel, one of the sons at the casa particular. He hopes to be listed on Airbnb Experiences someday. Osniel and his brother Orlando organized our onward journey back to the airport.

Cuba requires travel insurance, and they may ask for proof at immigration. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Have you been to Cuba? How did you like it? Share away!

The post Can Americans travel to Cuba? I did in 2020. Here’s what happened. appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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How to Make Friends and Meet People While Traveling

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One of the questions I get asked most often is how I make so many friends while traveling on my own. I travel solo most of the time, and while you think it might be lonely, it’s not. I’m able to meet so many people on my travels.

Here’s the truth — I’m not the most social person in the world. I’m an introvert who always has her nose in a book and needs a few days to recover after a party. Most readers who meet me say I’m much quieter than they expected, and making friends isn’t the easiest thing for me.

You can meet people while traveling, even if you are an introvert. If I can do it, you can.

For the past ten years, I’ve been teaching women how to travel the world on their own safely. Over the years, my travel style has changed — while I used to be all about the party hostels and social dorms, these days I don’t stay in dorms at all and tend to pick more high-end places.

How to Meet People While Traveling

I originally wrote this post in 2011, back when I was a hardcore backpacker, and times have changed since then. I’m still able to meet people while traveling — but it’s about more than just beer-soaked hostel bars and boozy river tubing.

That’s not to say hostels are bad. Far from it. Hostels today are SO much better than they were ten years ago, and they’re for all kinds of travelers. They’re not the only thing that has changed since then — the internet has become more advanced and now it’s easier to meet people all over the world, based on what you’re into.

A lot of people think that if you travel solo, you’re alone nearly all of the time. And that’s not necessarily true — you’re only alone if you want to be. I like to be alone for some of my travels, but I LOVE meeting new friends, too.

This post was last updated in January 2020.

Here are some of the ways I make friends while traveling solo:

Friends on the beach in BelizeWe had a GREAT time sailing for three days in Belize!

Multi-Day Trips

When I think back to where I’ve made the most friends while traveling, multi-day trips come to mind. Sailing Croatia, snorkeling Belize, exploring Australia’s Top End. When you have a few days together with the same people, eating meals together, doing activities together, being trapped on long bus rides together, that’s when friendships happen!

What is a multi-day trip? It’s a group tour, essentially, but only for a few days. Tours that last a few days and are part of a longer trip. I find that adding a multi-day trip helps me make a lot more friends while traveling.

Still, if you’d like to travel friends for even longer, I recommend joining a group tour for your whole trip. I highly recommend tours with G Adventures, and they have trips all over the world. Whether you want to hike to Machu Picchu, sail Croatia’s islands, or go on safari in Tanzania, they’ve got adventurous small group tours on seven continents!

Read More:

Sailing Down the Coast of Belize

When the guy looks like Jesus, you need to do The Last Supper!

Stay in a social hostel

Yes, I mean it, even if you’re over 30 — staying in a hostel is NOT just for twenty-somethings anymore. Please hear me out. Hostels these days are SO much better than they used to be, and a social hostel is very different from a party hostel. Most hostels have private rooms these days, and lots are adding luxurious amenities. They cater to mid-range and budget travelers who like getting good value for money.

And you know what? I haven’t slept in a dorm since I was 30. But I do continue to stay in beautiful, interesting, even luxurious hostels. And many of these hostels have been some of the best places to meet people while traveling. I stay in a private room but I hang out in the lounge and sign up for activities through the hostel.

That picture above was taken at Gallery Hostel in Porto, Portugal, one of my favorite hostels on the planet.

Gallery Hostel is absolutely gorgeous and has the most comfortable beds — but where they shine is the group activities. You can join in a cheap group dinner, or do a port tasting, or go on a free city tour, or have a cinema night at the hostel.

There are plenty more — I loved the social atmosphere at Los Amigos Hostel in Flores, Guatemala; the tapas tour at Oasis Backpackers Sevilla; the bagel breakfasts at The Green Tortoise in San Francisco; the rooftop celebrations at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel in Hanoi.

How do you find hostels like these? Start by taking a look at The Grand Hostels: Luxury Hostels of the World, written by my good friend Kash Bhattacharya, aka The Budget Traveller. Kash coined the term “luxury hostel” and for years he’s been writing about the world’s best hostels on his site.

Hostel lounges are where I met so many of my friends. And whether you hit the hostel bar or join a local activity, it’s an easy way to meet fellow travelers.

Just one thing: do your research and try not to book a notorious party hostel, like Kabul in Barcelona or The Flying Pig in Amsterdam. Unless that’s what you’re looking for…

How I made friends while traveling in social hostels: I first spent time with Chris, Jon and Mona at Monkey Republic in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We then ran into each other at the Garden Village bar in Siem Reap, and after that, we traveled together to Bangkok, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang! They are one of my favorite groups I’ve ever traveled with.

Friends in a cave holding candlesOne of my favorite tours — swimming in caves in Semuc Champey, Guatemala

Tours, activities and excursions

Whether you do an adventure sports activity, like bungee jumping in New Zealand, or a food activity, like a pastry tour of New York, you inevitably end up getting to know some new people while traveling.

Where do you find activities? Lately I’ve been a big fan of Airbnb Experiences — they are tours given by interesting locals who love sharing the world, and it’s a lot less corporate than the big tour companies. Other than that, you can find a ton of tours and activities on Viator.

I find that some activities are better for making friends than others. Physical activities, especially adrenaline-rushing activities like whitewater rafting or bungee jumping, have a way of bonding you as a group! Alcohol-focused activities like cocktail tours add a lot of social lubrication, too.

Find a tour or activity that interests you, learn people’s names, and keep hanging out. It seems like tons of activities naturally progress to the bar afterward. And if they don’t, you can always see if someone wants to get a drink or a coffee.

How I made friends through group tours: I made friends on a fashion tour in Tokyo, I made friends on a fruit tour in Medellín, I made friends on a local food tour in Asheville, I made friends on a free historic walking in Munich, I made friends on a rafting trip in Montenegro, and a few months ago I befriended my photographer from an Airbnb Experience in Florence.

Kate and friends in Vang Vieng, LaosVang Vieng was once a hell of a party town.

Join the Party — Safely

If you’re looking to party while traveling solo, but have no idea how to go about it when you don’t know anyone, there are ways to do so. Towns like San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, or even New Orleans can be a lot of fun solo!

I recommend looking for organized bar crawls or cocktail tours to join. These will help you meet people in the same mindset, and alcohol makes most people more talkative and friendly.

Otherwise, look for scheduled events — like the Sunday Funday party in San Juan del Sur, which is part pool party and part bar crawl on the laziest day of the week. Some bars have trivia nights or poker nights; others have theme nights. And don’t forget about booze cruises, which turn into day parties themselves.

As always, it’s important to watch your drinking when you’re traveling solo. Drink less than you usually would, keep an eye on your drinks, and continuously ask yourself, “Do I want to be more out of control than I am now?” And remember that there’s no shame in heading back at 10:30 PM.

One last thing — some of the best friends I’ve ever met have been late at night in the ladies’ room at the bar. Of course, we never see each other again, but I LIVE FOR THOSE HEARTFELT CONVERSATIONS.

READ MORE:

How to Travel Solo to a Party Destination

Kate with friends she met through CouchsurfingCouchsurfing friends on my first solo trip ever to Buenos Aires in 2008!

Couchsurfing

Couchsurfing is WAY more than just free accommodation! The Couchsurfing community is most famous for letting you stay in people’s homes for free, but that’s just a small part of what they provide.

Couchsurfing is a great resource for local meetups. These meetups are for both locals and whoever happens to be passing through, and most major cities have a weekly Couchsurfing meetup. Whenever I’m visiting a new city, I take a look at the local Couchsurfing group to see if any meetups are going on. They are a great place to meet well-traveled people.

Beyond that, most people who have Couchsurfing profiles are interested in meeting new people. It’s completely fine and expected to drop someone a note, mention that you’re visiting their city soon, and suggest meeting up for a coffee while you’re there.

How I made friends Couchsurfing: My first solo trip ever was to Buenos Aires in 2008 and I was nervous about meeting people while traveling. Before I arrived, I connected with tons of Couchsurfers. Once I landed, I was invited to club nights out, birthday parties, concerts, and even a Thanksgiving dinner! I met tons of people the first night and was treated like a long-lost friend the rest of my time there.

Protestors at the Women's March in NYCProtestors at the 2017 Women’s March

Reddit

If you’re a Redditor, I don’t need to explain. If you’re not a Redditor…well, maybe you’re best off not getting into Reddit, because it is an addictive site that will consume your waking hours.

That being said, destination subreddits are a great place to meet people while traveling. Look up the subreddit for a city you’re visiting, whether it’s Lisbon or Denver, and see what people are posting. If it’s a larger city, they might have a subreddit specifically for meetups, and you can post anything — even “Hey, I’m visiting this weekend and I’d love a museum buddy” or “Looking to join a bar trivia team this week!”

New York, for example, has a subreddit for impromptu meetups, as well as a weekly meetup at the Peculier Pub that all are welcome to join.

As always, read through the sidebar before posting in the group. There are usually rules and you won’t want to break one right off the bat.

How I made friends from Reddit: While I haven’t used it for my travels yet, I have made friends from reaching out to people on the AskNYC subreddit who were going to the same political events as me and asking if they wanted to get a coffee beforehand!

Kate and her new friend Mario drink shots at a club in Bogota.Kate and Mario drinking aguardiente in Bogotá

Ask your friends for contacts

If you’re planning a trip to a certain conversation, ask your friends if they know anyone living there. This may be a bit more challenging in, say, Mongolia, but if you’re visiting a popular city like London or San Francisco — or even a popular expat spot like Chiang Mai or Bali — it can pay off.

I recommend keeping things casual. Reach out and say you’ll be visiting their city on your own, and offer to take them out for a cup of coffee while you’re there.

My fellow introverts, I know making a request to a stranger like that can be terrifying! But this gives them the ability to choose what they’re in the mood for. If they offer to give you suggestions over email instead of meeting up, that’s fine, it’s their decision. But many people will be down for a coffee, and if you hit it off, sometimes they’ll invite you out with their friends later.

How I made friends through contacts: My friend Amelia’s husband is from Colombia, and when I planned to visit Colombia, she offered to connect me with his cousin Mario in Bogotá. I dropped him an email and he invited me out dancing!

Kate, Alise and Climate Activists in Nairobi KenyaMeeting with climate activists in Nairobi

Find your community abroad

This all depends on what you’re into — and I have to admit that this is much easier for me as a travel blogger. I’ve been building a community around the world for a decade. But there are lots of different ways to do this.

If you’re part of a global community or international organization, do some research and see if you can meet up with potential members.

And if you’re simply a person with hobbies, meet people who are into those hobbies! I find that Meetup is a great resource for that, whether you’re looking for a hiking group, a collection of political activists, or just some people to play DND with. Some cities have Meetup groups called “I wanna do that, just not alone.”

How I meet people who are into the same activities: Wherever I go, I meet up with fellow travel bloggers — and sometimes even my readers.

Oh, Marcos of Barcelona, you still have my favorite Tinder photo ever.

Tinder and other dating apps

Can you use Tinder while traveling? Absolutely! Is it safe for a woman to use Tinder and date while traveling? It can be, but it’s smart to take more precautions. Here is what I recommend:

Decide what you’re looking for and what you’re comfortable doing with a date. Clarify to yourself what your expectations are before you start swiping, and remember that you can always change your mind.

Get a local SIM card. It helps to always be able to call an Uber or cab if you need one, and not rely on wifi.

Keep a friend at home up-to-date on your plans. Get the WhatsApp or other contact info of your date, and send that to her along with his photos. Check in before, during, and after the date.

Meet your date in a public place. Bar, restaurant, coffeeshop, park, etc.

Keep an eye on your drinks. Only take drinks from the bartender, keep an eye on it, and don’t leave it when you go to the bathroom.

Have condoms. Better to be overprepared than to risk an STI.

Remember that you can always say no. Even if he paid for everything. Even if it’s late. Even if he seems like a nice guy. Even if you felt like it earlier but you don’t anymore. If you’re not enjoying yourself, it’s okay get up and walk out. It’s not like you’re ever going to see this guy again.

How I’ve used Tinder to meet people while traveling: Once when I was with a bunch of friends in Guatemala, we decided to use Tinder to invite as many guys to the bar as possible. It actually turned into a really fun night!

READ MORE:

Top 10 Travel Safety Tips for Women

Kate with new friends in Bali, all in white dressesKate and her new Indonesian friends in Bali

Travel somewhere friendly — and be open

This one is a bit tougher to implement — sometimes you’ll meet friends by chance, and sometimes you won’t. But there are places around the world where it’s incredibly easy to meet new people.

You’ll find nice people all over the world, but not all cultures are outwardly friendly to visitors. That’s not a knock on those places; it just means you need to make more of an effort.

Some places where I’ve found particularly friendly, easy-to-befriend locals are Ireland, Lebanon, Newfoundland, Scotland, Bali, Colombia, Australia, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Some places where I’ve found it more challenging are England, Finland, Paris, and New York. In these places, you can absolutely make friends — I just recommend going with one of the previously mentioned methods.

How I’ve made friends while being open: In Colombia, I ended up hiking in the Valle de Cocora with two girls who asked me for directions. In Newfoundland, I gabbed up a storm with a couple I met on a dining adventure. In Bali, I met a local girl and she invited me out to a white party with all her friends. You can’t predict it, but it’s serendipitous when it happens.

Traveling solo?

Read more of my solo travel advice here.

How to make friends while traveling solo | Adventurous Kate

Have you made friends while traveling solo? What do you suggest?

The post How to Make Friends and Meet People While Traveling appeared first on Adventurous Kate.


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Andrew Zimmern's Brunswick Stew Recipe – Travel Channel

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