Mexico City Highlights

Mexico city is one of the largest cities in the world in  size and population. When you fly over Mexico city at night you’ll realize that soon when you see an impressive blanket of lights covering the hills. Mexico city has a lot to offer: art, culture, food, parks and what not. In this post you’ll find highlights and tips based on my visit in June 2017.

Transportation

For transportation within Mexico city I’ve have mainly used Uber and  the metro system. Transport by metro is very inexpensive and fast. You just show up at the metro station and purchase single or return tickets  there. Likewise autobuses are very cheap, but for those you need to buy a rechargeable chip card for 10 pesos.

Uber is in use in Mexico city and is usually cheaper than regular taxis throughout the city (also works at the airport). Moving out of Mexico city using autobuses are quite convenient, but also  the rides sharing app “Blabla car” is being used often.

To do

Below are the places I’ve visited in  and around Mexico city which in my opinion are worthwhile checking out:

  • Coyoacán – Frida Kahlo Museum
  • Centro Histórico – neighborhood
  • Zona Arqueológica de Teotihuacán – Ruins
  • Condesa – neighborhood
  • Chapultepec – Parque and castle

Coyoacán – Frida Kahlo Museum

The borough of  Coyoacán is located in the center of Mexico city. In this tranquille area you’ll find the Frida Kahlo Museo in Casa Azul. This is the house where Frida was born and died. Frida Kahlo was a famous Mexican painter who lived a moving live which is well displayed in the museum. Beside her impressive creations there are also parts of the original decor, clothes, photos and more. It is quite crowded in the museum, so it’s a good idea to go early in the morning.

Website: http://www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/

Casa Azul - Frida Kahlo Museum - June 2017
Casa Azul – Frida Kahlo Museum – June 2017

Centro Histórico

Centro Histórico is, surprisingly(!), located in the center of Mexico city. It is a nice area to just walk around and observe what is going on. Which is a lot. The main plaza in Centro Historico is called ” Zócalo” which is surrounded by interesting sights and buildings. Zócalo usually has an extensive market in the center and there are public performances around of dance groups and musicians.

Torre Latinoamericana

The tower “Lationoamericana”  has a nice view over the city and the close by “Palicio de Bellas Artes”. With an entrance ticket you can enter multiple times a day, meaning that you can visit get during day- and nighttime. Visiting at nighttime is especially interesting. Part of the tower is a museum that shows the history and construction of the tower.

Palacio de Bellas Artes seen from Torro Lationamerica - June 2017
Palacio de Bellas Artes seen from Torro Lationamerica – June 2017

Website: http://torrelatinoamericana.com.mx/

Templo Mayor

Located in the center of Zocalo you’ll find the ruins of Aztecs “Temple Mayor” next to the National Palace. Many parts of the ruins have been restored and each of these has an explanation of the expected meaning or use of the particular ruin. The explanations are in Spanish and English. After walking trough the ruins you can visit the associated museum which consist of a temporary and a fixed gallery related to the Aztec history. The entrance to this museum is included in the entrance ticket for the ruins.

Templo Mayor Religious Structure - June 2017
Templo Mayor Religious Structure – June 2017

Website: http://www.templomayor.inah.gob.mx/

Zona Arqueológica de Teotihuacán – Ruins

About an hour northeast from Mexico city you’ll find the ruins of Teotihuacán. Many tour operators from Mexico city offer day tours to these ruins and include other stops like a visit to Mezcal production site.  The ruins themselves are beautifully restored and you can stand on top of most of them to have a good view of the area. At the entrance of the ruins you’ll find a lot of stands with handicrafts and souvenirs, you will probably not miss them!

Teotihuacan Piramida de la Luna - June 2017
Teotihuacan Piramida de la Luna – June 2017

Website: http://www.teotihuacan.inah.gob.mx/

Condesa – neighborhood

Condesa is a neighborhood a bit west from the historic center. The streets are cosy with many trees and other vegatation alongside the sidewalks. This makes it a pleasure to stroll around and enjoy the restaurants and parks. There are a couple nice parks to visit in Condesa itself and bigger parks like Chapultepec and Parque Mexico are walking distance. The neighbourhood has many nice bars, clubs and restaurants in a beautiful environment. A good place to spend the weekend.

Chapultepec – Park and Castle

The Chapultepec park is also found west of the historic center and is walking distance from the Condesa neighborhood. The park is big, so although there are many visitors it seems to be possible to find a quiet place if you like.  If you want more liveliness there are many options, the park has (among others): a zoo,  botanical garden, a stage for life performances and of course the impressive “Castillo Chapultepec”  located on top of a hill. The Castle is in use as a museum which is focused on the origin of the castle and the important political events that took place whilst the castle was in use. Some of these events are beautiful murals. Apart from the museum the castle itself is also wonderful and as it is based on the top of the hill you have a nice view over a part of Mexico city too.

In the north of the Chapultepec is Museo Nacional de Antropología. This museum is enormous and you can spend as much time as you like here. I walked through this museum myself, but if I would go again I would request a guide as there are so many items to look at. A guide would be able to prioritise  / highlight the most important parts based on your interests.

With so many things to do and see a day (or multiple) go by fast in the Chapultepec park.

Francisco I. Madero Mural in Castillo Chapultepec - June 2017
Francisco I. Madero Mural in Castillo Chapultepec – June 2017

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Nicaragua – highlights (May 2017)

In this post an overview of my 4 week trip in Nicaragua in April and May 2017. In short Nicaragua is a very a diverse country with volcanos, distinct nature, beautiful beaches, remote tranquil parks and friendly people. Although you meet a lot of fellow travelers, a lot of places in Nicaragua do not feel too touristy. If this all sounds good, enjoy the highlights below!

Arriving in Managua – San Juan del Sur

I arrived at Managua airport in the last week of April. At Aeropuerto Internacional Augusto C. Sandino (MGA) I received an overwhelming welcome from taxi drivers. They must have known I would arrive that day! After skillfully moving through this fanbase, I find the driver that will take me to San Juan del Sur. A city in the south-west of Nicaragua that is well known for it’s beautiful beaches with good breaks for surfing. I end up staying there for a week to surf, be lazy, work-shy, inactive, idle and relax a bit. But also I did an attempt to study some Spanish in the morning hours and explore the area or surf in the afternoon.

I hiked up to the viewpoint “Mirador Cristo de La Misericordia” on the first day which took me about an hour from the center of San Juan del Sur. From there you have a nice view on the bay and the town.

Viewpoint San Juan Del Sur
Viewpoint San Juan Del Sur

San Juan del Sur is a relative small village with a high number of tourists at the time of my visit. For surfing I mostly went to a beach called Playa Hermosa. The waves at Playa Hermosa turned out to be perfect for my (beginner) level. I have also tried Playa Maderas, but the waves were too powerful for me and I found the beach less nice in comparison to playa Hermosa. As playa Hermosa is privately owned it has a an entrance fee. Maderas on the other hand is freely accessible.

San Juan Del Sur - Playa Hermosa April 2017
San Juan Del Sur – Playa Hermosa April 2017

Eating and drinking in San Juan del Sur is good. There are a loads of restaurants and bars. Walking around trough the town center it feels as if it is dominated by the tourists, it seems like Nicaraguans are living in the surroundings of the town.

Isla Ometepe

After a week in San Juan del Sur it is time to move. By chicken bus I head to Rivas. From Rivas a short taxi ride takes me to San Jorge where a ferry will be taking me to Isla Ometepe. Isla Ometepe is an island that is formed by two volcanos in the lake of Nicaragua. During the trip towards Ometepe we have a great view on the Island. Upon arrival I check in at an accommodation in the south in order to hike the Concepción Vulcan then next day. After a proper tika masala meal (yes, the Indian dishes have officially reached the outskirts of the planet, for the good) it’s bedtime as I have to get to the Concepción volcan the next day.

Isla Ometepe - May 2017
Isla Ometepe – May 2017

We’re picked up at 6 o’ clock in the morning. We start from the base of Concepción with a group of 16. The first stage is to a viewpoint at 600 meters. On the way up to this viewpoint we see parrots, monkeys, butterflies and plenty vegetation. At the viewpoint part of the group went back as the next part was going to be a bit more steep and exhausting. After a brief brake at the viewpoint we continue hiking to the top of the volcano. This indeed is quite steep, a good way to train the calf muscles! There is little to no vegetation on this part of the hike and we must be aware of loose rocks that are tricky for persons following you. Don’t want to headbutt a >1kg stone! Once arrived at the top, there is a huge cloud that isn’t willing to move soon. Therefore we can’t see the crater unfortunately! However on descend the sky clears up a little bit and we get a beautiful overview on the island and volcano. The descend is quite exhausting too, but feels good to have been active for a day.

Parrots passing by at Concepcion Volcan - May 2017
Parrots passing by at Concepción Volcan – May 2017

After the hike I’m moving towards the center of the Island where I visit Ojo de Agua the next day. Ojo de Agua is a natural pool with healing powers, I’ve got to see that. I get there early to make sure the pool isn’t too crowded so all the healing powers can concentrate on me. I enjoyed my relaxing morning bath, made a couple swings with a rope and enjoyed the perfectly temperature water for an hour or so. The healing powers? Not sure, but I feel refreshed!

Isla Ometepe - Ojo de Agua - May 2017
Isla Ometepe – Ojo de Agua – May 2017

I get out of the pool and see a hiking trail close by and decide to check it out. Long story short: got lost and ended up in a banana plantation. I find myself facing a Nicaraguan equipped with a huge machete. Apparently a quick evaluation of my appearance made him think it would be a lost fight, because he was so kind to accompany for 10 minute walk to get back on the track. Safe and well I go back to the first hostel to be close to the Port(and to get another Tika Masala). Next day back to the mainland!

Popoyo beach

From the port of San Jorge we take a taxi for a 1.5 hour drive towards Popoyo beach. It’s a beautiful remote beach with just a series of surf camps at the beach. There aren’t many shops around either, so it was a good idea to carry some spare snacks in our backpacks. Oreos for the win! We enjoy the tranquility of the place for a day or two and then continue our trip towards Granada.

Sunset at Popoyo beach - May 2017
Sunset at Popoyo beach – May 2017

Granada, Masaya and Leon

From Popoyo beach we head to Granada a beautiful colonial style town. We join a government funded celebration on the main square of the town. Nicaraguan dances are performed in traditional costumes on stage accompanied by happy tunes of a live band.

Granada Main Square - may 2017
Granada Main Square – may 2017

After a night in Granada we move to the Apoyo lake and stay for 2 days. The Apoyo lake is beautiful and surrounded by forest inhabited by many birds and howler monkeys whom produce their impressive sounds early in the morning. The hostel we’re staying at offers canoes, so we I paddle a couple hours around the lake.

Apoyo lake - May 2017
Apoyo lake – May 2017

Next up is Masaya a town close to the Masaya volcano. The town Masaya I didn’t find that appealing, but it has a good location to access the Masaya volcano. This volcano is active and you can see the lava flowing at night. It’s hard to capture a good photo of it, but you should trust me that it is definitely something you want to see!

Masaya Volcan at night - May 2017
Masaya Volcan at night – May 2017

By chicken bus we head to Leon. Another beautiful town! From there we visit a relatively young volcan: Cerro Negro. A volcano that is completely black and therefore stands out in the green environment. The ground on top of the volcano feels incredibly hot, lava is not too far below us. We hike up to the top and descend by “volcano boarding”. Basically you slide down on a wooden board at crazy speed. Adrenalin rush!

Jiquilillo and Padre Ramos

We’re heading towards a fishing town called Jiquilillo in the province of Chinandega. This town is also located at the pacific coast in the northern part of Nicaragua. Like Popoyo beach, this village is very remote from cities, but has a couple restaurant and small shops around. There are good spots to surf and nice accommodations close to the beach. There a some volunteering projects that support the local communities.

In Jiquilillo we spent a couple days of surfing, reading, enjoying fresh fish meals and having a great time with the fellow travelers. At nighttime you just hear the sounds of barking dogs, annoying mosquitos and relaxing sound of waves crashing on the beach. Tight sleep guaranteed.

Cabañas at Jiquilillo - May 2017
Cabañas at Jiquilillo – May 2017

From Jiquilillo we take a day trip canoeing trough the amazing Padre Ramos mangrove forest. There we have amazing views and spot a sloth, various crabs and scorpions.

Estere Padre Ramos Nature Reserve - May 2017
Estere Padre Ramos Nature Reserve – May 2017

Estelí and Matagalpa

From Matagalpa I continue travelling towards the west. I am visiting Reserva Natural Miraflor from there. The guide that shows us around is extremely knowledgable and takes time to tell us about the environment landscapes and takes us along valleys, waterfalls and a family living in one of the several communities. Don’t miss this beautiful spot if you’re visiting Nicaragua, it’s enchanting!

Reserva Natural Miraflor - May 2017
Reserva Natural Miraflor – May 2017

By chicken bus I travel from Estelí to Matagalpa. There I visit the park Natural Reserve Peñas Blancas. With a local guide I hike for two hours up to the base of a cool waterfall. This waterfall supplies the communities around with fresh water. As the rain season is slowly starting up the volcano has already gained much more power then in the dry season. Later in the rain season when the water level at the base of the waterfall has risen, it will be swimmable. Must go back just for that!

Natural Reserve Peñas Blancas - Trail Cascada El Arco Iris - May 2017
Natural Reserve Peñas Blancas – Trail Cascada El Arco Iris – May 2017

Corn Islands

My last destination in Nicaragua are the Corn Islands. The corn islands are (Big and Little) are located at the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua and have beautiful beaches. I get there by plane from Managua and the weather is great. I enjoy Big Corn island for a day snorkeling, swimming and exploring the island.
The next day I take a boat from Big Corn island to Little Corn island which is even more tranquil. No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island everything is at walking distance. It feels special to walk around on bare feet on sand roads for a couple days. I am staying in the north of the island and seem to be the only guest in the property. The village is about 30 minutes walk away. Only the manager of the park is around. The next day is rainy as the rain season starts. I stay in a hammock read a book and fall asleep in the afternoon. I wake up when the park manager walks by and asks reproachfully and at the same time jealousy: “Have you been sleeping whole afternoon?”, Jup! The next days there is less to no rain, a great destination to end my Nicaragua trip!

Big Corn Island Beach - May 2017
Big Corn Island Beach – May 2017

 

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Costa Rica in 3 weeks – highlights

Three weeks in Costa Rica have gone by in the blink of an eye. Below the highlights of these weeks including a brief visit to Bocas del Toro in Panama. Pura Vida!

Poas Volcan and Botos Lagoon

After arriving at  San Jose Aiport (SJO) we spent a night in the capital.  The next day we are heading to  Grecia. As recommended by most of the people we spoke to, we rented a 4×4 car, that turned out to be a good decision as the roads are kind of bumpy and often unpaved.  It took about 2 hours to get to Grecia by car.   After a good night of sleep in a hotel with a beautiful garden we enjoy  a typical Costa Rican breakfast (Gallopinto). That breakfast keeps you going the whole morning! From Grecia we headed to the active Poas vulcan.  An easy hike on a paved hiking trail led to a viewpoint from where you see the crater. On this particular day the weather conditions were good, which allowed us to see the crater clearly. It turned out that two weeks later Poas erupted on 22nd of April and therefore is closed temporarily for visitors. Below a picture of the vulcan, likely the crater has changed after the eruption.

Poas Volcan – 6/4/2017

Hiking a bit further from the  Poas viewpoint takes you to Botos Lagoon an extinct crater filled with rain water, a beautiful sight!

Lagoon Botos - 6/4/2017
Lagoon Botos – April 2017

Catarata del toro

Catarata del Toro is approxamitely 1.5 hour drive from the Poas Volanco, so it could be visited the same day. The last part of the route to this waterfall is a bit of a bumpy ride,  glad we took the 4×4.  You know you are getting closes to the park / waterfall when you see billboards claiming: “If you haven’t seen this, you haven’t seen anything!”.  With such claims there is no way that waterfall is going to disappoint. And it didn’t!

Just after the entrance of the park there is a nice overlook of the waterfall. After a steep hike we get to the base of the waterfall (a lot of stairs). There are several plateaus on the trail were you can rest or enjoy the different views on the waterfall.  Catarata del Toro tumbles quite high, which causes an impressive sound at the base where the water falls in the basin. Definitely worth the detour and the bumpy ride, besides I can say “I have seen anything now!!

Catarata Del Toro - 6/4/2017
Catarata Del Toro –  April 2017

Cerro Chato, Tabacon and Arenal

The road takes us to a place called “La Fortuna” . Fortuna is located in the province of Alejuela. From Fortuna it is easy to get to volcans Cerro Chato and Arenal. First up was Cerro Chato. The hike is mostly trough the slipery forest and uphill to the top of the vulcano, but not too difficult. People that came down the trail warned that there wasn’t much to see because it was too cloudy. Indeed, once at the top we couldn’t see much of the crater which was a bit disappointing.  However luckily there was a small trail going down  to the crater lake from there the view was great.  After a short break we went into the lake to swim, really cool experience with the forest around.  Last stop for the day was Tabacon to cool down, or actually warm up, in a hotspring river. It was quite crowded as this was a free public hotspring, but it is not hard to find an available spot. Once settled in the relaxing warm river, it was hard to get out.

Cerro Chato Crater Lake
Cerro Chato Crater Lake – April 2017

The next day we went to the Arenal region to hike  volcanic rock trail and see the volcan from a distance. It is not allowed to climb the vulcano itself. Not too sad about it as it seems to be extremely dangerous. There are several hiking routes around Arenal so you can clearly see the volcano. The majority of the time Arenal has a hat of clouds, if you’re lucky you can see the whole vulcano with a clear sky (I couldn’t that day)

Volcan Arenal - April 2017
Volcan Arenal – April 2017

Monteverde Cloudforest and Ziplining

After a night of sleep in Santa Elena – Monteverde and a refreshing shower with short circuit tendencies, we’re joining a guided tour trough the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A local  guide explained a lot about the forest and helps to spot different types of birds. Aparantly we were lucky to also spot a rare bird in Costa Rica named: Quetzal. Pretty interesting creature that seems to change colours! Furthermore we spotted hummingbirds, different butterflies and humongous trees of various kinds. This country really is rich in terms of nature.

Quetzal in Monteverde - April 2017
Quetzal in Monteverde – April 2017

The next day and morning are reserved for more adrenalin stuff: ziplining and a slingshot jump. Ziplining bascially means flying over the forest along a steel cable. You have the option to do this in sitting position or in the superman mode: horizontal. Brave as I am, I’m going for the superman option. To give an idea of the hight of the ziplines, try to spot the person in the picture below. Whilst ziplining face down you can see a very small shadow of yourself moving with you, which makes you realise how high and fast it actually is.

At the end of the zipline tour you have the option to  do the Tarzan swing with a height of 90 meters!  Of course this couldn’t be more extreme then the ziplining, yet it was. The kick you get out this jump / swing is pretty amazing. I was so hyped that I wanted to do it multiple times!  Next a long drive to a place called Nasaro is on the menu.  The trip from Monteverde to Nosara is about 144 kilometers over partly unpaved roads. However as the landscape is nice, we’re not bored at all.

Monteverde Zipline
Monteverde Zipline – April 2017

Nosara – Surfing, sunset, beers and burgers.

Nosara turns out to be one of the favorite places of this trip. Staying in a hotel close to, or almost at the beach it, is the best spot to improve surfskills and watch the sunset. Luckily the waves were for beginner / intermediate level, so perfect conditions to practice without getting washed every single time. The village itself has a good vibe: sandy road, bars, restaurants, surfshops and hotels are spread over the village. After a very good day of surfing and drinking beers we decide to stay for another day of surfing. We are moving to a different hotel on a hill that has a nice outlook on the area.

Nosara sunset - April 2017
Nosara sunset – April 2017

Manual Antonio

We are awakened by the sounds of howler monkeys in Nosara. Aparantly they think 6 hours of sleep is sufficient. Today we are driving towards Quepos a place situated near to the Manual Antonio park, again a long drive. As we arrive late in Quepos we visit the park the next day. There are a couple of nice hiking trails in Manual Antonio along which you can spot crabs in the forest (weird phenomenon), monkeys, iguanas, sloths and relax at beautiful beaches. After visiting the park we spotted a couple crocodiles alongside the river. First time to see them in the wild. I did not pet them…

May 2017 - White faced Capuchin Monkey
White faced Capuchin Monkey at Manual Antonio – April 2017

Cahuita

From Manual Antonio on the west coast we drive towards Cahuita in the south east.  There we will do another hike along the beach area the next day. This time we are staying in a beautiful lodge with a garden that could easily be a park by itself. The owner has been gathering a big variety of plants and trees over the years and kindly gives a tour trough the garden sharing his knowledge about the different types of vegatation. I learned more about flora and foauna in an hour then 4 years of biology classes.

The hike along the beach in Cahuita is again a different experience from the places already visited. The first part of the hike is through a wet forest were we spot several howler monkeys. Then followed by a sandy trail alongside the beach. It is impressive to see that huge trees have been washed away by the water laying at the beach.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a village next to Cahuita where we will spent the next day. It is not really the nature that makes this place attractive, but the jamaican style influences that makes it really interesting. Reggae, or reggaeton, pumps out of the speakers where possible and you’ll notice a frequent smell of jamaican ganja. Apart from that there are many nice bars at the beach side of the town which serve good food and cocktails too! Furthermore there are many streetfood grills with the best grilled chicken I ever ate maybe. Maybe not. Anyway it was really good, trust me.

Panama – Bocas del Toro

As we are close to the border with Panama and heard many good things about Bocas del Torro, we decided to cross the border. Crossing the border turns out to be an interesting procedure. You have to pay exit taxes in Costa Rica and entry taxes in Panama in different places at walking distance. With the evidence of the taxes being paid you can go through immigration, again a separate building. In Panama we are being welcomed by a guy that exchanges Costa Rican Colones for dollars. He carries a huge stack of dollars and with the help of an old fashioned calculater he gives us a fairly good exchange rate.

From the border we take the bus to a place called Almirante. From there a small boat brings us to Isla de Colon, which takes a bit more then 30 minutes. In the afternoon we rent a bike and take time to enjoy the beautiful beaches.

Panama - Bocas del Torro - April 2017
Panama – Bocas del Torro – April 2017

The next day we take a tour by boat to go see and visit some of the surrounding islands. We spot a sloth, starfishes and various birds. The tour includes snorkelling and deep boarding. With deep boarding you get dragged by a boat and are holding on to a board which allows you to control what side you want to move under water. It is quite cool to spot fishes that way.

Back in Costa Rica – Pacuare river rafting

From Puerto Viejo we head back to San Jose to  go for a wild water rafting adventure on the Pacuare river. We are picked up from the hotel and in about 2 hours drive we arrive at the starting point of the rafting. This is one of the main things to do in Costa Rica. The river is quite wild at times and paddling with the raft turns out to be an intense workout with the sun continuously burning my skin. Nevertheless it was a great experience which shouldn’t be missed! We are lucky as the water level is perfect that day. It is a bit of a costly adventure, but totally worth it!

Pacuare Rafting - April 2017
Pacuare Rafting – April 2017

Orosi – Tapanti park

The next day I visit the national museum in San Jose. Interesting to see a bit of the history of Costa Rica as well. Additionally there are expositions of ancient and modern art and a butterfly garden.

The next day I head to a village called Orosi in order to visit the Tapanti park. From Orosi it is an hour to get to the park by bicycle on a hilly track, a good opportunity to strenghten my leg muscles.  The village and park did not have  many tourists at the time, but it’s also nice to be away from the touristy places once in a while. Also a nice opportunity to bully the locals a bit with my broken Spanish.

Tapanti park has 4 hike trails of which I completed 3, especially one that goes alongside the river is really nice. Many birds can be spotted and there are several places to enjoy and dip in the river. Good idea to bring swim shorts.

The last day in Costa Rica I go back to the airport in San Jose to take the flight to Nicaragua (Managua). I’ll share the highlights of that soon in a separate post!

Tapanti Park - April 2017
Tapanti Park – April 2017

First Destination – Costa Rica

– Passport –  Check.
– Oversized backpack –  Check.
– Sunblock – Check.
– Hipster beard –  In progress..

Hi all! I’ll be travelling for the next 8 months in Central- and South America and a little bit of Asia. I’m hoping to keep you posted on my adventures (in)frequently through this blog. First destination on the list is Costa Rica! Whilst doing research for my travel plans I have seen wonderfull  pictures of the landscape, species and activites.  Interesting fact about Costa Rica is that it has set the goal to be carbon neutral by 2021 (currently 98%), I wonder if this is reflected in the day-to-day live. All and all, excited to go and experience Costa Rica by  myself. I’ll  share some nice stories and pictures the next weeks, so come back later!

Cheers,

Chris