The anticipation of travel is like nothing else. Once the flights are booked, it’s months of waiting, scrolling the hashtags of the places you’re going, reading endless blogs and watching self-proclaimed travel vloggers on YouTube. Like most other instances in life, social media shows an ever so slightly rose-tinted view of travelling the world. So, when I found myself handing my passport to a slightly terrifying Mexican police officer, 5000 miles from home at four in the morning, my only thoughts were “well they don’t tell you about this on Instagram.” Although crossing borders sounds intimidating, the images in my head of being caught up in a war between two opposing drug cartels thankfully did not become a reality. Ridiculous thoughts like this were so common on the week running up to my flight that I’m surprised I even got on that initial flight to Havana. Over the course of five weeks we visited four of the most spectacular and vibrant countries I’ve ever witnessed. Here are some of the highlights of what has become my favourite area of the world and why I believe it’s the perfect place to escape to.
After a 24-hour journey through three countries by plane, bus, taxi and boat we made it from Havana to the isle of Flores in Guatemala. We only saw a very small portion of this beautiful country but from what we saw we loved. Possibly the most underrated country I’ve ever visited, Guatemala is everything a backpacker could ask for; cheap food, cheap beer and an endless stream of action packed activities. From hiking to rope-swinging to climbing historical ruins, there is no lack of things to do and people to meet.
Caye Caulker, Belize
Searching for paradise? This is it. A bumpy forty-minute boat ride from Belize City lays Caye Caulker, an island that’s motto is “Go Slow”, which really says it all. Besides snorkelling or diving it may on the surface look like there isn’t much to do here – but that’s the point. A perfect day would look like this; get up and cure the hangover with some sunrise yoga then head to ‘the split’ to chill out, swim and listen to Despacito blaring out on repeat. At night, grab some local beers to pre with on a bench at the beach then onto the Sports Bar, where DJ Silva has you dancing to an eclectic mix of Latin American tunes which includes of course… Despacito.
The Yak Hostel, Bacalar. Mexico
The next highlight is very specific, but so it deserves to be. The Yak hostel in Bacalar may be the best hostel I’ve ever stayed in. The reason behind these bold claims become clear just by the location, situated right on La Laguna de los 7 Colores, the sunrise and sunsets are spectacular and the lake is some of the clearest waters I’ve ever swam in. The hostel itself is very sociable and dinnertime was somewhat of a family affair, everyone bustling around the kitchen, helping each other out with their various meals. Then the evening activity commences. What started as an organised ‘Sangria Lesson’ quickly escalated into an all you can drink red wine free for all, which for 100 pesos (£4) is pretty good value for money.
Cenotes, Tulum. Mexico
Natural pools of underground water that became visible due to the collapse of the rock above it, Cenotes are quite simply magical. It’s easy to see how some people can become obsessed with these, as there are hundreds all over Mexico and yet every single one is different, the two we went to being no exception. Gran Cenote was quite commercialised with lockers, showers, and a restaurant. It was noticeably large, with bats and birds flying over us while we swam, and turtles swimming beneath us. The second, Cenote Calavera, and was much more modest, however it had the added excitement of being able to jump 30ft into the bottomless pool below. Music and drinks were on the go and the general vibe of this Cenote was much more laid back, making it a must for young backpackers.
What struck me most about this area of the world is that it really is a haven for twenty-something year olds to go and enjoy a well-earned rest from the stresses of being a young person in 2018. The terrible WiFi connections give you a much needed break from the pressures of social media and the plethora of like-minded, people from ever corner of the globe provides fascinating and different conversation to that had at home. You’ll also never fail to find vibrant colours and communities and from my experience, some of the friendliest and warm-hearted people who live in them. So when you’re planning your next trip take a look at Central America and what it has to offer, because it’s a lot more than you would think at first glance and might just be the escape you didn’t even know you needed.
-Laura Hanna, Sports Editor (gone travelling)