I Believe In Nashville: A Travel Guide

  • Visited March – April 2019

‘I Believe In Nashville’ is the title of a mural by Adrien Saporiti that appears in various places around Nashville and frequently appears in tourists’ photos on Instagram. Meant as an expression of support, it’s unabashed celebration of the city captures how I felt after spending two months living and working there and was therefore the perfect title for my second, and final blog, on Nashville. For my first post, ‘Welcome to Nashville, y’all’ https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1C3 I covered the main sights of Downtown Nashville, which is where the majority of travellers visiting the city spend their time. As much fun as it can be to bar-hop down Broadway’s Honky Tonks, there is much more to Nashville than that and the locals tend to avoid going to Broadway as it’s full of drunk tourists. To really love and appreciate Nashville, you have to venture away from Downtown and check out the treasures of other neighbourhoods. This blog post is intended to give you an insight into other areas worth exploring and suggest highlights to inspire you. Enjoy! 🙂

MIDTOWN

Music Row is located in this area so this is where you can see some of the major recording studios as well as visit the famous Historic RCA Studio B, where the likes of Elvis have recorded – note that to visit Studio B, you have to buy an official tour through the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Vanderbilt University is also in this area so you can find some cool bars and eateries offering food and drink deals to attract students. Highlights:

  • Patterson House – swanky bar. You will have to wait to get in as every customer is allocated a seat. It’s definitely worth the wait. Cosy and dimly-lit inside, your bartender will suggest drinks for you. Not cheap but good for a treat.
  • Whisky Jam at Winners Bar – this is a free concert on Mondays and Thursdays where people go to watch real talent. Go early as the venue gets packed out.
  • Parthenon – a full-scale replica of the original in Athens. An adult ticket is £6. Worth a visit as it is impressive.
  • Hattie B’s Hot Chicken – there are daily queues down the block for this eatery.
  • Buffalo Exchange – a hip store that buys, sells and trades vintage and used clothing for men and women. Great if you are looking for something unique and quirky.

*If you need to buy groceries in this area head to Piggly Wiggly.         

GULCH

A gentrified area of Nashville where you will find upscale boutiques, bars and restaurants. Highlights:

  • The Station Inn – a concert venue that hosts bluegrass acts.
  • Pemrose – I enjoyed a meal here with friends when it had just opened. A lovely seafood restaurant. I can recommend the mussels and fries appetiser.

*If you need to buy groceries in this area head to Turnip Truck.

HILLSBORO VILLAGE

Trendy area of Nashville with character. Highlights:

  • Belcourt Theatre – a nonprofit cinema that shows classic and arthouse films.
  • Biscuit Love – keen to try southern biscuits? Biscuit Love is the place for you. The original opened in the Gulch but the Hillsboro Village venue tends to be quieter. Open for breakfast until 3pm daily.
  • The Grilled Cheeserie – as I love a grilled cheese sandwich I couldn’t wait to eat here and it did not disappoint!

12SOUTH

Upscale neighbourhood with boutiques and hip eateries. Home to one of the most photographed ‘I Believe In Nashville’ murals (located opposite Draper James). Highlights:

  • Draper James – Reese Witherspoon’s clothing store.
  • The Flipside – relaxed place offering 22 versions of sautéed chicken.
  • Bartaco – popular taco spot.

GERMANTOWN

Upscale historical neighbourhood with many restored Victorian buildings. Worth a wander around. Highlights:

  • Monells – highly rated Southern dining. Come here hungry and ready to eat!
  • The Cupcake Collection – they lured me in with the promise of a free cupcake – I was given a small sample sweet potato cupcake to try – and I left with a delicious red velvet cupcake.

EAST NASHVILLE

East Nashville is the equivalent of New York’s East Village. Cool and quirky with lots of character. Its laid-back arty vibe makes this a popular place to live in Nashville. Highlights:

  • The 5 Spot – Sunday Night Soul is a bi-monthly event and Motown Monday is every Monday. The Sunday Night Soul event I attended was brilliant – amazing singing talent was showcased. £10 entry fee. Highly recommended.
  • 5 Points Pizza – lauded as the best pizza in Tennessee. I certainly enjoyed my pepperoni pizza and can recommend the garlic knots.
  • 5 Points Tacos – popular food truck with tasty tacos.
  • Ghot Wingz – no frills chicken wing eatery
  • Lipstick Lounge – Gay-friendly bar that welcomes everyone. Fun venue.
  • 4Way Market – massive craft beer selection on offer.
  • Attaboy – speakeasy no-menu cocktail bar. I didn’t make it here but I’m told by friends that it is great.
  • Shoppes on Fatherland – lovely collection of stores perfect for an afternoon mooch around.
  • Local Honey hair salon (download the 20% off voucher from their website before you go) – if you need to get your hair done in Nashville, I had an excellent experience here. Mackenzie, my stylist, was warm, friendly and she did a good job of my highlights.

Other Suggestions

  • Grand ‘Ole Opry – a must-do for country music fans
  • Opry Mills – huge outlet mall
  • The Hermitage – this historical mansion was the home of President Andrew Jackson
  • Belle Meade Plantation
  • Nashville Zoo

Useful websites worth checking out when planning a trip to Nashville:

Nashville Guru http://nashvilleguru.com/

Nashville Scene https://www.nashvillescene.com/

Blog about Nashville’s Street Art https://www.camelsandchocolate.com/nashville-murals/ Fantastic street art can be found all over the city and this blog gives a useful overview of key areas and standout pieces that should not be missed.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

 

Good Hotel London

  • Visited May 2019
  • Use the code STAYGOOD when booking direct on www.goodhotellondon.com to get 10% off your stay.
  • For every direct booking, £5 per night is donated to underprivileged kids through NGO Niños de Guatemala. 

Good Hotel London is a non-profit floating boat hotel currently located on the Royal Victoria Dock, next to the Emirates Air Line cable car, and within easy reach of the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) Royal Victoria station and London City Airport. Perfect for guests attending events at the O2 area and ExCel Exhibition Centre.

Originally moored in Amsterdam in 2015, and then towed to London in 2016, Good Hotel London will be moored here at its current location until December 2021. Good Hotel Antigua, located in a former private mansion, opened in 2015. Good Hotel founder Marten Dresen was travelling through Guatemala when he met a little girl with no shoes. This chance meeting sparked the concept; he founded NGO Niños de Guatemala and then created the innovative business model of Good Hotel. The mission of the Good Hotel is clear: to do good whilst offering a premium hotel experience. All profits are re-invested. The Good Training programme offers long-term unemployed hospitality training followed by on-the-job training in the hotels. Good Hotel also collaborates with local businesses and local charities.

Arriving at the hotel after an epic 48-hour journey from Nashville, USA, I was pleased to be greeted by warm and friendly staff, a quick check in process (you are asked to complete your details prior to arrival online) and a personalised welcome note in my room with two chocolate treats. The room itself was lovely: a compact double room with a waterfront view. The room had a desk, tea and coffee-making facilities and a nice range of toiletries in the bathroom. An intercom in the room allows guests to press a button for assistance, whether that be a request for extra quilts, a hairdryer, etc. It was quiet and peaceful in the room, allowing this travel-weary guest to have a great night’s sleep to combat jet lag. I woke up feeling beautifully rested and worry-free – a cute touch was the placement of two small hand-made Guatemalan worry dolls on my bed when I arrived. Tradition says you place them under your pillow to take all of your worries away and I couldn’t resist following this sweet tradition.   

The Living Room, the bar and restaurant on the premises, makes it easy for travellers to relax and enjoy themselves here. The open-plan design and long tables are intended to encourage guests to be social and interact with each other. I throughly enjoyed an evening meal of salmon and rose wine before giving in to the jet lag and grabbing some zzz in my room. The hotel also offers a rooftop bar but typical cold and rainy English weather prevented me from taking advantage during my stay.

The check out process was as simple as check in and you can leave your luggage for free if you wish to explore the London sights after checking out. You could perhaps take a ride on the Emirates Air Line – you can get a discounted ticket with the hotel.

Overall, I had a fantastic stay at Good Hotel London. I love the concept behind the business model and heartily recommend other travellers to support the good work they are doing in London and Guatemala. Stay good, do good.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

Chattanooga, USA

  • Visited April 2019

Keen to explore more of Tennessee after my positive experience of Nashville, I ended up in Chattanooga on a whim. Only a couple of hours drive from Nashville (plus a one hour time difference) and $13 dollars for a single journey on Mega Bus, Chattanooga is definitely worth visiting for those travellers who enjoy outdoor activities and the Arts. Chattanooga is known as The Scenic City as it is located at the base of Lookout Mountain; spectacular views and great opportunities for climbing and hiking can be found in the surrounding area. It is also nicknamed Gig City as the city boasts citywide 10 -gigabit-speed internet, and has become a prime location for Start Ups and entrepreneurs. Back in the day, the city had the first factory bottling Coca Cola and was notorious for its industrial pollution. That is no longer the case today. Residents are proud of the city’s transformation and it has been voted one of the best places to live in the US. It’s not hard to see why. It’s family friendly, green spaces abound, has some fab eateries and drinking spots, and it has a thriving arts and culture scene. As much as I loved my time in Nashville, for me, its smaller Tennessee cousin Chattanooga, was more my kind of place and I would happily live there.

The city is quite compact and walkable but helpfully, a free electric shuttle runs every 5 minutes from the Chattanooga Choo Choo (in Southside where I was based) up to the North Shore, to a station near to the popular Aquarium, which makes it easy to get from one end of the city to the other. You can also rent bikes from bike stations dotted throughout the city.

Suggested Activities

  • Explore Lookout Mountain. Trek through Rock City, visit Ruby Falls (an underground waterfall) or ride the Incline Railway (the world’s steepest, operating since 1895). Another attraction is Point Park, a 10-acre National Park.
  • Visit the Chattanooga Choo Choo, a hotel in the old Terminal Station. Get an instagrammable pic with the illuminated Chattanooga sign. Train enthusiasts can book to stay in one of the old train carriages.
  • Art lovers should check out the Hunter Museum of American Art and their sculpture park. Loved this place!
  • Nearby, you can also explore the Bluff View Arts District, where you will find the River Gallery and sculpture park, and the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.
  • Explore the Sculpture Fields at Montague Park. Download the app OtoCast before you go to listen to each of the artists explaining their sculptures.
  • Check out the public art in Southside or go on a street art hunt around the city – there are some amazing large scale murals to be found, such as ‘Traveling Musician’ by The Artist Seven on Passenger Street.
  • Hang out with pooches and have a beer at Barks and Beers.
  • Visit the Songbirds Guitar Museum – one of the world’s largest private collections of guitars.
  • Visit the African American Museum and Bessie Smith Cultural Center.
  • Go to the Aquarium.
  • Have a look around the vendors at Merchants on Main.
  • Eat a Moon Pie and read about the history of this iconic local treat at the Moon Pie General Store.

Food/Drink Recommendations

  • Next to the Chattanooga Choo Choo there are a couple of different bars and eateries, such as the Terminal Brewhouse. The Frothy Monkey is the perfect place to grab a coffee and people watch. 
  • Main Street Meats – a meat-eaters heaven! Whatever you choose to eat, wash it down with a Homegrown – a mix of Chattanooga whiskey reserve, Mexican coke and peanuts!
  • Flying Squirrel – cool place, offering reduced price drinks and tasty eats during happy hour. Guests staying at The Crash Pad get 20% discount on food.
  • The Pickle Barrel – great place to grab a snack and craft beer on the rooftop terrace. They even offer a fried Moon Pie dessert on the menu.
  • London Calling – classy speakeasy with great cocktails
  • Champy’s – iconic fried chicken venue. Delicious!
  • Taconooga – cheap and tasty tacos.
  • St John’s Restaurant – a good choice for a treat meal
  • Zarzour’s Cafe – this 100-year old food venue offers Southern-style home-cooked classics.
  • Chattanooga Whiskey – one for whiskey connoisseurs
  • Clumpies Ice Cream Co – popular ice cream parlour with an array of flavours.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

 

 

 

Welcome to Nashville, y’all

Read my second post about Nashville ‘I Believe in Nashville’ here https://wp.me/p9u5hw-1N7

  • Visited March and April 2019

I first visited Nashville back in October 2018 and then was fortunate to be invited to be an Ambassador at Nashville Downtown Hostel and its sister hostel, Music City Hostel in Midtown. Nashville is one of the fastest growing US cities, with an estimated 100 people moving here daily, and it is a sprawling city with distinctive areas that offer different vibes and attractions. For this first post, I’m going to focus on Downtown Nashville and the key tourist sights.

Honky Tonks

Nicknamed the Music City, Nashville is indeed a vibrant city full of aspiring musicians and great live music venues throughout the city. Most tourists who come here spend the majority of their time in Downtown, enjoying the Honky Tonks of Broadway and 2nd Avenue. Honky Tonks for those of you that don’t know, are bars that play country music and the ones on Broadway are always busy and very lively. A Friday or Saturday night on Broadway is quite something, with the street packed with revellers hopping from bar to bar. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Broadway’s Honky Tonks are quiet in the day time – when these bars open at 10 – 11 am, the live music and drinking begins. Always carry ID if you intend to go as it is standard to ID all patrons regardless of how old they look. You are spoilt for choice in terms of which bars to visit but Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is a must do, Nudie’s has the longest bar in Nashville, you can sign up for free line dancing lessons at Wildhorse Saloon, Jason Aldean’s Kitchen & Rooftop Bar offers a great view of Broadway from its rooftop and friends tell me Robert’s Western World is their favourite Honky Tonk. On Friday afternoons there is always a long queue to get into Margaritaville as the radio show Buzz Brainard’s Music Row Happy Hour is recorded live here.

Key Sights

  • Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: I’m not a big country music fan per se myself but this museum is excellent. There are always several temporary exhibitions on as well as the permanent displays of costumes worn by big names in the industry. $25.95 Adult ticket or $40.95 when combined with the Studio B tour.
  • Music City Walk of Fame – FREE – located near the Country Music Museum, this is a small ‘walk of fame’ featuring artists such as Elvis, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash.
  • Johnny Cash Museum – a must for Johnny Cash fans (such as myself). This small museum boasts the largest collection of Cash artefacts and memorabilia. $19.95 general admission.
  • Ryman Auditorium – the original home of the famous Grand Ole Opry. You can take a self-guided backstage tour for $24.95 or catch a concert here.
  • Printers Alley – FREE – historic alley way home to a number of bars, notably Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar and Skulls’ Rainbow Room.
  • Nashville Public Library – FREE – a lovely space to study and escape the cold/heat outside. The second floor has a large reading room with a view of the Tennessee State Capitol but the highlight is the Civil Rights Room, a room dedicated to documenting the Civil Rights Movement in Nashville compete with a recreation of a lunch counter (a nod to sit-in protests) and video library. I highly recommend a visit to enhance your understanding of Nashville’s history *Don’t be alarmed by the large presence of homeless people on the third floor or by the fascinating eloquent homeless man who likes to have debates with the two statues placed at the top of the staircase. This is a safe place to be. It also has a nice outside courtyard.
  • Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum – often over-looked by tourists in favour of the Country Music Museum, this museum honours musicians regardless of genre or instrument. I haven’t been here yet but I intend to go as I’ve heard it’s excellent. $25.00 Adult ticket.
  • Tennessee State Capitol – the seat of government for Tennessee. Closed on weekend and state holidays. Free guided tours offered. I haven’t been yet but I plan to go.
  • Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park – FREE – located near the State Capitol building, this park was opened to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Tennessee’s statehood. The park aims to tells to the story of Tennessee’s history through plaques, a war memorial, fountains and tours – FREE tours take place very Wednesday. I enjoyed exploring this site.
  • Tennessee State Museum – FREE – a short walk from the Bicentennial Park, this museum is definitely worth a visit. Dedicated to telling the history of Tennessee, the exhibitions are informative and engaging. I spent about two hours here and will probably go again before I leave Nashville as there was so much to take in in one go.
  • Nashville Farmer’s Market – FREE – good place to grab a snack after a visit to the State Museum. Various food options available. My favourite place was Butter Cake Babe Coffee Cafe, a cute cafe selling varieties of gooey butter cake, amongst other treats. Batch sells cool and quirky Nashville souvenirs. A night market takes place every 3rd Friday 5 pm til 9 pm.
  • Frist Art Museum – located in a beautiful art deco building that used to be the post office, this art venue is worth a visit. $15 Adult ticket. If you don’t fancy forking out for the ticket, just pop in to have a look at the interior of the building.
  • John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge – FREE – spanning the Cumberland River, this bridge offers lovely views of Downtown Nashville and the riverside.

Food Recommendations:

  • Sun Diner – spot on breakfast place next to the Johnny Cash Museum – open 24 hours on weekends. My Eggs Benedict was fab.
  • Oscar’s Taco Shop – good budget option on Church.
  • Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant –  Tasty Southern food with live music. Can get very busy but solo diners can eat at the bar. My fried chicken main course with mashed potato and green beans was delicious.
  • Merchants – Southern food served in a casual bistro downstairs and more formal dining room upstairs. I had Mac n Cheese in the bistro and it was the ultimate comfort food experience.
  • Martin’s Bar-B-Que – Had a kitchen tray of chicken tenders with sides of mac n cheese and green beans washed down with a beer. So good!
  • The Diner – a six storey 24 hour restaurant perfect for late night eats. Casual dining can be found on the 6th floor.
  • Pinewood Social – hip hangout where you will find a trendy eatery, coffee shop, bowling and cocktails.

*If you need to buy groceries whilst staying in Downtown your only option is H.G. Hill Urban Market on Church which closes at 9pm every night. It’s a decent supermarket so you should be able to find everything you want here.

Getting Around Nashville:

Nashville is very spread out so you won’t be able to get everywhere you want to by foot. Here are some transport options:

  • Old Town Trolley Tours –  Hop On Hop Off 15 stops $39.42 online on their site. Fully narrated tour. Good option if you are short on time as it includes a stop at the Belmont Mansion.
  • The FREE bus – MTA Music City Circuit operates two routes.
  • Electric Scooters – can be booked through apps such as Bird and Lyft and are an easy way to zip between the different areas of Nashville.
  • Uber/Lyft also operate here.
  • Pedal Taverns and various party specialist tour buses can be booked for groups coming here to party – a frequent sight up and down Broadway on weekends.

The Nashville Bucket List

The first week I arrived I was given this list of Nashville must-dos – so far I have done three of these. Let’s see how many I can do before I leave at the end of April 🙂

  • Drink a Bushwacker
  • Go to a Predators Game
  • Go to The Ryman to watch a show – done 
  • Sing Karaoke at Wannabe’s
  • See the city from Love Circle
  • Honky Tonks on Broadway – done
  • Get drinks at The Patterson House – done
  • Stop by The Loveless Cafe for some food
  • Go to Piranhas and get a “Donut Burger”
  • Take in some art at The Frist Museum – done
  • Go on a Full Moon Hike
  • Watch an outdoor movie at Elmington Park

Adding my own Nashville Bucket List suggestions here:

  • Eat a Goo Goo Cluster – visit the store on 3rd Ave S
  • Queue up for fried chicken at Hattie Bs – 19th Ave S
  • Get your photo taken with the ‘I Believe In Nashville’ street art mural – 12th Ave S, opposite Reese Witherspoon’s store Draper James.
  • Catch a movie at the Belcourt Theatre.
  • Eat a sweet potato cupcake from The Cupcake Collection in Germantown.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Click here to access the full list of Artbird Network properties and other travel promos https://uncagedartbird.com/artbird-network/

Tulum, Mexico

  • Visited February 2019

Tulum has become a prime spot in Mexico for tourists and for that reason I wasn’t sure if it was going to be my kind of place. Having spent months travelling round Mexico, enjoying places such as Guanajuato, San Cristobal and Valladolid, prior to my visit Tulum just sounded like an expensive tourist haven with nothing distinctive to offer me. Although having a good time in Tulum can be much more expensive than some of the other parts of Mexico, I did actually have a great experience and I’m glad I spent time here.

Your visit to Tulum can be tailored to meet your needs and your budget. If you are looking for a luxury beachside resort and don’t mind paying a premium rate for your ocean view, then you can easily find that here as multiple hotels and resorts line along the coastline. If you are travelling on a budget like me then you are likely to have to stay in Tulum town, an hour’s walk from the beach itself. Bikes are easy to rent here though (around 100 pesos per day) and most people use their bikes to access the beach and Tulum’s Mayan ruins – one of the most iconic images of Tulum is of the ruins perched overlooking the beautiful blue water. From Tulum town a taxi to the beach should cost no more than 150 pesos each way if you don’t want to walk or bike it. A minute walk from my hostel I was able to get a colectivo for 15 pesos.

The beach in Tulum consists of lovely golden sand though seaweed lining the shore is regarded by some as a problem. I didn’t mind it myself as it looks natural but high end beach resorts try to clear the seaweed away, leaving it pilled up in mounds, so their guests can capture unspoilt beach Instagrammable photos. One thing to be aware of is the lack of public beach access. The majority of places along the coastline charge for beach access so you will need to be careful about where you go at the beach if you don’t want to end up forking out an expensive fee. The Santa Fe entrance for a public beach is close to the ruins so this is a popular area. My favoured place to go was OM Hotel which is free to enter and you can buy cheap food (tacos, quesadillas etc) and drinks here – it gets very busy so go early to snap up a free-to-use sun bed. For those of you who don’t mind paying for ‘luxury’, you might want to check out Coco Tulum – on the day my hostel buddies and I visited, we were quoted 700 pesos just to access the beach! Shocking. As the weather was cloudy though, we were allowed to sit in the swing chairs for no charge, as long as we bought a drink. A glass of wine was 250 pesos and a beer was 120 pesos. Ouch. As lovely as this place was, my advice is save your money and just go to OM Hotel down the road (just keep in mind that this is a cash-only place and ATMS in the area charge ridiculous withdrawal fees so get your money out in town).   

Tulum town is quite compact. There are loads of eateries, bars, shops and supermarkets around so you will be able to find everything you need here and I really liked the street art dotted around the place, giving it some character.

My Itinerary:

  • Day 1 – Beach day – spent time at Coco Tulum and Om Hotel
  • Day 2 – visited Cenote Corazon del Paraiso (so-called as it is heart-shaped) organised by my hostel. Twenty of us went and we paid 250 pesos for entrance, food and all you could drink. Lots of fun!
  • Day 3 – A trip to the Mayan Ruins of Coba. See details below.
  • Day 4 – a trip to Akumal. See details below.
  • Day 5 – hangover day (free drinks nights in the hostel the night before…). Watched movies in a hammock all day.
  • Day 6 – Beach day – Om Hotel.

Visiting Coba

Coba is known for its large pyramid and it really is worth a visit.  My friends and I were told we could get a colectivo to take us there but we had problems trying to locate where to catch it. My advice is to take the second class bus from the ADO station in town (we took Mayab there – the bus was packed so we had to stand all the way there – and then Oriente back – 50 pesos each way). The drive time is around 45 minutes and you will be dropped off a minute’s walk from the entrance. You get the bus back from the same spot. Entry into the site is 75 pesos. 

Visiting Akumal

Akumal is a coastal resort about 25 minutes drive away from Tulum. My friends and I ended up visiting Akumal by mistake but it was a happy accident! We set out to go to the Gran Cenote and had been told you could catch a colectivo to it. We stopped several buses on the main street in Tulum town, were directed to keep walking to other stops and eventually a driver told us to get in. After 15 minutes he stopped and told us to get out – we were not at the Gran Cenote but another cenote on route to Akumal and Playa del Carmen. Not pleased to have been misled, we decided to continue on to Akumal, which is a really lovely beach and a great spot to snorkel with turtles. The colectivo was 35 pesos each way. We paid 100 pesos entry into Tsuuk Parque Natural and then paid 150 pesos to use a sun lounger all day. We were quoted 500 pesos to snorkel with turtles with a guide but were happy to just enjoy the beach. Definitely worth visit.

Foodie Recommendations:

As with Tulum itself, you can find multiple food options to suit your budget in the area. Here are some places I particularly enjoyed in Tulum town:

  • Sabor de Mar – fantastic seafood place. The shrimp salad and shrimp tacos were amazing! I ate here a couple of times.
  • El Rincon Chiapaneco – budget-friendly and very tasty local food (located next door to Sabor de Mar).
  • El Mariachi Loco – very touristy and not cheap but the food and service were both excellent.

*Note – I was surprised to be charged 560 pesos at the airport when leaving Mexico. I was expecting to pay an exit fee but I had apparently not been given the correct visa when I entered Mexico from Belize. Tourists usually receive a visa with an allowance of 180 days which is what I had been given when I entered the first time at the airport. This time I had entered by land, after taking a shuttle from Flores, Guatemala to Chetumal, Mexico (via Belize) and had only been given a 7-day visa. I’m told it is at the discretion of the officer at the border as to how much allowance you are given. At the border, the official was on the phone the entire time, did not speak to me at all about how long I was staying and nowhere on the visa slip did it say I only had 7 days allowance. This meant when leaving Mexico I was charged for over-staying my visa as I had spent longer than 7 days in the country. Lesson learned. Always check what time allowance you have been given rather than assuming you have been given the 180 days you are entitled to.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Bacalar, Mexico

  • Visited February 2019

Bacalar is an open secret – I confess I hadn’t heard of it until I began travelling around Mexico but once in this amazing country, it’s clear that this lakeside town is an essential must-do on any Yucatan coast traveller’s itinerary. Located beside Laguna Bacalar, also prettily known as the Lagoon of Seven Colours, the town itself is cute and compact. There is a fort to visit, Fuerte de San Felipe, which is now home to a museum, and a town square with a few bars, restaurants and shops dotted around. The real star of the show though is obviously the lake – it is absolutely stunning! Find yourself somewhere to stay with a dock, hammocks, and prepare to spend your days watching the light dance on the waves of the lake, enthusiastic paddle boarders and kayakers traverse across the vast multi-hued blue waters, and various boats shuttling tourists around on pricey boat trips.

I made food for myself during my stay at the second hostel as it was not conveniently located to the town but I do have one foodie recommendation for you – Mango Y Chile, a vegan restaurant, that makes burgers, tacos and smoothies. My falafel burger was huge, delicious as well as healthy, and I loved my mango smoothie. Go treat yourself!

Another highlight for me was the street art dotted around the town – see pictures below.

*there are only a few ATMS in Bacalar and they don’t always work so keep that in mind when you come, especially if you have to pay for you accommodation in cash on arrival like I did. There are two ATMS in the town square and one in the OXXO.

Selection of pictures from my stay:

Street art pictures:

Flores, Guatemala

  • Visited February 2019

Flores is a lovely little Guatemalan town located on an island within Lake Peten Itza. Cute and compact, you can walk around the entire Island within an hour or so. Most people come here to explore the Mayan ruins of Tikal, and my friend Meghan and I were no exceptions, however Flores itself is very charming so come for a night or two. It is picturesque, there are some nice bars and restaurants situated along the waterfront, and it rocks a low-key vibe.

Getting to Flores is easy. We took the overnight bus which entailed a shuttle collecting us from our hostel in Antigua, Barbara’s Boutique Hostel, and other travellers from various hostels around the city, and then being dropped off at the bus station in Guatemala City to catch the night bus. We took the Maya de Oro first class bus at 9pm which meant we had reclining seats, a blanket, and a toilet on board. I didn’t get any sleep as I can’t sleep when I travel at night but at least I was comfortable. Unlike the first class buses in Mexico, snacks or drinks were not included so remember to pack what you will need for the journey. Our bus arrived in Flores at 5 am, earlier than the scheduled time of arrival as there were no traffic hold-ups, and a shuttle was waiting for the passengers, ready to drop us off at our accommodation. Luckily our hotel was very welcoming at that hour, letting us rest in the foyer and leave our luggage until we could access our room. They had originally said that our room would be available at 11 am but seeing how tired we were, they kindly let us into our room at 8.30 am. 

Our schedule

  • Day 1 – we explored the town and caught up on sleep.
  • Day 2 – we had a much-needed relaxing pool day at our hotel and an evening meal in the hotel’s restaurant, Achiote.
  • Day 3 – we visited Tikal National Park.

Visiting Tikal

Tikal is one of the premier sights for travellers exploring Guatemala. The UNESCO site states that Tikal National Park is, ‘In the heart of the jungle, surrounded by lush vegetation, […Tikal is] one of the major sites of Mayan civilization, inhabited from the 6th century B.C. to the 10th century A.D. The ceremonial centre contains superb temples and palaces, and public squares accessed by means of ramps. Remains of dwellings are scattered throughout the surrounding countryside’. See the site for further contextual information https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/64

Tikal can be an expensive experience. Tour operators in Flores you quote you various prices for guided tours. Shop around for the best price. We were not interested in having a guided tour so we managed to get a transport-only deal with a tour operator for 80 Q (return). We were told to wait by the Peten sign for the bus at 12 noon and the bus arrived on time. The journey time was around an hour and 20 minutes. When we arrived at the park, we all had to buy an entrance ticket for 150 Q (remember to bring your passport with you as you need this to buy the ticket). To see either sunset or sunrise at Tikal, you have to pay a further 100 Q.

There are limited food options at the park. Your cheapest option is the cafe that sells lacklustre sandwiches for around 20 Q. Bring your own food if you can, especially if you have special dietary needs.

The park itself was bigger than we expected. A guide would obviously be able to take you round the main sites and give you information about everything but were able to see the key things we wanted to by ourselves and were happy with that. Tikal is an impressive set of ruins and well worth a visit.  There are accommodation options at the Park (The Jungle Lodge Tikal, The Jaguar Inn Tikal and The Tikal Inn) but a day trip was fine for us.

Some Flores foodie recommendations:

  • Achiote – located in our hotel – we enjoyed breakfast and a delicious evening meal here (with muchos red wine!).
  • Cool Beans Cafe – super chilled place with hammocks to snooze off your post-food coma. We enjoyed a lunch here.
  • Maracuya Restaurant – vegan/vegetarian restaurant – so lovely! Tasty food in a lush setting.

*Budget accommodation option – I hear good things about Los Amigos Hostel. You have to book direct on their website to reserve a bed.

Selection of pictures from my stay: