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Where to Travel in 2016: A Month-by-Month List

Most of us at Moon have an ever-growing list of places we want to visit, a common side effect of working on a book–or even just seeing the cover options. The following list reflects a few of the destinations that inspired our wanderlust in the last year. There are trip-of-a-lifetime-type destinations and there are smaller destinations, but all of them triggered that classic reverie, imagining what it would be like to be there, and the pull of awaiting adventure.

Where to Travel in 2016 Moon Travel Guides


January

Aruba

Kick off 2016 like a Beach Boys song. Find your own travel inspiration in Aruba’s best beaches and our best of Aruba in one week travel itinerary.

Eagle Beach and Manchebo Beach…offer a tranquil, secluded getaway…. There are many spots where a visitor can settle down, look around, and not see a soul.”
–From Moon Aruba by Rosalie Klein

Soft waves lapping onto a wide white sand beach with swimmers in the water near a beachfront resort in the distance.
Aruba’s beaches are never too hot for a barefoot stroll even at noon. Photo © Iuliia Nufrychenkova/123rf.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Start the new year with a run up the Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. And don’t stop there–Philly is museum-rich. Check out the museums in Old City Philadelphia and the Museum District. Once you’ve had your fill of history and art, take in the rest of the best of Philadelphia in three days.

And if you don’t mind bundling up, winter offers the lowest hotel rates, fewest crowds, and, if you’re lucky, perhaps a beautiful snowfall.”
–From Moon Philadelphia by Karrie Gavin

Rocky Steps, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Photo 123rf.
Rocky Steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo © Natalia Bratslavsky/123rf.

February

Sanibel Island, Florida

Join the snowbirds and escape winter at this low-key beach destination. Wildlife lovers will have fun birdwatching on Sanibel Island and the South Gulf Coast is perfect for a road trip.

The quiet, secluded island feels like a beach town that has only hesitantly embraced its identity as a beach town…. Twenty-five miles of wide, multi-use trails run parallel to the main roads, and the flat terrain is optimal for biking.”
–From Moon Sarasota & Naples by Jason Ferguson

Sanibel Island, Florida 123rf
Lighthouse Point on Sanibel Island, Florida. Photo © Daniel Korzeniewski/123rf.

Granada, Nicaragua

Come for the international poetry festival, then set out for some of Nicaragua’s natural wonders. Start with experiencing the city’s colonial charm, and don’t forget to sample some of the best boating, swimming, and cycling in the country. If you can, take in the best of Nicaragua in two weeks–or pick and choose from our itinerary to craft your perfect trip.

A lot of the city’s charm lies in the interesting excursions…. Choose a day trip to Volcán Masaya, Mombacho, or the Laguna de Apoyo…. The annual Poetry Festival (February 14-20, 2016) is a knockout.”
–From Moon Nicaragua by Elizabeth Perkins

Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.
Granada, Nicaragua. Photo © Rafal Cichawa/123rf.

March

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Enjoy the great outdoors and get some alone time in this vast, isolated park in the Chisos Mountains.

It’s a true getaway to a relatively untouched land…. The solitude and seclusion amid a gorgeous backdrop of rugged beauty are ultimately soul cleansing.
–From Moon Texas by Andy Rhodes

Big Bend, Texas. Photo 123rf.
Chisos Mountains from Sotol Vista Overlook on the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive at sunrise, Big Bend National Park, Texas. Photo © Steve Lagreca/123rf.

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands

Experience diverse and authentic island culture against a backdrop of Danish colonial architecture. Whet your travel appetite with our expert author’s introduction to St. Croix, then start your planning with our seven-day travel itinerary.

The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands is the richest in history, culture, and landscapes…. Nowhere is St. Croix’s diversity more evident than in its music, food, and arts.”
–From Moon U.S. & British Virgin Islands by Susanna Henighan Potter

Salt River Bay, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.
Salt River Bay, St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Photo © Susanna Henighan Potter.

April

Cuba

Soak in the infectious energy of this enigmatic island—and perhaps even get there on a direct flight from the U.S. Here’s why you should travel to Cuba and just as importantly, five ways to immerse yourself in the experience.

Cuba is a mother lode for anyone who loves classic American autos, fine cigars, quality rums, and Las Vegas-style cabaret revues…. The tail fins of ’57 Eldorados still glint beneath the floodlit mango trees of nightclubs.”
–From Moon Cuba by Christopher P. Baker

View over the Parque Céspedes in Santiago de Cuba.
Parque Céspedes in Santiago de Cuba. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Bourbon Trail, Kentucky

Sample small towns and small sips of Kentucky’s spirit along this idyllic route. To make the most of your meandering along the trail, check out our five day itinerary.

Travel along the famed Bourbon Trail and you’ll get to taste more than the nation’s only native liquor…. This is small-town America, …where neighbors are never strangers and where the best cooking is home cooking.”
–From Moon Kentucky by Theresa Dowell Blackinton

Oak barrels used for aging whiskey along the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky. Photo 123rf.
Oak barrels used for aging whiskey along the Bourbon Trail, Kentucky. Photo © dcslim/123rf.

May

Hudson River Valley, New York

Catch a northbound train from New York’s Grand Central Station for a weekend of antiques and historic estates. There are plenty of day trips to the Valley for those short on time but big on travel.

A handful of majestic estates line the Hudson River…. Kykuit, the sprawling hilltop estate of the Rockefeller family, is a must-see…. If you want to browse antiques shops, …stay on the train until it arrives at Cold Spring Station.
–From Moon Hudson Valley & the Catskills by Nikki Goth Itoi

There are tremendous views to be found in the Catskills, like this scenic look at North-South Lake.
There are tremendous views to be found in the Catskills, like this scenic look at North-South Lake. Photo © Colin Young/123rf.

Cobá, Mexico

Climb the Maya pyramid Nohuch Mul at the Cobá Archaeological Zone—an increasingly rare experience.

Just an hour from Tulum are the terrific jungle-cloaked ruins of Cobá…. The view from the top is impressive—a flat green forest spreading almost uninterrupted in every direction.”
–From Moon Cancún & Cozumel by Gary Chandler & Liza Prado

Coba, Mexico, 123rf
Mayan Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba, Mexico. Photo © Nataliya Hora/123rf.

Quito, Ecuador

Wander through Quito and enjoy the sights of cobbled, hilly Old Town in the (nearly) year-round springtime air.

Steep, narrow streets characterize [Quito’s centro historico], and cars barely fit in lanes designed for horse and foot traffic.”
–From Moon Ecuador &the Galápagos Islands by Ben Westwood

Aerial view of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.
Aerial view of the city of Quito, Ecuador. Photo © Nicolas De Corte/123rf.

June

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Stare out at the garden of sandstone spires and see first-hand what a hoodoo is. Take three days to experience best of Zion and Bryce, or craft your own weekend escape.

Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon at all, but rather the largest of a series of massive amphitheaters cut into the Pink Cliffs…. A short walk down either the Queen’s Garden Trail or the Navajo Loop Trail from Sunset Point will bring you close to Bryce’s hoodoos.”
–From Moon Zion & Bryce by W. C. McRae & Judy Jewell

Thor's Hammer, a large hoodoo, bathed in early morning light.
Thor’s Hammer at sunrise in Bryce Canyon National Park. Photo © Pierre Leclerc/123rf.

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Tour the quaint Charlottetown on the island inspired the bucolic setting of Anne of Green Gables and get back to nature in Prince Edward Island National Park.

L. M. Montgomery portrayed rural Cavendish as an idyllic ‘neverland’ called Avonlea, imbued with innocence and harmony. The most pastoral and historic places are preserved as part of Prince Edward Island National Park.”
–From Moon Atlantic Canada by Andrew Hempstead

Prince Edward Island, Canada, 123rf
Prince Edward Island harbor. Photo © Darryl Brooks/123rf.

July

Vancouver and the Canadian Rockies

Take an epic drive from one of Canada’s most dynamic cities to the glaciers and ice fields of Banff and Jasper National Parks. Roadtrip to Vancouver and make sure the car’s packed for camping in Banff. If you’d like to take in more of the city or Vancouver Island, here’s when and where to go.

With the purple of dusk coloring the sky, Vancouver's city lights reflect in the water.
Vancouver’s city skyline. Photo © Lijuan Guo/123rf.

Vancouver [is] a splendid conglomeration of old and new architectural marvels, parks and gardens, and sheltered beaches.”
–From Moon British Columbia by Andrew Hempstead

The 230-kilometer (143-mile) Icefields Parkway, between Lake Louise and Jasper, is one of the most scenic, exciting, and inspiring mountain roads ever built.”
–From Moon Canadian Rockies by Andrew Hempstead

Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Photo © Feng Yu/123rf.
Icefields Parkway and Cirrus Mountain in the Canadian Rockies. Photo © Feng Yu/123rf.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Step up your Spanish game with a short-term course at a language school in this charming town. Use these tips on learning and speaking Spanish in Mexico and bolster your studies by taking in the best of San Miguel and more with our expert author.

As evening falls, …amber streetlights illuminate the sandstone domes of 18th-century churches, while clanging iron bells herald the end of another day…. Mariachis tune their instruments and sidewalks hum with diners, gallery-goers, and revelers. This is Mexico mágico, the mythic place of corridos (ballads) alive and thriving on the high plains.”
–From Moon San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato and the Bajío by Julie Doherty Meade

San Miguel de Allende. Photo 123rf.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, overlooking Parroquia Archangel Church. Photo © William Perry/123rf.

August

Boise, Idaho

Savor authentic Basque cuisine in this up-and-coming capital city, which also hosts a summer Shakespeare festival in a riverside amphitheater. Before you travel, discover all Idaho has to offer.

Once you arrive in Boise, take in a summer play under the stars at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival after touring the Basque Block… a thriving ethnic enclave with restaurants, bars, and a museum.
–From Moon Idaho by James P. Kelly

The foothills of Boise, Idaho. Photo © rck953/123rf.
The foothills of Boise, Idaho. Photo © rck953/123rf.

Charlevoix, Québec

Follow the St. Lawrence River north out of Québec City for relaxingly beautiful scenery, quaint towns, and perhaps a beluga whale sighting. Once winter hits, skiing Le Massif de Charlevoix is an incredible experience–despite modernization, the mountain maintains its unique, untouched beauty.

Charlevoix’s landscape is distinct in its variety. At times pastoral and hilly, the region’s high cliffs and breathtaking fjords are adorned with tundra, while nearby, steep sand dunes rise unexpectedly along the coastline.”
–From Moon Montréal & Québec City by Sacha Jackson

Landscape of Port-au-Persil in Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada. Photo © Denis Roger/123rf.
Landscape of Port-au-Persil in Charlevoix, Québec, Canada. Photo © Denis Roger/123rf.

September

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan

Kayak around Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore to view these colorful cliffs at your own pace. Start planning your visit early to make the most of the experience.

The remarkable colors, cliffs, and rock formations of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore stretch out like an artistic masterpiece being unveiled.”
–From Moon Michigan’s Upper Peninsula by Paul Vachon

Miner's Castle in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan. Photo © ehrlif/123rf.
Miner’s Castle in Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan. Photo © ehrlif/123rf.

Machu Picchu, Peru

Hike through the Andes–for two hours or upward of four days–to add to the unforgettable reward of seeing Machu Picchu. Make this trip-of-a-lifetime the full experience by taking on the trek to Machu Picchu, and explore the best of Machu Picchu in eight days.

The mist lifted to reveal the spellbinding sight of perfect stonework backed by the towering mountain of Huayna Picchu…. Machu Picchu is the culmination of a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage.”
–From Moon Machu Picchu by Ben Westwood

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo 123rf.
Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo © a41cats/123rf.

October

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina to Virginia

Road trip along “America’s Favorite Drive” surrounded by the warm hues of fall foliage. Take a full two weeks for the experience, and make sure you brush up on these driving tips for the Blue Ridge Parkway.

North Carolina’s High Country is no joke. The mountains are steep, and the road grows aggressively curvy, making for unworldly views as you round corners with nothing but space and the Blue Ridge Mountains in front of you.”
–From Moon Blue Ridge Parkway Road Trip by Jason Frye

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. Photo 123rf.
Linn Cove Viaduct, Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. Photo © Mark VanDyke/123rf.

Oaxaca, Mexico

Celebrate Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the week leading up to it in Oaxaca City and surrounding towns, the best place in Mexico to experience this fiesta.

You can spend your entire week admiring altars and tapestries, and enjoying the party in Oaxaca City. Or you can head out into the valleys and hills, and celebrate…in a dozen different towns and villages. Every single one will have its own way of honoring their dead.”
–From Moon Oaxaca by Justin Henderson

La Catrina costume, Dia De Los Muertos. Photo © Alejandro Duran/123rf.
La Catrina costume, Dia De Los Muertos. Photo © Alejandro Duran/123rf.

November

Northern Sonoma, California

Visit this quintessential California wine country region on a weekday during this most popular season to beat the crowds. Between tastings, there’s always plenty of hiking, boating, and biking.

The cool, lush Russian River Valley has forests, rivers, small farms, and some of the best pinot noir and chardonnay in California…. The warmer Dry Creek Valley and Alexander Valley are home to big red wines from small family-owned wineries.”
–From Moon Napa & Sonoma by Elizabeth Linhart Veneman

Napa Valley, California. Photo 123rf.
Napa Valley, California. Photo © Andrew Zarivny/123rf.

São Paolo and Iguaçu Falls, Brazil

Head to Brazil’s economic and cultural center for urban sophistication then combine it with a side trip to Iguaçu Falls to stare into the Devil’s Throat. A stroll to take in the sights along São Paulo’s Avenida Paulista is an excellent daytime activity, as is shopping for the latest Brazil fashions between browsing antique galleries.

“Teeming with noise, activity, and a certain degree of urban chaos, …São Paolo offers a wealth of artistic, gastronomic, nightlife, and shopping options.”

“Iguaçu is not just one big cascade but a series of 275 falls that rush over a 3-kilometer-wide (2-mi) precipice. The sound is deafening, and the sight absolutely unforgettable.”
–From Moon Brazil by Michael Sommers

Iguacu Falls, Brazil, 123rf
Iguaçu Falls, Brazil. Photo © leksele/123rf.

December

Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia

Watch the sunrise from one of the beaches in Colombia’s famously beautiful national park. Plan your visit for early December to avoid the winter holiday rush, and make certain you pack the essentials for Colombia travel.

The frequently tempestuous waters of the PNN Tayrona provide dramatic scenery, with palms growing atop massive island boulders, waves crashing up against them.”
–From Moon Colombia by Andrew Dier

Tayrona NP Colombia
Parque Nacional Natural Tayrona, Colombia. Photo © Andrew Dier.

Nashville, Tennessee

End the year to the beat–and inspiration–of Music City. Seek out live music venues as you take in the the best of Nashville in the fall and winter.

People come here to make their dreams come true…. You don’t have to be here more than a day or two to encounter truly talented musicians singing on the curb on Broadway.”
–From Moon Nashville by Margaret Littman

Nashville, Tennessee. Photo 123rf.
Downtown Nashville skyline, Tennessee. Photo © Sean Pavone/123rf.

Costa Rica’s Best Surf Spots

For many, the search for the perfect wave has ended in Costa Rica, the “Hawaii of Latin American surf.” You’re spoiled for choice, with dozens of world-class venues and no shortage of surf camps, surf schools, and rental outlets.

A surfer on a longboard turns into a crumbling wave.
Surfing in Costa Rica. Photo © José Pablo Orozco Marín, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean has fewer breaks than the Pacific but still offers great surfing. Waves are short yet powerful rides, sometimes with Hawaiian-style radical waves. The best times are summer (late May-early Sept.) and winter (Dec.-Mar.), when Atlantic storms push through the Caribbean, creating three-meter (10-foot) swells.

A 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Limón is Isla Uvita, with a strong and dangerous left. Farther south, there are innumerable short breaks at Cahuita. Still farther south, Puerto Viejo has the biggest rideable waves in Costa Rica. Immediately south, Playa Cocles is good for beginners.

Guanacaste and the Northwest

Surfing is centered on Parque Nacional Santa Rosa, and Witch’s Rock at Playa Naranjo, one of the best beach breaks in the country. While many of the hot spots require a 4WD vehicle for access, surf excursions from nearby Nicoya beach resorts make them more accessible. The best time is during the rainy season (May-Nov.).

The Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya offers more than 50 prime surf spots, more than anywhere else in the nation. Just north of Tamarindo is Playa Grande, with a five-kilometer-long (3-mile-long) beach break acclaimed as Costa Rica’s most accessible and consistent. Tamarindo is an excellent jumping-off point for a surf safari south to more isolated beaches, including at Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra (definitely for experts only), Nosara and Playas Sámara, Coyote, Manzanillo, and Malpaís. All have good surf, lively action, and several surf camps.

Central Pacific

Central Pacific surfing centers on Jacó, where the waves appeal to beginners and intermediates. Farther south are Playa Hermosa, which has expert beach breaks and an international contest every August, and Playas Esterillos Este and Oeste. Farther south, what Manuel Antonio lacks in consistency it more than makes up for in natural beauty. Dominical has “militant” sandbars and long point waves in an equally beautiful tropical setting. The best conditions are July to December.

Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula

The cognoscenti head to Pavones, on the southern shore of the Golfo Dulce. On a decent day, the fast, nearly one-kilometer (0.6-mile) left break is one of the longest in the world. The waves are at their grandest in rainy season, when the long left point can offer a three-minute ride. Cabo Matapalo, on the Osa Peninsula, is another top spot.


Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.

Volunteer with Constru Casa in Guatemala

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Constru Casa works with partners and individual families in a variety of support programs.
Constru Casa works with partners and individual families in a variety of support programs. Photo © Logan Sierra, courtesy of Constru Casa.

Based in Antigua, Constru Casa seeks to provide basic, safe housing to families across Guatemala who live in extreme poverty. Similar to the model used by the international organization Habitat for Humanity, Constru Casa’s recipients participate in the construction of their home and pay for a portion of it (roughly 25 percent) through an interest-free, four-year loan. The target beneficiaries are families whose income is US$65-270 per month. Volunteers and the home recipients work together under the supervision of a local mason to build a three-room, concrete and corrugated iron house in two weeks’ time.

[pullquote align=right]They built or improved approximately 90 houses and community projects in 2012.[/pullquote]Constru Casa also works with partners and individual families in a variety of support programs, such as helping with small-scale health care and educational projects, paying teacher salaries, offering improved stoves and water filters to beneficiary families, and carrying out home maintenance. They built or improved approximately 90 houses and community projects in 2012.

Volunteer workdays are 8am-5pm, with a break for lunch. Cultural experiences such as climbing a volcano, taking a tour to visit traditional weavers, visiting a coffee or macadamia nut farm, or making an excursion to Lake Atitlán can be organized for the weekend. The cost of weekend trips ranges from US$10 for a half-day excursion to US$45-250 for an overnight trip.

Antigua is a lovely historical town full of colonial churches and adobe-walled homes. Founded in the early 16th century, it was the capital of Guatemala until 1773. Locals flock to Antigua from Guatemala City on the weekends to walk its cobblestone streets, eat in its many restaurants and cafés, and shop for high-quality handicrafts. Although beautiful, Antigua still has some petty street crime, so volunteers should be careful with their personal belongings, avoid flashing expensive jewelry or electronics such as MP3 players, be discreet with their cameras, and avoid walking alone at night, especially on dark or quiet streets (taxis are inexpensive). When taking a hike or nature walk outside of Antigua, it is recommended to go in groups rather than alone.

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Constru Casa

Antigua, Guatemala
tel. 502/7832-8348
http://www.construcasa.org

Application Process: To apply, send an email. Volunteer slots can fill up in advance, especially during busy times of the year. Individual volunteers must be at least age 18; those age 16 and 17 may volunteer with parental permission and an adult chaperone. Families with children age 13 and older are welcome.

Cost: Volunteers are asked to fundraise for the house they will work on: US$350 for individuals and US$4,000 for groups (which covers the entire cost of a house). There are no other program fees. Volunteers are responsible for their own expenses.

Placement Length: A minimum placement of at least two weeks is encouraged, in order to stay to see the house built.

Language Requirements: Spanish is useful but not required.

Housing: Constru Casa can arrange local accommodations, either in a homestay (US$90/week, meals included) or in a hostel or hotel (US$9/night and up). Volunteers who stay in a hostel or hotel are responsible for their own meals.

Operating Since: 2004

Number of Volunteers: Approximately 220 in 2012.

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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The Best of El Salvador in 14 Days

If you have two weeks, you have enough time to get in all the best of El Salvador on offer. The western beaches of the Pacific Coast are the perfect way to kick off your vacation, enjoying the famous sun, surf, ceviche, and cerveza. The ruins, volcanoes, and quaint, colorful towns of Ruta de Las Flores in Western El Salvador are not to be missed.

Although San Salvador gets a bad rap, there are plenty of hidden gems in and around this heavily populated city. The northern part of El Salvador is a welcome respite from the heat, with cool cloud forests and a peaceful hike to the highest point in the country.

The wild east is the least frequented part of El Salvador, but an absolute must for anyone interested in the history of the civil war. Finally, the eastern beaches offer raucous surf or quiet untouched estuaries—you choose.

The Pacific Coast: Western Beaches

Day 1

Fly into Comalapa airport and head straight for the beaches near La Libertad. Go to Playa El Tunco if you want action, or Playa El Zonte if you want a more laid-back vibe. Take a surf lesson or hike to Tamanique Waterfalls. Enjoy the spectacular sunset over a seafood dinner.

Enjoy a spectacular sunset over Playa El Tunco.
Enjoy a spectacular sunset over Playa El Tunco. Photo © HELIOS, licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.
Travel map of the Pacific Coast of El Salvador
The Pacific Coast

Western El Salvador

Day 2

Take the bus to Juayúa via Sonsonate. This route, known as Ruta de Las Flores, is a pretty, winding road with wonderful views of the surrounding coffee fields and volcanoes. When you get to Juayúa, drop your luggage off at your hotel and then hop on the bus and head to Concepción de Ataco for the afternoon. Stroll the cobblestone streets, pick up some arts and crafts, and enjoy dinner in one of Ataco’s unique restaurants. Come back to Juayúa to get a good night’s sleep before tomorrow’s hike.

Day 3

Get up early and hike the Siete Cascadas Tour. If it is the weekend, stay in Juayúa for the Feria Gastronómica, the food fair around parque central. If not, catch the afternoon bus to Santa Ana. When you get to Santa Ana, walk around the center of the city and take in the impressive architecture built during the coffee boom of the late 19th century. Don’t miss the beautiful El Teatro Nacional and the Catedral de Santa Ana.

Travel map of Santa Ana, El Salvador
Santa Ana

Day 4

Take the bus to Lago Coatepeque in the morning. Have lunch, enjoy the view of the shimmering emerald green lake, and return to Santa Ana. If you have more time in the afternoon, hop on another bus and head to the Mayan ruins at Tazumal in Chalchuapa.

Day 5

Get up early and go to Parque Nacional Los Volcanes, home to three of the country’s most noteworthy volcanoes. Climb Volcán Santa Ana, an intermediate hike that ends with the iconic view of a striking green sulfur lake. Come back to Santa Ana to sleep.

San Salvador

Day 6

Take the bus to San Salvador. Tour the Centro Histórico in the morning and Parque Nacional El Boquerón, a volcanic complex that opens up into a massive crater, in the afternoon. Have dinner at one of the restaurants on the road that heads toward the park, enjoying an unrivalled view of the city.

Travel map of San Salvador
San Salvador

Northern El Salvador

Day 7

Take the bus to Suchitoto. Take a bird-watching tour or hike to Cascada Los Tercios, then check out the Casa Museo de los Recuerdos Alejandro Cotto, an eclectic museum in the home of El Salvador’s most iconic patron of the arts. In the afternoon take the bus to La Palma. Explore the tiny town and buy souvenirs. Sleep in La Palma.

Day 8

Get up early and take the bus to the trailhead for Cerro El Pital, the highest point in El Salvador. Hike El Pital and return to Suchitoto for dinner and sleep.

Travel map of Northern and Eastern El Salvador
Northern and Eastern El Salvador

Eastern El Salvador

DAY 9

Take the bus to San Salvador first, and from there to San Miguel. Check out parque central and the Catedral Nuestra Señora de la Paz with its red steeples and pretty stained glass. Spend the night in San Miguel.

Day 10

Get up early to catch the bus to Perquín. Once in Perquín, take the afternoon to check out the Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña, which documents the history of the country’s civil war. Sleep in Perquín.

Perquin, El Savador.
Perquin, El Savador. Photo © descubriendoelmundo, licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.

Day 11

Get up early and take the bus to El Mozote and visit the El Mozote memorial, dedicated to the victims of one of Latin America’s most brutal massacres. Then walk to Río Sapo and spend an hour or two in the cool, clean water. Take the bus back to Perquín to sleep.

The Pacific Coast: Eastern Beaches

Days 12-13

Take the bus back to San Miguel and then take the bus to the beaches in El Cuco. Check out Playa Esterón for a relaxing day, or Playa Las Flores for a surf day. If you are feeling adventurous, take a boat trip around the Golfo de Fonseca, a relatively untouched area showcasing the country’s natural beauty. Sleep at the beach.

Back to San Salvador

Day 14

Take a bus back to San Salvador, head to the ruin of Joya de Cerén, or do last-minute shopping at the artisanal market before catching your flight home.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon El Salvador.

Where to Go in El Salvador

Though El Salvador is a small country, it’s hugely rich in history, culture, and nature. Each region has its own unique draw, such as the excellent surfing on the Pacific Coast or San Salvador’s museums, but wherever you go, you’ll find a little of everything.

Experience the colonial charm of Suchitoto, El Salvador.
Experience the colonial charm of Suchitoto, El Salvador. Photo © Pablo Hidalgo/123rf.

San Salvador

San Salvador sits in a fertile valley and has a history as eruptive as the volcanoes that surround it. The churches and plazas of the Centro Histórico all have stories of protest and revolution. The museums, restaurants, and bars of Zona Rosa are perfect for an afternoon of art and culture, and day trips to the natural attractions of Parque Nacional El Boquerón or Puerta del Diablo are just a quick drive to the outskirts of the city.

Western El Salvador

Just west of San Salvador, the scenic rolling Ruta de Las Flores takes you through the Sierra Apaneca-Ilamatepec mountain range, punctuated with charming little towns including Juayúa, home of El Salvador’s most popular weekend food fair and Concepción de Ataco, the colorful cobblestone village. Parque Nacional Los Volcanes (Parque Cerro Verde) is where you can climb volcanoes, including Izalco and Santa Ana. Nearby Lago de Coatepeque is one of the largest crater lakes in the country, and the ruins of Tazumal in Chalchuapa are just a short bus ride from El Salvador’s second-largest city, Santa Ana.

The Pacific Coast

[pullquote align=right]With just over 300 kilometers of Pacific coastline, there’s something for everyone on the beaches of El Salvador.[/pullquote]With just over 300 kilometers of Pacific coastline, there’s something for everyone on the beaches of El Salvador. The western coast offers several world-class beach breaks for surfers, and the bustling backpacker hub of Playa El Tunco is the perfect base from which to explore them all. Farther west, the remote Barra de Santiago is a peaceful escape with mangroves and bird-watching.

The east coast also offers top-notch surfing at Playa Las Flores and Punta Mango, or sunbathing and swimming at Playa Maculis or Playa Esterón. The more adventurous can continue east to the Bajo Lempa region, where the Río Lempa meets the Pacific Ocean. Here, Bahía de Jiquilisco and Isla Montecristo offer community-based ecotourism and opportunities to release baby turtles. Finally, the rugged undeveloped islands in the Golfo de Fonseca offer remote beaches and spectacular views.

Northern and Eastern El Salvador

The first Spanish settlement in El Salvador, Suchitoto still shows its colonial roots, with cobblestone streets and crumbling century-old homes. The nearby ruin of Cihuatán is the largest pre-Hispanic site found in the country, and farther north the whimsical town of La Palma showcases the art of famed artist Fernando Llort. Continue up to the cloud forest of Cerro El Pital, the highest and coolest point in the country. The wild east starts in the major city of San Miguel, its nightclubs and big hotels in sharp contrast to the nearby rural towns of Perquín and El Mozote, where the Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña and the El Mozote memorial are stark reminders that not so long ago this country was in the throes of a bloody civil war. The east also offers prehistoric cave art in the Cueva del Espíritu Santo.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon El Salvador.

Planning a Trip to El Salvador

If wealth were measured in kindness, El Salvador would be the richest country in the world. This tiny place with a big heart is famous for softening even the most hardened cynics, and showing them a damn good time while it’s at it.

[pullquote align=right]Volcano hikes, national parks teeming with birds and butterflies, and a rugged Pacific coastline dotted with secluded getaways make this country an outdoor enthusiast’s dream.[/pullquote]Until recently the only people passing through were intrepid backpackers and devout surfers. But it was only a matter of time before the secretive whispers about crystal green lakes, misty cloud forests, and mysterious ruins got out. Throw some of the best surf breaks in the world into the mix and El Salvador’s a hidden gem that’s soon to be discovered.

Volcano hikes, national parks teeming with birds and butterflies, and a rugged Pacific coastline dotted with secluded getaways make this country an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. But by far, El Salvador’s most valuable asset is its people. Hard-working and fast-talking, Salvadorans always have time to help someone in need. The country seems to run on the perfect balance of play and productivity. Perhaps it is the many and varied hardships the people of this land have endured that has taught them that life is too short to be taken too seriously. If you ask a Salvadoran where something is, you may be offered a ride, asked to join a meal, then be offered half the plate. And if somebody invites you over to their home, chances are you will have a forged a friendship for life.

The mountainous landscape of Panchimalco near San Salvador.
The mountainous landscape of Panchimalco near San Salvador. Photo © milosk/123rf.

The land of El Salvador is as colorful as the people. The abundance of volcanoes lends it a mythical appeal; flowering trees pepper the landscape with orange, lavender, and fuchsia hues; and the diverse coastline offers huge waves, surreal estuaries, and expansive white-sand beaches. El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America, making it possible to take a morning hike in the cool northern mountains, eat fresh seafood on the beach for lunch, and then shimmy the night away at a salsa bar in San Salvador.

Unfortunately, many people exploring Central America opt out of El Salvador, scared off by reports of violence and crime. Yes, gang activity is high, but it’s also localized in terms of where and who is targeted. Incidents involving visitors are extremely rare. The El Salvador you hear about in the news and the El Salvador you are about to discover are two very different places. Leave your preconceptions at the border, expect the unexpected, and prepare to be pleasantly surprised.


When to Go to El Salvador

There are two seasons in El Salvador—the rainy season and the dry season. Rain falls from June to November, and usually during the night. The ideal time to go is right after the rainy season in December-January when things are still lush and green. The best time to go surfing is March to October.

The high season is considered Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter), the month of August (when there are school holidays and San Salvador celebrates its Fiestas Agostinas), and December, when there are extended holidays for Christmas.


Before You Go to El Salvador

Passports, Tourist Cards, and Visas

Travelers to El Salvador must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of entry. A visa is not required to enter El Salvador, but a tourist card, which costs $10, must be purchased upon entry at Aeropuerto Internacional Comalapa or through any of the four land-border entry points. When you buy the tourist card, you will be given a receipt to keep with your passport. You will not be required to pay it again if you exit and reenter El Salvador, as long as you have your receipt and your tourist card remains valid.

Vaccinations

Although no immunizations are required to enter El Salvador (aside from yellow fever, if you are arriving directly from a tropical region), visitors should make sure their routine immunizations are up to date. In addition, dengue fever (for which there is no vaccine) has become quite prevalent in the last few years, so it is advised to take extra precaution when it comes to avoiding mosquitoes.

Transportation

El Salvador has one international airport, Aeropuerto Internacional Comalapa, and a very comprehensive and economical bus system within the country, but riding on old American school buses might not suit everyone’s tastes. Hiring a private taxi to get around is an option but is quite costly. It’s cheaper to rent a car, and El Salvador has an excellent road system.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon El Salvador.

Volunteer with Grid Alternatives’ International Program in Nicaragua

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Grid Alternatives’ International Program is a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged communities install solar electric systems on community buildings such as schools, libraries, health clinics, and orphanages. Grid Alternatives works closely with the communities it serves to ensure that in addition to need, there is a community desire to have the project and the ability to actively participate in its preparation, installation, and maintenance. While the organization is based out of California, it works in rural communities across Nicaragua.

Grid Alternatives’ International Program is a nonprofit that works to install solar electric systems in rural communities across Nicaragua.
Grid Alternatives’ International Program is a nonprofit that works to install solar electric systems in rural communities across Nicaragua. Photo © kmr18819, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Grid Alternatives offers several nine-day service trips per year where volunteers travel with the organization to install solar panels. Trip dates are set well in advance and are available online.

[pullquote align=right]With guidance from a professional solar company, volunteers work side by side with local community members to install the solar panels.[/pullquote]With guidance from a professional solar company, volunteers work side by side with local community members to install the solar panels. Specific installation tasks may include: installing the solar modules and the racking on the roof, mounting the battery rack and hooking up the batteries, hanging and wiring the inverter and charge controller on the wall, and installing and wiring all of the light sockets, outlets, and switches inside the building. Other tasks may include training community members, moving equipment, entertaining the kids in the community, organizing components, drilling holes in the wall, pulling wires, hanging conduit, and measuring the battery voltage. Volunteers usually work from morning to evening for 2-3 days to complete the installation.

Due to the remote locations of Grid Alternatives projects, there may not be many opportunities for traditional tourism while at the project site. However, trips always include a couple of days of sightseeing before and after installiation, including activities such as a visit to a crafts market or one of Nicaragua’s colonial towns, a lake tour by boat, nature hikes to a waterfall or on one of Nicaragua’s volcanoes, dinner out, a music performance, and a trip to a coffee plantation or a cigar factory.

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Grid Alternatives’ International Program

Boaco, Granada, Matagalpa, and Rivas, Nicaragua
http://www.gridalternatives.org

Application Process: To apply, fill out their on-site form, followed by a 50 percent deposit if you wish to reserve a spot. There is no minimum age to volunteer, just the ability to walk long distances and tolerate the heat. Former volunteers have ranged in age from 9 to 65, and families are welcome.

Cost: Usually US$1,600, covering all in-country expenses. Grid Alternatives has facilitated fundraising through their Crowdrise page.

Placement Length: Nine days.

Language Requirements: None.

Housing: Accommodations vary, from a high-end hotel in Managua to a very basic homestay (without electricity or running water) in the rural community where the project is located. After installation, volunteers move to a modest hotel for a couple of days of guided sightseeing. Meals range from restaurant fare to basic meals with rice, beans, and tortillas in the rural community.

Operating Since: 2008

Number of Volunteers: 44 in 2012.

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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Volunteer with Bridges to Community in Nicaragua

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Bridges to Community’s mission is “to build a more just and sustainable world through service learning and community development by engaging volunteers to work in developing countries—building community and changing lives.” The emphasis is on shared work and community empowerment, and Bridges to Community makes long-term commitments to the communities where it works. At their beginnings in 1992, they ran a single trip to Nicaragua; for 2013, they organized 50 trips. Many of these trips are organized for private groups (students, youth groups, colleagues from a corporation, a group of neighbors and friends), but others are open to individual volunteers. Open trips often have a particular focus, such as “friends and family,” “college student leaders,” “young professionals,” or “business leaders.”

[pullquote align=right]Families with children of any age are welcome.[/pullquote]Bridges to Community has four programmatic areas of focus: housing, health, education, and economic development. In addition to building low-income housing, Bridges to Community helps secure land titles and repair existing structures. Health projects have an emphasis on preventative care as well as clinic work, and have included installing smokeless stoves, building water systems to deliver potable water, and constructing and repairing medical facilities. The education program focuses on the construction of classrooms, libraries, and other school buildings, as well as scholarships, workshops, and adult education programs. The economic development program runs training workshops in basic arithmetic, accounting, and small business administration. Bridges to Community also provides grants for small cooperative business ventures, like fair-trade organic farming.

A field of coffee plants in Nicaragua.
Bridges to Community provides grants for small cooperative business ventures, like fair-trade organic farming. Photo © Dennis Tang, licensed Creative Commons Attribution & ShareAlike.

Evening activities might include a soccer or baseball game with other volunteers and members of the community. There are also evening meetings. Some are organized with local leaders who speak to volunteers about the needs in their community and how they are currently working with Bridges to Community. Other meetings are group reflections where the issues of poverty, globalization, fair trade, international affairs, Nicaraguan history, and other topics are discussed to enrich the volunteers’ understanding of the challenges that community members face. There is usually a chance for one or two days of sightseeing sometime during the week.

Bridges to Community works in five regions of Nicaragua, including many rural or semirural communities, as well as in Masaya, Nicaragua’s second-largest city. In 2012 Bridges to Community began a program in the Dominican Republic, with six trips planned for 2013.

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Bridges to Community

Ossining, NY
U.S. tel. 914/923-2200
http://www.bridgestocommunity.org

Application Process: To apply, send an email to indicate your interest in an existing trip or discuss organizing a group trip. A US$250 deposit is required 90 days prior to your trip; full payment must be received one month before travel. Volunteers with youth/student groups must be age 15 or older; those under the age of 18 must provide a signed parental permission form. Families with children of any age are welcome.

Cost: US$1,295, including all meals, lodging, transportation, hotels, project fees, and entrance fees to sightseeing venues.

Placement Length: The average placement length is nine days.

Language Requirements: None, although Spanish study prior to the trip is always encouraged.

Housing: Typically cots in community centers; volunteers must bring their own sheets and blanket. Meals are included, even those at restaurants.

Operating Since: 1992

Number of Volunteers: 900 in 2012.

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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Volunteer with Long Way Home in Guatemala

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Long Way Home's current primary project is the construction of an elementary and vocational school using rammed-earth tires and polypropylene bags, water harvesting, and trash-filled bottles.
Long Way Home’s current primary project is the construction of an elementary and vocational school using rammed-earth tires and polypropylene bags, water harvesting, and trash-filled bottles. Photo © Genevieve Croker, Long Way Home.

Located in a small town in the southwestern highlands of Guatemala, Long Way Home uses “sustainable design and materials to construct self-sufficient schools that promote education, employment and environmental stewardship.” Founded in 2004 by a former Peace Corps volunteer, Long Way Home has since received international attention for its innovative leadership in combating waste. In addition to alternative construction, their projects include environmental education and water distribution.

[pullquote align=right]Founded in 2004 by a former Peace Corps volunteer, Long Way Home has since received international attention for its innovative leadership in combating waste.[/pullquote]The organization’s focus is on the promotion of green and alternative building practices. Their current primary project is the construction of an elementary and vocational school using rammed-earth tires and polypropylene bags, water harvesting, and trash-filled bottles. October 2014 marked the end of the first successful school year for kindergarten to 6th grade; 2015 will see the addition of 7th grade with secondary school planned for opening in 2016. Long Way Home has also partnered with Engineers Without Borders to help bring running water to rural villages near Comalapa; they have built wood-burning cookstoves and water storage tanks for families who do not consistently have running water.

Volunteers work 7am-4pm Monday-Friday, and the tasks are physically demanding: pounding dirt, plastering walls, creating art, or offering engineering services. Alternatively, volunteers who can commit to two months or more can choose to support Long Way Home’s educational efforts by teaching English, environmental education, or other skills in local schools. Long Way Home also suggests ways for supporters to volunteer from home, either before or after their trip. Volunteers can sign up for Spanish lessons as well as day trips, for an additional fee.

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Long Way Home

San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala
tel. 502/5703-5238
U.S. tel. 936/275-7807
http://www.lwhome.org

Application Process: An application form is available online, which requires three references (at least two of which should be professional). The minimum age for individual volunteers is 18. Spots can fill up well in advance.

Cost: Individuals pay US$75 per week or US$300 per month, which includes the accommodations (volunteers are responsible for their meals). One-week group trips are US$600 per person and include accommodations and meals, as well as transportation between Guatemala City and Comalapa, one town tour, one cultural night, and one overnight excursion to Antigua or Lake Atitlán.

Placement Length: The recommended placement length is 1-3 months for individuals and one week for groups.

Language Requirements: There are no language requirements for building projects. Intermediate Spanish is required for teaching.

Housing: Volunteers stay at a guesthouse at the community park. The guesthouse has a kitchen, and volunteers typically purchase and prepare food communally (meals at the guesthouse are mostly vegetarian). There is electricity but no hot water. Homestays are available for an additional fee (US$10 per week), or volunteers can stay in a simple hotel (US$20 per week).

Operating Since: 2004

Number of Volunteers: Approximately 200 in 2012.

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Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Volunteer Vacations in Latin America.

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A Taste of Nicaragua’s First Craft Brews

There’s no question that craft beer is trendy. Microbreweries have been popping up all over in the past couple of years—there are now over 3,000 breweries in the U.S. and counting. More and more, folks prefer them for great taste and experimental flavors. Central America is more popular for its delicious rum than its diversity of hops, but luckily the microbrewing trend is now catching on in Nicaragua. ¡Salud!

Two companies dominate Nicaragua’s beer industry: Victoria and Toña. Both are very light beers with only slightly different flavors. They’re refreshing when served ice-cold, and are well loved in Nicaragua. Over time, I acquired a taste for these staples. Then came Cerveceria Moropotente.

Moropotente brewers Eduardo Mendieta (left) and José Marcel Sanchez (right).
Moropotente brewers Eduardo Mendieta (left) and José Marcel Sanchez (right). Photo provided by Cervecera Moropotente.

[pullquote align=”right”]Moropotente’s brews are only sold on tap in the European style with plenty of foam. (It’s extremely rare to find beer on tap here.)[/pullquote]The brewery hit Nicaragua’s beer scene in 2014. Inspired by the wide variety of beer he found while studying in Seattle, young Nicaraguan microbiologist José Marcel Sanchez started Moropotente together with his brother-in-law Eduardo Mendieta in the hope of diversifying the local palate. “We’ve started breaking a lot of taboos in the [Nicaraguan] market,” he said recently in an interview with Nicaraguan news channel 100% Noticias. Moropotente’s brews are only sold on tap in the European style with plenty of foam. (It’s extremely rare to find beer on tap here.) The brewers import malt and hops from a few different European countries.

Moropotente currently brews three delicious craft beers: a stout called Lado Oscuro (a creative combination of flavors including chocolate and coffee), a Blonde Ale called 19 Días, and a Pale Ale called Citrus which incorporates local fruits. And they’ve got a stockpile of recipes just waiting to be rotated into circulation. The brewery, El Negrito, is located in Dolores, a small town near Jinotepe and Diriamba in Carazo (although they have yet to set up tasting facilities on site). Sanchez says Carazo’s high quality water—the principal ingredient of beer—is perfect for making beer.

Two Moropotente beers: "19 días" Blonde Ale and "Lado Oscuro" Coffee and Chocolate Premium Stout.
Two Moropotente beers: “19 días” Blonde Ale and “Lado Oscuro” Coffee and Chocolate Premium Stout. Photo provided by Cervecera Moropotente.

Try it for yourself at either of two highly recommended restaurants near Jinotepe: Makimaki (De dónde fue la lotería, 1 block south, one block east), a reasonably priced sushi joint in Jinotepe, or Casa del Campo (Km. 61 Carretera Nandaime), a classy restaurant that uses organic vegetables from its on-site organic garden. In Managua, you can find Moropetente’s brews at Layha Bistro (in Altamira, from ProNicaragua, 1 block southeast), Pia Bistro, and Embassy Bar and Lounge (in Zona Hippos). In Granada: at Garden Café, and Oshea’s Irish Pub. In San Juan del Sur: La Carreta (in front of Iguana), and in León: at Ya Voy (50 meters west of Parque La Merced).

A couple of foreigners also brew their own beer in Nicaragua. Visit San Juan del Sur Cervecería (across from the market), run by a trio of guys from the northeastern U.S. and served on-site in their San Juan del Sur bar. Or try German-crafted Erdmann’s, sold in Managua at El Segundo, Ola Verde, and Stop&Go. In Granada, at Espressonista, El Tercer Ojo, Gelateria Italy & Co., and Jicaro Island Ecolodge (in las isletas), in Laguna Apoyo at Apoyo Lodge and The Monkey Hut, and in León at Hotel Azúl.

Beer-lover’s Nica vocab list

  • beer – bicha (or cerveza)
  • to drink beer – bichar
  • hangover – goma
  • cheers – salud
  • brewery – cervecera or cervecería
  • dark – oscura
  • light – clara
  • malt – malta
  • hops – lúpulo

Nicaragua's First Craft Brews will leave you wanting a taste!


The sixth edition of Moon Nicaragua will be available in November 2015.

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