Archive for October, 2014

3 Places to Visit in Panama (Besides the Panama Canal!)

Posted on October 28th, 2014 by Dusty Fox in Uncategorized | No Comments »

If you’re planning a trip to Panama, I can guess the number one thing on your itinerary: a visit to the Panama Canal. It’s true–if you’re heading to this Central American country you’d better not miss your chance to visit its most famous landmark. However, there’s lots more to the region than its hardworking canal system. Here are 3 of my top picks for places to visit in Panama after you’ve spent a day or two learning about and admiring the Panama Canal:

Casco Viejo [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 2.0, Yari Vallarino]

Casco Viejo [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 2.0, Yari Vallarino]

Casco Viejo in Panama City

Casco Viejo, or The Old City, is a charming place to spend the day and see an entirely different side of Panama’s capital. Cobblestone streets and decaying buildings are being restored, with new investment and energy infiltrating the neighborhood in the form of boutique hotels and trendy cafes. Friendly street vendors sell homemade goods that make excellent souvenirs, and if you have the time I highly recommend you strike up a conversation with a few of the locals here to learn more about the area. Be on the lookout for some stunning views as you navigate the interwoven streets, plazas, and stairways of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Pipeline Trail in the Bajo Mano Forest, Boquete

You’ll have your choice of a number of trails in the Boquete region, but the Pipeline remains one of the more popular thanks to the abundant wildlife and scenic waterfall that serve as a reward to those who make the 2- to 3-hour roundtrip journey. Birding enthusiasts will definitely want to visit with a qualified guide who can help them spot a quetzal, the national bird of neighbor Costa Rica, along with dozens of other types of birds that inhabit the area. Between the dense vegetation and beautiful wildlife–including monkeys and sloths, in addition to all those birds, the Pipeline Trail is a photographer’s dream.

Playa Estrella [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 3.0, JurriaanH]

Playa Estrella [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 3.0, JurriaanH]

Playa Estrella in Bocas del Toro

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago located at the northwestern corner of Panama. It consists of 9 main islands and has historically been popular among partying college students, though a growing number of 20- and 30-somethings with more nature-focused interests are elevating the region’s reputation above that of a simple Spring Break destination. Playa Estrella, or Starfish Beach, is one of the area’s main attractions, although there’s no guarantee you’ll see what all the fuss is about on any given day. Some days dozens of huge starfish appear in the shallow, perfectly clear waters, and on other days not a single one presents itself. Practice your patience and indulge in a sense of optimism as you make the fun journey across the main island, Isla Colón, to sit beachside and (hopefully) see these beautiful creatures. And please, whatever you do, pay attention to the signage everywhere that reads “No Tocar Las Estrellas” and keep your hands off the fragile starfish, despite seeing a few idiots who somehow can’t fight the temptation.

Ready to put your Spanish skills to the test? If you need a little extra help before you feel ready to chat it up with the locals in Panama, be sure to reach out to us at Spanish Trainers. Whether you’re looking for private lessons or classes in a small group setting, we’ll help you get set up with an instructor in your area.

Paraguay on a Budget: 3 Hostels to Include in Your Itinerary

Posted on October 13th, 2014 by Dusty Fox in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Tucked away in the middle of South America lies Paraguay, a varied country that receives much less attention than its flashier neighbors Brazil and Argentina and the also landlocked Bolivia. With hot, semi-arid lowlands dominating most of the western portion of the country, subtropical forest and grassy savannas make up the majority of the eastern side. It proudly carries the nickname “Corazón de America,” or “Heart of America.”

Travel to Paraguay can be surprisingly affordable, and–even better–free of stress. For the absolute best experience, I suggest you take a no-nonsense approach to your trip. Pack light, eat casually, and stay in hostels. This style of travel is always a good bet when you want to focus on the local culture, and especially so in Paraguay where there’s zero need for stuffiness or formality. Here’s a list of recommended hostels you’ll want to check out for your trip to Paraguay:

Asuncion, Paraguay

Asunción [Photo Credit: Creative Commons 3.0, Felipe Antonio]

El Nomada Hostel, Asunción

Weather permitting, you’ll definitely want to spend a few hours reading your guide book at this property’s backyard lounge area, complete with swimming pool. Despite its central location, the property is surprisingly peaceful and makes for an excellent respite from the noise. If you’re traveling solo, you’ll have opportunities to make friends with other travelers at a nighttime BBQ or over a game of ping pong. The owners’ cat wanders around the property, giving it a definite “home away from home” feel. Breakfast includes cold and hot offerings, though you’ll have a hard time resisting the smiley face pancakes.

Karana Hostel, Encarnación

The vibe at Karana Hostel matches that of the entire town of Encarnación–quiet, low key, and peaceful. The complimentary breakfast is basic, but you can always opt to take advantage of the well-equipped kitchen if you’re looking for something more robust. The property is simple and clean, and you’ll especially appreciate the (genuinely) hot showers if you’re visiting in the rainy months. Rooms are outfitted with generously sized closets that have locks, so you can rest easy leaving behind your belongings while you go out to explore the ruins or other local attractions. Check out the hanging garden that features a collection of soda bottles that have been up-cycled into flower planters while you’re there.

Jesuit Ruins, Paraguay [Photo Credit: Public Domain, PattyP]

Jesuit Ruins, Paraguay [Photo Credit: Public Domain, PattyP]

Casa Alta Hostel, Ciudad del Este

The lush green courtyard at Casa Alta Hostel is the perfect place to spend an evening or two while passing through Paraguay’s Ciudad del Este. It features a beautiful swimming pool and an outdoor BBQ that just begs to be used. I recommend you make the 20-minute trek into town, buy some supplies, and spend the night chatting up the owners and fellow travelers as you prepare a home cooked meal. If it’s raining, you can always take advantage of the upstairs BBQ and mixed indoor/outdoor space or even relax in the TV room.

Paraguayans are uniquely proud of their indigenous culture, Guaraní, including the language of the same name. More than 90% of the population speaks both official languages of the country, Spanish and Guaraní, so you have a good chance of picking up a few essential words and popular phrases while you’re there. If you’re eager to get your Spanish ready for the journey, contact us at Spanish Trainers and we’ll set you up with private or small group classes.