Coastal Caribbean Islands – Central America – The Ultimate Guide

Caribbean Islands Map

NOVEMBER 2016 - JUNE 2018:


Why not read our Retirement Reviews.


OVERVIEW:

For the Central American leg of my GRANDPAcking world trip I targeted several Caribbean Islands off the coast from Belize down to Colombia.Caribbean Islands Map

I was searching for that ‘idyllic’ GRANDPAcking Standard retirement location. I visited several isands:

  • Ambergris Caye, Belize
  • Caye Caulker, Belize
  • Utila, Honduras
  • Roatan, Honduras
  • Big Corn, Nicaragua
  • Little Corn, Nicaragua
  • Isla Bastimentos, Panama
  • Bocas Del Toro, Panama
  • San Andres, Colombia
  • Providencia, Colombia

One of the main attractions of these islands is that they all have an historical link back to the British Empire and, therefore, English is widely spoken. This makes it easier for GRANDPAckers to integrate.

PLEASE REMEMBER: This blog looks at life through the eyes of 2 GRANDPAckers. GRANDPAckers are retirees who have no assets and who are trying to LIVE on their State Pension of US$55 / day. If you have more money than that, some islands that I have discounted (for you they) may come into play …

So, how did I get on? Did I find a GRANDPAcker’s paradise?


AMBERGRIS CAYE – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

The cheap options get booked out weeks (if not months) in advance. Most (if not all) of the budget accommodation is in or close to San Pedro town. GRANDPAckers should look for accommodation between Pedro’s Inn (south) and the bridge (north).san-pedro-map

There are accommodation options that are not listed on the internet search engines; but, I walked past a few and none of them look any good. Judging from their exteriors, they are unlikely to meet GRANDPAcking Standards.

The cheapest accommodation that you can get on the waterfront is US$50+ / night for a basic Double Room. GRANDPAckers will be in an hotel in the back streets.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I, initially, booked the cheapest room that I could find: a Twin Room with Shared Bathroom for US$20 / night at Pedro’s Inn. My Twin room was unacceptable. It was tiny. The floor was dirty and dusty (which was a pain when you’ve just had a shower). There was no daily cleaning. The fan was noisy. There was nowhere to put your clothes. It was a box.ambergris-pedros-room

The Shared Bathrooms weren’t much better. The water pressure was poor and sometimes the water disappeared completely in the middle of your shower. They were run down and needed a really good clean and tidy up.ambergris-pedros-shared-bathroomambergris-pedros-shared-toilet

The closest beach was about 200 meters away down and across the main road. This beach was fronted by a retaining wall. You needed to walk 200 meters more to get to a proper beach.

I moved into town to the Hotel Ocean Paradise. Online, they had discounted their rooms down to US$45. I offered them US$32.50 / night for 14 nights … cash up front. He ‘wriggled’ a little bit but accepted.ambergris-ocean-frontage

My room was a Queen with hot water ensuite, cable tv, aircon, wardrobe, and in-room wifi.ambergris-ocean-bedambergris-ocean-furniture

It was a standard budget hotel. The service was ‘average’ … you had to ask them to clean your room. The Ocean Paradise is a 20 meter walk to the nearest beach.

ambergris-ocean-nearest-beach-2

THE STREETS:

A typical street in your area will look like this:ambergris-town-7

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:ambergris-town-8

TRANSPORT:

You can easily walk everywhere around San Pedro town.ambergris-ocean-balcony-view-3

A bicycle is a good option but it is expensive. The cheapest is about US$6 / day. Most want US$9 / day. Golf Carts are everywhere and can be rented for about US$40+ / day.

THE BEACH(es):

Much of the beachfront is now secured by retaining walls to prevent beach erosion. The ‘typical’ beach is unkempt and broken my lots of (privately owned) boat piers.

The best beach within 400 metres of you will look like this:ambergris-beach-south-5

The best beach within 1km of you will look like this:ambergris-beach-south-1

FOOD & DRINK:

A typical ‘lower quartile’ meal in a budget restaurant will set you back US$10-US$12.50. Add another US$2.50 to that if you want to eat on the beachfront. The average price of a main meal on a menu is about US$15-US$17.50.

There are a few cheap eateries around town where you can get snacks for as low as US$2.50.ambergris-neris

The standard price for a small, 330ml local beer is US$2.55. Everywhere. Cocktails average US$7.50. You will find some places that do Happy Hour. Most end at 7:00pm. Some at 8:00pm. Most Happy Hours do not include beer and usually only cover drinks made from ‘local’ spirits.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

The local boys are not shy of making a ‘smart comment’ or two and can be very rude – if not intimidating. You can expect to be on the receiving end of a nasty comment at least once per day.

In many years of travelling around the world, I have not come across this before. The perpetrators expect you to be a ‘good little tourist’ and just take their insults … they aren’t used to be challenged for it … but, on a couple of occasions, I found myself confronting them … probably not a wise thing for me to do … but I can’t stand unsolicited rudeness.

For me, it is just a matter of time before standing up to them results in something physical  happening … Personally, I can’t be bothered being in a place like that.

Expect to be offered ‘weed’ as you walk down the street. But, would you buy from someone on the street that you’ve never met in a country like Belize?

Don’t walk too fast … sooner or later a young local guy will tell you off.

WHEN TO GO:

August through November is hurricane season in this part of the world, and the weather becomes more changeable and less predictable during these months.belize-climate

The rainy season is June through October.

High Season prices generally ‘kick in’ on 1st December; some earlier. The place starts filling up from Thanksgiving. Christmas, New Year, March and April are particularly busy (and expensive).

GRANDPAckers have very few ‘windows of opportunity’ to come to Ambergris Caye. The best time for GRANDPAckers to come is early November. This means that you will miss the rains but still be able to negotiate a good price on accommodation before it becomes impossible to do so.

ENTERTAINMENT:

Swim and snorkel.

Otherwise, there isn’t really that much to do except ‘live the beach life’ and enjoy the various restaurants and bars. Some bar or other has something on each night of the week.

COSTS:

GRANDPAckers cannot afford to come in Peak Season. GRANDPAckers have 2 one-month ‘Shoulder Season’ slots: November and June. Low Season (July through October) is also possible if you are prepared to put up with variable weather and rainy days.

The ‘Cost Of Existence’ of 2 GRANDPAckers is about BZ$157 / NZ$112 / US$79 / €74 / £62 per day.

This leaves you NOTHING to LIVE on (i.e. you are already 40% OVER your GRANDPAcking budget).

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Ambergris Caye seems to be benefiting from the fact that it is close to the USA & Canada and is English speaking.

But, I have to tell my readers that there are much better places to go that offer the same (if not better) at half the price.


CAYE CAULKER – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

In Caye Caulker, most (if not all) of the budget accommodation is in the Village. GRANDPAckers should look for accommodation north of the airstrip between the Tropical Paradise (south) and the Lazy Lizard (north).caye-caulker-where-to-stay-map

There are almost no accommodation options within GRANDPAcker price range.

There are a (very) few places not listed on the internet search engines; but, I walked past a few and none of them look any good. Judging from their exteriors, they are unlikely to meet GRANDPAcking Standards.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I booked 3 nights in the Axios Sun Apartments. It was the cheapest private room accommodation that I could find … I was hoping to find something more affordable once I got there (not). I booked a 1 bedroom apartment at US$40 / night. My apartment was small but comfortable and functional. You walked into a kitchenette / dining / lounge area with a floor-standing fan and cable TV.caulker-axios-kitchenette

The aircon unit was in the bedroom. Alas it was too loud to have on at night, so I used the floor-standing fan in the bedroom when I went to bed.caulker-axios-bedroom

The ensuite was a good size with plenty of hot water (albeit on a low water pressure).

THE STREETS:

A typical street in this area looks like this:caulker-caulker-typical-street

The street where you will live is likely to look like this:caulker-axios-street-east

You can imagine, yourself, how bad these streets get when it rains.

TRANSPORT:

You can walk around the island on foot.caulker-beach-walk-4

THE BEACH(es):

There is a small area of beach in town but it quickly gives way to just piers out over the water. You seem to get a pier almost every 50 metres. There aren’t any good beaches. Sure, there is sand underfoot as you enter the water but there is a lot of sea grass too … the best swimming is done off the ends of the piers. Lazy Lizard on the Split is the main ‘hang out’ during the day but this doesn’t have a beach – you jump in off the pier.caulker-beach-walk-2

The closest beach to your hotel is likely to look like this:caulker-beach-walk-6

The best beach within 1km will look like this:caulker-axios-nearest-beach

FOOD & DRINK:

Eating out in Caye Caulker is cheaper than it is in San Pedro. But, still, expensive compared to other GRANDPAcking destinations.

The cheap eateries can be found in the back streets. Something like a Cheese Fryjack is US$1 or US$2.50 for fancier fillings (e.g. Ham, Egg, and Cheese). Another cheap place is Chan’s Takeout where you can get meals from US$4 to US$7.50.

A typical ‘lower quartile’ meal in a budget restaurant will set you back US$7.50-US$10. Add another US$2.50 to that if you want to eat on the beachfront. The average price of a main meal on a menu is about US$12.50-US$15.

The standard price for a small, 330ml local beer is US$2.50. Everywhere. Cocktails are US$5-US$7.50. You will find some places that do Happy Hour. Most end at 6:00pm. Some at 7:00pm. Most Happy Hours do not include beer and usually only cover drinks made from ‘local’ spirits.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

You don’t get the ‘smart’ comments from the young guys like you do in San Pedro. Which is nice. It makes Caye Caulker seem a lot more relaxed and friendly.

WHEN TO GO:

As per Ambergris Caye (above).

ENTERTAINMENT:

Swim and snorkel.caulker-beach-walk-9

Otherwise, there isn’t really that much to do except hang around in one of the bars. There are, basically, only about 4 bars that attract the crowds: the Lazy Lizard, the Sports Bar and the Reggae Bar being 3 of them.

COSTS:

Your Cost Of Existence (COE) and Cost Of Living (COL) will be similar to that of Ambergris Caye … you cannot afford to exist here … let alone LIVE!

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

I don’t understand why Caye Caulker gets such good reviews from people. I can only assume that the people that have written those reviews are youngsters who haven’t travelled much.

I have travelled a lot … it is what I do. For me, Caye Caulker is over-priced for what it offers … the beaches are average at best.

There are much better places to go that offer the same (if not better) at half the price.


UTILA – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

You want to get into Area B.Utila Areas Map

Area A is very expensive with up-market hotel accommodation and monthly rentals in the US$1,500+ / month price range. Area C is rural and there are too many mosquitoes. 

Online search engines list Double Rooms in Area B starting at US$70+ / night. Only AirBnB offers rooms within GRANDPAcker price range. Don’t be fooled by weekly rentals in Area D starting at US$135 / week. Area D is too far from shops, restaurants, and bars – so you will need to rent your own transport.

I suggest that GRANDPAckers look for an apartment on / near the waterfront on the Main Road west of the Ferry Dock going towards the Public Beach (Crepes Beach). This offers the best access to everything that Utila has to offer.

Alternatively, look in / around ‘The Point’ … but only if you can find accommodation that offers free access to Bando Beach.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

Accommodation on the usual online search engines was too expensive for our GRANDPAcking budget. Even a bunk bed in a dorm was going for US$24 / night!

I did not book in advance … I just turned up and took a chance. I walked around and found a Double Room for US$20 / night at the Margarita Hotel (it should have been US$26). It had an hot water ensuite. It even had a little wardrobe!Utila - Margaritas - Room Entry

I spent the next 2 days wandering around town, following up on ‘apartment for rent’ signs and asking people. There are a lot of very ‘average’ 1 bedroom apartments being advertised in the US$400-450 price range. Most are US$600+.

It had rained heavily only 2 days before my arrival. This hatched the mosquito eggs and the mozzies were out in force. I visited 3 inland apartments set in nice floral grounds. I was bitten alive just walking to them. It was impossible to sit outside on a balcony comfortably.

I finally found Maggie’s Place. It was definitely the best of the bunch … the only disappointment was that it did not have a balcony with a view … but it did have a pleasant communal area with a BBQ.Utila - Maggies Place - Rooms

One thing that I liked about the apartment was that it was spacious with a nice living area … somewhere to take refuge from the mozzies at dawn and dusk.Utila - Maggies Place - Entry

The kitchen came fully equipped.Utila - Maggies Place - Living Area

The bed was comfortable with a ceiling fan over. There was a wardrobe and lots of cupboards and shelves for storage.Utila - Maggies Place - Bedroom

The bathroom was a good size with plenty of hot water.Utila - Maggies Place - Ensuite Toilet

And, it came with good wifi and Cable TV (with many English speaking channels).

I paid US$450 / month excluding electric. They required an additional US$100 security deposit. Electric costs about US$3 / day if you don’t use aircon.

THE STREETS:

A typical street in your area looks like this:Utila - Main St East - 17Your accommodation will be on a street like this:Utila - Main St East - 16

TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere.Utila - Main St West - 38

A Tuk Tuk is US$1 to take you anywhere around town.

THE BEACH(es):

Most of the beaches are average with a lot of seaweed underfoot.Utila - Main St West - 13

There are only really 2 beaches to choose from. The Public Beach is at the north end of Area B.Utila - Main St West - 18

The Public Beach is 1km from the Ferry Dock. It has benches and tables but no loungers. But, the beach is better than Bando Beach (see below) and so is the swimming.Utila - Public Beach 1

The Private Beach (Bando) is at the south end of Area B (at ‘the point’).Utila - Bando Beach - South

It is 1-1.5kms from the Ferry dock. It has seating, tables, and loungers that you can use. The area is pleasant, but the beach is just OK … and so is the swimming. You have to pay a US$1.65 daily entry fee.

One of these two beaches will be your nearest beach. The other will be the best beach within 1km. Both beaches have sandflies.

FOOD & DRINK:

GRANDPAckers are going to be shocked at some of the prices. You can get into the area near the Treetanic Bar and find little local cafes selling Baleadas for as little as US$50c. For this price, you just get the simple ones: Tortilla bread filled with refried beans and grated cheese. But, you can’t live on Baleadas.Utila - Street - Baliadas HNL15 each

You find a couple of cheap local restaurants at the Public Beach. You can get a 1/2 Fried Chicken with fried banana and salad for US$4. More ‘cheap eats’ can be found at the Ferry Dock at dusk.Utila - Main St West - 24

Expect to see Breakfasts with coffee typically going for US$5+. If you want cheaper than that, you are looking at something simple (such as French Toast, Toast and Jam, a Bowl of Fruit & Muesli, etc).

Expect to pay an average of US$1.25 for a Lunch (e.g. Baleadas) and US$1 for a fruit drink (like a Lemon Water).

Don’t be surprised to see most mains displayed on menus in the US$8-US$10 price range. If you want to eat Dinner for under US$5 you will be eating Fried Chicken in rustic shacks. A ‘Meal of the Day’ (Comida del Dia) is always worth watching out for. You can see them advertised around town for as little as US$4. Expect to pay an average of US$8+ for a Dinner with a fruit juice.

Expect to pay US$1.60 for a 330ml bottle of the cheapest local beer (e.g. SalvaVida). In some bars, the standard price drops to US$1.40. There are several Happy Hours to choose from.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

Choose accommodation that is secure. Break-ins are fairly common (especially with un-secured apartments / houses).

The Bay Islands have a Sandfly problem: come prepared with repellents (DEET) and ointments. The mosquitoes can be a problem too.

WHEN TO GO:

As the rains hit the whole of Central America in June, the Bay Islands are one of the few places to take refuge.Utila Climate

Rain on the Bay Islands from June through September is half of what it is on other parts of the Caribbean Coast and a third (or less) of the rains inland.

ENTERTAINMENT:

There are things to do in Utila but they, mainly, revolve around beach life … relaxing, swimming, reading books, sipping beers …Utila - 8 - Bay

There are no hammocks on the beaches so, if you can, bring your own. Some bars offer free hammocks to patrons. On different nights you can get Karaoke, an Open Mic Night, and live music.

COSTS:

GRANDPAcking Standard:

The ‘Cost Of Existence’ of 2 GRANDPAckers is about HNL1296 / NZ$80 / US$58 / €52 / £46 per day. This leaves you NOTHING to LIVE on.

The Apartment Living Option:

GRANDPAckers will need to deviate from GRANDPAcking Standard and take up ‘apartment living’:

  • Getting your apartment at the right price is ‘key’, so take your time and get it right
  • Make sure that it comes with free cooking facilities / a kitchenette as this is also ‘key’ to keeping your meal costs under control
  • Take ‘cash in hand’ when you are ready to do the ‘final deal’ on the one that you have chosen
  • Discounts on the asking prices are hard to get, so keep your search limited to places listed for no more than US$500 / month
  • You should be able to get somewhere good for US$400 – US$450 / month

You can either eat in street stalls and ‘local shacks’ or buy in groceries. Either way, your daily fruit and fruit drinks will need to be purchased as groceries – the cost on the street is too expensive.

The ‘Cost Of Existence’ of 2 GRANDPAckers is about HNL9,169 / NZ$57 / US$41 / €37 / £33 per day. This is 71% of your daily budget.

This is about HNL375 per day to LIVE on (i.e. 29% of your GRANDPAcking budget). With that money you can LIVE ‘frugally’.

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Utila is dominated by ‘wanna-be’ SCUBA divers and young backpackers.

If you are not a SCUBA diver, there is surprisingly little on Utila for people to do.


ROATAN – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

Roatan Island is known to be more expensive than Utila Island. A search of internet information guided me to look in the West Bay, West End, and Sandy Bay areas. West Bay is said to be very expensive. I ended up in West End.Roatan Island Map

You may find a rare Double Room for US$20-US$25 / night (usually with a shared bathroom) … but prices usually start at US$30.

I suggest that GRANDPAckers look for an apartment on the West End waterfront. This offers the best access to everything that West End has to offer. Alternatively, look in / around ‘Lands End’ … but only if you are happy to focus your day around a swimming pool … and have a bit of a walk in / out of town center.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

Roatan is an English Speaking, mature holiday destination … There are very few accommodations options that are not already listed on the internet … so, it is not so easy to just ‘turn up’ and take a chance … I initially booked a Single Fan Room with Private Bathroom at Georphie’s.Roatan - Georphis - Single Cabin

The rack rate was US$25 / night plus 19% taxes but I use BOOKING.COM a lot and I am a ‘Genius’ member. Geniuses were offered 10% off rack rate. My single cabin was small but adequate. It came with a small fridge and a coffee maker. The bathroom had hot water. The wifi was poor and variable … sometimes unusable.Roatan - Georphis - Room Entry

I spent all of the next day walking around West End looking for long term accommodation. Many places do NOT offer long term rates … not even in Low Season. With many listed at US$55+ / night, they have no need to discount to weekly or monthly rates. There were only 2 decent places that I could find for under $600 / month. I chose the second option at Palapa Papa’s. Palapa Papas is not listed on the internet. It is situated at the south end of town on a quiet strip of the main beach road.Roatan - West End - Palapa Papas - Cabins

They had a nice, modern Studio apartment available at the very front overlooking the water. The normal rate was US$650 / month plus another US$20 for Cable TV. As it was entering Low Season, I got them down to US$600 including Cable TV. This works out to be just under US$20 / night. I had to pay a US$200 security deposit. This, with the month’s rent, was all paid up-front in cash.Roatan - West End - Palapa Papas - Studio Entry

The price included aircon, electric, and drinking water (in 5 gallon bottles).

Roatan - West End - Palapa Papas - Studio RoomThe resort didn’t have wifi but, I was at the front and I could occasionally get a signal from their Restaurant across the road.Roatan - West End - Palapa Papas - View to Bar

THE STREETS:

Your accommodation will be on a street like this:Roatan - West End 4

Which is typical of most of the streets around town:Roatan - West End 5

Unless you get into Land’s End where the streets are more rustic:Roatan - West End - Lands End

TRANSPORT:

You can walk everywhere around West End.Roatan - West End - Lands End Road 1

The 12km trip to Coxen Hole costs US$2 each in a Colectivo. You can get it for as low as US$4 in a taxi if you negotiate hard (and it is Low Season). As a Rule Of Thumb for taxis, work on US$1 for flag drop plus US$35c per km.

You will be island-bound. The cost of a return trip port-to-port to La Ceiba is about US$70 each excluding taxi costs at each end.

THE BEACH(es):

North of town the coastline is rocky – so most hotels have their own swimming pools. Your nearest beach will probably look like this:Roatan - West End 7

The best beach within 1km looks like this:Roatan - West End 2

FOOD & DRINK:

GRANDPAckers are going to be shocked at some of the prices. I was paying 3x on Roatan what I was paying elsewhere in Central America – for the same thing.

Roatan is VERY americanised … it might just as well be another state of the USA … tipping (if not automatically added to your bill as a hidden ‘extra’) is almost compulsory. I have included the cost of tips in the, below, prices. A 10% tip is expected.Roatan - West End - Street Cafes

Expect to pay an average of US$7 for a Breakfast with coffee.

Expect to pay an average of US$6 for a Lunch (e.g. Pupusas) with a fruit drink (like a Lemon Water).

Almost everyone seems to want US$10 for their cheapest main meal. Don’t be surprised to see most mains displayed on menus in the US$10-US$20 price range. The ‘art’ is to know where to go on which days to take advantage of the ‘specials’. Expect to pay an average of US$11.50 for a Dinner with a fruit juice / beer. This Dinner ‘average’ takes into account the ‘specials’ that you find around town like the ‘all-you-can-eat Chicken Wings at C-Level’ for US$10+ on Monday night and the ‘half-priced pizza’ for US$7+ at Splash Inn on Tuesday night.

Expect to pay US$2 for a 330ml bottle of the cheapest local beer (e.g. SalvaVida). In some bars, the standard price drops to US$1.85. There are a couple of Tiki Bars (like Bar Arena) on the beach where you get them for US$1.30 (all day and all night).

There is plenty of competition between the bars. This is good because it usually means ‘Happy Hours’. Several bars do Happy Hours (but not all). Happy Hours are usually between 5pm and 8pm. Some finish earlier. Some places have a Happy Hour between 4pm and 6pm where you can get 50% off Beers and Cocktails (US$s).

HEALTH & SAFETY:

Choose accommodation that is secure. Break-ins are fairly common (especially with un-secured apartments / houses).

Also, you are advised not to walk in remote areas at night. Roatan is not as safe as Utila.

The Bay Islands have a Sandfly problem: come prepared with repellents (DEET) and ointments. The mosquitoes can be a problem too.

WHEN TO GO:

As per Utila (above).

ENTERTAINMENT:

West End has a Noise Ordnance that requires most places to close at 10pm on weekdays and midnight at weekends. Some places with entertainment can extend this to midnight on weekdays and 2am on weekends. West End is a ‘fun’ town … not a ‘party’ town.

You can find karaoke and live music somewhere in town almost every night.Roatan - West End - Blue Marlin - Karaoke

Roatan is a big island, so there are lots of things to do. The coast walk down to West Bay is particularly nice.

COSTS:

GRANDPAcking Standard:

The ‘Cost Of Existence’ of 2 GRANDPAckers is about HNL2,025 / NZ$125 / US$93 / €79 / £71 per day. This leaves you NOTHING to LIVE on. You are already 56% over-budget. Sit on a beach.

The Apartment Living Option:

GRANDPAckers will need to deviate from GRANDPAcking Standard and take up ‘apartment living’:

  • You will need a couple of days to find your long term accommodation
  • For your short term accommodation, search online well in advance and keep looking regularly until you find something ‘acceptable’ to you for up to US$43 / night
  • This may or may not be to GRANDPAcking Standard… but it is only for 2 nights, so don’t worry too much about it… it should be perfectly adequate for that price
  • Georphi’s is a good cheap option
  • Once in Roatan, see what you can find
  • Getting your accommodation at a good price is ‘key’, so take your time and get it right
  • Make sure that it comes with free cooking facilities / a kitchenette as this is also ‘key’ to keeping your meal costs under control
  • Take ‘cash in hand’ when you are ready to do the ‘final deal’ on the one that you have chosen
  • Discounts on the asking prices are hard to get, so keep your search limited to places listed for no more than US$700 / month
  • You should be able to get somewhere good for US$650 / month including electric

You can either eat in street stalls and ‘local shacks’ or buy in groceries. Either way, your daily fruit and fruit drinks will need to be purchased as groceries – the cost on the street is too expensive.

The ‘Cost Of Existence’ of 2 GRANDPAckers is about HNL1,303 / NZ$80 / US$58 / €49 / £45 per day.

This is still US$3 / day over budget. This leaves you NOTHING to live on. You will have to eat Dinner back at your apartment if you want some spending money.

RETIREMENT:

No (but, this is purely based on costs).

CONCLUSION:

Roatan has a different ‘vibe’ from Utila. Roatan attracts an older and more affluent crowd.

Roatan is, also, a much bigger island than Utila with more places to go to and more things to do.


BIG CORN – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

Online prices for a Double Room start at about US$25 / night (some of these have a shared bathroom). US$30+ is more typical for a Private Room. As with Utila & Roatan Islands, I knew that I had to get out of hotels and into an apartment.

You need to be careful because many places like Lulus on AirBnB advertise ‘the entire place’ but, actually, only give you 1 room in a cabana of 3-4 rooms where you share the kitchen. It is intentionally ‘misleading’.

If you are here between May and January (the ‘Wet Season’), I suggest that you stay (in the green-shaded area) close to Arenas Beach. By being in this area during ‘Wet Season’, you can take advantage of the variable weather and you can go to / from the beach more easily during the day … as and when the sun comes out.

Big Corn - Where To Stay Map

Around Arenas Beach, you get the best out of what Big Corn has to offer: You have the shops on the southern tip of the airstrip, you have a larger selection of restobars to choose from (some on the beach), and you have access to the best beach.

Stay anywhere else and you are likely to be isolated, limited to just a couple of restobar options (within walking distance), on a poor beach, or all three.

If you are here between February and April  (the ‘Dry Season’), I suggest that you can stay anywhere around the island. You can catch a taxi to Arenas Beach for the day and return to your ‘hideaway’ in the evenings. Cost-wise, the formula is quite simple … you either:

  • Pay a ‘premium’ price to stay in accommodation in the green-shaded area near Arenas Beach
    • Expect to pay US$750 / month in an Hotel for a Fan Double with Private Bathroom; or
    • Expect the same (if you are lucky enough to find one!) for a 1-Month Rental property (including electric)
  • Pay a cheaper price elsewhere on the island for a Rental property BUT budget the extra cost of transport to/from Arenas Beach each day
    • Expect to pay US$650 for the rental property (including electric)
    • Expect to pay about US$100 / month in transport

MY ADVICE: Stay in Arenas Beach … at least, then, you have a lot more choices of where to go in the evening.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I found a 2 bedroom house near Brig Bay. It normally rented for US$100 / night … I got it for US$500 / month (including electric). It was an anomaly … don’t expect to find the same. It was a 600 metre walk to Brig Bay (the main township). Downstairs had a fully fitted kitchen, lounge, dining area, and toilet.Big Corn - Muriels - Downstairs EntryBig Corn - Muriels - Downstairs Kitchen

Upstairs had 2 Double Bedrooms that shared an ensuite. Both had cable TV, aircon, and access to a balcony with seating area and washing machine.Big Corn - Muriels - Upstairs Main Bedroom Furniture

My nearest beach was about 150 metres away and looked like this:Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 2

THE STREETS:

If you stay somewhere around the coast, a typical street in your area looks like this:Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 1

Or, around Arenas Beach like this:Big Corn - South West - Walk 1

Your accommodation will, probably, be on a street that looks like this:Big Corn - South West - Walk 4

TRANSPORT:

Big Corn Island has a paved road about 12 kilometres long which runs around the coastline of the island. Taxis loop around the island. Just flag one down. You are likely to have to share the taxi with other people. It costs US$0.70c each to go anywhere around the island during the day. This rises to US$1 after 10pm.

You can rent a bicycle for US$10 / day.

A bus circles the island clockwise and costs US$0.35c each per trip.

THE BEACH(es):

Around the coast, your nearest beach is likely to look like this:Big Corn - Brig Bay - Via Principal West 6

Arena’s Beach looks like this:Big Corn - Arenas Beach

FOOD & DRINK:

Brig Bay is in desperate need of a decent restaurant(s) and a decent bar(s). As the main town, it is very disappointing. It is boring … the whole island is! Food & Drink is, generally, about 25-50% more expensive than on the mainland.

On the Brig Bay waterfront there are a couple of local cafes where you can get a 2 piece Fried Chicken meal for US$5.50 and a 330ml Tona for US$1.20. In the ‘westernised’ restaurants you can double this.

In the cheaper bars a 330ml Tona beer is US$1 and a 1 liter Tona US$2.20. In the more ‘in’ bars around the island, you pay US$1.50 for a 330ml Tona. In the ‘westernised’ places you will pay US$1.75 + 8% Tax.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

Do not leave anything unattended on the beach whilst swimming. Some locals walk the beach and pick up anything that they find.

Be careful on the East Coast at night. Men turn up that nobody knows and there have been some ‘incidents’. The rumour is that they are ‘drug trade’ related. The West Coast is safe to walk at night.

There were mosquitoes around but they weren’t a problem.

WHEN TO GO:

The Corn Islands have a tropical rainforest climate.Corn Islands Climate Table

There is a drier period from February to April, but the trade winds ensure that rain still falls frequently during this period. For the rest of the year (when tropical low pressure dominates) rainfall is extremely heavy.

I arrived on the 20th December and stayed for 1 month through to 20th January. The weather was a 1/3rd 1/3rd 1/3rd. One third of the time we had strong winds with showers. One third showers amidst some sunshine. One third sunny days. Two thirds of the time it rained at night. Big Corn offers very little to do anyway … on bad days you just sit around in your hotel.

To get the best out of Big Corn Island you need to come in March (plus/minus 1 month). If you come at this time, you are coming in Peak Season and you will be paying full rate for your (all ready over-priced) accommodation.

ENTERTAINMENT:

There is very little to do. The nightlife is almost non existent.

COSTS:

GRANDPAckers cannot afford to LIVE on Big Corn Island to GRANDPAcking standard. Strangely, the ‘apartment living’ option works out to be about the same price as staying in a cheap hotel.

Your COE is US$51 / day (87% of your total budget).

This leaves you US$7 / day to LIVE on. You will NOT be able to LIVE on that. To LIVE, you will need to buy groceries and eat at home each day. You can eat at home for about half the price of eating out.

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Costs are almost identical to those on Roatan Island, Honduras (but, without the ‘fun’). I found no restaurant scene. No bar scene. No beach scene. Nothing.

HOWEVER, it is possible to live on Big Corn Island if you get a monthly rental and eat at home. Being able to ‘live’ is not the same as being able to ‘LIVE’.

MY ADVICE: Whether you can afford to come to Big Corn or not, don’t bother. Even if you do want to be a ‘recluse’, there are many much better places to be than Big Corn Island for the same amount of money. Go there instead.


LITTLE CORN – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

In summary:

  • The northern beaches are isolated and expensive
  • The eastern beaches are quiet and windy
  • The centre of the island is quiet and has the most mosquitos
  • The Village (western beaches) offers the best balance and the most variety

Little Corn Island MapMY ADVICE: If you are a couple seeking solitude, go to the Eastern Beaches. Otherwise, go to The Village. The Village is where you will find most of the ‘action’ with the odd store and dive shop intermingled with the most popular restobars. For many people, The Village is the ‘place to be’. Online, basic Double Rooms start at US$25.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

Yet again, I knew that I couldn’t LIVE on Little Corn Island to GRANDPAcking Standard without getting ‘inventive’. Experience told me not to waste my time in a cheap hotel. I was going to be there for a month … I needed a long term rental. I had a good look around for 2 days. I was amazed by how many hotels wanted US$30-50 for the simplest, rustic rooms.

Initially, I booked 2 nights at Christina’s Guesthouse. I booked a Double Room with a cold-water private bathroom. The price was US$27 / night. The room was small but well laid out.Little Corn - Christinas - Room

One of the main attractions of Christina’s is the shared kitchen – which helps budget travellers keep their costs down.Little Corn - Christinas - Shared Kitchen

For long term, I found a ‘Little House’ with 3 bulk beds. Because it was waiting to get ‘cleared’ by the tourist police, I got the whole place for US$500 / month.Little Corn - House - Bed

I had to share the kitchen with the rest of the hostel.Little Corn - Little House - Common Area

After 2 weeks my Landlady moved me into a 2 bedroom shared apartment that had become free at the back of Christina’s for the same price (US$500 / month including electric). The apartment had a small balcony. There were 2 bedrooms that shared a kitchen / dining / lounge area.Little Corn - Apartment - Main Entry

My Double Room with Ensuite was a lot smaller than the ‘Little House’ but sufficient. A young Canadian girl had the other room.Little Corn - Apartment - Bedroom Entry

THE STREETS:

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:Little Corn - Main Path to Eastern Beach

A typical street looks like this:Little Corn - Main Township 1

TRANSPORT:

There is no transport. If you have heavy luggage, you can hire a ‘Wheelbarrow’ to anywhere on the island. To the eastern beaches, pay no more than US$5. To the northern US$10.

From The Village, you can walk to anywhere on the island in 30-45 minutes.

THE BEACH(es):

The village has a reasonably good beach that is 200-300 metres long and is an average of 10 metres wide. The beach ends just after Hotel Los Delfines. This is, most likely, going to be your nearest beach:Little Corn - Main Township Beach 1

The best beach within 1km is the eastern beach:Little Corn - Eastern Beach Elsas Cabins

The best beach on the island is Otto Beach found on the north of the island – a 30 to 45 minute walk from the village:Little Corn - Otto Beach 1

FOOD & DRINK:

Food & Drink is, generally, about DOUBLE the price that you pay on the mainland. Groceries are relatively expensive too (more than on Big Corn Island).

Most main meals around town start at US$7. The Encuentros (the cheapest accommodation on the northern beaches) charges an average US$20 for a main meal. Around The Village, there are 2-3 restaurants that offer better value and cheaper prices.

GRANDPAckers cannot afford to eat in the ‘in bars’ (like the Delfine, Tranquillo and Desideri). Meals start at US$7 and they are small.

In the cheaper restobars a 330ml Tona beer is US$1.35. Bars do not sell 1 litre bottles. Stores charge the same price. In the more ‘in’ bars around the island you pay US$2 which drops to US$1.50 in Happy Hour! The average price of a cocktail is US$7. At these prices, GRANDPAckers need to seek out Happy Hours.

PLEASE NOTE: On Big Corn, you can buy a 1 litre Tona for under US$2 and a 330ml for US$1.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

There were a lot of mosquitoes around … and, they were annoying … especially around sunset (you got eaten alive). Bring plenty of repellent. In the cheap hotels make sure that your room has a good mozzie mesh on the windows and / or your bed has a mosquito net.

Watch out for the locals in the bars that come up to you very friendly … then ask you to buy them a drink or lend them money. It happens too frequently for my liking.

Drugs (including Marijuana) are highly illegal in Nicaragua and there are big penalties if you get caught. There is a very ‘low key’ drug scene on the Corn Islands.

WHEN TO GO:

As per Big Corn (above).

MY ADVICE: To get the best out of Little Corn Island, you need to come in March (plus/minus 1 month). If you come at this time, you are coming in Peak Season and you will be paying full rate for your (all ready over-priced) accommodation.

ENTERTAINMENT:

The Lighthouse have a Sunday Funday that starts at 4pm with discounted cocktails.

The Tranquilo Bar runs a Quiz Night every Tuesday at 9pm.

The Tranquilo Bar and the Desideri Bar put on the occasional live music in the evenings (1-2 hours after Happy Hour closes).

The Reggae Bar offers 4 Pool Tables (at US$0.35c / game). The Reggae Bar also gets busy late at night as the disco gets going … Saturday night is the biggest night. They also put on the, occasional, live music and karaoke.

2 hour snorkeling trips cost US$20. 4 hour Fishing Trips cost US$70.

Walk the East Coast. Walk to Otto Beach.

COSTS:

You will need to deviate from GRANDPAcking Standard … but, only for accommodation … you need to get an apartment.

Your COE is US$52 / day (89% of your total budget).

This leaves you US$6 / day (N$180) to LIVE on. You will NOT be able to LIVE on that … it buys you 2 Happy Hour cocktails or 4 Happy Hour beers.

To have some spending money, you will need to buy groceries and eat at home each day. You can eat at home for less than half the price of eating out. This does not meet GRANDPAcking Standard.

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Little Corn Island attracts its ‘regulars’ who return year after year. Most of these’regulars’ come from the USA and Canada … probably because it is cheaper and easier for them to get to the Corn Islands than it is to get elsewhere.

Little Corn Island has become greedy. Big Corn and Little Corn are both 60kms from the mainland. You can see Big Corn from Little Corn. They are serviced by the same cargo ships. Yet, some prices on Little Corn are DOUBLE what you pay on Big Corn. There is no good reason for it.

Little Corn are putting margins upon margins for almost everything. Even the boat back to Big Corn costs US$7 (it is only US$5 if you catch the same boat from Big Corn to Little Corn).

MY ADVICE: The Corn Islands are hard to get to, over-priced, and over-rated. The weather isn’t that great either. There are many other better places to go (whether that be short-term or long-term). If you are looking for this type of holiday experience, the Gili Islands in Indonesia beat the Corn Islands ‘hands down’.


ISLA BASTIMENTOS – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

Bastimentos is only 10 minutes by water taxi from Bocus Town and is considered to be a much more relaxed alternative … Bastimentos is becoming an increasingly popular destination for budget travellers.Isla Bastimentos Map

The waterfront pathway is only about 600 meters long. You want to stay somewhere along this pathway. You do not want to stay inland.Bastimentos - Old Bank - 6

Online, a basic Double Room starts at US$21+ / night. 

There are very few GRANDPAcking options to choose from. Most of the accommodation is already online … you will not find any ‘hidden gems’.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I stayed in a Double Room at Bubba’s for US$31 / night. The room was very basic.Bastimentos - Bubbas - Bed

The door to the ensuite was off its hinges and didn’t close. The ensuite was very ‘tired’ and needed a really good tidy up.Bastimentos - Bubbas - Ensuite Entry

The ‘free’ Breakfast was poor (2 small pancakes), there was no water from 10pm to 8am (so, you couldn’t flush the toilet between those times), and the shared kitchen was too small (problematic to share and closed after 5pm).

Over-the-water, there were very few places to choose from … and, they were all as run-down as Bubba’s.

THE STREETS:

Your accommodation will be on the main pathway:Bastimentos - Old Bank - 7

The typical pathway looks like this:Bastimentos - Old Bank - 8

TRANSPORT:

You walk everywhere.

A Water Taxi from Bastimentos to Bocas Town takes about 10-15 minutes and costs US$3 (they will try and charge you US$5 … but, just assertively give them US$3).

THE BEACH(es):

Your accommodation will not be on a beach. You will (most likely) have a pier out over the water. You swim from there.Bastimentos - Bubbas Deck Area

The best beach near you is at the west end of the path:Bastimentos - Old Bank - 4

The nearest nice beach is Wizard Beach. Budget 30 minutes walk each way along a goat track and, in some places, ankle deep in mud:Bastimentos - Wizard Beach 2

FOOD & DRINK:

Restaurants around town are all quite similar. If you eat in your Hostel, expect to pay US$5 for a very simple Breakfast and US$10 for a very simple Dinner.

For better value for money you need to go to a local restaurant. The prices are similar but you get something larger and nicer. A Chicken Chow Mein at Alvin’s was US$9.

During the day, and early into the evening, some of the locals sell US$5 meals at the front of their houses. One night I tried a Fried Chicken Wings (4 pieces) with Fried Plantain for US$5.

The standard price for a small beer is US$2. You can get one at Bubba’s in Happy Hour for US$1 (6pm-7pm). You can buy small beers in the local bars (like Casino’s) for US$1 all night. Otherwise, you are buying your alcohol in a local store at similar prices.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

The Bocas del Toro Islands lack some basic infrastructure. The community does have a waste water (sewage) treatment plant, but it is not to ‘western’ quality. They lack a water filtration / treatment system. Most sewerage still gets flushed directly into the waters around the towns. This makes the swimming around the townships ‘unhealthy’ and ‘undesirable’.

When you trek inland (say, across to Wizard Beach) you are advised not to take anything of value. There is a history of people getting mugged. There is, now, a permanent police presence at Wizard Beach and they also keep a watch on the trail. The police do not allow tourists on the trail at night

There is a drug scene – mainly marijuana. I am told that you pay US$65 for a 1/4 oz (7 grams at US$9 / gram). You can pay nearly double that if you buy it on the street.

When I was there, mosquitoes were around but they were not a problem.

Don’t drink the tap water.

WHEN TO GO:

Between the months of April to June and August through October the water conditions tend to be the calmest. Although the larger wave season stretches from March to August, the island can still be accessed easily, many surfers come to the area, and there are many sunny days during this period.Bocas Del Toro Climate Chart

Bocas Del Toro Province has a tropical wet climate with no dry nor cold season – as it is constantly moist (with all-year-round rainfall). The temperatures remain consistent during the year.

ENTERTAINMENT:

Snorkeling trips cost about US$25. Spear Fishing trips cost about US$45.

The waters around Old Bank town are polluted … swimming is not advised.

But, mostly, you are here to enjoy the Caribbean ‘hippy vibe’ on your hostel’s boat pier whilst playing board games or reading a book.

COSTS:

Costs are similar to Bocas Town (see, below).

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Bastimentos is a small place with a ‘hippie vibe’. Most people socialise around the 2 main hostels: Bubba’s House and El Jaguar (which are next door to each others). Other hostels are a lot more quiet. Some are so quiet that they lack atmosphere.

What put me off was the weather. In the rain, there is very little to do and very few options as to where to do it. Alas, in Bocas del Toro Province, it rains most of the time.

I abandoned Isal Bastimentos quickly. I wouldn’t go again.


BOCAS DEL TORO – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

February / March is ‘Peak Season’ as they are the driest months. This Peak Season seems to have slipped to March / April and, now, encompasses Santa Semana / Easter / Holy Week. To find something within the GRANDPAcker price range, you will need to come at another time of year (when there will be even more rain!). Online, a basic Double Room starts at about US$25 / night.Bocas Town Map

There are very few GRANDPAcking options to choose from on the internet. However, there are several hostels around town that are not online. If they are not online, they are (usually) cheaper … however, I doubt that you will find any ‘hidden gems’.

I stayed in both Saigon and Bocas Town. I advise you to stay in the latter. Saigon is too far away from the ‘action’.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I knew from my stay in Bastimentos, that I could not afford to live in Bocas Town to GRANDPAcking standard. So, first, I decided to try the Saigon Area which is about 1km west of Bocas Town centre. In Saigon, you can get shared Cabanas with a shared kitchen – which helps to keep costs down. I booked myself into the Valerie Emanuel Apartments for 9 nights at US$27 / night.Bocas Town - Valerie Emanuel - Shared Balcony 2

Valerie’s have 4 Triple Rooms on the 1st floor which share a common balcony. As you entered my Triple Room you passed through a small room with a single bed and a table. The next room is the main bedroom.Bocas Town - Valerie Emanuel - Triple Room - Back Room

The whole inside lacks windows and airflow. It was very hot and stuffy inside. I had to have 2 fans (set on their lowest speed to keep noise levels down) targeting my bed at night to keep cool enough to sleep. The problem was the shared kitchen.Bocas Town - Valerie Emanuel - Shared Kitchen Sink

It was small and only 1 person could cook at any one time. It was not cleaned often enough, it was poorly equipped, and the cooker was filthy … and the fridge space was a ‘free for all’.

From Saigon, I moved into the center of town and stayed in a Single Room in Hansi Hostel. A Single Room is below GRANDPAcking Standard – but it was the only thing that I could afford around the town centre (that wasn’t a tent). I paid US$21 / night. Double Room prices start at US$30. I had in-room wifi, cable TV, and furniture (including a clothes rack).Bocas Town - Hostel Hansi - Single Room Furniture

The hostel has a pleasant out-door area and nice shared dining area next to the kitchen. The kitchen was clean, tidy, and looked after daily.

THE STREETS:

In Saigon, a typical street looks like this:Saigon - Walk - 2

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:Saigon - Walk - 9

In Bocas Town, a typical street looks like this:Bocas Town - Walk - 3

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:Bocas Town - Walk - 6

TRANSPORT:

You walk everywhere around town.

A taxi to anywhere around town costs US$1 per person during the day. Double or Triple that at night.

THE BEACH(es):

In Saigon, your nearest beach looks like this:Saigon Town - Nearest Beach

The nearest decent beach is about 2km north:Saigon to Big Creek - Walk - 4

There are no beaches in Bocas Town. You have to go at least 3kms up the coast.

FOOD & DRINK:

You won’t find any restaurants nor bars in Saigon but, up the main coast road, you will find a couple of locals bars (and a locals discoteque).

In Bocas Town there are several cheap eateries to choose from. Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Breakfast with coffee. Expect to pay an average of US$5 for a cheap Lunch Snack with fruit drink. Expect to pay an average of US$10 for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.

There are several Happy Hours around Bocas Town between 4pm and 7pm where you can buy a 350ml beer for US$1 to US$1.50. The normal price is US$2. Otherwise, you are buying your alcohol in a local store at about US$0.85 per can. Expect to pay about US$7 for a cocktail.

MY ADVICE: Try and pick up a Promo Chit from one of the street touts; these give you discounts at the restaurants / bars around town on different nights. BUT, be careful with them … many of the places don’t seem to know about them or try not to honour them. If you want to use one, make sure that they know that you have one and check that what you are getting is covered by the chit.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

Health care is available, but facilities are limited. A public health clinic operates in town. Common medical problems include food and waterborne diseases, insect bites, sunburns, heat stress/stroke, and dehydration.

The Bocas del Toro Islands lack some basic infrastructure. A generator plant provides power to the towns of Isla Colon, Isla Carenero and Isla Bastimentos. The community does have a waste water (sewage) treatment plant, but it is not to ‘western’ quality. The town lacks a water filtration / treatment system. Most sewerage still gets flushed directly into the waters around the towns.

I had ‘tummy trouble’ for the last week that I was there. Mosquitoes were around but they were not a problem.

Don’t drink the tap water.

WHEN TO GO:

As per Isla Bastimentos (above)

ENTERTAINMENT:

There’s not a lot to Saigon really.

It showers almost every day – even in Peak Season. Be prepared to spend some of your time indoors reading or playing board games. For that reason, it is important that you choose accommodation that has a good-sized and well-equipped common area – as well as a decent location.

There are many day trips to choose from:

  • Shuttle to Bocas del Drago and Starfish Beach (20kms each way) – US$5 return per person
  • Boat to Red Frog Beach – US$7 return per person; Red Frog Beach Entry Fee – US$3 per person
  • Boat to Carenero Island Beach – US$4 return per person
  • Sea Turtle Conservation Tour – US$15 per person (plus transportation)
  • Boat to Almirante (mainland) – US$8 return per person

And several activities:

  • PADI Scuba Diving certification (Basic Open Water) – US$250 (lasts 3.5 days and includes 6 dives)
  • Snorkel Equipment Rental (on-beach) – US$2 per hour
  • Yoga Class – US$5
  • Board Diving, Dolphin and Sloth Watching and Transportation to Zapatillas Island – US$50 (including Lunch)
  • Half Day / Full Day Reef Snorkelling Trip – US$20 / US$35 (may include Lunch – negotiate)
  • Push-bike rental – US$7 per day

COSTS:

Your COE is US$66 / day (119% of your total budget).

This leaves you nothing to LIVE on. You are already over budget. To have some spending money, you will need to buy groceries and eat at home each day. You can eat at home for less than half the price of eating out.

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

The weather is poor … too much rain for my liking … even in ‘Peak / Dry Season’.

The waters around town are too polluted for swimming. To swim, you have to get 30 minutes up the coast into Isla Colon and / or take a water taxi somewhere.

Bocas Town, itself, is ‘OK’. Living here would be a bit like living in a village on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala (but at twice the price).


SAN ANDRES – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

WHERE TO STAY:

El Centro:

You want to be in the Green Zone. Online, the cheapest Double Rooms start at US$40 / night.San Andres - North End - Where To Stay

To find something more affordable, expand your search into the Yellow Zone. Online, the cheapest Double Rooms start at US$28.

GRANDPAckers are going to have to start their search early and wait for some pretty deep discounts. More likely than not, GRANDPAckers won’t be able to afford to stay in these zones.

You need to seriously ask yourself why you would want to be further out from the Green and Yellow zones. If you are going to have to pay close to your upper limit of US$30 / night for a room … Why would you want to be 100s of metres away from the beach in a shabby area and/or a shabby hostel?

MY ADVICE: If you can’t get into one of these 2 zones at an affordable price have a look at San Luis.

PLEASE NOTE: Whatever you do, keep away from the Red Zone – this area is dangerous – even the locals tell you not to go there … and parts of it are only 400 meters from where you might be staying.

PLEASE NOTE: Whilst I was on the islands there was an home invasion in La Loma town which resulted in 3 residents of the home being stretchered away to hospital. Locals told me that there is also a ‘bad crowd’ in the San Luis area.

San Luis:

You want to be in one of the Green Zones depending on which beach you are targeting. Online, Double Room prices start at US$45 / night. AirBnB offers rooms starting at US$25 / night.San Luis Where to Stay Map

The Playa San Luis (south) Green Zone ends at the Reggae Bar.

To find something more affordable, expand your search into the Yellow Zones. But, personally, I would consider all of San Fransesco to be Yellow Zone … it’s just not very nice.

If you are happy to walk further, have a look at the Orange Zones.

GRANDPAckers are going to find it a bit tough finding something within budget near an east coast beach too.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

El Centro:

I pre-booked myself into the Posada Nativa Tristan Centro for 3 nights so that I could have a good look around. It was on Avenida 20 de Julio only 1 block from Carrera 1 and the waterfront. I paid C$72k / US$26 per night. My room was a Double. It had Cable TV (but mainly Spanish channels). There was a separate area with a table, chairs, and small fridge at the back.San Andres - Posada Nativa Tristan Centro - Room Entry

In summary, the room was OK but I was in the middle of nowhere … 100s of metres from Spratt Bight Beach. I had no decent restaurant options around me – those were at least a 600 metres walk away.

San Luis:

On AirBnB, I found a place that had just been discounted down from US$25 per night to US$18 per night. It was in the Green Zone about 75 metres from San Luis Beach (north). I booked it. It is called the Cabana Caribbean Raizal.

The Cabana had 3 double bedrooms that shared a common kitchen / dining area.San Andres - Caribbean Raizal - Cabin Entry

The kitchen was well equipped and my host was kind enough to lend me his coffee maker for a week. The problem with this area is that it didn’t have aircon (just a small fan) and it got very hot and stuffy during the day. Each room came with a private (cold water) bathroom, TV (Spanish speaking terrestrial channels only), wardrobe, and aircon.San Andres - Caribbean Raizal - Room

It was in a good location just 50 metres from the northern San Luis Beach.

In hindsight, I may have been better off near the southern San Luis beach – so that I could get some sort of social life.

THE STREETS:

A typical street in El Centro looks like this:San Andres - Posada Nativa Tristan Centro - Frontage

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:San Andres - North End - 23

In San Luis, a typical street looks like this:San Andres - Walk South - 14

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:San Andres - Walk 2 - 1

TRANSPORT:

San Andres has a good public transport system with a bus going past every 15-20 minutes during the day. The price is US$0.80c regardless of distance. However, these buses tend to be full and cramped … and, thus, are not good options if you are travelling with luggage. Some buses go direct to El Centro, others may go via the central hill town of La Loma.

Taxis are relatively expensive. A taxi from the airport to San Luis Beach should cost US$8.50.

Bicycle rental is US$15 per 24 hours. Scooter rental is US$26 per 24 hours. Golf buggies cost more (over US$40 per day).

THE BEACH(es):

In El Centro, your nearest beach is likely to look like this:San Andres - North End - 1

The nearest decent beach is Spratt Bight:San Andres - North End - 7

In San Luis, your nearest beach looks like this:San Andres - Walk South - 12

Or this:San Andres - Walk 2 - 7

FOOD & DRINK:

In El Centro, I was so far away from restaurants that I just bought in groceries. I found a local cafe a couple of 100 metres down the road where I had Breakfast for US$3. When I walked around the Spratt Bight Beach area, the same thing was going for US$5+. I went down to Subway one night for their US$2.75 6″ Daily Special.

There aren’t many restaurants around San Luis. There are a couple of local cafes – some of which only open up for the night trade after 7pm. A small Salchipapa (french fries with sliced sausage topped with salad and cheese) costs US$4. Otherwise, you are eating in one of the pricey 2-3 hotel restaurants down on the beach (mains are US$10+). I gave up trying to find a cheap restaurant to eat in at night, I went for a long walk on 3 occasions and found nothing. I bought in groceries to eat at home.

They don’t really have pubs on the island; you might find a couple in El Centro but not out of town. People tend to have a drink with their restaurant meal or drink at home with friends … or stand outside the supermarket where they buy them.

Expect to pay US$1.25 for a local beer in a cafe / restaurant. Expect to pay as little as US$0.75c for a 330ml bottle/can in a store.

Expect to pay an average of US$5+ for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea.

Expect to pay an average of US$5+ a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$11+ for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

MY ADVICE: Stay very close to the main Tourist Beaches.

Petty Theft is a ‘typical’ problem in these countries. Don’t leave anything unattended. Lock up your hotel room.

There were mosquitoes around but I didn’t find them to be a problem (not like they were on Providencia). I didn’t experience any Sandfly problems.

Don’t drink the tap water.

WHEN TO GO:

The island experiences a tropical wet and dry climate that borders on a tropical monsoon climate. Average temperatures range from 24 °C (75 °F) to 30 °C (86 °F) in two periods dominated by dry and rainy spells.San Andres Climate Chart

The rainy season is from September to December and also from May to June, when humidity is also high here. The trade winds from the north begin to blow in late October and during November and December until mid-January, the wind usually blows from the east, when there are storms in the northeastern Caribbean.

ENTERTAINMENT:

You can use the public bus system to visit the various tourist sites around the island but, mainly, you are here to be a beach bum.

Outside of El Centro, the lack of places to meet people and the lack of eateries means that you will invariably end up living a ‘home life’: cooking and eating at home, being home shortly after dusk, and going to bed early.

COSTS:

Your COE is US$71 per day (27% over budget).

This leaves you nothing to LIVE on. In fact, you will have to find an extra US$15 per day just to be there.

You have to fly to San Andres. Typical return tickets start at US$250+. On a budget airline (like WINGO or VivaAir) a return ticket can be had for US$125+ (depending on the weight of your luggage). Each person also has to buy a Tourist Card at US$40. Both of these additional costs need to be taken into account.

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

Some areas of San Andres are dangerous. There are reports of break-ins and knife-point muggings; be very careful when returning from an ATM. San Andres has a high percentage of murders for its small population.

MY ADVICE: For your own safety keep as close as you can to the Tourist Beaches. San Andres tries hard to protect its tourist trade and keeps an eye on these areas.

My definition of ‘idyllic’ seems to be different from that of other people. It does not include being careful about which streets I walk in. It does not include staying at home with nowhere to go. It does not include packing up my hammock and taking shelter from an afternoon shower. It does not include being in an isolated location because it is all I can afford … and, it does not include having to do this over budget.

I won’t be coming back to San Andres Island.

To LIVE on San Andres Island, a single person will need to spend over US$75 per day. A couple will need to spend over US$100 per day. This is no good for ‘budget travellers’ like GRANDPAckers.

You can keep your costs to a minimum by getting yourself into one of the Green Zones and focusing on a beach life. If you don’t do that, you can get around on the public bus – but each return trip for 2 will set you back US$3.

If you are looking for sun and beaches, go elsewhere. If you need to stay within GRANDPAcking budget, go elsewhere.


PROVIDENCIA – SUMMARY:

CROSS REFERENCES:

TRANSPORT:

There is no public transport on the island. There are ‘Bus Stops’ … but, these are only for the school bus.Providencia Island Map

You can catch motos to get around … you don’t see many taxis outside of town and the airport. A moto from town to one of the beaches on the south coast should cost about US$3.50 per person each way.

Bicycle rental is US$15 per 24 hours. Scooter rental is US$26 per 24 hours.

WHERE TO STAY:

Online, Double Room prices start at US$40 / night. AirBnB offers cheaper accommodation starting at US$27 / night. GRANDPAckers may not be able to find anything within their price range.

With such high transport costs, you need to be within walking distance of a beach: Southwest Bay, ‘Secret Bay’, or Freshwater Bay.Providencia Where To Stay Map

Get yourself into one of the Green Zones.

The Cabañas Ismasoris – SMILEY- posada- Hostal would seem to be one of the few affordable places in a Green Zone (Freshwater Bay). I suggest that you start looking weeks (if not months) in advance, wait for discounts, and book early.

MY ACCOMMODATION:

I settled for a 2 Bedroom Apartment at the Posada Ashanty at Rocky Point located half way down the east coast. We agreed a discounted price of US$310 (C$900k) for 14 nights (US$22 / night). The apartment is about 50 metres from the main circular road. It included aircon and cable TV (2 English Speaking channels).Providencia - Ashanty - Bedroom Furniture

Everything about the apartment is small, including the (poorly equipped) kitchen.Providencia - Ashanty - Kitchen

The property is advertised to have several things that it does not (such as wifi and a washer/dryer). For me, the lack of wifi was a problem – I had to walk 1km up the road to the Airport (who provided a free but ‘variable’ internet signal).

THE STREETS:

A typical street looks like this:Providencia - Walk South - 6

Your accommodation is likely to be on a street that looks like this:Providencia - Walk South - 26

THE BEACH(es):

My nearest beach was 4kms away and looked like this:Providencia - Walk South - 8

Your nearest beach will probably be Freshwater Beach:Providencia - Walk South - 28

The best beach is about 500 metres west of Freshwater Bay:Providencia - Walk South - 21

FOOD & DRINK:

15 metres from my apartment was Aydana’s restaurant. This was the closest restaurant within 1.5 kms. Her main meals ranged from US$8.50 (chicken) to US$12 (seafood). Portions were small but adequate.

Next to my apartment was a small shop that sold the basics – which suited the capabilities of the kitchen perfectly. Groceries are relatively expensive but they were the only other option.

Expect to pay an average of US$5+ for a cheap Breakfast with coffee / tea.

Expect to pay an average of US$5+ a cheap Lunch with fruit drink.

Expect to pay an average of US$11+ for a cheap Dinner with a Fruit Juice / Small Beer.

They don’t really have pubs on the island. People tend to have a drink with their restaurant meal or drink at home with friends. Expect to pay US$1.20 for a local beer in a cafe / restaurant. Expect to pay US$0.80c for a small bottle in a store. Providencia is a duty free island, so alcohol (and some other goods) are cheaper here than on the mainland; you may find yourselves staying at home drinking duty free spirits.

HEALTH & SAFETY:

In stark contrast to San Andres (which has areas that are just plain dangerous), I felt perfectly safe.

There were mosquitoes around which could get annoying at dawn and dusk. I was unable to eliminate mosquitoes from my bathroom and kitchen … I was constantly being bitten. Even though I tried my best to keep my bedroom protected, at night I had a constant battle with mosquitoes that had found their way into my room … killing as many as I could before and whilst getting to sleep … there always seemed to be at least 1 well fed mosquito left in the morning.

I didn’t experience any Sandfly problems.

Don’t drink the tap water.

WHEN TO GO:

As per San Andres (above).

ENTERTAINMENT:

The island is too big to walk around.

You can spend a couple of pleasant hours visiting Santa Catalina Island.

Your main activities involve the water. A 2-tank SCUBA day dive with all equipment provided costs US$60-70.

A boat to drop you off on Crab Cay island for the day (and to pick you up later) is US$17.

For a (negotiated) fee, you can get on a boat with the locals and do some fishing and snorkeling.

COSTS:

You can only get to Providencia by boat (catamaran) or airplane from San Andres. The return Catamaran ticket costs US$144 each. The flight can be less or more depending on how much luggage you have.

Your COE is US$86 per day (54% over budget).

This leaves you nothing to LIVE on. In fact, you will have to find an extra US$30 per day just to be there.

RETIREMENT:

No.

CONCLUSION:

To LIVE on Providencia Island, a single person will need to spend over US$75 per day. A couple will need to spend over US$100 per day. This is no good for ‘budget travellers’ like GRANDPAckers.

Without such funds, Providencia becomes all about the people … and getting into the simple life and the local community. This, in itself, can be great … and many GRANDPAckers will love it.

You can keep your costs to a minimum by getting yourself into one of the Green Zones and focusing on a beach life. If you don’t do that, you (ideally) need to rent a scooter at US$30 per day (including petrol) … GRANDPAckers don’t have that sort of money.

If you are a ‘Digital Nomad” like myself (or need regular internet access for any reason), you are almost forced to base yourself in town … 10kms away from the nearest decent beach. Why would you want to do that?

If you are looking for sun and beaches, go elsewhere. If you need to stay within GRANDPAcking budget, go elsewhere.


OVERALL CONCLUSION:

All of the islands were disappointing: they are all over-priced and they under-deliver. A few are quite dangerous.

There is one exception: Roatan Island, Honduras. Roatan isn’t perfect either. It is the most expensive of all of them and it has its own ‘safety’ problems (especially away from the main tourist centres). But it has the beaches and it has the ‘fun’.

At these prices you can go to an idyllic Greek Island.Greek Island Town

At less than half the price, you can go to a multitude of idyllic islands in South East Asia.El Nido - Nacpan Beach - From the West

To find the cheaper options, have a look at my HOLIDAYS MENU in the left-hand margin of this page.

TTFN


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