Race Tips

The following are some travel tips that the team has come up with after visiting each of these countries.  This isn’t an exhaustive list and some of these may be obvious to you.  Feel free to comment/suggest additional tips.

 

United States of America

  • Have a large reserve of cash
  • Have plenty of small bills for tipping
  • Flying is cheap
  • Petrol is usually prepaid by credit card or cash – return for change if you don’t fill to that amount
  • Book your New York accommodation well in advance or choose to stay off Manhattan
  • Google does free calls to any US or Canadian number
  • If you don’t like fake creamer, bring your own long life milk from home
  • Cheese is a strong orange colour – avoid if you are used to real cheddar

Canada

  • You don’t need bear spray
  • Canadians say “Ay” a lot, US citizens don’t – that’s how you tell the difference
  • Hosteling international is good value for Banff and Jasper national parks

Guadeloupe

  • Hiring a car is a sensible option as public transport is difficult
  • There are two really good beaches in Guadeloupe, but you’ll need to drive to them all to work out which ones are best.
  • Bring sunscreen!

Commonwealth of Dominica

  • Relax, you is in da Caribbean mon
  • Negotiate taxi fares aggressively, there is plenty of competition

Puerto Rico

  • Car hire is necessary to see the country
  • Flights make sense particularly if you are planning to go to an island off the main island

Mexico

  • Avoid Cancún like the plague, unless you are on spring break (and are off the hook)
  • Tulum is the best ruin on the east coast because you can go for a swim
  • Collectivos are frequent between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum
  • Make sure you have enough pesos to pay port departure taxes

Cuba

  • Leave US dollars at home – you will be charged an extra 10% tax to convert to convertible Cuban pesos
  • Viazul buses are great, however, if you are with others, it may be cheaper to negotiate a taxi to cover the same distance.  You’ll get there faster, but not always safer / drier (some of the cars are really old).
  • Jineteros are everywhere, but can easily be defeated by asking them what they do for a job (they won’t want to tell the truth and usually leave you alone).
  • The Museum of the Revolution is overpriced but interesting
  • Always check your change, especially in supermarkets as they consistently short change you
  • Private restaurants offer typically better service and have better food.  Identify these by waitstaff that are not wearing bow ties.

Belize

  • Lobster comes in a variety of sizes, but is generally huge and cheap – just watch for skimping on the sides
  • Slow down man and relax
  • Belize is still part of Central America, so be prepared for some people to try and take advantage.  Just because they are part of the Commonwealth and are English speaking, doesn’t mean they are always going to play fair
  • Belize City is best avoided or transferred through quickly
  • You can buy decent mosquito repellent (30% DEET) at the water taxi terminal relatively cheaply
  • The shuttle bus to Flores from Belize City offers the least hassle
  • Local buses to the border are possible, but take time
  • Taxis are fast, but cost a lot

Guatemala

  • Take care after dark
  • Transport on chicken buses is cheap, but roads are bad and connections not always the best (eg a $15 shuttle may cost you $5-10 more than the same journey by chicken bus, but usually saves a lot of time in travel)
  • Cut out the middle man always where possible and you’ll improve the deal (applies everywhere almost)
  • Photograph your tickets as they are typically taken from you – gives you a copy to fall back on in event of problems
  • Antigua has safety issues, particularly after dark, large groups are best

El Salvador

  • Pupulsas are a must try.  If in Alegría, ask for pupulsas con banana
  • Avoid San Salvador as there is not much to see and the whole city has an ominous feeling about it
  • Chicken buses are chaotic and a lot of fun – trust the system (if you can call it that) and you’ll get to your destination in no time
  • Costal chicken buses are typically the most entertaining as they have the best sound systems and light shows
  • You’ll probably be one of few tourists, so enjoy the friendly hassel free nature of the El Salvadorian people

Honduras

  • Deep fried isn’t always that bad
  • Aguazul makes a strong water bottle and appears to be independent of the Coca Cola corporation

Nicaragua

  • When flying La Costeña, to the Corn Islands, there is a weight limit of 30 pounds for check in.  You can get around this by taking heavy items out of your luggage and carrying them onto the aircraft as hand luggage
  • If you go Little Corn Island in the Panga, sit 3-4 seats from the back. This has less impact than at the front and you also get to stay drier than if you sit at the very back near the captain’s console
  • Sit on your life jacket and wrap your bags in plastic bags to prevent seawater from getting on them
  • Bring food and drink to Little Corn Island if you want to save money as prices are more expensive than mainland Nicaragua
  • Ring swing does vary, but try to laterally swing the ring onto the hook rather than taking the direct approach

Costa Rica

  • What you pay for and what you get don’t always match up, so ask plenty of questions to determine the value of an activity
  • The bus system is perfectly fine, but not as efficient as elsewhere in Central America.  Expect longer wait times
  • Beaches are great on both sides of the coast
  • Cooking is worthwhile if your accommodation has the right facilities

Panama

  • Bocas is a must visit as it is so close to the coast and has stunning beaches
  • If you can avoid Panama City, all the better
  • Definitely avoid Colón, unless you like duty free or deal in arms
  • Portobelo offers cheaper sailing boat departures than other ports near the Sans Blas, but you will have to sail to get to the islands, so it will take a little longer.  Consider this when choosing a boat
  • Kuna products are relatively cheap – if you like it, try to bargain, but remember it will probably be between $5-10 cheaper than in Colombia when you get there (even if you don’t bargain)

Colombia

  • Expect disorganisation and delays
  • Meat is surprisingly good
  • Lots of people will ask you if you want to buy cocaine.  It is best to say no or ignore them and they will leave you alone
  • These same people are also a surprisingly helpful source of directions (usually provided without asking if you look a little lost)
  • La Candelaria in Bogotá is not the best place to be after dark – consider staying elsewhere in the city and only visiting during the day
  • Bus schedules are somewhat flexible, so be prepared for lengthy trip times
  • Bus prices can also be negotiated, so ask for a better deal and shop around

Ecuador

  • In Baños, it is very easy to get to good zip lining.  You don’t need to organise a tour, just head out of town to one of the zip line places and save yourself between $5-10
  • Near the bar area is a fantastic restaurant run by a New York and Paris trained Edcuadorian named Freddy.  If he hasn’t opened a new place in Quito, you’ll just have to look around (it is a small cafe sized place that projects movies on one wall) – he isn’t on trip advisor deliberately, but I’d say he’d be number one if so
  • Freddy’s place also does the best cocktails
  • Quito and Guayaquil feel unsafe for good reason – take care when travelling there

Galapagos

  • Galapagos is expensive, however, you can find cheaper deals, although it appears a good agent is worth their weight in gold, although you should shop around (minimum of three quotes).
  • If the agent says – Last two seats they are telling a lie. If they say don’t tell or ask anyone else on the boat the price, you are probably being ripped off. Maybe it is best not to ask, cause you’ll have a great time regardless.
  • Avoid agents where possible.  Much better to go direct if you can to the boat owners and book through them.  Most major boats seem to have offices in Puerto Ayora.
  • Check out www.edengalapagos.com for the Eden boat’s website (this was difficult to find until we actually got on the boat).
  • Other websites that may be off use include – www.tiptopfleet.com and daphene.com (both have offices in Puerto Ayora
  • Eden didn’t have regular agua caliente when we were there and hiring wet suits costs $35 pp for the week. Snorkelling gear was free.
  • Isla Isabela is amazing.
  • Actually, all of the Galapagos is amazing.

Peru

  • It is worth spending money on a good Inca Trek and if you are able to meet the guide, all the better
  • Acclimatise to the altitude before you embark on hikes, it will make things easier for you
  • Cuy sounds exotic, but is a lot of work for not that fantastic meat.
  • Suggestion if you eat Cuy is to not drink Chichia as well – it gets a bit much.
  • Puno isn’t that great
  • Floating islands aren’t that great
  • Machu Picchu is great

Bolivia

  • Tours around the Salar de Uyuni are easy to come by.  Find an operator that gives you a good price and a driver/guide that you get on with and can trust.   We heard stories of operators that ran their tours drunk and surly.
  • The Villazon border crossing is slow.  Either arrive really early to cross, or later in the evening, as at time of writing, there was only one departure stamp processing point on the Bolivian side so you could be waiting hours.

Argentina

  • Despite the development, you are still in Latin America, so maintain normal travel precautions
  • Puerto Iguazú – bring your swimming gear to take a dip in the waters of the Rio Iguazú – really wish we did this.
  • Purchase tickets to Brazil on the other side of the border for onward travel into Brazil – about 50% cheaper (depending on the company you go for).  International buses are rarely good value (intercity buses that happen to cross borders are much better).
  • Some good bus companies include ExpressoSinger, Flecha bus
  • Flights should be bought on the local Argentinean websites – put your hostel address down. There is a risk you’ll need to pay the difference at the airport, but if you are nice they probably won’t. They never checked us.
  • Cremolatti is really good ice cream, try their Banadul flavour it is great.
  • Jujuya is awesome and will give you the opportunity to try some unusual flavours (there is even a store in Melbourne now).
  • Argentina does ice cream in general quite well, so try a few.
  • Bariloche chocolates that are recommended include Rapi Nui and Mamushka.
  • Wine varieties to try in Mendoza include Torrentes (also available around Salta) and Bonarda.
  • Buenos Aires is really big with lots of things happening. Be prepared to spend some time there – you won’t be bored.
  • Balance steak out with vegetarian meals.  Some good veg options in BA include Kensho and Bio
  • Get to Estadio Alberto J. Armando, better known as La Bombonera early for a Boca Junior game if you want to be in a good spot to see the match.  Even if you don’t, the atmosphere is still fantastic.

Brazil

  • Expect delays, you are on Brazil time!
  • By weight restaurants represent good value, but don’t be afraid to check out the quality of the buffet before committing to a meal (we walked in and out of several that seemed dubious on closer inspection)
  • If someone gets up in front of a bus load of people and asks for money (which people then give multiple times) and you speak Portugesse, can you tell us what they are asking for or selling? Best theory is they were either begging or in cahoots with the driver regarding contraband they had in the hold.

Chile

  • Chileans are much more introverted when compared to their Argentine neighbours
  • Wine has no excise, so purchase as much as you can carry.
  • Coffee with Legs is an experience, not a really big glass of coffee
  • Chile is long, but like most places in Latin America, you can either get a comfortable overnight bus ride or you can buy a airline ticket for at worst 5 times the price.
  • Locals prices can be gained by buying flights on the local airline website. If that fails, travel agents are not much more expensive.
  • While it is a narrow country, there is a lot to see – very much linear travel, using Chile to work your way north, then duck into the more expensive (inflation) to travel Argentina.

Uruguay

  • Super laid back country where you can just about guarantee lower blood pressure.
  • It can be difficult to get somewhere in a hurry, but the place isn’t that big so you shouldn’t need to rush.
  • Slightly more expensive than their Argentine neighbours, but still much cheaper than Brazil.
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