There is a small corner of Europe that will be forever England. We’re not talking about the Western Front – we’re talking about Gibraltar, a rock jutting off from Spain into the Mediterranean that entered English hands three centuries ago and shows no signs of ever becoming anything other than a sunny outcrop of the Empire.
All things going to plan, flying to Gibraltar from London would be an incident free flight. But here, there are so many things that can go wrong. You see, Gibraltar is so small that the only way to fit in an airport runway…
… is to have it cut across the main road!
If you’ve ever been tempted to accelerate when you see a rail crossing closing ahead of you, spare a thought for the motorists who – several times, every day – have to give way to an airport runway.
See the two ‘roads’ that cross in the middle of this photo? Yeah – one of those is the airport runway, and the other one is Gibraltar’s main street! Photo by David Jones , CC License
Beyond its historic value, and unless you love overpriced Marmite and brown sauce, there’s little reason to spend time on the Rock of Gibraltar itself. So we’re fairly quickly crossing the border into Spain, on our way to the Kitesurfing capital of the world: Tarifa.
We’re staying at La Casa Amarilla, avoiding the many hostels on the road into town and basing ourselves in the middle of the ‘old town’.
How old? Ruins of Roman settlement in the area exist nearby, while the town takes its name from Tarif ibn Malik the eighth century general of the Umayyad Caliphate that conquered north Africa and much of the Iberian peninsula.
Control of the town changed hands between several Muslim-ruled principalities prior to the thirteenth century, when the Catholic Sancho IV of Castile reclaimed the region. Any walk through the old town will take in the ‘Puerta de Jerez’ (the last remaining medieval gate) and end at the dominant waterfront feature – the combination of a thousand-year-old Guzman castle and the el Bueno Tower added shortly after the Catholics retook control.
Of course, only Sancho IV receives a statue.
The most Southern point in Europe
From here, let’s walk along the beachfront, and then out along the rocky outcrop. Pause for a moment – you are standing in a key space of world geography. If the world did have four corners, this point right here would likely be one of them.
Look to the left – that’s the Mediterranean Sea, which borders so many empires of history from Egypt to Greece to Rome and Carthage.
Look to the right – that’s the Atlantic Ocean, stretching out to the New World.
Look down – you are now standing on Europe’s most southerly point, the very bottom of a continent that expands up into the Arctic circle.
Now look up – those hills you can see, across the water, little more than a literal stone’s throw away? That’s Africa.
We shot a really short video to take it all in:
In the foreground, a monument to Christopher Columbus – the explorer who sailed with Spanish money. In the background – Africa.
Giddy Up, Up and Away
Turning north now, putting our back to Africa (sort of – Tarifa is actually further south than Tunis and Algiers!), we can see the full length of Los Lances. Off in the distance, you can see the rotating arms of wind turbines scattered across the hills – the country of Don Quixote has invested heavily in chasing 21st Century windmills.
It’s the same wind that delivers Tarifa its biggest drawcard – and from here, we can’t help but observe the dozens of kitesurfers learning on the sand and taking to the waves. They’re all in search of the exhilaration that standard surfing (with its short wave length) fails to match.
Aventura Ecuestre offers a two-hour beach horse ride along Los Lances, and up into the hills of the neighbouring nature reserve. The route is designed to provide beginner (or lapsed) horse-riders with confidence on their steed … and more experienced riders an opportunity to gallop with a guide at a much higher speed! Is anybody in our group daring enough to let their horse take greater control? We’re not game, but we hear there’s nothing quite like breathing in the salty sea air at a full gallop.
With the surf culture and a position between the famous Spanish strips of the Costa de la Luz and Costa del Sol, Tarifa has an electric nightlife best described as backpacker-red-wine-chic.
There’s plenty of tapas to choose from for dinner. We know from past experience that your plates of tapas MUST outnumber your bottles of Spanish red wine.
Seafood Paella at El Puerto Restaurante is also a wise option.
Thanks to that previous lesson, I’m going to avoid the tempranillo! But pass me another glass of monastrell if you don’t mind; and do try the sherry, because it originates in nearby Jerez and in these parts is anything but your grandmother’s drink!
Just remember – we’re staying in the big yellow building.
La Casa Amarilla – it translates as The Yellow House.
Want to go? Need to know!
You can catch public transport (buses) from Gibraltar to Tarifa – look for “La Linea de la Concepción” routes. La Linea is the Spanish side of the Gibraltar border – there are several, hour-long bus trips from La Linea to Tarifa each day; if those times don’t suit, you may be able to change buses at Algeciras.
If you do want to experience kitesurfing in Tarifa, the world’s kitesurfing capital, you’ll have plenty of choice! Our best suggestion is talking to other travellers you meet in the town about their experiences, but if you’re looking for a website that isn’t Google or TripAdvisor, you can start here.
Like to master the local wines? The most famous Spanish grapes are tempranillo, often sold under a “Qualified designation of origin” like Rioja. If cerveza (Spanish beer) is more to your taste, try Estrella… or just order una cerveza por favor and drink what gets served.
Just don’t call it una servicios – that’s a polite way of saying toilet.
Which did you prefer – Gibraltar or Tarifa? Do you have a favourite Spanish wine? Share it for all our readers in our comments below, or over on our Facebook page.
The challenge of the Monopoly Pub Crawl is to visit every named Monopoly square in London, in order, having a drink at each – and all on the same day.
It is a long day, but it starts with a sleep in. We don’t have to be at our first destination – Old Kent Road – until almost 11am.
Jacob Aldridge collects £200 before passing GO!
Before you pass GO!
Collect £200 (actually, this whole day will cost you about half that)
Make sure you buy a Zone 1-2 Travelcard (I don’t trust the OysterCard for this)
Dress as though you were going to a Mayfair club (because eventually you will be, and you don’t want to be refused service at that point)
Familiarise yourself with the Monopoly Board, and the London Map
Drink slowly, travel carefully, and stop for meals!
Forget all about the details in the mad dash towards Mayfair!
If you’re a regular reader of everydaydream holiday, you may find this article to be a little more technical than usual.
If you’re here looking for a detailed, comprehensive guide to completing the Monopoly Pub Crawl, then read on: we have rules, routes, maps and pictures and videos to help! At the end, you can also download the guide I prepared, for myself and with detailed street maps because I didn’t own a smartphone then, which helped me to complete this world-renowned drinking challenge.
As a starting point, let’s reacquaint ourselves with the Monopoly Board … and then an actual map of where those squares are in real life.
On the board, you start at GO! and then move effortlessly around the board in a clockwise direction. How hard can that be to replicate on the ground?
Well here is a fabulous map of the Monopoly Pub Crawl created by the guys at monopolypubcrawl.org.uk. You can see that we start on the south side of the river, then mostly cover the east end and north London before diving into a random back-and-forth across greater London. It starts slow, builds up…and leaves us two train stations (in light grey) that will really mess with our planning later on!
Shared by MonopolyPubCrawl.co.uk
1. Old Kent Road
The Lord Nelson, 386 Old Kent Road
Take the tube to Elephant and Castle. Find Bus Stop E. Catch 1, 53, 63, 172, 188, 363 or 453 to Old Kent Road, alight after Albany Rd
Monopoly’s first stop is also its only destination south side of the Thames River. First thing in the morning, the only people here are those – like us – doing a Monopoly Pub Crawl. We nod and smile at the groups carrying a board around with them; and at the lady serving us behind the bar – how she must wonder about the strange groups that make up the first half hour of every shift, and have so little in common with the rest of the clientele in this rough-as-guts neighbourhood.
There are plenty of drinking games you can play on the Monopoly Pub Crawl. Our mission today is to make it all the way to Mayfair, and to do all the squares in order; so we’re sticking with a routine of a half-pint of lager and a glass of water at every bar.
The Lord Nelson, Old Kent Road
If you’re adventurous, or think getting horribly pissed and bailing out halfway through counts, here are a few ideas we’ve heard about or created:
Order a drink that includes the letter that the pub’s name starts with (like Stella at the Lord Nelson) or the Street name starts with (like Fosters on Old Kent Road)
Scull your drinks – first one to finish chooses the drink at the next stop; or last one to finish has to take a shot at the next stop as well
Don’t order the same drink twice (pro tip: start with the strange drinks, because you do NOT want to be sipping a warm, flat craft ale in twenty stops’ time – refreshing lagers are your friend, especially towards the end)
Roll the dice to choose your drink – either pre-set rules (1 = lager, 2 = ale, 3 = stout, 4 = imported, 5 = english, 6 = shot!) or based on the order of the beer taps
Order the beer with the closest colour to this street in its logo
60 seconds later, and our first half-pint is gone! No doubt there are many wonderful stories to be told hanging about in this old pub, named after the hero of Trafalgar. But we have a bus to catch!
2. Whitechapel Road
The Blind Beggar, 337 Whitechapel Road
Catch Bus 78 from either Old Kent Road or Dunton St (heading towards ‘Calvert Ave E2’). This bus will take you across Tower Bridge. Alight, walk to Tower Hill tube station and catch the District Line Tube to Whitechapel.
Finding ourself on the same bus as the other groups is no surprise. But what’s this? We all alight together just after Tower Bridge, but they’re walking in a different direction!
To our amazement, most people who complete the ‘Monopoly Pub Crawl’ do it by cheating! While we man-up to the challenge of seeing all 26 pubs in order, these groups are heading to nearby Fenchurch Street Station (15 stops early!) because it’s more convenient to do it that way.
Wear our commitment to excellence like a badge of honour, team. All day long we will bump into other groups doing this challenge the sneaky way – be sure to tell them that we, and we alone, are doing it properly.
The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel Road
At The Blind Beggar we have a chance to experience London’s notorious ‘East End’ – when the UK version of Monopoly was converted from the US version, it was readily understood that the southside and east end would be the cheapest real estate – the areas are much better integrated now, but let’s just say we’re happy we’re not ending our day here after nightfall.
Another half-pint down, here’s my first video of the day:
3. King’s Cross Station
The Fellow, 24 York Way
Catch the Hammersmith & City line (Underground) from Whitechapel to King’s Cross Station
Outside King’s Cross Station.
Train station bars having relocated to St Pancras, next door, we head across the road to The Fellow. There’s a slight look of amusement on the bartender’s face when we order a half-pint of beer and a glass of water, but no time to ask what she means by it – down the drink goes, and out we go.
Here’s where the geography of the Monopoly Pub Crawl (really, of the Monopoly Board in general) gets crazy. We have four stops: in order, King’s Cross, The Angel Islington, Euston Road, Pentonville Road.
And here’s a close-up on a map – you see that we’re going to do the same stretch of underground back and forth to stay in order.
Back and forth travelling
Still, that gives us a chance to have lunch – supermarket sandwiches (bacon and egg all day breakfasts, of course) devoured on the underground. We’ve now been on the road two hours, and done just three stops – don’t worry, it gets quicker.
4. The Angel, Islington
The Angel, 3-5 Islington High St
Catch the Northern Line from King’s Cross 1 stop east to Angel. (Check the boards – there are two branches of the Northern Line that come through here – we want the Bank branch.)
Yes, there is actually a pub called ‘The Angel’ and it’s on Islington High Street.
The Angel, Islington. Seriously!
To make things even more perfect, they serve the cheapest half-pint of lager on the whole Monopoly Board.
5. Euston Road
O’Neills, 73-77 Euston Road
Back to Euston Road, across the road from King’s Cross Station.
A hard sign to capture!
If you’re visiting London and want a pint, stay clear of the chain pubs.
If you’re on a tight schedule, like (hypothetically) a Monopoly Pub Crawl, then the nearest pub will always win out!
6. Pentonville Road
The Castle, 54 Pentonville Road
Catch the Northern Line from King’s Cross 1 stop east to Angel. (Yes, sounds familiar doesn’t it!)
Angel tube station has the longest escalator on the underground network. Feeling like we’re losing time backtracking, we decide to walk up it at pace. Ouch!
It’s a nice pub, and it’s good to sit down and savour our half-pint – that escalator walk hurt, plus there’s no point rushing it on top of those bacon sarnies.
The Castle, Pentonville Road. We can see why this is more expensive than the other light blue squares.
And what timing we have, as just moments after we sit down a group of a dozen Monopoly pub crawlers (all dressed in cricket whites) come in. They are clearly in no rush – and possibly one of those groups that does 5-6 destinations and calls that complete.
7. Pall Mall
The Red Lion, 23 Crown Passage
Northern Line to King’s Cross Station; change there and take the Picadilly line to Green Park. Turn right out of the station and walk down Picadilly to St. James Street on the right. Walk down St. James Street until you reach Pall Mall and turn left.
We are now at the end of the first row on the Monopoly Board – time for another short video update, as we avoid jail en route to Pall Mall.
And then there’s a chance to order a drink at one of London’s oldest pubs, The Red Lion just off Pall Mall.
The Red Lion Pub, Pall Mall
There’s little time to appreciate the history … but there is time to find the downstairs bathroom. 7 pubs of 26 down, and the seal has been broken!
The Clarence, 53, Whitehall
This is a walk – at last, stops close to each other! – to the other end of Pall Mall, around past Trafalgar Square (who created this board?!) and then onto Whitehall.
Whitehall: a street for drinking, governing and beheading King Charles I
Whitehall is the politicians’ street (we walked down here on Monday with talk of beheadings and Downing Street), so it’s no surprise that there are plenty of bars to choose from.
Grab the first one that isn’t crowded, drink fast, and then it’s on to…
9. Northumberland Avenue
The Sherlock Holmes, 10-11 Northumberland St
Walk back up to Trafalgar Square, and spin around to the right. Walk down the road and you’ll see The Sherlock Holmes ahead on the left, where Northumberland Avenue meets Northumberland Street.
I don’t want to give the impression that this is all about logistics and precision – a Monopoly Pub Crawl is hands-down THE best way to acquaint yourself with London, and a chance to tap into its history.
And its ales – The Sherlock Holmes even serves a Sherlock Holmes Ale, which of course we have to try while we’re here!
If you’re an ale drinker, it has some flavour to offer. For me, I find ales sit very heavily – not a desirable attribute in the middle of a marathon.
The Sherlock Holmes, Northumberland Ave
10. Marylebone Station
The Victoria and Albert, Marylebone Station
Walk up Northumberland Street and turn right to Charing Cross Station. Take the Bakerloo line to Marylebone. Enter the station, and go right to the end, where you will find the pub on your left.
Our second train station, and almost as far away from the other stops as you could imagine! Seriously – the four train stations on the Monopoly Board (King’s Cross, Marylebone, Fenchurch St, and Liverpool St) are all major commuter stops – but so too is Charing Cross station which is RIGHT. NEXT. DOOR. to Northumberland Ave.
Still, Paddington would have been worse – and at least there’s a pub actually inside this station. In front of us in the queue is a group asking the bartender to sign their Monopoly Board – we don’t mean to pry, but it’s only their sixth signature so we know we are well ahead of them. Plus they’ve order a round of Guinness pints – they’ll be here for a while, but we wish them luck anyway.
Outside Marylebone Station. The pub is inside.
11. Bow Street
The Marquess of Anglesey, 39 Bow St
Take the Bakerloo line. Change at Piccadilly Circus for the Piccadilly line to Covent Garden. Come out of the station and turn right, walking along Long Acre (away from Covent Garden itself). Turn right onto Bow Street.
Both the pub and the street name make the photo.
Back now into the heart of London’s West End – this is my favourite part of the city, the theatre district running from about here (Drury Lane is nearby) west into Soho and Leicester Square.
We’re going to cover most of that within this colour group (which, incidentally, is the best set of squares to buy on the Monopoly Board. Statistically, more players land on Bow, Marlbourough and Vine Streets than any other squares.)
12. Marlborough Street
O’Neills, 37-38 Great Marlborough Street
Turn right back up Bow Street; turn right at the end and walk down Long Acre/Great Queen Street to Kingsway; turn left and walk up to Holborn tube station. Take the central line to Oxford Circus. Exit on the SE corner and walk down Oxford St toward Tottenham Court Road. Turn right onto Argyll Street and left onto Malborough Street. O’Neills is on the corner of Carnaby Street.
Strictly speaking, there is no Marlborough Street in greater London, but Great Marlborough Street is (by consensus) the destination for this stop. If the pub experience isn’t already starting to feel repetitive, this stop (almost half way through) will do it. We’re heading into another O’Neills chain pub…
Some streets are born great, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
… and sitting outside is the group of Guinness Drinkers from Marylebone Station. How did they beat us here, we ask? Geography – they’ve gone just 3 tube stops, while we had to head all the way over to Bow St / Covent Garden and back.
We’re almost halfway through though, and it’s only 4.30pm. I’m feeling good about our prospects.
13. Vine Street
Gauchos Grill (Swallow St)
Walk down Carnaby Street and turn right onto Beak Street, then left onto Warwick St. The pubs are at the end of the road as it meets Glasshouse Street.
Vine Street is the only stop on this pub crawl that has no pubs to offer us. In fact, it’s an odd street to be on the board at all, given how small it is, tucked away behind Regent’s Street.
Still, it exists and we went there!
We’re aiming for Gauchos, an upmarket Spanish restaurant that can be picky with their clientele. Thankfully, we’re well dressed and well ahead of the dinner rush … they want to sit us at a table and show us the menu; we’re happy to sit on the lounges inside … but yes, let’s order some bar snacks to keep us going (how long will they take to arrive? We’re in a hurry.)
14. The Strand
The Coal Hole, 91-92 Strand
Head to Piccadilly Circus Tube – catch the Piccadilly Line two stops to Covent Garden Cut through Covent Garden and down to the Strand
Halfway there – it’s time for a video update.
As you can see, Covent Garden is a busy place at this time of day. The Coal Hole is too, and proves to be one of the nicer bars of the day (despite a hilarious name – or is that just 13 half-pints of beer talking?).
Me and the Coal Hole. Apologies for so many photos with me in them!
We’re now on the Red Squares, the turning point on the board between low prices and the top end. It’s not that obvious in real life, however – but then, we are less than a kilometre from Whitehall and Northumberland Ave!
15. Fleet Street
Ye Olde Cock Tavern, 22 Fleet St
Walk or catch a bus along The Strand – it kind of just turns into Fleet Street
Fleet Street. Home to Ye Olde Cock Tavern (and, further along, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese).
What did we say about funny pub names? There’s not much of a journalist legacy on Fleet Street anymore, with the exception of a number of drinking establishments.
16. Trafalgar Square
Halfway II Heaven, 7 Duncannon St
Take the 11, 15 or 23 bus back up along The Strand to Charing Cross Station or Trafalgar Square
Almost drunk enough for that pole to look sexy. Nelson’s column in the background.
Most Monopoly Pub Crawls recommend the Chandos (at 29 St Martin’s Lane) for the Trafalgar Square stop. That’s a fine English pub, no doubt, but it’s an extra few minutes walk so we’re heading in to Halfway II Heaven.
You’ll probably notice a lack of female companionship here. Not uncommon in a pub, true, but here there’s a better reason – it’s actually a gay bar.
Not that that stops them from happily serving us up our half-pint of beer and a glass of water.
17. Fenchurch Street Station
The Fen or The Windsor, Fenchurch St Station
Walk to Embankment Tube Station (Past Charing Cross) Catch the District or Circle line to Tower Hill, and walk up to Fenchurch Street Station
Now we know why so many people cheat and take the logical route, instead of doing the Monopoly Pub Crawl in order. Here we are, back at Tower Hill more than 6 hours after our last visit!
Fenchurch Street Station Facade. Insert Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference here as well.
Our destination is Fenchurch Street station – and here’s a timing problem. The best day to do the Monopoly Pub Crawl is Saturday – simply because more bars are open later, and you and your mates don’t have to work.
But within the ‘Square Mile’ of the official city of London, not much is open on a Saturday. And that includes Fenchurch Street Station! (Weekends are also more likely to see maintenance closures of tube lines – always check the Transport for London website for updates before heading out.)
If you can’t get in to the Station, expect a mad scramble around the area. There are a number of pubs nearby … but most are closed on Saturdays (weird, but true). That’s how we once found ourselves at Proud, a nearby Burlesque club that isn’t really open for casual drinks (or people wearing jeans) but could sense the desparation in our voices, and the pounds in our wallet.
18. Leicester Square
The Moon Under Water, 28 Leicester Square
Catch the Tube back to Embankment; change to the Northern Line for Leicester Square
What it says on the tin! And now reopened after many years of renovation work.
I don’t want to belabour this point, but Fenchurch Street station just lost us 45 minutes. It’s honestly a 5 minute walk from Trafalgar Square to Leicester Square – hell, the Harry Potter premiers ran a red carpet along that road! – but it’s taken us almost an hour.
Still, the yellow squares are fabulously close together and connected in a logical way. That gives us some time to contemplate dinner…
19. Coventry Street
Busaba Eathai with Dinner, or The Comedy, 7 Oxendon St
Walk across Leicester Square and into Coventry Street
Coventry Street. More than halfway in now, we are not caring about No Entry signs!
Meals are an important part of a pub crawl that lasts this long – for sustenance, to soak up the alcohol, and to provide you with a kick of energy.
Fast meals (like our supermarket sandwiches) are the best way to do this, and keep to schedule. If you want a sit down, Busaba Eathai just off Coventry Street is a good option – you’ll get here about the right time, and they don’t take reservations for small groups so you don’t need to know exactly when you’ll arrive, and you’ll still probably get seated quickly.
Just let them know two things:
1. You’re in a rush (this is the theatre district, they’re used to that and will help out) and
2. You want your beer served immediately – it’s far too deep into this pub crawl to have to start sculling beers!
Henry’s Café Bar, 80 Piccadilly
Catch a tube on the Piccadilly Line from Piccadilly Circus to Green Park
Piccadilly Sign – at least there are fewer photos of me now!
You can walk down Piccadilly and head for the first bar that looks good. But the fastest guaranteed way is to jump on the tube for this one stop trip, and duck into Henry’s Bar which is just outside Green Park Station.
(Is that the same Green Park Station that takes you to Pall Mall? Yes, we’ve been here before!)
21. Regent Street
All Bar One, 289 Regent St
Catch the tube from Green Park (Victoria Line) or Piccadilly Circus (if you stayed at that end; Bakerloo Line) to Oxford Circus (1 stop). Head away from the city along Regent Street – it’s between Margaret and Wigmore
Onto the home stretch now folks! Depending on the time of year, night time (even if not night fall) will be on you. But we have several hours still up our sleeve. This is looking good.
This is definitely doable.
I am definitely, definitely, drunk.
So I made it 3/4 of the way through without feeling drunk. Then it hit me!
I suppose, 21 x half pints = 10.5 pints, and I’ve been running around now for almost 11 hours! But now, suddenly, I can feel the exhaustion and the beer affecting me. I try to focus on the task at hand – only five bars to go. But wow, do those five feel like a lot of effort. And there’s more booze hitting my system with every second. Must concentrate. Suspect rambling is about to begin.
Oh, and we’ve gone round the final corner. Time for another video update:
22. Oxford Street
The Explorer, 23 Great Castle St
Walk back down to Oxford St and turn right (towards Bond Street Tube)
Oxford Street – it’s night time now!
Oxford Street is a very popular commercial street. But don’t think that means there’s a pub on every corner! Oh no, you have to go looking for them.
And now they’re filling up. And so am I. I’m looking at the time. I’m staring at that half-pint of beer, willing it to go down.
It’s not the booze. It can’t be the booze. Much. Surely? 11 pints in 11 hours, a man of my size and with my liver’s decade of training, should be able to handle that.
No, it’s the tiredness – magnified by the alcohol. Which I manage to get down, followed by a few sips of water to get the taste out of my mouth. Onward…
23. Bond Street
8 Dering St
Turn left onto Bird St until it turns into Bond Street
Where is the arrow to the nearest bar please?
Again, you would think finding a pub in London would be easy at this time of night. But no – Bond Street is fancy, it’s jewellry and art galleries, not half pints of beer in the evening. We get a little bit lost trying to find this one. We don’t have time for that!
And the feeling of space that being in a pub at 1 o’clock gives you is long gone. I need the bathroom – third pub in a row. Can you order me a drink? Great. Back in 5.
Better make that 10. And there’s no toilet paper in the men’s room. We do not have time for this! I’m walking into the ladies, grabbing a roll, and coming back.
Taking matters into my own hands. That’s what I’m doing. I’m drunk, and I’m tired, but more than anything I am committed.
WE WILL GET THIS DONE!
24. Liverpool Street Station
Hamilton Hall, upstairs from the station near the Bishopsgate Exit
Head back to Bond Street Tube – Catch the Central Line to Liverpool Street
Liverpool Street Station would be more welcoming if it were located at Marble Arch
Who the flipping hell put Liverpool Street Station here on the Monopoly Board? Look at that map again – this is an hour’s round trip out of the way, and it’s now after 10pm. Still, it’s 15 minutes (each way) on the tube so I’m taking a nap.
Hamilton Hall is exactly what you expect a train station pub to be like late at night. Nobody is here because they thought ‘that looks like a nice pub’. Everybody is here because they would rather be somewhere else – in most cases, that somewhere else is at the end of a train journey from Liverpool Street station.
For us, the somewhere else is Mayfair, via Park Lane. And if I can just get this beer down we’ll be on our way.
TWO STOPS TO GO!
25. Park Lane
The Rose and Crown, 2 Old Park Lane
Catch the Central Line back to Marble Arch Turn left onto Park Lane, and continue on down
Wow, has that detour ruined what remained of our schedule. After Regent Street, it felt like the night was young and this was easily finished.
Now it feels late. Very late. There’s no longer any guarantee that pubs will be open. We’re headed for the Rose and Crown, at the far end of Park Lane. I’m looking at the time. It’s almost 11.30, and we’re walking down a dark street, and so help me god if we get to this pub and it’s closed and we don’t finish the Monopoly Pub Crawl I will cry and scream and, well, and fall asleep on the front step of the bar.
But what’s that? Hawaiian noises? Downstairs, underneath the Park Lane Hilton, is a really dodgy Hawaiian bar. But I’m desparate, and in a hurry, and damn well committed.
The Park Lane Hilton – when time is of the essence!
A ten quid cover charge is ridiculous. Any other day of my life I would tell this man to stick it. Instead, I pay it and – because I couldn’t possibly sit here and watch the minutes tick past staring a beer and wondering what will still be open in Mayfair – I order a shot of Malibu.
The first time I ever went into a bar, my dad bought me a shot of Malibu. He was born in London. There’s a connection.
My god I’m drunk. But I’m back outside now. There is one more stop to go and we will have completed this epic, this challenging, this amazing Monopoly Pub Crawl in order.
Ye Grapes, Shepherd’s Market, Mayfair
Walk down Curzon or Hertford St. There is a Mayfair Place here for photo purposes
It’s closed. Pub number 26 of 26, and it’s now ten minutes to midnight and we have been running this marathon and drinking those beers for 13 hours!, and the pub is closed.
Everything is closed. Mayfair is dead quiet. This is another city business area, and the local lawyers, and bankers, and Russian oligarchs have all decided to go home early tonight. I am gutted. I am devastated. I am walking around Mayfair until I find…
…an Indian restaurant, with the lights on, and customers inside!
My friends, we are in luck. We have success! We also have naan, and Cobra beer to wash it down with. Cobra Beer and Naan is the taste of success.
WE HAVE DONE IT!
VICTORY! MAYFAIR! WINNERS!
I have to say, the feeling I have right now is one of relief. I’m not sure if that’s because we have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, or if it’s the more comprehensive awareness of how epic this day has actually been.
There’s also some exhilaration. I have been wanting to do the Monopoly Pub Crawl since I first heard Dave Lister talk about it in Red Dwarf. I once wrote a Christmas special called “Doctor Who and the Monopoly Pub Crawl of Doom, or pardon me, have you seen my Tardis?”. I am such a Monopoly nerd that I can quote square-purchasing strategy while drunk and standing on Regent Street!
And I have now completed the actual Monopoly Pub Crawl!
Was it more difficult than I expected? Hell yes! Was it worth it? In so many ways.
I wanted to do another video right now, but I am dead on my feet and asleep on the tube. But tomorrow morning, oh yes, here is my take tomorrow morning:
OK, so loads of people come to Punta Cana, on the edge of the Dominican Republic in the middle of the Caribbean, to stay in an all-inclusive resort. This means they don’t have to pay for drinks, or dinner, or think about activities or (really) think about anything at all.
We know that sometimes, that’s exactly the blissful holiday you want. And after the recent news, you have every reason to go for a resort as opposed to a cruise ship!
BUT… we want to make choices, we want to be in control, and today, in Punta Cana … we want to go kite surfing!
Kite Club Punta Cana offers beginner kitesurfing lessons, ranging from the group session we’ll be taking (two hours after breakfast, and two more hours after lunch) to private courses that can spread across multiple days and all levels of kitesurfing experience. Punta Cana isn’t Tarifa, Spain, or any of the Brazilian beaches where kite surfing is the main event – we’re hoping that makes it easy for us grommits (does that newbie term apply to kiteboards like it does to surfboards?).
We’re starting on the beach (as we did when we learnt to surf in Byron Bay, Australia) with a training kite … and HOLY WOW, there’s some strength in that wind. Ever wondered what whips the kite surfers across the water at such a rapid rate? It’s the power in that wind, and we can see why it’s crucial that we get the feel for it on dry land.
Laugh now as I fall over and eat a faceful of sand! I promise I’ll be more co-ordinated when we get wet.
So we’ve ordered the Bandera – a traditional Dominican Republic meal, and it’s almost as surprising as that first gust of wind. After a couple of weeks tripping across central and south america, we weren’t surprised to see the rice, beans, and meat combination … the fried bananas, however, we didn’t see coming, and the sweetness cuts through the other flavours just right – you’ll be putting the second spoonful in your mouth before you’ve even fully registered the flavour.
We’ve put another Dominican delicacy, the Habichuelas con dulce (a sweet dessert), on hold – think of it as a reward for when we return from the afternoon’s kite surfing.
How can we describe the experience of using the kite to surf across the waves of the Caribbean? Wet. Wet really sums it up!
There are the exhilarating moments when the wind and the waves combine in the right direction and at the right time. The pure joy when we feel ourselves being held aloft by the equipment, when we have foresight and control over this combination of board, leash, kites, and mother nature herself.
These moments are short-lived as a beginner! More often than not, mother nature responds to our feelings of control by kinking the kite, or compelling us to shift our weight on the kiteboard just too much in one direction. And then SPLASH! We’re in the drink.
Still – absolutely sensational. Kitesurfing is undoubtedly an uplifting experience!
Thinking of visiting Haiti?
When it came to planning this trip through the Caribbean, the opportunity to visit both the Dominican Republic and its neighbour Haiti was top of the list. Having researched it thoroughly, however, we cannot in good conscience recommend Haiti as a tourist destination again just yet.
There’s also the alternative, resort way to spend time in the sand, and that’s at any of the nearby golf courses. Here, the idea is to avoid the sand and the water … we’re going to blame the workout kitesurfing does on our upper body for the … multiple … wayward shots. Good thing we chose to only play 9 holes!
The Golf Course – the only place on a beach holiday you want to avoid the sand and water. Photo by Corey Ann, CC License.
Over the past few weeks we’ve pointed out how some great travel destinations (especially those off the beaten track) share names, from Antigua (volcanoes v beaches) to Trinidad (reggae v Jesuit priests). Possibly the most confusing is Dominica v the Domincan Republic (tiny Caribbean island v small Caribbean island). So if you’re looking for tips on visiting the Dominican Republic, here’s tip #1 – check everything to make sure you haven’t accidentally booked transport, accommodation or an amazing tour … on another island 500 miles away!
(And if you think it’s a mistake nobody would make, check out this genuinely (normally) great travel blogger – his list of top 5 things to do in the Dominican Republic includes the Boiling Lake in Dominica. If it can happen to him, it can definitely happen to you!).
All that really tells us … is just how amazing and wonderful this world is when you head out there and travel through it. So thank you for being part of the Every Daydream Holiday experience, and with particular thanks to those readers who have signed up for our daily email stories and who have shared our website on their blog or on Facebook and Twitter. See you tomorrow when we we depart Punta Cana for … well, you’ll just have to find out!
Think Caribbean island, and you’ll think fabulous beaches and luxury resorts. Flying into the Dominican Republic last night, that was exactly what this chain of islands looked like peeking their sandy beaches out from the greenery.
But Punta Cana, on the very eastern edge of the Dominican Republic, is definitely not a poor man’s substitute for Barbados, or Richard Branson’s private island. Nope – this is the adventure capital of the Caribbean, and we’re here to rip it up!
Yeee Haaaaa! It’s the only thing we can think to say as we finally get the hang of these controls, and open up the throttle.
Can you smell the sea air as it whistles through the open cabin of the dune buggy? Our destination is Laguna del Limon, to the north of the island. It’s an amazing, 90km journey – plenty of chances for everyone (who wants, and can handle a manual stick shift) to have a drive, and also loads of time to stop and explore the island – and the ocean that surrounds it!
Our first stop is Uvero Alto, a beach resort town. Wide sandy beaches fringed by palm trees – this is the tropical island lifestyle; we’ve arrived too late in the year to be bothered by Hurricanes, and early enough in the day to beat the ‘crowds’.
That’s a sign of a good holiday destination, by the way. At the really crowded beaches on the French Riviera or the Caribbean, tourists are out before breakfast to claim their preferred spot. When you find a beach mid-morning that’s not full of towels, you know it’s unlikely to be full of people later in the day. If you’ve had enough of a buggy joyride for today, you can probably siesta on a sunbed here and we’ll collect you on the way home. But you’ll be missing out on…
…the inland experience, as we swing through Nissibon. There are workers in the fields (it is Monday, after all!), and most don’t even look up as we coast by. Crazy tourists in dune buggies are obviously a regular thing in the Dominican Republic!
Dune Buggy Tour, from Punta Cana to Laguna del Limon, Dominican Republic. Photo by Rob Wiss, CC License.
Our final stretch takes us back to the coast, along the Playa La Vacama and 15 kilometres (9 miles) of beach driving. If you thought Uvero Alto was quiet, then you’ll reckon this place is a silent monastery. Sure, there’s the low rumble of our various engines, but it barely resonates above the sound of waves lapping onto the shore. The hum of the wind in our ears and the wheels on the sand creates a trance-like state. You want to scream some more yaaa-hoooos to break things up – and before you know it they’re echoed by the passengers in the other buggies.
Yahoo! Yahoo! Yahoo!!! What a way to feel alive!
Lunch is served at the Hotel Limon, next to the Laguna del Limon. We’ve got plenty of time to experience the freshwater lagoon … by kayak, as we move ourselves around the inland body of water and observe the variety of birds feeding and nesting among the mangroves.
There’s a moment as we find ourselves in the middle of the lake where civilization feels like a work of fiction. The great cities of the world are calling to us, appealing to our traveller and cultural instincts, but right here, right now … it’s hard to believe anyone ever chose to leave their waterside community and go build a skyscraper. Who in their right mind would trade a kayak for the subway?
Punta Cana is best known as an all-inclusive resort destination – as we’ll discover tomorrow, that’s missing half the story!
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Santiago is a gem to discover – and we have a weekend with discovery on the agenda!
Santiago, Chile photo collage. All photos by the author.
Jaw dropping snow-capped peaks greet us as we descend from the air in our Sky Airline flight from Buenos Aires; beautiful green parks where lovers canoodle are scattered amongst the city’s high-rises, impressive architecture rich in history looks down on massive squares where locals gather to dance the afternoons away, and artisans and tourists co-habitate in eclectic suburbs.
Once you get over the steep $95 reciprocity fee many foreign nationals (including Australians) have to pay to get into Chile, you’ll fall in lust with this city – and we’re told a few days is more than enough time to experience the best sights Santiago has to offer.
We’re staying at La Chimba Hostel in Barrio Bellavista. The streets of this funky suburb are lined with colourful graffiti art which brightens your way during the day, but it’s at night that Bellavista really comes alive with bustling bars and restaurants. There is something for everyone but we chose to walk past the nightspots blaring Gangnam Style, instead preferring a more authentic South American experience at a tango bar with Latin dancing. Have our moves improved after so long in South America?
Santiago, Chile photo collage dos. All photos by the author.
Barrio Bellavista is also at the base of San Cristobal Hill which at 300 metres above the city offers sweeping 180 degree views of the skyline. It is also where a 22 metre white statue of Virgin Mary stands offering those who need it a place to worship … but mainly just another photo opportunity for tourists. The funicular is out of action, but we don’t want to miss the view so we decide to stretch our legs by walking the steep route to the top. It’s quite a challenging half an hour walk and not for the unfit, but the views were well worth it. The afternoon is a better time of day as the smog had lifted a little, but don’t expect crystal clear views.
The bella vista from San Cristobal Hill, overlooking all of Santiago Chile (through the smog). Photo by Kyle Simourd, CC License.
With limited time in Santiago overall, and wanting to see as much of the city as we can, we choose to do the hop on hop off bus tour of the city. For about 19,000 Chilean Pesos each (about $40) it’s definitely worth doing – we’re going to see so much more of the city than you normally would simply walking around for a few days, and we can get off at all the best sights the city has to offer.
One great spot worth visiting is Plaza de Armas, which gives us a little perspective on how old Santiago is. The Plaza was designed in the 1500s but most of the impressive buildings including the Metropolitan Cathedral were built in the 1800s. A must for history buffs but it is also a great place to just people watch, from buskers jostling marionettes to locals dancing. It is even a popular meeting spot for the city’s stray dogs to sniff each other out.
This is a city alive with amusing experiences. We duck into a coffee shop/bar seeking a quick caffeine fix, and face the choice of either taking a seat or standing at the bar … where we are served by the most voluptuous women you have ever seen wearing dresses barely covering their boobs and butts. I actually thought we had walked into a gentlemen’s club (and as the only blonde female in the joint I received my fair share of uncomfortable stares). For the rest of the group, put your eyes back into your head! I think we’ve suddenly found a new appreciation for the coffee houses here … perhaps we should open a franchise back home when the everydaydreaming is done?
As far as South America countries go, Santiago isn’t ‘cheap’. Expect western prices if you come for a visit but overall, and expect to have a great time. In comparison with some of our other stops, there’s no doubt Santiago can serve as both an excellent introduction to the continent and an inclusion on any South American travel plan.
Santiago, Chile photo collage tres. All photos by the author.
Want to go? Need to know!
One thing is for sure, our limited Spanish is only just getting us by! The most common phrases used so far are:
Buenos dias/tardes/noches (good morning/afternoon/evening)
Habla englais (do you speak English?)
No intiende (I don´t understand). We’re using that one a lot!
We are picking words and phrases up quickly, and the locals everywhere we visit appreciate us making some effort. Maybe we’ll be quite the linguists when we next travel through your home country? (Speaking of which, have you invited us to feature your home or favourite travel destination yet? Head over to our local guides page now.)
What’s your travel experience in South America? How much Spanish did you feel you needed? Tell us in the comments below.
We’re about to find out what makes America’s biggest (and best) celebration even bigger … and bester. This week, New Orleans is hosting two of the most massive events on every American’s calendar – as Super Bowl XLVII touches down on Sunday, and the party flows into the New Orleans Mardi Gras.
Oh yeah – those Super Bowl tickets that can set you back thousands of dollars? We’ve got some for you already, so let’s go!
Don’t worry if you’re new to NFL (or sport, for that matter). The Super Bowl – whether you’re at the stadium in New Orleans, or part of the traditional Super Bowl Sunday celebrations at homes around the USA – is an experience first and a sporting event … well, the sports is probably top 5.
TOP 5 THINGS ABOUT THE SUPER BOWL
The cultural experience – it’s a party atmosphere across the country
Super Bowl Ads – the most expensive spots of the year, and an opportunity for companies to make a splash
Half Time Show – This year it’s Beyonce! We’re secretly hoping for a wardrobe malfunction
The actual Football match – It’s the running and tackling and stuff in between the ads and the singing
Beer and Nachos – Two finer words were never spoken
This year the Super Bowl kicks off at 5.25pm on Sunday afternoon. (Want to see something nerdy? Here’s Google’s history of searches for the phrase “What time does the Super Bowl start?” For two months, every year, it’s one of the most competitive phrases in search engine marketing.)
But the Super Bowl party has already begun when our flight arrives in New Orleans (aka, the Big Easy) on Friday afternoon. You can tell the diehard fans on the streets – they’re already dressed in either the Gold and Purple of the Baltimore Ravens (who won the American Football Conference) or the Gold and Scarlet of the San Francisco 49ers (who won the National Football Conference in an amazing come-from-behind effort – without boring you with all the details, the Super Bowl is essentially a Grand Final between the two divisions of NFL).
Unlike most major cities who place their stadium waaaay out of the way, the Superdome in New Orleans is right in the middle of the business district. That makes it easy enough to get to on Sunday, and also means we don’t have to decide between accommodation close to the Superdome or a hotel closer to The French Quarter (where we plan to celebrate afterwards).
We’ll spend Saturday exploring the city. It’s now almost 8 years since Hurricane Katrina devasted this community. Sadly, many people left never to return, but the majority who remain (just like in Christchurch, site of the 2011 Earthquake) encourage you to come to their city and support the ongoing growth. If that means frequenting the clubs and cajun or creole restaurants along Bourbon Street or beside the Mississippi River … then it’s a plan we can support!
Sunday lunchtime arrives, and we’re on a streetcar out to the Superdome. There’s a tension in the air – but it’s not from rivalry (in fact, the coaches of the Ravens and the 49ers this year are … brothers! Mom Harbaugh must be so proud, but I bet she’s glad Thanksgiving is 9 months away). It’s simply the tension of waiting for the game to start – imagine what it must be like inside the rooms for the players involved.
Here are the basics to help you scream along with the die-hard Super Bowl fans:
Each team is trying to score a Touchdown by moving the ball into the opponents ‘end zone’. They’re worth 6 points (plus one if they kick the conversion afterwards, which they usually do). Look for the umpires raising both arms above their head – that means it’s a Touchdown and you can go crazy!
When you have the ball, you have 4 chances (called downs – as in, First Down, Second Down etc) to move forward by 10 yards. If you can make it through those 10 yards, then your 4 downs begin again.
You can do this by running or passing the ball – the quarterback is the most important player, as he receives the ball at the start of each play and decides what to do with it. Usually, the quarterback calls a play BEFOREHAND, so the team know where to run / block etc.
A game is made up of 4 x 15-minute quarters. But don’t think that means it lasts for an hour! With breaks between quarters, time-outs, advertisement breaks, umpire discussions, and just general faffing around the Super Bowl normally lasts for about 4 hours.
Want our hot tip just before the players run out onto the field here at the Superdome? We’re confident Coach Harbaugh will bring it home.
Want something more definitive? Here’s the prediction from everydaydreamer (and one-eyed 49ers fan) Nix:”49ers have been consistently improving each season and this is their year to take home the big bowl! Though I reckon is will be close.”
The Super Bowl host rotates from year to year. New Orleans now becomes the most popular host city (tied at 10 with Miami). Next year New Jersey’s MetLife stadium will be the first Super Bowl hosted anywhere near chilly New England.
This is the first Super Bowl New Orleans has hosted since Hurricane Katrina, and an opportunity for the Superdome in particular to revitalise its image as a sporting venue not home to so much tragedy in 2005
The easiest way to buy tickets is the annual ballot – in fact, given the high resale value, you’d be crazy not to enter the ballot every year even if you have no intention of going yourself. (If your team makes it through, they will also have tickets available the week before the game.)
The large gap between game time (1 hour) and game time (4 hours) means NFL can be likened to a game of Chess. Lots of tactical movement you don’t understand, the occasional big play that you do, and far too much time in between (unless you like beer).
How did you sleep last night? It’s hard to be fully rested when you know there are jaguars (and 4 other big cat species) wandering around outside – every rustle, every noise, makes you wonder what’s happening.
Whichever genius in the everydaydream holiday group brought ingredients for a cooked breakfast deserves to be knighted! What a fantastic start to a Tuesday that will involve a lot of hiking and swimming in our quest to experience the Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary (where we arrived last night).
There’s no fixed location in the 128,000 acre sanctuary where you are guaranteed to see jaguars (or any of the other big cats – Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, or Margay). Rather than wander aimlessly and hope, we’ve planned a day that will be a lot of fun even if the cats stay away.
Of course, there’s no guarantee they will cross while you wait! Photo by ambertq, CC License
Our main destination is Tiger Fern falls, actually two waterfalls that are an easy-enough walk through the sanctuary. We reach the first not long after the heat of the day sets in, so it’s a blissful hour spent swimming here. Cockscomb (named after the nearby mountain that looks like a rooster’s comb) is not exactly a secret, but it’s hardly an easy tourist destination to access. Add to that remoteness the sheer size of the sanctuary, and it’s entirely possible to spend a few days camping and hiking here without coming across another human. Certainly, our swim feels more like a private experience than a public pool.
We turn, and begin the hike (via a different path) back out. Naturalists (not to be confused with Naturists especially when travelling) are confident that there remain many undiscovered species within the Cockscomb Basic, particularly in the harder to access West Basin. There’s every chance our group could be the first people in the world to spot a specific species of butterfly or plant – although, unless you’re a botanist with Central American expertise, I doubt you’ll know it when you see it!
And just when we begin to feel that this trip – amazing as it has been – would end without spotting a big cat, there one is. The jaguar is only outgrown by the lions of Africa and the Tigers of Asia – it’s large, gorgeous, endangered (hence the sanctuary), and intimidating even as it moves softly through the jungle some way off the path. It feels almost rude to photograph the cat, infringing as we are upon his preserve. For the few moments he (and, based on the size, it’s definitely a male) is visible, our whole group feels like they’re holding their breath – nobody wants to disturb the moment.
And that’s the moment we will hold with us tonight. Probably for longer, but definitely for tonight as we embark on another Central American overnight bus experience. Last weekend we boarded in a city and ended on a tropical paradise; and tonight will be the same, as we don a cardigan and climb aboard the notoriously chilly overnight bus from Belize City to Cancun, Mexico.
There’s something special about starting a new day on island. Even when you know the plan is to head back to the mainland (and we have a mid-morning water taxi back to Belize City), it really does feel like you are completely separated from any worldly concerns you may have. Caye Caulker, off the cost of Belize, certainly feels that way.
Our first destination after the water taxi delivers us to Belize City (and we walk across the manually controlled Swing Bridge) is the Museum of Belize, an opportunity to brush up on our history (not really) and see inside the former prison cells (really). The permanent exhibits here are a juxtaposition of the English colony (stamps and coins for example) and the much older indigenous history of the region (Maya Masterpieces is a must).
The history of Belize is emblazoned on their national flag, and the imagery there is so rich that their flag contains more colours than the flag of any other nation (12 in total, the next nearest is 9). And the flag forms a highlight in the Museum tour, where you can see a torn and dirty example that was found in the ruins of the World Trade Centre, after the attacks of September 11, 2001.
Unlike the neighbouring Guatemala which was properly settled by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century, Belize was controlled as a British Colony from 1862 to 1981; English remains the official language. So when someone in Guatemala says “look at the Colonial buildings”, expect to see ruins and bungalows up to 400 years old (oh, and they’ll probably say “mirar los edificios coloniales”); when someone in Belize says “look at the Colonial buildings”, expect grand houses from the mid 1800s!
One such example is today’s Government House, originally built in 1815 and opened to the public as an event venue in 1998. There are art exhibits on display here, but our visit is from the outside and as an opportunity to feel some more of Central America’s varied history. Continuing the flag theme, it was here in 1981 that Belize’s national flag was official raised for the first time.
And take a look at the brick Cathedral of St John across the road – it’s the oldest Anglican Church in Central America. (Which, to be fair, is a bit like pointing out the oldest Mayan Temple in Great Britain.)
This sanctuary protects all five of Belize’s big cats: Jaguar, Puma, Ocelot, Jaguarundi, and Margay. While coming out here meant extra time in a bus, it was well worth it as we settle into our ‘White House’ accommodation within the Cockscomb Basin. There’s just enough time as the sun sets to cook our dinner in the kitchen provided, and base ourselves on the screened-in verandah to watch the evening wildlife emerge.
The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary offers a range of places to sleep, depending on your travel preferences (flush toilet or pit latrine?) and the number of people you’re travelling with (we find dormitory bedding adds to a group holiday experience, and detracts from a couple’s romantic weekend in Belize!)
Does anybody think we spent too little time in Belize City? What are your tips for long bus rides? Share them with the world in the comments below.
Friday morning dawns clearly, and it’s the smell that first reminds us to the fact that we weren’t camping in the desert last night – while we were sleeping, the Pacaya volcano was still erupting around us (and generating that sulphur smell!). It was entirely worth spending the night here, for the overnight tales around a lava campfire and for this – an opportunity to experience the volcano well before the crowds of tourists arrive.
So while they’re all just getting off their buses, we’re on our way back to better explore the town of Antigua, Guatemala. Ordered evacuated in the late 1700s, the town today is a mix of those Spanish colonial ruins and a modern central American community wanted to display the colours and flavours of this region. There’s an easy lunch to grab at the markets, and coffee … well, it’s just as good (and local) as the chocolate was yesterday.
Our last stop is a drink on the rooftop terrace of Cafe Sky, the perfect space to watch the sun set between the volcanoes that surround the town. For us today, the weather is not as perfect as it could be – there are storms rolling in. Make sure you grab an extra drink for the road – we have a long night ahead of us … on the buses.
Central America is known for its ‘Chicken Buses’, mostly old US school buses repurposed for local transport where they are reborn with character … and a little craziness. We feel a little crazy waiting in the bus shelter for our 7pm bus to arrive, but what a moment to savour when it does. It’s Friday night in Guatemala, and our senses are being pressed by the encroaching storm; focusing us on the small things that surround us as we board; and as lightning cracks and the rain begins to dump our bus pulls out from Antigua on the way back to Guatemala City.
Colourful as the Chicken Buses are (and if you love the photos here, consider buying the book here!), it’s the fellow passengers that make the journey exciting. We’re on a dream holiday, yet for them this is reality, living and working in the small town of Antigua and each with their own reason to be heading into the capital city in the rain. Travelling by bus in Guatemala is a tourist ritual, and to miss a Chicken Bus experience is like going to Pisa, Italy, to only see the train station.
The same can’t be said of all bus journeys, however. This is just the first leg of a marathon effort that will take us all the way from this plantation community on Friday night to the island of Caye Caulker, in neighbouring Belize, on Saturday afternoon.
Tips for surviving long bus rides
We recently shared our tips for surviving long train journeys. In our experience, 8 hours on a train is much, much easier than 8 hours on a bus. And so our tips are different.
Pack plenty of water and snacks
And pack wet wipes for your face (et cetera). This will help the person next to you as much as it will help you!
If you’ve ever had any kind of motion sickness, be prepared to elbow your way to get a seat near the front of the bus
Things to bring on a long bus ride start with Headphones, headphones, headphones – you don’t always want to use them because the long bus rides are the perfect opportunity to talk to people, meet interesting fellow travellers (or locals) and gain some tips about places to go / see / eat /sleep. But it’s also good to have a backup plan
Don’t plan to sleep on the bus. Unless you’re very tired (or used to it), you probably won’t, even if it’s an overnight bus
Move your seat back asap. The longer you leave it forward, the more of a kick from behind you’ll get when you first recline
Use the toilet at every pitstop, even if you don’t think you need to go – no matter how bad it is, it’s probably better than experiencing the smell of the bus toilet (or a nasty pothole experience)
And here’s a sneaky one we love from Redditer crackanape: “in a cheap country, I try to buy a child ticket for the seat next to me. Sometimes they get annoyed when I can’t produce an actual child, but it’s always worked in the end.”
Our overnight bus from Guatemala City east to the town of Flores is thankfully incident-free, helped by the fact that we booked a 1st Class bus rather than the locals, which are somewhat cheaper but can potentially stop every 30 minutes … for 12 hours.
We arrive in Flores just after 5am, with the sun just a hint on the horizon and the storms having long since rolled through. There’s two hours here to stretch our legs by walking around the small town with the (successful) aim of finding fresh coffee at 7am on a Saturday morning. Most of our fellow passengers are staying here, with plans to visit the nearby Tikal National Park. We have one more bus, an express (always take the express) from Flores across the border into Belize, and up to Belize City where we arrive at lunchtime. As we board the water taxi in Belize City, we can feel our final destination – and then we can see it, the small island of Caye Caulker, where the sea air has the magic effect of washing away any deleterious effects of all that time on the bus.
Saturday afternoon is spent exploring the island. We have time to ourselves – pretty well everything in Caye Caulker is a 20 minute walk away, at most. (And if that’s too much of a strain, you can hire a golf cart and take it really easy.) And there’s the option of an afternoon Bird Tour where … yes … that’s exactly what we needed to remind ourselves why we travel…a Tucan taking flight!
If the camping and the bus trip are still clinging to you, you’ll love our Sunday plans as we jump onto a boat for a full day snorkelling tour. Caye Caulker is on the edge of a tropical reef, and there’s no shortage of tropical fish and coral to snorkel past. We also have a chance to find out why Shark-Ray Alley is so named – and remember, any fins you see here probably aren’t attached to dolphins!! Lastly, there’s a chance to visit the Swallow Caye Marine Reserve – if anyone is loving the water as much as we are today, it’s these endangered Manatees that just look so darn huggable!
Hot lava to cold ocean. That’s the everydaydream holiday weekend!
Want to go? Need to know!
You can fly from Guatemala City to Belize City to avoid the buses. Just be prepared to pay over $200 for the 45 minute flight … a positive bargain for the almost $100 you can pay for the onward flight from Belize City to Caye Caulker. Or pay a premium for shuttle buses (and miss the local experience) http://www.transportguatemala.com/shuttle-schedule.php
The roads in Guatemala are far better than you’re expecting, which also helps with enjoying the bus experience.
Water Taxis will cost $20Bz each way, but like most things in Belize US DOllars are also welcome (just confirm prices before handing them over, to avoid anything untoward).
Tsunami Adventures offer bird tours both by walking (on the southern end of Caye Caulker) or incorporating a boat tour to the north of the island
Caye Caulker is also a popular dive site, with experienced divers often travelling here just to explore the 145m deep Great Blue Hole in the centre of the Lighthouse Reef
Manatees are also known as Dugongs. An endangered species globally, they’re often overlooked in a world of Finding Nemo and Shark Fin Soup. Companies like Humpybong in Australia are trying to change that awareness gap.
What are your tips for long bus rides? Share them with the world in the comments below.
Our morning flight out of Mexico City is bound for Guatemala City, but it’s not the present day capital of Guatemala that brings us here. Instead we are bound one hour west of the capital by bus, to Antigua Guatemala. If Antigua to you means only the Caribbean Island of that name, you’re in for a fabulous culture shock as we explore a city that was created after a volcano, survived a magnitude 7.4 earthquake, and was ordered abandoned 240 years ago … but not everybody left.
The history of chocolate is almost as old as the history of Greece and, we have to say, far more digestible in a single afternoon. Central America is where it all began so our first stop in Antigua is the ‘Choco Museo‘. It was the Mayans who first cultivated cocoa in Guatemala, and the bitter drink was introduced to the world via the Spanish conquistadors. It was the later refinements (adding sugar, particularly, to take the edge of the bitter taste of natural cocoa) that give us the popular sweet that chocolate lovers today concur “makes the world go round”.
We’re not here for the museum (alone). We’ve actually booked ourselves in for a Truffle Making workshop. Here, the history and manufacturing process of chocolate come to life – it’s one of the few workshops we’ve done where you’re encouraged to get your hands dirty! A truffle, in chocolatier parlance, is ganache-filled, so after a short theory lesson we have an hour to each create our own ganache filling, build the chocolate exterior, and then fill our own samples. What is ganache? Delicious!
Ganache is the soft filling for truffles, and chocolate ganache is also a popular icing. Photo by Mama Pyjama, CC License.
The Museum itself takes about 30 minutes to tour – it’s insightful on its own, but even more fabulous when you know your own creation is currently being cooled ready to take away. Best of all – our next stop gives us every excuse to eat our truffles now, because we don’t want them to melt…
The Pacaya Volcano is the most visited volcano in the Americas, and when we say it’s active we’re not using weasley geological terms to sound cool. This baby blew its stack in 1965 and has been erupting continuously ever since. Since a 2010 eruption, rivers of lava have been visible to tourists who make the easy 1 hour climb to the peak.
Oh yeah – and it started ramping up again just 3 weeks ago!
The only way to see Pacaya without the crowds is to be there first thing in the morning. And what’s the best way to be there first thing? Camp on the volcano overnight, of course!
So in the late afternoon, we find ourselves on a bus with O.X. Outdoor Excursions. It’s hard to appreciate the Spanish colonial ruins of Antigua, when our nervous stomachs are rumbling just as much as the volcano we’re driving towards. The tourist police on board the bus are reassuring for a number of reasons, but we still have to ask … “How active is ‘Active’?”
We took the Turansa Shuttle Bus from Guatemala City airport out to Antigua, due to safety concerns that exist for the normal bus. While it costs 9 times as much, you’re still only paying $10-$12 for your safety – and we’ll have plenty of other local bus opportunities. You’ll have plenty of shuttle options – grab the first one you can, or book ahead.
Making truffles is just the start of a central American chocolate adventure. ChocoMuseo also offer plantation tours, if your chocolate passion runs to botany or agriculture; if you just love playing with chocolate then book yourself in for the three week course on chocolate sculpture making.
Antigua Guatemala is surrounded by volcanoes – Pacaya is the most visited because it’s easiest to access. The others are Volcan de Agua (‘Volcano of Water’, or Hunapu to the original inhabitants), the twin-peaks of Acatenango, and Volcan de Fuego (‘Volcano of Fire’ – we think a more appropriate name than Volcano of Water!).
OK – so we’ve been taking you on an everydaydream holiday for 10 countries now. Have you ever seen anything cooler than toasting marshmallows over a campfire made from lava? Can you even imagine anything cooler? Let us know in the comments below – and we’ll definitely go there!