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By: Christine Khuat/Julio Moreno (HaLong Bay Tour: $25/500,000 VND, Train to Sapa: ~$5/100,000 VND, Tour of Sapa: $12USD/240,000VND)

Buying fruit from a Canoe in Halong Bay

Note: This article is part of a 3 part series detailing how to make the most out of Vietnam by exploring geographically from North to South (starting with this one, the North, then the Center, and South coming soon). In addition a 4th article on Phu Quoc Island is already posted (hit the link).

Note2: In this and any Vietnam article, the name “Saigon” and “Ho Chi Minh City” will be used interchangeably  as they are the same city. Saigon is the pre-communist name, and Ho Chi Minh is the current official name.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Hanoi, Vietnam, the capital of Vietnam. Visa information was already posted on the Phu Quoc Island article. You can either get there directly, or fly to Saigon first and fly North to Hanoi. Jetstar.com offers flights from Saigon to Hanoi for around $50 USD/1Million VND. From here you will most likely need a tour company. “The Sinh Cafe ” is a well established international tour company which can help with tours and even visa info. They have tours and info on both Sapa (which is not required) and HaLong Bay (which is required).

Skeezy Tips:

  1. It is recommended that you book the HaLong Bay trip first as it is more popular, and ask them about info on how to arrive to SaPa by other means if you don’t want their tours.
  2. BEWARE of copycat companies.  Many places will tout that they’re “Sinh Café” or “The Sinh Tourist,” but they’re not.  This is especially true in Hanoi.  Double check the address to make sure you have the right company.

AIRPORT TRANSFER:

  1. Jetstar has an airport bus that will take you to/from Old Quarter for 30,000 VND (~$1.50).  The journey takes about an hour each way.  For travel to the airport, visit their office at 204 Tran Quang Khai STREET where you can check in and get your boarding ticket before boarding the bus.
  2. Vietnam Airlines offer the same airport bus departing to and from their office in Old Quarter.  The ticket costs 40,000 VND ($2 if paying in USD).  The earliest bus leaves Old Quarter at 4:30 am and departs every 1-2 hours.  Book ahead and check the schedule.

Skeezy Tips:

  1. Book at least 2 weeks ahead to ensure cheaper airfare and better time availability
  2. You will be charged 50,000 VND (~$2.50) per ticket for credit card payments, plus the 3% foreign transaction fee by your credit card company.  A cheaper option is to pay at the post office.  Book your ticket online and opt to “hold payment” at a post office (or bank).  This option costs you 25,000 VND per ticket, but you must pay in cash.  NOTE: If you choose to pay in person (post office or bank) you must do so within 48 hours of your online booking.  In addition, this method does not work if you’re booking a last minute flight within the next 48 hours.
  3. SKIP all the frills (seat selection, insurance, check in luggage) as they WILL COST YOU EXTRA.
  4. The limit for carry on luggage (free of charge) is 7 kg (~15 lbs).  If your backpack exceeds this weight limit, opt for the 15 kg checked baggage for an additional 60,000 VND (~$3).  They WILL check and make you pay extra (more than what you would have paid online) upon check=in if you exceed the 7 kg limit.

The Stories:

Halong Bay: It is a natural bay formed by the delta coming out to the East of Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Its beauty is world renowned and was a finalist of the New Seven World Wonders contest. It is known for its snorkling and fishing, traditional boat tours, overnight boat stays, and amazing natural island/rock formations. It is only accessible by tours but it definitely a site to see if you are staying in the Hanoi area.

A closer look of the rock formations in Halong Bay

Halong Bay as viewed from a boat

Sapa: Is known mainly for its amazing beauty and its ethnic minorities. A very intriguing spot that doesn’t get too many foreigner visitors, as it is not well known thus remains a little known treasure among “road less traveled” travelers. It is near the Chinese border, and historically a highly contested land. However, in recent times, its small town feel and cultural diversity (mostly Hmong minority) is what attracts visitors.

Lake in SaPa, Vietnam

The Hmong minority in Sapa

Other things to do:

1) Mausoleum of Ho Chi Minh: Since you will already be in Hanoi, go see Ho Chi Minh himself. The Mausoleum is an indoor museum where you can actually see his body. Be prepared to wait in a long line, however there are very few leaders preserved in this way (like Lenin in Moscow and Mao Zedong in Beijing, must be a communist thing). Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Cong to a most improbable win, now only over the Americans, but over the French from colonization, and his legacy lived on to defeat the Cambodians of Pol Pot, and the Chinese in their brief 1980 invasion.

Other relevant info:

1) Pho Bo: For foreigners, Pho is the signature dish of Vietnam. Hanoi is the birth place of Pho and like any foreign food, you probably will get a tastier version in the source of its inception. Grab a bowl from a mom and pop shop.

2) Relative cheapness: While Vietnam is already considered cheap, many foreigners will be surprised by HOW cheap. Consider that in the “tourist” part of town, a large bowl of Pho is $2.50 which might be considered cheap if you paid $6-7 in the US. However out of those areas, to Vietnamese people, its more like $0.60-$1.00. Also sandwiches can be bought off street vendors for $0.75 and full meals can be had for about $1. You can REALLY stretch your dollar if you know what you are doing.

3) Shopping in super markets: If you will stay a long time in Vietnam, consider shopping at the local market and you will find amazing deals on produce. The market places on the street also have great cheap fruit, including the amazing Dragon Fruit!

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to “El Pipila” monument 50 cents [5 MXN] for cable cart to the top, $2 (20 MXN) for a round trip cable cart trip; Entrance to “Alhondiga de Granaditas”: $4 [43 MXN])

Sky view of the entire Historical Guanajuato City from "El Pipila" Monument.

 

Note: Info on how to get to Guanajuato city was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1, it will be assumed you already read that article and can get from your country, into Mexico, and into Guanajuato City’s bus depot OR to the Guanajuato/Leon Airport (BJX).

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Assuming you took the Guanajuato Part 1 advice and stayed very close to the Mercado [Marketplace] follow this simple google map. A= The tram to go up to the Pipila Monument, B= The “Alhondiga de Granaditas” (Popular Granary) and C= The marketplace.

Skeezy Tip #1: If you speak Spanish, try to bring your student ID everywhere in Mexico. Although they only offer discounts to Mexican students, they often don’t check where the ID is from and you will slide with a 50%-75% discount on entrances to museums, etc. If you get caught, claim ignorance and just acknowledge “OH! only NATIONAL students”.

Skeezy Tip #2: Bring cash as credit cards are rarely accepted anywhere in Mexico except for high end department stores and hotels.

Story:

La Alhondiga de Granaditas [The Popular Granary]: Granaries are nowadays where excess grains are stored in farm towns. However it is important in Mexican history as the last stand of the Spanish Army in Guanajuato. The Spanish Army was overconfident that the Granary was too well protected and that the rebellion army was too small and poorly armed. Their assumption almost proved true as the rebels were having a hard time penetrating the wall of the fortress. It wasn’t until an unusually strong miner named Juan José de los Reyes Martínez, nicknamed “El Pipila” mounted a flat stone on his back as a shield and made it to the front door of the Granary to set the door on fire. This allowed the rebels to finally enter, capture the granary, and conquer Guanajuato City. It marks an important victory and confidence booster for the independence movement.

Inside the "Alhondiga de Granaditas"

“El Pipila” Monument: This is the monument to the brave miner who risked his live and used his incredible strength to give the rebels a fighting chance. He later joined the rebels himself and was captured a year later by the Spanish army. He was executed but lives forever as a martyr and hero of Guanajuato. The monument is also situated on a nice hill that oversees most of the city. A panoramic picture from this point is the banner for this site.

The Giant Monument to the Hero of the Independence movement, "El Pipila"

Other Things to See:

1) “La Callejoneada” [The Alley-Walk]: What started as a pass time, has turned into a tradition and fund raiser of the students at the University of Guanajuato. They meet with a large group of people and take you along the alleys of Guanajuato, telling you stories and cracking many jokes along the way. Granted, none of this is funny if you don’t speak Spanish, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. (100 MXN; Although its in the street, they do check by taking you though a small alley and checking your ticket [a complimentary jar you get when you pay] You can buy tickets along Juarez street, or at the bus depot just like any other tour, or directly, as they hang out near Juarez Theater (map below) from the afternoon, until the beginning of the event at 9PM)


2) “Callejon del Beso” [Alley of the Kiss]: One of the legends of the city if of a couple who loved each other but had a forbidden love as he was a commoner and she was a Spanish princess. The legend says they lived across the alley from each other and would meet on the balcony, until her enraged father killed her. Now, every couple who goes here must kiss or suffer bad luck.

Couple Kissing in the Alley of the Kiss

Museum of Don Quixote: Don Quixote is possibly the most famous of stories in the Spanish Language. Writer Miguel de Cervantes is to Spanish Language literature, what Shakespeare is to its English counterpart. Since the University of Guanajuato is famous for the arts, this museum has been erected maintained to house not only original paintings of Don Quixote by famous painters, but many other art pieces in a 4 floor building. (20 MXN, 5 MXN for students)

http://museoiconografico.guanajuato.gob.mx/

Statue of "Don Quixote"

Teatro Juarez: Juarez Theater is a world class performance theater a little over 100 years old. The architecture is notable because its authentic Mexican architecture, using no non-Mexican architects. It is beautiful inside and if youre lucky, can still catch a play. (50 MXN for a tour)

”]”]

Where the magic happens

Diego Rivera House: Diego Rivera is widely considered, along with his wife Frida Kahlo, amongst the best paintors in Mexican history. Rivera lived in Guanajuato for some time, and his house is preserved as a museum with many authentic original paintings. Like is the case in most art houses, you cant take pictures. (20 MXN, 5 MXN for students)

Map: A=Teatro Juarez, B= Diego Rivera House

Torture Museum, Inquisition Machines: While a very small museum, they have many torture devices used during the holy inquisition. Some are just simple hanging devices while some get…creative for lack of a better term. The Inquisition was the Catholic Church’s attempt to weed out all impurities within its ranks, often leading to accusations very similar to the Salem Witch Trials. Sadly however, the Inquisition lasted more than 3 centuries and spanned the entire Catholic Domain, which at one point was 1/4 of the world’s population. (This along with the “Church of Murals” are in the higher levels of the city. It is however one of the offered tours [along with some useless museums] as the morning “tour of Guanajuato City” and is your most economical bet at 100 MXN. A round trip cab to just one of these could cost you just as much. You can find a tour with any tour company found along Juarez street, or at the bus depot, as noted before.)

I know what youre thinking. There are a lot of nails so it wont actually poke anyone. Thats why they put scorching hot coals to heat up the nails.

 

Church of Murals: This church, like many in Mexico, is just beautiful to see. What makes this one unique however is inside, massive canvas paintings decorating the interior of the church. Such artwork, religious or not, must be appreciated. (see above paragraph for info on how to get here)

Two of the four huge murals in this very unique church.

The huge murals in this church make it quite unique

 

Skeezy Tip: Apparently, everyone works free in this city as every small museum claims to have volunteers to guilt trip you into a tip. If you want to save face instead of flat out not tipping, its a good idea to bring 5 MXN peso coins with you

Tourist Traps to Avoid!!!:

The Museum of Leyends “Museo de Legendas”: is located at the told of the cable cart ride and is sold for a discount price with the cable ticket. It is under no circumstances worth it! The museum includes about 10 rooms of very backward 1950s mechanics of barely moving figures trying to tell a story over the squeaky and old voice over microphone. It explains the leyends of Guanajuato city, but does so in the most boring and corny way possible (wind moves a red sheet to show fire, a blue one to show water). What worse, even though you will be so bored by the 4th one, the doors seal in front of you and behing you so you have to wait through the whole thing.

Mummies Museum “Las Momias”: While this is one of the biggest things Guanajuato is known for, it is one of the least impressive. These are mummified bodies, however once you see one you’ve seen them all. Also, if you come late, there will be an enormous wait for something that would barely be worth it free. It is also the most expensive museum for this reason.

The Haunted House: One of the first stops in the “Guanajuato City” tour is this haunted house. It is not scary and the mechanics remind you of 1980s Disney, or worse! You can try it if you like, or you could skip it and say you already did it, and just wait outside. It only takes about 20 minutes to go through. (20 MXN)

Authentic Candy Stores: If you go on all tours, you will more than once be told to avoid the “fake candy” in the street and wait until they take you to the real thing. However, this is just another tourist trap as the tour guides are paid off to make that stop, and the candy is grossly over priced.

Wax Museum: A tiny museum with only a handful of wax people, and while it starts with Mexican icons, it progresses to US movie stars and nonsensical objects.

Logistics:

Airplane info, lodging, and everything else was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1 article.

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By: Julio Moreno (Tour to both cities: $18 (200 MXN), or about $15 (180 MXN) in buses from Guanajuato City)

Gothic Cathedral in "San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato State"

 

Note: Info on how to get to Guanajuato city was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1, it will be assumed you already read that article and can get from your country, into Mexico, and into Guanajuato City’s bus depot OR to the Guanajuato/Leon Airport (BJX).

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

From the Bus depot, or airport, there is no choice but to take a taxi. From the bus depot, its 40 MXN to the city hotels (see Guanajuato Part 1 for details on where to stay), from the airport its 400 MXN (skeezy tip below). From the depot, as soon as you exit you will see someone selling tours. Thankfully, the prices don’t vary in the city, so its a good idea to get them now. If you came by plane, they sell the same tour in the city in many kiosks, especially on Juarez Street, next to the Market place (see map on the Guanajuato Part 1 article). This tour takes all day, from around 9am-7:30 PM. Once you buy your ticket, they can pick you up at any hotel you stay. They take care of explaining everything, entrances to museums, and transportation. The tour also includes a stop at the grave of Jose Alfredo Jimenez, an icon in Mexican music and a minivan is used as transportation.

Skeezy Tip #1: You don’t eat ANYTHING until you reach San Miguel Allende which is at like 5:30PM. Given you leave early in the morning, make sure to eat a lot in the morning.

Skeezy Tip #2: You often stop in shops, “authentic candy stores” etc. You don’t have any requirement to get anything. The tour guys will hype it up as the best in the region but in reality, they are paid commission and are average tasting, and overpriced.

Skeezy Tip #3: When you arrive in San Miguel de Allende (the second of the 2 major cities you will visit), they will pressure you to eat in a “spot they know”. Coincidentally, it is also one of the priciest spots in all of Mexico. You don’t have to eat there. Tell them you want to find something else, and don’t be embarrassed to say you dont want to pay for a 100 MXN buffet, especially if you’re not that hungry.

Skeezy Tip #4: The visits, although taking the whole day, could feel rushed. This is especially true in the last stop, San Miguel de Allende. You don’t HAVE TO take a tour to get here. If you want to take your own time, you can take a bus to Dolores Hidalgo (60 MXN), or one to San Miguel de Allende (90 MXN) from the bus depot. Take a taxi from Guanajuato city to the “Central de Camiones” (bus depot).

Skeezy Tip #5: There really aren’t any English tour guides, and if there are, they will surely charge more. However a British couple on our tour gave me an idea. You can invite a Mexican friend, found on sites like “interpals.net” or “couchsurfers.org” to translate for you. The couple happened to be a Mexican-British woman, and an Englishman, so she translated for him.

Skeezy Tip #6: Given the ridiculous difference between the taxi from the airport (400 MXN) and from the bus depot (40 MXN), maybe you should make the most of it. Fly into Mexico city instead, and combine a trip here with one in this article of Mexico City as that airport is ON the Mexican subway network and will save you money in the long run. Then find your way to the Yellow Subway line “Autobuses del Norte” Stop and take a bus to “Guanajuato City”. From here follow the instructions in this article and the Guanajuato part 1 article.

Church at "Dolores-Hidalgo, Guanajuato State". This is the location where Miguel Hidalgo declared independence from Spain.

Story:

Mexico’s road to independence from Spain (1810-1821) has numerous motives. Miguel Hidalgo was a priest in (what was at the time) Dolores, Guanajuato. He claimed that the Spanish crown that controlled them was an illegitimate government because at the time, Napoleon had conquered Spain and set up a puppet government. He used this pretext to give what is historically called the first “grito” (yell) of independence on Sept 15-16 (date disputed) 1810. He declared Mexico independent and went on to declare slavery abolished (take note, 50 years before the US) forming an army with them.

Inside Miguel Hidalgo's Original Church

He soon found out however, that he wasn’t the only the only one plotting revolt, as a Spanish Captain named Ignacio Allende had also started an independence movement just 25 miles north of his city. Hidalgo joined the forces of Allende and his allies Jose Mariano Jimenez and Juan Aldama, also from what was at the time San Miguel el Grande, Guanajuato (later renamed San Miguel de Allende in Allende’s honor). Together, they slowly took lots of cities, however bad planning by Hidalgo led to horrific defeat in Guadalajara. All four leaders were finally captured near the American boarder and executed in 1811, a single year after the war broke out.

Although the struggle was continued mostly by later leaders such as Jose Maria Morelos, and finalized by the treaty between Vicente Guerrero and Spanish General Agustin de Iturbide in 1821, the original four leaders were forever immortalized as the inciters and face of the fight for Mexican Independence. Every Mexican president gives “el grito” on Independence Day (Sept 16th) in Mexico City in memory of Hidalgo and once per term, stay in Dolores-Hidalgo to give “el grito” from the original church where Hidalgo did it 200 yrs ago.

The original flag of the Virgin Mary that Hidalgo carried around to rally troops. Currently in Atotonilco, Guanajuato, Mexico.

Murals inside the Church of Atotonilco, Guanajuato

While it may seem that this is more of a religious retreat than a historical one, it must be understood that religion was, and still is strongly intertwined with Mexican politics. While officially, Mexico claims to have a similar division between church and state like in the US, this is not so. It is more obvious in Mexico city which clearly illustrates the point by having the town square surrounded by the Presidential Building, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the Cathedral of Mexico City. Things like art, architecture and history are directly fused with the catholic religion.

Logistics:

Airplane info, lodging, and everything else was covered in the Guanajuato Part 1 article. Please read that

Map: San Miguel de Allende and Dolores Hidalgo relative to Guanajuato City.

 

 

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Ruins: $4 (51 MXN), Bus to ruins $5 (70 MXN roundtrip))

Pyramid of the Sun, The largest pyramid in all of Mexico, and one of the largest in the world.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) By Plane (international/MOST national) if you stay at Lafayette Hotel (info below):

Take a plane from wherever you are to Mexico City, Mexico (Benito Juarez International airport MEX). While they have taxis, the metro is 3 MXN (15 cents) compared to 255 MXN ($22 USD) if you take a taxi to downtown Mexico city. Follow the signs in the airport to the Yellow #2 line Subway Stop “Terminal Aerea” and take it towards “Pantitlan” (subway map below). Get off on “Pantitlan” and switch to the Pink #2 line (only one way to go). Get off on “Isabel la Catolica” exit. When you get off the subway, take a left on the exit, and another left on the first light, and follow the map below to the Lafayette hotel.

The Hotel is on Motolinia Street, which is only a pedestrian road. After you settle down,  continue north on Motolinia road until the end (3 blocks) and you will bump into the subway Blue #1 line entrance “Allende”. Take the subway direction “Cuatro Caminos” and get off on “Hidalgo” exit. Switch to the Dark Green #3 line direction “Indios Verdes”. Get off on “La Raza” and switch to the Yellow #2 line, direction “Politecnico”. Exit Autobuses Del Norte (Bus Depot). From the exit, you will see the huge depot in front of you. Enter it, turn left and you should see desks with pictures of the pyramids saying “teotihuacan”. They cost 35 MXN ($3) each way. Once on the bus, just follow the crowd into the gate. You will exit from the gate closest to the Moon Pyramid (the smaller one). On the exit, cross the street and wait for the bus. They leave and come by around every 15-30 minutes.

You could also NOT switch on “La Raza” and get off instead on “Potrero” which is also a (less simple) bus depot which has buses that go to Teotihuacan.

2) By Bus:

If you have no heavy luggage, you will most likely arrive to the “Autobuses Norte” bus depot (as it is the main bus depot in Mexico City), so before you exit, turn right and you will see desks to Teotihuacan. OR, you could go outside, take the same route back described above in reverse.Using the subway, take Autobuses Del Norte –> La Raza–> Hidalgo –> Allende and walk south along Motolinia Ave to Lafayette hotel. Drop off your stuff in the hotel and return here.

SUBWAY MAP:

Skeezy Tip #1: You will probably use the subway a lot in Mexico City. You probably want to buy a bunch of tickets as lines can get ridiculously long in certain stops.

Skeezy Tip #2: Many places offer tours to see the pyramids for 350-400 Mexican Pesos, RIP OFFS! Use this guide and you can go round trip, using subways for 76 Mexican Pesos

Aztec god Quetzalcoatl (the snake) in his temple

Story:

Teotihuacan was once upon a time, was one of the largest cities in the world, having 200,000 people at its peak. It was built around 200 BCE and thought to have fallen apart by 700AD. Its name means birthplace of the gods, according to Aztec mythology. It consists of 2 large pyramids (the Pyramid of the Sun and the Moon), the avenue of the dead, the Jaguar temple, and numerous other minor temples. It is believed that the pyramids were used to make sacrifices to the gods, but the site was abandoned long before Europeans first arrived. The two largest pyramids are amongst the largest in the world, and the sun pyramid is the largest in all of Mexico. Teotihuacan is not to be confused with the “Aztec City” which is a suburb of Mexico city, nor Tenochitlan, the Aztec (Nahuatl language) name for their capital and what is now Mexico City. The actual site lies outside of Mexico city, but within the State of Mexico (There is a City, State, and country with the name “Mexico”).

Despite popular belief, “Aztec” is not a single ethnicity but everyone who fell under the domain of the Mexica people of Tenochitlan and their allies in Texcoco, and Tlacopan who together formed the “Aztec Triple Alliance” or “Aztec Empire”. The Aztec Empire was the most powerful political entity in the entire new world at the time of European contact, dominating most of what is now Mexico. Most, including the capital city of Tenochitlan, were destroyed mostly by disease and partly by superior Spaniard weapons.

Pyramid of the Moon

Logistics:

Airplane: Use Kayak.com or vivaaerobus.com

Lodging:

1) Hotel Lafayette, $15 (180 MXN) 1 person, $20 (230 MXN) 2 people; Phone# 52-55-5521-96-40

They don’t have a website, but it is so “budget” and hidden, its never full. The location is also phenomenal as its a few blocks from the main downtown square “El Zocalo”.

2) Hostel Moneda; $13 shared, $18 Private (pay online American dollars)

Very clean, next to El Zocalo, free internet, and English speaking staff

3) Use either Hostelbookers or Hostelworld hostel search engines.

4) Couchsurfing.org, to crash in a Mexican person’s house for free!

There are many people who sell nice arts and crafts.

Avenue of the Dead

Other things to do:

1) Best Tacos on the Planet:

As a side mission, you can eat Mexico’s most common and famous food, TACOS. But not just any tacos, I am talking about the best tacos I have ever had in my life. You can reach it by taking the subway Dark green #3 line and exiting Indios Verdes. Take exit E, and you will come out in a flea market of sorts.You will come out of the subway onto a row of shops right in front of you. DONT TURN, go straight and it leads to another Exit E (north and south side). On this strip, look for a taco place with using the pictures below to guide you. If you cant come out on Exit E (some times before 5:30PM its locked) look for exit E once you come out onto the surface. Think geographically!

You can also combine this as dinner as you come back from the pyramids. Instead of the bus depot, say you want to get off on “indios verdes”. You will be dropped off in front of a green pedestrian bridge. Use the bridge to cross to the other side. As you come down the last set of stairs of the bridge, GO STRAIGHT IN THE SAME ORIENTATION AS THE STAIRS and you will come across a row of shops (this is where Exit E is) and the taco place will be on your right.

LOOK FOR THIS sign and THIS GUY!

Look for this sign

Co-Owner with his Siblings. You'll be lucky if there is a place to sit. It will nonetheless be worth it.

Best Taco Ever

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to Monument: Free; Transportation up the mountain: $9 (100 MXN); )

"Christ King" at the top of Cubilete Mountain.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

NOTE: Guanajuato is the capital city of the state of Guanajuato within Mexico. “Leon” is the largest city in Guanajuato state. Unless otherwise specified, when referring to Guanajuato, we mean the CITY.

1) By Plane:

Take a flight from where ever you are to Leon/Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) [The 2 cities share an International Airport]. From here, sadly, there is no option (as there are no buses) than to take a taxi, which will run you $33 (400 MXN) from the airport to downtown Guanajuato. Ask them to leave at whatever hotel you reserved (suggestion on a cheap one below). If you stayed in our recommended hotel (below), it is next to the marketplace, the center of the entire “historic downtown” area. While you COULD drive to the Cubilete mountain yourself, it is about a 90-120 minute drive through mountains and not really worth the gas, the rental, or the risk. The more economical and sensible thing to do is go with a tour, which charges 100 pesos to take you up there. There are many competing companies that go up every day (info below).

Skeezy Tip #1: Some of these, including the one I went on, take this trip rather late in the day in order to maximize their profits. They run a tour of the city in the morning, and then this tour in the evening. If you want to take decent pictures, it is best to go in the summer when there is more sunlight, OR demand that you go as early as possible or you wont pay. As the city is moving from arts and crafts to a tourism economy, competition is tough, so they will budge. It really helps your case however if you have a large enough group to make it worth their while.

Skeezy Tip #2: Apparently everyone in Guanajuato works for free. This is mentioned because at the end of any tour, any museum, or any insignificant walk thorough, they will mention this “fact” and ask for a tip. Don’t feel obligated if you don’t think the service was worth it as it is not a widespread custom in Mexico as it is in the US. However, most people will tip, so to show your appreciation / save face, you might want to carry some 10 Peso coins (short things), or some 20 peso bills (long tours).

Skeezy Tip #3: As a result of this being a relatively new industry, none of the services I came across had English Guides. While it is possible they exist, it is likely you will be stuck paying 2-3 times the cost of a normal tour. For this one, you really don’t learn anything too important besides the fact that the monument has been rebuilt 5 times. However, you might want to invite a bilingual CouchSurfer and get a free translator.

2) By Bus:

Take a bus from anywhere in Mexico to the Guanajuato Bus depot (the default of anyplace that says Guanajuato). As you get off the bus, there will be people selling tours to this monument, as well as hotels. The tours are identical in price to the ones found in the city, and the hotels are surprisingly amongst the most economical. Once you purchase / skip the tour to the monument, go outside and take a cab to your hotel/hostel for about $4 (40MXN). If you scheduled a tour, just wait for the bus to pick you up on time. If not, find a tour service (you can find them walking around the single main street of the city) that takes you there. They are all 100 pesos (you can get a deal if they are desperate, and departing immediately).

Skeezy Tip: It is recommended that (if they have a convenient schedule) you buy the tour when you get to the city (or at least get their info), so you don’t have to worry about finding a tour company as they are all the same price.

Golden Crown on the inside of the Pedestal

Story:

Almost everyone has heard of “Christ the Redeemer” in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil which is one of the 7 new world wonders. While that is a larger site, this one comes pretty close. Counting the mount, this monument is about 33 meters (108 ft) and is claimed (by the people of the city) to be the second biggest in the world. It is a testament to human architecture and the Mexican faith in the Catholic Religion. It stands on a huge mountain called “El Cubilete” making people often ask if you are going to see “El Cubilete” but really asking about the monument. It has been rebuilt 5 times on the same mountain, making constant upgrades, and additions. The current one has 2 angels next to him. One is smiling, giving him the crown of the king, while the other one looks away in shame as he is giving him the crown with spines. Unlike some other monuments to Jesus Christ around the world, the pedestal of this one is not solid. You can enter it, to view quite an impressive temple shrine, with a large golden colored crown on the top, an even larger spines crown surrounding the entire room, and a solid gold star which is only shown on special occasions.

Skeezy Tip: Plan to stay at least a few days in Guanajuato, as it has a lot to offer, at a surprisingly economical price which is not common anymore in Mexico. The food is also really cheap here, especially in the marketplace with 6 Peso (50 cent) Tostadas!

From the back of the monument.

Logistics:

Airplane: Fly into Leon/Guanajuato International Airport (BJX) and follow the instructions above. Use Kayak.com, or if possible vivaaerobus.com as they give you the best rates.

Lodging:

1) Posada San Francisco: 011-473-732-2084 (No Website)

We got this one as we entered the city. No reservations were needed at the time, but we did notice other people getting turned away because they didn’t have any more rooms.

2) Hostelworld Rooms as low as $10 Shared (120 MXN) $18 Private room (220 MXN)

You could move to this one night, then more to option 1 the following nights. While this is cheaper, Posada San Francisco is where tour buses drop off people, and the exact center of town.

3) Hostelbookers Rooms as low as $7 Shared (80 MXN) $8 Private room (100 MXN)

4) Couch Surfing FREE

While the couch surfing community does exist in Guanajuato, don’t be fooled. Most people life in “new Guanajuato” which is a 20-40 MXN ($2-$4) cab ride from the historic downtown. Just be advised you will be a bit far from most things to do in the city.

Tours:

Sadly, most don’t have set offices beyond the tour company in the bus depot. Go with that if you arrived by bus. You will see them (since they crowd around you) as you exit the bus (but still inside the bus depot). If you arrived by plane (or missed this company), follow the map below, as it is centered where many Tour Company Kiosks are. Many other Kiosks exist if you walk along Juarez Street towards the market place (and past it) from where the map is centered below.

MAP: Centered at Posada San Francisco, which is also the exact center of the city and where many TOUR service kiosks are.

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to the Olympics area: FREE to view from the outside; Birds Nest Entrance:$8-$28 (50-180 Yuan); Entrance to Water Cube: $5-$31 (30-200 Yuan))

National Stadium ( AKA: The Bird's Nest)

 

Visa information on entering China was covered in the Beijing Part 1 article.

(I am going to assume you already read the Beijing Part 1 article’s first paragraph and now know how to get from the airport, to your hostel and can find your way to the Beijing subway network.)

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

Find your way to the Beijing Subway Network, and get off on the Green #8 Line “Olympics Sports Center Station” (奥体中心站). You could also get off on “Olympic Green” and its closer to the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube, but we suggest you get off on “Olympics Sports Center” to see everything. Take Exit C. ( A compass would be useful right about here) To your East is the Gymnasium. Walk North and you will see the Water Cube to your left, and the National Stadium (Bird’s Nest) directly in front of you. Use the map below.

Beijing is quickly trying to find use for these stadiums. Currently, the Bird’s Nest is a ski resort (prices below), and the Water Cube is a recently opened water park (prices below).

Story:

The 2008 Olympics Complex, also known as the “Olympic Green” is, obviously, where the 2008 Olympics were held, the most recent ones to date. The Olympics, besides the competitions in the stadiums, is also a place were cities try to out-preform the last Olympics host. This was no exception, as Beijing tried and succeeded in out-preforming Athens, the host of the 2004 Olympics in both the opening/closing ceremonies, as well as the architectural marvels that are The National Stadium (AKA: The Bird’s Nest) and The National Aquatics Center (AKA: The Water Cube). The Complex also holds a place in history, as the place were Usain Bolt destroyed cross country records in a ridiculous 9.69 sec 100m dash, and Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian ever with 8 additional golds in Beijing including a .01 sec come from behind win in his 7th gold.

The National Aquatics Center (The Water Cube). Named for obvious reasons, even though its not a cube!

Logistics:

Price Brackets:

Getting into the Olympic General area: Free

National Stadium (Bird’s Nest): (9AM-6PM weekdays, 9AM-9:30PM weekends)

Tour the Inside of the Stadium: $8 (50 Yuan)

Skiing on weekdays: $13 (80 Yuan)

Skiing on weekends/holidays: $21 (140 Yuan)

Tour and skiing on Weekdays: $18 (120 Yuan)

Tour and skiing on Weekends/holidays: $28 (180 Yuan)

National Aquatics Center (The Water Cube): (9AM-7PM Mon-Thurs; 9AM-5PM Fri-Sun)

Tour of Facility: $5 (30 Yuan)

Swimming in Training pool: $8 (50 Yuan) [for every 2 Hrs, 2PM-7PM only Tues-Sun]

Admission to Waterpark: $30/$25 (200 Yuan/160 Yuan) [adults/children 1.2-1.4 meters tall]

Combined Stadiums Tour: $21 (140 Yuan)

You can tour both stadiums, plus the Center of performing Arts, and the CCTV tower. This only includes the entrance to the areas, not the skiing or the water park/swimming.

Useful Links:

Travel China Guide Birds Nest

Travel China Guide Water Cube

Lodging/Airplane/Visa info/Maps:

All of this info is found in our Beijing Part 1 section.

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By: Julio Moreno (Entrance to the ruins: $5 (51 MXN) [Sian Kaan Reserve Entrance: FREE!!!], Bus from Merida to Tulum $12 (146 MXN) one way, $24 (292 MXN) round trip.)

Tulum archaeological site overlooking the ocean.

Simple “how to” [get there] quick walk though:

1) Combining your visit with a stop at Chichen Itza (recommended):

Take a flight from where ever you are to Merida, Yucatan, Mexico [Visas are not required for Mexico from most countries] (airplane info below). Then take a cab outside the airport (see logistics and skeezy tips below) to your hotel or hostel (see suggestion on hostel below). Then use the google map below to guide yourself to the bus depot. Its walking distance from the suggested hostel. Take a bus to Chichen Itza (leaves hourly). They drop you off literally in front of the site. Go in, take your pics, absorb the culture. Buy a bus ticket to Tulum from a bus retailer inside the official gift shop (its directly across and to the right from where you paid for the entrance). Go to the exact point you were dropped off (a little courtyard) to wait for the bus (dont panic if its late… its ALWAYS late). Once you arrive in Tulum, go outside and take a taxi (expensive, no going around it) to whatever hotel/hostel you made reservations (recommended to make reservations ahead of time, see suggestion below). Once you settle in, you could put your luggage down and go rent a bicycle, motorcycle, car or take a taxi to the ruins and to the biosphere reserve (see map below).

Skeezy Tip #1: If you arrived in the morning to Merida you could skip the whole hostel in Merida and go straight from the airport to the bus depot. This will save you time, and one night lodging in Merida. Tulum is much prettier since its on the beach. Make sure however that you leave early to Chichen Itza as it is 3 hrs away, it takes about 2.5 hours to explore and 3 additional hours to Tulum.

Skeezy Tip #2: As mentioned in the Chichen Itza article, there are 2 bus depots next to each other in Merida. One is 1st class (named “CAME”), the other is 2nd class (No name, just called “central de segunda clase”). The service is almost identical, except that you aren’t guaranteed a seat in 2nd class. Arrive early enough and that isn’t a problem. 1st class costs 40% more and departs more seldom (big downside). From Merida there will always be seats in 2nd class (since most originate there), but from Chichen Itza, its a toss up. (Map Below)

Skeezy Tip #3: Taxis are extremely expensive in Tulum, approx $7-9 (80-100 MXN) from the city to the archeological site and an insane amount to Punta Allen inside of Sian Kaan $36 (400 MXN). Do yourself a favor and use them as seldom as possible.

2) Going STRAIGHT to Tulum:

Same instructions as above, but instead of getting a ticket to Chichen Itza from Merida, get one directly to Tulum. Keep in mind that the 2nd class bus depot only goes to Tulum at 5Am and at 9PM. The ride takes 6 hrs in second class, and about 4 in first class.

Story:

Mayan Ruins of Tulum: During the height of its power (13th-16th centuries), Tulum was a very important city for the Mayans. It served as a trading post and fortress due to its location adjacent to the Caribbean sea. It started to collapse decades after the arrival of the Spaniards in Mexico due to spreading disease across the continent. Tulum however has a very interesting recent history as well (which you wont find on wikipedia!). During the Mexican Revolution (1910) the indigenous people of the area saw the conflict as the perfect opportunity to attempt to secede from the Mexican Republic. They formed an alliance of Native Mexicans (Mayan, and other native descendants), and made Tulum their capital. As with the Mayans, these descendants were defeated by the now Mexican Army.

Main structure of Tulum. Just like Chichen Itza, this is also called "El Castillo" (The Castle).

Library of Tulum. There used to be guided tours until people started tagging inside.

Sian Ka’an Biosphere: Sian Ka’an is a wildlife reserve, one of the largest in all of Mexico. It is home to many large species such as Jaguars, crocodiles, white sea-turtles, dolphins, and racoon-relatives. Since it was set aside as a reserve in the 1980s, human development has been very limited by the Mexican government. This has allowed this hidden treasure to be very raw with virgin beaches stretching for about 30 miles from Tulum to Punta Allen (a small town and farthest reachable point inside Sian Ka’an from Tulum, see map). The other charm of this site is that its largely unknown by the general public, probably due to lack of advertisement. You could stop for 30 minutes on the single road and not see another human around the whole time. From Tulum, the reserve is on a single road along an extremely thin peninsula, with a fresh water lagoon to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the East. The welcome center is about 10 km into the reserve and offers some (expensive $70 a person) tours. In Punta Allen, the tours are far more affordable ($25 a person) (tour info below).

Skeezy Tip: Under no circumstances try to swim in the fresh water side of the reserve. This is a crocodile infested area. On the beach side however, there are no dangerous animals.

Dolphins playing around the boat.

Lagoon to the west of the peninsula road

Bird's Eye View from a watch tower in the welcome center. You can see nothing but palm trees and beach.

Logistics:

Airplane ride: Use cheap websites like Kayak.com, cheapoair.com, or directly from Aeromexico,com, volaris.com, or vivaaerobus.com. The Merida Airport is about 15 minutes from the bus depot/hostel.

Skeezy Tip: The airport offers taxis for $13 (155 MXN). This is an outrageous rate. If you walk straight forward from the airport then take your first right on the major street until you hit an intersection, you can hail a cab for 1/3 the price. Taxis in the city are metered and costs about $4 (50 MXN) to get to the hostel zocalo (zocalo is a town square, which is usually analogous to “downtown”). They are also abundant and you shouldn’t have a problem finding one (even at 4 in the morning).

Lodging in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

1) Hostel Zocalo , $12 a person (140 MXN):

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Hostel-Zocalo/Merida/10630

Best spot for 2 reasons; a) Its walking distance to the bus depot, and b) Its the cheapest find in Merida.

2) Hostelworld.com (Search Merida city, Yucatan, Mexico)

Lodging in Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico:

1) Cenote Encantado, $16 a person for a tent (180 MXN)

http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Cenote-Encantado-1320/Tulum/42352

Since this is a very touristy area, all hotels are in the $50+ range. There aren’t many hostels but this one stands out. It is not only cheap, but the location is impeccable. It is on the beach (just cross the street, isolated and almost to yourself), and it is 500 meters from the entrance to Sian Ka’an. In addition there is a network of small lakes or lagoons connected by underground rivers, geologically unique to this area of the world called “cenotes” (sinkholes). This hostel has one such lagoon connected to it. You could either swim, or the owner will let you borrow his kayaks or inflatable rafts free of charge to explore this beautiful lagoon where you will likely be the only people there. The actual hostel is a set of tents, with beds inside of them. The bathrooms are also waterless holes, and the showers might or might not have hot water (the peninsula is always hot though, but their heater was broken when I arrived). Despite this, it is actually quite comfortable and the owner (a conservationist hippie) is super nice.

Cenote (sinkhole) behind "Cenote Encantado" from inside an inflatable raft. Crystal clear warm fresh water.

2) Cabanas Costa Del Sol: 200 MXN for campsite, 400 MXN for a dormroom, 800 MXN for a bungalow. Prices explode during high season.

www.Cabanascostadelsol.com

This place is one of the only isolated hotels allowed within the reserve that doesnt have many tourists. It is just outside of Punta Allen, and has many services such as tours on boats, bicycle rentals and so on. It also has a really good restaurant.

Skeezy tip: Since you are far from society, it is highly recommended you rent a motorcycle or car if you stay here to see some of the more isolated spots.

3) http://www.hostelworld.com or pricetravel.com It is suggested you read the reviews before booking as the cheapest place in Tulum “Lobo Inn” has a terrible reputation of being flea infested and having leaky roofs.

Transportation:

This is one of those places where you will need it. Bicycles are 100 MXN ($9) and motorcycles (scooters) are 400 MXN ($36) in high season. Cars are in the 500-650 MXN ($45-60) range. If you only visit the archaeological site, the bike is good enough, however you will need a car, or a motorcycle (only if you have experience, as the road is made of dirt, and it is uneven) to reach Punta Allen in the Sian Ka’an Reserve. Keep in mind, you dont have to REACH that town to enjoy the reserve so you could just bike 10 km into the reserve and enjoy.

1) Punta Piedra Hotel and Bike Shop: (011)-984-1574-248 // (011)-984-1153-710 (location on the map below)

-Scooters (motorcycles): $36 (400 MXN) in high season PER 24 HOURS

-Bicycles: $9 (100 MXN) high season. MUST BE RETURNED BY 6PM (lame)

-Other services: Life jackets (40 MXN, $4), snorkel gear (call for price). PER 24 HRS

-Hotel and tour services are also offered.

Skeezy Tip #1: Especially during high season, scooters and bikes sell out. RESERVE yours before arriving (have to give a deposit) as you are soooo screwed without one of these in Tulum (taxis are mad expensive).

Skeezy Tip #2: If you rent a scooter, you will be asked to leave your passport as collateral, no exceptions. This might make a few people uneasy, but I have done this here, and in Cambodia, and have never had a problem getting my passport back. Just make sure the place is in an established location. Just in case, find out where your nearest embassy is.

Skeezy Tip #3: Scooters have insurance, but only in a 20 km radius, anything else, you go at your own risk. If something breaks in the scooter when you’re far inside of Sian Kaan, you will have to pay for the scooter. Thus, take a car if you don’t have experience as it is a rough road. I had a hard time for a good 10 km of the trip, and have been riding motorcycles for 4 years.

Skeezy Tip #4: I recommend a scooter (or car) over the bike because of 2 reasons.

Skeezy Tip #5: Despite this being a very touristy place, most places do NOT accept credit cards (same goes for most places in Mexico). You will need cash. If you need an ATM, you will most likely have to head into the city. There is a bank very near the bus depot where you were dropped off.

a)  If you return a bike at 6PM (a must, you cant keep it overnight), you will need a taxi back to your hotel and back to Punta Piedra to re-rent it in the morning (and you really need 2 days in Tulum to do both). With a scooter, you don’t have to worry about this. Furthermore, unlike in other countries, there are only few places that rent bicycles and Punta Piedra is THE ONLY PLACE as far as I know that rents scooters.

b) If you decide to go to Punta Allen, you will never make it there and back in a bike, as it is uneven dirt road for 50 km (30 miles) and once sundown hits, its pitch black. 2) Car: To get a car, ask your taxi, right after you arrive at Tulum to take you somewhere that rents cars. They will all be in the city, so go straight from the bus depot as you save on taxi rides.

Other Services:

1) Boat Tour from Punta Allen (to see dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles, and more):

email: info@puntaallenalianza.com (no website yet as its new)

As soon as you enter Punta Allen, you will see signs telling you to go to a tourist center. Follow them. This is actually a boat tour company (but thankfully worth it). They charge 1410 MXN ($125) for a 3 hr tour, or 1200 MXN ($100) for a 2 hr tour. However, this is per boat, and they will wait until they have enough people if you want to split the cost. When they get a maximum of 6 (30 min wait), it is 235 MXN ($20) a person for the 3 hour tour, and 200 MXN ($18) for the 2 hour one. The long one is well worth it because you get to see crocodiles in addition to the rest. The tour includes seeing dolphins, sea turtles, crocodiles, diving eagles, lagoons, large nesting birds and snorkeling along the coral reef (sadly, its bleached). They also take you to a natural pool (very shallow beach) to swim for a bit. This is worth it but keep in mind, you will need to come early to Punta Allen (arrive before noon) if you plan to leave the reserve before sun down.

Giant White Sea Turtles

2) As soon as you enter Punta Allen, ask around and you will find more boat tour places, if the one suggested above is not to your liking. There are more boat tours in the lodging place cabanas costa del sol suggested above.

Bus Depot from Merida to Chichen Itza/ Tulum:

This is a bit tricky. There are two bus depots and are across the (small side) street from each other. There is the Second class Depot  (No name, just called “central de segunda clase”) and CAME which is a 1st class service. Note that 2nd class buses take 3 hrs to Chichen Itza, while first class take 2 hrs. You are guaranteed a seat in 1st class, but not in 2nd class. The rates listed above are for 2nd class. 1st class costs on average, 40% more. They are both on the intersections of 70th street and 69th street (see map).

Skeezy Tip: Arrive early, and try to be one of the first ones on the bus to claim your seat. A seat number does not guarantee you a seat, as they sell more in the 2nd class buses to make more money. In 1st class this isn’t a problem.

Map of Merida, Yucatan, Mexico:

IMPORTANT: I know on the location for Zocalo Hostel, on the actual google map, it shows it as if its on 65th street. ITS NOT. Its on 63rd street in front of “Plaza Grande” (Zocalo) as I have shown on the map below

(A=Zocalo Hostel, B= 2nd class bus depot, C = CAME 1st class Bus Depot)


Map of Tulum:
Click on the link below. The bus Depot is where is says “ADO” in the CENTER of the city. Punta Piedra is along the coast (marked). The Archaeological Zone is where it says “Tulum A.Z.”. Finally, the Cenote Encantado is along the coast down south almost near the “Arco de Sian Ka’an” which is the entrance to Sian Ka’an.

Map of Sian Ka’an: In this case, a satellite map was more appropriate:

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