Now, when I say your favorite places, I mean those spots that almost no one ever heard, that really are so unnoticeable on your map (I never travel with a guide book), that you just decide to take a chance, and holeee, does it surprise and delight you!
I traveled solo through south and central america on the bicycle, so, if you think about it, we bicycle tourers really do get down close and personal with the locals, the places, the cultures, and the events. We get to see things that the person in the car, bus, or even motorcycle simply speed through. So, here's my list to start off. Oh yeah, and I'm betting (hoping) that the touring people here are such a rare bunch of travelers that these special places will remain offbeat, off trail, and undiscovered for someone else courageous and open enough to check these places out. Just to let you know, I'm vietnamese american, so that might have altered the local attitudes a bit. Then again, I met a canadian who was having a blast as well.
I'll start. You'll notice that I'm gonna be a bit vague. Intrigue creates curiousity, creates desire, instigates action, and creates understanding... which really puts the responsibility upon us to bring back here to educate the ignorant.
Isla del Ometepe, Nicaragua. There's one place on the island where many people go, and then there's the OTHER place, where I went (after puking my head off on a rickety 1930's ferry that was falling apart). Volcanic sand beaches in a giant fresh water lake with the only fresh water shark in the world. I biked to the volcano, and then up it, while inspecting a banana plantation, which was very very close by. Wonderful locals, super friendly and very curious. As native as you can get.
Isla del Sol, y Isla de la Luna. Again, there's a main spot, and then there's the hidden spot, somewhere between the two ends of the island. Lake Titicaca is so high, and the air is so crisp, and the stars are so brilliant, so close, that you can almost kiss them. And the Aymara may be a little cold at first, but they are so helpful, and very very sweet. There are only two buildings there, a tiny one on stilts hostel, and then the sweet family who owns it. And, you get your own private beach.
Heheheh, my favorite of faves. Anyone remember Thor Hyerdal? This man, who I met while falling in exhaustion face first in some llama dung one night, let me stay in his hostel. It's somewhere between Copacabana and La Paz, Bolivia. He was the ancient engineer who instructed the building of Thor's Ra ships. The only way you'd know how to find it, is to actually BIKE it. You'd never know it, cause it looks like any other native village on the banks of Titicaca. The gentleman, an aymara, is also a friendly guy. How did I find this place? I have no idea. I was tired and desparate one night looking for a place to stay.
El Salvador. Yes, El Salvador. In fact, I'd say the entire COUNTRY of El Salvador! I never needed a hostel, except for one night in Santa Tecla. Go along the Main Highway, and if you keep an attitude of gratitude, openminded ness, and acceptance, you will be up till 2 AM laughing, conversing, learning, listening, and enjoying the company of some of the most wonderful people of all Central America, rich or poor. Yep! I stayed with both classes, and I can honestly say that between the two, they all laugh, they all cry, and woohoo have they got some stories to tell! Course, that makes biking early the next day to avoid the mid day sun a little difficult. So many people stay away from this country. I loved it. I rave about it. GO!
A certain place in the southwest mountains of Guatemala. Sure, this was a center of conflict in the Civil War, and yes,kidnapping and killings are still pretty widespread because of the psychological effects of that war, which didn't stop until 1996, but still, where else can you go to experience something like Peru in Central America? Playing soccer and marbles with the local Mayan kids was a trip in itself. It was once a major city of the Mayan Empire, and formed an acropolis of over 60,000 citizens. It's just a few hours from Antigua on the bike. ALL UPHILL. No, there's no 'castenango' at the end of the name.
A certain place in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. Got invited by two peruvian cyclists to stay with their families IN AN ANCIENT INCAN FORTRESS!! Think of something like the castles of Europe, but far more exotic. Ancient Incan water works funneling water all around you to the local farms, in a giant Incan farming fortress commune, still used after thousands of years. It's like sleeping with water fountains/falls all around you while the pale moonlight marks your face through the stone windows. That place is forever one of my all time faves. The next morning, wake up go to the bathroom to the sound of roosters, and walk around watching the school children run to class in their uniforms, while brilliantly, rainbow colored, traditionally dressed quechua walk to work and the market place.
There's a certain hidden spot in the Salar de Uyuni, on one of the islands, in Bolivia, a cave, where when you examine it, will wreck all your perceptions of time and geological history. Ever find a coral reef still sticking to the rocks in a place that gets sand blasted with 50-60 mph winds? Oh yeah, and you're 5000 meters above sea level in a salt desert. Doesn't coral reef typically form near the tropics, under the ocean below sea level, and the stone is so soft that it should've all fallen off? Yes.This place made me accept cataclysmic geology, and short time frames.
And one more. Nestled in the southwest of Bolivia lies the most dangerous mountain in the world. It's not as high as Everest, not as craggy as K2, but it's killed more professial climbers attempting it then any other. The local Aymara are wonderful, as well as hospitable, the mountain itself is a dead volcano. And the views? Sumptuous, and if you need a bath, there are hot springs nearby the border with Chile, which, by the way, if you wander 15 feet off the marked trail, is loaded with land mines, Chilean style. This area is one of the most heavily mined, yet one of the most gorgeous spots I have ever had the privledge of visiting. The danger and remoteness keeps everyone away. It's off the beaten path gaurantees it's inaccessibility. It's hard to get too. But it's worth it.
I'm keeping the rest secret. There are so many in Peru and Bolivia, that I just want to go back to and see them in the way that I remember them. The same applies for Central America. It's your turn! Remember! Close enough to be near it, but not too precise! Part of discovery is finding it on your own terms, on your own time, and at your own pace! Tantalize us with details, use your poetry, make us feel, taste, think, and express the wonder!
i camped beside a waterfall about 100 meters off the side of the highway i was riding on. it was about 50 meters up and i dragged my bike and everything up there...ive got some pics of it, but not on my computer. it was pretty awersome.