Bulgarian property auctions by Bulgariadirect

Browsing Posts tagged Honduras travel

As we head toward the end of 2013, here’s what’s going on in some of the cheapest places to travel in the world.

Political troubles in Thailand never seem to go away for very long. The Thai prime minister just asked the monarchy to dissolve parliament after weeks of street protests in Bangkok and the whole opposition party resigning en masse to protest the legitimacy of the prime minister. Read more here, but be advised, it’s complicated…

Honduras had an election last month, but the outcome is still up in the air. Officially the ruling party candidate won, but there are plenty of fraud accusations and there have been regular protest marches. A recount is going on now to see if the 37% to 29% victory by Hernandez will hold up. If you’re traveling there, avoid the capital—which is actually a good idea anyway as its one of the most dangerous cities in Latin America.

India just had an election too and it doesn’t bode well for the ruling party for a larger one coming up in May. That might not be the best month to visit as there is a lot of anger in the streets over rising prices and poor infrastructure. This is a great time to visit overall though if you’re coming in with hard currency. Here’s how the exchange rate has gone against the US dollar since this time three years ago:

India travel

The chart looks almost identical for Nepal, where you can now get almost 100 Nepalese rupee for one US dollar. Meanwhile, the world’s oldest Buddhist shrine was discovered in Lumbini, Nepal recently and it suggests Buddha was born 300 years earlier than previously thought, about 600 years before Christ.

Egypt is still a police state, but some travelers report that the country is functioning much better than it was after the Muslim Brotherhood took over. There was some rare good news on the human rights front recently as female protestors that had received long jail sentences were released after an international outcry. Meanwhile, train service between Cairo, Luxor, and Aswan resumed last month, but the country’s deputy chief of the railways has been suspended from traveling out of the country after a crash in Giza killed 30 people.

Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria saw protests every week in November, with police clashing with students demanding political reform and an end to corruption. This is no fringe movement though: polls show more than 2/3 of the people in the country are behind them, leaving the government forces in a tricky minority.

 

Istanbul

The tram to Taksim Square – on a normal day.

As we’ve seen in Turkey this week, a place that’s relatively calm, peaceful, and stable one week can see all hell break loose the next.

So how do you decide if you should change your travel plans or just adjust them to avoid the trouble spots? How do you answer the question, Should I stay or should I go now? The key is to figure out how localized the problem is and how easily it can be avoided.

Is this for real?

Usually you have to ask yourself two questions: “How bad is it really?” and “How widespread is the problem?”

I shouldn’t have to tell you that American TV news is downright horrible. You’ve got four 24-hour news networks (and a few others from abroad) all trying to beat each other out in the ratings by being louder, more sensationalist, and more “of the moment” than the rest. It’s a clown in a business suit: entertainment packaged as news.

By it’s very nature, 24-hour TV news is focused on the story of the day, the more outrageous and powerful the better. What’s going to make you tune in and keep watching? Usually disasters, tragedies, and violence. So if there are protests in the street somewhere, that’s going to be at the top of the hour. If a pretty young woman gets raped in some scary foreign country like India, that’s next. (If she gets raped in the USA, of course, that’s not news unless it’s part of a long-term abduction or something really horrific happens.)

Istanbul travel danger

Taksim Square in Istanbul lately. (Flickr photo by Will Cowan)

Anger in the Streets

We’ve seen a lot of riots in the streets every year I can remember, going back to when I was a little kid and my parents had the one hour of news on. They’ll still be happening long after I’m dead. Things reach a boiling point, angry people organize, and there are clashes between protesters and police. Sometimes it’s a revolution and the government goes down. Other times there’s either a nasty crackdown or some kind of negotiated settlement. Or it just plays itself out and fizzles.

For travelers, if it’s localized in one place, as it mostly was in Bangkok a few years ago and in Egypt after that, then you don’t have much to worry about. Away from the epicenter, life goes on as usual.

Other times the upheaval is part of a nationwide explosion of anger or desire for change, the kinds of protests that bring down the iron curtain or turn a country we formerly got along with into one that paints giant Death to America murals everywhere. That’s if they succeed. If they don’t you get a violent tit-for-tat or just violent oppression. The first gives us Syria, the second may be what we get in Turkey if things continue on the present course. Neither is a good outcome if you’re there.

Current news verdict: Yellow alert. If I were in Turkey now, as I was just a month ago, as a backpacker I’d either get out or head somewhere mellow, far away from the big cities. It could get worse before it gets better. The power-grabbing prime minister is not known for compromise and is saying plans to pave paradise and put up a shopping mall will move forward. That was the spark (well, and strict new alcohol rules) that started the whole powder keg…

A High-profile Crime Against a Tourist

The news media loves nothing better than a pretty young woman who has been a crime victim in a scary foreign land. It makes for good films, good books, and yes, good cable news stories. That narrative taps into so many emotional triggers the producers probably get downright giddy when this comes down the newswires.

Recently a woman was raped by three Indian men in a popular area for backpackers between Vashist and Manali while hitchhiking. Alone. In the wee hours after midnight. That’s not a bright thing to do many places on this planet, but India’s not getting any slack since this is on top of a string of other similar high-profile incidents. Still, if this happened in the USA though, where there are some 200,000 reported incidents a year, nobody would have heard about it. Especially if she were not traveling.

Tourism was reportedly already down by 1/3 among women before this happened, so it’s going to add insult to injury. Any woman who’s been groped for weeks on end in India will probably say, “Good, they deserve it.”

I’d say it’s part of a much larger issue of religious sexual oppression that exists across huge swaths of the world. Are there any quick fixes for that? I doubt it. But they can try.

Current news verdict: It’s your call. India has always been a tough place for any woman to travel. I stayed in a hostel with a woman that had been raped two days before when I was first there, and this was 18 years ago. Things haven’t gotten much better. The risk is real, but millions of women have traveled India alone without more than annoyance and frustration. As a BBC story on this case says (italics mine), “Reported cases of sexual assault are on the rise in India, although foreign tourists are rarely targeted.”

travel plans spoiled

Budapest this week. (Flickr photo by Jonk)

Natural Disasters

Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York City, tornadoes in the midwest USA, and now serious floods in Central Europe. One act of God can ruin your whole trip—especially if the fine print on your travel insurance says they don’t cover “acts of God” (true verbage sometimes) or “natural disasters.”

The floods hitting Europe right now are serious business and they are having an impact on the following popular tourist destinations: Bratislava, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest. Plus a bunch of cities in Germany along the Rhine. River cruise boats are docked, with all those passengers up the high creek.

Sometimes the news is overblown: a tornado often only hits a small specific area. It sucks if you’re there, but fine a mile away. Floodwaters are relatively easy to track on a map. Hurricanes are a different story, as are earthquakes and tsunamis nobody saw coming.

Travel verdict: Take your financial lumps and get out. Unless you want to stick around and help. Nobody has time to take care of the tourists, so you’ll need to become a volunteer.

Crime Waves (and War Zones)

There’s seldom any such thing as a crime wave. It’s usually been rising for years, but suddenly people wake up when it makes the news.

Then those viewers have veerrrrryy long memories. It was two decades ago when Mexico City taxicab abductions last happened regularly. More than a decade since Medellin wasn’t safe to walk around at night. Croatia hasn’t been at war since 1995.

In some places though, the violence is a very real threat. The key is knowing where that threat comes from. Guatemala City and Caracas are not places you want to go partying at night if you have a choice. Same for the two main cities in Honduras. Or the border towns/cities in Mexico. But does this mean you shouldn’t go to see the ruins of Tikal, Uxmal, or Copan? Of course not—one has little to do with the other, just as Santa Fe’s homicide rate has nothing to do with the one in New Orleans.

Travel verdict: get the real story. Most crime stories are overblown, but some are not. You only know by doing some real research. You won’t find me spending the night in Tegucigalpa, Ciudad Juarez, or northern Nigeria anytime soon. Go an hour or two away, however, and it’s a different story. Crime is local—where you live and where you’re going.

Cheap travel Central America

There are a few clusters of cheap destinations around the world where you can travel overland from country to country on a low budget for weeks, months, or a year. For Americans, starting in Mexico and going down to Panama is a pretty reliable way to travel well without spending a fortune—especially since the initial flight won’t set you back too much.

There are major variations of course, which is why Nicaragua is a screaming bargain, Mexico is an “honorable mention” in my book, and Costa Rica isn’t in there at all. Even that last one and Belize will cost you less than home if you pick the where and how carefully, however, so all in all it’s a good block for long-term travel.

A month ago I updated my old article for Transitions Abroad on Budget Travel in Mexico and Central America. It’s an article, not a book, so it’s just going to give you a quick overview. It does give you a quick overview for the region though on sleeping, transportation, and eating/drinking. Plus there are ample links at the end to resources to find out more.

I like Mexico so much I have two houses there. (Though I’d like to bring that down to one. Beach house for sale – $68,500.) It’s no bargain if you go to Los Cabos or the Riviera Maya, but in the interior and many off-the-radar beaches, it’s a whole different story. In Nicaragua, Honduras, and Guatemala, it’s a bargain throughout.

So do a little planning, but follow the article to decide if it sounds like a region where the price is right.

If you want to stand on the corner with a megaphone and say the world is coming to an end, 2012 might be the time to do it without looking quite so crazy.

A long time ago, the Maya astronomers devised a very accurate calendar that was superior to any other on the planet at that time. Chiseled into rock was a calendar that began in what we know as August 11, 3114 B.C. At the end of it was the date we know as December 21, 2012.

So many have interpreted that to mean the end of the world, as foreseen by this advanced civilization, is coming next year. “Hogwash” is the collective response from the Maya descendants and scholars who have studied the culture. It’s just simply the end of the long count calendar, the equivalent of December 31 on the one hanging on your wall. You toss out the old one and start over. It’s just that the Maya people sort of faded into the pueblos (and got killed off by smallpox from Europe) when their cities went into decline. No more astronomers keeping records, so no follow-up calendar.

Tourism bureaus know a good marketing hook when they see it though and this one is a gift from the gods. Some hotels around famous ruins are already sold out for the fateful time next December and all kinds of tourism companies are selling Maya Apocalypse tours. Where will you be when the world ends?

Hey, if it gets more people to visit some of these archaeological sites—especially the lesser-known ones—and prods people to learn more about what the Americas were like before Columbus landed, then I’m all for it. Besides, Honduras and Guatemala are both in The World’s Cheapest Destinations and Mexico is a bargain too, so visiting these places won’t set you back like going to Roman ruins or Stonehenge.

A great guide for the whole shebang is this new Maya 2012 book from Moon. It’s written by great guidebook author Joshua Berman and has lots of guest sidebars from other experts for specific places. A shade over 100 pages, it’s a nice little guide you can carry in a daypack without adding much weight and it’s short enough to read cover-to-cover as a trip planner to see what sounds the most interesting. As you’d expect, there’s plenty of background info on the calendar and the Maya people.

Broken down into sections on Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize, it maps out where all the sites are and give some info on what you will find there. Sure, it’s got Tikal, Chichen Itza, and Copan, but also those with few visitors like Bonampak, Ek Balaam, and Xunantunich (say that one fast five times).

Here’s the best part: in the U.S. this book is $7.99 paperback, $2.99 as an e-book. A steal!

Get the Maya 2012 book at Amazon (including for Kindle), Barnes & Noble (including for Nook), or Amazon Canada.

Get more info at this Moon Maya 2012 page.

 

You won't believe your calculator if you figure this one out. But nice ribbons!

Currency exchange rates can make a huge difference in prices where you are going. Travel prices fluctuate a lot because of this and the exchange rate can take a country from a decent value to being way overpriced in the case of just a few years. It’s happened to Australia, Brazil, Canada, and South Africa most recently, and plenty of others before that. Here’s what to keep an eye on in the current roller coaster climate of global finance.

At least consider a package deal for a short trip

The only true way to protect yourself from currency fluctuations, really, is to buy some kind of package deal in advance that removes all variables. You pay one price for everything (or close to it) and you don’t have to worry much about rates on the ground once you get there. It’s one of the main reason some people like cruises: they know everything they’re going to get and roughly how much it’s going to cost them. No adventure, but no surprises either.

If I were advising a relative on a vacation to Europe anytime soon, I’d definitely tell them to get a package tour. Ironic and annoying as it may be, that bundling often makes it cheaper than being an independent traveler: the tour agency is negotiating lower group rates on flights, hotels, transportation, and meals. I can do better than them in a cheap country by being smart, but it’s tough to do better in an expensive one that requires a long flight, like Italy, Japan, or Australia. (For example, Budget Travel’s website recently listed a 7-day tour of Copenhagen and Stockholm for $1,187 from NYC per person: flights, fuel charges, hotels, breakfast, and taxes. Try working that out on your own.)

U.S. dollar vs. Swiss franc, past two years

Avoid Switzerland for now

Switzerland has never been a bargain, but suddenly it’s up there with Japan for the title of most expensive destination. That’s because the inability for the U.S. Congress to act like adults when managing their budget led to a downgrade of U.S. debt. (Despite what some think, all budgets have two sides to the ledger: spending AND revenue.) That left the Swiss franc as the only currency looking rock solid. Which means lots of countries and investors are buying Swiss francs by the bundle. In a big country, this wouldn’t matter, but for tiny Switzerland, it’s a disaster. It’s made the value of their currency rise by a third.

Check out this PlanetMoney podcast if you want the whole story, but the bottom line is an already expensive place just got crazy expensive. Ski elsewhere this winter.

Where have we been before?

It makes lots of sense to check historic exchange rates here. Thailand has been at 40 baht to the dollar and it’s been at 30. Your perception of what a screaming bargain this country is will be a whole lot different depending on what the rate was when you were there. When I first visited Canada many years ago, 70 U.S. cents bought one loonie. Now they’re at par, with the Canadian dollar slightly higher as I write this. Some things already seemed expensive at the lower rate—like cigarettes, music, books, restaurant meals, and beer. So imagine how it feels now. On the other hand, Mexico at 12 pesos to the dollar felt a whole lot better than the first time I went there, when it was 10 to the dollar. If the rate is good now, or if it’s going through some crazy up or down move that’s out of the norm, you’ll know what to do, based on how badly you want to go there right now.

Are they tied to the dollar?

As noted in this recent post on how you would think Africa would be a cheap travel destination, but it’s not, where the currency is pegged to matters a lot. If it tends to follow the euro, that’s different than if it follows the dollar. This matters in Africa, it matters in the Caribbean, and it matters in Asia: in all these places one country may be following the Euro, while one right next to it may be following the dollar or even the pound sterling.

Which brings us to Latin America. It used to be that all these countries moved in lockstep with the U.S., so the rates barely budged. That’s still true in some that use the dollar (Ecuador and Panama) and others that might as well, they track it so closely (like Honduras and Belize). There are a few outliers though, resource-rich countries with booming economies that are floating their own boat on the international exchanges, most notably Brazil and Chile. It’s been a good while since either of those were a bargain—though Chilean wine remains a fantastic value. And you should have lots of Brazilian music in your collection, of course.

Overall though, in a world of uncertainty, these are your best bets for stability for those making their money in U.S. dollars. These economies are strongly tied to the U.S. and their people are getting lots of remittances from relatives working there. Huge spikes or declines in the exchange rate don’t do anyone any good. So “steady as she goes” seems to be the mantra. You won’t get any big nasty surprises going to any of the Latin American countries profiled in The World’s Cheapest Destinations.

Here’s a chart on Argentina though, for comparison purposes. It’s not as dramatic as it seems if you look at the change in percentage terms, plus inflation there has eaten up much of the gain. And now the government is charging you $140 before you even leave the airport. Even factoring in all that though, it’ll certainly cost you far less than the country profiled in the other chart above. That’s really the key point: keep it all in perspective because the cheapest destinations will usually still be a better value than the most expensive ones, no matter what kind of European meltdown, Asian currency crisis, or political posturing in the U.S. is going on.

 

Argentina travel

Dollar vs. Argentine peso, past two years