Categories
Round the world trip

Round the World Ticket (RTW) Our Experience

What is the Round the World Ticket?

If you search online for information about the Round the World Ticket, you will find  a number of articles that were written years ago. Not much has changed since, but we try to give you our perspective on the whole RTW experience. This article is fresh and it contains our points of view on it works and how it helped for our long trip.

In short, a Round The World ticket is an open-ended airplane ticket valid for a year. As the name suggests, it allows a passenger to make a round the world trip by starting and returning from the country of origin traveling either in a westward or eastward direction….

The cost benefits of buying a RTW ticket if you are planning a long trip are huge, in-fact our ticket costed only around USD3K per person. This could be the cost of a return ticket from Singapore to LA and that’s it. But for this amount we got much more and no low cost airlines were involved.

Now, it sounds easy and it is, but there are quite a number of restrictions which we are going to point out below.

Open-ended ticket

What does it mean open-ended? Open-ended means that you are allowed to use this ticket within one year from the date of your first flight and that you are allowed to change the date and time of departure of your journeys as you wish. You would be allowed to choose almost any destination you fancy visiting, but you would be restricted in changing them once they are fixed. There is a bit of planning that you need to do, which is good fun!

The planning required is to establish the general route that you will be taking which will be fixed at the moment of purchase. For example, our route was: Auckland – Kona (Hawaii) – LA – Cancun – Marrakesh – Rome (via land transfer) – Kathmandu – Singapore – Wellington.

We had to fix these destination and any change would cost USD120 per person. After you take your first leg of the round the world ticket, you will then be able to change the date and time of your subsequent flights at no cost and as many times you wish. Obviously seats availability may be a restriction too for popular routes, but you simply need to call and see what is available.

In plane picture
On one of our first few flights…

How to get your RTW ticket, directly…

There a few options available to purchase a round the world ticket. It is generally not attached to a single airline, but rather to airline alliances. You probably know for example that British Airways is part of the One World alliance, Singapore Airlines is part of Star Alliance and KLM is part of Sky Team, etc. These alliances are simply grouping airlines together to cooperate and share routes, and other services. In our opinion, the biggest service that they provide is offering the round the world tickets.

Or use a travel agency…

Another option is to use the service of expert travel agencies that focus their business in multi city travel arrangements, RTW tickets, etc. The AirTrek Trip Planner for example is a great travel agency that provide super customized and tailored travel plans for long trips around the world.

There is a planner you can use on their website. All you need to do is to type the destinations you wish to visit, starting from your origin. It is quite fun even just for daydreaming. If you are serious about buying your RTW ticket, then you can complete your itinerary and hit Get your Price to get an estimate. One of their agents would arrange a free of charge phone call with you.

When we used the planner we discussed the itinerary in details with our dedicated agent. We explored options suggested on the agent’s past and personal experiences, recommending different routes, etc. We made some of our itinerary choices thanks to this phone call.

Or buy a bunch of separate tickets…

If you do not wish to use a travel agent, you can self book your RTW ticket or buy a bunch of flights by searching SkyScanner.

After much thinking through we decided to self book our RWT via the alliances web portals as follows:

One World Alliance

Star Alliance

Sky Team

When we compared the prices quoted by AirTreks with the RTW and self checking with skyscanner, we noticed that the differences were not huge between the options. For us the winning factor to choose the Round the World ticket was the flexibility to change dates of travel. We changed our fights so many times! We also changed our flights just a few hours before departure (most of the time we changed one or few days before). Just once we changed a few hours before, but it was a screw-up :-). If we had fixed dated flights each change would have costed money and stress. Instead we had peace of mind and flexibility.

Itinerary sample
A sample itinerary plan around the world

Categories
Border Crossings Round the world trip

Belize into Guatemala – a “crossing the border” experience

A “crossing the border” experience from San Ignacio to El Remate

Crossing the border between Belize and Guatemala was easy. Staying in San Ignacio for 2 days helped. We were well rested and very close to the border which was only 10Km away. We left San Ignacio relatively early. This way we had all the necessary time to make the crossing and arriving in our destination at a decent time.

A taxi took us right in front of the custom offices for just 5 Belize dollars each or USD2.5 each. This is the standard price for this journey. It was probably the easiest, fastest and cheapest border crossing transport we have ever had. We took our backpacks and we walked into the Belize immigration building. Unlike in Mexico, there are clear signs that spell out exactly how much it costs to leave the county and the split of this cost. For example, conservation fees, admin fees, etc.



Although it is very expensive at USD20 each, we felt a bit better knowing that we were going to be given a receipt for this transaction. Something that was also quite rare to experience was that we paid part of this cost via credit card! Yes, you read that right. We did not have enough Belize dollars left and we asked to pay one part in cash and the reminder via credit card. We were quite impressed our wish was granted. The border guards then took us upstairs to their admin offices to process the card transaction. In Mexico we felt we were simply giving our money to the dudes in charge at that moment, but at least in Belize we have been issued receipt 🙂 .

Into Guatemala

As soon as our passports were stamped we exited the Belize immigration office into the unknown. A minivan driver approached us the moment we walked out and quoted us GTQ 50 each to reach our intended destination of El Remate. We did not study the details on how to proceed for our journey after this point and found ourselves a bit clueless. We were only in possession of our precious pre-loaded Google maps. But approximately 6 or 7 US dollars for a quick crossing into Guatemala seemed ok. We could have been straight on our way to our desired destination and so we agreed. The only problem though was that we had no local money! We then agreed on a not so convenient exchange rate of 6.5 to 1 US dollar.

The minivan driver then assigns us an escort to walk to the Guatemala immigration building and back. We quickly had a change of hearth after realizing how easy this border crossing was. The Guatemala immigration was barely 50 meters away. Google maps indicated a bus terminal right after the border too. And so we inform our escort that we would instead find our own way rather than joining them. The dude was not very happy, but we insisted not joining them. We realized we had made an impulsive decision accepting their offer without checking other options. After all, it was only 10am in the morning…we had all the time to take a look around, find other transport options and plan our journey.

Crossing the border into Guatemala was then SUPER smooth. There was no queue, there was no fee to pay and in no time we were across.

Central America Money Changers

Inside the border “room” someone approached us with a large stack of cash in his hand. Behind him there were another 4 or 5 guys all carrying these huge bundles of cash in their hands. It seemed really dodgy, but nobody looked too troubled about this. You should also know that this immigration office was quite peculiar. It is actually just a long counter in an open room. There were no walls to confine the officers’ desks and right along one side of the space the actual road leading into Guatemala. The crossing point into the country was literally just the road and this open concept “room”.

Imagine a road where all cars, trucks, minivans, tuk tuk, motorbikes, people, dogs, etc. were passing by. Then this room facing the road, at the end of which were the long desks with the immigration officers ‘computers; armed guards left, right and centre and the dudes with the cash. It seemed a bit surreal, but then we imagined ourselves in front of a club showing-off our huge stack of cash…what could possible happen? haha!

Anyways, Central America introduced us to it’s forex services 😉

We exchanged a small amount of money for GTQ7 per USD1 and off we walked the streets of Melchor de Mencos’ town.

Money changers whilst crossing the border
Money Changers at the Border

Past the Border

Straight after crossing the border we had to walk over a bridge, which lead us into our first Guatemala’s town. We followed the road as indicated on our digital map and it took us no time to find the colectivo bus station. Just before arriving a very nice guy approached us too and asked if we were looking for transport. The gentlemen pointed us to his minivan that was right there at the colectivo bus point. For GTQ30 each we were off to El Remate, a small town on the coast of the Peten Itza lake in Northern Guatemala.

Our Guatemala experience just started!

Point to note: the colectivo goes all the way to Flores. You would need to get off at the cross junction before El Remate and either wait for another colectivo (rare) or walk…we walked!

Check our other article about crossing the border between Costa Rica and Panama.

Arriving at El Remate
Arriving at El Remate

Categories
Round the world trip

PapaKolea – Green sand beach hike

The day we decided to go to PapaKolea (AKA the green beach) the weather was obviously against us…when we woke up there was some sunshine to warm us from the cool ocean breeze, but by the time we reached a cafe, clouds took over the blue skies. Somehow we did not realise it was almost 10am by the time we finished our coffee and bagels. But who was in a hurry? We did not think much of the upcoming 62 miles journey to the beach’s parking lot. Perhaps we should have forced ourselves to leave our base earlier to make the most of the sun and the day, but 62 miles did not sound that far. And we were wrong! The winding journey is not the straight 3-lanes-constant-speed-highway you may think of…the road is mainly a single lane which passes through some of the beach spots and attractions from Kona to Capitan Cook and then through wilderness and the flanks of the Mauna Loa volcano. You will be rewarded by great views of the ocean and will get the opportunity to spot lava fields that in the past had covered the landscape and created more land out of the ocean. But that takes time…

According to Google Maps the journey was supposed to be 1.5 hours long. It took us nearly 3 hours to reach the starting point of the hike…we stopped here and there to shake our legs, and probably this could have been avoided if we were in a car, but we also stopped to admire the scenery, we stopped at the lava fields view points and in some instances we were seeking shelter from the rain…on the way there we caught a light drizzle and we were a bit worried this could have impacted our day/hike. By that time our target was however not too far and we carried on.

Approaching green sand beach
Approaching green sand beach

For the first part of the journey we passed through many populated ares and beautiful beaches at a rather slow speed. Few traffic lights, the occasional intersection to give way to other vehicles and city life. We also had the opportunity to spot a crazy woman shouting out of her house to the cars lined in traffic and probably cursing at our very loud CBR 🙂 Not too far after the scenery takes over and you can start going a bit faster too…enjoying the nature’s beauty. At this point civilization was a bit rare and once we reached the south point car park we started to feel hungry. Too bad for us though that there is pretty much nothing around here…just the coast, fields and we had no idea where the closest restoration point would have been. But we are young and careless and tough! We wanted to enjoy the hike, the beach and make the most out of it. We pressed on.

Abandoned trolley in Hawaii
Abandoned trolley in Hawaii

We started walking towards the beach. We did not want to get on those “shared taxi services” that were going on. Apparently they are also illegal, but not boycotted or stopped. Obviously we wanted to walk to the beach to enjoy the place. It was a shame to see how the coast line is disrupted, broken and ruined by the tracks that these shared taxis leave behind. We hope there could be better ways to preserve the hiking trails and the terrain around the this beautiful stretch of coast.

The ocean breeze was our companion throughout the walk. The maroon color of the terrain/sand was in full contrast with the darkness of the lava rocks underneath. Nature managed to grow over the lava and it was impressive to witness its beauty. And in another contrast was the bluest of the oceans breaking it’s waves against the lava rocks.

Grass out of lava
Grass growing out of lava rocks

This goes on for the whole 2.5 miles of the coastal walk. The weather has been on our side during this first part; muggy for sure, but at least we were still dry. And there it was…we could start seeing the peculiar shape of the bay at a distance; and there it was too, the rain! Bloody hell, it could have waited a little longer to come!

The good things about the rain during this day is that it was light and it came in waves…it was the first time we experienced such strange way to rain :-). The wind would blow and you’d be able to see darker clouds advancing from the sea. The light rain then would hit you for a few minutes, like 3 to 5 minutes, then pass. Then it would be calm and then the wind would pick up again bringing those darker clouds closer. And it would rain for another short while and then stop and all over again.

We were cold by the ride and the rain and the wind made us a bit miserable. People were bathing in the sea and Anto was very tempted to go for a quick dip, but Olla was of another opinion. Having been a bit more prepared we could have had all we needed to be dry and enjoy a little swim, but we packed for a hike and not to go for a swim! If we ever visit big island again we would make sure to bring swimmers and towels too! And lunch! 

The flanks of the beach were quite steep too and some were attempting a slide down which seemed fun, but we were just not in the mood and decided to start walking back. All in all we stayed by the beach and surrounding cliffs for about 45 minutes…

We must have had the accountant’s cloud over our head! (We will explain the accountant cloud in another post)! On the way back the rain was totally gone, and bloody hell! Why is like that! Must have rained right when we were at the spot???? Seriously, the time we wanted sunshine it rained and when we needed the least, the best of weather! Anyways, when we reached the CBR we were still wet from the rain we took on the way and during our visit at the green beach. Not ideal to ride when wet, but it was staring to be late and we had a loooong journey back to Kona.

(Rant coming) By the way Hawaii, you should do something about amenities! There was barely a portable toilet and the one that was around was utterly disgusting! Anyways, we just needed to get going and hopefully find a restaurant or similar.

Needless to say, the moment we started our journey back our friendly cloud decides to follow us, but this time it poured down a heavy one. We were completely drenched and it was also not safe to ride with such a heavy rain. We managed to see a place to grab a bite and we got in. It was a Thai restaurant. We got in to find shelter and somehow no body attended us…we also found the place a bit strange and the menu was not that appealing. Luckily a couple of locals that were there (apparently they were motorcyclists too, but wise enough not to go out on their bike with such weather!) told us to continue for another while on the road to the next pub, which was a much bigger place and with a nice crowd. We did that and finally managed to sit down, order a warm drink each and got some food to warm our stomachs.

Our journey back was incredibly wet but we still managed to get home safe. The following day we learned that that night when we were riding back from the south, kona had seen a massive thunderstorm which caused fallen trees and a big mess on the road. We were riding in that storm, but were lucky enough to have experienced just the heavy downpour rather than the winds and lightning! What an adventure!

Categories
Round the world trip

Colombia – Cartagena

When you look at the map of Cartagena from your phone, you quickly realize how getting around town is not going to be that easy.

The city is quite large and somewhat takes a shape of an L with the airport located at the top of the “L” with the Caribbean ocean covering the whole west side.

We flew from Panama as there is no land connection between the two countries and flying was the fastest and most convenient way to reach the South of America.

At the airport the exit goes directly into the streets of the town. As we approached the gates we asked a local how did the public transport worked. We were originally told that getting a bus in Cartagena required a prepaid card (which turned out to be true only for few bus services…). Straight away we thought about the prepaid EZlink card in Singapore or the equivalent Oyster card in london. Wow, this town must be very modern! We thought…
We preferred to stick to the usual taxi “collectivo” or also known as shared taxi. We stopped one and off we went towards our hostel accompanied by two others that we picked along the way.

We stayed some 12 to 15 blocks away from the city center walls and as we landed around midday, we were ready to hit town and fix ourselves lunch.

The city center is quite sizable but it can be explored in a day. We managed to cover a good chunk of it on the first day, easily reaching the statue of the Gordita (fat naked woman) and the old defensive wall that surrounds the center. It is possible to walk along all the perimeter of the town by following the countour of the defensive wall.

City Walls - Cartagena
City Walls – Cartagena

The main draw of Cartagena is obviously the old town and walking along this open-air colonial museum is just stunning. More pictures including the church of San Pedro Claver and the beautiful architecture can be found on the Gallery (here).

Getsmani is another area of the walled city center and many are attracted to it by it’s street art and fine restaurants and bars, although less charming than the main old town in Cartagena itself. We decided to come back the following day for a photo session in the narrow and multicolored streets.

At night a lot of people gather around in front of the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad. The atmosphere here is really nice and you can enjoy cocktails made by street vendors as well as their street food. During the day however the square was used by people playing football and it still remains a gathering point, just less crowded (very good for people watching).

Street Art in Getsemani - Cartagena
Street Art in Getsemani – Cartagena

A visit to the Castillo de San Felipe is also a highly recommended stop. The entrance tickets will set you off by COP25K, which is equivalent to USD10 per person. You are free to roam around the Castillo taking in the views of the old town and the more modern business district with condos and offices right on the shores. An highlight for us was the possibility to roam inside cool dark corridors that run in the interior of the fortress; it made us step back in time and think we could have walked these walls and corridors so many centuries ago!

Castillo de San Felipe - Cartagena
Castillo de San Felipe – Cartagena

Another silly thought Anto had was to feel like the main character of Assassin Creed, attaching a Spanish outpost in the Caribbean 😉 and obviously even more silly like in the below picture…

All in all the city may require more than 2 days to be discovered in full, but we set off to Santa Marta just after 48hours of our arrival, looking forward to catch the last few swims in the Caribbean.

Other useful things to know:

A taxi collectivo can cost between COP500 to COP2K per passenger. Always ask how much it is going to cost to reach your destination.

Buses usually have a fixed amount per journey, but it really depends on the driver or the guy collecting the cash. The written fare on top of the bus is COP2.3K per person, but you can pay lesser if your journey is short.

Jeeps or Willys are also available and these are usually COP1.5K per passenger.

The terminal of transport is quite far from the city center (approximately 1 hour and depending from the traffic). Check out Uber and/or compare it with the prices quoted by the taxi drivers. We paid COP17K and the journey was long. It felt worth it. The ride also may take you to the suburbs of the city which are far less appealing than the city center, but you get to see the other face of the city. You can also reach the terminal by bus, but I believe the service is the one that requires the travel card. Price should be approximately COP5K, hence sharing a cab in 4 or in 3 could be the better option. Another way to get around the travel card is to ask other passengers to “tap” for you and you can pay them cash.

Categories
Nicaragua into Costa Rica Round the world trip

BORDER CROSSING FROM NICARAGUA TO COSTA RICA

WE LEAVE NICARAGUA FOR OUR BORDER CROSSING INTO COSTA RICA AT PEÑA BLANCAS

We had to say goodbye to the amazing Ometepe Island and Nicaragua heading for our border crossing into Costa Rica. This amazing lake-island will remain in our hearts for a while. Read a short introduction about the island here.

Lake Cocibolca is so big that it generates strong winds and the waters can be quite choppy. Our rented motorbike had to be strapped to the sides of the ferry. But who cared!? The views leaving the island where all it mattered and how much we will be missing the place!

Goodbye Ometepe Island from the ferry
Goodbye Ometepe Island from the ferry

WHERE TO GO AFTER THE BORDER CROSSING

We planned to arrive at the border with Costa Rica as early as possible in order to (either):

  1. Catch the 2:30pm direct bus to La Fortuna (volcano Arenal) OR
  2. Reach San Jose at a decent time during the day

We had not decided where to go yet. But we knew that arriving at the border late meant a difficult and complicated journey to reach La Fortuna. We read all sort of stories online and also from the amazing centrocoasting website. For those that do not know, centrocoasting is a great website which details all sort of bus routes in few central america countries.

San José on the other hand seemed better served with frequent direct buses departing from the border. 5:30pm was our deadline to catch the last bus!

OUR ADVENTURE TO LEAVE OMETEPE BEGUN

Getting Ready

We set our alarm clocks early enough in order to be ready to catch the many connections required to our border crossing to reach Costa Rica!

We stayed some 30km (or further away) from the main ferry town of Moyogalpa at an amazing organic farm which extends widely on the sides of the Maderas Volcano (finca Zopilote is the name). The farm is quite large and there are accommodations scattered all over the property. It took a good 8 minutes hike from our room to the reception, and from the reception to the main road it is another 10 minutes of steep rocky path. With our backpacks on, I am sure we need to add quite a few more minutes to this journey’s time. We also needed to collect our passports.

Why is this important you may ask…well, it is important because buses are not that frequent in this part of the island. In particular, there are only two in the morning. One at 5:15am, which meant getting ready at 4:30am and that was out of the question! And another more manageable at 7:30am. Which one you think we choose?

Surprisingly enough we were on the main road at 7:15am ready for the bus. We could have not planned it better.

We waited patiently at the road side. At first it was just Olla and I and then more people joined. After a good 45 minutes we all suspected that the 7:30am service had some issue and we were to wait for the next one scheduled for later in the morning.

The bus finally arrived

Although we had a fairly long day ahead, we thought we had plenty of time and so we were not too worry. But for our joy, around 8:10am, we were happy to see the bus coming to pick us up. What we were not so happy to see was that the bus was already full, like jam-packed full! A long “early-morning-sweaty-squeeze” was going to be required, but we had no other choice.

This bus was however not going all the way to our destination, we had to change somewhere along the way. But even with this change of bus we managed to catch the 10:30am boat to mainland!

FROM SAN JORGE TO THE BORDER AT PEÑA BLANCAS

We quickly realized that making it on time to catch the 2:30pm bus was not going to be possible. So we decided to have an early lunch at the harbor area to sort a few internet-related stuff. So far we caught two buses and a ferry, but we still had at least two more buses to reach the Costa Rica border crossing.

Local bus No.1

The first of these two was easy enough as it departs straight in front of the ferry entrance. The most annoying part was to fence off the taxi drivers that at all costs try to convince you there is no bus running on that day for whatever reason…

It was the day after Easter and it could have been that services were slower than usual due to the festive season. But we did not believe them and waited patiently. Once on-board, the cotton candy seller that joined the bus with us cheered us up as we were starting to feel tired of all the changes, buses, dropping off, jumping on, scorching sun, backpacks and all…

Regional bus No. 2

The second bus was a bit trickier. We had the option to go into Rivas town at the bus terminal, or to wait for the bus along the road, which was supposed to pass frequently. Other locals were waiting for the bus near the roundabout and we decided to join them instead of venturing into the bus terminal. The distance to the border was barely 35Km now and there is only this road that leads there.

After two buses that passed and did not pick us up as simply too full, we started to lose faith. But shortly after our lucky star smiled at us and we caught an almost empty bus and got our seats too!

We did not have any more time pressure to catch the bus to La Fortuna. It would have simply been an added stress as it was already 2:30pm at this point!

FINALLY AT THE BORDER

Our new target was trying to get the bus to San Jose at 3:30pm on the Costa Rica side of the border…this would have allowed us to arrive in the capital of Costa Rica at a decent time.

So far, each border we crossed from Mexico all the way down here in Nicaragua have been super straightforward (besides El Salvador). Little to no queue and super fast. But today, between clearing customs in Nicaragua and the super long queue at the Costa Rica side, we managed the border crossing only around 4pm.

Now we had to kill time for another 1.5 hours as the next and LAST bus to San Jose was only leaving at 5:30pm!!

Be careful here too as the service usually is on a first come first served…or first in the queue, first to board the bus…if the bus is full, you need to wait for the next one and good luck with that if there is no more buses leaving. Plan carefully 🙂

What a journey!

Good bye Nicaragua and hello Costa Rica - border crossing
Good bye Nicaragua and hello Costa Rica

A huge thank-you should go to www.centrocoasting.com as we used their great website for the super detailed info about catching buses in Central America. It is AMAZING!

Recap: Leaving Ometepe Island for the Costa Rica border

Take bus to Moyogalpa (between 20 to 40 cordoba per person, depending where you catch the bus)

Catch the ferry across the lake (50 cordoba per person)

Board a bus from San Jorge port to Rivas (10 cordoba per person)

Take a bus from Rivas to Pena Blancas (20 cordoba per person)

Clear Nicaragua immigration (3 USD per person exit fee)

Clear Costa Rica immigration (make sure you have onward travel arrangements proof as they may bother you)

Take a bus to San Jose (9 USD per person – it is cheaper to pay in colon. Avoid the 5:30pm bus! It arrives late in San Jose and the terminal is quite sketchy at that time in the evening)