Cheap and Adventurous Honeymoon Ideas

Some friends of mine recently got married in Mexico (blog post coming soon!), and now they’ve asked me for recommendations on where to go on their honeymoon.   Their two biggest requirements?  Adventurous and inexpensive.

Since this couple lives in California, I immediately thought that they have two major options: Asia or Central America.  Here’s why:

1) SE Asia: The yes-the-flight-is-expensive-but-everything-else-is-cheap option.

If your honeymoon is 10+ days, I’d definitely recommend going to SE Asia, specifically certain parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia*, and Cambodia*.  Although your flights will most likely be $1000 or more per person, your money is going to go a very long way once you’re there.  You can stay at incredible resorts for less than $200 a night, domestic flights are super cheap, fancy dinners can be had for $30 or less, and spa splurges like massages are around $15.

Morning sunrise hike in Bali

Morning sunrise hike in Bali

SE Asia also offers a lot of cool options for adventure lovers.  You can trek with elephants in Thailand, go water rafting in Bali, hike mountains in Borneo – the list is endless (and pretty damn awesome).

Patara

Alexis and Andrew riding elephants in Thailand

If you want to stay on budget, just make sure that you avoid the most touristy areas and “name brand” hotels.  In other words, if you think that the Four Seasons in Koh Samui will be a steal just because it’s in Thailand, think again.  (Because the cheapest rooms are about $1000 USD a night!)

2) Central America: The flights-are-short-and-inexpensive-but-you’ll-pay-a-decent-amount-for-everything-else option.

Remember when I was deciding whether to go to Belize, Nicaragua, or Panama last Memorial Day weekend?  Well, the flights from SFO to all three countries were basically the same price: $600.  And compared to flights to Asia, they’re really short which makes them perfect for honeymoons that are less than 10 days.

panama snorkeling

Snorkeling in Panama

While Costa Rica is great for honeymooners, it will certainly not be your cheapest bet.  Belize*, on the other hand, has great “beach + jungle” resort combo packages at all different price points, and our neighbors raved about the amazing diving resorts in Honduras.*  Panama is a major up-and-coming surf destination, as well.

Belize horseback riding

Agnes and Matt horseback riding in Belize

Again, you may save money if you stay away from the big name hotel chains and choose boutique hotels instead.

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Our Four Night Trip to Bocas del Toro, Panama

It’s been just about a week since we returned from our trip to Panama, and my husband and I are still pretty excited about it.  Even though we were only there for four nights, it was a great little trip for us to get some sun and take a breather from “real life.”  We had a fantastic time, but I do need to preface this post by saying that I would not recommend Bocas del Toro, Panama for a honeymoon… quite yet.  Maybe check back with me in 5-10 years or so.  The area is gaining lots of popularity with tourists, but it doesn’t currently have the element of travel luxury that most honeymooners would want.  In other words, it’s full of backpackers and baby boomer expats.  That being said, many travel writers have claimed that Panama is “the next Costa Rica” so I have high hopes that Panama will be a great honeymoon destination in the near future.  But for those of you who are interested in taking a non-honeymoon trip that isn’t incredibly mainstream yet, Panama would work well for you.

Bocas Map

Pretty map of Bocas del Toro Province

A couple of things to mention straight off the bat: the U.S. dollar is their main currency but they do have their own coins, only tourists wear Panama Hats (and they are actually from Ecuador, not Panama), and despite what our tour guide told us, there ARE earthquakes in Panama because a 5.6 one woke us up one night.

Water taxis in Bocas del Toro

Water taxis in Bocas del Toro

We took a red-eye flight from LA, and woke up in Panama City six hours later.  Since we had a seven hour layover there and wanted to see as much of the city as possible, we made arrangements in advance to have a private tour through My Friend Mario.  “Mario 2” picked us up from the airport (he claimed that all of their guides are named Mario) and took us everywhere: the Old Panama Ruins, the new city, the colonial area, the fish market ($3 ceviche – YUM!), the Coastway, the fruit market, Ancon Hill, and finally to the Panama Canal.  Although that sounds like a lot to do after a red-eye, the city isn’t too spread out and it was great to be chauffeured around in an air conditioned car.

Panama City Skyline

The massive Panama City skyline

After that whirlwind tour of Panama City, we took a quick 45 minute flight to Bocas del Toro and then a two minute water taxi to our hotel on Isla Careneros.  (Pro tip: if you go to Bocas del Toro, water taxis between Bocas Town and Isla Careneros are $1 per person.   Don’t ask how much, just give them the money.  If you ask, they’ll charge you 5x more.)  Despite being only $60 a night, our hotel was highly rated on Tripadvisor so we gave it a shot.

Hotel Oasis

Hotel Oasis

It was extremely clean and in a great location, but it was pretty basic accommodations – like I said, definitely not honeymoon material.  The owner Jose and his girlfriend Mayra didn’t speak great English (and our Spanish is pretty terrible), but they were extremely friendly and helped us plan out the three full days we had in Bocas.  Looking back on it, I would recommend the same itinerary to anyone, so here it is:

Day 1: Sleep in, take a water taxi to Bocas Town, then catch the noon bus to Boca del Drago.  You can also rent bikes and ride there from Bocas Town, but our hotel owner talked us out of it.  Later on when we met a Danish guy who rode his bicycle to Bocas from LOS ANGELES (!!!!), we felt like the laziest people alive since we thought riding bikes across one little island would be too tough.  Anyway, from Boca del Drago you can take a beautiful walk 20 minute walk or take a water taxi to Playa Estrella – a beach area that’s full of massive red and orange starfish.  (Pro tip: don’t go barefoot – there’s something in the sand over there that feels like sharp little glass splinters.  My feet felt better by the end of the day though, and Aaron didn’t feel anything at all because his feet are basically two massive callouses.)  When you get back to town, go back to Isla Careneros to freshen up and get dinner at Bibi’s on the Beach to watch the manta rays swim in the water beneath you.  Before you go to sleep, ask your hotel owner to book “the boat tour” for the next day.

Starfish

Checking out the starfish at Playa Estrella on Isla Colon

Boca del Drago

Boca del Drago

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… And We’re Off to Bocas del Toro, Panama!

This song has been stuck in my head ever since we booked our flights to Panama back in March:

That’s right, we’re spending [an extended] Memorial Day Weekend in Bocas del Toro, Panama!  We’re going to try to stay offline as much as possible while we’re down there, so that means I’m not going to publish the next Real Honeymoon post on Monday morning like I normally do.  However, I do have an absolutely jaw-dropping honeymoon to share with you as soon as we get back home, and it’s so good that I had to break it into two posts.

Wherever you celebrate Memorial Day, I hope you have a safe and wonderful holiday weekend!

Ahem, Ahem: Travel Announcement!

Remember how I said our next big trip was going to be Ireland?  Well, June just seemed too far away and the Emerald Isle isn’t tropical enough, so we just booked an additional trip to PANAMA in May!  I think it’s necessary for me to do some firsthand research for the honeymoon blog, don’t you?

Bocas Del Toro

Bocas Del Toro via Erik Cleves Kristensen

We’re going to fly into Panama City, and then spend four nights in gorgeous Bocas del Toro.  Needless to say, I can’t wait.  Hopefully my tan lasts until our trip to Ireland in June : )

So how did we decide on Panama?  My husband and I first identified our biggest travel priorities.  Mine: beachesbeachesbeaches.  His: the intangible “cool factor.”  What makes the “cool factor” cut?  He didn’t want to go to a generic all-inclusive resort, and I think he just ixnayed all of Mexico on principle (even though he’s only been to Tijuana).  Fine.  But one day we’re going to go somewhere awesome in Mexico and he’s going to realize how much he’s been missing out!

Alright, back to how we chose Panama.  Since we can’t take too much time off of work, we didn’t want to travel TOO far from California, so that cut out Asia, South America, and the Caribbean.  We also didn’t want to go overboard with expenses since we have a European trip coming up, so that excluded Hawaii (since we’d also need to get a rental car there).  And that left us with Central America.  I’d only been to Costa Rica before, so we had lots of other countries to choose from and we narrowed our choices down to three: Belize, Nicaragua, and Panama.

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