Why Puebla needs to be your next travel destination

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There is more to Mexico than Cancun and Cabo San Lucas. Although desirable and the picture perfect destination, beaches are not the only reason you should visit Mexico. The rich history that this country possess is too marvelous for words. I’ve been to Cancun and it is stunning. However, for my return to Mexico, I wanted a historical place to learn from. I chose Puebla.

Puebla is a gem of a place. Only a 2 hour bus drive from the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere (Mexico City, pop. 21 million), it is well worth a visit.

Puebla is famously known for the batalla de 5 de Mayo where the Mexican military defeated French invaders. The defeat of the French army has now become a widely celebrated holiday by cultural appropriating folks in the USA. Despite what this holiday has become, Puebla is an enthralling place. The people are beautiful, the sites are electrifying, and the food is gastronomical heaven.

Puebla is emerging as one of Mexico’s top destinations. The historic center in Puebla is home to most of the tourist attractions, hotels, and restaurants. I had the pleasure of visiting and I have put into words and into 5 reasons why Puebla needs to be your next travel destination.

  1. Gastronomy galore 

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Puebla is a culinary center-it is the heart of Mexican food. If I could describe my culinary experience in one word it would be heavenly. From street-side food stalls to 5-star restaurants, you can find it all. Chiles en nogada, chalupas (not the ones from Taco Bell), and mole poblano all have their origin in this stunning place.

El nacimiento del mole poblado es unos de los momentos mas importantes de Mexico. For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure (gasp!) of indulging in such an experience, let me break it down—Mole is a nut, chili, chocolate and spice-based sauce that can be served over beef, chicken, or honestly anything you want. If something takes months to harvest and hours to cook, you know it will be great on a plate.

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I would have to say that my favorite culinary experience in Puebla took place on the street-side of the Zocalo where I met Chalupas Poblanas for 15 pesos (less than $1 USD). Although tiny, these fried tortillas are filled with incredible sauce and meat that leave you wanting for more. It is here that I learned that sometimes the little things in life give us the most pleasure.

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Make sure to visit Mercado de Sabores Poblanos for tasty cemitas and pipian (all based in Puebla)

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  1. Architectural heaven 

Puebla was founded by Spanish settlers in 1531 and the architectural wealth is rooted in colonialism. The colors throughout the city are remarkable and the architecture is spectacular. Every corner is filled with color, making this destination aesthetically pleasing to the eye. With more than 5000 colonial buildings, Puebla is emerging from colonial history as a place of its own.

 

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  1. Land of 365 churches 

When Cortes first got his bloody hands on Cholula, Puebla, he vowed to make 365 churches in this neighboring suburb, one for every day of the year. Although he failed to make it happen, there still remain 39 baroque influenced churches in Cholula. Mexico is 85% catholic and it is quite evident by the amount of love that goes into the development of their churches.

Don’t miss: The amount of details that goes into the churches! Take a look for yourself.

 

  1. Cultural sights

The following is a list of sights that are not to be missed on your visit to Puebla:

Zocalo– el centro de la ciudad! Make sure to take a picture with the bright and large Puebla sign

Catedral– it occupies a whole block!

Casa de la Cultura- You will find art galleries, a bookstore and cinema, and Bibloteca Palafoxiana.

Biblioteca Palafoxiana-For only 25 pesos, you will have the pleasure of entering the first public library in Mexico. Built in 1646, this gorgeous library hosts rare books and a reading wheel!

 

Museo de la Revolucion- Check out this 19th century house that hosted the first battle of the Mexican Revolution, 1910

Candy Alley (camotes)- Do I even need to tell you what you will find here? If you have a sweet tooth, this is the place that will make you smile!

Consider hopping on the Turibus- Double decker bus that gives you a four hour tour of the historic center and Cholula!

  1. El calor de la gente

There is no doubt in my mind that I encountered some of the world’s greatest human beings in Puebla. In my very un-biased opinion (because I am Mexican) I genuinely believe that Puebla gives birth to warm-hearted people. Puebla is a safe city and I felt the love, the patria that people had for their city and their country.

Puebla was not on my places to visit this year but I am glad that I went! You’ll love it.

This post was originally published on http://www.monisandiego.com

What to pack for your hostel stay: 8 travel essentials

If you’re a budget traveler like I am, chances are you’re not staying at the Ritz-Carlton. Although I love hotel beds and hotel robes, I spend most of my traveling in hostels because of the affordable lodging. Hostels provide the basic travel necessities-bed and showers.

image from dreamhostel.com

image from dreamhostel.com

If you’ve never stayed at a hostel before, there are a few essentials that you will need in order to have a successful stay. I’ve compiled a list of 8 for you to purchase before getting on that plane and arriving at your hostel. 

*You can download a pdf version here.

  1. Shower sandals

Shower sandals are probably the most important item you can bring to the hostel. Just like college dorms, hostels have communal showers. These are vital for your stay and will keep your feet protected from the bacteria lingering in the shared space.

image from j-e-a-n.com

image from j-e-a-n.com

Since you’ll be using it throughout the floors of the hostel, there is no need to invest in expensive ones. Head to Old Navy and purchase the $2.50 flip flops that are available year round. The choices of cute colors will not only have you protected but styling in the shower as well!

Image from oldnavy.com

Image from oldnavy.com

2. Sleeping bag liner

Whether you’re staying in a hamaca in the middle of the Costa Rican rainforest, a tent in Yosemite park, or a hostel bed in Brazil, a liner is always a good idea for protection. Some hostels might not have sheets ready for you when you arrive, and some might not have any at all.

image from inkaterra.com

image from inkaterra.com

For my backpacking trip through Southeast Asia I purchased a liner from Amazon, only $12. The best part about it is that it’s machine washable. All the beds I stayed in had sheets but the freezing a/c at night made my sleep uncomfortable. Once I got in my liner, the extra layer of protection added warmth and comfort.

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

I recommend silk liners because of its versatility in hot and cold weather. It keeps warm air close to the skin during cold weather (i.e. air conditioners) and during warm weather it keeps you comfortable.

image from rei.com

image from rei.com

Check out a few options here:

http://www.amazon.com/Mulberry-Single-Sleeping-Travel-Sleepsack/dp/B00J99Q34K/ref=sr_1_16?s=outdoor-recreation&ie=UTF8&qid=1444260662&sr=1-16&keywords=silk+sleeping+bag+liner

3. Small lock (padlock)

Almost every hostel I’ve stayed at had a decent sized locker for me to store my belongings in. However, the hostels did not provide locks and I highly recommend you get one before arriving. Locks can be purchased at any hardware or big-box retail store.  

 I recommend one of the following TSA approved locks–they could even be used for your luggage and/or backpack:

image from tamperseal.com

image from tamperseal.com

Don’t make the mistake I did and arrive with a thick padlock that didn’t fit through my locker’s opening. Make sure you check in with your hostel and see what kind of lockers they have so that you shop adequately.

4. Travel size toiletries

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Ah, the small things in life are what brings us the greatest pleasure. Most hostels will not provide you with soap/shampoo. If you do find one that provides you with such essentials, you’ve hit the jackpot. However, it is imperative that you bring your own. 

When packing your backpack or suitcase, be sure to pack 3.4oz or less per item. The small size and airline carry-on toiletries can be found at Target or Dollar Tree stores.

5. Hanging toiletry case

No need to purchase a shower caddy! However, a hanging toiletry case is essential when staying at hostels. A toiletry case not only provides organization for your items, but the convenient hang strap fits over most hooks and towel bars.

Since you’ll be in a communal shower, you will need convenience and safety for your toiletries inside. I purchased this Lewis N. Clark Hanging toiletry case and loved how lightweight it was and the fact that it fit in my backpack.

image from walmart.com

image from walmart.com

Price: $10 at Walmart

6. Plug adapter/long cord

I consider myself a newbie when it comes to the traveling world. As a newbie, I often make mistakes when it comes to packing. Prior to my backpacking trip to South America I forgot to research plug adapters. When I arrived to Brazil, I was surprised to find that they use a different one than the US plugs.

target.com, $11.99

target.com, $11.99

Luckily, my friend had an adapter! Me salvo la vida y el dinero. An adapter abroad can cost up to $20 USD. To avoid wasting your time and money, purchase one before your trip. I recommend purchasing a Universal one either online or Target, cost can be up to $12.

Also, since you’ll be staying in dorms at the hostel, you may or may not be close to an outlet. Be sure to purchase a long cord for your electronics in case your bed isn’t near a wall with a plug–see below!

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7. Sleeping mask/Ear plugs set

With up to 20 people per dorm room, there are bound to be unexpected wake up calls. Not every person likes to be up at 630am like me. With this in mind, I recommend investing in a sleeping mask for those flickering lights at 230am when party goers get back from their late night adventure.

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

Ear plugs are also essential to blocking out any noise from loud people. If your hostel is in a major city, you might wake up to traffic or construction. Thus, if you are a light sleeper, it is imperative to have ear plugs.

image from sleepedia.com

image from sleepedia.com

8. Micro Fiber, ultra-light, fast drying towel

Now say that really fast, 3 times without breathing. Just kidding. Some hostels will provide you with towels (will charge a rental fee!) but trust me, they’re not Egyptian Cotton.

I recommend investing in a micro fiber towel because they are super-absorbent and dry quickly. When you are sharing space with a lot of people, you don’t want your towel to smell and still be wet when you shower again.

image from amazon.com

image from amazon.com

My micro fiber towel is from the yoga company Manduka and I got it as a gift. It is intended to be a yoga towel for mats but I use mine for quick-drying after showers. It’s amazing!

image from manduka.com

image from manduka.com

So there you go! Now you are ready to pack for your hostel stay. The above items are all TSA approved as carry-ons.

Balling on a Budget: Thailand Travel Tips

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This past summer, I had the pleasure and privilege to backpack through Southeast Asia. In May, I booked a one way flight to Bangkok, Thailand and since then I haven’t recovered from wanderlust. Prior to this trip I saw traveling as a luxury, as something that I couldn’t attain. However, in January 2015 I set the only New Year’s Resolution that I’ve actually kept-to travel the world.

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Once I started to see traveling as a necessity rather than a luxury, I began to live. I became alive because I no longer was constrained by the “luxurious” concept that came with what I perceived to be traveling. I started to learn that traveling does not encompass thousands of dollars, five-star restaurants and hotels, and exquisite private tours. I cut off unnecessary expenses. I started a savings account for the purpose of travel and did some research that helped me prep for my first sola trip

The first thing out of my mom’s mouth when I told her was ‘estas loca.’

You see, to understand me is to understand my parents. When you grow up low-income, you grow up on a budget, you grow up with the hand-me-downs de tu hermana mayor, and you grow up thinking that travel is for the rich. However, with extensive research, a few months of saving, and a backpack, I set out to break this way of thinking – I set out on my first sola trip. First stop, Thailand.

Grand Palace

Thailand is known for its exquisite beaches, its beautiful jungle, affordable hostels and gastronomy heaven – that is why I chose this incredible country as my first place to visit on my Asian tour.

Through my travels I learned various ways to save money and stick to my budget. The following is a list I compiled to show how you too can travel to Thailand on a budget:

  1. Travel during low season

I was able to afford my flight to Thailand because I traveled during low season. What does this mean? It means that I traveled during ‘rainy season,’ July and August. Since I traveled during low season, I got more bang for my buck. My flight in itself was 25% lower than it would be January-March when humidity is at its lowest and tourists are flocking the beaches.

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Apart from Bangkok, I also visited Chiang Mai. Settled in the mountains of northern Thailand, Chiang Mai is picture perfect, especially for those who love the jungle and cooler weather. The best part of Chiang Mai? The fact that I booked a ticket from Bangkok for $27 USD and it was only a one hour flight. For a similar price, you can take the night train which I heard is a great experience. However, travel time is ~12 hours.

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Other budget friendly perks of traveling during low season:

  • You will find accommodation! If you are backpacking, you will have the suerte of finding a hostel with an empty bed. Since its low season, you should definitely bargain for a price that works for your budget.
  • Bargain galore!  If you’ve ever bargained, you know it can get rough. However, since its low season, you’ll have no problem getting those cute elephant trousers. Visit the Night market and get those souvenirs!
  • Low season= less travelers=more room to breathe. Most people don’t like to travel when it rains, thus, you will see that prime spots such as Phuket and Ko Phi Phi islands are less populated.

    image from itsfroyo.blogspot.com

    image from itsfroyo.blogspot.com

2.  Stay in hostels and/or use Airbnb

Often, hostels have a reputation for being loud, dirty, and far from private. However, I debunked this myth in Thailand. Hostels are a backpackers haven. You will meet people here! You will make friends. Although I enjoy my personal space, I opted for hostels for the majority of my trip because they were the best for my piggy bank. I used hostelworld.com as my go to source for finding the best place. Always research neighborhoods and make sure that the hostel you choose is close to the major sites you want to visit—it’ll save you transportation fare! Also, many hostels will include continental breakfast…winning!

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Not a fan of dorm rooms? If traveling with a friend, you can split the cost of private rooms in budget friendly hostels. You will still get the perks of cheap accommodation but with privacy.

Tip: Read the reviews! Reviews were a major factor in how I chose my hostel. In Bangkok, I stayed in an all female dorm for $8 a night. Breakfast wasn’t included but the beds were huge and comfortable-something that is hard to find in Asia! Also, my hostel in BKK was close to the train stop which helped with access to tourists sites such as the Grand Palace.

In Chiang Mai, I opted for a mixed-dorm for $4.50 a night!!! The hostel was clean and offered an array of affordable tours. Chiang Mai is known for its jungle and illustrious mountains. My hostel was able to arrange for me a visit to an elephant sanctuary and even did my laundry! I extended my stay in the hostel because the hospitality was excellent and the city was incredible.

Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

Elephant Sanctuary in Chiang Mai

3. Don’t be afraid to eat like a local

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As an avid traveler, one of my fears is getting sick-either from the change of weather or the food. I wasn’t going to let this fear dictate what I ate and how I traveled.

Thus, I packed Tums and Pepto Bismol pills and called it a day-I was ready to eat anything placed in front of me.

While in Bangkok, I let go of my fear of eating from the street and indulged in sticky rice with a few sticks on chicken and pork—cost: 27 THB (Thailand Baht) which is less than $1 USD (33 THB = $~1USD).  This meal was found in almost every corner of Bangkok. My tummy and soul were satisfied and I still kept a few dollars in my pocket.

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Chicken/Pork on a stick

Thai tea in a bag was an absolute gem for the hot weather. For only 20 THB, I was drinking Thai tea on a daily basis and I was able to get it in every corner.

I would suggest eating a local restaurants instead of the large corporations or five-star restaurants. This, my friends, is how I managed to enjoy the cuisine without breaking my wallet. Outside of many tourists attractions vendors will line up on the street with their snacks. Most restaurants outside of large attractions tend to be more expensive. Opt for a street cart and support local food vendors by indulging in their inexpensive meals.

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I am a risk taker and enjoyed the challenge that came with ordering without knowing the language. I could get by with a few words but when I really did not know what the menu said, I simply pointed to pictures (if there were any). If there weren’t any pictures, I’d just play roulette with my food and hope that whatever I ate didn’t make me sick. Adventure is out there

Thai cuisine I recommend:

Yellow Curry

image from thaicookingclub.com

image from thaicookingclub.com

Tom Yom Goong soup (my favorite!)

image from panix.com

image from panix.com

4. Use public transportation

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Hop on that train, girl! If I learned anything from living in New York it was to navigate public transportation. Bangkok is notorious for its insane traffic. Cabs are not as cheap and accessible as one might think. During traffic hour, that meter will rise and you’ll be stuck sweating and dishing out cash for a ride that could’ve been avoided.

Instead of hoping on meter taxis, I opted for the MRT (metro rapid system) and the Sky Train. Learning how to use Bangkok’s train system was a true blessing. I was free to roam the city for about 29 baht (less than $1 USD). Grab a map from a local train station in Bangkok and start exploring!

Tuk-Tuk’s  are an experience and I would recommend hoping on one. Note: They are a bit pricier than a meter taxi so prepare your negotiation skills and pull out that GoPro for the ride of your life!

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Using public transportation definitely helped with my travel budget and I got to interact with locals.

Final thoughts:

Throughout my time in Asia, I visited 5 countries and spent less than I initially thought I would. If you have any questions on how to maximize your budget, contact me and I can help you plan for your travels.

*Note: Some portions of this page originate from How I traveled on a budget-and you can too! article on my personal blog, http://www.monisandiego.com