Those that follow along with me on social media know that I am still settling into living in a new country, Costa Rica. Being that I am not a resident (yet), I am required to leave the country every 90 days. People (expats) like me do what is called a “border run”. This is where you drive to the Nicaragua border, cross from Costa Rica into Nicaragua, and circle around to come back to Costa Rica with a new visa stamp that is good for another 90 days. This entire process is quite quick. I decided to make a mini vacay out of my first border run, and explore the coast of Nicaragua for six days. This trip was a long time coming for me. My grandparents and mom migrated from Nicaragua, and I still have a lot of family members that live there. I have always had a huge desire to visit this country and see the roots of my heritage. I was blown away by the raw beauty of Nicaragua! Living in Costa Rica, I am used to areas being underdeveloped. However, Nicaragua is even less developed than Costa Rica. True raw beauty! I explored five beaches in six days, enjoyed the nightlife dancing until the early morning, and took a motorcycle through the jungle. Nicaragua is very reasonably priced, has nonstop perfecto waves for surfing, and the food was fresh and delicious. I highly recommend that the expats of Costa Rica spend at least a weekend in Nicaragua while completing a border run. It was only a three hour drive from my home in Costa Rica to my hotel in Nicaragua.
GETTING TO THE BORDER
A lot of people hire a driver to take them to the border for border runs. This makes everything easy as they will help guide you through the process if you are a first timer. Once you have one border run under your belt, you will have it down and can easily drive yourself for the next run. If you choose to stay in Nicaragua, there is a family-owned parking lot that charges a small daily fee to watch over your car at the border. This is probably the cheapest option if you are going to spend some time in Nicaragua. Luckily for me, my parents were in Costa Rica and drove me to the Penas Blancas Nicaragua Border. Easy peasy. It took a minute to figure out the process, but if you just keep asking for direction, there are plenty of people who will help you to navigate. Side note….there will be miles of trucks lined up to cross the border. I was told they wait for days to weeks to cross. Once you see the trucks, keep driving past them all the way to the front of the line. This is the border crossing.
SAN JUAN DEL SUR
I paid my exit taxes in Costa Rica and my entrance fees to Nicaragua and crossed through. It is important to have small USA dollar bills on you for this process as they don’t give change. I also packed light. This was the very first trip I had ever packed solely in a backpack. I impressed myself. Ha ha. As you enter Nicaragua, it is very busy. Make sure to have phones, cash, and passports put away. I got a bit swarmed as we entered. Once through, I jumped in a taxi and headed to my first stop, San Juan Del Sur. SJDS is only a 25 minute drive from the border and a $25 cab ride. It’s a very popular spot to vacation. Everything in SJDS is walkable and there is no car needed for exploring this lively beach town. I chose to stay at the Hotel Alcazar. The location is perfectly set right in the middle of town with views of the ocean. I got the most expensive room at $80 per night. So nice to splurge for the best when the price is so reasonable! My room was on the top floor with a large private balcony overlooking the beach. There are so many dining options that are lined up beachfront, but my favorite place to eat was Dale Pues. I ate here 3 times and ordered the same thing every time… a schnitzel sandwich. So delicious!
San Juan Del Sur is a party town! It had been a minute since I danced my butt off until the early morning hours. I certainly took advantage of the packed nightclubs on the beach bumping great music all night long. So fun! I felt completely safe in this area walking around at night. Of course, I always practice common sense while traveling. I found this area to feel very safe and nonthreatening. The key for me is to blend in. I don’t wear jewelry, I don’t dress in any way to create attention, and I stay in areas that have a lot of people around. It also helps that my husband is a pretty built guy. We truly never have any trouble when we travel, and I’m sure his build has something to do with that. Regardless, I did walk around alone and felt very secure.
After hopping around and exploring all nooks and crannies of SJDS, I decided to rent a motorcycle to start exploring different beaches in the area. My husband is pretty much the only person I would trust to drive me on dirt roads through the jungle of Nicaragua. LOL. He is very good at driving a bike. However, if you aren’t experienced in this area, you can rent a car in the town of San Juan Del Sur to explore the surrounding areas.
We hopped from beach to beach. My favorite beach (by far) was Playa Maderas, which was about a 25 minute drive north of San Juan Del Sur. We took the bike there and stayed all day watching the surfers ride nonstop perfecto waves while sipping margaritas and eating fresh seafood. It’s a smaller beach but absolutely paradise. After spending the day there, I knew I wanted to spend a few nights. This area is much different than SJDS. There is no nightlife whatsoever to speak of. People come here to surf, enjoy the beach, practice yoga, and disconnect.
Another great beach that I loved was Playa El Coco. I would have loved to stay a few nights here as well. However, the ecolodge is only open on the weekends and the timing didn’t work out for me. If you aren’t able to stay here, this is definitely worth driving to spend the day here. I had the best seafood soup since moving to Central America at Playa El Coco. This is a huge beach with great waves. What I loved most about it was the ecolodge. There are cabanas and hammocks all along the beach to relax the day away in a breathtaking setting.
After four days of exploring the coast and four nights of late night dancing, we moved hotels and headed to Hush Maderas to relax. This adult only slice of heaven sits in the treetops with the howler monkeys and overlooks beautiful Playa Maderas. I stayed in the penthouse suite, which was the entire top floor of the hotel. It was floor to ceiling windows, a wraparound balcony, a gym, and a living room in the suite. This is hands down the largest hotel room I have ever stayed in, and came with a price tag of $120 per night. I told you Nicaragua was affordable! Hush Maderas offers many other rooms to fit any budget, including dormitory rooms. Everything about this hotel is top notch. The food was so fresh, healthy, and delicious. The drinks were all fresh squeezed. I sat poolside at the infinity pool with the most incredible views of the ocean. I felt so spoiled. They offer yoga lessons at the hotel and in room massages. We got one of the best couples’ massages of our lives in our hotel room for $30 each. Winning!
After six days of exploring Nicaragua, I really didn’t want to go home. I felt as though I had just scratched the surface of this country. On my next trip, I hope to go for a month so that I can really get deeper into adventuring in Nicaragua. There is so much to see! I headed back to the border and crossed with a new visa stamp to stay in Costa Rica for another 90 days. Border run turned vacay was a total success!
For my unedited photos/videos of this trip, you can head over to my Instagram account @bucketlistinabikini and watch my “Stories” of Nicaragua.
“Africa changes you forever, like nowhere on earth. Once you have been there, you will never be the same.” – Brian Jackman
Going on safari has always ranked very high on my bucket list! They say that trips to Africa are life changing journeys. Many trips I have taken have given me a feeling where I feel changed as a person. So needless to say I was very curious to find out what inspires people to say Africa is so life changing. I can confirm that after a little over two weeks there, it has changed my life. Never have I ever been on a trip where I had tears come to my eyes so many times. I felt as though every step I took was filled with emotions. The continent of Africa is so vast that it would be difficult to see it all in one lifetime. However I am not done with this part of the world, and as I sit here putting my pen to paper, all I can think about is when I will be able to go back.
There are so many options to choose from when you decide to plan a safari adventure. I chose the Masai Mara (also spelled Maasai Mara) North area of Kenya. The Masai Mara National Reserve is one of the finest wildlife experiences in all of Africa to track the Big Five and discover rich culture. In this area, one can have a front row seat to the Great Migration which is often dubbed “The Greatest Show On Earth”. The Great Migration sees more than 2 million animals travel from Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. This reserve in Kenya shares an ecosystem with the neighboring Serengeti of Tanzania, so it is easy to combine these two countries for an extended safari. I decided to couple my safari with some beach time in Zanzibar, which is an island and also part of Tanzania. What an epic trip to combine a safari with tropical beach time!
Karen Blixen Camp
It was very important to me to stay in a place that was not over commercialized. I did not want to feel as though I was in a chain hotel for this trip. I decided on Karen Blixen Camp. Have any of my readers seen the movie “Out of Africa” starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford? Meryl Streep plays Karen Blixen in this true story that highlights the impact that Mrs. Blixen had on Kenya. When I came across the Karen Blixen Camp in my planning, I immediately knew this was where I wanted to stay. It is an eco friendly luxury camp offering a “yesteryear” experience. All 22 tents sit right on the Mara River. Throughout the day giraffes, elephants, zebras, crocodiles, baboons, and many more come to drink from the river while a large hippo pod lazes the day away. The river brings in many visitors, however the hippos are residents. My alarm clock every morning was hippos snorting in the river. Ha ha! What a way to wake up! This was the main reason I chose this camp. To be so immersed in wildlife and view game right from your tent was just a dream. Que the tears of gratitude!
With so many animals around, the camp takes zero chances with safety. At night and early morning, guests are escorted from their tents to the main camp. When I wanted to leave the tent I would just ring the bell, and security came to escort me which made me feel very at ease.
Although the accommodations are truly tents, they certainly do not feel like it. They have beautiful wooden decks attached with luxurious patio furniture to enjoy your morning coffee or afternoon wine while staring at wildlife on the river. The tents themselves are very large with with a plush comfy bed, bathroom, and outdoor heated shower.
The camp has a restaurant, bar, fire pit for late night parties, pool, spa, and gift shop. Although the camp only has 22 tents, the property is huge. It also houses a cooking school where students learn to become master chefs in Kenya and even graduate to cook at the camp. This brings me to the food….WOW! You will not go hungry at Karen Blixen Camp so bring your animal appetite. The food is phenomenal. Every meal I ate was superb. They serve everything from traditional Kenyan dishes to Mexican pizzas, so there is something for everyone. They also serve excellent wine and offer a full bar. The camp arranges every detail of your safari adventure for you. From flights to meals to adventuring, they tailor your safari based on your likes, and you don’t have to plan a thing.
One other huge reason I chose Karen Blixen Camp is that in this area of the Mara, the vehicles are permitted to go off-roading. In other areas available for safari, the vehicles are required to stay on the designated roads and view game from there. We were able to explore off the beaten path and pull right up next to the animals. This made this entire experience so much more exciting. Our open air vehicle was very comfortable for long days of game driving. I loved the wind in my face while out adventuring.
We were assigned Simon as our safari guide for the week. All of the staff at the camp treated us like family, and I know you can not go wrong with any guide from the Karen Blixen Camp. However, Simon holds a very special place in our hearts. He took us on early morning, afternoon, and evening rides. Each day and each time of the day was a new experience with something new to see. Simon is so knowledgeable and friendly. I feel like I learned so much about the animals, the people, and Kenya in general from him. He was so good at spotting and would drive our vehicle right up to the animals for us to view.
On one drive we came across an elephant that had just passed away either to old age, disease, or injury. This part of Kenya takes poaching very seriously and they have great efforts in place to protect their animals. This gentle giant had become an easy meal to a huge group of hyenas that could not control their laughter and excitement. Hyenas get so excited and create so much noise when they find food that they alert other animals in the area that something appetizing is going on. Later on into the night, we decided to visit the elephant again and check the scene. A male lion was now guarding the elephant and had claimed it as his meal. No more hyenas as the lion is king. We turned off the car in the pitch black and observed the male lion up close. My heart was pounding out of my chest! It was so exciting being in the dark with the lion king. We saw many other lions on our drives throughout our safari, however this encounter was quite exhilarating. Que the tears of adrenaline!
I love the kitties and we were lucky enough to have a leopard walk right in front of our car one day. Leopards are one of the most elusive mammals on the planet and this beautiful creature just strolled right by us. So incredible!
This part of the Mara is filled with animals. I can’t even count the number of elephants, zebras, baboons, and giraffes we saw. It seemed endless. At one point we were right in the middle of all of these animals having a true lion king moment.
On one of my favorite game drives we encountered a herd of elephants. The smallest of the bunch charged our car with his ears out. It simply doesn’t get cuter than baby elephants! Mama and siblings wanted nothing to do with us, but the baby was handling business. Ha ha! Each ride showed us something different from the circle of life. It was truly powerful and emotional to see these animals in the wild so up close.
Hot Air Balloon Ride
Seeing the Mara Conservancy from above was a true bucket list experience. This was my first time in a hot air balloon ride. I’m a bit fearful of heights so I was nervous. The Karen Blixen Camp arranged for a sunrise balloon ride with Sky Ship Company. Ali was our pilot, and my nerves were gone as soon as we took off. The ride was so smooth. I just can’t put into words the magic I saw as I flew over the Mara animals with the sun rising to a new golden morning. The tears keep coming! The balloon noise makes the animals run so it was a different experience to see them being so active as we flew right above. The ride lasted about an hour with a very exciting landing on our side dragging and bouncing. I wasn’t expecting that but it’s normal due to winds in this area. Our ride was followed up with a champagne breakfast in the bush. Someone pinch me!
Visit To The Local School
OMG!! I will treasure this day forever. We visited a local school of the Masai. The kids were so welcoming and sweet. They sang us songs, gave us big hugs, and wanted to take photos. We even got to have some one on one Q & A with the older students who were perfecting their English. This visit was so special, and I had tears coming down my cheeks every step of the tour from feeling so humbled and welcomed with such innocent love.
Visit To The Local Village
The visit to a local village of the Masai tribe was a true cultural experience. It was so interesting to see how the tribe lives off of the land and amongst the animals. The men in the tribe can have up to ten wives and 100 children. My husband sat down with a man of the tribe explaining that 1 wife was enough headache for him. Ha ha! He laughed at my husband and continued to show us his home that housed 7 people. I bought a beautiful necklace from one of the women who was so kind and grateful for my purchase. They live very differently than people in the USA and are content, happy, and welcoming.
Sundowners And MealsInThe Bush
Sun~down~er: An alcoholic drink taken at sunset. Picture being on game drives most of the day and pulling your vehicle up to a postcard perfect set up in the bush that includes chairs around a campfire, a full bar, and appetizers…all while out in the open with the wildlife as the sun is setting. I think I could have sundowners in the bush every night on safari!
We also enjoyed a surprise breakfast in the bush by the Karen Blixen Camp. This was on our first morning and we were still taking in the fact that we were here on safari. What a special surprise to kick off this adventure.
On our last evening in Kenya, we booked a private dinner in the bush. This is an absolute “not to be missed” meal with the camp. We had a buffet spread for two with flowing wine, lit only by candlelight and campfire. The staff of the camp were all around us keeping an eye. I think this could have been the most romantic meal I have ever had in my life. After the time we had spent on safari, I felt so at ease and one with my surroundings. Of course I got emotional! It hit me hard on this meal that we were leaving this magical place. The tears and wine were flowing as we cheers to everything that we had seen, learned, and experienced.
My trip to Africa lived up to the life changing reputation. It is simply impossible to compare a trip like this to other vacations. I think the more that I travel, the more that I crave a deeper kind of travel. Don’t get me wrong, I do love sipping margaritas and relaxing poolside. However, trips like this one are so unique and bring my spirit to life. In the words of Karen Blixen, “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions”.
A Few Tips To Prepare For This Trip
I flew from the USA to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. This is a long flight and a big time difference, so I opted to spend three nights in Nairobi to rest up for all the action coming up on safari.
I visited a travel health consultant at Passport Health five weeks prior to taking this trip. I learned everything I needed to know to keep me healthy on my African adventure. These travel consultants will discuss and inject recommended and required vaccinations, prescribe medications such as malaria, and advise you on mosquito repellants. True fact…I get eaten alive everywhere I travel. I followed the guidance of my health consultant and did not get one bite on my two week trip. This a game changer for future trips!
In order to enter the country of Kenya at the time of my travels, one was required to obtain a Visa, a negative PCR Covid Test (regardless of vaccination), and complete an online Health Surveillance Form. This info seems to be consistently changing, so it is best to check the embassy website for what is required prior to entry/exit.
Thank you to to the staff at the Karen Blixen Camp for some of the best travel memories of my life!!
It has been a dream of mine to take a vacation in Tulum, Mexico for some time. I have spent time in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen, but had only visited Tulum for the day on past trips. I loved it so much that after spending time there on a couple of day trips, I dedicated months researching condos for sale, coming very close to purchasing one. If you look in my “About Me” section of this blog, one of my goals was to retire in Tulum. Quite a statement after only taking a couple of day trips there. I guess it’s safe to say I fell in love on my day trip visits, so you can imagine my excitement to plan a two week trip!
Tulum is located about a two hour drive south of Cancun, and close to the border of Belize. It has a very boho chic vibe with crystal clear Caribbean waters, and white powder sand beaches. It’s paradise!
Mexico has always held a very special place in my heart. I got married in Zihuatanejo, renewed my vows in Puerto Vallarta, celebrated my husband’s 40th in Cabo San Lucas, and have spent time in a total of eight different locations in Mexico.
After several cancelled and postponed trips since the pandemic hit, I was thrilled to hear that Tulum had opened up for tourism. Yes, I was nervous to travel. Yes, I was very nervous to fly. And yes, I was nervous to be out of my own country while the positive cases around the world were present. That being said, I was also VERY itchy to take a trip! After months of shelter in place (aka quarantine), I had made a choice that (for me) it was time to get back to enjoying life. It was time to start living with the virus, and not hiding from it. Certainly not questioning the seriousness of this issue. I find it to be very serious! However, fear had been controlling my mind set, and physical actions for months. I don’t feel that the fear completely left me until I arrived at my hotel in Tulum. I was overtaken by the peaceful paradise on the beautiful beach.
I chose to stay at the Diamante K. And let me tell you, this is not your average hotel! It fits right in with the vibe of Tulum, and delivers very boho chic accommodations. It is a beachfront hotel located in a National Park, and is just 2.5 kilometres from the ruins. It offers cabana style rooms with thatch roofs, beach club, restaurant, bar, and spa. We enjoyed a very relaxing oceanfront couples massage that was much needed after a long flight. Upon arriving, my husband and I were checked in to the most beautiful suite! Our room looked directly at the ocean. We were so close to the ocean that I could throw a rock into the water from our room. Of course my first order of business was to get a fresh squeezed spicy margarita. As I was ordering “fresh squeezed”, the bartender giggled and said that I didn’t need to order it that way as all the drinks were fresh squeezed. Ahhhh….jackpot! The food was amazing too. I ate breakfast there almost every day, and switched between the huevos divorciados (divorced eggs) and huevos rancheros. So good! Lunch and dinner were just as delicious. I had my fair share of fresh fish, ceviche, and guacamole. The food and drinks were superb, and very reasonable.
Back to our room…we had a bathroom that was completely outdoors. Outdoor showers in the jungle make me happy! I never sleep well on my first few nights of being somewhere new. So, I enjoyed the most picturesque sunrises right from my room, or I would take a few steps outside and sit oceanfront to watch the show. I’m not a morning person at home, so this was really refreshing to enjoy this time of day. The birds seem to come alive at sunrise, and are peacefully loud. It’s really nothing less than paradise. One huge bonus about this hotel is that there are no TV’s on the property. This couldn’t have come at a better time in my life. Just what the doctor ordered to take a mental break from the chaotic news going on at home in the USA.
The Diamante K is pretty close to the Hotel Zone, and downtown Tulum, however it is not walkable. We tried our hand at the cute beach bikes, but it was just too hot to get around this way for our liking. We then rented a little jeep that looked like a toddler toy, and broke down twice. Lastly we tried a motor bike/scooter. There are not many people that I would trust to ride on a scooter with, but my husband happens to be one I do. We rented from Tours R Us, who gave us a great deal. They had the best selection of vehicles that we had seen in our entire two week stay. They are located in the heart of the Hotel Zone, and offer much more than scooters. I highly recommend!
Hotel Zone/Downtown Tulum
A boho chic vibe is my favorite kind of vibe, which is why I probably love it so much here. Tulum is sort of a Miami-meets-jungle kind of place. There are amazing restaurants, beach clubs, and bars.
Favorite Restaurants: It is so hard to share my favorite restaurant. I literally did not have one bad meal in my entire two weeks. If f I have to choose, it would be Hartwood. We ate at so many great places but this was my favorite meal. I had tuna tostadas, a whole fish, and passion fruit spicy margaritas. Very cool ambiance and thumping chill music. If you are looking for a more casual meal, my favorite cheap eat in the Hotel Zone is the outdoor food truck bar named Tulumunchies. It has several food trucks that offer tacos, burgers, pizza, and poke bowls. We opted to eat here several times throughout the trip.
Favorite Bar: Hands down Clan-Destino! This is a very casual bar with a DJ, and a cenote in the middle. It tripped me out when we walked in to find people swimming in the little cenote at night. Very fun place!
Favorite Beach Club: Papaya Playa Project. This place is absolutely awesome! We came here for the day, and reserved a bed on the beach. The club has a DJ with sand as a dance floor, pool, and awesome restaurant and bar. It wasn’t the cheapest stop, but it was one of our favorite days spent in Tulum.
Downtown Tulum: On nights where we felt like changing it up a bit, and spending a little less money, we would head to downtown Tulum. My favorite dinner here was at Burrito Amor. The burritos come wrapped in banana leaves, and they pride themselves on clean ingredients. Delish! This area is also where we scored all of our souvenirs to bring home.
Activities & Tours
After days of unwinding and getting to know Tulum, we were ready to do some exploring. I took a friend’s suggestion, and booked a tour to the Sian Ka’an Bioreserve. This tour was booked by our hotel, through a company called Mayikal Experiences, and boy did we luck out! We had the most knowledgeable guide, who not only was a great deal, but was also a blast to spend the day with. He made sure we saw dolphins, huge turtles, and 1,000 pound bird nests. He led us snorkeling to swim with sting rays, huge schools of fish, and lobsters. The water was some of the most beautiful water I have ever seen in my life. I’m sure I have written this in past posts, but this time I mean it. Haha. It was truly crystal clear! My hubby did back flips off the back of the boat as we enjoyed our day frolicking. We finished it off with an ocean front fresh lobster lunch. Absolutely perfect day! I can not recommend this tour, and the tour company enough! Because of Covid, Sian Ka’an would not allow tours with people who were not from the same family, so we got private! Such a great day!
My second choice for exploring Tulum would be to visit the cenotes. There are over 6,000 cenotes in the area available for endless exploring. We had planned to do the cenotes at the end of our trip. Don’t ask me how two weeks came and went so quickly, but all of a sudden the end of the trip had shown it’s face (to our disappointment). We ended up not wanting to trade one of our very last days of relaxation for the cenotes because we had visited them on our last trip. So we skipped it this time. If you are new to this area, exploring the centoes are a must!
Tulum has some very famous photo ops. My favorite was Daniel Popper’s towering wooden sculpture Ven A La Luz, which stands at the entrance to the Ahau Hotel . Be prepared to wait in line to get this photo. Also, don’t visit in the middle of the day because the sun is right above you, and the lighting is much too bright. Go in the morning or evening. A trip to Casa Malca is sure to give you some great pics as well! This was Pablo Escobar’s mansion that was turned into an artsy hotel. Very beautiful property! I was so bummed to see that Azulik was closed. I was hoping to explore that beautiful property as well, and enjoy a sunset dinner above the trees in one of their dining nests. Next time!
What It Was Like In Tulum During The Pandemic
I felt very safe in Tulum with the Pandemic going on. Besides the fact that being surrounded by paradise made me forget about it completely, Tulum did take lots of precautions to keep the virus at bay. All hotels, restaurants, and bars were limited to a 30% occupancy. We were required to temperature check, and wash/sanitize hands before entering most places. All of the staff we encountered in the Hotel Zone wore a mask, however tourists were not required unless entering a store-like establishment. We were required to wear a mask entering places of business in downtown Tulum. Most of the tours surrounding Tulum were open, some cenotes were open, however the ruins were closed. Because our hotel was located in a National Park (which was also closed), the only people that could come near our hotel were guests that were staying there or people who had made reservations to enjoy the facilities.
As we all know, we are living in a world that is changing by the day. What I experienced could be different by the time you read this. The best bet is to contact the hotel you are considering prior to travel to ask how the current Covid situation is in Tulum.
Here are the items I did not use on my trip: 1) High heels. Although I saw many gals very glammed up at the higher end places, I opted to stay in sandal flats. I did a lot of walking, with a lot of time spent at the beach, so heels just didn’t work for this trip. I was either barefoot or in sandals the entire time. 2) Curling iron. Save the weight in your bag and leave it at home. It’s absolutely pointless with the humidity and heat. 3) Workout bands and shoes. OOPS! I was having too much fun to workout, although yoga classes are huge in the area. 3) Really dressy clothes. I couldn’t get out of my bathing suit and cover ups. LOL! For the guys…my husband also didn’t wear anything dressy. He lived in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops.
Make sure to bring cash with you everywhere! Many businesses only accept cash.
All in all, I came to find out that although I have LOVED all of my travels in Mexico, Tulum takes the cake as my favorite. It is definitely a place that I will visit again and again. That’s saying a lot because I don’t usually like to repeat destinations.
One thing this trip deeply reminded me of was that I travel to have balance in my life. It’s important to feed your soul with what makes you happy, and for me that is traveling. I need to escape reality sometimes! With the pandemic, I was neglected balance in my life. I had been glued to the scary news every day. I was also getting way too emotionally involved in the chaos going on in the USA. This trip gave me back my balance. With no TV’s available, I was forced to listen to crashing waves in lieu of the news. And guess what??? As I’m sitting here writing this blog from back home, I have yet to turn on the news this entire week. I think I’m avoiding it at this point, as I’m still riding the mental high from this trip. Tulum gave me back my balance when I needed it most, and reminded me to enjoy my life no matter what is going on around me.
Probably the single most common question I have gotten about this trip is how I came to choose Jordan as my destination. I have to give credit to social media for this one. I was inspired by other travel bloggers that I follow. I wouldn’t have known or seen the highlights of travel in Jordan without social media. I saw so many beautiful photos posted of this country. But it wasn’t just the scenery that inspired me. It was also that they spoke of how kind the people are, and how safe the country is. I hope that my readers, and people that keep up with me on social media are somehow inspired too. That’s why I started this blog in the first place. I love to share and inspire places to travel to that people may not think of, or even know to visit. For this trip, I was somewhat yearning for a more cultural travel experience than I have had in my other vacations. I’m so excited to share the details of this with you because I definitely achieved just that!
Jordan is located in the middle of Egypt, Israel, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. It has been called the eye of the storm because it is a very peaceful country despite it’s sometimes inharmonious neighbors. I coupled this trip with a visit to Israel and spent eight days in each country, but for this blog, I’m going to cover only Jordan.
Welcome to Jordan! I crossed the border from Israel to Jordan on foot at the Wadi Araba Border Crossing. You must cross on foot because Israel taxi’s are not allowed in Jordan. So, I took an Israeli taxi to the border crossing, walked across the border into Jordan, and took a Jordanian taxi to my first top. My route through the country was Petra, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and the Dead Sea/Amman.
Drinking in Jordan: I had read that there is little to no alcohol throughout the country, as it is against the Muslim religion. Although we were staying at a very nice place in Petra (first stop) that did serve alcohol, the Wadi Rum Desert (our second stop), did not. There aren’t liquor stores to stop at, and only certain cities have such stores. This meant we had to plan upon entering the country, and bring it with us through our travels. As we crossed the border, we came across a duty free liquor store. Jackpot! We had planned to drive a bit out of the way, so you can imagine how happy we were to see one at the border. As we went through the final security scan, we got stopped by multiple guards who had to call in the General about our alcohol. Apparently we had purchased on the Israel side of the crossing, which was 20 feet before crossing into Jordan. That store had felt like it was too good to be true! It felt like we endured an eternity of interrogation. After pleading and sweet talking about our accidental mistake, the General yelled out “WELCOME TO JORDAN!”, and let us pass with all of our libations. It was a little bit of a rocky start to entering, and I certainly don’t recommend rolling the dice like this at the border. We got very lucky! After wiping all the sweat from our brows and shaking our nerves, we jumped in a taxi to our first stop in Petra.
Petra is known as the “Lost City”, and is one of the Wonders of the World. It is also the most visited site in all of Jordan. If you are an Indiana Jones fan, then you are familiar with this site. For those that aren’t, Petra was once a trading center and capital of the Nabataean empire between 400 B.C. and 106 A.D. Following this, the city sat empty for centuries. In the 1800’s it was rediscovered! You need to purchase your tickets to enter the park to Petra in advance. Once inside the park, it’s a little over a mile walk to the Treasury. Being how popular this site is, we opted to enter the park at opening hour (6:00am) to beat the crowds and heat. It was also quite cool having this mysterious site mostly to ourselves so early in the morning. We got a ton of great pictures without people in the background, which is always important to me. Once down there you can enjoy some tea and refreshments, buy souvenirs, and take a camel or donkey ride if you don’t feel like exploring Petra on foot.
Because of our early start at the park, we were back at our hotel by lunch time. I chose the Movenpick Petra for our accommodations for several reasons. Not only is this hotel absolutely stunning with seven phenomenal restaurants, but: 1) The hotel is located right across the street from the Petra park entrance. 2) It is the only hotel with a pool that isn’t miles away from the park entrance. Since we were visiting in June, this was a must for me. 3) It is the only hotel in the area that serves alcohol. Wow, I feel like I am talking about alcohol quite a bit in this blog. Haha!! I don’t mean to come off as a total professional, but I did a lot of research on this, and want to share it because it was important to us. We envisioned having a cold beer after exploring the park (which we did), spending a day by the pool with mimosas (which we did), and enjoying wine with our picturesque rooftop BBQ dinner (which we did)! The hotel was a perfect fit for us, and I can’t say enough about how great the service was. If you are visiting Petra, book this hotel! You will not be disappointed.
Wadi Rum Desert is known as the Valley of the Moon, and has the reputation of being Mars on Earth. It is easy to see why they filmed the movie “The Martian” here. It’s crazy that places like this exist, and are just a plane ride away. Talk about a spot to do some soul searching! We decided to do a real Bedouin experience, and camp in the desert. I chose Sun City Camp for our camp ground, and sprung the extra dough for the Martian Bubble Tent. This was the most unique accommodations I have ever experienced. The word “tent” doesn’t do it justice, as this is a true glamping (glamorous camping) experience. The Martian Bubble tents are clear so that you can stare at the beautiful desert in the day and watch the stars come alive at nigh, all while lying in a bed that felt like a cloud. So comfy! These tents are perfectly air conditioned with a full bathroom and refrigerator. Perfect place to store the hooch we were lugging around that had been purchased at the border crossing. Upon calling this camp to inquire about liquor, I was told they don’t serve alcohol or allow it in common areas, however they were completely ok with us enjoying it in our tent. So there in our bubble tent fridge, our drinks chilled. Breakfast and dinner are included in the hotel price, and all meals are served in the main dining hall. Every night the camp has a ceremony where they pull the Zarb BBQ dinner out of the ground where the meat has been cooking all day in the earth ovens. We all eat the best buffet you can imagine (seriously the food was to die for), and then the music starts thumping as they light a campfire, serve Turkish tea, and smoke hookahs. I even joined in on a dance around the campfire. Cultural travel experience?? Check!
We did two excursions during our stay at Sun City. One sunset truck ride through the desert, and one sunset camel ride through the desert. It’s hard to say which one I enjoyed more. The truck ride was super exhilarating! We were straight up railing through the desert as we blasted music. It was so much fun! The camel ride was very relaxing, and we stopped for a pit stop to watch the sunset in the sand with our camels. We also got incredibly lucky as both of these excursions were private. Just us and our guide…and our camels. LOL. Totally amazing!
After camping in the Wadi Rum Desert, we were ready for some beach time. Aqaba is exactly that…a beach town on the Red Sea. The Red Sea is well known for it’s water sports, and we were excited to enjoy the ocean and infinity pool at the hotel overlooking it. We stayed at Al Manara, a Luxury Collection Hotel, because it just looked like the most gorgeous hotel ever! The rates were really great for this type of hotel at $175 per night. Aqaba was the hottest leg of the trip, so it was a good thing we had the ocean, and the hotel infinity pool. Our first day, we were in that pool from the moment we woke up until the sun went down. We literally swam all day long! The second day we chartered a boat to take us snorkeling in the Red Sea. The Red Sea is huge for diving, but I’m a scaredy cat and prefer to snorkel. While out on the water, we could visibly see Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Jordan. It was pretty cool! We explored a ton of coral, a huge sunken ship, and jumping off the top of the boat into the refreshing Red Sea. My husband hit 1,389,486 back flips off the top of that boat. Haha! In case you were wondering, most hotels in Aqaba serve cocktails, but only a couple of restaurants in the city square (which was walkable) do.
Well, really our “4th Stop” was a long day of travel with a stop at the Dead Sea, and dinner in Amman. Our flight home was at 3:00am, and the Amman airport is located on the opposite side of the country from Aqaba. We decided to spend our last day driving the four hour cross country trip with a stop at the Dead Sea, and a second stop in the capital for a late dinner. We hired a taxi driver for nine hours, which cost us $300. This was cheaper than the little hopper flight we could have taken from Aqaba to Amman, and was a much better way to see more of the country on our last day.
We arrived at the Dead Sea about one hour before sunset. Perfect timing! The Dead Sea is actually a lake, not a sea. It is a lifeless body of water, hence the name. It is eight or nine times saltier than the oceans of the world. It is so dense and mineral rich that it doesn’t even feel like normal water, but more like olive oil mixed with sand. The Dead sea is the lowest point on earth, and receding rapidly at 3 feet per year. I felt incredibly lucky to experience it before it possibly disappears forever. Here lies the famous photo op of a person reading a book while floating. It is impossible for one to sink in the Dead Sea due to the salt levels being so high. So, I just bobbed and floated watching my final sunset in Jordan. The mud also has a ton of minerals in it that is great for smoothing your skin. I missed the memo that said not to shave the day of doing this, and after I rubbed the mud all over my body, I broke out in a complete rash. Fail! Also, you can’t put your face in the water due to how strong the salt is. While posing for a photo, I took a wave in the face, and water shot in my eyes, nose, and throat. I kid you not, I thought I was going to go blind. It hurt so bad! I also tossed my cookies. Double fail! I haven’t thrown up since my very early drinking days, when my drink of choice was a 40oz of Mickey’s. I was on a budget back then. LOL. Regardless of what I had to go through…I got the photo!
Last stop was a late night rooftop dinner in Amman at Canteloupe. This is located in the perfect location to view the entire city, ruins, and huge Jordanian flag that blows in the wind. It was a great place to squeeze in our last supper of beef carpaccio and pasta as we looked over the city lights. The food was phenomenal! We were done at 11:30pm and headed to the airport for our 3:00am flight. Bye bye Jordan!!!
Side note on attire for the ladies: For those of you gals who are curious how to dress in Jordan, this is for you. You are welcome to wear whatever you want in your hotel or while out in the Wadi Rum Desert. However, any time I was outside of these areas, I covered up my shoulders and chest. I actually just wore my typical sundresses and wrapped a scarf around my shoulders and chest. It worked perfectly. It was definitely very interesting to me to visit a country where most women wear head scarfs at all times, some in full Niqab (covers everything but the eyes). But I have to say, the women and Jordanian people in general, were so kind. They truly do welcome all cultures and religions with open arms!
Thanks for reading! Check out my YouTube video below for the vlog version of this trip! If you are a YouTuber, please Like and Subscribe. 🙂
Most of us think of Las Vegas as Sin City or an adult playground. Well, in reality, there’s a ton of stuff to do with kids. In this blog, I’m going to talk about the top things to do with kids that puts a totally different spin on our thinking of what a Las Vegas vacation is all about. And if you have a teenager in the house (like me), you can even manage to sneak in a pretty epic date night in the midst of all that family fun.
The trip I planned was on Spring Break while the kids were out of school. I always plan a family trip for Spring Break, and try not to go too far being the kids have to jump right back into school after one week off. I also try to avoid flying on this week of vacay, because getting a family of six anywhere with flights increases my cost incredibly. If we are flying and spending that extra money, I prefer to have more time than one week to enjoy the trip. So, I save those trips at far away places for different times in the year. The kids got so excited about Las Vegas, and the thought of seeing a little example of different places in the world such as the Paris, New York New York, Venetian, and Caesars hotels. The weather is absolutely perfect at this time of year in Las Vegas at 80-85 degrees. We initially had planned to drive to Las Vegas (from Northern California). However, at the last second we started to dread the 10-12 hours in the car with four children. LOL. We decided on taking the train instead. This was such a great idea! It was a new and exciting experience for the kids! We scored great seats with four top tables. We could work, do school work, play electronics, get up and walk around, grab a drink at the bar, eat at the cafe when we were hungry, all while avoiding traffic and not stopping to use the restroom every five minutes. The train was in no way faster than flying but it was WAAAAYYYY better than driving and was half the cost of flying our family of six. Being there is no need for a car in Vegas, this ended up being a great choice for us.
It is absolutely ridiculous for my family of six to stay in a regular hotel room (IMO), and I refuse to do it unless it is a short weekend trip. When I’m with my entire family, I need to have more space and a full kitchen to feed their hungry mouths that are asking for food every 30 minutes. Hashtag TRUTH. Las Vegas is mostly hotels near the Strip, but I came across a place called Tahiti Village online. Guys, this place ended up being totally awesome for a family trip! The rooms were huge condos with full kitchens but the property was more like a grand hotel. If we didn’t feel like cooking or going out, we had a restaurant and bar right on the property. The best part about this place was the pools and activities. They had a huge pool with a sandy beach entry where they held sand castle making contests and a long lazy river with intertubes, which is where my kids spent most of their time. An evening movie on the grass was shown twice per week. It was perfect! Tahiti Village is located just a mile from the Strip, so we could take the free shuttle, or jump in a quick Uber ride to all the Las Vegas action.
Top Things to Do
Ok, so let’s get into it. What are the top things to do in Las Vegas with kids?? Well, we barely could scratch the surface in one week but these were my top picks.
High Roller is a 550-foot tall, giant Ferris wheel on the Las Vegas Strip. It is currently the worlds tallest ferris wheel and is a 30 minute ride. This absolutely puts those county fair ferris wheels to shame, and will be quite the experience for your little ones.
Circus Circus is definitely the most kid friendly hotel on the Las Vegas Strip, and is where the Adventure Dome is located. The Adventure Dome is a five acre indoor/outdoor Adventure Amusement Park. The kids can ride rides, play games, rock climb, and even catch a creepy clown show.
Las Vegas has some of the best shopping! I have two teenage girls in the house, so we snuck away for a girls day, and hit the shops. We visited several malls, but the Forum Shops at Caesars were our favorite. The hotel is really beautiful, and you feel as though you are shopping in Rome, Italy.
Our kids are crazy for sugar (who’s aren’t?), and when we spoil them with a sugary treat they are so so so happy (before they turn into little monsters). What better place to take them than the Sugar Factory!? This place is located right on the Strip, and the menu is filled with things like Cheeseburgers with donuts for buns, fried chicken and waffles, or a truly gourmet stack of pancakes and chocolate. The $20 milkshakes are pricey, but you simply have to try one. Everything is a total sugar masterpiece. It’s a really beautiful restaurant too with elegant decor, and is a true sugary fine dining experience. We ate dinner here, and then returned for a milkshake on our girls day in the middle of shopping. Yum yum!
We set the teenagers free one day to do more shopping, and went to see some tigers and dolphins with our little guys at Siegfriend and Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat. Here, you come face-to-face with some of nature’s most exotic creatures. Explore, learn and play in an enchanting world of bottlenose dolphins, white tigers, white lions, and leopards. The little guys loved it!
SlotZilla is a 11-story slot machine-inspired zip line attraction on Fremont Street, and is one of the best things to do in Las Vegas! It was $25 per person or $45 if you want to do Superman Style. I thought these prices were great for the experience you receive! Making a reservation in advance is a must. I made mine one week in advance. The wait could be hours if you don’t have a reservation. I personally think it is best to do this once the sun goes down and the Las Vegas lights are shining as bright as can be.
Ok, so now that you’ve walked up and down the strip and gotten a taste of all the Las Vegas action, why not take a 15 minute ride outside of the strip to see a beautiful place in the middle of the desert called Seven Magic Mountains? A large scale desert artwork comprised of seven towers of colorfully stacked boulders standing more than thirty feet high. If you can believe it, our kids wanted to go at dawn to experience the sun coming up in the middle of the desert. I can never get my kids to catch a sunrise. This was an absolutely beautiful experience, and one I think they will remember forever!
I think this was our favorite strip hotel to visit as a family. We visited Houdini’s Magic Shop, which the kids stayed at for over an hour learning magic tricks. There was a bar right outside the magic shop where mom and dad posted up for some adult beverages. We road the Big Apple Roller Coaster…well, half of us did. The other half who were either too scared or too small, stayed back in the enormous arcade. We ate awesome pizza by the slice, and snuck in a little gambling. This was definitely a day of fun for everyone, with a good mix of adult and kid things to do.
Located within walking distance from Tahiti Village is Town Square. Town Square is a shopping, dining, and entertainment center. There is a huge park in the center of the square with a train ride, playground, and hoolla hooping for all. A lot of the restaurants have patios that overlook the park so the adults can enjoy some wine while keeping an eye on the kiddos. This is an awesome place to go out to eat or shop if you don’t feel like dealing with the craziness of the Strip.
Named the “Best Free attraction in Las Vegas” is the Mermaid’s Aquarium. It’s a huge tank filled with tropical fish and live mermaids that interact with the guests. My kids are Disney’s Little Mermaid fans, so this was a really cute experience for them to wave and blow kisses to real mermaids.
So there you have it!! These were my top things to do with a family in Las Vegas. This ended up being one of our favorite spring break vacations! Easy too if you live in California or Nevada. Hopefully this shows Las Vegas in a different light for you, and that this trip really can be fun for the entire family!
Thanks for reading!!! For the vlog version of the Blog, see my YouTube video below. If you are a youtuber, please like and subscribe. 🙂
When my best friend called to chat about where she should have her adult only birthday getaway, we were a bit stumped. As a group of friends traveling together, we had done Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Lake Tahoe. ” What about Scottsdale, AZ?” she asked. We had heard so many great travel stories from people who visit for Major League Baseball’s Spring Training that raved about the great weather, awesome golfing, and endless nightlife. It sounded like a perfect idea!
When I had heard about travels to Scottsdale, the W Scottsdale always came up in conversation. It is definitely known as THE place to stay in this area of Arizona. Once we had decided on our destination, we knew there was only one place we wanted to call home for this trip….the W Scottsdale. This hotel is the perfect mix of luxury and party! It is a modern hotel with epic weekend pool parties. The biggest plus is that the location can’t be beat. Walk out of the hotel and across the street, and you are in the heart of downtown Scottsdale. This is known as the Entertainment District and has a true reputation for pulsating nightlife.
From the moment you walk through the doors at this beautiful hotel, you are treated like kings and queens. The service is stellar! The hotel lobby is gorgeous with uber chic furnishings, and an illuminated stairway that takes you to the Wet Deck. This is where the pool is located, and they hold all their outdoor events.
I chose the newly renovated Cool Corner Suite for my room on this trip. This suite is absolutely stunning! Floor to ceiling windows and a large balcony with a perfect view overlooking the pool. I had some major breakfast goals on this balcony while sipping some bubbly, and living the true lap of luxury.
I have been to some pretty fun pool parties, but the Wet Deck at the W Scottsdale is by far one of my favorites. It was an absolute blast! The sexy VIP waitresses bring you bottle service on the shoulders of their sexy male helpers, while the DJ thumps some liquid lounge meets hip hop tunes. The music definitely had me shaking my bon bon all day long! They have an array of comfy day beds, lounging pods, and private cabanas. But the real party is in the pool!!
The W Scottsdale’s motto is “Lust For Life”, and after spending the weekend here, I can understand why! Myself, my husband, and our group of friends had the time of our lives at this hotel that is a haven for style. Scottsdale has most definitely joined my list of favorite party cities in the United States!
Thanks for reading! For the Vlog version of this trip, see my YouTube video below. If you are a youtuber, please Like and Subscribe! 🙂
Greece has always been at the top of my bucket list. It was #2 on my list to be exact. I assure you that I can not accurately describe in words how over the moon excited I was to take this trip! I will say this right off the bat..this certainly was not the cheapest vacation I have ever taken. I started out with a budget, and went way over. I had to take side job after side job to cover this dream of mine, but it was worth every penny.
Greece has so many islands, all which are very spread apart. Unless you are taking a cruise or traveling for a long period of time, you need to plan what islands you want to see. It isn’t one of those places that you can island hop day by day and see all there is to see, like my trip to the British Virgin Islands or Croatia (which is next up on my list to do a barbeboating trip). I had two weeks in Greece so I chose the Cyclades Islands . I decided on three stops: Mykonos, Santorini, and Athens. I was so happy with these choices! Each stop was so polar different from the other, and it really mixed things up. Mykonos was party time, Santorini was relaxing time, and Athens was a beautiful city.
San Francisco to Mykonos is quite the journey. Long travel days are not ideal, but if that’s what I have to do to get to places like this, then that’s what I have to do. I will never skip a place to see in the world because the flight is too long. After a long day and night of travel, I arrived at my Ornos Suites Airbnb in Ornos Beach, Mykonos at about 2:00am. I was about 90 feet from the sand, which is why I chose Ornos Beach. It was really difficult to find Airbnb properties that were oceanfront on Mykonos. I was excited to check out my surroundings, anxious for my first Greek cocktail, and feeling a little hungry. I assumed I would have zero options at that hour. Wrong!!! All the bars and restaurants stay open super late, and are straight up crack-a-lackin all night long. Ornos Beach was beautiful and actually ended up being my favorite after I had explored the entire island. Mykonos beaches are filled with beach clubs that thump music played by world renown DJs from the day to the night to the morning. It doesn’t stop. I wouldn’t call this island the most relaxing. It was party time….all the time. Ornos Beach was just the right amount of party mixed with the ability to unwind and relax. I would say it is one of the more quiet beaches on Mykonos. It is a beach cove lined with amazing restaurants in the sand. The bars play music here, but they don’t have that beach club vibe that most of the other beaches had in Mykonos.
Being that I enjoyed my first meal and cocktail at 3:00am it was safe to say that I was sleeping in the next morning. A bit of an understatement as I woke up at 4:00pm panicking that I would miss my sunset table reservation at Scorpios Sunset Party. Scorpios is said to be one of the best beach clubs in Europe, and I can see why. This is by far my favorite beach club I have ever been to in my life! And it is the ONLY place to be on a Sunday. They throw their weekly sunset party on Sundays, and honestly it is a “must see” when visiting Mykonos. The music and vibe at this club were so good! Dress to impress in your sexy beach wear and get ready to see a very beautiful crowd of people. I danced the night away, which turned into dancing the morning away back at one of the bars in Ornos Beach, and then lead to watching one of the most beautiful sunrises I have seen. I’m not much of a morning person so this was a huge perk of not being adjusted to the time difference just yet.
On day two I slept half the day away, and I rented an ATV to explore the island. I landed at Lohan Beach House. Lindsay Lohan went from Hollywood star to Beach Club Owner in Greece. Talk about reinventing yourself! This beach club has a sexy boho chic vibe with a great DJ on a beautiful beach. I want to copy her decorating style and make my home look exactly like her club. It was beautiful…you go girl!!
Mykonos Town is filled with all the classic white and blue traditional Greek homes. Wandering around here truly makes you fall in love with Greece. It also has tons of shopping, and lots of bars and restaurants. I visited Mykonos Town once in the day and once in the night. Just exploring the streets of Mykonos Town is worth the trip to Greece alone! While here, you can also check out the Windmills and Little Venice. The entire area is pretty small and walkable. At night you can choose from an array of amazing restaurants (OMG the food in Greece is so good) and do…what else…shake your booty all night long at any one of the fun bars that are everywhere. I chose to eat a seafood dinner at Nice and Easy Restaurant . It’s right on the water and the seafood was to die for!!
More beaches to see exploring on a quad.
We wanted to see every square inch of Mykonos, so we rented a quad to do more exploring. Honestly, this is a “must do” recommendation of mine. Riding a scooter or quad in Mykonos is extremely common, and it is how most tourists get around on their own. Of course you can rent a car, take the bus, or call an uber, but I really encourage you to explore on a quad at least for one day, if you are experienced enough to drive one of course. Most people don’t wear helmets, and although this was a bit scary to me, I went with it. Not only did I go with it, but I ended up getting comfortable enough to cruise around in a bikini. LOL. Driving through the mountains and seeing the most beautiful views of Greece would have been enough of an adventure, but we beach hopped the day away.
Elia Beach: This is the most beautiful beach on Mykonos (IMO). It was also the most relaxing on the island. Definitely the most family friendly as well. The water was crystal clear! It was absolute paradise. There is a restaurant and bar here, so you can post up for the whole day in total relaxation mode.
Psarou Beach: This beach is where the world famous beach club Nammos is located. We had planned on spending an entire day here, but the locals talked us out of it. Although it is the most famous club in Mykonos, it is also crazy expensive. We were told to expect to spend $1,000 in our afternoon there. Although an experience to dance on tables, spray champagne on each other, and stare at multi-million dollar yachts sounded amazing, we opted to save our duckets.
Paradise Beach and Super Paradise Beach: These beaches are right next to each other but are separated. Seriously, these places were wild. They had world famous DJ’s thumping the beach while everyone, and I mean everyone, danced their butts off. I’m sure it has become clear through this blog by now that coming to Mykonos means sleep when your dead!!
ON TO THE SECOND LEG TO THE ISLAND OF SANTORINI
We took the ferry from Mykonos to Santorini, which took close to three hours. The ferry was really nice, and fast. That baby was cookin’, and it was so beautiful to see all the little Greek Islands along the way.
I can’t even put into words (again) how magnificent the views on this island are. This island is straight up and straight down, but truly the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Santorini was so different from Mykonos! It is so incredibly romantic, scenic, and relaxing. I was ready for this after all that hooting and hollering in Mykonos.
My Stay in Oia
I chose to stay in a traditional cave Airbnb property in Oia. It is called Armenaki. It was awesome! It was a true cave room that had the most postcard worthy view of any other place I have ever stayed in. A cave room is exactly what it sounds like…a room that’s a cave. It was sort of a studio tube in the mountain with a bedroom, full kitchen, bathroom, and breathtaking porch. It was perfect for a couple. I love staying in hotels, but this Airbnb property was a genuine Greek experience. Let me just say that this is one of those vacations that I am so thankful I took while I am able, and in shape. The hike up/down from our cave room to town was no joke, and would never work for anyone with any sort of disability, elderly, young children, or someone who isn’t in decent shape. If you fall into any of these categories, I would suggest staying away from the mountainside properties in Oia, and recommend going to a hotel.
Hike Oia to Fira
The hike from Oia to Fira is a must! You need to be in good shape, but it is just breathtaking! The hike is around 8 miles (one way). It is much more challenging from Oia to Fira, as it’s all uphill. If you were going Fira to Oia, you can count on a pretty easy walk downhill. I can officially say I sweat out all of those Mykonos toxins on this day. Haha! But you don’t do this hike for the work out, you do it for the views. These words come to mind: grandiose, magnificent, stunning, unbelievable, and scary. Again, just the most amazing views I have ever seen in my life. Fira is much more laid back than Oia. Oia is filled with romantic restaurants, art galleries, and very high end hotels. Fira is the Capital of Santorini and has bars, cheaper eats, great souvenir shopping, and cheaper stays. It is a really great place to stay if you don’t want to pay the Oia prices, but still want to be close by.
Exploring Santorini by road.
Next up was exploring the other side of the island. We rented an ATV and ventured out to explore. I wore a helmet everywhere in Santorini. The roads were nothing like the back road feel of Mykonos, and felt much more like highways. Although a lot of people went without helmets, I did not feel safe. You’re welcome mom! 😉
Astarte Suites: I was invited to stop at the Astarte Suites to have a drink and enjoy the beautiful hotel. Huge perk to writing a Travel Blog! I initially wanted to stay at this hotel for my Santorini leg, because it simply looked like the most beautiful hotel on the island from the internet. I decided to go Airbnb, but if I had chosen a hotel, this would have been my dream place to call home for my time on the island. It was everything I imagined!!! It starts off with a stairway to heaven. It’s true! These steps have become pretty Instagram famous, and I see the stairway entrance to this hotel everywhere on the internet. Astarte Suites had a very boutique feel, yet so luxurious and high end. It was relaxing, while still playing great music that was loud enough to create a vibe, but not too loud to disrupt the peacefulness of the property. The best part was the most beautiful infinity pool overlooking the ocean. This is the definition of pool goals! And of course, the cherry on top was the swan floatie. You can never go wrong with a swan floatie!
Red Beach: The road to Red Beach feels like you are headed to no where. If you feel like you are lost the entire time, you are on the right path to Red Beach. After questioning our directions for quite a while, we decided to ask Siri for help. Believe it or not, she got us there. This is an absolutely beautiful beach with red rock and sand. It has a restaurant and bar too, so you can post up.
Parissa Beach: This is a very laid back beach lined with restaurants. Most of the restaurants own umbrellas on the beach in front of their places. After a meal, they will set you up with an umbrella and chairs, and serve you drinks in the sand.
Exploring Santorini by sea
OOOOMMMMGGGG!! Exploring Santorini by sea was my favorite day of the entire Greece trip! It was the one thing I wanted to do that was somewhat of an “excursion”. The problem (which is always the problem) was that my husband hates group activities. So that leaves us always having to do days like this privately, which is usually four times the cost. We knew we wanted to rent a boat without a captain. A boat in Santorini without a captain is so over the top expensive. So I found the absolute cheapest option possible. I kid you not, this boat looked like a big dingy with a motor. It was a total piece of crap. Piece of crap that cost $400 for the day! But it didn’t matter. It was all ours for the entire day to explore the beautiful ocean around Santorini. Old Betsy did the job, and we had the most amazing day! Having the freedom to explore at our own pace was the best. We swam in caves, bobbed in the water at the volcano eating cheese and drinking wine, went to lunch at a private beach club that you can only get to by boat, and watched the sunset before heading back to the marina. It was a full day at sea, and we swam in the ocean all day long.
THIRD LEG IN ATHENS
The ferry ride from Santorini to Athens is about 5 hours. We opted for first class, which is not much more, but it was very nice to have a bit more plush of a ride for that length of time. As we arrived at our Airbnb by cab we unloaded our bags to the sidewalk. We couldn’t locate the apartment right away, and apparently weren’t paying enough attention, because bam….we got robbed. Our backpack was plucked within minutes out of our pile of stuff sitting right next to us. This bag had our computer, Ipad, credit cards, batteries, money, and worst of all, our passports. What do you do when you lose your passports and you are out of the country?
Step 1 – Call your parents for advice. LOL.
Step 2 – File a police report so that you have proof of your loss, and you can hopefully make a claim through your insurance back at home.
Step 3 – Head down to the US Embassy to have emergency passports issued.
We only had three days in Athens and one of them was now designated to spending it at the Embassy. I was really thankful this happened at the end of our trip! This was completely our fault, and we know better! We consider ourselves to be very aware travelers but this goes to show you, anything can happen. Lesson learned…never again! On a more positive note, the US Embassy treated us like gold. I have to say, in a bad situation such as this, it felt pretty good to be an American.
Enjoying our final days in Greece
Athens is an absolutely beautiful city! Our Airbnb property was a penthouse apartment with a view of the Acropolis. This was the cheapest leg of the trip, and I got this penthouse for just over $100 per night. So cool to sit out on our patio enjoying some wine while staring at this beautiful site. Right below our apartment, the streets were lined with little alleyways of great bars, coffee shops, and shopping. We loved roaming around this area and getting lost in these alleys. Besides getting our bag stolen upon arrival, I never felt unsafe here. We roamed around into the wee hours of the night, and I never felt threatened.
With one day left to spare, we decided to head up to the Mont Parnes Casino on the recommendation of my aunt. I had planned to spend an entire day at the Acropolis, but we decided to sacrifice that day for the day spent at the Embassy, since we were able to stare at the Acropolis from our balcony. So we headed to the Casino to see if we could get a stroke of good luck. The gondola ride up to this casino was a bit scary, but wow what a view! Athens is huge, and we got a bird’s eye view of just how big the city really is. Once up there, we didn’t hit it big, but we ended up winning a couple hundred bucks to pay for our day of fun. It felt good! We finished our trip off with a huge shared plate of seafood spaghetti at the harbor in Athens. We cheersed a lot to how every moment of this trip was different. Opa! As always, I was feeling like I wanted a couple more days to spend here. This truly was the trip of a lifetime. Check off number two on the bucket list for Jessica Lynn!!
I flew into Panama City on a red eye and was lucky to be picked up by business associates of my husband, who gave us a tour of the city. I learned a lot in those three hours, along with having the best empanada of my life. Street food is safe to eat in Panama, and delicious! There are also fresh juice stands which are quite common, and so refreshing. I had two large fresh juices, which didn’t quite sit well with my three hour car ride. Best to always have quarters on you in Panama City as the bathrooms are public, but cost 25 cents. I learned interesting facts along this tour, such as the tap water is safe to drink, everything is negotiable in Panama (even the high end retail stores), and I got a detailed explanation of the definition of a Push Button. A “Push Button” in Panama is a very private motel (aka a love motel). Complete discretion and privacy is the main goal of these establishments. They are called “Push Button” because typically you can pull up to a window, push a button, slide some money through a slot, get a key, and head to a room all without actually seeing a person. Being that prostitution is legal in Panama, I’m sure these motels come in quite handy for those in need of privacy. This was personally not the most useful information to me, however it made for a very comical conversation. Our final stop along the tour was at the Fish Market for some ridiculously delicious, fresh, and cheap ceviche. After a red eye flight and a three hour tour, I was ready to relax at my hotel.
I decided to stay in the Casco Viejo area of Panama City. Casco Viejo (Spanish for Old Quarter) is the historic district of Panama City. It was built following the near total destruction of the original Panama City, which was attacked by pirates in 1671. I guess you can say it is the new old Panama City. After reading blog after blog about how this neighborhood is the hip and trendy area of the city, it sounded like a good fit. In the Casco Viejo neighborhood, you will find a huge difference from the busy metropolis of Panama City. This area is filled with old world charm of Spanish colonial buildings, boutique hotels, rooftop bars, and amazing restaurants. You won’t find any chain hotels or restaurants here. Everything is mom and pop.
I booked a room at the absolutely stunning American Trade Hotel. It is located in the heart of Casco Viejo, and everything you would want to see in this area is within walking distance. This hotel is the epitome of mixing old world charm with modern day luxury. This is one of the only hotels in the area with a pool. Let me tell you…it is necessary. Panama is hot and humid and I did not accomplish to have even one good hair day during my stay. Back to the hotel….Did I mention it was stunning? From the beautiful balcony room, food, ambiance, location, pool, grounds, service, adjacent jazz club, bar….I could go on and on. I spent a lot of time at the hotel on this trip, and it truly made my vacation unforgettable.
The food in Panama was phenomenal! I love to eat, and some of the dishes I had here completely blew my mind….dishes I had never heard of or tasted before. The cocktails are also superb. Rum is Panama’s alcohol of choice, however those that read my blogs know that I am a spicy margarita kind of gal. Panama did not disappoint! Every cocktail I had was fresh squeezed, and delicious. As you take the first sip of these drinks, you already want a second one.
I was only in Panama City for six days. I can officially say that I ate and drank my way through Casco Viejo. My favorite dining experience for traditional Panamanian food was Diablicos. They put on a show while you eat, and it was very lively, and fun. It is located directly in front of the President’s Palace, so you get to check that out during your walk to/from. My favorite Rooftop Bar? Well, I have two! Casa Casco, which is directly across the street from the American Trade Hotel, is a super chill spot with great drinks and postcard perfect views of Panama City. If you want a more lively rooftop scene, the best place to go (hands down) is the Tantalo. It is the closest you will get to a nightclub experience in this area. It is all outdoor on the rooftop with great music to dance to and a VIP area. BTW, the restaurant at this hotel is also amazing! I had my favorite meal of the trip at the Tantalo Kitchen. It was a clay pot of tamale mash on top of a bed of slow roasted pork. YUMMMY!
Ok, I think I have beaten in how great the food and cocktails were in this old world Spanish neighborhood. On to the Panama Canal! If you go to Panama City, you simply can’t miss out on visiting the Panama Canal. It is the number one visited site in Panama. The Panama Canal is a waterway that has created a shortcut between the Pacific and the Atlantic Oceans. It takes ships (on average 8-10) hours to travel the Panama Canal. This compares to 2 weeks if a ship tried to bypass the canal, and travel around South America. The best place near Panama City to see the ships go through the lock system is Miraflores Visitor Center. The viewing center is directly in front of the locks, so you get a front row seat to watching these huge ships pass through. They also have a restaurant buffet where you can eat lunch, and have wine while taking in all the action. You can visit the museum, and watch a film in both Spanish and English about the history of the Panama Canal. The best time to visit the Panama Canal changes daily, depending on when ships are scheduled to go through.
With one day left to spare, and being so close to so many beautiful islands, I decided it was time for a change of scenery. I got up at 6:00am to catch a 1.5 hour ferry ride to Contadora Island. I felt like I had been transported to another world! It was a small and jungly island with beautiful white sand beaches, and crystal clear waters. I purchased a day pass from the Mar y Oro Hotel which included lunch, two welcome drinks, and umbrella/chairs on the beach. It was absolute paradise, and a really relaxing ending to my trip! If I had one more day (which I always wish I did on vacay), I would have most definitely visited the San Blas Islands. Here you can rent private cabanas to spend the night in paradise. The cabanas don’t have much to them. They have no electricity and sand bottom floors. But who cares, because you can almost have the entire island to yourself for the night. Although still in Panama, these islands belong to the Kuna Indians On this excursion you can snorkel with star fish, and see how these indigenous people live. It wasn’t so bad leaving something behind that I was desperate to do and see because now I am anxious to go back. Until next time Panama!!
My trip to Seoul, South Korea was a quick one. I had three nights and four full days to explore this beautiful city. Surprisingly, I left feeling like I knew it pretty well. Let me just say that nothing pleases me more than beginning a trip that is far away with a red eye direct flight. A lot of people can’t sleep on planes….I am not one of them. I flew Korean Air and it was totally awesome. The economy seats are so roomy, and recline so much more than your average seat. So comfortable! I flew out of San Francisco at midnight, slept a solid nine hours, and arrived in South Korea very early in the morning. I felt so rested. I checked into the hotel, showered, and was immediately ready to begin exploring the Capital of South Korea!
What to pack?
I am from California, and women here tend to dress a bit on the sexy and casual side. I always research “proper attire” to wear before visiting a new country. What I found was Koreans cover up below their collar bone and their shoulders. It is ok to show your legs but your shoulders and chest should be covered. No cleavage. This is what is respectful to them. They dress to impress! I loved reading this, and it was true. No flip flops and sweats. Everyone dresses to impress from sunrise to sunrise. Many of my photos on this trip seem to be breaking the rules. I packed additional outfits for photos or always had a sweater on me to cover up. I assure you guys, I followed the rules. Always good to be respectful when you are in another country.
What Neighborhood To Choose??
When you look at Seoul on a map, it is overwhelming to decide which area to stay in. It’s a huge city! I began to research “best neighborhoods to visit in Seoul”. What I found was a wide array of diverse neighborhoods offering everything from culture, history, shopping, food, and nightlife. I visited five different areas of the city in my four days spent here. I decided to book my hotel in the area of Itaewon. After visiting the different neighborhoods, I felt really happy that I chose this because it ended up being my favorite district. I stayed at the Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel. I didn’t plan on staying at the hotel much, so I really wanted something inexpensive. The standards are so much higher in Seoul. If it says three stars, I can vouch that it is more like 4 compared to USA standards. I paid $88 per night for this room, and the hotel was perfect! The ambiance and decor were very modern. The room was nice and the price was right. Yet what I found to be the best part was the location. It was located in the heart of Itaewon!
Right outside the hotel door were so many restaurants, bars, cafes, and nightclubs. Everything is walkable in this area, and having a car is just not necessary. It was the perfect area to be in after a day of sightseeing. It was lively and busy, yet somewhat smaller than the other areas I visited. It was difficult to get lost. Coming from someone who tends to lose direction in unknown places, this was a plus! This area felt very safe and I did not feel scared to walk around everywhere until the wee hours of the night. The Hamilton Hotel is also located in Itaewon, and the alley that is located behind it is filled with international cuisine. It has everything….Greek, Italian, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Pizza, and so on. In my opinion, the Korean food was the best. My favorite dinner in Itaweon was at the Maple Tree House Restaurant, which served traditional Korean BBQ. Yummy! I also loved Thai Licious for when I wanted a break from traditional Korean food. The soup was seriously to die for! To be honest, I never had a bad meal in Seoul. I ate from hole in the walls to fine dining, and everything was delicious. The area of Itaewon is also filled with nightlife. This is one of the main reasons I actually chose it. I always like to choose my hotel in an area where I will like to end up spending my time at night. It really felt as though Seoul didn’t sleep. These nightclubs were thumping all night long and the streets were filled with party-goers. I only made it until 4:00am (one night), and I was blown away at how alive the city is until then. Even older people are out all night long.
Other Areas To Visit:
This trip was a business trip that I tagged along on. The first day was spent in Jongno District. This area has been the center of the city for over 600 years, and it is referred to as the face and heart of Korea, due to its important roles in politics, economics, culture, and history. The South Korean’s president resides here. I spent the day tagging along doing banking, and hanging out in government buildings. Let me just say, it was a bit of an adjustment navigating around a city that doesn’t speak any English. Translator is an absolute must when traveling to Seoul. I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without it. It was cool to trek around this area but I was eager to explore more. The first evening was back at home in Itaewon for dinner and an early bed time. I was still a bit tired from traveling.
The “work” portion of the trip wasn’t done, and I really didn’t feel like spending another day in banks. I headed off to explore the city all by myself. When I say this city is safe, I mean really safe. I felt completely comfortable exploring on my own. The most difficult thing was communication. So, I jumped in a cab with my camera, tripod, Translator App, and set off to explore a beautiful palace called Gyeongbokgung Palace. It was built in 1635, and is the largest of the five Grande Palaces. It was huge! Once upon a time it had more than 7,000 rooms. It was really cool to wander around this large property. So many visitors were dressed up to the nines in traditional Korean attire. I loved roaming around, and people watching.
From there, I got back in a taxi to visit Bukchon Hanok Village. This was probably one of my favorite stops in seeing sights! It is a traditional Korean village, and sits on top of a hill. It has a beautiful view of modern Seoul, yet feels so peaceful and quiet even though you are right next to the hustle and bustle.
After two stops, I was getting hungry, so I headed over to the Myeongdong area for lunch. This area is a huge shopping district. Myeongdong was listed as the 9th most expensive shopping street in the world. The streets and alleys seemed endless, and ranged from mid to high priced retail stores. It is also filled with cosmetic shops. Korea is huge for beauty and skin care products. The one thing I loaded up on while shopping here was face masks. So many to choose from! I had lunch here and ate…what else??…Korean BBQ! I wish I knew the name of the place because it was so good! The truth is that it was a tiny hole in the wall down a random alley that lured me in with it’s loud Bob Marley tunes. Haha! I’m always a sucker for reggae music! The plus was my babe was done with work, and we got to eat lunch together.
With a full belly, it was time to head back home to Itaewon. I had this brilliant idea to take the subway. I had read that the subway in South Korea was so easy, and not intimidating at all. Well, what a sh*t show that ended up being for a first timer! I believe the subway is most likely not intimidating for those that can read and speak the Korean language. For those who don’t know the Korean alphabet, the language is incredibly intimidating. I tried the entire trip to master “please” and “thank you” with no success. Needless to say I got completely lost on the subway. Luckily we found the nicest man who spoke English, and got us home. Always ask for directions. As long as you are kind to people, they are mostly likely kind in return. BTW, I feel like I would be way better at the subway on my second try. Just saying.
We headed home to rest up, as we wanted to enjoy the Itaewon nightlife this evening. It was so much fun! This area comes alive at night. There were soooooo many nightclubs and bars to choose from to do some hard core booty shaking all night long. What a blast! My favorite nightclub was Club Compton. Ha ha! You could hookah and listen to good hip hop that reminded me of home. Most places that I went to played all American music.
Today I got to spend the entire day sightseeing with my babe. He was stuck on exercising, and I was stuck on sightseeing. We decided to head up to the Namsan Seoul Tower. This is a place that is very special for couples, as you can lock a padlock of love onto the railing that overlooks the most beautiful view of Seoul. It is actually the second highest view in Seoul! We got dropped off in a cab at the bottom of the hill. You have to walk (literally) straight up for about 20 mins to get to the tower. Exercise mixed with sightseeing. Winning! We had purchased a lock from a hardware store before heading up, but found there were stores selling them near the tower. Once at the top, you can eat, have cocktails, and soak in the most incredible views. After a little vino, we locked our love in at the Namsan Seoul Tower. It was super cute and romantic….an absolute must for couples or those who love photography. Definitely my favorite thing I did in Seoul!!!
For our last night out, we decided to go to the Hongdae District. This is the University area of Seoul. The nightlife here was crazy…in a good way! So many bars and nightclubs filled with college students partying the night away. It was like Itaewon, but felt 20 times bigger. With all of this crazy nightlife, I never once saw anyone out of control. No one was acting stupid or overly drunk. Just such a good vibe everywhere you went. This was the night I stayed out until 4:00am, and you would have thought the night was just getting started when I headed back to the hotel for bed. People were still standing in line at 4:00am to get into clubs and the streets were absolutely packed! We ended our night (or began our morning I should say) with eating pizza with two Korean guys at 4:00am. We got lucky…they spoke English! They were so cool and it was an awesome ending to our trip to have a meal with locals….at 4:00am. LOL
Being I went to bed so late, I spent the final day sleeping and relaxing until it was time to go to the airport. I was fine with wasting the last day in bed, because partying in Seoul at night was just as much of an experience as seeing it in the day.
All in all, my write up of Seoul is that it is a clean, safe, beautiful, modern city that doesn’t sleep. Oh, and has amazing food, shopping, nightlife, and sweet people! I am always so focused on being next to a beach when I travel. It really surprised me how much I enjoyed a “city” vacation. Two thumbs up!
You really can’t go wrong with Hawaii! I have visited Maui, Oahu, Kauai, and “The Big Island” of Hawaii, and each island is amazing in it’s own special way. Each island has a different “vibe” unique to itself. I was extremely lucky as a child, as I had family that lived in Hawaii, and I was able to spend extended periods of time there each year. Staying with family, I got to feel as though I was living there while on these trips. I did keiki deep sea fishing tournaments, and spent so much time trolling in the ocean on my family’s boat in hunt of the big kahuna marlin. This is most definitely where my passion for deep sea fishing began!
Since my childhood, I have been visiting Hawaii in a much more touristy fashion. Staying in hotels, and doing as much touristy stuff as I could fit into my vacation has been the norm for me over the years. Although each and every trip has been absolutely amazing, I wanted to plan a trip that reminded me of the time I spent in Hawaii as a child. I wanted to experience feeling like I was living there as a local. To achieve this feeling, it had to be as long of a trip as I could make it. I decided on 7 weeks in summer while the kiddos were out of school. Now which island to choose? I am most partial to Kauai (North Shore) for how lush the landscape is. But for this long of a trip, I chose the island Maui. Maui has beautiful landscape, but it also has a bit of a livelier vibe compared to Kauai. I thought it would be a good mix of beauty and things to do. Let the planning begin!!
I get a lot of questions about how I’m able to take extended trips like this. My husband and I work from home, and can really work from anywhere in the world. These extended trips are obviously working vacations which add to the the feeling of actually living there instead of vacationing.
To stay 7 weeks, I wasn’t trying to stay at the super high end places in town. I needed something reasonable, but also large enough to accommodate my family of six, and a home office set up. I landed at the Sands of Kahana. What a perfect choice! We had a huge three bedroom condo on the beach with a pool, kids pool, mini golf, gym, community beach bbq’s, and a restaurant on the property in case we were feeling too lazy to cook. We also had so many walk-able dining options in the village of Kahana.
This little village of Kahana sits right in between Kaanapali and Kapalua. It is so much more reasonably priced than its neighbors, but still right in the heart of all the action. I highly recommend this area if you are on a budget. For the nights when you would like to put a huge dent in your bank account, you can just hop on over to your neighboring towns to get some fine dining, or an expensive round of golf. You are also just a short drive to Lahaina, where most of the island nightlife resides.
Next, I needed to get a rental car. Getting a rental car for seven weeks isn’t cheap. I found Kimo’s Rent A Car online. They have vehicles of all price points but the one I rented was basically less than a basic vehicle. They gave a great rate on monthly rentals and I spent around $1,000 for the entire 7 weeks. It really was exactly what we needed, and the price was right. I have spent $700 on a car for one week in Hawaii, so I was pretty excited about this deal.
Ok, so now what did we really do on this trip to make us feel less like tourists and more like locals? First off, I hit Costco and stocked up. We bbq’d and ate dinner on the beach about 70% of the time. There was no rush to do anything, and we snorkeled until the sunlight was gone while bbqing on the beach…..that was our evening schedule. I found a bunch of beach equipment on Craigslist for us. I bought boogie boards, ice chest, chairs, an umbrella, beach toys, and I paid $35 for everything. This is a great tip to check there for your stuff because buying these items brand new will be hundreds. When we didn’t feel like bbqing, we would get seafood off the food trucks. We would take our food and paper plate it to watch the sun go down, hike, or chill at a park.
Road to Hana
What did we do with our time outside of being beach bum bqqers? My favorite adventure as a temporary local was going camping for the weekend in Hana. The Road to Hana is so beautiful!! It has waterfalls around every twist and turn, and is the epitome of the “it isn’t about the destination, it’s the journey” quote. I have driven the Road to Hana many times, and have even driven around the entire island in one day. I LOVE IT….but it’s not for everyone. You are truly in the car all day, and the road is very curvy. People with weak stomachs may call it the road to hell. I have definitely learned over the years (having a large family of six) that not everyone likes what I like. And although, I can explore and drive from sun up to sun down, my family would be miserable. However, there was no way I was going to Maui for 7 weeks and not driving the Road to Hana. So I checked into camping. What an amazing experience! I rented all of our gear from Camp Maui which we picked up on the way out of town to Hana. Camp Maui stocked us. We had everything….tent, pads, pillows, sleeping bags (which weren’t necessary), stove, flashlights, propane, etc. It was so reasonable and I didn’t need to pack anything from home other than clothes. We camped at Waianapanapa State Park with hiking, black sand beaches, and water caves. You need to get a permit in advance to camp here so plan ahead. This place gets crazy busy in the day with tourists coming in by the bus loads. We were able to go explore the ins and outs of this park early in the morning and late at night, completely skipping all the crowds.
The best part about this camping trip? We got to explore Seven Sacred Pools for the entire day. This place is gorgeous, and could be my favorite place on all of Maui. It is so far to get here if you are driving in for the day, so most tourists only get a short visit as they have to get back on the road for the very long drive home. Not us! We stayed all day swimming and rock jumping and then drove 15 mins back to our camp for a bbq. This mini vacay was beyond amazing and pretty eye opening for me. I was so happy that my family didn’t want to drive to Hana for the day because it forced me to find a way to achieve exploring this side of the island along with keeping everyone happy. There is more than one way to skin a cat! Ps- I really hate that saying…who came up with that anyway?? Skinning a cat is just wrong. Plus, I love cats.
Back at home in our little village of Kahana we began to make friends with a lot of locals who lived there. I think Kahana is popular with the locals because its cheaper but still so central. When you eat and drink at the same places quite often you begin to run into the same people. We met a local who took us all surfing for a private lesson for next to nothing. No waivers or contracts…just a local teaching us how to ride the waves. This local became our friend, and he spent an entire second day with us taking us to a private property to go fishing.
Best Date Nights/Days
Before arriving on this trip, I found a babysitter to come on a schedule to give my husband and I some adult time. With the grandmas back on the main land, this was an absolute must. I hired a nursing student who was training in Labor and Delivery at the Maui General Hospital. Can you get a better resume for a sitter? She also had nursing student friends to replace her when she was busy.
For most of our dates, we would pack an ice chest, and hang out at the beach all night. But my favorite date night was attending a Reggae Concert at the Maui Tropical Plantation. Maxi Priest and Big Mountain were the big headliners, and it was probably one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Super fun, and definitely something I wouldn’t have squeezed in on a one week vacation. We also spent several nights partying in downtown Lahaina. Fleetwoods was my favorite place to get a drink and listen to live music.
My favorite Day Date was snorkeling at Honolua Bay. It is untapped serenity…so beautiful, and so peaceful. We loved it so much that we planned a second day here to bring back the kids to enjoy with them.
Favorite Touristy Things to do
We didn’t book many tours on this trip, but one that we did do was a snorkeling cruise to Molokini Crater. The snorkeling there is awesome! We saw dolphins along the way and snorkeled with a ton of beautiful fish. The kids loved this cruise! One of them actually started crying when we had to leave the crater. LOL.
One of the seven weeks we had Grandma and Grandpa visit, and we did zip lining and parasailing. I mean you have to get high at least once in Hawaii, right? The kids absolutely loved both these days. This was definitely the one week where we packed in a lot of touristy adventures. After parasailing off of Kaanapali Beach, we ended our day at my favorite happy hour spot on the beach….Hula Grill. You can sip Mai Tais with your feet in the sand while listening to live music. Heaven!
To finish up our one “touristy” packed week we ended it with a traditional Luau. There are so many great Luau’s on Maui. They are no doubt pricey! I chose Royal Lahaina Luau for the simple reason that for every paying adult, you get one child for free. It worked out pretty well with four adults and four kids. This was a perfect way to end our week spent with my parents!
You can stay anywhere on Maui and will be happy with your choice, but the majority of people choose the west or south shore. I’m more partial to the west shore since it is so close to Lahaina, and is a bit more lush. But the south side is beautiful too. So beautiful it is in fact my favorite beach on Maui…Makena Beach. Makena Beach is split into Big Beach and Little Beach with Little Beach being bathing suit optional. From our village in Kahana, it was about a 45 minute drive to get there but so worth it. Stay the entire day!
My favorite beaches on our side of the island were Napili Bay Beach and Kaanapali Beach. Napili Bay Beach is literally the most fun beach I have ever been to with kids. The rolling waves are like an ongoing roller coaster and you can hear the screams of excitement and laughter from the road as you park your car. Boogie boards and floaties make this day an absolute blast. Be careful of the waves wiping out your entire beach set up. It happened to us! Try to sit as far back as possible on the beach away from the water.
Kannapali Beach is home to the famous Black Rock. It is a very popular beach. The snorkeling is awesome and you can jump of the rocks at Black Rock. Super fun!
Favorite Land Activity
You really can’t go to Maui without being blasted with marketing materials everywhere in your face about bike riding down the Haleakala Crater. I have done this ride several times but unfortunately it wasn’t in the cards for us on this trip as our littlest kids weren’t big enough for a ride like this. I have to include a little write up though because it is truly such an experience. You need to get up early for this at 3:00am and take the two hour drive up the crater. It’s cold when you get up there so bundle up! You watch what is hopefully the most beautiful sunrise you have ever seen in your life. Once the sun is up, you begin the bike ride down the crater. There are a million tours going down where you all follow each other in one line all the way down the crater. Not for me!! I’m not big on group activities with strangers. I have always found a company who drove me to the top of the crater, handed me my bike to ride down alone and at my own pace, and then met me at the end of the day to pick me up. Most tours end at the bottom of the crater but I like to continue the bike ride to the Maui Pineapple Winery. The extra ride is rolling hills closer and closer to the coast. It is a beautiful ride! The bonus is you get to end the 18 mile ride with some wine tasting and a picnic.
What To Do When It Rains
Maui isn’t as beautiful as it is without getting rain. My favorite “ohana” day spent during the rain was the aquarium. The Maui Ocean Center is one of the coolest aquariums that I have ever been to. We learned so much and got to see so many fish that are in the Hawaiian ocean waters.
Favorite Family Friendly Hike
As I said, this was a working vacation. I had to keep the kids busy on many days when my husband was holed up in the condo working. My favorite day I spent with them was a very moderate but beautiful hike to the Iao Needle. It was really pretty, and we learned so much history on the battles fought in this area back in the old days.
Well it wouldn’t be a good blog if I didn’t write a bit about food. There are endless amazing dining options on Maui. My all time favorite is Mama’s Fish House. Bring your camera because the location is right on the beach and is quite the photo op. This is definitely an expensive dinner but worth the splurge! And you simply can not visit the island of Maui without going to the famous Cheeseburgers In Paradise. The cheeseburgers are delicious, the cocktails are tasty, the view of the ocean is to die for, the live music is a blast, and the location in downtown Lahaina makes it easy to bar hop around after dinner. Lastly my favorite “cheap eat” on Maui is Ohana Tacos. Seriously…if I didn’t watch my weight, I would live a fulfilled life having Ohana Tacos for every meal! It is the bomb.com! It’s pretty much fast food so perfect to take on the go while adventuring.
So after spending six weeks on Maui we started to get panicky that we only had one week left. We had zero island fever. We really didn’t want to go home. Our time here really allowed us to enjoy everything at our own pace and we truly felt like we were living there. Mission accomplished!!
In our last week we had two back-to-back hurricanes hit. If this had been our only week of vacation, it would have been a huge disappointment! But we felt really lucky to experience it. It was very cool to watch Mother Nature do her thing and once they passed we were left with the calmest ocean and most beautiful sunset of the entire trip. It was quite a farewell.
How to vacation more like a local and not like a tourist in a short vacation
My all time favorite read prior to visiting Hawaii is the Maui Revealed book. The authors have a book for every island and I have purchased the newest edition for every single trip I have taken to the Hawaiian Islands. It gives you hidden secrets that you would never find without it. I’m talking directions like “Hit the 42 mile marker, hike a quarter mile to the left, enter the broken chain link fence, go through the bamboo forest, hike a quarter more mile through the dirt steps and you will find a huge lagoon with a rope swing to spend the day at”. Haha. I have led the way with directions from this book on so many adventures with people I am on vacation with. Believe me I have gotten the stink eye from people traveling with me as they follow me to these secret places. But once there, everyone has always thanked me for such a special experience. Buy the book before going! It is truly the best vacation guide I have ever read!!