Colombia: Cartagena & Rosario Islands

Living in Costa Rica means I can continue to explore Central and South America quite easily.  Cartagena, Colombia has always been at the top of my list so I was thrilled to get this trip on the books.  From Costa Rica, it was a short plane ride away.  I have always envisioned Cartagena as somewhat of a party spot.  Maybe a place to plan a girl’s trip or a bachelorette party.  Well, it definitely lived up to the vision in my head but also had so much more to offer.  Rich culture, crazy history, beautiful ancient architecture, amazing food, shopping, a mud volcano, a beach, tons of nightlife, and tropical islands just a ferry ride away.   I coupled my trip to the city of Cartagena with the Rosario Islands.  I’m a true beach baby and it’s hard for me to vacay without working in some beach time.  I found that this trip was a perfect mix of city and beach.  Although it is quite easy and inexpensive to travel all around the country of Colombia by plane, I really didn’t want to waste a day of my trip dealing with the airport.  The Rosario Islands was a great fit with just a one hour ferry ride from Cartagena.  This was an easy combo!

New and old Cartagena.

Where To Stay In Cartagena:

Cartagena is a unique city, as it has two very different contrasting neighborhoods: the ultra modern high-rise hotel filled Bocagrande and the Old Walled City.  This reminded me a lot of Panama City where there seems to be an invisible line dividing old and new.  Just like my trip to Panama City, I opted for the charm and history of the older part of town.  I stumbled across some pretty nice hotels in my search, but what I was really searching for was something unique.  Maybe an old mansion turned boutique hotel?  Well, I found exactly that at Casa San Agustin.  After cruising around the city, I can attest this was my favorite boutique hotel in the Walled City of Cartagena.  The property is luxuriously chic with a relaxed atmosphere.  It was reimagined to maintain a colonial heritage intact within three beautiful white washed homes that compose it. Bam, exactly what I was looking for!  The architecture preserves the authentic Colombian style while incorporating modern services and amenities.  There is an Instafamous pool in the center of the suites and best of all was the bed.  I am actually getting torn about beds being overly comfortable.  When I arrived and laid down in the bed I fell into a deep slumber for hours.  This is not like me!  I do not like to waste any vacay time sleeping the day away.  However, it was impossible to get up.  Ha ha.  Truth be told this was the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in…ever.  The location can’t be beat as it sits right in the middle of all the action of the Walled City with so many restaurants and bars that are easily walkable, even in heels.  Yay for having a reason to get dressed up and wear heels again!  It’s been a minute living in Costa Rica. 

Instafamous pool at Casa San Agustin.
This wall at Casa San Agustin is an old aqueduct when Cartagena was just the Walled City.
Truly beautiful grounds at Casa San Agustin.
The most comfortable bed I have ever slept in at Casa San Agustin. Ever.

Favorite Restaurants In Walled City And Getsemani:

Let’s get into the topic that everyone wants to know the most about…food!  The food was amazing!!  From fine dining to delicious street food…I simply did not have one bad meal. Cartagena has so many dining options.  I could barely scratch the surface in one week. There are two main neighborhoods to get your grub on.  The Old Walled City and the Getsemani neighborhood which is located right outside of the walls.  These neighborhoods are walkable back and forth.   The Walled City is much finer dining.  The scene on the street is everyone gets very dressed up and heads out to pricier dinners.  Getsemani is much more casual.  The restaurants are less expensive and much livelier.  There is endless street food in Getsemani. You can eat a delicious dinner for $3 on the street.  Even better, you can opt for a 40 cent empanada.  OMG…so good!   I spent more than half of my time dining in the Getsemani neighborhood which is considered the “hipster” area. Musicians liven up leafy plazas with impromptu performances so it’s a perfect place to sit on the sidewalk with street food in hand to watch the show.  To be honest, I love me some fine dining but I’m not up for it every night of the week, which is why I spent so much of my time in the Getsemani neighborhood.   Here is a list of my favorite places to eat in the two neighborhoods.

Old Walled City:

Cuba 1940 – Great place for lunch to enjoy 2 for 1 mojitos during happy hour. I ordered a Cubano sandwich with extra pickles. Delish!  This place is awesome for dinner too when live music is happening. It has a really authentic Cuban feel like you are sitting in grandma’s house in Havana, Cuba.

La Cevicheria – Quiet little seafood restaurant on a corner in the Plaza San Diego. Yummy seafood and a huge selection of ceviche prepared differently. This restaurant even got a visit from the famous Anthony Bourdain where the chef made him a special off the menu ceviche.

Getsemani

El Cabildo Gastro Mar – Amazing rooftop restaurant with live music and great drinks. The food is typical Colombian cuisine and the view can’t be beat!

Demente – This was my favorite restaurant we ate at! Casual but very loud and lively. The atmosphere is rustic and modern with middle of the road prices. Great place for tapas and gourmet pizza right in the center of Getsemani.  It was the only place we came to twice for dinner. 

Calle San Andres- Head to the famous flagged street lined with delicious street food, art galleries, coffee shops, bars, and performances in the street. 

Restaurant Cuba 1940.
$3 dinner on the sidewalk in Getsemani while the Colombian entertainers are dancing their way through the streets.

Best Rooftop Bar To Watch The Sunset:

The absolute best place to have a drink and watch the sunset is Movich Hotels.  This is the highest viewpoint from above to see all of Cartagena both old and new.  It is a posh rooftop bar that has a DJ spinning tunes while serving up tapas and craft cocktails. Yes please!  Of course we wanted to experience this more than once but the second time we arrived too close to sunset, and it was at max capacity.  Note to you all…get there early or head over to the neighboring Sophia Hotel Rooftop for another amazing sunset view experience.  This was much quieter (no DJ) and not as high up, but still a really beautiful rooftop to catch the sunset. 

Watching the sunset over Cartagena at the Movich Hotels.

Best Place To Go Salsa Dancing:

Ok, so those who know me well know that I like to shake my bon bon. After a couple of margaritas, if the music is on hit, you can catch your girl on the dance floor.  Of course I could not skip a salsa nightclub while vacationing in Colombia.  Duh!  If you want to experience a true salsa dancing experience, shake those hips on over to Cafe Havana, located in Getsemani.  The band and salsa dancers are a truly epic experience.   Get your liquid courage going because the dancers come right up to the crowd and show you how to salsa for all to see.  So fun!! 

Ready to get my salsa dancing on at Cafe Havana.

Horse Draw And Carriage:

After all that dancing you will not want to walk home.  Horse draw and carriage is available in many places of Cartagena.  Although we walked mostly everywhere, we did jump on a couple of carriage rides.  One at the end of a long night out and one extremely romantic ride around the Walled City with a bottle of wine.  Lots of hugs and kisses happening on this ride and it was truly a beautiful way to explore the city.  We brought a bottle of wine on the ride which spilled all over us every time we took a sip and all over my overly thought out Colombian outfit.  LOL. Good thing it was white wine!  I highly recommend doing one of these rides if you want to lay on the romance.

My cute Colombian outfit prior to spilling wine all over it.
Horse draw and carriage is a very romantic way to explore the city.

Photos Ops:

Cartagena is very well known for photo ops.  So many super cute streets lined with colorful homes.  That on top of the historic architecture of the Walled City….It’s hard to put the camera down.  Photographer tip….get out early to beat the crowds and the heat.  Cartagena’s lighting is extremely tricky for photography.  When the sun is directly above you it’s way too bright, you will be drenched in sweat, and dealing with the crowds.  I got my shots early at around 7:00am.  See what I do to bring the content guys?!  It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get these blogs done.  Get your photos done in the morning and then hole up in a place with air conditioning in the afternoon. It’s a solid plan.  One photo must is a photo with the Las Palenqueras (fruit ladies). They do expect a tip for these photos but it’s definitely worth an add to the Cartagena photo album. Also, Calle 38, Carrera 9, the umbrella street Callejón Angosto in Getsemani, and lastly (my favorite) roaming around getting lost in the alleyways of this vibrant city.

A photo with the Las Palenqueras is a keeper for the vacation album.
Getting up early means no one in the photos. It’s worth it if photos are important to you.
Roaming around and getting lost is my favorite.
Pink house on Calle 38.
These streets are just the cutest.
Carrera 9.
Callejón Angosto in Getsemani.

Best “Not To Be Missed” Excursion:

So my hubs is not one for group activities or excursions in general. As usual, I can’t skip out on special experiences that are only available to the area. This activity is husband approved! This is a true “not to be missed” experience when visiting Cartagena.  To appease my hubby’s dislike of group activities, we hired a private driver to take us about 45  minutes outside of Cartagena to the El Totumo Mud Volcano which cost us $75 round trip.  This is one of the world’s smallest active volcanos.  It’s a crazy experience because as you get into the volcano you feel like you are going to sink, almost like you are in quicksand.  We were warned by our driver that initially it is a bit scary and told to just relax.  You soon realize that you naturally float and it is impossible to sink.  Your feet won’t touch any “ground” and you just bob enjoying the healing properties of the mineral infused mud as the volcano’s mud bubbles pop up all around you.  I had a major case of the giggles because there are professional masseuses bobbing away as well that are ready to rub you down and get you really relaxed, for a tip of course.   One man started rubbing down my husband without asking until he had to politely say “no thank you”.  LOL.  Hilarious!!   The giggles didn’t stop there.  Once we finished relaxing, we were escorted out of the volcano down to the lake where two ladies washed the mud off our bodies and removed our bathing suits without asking.   Ha ha…I’m cracking up just writing this.  Quite an experience!  Seriously don’t miss it.  We had a blast and it was a nice change from the city life of Cartagena.

 

Major case of the giggles going on. LOL
Be prepared to get totally naked as these ladies remove your suit without asking to get the mud off. Ha ha!

Rosario Islands:

The Rosario Islands is an archipelago located off the coast of Colombia.  It is one of the 46 Natural National Parks of Colombia. The Rosario Islands are a one hour ferry ride from Cartagena but feel like a completely different world. They are known for their crystal clear waters and lack of development. Being it is so easy to get to, many people opt to go for the day and purchase a day pass from one of the resorts to soak up the sun. I stayed for three nights on Isla Grande at Hotel Isla Del Sol. Don’t let the name of the island fool you. Isla Grande is very small.

The top things to do on these islands are the luminescent plankton tours in the mangroves, snorkel tours, diving, and island hopping. Guess what I did? Absolutely nothing! I very rarely do nothing on vacay but that is exactly what I did. I woke up, ate, sunbathed, read a book, ate again, took a nap, swam in the ocean, went to bed very early, and repeat. I had a package where all of my meals were included in my stay so there was no reason to leave my hotel. What a change from all the action in Cartagena and a perfect way to recharge and feel rested before heading back home.

Paradise at Hotel Isla Del Sol on Isla Grande, Rosario Islands.
Not a bad place to make your morning calls.
Fun in the sun in the Rosario Islands.

That’s a wrap for my trip to Cartagena and the Rosario Islands. There is so much more to see in Colombia. Next up in Colombia for us will be to explore the city of Medellín. Until next time Colombia!

Thanks for reading!

XXOO

Jessica

Nicaragua: A Border Run Vacay.

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”. For us, this means driving to the Nicaragua border, crossing from Costa Rica into Nicaragua, and circling 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. However, 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.

Bye bye Costa Rica. This is the very first trip I have packed in a backpack. I impressed myself.

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.

Entering Nicaragua!

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!

Cheers to a successful border crossing on foot. Costa Rica to Nicaragua.
My balcony at Hotel Alcazar overlooking San Juan Del Sur Beach. Amazing! I slept in late this morning from all the late night dancing. So much fun!
My favorite restaurant in San Juan Del Sur. Dale Pues!

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 non-threatening. 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, we 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.

Exploring by dirt bike on dirt roads through the jungle and to the beaches of Nicaragua.

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.

Playa Maderas

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!

This was my stunning view from the balcony of the penthouse suite. $120 per night is a steal!

Wraparound balcony of the penthouse suite.
Infinity pool at Hush Maderas.

Pool overlooking the ocean and Playa Maderas. Heaven!

Fresh squeezed margaritas and healthy fresh food. Happy girl!
Power bowl and veggie burrito. The food was ridiculously fresh and healthy.

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. 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!

First border run a success. I love my forever travel partner!
Amazing trip to see where my family migrated from. Until next time Nicaragua!

For my unedited photos/videos of this trip, you can head over to my Instagram account @bucketlistinabikini and watch my “Stories” of Nicaragua.

Much love,

Jessica

UPDATE TO NICARAGUA BLOG 08/01/2022

TreeCasa Resort. San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.

I have just arrived home from another “border run vacay”, except this time we made it a family vacation and brought along the kiddos for their first trip to Nicaragua. As you read above, the last time we stayed at an adult-only hotel. For this trip, I wanted to find a very family-friendly hotel that the kids would love. We chose TreeCasa Resort which sits high up the mountain in the treetops above the beach of San Juan Del Sur. This resort features treehouse family accommodations with a stunning pool that includes a waterslide and rock waterfall to jump off of. My husband and I lazed the day away as the kids enjoyed all the fun the grounds had to offer. A true playground for adults and kids!! There are so many activities to choose from including hiking, biking, horseback riding, private beach, spa, and a complimentary shuttle down the hill to the town of San Juan Del Sur.

Treehouse family accommodations at TreeCasa Resort.
TreeCasa Resort is a true playground for adults and kids!
Living our best life at TreeCasa Resort.
Waterslides are always a hit on vacay with the kids.
Jump 11,873 off of the rock waterfall. Ha ha.

Although this is a family-friendly resort, my husband and I did get to sneak away for some adult time on the grounds. These grounds are huge, safe, and secure. After dinner, we tucked the kiddos back in the room with a movie and headed out to get some cocktails at the bar. It was so nice to have no worries at all and know the kiddos were happy as could be back in the spacious room. We also snuck in a morning couples massage at the spa while the kids went to breakfast. It was amazing!! Lastly, we took a guided hike one morning while the kids slept in. We hiked to the highest platform on the property. The views looking down on San Juan Del Sur were incredible.

Mom and Dad getting in some adult time.
Couples massage time while the kids are at breakfast. Yes, please!
Guided hike up to the highest point on the property. These views were incredible!

If you read along with me you know I am quite the foodie. I basically spend my life dieting saving up to go crazy eating while on vacation. Hashtag TRUTH. The food at TreeCasa is over the top delicious, healthy, and filling! You will not go hungry at this resort. I indulged in the enormous lobster tails two of the nights. Just wow! My other favorite dish was a 2 pound fried whole red snapper. I ate the entire thing. LOL. I will start the diet when the trip is over. Ha ha.

Me enjoying another night of lobster tail dinner paired with bacon wrapped asparagus, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, and a little bubbly.

Nicaragua continues to be our go-to for our border run fun. It is just such an easy hop from our home in Costa Rica. If the kiddos are with us, TreeCasa will continue to be our resort of choice. TreeCasa makes a great vacation just staying on the grounds of the property. However, the location of this resort is so central that you can also explore surrounding areas very easily. You can take the shuttle down the hill to explore the town of San Juan Del Sur or hop over to Playa Maderas for some epic surfing. It really is a perfect home base. So close to everything but also tucked away in the serenity of the treetops with the birds and monkeys.

I spent so much time relaxing in this hammock on my balcony listening to birds and howler monkeys.
A family vacation we will cherish forever at TreeCasa Resort. San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua.

I have already booked our next trip to Nicaragua and this time my parents will be joining us as we explore the cities of Nicaragua. Stay tuned!

All of my unedited moments from TreeCasa Resort can be found on my Instagram Stories “TreeCasa”.

Thanks for reading!

Jessica

Karen Blixen Camp: A Magical Safari Adventure In Kenya.

“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.

This girl is ready for safari in Kenya!

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!

Kenya on a map of Africa.

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!

Luxury tent accommodations at Karen Blixen Camp.
Watching the wildlife and enjoying some wine right from our deck.

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.

Hot outdoor shower is heaven after long days on game drives.
Yes, this is technically a tent, but it sure doesn’t feel like it.
Waking up listening to hippos snorting right outside of my tent.

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.

Bar at Karen Blixen Camp.
Spa time.
Pool time. I love all of the amenities at Karen Blixen Camp.

Game Driving

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.

Open air vehicle of Karen Blixen Camp.

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.

Spotting animals at sunrise.
My guide Simon and I. He was always teaching us about the animals as we drove up to them.

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!

A night ride where we sat right next to the lion king guarding his meal.
Beautiful lioness relaxing right next to our car.

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!

The elusive leopard casually strolling by.

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.

Giraffes, zebras, and elephants, oh my!

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.

That little baby elephant charged our car. Ha ha…so cute!
We saw so many elephants. Observing these gentle giants just never gets old.

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!

My first hot air balloon ride.
I love my adventure partner.
Flying over the Masai Mara at sunrise in a hot air balloon.
So incredibly grateful for this trip of a lifetime.

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.

A day I will treasure forever.

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.

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Having a chat with a man of the Masai tribe who had seven wives. Tim was explaining that one wife is enough headache for him. Ha ha!

Sundowners And Meals In The 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!

Sundowners in the bush. Appetizers and full bar provided by the camp!
Sundowners in the bush.

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.

Surprise breakfast in the bush from the camp on our first day.

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.

Our final meal was a private candlelight dinner in the bush. Cheer to all the tears of joy!

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”.

In lion country. I saw so many lions on this game drive.
“You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.” – Karen Blixen

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!!

Our guide Simon dropping us back at the airstrip at the end of the trip. He is an amazing guide and a good friend!

Tulum, Mexico: Traveling During A Pandemic To A Boho Chic Paradise.

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.

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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.

Accomodations

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.

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My beautiful suite at the Diamante K.

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Beach Club at Diamante K.

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We should have had our names engraved in these exact seats!  Aside from eating and drinking here, we finished off almost every evening with a night cap while staring at the moon.

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Grounds of Diamante K.

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My outdoor bathroom at the Diamante K.  Outdoor showers make me happy!  🙂

Transportation

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!

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Thank you Tours R US!

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Tours R Us for all your transportation needs.  Located in the heart of the Hotel Zone.

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.

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Tulumunchies surrounded by food trucks for the cheap eat win!

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!

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Clan-Destino.  My favorite bar with a cenote in the middle.

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 an awesome restaurant and bar.  It wasn’t the cheapest stop, but it was one of our favorite days spent in Tulum.

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Papaya Playa Project.  My favorite beach club!

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 oceanfront 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!

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Perfect day at Sian Ka’an.

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Can’t take a vacay without getting in the backflips.

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!

Photo Ops

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!

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Ven A La Luz

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Casa Malca.  Pablo Escobar’s mansion in a previous life.

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.

Tips

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

PS…YouTube video is on the way!

Jordan: Welcome To Jordan!

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.

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Jordan on a map!  In the middle of Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel.

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.

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Cheers to crossing the border from Israel to Jordan on foot.

1st stop: 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.

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Lost City of Petra.

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So nice to have this wonder of the world almost all to ourselves.  So worth it to get up early!

Because of our early start at the park, we were back at our hotel by lunchtime.  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.

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Beautiful lobby of Movenpick Petra.

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Having a pool to cool off in Petra is a huge bonus!

2nd Stop:  Wadi Rum Desert

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 campground, 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 night, 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!

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Martian Bubble Tent at Sun City Camp, Wadi Rum Desert.

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What a beautiful view right from your bed!

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Main dining hall and outdoor nightly party location with loud music, dancing, and hookah.

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!

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Our guide had us railing through the desert.  So exciting and fun!

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Stop to watch the sunset on our ride.  So nice to have it be just us two on this tour.

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Headed out on our camels to watch the sunset.

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Again, so fortunate.  We had the desert all to ourselves.  Just us, our guide, and our camels.

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Very happy girl in Wadi Rum.

3rd stop: Aqaba

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 its 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.

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This hotel is a dream!  Al Manara, a Luxury Collection Hotel in Aqaba.

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Swimming in the hotel infinity pool from the moment I woke up until the sun went down.

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Snorkel day in the Red Sea.

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Exploring a sunken ship in the Red Sea.

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The master at back flipping off the top of a boat.

4th Stop: Dead Sea

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!

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Rubbing the Dead Sea mud all over my skin.

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Reading the Alchemist in the Dead Sea.  Caught a wave in the face right after this photo.  Almost went blind and I threw up.  Whatever it takes to get the shot.  Ha ha!

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!!!

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Rooftop dinner in the capital, Amman.  Perfect way to squeeze in our last supper over looking the city lights.

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.  🙂

XXOO

Jessica

Las Vegas: Top 10 Things To Do With A Family.

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.

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Transportation

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.

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Vegas here we come!

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Settling in for our train ride to Vegas.  So comfy with table tops, cafe, bar, bathrooms, no traffic.  Winning!

 

Accomodations at Tahiti Village

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.

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Our condo at Tahiti Village.  A must for our family to have a full kitchen.

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Main pool at Tahiti Village.

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Sandy beach entry to the main pool where they had organized sand castle making contests.

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We rode in the lazy river all day long on our relaxing days.

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Living our best life in Las Vegas.

 

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 Ferris Wheel

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.

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High Roller Ferris Wheel.  The largest in the world.

Circus Circus

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.

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Circus Circus.  The most kid friendly hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

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Virtual Reality Experience at Circus Circus.

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Adventure Dome Circus Circus.

 

Shopping at the Forum Shops

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.

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Shopping at Caesars Forum Shops.

 

Best Restaurant To Dine At On The Strip: Sugar Factory!

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!

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The milkshakes at the Sugar Factor are an absolute must!

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Candy Shop at the Sugar Factory.

 

Siegfried and Roy’s Secret Garden, Tiger and Dolphin Habitat

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!

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LOL.  My son had to have this photo…what can I say?

 

Slotzilla Zipline Over Fremont Street

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.

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Slotzilla Zipline.

 

Seven Magic Mountains

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!

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Seven Magic Mountains.

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Catching a sunrise in the dessert.

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Never a bad idea to get up early.  Perfect lighting for great photos.

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Love in the desert.

 

New York New York

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.

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Houdini’s Magic Shop.

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Little smooching after we won some money at the tables!

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Big Apple Roller Coaster.

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New York New York was our favorite hotel on the strip that was fun for everyone.

 

Town Square

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.

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Having some Happy Hour while we watch the little guys below at the park.

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That is the exact balcony we sat at for Happy Hour to watch the littles below play at the park and ride the train.

 

Silverton Casino Mermaid’s Aquarium

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.

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Mermaid’s show at the Silverton Casino.

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Interacting with 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.  🙂

XXOO,

Jessica

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All you need is LOVE.

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Exploring the Strip at night.

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Date night.

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Sunrise in the desert.

 

 

 

 

W Scottsdale: Hotel Review

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.

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Bird’s eye view of the W Scottsdale.  Walk right across the street and you are in the heart of the Entertainment District.

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.

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Illuminated stairway in the hotel lobby that takes you to the Wet Deck.

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.

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Breakfast goals on the balcony of the Cool Corner Suite.

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Our beautiful room, the Cool Corner Suite…and my crazy hubby doing a belly flop!  LOL

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!!

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Pool at W Scottsdale.

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Party time at 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!

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Lust For Life!

Thanks for reading!  For the Vlog version of this trip, see my YouTube video below.  If you are a youtuber, please Like and Subscribe!  🙂

XXOO,

Jessica

Panama City, Panama: Old World Charm Meets Modern Day.

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.

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Chasing sunsets on the rooftops of Casco Viejo.

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Casco Viejo at night.

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Panama City metropolis vs Casco Veijo neighborhood.

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.

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Old world charm meets modern day luxury in the lobby of the American Trade Hotel.

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Having some vino on my beautiful balcony.

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American Trade Hotel.

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Headed in for some smokey scotch, cigar, and smooth jazz at Danilo Perez’s Jazz Club, which is part of the American Trade Hotel.

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.

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Enjoying some fresh squeezed spicy margaritas at the rooftop bar Casa Casco.

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!

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Eating traditional Panamanian food and enjoying the show at Diablicos.

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Tantalo Rooftop Bar at night.

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.

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Having a Titanic moment…waving hello and goodbye to ships passing through the Panama Canal.

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When you look at the Panama Canal on a map you can see why they chose this location to create this shortcut.

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!!

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Mar y Oro Hotel on Contadora Island.

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Beautiful Caribbean Ocean of Contadora Island, Panama.

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Contadora Island is a mix of jungle and beach.

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Until next time Panama!

Seoul, South Korea: A Quick Trip Of Business Mixed With Pleasure.

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!

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Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel.

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Matching the lobby at Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel.

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How cute is all the decor at Imperial Palace Boutique Hotel?

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.

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One of my favorite restaurants in Itaewon!  Thai Licious.  I am in absolute heaven in this photo!!

Other Areas To Visit:

Day 1:

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.

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Can I please get some major respect for the soups that Koreans prepare?  So yummy!

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Ha ha…trying to find our way around to find specific offices in banks and govt. buildings.  Thank goodness for Translator!

Day 2:

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.

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Entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

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Just me and my tripod exploring away.

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I just loved people watching!  So many people were so fancy in their Korean attire.

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.

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Roaming around Bukchon Hanok Village.

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If I lived in Seoul, this would be my porch.  I loved this neighborhood, and would call this area home above everything I saw!

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.

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Shopping in Myeongdong.

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Korean BBQ lunch in Meongdong.

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.

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LOL!  Sure…this doesn’t look intimidating at all.

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The nicest man who got us all the way home to Itaewon.

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Happy girl because we got directions to the correct way home.

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 American music.

Day 3:

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!!!

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Locking in our love at Namsan Seoul Tower.

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I hope to come back one day and find our lock of love!  How cool!?

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The most romantic thing we did the entire trip.

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

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Party time in Hongdae District!

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The ending to our trip…eating pizza at 4:00am with two Korean guys who spoke English and were so cool!  What an ending!!!

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!

Belize: You Betta Belize It!

Jungle or Beach???  Why not both??

Belize is located in Central America.  It is a tiny country on the western edge of the Caribbean Sea.  Belize is located below Mexico, east of Guatemala, and north of Honduras.  Half of Belize is covered by dense jungle.  Belize also has many coral reefs, cayes, and islands in the Caribbean Sea.  Most of these form the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest in the Western Hemisphere.

When I first began planning my trip to Belize, I read that most first timers break up their trip between the jungle and the beach.  I’m very glad I listened to these reviews!  Fast forward through an 8 hour plane ride, and a 2 hour drive into the jungle and I landed in the middle of the Belize rainforest in a city called Belmopan.   I chose Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge to call home for this leg of the trip.  It was a larger lodge in comparison to others in the area with 25 rooms and casitas, pool, bar, and a restaurant where you eat every meal.

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Sleeping Giant Rainforest Lodge

I’m typically a beach baby, and was nervous about spending time in the remote jungle.  Would it be boring?  It was a bit of an adjustment upon arrival….no TV, no internet, and no phone in the room.  I’ve never been on a trip where I was forced to completely disconnect.  I gulped down my rum welcome cocktail, and went to unpack.  Now what?  That first night I explored the grounds, ate ridiculously amazing food, and closed down the lodge bar.  The next four days were filled with adventure, mind blowing food and cocktails (all made fresh), and forced restful recharge.

My activities included a hike through the thick jungle, a bike ride to the orange orchards, paddle boarding on the river, relaxing by the pool, a massage on the river, and a full day of adventure exploring the famous ATM Cave of Belize.  ATM stands for Actun Tunichil Muknal.  The ATM Cave was the top rated tour to do for adventure, and it did not disappoint.  I hired a private guide for this tour which I highly recommend.  If you can’t swing private, definitely ask how many people will be on the tour with you, and go with a smaller group.  I saw large tours with 10 people going through in a line.  They just weren’t getting that much attention from their guide.  If you are 10th in the line, how can you learn anything from your guide who is leading?  Plus, I had very heightened nerves on this tour.  Being the 10th person in line of a tour would have been terrifying (for me).  Our guide led us through 6 miles of adventure.  We crossed the river (neck deep) six times, hiked, and explored the ATM Cave which you have to swim into.  Once in, you climb and swim your way through two miles of total darkness with only a headlamp for sight.  I literally had a minor panic attack going on for about three hours.  But just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, the only way out was through.  It was pretty amazing learning about the Mayan people, and what this cave meant to them.  We came across many artifacts and skeletons that were human sacrifices to the gods.  Our guide was Gonzo from River Rat Expeditions.  He was so knowledgeable, and actually spends about three months per year living in these Belize caves doing research.  He took his time educating and calming my nerves all the way through.  Once out of the cave, I was on an adrenaline high.  I was so proud I finished but I’m in no rush to do it again.  Haha.

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Vino break in the orange orchards.

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Paddle boarding on the river.

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Pool time!

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Just completed the six miles of adventure exploring the ATM Cave.

For beginning my adventure in the jungle with the question of “will I be bored here?”, I actually began to freak out by day three that I wouldn’t fit in all there was to see.  I fell in love with the jungle!  I’m usually pretty attached to my phone and staying in touch with my family.  For this leg, I had to forget about all of that, and it was all about exploring and recharging.

Once my stay at the jungle lodge had come to an end, I was ready to put my toes in the sand, and have more than one dining option.  Five days in the jungle was perfecto, but now it was on to the beach for another nine days.  I decided on Ambergris Caye.  It is the largest caye (island) of Belize.  From the jungle, it was a 2 hour drive to the ferry station and a 1.5 hour boat ride to Ambergris Caye.  I chose Captain Morgan’s Retreat as my hotel on Ambergris Caye for the sole reason that they had true beach huts in the sand for much cheaper than your average hotel room.  However, we were still part of a huge resort with all the amenities including the only Casino on the island.

OOOOHHHEEEMMMGGGEEE!!!  Opening my porch door and stepping into the sand was truly paradise.  When I arrived I was warned how bad the bugs were from another guest.  He told me to soak myself in bug spray every day.  After four days of literally getting eaten alive, I accidentally forgot my bug spray one evening, and didn’t get any bites.  I ditched the spray and never had a problem again.  Thanks for that sweet advice bro!

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Relaxing under a palm tree off of my beach hut porch on Ambergris Caye.

The  coolest thing about Ambergris Caye is that there are very few cars and the mode of transportation is by golf cart equipped with off road tires.  Oh hells ya!  Look out for me!  I drove that golf cart up and down, and back and forth.  We mostly only ate breakfast at our resort and spent the rest of the days beach and bar hopping our way around.  Ambergris Caye is so lively!  Whether you are eating pizza or the abundant fresh sea food they have to offer, it was always a party.  Live music was everywhere.  My favorite drive was a 40 minute golf cart ride to Secret Beach.  It was a bumpy adventure through the center of the island to a beautiful beach with food and music.  A must see (or drive) while on Ambergris Caye.

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Beep beep!

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Beach bar hopping.

Belize is famous for it’s ocean life.  I’m sadly too big of a wimp to dive but the snorkeling was the best I have ever seen with my own eyes.  Belize has the second largest coral reef system in the world, with Australia’s Great Barrier Reef being the largest.  If you like diving and snorkeling this is truly a wonderland, or wonderwater I guess.  Our captain took us to Hol Chan Marine Reserve .  As soon as you get in the water there are a gazillion fish around you.  I saw huge spotted eagle rays, eels, large puffer fish, endless schools, oh ya….and sharks!  Our second stop that our captain took us to was Shark Ray Alley where he chummed for sharks to come right up to the boat.  My crazy husband jumped into the water to swim with them.  I volunteered to be his photographer from inside the boat.  😉  The day was perfect.  I wish I had spent more time exploring the reef of Belize because (not to be lame) it was magical.

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Well after exploring every nook and cranny of Ambergris Caye, pigging out at all the fresh seafood restaurants, bar hopping to every bar, and hearing every live band on the island, I jumped on the ferry to explore the sister island of Ambergris Caye….Caye Caulker.  It’s a 30 minute hop to this tiny island that has a super laid back vibe.  There were a lot of backpackers, and simple people who love to party.  If you bring more than a bathing suit, cover up, and flip flops to this island, you have over packed.  You walk everywhere on Caye Caulker, and I spent most of the day at a place called the Split.  A hurricane split this island in half, and they turned it into the largest place to party with a picture perfect setting.  They have a bar there called the Lazy Lizard that has everything from hot bodies to grannies with fanny packs twerking and taking shots.  I took the last ferry ride home to Ambergris Caye, which was a very fun ride home at night. I wished I packed a backpack and stayed overnight.  One more day would have been fun to run back into the friends I made there in such a short time.

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The “Split” on Caye Caulker.

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Swinging away at Caye Caulker.

One last day on Ambergris Caye to stuff my face with fresh seafood, drink too many fresh squeezed margaritas (the ice was safe), and listen to one last performance of live reggae music (my favorite).  The people of Belize are so incredibly friendly, and I always felt safe day and night.  Belize was a great trip and mixing in the jungle with the beach was a twist I enjoyed more than I realized I would.  I also brought home five dread locks!  Lol.

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