Turks & Caicos
Traveling Yogini - Personal Destination Reviews, Recommendations and Experiences
I love to travel. Throughout my journeys, I always look for escapes and adventures, sanctuaries and havens, and above all, experiences that lead to personal exploration and balance. Here are some of my personal travel stops, tips and stories to help as you plan your own journeys off the mat and around the globe. This page is always a work in progress, as I continuously fill in bits and pieces of people, places, and experiences as I remember them. Send me an email if you want more details or specific information about a destination!
If you're going to do BA properly, you'll need to divide your time up by areas. While there are some unifying characteristics throughout BA, for example, there are really pretty green spaces throughout the city (many with benches and free city WiFi) and striking architecture, each area of the city holds a unique population, culture, and style. Try its famous (and delicious) beef, learn to tango (you can even find basic instructions painted on sidewalks), and find great deals on leather goods (if you're into those). La Boca is full of artist studios. Palermo Viejo has one-off shops, boutique hotels, and trendy bars. The Cementerio de la Recoleta holds Eva Peron's grave (don't waste time wandering around, just ask where it is).
If you have a lot of time (2 weeks or longer), you can rent a car in Buenos Aires and slowly make your way down through Patagonia and back. However, there are many other alternative (and less time demanding) ways to get to the glaciers. Check out some of the short haul flights, where you can then rent a car, or take a bus. Of course, there are many tour operators in this area as well. If you have your own car, you can hit both the touristy areas (super busy in the summer - December to February), and some lesser visited sites. Be aware that if you are driving during the winter (June to August), many shops and services will be closed, including gas stations. However you get there, check out the active Glacier Perito Moreno in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. There are some beautiful lake front properties to stay in in El Calafate, and if you're an icetrekker, you'll also want to plan a trip to Cerro Torre and the famous Cerro Fitz Roy.
Located across the bay from Nassau, on one of the finest beaches in the world, the Sivananda Ashram is an island paradise and a true oasis of calm and natural beauty. It offers a unique combination of a traditional ashram and a modern yoga retreat, complete with vegetarian fare, daily yoga, meditations, workshops, and evening talks. The healing sessions and white sands beckon you to rest, reflect, and enjoy. The ashram has a rotating schedule featuring various artists, and yoga practitioners. During my visit, grammy-nominated kirtan artist Jai Uttal and drummer Daniel Paul led several kirtan sessions and workshops. Early morning silent walking meditations along the beach provide a serene atmosphere to reflect. These are usually followed by spiritual talks and energizing chanting. Retreats can be difficult for many first timers (and 5th timers alike) so, when you're feeling isolated and missing "civilization", the Atlantis Resort is just a walk down the beach, encroaching on the otherwise pristine and secluded ashram. Here, you will find major resort features such as pools, shopping, markets, casinos, and restaurants.
This cute little island paradise has a lot to offer those that are looking for sun, white sand beaches, and a lively culture to explore. Visit an old plantation, sip on homebrewed rum punch, and visit the Friday-night fish fry in Oistins. The island is small enough to explore both sides - the Caribbean coast has beautiful white sand beaches, which the Atlantic side is perfect for hikes, picnics, surfing, and kitesurfing (at Bathsheba). If you're a shopper, visit downtown Bridgetown for its' World Heritage Site markets. Dating back over 400 years, Bridgetown has remarkable British architecture, with secret tunnels running from Garrison to Carlisle Bay. Visit an old plantation or rum factory.
Public transport reliability here is fairly poor. If you are on a tight schedule, you will be very disappointed. If you are willing to wait, minibuses are inexpensive and have multiple destinations. Seabelo's Express is affordable and more reliable. Thebe River Safaris can help to book park tours, boat cruises, and river safari excursions. Mornings and evenings can get quite chilly (even in Africa) so be sure to bring a long a warm jacket, sweater, or blanket.
Brazil is extremely large so you will probably separate your visits by area, or need a large amount of time. Flying from one area to another is probably your most efficient use of time, however, outside of the major cities, your transport options can be limited. Fortaleza Beaches (Avenida Hist Raimundo Girao, 91, Praia de Iracema, Fortaleza, Ceará 60060-420) is a great little company that can help to coordinate your land travels for a small price.
Rio de Janeiro
For spectacular views of the city, plan a trip to Sugarloaf Mountain. The queue is long (bring an umbrella or sun hat), but the wait is worth it. You can spend as much or as little time there as there are numerous hiking paths and other mountain peaks to visit once up top. The clouds move fairly quickly and even if it look cloudy and overcast from the ground, the view from the top can be clear. The other excursion you will need to wait in queue for is up Corcorvado Mountain for the Christ the Redeemer statue. Neither of these need to be done with a tour. In fact, if you go independently, you can take your time and explore some of the walking paths leading off of the main tourist site. And when it's time to relax, head down to Copacabana Beach, which can get very busy during weekends, but the sands are soft and waters inviting. It's also a great place for bikini shopping if you need new swimwear as many of the independent, boutique type designers sell their wares along the beach strip.
Southern Gulf Islands, British Columbia
The Southern Gulf Islands are beautiful, laidback, (sometimes hippie style) islands, each with a slightly unique culture. Although they take more planning to get to (aligning flight and ferry schedules), the islands offer a quiet retreat from the big city feel of nearby Vancouver.
Victoria, British Columbia
If you love wineries, you need to head to the Okanagan region. However, you can find a sampling of wineries (and cideries) on Vancouver Island. Because of the cooler climate, you won't find many of the sweeter variety, and many actually grow their grapes in the Okanagan before bringing them to the island to press. Still, a sampling tour is the perfect fix for a rainy day (and there are many here). Here are a few to try: Sea Cider Farm & Cider House (2487 Mt St. Michael Road, Saanichton, BC), Church & State Wines (1445 Benvenuto Avenue, Brentwood Bay, BC). Looking for a healthy, delicious meal with a view? Try Shima Village Japanese Restaurant (1218 Wharf Street).
San Andres Island
This beautiful little island is actually a popular tourist destination. Although a large portion of the island is now covered in cityscape, it is still possible to explore by foot, bike, or scooter. There are many large scale resorts offering all inclusive stays, but if you are more interested in culture, opt for many of the smaller owner operated B&Bs that allow for an escape out of the city. On Sundays, many of the local residents set up tables outside of their homes filled with traditional Colombian food. It's a great way to get a home-cooked meal on the fly.
Costa Rica really has a lot to offer to travellers, from lush rainforests to bubbling volcanoes, white sand beaches to amazing wildlife, and plenty of eco-adventure opportunities. The easiest way to get around is to rent a car and drive yourself. The roads are easily navigated and there are enough English speakers to help you along the way. A good place to start is San Jose. From here, you can easily reach all of the popular tourist destinations - Poas National Park, coffee plantations, La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Arenal National Park, La Fortuna, Monteverde cloudforest, Manuel Antonio National Park, and hundreds of beaches. Although you can take a night tour to view the spewing Arenal volcano, it is much more economical to drive yourself. Be prepared to wait for clouds to lift (sometimes hours) and be sure to dress warmly and bring along a mug of hot chocolate. The high elevation makes for chilly nights. To warm yourself up, visit one of the thermal spa resorts with bar service you can wade to. If you're into adventure, be sure to try whitewater rafting on the Rio Arenal, take a canopy walk in Monteverde, or try an extreme version of zip lining. You will get amazing views on the longest cables in Costa Rica. I booked with www.monteverdeextremo.com. There are a lot of inexpensive hotels to choose from and there is no need to book in advance, even during busy holiday seasons, despite what tour companies tell you. If you want to get close to wildlife, you absolutely must take your binoculars and an early morning (5am or earlier) birdwatching tour. The best tourguides are locals and if you ask around, there are always people willing to take you at minimum cost - don't worry about knowledge - they live here!
Costa Rica is also growing as a yoga retreat destination. If you're looking for yoga, head towards Nosara, or Santa Teresa (also fantastic for novice surfers). Although there are a lot of resident yoga schools here, many serious yoginis offer destination yoga retreats here, often combined with surf lessons from Safari Surf School. If you want to rent boards and take lessons yourself, you can find them at Casa Tucan. Miss Sky is an 11km ziplining canopy that takes you over jungle, across a river and above a turtle-nesting habitat before stopping at a waterfall.
Attention fashionistas!! There is a fabulous little store called Bazaar de Nosara located at the Harmony Hotel. Run by a free-spirited Turkish designer called Gonca Gul, you will be blown away by the beautiful and comfortable clothing and accessories available here. It's like a gypsy treasure-trove with collections that include yoga wear with style. Be prepared to empty your wallet here. If you're a surfer, head to Tamarindo to tackle world-class swells.
If you're looking for a deep personal development experience, you'll want to visit Pachamama. This small village is located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica in a forested valley, not far from Nosara. It is a 3 hour taxi ride from Liberia and a commune that embraces an alternative lifestyle. The energy and spirituality of this small community is so profoundly unique that one really must experience it for themselves to understand how powerful and lifechanging the programs here can be. Choose from shortterm to longterm workshops and programs enriched with yoga and meditative activities for all ages and levels.
Sometimes all we need is a short getaway with everything planned for us. Pura Vida Spa in San Jose, CR provides just that. Only minutes from the airport, the shuttle takes you quickly there and back without taking up valuable relaxation time. With several options to choose from, guests can drop in any time, stay as long as they want, and choose the yoga sessions, spa treatments, and other excursions and activities from an a-la-carte type menu. With a variety of rooms to choose from and delicious healthy food buffets each day, Pura Vida makes the yoga vacation easy! This is perfect for first-timer yoga vacationers or those who only have a few days to escape!
The easiest and most convenient way to explore the islands is to take a cruise/tour. There are tons of tour operators to choose from. I personally opt for smaller boats with smaller group sizes. You can negotiate with those just parked at the harbour. If you're traveling solo, it's possible to find fantastic last minute deals as boats want to fill single spaces. Once you're sufficiently visited the stunning islands of Vis, Hvar, Split and Korcula, head back to the mainland where you'll want to hire a car to explore the rest of this gorgeous country. Plitvice Lakes National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers amazing views of waterfalls, fir-tree forests, and clear waters. However, the paths are all cordoned off with ropes, so be prepared to stay on the path, often following closely to those in front of you (much like a single file IKEA shopping experience). It's definitely worth the stunning views, but off-trail hikers will be disappointed that they can't venture out off the roped paths. Croatia is full of castles. Dubovac Castle is a 13th Century wonder that is only an hour south of Zagreb, and offers expansive views over the town of Karlovac.
Prague is such a beautiful city, and is one of the few places that has so much to offer that it doesn't matter if you happen to visit during bouts of rain or snow. Wander through Old Town Square or Wenceslas Square, stopping at one of the many cafes to people watch. Spend some time at Prague Castle, and catch a show at the Prague Opera.
If you only bring back one souvenir from Ecuador, make sure it's a can (or two) of Republica del Cacao hot chocolate (my favourite is single dark chocolate), made from 100% pure arriba cacao beans. You can find Republica del Cacao stores in the major shopping areas in Quito, or tourist centers.
Chances are that if you're in Egypt, you're here to see the pyramids. Just outside the city, you can tour the Great Pyramid of Giza, and the Sphinx, both without a tour. If you find an independent guide, you can also ask to be taken to some of the earlier pyramids that aren't usually part of any tour visits, which means you can spend as much time in the tombs as you want.
Luxor and Aswan
Make your way from Luxor to Aswan, where you can explore the Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, Luxor Temple, Hatshepsut Temple, Valley of Nobles, Colossi of Memnon, and further south, El Kab, Gabel Silsileh, Edfu, and Kom Ombo.
Estonia is hands down one of my favourite countries in the world. The people are warm, welcoming, and friendly, and towns and cities are largely untouched by tourists. Hotel Dorell is a nice hotel, but a bit of a walk from Old Town. Europeans love their museums, and Tallinn has its share. Worthy of note - the Tallinn City Museum, Medieval Torture Museum
Although most travelers to Greece are there to island hop, the mainland offers just as much in the way of culture, architecture, and history, at a more affordable price point. Be sure to visit the famous Acropolis and Ancient Angora, along with the Temple of Olympian Zeus (if you watch the Olympics, the history behind this site is extremely fascinating), Panathenaic Stadium, and Aristotle's Lyceum. Many of these sites are free!
Hong Kong is a unique city which boasts a population of over 7 million people in a very small space. Although one of the most densely populated areas in the world, you can find peace, tranquility, and a continuation of the traditional Chinese way of living away from the hustle and bustle of the financial metropolis...if you look. Check out my Favourite Things in Hong Kong.
Delhi is a whole new world. From the elaborately built mosques and fortresses to the largest spice markets in the world, Delhi has a lot to explore. Not for the faint of heart, the sights, sounds, and smells can be overwhelming. Ride a rickshaw, marvel at the colourful spice markets, and when you've had enough, stroll through peaceful Lodhi Gardens (constructed in the 1930s, this 90-acre park houses 15th & 16th Century monuments and tombs of Lodhi emperors). If you're into astronomy, Jantar Mantar is an observatory built in 1724. The famous Taj Mahal is only a 4 hour drive from Delhi (in Agra). If you hire a car (and driver), take the opportunity to stop in the small villages along the way.
Jaipur is known as the beautiful pink-tinted city, due to the use of sandstone. It also has one of the best preserved historic town centers and you can observe many of their cultural traditions here. Known especially for their textiles and gems, Jaipur is a city that "dazzles". Check out the 17th Century Amber Fort, 18th Century Jantar Mantar Observatory, City Palace (you can choose to ride an elephant up to the palace if you wish), and search for block-printed cotton fabrics, hand-woven carpets, and colourful inks and spices.
Bali is one of the world's leading destinations for yoga and spiritual retreats and vacations. There are over one thousand Hindu temples on this small island alone. Touted as the place for serious relaxation, I registered for One World Retreats' 6 day Escape the World retreat. The program, created by retreat leaders Claude and Iyan, included a mix of yoga, meditation, excursions, and spa treatments. The food was a feast of delicious vegetarian meals with recipes that you can easily replicate at home. The yoga style is compatible for beginners and intermediate yogis although advanced practitioners may not find it challenging enough. What really makes this retreat different from others are the luxurious royal quality spa treatments that allow you to pamper yourself daily without breaking your budget. The little town of Ubud is busy but far enough away from the tourist beaches that are often filled with Australian college students looking for party vacations. There are a lot of shops and a main market filled with sarongs, clothes, jewellery and Balinese crafts, but vendors are not as ready to barter as in other Asian markets, so bargains are hard to come by. Try the wontons at Cafe Lotus on Jl. Raya, Ubud which also offers free views of a spectacular lotus garden. Since my first visit to Bali several years ago, Ubud has indeed become a mecca for yogis and wellness seeking tourists alike (think Eat Pray Love). With luxury hotels on every street, it certainly isn't the same "steal of a deal" destination it was when it simply known for its tranquility and rice paddies.
Indonesia has extremely affordable and easily accessible transportation. If you land in Jakarta, simply make your way to the far end of the airport for shuttle services. I used Cipaganti Shuttle Service for point to point transportation to Bandung. However, they offer transportation services countrywide. Communication is a bit tricky as fewer people speak fluent English here, even at the airport. Bandung, and even Jakarta, are extremely affordable. You can find luxury accommodations easily, that won't break the bank.
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Keep in mind that when you're planning your schedule, Sunday in Israel is a full work day, not considered a weekend.
Near Ein-Gedi there are some amazing natural hot springs that are only accessible by car.
I don't know anyone who doesn't fall in love with Venice the first time they visit. It is such a unique, vibrant, and beautiful city. A few things not to miss: St. Mark's Square and St. Mark's Basilica. Make the climb to the bell tower. The Church of San Sebastians (dedicated to the art of Paolo Veronese), and the Cannaregio District (Old Jewish Ghetto established in 1516), including five synagogues and a Jewish museum. I don't often recommend popular tourist activities, but don't skip a gondola ride through the cannals.
The third largest island in the Caribbean, Jamaica is called the "Land of Wood and Water" by its native inhabitants. This is no wonder, with its lush, dense forest and extraordinary coffee plantations set amidst the Blue Mountains. Aside from these inland treasures, the beautiful coastlines of Jamaica provide a stunning backdrop to relax and unwind at the beach. The laidback, friendly locals make a visit to any city, town, and obscure village a positive adventure and it's clear to see that Marley's motto of "One Love" has been embraced by every Jamaican.
It is easy to find resort deals in Jamaica, but be sure to hire a car and explore other parts of the island. Give yourself plenty of time as the roads are long, narrow, windy, unmarked, rocky, and covered in potholes (it can take 3 hours to cover 70km) - but it is well worth the time! Be prepared to change a tire or two.
Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril are the most famous resort areas. Things to see in Montego Bay include the Rose Hall Great House, Appleton Rum Estate, Oxford Park & Spaldings. Jamaica is laiden with all-inclusive resorts. The Grand Bahia Principe in Runaway Bay is a great base for exploring the rest of the island. However, if you prefer budget hotels, the Cool Oasis in Ironshore, Montego Bay is conveniently located and hosts a restaurant and night club. Just outside of Ocho Rios, you can join a human chain and climb Dunn's River Falls. Across the road, Dolphin Cove offers a chance to glass bottom kayak, swim with stingrays, and kiss bottle nose dolphins. If you have the time, you can drive up to the Blue Mountains Coffee Plantation. The views are gorgeous as the land is thickly wooded and maintained as a Forest Reserve. Nine Mile is Bob Marley's resting place. The Bob Marley Mausoleum is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, upward along narrow winding streets curled around lush, tropical trees and steep, uncultivated mountains. Inside, a Rastafarian guide will lead you through Marley's small house, rocky, and tomb (while occasionally breaking into song). Kingston isn't often encouraged as a tourist destination, but if you are willing to explore, it offers lively markets, the Bob Marley Museum (in Marley's original studio where he recorded many of his songs), and Devon House. And when you've finished exploring, relax along the beach. Negril offers miles and miles of beautiful white sands. Visit Xtabi, a local lounge and hangout to watch the sunset and cliffdivers. For a livelier scene, try Rick's Cafe in Negril, which fills up each night with locals and tourists hoping to catch a great sunset view atop of their huge deck. When the sun is beating down and you want to escape the heat, drive up the mountain to Strawberry Hill, where it's always a bit cooler.
The Japanese are known for being hardworking, meticulous, polite, and healthy. One day in busy Tokyo or historic Kyoto will tell you this is true. The Japanese even make queues at the train station enjoyable (or at least tolerable), without the regular pushing, shoving, and race for seats that we frequently find at our own transport hubs. A holiday in Japan takes extra budgeting care as transportation and accommodation costs can be exuberant. One of the easiest ways to save on transportation costs is to purchase a Japan Rail Pass prior to leaving your home country (they are not available for purchase within Japan). Specifically designed for tourists, these passes can save hundreds of dollars in rail/bus costs. These passes, once activated, cannot be re-issued, so take due care not to lose your pass along the way. Also be sure to take enough cash to exchange upon arrival as most ABMs do not accept foreign cards. Post Banks do accept international cards, but are closed over holidays and after business hours.
To get a true Japanese experience, major cities such as Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka are all worthy of a few days of exploration each. Throughout these cities, you will find historical and cultural sites, fabulous restaurants, tech infused areas, and shopping galore. However, to understand Japanese culture, it is important to venture into some of the smaller, mountain villages. Castle towns such as Takayama, or historically significant areas such as Nara or Hiroshima provide a unique cultural lesson for foreigners. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is extremely well done, giving personal accounts of the atomic bombings without pointing fingers or assigning blame. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to take the ferry to Mirajima Island, a short skip from Hiroshima. Here you will find a spiritual atmosphere with beautiful historical temples. If you are looking for a spiritual retreat, head to Mount Koya. Koyasan was founded about twelve centuries ago as a center for Singon Buddhist training. Now registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Koyasan is home to over 150 Buddhist temples nestled amongst the forest in the valley of the Kii Mountain range. Many of these temples accept overnight guests, serving traditional Japanese meals, and allowing you to meditate with the monks in the early morning. This unique experience is reasonably priced, and some temples also allow you to practice karma yoga, exchanging temple work for accommodation. A stay in a monastery may seem out of your element, but monasteries are very accepting of visitors with any religious beliefs. By simply being respectful of their way of life, you can create a personal and unique experience for yourself.
Be aware that if you are visiting in the winter, it can be extremely cold. Japanese custom requires the removal of footwear in all buildings (including museums, temples, and even many shops and restaurants). With a lack of central heating, floors are extremely cold so be sure to carry an extra pair of socks or warm indoor slippers with you. UNIQLO, a Japanese based store, sells thermal clothing specifically designed for Japanese winters.
The Nishiki Market is a fantastic stop if you want to try Japanese delicacies such as Kyoto-style fermented pickles, skewered boiled eggs wrapped in salty octopus, or picking up your favourite Japanese spices. Kiyomizu Temple is on every tourist's list, and for that reason, you should try to visit this 8th Century mountain temple as early as possible (before the tour buses).
Some of Japan's best Wagyu comes from Matsusaka cattele raised in the Osaka countryside, so this is the place to get your cut of specialty beef.
Make an early morning trip to Tsukiji Market and watch merchants set up their fish stalls. If you're a people watcher, head to Harujuku for wild fashion and curios shopping. For panoramic views of the city and beyond (on a clear day, see vistas all the way to Mount Fuji), head up the 54 storey Mori Tower.
Gaujas National Park. Although I usually try to eat traditional local food when I'm travelling, sometimes I take a break. If you're looking for sushi in Riga, Kabuki Sushi Restaurant (Kr. Barona iela 14) is fantastic.
Lithuania, and Vilnius in particular, holds a special place in my heart as it was where I took my first Vipassana course. After 10 days of silence in Lithuania's bleak countryside, I was delighted to find Vilnius' medieval old town, complete with cobblestone roads, gothic architecture, and bustling town squares. If you're lucky enough to visit on a market day, be sure to go on an empty stomach and sample the delicacies - traditional honey cake, borscht, cepelinai (traditional dumplings), and kugelis (potato pudding). Vilnius Europolis Hotel is only a 15 minute walk from historic Old Vilnius Town Centre. With free parking and internet, it's a fabulous option for siteseeing. The Museum of Genocide Victims is housed in old Soviet KGB headquarters. The building is listed as an historical monument and the main part of the exhibition is an old KGB prison.
Kaunas Hotel is a 4 star hotel situated right in the city center.
Taman Negara National Park is home to many of the world's most endangered species (including Asian elephants, tigers, leopards, and rhinos). It's easy to explore with your own car.
While most people are drawn to Mexico for its beaches and oceans, Guanajuato state has beautiful topography and offers a different, more traditional Mexican experience. If you don't have a car, bus transportation is reliable and affordable. Looking for a place to practice? Try Vida Yoga in Celaya, offering a range of classes from Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow, to Restorative classes. Looking for souvenirs? Stop for a jar of traditional cajeta (think toffee/caramel spread) in Celaya. Mexico Lindo in San Miguel de Allende (No.85 esq. Hidalgo) is a small shop selling art and ceramics. If you're looking for a different experience, check out the Museo Momias Guanajuato (Mummy Museum) in Guanajuato City. Although these mummies are not very old, there is a fair sized collection at the museum.
I don't usually recommend large resort areas, but I had the opportunity to visit Ixtapa for a wedding. If you are looking for a place to get away for a short time, it is possible to find some quiet beaches along the Ixtapa coastline. Getting to and from the airport to the large resorts can be costly. There is an option to shuttle share (4 people in a van) for a lower rate. Ask at the desk as you leave the airport.
Punta Allen and Ascension Bay
Punta Allen is a secluded fishing village (about a 4 hour drive through winding gravel roads from Cancun) with quiet cabanas, a mix of heat and sun, and a beautiful tropical backdrop filled with fish, birds, and mangrove wetlands. The Sian Kaan Biosphere is home to over 350 species of birds, including roseate spoonbills, and flamingos. If you're in need of a tranquil, peaceful retreat to re-connect, you may well find it here in Punta Allen.
Tulum is the only Mayan city built on the coast. Only a 2 hour drive from Cancun, but an entirely different environment, Tulum offers a relaxing ambience...Posada Yum Kin is a unique ecolodge just off the main street. The beautiful rooms offer a retreat environment with town proximity.
If your'e into huge souks, palaces, grandiose mosques, and crowds of people, you will love Marrakech. If crowds are not your thing, a visit to the souks is still a must, but do so before dinner time. Once the sun starts to set, the nightlife begins, and while it's a sight to see, the medina's main square, Jemaa el Fna, becomes filled with people, and bartering for deals, much more difficult. The Palais el Bahia (Bahia Palace) is made up of a palace, houses, and gardens and is located in the medina, close to the Jewish quarter. It is beautifully kept and still used to receive foreign dignitaries. Ben Youssef Medersa is also found in the medina, and was used as a college until the 1960s. Here, you can visit the courtyards, old dormitories, and prayer rooms.
Tangier is best known for its port and is often the first stop on tours to Morocco (sometimes just day tours) as it is only a one hour ferry ride from Spain. Because of this, hotels are much pricier and the city is often overrun by tourist groups. The medina is very touristy(and fairly small) and although you can find many of the same goods as in other Moroccan cities, you will be paying more for these same products, even with excellent bartering skills. It is fairly easy to find secured parking in Tangier, and the hotels along the port are very modern.
The sand dunes are breathtakingly beautiful and appear endless. Dreamed of skydiving? Ground Rush Adventures offers both experienced and inexperienced skydivers a chance to experience the beautiful sand dunes of Namibia from a different perspective. And once you see them, you'll want to explore them! Try sandboarding or atving with Outback Orange. The Swakop Lodge is affordable and has easy access to the sand dunes. There is a restaurant and night club on site. Enjoy a Savanna (or Savanna Light) In the Heart of Town (Cnr. Moltke and Woermann Streets). Supporting street sellers is one way to buy curios (souvenirs) to take home. Curio shop prices will be similar and you can also negotiate in shops. If you are purchasing something breakable, try Art Africa, for travel proof wrapping. There are several branches in Swakopmund, and throughout Namibia.
The Cardboard Box Backpackers provides simple rooms, great free breakfast, internet services, and convenience for sightseeing in Windhoek.
Although a bit tricky to get to, especially if you're wanting to do an independent excursion, without a tour agency, it is possible to obtain last minute visas at the border if you cna find a contact to meet you at the border. Once inside, Oman offers pristine reffs, stunning deserts, rugged mountain landscapes, and endless beaches.
If you're a wreck diver, Palau is your haven. As the final resting place of coral cloaked planes and wrecks, a week on this island is not enough.
Touted as the "most beautiful city of Portugal", Evora has a UNESCO World Heritage old town filled with lots of sights (every street has a museum, praca, or church to see), and is much cleaner than other Portuguese cities. It is fairly small (you can see everything in two days) and easy to get around by foot. The Cathedral is well worth a visit and the rooftop offers fantastic views of the city. The Chapel of Bones (much larger than the one in Faro), located beside the gothic Royal Church of Sao Francisco, gives a unique, if not eery, look at views of the human condition in the 17th Century. You can find several streets dedicated to tourist shopping, selling any cork and leather goods you can imagine. Start or end your day at the Art Cafe (hidden just off the square on Rua Serpa Pinto) where you can enjoy a cup of coffee and Portuguese pastry for a handful of change (and free wifi). Other sights to visit - Praca de Giraldo (main square), Largo Conde Vila Flor (small Greek ruins), Castelo Velho, Universidade de Evora, Largo da Porta de Moura, Praca de Sertorio, Igreja da Graca, and the aqueducto which is connected to the Forte de Santo Antonio.
If you have the time, hire a car and drive along the Algarve coast, where you'll find whitewashed houses, stunning cliffs, and cutesy local markets. Faro's small, quiet, walled old town doesn't have many shops, but there are beautiful cafes and restaurants around every corner. Perfect for a break from the busy marina and pedestrian shopping streets (Rua Santa Antonio, Rua Fransisco Gomes). The Faro Cathedral (also known as Santa Maria Church) is located in Largo da Se (Cathedral Square). It is fairly small and will only take a few minutes to visit, but the bell tower provides views of the old town and sea. The most interesting part of this site is the Chapel of Bones, which consists of a small wall built using human bones. For affordable accommodations within walking distance to both the port and old town, check out the Residential Dandy, a small but warm old-style guesthouse with nearby parking.
This coastal city is mostly a resort town, but the beautiful vistas of the Atlantic Ocean are worth the stop. Drive down to nearby Cape St. Vincent, which is known as landlocked Europe's most western point.
My rainy days are often filled with art gallery and museum visits. Start your day with Rembrandt and Monet at Museu Calouste Gulbenian, and if weather permits, pack a picnic and spend some time in the beautifullly designed gardens. I don't often recommend taking tours, but the hop on hop off sightseeing buses can save you a lot of time. They can be found in most major cities in Portugal (and Spain) and are valid for two days from purchase. If you show a receipt from a different city, you can receive a discount on your next sightseeing bus ticket. Major sights include - St. Jorge Castle, Alfama, Casa dos Bicos, St. Anthony Church, St. Vincent Church, Fado Museum, Praca do Comercio (check out the Beer Museum), Cathedral
Belem is a suburb of Lisbon and has a history all of its own. Don't bother trying to walk there from central Lisbon. The road is long and mostly highway. If you want to try the pastille de Belem (famous custard pastry) at the original bakery, you will need to line up very early. However, you can find them at almost every other Portuguese cafe and they are every bit as delicious as the original recipe ones. Most impressive is Jeronimos' Monastery, but also stop for Belem Tower, and any of the numerous museums along the same street.
Porto is hands down, one of my favourite cities. It's beautiful and very affordable. If you're looking for somewhere to spend your money, or just want to pick up a few souvenirs, head to Rue de Santa Catarina, a street dedicated to shoppers. This street is lined with shops selling clothing, Portuguese goods (food, port wine, handicrafts), and restaurants but is much less touristy than the port wine cellar areas across the bridge. Of course, you'll want to try the port tastings, and every wine cellar offers tours and deals.
Just a short drive from Lisbon (30 minutes), Sintra takes you out of the big city and into a world full of fairytale looking castles. If you want to visit most of the castles (Pena, Mouros, Monserrate, Natioanl Palace of Sintra, Capuchos Convent, National Palace of Queluz, Chalet of the Countess of Edla), fortresses, and parks in the area without feeling rushed, plan for at least one full day. Using the hop on hop off tourist bus will give you enough time to visit each major stop, but be prepared to wait as the buses are often overcrowded and late. Finding parking can be a problem if you have a car, particularly if you are visiting on weekends or holidays.
If you're lucky enough to be there for "Tattoo Season" (August), you can experience the literal "turn off the taps" festivities, including music of the Scottish Regisments and Massed Military Bands.
For reliable tranportation in South Africa, book bus tickets through Intercape.
Coastal towns are best known for their seafood, and Capetown is no exception. The Protea Cape Castle Hotel bed and breakfast offers views of the city, waterfront, ocean, and mountains. Try the Cape Town Fish Market (restaurant, sushi bar, fish market). Hiking up Table Mountain provides spectacular views of the seaport city (on fogless days). The Kirstanbosch National Botanical Gardens showcases only indigenous South African plants. Take a stroll through these magnificent gardens and view their collection of over 9000 plants and various birds.
If you are in Hazyview, you're probably on your way to exploring Kruger National Park, only 12 km away from this tiny town. Gecko Bushpackers Hostel is affordable, family managed, and a good base for visiting Kruger National Park, one of the largest game reserves in South Africa. While there are many organised safari tours to choose from, it is possible to drive through and explore on your own if you have a car. Make sure you have a good set of binoculars, and then watch and wait! It won't take you long to spot an elephant, zebra, or giraffe, but if you want to check off your big 5 list, you'll have to have patience.
Although extremely touristy, you can find unique gifts and souvenirs at the African Craft Market of Rosebank. Many of the crafts here are of higher quality than those that you find in other curio markets and although prices will also be slightly higher, it is well worth a visit. I still use the brightly coloured place mats that I purchased years ago. If you're looking for an indoor shopping centre, similar to those you'd find in North America, Sandton City Centre is the place to go. With multiple levels of shops, restaurants, and services, you could spend half a day just roaming around. Fashionistas, you will love The Space (selling clothing and housewares) at Rosebank Mall, housing some of the most creative South African designers (Leigh Schubert, Jo Borkett, Colleen Eitzen...). If you're in Johannesburg, you're probably not there to shop. This vibrant city has a lot to explore, though driving may be daunting if you're intimidated by six lane highways. Museums of note include the Apartheid Museum, Hector Pieterson Museum, and Nelson Mandela Museum in Soweto.
St. Lucia (Zululand)
If you need accommodations in St. Lucia, Wetlands Letting is a quaint bed and breakfast that can help you arrange safari tours. iNandi Crafts makes original handmade jewellery using natural materials from Kwa-Zulu Natal.
The Boulders at Simon's Town is a known natural habitat for penguins.
One of the best places to sit and people watch is along La Rambla, the city's main shopping avenue. There are enough museums and art galleries in Barcelona to fill up an entire two week vacation. Pick and choose wisely. Almost all of these have at least one free day per week, so if you plan accordingly, you can visit them all at no cost. Museo Picasso is one of my personal favourites with super vibrant colours to brighten up any rainy day.
Another favourite, this city has a bit more of a laid-back, hippie type vibe to it. Check out the Arab markets, and indulge in the tapas (you'll often get one free when you buy a drink at a bar).
This city is the perfect getaway. Small enough to explore in a day, quaint old town feel with a beautiful old Cathedral, museums, art galleries, local artisans, and a long stretch of beach for surf and sand. The Catedral de Tarragona (Cathedral, Cloister, and DIocesan Museum) is a remarkable show of architecture, and has stunning gardens that you can enjoy without the tourist groups you find in larger cities. Tarragona has a lot of Roman influence and you can see remnants throughout the city in the Roman tower, Roman gates, and a fairly well preserved Roman amphitheatre that is still used for shows such as gladiator fights.
If you are looking for an affordable (dare I say, cheap?), culture rich, fast-paced destination, look no further. Bangkok has it all. Bright lights, Thai boxing, over crowded markets, and delicious food to please every palate. The purpose of my Bangkok visit was to study traditional Thai massage. Being the base of Thai Medicine, Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School was opened in 1955 inside Wat Po. It is the first Thai Medical School under the approval of Thai Ministry of Education and offers basic courses of Thai Medicine that are Thai Pharmacy, Thai Medical Practice, Thai Midwife Nurse and Thai Massage. If you are looking for a modern, clean, easily accessible hotel away from the busy, noisy, Khaosan Road area, you must consider Feung Nakorn Balcony. Only a 15-20 minute walk from Khaosan Road, it is a few blocks away from Wat Pho, the Grand Palace, and two main piers. The rooms have private bathrooms, a/c, television, and free drinkable water, all for less than $40/night. Do not be afraid of trying the street food. From a steamy bowl of noodles, to satay pork skewers, or even hand rolled sushi, the food is delicious. For a few dollars, you can try an entire smorgasbord as you walk down the street. It is easy to get around Bangkok - by boat, taxi (ask to be on the meter), or tuk tuk. Be sure you get a government tuk tuk (those with tilted license plates) as opposed to privately run tuk tuks and you'll be able to hire your own tuk tuk driver for the entire day for as little as 30 baht ($1). If your time is limited, don't waste time looking for markets. Simply go to Chatulak Market (Weekend Flea Market) where you can find EVERYTHING for cheap. If you like something, negotiate and buy it as the market is huge and you will likely not make your way back to the same stall. For the intense shopper, allow yourself the full weekend to enjoy this shopper's haven. Of course, you are not to miss the famous wats (temples), should take a klong (canal) tour on a long tail boat, and explore the vibrant flower and floating markets.
Turkey is one of the few countries that I've taken a group tour in. I found it very useful as once you venture away from the tourist areas of Istanbul, the fewer English speakers you will encounter, and it's a must to travel to the Eastern areas of Turkey to experience traditional culture.
These surreal volcanic peaks are created by lava. Here, you'll find hidden houses (and cave hotels), and a beautiful backdrop filled with hot air balloons. Photographer's dream.
This magnificent city is really a mix of its location (between Europe and Asia) and you can see this in its architecture, food, and music. One step into the colourful world of the Grand Bazaar (give yourself a lot of time here...if even just to get lost) will have you mesmerized. Try the local pide (Turkish pizza), ayran (yogurt drink), mint tea, and kofte (grilled meatballs). The aroma of the spices fill the streets (which you can dine in, and traffic will simply drive around you).
Turks & Caicos
Grand Turk Island
Grand Turk is the capital of Turks & Caicos. Its historical and cultural nature sets it apart from the other islands. A stroll "downtown" offers a view of 18th and 19th Century buildings and landmarks, including an 1852 Lighthouse, St. Thomas' Anglican Church (built in 1823), and former HM prison. Grand Turk also boasts the world's third largest barrier reef, so it is a mecca for scuba divers and snorkelers alike. The Osprey Beach Hotel is located centrally and offers clean, spacious rooms with shared balconies overlooking the beach or gardens at affordable rates. You will need a scooter or bicycle to see the island. Be aware that this is a cruise ship port, so at times, beaches can get overcrowded, and some businesses are only open on cruise ship days. Watch for Haitian market days when a large ship carrying goods and produce from Haiti arrives. Here, you'll find fresh fruit at a steal.
North & Middle Caicos
A $10.00 admission allows you to visit the Conch Bar Caves on Middle Caicos. One of the largest cave systems in the Caribbean region, there are pools/ponds, stalactites, stalagmite, and bats. You may need to call in advance as the gate is often locked. You do not need a guided tour if you bring your own light.
While many people come to Provo to stay at all-inclusive resorts, to truly see what the island has to offer, you will need a car. Bayside Car Rentals has the only convertible car on the island. As an island, the best "sights" are, of course, beaches. Provo has a variety to choose from: Ports of Call and Grace Bay (a 12 mile stretch of barrier reef protected coastline) are lined with large scale resorts and offer activities for families (snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding...). The Bite Reef is known for exquisite snorkelling that is close to shore. Blue Hills Beach is a scenic beach that runs from Thompson Cove to Northwest Point. It is a favourite for photographers and artists. Leeward Beach has a variety of secluded white sand, limestone cliffs, and stone jetties. Malcom Roads Beach also provides a secluded two mile stretch of white sand beach, if you don't mind the drive.
Salt Cay Island
Salt Cay is a small, currently undeveloped island, consisting of salinas, pristine white sand beaches (best beach is North Beach), traditional salinas, and remote dive sites. Getting here requires a bit of planning as ferries and flights are infrequent and have small capacity for passengers. Once on the island, it is easy to get around by foot or bicycle (although flat tires are frequent occurrences). Start your exploration at Deane's Dock and the Coral Reef Bar and Grill. You will need to order your meals in advance at most of the restaurants on the island but owners are extremely accommodating and your seafood is always fresh. There are numerous guesthouses to choose from but busy seasons fill up quickly. I recommend Tradewinds Guest Suites for sea views, free wifi, and free bicycles. Salt Cay is an ideal location to dive (or take your diving certification) as groups are small and you will often receive one on one instruction for the same cost as group instruction. Tradewinds Guest Suites can help you set up any activities and excursions. It is impossible to get lost on the island and if you visit Porter at Island Thyme Cafe (just up the street from Deane's Dock), you will receive a welcome package with a map, tours, and postcard to send home. Salt Cay is best known for its nearby dive sites, and whale watching (in season). You will find little to buy on the island, but you don't need much - a book, beach towel, and relaxing spirit.
Although one of my favourite cities, London can be overwhelming, and very expensive for first-time visitors. Wander through Brick Lane for thrift shops, and Spitalfields Market for market steals (mostly clothing). For good (and cheaper) eats, try a pub, or for real farmer to food stall treats, head to Borough Market (right by London Bridge) which is London's oldest food market. Here, you'll find farmer's selling their own produce or ready-made meals. There are a lot of free art galleries, museums, and events at historical buildings or parks throughout the city. You can check out the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace for free (but be sure to arrive early to get a good viewing spot). Parks are some of my favourite places to people watch. In central London, Hyde Park is always a good stop for a picnic, or afternoon nap (which you'll need after walking around the city). There are a ton of walking paths, and even a lake (Serpentine Lake). Just adjacent to Hyde Park is Kensington Gardens (basically the front lawn of Princess Diana's former residence). St. James' Park is located near to Buckingham Palace, and from there, you can take photos of the palace or London Eye (on the Blue Bridge). If you're into tall ships, head to Maritime Greenwich. Here, the Old Royale Naval College and the National Maritime Museum are free to enter. Head up the hill to the Royal Observatory, and you can also see the Prime Meridian.
Although the destination in this area is usually Miami, Hollywood can offer less crowded beach fun for families. And while the warm Atlantic Ocean is definitely beckoning, my Hollywood travels would be amiss without yoga classes and workshops at Yoga One Studio. Owners Darlene and Steve Feinzig are welcoming, knowledgeable and run a beautiful place of practice for the yoga community. The perfect place to further your practice. Getting here is a 10 minute drive if you fly into Fort Lauderdale, however, at only 30 minutes away, Miami is also a great airport option. SuperShuttle offers affordable ground transportation service from MIA and major hotel/centers. Hallendale Beach is right next door to Hollywood, and you'd be amiss if you didn't make a stop at Eddie Hills Sushi-Thai Diner. Serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner, this cute little restaurant has won numerous awards for its delicious servings of sushi and Thai favourites (try their Pad Thai - yum!). The portions are sharing sized, and well-priced. There's no WiFi available here, so you'll have to focus on the food (and your companions).
The Ocean Resort Hotel Waikiki is a modestly priced hotel located close to the beach. And when it's time to eat, try Tiki's Grill & Bar, the Shorebird Beach Broiler, or Lu Lu's Waikiki Surf Club.
Kauai is definitely one of my favourite of the Hawaiian Islands. With pristine vistas, fewer tourists, and less commercialism, it is the perfect hiking adventure destination. Take some time to explore (and get lost in) Waimea Canyon National Park, and the Na Pali Coast. Venture up the Anahola Mountains and enjoy gorgeous views of Hanelai Bay. The Kalalau Trail is 22 miles round-trip but takes you through hidden beaches, cliffs, and waterfalls.
Las Vegas, Nevada
Admittedly, Vegas isn't known for yoga, retreats, or a healthy work-life balance. Rather, it's the place to go when you want to let loose, have some fun, and forget about responsibilities. Read here for my comprehensive blog post on making healthy choices in Vegas (without spoiling all the fun).
Los Angeles, California
I try to make sustainable dining part of my travels whenever possible. Axe Restaurant, in Venice, has a fully organic kitchen sourced from a roster of local farms. Using parchment paper and reusable containers, Axe is committed to sustainable practices. But don't think it means skimping on flavour. The food is fabulous AND good for you. If you're on the beach and just need a quick but tasty meal, try El Tarasco (109 Washington Blvd, Venice), famous for their huge servings of carnitas and other Mexican dishes. It's a quick walk from the Venice Fishing Pier. Another not to be missed restaurant is Gjelina. Great for date night, or if you're by yourself or just want to meet new people, try sitting at their community/shared table. Perfect for travellers. LA's West Village has a lot more than just farm to table restaurants. Take a stroll down Abbott Kinney Boulevard and you'll also find organic cafes with indoor/outdoor spaces, creative coffee shops, small boutiques, and small studios.
Maui is a surfer's paradise. If you're into wind sports (I love kitesurfing), contact Action Sports Maui for the latest gear, conditions, and lessons. If you're not into wind sports, don't worry. There are tons of chic hotels popping up and the natural sights are breathtaking. Rent a car (the island is large and sites are quite far) and follow the "Road to Hana" for a bit more of an "off the beaten path" day excursion. Take your time, follow the off-roads, and stop to play in the many waterfalls along the way. There are plenty of car rental agencies, and you don't need to book in advance. Simply ask at the car rental shuttle stops for the best deal and the driver will take you to the office. If you're a diver, there are some great off-shore dives. Contact Extended Horizons dive operator for special requests, small groups, solo dives, and PADI Certification courses. For a relaxing stay, check out the Royal Lahaina. It's a 45 minute drive from the airport, but once you're there, you won't need to leave. Enjoy the beach (Kaanapali Beach) adjacent to the hotel, or venture further north where you'll find some quieter areas away from the large resorts. The fitness studio (Passion of Movement) offers pilates, yoga, barre, TRX, and personal appointments, at the Royal Lahaina. Try one of the yoga body sculpt class for a workout that incorporates the flexibility of yoga and strength training of free weights, all at the same time. If you're a hiker, (and an early riser), head up to watch the sunrise atop of Mount Haleakala. And even if you're not one to wake before the sun, the hiking in Haleakala National Park has gorgeous views of the crater, at all times of day. One of my favourite sunset beaches is along the road to Kihei. A bit less touristy, there are a lot of opportunities to hang a hammock and stretch out in solitude.
Part of greater Orlando, Altamonte Springs is a city just north of the main Orlando attractions. Approximately 25 minutes directly north of the Orlando International Airport (MCO), it is a quieter, yet convenient area to stay. Drop in for a yoga class or workshop at Altamonte Springs Yoga. Offering both hatha and hot yoga classes, a warm kula awaits you. While in the area, saunter down to S. Park Avenue in Maitland/Winter Park (15 minutes from Altamonte Springs) and explore the many unique shops, restaurants, and wine bars. For a decadent homemade chai and organic food (the small portions are filling), try Barnie's CoffeeKitchen. Love to shop? Visit the Premium Outlets on International Drive. Give yourself plenty of time. Although maps may indicate only a 15 minute drive from the airport, traffic dictates between a 35-45 minute commute. If you're looking for a comfortable place to do some work, Downtown Credo Coffee has a cozy atmosphere, sweet treats, free wifi, and a pay-what-you-want coffee bar.
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St. Augustine, Florida
Touted as the oldest city in the USA (founded in 1565), St. Augustine has a unique charm not expected on a coast filled with large-scale hotel chains and tourist theme parks. Only 1.5 hours northeast of Orlando, this city has gorgeous fine white sand beaches, and an old world historical town centre. Spend some time roaming around the old cobblestone roads and historical buildings. Not to be missed - the oldest wooden school house on St. George Street, Castillo de San Marcos fort, the Colonial Spanish Quarter, Flagler College, and the Cathedral Basilica on Cordova Street. If you're a history buff, there are also many museums to explore. Don't forget to visit the artisan shops. The Ancient Olive sells the finest extra virgin olive oils and exquisite balsamic vinegars. If you need a place to relax and unwind, visit The Present Moment Cafe (raw food cafe) for fantastic healthy, organic & vegetarian food. For fabulous homemade perogies or cabbage rolls, try Gaufre's, an authentic Polish and Greek restaurant in Old Town (Aviles Street). It's recently expanded around the corner, to accommodate their out-the-door queues. And when it's time for bed, try Holiday Isle Oceanfront Resort. It offers easy private access to the beach and to town. Parking downtown can be challenging (and expensive). You can find some parking in closeby residential areas, or visit San Sebastian Winery (157 King Street) complete with a free round of tastings and leave your car while you explore the rest of Old St. Augustine. Wine not your thing? The Distillery is only 2 blocks away, and offers free tastings of their quality rum, vodka, and gin. And don't think you'll be missing out on sun and sand! Anastasia State Park boasts 4 miles of beach and forests.
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If you're looking for convenient, budget accommodations, try Savanna Lodge. Bad Dog Tours offers daily whitewater rafting tours on the Zambezi River. Of course, you are here to see Victoria Falls, one of the seven wonders of the world. These falls stretch 1708 meters wide. The Kingdom Hotel is known for its various restaurants and casino. It has beautiful gardens with a lake onsite. Try Thundercloud Spur, a Red Indian themed steakhouse restaurant, or Panarottis, famous for its pizza. For great sunset and watering hole views, check out the deck of the Safari Lodge. Bring a good paid of binoculars and watch a variety of animals congregate at the watering hole at dusk while you enjoy a Lion or Zambezi beer.