Adventures in Paradise Part 1: A Puerto Rico Itinerary

You should devote an entire trip to Puerto Rico (here’s why)! If you are wondering what you would do while you are there, I’ve put together this quick and dirty two week Puerto Rico itinerary (this is part one). This is perfect for high energy travelers that enjoy the outdoors as well as history and culture. It has a little of everything (but lots of nature). If you aren’t so high energy, you can use this as a list of ideas of things that you might be interested in seeing. There is so much! Even getting this down to 14 days was hard.

Day 0: Arrive in San Juan
puerto rico itinerary

San Juan! (c) ABR 2015

Get in at the main airport, pick your car, and take some time to rest. Eat some delicious food in Old San Juan and sleep!

A quick note on driving in Puerto Rico: You will need to be very defensive. Take your time and expect the unexpected. Remember that your safety is your responsibility.

Day 1: Loiza and the Corredor Ecologico del Noreste
puerto rico itinerary

A Northeasten Corredor beach (c) ABR 2018

Take the 187 out of town to the east. This will follow the coast, and just outside of town there are some very beautiful (and popular, on the weekend) beaches that you can stop at. This area also has a lot of kiosks that serve wonderful street food.

Follow the 187 over the river and enter into the town of Loiza. Look for the Parque Historico Cueva Maria de la Cruz. In this little park, you can pay to take a tour of a cave and learn about music and dance in Puerto Rico. The central part of Loiza is also a great place during the weekend for shopping.

If you aren’t one for beaches and small towns, keep on working your way east to the Corredor Ecologico del Noreste. There is hiking and wild beaches here that have been protected by the communities of this area.

Stay the night in the Luquillo area.

Day 2: North El Yunque
puerto rico itinerary

A waterfall in El Yunque (c) ABR 2015

Today is the day for the famous north El Yunque. Strap on your hiking boots, and start early to avoid the crowds. Many of the trails are being repaired post-Maria but you can find updated information here.

If you have the energy, you might consider staying in Fajardo for the night, and doing the bio bay in the evening. 

Day 3: The Old 191 and Humacao
puerto rico itinerary

The closed 191 in South El Yunque (c) ABR 2018

Take the 53 down past Naguabo, get off on the 31 to Rio Blanco, and take the 191 up into the southern part of El Yunque. Local guides in the area can take you on some amazing trips in the rainforest here, or you can drive down to where the road is closed and hike/bike up from there to the landslide that closed the highway.

If you have time afterwards, visit the Reserva Natural de Humacao. If you drive into the reserve a little bit you can see some of the damage that the hurricane did to natural coastal areas. It is very sobering, but there is also a lot of new growth that should remind us all that nature recovers. There are also some neat historic things in the reserve from the sugar plantation days, as well as some coastal bunkers.

Monkey island is also in this general area, if you are interested in doing a tour.

Stay in Humacao.

Day 4: Lechones and Charco Azul
puerto rico itinerary

Along the path to Charco Azul (c) ABR 2015

Continue on the 53/3 to Palmas and then head north to the 184. This will take you up to Bosque Carite, where you should take some time to hike and swim at Charco Azul. If there is no one at the parking lot for this area, make sure that you take all of your valuables with you.

When you are done with a morning at the swimming hole, continue on the 184 through the forest. Along the way, as you get back into civilization, you will notice many restaurants along the side of the road serving lechones. If you eat pork, please stop at one of these. They are famously delicious and should not be missed.

Take the 52 down to Salinas and stay the night in the historic town.

Day 5: Salinas and Jobos Bay National Estuary
puerto rico itinerary

The view of Jobos Bay landscape from the old hotel (c) ABR 2018

Head over to the small town of Aguirre to enjoy the old central part of this historic area, and to access the Jobos Bay Visitor Center, which you will see along the main 705 road. You may want to try to schedule a tour ahead of time in this area as there is amazing kayaking in the National Estuary, as well as wildlife viewing opportunities. You can also hike and go horseback riding in the area.

Drive to Ponce and stay the night there.

Day 6: Ponce
puerto rico itinerary

Architecture in Ponce (c) ABR 2015

Enjoy a day in this historic city. There is beautiful architecture, museums, and plenty of food to enjoy in Ponce.

Stay in Ponce for second night.

Day 7: Casa Pueblo and the Central Mountains (Toro Negro)
puerto rico itinerary

Casa Pueblo (c) ABR 2018

Get an early start and take the 10 north from Ponce to the mountain town of Adjuntas. Here you can see some absolutely beautiful mining architecture and most importantly, visit the AMAZING Casa Pueblo. Be sure to support their organization by getting a souvenir and/or some coffee here.

Then you have a lot of different options (which all require some mountain driving).

There is a lot of agricultural tourism in the area, and if you are a coffee fan this is a great place to learn more.

You can also some cultural sites in Jayuya including museums about the Taino people and the revolutionary history of the area.

Toro Negro forest is here as well and there are some spectacular hikes here.


In the mean time, please check out this amazing blog for more information on everything Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Itinerary

puerto rico itinerary

Why Visit Puerto Rico: 4 Reasons This Island Is Calling Your Name

Why Visit Puerto Rico: More Than San Juan and the Beach

It’s a common theme in all of my Caribbean posts… countries in this region get constantly pigeon-holed by all-inclusive and cruise trips. If these companies had their way, there would be one thing that the Caribbean would be known for, its white sand beaches… because most Caribbean countries have them! This is good for mass tourism business, particularly in the case of cruise ships, because that means that different Caribbean countries won’t be able to negotiate for things like higher entrance fees. You can’t negotiate when you are interchangeable, and tourism can’t help local people if they can’t look out for their own interests. What does this have to do with the question: why visit Puerto Rico?

why visit Puerto Rico

A stream through the mountains near Toro Negro (c) ABR 2018

Because, it’s hardly any different for Puerto Rico. When most people visit they want to see 1-2 of three main things that get marketed for this island over and over again, Old Town San Juan, the beaches, and El Yunque. Now, don’t get me wrong, these are all absolutely worth seeing. San Juan is the most beautiful Caribbean colonial city that I have ever seen. The beaches are sublime, and El Yunque is a tropical, mountainous area that I would dare call magical. But Puerto Rico has SO MUCH more! If you want to experience a good chunk of things to do in Puerto Rico, this is a country deserving of a week or two (or more) of devoted exploration, not just a couple nights tacked on before a cruise ride.

why visit Puerto Rico

The mysterious 191, cut off by a landslide long ago (c) ABR 2018

But instead of listing a bunch of places for you to visit, I’m going to do this, I’m going to give you a bunch of reasons why you need to stay in Puerto Rico (and places like it) for longer than a few hours, or one day, if you have the means to visit the Caribbean. And if you are doing an all-inclusive, go out and meet the locals, experience the real country.


(1) Most people have a lot of misconceptions about Puerto Rico or just don’t know anything about the island and its people at all. Getting out and exploring will give you the opportunity to learn more about this beautiful country and its amazingly strong people.

why visit Puerto Rico

Agricultural tourism has huge potential on Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2018

(2) Every Caribbean island has things on it that you can see nowhere else in the world; things that belong in travel magazines along side of pictures of Thailand, India, and Peru. Puerto Rico has kaarst formations covered in tropical forests that will make you feel like you’re on another planet. Puerto Rico has rivers that run through caves big enough for you to float through. It has verdant mountains that touch the sky. Deserts, places to surf, rare birds, and beaches with tanks left abandoned. I could list a million things that make this island a special place. It’s a shame to not see at least one of these unique things. From the travel perspective, these are the many reasons why visiting Puerto Rico is perfect.

why visit Puerto Rico

Mangroves on the east (c) ABR 2018

(3) You exponentially lessen the good that you can do for communities by traveling when you just stay in high tourist areas, cruise-owned ports, and resorts. There are so many good people in Puerto Rico that are just dying to have the chance to make tourism work for their community. You can make a huge difference in a small community looking to host visitors and share the special things that their home has to offer.

why visit Puerto Rico

Hurricane damage on the coast (c) ABR 2018

(4) Puerto Rican culture is rich and unique and you won’t get a real taste of it from San Juan or an all-inclusive. There is an insane amount of delicious food all over the island. There are little restaurants and kiosks that specialize in succulent tastes that will blow your mind. Dance and music are big in Puerto Rico as well, like the rest of the Caribbean; eat good food and find a place to learn some moves or listen to the beats of the island. There is honestly an endless list of things to do in Puerto Rico.

why visit Puerto Rico

Lechones from the central region of Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2018

If you want to learn more about things to do in Puerto Rico be sure to visit our Guide to Puerto Rico.

The Un-Planner’s Guide To Montreal

Welcome, welcome, readers, travelers, and internet wanderers to another chapter in the official Un-Planner’s Guide (accept no substitutes!). Today I bring to you a brief list of notables from a quick family jaunt to Montreal this summer.

It is by no means a) a complete or b) professional list because I have been there exactly TWO times. Nevertheless, if you find yourself visiting America’s Hat with no idea what to do in Montreal, perhaps this will help.

Things to Do

Mount Royal Park

Mount Royal is exactly what you would think, a small mountain (or large hill) that is also home to the sprawling Mount Royal Park, just about 10 minutes from downtown Montreal. There’s quite a bit to do and see here, whether you want to take a leisurely walk around the lake, have a picnic lunch or check out plenty of interesting sculpture work throughout the park. If you’re feeling a bit more motivated, you can take a half-hour walk up to the chalet where you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view of the city.

The Village

A historic LGBTQ neighborhood and great place to stroll comfortably, especially in the summer when Rue Sainte-Catherine essentially becomes a pedestrian mall in the area. If you’re visiting around the third week of August, you can celebrate Montreal Pride Festival, culminating in its Pride parade just one street over on Rue Rene Levesque! Pro tip: on the weekend, stop at Saloon Bistro Bar for an egg-cellent brunch.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

For folks that love art (and also want to be inside during the humid summer or cold wintery days), The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts boasts quite a collection, plus a number of engaging pieces just outside for the public to see (and an underground tunnel leading to different buildings, which is fun in itself). Plus, admission is free for visitors 12 and under for all exhibitions and most of their collections (minus major exhibitions) are actually free to for ages 13 to 30.

Things to Eat

Crepes at Spanel

Sweet and savory, the crepes at Spanel were a delicious, breath of fresh air for us travelers coming straight from the airport, bleary-eyed from our red-eye flight and smelling of airplane stink. Pro tip: if you order a side of bacon, you’re gonna get your money’s worth.

Ramen at Yokato Yokabai

No matter where I go, I’m probably going to eat ramen there. So it’s no surprise that we ended up at Yokato Yokabai. In addition to providing a tasty and authentic ramen experience (yay Tonkotsu!), they have veggie broth and veggie options for all of our vegetarian friends out there. Pro tip: They don’t take reservations and the main dining room is kind of small space, so plan accordingly! We went on a Sunday in the early afternoon and that seemed to be a good time.

Bread (I’m Serious) at Premiere Moisson, Atwater Market

Atwater Market is charming public market chock full of goodies, from floral, to fruits, to cheeses and most importantly, BREAD. If you’re in the mood for impeccably delicious fresh-baked bread, you’re gonna want to pick up a baguette or 10 are Premiere Moisson.

Other quick notes:

  • If you’re driving, I say this with so much love, Montreal, but geez, good luck with that. Parking in the city proper is rough (especially Old Montreal) and definitely factor in rampant road construction if you’re trying to get to places in a timely manner (I am not joking, construction is so frequent in Montreal that they have souvenirs of traffic/construction cones).
  • Knowing French is a plus, as it’s Montreal’s official language. Most folks will be speaking French and most things (signs, menus, etc.) will be written in French.

I think that’s all she wrote. Thanks, as always, for stopping by and enjoy your future (or current) stay in Montreal!

If you’re looking for other Un-Planner installments, fear not, there’s more from when I visited New York in two parts.


Dominican Republic Roadtrip and Hiking Itinerary: Finding An Explorer’s Paradise

Most of the time, when I see travel discussions about the Dominican Republic, I see references to Punta Cana, and all-inclusive resorts. However, there is SO much more to this country, and I wanted to put together an Dominican Republic roadtrip that highlights all of my favorite things in the Dominican Republic, which I discovered during my two months living there. This includes a summit attempt on Pico Duarte (the tallest mountain in the Caribbean), many of the varied ecosystems of the Dominican side of Hispanola, and you will not miss the beautiful beaches that the Caribbean is known for. This is a high energy trip, and one which will give you a whirlwind tour of many of the amazing natural and historic gems of the Dominican Republic. However, I have to start with a serious disclaimer.

**IMPORTANT: Driving in the Dominican Republic can be very dangerous. If you take this roadtrip, drive with the UTMOST caution; have ALL insurance for your rental car. DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK. Avoid driving at night. Drive defensively and expect anything. You are responsible for your own safety. Also, be aware of crime in any area that you are in, and try to avoid being out on your own at night.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

La Zona Colonial, Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Try to land during the day. Bring DR pesos.

Fly into Santo Domingo; you will need to bring $10 USD cash with you in order to buy your 30-day tourist card.

Pick up your rental car to start your Dominican Republic roadtrip.

Note that there will be tolls on the roads.

Stay in Santo Domingo.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Tres Ojos in Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Spend some time resting in Santo Domingo. La Zona Colonial or Tres Ojos are are some options of things to explore if you have the energy. See our short guide to Santo Domingo for more ideas.

Stay in Santo Domingo.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The stream at the base of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

There are two ways to attempt the summit of the Caribbean’s tallest mountain, arguably some of the best Dominican Republic hiking. Both methods require a guide. You may join an organized tour, or you can drive to the village at the base of the mountain and speak to a ranger about hiring a guide (best to do this if you are with at least one other person and one of you speak relatively good Spanish).

In order to organize your own trip, drive towards the town Jarabacoa. When you get there, pick up some groceries for your trip, and get directions to the ranger station at the bottom of the mountain (this is not on Google).

You will need to take mountain roads to get there, so only do this drive if you are experienced on mountain roads. Due to the driving styles on the Dominican Republic, I suggest honking your horn briefly when you near corners. Drive slowly and cautiously- never in the middle of the road. Also note that dirt roads are on this route.

Arrange your guide, and spend that night at the mountain’s base at the ranger’s station. Enjoy a picnic by the stream.

For the story of my attempt on the summit, as well as some pictures that should illustrate why this is worth doing if you are a hiker- look through my summit attempt story.

Camp at the base of Pico Duarte.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Up and up and up the trail of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

This is the big hike of this Dominican Republic itinerary (about 18 kilometers, all up hill). You should only attempt this hike if you are a competent hiker and have a guide.

Stay the night at Comparticion Camp; be sure that you work with your guide to insure that you have all the food and gear that you need. Wear good shoes.

Camp at la Comparticion.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Near the summit of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

Hike to the summit of Pico Duarte and enjoy a quiet day at camp in celebration of your accomplishment in Dominican Republic hiking.

Camp at la Comparticion.


Hike down from Comparticion, and resume your Dominican Republic roadtrip by driving up to the city of Santiago de Los Caballeros. This is about a 1.5 hour drive without traffic.

Spend a restful day in the city. If you need something to do, consider checking out the historic downtown area. There are a few historic sites here, but mostly some local shopping and places to eat.

Stay in Santiago.

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Santiago de los Caballeros (c) ABR 2016


If you aren’t afraid of heights, and are a good swimming, today is the day to enjoy some of the coolest waterfalls in the Dominican Republic at 27 Charcos. I cover this experience in a bit more detail in my list of the best natural spots in the DR.

Have a restful morning and then do the 50 min drive up to 27 Charcos. You will buy tickets at the entrance and be partnered up with a guide who will keep you safe. Bring or rent a waterproof camera! Wear some junky tennis shoes and hike up to the top of the falls.

Then you will get to jump down waterfalls and swim/wade back to the base. This is absolutely one of the most beautiful things I did in the Dominican Republic.

Dry off and take the 45 min drive to Puerto Plata where you will spend the night.

Stay in Puerto Plata.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Puerto Plata (c) Pixabay

Spend a restful day on the coast in Puerto Plata.

If you want to get back out into nature, consider checking out Parque Nacional Isabel de Torres. Otherwise, enjoy this tourism hotspot, and a restful day on the beach.

Stay in Puerto Plata.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The bridges out to sea near Samana (c) ABR 2016

Take the coastal road from Puerto Plata to Samana and enjoy the beach and resting your legs a bit more. It is about a 4 hour drive, one of the longest in this Dominican Republic itinerary.

If you get into town with some more daylight hours, consider walking around the Malecon and the bridges that go out to the small, bay islands. There are MANY scooters/motos in this area, so be extra careful while driving and walking.

Stay in Samana.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

One of the oldest churches in the region (c) ABR 2016

This is the day to take an organized tour to Los Haitises National Park, El Salto de Limon, and/or for whale watching. You may want to take an extra a day here to make sure you have time for it all.

Stay in Samana.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The view from a Bayahibe restaurant (c) ABR 2016

Make your way from Samana down to Bayahibe/Dominicus. It will be about 4 hours (the final day of long driving in my Dominican Republic itinerary! Phew!).

Bayahibe is an absolutely beautiful village, so I would highly suggest planning to get in early enough to wander around before it gets dark. There is also so many good places to eat here, so have a nice dinner by the ocean.

Stay in Bayahibe.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The cave in Nuestro Padre (c) ABR 2016

Take a nice slow day and to visit the caves near Bayahibe and do some lowkey Dominican Republic hiking. Cueva de Chico is one that you can swim in in Padre Nuestro (individual ticket is needed to enter this park). There is a short hike that you can take near the cave as well, but bring some sturdy shoes because the rocks are volcanic and very sharp.

You can also drive down to Parque Nacional de Este, where it is about 100 DR pesos to visit the beach, and do some hiking. If you do plan on hiking, be sure to get directions from the ranger on where to go as the trails lack signs. There is a small cave in the area that is fun to explore as well. Be sure to bring water on this hike, as this is a relatively dry area (I would suggest bringing water and food on any hike, just for safety).

Stay in Bayahibe.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Near Soana Island (c) ABR 2016

Take an organized day trip out to Isla Soana, where you will get to see some beautiful starfish, beaches, and possibly baby turtles (depending on the season).

Stay in Bayahibe.


Take the 1.5 hour drive to Punta Cana. While you could treat yourself and stay at a resort for a couple nights, I would suggest that you don’t. It is a really eye opening experience to see Punta Cana from outside of the all-inclusives. It isn’t the most beautiful thing, but it is something you should be aware of as a traveler.

There are plenty of things to see and do in Punta Cana even if you aren’t at a resort, so feel free to explore, rest, or spend another day on the beach. For some more ideas, check out Culture Trip’s list.

Stay in Punta Cana.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

The exit of Cueva Fun Fun (c) ABR 2016

If you aren’t scared of heights or horses, take the epic day trip out to Cueva Fun Fun where you will ride horses, hike, rappel, and swim to and through a beautiful cave. This is also covered in more detail in my favorite natural places in the DR.

Stay in Punta Cana.


It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Punta Cana to Santo Domingo. Stop at the historic Cueva de Maravillas on the way into the capital and take a tour. Not only is this cave beautiful, but it is home to some ancient Taino cave paintings. Spend the afternoon and late evening in La Zona Colonial enjoying the historic buildings and delicious food.

Stay in Santo Domingo.


dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

A beautiful restaurant in Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

Head home after a successful completion of this Dominican Republic roadtrip!


Dos and Don’ts for the Dominican Republic

Nightborn Travel’s Guide to the Dominican Republic




dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

Dos and Don’ts for la Republica Dominicana

Dos and Don’ts in the Dominican Republic (Republica Dominicana)

(1) DO explore beyond the resort limits. There is alot of talk about how dangerous the Dominican Republic is, but I lived and road tripped there for a summer as a solo female and found it to be safe. Of course, you need to be careful (see my safety tips on my post about Santo Domingo), but don’t let caution keep you from experiencing all this country has to offer.

la republica dominicana

Hiking near Bayahibe (c) ABR 2016

(2) DON’T go with a bad attitude. There are many struggles that the Dominican people face, and entitled tourists shouldn’t be one of them. Know that this is a developing country, and that sometimes you will need to be patient. While people may speak English, Italian, and other languages in the very touristy areas, most people speak only Spanish comfortably. It is polite to know at least enough to ask for directions, help, order food, etc. Don’t expect people to speak your language unless this was specifically promised by a tour company.

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

(3) DO join in with the Dominican philosophy of enjoying yourself, and let the Caribbean air lift your spirits. I have never lived anywhere that naturally made me as happy and energized la Republica Dominicana. The environment is beautiful and inspiring, and the people have genuine love for life that I think is infectious. Dance, eat good food, and relax.

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

(4) DON’T let “what happens in the DR stays in the DR” be your moto. There are serious concerns for sexual exploitation in the Dominican Republic, and drunk driving is extremely common. Please stay safe and avoid both of these things. If you would like to go the extra mile and help people who are interested in getting out of prostitution in the Dominican Republic, please read more about these nonprofits (;

(5) DO enjoy the full suite of things that the Dominican Republic has to offer. You can’t really know the DR well from a resort or cruise ship. There are beautiful beaches, of course, but there are also sweeping mountains, world-class caves, waterfalls, delicious foods, a complex history, and so so much more to experience and learn more about in la Republica Dominicana.

la republica dominicana

A whip spider- a peaceful resident of Caribbean cave systems (c) ABR 2016

Five Cultural and Historical Facts About the Dominican Republic That You May Not Know

(1) Before Europeans came to the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic was home to the Taino people, who left behind beautiful cave paintings, and once thrived in relatively large cities and settlements across the northern Caribbean. The spirit, culture, and DNA of these people lives on in Dominicans to this day, as it does in Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the other islands where the Taino once lived.

(2) Historic Santo Domingo was once home to Christopher Columbus’ son, and even claims to house some of Columbus’ remains (hotly debated and potentially debunked). This country has some of the deepest historic roots for the colonial “new world.”

la republica dominicana

Tres Ojos! (c) ABR 2016

(3) The Dominican people celebrate their independence from Haiti, rather than Spain. In 1822, shortly after Haiti fought for and won its independence from France, they took over their neighbor. The invasion was unwelcomed, and to this day there is an ongoing conflict between the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

la republica dominicana

Santiago de los Caballeros (c) ABR 2016

(4) There is a national meal that is often eaten at lunch, called la bandera (learn more about it at Dominican Cooking). This is a great meal for budget travelers, foodies, and anyone interested in Dominican culture. Traditionally, fish, yuca, and plantains are also staples in la Republica Dominicana.

la republica dominicana

Historic artifact from old Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

(5) While Spanish is the official language of the Dominican Republic, there is a specific way that Dominican’s speak which can be hard even for fluent Spanish speakers to understand, let alone people learning. Dominican Spanish tends to shorten many words, and of course, there are plenty of colloquial terms found nowhere else in the world. This is just another indication of how vibrant Dominican culture is.

Thanks for reading! If you want to know more about the Dominican Republic, our guide will fill you in!

Five Natural Attractions in the Dominican Republic

Punta Cana seems to be where lots of people end up when they visit the Dominican Republic. After living in the DR for a couple months, I came to realize that this city is more like a theme park than a real part of the country. So, whether or not you are staying in Punta Cana for your tropical get-away, please be sure to consider these amazing natural attractions in the Dominican Republic.

Cueva Fun Fun

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

The exit of Cueva Fun Fun (c) ABR 2016

Ok, Cueva Fun Fun is an activity that you can do from Punta Cana, but it isn’t in Punta Cana. The only way to visit this cavern is via a guided trip. But that’s fine because it takes a horse ride, a hike, and a rappel to get into the cave. That’s just the beginning of the adventure, because once you are down there you also have to wade through cold, subterranean water. Whether you are looking for an adventure, or you want to know more about the many jewels that the Dominican Republic has to offer, Cueva Fun Fun is a great place to start.

I have seen some seriously amazing caves in the Caribbean (Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico), and this was one of the coolest. They will pick you up from Punta Cana, so its a great trip for people staying in the Dominican Republic’s biggest tourism hub. That being said,  this trip is best suited for people that are comfortable with horses, heights, and swimming in the dark.

Pico Duarte

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

A view from the side of Pico Duarte (c) ABR 2016

I have an entire series about my experience attempting the summit of the Dominican Republic’s highest mountain, so be sure to read about the whole adventure. Pico Duarte is a Caribbean place that’s unlike anything you have ever seen. The base of the mountain is draped in those tropical forests that we’ve all come to expect from the islands of the Caribbean.

As you struggle your way up the steep trail, you will make your way into a deciduous forest type that seems so ubiquitous to higher regions. The transition between the two is unbelievably beautiful, and the vistas from Pico Duarte are jaw-dropping. If you love hiking, Pico Duarte might be your favorite of the natural attractions in the Dominican Republic. You can even make the trip a bit cheaper by carefully driving to the base and hiring a local guide from one of the small towns at the base.

Bayahibe and Soana Island

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

The beautiful waters of Soana Island (c) ABR 2016

Bayahibe, the tiny town near the larger village of Dominicus, is my favorite town on the whole island. It is small, safe, and so so beautiful.  I loved the peaceful atmosphere and amazingly fresh foods of this small town. Bayahibe is also home to a very cool non-profit called FUNDAMAR which works with local people to study and protect the marine mammals. Their hotel association is active in its efforts to make this area an ecotourism and sustainable tourism hub. In terms of activities, there is no end to the things you can do.

A day trip to Soana island will lead you to shallow waters with brilliant orange starfish, and a small island with a colorful village and grassroots effort to protect nesting marine turtles. There is also Padre Nuestro and the Parque Nacional de Este where you can explore some caves and even swim in one (although the trail markers in Parque Nacional de Este are non-existent, so be careful). Bayahibe is a haven for sustainable travelers and lovers of the outdoors.

Samana and Los Haitises National Park

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

Samana Village and the surrounding forest (c) ABR 2016

Samana is the village to visit if you want to go whale watching, although this is changing. Even if you get to the Dominican Republic after whale watching activities move closer to Punta Cana, this town and the peninsula for which it is named is a must-visit. The village itself is quite lovely, and a long bridge out into the ocean. There are, however, lots of tourist hawkers here, so it can be a bit chaotic.

El Salto de Limon is nearby, and while it is threatened by climate change, this waterfall is too beautiful to miss. Besides whales, beaches, and beautiful towns, Samana is an access point for the beautiful Los Haitises National Park. Here in the otherworldy karst landscape, you can explore caves, grand mangrove forests and more with the help of a guide. There is really no end to the natural attractions in Dominican Republic’s northern peninsula.

27 Charcos

natural attractions in the Dominican Republic

A picture from Dominican Republic Has It All (click the image to visit their website!) because I didn’t have a waterproof camera. :/

I went to the 27 Charcos without really knowing what it was, although I knew there were waterfalls involved and my friends assured me that it was very enjoyable. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my time in the Dominican Republic. I do wish I had known a bit more about what this was before I went. The 27 Charcos tour will take you down a beautiful gorge with bright blue water and a string of waterfalls that you jump and slide down.

This definitely is not a tour for people with a fear of heights or water. Bring shoes that you are comfortable hiking in and swimming in. Our guide rushed us through the tour, unfortunately, and I would suggest that you take your time on the way down. Also, bring a waterproof camera or rent one, because this place is extremely beautiful, and I have never seen another place quite like it.

If you are planning a trip to the Dominican Republic (or are just interested in learning more about the country) be sure to look through our country guide!

Chasing Waterfalls in Ithaca, New York

I was recently sent to the small, idyllic town of Ithaca, New York for work. Before I left, I didn’t know anything much about this small community, except that it was home to Cornell University. Scanning some maps, I figured it looked like a nice place to hike in the early morning before work. So I hoped to balance the stress of our upcoming report with some fresh, outdoor air. Turns out, there are also many waterfalls in Ithaca, and it has some of the most amazing cascades that I have seen.

waterfalls in ithaca

Buttermilk Falls State Park (c) ABR 2018

Getting There

There are two ways to get to Ithaca, by car or by plane… sometimes a mix of both is necessary.

For me, traveling to Ithaca was something of an adventure. Ithaca is sort of in the middle of New York state, at the tip of a finger lake. The airport there is tiny, basically consisting of one large room where you can pick up rental cars, check in for flights, go through security, and wait at your gate. The planes that fly there are fittingly small, and the number of flights to the area is limited.

So, when my flight from Philadelphia to Ithaca got cancelled in the afternoon, I waited on stand-by for the night flight. Then I had to spend the night in Philly so that I could be squeezed onto another plane in the morning. Experienced travelers opted for a rental car as soon as they heard that the flight had been cancelled. They made the drive out there in the time that I was waiting to see if I would fit onto the night flight.

waterfalls in ithaca

Downtown Ithaca (c) ABR 2018

Around Town

Despite my exhaustion upon arrival, Ithaca won my heart right away. Perched on the edge of the Cayuga finger lake, and surrounded by wooded hills, the place has a peaceful air. Many of the houses are of the beautiful Victorian style (although there are actually a lot of different styles- check out this site for more info if you are interested), and coming from cookie-cutter Phoenix, I always appreciate the unique style and character of homes like these. I was lucky enough to stay in one myself, a lovely little Airbnb just a ten minute walk from Ithaca’s pint-sized downtown.

There, I found all sorts of delicious restaurants and unique shops. Most importantly, there was a very good NY bagel shop in the area, which sated my addiction for tasty bagels. There are also a huge variety of places that will help out your lazy side by delivering straight to your accommodations. And if you are in Ithaca over the weekend, a stop by their beautiful farmer’s market in the morning is a must. They had a lovely, wooden structure built for the weekly event right on the lake edge. I’ve never seen a more beautiful farmer’s market myself, and the food there was exceptionally fresh and tasty.

waterfalls in ithaca

Tasty waffle from the farmer’s market (c) ABR 2018

Waterfall Heaven

So, what about waterfalls! I came here for waterfalls!

Ok, yes, while I would be remiss to let you know how cute Ithaca is, it is time to talk about waterfalls. Ithaca has a lot of them. If you are in town, there are some nice walks near campus that will take you along gorges and waterways with falls. These landscapes have an interesting mix of wildness and the manicured, human touch. But I would like to focus on three state parks close to town, where I saw my favorite waterfalls and do some nice hiking.

Check the NY State Park website to see if you will need to pay a fee or not for any park, and to make sure that the trails you want to explore are open. These things vary throughout the year. Now, without further adieu, waterfalls in Ithaca…

Buttermilk Falls State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

Buttermilk Falls (c) ABR 2018

Buttermilk Falls State Park is the closest of the three parks to Ithaca, and the waterfall for which the park is named is visible from the highway.

If you are looking for a relaxing experience, even a picnic or moment of quiet contemplation, Buttermilk Falls is a great place. You can roll up, get out, and enjoy an amazing view. This waterfall is impressively tall and its stoney backdrop is made up of layers upon layers of stone, which inspired its name.

waterfalls in ithaca

Beautiful gorge in Buttermilk Falls State Park (c) ABR 2018

If you are like me and want to get a bit of hiking in, this is a great park to be. I took the Gorge Trail up to Treman lake, where I looped around the water’s edge and then followed the Gorge Trail back to my car (almost 5 miles of hiking). I had initially planned on walking the Rim Trail on the way back to the parking lot, but I really fell in love with the Gorge Trail. There are smaller waterfalls all the way up to where it crosses the highway and becomes Bear Trail. The track follows the edge of the stream that flows down from the lake, cutting its way through the many layers of rock that will surround you on all sides.

Taughannock Falls State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

That waterfall I always forget how to spell, but blows you away when you see it (c) ABR 2018

If there is one park that you see while you are in Ithaca, this is the one! Taughannock Falls is an impressive waterfall that plunges off of a huge, stone cliff into a misty basin. This is a popular spot on the weekend, and for good reason.

It’s about a one mile hike (two miles there and back) on a flat, wide trail from the trailhead to the falls. This meanders along the side of a shallow stream, through a deep, tree-lined gorge. If you go in the morning, during the week, this is a perfect place for a peaceful walk. But if it’s a weekend outing, I think this would be a great park for the whole family (as long as everyone is safe near the water and obeys all park warning signs).

waterfalls in ithaca

(c) ABR 2018

For those looking for a more strenuous hike, the Rim Trail will take up from the parking lot to the top of the gorge. Alternatively, if you want to see the falls but can’t make the hike, there is a beautiful overlook with a lovely visitor center that you can drive to and enjoy the falls from above. When your waterfall-filled morning is over, you can then go enjoy the lake, which is accessible from the park.

Robert Treman State Park

waterfalls in ithaca

This waterfall was taunting me with the awesomeness of the gorge trail which was closed when I was there (c) ABR 2018

Robert Treman State Park was my last stop on my trip, because I really wasn’t expecting all that much from this park. I was in for a big surprise though, because I left thinking that this may have been my favorite of the three, and was definitely the best hike of the week.

There were two main trails that leave from the Lower Park Entrance, the Rim and Gorge Trail. I was hoping to make a loop out of both of them, but sadly, the Gorge Trail was closed when I visited (I am guessing this was due to the time that I visited, right after winter). I took the Rim Trail up to Lucifer Falls and the cliff staircase. On the way there, the track took me up the rim, through a lush forest with a floor that was home to little orange salamanders that resorted to being as still as they could when I came near. When the trail dropped back down to the stream-level, it twisted its way through flower-carpeted stands of trees, before climbing up the cliffs for an exhausted view of the falls.

Alone in the park, in the fresh air, I couldn’t imagine a more beautiful place. In some ways, it doesn’t seem possible that this park could share a state with NYC. Looking down, I couldn’t help but feel sad that the Gorge Trail was off limits while I was there. I could see the trail from the rim and its was absolutely beautiful!

Whatever else you do western New York State, be it work like me, school, or just exploring, I hope that you take the time for chasing waterfalls in Ithaca.

waterfalls in ithaca

waterfalls in ithaca

Take a Trip on the TSS Earnslaw: Queenstown, NZ

If I learned anything during my trip to New Zealand last year, it’s that even in what’s supposed to be the beginning of summer, its weather can be pretty unpredictable. Especially in Queenstown, a town in NZ’s South Island, where one day it could be pleasant and sunny and the next, snowing.

We had planned a trip for Milford Sound, a nature cruise in a fjord renowned for its beauty. But as our luck would have it, bad weather had closed the only road in. No tours were running – no buses, no boats or helicopters. We woke up that grey and drizzly morning feeling deflated. All the articles we Googled recommended activities that were inside and we didn’t want to waste our last day. As we lamented over breakfast, our lovely Airbnb host offered us the perfect solution – a trip on the TSS Earnslaw.

The TSS Earnslaw is a nautical marvel – a steamship built in 1912 (the same year as the Titanic) that’s still running today. You do have a book a tour to get on the boat, but it’s worth it, and I would 100% recommend the Walter Peak Farm Tour package (roughly $66 U.S.).

It’s general seating inside the ship, and most of the boat is free to explore. It was EXTREMELY chilly on the day we boarded, especially when the ship got moving across Lake Wakatipu, but being outside the main cozy seating cabin meant spectacular views and some seriously fresh air. (My advice: If it’s cold, layer up and bring gloves and a hat!) Plus, if those teeth start chattering, you can pop into the toasty steam room (think coal, not sauna) where you can actual see the ship’s staff shoveling coal to keep the boat running.

Refreshments also are available inside the cabin, but if you chose the farm tour, save your appetite for the delicious tea and snacks that await you when you dock. Though I love tea, the highlight of the visit for me was getting to MEET and FEED the farm animals. Never before have I seen such an adorable combination of ducks, sheep, cows and more. You also get to see a truly impressive sheep herding demonstration by the herding dogs who work right there at the farm.

On the way back across the lake, enjoy the ride while a charming gentleman plays familiar piano tunes and other ship-goers sing along.

New Zealand is definitely one of my all-time favorite travel destinations and I can’t wait to go back. If it’s not on your list yet, it should be!


A Love Letter to Arizona

Dear Arizona,

Look, I’ll just say it – I love you.

I know it’s been a long time coming, and that maybe I’ve denied it in the past.

I’m sorry if I’ve ever called you boring, or unwelcoming, or even threatened to move.

I hope you didn’t take it personally. I was young and foolish when I said all those things and hadn’t taken time to travel or open my eyes to all your wonderful features.

And what would those features be? Well, Arizona, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

  1. I love your industrious, final frontier spirit.

    Somehow you got me enthralled in the mining history of many of our cities. But when you visit a town like Superior and stand amongst century-old brick buildings, frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of it all. Can you imagine leaving everything you knew behind to move westward with dreams of striking it rich?
  2. I love your ghost stories.

    The Old West was truly wild. It left behind ghost towns, usually settlements that were mining boomtowns abandoned after their mines closed. It also left behind tales of the people who lived here before us and those who may still haunt our buildings’ hallowed halls.
  3. I love your small towns.

    Globe, Kingman, Florence – Arizona has an abundance of small towns. And each of them has its own charm. These are why I hate hurrying on road trips. I always want to stop and see what little gems I can find.
  4. I love your nature.

    From desert to forest to canyon, Arizona’s landscape is beautiful. Add in a dollop of sunshine (though the summers be brutal) and you have the perfect recipe for some great outdoor trips and hikes.

So there you have it, Arizona. I hope you can forgive my past misgivings about you and accept that I’m in it for the long haul.

Yours Truly,

Want to discover your love for Arizona? Explore with us.

Four of the Best Spots in the Netherlands

The Netherlands is an idyllic country of windmills, tulips, and a collage of unique culture, art, and nature. There is something for every kind of traveler in there, and we’ve covered our own adventures and itineraries there in our Guide to the Netherlands. But the best thing about traveling is that there are always things that you can’t see in the time you have, so there’s always more to explore next time. In honor of that, some awesome travel bloggers have come together to bring you more information about some of the best spots in the Netherlands.

De Biesbosch

where to go in the Netherlands

(c) Daniela (Ipanema Travels)

De Biesbosch is one of the 20 national parks in the Netherlands and perhaps the biggest freshwater tidal wetland area in Europe. It’s a serene place, where you can detox from the busy city life. Lakes, creeks, marshes and islands form this unique nature reserve. Dutch are really good with water management, so they’ve gradually kind of “tamed” the area and gave a hand to nature by creating this amazing wetland area. De Biesbosch is a real paradise for the birds and the only place in the Netherlands where you can find beavers.

The best way to explore the area is by boat. The smaller the boat, the better, as you will be able to enter the tiniest of the creeks. If you are in De Biesbosch for the first time, then you should visit the Biesbosch Museum. You can learn a lot about the area and the history of De Biesbosch. There are also walking and biking routes in the national park.

I love visiting De Biesbosch as I enjoy the tranquillity of this green oasis. Whether you are spending there a long weekend or go for a short walk, you’ll feel recharged and re-energized.

To learn more about De Biesbosch, be sure to read up at Ipanema Travels To…. You can also follow Daniela’s adventures on Instagram!

The Hague

where to go in the Netherlands

From Pixabay

The Hague seems to have it all – culture, architecture and best of all the beach! Located just a 50 minute train ride away from Amsterdam, the Hague can be a great day trip, or is a good location to spend a couple nights away.

The Hague is the political capital of the Netherlands. Smack in the middle of the city you’ll find the Binnenhof, which is the parliament building. This is just a short walk from the Hague Central station, and also conveniently located next to Mauritshuis, a world famous museum that houses Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring. You can stroll through the Binnenhof, and likely you’ll catch a glimpse of politicians, and if you’re lucky, maybe even the prime minister! Things are pretty laid back here, so you might see him arriving to his office by bicycle – there’s no secret service! Besides Mauritshuis, the Hague is also home to the MC Escher museum, also located in the city center. Here you can see Escher’s mind bending sketches up close and personal.

Once you’ve strolled around the city center (don’t forget to pass by the King’s working office on Noordeinde street), head over to the beach by catching tram 1. Scheveningen is the largest beach in the Netherlands, and is hugely popular in the summertime. Head down the beach past the pier toward Zwarte Pad, where you’ll find dozens of laid back beach bars pumping laid back house beats where you can kick back in the sun all day long, or even stay into the night for a beach party.

For more tips on what to do in the Hague, check out Gabby’s post on Boarding Call. Gabby is also on Facebook and Instagram!


where to go in the Netherlands

(c) Bruna Venturinelli

The world’s largest tulip park, and probably the most colorful place in the Netherlands, is definitely my favorite place to visit in the country.

The Keukenhof only opens for a couple of months every year, so I always make sure to plan my visit ahead. This is essential as people from all over the world go there and the park can be very crowded.

One of the things I love about Keukenhof is that the park’s theme changes every year. In 2018, the theme is Romance in flowers. Isn’t it lovely?

Keukenhof is a perfect day trip from Amsterdam and if you want to see it for yourself, reserve a whole day for it because the park is huge! It has around 7 million flower bulbs, just so you can have an idea of how big it is! One more tip: don’t forget to ride a bike along the tulip fields around the park. You won’t regret it!

Discover more from Bruna and MapsNBags on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest!


where to go in the Netherlands

(c) Jenn The Solivagant Soul

My favorite spot in the Netherlands is Maastricht. It is a little town in south of the NL, really close to Belgium. It is very hipster but without reaching that annoying level found in some neighborhoods of bigger cities. Filled with bike shops turned into coffees and boutiques the like of everyone, it is the perfect place to go for a shopping spree any day of the week. The center of the town is just made out cobblestone streets, old bridges and a church here and there. If you want to do something out of the ordinary, you can visit St Peter’s Caves or St Peter’s Fortress, visit the oldest working watermill in the Netherlands or take cruise through the Limburg province. You will love it!

From Jenn at The Solivagant Soul! Also on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

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