Category: International Travel (Page 1 of 6)

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.

PART TWO COMING SOON!

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.

THE LIST

(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.

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.

DAY ZERO: TRAVEL

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.

DAY ONE: 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.

DAY TWO: DRIVING TO PICO DUARTE

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.

DAY THREE: TREK UP TO CAMP COMPARTICION

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.

DAY FOUR: TO THE SUMMIT

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.

DAY FIVE: RETURN TO CIVILIZATION; A DAY IN SANTIAGO DE LOS CABALLEROS

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

DAY SIX: 27 CHARCOS

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.

DAY SEVEN: 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.

DAY EIGHT: COASTAL ROAD TRIP

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.

DAY NINE: 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.

DAY TEN: TRAVEL DAY

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.

DAY ELEVEN: CAVES!

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.

DAY TWELVE: ISLA SOANA

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.

DAY THIRTEEN: PUNTA CANA

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.

DAY FOURTEEN: CUEVA FUN FUN

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.

DAY FIFTEEN: CUEVA DE MARAVILLAS

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.

DAY SIXTEEN: HOME!

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!

LEARN MORE:

Dos and Don’ts for the Dominican Republic

Nightborn Travel’s Guide to the Dominican Republic

 

 

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dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

dominican republic itinerary, dominican republic roadtrip, dominican republic hiking

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!

xo,
Katie

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!

Keukenhof

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!

Maastricht

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!

Five Great Things To Do in Santo Domingo

 

things to do in santo domingo

Santo Domingo is the capital of the Dominican Republic. It is also the largest city in the Caribbean, and has a population of 3 million people. Santo Domingo is the oldest continuously inhabited European city in the Americas, and was once home to Columbus’ family. It’s a city full of history and mystery, with beauty around every corner. All the being said, tourists hardly visit the capital compared to Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. If you want a taste for some of the places that make the Dominican Republic special, Santo Domingo is not a city to be missed. When I lived there for a summer, these were the five things to do in Santo Domingo that I enjoyed the most (not arranged in any particular order).

Contemplate the Mystery of Columbus at Faro a Colon (Or Columbus Lighthouse)

things to do in santo domingo

The Dominican government began construction on this massive, cross-shaped monolith in 1986. El Faro was completed six years later on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first journey to the Caribbean. The memorial houses a museum with artifacts from all over the region, and what is said to be Columbus’ remains. There is some debate about this, however, as DNA tests have proven that Columbus is housed in the Seville Cathedral of Spain. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic did not allow its own holdings to be tested.

things to do in santo domingo

When I visited, I marveled at the stark building. I have read that its cross shape is in reference to the coming of the Christian religion to the New World. The bulky, grey mass of the monument wasn’t cheerful in aesthetic or in its meaning… at least not to me. The Caribbean (and many other regions of the world) are still recovering from the colonialism that this symbolizes. Even so, I don’t think this is a place to be missed. History, even regretful history, is something that we should never forget. And there is no arguing that Columbus played a major role in shaping the world we live in today, for better or worse. There is no where else like this in the world.

Walk El Malecon

things to do in santo domingo

The Malecon is a stretch of Santo Domingo that runs along the water. If you enjoy the ocean, this is about as close to a beach that you will get in the city. Rocky cliffs are otherwise the norm in this area. There are some shops and food to be had here, as well as some more of the city’s monuments.

things to do in santo domingo

The Malecon is a public space, and its somewhere just as enjoyed by local residents as visitors. With large swaths of grass areas and small places to eat, it was full of families and weekend festivities when I went. It’s one of those unique things to do in Santo Domingo that is the perfect place to mingle with city residents.

Ponder the Past in La Zona Colonial

things to do in santo domingo

La Zona Colonial is a part of Santo Domingo that has a very high concentration of historic buildings, and which is honored on a global scale as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, you can visit Christopher Columbus’s son’s home, as well as colonial forts and churches, and museums full of antiquities. Santo Domingo was the first major bastion of European influence in the “New World” and that is still preserved in this beautiful part of the city.

things to do in santo domingo

There is really something very enchanting about La Zona Colonial. It encompasses so much Dominican, Caribbean, and European history in one small area. Colonial buildings, carefully preserved and protected, are nestled between traditional Caribbean architecture. The colorful store and home-fronts are sometimes interrupted by the result of garrish Western architectural fads, and tragic evidence of past conflicts in the region (such as the US occupation of the Dominican Republic).

Enjoy Nature at Los Tres Ojos

things to do in santo domingo

Being that I am both a nature and national park lover, Tres Ojos was by far, my favorite place in the city and I visited it multiple times. Here you climb down into an interconnected system of three lakes which I would describe as cenotes or sinkholes, although I am not sure that that is technically correct. Most are accessible on foot, but one you can pay a little extra to see the final after a short boat ride. It’s worth the fee just for the ride, in my opinion, but the view after is pretty unbelievable as well.

things to do in santo domingo

The Dominican Republic has some of the most beautiful caves that I have ever seen, and I was lucky enough to explore a few of them. Even so, Tres Ojos was probably one of the most captivating of all of them. The expanse of the park, with its twisting trails through the forest and subterranean world was a great place to mingle with other travelers, or find little spots to contemplate the beauty. The sparkling blue water, ringed by capes of green, or made utterly clear by encapsulating stone was unforgettable. If you see nothing else in Santo Domingo, Tres Ojos is the place to go. You would never expect somewhere so beautiful to be in the middle of a thriving city.

Eat and Drink Amazing Things

things to do in santo domingo

The capital is home to some extremely amazing food. So, exploring its restaurants is one of the best things to do in Santo Domingo. In La Zona Colonial, you can get anything from traditional Dominican dishes to global flavors. Artful chefs who put their own unique spin on all sorts of culinary delights also call this part of the city home. I’ve never heard of the Dominican Republic being known for its assortment of perfect restaurants, but it should be. Santo Domingo might just be one of the best places in the Caribbean for foodies (up for debate!).

things to do in santo domingo

Some Notes on Safety

things to do in santo domingo

Santo Domingo isn’t without its dangers, and I think (like any big city) travelers would be well advised to be wary and careful. Theft and violent assault can be common in some areas, and travelers are always a target for scammers no matter where you go. That being said, I never had a bad experience here. Not even when a bus dropped me and my friends off in a bad neighborhood, and not when a friend of mine got dropped off at the wrong building by a taxi when she came to visit. The worst I got was a taxi driver who thought he could charge me more than standard fare. Even so, here are some tips to keep in mind (which could honestly be applied to any city, but nonetheless).

Hide Your Valuables (Especially Your iPhone)

iPhones were in demand among thieves when I was living in Santo Domingo due to the extremely high price of these phones on the island. However, flashing any valuables is something I would suggest avoiding. It just gets the wrong sort of people interested in you.

Avoid Problem Areas

There are some parts of the city that even local people prefer to avoid. Stay in touristy and highly developed, vibrant areas, and you should be safe. These things change over time, so be sure to do a bit of research before you start your trip. Worst come to worst, hotel staff should be able to help you figure out where to stay away from. And trust your instincts, if something feels off, just turn around, flag down a cab, or call an Uber.

Expect to Get Attention

The Dominican Republic is a musical, romantic place. People are not afraid to let you know if they find you attractive. Sometimes the attention is more than just a fascination with foreign visitors, however. The Dominican Republic has a notably large sex tourism industry. Again, not something I had an issue with.  These sex workers did harass a friend of mine, though, so it happens.

The Roads Are Crazy

The Dominican Republic is known for being one of the most deadly places in the world to drive. Be aware that driving there is nothing like the US or Europe. The infrastructure is present (traffic lights, stop signs, and nice roads), but people don’t follow rules that they find inconvenient. This is especially bad at night. Even if you are on foot, don’t expect cars to stop for you. Don’t trust that everyone will stop at lights or signs.

For more ideas about things to do and see in Santo Domingo be sure to visit Live Love Voyage’s Santo Domingo Guide.

If you want to find out about more off-the-beaten path destinations in the Dominican Republic, be sure to look through our guide to the country!

Learn About Seven Namibian Cultures

Namibian culture includes many traditions, ways of life, art, and more. To talk about all of them in detail would take a few books at best, and I can’t hope to cover all of that information here. However, I want to give you a taste for some of the interesting facts about the people of the beautiful nation of Namibia. They are organized alphabetically below, and cover only some of the larger groups. I tried to vary the kinds of information, and provide further resources for you to learn more.

The Damara

(1) Unlike many groups in Namibia, the Damara did not traditionally have a chiefdom, but rather chose wise people for consultations in decision-making processes.

(2) Traditionally, the Damara people bury their dead far from their villages, because spirits are thought to have the power to take a loved (or hated) person with them into the next world if they can find their way back to the village.

(3) The traditional Damara religion believes that the next life is similar to this, but with more success in hunting and gathering.

You can learn more from the Damara Living Museum tourism project by the Damara people.

The Herero

Namibian cultures

A beautiful Herero woman (c) Pixabay.

(1) The Herero can trace their roots back to Angola in semi-recent history. It is believed that severe drought forced their ancestors to move into Namibia.

(2) The Herero people are well known for the Victorian style dresses that the women wear, along with their characteristic headdress. Although this style comes from German missionaries in the 19th Century, it is now a unique part of Herero tradition.

(3) Christianity is common among the Herero people, and they developed their own Christian church in 1955.

You can learn more about Herero dress on this article accompanying a photographic installation.

The Himba

Namibian culture

A Himba woman (c) Pixabay

(1) The Herero and Himba people were once one group, and they only split shortly after their ancestors entered Namibia. The Himba have maintained more of their shared, traditional belief systems.

(2) The Himba people are well known among Namibian cultures for their unique dress. They wear ochre colored butter that people use to stain and protect their skin. Hair styles and jewelry have particular meanings.

(3) Ritual fires are traditional to both the Herero and Himba, and most Himba villages still maintain them. Ritual fires have complex meanings, but are a connection to the spirit world and must be carefully maintained.

You can support and learn more about the Himba people from the Otjikandero Village.

The Kavango

(1) The Kavango people have five different and distinct tribes that are believed to have moved onto the land they live on currently between 1750 and 1800.

(2) Matrilineal descent is used among these tribes, and people of the same generation often refer to eachother and brothers and sisters.

(3) Subsistence farming is a common way of life among the Kavango people, and it is traditional to only grow enough food for a year. Trust is held in Nyambi (the creator) to provide for the people year to year.

The Kavango people run a cultural center called the Mbunza Living Museum.

The Nama

(1) The Nama are the descendants of Herero prisoners of war that developed their own language and culture.

(2) Traditionally, the women of the Nama people had power among the people, and the household was considered to be owned by them. In that way, they developed a partnership with their husbands.

(3) Like many people that were introduced to Christianity, the Nama people practiced a mix of traditional religion and Christianity.

You can learn more about the Nama cultural group, Suide Maak Vrede.

The Owambo

(1) There are eight different Owambo tribes and each has its own dialect.

(2) Traditionally the Owambo traced their families through their mothers. More recently, this has slowly changed, with more assets being passed from a father to his children.

(3) The traditional religion of the Owambo people has a supreme god called Kalunga, although this entity is not actively involved in people’s lives. Ancestral spirits are believed to play a great role in the world of the living, however.

You can learn more about Owamboland!

The San

Namibian culture

San people (c) Pixabay

(1) The San are the first people of southern Africa, and the lands encompassed by Namibia. They are also most likely the longest continuous line of humans on the planet, and their ancestors appear to have given rise to the rest of the humans on the planet.

(2) The San people have maintained a hunter gatherer lifestyle for thousands and thousands of years.

(3) Although they were the first to live in this part of Africa, the San have been discriminated against by other African groups and Europeans that migrated into their traditional lands.

If you’d like support the San people, check out Naankuse.

Namibian culture

The Perfect 5 Day Netherlands Itinerary for Nature Lovers

For anyone used to roadtripping in the US, the Netherlands will make for a very relaxing place to explore. Getting from one end of the country to the other on their very nice highways won’t take long at all, and this country has so much to offer the nature-lover. If you’re wondering what the perfect Netherlands itinerary is for us outdoor folks, this is where it’s at. Tulips, beaches, farmland, Van Gogh, deserts and mountains, this is the dream Netherlands roadtrip.

DAY ONE: TULIPS AND THE SEA

I loved spending time in Lisse; it is the perfect small-town Netherlands experience, If you are looking for a refreshing break from crowds, staying here outside of tulip season is extremely nice. On the other hand, if you are in the Netherlands for tulip season, Lisse is the perfect place to be. It is situated right in the middle agricultural fields, some of which are devoted to the Netherlands’ favorite flowers.

netherlands itinerary

Downtown Lisse (c) ABR 2017

After spending the day relaxing among downtown Lisse’s restaurants and shops, or marveling at a colorful sea of flowers, the beach is just a short drive away in Noordwijk. We took a nice stroll through the sand, and when we got tired, we retreated to one of the beach-side restaurants for mussels and wine.

netherlands itinerary

Noordwijk beach-ish area (c) ABR 2017

Small town Lisse and the beach are a great way to spend your first day in the Netherlands, whether or not there are tulips. Having a restful day before a roadtrip really kicks off is always a good thing, especially if you just stepped off a 10+ hr plane ride.

DAY TWO: SOUTHERN NETHERLANDS

On the way down from Lisse to the southern tip of the Netherlands, stop by the Dunes of Loon National Park. I have already talked about this beautiful little arid spot in my post about the Netherlands national parks, but this is a wonderful place to stroll through a bright forest of tall trees, which gives way to a sudden island of sand dunes. It is a quiet little spot that locals and visitors enjoy alike.

netherlands itinerary

Dune of Loon National Park! (c) ABR 2017

The Netherlands isn’t known for its mountains… mostly, because it doesn’t have any. Vaalserberg, the highpoint of the country, is a bit of a surprise then, because while it is more of a hill than a true mountain, it can actually make for a nice uphill climb (or drive if you prefer). There are plenty of trails crisscrossing the Netherlands side of this mountain. They are easily accessible from the road that weaves its way up to the top. Vaalserberg is also where the Netherlands meets both Germany and Belgium. So, even if you aren’t a big fan of hiking or highpoints, this is a neat place to get a glimpse of three different countries at once and frolic in some very verdant forests.

netherlands itinerary

(c) ABR 2017

Finally, finish your day off in Eindhoven. The village has a very nice downtown area with tons of restaurant choices to enjoy. Once the sun goes down, go check out the little Van Gogh trail nearby. This beautiful section of a longer bike trail passes through some beautiful fields. It has grown famous for its glowing Starry Night depiction. Eindhoven a great place to end a busy day and watch the stars, both real and artistic.

netherlands itinerary

Van Gogh trail (c) ABR 2017

DAY THREE: AMSTERDAM (OR ROTTERDAM)

Even for us nature lovers, I would be remiss to have a Netherlands itinerary that left out the major cities. Amsterdam is the capital of the country and is (in my opinion) erroneously known for pot smoking and prostitution. I didn’t see any more of either than I would anywhere else, because I stayed out of the red light district. It is totally up to you if you want to confront this stuff.

netherlands itinerary

Amsterdam (c) ABR 2017

The capital is a beautiful city with tons of canals, great food, and lots of different things to do. There are a ton of museums to enjoy, as well as the tulip market and the Ann Frank House (get reservations ahead of time if you want to do this one). For more ideas on what to do in the city, look through Travel Stories Untold’s Amsterdam Travel Guide.

If you aren’t one for crowds, we had Rotterdam suggested to us as an alternative. So you might consider spending the day there if you want to experience the Netherlands urban landscape without the bustle of Amsterdam.

DAY FOUR: THE VILLAGE OF GEITHOORN

I’ve heard of Geithoorn being referred to as the Venice of the Netherlands, and the little town with no roads. There are a few caveats that I’d like to add to this, because I think it is good to go with the right expectations. The idea of a little Venice is a good fit, for one section of the town, and there are definitely roads. You will need one to get there. Pedestrians might even have to dodge a few cars while you walk around. You should also know that this village has become very popular with big, organized tour groups. I would suggest getting there early to avoid some of the crowds.

netherlands itinerary

Giethoorn (c) ABR 2017

Even though I absolutely loved the town (it looks like it belongs in a fairy tale!), the best part about visiting Giethoorn was taking a boat through the nearby wetlands. It was nice to get some isolation and I think being on the water is so relaxing under those conditions. Taking a boat out on the water and through Giethoorn would be a great outing for anyone. When you are done boating around there are some very original shops in the town and delicious food as well.

DAY FIVE: BIKES AND ART IN DE HOGE

I have covered my love for and experience with De Hoge in detail in my National Parks of the Netherlands post. I think anyone who loves nature should make this park a priority. This is the perfect place to go bike riding. There are two amazing museums here as well. It is a full day of activities at De Hoge and a great place to end your Netherlands roadtrip.

netherlands itinerary

netherlands itinerary

Four Tips for Auckland Day Trips

So dear reader, you’re telling me that you’re having a grand old time in Auckland, New Zealand, but you’d like to venture outside of the city a little bit.

Do you have time to drive to NZ’s south island? It could be an 8-12 hour trip depending on where you go. No?

Well, luckily for you, I have some wonderful day-tripping options for you to choose from. Keep on reading, you intrepid traveler.

Things I recommend for day-trip travel:

  • A vehicle, preferably a car (if you’re looking for a place to rent a car, I recommend GO rentals)
  • A good sense of direction OR access to GPS navigation
  • PocWifi – so you can use wi-fi at any time, at a relatively affordable price
  • Cash, just in case
  • Snacks??? I mean, it’s up to you, I just very snacky when I roadtrip.

I’ve given you some one-way travel times from Auckland to all of the listed destinations below, but take these with a grain of salt. Traffic, road work, your own driving speed, etc. will all flex these times.

Hobbiton

Travel time from Auckland: About 2 hours

If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan or even if you aren’t, Hobbiton is beautiful venture in the countryside to the movie set where scenes from the Shire were filmed for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies.

During the tour, you’re able to walk through the actual set and take photos, while a guide tells you all sorts of movie trivia (a delight for any nerdy heart). If you’re lucky, the weather will be sunny and light up the green hills of the Shire, making you feel like you might ACTUALLY be a little hobbit. (Shoot for summer or maybe late spring.)

I recommend that you book your ticket online in advance, because the time slots can sell out and you can only visit the set if you’re on a tour. Also, since you book a time and they ask you to check in 15 minutes before your tour, you should give yourself enough time to get there. Even if you arrive early, they have a gift shop and a cafe where you can kill time.

Rotorua

Travel time from Auckland: About 3 hours

Rotorua is an excellent place to visit for nature and culture fans.

Whakarewarewa Forest

The Whakarewarewa Forest is only about 5 minutes from downtown Rotorua and is a great place to stroll, hike, bike and even ride on horseback. For travelers from the U.S., the huge trees that the forest is famous for might look a little familiar, and that’s because they’re actually California Redwoods!

Geothermal Activity

Rotorua is part of the Taupo Volcanic Zone resulting in a ton of geothermal activity! We visited Hells Gate – both a geothermal park and spa. When you visit and find yourself encompassed by the warm steam and surrounded by volcanic rock, you’ll understand how it got its name. I recommend choosing the tour and spa package, so you can take a self-guided tour through the sulphur and mud pools that make the naturally-heated spa pools possible.

Lake Taupo

Speaking of Taupo, if you have a little more time in Rotorua, Lake Taupo is just about an hour’s drive away. It also has a lot to offer! Apart from a HUGE natural lake that you can take boat and kayak tours on, there’s also Huka Falls, known for its beautiful icy blue water. Huka Falls has a few different hike trails of its own – including the Spa Walk, which actually leads you to a natural hot spring.

Maori Villages

If you’re interested in learning more about Maori culture, there are a couple different Maori villages that you can visit in Rotorua. If you’re not sure which one you’d like to visit, ask the locals. Some of them are actual living Maori villages and others are a bit more… tourist-y. We had planned to visit the living village, but after freezing our buns off on a brisk Lake Taupo boat tour, we opted to warm ourselves up at a local pub.

Waitomo

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

One of the big attractions in Waitomo is their cave system. You can visit Ruakuri, Aranui or their Glowworm Caves – all of them offering a different experience. Feeling particularly adventurous? Try black water rafting or tubing through the caves (we were a little too chicken to try this – plus, it was already pretty chilly OUT of the water)!

However, if you’re finding yourself short on time like we were, I would make the Glowworm Caves your Waitomo stop. When you’re in the sitting in the darkness of the cave, only illuminated by the soft blue lights of the thousands of glowworms – you forget you’re in a cave. It’s almost like looking up at a bunch of little stars. It’s truly beautiful, and honestly, my words do do it justice. You can’t take photos in the cave because the glowworms are very sensitive to lights and sound, so it’s really something you have to see for yourself.

Tauranga

Travel time from Auckland: About 2-and-a-half hours

Tauranga is for lovers – beach lovers, that is. The Mt. Maunganui Main Beach has been voted New Zealand’s best, and I can totally see why. The long stretch of beach is a great place to stroll, relax on the soft sand and swim.

If you want to get a hike in, the beach is also conveniently located at the base of Mt. Mauao. If I recall, there were a couple main hiker trails – one that loops a bit more gently up the mountain and one that’s a shorter, but steeper climb up to the summit. We took the steeper climb, which was QUITE the haul, but we were rewarded with gorgeous views along the way and at the top.

If you can believe it, I cut this day trip round-up short for you, dear reader. There’s just SO much to do and see in New Zealand. That’s why I’m definitely going back in the near future and why I’m creating these helpful guides for travelers. If you’re looking for a place to start in Auckland, check out my budget traveler’s guide.

Happy travels to you!

xoxo,
Katie

Bloggers’ Favorite Spots in Japan

If you are thinking about traveling to Japan, you probably know about some of the most famous places in the country, like Tokyo and Kyoto. (Or perhaps you want to know more about Japan’s famous cherry blossom season? See the Blessing Bucket’s Everything You Need to Know bout Cherry Blossom Season.) You might still be wondering about the specifics of what to do in Japan or just looking for more travel inspiration. Either way, we’ve gathered a list of six travel bloggers’ favorite spots in Japan. From urban delights, to spectacular cultural locations and beautiful nature, these highlights are sure to inspire you and enhance any itinerary that you might be planning for this exceptional country. If you’d like more tips for traveling to Japan, be sure to check out our guide!

Fushimi Inari Shrine

what to do in japan

(c) G. Isabelle

by G. Isabelle of Dominican Abroad

For two weeks, I traveled throughout Japan from Nikko to Osaka. I enjoyed and came across gorgeous architecture, traditional Japanese rituals, delicious food, cozy streets, lush mountains, and bucolic countryside views. But what captivated me the most was my experience at the Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto. One quiet night, on my e-bike, I peddled through zigzag streets of Kyoto until finally reaching this shrine. I was immediately awestruck by its quaint ambiance and beauty at first sight. I was one of only three people there. Unlike most other shrines, Fushimi Inari is open 24 hours, which many travelers are unaware of. It was the first shrine I was able to fully take in and enjoy peacefully and without the pressure of crowds and camera flashes. The deep orange-red hues of the torii gates temple contrasted beautifully against the night’s darkness. It was one of my most memorable experiences of Japanese spirituality, beauty, and culture and I strongly recommend it.

Follow Isabelle on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Kamikochi National Park

what to do in Japan

(c) Sarah Carter

by Sarah Carter of ASocialNomad

Kamikochi National Park is a free to access National Park in the Japanese Alps.  It is quite simply a gorgeous valley surrounded by mountains.  The day hiking here is easy, with short walks and a combination circular trail that crisscrosses the river running through the park.  There are stunning views throughout the park and trails are a combination of boardwalks, paving and reinforced track.  Kamikochi NP has toilet facilities, café’s, a souvenir shop and a very helpful information centre.  You won’t find any trash facilities in the park, so pack it in and pack it out!

The park is most easily accessed from Matsumoto via a combo train and bus ticket, which you can buy from Matsumoto train station.   A combined return transport ticket will cost around USD$38, the views are spectacular on the bus.

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Little Edo

What to do in Japan

(c) Noel Cabacungan

by Noel Cabacungan of Ten Thousand Strangers

Little Edo is a small district of Kawagoe in Saitama Prefecture.  It is one of the many areas in Japan that has preserved most of its architecture which dates back from the old Edo Period (1603-1868). Kawagoe is just a 30-minute train ride from Central Tokyo and if you happen to be in the capital, a short day trip to this district should definitely be on your itinerary.

Some of the must-see attractions in Little Edo includes the old clay-walled warehouses popularly known as the Kurazukuri no Machinami (Warehouse District), the centuries-old Toki no Kane (Bell of Time Tower) which still functions to tell the time at several intervals throughout the day, the numerous temples around, and  the popular candy street where you can buy traditional Japanese candies and snacks.

If you’re really in for the experience, wear your traditional Japanese costumes and ride one of the jinrikishas (pulled rickshaws) which will tour you around Little Edo for only ¥6,000 for an hour.

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Osaka

(c) Patrick Muntzinger

by Patrick Muntzinger of German Backpacker

Competing with famous tourist destinations such as Tokyo and neighboring Kyoto, Osaka is often overlooked by travelers. However, I had a wonderful time exploring this city and there’s much to do and to see. Make sure to visit the famous castle, which offers you some culture, history and a great view on the city. Plan a stop at the world-famous Aquarium if you’re interested in marine wildlife. Make sure to visit the popular and hip neighborhood of Dotonbori – the touristic center of the city. This place is especially great in the evening, with millions of lights, LED screens and people – the Time Square of Japan! For the best view on the skyline, get on top of the Umeda Sky Building. This place with its unique architecture and its breathtaking panorama is another highlight of Osaka. Enjoy your visit!

Follow the German Backpacker on Instagram and Twitter!

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

(c) the Travel Sisters

by Matilda of the Travel Sisters

One of my favorite places in Japan is the beautiful Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo. Shinjuku Gyoen actually consists of three different types of gardens: Japanese traditional, French formal and English landscape garden. Tokyo can be hectic so this large and peaceful park is a great place to spend a few hours exploring the garden or enjoying a picnic. Home to a large number of cherry trees, it is also one of the most popular spots in Tokyo for hanami (cherry blossom viewing) during in the spring. Even during the busy cherry blossom season, the park is not as crowded as most places in Tokyo making it a relaxing oasis in the middle of the city.

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Takayama

Autumn scenery, Hida-Furukawa (c) Ingrid Truemper

 By Ingrid Truemper of Second-Half Travels

Nestled in the heart of the Japanese Alps, Takayama preserves Japan’s traditional culture in its photogenic historic architecture, legendary handicrafts, and intricately decorated temples and shrines. Wander the narrow streets of Takayama’s picturesque merchants’ quarter, lined with wooden houses dating from the Edo Period. Don’t miss the colorful morning markets, which sell local snacks and crafts in addition to fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The Takayama Festival, held in spring and autumn, is ranked one of Japan’s best. If you can’t make the festival, be sure to check out the gorgeous floats at the Festival Floats Exhibition Hall.

Takayama also makes a great base for exploring the Japanese Alps. The Unesco World Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go, famous for its unique thatched-roof houses, is a popular day trip from Takayama. Better yet, spend the night at a traditional inn to experience the tranquility after the crowds of day-trippers depart. Hida-Furukawa is a charming village 20 minutes by train from Takayama. It’s strikingly similar in layout and architecture to Takayama, but much less touristy. Stroll the peaceful streets of its lovely canal district, where beautifully preserved white-walled storehouses overlook waterways teeming with colorful carp.

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