Category: International Travel (Page 1 of 7)

My Thoughts on Montsserrat: Inspiration for a Troubled Time

A place that captured my heart

(c) ABR 2020

There are many places that have captured my heart, including New Zealand, Scotland, Japan, Iceland, the Channel Islands, and the Faroe Islands. I am sure that there will be more places in the future, God willing. However, I’ve never been anywhere that impacted me the way that Montserrat did. I wasn’t expecting it. The first time that I had ever heard of the island was during my PhD studies, when I just stumbled across the name in one of the long lists of countries in the Caribbean. I wasn’t familiar, so as I am want to do, I looked it up. I was immediately intrigued by the fact that most of the island was an “exclusion zone” due to a volcano.

In my mind’s eye, this was a place like Washington state, where Mt. Saint Helens had ravaged the land and caused tragedy, but could now be observed and climbed like a relic of the past (not to say that it is). I imagined travelling through the lush rainforests of Montserrat to view and yes, even climb the volcano. Sadly, I was so naive that even leading up to my trip there, I was looking up how to hike the volcano. I didn’t realize that Montserrat didn’t just suffer from one explosion but nearly two decades worth of destructive, pyroclastic activity that has literally left about 2/3 of the island off-limits.

Touring Plymouth

Ruins in Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

I can at least say that I learned enough leading up to my expedition that I purchased a tour of Plymouth, the former capital of the island. I had read that you couldn’t go alone. My guide, a man by the name of Sunny, grew up in stretches of Montserrat that are abandoned and lost for now. And he, like many other Montserratians, had explored a beautiful world that has ceased to exist as it once did. Plymouth was considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in the Caribbean. The mountains surrounding what’s now an active volcano were living and lush. There were only little hints of what was beneath it all in the form of hot springs, not unlike those that I’ve hiked to see in Dominica.

In 1995, when the mountain came alive again, no one thought that the Montserrat that they knew was about to be lost. Activity on the mountain grew, and scientists became more apprehensive, until they alerted the government to the fact that they could not provide 6 hours notice that the volcano might explode. At this point, people were forced to flee the city, many leaving their belongings behind, perhaps believing that they would be able to return soon permanently… and that life would go back to normal. It was not to be, however. The explosion that came in 1996 was so violent and persistent that by 1997 Plymouth was engulfed and destroyed. Nearly 2/3 of the island’s population left Montserrat permanently. Making the damage both physical and cultural.

Unlike Mt Saint Helens, the volcano didn’t explode once. It’s dome expanded and blasted out the island again and again. Destroying Plymouth, destroying the small villages in the countryside to the south, blasting away the roads and the countrysides that once allowed people to play in and explore, and eventually destroying the island’s airport. The last powerful explosion was in 2010, and the years leading up to that were filled with destructive activity. More than a decade of loss.

Strong people surviving loss

Sunny teaching us about the history of Plymouth (c) ABR 2020

I can’t know what those people went through and still feel to this day, but the stories I was told and reading about the event afterwards can give a one a sense. I feel loss even, for the people who lost their homes and their way of life, and for an island that I will never get to see. I’ve been to Montserrat now, but it’s a new Montserrat- something different from what it was before, unique yes, but a reminder of how brutal nature can be. Creation is violent, because volcanoes create. But what it takes to get there is tragic, painful, and oftentimes beyond human comprehension.

It isn’t just the tragedy of Montserrat that makes this island special, and it shouldn’t be. While I wanted to ask the people that I spoke with there if they ever got tired of talking about the volcano, it’s something that has shaped many things on the island. Despite everything, however, people are still there. Not folks who are trapped, but people that want to be there.

Some are Montserratians, although many community members left the island when the eruptions made life too difficult. With no space for people to live in, no jobs, no school, and no rest, it makes sense. They went to the UK, other Caribbean countries, and elsewhere. Meanwhile, since the volcano has comparably simmered down and settlements have established to the north of the island where it is safe, new folks have come to live there. Many are people from around the Caribbean, with some European and US expats as well.

Montserrat now and then, but still alive

(c) ABR 2020

They are rebuilding and keeping the island alive, and while most of them might not remember the Montserrat of “before,” they have taken the special spirit of that place to heart. Montserrat is a remainder of a Caribbean of yester-years. Safe, helpful, and friendly when you offer a smile or kind word. People wave at eachother as they drive down the road, and honk at friends as they pass. It’s not the only island left like this, but that doesn’t make it any less special to experience it- especially when you come from a big city.

Even though I never knew what Montserrat was like before the volcano, even though I didn’t live through the eruptions, or even get to thoroughly explore it, there is something haunting about this place. In some ways, it is that fascination that all people have for other’s tragedy (dark tourism is a thing for a reason!). It’s also the beauty of a place where the nature we love and the nature we fear exist together, and the kindness of a community that has survived that calls you back.

They say that if you drink from the Runaway Ghaut spring you will come back to the island. I couldn’t drink because of my chronic illness, but nonetheless, I hope the spirit of that promise will live in me. I want to come back, and I hope that when I do, I will get to see the dawning of a new day there. I hope that nature sees fit to let this little island heal.

Inspiration for times of trouble

Hilltop Coffee Shop Museum (c) ABR 2020

It’s been less than a month since I drafted this post… but it feels like a lifetime ago. The day that I plan on publishing this post will mark the beginning of our third week working from home due to coronavirus. With uncertainty being the name of the game everyday, and health/financial ruin weighing heavy on everyone’s minds… I often think back to Montserrat.

This is because I believe that the little nation of Montserrat faced disaster more bravely than I have in the past couple weeks. While the situation there and the situation now are not the same, the people of this island have survived years of uncertainty, destruction, and disruption of their lives. Yet, they found ways to adapt and survive, both on their home island and elsewhere. In this difficult days ahead, I will keep thinking about the strength of the Montserrat people. I will look for kindness in my community and try to provide kindness to those around me, and I will keep picking up the pieces until better times come again.

Thank you to Montserrat for hosting me for a few days before the whole world changed. That experience will live in my heart forever, and strengthen me in this insane reality that we are all living in now.

 

A Little Ode to… Dulwich Village

A little bit of a late blog post, but one I wanted to share anyway about our trip to London in late October last year.

When I booked the trip waaaaaaay earlier in February because the flight was super cheap ($400 round-trip from Phoenix to London – thanks for the heads up, Next Vacay and Hopper!), I had grand plans of maximizing what would really only be five FULL days there. We would go to the city proper and see all the sights, do a hedge maze at one of the palaces, and maybe even squeeze in a day trip to Bath.

But then, the rest of a busy year happened and by the time I got to the end of October, I was feeling pretty exhausted and anxious about our trip across the pond. I wanted to make this trip special for my boyfriend (his first international trip!), but thought of rushing from place to place was starting to fill me with dread. Thankfully, he has a much more lax view on travel and was fine with taking it easy. So off we went, with a very loose itinerary (really just a list of places scribbled onto a sheet of lined paper).

The only real stipulation I did make is that for part of the trip I wanted to stay out a little further into a quieter part of London. I ended up picking a place in Dulwich Village, about 45 minutes south of London by bus.

Dulwich Village Favorites

Dulwich Park

This little park and by little I actually mean 71 acres, was a great place to stroll. It was beautiful, even on a dreary day, and I’m betting in sunshine it would be a wonderful place to have a picnic.

A deep red Japanese maple in the park’s Japanese garden.

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A Long Weekend in Luxembourg with Castles, Cities, and the Perfect Countryside

Luxembourg is one of the smallest countries in Europe, and it is sandwiched between Belgium, Germany, and France. As such, it is the perfect place to go to experience a unique culture that has arisen from a region packed with history. While you could easily spend a week or more here, enjoying the beautiful greenery and villages of the countryside, for high-energy travelers spending a long weekend in Luxembourg is perfect. You’ll have time for small town life, exploring Luxembourg City, and hiking one of the most beautiful trails in Europe. This Luxembourg itinerary will break down some of my favorite places in this lovely little nation that stole my heart when I visited.

Day One: Shopping, Eating, and Exploring in Luxembourg City

Luxembourg City is, unsurprisingly, the place to go to learn more about Luxembourg and experience lots of the wonderful things that the country has to offer. Overall, I’d say that this is one of the Europe’s less crowded cities, but you will still run into a good number of tourists here. If you want to avoid the crowds, Sunday tends to be the most quiet. Unfortunately, this is the case because lots of things are closed. So, if you want more options by the way of shopping and dining, it will be best to avoid Sunday. If not, however, lots of the major attractions are still open on Sunday, so it can be a very peaceful day to visit. Either way, Luxembourg City will be a highlight of your weekend in Luxembourg.

weekend in luxembourg

Looking down on the Old Quarter (c) ABR 2018

The National Museum of Luxembourg was our first stop after walking the town for an hour or two. It is free, and will give you a really nice overview of the country’s history. Since the museum is centrally located, this is a great place to spend the morning and then set off on foot for lunch.

weekend in luxembourg

Beautiful buildings in Luxembourg City (c) ABR 2018

From there, I would definitely suggest visiting the Bock casemates. This fortress has been built right into the cliffs that twist their way through the city. It has a long history of serving as both a military asset and a place of refuge for the people of Luxembourg. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So if my endorsement isn’t enough to convince you to include this in your Luxembourg itinerary, hopefully that seal of approval will.

weekend in luxembourg

The casemates and the city (c) ABR 2018

After winding your way through the subterranean world of the city, spend the afternoon strolling through the narrow streets of the Old Quarter and enjoy the beauty of the city’s river.

Day Two: Enjoying the Countryside: Vianden Castle and Esch-sur-Sûre

weekend in luxembourg

Vianden Castle (c) ABR 2018

Vianden Castle is one of the most spectacular castles that I have ever had the opportunity to visit, and it was probably our favorite part of our weekend in Luxembourg. Vianden has been through many of the country’s struggles and did fall out of repair for a time. However, the people of Luxembourg rallied around this symbol of their nation to rebuild it. Modern day visitors will be delighted to explore a beautifully restored fortress. Perched up on a cliff, you will be blown away by the views of the surrounding town as you wander through the authentic furnishing of the past. There is also a wonderful, immersive museum on the castle grounds. So it’s not a stretch to say that you’d spend at least half a day exploring this landmark.

weekend in luxembourg

Vianden Village (c) ABR 2018

After the castle, be sure to check out Vianden town. It is picturesque and full of lovely little cafes to grab lunch. Next stop on the Luxembourg itinerary is Esch-sur-Sûre which is about a 40 minute drive away.

Esch-sur-Sûre

weekend in luxembourg

(c) ABR 2018

This little town also has its own castle, which is open to visitors. But this is much more of an iconic ruin than Vianden castle, so you can explore it at your leisure. You will need to hike up to the top of the hill to do so though. So be prepared for a bit of a huff. The view of the town from above is well worth the incline. The architecture of Luxembourg is stately and ironically European, but Esch-sur-Sûre is also characterized by the river that winds around the massive, rock outcropping that marks the center of the village.

Day Three: Nature as the Finale: The Mullerthal Trail

 

For me, as a hiker and outdoor adventurer, I love getting a sense of a country from its nature. So, after a few days of urban exploration, it’s a great place to end your trip. Luckily, Luxembourg is home to the absolutely breathtaking Mullerthal Trail. At 112 km long, you can make this trek into just about any kind of hike you’d like. You can take a short stroll through the verdant canyon to marvel at the sculpted rocks of the area. You can also spend the whole day on the trail.  The Mullerthal trail is also perfect for backpackers. For information on this, there is a detailed breakdown of the backpacking stages here.

weekend in luxembourg

Who doesn’t love these? (c) ABR 2018

For those of you looking for shorter hikes, I ended up using Road Trips Around the World’s detailed guide.

And if you enjoyed this itinerary, you might love our other, action-packed guides. And if you want to learn more about Luxembourg, be sure to read My Travel Affairs’ Interesting Facts About Luxembourg.

weekend in luxembourg

The More Serious Side of Travel: Hiroshima Peace Memorial

When you look at Hiroshima today – bustling and beautiful – it’s hard to imagine the complete devastation of the atomic bomb drop just over 70 years ago. And I know that it’s not easy to visit places where you’re faced with the history of great tragedy, but if you’re traveling to Japan, think about stopping by the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum to better understand the effects of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and its people (and their resilience and strength as they worked to rebuild their city).

Each exhibit about the culmination of World War II, the dropping of the bomb and its aftermath are informative, but it’s also a very emotional experience. Perhaps the most sobering exhibits (at least for me) are the personal items and stories on display of victims of the bombing. I held it together pretty well until a docent told a group of us about a photo of people waiting in line for medical attention not too long after the bomb fell – how the photographer knew he had to document this but he stood for nearly 20 minutes mesmerized by the pain and horror of it all.

Tiny cranes on display, folded by Sadako Sasaki, a young girl exposed to radiation when the bomb fell when she was only a toddler. Years later when she was 12 years old, she was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away soon after.

 

A watch that stopped at 8:15 a.m., the time the bomb hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

After we left the museum, we visited the Children’s Peace Monument – a tribute to Sadako and the thousands of other children who were victims of the bombing.

The monument is surrounded by glass boxes where visitors can leave their own folded cranes in a hopeful promise for better days and in remembrance.

My travel companions and I hung up our own cranes – a small labor of love that we had folded on the train ride over.

Behind the colorful cranes, you can step out onto a walking path and see the Genbaku or Atomic Bomb Dome across the way. It’s called this because it was the only structure still standing so close to the bomb’s hypocenter (where the atomic bomb hit).

I sat down on a bench and marveled at the juxtaposition and the significance of this defiant building sitting in the sun, next to a lazily flowing river. People rode bikes and chatted with each other animatedly as they walked by – life, like the water, ebbed on.

I’m looking forward to coming back to Hiroshima – a city with so much to offer. This time around, I didn’t get to visit Hiroshima Castle, try their version of okonomiyaki or take the short ferry ride to the neighboring small island of Miyajima (amongst many other great sites to see). I can’t wait until my next trip.

I didn’t get to ride their electric railway either, which is a travesty, because I love streetcars.

Be Good to Each Other,
Katie

The Forgotten Caribbean: Visiting Culebra

Culebra is the smaller of the two populated islands off of the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, and it is a world of its own. The island itself is low-lying, meaning that much of its surface is relatively dry when compared to the tropical paradise that is the Island of Enchantment, and even compared to the forests of its partner, Vieques. Even so, Culebra is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, if not the world, and it has a tragic history that needs to be remembered. But is visiting Culebra worth it? Of course. It’s the perfect place for a weekend getaway or as part of an add-on to a trip to Puerto Rico.

COLONIAL HISTORY

Despite it small size, Culebra has a history that’s almost a perfect snap shot of all the complexity and struggles faced by the people of the Caribbean. Archeologists have found evidence of both Taino and Arawak peoples living on the island before the arrival of Europeans. By the 18th century, the native Caribbean people had either died in wars with invading Europeans, via slavery, or they had mixed with the new people moving into the Caribbean. Shortly after, Culebra had become a shelter for pirates.

visiting culebra

Coolest postal office ever with Caribbean flare (c) ABR 2018

The Spanish crown put a stop to this, due to the island’s proximity to its Caribbean jewel, and as of 1880 colonization efforts began on the island. In fact, there is still an old graveyard that has survived into modern times from those early days of European colonization (something you should totally include in your Culebra itinerary). Within a short period of time, the single village of Culebra had grown to five villages and the people that made the island home had a thriving agricultural society.

RECENT HISTORY

In 1901, the US military established a base on Culebra, and this had long-term negative impacts on the island’s people. The base’s construction forced the resettlement of many people and closed parts of the island of to its residents.

Local people protested this treatment and this eventually led to the US military leaving the island in 1975. However, there is still evidence of this period in the island’s history left scattered across the land, and which you will see when visiting Culebra. From rusting tanks on the beach to unexploded ordinance hidden in the sand and elsewhere, the memory of what the US did to Culebra will not disappear anytime soon.

visiting Culebra

Tank left on Flamenco Beach (c) ABR 2018

In 2017, Hurricane Maria hit the Caribbean with intense force; it decimated Puerto Rico and Culebra with it. Many people with family ties to the island have been forced to leave due to the damage from the hurricane, or from lack of jobs. At the same time, wealthy people from the US and Puerto Rico’s main island have started buying up land on Culebra, with plans to turn this small Caribbean world into their own luxury tourism experience, against the will of the local people.

Bringing community-based tourism in Culebra now might just help local people take back their control of their home and provide jobs for residents as well. So, your Culebra itinerary could actually make a bit of a difference if you do it right.

GETTING THERE

There are two main ways to get to Culebra, and both of them have some complications.

There is a ferry that runs from Fajardo to Culebra multiple times a day, and it is very affordable. However, during busy times of the year the ferry can fill up, with preference being given to residents, and the schedule is not always kept to the standards the Americans or Western Europeans are used to. So, this can be a frustrating experience, although I had no issues with it at all when I went. I would suggest getting to the ferry terminal early in order to insure that you can get tickets and bring a book along in case you need some extra entertainment for scheduling hiccups.

visiting culebra

Getting off of the ferry onto Culebra (c) ABR 2018

Several small airlines can also facilitate visiting Culebra. They fly from San Juan or Ceiba Airport. In April 2017, we found these companies very hard to contact and were unable to buy tickets for a flight. However, many travelers have had better luck with this mode of transport than the ferries in the past. We did fly Vieques Air Link to Vieques successfully, however, and they do fly to Culebra as well.

WHERE TO STAY

Not a giant hotel.

Ok seriously though. There are some big players that are interested in Culebra and local people are struggling to maintain control of their home. If you stay in one of the small, locally owned hotels in the main village, you can make a difference. Give your money to the local community and get a taste of day-to-day life in your Culebra itinerary.

WHAT TO DO

Flamenco Beach is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean, and even if you end up disagreeing, it is certainly one of the most unique beaches in the region. Visit to enjoy the beautiful water and coast, and see the reclaimed tanks left behind on the beach.

visiting culebra

Flamenco Beach (c) ABR 2018

Playa Tamarindo is another beautiful beach, which is known to be a nesting beach for turtles. Due to this, if you visit, please be careful and keep your distance from any turtles or nests that you might notice.

If you are a hiker, visiting Culebra is right up your alley, because there are several trails that you can explore, and most take you to a beautiful beach. Puerto Rico Day Trips has a detailed post about your options.

visiting culebra

Driving around on Culebra (c) ABR 2018

Culebra is the perfect place to go for a bike ride. It’s not a huge island, so you can see just about everything from the back of your bicycle. If this isn’t an option for you, not to worry. You can rent a jeep in town and take a lovely drive across the island.

Visit the Museum of Culebra and learn more about the history of this little island. The museum is sure to lend some more nuance to what you’ve already learned. The museum hours are a little bit limited, so you might want to call ahead before visiting. (787.617.8517)

visiting culebra

Colorful buildings in Culebra (c) ABR 2018

TIPS FOR THE ISLAND

(1) Do not pick up or handle anything unidentified on the beach or elsewhere.  Culebra was once used for military exercises and unexploded ordinances are still found around the island to this day. Sometimes, people get hurt by what they find. If you find anything questionable, please stay away and report it to authorities so that they can assess the situation.

(2) Many people take a ferry to Culebra for the day and bring all of their own food. Sadly, this means that the only money they spend in the community is on the ferry. You can do a lot of good for the people of Culebra by eating out while visiting the island. There is some really good food here, and the prices are reasonable. If you are a budget traveler, consider going grocery shopping once you are on the island.

visiting culebra

Some very tasty food on Culebra (c) ABR 2018

If you are looking for more to do in Puerto Rico be sure to take a look at our guide.

visiting culebra

visiting culebra

Adventures in Paradise Part 2: A Puerto Rico Itinerary

PART TWO: WESTERN PUERTO RICO

So, we’ve already covered why you should visit the Island of Enchantment and what you can do on the eastern half of the island in a week, now, here is the second part of that Puerto Rico itinerary, which is going to bring you another five days of nature, hiking, beaches, and history around this beautiful country.

Day 8: Guanica

Puerto Rico itinerary

The dry coast of Puerto Rico (c) ABR 2015

Guanica is a unique and perfect place for hikers and coast-lovers alike. This historic town is in a dry area of Puerto Rico, and this gives it a very special, ecological character that just can’t be found in other parts of the island. The Bosque Estatal de Guanica has a variety of trails through the dry, coastal forest and it is also home to a small, historic fort. Hiker or not, it’s a great place for a picnic and walk. The beaches in this area are quite beautiful as well, and Guanica is the perfect place to enjoy some mangrove forests, which are essential to coastal health and flood mitigation.

Stay the night in Guanica; the historic Parador Guanica 1929 is a good option if you can afford it.

Day 9: Rojo Cabo

Puerto Rico itinerary

A viewing tower in Rojo Cabo (c) ABR 2018

Rojo Cabo is a really odd little peninsula in the southwestern corner of the island, and it’s a place that I just had to include in my Puerto Rico itinerary. This area has some kind of weird, shallow water environments, and a road that has a view of the ocean on two sides, as well as a very picturesque lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. Once a salt mine, the area was slated to become a harbor, but was saved by local people who didn’t want to see its natural beauty destroyed. With their protection, it is now known that this area is absolutely essential for many bird species. If you are a bird watcher, Rojo Cabo is a must-visit location, but hikers and photographers will enjoy this varied landscape as well.

Stay the night in Mayaguez.

Day 10: Tamana River

The Tamana River weaves through the western interior of Puerto Rico, through the island’s mystical karst region. With a guide who knows the area and has the proper safety equipment, you can book river tours that take you through caves and tropical landscapes that will blow your mind. I highly suggest that, no matter your interests, you check out some of the tours you can take in this area, because they will be unlike anything else you have ever done.

Learn more about tours at Tamana River Adventures and Batey Zipline Tours (they do much more than ziplining).

Day 11: Rincon

Puerto Rico itinerary

The Rincon lighthouse (c) Wikimedia commons

Rincon is home to a thriving expat community, which has stolen some of the Puerto Rican charm from the town, however, that doesn’t mean this isn’t a gem deserving of a spot in this Puerto Rico itinerary. If you are a fan of surfing, Rincon is the prime location on the Island of Enchantment for your sport! Thanks to the hard-working members of the Surfrider Foundation, you can enjoy Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, which protects some of the last healthy elk horn coral in the world. It’s great for surfers, divers, and beach lovers alike.

The town itself, particularly the downtown square in front of the church is also a great place to check out, particularly during the weekly farmers market or during the many cultural activities that are hosted in Rincon throughout the year.

Stay in a small hotel in Rincon.

Day 12: Arecibo

Puerto Rico itinerary

Arecibo Observatory (c ABR 2018

The Arecibo area is a great place to bridge the divide between the coastal and mountainous worlds of Puerto Rico. There are two interior caves that you can access from this city (Cueva Ventana and Rio Camuy Caves ) as well as a coastal cave (Cueva del Indio, which is technically free if you reach it from the beach- it’s access point has been bought by a wealthy urbanite in what I would consider to be a legal grey-area. He charges for access to the cave, even though people are meant to have free access to the coast; he is also potentially trying to buy local people out in the area in order to consolidate his power- so I might hesitate to give him my money myself.)

The Arecibo Lighthouse and Historic Park is also in the area, as well as a several natural reserves which are home to trails and places for kayaking.

Stay in Arecibo.

Day 13: Rio de Abajo

Puerto Rico itinerary

Lago de Dos Bocas (c) ABR 2018

Venture up into the mountains one last time. Make your first stop the Arecibo Observatory, which is one of the largest telescopes in the world. This is a feat of human engineering and is also a figure in astronomy and cinematic history. After this, I would suggest visiting the Rio Abajo Forest for some hiking in the forest. Then, you can top off your day by watching the sun set over Lago Dos Bocas.

Stay in Arecibo or one of the mountain communities near the lake.

Day 14: San Juan

Puerto Rico itinerary

Beautiful fort in San Juan (c) ABR 2015

Now’s your day to visit the famous San Juan. See the national park fortresses and Old San Juan for a day of Caribbean history, architecture, shopping, and unmatched food. San Juan is the perfect place to decompress after your long journey and prepare for your flight home.

Stay in San Juan.

Hope you enjoyed this Puerto Rico itinerary. If you enjoy your time in Puerto Rico, please do the island a favor and help let the world know how amazing the Island of Enchantment is!

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
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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

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