Category: International Travel (Page 1 of 8)

What To Do in Bacalar, Mexico: The Pueblo Mágico of the Jungles of Quintana Roo

Quintana Roo, while the state name might not be familiar to a lot of Americans, is home to some of the most well-known tourist spots in all of Mexico. These include the likes of Tulum, Cozumel, and Cancun. Each of these places is brimming with culture and history, but in my opinion, they’ve also been paved over in a lot of ways, to create strange enclaves for visitors. Bacalar, on the other hand, is relatively far from international airports. And so far, it has retained its small town character, while continuing to showcase whst put it on Mexico’s list of exceptionally special towns – Pueblos Mágicos.

There is a long list of what to do in Bacalar. Most of the activities are linked to the Bacalar Lagoon. The town itself also has places to explore, good food to eat, and a relaxed atmosphere that makes Bacalar a great place to rest and dip your toes into Mexican culture.

what to do in bacalar

This town is a wonderful option among the Pueblos Mágicos of Quintana Roo for anyone looking for small town life, simple comforts, and lots of nature-based exploration. Whether you are considering this town as a stop on your own explorations, or you are just curious about it, let this guide be your window to the wonderous world of Bacalar, Mexico.

What to Do In Bacalar and Why Visit

Bacalar is perfect for visitors who are not looking for the big resort experience. It’s a very nice ecotourism spot, with a few historic options to explore as well. Visiting Bacalar is ideal for the polite traveler who wants a genuine experience, rather than a town reshaped by tourism. Please, come to this place with respect and support small businesses here. I would hate to see Bacalar transformed into a resort town. It deserves better.

The Lagoon

what to do in bacalar

The small Pueblo Mágico is bordered to the east by a lagoon of the same name, and much of what to do in Bacalar revolves around this multi-colored body of water. The water is so clear, and often still, that you can see a full array of colors across the lake. Brilliant blues over the sand, red reflections of the sky at dawn or dusk, and pops of green from both within and surrounding the water. And it’s ever changing, whether from the tones of the sky throughout the day, the movement of wildlife along the shore, or the weather itself. Whether you are looking for some moderate adventure and activity, or something more relaxed there are options here for you. Furthermore, the town is home to a very cool historic monument and great food. So, Bacalar has got you foodies and history buffs taken care of as well.

For the water fanatics among you, there are relaxed boat cruises that you can take to soak it all in. Or, if you are like us, and you are looking for something active, there are many tour organizers who can take you out kayaking on the water.

Lakeshore

what to do in bacalar

(c) ABR 2023

There are also some places for loafing on the shore – drink in hand and palapa shade all around you. I must say, I was so inspired by the beauty of the jungle on the shore of Bacalar Lagoon, it has become a central piece of my retirement vision board. Specifically, I spied a house tucked among the trees, on the shore, with the perfect amount of lantern light in the early morning. And since then, I have seriously been dreaming about nestling down in the jungle somewhere in my elder years.

In any case, for those of you less interested in delving into the watery wilds of Bacalar, the Centro has plenty of great options. There is Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar, a fort and museum in the center of town. And for food, the must-visit spot is La Playita with its huge, light covered tree, and access to the lake. I’ve never eaten anywhere more magical.

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San Carlos, Sonora: Why You Should Visit and What to Do There

South of Hermosillo, where craggy mountains meet the sea, sits San Carlos, Sonora. One of Sonora’s Pueblo Mágicos, San Carlos is known for its immense natural beauty. Personally, I was shocked by how majestic the landscape is here. It captured my imagination, and I was in literal awe on a near daily basis while I was there.

So, why should you visit San Carlos? Because the natural world here is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Even as someone who grew up in the northern Sonoran Desert, I can say this. San Carlos is a world class town. And it is barely on the map for most people.

san carlos sonora

So, it’s beautiful! But what can you do in San Carlos? Well, plenty of things. There are sandy beaches to sit on. Good food to eat. “Adventure” attractions like ziplines can also be found. But most important to me, is the hiking. There is a load of hiking in San Carlos, especially by Mexico standards – where hiking isn’t the most popular of activities. I hiked nearly every day. And each trail was a unique wonder.

Now, let me give you a short guide to San Carlos. And if I can’t convince you to visit, at least come enjoy some snapshots from what I consider to be the crown jewel of Sonora, Mexico.

Why You Should Visit San Carlos, Sonora

san carlos sonora

(c) ABR 2023

I kind of spoiled it above, but if you are wondering – what can you do in San Carlos, and why should you visit, I am going to give you a short list.

  • Even if you don’t hike one bit, there are jaw dropping views all through town. Especially when I first got to San Carlos, I found myself staring outside, facing the mountains, and just… watching. Birds sang and danced through the desert. The mountains swept up from the desert like strongholds in stone.
  • For hikers, there are short and long trails. Some are quick, some are exceptionally steep, and some take wanders to places unimagined. No matter what you are looking for, there is a trail for you in San Carlos. And it will leave you in awe. (Just beware the heat).
  • There is good food to be had in town. There’s something magical about enjoying tacos while sitting on a peaceful beach surrounded by hills and mountains.

If you don’t believe me that this place is cool, remember that Pueblos Mágicos are Mexico’s most exceptional towns. And thus, the country itself marks San Carlos as one of its many treasures.

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Small Towns of Sonora, Mexico: Kino Bay, Magdalena de Kino and More

Sonora isn’t just a place of natural wonders where the desert meets the sea, and sky islands abound. It’s a place rich with culture and the diversity of art, architecture, and food that make all places the people call home exceptional. While you could explore this part of Sonora through indulging in its big cities – like Hermosillo. The small towns of Sonora each offer their own unique glimpse into the vibrant world of this Mexican state. They are the perfect destinations for a Sonora roadtrip, especially if you enjoy delving into history and culture. And if time and resources allow, they aren’t to be missed.

This guide will cover some of the small towns that I was able to check out during my time exploring Sonora, in particular, Magdalena de Kino and Kino Bay. But I would also like to point you in the direction of the other Pueblos Magicos of Sonora. Even though, I unfortunately was not able to visit them all. Come along to explore these small towns via pictures and words. And see if they might be just right for your next adventure.

Small Towns of Sonora

small towns of Sonora

An arch in Magdalena de Kino (c) ABR 2023

Sonora is home to many well-known urban areas, including its capital, Hermosillo. It is also home to the town perched on the coast that Arizonans love, Puerto Peñasco or Rocky Point. But of course, it goes without saying that the people of Sonora don’t just live in big cities and tourist towns. Like all places, Sonora is home to all kinds of villages and settlements. It has historic landmarks, architectural wonders, and the unexpected.

Mexico does a nice job of pointing you towards some of its most unique towns through the Pueblos Magicos program. They designate exceptional pueblos across Mexico in this way. This helps travelers decide where to spend some time exploring. It also honors the work that local people have done to make their homes beautiful and protect the various histories of Mexico. On a Sonora roadtrip, you could try to see all of these special small towns of Sonora.

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What to Do in Hermosillo – The Capital of Sonora, Mexico

Hermosillo is a true sister city to Phoenix, Arizona, with lots of shared culture, food, and families that share members between both. It is also only a 6 hour drive from the capital of Arizona to the capital of Sonora. This city is also the heart of culture in Sonora, Mexico. But surprisingly, it wasn’t until 2023 that I finally visited this fellow, Sonoran Desert urban area – all thanks to a friend of mine who invited me to her wedding there.

While Sonora has a reputation for being dangerous, among both Americans and Mexicans, I found Hermosillo to be a fun city to visit. There was loads of good food, a very interesting downtown, and the city is also home to some impressive museums. All the good stuff for visitors and locals both. Of course, there are safety considerations (as with all cities), but with some caution, respect for the people who call this place home, and an excitement for the history and culture of this place, Hermosillo can be a lot of fun.

This guide will give you a quick taste of the city and help you figure out what to do in Hermosillo, and whether it is a good fit for you. And if it isn’t, scroll through and enjoy my pictures of this urban heart in the Sonoran Desert.

Why Visit and What to Do in Hermosillo, Mexico

This city isn’t on the top of any list of Mexican must-sees that I have ever seen, but nonetheless, for anyone interested in exploring culture in Sonora, Mexico, it should be on the top of your list. That’s because Hermosillo is the capital of the state, and it is home to lots of museums, food, and even a historic downtown. While it can’t capture all the vibrant diversity of Sonora, it is home to many of the institutions and places to explore that most cities harbor. And if you want to pack a punch into a shorter trip, this city will have you covered for the flavor of Sonora.

what to do in Hermosillo

Downtown Hermosillo (c) ABR 2023

When you are talking about what to do in Hermosillo, there is also a little something for everyone. There is a surprising amount of urban hiking in the city. There is historic architecture and big museums for the history buffs. And there is tasty food to satisfy anyone but the pickiest eaters.

Aside from safety considerations, the only immediate thing that I would say to avoid in Hermosillo is the summer. Much like Phoenix, it is extremely hot here in the summer. That makes it hard to enjoy the city, and can even add an element of natural danger if you try to hit the trails.

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Unseen Puerto Peñasco: What to Do In Rocky Point, Mexico

For the people who call Arizona home, the beach town of Puerto Peñasco (commonly known as Rocky Point in English) is a famous coastal escape. Lots of people go here to party, and there are plenty of all-inclusive enclaves in town. However, there is another side to Puerto Peñasco – a calm, natural paradise, and a small town with good food, kind people, and plenty of Mexican culture to immerse yourself in. If you are wondering what to do in Rocky Point, and looking for authentic or peaceful experiences, this is the post for you.

What to Do In Rocky Point: What to Expect in This Guide 

I spent much of my high school weekends in Puerto Peñasco, where I discovered the world of outdoor Rocky Point and got glimpses of the true town under the growing tourist destination. The beaches here are magical and dynamic. The Sea of Cortez shows off much of its biodiversity on the coasts here. And Puerto Peñasco itself is a study in the ebb and flow of local culture and international tourism. If you know where to look, the story of these tides are written across the landscape.

what to do in Rocky Point

An abandoned hotel on the beach (c) ABR 2012

This post will also be a bit of a (recent) historic peek at the town – the last time I visited was in 2014. But I photographed and explored Puerto Peñasco for more than a decade. And the time period in which I experienced Rocky Point was also a time of change. From the years of rapid growth from 2005-2007, to the Great Recession, and beyond.

All that being said, if you are looking for a guide to all-inclusive or party-town Rocky Point, this isn’t that. I’m not that kind of traveler, and I was far too young when I spent lots of time in this part of Sonora, Mexico. As a white, Arizonan visitor, I also can’t speak much to the internal culture and life of Puerto Peñasco. But I can speak to some of the ways that visitors can enjoy the vibrant Mexican spirit while visiting this popular tourist spot.

So, come along for some tips on what to do in Rocky Point and a glimpse into what the town looked like during the turbulent years of the Great Recession.

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Three Other Things to Do in the Netherlands for Less Crowds

things to do in the netherlands

I was not about the crowding in Amsterdam (c) ABR 2017

Among US citizens, the Netherlands is on many people’s bucketlists for Amsterdam. But as anyone who lives there, has traveled there, or done a bit of research knows, there are TONS of things to do in the Netherlands. For me personally, I get really exhausted by crowds and I hate fighting other people for spots in lines, or for parking spaces. So, I am always on the lookout for less crowded options. I don’t always find them, depending on how long I am somewhere and how intrigued I am by popular destinations, but in the Netherlands, I had the opportunity to visit a few calmer locations that I would like to suggest. Besides escaping some crowds, spreading the tourism love can help address over-visitation when we couple it with other tools and strategies. So, if you are looking to add some calmer locations to your itinerary or just explore some new parts of the Netherlands, give this little list a gander. You might also consider checking out my posts on National Parks in the Netherlands as well. You will be surprised how varied nature is in this under-appreciated landscape.

 

Vaalserberg: The Netherlands Highpoint and Three-Country Point

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

 

Vaalserberg is the highpoint of the Netherlands, and insofar as mountaineering/hiking goes, it is not the kind of high point that will generally get you huffing and puffing. It’s the crown of a generally flat and low-lying country. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t both a unique and enjoyable destination that’s worth your time. For anyone who loves to explore nature and hike, this is a must-have for any things to do in the Netherlands list.

The character of the highpoint itself is that of a gentle, rounded mountain or what some might consider more of a hill. This area is wooded and feels far more wild than the other parts of the Netherlands that I visited. Happily, there are a variety of trails that zig and zag through the forest, and which are well traveled, so it is not hard to navigate them.

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

Besides all that, and most interestingly, if you look at a map, you will see that Vaalserberg sits in the narrow little panhandle of the Netherlands. And it is located where three different countries meet! This is where Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands are all conjoined, and there is even a little statue that you can visit at the point.

There is a road up to the top, where you can park, hike around a little bit, and get some food. There is also a lookout tower that you can pay to check out as well (although I didn’t bother). There is also a maze of some sort? I wasn’t able to go, but it looked intriguing. So, if you are in the area and enjoy those sorts of things, definitely consider it.

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

How to Get There

Vaalserberg is a bit out of the way, at least in terms of Amsterdam, so I think the easiest way to get out there is going to be with a vehicle. From Amsterdam, you can drive to the town of Vaals, and then follow signs (or Google) to Les Trois Bornes. You will want to park near the Labyrint if you want to get as close to the top as possible in your vehicle, but if you are open to hiking and walking a bit, there are more options.

Noordwijk Beach: Mussels, Frites, and the Seaside

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

In retrospect, it’s a little silly, but I never associated the Netherlands with the beach. (Very silly when I realize that not only do they have coastline but they have islands as well). Really, at least one beach should be on every things to do in the Netherlands list.

Just a short distance from Amsterdam is the seaside town of Noordwijk, where my travel buddy and myself had a perfect evening stroll and delectable dinner of mussels with the sea breeze in our hair. (It’s actually one of my fondest memories of the Netherlands, and that entire trip is extremely fond to me).

When we ventured out here after a long day, we walked a little among the shops. Not really looking to buy anything, but enjoying the vibe and people watching. And it wasn’t long until the ocean called us down into the sand. It felt like a gentle beach. Soft, warm sand and people playing in the water. There were even picturesque grasses growing up on the higher part of the shore.

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

After splashing in the sea for a bit and getting sand between our toes, we retreated back up the shore towards the shops and restaurants that line the beachfront. We were lucky enough to get a spot at a restaurant serving mussels and frites- which felt like the perfect Dutch, seaside meal.

While I wouldn’t call the beach quiet by any means, it was nonetheless a retreat from the extremely busy downtown Amsterdam, where we had spent our morning.

How to Get There/Where to Park

If you are traveling by public transit, the closest train station is in Leiden. You can then take the bus north to the beach. And if you are driving, you can have Google take you to the parking lot at: Kon. Astrid Boulevard 51, 2202 BE Noordwijk, Netherlands.

Roosegaarde Cycle Path: Van Gogh Bike Path

things to do in the netherlands

(c) ABR 2017

Just like the beach, the Netherlands’ iconic artists should be a part of any things to do in the Netherlands list. In particular, whether you are interested in art or not, you will likely run into one or two things related to Van Gogh. We saw a few of his paintings on display in De Hoge Veluwe, and we also went WAAAAY out of our way in search of the Van Gogh bike path.

That’s because we had heard that this bike bath actually glows at night with a re-creation of what might be one of the most famous European paintings- Starry Night. As you may know if you follow this blog, I LOVE immersive art installations and while some might argue that this bike path doesn’t fit, I think it does. Haha. In any case, it sounded immensely interesting and we went on a bit of a quest to find it, as it really isn’t advertised much in the area.

things to do in the netherlands

Landscape surrounding the trail (c) ABR 2017

Unfortunately, when we arrived it was sunset, and not quite dark enough to enjoy the full effect. It’s also a bit smaller of an area than I might have thought. That being said, it was nice to get out into the country and go for a nice little walk among the fields. I’d suggest visiting Roosegaarde and the surrounding area for dinner and then taking a short walk or bike ride after dark.

How to Get There/Where to Park

If you are taking public transportation, take the train to Eindhoven and then take the bus out to Nuenen-Eindhoven a270. Likewise, if you are driving, you will need to get to the Nuenen-Eindhoven a270 parking lot. You can find that lot using: Wolvendijk 80, 5641 AS Eindhoven, Netherlands. When driving through Eindhoven, be extra careful and be doubly sure to go the speed limit. I got a $50 (end US$ price once I paid) for going 3km over the speed limit in the city.

Planning Your Trip to the Netherlands

While these three locations alone would certainly make for a unique experience of Holland, this is by no means an exhaustive list of things to do in the Netherlands. If you are a hiker, check out my guide to Nature in the Netherlands. I’ve also done a short piece on Giethoorn or the “Venice of the Netherlands); if you are crowd-averse like I am, it will be good information to help you figure out if you’d like to visit or not. We also have a guest post from several bloggers covering their favorite spots in the Netherlands, which I wasn’t able to visit- but you might like to! Finally, to explore all of this and more, check out our short guide to the Netherlands.

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Visiting Giethoorn, Netherlands: What Is It Really Like?

Visiting Giethoorn has recently been added to everyone’s Netherlands bucketlist thanks to other bloggers and Instagram. Likewise, I was attracted to this beautiful town by all the pictures that made it look like a fairytale come true. As many of us are aware, however, tourism fame changes a place, so if you have Giethoorn on your bucketlist, you’ll want to give this article a read to avoid being disappointed in the experience that you might have here.

Summary: Visiting Giethoorn is a wonderful experience, however, there can be a lot of crowding both on land and in the canals. Go during the down season, respect local people, and plan around tourism group schedules to have the best experience and support the town.

What I Loved About Visiting Giethoorn 

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

The pictures of Giethoorn don’t lie… they just leave a few things out. The town is absolutely magical, and I honestly can’t think of any place like it that I’ve been elsewhere. The architecture of the homes, restaurants, shops, and hotels in Giethoorn looks like it is straight out of a Disney fairytale. Many buildings come complete with thatched roofs and everything.

The canals are likewise magical. From a boat, you can glide along the calm waters, past all the cute buildings. You can swoop under the bridges that serve as walkways for pedestrians. Here and there, when the water isn’t crowded with boats, ducks coast along with you. They fit in perfectly with the atmosphere of the town.

visiting giethoorn

(c) ABR 2017

Besides the overall vibe you get from visiting Giethoorn, there is plenty to do in the town. I would say that you can find some of the best souvenirs here (more authentic than anything I found in Amsterdam, at least). We also enjoyed some very good food (but a bit expensive). And you can’t beat the atmosphere if you stay on past the tours. Eating next to the canals when they are calm and the town quiets down is lovely beyond words.

Finally, Giethoorn is the perfect gateway for De Weerribben-Wieden National Park, which can be best explored by boat.

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Daydreaming: A New Zealand Photo Essay

This year really has been the pits, huh?

Join me as I revisit my past travels through photos and whisk yourself away to blue skies, sandy beaches, colorful blooms – anywhere but your own couch.

This one I call Daydreaming: New Zealand.

i.queenstown.

ii.eden garden.

iii.
domain wintergarden.

iv.hobbiton.

v.rotorua natural hot springs.

vi.

queenstown shore.

vii.
lake wakatipu.

vii.
tauranga off mt. mauao.

ix.mt. maunganui beach

x.
beach i can’t remember the name of, auckland.

xi.
see above. (whoops.)

xii.

whakarewarewa forest.

fin.

New Zealand is so intensely pretty, sometimes I feel like it WAS a dream.

All the best,
Katie

montserrat itinerary

A Montserrat Itinerary – My Favorite Things to Do In Montserrat

If you haven’t read the first part of My Favorite Things to Do in Montserrat, you may wish to check that out, because this second part will not discuss the Soufrière Hills volcano and Plymouth except for an inclusion in the Montserrat itinerary at the end of this post. This little Caribbean country is now known for this active volcano and the swath of destruction that it has left behind on the larger south section of this tropical paradise. However, before anyone knew that the Soufrière Hills hid a living volcano capable of turning life on the island upside down for more than a decade, Montserrat was a treasure trove of natural wonders. It was and remains home to sweeping mountains, crystal clear springs of water, and wondrous black-sand beaches. It’s the perfect place for any intrepid explorer, especially nature lovers.

[Until the COVID-19 outbreak settles down and international travel is safe again, please consider this an inspirational post. This is not encouragement to travel at this time, especially not to a small country like Montserrat.]

(4) Go for a Hike

montserrat itinerary

Cassava Ghaut trail (c) ABR 2020

A lot of people don’t seem to realize how amazing the Caribbean is for hiking. And hiking in Montserrat is no exception. Hands down, the trails on this island are one of my favorite things to do in Montserrat. That being said, I MUST remind you that hiking is dangerous. Never go out alone unless you are very experienced. In any case, always let a third party know where you are going and when you plan on getting back. Bring good shoes, water, and food with you, and always start early in the day so that you don’t get caught at night. You always hike at your own risk, but if you get in trouble you get put other people at risk as well. So BE CAREFUL!

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My Favorite Things to Do In Montserrat

There are things to do in Montserrat for hikers, beach-goers, and history buffs. The island of Montserrat in the Caribbean is a territory of the UK, and not particularly well known outside of the region. Currently, what makes it particularly unique is that it is home to an active stratovolcano, which has made more than half of the island unliveable and dangerous with its rapidly moving pyroclastic flows. This activity began in 1995 and has continued sporadically to this day (although the last explosion as of 2020 was in 2010).

While this is, in fact, very interesting, Montserrat is also home to beautiful volcanic beaches, great hiking paths, and a very friendly community. Much like the other islands that I have visited throughout the Caribbean, this is a very special place, which should be more than a stop on a cruise ship itinerary. No matter your travel style, the island has something for you, and you should plan on spending at least 2-3 days here in order to get a good taste of the country. It might just steal your heart in that time!

2020 COVID-19 Disclaimer: Please do not consider this post encouragement to travel before it is safe.

Like the rest of the world, Montserrat is protecting it’s people by limiting travel and quarantining people that fly in. It shouldn’t be a surprise that it’s no time to travel overseas at the moment. But I do hope this will serve as inspiration to visit the island when it is safe to do so for yourself and when it is safe for everyone living in Montserrat as well. I visited Montserrat in February before the outbreak stopped the world.

(1) Tour the Island and Plymouth with Montserrat Island Tours

things to do in Montserrat

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

Plymouth is the former capital of Montserrat, and the only place that visitors can get a sense for the impact that the Soufriere Hills Volcano has had on this little island nation. If you are silly like me, and think that you can just wander your way on over there by yourself in a rental vehicle, think again.

Zone V, where Plymouth and the volcano both live, are the heart of Montserrat’s exclusion zone, and due to the years and years of pyroclastic flows and floods of ash, it is off-limits. That being said, a visit to Plymouth is definitely #1 among the things to do in Montserrat, because it is a totally unique experience. And you can go… with a local guide who has permission from the government and follows very specific safety rules. While there are many good guides on Montserrat, I went with Montserrat Island Tours, and I absolutely loved them.

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