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Food Finds: Reathrey Sekong and Novel Ice Cream

Hello again, travelers! Welcome to a new segment of Nightborn called Food Finds. We love checking out new places, supporting local businesses and of course, eating tasty treats, so we figured we share them with you, too. Today’s finds are dinner (or lunch) and dessert (or, as I’d like to call it, anytime food) at Reathrey Sekong and Novel Ice Cream.

Reathrey Sekong

Reathrey is a cozy Cambodian restaurant tucked into mid-town Phoenix. Inside you’ll find a smattering of tables and booths – a perfectly-sized space that, even when it’s full, doesn’t feel crowded. (If you have a larger party, you might want to call ahead to see what the dining situation is like. Take-out is an option, too.)

I’d never had Cambodian food before, but it wasn’t too unfamiliar, with some element of the dishes reminding me of a combination of Vietnamese and Thai food (which might make sense, considering that Cambodia is sandwiched between Vietnam and Thailand).

I’m definitely coming back for this ginger tofu stir-fry.

The menu isn’t large (nor does it need to be), but it has a variety of dishes. Between my companions and I, we got a beef skewer dish, steak and vegetables, catfish and a ginger tofu stir-fry. Re: the catfish, check with your server to see if it’s available to order. For you vegetarians out there, I think there’s a noodle dish you can request as a vegetarian meal, and my ginger stir-fry was originally a beef/chicken dish that I subbed with tofu. But, I’m not sure if the sauce is vegetarian, so you’ll want to ask about that too.

Did I mention that staff was very nice and accommodating? Well, I have now.

Next time I stop by, I think I’ll try to be more adventurous with my choices and get something different (although that ginger tofu was REALLY good).

Steak and veggie dish with a tasty sauce that had a surprising kick.

Novel Ice Cream

Novel is little ice cream shop on the fringes of downtown Phoenix in the historic Grand Avenue arts corridor. You’ll find it across from the Grand Ave. Pizza Company, nestled in the ThirdSpace plaza.

The shop itself is small, so if it’s busy, you might find yourself squeezing inside to order, but no worries, you’ll get your turn and there’s plenty of seating outside. The staff is friendly, passionate about their ice cream and encourages you to try the flavors – so, try!

Are you WAFFLE-ing about what flavor to choose? Good news – you can pick more than one!

They’re well-known for their doughnut and waffle ice cream sandwiches (yes, you read that right), but if you’re feeling like a simple scoop, they’ve got a cake, sugar or waffle cone with your name on it.

The doughnut is absolutely as good as it looks.

That about wraps up this installment of Food Finds. Come back soon for more! (Or keep reading if you’re trying to find the perfect chai in Phoenix.)

Eat Well,
Katie

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: Travel to Vieques

Last week we covered some history and attractions on the small island of Culebra, and this week I am going to sum up Nightborn Travel’s coverage of Puerto Rico with Culebra’s sister island, Vieques. This is the larger of the two Spanish Virgin Islands. It faces many of the same challenges that we talked about in regards to Culebra. This includes a history of military exploitation, and small local communities struggling against impending buy-out from expats and the larger tourism industry. At the same time, Vieques and Culebra are utterly unique. When you travel to Vieques you will have the opportunity to see beautiful low-land forests, free-range horses, and one of the best bio-luminescent bays in the world. There’s an almost endless list of things to see on this little island and it’s time that it was forgotten no more.

travel to vieques

EARLY HISTORY

Before the arrival of the Europeans, Vieques was home to indigenous peoples such as the Taino, who left archeological remains throughout Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the Spanish colonizers went to war with the native people here and enslaved everyone left when they were done claiming the land for themselves. The Taino people currently live on through modern Puerto Ricans who still incorporate some of the traditions of Taino culture in the unique Puerto Rican way-of-life.

As with much of the Caribbean, and mainland Puerto Rico, sugar plantations were a major aspect of life on Vieques. This activity led to immigration onto the island as workers, investors, and slaves moved or were moved to take advantage of the small island’s fertile soils.

travel to vieques

The Fortin on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

RECENT HISTORY

In the 1940s, this changed when the US military purchased more than half of the island. This had large-scale negative impacts on the economy of the island. It put many local people out of work, and forced physical relocation for anyone that lived on the land that was now owned by the US government. The land purchased was utilized for the testing of weaponry, and much like Culebra, the island is still haunted by this legacy. Although this is something that you pick up more from talking to local people when you travel to Vieques, as there aren’t tanks laying around here.

This misuse and mistreatment of the island and its residents came to a tragic head when David Sanes was killed by military activity in 1999. This event led to ongoing protests that were spearheaded by local people but supported by activists from all over the world. By 2001, there was a presidential guarantee that the military would begin leaving in 2003, and on May 1, 2003, the process began.

travel to vieques

A map of military impacts on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

While the protests led to the ceasing of the US government’s activities on Vieques, the road to recovering the island has not been easy. Cancer rates on Vieques are high and many local people believe that this has to do with the tests that took place there. Furthermore, health services are not readily available on Vieques and what there was was all but destroyed by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Environmental and social recovery is still underway. Bu many Vieques natives have had to move away from their home due to lack of resources, jobs, and health care. This leaves the island vulnerable to a new kind of exploitation from the mass tourism industry.

GETTING THERE

As with Culebra, you can travel to Vieques via a ferry or a plane ride.

The most affordable way to get there is the ferry, which runs from Fajardo/Ceiba to Vieques multiple times a day and the fare is under $10. However, taking the ferry has its risks as the schedule is not 100% dependable and tickets can sell out. Check the Guide to Vieques for more information.

travel to vieques

Getting off of the tiny airplane on Vieques (c) ABR 2018

Personally, I traveled there with Vieques Air Link, which flew from San Juan to the island. These flights leave from the much smaller domestic airport in San Juan, and use very small planes, so if you are scared of 4-6 seat planes, you might opt for the ferry. If you have the extra cash for this mode though, the views from the plane are absolutely amazing and Air Link was on time for all of the flights I took with them. The only difficultly with this mode of transportation post-Maria was that the companies were a little hard to contact and we had some difficultly getting our tickets and confirming our seats. I would hope that this will consistently improve as things get repaired in Puerto Rico.

travel to vieques

View of San Juan from the tiny plane to Vieques (c) ABR 2018

WHERE TO STAY

There are lots of places to stay and different kinds of experiences, from AirBnb to hostels and luxury hotels. As always, my main suggestion would be to stay somewhere that’s smaller, and locally owned. You will even have some options in terms of whether or not you stay near the town centers or out in the more rural areas of the island when you travel to Vieques.

WHAT TO DO

Hiking

No, surprise, but my first suggestion would be to go hiking. There are tons of trails, but here are a couple that I enjoyed.

Cayo de Tierra: This short, little trail goes out onto a beautiful peninsula that is just right outside of town. Day Trips says that it is unusable since Hurricane Maria, but I had no trouble hiking it in April. You just need to follow the red markings along the trail.

travel to vieques

Looking through the forest and out to the land bridge (c) ABR 2018

Playa Negra is the black sand beach of Vieques. It takes a bit of hiking to get there, down through a small creek bed, but it is well worth the walk. Just expect your shoes to get wet and be prepared. I will also note that there is not a lot of parking at the trailhead, so please be sure that you move your vehicle out of the road when you head out.

travel to vieques

Playa Negra (c) ABR 2018

The Vieques National Wildlife Refuge is another hot spot for hiking, although when I visited, it was closed down after the hurricane. Hopefully it will be opened again soon.

Other Stuff to Do

Vieques is also home to one of the best bio bays in the world, although it has been badly impacted by Hurricane Maria and climate change. I would still suggest checking it out, as at worst you will get to go on a nice, guided night kayak on a beautiful bay. There is a nice list of companies to consider going out with here.

Fortin Conde de Mirasol is a great historic location on the island, which is a must-see for any travel to Vieques. It is both a great place to learn more about the story of the island, and it is home to an organization that supports local education. There is a great little museum here as well as a lovely gift shop.

travel to vieques

The Gran Ceiba (c) ABR 2018

Make sure that you stop by the absolutely beautiful Gran Ceiba tree. It is said to be about 300 years old. Just make sure that you don’t step on the roots! Keep your distance.

Finally, there are tons of tasty restaurants right on the beach in Esperanza. The village is a great place to stop by for a relaxing walk through the town. There is plenty of Caribbean fusion, Puerto Rican, and American food on offer, so there is something for everyone.

TIPS FOR THE ISLAND

(1) Use your travel to Vieques as a tool for supporting local people. You can do this by supporting locally owned hotels, restaurants and guides. You can also learn more about the culture and history of Vieques and share it with other people. The more the world knows about the struggles of this little island and the strength of its people, the better!

(2) There is still unexploded ordinance on Vieques, and although rare, sometimes people still find things while exploring. If you find anything that you can’t identify, do not touch or move it, just report it to the authorities.

travel to vieques

The closed National Wildlife Sanctuary (c) ABR 2018

(3) Vieques has a very high amount of murder, statistically speaking. For the most part, this is not something that visitors need to worry about. The residents of Vieques are kind people and the island overall has a small-town mentality. That being said, stay out of trouble and don’t go looking for drugs, etc. (not something I condone anywhere).

(4) When you drive on Vieques remember that this is a small island; there are often people and horses walking along the road (sometimes turtles even try to cross!). Embrace island life and drive slow and respectfully. If people want to pass you, just pull out of the way. Enjoy the scenery!

(5) Hiking, traveling and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends. It is your responsibility to travel and explore responsibly and take care of your own safety. (Adapted from www.hikearizona.com).

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
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.

The Un-Planner’s Guide To Montreal

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

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

Things to Do

Mount Royal Park

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

The Village

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

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

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

Things to Eat

Crepes at Spanel

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

Ramen at Yokato Yokabai

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

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

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

Other quick notes:

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

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

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

xo,
Katie

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

Dos and Don’ts for la Republica Dominicana

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

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

la republica dominicana

Hiking near Bayahibe (c) ABR 2016

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

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

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

la republica dominicana

(c) ABR 2016

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

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

la republica dominicana

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

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

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

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

la republica dominicana

Tres Ojos! (c) ABR 2016

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

la republica dominicana

Santiago de los Caballeros (c) ABR 2016

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

la republica dominicana

Historic artifact from old Santo Domingo (c) ABR 2016

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

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

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