Tag: roadtrip

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

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

Backyard Discoveries: The Tucson Rodeo

tucson rodeo

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (or Celebration of the Cowboys) is a time-honored Tucson tradition. What started at just three days of events and competition all the way back in 1925, has grown to a nine-day celebration every February, with its main draw being the Tucson Rodeo.

tucson rodeo

La Fiesta is such a large part of Tucson culture that the schools close for two days just so Tucsonans can go to the rodeo! After hearing that, Nightborn Travel had to check it out.

tucson rodeo

Tips to Know Before You Go:

  • You’ll want to visit the Tucson Rodeo website – there you’ll find a detailed schedule of events and a way to purchase your tickets online.
  • We went on Saturday of the opening weekend and were able to get cheaper general admission tickets (meaning you could sit anywhere in the stands) – we think it was because these were only qualifying rodeo events. You could always call their box office to be sure.
  • Seats are basically open bleachers, meaning that it might get a little toasty if the weather is nice and sunny. Bring hats/sunglasses and sunscreen. We also saw some very smart and prepared people who brought blankets/cushions to sit on.
  • Basically any bag larger than a wallet or clutch isn’t allowed in, UNLESS it’s a clear bag. If you think they’re joking about bag size, they’re not, so you can find a full list of DOs and DON’Ts here.
  • In our humble opinion, you don’t need to know anything about rodeo sports to enjoy it, but it sure helps.
  • In addition to the rodeo, there’s the Tucson Rodeo Parade, which apparently the world’s longest non-motorized parade.

tucson rodeo

Gates at the rodeo don’t open until 11 a.m., so if you make it down to Tucson next year for La Fiesta and the rodeo, we humbly suggest that you give this hike at Tanque Verde Falls a try in the morning and then reward yourself with some tasty lunch at Guilin.

tucson rodeo

Keep Tucson weird!

xo,

Katie

I Can’t Believe I Almost Missed That!: On nearly skipping the Kennedy Space Center and why you shouldn’t

(c) ABR 2017

This December I took an epic road trip through Florida, during which I drove from Jacksonville, all the way down to Key West, and then back. I was focused on seeing the state’s national parks (and I saw all but two!), so the Kennedy Space Center was originally an extra attraction that I slapped into my itinerary at the end of one particularly long day of sightseeing.

When I found myself sitting on the beach in the Cape Canaveral National Seashore after waking up early, visiting two different forts maintained by the National Park Service, and walking around in the historic city of St. Augustine, I realized that I wouldn’t make it to the Space Center in time to see it. It didn’t help that tickets were $50 and parking was $10- if I’m paying $60, I’m going to take my sweet time. So, I gave up on the idea, feeling disappointed that I hadn’t managed to get it into my packed schedule.

(c) ABR 2017

At that point, I figured that I simply wouldn’t visit, and I didn’t think about it again until I was staying in a hotel outside of Orlando. I was planning on spending my last day in one of the Disney parks, but it ended up making me feel too sad, since it is a family tradition to visit Disney together. Dismayed that I was feeling unenthusiastic about one of my favorite places, I eventually came to the conclusion that I should spend the day at the Kennedy Center instead. It is unique to Florida, and I wouldn’t feel too guilty about visiting without my folks.

In retrospect, I am so grateful that I made this decision. I would not have known what I was missing, but it would have been very unfortunate to not visit here. When I first got into the park, I wasn’t sure how things worked, but it turns out that there are two main things to do on an average day here, take the bus tour, and explore the visitor’s center.

(c) ABR 2017

The bus tour takes you to see launch pads, the massive building where shuttles used to be built, and a museum that houses an Apollo ship as well as some very amazing relics. I have to say, this little tour was very emotional for me; getting to see so many places that I had seen in movies and read about in American history was amazing. There is also a recreated space ship launch experience, in which you get to sit in the old launch control room.

(c) ABR 2017

Once you get back to the main park, things are a bit more immersive, but no less amazing. The shuttle experience is extremely well done, from the movie covering the story of the shuttle program’s creation, to the reveal of the Atlantic, and the shuttle experience ride. Seeing the Atlantis may be one of my favorite memories from Florida; it is such a marvel of human ingenuity and imagination.

I would highly suggest visiting the Kennedy Space Center, whether you love history, space, or just a great time. It isn’t to be missed and it is nowhere else in the world.

(c) ABR 2017

Guide to the Southern Arizona Ghost Town Road Trip

Base made with Google Maps

Base made with Google Maps

Ghost towns are a part of Arizona’s unique character, and there are a few really special places that come to mind when people mention these destinations, specifically towns like Bisbee, Jerome, and Tombstone. However, none of these are true ghost towns, because they have survived into the modern era with some vitality due to tourism, and in the case of Bisbee and Jerome, also thanks to artists that have made their homes in these beautiful towns. So, we here at Nightborn Travel were excited when we saw Only In Your State’s Overnight Ghost Town Road Trip. It looked like a chance to see the real ghost towns of historic Arizona, and even though we are Arizona natives, the names of the destinations were unknown to us (besides the ubiquitous Tombstone), so it was also a chance to explore some new places. The trip was a great experience, but there are some key things that the above itinerary was missing that we think bare noting from two female travelers that made the drive.

Cochise Hotel (c) K. Arrington

Cochise Hotel with its owner, Phillip Gessert (c) K. Arrington

Our first stop, as per the itinerary linked above, was Cochise, which is a very small village just off of the I-10 south of Dragoon on the 191. Seems the census is a little confused on the size of this town, but I can say, after driving through, it feels like it has a population of no more than 50. There is a single road (Rath Ave, named after the town’s founder) that runs past the school, and post office from the 191, and which ends at Cochise Stronghold road. It is a picturesque place, tucked between the vistas of the Dragoon Mountains to the west, the Chiricahuas to the southeast, and Mt Graham to the north. Besides the Cochise Hotel, however, there is really not much to see here. Well, nothing that you can see without feeling like you are snooping, and I really must say, if you are going to go on this road trip, you need to be sensitive to that. Many of these “ghost towns” have become smaller over time, but a few still have people living in them. And as far as I am concerned, when that is the case, you need to be very careful about how you explore. Privacy is important to all of us, and the secluded character of many of these locations is something that residents cherish. Please don’t disrupt that. The Cochise Hotel, however, is open to visitors and is a very historic location. We will cover that in a separate post in the near future, because it is integral to the community and has a very interesting story.

The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington

The Prickly Pear Emporium in Pearce (c) K. Arrington

Pearce was the next stop, just down the 191 from Cochise and at the head of the road so fittingly named Ghost Town Trail. Pearce reminded me of a very small artist colony, because the general store is close to a little pottery store and the Prickly Pear Emporium, which sells Arizona souvenirs rather than prickly pear products. Pearce also strikes me as being a little more interested in visitors as the general store is supposed to be a museum (although it was closed and lacked a sign when we visited), and the little historic jail which can be explored on the outside on any day, is open for visitors to see the inside on the first Saturday of every month. Anna Nickell is the local contact for events at the jail and in Pearce. She had her number posted at the site, but I’d prefer to not reveal it to the entire internet. If you would like to visit Pearce, however, please send me a message and I can give her number to you. This little town has some very cool cultural events that it would be worth visiting for.

The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington

The Courtland Jailhouse (c) K. Arrington

Once you leave Pearce, you will take Ghost Town Trail south, and just outside of town, it will turn into a dirt road. It is a well-maintained dirt road that we found easy to navigate in a car, but you should be mentally prepared for the dust and this little bit of extra adventure. Courtland itself is down the dirt road quite a ways, tucked along the side of the road as it passes between two hills. It is really little more than a single ruined jailhouse; if there are more ruins here, we didn’t see them. The jailhouse itself is intriguing due to the fact that Courtland is a true ghost town, no one is left here, and thus, the structure that remains is truly an abandoned relic of the past. However, I would not suggest stopping by here with your kids if they are old enough to read, as this was clearly a hangout for the local middle/high schoolers and there is some vulgar graffiti here.

Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington

Gleeson mines and water tower (c) K. Arrington

Finally, before we stopped for the night in Tombstone, was the town of Gleeson, which was just off the paved road that the Ghost Town Trail ends at. The itinerary said that people live among the ruins of this town, and to respect their privacy. After our experience there, I would say that this translates to a ghost town that is particularly hard to explore if you want to leave the local residents be. We did not find Gleeson to be a welcoming place, and without any location open to visitors, I wouldn’t suggest stopping here. Best to leave the local people in peace until/if they decide to set a spot up for people to come to without bothering anyone.

The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington

The Pearce jail (c) K. Arrington

Come back on Dec 15th for Day Two of our adventure in Tombstone, Charleston, and my favorite ghost town, Fairbanks!

 

Adventuring in Haiti: A Photo Essay

 

As I have mentioned previously, Haiti has alot of bad press that it really doesn’t deserve. I think one of the best ways to share the reality of traveling to this amazing country is through photos, so I wanted to try my hand at a photo essay covering my journey to and from the Land of Many Mountains.

 

img_2120-copyThis is me when I first got to Haiti. The bus ride was so stressful, but the hotel in Port-au-Prince was a little paradise, and I couldn’t believe that I was actually there, in the country I had read about for so long.

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My first dinner in Haiti. This fish was unbelievable; and the plantains were the best I have ever had.

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The tiny plane that we took to Cap-Haitien. I love tiny planes.

Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016

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My first introduction to Cap-Haitien, and the realization that Haiti has so much to offer, if only the government services and infrastructure were improved for the locals.

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Once known as the Venice of the Caribbean, Cap-Haitien has lost some of its flare, but there was still something elegant and beautiful about the way it stretched over the hills.

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There was intricate art everywhere in Cap-Haitien (and all around Haiti).

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You rarely see pictures of Haiti’s beaches, but they are just as much “paradise” as anywhere else in the Caribbean.

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Of course, there were reality checks while we were there. Unfortunately, Haiti’s government wasn’t taking care of the trash in Cap-Haitien. The Haitian people deserve better, and so does their lovely country.

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I had dreamed about seeing Le Citadelle ever since I read about it, and there it was, standing watch over the coast from out of the mist.

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Few people ever mention that Haiti is home to come of the most spectacular historic structures in the region. Here is San Souci Palace; its beauty once rivaled Versailles. Personally, I think it maintains its mystique and charm.

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Some of the best rum in the world comes from Haiti, and much of it in small places similar to this.

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This beautiful mosaic was made by the local kids!

 

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A post office in Jacmel!

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Bassin Bleu! One of the top attractions in the Land of Many Mountains. It did get busy here, so I had to snap this picture from around the corner before people jumped in.

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Heading out from Bassin Bleu, we had to drive through the river, following the precise directions of our guide. Unfortunately, Creole and Spanish are similar in that their terms for “right” and “straight” sound alike.

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The gate protecting the Grotto of Marie-Jeanne.

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Climbing down into the cavern. Alot of caves on Hispanola have openings like this one.

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The menu at a Haitian fast food restaurant in Port-au-Prince, complete with an add for the national beer, Prestige.

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I captured this beautiful scene in Port-au-Prince from inside a gallery that we visited on our last day.

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The beautiful Hotel Oloffson in Port-au-Prince. Supposedly, this is called gingerbread architecture- I’ll buy it.

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The city from the observatoire in Port-au-Prince.

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Driving back over the border into the Dominican Republic; these pictures stress me out because I hated the border so much.

Good-bye, Haiti!
Note: All pictures above (c) ABR (Nightborn Travels), please do not use without permission.

Tips for Travel To and Through Haiti

haiti_blog_2

Getting There

There are three obvious ways to get to Haiti, by cruise, by air, and by bus from the Dominican Republic. More and more tourists are coming to Haiti via cruise, and I am not 100% supportive of this mode of travel, due to the behavior of many cruise companies. If this is the only way that you can visit Haiti, any support and good experiences are better than none, but just be aware that most, if not all of the money you spend will stay with the foreign company that owns the line.

First view of Haiti on the bus ride to Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

First view of Haiti on the bus ride to Port-au-Prince (c) ABR 2016

Since I was living in the Dominican Republic for the summer, I opted for the bus route from Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince because it was very affordable (only $70.00 USD round trip when I went in the summer of 2016 with Capital Coach Line). The ride from one city to the other took about 7-8 hours, and there were trips that left either 2-3 times a day. The buses are also not what comes to most people’s mind when I tell them that I did this; they are standard public touring bases, with AC, nice seats, and even movies that play. While you are riding in relative luxury, however, this can be a stressful way to travel, because getting through the border is no walk in the park, especially if your Spanish or Haitian Creole isn’t all that good. If you do travel this way, expect to be stopped on both sides. From Santo Domingo to Port-au-Prince, you will get out on the DR side without your luggage and get your passport examined, and on the Haiti side they may or may not examine your baggage and they will need to stamp your passport. From Port-au-Prince you will need to get your bag and passport checked on both sides. It is likely that the bus company will collect your passport from you before you leave, so you will get it back during this time.

The being said do NOT give your passport to ANYONE except the bus company employees or the officials behind the passport windows. There are people that will insist on seeing your passport on the way up to the windows, and they may even flash forms at you to confuse you into thinking that you don’t have what you need. But if your bus line didn’t give it to you, you don’t need it, and if you do, let the official at the window tell you. You never want to let anyone get a hold of your documents. You will also have people try to take your bags from you. For the most part, they are not trying to steal from you, and just want to make money by carrying things for you, but I would suggest not allowing them to take anything from you. I just sternly told people no and kept my bag close, and that worked well enough. If you struggle with anxiety, I might suggest another route into Haiti, but I can say from experience that this is do-able, and I think that the bus-line that I went with knew what they were doing.

Getting Around in Haiti

The drive to Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

The drive to Bassin Bleu (c) ABR 2016

Before I left for Haiti, I saw a lot of discussions about renting cars on Tripadvisor. While I love roadtrips and really enjoy driving in other countries, I would NOT suggest getting your own car. There are very few clear street signs or lights in Haiti, and the roads can be in sub-par condition. There was even one instance in which I thought there might have been people trying to build a roadblock on the highway, and we had a day where we got two flat tires in a row. The driver that we had on our tour, as well as the taxi driver that I had in Port-au-Prince, knew how to deal with all of these things in a safe and confident manner. Furthermore, you are supporting legitimate business in Haiti by hiring a driver, so it is good for your own sanity and good for the hard working people of this little country.

Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016

Port-au-Prince from the air (c) ABR 2016

Besides driving, we also took a plane from Port-au-Prince to Cap-Haitien, so while I don’t have experience with Port-au-Prince’s major airport, I can say a few things about flying here. First of all, if you fly into the country, expect to have people trying to grab your bags from you at the airport. Again, it is likely that they are just trying to get some money for carrying your things, but be wary. I would highly suggest flying in-country especially if you want to see the north and south of Haiti. The smaller airports aren’t stressful at all, and seeing the country from the air is really lovely. Just know that you don’t have assigned seats on in-country flights, even though your ticket will have a number. Just sit where-ever you can find space.

Quick Note About Haitian Currency

I had a hell of a time trying to get Haitian gourdes. My bank wouldn’t order any for me ahead of time, and the Miami airport had none available for exchange when I was there (not sure if they had just run out or what). People do take USD is many places in Haiti, but it is overall easier to use the national currency. I would highly suggest that you do try the above two options just to see if they will work for you, but they may not. So, travel to Haiti will small USD bills, that you can trade at the airport in Haiti (some larger hotels might also be able to help you, but don’t count on it if possible), or for use while traveling. 1s, 5s, and 10s are preferable because if you have to use your USD you will want to tip people, and buy snacks and drinks and this will be nearly impossible with big bills. I was also warned by a friend’s family from Haiti to avoid trying to get money from the bank. As a foreigner, it will be obvious what you are doing and it might make you a target.

Check out Tour Haiti and Port-au-Prince Taxi and Tours for resources for travel to Haiti.

Also, since I am in the middle of writing about Haiti, here are two links for some great organizations that you can donate to if you would like to help the Haitian people.

100k Jobs in Haiti

Konbit Mizik

Have any other tips on traveling to Haiti? Or questions about my experience? Comment below!

The Scottish N500: The Scenic West Coast of Scotland

Example of the route (not exact to what we did).

Example of the route (not exact to what we did).

I love roadtrips. How many times have I mentioned this in my blog? Many, I am sure. But it is still as true now as it ever was, so please take that into consideration when I say that the N500 of Scotland is one of the best roadtrips that I have ever been on. I got the idea for this journey from a Guardian article, and we actually replicated this intinerary fairly closely. It is a great little outline, unless you have more time, in which case I would suggest taking a day or two more on the way down from Wick to Lockinver- especially if you like to hike (or walk as they call it in Scotland). In any case, this means that we travelled from Inverness to Wick, Wick to Lochinver, Lochinver to Gairloch, and then Gairloch to Oban over the course of our roadtrip.

When I used to think about the UK, I imagined rolling green hills sprinkled with little villages, and webbed by narrow roads. The image is based on what I can remember of a two week trip I took to Ireland in 2012. This was nothing like that.

(c) ABR 2016

Urquhart Castle with Loch Ness in the background (c) ABR 2016

Actually, the drive from Inverness to Wick was somewhat like what I imagined, but that was no indication of what was to come. On the particular day that we did this drive, we first went a little south from Inverness down to Loch Ness to visit the ruins of Urquhart Castle . While the castle itself is little compared to the sprawling fortresses that you can see elsewhere in Scotland, there was something enchanting about these ruins. Maybe it was the fact that the famous loch was the backdrop to the crumbling walls, but I think there is just something that I love about such places… the element of imagination that you need to immerse yourself there can be so personal. It wasn’t a long drive down from Inverness, and even though it rained during the free tour, we enjoyed our time there, and it was unique among the castles that we saw in Scotland. After spending the afternoon wandering through the old rooms, now open to the sky and elements, we started north, up to Wick, and through the green pastures that I naively expected (somehow, despite having read the article that I posted above).

Pole at John O'Groats with the Orkneys beyond (c) ABR 2016

Pole at John O’Groats with the Orkneys beyond (c) ABR 2016

Our longest drive was on the day that we traveled from Wick to Lochinver. That morning, we drove as far north as possible, joining the ranks of bicyclists that had made the long journey from Land’s End in the south of the British Isles all the way to John O’Groats, the northern most point of mainland Scotland. There we looked out across the sea to the Orkney Islands, and posed next to the white post that marked this special point. After that, it was down the west coast and into some of the most beautiful landscapes that I have ever seen in my life.

The road that we followed south took us into the mountains and along sweeping coasts. While the white beaches and cliffs dropping off into the blue sea were lovely, it was really the peaks that I fancied the most. Many of them swept up from the ground with steep, stark and treeless flanks. Those mountain sides reached up into the low lying clouds on many occasions, but when their crowns were revealed, the bracken and grass gave way to dead stone, traced by veins of water making its way back to the earth after its stay on the summits during the winter. On some mountain tops, that snow may never melt, even in the depth of summer.

To be continued on June 15th.

The highlands (c) ABR 2016

The highlands (c) ABR 2016

Roadtrip to Safford

I may have mentioned it before here, but in case I haven’t, road trips are my favorite mode of traveling. Most recently, a friend and I decided that we would take a couple days to travel down to the small town of Safford, AZ. It is about a 4-5 hour drive from Phoenix to Safford, and of course, the best part of road trips is stopping to see things along the way. For this trip, we had planned on stopping by a few road side attractions that we had always thought looked interesting.

The Donkeys at Rooster Cogburns (c) AB Raschke

The Donkeys at Rooster Cogburns (c) AB Raschke

First on our list was Rooster Cogburn’s Ostrich Ranch, which is a pretty noticeable attraction between Phoenix and Tucson, near Picacho Peak. This roadside attraction, besides being a place to stop and explore, is also the largest ostrich ranch in the United States with over a thousand ostrich hens. It was established in Arizona in 1993, after a move from Guthrie, OK where the ranch had been since 1986. Personally, I remember driving past this place on the way to the University of Arizona all the time, and it always looked intriguing. Our trip to Safford was the perfect chance to check the place out, and we didn’t regret taking the time to visit. I was a little worried that the ranch wouldn’t be all that welcoming, especially because I wasn’t exactly sure what we would be able to do there (despite all the road signs saying “Feed the Critters”). However, after leaving our truck in a nice dirt lot, and walking into an open-air gift shop at the southern end of the parking lot, we were greeted by a very friendly employee who sold us our feed. For $7, I was given two cups, one full of hay pellets, and the other with some peanuts for their prairie dogs, a little container of nectar for the lorikeets, and a token for duck feed.

The deer! (c) AB Raschke

The deer! (c) AB Raschke

The first little faces that met us through the doorway into the feeding area were a bunch of donkeys. I wasn’t quite careful enough at first, and one of the little guys managed to get its mouth right into my cup. Other than that, I was delighted to see how gentle the donkeys were, and it was hard to leave them for the other animals waiting to be fed. The cup of hay pellets was meant to go a long way, however, as there were still deer, goats, ostriches, and mini-goats to be fed. The deer were the most interesting, as I don’t think that I have ever had the chance to get that close to any before, but they were so intent on the treats, that I actually found them a little intimidating at first. Oddly enough, despite being a bird lover, the ducks turned out to be the most frightening animals to try to feed. That being said, I am oddly proud of the fact that I can now say that I have been bitten by ducks (and it didn’t really hurt). My favorite part of the ranch was the lorikeets. They have their own little aviary, and after they cleaned out our nectar containers, we got to watch them cuddling in the trees, and taking little bathes in their fountain.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

About 45 minutes from the ranch, we passed through Tucson and stopped to get lunch. Of course, Tucson is big enough that it has a bunch of homegrown restaurants that are really great, but after living there for a few years, I have some favorites. First is Guilin, which I love for their veggie potstickers. I was also fond of El Saguarito , which had cheap, tasty Mexican, and it you are looking for something a little more expensive and classy there is Café Poca Cosa, which has a lot of original spins on Mexican recipes. Finally, there is Sushi on Oracle, which is awesome, and while being more expensive than the popular Sushi Garden, the quality of their food is much better.

After grabbing lunch in Tucson, we were back on the road again, this time with our sights set on an Arizona road-side attraction classic- The Thing? Since 1965 this particular stop has been based in the little town of Dragoon, right off of the I-10; it’s pretty impossible to miss with all the billboards. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I will not reveal what The Thing? is (although Google will- so watch out if you want to be surprised), but the $1 price of entry is just right. There is a little eclectic museum that you get to walk through, which I found highly amusing, and after exploring, I was pretty tickled by the place. It is certainly unique, but you definitely get what you pay for. Luckily, there is also a Dairy Queen attached, so we got to top off our encounter with the Mystery of the Desert with some delicious blizzards.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Heading into Safford, we just happened to see signs for Roper Lake State Park, and since it was still only 3p, we decided to stop by. Our first stop was the lake itself, and I was actually pretty surprised by the place. Most Arizona lakes have very rocky shores, and while they might be a nice place to hang out and cool off in the summer, they lack the nice sand that we all like to associate with beaches. Roper Lake was different, however, and my travel partner and I couldn’t help but wish that we had come prepared with our bathing suits. Exploring the island in the middle of the lake, and watching all of the different birds there turned out to be fun enough, however. We also found the Mariah Mesa Trail, which looked out on Mt Graham to the west, and the lake to the east, and it was a short, fairly easy trail.

Roper Lake (c) AB Raschke

Roper Lake (c) AB Raschke

The other areas of Safford that we explored while we were in town were the Discovery Park Campus and the downtown area. The Discover Park Campus is maintained by the Eastern Arizona College, and it is free to visit. There is a nice little astronomical museum to visit, as well as a number of trails that weave their way through a restored wetland area, which was spotted with signs commemorating the various eagle scout projects that had helped improve the park. Safford’s downtown area doesn’t have quite as much to offer, as most of the stores seemed to have closed earlier in the day, or they were empty. However, the architecture of the buildings there were varied and interesting, and we were able to pick up a self-guiding walking tour guide from the Chamber of Commerce (another eagle scout project). I really enjoyed learning a bit more about the town through both of these visits, and I found the obvious involvement of the boy scouts in the town to be a very unique community aspect of Safford.

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