Top Things to Do in St. Lucia

St. Lucia’s stunning natural beauty, pristine beaches, challenging hikes, and varied underwater life make it the perfect destination for any traveler. I recently visited St. Lucia and stayed in one of the beautiful water’s edge cottages at Calabash Cove Resort & Spa.

Go on a Boat Tour

Rodney Bay Marina is just a short 15 minute car ride from Calabash Cove. From the marina, you can hire a boat for a private tour around the island. You can customize your tour to include snorkeling, cliff jumping, hiking, swimming, and taking a mud bath.img_3063

Take a Mud Bath in the Sulfur Springs

Known as the world’s only drive in volcano, the sulfur springs are the perfect place to spend a few hours soaking, covering yourself with mud, and soaking again. Your skin will thank you after. The mud is said to help with mosquito bites, sunburn, and eczema. My mosquito bites probably felt a little bit less itchy (or maybe that was just mental), but my skin was definitely a lot softer after!img_3085

Relax in the Warm Waters of Piton Waterfall

This secluded, warm waterfall is just a 4-5 minute hike from the parking lot. The waterfall is located in the middle of the rainforest, surrounded by vibrant greens everywhere you look. The water is warm but not hot, and it is a great place to spend a few hours relaxing and listening to the birds.

Spend the Day at Calabash Cove Resort & Spa

I think Calabash Cove deserves a day all to itself. Just look at how pretty the resort is! You can relax on the beach, at your cottage, or by the pool while sipping on delicious cocktails or beers from the bar. I also must mention that Calabash Cove has a vegetarian menu with vegan options labeled. As a vegan, I really appreciated this!dsc_4168

Climb the Pitons

I hiked Gros Piton on my first visit to St. Lucia, which was a few years ago. At the time, I remember paying a few dollars for the entrance fee and a guide. I wanted to hike it again on this trip, but after hearing that it now costs 90 USD, I decided it wasn’t worth it. If you do decide to hike the Pitons, here’s what you need to know. There are two Pitons – Gros Piton (easier hike) and Petit Piton (more of a scramble/climb). Most people hike Gros Piton and it is highly advisable to hire a guide for Petit Piton, as I understand it is easy to get lost on the mountain. If you ask around once you arrive to St. Lucia, there’s a good chance you’ll talk to someone who knows someone who guides Petit Piton hikes.

 

Top Five Things to to in Grenada

I knew virtually nothing about Grenada before I visited – aside from its convenient location between my first scheduled destination (Trinidad) and next scheduled destination (St. Lucia). A few hours on Google Flights and Skyscanner led me to the realization that Grenada would be a convenient place to stop for a few days between Trinidad and St. Lucia. To say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. Grenada is a volcanic island that boasts lush rainforests, dramatic mountains, serene beaches, and a vibrant underwater world. Here are my top five recommendations of things to do in Grenada:

Seven Sisters Waterfall Hike

These stunning blue-green waterfalls are the perfect place to cool off in the hot, sticky rainforest. The trail is on private property and there is a $2 US entrance fee per person.

A short 2.2 mile round-trip hike will lead you to the first two waterfalls. The hike to the first two waterfalls is easy, with a tiny stream crossing and some stairs down on the way in and up on the way out. We didn’t go any farther because I’m still recovering from ankle surgery, but I’ve heard the trail gets more difficult. Car-to-car this hike took us two and a half hours, including a long stop to swim and take photos.

Warning – the waterfalls are a mosquito haven. I walked away with over 50 bites. Be smarter than me, and bring some  “>natural mosquito repellent.

Snorkel or Scuba Dive at the Underwater Sculpture Park

The underwater sculpture park was created in 2006 British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor. The sculptures encourage coral growth by reducing the pH of the cement and applying a textured surface. Snorkel sites can look similar after the first 30 or so you’ve seen, but this is definitely unique and worth a visit no matter how many places you’ve snorkeled!

Relax at Grand Anse Beach

With its crystal blue water and white sands.”, Grand Anse beach is the prettiest beach I saw in Grenada. A couple of the dive shops are on the beach, so it’s a convenient place to hang out before or after going snorkeling or diving.

Buy Spices at the Spice Market

Grenada is known for its spices, specifically nutmeg, so be sure to pick some up before you leave!

Spend a Day Relaxing at a Resort

Grenada has some beautiful resorts to relax at. If it’s in your budget, stay at one for at least a night and relax by the pool, do yoga, or go to the spa.

Photo taken at Laluna.

El Salvador – Safety, Logistics, and Top Places to Visit

When I told people I was planning on traveling to El Salvador for the weekend, reactions ranged from “What the hell is there to do in El Salvador?” to “ARE YOU CRAZY?! El Salvador is so dangerous! What about the drug cartels!” After visiting, I can confidently say that there is A LOT to do in El Salvador and I felt safe taking reasonable precautions.

Safety

I am not an expert on safety and you should always do your research and/or consult with knowledgable people before planning a trip. I can speak for my own experience traveling to El Salvador, and say that I felt safe taking reasonable precautions. I traveled with a man and another woman, and I felt safer having a man there. We did rent a car and drove, but we mostly stuck to busy roads and didn’t drive at night. We didn’t go on any long hikes (because of my ankle injury), but would have hired a guide if we had. We did end up getting lost on a bumpy dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and we paid a local boy $4 to show us the way back to the main road. I didn’t feel unsafe during this experience, but I was very glad it happened around midday, and we had plenty of time to get ourselves out before dark.

In general, before I travel somewhere I may be concerned about, I search the location on Google and check out the “News” tab for recent information on what’s been going on there. I also always check the State Department travel advisories and Wikitravel.

Things to Know

  • Language: Not many people in El Salvador speak English fluently. It is helpful to have at least basic Spanish skills, and use a cell phone app or Google Translate when necessary.
  • Cell phone service: I always like to get local SIM cards when I travel. I paid about $10 for 10 gigabytes of data from Claro at the Multiplaza in El Salvador. The service was reliable and I had service at most of the places we visited.
  • Car rental: If you want to see a lot of places, it’s helpful to have a car. I highly recommend a high clearance vehicle. We rented a low clearance car and almost got stuck a few times. A few of the towns have tuk tuks available to take you to and from waterfalls and other attractions where the roads might be too bumpy to drive. We took them twice and thought it was a fun experience, but relatively expensive for El Salvador (usually $6-$10 per person round trip).
  • Roads: Roads seem to close without warning. We found that we could be following the directions from our GPS, and all of a sudden see a huge pile of rocks from construction sitting in the middle of the road, blocking passage. I’m not sure there’s any way to check for these issues, but be prepared to need to try a different route, so give yourself extra time.

Places to Go

  • San Salvador: San Salvador is a great place to start your roadtrip and is a busy city with good amenities so you can get ready.
  • Lago de Coatepeque: This is a gorgeous lake that is on the way to Salto de Malacatiupan. Head to one of the lakefront bars, have a drink, and do some Watersport activities if you have time!
  • Salto de Malacatiupan: A hotspring waterfall located between Ataca and Santa Ana is a must-see in El Salvador. The water is pleasantly warm and the waterfalls are gorgeous. This place gets crowded, but it’s mostly locals (we actually didn’t see any other tourists).
  • Chorros De La Calera: Located outside of Juayúa, these cascading falls lead to crystal-clear pools. The water is cold but refreshing. Just make sure you check the hours before you go in! On the day we went, the waterfalls closed at 3 and when we came up at 3:15, we were locked in. Someone came up and let us out within 15 minutes, but I was temporarily worried that we would be stuck.
  • La Libertad: This black sand beach is located about an hour from the San Salvador airport and is a great place to surf or catch some sun on your way back.

Thank you so much to @knot_kristin for sharing her itinerary with me. I found a couple of the stops above thanks to her!

Where to Stay

  • San Salvador: Sheraton Presidente San Salvador Hotel – $100/night for a standard room with two double beds. The hotel hosts a lot of events and gets quite loud, but it is clean and has a nice pool.
  • Ataco: Hotel & Restaurant Fleur de Lis – $150/night for a large room with two double beds, a twin bed, and two bathrooms. There is a cute garden.
  • La Libertad: Boca Olas Resort & Villas – $160/night for a large room with two double beds, a loft with a twin bed, and a kitchen area. This hotel has nice pools and is a five minute walk to the black sand beach.

Where to Eat

If you’re in San Salvador check out Soy-green and Soya Nutribar. Both have healthy and vegan options! Food from Soya Nutribar below:

7 Stops That Need to Be on Your Balkans Roadtrip Itinerary

If you’re looking for an incredible nature-focused roadtrip through the Balkans, here are seven places you can’t miss:

1: Mount Jason Observatory, North Macedonia

With stunning view of Kozjak Lake and a few easy hiking trails, this viewpoint is one of the best in North Macedonia.

DSC_0665.jpg

2: Hotel Sharri, Kosovo

Stay at this hotel for its location, price, and gorgeous pool with tall glass walls overlooking the mountains.

3: Kotor’s City Walls, Montenegro

An early morning walk up these steps is well worth the views.

4. Trnovačko Lake, Bosnia and Herzegovina / Montenegro

A heart shaped lake…need I say more?

5. Uvac River Meanders, Serbia

Though somewhat difficult to find, the Uvac River Meanders is one of the most interesting natural landscapes I’ve ever seen. A blog post on how to visit this spectacular location is here.

img_0012fullsizerender

6. Drina River House, Serbia

Famous after its appearance in National Geographic, this solitary house in the middle of the Drina River was built by a group of swimmers in 1968 and has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since.

7. Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

The trail is located in Rila National Park. Take a lift or Jeep for 20 lev to get to the trailhead. It’s still pretty snowy in early summer, so I recommend going in mid to late summer.

Top Five Things to Do in the Maldives

Before going to the Maldives, I was warned that I might get bored. My mom had read several blogs and was convinced I would want to leave after a day or two because I would run out of things to do. She’s right that I wouldn’t have wanted to stay in the Maldives very long, but four days was the perfect amount of time and even on a remote island with nothing but a resort, you can still find a few things to do. Here are my top 5 recommendations for things to do in the Maldives:

  1. Stay in an overwater villa: This was my first time staying in an overwater villa and I loved it. There’s just something about being able to get out of bed and go straight into the ocean. The sound of the waves was soothing at night .
  2. Scuba dive: The water is clear and warm and it feels good to occasionally be active in such a relaxing place.
  3. Go for a sunrise walk: Sunrises and sunsets in the Maldives are gorgeous. And if you happen to be from the US like I am, waking up for sunrise won’t be too difficult thanks to jet lag 😉
  4. Go swimming/snorkeling: The water is a nice temperature and many hotels will provide snorkeling equipment with your stay.
  5. Take photos: Whatever you do, don’t forget your camera! The Maldives are incredible and you’ll definitely want to spend some time taking pictures.

Best Hikes in Sedona

  1. Devils Bridge: A 4.2 mile out and back trail that features a stunning natural bridge. I recommend visiting at sunrise or sunset.
  2. Cathedral Rock: A 1.2 mile out and back hike that includes some scrambling. Cathedral Rock is a Vortex, which means it is thought to be a swirling center of energy that is conducive to healing, meditation, and self-exploration. I recommend visiting at sunset.
  3. Birthing Cave: A 3 mile out and back hike. Start on Long Canyon Trail and continue for about .6 miles until you see a small section of wooden and wire fence on your left. Take the path to the left of the fence and hike for a few minutes until you see a depression in the wall to your right – that is the cave. Once you see the depression take the path on the right and hike up to the cave.

How to Visit the Uvac River Meanders in Serbia

The Uvac River is an international trans-boundary river that flows for 115 km (71 miles), through Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Uvac River carves a deep and winding valley through a dramatic landscape. Along the river you can find staggering mountains, expansive caves, and interesting wildlife, including Griffon vultures.

The Meanders were formed as the river flowed through limestone over many years. Today, they are in impressive series of tightly packed looping turns below tall canyon walls. The Meanders is one of the most photogenic places in Serbia, and I highly recommend visiting if you have the opportunity.

Visiting the Meanders wasn’t as straightforward as I expected, so I put together this post with some helpful information on how to get there.

Where to Stay

We were coming from Bosnia, and Užice, Serbia was a convenient place for us to stay. The Meanders are about a 2:15 drive from Užice, and since the walk to the viewpoint is not long at all, it was easy to drive there and back in a day. Družiniće is closer to the Meanders, but there isn’t as much to do there.

How to Get to the Uvac River Meanders

If you’re looking at a map, the viewpoints are located here:

There are actually two viewpoints that are quite near each other. You can put “Видиковац” or “Vintage Point Uvats” in Google Maps for the first viewpoint and “Видиковац Молитва 2” in Google Maps for the second viewpoint. You can walk between the two viewpoints if you want to see both.

The last 30 or so minutes is along a dirt road filled with rocks and potholes. Be careful! We had a tiny car and there were several times when we were worried we wouldn’t make it. I would definitely recommend using a high clearance vehicle.

This is the easy part of the dirt road. I was too focused on driving to take photos at the bad parts.

Once you park, it is a fairly short (but not well marked) walk to the viewpoint. Follow the little dirt path in the direction of the river (it’s fairly obvious where the river is), and remember which path you came from.

You’ll come to a wooden lookout. This is the viewpoint.

Feel free to leave a comment here or message me on Instagram if you have any questions!

How to Get the Best View of Kozjak Lake from Mount Jasen Observatory

Mount Jasen Observatory offers a great view of Kozjak Lake with no hiking required, but you can hike around if you want to! It’s about an hour car ride from Skopje, and well worth the drive.

Google Maps and Waze both have the location as “Kozjak Lake Observation Point. There is cell phone service most of the way, including at the top. We only lost service for a few minutes right before the top.

There are several pull outs on the road, and I recommend stopping at a few to get different views. I also highly recommend hiking around a bit if you’re up for it.

A few of my favorite photos are below:

DSC_0665DSC_0505DSC_0701.jpg

Roadtripping around the South Island of New Zealand with Mad Campers NZ

Meandering down windy roads with each turn giving us a glimpse of staggering peaks and breathtaking fjords was a routine that was easy to get used to as Caroline and I spent a week roadtripping around New Zealand in a Mad Campers NZ van.

One of the first things I learned upon arrival in New Zealand is how quickly the weather can change. While it’s a good idea to have some hikes in mind, it’s important to realize that sticking to a firm schedule likely won’t work out. We had a list of ideas and adjusted our schedule day-by-day based on the weather. Our Mad Campers NZ van gave us the flexibility to keep our plans loose and take full advantage of the good weather when it came. No pre-booked hotels, nothing holding us to a certain place at a certain time – we drove the van around and slept wherever it ended up being convenient. New Zealand is full of “holiday parks” where you can sleep in your van, so van life is quite easy.

Hike Outside of Queenstown

Our first overnight hike (which I promised not to disclose the location of) was a few hours outside of Queenstown. Five hours of slogging through mud and climbing over fallen trees led us to a peaceful river where we set up camp. The next morning we hiked up the river to the glacier for some absolutely stunning views. The hike ended up taking much longer than we anticipated and we didn’t get out until around 10pm. We were SO excited to be back at the van. We immediately cooked ourselves a nice dinner, drove to the nearest holiday park with availability, set up our bed in the van, and went to sleep. It was cold outside, but the van was nice and warm. My tired and sore body really appreciated the padding of the bed.

A Couple of Days of Relaxation

After our first hike, the weather turned bad and it rained for two days straight. We took advantage of the downtime to catch up on work, edit photos, and let our bodies recharge. Sometimes we ate at cafes and sometimes we cooked in the van. And let me tell you, sleeping in a van is soooo much nicer than sleeping in a tent when it’s raining!

Mitre Peak

When the weather got nice again, we drove down to Milford Sound. After taking a few photos at the sound, we got on a Milford Helicopters flight to the foothill of Mitre Peak. We camped there that night and woke up to a beautiful sunrise. We hiked the rest of the morning and got picked up that afternoon. Mitre Peak is a beautiful mountain that rises directly out of the ocean. It is peaceful and not heavily trafficked, so you’re likely to have the mountain all to yourself. Be careful if you hike – it’s easy to get lost near the bottom and it’s very exposed.

Gertrude Saddle

Gertrude Saddle has gotten extremely popular in the last few years – and for good reason. It’s a fun hike with gorgeous sunrises and sunsets. The hike is about 8.6 miles out and back and took me 5.5 hours with an overnight backpack and sprained ankle. The beginning of the hike is through some trees, but the remainder follows a river/river bed until a short scramble and then a boulder field before reaching the saddle. The trail is fairly well marked, though I did get briefly lost coming out of the trees on the way back. I’d recommend downloading the AllTrails map just in case. The beginning of the hike is basically walking over loose rocks, so if you have a bad ankle like I do, be careful! The scramble section has cables, so it’s fairly easy even if you aren’t comfortable on rocks. The boulder field is well marked with cairns and markers and if you follow them, it’s not bad. While Gertrude Saddle is very safe on a dry day, people have died when the weather has been bad. Numerous signs along the trail warn hikers of the danger. Do not attempt Gertrude if it has been raining! We were the only campers the night we stayed at Gertrude Saddle. It was peaceful, but very windy and cold! Be prepared if you plan to camp.

Why I Loved Traveling in the Mad Campers NZ Van

Our van was the perfect little home for our weeklong road trip. It was a great combination of convenience and comfort. We had the flexibility to travel as we pleased, but always had a comfortable warm bed, a mini kitchen, running water, and even a bathroom. I wouldn’t travel around New Zealand any other way!

French Polynesia on a Budget

A place where honeymooners flock to stay in extravagant overwater bungalows that can run up to thousands of dollars per night. It seems like a bit of an oxymoron, but French Polynesia can be a budget-friendly destination.

Of course, going on a budget trip is not the same experience as going on a luxury vacation, but you will still get to enjoy the beauty of French Polynesia, which I can promise you is more than fancy resorts.

I traveled to Tahiti and Mo’orea with two other people for a week. We shared accommodations and rental cars. My total cost for the trip was $1,620.43.

img_0465.jpg

Islands to Visit

We visited Tahiti and Mo’orea, which I believe are the most budget-friendly. Even getting to some of the outer islands can be pricey.

Flights

I flew United, which now offers direct flights from SFO. A round trip flight from DC cost me $1,170.

Getting Around

The ferry from Tahiti to Mo’orea is relatively cheap and convenient. It costs $15 each way, so $30 round trip.

Car rentals are expensive, but I highly recommend having a car. The car in Tahiti cost $199 for three days. The car in Mo’orea cost $242.53 for three days.

Accomodations

We found that Airbnb is the the most affordable way to book accommodations. Our Airbnb in Tahiti cost $219 for three nights. In Mo’orea, we stayed at a cute Airbnb called Mark’s Place that cost us $237.76 for three nights.

Food

Food can be expensive or cheap. I’m a vegan, so my options were somewhat limited. We mostly got our meals from the grocery store. I spent $121 on food for the week.

Total = $ 1,620.43

Flights = $1,170

Ferry = $30

Car rentals (199 + 242.53) / 3 = $147.18

Airbnb (219 + 237.76) / 3 = $152.25

Food = $121