Puerto Rico is known for its beautiful landscape and turquoise blue waters that bring people worldwide to its shores. This post will tell you the best activities in Puerto Rico to help you get the most out of your vacation on this beautiful island! The best activities in Puerto Rico are sailing, snorkeling, ATVs, horseback riding, ziplining, and hiking.
TIP: Book your main activities towards the beginning of your trip just in case they reschedule due to bad weather or maintenance.
Disclaimer: There are links to tours in this blog post that I receive a small commission from, but this does not add additional cost to your tour. If you purchase from these links, I get notified as a travel agent, which shows me the cost of the booking and your name. Some links send you directly to the tour company’s site that I do not get commission on when I think it is the better way to book.
Sail to Nearby Islands
This is my favorite activity when it comes to taking in the island life! These trips are around 5 hours and include food, music, floats, and drinks. Boat day trips are just a combination of all things great on an island- clear endless water and good vibes. Some boats require you to meet at the marina in Fajardo, which is about 1 hour from San Juan. Others offer roundtrip transportation from your hotel. These boats have plenty of floats so you can just chill in the water or swim to shore and lay on the beach.
Puerto Rico Catamarans will usually take you to 1 of 3 islands off of Puerto Rico: Palomino, Icacos, or Culebra. For the best snorkeling, Culebra is the best option, but for just a nice clear beach, Icacos and Palomino are both extremely fun for a day in the sun!
Puerto Rico is a rare gem in the fact that, if you are a US citizen, you do not need a passport to see a tropical rainforest. Ziplining is an awesome way to get a bird’s eye view of this tropical wonder! There are 2 areas you can zipline at: the rainforest and the dry forest. Both are beautiful, it just depends what you want to see or where you are staying.
This is a great option that departs right out of the San Juan harbor, making it easy to get to by Uber or taxi. This sailing excursions takes you around the Old San Juan historical walls, giving you a new perspective on this beautiful city. The sunset sail is from 5pm-7pm so that you can take in the entire sunset and make it back to the dock as soon as it gets dark. These sales come with snacks and drinks, and are the perfect setting for any occasion- a date night, a girls trip, or a family activity. The sunset sail is usually more calm whereas the boating day trips that I mentioned earlier can get rowdy, depending on the crowd, but both are extremely enjoyable.
I LOVE Carabali Adventure Park, and I think you will too! They offer ATV rides and horseback rides on a large, beautiful property just below the El Yunque Rainforest National Park. I’ve ridden horses twice and loved it, but I only do the 1-hour ride as I’m no equestrian, I just like the experience. Carabali also offers ATV and UTV tours. They may let you go fast on certain straight paths in the tour, but remember this is a tour, so you have a guide who sets the pace.
Be adventurous on a Puerto Rico Rainforest Hiking Tour
If you are looking for adventure, but feel a little weary of doing it on your own, a guided tour is perfect for you! Puerto Rico tour guides cannot bring tour groups to the actual El Yunque Rainforest National Park road right now, but they will take you to great hikes, waterfalls, and natural water slides on the outskirts of the national park road, which are fun and adventurous! Be sure to wear water shoes or tennis shoes that you do not mind getting dirty as it can be extremely muddy. Guides will show you where to jump off into the water and will usually provide life jackets for safety during the tour. Honestly, locals go to these places by themselves all the time, but if you don’t have a rental car or just want to be on the safe side, I recommend a guided tour.
These are some of the best excursions in Puerto Rico with easy access from San Juan. I did not list the bioluminescent bay tour just because I have not personally been, and have been told that it is best to experience during a new moon. I hope this helps you when planning your next Caribbean adventure!
If you have experienced an excursion in Puerto Rico that you enjoyed, list it in the comments below!
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Last week, I visited Culebra Island right off of Puerto Rico and experienced the best snorkeling so far while living in Puerto Rico! The clear waters of Flamenco Beach are truly breathtaking, and I’ve officially fallen in love with this tiny island.
However, Culebra was not love at first site for me, and I will tell you why here. This post is going to talk about:
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Getting to Culebra Island from Puerto Rico
There are a few ways to get to Culebra Island from Puerto Rico, but the most common ways are to fly with AirFlamenco or take the Ferry in Ceiba, which is about 1 hour East from San Juan. The cheaper option of the 2 is the ferry, but tickets are released about 2 weeks out and sell out fast! AirFlemenco round trip is about $90 per person, or if you have a big group, you can charter a plane. The ferry takes 1 hour from Ceiba and flights take about 15 minutes.
I am going to elaborate on the Culebra ferry option in this post because I think it is a good option for large or small groups. We chose to ferry, so I have first-hand experience with it. When you type in the Ceiba Ferry Terminal into Google Maps, you will end up at Roosevelt Roads, which is an old Navy base. You can drop off a some of your group to wait at the ferry terminal with the bags while you park the car. Car parking is about a mile further (there are plenty of signs for directions), where you pay in cash based on the amount of days that your car will remain in the lot- $7 for 1 day, $15 for 2, and so on. A shuttle will drive you from the parking lot back to the terminal to meet back up with your group and board the ferry.
As far as facilities, there are porta potties at the parking lot, and the ferry terminal has a snack and coffee bar and restrooms.
**COVID Restrictions- You MUST wear a medical mask, not a cloth mask on the ferry. They have a pack of 10 for sale at the ferry terminal, but bring your own to expedite the process.
Present your email that contains your ferry tickets to the gate guard, and you are on your way. The ferry leaves promptly, so get there about an hour prior to departure like the tickets recommend. To be honest, they did not check our additional bag tickets, so if you are a stickler for rules, go for it, but I am not convinced that the additional tickets are necessary as long as you keep it to a reasonable amount of luggage. The seas can be rough depending on weather, so take some Dramamine the night before and sit on the bottom level if you are prone to seasickness. I personally LOVED the ferry ride as it was so peaceful. Passing nearby islands and being on the open sea for $2 plus tax is a steal!
You arrive at the Culebra Ferry Terminal, and depending on what mode of transportation you choose, your driver will be there waiting for you with a sign.
Culebra Island Transportation
For transportation around Culebra, although it is pricey for the day, I don’t know of many other options, especially during COVID closures, than to rent a golf cart or Jeep. There are 2 companies on the island, Jerry’s Jeep Rental and Carlos Jeep Rental. Jerry is the only one who will rent for 1 day and his website is more user friendly. He will pick up only the driver from the terminal, and you can pick up the rest of your crew afterwards. I recommend having your group walk to the left, and up the hill, further out of the congested terminal area to be picked up. If they walk to the steep road that leads to Tamarindo Beach, you can pick them up and head straight to Tamarindo Beach for snorkeling with the sea turtles!
Recommended Time Spent on Culebra Island
During COVID, just about everything is closed indefinitely or sporadically as far as restaurants go. There’s a to-go spot to the left of Kokomo’s at the ferry terminal, a convenient store up the hill, and Moncho’s Barbecue to-go. Blac Flamenco Coffee in town is open until like 10:30AM and Zaco’s Tacos is open some evenings. One lady gave me a flyer for her creole restaurant that sounded delicious, but it had no name or address, so if you see her handing out flyers at Flamenco Beach, ask her where her restaurant is located.
Basically, food should not be the reason you go to Culebra, and you should definitely bring a cooler with wheels to this island. Although it would be an early morning, I recommend taking the 7am ferry to Culebra and the 4pm ferry back to Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The reason I fell in love with Culebra was for the amazingly clear Flamenco Beach and the beautiful snorkeling of Tamarindo and Melones. The small, congested roads near the ferry were enough to make me wonder why anyone would live there, but the snorkeling is incomparable and is the very reason I would go back in a heartbeat!
I booked an airbnb, and rented a Jeep for 2 days for our group, and I just don’t see a need to spend all that money when you can snorkel and beach bum it out in a day, for about $300 cheaper. If you get a larger group to go, a longer stay would make sense as you can split the cost of car and lodging. Another cheaper option is camping at the Flamenco Campgrounds for $30/day, but they are currently closed and under construction.
Best Snorkeling in Culebra Island & Tour Guides
For sea turtles, head to Tamarindo Beach, which has grass straight out from the beach where sea turtles love to snack! I saw a stingray in the coral more towards the left of the beach, but the sea turtles were just a few feet from the beach. For the most beautiful coral, head to Melones Beach and swim right, towards the rockier area. Colorful coral and fish both big and small will wave all around you. Wear water shoes or fins as I saw more sea urchins than ever before in this water. Also be sure to check the weather before going into any water in Culebra or Puerto Rico. Rip currents are no joke here in the winter, but we did snorkel early February, and I did not feel a huge pull at Tamarindo or at Melones. At Flamenco, I felt a stronger pull when snorkeling, and the reef near the main beach entrance is not very colorful. The reef may be better near the beached military tank on the far left. Flamenco is best for just sitting in the white sand and floating in the shallow, clear waters.
There are a couple other beaches that I did not go to that are also known for snorkeling like Playa Carlos Rosario and Culebrita, which requires a boat transfer to get to. Culebra Island companies also offer snorkel and kayak tours like, Culebra Eco Tours. One of the easiest day trip options if you are more concerned with the clear blue water and snorkeling rather than exploring the island is to take a boat trip from Fajardo with a Catamaran. They will take you to a Culebra beach, a snorkel reef, and will provide all gear, drinks, and lunch. That way, you don’t have to even mess with the ferry tickets, parking, renting a car, or anything.
In conclusion, you won’t believe your eyes when you visit the beautiful beaches of Culebra, filled with clear waters and abundant sea creatures. However, I think that you can cover what there is to see in the span of a day, unless you are really into snorkeling and want to see all of the beaches in one trip. Although most of the restaurants are closed, I still recommend visiting because you practically have all of the beaches to yourself. I hope this helps you plan your Culebra excursion! Feel free to contact me if you do need help finding accommodations in Culebra.
Check out my Travel Planning Page and let’s get started planning your Puerto Rican adventure together!
About 2 hours southwest of San Juan lies a town called La Parguera. It’s known for fishing, diving, and snorkeling. La Parguera is also famous for it’s great parties and atmosphere not only in the city, but just off the shore at the nearby islands of Mata La Gata and Caracoles Cay. People rent or bring their own boats of all sizes, anchoring on a platform just off the beach, and chill all day.
If you take the route from San Juan that goes through Ponce, you’ll be blown away by the beauty you see just from the drive. It’s an easy journey, but mountain views are all around.
Skip the Ponce Bypass and head 7 minutes into the Ponce town square. Just have your GPS set to Parque de Bombas and you will get where you need to go. I wouldn’t say Ponce is worth vacationing in, but it is definitely something you should take advantage of along the way. Find street parking at the square, which is free on the weekends, and take a look around. You’ll be delighted at the beautiful architecture, a fountain, a large cathedral, and cute souvenir and coffee shops.
The two main attractions you have to see are right in the town square. The open-air fire-station museum, Parque de Bombas, is a beautiful preservation of Puerto Rico’s first fire station. Next, you have to take a look inside The Fox Hotel Ponce or even stop for a delicious lunch and latte. This is a pop-culture themed hotel that looks like you’ve just stepped into Hollywood Studios or Universal Orlando. The design of this entire hotel is enough to take your breath away, but try the food and I think you’ll be even more delighted!
La Parguera has a little strip of waterfront restaurants that are almost on top of each other. It’s lively and fun with souvenir shops and tasty treats. On this street, there are several boat rental companies that rent John boats, like Gina’s, and kayaks to explore the beautiful water around you. La Parguera is known for its mangroves, where tiny crabs walk all along the winding branches. The Paradise Scuba and Snorkeling Center that is right across from the boat rentals offers several excursions and tours. Although I mentioned these two companies, there are several kayaking and tour options listed here. Many of these companies also have social media pages that make it easy to see their deals and tour schedules.
Where to Stay
We stayed at 2 different hotels only about 8 minutes apart because we wanted to check them both out and share them here with you. Both locations were incredible. We first arrived at the Parador Villa Parguera, which is in the middle of the restaurant hub and right on the water. The rooms are simple and clean, and the grounds are beautifully maintained. Each room has a waterfront view and a patio to enjoy it from. The main beauty of this fairly small hotel is how abundant the seating areas are. There is seating by the beautiful pool, on the dock, on the lawn, and even on the second level of the deck, which has a gorgeous view of the sunset. There is no coffee maker or fridge in the room, but parking is free and abundant.
The Parador has two special rates going on right now. A Puerto Rico Resident rate of $117/ night and an all-inclusive (breakfast, lunch, and dinner with soda and waters) for 2 nights for $350. From experience, the ribs dinner does not disappoint!
After a day spent at the Cabo Rojo Lighthouse and Comabate beach, we checked into our second hotel of the weekend named La Jamaca, which is a little further from the ocean. You will love this place. The room was small, but plenty, and designed beautifully. This lodging is more of a modern feel, compared to Parador Villa which is more classic. Obviously, surrounded by many hammocks, there are plenty of places to relax and enjoy a good meal or just a good view. The staff is incredible, providing everything you need. Do bring bug spray and apply it immediately upon arrival as the jungle feel of this hotel brings in many pesky mosquitoes, that can be remedied instantly by bug repellant. The hotel also has some available, but I would bring your own as well just to have it conveniently near you. There is a fridge in the room, but no coffee maker.
La Jamaca has a few deals going on as well to include a romantic room decoration and wine as well as a rate that includes breakfast and a few dinners. Check out their Instagram to see these special offers. If you would like help in planning your next adventure, I’d love to help you along the exciting journey! Check out my Travel Planning page!
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Italy is well-known for its rolling Tuscan hills and divine cuisine. While road tripping the Tuscany area over the summer, my family and I left Rome and drove to Siena, setting up home base just outside the city walls. We stayed in an apartment rental that was once an old horse barn now completely remodeled into the most beautiful apartment with breathtaking views from the flower garden.
Tuscany can be challenging as rental cars are restricted in many of the walled, hilltop cities. Choosing this rental just outside Siena allowed us easy access to the city bus as well as the highway to reach other famous Tuscan cities. There is no rail system in Tuscany, which makes it necessary to rent a car or book a tour of this area of Italy.
We rented a car from Avis at the Rome Airport and drove to Siena from there. The rental process was smooth, and the airport is easy access right to the interstate that takes you to Siena. Italy does however have some of the strictest rental policies around. For one, you must get an additional international driving permit from your local DMV before you go to Italy. Second, you are required to purchase total collision insurance in addition to your personal auto insurance.
You can rely on a map to drive in Italy, as highways are pretty straight forward. However, GPS will help you find parking and specific locations easier. You have a few different options when it comes to getting GPS directions. You can pay for an international data plan from your cell phone provider ($10 a day for Verizon), download the map of Italy on your Google Maps app while connected to wifi before you hit the road, or choose a rental car that offers GPS.
I hope this post sparks your interest to visit this city and to love it as much as I do. I used Rick Steve’s Guide to Italy as my “tour guide in a book” if you will. He describes each destination beautifully and provides the history that makes everything come to life!
For cheap flight options, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get alerts when cheap flights are taking off near you. I started this European trip in Paris, France, because Scott sent me an alert for a flight from Atlanta to Paris for $495. Once you are in Europe, easyJet has cheap, country hopper flights, and I could not have been more impressed with easyJet as an airline company.
Siena, Italy is known for medieval history and impressively preserved architecture. Many still live in and within its walls, keeping up Siena’s romantic reputation and cheering for their favorite team during the annual horse races in the square. Siena is a bustling city in tourist season, but quite walkable. Stay on the sidewalks as city buses stop for nothing! Just wandering the streets is breathtaking when admiring the architecture that remains perfectly sound to this day. There are plenty of things to do in Siena to explore this area for at least 2 days. A few popular activities in Siena include shopping, eating, visiting museums, take a tour or class, and having an elegant Opera evening.
Most Tuscan cities have cute, touristy shops that offer post cards, trinkets, and lots of leather! Italian leather is something you will want to take advantage of while here. Real leather is hard to come by in the states, but even the smallest of shops in Italy offer genuine leather purses for as little as 20 Euro. You could also grab a tasteful leather journal to record your best Italian travel memories. I grabbed my green, stamped leather purse from an upstairs vendor as well as leather bracelets for friends back home.
It’s no secret that Italy is known for incredible food– pizzas, pastas, aperitifs, gelato, and delicious wines. You are basically good to go with food on every corner in Siena. We found a quick, a la carte spot that charged by the kilogram, and everything was delicious. Look for where locals are eating on their lunch break, so you know it must be good.
Siena is full of history, culture, art, and beauty. To get the backstory on this incredible city, visit a few of the many museums it offers, or visit them all if you are staying a few days. Museo dell’Opera Del Doumo boasts of having one of the best views of this beautiful city, so be sure to bring your camera for scenic, landscape shots. The Siena National Art Gallery is also a great way to see the local talent that came from this area. Be sure to bring your student ID everywhere in Europe as most attractions offer a discount. Another excellent museum to view is the Santa Maria Della Scala, which holds the actual Fonte Gaia that was replaced by a replica fountain in Siena’s main town square, Piazza del Campo.
Take a Tour
What better way to experience a city than with a local? I took a tour and pasta-making class through Airbnb.com while visiting Rome, and it is one of my favorite memories of Italy to this day. Airbnb has several experiences in Siena with great reviews, including cooking classes, wine tastings, Opera evenings, and themed tours. All you have to do is search your destination on Airbnb.com, and choose the “experiences” option to display all tours and activities offered in that city.
Elegant Opera Evening
The best Opera, according to Trip Advisor ratings, is the Italian Opera in Siena, which is only a 10 minute walk from Piazza del Campo. Adult tickets are 25 euro and students get a 10-euro discount with their school ID. Children under 12 are free. The opera begins at 9:30 pm, so get all dressed up, and enjoy a delicious Italian dinner before the show.
I hope this post sparks your interest to visit Siena and to love it as much as I do. I used Rick Steve’s Guide to Italy as my “tour guide in a book” if you will. He describes each destination beautifully and provides the history that makes everything come to life!
For cheap flight options, sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights to get alerts when cheap flights are taking off near you. I started this European trip in Paris, France, because Scott sent me an alert for a flight from Atlanta to Paris for $495. Once you are in Europe, easyJet has cheap, country hopper flights. I could not have been more impressed with easyJet as an airline!
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While exploring Germany, my friend and I hopped from one village to the next on a scenic Rhine River cruise for only 10 euro. This River Cruise could really be utilized for a good 2-3 days, exploring castles and roaming each riverside village. In this blog I’ll explain why the KD Rhine River cruise is something that should be experienced while staying in Western Germany.
KD is a company that runs several cruising boats that float up and down the Rhine River all day long. The cruise ticket, found at the ticket booth near the river in each village, is only 10 euro and includes access to every KD boat on the river for one whole day. For example, a boat makes several stops at different villages throughout the day. You can get off of one boat, explore the village, and board another KD cruise to get back to your hotel. This cruise sells food and drink,which is most likely the only way that they make a profit. We just enjoyed the cheap ride. This cruise has an audio system that is your own personal tour guide, explaining the history behind each castle that you pass. My favorite history lesson was about the famous Lorelei cliff- known for its mythical sirens supposedly enticed sailors with their beauty and caused numerous shipwrecks.
Why is KD Such a Good Deal?
Well, let me tell you! I’m not sponsored by them, I just thought this was an awesome experience. KD cruising is easy, relaxing, educational, and cheap. A train ticket to the next village along the Rhine would be about 10 euro, but it wouldn’t be near as fun as cruising! We took all our belongings from our hotel in Boppard, Germany and used the cruise to get to our next stay in Bacharach. While that’s one way to do it, booking a stay for one day in each village, you could also take the cruise a few days in a row, exploring different villages during the day, and taking the cruise back to your hotel in the evening. While many villages are similar along the Rhine, they each have distinct characteristics that are fun to experience. First, each village has its own elaborate church, no two are the same. Second, unique castles tower over several villages, creating the fairy tale reputation that the Rhine River is so famous for. In Boppard, ancient Roman and Medieval walls still stand throughout the town. And in Bacharach, old castle ruins sit at the peak of a hill and have been recreated into a youth hostel with incredible views. When we climbed to the castle, a middle school group was staying at the hostel for a historical and fun field trip.
The beautiful, quiet villages along the Rhine River are worth visiting for the castles alone, but add the beautiful scenic views and a sunny boat ride, and you have an unforgettable German vacation.
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Keep reading for my Paris details & cost :
Check out great Paris vacation rentals at VRBO.com.
On our tour of Western Europe, my friends and I spent three days in Paris, exploring as much of the city as we could. Surprisingly, we got several highlights of this magical city done in a small amount of time- I’ll explain how in this blog. The best part about Paris is the Metro, which will get you anywhere in no time at all. We didn’t get a metro pass for this short trip, but chose to just buy about twenty tickets at a time and split the cost. Our days in Paris were May 16-May 18, 2017. This was still pre-tourist season, but it was getting busier as summer was quickly approaching.
Here is a recap of our Paris adventure, followed by suggestions and total costs of each day:
Monmarte, Sacre Ceour, Café Le Consulat, Eiffle Tower, & Arc de Triomphe
Our starting point to Paris was in Mons, Belgium, where my friend’s family lives. We picked up our friend from the Brussels airport on May 14th and headed to the Mons train station at 7:20 am on May 16th. We bought our train tickets about 2 months before our trip to Paris because prices were quickly rising. We took the high-speed Thalys train, made a few connections, and arrived in the Paris-Nord train station around lunch-time.
The train station is about 10-15 minutes from Monmarte, a very scenic area, famous for its beautiful Sacre Ceour church and artists. We locked our belongings in a giant locker at the train station and took a bus to Monmarte. This was the only time we would be close to Monmarte as it is further away from the heart of Paris. The bus dropped us off at the bottom of the lengthy stairs, which led to the incredible Sacre Ceour church. At the top, we could see the entire city as well as the beautiful inside of this enormous church. Surrounding this church are multiple artists who paint their favorite views of their beloved city. Paintings ranged from 20 euro to hundreds, and they were well worth every penny. I just did not have it in my budget to buy one though I really did want to take them all home with me. Next, we had lunch at the famous café, Le Consulat, which is the most photographed and posted café in all of Paris. We had omelets and tap water. Thankfully, Paris will serve you tap water for free, unlike any other place that we visited in Germany or the Netherlands. After lunch, we took a bus back to the station, retrieved our belongings from the lockers, and took the metro to our Airbnb apartment.
Our Airbnb in Paris was not as great as all the other ones we stayed in throughout this trip. We made it to the entrance of the apartment, but it was locked with a key pad. We checked the rule book on our Airbnb booking online and could not find the code so we were locked out. When we called the host she said, “The code is online,” and hung up! Luckily, another apartment resident arrived and let us in. I looked just now, and this apartment is no longer available on Airbnb, so that’s good. This was the only bad experience we had out of our 6 Airbnb stays during our Europe travels. I still think Airbnb is the best way to travel affordably, just read all the reviews before booking. Once we retrieved the passcode, we got our key, dropped our stuff off, and headed to the Eiffel Tower.
Just a few left turns took us to the Metro, which got us to the most famous street in the world in just a few minutes. Packed with locals and tourist alike, Avenue des Champs-Élysées runs between the Place de la Concorde and the Place Charles de Gaulle and is home to the famous Arch de Triomphe. Guards and rails blocked underneath this massive structure as a ceremony was being conducted at the time. However, there were plenty of available spots for great pictures. We continued down the street, seeing the beautiful architecture of uniform buildings with iron terraces. The famous bridge, covered in gold statues and carvings was incredibly busy. We decided to enjoy it from afar and make our way to the Eiffel Tower. This large structure that is the epitome of Paris beauty is far bigger than I ever imagined and is just as romantic as I pictured it to be. Vendors selling roses stopped couples nearby, convincing men to buy the love of their life a red flower to express their feelings. The Chainsmoker’s recent single, Paris, was literally playing everywhere, and cheap key chains and souvenirs were laid out, begging for tourists to pick them up. We splurged this evening and ate at a nice restaurant as nothing is cheap around the Eiffel Tower. Unfortunately, I got sick off of seared tuna steak and we had to turn in before night-time approached and the tower lights lit up the sky.
Total Cost of Day 1:
Train to Paris- $60, Metro 5 euro, Dinner 20 euro, Post Card .20 euro, Apartment Stay: 50 euro. Total: 135.20 euro = $161.69
Louvre, Lunch in La Marais, Galeries Lafayette, Laduree Macarons, Rue Montorgueil Market Street, & Train Railroad Park (Promenade Plantee) Picnic
I felt much better the next day, which was good because we had no time to spare. After eating a quick breakfast of boiled eggs and yogurt, which we grabbed the day before in a grocery store, we headed off for more adventures in Paris. This day was filled with admiring famous paintings, window shopping, and lots of eating! We left about 8 am to beat the crowd to the Louvre. Only waiting about 30 minutes in line, we spent about 2 hours in a museum that could take weeks to completely accomplish. Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa resides inside this massive structure, but don’t have high hopes. I found all the other paintings much more beautiful. Why she is so famous is still beside me.
After exiting the museum, we enjoyed the view as we strolled the sidewalk that was lining the Seine River. Unfortunately, the bridge that was once famous for its love locks had been stripped of the massive amount of metal that had been weighing it down. A few locks remained on the light posts, but the bridge was mostly bare. My favorite part of this walk was the green boxes atop the river guard walls, which looked like nothing early in the morning while they were closed. However, when their owners came to open them, the boxes proved to be filled with old French novels, souvenirs, and paintings of the city. For lunch, we headed to Le Marais, which is located in the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris, consisting of lovely cafés and secret passages that open up into gorgeous boutiques. We went inside Galerie Vivienne.
Next we headed to the part of Paris that was way out of our league, but we didn’t care. The first stop was at Galeries Lafayette- the very first department store ever built. Filled with Gucci, Prada, and 300 euro sundresses, we breezed through each level admiring the exquisiteness of it all. The real reason we came to this store was for the view. Galeries Lafayette has a terrace at the very top that displayed the most spectacular view of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Palais Garnier.
The department store was surrounded by other high end shops so we window shopped until we reached the famous Laduree macarons. Some visitors bought dozens of flavors, but we each just bought one each as we were still full from lunch. Heads up, the salted caramel macaroon is a great choice! We got some chuckles from the employees as we took several pictures in the adorable shop, but hey, it was our first time in Paris!
Next on the list was to buy some food for a picnic that evening. We took the Metro to Rue Montorgueil Market Street, where bakeries, cheese and wine shops, and rotisseries line the streets and fill it with mouth-watering aromas. We each grabbed the dinner of our choice and took the Metro again to Promenade Plantee, an old railroad bridge that has been transformed into a park. I had never seen anything like this. We climbed up the stairs and entered into a narrow pathway surrounded by trees and flowers with benches for stopping to enjoy the nature.
Our last stop for the day was the famous Rue Cremenieux. Each house on this street is painted a different, pastel color. No one knows why, but the residents have maintained this tradition, making this neighborhood a fun little walk to enjoy when sightseeing nearby.
La Chappelle, Notre Dame, Museum D’Orsay, Latin Quarter
We left at 9:15 on our last day and walked to Saint Chappelle, the famous church. The stained glass windows were very ornate, but other than that it was not really worth 11 euro. The Sacre Ceour and all the other churches in Germany and the Netherlands were way more impressive and free. I don’t regret seeing it as it was beautiful, I just wouldn’t go again. However, I could have marveled at the Notre Dame all day long, and it was free. The detail in every inch of its architecture explains vividly why the Notre Dame took 200 years to complete. A story unfolds in the carvings that completely cover the solid stone walls of this church. On the inside, a herd of people uniformly circled around the outside of the pews, reading the history behind such a masterpiece as a choir was beautifully singing American hymns.
For lunch, we walked to the lively Latin Quarter, which is filled with cheap, delicious food and souvenirs. Crêperie Chez Suzette on Rue de Huchette caught our attention as it served savory crepes that were perfect for lunch or dinner, and were only 5 euro if ordered to-go at the window. I got one filled with Mozzarella cheese, mushrooms, onions, and red bell pepper… best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life, no lie. We crossed the street and got the cutest gelato dessert at Amorino. The server sculpted my frozen treat into a rose on top of a small cone.
Down the street was the famous, Museum D’Orsay, where we got through the line fairly quickly and received a student discount of 2 euro off our ticket. Though the Louvre displayed all types of art, this museum contained mostly paintings, but they were amazing. At the top of this museum was a giant clock that was perfect for silhouette pictures so be sure not to miss it.
That evening, we headed back to the Latin Quarter to eat a cheap dinner and grab souvenirs. I’m a coffee addict so, of course, I NEEDED a Paris mug and my friend got her sister a book from a small bookstore that would be every bookworm’s dream come true. Shakespeare & Co. is a small store with books that reach up to the ceiling. Outside, there was a guitarist playing and singing for visitor’s enjoyment, and tips.
Our last day in Paris ended with a light rain just as we finished walking back to our apartment. We opened the window, brewed some coffee, and relaxed to the pitter-patter of the rain as we prepared for a train ride to Germany the next morning.
Just before the rush of tourist season, Europe’s crisp spring breeze begs for an afternoon espresso while touring its finest sights. Here are some places that stood out as my favorite stays this past May when travelling across Europe. In my opinion, all of these cities are bucket list quality, each having their own unique look and activities.
This quaint little town, situated along the Rhine River, is filled with rich history. An old, large post office hides tucked away in the back near the church, now serving delicious cuisine to its outdoor guests seated underneath cozy overhead heat lamps. Half-timbered houses adorn the sides of the cobblestone streets, some serving their local wines while others still housing families. After school, children flood the restaurants enjoying soda and snacks after a long day of learning. The nicest elderly lady ever known opens up her centrally-located home to weary travelers of all kinds as she runs an incomparable Bed n’ Breakfast. At the top of this fairy tale sits medieval castle ruins that have been recreated into a youth hostel with an envious view.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days):
Altes Hausfor delicious white wine and apple strudel// Stahleck Castle Hostel// Wernerkapelle Church ruins built in 1287// 200 year old post office (posthof)// Well-preserved town wall and tower (best seen at castle)// KD Rhine Day Cruise//Haus Irmgard Orth(BnB we stayed in).
The views, the music, the arts, and the romance combine to make this city as fabulous as everyone claims it to be. Seated below the Monmarte Sacre Ceour are artists of every kind expressing their love for their home with each brush stroke. Tall buildings with ironwork and matching stone make for a uniform, yet dreamy style throughout the entire city. The Eiffel tower is surrounded by lovers, giving a red rose to their significant other in exchange for a kiss under the magnificent structure. The largest museum in the world is at the end of a bridge famous for its “love locks.” Many lock their initials to Pont des Arts Bridge and thrown away the key, symbolizing their love for Paris and for another. Along the streets outside the Louvre are curious green boxes that seem like nothing when closed. However, when their contents are unlocked, the boxes showcase paintings, old French novels, and trinkets that grab the eyes of every passerby. A lively area, the Latin Quarter, is filled with souvenir shops, tourists, and an enormous amount of food. The most divine crepes are sold in this quarter for the small price of 5 euro from the window. Savory and sweet aromas flood the streets and invite people to stop for a taste. On the other side of the street is the famous gelato shop, which makes beautiful flower designs out of a decadent frozen treat. The beautiful architecture throughout this city is incomparable, especially the Notre Dame. With cafes and bakeries at every corner, sitting with a coffee and admiring the view is just as amusing as traipsing through every tourist must-see. Around many of the city’s landmarks, tour guides tell interesting stories that explain the significance behind the building. This city steals the heart of many who choose to replace their goodbyes with, “until next time.”
Things to do (recommend as long as you can stay): Eiffel Tower// Notre Dame// Le Bon Marche (1st Dpt. Store)// The Louvre// Musée d’Orsay// Latin Quarter food// Love Locks// Green Box shopping// Palais Garnier performances// Saint Chapelle// Sacre-Coeur// Grand Palais// Place de l’Hôtel de Ville// Lauduree (macaron specialist)// Find elegant wedding and ball gowns for cheap near Gare Du Nord train station on Blvd. de Rochechouart// We stayed in an Airbnb in a great location
The quiet town of Brugge seems like it came right out of a storybook. Different colored, connected brick houses show off their various eves and architecture. This city is known to be frozen in time as it was built up in the 1500s with wealth from its lace industry and has remained dormant ever since. Though now a popular tourist town, the city still remains quite peaceful, allowing the chimes of the Belfry to be heard from blocks away. The scents of Belgian fries and famous, home-made chocolates fill the streets, inviting pedestrians to stop for a taste. Ivy covered houses hanging on the edge of canals create gorgeous scenes and backdrops for pictures. A steep climb to the top of the Belfry is challenging, but rewards every climber with an incomparable view of the beautiful city below.
Things to do (recommend 1-2 days): Climb the Belfry// St. Salvator’s Cathedral// The Old Chocolate House hot chocolate// Historium Bruges// Provinciaal Hof// Loppem Castle// The Markt (the square)// Church of Our Lady// Basilica of the Holy Blood// Homemade chocolate stores// Famous Belgian fries in front of the Belfry// Groenerei Canal// Several museums that I did not experience (beer, lace, chocolate)// We stayed in an Airbnb
Often described as a “mini-Amsterdam,” Haarlem has the lively activities and architecture of Amsterdam, but is much smaller and easier to get around by foot. The Grote Markt in the center of town is filled with visitors and locals alike who grab a drink, take a seat, and people watch the day away. To the right of the Markt towers a massive cathedral that is impressive both in size and design. The cobblestone road, Grote Houtstraat, makes shoppers’ dreams come true, offering every type of store imaginable with some stores like H & M reappearing two and three times. On Mondays and Saturdays, locals set up a supply of food trucks, tulips, clothes, shoes, and other goodies that fill up the entire square, catching the eyes of visitors and filling their noses with delicious aromas. This market offers what the regular shops offer, but for 5 to 10 euros less. Tucked away, but not forgotten, is the historic house of Corrie ten Boom, where tourists line up to see the Jewish hiding place during World War II. Her life is dignified throughout the tour of her home. Her faith in God is believed to be the very reason she lived the life that she did, helping the poor and protecting the weak.
Things to do (recommend 3-5 days): Shop until you drop// Ten Boom tour (available in English)// Tour by foot (tour map and explanations at visitor’s centers)// St. Bavokerk Church (Mozart played on the organ)// Molen de Adriaan Windmill// Bike the city// Eat and people watch at one of the many restaurants in the Grote Markt// We stayed in an Airbnb.
I hope this helps you while planning your next exploration!
This past Winter Break, my boyfriend and I were invited to spend Christmas in Guadalajara, Mexico with our friends and their family for 8 days. The family was so kind, taking us in and treating us as their own. This was a packed trip as we celebrated Christmas, our friends’ wedding, and my 20th birthday! Our friends’ father even took us to the beach a few days. Meeting so many awesome people was by far my favorite part of the trip, but other aspects that I’ll always remember concern the Mexican culture, downtown Gaudalajara, and Melaque Beach.
Unlike Cozumel or Cancun, Guadalajara is more than just a tourist area. We stayed in a “colonia” inZapopanthat was so neat to experience. “Colonia” is the Hispanic equivalent of a neighborhood, but way bigger. There are neighborhood stores, restaurants, and food stands created by the residents. One home would sell bakery goods and another would sell tacos. My favorite food stand sold bionicos, which are fruit desserts that are basically all the good toppings from froyo, minus the froyo. We went there so often that the man knew our order. Although, that could be because we were clearly the only Americans in the colonia- but who knows?
Christmas was celebrated much differently than in my home and was a joy to experience! Aunts, uncles, and cousins lived right down the road so they came over and cooked all Christmas Eve, preparing a feast. That night, we played bingo and opened presents from family members. My favorite part about Christmas in this home was that the family made a huge deal about every present. It made the fun last longer, the person giving the gift feel appreciated, and the person opening the gift feel important. That is something I will use in my home one day with my kids. There may not be one-hundred presents under the tree, but talking up each present can make everyone just as excited.
Eating at Tok’s for my 20th Bday
La familia cooking up a Christmas feast
The city of Guadalajara:
Our friends had twin brothers our age who were so generous to drive us around town and translate. They took us to their favorite pizza, ice cream, and taco shops. They even took us on triple dates with their girlfriends to the markets downtown. I got my niece a handmade bow and myself a woven bag. We went to the biggest market I’ve ever been to. It was actually somewhat of a warehouse, but once inside, the market seemed never ending. It had everything from souvenirs to knock off soccer jerseys and Coach purses. I got a cute mug that says “Recuerdo la Guadalajara Jal.” because I’m a coffee addict. I found a cool article onForbesthat explains the city markets in more detail. As far as food in the city, my favorite meal was tacos because they were delicious and cheap. I’m talking 25 cents a taco! Plain water was not available to order with food. Instead, restaurants offered sodas, horchata,and my favorite, agua fresca. Depending on the restaurant, most places offered a variety of different fruit juice, all of which were referred to as “agua fresca.” My favorite flavor was Jamaica, which is made with hibiscus flower.
Guadalajara is a city with impressive, old churches and buildings. When the Spanish came across the Atlantic, they built spectacular Catholic churches and prayer centers. We toured inside the large stone building, Templo Expiatorio del Santísimo Sacramento,and were in awe at the intricate woodwork that adorned each door. The Guadalajara Cathedralwas the focal point of downtown and was impossible to miss. Around the Cathedral was probably the most scenic area. Filled with ironwork benches and a giant city sign, the surroundings were basically screaming for a photo-op.
One weekend, the family decided to go on a three-day vacation to the beach. Little did I know that they were taking us to one of the most gorgeous places I have ever been to! I just remember passing miles and miles of palm trees. I’d never seen so many in my life! I quickly decided that Melaque beach is a hidden gem for people looking for the perfect place to soak up the sun at any time of year. The family told me that several people retire and buy homes in Melaque for two reasons: 1. It’s cheap, and 2. Most people speak English. Melaque, although still a tourist area, was far different from my experience in Cozumel because the shops and restaurants dealt in pesos, at the Mexican price. For example, we ate at a place twice that served quesadillas larger than our heads. With the exchange rate, the quesadillas cost us no more than $5, including drinks.
Melaque had a lively town center,Plaza Navideña San Patricio,perfect for shopping, eating, and enjoying a night on the town. Market tents were set up with interesting merchandise and, for Christmas, there was a huge Christmas tree and Nativity scene.
The Pacific Ocean water was perfect, even in December. The warm sun and beach breeze combined to make the winter in Mexico feel like July in the states. The next day, we drove to the beach atHotel Boca de Iguanas. This was my favorite area as it was less crowded and had a cliff with a beautiful view at the top. The pool was cold, but still bearable. There were both tourists and locals at the beaches in Melaque, creating both a new yet comfortable atmosphere at the same time.
As I was writing this blog, I began to reminisce on what an amazing experience Mexico truly was. The family we stayed with was the sweetest, most loving group of people that I’ve ever met and they became lifelong friends of mine. I also started thinking about going back to Melaque this Christmas to enjoy its natural beauty once again. I started browsing and found thatVRBOhad some great homes to rent for a Christmas vacation to Boca de Iguanas. Melaque and Boca de Iguanas were two beaches that I’ll never forget and I can’t wait to step foot on that warm sand once again!
Today I packed for a Spring Break trip to Williamsburg, Virginia and a day trip to Washington D.C. I soon realized that this will be the majority of my packing list for Europe in May as well. The weather in Virginia is supposed to be in the 60’s during the day and closer to the 30’s at night. I incorporated layers so that I don’t have to use two outfits in one day. Let’s check it out
3 sleeved, looser/flowy shirts (light grey, dark grey, black&white)
1 white T-shirt
2 loose tank tops
3 skinny pant (cropped black, full-length jean and rust)
My wardrobe comes from various, budget-friendly locations. My dark grey and black and white shirts come from Sam’s Club, crazy, I know. But the brand is Philosophy and they were on sale for $10. I got my tank tops from Walmart for $3 a piece. They are my favorite purchase, and I wear them all year long. My cropped, black pants are Nine West and were also purchased at Sam’s Club for $20, and my army jacket and rust pants are from Ross and cost me $20 each. My favorite, white T-shirt actually came from Goodwill for about $3; however, finding a clean, white shirt at Goodwill is a rare occasion. The knit sweater is from Old Navy and my jewelry is a combination of Target, Kohl’s, and Belk.
Next week’s Williamsburg trip will let me know how much I need to add to my Europe packing list. Spring Break lasts only seven days while Europe will be 18 to 20 days. Hopefully, I will have two opportunities to stop back at home base to wash and head on my way again. In addition to what is shown, I packed pajamas, three workout outfits, yoga pants, and necessities. All my clothes fit in a medium suitcase, but I will have to use a separate bag for toiletries and hair items.
I hope this helps while planning for your next adventure! As you can see, I picked basic colored items so that I can mix-n-match, creating several different outfits. No one will ever suspect it!