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33 things I love about New York City

new york city skyline

On the east coast of the United States there is place called New York City…oh, you’ve heard of it, have you?

If you’ve never been, you need to go at least once. If you have been, you know you need to go back. What started for me as a little crush turned into such an intense love that I ended up moving to New York City! Your list might look entirely different than mine, but in line with my Things I Love About… series I wanted to share 33 random things I love about New York City.

1. The vibrant energy of Midtown Manhattan. There’s a busy energy in the city that we have never felt in any other city we’ve visited on our travels to over 70 countries. There’s so much life in Manhattan, and there’s so much going on at all times. It’s electrifying and it is infectious.

2. The innovative parking spaces.

nyc parking3. And the ways NYC tells you where not to park.

parking sign new york city
4.
Watching the neighborhoods change as we walk Broadway all the way from the Financial District to Harlem.

5. Laying in the sun chairs on the rails of Highline Park – New York’s most exciting urban renewal project.

Highline Park New York City6. Running straight into a mid-morning model photo-shoot in the Meatpacking district.

7. Union Square
Especially the buzz and bustle here from right after the sun goes down until way late into the night.

8. The sheer endless amount of mouthwateringly delicious pizza slices. Our hunt for the best pizza in NYC seems to have turned into a lifelong quest.

Pizza

9. Reading the paper or people watch in Bryant Park

10. Ordering coffee off a Russian menu at Starbucks in Brighton Beach, near Coney Island, while listening to the Russian chatter around you, and realizing that even though you’re in an English-speaking country, you’ve just entered a completely different world and you have no idea what is going on.

russian starbucks in brighton beach new york11. Standing in Grand Central station and imagining where everyone is going to and coming from in such a hurry.

12. The anonymity
On any given day, celebrities and world leaders join millions of locals and tourists, rich and poor, going about daily life on the streets of New York. Unlike in any other U.S. city, in New York City you, or the person next to you, could be just about anybody in the world.

13. The walk over the Brooklyn Bridge

thing I love about New York City

14. Brooklyn Pride
Black, white, old, young, American or ex-pat, residents of Brooklyn, better known as Brooklynites, are proud in a way unlike any other New Yorker.

15. The Street Art – especially in Bushwick.

things I love about NYC

16. The food. I don’t think there’s a cuisine that you CAN’T get in NYC, and the amount of amazing restaurants is unrivaled anywhere in the world. This city is a food lover’s paradise.

17. World class art museums. Not only does New York City have an unparalleled food scene, but also the art scene is one-of-a-kind, spanning from major world-class art museums such as the MoMA or the MET to small galleries in Chelsea and cutting-edge contemporary art in art spaces such as the MoMA PS1. Not to mention the open studio days throughout he different neighborhoods where artists open their workspaces to the public and let strangers peek over their shoulders while they’re creating.

things I love about NYC

18. The changing cultures in Central Park throughout the day
The pet-owners and joggers in the morning, before the nannies and professional dog-walkers invade in the afternoon.

19. Looking back at the skyscrapers of Battery Park from the Staten Island Ferry.

Manhattan Skyscrapers from Ellis Island

20. The gravity-defying break dancers in Times Square Subway Station, and the eclectic “It’s Showtime!” dancers on the subway.

21. Observing locals fishing in possibly polluted waters of the East River, or off the Coney Island pier.

coney island fishermen

22. The many green spaces throughout the “Concrete Jungle”, which range from giant parks such as Van Cortlandt Park and Pelham Bay Park in the Bronx to tiny oasis like the Elevated Acre or Greenacre Park in Manhattan.

23. Observing the Orthodox Hasidic Jewish families in South Williamsburg or Crown Heights.

orthodox jews staten island nyc

24. The ever-changing skyline of the city, with skyscrapers trying to outdo each other in terms of height and interesting architectural features.

25. The love New Yorkers have for their city.

❤️LO💛V💚E💙

26. Exploring the unique architecture of the Cast Iron district

cast iron district nyc

27. The hot dog vendors, and the street food culture in general. This includes the breakfast & coffee carts in Midtown Manhattan, the pretzel guys in Central Park, the Latin American street food carts in Queens, and the Mexican tamales ladies in Brooklyn.things i love about New York City

28. The pictures plastered on the walls at the uber-kitsch restaurants in Little Italy.
So many restaurants here have pictures of either well-known celebrities who ate there, or loads of ‘regular joe’ diners from throughout the years. As cheesy, faded and curled up around the edges as some of the pics can be, it still gives that feeling of ‘When you’re here, you’re family’. What else would you expect in Little Italy!

29. The opportunities for perspective
The views from the Top of the Rock and the Empire State Building let you get such a good feeling for this dense city. If you’re interested in seeing New York City from a bird’s eye view, I compared the best observation decks in New York City.

manhattan skyscrapers from top of the rock

30. Spotting film crews and trailers on location filming the next great NYC movie or TV show.

31. Contemplating what constitutes a New Yorker
Contrasting people who live out near Coney Island to those on the Upper East Side, and marveling at the fact that no matter their differences, they are all still New Yorkers.

32. Mariachi bands on the subway

mariachi band subway new york city

33. New York is within everyone’s budget
With the exception of accommodation, hanging out in New York City can be cheap as chips and exhilarating at the same time. It might be testing out a highly-recommended hole in the wall and people watching in the park rather than Michelin-starred dining and a Broadway show, but no matter your budget, you will have a distinctly authentic New York time.things i love about New York City

 

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The Five Best Train Rides In The World

Train Jaune Viaduct by A1AA1A on Wikicommons

If you’ve been reading this website for a while, you know that traveling by train is by far my favorite way to travel. My train trip around Europe in 2015 was one of the travel highlights of the year for me, riding the rails in Sri Lanka was what made the country so special for me, and even though I thought I might lose my life on the roller coaster ride that is a train trip in India, I still believe it was one of the most authentic travel experiences I had there.best train rides in the world

And while I’ve taken train rides in places all over the world, all over Europe, in Thailand, in the U.S. and in Peru, to name just a few, there are still about a dozen amazing train journeys in the world that I really want to take.

Today, I am sharing five of the best train rides in the world with you – if you are, like me, a fan of train travel, you need to add these train journeys to your travel bucket list:

best train rides in the world

The five best train rides in the world

1 The Rocky Mountaineer, Canada

The Rocky Mountaineer train takes you from Vancouver on the Pacific Coast to Banff all the way in the Rocky Mountains.

The breathtaking mountain scenery is something you won’t ever forget: glaciers, lush green forests, and snow-covered peak await you on this luxury train, which includes gourmet meals created by executive chefs while marveling at the Rockies from oversized windows (in the SilverLeaf carriages) or even a glass-domed carriage (GoldLeaf). Highlights of a ride on the Rocky Mountaineer include Fraser Canyon’s Hell’s Gate, the wild waters of the Thompson River, an overnight stay in Kamloops, and vivid turquoise mountain lakes. Sometimes even bears can be spotted from the train, and train drivers often slow down when they spot bears near the train tracks, so that passengers have time to snap a photo.

2 The Ghan, Australia

Lovers of train journeys undoubtedly will have heard of The Ghan, Australia’s great train which takes you right across the Outback – in style! You can travel all the way from Darwin to Adelaide – covering nearly 2,000 miles in three days, while enjoying the luxury amenities on this remarkable train. The train stops in both Alice Springs and Katherine for four hours, giving passengers the option to do some sightseeing. Highlights include the tropical coast of the Northern Territory, the plains in the south, the incredible red colors of the outback as well as the red-hued rocks of the MacDonnell Ranges.

best train journeys in the world

3 The Trans-Siberian Railway, Russia

This epic train ride was actually the first one to pop up on my personal ‘train ride wish list’, covering 5,772 miles from Moscow in Russia to Vladivostok in Siberia. This train ride gives passenger an idea of how massive Russia and Siberia truly are, taking them for eight days through the changing landscapes of these countries. Highlights include Lake Baikal (the world’s largest freshwater lake), the stunning 3,227 feet long bridge over the River Ob, the dense Siberian forests and the Ural Mountains.

4 Glacier Express from Zermatt to St. Moritz, Switzerland

Taking the train through the Swiss Alps feels like you are being transported into a painting – the craggy mountain peaks, the lush green valleys, dotted with cows and sheep, and cute Alpine villages with wooden chalets… it doesn’t get any quainter than this! The seven hours on the Glacier Express from glitzy St Moritz to picturesque Zermatt go by in the blink of an eye while you’re trying to take in as much of all the postcard-worthy scenes around you. Highlights include the Oberalp Pass (at 6,706 feet the highest point of the ride), 91 tunnels, breathtaking mountain lakes, 291 bridges, and the 200 feet tall, six-arch Landwasser Viaduct – it’ll take only a few minutes on this trip for you to understand why this is considered one of the best train rides in the world.

sunset in the alps

5 West Highland Line, Scotland

See a theme here? Another train ride through the mountains! Apparently train journeys through the mountains are insanely beautiful, and the West Highland Line through Scotland is no exception. The trip starts in Glasgow but swaps the city-scape quickly for magnificent lochs (lakes), the Scottish Highlands, and remote wilderness, before reaching the town of Mallaig. Highlights include the Glenfinnan Viaduct (which was famously featured in the Harry Potter movies as the Hogwarts Express makes its way to Hogwarts), views of Ben Nevis (Scotland’s highest peak) and the stunning Loch Shield.

best train rides in the world

Are you a fan of train travel? What’s the most memorable train ride you’ve ever taken?

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The Best Places To See The Fall Colors in the US

new york fall foliage road trip leaves3

Somehow, despite our mission to skip winters, we end up spending at least part of October in Chicago each year. This year, we watched the weather change bit by bit as we made our way from New Mexico across the Midwest into Chicago, but the true Autumn beauty didn’t hit until the middle of the month. Now the ground is covered in blankets of bright red and orange leaves and Dani and I spend time strolling through leafy parks, sipping hot coffee and huddling together to keep warm. What a romantic time of year!

Nature paints the landscape with all kinds of beautiful colors, but taking a last minute holiday with your partner or family can be such a great way to explore fall. Here are some of the best places to see the fall colors in the US:

Best Places To See The Fall Colors in the US
Colorful framed view of Lake Placid by Lake Placid Region on Flickr.com

The Best Places To See The Fall Colors in the US

Adirondacks, New York

What could be more romantic than skipping along a forest trail in fall with a backdrop of lakes and mountains? If you’re an outdoorsy girl like me then the answer is not much. Add in a picnic and you’ve got the ultimate loveliness (especially if there’s cake). There are tons of hiking trails in the Adirondack region whether you’re more about picnics and skipping or a serious physical challenge. The park is 6-million acres meaning 6-million acres of gold, auburn, ochre, crimson and bronze treetops during fall. Cabins, cottages and camp sites are plentiful so you’ll be able to find lodgings whatever your budget.

Church and Autumn Leaves - Stowe, VT
Church and Autumn Leaves – Stowe, VT by pdbreen on Flickr.com

New England 

Ah, New England, land of white clapboard and quaint fishing towns. The six states are also land of the downright magical during the fall season – it is the most popular place to see the fall colors in the US for a reason! It’s too hard to pick the best town or even state to visit so we suggest taking a tour through several. The whole New England countryside is ablaze with fiery foliage during fall and wherever you go outside the major cities you’re in for a treat. A scenic New England fall foliage road trip is the best way to explore the region. Buying apples and pumpkins from roadside farm shops and taking in the spectacular scenery is bound to leave you feeling positively wholesome.

Best Places To See The Fall Colors in the US
2013 Colorado Leaves by snowpeak on Flickr.com

Aspen, Colorado

The town of Aspen is named after the trees that blanket the mountains and valleys around it. It’s these trees that produce a spectacular show every fall that is utterly unique in its colour pallet. The purple hew of the Maroon Bells mountains act as a stunning backdrop to the aspen tree’s displays which ignite the surrounding countryside with copper and gold. There are campsites in this area for low-budget stays but it’s best to book well in advance as fall vacations to this area are extremely popular.

If you can’t spare the time or money to enjoy one of these adventures then do not despair- it’s likely that a park or forest near you is looking pretty spectacular at the moment too. Do you have a favourite spot for appreciating fall foliage in your home town? Is there a travel destination you’ve visited that you are convinced is the world’s best leaf-peeping destination?

Best Places To See The Fall Colors in the US

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Staying Safe on a Trip to Cuba: Tips for Female Travelers

cuba dani trinidad

The first, and most important thing, you need to know as a solo female traveler to Cuba is that you can be perfectly safe there. Of course, you should exercise caution and plan your trip in advance for maximum safety. However, these rules apply no matter where you go. And the truth is that Cuba is a much safer place for solo female travelers than many other popular beach vacation destinations. Violent crime is pretty low in Cuba by default, and main streets of the cities are the safest place for a traveler.trinidad horse

4 Tips for Staying Safe for Solo Female Travelers in Cuba

1. Follow the people

This is a personal safety tip that can help any traveler regardless of where you go. You should always take the lead from the locals. See which street vendors have the longest line, take cues on how to dress, and generally pay attention to manners and interactions.

This tactic will not only help you avoid food poisoning, high risk areas and social faux pas, but also enable you to discover some places usually hidden from the tourists. While you are at it, you should also make friends with the locals as they can help guide you.

If possible, you should start making friends before you even arrive at Cuba. Meet people online so you come to the island already knowing someone who won’t let you get lost or fall prey to scammers.trinidad cuba

2. Get touristy entertainment from reputed sources

As the tourism industry is the main contributor to the Cuban economy, a great number of businesses on the island are oriented toward travelers. But not all of them are ‘official businesses’, and dealing with the ‘unofficial’ ones is a major risk. Therefore, if you are looking to enjoy some Cuban diving, or popular horse rides, or to take an old car tour in Havana, you should research the provider of said activity.

Airbnb Experiences are a great way for solo travelers in Cuba to meet other people. Make sure to read reviews beforehand, and print out all the details of the Experience you book before your trip, in case you won’t be able to access the internet while you’re there (this happened to me!).

If you book through a local Cuban company, check if business has a website and some independent reviews posted online. It’s true that the Cubans have yet to join the global digitalization, but reputed businesses have a solid online presence. If you book through Airbnb, you still support independent locals, by the way.

Ignore all offers coming from ‘personal guides’ who will throw themselves on you. While these people know the place and really can take you to some interesting attractions, they will require a hefty fee and you can’t be 100% sure that they are safe.Cuba solo female travelers

3. Be prepared for catcalls

While catcalling on the street is seen as rude and downright offensive in many Western cultures, in Cuba it’s a common thing – I already talked about this when I shared the most important things you should know before you visit Cuba. As a solo female traveler in Cuba, you will stand out and garner this kind of attention. This is a good example of cultural differences that one has to accept when traveling.

As it’s literally a part of the local culture, and Cuban women get those same catcalls and wolf-whistles you do, you shouldn’t take offense. In the majority of cases, this kind of behavior is harmless and you can ignore it completely.

However, if the people who first show those reactions to you start getting pushy, like following you or trying to get into your personal space, you should be prepared. Start with saying ‘no me moleste’ (don’t bother me). If that doesn’t work and you don’t have an opportunity to simply leave, take out your personal alarm or other personal defense tools you have on you and do your best to get to a populated street.Cuba solo female travel tips

4. Leave expensive jewelry at home

All tourists stand out in Cuba, so you’ll definitely attract attention, and this includes attention from pickpockets and other nasty individuals who prey on tourists. Avoid becoming a target by not wearing anything these people might be tempted to steal. This includes carrying your fancy smartphone in your hand.Cuba solo female traveler

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Sin Galore in Singapore

chinatown singapore

As we mentioned in our previous post on Singapore, this Southeast Asian city-state was a bit of a mystery to us. For everything we learned during our treks through the city, there were ten more questions as Singapore unraveled before us. We realized that we needed professional help – it was time for a Singapore walking tour. Recommended #1 on Tripadvisor was The Original Singapore Walks, so we decided to join their Secrets of the Red Lantern Chinatown walk.

walking tour singaporeThis was by far the best walking tour we have been on yet. It was saucy and racy and gritty and fascinating.

Bathroom buckets and sardine packed apartments 

Set in Chinatown, we learned the history from the perspective of the Chinese immigrants who flooded to Singapore’s shores in search of opportunity after British businessman Sir Stamford Raffles founded the city-state in 1818 as a trading post for the East India Trading Company. The Chinese who arrived here throughout the 19th century had often endured high seas for months at a time, were penniless, starving and often many friends or family members had died on board the ships. When they arrived to Singapore they were initially given assistance by others who, in their demands for payback, would essentially ensnare them into a form of servitude impossible to escape (similar to the concept of sharecropping in the U.S. South).singapore chinatownOur guide Janet shared the stories of the shophouses, which had factories or shops on the ground floor and 20-30 people living upstairs in one-room apartments. Some had wooden planks as beds, others just the floor, and even these spaces were often shared between those on day and night shifts.

Near the start of our Singapore walking tour she took us into a back alley (which in today’s Singapore is surprisingly clean) to show us little doors in the backs of the shophouses. Stinky buckets of number 1 and number 2 were placed behind these doors, and trucks would come, open them and collect the waste each day. From her explanation and our own imagination we could practically smell the stench of these overcrowded houses and their appalling living conditions.

chinatown singapore

Picking your poison in Singapore

Working conditions were no better, she told us, and the only break the immigrants here could get from the backbreaking labor was in the brothels and opium dens. The opium dens were where the physical pain could actually be lifted for the little while they could smoke. Chinatown was the epicenter for brothels as well, and we learned how to recognize some of the ‘higher class’ establishments, the division among the Chinese and Japanese prostitutes (the latter served only Europeans while the former focused on locals).

Much of the area has long since been gentrified and legal prostitution all but phased out, but she did sneak us past one of the last few remaining legal brothels and we had a sneak peak as we passed. It was a small entrance in a back street that just looked clinical, unlike the roaring scene she described along the way. Janet showed us many of the ‘materials’ used (see below).

chinatown singapore feminine oilSexual liberation in Chinatown eventually led the area to become the unofficial home of Singapore’s gay community – a complicated issue itself. Essentially homosexuality is frowned upon, sex between men is illegal, and yet up until recently Singapore hosted one of the world’s largest gay festivals each year. We really appreciated Janet’s candor about the gay community.

She provided the kind of in depth information that we normally only experience on LGBT-focused tours, even stopping under a rainbow flag waving at one of the more popular gay bars in the city. It was great to see the wealth of information included on the tour about the gay community, even though everyone on the tour but us was definitely straight.

chinatown singapore with gay barWhat we loved about Janet was that she clearly had great relationships with people in the community. We stopped at a Chinese medicine shop and chatted with the owner who supposedly supplied President Bill Clinton with a natural form of a special elixir (think snakes and bugs floating in an liquid meant to…raise the roof…).

She gave us a great advice on where to eat vegetarian Chinese food, which we took and it was delicious! And even though she couldn’t take us in to tour the brothel, it wasn’t for not trying. Singapore Walks actually tried to reach out and create relationships with some of them in order for tours to be able to experience first hand how the brothels work today. Apparently this didn’t go to well…but they tried.

singapore chinatown chinese medicine shopShe left us with this little nugget: back in the day people used to joke that Singapore was just one letter off. Replace the ‘p’ with an ‘l’ and you get the true name of Singapore in the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Singalore – Sin Galore.

From our drinks at the top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel looking down over the city  in 2012, we would have never known about Singapore’s seedy past, and it was loads of fun finding out all about it.

singapore sunset from top of marina bay sands

 

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Globetrottergirls quick guide to Tucson, Arizona

Tucson Arizona

We have been to Tucson several times now and spent a month there during each visit. Even though every time we visited, it was during one of the hottest months, June, with temperatures regularly reaching around 110F, we managed to sightsee quite a bit, we took day trips to nearby destination, found restaurants and coffee shops we liked and fell in love with the Sonoran Desert which surrounds Tucson. And we want to share some of our best finds in this Tucson travel guide with you – just know that this guide is by no means complete, because one thing we have discovered is that Tucson is an ever changing city. Every time we visit, there’s a new cool cafe, a new trendy restaurant, a new mural to check out.

If you visit Tucson without a car, we recommend renting a car at least for a day or two, since many of our favorite places can only be reached by car. The center is rather small, and the city is very spread out, and some of the best things we’ve done were actually outside of the city center.

Tucson Travel Guide

Overview: A quick guide to Tucson, Arizona

Tucson is the second largest city in Arizona and sits at an elevation of 2,400. The Sonoran Desert makes for a favorable climate during the winter months, while it can get unbearably hot in the summer. The city itself has a moderate population of 486,700 people, but the entire metropolitan area counts over 1 million people.

Tucson is also known as ‘The Old Pueblo’, built upon a foundation of Native American, Mexican, Spanish and Old West roots. Especially the city’s Spanish and Mexican influences are still visible everywhere on a stroll through town, especially the historic center.

Tucson Travel Guide

The Globetrottergirls Tucson travel guide:

In my Tucson travel guide, you’ll find the best things to do in Tucson, the best places to eat and drink in Tucson, the best day trips from Tucson and where to stay in Tucson.

What to do in Tucson, Arizona

Stroll through the historic downtown

Tucson’s historic downtown is known for its colorful adobe houses which have all been restored and are well maintained by its owners. The Spanish Colonial Revival courthouse with its mosaic dome is one of downtown’s most recognizable buildings. Make sure to also visit the beautiful courtyard. Just a few blocks south you find the Cathedral of Saint Augustine, a beautiful church built in Mexican-baroque form.

Tucson Travel Guide

Old Tucson Studios

The Old Tucson Studios, just outside of town, are a must visit for all fans of old Wild West movies. They were the backdrop for the gun-slinging Old Western heroes such as John Wayne, Clint East Wood and Paul Newman. A visit to the studios is like a journey back in time, with many of the film sets still intact. There are also daily stunt shows and shootouts.

Old Tucson Movie Studios

Desert Museum

The Desert Museum is just around the corner from the Old Tucson Studios and is more like a biosphere than a museum. Part zoo, part botanical garden and part natural history museum, you can learn everything about life in the Sonoran Desert, see many of its inhabitants such as coyotes, scorpions, snakes and tarantulas, and the incredibly diverse flora and fauna.

Desert Museum Tucson

Saguaro National Park

While you are at the Desert Museum, you might consider combining the trip with a visit to the Saguaro National Park, just a few miles down the road. Saguaro National Park should be included in every Tucson travel guide, because the scenery is stunning and so unique. There are hiking paths or a road through the park with several lookouts. It is the most dense forest of Saguaro cacti in the U.S., with over one million Saguaros.

Saguaro national parkThe park is actually separated in two parts, the Tucson Mountain District (West) and the Rincon Mountain District (East), which can be both visited with the $10 vehicle permit which is good for 7 days.

Shop on 4th Avenue

4th Avenue is a popular road with a large number of restaurants, cafes, bars and nightclubs. At the time of our last visit, the historic 4th Avenue tram line was in the process of being restored, and a stroll along this road, which is popular with university students, can be combined with lunch or a coffee in one of the many independent restaurants.

4th Avenue Tucson Arizona

Pima Air & Space Museum

The Pima Air & Space Museum features almost 300 historic air planes and helicopters, some of which are stored in a hanger, and some of which are lined up in a large outside area. It is one of the biggest aircraft museums in the world. Even though we are not huge plane geeks, we thoroughly enjoyed looking at all the historic military planes, drones and helicopters.

Tucson Air & Space Museum

Go on an urban scavenger hunt

This is a truly unique way to explore Tucson: a 3-hour Tucson scavenger hunt! The hunt is played via smartphone, which means you can do it on your own schedule. If you are traveling in a group or as a family, you can play against each other, Amazing Race style. Every team has to solve clues and challenges while learning about the history of downtown Tucson.

 

The Best Day Trips from Tucson

Mount Lemmon

Mount Lemmon is a short drive northeast of the city, and was a welcome cool off from the summer heat for us. On the way up the mountain, you will pass through some of the Sonoran Desert with stunning views over Tucson, and when you finally reach the top, you will find yourself surrounded by pine forests. At 9,157 feet (2,791 m), it is the highest point of the Santa Catalina Mountains, and you can enjoy a hike along one of the many paths or just enjoy the several scenic lookouts along the winding mountain road.

Mount Lemmon Arizona

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon is a desert canyon that is cut into the Santa Catalina Mountains, just north of Tucson. There is a tram with 9 stops which will take visitors into the Canyon, and you can choose on which trailhead to exit. The most popular hike is the Seven Falls Trail. Sabino Canyon can be visited with a National Park Pass ($5 per day.)

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

This gorgeous mission, nicknamed ‘White Dove of the desert’, is a white little mission, set in the middle of the desert, which is one of the best preserved missions in the area. Founded in 1692 when Arizona was still New Spain, the mission is the oldest Catholic church in the United States. The mission combines elements of Spanish, Moorish and baroque styles, and inside you can see a selection of statues and frescoes. If you don’t have time for any other day trips listed in our Tucson travel guide, you should head to Mission San Xavier Del Bac. It’s only a short 20-minute drive south of downtown Tucson, doesn’t require a whole lot of time, and is well worth a visit.

Mission San Xavier Del Bac

Tombstone and Bisbee

A little further away, Tombstone and Bisbee can still be visited in a day trip, and you can easily fit in both towns. The 70 miles from Tucson to Tombstone will take you around 1 hour and 20 minutes, and it takes another 30 minutes to get from Tombstone to Bisbee. Tombstone is known for its old Western image, having been the home of Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday and many other Wild West heroes. The little Western town still looks like in its heyday 130 years ago, with several saloons, cowboys roaming the town and of course the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral which is re-enacted daily.

Tombstone ArizonaBisbee, a former mining town, has now transformed in a creative community of artists and is a pleasant little town to spend an afternoon in. There are plenty of art galleries, restaurants and cafes, specialty shops and the Copper Mine which can be toured. The charming little town of only 6,200 people is perched on the hillsides of the surrounding mountains and features some beautiful Victorian-style houses and an art-deco courthouse.

Bisbee Arizona

Where to eat in Tucson, Arizona

  • Café Poca Cosa – Café Poca Cosa is famous for its Southwestern and Mexican cuisine. The Plato Poca Cosa comes with three entrees to sample for $20.
  • Cup Café – The Cup Café belongs to the historic Hotel Congress in the center of Tucson, just opposite the train station. It is a great spot to have breakfast at.

Cup Cafe Breakfast Skillet

  • Maynards Market & KitchenMaynards is basically right inside the train station and offers great views over the trains that pass through Tucson while you have lunch. It is a great place for cocktails or drinks, and also has delicious brunch options.
  • Rosa’s Mexican Food – Rosa’s is a small family-owned restaurant, with classic Mexican dishes for little money. All the dishes are made using Rosa’s family recipes and entrees are $7 -$10.
  • Beyond BreadNot only for bread lovers, this bakery and restaurant offers a full lunch menu as well, but you will love the selection of baked goods as well. They have a wide selection of international breakfasts, lunch includes salads, soups and mac’n’cheese in several forms.
  • Epic Café – The Epic Café on 4th Avenue is a little coffee house that serves organic food and is popular with the independent crowd. You can get inexpensive breakfasts, sandwiches and pastries.

tucson epic cafe

  • Mi NiditoThis Mexican restaurant, located in Tucson’s historic Old Pueblo, was made famous by celebrity visits such as Bill Clinton’s or Julio Iglesias. They offer classic Mexican dishes and you can even the President’s Plate, the dish Bill Clinton ate on his visit in 1999.
  • Govinda’s – Govinda’s is an unpretentious Indian restaurant that serves a vegetarian natural foods buffet. The restaurant has a large outdoor area and we enjoyed the selection of Indian dishes, salads and home-made bread. The lunch buffet (Wed – Sat) is $7.95, and dinner is (Tues – Sat) is $9.95, including drinks.
  • Cartel Coffee Lab –This spacious independent coffee shop has three locations in Tucson, offering a selection of specialty coffees. The knowledgeable baristas serve coffee in a brewing technique of your choice and was recently named one of America’s best coffee bars by Food & Wine.

Tucson Cartel Coffee Lab

Where to stay in Tucson, Arizona

You can find every major hotel and motel chain in Tucson, as well as RV parks and camp sites, but in my Tucson travel guide I wanted to highlight some hotels that aren’t chains or if they are, they’re worth a splurge.

Budget:

  • 3 Palms Tucson North Foothills – modern hotel near Sabino Canyon in the northwest of Tucson. Every studio is equipped with a microwave, tea and coffee maker and a fridge. Outdoor pool and sundeck. King studio including breakfast from $66 per night
  • Hotel McCoy – Art, Coffee, Beer, Wine – Artsy 3-star hotel with a funky vibe. Outdoor pool, sauna, fitness center and table tennis. Free bicycle hire. Double room including breakfast from $99 per night.
  • Hotel Congress – If you would like to stay right downtown, the historic Hotel Congress is the perfect place for you. The hotel was the site of John Dillinger’s arrest and still has the old time feel of the Wild West. The rooms have all been renovated and updated, but there is a still a story in every detail, like the colorful murals on the wall or the classic Tap Room Bar. Double rooms range from $89 to 149
  • Adobe Rose Inn – The Inn was built in 1933 and is located in the historic Sam Hughes neighborhood near the UoA. The Inn has an outdoor swimming pool and a sun terrace in a beautiful garden. Many rooms have fireplaces. Fabulous 3-course breakfast included in the room rate. Double rooms start at $122.

Tucson Hotel Congress

Mid-range:

  • El Amador Downtown Luxury Inn: Beautiful boutique hotel with a lovely backyard and garden right in downtown Tucson. Studio from $115, studio with hot tub $130.
  • Desert Dove Bed & Breakfast: Located just outside of Tucson, it is a secluded B&B with scenic mountain views, close to the Saguaro National Park, with trails starting right on the property. The owners Harvey and Betty Ross take pride in maintaining the historic feeling of the house and serve a delightful gourmet breakfast every morning. Price: $130 – $145 including breakfast.
  • El Presidio InnThis historic B&B is set in a fantastic location right in the Old Pueblo in downtown Tucson and has four guest suites. All rooms are filled with antique furnishings and artwork, come with a kitchenette, TV, wifi, fluffy bathrobes and a hot country breakfast. Price: $142 – $149 including breakfast
  • The Downtown Clifton Hotel: Unique 3-star hotel in the center of Tucson, where retro chic meets contemporary design. Beautiful outdoor pool, rooms all have a patio. Double room $149

Splurge:

  • Arizona Inn: Historic boutique hotel in downtown Tucson, with an outdoor pool, fitness center, tennis courts, badminton and three on-site restaurants. Free valet and free bicycle rentals. Double rooms from $219
  • The Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa: Tucson’s Westin sits in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains and is a spacious resort with several swimming pools, 10 tennis courts, five swimming pools, an Elizabeth Arden® day spa, a Jack Nicklaus golf course, and various restaurants. All rooms have either balconies or courtyards from which guests can enjoy the superb mountain vistas. Double rooms from $365.
  • Loews Ventana Canyon Resort: Set right by Sabino Canyon, also in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Loews Ventana Canyon Resort is another large resort, complete with two 18-hole golf courses, a health spa, two swimming pools, tennis courts and various waterfall-dotted nature trails. The spacious guest rooms all feature views over Tucson and the Sonoran Desert or the Catalina Mountains and have private patios or balconies. Double rooms start at $429

Tucson Travel GuideHave you been to Tucson? What would you say belongs in a Tucson travel guide?

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Why We Didn’t Like Niagara Falls (But Still Recommend You Go!)

niagara falls bridal veil falls

This is Niagara Falls? On our way to visit Niagara Falls, Dani and I had both been picturing rustic log-cabin restaurants, maybe a few lumberjacks, a small town feel and definitely something a bit more romantic. After all this is supposed to be the Honeymoon Capital of the World. We never expected this…mega tourist trap.

Pulling into town, however, we found ourselves suddenly driving downhill on a wide street with cheesy tourist attractions stacked up tightly on either side. A wax museum, a haunted house, Ripley’s Believe it or Not…

“Wait, is that another wax museum?” I asked.  “I think so,” Dani remarked. “And I just saw two more haunted houses on my side.”

As we reached the bottom of this long, strange road, I turned right – away from the Hershey’s Chocolate store and toward the intense sound of rushing water.

niagara falls town

Should you even visit Niagara Falls?

Yes, Niagara Falls are magnificent.

Just a split second after leaving behind the uninspiring town, there it was! The awe-inspiring view of Niagara Falls. There are actually three sets of falls pounding into the Niagara river below: the American Falls and smaller Bridal Veil Falls on the American side, and the massive Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side. Immediately humbled, we cruised slowly along the four-lane thoroughfare which hugs the pedestrian viewing along the cliffs, gawking at the sheer size of this sight.

We managed to find $5 parking (instead of the lots with New York City level prices) and walked down to gaze at the Falls. Seeing Niagara Falls on postcards and in pictures does not compare to the sight of this incredible natural wonder in person. Two things really stood out. First, the water seems to speed up as it reaches the falls, as if it can not wait to plunge over the cliff. By the time it goes over, the water is moving so quickly and just looking at this makes you comprehend your own delicate mortality.

Second, the sheer force with which the 4 million cubic feet of water per minute hits the river below causes much of it to shoot back up into the air, with the spray reaching at least twice as high as the 180 feet it dropped in the first place. This ‘cloud’ of mist can be seen even when the Falls themselves are out of view. This part of the walkway, and all onlookers standing here, is soaking wet.

Also read: The Niagara Falls Smackdown: The American Falls vs. the Canadian Falls

visit Niagara Falls

visit Niagara Falls

The Maid of the Mist is a MUST!

Being such a popular tourist attraction, there are several tours to choose from which will get you up close and almost within reach of the Falls. We steered away from the package deals and chose only the 30-minute Maid of the Mist boat tour. With all passengers covered in plastic ponchos, the boat set off onto the Niagara river, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario and forms the border between the U.S. and Canada. The steady ship reached the Horseshoe Falls within minutes and we were immediately drenched by the mist. Actually feeling how much water soaked us at the edge of the mist helped to visualize just how much water is contained within the waterfalls themselves. We can highly recommend doing this tour as it is quick, painless and gets right to the point. While it feels adventurous, boats leave every half hour from the dock to the falls, making this a common and safe experience for everyone. We say: The Maid of the Mist is a MUST when you visit Niagara Falls!

visit Niagara Falls

Indeed, these imposing waterfalls are one of nature’s incredible wonders, and everyone should visit Niagara Falls if they get the chance. Most agree that the views are better from the Canadian side, but cross the Rainbow Bridge to the American side and check it out for yourself. From what we could see, there are far less tourist eyesores and it could well be a more natural experience. Back on the Canadian side, we just couldn’t help but be disappointed by the fact that Niagara Falls might just be the most unnatural wonder we’ll ever visit. Luckily, we found a solution, a way out of the tourist trap – and it involves a lot of wine.

Winding our way through the wineries

No, there was no drowning of sorrows in copious amounts of wine. Instead, after beating the crowds to some breathtaking early morning views at Niagara Falls, we set off into the Canadian wine country. Sleepy narrow two-lane roads weave through historic villages which open up into vast fields filled with countless rows of wine as far as the eye can see. We glided along the road, stopping in for samples at a few charming wineries and picking up fresh organic peaches, pears and veggies from farmers stands along the way.

Tip: Try the sweet dessert ‘ice wine’, a local Ontario wine which uses grapes picked only after the first frost of the year.

Suddenly, 15km from Niagara Falls, a spot of slow traffic began when there had previously been only a few cars on the road. Where were we all of a sudden, we wondered?

niagara wine country ontario

Love at first sight: Niagara-on-the-Lake

This charming, historic town of Niagara-on-the-Lake is everything Niagara Falls is not. Independent shops and restaurants fill the bottom floors of historic buildings, which are set back on streets lined with breezy trees, exotic flowers and lovely sidewalks meant for strolling. Everything in town seems to center around good food and good wine.

Whereas the town of Niagara Falls seems like Las Vegas without the flash and fun, Niagara-on-the-Lake is more like the Canadian version of Tuscany, with its Dolce Vita attitude. Surrounded by 26 wineries, it seems easy to focus on the ‘sweet life’ here.

It was love at first sight, and as we rambled along peeking into shops and checking out restaurant menus, we made an even more exciting discovery. Food and drink here is more fairly priced for infinitely higher quality than the fast food tourist fare down the road. To add to our delight, we spotted plenty of affordable classic hotels and boutique bed and breakfasts throughout town.

As we left Niagara-on-the-Lake, the car was filled with delicious wine, fresh blueberry scones and our homegrown fruit and veg to enjoy once we got back home.

niagara on the lake

niagara wine country fruit stand

Niagara Falls Tip:

If you visit Niagara Falls, which you really should, skip the cheapie budget digs on ‘motel row’ out of town, and don’t waste serious cash on the 42-story hotel/casino monstrosities all vying for the best views of the falls. We say make Niagara-on-the-Lake your base, take a couple of day trips to the falls and spend the evenings relaxing in this adorable haven just down the road.

The best hotels in Niagara-on-the-Lake:

Inexpensive hotels:

  • Hilton Garden Inn Niagara-On-The-Lake: Small hotel with an indoor swimming pool, free parking and an on-site restaurant. Double rooms start at US$90 per night
  • Holiday Inn Express: 3-star hotel with indoor pool, fitness center and spacious rooms. Double rooms start at US$89 per night.
  • Best Western Butler Colonel Inn: Small hotel with fitness center, comfortable rooms and a good location. Double rooms start at US$89 per night, including breakfast.

Mid-range hotels:

  • 124 on Queen Hotel & Spa: Charming small hotel in historic buildings right on Queen Street in the Old Town with large rooms and luxury villas. There is a spa, a cafe and a restaurant on site. Deluxe rooms start at US$154 per night.
  • Historic Wilson Guy House: B&B in a historic 1816 building near Queen Street. Rooms start at US$150 per night, including breakfast.
  • School House Bed & Breakfast: Small B&B with a shared lounge and a garden. Rooms start at US$181 per night, breakfast included.

Splurge:

  • Pillar & Post Inn & Spa: The small boutique hotel features an outdoor swimming pool, a spa and an onsite restaurant. Premium rooms start at US$268, which includes breakfast and dinner.
  • Prince Of Wales: An intimate luxury hotel in a historic Victorian building. Rooms are decorated with antiques. there is an art-lined indoor pool room and whirlpool. The spa offers a variety of massage and tea-based treatments; the restaurant offers daily afternoon tea. Room start at US$284, which includes breakfast and dinner.
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5 Top Countries for Nurses to Travel to for Work

© Mykwain Gainey, www.mykwain.com

All around the world, nurses do an incredible job at the front line of medical and health care. For those training to be a nurse or already working in nursing, this career offers an incredible opportunity to work almost anywhere, with no community worldwide where nurses cannot offer their skills, expertise, and care. From answering questions about patient issues via telephone to helping them decide on the best medical alert system. Whether you are studying to become a nurse and considering working abroad or are a nurse who is looking for a change of scenery, there are plenty of countries around the world where nurses can enjoy a fulfilling, meaningful career along with a great lifestyle. Here are some of the best countries around the world for nurses to work:

New Zealand

In New Zealand, the healthcare system is divided between private care and state-funded, and there are opportunities for nurses to work in both. The public system makes up around 80% of the healthcare providers in the country, while the remainder is provided by private hospitals and doctors. Healthcare is a well-supported industry here, with state funding making up around 10% of the GDP, just over the average. Nurses in New Zealand are equipped with modern working environments with the latest up-to-date equipment and technology. Doctor’s appointments here are paid for by the patient, but treatment in state clinics and hospitals is free.

There are many great reasons to consider moving to New Zealand as a nurse, including:

  • They’re currently on a recruitment drive, with a goal of increasing their nursing workforce by 25.000 in the next ten years.
  • Expats and nurses who trained overseas make up over 40% of healthcare professionals in the country.
  • There’s a high chance of your working visa application being accepted if you have the skills needed to fill one of the several advertised roles.
  • A minimum amount of four weeks paid annual leave in a year along with generous salaries.

Australia

Similar to New Zealand, the Australian healthcare system also has a combination of private and public healthcare available, and while some doctor’s appointments are paid for, most healthcare is free for those taking advantage of the public system. Australia also invests heavily in healthcare, so nurses working here will benefit from a modern working environment and state-of-the-art facilities and equipment.

There’s a high level of demand for nurses in Australia and a very proactive recruitment drive. Nurses at the top of their field are often ‘scouted’ by the government. Nurses who have qualified with an advanced degree from Baylor University Online will need to undergo an International English Language Test regardless of their first language in order to qualify for Australian nursing registration. Holding qualifications that are recognized by the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Board may make it easier to get a visa, but Australia recruits talented nurses from all over the world. Nurses can enjoy:

  • A wide range of places to live and work from rural areas to busy modern cities
  • A high level of investment in education and further qualifications for healthcare staff
  • Reciprocal healthcare provided for yourself
  • Great work/life balance
  • Generous salaries

Australia

Denmark

Denmark is a country offering a unique opportunity for nurses who want to work in a healthcare system that is completely state-funded. It is also one of Europe’s top countries for healthcare provision, with an incredibly well-organized system and exceptionally modern working environments. In Denmark, nurses report extremely high levels of job satisfaction and are happy with their roles.

EU nationals do not need a visa to work in Denmark but nurses from the U.S. will need to apply for the right to work in the country. Irrespective of where you are coming from, you will need to be authorized by the appropriate healthcare governing bodies in order to start working here. It is also required for all nurses moving to Denmark to work to be proficient in the Danish language, and you may be asked to take a language test in order to be authorized to start working.

Nurses in Denmark can expect:

  • A friendly and informal work environment with equality between healthcare professionals, who all go by first names only
  • Six weeks of paid annual leaves per year
  • One of the best nursing salaries in Europe

copenhagen
 

Canada

With a modern public healthcare system in place, Canada is an excellent choice for nurses who are looking to move from the U.S. thanks to its proximity to the country and non-existed language barrier. In order to work in Canada as a nurse, you’ll need to first submit an online form to get the documentation process started, which can take anywhere from three to eighteen months depending on your personal circumstances. You’ll also need to take an examination to get a board certification from the College of Nurses of Ontario before you will be able to practice as a nurse here.

Nursing in Canada comes with:

    • The easy visa application process for U.S-based nurses
    • An average salary of $51,000 per year
    • Modern working environments

canada flowers

The UK

Similar to Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, the UK is an excellent choice for nurses who want to work abroad without the language barrier. Working for the National Health Service is the most popular option for nurses in the UK, but there are private hospitals and clinics too. There are plenty of opportunities for advancement, and life can be excellent as a nurse once you reach higher levels. Entry-level nurses start out on around $30,000 per year which can increase to as much as $43,000 annually with experience. In order to become a nurse in the UK, you’ll need to be qualified with at least a degree in pre-registration nursing. You’ll also need to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and complete an assessment.

Nurses in the UK can expect:

  • A range of settings to work and live in, from rural countryside areas to major cities
  • Plenty of opportunities for career progression

Whether you’re down for learning a new language or want to work somewhere without a language barrier, nurses can find meaningful work all over the world. Where will your nursing career take you?

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Savannah, GA – To tour or not to tour?

african beers at savannah craft brew fest

If you had asked the two of us about city tours a few years ago, we would have rolled our eyes at you. Tours are for package tourists, we would have told you, followed by: Travel is about soaking up local culture, not going on tours. Fast-forward to the present day, to a couple that now lives and breathes travel, and our opinion has changed a bit with experience.

Do not misunderstand – we would never advocate organized tours as the principal way to see a city (that is just lazy!). There are, however, definite advantages, especially for time-starved visitors. Certain tours make finding out more details/facts about the city, seeing more neighborhoods and getting your bearings in a city much easier.

When we arrived in Savannah for our five-day stay, we were shocked at just how many tours this small Southern city of just 137,000 has on offer – a number easily on par with New York, Paris or London. Alarm bells sounded, red flags were raised…Savannah’s breezy city center is compact and can be explored on foot in a day or two.

Do you really need to take a tour in Savannah at all?

savannah carriage tourWe say yes…Savannah has one of the most unique, interesting stories of all U.S. cities, most of which would go overlooked on a series of leisurely strolls across the famous squares and Forsyth Park without a guide. Taking one of the hop-on, hop-off tours (we liked the Savannah Trolley Tours) can be a good way to dip into a quick history lesson and get a sense of the size of the city center.

The two of us are absolute movie geeks and Savannah, known as the Hollywood of the South, has starred next to Kevin Spacey and Tom Hanks as a key film location in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and Forrest Gump – among many, many other films. And so it was that, with limited time to see city between our stints both judging and partaking in the Savannah Craft Brew Festival over Labor Day Weekend, we chose to take a movie tour over the Black History Tour, which ran at the same time.

The truth is, Savannah Movie Tours was actually the most disappointing tour we have ever taken.

Tricked by the shiny wrapping, this was an utter disappointment – what we would have given for a ‘Do Over’. The 90-minute outing, which costs $25 per person, stops at various movie locations and flat screen TVs inside the bus show clips of the movie set in the location. Much of the information given was the same as the hop-on, hop-off tours, plus the clips were too short and paying attention to the clip and the boring guide (we kept track of his ums and uhs until we lost count) at the same time was too hard. Maybe we couldn’t keep up because the air-conditioning was cranked up so high in the bus that it actually froze our brains. Everyone on board was shivering (outside, a 100 degree southern summer heat), and Jess nearly lost it when, at the end, the guide had the nerve to ask if we wanted to stop at the famous Leopold’s ice cream. Were the 12 of us freezey-pops not enough?!best tours in Savannah

Pick a Savannah tour – just not any tour

So how to find the best tours in Savannah? Check reviews and recommendations on sites like TripAdvisor before you book, plain and simple. Below is a listing of the types of tours available in Savannah. Each type often has 2-5 tour companies offering the same thing:

  • Savannah trolley tours
  • Savannah hop 0n, hop off tours
  • Savannah walking tours
  • Savannah haunted walking tours
  • Savannah foodie tours
  • Savannah movie tours
 

 

  • Savannah horse carriage tours
  • Savannah ghost tours
  • Savannah riverboat tours
  • Savannah historic homes & gardens tours
  • Savannah black history tours
  • Savannah pub crawls and martini tours

best tours in Savannah

The best tours we chose in Savannah

For history buffs, several historic homes offer tours of the house and gardens. These shine a personal light on history as you catch a frozen moment of a bygone era – how the bedrooms looked, the history of the house, what the customs were. We especially loved the tour of the Mercer Wiliams House, the home of the flamboyant Savannah playboy Jim Williams, familiar to some as the main character in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Having never heard of Savannah icon and Food Network cooking star Paula Deen, we couldn’t miss learning about her in Savannah. Fans line up to eat at her Lady and Sons restaurant (get there early, the lines are looooong) and there are also Savannah food tours. True foodies might best enjoy the Savannah food tour – a great introduction to Southern cuisine with strong reviews on Trip Advisor and this USA Today article.

For people who are interested in African American history in the South, the Black History Tour includes remnants of the Underground Railroad, Old Black Communities and slave burial grounds.

savannah wright square at night

Savannah is also known as one of the most haunted cities in America. The city’s history is filled with plagues, wars, duels, and murders and every cemetery and Gothic mansion has a ghost story of some type to tell. Not surprisingly there are 31 ghost tours: A Savannah sixth sense tour, a Ghosts & Gravestones tour, a creepy pub crawl, a Savannah Hearse tour (check out Amanda’s coverage of the Savannah hearse tour over at A Dangerous Business), to name only a few.

With a late evening free, we opted for a simple walking ghost tour. It was not electrifying and more like a non-ghost walking tour, until we toured the Juliette Gordon Low birth house (founder of the Girl Scouts), whose ghost stories were creepy enough to get the hair on the back of our necks standing on end.

Whether you are immune to tours or addicted to them, Savannah confronts you with a seemingly infinite amount of shiny packaging… just make sure to do your own research before choosing a tour. Most importantly, sit down on a bench like Forrest Gump in each of Savannah’s 24 breezy squares and take in the mingling of the city’s eccentrics, its visitors and the daily life of the Savannah locals. It is free and the best entertainment of all!

best tours in Savannah

For comprehensive listings about the best tours in Savannah, check out VisitSavannah.com and TripAdvisor Savannah, two great resources on what to do in Savannah.

Have you been to Savannah? Would recommend any Savannah tours? In general, how do you feel about taking tours while visiting a city?

 

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How to book a houseboat in Kerala

kerala backwaters

Exploring the backwaters of Kerala on a houseboat cruise is truly a once in a lifetime experience (you can read about our three-day Kerala houseboat cruise here), but how you plan for this trip can make or break your experience. There are a few things you should know before you book your houseboat in Kerala in order to avoid being disappointed.

backwaters kerala houseboatWe spent over two full days in two different cities trying to sort out our houseboat. The experience is a bit DIY, with the quality varying greatly. We looked at seven different boats and considered several others, and discovered that no boat / owner / tour operator is quite the same. That is why we put together these tips on how to book a houseboat in Kerala in order to make your cruise out on the backwaters the magical experience it can be.

Know the different options for houseboats in Kerala

Regardless of your budget, there are a few things that should come standard when you book a houseboat in Kerala. There are day cruises or overnights. We would definitely advise a two-night cruise. One night is too little, but we found three nights to be unnecessary.

Your boat should be a traditional kettuvallam, the ones with thatched roofs, and ideally it has an upper deck with at least one sofa. Several boats we saw only had chairs, but a backwater cruise is ultimately about relaxation. Having an upper deck gets you more space; privacy from the captain/crew and the higher perspective is perfect for snapping incredible pictures and watching villages go by from above.

backwater houseboat sundeck

The following things should be included in the price when you book a houseboat in Kerala:

  • Three meals per day, plus an afternoon snack – make clear whether you want western style of Indian breakfasts
  • Tea, coffee and water
  • Welcome drinks
  • Fruit basket
  • Towels and soap
  • A working fan in each bedroom

kerala houseboat fruit basketThe boat won’t stock alcohol or soft drinks for you, so stock up on however much you’ll need. We brought snacks on board as well – but never got around to eating them since we were so incredibly well fed.

Start your Kerala houseboat trip in Alleppey (not Kollam) 

Houseboats in Kerala are not regulated and therefore the quality of boats can vary widely. We looked at seven boats before choosing one, and while this is extreme, we suggest you look at least three houseboats before committing.

Travelers to Kerala might start off from Fort Cochin, and this quaint little town has plenty of tour operators offering days and overnights in the backwaters. However, with the huge difference in quality, you need to see the boat. If you have pre-booked, you have lost all your leverage to re-negotiate if you do not like your boat.

Some people (and guidebooks) suggest setting off from less popular Kollam for better luck than popular Alleppey, also known as Alappuzha.

backwater houseboatsTo this, we say that there is a reason Kollam is less popular: it is a basic, unremarkable city with little to offer visitors (terrible hotel selection) and limited selection of houseboats. In addition, the tours offered that leave from Kollam tend to head to and around a lake and back, while tours from Alleppey, a 1.5 hour drive (or 8 hour water taxi ride) north has more flexible trips and over 350 boats to choose from in the off season alone. This is why we recommend you travel to Alleppey to book your houseboat in Kerala.

Skip the water taxi option

When shopping around, at some point, there will be mention that there is a water taxi between Kollam and Alleppey. This is true – there is a 300 rupee ferry ($6) that leaves everyday between the towns, and you will see the same sights as on a houseboat cruise. However, the ferries are rust buckets, loud, smell of gas, packed to brim with commuters and there are no bathrooms. If you are a terribly strict budget this might be an option, but for everyone else, we advise you to opt for the infinitely more relaxing houseboat.

backwater cruise companies

Show up at the dock on the day you want to sail (Off season)

If you are in India during the off season, booking a houseboat is much easier than high season. Simply take a tuk-tuk to the dock on the morning you would like to depart and start shopping for a boat. You can look at several, choose one and go back to your hotel and get your things. In that time they will go buy all supplies and get ready to welcome you abroad. There is no point planning a day in advance, because unless you get there that day around 9am, all the good boats are gone out on the backwaters until the next morning anyway. This way you can avoid being smooth-talked into reserving a boat you’ve never seen.

In the high season, we still recommend getting to the dock yourself and looking at the boats, but it might be best to do it one day in advance. Just make sure to show up before 9:30am so you have the chance to see many boats to book for the next day.

Golden Rule: you must step aboard the boat and approve it before setting sail.

Bargain, bargain, bargain for your houseboat in Kerala

Kerala tourism is well-developed and the houseboat operators are well aware of the top price that foreign and Indian tourists are willing to shell out, but they are also ready to bargain with you. This is India after all.

We paid 7,000 Rupees ($125) per night for a two-bedroom boat with all food and transportation costs included. This works out to just over $30 per person, all daily expenses included, though air-conditioning will double the price to $250 per night at least.

backwater houseboat bedroomThis means that in total for a two-night cruise, we paid 14,000 Rupees. But we were initially quoted 20,000 Rupees for the same exact experience, meaning we reduced the price by 30 per cent. If bargaining makes you uncomfortable and you have the budget, we are not saying that this is essential. However, the profits on these houseboat trips are extremely high for the owners of the boat and we prefer to cut the overall cost and then give the chef and captain an extra large tip at the end instead. Just haggle, stick to your price, take their card (oh, they all have business cards) and walk away. After a while, you will get the price you are willing to pay for your Kerala houseboat trip.

If you don’t have time to find a houseboat in person:

I realize that not everyone has the time and convenience to spend time in Alleppey or Kollam and is able to scope out the best houseboat operators in person. If you want to book your Kerala houseboat before you arrive in India, check out these boats on Booking.com, a trusted online travel agency.

Tip: If you book a houseboat online, make sure to read reviews carefully – especially recent reviews. For the price you are paying (you’ll pay more if you book online), you’ll want to make sure you get the best possible experience.

Extra tip for the bug squeamish
You have chosen a well-maintained houseboat, so there should be no big issues, but when docked at night you are open to the elements. While we ate there were many bugs flying around the lights, even while we ate. If this will bother you, consider specifically requesting a houseboat with a downstairs patio enclosed in glass. We are not sure how many have that and what the price differential is, but saw quite a few float by, even in the low season.

india kerala backwatersWe hope these tips help you find the perfect houseboat for your backwaters cruise. This experience was the highlight of our five weeks in India and we wish the same for you!

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