So you’re heading to Peru? Amazing! Now I’m going to tell you why you should definitely do a homestay on Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca.
When thinking of a visit to Peru, one thinks of llamas, ceviche and of course Machu Picchu. There are so many places in this beautiful country thought that can take your breath away. Located on the southeast border of Peru and Bolivia, Lake Titicaca is one of them. This large blue lake is the highest navigable body of water in the world at an altitude of 12,507 feet.
When we first considered going to Peru, I was not considering a homestay on Taquile Island. I even read another blogger’s article, who said Lake Titicaca was the least favorite art of their trip! I am so glad though that my husband convinced me to go though. Otherwise I would have missed this completely unique and beautiful experience.
We arrived in Puno just before sunrise after a 6 hour overnight bus ride from Cusco. Cruz del Sur, the company we booked with, had comfortable reclining seats, bathrooms on board, pillows, blankets, snacks…honestly it was more comfortable that sleeping on a plane!
Arrival in Puno
At the bus station in Puno you will encounter several people rather aggressively promoting their tours of Lake Titicaca. I suggest you wait and take a taxi to the port to see what boat collectivos are available. You might have to wait a bit till a boat fills up, but you will find one going to Taquile. It was very cheap (around 25 soles aka $8.3 USD) for a RT ticket. There are also boats traveling back to Puno every day, so just ask what time you should be back on the dock for your return.
Boat to Taquile
Whichever boat you take will likely stop at Uros, which are a series of floating reed islands. I heard this this was the most “tourist trappy” part of the area, so my expectations were low. It turned out though to be a pretty unique sight. Once you arrive on the island you are given a presentation (in Spanish) by a local explaining their way of life and how the islands were built. You are then invited into the home of another local who will take out all of her handicrafts and try to sell them to you (a bit awkward). We did get away with buying a friendship bracelet and a keychain.
Taquile Arrival & Homestay
Now we were ready for our homestay on Taquile! After Uros the boat continues on to Taquile and it takes about 2.5 hours. For some reason the boat is EXTREMELY slow. The plus side is if you are prone to seasickness as you will most likely not have any problems!
We booked our accommodation with him that very morning on Booking.com, and he got in touch with me via WhatsApp to confirm the time we would be at the dock. He walked us to his home which was up several steep hills (be prepared, the altitude here is no joke) and showed us to our room which was clean, comfortable and detached from the main house. We also had access to a real bathroom with running water (not a given on the island) and a hot shower. The island has no electricity except for solar panels, so if we wanted to charge our phones we would need to give them to him to do so with his solar powered battery.
Life on Taquile is wonderfully and refreshingly simple.
The air is some of the cleanest you will ever breath, due to the lack of car fumes. The only sounds you hear are from people and nature, and purple and yellow flowers from the potato plants dot the green hilly fields. You pass people dressed in brightly knit traditional clothing – sometimes weaving as they walk.
Eat & Drink
The only restaurants on Taquile are cooperatives, meaning that local families take turns working at them and supplying the ingredients. They eat an almost strictly pescatarian diet, and your meals there will always consist of quinoa soup to start, followed by grilled trout and potatoes with muña or coca tea to finish.
Your homestay with Celso will include breakfast. You can choose to add on dinner to your stay (trout soup & omelet) which was also very good and a nice experience to dine with the family. They did not speak English (only Spanish and their native Quechua language) and we had very rudimentary Spanish, however we were able to have meaningful interaction. Celso’s 13 year old son sat with us as well, working on his knitting as his father had taught him.
The next day we departed from another side of the island, so we got to see even more beautiful scenery and dine at another cooperative restaurant before catching our boat. I left feeling refreshed, enlightened grateful to have such an awesome opportunity. Out of everything we did in Peru, this might have been my favorite and certainly my most memorable experience, and I hope this post encourages you to look into doing a homestay on this island like we did!
Things to do on Taquile Island:
Walk around – the scenery is remarkable here. You can walk to the top of the mountain to see Inca Ruins and an incredible 360 degree view of the island and the lake.
Visit the main square and knitting cooperative. We spent an hour sitting in the sun in the square, observing the locals and tourists and even kicking around a soccer ball. There are little convenience shops, a cooperative restaurant, photo exhibit and even a place to get a special passport stamp.
There is also a huge knitting cooperative where the locals work to handcraft beautiful garments that you can purchase. Save room in your suitcase is there is almost no comparison to the quality between what we saw there and the massed produced items of the markets in Lima and Cusco.
Swim! We walked to the smaller beach which was closer to where we stayed. There honestly isn’t a clear path down to the beach, but you will find a roundabout way to get down there. We were the only ones, besides a herd of curious sheep watching our every move. The water was pretty cold, but Mike swam anyways. I watched with the sheep.
Get to know your host family. Even speaking basic Spanish I was able to find out things about their way of life, education system, what countries their tourism mainly comes from, etc. By staying with a local family you have a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about a remote culture.
Important Practical Information:
Pack light! There are no cars or ways to carry luggage other than your own brute strength.
You might not have acccess to electricity, so charge your devices before you go and pack a portable batter/charger if this is important to you.
Celso and his wife and son were a delight to stay with. Very helpful, yet we had time and space to do our own thing. Our room was clean and comfortable, the shower was hot and they cooked us a delicious dinner and breakfast. I would definitely recommend them for your stay on Taquile Island!
Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes was on of the highlights of our Peru trip. Before I planned on going to Peru, I really didn’t know much about the process of getting to Machu Picchu. I knew we needed to get to Cusco – go to Machu Picchu. Easy, right? Well, turns out, there are no direct roads leading from Cusco to Machu Picchu. You cannot drive, Uber or take a taxi.
Our visit happened to be during the rainy season, when the Inca trail is closed for maintenance. There are other treks and expeditions you can take though that involve hiking on alternate trails.
You can also take a train to Aguas Calientes and then a bus to the site. If you’re up to it, you can walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. I’m told can be done in about an hour and a half.
When you arrive in Cusco there are TONS of tour agencies offering to coordinate your trip. For instance, on our hotel street alone there were at least 5 different tour agencies. One agency $250 USD per person for the next day, including train, bus, admission & guide. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, we decided then try to wait and DIY it for Machu Picchu. It ended up being a good thing because the next day we came down with food poisoning. Imagine if we had pre-booked all of our tickets for the next day?! Phew!)
Based on recommendations, we decided to sleep in Aguas Calientes, then go to Machu Picchu in the early morning. Most of the time you can take a train directly there from Cusco. However, during the rainy season busses replace trains between Cusco and Ollantaytambo. We took a taxi to Ollantaytambo so we could explore and then took the 3:35pm PeruRail Vistadome train. This is the mid range train with a panoramic view.
The Expedition, a budget option without the panoramic windows, and the
Belmond Hiram Bingham, a luxury rail experience.
The train was really nice! They serve you complimentary tea/coffee and a snack while you ride up. The views really are spectacular – it took about an hour and 45 minutes.
What to Do in Aguas Calientes
Arrival in Aguas Calientes is exciting. Everyone is coming for one purpose and you can feel the energy. In addition, It’s quite a sight to see: a strange town in the middle of a lush jungle. The buildings are all piled up on one another, every other one under construction. There are also no cars besides the buses that go up to Machu Picchu. There are a selection of budget to luxury hotels and hostels here. We chose a mid range option, Gringo Bill’s based on it’s price, last-minute availability and Booking.com rating.
Your first priority: head to the Machu Picchu office and bus ticket counter. You buy admission for a 4 hour time slot, as they only allow a certain number of people to view the site at once. You can also purchase admission to climb Machu Picchu Mountain or Huayna Picchu mountain with your admission tickets. We decided not to do either one and just purchase the admission from 6am to 10am. The bus tickets are general admission and you can get on at whatever time you choose.
We had a lovely dinner at Tree House Restaurante, one of the more high-end dining options in Aguas Calientes.
Visiting Machu Picchu
The morning of our visit we were worried we wouldn’t make the first bus. In reality there were several buses lined up and we got on one right away. The bus ride also has phenomenal views so try to get a window seat! Once you arrive at the entrance you will immediately be approached by guides offering their services. We ended up joining an existing group with an English guide. As a result we payed significantly less per person than having a private tour. Make sure you secure your guide before you enter, as once you enter there are no guide services. Unless you have an independent knowledge of Incan history, I really do think it’s essential to have a guide. Otherwise you won’t really know what you are looking at and having the background adds so much to your experience.
There are NO BATHROOMS inside the gates Machu Picchu, only at the entrance! In addition, bring a snack if you think you’ll get hungry…although you may have to share with a llama.
Machu Picchu Cost Breakdown PP in USD
Taxi to Ollantaytambo
Vistadome PeruRail Train From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes
Machu Picchu Entrance Fee
Round Trip Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu
Joined Group Guided Tour
IncaRail Voyager Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco
*Accomodations & Food in Aguas Calientes NOT included
In conclusion, as you can see, we did not save much doing a DIY version. My takeaway though was that you can DIY for a similar price and have more freedom over your time frame. If you don’t want to worry about anything and have everything already pre-purchased and taken care of? Do it through an agency. It should not cost you much more than buying it piece meal. I liked sleeping in Aguas Calientes the night before and being one of the first people to enter the site for the day.
Remember: this was done during the Off Season! Prices and availability will vary if you visit during more popular times. If you do decide to visit during the popular season, I would recommend booking more in advance than we did!
Bring water and a snack with you – after you enter the gate of Machu Picchu there are no services. There are bathrooms and a snack bar right outside.
If you bring your passport you can get a special Machu Picchu stamp!
Try to get a window seat on the bus up the mountain, the view is spectacular.
Looking for the ultimate 3-week itinerary for Colombia? I’m going to help you out! We spent 3 amazing weeks in Colombia, South America for our honeymoon. I put together an itinerary that has beaches, city life, rainforests, national parks, and a trip to the most beautiful island I’ve ever visited.
Since this 3-week itinerary for Colombia is a rough guide, you can decide how long or short you want to make your visit to any of the destinations depending on how much time you have.
Medellin → Cartagena → San Andres/Providencia → Palomino → Minca
Finca Marrokos| Kilometro 4.5 Via Aeropuerto hacia Hipodromo, Via Guarne, Rionegro 054040, Colombia
This was the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Australia and had one night before meeting our friends back at the airport to head to the Whitsundays. It was a good inexpensive option, no frills but clean and well located in Chinatown. From there we had lots of yummy options for Thai food & were able to easily walk to the Sydney Harbor to toast our arrival with a view of the Sydney Opera House.
This is where we stayed when we were in Medellin. The neighborhood was somewhat residential but the hotel was nice and clean and had a 24 hour restaurant (super convenient) and ROOF DECK with an awesome day and night view of the city!
Register online before to save your spot. Meet up with group is a few metro stops away from Hotel – MUST DO especially if you’re only there a day!
After the tour you could take the metro to the cable car and ride it up to Parque Arvi to see another awesome view of the city. Only costs Metro fare! Once you take the cable car up the Parque Arvi is nice and you can walk around it, there were little markets & food.
Guatape & El Penol Day Tours
This was awesome and your hotel will have information on this. It’s a full day tour that includes some different countryside villages, El Penol which is this huge stone tower you can climb (there are stairs!!) with an amazing view, meals & a boat ride on a lake. Just a heads up though if you get carsick, the ride is a little zig zag-ish 🙂
Nice, simple, breakfast available … 5 minute walk from walled city. I liked staying in the Getsemani neighborhood outside the walled city because it wasn’t as expensive or touristy and had a hip vibe. Lots of street art and near a square with bars and restaurants. Young clientele.
Very charming & airy bistro with a French chef. Decor and food was delicious, a great place to eat lunch. Nice wine & ceviche!
The old city of Cartagena is a great place to wander, shop & take pictures. To be honest, we didn’t do many of the typical “tourist” things, but I liked bargaining for the oh so trendy threaded bags & sandals with colorful pom poms. Ask a local maybe before you go looking what they think you should be paying. They also offer the free walking tours, but we did not take advantage because we weren’t there for very long.
We had a great stay at Dreamer! Since we were on our honeymoon and we’re in our thirties lol we opted for a private room & bath with a terrace, but they also have dorms available. This place had a great location on the beach, a nice pool & a large bar and restaurant. This is a good place to stay if you want to meet other travelers but also have the option of privacy. You are also not limited to just eating or drinking at the hostel, as there are other options within walking distance.
We took a bus from Cartagena to Santa Marta and then from Santa Marta to Palomino. You can also fly directly to Santa Marta or Barranquilla, depending on where you’re coming from.
Eat & Drink
I’m not going to lie, we pretty much ate all our meals at the Dreamer. Honestly, it was so convenient that it was right on sigh and the food was decent. They do a very looooong happy hour at their bar with very yummy drinks. They also have trivia night! If you’re not into the hotel food, there are several options as you walk along the beach and on the road leading up to the main highway. It’s a cool little backpacker/yogi community there.
Besides the pool on site and hanging at the beach (which is pretty but unfortunately the waves are a little strong for swimming), there are lots of activities in the area that the staff at Dreamer are happy to give you info about. One of the biggest attractions is Tayrona National Park, which you can get to by bus. We actually ended up getting talked into chartering horses (!) to ride to the beach, which was a cool experience but also a little scary. Seriously, sometimes I just had to close my eyes and pray that the horse could manuver the twists and turns.
It did cut out a lot of time though so we were able to enjoy the beaches for longer. Not all of the beaches are swimmable, but the horses & guides took us to Cabo San Juan de Guia, which is the most popular and is swimmable. There was a place there to eat lunch. We ended up walking back along the beach for a bit and then through the marked trails in the jungle which was really pretty, we even saw a Capybara!
Another fun activity we did with some other travelers we met was tubing. The staff at Dreamer will let you know what time tubing trips are leaving, and there are guys on motos that will be offering tubes for rent. They take you on their motos with your tubes and let you off at a trail, where you still have to hike quite a ways to get to the river. Wear flip flops! Some of the girls that came with us didn’t wear shoes because they didn’t want to worry about them in the tube, but then they had to hike for a long way without anything to protect their feet from the bare forest floor, complete with horse poop and fire ants. Trust me, you will be happy you have protection on your feet for that.
Also, I would suggest bringing beers or something to drink. Once you get to the river, it’s literally just floating down lazily until you reach the ocean. It would have been nice to crack open a beer while relaxing and taking in all of the birds and other wildlife we saw. It’s really cool because you get to see where the jungle meets the ocean, all the while getting to know your new Dreamer friends. It’s a nice way to spend a half-day!
When we first booked our trip to Colombia, we weren’t even aware of these islands – no joke. BUT, they were such an amazing and memorable part of our trip, I can’t imagine our honeymoon without our visit to these jewels. The islands belong to Colombia but are closer geographically to Nicaragua and have a total Caribbean feel. You can take an hour flight from Cartagena to San Andres, we flew Viva Colombia. San Andres is nice but Providencia was pure paradise. To get to Providencia you have to either take another small plane or a 3 hour catamaran boat ride (we did the boat ride, and definitely took our Dramamine!).
Carmeni provides a very comfortable guesthouse in a scenic location. We had breakfast and fresh juice every morning, and interacted with her very nice family when we were there. She also was super helpful arranging for us to be picked up from the boat, helping us rent a golf cart, tips on what to do each day, etc. I would definitely recommend staying with her if you can!
Eat & Drink
The first day we went to the beach and found an open air restaurant with a guy grilling fish – this is common, casual and inexpensive.
Very popular spot- cute little restaurant with a garden. We ate there for dinner one night, I had the black crab – delicious but I did feel a little bad later when we passed a bunch of black crabs on the way to Roland’s Bar (see below).
Roland Roots Reggae Bar | Manzanillo Beach, Providencia Island, Colombia
This place is THE place to go at night on the island and everyone knows about it! Be prepared to drive your moto or golf cart down a long road (just ask all the locals, they will direct you) and watch out for the giant black crabs crossing the road. Once you get there you’ll find hammocks, a bonfire, coconut drinks, reggae music, dancing and cute dogs. It’s really fun.
First thing you will want it to rent a golf cart or a moto bike to get around the island, as cars are rare and unnecessary. Our hostess arranged for a driver to pick us up at the dock when we arrived, and then she also helped us rent the golf cart from her friend. This will be the only transportation you need during your stay.
We spent one day here on the beach (the sand and the water there are pure magic) and one day snorkeling at Crab Cay. Our hostess recommended where to go to find snorkeling equipment to rent and we drove our golf cart there and were met by people trying to rent us equipment. You can rent them fairly cheaply, and then we talked to a guy who we ended up paying to take us to the Cay on his boat (not far) and then pick us up after snorkeling to take us around to a few other locations. That was totally worth it, and you can bargain for a rate. You also will have to pay a fee at Crab Cay because it is a national park. The snorkeling was amazing- lots of beautiful fish and Sea Turtles! There is a bar where you can get a drink before and after snorkeling, in a coconut OBVIOUSLY.
I hope you find this 3-week itinerary for Colombia helpful. Whether you are exploring the colorful streets of Cartagena, drinking out of a coconut on the island of Providencia, or tubing down a river in Palomino, I don’t doubt you will have an amazing time.
One of the reasons I love Marseille is it’s proximity to so many amazing towns & natural wonders! Provence has become one of my favorite regions in the world, and once you go you will know why. While there are endless possibilities of stops when you’re planning your trip, I’m here to tell you about the can’t miss spots in Provence that I would recommend visiting.
Getting to Provence
The most centrally located airport to the Provence Region is the Marseille/Provence Airport (code: MRS). The recently renovated airport is a low key base to fly in and out of.
Flights from the US tend to route through another major European city like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid, etc. The airport is also serviced by several European budget airlines such as RyanAir, Vueling and EasyJet.
I think it’s essential to rent a car for exploring the small towns in Provence. I suggest you rent it online beforehand via a site like KAYAK to get a better rate. Also FYI for my American friends, we have found also that for some reason when we rent it from a United States IP address we get a lower price!
10 Can’t Miss Spots in Provence
Aigue-Mortes and Camargue
The Camargue is a really interesting region in Provence, known for its marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages. The village of Aigue-Mortes within the Camargue is an old medieval walled city with towers, lots of shops & restaurants. It is at the edge of a large pink body of water known as an Etang, or Lagoon. It gets its pink color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – the cost is around 10 Euros. You can also find wild pink flamingos as well as over 400 species of birds.
Wild horses and cattle roam the rolling landscape, which looks a bit like a Monet painting. While in the area, you can also visit the village of Arles, made famous in part by Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Cafe at Night”. You can actually visit the cafe where he based his painting. We ate at this very cozy Spanish tapas place in Arles called Bodeguita.
Avignon is definitely one of the top can’t miss spots in Provence, located about an hour and a half from Marseille. It’s larger than the other villages I’ve recommended (more of a city) and has quite a rich history. The city center is walled so when you arrive there are large parking lots between the city and the river. The parking is priced very reasonably and you are able to leave your car and walk-in.
Once inside the city, it’s easy to spend hours walking around exploring. Place de l’Horloge is great for strolling or people watching from a cafe. Rue de la Republic has a lot of French stores & international Boutiques – you can also find many shops selling local products and souvenirs. Les Halles d’Avignon in Place Pie is a large vine-covered market with 40 stalls selling local and regional food & wine.
Avignon was briefly home to the Catholic church, and the grand Papal Palace sits in the center of the city. You can simply walk inside the colossal palace or you can pay an entrance fee to tour the museum. Avignon is situated on the Rhone river, and you can take a boat tour around the city which is a nice way to spend an hour or so. There is also the famous Pont Saint-Bénézet, the inspiration for the song Sur la Pont’Avignon. You pay a small fee to walk on the bridge, but you get a headset which tells you all about the history as you walk on it.
Aix en Provence & Puyricard
Every time I’m in Marseille I make at least a few trips to Aix. A large University town in the middle of the gorgeous countryside with charming pedestrian streets, Aix is what I would picture/describe as a classic Provence experience.
Like most French and European villages, one of the best things to do in Aix is wander the streets. There are so many great shops (from luxury to bargain, to local artisans & souvenir shops) and great places to stop and eat or drink. A tradition for us is getting a slice of Pizza at Pizza Capri on Rue Fabrot- with takeaway slices as big as your head – you will not regret it! Walk by the Place d’Albertas – an old brothel but now a nice little fountain square where people hang out and there is sometimes live music. Rue de la Verrerie has a lot of bars and a good Kebab shop. There is a large market on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays that is not to be missed.
One experience I highly recommend it Chateau LaCoste – a beautiful winery/restaurant/museum outside of Aix in Puyricard. I’ve been here several times and the grounds are beautiful, the wine is great and they have a lovely terrace restaurant where it’s nice to get lunch or aperitif. There are also beautiful sculptures throughout the grounds and an art and architecture museum. During the summer they have movie showings on a large screen outside. It’s truly a wonderful place!
About a half an hour from Marseille along the beautiful (and winding!) Mediterranean coast. Cassis is a special place to me because I got engaged there, on the top of the Cap Canaille, which I highly recommend you visit for sunset. Cassis has more of a Riviera vibe being right on the sea and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants on the harbor where the people watching is excellent. Also there’s plenty of great boutique shopping in the village and there is usually a market in the Place Baragnon with art or different items depending on the day and time of year.
There is a beach in the village, but if you feel like an easy hike you can visit my favorite calanque (see the Marseille post re: Calanques), Port Pin! There is a car park and a snack bar before the hike and it’s really not bad. The water there is gorgeous, just make sure you watch for jelly fish and you can because the water is CRYSTAL clear. You can also take a Calanque cruise if you prefer to see the Calanques by boat. If you decide to spend the night in the area, we stayed at a lovely B&B right after our engagement right outside the city center called Le Clos De Cigales.
About 40 minutes from Marseille, this charming little village is easy to visit for an afternoon. Do not get confused, as there are apparently 2 places in France called Le Castellet, but I am recommending this one! Perched and walled, you park your car at the foot of the village in a car park and walk up and into the pedestrian streets. There are plenty of little gift and artisan shops and nice cafes, and the view is amazing. If you want to make a day of this area, there are tons of vinyards around as it is in the Bandol wine region. Also – there is a feral (?) cat colony there so you will see plenty of them roaming around, sleeping on your car, and some may let you pet them!
One of France’s most picturesque perched villages, the breathtaking part of visiting Gordes will be your approach. Make sure to stop at the foot of the climb to the village and take photos! Once in the village it is mostly pedestrian and you will have your typical shops, cafes, restaurants, etc. It is very close to the famous Abbaye de Sénanque which you will most likely recognize as the church among the lavender fields in countless Provence posters, stock photos, etc.
Île de Porquerolles
Lovely day trip from Marseille, drive to Hyères and you can take the ferry to this beautiful and virtually vehicle free island with a gorgeous beach. There are also dolphin watching excursions you can book from here, as well as biking, windsurfing, paddle boarding, etc.
Lac St. Croix & Verdon
The Gorges du Verdon are known as the Grand Canyon of France and are within 2 hours of Marseille. We rented kayaks with our friends during our summer group trip to Provence and had a great time paddling our way through the river running through the gorge. The water is beautiful light green and there are plenty of caves and mini waterfalls to explore. It was pleasant and also a pretty good workout! There is also Lac St. Croix nearby which is a beautiful crystal lake with a beach where you can swim, camp, and canoe. After our day of adventures, we went to Sainte Croix du Verdon and had a magnificent dinner with a view overlooking the lake at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta I ate there, and the view was truly unbeatable. It’s definitely another great can’t miss spot in Provence!
Valensole & the Lavender Fields
If you’ve ever dreamed of running through the never-ending lavender fields of Provence as you see in all of the posters/stock photos, this is the place to go! Lavender is in season June-August so if you are visiting in the summer be sure to check it out. You can find sprawling acres of fields around the village of Valensole, where you will also pass numerous farms/shops selling lavender honey and various other deliciously scented goodies.
You can pull off the road to take pictures in the fields, and trust me you WILL have company! There are many bees flying around the fields but they seem to be really focused on the lavender blossoms vs. stinging unsuspecting tourists. We made the mistake of having our windows down the first time we drove through and had a few bees fly into our car. Oops! After some photo ops, we drove to the village of Puimoisson. Cote Soleil, a simple and lovely pizza/french food place is a nice place to grab dinner on a terrace.
The Var is a department that is included in the Provence Region and borders Bouche-de-Rhone (where Marseille is located). It is home to some beautiful countryside and quaint towns, including the towns of Tourtour and Correns. We stayed with friends in Correns (fun fact: this is where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie got married at their winery Chateau Miraval). It is small & simple but a great base for exploring the region. From here you can visit Le Cascade de Sillons – an easy walk to a lush (and freezing) water hole. There is a gorgeous waterfall where brave travelers take the plunge and jump into the deep waters below. Tourtour is also such a charming village with amazing views of the valley below, shops , restaurants & a sprawling antique market.
Headed to the South of France? I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t skip Marseille. It’s a complex and beautiful place that I feel has somewhat of an unfair reputation. Not as shiny or neatly manicured as Nice or other places on the Riviera, it can be gritty. But it would definitely be a mistake to look it over! It has cool culture and sense of pride in it’s residents and it seems to me to be more real vs. the touristy Nice & Cannes.
Firstly, The location is amazing, right on the sea but surrounded by mountains. It’s absolutely full of great little pockets if you know where to look. Marseille is a huge port, and the population is a beautifully diverse mix of French and North African cultures. The more I spend time there, the more I love it and I am going to tell you why you’ll love it too. In addition, I would recommend watching the Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown Episode on Marseille if you can before you go. It’s a great little preview and commentary on the city!
We are extremely lucky in that we always have a place to stay in Marseille with family. However, last fall we took a trip with my grandfather and rented a place that was in a better location for sightseeing and had a good experience. This apartment, while a bit dated in decor, was perfect for a stay with 2 couples or a family. The view & terrace alone would alone would make me book it again. The location was right on the Corniche JFK near the Michelin starred restaurant Le Petit Nice.
This neighborhood is one of my favorites in the city, and would be a great place to stay and explore. For a New York reference: It’s like the east village of Marseille – lots of fun bars and restaurants, cute boutiques, graffiti, hipster/boho vibe. I love to walk around here and browse the shops – there are also plenty of good restaurants & bars here. If you book an AirBnB in this area it would be easy to walk to plenty of places. There is also a metro stop here so you can access other sites and areas easily through public transport (see below under TRANSPORT).
Where to Eat
Chez Ze | 402 Chemin de Morgiou, 13009 Marseille, France
Chez Ze is our absolute favorite restaurant in Marseille, a big part of it being the lovely terrace with a large tree growing out of it, providing shade. Even if you can’t sit on the terrace, the food is really good- I usually get a Salade Niçoise but they also have excellent pizza and pasta. It’s also at the foothill of a mountain where you can hike to the Calqanque Sormiou (see below under DO).
UMMAGUMMA | rue des Trois Rois, 13006 Marseille, France
Cute place in the Cours Julien, delicious food & romantic/cozy atmosphere. As I recall, they give you a sample of house liquor with your meal.
The food here is fine but you really go for the location – right on the Vallon des Auffes which is a small port with ships where you can watch the sunset while enjoying your food. They have a little but of everything here – seafood, pizza (of course), traditional French, etc.
La Grotte| 1 Avenue des Pebrons, 13008 Marseille, France
This place is on the outskirts of Marseille in a small village called Callelongue. The restaurant is run by a family that has owned it for years, and the decor is regal. It’s in a great location right on the water and the food is pretty good. They have pizza (sensing a theme here) but also lots of local specialties and fresh seafood. If you go during the day, you can do a hike to the Calanque Marseilleveyre, enjoy the beach, and then finish your day with apéro and dinner at La Grotte.
Where to Go Out
The drink of Marseille is Pastis – a liquor with a slight licorice flavor that is mixed with water and served over ice. It’s not for everyone but you should try it once. I prefer it mixed with almond syrup, which is called a “Mauresque”. It’s usually only 1 or 2 euros at the bar! Also wine is generally very cheap, so even picking up a bottle at the store and drinking it on your terrace is really nice!
Fun areas to go out are the Cours Julien & the Vieux Port, Cours Julien has lots of little bars and pubs that you can walk to. The place below is a spot called Au Petit Nice where we’ve gotten a drink on occasion – they also have a big terrace that may or may not be open Also the Vieux Port has a lot of bars and restaurants, O’Malleys is one we’ve gone to a lot to watch games and get drinks
20000 Lieues| 12 boulevard Alexandre Delabre , 13008 Marseille, France
Another really neat bar that is a bit off the beaten path is in a cute little old fisherman’s village on the outskirts of Marseille called Les Goudes. It’s right on the water and feels like you’re in an old ship! Definitely a local spot – they serve food during the day, have outdoor seating and I think live music sometimes.
What to Do : Beaches & Calanques
The calanques are a series of inlets that run along the Mediterranean coast from Marseille to Cassis. If you like hiking, nature, and beautiful beaches, this is a must for any trip to the Marseille area. Most of them are only accessible by foot or boat. There are a few calanques that you can access around Marseille, which you will find more information on from the link above.
From Cassis (approx half hour drive from Marseille), you can take a Calanque Cruise, which will show you all the different Calanques from the boat. That option won’t allow you to swim in the Calanques, but is a good option if you want to see them all in a shorter amount of time. The tours are usually in French only :). Port Pin is my favorite Calanque in Cassis, and Sormiou is a great option in Marseille. Sormiou can also be accessed by car during peak season if you have reservations at the local restaurant there, or from October-Spring.
Marseille city has a few of it’s own beaches – Plage de la Pointe Rouge & Plage du Prophete are the main ones. However, these beaches are not as clean and have more of a “city beach” feel. For a more pleasant beach experience I would recommend hiking to a calanque in Marseille or Cassis.
What to Do : In Marseille
The “Old Port” of Marseille, lots of shops, restaurants, sometimes markets. Fun to walk around and take in all the sights and sounds
Mediterranean Culture Museum near Vieux Port, cool architecture – great to even just walk around if you don’t feel like going in
Notre Dame de la Garde
Large church of Marseille, France that sits on a hill – there’s a cute little touristy train you can take up the hill which is fun – I don’t think it’s too far from the Cours Julien to walk to the base of the hill.
Island off the coast of Marseille – it’s an old prison and the site of Monte Cristo! There is a museum and tour. You can take a ferry from the Vieux port. In addition, the The ferry also goes to the Frioul which is another island with a nice beach.
Where to Shop
Mostly boutiques and fun vintage/antique stores. One of my favorites is Fifty Balloons, I’ve bought a few things there over the years.
Le Pleine Market
Large open air market where you can find everyone from produce, to shoes to beauty products! Every Tuesday and Thursday in the Cours Julien. Just really watch yourself there- I’ve always felt safe but it is very crowded so bring only a small purse (if any) and keep it very close to you just in case. There is a Pizza truck there called Pizza Claude and his pizza is AMAZING fyi.
Vieux Port Rue Saint Ferreol
Large shopping street near Vieux Port. Has lots of European chains. There are also lots of little shops and markets selling souvenirs.
Like any big city, Marseille has it’s share of crime. In general, I feel very safe in Marseille and I would just follow the common sense rules of going out in a city. Stay in well lit and well populated areas & keep your belongings close to your body. You might also see armed guards at places like tourist spots & train stations – they carry machine guns which can look intimidating, but that’s just how they all are and there are more of them because of the European attacks in the past few years. Avoid the Quartier Nord.
Marseille’s Metro system is really simple. There are only 2 lines: Red and Blue. The metro tickets are 1 or 2 Euros each and you can purchase them on the machines in the station (which you can set to English). For example, if you stayed in the Cours Julien, you would be near stop Notre Dame du Mont Which is only 2 stops from the main train station. At that stops you could switch to the blue line which would bring you to the Vieux Port. I’ve ridden it by myself many times – like anywhere just be alert and mind your belongings.
Want to read about my favorite spots in Provence? Click here!
Planning your trip to Provence in the fall? I have a great guide for you here.
Can’t wait to visit Marseille? Don’t forget to pin this post!
Denver is a hip city located in the midst of amazing natural beauty. We have some really good friends in Denver so over the past few years we’ve had opportunities to visit and explore in both the winter, spring & summer seasons. I am sharing some of my favorite spots in Denver, as well as places to explore in the surrounding areas. (Pro tip: If this is your first time visiting Denver, just be aware that the altitude can cause symptoms such as nausea and dehydration, so make sure to drink plenty of water and take it easy if you are doing any hiking.) ♥
River North Arts District
While we are lucky enough to be able to stay with friends when we visit Denver, we spend a lot of our time in this artsy neighborhood and it has plenty of great spots within walking distance.
FAVORITE SPOTS IN DENVER FOR BREAKFAST
Thump Coffee| 1201 E 13th Ave, Denver, CO 80218 (Multiple Locations)
I’ve spent several mornings teleworking from this chill cafe. In addition to delicious coffee beverages they also offer breakfast & lunch options and local beer & kombucha on tap. Wifi is free and unlimited and there are plenty of spots to set up and plug in if you get there early.
Don’t miss this authentic New York bagel shop on your breakfast rotation! Yes, the line is really long. Yes, maybe the sandwiches are a bit pricy. But you will not be disappointed with the quality! I mean, they import the water they use to make the bagels from New York, so you know it’s gotta be good. This is easily one of my favorite spots in Denver for breakfast.
This restaurant has a 2 locations in Denver and one in Golden, Colorado and is also a popular spot. The Jefferson Park location is in an old house with eclectic decor and a cute outdoor dining area. The food is American Southern with a strong Cajun flair. I definitely recommend the “Maque Choux Grits” – sooo good with pimento cheese. They also have lots of creative cocktails, milkshakes & coffee drinks. Just beware the Sasafrass Bloody Mary is a bit spicy! When I couldn’t drink it they brought me the Garden Mary with no extra charge which I thought was really nice. We shared the beignets at our table which were pillowy and excellent.
Yes, landlocked Denver has a sushi scene! Mizu had an ultra trendy vibe and the sushi is great. They also have a lot of alternatives to sushi rolls & interesting appetizers, like the crispy brussel sprouts with candied walnuts & lemon oil. Delicious!
This place has the most interesting desserts – and they are all made with science! The ice cream is made with liquid nitrogen they combine with imaginative ingredients to create instaworthy (and drool worthy) masterpieces. I had the Coconut Rice Pudding Ice Cream with Tropical Fruits & Curried Rice Paper (Amazing). Other items include Creme Brulee Waffle with Grilled Strawberry Jam Ice Cream & Nutella and Sticky Toffee Pudding with Butterscotch Cream & Vanilla Bean Cotton Candy. How could you skip this place?
As you will discover, Denver and the surrounding areas have a lot of breweries, lots of which I have yet to visit. Ratio, however, has been a staple of ours during our time spent in Denver, located in the RINO neighborhood. It’s selection is simple and I enjoy their French saison the best. The outdoor seating area is really fun and has corn hole and usually cute dogs (with their humans of course!). There are rotating street trucks parked outside if you get hungry.
This whole “upscale cafeteria” with a bar trend has really caught on…and I like it! Avanti is one such place – a group of food vendors and a bar all under one roof. There is also a really cool porch/rooftop area where you can sip your cocktail (Paloma in my case) while looking out at the Denver skyline. I hear it gets crazy crowded for happy hour and at night, my friends and I visited during the week mid afternoon and it was lovely.
Venture Out of the City
I recommend you spend at least a day outside of the city, exploring the surrounding nature and towns. Some great places to visit are Breckenridge (great in the winter for skiing with a cute downtown), Golden (historic town with a river where you can go tubing in the summer), Boulder (college town with pedestrian shopping area and hiking nearby at Chautauqua Park). You can also visit drive up the Mount Evans Scenic Byway and take in the views at the top of this 14,000+ peak, or if you are more ambitious you can also hike it. Red Rocks is a large music venue right outside of the city and is breathtaking – definitely stop by and see it even if you can’t catch a show there.
I have this thing where I now visit Cat Cafes in every city I go to. This isn’t 100% true but I have started racking up my experiences! As far as Cat Cafes go, Denver Cat Company rates really well. One thing I noticed was the lack of a strong discernible “cat smell” and they had tons of ADOPTABLE cuties to play with, some of which were kittens! There is also wifi and nice areas to sit, work & read. There is an $8 entrance fee to cover the cost of the foster program which I think is totally reasonable. Like most cat “cafes” in the US, this is not an actual cafe with meal service, although you can buy coffee, hot chocolate or snacks.
This is a cute area where the cat cafe is and has some nice boutiques & vintage stores. Jolly Goods had a good mix of locally made art, gifts & clothing. SecondLove was also really cute – the interior had a really cool aesthetic and they had a really curated collection of designer and affordable consignment pieces. Lady Jones was a really nice boutique with a lot of trendy yet classy pieces that you could wear to work or out.
RINO (see above) also has a few neat shops, notably Topo, the flagship store of high-design, colorful, USA-made outdoor gear, apparel & bags.
There are so many great places to go in this city, it’s hard to go wrong. I hope my guide to my favorite spots in Denver helps you plan an amazing trip!
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Planning a girl’s weekend in Charleston? Well, I think you’ve chosen wisely. With it’s pastel houses, trendy cocktail bars, unique shopping and amazing dining, Charleston is a dream girl’s trip!
For the past 4 years, my high school friends and I have taken a trip to a different destination to reconnect and sightsee. This year we chose Charleston! I have to admit, while Charleston has already been on my radar for some time, I am an avid Bravo fan and watching their series “Southern Charm” really made me want to visit ASAP. Here are the highlights and recommendations to help you plan your fun girl’s weekend in Charleston!
Church Street Inn | 177 Church Street, Historic District, Charleston, SC 29401
When looking for a place to stay for your girl’s weekend in Charleston, you may have some issues. Charleston’s a very popular destination right now and we really struggled even months out to find a decently priced AirBnB in a good location. I found this one through Booking.com. The reviews were amazing and the price was surprisingly low for the location (under $200/night, split between 3 people). The rooms are 2 floor suites with a kitchenette, living area, 1/2 bath and TV downstairs and 2 beds, full bath and TV upstairs. The decor is a bit dated/old fashioned but it’s clean and the location is UNBEATABLE. We were right in the heart of the historic district, could walk to plenty of shops & restaurants and were right next to the Charleston City Market (see below). I would most definitely recommend this place!
Charleston is SUCH a foodie city. Before we went I joked with my friends that we would have to eat 8 meals a day during our trip to get everything in. While we didn’t do THAT, we were able to hit some great spots during our time there. I’m still dreaming about the scallops at The Macintosh…
So good! We went to the location in the Charleston City Market as it was so convenient to our hotel. It was SUPER busy on a Saturday morning, so if you want to beat the line maybe try it during the week if you can. The wait was worth it though – I tried a 3 pack of their mini biscuits which was the perfect amount of food for breakfast. I had the Cheese & Chive, Blackberry & the Buttermilk Biscuit.
Another coffee place! A really special place where they employ people with physical and intellectual disabilities- it was so warm and inviting. The coffee was really good too! Please support this business if you can.
Oh my gosh – where do I begin? Our lunch here was epic. We got there right at noon (this was on a Thursday) and had our total pick of seating & we chose the porch. As we were leaving it had really filled up, so getting here early is good. Thee Pan Bagnat comes with the most delicious balsamic veggies and is AMAZING. The Chicken, Brussels & Farro is equally good if not better – everything is so flavorful and seasoned perfectly! I also had their Blonde Bloody Mary- not as salty as a normal bloody and made with yellow tomatoes, quite tasty and refreshing! Please eat here – you will not regret it.
All my resources and everyone we encountered in Charleston said FIG is THE BEST. So of course, we had to try it for our girl’s weekend in Charleston. As soon as you know you are going to Charleston, go to their website and try to snag a reservation.
Wonderful ambience, amazing food (“elevated takes on Southern Classics”), awesome service. They change their menu frequently, but we got their pillow-like gnocchi as an app & the grouper and they were both excellent. It was pricy but not crazy, I think we payed around $100 for the both of us (just 2 of us on the trip went to FIG) plus wine. If you want to treat yourself, this is the place.
TIP: If there aren’t tables available, you can add an alert for yourself on the RESY app telling you if/when a table opens up for the date and time of your choice which is exactly how I was able to get us a table at 8pm on a Thursday.
This place was also VERY good. Hipster vibe with exposed brick and industrial lightbulbs. Our waitress knew a lot about food & wine and was really fun, suggesting things for us & making good conversation. It’s tapas style so the 3 it’s fun to share bunch of yummy treats. They also have the best scallops I’ve ever tasted. It’s a similar price point to FIG and closer to the bars and restaurants on King St for going out after if you choose.
Okay I’ll admit – I dragged my friend here because they often go here on Southern Charm and I was hoping for a cast sighting. Honestly I thought it would be a little cheesy…but it was surprisingly cool! It was a Thursday when we were there and the outdoor patio was really nice, we were able to get drinks and a seat right away. There was also live music! The inside seemed less quaint and I can imagine it gets really busy and possibly annoying on weekends.
This was another Southern Charm pick – cast member Shepard Rose is a co-owner. A little off the beaten path this place has a total retro 70s vibe. The staff was friendly, we got a seat right at the bar and they had good live music. TIP : Go early before they start charging a cover! It started getting crowded right as we were leaving.
This is a well known dessert place in Charleston. If you go for Happy Hour you can enjoy $5 dessert martinis with your decadent pastry! We all split the cherry crumble and each tried a different dessert martini. I had the Kahlua Espresso for a pick-me-up and my friends tried the Thin Mint & Chocolate respectively, all delicious.
This beach was clean and pretty – there was a lot of wind when we were there but otherwise, it was very pleasant! Folly Beach is known to have a little more going on in terms of bars, restaurants, and shops but I like this quieter beach. It was also during the week when we went so I imagine it would be more crowded on the weekends/in the summer.
(From Top Right: Sullivan’s Island Beach, The Obstinate Daughter Restaurant on Sullivan’s Island)
A girl’s weekend in Charleston HAS to involve some shopping, right? Walking up King Street you will find everything from antique stores, high end designers, chain department stores & local boutiques. Here are a few special spots:
Loved all the local flair at this shop! The owner/staff were so nice and they carried a variety of items made in Charleston as well as a large collection of books. I was obsessed with the Brackish Bowties, made entirely of feathers.
Beautiful space with clothing & accessories. They have such a nice collection of local Charleston designers and cute/preppy southern staples! Also, they have an upstairs which is a cafe/bar with a terrace! Hello? You have everything you need right here.
This reminded me a bit of the French Market in New Orleans – a large (partially enclosed) corridor with vendors selling local products, food, art & souvenirs. The locally crafted famous Sweetgrass baskets are also for sale here and are a popular (but expensive) souvenir!
Looking for the ultimate 3-week itinerary for Australia? I’ve got you covered! Australia is an amazing country with extremely diverse terrain and a wide variety of wildlife. It’s also HUGE and spread out, so while it’s tempting to want to see EVERYTHING during your trip, you would need a lot of time. For us, we managed to pack a lot into our 3 weeks, but we barely scratched the surface.
I would describe this 3-week itinerary for Australia as a “sampler platter.” While we did get to see a lot during our trip, we didn’t spend a long time in any particular place. We did this on purpose because for us the journey to get to Oz was so long and we wanted to see as much as we could while we were there.
This itinerary is a rough guide so you can pick and choose which destinations you spend more or less time in. It can also be cut down or added to, depending on how much time you have to explore Australia.
Sydney → Whitsundays → Cairns → Cape Tribulation → Melbourne → Great Ocean Road
(Note: Sydney was both our starting and ending point for our 3-week itinerary for Australia, which is common if you are flying from the US.)
Sydney Hotel CBD| 88 Liverpool Street, Sydney Central Business District, 2000 Sydney, Australia
This was the hotel we stayed in when we first arrived in Australia and had one night before meeting our friends back at the airport to head to the Whitsundays. It was a good inexpensive option, no frills but clean and well located in Chinatown. From there we had lots of yummy options for Thai food & were able to easily walk to the Sydney Harbor to toast our arrival with a view of the Sydney Opera House.
Eat & Drink
Brickfields| 206 Cleveland St, Chippendale NSW 2008, Australia
Delicious breakfast cafe option in the Chippendale neighborhood (the neighborhood adjacent to our AirBnB in Ultimo.) As I discovered early, Australia has an amazing coffee culture, so most cafes we visited were superb. This place had a cute atmosphere and delicious latte & fruit granola bowl.
Sea Bay| 372 Pitt St, Haymarket, Sydney, New South Wales 2000, Australia
In the heart of Chinatown, this small & basic asian food place was recommended to me by a summer camp friend who spent 7 years living in Sydney. Definitely a local spot (we may have been the only tourists, which was a good sign), the dumplings were really good and it was BYOB!
Take the ferry to Manly beach for a fun little excursion (see below) and enjoy a Poke bowl or dumplings at Momo! This was my first Poke bowl (chunks of raw, marinated fish — usually tuna — which is then tossed over rice and topped with vegetables and umami-packed sauces) and I fell in love with the dish – they do it so well here! There was a nice place to sit outside and people watch in this funky & laid back neighborhood.
Old Fitzroy | 129 Dowling St, Woolloomooloo NSW 2011, Australia
Another rec from my summer camp friend, this cozy pub was a great find. It’s below a theater so you have show traffic coming in and out, and it’s clear it’s a local spot where the bartenders know their customers by name.
For my love of Bloody Marys, I made the long trek to Newtown to try their famed version. The restaurant/bar is not well marked so it has a speakeasy vibe, and the inside is dark and filled with graffiti. I got there right when it opened which was good because it gets busy! They serve burgers and fried chicken, and the ($20!) Bloody Mary comes with a melted slice of cheese & piece of bacon on top of the glass. While it wasn’t the best Bloody I’ve had (I prefer the New Orleans version with the pickled green beans!), it was certainly the only drink I’ve ever ordered that came with melted cheese and I really enjoyed the unique decor and vibe there.
It’s easy to take public transport to Bondi Beach and I would definitely recommend it. Cool vibe, pretty water & views, nice trail for walking along the coast. We were there in winter but there were still surfers to watch.
Manly Beach Ferry
I loved this excursion! You can easily grab the ferry in Sydney Harbor and it takes you by magnificent views of the opera house, skyline and Sydney Harbor Bridge. It was a really nice beach and there were lots of restaurants to choose from, including Momo where I had my first and probably best ever Poke bowl! We also bought the majority of our souvenirs here, as there were a few well stocked tacky gift shops.
I found Sydney’s Metro system very easy to use. We were able to get on right and the airport and it easily brought us to the CBD. You can buy a card that you can fill and refill throughout your stay.
There are many islands that make up the Whitsundays, but Hamilton Island is the one that most people stay on and has a choice of resort accommodations. We were going back and forth between staying on Hamilton Island vs staying at Airlie Beach which is the town on the coast where you can access the islands. I’m really glad we decided to stay on Hamilton Island because I loved it there. People that stay in Airlie beach then access the island by ferry, and from my understanding, the town is more of a backpacker’s haven/party town. It also made sense for us to stay on Hamilton Island because you can fly directly from Sydney. The condo company we stayed with (found through Booking.com) had someone pick us up right at the airport so it was really convenient.
Although you can access booking accommodations from AirBnB or Booking.com, they all put you in contact directly with the resort company. Since it is an exclusive island, just keep in mind that everything will be more expensive. There is a general store to buy food to cook and several restaurants, but you will be pressed to find bargains as your choices are limited.
We had a nice unit with 2 bed/baths that had an outdoor patio and beautiful view of the sea. We were still jet-lagged so we watched the sunrises daily and it was truly magical (I said I felt like I was witnessing the dawning of time). Cockatoos, Kookaburras & Wallabies all came to visit us during our stay.
Eat & Drink
As I said above, there was a general store and liquor store so we were able to stock up on food so we didn’t need to go out for every meal. This was nice because we did have a fully equipped kitchen and could eat and drink out on our patio.
TAKO | Marina Village, Front Street, Hamilton Island QLD 4803, Australia
This was our “nice meal out” for our stay here and it was pretty good. Asian/Latin fusion right on the harbor. Be prepared to spend 20 AUD on a margarita though! This is actually a pretty normal cocktail price in Australia. Eek!
Sunset cocktails here: This is a MUST DO for Hamilton Island! We did it our last night and I was sad we hadn’t done it the other nights. Cute cocktail bar at the top of the large hill on Hamilton Island- amazing view of the whole island and the sea. You can sip tropical themed cocktails and watch the sunset – it’s magnificent.
Bob’s Bakery | 137 Front St, Hamilton Island QLD 4803, Australia
This was a good option for inexpensive breakfast or lunch on the harbor. Sit outside and share your meal with a friendly cockatoo!
Whitehaven Beach Excursion
I would say this is also a must do. Yes, it is expensive and it seems like a short amount of time to spend on the beach for a lot of money. But, this beach and the sand there is like nothing else I’ve experienced, and I think you’d regret coming all the way to the Whitsundays and not seeing this beach. The sand is made of silica, making it so much softer and whiter than normal sand. Beautiful AND exfoliating! You can book this tour through the resorts, I believe we booked ours through the front desk of the Reef View Hotel.
Unfortunately this was closed during our visit, as it was being renovated from cyclone damage. Theoretically though, you should be able to do this while you are here if you choose! You can meet Aussie animals & cuddle Koalas here, as well as attend a Koala Breakfast.
Hamilton Island Beach/Tidepools
There is also a nice beach & a luxurious pool in the resort area. The when the tide is out you can walk out really far and see lots of marine wildlife. We also saw a little sting ray & a sea turtle when swimming at the beach there! The pool is a beautiful place to lay out and there is a few bars there (although we brought our own wine from our condo!).
(FYI) Townsville is the perfect halfway stop if you are driving between Airlie Beach and Cairns. If you are flying or not doing this route, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend Townsville as a destination in itself!
After Hamilton Island we ferried to Airlie Beach and rented a car to drive up to Cairns (approx 7 hours). We decided to stop halfway so we could do Billabong Sanctuary & stayed at this nice cabin north of Townsville. It was in a beautiful setting (a little ways back from the main road) and we were able to walk to the waterfalls in the morning before heading out to Cairns. We didn’t spot any cassowaries here but we did see a wallaby! You can grab dinner and breakfast in nearby Cardwell
Cuddling a Koala in Australia was basically my top priority. We passed this sanctuary on our road trip from Airlie Beach to Cairns as it was about halfway. I thought it was a great park and the staff was really friendly and knowledgeable about the animals. We got to meet and pet dingos, baby crocodiles, wombats, feed wallabies and kangaroos ate out of our hands…it was pretty amazing. And yes, I got to hold a koala, which you pay extra for but it is SO. WORTH IT. You even get a professional souvenir photo!
Disclaimer: I would actually not recommend going to Cairns! We went there to meet up with our friends who were attending a wedding and used it as a place to take a Great Barrier reef excursion. I was not really impressed with the city and we didn’t love the time we spent there. In retrospect I would have done our Great Barrier Reef excursion from Port Douglass or Cape Tribulation (see below). BUT- if you do happen to find yourself in Cairns on your Australia trip, I would HIGHLY recommend the AirBnB we stayed in below because it was awesome!
**Also – we were able to attend an authentic Australian BBQ in Cairns for which I will be forever grateful. It was much better than the food we had at the weird casino/restaurant/frat party we dined at the night before!**
Kevin’s place was really cool. It’s in a good location- not right downtown in the hustle and bustle but close enough to walk (about a 20 min walk from the harbor or a 5 minute drive.) Close to shops & restaurants. Kevin was very pleasant before and during our stay and provided tips of things to do in the area and for our next leg of the trip. The ambience of the house is awesome, we loved the artsy decor and beautiful porch and succulent garden. It was also very well equipped with wifi, Netflix, coffee, tea, filtered water etc which we definitely appreciated. I would certainly recommend Kevin’s place if you’re looking for a home in Cairns for your stay!
Ocean Free | Great Barrier Reef Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
If you’re doing a Great Barrier reef excursion from Cairns, I would recommend this company. While the weather we had during our excursion wasn’t amazing, the experience with this boat/crew was. They were so funny, friendly & knowledgeable, I really enjoyed the day with them! I just did snorkeling, while some in our group did scuba diving as well. My husband hadn’t initially thought he would do scuba, but was able to decide once we were out there to add it to his trip. They really help you and make sure you know what you are doing especially if it is your first time.
We saw clown fish (Nemo!), a giant clam and since it was whale breeding season we actually saw a momma and baby humpback whale which was SO COOL! They served a nice lunch & snacks too. If you tend to get sea sick, DEFINITELY take dramamine. I do get sea sick and the dramamine kept it at bay. My friend who did not take dramamine felt pretty ill, as the water can get choppy on your way out to the reef.
This AirBnB was so cool! It’s described as a “yurt” but it is definitely a modern & luxurious one. Surrounded by trees and beautiful butterflies and birds, we really enjoyed our time here. There was a huge porch with a hammock and the rooms and open design were so appealing. There were 2 couples staying here and one room is a little more private while the other one is lofted over the living room. It is fully equipped and we were able to do a nice little barbecue one night!
We could walk down to the beach and trails from here and the hosts were very responsive & helpful although we did not meet them. The internet out here is very touch and go – it is not a function of where you stay – but when we called with issues our hosts added more data to their service so we could try to connect. Not that you would necessarily want that – as you’ll see it’s a great place to be “disconnected.”
This is the #1 rated activity in Cape Tribulation, so we decided to book a tour for our group. This is an expansive property owned by the Hewett family and it is where they live. Angie gave the 4 of us our tour and she was so knowledgeable about the land, ecosystem, history and animal/plant life. She gave us so much information as she took us through the forrest and pointed out things as we walked along. There are cassowaries that live on their property and although we didn’t see one of these rare creatures during the tour (there are only 4000 left in the world), we DID see one walking along the side of the road on our way to the property which was really cool! I would say it was definitely worth doing and we learned a lot while getting to experience nature.
Swimming Holes & Creeks
Please consult with your hosts or guides about areas that are good to swim in. We were told by our AirBnB hosts about a creek/swimming area up the road that was safe called Emmagen Creek. By safe, I mean relatively free of crocodiles. Yes, this is terrifying but you do have to be VERY careful and mindful about Saltwater crocs that inhabit this area. This means NO swimming in the ocean or getting close to the waters edge, especially at dusk. Again, your hosts will help you out with this and please listen to them.
If you’ve heard that everything in Australia wants to kill you, this area is a testament to that. You will see signs at every beach warning about the crocs. This is not meant to completely scare you off the idea of visiting this area (or Australia in general) but it is just something to be aware of and act accordingly. I was freaked out reading about all this stuff before our trip (sharks, jellyfish & crocs, oh my!) but we were fine. Also, if you happen to visit during the winter (Australian winter is during our summer!) like we did, you will at least be somewhat free of the jellyfish/stinger risk.
I was so sad we only had one day/night in Melbourne, as I found it to be a really cool city! Our AirBnB was in South Melbourne, outside of downtown, but near shops, restaurants & the large market. The place itself was super nice, trendy and well equipped, and our hosts let us store our luggage with them when we couldn’t fit it all in our car for our Great Ocean Road excursion.
Coffee shop near our AirBnB in South Melbourne – awesome example of Australia’s amazing coffee culture. Great lattes, smoothies, sandwiches & pastries with a nice outdoor dining area. Seems to be a hip spot with the locals.
Gazi |2 Exhibition St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia
I learned from my friend that there is a very large Greek population in Melbourne- the largest outside of Athens! She took us to Gazi, a restaurant of celebrity chef George Calombaris, for lunch. The decor was really cool with flowerpots hanging down from the ceiling and I got a Greek “bento box” which was delicious.
We grabbed drinks at this rooftop spot after walking around Melbourne for the day. It was nice and warm under the heat lamps and provided a great view of the skyline.
South Melbourne Market | Corner of Coventry & Cecil Streets, South Melbourne
Again, I so wish I had more time in Melbourne, I could have spent hours at this market! Instead I spent a half an hour quickly walking around before we had to catch our flight back to Sydney. Everything from food, flowers, local artisans…looked like a great place to do some wallet damage. Next time!
Street Art | Hosier Lane, Melbourne
There was so much street art in Melbourne but the best we saw was Hosier Lane. Don’t miss it, & be ready to take lots of pictures!
We drove from Melbourne to the 12 Apostles and decided to then drive back towards Melbourne and stay at Apollo Bay for the night. This beach house was so nice- panoramic views, large rooms, sleek furniture. Since we were there in the winter we got a good rate but I’m sure it’s a pretty penny during peak season.
In the morning after spending the night in Apollo Bar, we drove along the incredibly scenic coast to a quaint town called Lorne to have breakfast. There were several options and we chose Moons which was good! Can’t go wrong with a flat white and avo toast, & they did it well.
The 12 Apostles | 275 kilometres west of Melbourne, approximately a four-hour drive along the Great Ocean Road.
Breathtaking. There’s not much else to say besides that. Rocks jutting up from the ocean & beautiful cliffs. Definitely worth the drive (and the drive itself along the Great Ocean Road is magical). Get here and take your time, take pictures & walk along the beach.
This was an unexpected stop along our trip from Melbourne when the brewery we had planned to visit was closed! Really good locally made chocolate on a farm where you can visit and pet the animals. Great place for a pit stop!
I hope you find this 3-week itinerary for Australia helpful. Whether you are sunning on the white sands of the Whitsundays, taking in Melbourne’s street art and coffee culture, or exploring the oldest rainforest in the world in Cape Tribulation, I don’t doubt you will have an amazing time.