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couples travel

Peru Travel

Why You Should Definitely Do a Homestay on Taquile Island

March 27, 2019

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 and diverse country thought that can take your breath away, and Lake Titicaca is one of them. Located on the southeast border of Peru and Bolivia, this large blue lake is famously known as the highest navigable body of water in the world at an altitude of 12,507 feet. 

When we first considered going to Peru, Lake Titicaca was not really on my radar. In fact after reading another blogger’s article (who I won’t name), who said it was the least favorite art of their trip, I was almost dissuaded to go. I am so glad that my husband convinced me otherwise though as it was a completely unique and beautiful experience I almost didn’t get to have.

We arrived in Puno just before sunrise after a 6 hour overnight bus ride from Cusco. I was a little leery of the long haul bus situation but 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! 

At the bus station in Puno we encountered several people rather aggressively promoting their tours of Lake Titicaca. We opted to wait and simply take a taxi to the port to see what ferries and boat taxi collectivos were available. We ended up talking to people in one of the few offices on the dock who said that once they got enough people they would depart to Uros & Taquile, the two islands we were wanting to visit (we had also booked our homestay on Taquile so we would be sleeping there.) It was very cheap (around 25 soles aka $8.3 USD) for a RT ticket and we were told we could take the 2:30 pm boat the next day back to Puno.

IMPORTANT: Pack light! If you are staying on Taquile Island, only bring a small bag, preferably one you can carry on your back. Taquile has NO CARS and you will be walking, uphill to where you are staying, so having a large bag would be impossible. We almost brought our big rolling suitcases and we would have been pretty screwed so at the last minute we decided to leave them at the office of the boat company. (Spoiler alert: everything was still there and intact when we returned). 

We first stopped at Uros, which are a series of floating reed islands constructed by the people that live there. I heard this this was the most “tourist trappy” part of the area, so my expectations were low, but it was 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. This part is a bit awkward, as we had no interest in buying a bunch of woven goods, but we did get away with buying a friendship bracelet and a keychain.

After Uros the boat continues on to Taquile and it takes about 2.5 hours…for some reason the boat is EXTREMELY slow but this bodes well if you are prone to seasickness as you will most likely not have any problems! At the port on Taquile we were greeted by our family stay host, Señor Celso. 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. We were told that 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 here are from people and nature, and the green hilly fields are filled with purple and yellow flowers from the potato plants they grow. You pass people dressed in brightly knit traditional clothing – sometimes weaving as they walk. 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. There is also a huge knitting cooperative where the locals work to handcraft beautiful garments that you can purchase. If I had to do things all over again, I would have saved space in my suitcase and money spent at other markets to buy more of their wares, as there was almost no comparison to the quality between what we saw there and the massed produced items of the markets in Lima and Cusco. Breakfast was provided for us by Celso’s wife (delicious pancakes) and we chose to add on dinner to our stay (trout soup & omelet) which was also very good and a nice experience to dine with the family. It was also quite interesting to communicate because 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.

Swim! We walked to the smaller beach which was closer to where we stayed. There honestly wasn’t a clear path down to the beach, but we figured out a 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.

DON’T FORGET:

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.

USEFUL LINKS:

Inn Taquile Familia Celso 

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!

Cruz Del Sur Bus Line

We had a great experience with this bus (we also did their bus from Lima to Ica.) Very comfortable and safe.

Peru Travel

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

March 21, 2019
One glass of vino for the road in Ollantaytambo

The Journey to Machu Picchu…undoubtedly the holy grail of the Peru Trip.

Before I planned on going to Peru, I really didn’t know much about the process of getting to Machu Picchu, except that it was near Cusco. Fly 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. I knew you could trek there via the Inca trail, but due to our visit being during the rainy season (it closes in Feb for maintenance) that was not an option for us. There are other treks and expeditions you can take though that involve hiking on alternate trails.

The other option is to get there by a combination of train to Aguas Calientes (a small Hamlet at the base of Machu Picchu) and then a bus to take you up the mountain to the site. If you’re up to it, you can also walk from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu, which I’m told can be done in about an hour and a half.

When you arrive in Cusco there are tons, and I mean TONS of tour agencies offering to coordinate your trip to this World Wonder. On our hotel street alone there were at least 5 different tour agencies. We stopped by one of them to inquire about pricing, and they were able to quote us a price of $250 USD per person for the next day, including train, bus, admission & guide. Having just arrived in Cusco and feeling a bit overwhelmed, we decided to not make a quick decision and do some other sightseeing first, then try to DIY it for Machu Picchu. It ended up being a good thing we did because the next day we came down with food poisoning and were confined to the room all day (imagine if we had pre-booked all of our tickets for the next day?! Phew!) 

A few people had told me that the best way to see Machu Picchu was to sleep in Aguas Calientes and then take the earliest bus to see it at sunrise. In the non-rainy season you can take a train directly there from Cusco, but during the rainy season the busses replace trains between Cusco and Ollantaytambo, so we figured we’d be more comfortable in a taxi and it would also give us time to hang out in the village (an ancient Inca town that is a wonderful place to explore if you have time). We took the 3:35pm PeruRail Vistadome trains which is the mid range train with a panoramic view. Your other options for trains are the Expedition, the budget option without the panoramic windows, and the Belmond Hiram Bingham, a luxury rail experience. We chose the Vistadome because the Belmond was way out of our budget (although it looks sweet!!) and I wanted the panoramic windows because I heard the view from this train ride was unreal (and it was).

The train was really nice – they serve you complimentary tea/coffee and a snack while you ride up and the views really are spectacular – it took about an hour and 45 minutes. Arrival in Aguas Calientes is exciting – everyone is coming for one purpose and you can feel the energy and excitement. The town itself is so strange – in the middle of this beautiful lush jungle mountain setting are these buildings 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 (there is even a super luxury resort right at the entrance to Machu Picchu). We chose a mid range option, Gringo Bill’s based on it’s price, last-minute availability and Booking.com rating.

When we checked in we were told by the front desk clerk to immediately head to the Machu Picchu office and bus ticket counter to ensure we had our tickets for the next day. You can 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, which I’ve heard are both amazing but given my fear of heights and our food poisoning recovery status still in flux, 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. 

The morning of our visit we were worried we wouldn’t make the first bus (the first bus leaves at 5:30AM), but there were several buses lined up to accommodate people 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 a group of English speaking people with a guide so 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 also NO BATHROOMS inside the gates Machu Picchu, only at the entrance, so make sure you go before you go, if you know what I mean, and bring a snack if you think you’ll get hungry…although you may have to share with a llama. We had an amazing 4 hours at the site before taking the bus back, grabbing a quick lunch at French Bistro 

COST

Okay, so in the beginning of this post, I told you that the tour agency quoted us at $250 USD per person and we decided to try our DIY luck. Here is our DIY price breakdown of what we payed PER PERSON in USD:

Machu Picchu Cost Breakdown PP in USD
Taxi to Ollantaytambo $30.00
Vistadome PeruRail Train From Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes $60.00
Machu Picchu Entrance Fee $50.00
Round Trip Bus from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu $24.00
Joined Group Guided Tour $6.00
IncaRail Voyager Train from Aguas Calientes to Cusco $54.00
TOTAL $224.00 *

*Accomodations & Food in Aguas Calientes NOT included

So, as you can see, we did not save much doing a DIY version – HOWEVER, I would say my takeaway was that you can DIY it for a similar price and have more choice and freedom over your time frame. If you don’t want to worry about anything and have everything already pre-purchased and taken care of, doing it through an agency should not cost you much more than buying it piece meal. I also would recommend sleeping in Aguas Calientes the night before as I liked being one of the first people to enter the site.

OTHER THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND:

Remember that all of this was done during the Off Season, so 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 all 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. 

USEFUL LINKS:

PeruRail

IncaRail

Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel

The Tree House Restaurante

La Boulangerie de Paris

Machu Picchu Ticket Office

Colombia Travel

Colombia Highlights

October 29, 2018

Medellin → Cartagena → San Andres/Providencia → Palomino → Minca

MEDELLIN

STAY

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.

61Prado Guesthouse | Cl. 61 #50 A-60, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

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! 

EAT & DRINK

Hacienda | Cra. 49 #52-98, Medellín, Antioquia, Colombia

A bit touristy but nice with typical food, a Lonely Planet recommendation. We mainly ate at the hotel and then had a meal out at Hacienda.

DO

Real City Tours -Free Walking Tour

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 🙂

CARTAGENA

STAY

Hostal Santo Domingo Vidal | Calle San Juan #25-72, Getsemani, Cartagena

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.

EAT & DRINK

Ohlala Bistrot | Calle Larga Callejon Vargas, Getsemani, Cartagena

Very charming & airy bistro with a French chef. Decor and food was delicious, a great place to eat lunch. Nice wine & ceviche!

DO

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.  

PALOMINO

STAY

The Dreamer Hostel | Palomino

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.

DO

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 ways without anything to protect their feet from the bare forrest 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 to bring 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!

PROVIDENCIA/SAN ANDRES

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!). 

STAY

Hotel Refugio de la Luna | El Bluff, Providencia Island, Colombia

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!

EAST & 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. 

Cafe Studio | Soroeste, Providencia Island, Colombia

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.

DO

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. 

MINCA

STAY

Casa Elemento | How to get there

We went to Minca for the sole purpose of staying at Casa Elemento. My husband saw the 20 foot hammock on it’s website and was totally sold. It was Quite. A Trek. Not for the faint of heart, and done easier if you only have a backpack, which we did. Once you get to Minca you ride on the back of a mototaxi for 45 minutes straight up a mountain through beautiful, albeit muddy, terrain. Once you get there though, you feel like you’re on top of the world.

The food is excellent, the staff is super chill (it seems like it’s made up of travelers who visited the hostel and wanted to stay), and the guests are friendly. There are resident dogs, a cat, and most delightfully a toucan that lets you feed it! The wifi is non existent, but it didn’t matter. The bathrooms are also open air to the wilderness, as are the “private cabanas” which are basically 3 walls around a bed with an open front view of the mountains and valley below. It was a little bit different for me and a lot more exposed to nature than I’m used to. Would I do it again? Absolutely.

From Casa Elemento there are birdwatching and coffee excursions but sadly we did not have time and the weather had turned rough (we experienced the start of hurricane Matthew there). After our delicious dinner we drank with the new friends we had made and played games until late in the night as the fog rolled in. Such great memories were made and it was a wonderful end to our trip. 

Australia Travel

3 Weeks in Australia: An Itinerary

September 28, 2017

Sydney → Whitsundays → Cairns → Cape Tribulation →
Melbourne → Great Ocean Road

SYDNEY

STAY

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!

Momo Bar Manly Beach | 28 Market Pl, Manly NSW 2095, Australia

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. 

Mary’s | 6 Mary St, Newtown, Sydney

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. 

DO

Bondi Beach

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.

TRANSPORTATION

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.

WHITSUNDAYS

STAY

Hibiscus 006 – Hamilton Island 

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!

One Tree Hill | One Tree Hill, 4803, Australia

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!

DO

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. 

Animal Sanctuary

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!). 

TOWNSVILLE AREA

STAY

Butterfly Valley / Paradise Kingfisher | Damper Creek, QLD, Australia

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

DO

Billabong Sanctuary | 11 Country Rd, Nome QLD 4816, Australia

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! 

CAIRNS

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!**

STAY

Kev’s Classic Queenslander / Cairns Central | Parramatta Park, Cairns

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!

DO

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. 

CAPE TRIBULATION

STAY

Cape Tribulation Holiday House The Daintree | Cape Tribulation, QLD, Australia

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.” 

EAT

Whet | Lot 1 Cape Tribulation Road | Road Cape Tribulation Qld 4873, Cape Tribulation

There aren’t too many restaurant options out here in the jungle, but we had a lovely dinner at Whet, complete with delicious seafood & twinkle lights on the porch.

Floravilla Ice Cream Factory | Corner of Cape Tribulation Road & Buchanan Creek Road, Daintree, Queensland 4873, Australia

We stopped here on our way out of the Daintree – great flavors of homemade ice cream and a nice place to sit and enjoy it.

DO

Cooper Creek Wilderness | 2333 Cape Tribulation Rd, Cape Tribulation, Queensland 4873, Australia

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.

MELBOURNE

STAY

Luxury House in South Melbourne | South Melbourne

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.

EAT & DRINK

Magic Specialty Coffee | 286 Ferrars St, South Melbourne VIC 3205, Australia

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. 

Goldilocks Bar | 264 Swanston St, Melbourne VIC 3000, Australia

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. 

DO

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!

GREAT OCEAN ROAD

STAY

Apollo Beach House | Apollo Bay, VIC, Australia

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. 

EAT & DRINK

Moons Espresso Bar | 108 Mountjoy Pde, Lorne, Victoria 3232, Australia

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.

DO

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.

Gorge Chocolates | 1432 Princetown Road, Princetown, Victoria 3268, Australia

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!