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Travel USA West Virginia

A Road Trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

May 21, 2020

If you are looking for a fun, beautiful, and historical trip to take this summer, a road trip to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia may be in the cards! Harper’s Ferry is situated right on the border where Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia meet. This makes it a convenient spot for a day trip or overnight from the Baltimore/DC area.

What you’ll find are gorgeous views, a quaint and historic town, beautiful nature, and the gateway to the Loudoun County wine region. My husband Mike and I took our road trip to Harper’s Ferry last September to celebrate our wedding anniversary, and had a wonderful time! It was so nice to drive less than 2 hours from Baltimore and find ourselves in a completely different setting.

**Please visit HERE for most recent updates involving West Virginia health and safety updates and regulations including
openings and closures.
Make sure to check individual business websites for the latest information and availability of service. **

Getting to Harpers Ferry

Taking a road trip to Harpers Ferry is very easy if you live in the Baltimore or Washington DC area! The driving distance is an hour and fifteen minutes from each place, making the perfect destination for a day trip or quick weekend getaway.

It is also easily accessible from other Mid-Atlantic Destinations:

  • Harrisburg, PA: 1hr, 30 min
  • Richmond, VA: 2hrs, 30 min
  • Philadelphia: 2hrs, 40min
  • Pittsburgh, PA: 3hrs, 30 min
  • New York City Area: 4 hrs

Note that there is limited parking in the town itself, with street parking only. You can try your luck with street parking, but you will find it extremely difficult, especially during busy times. The best bet is to drive to the National Park Service lot (171 Shoreline Drive) where there is ample parking. There’s a visitor’s center as well as a free shuttle bus that will take you to the little downtown area.

If you live in DC and don’t have a car/want to relax on your trip without getting behind the wheel, both the MARC Train and Amtrak have service from Washington DC.

What to Do in Harpers Ferry

The tiny town of Harpers Ferry is absolutely adorable – you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time! If you enjoy history, particularly early US History and Civil War history, you’ll definitely be in your element.

Walking through the town you will get a bit of a workout, as it’s perched on a hill (hence the amazing views of the surrounding landscape!) The town itself is very small with one main thoroughfare (High Street) filled with shops, restaurants, and historic sights. For a great spot to enjoy delicious food & drinks AND enjoy an amazing view of the valley and river, get a table on the deck of The Rabbit Hole (186 High St).

I would advise having lunch in the village versus dinner, as most restaurants close early. If you’re staying overnight in the area, there are a few neighboring towns that I recommend below.

After lunch, if you’re craving something sweet, head to True Treats Historic Candy Shop (144 High Street)! Even if you’re not a candy fiend, this shop is pretty much a museum, with typical candies dating back to biblical times, through the mid-1900s. There are also several other shops to browse along High Street selling locally made artisan items, historic knick-knacks, art, and other gifts.

If you continue down High Street you will approach the walk up to St. Peter’s Catholic Church, built pre-civil war, which has an amazing view over the entire valley. This church is also where the Ghost Tour meets if you’re interested in the spooky history of Harper’s Ferry!

You can continue walking up to Jefferson’s Rock, the lookout point where US President Thomas Jefferson once declared that the scene was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

Harpers Ferry National Park

The town of Harpers Ferry is actually part of the Harpers Ferry Historical National Park! The whole park encompasses 4,000 acres and includes parts of West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.

In addition to the historic village, church, Jefferson’s Rock, and historic demonstrations & museums, the park also offers guided tours and several hiking trails.

Make sure to check with the National Park Service before planning your trip to get up to date information on access to the park and health and safety regulations.

Where to Stay

Harper’s Ferry has a number of quaint and affordable Bed and Breakfasts within the village itself. The Cantula Inn comes highly rated by guests and offers modern comfort in a historic setting. The Lily Garden Bed & Breakfast is another great option, with 2 adorable suites situated in an old carriage house. The Light Horse Inn is also a great choice, offering modern amenities with historic charm (no children).

If you wanted to venture out of the village itself, there are lots of options in the surrounding area. Nearby Charles Town has more of the run of the mill chain hotels and will put you closer to late-night dining options and the Casino and Inn at Charles Town Races.

If you want a completely unique and wonderful Airbnb experience, I would definitely recommend the Historic Maison du Soleil Retreat, where we stayed during our visit (see photos below). We stayed in a private room within the hosts’ house and felt complete privacy and freedom throughout our visit.

The outdoor barn area they have set up is a dream – so tranquil and beautiful, it was hard to leave it to go and sightsee. The hot tub was especially nice to relax in. It’s close to the attractions at Harpers Ferry, as well as quaint Shepherdstown and plenty of wineries and hiking. Your stay also includes a wonderful breakfast cooked by the host, Henk.

Surrounding Activities in Harpers Ferry

Charles Town

Charles Town is another historic town less than a 15-minute drive from Harpers Ferry. While the town is more commercialized and not quite as quaint, you will find more here in terms of larger hotels, food options, grocery stores, the casino, etc. We mainly spent time here because of our Airbnb location, but we found the downtown quite charming as well in its own way.

A few highlights of Charles Town included dinner and live music on the patio at Abolitionist Ale Works, and the beautiful mural by Philadelphia artist Isaiah Zager (below).

Shepherdstown

I LOVED Shepherdstown and would definitely recommend checking it out! Another unbelievably quaint town, located 20 minutes from either Harpers Ferry or Charleston. Definitely worth spending a few hours walking the main street and all the local shops. There are also lots of yummy and unique dining options should you choose to stay here.

For Civil War Buffs and history enthusiasts, Shepherdstown is also close to the Antietam National Battlefield (Sharpsburg, MD), the sight of the bloodiest day in US History during the Battle of Antietam in 1862.

Loudoun County Wineries

Just south of the Harpers Ferry area, Loudoun County, Virginia is a beautiful, sprawling, hill covered destination with 40 wineries! You could really spend your whole weekend just touring vineyards and tasting rooms, but it’s also fun to pop down here and have a relaxing afternoon at one or two of them.

Hillsborough Winery, Brewery & Vineyard is a great option if you are coming from Harpers Ferry or Charlestown, only around 20 minutes away from either place. The views were absolutely gorgeous and you can enjoy their wine and/or beer along with food selections they offer on-site if you sit on the patio or in the tasting room. If you choose to bring your own food, there is a picnic area where you can sit.

As you can see, this area area has a TON to offer, making a road trip to Harpers Ferry a great idea for this summer or fall! I hope you enjoy the local charm, history, eats and shopping of this beautiful place.

Looking for more local travel ideas on the US East Coast? Check out my Guide to Camping with Wild Horses on Assateague Island and my guide to Charming Photo Spots in Baltimore!

Don’t forget to PIN this article to help you plan your trip.

Marseille Provence Travel

5 Unique Day Trip Ideas from Marseille, France

January 4, 2020

Bonjour! If you’re no stranger to my blog and Instagram account, you know Marseille has become my home away from home. My husband’s family is from there and we go at least once a year. Marseille is a diamond in the rough, and I certainly advocate spending at least 3 days exploring the city itself. (See: my Guide to Marseille and my Instagram Guide to Marseille). If you find yourself wanting to wander off the beaten path though, I have 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille that will make you fall in love with the surrounding area.

Cassis & Bandol

You may have heard of Cassis, the candy hued, charming (& somewhat touristy) seaside town. Maybe I’m biased because it’s where I got engaged, but I think it lives up to it’s hype. About a half an hour from Marseille by car, the view when approaching Cassis is one of my favorites in the world. The stunning red cliff of the Cap Canaille, the endless aqua of the Mediterranean, gorgeous houses dotting the mountain side…wow. It is simply breathtaking.

What to Do in Cassis

I would suggest leaving late morning from Marseille to start your day. You only need an hour or so in the village itself. There are a few dozen cute boutiques & souvenir shops and plenty of choices for food. I love picking one of the places on the waterfront for lunch (I’m not loyal to any one in particular) and dining on Moule Frites. If you still have room, head to Amorino Gelato for a tasty (and Insta-worthy) rose shaped cone. There is often a little market in the central Place Baragnon. The typical French Market is on Wednesdays and Fridays but they have traveling and art markets as well.

If you are interested in seeing the Calanques (beautiful inlets that dot the coast around Marseille), you can take a cruise from the harbor. The price and duration vary depending on how many Calanques you want to see and what time of year it is. If the weather is nice, it’s definitely a good option! (Plan to leave earlier if you plan to see the village, do the cruise, AND still want to see Bandol).

Onward to Bandol

As you enter and leave Cassis, you will see plenty of vineyards where you can stop and taste wine. Unlike most of Provence which specializes in rosé, Cassis is known for it’s full-bodied and herbaceous white wines. While Mike and I usually try our luck stopping at random places along the way, here is a more detailed guide to region if you would like specific vineyard recs.

As you head towards Bandol (30 mins further east down the coast), you will pass many more vineyards. Even though the wine region is named for the seaside town, you won’t find any vineyards in the city center. In contrast to Cassis, Bandol is known for it’s earthy reds but also makes great whites and rosés. Taking the A50 towards La Ciotat/Toulon towards Bandol will take you past the villages of La Cadière d’Azur, Le Castellet, in the heart of the region. This guide will point you in the direction of specific wineries if you’re looking to plan in more detail.

This should go without saying that you should always have a designated driver if you plan on tasting wine – those sips can add up quick and France’s love of wine doesn’t cancel out their enforcement of drunk driving laws.

If you have time, continuing on to the village of Bandol would be a nice way to end the day. It is a fun and festive seaside town with quaint streets plenty of options for food to soak up all that wine.

Once you are satiated and tired, you only have a 42 minute drive back to Marseille.

Harbor in Bandol

Six-Fours-les-Plages

Another gem along the coast that I wanted to make sure to include in my guide to 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille is Six-Fours-les-Plages. Take the A50 from Marseille towards Toulon and you’ll be there in about an hour. We didn’t spend much time in the center of Six-Fours and instead continued towards the sea to the smaller commune of Le Brusc, which I would recommend. It’s quaint with a distinctly local feel. You can pass through the little town by car and park in the paid lot further down towards the water.

Coastline at Le Brusc

Here the shore is rocky with pretty formations and tide pools and you can jump right in for a pleasant dip. We were there for golden & blue hour which were particularly beautiful. Adjacent to the coastline is a small island called Île du Petit Gaou which is reachable by foot bridge. There are walking paths to enjoy the beautiful nature, majestic cliffs and breathtaking views.

Scenes from Le Brusc & Île du Petit Gaou

There are a few nice restaurants close to island which offer amazing views. We chose to do a casual dinner of pizza back in the little village of Le Brusc which we ate on benches overlooking the harbor accompanied with rosé in plastic cups.

I would suggest allowing yourself a full afternoon here and ending up with sunset drinks and dinner. Six-Four/Le Brusc could also be paired with a morning trip to Cassis or Bandol.

Côte Bleue

So you’ve heard of the Côte d’Azur but have you heard of the Côte Bleue? I hadn’t until I started visiting Marseille regularly. The Côte Bleue is a charming piece of coastline between Marseille and Martigues, with the Mediterranean on one side and the Etang de Berre on the other. You’ll find quaint and lesser known fishing villages and beaches to keep to occupied on your day trip.

Coastline near Carry-le-Rouet

L’Estaque

Driving East from Marseille you can start in L’Estaque which is a suburb of Marseille and worth checking out either on your way out or on your way back. This little village has been an inspiration to many artists over the years including Cézanne, Renoir and Georges Braque.

Carry-le-Rouet

Further west you will find the village of Carry-le-Rouet, another seaside resort town which is favored as a summer retreat by the locals. Besides the cute downtown and harbor there is a coastal footpath where you can walk along the sea and four different beaches:

  • Le Rouet: the first beach in town and the most popular,
  • Cap Rousset: a natural limestone cove
  • Fernandel: in the center of town
  • Les Beaumettes: edge of town, stone and shallow water

Fun fact: Carry-le-Rouet is known as the “sea urchin capital” and even has a designated urchin month (February) with events and tastings!

Martigues

After you can head to Martigues, a colorful village known as the “Venice of Provence”. It’s bright buildings and bridges were definitely reminiscent of the famed Italian city, however even in the middle of summer there were no crowds. The Moiroir aux Oiseaux, a little port along Quai Brescon, was particularly picturesque and also a famed spot among painters.

Road to Valensole

I’m sure you’ve heard of Valensole (hello, Lavender fields?). Not so unique, you might say. BUT- I want to recommend a few places surrounding the famed plateau that you may not have on your radar, qualifying it as one of my unique day trip ideas from Marseille. The places below are a bit on the further side for a day trip so I would suggest leaving early if you want to get the most out of your day!

When you go to Valensole during off season 🙂

Gréoux-les-Bains

A cute little town with shops, colorful buildings and cafes with outdoor seatings for prime people watching! It also home to a thermal bath healthy center at which you can prebook health treatments for an extended period of time. If you’re just there for the day though and want to enjoy some pampering, there are facilities to book day treatments.

Moustiers-Sainte-Marie

We loved visiting this quaint perched village! Also simply known as “Moustiers”, this pedestrian town has waterfalls woven through it’s streets and a glorious view of the valley below. It’s also well known for it’s beautiful and uniquely hand-painted ceramics called faïence. You will see many shops with plenty of opportunities to stock up on unique souvenirs (although they are not cheap!) Also make sure to be respectful in the shops as a lot of them have signs that say “no photos.”

As you drive up the hill to approach the building there are parking lots where you can leave your vehicle and continue on foot into the town.

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon

Sainte-Croix-du-Verdon is a small town overlooking the beautiful Lac Sainte Croix (which I also recommend visiting if you have time!) In fact, you can take a quick visit to the lakeshore below the village and then drive up the hill for the view. The view, in fact is the main attraction and we’ve come back several times to have dinner at Le Comptoir. I still think about the lavender honey & goat cheese bruschetta and dessert plate I ate there, and the scenery is truly unbeatable.

Camargue

To conclude my 5 unique day trip ideas from Marseille I present you with The Camargue. It’s a natural park area in Provence, known for it’s marshy land, birdwatching & wildlife, salt flats & quaint villages, just west of Marseille and the Côte Bleue. I would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re interested in distinct landscape and natural beauty.

Aigues-Mortes

Aigue-Mortes 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 that gets it’s color from the high concentration of salt in it. You can take a guided tour of the salt flats on a little train – cost is around 10 Euros. It was a neat and unique experience! 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.

Arles

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” (here is where the cafe can be found). You can even take a Van Gogh Walking Tour organized by the tourism office! Other things to visit are the Roman Amphitheater, Ancient Theater, several museums and of course, shops & cafes.

Conclusion

So, here you have it: 5 unique day trips from Marseille! If you can’t get enough of this region like me, check out my guides for Visiting Provence in Autumn and My Favorite Spots in Provence. If you scroll back up I’ve also provided a handy dandy MAP of all the places I’ve talked about here and color coded it by trip for your convenience. I hope this guide was helpful to you and that you enjoy your time in Provence, wherever it takes you!

Don’t forget to PIN this post for your trip:

Florence Italy Travel

Where to Eat in Florence, Italy

November 17, 2019

So you’re wondering where to eat in Florence, Italy during your trip? I’ll just say it: it’s pretty hard to eat a bad meal in Florence. You’ve got all the best ingredients, a history and culture that revolves around food & wine, and…gelato.

While it IS easy to find good food in Florence, the number of choices can also be overwhelming. When I studied abroad there in 2007, I didn’t do much dining out because I was a poor student and often cooked at home with my roommates. Fast forward 10+ years, returning as a “real adult” with a little more disposable income, I was ready to eat my way through the city!

I’m going to tell you about my favorite places to eat in Florence, including some OG favorites from my study abroad days that are still just as good.

Where to Eat at Breakfast Time

Bambi Caffe, San Lorenzo Market | Mercato Centrale di San Lorenzo, ingresso da via dell’Ariento, 50123

A fun (and delicious) way to start your day is at the San Lorenzo Market: an iconic spot in Florence. The outdoor area has stalls selling leather goods, scarves, stationary Murano glass, etc. Head inside though to satisfy any Italian food craving you might have (and stock up on souvenirs of the culinary variety). Stop at Bambi Caffe for a pastry and espresso, the simple and typical Italian breakfast. If you want a real treat, order a Caffe Pistachio, with layers of espresso, pistachio cream, whipped cream and crushed Pistachio nuts. Yum!

Where to Have Nice Eats/Drinks

La Menagere | Via De’ Ginori 8r, 50123, Florence, Italy

One of my 2 favorites of the trip, La Menagere is an industrial chic vision with sophisticated fare to match it’s dreamy decor. Part cafe/bar, part fancy restaurant, part boutique, part florist, everything is a visual delight. We opted for the cafe part and I had the avocado toast with smoked salmon and pistachio – it was amazing! Prices range from mid range to high end, depending on if you dine in the cafe part or restaurant. Go during the week for lunch if you want less chance of a wait.

Simbiosi | via De’ Ginori 56R Ristorante: via De’ Ginori 58R / 60R

We stumbled upon the Simbiosi trio while walking from the Duomo to our accommodation and it became our other favorite dining and drinking spot. I call it a “trio” because even though it all has the same name and owner, there are 3 separate restaurants (and all are organic!): Pizza, Pasta & Bar/Cafe. Throughout our stay we enjoyed bar snacks, spritzes and delicious rose Lambrusco at the bar/cafe Simbiosi. We also got the chance to dine at the pasta restaurant 

Osteria Vecchio Viccolo | Via Lambertesca 16r, 50122, Florence, Italy

Where should you eat in Florence near the Ufizzi and Ponte Vecchio? The cute bike in front attracted me to this delightful restaurant. Excellent pizza and pasta with wonderful service. Grab a table near the front to observe all the foot traffic.

Tosca Nino La Terrazza | Piazza Della Repubblica, Rinascente 4 Et 5 Piano, 50123, Florence, Italy

This is where to go for THE VIEW! Also simply known as “La Terazza”, it’s the cafes sits atop La Rinascente department store off the Palazzo Della Repubblica. It offers various light bites and meal options as well as an extensive cocktail menu (11-14 Euros per cocktail). It is super busy so I would suggest Tuesday or Wednesday for golden hour. Expect the prices to match the opulence of the view but it’s a worthwhile splurge.



Booking.com

Where to Eat Quick Bites

Pizzicheria Guadagni | Via Isola delle Stinche 4/r, 50122, Florence, Italy

When I studied abroad, this was the spot I grabbed lunch every day! A family run centrally located deli, Stefano and/or his wife Stefania will make you an excellent sandwich. I was so happy to go back and find them still there. You can eat in the little courtyard outside of the shop or take your goods with you as you make your way from the Duomo to the museums.

Proccaci | Via Dei Tornabuoni 64/R, 50123, Florence, Italy

Speaking of truffles – I read about this place in a Conde Nast article about NON touristy places to eat in Florence. Procacci specializes in mini truffle sandwiches (uh-mazing) and homemade tomato juice, served up like a Bloody Mary (minus the alcohol) with all the fixin’s. It’s located among the high end shopping district so it feels extra fancy, but the sandwiches are only 2.50 Euros each.

Where to Eat Something Sweet

Badiani Gelato | Viale dei Mille, 20/R, Florence, Italy

Okay, okay. Gelato is literally EVERYWHERE in Florence. Not all of it is good, and a lot of it is overpriced, unfortunately. But I have on great authority that this is the best gelato shop in the city! It’s located a few blocks away from my former study abroad apartment (dangerous) and I remembered it being amazing.

What a delight to go back and experience it again! So many good and interesting flavors and a big cafe where you can sit and enjoy. It’s a bit off the beaten path near the soccer stadium, but honestly worth it in my opinion.

Just please don’t make the mistake of buying 10 euro mediocre gelato from a shop near the Duomo or the Ponte Vecchio!

Buon Appetito!

In conclusion, you’ll see there is no shortage of amazing spots to eat in Florence. This is just a snippet of what this city has to offer, but I think it’s better to go with a plan because each meal you get to experience here is valuable. I hope this guide is helpful and that you enjoy Firenze (I know you will!)

Make sure to pin this for your trip to Florence!

Peru Travel

You Should Definitely Do a Homestay on Taquile Island

March 27, 2019

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.

Getting There

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.

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). 

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.



Booking.com

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.

The bluest waters I’ve ever seen!

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.

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.

Also need information on Machu Picchu for your Peru trip? I’ve got you covered here!

Don’t forget to PIN this to help you plan your trip to Taquile!

Peru Travel

Visiting Machu Picchu via Aguas Calientes

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

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.

Getting There

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.

Alternative options:

  • 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.

Cost Breakdown

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

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.

Practical Info

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. 

Useful Links

PeruRail

IncaRail

Gringo Bill’s Boutique Hotel

The Tree House Restaurante

La Boulangerie de Paris

Machu Picchu Ticket Office

Colombia Travel

The Ultimate 3-Week Itinerary for Colombia

October 29, 2018

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

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

Tubing

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!

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!

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. 

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

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. 

Conclusion

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.

For another 3 week trip ideas, check out my 3-Week Itinerary for Australia!

Also, don’t forget to PIN this guide for your future travels.

Australia Travel

The Ultimate 3-Week Itinerary for Australia

September 28, 2017

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

Sydney

(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.)

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.

The 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

(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!

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!

Conclusion

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.

For another 3 week trip ideas, check out my 3-Week Guide to Colombia, South America!

Also, don’t forget to PIN this guide for your future travels.