Your 2022 Ultimate Travel Bucket List!

Your 2022 Ultimate Travel Bucket List!

Here is your 2022 travel bucket list recommended by yours truly. Destinations for all budgets!

Mexico! Yes, I know, I know. Why Mexico? Everyone has been to Mexico. You’re right, but I’m not talking about Tulum, Cabo, Riviera Maya, or Puerta Vallarta. Those are stale and ordinary! I’m talking Mexico City! I love the hustle and bustle of that city, not to mention the incredible food scene and super fun nightlife. I’m talking about getting outside of the city to the Pyramids. I’m talking about taking a drive to San Miguel de Allende or Cuernavaca. Hell, why not go glamping in Las Estacas. Mexico City was so fantastic. I went back five more times in three months! Oh, and by the way, it’s safe. I felt safer here than walking around Hollywood. Use your common senses, and you’ll be fine! If a city break is not what you have in mind, visit Las Alamandas! It’s a private resort 2 hours south of Puerta Vallarta and has the most amazing sunsets you’ll ever see. I loved my long weekend here. I forget how beautiful the evenings on the Pacific are. * There are no covid requirements, which makes me put it at the top of the list due to ease. 

Iceland! Iceland is one of my all-time favorite countries in the world. It is the definition of picturesque. I remember driving there, and every few minutes, I would want to stop for photos and realized it would take me hours to get to the tourist attractions if I didn’t stop. There is so much beauty in this country and so much to see! I spent only five days there, and I did not want to leave. It’s magical. So magical the locals truly believe in elves, and there are strong traditions and superstitions about them. There are even elf and troll houses. You have to see it to believe it. The whole country is like walking into a Bob Ross painting. Beautiful lush mountains, black sand beaches, rock formations, dozens of stunning waterfalls, lush green hilltops, and the famous blue lagoon. I will no doubt be back in this country. It’s also very romantic if you want to take a loved one. I recommend missing out on exploring Reyjavik and going straight to do the South Tour and Golden circle. If you have time, definitely make it up to the North part of the country. It’s like no place you have ever seen! Renting a car is the best way to see it all and on your own time. Another thing I loved about Iceland is the amount of horses you see. They are everywhere and so beautiful. Bring some crackers for them and you’ll be their best friend! Also, don’t miss the hidden pools and old plane crash site. These were two highlights of my trip that not many know about!  *Must be fully vaccinated and show a negative PCR test within 24 hours OR quarantine for five days upon arrival if not Vaxxed. (I don’t suggest this).

Peru! Peru is another one of my all-time favorites. It’s another country that has so much beauty and history in it. I was mesmerized by just how much there is to see here and learn. Of course, the main attraction here is Machu Picchu, but do not skip out on all the other incredible places along the Inca Trail, the Sacred Trail, and exploring the Rainbow Mountains! You must spend time in the historic city of Cusco. It’s authentic, quaint, and just so charming. You will see women in authentic Peruvian clothing and taste some of the best food of your life. Peruvian is one of my favorite cuisines. It’s so good. Just stay away from eating the Guinea Pigs. Lol. I mean, I couldn’t do that after having so many of them as pets as a kid. You will also get to see cute baby goals and a lot of fluffy alpacas. The journey on the train to Machu Picchu was just breathtaking. You can opt for the hike there, but it takes a few days, and I know it would have been an unforgettable experience; God knows I wouldn’t be able to hike for hours and days and sleep in tents and not shower! Hahaha! Yeah right! There are some really incredible hotels and hot springs there. Machu Picchu is a Wonder of the World and is one of the most surreal mystical places I’ve ever seen. Enjoy it and take it all in. It’s extraordinary! *Must have a vaccine for indoor spaces and domestic flights and a PCR test within 24 hours of landing.*

Jordan! A country in the Middle East holds some of the best food and best attractions. Like Peru, it homes a “Wonder of the World,” Petra, The Lost City. After reading all about it, it had been on my bucket list for years. The city is centuries old, and the buildings look pristine since being excavated. The people in Jordan are so kind and hospitable, and as I said, the food is delicious and affordable. My friend and I started in the bustling, busy city of Amman and drove to The Dead Sea. I highly recommend that experience. It’s so cool to float on top of the water while reading a book. We then headed to Petra, which was the highlight of my trip. We were the first ones to arrive when it opened at 6 am, and we ended up walking 16 miles that day. I was so excited and fascinated that I didn’t even notice how sore and swollen my feet were. After an incredible day in Petra, back at our hotel, we admired the glistening lights and flickering bonfires from the Bedion camps. We rested in our dome tent and headed for the Wadi Rum desert, which genuinely looks like you’re on another planet. Mentioning another planet, The movie “The Martian” was filmed there. It’s jaw-dropping and infinite. Our driver was so kind and showed us all the beauty! In Wadi Rum, we stayed at Aischa Luxury camp, and to this day, it’s the most fantastic, most unique hotel I’ve ever stayed in. You will not see the stars anywhere as you do in the Jordanian Desert. There have even been many reports of UFO sightings there. How cool! Also, Jordan is so safe. The people love and welcome the tourists, and it’s very affordable! *Must have a negative covid PCR test 72 hours before landing, and then another test is taken when landing in Jordan.

Thailand! Thailand is a stunning place with so many different areas to see. I loved the cities as much as the relaxing lush green tropical areas. I enjoyed exploring the beautiful gold ornate temples in Bangkok and Chang Mai. It is such a beautiful and cheap place, and it’s perfect for a first-time international trip with a smaller budget. It was my first ever solo trip. I was intimidated being alone in Bangkok but quickly found my feet and enjoyed my city escape before heading to Thailand’s breathtaking islands and areas. Krabi was my favorite. We stayed at the Phulay Bay Ritz Carlton Reserve, and it’s one of the most excellent hotels I’ve stayed in, with even more insane views of the sea and rock formations. Koh Samui was also very special. I recommend staying on the Northside of the island where it’s quieter and less of the touristy areas and traps. I would avoid Phuket as it’s so commercialized with too many tourist traps and gimmicks. My first lunch in Bangkok cost me three dollars for the main course, drink, dessert, and tip. How is that even possible? Another random tip, enjoy the monkies but don’t forget they will steal your things! They’re brilliant. Don’t even bother having food around them unless you’re willing to share it. I made that mistake of having a watermelon and bananas, and about a dozen monkeys chased me to hand it over! * Must have negative PCR test 24 hours before arrival and wear face masks inside.

I   Greece! I love Greece for so many reasons. The history and Greek mythology alone have also just intrigued me. Walking around Athens, I was bewildered. I genuinely couldn’t believe I was walking around a city rich in history that, at one time, was one of the strongest civilizations in the world next to Italy and The Roman Empire. It’s surreal. I love sitting at The Grand Hotel Bretagne rooftop, having dinner, and looking over at the Parthenon all lit up and glistening in the night. While two days in Athens is plenty, as the downside is refugee camps, pollution, and super hot weather most of the year, it’s still a place you can’t miss. I would then hop over to many of the Greek islands. Santorini is great for romance and honeymooners. One of the most amazing islands I’ve ever seen. Zakynthos for scuba-diving, Milos for history and relaxing, and Mykonos for the party scene that doesn’t sleep! Those are just a few of the best islands, but there are so many other gorgeous ones that are less touristy, crowded, and expensive. Greek is truly a beautiful country with, again, excellent Mediterranian food! *Must have a negative PCR test within 24 hours of landing and a vaccine for all indoor spaces.

Italy! Italy is another country top of my list for worldwide favorites. I love this country for its rich history the impeccable food, including pasta, bread, and wine. The people are warm and welcoming and quite funny with a good sense of humor. The weather is excellent, and it just has this charming, romantic, joyful atmosphere. Like how could one ever be in Italy and be angry or sad? It’s just too warm and inviting and fun. Italy also has a destination for every traveler. If you want history go to Rome or Florence. If you want romance go to Tuscany or Venice. If you wish to visit seaside resorts, take breathtaking views over the ocean, and romantic hotels, go to the Amalfi coast. This area is just to die for! It’s ultra-romantic and just perfection. My favorites are Capri, Positano, Ravello, and Priano. I’ve heard the town of Amalfi is quite adorable as well. Naples is a dump, and I would only advise getting the train or a flight there and getting right in a car to the coast. Try to avoid pickpockets or scams at the bus and train stations as they are everywhere. Don’t let anyone “help” you because they’re not helping you but trying to scam you in various ways. If you like to geek out, then I suggest walking around Pompei and learning about the devastating volcano that killed many and destroyed the whole area of Pompei. It’s unfortunate. *Must have negative PCR test 24 hours upon landing.

Colombia! Colombia is such an under-rated country and is vast with flowers, jungles, fruits, Botero, and…….Drugs….Joking!!! They have cleaned up since the ’90s, and they really value and protect the tourists here. There are police all over the place to ensure your safety. I loved my time in Medellin and Guatapé. It’s such a beautiful city, and Guatapé has one of the best views I’ve seen in my life. It’s another favorite of mine for views. The food is excellent there, and the restaurants have a great atmosphere. I’m obsessed with the artist Botero, so I went to his art gallery, museum, and park because I’m a super fan. I walked around Communa 13, a neighborhood that used to be dangerous back in the day but is now full of locals so kind and amazing eclectic street art. Colombia is another very affordable destination with a long kind of sad history but a country making a comeback, and its people have so much hope and resiliency. It’s truly inspiring to witness. *Must have a negative PCR test within 24 hours.

Norway! Norway is A country for all of you nature lovers! Norway has some of the most intoxicating hikes with views you’ll ever visit. I did one of the three I was hoping to do, and that alone was just electrifying. I remember getting to the very top and looking at how high I was and how far I could see, and it was just overwhelming. My body was shaking with excitement and all sorts of emotions. The beauty was just something I can’t explain. Norway has fjords as well that are just stunning. I recommend visiting this lovely country and embracing all of Mother Nature’s beauty created here. I would spend just one day in Oslo visiting the parks and museums. The authentic Scream painting is in the National Museum in Oslo. That was cool to see, especially if you’re an art lover. After you’re brief Oslo exploration, hit the trails and maybe some coastal towns like Bergen, Tromso, and Stavanger. If you’re not into hiking or feeling too lazy, that’s ok. Why not go whale watching or gaze at the Northern Lights? If you love animals, try out Dog Sledding. *Must have Covid vaccine and PCR test 24 hours before arrival.

Turkey! I visited Turkey for the first time in 2012 and have been back about five times since then. I love Istanbul. It’s one of my favorite cities. Talk about history. This city has so much of it. It’s also unique because it’s a transcontinental city, which sits in both Europe and Asia. Istanbul is significant for its vast history, remarkable architecture, and plentiful mosques, including the famous beautiful Blue Mosque. It also holds a WOnder of the world with the Hagia Sophia! I love sitting on the many rooftops here for lunch and wine or wandering around the Grand Bazaar looking for a deal, getting true entertainment from my negotiating skills. The food is cheap, delicious, and authentic. There are many options, and the Baklava and Turkish Delight is to die for. Another part of Turkey I love that is a must-visit is Cappadocia. Now, I’m sure you have all heard of it. You’ve seen the many photos on your social media timelines of all the hot air balloons, cave hotels, and rock chimney formations. It is the most outer-worldly unreal place I’ve ever visited, which says a lot! If you can only visit one international destination, then come to Cappadocia. It’s something out of a fairytale book, and you have to see it to believe it. It’s also very affordable, and the hospitality here is second to none! It’s heartstopping in the best way possible! There are so many cute rug and lamp stores and even some you can play dress up in and take photos!  * Must have a vaccine card, a negative covid test within 72 hours, and a visa and completed entry form before arrival.

There you have it, everyone! Those are my top countries to visit in 2022! I’m praying that covid makes its way out for good this year, and we can start getting on planes again. Remember, though, with these restrictions, and this can be a great time to book international travel and save money on airfare and hotels. The tourism industry took a hit and is slowly trying to recover. So take advantage of this time and book a trip! I promise international travel is not as expensive as one would think! If you ever need help planning a trip, you can always drop me a line on email or other social media, and I would be glad to help you as much as I can! Happy Trails, and get out there and see the world! It’s too beautiful to miss. 

Love and Light in 2022, everyone! Stay safe! 

*Covid requirements listed are subject to change. Therefore, I advise you to check all destinations a few days before departure to get up-to-date requirements and regulation information due to Covid 19. 

xoxo KJ 

Top Things to Do in Roatan, Honduras

Top Things to Do in Roatan, Honduras

   

 

Roatan; An island in the Caribbean off the northern coast of Honduras, this island is known for its incredible diving and snorkeling. It has numerous offshore colorful coral reefs, fascinating shipwreck sites such as the Odyssey and Aguila, and an array of different fish and shark species. If you have diving with magnificent whale sharks on your bucket list, this is the place for you. This island is an ocean lover’s paradise and one place to knock off your bucket list of diving or snorkeling spots. You’ll get the white sand, turquoise waters, and even see squid and sea turtles if you’re lucky.

“The sunsets alone could attract a slew of tourists! It really is a small, quiet, beautiful paradise off the beaten path you shouldn’t miss.”

If the water isn’t your first motivation and true love, don’t worry! There is also so much more than that. There is so much nature, lush green forests, beautiful and exciting animals to engage with, and so much good food for such a small island. The sunsets alone could attract a slew of tourists! It really is a small, quiet, beautiful paradise off the beaten path you shouldn’t miss. I really loved the more casual, almost hippie vibe there, even for a glamour city girl like myself. Everyone was chilled, kind, and down to earth. There is no rush to go anywhere and really no stress at all to do anything. It’s incredibly laid back, which is ideal for an island vacation. I’ll now give you a guide on the best things to see and do in Roatan, as well as some great restaurants to visit while in Roatan. There is an excellent variety of food there for everyone, even gluten-free tourists like myself.

The best place to stay, in my opinion, is The West End. It’s a great location with excellent restaurants and situated a little away from the busier West Bay. West End is also slightly cheaper and is closer to walk to the restaurants and bars. West Bay gets cruise ships twice a week, so it can get jam-packed. West Bay also has chain restaurants that are expensive for the quality of food they have. The food in West End is much nicer and cheaper. West Bay does have an incredible beach, though, so you can’t miss visiting there. I think it’s great for an afternoon or two.  It’s a short boat taxi from the West end. The west end also has terrific snorkeling.

“There is also so much nature and lush greenery around the hotel, which I loved. It was like being in a secret garden of peace and beauty”.

In the West End, I stayed at Cocolobo Hotel. It’s an attractive ocean-front hotel with all ocean front studio rooms with amazing sunsets and ocean views. The beach in front is an old coral reef, and it’s rocky, but there is an infinity pool to enjoy, and the sandy beaches are only a 7 min walk from the hotel. I loved Cocolobo because the rooms were big, with oversized patios equipped with hammocks and chairs to enjoy the ocean and sunset views. There is also so much nature and lush greenery around the hotel, which I loved. It was like being in a secret garden of peace and beauty. The location is excellent as well. You can walk to all the bars, restaurants, and beaches in 7-10 minutes.  The staff there is so helpful and engaging, and they made a delicious breakfast for us! I loved staying here!

“At both parks, I felt like they really give you plenty of time with the animals and the experience. It was so worth it, and I’m glad that I went and visited. If you’re an animal lover, you cannot miss these parks”.

katyjohnson sloth adventures pet sloth

Visit Gumbalimba Park, AJ’s Monkey and Sloths, and/or Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hangout. I typically don’t like animal parks, but these are more sanctuary-style. The animals are looked after really well, and the birds actually have free range at GumbaLimba to fly away, but they always end up back home at night to eat and sleep, which I found to be so interesting. Gumbalimba has so many giant iguanas, exotic macaws, and mischievous monkeys. You really get to get up close to them and hold them, play with them, etc. The monkeys aren’t in cages at Gumbalimba and really can be naughty, so watch your personal belongings. I had one that kept jumping on my head looking for bugs and lice, the guy said. Luckily, I was pest-free except for the little monkey on my head looking for them. Ha-ha. I also went to Aj’s Monkey and sloths and got to hold the cutest sloth for ages. I was so happy and excited to do this as we went into the forest looking for them and sadly didn’t see any, so my dream was fulfilled here, and it really was one of the highlights of my trip. I loved it so much, and the sloth was so cute and sweet. At both parks, I felt like they really give you plenty of time with the animals and the experience. It was so worth it, and I’m glad that I went and visited. If you’re an animal lover, you cannot miss these parks. Do a snorkeling or diving tour. Like I said, the diving is meant to be epic. It is by far the most popular attraction here.  If you are certified, then I would 100 percent recommend diving there. There are so many great excursions and things to see. Don’t miss out. I don’t scuba dive…. yet. But I do snorkel, and I had the best time here. I saw eels, colorful schools of fish, a small squid, and lots of coral.  I hired a private guide named Olvin Varela to take me to the best spots and even had him get into the water and show me some incredible underwater reefs. He was excellent and super professional. He pointed out so many creatures and told me their names. (His contact info is +504-9509-2658 or olvinsmartour@gmaiol.com) He owns his boat and does all sorts of curated boat excursions.

“If you are a new snorkeler or someone like me, who was once afraid of the water, I would just snorkel at West Bay Beach as reefs are right near the shore, and they are still loaded with fish”.

Anyway, back to my snorkel adventure. I saw some unique fish I had never seen before. I was so excited about this experience and being in the water alone as two years ago, I was too petrified to even get in, so this was a big deal for me, and I loved it. It’s so important to face your fears head-on. The growth you can make is so unique and unlimited. If you are a new snorkeler or someone like me, who was once afraid of the water, I would just snorkel at West Bay Beach as reefs are right near the shore, and they are still loaded with fish.On that same tour, he took my friend and me to see the Mangroves. Mangroves in Roatan are vital for the ecosystem as they provide shelter for certain species, breeding grounds, and access to reliable food sources.  They also protect the coasts and coral reefs from storms. There are four types of them, and walking inside a tangled mangrove forest is very calm and almost a spiritual experience. It was like wandering inside this labyrinth of roots and small creatures under the sunlight. I loved it. It gave me such a sense of peace inside there.

“The water is so clear, warm, and lovely. It’s the ideal beach you would dream of. It’s truly paradise there”.

If you’re looking for some sun, I would go to West Bay beach as it’s the most beautiful on the island, a little busier, but if you go early and get a spot, you’ll be good. I would find out what days the cruise ships come in and maybe avoid the beach that day; that’s only twice a week, though. The beach there is so beautiful and as I said there is snorkeling there if you would like to get in the water. The water is so clear, warm, and lovely. It’s the ideal beach you would dream of. It’s truly paradise there.  If you want some peace and quiet when laying out, then the beaches at the West end are a little quieter and smaller, and there is always the infinity pool and patio set up at Cocolobo you can enjoy.

If you’re a thrill-seeker, then I would go zip lining. There are multiple places to go, but the best ones I think would be Jungle Top Adventures or South Shore Canopy Zipline. You can also do tours where you combine ATV, water experiences, animal encounters, and zip-lining. This could be a great deal if you’re interested in doing all of them. It also saves time if you are on a time crunch.

“Por Que No is another great spot for drinks and casual dining. It’s colorful and fun. I loved just hanging around the beaches having a beer from time to time”.

Go eat some of the incredible variety of food here. I was so surprised at the different cuisines, and I even met some of the chefs who had moved there from South Africa, The USA, and Italy to open restaurants. I really had a variety of great cuisines there. My favorite restaurants were Pazzo (amazing pasta from a South African chef) place is always slammed. Cal’s Cantina for great food and views. Happy Harry’s Hideaway, great for cocktails and swinging. (on chairs, not with other couples) hahaha. The Drunken Sailor, which was maybe my favorite spot, I went twice. Italians working there and really know how to cook. They also had Gluten-free options, which was appreciated. Gio’s restaurant is excellent for the seafood and views. Sunsets are incredible from here. Sundowners is fun for drinks at the end of the night. It’s a very casual beach bar filled with tourists and backpackers from all over. Por Que No is another great spot for drinks and casual dining. It’s colorful and fun. I loved just hanging around the beaches having a beer from time to time. There are so many cute places if you just walk around the island. So many have great views of the sea and sunsets. It’s so lovely to just sit on the beach in the west end next to the restaurants near the boats, chill, meditate, and take in the stunning sunset while in a calm and natural environment. I never felt unsafe here, and we would walk at night from the restaurant area back to Cocolobo. It’s just a tiny, safe, little island area. I enjoyed it so much here. If you have reservations about coming here due to safety, then please don’t. You will be fine, and once you arrive, you’ll get a sense of that.

“If you’re an ocean lover, beach lover, nature lover, or animal lover, this really is an excellent destination for you. There is so much to do in the sea and in the forests”.

In conclusion, if you’re an ocean lover, beach lover, nature lover, or animal lover, this really is an excellent destination for you. There is so much to do in the sea and in the forests. There is also the little French Key, a private island resort in Roatan that is so nice. I didn’t make it here sadly, but I heard great things from locals. I think 3-4 days here would be perfect! It’s cheap, beautiful, safe, and genuinely full of nature and wildlife experiences to remember forever.

Top Ten Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala

Top Ten Things to Do in Antigua, Guatemala

Guatemala, to me, is a hugely underrated and under-visited country! There are so many points of interest in this country and so much to see. I naively thought I could visit them all in five days, and there was zero chance that would happen. I luckily enjoyed spending some quality time in Antigua, Guatemala, the old capital and one of the cutest cities most colorful cities in Central America I’ve visited thus far. It’s not only brightly colored but has Spanish colonial and baroque-inspired architecture and influence. It’s quaint, authentic, yet very lively with a bustling but pure atmosphere. I loved it. Antigua is about an hour and a half by car from Guatemala City (Where you would fly into). It’s nestled in the lush Guatemalan highlands, surrounded by active and mesmerizing volcanos. Its charming cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings will have you enamored and charmed from the moment you start exploring. I know I was. The ruins of the original buildings that were once destroyed by a massive earthquake in 1773 will leave you intrigued but will surely fill your history-loving soul.

Antigua is Guatemala’s most visited city and is also a UNESCO Heritage site. Everything fits the look of the charming little city. Antigua was even the capital of Guatemala until 1773 when it was abandoned due to earthquakes, floods, volcanos, and other issues. It wasn’t until the mid-1800’s that the city came back and started restoration and got its second chance. There is no doubt about why Antigua is Guatemala’s most attractive city and why it’s one of the most popular and lively in the region. It indeed came back better than ever. I don’t know if it’s the colors, the views, or the vast culture, but I was beyond impressed. It felt almost like I was in a city out of a fairytale. Antigua is a city you should put on your bucket list. Enjoy it now, before it gets too famous and busy. Below I will give you the top ten things to do in Antigua! I hope you enjoy them, and as in any city, use common sense, exercise caution against petty theft, be mindful at night, and don’t flash valuables. Other than that, it’s a safe and exciting city to explore and get to know. You’ll love it!

“It’s nestled in the lush Guatemalan highlands, surrounded by active and mesmerizing volcanos. Its charming cobblestone streets and brightly colored buildings will have you enamored and charmed from the moment you start exploring.”

“It was such a divinely intriguing and authentic building with such captivating history. The property is flawless, green, and detailed well with hints of wood designs and pillars.”

One; Stay in a lush, historical, and enchanting boutique hotel with contemporary colonial architecture matching the rest of the city’s charm. I stayed at El Convento Boutique Hotel, which was just fantastic! It was such a divinely intriguing and authentic building with such captivating history. The property is flawless, green, and detailed well with hints of wood designs and pillars. The rooftop is a dreamy vibe with views of the Cerro de La Cruz, the garden below, and lush greenery up top with a white domelike structure. It’s a great place to have breakfast or relax. It truly feels like a peaceful vacation here. There is also a long pool in the ground floor garden that is just perfect. I had a delicious breakfast there in the sun. My room was huge and beautiful with wood fixtures, and I had a private patio equipped with my own Jacuzzi tub. Lucky me! Staying here was such a treat while in Antigua. I would absolutely recommend staying at El Convento.

“You will find magic and history on every new street.  I was in awe with so much of the old architecture.”

Two;Do a walking tour around the town. I hired a sweet tour guide (I have his contact info if anyone needs, comment below). I met in the center of the city at The Plaza Central Park for only 20 dollars, and he walked me to all the main points of interest like the churches, ruins, parks and told me the history behind the city and the buildings inside the city walls. He was so knowledgeable. He also took my photos at each place which was helpful since I was solo traveling. There are so many sites to see in the small city walls, but you can certainly do them in one day walking if you don’t mind your feet being a little fatigued and sweating a bit. It’s truly the best way to take in the city. Take a stroll and get lost! Literally! You will find magic and history on every new street.  I was in awe with so much of the old architecture. You may even find some yummy ice cream or popsicles to enjoy while walking. The highlights of my walking tour were stopping and exploring and learning about the history of Church Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande and Iglesia de La Merced. I also loved Cathedral de San José. It is just stunning.

 Three; Bring your hiking shoes and hike a Volcano! There are two main volcanos you can hike that are active. The one you choose should depend on your athletic ability, the time you wish to devote to hiking, and the activities you want to do. The most famous volcano to hike is Pacaya Volcano. This volcano is usually a day trip that lasts around 7-10 hours there and back. You can expect hotel pick up and drop off, and when hiking, you’ll get views of the three other very popular and gorgeous volcanos, Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango. You’ll hike up some pretty incredible landscapes before getting up close and personal with one of the most active volcanos in the area peering into the boiling hot lava. Cool, right? You can even roast marshmallows at the top while taking in the breathtaking views of the surroundings. This isn’t a great idea for someone not in good shape as the hike is steep and the air gets thin, but the good news is, you can take a horse if you feel you may not be keen to hike the whole way or aren’t as athletic. Some of the tours to Pacaya include Kawila hot springs stop on the descend. This is a relaxing and unique experience. These hot springs have 25 steam baths and 12 soaking pools. Who needs a commercial spa when you have natural hot springs and baths? Not me!!!

“You’ll hike up some pretty incredible landscapes before getting up close and personal with one of the most active volcanos in the area peering into the boiling hot lava.”

Another volcano you can hike is the Acatenango volcano. There is both a day trip here and an overnight hike. The most popular is the overnight hike. The day hike is about a six-hour ascend with beautiful views at the top. This volcano isn’t active, but you will see the other active ones nearby. For example, you will see Fuego erupting every thirty minutes or so. The overnight hike tour here is two days technically. You hike up and watch the sunset, stay overnight in a tent and sleeping bag, and awake around 4 am to see the sunrise. It’s an unforgettable experience. It’s obvious watching nearby Fuego Volcano erupt its lava at night would be much more of a thrilling adventure than just the daytime. Acatenango is also one of the tallest volcanos in Central America. Both hikes are memorable; it’s just dependent on how much you love to hike, how much you love nature, and how much time you have in the area. I couldn’t do the hikes because of time and because one of them was closed due to eruption, activity, and lava spewing out, destroying the plantations around it and causing wildfires. I couldn’t believe I was there during this. I was bummed I missed out on the experience due to safety, but I will for sure go back to hike it as my best friend did Acatenango and said it was one of the most incredible experiences she has ever done and seen. I also saw her amazing photos at night there, and I was insanely jealous!

“This was one of the highlights of my trip! I went and had a tea, saw the tiny, candy-colored hobbit houses, excitedly did a very tall rope swing that was slightly scary but added a lot to my experience and also got my adrenaline pumping.”

Four; Take a trip to Hobbitenango! This was one of the highlights of my trip! I went and had a tea, saw the tiny, candy-colored hobbit houses, excitedly did a very tall rope swing that was slightly scary but added a lot to my experience and also got my adrenaline pumping. I got to see incredible views of the volcanos and valleys below. It’s pretty high up in the hills, but it’s such a magical little place and one that is unique, especially to find in Central America. If you love Lord of the Rings or any fantasy film, then you can’t miss this spot! There are also so many places here to get great shots! I wouldn’t miss it! You only need a couple of hours here, but go, take in the views, explore the land of Hobbits, have a beer at the hobbit pub, or grab a bite to eat and soak up the sun and fresh air, play games up there like cornhole or Jenga or relax on a swing or hammock and enjoy the escape from the city below. It’s a place for all ages. It is also a hotel believe it or not. Take a sweater, as it can get cold since you’re at a much higher elevation, even if much warmer below. Trust me, I’ve made this mistake several times on trips and have frozen my buns off because of it! Five; If you are at Hobbitenango, I would visit another quirky and unique place just next door called Altamira. It’s a similar nature park with stunning views of the volcanos and forests below. Here you will find a wooden hand you can stand on and gaze at the sights, similar to Hobbitango. It has a giant wooden hobbit, a vintage airplane, and several other outrageous things to take photos with. It also has tiny little cabins you can stay in. It’s a pretty cool place, and again, great for fun photos and a nice lunch. 

“I would visit another quirky and unique place just next door called Altamira. It’s a similar nature park with stunning views of the volcanos and forests below.”

 Six; Watch the sunrise at Cerro de La Cruz. I went up this hill of the cross one of my mornings just before the sun came up, and I was the very first person up here. I got excellent views of the city below and the volcanos surroundings me. In the mornings, you get the clearest views, and you get the place to yourself. I loved sitting here just taking the whole area in and being so grateful to see and experience such beauty in a place where I honestly was so unaware it had such.

“I got excellent views of the city below and the volcanos surroundings me. In the mornings, you get the clearest views, and you get the place to yourself.”

“I love looking at old buildings and ruins. It gives me such a nostalgic feeling of a time and place I’d never seen before. It’s genuinely fascinating and warms my soul.”

Seven; Explore all of the old ruins of the city that are left from the late 1700s. There are churches, monasteries, and other buildings that still partially stand. One of my favorites was  Convento de Las Capuchinas. I loved exploring these and just sitting on some of the rubble, imagining what it was like in its glory days. My tour guide showed me photos of some churches before they sadly faced their fate of destruction. I’m a total history nerd, so this was another highlight of mine. I love looking at old buildings and ruins. It gives me such a nostalgic feeling of a time and place I’d never seen before. It’s genuinely fascinating and warms my soul. It gives me such peace and hope that things can age and decay yet still be beautiful, mysterious, and impressive. For instance I couldn’t take my eyes off of The Church of La Campaña de Jesus. It was really interesting to see how it used to stand vs the facade of it today. Saving the best for last, I found Iglesia el Carmen to be the most beautiful, and it’s just across the street from my hotel El Convento! There are so many beautiful churches and monasteries here, make sure to really try to see them all. Each one is so beautiful and worth a visit. Eight; Find the most iconic structure or landmark in Antigua, the one you undoubtedly see when you google Antigua or visit any Antigua Blog, The Arco de Santa Catalina. Snap a photo, and people watch there for a few. This area is one of the most bustling spots in the city. There are a lot of cute cafes and boutiques right along this street as well. The best time for a photo is early morning when there are fewer people.
The Arco was built in the 17th century with the increase in religion in the area. It was attached to an old convent that expanded to the other side of the street to a school. It allowed the nuns to pass within the halls to the school without needing to go outside as then they were meant to live a life of isolation. The perfect solution, I suppose. The clock at the top of the arch was added much later in the late 1800s after the city started to go through its restoration.

“Find the most iconic structure or landmark in Antigua, the one you undoubtedly see when you google Antigua or visit any Antigua Blog, The Arco de Santa Catalina.”

“There are many cute little restaurants and rooftops around to enjoy the cuisine of the region or sip on cocktails. I loved it!”

Nine; Enjoy the cuisine and bars in the city. Have breakfast with a view at Café Sky. They have a great breakfast with smoothies and views over the city and the erupting Fuego volcano. Try a beer at Antigua Brewing Company, a great venue and rooftop, and great craft and local beer. Enjoy a fantastic lunch at the trendy Frida’s restaurant. It’s colorful, fun, and has a great bar and cocktails. It’s just near the Arch. There are many cute little restaurants and rooftops around to enjoy the cuisine of the region or sip on cocktails. I loved it! I had a great gluten-free pizza at Vice! I was impressed that they had plenty of gluten-free options for me. That’s rare to find in some countries, but it was so appreciated! The interior was filled with neon signs of catchy phrases or lyrics and had a young and hip lunch crowd. Aqua was great. Also, there is downstairs with a pool and restaurant. I went to the upstairs patio with views over the old ruins beneath! I had a few coronas here and practiced my Spanish with the lovely bartenders. Other great spots for food are Rainbow Cafe and Bookshop, Fernando’s Kaffee, Caoba Farms, (outside the city), Kombu Ramen Shop, and Panza Verde, Angie Angie, and Y tu Pina Tambien.  You can also check out Casa Santo Domingo. It’s a hotel in the city, but has a beautiful restaurant, spa, and pool. You can even enjoy the amenities here for a day rate if you’re not a hotel guest. It’s a fabulous property to check out and walk around with a lot of history as it’s a former monastery that dates back to the 15th century with original artifacts inside the hotel. Check it out!

“Again, the views alone from there were just intoxicating. I could not stop gazing over the lake to the massive volcano in front of me.”

Ten; As a bonus, if you’re really into exploring, appreciate natural beauty, and have the time, then for sure go to Panajachel and visit Lake Atitlan. It’s a massive lake in an old volcanic crater. Some say it’s the most beautiful place on earth! The views of the lake and the surrounding volcanos are just exquisite. I went for one day, which was exhausting given the amount of time it takes to get there and back, but it was worth it. I stayed at the Laguna Lodge Eco-Resort, and it was indeed an incredible experience. The room was insane there, and the resort eco-friendly served vegan food, had gluten-free options for me, and had a great pool overlooking the views. Again, the views alone from there were just intoxicating. I could not stop gazing over the lake to the massive volcano in front of me. I felt so small in the world, yet it reminded me just how beautiful life is and how grateful I again was. Lake Atitlan is one of the most visited places in Guatemala, and for obvious reasons. It is a trek from Antigua but worth it. I took an uber there, which took around 2.5 hours and cost about 90 dollars, and then a bus back that took about 4 hours but cost 40 dollars and took me to the airport back In Guatemala City. If you are a nature lover like me, you have to make the trip here. The photos will convince you enough! There you have it! I hope you think about visiting Guatemala. It’s a beautiful country with so much to see. This blog covered only half of that. Check out flight prices to Guatemala City and be pleasantly surprised if you decide to visit! It’s incredible! Antigua is a place I will for sure visit again!

Your Ultimate Guide to Mexico City!

Your Ultimate Guide to Mexico City!

The afternoon I landed in Mexico City (CDMX), I never imagined that it would be my first of three trips in just a month. Typically, when I travel, I visit one gorgeous place after another, taking in everything, loving it, but leaving it with just the colorful memories made. I love leaving a destination with just a taste in my mouth, I rarely ever return,( not that I wouldn’t want to)  mainly to save time for new adventures and destinations.

“I found more in Mexico City than just your iconic museums, vibrant culinary scene, or city rich in culture and heritage, that’s for sure.”

Also, after planning, I was told how dangerous and polluted CDMX was, how a blonde like me would be kidnapped in broad daylight, never to be seen again. I think too many people watch fictional movies. After visiting, I just laugh at those people’s worries.  I genuinely felt safer in CDMX than I do in some parts of LA. Of course, there is an unavoidable reality of petty crime here, like any large city, but if you keep vigilant and use common sense, you shouldn’t worry. I would also definitely not let it deter you from a visit. It’s wise not to wear flashy clothing or jewelry. Leave the Rolex and necklaces at home, people. Keep your bags closed, wallets zipped up, and leave nothing in your back pockets. All the usual stuff you would do while traveling in a big city. Every place I visit touches me somehow, but this place and experience is one I will hold on to forever and smile while thinking back on it all. I found more in CDMX than just your iconic museums, vibrant culinary scene, or city rich in culture and heritage, that’s for sure. I found a special connection and some magical familiarity with the city and with *him*.

“CDMX is one of the top cities in the world for food lovers and top restaurants.”

Mexico City (CDMX) is one of the oldest and largest cities in the Americas. It’s full of history, charm, beauty, and the most fantastic food scene ever. If you’re a foodie like myself, then you’ll indeed be in Heaven. CDMX is one of the top cities in the world for food lovers and top restaurants. The food is probably my favorite part. It makes a joke of LA. (sorry)! Below is everything you need to know, from where to eat and drink, to the best neighborhoods to stay, to the fantastic things to see and do while there. Bear with me here and enjoy everything CDMX. First things first; How do you get there? Well, depending on where you are flying from, many airlines have direct flights. Most major cities have direct options with Delta, Aero Mexico, American Airlines, and budget airlines such as Viva and Volaris. From LA and Miami, it’s about 3.5 hours, Dallas, 2.5, DSM, 6.5, and London 11 direct on British Airways. The airport is MEX, Mexico City International, or Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juarez. It’s a large airport, with plenty of amenities, and upon landing, customs is quick, which is nice.  Remember to keep ahold of your landing card for exiting.

When is the best time of year to visit? The best time to visit would be the dry season which is December to April. Although the winter can be chilly, I would say End of February to April are great months to visit. Warmer and more crowded, but it adds to the vibrancy and atmosphere. At the end of May, it starts to get quite rainy, but showers don’t typically last all day.

How many days does one need? That’s so hard because I have spent over two weeks there and still feel like I have a lot to see. I would give yourself five full days to see the top attractions, get out of the city one day, and experience the unbelievable culinary scene. If you only have a long weekend, it’s enough to wet your whistle and leave you wanting more. It’s a massive city with so much to see. The museums alone could take you weeks to get through. There are over 150 of them!

What areas and hotels should you stay in? I stayed in Polanco, and I loved it and felt it was the best area for my taste and budget. I split my vacation between two hotels I loved, The Orchid House Hotel and The JW Marriott. The Orchid House Hotel is a small boutique hotel full of, you guessed it, Orchids, loads of them! The rooms were cozy, authentic, and full of plants which I loved. It felt very green and sustainable. The JW Marriott is one brand I love, and they never miss a mark. The detail to service here, the huge room, and the views were superb, especially from my shower. I loved the goodies they left me as well. Who wouldn’t be thrilled with Clase Azul?  JW Marriott also has a great pool and sun deck. The locations of the two were perfect as both were in the heart of Polanco, and you could easily walk to restaurants and cafes from both. Also, both were super professional and Covid compliant. It was a more than pleasurable experience at both.

“The Avenue is lined with some of the top trendiest restaurants in Mexico City. It’s very lively and vibrant.”

Both hotels were very different, but equally impressive. I typically always book a smaller boutique hotel on a stay to get a more authentic experience and great detail to customer service. Then I book hotel brands I love and have loyalty to, like JW Marriott.

Ok, back to the neighborhood, Polanco is the upscale, prestigious area of Mexico City. It’s close to some of the most famous museums, hosts high-end brands for shopping, and its renowned street Avenida Presidente Masaryk. The Avenue is lined with some of the top trendiest restaurants in Mexico City. It’s very lively and vibrant. Polanco is one of the safest areas in all of Mexico City. There are some beautiful parks there as well, with great cafes around them. Lincoln Park is so cute. I loved it there and found it worth it to stay in the area.

If you want to save a little money on food and accommodation, I would recommend La Roma or La Condesa, which is trendy, hip, full of hot nightclubs and bars. This area is also safe and great for someone’s first trip to Mexico City. You won’t get bored staying in these areas, and they also have some wonderful and cheap street food. La Roma is colorful and coined the “Hipster Heart of Mexico City.” It’s is filled with art deco mansions that have beautiful detail and colorful street art. It’s a nice area to walk around and has some fantastic restaurants such as Contramar, a must-visit while in CDMX.  La Condesa is another gorgeous area with high-end shops, beautiful architecture, lush green parks, and classy nightlife. You can’t go wrong staying in this area either. Stroll through Parque Mexico and enjoy people watching and the beauty of the park.

 

What is some general advice? (MISC)

Brush up on your Spanish or learn basic key phrases. It’s appreciated and super helpful when trying to order, ask a question, or negotiate a cab fare. It’s good to know how to ask for directions or how much things are. It’s also polite to use basic words like “good evening,” “Hello,” “Please,” and “Thank you.” If you don’t have time, a language app can be super helpful.

Most places take credit cards, but it’s good to have cash to pay for things like street food, museums, or other tourist attractions. It’s also wise to carry small bills in case they don’t have change. Do not exchange currency at the airport, or you will be ripped off. Learn from my experience. Use ATMs or go to a local cash exchange for a better rate. Mexico City is very cheap compared to places like LA or NYC so keep that in mind. Tipping is 15 percent, not the standard 20 like in the USA.

Do not drink the tap water, or you could get sick.

If you are someone who suffers from allergies, then bring medicine. My allergies were insane while I was there, and I was sneezing 100 times a day. I’ve heard many people complain about how bad their allergies were there.

Use Uber as much as you can. It’s very cheap. If you can’t, then remember to negotiate the taxi fare before you enter. Also, find them at taxi stands, not just off the street.

Be mindful of pickpocketing and be smart about the purse you choose or where you carry your wallet or cell phone. Know the area you’re going to before and how safe or unsafe it is. Like every city, there are not so secure areas with more petty crime. Be mindful.

Mondays tend to be the day that many museums and attractions are closed, so keep that in mind. Teotihuacan is open on Mondays though if you do find yourself there on a Monday.

Now, let’s get into my favorite part of Mexico City! The amazing cuisine! 

There are so many excellent restaurants and cuisines. I mostly ate Mexican because it’s my favorite, but we also switched it up occasionally, having seafood and sushi as an option. I’m celiac, so I must have food without gluten, so my options were a little more limited, but I still had an unforgettable culinary experience. Most restaurants had options for non-gluten eaters like myself. So, no worries about any dietary restrictions. They accommodate well.

“I don’t eat meat, but the fish at Dante was gorgeous, and the cocktails even more impressive. Try the oysters, ceviche, or the tuna tostadas here.”

Some of my favorite restaurants were; Dante, An Argentinian steakhouse with dim lighting, fun artwork, a buzzing atmosphere, and incredible food. I don’t eat meat, but the fish at Dante was gorgeous, and the cocktails even more impressive. Try the oysters, ceviche, or the tuna tostadas here. Dante was one of my favorite spots and a particular spot where I had one of the best first dates of my life. 11/10 recommend. I recommend more if you’re a spicy food lover as they do it well here. Enjoy.

Another great restaurant is ANIMAL Masaryk. The food is beautifully presented. It’s young, glam, hip, and the interior designs are just divine. I loved the energy here. It’s very LA. It’s full of beautiful models and influencers, so if you’re a single guy, you’ll enjoy this place. The drinks, again, are also great.

“H Bar was very dark with ambient lighting and a cool and sophisticated crowd. I enjoyed it there.”

Two restaurants I went to that are owned by the same people and are delicious are Contramar and Entremar, similar menus but different locations and energies. I liked both. I think I liked Contramar a little more due to the lively and packed outside seating area. The table matters, so make sure they give you a good table.

If you want something great for lunch or a more casual dinner, then Bellopuerto is terrific. It’s great for tostadas and ceviche. They have a great cocktail list and a cute inside. It’s more relaxed but still has fantastic food and décor.Travleblog Bellopuerto MexicoCityrestaurants

Another place I loved and went to my first meal in CDMX was Harry’s Prime  on Presidente Masaryk. The oysters were incredible. The service was phenomenal. They treated me like a princess, and they gave me the cutest blue cotton candy after my meal. They have a bar in the back called H Bar, and it’s super cool. H Bar is very dark with ambient lighting and a cool and sophisticated crowd. I enjoyed it there. It’s upscale, but the prices were so fair.

Another great spot we ate at, with adorable vibes and a cute back terrace, was La Unica. It was definitely a romantic spot. There are exquisite flavors in the fresh seafood here, taste from Baja to Nuevo Leon. It’s a great date spot.

Another delicious lunch spot I visited was called Makoto. It had unbelievable sushi and sashimi. We were lucky enough to go on a date where they were showcasing a 300 lb. tuna fish. They did the entire presentation in front of us, and everyone ate amazing sushi and sashimi from it. The presentation was impressive, and the food even better. It’s worth the visit with or without the show, but I would see if they happen to be doing it while you’re in town as I believe it’s a once-a-month event. Brassi is another great spot for lunch or dinner, it’s a French menu with some Mexican flare. They have some superb fish dishes and the tuna tar tar is amazing, a little spicy, but delicious. 

“We were lucky enough to go on a date where they were showcasing a 300 lb. tuna fish. They did the entire presentation in front of us, and everyone ate amazing sushi and sashimi from it.”

If you want a great rooftop with unique cocktails and views of the city, I would check out Supra or Toledo. The restaurant at the top of St. Regis is also great, and they even do a Veuve champagne brunch on Sundays with excellent Mexican dishes and some fresh and delicious seafood. It’s a swanky spot you’re sure to enjoy a Sunday in the sun with a few too many glasses of champers.

A few other great restaurants are Jaleo for casual, but amazing Spanish Tapas El Japonez for great sushi with a beautiful terrace. Also, if you’re vegan or just enjoy great food that doesn’t taste plant-based, try Plantasia in La Roma. It is vegan, the décor inside is adorable and makes you feel as though you’re in Bali, and the drinks and food were divine. It was also super cheap.

“Fresh, authentic, and brimming with flavor,” Quintonil is another foodie’s delight and a true gem in Mexico City.

For more upscale, try Pujol for beautifully presented food. Pujol has been listed as one of the top 50 restaurants in the world in 2019. It’s fancy and delicious and an authentic culinary experience. Another noteworthy restaurant that has like, Pujol, made top 50 lists is Quintonil. “Fresh, authentic, and brimming with flavor,” Quintonil is another foodie’s delight and a true gem in Mexico City.

For Breakfast, try Café C on the southern side of the city for a change of neighborhood and super cute dishes. They do all sorts of unique designs in their lattes and acai bowls. It’s an influencer’s dream there. Another cute café that’s an influencer or blogger’s dream is Isabella Café Condesa. It’s girly and pink and has adorable drinks. Everything inside reminds you of a themed café in Japan. They serve lunch food as well. Don’t forget to take photos here. If you’re looking for more than just fun photos, other cafes for great food are El Cardenal, super authentic and very popular for locals. You will get a truly authentic experience here. Eno in Polanco is another great breakfast spot with a few locations and is ran by the same chef as Pujol. If you’re looking for a traditional American breakfast, this is your spot. El Campotoro, with only two tables inside and most of the seating outside, this spot is still charming and brings so much happiness to its customers. You’ll enjoy a great meal here. As far as bars and clubs, I didn’t go out much due to Covid restrictions. Still, some good bars are Gin gin, Departamento, Xaman Bar, Limantour, Pata Negra, Tokyo Music Bar, Julz Basement, Café Paraiso, Terrazas. Another thing for tourists to do if they love authentic food and drinks would be to do a street food tour or Mezcal tasting. I didn’t do this due to my dietary restrictions, but I’ve read great things about it. You can book them online for reasonable prices, just compare companies as there are many on offer.

Now for the top things to see and do in Mexico City and Beyond;

You must head downtown to El Centro. (downtown) This section is where you’ll find many of the top attractions.

‘I would have a coffee or juice across the street on the 9th floor of the Torre De Latin America for a fantastic view of the Palacio and the city below.”

In downtown, your first stop could be Palacio de Bellas Artes. Palacio de Bellas Artes takes the trophy for stunning architecture and beautiful landscaping. It is quite a romantic little spot with a beautiful park around it and a garden in front. The inside is a museum full of stunning murals, some by the famous Diego Rivera. To me, this is one of the most beautiful buildings in Mexico City. I would have a coffee or juice across the street on the 9th floor of the Torre De Latin America for a fantastic view of the Palacio and the city below. The Torre is one of Mexico City’s most widely recognized skyscraper.  It also holds a 360-viewing restaurant platform at the top. Next to the Palacio de Bellas Artes is the Palacio Postal aka Palacio de Correos de Mexico. This is their main post office, but truly such a mesmerizing display of architecture inside. It reminded me of a very European design. I, for some reason, thought of the Titanic inside while looking around. You need just 5-10 mins inside, but it’s undoubtedly worth peeking inside since you’re already right there, and it is gorgeous and unique, especially for a post office.

“This is their main post office, but truly such a mesmerizing display of architecture inside. It reminded me of a very European design. I, for some reason, thought of the Titanic inside while looking around.”

There are gorgeous and very Europeanesque type buildings all around that area. If you walk around the post office, there is a unique blue-tiled building that is a restaurant and great for photos. I sat in the windows here and got some cute pics. The whole vibe reminded me of being in Lisbon, Portugal, as many buildings there are like this. There is such a European influence in some of the architecture here, and I love it. If you dropped me off in Mexico City blindfolded and then told me to guess where I was upon seeing it, I would have a tough time deciphering where I was.

If you continue down the street about 5 or 6 blocks, you will run right into the Zócalo, aka Plaza de la Constitucion. This is the main square in Mexico City. Here you will see a gigantic Mexican flag wavering over the square. You will see the historical, iconic, and beloved Catedral Metro (Spanish name). The Cathedral was built between 1573 to 1813. It has so much history, design inspiration and is truly one of the most notable buildings in Mexico City. There are also crypts underneath you can tour if you’re into that stuff. I wouldn’t miss this building.  I like it because I love the gothic style of architecture. In the Zocalo, you will find The National Palace. Since 2018, it is the official home of the president of Mexico. The Zocalo is the center of the government and is a popular place for people to gather for rallies, protests, and anything political. On September 15, every year, the president of Mexico comes out to perform the Grito de Dolores to the crowded plaza. September 15 is Mexico’s Independence Day, no it is not Cinco De Mayo like everyone thinks, ha-ha, that was just a victory of the Battle of Puebla.

“It is a truly historic site being excavated, and it is said that The Aztecs believed it was the center of the universe and was a very sacred spot. “

A block away from the square is The Templo Mayor (Spanish name). These are ruins of the old Aztec temple. It is a truly historic site being excavated, and it is said that The Aztecs believed it was the center of the universe and was a very sacred spot.  These ruins were only found in 1978. There is now ruins and a museum there that holds artifacts and pictures that give a good look into how life was during the Aztec period and living in the ancient city of Tenochtitlan.

After leaving the Zocalo, you could head to Chapultepec Park, a beautiful park in the middle of the city that reminds me of Central Park in NYC. It’s 1,600 acres, the largest park in Mexico City, and even has a castle on the top of the hill that is stunning and has amazing city views.

“It’s great to get away from the skyscrapers and city and come for a relaxing and more chilled day here within nature.”

Inside the park, you will come across the National History Museum, a part of the castle (which is gorgeous),  the Museum of Modern Art, and the Rufino Tamayo museum. If you continue to explore the park, you can find a small lake to paddle boat and canoe. There are two cute restaurants in the park, one with a lake view. I opted to set up a picnic in this park as it’s so beautiful, and on a nice day, it’s so relaxing and pleasant. It’s great to get away from the skyscrapers and city and come for a relaxing and more chilled day here within nature. 

If you take a little stroll down the Reforma, one of the main roads in Mexico City, you will come onto the gorgeous National Museum of Anthropology. The museum has two gigantic floors of high-quality exhibits. I would allow a few hours here, at least. This is one of Mexico City’s most famous and visited museums. It is the one museum I could go inside during Covid and explore. That being said, all should be open now. This museum has a gorgeous water fountain display outside and has a room with photos of excavations around Mexico and Latin America which I found so fascinating. It’s a must-see if you’re into ruins and prehistoric works and artifacts.

Another famous and popular museum is The Soumaya museum which is the most visited and hosts over 66k works. It has a unique shape on the outside and is great for photos. Museo Jumex is an art museum. It’s a private art collection museum and has works from Warhol to Hurst to Gursky. It’s right next to The Soumaya, so easy to check out if you have time. The outside is excellent too.

If you’re an art lover like myself, and also love Van Gogh, then check out “Van Gogh Alive” experience. It’s a small museum with digital viewings of his work. It’s a pretty special place and you only need about an hour. The main exhibit is just one grand room with numerous screens of various sizes to view his work and his story. The scoring (music) that goes along with it is just magical. It’s sophisticated, enthusiastic, and at times filled with depth and sadness, but very moving and beautiful. Check it out!

‘The scoring (music) that goes along with it is just magical. It’s sophisticated, enthusiastic, and at times filled with depth and sadness, but very moving and beautiful.”

“Coyoacan is magical and vibrant and means “The place of Coyotes.” It’s a very historic and charming area.”

Another museum you can’t miss is the Frida Kahlo Museum on the Southside of the city in the Coyoacan neighborhood. The Frida Kahlo museum is a stop if you’re into her very moving and interesting story and like her work. You can truly see the pain in this women’s portrait. If you aren’t entirely familiar with her story, google it, and then take a trip to the museum. It’s worth the 12-dollar admission fee, and after that, you can walk the streets of Cóyoacan with beautiful gardens and courtyards, cute squares, brightly colored colonial homes, and a famous market with unique and authentic street food. Coyoacan is magical and vibrant and means “The place of Coyotes.” It’s a very historic and charming area. If you love museums and want even more than I listed, Mexico City has over 150 museums and art galleries, more so than anywhere else in the world. You will be in utter historical bliss being here. You will need months to see it all, but there is a museum or gallery for all tastes and interests.

“This is where the Aztec temples of the sun and moon are, and the whole place is just so old and sacred.”

Another incredible and spiritual place that I think is a must-visit is The Teotihuacan Pyramids, about an hour outside of the city. This is where the Aztec temples of the sun and moon are, and the whole place is just so old and sacred. I loved walking around here and exploring even though it was March and the heat was blazing. I am really into history and temples, though, so for me, it was so worth it all. Another cool experience is waking up super early and coming here to ride on Hot Air Balloons above the Pyramids. I’ve not done this, but I have had friends do it and said it was a magical experience that they would surely do all over again. I certainly wouldn’t miss this spot as it was one of my favorites. You can do a cheap day tour here or have your hotel hire you a driver for the day. It’s cheap and easy to get to and safe there.

One last fun thing you can do is visit a market in Mexico City; numerous ones sell colorful and cute items. You can haggle with them on price, but remember these people work hard and don’t earn top dollar so keep that in mind when you argue over a few bucks. You can get all sorts of lovely items and gifts here. Be mindful of pickpockets here, but other than that, most markets are safe and fun and great to do for a couple of hours in the afternoon.

Now a few bonus things you can do if you have the time and want to explore a little more of Mexico and want to get away from the city;

If you’re an adrenaline junkie or feeling like a daredevil, then why not go skydiving at Skydiving Cuautla Yes, I said, and yes, I did it! I did it on a total whim when someone just sent me a reservation without asking much what I thought. It was a blast, and I will do it again for sure! If it’s you’re first time, ask for Danny to be your tandem, he’s the best. I’ve dived with him twice now and he’s incredible!  Cuautla is about 2 hours south of Mexico City, the grounds are nice, simple, and the staff is incredible and super helpful. Skydiving Cuautla will make the whole experience unforgettable, fun, and comfortable. I recommend!

“Skydiving Cuautla will make the whole experience unforgettable, fun, and comfortable. I recommend!”

Another thing to do outside of the city that you could combine with skydiving is visiting Las Estacas. It’s a beautiful nature park with water so clear you can see the bottom. Las Estacas reminded me of swimming in some of those magical cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula. Pure beauty! There is a little river you can swim, snorkel, raft, or paddleboard on. It’s filled with so much nature, animals, and greenery. It is magical. There are also pools, picnic areas, camping, and glamping. We opted for the glamping experience, and it was enjoyable. We had an amazing time there. It’s best to go during a weekday to beat the crowds. One night here is enough, and as I said, you could even go skydive in the morning and then go here in the afternoon and check in for the night glamping.

“Las Estacas reminded me of swimming in some of those magical cenotes in the Yucatan peninsula. Pure beauty!”

 

All in all, Mexico City was truly an amazing city that I fell in love with. It’s not often I repeat the same place over and over. It’s also not often I go to a city and see it as a place I could live. Mexico City had that for me. It had everything I would want in a city and to me, the lifestyle there is lovely. I cannot recommend it enough to visit. You will undoubtedly fall in love with it as I did! Have fun and enjoy!

 

48 Hours in Cairo!

48 Hours in Cairo!

 

When you think of Egyptians, who do you think of first? King Tut? Cleopatra? Did you know that Cleopatra (VII) wasn’t even Egyptian? She was born in Alexandria but came from a long line of Greek Macedonians initially from Ptolemy I. There was a mixture of cultures and rulers of this area. Still, she was famous for being the first ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty to speak Egyptian. 

Did you also know that Egyptians were some of the first civilizations to keep pets? They thought animals were incarnations of gods, and they loved them, many would-be buried with their pets or mummify them when they died. They had all kinds of pets but were particularly fond of cats. 

I learned many things in Cairo, yes you can probably watch the history channel and learn something, but there is nothing more fulfilling than standing next to a real mummy tomb hearing all about it. When you are in the very place where some of the greatest rulers and civilizations lived, it hits differently. 

 So, you’ve always wanted to visit The Great Pyramids of Giza? Me too! Since I was young, I, like many, was intrigued by Egyptian history. I saw all kinds of movies about tombs, treasures, and mummies. I found the history not only mysterious but insanely fascinating. They seemed so effortlessly intriguing and compelling. Ancient Egypt lovers alike are drawn to traveling to the country and exploring it themselves. You can drown in the history, culture, and experience. It is all around you. It’s all over Cairo. 

While there is so much to see in Egypt, you won’t need much time in Cairo. You can see most of it in 48 hours. There are some great day trips you can do if you have more time in the area and aren’t going on to Aswan, Sharm El Sheik, or beyond. 

If you have 72 hours, you could make a day trip to Alexandria to visit the port and library, or you can see Memphis and Sakkara. You can book a tour, or hire a private driver for cheap for these places. I would choose Memphis if you have some extra time, it’s 15 kilometers from Cairo and is the ancient capital of Egypt. 

Although there were things about Cairo I was surprised about and a little sad about, it is still somewhere I think everyone should see and experience. The history alone should take you there, not to mention how kind and insightful the people are. I was happy and pleasantly surprised, just how incredible the people were. They are hospitable and want visitors to learn about their country and its history. I made some great friends there and contacts that I hope to always keep in touch with. It’s funny how people can be so different from you, yet we are all also remarkably similar in so many ways.

Here’s a story, on my first day in Egypt, I arrived at the Citadel unprepared. They only took cash. Of course. The nearest ATM was a 10-min car ride, and there were no taxis. A man aware of my situation, came up to me and asked if I needed cash. I did. I only had about 3 USD. He agreed to drive Gabby and me to the nearest bank or ATM. His English was decent, and he looked nice. I agreed. Now before you think I’m crazy, I typically monitor situations and go with my gut and the energy of people. I didn’t feel he was someone I should worry about, plus my location is always shared with my boyfriend so he would be able to track my movements if anything were to happen. Nota, the man took us straight to the ATM and got us ahead in the line, there is a separate line for men and women, and he asked the bank security to let us go forward. They had known each other. We got our money and headed back to the Citadel. Nota agreed to then be our driver for the entire day for a fraction of a regular taxi or private driver. He took us to many different places and showed us the secret spots in Egypt. I felt a little sad about how little he was making on this day, so Gabby and I took him to the Nile River for some drinks, food, and shisha. (hookah). He facetimed his wife, and we met her and his small child. He was so kind. He told us how he had spent almost every day at the Citadel since he was a small child. He learned English from begging for change and helping tourists until he was older and began driving them. He was a fascinating person. He told us a lot about how people in Cairo live. It’s an impoverished city, and many work extremely hard for little pay and little monthly salaries. It made me realize how lucky we are to live the lives we live in a country of opportunity etc. We used Nota a few more times on our short trip to Cairo. I would recommend him as your driver if you need one. He’s a family man, safe, and very knowledgeable. He knows everyone around, can translate for you if required, and accommodates your schedule. E-mail me if you want his info! I’m happy to give it. 

Ok, now I’ll get on a schedule of your 48 hours in Egypt. 

The best place to stay in Cairo depends on what you prefer. I would recommend staying outside of Cairo in a quieter area. I recommend Giza or where I stayed, which was further outside Cairo. It was lovely to be away from the chaotic hustle and bustle of the city. It’s one of the craziest cities I’ve been in as far as traffic and noise, etc. 

Swiss Inn Pyramids Golf Resort was where Gabby and I stayed, and it was great! The location, the property, the golf course, the food (the food was one of my favorite things about the hotel). They’re spot on there. We had a great room with a pool view, and it was perfect. The staff was very friendly and helpful to all our needs. I even had a golf lesson with the pro, and he was super helpful in improving my swing and form. The pool at Swiss Inn Pyramids was great to lounge at as well and had some great food and drink options. The weather was perfect in the fall, not too hot, but hot enough to enjoy the sun and pool. They can also sort airport transfers to and from the airport. They have drivers that work for them that will make sure you arrive safely. I did this and then used Ubers and Nota for some other trips within Cairo. 

Day 1

Wake up, have a great breakfast at your hotel. (Swiss Inn Pyramids) Most hotels offer free breakfast in the rate, so enjoy that. After breakfast, around 9 am, call an uber, Nota, or your driver and head to the Cairo Citadel. The Citadel is a fortress on a hill with sweeping views over Cairo city. It was home to many Egyptian rulers. There you will find great city views, a mosque, museum, sultan’s residence, and Muhammed Ali’s tomb inside. The whole area is very historic and massive. You can also enter this Mosque as opposed to others. You cannot if you’re not Muslim. Just bring a scarf to cover your head and make sure you’re dressed conservatively. I recommend spending about an hour there, two with a guide if you want to learn all about it. 

Next drive by some of the mosques, maybe stop for a snap outside. You won’t be allowed inside, so just a quick shot is good and to see the grand architecture. The Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan, Al-Hussain Mosque, and Al-Azhar Mosque. They are beautiful and magnificent. 

Next, head to the City of the Dead, aka Cairo Necropolis, a place of the edge of Historic Cairo full of cemeteries, tombs, mausoleums, and burial sites. It is full of the dead. It is interesting to see all the tombs, especially of those of the rulers and famous.

I must say though, the saddest thing about this place isn’t the dead, but the living that has been forced to inhabit these cemeteries due to overcrowding in the city and little money. It is a place where both the living and the dead coexist. While some think it’s not a place to bring tourists, I think it is interesting. It will give some people perspective just how blessed they are and how to have a little humility and gratitude. 

After this, I would head to Old Cairo and walk around the historic worshipping center combining Islam, Christian, and Jewish cultures. It houses the oldest mosque in Cairo, (Amr Mosque), churches, and a synagogue dating back as early as the 9th century. The Hanging Church of The Virgin Mary, a church built in the 4th century that was built on the ruins of two old towers remaining from The Fortress of Babylon. I would take a walk inside this charming, historical, and rustic church. 

After this, I would head to The Nile. You can walk around it, sit at a floating restaurant, or take a sunset cruise. I went and sat just on a floating restaurant because of the time, but I think a journey would have been refreshing if you find a good one that’s not too crowded. The sunset was beautiful here. The Nile is where we had dinner and shisha and some drinks. It was also so cheap. 

After this, I would head back to your hotel and relax, OR you can check out The Khan el Khalili Bazaar. This was one of the oldest bazaars in the world. They have spices, luxury fabrics, perfumes, traditional clothing, and Egyptian souvenirs. It’s a place if you want to get a feel of the busy city and shop. There are a few historical monuments around this area. I went here, and it was ok unless you’re set on gifts for friends. I don’t think it’s a must-do if you are crunched for time. I did get a cute little headpiece there for two bucks I wore to the pyramids, though. It just depends on what you’re looking for and if you have the extra time. No need to stress if you miss it, especially if you have been to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, you won’t mind missing it. You can get some of the same souvenirs at the tourist attractions from people selling them there. 

End of the day, head back to Swiss inn and relax. Have some snacks, wine, and shisha at the outside bar. It’s an excellent atmosphere and perfect for a nightcap. 

Day 2

Wake up extra early. Have a delicious breakfast and head to The Great Pyramids of Giza and Sphinx. They open either at 7 or 8 am, depending on the season. I arrived five minutes early so that I would be the first person inside. I wanted to get epic photos without the insane masses of people that bus there early in the morning. There usually are crowds about 90 mins after it opens. So go early! You won’t regret it. It’s also such a different, more mesmerizing experience seeing it alone without many people there. 

Katy Johnson at the Pyramids of Giza as a female travel blogger

I recommend going to The Sphinx first. Get photos in front of her and just stand and gaze at her while pinching yourself that you finally made it to Giza. That’s what I did! I then walked inside and did more gazing. Lol. You don’t need much time here. Maybe thirty minutes to an hour at most. Make sure you don’t just snap your pictures, but you take it in. I advise having a guide to tell you about the area, but if you already feel you know a lot about it, then forget it. Hiring a guide is typically relatively cheap though, and helps support the local economy. I advise it! 

After the Sphinx, take a cab or your driver, and head to the pyramids. I started at the largest one first. This one was huge, and you can buy a separate ticket to go inside of it, but you must do that when you walk in. It’s a little pricey, but you can walk inside and walk up a lot of ramps to get to the top. It’s pretty dark inside and just a hollow pyramid, but you can do it if you want and don’t think you’ll be back. I didn’t do it, but Gabby did and said it was super cool and worth it. Not because the inside is some crazy beautiful thing, but it was the experience of being inside of The Great Pyramid and to say she’s seen and done it. I get that! I feel like I’ll be back, so I’ll do it next time. I’m pretty sure you’re not allowed to take photos inside of it either. Technically you aren’t meant to climb the pyramids, but many people do, and they do not enforce this much on the large one. They don’t let you climb to the top, but you can get away with climbing up a few. It also doesn’t seem to hurt the structure since they are so insanely large and durable. I couldn’t believe just how significant each stone was. I pictured them quite small. Remember to wear comfortable shoes while here as it’s a lot of walking and walking in sand. 

Next, we drove to the other two pyramids. You can walk, ride a camel, ride an ATV, horse, or drive a car. A lot of people ride camels and horses to get more unique perspectives. Still, I don’t support animal tourism at all, and I saw some of the camels poorly treated. It’s just not something I find necessary. You have two feet, and you’re on vacation. Walk or drive yourself. Animals shouldn’t be slaves for you. That’s just my take, but I do not ride animals, nor do I support them in slavery and imprisonment. 

I would spend a couple of hours here, exploring and getting fun photos. You won’t need all day.  In the evening, I believe they do a cool light show, and you could come back later if you have the time. A great view is going inside the Pizza hut and ordering some food if you don’t want to pay. There is also a hotel nearby you can watch from the rooftop. The Panorama Pyramids Inn, although this may be for guests or a small fee. 

After you leave the pyramids, I would head to the Egyptian Museum, aka the Museum of Cairo. This large museum is home to over 100,000 items, including artifacts, mummies, statues, jewelry, etc. It is enormous, and you will need a few hours (3-4) at least to go through it all. I strongly recommend buying the extra ticket to the mummy exhibit. That was so insanely cool and my favorite part of the Museum. There truly is so much in this building. I know they mean to move it into another, even more substantial building, but for now, it’s still in the same building. There is everything you would want to see in terms of Egyptian and Ancient Egyptian history. There is also a gift shop and restaurant outside to stop for drinks and snacks. I would recommend having cash with you. Also, there is an extra fee if you have a professional camera, they search your bags so you can’t hide it. Take your time through this and make sure you hit every floor and every section, even if you just start to skim things as it can seem overwhelming, but intriguing to say the least. 

After the museum, If you’re not heading back to the hotel before dinner, I would eat around the Museum. There are some fantastic places to grab a fabulous dinner. Some ideas would be Vivo Restaurant, Sabaya, India along the Nile, Birdcage, Felfela, The Blue Restaurant and Grill, and Osmanly Restaurant. These are also ideal for any night you need a good dinner. Most are a little nicer, so if you want something more casual, I would head towards the Nile or find a buffet or café. Also, I ate dinner at my hotel, Swiss Inn Pyramids, and it was amazing! It’s a buffet, but the food is incredible, and there is so much choice! You’ll get a good meal for a reasonable price if you’re tired and wanting to get back. 

There you have it! There is my 48-hour guide! Next time I go to Egypt, which will undoubtedly be in the future, I will spend another 48 hours in Cairo to see some things I missed (day trips) and then head to Luxor. I’m dying to go there and have heard incredible things, so I would include that in your Egypt trip if you feel you’ll only go once. Aswan and Sharm El Sheik also look stunning! Enjoy this historic country!

 

Some Basic Tips for Cairo!

*Bring comfortable shoes! You will do a lot of walking. 

*Make sure you have a scarf or something to cover your head and shoulders if needed.

*Remember the dress code and dress appropriately and respectfully. This means covering the legs and shoulders. 

*At times it’s ok to take the covering off your shoulders if you’re taking some pics at the tourist spots, but generally stay respectful of the culture and religion. 

*Make sure you have cash. A lot of places don’t take a card, and it’s just much easier. That was something I regretted is constant ATM trips. 

Learn a few Arabic phrases, it’s appreciated! 

Plan for heavy traffic consistently. The traffic here is crazy and always so busy, so getting around takes much longer than you think. 

Drink Bottled water. Stay hydrated, it’s hot, and walking all day in the sun will dehydrate you.

Bring some Toilet paper with you for the bathrooms, and also coins. Many public restrooms still require a small fee. Also, bring hand sanitizer. 

Wear SPF! 

Don’t take valuables out especially expensive jewelry etc. 

Cairo is generally a safe place, but use common sense and stay vigilant in your surroundings. 

Remember to tip and try and leave it in cash and hand it directly to the waiter or tour guide etc. 

Taxis and Ubers are cheap. I used Uber if I could choose, so there was a record of my trip and the driver. This was purely for safety reasons. Make sure the driver and car always match the app.

*

Your Must Do 24 Hour Itinerary in Istanbul!

Your Must Do 24 Hour Itinerary in Istanbul!

24 Hours in Istanbul!

Istanbul, A city that lies in both Europe and Asia, new and old. Bustling in every corner and alive at all hours. Diverse, eclectic, and full of hospitality. The history can’t get any richer here, and the people couldn’t be friendlier. What a city! It quickly became one of my favorite cities and one I get to luckily frequent often as it’s a hub for Turkish airlines and a stopover on route to many popular destinations in Africa, Europe, Asia, and The Middle East. 

The airport is the largest airport and stopover hub in the world and brand new, opening in 2018. I was in absolute shock with how colossal and incredible it was. So, grand, so many options, and such great shopping. It’s a great start when arriving in a new city on your layover or just for a delightful Turkish getaway in Istanbul. 

My first trip to Istanbul was a five-day trip, and I was obsessed. I recommend doing a few days in Istanbul if possible, as there is a lot to see and a lot of land to cover. If you only have a quick 24 hours in Istanbul, I’m going to tell you all the best places to see and things to do. No time to waste, let’s get on it. This is my list and what I recommend when my friends go. There are a lot of things to see and do, but I’m going to prioritize what I think are the best. 

Accommodation; There are so many great hotels in Istanbul. It can be hard to choose. I enjoyed staying at the more boutique ones, and I strongly suggest staying in the Sultanahmet area. This area is historical, has many of the best sites in Istanbul, has an incredible atmosphere, and is generally less expensive than staying in the other neighborhoods. It is also where the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located, as well as the fabulous Grand Bazaar. 

I stayed at Hotel Amira, and it’s just perfect for everything you need. The staff is extremely accommodating. Its family-owned, the rooms are beautiful, there are an incredible rooftop bar and terrace with views of The Blue Mosque, and the stunning sea. The buffet breakfast at Hotel Amira was incredible, as was the Turkish flatbread station next to it. You must try the flatbread. The lady that makes it really puts her heart into it! It’s delicious. 

Another thing I love is that you can walk to Sultanahmet Square, where The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are located just a few minutes. You can also walk to the Bazaars and other shops in only 15 minutes or less. I do love staying at family-owned boutique hotels in some cities because they go the extra mile for their guest’s satisfaction, and Hotel Amira pays attention to the details and makes their guests feel welcome and at home. They even booked and printed my Hagia tickets online for me (So I wouldn’t have to wait in line) and booked my airport shuttle.  

24 Hours, Here we go!

The early bird gets the worm. I would wake up and be down at breakfast when it starts. Approx. 7 am at Hotel Amira. Fill your tummy up and be ready to do some walking. I would start by walking to the Sultanahmet Square and The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. Take some photos outside of each without the large crowds. (They’re right across from one another) I would stay be there before 8 am to get some pics without the large herds of tourist buses. 

    If you want to enter The Blue Mosque, you must dress appropriately. For women, this means covering your head with a scarf and wearing loose-fitting pants and shirts. Linen is a good, cool option. Leave the leggings at home. You must have your knees and shoulders covered. Men also must cover their legs and avoid any tank tops. If you fail to meet these requirements, they will ask you to cover yourself or leave. There are robes and scarves there if you want to borrow one free of charge, but they aren’t washed after every person so I would bring your own. The Hagia Sophia has a more lose dress code as The Mosque is an operating Mosque with prayer times, so you must respect it and check the times’ tourists are allowed in as it changes in different months, and you must go after prayer times. 

    The Blue Mosque will take you about 30 mins to walk around and check out. I would allow approximately 1 to 1.5 hours in the Hagia Sophia. There is more to see inside. It’s incredible. It’s a Wonder of the World. So, check it out. Keep in mind though, It is closed on Mondays. The regular hours are 9-5, so I would be there right at 9. You could go to The Blue Mosque at 8:30 and walk across to the Hagia at 9! Perfect. 

    After the Hagia Sophia at around 10:30 I walk over to the Basilica Cistern, this is an underground water reservoir that was built back in the 6th-century Byzantine era. It is the largest in Istanbul but now is kept with little water so it can house millions of tourists a year. It is cool going underground. It’s stunning. Dark and moody but, you can get some killer unique photos of it. You only need about an hour there. The best shot is of the pillars illuminating orange underneath. So pretty! 

    Now it’s time for some shopping. You can walk from the Basilica to The Grand Bazaar in just ten minutes or so. You can find everything you would want there: rugs, Lamps, Tea, Turkish candy, and a lot of high-quality replica items. You can find bags, shoes, jewelry, and clothing. They have it all. There is also a jewelry district. Remember to always haggle. Whatever the price is go half and half again, and then meet in the middle. They expect you to haggle, and it’s more of a fun game for them. So, enjoy it and don’t be nervous. Sometimes they will say no and as soon as you leave they will chase you down. Also remember a lot of the stores have the same stuff, so compare. You don’t have to buy the first thing. Also, if you want you can bring photos of a designer item you want and they will typically go find it for you. They have brands like Gucci, LV, YSL, Rolex, Dior, etc. I can recommend some of the top sellers with the best quality there, as I have their numbers personally if you are looking for something specific and don’t have all day to find and compare prices. I would expect to spend a few hours here. Also, most times they will offer you tea, take it, it’s free, and it’s something they do for their customers, it doesn’t mean you’re obligated to buy. Also, a big tip for visiting the Bazaar is that you shouldn’t look American or Rich. I get you may be coming from touristy sites, and so you’ll be looking nice, but they really will hassle you more if you’re American or if you look like you have money. Be prepared to have them calling you to come into stores. They will try and flatter you by calling you celebrity names and ask where you’re from.  I heard “Hey Barbie Girl” a lot. This is a sales tactic and a way to get your attention. 

    The earlier you arrive, the better as a lot of times they want to start the morning off well and make a sale, so sometimes they will bargain better in the morning, and you can get stuff even cheaper than you would. You can also get a better bargain if you buy more than one item. A few times, I would make a deal and then add a second item and ask for a slightly higher price for both. It sometimes works. If they take you into a back room or tell you to follow them, don’t be alarmed, this is normal. They aren’t legally allowed to sell specific “designer” items, so they’re not all out in plain sight, and the better quality is usually hidden. So again, this is very normal. I went in dozens of back rooms. Don’t be alarmed. 

After you finish at the Bazaar I would walk back to Hotel Amira and drop your many bags off. If you’re like me, you may have a lot. You can’t get a lot of these items anywhere else in the world, so I always spend more than I usually would shopping. I also love bringing things back for my family, like Turkish delights and apple tea. 

Now it’s time for a late lunch, at 3 pm or so, I recommend walking from Hotel Amira to Seven Hills Hotel to their rooftop terrace for a lovely seafood lunch. You get great views of the sea, the city, and the Hagia Sophia. Get a table by the edge. I love this spot. The atmosphere is excellent, the wine is great, as is the fish. They have a lot of very fresh fish. Don’t let them talk you into the market fish unless you are starving and willing to share as it’s too large of portions otherwise. I got the sea bass off the regular menu and it was great. It’s an excellent spot for a glass of Rosé, a photo, and to relax and just enjoy the energy of Istanbul and Sultanahmet square. 

After a nice lunch, I would jump in an uber (yes, they’re safe) or a cab (I prefer uber) and head to the Chora Museum. It is a little outside of the city center by about two miles, but it’s not to miss. It used to be an old Byzantine Church and it holds some stunning mosaics thousands of years old. If you’re into art and history, you can’t miss this. A funny story, I came here and walked around staring at the ceiling high mosaics and started bawling my eyes out. I don’t know what happened to me, but I became incredibly emotional and was just so awestruck at the beauty, history, and intricacy of the pieces. It was an overwhelming feeling. You will only need about 30 minutes here and then grab an uber or taxi and head to The Golden horn. 

The Golden horn is the body of water separating the north and south parts of European Istanbul. It’s a freshwater estuary that has an area to walk around and is great for watching the sunset. Just opposite of the Horn is the Galata Tower. A charming old tower with an observation deck that once served as a jail and a watchtower. The tower, built in 1348, has so much history. It may also be the best place to watch the sunset and get a panoramic view of the city. It does get crowded so that I would get there a bit before sunset, but again, the views are incredible, and you can see for miles. 

After sunset, I recommend having a nice dinner in another area besides Sultanahmet. Since you are already at the Galata Tower, I would eat somewhere around Galata or Karakoy. My top recommendation is Meze by Lemon Tree. It is an authentic Turkish meyhane experience that focuses on meze and raki. It’s delicious food, and a cozy atmosphere makes it a top restaurant in the area for local cuisine. If Turkish food isn’t your thing for some reason, I would recommend the Peninsula Restaurant. It serves a variety of foods from Mediterranean to European and beyond. It’s the top floor restaurant at Hotel Golden City. It has sweeping views over the Bosporus. The food is delicious, and the atmosphere is buzzing like the boats coming down the river. The food presentation is also lovely. 

After dinner, if you’re feeling adventurous and not too tired from your day, I would recommend checking out Gaspar for a drink or two. It’s a restaurant that turns into more of a bar after the dinner crowd has finished. It’s quite sophisticated and has groovy cocktails and music. On the weekends this place really gets busy. Don’t get too buzzed if you have an early flight the next day, as it’s always a mission getting to the airport in Istanbul traffic. 

There you have it! There is a pretty good detailed itinerary for a 24 hour Istanbul layover. There’s plenty of other sites in the city to see, but they honestly weren’t my favorite, nor did I feel they beat the listed ones, such as a couple of the palaces, etc. There are many museums if that’s your thing and you have another day to explore.

A few more restaurant recommendations for Istanbul;

Mikla; (it’s expensive though, our dinner and drinks for 2 was around 300 USD). Great views! Posh!

Yeni Lokanta; Celebrity chef and great wine.

Ulus 29; Super pretty interior, happening at night, and incredible views.

Novas Hagiasophia; Great seafood and near the Hagia Sophia.

Petra Roasting Co; for all you coffee lovers.

Mezze; Authentic Turkish experience.

Spago; If you want something Western by the famous Wolfgang Puck.

Neolokal; Great interior and incredible food and views.

Turkistan Asevi; Cute place near the Blue Mosque, with great and very cheap food.

Make sure to try some apple tea, baklava, and Turkish Delight! Yummy!