Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Honestly, I never had any desire to go to Finland before, let alone to the very north in Lapland. But as usual, I was enticed by some awesome snowy pics of this beautiful country and I knew I had to experience it for myself. Plus, I really wanted to see Santa! Can you blame me?

I had no idea there were so many awesome and unique things to do in Lapland, Finland. I was overwhelmed by all the choices as I was deciding which ones to choose! My wish list included seeing the northern lights, doing an animal safari (aka sleigh rides), and something super traditional and completely out of my comfort zone (you’ll see).

So if you’re heading that way and need help deciding, let me highlight all the kick-ass things to do in Lapland, Finland below:


Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland


Go On a Photo Expedition

Take an all day photo expedition that includes some trekking through the nature and photographing some epic views over the land. This is a must do for photography lovers. No professional experience is needed! They basically take you to all the best photo spots in a winter wonderland and help you take some awesome photos. It was really better than I expected. 

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

I wrote a separate post on this so I won’t get into too much detail here. But honestly, this was one of my favorite things I did in Finland! You can read about my tour in more detail here.

Santa Claus Village

If you’re in Rovaniemi you kinda have to go see Santa! Ok honestly, the village won’t wow you or anything but it’s one of those things that’s cool to say you did. Where else can you visit the city Santa is from?

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

In Santa’s Village, you can send a postcard postmarked from Santa’s Village and get an official stamp on your passport. They also offer shorter reindeer and husky rides. Although it’s more commercial here, it’s still an option of you don’t want to fork out a huge lump of cash for the longer animal safaris.

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Cross the Arctic Circle

While at Santa’s Village you can actually cross the arctic circle! How cool is that? This is one of the few places in the world where you can actually stand with one foot on each sides of the arctic circle. If you want, you can even get an official certificate proving you actually did it!

Reindeer Safari

I couldn’t go to Lapland and NOT ride a reindeer! I mean, how many other places can you do that? Not many. The ride was very slow and kinda “kiddie” so definitely something for small children to enjoy, but still kinda cool to do as an adult. 

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

The ride itself is about 25-30 minutes through the snowy forest. It’s a great opportunity for photos. We then visited the reindeer farm and got to see all the cared for reindeer, even some cute baby ones! To get warm, we huddled by the fire and roasted sausages and sipped on berry juice.

It was a nice and quick tour and the company was great, but honestly for the price I don’t think it was worth it. I say this because they off reindeer rides at Santa’s Village for a small fraction of the price. Unless you really love reindeers and want to spend a little extra time with them, I would do the ride at Santa’s Village instead!

(Disclaimer: I received a small media discount for this tour. While I greatly appreciate this, I need to be completely honest with my readers and tell it like it is). 

Snowmobile to the Northern Lights

I’ts always a smart idea to book a northern lights tour that also combines another activity, just in case you don’t get to see them. Seeing the northern lights is never guaranteed and they are very unpredictable.

The perfect example of this is the Snowmobile Safari/Northern lights tour I did with Wild Nordic. The snowmobiling really got my adrenaline pumping riding out to a frozen lake to chase the lights. The ride was a bit bumpy with all the ice, so you probably shouldn’t do this is you have any spine issues or recent injuries.

 

After about 45 minutes of zipping through the snow, we ended up on a frozen lake far from the city lights. Our awesome guide Raivis made a small fire and cooked us Finnish sausages and poured us the most amazing hot berry juice.

Unfortunately the conditions didn’t allow us to see the lights; however, bonding with the fellow travelers around the open fire is something I’ll never forget!

The snowmobiling experience was so fun we didn’t even care about seeing the lights (I had seen them a few days earlier in Tromsø so I was content). It was an awesome tour and something you shouldn’t miss!

Sauna/Ice Dip

This might have been the most crazy thing I did in Finland. However, it’s something very popular with the locals, mostly for the health benefits. Going from extreme hot to cold is good for your circulation and makes you feel refreshed (although caution is advised in those with a history of heart issues).

The setting at Immelkartano was absolutely perfect. It’s a small family run company (which you know I love) which operates 2 sauna houses set on a beautiful snowy frozen lake.

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Set up my tripod and caught the Northern Lights faintly in the distance. This was not visible with the naked eye so an added bonus!

I was told by the attendant that going in the frozen lake up to your next cleanses you of your sins from the neck down. All sinners welcome 🙂

The ice dip was super invigorating to say the least! You start by heating up in a traditional Finnish smoke sauna in a private setting and then jump into an ice hole. You end the dip by drinking a shot of straight up Finnish vodka (trust me, you’ll need it!).

View the Northern Lights from Levi

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Levi is an adorable little ski town that I had the pleasure of staying in for 2 days while in Lapland. Although I didn’t get to see the northern lights on my snowmobile safari, I was fortunate enough to catch them in the back of a restaurant I was walking to in Levi. I happened to have my tripod on me from before, so I ran behind the restaurant to catch this incredible display of Mother Nature. There is something special about seeing them when you’re least expecting them. It’s pure magic.

Visit a Snow Hotel

The Snow Village is located about a 30-40 minute drive from Levi but is worth the trip. I learned so much about ice hotels and the design and details blew me away. I didn’t know that they rebuild the ice hotel every year, and it never looks the same twice! I really wish I would have stayed one night. The place was amazing! We were able to go inside all the rooms and see what they were like. Every room has a different design with intricate carvings. The artwork is really incredible. There is also an ice bar, ice restaurant, and ice slide! It’s only for children, but I saw some adults breaking the rules (ahem, including me). 

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Every year, the hotel has a contest for the best designed room. Applicants submit their design online and the winner will have their room brought to life with their design! They even get to come stay in the hotel in their room! How cool?! If only I could draw past stick figures…

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Husky Safari

One of the most popular activists in Lapland is to go on a husky ride safari. This activity is a lot faster and more exciting than a reindeer ride. The adrenaline kick plus the frigid air smacking you in the face will really wake you up!

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

You will also have time to meet all the huskies and play with them afterwards. I’m a cat person honestly, but these cuddly creatures are so hyper and loveable that I fell in love with them. I’m not going to lie though, in the beginning when they get them all hyped up to ride, they were a bit scary and aggressive!

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Look at those gorgeous blue eyes!

It wouldn’t be a true Finish activity without ending the day inside a hut roasting sausages over an open fire. God I love Finland!

Dancing with wolves 🐺🐺 #lapland #ourfinland #tundrahuskies #visitlevi #gopro #goplayoutside

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The company was called Tundra Huskies and it costs €75 for the tour. You get to visit husky farm and pet the dogs and then do a 25-30 minute ride. You can also visit some reindeer on the farm. The whole tour takes about 2-3 hours. 

Other Awesome Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

Most Unique Things to Do in Lapland, Finland

  • Get a panorama view from a fell (a fell is basically an epic lookout point over the land).
  • Stay in a hotel with your own sauna (I’ll get to that in the next post).

Other cool things to do in Lapland that I didn’t get a chance to try:

  • Scenic flight to chase the northern lights
  • Iceberg float
  • Ice fishing
  • Stay in a glass igloo hotel (my dream)

*This post was in collaboration with Visit Levi & Wild Nordic; however, my opinions are my own and I had a kick-ass time in Lapland, as you can see!♥

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Have I Convinced You To Want to Visit Lapland? What Activities Would You Like to Do?

 

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is SO Worth the $450 Annual Fee (…Hear Me Out)

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is SO Worth the $450 Annual Fee (…Hear Me Out)

If you’re like me, as soon as I heard about the $450 annual fee with the Chase Sapphire Reserve (CSR) travel credit card, my reaction was “oh hell nah“. But then I eased up and started researching the benefits of the card and slowly realized that the fee is well worth all the perks (as you will see below).

One of the main reasons I can travel so much is because I use travel reward credit cards to build points to get free plane tickets. Any plane ticket over $600 I don’t pay for. I use points to get free flights.

I’ve been taking advantage of this for the past few years and I seriously think it’s one of the biggest secrets as to how to travel more. That and NOT spending money on dumb shit. But to each their own…

If you’re new to the whole travel reward credit card thing, don’t worry, I’ll try to break it down easily so that you can actually understand it.

Note: This post is in NO way sponsored and I have absolutely no affiliation with Chase. I’m just sharing my honest review in hopes of helping others to travel more with travel reward credit cards. It’s one of the main reasons why I can travel so much).

Update: I wrote the draft of this post a few weeks ago, and now they opened up a referral bonus for the Chase Sapphire Reserve, woohoo!!

So What is a Travel Rewards Credit Card?

A travel reward credit card is basically a credit card that is linked to a rewards program. You spend money, you get points towards travel. It’s as simple as that.

For example: you buy a plane ticket for $500, you get 3 points per dollar with the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Therefore, you get 1500 points for buying that plane ticket. These points can be used to buy plane tickets, hotel rooms, and many other cool things. (I honestly don’t think it’s worth it to use points for hotels or other things, and I only use my points for flights).

Here’s an idea of what a certain amount of points will give you for flights:

For 60,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the USA to Europe. For 40,000 points, you can take a roundtrip flight from the East Coast to Ecuador or Peru. For 80,000 points, you can fly from the USA to South Africa.

But let’s get to what you really want to know:

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

Actually, the first year, it’s really only $50, and then it’s basically $150 per year thereafter. Wait, what? Let me explain by highlighting all the card’s benefits and you’ll see wtf I’m talking about. I’m not crazy, I swear. 

$300 Travel Credit Per Year

Once you spend $300 worth of travel purchases, this gets reimbursed to you immediately. This brings that $450 annual fee down to $150 right off the bat. 

What counts as travel? flights (not just directly from airlines but any travel search website, i.e. Skyscanner, Expedia, etc.), taxis, toll roads, parking lots, ferries, Uber, Lyft, car rental agencies, hotels, Airbnb, etc.

No Foreign Transaction Fees

The Chase Sapphire Reserve has NO foreign transaction fees so I can use it when I travel overseas as well to earn points. Just make sure to alert Chase of your travels beforehand so they don’t freeze your account for suspicious spending!

$100 Global Entry or TSA Pre Check Credit

(note: you must pay the application fee with your Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card)

I finally caved in and got my Global Entry (GE) and let me tell you I’m kicking myself for not getting it sooner! I avoided it for so long because I heard it’s hard to get an appointment. While this is true, I found a center near me that accepts walk-ins.

The whole appointment took 10-15 minutes and it was the easiest thing ever! They asked me if I’ve ever been convicted of a crime and if I have ever violated immigration laws…and that’s it! Oh yeah, they proceeded to tell me all about their dogs.

What I did was google “Global Entry walk-in appointments in Washington, D.C.” and I found a place. So try that in your area! I went to the Washington, DC Enrollment Center. 

To make things easier, I found this great resource for the walk-in centres that allow same day appointments here

So with the $300 cash back for the travel credit plus the $100 in Global Entry/TSA Precheck, that equals your $50 the first year charge. After that, you’l be essentially be paying $150 ($450-$300 travel credit). BAM. Not bad for ALL the awesome perks and points you get!

*Note: TSA Precheck is included with Global Entry so definitely go for the Global Entry! (unless you do not travel outside the USA at all). There is no “upgrade” option, so if you get TSA Precheck and decide later you want GE, you will have to reapply and go for the interview all over again for the GE (and pay the $100 app fee). Boo.

Priority Pass Airport Lounge Access

I must say this is the most underrated perk of this card! So basically you get free VIP access to over 1000+ airport lounges around the world. In these lounges you can find food, snacks, alcohol, wifi, TVs, comfy sleep areas, and even showers in some.

First, download the Priority Pass App to your phone, then it’s super easy to search for a lounge. It has all the info about the lounges and tells you where exactly in the airport it is. 

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

Download the Priority Pass App to find all the lounges!

However, I’ve learned that not all lounges are created equal, I’ve noticed the international ones are way better than the domestic ones. My favorite is the Turkish Airlines lounge in Washington Dulles Airport (IAD). They serve full on gourmet food like lamb, chicken skewers, falafel, rice, and hummus. I now get to the airport an hour early so I can go to the lounge and stuff my face with yummy food before my flight. And oh yes, I definitely have a few glasses of wine as well to ease my flying jitters. #morewineplease #freewine

I just got back from South America and on my connection home, I stopped in Lima and went to the VIP Club Lounge and Business Center. There was a “quiet room” inside the lounge where they had 10 super comfy leather recline chairs. I pulled an all nighter so when I saw this I was in heaven. I had a 4 hour layover so I took a much needed nap. Then I had a quick brekkie and coffee (they even had lactose free milk!) and was on my way.

Having access to airport lounges is awesome!! If only for the free wine alone (and the good wifi)!♥

3 Points for Every Dollar Spend on Travel & Dining (& 1 point for everything else)

Every time you use your card to buy something travel related or eat out at a restaurant/fast food, you get 3 times the points!! For example, I recently spent $500 for my Peru/Bolivia plane tickets and I got 1,500 points for this purchase. Yay!

So what do all these points mean?

Well, you can either use the Chase portal to search for flights, or you can transfer these points to the participating airlines/hotel partners. These partners include: British Airways, Flying Blue Air France KLM, Korean Air Skypass, Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer, Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards, United MileagePlus, Virgin Atlantic Flying Club, IHG Rewards Club, Marriott RewardsThe Ritz-Carlton RewardsWorld of Hyatt. The points transfer at a ratio of 1:1. 

For example, if you have 50,000 Chase points, you can transfer them to United Mileage Plus and have 50,000 United points. United is part of Star Alliance, as are 28 other airlines such as Lufthansa, Croatia Airlines, Air Canada, etc.

So even if you hate United (which I kinda do), I personally think they have the best point system and it’s the easiest to get free tickets. You go to United.com and search for award flights, and all the partner airlines will pop up, so most the time, I hardly ever even fly United.

Here is an example flight from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia. A one-way ticket will cost 30k points plus taxes.

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

If you notice, these flights are not even operated by United. There is an option to fly the first leg with United with the taxes only at $26 instead of $42. It depends on how much you hate United I guess.

To Get the 50K Point Sign-Up Bonus, You Must Meet Spending Requirements

I jumped on a debut promotion where I got 100,000 miles when I signed up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Now that promotion is gone and the bonus is 50,000, which is still pretty awesome though. 

In order to get this bonus, you must spend $4,000 in the first 3 months of receiving your card. That equals about $1,333 per month. That’s easy to spend in the US, especially because you can use the card to purchase things you would already be buying anyway like groceries, gas, and even some bills. Most companies these days will let you pay your bills with a credit card so make sure to check with them. If you can try to pay your rent with the CSR, even better!

If you think you may have trouble meeting spending requirements, ask your friends to give you cash when you go out to eat and put the bill on your card. Or, ask you parents if they need to make a big purchase and offer to put it on your card for some cash. There are many ways around it!

Will Opening a New Card Hurt my Credit Score?

Meh. Temporarily it will drop slightly, but not by much. So unless you’re about to apply for a huge loan for a car or house, it will not affect you that much at all in the long run.

However, having a credit card open will build your credit. Just make sure you pay your card off in FULL each month to avoid the high interest rates. Making purchases and then making payments WILL build your credit. Having credit cards can be a good thing if you’re smart about it.

Other Awesome Perks of the Chase Sapphire Reserve 

Car rental collision damage waiver(CDW), trip delay and cancellation, baggage delay, emergency medical and dental, road side assistance. Just please note that only services purchased with the CSR will be covered (so if you rent a car on another credit card, you will not receive the car rental insurance benefits..duh).

Why the Chase Sapphire Reserve is So Worth the $450 Annual Fee

Important note: the emergency medical and dental is only up to $2,500, which is EXTREMELY low. I would recommend you still purchasing a travel insurance that covers medical insurance at a higher rate. This $2,500 isn’t going to get you crap in some countries! 

I use World Nomads and I love them (and no I don’t get paid to say that)! They have awesome coverage (especially medical) and they have been easy to work with.

Shit happens when you travel and I have already made 2 claims with them in the past year and got fully reimbursed (once for a hospital trip in Croatia and another for a stolen camera lens in Colombia).  Oh, and since I have had an unlucky year, my phone was just stolen in Bolivia so I’m about to make my 3rd claim of the year.

Like I said, shit happens when you travel! Make sure to have some travel insurance before your next trip (as most US health insurance plans will NOT cover you overseas…unless you have a super badass policy with an enormous monthly premium).

If you’re interesting in coverage and prices, you can get an easy quote below. I just signed up for their affiliate program (because I think they are great), so I just need to disclose that I may receive a small commission if you purchase insurance through my link, at no extra cost to you. Yay!

 

Do You Pass the 5/24 Rule?

Chase abides by the 5/24 rule, which basically means that if you’ve opened up 5 new credit cards in the past 24 months, you unfortunately will not be eligible for this card.

But I Already Have the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Love It

Yes, this was me too. I loved my Preferred and used it for everything. But with the Reserve, the 3 points per dollar for travel and dining purchases, (instead of 2 points with the Preferred) was the deal breaker for me!

I didn’t want to pay the annual fee for both cards, so I called Chase and downgraded my Preferred to the Chase Freedom Unlimited with no annual fee. With the Freedom Unlimited, you get 1.5 points per dollar on all purchases so if my purchase doesn’t fall in the travel or dining category, I use this card to get 1.5 points instead of 1 point.

How I’ve Used My Miles to Travel for Free

Like I mentioned above, any flight over $600 I get for free basically. Most my long-haul continent to continent flights are bought with miles, not money. I try to be smart and save the miles for the most expensive flights. I have yet to use miles within the USA because I don’t think it’s worth it.

Last year I transferred my Chase miles to United Mileage Plus and flew to Cape Town, South Africa from Split, Croatia for 30,000 miles each way (60k total). Even with the free flights you do have to pay taxes, which are usually less than $100 and sometimes as little as $5 one way.

Earlier this year, I flew to The Galapagos in Ecuador from Washington, D.C. for 20,000 miles each way (40k total). If interested, you can read about how I did 1 week in the Galapagos for only $994, including flights

I often fly from Washington, DC to Split, Croatia for 60,000 points roundtrip on Lufthansa (found through the United system).

I really want to go back to Africa and New Zealand, which are really far away, so I’m saving my miles for those trips! I have about 140,000 points saved so far (and counting).

Now You Can Get Extra Points for Referring Others (up to 50,000 points)!

So I got lucky on this one and now the Chase Sapphire Reserve has a referral bonus they just opened up in the last week! If you sign up using my link HERE, I get 10,000 points! And once you get your card, you can get the bonus too if your friends sign up! They limit it to 5 referrals so you can get up to 50,000 points just to refer a friend. Hell, I refer friends either way because I love this card and it allows for more free travel!

If you haven’t been able to tell from this post, the Chase Sapphire Reserve is so fu*king worth it. It really has been a game changer and allows me to afford to travel more.

I’ve had a few travel reward credit cards, and the Chase Sapphire Reserve gives the best benefits in my opinion. It’s completely worth the $450 annual fee and I think every avid traveler should have this card!

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Have I convinced you to sign up for the Chase Sapphire Reserve? Do you Have any Other Travel Reward Credit Cards You Really Love? 

 

Palawan, Philippines | How to Spend 7 Days in Paradise (Coron + El Nido)

Palawan, Philippines | How to Spend 7 Days in Paradise (Coron + El Nido)

Palawan has been voted the most beautiful island in the world, and for good reason. With its plethora of crystal clear turquoise waters, stunning lagoons, and plunging cliff lines, its not hard to see why. Palawan is the epitome of the word paradise.

There’s a lot you can do and see on Palawan even with a limited timeframe. I spent a week in Palawan, split between El Nido and Coron and it was the perfect introduction to the Philippines.

Preferred mode of transportation ✌🏻😎 #elnido #philippines #travelstoke #travelgram #fantastic_earthpix #nakedpanet #naturelovers

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Palawan 7 Day Itinerary


Day 1-4: El Nido, Palawan 

 

How to Get to El Nido

To make it simple, it’s going to take a long time! There are no direct international flights to El Nido so you will have to fly to Manila first, and then either fly to Puerto Princesa and take a 6-8 hour van ride up to El Nido.

Or there is the more direct (and more expensive) option of flying nonstop to El Nido. I flew with Air Swift on a short flight from Manila and it cost me $130. To me the direct flight was worth it to get there quicker.

You’ll be greeted at El Nido airport with a serenade from the local Filipino women, a unique welcome to the Philippines!  Air Swift passengers are also given free coffee, juice and snacks upon arrival.

To get to your accommodation, you’ll most likely have to take a tricycle, which reminds me of a mini tuk tuk. It costs 300 PHP to get to town (around $6) and takes around 15-20 minutes.

El Nido Tours

People flock to El Nido for the famous island hopping tours. There are 4 main tours leaving from El Nido: Tour A,B, C, and D. Creative, huh? They also offer combined tours if you’re super short on time (but some of the stops are cut out obviously).

Tour A & C are the most popular and most the pictures you’ve seen from El Nido are most likely from those tours. If you had to pick just one, hands down I would choose Tour A!

All the tours are a fixed price by the government so don’t bother trying to negotiate. There are dozens upon dozens of tour companies in town and they pretty much all offer the same tour with the same stops so no need to be extra picky on this one. I am one for good reviews so booking online beforehand wouldn’t be a bad option either.

Day 1: Nacpan Beach

Rent a motorbike for 300-500 PHP and drive 45 minutes North to Nacpan Beach. The last 20 minutes is super bumpy and rocky and it’s uncomfortable but not dangerous. There’s a little restaurant that serves fresh seafood and drinks on the beach.

Unfortunately, Twin Beach was closed due to a court case involving squatter activity until further notice so it’s impossible to get that infamous view of Twin Beach. This was the best I could do from the bottom of the hill. You can kinda see both beaches, but not so epically. Meh.

Palawan 7 day itinerary

Sunset at Las Cabanas Beach

Take a tricycle to Las Cabanas. It will cost 150 PHP from town and takes less than 10 minutes.

Las Cabanas is a great place to relax and unwind from the day, and have a drink if you’d like. There are a few cafes right on the beach and it’s a very popular place to catch the sunset. Meremgmeg Beach Bar was really cool and had swings at the bar instead of seats.

Day 2: Tour A 

Take Tour A, the post popular (and my favorite) of the tours. The tour will take you on 5 stops including: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Simizu Beach (lunch stop), Secret Lagoon, and 7 Commandos Beach.

Cost: 1400 PHP (~$27)

I will highlight my favorite spots below:

Small Lagoon

You can’t swim in this gorgeous lagoon. The boat takes you in and you just sit back and enjoy turquoise waters like you have never seen before.

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary
Big Lagoon

You can rent a kayak (Depending on availability) or snorkel and explore the big lagoon, which was so much fun!

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon was unreal in terms of beauty. We had to jump off the boat and swim here from a distance where we could explore the hidden lagoons and caves. This is exactly what I imagined the Philippines to be.

Palawan 7 day itinerary

7 Commandos Beach

The last stop of the day is on this long white sand beach. They have a bar and souvenir shop, as well as comfort rooms (what they call restrooms in the Philippines). There is also a fun rope swing that you can play with!

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

Day 3: Tour C

I booked Tour C with Art Cafe. The buffet BBQ lunch they served was really good! The tour leaves at 9am and comes back around 5pm.

Cost: 1400 PHP plus 100 PHP to rent fins (snorkel masks are already included).

5 stops are included on this tour including: Hidden BeachSecret Beach, Starfish Beach, Miniloc Shrine, and Helicopter Beach.

I found absolute paradise in Hidden Beach. I kinda wanted them to leave me there “accidentally”. 
Palawan 7 Day Itinerary
The Miniloc Shrine had the best viewpoint over the islands (cost is 100 PHP to go here). There are very pointy rocks at the top so please be careful.

Day 4: Mt. Taraw and Kayaking

Climb Mt. Taraw

This is guaranteed to be one of the most risky hikes you will ever do. Do NOT attempt to do this hike without a guide, it’s quite dangerous (and I don’t say this often).

You’ll be stepping on jagged, pointy, super sharp rocks and at some points you will be climbing up a 90 degree angle! It’s honestly more like rock climbing than a hike. Except that you will have NO harness or protective ear. But the 180 degree panoramic view at the top is worth all the fright and agony getting up there, trust me!

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

You can go in a group or hire a private guide. The whole trip takes about 2.5 to 3hrs. It costs 500 PHP for one person and can be as low as 300 PHP if you get a few people to go.

Tips for Hiking Mt. Taraw:

  • Take a sweat rag. I was dripping sweat and was all slippery. Not cool when my guide reached for my arm to pull me up in some places.
  • Start as early in the morning as possible to beat the heat.
  • I really wish I had brought gloves because the rocks I had to pull myself up on were super sharp.
  • Make sure to bring sturdy shoes (they won’t even let you hike without closed-toe shoes), water, and snacks.
  • Don’t bring many items with you. You do not want a big backpack on your back when you’re doing this climb. My guide actually didn’t let me carry a bag and put my stuff in his backpack.
  • Make sure to grab the rocks with your hands before moving with your feet.
  • On the way down go backwards, it’s easier and safer.

Rent a Kayak

Rent a kayak for 400 PHP and paddle over to Bikal Beach on Cadlao Island. There is a small and secluded crescent shaped beach which takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to. You’ll most likely have the beach to yourself. Unless you go in the morning because I believe tour D makes its first stop here.

Wouldn’t you love to have a whole stunning beach to yourself?

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

Get a Massage

Get a massage to end your trip in El Nido. It costs about 500-600 PHP per hour for a full body massage and you can find these massage shops all over the city.  I got a head and food massage to end my day and it was just perfect after all that hiking and kayaking I had done.

Best Way to Get between El Nido and Coron

There’s a newer fast boat option by Montenegro Lines that leaves daily from El Nido at 6am and from Coron at 12pm. The journey supposedly takes 3.5 hours (it took about 4 hours and 45 minutes) and is pretty comfortable in a clean and air conditioned boat. They play a movie on the flat screen during the trip. I booked my ticket online through Naturalis.

Make sure to arrive to the port 30 minutes early to check-in and pay your port fee (20 PHP) before you can board. You can pick your seat when you check in so if you’re prone to sea sickness, make sure to pick a seat in the back of the boat.

Cost: 1848 PHP + 20 PHP port fee (about $36 USD).

If you want to save a few dollars there is a slower ferry option on a freight ship that takes 7+ hours. I heard it’s extremely uncomfortable and the boats are older and less clean. Just google it if you want to make your decision easier. It’s literally less than a $10 difference so why put yourself through that hell? Take the fast boat!

Day 5-7: Coron, Palawan

Day 5: Ferry to Coron

There isn’t much to do in Coron town honestly. It was a stark contrast to the lively El Nido, so just take the afternoon to relax before the evening activities.

Head to Coffee Kong, for some good coffee. It’s a cute little coffee hangout and the only place I found with soy milk! They also serve breakfast and have really good Air Con.

Hike Mt. Tapyas before Sunset

You have to walk 700 steps to get to the top of Mt. Tapyas, but it’s well worth it. It will take you about 25-30 minutes to walk to the top. How it works is you hire a tricycle to take you there, they wait for you, and then they take you to Maquinit Springs (which is 20 minutes away). The entire ride only costs 300 PHP (~$5) and I was with my driver for about 4 hours.

Palawan 7 day itinerary

iPhone pic from the top of Mt. Tapyas

End the Night at Maquinit Springs

Maquinit Springs is a huge natural saltwater hot spring surrounded by mangroves in the jungle. It’s a super unique setting and although it’s quite busy, it’s still very relaxing.

Palawan 7 day itinerary

I must say these were the hottest hot springs I have ever experienced. Have you ever noticed that most hot springs are warm, but not very hot? Not this one! It’s super hot and exactly what your body needs after that hike up Mt. Tapyas.

Cost: 200 PHP for adults

Day 6: Island Escapade Tour

I booked with with JY Tours as it was recommended by my Airbnb host.

Cost: 1200 PHP (~$23).

Stops included: Malcapula Beach, CYC Beach, and Waling Waling Island. 

Malcapula Beach

A heavenly white sand beach and crystal blue waters. It’s one of the prettiest beaches I saw in the Philippines.

Palawan 7 Day ItineraryHiked up the little hill for this secret view.Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

CYC Beach

CYC is the only remaining public beach in Coron. Compared to all the other beauty I saw in the Philippines, this beach was pretty run down, crowded, and dirty. Our group was wondering why they even had this stop on the tour. No pictures here because there wasn’t much to see.

Waling Waling Island (aka “Mini Maldives”)

Locals refer to this beach as the mini Maldives due to the crystal waters. It was my favorite stop of the day!

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

During low tide, a sand bar appears and you can walk out onto it. It is breathtaking.

Palawan 7 day itinerary

Completely unedited iPhone shot of the gorgeous Waling Waling island.

There was another stop on our itinerary but our guide chose to go here instead…which none of us were complaining about!

Day 7: Ultimate Coron Highlights Tour 

Stops included: Twin Lagoon, Kayanga Lake, Skeleton Wreck, Bamboo Beach, and Siete Pecados.

Cost: 1500 PHP (~$29). I also went with JY tours for this one as well.

Twin lagoon

A stunning lagoon where you can swim under the rocks (or walk up steps) to get to the more hidden lagoon.

Palawan 7 day itinerary

Completely unedited shot of the Twin Lagoon on my GoPro

This is the view entering the area of the Twin Lagoon. This was shot on a moving boat with my iPhone and I did NOT edit it at all.

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

Bamboo Beach

This white sand beach was lined with mangroves and had no one else in sight. This is also where we had our peaceful lunch stop.

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

Kayanga Lake

Kayanga Lake crystal clear lake known as the cleanest lake in the Philippines and some also say the cleanest lake in Asia.

The “money shot” of Coron you will see if you google “Palawan”. This view is on the walk up to Kayanga Lake.

Palawan 7 Day Itinerary

Skeleton Shipwreck

You can dive (or snorkel) to see Skeleton Shipwreck where you can see the skeleton of a sunken Japanese ship.

This is what you will see above the shipwreck. How amazing is this water?

There are also many bright tropical fish around the area. Can you see the sunken ship? It would have been fun to scuba dive down inside of it!

Palawan 7 day itinerary

WIFI Connection in the Philippines

Wifi connection is very poor in the Philippines, so staying connected was not the easiest. I used a combination of a local SIM and my Skyroam portable hotspot device to stay connected.

You can get a local SIM for 600 PHP ($12) for 4GB plus 1 free GB (5gb) with Global SIM at the airport kiosk. The plan lasts 30 days.

You can also use a Skyroam portable wifi hotspot. You can read my detailed post all about it here and decide if it’s worth it for you: Is the Skyroam Portable Hotspot Device Worth It? The No BS Truth

Where to Stay in Palawan

Accommodations in Palawan were more expensive than I imagined they would be in the Philippines. I spent about $30 per night. When I travel I usually spend on average $25 per night to rent a room (more if I rent out a whole apartment). But the value for the price in Palawan was not that good and the standards were a lot lower than I expected for that price.

That being said, go in knowing what to expect! I stayed in Airbnbs in both Coron and El Nido. While I cannot recommend the place I stayed in El Nido, the room I rented in Coron was very large, clean, and had good Air Con. The host is from California and was really laid back and helpful. It was in a convenient location and was pretty comfortable. You can check out the listing here.


If you’re new to Airbnb, you can use my $40 OFF Coupon. Or even if you are not, you can sign up with a different email and use the coupon as well! ♥


Have You Been to Palawan? Is there Anywhere Else you Would Recommend to Visit that I Missed?

If you enjoyed this Palawan 7 day itinerary, please PIN it for later! Simply hover over the photo to PIN. ♥

Palawan 7 day itinerary

 

 

Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos

Best Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos

Let’s face it, The Galapagos islands are not a cheap destination. This bucket list destination is one of those once-in-a-lifetime places that people save up lots of money for over an extended period of time and usually spend quite a bit on this trip.

However, it doesn’t have to be that expensive and is totally doable on a budget (ish). I recently went in February and spent $994 total for 7 nights, including flights…and I did it solo! You can read about my detailed tips on how I did it so cheap here: Solo Travel The Galapagos on the Cheap (ish): How I Did 7 Days/Nights for $994, Including Flights!

There are actually so many free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos and I have highlighted them below based on my experience. Couple them with a few last minute tours and your dream trip can easily become a reality.

Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in The Galapagos

Santa Cruz Island

  • Charles Darwin Research Station (free)-learn more about the amazing ecosystem of the Galapagos and Darwin’s impact left on it. There is also a turtle center and some colourful iguanas to see.
  • Tortuga Bay (free)-a beautiful bay to relax at or swim/snorkel in. It requires a 40 (ish) minute walk to get to. There are boats that can take you there too if you are too lazy to walk. When you get there, walk 15 minutes to the right for a place to swim and snorkel. Along the way, you will see a gorgeous blue/green wading pool that is very picturesque. They should really call this Iguana bay because you literally will see hundreds of iguanas on the beach and in the water.
Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

The gorgeous little lagoon on the way to Tortuga Bay

  • Las Grietas(free-ish)-the taxi is $1.60 round trip to get there, hence the “ish”. It’s a great place to snorkel and cool off. It is also the clearest water I saw in the Galapagos. Las Grietas is regulated by an attendant and you must sign in upon arrival. You have a limit of 40 minutes and they allow only up to 48 people max at a time.
  • Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

Isabela Island

  • Self-guided bike tour ($15/day)-rent a bike and go along the path to the Wall of Tears. It takes about an hour to get to, and there are many awesome spots on the way to stop off. Try to go early in the morning to beat the heat, because the last 1-2km is going uphill and it’s not fun in the heat (trust me). Make your stops on the way back.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • Wall of Tears (free)-the wall of tears was constructed by prisoners in the penal colony, many of whom died during the construction due to harsh conditions of being in the heat all day. The wall was left there as a testament to these people and to highlight the abuse of power.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • El Estero (free)– a little estaury leading to the ocean covered by trees, mangroves, and a little creek. I was the only one there and really enjoyed walking through the creek in the shade. It’s a beautiful setting.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • Playa del Amor (free)-here you will see a little natural wading pool surrounded by lava rocks and the ocean in the backdrop. If you’re lucky, you will be joined for a bath with a marine iguana.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

  • Las Salinas (free)-a lagoon that is frequented by pink Flamingos. They weren’t out when I went unfortunately, but it wouldn’t hurt to stop by on your way back to town to check!
  • Concha la Perla (free)-a place to snorkel near the port and has many sea lions and sometimes penguins/manta rays. I didn’t see penguins or manta rays, but I did see a bunch of sea lions.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

San Cristobal Island (all free activities)

  • Cerro Tijeretas Hill-about 15-20 minutes past the Interpretation Center you will come up to Cerro Tijeretas Hill with a great lookout point over the island. This is also a major breeding ground for Frigate birds so keep an eye out! On the bottom of the hill there is a little cove where several sea lions are laying around on the rocks and swimming. The water is super blue/green and gorgeous and it’s worth a snorkel.

Free (or cheap) things to do in the Galapagos

 

  • Punta Carola-if you follow the trail back to town you will come to Punta Carola beach, which has a little lighthouse on the lava rocks. This is where I saw a mini baby sea lion laying on the sand alone and I almost died! I want to take it home with me, it was so stinking cute.

  • Playa Mann beach-a small local beach that’s nothing special, but its super close to town so it’s a nice place to go to cool off real quick.
  • La Loberia-a more secluded beach about a 40 minute walk from town. The little bay is filled with black lava rocks and is a popular place for sea lions and iguanas. I saw many sea lions playing in the shallow waters and rolling around in the sand. Go here if you want an up close encounter with sea lions!
  • Interpretation Center (about a 20 minute walk from town)-sorta like the Charles Darwin center but different. I stopped in here on my way up to Cerro Tijeretas Hill and learned a lot about the Galapagos. I didn’t have time to go through the full center, but it’s definitely worth stopping by if you’re walking up to the hill anyway!

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Free things to do in the Galapagos

 

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Victoria Falls, Africa (visas, flights, border crossings)

Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Victoria Falls, Africa (visas, flights, border crossings)

Victoria Falls is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. It’s also rated as the biggest waterfall in the world (based on combined width of 5,604 ft and height of 354 ft.

It goes by the nickname “the Smoke that Thunders” and that nickname will prove itself once you have been graced by its presence. Trust me on this one.

My first glimpse of the falls came on my flight into Livingstone. From my tiny airplane window I gasped at the spewing mist bursting into the air, making its power known. I could see and feel the power of the falls from what seemed like miles away.

Victoria Falls is an incredible place and should be added to your Africa itinerary. However, it’s one of those places that you have to plan for in advance since there is a lot to think about. But it’s 100% worth it and will surely be a memorable experience.

There isn’t much practical info on the interwebs regarding visiting Victoria Falls, so I put together this little guide with the best tips for visiting Victoria Falls, Africa that will help you plan a smooth trip.


Best Tips for Visiting Victoria Falls


Where is Victoria Falls?

Victoria Falls is located on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. The tough choice is deciding which side you will want to stay. I stayed on both the Zimbabwe and Zambian sides and I personally preferred the Zimbabwe side much better.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

Livingstone, Zambia is known as the backpackers town as accommodations are much cheaper and abundant. But I really didn’t enjoy it honestly. It was extremely dirty and didn’t have that much to offer in my opinion. I would choose the Zimbabwe side in a heartbeat! 

How to Get Visas for Victoria Falls

(Note: this information is based on US Passport holders only and I cannot comment on different nationality’s visa processes since I personally do not know. Please check the specific visa requirements of your country!).

For US citizens, visas are required to enter both Zimbabwe AND Zambia. 

A single entry visa into Zambia costs $50 while a double entry visa costs $80 for US citizens. You can get a single and double entry visa on arrival, so no need for advanced planning. However, if you want a multiple entry visa, you must apply in advance at the appropriate embassy before your trip.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

My Zambia visa obtained at the border

A single entry visa to get into Zimbabwe costs $30 while a double visa entry costs $45 for US citizens. This can also be obtained upon arrival.

There is also a “day tripper” visa for $20 that you can purchase if you just want to cross the border for the day (valid for 24 hours). However, in my experience, that process takes SO long at the border so I would definitely plan out how many times you plan on crossing the border and getting the appropriate visa based on that.

Note: getting the visa at the border can be a very LONG process. It took us a total of 4 HOURS once we landed in Livingstone to get our Zambia visa, cross the border to Zimbabwe, get our Zimbabwe visa and make it to our lodge in Zimbabwe. People will also try to butt in line in front of you so make sure to stand your ground and practice your RBF.

*Due to the above mentioned stress to get the visa, I would highly recommend that you stay in the country you are departing from the night before so you don’t have to deal with this on the day of your flight and potentially miss it!

Payment: Although sources will say you must pay in cash, we were given an option to pay in cash OR credit card. FYI: They do accept USD.

What Airport to Fly Into

You will have 2 choices of airports to fly into to reach Victoria Falls:

Livingston Airport (LVI) in Zambia or Victoria Falls (VFA) in Zimbabwe.

Victoria Falls airport is closer to the falls, however, flights tend to be more expensive coming into that airport. Therefore, most opt to fly to the further Livingstone Airport. However, I think you should make the decision based on what activities you want to do, where they are located (Zimbabwe or Zambia side), and where you want to stay. You also have to factor in crossing back and forth between the borders, which can get pricey in visa fees!

Transportation 

There is no public transport to the falls from Livingstone airport. Your 2 options are a private transfer or taxi.

Taxis cannot cross the border so you will need one taxi to take you to the border, another that takes you from one side of the border to the other, and then a 3rd taxi at the other border that will bring you to your destination. Complicated, huh?

From our resort in Zimbabwe, we paid $10 to get to the border, $5 to get to the other side of the border, and then $20 to get to Livingstone. A private transfer set up by our lodge cost $24 per person and they stayed with us the whole way through, which was way more convenient than having to switch cars and drivers 3 times to cross the border!

Make sure you agree on a price beforehand, because they WILL try to rip you off. They tried that on us but we called them out, to which they then agreed on a fair price.

What Activities To Do in Victoria Falls

I thought that going to Victoria Falls just meant going and viewing the waterfalls. But little did I know that there was going to be so many adventure activities at the falls to choose from. From the numerous high-wire activities on the Zimbabwe side such as gorge swinging, zip-lining, bungee jumping, the superman swing, to the microlight and Devil’s pool activities to pick from on the Zambia side, you will not most certainly not be bored.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

In 2.5 days there, we did so much, yet wish we had more time there to do more! The microlight flight was definitely the highlight of my time in Victoria Falls and I wasn’t expecting tears of joy. It left me speechless.

Read more about my top 4 MUST DO adventure activities in Victoria Falls here. Or just watch the video below:

Where to Stay in Victoria Falls

This should depend heavily on what activities you plan on doing. If you don’t plan on doing the microlight flight and/or Devil’s pool, there is no reason to stay in Zambia honestly. Stay in Zimbabwe and just get a double entry visa and you’re good to go!

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

 

We had a once-in-a-lifetime stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge and I cannot recommend it enough. It’s literally inside the  Zambezi National Park, so there are wild animals all around you. It’s a bit scary but super thrilling and something you should experience once in your life. Read my detailed review here.

Viewing Victoria Falls

Most of Victoria Falls is located on the Zimbabwe side and this is where you can enter to view the falls.

Best Tips for visiting Victoria Falls

Entrance is $30 so give yourself ample time to go to all the viewing points and take lots of pictures. You will see monkeys running around from time to time, so save time also for some monkey selfies! You know you want one.

If you’re short on time, go to viewing points 11-14 for the best views. You’re welcome ♥.

The mist is very strong so you will get wet (remember that Smoke that Thunders part?). Embrace nature’s shower. 

Currency

Currency in Zimbabwe is the USD. Currency in Zambia is the Zambian Kwacha. Although, USD was accepted in Zambia as well. 

Make sure you bring cash because credit cards are not widely accepted everywhere. We did pay all our tours with credit cards; however, some restaurants did not accept credit cards so just be prepared.

You’ll probably spend more money than you thought.

I was a little surprised at how expensive the prices were in and around Victoria Falls. It was more like Western prices and not something I would expect in Africa.

Here are some sample prices to expect in Victoria Falls:

  • $30 USD to enter Victoria Falls (go to Viewing point 11-14 for best views)
  • $90 gorge swing
  • $50 flying fox
  • $80 double entry visa for Zimbabwe
  • $30 single entry visa for Zambia
  • $$-$$$$ lodging (much more on the Zimbabwe side, but well worth it)

Victoria Falls is probably not the best budget-friendly place to visit for solo travellers. With transportation and lodging costs, its much more doable when you have another person to split it with. Even then, it was a pricier trip than I was used to. I’m not saying solo travellers should avoid Victoria Falls, just know what to expect! 

If Victoria Falls is not already on your bucket list, hopefully you add it soon! It truly is worth it!

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Tips for traveling to Victoria Falls