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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.
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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!
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.
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
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).
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…
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!
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!
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!
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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
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
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?
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.
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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.
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:
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.
You can rent a kayak (Depending on availability) or snorkel and explore the big lagoon, which was so much fun!
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.
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!
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 Beach, Secret Beach, Starfish Beach, Miniloc Shrine, and Helicopter Beach.
I found absolute paradise in Hidden Beach. I kinda wanted them to leave me there “accidentally”. 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.
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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!
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?
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.
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.
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.
A heavenly white sand beach and crystal blue waters. It’s one of the prettiest beaches I saw in the Philippines.
Hiked up the little hill for this secret view.
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!
During low tide, a sand bar appears and you can walk out onto it. It is breathtaking.
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!
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?
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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.
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 havethat 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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 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!
In the famous words of Ned Stark: WINTER IS COMING! So I thought this would be the perfect time to highlight some winter destinations, specifically Lapland, Finland. During my time in Lapland I was able to partake in my 1st photo expedition, and it was a blast!
What is a Photography Expedition?
As someone who loves photography, I have always wanted to do a photo expedition. But honestly, I didn’t really even know what that meant. Is it like an on-site photography class? Well, yes and no.
This was my first (and hopefully first of many) photo expeditions, and from my experience it was more like a fun venture out to a photography lover’s dream landscape, and they help you with taking the photos when it comes to settings, technique, position, etc.
You have to have a basic knowledge of photography I think. I consider myself super amateur, and when people start talking about aperture and shutter speed I get a little anxiety. But this trip was perfect and because of the small group size, we got personalized attention, which was key!
Most the photos I featured in this article were shot with my Sony Alpha6000 with my 10-18mm wide angle lens that I’m obsessed with. I also used my GoPro Hero 5 and iPhone 6 for a few shots.
Note: battery life is severely decreased in freezing weather so make sure to bring some extra batteries along!
Beyond Arctic Photography Expeditions
Beyond Arctic is a tiny Finnish company ran by 2 awesome guys, both named Juho! They personally lead all the expeditions themselves and work their butts off!
With Beyond Arctic, no 2 expeditions are the same! That’s because they have several different areas around which they can visit and tailor make the tour based on the groups wishes (& also based on weather).
Juho photographing me photographing him 🙂
Their expeditions have a max of 8 people, so the group always stays small and intimate. I had 2 others on my tour and we really got to know each other and it was really nice not having to be herded around in a large group.
Beyond Arctic also offer Northern Lights photography tours, ice fishing, skiing, and wilderness snowshoe adventures. They also offer summer and autumn expeditions, where you can experience and photograph the midnight sun!
What Kind of Clothes/Equipment Do You Need to Go on this Expedition?
Honestly, you can basically show up naked and they will dress you from head to toe. But please, if you do, wear underwear! But really, even if you don’t have the proper winter gear, it’s no problem at all, they will provide everything you need. They gave us hats, ski gloves, overall ski suit, waterproof boots, and a backpack to store all our stuff.
Photographing the Stunning Arctic Landscapes of Lapland, Finland: Where We Visited
We drove for about 2 hours to Riisitunturi National Park. We began our trek through the park up hill for about 1 hour, through the snowy forest, stopping frequently to take pictures and take in the views. The trek is 4.5 km and requires a moderate level of physical fitness.
The views from the top of the fell were incredible. You get a stunning 360-degree view of the national park and the nearby lake which was frozen, adding to the dramatic arctic landscape.
GoPro shot of me fighting the arctic wind
If you’re dreaming of a winter wonderland (which I was) this will for sure satisfy your needs!
We stopped at this cute little cabin base camp where we started a small fire and began to grill some lunch. We were provided with some yummy sausages and a grilled cheese sandwich.
I alerted them ahead of time of my allergy and they even made mine with gluten free bread. Oh, and they even had a gluten free apple cake made for me for dessert! I’m so not used to getting such goodies (with my past luck, the tour “forgets” about my allergy and I end up starving half the time).
The trek back down was a lot easier and quicker and the lighting was a bit better. The sun was starting to fall so there wasn’t any more glare or brightness blinding you.
Sunset caught on my iPhone 6
It was very cold, but I felt bundled up enough. Overall, the trek wasn’t as bad as I thought, mainly because we kept stopping for photo ops.
After the tour, Beyond Arctic sent us some photos they took during the expedition, which was cool to see some candid shots. Here are a few Jugo took below:
There’s me trying to get some good iPhone pics.
The view from the top of the fell where you can see the frozen lake.
Me looking satisfied (and bundled up) at the end of the tour. Can we do that again?♥
Camera Gear I Used on this Expedition (and all my travels really):
Tips: The one thing I will recommend if you do this tour is to bring sunglasses (wait, what, on a winter tour?). It’s actually really sunny and the wind at the top is no joke. My eyes were watering for like 30 minutes straight and I could barely see. Also, staring at the bleach white snow for hours on end can put a little strain on the eyes. Oh, and bring tissues. Your nose will be running.
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Disclaimer: I was a guest of Beyond Arctic; however, my opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. This small company was awesome and I would highly recommend them to my family, friends, and fellow travellers. ♥
*this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. I wouldn’t recommend anything I didn’t already use and love! ♥
Last year I flew to Iceland in the frigid January weather just to see the northern lights. In 3 days there, I didn’t have any luck. On top of that, my tripod blew over and I cracked my brand new camera. #EpicFail
Why I Chose Tromsø, Norway to Chase the Northern Lights
This time, I flew all the way to the north of Norway to a town called Tromsø. Tromsø is rated one of the top 10 places to see the northern lights in the entire world. Although you’re never guaranteed to see them, I thought I had a pretty good chance. Little did I know…
Welp, I guess I’m going back to Norway! Not a bad place to return to I must say.
I thought I had my mind set on a specific company to see the northern lights. Until a few weeks before my trip, I found Tromsø Friluftsenter, a smaller family owned company who have been operating since 2004. I’m a sucker for smaller family owned tours/companies because I love supporting smaller business, because I absolutely loathe being herded around like cattle on a huge tour bus, and because a smaller company usually means more personalized attention.
So I pulled a little switcheroo and decided to go with Tromsø Friluftsenter. Best. Decision. Ever.
The First Sighting
I knew it was going to be a great night when 10 minutes into our drive, we saw a glimpse of the northern lights zig-zagging across the sky. What was to come that night was extremely unexpected.
We arrived to their base camp about 45 minutes outside the city. As soon as we pulled up, we were greeted by a dashing display of the Aurora Borealis lighting up the sky in shades of neon green, purple, and pink (which turned out to be the strongest we saw them the entire night). Stepping out of the van and looking up to see this natural phenomenon that you’ve heard about since you were little bombarding the sky above was even better than I have ever dreamed about.
It left me speechless and teary-eyed, something that has happened only a few times in my travels.
Ok, back to the base camp. The base camp consisted of a few traditional Sami tents, with the mountains and the ocean nearby. It was a gorgeous snowy setting and provided many different foreground options to photograph the northern lights. Actually, this was one big factor that helped me with my decision to choose this company (as well as the near perfect TripAdvisor reviews). I really wanted to have a nice setting with cute houses or something else to frame the shot. I didn’t just want a million pics of the sky (although the sky was phenomenal on its own I realized after I arrived).
Traditional sami tent(with a badass fire burning inside to keep you warm)
Our Sami tent had a bonfire burning and wooden seats made from tree trunks and topped with reindeer fur Surrounding the fire pit in a circle. It was so cozy and cute and I couldn’t have asked for a more arctic setting! It also meant we had somewhere to run to and warm up in between shooting the northern lights, something that all the other companies didn’t have! It was freezing and I couldn’t imagine standing outside for 4-5 hours straight so this was a huge plus!
We were served coffee or tea and cake, and later roasted marshmallows over the fire. It was absolutely perfect and reminded me of the fun times I had camping when I was young. It also provided time to get to know the others on tour. We had a blast listening to all Knut’s (the owner) reindeer stories as we warmed up our fingers and toes.
Don’t Stress About Shooting the Northern Lights
On the drive over, our awesome guide Pierre gave us some quick and easy photography tips for shooting the northern lights (which can also be applied to all night photography). This was also a big plus since I have never shot night photography before so I really needed help!
Pierre also helped us with the setting or any other questions we had while we were out shooting. He wanted to make sure we all got good shots of the lights, even if everyone didn’t have a fancy DSLR camera.
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Beginner Northern Lights Photography Tips
Put camera in Manual Mode (M)
Check sensitivity of sensor (aka ISO). Recommend ISO 1200-1600. More ISO means more noise (grainy)
Shutter Speed: at least 10 seconds. 15 seconds is recommended as a starting point.
Aperture (F number). The lower the aperture the better for night shots.
Put on Manual Focus (MF)-to prevent blur. Activate screen of camera and zoom in to set it.
You MUST use a tripod (night shots require the shutter to be open for longer periods of time and complete stillness is needed)
*Most of my shots were taken at 1600 ISO, F4 aperture, at 15-20 seconds. However, I was so excited when I went outside and saw the lights that I forgot to put my camera on manual focus so they aren’t as clear as they could have been. Rookie mistake!
Camera Gear for Shooting the Northern Lights
The right camera gear is KEY to shooting the northern lights. However, you don’t have to be a professional and you don’t need to spend thousands. But you’re going to need more than a camera phone or GoPro. Below is all the camera gear I used and all can be found on Amazon (my obsession).
Wide Angle Lens: a wide angle lens is a must as it allows more light in (due to a wider aperture), which is essential for night photography. I bought mine pre-used. It cost more than my camera base but it’s SO worth it as I use it to shoot ALL my landscape shots! My lens is the Sony SEL1018 10-18mm Wide-Angle Zoom Lens
iPhone 6: Sorry, but you can’t get good shots of the northern lights on an iPhone. I used this ONLY for a remote through the Play Memories Mobile App. This allowed me hands-free shooting without the risk of movement from manually pushing the shutter button. My trusted iPhone: Apple iPhone 6 64GB Space Gray – (Verizon Wireless)
Disclaimer: the above links are affiliate links with Amazon. Meaning, if you make a purchase with these links I may receive a tiny commission, at no extra cost to you. It’s what helps me keep this site up and running, so a special thanks!♥
All of the Lights
We didn’t just see the northern lights, we got hammered with them the entire night! They danced, they pranced, they moved, they boogied! Incredible is an understatement. I waited so long to see them, and boy did I get a show! The lights were active the entire night, and at some points they would really blew up in the sky.
Pierre would constantly check outside and come get us when they were exploding! We immediately grabbed our tripods and dashed outside. Pierre loved shooting at the nearby beach and would hurdle over there quickly in the snow. We couldn’t keep up at times he was so enthusiastic about it! It was funny to watch and it kept our energy high, especially when it was getting late.
The best part is that Pierre took several hundred photos of us and the lights, and we were given access to them via Flickr. So even if you don’t have a camera with you. You will get some awesome shots of the lights so your memories will last forever!
We were also given a tripod and a warm jumpsuit to wear if needed. They only had size large and X-large so I was tripping on mine at some points, but hey, it kept me pretty warm!
Overall, this might have been my favorite tour I have ever taken! The crew was awesome, the base camp was unique and fun, the setting was just perfect and had a lot around to use as props for our pictures, and the light show was just out of this world!
We got lucky as Pierre said this was the strongest show he had seen all year. You’re never guaranteed to see them, but boy did we get smacked in the face with a spectacular show from Mother Nature.
I would 110% recommend you to check out this company if you come to Tromsø. I had a special night with them I will never forget. They also do whale watching tours which I would have loved to do, however, that season ended in January unfortunately.
Note: I read on their site that visiting the base camp isn’t always guaranteed. On nights when the activity is low, you will drive around to different spots and “chase” the lights. But as the activity is pretty solid in this area, I would assume you have a good chance of visiting the base camp.
Disclaimer: I was a guest ofTromsø Friluftsenter; however, my opinions are my own and as you can tell, I freakin’ loved them! I would confidently recommend them to my family, friends, and anyone else visiting Tromsø. Hell, I would take this tour again if I ever return to Tromsø!
In case you weren’t aware, Queenstown, New Zealand is known as the “adventure capital of the world“. Now you know, and now you gotta get your butt over there!
Queenstown sits on a stunning lake on the South Island of New Zealand. The snowcapped mountains enveloping the town makes for the perfect backdrop for numerous adrenaline activities. People come from all over the world to experience Queenstown’s many heart-stopping adventure activities and I personally think it should be somewhere near the top of your dream travel check list.
Aside from the exciting activities, Queenstown also has many low key activities if you want to have a perfect mix of adventure plus relaxation, which is what I will highlight below!
10 Best Things to Do in Queenstown
1. Hike up the Queenstown Park Hill
If you’re into hiking, Queenstown has a few great scenic hikes around the area to choose from. Queenstown Park Hill Time Walk trail is one of the easier hikes, which is why I picked it since I’m not a die-hard hiking fan (unless it affords epic views).
The whole hike will take you about 2-3 hours, depending on your fitness level. The views from the top are stunning and you can really see the magnitude of the landscape Queenstown is famous for.
Tip: Most of the hike is uncovered, so make sure to wear sunscreen! Also, make sure to go past the summit onto the steep dirt hill because the views up there are way better!
2. Bungee Jumping
I said I would never bungee jump, unless I went to Queenstown, New Zealand, the home of bungee jumping. You heard that right, Queenstown is where bungee jumping originated.
Well, I never thought I would end up in Queenstown, so I had to keep up with my promise. You can watch me freaking out in this video I made of the whole experience below.
Bungee Jumping is one of the best things to do in Queenstown, so face your fears and go for it! You will not regret it! The staff at AJ Hackett Bungy were amazing and really knew how to lighten the mood during this nerve-wrecking time! They were cracking jokes right up to my jump, which helped tremendously. I almost backed out last minute, but they got me through it!
AJ Hackett Bungy are the pioneers of bungee jumping and I felt safe going with them. They have a 100% safety rating, in case you were wondering. Because, you know, that’s kinda an important thing.
3. Onsen Hot Pools
After all the adventure activities in Queenstown, you’re going to need some R&R and Onsen Hot Pools provides the perfect setting for this. The onset spa is located a few minute drive outside the city on a quiet (and freaking gorgeous) mountainside location.
Imagine having your own private room with jacuzzi that opens up to the epic mountainside and Shotover Canyon. It is UNREAL and shouldn’t be missed on your trip to New Zealand! It really makes you feel like VIP, so sit back and basque in it.
Up to 4 people can book for one jacuzzi so if you’re with your friends this would be a fun activity!
Cost: $45 for one person (and decreases the more people you have in your group). I actually really enjoyed the whole place to myself and felt like a total baller.
Pickup and drop off from Queenstown is included.
Tip: make sure to book a few days in advance online because there are a limited number of jacuzzis. They also have a nighttime candlelight option that I wanted to do but it was all booked for the next 2 weeks!
4. Use Bookme.co.nz to Book Last Minute Activities
One of the locals told me about bookme.co.nz and it was awesome! It offers last minute activities at a fraction of the cost. I did notice that they offered random time slots so some flexibility might be needed and it might not be possible to squeeze one of these activities in if you’re schedule is already packed. If you have an activity you just HAVE to do, I wouldn’t rely on this site because you might be disappointed. But definitely give it a shot. I found an awesome bike ride through Gibbston Wine valley at half price the day before and it was so much fun!
5. Bike Ride Through the Gibbston Valley Wineries
I found this last minute deal on bookme.co.nz and jumped on it. It included pick-up from Queenstown, bike rental, and return transfer to the city (it’s about 20 minutes outside of Queenstown). You can rent a bike and ride along the vibrantly green Kawarau River and go winery hopping. You can also go to the bridge bungee jump and watch a few jumps, which is fun! Some of them even get dipped into the water.
I did the half day tour and so wish I would have booked the full day option. After going to the bridge bungee jump, I didn’t have much time to go to different wineries and only ended up doing a tasting at one of them. The ride along the river is gorgeous so you also need to factor in time for picture taking!
This was honestly one of my favorite activities I did while in Queenstown. Wine and scenery, two simple things that make me happy!
Fergburger is deemed the best burger in the world. I almost skipped this because I was sure it would be overrated. Just about every Queenstown guide will urge you to come here, so I was very skeptical. But in my opinion, it’s THAT good. They even had a nice soft gluten free bun so I could eat an actual hamburger so I was in heaven. The line is always out the door and around the corner, but it’s worth the wait.
The burgers are huge and filled me up filled me up from a late lunch all the way through dinner. I also saved money this way by combining 2 meals and it ended up being pretty cheap in terms of my food budget in Queenstown.
7. Do Your Own Wine Tasting at The Winery
The Winery is the perfect night cap to an adventurous or relaxing day. This is the coolest place ever for wine lovers and I wish they had more of these in the states!
There are over 80+ wines to choose from which are separated into wine type. You can walk around and basically do your own wine tasting. You can choose from a tasting, 1/3 glass, or full glass of wine and just insert your electronic card into the machine.
The prices are listed in front of you so you know what you’re getting into. Once you’re finished you take your card up to the register and pay, easy as that! They also serve big cheese and meat boards which can be paired with the wine, which looked really nice!
8. Hike up the New Zealand Skyline and Take the Gondola down
If you’re into hiking and want to catch some more panoramic views, hike up to the Skyline. It takes about an hour and is not very difficult. I thought it was cool to see the extreme mountain bikers riding down the mountain and zipping through the woods right past me.
Once at the top, enjoy the best panoramic view over Queenstown. If you do the bungee jumping, you can kill 2 birds with one stone! Take the gondola down and enjoy the scenery.
View from the top of the Skyline where you can watch the bungee jumpers in action!
If you’re lazy, take the gondola roundtrip!
Tip: if you’re going to do the bungee or hang-gliding, you will need to buy your own gondola ticket (which are pricy), so I would wait until this to go up so you don’t have to buy the ticket twice!
9. Have Dessert at Cookie Bar
If you have a sweet tooth like me, you will love Cookie Bar. It’s a cute little place where you can get varieties of warm cookies, milkshakes, ice cream or a mixture of each.
My mouth was watering just looking at everyone else receiving their beautifully decorated desserts. I opted for the rocky road (gluten free, yay) cookie on top of vanilla ice cream and #omgyum. So soft and gooey, just the way I like it. Let’ just say I may have been a regular customer.
10. Take a Day Trip to Milford Sound
Milford sound is one of those “musts” when you’re in Queenstown. It can be done as a (very long) day trip. You can self-drive or take a tour and I opted for the latter since I was traveling solo and a car rental in the area was very expensive. I chose to go with BBQ Bus essentially due to the small (er) group size and great reviews on TripAdvisor.
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Note that you will be spending lots of time in the car because it is pretty far, however, there are some cool stops along the way to get out and stretch and enjoy the scenery. Stops included Te Anu (the 2nd largest lake in New Zealand), Mirror Lake, Cascade Creek for a scenic walk through the moss covered forest, and the Chasm, to see some cool waterfalls and streams.
My favourite part of the drive was the last 30 minutes before we arrived in Milford Sound, where we passed through gorgeous natural waterfalls smoothly cascading down the snow capped mountains. It was gorgeous and we stopped a few times to take photos (which do not do it any justice whatsoever).
At Milford Sound, we boarded the Milford Adventure boat, which was one of the smaller boats thankfully. Some of the other companies had large boats completely crowded with tourists. Thanks, but no thanks.
On the way home, we stopped by a quiet little lake where our tour guide set up a BBQ lunch. We ate with the peaceful sound of the stream and staring out into the spectacular New Zealand countryside.
Activity that should have made the list: Hang Gliding
Hang gliding would have been the perfect ending to this adrenaline plus relaxation list. However, things don’t always go according to plan and it was cancelled TWICE due to weather.
Valuable Tip for Booking Queenstown Activities: book any air based activity (hand gliding, skydiving, bungee) for the first day of your trip as they often get cancelled due to weather. I had hand-gliding booked the second to last day and it got canceled and rescheduled to my last day. When the time came, it was cancelled AGAIN due to wind. It wasn’t even that windy, but I guess they are super strict and want to ensure the utmost in safety (which hey, I’m ok with!).
Disclaimer: I was a guest of BBQ Bus and AJ Hackett Bungy; however, my opinions remain my own and I would never promote something I didn’t enjoy. I would never sell out like that!
So…Have I convinced You to Add Queenstown to Your Bucket List? If you’ve Already Been, What was the Highlight for You? Comment below!♥
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MY TOP 5 RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR NEW ZEALAND:
1.Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless Camera: I made the switch from my huge DSLR and I wouldn’t go back. It’s light, compact, and takes amazing photos!
2. Sony 10-18mm Wide Angle Zoom Lens: this wide angle lens is the key to landscape shots. I use this lens more than the original and am super happy with it. It’s not cheap, but super worth it if you want to get those special nature shots. Honestly, I would purchase the Sony alpha 6000 camera body only and save up for this lens to go with it.
3. E Bags Packing Cubes: the biggest life changer to keep me packing light! This is my biggest travel gear obsession and I have NO idea how I traveled without them before.
4. LifeProof NUUD Waterproof Case (iPhone 6): this helps protect my phone from water, sand, dirt, and the numerous drops that incur while I travel. I love it!
5. GoPro Hero 5 Black: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! The Gopro cameras are the best for action and underwater shots, and of course for taking those selfies when you’re traveling solo. It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂
Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a super small commission if you make a purchase using these links, at no extra cost to you. I only recommend products that I have used before on my own and that I truly love 🙂