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

 

 

How to Spend 3 Days in the Nusa Islands (Lembongan, Ceningan, & Penida)

How to Spend 3 Days in the Nusa Islands (Lembongan, Ceningan, & Penida)

The Nusas consist of 3 gorgeous islands off the coast of Bali, Nusa Lembongan, Nusa Ceningan, and Nusa Penida.

All 3 islands have something special to offer so if you have time, I highly recommend checking out all three!

I based myself in Lembongan for 3 days and was able to visit all 3 islands during my time there.

You can see Ceningan in a half day as it is the smallest of the three. It is accessed by a bright yellow bridge from Lembongan.

Penida is the largest and most rugged of the 3. It is completely devoid of mass tourism and has so many awesome things to see!

*I want to especially thank Jackie from @getlostwithjackie for introducing me to Lembongan and Christina from @jetsetchristina for introducing me to Penida. These girls’ amazing Instagram photos really enticed/inspired me to visit these places that I had never heard of before! ♥


If you’re short on time and want to see all 3 islands in 3 days it’s totally doable.

This was my 3 day itinerary in the Nusa Islands (see below for all the details on each place):

Day 1: Nusa Lembongan (Mushroom Bay, Dream Beach, Devil’s Tear, The Deck)

Day 2: Nusa Penida full day

Day 3: Nusa Lembongan private tour to Manta Point + half day in Nusa Ceningan

 


What to Do on the Nusa Islands


Nusa Lembongan

What to do on the Nusa Islands

What to Do and See in Nusa Lembongan

Dream beach– beautiful beach where Dream Beach Huts overlooks. The waves are huge and you can’t really swim in it as it’s dangerous. You can pay a small fee to use their pool and facilities if you want to spend the day there.

Devil’s Tear-a 5-10 minute walk from dream beach (to the right if you’re looking at the water) will bring you to Devil’s Tear. Watch as the waves crash into the crescent shaped rocks leaving a huge cloud of mist behind. It’s a petty cool site! Be careful as the waves come up on the rocks so don’t try to be that person to get the perfect selfie on the edge.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Mushroom Bay-a gorgeous blue/green bay with cute little restaurants and some water activities nearby.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

The Deck-a cute little spot overlooking Nusa Lembongan Beach and probably the best place to view the sunset on the island. It’s a bit more expensive than other places and serves a bunch of Western food. I didn’t even care as the view was well worth it. They have sunset sessions with a live DJ in the evenings as well, so it’ a great place to mingle.

The Deck, Nusa Lembongan

Swim with Manta Rays-one of the main attractions of the Nusas is swimming with Manta Rays! You can take a group tour that will take you to Manta Point and a few other snorkelling spots. Or you can do what I did and get a private tour and make up your own schedule with the stops of your choice.

This obviously isn’t the cheapest option, but I liked the idea of a tailored tour! I negotiated a rate of 400k for 3 stops (about $30 USD), including swimming with manta rays, and snorkelling in Crystal Bay and Secret Beach. It was also great because I started early and was back by 11am, which gave me enough time to eat lunch and then head to Ceningan for the rest of the day to explore.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Note: you aren’t guaranteed to see manta rays, but I got lucky and saw a huge one! My captain told me to jump in, and honestly I was scared sh*tless when I saw the huge shadow of the creature on the surface. The only bad part about being alone on a tour. Another boat showed up and I waited until they jumped in to go in (I’m such a chicken). It swam within a foot of me! I scrambled to turn on my GoPro but it had already passed so i don’t have the best pictures to show for it. Manta rays are massive! Yet so angelic and graceful. It was such a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be up close and personal with these amazing creatures! Don’t miss out on this!

Nusa Penida

Nusa Penida was my favorite of the 3 islands as it was the most rugged and untouched. I only saw a handful of tourists the entire day. To explore, you need to take a tour or rent a scooter and do it on your own (which is what I did).

What to Do and See in Nusa Penida

Atuh BeachThis beach took a steep hike to get down, but was totally worth it. It’s absolutely breathtaking! The plunging cliffs are freakishly tall and provides a beautiful setting. It takes about an hour drive from the port of Penida, then about a 10-15 minute hike down onto super steep steps/rocks.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

There are a few little shacks serving drinks and fried rice or noodles. It’s pretty secluded and a great place to relax.
There is no parking fee.

Kelingking T-Rex (aka the money shot)This is probably the most popular beach in Penida and it’s shaped like a T-Rex! You can walk down the vey steep steps/rocks down to the beach, bit it may take you awhile. You must go very slow as it is very steep! I made it 1/3 way down and didn’t have time to go all the way as it took way longer than I imagined!
Parking is 5k (~$0.30).

Angel’s Billabong (Gambar Untuk)a natural infinity pool of blue and green hues that plunges into the ocean. You can swim in it, but be careful when the tide is high as the huge waves will come crashing down and could take you out to sea.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

It’s about a 5-10 minute walk from Broken Beach (on the right). You’ll see the signs.

Broken beach (Pasih Uug)-the ride down to this place is the worst road conditions I’ve ever experienced on a motorbike. It’s extremely rocky and bumpy with many potholes so just go very slow! The epic view over the top of Broken Beach is spectacular. And the color of the water is stunning! Parking is 5k.

How to Get to Nusa Penida

  • By public ferry from Lembongan (near the yellow bridge).
  • The ferry goes at 7am. Be there at 6:30am to assure a spot. Costs for tourists is 50k (~$3.76).
  • To get back, you may need to hire a private transfer that costs 200k (~$15).
  • If you can find more people, you can split the cost. I had to wait about 10-15 minutes and 3 other people joined so it was only 50k each, the same as the public ferry!
  • It takes less than 15 minutes for the crossing.
  • There are also ferries from Bali(Sanur) that go to Penida.
  • The public boat will drop you in the port of Toyapakeh in Penida.

How to get around Nusa Penida

Rent a motorbike for around 50k (~$3.76). The vendors will start at 80k but make sure to negotiate. You can also rent a car, but I enjoyed the adventure on a motorbike.

Note: the roads are VERY bumpy and unfinished with many potholes, especially going to Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong. If you feel confident on a motorbike and have good balance, you should be fine! However, if you’ve never driven a motorbike before (or on the left side), this isn’t a good place to start! And remember, they drive on the LEFT side in Indonesia!

Nusa Ceningan

Nusa Ceningan is the smallest of the Nusas, but it thoroughly surprised me with its sheer beauty!

What to Do and See in Nusa Ceningan

Blue Lagoon-a natural cliffside lagoon with super vibrant turquoise waters that will leave you in awe.

Secret Beach– a secluded beach overlooked by Villa Travally Resort. There were only a few people there and it was a great place to relax. You must buy something to stay.

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Mahana point for cliff jumping- there is a place to go cliff jumping a few minutes from the Blue Lagoon (although they charge 25k per jump!)

Last Stop Bar and Cafe-cutest little spot on the water with bean bags and a super chill vibe. They also have a great selection of fruit drinks. You can go right in the water from the steps and cool off. I loved this place!

What to do on the Nusa Islands

Ceningan cliffs-a restaurant/viewpoint overlooking Penida island. There are swings overlooking the viewpoint. It’s a little bumpy to get there, so if you don’t have time, it wouldn’t kill you to skip it.

Where to Stay in Nusa Lembongan

D’mas Huts-this family run place was absolutely fantastic. It’s composed of only 5 private huts and has a spectacular view over Nusa Ceningan and the gorgeous blue water in between. Oh, and it was only $18 per night!

Where to Stay in Nusa Lembongan

The owner Nyoman was the best host and catered to just about anything I needed. He always had a smile on his face  and really made my stay more enjoyable.

They also have a nice restaurant which serves a big varieties of foods at a super reasonable price. Plus the views over the pool and landscape below are fantastic! The food was super delicious as well!

I got a special deal on hotels.com and paid only $18/night. It was half off, but even at full price it’s super affordable. The value for money is incomparable and I cannot recommend this place enough! And no, it was NOT sponsored in any way!

They also have onsite scooter renewals for 50k/day. D’mas Huts was such a great find!

Have you Been to the Nusa Islands? Which one was Your Favorite?

Click photo to PIN for later♥

What to do on the Nusa Islands

 


MY TOP 5 RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR BALI:

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 🙂

 

Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip

Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip

Istria is one of the lesser known regions in Croatia, and very underrated in my opinion. Istria is a wine lover’s paradise as it is a prime wine harvesting region in Croatian. Also specific to the Istrian region is the coveted (and super expensive) truffle. Not to mention the food in Istria is known as some of the best in Europe. Go see for yourself!

Go truffle hunting, wine tasting, admire the medieval hilltop villages, or have a culinary field day with all the amazing food that comes from this region. Istria is incredible and it’s surprising that it hasn’t gotten too touristy…yet.

Istria road trip

If you’re planning on exploring the Istria region of Croatia, a car is actually the only way you can do it. Public transport does not go to most of these hilltop towns so your options are limited.

Istria is very small and you can easily explore the best spots in one day.

I have highlighted the perfect 1-day road trip in Istria below: 

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip


First Route: Rovinj to Hum

Journey time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Parking cost: 10 kuna


HUM

Hum has been coined the “smallest town in the world” and has recently been recognized officially by the Guinness Book of World Records. The town has a population of 17….SEVENTEEN!

Hum Croatia, smallest town in the world

Does it get any more fairytale than this?

Walking through this town will literally take you about 5-10 minutes, it’s that small. What we saw in this town included a few residences, a tractor trailor, a cute little shed, a little farmhouse, a field with some crops, a single restaurant with great views of the countryside, and a handful of visitors.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip; Hum, smallest town in world

As you can tell by the description, there is not much to see; however, I would recommend a stop here as it is very quaint and unique in its own sense. Also, if just for the mere fact that you can say you’ve been to the smallest town in the world…officially.

(Note:  when we were there it was not yet “official”)


2nd Route: Hum to Motovun

Journey time: 40 minutes

Parking cost: 20 kuna


MOTOVUN

Motovun is a medieval hilltop town that rivals the top towns in Tuscany in terms of sheer beauty. Situated on the top of a hill and overlooking the plush Istrian countryside, make sure to grab a glass of the local wine in a cute little restaurant overlooking the land.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip; Motovun

Istria is famous for truffle hunting and you will not have a problem findings specialty shops with free truffle tastings. I honestly do not like truffles (they make me gag) so I passed on this. But if it’s you’re forte, make sure to grab a few small bottles for the perfect souvenir to bring back.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

Make sure to set aside some time to get lost in the streets and have a mini photo shoot. The town is gorgeous and you’re going to want to take it all in. It wasn’t overcrowded in the least bit and that made it extra enjoyable!

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip


3rd Route: Motovun to Grožnjan

Journey time: 25 minutes

Parking cost: free street parking


GROŽNJAN

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

I think I may have found my new home

Grožnjan might be my favourite town on our Istrian road trip. Also located on a hilltop, it was a lot smaller and quaint than the other towns and had a more local feel.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

How cute are these blue shutters?

You could sense the artistic vibe as soon as you entered Grožnjan and it was nice strolling through all the quirky art shops. I wish we would have had more time here, as it was unexpectedly pleasant.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

UMAG

Our next and last stop (kinda) was the city of Umag. As we arrived into the city and attempted to find parking, we weren’t too impressed. The city was more run down and didn’t have much character from what we could see (but hey, we could have been totally wrong and it could have been awesome). We just didn’t get a good vibe from it and made a quick executive decision to head to Novigrad for our final sunset stop. It turned out to be a great choice!


4th Route: Umag to Novigrad

Journey time: 15 minutes

Parking cost: free


NOVIGRAD

In our brief venture in Novigrad, we strolled the main street covered in colourful umbrellas and had an impromptu photo shoot. It was such a lovely street we couldn’t resist.

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

We then quickly rushed to the waterfront for the sunset and found the cutest little spot called Pepe Bar. There were cushions placed on the rocks and served as the perfect spot to view the sunset.

Pepe Bar, Novigrad, Croatia

It was more on the pricy side but the view and ambiance surely made up for it. Try the mojito if you go, it was really delicious!

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

CareBear and I enjoying the sunset in Novigrad


Last Route: Novigrad to Rovinj

Journey time: 1 hour

Parking cost: free


Where to Base Yourself in Istria

Rovinj without a doubt is the ideal location to base yourself for your Istrian road trip. You can reach all the above-mentioned locations in one hour and 15 minutes max. Also, ROVINJ IS INCREDIBLE and probably my favourite city in Croatia. For reasons why you should visit Rovinj, check out my post What to do in Rovinj: The Ultimate Guide to Croatia’s Most Underrated City

what to do in Rovinj

Where to Rent a Car in Istria

About a 10 minute stroll south along the water in Rovinj, you will find a little car rental agency called Vetura. We didn’t make advanced reservations and it wasn’t a problem at all. We reserved the car the afternoon before and it costed 450 kuna (about $69/day) for an automatic last minute rental. It was way more expensive than if you book in advance, so we learned our lesson.

Istria road trip

My first time renting a car outside of the USA. I look calm enough, huh?

We were pleased with the company and the owner was very relaxed about return times. I would definitely use them again.

To come along on our fun road trip, check out this video that my travel partner Carebear Abroad made of our awesome day! Hint: it may involve getting our car stuck in the middle of nowhere. 

Have you been to Istria? What was you favorite hilltop town?

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Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

Istria, Croatia 1-day Road Trip

Mini Guide to Skiathos, Greece: Where to Stay & What to Do

Mini Guide to Skiathos, Greece: Where to Stay & What to Do

I recently journeyed over to Skiathos Island  in Greece and absolutely loved it! Skiathos is one of the islands that makes up the archipelago of the Sporades, located in the Northeast of Greece. You know, the one’s you rarely hear about.  Skiathos is less touristed than other popular Greek islands, probably due to its location far away from the rest. Ding ding ding, that’s what got me over there!

I didn’t do much planning beforehand (shame on me), but it turned out to be fine since I basically had my whole 3 days planned out for me courtesy of my incredible host Ioanna over at at Villa Anna Skiathos. This whole entire itinerary is courtesy of her so I can’t even take credit for it! (a lot more on that later). ♥

What to Do in Skiathos

  • Koukounaries beach-this is the most popular beach on the island, and for good reason. The vibrant blues are certain to draw your attention. A sandy beach in Greece is also a plus (not something very common, if you know what I mean).  There are also a lot of water activities offered at this beach, another plus!crystal clear Koukounaries beach
  • Elia beach-from Koukounaries you can take a nice 40 minute walk to Elia beach. You have to walk through a forest basically to get to it, but its secluded position makes it more alluring. There wasn’t a single soul when I went, which was a treat! Definitely walk to the top of the sandy cliff for a better view over the whole beach. Once up there, you can even walk about 5 minutes to other side of the cliffs for some more great views. Secluded Elia Beach in Skiathos
  • Skiathos Town-this is one of the prettiest Greek island towns you will see. The “chora”  is just the perfect size and is lined with pretty little shops and restaurants. Be on the lookout for Rock and Roll Cafe which had the cutest colorful bean bags on the steps. So adorable!Colorful Skiathos Town
  • Boat tourI  found a company called Kalypso Matahari, which offers s boat tours from 10-5pm for only €15 (low season) and €20 in the high season. I was really surprised at the low prices for an all day tour. Completely worth it!

Stops include:

Lalaria beach-one of the most beautiful beaches and the postcard picture of Skiathos. This beach can only be reached by boat and is framed by the beautiful limestone cliffs behind and the bleach stones lining the turquoise waters. The pure white create a more bold aqua color to the sea. It’s absolutely breathtaking! (Note: do NOT take any of the pebbles or you will be charged for them at the airport. No joke!)

What to Do in Skiahtos

Kastro-the former capital of Skiathos. You can hike up to the fortress in about 15 minutes to see the remains. Make sure to wear appropriate shoes as there isn’t a smooth path. If  you decide not to hike up, there is a relaxing beach bar down by the water. The views from the top are awesome,  so try to make it up there! Quit being lazy! 🙂

Hike up to Kastro town on Skiathos islandw GoPro

Katiyorgi-the last stop is a very small fishing village where you eat lunch. The town has 2-3 restaurants and that’s about it. There’s not much to do there but it’s a cute little spot to wind down and have a nice meal after the long day.Katiyorgi fishing village

  • Also on offer are many day trips to Mama Mia beach on nearby Skopelos island. I went to Skopelos on my own afterwards and I highly recommend a trip there if time permits! Check out my post on Skopelos if interested!

Where to Eat in Skiathos

  • Marmita -Not only is this the BEST restaurant in Skiathos, it has a cute and cozy outside courtyard that’s so warm and inviting, you won’t want to leave.Where to Eat in Skiathos

What to try:

  • Rabbit in red wine and honey sauce. Tender, juicy, and massively flavorful. Oh my gawd. 
  • Beetroot apple salad with goat cheese. Delicious and creamy! 
  • They also made some special dessert with hot coffee poured on top. Yes, hot coffee! I don’t know the name, but ask them for it and I’m sure they will whip it up for you. Holy crap it was good! Coffee lovers prepare for amazingness. 
  • I was in complete heaven. This was one of the top 3 food experiences I’ve ever had. It was that good. A bonus was that they were able to adapt to my dietary (gluten) restrictions easily and with no problems. If you go to one restaurant in Skiathos, make this one it! Marmita is the BOMB! (do people still say this? )
  • Amfiliki-frequented mostly by the locals, this place is a secret find! With a marvelous view over the water, this is the perfect spot to try authentic Greek dishes. I ended the night here with a complementary dessert and shot of ouza. Opa!Where to Eat in Skiathos
  • Restaurant 1901-situated in a beautiful and colourful street of Skiathos, slightly tucked away from the noise of the city. I loved the ambiance and was surprised to find out that the food was excellent as well! Beef in tomatoes sauce over potatoes was tender and good. They also give you free dessert of Greek yogurt and berry compote. 1901 Restaurant, Skiathos
  • Bourtzi cafe-located on the beautiful, yet tiny Bourtzi peninsula near the old port. It has a great view and it is the perfect spot to grab a drink and watch the sunset. They also have sandwiches and light foods but it’s a little pricy. You pay for the view, fair trade.Bourtzi cafe, Skiathos

Where to Stay in Skiathos

♥Villa Anna Skiathos♥

When looking for a place to stay in Skiathos, I was hoping to stay close enough to town, but not smack in the middle of the crazy parties (and let me tell you, Greeks sure can party hard!♥) I came across Villa Anna Skiathos, a small family owned B&B with a spectacular view. #imasuckerforviews

Where to Stay in Skiathos

The view captured me, I was sold and I knew I found my spot. I contacted the owner (named Ioanna) and she responded right away with all the info I would need for my journey to the island. She was super sweet and I felt like I was talking to a friend right from the start.

Ioanna lives in Athens, but has been coming to Skiathos for the summers since she was a little girl. She decided to put all her efforts into building her family business and welcome guests from all over the world. I could tell she genuinely enjoys meeting new people and takes pleasure in seeing others have a good time.  And that made such a difference during my stay! 

What can Villa Anna Skiathos offer you?

→Your Very own Built-in Concierge

Although she doesn’t advertise this, Ioanna was there to help me with ALL my plans around the island, from where to eat, what tours to take, to giving me rates for rental cars if I desired to explore by car. Anything I needed, she was at my disposal with a joyful heart. 

When I arrived, she picked me up from the port and gave me a mini tour (the “long way home”) so that I could situate myself on the island and get a feel for my surroundings. 

Where to Stay in Skiathos

When we arrived, she sat dow with me, pulled out a map, and asked me what kind kind of stuff I would like to do in my 3 days there. She gave me an explanation of all the places  and things I could do, and wrote everything me my very own itinerary! This was SO helpful and saved me so much time…time I could be utilizing to explore the beautiful island!

→A Quiet Oasis Away from the Crowds

Villa Anna Skiathos is in an awesome location and the view was spectacular. My room had a spacious balcony to overlook the beautiful Megali Ammos beach. The (gorgeous) walk to town was only 10 minutes. Of course I stopped several times to take photos, so it often took me longer. 

Where to Stay in Skiathos

The room I stayed in had a mini fridge, private bathroom, flat screen TV, free wifi, AC, stove top, and daily cleaning. The room also had an upstairs for a third person if needed. The kitchen cabinetry was outdated with old wood, but it felt like a summer camp house and I actually didn’t mind it. The amazing view made up for it.

Where to Stay in Skiathos

There was a nice patio in the back with a big table for guests to gather around and mingle if they chose to.

The property is surrounded by lush greenery, fruit trees, and vibrant flowers, which is something you usually don’t see if staying right in the center of the city.

Where to Stay in Skiathos

The one thing that wasn’t offered was breakfast, although Ioanna assured me that they would be adding breakfast in the near future. It didn’t bother me as I bought some yummy Greek yogurt, honey, and berries and had that for breakfast every morning. That fridge came in handy!

→Mingling of Guests

One thing I really liked is that Ioanna tries to put together a weekly outing with all the guests (totally optional of course, I didn’t feel obligated at all). One night she invited us all out to Marmita, which became one of my favorite restaurants ever, as mentioned above. 

Where to Stay in Skiathos

It was really nice to meet people from all parts of the world and different walks of life. We had such a great time sipping on wine, trying new foods together, and sharing crazy travel stories. That’s what traveling is all about right? The people. 

→Home Away from Home

This is a concept Villa Anna Skiathos truly promotes, and I felt it every second I was there. It wasn’t just a place to sleep, but it was like having a little family there. Although I only stayed 3 days, it was enough to make an impression.

Where to Stay in Skiathos

I still keep in touch with Ioanna on Facebook and it’s so great to see her enjoying life over in Greece. If and when I go back to Skiathos, I will 100% stay there again. No question about that.

Iv’e said this before, and it still holds true: the Greek hospitality is the best I’ve ever experienced in all the countries I’ve ever visited! My love for Greece remains deep. ♥♥♥

So How Much does it Cost to stay at Villa Anna Skiathos?

Rates start at €55 in shoulder season for a standard room! Peak season rates start at €80. Not bad at all for Greece!

When to Go to Skiathos

Shoulder season all the way! That is, May, June, and September. I went in May and it was perfect. It was not too crowded that you couldn’t walk, but had just the right amount of people and energy. The tour companies were all starting to run, and the weather was perfect. Prices are also heavily slashed compared to July and August.

How to Get to Skiathos

By ferry from Volos or Agios Konstantinos. I used Hellenic Seaways from Volos and it took about 1.5 hours (by high speed catamaran). A ferry takes about 2.5-3 hours. 

By flying into Skiathos National Airport. The flights were pricy when I checked so I opted for the ferry instead.

♥A special thanks to Villa Anna Skiathos (and especially the sweet Ioanna) for hosting me during my stay. All opinions, however, are my own. I don’t bullsh*t and would never recommend somewhere I didn’t truly enjoy!♥

Have You Been to Skiathos? What Were the Highlights? Did I Miss Anything? Do Tell!

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Where to Stay & What to Do in Skiathos

What To Do in Lisbon: A Fun-Filled 3-Day Itinerary (+Day Trips)

What To Do in Lisbon: A Fun-Filled 3-Day Itinerary (+Day Trips)

So you finally decided to make it to Lisbon. Great choice! Lisbon is the spicy capital of Portugal oozing with contagious energy and loads of character. It really reminded me of San Francisco with the hills, the colourful housing, and especially the iconic red bridge! #twinning. It’s such a lively city and there is a lot to see, so be prepared for some awesome sites. If you’re wondering what to do in Lisbon, this mini guide will surely help!

I find itineraries to be super helpful when planing my trip. I usually have a list of things to do but feel overwhelmed because I don’t even know where to start. So when someone plans it out for me and tells me how far each site is apart and which order to do them in, it saves me SO much stress and time planning. I thought I would share the love and hopefully this serves as a helpful resource to explore Lisbon!

With my recent trip to Portugal’s capital, I have put together a 3-day itinerary highlighting what to do in Lisbon (including day trips). Without further ado, welcome to Lisbon!

But first…

A few Interesting facts about Portugal you probably didn’t know:

  • Did you know that Portugese is the 6th most spoken language in the world?! Who would have thought?
  • There are 7 former Portugese colonies including Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique, Macau, and Goa where Portugese culture, food, and language is still firmly rooted today.
  • A sea quake in 1755 knocked out lower parts of the city, but the ones on the hills survived. Hence, the buildings on the hills are older.
  • The old trams were given to Portugal by Germany as compensation for WWI.
  • The Revolution of 1974 was a bloodless coup that took place on April 25th and restored democracy in Portugal. As a result, the famous red bridge is referred to as the 25th of April bridge.

Lisbon 3-Day Itinerary

Lisbon Street Art

♥Day 1: What to do in Lisbon♥

Morning

Start your morning off right by grabbing a famous Portugese custard tart (“pastel de nata“) and a coffee. (Unfortunately the tarts are not gluten-free so I wasn’t able to try one…but if you do, let me know how they are because they looked very yummy). These are the staple sweets in Portugal and you will see them just about everywhere!

Lisbon Miradouro

After fueling up, head to the infamous Miradouro, meaning viewpoints. Any time you see a sign that says “Miradouro”, a good idea would be to follow it to see what wonderful views of the city it offers! There are so many great viewpoints in Lisbon, and the hard part is choosing which ones to see!

Lisbon is VERY HILLY and you will be walking uphill a LOT, so don’t try to be cute and wear heels, wedges, or uncomfortable sandals. I wore my sporty gym clothes the whole time in Lisbon and I would have died wearing anything else.

Top 3 most Instagram-worthy Miradouro in Lisbon:

1. Señhora do Monte

Señhora do Monte viewpoint

This was probably my favourite view over the city and castle. It’s one of the highest viewpoints and affords an awesome birds-eye view over the vibrant city of Lisbon. There was a live musician playing soothing music and a little cafe up there as well. I planned on going back here for the sunset, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate.

2. Miradouro Graça- (Graça means grace)

Miradouro Graça

Less than 10 minute walk downhill from Señhora do Monte you’ll find an almost equally stunning view over the city at Miradouro Graça. It’s a bit lower than the last viewpoint, but it offers a more close-up view of the castle. There are slightly more tourists at this viewpoint as well but it’s still a must see! There is also a little cafe where I had some tea as I admired the view.

3. Santa Luzia

This offers a great view over the rooftops of Alfama and the water. There are lots of restaurants and cafes around, as well as live music. It’s probably the most “touristy” view, but it’s still nice to see! Its also at the bottom so it will be on your way to see Alfama!

Santa Luzia in Alfama

Alfama

Alfama is an electric neighbourhood near the water and is a must see when visiting Lisbon. There are gorgeous cobblestone streets, very colourful housing, stunning street art, narrow alleys, and just so much life! This is also where you will see lots of restaurants advertising “Fado” shows, the traditional Portugese dance.

Unfortunately I skipped this activity because honestly, it was too expensive for my budget. Most restaurants charge a cover fee of 10 to 15€, and then overpriced dinner as well. Expect to spend 30€ minimum. I don’t mind paying extra for something very unique, but it seemed to be less traditional and too touristy for me. But hey, that’s just my opinion. If it interests you, go for it!

28 Tram

the infamous 28 Tram in Lisbon

The 28 tram seemed to be an icon in Lisbon and takes you through all the pretty neighbourhoods in the city. I saw the little yellow tram several times, but never got on. It’s a must do on most Lisbon guides, but it was SO crowded. It looked like a pick pocket haven so I passed and just admired it from afar. But if you find it empty, I would definitely hop on for the experience.

Villa Berta

Next, take a quick stroll through Villa Berta, a former working class neighborhood. These buildings were originally built for working class people to all live in a common area. It’s a very picturesque neighbourhood and worth a walk through, if only to snap a photo or two.

Afternoon

Where to Eat?

Pharmacia

Where to eat in Lisbon

Head over to Pharmacia, a popular restaurant decorated to look like, well, a pharmacy! I ended up eating there twice. It has a nice ambiance and serves more tapas-style dishes. It was nice to sample a few different dishes. The servers were super nice and the food was good. I wouldn’t say awesome, but really good. I paid about 18€ for 2 dishes and a glass of wine. It’s a popular place so a reservation is a must, especially during peek season. This restaurant is also right in front of a popular Miradouro called Santa Catarina. During sunset, this was the local spot to be with a beer in hand!

OR

TimeOut Market

TimeOut Market in Lisbon

This is a must go to place while in Lisbon, so if you don’t go here on day one, make sure to make it there on day 2. TimeOut Market is not your typical food market. It’s a gourmet food market with some of the best chefs in Lisbon. It is HUGE and offers so many choices.

The design really reminded me of Octoberfest. Except everyone was drinking wine, instead of beer. It’s a really big social spot and gets really busy, so you may have to wait for a spot at one of the tables. But it’s SO worth it. TimeOut Market is amazing! Don’t miss it! Expect to pay around 10-12€ for a meal and a bottled water.

Castel de Sao Jorge

what to do in Lisbon

After a late lunch head over to the Castel de Sao Jorge for spectacular panoramic views of the city. You can also walk the castle walls, which is always fun. The walk up to the castle is very nice with street art everywhere and cute tiny little cafes and wine bars on the way. It’s overpriced if you ask me, at 8.50€ a ticket (isn’t Portugal supposed to be cheap?!). But I enjoyed it, and if you’re not on a super strict budget, I would definitely check it out.

Evening

Dinner

If you went to TimeOut Market for lunch, then head to Pharmacia for dinner. Another option would be to head to Alfama, as there are endless restaurant choices in this area and just an overall lively atmosphere.

Bairro Alto

Colorful Bairo Alto Lisbon

This is the hipster neighborhood and the most popular place to go out at night. The streets come alive after hours so if you like to party, head over to this neighborhood. It’s also a very pretty part of town and I enjoyed strolling through with camera in hand.


♥Day 2: What to do in Lisbon♥

Morning

Rua Augusta Tower

This tower will give you a great view over the famous Rua Augusta street. It’s 2.50€ to enter and an easy walk to the top.

View from Rua Augusta Tower in Lisbon

Elevador de Santa Justa

Elevador de Santa Justa

A gothic type elevator that seems to be very popular. It costs 5€ to go to the top and might be a tourist trap as the lines were wrapping around the corner when I went. I didn’t go to the top, but took photos from the bottom instead. It looks like something out of Gotham City and it’s nice to see. I would skip going up however. 

Carmo Convent

Carmo Convent

Probably the coolest site in Lisbon. An earthquake demolished the roof of this church back in 1755 and it has never been restored. It has now been converted to a convent. Price is 2.50€ to enter. Don’t miss this attraction, it’s pretty unique!

Afternoon

Belem

What to do in Lisbon

After lunch, take the bus to Belem, outside of the city. It’s a cute  little town with a famous tower located on the shore. It’s a great spot for people watching or a picnic, and I witnessed so many people were laying in the surrounding green park. It takes about 30 minutes by bus and costs 2.85€. For some reason the bus ticket back was only 1.80€.

Evening

Enjoy one of the many quaint restaurants in Belem, or head back to Lisbon to the Alfama district.


♥Day 3: What to do in Lisbon♥

Day trip to Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira, and Cascais. For more details on day trips from Lisbon, be on the lookout for a separate blog post highlighting these amazing spots!

(Early) Morning

Sintra

You can’t go to Lisbon and skip the easy day trip to Sintra. You cant. Just don’t do it. Home to the fairytale Peña Palace and the Moorish castle, it is an absolute MUST! The entrance fee is a bit steep at 14 euro, but it’s definitely worthwhile. Catch an early train to avoid crowds, and also because there is a LOT to see so you’ll need every last minute.

The colorful Pena Palace in Sintra

Direct Trains to Sintra leave every 30 minutes from Lisbon and take about 40 minutes. The cost is 3 euro one way. Apart from the iconic castles, the town of Sintra is worth a visit. It’s a beautiful and timeless little town set amongst the mountains and it’s sure to catch your eye. 

Quinta da Regaleira

Quinta da Regaleira

Having my Indiana Jones moment 🙂

A mere 10-12 minute walk from Sintra is a heavenly place called Quinta da Regaleira. This was by far my favorite part of the day. Don’t leave without seeing the famous well on the property. It’s straight out of a storybook. I felt like I was in Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom exploring all the endless surprises around every corner.

It costs 6€ to enter and was well worth it. Set aside ample time because this place is huge!

Afternoon

Cascais

The gorgeous seaside of Cascais

Another must see is Cascais, a quiet little seaside town that really reminded me of the south of France (sans the hefty prices). A highlight was Boca do Inferno, a 20 minute walk from the center. Boca do Inferno means “hell’s mouth” as there is a small opening (the mouth) in the rocks where forceful waves come crashing through. I sat up at the top and just admired the view for about 30 minutes. 

Boca do Inferno

A train back to Lisbon from Cascais costs 2.60€ and takes 40 minutes. The bus from Sintra to Cascais takes 40 minutes and costs 4.10€.


YOU MAY ALSO LIKEWhy Sao Miguel, Azores Will Blow Your Mind: The Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary


 ♥(optional) Day 4♥

If you have a 4th day in Lisbon, I highly recommend breaking up your big day trip into 2 separate day trips. Spend day 3 in Sintra/Quinta da Regaleira and Day 4 in Cascais. I did this all in one day and it was almost too much. I was a little rushed and I wish I had more time in each place.

Side note for eating gluten-free (GF) in Lisbon: as a gluten-free traveler, it was extremely difficult to find actual gluten free restaurants in Portugal and I panicked a little bit. However, seafood was my best bet as this is a staple dish in Portugal being on the coast. I carried my Portugese Gluten Free restaurant card with me at all times, and most places were able to accommodate me in some way or another. So if you are a Celiac or gluten-intolerant, don’t bother finding GF restaurants, as they are virtually non-existent. You can eat safely in Portugal, it just takes a little more effort. Cheers!

 

RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR TRAVEL TO PORTUGAL:

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 4 Session: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! (I have recently upgrade to the 5, but this is the one I used in all my Portugal photos). It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂

6. GoPro Hero 5 Black: My newest addition and the BEST GoPro on the market. This is an essential item when you’re traveling solo to get all your cool shots (and of course underwater pics).

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 🙂

Have you been to Lisbon? What was your favorite part? Did I miss anything? Do tell!

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What to do in Lisbon

Why Sao Miguel, Azores Will Blow Your Mind: The Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary

Why Sao Miguel, Azores Will Blow Your Mind: The Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary

My introduction to the Azores came a few years back, while watching Anthony Bourdain’s TV show. It seemed like such a mystical, intangible place and that instantly peeked my interest. Gotta love Mr. Bourdain!

Sao Miguel, Azores is a nature lover’s absolute dream. Tropical jungles, vibrant lakes, volcanos, relaxing hot springs, stunning waterfalls, epic hiking trails, breathtaking cliffside viewpoints, endless natural wonders, and lavish greens everywhere in sight. This is the Azores.

5 Things You May Not Know About the Azores

~The Azores are made up of lakes, lava fields, volcanic caves and islets.
~Sao Miguel is the biggest island and has 4 volcanos, 2 active and 2 dormant.
~Azoreans never pay more than €130 to go to mainland Portugal. If they pay more, they take their documents to the post office and get reimbursed.
~The Azores are the only producers of tea in all of Europe.
~The Azores have characteristic microclimates throughout the islands.

After spending 4 days on Sao Miguel island, I can honestly say it’s the most naturally beautiful place I have ever been (And this is saying a lot seeing as I was just in Iceland a few months earlier). Yes, it’s more naturally pretty than Iceland in my opinion. Actually, the 2 places reminded me a lot of each other in a weird way! The volcanic activity, the natural thermal pools, the black lava rocks and black sand beaches, the waterfalls (Iceland definitely takes the crown in that category), the geysers, and green moss covered landscapes.

Sao Miguel Azores

Sao Miguel, Azores is a very easily navigable island and the roads are very well maintained. Coming straight from Sardinia, Italy where I experienced the worst roads in Europe so far, the roads were heavenly to drive. The island is so perfectly manicured and well kept and the natural beauty was overwhelming. I spent a good part of my trip questioning if this place was even real.

In short…THE AZORES WILL BLOW YOUR MIND!

Where are the Azores?

The Azores are an archipelago of 9 islands located in the South Western Atlantic Ocean, about 1/3 of the way from Portugal to the East Coast of America. The Azores are part of Macronesia, along with Madeira, Canary Islands, and Cape Verde.

Most of the islands are protected and haven’t seen any damage from mass tourism. Hopefully they stay that way!

How to Get to Sao Miguel, Azores

Direct fights from Lisbon take 2 hours on Ryanair and cost around €80+ roundtrip, depending on the season. The earlier you book, the better chance of snagging the cheaper tickets. The 2 budget airlines, Easy Jet and Ryanair, just opened up flights in 2015 and it’s been a game-changer. Before this, it was extremely expensive to travel to the islands, making them a fairly unattainable destination for most. For the best flight deals, my “go-to” booking site is Skyscanner…I swear by them.

(Full disclosure: This contains an affiliate link, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using the above link, at no extra cost to you. Yay!).

Transportation on Sao Miguel Island

Bus schedules are very infrequent on the island so I HIGHLY recommend renting a car and/or scooter. Plus, you really won’t be able to see the more off-the-beaten path places by public transport. I rented a scooter for the first 2 days and an automatic car for the last 2 days to go longer distances and it worked out perfectly.

Scooter rental in Sao Miguel, Azores, GoPro

Car/Scooter Rental

I went with Auto Ramalhense because they had good rates, good reviews, and the added bonus that they pick up and deliver your vehicle to your accommodation at no extra cost. Scooter rental costs €21-25/day (50cc horse power vs 125cc horse power). Definitely spend the extra few euros and pick the 125cc. This is not the time to be cheap!

(note: one week later in Lagos, Portugal I made the mistake of going with the cheaper 50cc scooter and it was a piece of crap. It was like a toy scooter and it took me forever to get anywhere. I also found out you’re not allowed to drive 50cc scooters on the freeway…after the fact!).

An automatic car rental costs 45 euro/day. For a manual car, expect to pay half that! If I could just learn how to drive stick dangit!

They charge only €8 to drop it off at the airport, which was so worth it seeing as I had a 7:30am flight! The company was very accommodating last-minute and overall I had a great experience. And no, this was not sponsored in any way, shape, or form.

Sao Miguel, Azores Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary

Day 1: red pins
Day 2: blue pins
Day 3: yellow pins
Day 4: purple pins

Day 1 (with scooter)

Sets Cidades (Twin Lakes)

Cete Cidades Twin Lakes

Day 1 starts out strong with one of the most magnificent lakes on the island. Actually, Cete Cidades is made up of twin lakes, one blue and one green.You can go down to the bottom and see them separated by a bridge. It’s not as colorful on the bottom but still very beautiful. It takes 25 minutes by car from Ponta Delgada and 40 minutes by scooter. If you have time, this is a popular hiking spot so give yourself ample time to explore the different pathways!

Interesting folktale: Do you know why one lake is green and one lake is blue? Legend has it that a Princess and a shepherd fell in love. After the Princess’ father forbid them from seeing each other, they met one last time and cried so much that these 2 lakes were formed. The green from the tears of the green-eyed Princess and the blue from the tears of the blue-eyed shepherd. Now their tears will remain together in eternity! It doesn’t get any more romantic than that! ♥

Miradouro Do Rei

This is the tourist view that most people stop at and is a great introduction to the twin lakes. It’s far away, but close enough to really appreciate the distinct colors of these beautiful bodies of water.

Tip: you can continue on the dirt road and drive around the top for different views of the lakes.

Lagoa do Canario Miradouro

Lagoa do Canario Miradouro

This was by far the BEST viewpoint on the island for me. The peak is roughly 800 meters above sea-level, with a view of the mountains, the twin lakes, the caldera, and the sea in the backdrop. It’s SPECTACULAR. AMAZING. OUT OF THIS WORLD. Honestly one of the most EPIC views I have ever seen with my 2 eyes! It rivals the viewpoint of Shipwreck Beach in Zakynthos and gave me goosebumps at first sight. What a beauty!

Tip: there is a parking lot before the dirt road that you can park and then walk 20 minutes or so…but you can also drive down the dirt road to the entrance to the viewpoint (which I did because it was freezing and windy outside).

Ponta da Ferraria

30 minutes away from Sete Cidades on the Western part of the island lies Ponta da Ferraria, a geothermal area of natural hot pools on the cliff sides. Walking down to the natural pool you will notice black lava rocks everywhere and it’s really a site to see. It was very Icelandic-like if you ask me. The popular hot pool is connected to the ocean and it makes you question, how in the world is it that warm if it’s connected to the ocean? I can’t explain it, but it’s definitely warm! The best part is that it’s FREE!! Unfortunately I didn’t have my swimsuit with me so I just laid on the black rocks to stay warm in the sun. It’s a very relaxing place and you could spend a whole afternoon there.

Ponta da Ferraria Sao Miguel, Azores

Tip: there is a spa area that charges 6 euro to enter, giving access to a thermal pool. (But why pay to use a man-made structure when you have the natural equivalent just steps away for free?). There is also a snack bar and restaurant inside if you’re hungry. There aren’t many options around to choose from, so it may be your only choice to eat.

Day 2 (with scooter)

Caloura

Caloura Sao Miguel, Azores

I just passed through this town quickly, but worth a mention is the unexpected pool that’s literally inside the ocean and connected to the land by a long rocky walkway. At this point it was pouring down rain so I just ran down and snapped a photo real quick.

Vila do Franco Campo

A cute little seaside town with a black sand beach. But the main attraction is the very close Badeinsel ilheu de Vila Franco do Campo. It’s an islet that seems to be a stone’s throw away from the town. As I was driving away and up a hill, I could see the bay inside the islet and it looked so awesome. Unfortunately, I didn’t get over to the islet as boat trips only go in the summer. It was such a tease!

Lagoa do Congra

A quick 12 minute ride from Vila do Franco Campo is one of my favorites Lagoa do Congra. This lake was recommended by my awesome Airbnb host and isn’t on any tourist map. However, you will see signs for it on the roads thankfully. After turning onto a dirt road, you will keep going about 6-7 minutes then park near the sign and hike down. It’s a very peaceful and gorgeous hike down to the lake.

Lagoa do Congra

The woods are so tropical, and it feels like a mini Amazon jungle. The hike is super easy and takes about 10 minutes. The lake is freakishly green and there won’t be another person in site. All you will hear are the sounds of joyful birds chirping everywhere. Nature at its finest.

Lagoa do Fogo

Lagoa do Fogo

Another magnificent lake with bold green hues. It looks kind of glossy and the colors change with the sun. The best part is that you can hike down to the sandy beaches at the bottom for crystal green waters.

Unfortunately I didn’t have time to hike down. Out of all the things I saw on the island, this is the one I really wish I had more time at. Until next time…

Caldeira Velha

Imagine fairytale pools inside a tropical jungle oasis and you have Caldeira Venlha. It’s one of those unique places that makes you feel like you’re going to wake up from your dream any second. No need to pinch your travel partner, it’s real! It has one big waterfall pool and one smaller hot pool. Awesome place!

Caldeira Velha Sao Miguel Azores

Cost: €3 entrance fee.

Ribeira Grande

If you have time, make a stop in Ribeira Grande on your way back to Ponta Delgada. It’s a quaint little town on the water with a beautiful bridge. It’s one of the prettier towns I saw on the island and also would have liked more time here.

Ribeira Grande Sao Miguel, Azores

Day 3 (with car)

→Warning: day 3 will be action packed so get an early start!

Gorreana Tea Plantation

Did you know that Europe’s only production of tea comes from the Azores? I had no idea! Gorreana tea plantation has been operational since 1883. The plantation is in a gorgeous location overlooking the water and that alone warrants a visit.

Gorreana Tea Plantation

Tip: you don’t need to buy any tea because there are free tea tastings of local green and black tea. Just ask for it! There was a tour bus when I went around 9:45am so to avoid them try to get there as soon as it opens! The ride is 30 minutes from Ponta Delgada with a car.

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

About 12 minutes East of the tea plantation is Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes (Caldeiroes Park). I LOVED this place and it became one of my favorites on the island. It was the jungle playground that I dreamed about as a kid. There were perfectly paved pathways, waterfalls, springs, and woods, leaving you to roam wild with your imagination. I had the whole place basically to myself so the childhood fantasy might have been played out a little. Just saying… 🙂

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

Tip: make sure you don’t miss the big waterfall on the left side of the parking before the little bridge. I almost did! I only noticed it on my way out of the park.

Cost: entrance is FREE.

Miradouro da Despe-te Que Suas

Miradouro da Despe-te Que Suas

Next, go to Miradouro da Despe-te Que Suas. This had a great view of the cliffs with a huge heavenly umbrella tree. This viewpoint was so nicely decorated with flowers and that epic tree that I think I enjoyed it more than the actual view itself. Go figure.

Farol do Arnel

Farol do Arnel Sao Miguel, Azores

The most famous lighthouse on the island and only a few minutes south of Nordeste. You must walk down 15 minutes of a very steep hill to get to it. It was sort of anti-climactic for me and I would skip the walk down. Instead, drive 3-4 min south to Miradouro da Vista Dos Barcos for the best view of the lighthouse from afar!

Parque Florestral (and Pico Bartolomeu viewpoint)

This is a protected national forest that I accidentally stumbled upon while I got a little lost. It was really cool to drive to the top, blazing through the foggy skies. It was a bit cloudy/foggy at the top, but still had amazing views of the island. Look for the sign for the viewpoint called Pico Bartolomeu.

Parque Florestral

On the way to this viewpoint you will be astonished at the abundance of hydrangeas and cedar trees you will pass, tightly packed into this perfectly manicured forest. As I cut though the dense misty fog, I felt so small in the presence of these towering trees. It was eerie, yet peaceful.

Miradouro da Ponta do Sosssego

Miradouro da Ponta do Sosssego

Next, go to Miradouro da Ponta do Sosssego, a gorgeous flower garden near Nordeste overlooking the mountainous cliffs towering over the sea. This was number 2 for the best view of the island for me so don’t miss it! There were also a lot of kitties there…that’s all.

Miradouro da Ponta do Sosssego, Sao Miguel Azores

Tip: this place was a little hard to find as the only sign for it is at the entrance. To get to it, drive south from Farol do Arnel and pass the signs for Pedriera. It should be about 5-7 minutes from Farol do Arnel.

Miradouro Santa Iria

Miradouro Santa Iria

On your way back to Ponta Delgada, stop at Miradouro Santa Iria for spectacular views of dramatic cliffs from all angles. It’s one of the higher viewpoints, so you can look down upon all the epic cliffs plunging into the water. It’s one of the most “known” viewpoints on the island, and for good reason!

Day 4 (with car)

Your last day should be one of rest and relaxation after all the running around you’ve been doing. So go ahead and treat yourself!

Furnas Village Day

On your way to Furnas village, stop at Miradouro do Pico de Ferro to see Lagoa Furnas from above. The stop is a few minutes before the village and you will see a small sign for it.

Terra Nostra Park

This is where you will find the “golden jacuzzi” I like to call it. The large thermal pool is around 38+ decrees Celsius. There are no lockers but changing rooms and an outdoor (cold) shower.

Terra Nostra Gardens, Sao Miguel, Azores, GoPro

Tip: near the changing rooms, there are 2 smaller jacuzzis set inside the woods that are kind of hidden. Also, the sulfur from the thermal pool with stick to your bathing suit, so make sure you wash it thoroughly when you get out. I would avoid wearing a white bathing suit at all costs.

Cost: €6 entrance fee and €2 to rent a towel.

Dona Beija Thermal Springs

This thermal area is composed of 5 smaller hot pools. I really liked the setup of this place and it was a lot prettier and more cozy. It’s about an 8 minute walk from Terra Nostra. Dona Beija also had better changing facilities with paying lockers and a shower, and is open until 10pm if you want to do some night soaking.

Dona Beija Thermal Springs

Cost: €3 entrance fee and €2 to rent a towel.

Furnas-Caldeiras

Furnas Caldeiras is located on the bottom of the lake and is where you can see the geysers up close and watch them aggressively bubble. It smells really bad from the sulfur (obviously), but it’s cool to see, especially if you’ve never seen something like that before.

Cost: €0.50 cent entrance fee and € 0.40 cent parking.

Where to Stay in Sao Miguel, Azores

Airbnb all the way baby! I stayed in the capital city Ponta Delgada, because it was less than 10 minutes from the airport, and because it was a good base to explore the island. The farthest place on the island I visited was 1 hour by car, so not bad at all.

Sao Miguel, Azores Airbnb

I loved my Airbnb and for $21/night it was an absolute steal! Here is the Airbnb listing if you’re interested. And for first time users, you can use my coupon for $25 off .  (OR if you’re already an Airbnb member, you can sign up with a new email and get the same discount!). I rented a room in a huge house in a quiet part of the city and was super happy with it.

The house was like a mini mansion and I had so much space! I really felt like I was in a fancy place and was splurging, it was great! The best part was the host who was amazing from the start. He was so helpful with anything and made the BEST recommendations of what to see on the island. This is one of my favorite aspects of staying in an Airbnb…you get easy access to some great tips only a local would know. #WINNING.

Final Thoughts on Sao Miguel, Azores

Sao Miguel, Azores

Hold on, planning my next trip back, brb! But really, the Azores are a truly unique place with a natural beauty that has been unmatched in all my travels. It’s overwhelmingly gorgeous with so much to offer and hasn’t yet been corrupted by mass tourism. If you’re thinking about going, go NOW! It won’t stay off-the-radar for long. If you need any more info, feel free to send me a message!

 

RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR FOR TRAVEL TO THE AZORES:

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 4 Session: I am a proud GoPro ambassador and obsessed with GoPro selfie pics if you didn’t notice! (I have recently upgrade to the 5, but this is the one I used in all my Portugal photos). It’s super small, compact, and easy to travel with. Plus it’s so much fun to use! 🙂

6. GoPro Hero 5 Black: My newest addition and I must say the BEST GoPro on the market. This is an essential item when you’re traveling solo to get all your cool shots (and of course underwater pics).

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 🙂

WHERE IS THE MOST NATURALLY PRETTY PLACE YOU’VE EVER BEEN? HAVE YOU BEEN TO THE AZORES? DID IT BLOW YOU AWAY AS WELL? I WANT TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS! ♥

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Sao Miguel, Azores 4-Day Itinerary