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.
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 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!
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.
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 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 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.
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!
3rd Route: Motovun to Grožnjan
Journey time: 25 minutes
Parking cost: free street parking
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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?
As holiday seekers flock to Dalmatia for the popular sailing trips on the Adriatic Sea, the Istria region in Croatia is often overlooked. It only took my 8TH TRIP back to Croatia to finally venture to this lesser-known peninsula, due to my intense (and some might say unhealthy) attachment to the mesmerising Dalmatian coast.
Rovinj is located on the coast of the Istria peninsula, in the Western part of Croatia. Istria is known for its impeccable wine, world class gastronomy, coveted (and expensive) truffles, and storybook hilltop towns. What’s not to love about Istria? Please tell me. I’ll wait…
Last September, my friend CareBear and I decided on a more slow-paced holiday and to spend an entire week in Rovinj, using it as a base to explore the Istrian peninsula. Let me start by saying Rovinj is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring this region, given its central position along the coast. Not only that, it’s f***ing gorgeous! That fact is undeniable.
I will say that I wasn’t expecting to love Rovinj as much as I did. The Dalmatian coast has set the bar super high for me and I must admit I am quite biased to that area. You could go as far to say that I’m passionately obsessed with it. But Rovinj absolutely blew me away and it quickly moved to the top as one of my favourite Croatian cities, if not my favourite.
The best way I can describe Rovnj is quaint, charming, clean, colorful, and rustic…all in one perfect package. It sounds cliche, but there are no other words I can use to describe the awesomeness that is Rovinj.
There is not much to see in Rovinj in terms of historical landmarks, monuments, or museums. However, it is one of those places where you can just relax and take in all the surroundings in a peaceful atmosphere. The people are extremely friendly and the service was excellent overall.
First Impressions of Rovinj
Rovinj has such a huge Italian influence, understandably given its close proximity. The city of Rovinj felt like a blend between Italy and Croatia, my 2 favorite countries in the entire world. The food, the rustic architecture, and the colours are like a spitting image of the Ligurian region in Italy (my favourite region in Italy!). At times, I forgot that I was actually in Croatia and felt as if i was in Cinque Terre. That’s how strong the Italian influence was.
What really surprised me about Rovinj is that Croatian didn’t seem to be the dominant language, although technically it is. We heard just as much Italian and German as we did Croatian. And when the locals spoke Croatian, it sounded like it was with an Italian accent. The dialect is completely different from further south along the coast, and it was distinctly apparent. I was extremely surprised to hear how much German was spoke there, until we were informed that these were Austrians speaking and it made sense as this region used to be ruled by Austria in historical times!
Why is Rovinj so Lovely? Let me Count the Ways…
The Picturesque Streets of Rovinj
Rovinj is the epitome of Picture Perfect. The streets of Rovinj are a photographer’s dream. In fact, Rovinj was one of the most picturesque towns I have ever seen. Period. My favourite part about Rovinj by far was the consistently stunning streets. Every day we found ourselves just getting lost in the maze-like alleys and having a blast. Around every corner, it was more and more beautiful.
There were numerous little cafes with funky/colourful furniture that were just so visually inviting it made you want to go in for a coffee every 5 minutes. One can only drink so much coffee in a day, but damnit they were just so stinkin’ cute!
The stores were so unique and the eclectic displays were very pleasing to the eye. The immaculate design of each little shop astounded me and silently lured me in. I could have shopped all day, even though I didn’t buy anything. We experienced boutique heaven in Rovinj.
What To Do in Rovinj
The Farmer’s Market
I could never leave a city without visiting the local farmer’s market. In fact, it’s usually the first place I visit when arriving to a new city in order to stock up on some healthy snacks. The Farmer’s Market in Rovinj does not disappoint. The fruit is super fresh, juicy, and robust. The vendors are also very friendly and inviting, often giving you loads of tasting samples.
Honey, olive oil, truffles, and figs, you name it and they had it there. What’s best about this specific one is that it’s basically open all day until about 10pm, unlike most farmer’s markets that are only open in the mornings.
We went there so often that everyone started knowing us by name, and eventually free fruit was thrown in here and there.
Let me start by saying Rovinj isn’t known for its beaches. The one I would recommend is called Monte Beach and is located just a hop skip and a jump from the center (did I really just say that?).
Monte Beach isn’t really technically a beach, it’s more like a rocky cove frequented by sunbathers brave enough to lay on the rigid rocks. It was super cute and not too crowded, and this became our little go-to spot every day. We even went here a few times to watch the sunset over the rocks and it was incredible. Check it out at least once if you’re in Rovinj. Oh, and bring some wine.
Church of St Ephemia Clock Tower
This is where you can find the best panoramic views over the city. You have to walk up some wobbly/narrow stairs to get to the top, but it’s worth it for the 360 degree views.
This was a great way to see more of just the centre of Rovinj. You can’t really ride the bikes inside the narrow streets. Instead, we went along the coast where some of the other more populated beaches were located. There were rental places all throughout the city, so no need to book in advance.
Go Boutique Shopping (or in our case, window shopping)
There was no shortage of specialty boutiques in the city, from eclectic jewellery shops selling one-of-a-kind pieces to musical shops selling cool vintage instruments. The displays in these stores were outstanding and you could really appreciate the attention to detail. All were so funky and different, it was nice to just browse through them one by one, entertaining our curiosities.
Find the Most Instagrammed Spot in Rovinj
As you’re walking through the city, you may stumble upon the cutest little street ever and your head will turn (as did mine). Can you see why it’s the most Instagrammable street in Rovinj?
This was by far our absolute favorite place in Rovinj and we came back every single day. The irresistible archway framing the steps leading into the sea is what initially drew us in. A cozy cafe by day and a coveted drinking spot during sunset, this is the place you will want to be.
Newly opened in May 2015 by a Rovinj native, Jasmin Huskic, Mediterraneo Bar serves coffee and speciality cocktails in a cozy seaside retreat. The staff is warm and inviting, always making sure you are enjoying your time.
The cafe/bar is nicely decorated with an eclectic and bohemian inspired flare. Plush colourful cushions placed on the rocks and mismatched furniture give it a vibrantatmosphere. During the day, you have the option of jumping from the rocks and swimming right in front of the cafe. How cool?
The best part about this bar is the “secrete escape” spot that is, well…a secret. Tucked away in a private corner on the rocks, there is a magical spot that offers privacy in a romantic setting with a small table, cushions, and soft blankets offered for the cold night breeze.
The secret escape has become so popular that reservations are now warranted for this coveted spot. It was truly a unique experience watching the sunset in our own private little nest.
Mediterraneo Bar is seriously one of my favorite cafes I have ever been to! Hands-down. And no, this isn’t sponsored in any way, it’s really that awesome! If you make it over there, tell Jasmin that Crazy Travelista and CareBear Abroad say hi!
Where to Stay in Rovinj
As I usually do, I highly recommend using Airbnb for accommodation. During my search, I came across a big variety of choices in the center of the city and at very reasonable prices. We chose to stay in the center and it was the absolute perfect location, everything within a few minutes walk.We picked a private apartment and we couldn’t have been happier. It happened to be on what became our favourite street in Rovinj, with a restaurant and coffee bar conveniently outside our door.
The one-bedroom apartment had a full kitchen, private bathroom and shower, wifi, a flat screen TV, and a pull out couch. The apartment could fit 3 people comfortably. We really enjoyed utilizing the kitchen to save money on eating out every meal. The total price for one week including all taxes and fees was $350 ($175 each split between us). It could have been even less if we had one more with us. We paid a little more this time for the prime location and it was well worth it.
You can check out our Airbnb rental here. (Update: the price has increased a bit since we stayed here, wahhh). And if you’re new to Airbnb, feel free to use my $40 off coupon! They really do have a great referral program! (PS: even if you already have a AirBnb account, you can sign up with a new email and still get the $40 OFF. YAY)
Where to Eat in Rovinj
As a Gluten-free eater, my restaurant recommendations are often limited as I can only sample a small selection of foods, unfortunately. I also tend to cook most my meals if I can, even when I’m traveling. Nevertheless, I did manage to find a few Gluten-friendly options that I really enjoyed.
Pano e Vino-I was so excited to find an Italian place that served Gluten-free pasta. I sampled the gluten-free bolognese and the seafood risotto which were both flavourful and rich. I loved the fact that they brought out gluten-free bruschetta as an appetizer on the house, as well as gluten-free bread with our meals. I highly recommend this place even if you are not gluten free. The staff was super friendly and even gave us a whole bottle of honey grappa on the house. If we hadn’t eaten here the last night, I would have definitely returned again.
Squid 2-this restaurant has a great view of the riva and offers a variety of fresh seafood. We opted for the fish platter for 2 and it was very good and filling. The bonus is that they take credit cards.
Scuba-this restaurant also offered a variety of gluten-free options at a reasonable price. I also sampled the seafood risotto here, which was delightful and a very big portion.
B52-this place had the best gelato we tried in Rovinj and with the biggest selection. This is also the ONLY place that would allow us to sample the flavors. The scoops were huge and well worth the price. I recommend the fig gelato, unusual, yet mouthwatering.
How to Get to Rovinj
Planes, trains, and automobiles…literally. The only airport located in the Istrian region is in Pula, about 40 minutes by bus to Rovinj (costs 43 kuna). There are many affordable flights to Pula within Croatia on Croatia Airlines. I flew from Zadar to Pula for around $75 and it took less than an hour.
There are also busses from Split and Dubrovnik by Bus Croatia, but they are less frequent, take 9-12 hours, and some cost almost as much as a flight. Busses from Zagreb take about 6 hours.
You could also rent a car and drive to Rovinj; however, parking in the city can be a pain in the butt. Also, you really would only need a car for a day or 2 at the most, so if you are staying for a week it’s kind of a waste of money in my opinion.
Your best bet is snagging a cheap flight from Dalmatia or Zagreb!
How to Get Around Rovinj
By foot! It’s a total walkable city given its small size. You can get anywhere in 15 minutes max. I do however, recommend renting a car for one day to explore the surrounding region.
Exploring Istria (day trip)
One thing you must do in this region is get out and explore the countryside by car. In fact, this is the only way to reach the nearby hilltop towns, as public transport doesn’t serve most of these areas.
Highly recommended on your Istrian road trip are the towns of Motovun, Hum, Groznjan, and Novigrad. You can do them all in one day as they are all less than an hour and fifteen minutes from Rovinj! Just make sure to get an early start. To get all the details, read my post Exploring Istria, Croatia by Car: the Perfect 1-Day Road Trip
Day Trip It to Pula
Pula lies on the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula and is a short 35-ish minute bus ride from Rovinj. The main attraction in Pula is the magnificent Pula Area, which was constructed back in the 1ST CENTURY! In fact, it’s older than the Colosseum in Rome! It’s also the 6th largest Roman arena in the world that still exists today!
There are also a few cute beaches to visit in Pula, as well as the nearby Kamenjak National Park, which I’m kicking myself for not getting to (I was short on time). If you make it over to Kamenjak, please let me know what I missed!
Moral of the Story?
GO TO ROVINJ! It’s an overlooked Croatian splendour that doesn’t get the hype it very well deserves. Rovinj is very relaxing and romantic, the perfect base for exploring the Istria countryside, is filled with hospitable people, has great food, and is undeniably drop-dead gorgeous! All the elements of THE perfect city if you ask me!
Do you have any other tips for what to do in Rovinj? Any secret finds I failed to mention? Please let me know in the comments below! I would love to check them out when I finally return!
Click photo to Pin for later♥
RECOMMENDED TRAVEL GEAR:
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! This is an essential item when you’re traveling solo to get all your cool shots (and of course underwater pics). 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 🙂
Traveling to New Zealand had been a long time dream for me. However, the price of the airline ticket and the distance kept me away for so long.
That is until I found an error fair on Qantas for $216 round trip!!!
I never in a million years thought that was even possible to get a ticket to somewhere that far away for so cheap! I had about 20 minutes to decide and book…and I never looked back!
Fast forward a few months later, where I spent 12 days in New Zealand over the past fall and it was one of my favourite trips to date!
I couldn’t decide between the North and South Islands, so I did a little of both! I rented a car and spent 8 days total on the North Island and I would highly recommend doing the self drive so you can get more off the beaten path (and save time).
I stayed in Airbnbs the whole time on New Zealand’s North Island and it averaged about $32 a night, so not bad at all!
I rented an automatic car for 5 of the 8 days on the island and it costed $232 (including the extra insurance and drop off at a different airport). It’s definitely cheaper if you know how to drive stick shift!
I used RentalCars.comto book my car rental (which is what I use for ALL my car rentals. The prices seem to be the lowest and their customer service has been great. I have been using them for YEARS and I have no complaints!)
Disclaimer: Btw, the above link is an affiliate link, meaning I may get a very small commission if you book using my link, at no extra cost to you. It helps keeps this site up and running, so thank you!)♥
Unique Things to Do on New Zealand’s North Island
1. Step Into the Magical Land of Hobbiton
Ok I have a confession, I have never seen Lord of the Rings OR The Hobbit. Yet, I still wanted to visit this place because it looked like something out of this world.
And boy was I right! Hobbiton was everything I imagined and more. Walking around all the miniature houses and taking selfies in front of the colorful round doors made me feel like a kid again.
This little village is the actual movie set of the famous movies and can only be visited with a tour, so make sure you book tickets in advance! I absolutely loved Hobbiton, and I can imagine fans of the movie would DIE over it!
Hobbiton is a must see in New Zealand, whether you’ve seen the movies or not!
2. Visit the Colorful Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland
This area is one of the most volcanically active areas of the world. I had no idea until I visited!
You know how after you’ve been to more than one thermal area, they all kinda look the same after a while? Well, not this one! I was surprised that I enjoyed this so much and spent a few hours here exploring the area.
There are a few different paths you can take to walk around the whole park, so give yourself a few hours to do so. The colors of the hot springs were like nothing I had ever seen and they were very picturesque (albeit extremely smelly).
It’s a bit pricey to enter, at $32.50 NZD (about $23) a ticket, but honestly well worth it!
3. Hike to the Gorgeous Cathedral Cove (Coromandel Peninsula)
A few years back, on a Contiki trip to Thailand, I met an adorable little Kiwi (New Zealander) girl. I asked her the ONE place I can’t miss if I ever come to New Zealand and she mentioned Cathedral Cove. She was SPOT ON!!! (Thanks Rachel).
To get to Cathedral Cove, it requires an easy 45 minute hike from the car park. There are 2 beaches on either side of the cove, both worthy of yourtime. Ironically, this beach reminded me a bit of Thailand!
Tip: There are a few detours you can make on the way back that are way worth it, namely Stringray Bay. The pastel green water framed against limestone cliffs and lush greenery is breathtaking. It’s also pretty secluded so it’s a great place to get away from the crowds.
4. Go Wine Tasting on Waiheke Island
A 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland will bring you to a quiet little island called Waiheke. So what does Waiheke have to offer? A beautiful island with cliff-hanging epic views and several beautiful wineries. Need I say more? I was in absolute heaven.
There is a bus system that connects to most of the wineries, but you can also walk to some of them from the port. I decided to take the nice little path up to the first winery and I was afforded with great panoramic views of the cliffside and water.
Wine tastings cost around $10 for 3-5 tastings, not bad at all.
My favorite winery on Waiheke island was Mudbrick, so make sure to hit this one up while you’re there. It had such a cute ambiance and the views over the island were spectacular. You could ever see the Auckland skyline from there!
I’m not going to lie, the glow worm caves was one of my top reasons for wanting to visit the North Island of New Zealand. Where else can you see something as cool as this?
I took a tour of the glow worm caves that lasted about 45 minutes. They took us to the caves and explained a little about the lifecycle of the glow worms and why they glow, which was very interesting.
The glowworms emit a bright bluish green color from their tails to attract insects, and to fend off other animals from eating them.
The glowworm has a lifecycle of only 11 months and only lives a few days as an adult fly. The term “life is short” takes on a whole new meaning for the glow worm.
We then boarded a small boat and our guide stood at the front and navigated us through the caves pulling on these seemingly invisible ropes attached to the walls. It was super dark in there and a little spooky, until you see the glowworms. It looked like a starry sky lit up in bright blue from underneath and it was a very peaceful experience. It kinda felt like we were in a virtual reality world, it was a really special experience.
Tip: you CANNOT take pictures inside the cave because it may startle the glowworms (also, they turn off their lights when they see light).
6. Escape to the Bay of Islands
The Bay of Islands is about 3-4 hours from Auckland by car and consists of 140 subtropical islands off the coast.
As I was short on time, I only got to visit the cute little seaside town of Paihia, as well as took a boat to Russell. Russell was New Zealand’s first capital, it’s first sea port, as well as it’s first permanent European settlement. It serves an important part in New Zealand’s history and definitely worth a visit.
There are some cute seaside cafes, beautiful beaches, and a few lookout points you can walk up to for a panoramic view of the nearby islands.
A big attraction in the Bay of Islands is swimming with dolphins in the wild. You basically take a boat out and search for dolphins and jump in with them! Since I did this in Zanzibar, I skipped out on this but I would highly recommend doing something like this because it was a wild and unforgettable experience in Zanzibar!
♥New Zealand, You Have My Heart♥
Overall, I loved all the gorgeous beaches and unique attractions in the North Island of New Zealand. I think 9 out of 10 people would recommend the South Island over the North, but I had a fabulous time and saw so many fantastic things. Don’t skip over the North Island because it has so much to offer! Although, I would recommend not spending much time in Auckland, because honestly there was nothing special about it and there are so many other awesome places to see on the island.
New Zealand blew me away and has now become one of my top 3 favorite countries! New Zealand is quiet and peaceful and has so much to offer in terms of nature, adrenaline activities, beautiful beaches, and epic views. There are so many unique things to do on New Zealand’s North Island, and I only just scratched the surface!
Have you been to the North Island of New Zealand? What were the highlights for you?
PIN for later!♥
Disclaimer: I was a guest of waitomo.com during my glow worms tour. However, my opinions are my own and I am in no way obligated to write a positive review. I would never sell out like that! It was such a unique experience and I highly recommend it.
Visiting the Galapagos is a dream for most and I honestly didn’t think I would ever make it there as it is known to be extremely expensive. Due to it’s remote and isolated nature of the Galapagos, as well as its endemic animal species which aren’t found anywhere else in the world, it’s clear why this is such a sought after destination.
Visiting the Galapagos is a once-in-a-lifetime trip and one that people usually plan for years in advance. But I decided to go on a whim and got my plane tickets less than 3 weeks before. Because that’s how I roll.
In all honesty, I wanted to see if I could challenge myself to do this destination for under $1000, without a cruise, just on my own. And when I found out I could use miles to fly there, I was sold.
The entire trip ended up costing me $994 total, true story (I even surprised myself). But I was determined to prove that it CAN be affordable.
So here’s how I did it…
Galapagos On a Budget
I used airline miles for this trip and I thought it was a great deal for the amount of miles it required. It required 40,000 miles roundtrip (using Mileage Plus/Star Alliance) from Washington Dulles, to Baltra Island, Galapagos. The regular ticket price is around $750 and up. I picked multi destination and flew into Baltra island and out of San Cristobal island. This worked out well since I didn’t have to waste time(and money) backtracking back to Baltra.
Total cost: 40k miles + $88.16 in taxes
Visas/National Park Fees
The Galapagos is one of the most protected areas on earth. 97% of the islands are protected to be exact. In order to enter, you must pay a few mandatory National Park fees and for a tourist card. There is no way around these fees so make sure to bring enough cash to cover them.
One of only 1,200 penguins on the Galapagos
Fees I paid to enter the Galapagos:
$20 for a tourist card (upon departure in Guayaquil or Quito)-they don’t tell you this and I got all the way to the gate without it. I had to run back to the check in area to get one real quick and go all the way through security. The only reason I didn’t miss my flight is because it ended up being delayed. Make sure you get your visa card BEFORE boarding your flight to the Galapagos.
$100 National Park fees upon entrance to the Galapagos
$10 to enter Isabela island ($5 for locals)
Galapagos on a Budget | Accommodation
I always thought accommodation on the Galapagos would cost a fortune. But it’s the complete opposite. You can do it super cheap if you want. I saw hostels for $15/night. They also have some super fancy eco resorts that are very pricy as well. But overall, it was very affordable to stay on the islands.
I went on the cheap (ish) side and paid an average of $30 a night, including a mixture of hotels, a private room in a hostel, and an Airbnb. The standards are not as high as one might be used to, but overall it wasn’t a problem. The only problem I had was the presence of little tiny bugs (smaller than ants) that were in almost every place I stayed. I think they just have a problem with bugs being a tropical climate.
Oh and the wifi….the wifi. Wifi on the Galapagos was officially the worst wifi I had ever experienced. It hardly every worked in my room (although the hotels claimed wifi in all rooms) expect for Iguana Hotel on Isabela island. And when it did work, it was so slow you couldn’t even open anything if more than a few people were on the network. I couldn’t open any videos at all while I was there. It was kinda nice to disconnect, but at some points I really needed wifi to look stuff up so it was an annoyance for sure.
Where To stay in the Galapagos:
Puerto Villamil, Isabela island
This was the cleanest and best place I stayed in the Galapagos. It was also the only place I didn’t see many bugs and the wifi actually worked (slowly) in my room. It was the most expensive accommodation on my trip, but well worth it. Check rates for Hotel Iguana on booking.com here.
Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz
Hostal Vista al Mar($30/night)
I got a private room here right near the port and good dining options. However, it wasn’t as clean as I would have liked, it had NO air conditioner (only a fan), the wifi was the worst I had experienced, and there were many bugs. I wouldn’t recommend this place honestly.
A cute little hotel with a chill lobby filled with hammocks. When I alerted them of the many bugs in my room, they sprayed it while I was out and it got rid of the problem. The staff was super nice and helpful! Check rates on booking.com here. And if you’re new to booking.com, use my $20 off coupon here.
Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal
Airbnb San Cristobal($18/night)
I rented a room in a huge house and was very large and spacious. It had 3 double beds and could have slept 6. It was an 8 minute walk from the main port in a quiet neighoborhood. The host gave me snorkel gear to wear to the beach, which was nice. Oh, and it was a 5 minute walk to the airpot! The only problem was the huge black beetle bugs I found the first night. When I arrived, all the windows were open so I’m sure thats where they came from. I kept all the windows closed and only saw one more the next day. You can view the listing here.
Galapagos on a Budget | Tours
Tours in the Galapagos are highly regulated and not every tour company will operate every day. The reason is they limit the amount of people that can visit each island to a small number per day. This prevents damage to the environment from mass tourism. I wish more places would adopt this method because you can really see how clean and well preserved the environment is over there.
Tours in the Galapagos are not cheap and this is where you will spend a majority of your budget. BUT, the key is to book LAST MINUTE on arrival. DO NOT book tours online, as they are up to 3 times as much! I was quotes as much as $325 for a tour that I eventually went on for $160, by booking last minute.
It can be a little nerve wrecking getting there without any booked tours, especially ones you really want to do. But you will save a shit ton doing it this way. Don’t forget to bargain down about 20% of the asking price as well. They are more negotiable last minute.
Note: they were fully booked for my tour to Bartoleme when I inquired the day before. Apparently tho is one of the most popular tours and not every company will operate daily. I really wanted to do this tour, so I had to move my schedule around and change 2 hotel dates (which both hotels surprisingly let me do free of charge!).
Recommended Tours To Do in The Galapagos:
Bartoleme Island (day trip from Santa Cruz Island)
→(10-hour tour including pickup from hotel, breakfast, and lunch)
This tour takes you to the infamous Pinnacle Rock lookout and to snorkel on a nearby beach on Santiago island called Sullivan Bay. It requires light hiking up to the summit for the viewpoint, but it isn’t hard at all.
Regular tour price in-person: $180-$200 (and up to $325 online in advance!)
Price I received last-minute: $160 (I found one company that offered me as low as $150, but the day didn’t work out)
Los Tuneles (day trip from Isabela Island)
→(5-6 hour tour including lunch. Usually leaves twice a day at 7:30am and 11:30am)
This tour takes you to some great snorkelling spots where we saw sharks, turtles, and sea horses. It also takes you to the otherworldly Los Tuneles, underwater tunnels formed from volcanic lava. It’s like no other landscape you will ever see! We also saw blue-footed boobies here as this is a popular nesting site for this species.
Regular tour price in-person: $120
Price I received last-minute: $100
I went with the Pahoe Hoe tour company and I was really impressed! Our guide Juan Carlos was super friendly and showed us all the cool animals, including a sea horse! I would have never seen it on my own. He even went down into the caves to find sharks for us to see! Lunch was yummy chicken and yellow rice in an individual tupperware jar.
Kicker Rock (day trip from San Cristobal Island)
→(6 hours and leaves at 9am)
This tour takes you to the iconic Kicker Rock, a popular spot for viewing sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, white tip sharks, manta rays, and sea lions. We saw ALL these and it was incredible! From the second I jumped into the water and looked down, I saw 2 white tip sharks! If you only do one tour in the Galapagos, do the Kicker Rock. It was hands-down my favorite tour and a day I will never forget.
Regular tour price in-person: $100-$120
Price I received last-minute: $90
I went with Scuba Eden company and I highly recommended them! They have awesome/upbeat tour guides and very small group sizes. We only had 6 people in our group! They also take GoPro footage of you and give you the footage for free if you want it!
Total spent on tours: $350
Galapagos on a Budget | Rentals
For the days I didn’t do an organized tour, I rented a bike one day on Isabela island and snorkel gear on Santa Cruz.
Snorkel rental: $8/day in Puerto Ayora
Bike rental: $15/day Isabela island
Galapagos on a Budget | Transport
Ground transport on the islands is very cheap (although you can walk to lots of places as well). There are taxis readily available and I paid $1-$2 for each ride.
On Isabela and Santa Cruz, the boats can’t dock and you will need to take a water taxi to the boats. Each ride costs $.50-$1.
A word about ferries…
The so-called ferries are actually little speed boats they pile a bunch of people into. It wasn’t the most comfortable situation, especially when the boats are full. The sea can get choppy so make sure to take some Dramamine and sit at the back of the boat to avoid sea sickness.
Ferries between the islands cost $30 one-way. You can only travel to Santa Cruz, Isabela, and San Cristobal by ferry (the only 3 inhabited islands on the Galapagos). All other island require a day trip or cruise to get to.
Note: there is no ferry between Isabela and San Cristobal. If you want to travel between these islands, you must go back to Santa Cruz first and then buy another ticket. So essentially, it would cost $60 to go from Isabela to San Cristobal and vice versa.
Buy tickets as soon as you can because they can fill up, especially in the peak season.
What I spent on transportation in the Galapagos:
Water taxis: $4
Galapagos on a Budget | Food
How much I spent on food:
Grocery store snacks/lunch/bottled waters: $37
How I did it so cheap:
I brought 2 boxes of protein/granola bars from home which I ate for my breakfasts. I went to the local markets for lunch foods (I never sat down for lunch once, mostly due to no time…but I usually don’t eat a big lunch anyways because it makes me tired and lethargic).
I also inadvertently cut back on 2 of my usual (expensive) habits: coffee and wine. It was so hot and humid that I couldn’t drink much coffee and I was too dehydrated and hot to drink any alcohol. Being hot saved me a lot of money!
There was also one day when my awesome tour guide bought me dinner right after the tour at a local stand that only costed $2 for a fried plantain stuffed with salsa and tuna (sounds like an odd combo, but it was actually really good!)
Through my research, most online sources said that food will be your biggest expense in the Galapagos. Well, that might be true if you go to the super touristy places on the waterfront. I walked past menus where the average prices were $18-25 per dish. Oh hell no, that’s absurd!
Out of all my expenses, I spent the LEAST on food. And honestly, it’s one of the cheapest places I’ve ever eaten dinner.
The key to eating cheap in the Galapagos is to eat where the locals go. The 2 words you’re going to want to learn are ALMUERZOS and MERIENDAS.
Almuerzos (what it’s called at lunch time)
Meriendas-(what it’s called at dinner time)
This is a pre-set type of menu that the locals indulge in. It usually consists of soup, fresh juice, rice and main dish of seafood, beef, etc. One place even served dessert with it! And the greatest part is that you can have dinner or lunch for $4-$7. True story.
Where to Eat in The Galapagos:
Kiosco Voluntad de Dios (Santa Cruz): cheap eats from $4.50. I decided to order something off the more “expensive menu” and tried an awesome shrimp with coconut sauce dish (it was $9.50 and well worth it). It’s also a cool spot where you eat at big community tables.
I met some really cool Austrian traveler’s this way. They offered me a bite of fresh fish they had ordered, and it was one of the best fresh fish I ever tried! It was so meaty and huge so definitely try the fish here if you want to splurge on a great meal.
Encanto de la Pepa (Isabela island): it’s on the main strip but super cheap and had a cute little vibe. They offered a $7 set menu consisting of soup, papaya juice, choice of one main (fish, beef, calamari,etc) and one side (rice, salad, fries), plus banana cake. I ordered the calamari in coconut sauce and it was delicious.
Lucky’s (San Cristobal): the cheapest dinner I had in the Galapagos for $4. Included is juice, chicken and veggie soup, chicken or beef and rice, and salad. I couldn’t believe I had all that for dinner for only $4! Ecuador for the win!
I never travel without travel insurance anymore, it’s just silly. Shit happens when you least expect it. You especially want to be covered when you’re visiting more report places like small islands. If something happens and you need to be air-lifted to the nearest hospital on the mainland, this would cost a fortune!
My go to travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims and have been reimbursed without any hassle. I highly recommend them.
Other Things to Note About The Galapagos
Ecuador uses the dollar
Ecuador uses the same outlets and voltage as the U.S., meaning no need for a convertor/adaptor
They charge an absurd amount of interest in credit card purchases so try to pay cash
There are ATMs on Santa Cruz and San Cristobal but none on Isabela island (try to bring cash because sometimes the machines are empty)
Wifi is virtually non-existent so expect to be “disconnected” during your time there. Some hotels have wifi but in my experience it never worked in the room and only in the lobby. If more than a few people were on at the same time or didn’t work. When it did work it was slower than dial up internet and I couldn’t watch any video of any type, couldn’t view Snapchat, etc. It was ok for sending WhatsApp messages
It’s hot AF (the islands are located right around the equator after all) so re-apply sunscreen every few hours. I got burnt bad and I re-applied about 5 times a day
Bring bug spray or repellent bracelets (I got eaten alive)
Don’t feed or touch the animals…just don’t (please practice responsible tourism)
They charge 22% credit card fees to book tours! Wtf
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Have you been to the Galapagos? Were you able to do it on a reasonable budget? If you can add any budget tips, please do!
PS: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may earn a small commission if you book using my link, at NO extra cost to you. It’s what helps this site remain add free (ads annoy the crap out of me!). Thanks ♥
Chefchaouen (“shef-sha-wen”) is one of the most photographic cities you will ever come across. Period. Located between the Rif mountains, it affords the perfect secluded environment to get away from the madness of fast-paced cities like Morocco and Fez.
There is not so much to “do” in the Blue City,yet it’s more of a place to sit back and observe your surroundings and relax. There is something about the different shades of blue that is so calming.
Why are the Walls Painted Blue?
I’m glad you ask, and there are a few theories. The first being that the color blue deters mosquitos and keeps the city cooler during the hot summer months. Another theory is that the Jewish refugees painted it blue as a symbol of the sky and they saw this as a way to be closer to God. Which one is true? Who knows. The city is freshly repainted about once a year, making the bright blues really pop with color.
What to Do in Chefchaouen
Go to the Spanish mosque perched upon the mountain for the best sunset view
Eat at the cozy Molin Arte near the waterfalls
Get completely lost in the blue maze streets (literally and figuratively)
Photograph the copious amounts of kitties
Speak Spanish with the locals (ya, that surprised me also)
Admire the #DoorPorn
Indulge in the Hashish culture (if you’re into that stuff…it’s everywhere, you just gotta ask)
Disconnect from the world♥
How to Get to Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is a little out of the way from other popular Moroccan destinations, but it’s worth the trip 110%. It was my favourite city in Morocco by far!
CTM bus: Take a 5-hour by bus from Fez on CTM. It eaves at 7:30am or 8 from 2 different points in the city. It is also accessible via Tangier (and a bit closer).
Once you arrive, take a taxi from the bus station to the medina. You can’t walk, trust me. It’s up a steep hill. The taxi should cost 10-20 dirham max! It cost me 10 dirham for a shared cab and only took 5 minutes.
After 4 hours of border crossings, visa applications, and transfers, we finally arrived to Zimbabwe, Africa, completely drained from the past 10 hours of transiting. As we stepped out of our shuttle van and proceeding on the dirt path, I caught what I thought was a pig in the corner of my eye. But alas, it was a warthog! A cute little (big) “Pumba” grazing nearby. I had a feeling this was the first of many Lion King fantasies that would come to life on this journey staying at Victoria Falls River Lodge. Little did I know…
We climbed into a small boat with our luggage, where we were escorted for the 10 minute ride across the Zambezi River. We started to feel really giddy as we had no idea what to except for the next 2 days in front of us. That and the fact that the wind in our face was a great wake-up call!
We finally pulled up to a cute little dock where several of the team members of Victoria Falls River Lodge joyfully welcomed us. Is this what royalty feels like? I don’t know, but I’ll take it! We let ourselves feel “cool” for a minute..until we realized each and every guest gets escorted by boat. Oh well, it felt good while it lasted haha.
The Victoria Falls River Lodge is not a Hotel, it’s an EXPERIENCE. Let me explain…
As soon as we arrived into the spectacular open-air lobby, we were given a welcome drink as well as a “briefing”. The basic message of the briefing: “we are situated in the Zambezi National Park with no fences or barriers between us and the wild animals. For this reason, you will need to be escorted back to your rooms after dark by one of our trained field guides. You may not walk back to your room alone”.
Excuse me, what did he just say? We are basically on the grounds of a live nature reserve with NO BARRIERS? NO EFFING BARRIERS!!! Carey and I looked at each other with huge eyes and gasped a little. WOW. This is going to be an intense few days.
This was the start to something fabulous, we could feel it! I mean, what other time in your life are you going to experience something like this?
Victoria Falls River Lodge is made up of 14 luxury tents situated on the edge of the Zambezi River. Included in your stay is 3 gourmet meals a day, free coffee/tea/snacks available all day, one sunrise or sunset game drive AND one sunrise or sunset river cruise, as well as the entrance fee to the Zambezi National Park.
We really loved the fact that there were only 14 tents available because this made this a more intimate experience with only a few guests staying at one time. As a result, the staff were able to give us their undivided attention.
In particular, the young manager named Andrew checked in with us at every meal, making sure we were having the BEST time. He was super engaging and you could really feel that he wanted to make sure this was an unforgettable experience for us. Well, he definitely accomplished that! He became more like a friend in the short 2 days we spent there. If you’re reading this, thank you and we miss you Andrew! 🙂
One of the most visually stunning aspects of Victoria Falls River Lodge is the open-air lobby and restaurant. The lounge area is formed by a crescent-shaped thatched roof and offers panoramic views of the Zambezi River and surrounding area.
On one side is the dining area and the other side is a huge area for lounging with comfy couches and simple local decor.
Down a little walkway off the main lobby is a bar area that opens up with an awesome view over the Zambezi River. It was closed when we were there in August, but we still went and lounged around there and took some photos.
There was also a small pool and lounge area right near the lobby/dining area. We were told that elephants were just grazing in this area a few days before!
Included in your stay at Victoria Falls River Lodge is 3 gourmet meals per day. Alcohol is NOT included and you must pay extra for that. You are given a tab at checkout for all your extras. A glass of wine was only $3.50, and it was a HUGE glass. In American measures, it was more like a double glass of wine. I sat back in bliss as they poured my jumbo glass of wine. Paradise found? Haha.
Yumm salmon salad for lunch
We were given a menu at every meal with a few items to choose from including fish, salads, steak, and vegetarian options. They were also very flexible with gluten free options and offered me a few different varieties of foods. There was also coffee and snacks available at all times of the day. Overall, the food was great! I had no complaints.
Our EPIC Luxury Treehouse
My childhood treehouse fantasies came to life in this magnificent dwelling that we got to call home for 2 nights. First of all, it was super spacious. Second of all, it was so nicely decorated and cozy. There was SO much to do around the lodge but we didn’t want to leave our room.
The shower/bath area was HUGE and it felt very freeing to shower in this big space. A thin curtain could be pulled for privacy from the outside room. There was also an outdoor shower if you fancied it! It was quite cold during the early mornings and late night so we didn’t use the outdoor shower unfortunately.
There was a nice deck with lounge chairs and a jacuzzi overlook the river. It was gorgeous. We were told that this was a popular spot to see hippos, rhinos, and elephants drinking, but we weren’t lucky enough to see that.
We did however wake up one morning to all the plants and shrubs trampled over, hinting that a herd of hippos were right next to our tent! A little scary but exciting nonetheless. We also were awoken one night to the sound of scratching noises on our tent. We never found out what it was but it was freaky!
We had 2 separate twin beds that were covered with a large mosquito net. There weren’t outlets near the bed, but they were located in the center counter area. There was also a big comfy couch in the living area, heating/AC, and yes, an actual tree trunk in the center of the treehouse! This place was AWESOME! This was definitely glamping to the fullest!
Note: the tent is raise above the ground so you aren’t in any real danger when you are inside.
Game Drive (included)
All guests are offered an inclusive game drive, with the option of early morning or evening. Although we HATE waking up early, we opted for the early morning game drive as this is prime time for large feline viewing. We were picked up at our treehouse villa around 6am and taken to the lobby for a quick coffee and snack. We were then off on our game drive through the Zambezi National Park, aka our backyard! We were the only ones on the morning game drive so it was like we had our own little private VIP safari!
The early morning air was crisp and frigid, and we were given blankets and a big heat compress to warm our hands. It was pitch black when we started, but the morning sun soon peaked in warming us up a bit.
Nothing but smiles with our awesome safari guide!
Unfortunately, you aren’t ever guaranteed to see the coveted animals during a game drive and we were a little unlucky that morning. We did, however, get to see endless amounts of Pumba’s, colourful birds, a flock of baboons, and a few crocodiles! I look at it as a warm up of what was to come in Africa!
We stopped along the riverbank where we disembarked from the open air vehicle and took some photos of the surrounding area. Our guide set up a nice little breakfast picnic on the front of his vehicle, consisting of coffee and pastries. Usually on safaris, you cannot get out of the vehicle, so this was really cool to step off onto the sole where wild animals roam! The view was spectacular and we basked in it for a bit before packing up and heading back.
You also have an option of a sunrise or sunset river cruise, and we opted for the latter. It turned out to be a great choice! We were treated with wine and cheeses/crackers as we set sail on the river.
We though it was just a river cruise, but we had no idea it was a river cruise game drive! (For that reason, we didn’t bring our cameras and our phone pics didn’t turn out so well…so not many animal pics to show). Our guide stopped in a shallow area and to our surprise we saw our first signs of hippos! We couldn’t help but sing the hungry hungry hippo song! C’mon, you know you would have too!
It was incredible to get up that close to a real live hippo! Let alone a whole pack of them. We were then shocked to learn from our guide that hippos cannot actually swim! WHAT? Ya, I didn’t believe it until i googled it. Talk about doubting Thomas. Apparently they are TOO HEAVY TO SWIM! So they just push their hooves across the bottom of the water. The more you know..
The BEST part of the river cruise was on our way back, thinking the cruise was over, we spotted a large herd of elephants drinking water at the river’s edge. Our first elephant siting in the wild brought a flood of emotions and we both had tears in our eyes! Our guide pulled up as close as he could (without disturbing them), and we just observed. It was incredible! The first big animal sighting is something you will never forget!
The newest addition to the lodge is a spa with a spectacular view of the Zambezi River offering massages, manis/pedis, and more. We snuck in a 30 minute massage into our hectic schedules and it was incredible. There is something extra relaxing about getting a massage right on the edge of the peaceful waterfront. It was the perfect way to wind down from all the adrenaline activities we had participated in.
Oh, did I mention Victoria Falls River Lodge will help Plan ALL your adventure activities?
This made it so much less stressful. We were given a little booklet with all the activity info in our rooms so we could get an idea of what we wanted to do. We relayed that to the concierge and he contacted the 3rd party vendors to get all the details. They even arranged a shuttle to transport us (and by shuttle I mean one of their open air safari vehicles!).
The activities we decided on were the gorge swing, the flying fox, Devil’s Pool, and a microlight flight over the falls! You can read all about them in my recent blog post (+video) here, where I coined Victoria Falls the “Mini Adventure Capital of the World”.
Here’s a short YouTube video I made of all the awesome activities we did in Victoria Falls:
We were first dropped off at the entrance to the falls, where we ventured to view the falls up close. Entrance is $30. After that we walked about 5-10 minutes to the Lookout Cafe where they offered most of the high wire activities, including bungee jumping, gorge swing, flying fox, and more!
Tip: make sure you book your activities as far in advance as you can because they do sell out, especially in peak season!
To sum up our 2 days in Victoria Falls River Lodge, my travel partner in crime CareBear Abroad made this awesome video:
PIN for later 🙂
Disclaimer: We were guests of Victoria Falls River Lodge; however, my opinions and AMAZING experience are my own. I would never recommend a place I didn’t truly LOVE. Carebear Abroad and I had a blast!