Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016 (that may inspire your 2017 travels) + VIDEO

Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016 (that may inspire your 2017 travels) + VIDEO

Wow. I really have a problem. I am a full-blown travel addict. Acceptance is the first step to recovery, right?

I didn’t think I could top last year’s adventures but my travel addiction took control and I went to far more places than I ever imagined! 

In 2016, I visited 14 countries, 11 of them new countries, and 3 continents. The 3 repeat countries? My top 3 favourite countries in the world: Italy, Croatia, and Greece! I’ll never get sick of them.

I ended the year with a bang with an unexpected trip to Australia and New Zealand, my dream trip! I jumped on an error fare from LAX to Auckland, New Zealand for $216 round-trip. That is UNHEARD of. I got lucky on that one and I could not pass it up. I had been saving for this dream trip for awhile so it worked out perfectly!

Anyway, here are my top 13 destinations that really blew me away in 2016. Hopefully I can inspire some travel to these places in 2017!

Top 13 Travel Surprises of 2016:

 

Sao Miguel, Azores

Thanks to Anthony Bourdain, I was introduced to the Azores a few years ago and have been so intrigued to go ever since. It wasn’t until 2015 that they opened up budget airlines to fly into the islands so it was the perfect time to go.

Lagoa do Canario Miradouro

If you’re looking for a fairly unspoilt, non-touristy, nature-centered place to visit, the Azores are right for you! Sao Miguel is the biggest island in the Azores and it was honestly the most naturally beautiful place I have ever laid eyes on. I cannot recommend this place enough.

Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes

Do not miss:

  • Sete Cidades twin lakes– one blue and one green lake surrounded by spectacular greenery and hikes.
  • Ponta da Ferraria-a hot pool connected to the ocean.
  • Lagoa do Fogo-hike down to the bottom if you have time for crystal clear waters.
  • Caldeira Velha-natural hot springs in the middle of the jungle.
  • Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeiroes– a free natural park with pretty waterfalls. 
  • Dona Beija Thermal Springs-a series of hot pool jacuzzis in a beautiful and relaxing setting.

⇒For a detailed 4-day itinerary, check out my article: Why Sao Miguel, Azores Will Blow Your Mind: The Ultimate 4-Day Itinerary

Victoria Falls, Africa

Victoria Falls really blew me away. Victoria falls lies between Zambia and Zimbabwe in Africa, and is listed as one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world. Did you know that Victoria Falls is also the biggest waterfall in the world (based on width)? I sure as hell didn’t until I was face to face with this amazing natural wonder.

What to do in Victoria Falls

Also a huge surprise was that Victoria Falls is a mini adventure capital. There were SO many adventure activities on offer, we didn’t have enough time to even scratch the surface. From bungee jumping, to high wire activities, to scenic flights over the falls, the amount of fun you can have in this place is endless.

Do not miss:

  • Microlight flight over the falls (one of the most incredible activities I have ever done in my life).
  • Devil’s pool (where you can sit on top of the edge of the waterfall..no joke).
  • The gorge swing and the flying fox.

*Stay tuned for 2 posts about this destination coming soon!

Cape Town, South Africa 

Cape Town was my favorite city I visited in 2016, hands-down. It literally has everything: awesome hikes, mind-blowing viewpoints, some of the greatest food in the world, nearby wineries, epic road trips, and so much more.

What to do in Cape Town

Cape Town is underrated in my opinion and I think you should add it to the top of your 2017 bucket list! It’s INCREDIBLE!

NAC helicopter tour Cape Town

Do not miss:

  • Haut Bay market-live music, artisan shops, and endless food vendors.
  • Camp’s Bay-the posh beach area reminded me of Malibu, California 
  • Lion’s Head and Table Mountain.
  • Bombay Bicycle-order the Choco-Chilli steak. Don’t, ask, just do it. 
  • Stellenbosch-take a day and go wine tasting about 45 minutes outside of Cape Town.
  • Helicopter tour over Cape Town for the best panoramic views over the city.
  • Road trip on the Cape Peninsula.
  • Penguin Beach.

Where to Stay in Cape Town:

Derwent House Boutique Hotel. Simply awesome…and super cozy!

⇒Check out my review: Where to Stay in Cape Town: Feeling at Home at Derwent House Boutique Hotel (+Video)

Zanzibar, Tanzania, Africa

My friend Carey and I spent a week in Zanzibar participating in a volunteer project with the incredible RAKlife.org helping to rebuild some houses for those in need. Not only did we get to help make a difference, but we got to spend time in one of the most beautiful places in the world: ZANZIBAR!

Zanzibar Crazy Travelista

The high/low tides in Paje, Zanzibar were unlike anything I had ever seen. During low tide, you could literally walk a mile out onto the sea bed. Not to mention, the color of the water was unreal. Zanzibar will have some of the prettiest waters you will ever see in this world, and that’s no lie.

Do not miss:

  • The Rock Restaurant (basically in the middle of the ocean)-You take a boat to get to it and after the low tide, you walk back to shore. One of the coolest things I have ever seen. Oh, and the food was great too!
  • Swimming with wild dolphins (literally)-a 6am start will surely get your adrenaline pumping as you take a small boat out into the sea to search for dolphins. When your guide finds them, you literally jump into the water and swim with them. I can’t even describe the feeling.
  • Paje Beach-one of the prettiest beaches I have ever seen. There are also a bunch of chill out cafes near the water with hammocks to enjoy the scenery. It’s a very relaxing place. 

Meteora, Greece

I have been to Greece several times as it is one of my favorite countries. But nothing prepared me for what I would see and learn at Meteora. In short, it is a city with monasteries built upon rocky pillars. Meteora translates into “suspended in the sky”…and it definitely lives up to its name. It also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.

Meteora monasteries

The history behind this place is incredible so make sure to take a guided tour to put things into perspective. Another plus is that this region of Greece is pretty cheap so it won’t break the bank.

What to do in Meteora

Do not miss:

  • Meteora Sunset Tour-to get the best photo spots in Meteora, this was my fav tour!
  • Meteora Hiking Tour-to see the city from the bottom up, it gives a unique perspective.

⇒For more details on Meterora, check out my post: Why You Should Drop Everything & Visit Meteora

Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Who knew the oldest lake in Europe would be one of my favorite destinations of 2016? It’s not really a place on most people’s radars, and as a result, it’s not overrun by mass tourism. BINGO. That’s probably why I enjoyed it so much. You can reach it easily with a 3-hour bus ride from Skopje.

Lake Ohrid Crazy Travelista

Go to Lake Ohrid for a more peaceful and relaxing trip with great scenery. Also a plus is how cheap everything is there, especially accommodations. I got an entire apartment to myself on Airbnb for $24/night. Ahhh, I love Eastern Europe.♥

Do not miss:

Saint John at Kaneo-a monastery perched upon the cliff overlooking the lake and picturesque AF.

Sardinia, Italy

If you know anything about me, you know my favorite country in the world is Italy. I always say I could spend my whole life discovering all of Italy. And that I plan on doing :). Sardinia did not disappoint and has the most consistently beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life. Period. 

Sardinia, Italy Crazy Travelista

I explored solo for 8 days by car and it was one of my favourite trips of the year. Sardinia is very rugged and naturally beautiful, and not to mention HUGE. In 8 days I was only able to see the Northeast of the Island so I definitely plan on going back to see more.

Do not miss:

  • Cala Goloritze-hands-down one of the prettiest beaches in the world. So much so that the beach itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It requires a 1.5 hour hike through the woods (each way), but 100% worth it. I had the whole entire beach to myself (although it was a cloudy day, it was still gorgeous).
  • La Maddalena Peninsula-I took my car on the ferry over to La Maddalena and drove around the small little island. The water there was the prettiest blue/green contrasted waters on the whole island of Sardinia.
  • Costa Smeralda-very posh and expensive but worth a stop.
  • Capriccioli Beach-made up of 4 small half-cresent beaches and turquoise waters.
  • Orosei Coast for the best natural beaches on the island.

Where to Stay in Sardinia:

Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia-one of the most unique places I have ever stayed. Who wouldn’t want to stay in a luxury teepee surrounded by cats and greenery?

Su Gologone: the prettiest and most colourful boutique hotel I have ever stayed in. It’s an art lover’s dream and the perfect place for total seclusion from the outside world.

⇒Check out my reviews of these properties here:

Ecofriendly Luxury Huts at L’essenza, Sardinia

Su Gologone: A Secluded Oasis Igniting the Inner Creative in You

Mainland Portugal

Lisbon-the spicy capital of Portugal with so much to offer. The colourful city is a photographer’s absolute dream and I had so much fun exploring, despite all the steep hills!

Señhora do Monte viewpoint

Algarve- a region in the south of Portugal with some of the best beaches in Europe. And finally some sandy beaches in Europe, woohoo!

Do not miss:

  • Hike up to the Miradouro or “viewpoints” for the best panoramic views over the city.
  • Alfama and Bairro Alto neighborhoods for photo ops and great restaurants.
  • TimeOut Market– a gourmet food market with some of the best chefs and many vendors to choose from.
  • Carmo Convent-a church without a roof. Where else can you see that?
  • Day Trips to Sintra, Quinta da Regaleira, and Cascais are absolute musts!

⇒For more details on Lisbon, check out my post: What To Do in Lisbon: A Fun-Filled 3-Day Itinerary (+Day Trips)

Chefchaouen

Although I had quite the rocky time in Morocco, I couldn’t leave the amazing “blue city” off this list. I had been teased by unreal Instagram photos of this place for what seemed like forever. I couldn’t take it anymore and just had to see for myself.

Blue city, Morocco

Chefchaouen exceeded my expectations. It might just be the most picturesque city I’ve ever been to. The location nudged between the Rif Mountains only adds to it’s secluded beauty. It’s a little out of the way to get to, but it was by far my favorite place in Morocco and if you go to only one city, make it this one! 

⇒For more on my time in Morocco, check out: Solo Female Travel in Morocco: Yay or Nay? and Why I Have a Love/Hate Relationship with Morocco: Highlights & Lowlights

Do not miss:

  • Getting lost in the maze like streets.
  • Taking endless photos of kitties.
  • Go to the Spanish Mosque at sunset for the best views.
  • Shop and bargain for leather goods and pashmina scarves.
  • Eat at Molin Arte near waterfalls or Cafe Morisco in the main square.

Safari in Kruger National Park

Going on a safari at Kruger National Park in South Africa was not only one of the top 5 travel moments ever, it was probably one of the top 5 highlights of my life. No joke. There is nothing comparable to the thrill of being in an open vehicle and being encountered by the animals in the wild. I’m not going to lie, at some moments, I was scared AF, but that just added to the thrill!

The bonus…we saw the BIG FIVE twice in 3 days!

Safari Kruger National Park

If you don’t have a safari on your bucket list, put it up by the top! It’s amazing! And not as expensive as you might think. More on my safari adventure with details coming up soon!

Queensland, Australia

Getting to finally see the Great Barrier Reef up close and swim in it was a complete dream come true. It was at the top of my bucket list and it didn’t disappoint. I must say it was a little scary to swim with all the possible deadly animals in the GBR, namely sharks and stingers. But hey, YOLO! 

Great Barrier Reef

Do not miss:

  • Day trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef + Michaelman’s Cay.
  • Day trip to Fitzroy island-a relaxing a quiet island with lots of water activities and hikes.
  • Day trip to Cape Tribulation/Port Douglas-the costal views on the way up are worth it alone.

Whitsundays (Whitehaven Beach)

Whitehaven Beach may just be the prettiest beach in the world. At least it was the prettiest beach I had ever seen! The magnificent swirls of white sand contrasted with the turquoise waters was like nothing I had ever seen. Also interesting is that the pattern of swirls changes every 3-4 hours so you will never take the same picture twice.

Whitsundays, Australia

Do not miss:

  • Make sure to take a day tour and see the Hill Inlet. This is not included on every tour so make sure your company goes there! This is where you get to hike up and see that spectacular view mentioned above.  
  • Scenic flight over the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef for a different perspective.

New Zealand (all of it!)

I couldn’t pick just one city in New Zealand because everywhere I went was spectacular. The highlights of my trip were bungee jumping for the first time ever in Queenstown, biking through wine country, and visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set on the north island.

New Zealand Crazy Travelista

New Zealand is for nature lovers and I cherished my time there. It’s definitely a place I would go back to. And the exchange rate was very good so it was quite affordable. 

Do not miss:

  • Bungee jumping in Queenstown, the home of bungee!
  • Hobbiton movie set.
  • Wine tasting on Waiheke island.
  • Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland.
  • Waitomo Glow worm caves.

Tip: you can only visit Hobbiton on a tour so make sure to buy tickets in advance as they do sell out!

*Stay tuned for a huge post on my highlights of New Zealand soon. In the meantime, here is my bungee jump video:

Where is Crazy Travelista Going in 2017?

That’s a great question. I don’t even know yet myself. Last year I only completed about 50% of my wish list…yet I added 3 huge trips instead to Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Plans are always changing so it’s hard to say.

As of right now, I only have a trip to Lapland, Finland booked in March. Nothing else is planned yet!

But in case you’re wondering, here is my 2017 wish list:

Iran-the homeland! My dad is from Shiraz, Iran, and it would be a dream for me to finally get to see where he came from and to meet a bunch of family over there. In doing my research, I found out that it’s going to be more complicated for me to go than someone who is an American (ironic, huh?).

The Iranian government sees anyone born to an Iranian father as Iranian, regardless of where the mother is from (my mom is from Austria). So that means I must enter on an Iranian passport. Well, my dad came over almost 40 years ago and lost his passport (as he has never returned). So he must track down his birth certificate in Iran first and then reapply for his passport in the USA before I can even think about applying for mine. It’s going to be a long process, but I am determined to get to Iran in 2017! Stay tuned for updates.

I do know for sure that 2017 WILL be the year I set foot on the continent of South America for the first time. How have I not gone here yet? Plane tickets are pretty cheap from Washington, DC, so now is the time to go. It’s high up on the list and I will definitely be making a trip there some time next year. On my radar: Machu Picchu, Salar de Uyuni (salt flats in Bolivia), Brazil, Patagonia, Colombia, and possibly Galapagos.

Also on my radar for 2017: more of South East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore) as well as Japan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and possibly India.

I would like to also visit more of the Middle East including Oman, Dubai, Jordan, etc. And no, it doesn’t scare me. I have Middle Eastern blood after all.

Banff National Park, Canada-since Canada is celebrating their 150th anniversary in 2017, they are offering free entrance to all their national parks. I ordered my pass already online so now I must go in 2017 🙂

And it’s also my goal to visit one random AF country in 2017. Like possibly one of the “stan” countries. Maybe I’ll get to see where Borat is from. Haha 🙂

Will I make it to all these places in 2017? Probably not, but I’m aiming for at least 50% like last year. I know for sure I will not be spending much time in Europe in 2017 (insert sad face), although it’s my favorite continent. I need to break away for a while and see what else the world has to offer. There is still SO much to see! So, that being said, cheers to mothaf**kin’ 2017!

Here is my 2016 Travel Recap Video from YouTube:

What were your 2016 highlights? And where are you headed in 2017? I want to know! 🙂

Click photo to PIN for later 🙂

Where to travel in 2017

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.

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.

Travel Insurance for The Azores

I never go on a trip anymore without travel insurance. Never. Too many bad things can happen (and they have unfortunately). Shit happens when you least expect it. Travel insurance is especially important when traveling to islands, as you may need to be air-lifted to the mainland in the worst case scenario. Do you know how much air-lifting costs? Think at least 5 digits (I.e. Expensive AF!).

My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I highly recommend them.

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. This helps keep my site add free (I hate ads!). 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