Oh Mexico! Te Extranos!

Oh Mexico! Te Extranos!

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine it is lethal” – Paulo Coelho

I just love that quote! Being a Taurus, it goes against all odds, right? Wrong! About 8 years ago, my real love of travelling to Caribbean destinations was found and that’s when the Mexican monogamy started, especially to the Riviera Maya area. My first trip to the area was back in 2009 at the Royal Playa del Carmen, a fabulous 5* adult’s only resort in the heart of Playa del Carmen, which I highly recommend! I stayed for a short 5 days. What was I thinking? 5 days! Say what? Ask me today if I would stay for 5 days, NOPE! I literally cry when I “must” come back after a week or two. Since then, I have travelled yearly to Mexico – I even managed to throw in a semi-annual visit last year 😉 and more specifically to the Riviera Maya area, always staying at a different resort. Well ok, maybe there is a bit of a routine here, but it lets me escape the routine back home. Recently, I did self-catering at a condo, which of courses I fell in love with on the spot. I’ll leave this for another post, when I can give you a glimpse of condo life in Mexico – stay tuned!

 

So why all the bad rap about Mexico? Humm, well like any other destination, there are areas that one must be vigilant when visiting. Crimes, murders, drugs, cartels, of course they exist in Mexico and yes even in the Riviera Maya area. Although, statistically speaking, crime rates per capita in the Riviera Maya area are wayyyy lower than let’s say the Toronto area. However, the news makes a pretty good job at exaggerating the events. I’m not saying to only look through your rose-colored lenses here, I’m just stating the fact that as soon as one crime is committed in a tourist area of Mexico, it’s all over the news. Crimes happen EVERY HOUR in our own province, but do we hear about them all the time. Nope! Does this keep me away from Toronto? Hell, no! I love visiting Toronto once and a while to get that taste of city life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my tranquil little retreat in the good ol’North (during summer time that is), but if I would stop travelling based on fear, I would never leave my bedroom! It’s all about perception. And that gets me to the Mexican perception. Yep, we’ve all heard it before. The unexperienced traveller that fears Mexico. Or the experienced traveller that had a bad experience in Mexico. Again, it’s all about perception and I’m here to share mine.

So why do I keep coming back?

THE PEOPLE

The Mexican people have got to be the hardest workers I’ve come across with AND they always seem so happy. We’ve always received more than stellar service from the places we visited, from resorts to golf courses to convenience stores. Everywhere we’ve gone they have treated us like family and friends. Although they love to sell you anything and everything, they are amazing people pleasers. Nothing is too much for them. I’m not saying to trust anyone you encounter in Mexico, or anywhere else for that matter, but in all my years of travelling to Mexico, I have never encountered a “villain”. Of course, there are some scammers out there that try every trick of the trade to get you to buy something in their store or rip off a few dollars. For example, when walking 5th Avenue in Playa del Carmen, a very popular scam is that store owners will tell you that they were your waiter at your resort last night. They see the resort bracelet on your wrist and try to lure you in to sell you their goods with this simple statement. Another one you should watch for is gas station scams if you’re doing car rentals. Make sure the pump is at 0 before starting to pump gas, pay with pesos and if there is more than one gas attendant, one of them is probably trying to distract you so you pay more for your gas purchase. Does this keep me away from Mexico? Of course not! I could get scammed at my local ATM or gas station but I choose to live out of adventure, not fear!

THE FOOD

I’m a sucker for Mexican cuisine. Even though I don’t think I’ve actually tasted the real traditional Mexican cuisine, I love the food in Mexico! I haven’t had a bad meal yet and the guacamole and pico de gallo are to die for, I could live from this food group; don’t judge, for me, it’s a food group. Although the water in Mexico is not safe to drink, I’ve never been sick (other than a few too many tequila shots) from eating or drinking the filtered water at resorts and off resorts. I love the ability to get fresh fruits and veggies from beach or side walk vendors and we can’t forget the delicious Margaritas made from premium Mexican tequila. Oh, and did I mention tequila? That too is a food group in Mexico.

THE DIVERSITY OF ACTIVITES

There are so many activities to do and places to visit in Riviera Maya that it would take you a few years and then some to experience them all. Like I mentioned, I’ve travelled more than 8 times to the area, and I still haven’t visited a cenote. Don’t worry, I’ll get there soon. Every time I go, I try to visit something different and there is still so much to do and see on my Riviera Maya bucket list. From visiting different parks to driving to nearby cities and exploring the different beaches to sample a cold cerveza at the bar, there is no way that someone could get bored in Mexico! The options are endless and are sure to keep every type of traveller entertained.

ACCESSIBILITY

I have travelled to many parts of the Caribbean, from small islands to bigger popular islands, and I can say without a doubt, that the Cancun airport (while very busy), has some very inexpensive flight options and a variety of daily schedules that depart from major Canadian cities. This is an important aspect, as I do not need to worry about getting back to Canada shall an emergency happen; I can book a flight the day before and get back to my home country the next day if not the same day. Another advantage is the condition of the major highway in the Riviera Maya area. It is very well kept, with ample signage for you to find your way, should you choose to explore with your own car rental – and the extremely cheap car rental rates are also a bonus.

LANGUAGE

When you travel to Spanish speaking countries like Mexico, you shouldn’t expect that everyone you encounter will speak English. Although a lot of the staff working around the more popular tourist areas will be able to converse with you in English, it shouldn’t be an expectation. It’s always a good idea to learn a few key words and phrases, starting your conversation in the local language shows respect, and it earns respect. I love the language and learning Spanish remains on my bucket list. A few years ago, I had put myself in Spanish learning mode. I read and studied “Spanish Phrases for Dummies” and did some self-learning activities on Rosetta Stone. I could have a very basis conversation in Spanish. As I didn’t practice regularly, I lost most of it. I still know basic numbers, words and key phrases, but I’m nowhere near being able to hold a conversation. Es un proceso de aprendizaje! But I still refer to my small Spanish book every now and then and it always follows me to Mexico.

 THE BEACHES!

The Riviera Maya area stretches from south of Cancun all the way up to North of Tulum. With more than 70 miles of coast, you are bound to find your perfect beach in this area. From postcard perfect Maroma beach to snorkeling in Puerto Morelos, you will no doubt find your beach paradise. The trick is to know the area you are staying at, as not all beaches in the Riviera Maya are made of powder-soft sand. However, no matter what kind of vacation you are seeking or what slice of shoreline suits your needs, by knowing the area or consulting with a professional, you will be able to find your beach paradise vacay here.

As you can conclude from my perception, Riviera Maya, Mexico is the perfect destination. It is so diverse, that you can find any vibe you want. If you want that busy, more modern lifestyle yet still get that Caribbean feel, than Playa del Carmen offers it. If you want more of that laid back bohemian vibe, then a short drive to Tulum can take all your stresses away. And then there’s all that can be explored in between – it can be found in one small area of Mexico. The Pacific side of the country offers just as must diversity as you want. The possibilities and adventures are endless!

I could go on and on with my perception of Mexico, but I’ll leave it to you to go out, explore the area and form your own perception. And when you are ready to do so, reach out to me HERE, I’ll get you there!

 

10 Tips to Prepare For Your First International Trip

10 Tips to Prepare For Your First International Trip

“It’s better to see something once, than to hear about it a thousand times.” – Asian Proverb

If you’re anything like me, travelling internationally for the first time was a bit overwhelming, confusing and quite honestly frightening. Coming from a very small town, we all knew each other; everyone was either family or friends and the community was a safe one. I remember once during my childhood going to visit family in Southern Ontario and driving by Toronto was sought as being “dangerous”. I still chuckle at the thought today. Of course, danger exists around every corner, but that fearfulness instilled in your mind is the real deal breaker, the one that increases the risk of that unnecessary feeling: anxiety. I still remember my first time out of Canada, which was for my honeymoon in Dominican Republic back in 2000. I was a bit naïve and anxious as I was out of my comfort zone –  I was travelling to an unfamiliar place for the first time! I wish I had the information I do today, it would have made my experience a little less frightful and stressful. It’s true what they say: “You learn by experience” and it’s an ongoing process. After having travelled to many countries, I now know much more about preparing myself, and the positive benefits that travelling can bring to oneself, however it is normal to experience that anxious feeling and it can be quite intimidating if it’s your first time.

Here’s my top 10 tips to help ease your travelling anxiety

  1. Don’t take everyone’s opinions personally or literally!

People have different opinions based on their experiences and personalities. Some even have opinions on areas or places they’ve never visited or experienced yet! Don’t forget, we’re all different in term of what we look for when we travel, so opinions can vary greatly! Food, accommodations, culture, language, activities – those areas can be very subjective in terms of personal preferences. That’s one of many reasons consulting and booking with a Certified Travel Consultant (Rachel’s Travel…wink, wink) can help ease your fear of travelling, giving you professional facts instead of personal opinions!

 

  1. Research before you leave!

As much as your neighbour’s negative or positive opinions might instill more fear or hope, research can go a long way. Look for factual websites that can be useful. Learn about the culture, about the language and the food. Having a sense of the other countries’ culture can help you avoid some disappointments or misconceptions about their living lifestyle. Try looking at videos on YouTube or reading some reviews about the place. BUT! Be careful when reading reviews, some can bring more anxiety as so many people feel like it’s a place to rant over and get freebies from the resorts or hotels. I’m not saying to look only for positive reviews – after reading a few, you will start to see and feel a recurrence of certain aspects about the place – that’s where you form your judgement. AND, if you tap in and listen to your gut instinct, you’ll know if it’s the right or wrong place for you. Again, consulting with a professional is always recommended!

  1. Protect your home while you’re away!

With social media being a huge part of our lives these days, we love to share our experiences and photos on social media platforms with our family and friends while we’re on vacation. However this can trigger some people to become unwelcomed guests into your home. Don’t spend your precious holidays worrying about thieves or nasty weather. With technology at our fingertips, there are a panoply of apps available to monitor your house. Or if you’re anything like me, I prefer having a house sitter while I’m away!

  1. Organize your papers!

It can happen to the best of us! Losing a passport, a driver’s licence or a credit card. Take some time before you leave to scan or take pictures of your passport and important identification. Send them to your e-mail and leave a copy with someone you trust, you’ll have access to them if ever the need arises. Also make a list of your financial institution and credit card’s contact information. And don’t forget to advise your local financial institution that you’ll be using your bank or credit card abroad! Have a backup credit card in case of emergencies. With today’s technology, you can access your e-mail pretty much anywhere there’s Wi-Fi. In the event you lose your passport or credit card, you can easily get in contact with the correct institution to get your things back in order. Get acquainted with the Embassies & Consulate. Look up the Canadian consular services information in the country where you’ll be visiting in case of an emergency. You’ll have an idea of who and where to reach out to in the event of an emergency.

  1. Staying Connected!

In today’s modern society, our cell phone is our new BFF (or enemy – depending on how you perceive it). Whether you have a business or family that you need to be connected to back home, using your cell phone abroad can be VERY costly if you didn’t prepare prior to your departure. Check with your wireless carrier to see what roaming plan it offers. If buying a roaming package is not feasible for you, turn on your airplane mode to avoid using data and incurring unwanted charges. Use the Wi-Fi provided at your destination. Here are a few of my favorite App’s for staying connected while using only Wi-Fi: FaceTime, WhatsApp, Skype.

  1. Travel Insurance!

I can’t stress enough on the insurance thing. Yes, it’s expensive! Yes, there are some restrictions! BUT! If the correct policy and coverage are in place and you understand them, you won’t have to stress about it while you’re travelling. The best thing is to consult with your Certified Travel Consultant or your insurance provider to make sure you have the best coverage for your needs. Don’t assume you’re covered for everything, READ your policy. The last thing you want on vacation is finding out you’ll have to pay $5,000 to get a cast on your broken arm when you slipped on that wet tile! That $300 travel insurance policy could’ve saved you $4,700! Again, researching and reading your travel insurance policy is key to knowing exactly what you are or aren’t covered for!

  1. Talk to your professional health care provider!

Take time to see your health care professional a few months prior to your travel date. Getting professional medical advice (not your neighbour’s – unless he or she’s an M.D…) can save you from getting an unknown virus or disease. Better to take advice from a professional, as they can recommend how to be protected with the proper vaccinations, supplements or medications.

  1. Money talks!

Look up the currency conversion rates. You might be baffled when you get to Jamaica to have to pay $300J for a cold Red Stripe if you have no idea what $300J is worth in your countries’ currency! Have some local currency, not all places accept $US or $CAN or even credit cards.

  1. Put your smart hat on!

Don’t do anything that would put yourself or your travel companion in danger. Be street-smart and alert. Don’t flash expensive jewellery (actually, leave them at home), pickpocketing and stealing can and do happen. Bring only a minimal amount of cash (leave the bulk in your hotel safe). Don’t leave your wallet in your back pocket, use a cross body bag, and don’t leave your bags unattended with a stranger! I’ve seen this happen too many times, yikes! If it feels like you’re in the wrong place or if something is off, it probably is, trust your instinct. Those little tips can help reduce the risks. Respect the culture and the people and the same will be shown to you.

  1. Lastly, HAVE FUN!

Let loose, get out of your comfort zone and savor every second of your well-deserved vacation or travelling adventure! This is YOUR time to experience another destination’s culture. Take it in, have a positive attitude and be grateful for this great adventure! Travelling can be a life changing experience!

Hawaii! Is it really paradise?

Hawaii! Is it really paradise?

As I set to experience my first Hawaiian adventure, I was a little sceptical as most people I had spoken with regarding Hawaii had the same opinion – it’s paradise! Really??? I mean, I’ve seen quite a few Caribbean islands and I’ve found some pretty amazing paradise scenes in some of them, but again personal experiences and opinions can differ greatly. Don’t get me wrong, I was ecstatic to be going to Hawaii, but I was going with an open mind, ready to form my own opinion. And this I did!

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Planning a holiday to Hawaii can be very time consuming if you don’t have the right resources. A great deal of time was spent researching, organizing and planning. Being a travel advisor helped a great deal and I can’t recommend enough that you seek the same within my agency when you do decide on visiting the Hawaiian Islands or other tropical destinations. Since my husband is a golf addict, I planned our holiday around the fact that the PGA Tournament of Champions was to be held on Maui. So Maui it was! As I started the planning process, the anticipation of visiting Hawaii for the first time was exciting to say the least. I knew it would be an adventure like no other I’d experienced before. The anticipation of seeing with my own eyes what most people call paradise was something that I felt would be a once in a lifetime experience (however…I hope I get the opportunity to experience this slice of heaven again).

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Deciding where to have your home base on this island is another subject on its own. With so many accommodation options and locations, one must really research which area would be a better fit. Some prefer to split their stay so they have access to more things to see while experiencing more of a resort life. As for me, I don’t like the packing and unpacking deal, so decided to stay somewhere peaceful and accessible to a golfer’s paradise – Kapalua. Kapalua is located north west on the island, with many small towns close by, yet you feel like your away from the crowds but so close to the beauty of the natural surroundings. With the airport an hour away, a car rental is a must, since taxi prices are costly and most tours and excursions can be done by yourself without dishing out more cash. Driving is easy on the island and the sights are like nothing I’ve experienced while being behind the wheel! Our home base, which was a one-bedroom condo, was gracefully decorated with a beach vibe and perched on a ridge (hence the Ridge Rd), with mesmerizing ocean views and tropical surroundings. Exploring the island from our home base was easy and it gave us the freedom to explore many beaches, restaurants, bars, and different sights.

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OK, so about this paradise saying…. well the sunsets are glorious on Maui! These sights alone made my soul feel as though it was in paradise.

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I’m not sure if these photos are enough to convince you, but words cannot even describe the feeling of experiencing such natural beauty. From whales breaching in the distant ocean to volcanic rock formations from the strength of the waves crashing, it is like nothing I’ve ever seen AND heard. The sounds from our lanai (Hawaiian word for balcony) in the morning and night was the most soothing way to relax any stress away: the birds singing, the waves crashing on the rocks, the palm trees sawing in the wind, it made for the perfect moments… enjoying nature at its finest.

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As for the activities and things to do on Maui, there are so many to do that it really caters to please every traveller. From every price range (but most everything is expensive on Maui – they say it’s the most expensive of the islands), you can do as much or as little as you please with a variance in cost, from free do it yourself to very expensive private charters. We did a few paid excursions which were mostly water based. We had the pleasure to experience two catamaran tours. The first was an Aloha Sunset Tour with Trilogy, just sailing along the West Coast to explore the beauty of the sun setting over the mountains while getting serenaded by an Ukulele.

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The second tour was a full morning tour – Discover Lanai, again with Trilogy, which I can’t recommend enough for exceptional service. These guys know how to take care of their guests! Lanai is one of the smallest Islands of Hawaii, only 9 miles from Maui’s shore with few habitants and with only a few resorts – it felt like we were a world away! We sailed from the harbour at 6h45AM with the main focus being on the sunrise. Wow! With so many mountains, no doubt any sunrise or sunset can be of exceptional beauty which makes it easy to capture amazing pics! Beginning our sail with yummy cinnamon buns and coffee, it was a very special way to begin the day. As we arrived to Lanai, we were taken to a small beach with amazing snorkelling and ended with a delicious traditional Hawaiian lunch before sailing back to the main land harbour.

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Another favorite and VERY popular is whale watching. If you’re visiting between December and March, you are in for a treat! Whales, whales and more whales! You can pay for a tour which guarantees some whale sightings, which of course we did! What a unique experience, to be so close (yet far enough away to respect their space), a must while on Maui! Or if you’d like to save a few bucks, just driving along the coast line or sitting on a beach, you can experience whale sightings pretty much from any point, they are everywhere to be seen!

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One cannot come to Maui and not experience the beauty of the beaches. Whether you are looking for a calm swimming beach, snorkelling off shore, surfing or just sandcastle fun, Maui offers a diversity of options for every beach lover. With our favorite being Makena Beach, also known as “Big Beach” located South on Maui, we were lucky enough to enjoy it on a calm day. Also known as being one of the most dangerous on the island, not only for strong shore breaks, but also for shark attacks, yikes! So one really needs to be careful when swimming here. There are a multitude of beaches to choose from, just driving along the coast, there are beach parks everywhere you can enjoy with picnic benches and bbq’s making it very easy to explore on a budget.

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As there are no All-Inclusive options on Maui, which makes it such a unique place to explore, there is a diversity of restaurants to choose from should you want to refrain from cooking everyday in your condo. We experienced some very expensive restaurants to some excellent value with delicious offerings. You won’t go hungry on Maui and there are options for every taste and budget. A local indulgence is the Banana Bread, yum! It quickly became our favorite breakfast item along with those sweet apple bananas, what a treat is was!

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Well I can’t finish this article without talking about golf, as this was a major decision factor in our trip planning. For myself personally, I am not the biggest golf fan, but I do like to play while we frequent other tropical destinations. Our home base was a golfer’s paradise. The 8th hole of the Bay Course was in our back yard and we could see and hear the golfers in the morning. Just to put it into perspective, Kapalua is engulfed by a golf course. We did have a chance to play this course. Like I said, I’m not the greatest fan of golf, but that course alone could easily make me become one, it was that amazing (although very expensive to play). The other golf club in Kapalua, which is where the Tournaments of Champion was held, was maybe a mile or so from our condo. The Plantation Course is one of the toughest to play on the island, but the views from the holes are mesmerizing, especially with the sights of whales breeching afar. We enjoyed watching the PGA a few days – let’s just say that my husband was in golf paradise!

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Although there are a few things we didn’t get to experience while in paradise – like the Road to Hana and the Haleakala National Park (it makes for the perfect excuse to return one day), we did get to experience the beauty of Maui and I can say without any doubt that it is PARADISE for me! I hope I was able to bring you a slice of paradise to enjoy and when you are ready to experience it yourself, don’t be shy, I can get you there!

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Cuba, A Unique Gem!

Cuba, A Unique Gem!

With so many reviews and comments referring to the food in Cuba, it’s no wonder people are sometimes hesitant about visiting this unique country. We’ve all heard it before: “The food in Cuba is bland”. That is one statement I can’t argue with, that’s IF it refers to resort food. BUT, Cuba has so much more to offer.

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As much as I’ve travelled to different destinations over the years, until recently, Cuba still remained one of my bucket list destination. If you’ve already visited Cuba, you’ll know that Canadians hold a special place in Cubans’ hearts. After my very first visit a few weeks ago, I can now say that Cubans hold a very special place in my heart.

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When arriving at Varadero airport, you feel it right away, the simplicity and sterile feeling of the surroundings. Don’t take this the wrong way, it’s just that things here are very simple and there are no “fralalas” in Cuba. I, for one, found it very charming; it was like being transported to another era. Old cars passing by, horses and carriage passing by, locals walking to work, you could feel that this was a tourism town, but that the culture was different here, a good kind of different.

Resort Review: Royalton Hicacos Resort & Spa, Varadero

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As soon as we entered the resort grounds, the staff was very welcoming and attentive. A glass of champagne and a cold towel welcomed us to our week ‘stay at this beautiful adult’s only resort. We were immediately treated like family and felt part of it for the whole week. The staff at this resort shines in all areas, from concierge to servers to gardeners, a smile and a Hola were always greeting us. Although not a new resort, everything was kept very clean and manicured. Our room was clean, spacious, and the furniture and décor were more traditional. Every room has a spacious balcony with two chairs, which we used in the morning and before dinner to take in the sounds of nature of our surroundings. The in-room amenities are very simple. You have what you need and not more. A mini-bar with soda and a few Crystal beers, two big bottles of water, and ice bucket (but we never found the ice machines). There were no coffee makers, IPod docking stations or other “modern” accessories in the room. Although room service was offered, we never took advantage of it. 

As I set to explore the resort grounds, everything was very well manicured and tropical. Most of the resorts in Varadero have some sort of shrubs separating the ocean from the resort grounds, and this is joined by a bridge/walkway. Upon walking across this walkway, my eyes spotted that gorgeous turquoise water, splashing on the white powdery sand. That beach!!! The color was mesmerizing to say the least. The wind had picked up making the surf rough, but oh so breathtaking. During the week, I was able to have a few days of relaxation on the beach where I played in the waves and I even took time to snorkel from the hobby cat in the middle of the sea where fishes of vibrant colors swam around and in between the snorkelers.

Connectivity in Cuba is still very scarce. There are certain hot spots where you can connect by purchasing an internet card which costs 2CUC for two hours. Fortunately, (or not) the Royalton had a hot spot which we could connect to the internet with the purchase of this card. I only used it once as I was really looking forward to a week of disconnecting from the outside world. Imagine; this is just like how Cuban people live, most of them are not aware of what’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or even on television. They simply live through tourists ‘stories, hearing news and updates through their conversations. How intriguing is that?

 

Although every one has different taste food wise, I was always skeptical about other people’s opinion of Cuban resort food. I was going in with an open mind, but soon realized that the resort food really is bland and simple. We had a few great meals at the A la Cartes for dinner, but that buffet…eesh…we are spoiled here in Canada! On our second night, we ventured into Varadero town, enjoying the old soul feeling of this small tourism town, taxiing in a horse carriage through the streets. We ventured to experience a very delicious meal at one of the restaurants. It was very tasty, well priced and worth every penny to eat that delicious chocolate truffle cake. We then spent the evening at the most happening spot in Varadero; the Beattles Bar! The rock band playing was rocking the audience and everyone was enjoying the show. It’s a venue not to be missed if you’re are staying in the area.

Havana Tour

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We were blessed with the opportunity to visit Old and New Havana. Blexie, our tour guide was a young, smart English professor with a passion in history. He explained the Cuban history and culture as we drove through Manzatas town, up to Havana. It was a day full of new discoveries. We walked the cobblestone streets of Old Havana, discovering the history behind the famous tourist attractions and exploring the back streets of old buildings housing locals, where tourists are sparse and the streets are alive with Cuban people working, walking and socializing. There was so much to take in, that there is no way to really experience the vibrant beauty of Havana in just a short day. As we finished our short exploration of Old Havana, Blexie then took us to a local restaurant where we enjoyed a delicious seafood lunch. This was another meal that I thoroughly enjoyed. We then ventured to explore New Havana, exploring the Revolution square where I stood on the day of November 25th, 2016. A day where Cuba made history, as Fidel Castro passed away on that night. As we had learned so much about the history, it was a peculiar feeling being in Cuba to experience the atmosphere and feelings that the Cuban people felt towards the passing away of Fidel. His mourning would last nine days, where people would gather to pay their respect and abstain from any music and parties. Our resort, The Royalton Hicacos, even organized a small memorial in a private location with pictures of Fidel where guests could pay their respect and sign a farewell message in a book of memories.

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CUBAN PEOPLE

And this is where Cuba shines! The people; they are the friendliest and most welcoming of any country I have visited so far. Safety here is not an issue, they have learned to respect others and it shows in their conversations and manners. We always felt like we were part of their family. I’m not sure if it’s a “Canadian” thing, but many became friends, even during our short stay.

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I still can’t believe it took me all these years to visit this special country. As much as every destination goes through growth, whether it be tourism growth, government change or complex culture, Cuba still remains that old soul country. But all this might change soon, following the passing away of the “father of the revolution”. To sum this up, I am still in awe with this complex, vibrant country and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit this unique Gem before the changes take place, as some of them have already started to appear. And I hope one day to return and explore more of what Cuba has to offer.

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How to make the most of Vancouver in 4 days

How to make the most of Vancouver in 4 days

Travelling solo for the first time can be intimidating. But it can also be freeing. After finishing my travel consulting training, I was offered the opportunity to travel to Vancouver for the annual conference with my host agency. Having one of my close friend move to Seattle not long before, this opportunity gave me the perfect excuse to get this adventure on path. As I took care of all the details, my bags were packed and I was on my way to Toronto to catch my flight to Vancouver. I still couldn’t believe I was going to Vancouver AND Seattle! Yep, this girl was EXCITED! Here’s a summary of not to miss places to visit if you’re in the area on a short time frame:

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The Westin Wall Centre

After settling in my hotel, The Westin Wall Centre, I was ready to take on Vancouver by the horns! The views of the mountains out of my room were breathtaking! Unfortunately, the evening took its toll, and I settled for a glass of wine to unwind, relax and catch up on my zzzz’s as I prepared for my 2 days of conference with travel suppliers and other advisors. (By the way, the Westin heavenly beds are by far my favorite when staying at a hotel). Fast forward 2 days of conference and networking and I was ready to explore this beautiful city!

First stop – Gastown! – Beautiful lush greenery follows the roads and sidewalks. Even the gigantic buildings have greens growing on the rooftops! How amazing is that! (Yep, it doesn’t take much to get me excited – remember I come from a VERY small community) My first stop was dinner at Steamworks Brewing Co. A great little pub with locally brewed beer. Food was delicious with lots of options, from steak and seafood to burgers and salads. After indulging in the delicious food and locally brewed beer, it was time to continue my explorations.

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I discovered lots of little boutiques shops, coffee shops, pubs and historic sights to explore, including the famous Steam Clock. This was a hit! If you’re in the area, it really is worth visiting and exploring.

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Stanley Park

There was no other way than to finish the evening with a drive through Stanley Park and the Lion’s Gate Bridge. It was just what the doctor ordered – some time to relax and get lost in that gorgeous sunset. A sight not to be missed! A true way to rejuvenate the soul.

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As I settled for the night back at the hotel, I was more than satisfied with my day of exploration. My next day was proving to be a busy one as well. I was itching to explore and see more…I mean I can’t come to Vancouver and not see Canada Place or Granville Island!

As I started my day refreshed – I had the most amazing night’s sleep (I am in love with the Westin heavenly bed!), I was ready to take on the day with my first stop at Granville Island.

Granville Island

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The easy to navigate streets made the perfect morning to shop in the markets and unique boutique shops around every corner. As my feet got tired, I even took time to sit and enjoy the breathtaking views that surrounded me. I think I could have stayed here for a while…but there is so much more I want to see. Off I go to continue my journey. I decided on taking a water taxi to navigate the waters towards Yaletown and finally to Canada Place.

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Yaletown to Canada Place

Ok so I’m downtown Vancouver, literally! Even in this congested city, the sights are amazing. I could sense my eyes glaring at Canada Place. My lucky day! There were a few cruise ships in port! I had never seen a real cruise ship with my own eyes, so this was exciting! There were people buzzing at every corner, coming and going with suitcases, this city was on fire!

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As I walked around the area, my day was coming to an end and so was my brief stay in Vancouver. I had to go pack my bags & continue my journey to….yes….Seattle!

Seattle baby!

After an uneventful 4.5hrs coach ride to Seattle, my friend met me at SeaTac airport. I thought Vancouver was congested, well getting out of there proved to be a little hectic, but we made it home!  As I only had a few days in Seattle, we spent the next day exploring Pike Place Market.

First stop, Starbucks! Yes, the original. The line-up was brutal! I wasn’t up to waiting in line an hour for a coffee, so I settled for a picture.

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This place has endless shopping booths…

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As we made our way towards downtown, we settled to eat lunch at The Crab Pot. Holly crab legs!

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Deciding to head home before the end of the work day rush didn’t go so well. A 50 minutes ride home took 2.5 hours. Oh well, the day was a great one of new explorations & what better way than to bond with my girlfriend!

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As much as I love to travel, I also love to go back home (well sometimes, but I think I like to travel more…) Vancouver is truly a magical city with endless possibilities. I could have stayed longer to explore more and it is still someplace I would like to re-visit one day.

Are you ready to explore Vancouver or Seattle? Let me help you plan your perfect holiday. Connect with me here.

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