Things to do in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

Things to do in the Monteverde Cloud Forest

A vanishing earthly heaven crested the mountain as our bus rambled along the pot-hole strewn roads. We were heading toward the last remaining cloud forests on the planet. A unique biosphere or constant moisture that helped coin the term for the area, Monteverde, or Green Mountain. We didn’t quite know what to expect but wish we would have known the variety of things to do in the Monteverde Cloud Forest before we visited. It is listed (by Costa Ricans) as one of their own seven natural wonders, in their country. It is the jewel in the crown of cloud forests, according to National Geographic. To be honest, I didn’t know if it was worth the money to see this rain forest, as I had already hacked my way through the jungles of Jamaica – how wrong I was to even slightly compare the two.

Initially, the area was owned and operated by environmentally conservative Quakers for their dairy farms and cheese production in the 1950’s. In 1972, with the help of several international groups and organizations, more land was purchased, and by the end of that year was officially named a protected area and Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Of all the rain forests in the world, only 1% can officially be classified as a cloud forest, as it takes the right atmospheric conditions to allow for a consistent cover of clouds.

Our guide explained what it was like to live in Costa Rica, to have all the beautiful nature surrounding you – and to take pride in caring for it. Yet climate change was causing an uphill battle for the locals in preserving their beloved cloud forest. He fears that soon the cloud forest will disappear and dry up completely, taking with it, the rare species and incredibly biodiversity of plants and epiphytes that existed there.

It made me incredibly sad to think of this international wonder disappearing, because of our carbon footprint on the world. It made me more resolute in my efforts to not only educate myself on responsible tourism but to share discoveries like this with the Culture Trekking Community. We have more power, and influence than we can even imagine.

Drink Coffee, Eat Ice Cream, and Local Cuisine

Our tour guide took us to a cafe near the start of our guided hike, where we were able to try ice cream just like the Quakers would have made it. We were also able to pick out different selections of meat, and local cuisine along with the world-famous Costa Rican Coffee.

The coffee smelled better and was far more potent than anything I had tried in the USA. It was even better than the espresso from Morocco I grew to love. This is the place to drink coffee like a King, and it is a great way to warm up and give you a little pep in your step for the hike.

Visit A Nearby Coffee Farm

You haven’t had good coffee until you have had Costa Rican Coffee. This is a major source of pride for locals. There are plantation tours, tastings, and even opportunities for you to make your own cup of coffee. Just be prepared to get the shakes after you drink it, even a small cup is quite strong.

Begin with the cocoa bean, roast it, and grind it. Last, learn how to extract sugar cane juice into a delicious glass of juice the old-fashioned way. Tasting is encouraged throughout the tour!

Hiking Through Monteverde Cloud Forest

Having a naturalist guide with us, gave us insight into the plants, ability to spot animals we wouldn’t have seen before, and even keep us safe from some that were deadly yet so cute.

Hiking through the small spot of the nearly 35,089 acres of land, with eight life zones, 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and 1,200 species of amphibians was a phenomenal experience. We learned that this particular cloud forest was one of the few remaining habitats that is able to fully support all six species of cats including jaguars, ocelots, pumas, oncillas, margays, and jaguarundis. If you are able to take a whole week to hike the 8 miles (13km) of trails you might spot the endangered three-wattled bellbird and the Quetzal.

Go Bird Watching in Monteverde

The Quetzal is a bird unique in the cloud forests of Central America and survives in higher numbers here in Monteverde compared to the other two nearby rainforests. It is a bird of stunning brilliant colors for feathers, has a very shy disposition and is frequently spotted if you go on a birding tour in Monteverde Cloud Forest. Some argue that the Curi Cancha Reserve is the best place to guarantee seeing these birds, but I prefer to see them in a natural environment – the hunting for that perfect shot is so rewarding.

If you miss your chance to see one, then I would head over to Curi Cancha where you can also get a glimpse of toucans, hummingbirds and many other birds. Be sure to take some good binoculars with you!

Trekker Travel Tip: If you put your Iphone up to the opening of the binoculars, you can take photos of the animals up close without a fancy camera. If you don’t document it, it didn’t happen right!?!?

Walk the Suspension Bridges in the Clouds

With all the trails and changes in elevation, suspension bridges were built in the Monteverde Cloud forest to help visitors explore this wanderful ecosystem. With some of the larger bridges being up to 800 feet long and 2400 feet in altitude (240 meters to 730 meters).

Walking along these bridges feels like something out of Indiana Jones, or like they are the pathway to heaven themselves. The clouds mist over, through and around the cables like a wave of air, engulfing the bridge in myst and mystery.

It is pretty surreal to stand on one of these, be surrounded by this protected land – yet also sad knowing that not everyone in the generations beyond me will be able to experience this.

Plants and the Culture Of Costa Rica

Because of the unique climate here, the plants are just as unique. In fact, there are over 1,000 different kinds of orchids in Costa Rica. The plants and wildlife are nearly worshiped by the local people. They are painted on their buildings, can be found represented in every souvenir shop, and even in their classes and customs.

The hibiscus, in particular, was often, and still sometimes is – worn as a signal to those in the community of your marital status. If you wear it tucked behind the right ear, you are indicating you are single. If you wear the hibiscus tucked behind the left ear, then you are indicating you are married.

Go to the Hummingbird Refuge

These hummingbirds aren’t caged but know where their food supply source comes from. There are Hummingbird feeders, about 20 of them, placed on metal trees in a small area that has been slightly cleared of trees for better viewing. This discourages predators from taking advantage of the Hummingbird watering hole and allows visitors to witness several different species whisk and flitter in and out of the small refuge.

If you go in a group to the refuge, I would suggest standing a little way away from the crowd – disperse your group so it isn’t so concentrated. This allows the birds to not feel so shy or threatened by those coming so close to their source of food.

Butterfly Garden

This beautiful garden of transformed caterpillars was like walking into my inner child’s dream. It is hard to keep your eyes on where the butterflies were going, where they were coming from, and how best to avoid other people from scaring them away.

These butterflies are quite shy, they fly away at any sudden movement, loud sounds, or a small wisp of air. So I suggest picking a spot, wearing a shirt with brightly colored flowers on it – and let them come to you. Have your camera ready, and just be still and enjoy the moment.

Canopy Zip-Line and Bungee Jumping

If you are really into the adrenaline rush, then take a canopy zip-line tour that takes you across the forest for over a mile of zip lines. You can also bungee jump from a 489 foot (143m) tower. Even just looking at the tower and the people jumping from it made my heart flutter a bit.

Contact 100% Aventura to book your adrenaline rush fantasies come true.

Climb Up the Giant Ficuses

If you have the time and aren’t afraid of heights, get your adrenaline pumping by climbing up the Giant Ficuses. To get a fantastic view all the way at the top of the cloud forest and perch like a bird.

There is a legend about these trees, in that many believe that the trees actually walk. The roots reach out to find any kind of sunlight, and the massive trees end up slowly moving with the roots.

As the roots move, there are some roots that die, and at times the roots take over another tree – strangling it. The tree that is strangled dies as the strangling tree takes over, basically ingesting it, leaving the center of the living ficus empty. This hollow center is what you climb up inside of, then rappel down.

Evening Hikes

There are many different animals at night than there are during the day. Take a hike with a guide in the evening and see the unique animals that most tourists miss.

Watch the Sunset

I was stunned as we drove back to our cruise ship from our shore excursion in Monteverde Cloud Forest at the sunset we were greeted with. The colors are incredible, the air is clear and it truly feels like you get a glimpse of heaven every time it sets.

What To Pack

A sweater or light jacket and long pants are essential in the cool, nearly sunless environment. Make sure you layer your clothing if you are coming from the port or the center of Puntarenas it is going to be sunny, hot and humid. As you get deeper into the cloud forest the cooler the temperatures get, so a light sweater is a good idea.

I would also make sure to bring sunscreen, as the cloud cover and cool air can be deceiving – but UV rays can still penetrate the cloud cover and cause blistering sunburns if you aren’t careful.

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How To Get There

Taxis are readily available. Ask the hotel staff to arrange a taxi for you from a reliable company.

Where to Stay

Booking.com
Travel Hacks for First Time Cruisers

Travel Hacks for First Time Cruisers

To be on a massive floating hotel, seeing the huge anchors for the first time, the wonder of seeing inside the cruise ship for the first time and the best part is how much the staff cater to their guests. Going on a cruise makes any traveler feel like they have hit the height of their financial glory! Yet there are a lot of fees that are tacked on, after you pay the initial fee for the trip that many first time cruisers don’t know about. There are also the rules on tenders, drinks, gratuities and so much more that I wish I would have known before taking my first cruise. After traveling all over the world on several different cruise lines, seven different cruises, and during different seasons and hemispheres – here are my travel hacks for first time cruisers.

Booking Your First Cruise

First step is booking your cruise. I would pick out the cruises that you want to go on, even if they are your dream cruise or they are super expensive. Write them down, and head over to Cruise Fair Monitor. This website will track your cruise prices for you, to search for the lowest possible fare. Simply put your destination, desired dates, length of cruise, and even the cruise line you wish to cruise with and emails will be sent with stellar discounts are available.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

If you book right around the holidays (Thanksgiving and Christmas) your cruise will be much cheaper.

If you have more than two people going with you, then your going to find that your total cost of the cruise will be significantly reduced. Just be sure to let the cruise ship know that there will be 4 people, or 3 people with you. Some rooms don’t have more than just the two beds for single person to fit. They would need to put you in a room that had the fold down bunk beds (for four people), or the rooms with a couch (three people).

Ships that are repositioning, going over the transatlantic and even last minute deals are going to be incredibly affordable. I have some friends that scored a transatlantic cruise for around $201 total! While that was several years ago, it is still possible to find incredible deals if you diligently look.

If you are trying to book a cruise right during the busy season, then call the cruise ship booking agent and ask for a “guaranteed stateroom” to get the absolute lowest price on whichever cabin type you’re interested in (inside, outside, balcony, suite). With this type of room you are guaranteed a room within that particular type of stateroom range or higher. What’s the catch? Well you don’t get to choose the cabin’s exact location on the ship. This could mean a balcony, but it could be under the dance floor, or have an obstructed view (aka life boats are in the way).

travel hacks for first time cruisers

I highly suggest calling the booking agent and asking them what side of the ship they would suggest for the best views on the way to the last destination. Also ask them which room has an unobstructed view, and the rooms that are further away from the elevators. When people drink too much, they get loud. If you can, get a balcony room. You can watch the wildlife of the ocean from the comfort of your room and don’t have to take photos through the window of the dining area, or the plexi glass put up to prevent people from climbing over the railing. Otherwise the few spots that are unobstructed, you are typically fighting all the other passengers for that perfect photo.

Travel Insurance For Your Cruise

There are a lot of reasons to get insurance for your airline flight, but why would you need travel insurance for your Cruise? Well with how frequently cruises have been in the news, let me just remind you of a few reasons as to why you SHOULD get travel insurance.

What if you get sick while on the ship, and need to see the ship’s doctor. What if break your ankle on land, but don’t want to miss the ship and end up going to the doctor on the ship – your going to end up with a massive medical bill.

If you miss your flight, and then miss your ship – travel insurance should fly you to the next port. It can also cover the cost of your cruise should you have to cancel it.

There was a couple that had their luggage taken from the cruise ship staging ground and it was taken to the wrong ship. So they went on a 2 week trip with just the clothes they had bought with the minimal clothing they were able to find in the cruise gift shop. The cruise did happen to provide a $100 gift card for the mistake, but trip insurance can reimburse you for the full cost of the clothing you had to purchase from lost luggage.

Culture Trekker Tip: Don’t book trip insurance with the cruise ship. They often have minimal coverage and is very expensive. It doesn’t cover your pre or post trip, nor your flights to or from the trip. You need to specifically ask the cruise ship to NOT include their trip insurance. I suggest using World Nomads Travel Insurance, because you can tailor make it to your trip and activities you plan to participate in.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Solo Traveler Cruising

It is more expensive to travel as a solo cruiser, but more and more ships are realizing not everyone has a special someone or family that can afford to travel. There are also some hard core cruising Facebook groups that people are looking for someone to travel with. If you book a group tour cruise, then you can typically find someone to room with in those groups.

If not, then here are a few cruise ships starting to offer passage for solo travel crusiers.

  • Norwegian Cruise Line
  • Holland America
  • Royal Caribbean International
  • Silversea Cruises
  • Crystal Cruises
  • Seabourn Cruise Line
  • Cunard Line
travel hacks for first time cruisers

Packing for A Cruise

While there are amenities like laundry services available, if you are wanting to save a little money – bring laundry soap, color catcher sheets (temperatures aren’t reliable), clothesline and pins from the $1 store for hanging things in room. Get a balcony room so you can air out the room for drying things off and two swimming suits to trade off while . I would also ask a cruise agent if they use tokens or quarters for the laundry room. Getting tokens on our last cruise was the hardest part. The tokens often run out, and you are left to go fight the crowds at the concierge desk for more.

There is typically only one plug available in a cruise ship, so traditionally people would bring power strips. The power strips with surge protectors are now banned, but there are a few like this power strip that are Cruise ship approved. So be sure you bring this one otherwise your other power strip will be confiscated.

Some cruise ships are still working on allowing notifications being able to be delivered to the other members of your party through their app. Walkie talkies tend to not work, as the frequencies get lost between the metal floors and structure. So bringing a pen and sticky notes, or a small white board to leave notes for other people in your party in case they come back to the room and/or can’t find you is one of the best things you can do. Along with this, it is also a good idea to bring a watch, or a phone with a clock that you can all set to the ships clock. This will save you on missing the boat, missing shows, and more. The crew goes by the captains clock, so be sure you are back at least an hour before they say they will depart.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Over the door organizer this is a life saver if you have more than a few people in your cruise cabin, especially kids. This gives each person 3-4 pockets they can store shampoo, toiletries, or extra shoes/flip flops in. You can over the door organizers on amazon, or at the dollar store.

Many people don’t realize the walls of the cruise cabin are actually made of metal. So bringing magnets to post up pictures of the dog at home, the daily schedule, or even hooks that you can string up an extra clothes line to let clothes/snorkel gear dry out. These are the metal hooks I use.

I wish I would have had binoculars on my last cruise, it would have made seeing the Manta Rays, jelly fish and all the other sea life on the cruise of South America so much easier to see from the 15th floor. I would also highly suggest bringing a reusable travel straw to save a few more non-recyclable plastic pieces going in the ocean. While your at it, stuffing a pair of reusable silverware (I suggest Bamboo silverware) for shore.

I used to bring Tupperware to take a roll or sandwich to shore, but they do not allow this any longer. Now I just bring protein bars for shore excursions if I’m tied up having an adventure, or can’t find something that doesn’t have peppers in it.

Beach and snorkel rentals from the ship or the shore can sometimes be as costly as taking a private tour. So I suggest bringing your own snorkel gear, reef safe defog and sunscreen a packable beach tent, and a few microfiber towels with you if you can fit it in your luggage.

Be sure to check out my basic packing list, and other cruise packing tidbits.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Parking and Transport

You have to think of how much parking in an abandoned dock is going to cost you while your gone. Sometimes the parking can start at $140 for 7 day cruise. You also have to take into account the traffic in the area, on the way to the cruise ship. The ship will have 2000-4000 other people arriving at the same time. If there is more than one cruise ship going out that day, then there could be more people arriving all at the same time.

I suggest allowing at least 3-4 hours prior to the ship leaving to get in and to the port. I wouldn’t suggest getting a taxi at the port if you are disembarking, the taxi drivers know your desperate. This is for those cruise ships who are relocating, or will only be going one way and not round trip. Will you have to fly back to the airport you departed from, and then pay to make your way to the dock as well? It is definitely something to think about if you are looking for transportation to or from the dock, or will be parking near the port.

I would also consider the safety of your vehicle in a parking lot at a working port. These areas are commonly abandoned, and have cars broken into if they are not guarded 24/7 while your gone. These guarded areas are more expensive, but well worth the peace of mind.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Drinks on a Cruise

Drinking while on a cruise is quite common, you will see loads of people doing it. The cruise ship will often give you a credit to use on board. What many people don’t realize, is that each and every time you buy a soda or alcoholic beverage – they will automatically add 15% gratuity to the bill.

Limit yourself to only having alcoholic beverages at night or every other night or just on the formal nights. You make the rules, and both your waistline and pocketbook will thank you. If you try to buy an unlimited alcoholic beverage package before the ship, everyone else listed in your room will have to buy one as well.

Regular coffee on the ship is typically free, but a speciality drink like a Latte is going to cost more.

Culture Trekker Tip: Buy the drink buckets with beer, which are far more affordable and come in a variety of packages. You can also brink one bottle of wine or 750ml champagne bottle per person on board.

You can also bring Starbucks insta-latte packets and just ask for hot water. If you are a soda drinker, then stop by a store on the way to your port and get a 12 pack of soda. Just ask your room porter for a bucket of ice if you like a cold drink.

Motion Sickness on a Cruise

I have an entire article on motion sickness and ways that you can treat it while traveling. You have to ensure that if you are prone to motion sickness while traveling, then it is imperative to treat yourself before you get on the ship.

There are some people who claim that getting in the pool if the waters aren’t too crazy, can help with the inner ear issue. It can help with calming the feeling of motion sickness. If the waves in the pool are too aggressive, then the cruise ships may close down the pool, so just keep this in mind.

Get Away From the Crowd

While vacations are great, I am one who likes to get away from the crowds and have some alone time. Just to unwind, be present in my own thoughts, and just enjoy the sound of the ocean lapping against the boat. Places I highly recommend going are the aft and bow of the ship. They tend to be two very overlooked places to relax onboard. The Library during mealtimes and/or the side of the anytime eating that is closed when the ship switches from lunch to dinner.

Get in the hot tub during movies to stay warm on the cold nights on the ship instead of snuggling under a blanket. Getting in the pool when it is raining, or going to the pool that isn’t the easiest one to get to is also a great option.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Avoid the buffet on the first day, eat before you get on the ship. It is going to be a mad house of people gorging themselves on their first ship meal. I suggest going to a specialty restaurant for the first day instead as a way to celebrate your first cruise in style. Just make sure there is one that will be open on the first day of the cruise.

How to Not Gain Weight On a Cruise

Weigh yourself as soon as you get on board so you can keep tabs of any weight gain during the cruise. This a particularly good idea if you’re on a longer cruise, it gives you strict accountability. I also tend to wake up early on each day at sea to workout, and if we are docking/arriving in port later in the day I will typically workout as well.

Something else I love doing, is signing up for the cycle classes, you can burn up to 1000 calories in an hour participating in one of these. You can go as fast or as slow as you want, it is easy on the joints, and you won’t lose your balance if the ship is rocking.

The first day is always a freebie for me, but after that I make a rule to always use the stairs…no excuses.

Take your FitBit or bring along an inexpensive pedometer to track all your steps and calories burned. You may be surprised at just how much walking you can unconsciously do on a big ship! Make a goal of walking at least 10,000 steps a day. Typically there is a good track around the outside of the ship you can walk. Just be careful of the wet floor from the waves, especially on stormy nights.

Ask for the early dinner times, so you aren’t eating really late. Also ask your waiter to avoid bringing bread to your table, if your with a large party – then just make a rule you can only have it WITH your meal, not before.

Sign up for classes, take advantage of the massage discounts once you get on board – the days you have shore excursions will be cheaper than sea days.

DIY Shore Excursions

Always look at your itinerary and see if the ship requires you to tender to shore. Those who utilize the ships excursions are always the first ones allowed to get off the ship. So take that into account should you DIY your own excursions. I would suggest doing your own excursions as much as possible, unless it is an excursion that is a small group.

I have found when I do my own excursion, there are less people around, I enjoy it more, and I can go off the beaten path a little more.

Keep in mind that the port may not be close to town, and the ships may have paid the port authorities to block the transport you paid for from picking you up – or dropping you off at night. There have been several ports I have watched people RUN all the way down the dock, to make it just in time onto the ship, just as they were pulling in the loading ramp.

There are a few guidelines to doing my own shore excursions. I will look on Trip Advisor for “Shore excursions in ______”. If it says shore excursions, then I contact the company via email. Let them know what day I’m coming in, and what times we will be in port. I will typically give them a time that is 1.5 hours prior to when we are supposed to leave, that way I have a little time for souvenir shopping & know if we run into problems or traffic that I still have a small window to reach the ship.

When you are scanning yourself off the ship, be sure to check the time on your watch to the crews ship. I will bring a watch, because I take so many videos and photos that I end up with 2% battery. I do have an external battery on my phone, but the watch is a surefire way to keep good track of the time.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Cutting Costs on a Cruise and Things You Need To Know

Unfortunately, your cruise fare doesn’t include every activity that happens on the ship, which can be disappointing for some people. There are things like the cycling classes, art classes, IMAX theater, BINGO, murder mystery dinners or wine tastings that will require an extra fee. So be sure to factor that into your budget, as each activity is designed by the cruise director, and could be confirmed with the cruise agent upon booking which activities will require a fee.

If you are bringing kids on the ship, and think you will want babysitting -it will cost you an hourly rate on some ships.

Specialty restaurants such as steakhouses, Italian restaurants, chefs table experiences, or Sushi will all cost you more money.

Cruise ships have now started to pre-authorize $200-$300 for each passenger on the ship. If you get below $200 then they will keep re-authorizing it at each port. So I suggest you go ahead and put the money on your account prior to boarding, that way you avoid any overspending of the budget while onboard where it is very easy to blow a lot of money. (They don’t call them floating piggy banks for nothing).

If you pay the porter $5-$6 and when you get to your room, your bags will be there so much faster than if you just waited for them. I have personally never had an issue with this, but if you see other bags showing up at a neighbors cabin and not yours – well…..I would start asking where you luggage is and if it got on the right ship.

Tips and Gratuities Quick Guide

Tips and gratuities will be automatically deducted from your card on file at the end of the trip, unless you tell the customer service desk otherwise. You can also tip the staff directly, because the tips are shared among the staff. It is pretty shocking to hear what they make, how many hours they spend working and who they are trying to support at home. Here is a quick guide on how much each person who helps you should be tipped.

Suite attendant: $7.25 USD a day per guest
Stateroom attendant: $5.00 USD a day per guest
Dining Room Waiter: $3.75 USD a day per guest
Assistant Waiter: $2.15 USD a day per guest
Headwaiter: $0.75 USD a day per guest

Wifi On Board a Cruiseship

WiFi packages on board are so incredibly expensive, it could easily add a couple of hundred dollars to your bill. There are a few tricks to minimize your usage and still keep in touch though.

You can use the internet for 30 seconds or less and it won’t deduct from your time. So quickly get online download your emails, then get offline and read them.

If you need to send an email, pre-write the email in your notes, then paste it into your email after you connect, quickly disconnect after the email is on its way.

Please keep in mind the internet on the ship is INCREDIBLY slow. I would also suggest to buy it beforehand for a 10-15% discount.

If you put your phone on airplane mode and turn on WiFi and you can still get push notifications — you just won’t be able to respond to messages, but at least your will still be able to see when someone messages you. That way you are still slightly connected, even if you don’t exactly pay for the WiFi.

Connect your computer through your phone when your in port, for free internet while in port. Just use your phones data plan, but keep in mind it may cost you more if you don’t have an international plan and are traveling into a different country.

You can also purchase a WiFi If your phone carrier doesn’t include free international plans. I am personally considering making the switch to the new Google Fi phone plan, which includes international roaming in nearly every country where cruises go. Google Fi plans typically are about $20 per month, plus just $10 for every gig of data used. And there’s no contract so you can use it just for a month or just for a cruise and cancel. It would be worth it to sign up, just for peace of mind – especially if you have little ones at home.

travel hacks for first time cruisers

Other First Time Cruiser Tidbits

Download the app for the cruise beforehand, so you don’t have to use the expensive WiFi to do so. Most ships have these apps, and even have in app messaging that you can use to contact other people in your party.

If you need cash, avoid the ATM costs ($15 to withdraw cash), buy your money you need in chips then take it over to the cashier and you will only be charged $3 instead of $15 to get the money out of your bank.

Bon Voyage!

These are all the tips and travel hacks for first time cruisers that I can think of right now. I will regularly update this post with each cruise I go on, to give you the most up to date and relevant information. So be sure to bookmark this page, and check back before your cruise for a refresher. If you have any cruise tips I missed, feel free to jot them down in the comment section below. Love having other Culture Trekkers contribute to a better travel experience for all. Cheers and Bon Voyage on your first Cruise!

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How to Avoid Hidden Charges While Traveling

How to Avoid Hidden Charges While Traveling

Saving money for a trip can be really exhausting, pulling those extra shifts, adjusting your daily expenditures etc.. Then when you FINALLY get the money to go on your trip, you get hit with hidden fees and surcharges you didn’t even know existed. So for the newbie traveler, less seasoned traveler, or even those who feel they are professional travelers – here are a few of my tips on how to avoid hidden charges while traveling.

Airline Reservation Hidden Fees

You pull out your card, and punch in the numbers…you finally booked that dream vacation. Now you are faced with the first hidden fee….the travel insurance for your trip. Do you use it? Do you need it?

My typical rule of thumb is that if I am spending more than $300 on a plane ticket, I typically get the travel insurance. I don’t typically use the travel insurance with the airline as I can get travel insurance with World Nomads that includes flight rebooking or airline cancellations.

If you attempt to get a refund for a canceled flight and booked with a third party, you have no promise of getting your money back. Be sure to read my article on hazards to choosing cheap flights and I explain a lot of the intricate hidden fees there as well.

If you book your ticket online, it will also avoid the hidden fee of trying to book it with an agent online. If you use your mileage, or reward points to book a ticket, with most airlines – you will also need to pay for fuel charges, airport taxes, and fees that can range anywhere from $77 to $1000 (depending on the flight).

Trekker Travel Tip: Call the airline to ask questions, but do it on a computer where they can give you the numbers you need and walk you through booking your ticket if needed. They also may have good ideas on how to get cheaper tickets by connecting or arriving at different airports.

Baggage Hidden Fees

According to a report Forbes Magazine did, there was nearly $28.1 billion in revenue from bag check fees taken in by the world’s airlines in 2018 was more than double the $13.4 billion they collected for checking bags just four year earlier.

It may be worth it to leave a few things home, layer your clothing, or just travel with a purse and carry-on luggage within size and weight restrictions required by airlines. Checked back fees can range anywhere from free to over $200 per bag. It largely depends on where you are traveling as well, in country, or out of your home country.

If you are overseas, and decide to buy luggage and bring a bunch of items home with you- it can nearly double the cost of the checked luggage fee. If your bag is overweight, it can nearly double the cost of the bag as well.

Trekker Travel Tip: Always bring a portable luggage scale with you! It may be cheaper to pay for the checked luggage in your own currency than having to pay for it in another currency as well.

I would also be aware that some airlines allow free personal items, and one carry-on bag for free, and some will charge you for it. If you luggage is outside the size limitations for carry-on luggage, you will be required to check your luggage at the gate, which can tack on another $15 to $35 on top of their checked luggage fee. Know your airlines rules, regulations and limitations! Sometimes cheaper tickets aren’t always better.

In Airport Fees – While Waiting

Trekker Travel Tip: DO NOT GO TO THE AIRPORT THIRSTY OR HUNGRY!

If you go to the airport hungry, you can count on food costs to be 5% higher than what you would pay outside the airport. For example, going to McDonalds to get a $4 burger can cost you $7 in the airport.

Going through security lines can be very stressful, especially with kids. Once you get through and rush to your gate, sometimes running, sometimes walking – all you and your kids would want is a drink of water. As mentioned before, some airports have limited the availability of water fountains to refill your reusable water bottle at. The minimal water fountains that are available may be in another terminal or obscure part of the airport you can’t reach. Restaurants won’t refill it for you from the tap, because that is considered a health code violation (allegedly).

If you want to buy water – a $1 bottle outside the airport will cost you $3.50 inside the airport. If you are traveling solo and/or backpacking through countries or multiple airports or even cruise ports – you will have to count on another $25 (at minimum) for water to be available.

In-Flight Fees

If you are traveling within the country vs out of your country the fees may differ. Gone are the days when you received a free pair of headphones, or asked for a free blanket (on some airlines). Gone are the days, when you could stretch your legs, or even easily bend over to grab something you dropped under the seat in front of you.

We pay for every square inch we occupy now, and every item and morsel we use. I’m personally just waiting to be charged for oxygen used on board, and the number of times the alternator in the engine rotates. Lest I digress on this unsavory topic….here are a few things you should be aware of.

In flight WiFi or streaming of videos is not free on most flights. If you are on a long flight with a budget airlines, you will have to download and watch your own movies – or pay a theater cost to rent one movie, on top of the WiFi fee they may charge to do so. If you are traveling with kids, and didn’t realize TV wasn’t available for the 10 hour red-eye flight….well, you may as well hand people in the airplane the tomatoes to throw at you when your kid starts screaming.

If the pilot likes the cockpit cold, then the whole plane can be freezing (fair enough) – but then some airlines are starting to charge you for wanting to use a pillow or blanket now.

Trekker Travel Tip: Make a sleep sack that has your pillow, a small fleece blanket, eye mask, headphones, and any other bedtime routine item in it. Stuff it in your personal item and you won’t be burdened with a few fees. You can also just pay for WiFi, and stream your Amazon Prime, Netflix, or Hulu shows as well. Just be aware, once they start using foreign WiFi, those streaming platforms may be unavailable or blocked in certain countries.

Rental Car Hidden Fees

When I booked my first rental car online, I thought I had my budget laid out perfectly. I paid for the car, ticked all the boxes, read the fine print, got to Scotland and BAM! Was hit with additional hidden fees all over the place.

THE PRICE YOU SEE ONLINE ISN’T THE ONLY THING YOU HAVE TO PAY! If you don’t have a credit card (like me, because don’t like using them) – and your paying for a debit card a large deposit is required. This money can range from $100 to $500 deposit depending on the car and the company you are using.

On top of this, if you are picking up or dropping off in a different location – they can tack on another $50 to $1000 to the bill!

Then they hit you with rental insurance, where they scare you and threaten to take your dog, your life, and your grandma’s life if you damage the car whatsoever. Remember how people say sex sells? Well I’m seeing more and more companies use the tactic of ‘fear sells’ just as much. The thing is, you don’t know what you don’t know – you don’t know that you might not even need car insurance through the rental company.

Trekker Travel Tip: YOU MAY NOT NEED RENTAL INSURANCE! It of course depends on your individual plan, but most car insurance companies will cover you. If you have a high deductible, it may be worth just forking over the money. If you pay for the rental with a credit card, most of them provide collision insurance. Call before you trip to make sure it covers you, the car, and will still cover you in the country you will be driving in.

After paying $220 to rent the car for a trip in Scotland, I ended up having to pay an additional 660 Euros to the rental company. This was pre-authorized, so it tied up any money I had saved for a special dinner/lunch or souvenirs. It really bummed me out, and I was kicking myself for not being more careful on my first trip as a Solo female traveler.

Now the rental companies have a new rule, where before the age of 25 you weren’t able to rent a car – now you can. IT COMES AT A COST TO RENT A CAR UNDER 25! Some rental companies will allow drivers below 25 to rent the car, but they will tack on a $20 to $30 daily surcharge for it.

If you want to add an additional driver, in case you get drowsy or tired – safety first right? WRONG! They will add an additional $20-$30 per day for an extra driver. So better bring some energy shots, and caffeine along with you.

If you lose the car keys, you’ll have to pay up to $300 for a replacement. So bring that tacky chain, and keep those suckers glued to your body.

Trekker Travel Tip: Bring a laynard with you, I have one stuffed in my suitcase for every trip that can hold a hotel card, car keys, and a small round tube where I stuff a copy of my passport to hang around my neck.

Last but not least, they may try to get you to use their gas at their rental station to fill up the car. The gas is always costs a lot more if you fill it up through the rental dealer vs just making a quick stop about 2 miles outside of the airport.

Accomodation Hidden Fees

Mid-range accommodations for all of us normal folk are all the rage nowadays. When you realize how much you can save booking a B&B, Airbnb, or just renting out 2 beds in a hostel is cheaper total price than one night in a hotel right next door – well….its hard to pass that up. Yet the companies are getting smarter about hidden fees, and charging more. When I booked my first Airbnb and went to check out, I didn’t realize that they charge you a cleaning fee, taxes, and a service charge on top of it. So be sure you go all the way to checkout before deciding on an accommodation. The owners of the apartments decide how much they want to charge for the service fee. I have seen it range anywhere from $5 to $35 on top of the total stay.

If you are thinking, ‘Awe screw it, I will just stay at an all inclusive hotel’ —ummm, think again! There are many hotels that are now charging a “hotel resort fee” upon checkout. This additional fee can be as much as 10% extra per night, most countries require this to be disclosed on booking – but the hotels are trying to hide it. They hide it as an ‘electricity fee’ which an be an additional $4 a day, some hotels charge more, especially if they use more electricity (think Las Vegas), and can charge up to $12.95 per day per adult.

If you want to bring your own food to save on money, even opening the door to the refrigerator can cost you money. You can be charged a ‘restocking fee’ if you move the drinks or items that are in there. So always ask the concierge if they charge for the use of the fridge, as well as the safe in the room. Some hotels take inventory of the safe you use for your valuables, and can charge a fee per day you use the safe.

Are you visiting a big city? Rental car fees can be steep enough, but then you have to consider how much it is going to cost to park your car. If the parking at the hotel isn’t free, you could be paying out the nose (depending on the city you are in) for a parking space. For example, in Greece, a parking space can cost several hundred Euro. If you are in LA, forget finding parking. Headed to Boston? Even if you are a patron of the hotel, you could be charged $75 per night to keep your car in their garage. Might as well just sleep in your car in the garage at that point.

Some hotels now have designated Bell-hops that will take your bags for you, if you want to drop them off and explore the city before check-in. These bell-hops often expect to be tipped for watching your bag. Some hotels charge you a small fee to watch your bags, or tack on the extra cost for someone to watch the bags. For me, giving someone $2-$3 tip to watch my bag(s) is worth the peace of mind; but for those on a tight budget, I wanted to make you aware of this hidden fee.

If you want to work out, some hotels are charging a daily fee to cover operation costs within the gym. Granted some of these offer massages, spas, and other perks when using the gym – but be careful when using your room key – and make sure all charges are asked about and spelled out for you before you use any amenity.

If you accidently take a hotel towel with you, or leave it at the beach – this can cost you money as well. You will see it on your bill when you check out or will be charged for it later.

Culture Trekker Tip: Don’t take things from the hotel….not even the water unless it is from a water fountain. If your mid-range accomodation host tells you something is free, make sure you have an email or sign telling you it is free. Also ask them if they charge extra if the place isn’t reasonably clean prior to leaving. I personally make it a rule of thumb to leave a place at least picked up or just as clean as when I found it.

Souvenirs and Impulse Buys

When it is your first trip, or your dream destination it is easy to get sucked into the shops full of souvenirs. Many people don’t realize that these souvenirs are often made in China and shipped to the destination.

Be selective and very careful what you think or the people claim as ‘authentic’.

I will typically go with something in mind to buy before I get there. Clothing is something I can wear over and over, and will be very unique. I also get something to hang on the wall, for my ‘world wall’ – until that got too full, and now I get pins. After moving so much, souvenirs become less important, and I save my money to spend it on the experiences (and camera gear to capture the experiences).

So before you go into a store because you want to buy a souvenir, ask them where their products are made. Search for the store that was made by locals, and you will have a better quality product and be contributing to sustainable tourism.

Phone Charges and Mobile Data

It is definitely hard to turn off your phone, especially for work-a-holics who feel like you chopped off their arm when you ask them to turn off their phone. It is also hard to convince family you will be safe traveling as a solo traveler if you can’t check in with them every day. What about those of us who are severely directionally challenged, how do you stay connected to the internet to find your way around the city?

Some people just leave their phone on and don’t realize that your phone provider/company will charge you double (sometimes up to $2.00 a minute) for international calls, or the internet usage will cost you an additional $20 a day. So be sure to check with your phone company provider BEFORE YOU TRAVEL.

I also went into great detail on how to stay connected and communicate while traveling, laying out cheap plans, pay as you go and the pros and cons of each – so be sure to check it out.

Currency and Credit Card Fees

Currency….expecially when looking to exchange you currency – can be rife with hidden fees that will make you feel almost violated at times. If you read my Travel Hacks for Prague, you will know that there is a new-ish scam going around of people trying to exchange your currency in the street. They wear things that make them appear as officials, but when you go to use the money it is actually fake.

If you exchange your money at a bank like a Western Union then you will get the best deal. I also follow the locals, and will look for the bank with the longest line. If I don’t understand the language, then your best bet is to grab money at the first ATM that has a line – as this will likely have the best exchange rate & be the most secure.

Each ATM withdrawal will have a fee associated with it, so having a budget in mind and getting the money from your bank at home is the cheapest option. If you need more than that, then it will remind you that you are going over-budget and the extra fee may deter you from spending too much in the thrill of traveling.

Keep in mind though, if you do take out foreign currency – you will have to either spend it all or pay another fee with your bank to convert it back. Banks typically do not accept change, and the $1 or 1 Euro coin is readily used. So don’t be afraid to grab all your foreign change and tell them to pick out what they need for the change from your open hand. If they take a few for themselves, don’t worry – you would have lost the money coming back anyway and maybe they really needed it.

Emergency Fees

First rule, don’t get your flu shot or any other vaccine RIGHT BEFORE A TRIP! You don’t want to take the chance of feeling under the weather on your trip, nor do you want to feel lousy and have to seek medical care in a country you don’t speak the language.

Hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and even navigating a healthcare system that is so vastly different than your own – can be really scary and can cost you thousands of dollars in unexpected medical bills. Not exactly the kind of souvenir you want to go home with. So like I keep telling people, get travel insurance, I love World Nomads, not just because I’m an affiliate with them – but because I literally sat down and GRILLED them about their medical care. You can tailor make you travel insurance, and they will even cover more risky behaviors and activities – like Scuba Diving.

Don’t forget critical medications right before a trip. This is imperative for those with heart conditions, blood pressure, kidney issues, or those on medication for mental or emotional conditions. You may not be able to get access to medical care, you may be given something different than what you need and will have to get all those lousy tests done again, and pay for them. It may put you in the hospital.

Trekker Travel Tip: I always keep my medication with me in my carry-on. I keep the full amount of the medication with me I will need on my trip, because I don’t want to risk ruining my trip. That way you avoid the hassle, headache and worry that comes when it is lost, along with your luggage. If you have serious medical conditions, I would take a copy of your medical record with you (with images, and the latest notes from your doctor).

Hidden Fees Revealed

Now that I have warned you on the many of the hidden fees that can surprise new travelers; I hope it will help you prepare a little more for your perfect vacation. So bookmark this page prior to booking your next vacation, use each heading to help you on each leg of your trip – from booking, to accommodation, to keeping yourself safe and healthy.

Also check out my article on how to save money on your cruise, and cut those hidden fees as well.

Have you experienced any hidden fees I didn’t cover here? Put your recommendations in the comments below.

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Mayan Culture in Lake Atitlan

Mayan Culture in Lake Atitlan

Lake Atitlan, a place where the Gods of the mountain meet the life-giving lake, and magic touches every soul that enters. With the world getting smaller by the day and western culture permeating every corner of the globe now. There is one place, the quickly changing world seems to have less of effect, and that is in Lake Atitlan. Mayan Shamans are still the first person the locals call when they have health issues, and magic is liberally felt throughout the ancient supervolcanic valley.

The Mother in the Water, the Magic of the Mountains

If you travel 3-hours by car to the heart of the Sierra Madre Mountains; you will find the beating soul of Lake Atitlan in the local Mayan people. There are many names that the people here give to the lake, ‘the place of the water’, ‘the place where the colors of the rainbow come from’, and even ‘place of the gringo’.

While the small villages that dot the edges of this 11.8 x 6 miles wide (19x10km) lake, the gringos (or a comical term for a non-native) have tales of mysticism and magic and deep spiritual connection to this area just as the local Mayans do.

Backpackers and anthropologists frequently visit this area, and many who did not believe the influence of the other-worldly in this place – often leave believers after visiting. Stories and accounts of strange and vivid dreams happen while staying at this popular Yoga retreat. Mayan mythology is still told in reverence and whispers and still holds a very strong place in the hearts of the locals.

Mayans in Lake Atitlan

Despite having so much western influence, the people here thrive, and live off of the tourism that is brought to this isolated part of Guatemala. Their roots into their Mayan culture still go as deep as the 1,049 foot (320m) lake. In order to preserve their culture, they are discouraged from marrying outsiders – and also wear the traditional dress. They have made their travel niche in the world but conserving and preserving the core values of their culture & made it their selling point.

It is difficult to know the exact time that the Mayans inhabited the area, due to the two active volcanos and earthquakes that have happened in this region. There is, however, an archaeological site called Chuitinamit, also known as Chiya. Chiya is known to have served as the capital of the Tz’utujil for about 150 years, beginning in 1400 AD.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

The Gods of the Mountains, The Lifegiving Lake

Mayans are known for worshiping all things connected with nature. Four animals are assigned to each person when they are born, and as they age they become more known and represent different parts of their life. These spiritual animals are called Nuuals. Corn is the giver of life, and you will often see it represented on drawings, used in ceremonies and hanging on houses.

Fire is known as the great purifier, the fruit of the land, the eggs of the chicken, the Gods in the mountains with their storms and thunder, and even the life-giving waters of the lake are all prayed to and for – for what the Mayans needed.

As the Spanish conquerors moved in, the Mayans were made slaves, placed into special clothing that is now considered traditional – but was used to distinguish the local natives as slaves.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

There are still elements to the clothing that retain their Mayan roots, and Nuuals are still sewn into clothing as a way to give strength and power to the individual that wears it.

When I came to Lake Atitlan, I didn’t realize how strong the Mayan culture here was. I didn’t realize there were so many dialects of the Mayan language, and that it is no closer to Spanish than it is to French. Locals and those in the most remote villages, still needed translators to be able to interact with me while I was there helping a friend spread the word about Empowering Mayan Women in San Pedro.

The cultures here rely so heavily on tourists, to come and explore these areas. It helps to put food on the table, get pills for the back pain and arthritis that plagues the older generations from years of carrying heavy bags of coffee, beans, and other produce up and down the steep mountains.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

They also heavily rely on Lake Atitlan for washing clothes, transportation to and from major villages to sell their clothing. The tiny Lanchans, or boats, will run across the lake – even with 6 foot swells rocking the boat. Women and men alike fall to their knees in the cramped space and pray that they will make it safely across. The lake is refreshed slightly every year during the rainy season, but this vital piece of their culture may be dying.

A Dying Lake Atitlan

A major earthquake in 1976 left a crack in the bottom of the lake allowing water to seep away into the crust of the earth, locals watched, horrified as the lake dropped nearly 6ft (2m) in one month. It isn’t just the dropping waterline, it is also a deadly bacteria that has infected the lake – turning it from a brilliant blue, to a sewer green.

The catastrophic slow death of this lake started when non-native black bass was introduced into the water to lure tourists to the area. These ended up eating the entire food chain of rare Pato Poc duck, leading to the extinction of Atitlan Grebe a rare bird that would have kept the deadly bacteria at bay.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

Phosphorus rich Fertilizer that the poorest farmers here use, waste from local hospitals pours into the lake almost daily. This ends up feeding the cyanobacteria that can produce cyanotoxins, which are extremely harmful to certain species and can cause harm to humans as well.

Despite all of this, local Mayans will come and clear a space in the mornings and evenings to do what they must. You can see and hear the slapping and sloshing of the locals at the lake, washing and beating their clothes. Stray dogs play on the shores, and people can still be seen trying to fish. Despite the danger, it is the only source of water in which they are able to clean their clothing, fish, and rely on for their daily life.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

Daily Life in Lake Atitlan

I couldn’t believe the explosion of color surrounding me when I visited San Pedro, a small city on the shores of Lake Atitlan. From the buildings to the signs, to the people. Mayan Women dressed in their colorful shirts wandering the streets, each shirt exhibiting a different color/arrangement/Nuual that represents their village.

It is common for a family to not have food on the table, but they will dress very well. There is a belief here that how you take care of yourself and the way you dress is one of the most important things you can do.

The men dress in western wear more commonly now, but in traditional gatherings will wear white pants, broad embroidered belts, and colorful mountain shirts.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

The Daily Work

The work varies, but consists of mostly men working the paid jobs as it is typically considered the woman’s job to be home with the kids or cooking. Be sure to read how my friend, Sheri Keller from She Rides Dragons is trying to empower women in San Pedro to work through her company.

Many of the jobs that the men are hired to do there require knowing Spanish because of the tourists that come to Lake Atitlan for Yoga retreats. Because of this, and many tourists who stay, the Spanish schools in this area are quite good and this is also where many women like Dora Abelina González Gonzalez are allowed to teach Spanish.

If the women don’t know Spanish, or are unable to speak it – they often speak a dialect of the Mayan language and revert to selling tortillas, textiles, ceramics and agricultural products.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

Agriculture

Agriculture in this area is the next biggest source of income for many locals. The volcanic soil is rich in nutrients and allows beans, onions, tomatoes, squash, garlic, strawberries, avocados, chiles, cucumbers, pitaya, and coffee beans to grow.

If you look to the surrounding mountains, you might see lines of crops clear up on the mountainside. This isn’t a unique feature to the local flora, it is a man made perfect farming line of crops. I learned the higher up the farms and land were, the cheaper the land was for the farmers – but deaths during the rainy season are quite common due to the steep slopes.

Healthcare in Lake Atitlan

The beauty and abundance of the surrounding area, and the constant feeling of peace and calm in the area. Made it a wonder people here could be afflicted by health maladies just as commonly, if not more than those in the states.

Being a Physician Assistant, I wanted to see what a pharmacy looked like in this area. To get Advil, or even Tylenol you had to go to the Pharmacy and just ask for what you needed. If you need Xanax, well that is readily available as well. While the medications may be varied, and sometimes shocking at how locals are able to treat themselves so easily; these things can be highly regulated in the States.

I watched and listened as a woman and her mother asked the local pharmacist what she could take for her back pain. Xanax was suggested to help her relax, Tylenol was suggested when the women said that it wasn’t anxiety. I heard them describe the pain, and knew that the pain was likely coming from her neck and radiating down her arms and to the middle of her back. I humbly suggested medication and told them in Spanish that I was like a doctor in the USA. They asked a few more questions, and then had to barter for the price on the medication. I kicked myself mentally for not bringing my wallet, as we were just going to leisurely stroll through the last hours of the produce market. I desperately wanted to pay for their medication, or help in some way, other than just giving my opinion.

As I was leaving, they asked me if I had a clinic they could come see me at. You see, her mother had Diabetes, and they couldn’t afford the medication. They wanted some ideas on how to control her blood sugars naturally. It broke my heart that the education, and medical services in this area were lacking so readily. That the women had to barter with the pharmacist over 2 pills to help with what I assumed was arthritis from carrying massive bags on their heads up and down the steep slopes of the villages. I don’t think I wanted anything more at that moment than to stay for an additional 3 weeks and just answer questions and help educate those in this village.

It isn’t just arthritis though, parasites here are quite common. The water supply is not considered clean, and you have to boil, filter, bleach, and minimize water usage. If you want clean water to drink, you can buy gallons of it at a nearby store. Then you are left to carry it back to your house.

With so few westernized medicine resources, medications, and lack of education – the locals tend to turn to their Mayan roots for healing and guidance. A Mayan Shaman has a vast knowledge of local plants, remedies for common ailments, and has been taught from his father and/or her mother before her – for generations on how to naturally heal. Often components of what they have discovered for healing common ailments have been modernized and are used in medical treatments in western medicine as well

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

Meeting A Mayan Shaman

I decided to meet with a local Mayan Shaman in the area that my friend Sheri Keller knew. I had to pay for supplies, but the Shamans in the area consider it a calling to do the type of work that they do. They typically do not accept payment, and if they do, they will use it to buy supplies for someone who needs them – but cannot afford the Shaman services. If you want to ‘pay them’ then bring a meaningful gift, or pay it forward for someone else, or at the very least take them to dinner.

While I won’t go into great detail in this post, I will address my truly humbling experience with the Shaman in another article. The long of the short of it is that I came to San Pedro La Laguna because I wanted to pay it forward. Of all the years I spent in Physician Assitant School, of all the years I have labored, been blessed, had people come into my life at the right time, the trauma of Rape I endured, the death of my Grandma, my father leaving to live a life I never dreamed he would – the last few years have been the hardest. There was a mental block within me that I felt was prohibiting me from having meaningful relationships, being able to connect with my family again, and ultimately healing from the pain of my trauma. I was worried about so many things in the future and was mentally trying some things to each other that was inhibiting me from moving forward with life.

I let my own pre-conceived ideas of what I thought ‘real medicine’ was go, and opened my heart and mind to this Mayan Shaman. I begged whatever power lay with the mountains of Lake Atitlan to help heal me, help me get past the blockade of what happened that wouldn’t seem to budge.

Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

She arranged the flowers, she lit the palo santo, burned the special resin, rubbed me with oils, ingredients, said prayers in Mayan, and our hearts connected on a very intimate level. I did what she asked when she asked, I let go of my personal space and in the end – a weight I asked to be lifted was indeed lifted.

As many of our minds do when something akin to ‘magic’ happens, I doubted, I took it with a grain of salt. Yet, I still believe that the barriers she said were inhibiting me, would no longer be an issue.

We cried together when she left, she was empathetic and said that it was very heavy what I brought to our session together – but she was grateful I called her. She apparently has to hear many stories of women in the area, who have yet to be impacted by the #metoo movement that has taken place in the United States.

Leaving the Magic in of the Mountains

I came to Lake Atitlan as a skeptic with an open mind, and a scientific assessment of what I experienced. When I left San Pedro, after only four days of witnessing the beautiful Mayan Culture in Lake Atitlan – I realized how lucky my life was. My heart felt light again, I could feel love for the people there when I hadn’t felt love in a long time. Now several months later, I am dating again, I have reconnected with my family, I laugh, I feel hope and most of all I believe once again that good things can happen – and maybe everything does happen for a reason.

While the Mayan culture may be isolated, and often forgotten by the rat race of life in the surrounding cities. I am grateful for the chance I had to witness such a humble, hard-working, kind, and generous way of living.

While it may not look and act exactly like the ancient ancestors, being able to be a witness of a living history in Lake Atitlan was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It is an experience I would recommend to those with an open heart and mind. There is so much good that could and should be done in the area there, and the people will give it back ten-fold if you let them.

Despite time, western culture, polotics, weather, volcano, earthquakes, and so many other elements and factors against them, the Mayan people survive. They strive for a better life and want to share and preserve their culture with those who come to visit.

As I left the magic in that mountain valley, I knew I would return again one day – when I needed to, and when they needed me. For now, I cherish the short time I had there, and will always hold a special place in my heart for being able to experience it.

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Where to Stay Near San Pedro La Laguna

San Pedro is considered the lakeside hotspot and is a straight shot across the lake from Panajachel (about a 30-minute trip and 15 quetzales/$2.00US). I would suggest staying in San Pedro for a more authentic local feeling, rather than in Panajachel where it is quite busy and chaotic.

Casa Elena is the most popular hostel located right on the lake in San Pedro. The rooms are quite cheap and have swimming and sunset viewing access. The hotel is locally owned by a friendly Mayan family, and their cleanliness ensures that you stay healthy, and sleep well during your trip.

Booking.com
Mayan culture in Lake Atitlan

Health and Safety Tips

  • ATM’s are iffy – bring all the cash you need, stuff it in different places and don’t carry the full amount with you
  • Ensure you bring a Lifestraw water bottle with you, hand sanitizer, and a buy some bleach at the local market.
  • Bleach your plates, spoons etc…. be sure to let it dry completely after bleaching for proper decontamination. Parasites here are common, especially in the dogs in the street. So don’t play with the local wildlife unless they are owned by a family. If they are owned, they typically will be well taken care of.
  • Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A, and routine Vaccines are recommended by the CDC should you travel to this area.

Getting To Lake Atitlan

Getting there: Guatemala’s Lake Atitlan region is about 70 miles from Guatemala City, home to the nearest major airport. If you don’t want to rent a taxi to get there (around $70 for a 3-hour trip), then I would recommend heading towards Panajachel. Getting to Panajachel will get you to Lake Atitlan and from there you can take a boat to your desired town. It would be a four-hour bus trip leading to the country’s western highlands. Please keep in mind that the buses are recycled School Buses from the States, go slow, and often crowded and don’t run at night. The Rebuli bus station on 21st street and 1-34 Avenue (Zone 1) in Guatemala City leaves every day at 6, 9, and 10 a.m. for Panajachel.

Getting around: Small public boats called lanchas transport people to the different villages around the lake for anywhere from 10 to 25 quetzals, which is equivalent to about $1.30 to $3.25 U.S. There is a time schedule for the boats, and rain or shine they will take you across. I don’t believe they run at night though, so be cautious in your planning when you arrive.

Once in your final destination, it is easy to travel by foot, or you can flag down a tuk-tuk and show them the name of the destination in Spanish or tell them where you would like to go.

Have you been to Lake Atitlan? What are some of your suggestions I may have missed? Leave them in the comment section below 🙂

Christmas Activities near Salt Lake City Utah (from a Local)

Christmas Activities near Salt Lake City Utah (from a Local)

This truly is the most wonderful time of year! With a strong Latter-Day Saint (aka Mormon) culture here in Salt Lake City and surrounding areas, Christmas activities near Salt Lake City are plentiful and truly inspiring for any Christian or non-Christian visitor alike. So here are a few of my favorite things to do during Christmas, here at home, in Salt Lake City Utah.

Christmas Activities Near Salt Lake City Utah

Temple Square Lights

This is one of the BEST places to see Christmas lights! The Christmas Lights at Temple Square started over 50 years ago, in 1965. The lighting of the Latter-Day Saint Temple Square was overseen by their leader President Mckay who hired a leading arborist to spend six weeks hanging 40,000 lights. Using a cherry picker and a ladder, the magic of Christmas started in Salt Lake City Utah.

The number of lights in temple square today is not exactly known, but it is estimated that in 1997 there were over 800,000 lights (which grows a little more each year).

If you take a trip to Temple Square to see the lights, be sure you visit the Cedar of Lebanon. This tree is only lit every other year but is over 70 feet tall (a large tree by Utah desert standards). This tree has been growing for the last 75 years and is covered in 75,000 lights. The tree is quite special in that it was brought over from Jerusalem as a seed, planted and grown in Temple Square since that time.

Each year there are a few things that really make Temple Square special besides the lights. There is a life-sized nativity scene at the North Vistors center and an additional nativity scene on the reflection pool that has floating candles that make this a truly special visual Christmas feast.

Last but not least, grab some hot chocolate, listen to the volunteer carolers on the weekend, and stroll past hundreds of handmade paper lanterns with the message of ‘peace’ on them written in different languages.

Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square

This is a difficult concert to get into, mostly because it is free and hugely popular with the locals. Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert is an intensely moving musical phenomenon that happens yearly at the new Latter-Day Saint Conference Center.

It is a cast of over 600 individuals, with 360 choir voices rigorously trained throughout the year with some of the toughest competition to be a part of the choir. They are then accompanied by 150 instrumentalists, and 32 Bell ringers with various actors, singers, dancers, and a special guest artist invited to perform each year.

This concert is typically held for 3 days (Thursday-Saturday) at starts at 8 pm. You need to set an alarm for when the ticketing process begins, and/or put your name into a lottery for a ticket.

If you don’t get in, there are also 30-minute weekly music and the spoken word concerts that are broadcasted on Sunday mornings that will feature some of the guests involved in the program.

If you do get a chance to attend the concert though, it will be one of the most incredible and hair raising musical experiences you will ever witness. I always enjoy the Christmas concerts because they are so well done & just focus on the message of Christ in Christmas.

Festival Of Trees

This is a short four-day exhibit of a holiday winter wonderland with uniquely decorated trees, wreaths, playhouses, centerpieces, quilts, gingerbread houses all exhibited for a good cause. You see, everything you see here is for sale, and all the funds raised at the Festival of Trees go to the children at Primary Children’s Hospital. There is a specific person, patient, or family that the tree is donated for – to help with hospital bills, or get a procedure done.

If you can’t afford the items for sale, even buying a ticket or participating in some of the more affordable activities will all be contributed to a good cause. Shops are filled with dolls, handmade Christmas crafts, quilts, fresh baked cookies/candies/fudge/scones, and cinnamon rolls.

They also have a stage set up, where different children’s dance studios volunteer to provide the most adorable holiday ‘tutu’ entertainment for Festival-goers. Buy Tickets for the Festival of Trees today and support those families that will be spending their Christmas fighting for the life of a child.

Dicken’s Festival

The Dickens’ Festival is not just another craft show, it is an Olde English Christmas themed town full of shops, hundreds of period costumes, fortune tellers, orphans, royalty, and the REAL Father Christmas. Despite being in the middle of a desert, you truly feel you have been transported into an old European shopping show.

The aisles are transformed into old London streets, each vendor is dressed in Old Victorian fashion – really adding to the whole experience.

There are also Mini-productions of the musical based on Charles Dickens’ “Scrooge” that is performed nightly. I remember dancing here as a child and was delighted by the puppet shows, street theater. As an adult, I am dazzled by the Fezziwig Dance party and the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future that wander old London shopping streets.

Tickets (as of 2019) are $6-$8, so it is really affordable to take the whole family for a little Pseudo-European Christmas delight.

Hogle Zoo Christmas Lights

This is a unique spin on Christmas lights, and will whimsically delight all animal lovers. Over 200 lighted animals glitter and twinkle throughout December right alongside the other zoo animals. If you go a little early, you can grab a delicious dinner at the Beast-ro, grab a cup of hot cocoa, and nibble on the tasty treats dotting the sidewalks around the zoo.

This year, (2019) is going to be a special year, because Hogle Zoo has hired Lightasmic (from California) to build 10 large animal lanterns. This will be a fantastic illuminated spectacle, along with the 135-foot lighted tunnel that is always a hit with photographers 🙂

It isn’t just animals, but elves that offer finishing touches to this Christmas Activity in Salt Lake City. My favorite part? In addition to the tunnel, it is actually the S’mores at the Oasis Plaza dipped in hot chocolate. This is a camping favorite and nothing tastes better right before a peaceful night of dreaming of sugarplums dancing in my head.

Ballet West Nutcracker Capitol Theatre

Did you know that Ballet West in Salt Lake City produces the longest-running American production of the Nutcracker? I didn’t either, but I remember growing up going to the Nutcracker all the time and wanting to be Clara. I wanted to be whisked away by the beautifully dancing toy soldier, swans and other creatures of the Toyland imagination of the Nutcracker.

Each year it changes, and not in a minor way, the core story stays the same, but there are different time periods, themes, and sets. There has not been a year that has been disappointing, and if you or your daughters/sons have a dancers’ heart – then I highly suggest going to see this on a Mommy-Daughter date.

Hale Center Theatre

What is Christmas without a good old fashioned visit to the theatre to see, A Christmas Carol? Hale Center theatre started as a small theatre next to Dick’s Market in Bountiful Utah, it has since grown into one of the premiere Theatres in Utah.

This circular theatre has all the bells and whistles to surprise and delight patrons with Christmas songs and dance. If you have never seen A Christmas Carol, I would recommend watching it as a family holiday tradition. It reminds us to think less about money, and more about how we treat people and serving others.

There is plenty of free covered parking, but I highly suggest bringing your own snacks and treats. The cost to quantity ratio is pretty exorbitant & they also still use plastic straws and cups.

Abravanel Hall Symphony

For a refined and cultured evening out, why not go listen to the plucking and prancing of notes with ‘Here Comes Santa Claus’ at Abravanel Hall. There are different concerts throughout the holiday season, including the Messiah Sing-In, to Harry Potter.

City Creek Center

The City Creek Center is very close to Temple Square and offers the perfect parental tool to have your kids see Santa. This is one of the few places that offers a virtual ticket to see Santa, so instead of waiting in line, you can show up at the allotted time and let the munchkins pour out their deepest desires to the jolly man himself.

After seeing Santa, pop in and out of shops to grab your holiday bits and bobs. Bring a sucker for the kids as you walk over to Macy’s candy windows.  I loved seeing these unique and artistic masterpieces as a child. These holiday-themed windows hold the best candy art you will see. Each window is made entirely of candy and can be anything from a massive Elf workshop, to a Polar Bear learning how to ice skate.

This shopping center is quite unique, in that it transforms from an outdoor shopping venue to an indoor shopping venue as the weather changes.

Christkindle Market

This is another favorite activity of mine because it takes place at ‘This Is The Place Heritage Park’, which is an old Pioneer village. This historic park is transformed into the Christkindle Market, a shopping and community experience inspired by the German Christmas markets.

There is a live Nativity, Christmas songs and mini-performances where they tell you the origin of the Christmas songs. You can get caramel apples, strudel, and so many other tasty treats.

They have a mini-parade down main street, where a parade of light, elves, and children followed up by Jolly Saint Nicolas. There is a stage for entertainment, fire pits to warm your hands, and so many Christmas decorations around it is hard to not feel the Christmas spirit. There are also truly unique mini log cabin shops dotted throughout the historic park that offer very unique and delightful Christmas gifts.

Shopping at SouthTowne – Hogsmead

The holidays are filled with giving of presents and trinkets….but the hoards of people and crowds can sometimes make for an unenjoyable time preparing for Christmas. This is why I recommend shopping at SouthTowne Center during Christmas – the magic of Christmas transforms it into a shopping Hogsmeade playground of spending your hard-earned money.

Feel the magic of Harry Potter entertain your kids, while you try and guess the deepest desires of those closest to you. It might make the stress of the holidays a little more enjoyable to feel like you are visiting a beloved children’s classic.

Evermore Aurora

If you read my Halloween Activities To Do In Salt Lake City Utah, then you know how much I enjoyed going to Evermore. If not, then be sure to visit Evermore for their Aurora Winter Season story.

Walk into an ever-changing interactive movie set, and discover their famous sweet and savory treats in this Nordic-inspired fantasy world. When you visit, you will be addressed as a ‘World Walker’ as many of the staff are part of the story and characters who live in the Dickinsonian inspired wonderland. The trees are glittering with frost and lights, taverns, mills, and shops all have a story that is waiting to be discovered.

Here you, as a world walker, must go on a quest – interact with the characters and discover what the secret of magic is in this mystical wonderland. Tickets are a bit on the steep side, but if you plan on spending the whole day – it is well worth the cost (in my opinion at least).

Park City Torchlight Parade

If you are truly looking for a unique Christmas Eve experience, or like to be outdoors more than indoors celebrating – then head to Park City for the Torchlight Parade.

This is a Christmas Eve tradition that has been happening for over 55 years. You can begin the chilly evening with some holiday music at the base of the mountain, and then bring your light of choice to ski down the mountain with – creating a festival of lights in motion.

Heber Utah

These are the farthest Christmas Activities near Salt Lake City, in Heber Utah.

Polar Express

The local train, the Heber Creeper transforms into the Polar Express, where the adults and kids alike can enjoy a 90-minute ride to the North Pole. They can sip on hot cocoa, and eat some of Mrs. Claus’ famous chocolate chip cookies, singing along to traditional Christmas favorites.

The elves and cocoa chefs will be bustling up and down the isles, entertaining and interacting with passengers along the way. Once you reach the North Pole, Santa will board the train and present a special gift to each child.

You can choose from a regular passenger ticket to a first-class ticket, or even rent out the Red Caboose for a private group of 10-12. If you really want to wow and entertain, then rent the luxury table and lounge gare or business car (20-50 passengers) for a perfect Christmas Party setting.

Midway Ice Castles

Make it an overnight trip from Salt Lake City and spend the night in Heber so you can visit the Midway Ice Castles. These famous Ice Castles started as a hobby for a family, who were then visited and promoted by Oprah herself.

These hand-built, carefully crafted castles are a true winter wonderland. It almost appears as if Elsa (from the popular Disney movie Frozen) built them herself. If you are lucky Elsa and her sister may be taking photos and greeting guests outside the Ice Castles.

These Ice Castles are a fabulous playground because adults can play with their kids, instead of just having to watch them. I think we are often forced to believe that we cannot participate in child-like fun because we are ‘adults’. I believe we really begin to age when we lose the childlike innocence and suppress our imaginations.

Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point

This is a newly discovered Christmas Activity near Salt Lake City that I definitely want to participate in this year. The Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point transforms the hill with changing pictures made from 5,000 luminaries.

While I don’t personally have experience at this event, I know how beautiful Thanksgiving Point Gardens are outside of Christmas time, and so can only imagine how beautiful this will be. They also have a section of the gardens that was donated with statues of scenes from the Bible. It is a very peaceful and reflective place, that I think combined with the Luminaria will be a perfect way to remember the reason for the season.

Volunteering For Christmas Near Salt Lake City

There are other ways to remember the reason for the season, and that is by volunteering to serve others. You can do it in so many different ways, but here are a few ideas I have in how to serve those around you during this holiday season. Out of all the Christmas activities near Salt Lake City, this one will be far more moving for you than anything else – by giving back into the world for all you have been given.

  • Wrap presents at Provo Towne Center Mall to raise money for Habitat for Humanity to help families who may need a home, to finally have a warm place to stay.
  • The Forgotten Patient Christmas Project, hosted by the Utah State Mental Hospital, has been operating for the last 50 years. Rather than providing Christmas for an entire family, a patient comes up with a Christmas List, and when you buy one gift for the patient and give it to them on Christmas and spend some time together. If you are interested in sponsoring a patient, please contact Shawna Peterson, Director of Volunteer Services at 801-344-4254.
  • Christmas season in the Newborn Intensive Care Unit is not the ideal place to spend the ‘babies first Christmas’. Sunset Crochet (from Sunset Family Living) hosts 12 days of Christmas knitting project. Where for 12 days you knit a hat each day for a baby in the NICU. The patterns are sent by email, and then you are asked to donate the knitted hats to the nearest NICU.
  • Candy Cane Corner in Salt Lake gives those receiving services from the YWCA Utah, The Road Home, or Volunteers of America, Utah, the opportunity to choose Christmas gifts in a shopping-like environment. As a volunteer, you will help organize, lift and carry items, sort donations and wrap presents for the individuals/families in need. If you plan on bringing more than five people, please call and make an appointment to help better facilitate and organize according to the needs of the Candy Cane Corner.

Happy Holidays to You and Yours

I love this time of year, the giving, the feeling, the movies, the treats, the anticipation of good things to come. Christmas truly has a reason for the season, and that is Christ, his example of loving those around him – even those who society as a whole had a hard time loving. So embrace the strange, weird, or rejected of society – let them know they are loved.

I hope by sharing this guide on Christmas activities near Salt Lake City will help those visiting or locals be able to forge long-lasting memories. I pray that you can cherish the family and the connections with those who are close to you. Never stop believing in a little magic, and I truly wish you and yours a happy holiday and Merry Christmas this year.

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Thanksgiving Activities Near Salt Lake City Utah (from a Local)

Thanksgiving Activities Near Salt Lake City Utah (from a Local)

Thanksgiving is a time to spend with family, friends, loved ones and was originally celebrated by Pilgrims and Native Americans to give thanks for the harvest. It has since turned into a time of gorging ourselves on food, followed by a (sometimes violent) Black Friday. It has been sad for me to see this happening in my lifetime, to be honest. I decided to write a post on how you can better spend your Thanksgiving with your family or friends in a way that fosters unity, family bonds, and to encourage the good memories that will last far longer than the material possessions you may acquire on Black Friday. So here is the perfect guide for Thanksgiving Activities near Salt Lake City Utah from a local, who is trying to turn Black Friday into a White Friday of service and outdoor fun.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City. A Thanksgiving Run with the Utah Food bank

Get in Shape for Thanksgiving

This has been a favorite tradition of mine because it gets the common and chronic New Years Resolution of continuing to try to be healthier started early (at least for my own goals it has become a chronic goal). Get in shape for Thanksgiving with the whole family, or invite your friends and make it a group run. Here are a few of my favorite runs here in Utah that I would suggest.

Utah Human Race

This was my first and favorite run I have done. Arriving at the Utah Human race I saw families dressed in matching T-shirts, college kids dressed as turkeys and different thanksgiving dishes, there were tu-tu’s and various other Thanksgiving-themed costumes. It doesn’t matter if you walk with your kid in a stroller, or sprint the whole race – all are welcome. The feeling of this race seemed a little more relaxed and more fun.

What makes this run really special, is that your entry fee goes to the Utah Foodbank. It helps those who are homeless in the city or families that can’t afford a Thanksgiving dinner, to have dinner with their own family. Either way, it is a great run, for a good cause.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City - Turkey Trot

Turkey Trot

The Turkey Trot is still filled with loads of costumes, families, and college kids and is just as fun as the Utah Human Race but is in Sandy Utah, about 15 minutes south of Salt Lake City. This 5k run is good for all ages, and really close to movie theatres.

Lehi Thankful 13

This run is for those who want to maintain their training with a half marathon, those who want a good workout before a big meal and a specific kids run is also available. This run is right down by Thanksgiving Point and gardens, with the Wasatch Mountains and Timpanogus mountain in the distance & the Oquirrh Mountains on the opposite side for a fantastic landscape view. It is about 30 minutes outside Salt Lake City, easily accessible via Uber or a group ride.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City  - Ski Resort

Thanksgiving Activities near Salt Lake City : Ski and Snowboard for Family Bonding

While going up to the ski resorts on Thanksgiving, or the day after Thanksgiving is getting more popular – it is still far less crowded than weekends. There are going to be changes to parking regulations this year, due to how crowded the resorts are getting.

You will now need to pay for parking at the ski resorts (prices vary), you will need to check the resort to get the full details. Some ski resorts have actually built gondola rides from the lower parking lots to the resort entrances (ie/ Park City) to make parking further away a little easier.

Here are the projected opening times for 2019 for the ski resorts. These opening times can change so check each ski resorts site. I have a gut feeling winter this year (2019) is going to be quite brutal, based on the amount of cold weather and small snow flurries we have had already. This means terrible Utah driving, but great skiing this winter at the resorts.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City - Snow Activities

Alta Ski Area, Nov. 20

This is arguably my favorite place to go skiing. There are no snowboarders allowed on these slopes. I personally can no longer snowboard because of a major head injury (think life-flighted to the hospital), if I fall or get whiplash even a little bit, I end up with pretty severe migraines.

While banning snowboarders isn’t personal, this private resort focuses on catering to skiers. The sideways stance of a snowboarder leaves blind spots when they make their wide sweeping turns, which can be dangerous to skiers. Because I have to be very protective of my neck and avoid hitting my head when falling – being able to ski in a safer environment like this (at least for me) is very reassuring and allows me to have a better time.

It makes it more peaceful, and more enjoyable to not always have to be on the lookout for being hit (or cut off) by a snowboarder. It is also a great resort for beginning skiers, especially kids. I would recommend the Albion, Sunnyside, and Cecret on the looker’s left side of the mountain. rooked Mile is ideal for beginners at Alta, as you can ski at altitude and enjoy sweeping mountain views.

If you have snowboarders in your party, you can get a combo pass for Alta and Snowbird, called the ‘AltaBird’ pass where you can ski Alta over to Snowbird and meet up halfway through the day to ski and snowboard together so everyone enjoys their time.

There are plenty of lodgings in Park City and the surrounding areas. If you are looking for cheaper lodging options, try Heber Utah, it is about 20 minutes north of Park City is a smaller town full of red brick pioneer buildings and doesn’t require you to drive through Parley’s canyon which can get quite dangerous.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City - Skiing

Brighton Ski Resort, Nov. 18

This resort was actually one of the first ski resorts in Utah, and one of the first resorts in the United States. Brighton Ski resort is located up Big Cottonwood Canyon is about 35 miles from Salt Lake City Utah.

This resort isn’t as popular with out-of-towners because there isn’t as much lodging available that is close. This is why this resort is ideal for locals and those with kids. Many local families bring their kids to this resort specifically to learn how to ski because it is less crowded, and there is ample terrain for beginners. The season pass is generally $300 cheaper than season passes closer to Park City.

Snowbird Ski Nov. 21

As I mentioned before Alta and Snowbird are very close together, and there are ample lodgings here. If you are a skier and are there for a weekend, I highly recommend getting the ‘AltaBird’ lift pass to give you a wide range of options for skiing.

They have 2,500 acres, 169 runs with a wide range of options for beginner to intermediate. If you have someone in your family that does not want to ski/snowboard there are snowshoeing options, and snowmobiling options as well.

Solitude Mountain Resort, Dec 1st

This resort has 1200 acres of runs available, with many of them being geared towards intermediate to more experienced. Only 6% of the runs are geared towards beginner skiers. This resort is not close to Park City, so is less crowded and a local favorite. There are snowshoeing options available as well as a spa to make it a romantic Thanksgiving getaway.

Thanksgiving Activities near Salt Lake City: Be A Kid Again and Go Sledding

I remember going out and sledding at midnight with my siblings, and church friends as a kid. We would sneak out and laugh and laugh about trying to get up the frozen hills, then stop at a 7-11 for some cheap hot chocolate on the way home. There are a lot of kids in Utah, and so sledding is a big deal here (in addition to skiing). Here are a few local favorites, but keep in mind that these spots will get crowded on Saturday, and days that it snows. I would suggest going on a weekday, or on a Sunday to avoid some of the crowds.

Sugar House Park

This is a great area for sledding as it is just across the street from a lot of small eateries, is well maintained, the hill is steep and wide and there are plenty of parents and kids to help monitor and keep your kids safe. The hill is shorter, so not as tiring for the smaller kids.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City - Sledding

Mueller Park

This will be a lot less crowded, the hills are longer and a little steeper. It is also a great place for snowshoeing, and other winter activities. I personally like to find a trail that has a high grade of steepness, then bring a sled that you can control the direction really well. Snowshoe up the trail, then sled your way back down – it is really really fun.

Soldier Hollow

This is the PERFECT sledding adventure because they have sledding assisted tow rope, where a rope helps you get back up the hill to do more sledding. No more sliding back down the hill with every step. Tubing admission ranges anywhere from $13 to $27 depending on age and how long you decide to use the hill.  The hill is open typically open from Dec to March (conditions permitting). Tubing sessions are two hours long and start on the even hour (i.e. 10-noon, noon-2, 2-4, etc.) I suggest buying your tickets online in advance to avoid the long lines. 

Gorgoza Park

This sledding heaven is right near Park City, with 7 lanes for tubes available. Once you reach the bottom of the hill, you can jump back on the lift to get back up the hill. Rates for the tubing ranges anywhere from $7 to $46 depending on age and the number of hours purchased. Fort Frosty costs $10 per ticket or free if you purchase a 2 or 4-hour tubing ticket. For $12 you also get 10 laps on the mini snowmobiles.

If the kids get a little too cold or a storm blows in, they also have a 52,000 sqft indoor facility full of trampolines, foam pits, a lounge, coffee shop, cafeteria, equipment rentals, and Utah’s only indoor concrete skatepark.

Mountain Dell Golf Course at Parley’s Canyon

This sledding haven, on a good snow day, is usually jam-packed, but free (though parking is always difficult). It has a few really long runs too; fun to go down, long to hike back up. It is right next to a large golf-course so the views are really stunning and about 16 miles East of Salt Lake City.

Flat Iron Park

This sledding nook has steep hills with some jumps built-in, for the more adventurous teenagers. To help with safety there are Hay bails that have been put into place to help you stop at the bottom of the hill. I thought this was a really nice touch, because of how many sledding accidents I hear about in Utah.

Service With A Smile

If you want your Thanksgiving activities to have a little more meaning, then do a little service for those around. Make your Black Friday a ‘White Friday’ by providing service to those around you. (Let’s coin the hashtag #WhiteFriday – to fight the materialistic Black Friday and overspending).

The Road Home

Bring your family/friends to volunteer and help distribute meals to families and other individuals experiencing homelessness in Utah at the Road Home. You can put together sack lunches, make dinner and bring it to share with another family, or put together a turkey dinner box to give to the shelter for the families there. With rising costs of rent in the Salt Lake City area, as well as an opioid epidemic — there is an increasing issue with homelessness in the Downtown area for individuals and families across the spectrum.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City - Serving the Homeless

Catholic Community Services (St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall)

Contact the volunteer coordinator and bring the whole family to help serve others as a way to give back for all you have been given. Even if it is just sitting and listening, and connecting to another human being. This truly is a month we need to focus on giving, not getting the best deal on Black Friday.

Utah Food Bank

Utah is a service-oriented state, and volunteering at the food bank is quite popular – but because it is so organized it makes it a really enjoyable experience for everyone. Make sure you contact them beforehand to schedule a time to volunteer because they do not take ‘walk-in’ volunteers.

Other Events

Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23: Feast With The Beasts at Hogle Zoo

If you need an activity for the kids while the Turkey is roasting, take a quick trip to Hogle Zoo. You can see the animals playing with Pumpkins, or Turkey shaped pinatas. The open their doors, especially for this event on Thanksgiving Day from 10, am to 1 pm.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City - Where to eat Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 23: Lindon Community Thanksgiving Dinner

For all the college kids that aren’t able to make it home and/or don’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving – head over to Lindon’s annual community dinner. This takes place at the Lindon City Community Center, 25 N. Main St., from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free, but people can donate food, time or money to help out. I would call 801-785-5043 for more information and see how you can help. Who knows maybe you can meet some people who will become a pseudo-family for you until you can get home.

Where to Eat A Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner Near Salt Lake City

Those who don’t have the energy or time to deal with dishes, can’t get back to their family or don’t have a family to be with here are some places I suggest you go to eat a delicious Thanksgiving meal that will be hassle-free.

Buca Di Beppo

This is traditionally an Italian restaurant, but the chefs at Buca di Beppo will open at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving. They will serve a traditional Thanksgiving dinner family-style, or you can order directly off the Italian Menu.

Homestead Resort – Midway

Homestead Resort in Heber serves a grand buffet on Thanksgiving including roast turkey and prime rib, plus salads, sides, bread and cheese boards, shellfish, and desserts. This place really is the full package for a Thanksgiving getaway including cross-country skiing, sleigh rides, ice skating, downhill ski packages, a spa, hot springs, and other activities. The buffet is a little pricey, but well worth it for the amount of food and variety available. For adults, it typically runs $49.95 and $32.95 for children.

Thanksgiving activities near Salt Lake City

Log Haven

Log Haven restaurant in Millcreek Canyon is a smaller and more intimate venue for Thanksgiving Day. They offer a four-course prix-fixe luncheon from 1 to 5:30 p.m. The menu offers unique ricotta and butternut squash pancetta, potato leek soup, wild mushroom ragu with Parmesan grits, baby winter greens, juniper-brined turkey, grilled king salmon, pan-roasted filet, or butternut squash risotto, and dessert of creme brulee, pumpkin cheesecake, or pumpkin pie. The cozy settings allow for a more refined approach to a Thanksgiving Dinner, and costs run $54.95 for adults and $29.95 for children.

Hub and Spoke Diner

If you have a large family or are trying to be a little more frugal then head to Hub & Spoke Diner. Their Thanksgiving Dinner is served 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The menu is a la carte so you can pick and choose your perfect Thanksgiving plate. Prices for items typically range from $4 to $17.

Cafe Niche

Caffe Niche specializes in local ingredients, and the restaurant is offering a special prix fixe menu from 1-7 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. There is a flat rate of $40 per person and includes three courses. The menu features fall salad, a classic turkey dinner, and other choices. For dessert, you will be deliciously delighted with homemade Ding Dongs.

Grand America or Little America

Thanksgiving at The Grand America often fills up quickly but is one of the best local Thanksgiving dinners you will have. If you can’t get into the Grand America, there is typically space available at its sister hotel The Little America. The Little America serves a buffet in the hotel’s Grand Ballroom. Prices for adults are $57 and $27 for kids.

End It With An Attitude of Gratitude

There is a culture within the United States to end Thanksgiving with the family (or friends) with brutal and frenzied shopping on Black Friday. May I humbly suggest you replace Black Friday, with a White Friday. Fill your Thanksgiving holiday with activities, service and plenty of bonding time that doesn’t involve material possessions and more quality time with those you love. Life is so short, and you never know when someone will be taken from you. Foster positive memories and activities that will help you grow as a family, as an individual and encourage those human connections this holiday season.

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How To Spend A Layover In Paris France

How To Spend A Layover In Paris France

If you are like me, my PTO (Paid Time Off) is very precious to me. Maximizing my travel time and the things I’m able to see while on vacation is the goal for any trip. When I was traveling to Jordan, I was going to have an 8 hour layover in Paris and knew I needed to see the beautiful city. Not knowing exactly how to spend a layover in Paris France, with so many things to see, and so little time. I researched timing, taxi cabs, visa requirements, costs, easy of use of the train system to ensure I could see the iconic landmarks and not miss my connecting flight to Jordan. So here are a few ideas on how to spend your layover in Paris France.

Do You Need A Visa for A Layover in Paris

The answer for most Americans and EU citizens is no, but I would bring your passport with you just in case you need to apply for one. In a few years, the EU will require US citizens to have a VISA for Europe in order to visit. While many Americans are nervous about this, please rest assured that this VISA is said to be valid for five years.

Traveling To Jordan via Paris

My connecting flight from Atlanta to France wasn’t terrible, I met a man from Chad whose brother was in France and he was meeting him to go to his mothers funeral in Chad. Such a sweet guy, he ended up helping me get onto the train in France to head into the city for an 6 hour tour of Paris.

While my layover was technically 8 hours long, I allotted at least 2.5 hours to get back to the airport and through security. If you are traveling outside of North, and Northwestern Europe – the border control and security can take a bit longer to get through; especially with the airport security rules changing so rapidly – so give yourself plenty of time.

What To Do With Your Luggage

Before boarding my flight from Las Vegas (my departing destination), I specifically requested that my bag be checked all the way through to the final destination. You can do this depending on your origin and where you are traveling. If you cannot check it all the way through to the final destination, you will have to get your bag and recheck it prior to leaving the airport for Paris Layover.

Another option is to check it into the luggage lockers that are located at the central lockers at the CDGVAL station’s exit by the RER station (across from the Sheraton). They are open 7 days per week from 6am to 930pm.

Be sure you have Euros to put into the machine to reserve the luggage locker. The prices vary depending on the amount of time you need. Please double check the opening times and pricing as these can change at  Bagages du Monde website or call +33 (0)1 48 16 02 15.

Prices

  • 0 to 6h = €6
  • 0 to 12h = €10
  • 24h = €15
  • 2 days = €23
  • 3 days = €31
  • 4 days = €39
  • 5 days = €43

How To Get Into Paris From The Airport

Make sure to ask the information desk which RER train to take both into the city and back to the airport. Terminals 1 & 3 are close together, and terminal 2 is further away with its own RER train station. Charles De Gualle is an enormous airport (think small city within a city), so it is easy to get lost.

The train you are looking for is the RER B express train, it gets you into the city in 35 minutes with minimal stops. Make sure to get off at the Châtelet stop, because it is the closest one to the center of the city. Check on ticket prices and get a full map of the train systems here.

Downloading the Metro App for Paris on your phone, or RATP (the premimum version will allow you to create a journey, where the free version does not) will be extremely helpful in ensuring your on the right train in the right direction.

The first time I explored Paris on a Layover it was easy to get into town on the train (thanks to a kind man from Chad who spoke French). The two other times I explored Paris on a layover I utilized the Taxi services (which they don’t bargain on the prices- just FYI). I paid about $65 each way to make sure I had a ride from the airport, into the city, and let the driver worry about the traffic back to the airport and asked him to return to a certain spot at a certain time to get me back. Only pay the driver once he comes to pick you up, not before.

If there are other Americans on the plane, just ask ‘Is anyone going into the city on a layover?’ – there are usually one or two people who will bite. This can save you lots of money and walking time, and when your on such a time crunch. It is much better (at least to me) – to spend a few extra dollars for cab, instead of several hundred dollars to take a flight back into Paris. The drive into Paris in the morning can take 30-45 minutes depending on the traffic. If you arrive anywhere past 930 am I would utilize the train as traffic into the city on a weekday is going to be atrocious.

I also highly recommend getting travel insurance, not just for the off chance you miss your flight, but also to help cover you during your final destination activities. I work in the medical field and know insurance companies well, so that is why (after extensive conversations) I chose to utilize World Nomads for all my travel needs.

Notre Dame Bucketlist

I have wanted to see Notre Dame since I was a little girl when I watched the Hunchback of Notre Dame. There are signs that easily point you to the stop for Notre Dame – I typically count the number of stops and pick a window seat so I can see the signs of each stop. I got off the train at Notre Dame, and walked up the steps and didn’t know where to go.

So I followed the sounds of cars and ended up turning a corner and there was Notre Dame, who then started playing her bells with the pigeons dancing in her square at 615am. It was as if this ancient cathedral was greeting me like I was the Queen herself. There was no one else in the square, the doors were still closed and it was a perfect time to take photos.

Once the doors opened (around 630am) the beautiful rosette window with the purples and blues, gave a calming feel to the interior. I Marveled at the original ceilings stretching far above letting the soft signing of the priests preparing the church for the day calm my anxiety of missing my flight. I spent two hours in this place, drinking in each architectural curves and window accents.

Little did I know I was witnessing something that would later burn in a few years from a tragic accident. These are the reasons I like to fit as much in as possible, because you never know when the artistry of ancient times will be lost to us forever.

Visit A Cafe

I still had 4 hours of time to kill, so I went to the patisserie close by, got a cup of hot chocolate and croissant…..delicious just as I expected. The waiters appreciated that I had a pad and paper with notes on it of how to order what I wanted in French. If you order coffee make sure to ask for un café for an espresso, un café crème for a latte, or un café americain for a regular coffee.

Love Locked Down: Pont des Arts

After filling my belly with delicious French pastries. I ended up walking around Notre Dame’s gardens, I happened upon the bridge of love & locks, better known as Pont des Arts. So many locks…..all representing the love that will be forever endured by locking your lock on this bridge and throwing the key into the river. I swore to myself that when I finally get married I will take my husband there and put one on that said, “finally and forever”, lol.

The Eiffel Tower

You can’t go to Paris and NOT see the Eiffel tower. With 3 hours left I hopped in a cab, waved my Euros, and said Eiffel tower Ci bu plié (or however you spell please in French). The Eiffel tower was better than the one in Vegas by far, and still amazes me that they built it for the World’s Fair and just left it up. At the time, the people thought it was the ugliest part of Paris, and wanted it torn down. Now it is an iconic symbol of the city – funny how time changes culture and opinions.

The crowds hadn’t quite arrived, and I was still in the early days of my photography skills. Trying to take a selfie (before the days of selfie sticks) was nearly impossible without almost standing on your head.

Take a Ride Around the City

After the Eiffel tower, I still had 2 hours to spare, and thought, ‘well, why not grab a taxi and go see the Arch de Triumph and drive by the Louvre. This is where it was a little nerve wracking for me, I didn’t speak French, I have SEVERE directional handicaps, and get stressed out in traffic (which Paris has plenty of).

As fate would have it, I jumped into a cab where there was this cute man in his late 50’s who through our language barriers, my drawings, and his broken English – took me to the Arch and drove past the Lourve, and asked if it was my first time in Paris. I told him it was, and that there was something so magical and beautiful about the city. I told him how friendly the people were in Paris are, and that it has always been a dream of mine to come to Paris.

Well he then signaled that he would like to show me some other great things about Paris, I said, “Sure!” — mind you I was naïve at the time and the movie ‘Taken’ hadn’t come out yet. He took me past Marie Antionette’s House, past the road to Versailles, past several other places I can’t remember the names of, but thought was very interesting because I had heard their history and knew I was witnessing history of France.

We must have driven around for about 30 min and I was getting nervous about the cost of the cab ride because I only had so many Euros on me and was trying not to use my Debit Card. So I told him, “my wallet is telling me I better go back to Notre Dame”; he promptly took me back to Notre Dame and I was calculating how much I just spent on a lovely cab ride and collecting the appropriate Euros from my purse.

Well I looked up after he stopped and saw that there was no price on the meter. I asked how much? He said, “Nothing” in his beautiful French accent, I think I was in shock at the moment because I had my money in hand and this man wouldn’t take it. I asked if he would take a tip at least, he said, “No”…..my eyes welled up with tears, and wanted to hug the guy, and said, “BUT WHY????” …..he struggled to find the right English words then threw his hands up in the air and simply said, “Welcome to Pariee”…..I thanked him profusely and got out of the cab, and stood there stunned as I watched him drive off……What a beautiful person, in such a beautiful city.

The Museums

If you happen to have more time, or get lucky enough to have more than one layover in Paris – I would suggest checking out some of the museums on each layover as Paris tends to be a main hub for flights connecting to other areas in Europe.

Musée d’Orsay

On another one of my 8-9 hour layovers in Paris I headed over to the Musée d’Orsay . I am an admirer of Impressionist artwork and couldn’t miss a chance to see one of the largest Impressionist art museums in Europe.

With over 3.17 million visitors per year, I would highly suggest buying your tickets online before hand for a seamless entry. Also keep in mind that they do not allow backpacks or bags larger than your hand into the museum. You have to either store them at the airport, or you can see if they will hold your bag for you.

The Musee d’Orsay was originally built as a railway station and in the 1900’s converted into a museum that now holds some of the most notable artists from the late 1800’s to early 1900’s including Monet, Manet, Degas, Renoir, Cézanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gauguin, and Van Gogh.

I really enjoyed this museum as it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the Lourve. Compared to the Lourve I felt like I could take a quite moment and really appreciate the artwork, listen to my audio tour about the stories behind the pieces – and even have a place to sit when my plantar fascitis started kicking in.

The Lourve

The Lourve is a classic for any visit to Paris, but there have been some changes recently in how they allow tourists in. The Lourve now requires you to make a reservation beforehand online. They are staggering groups of tourists, so that they can control the crowds a little better.

The best time to go is either immediately when it opens, or actually an hour before it closes. They have maps, and even for someone directionally challenged like I am- I found it fairly easy to get around and find the major art pieces I wanted to see within 2-3 hours.

Just be sure you time yourself, keep a watch with you, set vibrating alarms if you have to – to make sure you are out in an area where your ride can pick you up and take you back to the airport (or you find the right train to get on).

Other Options for Longer Layovers

If you have more than 6-8 hours, I would dare you to venture a little farther and visit some of these other iconic places within Paris. If you are on a 12 hour layover, you could possibly visit Versailles, but that would likely be your only stop before having to return to the airport.

I put together some resources for you in case you have a Daytime or a Nightime layover in Paris.

Daytime Layover in Paris:

All of the suggestions below are within close proximity to the city center. I have created an interactive map at the bottom of this post to help you plan your own layover in Paris.

Shakespeare Company

Many writers have stayed in this bookshop over the centuries getting inspiration from the books, and many vagabond autobiographies written here from those who have stayed. With Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Richard Wright, William Saroyan, James Jones, and James Baldwin debating and inspiring other writers from within these walls – for every nomad who passes through this city it is a must visit.

Nearly 30,000 young artists and writers have stayed here since the inception of this shop. Often being called tumbleweeds after the rolling thistles that ‘drift in and out with the winds of chance’. The founder, George, referred to his shop as the ‘socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore’.

All you have to do in order to be allowed to stay is this:

  • Read a book a day
  • Help at the shop for a few hours a day
  • Produce a one-page autobiography about yourself

So be a part of the story and be sure to not just visit, but stay the night at the Shakespeare and Company bookshop.

Photo Courtesy of Parisinfo.com

Sainte-Chappelle

 Construction started on this building in 1238 by Louis IX, to house his religious relics he had collected over the years. The building was also used to house members of the royal family as well. It is one of the best examples of Rayonnant Gothic Architechture – which has a strong vertical lines and almost makes the cathedral appear as if it will lift itself up to the heavens while you sit there.

Today, while Notre Dame is being repaired, this chapel holds the remnant of Jesus Christ’s thorny crown. Interestingly enough, this is where it was in the beginning (one of Louis IX holy relics) before being moved to Notre Dame.

Les Deux Magots or Cafe de Flore

The Magot cafe, so named for the maggots occupying the center pillar inside this cafe over look this is a famous local hangout. If walls could talk, they would tell you that this is where the literary giant Hemingway – would frequent for inspiration, described in his book A Movable Feast. Other Greats like Oscar Wilde, Picasso (and his love Dor Maar) all ferquented this cafe. It still has it’s 1930’s charm and is well worth a visit if you have a chance to sit and people watch from the cafe patio.

Visit the Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Gardens are on the left bank of Paris, with more than 100 statues, winding paths, puppet shoes, carousel rides, and pony rides. It was previously part of the Luxembourg Palace, which is now a museum and well worth a visit. Even just visiting a cafe, grabbing your food, and then taking it to the Luxembourg Gardens will make for a very Parisian afternoon.

Nightime Layover in Paris:

Walk the Seine

Walk the Seine, this might sound like a bad idea for a solo traveler – but I felt completely safe walking the Seine on one of my layovers. It was 11pm and I couldn’t sleep, walking the Seine with the bridges lit up, young lovers strolling along holding hands and seeing the Eiffel tower glittering was a perfect way to wind down.

The Pont Neuf is one of the oldest standing bridges along the Siene and has a perfect view of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Pont des Arts and Ile de la Cite are both pedestrian bridges that will take you into the center of the city and offer incredible views.

Visit An Edgy Wine Bar

Some of the bars that were suggested to me, but I never had a chance to visit were the Le Verre Vole and Frenchie Bar a Vins – they both have a relaxed environment and offer tapas, and small plates for your midnight in paris snack.

Eat At A Michelin Star Restaurant

Paris is considered the foodie capital of the world, so why not treat yourself to a Michelin Star Restaurant while there. You will need to check the times of your flight and plan for a longer meal time though. Europeans are not like Americans in the amount of time the dedicated to enjoying their meals. So plan for at least 3 hours if you go into a Restaurant of this caliber. You can check the Michelin Star Restaurants near the center of the city to choose one for your palette.

Have more time? Go to an Opera, Music Event, Festival, Play there is plenty to do in Paris – you just have to plan out your time carefully if you have limited amount of time.

Interactive Map for You Paris Layover

Where NOT To Go On Your Layover

Don’t go to Disneyland Paris, or Versailles – it is so far out of the city, you will most certainly miss your flight. Not to mention the traffic there and back would be a nightmare.

What to Wear For Your Layover

You are going to stand out no matter what you wear. Yet, like any country – strangers will treat you better if you appear as if you tried to take care of yourself. So I would suggest wearing something business casual.

My go to wardrobe for this type of thing, and also feeling comfortable on the plane is Ann Taylor LOFT.

For Overnight Layovers, Here is Where To Stay In Paris

Booking.com

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Halloween Activities near Salt Lake City Utah (from a Local)

Halloween Activities near Salt Lake City Utah (from a Local)

Halloween is one of my favorite times of the year, I think it is because everyone can be whatever they want. A child who dreams of being a princess, a little boy who dreams of big muscles and fighting like spider man can let their imagination run wild. So for all my fellow U-tards, here is a guide on Halloween Activities near Salt Lake City Utah.

Unique Halloween Experiences in Utah

About an hour north of Salt Lake City, there is a small town called Heber Utah – where every season their iconic train, the Heber Creeper transforms into a holiday delight.

Pumpkin Train

They start off with the Pumpkin Train, where adults, toddlers, and babies alike can dress as pumpkins. It is a 40-minute train ride costumed characters enthrall you with G-rated stories and jokes. Each passenger is given a delicious pumpkin cookie, and at the end of the trip, you get to pick out a pumpkin from the pumpkin patch for carving. They also have a family-friendly haunted train car, and if you survive the haunted car you even get a Halloween sticker.

Wizard Train

If you can’t make it on the Pumpkin Train, then I suggest the Wizard Train! Dress up as your favorite wizard, and take a 90-minute train ride through the fall colors and canyons. Each wizard will be sorted by the sorting hat, receive a delicious chocolate frog, and if you are brave enough – you get to try the Bertie Botts Every Flavor Bean. There will be costumed wizards, characters, wands, games, trivia, photos and more.

The Best Haunted Houses

If you haven’t been to Utah or lived here during Halloween – you will miss out on the incredibly spooky culture of Haunted Houses. Yes indeed, from Happy Valley Haunts, to spooktacular and incredibly terrifying hands-on haunted houses – there is something for everyone. There is even a new wave of ‘leveled hauntings’ where you can choose the level of fear you want to experience within a haunted house (for your little ones as well. Boo-fore I get ahead of myself, I will just briefly share my top 5 haunted houses for the whole family.

Castle of Chaos

Castle of Chaos is the “home of hands-on horror” and known for The Mansion, The Caverns, Nightmare in 3D, X-Scream Dungeon. There are several ticket options including General Admission, glow wand admission (that keeps the monsters away). There are four levels of scares, and the extreme haunt: X-Scream Hands-On Horror™ involves some pretty heavy hands-on actor interaction. Not only can the actors touch you, but they can pick you up, drag you off, get you wet, place things or our pets on you, restrain you, mock torture you, put you in things, and anything else that is legal and safe.  They have 5 levels of tickets that range from mild glow wand to extreme.

Haunted Forest

I remember going to the Haunted Forest as a kid and really liking it. This place has been running for more than 25 years. You wind your way through the forested areas, into and out of creepy makeshift buildings and get scared off with a grand finale. While there are mixed reviews on this haunted area, I really enjoyed it as a kid.

Nightmare on 13th

Nightmare on 13th boasts itself as one of the top haunted attractions in America. Getting through all 3 haunted houses takes you about an hour. Everyone gets a free online photo taken with one of the haunted characters, which you download from their site. You will find yourself wandering through Haunted Hollywood, Swamp Blood, and Delirium. They also have a separate extreme fright experience.

Dead City Haunted House

Dead City Haunted House is one I definitely want to check out this year, as they just made over $50,000 in animatronic updates, and now have over 50 rooms of fear. There is an option for less scary days, but there are only 4 days so be sure to check online to arrange those.

Fear Factory

The Fear Factory dates back to 1894, this former cemetery factory is a deadly paranormal hotspot. It is full of a history of twisted accidents. If some in your party aren’t partial to haunted houses, then do not fret – there are also DJ’s, bands playing, concessions and a few deadly characters outside. It takes about 45 minutes to go through Fear Factory. They have several options for extreme levels of fright depending on your ticket purchase, as long as your willing to sign the waiver. 

Corn Mazes Near Salt Lake City

Pack Farms – Farmington, UT
Darryl Pack started farming with his family in Davis County about 1950. They’ve been selling pumpkins to local grocery stores for years, but demand caused them to open their farm ten years ago so you can pick your pumpkin from the field. You can also enjoy the hay maze and scarecrow picture gallery.

Wheeler Historic Farm – Salt Lake City, UT
This agricultural living history museum and outdoor recreation are operated by Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation that was founded in 1887 by Henry Wheeler Sr. They have a pumpkin patch, corn maze, hay maze, and wagon ride. Each October they also hold a Scarecrow festival and contest.

Crazy Corn Maze – West Jordan, UT – 8 Acres
This will be the twentieth year for their maze. There is also a separate haunted trail after dark and 4-acre pumpkin patch.

Cornbelly’s – Lehi, UT – 12 Acres – 3 Mazes
Up for US Today’s Top Ten Corn Mazes. It is a perfect place for the whole family to run amuck. There are animal shows, face painting, games, rides, inflatable dinosaurs/monsters, mini hay mazes, zip lines, and plenty of places to get those enviable family fall photos. At night, there is a separate haunted maze and other haunted attractions here. It is located right behind Thanksgiving point, where you can grab some sandwiches and swing over to the Farm barn and petting zoo, or the Dinosaur Museum.

Pumpkin Patches Near Salt Lake City

Cross E Ranch – Salt Lake City Utah

This is the only interactive working cattle ranch in Salt Lake City Utah. During their Fall festival, there are plenty of animals to interact with. Their corn maze (of which there are 3 different ones) is 14 acres, with nearly 7 miles of trails weaving throughout the corn maze. They also have a 12-acre pumpkin patch, hayrides, corn pits, straw pyramid, mini straw maze, zip lines, pig races, fire pits, slides, and new this year they have an archery shooting range!

Schmidt’s Farm – West Jordan, Utah

This pumpkin patch is one of the largest with around 500 tons of pumpkins produced each year.  While it doesn’t have the family activities that Cross E Ranch has, it is a garden center that boasts some of the best pumpkins around. They also have some delicious salt and peppercorn to take home along with your pumpkins. The crazy corn maze is close by if you wanted to make it a longer activity for family and friends.

Maybe’s Pumpkin Patch – South Jordan

This is a farm with historical roots, in fact, it is named as a ‘Utah Century Farm‘ because it was founded in 1884. It is a 14-acre patch, with over 45 different pumpkins and plenty of Instagram-able backdrops, barns and photo booths to capture the moment.

Halloween Park Fun

Evermore

As a World Walker, you enter into Evermore Park where it feels as if you are walking onto a movie set straight out of Europe. There are seasonal themes to the park, but during Halloween, you enter Evermore Lore. You take a quest through the fairyland where the Fae King has fallen to the darkness and you must help the other inhabitants figure out how to protect themselves and save the Fae King. The story develops and becomes a little more haunted each time you go back.

If you just want to dress up as your favorite hobbit, elf, magician or fortune teller – all fae folk are welcome. You can try your hand at chess in the Tavern where songs with local scallywags are sung. Train your elvish senses in the art of Archery or Ax throwing, learn about the birds, reptiles, and Evermore Park themed cuisine.

While there are portions of the park that are still under construction, visiting Evermore during Lore is well worth the visit.

Frightmares

There are over nine haunted attractions during Frightmares at the theme park in Farmington. You can ride different rides and roller coasters, along with a stroll through an old cowboy town and a haunted carriage house. Hosted by Lagoon, the staff here pull out all the tricks and treats to make the whole family enjoy their Halloween.

Boo at the Zoo – Hogle Zoo

There are various booths for kids 12 and under throughout the Boo at the Zoo where they can trick-or-treat. Even the animals get special pumpkin and Halloween treats, making the animals throughout the zoo quite active and lively in the holiday spirit. The trick-or-treating activity is free with regular Zoo admission or membership and begins at 9 am and ends at 3 pm.

Pumpkin Nights at Utah State Fair Park

Located in four major cities, this array of pumpkin art will spark the imagination and fill your SD cards with Halloween delights. There is the pumpkin dragon, pumpkin turtle, fire breathers, and the tunnel of pumpkins. There are plenty of sweet treats to fill the belly, and sights to fill the soul as well with holiday delights.

Halloween Shows and Convention

Thriller by Odessey Dance Theatre – Kingsbury Hall

Odyssey Dance Theatre will present its smash Halloween Hit Thriller in 5 locations this year.

This year’s show will have all of the favorite pieces from the past – Thriller, The Curse of the Mummy, Dem Bones, Frankenstein, Jason Jam, Salem’s Mass, The Lost Boys – plus a few new surprises. Get your tickets early because many of the shows sell out quickly! This show has been running for as long as I can remember and is truly a tradition your family can enjoy, although I wouldn’t suggest bringing kiddos younger than 8 to this show as it can get a little spooky for them.

Desert Star Theatre

This is a show for the whole family, young and old, it is quite fun and very interactive. Make it a dinner and a show, there are tables, popcorn, and food available. Shows play year-round, but they have popular Halloween characters pop in this time of year for a pumpkin smashing good time. You do have to reserve your tickets in advance.

Red Butte Garden

The Garden After Dark is a two-weekend family-friendly event with a theme and activities great for kids. This year the theme is ‘Trouble in Oz’, where kids get to follow the Yellow-Brick road around looking for the flying monkeys that the witch released. Are dazzled by light shows, explore the corn maze, and meet Dorothy, Glinda, and the Wicked Witch at the Ozdust Ballroom. This is a ticketed event that sells out quick.

FearCon

Where all things ghoulish, ghostly, and downright creepy are celebrated and shared. Bring out the inner darkness, and witchy ways within with this convention of fear and fright. It isn’t just about vendors, and costumes – the convention requires each vendor to dress up, provide interaction and add to the ‘show’. There is ax throwing to get you ready for the zombie apocalypse, haunted trailers, a frightmare street, and an opening night party to start the spook season off right.  

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Where to Stay in Salt Lake City

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A Day Trip To Delft

A Day Trip To Delft

Delft Pottery is one of the signature souvenirs you see in shops throughout the Netherlands. Little do people know, there is a long and proud history of where this pottery originates. If you want to see master pottery makers, and where one of the greatest painters of the 16th century lived – take a day trip to Delft.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam is about an hour by train or car. If you are visiting Den Hauge, then it is only a 15-20 min car or train ride away. Here is a little guide on what to see while your there.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam - Delft Blue Pottery

Royal Delft Pottery Museum

This was recommended to me by a local there. The reason why is because not only do you get to see the factory where the Delft Pottery is made – it also has a museum of Pottery. The Pottery within this museum is part and partial collection of the Royal Family.

Each birth, marriage, and major event Located 1 mile outside town, but they have a little golf cart that picks people up and takes them to the factory. Be sure to pay for a return ticket if you don’t want to explore via walking on the way back.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam - East Gate Entrance

History of Delft

Delft was founded in 1075, severely damaged by fire in 1536 as well as an explosion of gun powder stores in 1654. Delft itself was a major trade center for the famous tin-glazed pottery.

It was home to William of Orange and contains many graves of the House of Orange in the New Church. It was also home to Vermeer and attracted main painters for inspiration due to the quaint nature of the city.

Delft had strong fortifications because of the amount of trade that happened in this area. City walls were erected, and medieval gates were placed to protect the inhabitants during the Dutch revolt against Spanish Control.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam - Oude Kerk - the old church

Oude Kerk, The Old Church

This truly is one of the oldest structures in the city, established in the 1050s, but rebuilt later by St Bartholomew. Walk inside the old church, and visit one of the greatest artists of the 16th century, John Vermeer. Marvel at the 18th-century organ, which often hosts concerts as there are 3 different organs built inside this one church. The stained glass windows are quite remarkable in this particular church.

Take a hike up the church steeple, and see the 9-ton bell adorning this church that rang out in mourning for the Royal family, or warned citizens in cases of disaster. The vibrations of the bell are so strong, that it is now very rarely rung.

If you walk down one of the neighboring canals and turn around, you will see that the tower is actually leaning to one side by nearly 6.5 feet (2 meters). This is due to the canal running so close to the church, making the foundation of the church unstable.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam - New Church Tower

Best City View of Delft, New Church Tower

Want to work off some of the dutch chocolate and cheese? How about wear out your kids so they sleep well? Then take a hike up the 367 stairs in the New Church Tower. Towering over 360 feet (110m) in the air, it has been the most recognizable landmark in Delft for centuries.

If you reach the top of the tower, you may just be able to make out The Hague and Rotterdam in the distance.

There is quite a lot of history tied to this particular church, including William of Orange. It was in Delft that he fought the Spanish occupation, and was murdered in Prinsenhof in 1584. If you go inside, you can visit his grave, and the graves of all other Royal Family Members of the Netherlands as this is the designated last resting place.

The church itself was established in 1381 as Ursula’s Church, after the reformation it was converted into a Protestant church which changed the name to ‘Nieuwe Kerk’ or ‘New Church’.

Be sure to take a guided tour to get all the historical tidbits that surround this Royal Resting place.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam - Beestenmarket

Beestenmarket

Originally used as a cattle market area (note the bull sculpture in the middle) during the late 1st to 6th century until 1972. The area was then converted into a carpark, and then in the mid-1990s became a public square.

The area is lined with cute cafes, restaurants, bars with plenty of outdoor seating. If going for a Day Trip to Delft, I would recommend visiting in the late evening when many of the restaurants and cafes are actually open. The area is lit by romantic lighting, and in the spring and fall there are warming cells, and blankets to snuggle under.

It is a great place to visit at all times of the year, with 24 trees providing ample shade in the warmer months, and in the winter is transformed into an ice skating rink.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam - William Orange history

Museum Prinsenhof

Museum Prinsenhof Delft, or the Princes Court, is a former home & convent where one of the most important men in Dutch history – King William Orange fought the Spanish in the 15th century and was eventually assassinated.

A revolution between the Calvinist Dutch and the Catholic Spanish broke out because of William Orange’s ideals of freedom, tolerance, and religion living hand in hand. There was no room for this type of forward-thinking with the devout Catholic Spanish.

On July 10, 1584, William of Orange was assassinated for his beliefs by Balthasar Gerards on the staircase at Het Prinsenhof. You can still see the bullet holes near the staircase where he was gunned down. His sons eventually led the Dutch to Victory, realizing William Orange

You can also discover the history of Delft (and the rest of the Netherlands).

Johannes Vermeer

Johannes Vermeer was born in Oct 1632 in Delft, where he lived his entire life. Only about 36 of his revered paintings survive and are some of the rarest and treasured of the finest art galleries in the world. His layered approach and capturing reflections and realism in the daily lives of the citizens of Holland will take your breath away.

What is the most fascinating part of Vermeer’s life, is that he comes from a family of fine satin makers and art purveyors. There is no mention of his training as a painter, only that the works he produced were incredible.

Be sure to check out the life and career of this famous Delft Native at the Vermeer Centrum in Delft.

A Delft day trip from Amsterdam -  Kobus Kuch for the pie

Eat at Kobus Kuch

This cozy little cafe is in the center of town, right beneath the New Church. No matter what time of year you come, this place will never disappoint with their Famous Appletart and hot cocoa. They sell over 60,000 slices of pie per year, along with the typical bar food, and plenty of adult beverages to please any palate.

Wrapping Up Your Day Trip to Delft

You could easily spend two days in this quaint and historic town. If you only have a few hours though, I would stop by the Royal Delft Museum, The Princes Court Museum, and then grab a slice of Kobus Kuch Appletart to eat on the way back to your home base.

Getting To Delft

Delft is the ideal base for trips to the beach, Rotterdam, The Hague, Leiden, and Amsterdam. The Hague and Rotterdam and it takes about 15 minutes to get to either city. And in only 45 minutes you can get to Amsterdam (airport) from Delft via train.

Map of Delft

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Where To Stay in Delft

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