Choosing accommodation for your travel has gotten more complicated over the years. Often leaving folks confused and worried they will make the wrong decision. Especially with reports of travelers being attacked, personal items stolen, and even the rare occasion of someone being killed. So I put together a guide on things to look for when choosing accommodation for your travels.
From beginning to end, this will be the ultimate guide on getting started when choosing your adventure accommodation and staying safe when you do. Be sure to check out my other articles on Safety while solo traveling as well. It will give a more detailed view of tips on how to stay safe, as well as what to do if you feel you landed in an unsafe situation. So let’s dive in on choosing your perfect accommodation!
Your Destination – When Choosing Accommodation
Is it a third world country or a first world country?
When your choosing accommodations, look at what the place is made of. Maybe it is a wood/grass hut on the beach with opportunities for perfect pictures, but no hot shower – or the toilet is shared and across the village. Make sure you take note of what is included in the room before you book it. There are so many wannabe YouTubers out there – that you can get a general idea from videos on the area and accommodation. Even the poorest countries have a phone and Facebook so asking for a few photos or to confirm certain amenities is in your best interest.
Is it a remote small village or a bustling city?
If it is a remote village will you have a way to get there? Is that factored into your budget? If it is in a bustling city, how easy is it to find your way there and how costly. Is traffic going to be an issue? If it is then the taxi rates are going to be sky-high unless you can get them to agree on a set price before you get into the vehicle.
What type of activities are you going to be participating in?
If you are going to be visiting Macchu Picchu you will want to stay up near the entrance to get there before the crowds. Conversely, if you are only there for a short period of time, is it worth it to hotel/hostel jump from place to place? What if you are scuba diving out in Fort Lauderdale and it would be easier to get to the shop by staying on Singer Island rather than paying for a taxi multiple days to get back and forth. Are there activities at night and places to eat close to your accommodation. When you are fighting Jet Lag, you can often awake in the middle of the night with hunger pains that can have you chewing the arm of your travel companion off or eating the bar of soap.
Is the country conservative or are their citizens heavily restricted with rules?
When I was traveling with a Moroccan friend near southern Morocco, they are still ruled by strict social guidelines. So we had to pretend that he was my brother-in-law in order to be able to rent an apartment. Otherwise, they would have required to see a marriage document prior to renting the apartment. Several of them actually refused when they saw that he had a white American Female in the car. Given their point of view, I can see why several people refused (just in case he was kidnapping me – even though it wasn’t the case). Each place I stayed at also wanted a copy of my passport – which has ALL my personal information on it. So would you be comfortable letting them copy that information? Some places may refuse to rent to you if you are not comfortable giving that information. So these are just some things to think about, especially if you are a solo female traveler.
Are your comforts of home important to you?
It is important to remember that not every destination is going to have an air conditioner you can blast, fireplace you can light up, or even traditional heating. They may not even have a working toilet, or maybe you can sit on the toilet, shower, and brush your teeth all at the same time. We stayed in an apartment in Italy once as a family, where the smell of the sewer was so strong that we could barely shower. So be sure to read reviews and amenities of a location before going, so you can be well informed on what you will have to compromise and if you are willing to do that.
Time of Arrival or Departure – When Choosing Accommodation
Do you arrive at night or during the day?
I typically look for the best deal on Booking.com when I’m attempting to rent a place. I really like the filters you can choose from, and you can easily decide if a hotel/hostel/B&B is right for you all on the same platform.
As the years of travel have come and gone, I have gotten a lot more detailed in my approach when renting an Airbnb, Booking.com place. Sometimes it is the best deal because it is a remote part of the city that isn’t safe to lug my big suitcase and a backpack full of camera gear. So it is definitely something to consider. Another thing to consider is how accessible it is to catch a taxi, the cost of an Uber or Lyft to and from the transportation stations (airport, train, bus). There was one morning in Poland I counted on being able to catch a taxi to the train station and found that in Poland – in the center of Warsaw – no one is awake before 8 am. So I had to get access back into the building I had just deposited my room keys into, so I could get Wifi to call an Uber.
Your Budget When Choosing Accommodation
Does your budget include a fancy place to stay?
If this is going to be a relaxing vacation with lots of beach time, then maybe spending a little more on an all-inclusive resort would be worthwhile. If you are going to be out looking at historic sites in the center of the city, maybe it would be worthwhile to spend a little more of the budget to stay closer to those sites. If you are just looking to spend as little as possible, because you will be backpacking from one place to the next anyway, then maybe a hostel is your best bet.
Do you want to spend your vacation budget on your accommodation or on seeing the city?
The biggest beef I have with spending money on accommodation is that it takes away from my ability to spend money on tours, food and really experiencing the culture. So I tend to personally go for a cheaper (but comfortable) accommodation and then have loads left for tours and activities.
What type of vacation is this for you? Will you spend more time in a hotel (Honeymoon) or more time seeing the sites (on a group tour, or with a bunch of friends)?
If your vacation is going to be a romantic getaway, then I would tell you to spend a little more to have a cozy bed with a view and easy access to come back to the hotel frequently. If you will be in a tour group, they typically include the cost of the hotel, or I would get a hotel that will be close to the majority of your meeting spots.
Your Desire for Convenience When Choosing Accommodation
Does the destination have Taxies or Ubers?
Believe it or not, not every country/city has Taxies or Ubers. There are equivalents available in some countries (see my growing Worldwide Airport Transportation List) but sometimes it is just good old fashioned walking, horse and carriage or a Tuk Tuk. In certain cities in South America, if you are caught by the police taking an Uber/Lyft (like in Santiago) then you can get a $1000 fine. So I would definitely consider how you will get around the city, and to and from the airport when choosing accommodation.
Is there public transport? Is transportation able to handle your luggage?
Once you figure out your mode of transportation to and from the airport, also consider if they will be able to handle the amount of luggage you are planning on bringing. I can tell you right now, a Tuk Tuk will not be able to handle two people with their luggage. When I was in San Pedro La Laguna, near Lake Atitlan – the roads are too narrow for cars in most places, often get flooded in the rainy season. The Tuk Tuks there couldn’t hold 3 curvy women at once, so I had to squat and pray I didn’t break my ankle because my leg was hanging out of the Tuk Tuk.
If you are being picked up in a shared ride, or transfer service (often found on the airline websites when you book your flight) – they may have luggage restrictions to two per passenger or less.
If it is a shared Uber/Lyft or Taxi – you will have to be considerate of other passengers who may not be as prepared as you are – or pack as light as you do.
Your Travel Companions – Questions to Ask Before Booking
Do your travel companions have physical limitations? ie/ Wheelchair, bad knees, chronic pain
Americans are very lucky (and some countries in Europe), in that most everything is accessible to those with disabilities. Even in Scotland, there are things I took for granted in America that they do not have there due to the way the city has grown and morphed over the years. Working in the medical field it was eerie to me to not see elderly on the street – or those in wheelchairs or on crutches – there are seldom elevators unless specifically stated; Hostels, Airbnb, and B&Bs do not typically have elevators.
If you travel with Chronic pain and are stuck on an hour train ride in between the cars because you didn’t realize you had to reserve a seat and not just purchase a ticket – this could result in major pain that could result in a ruined vacation. So be aware of who you travel with, and have frank conversations about tolerance levels and ability to treat pain while vacationing.
What about those with bad joints, or those with heart or lung issues. Can they go up stairs, do they have elevators, what is the air pollution in the city like vs in the country? These are all things to consider and ask both the accommodation and your travel companions about. When I was in Edinburgh, and even in Marrakesh – I was grateful I had my inhaler because I have reactive asthma attacks. I get extremely fatigued, and a sore throat when the air quality is bad. Going up to high elevations quickly, like in Zermatt on the Little Matterhorn, at 15,000 feet – I nearly ended up in the hospital with an oxygen level of 85% because I discovered I was extremely prone to altitude sickness.
Do your travel companions travel light, or over pack with lots of bags?
Again, everything is a little bigger in America vs other countries. If you show up in Japan or China with 2 large bags and a big backpack – you may as well just buy an additional hotel room. Everything is small and jam-packed unless you know what you are getting into and can afford the larger hotel rooms.
Your Activities When Choosing Your Accommodation
Are you going to have a car?
If you are going to have a car, is there parking available at your accommodation? If there isn’t, then you have to look at costs for parking – and if you are good enough at parallel parking. In Morocco, if you decide to drive there, the parking spaces are very very tightly packed. There are certain meanings when you flash your brights or turn on your hazard lights. They even have parking assistants that you have to tip at least a dollar every time they help you, otherwise, you can get punched (saw a legit street brawl between a parking attendant and a local – lots of blood). In Edinburgh, there are no parking areas, unless you want to pay $45-$85 a night at a very limited parking center in the city. In the center of Boston, the parking at any location can be upwards of $60 a night (minimum). So be sure you check on parking availability if you choose to rent a car, otherwise, it can eat your budget rather quickly.
Is accommodation close to affordable public transportation?
If there are no parking areas, is the accommodation close enough to (and safe enough) utilize public transportation? In Guatemala, it would have been cheaper to take the 5-hour bus ride to Lake Atitlan sure. Yet hiring a private ride for $60 for the 3-hour car ride through mountain passes where falling rocks, flooded roads is much safer and more reliable at 2 am.
Your Eating Habits When Choosing Accommodation
Is breakfast important to you?
If you like to sleep in but love your breakfast, then I would make sure you click on the filter option where breakfast is included in the cost, or there is a continental breakfast available. I could eat breakfast food all day everyday if I could. Dinner I just eat Almonds or a protein bar – but in Europe, Lunch and Dinner are some of the most important meals.
Check Local Holidays/Religious Events
This is something I discovered after dating several Muslim men, when they described their countries during Ramadan. A local religious holiday that lasts a month, where stores, and local eateries often close during the day for religious reasons. If you don’t know about Ramadan, I put together a basic guide on Ramadan, and when and why they celebrate. For the purposes of this article though, you need to know that stores will open after sunset/evening prayer, and close in the AM after morning prayer. If you are ok eating all night, and sleeping during the day, there are some special dishes that come out during Ramadan, and are only made during Ramadan that would be worthwhile to check out for all my foodies.
Do you like to eat out?
Are there places nearby that you can eat? If there are places that you can eat near your accommodation, is it the type of food you can eat? Do you have any particular dietary restrictions? If so, then looking at different neighborhoods where those are more likely to be available and have more variety. If you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or have any particular allergy to certain foods – then I would recommend using Pinterest to plan out your eating excursions before you go.
Do you cook your own meals when vacationing?
If you do have severe dietary restrictions, or like to eat a little healthier while traveling – then choosing an accommodation near a supermarket may be worthwhile. Try your hand at local cuisine, or even eat with locals through EatWith.com where you can schedule a meal with a local and other travelers, take a food tour, or even learn how to cook like a local.
Will Your Personality Fit Your Accommodation
Are you a quiet hermit type? Are you outgoing and lazie faire? Are you refined and love that luxury life?
If you don’t like chaos, or can’t sleep through drunk people coming in and out at all hours of the night – then a Hostel is not for you. Do you like to be social, but still want your privacy and a relaxed environment? Then a Bed and Breakfast may be for you. Do you love luxurious surroundings, and value your sleep above all? Then a higher-end luxury hotel might be the best choice.
When staying in any location, it is important to know if you have the only key to the house, apartment, or room.
If you don’t, then I would suggest to my Solo Female Travelers that you demand this, or just look for another accommodation. If it is a Bed and Breakfast type home, where other people will be staying, this is fine, but you still want to ensure that you will be safe while you are sleeping – and there is lockbox for your passport.
Will you be alone or with other people?
If you will be alone in a dangerous neighborhood, then I would suggest getting a hotel closer to the city – and make sure there is good lighting on the street. Using Google maps street view is a good way to take a look at the neighborhood you will be going.
If you will be staying with other people, such as in a hostel, do they have lockers you can use? If so, are there locks you can rent, or do you need to bring your own lock?
Is the community gated/barb wire fencing?
When I was staying in Guatemala City, there were a lot of reports online that theft and muggings were common with tourists. Arriving late at night from San Pedro made me a bit nervous, as I didn’t properly scope out my accommodation. Driving into the complex though, provided a lot of ease of mind when I saw that there was a security guard, cement fencing with barbed wire on the top, and good lighting in the streets. So it really depends on the safety level of the country you are going to, how cautious you need to be, and how much research you need to do prior to finalizing your booking.
There are certain countries where tourists have to stay inside a compound for safety reasons. So for my adrenaline junkies out there, make sure that you understand the risks. If there is a safety advisory by your state/country department for that particular country – and you decide to go anyway; it could limit their ability and willingness to help you if you decide to ignore those warnings.
Do they have safety measures for fire hazards, flooding, earthquakes, hurricanes?
If you are staying in a wooden bungalow in the Maldives, and a hurricane blows through while you’re there – because the prices were cheaper in the rainy season – do they provide, or have a safe spot or emergency evacuation plan/supplies to aid their guests? This is something that happened to a friend when in Jamaica, and they had to fend for themselves until the communities were stabilized. Luckily they were in a hotel, not a bungalow, and had some granola bars to tide them over while electricity was restored in the kitchens.
Getting Travel Insurance is a great way to ease the mind.
I typically will use World Nomads as my Travel Insurance for medical evacuation or any emergency needs/delays/cancellations. Something you will have to ensure with medical, natural disaster, or political unrest evacuations – is that the fine writing often says ‘will evacuate you to the nearest USA location or airport’. Well that doesn’t help you much if you are vacationing in South America, and they send you to a hospital in Atlanta – but your house is in Oregon. Medical Transport on a ventilator from one area of the USA to another is done by helicopter with a specialized team and starts at $15,000 depending on the team needed and flight time. So if you are from the USA, or are purchasing the insurance through your own country – I highly suggest you read the fine print on this particular portion.
Will you need to get vaccines prior to going?
If you are a US Citizen, there are certain vaccines that are mandatory if you visit a country where a disease is prevalent.
Some of the vaccines can be out of stock or on back order – so it could take months until you receive it. Be sure to check with your local health department on these specialty vaccines.
Getting the vaccines within a certain time period PRIOR to your departure is imperative. Your immune system needs time to work, and what if you have a bad reaction? The earlier you can do it the better is what I highly suggest.
Are there animals or insects that could come in while sleeping? Do they carry diseases? Does the accommodation have mechanisms to prevent this?
If you are terrified of snakes or creepy crawlies coming into your room at night – then any tropical environment, even Australia may not be for you, unless you stay in a place where this can’t happen.
If you are in Africa, having a mosquito net is essential as many parasitic diseases including Malaria are transmitted there.
If you are staying in a grass hut in South American, there is a bug called the Kissing Bug (bites near nose/eyes/mouth at night), that transmits a parasite that can live in you for decades before showing up as a major heart issue.
In hostels, there is a growing issue with Bed Bugs. I was attacked by Bed Bugs in a Hostel in Prague a few years ago. I had 32 bites all up and down my arms, legs, chest and even a few on my face. Little did I know that I was allergic to the bites, and ended up swelling at each bite, felt like I was hit by a bus for the entire time I was backpacking through Europe.
It isn’t just hostels though, Bed Bug reports in New York City were up by 40% in 2018. If you bring those little bastards home with you, guess what….it can cost anywhere from $1600 to $5200 to get rid of them. Often it results in you having to replace furniture, beds, clothes and other items that they squeeze into and lay hundreds of eggs. So consider yourself warned, research how to spot bed bugs, and make a rule that you put your bags outside the room until your inspection is complete. It only took once, to learn this very painful and difficult lesson.
Are there restrictions on staying with those of the opposite sex?
I touched on this previously when I was traveling with a local in Morocco. But I bring it up again here because some countries do not allow you to stay with the opposite sex unless you are married or have the same last name. So just inquire, before you book if you are concerned.
Is the destination friendly to the LGBTQI community? Would you be allowed to stay in the same room as your partner?
This one, unfortunately, is still not accepted worldwide. While the courageous individuals who are traveling to the more close-minded countries, and are helping to try to educate on this particular point – I would advise you to research this extensively. While I don’t really feel it is necessary to call out specific countries, I wanted to put this in this guide – because it can pose a security risk to members of the LGBTQI community.
A good resource for those in the LGBTQI community that want to travel is ‘Dopes On The Road‘ – this website will give you Safety Tips to Consider, questions to ask, and how to plan a honeymoon as a LGBT.
What about racial discrimination?
While I am a white American female, I do have plenty of inspirational women of color that I highly admire and look up to. One such person is, Glo, from the Blog Abroad – who is very frank, honest and open about facing discrimination while traveling and how she handles it. Another great resource for what it is like to travel like a black man is Erik Prince from Minority Nomad. His goal is to be the first black man to travel to every country and would be a great resource because so far (as of August 2019) he has visited 90 countries. Because of my own ethnicity, I think it is a subject that I regrettably have been ignorant of for my readers. So to those who are concerned about this, hearing it from a white woman isn’t going to ease your mind – so look up Glo and Erik – you won’t regret it.
I know these are a lot of questions to process and take in, so it may feel like information overload. This is why I broke it down into bullet points because once you choose your destination, know your budget, and limitations or preferences of the people you travel with – it will be easy to skip over some of the questions.
I tried to include every question I ask when approaching a booking, or choosing an accommodation (traveling with my dog is a whole other article that I didn’t address). So if you are trying to book something luxurious, then you will have a guide – if you are finding accommodation in a busy city or a remote village in Africa then you will have a resource to remind you of how to best approach it and make the most informed decision possible.
Would you include any tips/tricks or advice to those who are just starting out booking their own accommodation?
Belize is a country unlike most in the Caribbean, it is quickly being considered as the next Venice of the South. Luxury hotels, incredible food, and hospitable people make this a truly spectacular place to vacation to. Yet the two things I enjoyed most while visiting Belize were the Lamanai Mayan Ruins and Rio Secreto. I was able to take a cruise to the Western Carribean, and visit this ancient city – learning all about what life was like in ancient Mayan times.
How to Get To Lamanai Ruins
Getting to the Lamanai Ruins is half the adventure! I would suggest picking a tour group as the journey can be quite extensive – but easily done within the time allotted for a shore excursion. The drive from the port to the boat launch is around an hour, from there you take a boat along the New River.
The boat ride is up a very tropical river, albeit hot so be sure to bring an umbrella or a wide-brimmed sun hat. You will likely see Spider monkeys, howler monkeys, a variety of tropical birds, plants, and maybe even a drifting crocodile or two that the guides are great about pointing out to those on the boat.
I would suggest getting a spot on the front to middle of the boat for a nice breeze, excellent view, and a bit of spray from the river as many of the boats do not have shade on them.
You can also drive, but the drive out is long and really bumpy (think four-wheeling in a small van). You can choose either option from the Orange Walk area.
The History of the Lamanai Ruins
Entering the ancient Lamanai city, the guide pointed out mounds of dirt we had to walk over. The two mounds were about 8-9 feet in height, with a trench in between – suggesting that these were strategically dug in order to be used as a defensive protection for the city.
These ruins date back as far as 1500 BC, and have been excavating the ruins here since 1974 so it is still fairly new to the archaeology world. The three temples they have uncovered so far are the Jaguar Temple, The Mask Temple, and the High temple. These are the main highlights in the Lamanai ruins, and unlike Chizen Itza, you are able to climb up the High Temple for a great view over the canopy.
Something I learned about Mayans was that they put their faith in animals, and believe they represent different parts of a person. These animals are called Nuals or spirit animals that help shape our personalities as humans. They are also believed that in worshiping them, it provided a way for the specific power they would hold to enter them.
Temple of the Jaguar
This was my favorite Temple here apart from the high temple because you have to use your imagination to see the Jaguar. It was used up until the 15th century when the Lamanai people were converted to Christianity by the Spanish. The Jaguar is a cleverly structured so that the extensive time to carve the face from stone was avoided. Instead there are slots placed for the eyes, mouth, and nose. The slots placed here were used to leave offerings to the Jaguar God.
The Jaguar was considered the God of the Underworld, but takes the image of the nighttime sun God. He is often connected to fire rituals, which are very sacred to the Mayan Shamans. He is also considered to bring trade, riches, and is connected to the powers of sorcery.
The Mask Temple
This temple was built during 200 BC, and has two massive limestone heads carved carved into either side of the temple. Many historians believe this face represents one of the early leaders of the Mayans.
Beneath the temple, archeologists found a burial chamber with a male and a female buried here with several jade statues. These can be representative of a possible trade route between Copan or Quirigua and the Jade mines of a Guatemala.
The High Temple
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize are unique in that it has the tallest Mayan Temple, the High Temple. Rising 108 feet (33m) into the sky, this temple provides an incredible view of the canopy surrounding the area. This would have been the tallest building in Mesoamerica and was a bit of a billboard for those on the new river.
The long part of the temple (now deteriorated) once extended the entire length of the open area in front of the temple. This former part of the temple was used for sacrifices, and other offerings to the Gods. The guide told us when they were excavating they found parts of animal bones, and human bones.
The High Temple would have brought them closer to heaven, and allowed them to plot the stars and check the position of the sun. You can still climb to the summit today, but it is quite steep and so make sure you have good knees and are not afraid of heights. Take is slow and steady and you will be awarded with an amazing view.
It is interesting to think about how much science has taught us vs what ancient civilizations would craft in their minds to explain simple processes. It makes me grateful to live in a time and age, where I’m able to know the ‘why’ for most things. Why the stars rotate, how animals function, how to heal the human body – and especially like that human sacrifices for the purpose of religion has become a thing of the past.
The Sunken Crocodile
Lamanai is the Mayan word for Sunken Crocodile, first recorded by Franciscan Monasteries visiting the area in the 15th century. My inquring mind wondered, ‘Why would you name a city after such an ugly creature?’. Crocodiles, in Mayan theology were typically associated with fertility. Crocodiles were associated with the fertility of the soil, and the timeliness of the rains. Later on, the crocodiles were associated with the nobility. The God Itzam Na was commonly associated with the God of nobility.
There are a few things that crocodiles do well, and that is search for life, search for water both which are crucial elements of the earth. The Mayan’s believed that like a terrestrial being they can find water and absorb the energy from it. They also obtain it through a Celestial element by commanding the rainfall. So they believed that the crocodile is both terrestrial, celestial and from the underworld as well – rising from the depths to contact humans and give inspiration.
Water is, and was revered as a sacred element of life – despite all the rain, jungle and resources – the people in Belize have often known drought as much of the surrounding water is undrinkable. So to have animals like Crocodiles search out water sources, I could definitely see the connection of importance to the Mayans and these ferocious creatures.
This Stele was one of the first items found when uncovering this building. I didn’t understand the meaning of this Stela until after I came home and was researching it.
It has a long Heiroglyphic text on it that provided quite a bit of insight into the Mayan culture and religion. Many ‘writings’ with the Mayan Culture were done in images, that were then interpreted.
Stela 9 shows a image of a king dressed in symbolic attire. The symbolism of the attire reflects that of cosmic events (interpreted as acts by the Mayan Gods) that would happen in this area.
This King is wearing a serpent-monster headdress (likely a crocodile) symbolizing his celestial/divine birth/descent to being King of this region of the land. There is a dragon-like serpent head that protrudes from the top of the sceptre he is holding, and has a god appearing from its mouth, which is said to be the patron deity of Lamanai. The God from the sceptre wears goggles and has a curling serpent seeping from the corner of its mouth, both of these images are often associated with the rain-gods, such as Cicoyo/Chac/Cauac/Tlaloc.
While it is hard to see this in the photo, this is an important piece in the Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize as it provides further evidence of Mayan culture, their beliefs and images associated with certain Gods they worshiped in this region.
Entertainment without TV in Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize
It might be wrong to call it entertainment, the Mayans used it as a way to hold rituals and even ritualistic sacrifices. There are several basketball courts in Lamanai, shaped in an I shape with two slopes on either side. There was a long narrow playing field and two end zones. There was a 20 foot (6m) ring which competing teams would try to score through.
These rings are twice the height of a NBA net. The rules are not well understood as they weren’t documented well. There were, however, end results for the winners….some being not so enticing.
Many Mayans played this game, and often were mere betting on the teams that would happen. Other times it was done as a significant spiritual and ritualistic meaning. The significantly ritualistic events turned spectacle in rigged games where prisoners of war played and were sacrificed in the end.
Mayans believed that the Gods needed needed human blood to keep the sun and moon orbiting for their harvests. Thus it was also seen as a game between life and death, good and evil, with the possibility of the winners becoming demi-gods themselves.
There are over 1300 of these basketball courts throughout mesoamerica. There are over 500 of them in Guatemala alone, where they believe this game started.
While no one knows the exact rules of the ball game, Spaniards who saw the Aztec games in the 1500s reported that two teams of two to five players had to keep the ball in the air without using their hands or feet. They hit the ball with their upper arms, thighs or hips.
The rubber balls they used were of varying weight and size, from the size of a softball to a soccer ball. Solid rubber balls were heavy—up to eight or nine pounds—and could cause serious injury or even death. Games were won mostly by points. Around A.D. 1200, stone circles with a hole in the middle were attached high up on the walls of the ball court, up to six meters high. While getting a ball through the hole was rare, if a player got the ball through the hole, it was an instant win.
I knew there was a reason I have never been a big basketball fan. Now every time you watch a game, think about the opposing team being sacrificed in a blood ritual, lol.
Trade in Lamanai
Lamanai was a great trade route, being so close to the river. There have been remnants of trade materials within Lamanai, namely trade metals like copper dating back to 1150 AD. There was also Jade, bells, clothing ornaments, pins, chisels, axes, needles and fish hooks found.
Learning Mayan Culture
The Lamanai Mayan Ruins in Belize have yet to all be unearthed as funding for it is quite scant, yet I highly encourage a visit to see this ancient city. The Mayan culture was a unique and highly developed civilization for that time period.
It is always fascinating to learn about these ancient cultures, how they made sense of their daily lives, deities they worshiped and how they handled territorial disputes in the Jungle.
A visit to this Mayan city is highly encouraged for all those who have a sense of adventure, and want to learn how these people lived, worshiped, and died.
Have you ever heard someone say, “I need a vacation from my vacation”. I hear this more and more from people who ask me how I have so much energy after traveling so much. There really isn’t a secret to it, I just know how to pace myself while traveling, listen to what my body needs, and follow a certain set of rules for when I get back no matter how tired I feel – or how heavy the post-vacation blues feels.
Leave the House Clean
There is nothing worse than coming home to a pile of laundry that you know you are just going to make worse by all your travel clothes. While it seems stressful to try and add another thing to your ‘to-do’ list before you leave – at the bare minimum do your laundry before you leave. For those of us who love watching Marie Kondo, or Mrs Hinch; I suggest making the bed, chopping those pillows, doing the dishes, and vaccuming and mopping the floors.
You will find just how refreshing it is to come home to a clean house. Trying to readjust to normal life after a vacation is almost like trying to screw your head back on straight. It is easier for me to do get my life in order and back into a routine inside a clean house.
Arrange For A Ride Before Leaving
If you don’t need a car to take you, at least make sure you know if you will need to take a Taxi, train, or bus on the way home. Think about the luggage you will have, the time of night, if the transportation methods run that late; or if you should just take that Uber home and save yourself some headache.
There are always ways to get home, just be sure to keep in mind what time you arrive back home so you don’t have to stress about it when your jet lagged and shuffling your way out to your chosen transport method in a post vacation hangover.
Good Night’s Rest
The blessed bed! There is no bed, in the whole world, that is as comfortable as my own bed, my own incredibly soft Crown Goose Bedding, my 1000 count sheets, and Zoey snuggling up next to me. This is bliss to me!
Do not under-estimate investing in your bed, it is the thing that will help you the most with the inevitable Jet-Lag. It will help you recover your scrambled brain to help you function at work, so you can save for your next trip.
I am a very light sleeper, so I have made every effort to make sure that every part, portion and piece of my bed feels like heaven. I got my tufted headboard off of Amazon, and my favorite color being blue – for it’s soft and relaxing shade contributes to a relaxed environment.
The bedding, from Crown Goose, with some of the softest material I have felt in a long time. This bedding holds up in the wash really well, so no worries when you have your puppy snuggles. I also really like how elegant it looks, almost as if I have my own hotel room at home. The fabric holds up really well when I go and chop my pillows like Mrs Hinch in the morning, with crisp clean lines, and a white that reflects the sunlight from my window. They have several colors, all which are in the comforting and relaxing shades – so be sure to check them out – I promise you won’t regret it.
The 500 thread count sheets are a must for me. I know it sounds like a bit of a Princess and the Pea at this point, but I rub my feet on the sheets to help me sleep. I also toss and turn so much I needed some sheets that would hold up. I like that they come in all shades, and really can make or break my whole bed.
The last things I would add to this section is make sure you have a darkened room at appropriate times of the day. I personally use black-out curtains, and have to have the bedroom a little cooler. Fun fact, studies show that humans sleep better when the temperature is cooler at night because our body temperature drops slightly.
I must try and ride the wave coming off the plane on auto mode, and promptly unpack. I typically will unpack immediately and at least throw all the clothes either in the wash or the hamper. That way at least it is in its proper place ready for the madness of dealing with the laundry on your day off.
I also tend to pick out an outfit for work the next day. I typically go with some dark colors, to help my inevitable dark circles look a little brighter. I will either wear a flowy dress or skirt as well, so I don’t have to suck in the gut I tend to get from eating so much while on vacation.
Exercise vs Resting
Each body is different, and so I would say – listen to what your body needs. I typical traveler can walk anywhere from six to ten miles per day. When you add that up over the course of your trip, you pretty much walk two marathons over a week long trip!
For those coming from a desk job, to suddenly walking more than you do in a month combined – give your body the rest it needs. Give yourself plenty of water, and when your ready, keep walking at least three miles a day to keep up the stamina for your next trip. Even 20 minutes per day at least four days a week is great.
For those who run five or six miles a day, well… you just pat yourself on the back and get straight back to that gym! No pain, no gain – work off those carbs you indulged in while on vacation.
Nutrition vs easy Fast Food
I know how easy it is to drive home jet lagged and just stop by the nearest fast-food joint to do ‘one less thing’. RESIST THE URGE TO DO IT! This is part of the reason I try to meal prep something the week before I leave. Then freeze part of it so I have something healthy and nutritious to come home to.
If nothing else, grab your InstaPot throw in BBQ and some Frozen chicken and you can have a hot meal in 20 minutes. Get creative! There are plenty of recipes on Pinterest that are still good after being frozen.
Now this is the step that is an absolute must! It is hard for me to remember to take care of myself after going on a trip, feeling jet lagged, and needing my precious self care time. A time where I can soak the sore muscles from the flight in the tub, take a hot shower with a bath bomb thrown onto the floor for an infusion of wonderful smells. I also need cuddle time with my dog and to let the silence reset me while I rock in my recliner.
I feel like a part of me gets extremely fatigued by all the camera work, video work, and general mass amounts of ‘new input’ it receives while on vacation. Don’t get me wrong, I really love to travel the way I do, but after doing it every other week for two months – this step became increasingly important to me and the health of my friendships at home.
Take an Extra Day Off Work
The older I get the more I’m allowing myself to be ok with at least an extra day off of work. My paid time off of work is EXTREMELY precious to me, but I try and schedule my flights to give me at least one full day (or nearly full day) at home on my regularly scheduled day off, or I come home early on a Saturday instead of midnight on a Sunday. The extra cost is worth it to me, to come home earlier in the day.
Arrange for Grocery Pickup/Delivery
With Walmart, Amazon, Costco, Smiths and many other large grocery chains now offering ordering your groceries online – take advantage of this! For one thing, it helps you stay on budget which will help you save for your next trip. The second part, is that you can jump in the car, drive 5-10 minutes and just pick up the few things you will need to complete the work week and still get the rest you need.
I started doing this on my last trip, and was amazed at just how incredibly put together I felt the next morning – knowing all I had to do was go to work and come home to rest.
Purge All Your Thoughts
Writing down all the impact memories that either agitated you, or inspired you along your trip will do two things. One- It will help you release some of the emotions you may have collected along the way, and also ease the worry of not remembering your incredible journey. Two- Allows your mind to take a rest of trying to input so much information, learning, and experiences.
I also keep a small journal with me, or notepad where I take notes of buildings I visit, places to remember – costs of tickets etc…. See the things I do for my Culture Trekkers? 😉
Print Out The Photos
We live in a Digital world, and sometimes having the photos on the wall when you get that post-vacation blues can be a way to remind you of the amazing journeys you have been on.
You can make an arrangement of photos in frames, use string/cord to clip them to your wall with fairy lights. Take it a step further and make a travel book for your coffee table, or fireplace mantel that you can show friends when they come over. I think that creating something like this, along with inserting feelings/phrases like before would be
If you have ever seen The Labryinth, you know what fantastical worlds can be made up by the human mind – Goblin Valley State Park looks like it should have been part of that movie. The unique sandstone formations within the depressed valley in southern Utah are a perfect playground for young, old, and the whole family.
There are so many hoodoo’s, or mushroom shaped formations, it is hard not to feel like a child again exploring all the twists and turns. The best part is, you can take your pups with you to run a muck and get all the energy out.
Getting to Goblin Valley
There are a couple of options to get there. You can fly into Salt Lake City International Airport, explore Salt Lake City the first few nights, then take a three and half hour ride down to Southern Utah to explore Goblin Valley, Kodachrome Basin, and Moab. If you live in the States you can also fly into Grand Junction Colorado, explore that cute rural town, then Moab, and on to Goblin Valley. No matter which way you care to venture, it is going to be a gorgeous ride with open fields full of purple wild flowers in April, or Sunflowers in the Fall. You really can’t go wrong with a road trip in Utah.
What To Do In Goblin Valley
Explore the Hoodoo’s
There are so many shapes within the Hoodoo/Goblin Valley that it is hard to not have your imagination run wild. It can also be a little spooky, because of how well the rocks block sound, you can turn a corner and run into someone.
The shapes, curves, corners spur different stories in my head when I’m there. My Dad and I used to lay on the trampoline on the weekends together, looking at the different shapes of clouds, assigning an animal or a person and making up different stories to accompany those mental images. Letting those stories of goblins, ghouls and miscreants creep along the lining of your conscious curiosity makes you feel like you are a child again.
Be Careful When You Explore
Respect the Rocks in Goblin Valley
Living in Utah, with five National Parks, and a plethora of State Parks is such an incredible blessing. Growing up here though, visiting Goblin Valley State Park is a bit of a right of passage. The love the locals have for the rocks, parks, and natural space is a bit like caring for a family member in a way. So if you visit Goblin Valley, please do not deface our beautiful area that bring so much joy and families closer together.
The reason I mention this, is due to a fairly destruction of one of the Hoodoo’s that had been there for thousands of years, and was an iconic part of the park. A Scout leader, who has now been charged criminally for destruction of State land, and removed from the National Scouting league; decided to climb atop the teetering rock and video tape it. The rock toppled off it’s precarious perch, and made the national news because of how iconic it was.
Heat of the Day
Another thing I would like to warn you about in this valley is the heat. What many visitors don’t realize is Red Rock of Southern Utah absorbs heat and reflects it. So although Goblin Valley State Park may appear a balmy 90F (32.2C), when you get into the Valley or your on your hike exposed to the sun it can feel like your standing in a dry sauna with temperatures sometimes reaching up to 109F (42.8C).
It is also unique in that you typically need to pack in your own water. There are a few watering stations available at nearby camping areas, but they are a little cumbersome to get to once your in the park itself.
Little Wild Horse Canyon Hike
While not directly in Goblin Valley, this is still part of the San Rafael Swell. With some of the narrowest slot canyons in Utah, it is a great place for scrambling, and perfect introduction route for learning how to do canyoneering.
The hike begins in a parking lot, winds your way through paths toward the canyon; but spits you out into the dry river wash that you follow towards the canyon.
While we didn’t do any canyoneering due to our dogs coming along with us; it was quite comical to see them try to navigate and get past each other at different junctures.
You feel like a real explorer when walking down these canyons, and the walls are so perfectly sculpted with varying shades of red, orange and white rock it almost looks as if a butter knife had carved out the canyon. In the early spring and fall there can be standing water and small pools of water, but they are typically only ankle deep.
There are a couple of ways to do this hike, one where you just hike in to as far as you feel comfortable, and then back out. Option two is to do the full 8 mile loop with some canyoneering down bells canyon.
Please be careful during rainstorms as some of the areas along this hiking route are prone to flash flooding and people have been known to get trapped.
People have compared this lair to that of the Labyrinth as well. Where ghouls, trolls and other creatures of the dark gather at night to wreck havoc on the campers in the area. If they are caught outside the lair, this is when they turn into the knobby rocks and how Goblin Valley was made.
The hike is moderately strenuous, you do have to scramble at some points, and getting down into the lair is quite precarious. The views from the lair are quite beautiful though, with unobstructed views of the desert landscape – serene and quite with only the crows cawing. The afternoon is the best time to go so you aren’t in full sunlight on the way up.
Dark Sky Park Experience At Goblin Valley
Not only is this a great place to explore in the spring and fall, it is also considered one of the remaining dark sky parks in the world. Being from Utah, I forget how fortunate I am to experience things like this. There isn’t a night where you wouldn’t at be able to see a plethora of stars visually dancing above you. Shooting stars to make your wish, and dreams come true are quite common as well.
The sunsets are almost as pretty as when the galaxy rises, with your eyes feasting on a spectrum of colors from dusk until dawn. I suggest planning your trip to when the moon will be either a sliver, or absent as this is when you can truly see the universe in all it’s grandeur.
My favorite thing was to sit on the floor of the Goblin Valley, snuggling with my dogs, taking photos of the sunset with the hoodoos giving a perfect silhouette. Then as the sun was tucked behind the mountains for the night, the start slowly emerged….we stayed there until we all started shivering and then headed back to camp – where there were even more wonderful photo opportunities with nearby crackling fires.
It truly was a perfect way to end the night, feeling small but happy enveloped into a perfect slumber knowing that we just witnessed something not many people in this age of technology truly get to appreciate anymore.
Like it? Pin it! Sharing is Caring!
Where to Stay Near Goblin Valley State Park
There is plenty of BLM Land near Goblin Valley that you can set up a remote camp site. I would definitely recommend four wheel drive, as well as some sturdy tent stakes. The wind in the area can get quite strong, and I’ve had the lovely experience of chasing a tent across the desert landscape in the past.
Diving has become a huge passion of mine, and I am slowly working my way to becoming a Master Diver (keyword slowly). After knowing it is an activity that I will be doing for the rest of my life, I decided to get a little input from fellow divers and travel experts around the world who have contributed to this article on what we all feel are the Top Diving Locations Around the World. Within each section, you will find information on the Dive site, visibility, certifications required, how to get there, where to stay and other helpful tidbits to craft your own Diving Bucketlist.
Don’t forget your travel insurance, I don’t travel without it now. I typically use World Nomads as you can specifically craft the insurance coverage for your extreme sports activities and your budget. If you have a dive site you would love to add, be sure to add it in the comments below.
Mexico: Cabo (Lands End)
Cabo San Lucas conjures up images of partying, sloppy drunk teens escaping from their parents….or at least it did for me in the beginning. When taking my cruise there this last December I couldn’t have been more wrong about what kind of adventures Cabo San Lucas Holds. There are plenty of areas to dive here, and with the mass amount of tourism, the companies cater to you and have really nice equipment.
The dive itself is some of the most unique along the Mexico/South American Coastline. There are underwater sand falls, shipwrecks, seals, eels, Mobula Rays, Hammer Head Sharks and a healthy array of colorful fish and puffer fish. If you decide to dive in December, the whales will be migrating and are truly worth every minute observing their breaching and feeding frenzy.
Visibility here depends on the season, during the summer you can have 30-90 feet of visibility and the winter can drop to 20-40 feet. While water temperatures can range from 64-86 degrees Fahrenheit. Depths near Cabo Arch can be anywhere from 10-90 feet, while diving sites at Lands End are 1000+.
This was my first real ocean dive, as diving in Utah (the middle of the desert) is a little difficult to get that ocean experience in. I would recommend that you have good control of your buoyancy, and take a guided tour so that you can see the best parts without getting hit by tour boats going to Cabo Arch. I recommend using Cabo Adventures as there are plenty of staff on hand to cater to the most advanced divers and the newest divers. We had a mix of open water, and master divers on our boat; so they took us all out and split us up into appropriate groups where each of us had a wonderful time. They also do snorkeling adventures, dolphin encounters and a whole lot more. Plus they are really good looking…sorry not sorry…lol.
To get here take a flight to the Los Cabos International Airport, from there it is a 34-minute drive to Cabo San Lucas. I would suggest taking the bus though it is $5.50 for two people and takes around 1 1/2 hours to get to the Center (Puerto Paraiso Mall) of Cabo. If you opt for a cab or shuttle, you are going to pay a lot more. I think you can get a group shuttle for around $15 pp or take a taxi for $50 -$100 so the bus is a big savings if you are watching your budget.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
USA: Florida – Devils Den
While cave diving wasn’t really on my list of ‘best places to dive’, this particular dive was so unique I just had to include it. Devil’s Den is so appropriately named as you descend down into a cavern from the humid Florida air into a prehistoric cave of wonder.
While it appears warm in the video below, the water itself is 72 degrees F/22.2 degrees year round. I didn’t think I needed a full wet suit, as it was still winter in Utah and temps there were around 32 degrees so I just took my shorty wetsuit. While I was a little chilled when entering the waters, by the end of the dive, I really wish I had my full wetsuit (some people were in dry suits). Visibility is excellent, but there is silt on the bottom as the cave is fed by natural springs so try to not disturb the bottom. If you are there on a weekend, or holiday expect to have loads of divers training here.
The cave is an excellent place for practicing night dives, cave diving, and fantastic for beginners. There are areas that are more dangerous than others but the private owners have blocked those areas off, and the caves are easy to maneuver around in. They have also put different items around the caves, so it makes it really creepy and fun to explore. Be aware of the creepy fish and giant catfish lurking in the corners.
You can either stay in Williston, Gainsville or swing over to St Petersburg Florida where there are the perfect west coast white sand beaches, plenty of street art, the Dali museum and yummy places to eat.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Richelieu Rock – Similan Islands
Richelieu Rock is the most popular dive location in the
Similan Islands. The name of the dive site is based on the fact that the dive
site is a rock formation in the middle of the ocean. It is stated that the site
was discovered when during a low tide Jacques-Yves Cousteau and a local
fisherman boat bumped into the top of the rock formation.
The dive site itself is famous due to the traffic that
occurs at Richelieu Rock. The rock is covered in anemone and has over four
variety of anemone fish. There are numerous other reef fish at the location.
The large attraction however is the whale sharks and manta rays that frequently
cruise around the location. A dive tour at the site will typically encompass a
trip around the rock formation, and then if you are lucky, you will see a manta
ray or whale shark cruising by on the outside area.
An added bonus is that the whale sharks are juvenile, so
while smaller than normal, the whale sharks are far more curious and will check
out the divers and the bubbles from respirators thinking that the bubbles may
be plankton. Ultimately making Richelieu Rock a great location to dive with
The dive is easy to complete, with only an open water certification required. The depths can go upward of 30m, but companies typically stay at the top of the rock formation and no further than 15m. Visibility is clear at site, however there can sometimes be strong currents. There are two main ways to get to Richelieu Rock, and the Similan Islands, and that is through liveaboard out of Phuket, or through a dive company that does day trips out to the island. I recommend using Sunrise Divers, they are located in the Karon Beach, Phuket, Thailand area and can help arrange a liveaboard or a day trip out.
While I haven’t personally been diving here, in planning my trip to China in the next year – I found this hidden gem! It is the 1,400 old ruined city submerged underwater for over 50 years! Talk about the Asia version of the Atlantic City. Qiandao Lake, also known as Thousand Island Lake, is a sprawling body of fresh water, covering 573 sq. km. It was flooded to create a reservoir where hydroelectricity could be used but displaced nearly 290,000 people in doing so.
After reading about all the specs on the dive I discovered, I personally need a little more experience before attempting it. The visibility is very poor in the lake and gets quite dark very quickly. Some of the diving accounts I read, said that you need to have excellent bouyancy control, excellent navigation epxerience (because it is that easy to lose your dive partner), night dive certification, and advanced open water certification.
There is a lot of silt in the area as it is in a lake, so that is why buoyancy is so important here. Diving itself is apparently a newer sport for those in China so there are limited companies willing or able to do this dive. The company I found that does do tours of this site is Big Blue Scuba that schedules tours here our of Shanghai. I personally plan on staying in Shanghai and then letting the tour drive the 6 hours of winding rural roads to get to the site so I don’t get lost.
I don’t know how long the ruins will last, but despite the visibility and needing excellent diving skills – just watch the video and you will understand why this one needs to be on your bucket list. For more information on this dive, be sure to visit Underwater Photography Guide.
Contributed by Janiel from Culture Trekking
Hanga Roa, Easter Island
One of the most unique dives anybody can do is located in Hanga Roa Harbor. Hanga Roa is the capital of Easter Island, and this amazing and easy dive is called the Moai Dive. And as the name implies, this is the only place on earth where you can meet an Easter Island stone head statue underwater!
This moai is submerged in roughly 28 feet of water, and it is only a few minutes ride from Hanga Roa harbor to reach the dive site. An open water certification is required to do this dive or to visit any of the Easter Island dive sites.
Easter Island is one of the most remote places on earth, and its far distance to the nearest island and the lack of natural stream on the island contributes to the extremely clear surrounding waters. The coral reefs here are relatively young, and some of the 150 species of relatively small fish and other creatures are endemic to Easter Island.
On a typical day, the visibility can range to over 200 feet, with no obstructions in sight. Even better – during the whale migration season, you can sometimes hear some of the whales singing in the distance!
I highly recommend Mike Rapu Diving Center. It is one of the few trusted PADI establishments on the island.
There are only two ways to get to Easter Island: a four hour-flight from Tahiti or a nearly six-hour flight from Santiago de Chile. Either way, it demonstrates how remote this island is.
Contributed by Halef from the RTW Guys
Negril in Jamaica, an iconic destination for scuba divers who want to explore the wonders of the Caribbean underwater universe. This spot features vivid marine world, thriving coral reefs, a range of unique undersea sights, colorful fish, sharks, sea turtles and much more. You will enjoy in a warm crystal clear water with an average depth of 30 ft and maximal depth of 70 ft.
For your diving experience, Sandals Luxury Resorts offers several dive courses. With a 3-hour PADI diving program, you will be able to dive in the same day as the program. There’s also PADI’s e-learning system (8-hour course) which helps you to complete it at your own pace. Furthermore, the program does not require any prior certification or dive experience. I recommend staying at Sandals Negril offers from two-story suites to the Millionaire Suites, some with private pool, balcony, patio or swim-up pool, etc. Which to choose depends on your preferences and budget.
To get here there is a daily flight from Miami to Montego Bay. Once in Montego Bay take an included transfer to Sandals Negril. It’s a 60 minutes ride.
contributed by Leo from Safari Nomad
Gordon Rocks the Galapagos Island
The Galapagos is world famous for its incredible wildlife and the underwater world is no exception. One of the best tours in the Galapagos is to visit Gordon Rocks, a dive site near the island of Santa Cruz.
Gordon Rocks is one of the best places in the world to find Hammerhead sharks and the Oceanic Sunfish. You can also see Galapagos sharks, white tip reef sharks, giant sea turtles, stingrays, moray eels, Galapagos eels, Barracudas and various colorful reef fish.
The average depth of the dive is between 60-80 feet. Gordon Rocks is considered an intermediate to advanced dive site as the current can be strong at times. In order to dive, you will need to have your open water certification and a minimum of 25 logged dives.
I recommend diving in Santa Cruz with Scuba Iguana. They are one of the oldest diving companies on the island and have an excellent reputation for being safe and environmentally responsible.
Scuba Iguana is located in Santa Cruz’ main town, Puerto Ayora. A good hotel to stay in is Hotel Ikala, located just a few minutes from the dive shop. This new hotel was built with a focus on sustainability and is surrounded by beautiful trees and gardens, giving it a natural and fresh ambiance.
Contributed by Lora from Explore with Lora
Green Island, Lvdao Township, Taiwan
They say Green Island is the best diving spot in all Taiwan due to its incredible visibility of 40 meters or even more. When we got into the water, I knew people were right. The visibility was fantastic, the more than 200 types of corals are colorful and flourishing. You have a wide range of beautiful fishes in all shapes and sizes. I have never seen that many clown fishes on that little space.
Max depth is around 20meters. Visibility is incredible, around 40 meters. You need at least an Open Water. However, the dive centers also offer explorer dives with 5 meters depth and taking photos. Absolutely interesting for beginners, since the corals and fishes are colorful, and you can even see turtles.
The company we went with was “BLUE SAFARI DIVING CENTER 藍莎潛水中心”. I asked specifically for a dive instructor that speaks English, to take away any language barrier. They organized one for me. It was a 1 on 1 dive, so only me and the instructor. The briefing was on the point, we went through all signs again, to make sure we can both understand each other under water. He then asked what i want to do. I could do a drift dive, see specific fishes. I told him I am interested i seeing Turtles. We succeeded and saw two precious, beautiful turtles.
We stayed at “Hostel Green520 綠島民宿‧綠野仙蹤鄉村童話-海島民宿” (< that is the full name apparently). The host is a young guy from the island, and it feels like you are staying wth a friend. He knows everything on the small island. He also picks you up on the harbor, and you exchange your WhatsApp with him. During our stay, he sent as a few messages, for instance when it was raining he’d send us a message to stay safe because it’s slippery. And then if we want to go for a drink tonight. Seriously, it was like staying with a friend!
You can only take a ferry from Taitung harbor. The ferry takes around 1 hour, and it can be bumpy. There are also airplanes, but they are always sold out, taking the ferry is much easier.
The Gili Islands is a great place to go diving. There’s a small shipwreck, some underwater statues, and turtles the size of dinner tables! It’s a trip you can take around all 3 Gili Islands. The water is beautiful and crystal clear so you can see tons all around you. You don’t have to be certified as they have introductory dives that will take you up to 12 meters on your first dive. You can check out Shark Point to see reef sharks, eels and rays, or head to Turtle Heaven where you can swim with several large turtles.
Gili Air Divers on the island of Gili Air is a PADI certified company that we recommend. They are very professional and emphasize safety. You can easily find them after your boat docks, on the strip of vendors.
We always recommend staying on the island of Gili Air, as it is more of a relaxing vibe as opposed to the more party islands. It has a great tropical island vibe with lots of live music and great food on the beach every night. We had a great experience staying at “Villa Karang Hotel and Spa”, with pools, a spa, great air-conditioned rooms, and right across from the beach.
Gili Air is a boat ride away from Bali, Indonesia, and it is very easy to find a boat to take you there. You can check online to purchase your tickets in advance as well.
Monad Shoal is the only dive site in the world where you are likely to spot Thresher Sharks daily. Normally the Thresher Sharks live and hunt at 50+ meters of depth. The sunken island works as a cleaning station as the sharks swim up there early in the morning to get their skin washed by tiny fish called Cleaning Wrasse. That´s when divers can observe them.
The dive goes down to the underwater sandbank of Monad Shoal. From there, you dive down along the wall to about 30 meters of depth. Once you spot the Thresher Sharks you will sit down by the wall and observe them calmly. Visibility is normally 10-15 meters.
As the dive is 30 meters deep you need minimum Advanced Open Water to do the dive, though some companies will take experienced Open Water divers. You need to stay at Malapascua island to do the dive. I did it with Jayky, a great instructor and divemaster at Dive Society. Unlikely most of the dive centers, this is not on the main beach, hence you get a better price and the experience was nevertheless unforgettable.
We traveled budget, so we stayed at a basic, budget bungalow with no name in the inland dirt tracks of the island. We found it by talking to some locals when we arrived.
To get to Malapascua you need to get a bangka (traditional Philippine pirogue) from Maya Port on Cebu island. You can take a bus from Cebu city to Maya. It is also possible to go from Leyte island by private bangka, but that will be much more expensive.
Contributed by Linn from Brainy Backpackers
SMS Cöln – Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands
The SMS Cöln is one of the wrecks within Scapa Flow. She is the most intact cruiser in the Flow and sits on her starboard side at 36 metres. The shallowest point is at 22metres. The stern and armoured control tower are still intact. The visibility averages about 10metres. This is a cold water dive in deeper water so PADI advanced open water with wreck and dry suit experience are needed to make it a pleasant experience.
There are a number of companies who operate out of the nearest town of Stromness. I would recommend Andy Cuthbertson who runs Jean Elaine through Scapa Flow Charters. If you want support or training then Scapa Scuba have courses, training and equipment available and can take you out the wrecks in the flow. This is especially useful if you are a single diver or buddy pair. All the charter boats usually take larger groups and book up months in advance.
All of the companies include accommodation in their packages. They use small self catering cottages or the Stromness Hotel.
Diving in Scapa Flow is from the small town of Stromness. This can be reached from mainland Scotland using Northlink Ferries which run from Thurso near John O’Groats (three hours drive north of Inverness). The ferry takes just under 2 hours. You can also fly to Kirkwall and then drive the 40minutes to Stromness in a hire car.
Out of all the places I’ve dived and snorkeled around the world, there’s honestly nothing that has come to close what I experienced at the Batu Balong dive site in Indonesia! I had just finished an incredible four-day sailing trip from Lombok to Labuan Bajo, and visited the Komodo National Park (which I’d highly recommend doing as well)!
I was traveling with a few friends, and we all decided to book a one-day diving trip with Uber Scuba in Labuan Bajo. We visited a few different dive sites, but this one spot called Batu Balong was easily the best! From the minute you jump in the water, you are quite literally surrounded by thousands of fish in every direction, and the colorful coral is the most vibrant I’ve ever seen! The max depth is around 25 meters, with visibility being good to excellent year round. Honestly a perfect place for any open water certified diver.
We saw turtles and sharks on the dive, and it was just such an amazing experience! Labuan Bajo is on the island of Flores in Indonesia, which you can find cheap fllights to on a few different airlines. I’d recommend staying at the Ayana Komodo Resort too, because it’s easily the best property on the island!!
Malaysia: Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands
One of the places that surprised me the most in Malaysia was Perhentian Kecil, part of the Perhentian Islands. I have visited out of season, when the island was almost deserted, with probably only around 10 tourists in total. There was not much to do except for diving, snorkelling, and enjoying coconut smoothies on the beach.
Diving in the Perhentian Islands is a magical experience because of the amazing underwater eco system that developed around old sunken ships and buoys. There are several spots where you can dive in Perhentian Islands, which you can pick in a day tour from one of the diving centres on the island.
One of the most popular dives is at the “Sugar Wreck”, a 90 meters long cargo ship which sank in 2000. There are over 20 different diving spots around, where you can observe the marine life, such as tuna, sword fish, pufferfish, black tip reef sharks, sting rays and turtles. The corals are so beautiful as well, but remember, don’t touch them.
To reach the Perhentian Islands you need to catch a speed boat from Kuala Besut, the closest town on the mainland. I chose to stay at Maya’s Chalet, in a hut right on the Coral Bay beach.
Contributed by Joanna from The World In My Pocket
Mary’s Place, Roatán, Honduras
Just off the coast of mainland Honduras lie the Bay Islands, Roatán being the largest of the group. These Caribbean islands are set atop a 1,000-kilometer Mesoamerican barrier reef, and most of the dive sites are just a few minutes boats ride from shore.
There are hundreds of spectacular sites to choose from and Mary’s Place is one of the best. Known for its sheer vertical cracks caused by ancient volcanic activity, this site is best suited for experienced divers. With a maximum depth of 36 meters (120 feet), divers must have an advanced certification and a good handle on buoyancy. Like many dive sites in the Bay Islands, Mary’s Place is known for excellent visibility and healthy corals.
Roatán Divers is one of the most reputable dive shops on the island. They’re very professional and well located. Plus, they have a focus on environmental responsibility, which is why we chose to dive with them. I recommend staying at Ibagari Boutique Hotel which has beautifully-designed rooms that you’ll love to relax in after a day of diving,
To get there from the city of La Ceiba, ferries depart for the Bay Islands twice daily – once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
Thailand: Koh Tao
If you enjoy diving, you will love diving in Koh Tao, Thailand. This is probably the number one destination in Thailand for divers. Koh Tao is a paradise island that is home to some of the most awesome dive sights. One of the best dive sites being Sail rock. Here you get the opportunity to dive with large schools of Barracuda, other amazing fish and stunning coral.
This amazing dive actually takes you down through a
rock, crazy. The dive can take you to a maximum of 18-metres deep, from the
bottom you can exit the rock and ascend back to the surface. However, these
depths are for advanced divers. A good depth for beginners is 5-metres.
You will be required to have your PADI certificate if
you want to dive to the deeper depths of Sail
Rock. If you are new to diving, you can enjoy a fun dive to a few metres
How to get to Sail Rock?Your Koh Tao dive school will take you on a 1 and half hour journey via boat to the dive site.
Which dive school to choose?I would highly recommend crystal dive school which are a team of dive experts that ensure you will have an amazing dive if you choose them. Also, if you choose to a PADI certification, you should choose CrystalDive. They are known for delivering high quality and safe courses. This amazing dive company also offers accommodation within their dive school. This is a very popular option for travellers.
The best place to stay when planning to dive here is at the P.D Beach resort, which I would highly recommend.
Agincourt Reef, Great Barrier Reef, Port Douglas, Australia
The Great Barrier Reef is renowned for being one of the best dive locations in the world. At 2,300 km long, comprising thousands of reefs and hundreds of islands, it’s home to countless species of fish and coral, plus sharks, turtles and dolphins.
You can dive the Great Barrier Reef all along Australia’s east coast, but one of the most popular places to go is the small resort town of Port Douglas, just north of Cairns. Port Douglas is pretty much a dedicated beach and dive town, offering easy access to the Agincourt Reef System, part of the Ribbon Reef and one of the most popular and accessible dive areas. Agincourt Reef offers 45 different dive sites, mostly drift and wall diving, with coral gardens and shallow dive sites that are great for novice and intermediate divers. You can even do introductory dives, so everyone from complete beginners to experts is catered for.
As well as a fantastic range of coral fish, you’re likely to spot lionfish, barracudas, dogtooth tuna, reef sharks and blue spotted stingray. Depth at the various Agincourt sites ranges from 12-40 metres, and on a good day visibility can be up to 30 metres; the average is usually about 20 metres.
The dive company I recommed is ABC Scuba Diving or Blue Dive, I truly had a great time with them and felt cared for every step of the way.
There are loads of places to stay in Port Douglas, ranging from backpackers’ hostels to serviced apartments to expensive beach resorts with pools. We stayed in Coral Beach Lodge which was centrally located and quite affordable.
The Silfra fissure sits along the mid-Atlantic ridge, a location where the earth’s plates diverge, here Iceland is being slowly ripped in two but the resulting freshwater dive in the middle of the country is bound to blow your booties off. Silfra is unique in the world, the only place in the world where you can (feasibly) dive between the earth’s tectonic plates! Running from a shallow 1m down to 40+ meters Silfra is a somewhat technical dive that you’ll need your drysuit diver certification for but with 100+m visibility its well worth the trouble.
Staying in Reykjavik is the best option for people wanting to dive the fissure, we loved the FossHotel Reykjavik. The city is vibrant, interesting & worth exploring best of all when it comes time to go diving every tour operator out there offers hotel pickup! Arctic Adventures offers daily snorkels and dives at the fissure complete with a tour of Thingvellir national park & hot cocoa & cookies when you get out of the perpetually cool (2*c or 35F) water.
Palancar Gardens off the coast of Isla Cozumel in Mexico is one of the best wall dive sites in the world. As Palancar is part of the National Park it is well protected and has huge healthy coral formations, multiple (optional) swim-throughs, and a wall that drops down to 130 ft. This dive site really will blow your mind. Expect to see turtles, green moray eels, eagle rays (only during the season), and nurse sharks (all year round).
The depth of this dive is between 30- 80 feet and it is a great reef to dive for all experience levels. Beginners can stay to the side and above the reef and more experienced divers can go deeper and do the swim-throughs. The average visibility diving in Cozumel is 100ft all year round. You will need an open water certificate to dive here. Although it is possible to do this dive on a discover scuba dive as it is often used as a first dive site.
The dive company I recommend in Cozumel is Scuba Tony. I did my advanced certificate with them and I would never dive with anyone else over there. The dive masters are awesome and their equipment and boats are in top condition.
If you are going to Cozumel to dive you are better to stay further south so you are closer to the better dive sites. Most hotels have a dock where the boats can pick you up from. If you stay further north most dive companies will not pick you up. I recommend staying at the Fiesta as it is in an ideal location and has great facilities.
Getting to Cozumel is easy as the Island has its own airport with many international direct flights. Alternatively, you can fly into Cancun and then take a connecting flight to the Island, or take a taxi or ADO bus to Playa del Carmen. From Playa you will need to take the 40-minute ferry over to Cozumel.
Contributed by Claire from Claire’s Itchy Feet
Jeju Island – South Korea
The exotic Jeju Island is a stunning and extremely popular holiday destination among Korean and foreign tourists. The island is often referred to as the Hawaii of Korea. Not only is it stunning, but it also has so much to offer, from great hikes to amazing beaches, yummy food, and great water activities like kayaking, snorkeling, diving and many more.
All around the island, there are many different diving spots and schools. But the creme de la creme diving spot is around the Seongsan Ilchulbong (sunrise peak). This natural phenomenon is a volcanic crater created more than a hundred thousand years back as a result of volcanic eruptions. This site is now a protected UNESCO heritage site.
The warm water around the peak attracted a wide array of tropical marine life and soft corals, which are absolutely stunning. Diving in Jeju Island and the rest of South Korea is mostly a summer activity as the rest of the year the water will be too cold for divers and instructors. On top of that during autumn and winter, the currents around the island are rather strong and dangerous for inexperienced divers.
The recommended school to dive with is Seongsan Diving Resort as offers diving packages to both unlicensed and licensed divers, making this the best location for beginner and advanced divers. I recommend you rent a car and drive in Jeju, but the school is also accessible using public transportation. When visiting Jeju Island, stay in Jeju City and use this as a base to explore the island.
Contributed by Marie from Be Marie Korea
Philippines: Apo Reef
33 Km off the coast of Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro Province, Philippines, you’ll find the Apo Reef. This is the largest coral reef in the Philippines, while in the world is only second to the Australian Great Barrier Reef.
The reef develops on two connecting sections divided by a channel with a white sandy bottom of 30 mt maximum depth. The variety of the flora and fauna in the protected area of the Apo Reef Natural Park is surprising and overwhelming. As you start going down inside the channel, you are instantly surrounded by clouds of snappers and will get to see jacks, barracudas trevallies, squirrel and parrotfishes, triggerfishes, gobies, groupies, reef sharks and the list of the 385 species found in the area goes on.
It is easy to spot turtles (even the rare green turtle) and dolphins, and overall you will meet large schools of fishes. Within one dive-trip from Sablayan, you will normally arrange three dives, and you need the Advanced Open Water Certificate to dive Apo Reef. The visibility in Apo Reef is just incredible and makes for a breath-taking experience. The most visited site of the reef is South Corner.
The Mariposa diving centre on the Tiny Pandan Island is run by a mix of Philipino and European experts and has been organizing day-trips and overnights at Apo Reef for more than 20 years. The centre provides training up to dive-master and is part of the Pandan Island Resort, which offers hut-like accommodation for every budget on a semi-private island and delicious, rich buffet meals. This is your best option to stay at while you visit Apo Reef, as they can take you to the reef with a 90 minutes boat trip.
To get to Pandan Island from Manila by plane to San Jose and by public bus/jeepney to Sablayan where a tricycle can take you exactly to ‘Punta in front of Ludi ‘s place’. From there a Bangka will cross the 300 mt of sea waters to Pandan Island.-from Manila by land and ferry: take a bus to Batangas and the Montenegro Lines ferry to Abra. From Abra, get on a bus to Sablayan, then follows the directions as per the previous point.
The Belize Barrier Reef makes up one-third of the MesoAmerican Reef (the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef), stretching 190 miles along the Central American country’s coastline. Protected since 1996 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the reef is the #1 tourist attraction in Belize, with Scuba diving attracting nearly 50% of the country’s annual visitors.
Thankfully removed from the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2018, the reef’s diverse array of walls, pinnacles, holes, and reef flats are home to an exceptional array of aquatic life (including 70 hard coral species, 35 soft coral species, 500 species of fish, and hundreds of invertebrates). During our two dives (at depths ranging from 15 to 60+ feet), we had exceptional visibility and saw a Nurse Shark, Moray Eel, several Spotted Rays, a Sea Turtle, Pufferfish, Lobsters, and thousands of colorful fish.
Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort caters to Scuba divers and offers a variety of daily snorkeling and diving tours. Located less than a mile from the Garifuna culture of Hopkins Village, this excellent eco-resort also boasts beautiful lodge-style rooms with hot tubs on the private patio as well as a restaurant serving up fresh seafood daily.
Domestic flights from Belize International Airport to Dangriga are available on Maya Air or Tropic Air. The staff at Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort can arrange this flight for you, as well as an airport transfer to the resort.
Contributed by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel
Tiputa Pass, French Polynesian Islands
The Tiputa Pass is considered one of the worlds best dive sites, in particular to see pelagics. Diving in Rangiroa you’re likely to see manta rays, leopard rays, grey reef sharks, white tip reef sharks, black tip reef sharks, lemon sharks and even great hammerhead sharks. If you’re an advanced diver, you can head depths of 30m or more and see tiger sharks. There are many options, but it is common to do a drift dive through the pass, either on the incoming or outgoing tide.
The pass is popular with experienced divers due to the strong current, however open water level divers are allowed to dive it. I recommend diving with Top Dive, who are very safety conscious, which is particularly important considering the remote location. The visibility is generally very good.
Va’a i Te Moana is a lovely family run pension a short walk from the Tiputa Pass. Double rooms start from £141.50 (19000 CFP) including breakfast. I highly recommend staying here not only because of a convenient location but also it is also very beautiful.
Kia Oras, is another option, it is a luxury resort with over water bungalows and beach villas. Top Dive have a dive shop on the property, so it’s great if you’re planning on doing lots of dives. A beach bungalow with hot tub starts from £331 (44 460 CFP).
To get to Tiputa, I would suggest flying to Pape’ete, Tahiti, and then take a flight to Rangiroa. The airport is in the center of the small island, with most of the hotels and accommodations being on the southern end of the island; I would suggest staying on the Northern end of the island as this is where Tiputa Pass is.
How Do You Choose?
With all of these great dives, it is going to be hard to choose just ONE to commit to for your next trip. I would suggest taking a cruise and hitting several, or find friends to stay with and do them all throughout your lifetime. Go with the dive that speaks to your heart, that you have the certifications for and let fate take you on an underwater journey that not many are brave enough to take.
To all my fellow divers, I salute you – happy bubble blowing!
“You have only been on four dives! Like even during your training?” my diving guide exclaimed in disconcerted shock. I averted my eyes in embarrassment and I jotted down six dives on the sheet over the four I had put down on the sheet originally. I felt like exclaiming, “UTAH DOESN’T HAVE AN OCEAN YOU WANKERS, AND I’M SMARTER THAN I LOOK!” I was diving in Cabo San Lucas, it was my first time scuba diving in a real Ocean, I was excited and terrified.
I stayed in the corner slightly embarrassed by being the newest diver in our group. The person just above me in dives was an older gentleman with 22 dives in his dive book, ‘Great….I’m going to be the weak link here’ I thought begrudgingly, mentally self-flagellating.
So for new divers, the dive company takes you out and will hook up your BCD, get you fitted for fins etc. It is a mad dash, and it all happens very quickly, so be prepared and know exactly what you need. Also, the weights you use in fresh water are going to be much much lighter than the weights you use in salt water. Physics in real life I guess, so I had to add a few more pounds to what I typically wear. Probably the only time that I’m going to say ‘it’s ok to add a few more pounds’ lol.
Traveler Tip: I used Cabo Adventures Dive Shop (not sponsored) they were so precise, on time, and even offer a free drink at the end of the dive. Highly recommend them, especially for first-time ocean divers. Viator also offers Scuba Tours for Beginners as well.
Getting Geared Up
I put my full footed scuba fins on, trying not to think of how many other athlete’s foot infected feet it had previously been on (#healthcareworker problems). While putting on the BCD I brought with me, I momentarily panicked ….. the zippers wouldn’t reach around my girth. ‘I couldn’t have gained that much weight on the cruise already! It has been two days!’
A moment of clarity made me realize that I hadn’t loosened my straps up…oops. It’s hard to try and act like you know what your doing when the boat is getting rocked too and fro, the sea is so choppy that even my friends snuba and her snorkel were both cancelled because of the bad weather. I was secretly hoping that the choppy waves would bring the whales closer into shore so that I could swim with them. Focus Janiel.
This is when the embarrassment started for me as I previously relayed to you. The handsome guide padded his way over to me with the clipboard, “You have only been on four dives! Like even during your training?” he exclaimed in disconcerting shock. I averted my eyes in embarrassment and I jotted down six dives on the sheet over the four I had put down on the sheet originally. I felt like exclaiming, “UTAH DOESN’T HAVE AN OCEAN YOU WANKERS, AND I’M SMARTER THAN I LOOK!”
Slightly irritated I took to getting my mask defogged and placed on my face. I mentally ran through my checklist Air was on, BCD fitted and pre-filled slightly with air so I don’t sink right away, fins on and then the other scuba members started jumping off the boat. There were two other people who were master diver’s from Las Vegas and knew my instructor Rachelle from Scuba Utah. They got the special advanced diver tour….sigh….I will get there…..My turn to jump into the roiling ocean.
The boat pitched to the starboard side just enough that I
was able to unhook the scuba tank from the plastic holders on the sides of the
boat. ‘I will not grunt to get up’, I was by far the largest person diving that
day…’stop it Janiel, just own it. You just found out you have Hypothyroidism,
and a Progesterone level of a Post-Menopausal woman and your only 35 so just
stop it, own it, and the healthy habits will come as your hormones level out’.
I waddled my way to the end of the mid-size boat/yacht, flippers and all and felt like a penguin out of Mary Poppins dancing awkwardly to the end of the boat. I shoved my mask tightly onto my face, held my blessed regulator (air supply) and took my giant stride into the ocean for the first time. It wasn’t too different from jumping into a wave pool, just with more gear strapped on.
Once I broke the surface, a wave generously greeted me with a slap in the face….thank goodness for the mask and regulator. I quickly switched over to my snorkel gear as Rachelle had taught me to help conserve some of my air for the actual Scuba Diving portion. It is the kind of snorkel gear that doesn’t allow water to backflow into the tube, so even though the waves would hit me hard, I could still breath the fresh air.
The current was a little hard to fight with the current weather. We were instructed to hang on to the previously placed buoyed line the dark tall and handsome Hispanic staff had set up for us. Focus Janiel. The other members of the group came over, and then I was whipped around by the best-looking male staff member. ‘Hello Poseidon, I will be your Mermaid prisoner’ I thought dreamily, then was interrupted by him grabbing the front of my BCD and he thought I was freaking out, so he just said, ‘breath slowly, in and out’—– ‘o….m….g…..Dark skin, grabbing the front of my BCD, the waves circling around us…..I’m in a freaking LOVE NOVEL!’ Focus Janiel. Then I heard what he was saying, “Stop freaking out, and just breathe slowly. See if you can sink, “Innn nnoott fweaking ouwww” I tried to say through my snorkel tube….’lovely, now I look like an idot’ I inwardly groaned at my unfeminine unflirty way of handling myself.
The Blue Abyss
We finally got the weight right, my BCD straps re-tightened down and we started to descend into the blue abyss below. Our first stop was the Sand Waterfalls, this would bring us to an edge of a cliff that had sand billowing down into the 1000 or so meters below making it appear as if there was a sand waterfall, underwater. My dive buddy, James, a Dive Master from Oklahoma, graciously decided to join the Open Water crew, where he was so incredibly kind to keep an eye on me and make sure I didn’t dive too deep or kill myself in some naïve way. Thank you James, you da best!
I put my red filter on my GoPro and started swimming with the group. The fish we saw were incredibly colorful to my eyes, stripped, black and white spots, puffer fish galore, and I even found Dory! I wanted to smile, but when you do that it makes it hard to breath, because it takes the air seal away from around your regulator and vuala, you are gagging on salty sea water. So I pursed my lips instead and made a few little squealing giggles, which scared the fish away…..diving is apparently a serious endeavor. Just for your information, fish don’t like bubbles either. It is hard to not create bubbles because the first rule of diving is that you have to keep breathing….so I just breathed a little deeper, and more slowly and a fish came right up to my mask 😊
As we were making our way towards the sand falls, the photographer with us, clinked something on his tank and waved us over. After my eyes adjusted to the colors of the rock, I saw it, a HUGE Eel head with his mouth open and what looked like no eyes. If you aren’t good at bouncy I suggest keeping a safe distance from them lest you accidently encroach on his terf and get electrocuted. I don’t think getting CPR, or dying from electrocuted drowning sounded fun so I got as close as I dared with my current skills and without the current driving me into the eel.
As we made our way around the cliff, there was a school of shiny silver fish, let’s call it Tuna that was swimming around lazily. I quickly turned back facing down and watched them follow each other just like they did in Finding Nemo. ‘I should have been born a Mermaid. I wonder why God didn’t really make Mermaids’, my computer on my wrist beeped at me angrily, signaling that I would need to descend further as I was slowly rising to the surface in awe of what I was seeing. Focus Janiel, no Nitrogen Toxicity for you. Guess diving really is a serious business if you want to go back home without a stroke, electrocuted, or near drowning. Who knew that Scuba Diving could be so dangerous!
The Underwater Sand Falls
I snorted a bit sea water, and quickly cleared my mask, readjusted the tank on my back and then realized we were swimming over the sand waterfalls. Sadly, due to the current and choppy waves above, the underwater physics of it all wasn’t working.
These sand waterfalls are formed by the friction between the tectonic plates of North America and the Pacific, combined with the union of the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and Sea of Cortez. There are very few places in the world that this geological wonder exists. Please be advised that if the waters are choppy, or a storm is near, the sand falls may not be ‘working’ as well as if the seas are calm.
Ascending from Heaven
After a few minutes at the sand falls, we made our way back
over to our pickup point and did our 3 minute ascending safety stop to ensure
we didn’t get Nitrogen toxicity.
I watched the double arrows on my non-air integrated Cressi watch to ensure I was not ascending too quickly. One arrow indicates you are going too slowly, two arrows indicates you are ascending at a good speed, three arrows the watch gets angry and starts making an annoying beeping like your alarm clock you would do anything to turn off. Two arrows, all the way up for me.
I broke the surface with 1200psi on my air reserve —
perfect – I wasn’t the weak link! So happy that I made it the while dive
without any issue and wasn’t the first to run out of air. I switched over to my
snorkel but the waves and current were a bit too much to handle, I figured I
had the reserve air in the tank for a reason, so I switched back over to the
tank air and kept my regulator in until I was safetly in the boat. I was so
glad there was a protected area lined off for us to surface as the tour boats
full of tourists were all over the place bumping around. Not quite bumper
boats, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it came to that.
Diving Tip:Make sure you take your fins off before you enter the boat, I know they teach you that in Scuba School – but when there is a lot of chaos and bad weather, you might forget and fall back in the water slipping off the ladder. Not that I would know, I took my flippers off just after I had a hold of the ladder…..ahem….just like a pro would.
A Surface Interval with Whales
I walked over to my seat, taking half the ocean with me in the process. I knew my energy stores were low, and was kicking myself for not stealing some granola bars or something for between dives. Then I saw someone eating fruit on a stick, then my eyes glued onto the fruit in the plastic bin….LOADS OF FRUIT! Juicy sweet yellow pineapple, soft honeydew melon that melted in my mouth, and cantelope the orange rind fruit that topped the delicious first dive off with a bang! I then washed it all down with some sweet tea and water they had available for us in the jugs near the dry area of the front of the ship.
After a deliciously sweet interlude with the fruit, I grabbed my GoPro to check some of the footage. The diving staff magically switched over all my gear to the new tank (THANK YOU)! Then I heard a OMG from the front of the boat. My emergency response medical training kicked in, and a slight giggle as I rushed to the front of the boat – hoping that one of the handsome men would somehow need CPR. It was better than giving mouth to mouth to one of the sea god staff members that was helping us – three huge spouts of water blew up into the air a few miles ahead of us. The sea god staff members began yelling, ‘Vamos! Vamos! Vamos! OMG – Did you see that! It’s A WHALE!’
The engine revved and we dropped to our knees holding onto the front of the boat as we all yelled, ‘FASTER’. The captain showed a smile of delight at pushing the engine of the boat to its full capacity as everyone started laughing and scanning the distance at where the whales would have gone to. ‘There!’ I exclaimed in delight as I saw a massive fin come up out of the water on the left, and another spout on the right. The captain slowed as we neared the area, and then it happened, one after another there were two whale backs and a spout that we could feel the spray from on the front of the ship. We all broke into cheers, jumping up and down, slapping each other on the back as if our team had just won the Superbowl. Little did we know the best was yet to come, whale back’s crested again in front of us, two more whale tail fins to the right.
A spout in the distance, and then a whale breached – we were all so stunned we couldn’t believe what had just happened. Nearly crying with excitement I asked the sea God staff member next to me if I could jump in …..they were RIGHT THERE! My ultimate bucket list ambition is to swim with whales – it is the entire reason I got scuba certified! They were so close, alas, the joy quickly disappeared from his face, and a very serious look replaced it with a hard, ‘NO, it is illegal to do that in this area of the ocean’, my dive master friend James chimed in reluctantly saying, ‘Yeah, it might not be so safe if they are feeding. We had some bottle-nosed whales grab us by our fins and start playing with us the last time we went diving’. Although my hopes were dashed in that moment, with a touch of fear…..nothing could dispel the joy I felt at having just witnessed what I did.
During the brief pause of the show – I grabbed my Sony DSC M3 Camera and not 1 minute after I came back to my comrades on the front of the boat the whales gave us another gorgeous show that I was able to capture on camera. My cheeks hurt by the end of the whale of a show from smiling so much, I didn’t even mind though. I was within 20 feet of some of the most gorgeous creatures in the ocean and they just put on one hell of a show for me for my Birthday.
I couldn’t help but think that my Grandmother who passed away two weeks before this trip was there experiencing this with me. I said a little prayer of thanks to God, and whispered under my breath…Thank you Grams, I love you and miss you every day. I don’t think I will ever forget how we went on the Alaskan cruise together, and her awe at spotting whales, and seals in the distance – or small permanent smile my Grandfather had while looking through his binoculars out the window of the cruise ship trying to spot something for his sweetheart while listening to the string quartet in the background. This will always be one of my favorite moments of all of us together. Now I am carrying on the tradition of cruising and whale watching. Don’t cry Janiel, ya gotta be tough, just be grateful and send your love into the Ocean.
Seals, Shipwrecks, and Sand
Refocusing on the task at hand, we made our way back to Land’s End – our second dive site. This is where the open ocean meets the edge of the land mass that is Cabo San Lucas. It was still quite wavy and bumpy in this area, but the sun was peaking out below the stormy looking clouds, and creating a beautiful glow in the water. We quickly dropped into the water and followed the same procedures as above. We quickly dropped down to depth (35 feet) and made our way to the ship wreck that had washed in from the ocean. We were greeted by more colorful fish, my favorite fish were the yellow ones that came towards you in swarms when you played in the sand – they would suck up the sand looking for things to eat. Gorgeous little things almost were left behind in the process of playing with the fish. My cheeks were so sore from smiling, then trying not to smile around my regulator. How did people not choke to death from smiling at all of this!
We continued to see coral reef rock that, honestly, looked a little dead – but fish still seemed to be able to hide in the nooks and crannies. We rounded a rock outcropping and there was the shipwreck, laid out in front of me. Rusted from the ocean, and covered in new coral growth it was laid out so that you could still recognize it as a ship. The ribbed underbelly, the wheelhouse, it was absolutely massive! We slowly made our way along the innards of the ship, being careful to keep our bounancy at the right level so that the strong current in this area wouldn’t pull us haphazardly into a metal ship shard.
I heard the clinking on the air tank from our guide pointing upwards and that’s when I saw the sealion! Playing in the water like a child let out for recess on a sunshiny day. The ocean surprised me yet again, when our guide clinked and told us to come to him and drop down through his hand signals. We dropped to an open area where sand protected us from the shards of the ship. As soon as I dropped down next to the guide, more sealions, six of them to be precise dropped into our view and began barking at each other underwater. Twirling, swirling, flying around each other and above us. It must have been that they have just eaten, I’m always happier when I eat too 😉
We stayed in that area for quite some time until the sea lions were done with their show. We made our way along the ship again, when a fellow diver pointed to an area underneath a warped piece of metal creating a cave like area underneath it. There in the cave was a fish that was bigger than the top part of my body put together (be sure to watch for it in my YouTube Video). The thing was bigger than two sealions put together. I didn’t want to find out if it was friendly or not, nor did I want to find out if it was territorial- I kept a safe distance and realized just how small I was in this massive world I was just discovering.
Ascending as a Sea Goddess
Gathering together, we performed our last safety stop. I could tell I was getting tired because I couldn’t quite get all the air out of my lungs. My Asthma was beginning to kick in and I knew it was time for me to be done and use my inhaler again. Once we got to the surface, it was difficult to fight the current when I was this tired so I turned over on my back – kept my regulator in and methodically kicked my way towards the boat. I knew I needed to get in the boat before my energy gave out, but I took my fins off, hauled my butt and the heavy gear up the 5 rungs on the ladder – leaned forward to let one of the Sea God Staff members grab the top of my tank and helped me into the tank holder and I sat down with a thud.
As I was catching my breath, my diving buddy and master diver, James thudded down next to me and said breathily, ‘You can be my dive partner any day. You did AWESOME! Your buoyancy was so good. You should be really proud of yourself with that being your first ocean dive, especially with the weather we are having’. It put another achingly satisfying smile on my face, and I replied with a slightly stunned, ‘REALLY!?!? You mean that?’, ‘Absolutely, you did great for your first dive’.
Just call me a Sea Goddess! I had just mastered my first
dive successfully with a compliment from a Master Diver that was more of the
quiet type, yet he congratulated me. I was indeed proud of myself, despite the
concerned looks that friends gave me when I said I wanted to do diving. The
kind, but doubtful way that people often look at me because of my size – with
the unsaid words of ‘difficult diver’, ‘burden’ ‘too big to fit and all the
other self-depreciating, anxiety driven encounters and moments along the way
the last 4-5 months of diving….I had done it, and I had not just completed it,
I was SUCCESSFUL at it.
See the thing is, we are the masters of our own souls – we
are the driving force behind each decision. Don’t let your own insecurities,
own self-doubts get in the way of doing something that will give you a reason
to live and reconnect not just what is important, but who is important (you),
and memories of loved ones that may be important to you. Push your internal
boundaries, and a whole new world will truly open up to you.
As always….happy travels, happy tales, and see you on the flip side.
The Rio Secreto (or secret river) is eight miles long with fifteen natural outlets. It was through one of these outlets that Mr. Don Cleofás, a local landowner had been hunting an Iguana and quite literally stumbled into it. I was also able to stumble around there during a Rio Secreto Cave Tour while on a shore excursion in Playa Del Carmen. I learned just how connected the Mayans are to the earth and how these caves were thought to be intricately connected with the Gods according to Mayan Folklore and religion.
The Importance of the River to the Mayans:
After an unceremonious cleansing in the chilly waters to remove any lotion, makeup, sunscreen and jewelry that may contaminate the river. I donned my wetsuit and helmet and filed into the line that would lead us through the ancient jungle. Winding through the palms, and ferns of this jungle I imagined what it would be like to be a Mayan during this time. Did they run these same paths? Did they run barefoot? What did they like to hunt? Where did they get their water? These and many other questions jumped through my mind like rabbits in a field.
We came into a clearing and were greeted by a local Mayan Shaman. These men are highly revered in the surrounding communities for their healing and spirituality. The Mayan’s believed and still revere this underground semi-sunken river as a place of spirituality, and sacred place where the rain God, Chaac visits. Despite being in a thick vegetation, it has always been difficult for the people in this city and surrounding area to get clean fresh water.
These waters are what they use to sustain life, and largely do not carry disease or animals that can contaminate it. It makes sense why the ancient culture would treat these waters as sacred, the waters are pure, and anything pure is sacred. Other historians believe that the skeletons represented human sacrifices due to the Mayan people believing these areas were inherently connected to the underworld. I like to think of the caverns as a connection to the rain God myself, seems less creepy to me.
There have been several artifacts and human skeletons discovered within the caverns, some dating back nearly 13,000 years. Caritas, or little faces, have been found carved into several of the natural entrances into these caverns, along with small piles of stones piled near the entrances as a way to both mark and adorn the entrances to the sacred river.
It wasn’t just the Caritas they found though, at one entrance, a vessel was found. Believed to be used as a water collection reservoir, dating back to 1000 AD, it is considered to be the best-preserved relic of that period. (It is now located at the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History). One of the most impressive finds Don Cleofás made during his initial descent into Rio Secreto was a vessel believed to date back to the post-Classic period of Mayan history (1000-1697 AD).
Descending into the World of Mayan Gods
After understanding how important this river was to the culture, and the history of the people. The Shaman further cleansed us with incense and a blessing before we descended into the dark. Making our way down into the cavern via the slippery stairs, it became increasingly dark. Our small group of six turned on their headlamps, revealing the caverns of the rain God.
Mystery enveloped us all and a smile tugged at the corners of my mouth, ‘I’m the real Indian Jones’, I thought. After receiving final safety instructions and how to best preserve the caverns beauty. We filed into a buddy system and entered the sacred halls of Mother Earth.
The stalagmites and stalactites, collections of minerals forming into pointed columns over the last 2.5 million years adorned the ceilings and floors. We stepped into the river itself, carefully stepping in places where our guide advised us to – helping to preserve this space for future generations. The reverence and respect that our guide had for this place, bled into me, and I felt I was truly witnessing something majestic. My headlamp illuminated the blue-tinted waters below me, each step producing a puff of mineral like clouds. Was I walking on earth, or in some other world? Fascinated by what I was seeing, my heart and soul drank in my surroundings…..I felt connected to the Earth and to the best parts of my soul.
The Caverns of Rio Secreto
I have seen stalactites and stalagmites before, these massive mineral arms are eternally reaching towards their counterpart. Formed when water seeps through the earth, drawing minerals with it, then when reaching the cavern drip from the ceiling. Over millions of years, the columns gradually stretch towards the ground, where another column forms reaching up to the ceiling.
Eventually, these two arms reach each other, clasp hands and form grand columns, caverns that creates a palace fit for the Gods. It is imperative that you only walk where the guide asks you to step and walk; because of the damage that can happen not just to you but to these ancient formations. If you rub up against the sides of the walls, the sharp limestone and calcium carbonate columns can cause open wounds and lead to infections.
Fun Fact: Calcium Carbonate is the same chemical component that you find in Tums, a supplement used for heartburn for decades.
We penetrated the caverns further and further until we were swimming in blue, mineral-rich lukewarm waters. The minerals made my skin feel so soft, the warmth provided by the wet suit with the surrounding coolness of the caverns and waters made for a relaxing and exhilarating adventure. There were a few points where we had to hang onto our partner’s ankles, floating on our backs while our guide towed us across gaps where we couldn’t walk or swim.
Each juncture our guide would stop, provide instruction, ensure our safety and provide educational information about the cave system itself, and how the water supply is still used today. My favorite part was swimming through tiny arches, hard hat on, doggie paddling to a new visual feast. I was, in essence, the next Laura Croft in the making — THIS is what I live for, unique adventures! There is nothing more fulfilling to my soul than seeing natural wonders that are nearly untouched by man or machines. They are becoming the rarest thing humans are able to witness on this earth.
A Greater Understanding of the Sacred River:
Our guide gathered us into a cluster in the middle of a pool we were unable to touch the bottom of, carefully keeping his flashlight underwater and asking us to turn our headlamps off. He told us how important respecting nature is, how we as humans have the sacred responsibility to preserve these things that mother nature has provided for us. I would typically classify these types of talks and conversations as ‘hippie dippie‘; but there was something in his manner and gentle way of talking that made me believe this was something more.
He went on to explain that our lives are often filled with money, tasks, things to see and do…..but we forget the most calming thing is often the most natural, slow and easy experiences. He brought his flashlight up out of the water and as the light illuminated my surroundings, my breath caught at the beauty. We were in a massive cavern with stalactites surrounding us like chandeliers in a great ballroom. Another light was turned on behind the adjoining cavern, and a smile took over my face. Wonder blossomed in my heart and my mind knew I was witness to something intensely special.
A few minutes passed and he then asked us to link arms in a circle, where we would be facing outwards. Then asked us to lay back into the water, letting ourselves float while looking up at the ceiling. He turned off the light, and everyone was silent. The darkness enveloped us, the water took away all sound and cradled us in its arms — a sensory deprivation experience like none other. He let us stay like that for some time. My mind ebbed and flowed like the water surrounding me, lazy, relaxed while being infused with goodness from this sacred river.
All Good Things Must Come To An End
The light lit the grand cavern like an unwelcome torch, and I reluctantly brought myself erect in the water. Calmness and serenity had settled over the group, the quiet calm and silence persisted……we were all feeling it……the earthly sacrament we had just partaken of.
As we wandered through the last part of our journey, I felt intensely grateful for this experience. My friend that was traveling with me, kept saying how she wished her children could experience this. We shared our feelings and perceptions of the journey through the Rio Secreto and understood why it is protected so intensely by the locals. A dim light ahead signaled the end of our journey.
I was grateful to be headed above ground but felt a tugging to stay. We headed back towards to base camp and were brought to a buffet like meal after spending an hour or two in the caverns. We talked amongst ourselves and shared our experiences with the other group that had been taken through another portion of the cavern. Despite our time down there, I discovered that only 10% of the caverns are utilized for tours. What other wonders lay down in those otherworldly caverns? If you find yourself near Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Rivera Maya….I highly recommend taking this journey through the rain God’s palace. It is an experience like none other and will leave you with a new perspective and whole new respect for mother earth and her treasures.
Sailing in Seattle seemed like the perfect activity to experience what those in Seattle call a right of passage to being a true Seattleite.
Note: This post is NOT, I repeat…NOT sponsored — I am simply sharing my love for Sailing after my first experience with the best Captain & Sail boat on the planet.
Booking a Sailing in Seattle Trip:
When you decide to book your sailing, I would highly recommend the captain and SY Cynthia R Boat (unless you have a group of more than 6 people). I found the captain through the Airbnb experience page, but he also has a website Emerald City Sailing you can book your unique adventure through. If you do have more than six people just let Michael know and he can make arrangements for parties of 12, 18 and 24 on other ships that have that capacity.
Traveler Tip: Never tried Airbnb Experience? Get $40 off your first stay by signing up with this Airbnb link.
Getting to SY Cynthia R Boat:
The Pier that the boat departs from is north of Seattle, about a 25-minute ride from Pike’s Place Market. I took an Uber Shared ride and it cost me about $14, but I would allow for extra time. Once you get to the Pier, there are private docks that you have to have a card to get into; so be sure to get Captain Michael’s number. It is a short walk to the boat itself, and then you have to board the boat via a small plastic step stool with 2 steps. Your captain can help ensure you get on safely. We had one passenger who recently had a pelvic fracture was on crutches and still was able to safely get on the boat. Once on the boat, you want to make sure you have your footing, so hang onto something as you make your way around the boat.
Meeting the Captain
Captain Michael Schaible was born in Seattle Washington. He is a certified PADI Master Diver, licensed boat captain and was part of the US Coast Guard in 2014. He is certified with the American Sailing Association levels 101, 103, 104 barebones charters and 105 coastal navigation, Instructor level 201-204. So needless to say he has quite the resume and knows what he is doing. The thing I found fascinating about the Captain was that he can read the wind based on the texture of the water.
Sounds like a false claim doesn’t it? Nope, I was able to identify what he was talking about based on the water texture, but my goodness, to have the razor sharp eyesight to see that far ahead of the boat (I’m talking several miles) without binoculars was quite impressive. He is a second generation vendor at the world famous Pike Place Market. His family runs a textile business that his father established in 1973, El Gringo Imports. He is very excited about this textile business, and even has some amazing sweaters to keep you warm while on the boat — which are also available for purchase, should you so desire. For those traveling from abroad, he also speaks Spanish fluently, so can accommodate International passengers as well.
The History of the Boat
Cynthia R is a historic and classic modern sailing yacht measuring 44.4 feet long. Designed by John Alden Company as a ketch rigged Pearson custom center cockpit sailboat. She was first launched in Thomaston Main by the Morse boat building company in 1967! You wouldn’t think she is this old when looking at her, but age is just a number, she is beautiful just the way she is 😉 If you go below deck, ask Michael for the history of the boat book collection he always has stored on board. Here reflections of the original owner’s voyages across the Atlantic four times, the sailing path of his trip with his wife through the Mediterranean and across the world are laid out in a storybook-like way to keep you enthralled for hours.
These voyages are also chronicled in Robert Carter’s book: Sail Far Away, Reflections of Life Afloat. This non-fiction book is an account of the 10 years in Europe Robert spent with his wife, sailing Parts of the Boat It is important to know what the parts of the boat are, especially when sailing in such frigid waters in Seattle. I personally didn’t realize that if someone falls into the water here (even if it is in summer) without a wetsuit that they can go into hypothermia very quickly. So in order to not get knocked into the water here are some main points.
Rule One: Stay in the boat
Rule two: Stay behind the Mast when the wind is blowing
Rule three: Don’t get on the boat if you have problems with dizziness or can’t keep your balance on solid ground.
Other than that, its all a matter of getting to know the boat. Michael is actually a sailing teacher and is really patient and open-minded about those who want to learn. He even let me cinch down the jib halyard and jib sheet (aka the ropes that tighten down the sails and control them). Here is what I personally learned on my first sailing trip about the boat and all its parts:
Mainsail: Catches the wind
Jib: Helps with turning the boat and also catches some wind
Mast: Holds up the sail
Boom: keeps mainsail stationary and helps to keep constant sail trim
This is what will hit you push you right off the boat should the boat need to turn quickly to not run into a sandbar or rocks. So as I pointed out before, stay behind the mast & the anchor point of the boom if the sails are out.
Keel: Stabilizes boat and also uses water pressure to propel the boat forward.
Tacking: turning the boat through the wind (but requires a lot of velocity to do this)
Jibing: turning the boat through downwind point of sail, requires a lot of weight management and distribution.
So ladies, don’t be offended if he asks you to step into a certain spot to help maintain the boat direction. It is for your safety and has nothing to do with you being fat or the anchor of the boat — it could be he is trying to even out the heavy stove downstairs.
Trim: A way of sailing the boat so as to create less resistance and faster sailing time like they do in racing.
If the sails are too tight the wind will bounce off of them like bouncing off a brick wall. If the sails are too loose they will ‘luff’ is the technical word, but I prefer ‘laugh’ at you by flapping in the wind. When they flap I feel like they are saying, ‘HA! You think you’re going anywhere? THINK AGAIN!’. Lastly, make sure you bring a snack, something warm to wear (that is wind resistant), and be sure whatever you bring (including cameras/hats/shoes etc…) are secure and won’t roll off the boat when you start sailing. The flat floor of the boat when sailing goes to about a 50-degree angle at times to help with speed and trim.
Passengers on the Boat
In total there were 6 passengers on the sailboat, and it was just the right amount for everyone to have a place to sit. One thing I would mention, don’t expect a cushioned seat of gold with servants to place grapes in your mouth gingerly. This is a boat, with a place up front for about 5 people to sit/lay (Michael does provide cushions, but no gold or servants). There is a place for 3 people to sit behind the wheel, although you will have to move quite a bit for Michael to be able to actually sail the boat.
The other 5 passengers were all from the Greater Seattle area. There were two other couples and then 2 single women. I became friends with one of them, Berkley, she had this bubbly personality that was so infectious. I personally get nervous in groups of people more than three, so it was nice to have someone to connect to. Berkley was so interested in my website and instantly wanted my Instagram handle. She didn’t care to talk much about herself, just wanted to know everything about me. She helped me take photos, asked about trips I was going on – and each time I tried to ask a question about her…..she played it off as if she wasn’t that important. So Berkley, on this public platform, I want to thank you for being so kind and making me feel included and comfortable with your group. I think you have are a beautiful human being inside and out & hope we can have another grand adventure in the future. You see, my Culture Trekking friends, it doesn’t matter if you travel solo or in a group — there will always be a kindred spirit whom you can connect with. They will teach you how to be a better friend, and maybe even become a lifelong friend. So please do not be afraid to travel alone — or start a conversation with a local. In doing so, it enriches your soul and provides a memory that will be forever burned in your mind.
Helping Sail the Boat
Not only was Berkley kind and inclusive, but Michael was a fascinating individual as well. If you put a California Surfer Yogi Master onto a sailboat…..Micheal would be the definition of that image you just conjured up.
He had a Jewish Star with each of the Chakra stones in it on a leather cord, a hat to control the long slightly curly sun-bleached hair, sunglasses and a smile that took up his whole face. Although there was a certain amount of shyness that was hard to pinpoint. So I decided to try and make everyone feel more comfortable by doing something a little silly, try to help out on the boat.
Michael let me cinch down several lines, and the rest of the group watched as I put my back into it. If you try and do this, just know your triceps are going to be in outright protest when you do. Luckily I had Berkley and the rest of the group as my cheerleaders, which ended up putting a huge smile on my face. I even got to sit behind the wheel!!!!! I steered us out to the Puget Sound while Michael got our sails ready to go, and then BOOM! Sails were out, lines were tight, and I WAS SAILING A BOAT!!!! GAHHHH!!! I became so comfortable about an hour into it, I just felt like jumping into the water (fully clothed mind you). We were relaxing in front of the gorgeous view of the Seattle skyline and I just wanted to jump in. Luckily, Michael told me, ‘uuuuhhhh, that wouldn’t be a good idea, but I mean if you really want to I guess we could make it work.
The problem is, the water is cold enough that you could only be in there for about two minutes before I would have to pull you out because you could easily get hypothermia’. So professional of him to say not say what he likely should have said ‘that’s a stupid and dangerous idea’ in such a nice way. Thus the Rule ONE from above, stay in the boat with your seatbelt fastened and arms and legs inside the ride at all times (unless your in warmer waters that is).
Embracing Freedom and Feeling
When you get me on any kind of boat, I feel like I am home. When we were kids my parents had a boat, most of our summers we were out on the water trying out the latest water toys. I remember the air chair, the chariot, the doughnut tube roller coaster thing that would spin you over the wake & roll you over and over until you finally just drop out the back of it because you get so dizzy.
So as soon as I stepped on Michaels boat, I felt at home, I felt peaceful and immediately took my shoes off and walked every inch of the boat. (I’m a little nosy and slightly impaired when it comes to being appropriate in social situations). Luckily Michael was laid back and let me snoop around his boat home.
Once we got out to the water, surrounded by the serene beauty of the Puget Sound and the Seattle Skyline — I couldn’t help the feeling of freedom. There was an inherent sense of feeling free — like I was away from the crowds, the cruise ships, the taxi’s the muggy heat of the city. I had the wind blowing in my hair, a fabulous group of passengers around me, a Captain who regaled us with stories of the boat crossing the Atlantic four times….I felt at peace there. I could have stayed out on the ocean for hours on end. At one point I even thought, ‘I need to get my own sailboat so I can live in it like Michael’. Once the wind hits those sails, and you feel the boat tilt, the water lapping at the sides of the boat, the sun glistens on the water, and the only sound you hear is the wind whistling in your ears telling tales of adventure……nothing can beat this feeling.
It was the perfect timing for me to experience sailing. My Mom had just discovered after 35 years of marriage that my Dad had been living a double life. They were in the process of getting divorced and all the drama that comes with that. No matter how old you get, finding out your Dad was not who you thought he was, is always hard, and I was going through a significant mourning period.
So being able to be on this boat, imagining disappearing into the great blue beyond was just what my soul needed. I can’t tell you how grateful I was for this experience, for the freedom I felt and it truly helped peace return to my soul. One of Michael’s goals for his passengers is to have this type of spiritual experience. To have a sense of calm in a world that never has enough time for the quiet moments of life that are so precious and rare.
If you are going to Seattle, and have a chance to hang with Michael on his boat…..do it…..no matter what the cost is. I promise you won’t regret sailing in Seattle with him. It isn’t like the commercialized sailings that are right off the main pier, this experience is unique because he and his boat are unique.
Michael has been sailing for so long, through so many countries, has so many adventures to tell — there was not one minute I felt bored. You will get to help sail the boat, feel peaceful away from the rat race of life, and see the Seattle Skyline without having to fight others for the perfect picture. You will capture moments that more commercialized boats don’t allow the time or space for. Most importantly, it gives you the perfect setting to connect with people in a way that will make your trip to Seattle even more memorable.
This was NOT a sponsored post, everything in this post I shared with you was to help you see how doing the unique things…..even if they are a little more expensive, can have the greatest return in meaningful memories that will fill your soul. Personally, I cannot wait to book an overnight (or maybe a few nights) sailing trip up through Canada and through the plethora of islands that surround Seattle.
As Always Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.
Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour with Tim Menzen. What a great opportunity for me to see the hot spots of Seattle, not get lost, and maybe get some good ideas on how to be a better photographer. I booked the experience (which was ~$50 at the time), and a Sailing in Seattle Experience (article on this to be posted next week). I was finally set for my three day weekend in Seattle.
Tim Menzen is a Photographing Camera genius, well at least to me. He often is recruited to do videography for local news stations, shoots for sports teams, car racing, rallies, and so much more. The man is legit and knows his stuff. Take a look at his Facebook and Instagram posts to get a better idea.
I met Tim at the Art Museum in Downtown Seattle (appropriate for the type of tour we were doing). He was very communicative, told me what he would be wearing, what to expect, and was flexible when my Uber was late. He shoots with a Cannon 1DX (the beast of all beasts of a camera), and was really jealous about that honestly. I shoot with a Sony DSC M3 (which has an incredibly steep learning curve with the technology), yet he really helped me discover how much more technical I can get with my camera.
The Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour isn’t just about going to the hot spots, tourist traps, or getting those Instagram worthy photos. He teaches you to utilize your camera and finally get out of the Auto mode – resulting in less grainy photos with darker pictures, the play of light to your advantage, helping you be more aware of your surroundings fostering the creative edge, and takes you around the more unique areas of downtown Seattle.
Walking the Seattle Sightseeing Photography Tour
I was a little nervous about how much walking we would have to do, not because I can’t physically do it, only because I was afraid of getting hopelessly lost in the end. Just to calm those fears, please know that he takes you right back to the Art Museum so you can get your bearings again.
The walking itself was not that strenuous, you do have to go up and down several flights of stairs, so those with bad knees beware. It was a Saturday that I chose to do my tour, and unfortunately, there were 2 cruise ships in port, and loads of tourists. As we walked into the hoard I turned to Tim and said, “I hate crowds, it makes me nervous – so if we can avoid them a little for this particular tour and see the more unique things about Seattle that revolve around the culture in Seattle – I’m happy to do that”. He happily agreed to get out of the crowds and showed me the more artistic side of Seattle. Winding through alleyways and backstreets, I was able to see the best and the worst of what is…..Seattle.
Getting To Know My Camera
The first couple of stops I had my camera on Auto mode, I had told Tim about my background as a travel writer and photographer. A part of me was a little nervous to look stupid in front of this professional, but we all have to start somewhere right? I told him that I felt like my composition in my photos was horrible, I try to be a cutesy fartsy Instagram babe and usually fail miserably at it, and then told him that I really didn’t understand how to control the lighting with my camera other than the dial on top. I’m pretty sure this rough introduction helped break the ice, and he took it all in stride and we got to work.
He had me stand in one spot, showed me how his Cannon worked, stood behind me as I tried to find the same settings. Refreshed me the in’s and out’s of Time value and aperture & how the photography world trends have changed since I took my photography course in college (where we were still shooting on film— yes, I realize this makes me sound ancient). Shooting the Parking sign, again and again, changing different settings, zooming in and seeing the grain that resulted from those changes was very beneficial to me personally.
It’s hard to start exploring the settings in the camera, not because it is hard intellectually. I am so afraid of screwing up my camera (when I use it so often) and not being able to get it back to where I need it to be for other shoots. Having someone guide you through it, tell you its ok when you (insert preferred cuss word), and then help you fix it – really helps with the nerves.
Not only did he help with the technical aspect, but he also validated me as a photographer. I showed him my own Culture Trekking Instagram, and he said, “I think your composition looks great” — now I just need to work on telling a story with my photos instead of just shooting fun ads for those destinations.
Here’s the thing, anyone can be a photographer….you take out your phone, take a photo of your pet, apply a filter and there you go…your a photographer. Most people can become professional photographers without much training, or rather get that training via Udemy or YouTube. However, a real artist or artistic photographer….will incorporate all of these things and capture the viewer with a suggested story with one click of the shutter button. Having an ability, eye, and sense of the story within a setting is the way to really make a name for who you are and the message you want to create. Do you want the story to be of the game, or do you want to show the more human side of the teammates hugging after a goal, a player running to his partner/child after they cross the finish line? Human moments are the best sort of moments for me, but telling the story is what makes it true Art.
For this tour though, I tried to focus on implementing the techniques he showed me while touring downtown Seattle. So here are a few of the places we visited, and some of the good photos as well as some of the…..well….not so good photos. Just to help you see that out of 500 photos there are only a few that are worthwhile sharing due to composition, storyline, lack of graininess, and my own personal preference to what I deem to be an ‘ok photo’.
The Gum Wall
Taking the back road from the Art Museum, you find some classic Seattle Liberal stickers and signs (which I thought were quite comical). Everything was relatively clean and orderly, then you start to see it….The Gum Wall. This iconic spot started in the mid-1990’s outside the Theatre, Unexpected Productions. The Theatre didn’t allow gum inside, the most logical solution was to stick it on the wall outside as you entered and put a quarter on it to thank whoever had to clean it up.
The gum literally stuck….with now 50 feet of wall on either side of this theatre covered in second hand chewed gum. There are surrounding businesses selling the gum to help the disgusting artistic expression of defiance, and now it is now an iconic part of the city.
The quarters have disappeared, and historically appears it has only been cleaned once in November of 2015. When the cleaning began, I don’t think they realized what they were getting into. There were several inches of gum stuck to the wall with the deterioration of the brick happening underneath. They scraped and steam cleaned the walls for weeks, it took 130 hours to clean the wall. The next month, you could hardly tell that it had been cleaned as loads of tourists came to take part in the mastication party.
Selfies abound and I just couldn’t bring myself to participate in this right of passage. My medical background and the roiling stomach and heebie-jeebies I was experiencing from this disgusting attraction made taking photos of the pretty girls taking selfies totally adequate. Needless to say, I took the obligatory photos at the wall and then told Tim I was ready to move on. (Still get a lump in my throat thinking about this).
As you make your way up the slope and take a right up towards Pike Avenue, you will see artistic ‘posts’ of different artistic events located in town. SO MANY COLORS! I WAS DYING! Turn around and appreciate Ghost Alley Espresso, this lovely coffee shop was formerly the first Public Male Restroom (for my UK readers… the Loo). Yep, go in and help yourself to a brown cuppa coffee and think of how many…….never mind….just enjoy your coffee.
As you walk up the slope of Pike Ave, you will start to hear the hustle and bustle of Pike Place Market. Fun Fact: the slope you are walking on was formerly where they would hold the soap car races (back in the day). Once you reach the top of the slope, STOP, turn around…..this is the best place to take a photo that doesn’t require you to have 500 other people in the photo with you in front of the Pike Place Sign. There are plenty of fresh flowers for you to buy and hold in the surrounding shops. I personally didn’t feel the need to do this, but apparently its a ‘thing’ to do this.
Walking Pike’s Place Market:
There are a few places you should visit, or at least see if you like the tourist traps and tasting original or local cuisine. See the Pike’s Place Market directory to plan your visit and hit the best of the best.
I personally didn’t feel the need to indulge, especially with how long that line was. This is where the original Starbucks Coffee store originated before becoming a global phenomenon. I would suggest going to the Starbucks Reserve instead at a location within walking distance of Pike’s Place, where you can sit down and be educated and taste different coffee beans and roasts from around the world. These highly specialized roasts are variable depending on the week & what their researchers send in. There is no menu or cash register (you pay a flat fee), you sit down/explore the store and just indulge in the Starbucks Brand like never before.
A Russian classic passed down from Babushka to her Grandchildren. This particular pastry shop will delight you with the authenticity and handmade Russian pastries. The line for this shop was also quite long, so I again passed it up given I only had two hours with Tim. Check out the Piroshki Piroshki’s Menu for all the delicate delights they have to offer.
Pike Place Fish Market
I personally call this place the Fisherman’s Bar because you step right up, order your fish and a show ensues. The show of throwing the slippery slimy fishy’s across the bar to each other, while yelling what the fish is, who ordered it and how many. It is hard to miss should you find yourself in Pike’s Place. If you have an Airbnb, typically you can have the Fish cleaned and skinned for you, then take it back to your rental and cook up a great meal. There are plenty of fresh vegetables, fruits, and herbs in the market to really cook up something good. I would suggest taking a look at the Fish Market Menu before approaching the bar, as they move very quick, and you don’t want to accidentally get hit with a fish while trying to decide what to order.
Artisan Crafts and more
Tim and I made our way into the market itself, right under the Restroom sign there are some stairs that lead you down underneath the busiest part of Pike’s Place Market. Here you will find all those items you could wish for as souvenirs at a much more reasonable price than those shops above. You also get an added bonus of seeing the photos of what the market looked like back in the day, before it became Instagram famous.
For more information on Unique Photo Stops near Pike’s Place, Check out The View From Right Here – where a local lays out her glimpses of the beautiful Seattle Region.
There are not very many Alley’s that are named in Seattle, this particular alley was named due to the Post that was produced and sold along this alley. The alley begins at the North End of Virginia Street, between first and western avenues running all the way to main street at the South end. The alley is not continuous as it has had apartments built, sectioning it off.
We walked all along Post Alley, and it was the perfect way to avoid the worst of the crowds in downtown Seattle. It also has some of the cutest boutique shops, photo ops, unique structures and a fabulous Irish Pub and Wine Bar in Seattle. I would suggest coming here instead of in the heart of Pike’s Place Market. If you notice a super long line of patrons waiting at the North End, that particular line is apparently for some Clam Chowder.
I’m not a foodie per se, so I get a bit snarky when it comes to waiting in lines to taste food. Personally, I feel you waste your time for something that will just end up in the toilet in the end. I know I know, gross Janiel (insert laughing)- I’m a medical person…. we talk about shit all day.
We made our way down to the Pier where we got some fabulous views of the Puget Sound. He gave me some tips on how to shoot on cloudy days and the layout of the surrounding mountains.
Pre-Photo Tour tidbit: When driving into town via Uber, my driver said that the Ferris Wheel on the Pier isn’t really worth it. The part that he said was MUCH better and more affordable was Wings Over Washington, this was built like the ride in Disneyland Soarin’ Around the World – and he said that this will give you all sorts of visions of how beautiful Washington can be, is indoors, and perfect for those rainy days.
The biggest charm factor for me during this tour was the plethora of courtyards with lush foliage, cute cafes, murals and a general ‘live your life well’ relaxing feeling. While you will have to take the Tour with Tim (that has a nice ring to it doesn’t it), to find all these courtyards – you can really find murals and fantastic places to exercise those photography skills by just wandering downtown Seattle.
I did find a fantastic map of different murals throughout the city at The Evergrey with the histories behind each mural (if you love street art like I do). There is also the article from the Seattle Met on ‘The City Is a Canvas’ which has some great advice on where to find the best murals.
Safety in Seattle
Not all of Seattle is safe, so as a general rule daytime is safe, nighttime is not. If you like the Party scene go up to Capitol Hill where most of the college crowd hangs out and there are a lot of the LGBTQ bars and such are as well.
If you find one of these, just leave it, if you find a man/woman passed out with one of these near them….just make sure they are breathing – drop a Tylenol and a bottle of water and then keep walking.
Ending the Tour
Seattle stole my heart because of this tour. I was able to see the best of the best, and even the underbelly that is also iconically part of what Seattle is.
There is a plethora of conflicting representations here with a general feeling of embracing not only the fickle weather patterns but also Art, Technology, History and the Present – all which make a great big interactive platform to discovering the best of what Seattle has to offer.
I did not get paid to tell you to book a tour with Tim but appreciated his validation of my work, the tools that he taught me and the patience he had while I took my sweet time with getting it right. I will definitely be back to Seattle, I hope very soon. Have you been to Seattle? What was your favorite part? Have you tried an Airbnb Experience before? To Book a Tour with Tim Menzen visit Airbnb Experience Photography Tour with a Pro. New to Airbnb? Sign up with this link and get $40 towards your next Airbnb experience. Stay tuned for my Sailing in Seattle Airbnb experience & don’t forget to PIN this article below.
As Always……Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.