Which beach is for you ?

Los Angeles and California are full of beaches back to back. You can go to different ones depending on what you want to do.

For biking: Hermosa Beach 

There is a bike rental right by the pier called Hermosa Cyclery and a biking path that will take you all the way to LAX.

Hermosa Beach
Biking by Hermosa Beach

For Volley Ball: Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach has a lot of beach volleyball nets and they have tournaments and MeetUps every weekend.

For tourists: Venice Beach 

Venice is the touristy beach. Beside the beach,  you need to walk down Venice busy Boardwalk. If you like to skate there is a skate park. If you want to work out, there is the famous muscle park. After the beach, head towards Pacific Ave to see the famous Venice sign and get some amazing food and drinks.

Venice Beach
Venice Beach
Venice Muscle Park
Venice Beach Muscle park

The most emblematic: Malibu 

If you want to feel like you are in a Baywatch episode and look at some of the famous stars beach houses head to Malibu. The Malibu area along the PCH is full of great ( and mostlt expensive) restaurants.

Baywatch Malibu
Baywatch

For hiking: Zuma Beach 

There are numerous hikes that start on PCH in Zuma. After the effort, head down to the Beach for some relaxing time.

Zuma Beach
Zuma Beach

On the way to the South: Laguna Beach 

Laguna town is a small,  cute and happening town between LA and San Diego. You can walk through the small streets, go to the beach and play beach volleyball.

Laguna Beach
Laguna Beach

On the way to the North: Carmel

It won’t be as hot as the LA Beaches but it has that romantic feeling. You can head to the little town for some shopping or venture along the famous 17-mile drive.

carmel beach
Carmel Beach

What is your favorite beach?

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South Dakota, exploring new lands

Mt Rushmore is one of the must-see US Monument. I used that as an excuse to go to South Dakota and explore the region around Mt Rushmore. What scenery.

Day1: Wall, Badlands, and Deadwood

I land in the small regional airport of Rapid City rented a car from there and start my South Dakota Road Trip. 1st stop to refresh myself, the Wall Drugstore on the I90. During the whole drive on the I90, you will see signs for the famous Drugstore situated in Wall. The place was a famous stop for travelers that needed water while going through that deserted region.  The big Drugstore offers great souvenir shops and a restaurant with famous Buffalo Burgers.

After a good lunch and some shopping, I was back on the road to go to Badlands National Park.  Wall is a few miles away from one of the parks’ entrance.

Badlands, named that way by the French that had a hard time to cross that new deserted land, is one of the National Parks in South Dakota. Enter from the Pinnacles Entrance and take the scenic byway (SD240) to cross the park. The Park, like all National Parks, has a bunch of small trails that will allow you to discover the unique mountains recognizable by their red and yellow horizontal lines. Stop at few viewpoints to admire the breathtaking view of those mountains. Be aware, the viewpoints will be most likely very windy.

The must stop trails:

  • Fossil Exhibit trail to discover the fossils
  • The Door Trail: you can get inside of those mountains. It’s an amazing feeling. You will realize that the park and those mountains are mostly mud and not rock. It’s not possible to climb them like in Joshua Tree
  • The Window Trail: it’s a small trail that ends with a window to the mountains

The longest trail is the Castle Trail that is 10 miles. It’s a good trail to take if you are spending the whole day in the park. It is said that at night you can see the stars but this is less and less true with the pollution.  Make sure to stop at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center to get your National Park stamp.

After few trails and a lot of viewpoint stop, I was back on the road to go to Lead and the historic town of Deadwood. 2 hours later, after a drive through the Black Hills Forest, I found myself in that little cowboy town ready to immerse myself in one of those old cowboy movies. Deadwood Main Street is full of souvenir shops, casinos and old saloons. Make sure to check out the Saloon #10. You will see Wild Bill, Calamity Janes, Preacher Smith, Potato Creek Johnny and Seth Bullock heads over the bar. Every night, the saloon offers a show around 8pm.

For the night, I drove to the Hotel near Mt Rushmore called the K Bar S Lounge Lodge in Keystone. This lodge is very cozy and you can actually see the president’s head from the backyard.

 

Day2: Mt Rushmore

Start your day by going to Mt. Rushmore. What an impressive monument. 2016 is the 75th anniversary of the completion of Mt Rushmore, what a better occasion to go and discover this majestic monument. The Sculptor Created by Gutzon Borglum is a must stop on a US Road Trip. The Mount is overlooking the whole Black Hills, SD area. It took Gutzon and his 400 workers 14 years to crave those 4 presidents, Jefferson, Washington, Roosevelt and Lincoln in the mountain. First, discover the heads by walking through the Avenue of Flags that has all the state flags and then you will have a full clear view from the Grand View Terrace. If the weather is nice, take the 1-mile Presidential Trail to have a close-up view of the monument.

The weather is foggy, I decided to not go to Crazy Horse and drove instead to my next National Monument, the Jewel Cave. Jewel Cave is as the name indicates known for its jewel cave. You can take a tour inside of the cave to see the jewels in the rocks. It’s so beautiful. The cave has over 180 miles of passages and is still expanding with many adventurers volunteering to go into the cave and discover new passages. The Park has only a few small trails that you can take to discover the surface of the cave.

For the night I stayed at the best lodge in the middle of Custer State Park called the Sylvan Lake Lodge. That Authentic lodge is right above the majestic Sylvan Lake and if you are a hiker like you will enjoy all the trails nearby. I personally did the Sunday Glutch 4.5 miles trails that offered a great view of the mountains and the lake.  The Lounge, with a fireplace, offers you a great relaxing area after a day of hiking and exploring.

 

Day 3: Wind Cave, Crazy Horse Memorial

From the hotel, the Crazy Horse Memorial is only 30 min away. That monument is one of the lesser known monuments in the area but it’s worth stopping by. It is the worlds’ largest mountain craving still in progress. The monument represents the brave Indian Crazy Horse. For now, the head is finished and for the next 10 years, they will be working on the hand. There is a small scale version of the monument in the visitor’s center so you can see how the monument will look.

From there take the more scenic longer Iron Mountain Road to get to Wind Cave National Park. Wind Cave is one of the South Dakota’s National Parks, a few hours away from Rapid City. As you can guess, the park is known for its cave. It’s called the wind cave because somehow the wind is always blowing in the cave. It has over 100 miles of know passages and you can tour few miles of it as the Park offers different tours from the regular hour-long tour to the candlelight one. The cave ceiling is covered by boxwork calcite and the walls by white popcorn! The National Park has also some trails and is known for its wildlife, especially bisons.  From the Visitor center drive take the ) Wildlife Loop Road towards Custer Park and Mt Rushmore, you will see a lot of prairie dogs, deers and bisons on that scenic drive.

For lunch or Happy Hour stop at the Blue Bell Lodge right by Wind Cave National Park and Custer State Park. Their Saddle Bar is to fall in love with. A little bit further down, if Mt. Coolidge Lookout Tower is open, check out the view at 6,023 feet and on a clear day, you can even see the Badlands, which is almost 90 miles away. To go back to the hotel, I took the Needle Highway which curves and winds through 14 miles of rock formations called “Needles”. It was truly a scenic drive.

 

Day 4: Rapid City

It took me 1 hour to get back to Rapid City and before catching my flight I had enough time to explore the city. Downtown Rapid City is famous for its presidential walk. The sidewalk has a statue of each president every few feet. The neighborhood offers many shops and restaurants. Stop at the graffiti art alley and grab lunch at the famous Firehouse Brewery.

 

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree for a weekend

If you want to get away from the city, Joshua Tree is the perfect getaway if you live in SoCal. The park, located in the Mojave Desert not too far from Palm Springs, is a great retreat location in Fall and Spring until Mid May. It does get too hot during summer time.

You can camp inside of the park as they offer many camping grounds or stay at a cabin or at the Joshua Tree Inn, in Yucca Valley,  1 mile away from the park. The closer to the park, the better you will be able to admire the sunset and the stars at night. The best way to finding cabins is to go to Airbnb, they offer so many great choices but they best cabins sell out very fast.

I entered the park from Yucca Valley. Make sure to stop at the visitor’s center to collect your national park stamp and take a map of the park.

Start your day early, maybe around 9am with the most strenuous hike. Ryan Mountain is a great 3 miles hike that allows you, once at the 5,458-foot summit, to have a beautiful view if the vast park.  You can then discover the park with different short trails. The Arch Rock trail, the Skull Rock trail, the Barker Dam Trail and the Chella Cactus Garden will allow you to discover a different aspect of the park. Make sure to stop at the Key’s View, also called inspiration point, from where you can see the San Andreas Fault, Mt. San Jacinto and Coachella Valley. The Park is also known for its rock climbing spots like Hidden Valley Trail.

The Park is vast so you might explore the Hidden Valley to Skull Rock side in one day and the Cottonwood Spring side of the park the next day.

Amsterdam Windmills Tour by Viator

The half a day tour including the Zaanse Schans WindmillsMarken Clog Maker and taking the boat to Volendam Cheese Factory. Make sure you are on time because they leave EXACTLY on time.

The bus drive from Amsterdam to the Zaanse Schans Windmills is around one hour. At Zaanse Schans, we visited one of the oil windmills and were able to go on top of the Windmill. After, we had some free time to walk around the windmill field and take a bunch of pictures. Then, we headed to Marken where we saw a Clog Maker making a Clog right in front of us. Such an interesting process; how from a piece of wood one can make a shoe. You will have the opportunity to buy clogs from them. From there we walked through the village to get to the boat and sailed to Volendam. In Volendam, we visited a Cheese Factory, learned about the Cheese tradition and were able to buy Cheese from them. The cheese was amazing. I wish I bought more. Before heading back to Amsterdam, we spent some times in Volendam Village enjoying the village and some beer.

It feels nice to spend some time away for the busy Amsterdam and see the countryside.

Without the tour and unless you have a car, it is impossible to go to those 3 places so it is definitely a worthy tour to take while in Amsterdam. It is only half a day so once finished you still have time to visit a few places in the city. The tour guide was very knowledgeable and you have enough free time to wander around, shop and discover these 3 unique places.

Duration: Half Day

Price: $56

Website: Viator 

Rating:   5-star-rating

 

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Ultimate Guide to Cartagena

I stayed in Boca Grande, the Miami Beach of Cartagena. The other good place to stay is inside the walled city, in the old town.

 

Day 1: The walled city and the fortress

Enter the walled city. The clock tower, Puerta Del Reloj, is the symbol of the city. When walking around, you will see colorful Fruit Ladies. Tip them and you will be able to take pictures. The old town has the most famous ice cream shops. If it’s a hot day, you will need to go to Gelato Paradiso for a threat. For lunch or happy hour stop at Plaza Santo Domingo to enjoy a drink, traditional food and at happy hour time, the Colombian dancers gather and you can admire the Maple Dance, the traditional dance by the slaves.

After the visit of the old town, head first to the Castillo San Felipe de Barajas, the old fortress and then to La Popa, a cathedral on top of the city. You will need to get a cab to go to those 2 places.

At night, have dinner at the sophisticated restaurant La Vitrola. It is a dressy spot for both locals and tourists. Then walk to Café del Mar at the entrance of the walled city. The huge outdoor lounge offers the best view possible of the sunset. Grab a Club Colombia Beer and enjoy the best DJ. That lounge is my favorite lounge is the world.

 

Day 2: The Rosario Islands and Playa Blanca

You will need to book a tour to get to that beach. Every morning the boats leave for Playa Blanca from the main port. Note that you will have to pay for a port tax. It is a 45min ride and you will found yourself in paradise. The Water is clear and the sand white.  The Seafood lunch is part of the tour and it is so good. The downside is the beach is full of locals that are trying to sell you items. Be patient and politely say no.

If you want a private beach, you will have to go to a resort.

At night, you can party on a Chiva Party Bus. Book the party bus at your hotel or online. The Chiva Bus is a typical Colombian Party Bus. They pick you up at the hotel; there are music and local alcohol on the bus. Everybody is dancing and singing. After partying in the bus, all the Chiva buses stop at the walled city before dropping everybody off at a club in Getsemani. They come back around midnight to pick you up.

 

Day 3:

  • You can go to the beach in Cartagena.
  • You can go to Santa Marta Beach by boat or taxi but it is 4h away! You might want to stay the night there to fully enjoy the beach and relax
  • You can so go to the Lost City – El Pueblito, the archeological remains of a lost city in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in The Tayrona´s National park. Again, it will be better to stay in the area for the night to fully enjoy the experience.
  • You can go to the Mud Volcano and enjoy healing powers of the mud baths

 

 

Ultimate Guide to Medellin

I stayed at the Diez Hotel in Zona Rosa which is the best neighborhood for cafes, restaurants, and bars.

Day 1: Day trip to Guatape

It is 2 hours away from the city. I took a private tour. It is very affordable and Andres Munera was an amazing tour guide. I will recommend everybody to take the tour with him.

We took the scenic route to Guatape and did the first stop at the Tequendamita Fall. If you didn’t get a chance to go see the Tequendama Fall in Bogota, this is the perfect occasion to see the small replica and no bad smell here.  Then, we headed to El penol, the rock of Guatape. We stopped a few times to take pictures of the rock from far. Impressive. All Along, Andres was telling the story of Medellin, Guatape, and el Penol. When you arrive at the rock, you can see all the stairs you need to take to get to the top. 740 of them! Take your time, you can do it. The view from up there is just out of this world. Just relax and admire the view. Peaceful.  After the effort, we headed to Guatape village for lunch. After lunch, Andres gave us a tour of the waterfront and Remembrance Street. I felt in love with that very colorful village.

 

Day 2 and 3: Medellin city

 I took the hop on hop off, turibus. It is the perfect way to visit the city.

The bus stops are:

Plaza Botero is the Home to 23 of Fernando Botero’s larger-than-life sculptures. That Plaza is worth an extended stop to admire all the amazing “large” people sculptures. Parque Berrio is across the street from Plaza Botero, this small park is always filled with juice vendors and local street performers playing traditional Colombian music.

Jardin Botanico is the big Botanic Garden of Medellin.

Pueblito Paisa is small traditional village recreated atop Cerro Nutibarra, a small hill in the center of the valley. The hill offers terrific, near 360-degree views of the city. It also has a church and souvenir shops.

El Castillo Museo y Jardines was Inspired by the castles of the French Loire Valley, El Castillo was constructed in 1930.

Parque Arvi: take the famous Medellin Metro cable to get to that Park, one of the region’s largest nature reserves.

Parque de los pies descalzos : this park in the middle of the city offers relaxing activities that can be done barefoot, hence the name of the park.

 

At night stay in Zona Rosa. The Park is surrounded by restaurants. Pick any, they are all good

For the dance and drink part, head to Mojito Bar, one street away from the park. The little bar runs on mojito and they have salsa classes some nights. Don’t be shy and dance.

Ultimate Guide to Bogota

Bogota in 3 days

I’m staying in the old town, La Candelaria neighborhood. It is perfect for the touristy activities during the day but it is a dead neighborhood at night. For the night festivities, you have to head to Zona T.

Day1: Monserrate and Usaquen

Cerro Monserrate is a few blocks away from old town but unless you love hiking, you are better off taking a cab to the cable cars that will take you all the way up. At Monserrate, you can have a 360 view of Bogota, visit the Monserrate Church and you can also see from there el Cerro de Guadalupe which is a huge statue of Guadalupe. If you have extra time, you can also cab it all the way there.

For lunch, head to Usaquen, a colonial town near Bogota. They have really good restaurants and cafes. You can relax by the park and check out the Iglesia Santa Bárbara (Santa Barbara Church). If you go there on a Sunday, they have their famous flea market, the perfect place to buy souvenirs made by locals.

At Night, head to Andres Carne de Res. It is in Chia, an hour outside of Bogota but you won’t regret it. It is a huge restaurant with amazing food and after dinner time the music becomes loud and everybody will be on the dancefloor. It is the best restaurant I’ve been to.

Day2: Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira and the Mystic Lake Guatavita

Start the day early and go the Salt Cathedral a few hours away from Bogota. You will need to get a tour or cab it there. I got a private chauffeur for that day.

After the visit of that breath-taking cathedral built in a salt mine, I headed to Lake Guatavita. On my way there, I stopped at a small food cart to get the traditional Arepas con queso which is special bread filled with Cheese. So Yummy.

Lake Guatavita and the village are 1 hour away from the Salt Cathedral. You will fall in love with the lake and the little village.

At night, Zona T is an area famous for its abundance of good food, and a plethora of pubs and bars, including the famous Bogotá Beer Company and Andrés DC. Andres DC is the most stop for drinks and dancing. It is a 4 story building with a bar and dance floor on each level. This is where the young crowd is.

Day3: The Tequendama Fall and La Candelaria

La Candelaria is the name of the Old Town. It is full of museums from Museo de Oro to Museo Botero and Museo de la Esmeralda (Emerald Museum). The one that is worth going to is the Botero Museum. Botero is a Colombian artist and you will see his work in every city. He is famous for his paintings and sculptures of people in “large” and they actually call that “boterismo”.

Head to the main square, called Plaza de Bolivar. The Plaza is surrounded by Capitolio Nacional, which serves as the seat of both houses of the Congress of Colombia, Palacio de Justicio and Palacio de Nariño (the official office for the executive branch of the Colombian government). At the Plaza, you can feed the pigeons and make sure you take a picture. Walk along the Palacio de Nariño and take a picture with the guards at the entrance to the Palacio de Nariño, cross the street and check out the 17th century Iglesia de San Augustín. Few streets away, you will see one of the oldest cathedrals of Colombia, Catedral Primada de Colombia.

If you need a break, enter any of the typical coffee shops and try the traditional Chocolate con queso. It’s Hot Chocolate with Cheese! It’s actually not that bad.

If you have some time left head to Tequendama Falls and the Abandoned Hotel that are 2 hours from Bogota with cab or bus. I was told by locals that it smells very very bad and it is actually not that impressive.

If you have extra time, you can also take a Coffee Plantation Tour. After all, Colombia is famous for its coffee.

 

My Blog Collabs

Here is the link of all my Collaborations with other amazing travel bloggers, different events and Travel Tours

 

Press Collaboration with COLCOA French Film Festival in 2016

 

 

 

 

New Orleans in 3 days

Mardi Gras is on Feb 9th and that is one of the best time to go New Orleans and see its famous Mardi Gras Festival. Here is a guide on what to see in 3 days in that lively city.

I followed the great walking tour provided by Frommers for New Orleans in 2 days.

Day 1: The French Quarter 

It is best to stay in this neighborhood since it is the one with the most attractions and it is the place to be at night.

Start the day at Café du Monde. Don’t get scared by the line, it advances pretty fast. You must have a cup of café au lait (coffee with milk) and beignets covered in powdered sugar. You can also go around back, get your beignets to go, and walk across to Jackson Square to enjoy them from a park bench.

After that breakfast, start your Frommers walking tour. You will pass by:

  • Lalaurie Mansion aka Madame Lalaurie’s House of Horrors. You maybe saw that house in the show American Horror Story: Coven. That season was shot in New Orleans and when you walk around you can see different locations that you saw in the show.

LaLaurie Story:
“Two-time widow Madame Delphine Macarty de Lopez Blanque wed Dr. Louis Lalaurie, moved into this residence in 1832, and the two were soon impressing the city with extravagant parties. One night in 1834 fire broke out. Neighbors crashed through a locked door to find seven starving slaves chained in painful positions. The sight, combined with Delphine’s stories of past slaves having “committed suicide” and rumors of hideous live-subject medical experiments conducted within, enraged her neighbors. Madame Lalaurie and her family escaped a mob’s wrath and fled to Paris. After her death, her body was returned to New Orleans—and even then she had to be buried in secrecy. Tales of hauntings persist, especially that of a slave child who fell from the roof trying to escape Delphine’s cruelties.”

  • Tennessee Williams House – This is where Tennessee Williams wrote the famous A Streetcar Named Desire.
  • Esplanade Avenue

The French district has a lot of hunted places. For example the Andrew Jackson Hotel where school children haunt the place. They say an old woman’s ghost sits on hotel beds at Le Pavilion Hotel and dead doctors and soldiers roam the Hotel Provincial.

For Lunch stop by the Central Grocery to try the best Muffuletta. It is a sandwich filled with olive salad, Italian cold cuts, and cheese. You can seat inside or again go to Jackson Square and enjoy your lunch in the park.

Don’t forget to go to Marie Laveau’s house of voodoo shop. You have to buy a souvenir from that shop, whether it’s a voodoo doll or a candle.

Take a walk along Woldenberg Park (the pedestrian walkway adjacent to the river) toward the Moonwalk overlooking Jackson Square.

The MUST Bourbon Street at night

Bourbon Street gets loud and sometimes even gross but it is a must.

Start the night at the Bourbon St., Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, the oldest continually operating bar in the country. “Legend is that it was the headquarters of Jean Lafitte and his pirates, who posed as blacksmiths and used it to fence goods they’d plundered on the high seas.”

 

Day 2: The Garden District

Have Brunch at Commander’s Palace. That Victorian Structure restaurant has the best Sunday brunch with Jazz music.

Across the street, you have the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1. Established in 1833, this “city of the dead” is one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries.

Follow the Frommers Walking Tour of the Garden District.  This is the rich neighborhood of New Orleans and you can feel the lush while admiring the houses.

Don’t miss out the Miss Robicheaux’s Academy aka Buckner Mansion that you can see in American Horror Story: Coven. It is on Jackson Ave.

Then, head to Magazine Street. Explore the boutiques, antiques, and galleries along the street. Pick up the streetcar to go back to the French Quarter for the night festivities.

For dinner, you can go to Muriel’s restaurant in Jackson Square. The restaurant is said to be hunted and if you get lucky you can get a tour of the hunted rooms of the restaurant.

 

Day3: Swamp Tour

These are the 2 best options:

It is Approximately 1.5-hour tour by boat and they have the hotel pick up.

After the swamp tour, get back to the French Quarter to have dinner at Napoleon House. They have the best Po Boy Sandwich.

For the last night, you can get away from Bourbon Street and try an upscale bar like the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone where they have amazing cocktails.

 

Additional tours if you stay longer:

  • Plantations tour at Oak Alley

http://www.oakalleyplantation.com/plan-your-visit/map-directions

  • Haunted Places tours: the tours do not take inside the places.
  • The Algiers Ferry: The ferry takes you to the Algiers residential neighborhood You will find yourself in a 19th-century village full of cafes and pubs and you can stroll the Jazz Walk of Fame along with the levee.
  • Mississippi River Cruise