Alex In Wanderland http://www.alexinwanderland.com Working and playing around the world Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Beyond Sunday Funday: What to Do in San Juan del Sur http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/24/what-to-do-in-san-juan-del-sur/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/24/what-to-do-in-san-juan-del-sur/#comments Fri, 24 Apr 2015 13:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34613

After nearly four years of perpetual traveler, I know what I like, and what I like are beach towns. San Juan del Sur charmed me to my core, and I might still be found swinging in one of its hammocks had a much-anticipated festival in El Salvador not nudged me to move on after more than two weeks there. While the town is known primarily for its party scene, I found there was so much more on offer. Here’s what kept me entertained in my favorite corner of Nicaragua.

Sunset in San Juan del Sur

Yoga

Zen is San Juan del Sur’s one and only yoga studio, and I found myself there almost every single day for a class, a massage, or a smoothie from Buddha’s Garden, the onsite raw vegan restaurant. The open-air, second-story sala reminded me how grateful I was to be somewhere I could take an outdoor yoga class, and I found myself springing out of bed for the 8:30am class often. Drop-in classes are pricey at $8, but packages are available. Massages are similarly expensive at $40 per hour, but I didn’t regret the one I splurged on in the slightest.

For the non-yoga inclined, San Juan del Sur does have two simple no-frills gyms (both that women will feel comfortable in) and the beach and the road to Maderas are ideal for running.

Zen Yoga, San Juan del Sur

Buddha's Garden, San Juan del Sur

Beach Hopping

The beach in San Juan del Sur is nice for a sunset stroll or watching a local volleyball game, but it’s not the best for swimming. For that, catch a shuttle to nearby Hermosa or Maderas or beyond.

While I meant to check out Hermosa, Maderas kept calling me back. It’s a classic Pacific coast beach in all its wild, untamed beauty. Maderas has a scene all its own with accommodation, yoga classes, board rentals, and a few beach front restaurants.

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

Maderas Beach, Nicaraguaalways time for a beach dog selfie

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

Maderas Beach, Nicaragua

The best thing about Maderas? The sunsets — the perfect setting for a bit of spontaneous acro-yoga practice.

Sunset at Maderas Beach, San Juan del Sur

Yoga San Juan del Sur

Acro Yoga at Sunset

Catamaran Rides

I gasped when I saw posters for $75 catamaran cruises around town — one of the most expensive activities on offer in Central America. But when I was spontaneously invited along with a group of new friends, I couldn’t help but say yes. And by the time I disembarked that evening, I was buzzing, and not just from the unlimited rum punches. It was one of my favorite memories from San Juan del Sur, and well worth every cordoba! So good, in fact that it deserves a post of its own — stay tuned for one coming up next week.

San Juan del Sur Catamaran Trip

Nica Sail and SurfPhoto courtesy of Adventurous Kate

Surfing

As I previously mentioned, I had hoped surfing would be a much more regular part of my routine before I realized that no surfing actually takes place in the peaceful bay of San Juan del Sur. Rather, surfers are shuttled out to neighboring beaches to catch a wave and spend the day by the sea. Because of my work schedule, this unfortunately meant I only got up on a board twice in two weeks. Because it had been a while since I surfed, I decided to kick things off with a refresher lesson.

There are several surf schools in town and so I based my decision on what really matters – how good looking the instructors were. I ended up at Arena Caliente, where I paid $30 for a lesson which included instruction, a board, and transport to Maderas Beach and back. The waves were small and manageable and the class had a totally different feel to lessons I’ve taken in Hawaii – much less organized, no posed photo ops, and very chill vibes. But the instructor did recognize that I had some experience and so took me out again in the afternoon for a one-on-one session, which ended up being one of my favorite parts of the day.

Surfing San Juan del Sur

Surfing San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday

Yes, San Juan del Sur is home to Central America’s most notorious party. Sunday Funday is a weekly pool crawl that takes backpackers from one cerveza-soaked beautiful setting to another, and it does indeed get wild. This, I remember thinking, is Central America’s answer to Southeast Asia’s Full Moon Party. How brave of them to do it weekly. And how brave of me to do it twice! (Really, once would have been enough, but when Kate arrived it was my duty to accompany her, no?)

Some complain that Sunday Funday is overpriced, and spoiler: it is. A $30 admission fee gets you a t-shirt and transport and nothing else. You can cut the admission in half by staying at one of the participating hostels, or perhaps happening upon Superbowl Sunday like I did, when the party promoters nixed the final bar and therefore slashed the price. But otherwise, just prepare to pony up. For debaucherous fun in the sun with your fellow travelers, it can’t be beat.

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur

Sunday Funday, San Juan del Sur

Horseback Riding

Like the catamaran cruise, this was an experience so special I’m going to have to dedicate an entire post to its awesomeness. But here’s a preview. I’ve been riding all over Central America, and all over the world — my day with Rancho Chilamate was the most exhilarating adventure I’ve ever had on horseback. Not only did we dress up like cowgirls and snack on fresh guacamole and rum (fear not, the alcohol was post-dismount) we galloped down the beach! I get chills just thinking about it.

Riding at Rancho Chilamate

Horseback Riding in Nicaragua

Partying (Non Sunday Funday Category)

Sunday Funday is a damn good time — but it’s not the only game in town. In fact, some of the most fun I had out in San Juan del Sur was elsewhere. When Kate arrived, we celebrated finally meeting in person with a wild night out on a Pub Crawl starting at the Loose Moose (nights of the week change, but they hold one at least once a week). Yes, the Loose Moose — San Juan del Sur has it’s very own Canadian bar. Have a I mentioned San Juan del Sur is straight up full of Canadians? I was seriously like, who is watching your country up there? I’ve never seen so many concentrated in one place in my life, outside, you know, Canada. But, um, what were we talking about again? Oh right.

Nacho Libre was another small-but-mighty fun bar in which to start the night, and Arribas and Howler were fun beachside dance clubs to end the night, but Cerveceria was my hands-down favorite hotspot. The brewery is a local expat favorite where I found myself more often that anywhere else. Beer fans, mark your calendars — they offer tours and tastings every Friday.

Looking for a bite to eat before you kick off? Check out my list of restaurant suggestions at the end of this post.

Partying in San Juan del SurPhoto courtesy of Adventurous Kate

Partying in San Juan del Sur

Hiking

Lonely Planet Nicaragua lists several hikes around town. When Kate and I were itching for a laptop break one day, we went for the most convenient — the forty minute uphill trek to the lookout at the omnipresent Christ of Mercy statue. The 25 meter tall statue of Jesus is quite impressive — he’s supposedly one of the tallest in the world! — but the views over the town are even more so.

We went just before sunset and loved the soft light cast over the bay. From up above, you can appreciate how untouched the surrounding area is. I couldn’t help but wonder how long it will stay that way.

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Hiking in San Juan del Sur

Jesus State in San Juan del SurLet he who has not selfied with Jesus cast the first stone

Other Activities

Supposedly, diving is possible in San Juan del Sur. I put my name down at Neptune Diving, the town’s one and only “dive shop” on the day of my arrival (frankly, it looks more like a t-shirt shop with a PADI sign in the corner), but I was warned that they would only take a boat out with two customers. And to my disappointment, in two weeks, no one else ever showed. I’ll certainly try again when I return though!

Other possibilities include Spanish lessons, mountain biking, ziplining, fishing trips, and, in season, turtle watching.

Jesus State in San Juan del Sur

Clearly, despite its diminutive size, there’s no getting bored in San Juan del Sur! And while the town does live up to its party-hardy reputation, there’s plenty on the docket for those more interested in seeing the sunrise from the start of a day than the end of it. For me, it was the perfect balance of both.

Which would be your first pick for a day in San Juan del Sur?

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How To Sleep in Hostels: A Guide from A to Zzzz http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/22/how-to-sleep-in-hostels/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/22/how-to-sleep-in-hostels/#comments Wed, 22 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=35025

Please Note: I have received information and materials from McNeil Consumer Healthcare, Division of McNEIL-PPC, Inc., the makers of TYLENOL®. The opinions stated are my own. This is a sponsored post.
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For my third travelversary, I tallied up all the different beds I’d slept in over the past year – seventy-one various beds, plus four tents. Some of those evenings were spent casually drifting into a blissful and restful slumber. Others were spent tossing, turning, staring daggers at the time blinking back at me from my iPhone, and thinking anxiously of the exhausting day ahead. Over time, however, the latter scenario has become more and more infrequent as I’ve honed my system for being able to sleep anywhere on the road.

So when TYLENOL® PM asked me to tackle this issue so near and dear to my heart, it almost felt like a dream (get it?). Hostel dorms might just present one of the trickiest sleep situations out there, but they are no match for the well-prepared backpacker. Read on for my tried and true sleep tips for drifting off in a dorm.

Dorm Sleep Tips

1. Plan Ahead

Sometimes, I’m in the mood to be social. Other times, I’m in the mood to get to bed early and sleep. I’m never in the mood to be surprised – not when it comes to my hostel. I check reviews on Hostelworld and Tripadvisor to make sure I know what kind of place I’m checking myself into and that I’m not caught off guard by an on-site bar keeping me up until the wee hours. (Some rare magical hostels are the perfect mix of both. On example is Tropicana in Antigua, Guatemala, which has a lively bar that shuts down strictly at 10pm, at which point the hostel is completely silent and sleep-able.)

About 99% of the time, I’m happy to take whatever dorm I’m doled into. Every once in a while, however — if I’m fighting off a cold or am heading off on an arduous trek, for example – I might ask to be put in a smaller, quieter, or emptier dorm, a request I’ve found is usually politely accommodated.

2. Pack a Sleep Kit

I walk into a hostel like soldier prepared for battle against sleeplessness. The two most important weapons in my arsenal? A sleep mask (sequins optional…) and ear plugs. Both can take a little getting used to if you’re not accustomed to them, but the adjustment period will be well worth the restful hours you’ll clock. Keep these essentials as well as any others you might need as part of your bedroom routine – for me that includes chapstick, my contacts case, and my retainer, for example – in a small pouch that you can easily access without having to rummage apart your entire bag. Once you’ve checked in, keep it under your pillow for easy access every night.

Sleep Kit

3. Power Down

Sleep experts agree – stay off screens for two hours before bed. The light exposure from devices like phones and laptops stimulate the brain and confuses its natural sleep cycle signals. This goes for e-readers like a Kindle as well – a good excuse to hit that paperback swap in the lobby. And while you may have limited options in terms of communal spaces in some hostels, try to keep your bunk a sleep only zone – use your laptop and check your phone elsewhere so your body associates the space only with slumber.

I admit that this is a rule I struggle with and often break. But when I truly need a great night’s sleep, it does make all the difference.

4. Move Your Body

Studies show that exercise in the afternoon can help you sleep at night. You might be out of your regular gym routine on the road, but even forgoing a cab in favor of a long walk while you’re sightseeing can make all the difference that night when you’re about to hit the hay – er, bunk.

Even better? Hit a yoga class, which will have the added benefit of de-stressing you for optimal sleep.

Acro Yoga in Bocas del Toro

5. Make Friends

Saying hi and introducing yourself to everyone in your dorm isn’t just good manners – it’s smart thinking. Having a face to a name will tend to make your roommates a bit more courteous when coming in late at night or heading out early in the morning. You’re no longer just the anonymous blonde in bunk 12 – you’re the sweet new friend they definitely wouldn’t want to wake by flipping on the lights at 3am!

6. Clean Start

Taking a warm shower might not be an option in all areas of the world (heck, taking a fresh water shower is a luxury in some of my favorite places in Southeast Asia!), but when it is, try hopping in one right before bed. You might not have control over the temperature of your room (there have been nights when I would have named my first born child after any person who could produce a working fan), but you can help lower the temperature of your body – which will aid in a good night’s sleep.

7. Snack Smart

What you eat during the day – especially right before bedtime – has a huge effect on how you sleep. Caffeine any time afternoon and beyond is an obvious no no – the half life of caffeine in the body is about 5-10 hours, so order that last cup of coffee (or Diet Coke, in my case) with caution.

As far as a midnight snack goes, turkey isn’t the only food containing the famed sleep-inducing tryptophan – milk, bananas and oatmeal all serve up healthy doses as well. Keep your snack servings small – digesting a large meal can also keep you up at night.

Bananas

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Now, we all know exhaustion is no laughing matter. Except when it is. TYLENOL® wants to know — what embarrassing things have you done after a sleepless night? Share with @TYLENOL on Instagram using #IWasSoTired #Sweeps for a chance to win a $1,000 Bed, Bath & Beyond™ Bedroom Makeover! I’ll be sharing one of my own stories on Instagram later this week — stay tuned!

What hostel sleep tips have you found effective?
Spill in the comments below!
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NO PURCHASE OR SUBMISSION NECESSARY. OPEN TO LEGAL RESIDENTS OF THE 50 US & D.C., 18 AND OLDER. VOID WHERE PROHIBITED. Sweepstakes ends 5/1/15. Prize awarded as a gift card. For Official Rules, how to enter without use of a mobile device or submission, prize descriptions and odds disclosure, visit here. Bed, Bath & Beyond™ is not an official sponsor of this promotion. Sponsor: McNeil Consumer Healthcare Division of McNEIL-PPC, Inc., 7050 Camp Hill Road, Fort Washington, PA 19034. 

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Back to the Beach: Falling in Love with San Juan del Sur http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/21/falling-in-love-with-san-juan-del-sur/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/21/falling-in-love-with-san-juan-del-sur/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34611

San Juan del Sur, it turns out, is one of those love it or hate it kind of places. And before I arrived, I heard a lot of the hate it side of things. The main complaints lodged against this Pacific Coast beach town were that it was too party oriented, it didn’t feel safe, and it didn’t quite feel like an authentic slice of Nicaragua. It was just a little too established a stop on the Gringo Trail.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

But you know what? These days, I find that I care less and less about that last complaint. Yes, I want to explore and discover and be an adventurer and get off the beaten track — occasionally. But most of the time, I want wifi and salads and ideally, a daily dose of the ocean. A yoga studio filled with hot surfers doesn’t hurt either. San Juan del Sur delivered on all fronts, which is probably why I ended up staying more than two weeks — longer than I’ve spent in any other single location in Central America.

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

El Gato Negro, San Juan del Sur

Republik, San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur is the definition of a backpacker beach where surfing and partying are the main draws. Late-night taco stands, cute surf boutiques and lively bars abound. I was reminded vaguely of Montañita, Ecuador, another surf town that feels deliciously frozen in time. San Juan hosts one of the most infamous parties in Central America — more on that later — and attracts toned and tanned backpackers from around the globe, yet you can still peek inside wide open doors in the evening and see a community living simply and more or less unaffected by the tourism around them.

I was feeling a little lonely after my people detox in Granada, and I found the perfect cure in San Juan del Sur. The town is home to a vibrant expat community made up of surfers, NGO workers, bartenders, and more, and I could quickly see how it would be easy to build a life very similar to what I have in Koh Tao right there in Nicaragua. Eat in a restaurant twice and you’ll be greeted like a regular, go for a haircut and it will come with an invitation to go surfing, and after one week just try to walk down the street one block without fielding at least three hugs. I made friends that I have a hunch I’ll keep for life, and had a lot of fun along the way.

San Juan del Sur

Church, San Juan del Sur

San Juan del Sur

As for the claim that San Juan del Sur is too party oriented? Those that say so just didn’t look hard enough, in my opinion. San Juan del Sur has an active contingent more interested in getting up early to catch a wave or a yoga class than staying up late to grab a beer, and plenty to do other than pub crawls.

(Though I must admit it does excel on the nightlife front as well.)

San Juan del Sur Beach

San Juan del Sur Beach

San Juan del Sur Beach

My days in San Juan del Sur fell into a regular pattern. Aside from a few painful mornings preceded by big nights out, I rose early and usually made it to the first yoga class of the morning. Then I’d return to my hostel and work until lunch, when I’d grab my laptop and change locations to one of the several trendy eateries in town that I was more or less ready to move into. Around sunset, I’d head to the beach for a run or a stroll, sometimes accompanied by a workout at one of the town’s two sweatbox gyms. And in the evening, I’d often take advantage of the lively social scene — heading out for drinks with new friends, going on dates — yes, dates! multiple! — and bar hopping from one hotspot to the next.

San Juan del Sur Beach

San Juan del Sur Beach

I also made time for a few adventures and activities — post coming up later this week! — such as trying out one of the area’s infamous surf breaks. Actually, I had hoped surfing would be a pretty regular part of my days in San Juan del Sur but it wasn’t meant to be. There isn’t really surf in San Juan del Sur – all the good breaks are at the neighboring beaches, which travelers shuttle to and from each day. So unless you have your own ride it’s not really workable to just go surf for an hour or two. Alas, I found plenty to keep me busy.

Surfing in San Juan del Sur

Nicaragua was charming me, hard. Frequent power outages aside, San Juan del Sur received high marks from this digital nomad for liveability. Though frequent power outages left me frustrated, a fling gone wrong left me ego bruised — one of those dates led to eye-rollingly cliché disaster — and some of the prices left me wincing, I didn’t want to leave San Juan del Sur. In fact, I’m already daydreaming about setting aside a few months in 2016 to return and rent an apartment to use as a base camp for exploring the rest of the country.

One evening, early on in my stay, I went for a jog down the beach, my first attempt at running outside since my tumble in Tampa. I took it slow and savored the feel of running along the sand at sunset. I had one cinematic moment where a gust of wind blew loose sand across the dense part of the beach right by the water in a pattern so hypnotizing it stopped me in my tracks. In that moment, I remember thinking, “I’ve got this.” I hoped this would be the trip where I’d finally come to peace with a new way of traveling. One in which I’m not so much backpacking as just living my life somewhere else. Yes, working as much as I might back in the real world. Yet, getting to run on the beach instead of in a gym. Getting to gorge myself on fresh guacamole at every meal, for a steal. Getting to use my “weekends,” whenever I chose them to be, to go surfing or horseback riding on the beach or just swing in a hammock. In both Granada and San Juan del Sur, I found that perfect balance.

There are a lot of places I say I’ll be back to, but San Juan was different. It’s the kind of place I might go back to for good.

Sunset in San Juan del Sur

Practical Info

Where I stayed: I stayed in a private room at the centrally located Casa Oro, which set me back $32 a night — though luckily for the second week I was in town I shared it with Kate. While the room was windowless and small, it did have a private bathroom and included an indulgent cooked breakfast (think breakfast burritos one morning and french toast and fruit the next).

Where I ate: Taco Stop (as opposed to the inferior Taco Spot) was my go-to for takeaway quesadillas, Buddha’s Garden was my pick for healthy raw vegan meals and smoothies, Gato Negro was struck that perfect chord of artsy cafe, Nacho Libre had creative and fantastic burgers, El Pollito had cheap local food, I indulged in a crepe or a milkshake a few times at San Juan Surf Crepes, and I quickly became a regular at Republika and Cerveceria thanks to their gourmet tacos and salads served in delicious settings.

How I got there: I paid $15 for a shuttle from Granada, which took about two hours.

Bonus tip: I did two things I rarely do in San Juan del Sur — get a haircut and go shopping. Brush offers salon services on par with anything you’d find at home (a rarity while backpacking), while Siempre Surf had me handing over all the cordobas. If you’re in need of a wardrobe refresher or a new look, San Juan del Sur is the spot for you!

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Photo of the Week 201: Guatemala http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/19/photo-of-the-week-201-guatemala/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/19/photo-of-the-week-201-guatemala/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34951

Greetings from Guatemala… again! With just a few weeks left in Central America, it was time to start the journey from Belize back down to Honduras, where I’ll soon be flying out of. My first step was to return to Guatemala via boat at the Caribbean port town of Livingston. After a few days there I journeyed up the Rio Dulce river to Lago de Izabal, and eventually bussed through the highlands to Lanquin, home of Semuc Champey.

While it was a week of stunning natural beauty, by the end I was getting antsy from lack of decent internet connection (I’m tragically behind on work) and a little lonely from too much time in rural areas. So I went off-itinerary and bee-lined back to Guatemala City, where I’m currently getting a heavy dose of good friends, big city bustle and workable wifi.

Can you believe in just two weeks I’ll be saying adiós to Central America? While I ponder the passage of time, here’s the candidates for Photo of the Week…

Photo A

Livingston, GuatemalaPlotting my next move in Livingston

Photo B

Boqueron Canyon, Rio DulceNot long after this photo was taken, we abandoned ship and swam up this Lago Izabal canyon as far as the current allowed…

Photo C

Rio Dulce, GuatemalaRiding along the Rio Dulce

Photo D

Semuc ChampeyHanging with the locals in Lanquin

Which photo is your favorite?

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Sightseeing in Granada: Behind those Colonial Doors http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/17/colonial-homes-tour-of-granada/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/17/colonial-homes-tour-of-granada/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34893

I loved spending a lazy week in Granada. But I recognize that for many travelers, those who don’t work online or have a new-found Zumba addiction to feed, for example, seven days might be a bit much. In fact, when it comes down to straight up tourist activities, pretty much everything I accomplished could probably be compressed into a day — though if I were planning an itinerary for a friend I’d allot at least three. One for an active adventure like hiking Volcán Masaya or kayaking to Las Isletas, one for swinging in a hammock, reading a book, lingering in a café and getting a massage at Pure, and one for the sightseeing I’ll outline below.

Throughout the week, whenever I needed a break from my laptop, I’d grab my camera and head out on a part of Lonely Planet Nicaragua‘s self-guided walking tour. Over several days, I eventually made it to thirteen out of the fifteen highlighted locations, and got a great feel for the city in the process.

Colonial Granada, Nicaragua

My first stop was Iglesia de La Merced, a must on almost every tourist’s Granada itinerary. However, it’s not popular because of its centuries-old facade or its colorful interior.

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

No, it’s popular because of the views from its lofty bell tower. From its perch, you can spot every one of Granada’s most famous landmarks, and see all the way to Lago de Nicaragua. As much as I swooned at those views, my favorite memory from Iglesia de La Merced came a few days later, when I stumbled on a Sunday night church service on my way back from yoga. I was drawn in by the sound of live music, and slipped in the back. The service was standing room only, and the mariachi band at the pulpit produced the liveliest music I’d ever heard inside a church. Outside, there were motorcycles pulled right up on the plaza, resting on the facade of a this centuries-old architectural gem, and inside, bicycles rested against the pews. It’s one of my favorite memories from the city.

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia La Merced, Granada, Nicaragua

From the bell tower, you’ll have a prime view of the famed Cathedral de Granada, which graces postcards all over Nicaragua. I heard from a commenter on my Instagram that you can also get into this church’s bell tower with a bit of sweet talking, but I was never able to find my way up there.

Still, I always knew where I was in the city simply by spotting those beautiful red domes piercing the sky.

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Walking along Calle Real Xalteva, away from Iglesia La Merded, I ticked several other sights off the list. One was the mustard colored church I’d first admired from Merced’s bell tower, and now enjoyed from the shady respite of Parque Xalteva. Another was the pastel hued Capilla Maria Auxiladora, well worth a peek.

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion, Granada, Nicaragua

Iglesia Nuestra Señora de La Asuncion, Granada, Nicaragua

Capilla Maria Auxiladora, Granada, Nicaragua

Capilla Maria Auxiladora, Granada, Nicaragua

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

At the end of the road was Fortaleza La Polvora, a fortress that supposedly had amazing views over the city, but I found looking very indefinitely closed. No matter — the stroll has been well worthwhile.

Fortaleza la Polvora, Granada, Nicaragua

Doubling back, I decided to check out the Mercado Municipal. It was the one stop on the map where I thought, what were they thinking? Normally, I love markets, but this one was entirely skip-able. The only thing that made the long walk down a busy road on a bum ankle worthwhile was the big grocery store across the street, where I stocked up on Diet Coke and mysterious Nicaraguan snack foods.

I took the side streets back home.

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Self Guided Walking Tour of Granada, Nicaragua

Another day, I walked in the opposite direction, and resumed my sightseeing at the Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco. Here, I’d been primed to find a robin’s egg blue church front, and walked in circles a few times before I realized that the facade had been repainted a bland off-white hue.

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

While the bare bones museum inside was nothing to write home about, the $2 admission fee was nothing to feel cheated out of, either.

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

Centro Cultural Convento San Francisco

In fact, I was itching to get inside more of Granada’s gorgeous buildings. In some ways, the city reminded me of Trujillo in Northern Peru — not least of which because of the tradition of leaving front doors wide open with just a cast iron gate closed for security, so you are basically forced to peek in people’s houses. This nosy neighbor loved it. But I wanted more than just a passing glance.

Colonial Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial Granada, Nicaragua

Which is why I was so thrilled to discover the Granada Colonial Homes Tour. I found out about the tour from a small poster on a notice board, which advertised the chance to see inside some of Granada’s most beautiful and historic private homes. I was in.

When Tuesday morning rolled around, I was the only one on the tour. That meant I had plenty of time to chat with Helen, an American woman who has been living abroad for more than thirty years, the last eleven of them spent in Granada. Helen leads the tours to raise funds for Biblioteca Puedo Leer, a library she runs. Apparently, in Nicaragua, municipal libraries don’t lend out books — they are more like reference resources. So her library does.

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

It was an interesting morning in which we slipped through the doors of three different colonial houses. The first one was occupied by another expat, and I loved seeing how she lived in the space. The other two were vacant luxury rentals. All three were all enormous, with huge courtyards – which in the luxury rentals had been converted into pools.

All were beautifully and uniquely restored with just the right amount of modern. The rent, apparently, for about $3-4,000USD per month — I couldn’t stop thinking what a great base they’d be for a family reunion. Our final stop even had a rooftop deck from which you could see the tops of both the Iglesia de La Merced and the Cathedral de Granada. Apparently, the deck was illegal, because you aren’t supposed to build anything that looks into your neighbors courtyard — but Helen explained that a bribe was likely involved.

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

This tour, like many others, needs to do a better job advertising — I was devastated when I discovered both SUP and yoga tours to Lago de Nicaragua just as I was leaving. But at least in the case of the colonial homes tour, I’m so grateful I stumbled upon that little notice board. Want to join one? They depart each Tuesday at 10am from the Centro de Arte off Calle Calzada, cost $15, and visit a rotation of different homes each week. Tell Helen I said hi — and to get on Tripadvisor already!

Colonial House Tour in Granada, Nicaragua

Filled up on colonial charm, I was ready to make my next move. Waving goodbye to the cobblestone streets of Granada, I packed by bags and made my way to San Juan del Sur.

Final Call!

Spring has sprung! Travel Blog Success is on sale for the first time in 2015! You’ve probably heard me sing the praises of this online course for helping me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today, and it is the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice. Travel Blog Success helped me move Alex in Wanderland from a hobby to a business. The secret member’s group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and assistance (and a heavy dose of humor!) This is truly the warmest community in travel blogging, and all memberships are on sale now.

Bonus: Recently, Travel Blog Success launched an exciting new videography course. When purchasing the two, you’ll receive 10% off the combined price, an incentive that you can add on top of the spring sale discount. That’s double the savings! Stay tuned for a review of the course coming up this week.

Click here to receive 30% off all TBS memberships — a savings of $104.10 — no code needed! Sale ends TODAY at 11:59 PM EST. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!

TBS

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Introducing the Travel Blog Success Videography Course http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/15/travel-blog-success-videography-course-review/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/15/travel-blog-success-videography-course-review/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34843

Let’s talk travel videos.

Back when I was working making underwater videos on Grand Cayman and Koh Tao, I watched a lot of underwater video footage from my fellow videographers. And now, as a travel blogger, I watch a lot of travel videos from my fellow bloggers. In my lifetime I have watched hours and hours and hours of travel videos, and I’ve spent as many making them.

And you know what? Lots of them are just not hitting the mark. Lots of them are just okay. And lots of the mistakes that keep them from greatness? Tragically preventable. Believe me, I make plenty myself.

So when I saw that my friends over at Travel Blog Success were launching a course on travel videography, I literally cheered. I am so happy this course exists, because I want to watch great stuff, and I want y’all to make it! (Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I am totally into saying y’all right now. I just finished Friday Night Lights and I’m kind of in a Tami Taylor phase. So, you know, I hope we all can get on board with that.)

Videography for Travel Bloggers

Introducing Videography for Travel Bloggers

The first thing you need to know about this course is that it was created by Chris and Tawny of CaptainandClark.com, who are basically the Beyoncé and Jay-Z of travel videos. These two travel the world working with brands like Expedia and USA Today to create beautiful travel films, though they are talented enough that they run several successful personal projects right out of their Tacoma, Washington living room. (Alco-HAUL being an obvious contender for my favorite.)

Personally, I’m not much of a teacher. If I were to try to create a videography course, it would probably consist of this: Watch good videos. Go to interesting places. Have a good eye. And for the love of god don’t ever use Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts in your titles. Thankfully, Chris and Tawny are a bit more verbose. But equally good at ridiculous photo faces.

TBEX Toronto

The second thing you need to know about this course is that it is in conjunction with Travel Blog Success, a course that I enrolled in about four years ago — a moment I consider to be a turning point in my blogging career. When I heard these two dream teams had joined forces, I knew something good was in store.

What’s Inside

The course consists of twenty-nine lessons broken into four modules. Here’s the breakdown:

Module 1: Getting Started gives an idea of different styles of travel videos (with a charming example of each), an overview of the digital storytelling spectrum, and a beginner’s guide to selecting a camera and editing software.

Module 2: Filming gets into the nitty gritty of setting up your camera, taking advantage of its many settings, shooting footage, investing in camera accessories, choosing audio equipment, settling up model releases, and more.

Module 3: Capturing Clips teaches you how to get your footage safely and effectively from your camera to your editing suite.

Module 4: Editing gets into detail about various editing softwares, editing styles, adding voiceovers, exporting, and where to put your shiny new video!

In addition to the lessons, you’ll have access to a private web forum on Travel Blog Success and a special video channel on Slack, our real-time communications platform, to ask questions and request video critiques. When I spoke to the team, they told me they’ll soon be incorporating one-on-one mentoring opportunities as part of the program.

Let’s say you’re working a 9-5 job and are interested in pursuing video as a hobby. You could easily read through a lesson while on your lunch break each day and be done in a month with barely a blip of a change in your daily routine. Making a full time go of blogging and want to add video to your repertoire? You could blast through in a few days, including time to test out some of the recommended software and do a few test shoots.

Videography For Travel Bloggers

What I Loved

The course is a mix of written lessons and explanatory videos, which really helped reinforce the information provided and is beneficial to both visual and auditory learners. The video lessons were really my favorite — I loved seeing the discussed concepts demonstrated in real life examples.

Videography for Travel Bloggers is geared towards beginners and will give those who have never so much as hit a record button all the tools they need to get started. Product recommendations are made, terminology is explained, and basic filming concepts are clearly outlined. The descriptions of tricky concepts like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO were some of the best I’ve ever read — they did a great job demonstrating basic camera settings with metaphors and visuals. And the spelling out of basics, such as screenshots of best practice export settings, is gold. It’s the kind of thing you feel like you should know and therefore are too embarrassed to ask.

However, despite having taken video editing classes at university and even working as an underwater videographer, I still learned from this course too! I learned I need a rode mic! And a FlyCam! I learned a few technical things I never knew (who would have thunk you’re supposed to only erase memory cards from your camera, and not from your computer? What’s that? You knew? Well thanks for the heads up.)

I’ve gotten lazy with video lately — as in, I haven’t been making them at all, and a lot of the lessons gave me an inspirational kick in the butt to take my photography knowledge and creativity and apply them to video again. Remember when I made videos for my trips to Big Island and Iceland? I want to do that again — and even challenge myself to get in front of the camera.

Video Editing

This course really gets great when it lifts the curtains on the behind-the-scenes workings of being a one person (or in this case, two person) production company. You’ll learn the differences between J-cuts and L-cuts. You’ll see examples of DIY sound booths and P-guards for voice over audio. You’ll gain clever ideas like cutting a ten second preview of your movie to upload to Facebook and tempt viewers towards your full length feature.

But above all, more than anything, I loved that I made a cameo in one of the example videos. NBD guys! (Except it is a BD.)

Room For Improvement

While this is no fault of the course, I am currently traveling in Guatemala and often struggled to stream the video lessons. Keep in mind that you might want to undertake it while you have a decent connection — though because it is a self-paced course, you can take your sweet time.

Overall, the lessons are perfectly aimed at the beginner, and they deliver perfectly on tone. However, there were a few areas where I would have loved a bit more details. The good news? Recently, I spoke directly to the creators of the course about my feedback, and they are incorporating it in as you read this.

Videgraphy For Travel Bloggers2

Buy Now

Videography for Travel Bloggers costs $297.00. An investment? Yes. Travel Blog Success was a huge investment for me too when I signed up all those years ago. But the knowledge I gained — and more importantly, the community — continues to provide value back to me to this day. I believe in investing in yourself, whether it’s for a hobby or a business or simply just to never stop learning.

Anytime you buy this course, you have the opportunity to purchase alongside Travel Blog Success and save 10% on both courses. But this week, you have the opportunity to take advantage of that deal plus the Spring Sale, during which Travel Blog Success is offered at 30% off! Considering you can stack the discounts together for this week, you can land some serious savings — a total of $158.09. There’s no code needed to take advantage of the spring sale — just click any of the links in this post. And hurry! Sale ends Friday.

I can’t wait to see what courses Travel Blog Success produces next!

Are you making travel videos? Thinking of enrolling?
Let’s talk — I’ll answer any questions as best I can in the comments.

Build a Better Travel Blog

 

Note: I received a free copy of this program in order to review it for this post. Actually, I requested it, because I’m ready to start shooting video again and these tipsy rant vlogs I’ve been mentally working on aren’t going to film themselves. I am a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. As always, you’ve received my honest opinions, thorough reviews, and completely irrelevant TV references.

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Central America, Take Five: Getting into the Granada Groove http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/13/granada-nicaragua/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/13/granada-nicaragua/#comments Mon, 13 Apr 2015 14:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34608

I arrived in Nicaragua knowing not more much more itinerary-wise than the city I planned to sleep in that night. I was returning to Central America for the fifth time, and I was more unprepared than ever. I didn’t have a single hostel booked, a single tour planned, or a single bus schedule notated. But yet, I knew what I wanted from the four months ahead.

I wanted to move slowly. I wanted to spend more time in less places, to allow for both travel and work, and not to feel guilty for skipping other people’s “must-sees.” I wanted to pay out-of-pocket for accommodation and activities, and to mostly avoid press comps and obligations. I wanted to focus on my health, and to work out and eat well as much as possible. I wanted work to feel like a source of creative energy and pride, and not an anxiety-inducing drain. And while I had a few firm dates on my calendar — a festival in El Salvador, and meeting my family in Belize — in between, I wanted to figure out my route and itinerary on the fly.

Basically, I wanted to finally find that sweet spot where I was both a bohemian world traveler and a successful, stress-free businesswoman. And I got off to a great start in Granada.

One Month in Nicaragua

My flight from Miami was so short that I was suspicious I was really landing in a different country. As I caught my first glances of Nicaragua from my window seat, I flashed back to my arrival in Peru about a year prior, which was planned with military precision and involved upwards of eleven pages of documents.  In anticipation of this arrival, I had vaguely decided to give Managua a pass, and started looking online for a shuttle about twelve hours before my flight, which, I discovered, is a little too late. But no hay problema, I strolled out of the arrivals terminal, found myself a shuttle, made a few pleasantries in Spanish with the driver, and fell fast asleep.

When I woke up, I was in Granada. After dumping my bags in the first hostel with vacancy, I hit the streets, hungry for both lunch and my first impressions of a country I’d long ached to visit.

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada, Nicaragua

I’d had a surprising number of pre-trip jitters considering this is a region I’ve traveled to multiple times with a language I can easily get by on. Looking back, I think my anxiety had more to do with missing Koh Tao than anything else — but as soon as I hit those streets I knew I’d made the right decision. I was exactly where I needed to be. It felt great to be back on the road and back on my own.

At the worst of times, solo travel can be inconvenient and downright lonely. At the best of times, it’s recharging and exhilarating and so incredibly freeing. This was the best of times. After the holidays and an intense, action-packed and family-and-friend-filled month of domestic travel right before my departure, I declared myself on a people detox while in Granada, and reveled in the anonymity that a new city brings. I spent mornings wandering alone with my camera, afternoons typing away in café bliss, and evenings curled up reading or catching up on my favorite TV series with takeaway. It was perfection.

Granada, Nicaragua

I had heard mixed reports on this tiny little colonial city of Granada — many fellow travelers seem to find it a bit too touristy and I wondered how I’d feel. When I landed, I thought I’d give it at least a few days. I stayed a week — and I loved it.

What I found was a city quaint and colorful, with cobblestone streets and horsedrawn carriages, small enough to feel like you can get a handle on it; enough to do not to get bored but no so much to feel overwhelmed. It’s touristy enough that all the amenities I wanted were on tap, but, having just landed after a few months in the US, still exotic enough to feel lost in a foreign land. The forecast was blue skies and sticky heat — my favorite. And catcallers aside — who were generally more infuriating than intimidating — I took joy in my small local interactions each day; buying fruit from a market, asking directions, and just generally hacking the Spanish language apart once again.

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada Nicaragua Funeral Home

Funeral Home in Granada, Nicaragua

Granada, Nicaragua

I was also surprised to hear some backpackers complaining that they found Granada boring (my favorite being a girl in San Juan del Sur who claimed she “really got a feel for the city” when her shuttle bus passed through it without stopping.) There is, technically, quite a bit to do in and around Granada. You can hike Volcán Masaya. You can take a boat tour to Las Isletas. You can bike the Peninsula de Asese. You can take a day trip to Laguna de Apoyo. Or, like me, you can do basically nothing.

I mean, I suppose I tried. About ten days before I left Florida, I fell on my face while out for a run in Tampa and twisted my ankle, hard. By the time I arrived in Granada it was still painfully swollen and hot to the touch after a short walk, so I decided hiking and biking were out. I did attempted to sign up for a boat tour, but both travel agencies I approached seemed puzzled that I was by myself, and insisted there was a two person minimum. Though I left my contact information for the next time they had a group, I never heard back — and that was fine. I had a lot of aimless wandering to do.

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada, Nicaragua

Granada had something that is a key ingredient to my travel happiness: an abundance of places with both wifi and fresh healthy food. I was extremely behind on work by the time I landed in Nicaragua, but for once I felt not frazzled but just patiently determined to get back on track. My next stop was the beach, and I knew myself well enough to know that I’d have a harder time avoiding temptation there, so I’m glad I remained so focused in Granada.

While eating fancy salads in internet-equipped cafes is a pretty pricey habit, it’s a splurge I’m generally thrilled to make.

Modern Granada, Nicaragua

Choco Museo, Granada, Nicaragau

Modern Granada, Nicaragua

Other than my work, I focused on being active every single day. Granada was surprisingly health conscious — I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many gyms in one small city. My favorite was Pure, a gorgeous gym and spa housed in a beautifully restored colonial building and packed with a diverse mix of locals, expats, and tourists. Pure was a place that made me think, um, could I live here? That’s how much I loved it. Originally, I found myself walking through the doors in search a massage, which turned out to be the best one I’ve had in Central America, for a very reasonable $30 for an hour. But that was just the beginning.

I found myself returning to Pure almost every day. First to take a yoga class, then to use the gym, and eventually, to try something I swore I’d never do — Zumba. (And seriously, I wonder why it took my ankle a solid two months to heal.) Granada has Zumba fever — I’d walked by three different gyms in which enthusiastic classes were taking place. I couldn’t help but wonder why I was paying so much for a yoga class filled with other Westerners when the locals were next door sweating up a salsa-inspired storm. I became intrigued.

So, finally working up the courage to be the only gringa in a class of sexy writhing Latina ladies, I made my way to Pure, paid my forty cordobas (about $1.50 — a fraction of the price of a yoga class), and prepared to shrug apologetically at my helpless lack of rhythm. An hour of non-stop movement, reggaeton hits, and choreography that would make your grandmother blush later, I didn’t know if I’d ever had so much fun inside the walls of an exercise studio. I quickly caught on to Granada’s obsession and I sought out classes all over the city. A great workout, a hilarious local experience, and an unbeatable price? I take back everything I ever said about Zumba — at least the Nicaraguan version.

Pure Spa Granada

Colorful Granada, Nicaragua

I look back on my week in Granada with such fondness. I will still finding my footing on a grand new adventure, and I only had an inkling of all that lay ahead.

I don’t think I can sum it up any better than I did writing in my journal one night before bed: “I am so grateful for where I am in this moment, focusing on the fact that I love my own company and thinking how spoiled I am with time and space — time to hear my own thoughts, time to work selfishly, and mental space to immerse myself in a beautiful new place.”

Stay tuned for one more post from lovely little Granada.

Practical Info

Where I stayed: First, Backyard Hostel, where I paid $16 for a private with shared bath. It was colorful and had a pool (which I never saw anyone use, probably due to the cleanliness) but a bit too loud and unkempt for what I needed out of the week. Next, Entre Amigos, which was $12 for a private with shared bath. It was quiet, impeccably clean and had the best stocked kitchen I’ve seen in a Central American hostel.

Where I ate: Garden Café was my go-to for healthy salads and smoothies and I ate there for lunch or dinner almost every day. El Pizzaiol was my delicious and well-worth it caloric splurge, and El Tercer Ojo had creative international fare in a trendy setting.

How I got there: I paid $35 for a private shuttle from Managua airport, which took about an hour (I’m not sure if it would have been cheaper with more people — I tried and failed to find other travelers heading in the same direction.)

Bonus tip: If you’re a single woman traveling alone, seriously brace yourself for the catcalling. It was the worst I’ve experienced anywhere in the world and at times it truly tested my affection for an otherwise lovely city.

 

Sale Time!

Spring has sprung! Travel Blog Success is on sale for the first time in 2015! You’ve probably heard me sing the praises of this online course for helping me make Alex in Wanderland what it is today, and it is the first thing I recommend to those who write to me for blogging advice. Travel Blog Success helped me move Alex in Wanderland from a hobby to a business. The secret member’s group gives me daily inspiration, feedback, and assistance (and a heavy dose of humor!) This is truly the warmest community in travel blogging, and all memberships are on sale now.

Bonus: Recently, Travel Blog Success launched an exciting new videography course. When purchasing the two, you’ll receive 10% off the combined price, an incentive that you can add on top of the spring sale discount. That’s some serious savings! Stay tuned for a review of the course coming up this week.

Click here to receive 30% off all TBS memberships — a savings of $104.10 — no code needed! Sale ends Friday at 11:59 PM EST. Please note that I’m a proud affiliate of the program and thus will earn a percentage of your purchase at no extra cost to you. See you in the forums!

TBS

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Photo of the Week 200: Belize http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/12/photo-of-the-week-200-belize/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/12/photo-of-the-week-200-belize/#comments Sun, 12 Apr 2015 12:00:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34844

Oh, Belize. Fifteen years ago, it was one of the first foreign countries I ever stepped foot in — and I’ve been itching to return ever since. This photos from this past week and the one before it should explain why pretty well. While our first week in the country was spent exploring the mainland jungles and beaches, for the second, my sister and cousin and I hit the cayes after waving goodbye to my mom at the airport. Our first stop was Caye Caulker, which immediately swept us away with its small island charm. Next, after both Kirsten and Olivia made their exits, I boated over to Ambergis Caye for a change of scenery. While Caye Caulker was my favorite by a mile, they’re both surrounded by miles of turquoise waters — so, really, you can’t lose.

Next, I’m on my way back to Guatemala, though I must admit that I’m feeling a bit lost and struggling to get back in the solo traveler groove since the family departed. It doesn’t help that I’m buried under a pile of work, so my human interaction levels have dropped from near-constant to next-to-nothing as I’ve reunited with my old best friend my laptop. The one thing keeping my sane is breaking for a nightly jog or bike ride. Hopefully by the time I check in next week, I’ll have found my stride again.

Photo A

Caye Caulker, BelizeColorful houses on Caye Caulker

Photo B

Ambergis Caye, BelizeBeach scenes on Ambergis Caye

Photo C

Snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine ReserveA suspicious turtle doing rounds

Photo D

Stand Up Paddling in Caye CaulkerStand Up Paddling (or Sit Down Paddling, more accurately) on Caye Caulker

Photo E

Snorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine ReserveSnorkeling in the Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Photo F

Sunset Cruise in Caye CaulkerOne final sunset with my sister

Which photo is your favorite?

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Miles Over Miami: A Sightseeing Flight of South Beach http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/10/miami-sightseeing-flight/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/10/miami-sightseeing-flight/#comments Fri, 10 Apr 2015 12:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=34603

Let me just preface this by saying that I didn’t mean to become the blogger obsessed with air tours. It just kind of happened.

It all started many take-offs ago in Las Vegas, when I decided an aerial view of the city’s neon lights would be the perfect birthday kick-off. Then came Hawaii, where the only way to spy red-hot lava was from the seat of helicopter. The only way, you guys! In Peru, my friend Zoe dared me to fly over the Nazca Lines, and I just couldn’t say no. Later I found myself back in Nevada, and realized the only way to top my first Grand Canyon experience was to literally top it. And recently I found myself in New Orleans, where my sister giddily expressed interested in seeing her new city from above.

Miami Sightseeing Flight

So, you see, it was kind of an accident. But, now being a bit of a flying aficionado, I couldn’t help but think that the perfect way to celebrate my girl Michelle’s first trip to Miami was to take her on a sky-high spin above it.

Miami Sightseeing Flight

When we arrived at North Perry Airport, about thirty minutes north of Downtown Miami, we were greeted like old friends. The charming guy at check-in joked that he was going to work on switching shifts with the pilot on duty to take us up himself, and pleasantly taking endless plane-side glamour shots with our multiple cameras. Later, the patriarch of this charmingly family-run business came out to introduce himself as well, and after a chat about where we were from and what we were doing in Miami, he pressed his card into each of our hands, assuring us in thick Italian-American accent, “We’re New Yorkers too, you know. God forbid, anything happens to you down here, you just don’t hesitate to give us a call. You’ve got friends here now.”

It was such a warm, sincere gesture I felt a lump rise in my throat.

The sky was inky black as we took off, and I calmed the familiar jitters in my stomach by chatting to our pilot about his extensive aeronautical engineering career. Soon, however, the conversation turned to the beautiful sights below, starting with the Fort Lauderdale skyline.

Evening Flight over Miami

Miami Sightseeing Flight

One frustration on this tour was that I found picture taking extremely difficult — it was later at night and therefore darker than my New Orleans tour had been, and there was less ambient man-made light than in Las Vegas. Eventually I resigned myself to putting down the camera and just enjoying seeing the sights from not behind a lens.

Evening Flight over Miami

Miami Sightseeing Flight

From the air, we excitedly caught peeks of both my cousin’s downtown apartment building and the stretch of South Beach where we’d stayed. Our pilot also pointed out additional sights, like — I kid you not — Ricky Martin’s Miami Beach mansion, topped in a dome that pulsed with technicolor lights.

We were able to get a full lay of the land, and I felt like I understood the layout of ribbon-like Miami Beach with new clarity.

Evening Flight over Miami

Miami Sightseeing Flight

Soon, we were back on the ground and giggling from the adrenaline rush. Waving goodbye to our sweet new friends, we were ready to take on the night.

Driving back to Miami, I mused that both tours I took this trip were huge successes based on the fact that I basically plan to repeat them on my next trip to Miami — I’m already looking forward to the Wynwood or Little Havana version of the food tour I took, and I’d love to fly above Miami for a second time in broad daylight and appreciate the various turquoise hues of the ocean.

My only hesitation in recommending this amazing tour is that it’s best for those with their own wheels. We extended our road trip rental for this reason, as an hour-long round trip cab ride outside Miami to the North Perry Airport certainly can’t be cheap.

North Perry Airport Miami

Miami, I’ll be back soon.

Miami Sightseeing Flight

What’s one city you’re itching to fly over? My next conquest, I hope, is New York City!

. . . . . . . . .

I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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Mouth Watering Miami: A South Beach Food Tour http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/08/south-beach-miami-food-tour-review/ http://www.alexinwanderland.com/2015/04/08/south-beach-miami-food-tour-review/#comments Wed, 08 Apr 2015 12:30:00 +0000 http://www.alexinwanderland.com/?p=33313

I’m very proudly not a foodie (though I do need to write an update to my now somewhat out-of-date post declaring so), but I do love to eat. No matter where I am in the world, excitedly planning my meals for the day is one of the first things I do when I wake up in the morning.

And when it comes to travel, I’ve realized that some of my favorite tours across the globe have been of the culinary persuasion — a chocolate-making workshop in Brussels, a pisco-sour mixology class in Lima, an artisanal market tour in San Francisco, a wine-tasting with a sommelier in Santorini, and a cocktail tour in New Orleans. And for better or for worse, as the jean shorts I haven’t been able to zip up since the first day of this trip can attest, when I post photos of those delicious treats on Instagram, I actually do eat them immediately.

Miami South Beach Food Tour

So when Michelle and I started brainstorming for something fun to do in Miami, it’s really no surprise that we were immediately hung up on the South Beach Food and Cultural Walking Tour.

We arrived at our designated meeting point ravenous. Our first stop was Bolivar, where our group settled into booths of the restaurant opened especially for us. Michelle and I sat opposite two friendly older couples from Ohio and Virginia, while two sets of hipsters from Vancouver settled in at the next table. Our fast-talking guide had us struggling not to laugh with our mouths open while we noshed on Colombian specialties like patacones and a special hangover cocktail called caldo de costilla. And as I don’t eat fish and skipped the ceviche, I was given a delicious empanada to fill the gap on my plate. I was basically obsessed with everything I was eating and started to grow concerned for the rhythm of this tour — how could things possibly go up from here? I immediately vowed to return to Bolivar for a full brunch on my next return to Miami.

Miami Culinary Tours

Miami Culinary Tours

Miami South Beach Food Tour

Miami South Beach Food Tour

Well. It was a good thing we had a sweet stop coming up, because I was about to have my heart broken by the news that DEXTER WAS NOT EVEN FILMED IN MIAMI. Guys, that loveable ‘ol serial killer was one of the main reasons I was obsessed with coming to the city in the first place! Well, him and Will Smith! I was totally crushed by this development and thought wistfully of the steamy, palm-lined, salsa-music-filled scenes I could never un-know were not, in fact, filmed in South Florida.

I consoled myself with delicious churros from Manolo, a bakery where customers only seemed to order in Spanish — one of those little details that can make a person smile even when their TV-loving soul is crushed.

Miami Culinary Tours

We meandered our way into the Art Deco district, and along with my churro, I devoured every historical tidbit our guide offered as we strolled. He was quickly joining the ranks of tour leaders so excellent at what they do that I’ll think back to their fine work years later. When he mentioned he was from Panama City, we excitedly compared notes on the beautiful city and some of the restaurants I’d drooled over there.

Excusing himself from our travel talk, he positioned the group so we were facing the Versace Mansion while he outlined its lurid history. “Let me know if you see anyone wearing Speedos walk by,” he said gravely, “so we can make a citizen’s arrest.”

Our third stop was at Tides, an iconic Ocean Drive hotel. No plates had been passed out, yet I was already drooling over the interiors — gorgeous! And the Moroccan chicken stew that we were handed was equally as exclamation worthy. In fact, I was starting to get a little panicked about how full I was. Both places we’d sat down had served what I’d consider a smallish meal — there was to be no going hungry on this food tour.

Miami South Beach Food Tour

Miami South Beach Food Tour

Luckily, if you look at it from that perspective, I wasn’t so into our next stop. Habanos was a classic diner that served us up some classic Miami eats — Cuban sliders and Cuban espresso called cafecito. I wasn’t feeling either, though as a non-coffee drinker at least half of that wasn’t a surprise.

Next up was Blocks Pizza, which won me over pretty much immediately for their cute branding and t-shirt offerings. We were there not for a slice, however, but for a Sun Dried Hippie Sandwich, a creation featuring sun dried tomatoes, feta, baby spinach, basil pesto and kalamata olives (the last of which I removed with a plastic fork, because I am an adult.) At this point, many of us were clutching our full stomachs and so we were provided, thoughtfully, with to-go bags — and that sandwich became a much-appreciated snack later on that evening.

Miami Culinary Tours

Miami Culinary Tours

Of course, no one is ever too full for gelato, a theory we were all pleased to prove at our final stop of the day, Milani Gelateria. After enthusiastically choosing a scoop of Nutella flavored goodness, we took a seat on the giant ice-cream cone furniture on the sidewalk and toasted to a well-fed afternoon.

Miami South Beach Food Tour

Miami Culinary Tours

Conclusion? We loved this tour. Our guide was fantastic, the food was unreal, and it served up the perfect combination of culinary indulgences and mini bursts of exercise, with a side dish of Miami history to keep things interesting. It was so good, I basically want to do it all over again — I am already looking forward to ticking off the Little Havana and Wynwood versions on future trips to Miami.

Miami South Beach Food Tour

Is there a food tour you’ve loved somewhere around the world? Is there a Miami restaurant I need to know about? And most importantly, how devastated are you about Dexter!?

See you in the comments — and stay delicious, Miami!

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I am a member of the Viator Ambassador initiative and participated in this tour as part of that program.

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