10 Things to See and Do in Natchez, Mississippi

Posted By : webmaster/ 116 0

Posted: 10/17/2020 | October 17th, 2020

As the Southern cotton economy expanded on the back of slave labor in the early 1800s, towns emerged to transport the cotton on the Mississippi River. New Orleans, Memphis, Vicksburg, and Natchez are the four most famous of these towns.

Located high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, Natchez, Mississippi, was established by French colonists in 1716. The defensible strategic location ensured that it would become a pivotal center for trade.

In the middle of the 19th century, the city attracted Southern planters, who built mansions to show off their vast wealth from the cotton and sugarcane trade. Natchez was where planters came to escape the heat and isolation of the plantations. It was the Hamptons of the South — the place where the rich relaxed and socialized.

I never heard of Natchez until a few weeks before I visited. While in Nashville, I met some local guys at a bar. Fascinated by my road trip plans, they gave me all the information they could on their home state of Mississippi. I mentioned my desire to see antebellum homes.

“That’s Natchez. If you want antebellum homes, Natchez is the place to be,” they agreed.

So I drove to Natchez, with its dozens of pre-Civil War antebellum homes. As a former history teacher who specialized in pre–Civil War America, I have a significant interest in this part of the country. I’m fascinated by the hypocrisy and duality of pre–Civil War Southern society.

On the one hand, it was genteel, polite, and formal. On the other, it was brutally racist. Southern egalitarian views of chivalry, equality, and honor extended only to a small segment of society and they found no hypocrisy in owning slaves, whom they brutalized to no end.

(Note: Reams of essays and books have delved into Southern culture. If you’re looking to learn more, check out Ken Burns’s The Civil War and The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution That Transformed the South.)

Today, Natchez remains a beautiful city and many of the historic homes are still here. Secession sentiment never ran high here and the city quickly surrendered to the Union Army in 1862. Therefore, none of the destruction that took place in other cities occurred here.

Today, Natchez trades in tourism instead of cotton. Visitors to the historic homes, surrounding Natchez Traces, and gambling on the riverboats sustain this tiny town.

Huge home in Mississippi in the United States

But the old homes are the biggest draw.

By today’s standards, they are average suburban homes. You wouldn’t stop and think “Wow, that is a mansion!” But for the period, these homes were an ornate testament to the planters’ great wealth, with high ceilings, intricate wallpaper designs, and multiple stories. They were filled with fine china, exotic carpets, and expensive furniture.

There are over 20 homes here. I didn’t get to see them all, as many are private residencies. But I saw a lot – and the following are my favorite historic homes to visit in Natchez:


Exterior view of grand estate mansion in Natchez
This was one of the most interesting of all the homes. It had stunning grounds and an incredible design featuring a huge onion-shaped dome. It’s the largest octagonal house in the United States and entirely unique.

Construction began in 1859, however, the owner died before most of the house was completed, leaving the entire upper floor unfinished (to this day, only a handful of the rooms are finished)

Today, it’s one of Natchez’s most popular homes and you’re free to tour the home and read about its history. Be sure to wander the grounds, too. They’re beautiful! Admission is $25 USD.

Rosalie Mansion

Elisa Rolle -,_Mississippi).JPG
I found this mansion to have the most beautiful interior of the handful of antebellum homes I visited. Built in 1823, its design was so popular that it inspired many other homeowners in the region to mimic its Greek Revival style.

The mansion was built for a wealthy cotton broker. In 1863, after the Battle of Vicksburg, General Grant commandeered the home to use as his headquarters. General Gresham, who commanded Union troops in the region after Grant, continued to use the mansion as his headquarters for the duration of the war. There are all kinds of historic artifacts and furniture inside from the 19th century too.

Today, the mansion is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and is an official U.S. National Historic Landmark. Admission is $20 USD.

Stanton Hall

Elisa Rolle -
Stanton Hall and its grounds take up an entire city block. It had the prettiest grounds of all the homes I visited too. Built in the 1850s (for the paltry sum of $83,000 USD), the home is a replica of the original owner’s former home in Ireland. Knicknamed Belfast, the interior is incredibly elaborate, featuring Italian marble and glass chandeliers.

In 1890, the estate became home to Stanton College for Young Ladies. In 1940, it began its transition to a historic home and museum and is one the U.S. National Register of Historic Places as well as the U.S. National Historic Landmark list and the list of Mississippi Landmarks. Admission is $25 USD.

Melrose Mansion

Elisa Rolle -,_Mississippi),_13.JPG
Built in the 1840s, this 15,000-square-foot mansion represents the peak of Greek Revival design. Designed by a local lawyer and landowner, the original furniture of the home is still in use today, having been passed down through the centuries with each successive sale of the house. Most of the furniture dates to the pre-Civil War era.

In the 1970s, the mansion was used for elaborate parties and events before being turned into a museum and historic site. Like many of the antebellum homes here, it’s on both the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the U.S. National Historic Landmark list. Admission is $10 USD.

Other Things to See and Do

Bridge in Natchez at sunset with pink sky
In addition to the antebellum homes, there are a few other things to see and do in Natchez:

The Natchez Pilgrimage
During the Natchez Pilgrimage in the spring, all of the private historical homes open up to the public. The costumed guides — some descendants of the original owners — explain the history of the home, their family, and the region. It’s the city’s biggest annual event and there are some 20 homes on display.

Ghost Tours
In a town with so much tumultuous history — including wars and oppressive slavery — it’s no wonder that there are all kinds of eerie and unsettling tales to be found in Natchez. If you’re a fan of the paranormal (or just want to do something unique), try taking a ghost tour. Downtown Karla Brown offers ghost tours a few evenings each week for $25 USD. You’ll hear all about Natchez’s haunting and spooky tales and get to see a side of the city most tourists miss.

Magnolia Bluffs Casino
This casino is located on the Mississippi River in the town’s old mill. The mill opened in 1828 and operated until 1962, eventually being bought and turned into a casino. It’s small and a bit outdated, but they have plenty of slot machines and a few table games, and the views over the river are picturesque.

St. Mary’s Basilica
This church was built in 1842 and took over forty years to complete. While the exterior is a little plain, the elaborate interior is beautiful, with colorful stained glass, statues, and a spacious vaulted ceiling. The original organ from 1882 is still in use as well. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Emerald Mound
This sacred hill just looks like a flat, grassy pentagon. However, it was once a well-appointed holy site. Constructed sometime between the 13th and 17th centuries, it was an elevated place of worship for the Plaquemine Native Americans. Ceremonial stone structures used to sit on top of the mound, which is 65 feet tall, though it is empty today. All kinds of animal bones have been found nearby, leading researchers to believe it was the site of religious or sacred activity.

Visit the King’s Tavern
Visit the King’s Tavern, which was built in 1769 and is the oldest bar in the city (and, according to legend, the most haunted). After the Revolutionary War, it was used as an inn and tavern, as well as where the town’s mail was delivered. Until the development of the steamboat, the tavern relied on both coach drivers and outlaws who stopped by in between trips. When the invention of the steamboat made travel in the region safer, business dwindled and it was eventually sold. Today, it’s a farm-to-table restaurant.

For a map of the area and suggested sites to include on your self-guided tour, check out this free tour from Visit Natchez.


Natchez is beautiful and elegant. I loved strolling around the streets, marveling at the beautiful homes, stopping at King’s Tavern for wine while avoiding ghosts, and sitting in the park as the sunset over the Mississippi. It was the highlight of my trip to the state.

One downside to the city is that it’s expensive. There are very few Airbnb options and private rooms cost at least $95 USD per night. For a budget hotel, you’re looking at at least $60 USD per night. (Of course, if you want to splurge you can also stay in some of the historic homes here, as many have been converted into B&Bs. You’re looking at at least $150 USD per night for those.)

But, while accommodation is expensive, food and drinks are relatively cheap so you can balance it all out.

Natchez may not be a budget travel destination, but if you are looking to learn about American history, see beautiful homes, and visit a destination off the beaten path for most travelers (visitors here tend to be from the surrounding region), visit Natchez. You won’t be disappointed.

Book Your Trip to Natchez: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Want more information on the United States?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on the USA for even more planning tips!

The post 10 Things to See and Do in Natchez, Mississippi appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

13 Ways to Improve Your Travel Writing

Posted By : webmaster/ 97 0

a writer writing in a fresh notebook
Updated: 10/15/20 | October 15th, 2020

To me, the crux of all online endeavors is good writing. With so many blogs out there, if you can’t write engaging stories, you’ll never get anywhere! So today, I want to introduce one of my favorite travel writers, David Farley, who is going to share his writing tips for fellow bloggers and writers out there!

I always thought that once I started writing for glossy travel magazines, I could relax a bit because I’d “made it.”


Then I thought that once I began penning pieces for the New York Times, I could say I was successful.

Not. At. All.

OK, maybe when I had a book out, published by a major publishing house, things would get a bit easier for me. I wish!

Writers, in some ways, are a sorry lot. Rarely do they ever look at something and say “perfect!” Maybe for a moment — but give a writer a day and he or she will come back to that same article and find dozens of mistakes. Writing is a craft you never perfect.

We’re always striving to be better. Creatives tend to be perfectionists. Writing requires you to keep learning and improving.

But that’s good because that drive makes writers improve their work. And only through practice and effort do we end up with the Hemingways, Brysons, Gilberts, and Kings of the world.

If you’re a travel blogger, you probably started off not as a writer with a journalism background but as a traveler looking to share your experience. You probably didn’t have any formal training or someone to peer over your shoulder and give you advice.

So today I wanted to share some tips to help you improve your travel writing or blogging. Because the world always needs good writers — and good writing helps get your story heard more!

These tips, if followed, will better your writing and make a huge difference in the reach of your writing!

1. Read

This is number one. because whenever a budding writer asks me how they can improve, it’s my first piece of advice. Read good writing. Absorb it. Let it sink into your soul. When I was first starting out, I was sick one weekend, so I spent three days lying in bed reading every page of that year’s Best American Travel Writing anthology. After I finished, I opened up my laptop and started writing for the first time in days. What came out surprised me: it was the highest-quality writing I’d done to date. And it was all because I was absorbed in good writing and it filtered through me back onto the page in my own writing.

(Matt says: Here’s a collection of some of my favorite travel books that can inspire you. I also have a monthly book club you can join!)

2. Do it for love

Maya Angelou wrote, “You can only become truly accomplished at something you love.” Don’t get into travel writing for the money — after all, that would be totally unrealistic. And please don’t gravitate to the genre because you want free trips and hotel rooms. “Instead,” Ms. Angelou added, “do [it] so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” Or, in other words, strive to become such a good writer that the editors of all the publications you have been dreaming to write for can’t ignore you anymore.

3. Don’t be attached to linear writing

You need not compose a piece from beginning to middle to end. Sometimes that’s not the ideal structure of the story. Sure, maybe you’ve already figured that out. But if not, it’s OK to just get a few scenes and paragraphs of exposition down “on paper.” Then you can step back and take a look at the bigger picture and rearrange what you have, figuring out the best way to tell the story.

4. Tap into your own sense of motivation and drive

The students of mine at New York University who have been most successful were not always the most talented in the class. But they were the most driven. They’d read enough quality writing and thought about it — understanding what made it so wonderful — that there was just something about writing that they got. They weren’t born with that understanding, but ambition drove them to seek out better writing and then to think about it, to analyze what made it good (or not so good).

Drive also inspires future successful writers to go out on a limb, to render themselves vulnerable, by reaching out to more accomplished writers to ask for advice, or by introducing themselves to editors at events or conferences. Don’t be shy! Standing in the corner quietly won’t get you as far as putting your hand out to introduce yourself will.

5. Try to figure out what gets your mind and writing flowing

Let me explain: I can sit down at my laptop and stare at a blank Word document for hours, not sure how to start a story or what to write about. Then I’ll respond to an email from a friend who wants to know about the trip I’m trying to write about. I’ll write a long email with cool and interesting anecdotes about my experience and include some analysis of the place and culture. And then I’ll realize: I can just cut and paste this right into the empty Word doc I’ve been staring at for the last three hours!

Several of my published articles have blocks of texts that were originally written as parts of emails to friends. The “email trick” might not work for everyone, but there is inevitably some trick for the rest of you — be it talking to a friend or free-associating in your journal.

6. Understand all aspects of storytelling

There are two types of travel writing: commercial and personal essay (or memoir). In commercial travel writing, you should make the various parts of the story an intrinsic aspect of your knowledge: from ways to write a lede to the nut graph, scenes, exposition, and conclusions. For memoir and personal essays, know what narrative arc means like the back of your typing hands. It helps to get an intuitive understanding of these things by paying attention to writing — to reading like a writer — as you read nonfiction (and travel) articles.

Quick Note: If you’re looking to improve your writing, David and I created a detailed travel writing course. Through video lectures and deconstructed stories, you’ll get the course David taught at NYU and Columbia – but without the price. It comes with monthly calls as well as edits and feedback on your writing! If you’re interested, click here to learn more.


7. Don’t stress if your first draft is shit

Ernest Hemingway said, “The first draft of anything is shit.” And he wasn’t kidding. I find this true when I’m writing a personal essay or travel memoir. I write and I write and I write, and I’m not exactly sure what I’m putting down on paper.

What’s the point of this? I ask myself.

Why am I even doing this?

But here is where patience comes in: eventually, the clouds part, the proverbial sunbeam from the heavens shines down on our computer monitors, and we see the point of it all: we finally figure out what it is we’re writing and how to best tell that story. It just happens like magic sometimes.

And not all at once: sometimes it’s bit by bit, like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. But as I mentioned, patience is key, because we never know when that divine magic is going to be activated. But sit around long enough and it will happen, I promise you. (Just be cautious when taking Hemingway’s other writing advice: “Write drunk, edit sober.”)

8. Write what you know

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell,” said writer Neil Gaiman, “because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you.”

9. When you’re finished with a draft, read it out loud

Preferably, print it out and read it out loud. This will allow you to better hear how the piece sounds, and unacceptable segues and clunky sentences or turns of phrases will jump out at you in a more obvious way.

For longer stories or books, it can also be good to print out your story and line edit it the old fashioned way. This way you see the story on paper and as a reader. You can pick up a lot more mistakes and errors when you do this.

10. Always get another set of eyes on your writing

While all writers make mistakes, it’s harder to spot them without an editor. Editors are very important, but they don’t necessarily have to be someone with formal training. While hiring a copyeditor is always great, getting a friend to read your blog or story can be just as good. You don’t always see the forest through the trees and having another set of eyes is ultra-important to the writing process.

Matt says: I like having someone who doesn’t know about travel read my drafts. I have a friend who doesn’t travel much who reads my blog posts because she helps me make sure I include the important details I might have skipped. When you’re an expert on something, you often fill in the blanks in your mind. You go from A to C automatically; step B becomes subconscious. Getting someone who doesn’t know the steps will help ensure you include explain everything in your post and don’t leave your readers going, “Huh?”

11. Learn to self-edit

This is where many people go wrong. They write, they read it over, they post. And then feel embarrassed as they say, “Oh, man, I can’t believe I missed that typo.” You don’t need to be a master editor, but if you follow a few principles, it will go a long way: First, write something and let it sit for a few days before editing.

After your first round of edits, repeat the process. Get another set of eyes on it. Print out a checklist of grammar rules to go through as you edit.

As you review your work, say to yourself, “Did I do this? Did I do that?” If you follow a cheat sheet, you’ll catch most of your mistakes and end up with a much better final product!

12. Improve your endings

The two most important parts of any article or blog post are the beginning and the end. Endings matter more than you think. They are the last thing people remember about your story. This is where you can really hit home your point and leave the reader captivated. An average story can be saved by a solid ending. Spend some time working on a conclusion that connects the dots and leads to some sort of resolution.

All stories need an ending. Think of your favorite stories – and your least favorite ones. The ones with the great endings are probably the ones you remember the most.

13. Aim for progress, not perfection

All too often, I hear from students that they don’t want to hit publish on a post or submit a piece because it’s not perfect. They want to keep tinkering, keep editing. While you definitely want to make sure your work is the best it can be, at the end of the day, perfection is the enemy of progress. If you keep waiting for every single word to be perfect you’ll be editing forever.

When it comes to blog posts, learn to accept good enough. Hit publish when it’s good enough.

Don’t wait for perfection because it rarely comes. Accept your best, and move on. Otherwise, you’ll be tinkering and editing until the cows come home and you’ll never get anywhere.

Writing is a craft. It takes time. It takes practice. Aim for progress, not perfection.


Writing is an art form. It takes a lot of practice. When you’re a blogger out on your own, it can be harder to improve your work, because you don’t have an experienced voice giving you tips and advice and pushing you to be better. If you don’t take it upon yourself to be better, you never will be. However, even if you aren’t blessed to work under an editor, these 11 tips can help you improve your writing today and become a much better blogger, writing stories people want to read!

David Farley has been writing about travel, food, and culture for over twenty years. His work has appeared in AFAR magazine, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Condé Nast Traveler, among other publications. He has lived in Prague, Paris, Rome, and now New York City. He is the author of An Irreverent Curiosity and was a host for National Geographic.

HEY THERE! If you’re looking for even more, David and I created a detailed travel writing course to help take your writing to the next level. Through video lectures and examples of edited and deconstructed stories, you’ll learn how to improve your writing as well as get:

  • Monthly calls with David
  • Edits and feedback on your writing
  • Sample pitch templates
  • Sample book proposals
  • A private Facebook group where we share job opportunities.

If you’re interested, click here to learn more. 


Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years.

My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

The post 13 Ways to Improve Your Travel Writing appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

9 Ways to Explore the Caribbean Sustainably

Posted By : webmaster/ 112 0

A beautiful white-sand beach in the Caribbean
Posted: 10/8/20 | October 8th, 2020

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning journalist who has been living in the Caribbean since 2008. In this guest post, she shares her tips and advice for exploring the Caribbean in an ethical and sustainable way while benefitting the local communities that call the islands home.

In 2005, I went on my first Caribbean vacation. I chose Saint Lucia, and like a typical first-timer, I stayed at an all-inclusive resort. Over the course of three weeks, I was awestruck by the color of the Caribbean Sea, the beautiful beaches, and the natural splendor of this region.

But I realized that what moved me the most were the cultural reminders of my childhood in West Africa: the plantain dishes and chicken stews, the tropical gardens filled with hibiscus and palms, the drumming and soca beats, and the warmth of the locals. Three years later, I packed my bags, left my corporate legal career behind, and hit the road with dreams of becoming a travel writer and photographer in the Caribbean.

With over 20 islands and hundreds of beaches a short flight away from North America, it’s easier than ever to go for a Caribbean escape. Even today, in the midst of a global pandemic, the Caribbean Islands are among the safest and the most tempting destinations for Americans and Canadians seeking an escape route near home. The region overall has had a lower rate of COVID-19 infections compared to the rest of the world, primarily thanks to the majority of Caribbean countries being separated from their neighbors by water.

But here’s what most people may not realize or spend much time thinking about: the Caribbean is also the most tourism-dependent and vulnerable region in the world. Of the top 10 global destinations that are most dependent on tourism for jobs, eight are in the Caribbean. This region has also suffered the negative impacts of mass tourism — both the continuous, unabated development of large, foreign-owned all-inclusive resorts in coastal areas and the expansion of cruise tourism have created serious environmental and socioeconomic issues.

For instance, large resorts have exacerbated coastal erosion as a result of being built too close to the shoreline, and they’ve also caused a shortage of commodities in surrounding communities, including power and water, as the average tourist’s use of these resources is higher than a local’s daily usage. In the past, cruise lines have also caused increased plastic pollution and engaged in illegal dumping in the Caribbean.

Lily Girma, a travel writer, hiking in the Caribbean

To boot, climate change is hitting the Caribbean islands the hardest. The World Tourism and Travel Council has predicted that the Caribbean will become the most at-risk tourism destination in the world between 2025 and 2050. Studies have also shown that rising sea levels will put at least 60% of resorts at risk by 2050. In turn, warmer temperatures and increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have led to coral bleaching and ocean acidification, affecting the Caribbean’s reefs.

Perhaps the greatest threat of all is the lack of significant trickle-down economic benefits from tourism to locals because most visitors stay in all-inclusive resorts or book tours with foreign-owned companies. Did you know that an online all-inclusive resort booking translates into 80% of those vacation dollars going directly to a foreign corporation overseas — not to the local economy — before the traveler even sets foot in the destination?

What does this all mean? That every decision you make during your Caribbean trip, from supporting a hotel that uses solar power and recycles water to the type of tour operator you choose and reef-safe sunscreen you pack, has a huge impact.

Today, with the economic crisis the Caribbean is facing compounded as a result of the pandemic, it’s become imperative that we use this time to rethink the way we explore the Caribbean. We need to see the region not as a commodity we use and abuse but as a place that’s home to unique populations in need of preservation and deserving the same amount of protection from overtourism and environmental abuses as any other major destination in Europe.

As independent travelers, we have the power to shift the tide of our favorite tropical vacation region in the years ahead. Enjoy rum, cocktails, and fine sand? That’s fine — while making choices that lead to a healthier, greener, and culture-rich region for years to come, where tourism benefits communities.

Here are nine easy ways you can explore the Caribbean sustainably in the future, once travel fully resumes back to normal.

1. Stay at small hotels, community-run guest lodges, or hostels

A swimming pool in a small resort by the ocean in the Caribbean
From hostels and guesthouses to boutique hotels, villas, and rainforest lodges, there are some incredible locally owned places to stay in the Caribbean. Whether you’re into mountains, beaches, or rainforests, these kinds of accommodations are usually run by locals or long-time residents who are eager to immerse you in their communities. This way, you get a more authentic cultural experience, including locally sourced meals and expert local guides that these properties have relied on for years.

You can also find community-run lodging; these are often nature-tucked lodges or guesthouses run by a community group or cooperative members that operate just like privately owned lodges. The income, however, is equally shared among the members while you enjoy an authentic stay — a win-win.

“Staying local” goes a long way toward supporting the local economy, ensuring that your travel dollars reach those who deserve it the most, from the farmer supplying the hotel to the tour guide who gets repeat business.

To find these various types of locally owned or locally invested accommodations, you’ll have to do a little extra research.

First, contact the destination’s tourism board and ask for locally-owned hotel recommendations in the area that interests you; you should also scan their website’s hotel listings.

Second, you can find a handful of special guesthouses and locally run hotels on — but take the additional step of searching for the property’s own website for more information and booking directly through it.

Third, depending on the destination, you can find unique local properties listed on, under the “B&B and Inns” category.

Last but not least, you should search for and read local news outlets from or blogs on your destination; these often cover the domestic side of tourism and tend to feature more locally owned properties.

2. Bike, walk, or use local transportation

Lily Girma, a travel writer, cycling in the Caribbean
Touring a Caribbean island on two wheels is becoming more popular than ever. On your next visit, swap the safari truck excursions for a biking tour. Bike Barbados is a perfect example; you can rent a variety of bicycles from this shop in St. Lawrence Gap, on the main tourist drag, and escape along Barbados’s diverse coastline before ending up back at the beach. It’s a great way to make local friends, find hidden corners, and discover a different side of the destination. Other established bike tour companies around the Caribbean are:

You can also ask your hotel’s staff if they provide bicycles for rent or for free; if they don’t have any, ask for a local bike shop recommendation.

Getting around by public transportation is also a good way to reduce your footprint and contribute to the local economy. You’ll get a glimpse of island life, see how most people get around, and discover places along the way that you might have missed.

3. Take cooking classes, go on food tours, and sign up for cultural experiences

Delicious Caribbean food
What better way to learn about the local cuisine than signing up for a cooking class or hopping on a food tour? Aside from the fun side of tasting new dishes, it’s a great way to support local agriculture in the Caribbean, by pumping your dollars into some delicious food, sourced straight from farmers and chefs’ gardens.

Although over 80% of produce in the Caribbean is imported, the tide has begun turning toward increased food security for locals through growing one’s own food and practicing permaculture principles. Supporting local food production means you’re supporting the country’s efforts in lowering its dependence on exports — which can include genetically modified seeds — while increasing self-sufficiency. This becomes critical when major storms hit or when borders shut down (say, due to a pandemic).

Barbados Food Tours offers a three-hour food walk around historic, UNESCO-designated Bridgetown, while showing you favorite local lunch spots and dishes. Belize Food Tours operates fun evening food tours in San Pedro, as well as cooking classes in a state-of-the-art studio. Other options include Tru Bahamian Food Tours and Trinidad Food Tours.

Another great option for cultural immersion is to find a workshop or tour offered by a community organization or cooperative. One great example of an established cultural, community-run experience is the bomba dance workshop at the COPI Community Center in Loiza, Puerto Rico, just outside of San Juan, where you’ll learn not only bomba moves but also Afro–Puerto Rican history. Beware of tour companies that don’t collaborate with locals and that sell cultural experiences as an “add-on” as a way to attract tourists.

Finding these types of immersive experiences led by community leaders will require additional research: search social media and the internet using keywords such as “X workshop in [destination]” and dig into who is offering the experience.

Subscribing to a sustainable Caribbean travel advocate’s platform is another way of staying in the know, for example, my new See the Caribbean initiative or Sunshine and Stilettos blog, social enterprise Local Guest in Puerto Rico, and the Rose Hall Community Development Organization in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, among others.

4. Visit protected areas and sustainability projects

A large sea bird hiding in the brush in the Caribbean
From coral replanting initiatives to regenerative farms to wildlife protection, there are incredible nature conservation projects in the Caribbean. In Belize, for instance, the Belize Audubon Society runs a number of protected areas that are also popular with visitors, including the Cockscomb Jaguar Preserve. There are newly built new cabins on-site for avid birders and naturalists, or anyone looking for a different experience by overnighting in a wildlife-rich protected area. You’ll learn a lot more about the Caribbean’s biodiversity and interact with scientists daily in a way you never would by staying in a regular hotel.

In the Dominican Republic, where protected areas have been at risk in the last decade, your visit to vulnerable national parks — such as Jaragua National Park, the Sierra de Bahoruco, and Valle Nuevo National Park — goes a long way toward supporting the work of local environmental organizations and naturalist guides while you learn about critical wildlife conservation issues.

But how do you go about finding established environmental projects around the Caribbean? The first step is to read about the environmental challenges in the destination(s) you’re visiting. From there, you can look up the most prominent conservation nonprofit organizations on the ground. For instance, the Nature Conservancy’s work in the Caribbean region can be found in the Bahamas, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Virgin Islands, among other locations. The work of the Sustainable Destinations Alliance for the Americas is also a great resource for background information on the Caribbean’s multiple projects.

A destination’s tourism board and hotel association are great sources of information, as they often back and sponsor conservation projects or initiatives. You can also ask your host or hotel for the lesser-publicized yet influential community groups that are doing meaningful work on the ground, from cultural preservation to turtle conservation.

Before you donate funds or rush to volunteer, please consult the tourism board, your hosts, and the local organizations for advice on how you can best use your skills while on vacation, if at all. As a visitor, learning about a country’s environmental and conservation challenges before your trip is far more effective because you’ll get a sense of where to tread lightly and where your tourist dollars are needed the most.

When in doubt, simply make time to visit protected areas and national parks that are open to the public, as your visitor fees contribute to the year-round maintenance and preservation of the area’s biodiversity. Lists of national parks are easily found on tourism board websites.

5. Shop local

A colorful boardwalk near a small town in the Caribbean
Skip the made-in-China trinkets and find locally sourced, handmade souvenirs. Whether it’s jewelry, textiles, or paintings, the Caribbean is filled with talented and innovative artists. Visit art galleries with on-site botanical gardens like Ahhh Ras Natango Gallery and Garden near Montego Bay, find ceramics at Earthworks in Barbados, and Dominican hand-sculpted art in specialty stores like Galeria Bolos in Santo Domingo’s Colonial City. There are also artist studio workshops and a chance for one-on-one interactions, like taking a Taino pottery class in Puerto Rico, after which you get to take your creation home with you.

Know what grows in the Caribbean destination you’re visiting and then purchase straight from the local factories and stores: coffee, chocolate, tobacco, rum, and spices are among the many choices.

6. Eat and buy locally sourced food

Are you planning to cook your own meals and self-cater during your stay? Head to your nearest outdoor market; there’s one in every major town. Go on the busiest market days — Saturdays are usually the best bet — when there are more vendors per shopper and you can learn about local produce so you can cook what’s in season. This might seem simple, but purchasing locally grown produce supports these farmers and small entrepreneurs while preserving the legacy of native plants that grow on the island.

Approach vendors and ask them to point out which fruits and vegetables on their stands are native; there are often local varieties that are worth a taste. Ask what’s in season. I’ve found most market vendors are more than willing to share their knowledge if you’re respectful and interested in buying and cooking local, rather than merely looking for photos.

The same goes with seafood; make sure you ask what fish is in season and what’s temporarily off the market as a matter of law. Knowing the closed seasons for lobster or conch is part of the traveler’s responsibility.

In some destinations, like the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, it’s not unusual to see mobile fruit and vegetable vendors selling out of their vehicle’s trunk or cart and rolling through the neighborhood — take advantage of this, as they offer prices that supermarkets can’t match.

You’ll not only eat healthier by buying local food that’s in season but you’ll also sleep great knowing that you’re contributing in a big way to the country’s food scene and identity.

7. Say no to plastic (pack your water bottle, bring bamboo utensils)

Speaking of shopping at local markets or supermarkets, don’t forget to pack a reusable shopping tote when you’re heading to the Caribbean, as well as a reusable water bottle. As in much of the world, plastic is a serious problem on the islands, but it’s exacerbated in the Caribbean because many destinations don’t have recycling capabilities. There are also bamboo utensils you can purchase and bring with you in a post-COVID world.

8. Respect cultural celebrations and norms

Locals dancing in a parade in the Caribbean
The festivals and rich cultural celebrations of the Caribbean are one of the best reasons to visit the region’s diverse destinations. But while it’s easy to assume that we’re welcome to attend an event that takes place in the backyard of our resort town — and most events are welcoming of tourists — it’s important to remember that some are actually religious ceremonies or sacred rituals that aren’t for picture-taking or public gazing.

For instance, if you’re heading to the Accompong Town Maroon Festival in January, there’s a sacred ritual that takes place before the festival kicks off; while you may be welcome to watch from a distance, you can’t interrupt or disrupt the ceremony by taking photographs unless you have prior permission from the village leaders. Similarly, not all Garifuna cultural rituals in Belize are for tourists and cameras. Wherever you end up, be respectful at all times and make sure to ask if you’re welcome before joining.

9. Stay longer and travel slow

Locals working together in the Caribbean
Even though weekend escapes and weeklong vacations are the norm for visitors to the Caribbean, this region is actually an ideal corner of the world to explore slowly over a period of months. If you’re able to work remotely and live like a digital nomad, you’ll get the chance to see beyond the similarities of the Caribbean’s multiple islands and appreciate their uniqueness, from topography and cuisine to music and history. Slowing down also reduces your footprint while taking you deeper into the fabric of Caribbean society, so you’ll get to see just how complex and intriguing this part of the world can be beyond the surface attractions of lovely beaches and tasty piña coladas. And that’s when the real adventure begins!


Whether you’ve wondered in the past how to explore the Caribbean sustainably and approach it with authenticity, or you’re now rethinking it as a result of the pandemic, these nine ways will put you well on the path of experiencing this diverse region on a deeper level, while minimizing your impact as a tourist.

There’s a popular saying we love to repeat in this part of the world: “Life needs the Caribbean.” But the Caribbean also needs you — to immerse yourself in its destinations slowly and sustainably, with the intention of learning about its diverse cultures, supporting the local economy, and protecting the environment while rethinking where you place your vacation dollars.

It’s as easy to make vacation choices that have the power to be transformative — for you, for Mother Nature, and for those with whom you come into contact — by using the above sustainable travel principles. The Caribbean is a fun, vibrant region that deserves mindful, experiential travelers as much as other beautiful regions around the world. I hope that when travel resumes, you’ll become one of them!

Lebawit Lily Girma is an award-winning Ethiopian-American travel journalist and photographer who has lived in various parts of the Caribbean region since 2008. Her work on sustainable travel and the Caribbean has been featured in AFAR, Forbes, Sierra, Delta Sky, and Lonely Planet, and on the BBC, CNN, and Oprah, among other outlets. She is the founder of See the Caribbean, a new platform showcasing future, impact-driven ways to explore the Caribbean region through nature, heritage, and community. Lily is currently based in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Book Your Trip to the Caribbean: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Looking for More Information on Visiting the Caribbean?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to the Caribbean with tips on what to see and do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!

The post 9 Ways to Explore the Caribbean Sustainably appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

What’s it Like Traveling the U.S. During COVID-19?

Posted By : webmaster/ 113 0

Nomadic Matt sampling beers at a picnic table
Posted: 10/5/20 | October 5th, 2020

In June, full of COVID antibodies that would disappear before the month’s end, I drove to Boston to see my family. My original plan was to stay a week and then slowly make my way back to Austin, stopping at as many national parks as I could.

But when COVID cases surged in the South, plans quickly changed: I stayed in Boston longer, went to Maine, and then dashed back to Austin, stopping in as few places as possible (mostly national parks).

In total, I was away close to three months, putting over 6,000 miles on my car and crossing dozens of states.

So what’s it’s like traveling during COVID?

First, logistically, it’s a pain the butt. Few attractions (parks, museums, etc.) are open and those that are open typically require advance registration, including some national and state parks. As a last-minute traveler, that threw a wrench in my plans. I often changed my itinerary at the last moment and would show up to attractions to find no availability. When I went to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, all their spots were full for the entire following week!

Second, this road trip showed me that not COVID is not going to get under control anytime soon. America’s poor reaction to the pandemic is a result of decaying trust in government, science, the media, and fellow citizens.

Nomadic Matt standing on a ridge taking in the scenic view

In towns across the United States, I met people who thought COVID was a hoax. I met people who refused to wear masks. I met people who thought it’s all overblown and some who thought scientists and doctors were lying so they could make more money.

I found that the level of seriousness with regard to the pandemic not a red state–blue state divide but an urban-rural divide. No matter the state I visited, the further from a major city I got, the fewer people were worried about the virus. From small-town Maine to the suburbs of Tennessee to now even back home in Austin, I’ve encountered enough people who view this as “just another flu” to make me realize that COVID in America is not going away anytime soon.

No matter how good part of the population is at following the rules, enough will flout them to ensure that we’ll never get a handle on COVID. It was just really disheartening to see firsthand just how far behind the curve we are — and will remain — so long as the pandemic (people’s health!) is not taken seriously.

It made me angry, frustrated, and sad all at once. (My next post will go into this more.)

But what I hated most — and what caused me to come home earlier — was the loneliness. While other countries are reemerging from lockdowns and slowly allowing gatherings, COVID’s continued existence here has made many of the ways people used to meet off-limits.

No hostel dorms, walking tours, Couchsurfing events, lively bars, in-person meetups, pub crawls, house parties, etc., etc.

People hiking in a narrow rocky canyon

Travel during the pandemic means a lot of time by yourself.

As an introvert, I can spend hours with myself and be content. Days even.

I am my own best friend.

But eventually, my mouth wants to do that thing it likes to do so much: talk.

Travel, after all, is about people. It’s about learning from locals and other travelers. It’s about sharing experiences, swapping stories, and human connection.

But when anyone could be a coronavirus carrier, people (rightly) limit their interactions with strangers (and sometimes even with friends).

As a result, I found traveling unbearably devoid of sustained human interaction. Without people, my trip felt empty.

I’m not a “hike and camp in the woods alone for a week” kind of person. I get bored and lonely. Despite having an introverted nature, I travel to interact with people. I want to meet locals, drink beers, and learn about their part of the world.

Sure, I did meet some people. I had lovely conversations with folks in Maine, and I met a couple at a beer garden in Kentucky. And while I was fortunate enough to have some friends I could see along the way, for the most part, I was alone.

But when attractions are closed, people are isolating, and the ability to connect with strangers is reduced, what is travel?

And, if you’re worried about contracting COVID, the added stress and anxiety of wondering who might have the virus further saps the fun from travel. When I entered parts of the country I knew hadn’t contained the disease, my anxiety spiked. Everyone I eyed was a potential carrier, and so I kept my distance.

Closers on a ridge overlooking a wide open valley

I’d arrive at a new destination with high hopes and then, seeing everything closed, remember, “Oh yeah, the virus means I can’t travel the way I’d like.”

That’s no way to travel.

So would I recommend traveling around the United States now?

If you want to stay somewhere for a couple of days, don’t mind spending (a lot of) time alone, or just want to go for a hike in a national park, you’ll have a great time. There are plenty of ways to get out of town while ensuring you’re continuing to do your part to reduce the spread.1

There were many highlights to my trip: I got to check off a few new national parks, finally visited Maine, saw some friends, got surprised by the Finger Lakes region of NY, fell in love with Franklin, TN, and found my new favorite Bourbon (HC Clake from Franklin).

But, even with all that, if given the option to do it again, I’m not sure I would. When the majority of options for meeting and interacting with people are gone, so is a lot of the joy of travel.

And, until that comes back, I’m not sure an extended trip – in the United States or elsewhere – is for me.

For now, I’m happier staying at home.

1 – I took a total of three COVID tests throughout my trip to ensure I was not an asymptomatic carrier and didn’t pick up anything on the way.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years.

My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

The post What’s it Like Traveling the U.S. During COVID-19? appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

11 Things to See and Do in Quito, Ecuador

Posted By : webmaster/ 107 0

The view overlooking Quito, Ecuador
Posted: 10/1/2020 | October 1st, 2020

I had no idea what to expect when I first visited Quito. The capital of Ecuador and home to two million people, the city had a grittiness to it that reminded me a lot of Naples that was juxtaposed by beautiful and historic architecture.

While the region around Quito was Inca territory through the 15th century, the city itself dates from 1534 when Spanish settlers led by Sebastián de Benalcázar enslaved the natives and colonized the area. The city has been standing ever since.

Enveloped by mountains and perched at 2,850 meters (9,350 ft) above sea level, Quito usually gets ignored as travelers head elsewhere in the country (i.e. The Galápagos). However, from the beautiful historical town square to the lively restaurants and parks to the beautiful mountains, there is plenty to see and do here for a few days. Make sure you spend a couple of days here. Quito isn’t really a touristy city so you can get a real good sense of Ecuadorian culture here!

Here’s a list of my favorite things to do during your visit to Quito:

1. Take a Free Walking Tour

The best way to get a foothold in a new destination is to take a free walking tour. You’ll get a crash course in history, culture, food, and much more. It’s the first thing I do whenever I arrive in a new city.

Free Walking Tour Ecuador offers daily free walking tours (as well as paid food and cultural tours) that will give you a solid introduction to Quito. Tours last a couple of hours and cover all the main sights in town. Best of all, they’re free — but just be sure to tip your guide at the end!

2. Hike the Bread Roll

The Bread Roll hill overlooking Quito, Ecuador
El Panecillo, or “The Bread Roll,” is a small hill overlooking the city. Standing just over 200 meters (656 ft), it offers a beautiful panorama of the city and surrounding mountains. Before the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, it was home to an Inca temple. Today, a massive aluminum statue of the Virgin Mary (known as the Virgin of Quito), built in 1976, towers over the city. Try to arrive early in the morning for the best views (since the altitude is high, and clouds are common).

3. Wander the Old Town

Quito is home to one of the best-preserved historic centers in all of Latin America. The narrow streets are lined with centuries-old buildings, and the entire area was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site back in 1978. There are lots of cafés, colorful old buildings, churches, plazas, and more. It’s a nice place to stroll around and feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Many of the buildings date back to the 1600s!

4. See Plaza de San Francisco

The spacious San Francisco Plaza in Quito, Ecuador
Saint Francis Square is where you’ll find the Church and Convent of St. Francis, the city’s oldest building. It dates to the 1500s and took almost 150 years to be completed. It’s baroque in design and is one of the largest historical structures in Latin America. The plaza itself is huge and makes for a nice place to people-watch. It was built on ancient Incan ruins (including those of Emperor Atahualpa’s 15th-century palace).

5. Visit the Central Bank National Museum

The Museo Nacional de Banco Central del Ecuador, aka the Bank Museum, sounds pretty boring. Even as an avid museum-goer and history buff, I had low expectations. Fortunately, I was pleasantly surprised. The museum has a huge collection of over 1,500 items and artifacts from pre-Inca times (some over 6,000 years old). Its exhibitions showcase the history and progression of Ecuador throughout history, covering everything from art to religion to economics and everything in between. It’s a massive museum, in which you could easily spend a few hours. It’s also one of the most popular things to do in Quito (and it’s super affordable too).

Avenida Patria, +593 2-381-4550, Open Tuesday–Sunday 10am–5pm. Admission is $2 USD.

6. Cross the Equator

The Mitad del Mundo equator monument near Quito, Ecuador
You can’t visit Ecuador — named after the equator — without visiting the equator itself. First, visit the “fake” equator, the 30-meter-tall Mitad del Mundo monument built in the late 1970s in the wrong spot (modern GPS made the error known).

The “real” equator is a few hundred meters away, at The Intiñan Solar Museum. Here you can officially straddle the hemispheres and visit a small museum that pays homage to indigenous Ecuadorian culture and history. They also have some fun science experiments that only work when you’re at the equator as well.

7. Relax in Parque Metropolitano

This is the largest green space in the city. Spanning over 1,700 acres, the park is home to hiking trails, campsites, bike paths (and rentals), and beautiful cloud forests for hiking and bird-watching. You can easily spend a few hours or an entire day here. Pack a lunch, bring a book and some walking shoes, and bask in the natural beauty and views of the surrounding mountains and landscape.

The park is open daily from 6am to 6pm. The entrance to the park is on Guanguiltagua Street in the Batán Alto neighborhood. Admission is free.

8. Take a Day Trip to Cotopaxi Volcano

The snow-capped Cotopaxi volcano near Quito, Ecuador
Approximately 50km (31 miles) from Quito is the world’s highest active volcano. Located in Cotopaxi National Park and standing 5,897 meters (19,348 feet) tall, it’s a popular location for outdoor activities such as mountain climbing, hiking, horseback riding, and camping. Since 1738, there have been over 50 eruptions (it was actually closed to visitors in 2016–17 due to an eruption). When the weather is clear, you can see the volcano from Quito (it really is imposing).

The park itself is free (you just need to show your passport to enter). You can book a day tour for around $65 USD or arrange it yourself for around $20 USD. Expect to spend 2–7 hours hiking to the summit, depending on where you start (you can drive part way up to decrease the duration). Be sure to spend some time in Quito acclimatizing to the altitude before doing the hike.

9. Explore La Mariscal

This is a popular area for shopping and enjoying the city’s nightlife. It caters a lot to the tourist/expat crowd, and I couldn’t walk five feet without seeing a BBQ place or Irish pub. It’s modern, trendy, and filled with bars and posh restaurants. The houses in the area are colorful, and there are a few open-air markets worth browsing as well. In short, it’s a nice place to explore during the day and fun for a night out once the sun goes down.

10. Tour the García Moreno Prison Musem

This abandoned prison was shut down in 2014, after over 150 years in operation. Today, it’s an eye-opening museum that highlights the challenging conditions of prison life in Quito over the past century. The guides are former guards who will tell you all kinds of frightening stories while walking you around the grounds. Many of the cells are still full of prisoners’ items and belongings. It’s really interesting but also a little unsettling too. It definitely provides some nuance to the city’s history.

Vicente Rocafuerte. The museum keeps odd hours and has minimal contact information. Ask your hotel/hostel staff for details.

11. Take a Day Trip to Laguna Quilotoa

The massive volcanic crater lake Laguna Quilotoa near Quito, Ecuador
This stunning crater lake is three hours from the city. Made from a former volcano that collapsed from an eruption, the resulting crater filled with water and is an absolutely beautiful sight. You can hike, swing off the edge of the crater lip, and even rent kayaks and paddle around the water (rentals cost around $3 USD). Day tours make for a long day (most last 12 hours), so consider staying in the region overnight if you can. Expect to pay around $50 USD for a day trip. Most also include a brief stop at Cotopaxi as well.


I loved Quito. It’s rich in culture and architecture and filled with good food, and there’s a lot to see and do. Don’t just use it as a place to fly to the Galápagos Islands from — it’s worth spending a few days exploring and getting to know this surprising and entertaining city!

(function(d){var s=d.createElement(‘script’);s.type=’text/javascript’;s.src=’’;s.async=true;s.dataset.campaign=’mckvxefdlilqaaou8p3w’;s.dataset.user=’8268′;d.getElementsByTagName(‘head’)[0].appendChild(s);})(document);

Book Your Trip to Ecuador: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use, as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. My favorite places to stay in Quito are:

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel — and I think they will help you too!

Looking for more information on visiting Ecuador?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to Ecuador with more tips on what to see and do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!

Photo credits: 3 -dutchbaby, 4 – Richard Ponce, 6 – Mike

The post 11 Things to See and Do in Quito, Ecuador appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

Travel Insurance, Pandemics, & COVID: What You Need to Know

Posted By : webmaster/ 114 0

An ambulance driving quickly at night with flashing lights
Posted: 9/28/20 | September 28th, 2020

The coronavirus has given us all a wake-up call about what travel insurance does — and does not — cover.

A lot of people assumed that travel insurance covered everything and, at the drop of a hat, would fly you home in an emergency. That incorrect assumption came as a shock to those who, for the first time, are actually reading their policies.

While many travel insurance companies provide evacuation coverage if you get injured overseas (if you meet the plan conditions), they generally are not there to get you home unless there is a specific clause in your policy that warrants such action and a doctor orders it.

And, as many of us have quickly learned, pandemics are often excluded from insurance policies.

Many of the emails I got from people screaming about their insurance policy when the pandemic began were issues related to such policy misunderstandings.

I know travel insurance is a complicated (and boring) topic. I understand it’s not fun to read about or research.

And reading an actual policy can put you to sleep. Most people gloss over it the way we gloss over iTunes user agreements.

But if COVID-19 has taught us travelers anything, it’s that we need to be more familiar with what exactly our travel insurance policy covers. It is literally of life-and-death importance.

Today, I want to provide a more complete picture of what travel insurance actually is — and what scenarios you may or may not be covered for. But use this only as general advice: terms and conditions will differ according to the travel insurance policy and the provider.

I know we’ve addressed this in the past, but it’s always a good time for a refresher, especially in light of COVID-19 and as people begin to start thinking about travel again.

Let’s look at some common questions:
What exactly is travel insurance?
First, travel insurance is emergency coverage. It’s there if you get in trouble and need assistance. Depending on your policy, it provides support (and reimbursement) if you break a bone while hiking, if you lose your luggage, if you get robbed, or if you need to return home due to a death in your immediate family. In short, it’s a financial safety net for emergencies abroad.

However, it is not a substitute for health insurance in your home country. (It’s also not a license to be foolish either, because injuries while stupid or drunk aren’t cover either.)

It’s your emergency lifeline should something bad happen unexpectedly during your travels.
What’s really covered if I’m sick?
Suffering from a recurring, preexisting allergy, or other condition? You’re on your own. Grab some medicine from a pharmacy and ride it out. Preventive or routine care resulting from a preexisting condition is not covered.

Unexpected and/or emergency situations are. Need to go to the hospital? That’s where travel insurance kicks in. Call your insurance provider’s emergency support line and let them know (when you can). They’ll be able to help you with the red tape and make sure you’re taken care of.

You may also need pre-approval of treatment or providers. For that reason, make sure you have the insurance company’s emergency 24-hour hotline saved on your phone before you travel. That way, you or someone with you can call them should the worst happen.

Since you may have to pay for everything upfront and then make an insurance claim to get reimbursed, keep your receipts.
What is covered if I am robbed?
If you’re robbed during your trip, you’ll be able to get compensation for the stolen items (usually not including cash and certain other items), up to a certain per-item amount and total maximum amount. You’ll need to fill out a police report and provide that, as well as documentation for the stolen items, to your insurance company. (If you have any receipts, send those in. I also like to take pictures of my items before I travel to prove I took them along.)

However, don’t expect travel insurance to give you money for the latest iPhone — you’ll either get an equivalent replacement or get reimbursed for the depreciated value of your stolen item. That is, if you bought a camera five years ago for $1000 but it’s only worth $100 now, you’ll get $100.

Since it takes a while for claims to be processed, you’ll likely need to replace your items out of pocket and then make a claim for reimbursement. However, if you cannot make any purchases because your wallet and passport were stolen, you’ll need to contact your insurance provider’s emergency support, as well as the nearest embassy or consulate.
My [insert company] went bankrupt. What’s covered?
If your airline/tour/whatever company goes bankrupt while traveling, you may be able to get reimbursed under the “trip cancellation” or “trip interruption” clause of your plan, depending on the timing of when you purchased your policy and when the bankruptcy occurred. Some insurance policies only reimburse if the travel company has completely ceased services; if there are alternative arrangements available, it may only pay for change fees.

However, in the case of airline bankruptcies, you may need to arrange alternative transportation yourself and pay for it upfront. Then you can submit a claim to have that amount reimbursed.

If you have not yet departed, your “trip cancellation” coverage would come into effect, and you would be reimbursed for what you spent.

While this all seems helpful, keep in mind that there likely are limits on what you can claim. Read the Schedule of Benefits for maximum amounts covered (and specifically for trip interruption and trip cancellation). From my experience, these claims usually reimburse up to the trip, cost with a max of around $5,000–10,000 USD (be sure to check the specifics in your policy), so if you have spent a ton of money on accommodation and new flights, you might not be able to get all of it back. But something is much better than nothing!
My trip was canceled. Can I get a refund on my policy if I didn’t use it?
If you haven’t started your policy or made a claim, you might be able to get a refund. Many companies also offer a “review period” (usually 7–14 days from purchase) during which you can cancel your plan without penalty, though some states don’t have one. If you pay for six months of insurance and need to cancel after one or two months, you’re usually out of luck.

However, if you’re outside of that review period, chances are you won’t be able to cancel your plan. Some companies may be making exceptions due to COVID-19, but you shouldn’t take that as a given. Why? This is just an industry practice. Since travel insurance works in retrospect (you go on your trip, you come home, file a claim, and then get paid) and they have to pay the full amount, you have to pay the full amount of the policy.

I tend to buy my insurance in three-month chunks. That way, I can extend my coverage or let it expire based on how things are going.

But, a caveat: Depending on how preexisting conditions work on your policy, you may not want to do this. For example, you’re not feeling well during one policy. You go to get a COVID test, and while waiting for the results, your policy lapses and you purchase a new plan. Because you showed signs of the disease in a prior policy, it may be considered a preexisting condition in the new policy and thus not be covered.

So keep that in mind when you are buying policies. It’s a risk I personally take — but it might not be good for you.
There’s a pandemic, so I’ve decided to come home to play it safe. Do I get anything?
To be eligible for coverage, your claim has to be based on a covered reason. If you had a policy without a pandemic exclusion, then trip interruption could come into play. But you’ll need to read the fine print before making claim. Getting sick from the pandemic may be covered, but if, say, you decided to rearrange your trip because you’d feel safer at home, that wouldn’t be.

Before you file a claim, you’ll want to first contact the tour companies, hotels, and airlines directly for a refund. Only after that would I make a claim to the insurance company.

Remember, these payouts usually only apply to prepaid, nonrefundable purchases (and in addition, may include one-way airfare home).

If filing a claim, you’ll need to gather all your supporting documents and receipts and submit them for review. It can take weeks (or months) for a claim to be processed, so be prepared for a wait (especially if there is a major crisis, like the COVID-19 pandemic). That means your change of plans will have to be paid out of pocket.
But the government urged citizens to come home and I did!
Depending on your policy, you may be entitled to some benefits. If you have a policy that includes trip interruption, you might be able to submit a claim to cover any nonrefundable purchases (such as flights and tours).

However, the reason why you need to return home is important. Natural disasters, terrorism, political upheaval, and pandemics are all covered differently, so the fine print of your policy is really important here. (Many people didn’t read it, and that was why there were so many issues when COVID struck.)

Your government saying “I think you should come home because of XYZ” is not the same as a government forcing you to return home (which does not exist*). If you’re making the choice to come home in that situation, travel insurance plans aren’t going to cover you. (This was a big issue during COVID and the source of most complaints.)

Circumstances that are not mentioned (outside the exclusion section) are usually not covered.

So it’s important to look at the specifics of your policy to see what is covered.

* Unless there’s you’re being extradited or have been declared persona non grata, but those are unlikely scenarios. Check your policy!

I had to come home and couldn’t reach the airline, so I bought a new ticket.
This was another issue during COVID as people scrambled to get home because of government warnings and border shutdowns. As airlines became overwhelmed and people couldn’t get through, many people bought a second ticket, thinking (incorrectly) it would automatically be covered.

Travel insurance makes you whole; it doesn’t give you extra money. If you’re already traveling, flights can be reimbursed under the trip interruption section of the policy if going home early is a covered event, which usually includes unexpected illnesses, strikes, etc.

However, if your flight is canceled, then the airline is responsible for rescheduling and rebooking. If you buy a second ticket and then submit it for reimbursement through your policy, you’ll be denied.

Moreover, not feeling safe isn’t a covered reason, and the new flight would not be reimbursed.
Can I get ANY coverage related COVID-19?
As many found out the hard way back in March, many travel insurance companies do not cover pandemics. They have been — and continue to be — written out of policies. You won’t get any reimbursement if you decide to cancel your trip because of a government warning due to a pandemic. The only policies that give that kind of blanket coverage are “cancel for any reason” policies. (Insure My Trip is a good place to find those.)

However, some companies, such as World Nomads, Allianz, and Safety Wing, do cover some medical costs. They will help you out if you get COVID or get quarantined by a physician and need medical care related to that.

Moreover, beginning on October 19, 2020, Medjet will be offering transport for members hospitalized with COVID-19 if they are traveling in the contiguous 48 United States, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean, to their home hospital.

However, the coverage is just limited to medical care and related costs (though some policies also cover trip cancellation and trip interruption costs if you contract COVID). Be sure to read the specifics in your plan, as there are many caveats and exemptions and you’ll want complete clarity from your provider.

What about my credit card coverage?
Travel credit cards offer limited protection — even the very best ones. Usually, cards offer coverage for items that are lost or stolen; very, very limited medical expenses; and trip cancellation. But there is a big caveat here: these only apply if you booked your trip with that specific card!

I’ve had dozens of travel credit cards over the years. Even if your card does offer some coverage, the limit is often very low. That means you’ll have to pay the difference out of pocket (and you’ll be surprised at just how expensive that can be!).

While it’s nice to have credit card protection as a backup, I wouldn’t rely on it for my primary coverage when abroad.


Travel insurance is a complicated (and boring) topic. But, as we’ve learned over these past few months, it’s worth taking the time to understand — and it’s worth spending the money investing in a plan with a variety of coverage options that keeps you safe and provides you with peace of mind.

I never leave home without travel insurance. You shouldn’t either.

Just be sure to always read the print of the policy you’re buying.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years.

My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

The post Travel Insurance, Pandemics, & COVID: What You Need to Know appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

A Guide to Exploring Colonial New York City

Posted By : webmaster/ 127 0

Trinity Church on a sunny day in New York City, USA
Posted: 9/24/20 | September 24th, 2020

As a history nerd, I love taking a deep dive into a destination’s past. I’m a firm believer that if you don’t understand where people have come from, you’ll never understand where they are now. It’s a big reason why I love museums so much.

As one of the oldest cities in the country, New York City has a lot of history.

First settled by the Dutch as “New Amsterdam,” the Dutch the city surrendered to the English in 1664. The city was a major trading center located at the mouth of the Hudson River. After the Revolution, New York was the hub of America’s power and government, officially becoming the nation’s capital in 1789 when George Washington was sworn in. While it’s no longer the nation’s capital (it moved to Philadelphia the following year and then to Washington, DC in 1800), NYC was still the beating heart of the country.

Since I love adding “themes” to my travels, a great theme for your visit to New York is colonial history – and much of the city’s colonial history is still present today.

Most of the sights are located in the financial district (one of the most underappreciated parts of NYC), so it’s easy to visit everything in a day. Here’s what to see:

1. The Battery (aka Battery Park)

The Battery aka Battery Park in New York, USA in the summer
Located on the southern tip of Manhattan, this park is where the Dutch built Fort Amsterdam in 1625 to defend their settlement. The British took the area over in 1664 and eventually renamed it Fort George. The fort’s cannon battery wasn’t used until 1776 when American forces took it over after declaring independence. While the fort was mostly destroyed during the Revolution, the battery was expanded after the war’s end.

Today, there are over 20 monuments and plaques in the park, covering everything from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 to immigration and much more. You can wander around the fort and then stroll through the surrounding park and take in the beautiful waterfront views of the harbor, the Statue of Liberty, and Ellis Island.

2. Fraunces Tavern

The historic Fraunces Tavern building in New York, USA
This is the oldest bar in New York City, having been converted from a home (built in 1719) to a tavern in 1762. Prior to the Revolution, the Sons of Liberty (a secret anti-British organization founded by Samuel Adams) would meet here to discuss their plans and philosophies.

During the war, the building was damaged when Alexander Hamilton stole British artillery, provoking a response from the British navy than sent a cannonball through the roof. After the war, George Washington said farewell to his officers and troops of the Continental Army here.

As the war was ending, meetings between the British and Americans were held here to discuss slavery. The US insisted that no slaves freed by the British could leave US soil (many had already been sent to freedom in what is now Canada). (It was not one of our finest moments as a country.)

Today, on the first floor, there’s a pretty decent restaurant (slightly overpriced though) and a bar with a great selection of draft beers. The tavern also hosts historical talks, as well as events like trivia nights. It is also home to a small museum on the second floor, which includes all kinds of historical documents and objects. For the 300th anniversary of the building’s construction in 2019, a new exhibition chronicling its history was created to highlight the pivotal events that took place here.

54 Pearl St, +1 (212)-425-1778, Open Monday-Friday 12pm–5pm and Saturday-Sunday 11am–5pm.

3. Bowling Green

Bowling Green Park in New York, USA
This public park is the oldest in NYC. During colonial times, the British installed a 4,000-pound gilded lead statue of King George III on horseback. It was repeatedly vandalized leading up to the war, forcing the British to build a fence around the park (the one that still stands today) and create anti-vandalism laws.

After the Declaration of Independence was read in 1776, the statue was toppled and dismembered. The head, allegedly, was mailed to England. The body, so the story goes, was melted down into bullets for the Continental Army.

Today, the area remains a park and there’s a plaque on the fence with a brief historical overview.

4. Trinity Church

The historic Trinity Church surrounded by skyscrapers in New York, USA
Built in 1698, the original Trinity Church was a small parish church constructed by the Church of England. When the British seized New York after George Washington’s retreat, it was used as a British base of operations.

The original church was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1776, a massive blaze that wiped out upwards of 25% of the city (the Americans blamed the British for starting the fire, while the British blamed the revolutionaries). The new building, facing Wall Street, was consecrated in 1790. George Washington and Alexander Hamilton regularly worshipped here. The church was expanded in 1839 into its current form.

The graveyard dates back to the 1700s and has many a famous American there, including Hamilton and his wife Elizabeth, Francis Lewis (signatory on the Declaration of Independence), John Alsop (Continental Congress delegate), Albert Gallatin (founder of NYU), Horatio Gates (Continental Army general), John Morin Scott (general and first secretary of state of New York), and Lord Stirling (Continental Army general).

75 Broadway, +1 212-602-0800, Tours of the cemetery are available on request. There is also a self-guided tour app you can download from the website.

5. Federal Hall National Memorial

The Federal Hall National Memorial in New York City, USA
This national memorial has served as New York’s city hall and the United States Custom House, as well as the site of the first Congress of the United States and George Washington’s presidential inauguration. It was also where the Continental Congress of 1765 met to discuss the Stamp Act, a tax imposed by the British crown.

The current structure, built in 1812, has a small museum that sheds light on the origins of America. Part of the balcony and railing where Washington was inaugurated are still on display as well. It’s one of my favorite spots in New York — and one way too often overlooked by visitors!

26 Wall St, +1 (212) 825-6990, Open daily 9am–5pm. Admission is free. Free guided tours are available several times per day (check the website for hours).

6. St. Paul’s Chapel

The exterior of St. Paul's Chapel in New York City, USA
Just up the street from Trinity Church (and officially part of its parish) is the oldest surviving church in Manhattan. Built in 1766, the Hearts of Oak (a student militia from Kings College) used the church’s grounds for drill practice during the Revolutionary War. Alexander Hamilton was an officer in the unit. After George Washington became the first president of the US in 1789, he attended services here, making the chapel his home church.

Today, it’s a National Historic Site, having survived the Great Fire of 1776, the Revolutionary War, and 9/11. The chapel is a simple hall decorated in pale colors. Glass chandeliers hang from the flat ceiling. It’s not particularly ornate, having a more modern and minimalist design (they use moveable chairs instead of pews to allow for more flexibility in what events can be held here).

209 Broadway, +1 212-602-0800, Tours are offered every Sunday at 11:15am after service. Admission is free. Dress respectfully, as this is a place of worship.

7. City Hall Park

Green grass at City Hall Park in New York City, USA
This park is where New Yorkers held rallies both before and during the Revolutionary War, including a rally against the Stamp Act in 1765. When the Act was repealed the following year, a new flagpole was built here — known as the Liberty Pole — which waved a flag that said “Liberty.” People also gathered here to hear Washington read the Declaration of Independence in 1776; the spot is marked by a plaque from 1892 (another marks the location of the Liberty Pole).

During the war, the British converted it into a prison to hold American prisoners of war, where over 250 Americans were executed. In 1783, when the war was won, Washington raised an American flag over the park.

Nowadays, it’s a pretty park with a fountain and benches to relax on. You’ll see a lot of people here during lunch. (Well, at least you did pre-COVID.)

8. African Burial Ground National Monument

The African Burial Ground National Monument in New York City, USA
During the War of Independence, approximately 25% of the population of New York City was enslaved Africans or people of African descent. Over 40% of the population owned slaves, and the success and development of the city relied heavily on the work of enslaved men and women.

Once known as the “Negroes Burial Ground,” this is the largest colonial-era cemetery for both free and enslaved Black Americans. Studies estimate that upwards of 15,000 people were buried here in the 17th and 18th centuries.

The site is a US National Monument as well as a National Historic Landmark. A monument and a visitor’s center were built in 2007 to ensure that this important piece of history is not forgotten. Inside the visitor’s center are several exhibitions, films, and dioramas highlighting the life of slaves in the city. Visitors can learn how slaves were brought over by the Dutch, what their funerals were like, how they survived the harsh conditions in the city, and what archeologists learned when they exhumed the bodies from the area before building the monument.

290 Broadway, +1 (212) 238-4367, Open Tuesday-Saturday 10am–4pm. Free tours are available from the visitor’s center. Check the website for dates and times.

9. Van Cortlandt House Museum

The exterior of the Van Cortlandt Museum in New York City, USA
This is the oldest building in the Bronx and one of the oldest surviving buildings in the entire country. Built in 1748 by African slaves, the property was used during the Revolutionary War by the Comte de Rochambeau, the Marquis de Lafayette, and George Washington (who had his headquarters here during the final years of the war).

It’s one of the oldest historic museum houses in the country (the fourth oldest to be precise), and much of the furniture and items on display are from the colonial era. Today, you can tour the house to see what life was like during the war.

6036 Broadway, Van Cortlandt Park, +1 (718) 543-3344, Open Tuesday-Friday 10am–4pm and weekends 11am–4pm. Admission is $5 USD.

Bonus Sites!

On Staten Island, you’ll find The Conference House, where Ben Franklin led a peace delegation in 1776 (it failed). The house has been refurbished and does events throughout the year. It’s open now by private booking.

On the corner of Pearl and Broad, you’ll find the brick outline of Stadt Huys, the first city hall as well some glass portals that look down to remnants of the colonial city that were found in the 1970s.

You’ll also find bricks that show you where the old shoreline used to be during colonial days. (Everything from Broad down is landfill designed to expand the city as it became a bigger and bigger shipping hub.)

Guided Tours

While it’s really easy to walk around and see these sites for yourself, a walking tour can provide a lot more historical context (you know I love a good walking tour!). Here are some paid and self-guided options:

  • George Washington’s New York – Download the app “GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities” for this free self-guided tour. It’s a nice companion to the above itinerary.
  • New York Historical Tours – NY Historical Tours runs a private two-hour “Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers” tour on the birth of America and the men who made it possible. At $249 USD, this is best split among a group.
  • Revolutionary Tours – This three-hour “Washington and Hamilton” tour is a deep dive into colonial history. It’s informative and entertaining and will give you a much deeper appreciation for these two giants of history. It’s $35 USD per person. (Currently not running any tours due to COVID.)
  • Patriot Tours – Patriot Tours offers both a Hamilton tour as well as one on the Revolutionary War as a whole. They’re led by author and historian Karen Q and cost $40 USD per person. Karen also runs virtual tours in case you want to travel from the comfort and safety of home during the pandemic.


New York City has a lot of history you shouldn’t miss. Whether you’re looking for a complete historical tour or just want to add some historical sights into your existing New York City itinerary, these suggestions will provide a glimpse beyond the standard tourist trail. Since most all these sites are close together (Van Cortlandt House is in the Bronx), you can visit them in a day.

P.S. – There’s also a number of parks around NYC that used to be the locations for forts (and the forts that are there date from the 1800s) but there’s nothing really there now to see so I’ve left them off this list.

Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to New York City!

NYC travel guideFor more in-depth information and tips on NYC, check out my 100+ page guidebook! It cuts out the fluff found in other guides and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money the city that never sleeps. You’ll find suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, on and off the beaten path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, bars, and much more! Click here to get started.

Book Your Trip to New York City: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Get Your Guide
Check out my detailed guide to planning a visit to NYC with suggested itineraries, places to stay, things to do, where to eat, and how to get around. Just click here to get the guide and continue planning today!

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay elsewhere, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. Some of my favorite places to stay in New York City are:

If you’re looking for more places to stay, here is my complete list of my favorite hostels the city. Additionally, if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood guide to NYC!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Looking for More Information on Visiting NYC?
Check out my in-depth destination guide to NYC with tips on what to see and do, costs, ways to save, and much, much more!

Photo credit: 1 – henrys54, 3 – Arun De Joe, 4 – Wally Gobetz, 5 – Dmytro Kochetov, 6 – Federal Hall, 7 – Djnichols62 , 9 – Dmadeo, 10 – Dmadeo, 11 – Dmadeo

The post A Guide to Exploring Colonial New York City appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

How to Travel Uganda on a Budget

Posted By : webmaster/ 136 0

The view overlooking the lush forests and jungles of Uganda
Posted: 9/21/2020 | September 21st, 2020

Today’s guest post is from Alicia Erickson. She’s a travel writer who splits her time primarily between East and Southern Africa, India, and Seattle. She’s writing about how to save money in Uganda, a country I have longed to visit but still haven’t gotten around to doing. Enter Alicia, who will give us tips and tricks to save on our next visit.

The magnificent and diverse color, vegetation, and wildlife of Uganda so inspired Winston Churchill that he nicknamed this East African country “the pearl of Africa,” a name that has stuck ever since.

Since shedding its violent reputation after a volatile period during the 1980s, Uganda has changed a lot. In particular, it’s invested resources into developing its wealth of national parks, largely aimed toward the repopulation of wildlife and the conscious development of infrastructure to help make its vast wilderness accessible.

Although East Africa is known for its expensive high-end lodges and activities, Uganda is more affordable than some of its neighbors. It spoils adventure-seekers with its bounteous nature. In a relatively compact and easily navigable area, one can trek with mountain gorillas in dense jungle, visit coffee and tea plantations, relax by volcanic lakes, drive through savannah abundant in tree-climbing lions and other wildlife, hike snow-capped mountains, and raft down rapids in the Nile River!

Uganda has enthralled me since I first started visiting in 2010 and, over numerous visits, I’ve only developed a deeper appreciation for it. In this post, I want to share that love for the country and help you travel Uganda on a budget!

How to Save Money on Transportation

Two female travelers on safari in Uganda standing in a jeep
Transportation in Uganda comes in a wide range of public and private options that cater to a variety of budgets. Public buses and motorbikes are the cheapest and most direct ways to get to major destinations, though looking for deals on private transportation will improve your flexibility and ease of travel.

Boda Bodas (motorbikes) – Public motorbikes, known as boda bodas, are dirt cheap in areas such as Jinja and Kampala but are more difficult to find in rural areas and around national parks. While they are the most cost-effective form of transportation — between 2,000 and 4,000 Ugandan shillings (UGX) ($0.50–1.00 USD), though prices are always negotiable — exercise caution when using boda bodas, as they have a reputation for being quite dangerous: helmets aren’t provided, and drivers are known for being reckless.

However, Safe Boda and Uber, which connect passengers with drivers through their respective apps, have recently come to Kampala and provide much more reliable drivers and standardized pricing, with minimum fares starting at 1,500 UGX ($0.75 USD).

Matatus (local buses) – Local minibuses, known as matatus, are an inexpensive — though not altogether easy — way to get around Kampala. Matatus also run between different regions in Uganda, often without a set schedule, and leave once the bus has filled up.

Prices depend on route, though they are generally under 1,000 UGX ($0.25 USD). To catch one, just wave down one of these rundown white vans from the side of the road — but be warned that they are usually cramped and filled beyond capacity.

Taxis – Taxis are the most expensive way to get around cities, though also the safest. Prices are always negotiable, though expect to pay between 10,000 and 40,000 UGX ($2.75–11 USD) for a ride, depending on distance and time of day.

Coach Buses – Coach buses, run by a number of companies, are used to travel long distances within Uganda as well as to other East African destinations, such as Mombasa and Kigali. Costs are dependent on the route but generally run around 30,000 UGX ($8 USD) for a ten-hour journey.

Private Car
Renting a car is an ideal way to independently explore Uganda and go deeper into some of the parks where public transportation does not go. Cars can be hired with or without a driver, as well as with or without camping equipment.

Although not necessary, a driver can be handy not only in navigating potholed roads but also by providing a wealth of historical and cultural insights and in spotting wildlife on safari. A reliable company I have used is Lifetime Safaris, which offered a car with a driver starting at $80 USD/day.

How to Save Money on Accommodation

A small traditional hut in a village in Uganda
Uganda’s major attractions and national parks don’t only offer high-end accommodation but also camping and low-budget hostels and guesthouses for budget travelers.

Hostels – There are only a handful of hostels in Uganda, mostly in Kampala. Red Chilli offers dorms at its property in Kampala for $12 USD/night, and Om Bunyonyi on Lake Bunyonyi in southwestern Uganda provides dorms for $15 USD/night.

Guesthouses – Guesthouses can vary widely in cost. A decent-quality one with relatively reliable facilities in touristic areas, such as Om Bunyonyi, runs around $25 USD/night for a double private room, though expect prices to be much higher around national parks. If you don’t book in advance and are stopping through a small town for the night, you can easily find very simple guesthouses for far less, approximately $10 USD/night. Water and electricity will often be unreliable in this style of accommodation, however.

Camping – Camping is a great option in the regions surrounding the national parks, such as Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth, though prices will vary by location. At its site in Murchison Falls, Red Chilli offers camping for $8 USD/night. Other sites and lodges offer camping for $5–10 USD/night. Many places offer tents for rent, though bringing your own equipment will save you even more money.

Eco-lodges – Budget-consciousness is probably not what you have in mind when you think “eco-lodge,” given the trend toward fancy eco-friendly safari lodges in East Africa. However, lodges and safari camps are a prominent form of accommodation in the national parks, and not all of them have to break the bank! There are some reasonably priced ones that still can be a nice splurge on a budget holiday. They can cost around $100 USD per night and usually include three meals a day as well, reducing other daily costs.

How to Save Money on Food and Drinks
Eating at local restaurants and buying fresh produce and snacks from markets will save you a significant amount of money than eating at Western-style eateries, which are primarily concentrated in Kampala.

Restaurants – Kampala has an extensive international restaurant scene. They are expensive in comparison to local restaurants, though cheaper than eating out in Europe or North America and cheaper also than similar restaurants in other major East African cities. Costs range from 30,000 to 50,000 UGX ($8–15 USD) for an average meal.

Local cuisine, in contrast, is fairly simple — consisting largely of potatoes, rice, beans, cabbage, chapati (unleavened flatbread), and ugali (maize flour porridge) — and much more affordable. There are many Ethiopian restaurants as well, offering more mid-range meals.

Food-on-the-go – Uganda has a handful of street food items, the most famous being an egg and chapati wrap known as a “rolex,” which can also have different vegetables added and cost as little as 1,500–3,000 UGX ($0.40–0.80 USD). Stock up on fresh tropical fruit, which is abundant in markets and along the road; the price is always up for negotiation.

Inexpensive roadside food and snack stands selling corn, samosas, nuts, and grilled meat are also prevalent and convenient on long trips. Eating in these ways can save significant costs in Uganda.

Drinks – Foreign-import wine and spirits can be found in Kampala, though cocktails and wine are costly in the capital city’s posh bars, restaurants, and clubs. Your best bet is to stick with local beers such as Nile, which should cost 3,000–5,000 UGX ($0.80–1.35 USD), depending on the venue you buy it from. Or try out Uganda’s local gin, called Waragi, at around 1,000 UGX ($0.25 USD) a pour. This potent liquor becomes more tolerable when mixed with a good dose of tonic water and lime.


Adventure Activities Costs

A young baby gorilla in the jungles of Uganda
Despite all the money-saving suggestions above, your budget will be highly dependent on how many wildlife and adventure activities you want to partake in. Most likely you’ll want to do a couple of the higher-cost attractions, such as whitewater rafting down the Nile, searching for tree-climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park, or trekking with mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Forest.

However, it is easy to intersperse those activities with low-cost days of relaxing by crater lakes, taking self-guided walks in the mountainous areas of southwestern Uganda, or volunteering. On those days, you can spend $30 USD/day or even less!

Here are some typical adventure-activity costs:

  • Queen Elizabeth National Park: $40 USD/day for admission
  • Murchison Falls: $40 USD/day for admission
  • Rafting: $140 USD/per person for 5-6 hours
  • Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale: $100 USD/permit
  • Gorilla trekking in Bwindi: $600 USD/permit (increasing to $700 USD in July 2020)


Other Tips for Saving Money in Uganda

Beside the above, here are some other general tips for cutting your costs on your visit:

  • Explore beyond the high-priced attractions – Regions outside of the major attractions are still abundant in nature and are often more captivating, as there are few to no tourists. Think volcanic lakes, little-known mountains, rarely visited waterfalls, almost-deserted islands, and dense forests and coffee and tea plantations.
  • Travel during the off-season – Don’t let the rainy season scare you off! Uganda is at its most lush during the rainy months (March to May and October to November), crowds are at a minimum, and permits and lodging are often discounted to encourage tourism.
  • Travel off the beaten path – Check out Lake Bunyonyi, the Ssese Islands in Lake Victoria, and Sipi Falls, for example. If you’re looking to do trekking in the region, the Rwenzoris are worth considering — while they aren’t “cheap,” they are a much more affordable option than Mt. Kilimanjaro and you can do shorter or longer treks depending on your time and budget.
  • Consider volunteering – Avoid volunteer programs that charge money, but consider looking into opportunities such as those on Workaway, which will help save money on accommodation and offer a more in-depth cultural experience. Grassroots Volunteering is another great resource.
  • Booking advice: Booking gorilla and trekking permits in advance is advisable to ensure a place, since permits are limited, but skip booking package safaris, as tour company costs are much higher than if one travels independently.
  • Stay for a longer time – This might initially sound counterintuitive, but a longer stay means you won’t necessarily only be concentrating on the major tourist attractions. You’ll also have a better idea of how to navigate local transportation and become better acquainted with some of the regional cultures and smaller, underrated rural areas.
  • Bring a reusable water bottle – To ensure your water is clean and safe (and to avoid spending money on single-use plastic) bring a reusable water bottle and a filter. LifeStraw makes a bottle with a built-in filter that ensures your water is safe and clean — no matter where in the world you are.



With the ever-increasing impact of globalization, once off-the-beaten-path locales are being put on the map. Much of Uganda still remains raw and less developed, though it’s increasingly improving infrastructure makes it the perfect destination for adventure travelers and outdoor enthusiasts. Development and prices are already on the rise so don’t hesitate to explore this wild and beautiful East African nation before the secret is out!

Alicia Erickson grew up as a third-culture kid, developing a love for travel at a young age. She has been a digital nomad for the past 5 years, working as a political analyst, social entrepreneur, writer, and yoga teacher while she explores the world. She splits her time primarily between East and Southern Africa, India, and Seattle, where she seeks off-the-beaten-path locales and is particularly drawn to mountains and the savannah, food, wine, and design culture.

Book Your Trip: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the largest inventory. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use, as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all those I use — and they’ll save you time and money too!

The post How to Travel Uganda on a Budget appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

My 8 Favorite Hostels in San José, Costa Rica

Posted By : webmaster/ 113 0

The Costa Rican flag waving in front of the historic theaer in San José, Costa Rica
Posted: 7/27/20 | July 27th, 2020

Costa Rica was the very first place I ever visited, kick-staring a journey that would eventually take me around the world and launch my career as a travel writer. Since that first trip, I’ve returned a few times, lured in by the friendly people, cloud forests, wildlife, and excellent beaches.

San José is the starting point for most visitors in the country, owing to the fact that it’s the nation’s capital and a major international hub. Chances are you’ll be here for a few days as you get situated before heading off to hike, lounge on the beach, and enjoy the lush and scenic landscapes.

I’ve been staying in hostels for over a decade during my several return visits to Costa Rica. There are a lot of things to consider when selecting a hostel in San José. The top four are:

  1. Location – San José is huge, and it can take some time to get around. Pick a place that is central to the sites and nightlife you want to see. All the hostels listed here are in good locations.
  2. Price – In San José, you really get what you pay for, so if you go with a really cheap one, you’re probably going to get a hostel that is small and cramped and doesn’t offer great service.
  3. Amenities – Every hostel in the city offers free Wi-Fi, and most have a free breakfast, but if you want more than that, be sure to do your research to find the hostel that best meets your needs!
  4. Staff – All the hostels listed here have amazing staff! They are super friendly and knowledgeable. Even if you don’t stay at one of the places listed below, be sure to look up reviews to ensure you end up somewhere where the staff is helpful and friendly. They can make or break a hostel!

Here is my list of the hostels in San José that I like the most. If you don’t want to read the longer list below, the following hostels are the best in each category:

Best Hostel for Budget Travelers: Costa Rica Backpackers
Best Hostel for Families: In the Wind Hostel
Best Hostel for Solo Female Travelers: Stray Cat Hostel
Best Hostel for Digital Nomads: Capital Hostel de Ciudad
Best Hostel for Partying: Hostel Pangea or Costa Rica Backpackers
Best Overall Hostel: Capital Hostel de Ciudad

Want the specifics of each hostel? Here’s my comprehensive list of the best hostels in San José:

Price Legend (per night)

  • $ = Under $10 USD
  • $$ = $10-20 USD
  • $$$ = Over $20 USD


1. Capital Hostel de Ciudad

The cozy bunk beds of the Capital Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This is a chill hostel with cozy beds and lots of common space. It has a co-living space as well, making it a good choice for anyone working remotely. There’s a patio for BBQs and yoga, a game room with a pool table and projector for watching movies, and a fully equipped kitchen (breakfast is included). The mattresses are pretty thick and the beds have privacy curtains. Overall, it offers a nice balance of being a relaxed but social hostel.

Capital Hostel de Ciudad at a glance:

  • $$
  • Relaxed atmosphere
  • Game room & coworking space
  • Outdoor patio for hanging out

Beds from $15 USD a night, rooms from $42 USD.

—> Book your stay at Capital Hostel de Ciudad!

2. Stray Cat Hostel

The colorful interior of the Stray Cat hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This colorful backpacker hostel is covered in art and murals. It has a cozy, homey vibe while still being well maintained and clean. The mattresses are a little thin (and the bunks don’t have curtains), but the hostel is quiet and laid back, so it’s easy to get a decent night’s sleep. There are female-only dorms too. It’s close to the bus station as well, making it a convenient location if you’re just passing through or heading to/from the airport. And, if you’re an artist, you can trade your skills for free accommodation.

Stray Cat Hostel at a glance:

  • $$
  • Female-only dorms available
  • Quiet atmosphere
  • Free breakfast

Beds from $12 USD a night, rooms from $40 USD.

—> Book your stay at Stray Cat Hostel!

3. Costa Rica Backpackers

The fun pool area at Costa Rica Backpackers hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This is a lively, social hostel popular with the younger backpacker/party crowd. It has a pool and bar on-site, and there are organized tours and activities. Breakfast isn’t included, but there is free coffee all day. The beds aren’t the best (the mattresses are thin and the bunks squeak) and the bathrooms are small and could use an update, but it’s the cheapest hostel in the city. If you’re on a tight budget and want to party, it’s the place to be!

Costa Rica Backpackers at a glance:

  • $
  • Pool and bar
  • Easy to meet other travelers
  • Fun and social atmosphere

Beds from $7 USD a night, rooms from $25 USD.

—> Book your stay at Costa Rica Backpackers!

4. Fauna Luxury Hostel

The cozy pod beds at Launa Luxury Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
Fauna is a boutique hostel with really cool and cozy pod beds, tons of outdoor common space to lounge, a pool, and lots of really neat artwork in the rooms. The beds have thick mattresses and curtains (two things I really appreciate), breakfast is included, and there is air conditioning (a big plus in Costa Rica!). There are balconies you chill out on that overlook the pool, and the private rooms are super spacious and similar to hotel rooms. They also arrange cheap airport shuttles too. For $8 USD per night, you really get a lot of value here!

Fauna Luxury Hostel at a glance:

  • $
  • Great beds
  • Free breakfast
  • Laid-back, relaxed vibe

Beds from $8 USD a night, rooms from $39 USD.

—> Book your stay at Fauna Luxury Hostel!

5. Hostel del Paseo

Games in the common area of Hostel Del Paseo in San José, Costa Rica
This hostel doesn’t have a great social vibe, but the dorms are quiet and clean. There is a huge common area with lots of games and movies, and there’s a bus station nearby. The staff are super helpful, the free breakfast is pretty good, and the dorms are capped at eight beds, so you’re never crammed in with lots of other people. The beds don’t have curtains, but the mattresses are thick and comfy, so you’ll get a decent night’s sleep.

Hostel del Paseo at a glance:

  • $$
  • Quiet dorms make sleeping easy
  • Lots of common rooms & games
  • Free breakfast

Beds from $12 USD a night, rooms from $44 USD.

—> Book your stay at Hostel del Paseo!

6. TripOn Open House

The relaxing patio with hammocks at TripOn Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
This funky, social hostel is located near supermarkets and tons of restaurants. It has an awesome free breakfast every morning and organizes cheap shuttles to the airport too (which is just 30 minutes away). The beds are comfy and have curtains for privacy and there are lots of common areas for hanging out and socializing. It’s a really fun hostel, with lots of things to do. There are also hammocks outside for relaxing, video games, and a fully-equipped kitchen if you feel like cooking your own food.

TripOn Open House at a glance:

  • $$
  • Social atmosphere makes it easy to meet people
  • Great free breakfast
  • Good location

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $43 USD.

—> Book your stay at TripOn Open House!

7. In the Wind Hostel & Guesthouse

The chill common room with colorful couches at In the Wind Hostel in San José, Costa Rica
Another laid-back hostel, In the Wind has a cool outdoor area for hanging out and having BBQs, offers free breakfast (with pancakes), and has awesome staff. It’s also super clean, which is always a plus in any hostel. The beds aren’t amazing (there are no privacy curtains and the mattresses are thin), but the hostel is super affordable and the vibe here more than makes up for it. If you’re looking for that “classic” backpacker hostel experience, you’ll find it here.

In the Wind Hostel & Guesthouse at a glance:

  • $$
  • Awesome staff
  • Free breakfast
  • Quiet and calm atmosphere

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $17 USD.

—> Book your stay at In the Wind Hostel & Guesthouse!

8. Hostel Pangea

The pool and outdoor common area at Hostel Pangea in San José, Costa Rica
This is a party hostel. It has an on-site bar with super cheap drinks plus a heated pool and a restaurant. There are also daily activities organized by the staff. The dorms are a little small, and the beds are basic metal bunks with no curtains but people come here for the pool and partying. You’ll find lots of common areas here too so there’s always a spot to chill out. In short, if you’re looking to meet lots of people and party, this is where you want to stay.

Hostel Pangea at a glance:

  • $$
  • Bar & pool on-site
  • Lots of chill outdoor common areas
  • Really cheap drinks

Beds from $10 USD a night, rooms from $30 USD.

—> Book your stay at Hostel Pangea!


With dorms under $10 USD per night and private rooms for under $20 USD, San José is a steal for budget travelers.

While it’s not the most exciting destination in Costa Rica, chances are you’ll be here for a few days before heading off to the country’s better-known sights. By staying at one of these awesome (and cheap) hostels, you’ll not only save money but you’ll get to meet other travelers, pick up insider tips and advice, and really make the most of your visit.

Book Your Trip to Costa Rica: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines, because they search websites and airlines around the globe, so you always know no stone is being left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
To find the best budget accommodation, use as it consistently returns the cheapest rates for guesthouses and hotels. You can book your hostel with Hostelworld, as it has the most comprehensive inventory.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it, as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all those I use to save money when I travel — and I think they will help you too!

Want more information on Costa Rica?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Costa Rica for even more planning tips!

Photo credits: 2, 3 – Stray Cat Hostel, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

The post My 8 Favorite Hostels in San José, Costa Rica appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link

How to Road Trip Around Oahu

Posted By : webmaster/ 104 0

A bright blue sky over the island of Oahu, Hawaii
Posted: 8/3/20 | August 3rd, 2020

I didn’t know much about Oahu before I visited. Everyone told me it was worth it for Pearl Harbor but to spend the rest of my time elsewhere in Hawaii. Maui and Kauai were where the action was, they said.

But Oahu was home to Honolulu’s international airport from which I was catching an onward flight to Taiwan. Since I had limited time, going to multiple islands wasn’t feasible.

Fortunately, after spending a full week on Oahu, I can say this: everyone was wrong.

Maybe they just let their preconceived notions get the better of them.

Or maybe they just didn’t give the place a chance.

But, whatever the reason, I’m here to tell you that Oahu has some magic to it. Sure, it’s quite developed, has terrible traffic, and huge crowds. And yeah, maybe it’s not as “raw” as the other islands (I assume that’s why people like them).

But there are plenty of spots in Oahu where you can live that Hawaiian dream

I spent a week round-tripping the island (which, given how small it is, turned out to be quite easy). My plan was simple: sit on a beach as long as I could, eat my body weight in poke (diced raw fish, pronounced “po-keh”), and hike.

Along the way, I also binged on shrimp, drank the best piña colada of my life, and took notes so you can do even better when you visit!

Driving Oahu: A Road-Trip Itinerary

Driving on the highway in Oahu, Hawaii surrounded by forests and jungle
First, a tip: if you’re driving around Oahu, go counterclockwise from Honolulu, since most of the food trucks you’ll want to stop at are on the ocean side of the highway as you go up the east coast. So going in that direction just makes it easier to pull off the road and try all the food trucks that line the highway (and there are a lot). There’s also more to do on the east side of Oahu, so it’s best to start there.

That said, I actually don’t think a traditional road trip is the best idea. Oahu is smaller than you think — you can drive end to end in under two hours — so everything listed below can really be done as a day trip from one base or another, which will save you packing and unpacking, as well moving from place to place too often (especially since the east and west coasts don’t have a lot of affordable accommodations).

Base yourself on the North Shore for a couple of days and then in Honolulu (in the south) for a couple of days (or vice versa).

Day 1: Honolulu to Kailua (28 miles)

The skyline of Honolulu, Hawaii surrounded by lush forests and jungles
Pick up your rental car, head out of Honolulu (you’ll be back later), and start off at Hunauma Bay in southeast Oahu. You can spend a few hours there snorkeling and relaxing on the beach before heading to the nearby Halona Blowhole Lookout for the view and Makapu‘u Point (Oahu’s easternmost point) for a short hike. There are also plenty of beaches, food trucks, short hikes, and viewpoints along the way to Kailua, where you’ll want to stay the night.

Where to Eat:

  • Teddy’s Bigger Burgers
  • Any of the food trucks on the way north
  • Buzz’s Steakhouse (for dinner)

Where to Stay:
Airbnb is the best option, since there aren’t many hotels or hostels in Kailua. Book early though, as there isn’t a lot to choose from.

Day 2: Kailua to Haleiwa (50 miles)

The beautiful coast of Kailua in Hawaii surrounded by water
Start your morning with the famous Lanikai Pillbox hike just south of Kailua, where you can get sweeping views of the ocean and the cities and beaches on this side of the island. The hike is short (it only takes about 20-30 minutes) but steep, so wear appropriate shoes.

If you have some time in the morning, Kailua and Lanikai beaches are both beautiful (they’re right next to each other and on the way from the pillbox hike). Not a lot of people, white sand, blue water. They’re heaven.

As you leave this area to head north, visit the Ho‘oamaluhia Botanical Garden (it’s free!), which is also home to a lake filled with tropical plants.

Afterward, drive up the east coast toward the North Shore. Along the way, you can stop at the Kualoa Ranch, where many movies have been filmed. If you do a tour, I suggest the 90-minute Hollywood Movie Sites Tour (which includes scenes from Jurassic Park!), as you don’t need much more time than that to see the ranch. (It’s expensive, though, so if you’re on a budget, I’d skip it.)

As you keep going north, you’ll find a ton of beaches and hikes (there are plenty of signs for everything). I really enjoyed the Hau’ula Loop Trail especially, which is about 10 miles north of Kualoa. It’s a really overgrown trail, so you’ll feel like you’re very much in the jungle (meaning you’ll also need to bring bug spray). And like most hikes here, there’s a scenic viewpoint!

Then drive around the northern tip of Oahu to Haleiwa, your base of operations while on the North Shore.

Where to Eat Along the Way:

  • Kalapawai Café and Deli
  • Fresh Catch Kaneohe
  • Shrimp Shack
  • Seven Brothers
  • Ken’s Fresh Fish
  • Fumi’s Shrimp

Where to Stay:
Airbnb is again the best option, as there aren’t many hotels or hostels in Hal‘eiwa. Book early here too.

Days 3 & 4: North Shore (Base: Haleiwa)

A beautiful soft sunset on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii
This was my favorite part of Oahu. It was Hawaii the way you imagine it should be: a lot quieter, less touristy, and less developed. And it had that whole “hippie vibe” going for it. Everyone up here was much more laid back than down south.

You can learn to surf here (two-hour lessons begin at just $80 USD) or hike the Ka‘ena Point Trail (west of Haleiwa) and/or the ’Ehukai Pillbox (east of Haleiwa). The latter is pretty muddy, so bring appropriate shoes.

Haleiwa itself is a sleepy little tourist town with a bunch of restaurants, shops, and parks. There’s not much to do in the town itself than eat and window shop.

If you do just one hike, though, I definitely recommend the Ka‘ena Point Trail, which was one of the best experiences I had. It’s a scenic two-hour coastal walk to the northwestern tip of Oahu, where you will find a protected biological area with seals and native birds. At the tip, you can see all the way down the west side of the island — a magical view. Bring sunscreen and water, as the whole trail is exposed to the sun.

Where to Eat:

  • Ted’s Bakery
  • Sunrise Shack
  • Hale‘iwa Joe’s
  • Matsumoto Shave Ice
  • Ray’s Kiawe
  • Kono’s
  • Jenny’s Shrimp Truck
  • Giovanni’s Shrimp


Day 5: Dole Plantation, Oahu’s West Side, Honolulu (60 miles)

The rugged coast of Waianae on the west coast of Oahu, Hawaii
Head south (inland) and stop at the Dole Plantation. While it is super cheesy and touristy (I mean, so many useless souvenirs!), it does have a cool maze, and there’s a train ride through the farm that, while whitewashing a lot of bad things, was an interesting look at the importance of the pineapple to Oahu. For a general overview geared to your average tourist, it was surprisingly informative.

Afterward, continue south toward Honolulu and then head west on the H1 road to the west coast for some deserted local beaches, such as Ma’ili, Ewa, Makua, or Yokohama. Stop at Countryside Café for some incredible diner food. The portions are pretty large, so you can share them.

Then head back into Honolulu, as there’s not a lot of accommodation along the west coast. If you do want to stay longer, you’ll find some listings on Airbnb and if you book far in advance. Otherwise, there are a few hotels in Kapolei if you don’t want to drive all the way to Honolulu.

Days 6 & 7: Honolulu

I actually liked Honolulu a lot (the main beach area of Waikiki is a tourist trap though.) While downtown is a bit bland, other neighborhoods are filled with awesome stores, breweries, bars, restaurants, and art galleries. Be sure to check out the “hip” Kaka‘ako part of town in particular.

Consider going on a hike on Diamond Head, a volcanic cone on the east side of town. It offers an incredible view of the city, though it’s one of the more popular trails in the area so if you aren’t there early enough to beat the crowds you’ll basically be walking in a slow-moving line up the mountain. If you are short on time, skip it.

Other Things to Do:

  • A free walking tour with Hawaii Free Tours (call ahead, since they only run when they have bookings).
  • Pearl Harbor – This is a must. It’s not even up for debate. You have to go.
  • Iolani Palace, the former royal residence of Hawaii’s monarchs.
  • Soak in the sun on Waikiki Beach or other nearby beaches, such as Ala Moana, which is popular with locals.

There’s also an Islamic art museum, which is supposed to be great, but I didn’t make it there.

Where to Eat:

  • The Pig and the Lady
  • Mei Sum Dim Sum
  • Shirokiya Japan Village Walk
  • Rainbow Drive-In
  • Leonard’s Bakey
  • Ono Seafood
  • Hula Dog

Where to Stay:

  • The Beach – This hostel is right on the beach, includes free breakfast, and has plenty of space to relax and meet other travelers.
  • Polynesian Hostel Beach Club Waikiki – The accommodation here is basic, but the staff are super friendly and helpful, and they organize lots of events.
  • Waikiki Beachside Hostel – A fun, social hostel that hosts live music. Breakfast is included too.

Additionally, head to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel for the best piña colada of your life. It’s not cheap ($15 USD a pop), but it is sooo good! Every one of my friends who didn’t order one got it as their second drink. (Fun fact: My grandfather was stationed in Oahu during WWII and went back to Oahu often. The Royal Hawaiian was his favorite hotel. It’s pretty cool that it’s still there!)

Average costs

How much do things cost on Oahu? Here are some typical prices (in USD):

  • Airbnb – $100+/night for a one-bedroom or studio
  • Hotel – $175–250/night for a mid-range boutique hotel
  • Hostel dorm – $27
  • Car rental – as low as $20/day, plus insurance
  • Gas – $3–3.50/gallon
  • Poke bowl – $12–15
  • Takeout meal – $10–14
  • Sit-down meal at a fancy restaurant (with drinks) – $50+
  • Local lunch – $15
  • McDonalds – $6 for a value meal
  • Groceries – $75 for one person for a week
  • Beer (at a restaurant) – $8–10 ($2–3 at the Japanese Walk!)
  • Piña colada – $10-15
  • Coffee – $5
  • Surfboard rental – $25/day
  • Snorkel gear rental – $15/day
  • Scuba dive prices – $125


Budget Tips

Oahu is pretty expensive. Most everything has to be imported, so if it can’t be grown nearby or caught in the ocean, expect to pay a lot. But it’s not impossible to save money. Here are a few ways to cut your expenses:

  • Hike and enjoy the beaches. Nature is free!
  • Buy your own food from supermarkets so you can cook your own meals or have picnics. Sure, there are plenty of world-class restaurants here, but if you want to keep your food costs down, you should cook some meals. The poke at supermarkets is delicious anyway!
  • If you do eat out, hit the food trucks. Most cost around $10 USD for a meal — much cheaper than sit-down restaurants.
  • If you’re going to buy alcohol, do so at Japanese markets, where you can find beer for only $2–3 USD (compared to $8 USD at bars).
  • Skip ride-sharing websites like Getaround or Turo (where you rent cars from private owners). They are usually cheaper than the big rental companies, but on Oahu, hosts charge you an added fee for dropping the car at the airport. I found the traditional car rental companies to be much cheaper, with rates as low as $20 USD a day.
  • Get your gas at Hele stations. They were consistently the cheapest on the island.


While Oahu is often crowded and overly commercial, there were a lot of wonderful things to do and see. To me, the best parts were the food and the hiking — with so many hikes, you could spend weeks here. My favorite part of Oahu was the North Shore, so I recommend you spend a few days there at least. I certainly look forward to returning!

Book Your Trip to Hawaii: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight
Find a cheap flight by using Skyscanner or Momondo. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned.

Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay in Oahu are:

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. I’ve been using World Nomads for ten years. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

Looking for the best companies to save money with?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel! I list all the ones I use to save money when I travel – and I think will help you too!

Need an affordable RV for your road trip?
RVshare lets you rent RVs from private individuals all around the country, saving you tons of money in the process. It’s like Airbnb for RVs.

Want more information on Hawaii?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Hawaii for even more planning tips!

The post How to Road Trip Around Oahu appeared first on Nomadic Matt's Travel Site.

Source link