So, to get me through the last few weeks (days?!) of winter, I'll be dreaming about these tropical images from our recent trip to Puerto Rico.
We're so close. SPRING!! Although it has been a mild winter compared to the avalanche that fell on Boston last year, I've recently had a few unpleasant run-ins with mother nature. One involved me, a cheap (borrowed) Captain America umbrella, wind gusts and a sleet storm. This of course led to the unavoidable onslaught of mockery from my fellow Bostonians and Cantabrigians on the way home ("Sweethaaaht, that umbrellahh is a piece of S*^t!!!")
So, to get me through the last few weeks (days?!) of winter, I'll be dreaming about these tropical images from our recent trip to Puerto Rico.
Now that we have a baby, we take slightly different approach to traveling.
We travel slowly. We have to stick to some semblance of a schedule. We have more stuff. And we stand out because everyone loves (or hates, depending on circumstances) a baby. It used to be easy to relax wherever we were, but now it's challenging to find time to just do nothing. So when planning vacation, we now put a more value on convenience.
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico to visit family, we spent a few nights in Fajardo to get away from the city and enjoy the beach. Knowing how much time we'd spend in our rooms because of the baby's nap schedule, we sought out an apartment style accommodation - one with a kitchen where we could prep and store B's food and also a place we would enjoy while the baby slept.
We found the perfect place in Las Casitas Village in Fajardo. Puerto Rico. We had stayed at the neighboring/affiliate hotel, El Conquistador, last year before the baby arrived and very much enjoyed the cliff-side sea view and spectacular beach at Palomino Island.
This time, since we were traveling with an eight-month old and my grandmother, we opted for a two-bedroom ocean-front apartment. It was PERFECT!!!!
This place is an ideal option for families. Here is why:
Space & Kitchen: Our two-bedroom apartment had a large living area, three full bathrooms, and two patios - one overlooking the ocean and one over the garden. If you aren't a fan of direct sun (important with a baby) there was always a patio with shade. Also, one of the bathrooms had a stand-up shower which was ideal for my elderly grandmother who has trouble getting in and out of deep bathtubs.
Service: While the apartment amenities are convenient, equally important is that it's a resort. This means your apartment is cleaned every day, there is a concierge, butler and room service at your disposal, and you don't have to go far for a bite to eat, a drink, the pool or beach. Apartment rentals are great, but traveling with a baby is a lot of work so the last thing you want to worry about is cleaning or cooking. All of that is taken care of for you (if you want) at a resort-apartment.
The entrance to our casita. One advantage of the top floor unit is the view.
We spent most of our time on this HUGE balcony overlooking the ocean.
The light-filled living room was spacious and you could see the turquoise ocean from every corner.
The kitchen came fully-equipped so all we brought was food/drinks. Here is my grandmother, probably about to make a cafe con leche, which she drinks like water.
The master bedroom was huge and opened up to the ocean view balcony.
Balcony with a View: We spent most of our time on the ocean-view patio while B napped. It was stunning and so relaxing. We brought our own drinks & apps and enjoyed the warm ocean breeze. Better view than any restaurant in town!
The views from our oceanfront balcony - paradise in every direction!
We overlooked a (recent) shipwreck - see it there on the bottom right?
We set up B's crib in the massive en suite bathroom off the master because it was dark and quiet. We would hang out on the patio while he napped a few feet away. Hopefully this isn't a major parenting fail and you won't judge us harshly for putting the baby to sleep in the bathroom. He loved it!
We rolled him out for air every now and then :)
Early morning wake-ups aren't that bad when this sunrise is right outside your window. Here was the morning view from our patio.
Family Friendly without Chaos: Many families were vacationing at Las Casitas - especially parents with babies & toddlers. All of the families we encountered were well behaved and if a little one cried, the parents would whisk them out of the pool area to calm down - much appreciated by all! Guests and staff were all very considerate. It never felt crowded either. The eternity pool was popular, but always had available chairs. There is a second pool in the central courtyard - we had this pool to ourselves both times we visited!
A father and son enjoy the eternity pool.
We typically had the central pool to ourselves. It didn't have a sea view, but it was surrounded by gorgeous flowers in every color.
B is clearly a fan of swimming. That third pic was actually a squeal of delight thought it might seem otherwise!
Enjoying the view and likely pondering why anyone would buy an apartment on that tiny island in the distance with no land access. Why?!?
Peace & Quiet: Another advantage to staying at Las Casitas was that we avoided the corporate crowd. Resorts in desirable warm destinations often book large corporate groups this time of year. Las Casitas Village was void of the corporate crowd and mainly full of families and couples on vacation. However, lots of action was available a short walk away at the resort if desired.
Palomino Island: Palomino Island is the resort's private island and the location of its white sandy beach. Ferries run every 30 minutes, and this is included in your stay at the main resort or the Casitas. Palomino is GREAT for kids. The water on the side of the island facing the mainland is calm, there is a restaurant on-site and lots of activities for older kids (mini golf, bags/cornhole, giant chess, basketball, sandbox, horseback riding, kayaking).
Our spot on Palomino Island
One of the many reasons why I like this beach for kids is the gentle tide.
Missing that turquoise water already...
Nani's first game of bags (or cornhole depending on where you live). B was cheering her on!
The beach-side mini golf course - a new addition to the island.
On the ferry ride back to the resort we saw our casita in the distance (the blue one on the top of the hill!)
Access to El Conquistador: As previously mentioned, another benefit of Las Casitas is that you have access to the main resort pools, restaurants, golf course, shops and other amenities. Each apartment at Las Casitas has 'butler' service. If you aren't up for the walk, you can call up and they'll drive you over tot the main resort in a van or golf cart. B particularly loved meeting this talking parrot that said "Hola". B is learning how to speak (in two languages) and the talking parrot is bound to confuse him even more!
This place was so beautiful. I'll include some more pictures of the grounds in my next post!
January is the time of year when people inquire about tropical vacation ideas. For those of us in the Boston area - and despite record warmth so far - we are particularly antsy for a winter escape plan as we fear another blizzard scenario like the one that kept us shut-in for months last year (although I think many secretly enjoyed it!).
Most of our readers are from the US, so they are typically looking for something in the western hemisphere, ideally a short flight away. Therefore, we've listed 10 of our favorite warm weather getaways that are relatively easy to reach from the US. No red-eye required (though maybe for West Coasters), and minimal (if any) time zone change, so you can start enjoying your vacation the minute your feet hit the sand!
For the Diver: Caye Caulker, Belize
Also good for: friends, backpackers, solo travelers
"Go Slow" is the island motto and for good reason. This tiny island has no paved roads or cars, and the only way around is by foot, bike or golf cart. It's a 45 minute ferry ride from Belize City and is situated in the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef - the second largest barrier reef in the world. It was here that we dove with sharks, dolphins, turtles and green moray eels. There are no wide, expansive beaches on this caye, but jump off any pier to swim, take a short boat ride out to the reef for a snorkel or stroll over to the The Split for a cold drink and watch the spectacular sunset over the ocean. Finally, Caye Caulker is an ideal launching pad from which to visit the Blue Hole, one of the top dive sites on every diver's bucket list. Interested? Read more here.
Also good for: families
Surfers from all over the US flock to Rincon each winter to enjoy the big waves, warm water and laid-back vibe. Instead of long white sand beaches common in the northeast of Puerto Rico, Rincon is comprised of several little coves. Here you can find many quirky, locally owned hotels or house rentals and there are plenty of little beach bars and restaurants to provide fuel for the grueling work-out that is surfing. Many families also love Rincon for the home rentals and safe, laid-back atmosphere. Read more about Rincon here.
Also good for: couples, friends
The beach surrounding Tulum is one of the most beautiful we've ever seen. It's your quintessential Caribbean paradise - white sand, turquoise water, crashing waves, tall palm trees and fresh margaritas (best we've had anywhere in the world!). It offers something for everyone - sun, snorkeling, parties, culture, and adventure. Here you can sleep on the beach all day or, for those of us who like a little adventure, there are plenty of fun things to do nearby - diving, fishing, ruins, cenote snorkeling (highly recommended!), and zip lining. And let's not forget that it's home to the best food in the world. Read more about the Riviera Maya here.
If you want guaranteed sunshine, white sand beaches and calm turquoise water then look no further than Aruba. Prices spike in the winter because perfect weather is 99.9% guaranteed on this desert island. There isn't much to do here except sunbathe, swim, snorkel, shop, eat and drink. Direct flights can be found from most cities on the East Coast. Eagle Beach also ranks in our Top 5 Beaches in the World. And this is why it's a perfect long weekend winter getaway. Read more about Aruba here.
Also good for: families with older kids
Located a three-hour drive from San Jose, this symmetrical volcano is encircled by jungle, rivers, lakes and a wide variety of flora and fauna. Until 2010, Arenal was Costa Rica's most active volcano, regularly spewing lava while villagers and tourists watched from a safe distance. Although it has recently entered a resting phase, it is still a tremendous natural attraction worth visiting. This region offers so many unique activities - white water rafting, volcano hikes, zip lining, canyoneering, waterfalls, nature walks and natural hot springs. Read more about Arenal, Costa Rica here.
Also good for: Solo travelers (go on an organized cultural tour)
Cuba has become a hot destination ever since the US relaxed its travel restrictions to the island nation. This destination holds a special place in my heart since I have family that lives here. However, even if it didn't have a personal meaning, I'd find it fascinating. One could spend a full week in Havana enjoying the culture, history, artwork and music. As long as you remember that this is an island of limited means (don't expect the same level of service as elsewhere in the Caribbean) and really try to get to know the people, you will have an extraordinary experience. Also there is little/no internet so you will have a perfect excuse to disconnect from the virtual world for a little while and remember what it's like to be 100% present. Read more about Cuba here.
Also good for: culture seekers; friends
Now that JetBlue flies directly to Cartagena from many major US hubs, it's easy to discover the colorful culture of Colombia. The cobblestone streets, flower-covered buildings, and ocean sunsets make this city perfect for couples looking for a romantic getaway. Cartagena is full of boutique courtyard-style hotels that are surprisingly quiet, even though they are in the midst of the lively old city. Soak in the Spanish Colonial decor (obsessed!), enjoy the huge variety of fresh fruit drinks (guanabana is my favorite) and if you are a seafood lover like me, sample all the ceviche you can. Read more about Cartagena here.
Also good for: couples
Puerto Rico is super easy for those of us on the East Coast and in the Midwest US. Last year, Chris and I went to Fajardo and stayed at El Conquistador. Both of us agreed that it was an ideal destination for families since it has something for everyone. Its private island, Palomino, has a calm beach (a must for young kids), restaurant, horseback riding, hiking trails, outdoor games, and sea kayaks. The main hotel has a water park, several pools, incredible views, a variety of restaurants, golf, and a host of indoor facilities that we didn't have time to try. Nearby is the rainforest and beautiful Luquillo Beach if you are looking for a change of scenery. There are also several great restaurants close to the property. Also consider going to nearby islands Vieques (I hear the W is amazing) or Culebra for a more remote beach getaway. Read more about the Fajardo area here.
Also good for: couples; families; people seeking solitude
Offering tall green hills, serene turquoise water and soft white sand, Tortola and neighboring Virgin Gorda are the poster children of the Caribbean. The Caribbean Sea is very flat here despite consistent winds, making it an ideal place for sailing. The BVIs are a bit more difficult to get to than some of the other destinations on this list since you typically have to fly there via St. Thomas or San Juan, or arrive via boat. However, if you have a full week, considering renting a sailboat and captain for a few days to explore all the remote beaches, islands and reefs. We stayed on land and while VERY quiet, there is lots of fun to be had at the marina bars in the evening, especially if you are there for the full moon party at Bombas on Tortola or Jost Van Dyke's Soggy Dollar Bar.
Also good for: friends, couples
If you're seeking a fun weekend complete with spa retreats, fabulous parties, amazing restaurants and beach time then look no further than Miami. This city has a huge variety of fantastic hotels to choose from and its art deco architecture will motivate any weary winter traveler to get dolled up for a night on the town. Read more about our weekend in Miami here.
We took B on his first flight a few weeks ago - to visit our family in Puerto Rico! While we were extremely excited to introduce B to his family, the trip was also bittersweet because it was our first time there since the passing of my grandfather two months earlier. Needless to say, his absence was incredibly difficult, but the baby smiled and laughed non-stop, filling all of our hearts with joy. It was very much needed and B reveled in all the attention and love!
The center of attention
B loves his bisabuela!
Our travel style has changed quite a bit with a three month old. Long gone are the jungle hikes, surf lessons and late nights out in Old San Juan. However, one thing remains the same - beach time! We happily spent many afternoons enjoying the island's best features - white sand and turquoise water. In September, the water in San Juan is still calm, clear and very warm. The only nuisance is that it's the beginning of jellyfish season (Sept-Nov), which we somehow never knew before. AFTER we dipped B's toes in the sea, Chris went for a swim and came back with his first jellyfish sting. It was minor and disappeared within an hour but we were very glad the jelly missed the little guy!
Here are some shots from Isla Verde and Luquillo beaches:
Lovely day at Luquillo beach
Like father, like son
Good Eats & Old San Juan
One day we ventured out to central Puerto Rico where we finally ate roast pig at a traditional lechonera (read more about that excursion here). And of course, on another day, we had to stroll through Old San Juan and grab a mallorca and cafe con leche at Cafe Mallorca (YUM!). We also stopped by our wedding venue - Casa de Espana - for a quick trip down memory lane.
Cafe Mallorca with Nani
The Casa de Espana courtyard: We were married here just over seven years ago.
Dancing at the Mall
It would't be a proper visit with my grandmother without a trip to the mall. Although she is in her mid-80's she still exercises regularly (she was a physical education teacher after all). She takes zumba classes at the local mall and one day I joined in the fun.
We've got our uniforms on and are ready for Zumba at the mall! I had to borrow pants from Nani. No shorts allowed at this shin-dig. These are proper ladies - all class.
At least a hundred ladies dancing zumba at the mall. The teacher was super engaging and his students adored him!
Taking a break at the brand new Mall of San Juan.
We spent the rest of our time hanging out around the house, watching the beautiful sunsets and enjoying each other's company.
My favorite backyard view:)
A quick sun shower in the backyard. The island has been suffering from severe drought so the rain was welcome!
The Flamboyant tree boasts my favorite colors.
Check out the color of these leaves outside my grandmother's bathroom window.
The sunsets were fabulous as usual. Until next time Puerto Rico!
On Labor Day, we traveled with our family to Guavate, home of the lechon highway. Guavate is a mountain town in central Puerto Rico, whose twisty main road weaves through the jungle amidst a great many "lechoneras". Lechon is the Puerto Rican term for roast whole pig on a spit. It's traditionally cooked up on weekends and served for lunch, or for as long as it happens to last. It is typically accompanied by dance floors/halls with loud music and copious amounts of alcohol. We have been meaning to partake of this local tradition for years, and finally got our chance thanks to Eva's uncle & aunt!
First, a tip - no bread is served at most lechonaras, but nothing goes with roast pig like a loaf of pan sobao, which is the most delightful hunk of bread on the face of the planet. Forget about France and Italy, Puerto Rico holds the bread crown in our book. On our list of to-do's: secure the recipe for this doughy goodness and attempt to recreate the magic back home. You can find pan sobao at most local bakeries around the island. Normally this bread does not make it to its final destination because Eva devours it in the car on the way. Amazingly, this time she managed to control herself amidst the aroma of four loaves of freshly baked pan sobao wafting throughout the car.
Next it was off to Guavate, about a 30 minute drive south of San Juan. Taking the main highway through Caguas, take the Guavate exit and follow the winding road up the mountain through the jungle. You'll soon begin to spot lechon joints dotting both sides of the road. These places get going on Saturday and Sunday around lunch time, which is when you'll want to visit if you are up for a party. As it was Labor Day when we went, many of the lechoneras were closed and the crowds were minmal. However, a choice few remained open. We popped into Lechonera Los Pinos for our porky smorgasbord, a photograph of which is shown below.
Here's a snapshot of the unfortunate ungulate of the day, or what was left of him when we got there. Unfortunate for him but lucky for us, because he was tasty.
Waiting in line for some roast pig:
The next picture shows a sampling of our fare. On the top is a type of yuca root with onions, butter and garlic. Yum. The bottom left plate includes batatas (Puerto Rican yam) and some sausage made fresh from the pig. They also have blood sausage which is more traditional, but we didn't indulge. Finally, on the bottom right is what we came for: two pounds of barbecued lechon, including the crispy skins which might be the best part!
The lechoneras are super casual and very family friendly. B loved it...
...but that could have been because of all the attention he was getting from his aunt, uncle, cousin and great-grandma:
With full bellies, we departed Los Pinos and strolled up the road to El Rancho lechonera, home to what appeared to be the area's largest dance hall and kinkiest of lechon art. The picture below shows the road heading up to El Rancho. We're told that this is typically backed up for miles on a normal weekend day, so be prepared! El Rancho is both on the left and right side of the road, with two large dance halls and, of course, a massive lechon pit.
Behind the main restaurant is bridge that crosses a small stream and leads to small huts, each with its own table and chairs.
In front of El Rancho with Nani:
These signs of pig waitresses serving pig reminded me of the guinea pig joint in Peru with the guinea pig wearing a chef's hat (as seen in my first Culinary Delights installment).
So next time you are in Puerto Rico and in the mood for some tasty barbecue, do like the locals do and take the trip down to Guavate on a Saturday or Sunday for a lechon lunch. And with that I'll leave you with one final piece of lechon art:
The USA's new relaxed restrictions on travel to Cuba has resulted in a flurry of buzz and interest among US travelers. Google searches in the US for "Cuba" skyrocketed after Obama's December announcement about normalizing relations and search interest has been up year over year ever since. Check it out:
Source: Google Trends
If you are one of the many people interested in visiting Cuba, you have probably contemplated where to stay during your visit. Many Americans will travel with a special interest tour group, in which case accommodations might be pre-arranged. However, if you are traveling independently and/or have a choice in the matter I strongly encourage you to consider staying at a Casa Particular.
What is a "Casa Particular"?
In a nutshell, it's a private home, similar to a B&B. When Cuba re-opened to tourism in the mid 1990's, there was a shortage of decent hotel rooms. The government's solution was to allow Cuban citizens to apply for licenses to rent out extra rooms in their homes. These houses are known as Casas Particulares. The Cubans say "particular" instead of "privada" when describing privately run (or non-government run) businesses because the word "private" carries negative connotations in a communist system.
Why should you stay at a Casa Particular over a Hotel?
Chris with Pavel & Haifa in front of their home in Vedado. We highly recommend this casa particular because the hosts were wonderful!
We originally inquired about staying at Ana & Pepe's casa particular but they were full at the time and referred us to Pavel & Haifa down the street. We still enjoyed a dinner at Ana & Pepe's house followed by an impromptu dance party. We also booked a tour with Pepe to see Miramar, Vedado and Old Havana. Here we are with Pepe at El Bodeguito del Medio bar, listening to a fantastic local salsa group.
Are there any downsides to staying at a Casa Particular?
Here are a few pictures of our apartment at Pavel & Haifa's casa. Knowing that our readers have very diverse tastes, some of you will find this appealing while others might ...well...cringe. Please keep an open mind, prioritize cleanliness (this place was spotless) and remember that the one of the major benefits of visiting Havana is getting to know the people (not a fancy bed).
We had our own private kitchen. While we ate breakfast downstairs in Haifa's dining room this was nice for storing water and snacks. If you plan on staying longer you can prep meals here and eat out on the private balcony!
Our room off the kitchen had two double beds, a wardrobe, TV & A/C (neither of which we used) and a bathroom.
My favorite part of this casa was the private side entrance and balcony. It was the perfect little spot for a drink and cigar after a long day touring Havana!
How do I find Casa Particulares?
For more information about Cuba, check out the following blog posts:
Traveling to Cuba - Tips for Americans
Havana, Cuba Photo Tour
Meeting My Family in Cuba
Traveling to Havana, Cuba (via Mexico City)
Hotel Secreto on Isla Mujeres
In honor of Cinco de Mayo I've updated our Riviera Maya page with a few pictures from our trip there several years ago. On this page you'll find our 10 day itinerary, hotel recommendations, a list of activities that we enjoyed, a few tunes and some general tips. Here were a few highlights from our trip:
Best Margarita: Mezzanine Hotel bar
Best Beach: While it's REALLY hard to choose I'd have to go with Tulum
Best Snorkeling: Garrafon Reef Park in Isla Mujeres
Best Non-Beach Activity: Dos Ojos Cenote Tour in Tulum
Best Meal: Huevos Motuleños at La Hotel Tortuga in Playa del Carmen
Check out our Riviera Maya page for more information, pictures and a few tips about dealing with corrupt traffic cops!
Since I wrote about El Conquistador Resort and Fajardo, Puerto Rico in January, four different groups of friends have booked a trip to the resort. Some were looking for a couples getaway while others vacationed with family. Traveling from home bases of Boston, DC and Chicago, they all had one thing in common: wanting to escape the frigid winter! I'll admit, I was drooling over their Facebook photos of paradise, wishing I was back there instead of buried under three feet of snow.
Since Chris and I only spent a few nights at El Conquistador, I followed up with a few of these folks after their trips to gather additional feedback on the resort and Fajardo. Most importantly, everyone had a great time and enjoyed the sunshine, calm water and warm breezes of the island.
Here are a few tips I found particularly helpful:
Transportation to and from El Conquistador
The most common question I received from readers was "what is the best way to get there?". The distance from San Juan Airport to El Conquistador is 55km (34 miles) and will take anywhere from 40-60 minutes driving, depending on traffic. My recommendation was to rent a car if you could get a cheap rate at the San Juan airport (<$35/day) and self park at the hotel ($15/day). I recommend this ONLY for short stays and if the traveler plans on exploring the area. If you are going for a full week and plan to stay at the resort, it may be more economical to take the shuttle because $15/day for parking can add up. You can rent a car for a day at a time at the resort.
My friend Meg stayed at the Casitas Village with her husband and if you book a room or apartment at the Casitas Village, parking is included in the rate. They took the shuttle, but if she were to do it again, they would have rented a car, mainly because the taxis were overpriced and they enjoyed leaving the resort for meals.
On the flip side, Elizabeth recommends taking the shuttle. She was traveling with her mother and young son and found the shuttle to be much more economical than renting a car as she was staying there for a week and parking would have added up. The shuttle costs $78 per adult and $58 per child round trip. If you are a family of two adults and two kids, they cut the rate to $200 round trip. This means that families that consist of two adults and one kid pay MORE ($214) than families with two adults and two kids ($200). A little bizarre, but she successfully negotiated the policy with the concierge ahead of time and got the rate for $200 round trip. She said the airport transfer was very easy - they were met at baggage claim and driven directly to the resort.
She also rented a four door Jeep on-site for 24 hours in order to see the rainforest and to go out to dinner one night which was far more economical than paying for the hotel sponsored rainforest tour.
Like Meg, Elizabeth acknowledged that the hotel's taxi service was overpriced but considering that the dinners in Fajardo were half the price of the food at the resort and far better quality, it was was worth the extra expense.
[Pictured Above] La Casitas Village not only has fantastic views but the parking is free!
[Pictured Below] Elizabeth's beautiful view from El Yunque rainforest. Worth a visit on a sunny day!
Best Restaurants in Fajardo
In my "Things to do in Fajardo" post, I highly recommended eating at La Estacion and it turned out to be a favorite of these visitors too! The only caveat is to call ahead to make sure they are open the night you plan on going to dinner. Since these travelers spent more nights there than Chris & I did, they were lucky enough to sample the other restaurants in Fajardo. Here were their favorites:
[Pictured Above] While everyone agreed the best food is in town, the resort's Stingray Cafe served decent food with a nice view of the marina. Elizabeth shared this pretty shot of the marina at sunset.
Tips for Kids at El Conquistador
El Conquistador has many amenities, and the water park was a big hit with kids! It turns out that the water park has some of the best views at the resort and it also boasts a lovely infinity pool. One tip was that the water park can be exhausting and spending an entire day there is not necessary. If you go after 1:30pm you'll pay a significantly lower rate and still get a full 4 hours of play time.
Also, the sun is really strong in Puerto Rico and a few of the fairer travelers got burned, even after applying really strong sun screen. Remember to bring long-sleeved sun/swim shirts and hats for the kids. They are not going to want to sit in the shade with a water park, pool and beach at their disposal!
Special Events at El Conquistador
Another tip I found particularly helpful was to call ahead about special events at the resort. One friend said there was a corporate conference going on at the resort while she and her husband were there on vacation. I've never had to deal with this before, but I can only imagine how uncomfortable it might be to walk amongst people networking in business suits while sporting a swim suit. This couple spent most of their trip on the beach at Palomino Island and tried their best to avoid the main resort common areas.
Favorite Part of the Resort & Fajardo
I asked about everyone's favorite part of the trip. Here were their answers, in no particular order:
[Pictured Above] Palomino Island was a traveler favorite. No surprises here!
Book a Package Deal Through A Wholesale Club
This was a new tip for me, since I don't belong to a wholesale club. However, these clubs have many travel benefits and Elizabeth booked her family's flights and stay at the hotel as a package through BJs travel site, saving thousands of dollars. Note, you must be a BJs member to book travel through their site.
Remember, Resort Fees Apply
Many hotels in Puerto Rico charge a daily resort fee. El Conquistador's is 18% of the room rate so make sure you incorporate this into your total cost, as it can add up! Often times when you are booking via a third party (ie travel agent or travel aggregator site) they don't include the resort fee in the advertised price. Instead it's in the fine print and many folks are surprised upon arrival or checkout at the resort.
Thanks so much to those who sent in feedback from your trip!!!
During a recent family visit to Puerto Rico, Chris and I spent a perfect afternoon in Old San Juan. We adore this colorful city (it's where we got married after all) and we lucked out with a perfect golden afternoon in the middle of hurricane season. Here area some of my favorite pictures:
This spring, I'm making a few changes to my home and garden and I'd like to incorporate elements inspired by our recent trip around the world. Although I can't plant exotic tropical flowers in Boston, nor do I have the space for nest beds, I can look for a few pieces that remind me of some of my favorite places. So, in no particular order, here are a 15 things from around the world that would be fun to replicate at home.
1. Bangkok, Thailand: Nest Beds
Nesting has taken on a whole new meaning in Bangkok. The shape of these human sized sanctuaries will make the most boring of outdoor spaces intriguing. Add a light inside and create glowing garden sculptures at night!
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Chillin' Out In Bangkok
2. Hamburg, Germany: Modern Rococo
I'm typically not a fan of rococo and prefer balancing frills and flourishes with corners and crisp lines. However, I reveled in this little cafe in Hamburg, sipping my chai tea slowly while sinking into a cozy velvet couch. I have no idea if they intentionally distressed the walls or if they just spruced up a derelict space with vintage couches from Oma and Opa's house. Whatever they did, it worked.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Hamburg, Bremen & Bloemendaal
3. Cappadocia, Turkey: Canvas & Carpet Covered Terraces
While in Turkey, we spent two glorious mornings having breakfast here, overlooking the cave town of Goreme. I've been thinking about using canvas to provide shade on my deck during the hot summer since it's pretty easy to put up and take down. I also love the rug covered table for extra lounging.
Photo by Eva Barbier. To learn more about Turkey, visit our Turkey Destination Page.
4. Cambodia: Colored Wooden Blinds
These colorful blinds would add cheer to any space such as a nursery, kitchen or my home office.
Photo by Eva Barbier from the blog post: Waterworld: The Floating Village of Kompong Phluk, Cambodia
5. Yangshuo, China: Wagon Wheel Benches
Check out these benches at our Inn in Yangshuo. They are made by attaching local wood planks to an axle and wagon wheels. This set-up is a charming alternative to a traditional picnic table.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Days 167-170: Yangshuo, China - Hiking and Biking the Karst Mountains
6. Koh Lanta, Thailand: Bamboo Lounges & Pyramid Pillows
Koh Lanta is one of the places i miss most often because we found total relaxation here. Perhaps it's because bamboo lounges and beds are scattered along the beaches, waiting for a wanderer to plop down for a cold beer and a little shut eye. The colorful pyramid pillows are a nice touch, and help prop up one's head in order to enjoy the sea view. I don't think bamboo would last in the harsh Boston weather, but if i ever live somewhere milder I plan on creating my own little slice of Lanta.
Photo of The Indian bar in Koh Lanta by Eva Barbier from Our Guide to Koh Lanta, Thailand
7. Ubud, Bali: Stone & Wood Carvings
Bali is full of insanely talented artisans and artists that have been perfecting their craft for generations. We visited gardens, homes and temples full of intricately carved statues and furniture. Two of my favorite pieces were these Balinese women who seem full of happiness and peace. Generally, this is how I feel after a really good meal. They would look lovely in my garden and remind me of the warmth and hospitality we experienced in Bali.
Read more about Bali here: Ubud, Bali - The Barong Dance, Stone Carving & The Awe-Inspiring Contact Lens
8. Melbourne, Australia: Bold Tile
This tile covered the inside of a bench shelter in Melbourne. It was a pleasant surprise, since the structure was grey on the outside. I thought the pattern would make a nice outdoor table top.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: 3 Days In Melbourne
9. Kruger Park, South Africa: Drapery Over Doors
The decor at safari camps is fantastic, but much of what you'd expect from the African bush - typical wood furniture, local animal fur rugs, and lots of neutrals. One thing I really liked was the use of drapery, particularly over doors or entryways. I'm not sure if this has a practical use in the summer (ie keeping bugs out of rooms) but they really made our accommodation, a tent, very homey.
Photo by Eva Barbier in blog post: Tanda Tula Safari Camp
10. Paris, France: Black & White Tile
Black and white tile was everywhere in Paris so it always reminds me of my favorite city. I don't know if it's the the tile that contributes to the glamour of Paris or if it's Paris that makes the tile so chic. Let's just say it's a symbiotic relationship. If my bathroom wasn't so tiny, I'd tile it like the picture below.
Photo by Eva Barbier from blog post: Our Favorite Room in Paris: Six Cent Deux
11. Arrowtown, New Zealand: Recycled Container Garden
This is a neat idea for people who have a lot of outdoor space. Arrowtown is an old gold mining town in New Zealand. There was a lot of abandoned equipment from the mining days so local artists used them in their artwork and homes. Here is an old pipe transformed into a container garden.
Photo by Eva Barbier. To learn more about New Zealand visit our New Zealand Destination Page.
12. Winelands, South Africa: Chrome+Stone+Wood
The wineries in Franschhoek, South Africa are stunning both inside and out. I particularly enjoyed the modern decor of the tasting room at the Gran Provence. The chrome bar and fixtures gave it a sleek modern look which was nicely offset by the rest of the room, comprised of natural elements from the region - stone, clay and wood. While it's void of color inside, the view was bursting with color outside the glass doors.
Photo of the Gran Provence tasting room by Eva Barbier as featured in The Winelands Awards.
13. Seminyak, Bali: Colorful Shutters
These pretty shutters, spotted in Bali, would liven up a pool house or backyard shed.
Photo by Eva Barbier in blog post: Bali, Indonesia - Laid Back Seminyak
14. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Copper Light Fixtures
Giant copper lights were suspended from tall tree trunks in our hotel lobby in Chiang Mai. They were especially enchanting when twinkling at night. Perhaps they could be used on a much smaller scale in an entryway, over a dining room table or kitchen island.
15. Caye Caulker, Belize: Weathered Wooden Signs
The tiny Caribbean island is comprised of small wooden structures that have been weathered by the salt and sand in the air. Painted wooden signs were strewn about the island featuring island mantras (Go Slow) and store names. I think these would look great hanging in a bohemian urban garden.
Photo by Eva Barbier from Caye Caulker - You Better Belize It.
Eva has been traveling for 15+ years, including an 8 month journey around the world.