Seychelles : My Version of Royal Honeymoon Part#1

I know I know, it has taken me forever to write about one of the most exotic places I have been to . But better late than never.¬†Dont you think ūüėČ . So here it is, my Royal Honeymoon @Seychelles.After months of planning, stressing and the hectic wedding celebrations¬†it was finally the time for honeymoon and I was super excited. But we got onto the flight all exhausted and we had barely managed 3 hr nap.¬†I was pretty sure that we would arrive so tired that we would hardly have energy to enjoy. But as soon as my plane touched the island and I could count the shades of blue in the vast ocean before me, I was all energized and ready to explore my first Island ‘PRASLIN’.

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Praslin map

About Seychelles : Seychelles is an archipelago of 155¬†islands, stretched in a jeweled crescent from the equator to the tip of Madagascar.¬†About 85 of the total islands are just noisy seabird colonies and this archipelago would have remained a hidden secret had it not been to¬†modern technology. The airports and ferrys sprung this Aladdin’s cave of tourism and now it has become one of the most exclusive holiday destination.

The islands of Seychelles are categorized as inner islands and outer islands. I got an opportunity to visit Mahe (the capital of Seychelles), Praslin (the second-largest island) and La Digue (famous for sculptured boulders).

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All set to leave from Mahe.

How to Reach Praslin:
By Air: Air Seychelles operates frequent service to Praslin from Mahe. The flight takes only 15 mins and costs around $95-$100. Flying in 20 seater plane over pristine waters of Indian Ocean takes your imagination to whole new level.  Flights shuttle between Mahe and Praslin every 15 minutes during  peak times and less frequently otherwise.

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Flight to Praslin

By Sea: Cat Cacos, the ferry takes about an hour to travel between Victoria harbor on Mahe and Ste Anne on Praslin and costs $55-$60 one way.

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View of Praslin airport runway from plane

When to Visit:
Unlike many other tropical destinations , the climate in the Seychelles remains warm and less humid. That being said it does rain torrential at least once a day¬†specially in rainy season. We went in December end which was the start of rainy season and we were lucky that it did not rain a lot during our entire stay. So if you’re sensitive to the climate, I will suggest to avoid the rainfall. In nutshell:

  • Best time to visit ¬† : April to May and October to November.
  • Wettest months ¬† ¬†: January and February
  • ¬†Hottest months ¬† ¬†: December to April

Where to Stay:

There are all kinds of accommodations available in Praslin depending on your budget. You can stay in guest-houses and budget hotels for as low as 85$ per night and can go top dollar hotels like Paradise Sun for 500$ per night. I will suggest to stay at north east part of the island as it has right balance of being touristy and yet not being overcrowded. This area has great restaurants to enjoy creole food, beautiful beaches to spend evenings and some shops from where you can get all your necessities. I stayed at Berjaya Praslin Resort. It was moderately priced and Anse Volbert beach was right in front of the resort.

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Things you  cannot missed in Praslin:

1) Vallee de Mai : Vallee de Mai is one of Seychelles’ two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Its specialty is Coco de mer Palms which has the largest seed in the world.¬†The Coco de mer¬†is a serious cash crop in the Seychelles, the nuts have become the de-facto national symbol and it is illegal to take these nuts out of the island¬†unless you buy it as souvenir from a gift shop. For me, I was just happy with its winsome image stamped on my passport on arrival :).

It took us almost 3 hours to complete the full north-to-south circular route and i was bowled over by the expansive views of the forest thinking what the island must have looked like in its pristine state. My suggestion would be to hire a guide as you will see so much more than if you walk unaccompanied. If it rains do not worry, the cathedral-like canopy of leaves will not let a drop reach to you.

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The mighty Coco de Mer palms

Coco De Mer Myths and Legends : There are many myths and legends about Coco De mer palm ‘s seed. Its unique shape makes it intriguing and mystical. It is beleived that it takes 30 years for a female¬†coco de mer tree to mature enough to produce the famed Seychelles nut. The myth states that the male tree rises on its roots during the full moon and treks across¬†the forest to mate. No-one has ever reported on this phenomenon , because as the story goes, if you witness it, you will be instantly turned into a black parrot.¬†And since I am not turned into a black parrot, I have surely not seen this happening.

2) Grand’ Anse: Grand Anse is also known as bohemian backwater of Seychelles and is on the western side of Praslin. This area buzzes with hotels, resorts and¬†rentals . You name it and this area has it. From grocery stores to bank, from arcade to nightclub, there is nothing that you will not find in this area.¬†There is fish market, a plantation house, a library and a post office. We rented a car and explored the area on our own. But I must warn you, Grand Anse¬†is not a good swimming beach and beware of sandflies.

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3) Beaches : Praslin is girdled with beaches and what beaches they are : simply spectacular. There’s a beach for everyone: for families with small children,¬†for adventure seekers and of course for those seeking seclusion too. Imagine finest white sand wrapped with turquoise blue water and backed by lush hills and
big glacis boulders, I am sure you will not want to come out of this imagination. At least that was the case with me. I had never in my life seen something as beautiful as Praslin beaches.

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Anse Lazio

Anse Lazio is the most famous beach of all . This beach is Located in the north of Praslin and I was awestruck by its crescent-shaped beach strip and round granite boulders.This beach is great for snorkelling and its gentle slope make it ideal for swimming. If you happen to go to North west part of the Island , Anse Boudin is must see. The closest landmark to this beach is Raffle Resort.

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View of Raffle Resort

In the north east side of the Island, Anse Government is a must see. Here, you can engage in a lot of different activities, such as water sports, boat tours or fishing trips.There are some good restaurants to enjoy creole food. All the beaches are safe but it is still advised not to leave your belongings unattended.

4) Island Hopping : If you are planning a trip to Praslin do keep a day aside for island hopping.Most of the hotels or tour operators will be able to arrange an excursion. They come with different packages like with water sports,snorkeling, food etc and generally costs 80$ per person.

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Our Guides to Cureise Island

We hopped on a day tour to Curiese Island, a mile off the northern coast. The island is breeding ground for 250 giant tortoises.There are good walking trails round the island and takes about an hour or so if you want to cover the whole island. I will suggest not to miss Curieuse Peak because view from the top is spectacular. Beware of crabs as they are just everywhere.

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Feeding the Tortoises with leaves was a sheer bliss and absolute fun. Never in my life had i seen such big tortoises. The other options for island hopping are Cousin island (home to Magpie Robin and Seychelles brush warbler),St Pierre, which is an excellent spot for snorkeling and Aride , home to breeding sea-birds.

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Fun with new frends ūüôā

I hope this all helps in planning your trip to Praslin. We were there for 3 days and I remember how sad I was while leaving this island thinking nothing could ever be as beautiful as Praslin. Little did I know that every inch of Seychelles is poetry in itself and I was bound to be surprised more. As i boarded my ferry to La Digue I had only two things in my mind 1) when will i return to this paradise? and 2) Can Seychelles surprise me more with its beauty?If you have any questions leave me a comment or send me an email and I will be more than happy to help. Thank you for stopping by.

Next Stop LA DIGUE !!!!

Travel Etiquette : Do’s and Don’ts for travelling

Summer is upon us and yes we are all very excited to hop on that plane and reach our dream destination.¬†But how many times have we felt like giving an “Etiquette Digest” ¬†to that annoying co-traveler who has started getting on to our nerves.¬†Had it been just about speaking softly and minding our own business, we all would have been happy travelers. .But you will agree that all of us have been a victim of etiquette violators or probably been a violator ourselves. Yes, yes you guessed it right,¬†I am talking about those “Overhead Bin Space hoggers”, “Armrest gobblers” , “People who drink as if there is no tomorrow “and many more.¬†I thought of sharing some travel etiquette tips which might help you in your¬†next trip. Feel free to add yours in the comments.

 

1)Respect the Space: While we all want to be very comfortable , it is very important that we do not intrude overhead-bin-cartoonin other people’s space.No one likes the person who uses the space under all three seats and has a carry-on bag that does not quite fit in the overhead bin. There is a¬†reason why airlines give measurements of carry-on luggage. Restrict the carry-on items so that everyone has space in overhead bins .This will save delays¬†caused due to last moment check-ins.

2) Boarding area is for everyone: I have seen this so many times that while many passengers are left standing or sitting on the floor, some people would¬†place their luggage items on the seats beside them. Don’t hog seats , boarding area is for all.

3)Board on your call : I cannot stress this more but this is the most annoying thing that people do, not waiting for their boarding call. This is the most chronic issue that plagues airports. We blame airlines for delay but its the people who get in the boarding line before their turn. It happens all the time and is super annoying to other passengers.The more people boarding at the correct time, the smoother the whole process will go! Do you agree?

4) Keep the volume down: Many people enjoy flying in silence. Take the hint and respect their privacy. Its easy to feel like you are safe and sound in your room and forget that sound travels. Keep the volume to minimal and let others enjoy their sleep.

5) Be kind to the staff : I always feel that its very tough to be flight attendant. They have a bit of responsibility to make sure we arrive at our¬†destination safely and on time. Maintaining that smile while catering to everybody’s needs is not an easy job. So be courteous and do not forget to say thank you.

6)Have an eye on your kids : Children get impatient very easily specially if its a long journey. They have a te5tendency to bump or kick the seat in front of them without realizing it, which can make the person in front of them very uncomfortable. Its very important to keep an eye on the kids and calm them down if they feel anxiety. Its easy to deal with kids than an angry co-passenger.

 

7)Drink sensibly : I know the airlines serve free liquor these days but please don’t be one of those people who drink as if there is no tomorrow.Some people need alcohol to ease their nerves during flight or something that will give them sound sleep. Whichever you are do not gulp an alcoholic beverage in order to max out on what is allowed. It is not only annoying for the fellow passengers but also for the airline crew.

8)Pay attention: Safety instructions and announcements are meant to help passengers. Be respectful and pay attention to the flight attendant.

9)Scrub up: If you are sick , do not forget to keep basic things like antibacterial hand sanitizer with you at all times. Since when you are in a plane , all passengers are practically breathing from the same air. Be kind to others and wash your hands so that you aren’t spreading germs as souvenirs.

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10) More on Space constraints: Since the seating is so congested , give a heads up before you recline. Frequent up-and-down movement can annoy your fellow passengers. If you are in need to use restrooms frequently, take an aisle seat.

I am sure you must have got annoyed at-least once in any one of your journeys. If you have had terrible experience, I will love to hear about it. If you think I missed on anything feel free to add in comments. Thank you for stopping by.

 

Boracay: Sand, Sea and Sun

Imagine blue and turquoise shades of sea water touching white sandy beaches imprinted with footprints , a sunset so mystical that leaves you speechless while awing the beauty of nature¬†and¬†lush foliage that ¬†soothes your eyes…. And yes I am not describing a post card but if anyone of you have been to Boracay, you will agree that it is nothing short of those beautiful postcard photos. I blogged about my trip to El Nido in Philippines few months back and suddenly it occurred to me , how did I forget to mention about Boracay. This is¬†one place in Asia that you surely do not want to miss.¬†What used to be an untouched, pristine¬† laid-back village¬† has now transformed into an overdeveloped party island. Whether you want to just relax or do adventure water sports, Boracay has it all . It¬†is a tiny island in the Visayas region of the central Philippines. As the most popular travel destination in the Philippines, it‚Äôs far from undiscovered ‚ÄĒ the island absolutely buzzes with tourists.

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HOW TO GET TO BORACAY: If you are coming from Manila flying is the best option. Whatever you choose , you need to make your way to the Caticlan Jetty Port as ferry is the only way to enter Boracay. You can fly either to :

a)    Kalibo : This airport is farther than Caticlan but has cheaper flights approx USD 70 for roundtrip. You need to take a bus or van to Caticlan Jetty Port (USD 5) and it takes 2 hrs to reach.

b)    Caticlan : I flew from Manila to Caticlan. It saved me 2 hr bus ride from Kalibo.  Even though the tickets are costlier than Kalibo (USD 100 approx), it saves you a lot of travel time.

Choosing between Kalibo and Caticlan depends  on : Do you have more money or more time? If you have more money, book straight to Caticlan. From Caticlan airport, take a tricycle to the jetty port or walk, it takes around 10 minutes. Upon arrival at the jetty port, you will be required to pay  Entrance Fees of USD 5  to Boracay Islands.

GETTING TO KNOW BORACAY : Boracay is a tiny island with land area of 10.32 sq kilometers. It is seven kilometers long and dog-bone shaped with the narrowest spot being less than one kilometer wide. White Beach is the main hub of the island,  It is divided in 3 stations. Station 1(very pricey),Station 2(commercial hub with major landmark called DMall) and Station 3(home to cheapest hotels).  Most of the Jettys will drop you at Cagban Jetty port which is near Station 3. Any tricycle from port to station should not cost more than USD 2.

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TRAVEL TIPS:

  1.  Avoid peak season November to June. All major holidays (Christmas, New Year etc) are in these months making Boracay holiday destination for whole South east Asia. Prices get more than double and the beaches get very crowded, so forget about that!
  2.  If you are looking for cheap accommodation , try on station 3. Station 3 has a lot budget hotels and it is less crowded .
  3. Do not be shy of bargaining. Haggle as much as you can. Being tourist destination, the prices are generally inflated and you can easily steal a deal,  if you know how to haggle.
  4. Its always cost effective to share a ride and needless to say you need to be cautious while doing that. You can save a lot if you share rides to D’Mall ,where you will end up going a lot. Some hotels have free shuttle service to D’ mall.

THINGS TO DO:

  • Boracay White Beach :¬† This beach is heart of Boracay.¬† Its soft powdery white sand will make your feet simply sink in as you walk on the beach in the day time. At night this area transcends into party hub.
  • Puka Beach: If you want to skip the crowd and the party, hop on a tricycle and sail away to Puka . Puka beach is located on the other side of Boracay and is open to public for free.¬† It has no restaurants but has canteens and you can get your own drinks on the beach to enjoy sunsets.

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  • Mount Luho : Mount Luho is the highest point in Boracay. There is a viewing deck and you will get to see a sensational panoramic view of the island.¬†There is an entry fee of USD 10$ to get to the deck. I enjoyed a lovely set from the top of Mount Luho.
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View from Mount Luho

  • Cliff Diving: Ariel’s Point is located in¬†Buruanga, a half hour boat ride from Boracay’s white beach. An excursion to Ariel‚Äôs point costs almost USD 45-50 and usually includes snorkeling and lunch buffet. You climb up the cliff and there are 5 different levels from where you can dive in water. Sounds fun , isn‚Äôt it?
  • Island Hopping: Want to explore hidden jewels of Boracay? Venture out into its waters. You can rent a boat or join a day trip offered by many companies which covers diving, snorkeling, food and transportation. The most common tour is to Carabao Island.
  • Water sports:¬†For¬†water sports¬†enthusiasts, Boracay¬† is a paradise. The most popular watersport is banana boat ride.
  • Nightlife in Boracay : The island comes alive with people homing in on the island‚Äôs bars‚Äô cheap drinks and delicious food. Boracay‚Äôs most fascinating bar is¬†Cocomangas, whose “Still standing after 15” challenge is a rite of passage for many first-time Boracay visitors. Winners get t-shirt and their name on a plaque on the wall when they finish their 15 shots.
  • Boracay Spa and Massage Treatments: Feel like pampering yourself, head out to one of Boracay‚Äôs Spas. If you do not want to go out, a lot of hotels provide inhouse spa treatments. My advice is DO NOT MISS IT.

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What are you waiting now, Go and Enjoy …

As first timer, it might appear a bit confusing to get to the Island but once you are at Boracay ,you will not feel like going back.  So plan your trip and book your tickets. I assure you , like everyone else you will alsofall in love with this island. If you have been there I would love to hear your experiences. Thank you for stopping by.

Finding Cheap Accommodation

Travel planning can be a daunting task.No one wants to pay more for accommodation than is necessary, and considering accommodation is one of the major costs, spending too much on hotels can make a significant difference in budget. Not all travelers are alike. Some of us are luxury seekers and some are value diggers.Whatever type we may be, our budgets differ and so as our needs and tastes. There are different ways to find budget accommodation depending on the level of comfort and facilities you need . I have compiled a list of all the different types of accommodation that will not break your bank account and are easy on your wallet.

Hotels :

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Finding “best-price-ever” on a hotel is a laborious task. Best deals come with time dedication and investigative work ( sounds like Sherlock Holmes ;)).¬†Many of the websites given below I have used to find steal deals or at-least have been part of my hunt for minimum price. We are aware of vacation booking websites like Hotwire, Priceline, Expedia and their likes. I am listing some less known websites that can save you a lot of money.

TravelPony : TravelPony requires you to first signup even before searching for a hotel.They claim their rates are this low because they show the prices only to their users and not to public in general. They have a limited selection of hotels but it is totally worth checking this site specially if you are looking to book a mid-range to luxury hotel. I was looking for hotel in NovaScotia for June weekend and this is what I found.

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Agoda : Agoda is acquired by Priceline and is One of Asia’s largest and most popular accommodation booking sites. Thanks to this website I was able to get some good rates while booking for Philippines.

Booking : This website has a huge inventory of hotels worldwide.Owned and operated by Priceline they account for more than two thirds of priceline’s revenue.¬†I found their rates more competitive for European hotels than any other regions. I would not necessarily book on this website but I will surely check there once.

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Hotels.com : Hotels.com has over 260,000 hotels in more than 60 countries and there’s a best price guarantee too . They have a reward program where you collect 10 nights and get one night free.This website is one of my go to websites while trip planning.

Morehotels4less.com : Like most other hotel-booking sites, there is no charge for making a change or cancellation on morehotels4less.You can take advantage of the Low Price Guarantee, where the site either matches the rate or allows you to cancel with no penalty.MoreHotels4Less offers hotel discounts on last minute deals too. If you are not sure about what kind of vacation you want , just scroll over “Popular Destinations” heading and you will get six categories like “Golf Destinations” ,”Spa Destinations,” etc to assist.

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Hotelreservations.com : This site offers a wide selection of hotels around the world. From the basic all-American getaway on the Las Vegas Strip to a relatively remote location in Seychelles HotelReservations.com will give you good value anywhere and everywhere. Thanks to this website I could get some great money saving hotel options in Seychelles. HotelReservations.com serves many customer segments and offers customers the ability to book all types of accommodations, including hotels, vacation rentals, condos, ski lodging, camp sites, hostels, and unique accommodations worldwide.

Hotelguide.com : Good inventory of hotels worldwide. They claim that their hotel review system is different from other travel websites.I do check their hotel listings with cities that I am familiar with but I have noticed they lack in listings for some particular cities.

Local Experience: 

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Staying with locals is great in so many ways and it saves a lot of money too. Not only you get great accommodation but the experience of knowing the place through the eyes of a local is icing on a cake. They show you where to go, what to do, recommend cheapest and fastest modes of travel and teach you about the local culture. Isn’t that great? Following websites will help you in finding best local accommodation:

Couchsurfing:¬†The website provides a platform for members to “surf” on couches by staying as a guest at a host’s home or host travelers. It is kind of social networking website¬†where members are asked to provide information and photos of themselves and of the accommodation they offer so that they can build up network to offer their place or¬†be guest at someone’s place. CouchSurfing profiles function based off of references that a person gets from other users whom they meet or stay with. If you opt to do¬†couchsurfing my suggestion will be to do detailed homework to find if host is legit or not.

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Global Freeloaders: This website has relatively less active community but serves its motto of ” Finding a place to crash” . Instead of sending individual messages to hosts , one can send mass request to multiple hosts at once. It surely provides An easy way to find people to stay around the world with for free and saves you money.¬†It is totally true to its name with no fuss and no frills service, all that it focuses on is finding Free Accommodation.

Hospitality Club: This website has a very active volunteer base and has more detailed profiles of hosts.The Hospitality Club is for members only which means it requires you to sign up by giving your address and passport information.

Vacation / Apartment Rentals :

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Another good way to get cheap accommodation is Vacation or Apartment Rentals. This will surely save you a lot of money if you are travelling with family.You get whole place to yourself ,you can cook most of your meals and its like home away from home. What else do you need ūüôā ? It might require¬†you to stay for a week to get a good deal, but some still offer great rates for shorter stays. Following websites will make this happen:

Tripping : It is the newest of the hospitality exchange websites with TripSafe program. The idea behind TripSafe is to have a 24 hour hotline available to help Tripping members in emergency situations. You can search for places based on your price range or amenities you need. What I love about this website is the fact that it lists places from different providers. This means it combines the results from websites like Wimdu . Flipkey, Waytostay , AlwaysonVacation etc. This website surely needs to be bookmarked.

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AirBnB : I am in love with this website. I used it recently to book my stay in Puerto Rico and loved the whole experience of staying at a house. AirBnB is definetly the best way to get low-cost vacation rentals and sublets from locals. It connects people who have space to spare with those who are looking for a place to stay.

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VRBO : Vacation Rental By Owners is part of HomeAway Family. It offers a convinient way for homeowners to advertise their vacation properties. If you are travelling with family for long vacation , this website will surely provide you value for your money. In most of the vacation homes pets are welcome too.

HomeExchange: Everything you want to know about this website has been featured in movie “The Holiday”. Its very simple. You can list your house or apartment so that HomeExchange community can view it. You can browse countless listings and your exchange can be anything you want it to be. Find like-minded¬†people ,plan it on your schedule and travel where you want.

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Roomorama : Similar to AirBnB. I have not used it yet, but I definitely check prices for Apartment rentals once on this website before booking.

Hostels and Guesthouses:

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The best option for budget travel specially for solo travelers is usually a hostel. It is a great way to meet fellow travelers learn about their journeys and of-course save money.Many hostels offer even more amenities than hotels. There are many websites that can help you in finding good hostel options but as any other accommodation , I would request to do proper research. You can definitely bookmark hostelworld and hostelzoo.

Since we all are different in our needs , what might work for some might not work for others. How many times have you thought “I wish I had spent less on my accommodation and could do more fun activities.” So next time you plan your trip , consider one of these options to lower your accommodation costs. This list¬†is definitely not conclusive and I will love to know how do you save on your accommodation costs and which websites do you use. Thank you for stopping by.

Peeping at the Pope: Vatican City

What is there to really say about Vatican City ? Serves as spiritual Center for Roman Catholics worldwide,¬†mecca of art and architecture,and the location of the Pope’s official residence, Vatican City is a country built on history.¬†Yea yea I know we all have seen Angels and Demons and its likes, but I must say anything portrayed or shown about Vatican City¬†does not do justification to its beauty and history. Vatican City has been an independent sovereign state since 1929 and is ¬†completely¬†independent of the ‘Italian state’. Which means it has its own stamps, railroad station, flag, national anthem, security service and military :¬†the strangely-clad Swiss Guards who have been protecting the person of the Pope since forever.

Usually referred “The Holy See”,¬†Vatican City is home to about 800 residents. None of them are permanent. The population of this tiny area,is made up of priests, nuns, guards,¬†high-ranking dignitaries and, of course, the Pope. Speaking about Pope , I was surprised to know that the Pope has full legislative, executive¬†and judiciary powers in Vatican City.

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Model of Vatican City

Planning the trip : Not everyone knows how to visit the Vatican properly. Most will either miss out on unique experiences or spend most of their time waiting in line. Trust me there is line everywhere . Below are a few tips that can save your Vatican Trip from being miserable.

  • You will need to have at-least one full day to soak in everything that Vatican City offers.
  • ¬†Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel are closed on Sundays, so plan accordingly.
  • ¬†Start your day early. It will save you plenty of time in security check-in.
  • ¬†Take a group tour because the line to get in Vatican City is wrapped pretty much around all of Rome itself. The wait time for each attraction is generally 2 to 3 hours. A¬†group tour ¬†will reduce your wait time ¬†to 20 mins. Also guided tours make visiting such places much more educational, I loved it.
  • ¬†Do visit the city in night time. I think that is the best time to enjoy the quiet environment of St. Peter‚Äôs Square and the grand look of Basilica.
  • ¬†Copula – the majestic dome of St. Peter’s Basilica closes at 6 pm in summers and 5 pm in winters and you do not want to miss panoramic view from there. Plan accordingly.
  • ¬†Even though entrance to the church is free ,visitors must be properly dressed, with no bare knees or shoulders. Dress up modestly.
  • ¬†Most importantly do not lose the sight of your group members, it is very easy to get lost in Vatican city.
Things to see in Vatican City:
Vatican museum : The  museum complex features one of the finest collections of art on the planet. The Vatican Historical Museum (Museo Storico) provides a fascinating look at the long and intriguing history of the Vatican. The collections of the Vatican Museums include ceramics from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, collection of arms, armor and uniforms of the Papal armed forces as well as portraits of popes and the carriages and cars used by the popes.
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A ‘Gala Berlin’ carriage of Pope Leo XII in 1825

The display chronicles the Pope’s ride from horse-drawn carriages to the “Popemobile.” The earliest vehicle on display is from 1825 and the display even includes the white Fiat 1107 Nuova Campagnola that carried Pope John Paul II (1980)when he was almost assassinated.


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Citroen Lictoria Carriage of Pope Pius XI in 1930.

Just as you enter, one thing that cannot go unnoticed is the world’s most famous staircase built by Giuseppe Momo.

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Spiral Ramp

Among the many highlights, Apollo of Belvedere (the statue of the God Apollo stretching out his arm)is considered as perfection of aesthetics.

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The Octagon Court : Apollo of Belvedere (photo from wiki)

Another great ¬†masterpiece¬†discovered in 1506¬†is the¬†Laoko√∂n¬†.¬†It¬†is said that¬†¬†Laoko√∂n¬†,a priest of Poseidon,warned the Trojans not to bring the wooden horse¬†left behind by Greeks during the Trojan War in to the city of Troy. Just after his prophecy¬†, two enormous sea serpents rose from the sea and killed Laoko√∂n and his sons, silencing any further dire prophesies from the priest. The Trojans took this as a bad omen and did not heed Laoko√∂n‚Äôs warning. They hauled the cursed horse into the city walls ¬†and rest we all know as we saw in movie Troy ( I love it when I can relate something to a movie ūüôā ).

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Laokoön a true masterpiece

The Hall of Muses holds the famous Torso of Belvedere. It  also contains the portraits of personalities from the Greek world, Socrates, Sophocles, Plato, etc. . They are all copied by the Romans from the original Greek works.
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Ceiling of the Hall of the Muses

St. Peter’s Basilica :  This church is considered as the center of Christianity and there is a reason for this. This was the place where Saint Peter, the chief apostle and  the first pope, died a martyr and  was buried in 64 AD. So it made perfect sense  to build the principal shrine of the Catholic church here. The building and its architecture is truly impressive and its opulent interiors are true testimony to the kind of wealth Catholic Church possessed in 16th and 17th Century. 
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St. Peter’s Basilica across St. Peter’s Square

One thing that just cannot go unnoticed is 26 meters¬†high bronze ‘Baldachin’¬† right under the dome. The dome has an¬†impressive colorful vaulting with sixteen ribs supporting¬† four massive pillars and the triangular spaces where the pillars meet the dome, decorated with mosaics.¬†You must¬†have visited many churches, cathedrals, basilicas before but nothing really comes close to St. Peter‚Äôs Basilica. ¬†The art on¬†ceiling,¬†sculptures, altar, prayer halls, mosaic floor, ¬†decorations…everything is so marvelous and everything has history to it.
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The famous Baldachin and the dome.

There are 5 entrances that lead to  85 mts long Nave of the Basilica. Once inside the nave the enormous size of the church becomes apparent.
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Nave

Right in front of Papal Altar is¬†¬†the¬†Confessio¬†,¬†the presumed grave of St. Peter. Remember the scene from Angels and Demons where¬†McKenna (the villain)¬†¬†flees to a remote recess in the building where he sets himself on fire and¬†commits suicide …well this is that place.
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Confessio

Right below the Apse of Basilica (where the clergy are seated) the supposed chair of St. Peter called Cathedra Petri is placed. Apse is decorated with baroque work.
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Sistine Chapel :¬† This is the official residence of the Pope. ¬†I assure you that the beauty of art work on the ceilings and walls of Sistine Chapel will remain in your heart forever. Tourists are not allowed to take photographs inside Sistine Chapel.¬†The prohibition against photography is in place to prevent the flashing of cameras from affecting the art. ¬†Sistine Chapel showcases¬†Michelangelo’s greatest artwork in form of beautiful ¬†frescoes that tends to come as a surprise to first-time guests. It is said that¬†Michelangelo¬†painted the ceiling all by himself, all the time lying on his back resulting in him getting nearly blind.
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Hallway to Sistine Chapel

Vatican City will surely quench your thirst for spirituality and will give fresh perspective of art, history and architecture. Visiting this place is like food for the traveler’s ¬†soul. There is no right or wrong way of visiting the Vatican City, but lack of planning can surely ruin your¬†¬†experience . How was your trip to Vatican City?¬†Let me¬†know in the comments. ¬†If you need any more info, leave me a message and I will be happy to help. Thank you for stopping by ¬†ūüôā .
Photo courtesy : photostains.com

The Best Flight Booking Sites

We all go through similar steps while planning a vacation . It will start with searching for cheap flights, planning itinerary, looking for budget hotels,finding car rental deals and wishing to get a steal deal on anything or everything. Gone are the days when people used to contact travel agents (some people still do and I don’t know why) and¬† be at their mercy to find cheap and affordable options. With world wide web in our pocket and internet on our finger tips, we can browse through websites with travel deals anytime we want. After a lot of research and booking experiences , I have created a list of websites to help you plan your next budget travel. I hope you‚Äôll make good use of these resources to save money on online travel booking.

 I have used many of these websites myself and sites here that I haven’t personally used, I have put in a lot of time and effort to make sure each of them has the best deals.

kayak: This is often my first stop when I search for cheap airfares. Kayak searches over 140+ airlines and travel agencies (including Priceline.com, Orbitz.com, Travelocity.com, Hotwire.com, and other big airfare search engines) to aggregate the best flight deals all in one place.

 hotwireA site that gives you best deals in flights, hotels and car booking. Hotwire offers unsold inventory at big discounts and even though the specific details are disclosed at the time of check in , the surprise is usually pleasant.

¬†sta¬†:¬† With special discounts offered to students, teachers and youngsters under 26 years of age, this website is student’s favorite.

dohop A comprehensive air search website. You can find very good deals at times on this website.

getgoing

getgoinglogo : This website gives a very unique user experience. It is designed for budget travelers who are flexible with their destination choice.e.g. If you plan to go to South America but don’t know which place will have cheaper tickets (Bolivia, Peru, Nicargua etc.), this website will give you flights to all possible destinations in South America with airfare. I loved the concept don’t you think??

lastminute : Best travel ideas come very last minute and I think that is what makers of this website were thinking while designing it. I have been able to get some very cheap deals on this website.  If you want to book a vacation for this weekend or grab a flight for tomorrow, start your search here for the best prices on last minute deals.

vayama¬†: A comprehensive search engine that offers¬† you a lower price for ‚Äúsecret¬†seat‚ÄĚ that gets disclosed at the very end. I once found a very cheap deal for my Seychelles trip on Vayama and ever since then it is my go to site.

wegolo

wegolologo¬†:¬†Wegolo will help you in finding ‚Äúall-in‚ÄĚ fares so ¬†that you get no surprise taxes¬†and fees on your checkouts. It does not support bookings over the phone but gives you the liberty of combining¬†out- and inbound flights with 2 different airlines and select the optimum departure/arriving schedules or airports.

yapta¬†:¬†This website is true to its motto : ‚ÄúPrices drop . We Alert. You Save‚ÄĚ.¬† If you serious about money saving on your airline tickets this website has to be bookmarked. After you purchase the ticket , Yapta informs you of price fluctuation¬†¬†giving you a chance to get a refund of the difference from the airline.

orbitz¬†: Airfare search portal assuring lowest price guaranteed. If another customer books the same flight on Orbitz at a lower price, you’ll automatically be issued a refund for the difference.

flylogo : A powerful flight search engine powered by TravelZoo,Fly.com  provides a clean and simple interfaceto its users to browse through deals. I like the fact that it does not give any pop ups , is clutter free  and gives very neat experience.

bingtravel : In order to create a new search identity Microsoft bought Farecast and re-branded it as Bing Travel. Bing Travel differentiates by offering predictions on when is the best time to purchase airline tickets.

priceline

¬†priceline_logo¬†:¬†While Priceline is a full-fledged booking engine, it’s most valuable for its bidding system called¬†‚ÄúName your own price‚ÄĚ.¬†I am sure most of you are already aware of this search engine.

 farecompare : Tired of going on individual websites and search for cheap airfares, farecompare gives you option of comparing 3 websites at a time.

cheapoair : A comprehensive airfare search engine which shows prices excluding taxes.

skyscannerLogo : A good airfare search engine . The site is only a scanner for flights and not a booking site.I use skyscanner just to get a comparison but book directly with the airline.

momondo

momondo_logo : I like the fact this website breaks the monotinity of every search engine.  It provides an overview of available travel services on the internet and refers its users to travel providers.The technology of momondo enables its users to gain insight into the prices of airplane tickets and to get an assessment of the attractiveness of a flight ticket based on its price and travel time. A major reason Momondo ranks higher than travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity is that it allows people to book directly with the travel provider (Hilton or Delta Air Lines, for example), which permits the traveler to receive the appropriate loyalty miles or points.

I hope the list of websites above help you in finding cheapest flight to your favorite  destinations. My goal is to build up and expand this list with readers inputs. What site do you use to find the perfect flight price? Let me know in the comments. Thank you for stopping by . 

Top places to visit in Puerto Rico

Who doesn’t like warm sunshine? If you live in northeast America, trust me you will understand the importance even more. So when it comes to a long weekend getaway from miserable winters,110 miles long and 35 miles wide Puerto Rico sounds like a dream come true. All types of travelers can easily fall in love with this island since it has something for everybody. Party lovers will find the city of San Juan full of nightlife, surfers will find their solitude on the west coast of island, explorers will have rain-forests and caves to dig around ,cosmopolitan types will have plethora of history, culture and art to soak in and yes beach lovers will have white sand beaches to sun bathe.

First thing first, assuming you are not a beach bum , this handy checklist will give you a starting point to pack. Don’t worry if you forget some things. There are all major stores found in the US readily available in Puerto Rico.

1) Sun Block: Puerto Rico is a sun kissed destination. Even if you are not on beach , you will still require lots of sunblock to avoid geAtleastn burnt. At least 50 SPF or above is recommended.
2) Sandals: All the main towns in PR are walk-able and that is preferred way to roam around. So do not forget comfortable sandals or flip flops.
3) Beachwear: Really, do I need to tell why??
4) Hiking boots: Puerto Rico has the only rainforest in US soil., any guesses on name?? It is El Yunque National Forest and has amazing hikes for beautiful views and yes you will have to walk for this.
5) Mosquito Repellent: If you have gone on hikes in any of the rainforests before, you will know the dangers of being bitten by mosquitoes.
6) Light waterproof Jacket: It does rain a lot in PR. Specially if you are in rainforests, weather is very unpredictable.
7) Sunglasses : Sun will have no mercy on you. Protect your eyes and look cool.
8) GPS and maps : Even though PR has well developed highway system, for navigating through off beaten path GPS and maps will be very helpful. Most of the US cellular providers (ATT, Verizon etc) provide good service so your Google maps will work.
9) Evening wear : Puerto Ricans are very fashionable specially when it comes to going to clubs and dinners (mainly in San Juan). A good evening wear will definitely help you to blend in.
10) Camera : Country is beautiful. Enough Said.

Once packing is all done, you are all set for the trip to paradise ūüôā .Rental car is preferred way to explore the island. The following day ‚Äďtrip itineraries will take you to some known attractions with some surprise discoveries. For most part I would suggest to base out of San Juan and explore much of the island in short drives. Here is a map to help you plan.

San Juan , the city trip:

Old San Juan and its charm

Old San Juan is a compact historic city which can be explored best on foot. City’s forts, museums , art galleries and cobble streets will keep you enchanted.

El Morro Fort

If tired of roaming, grab quick refreshment in one of city’s cafe or restaurant.My personal favorite Cuatro Sombras. Excellent frappes!!.

Who wont go for coffee here :)

World’s most interesting man’s fav coffee place, who m I to question ūüôā

For a quick dip in water head towards Ocean park beach or Isla Verde beach and just relax. You might want to head out in evening as San Juan bustle with night life. There are plenty of good bars , casinos and clubs in San Juan that you don’t want to miss.

A day in Karst Region Arecibo (RioCaves,Cueva Ventana, Cueva Del Indio and Arecibo Observatory):

Rio Camuy Caves from inside

Rio Camuy Caves from inside

All the three caves are located in Karst region of Puerto Rico at about 1.5 hours driving distance from Old San Juan. Rio Camuy caves are magnificent. The caves are located in a 268 acre park. The park only allows a certain number of visitors in a day. So it is best to get there before 10:30am. They give 2 hours long tour to the caves explaining history, geography and formations in the caves. It’s totally worth it and costs 15$ per person.Cueva Ventana also known as window cave is
located at a a short drive of 30 mins on route 10 from Riocaves. Entry fees is 10$ per person and the view at the end of hike is amazing.

Grand entrance to the caves

Grand entrance to the caves

If there is still time left pick between Arecibo Observatory and Cueva Del Indio. Arecibo Observatory is known for world’s biggest and most sensitive radio telescope.Intersting fact,when I saw it I realized James Bond- The Golden Eye was shot there. Cueva Del Indio is famous for petro glyphs. I was amazed to see the rock formations in the ocean¬†near these caves. Beautiful arches rushed with high waves looked spectacular. A must see totally.

Huge waves thrashing against rocks

Huge waves thrashing against rocks

El Yunque National Forest and Laguna Grande, Fajardo :

LaMina Waterfalls: El Yunque National Forest

Enjoy a dip under LaMina Waterfalls: El Yunque National Forest

Located 25 miles east of San Juan, El Yunque National Forest is must see for its wide variety of flora and fauna. One can get¬†all details, maps and guidance from El Portal Tropical Forest Center. You will have the choice of hiking trails or driving through. Trails range from easy to intense and a hike will allow you to take in a variety of sights, including waterfalls, lookout towers, and mountain peaks. There are no designated canteens or restaurants in El Yunque. So , if you are planning to hike, do carry food and water with you. Be prepared for rain. After spending most part of day hiking in forests, take a break at Luquillo beach near Fajardo. Come on you deserve it ūüôā .

A rare natural wonder that you cannot miss while visiting Puerto Rico is bio-luminescence. There are three bio-bays in Puerto Rico. La Parguera (Southwest and least bright), Mosquito Bay (Vieques island and most bright) and La Laguna Grande (Fajardo and veru bright). There are only two ways to enjoy this trip either by Kayak or Electric Boats.
It costs 40-50$ for Kayaks and 90$ for electric boat. All tour operators have their base at Las Croabas where they brief about the tour and give safety guidelines.My Suggestion will be not to miss the briefing section. You will realize its importance as you kayak through dark mangroves.
Each trip takes about 2.5 hours from start to finish and by the end of it two things are sure to happen.
(a) No matter what , you are going to get wet.
(b)Your arms will be too tired , especially if you are going against the current.

Tips for Bio Bay:
a) Book well in advance. There are very rare chances of cancellations by others, so don’t bank on that.
b) It is best seen on a dark night, try to go when it is moonless or close to it.
c) Prepare to get wet. Wear shorts that will dry quickly.
d) Do listen to the briefings by tour operators. They are the life saviors in mangroves.
e) Do not carry any electronics, car keys, go pros(unless its waterproof and will remain attached to your body) etc with you to bio bay. You are bound to lose them.
f) There are no tours on Sunday. So plan accordingly.

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Night look of Puerto Rico

Culebra and Viques Islands:
Travel (by plane or ferry) to Vieques or Culebra from Fajardo. A lot of companies run their day tours from Fajardo where they would take you to the island by ferry and will take you to fun activities like snorkeling. Flamenco is the most popular beach on Culebra and is gem of this island. It is one of those ‚Äúpicture postcard‚ÄĚbeaches with white sand, blue water and pal, trees on the backdrop.Explore the island by renting car or bicycle.Vieques is famous for its bioluminescent Mosquito Bay and scenic trails along with pristine beaches. There is very limited accomodation options on both the islandsso plan accordingly.

Ponce-Cabo Rajo :

Located in southwest part of Puerto Rico, Ponce is second largest city and the so-called ‚Äúpearl of the South.‚ÄĚHead southwest on 52 for Ponce and you‚Äôll notice a drastic change in landscape‚ÄĒfrom moist and lush to dry and cactus-marked arid mountains. But I guess that is the beauty of this area. You can take a trolley tour to visit all major landmarks of Ponce or visit some coffee plantations. Puerto Rico is famous for its coffee.

Scenic Drive to Ponce

OnWay to Ponce

An hour further in southwest, there lies this beautiful town Cabo-Rajo which is famous for its dry forests. You will be surprised to know that Cabo-Rajo is always on alert for wild-fires, something you do not expect from a tropical place. If you manage to get to the lighthouse , the views from the top are beautiful. Take a peek over the edges of the cliffs. I assure you,it will be amazing.

Massive rock formations in sea

You can enjoy the view of blue water followed by pink water and then green water. Yes you heard it right pink water and that is because of salt mines.

 

A view from CaboRojo Lighthouse

A view from CaboRojo Lighthouse

Cabo Rajo is famous for salt harvesting and the observatory people will be happy to give you a tour.

Salt harvesting in CaboRojo

If you feel tired after a long drive, the beach next to lighthouse is all that you need. Its one of the most beautiful beaches in PR.

 

The places above are just to give you the idea of diversity and breaking the stereotype of Puerto Rico being termed as beach destination.¬†If you budget your time carefully and tour around the island you‚Äôre likely to see why Puerto Rico‚Äôs nickname is the ‚ÄúIsland of Enchantment.‚Ä̬†If you have any questions email me or leave me a comment. I will try to answer as soon as possible. Do share your experiences. I will love to hear from you.

 

(All photo credits to www.photostains.com)