Just a quick 6 hour drive from New York City, Montreal is a cultural and culinary playground just across the Canadian border. Escape the muggy heat in NYC, and head to cooler pastures in our friendly neighbor to the north. We made our drive a little longer and drove through the scenic Adirondacks, rather than sticking to highway driving. Aside from eating late night poutine and feeling bad about yourself, reasons to escape to Montreal in the summer are (1) Everything is cheaper in Canada! (2) It’s been called a poor man’s Paris (3) You are a poor man and can’t take your girl to Paris… yet. (4) Everything is cheaper in Canada! and finally (5) There’s a rumor that Canadians are nicer than us. Here’s a quick guide to exploring the city in a long weekend. Remember to bring your passport!
Start where the city itself began, exploring a mix of cobbled streets, cozy restaurants and boutiques that make Old Montreal a stroller’s paradise. Station Place-d’Armes is the closest metro station to the area; the district lies east and is focused around Place Jacques Cartier.
Built in 1656, this is Montreal’s oldest church and a key Old Montreal landmark. Inside, the blaze of carvings, sculptures and stained glass may be a little gaudy for some tastes, but they’re certainly impressive and unmissable. This Gothic Revival basilica is one of the Montreal’s most remarkable sights. It is decorated with beautiful wood carvings.
It was a home of French governors in the 18th century. Nowadays it is a repository of Québec history, there are over 20 thousand pieces of art and furniture.
Montreal City Hall
This building is built in the Second Empire style. It is famous for Charles de Gaulle’s speech from its balcony. Admission is free!
Walk along Vieux Port
The old port experienced the pinnacle of its glory days in the 19th century as one of the most important inland harbors in North America, but its importance declined throughout the 20th century. By the end of the 1980’s, however, it experienced a breath of new life as it was transformed into a recreational area. Now, whether it’s the cycling in the summer or skating on rinks in the winter, the old port’s 12.5 km of waterside walkways adds to the charm of this popular district of Montreal.
Pointe-a-Calliere Archeology Museum
This has to be one of the most interesting museums that we have ever been to, and if we go back to Montreal, it would be worth checking out a second time! Built on top of excavated building foundations and water systems from the 17th century, this setting makes the perfect setting for learning about Montreal’s fascinating history and the role it has played in Canada’s history as a whole. Just don’t visit on Monday- they are closed.
Shopping and lunch at Underground Street
A glorified mall to some but a refuge from severe weather for many, Montreal’s Underground City is a 30 kilometer labyrinth of climate-controlled subterranean passages. They are replete with restaurants, shops, cinemas, museums and metro stations.
Parc du Mont Royal
This mountain park offers wonderful view of the city of Montreal. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park.
St. Joseph’s Oratory
This magnificent oratory is dedicated to St. Joseph who is Canada’s patron saint. It is built in the Italian Renaissance style.
Evening at Crescent Street
This busy street of pubs and restaurants intersects with Sainte-Catherine at the southern end of Downtown and is well worth a visit at the end of the day for food, drinks and people- watching. Unwind here before making the drive back to New York City!
When visiting the southern part of France, the cities of Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Avignon and Provence are popular choices on traveler itineraries. However, be sure to add some of these lesser known places to your travel plans. While the French rail and bus system can get travelers just about anywhere, the best way to explore the list below efficiently is by renting a car. Travelers who are able to drive manual / stick shift cars will save money on their car rental!
The Ruins at Glanum
Just 12 miles south of Avignon lies the ancient town of Glanum. This fortified town was founded in the 6th century BCE and was then destroyed by the Alamanni (a confederation of German tribes) in 260 AD. The people of Glanum abandoned the area and moved north to found what became the present day town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is well known as being the location in which Van Gogh spent the last years of his life.
St. Remy is a charming little town a 30 minute drive south of Avignon. Spend a day wandering the streets, stopping into shops, and visiting St. Paul’s Asylum, where Van Gogh spent the last years of his life. In the Van Gogh Field, located on the psychiatric hospital grounds, there are several reproductions of the painter’s work on the actual sites where he painted them. Travelers are able to see what Van Gogh saw as he painted the scene in front of him.
Travel about 1.5 hours east of St. Remy to visit the lavender fields near the Luberon and Sault regions. They are in bloom from June to August, which is prime tourist season for visiting this part of France. Try some of the locally made lavender honey, and bring home some lavender soap.
Gorges Du Verdon
Continue further east from Luberon to visit the magnificent Gorges Du Verdon, or “Europe’s Grand Canyon.” Park your car near the kayak and paddleboat rental, and spend an hour or two exploring this site. If you have more than two people, you may want to look into pre booking a larger boat. For small groups, there is no need to make a paddleboat reservation ahead of time.
Leave Gorges du Verdon and head south towards the French Riviera. Before you get to the larger cities of Nice, Cannes, or Marseille, visit the idyllic fishing port of Cassis. Rent a boat or kayak from Cassis and swim in the blue waters of Calanque d’en Vau. If you are up for an enduring hike, trek to the beach at En Vau (secluded but a 2 hour hike each way). The boat tours from Cassis into this area are usually not allowed to dock at the beach, so, if you want to spend time on the beach itself, you will likely need to trek there.
The ancient city of Petra in Jordan is famous for its architecture carved into sandstone cliffs as well as for its hidden location within the canyon landscape. Petra was established over 2000 years ago-as early as 312 B.C. Until 106 A.D., Petra was the capital of the Nabataean empire, but then soon became abandoned, and was not found again until 1812. In 2007, it was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Travelers will need at least one full day to explore Petra, but many people spend two to three days exploring all the hidden gems of this lost city. The highlights of visiting Petra include viewing the famous Treasury (the famous scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and hiking up to the Monastery (about 800 steps). Remember, this truly is a city- in one day, I hiked almost 10 miles and still only covered a part of it.
How to Get to Petra
The two main ways to get to Petra are through Amman, the capital city of Jordan, or from Israel, which neighbors Jordan to the west. Direct flights to Tel Aviv are operated by Delta and El Al airways. While I enjoy arranging all my travel independently, I would highly recommend using a tour company to visit Petra. We used Desert Eco Tours, and entered Jordan from Eilat in the south of Israel. It is also possible to cross from Israel to Jordan in the northern part of Israel, however, due to the unrest in neighboring Syria, it is not recommended. Desert Eco Tours coordinated our visit from Israel to Petra – this was seamless as they also arranged for our visa into Jordan, and booked our hotels and transportation within Jordan. Once you cross the Israeli-Jordanian border on foot, your Jordanian tour guide will be waiting to pick you up on the other side. As you walk from Israel to Jordan, you will see that in just a few hundred feet, the language, culture, and religion changes – it is quite an amazing experience.
Petra Travel Tips
Bring layered clothing. The Jordanian desert is cold and windy at night, and temperatures can be scorching hot during the day. Dress modestly – women should cover shoulders and knees – this will also prevent against the intense sun during the day. You will need good shoes as Petra is vast and the climb to the Monastery (a must see) is a strenuous 1 to 2 hour climb. Stay hydrated and arrive early as it is much cooler in the morning. If you are not in adequate physical health, buggies and donkeys are available to take tourists around Petra’s sites. The tour company will assist in time management, but allow yourself at least 2 to 3 hours to cross the Israeli-Jordanian border both ways.
Best Time to Visit Petra
Spring or late Fall is the best time to visit Petra. From March to April, the temperatures are pleasant and the crowds are mild. In general, due to unrest in the Middle East, tourism has declined in Jordan. We stayed in a Bedouin Camp the night before visiting Petra, and our group of 8 were the only guests. That being said, by taking appropriate and common sense precautions and following the advice of our tour guide, we did not feel unsafe, and truly had an amazing experience. Arrive early in the morning to visit the sites to avoid the intense midday heat.
Petra’s Best Sites
The most well known site in Petra is The Treasury, which was made famous by the Indiana Jones Movie. In the movie, it seems that there is a passageway and several rooms beyond the facade. But, in reality, beyond the magnificent facade is just one empty room that was thought to be a tomb.
As you hike deeper into the lost city, be sure to make the one hour climb to the Monastery. It is an enduring hike, but well worth it.
As mentioned earlier, there are several hikes to explore all the small gems of this ancient hidden city, but the Treasury and the Monastery are the main highlights if you only have one full day in Petra (at least 6 to 7 hours). If you have more time, explore the scenic landscapes of Wadi Rum and spend a day on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.
The Hungarian Parliament building is the third largest parliament building in the world, boasting 691 rooms and 12.5 miles of stairs. The building, which lies on the banks of the Danube river, was completed in 1904 and sits in Lajos Kossuth Square.
Guided tours are offered when the National Assembly is not in session and cost approximately $15 USD (4000 HUF) lasting 45 minutes. The parliament building is a popular attraction at night – viewed from across the river while illuminated makes it a very memorable sight.
Beside the parliament building lies the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to Budapest Jews who were executed along the river between 1944 and 1945. They were forced to remove their shoes beforehand because of the value of shoes at the time. The iron shoes were created by Hungarian sculptor Gyula Pauer in 2005. Learn more about the Jewish history sites in Budapest here.
Getting to Budapest
From New York, travelers will have to connect in Europe to get to Budapest. Direct flights to Budapest (BUD) leave from Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Munich, Vienna, and Paris. To get to the parliament building, take subway M2 to the Kossuth Ter stop. The Shoes on the Danube are beside the parliament building. To get to the Basilica, take subway line M3 to the Arany János Utca stop. Both sites are a short walk from each other.
Top Tourist Sites in Budapest
St. Stephens Basilica or Szent Istvan Bazilika is the largest church in Budapest and is dedicated to the first king St. Stephen. The basilica’s dome reaches 96 meters high –identical to the height of the Hungarian Parliament building. This commonality represents the balance between church and state in Hungary. Visitors can visit the inside of the basilica free of charge and gaze up at the intricate interiors of the dome. For a breathtaking panoramic view of all of Budapest guests can climb the 364 steps or take an elevator for $1.75 USD (500 HUF) to the domes’ observation deck.
Travelers should also leave time to visit the Hungarian Jewish Museum and The Great Synagogue, which are also top tourist sites in Budapest. To further explore the Jewish history sites in Budapest, include a trip to the House of Terror museum.
Tel Aviv, on the western coast of Israel, is well known for its rich history and modern flair. Here are 5 reasons New Yorkers will love visiting Tel Aviv.
1. Accessibility and Ease of Travel
Delta, United, and El Al offer nonstop overnight flights to and from Tel Aviv out of NYC airports, which means you hardly lose any time traveling. Once in Tel Aviv, airport staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, and the general population all speak English well. Wifi is available at nearly every establishment (Ben Gurion Airport, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops) so you can stay connected and explore the city on your own. The car service company Gett (an Israeli based startup) is also widely used in Tel Aviv so you can book taxi rides through your phone. Gett service to the airport (at the time of this post) needs to be booked at least 18 hours in advance.
2. Restaurants and Nightlife
Foodies will rejoice at all the dining options in Tel Aviv. Indulge in tasty tapas options at Vicky Cristina’s (order the sliders!), savory shakshuka at Cafe Sonya, and some modern European cuisine at Babayaga while you are here. For breakfast, head to Benedict in the Rothschild area. Thursday and Friday nights are most popular for late night going out, but, just like New York, the after work crowd can be found enjoying drinks on Tuesday and Wednesday nights during the week. New Yorkers have a high bar set for food and cocktails, and Tel Aviv does not disappoint.
3. Historical Significance
Admist the trendy dining and widely available wifi, it is easy to forget how much history Tel Aviv has. Head to the Old Jaffa area in Tel Aviv to explore this ancient port city. Make Tel Aviv your base as you take day trips to Jerusalem, Caesarea, Masada, and, of course, the Dead Sea.
Dining at trendy and delicious restaurants will run anywhere between 35 USD and 55 USD per person, including alcohol. The same meal and type of restaurant in NYC would be nearly double. More importantly, the majority of the upscale restaurants take credit card and will actually split a bill over 9 credit cards (from experience). For casual meals, the per person cost is anywhere between 10 USD and 20 USD.
Break up your historical sightseeing with a day or two at the beach. The beaches in Tel Aviv are great for sunbathing, surfing, and swimming. The surfing is more towards the Jaffa portion of town and the jettys further north provide safe and calm waters for relaxing. Bars and restaurants line the beach so you can enjoy the sunset over dinner. Make a reservation at Manta Ray well in advance as this popular spot fills up quickly for seaside dinner reservations.
Things to remember
Smoking IS allowed in bars and restaurants so keep it in mind when selecting a table. While Tel Aviv is very safe, given the region’s turbulent history, security here is taken very seriously. Plan to spend a few hours at the airport on arrival and on departure. It is common for questioning to take close to 30 minutes per person and for luggage to be searched very thoroughly. While Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city, remember to dress modestly when visiting religious sites in the surrounding areas. Strongly consider hiring a local tour guide. We did and it made our experience exceptional. Some sites, especially ones in Jerusalem, are best visited with a guide that speaks the local language and knows how to get around the city. Overall, by taking proper precautions, safety was never an issue during our visit, and I would not hesitate to return.
Along the coastline of Croatia lies Split, the country’s second largest city. Full of character, it is the perfect combination of both history and modernity. Within the old city walls are mazes, small alleys filled with quaint shops, restaurants and bars. An outdoor promenade lined with restaurants faces the sea, where you can get a glimpse of the turquoise water. It is the perfect place to enjoy a lovely lunch on the edge of old town, with a view of the sailboats, cruise ships, and locals walking by.
Just like the rest of Croatia, the best time to visit Split would be during tourist season, May- September, when the weather is warm (highs in 80’s, lows in 60’s Fahrenheit). However, to avoid crowds, mid to late April is a good time as well. Split does have its own airport (Airport Code: SPU), with flights coming in from London, Munich, Vienna, Rome and other major European cities. Flying into Zagreb or Dubrovnic and driving along the coast is another option as well. There are various bus tours that stop in Split as part of the itinerary, however we chose a private car. We had a great experience driving from Dubrovnik to Split with Blue Bay Excursions, a local family run company.
Here are the top 5 things to do while in Split:
The main attraction in Split is Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman Emperor’s residence in which he lived after retirement until he died in 313 AD. Although the most of the palace had been destroyed, remnants lie throughout the old city. You can spend time walking through and looking around, and even stop by a restaurant to break for a drink. There is no entrance ticket for just the palace view, however if you wish to tour the basement halls it is 40 KN adult/20 KN child.
St. Dominus Cathedral and Bell Tower
This was originally the mausoleum of Diocletian, as it lies within the palace boundaries. To climb up the bell tower it is 25 KN, and to enter the cathedral it is 25 KN. After climbing to the top of the bell tower, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole city of Split and the sea as well.
Marjan Forest Park
This site is said the be the “lungs of the city.” If the weather is nice, take a quick break and hike up to Marjan. Not only will you get a breath of fresh air but lovely views of the city as well. There are trails running through the forest in which you can choose to hike or you can bike along the seafront (bikes can be rented from the northern entrance for about 15 KN/hour).
Gallery of Fine Arts: Located very close to the palace, this building was once the city’s first hospital. Here you can see a mix of ancient and modern Croatian art pieces. Entrance tickets are 20 KN adult/10 KN child.
Archaeological Museum: A ten minute walk from the town center, here you can see excavations from the Roman and early Christian periods. Tickets are 20 KN adult/10 KN child.
Ethnographic Museum: Get a glimpse into the old life and culture of Dalmatia. You can see old photos, costumes and other pieces important to the citizens. Tickets are 15 KN adult/10 KN child.
There is a large selection of restaurants, mostly local Croatian, seafood, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. There is a variety of small casual mom and pop type places, as well as modern/trendy places.
Recommended restaurants (at the time of this post):
Bokeria- Located in the old town. More on the trendy side, great variety on the menu, and presentation and atmosphere are fantastic. Lovely selection of wine and drinks as well.
Galija- Hidden gem, located inside old town. Well lit outdoor seating covered in Christmas lights. Pizza was really good, staff was really friendly, and everything is reasonably priced.
Brasserie on 7- Located right on the promenade (Split Riva). We stopped here for a coffee break, lovely hot chocolate! Very homey feeling, decorated in shades of aqua and sand. Gives you the feeling of being on the ocean. Their lunch and dinner menu consists of a mix of seafood, burgers, and more.
Just outside the pink city of Jaipur is the old seat of the Rajput Empire in Amer. Here, travelers will find the breathtaking Amer (also called Amber) Fort, which was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2013. The fort, also called the Amer Palace, is a four level complex, which includes a Diwan-e-Aam(Hall of Public Audience), Diwan-e-Khas(Hall of Private Audience), the Sheesh Mahal(mirrored palace), and the Zanana Dyodi(women’s chambers). Visitors enter through the Ganesh Pol (Gate) or Suraj Pol, for just 100 rupees (just under 2 USD). This magnificent structure overlooks the Maotha Lake, and travelers can ride an elephant up the hill to the main gates of the grand palace.
The Meenas people originally held the Fort. According to legend, in a cowardly act by the Rajput conspirers, the Meenas were massacred while they were performing religious ceremonies during the festival of Diwali. To this day this shameful act is acknowledged with the Rajput men wearing black on Diwali. This is the point in history when the Kachwaha Rajputs took the seat of a new empire in Amer, and eventually moved it 6.8 miles away to Jaipur. But for the 150 years that followed, the small Amer Fort that was started by the Meenas was built upon, and we are left with this stunning souvenir of Rajasthan’s history.
The architecture of the fort incorporates Indian Hindu motifs along with Persian Muslim designs. The story of Jodha and Akbar, which began in Jaipur, has inspired artists throughout history. Jodha, the daughter of a maharaja at the Amer Fort, was married to the Emperor Akbar. It was commonplace for Hindu women to commit johar (suicide by jumping into a fire) when faced with the possibility of marrying or being raped by non-Hindu men. Jodha, faced with the possibility of marrying the Muslim Emperor, did not commit johar, and their union is said to have helped Akbar grow his empire. Akbar allowed Jodha to maintain her Hindu religion and this helped create religious tolerance in his empire. If only our world today could take notes from one of the great leaders of the 16th century.
HOW TO GET TO JAIPUR
Non stop flights to Delhi leave from New York (15 hours), Zurich, Amsterdam, London and several other cities. From Delhi, visitors can hire a car, take a 4 hour train journey or take a domestic flight to Jaipur (Airport Code: JAI). Given that hiring a car is very affordable, the best bet would be to link up with a local travel agent to have a car and a driver to take you around during your time in Jaipur. Your hotel may also be able to arrange this for you.
BEST TIME TO VISIT JAIPUR
I was here in February and it was starting to get warm and desert sun is very hot. Usually this part of India is best visited between November and February. I would spend 2 to 3 days here, as Jaipur and Amer have a lot to offer. Most of the buildings open at 0900 and close at 1630. There are light shows at the Hawa Mahal and Amer Fort in the evenings. The one at the fort is regarded as the better one.
WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT JAIPUR
When in India, it is prudent to dress conservatively, especially because a lot of the places you visit are temples or house temples and shrines. Bringing filtered water, some easy to carry snacks ( trail mix, nuts), sunscreen, a hat to block out the intense sun, and an open mind are a good idea.
BEST TOURIST SITES IN JAIPUR
Jaipur is India’s pink city, and the name does not lie. In 1876 when the Prince of Wales and Queen Victoria were coming to Jaipur, the city painted its walls pink. Pink was the color of hospitality. The color, along with the sentiment of hospitality remain. Jaipur has a plethora of places to visit and explore. Visitors can take in the City Palace, walk across the street to Jantar Mantar, a collection of 19 astronomical instruments (which still work with accuracy), and check out the Hawa Mahal. The Hawa Mahal connected to the ladies zenana in the palace and gave them a vantage point to look out over the city’s happenings from behind 953 famous Jharokhas(windows). Also, make time to take in the vistas from the Nahargarh and Jaigarh Forts, stop to take in the palace in the water Jal Mahal, visit the Birla Mandir to hang out with some monkeys, say a prayer at the Govind Dev Ji Temple, shop in Johari and Babpu bazaar and eat traditional foods. And of course, anytime you are in India, take a break from being a tourist to indulge in a hot cup of chai.
Now seemingly mysterious, forbidden, and disconnected, Havana has a history and culture inextricably linked to ours. To understand Havana now, imagine yourself in the Cuba of the 1950s. Three hundred years of Spanish prosperity had blossomed Havana into one the largest, most-heavily fortified, and relevant ports in the Caribbean. A brief stint of American occupation in the early 1900s, and 40 years of independent republican rule, have created a rambunctious, flourishing, and vibrant playground for Americans, Cubans, and Europeans alike. But, life was not rosy for most-income disparity and corruption was rampant, and Fidel launched the infamous revolution that would forever change Cuba.
Property and business were nationalized, and imports largely disappeared. The Cuban people were given rooms to live in the mansions of the former elite. However, over the years and especially after the disappearance of Soviet financial backing in 1990s, the regime found it impossible to maintain their capital. You now walk amongst the dust that coats the former glitz. Havana has a complex and controversial history, but let’s focus on how to explore this unique capital.
Everything you hear about Cuba is true. The old cars, the dusty, old mansions, salsa-blaring dance parties, the warm, vivacious people–it all hits you and invites you the minute you land. But, as aforementioned it is indeed a bizarre rapture in time with ’50s-era infrastructure and ’90s-era internet connectivity. It’s easier to travel there now than ever; but it’s a place you want to go to well-prepared. Expect to be dazzled, frustrated, and inspired at the same time.
Make reservations at La Guarida. Take these dilapidated stairs in an abandoned building in Central Havana and enter a cozy, modern, beautiful restaurant with amazing cuisine.
Get lost wandering the streets of old Havana searching for the perfect salsa night–we recommend the bar in the Hotel Florida. To the east lies Old Havana, where the oldest churches, squares, and plazas are found. Just west lies Centro, a large urban residential neighborhood. Further west is Vedado, a rich suburb where the best hotels and casinos were built. Vedado is your destination for beautiful jazz clubs and cabarets. Rent a bike to get around! It’s a great way to quickly get your bearings.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CUBA:
The tourist (peak) season is between December to May, which coincides with the Caribbean dry season. Accommodations will be harder to find, but you will have the advantage of avoiding rain. Between December and May the high temperature ranges between 79 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit and the low between 61 and 70 degrees.
HOW TO GET TO CUBA:
Option 1: Fly through a connecting country. We booked a flight through a US aggregator (Kayak, etc) to Cancun. From the U.S., we booked a roundtrip flight on Copa Airlines’ website (you can use Cubana Airlines or Aeromexico) from Cancun to Havana. Mexico will stamp you on entry and on return from Havana. Cuban officials are unlikely to stamp an American passport and you will likely have two Mexico entry stamps within a small period of time. World Travel Hack does not promote or endorse any illegal travel, and all travelers should abide by U.S. visitation guidelines. Havana’s airport code is HAV, and non stop flights to Cuba can be found from Panama City (PTY), Amsterdam (AMS), London, Paris, Mexico City (MEX), Toronto (YYZ), and Montreal (YUL).
Option 2: Take a direct flight to Cuba from the United States. A few American carriers are now starting non stop flights to Cuba. Americans are legally allowed to travel to Cuba and spend money there if the trip falls within one of twelve approved reasons (family visitation, professional research, religious activities, etc. Learn more here). You have to declare your purpose of visitation on departure and return.
Option 3: Organize everything through a tourist agency who will charter a flight and take care of all the paperwork for you (and schedule your entire trip within the twelve approved reasons)- but that’s no fun, is it?
WHAT TO BRING TO CUBA:
Bring cash to Cuba! It was rare to find a place that accepted a credit card and our US debit cards were denied at ATMs. There’s almost no petty crime in Cuba so bring in whatever you need in hand (70-80 USD /day for mid range travelers). Money exchange services (found in airports, hotels, and the rare bank with terrible hours of operation) tax the USD 10% so we bought Euros in our home city and exchanged those. There are two main currencies: The CUC which is 1:1 to the Dollar and used for hotels, restaurants, buses, etc. There is a local CNC(pegged at 25 CNC to the Dollar) that is used by locals to buy groceries, street food, and other odds-and-ends. You will almost always use CUC but be careful not to receive back CNC from an untrustworthy cashier. If your Spanish is up to speed, you can buy your meals at local places with CNC. Other than monetary concerns, traveling to Havana is akin to traveling to any standard Caribbean destination However, Havana in particular has a lovely diversity of venues and a respect for style so bring something nice to wear out.
WHERE TO STAY IN CUBA:
Havana has some grand, government-run hotels. These were former stomping grounds for the American Mafia and elite Europeans in the ‘1950s (these were nationalized after the revolution); and, although imposing, have not been renovated adequately throughout the years. To experience local charm stay with a Cuban family in a casa particular, or homestay. These can be booked through AirBnB prior to your arrival and cost ~20-30CUC per night. The hosts will serve you a lovely home-cooked Cuban meal for 5 CUC per meal. Our casa host became our point-person for the trip: he arranged places to stay in different cities, rented us a local cell phone, acted as a currency exchange point, found us bikes to rent…you name it. Once you stay in one, you become a part of the family.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN CUBA
A cab from the airport will cost you 30CUC. Depending on which neighborhood you stay in, you may need to just walk to explore. Otherwise there are several cheap transportation options from taxis, open air tuk-tuks, pedal-taxis, and antique car rental. Negotiate your rate before hand when taking a taxi, and if renting a car, ask if a driver is included.
To move from city to city, you can reasonably split the cost of a taxi rental between a few people. Otherwise, Viazul has a tourist bus service that will move you between cities from 15-25 CUC. There is another service called a collective, which are shared taxis that run based on demand. It’s advisable to go to the main station in Havana the day before and negotiate your rate and book a ticket, as it’s not something you can do online. The key point about travel in Cuba is to expect the worst. Your car may break down, the bus may decide to cancel it’s route, or the roads might be blocked. So take your time and don’t over-plan. If you have 7 days expect to see 2 or 3 cities max.
Situated in the Peruvian Andes, Cusco, often spelled Cuzco, is a charming town of 350,000 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Often a stop for altitude acclimation before heading to Machu Picchu, Cusco itself has a lot to offer also. Built atop the ruins of the Capital of the Incan Empire from the 15th century, Cusco has a very rich history with its own Incan ruins-Sacsayhuaman and Qurikancha. The Historic District is full of beautiful churches and colonial style architecture. Outdoor enthusiasts will be amazed by the scenic trekking and beautiful sites, and the night owl can experience the local discotecas. The sky here is speckled with peaks from the Andean Mountain Range and you can appreciate this as you stroll through the city, visit the churches, shop in the markets, and meet travelers from around the world. In one day, I met a man from Scotland, a student from Hungary, and two women from Brazil. In your journey to Machu Picchu, be sure to leave a couple days (and at least one for altitude sickness) for Cusco!
The Best Time to Visit Cusco
The average temperature in Peru’s winter is 67.1°F, and there is an average temperature of 67°F in the summer months. The best time to visit Cusco is between June and September (summer), which are the driest months. However, a word of warning to travelers, because Cusco is such a popular tourist destination with millions of tourists flocking to the city every year to visit the nearby Machu Picchu, tourist season can get very crowded! Hostels and tourist attractions often raise their prices during peak season. If you are looking to avoid some of the crowds, travel in May or October, to have a better chance at dry weather and less crowds.
What to Bring to Cusco
Situated at 3,400 meters above sea level (11,000 feet), Cusco is not the typical tropical climate that many think of for a South American destination. Though daytime temperatures are mild year round in the mid to upper 60s, the nights can drop into the 30s-40s. Given the variability, layers are definitely the way to go! Excursions in Peru require light weight trekking pants, and light weight long sleeve shirts, which also helps to minimize the number of bug bites. Also, if you are planning on doing a trek to Machu Picchu, pack hiking boots, hiking gear, walking sticks (optional), and rain gear (plus a backpack cover). For travelers intending to trek to Machu Picchu, some hostels offer lockers to store unnecessary belongings while on the trail. It is not uncommon to have issues with altitude sickness, but luckily the abundance of products made with coco leaves (natural remedy for altitude sickness) are available at every corner. Travelers can also talk to their doctor about a prescription for acetazolamide for altitude sickness.
How to Get to Cusco
Direct flights to Cusco arrive mostly from Lima (airport code: LIM), Peru’s capital. The non-stop flight from Lima to Cuzco takes just under one hour. Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport (airport code: CUZ) is a 10 minute drive from the historic center of Cusco. Cusco’s new airport, Chinchero International Airport, could open as early as the end of 2016. All flights will eventually be transferred to the new airport, but for now you are likely to fly into the older one. The only official taxi company is Llama Taxis, which has a booth in the baggage claim area. A ride into town will cost about 35 soles (12 USD). When using a taxi in Cusco be sure to bargain the price before you go anywhere as taxis are not metered. The price should be anywhere between 10-15 soles (3-5 USD). Public transportation is dominated by local buses, known as Combis, which are .60 soles (0.25 USD), and there is a stop right outside the airport. Unless traveling on a really tight budget, take a taxi, as buses have been known to have pick pockets.
Top Tourist Sites in Cusco (Cuzco)
Machu Picchu, which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven Wonders of the World, is the most popular destination for visitors in Cusco. These 15thcentury Incan civilization are 50 miles northwest of Cusco. Travelers can take a train or trek. The Incan Trail and the Salkantay Trail are two of the most popular trekking options. Prices for the 4 day trek on the Incan trail, which need to be booked months in advance, range 550-1000 USD. The Salkantay Trail (also book in advance) has slightly cheaper options. If you have time to spare and are not traveling in high season, you can try waiting until you get to Cusco to book a trek. We did this and bargained a rate of 250 USD for a 4 day trek. A great way to spend a day in Cusco is to take one of the free walking tours (tip your guide) around the city and then visit the San Pedro Market for Andean cuisine and shopping.
Old Town Quito, nestled within the Andes Mountains, is full of winding side streets, beautiful churches, and delicious bakeries and cafes. El Centro Historico in Quito, as it is called locally, is one of Ecuador’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. Though formally founded in the 16th century, the history of Quito dates back to the Incan ruins that the city was built on. Spend time walking through the narrow streets of Quito, to gain a unique insight into Ecuador’s rich culture. The music from street performers can always be heard as you wander through the shops and churches throughout the city. On Sundays, the main streets are bustling with people heading to and from church, and the night life is dominated by vibrant salsa clubs and flavorful dining.
HOW TO GET TO QUITO
Direct flights to Quito into Mariscal Sucre International Airport (Airport Code UIO) leave from New York City, Miami, Atlanta, Houston, Bogota, Mexico City, and Panama City, . Quito’s airport is located about 45 minutes east of the city of Quito and is one of the busiest airports in South America. There are several options for getting from the airport to the main part of the city. The Aeroservicios Express Bus (8 USD) runs to the old airport (which is in the city of Quito), where you can then catch a taxi within the city which typically run from 5-10 USD. If you have a lot of time and not a lot of luggage, you can also take a green bus (2 USD) which runs to the Rio Coca bus station in Quito. If you choose this option, be aware that it typically takes 2 hours of travel time and there is no designated place for luggage. If it is your first time to Ecuador, catching a cab is the easiest, and is typically a 25 USD fare.
WHAT TO BRING TO QUITO
The weather in Quito can be quite unpredictable, so bring clothes for sun, rain, hot and cold. Even though Quito is right near the equator, the high elevation keeps the city at a much milder temperature, and it can actually get quite chilly in the evening. Keep in mind that there is generally a higher chance of rain in the afternoons so make sure to bring an umbrella and raincoat even if it is sunny when you leave for the day! Make sure to pack plenty of pants and long sleeve shirts because, in Ecuador, shorts are not typically worn by either men or women. Pants and longer dresses are suggested for women.
WHEN TO VISIT ECUADOR
Quito, the capital of Ecuador, is just 20 miles from the equator. But due to its elevation over 9,000 feet (Quito is the highest capital city in the world), the average temperature year round is in the mid-60s (Fahrenheit), and can drop down into the 50s at night. The main seasons are the short dry season (summer) which is from only June to September, followed by winter (the wet season) which lasts October through May. Be aware that the dry season can still have a few days of rainfall. Peak travel season is determined by holidays. If visiting during Christmas or Easter, keep an eye out for numerous processions and festivals in Quito.
QUITO’S BEST TOURIST SITES
While Ecuador is most famous for the galapagos, some of Ecuador’s best tourist sites are in Quito. Visit Quito’s numerous churches that have a range of architectural styles. For a great view of the city, climb up the spires at the Basilica of the National Vow and take in the scenery. El Panecillo in Old Town Quito is a giant statue of a winged Virgin Mary. The streets surrounding the statue are not the safest, so take a taxi here. The best place for night life in Quito is La Ronda-a street blocked off for pedestrian traffic only. This street is home to live music, street vendors, and great restaurants. In La Ronda, try Canelazo, a warm alcoholic drink, and the large cheese empanadas. Finally, to get the ultimate view of the city, visit El Teleferico-the world’s second highest cable car. El Teleferico climbs Pichincha Volcano on the eastern side of Quito. On clear days you can see many of the active volcanoes that speckle Ecuador’s landscape. A ride up the cable car is about 4 USD for locals and 8.50 USD for travelers.
*Traveler’s Note: The Zika virus was reported in Ecuador in January 2016. It is transmitted by mosquitoes and has been known to cause birth defects. Pregnant women, or women planning to become pregnant, should use caution when traveling to areas affected by the Zika virus.
The Sydney Opera House, a UNESCO World Heritage site, opened in 1973. Connected to the southern side of Circular Quay by a walkway, the Opera House was designed by Danish architect Jørn Oberg Utzon. Circular Quay is the hub of Sydney Harbour, and it is located on the northern edge of the Sydney business district. It is a popular area due to the numerous attractions here as well as being a transportation hub. In addition to the Sydney Opera House, the The Sydney Harbour Bridge and The Rocks are all located in close proximity of Circular Quay. Circular Quay was the site of Australia’s first European settlement in 1788.
HOW TO GET TO CIRCULAR QUAY
Non stop flights to Sydney (Airport code: SYD) are offered from both San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX). Flight duration is approximately 14.5 hours from both of these California airports. Direct flights to Sydney are also offered from several other cities, including, but not limited to Dubai, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Abu Dhabi, Singapore, New Delhi, and Kuala Lumpur. Once in Sydney, visitors can easily use public transportation, as the train system is well organized. You can either take the train straight to Circular Quay, or take the train to Central, then transfer, and take a quick ride to Circular Quay. Once you get off the train at Circular Quay, you can immediately see the Sydney Opera House to your left, and art museum to your right.
WHAT TO BUY IN SYDNEY
Pick up an Opal Card when you arrive in Sydney either are in the train station or the airport. The Opal Card essentially works as your ticket for any train, bus or ferry in the New South Wales transportation system. Get a free card, load money on it, and tap on and off of every train and bus throughout the city. It is cheaper than purchasing a ticket for each trip, and some buses only accept Opal Cards, so it really is a must for your trip to Sydney.
WHEN TO VISIT CIRCULAR QUAY
Circular Quay is open all year, and is always bustling with people. Keep in mind, Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so the seasons are opposite to the northern hemisphere. For warm weather, take a vacation during Sydney’s summer from November to March, when the high is in the 70s (24-26 degrees Celsius). Fortunately, Sydney has mild winters, from June to August, and the low rarely drops below 40 degrees (5 degrees Celsius), with the winter averages being in the low 60s.
WHAT NOT TO MISS WHILE VISITING CIRCULAR QUAY
Visitors can take a cruise around the harbor to enjoy a great view of the opera house, and thrill seekers can climb Harbour Bridge. The boat tours can drop off visitors in various locations, including Darling Harbour and the Toronga Zoo. You can also tour the Modern Art Museum for free. If visiting over a weekend, go shopping at The Rocks Market located right behind the art museum. Also, remember to tour the Sydney Opera House and attend a performance. For a bite to eat, stop at one of several restaurants and food stands along the quay to sit, eat, and enjoy the view.
Thanks to travel expert and blogger, Liz, a student at Macquarie University in Australia for sharing her travel tips on Sydney!