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Category Archives:North & Central America

Los Angeles: Fun things to do in the world’s worst city

Hollywood sign over the hills from Griffith Observatory

Los Angeles is a sprawling mess. Highways criss and overpasses cross, and despite 7 lanes of traffic they still manage to get possibly some of the world’s worst traffic jams. It’s attractions are vastly spread and you can feel like you might waste your entire vacation in transit, especially if you try and rely on public transport.

So with that wonderful introduction done, welcome to a blog post all about Los Angeles!

Alright so the above is what we generally know so far. If Florida is America’s dong (look at a map), LA must be America’s butthole. So when Kynie said she hasn’t seen any of LA before and wanted to do Disney’s California Adventure, I took it as a challenge to find some good in the city that has given me so little.

And I succeeded. I had 4 days in Los Angeles and  this is how I spent it.

Hollywood Sign, the closest you can walk to

Day 0 – arrive in Anaheim from Las Vegas

So the first thing to know about LA if you’ve never been is that it is fricken huge – we’ve established that. My best recommendation is to stay in 2 places and segment your time there. This will save you travel time and you will be able to go at a much more relaxed pace. I didn’t do this in 2011 when I visited with a mate – it took us (an admittedly unusually slow) 2 hours to get to and from Disneyland from Hollywood. And then 2 hours back.

Anyway, for our recent trip in 2016 we arrived in Anaheim after a long day driving from Las Vegas. We arrived around 10pm and were very thankful to be checking in to the Hilton.

Followers of this blog know that I don’t seek luxury; I search for value. I think in this instance I found both. I paid $177 for 2 nights at the Hilton. I still can’t explain why.

Maybe there was a glitch on Booking.com. Maybe it was a weekday. Maybe there’s so many hotels in the area they have to keep the price down. Regardless, I didn’t ask too many questions.

Santa Monica Pier and beach LA

Day 1 – Disney’s California Adventure

Kynie and I opted for California Adventure because we had recently been to Magic Kingdom in Orlando, which is very much the same.

If it was your last day on earth and you could only visit one, you would visit Disneyland every time. However, as the smaller, younger brother, there is definitely a place for California Adventure and if you had 2 days left on earth you’d absolutely spend one at each. It is conspicuously Disney, unapologetically Californian, and (in December) just a little bit Christmassy.

California Adventure with Mickey's fun wheel

We rode in a matchbox in A Bugs Land, watched Mickey do a musical number with some newspaper boys on the street, rode Paradise Pier – the single roller coaster, and did a few laps on Mickey’s Fun (ferris) Wheel.

But the real highlight was the time spent in the recently built Radiator Springs: the town straight out of the movie Cars. From the Radiator Springs Racer ride to eating in the Route 66 themed Flo’s Diner for lunch, you truly felt like you were part of the story. True to their style, Disney went to infinity and beyond creating Cars Land.

Cozy Cone Motel Radiator Springs Disneys California Adventure
Cozy Cone Motel, Radiator Springs in Disney’s California Adventure

Day 2 – Relocate to Hollywood, via Downtown LA, Griffith Park

Dirty, hazy, and full of sirens and bums, but if you overturn a few rocks you might uncover some gems in Downtown LA.

I found a couple when I visited. We only spent a few hours Downtown but since we had skipped breakfast we were on the hunt for food and coffee.

Verve Coffee Roasters

Thankfully Kynie is an absolute fiend at finding sweet coffee spots and she led us to Verve Coffee Roasters for a coffee and a decadent Nutella croissant. The thing I’ve noticed about coffee in the USA is that, like everything, they do it huge. But unlike many other things, they also generally do it poorly.

I ordered a latte and the size that I received would have been classed as a “mug” size back home. I have no doubt that this was a regular size in America. So even though we were at a swanky, hipster coffee place, the coffee was far milkier than any coffee I’ve had back home. Anyway, surely it must be the best cafe Downtown, as despite the size, it was a good coffee, and I could live on that Nutella croissant.

The Last Bookstore

The last bookstore is a huge, double story second-hand bookstore with an enormous range of both new and used books and records. Although a little difficult to find things due to the unique way the timber shelves are arranged, the store is inviting and friendly.

It also has a few creative ways of stacking books: one being a tunnel of books, another being a window made from books, and the actual serving counter top is made entirely from books as well. It was very cool. Best of all, the prices are very reasonable.

The Last Bookstore Downtown LA book tunnel

Grand central market

We next found GCM and it served to be good timing because I was getting pretty hungry. The market is stacked full of food stalls with everything from burgers, German sausage, deli meat burgers, specialty eggs, fresh fruits, and smoothies.

After a couple of hours it definitely seemed like it was time to leave DTLA. The people weren’t exactly why you’d call calming, and the homeless people were bumming me out (pun intended). So we headed for the hills! Literally, actually.

Old zoo – Griffith Park

Not to be confused with the Los Angeles Zoo that is fully functioning with live animals, the Old Zoo is an abandoned zoo in Griffith Park that is now used for picnics and hip hop film clip shoots. It is open to the public and you are free to roam the cages and pits and see what life was like as an animal. It’s very safe and is a great way to see a different side of metropolitan LA.

Old enclosures at the Abandoned Zoo Los Angeles
Old enclosures at the Abandoned Zoo in Griffith Park, Los Angeles

Griffith observatory

Not far from the Old Zoo is the Griffith Observatory, located high in the Hollywood hills – a few hills away from the famous sign.

As well as a fully functioning observatory, it also doubles as a museum and learning centre with regular shows all about the stars and the cosmos.

But best of all, it boasts one of Los Angeles’ best views and it a fantastic spot to watch the sun go down.

The Hollywood Hills from the Griffith Observatory Hollywood LA
The Hollywood Hills from the Griffith Observatory

In’N’Out Burger

No trip to the West Coast would be complete without the artery-clogging goodness of In’N’Out Burger: pride of the West Coast. I had it last time I visited and was not disappointed this time in Hollywood.

What’s great about In’N’Out is its simplicity. You get a bun, onion, sauce, cheese, meat and a bit of the obligatory salad. Alternative menu options include more meat and cheese. (But if that’s not enough, there’s always the ironically titled “secret menu”, which is definitely worth exploring.)

The fries are notoriously bad, but making them “animal style” or “well done” does help to improve them.

Winter solstice sunset at griffith observatory hollywood LA

Day 3 – Universal Studios

Once we decided to spend a bit of time in LA it quickly became apparent that Universal Studios should be on the itinerary. Universal would be fun as a theme park lover, but as someone who loves movies the park is exceptional at giving you a fully immersive experience in some of your favourite films.

Hogsmeade in Universal Studios Hollywood

Set in Hogsmeade, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is as good as it gets. From the frog choir performances to a real talking sorting hat. And Hogwarts in the distance is just remarkable. The accuracy at which some of the stores are presented as well will make you actually think “maybe I should have been watching more closely when running between platforms 3 and 4”.

Meeting Krusty the Klown at Universal Studios Hollywood
Kicking Life Goals

However my favourite land was actually Springfield. As a massive Simpsons fan growing up, and now just a fan of the classics, Universal have created a cartoon land that feels authentic and gimmicky all at the same time. We ate lunch at Moes Tavern, won a Krusty doll playing Sideshow games, got a photo with Bart and almost got killed by Bob at the opening of Krustyland (which is the theme of the single ride).

The only real disappointment was that steamed hams were not on a single menu and I had to settle for fried chicken.

Honourable mention to Whoville, complete with 60 foot Christmas tree, as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is one of our go to Christmas movies.

Whoville Christmas Tree at Universal Studios Hollywood
“Blast this Christmas music… it’s joyful AND triumphant.”

Stout Burgers and beer

I love any place that has a food menu and separate menu for beer, especially when burgers involved. Ergo I loved Stout Burgers and Beer. The menu is more than just standard burgers though, it takes the humble burg’ to the next level. In addition to the thick, juicy, medium rare patty, mine was a menage of brie, fig jam, and caramelised onions. Simple, yet mind blowing.

To complement this I ordered two sour beers out of the 6 that were on offer. This is more than I’ve ever seen on any menu anywhere and was suitably impressed.

10/10, would bang again. And I would visit Los Angeles once more just so I can go here again.

Day 4 – Santa Monica

Santa Monica was never front of mind for me the first time I visited LA and as such I didn’t make it out there. But this time was different. This time I was much more educated.

We started by walking down 3rd Street Promenade, the main shopping street lined with cafes and boutiques. Kynie bought a jumper because it was unbelievably windy. The street is wide and pedestrian only, and it is decorated with some creative dinosaur hedge sculptures.

Once we were clear of the shops we drove a few blocks to Sidecar Doughnuts and Coffee because, well, frankly who needs a reason for doughnuts? The doughnuts were a decadent array of flavours enough to make any doughnut lover blush. The coffee was also well above the American average so make your way here if you need a good fix.

Coincidentally, it is also located right next door to Mendocino Farms, who do some wicked sandwiches and it was the perfect place for lunch.

Sunset over Venice Beach, LA

All this build up eventually led us to the Santa Monica pier… via Malibu. We figured we had a car, let’s go for a coastal drive. It’s a lovely drive, with glimpses of the ocean through driveways on one side, and hillside mansions on the other.

The Santa Monica beach itself is pretty special. From road to water it must be a good few hundred metres, even on hot days I can imagine you’ll always be able to find a spot for your towel.

The Santa Monica pier, however was about in line with all touristy amusement parks. There was a fun arcade, some rides, a few places to eat – both for sit down meals and takeaway – and even a traditional carousel. I learnt that Kynie has the skeeball skills in our family.

Los Angeles gets a bad rap, and there are plenty of reasons why this is justified. But with a little digging you can find some really cool gems and uncover some great places many people would miss.

Have you been to Los Angeles? What are some other great spots to visit that most might not have heard of? Leave a comment below.

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Venice Beach: beautiful colourful sunset lighting up the Atlantic. Los Angeles is a mess, but there are plenty of fun things to do with a bit of searching. I had 5 days there and loved them all...despite the traffic!Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles. The viewing deck has many of these that point to the place the sun will drop. I clearly visited on the winter solstice.


St Maarten: How to spend your cruise day ashore

Not many islands this small offer visitors the opportunity to visit two very distinct cultures on the one island. Settled by the Dutch and the French, each side has its own personality, culture, and language. Saint Martin/Sint Maarten is one such unique island and was the first stop on a 10 day Caribbean cruise with Princess.

The easiest way to maximise your St Maarten cruise day is to hire a car. Hertz and a few others smaller operators have offices there and you can pre book. But if you don’t, just be prepared to have a Plan B incase they are sold out.

Our cruise gave us a total of 8 hours on shore; from docking at 8:30 to all aboard at 4:30, which was almost enough time to see almost all that we wanted to, but it was a little tighter than we’d have liked. Nonetheless, here is how to do a DIY highlights tour of Saint Martin and Sint Maarten.

Maho Beach

You will arrive in the Dutch capital of Philipsburg, but it will likely be too early for anything to be open so save your time there until the after on your way back to the ship.

Assuming you’ve picked up a car, start by driving counter-clockwise towards Maho Beach. Maho Beach is famous as being plotted at the end of the runway of the St Martin Juliana International Airport. From this small strip of sand you are seated in prime position to witness small passenger planes and jumbos come into landing.

Planes flying over Maho Beach St Maarten

The first thing to note is that it is a small beach. If not for the airport this beach would never rate a mention. But, the brilliant turquoise sea is an excellent place to take in the action.

And if the sand blasts from the jet engine power becomes too much (and if you are directly behind it, it will) you can just duck under the water. But I preferred to stand off to the side to get the dramatic over-sand plane photo.

The Sunset Beach Bar right next to the beach posts the landing times of the major aircraft, which are the exciting ones, but you’ll find planes of all sizes coming in to landing every 10 or so minutes.

I was pretty disappointed that I didn’t get to see any jumbos come in (we’d been there an hour and others wanted to move on) so your best bet is to work out prior when they’ll be coming in. They started for us around 11am, which was, sadly, just as we were leaving.

Marigot

If you couldn’t tell by the name, Marigot will be your first stop on the larger French side.

We didn’t give Marigot a lot of time, however, it is worth noting we also happened to visit on New Year’s Day, which was also a Sunday, so most things were closed anyway. The Sarafina Bakery was open though and it was pumping.

Fort Louis Marigot St Martin
View from Fort Louis, Marigot.

What actually made us stop in Marigot was Fort Louis, an old fortress ruin from the 18th Century that the French used to defend their territory against the Dutch and the British. From the main street it is no more than a 10 minute walk up an obvious path of steps and pavement (flip flops are sufficient).

For such a small walk it’s a magnificent view, giving a 360 degree panorama of Marigot to the east and Simpson bay to the west. It’s well worth the stop and you can be up and down in 30 minutes, easily.

Grand Case

Because we’re on the French side still, it is pronounced Gron Kaz. Grand Case was not what I expected it to be. I generally read guides and blogs before going to a place and I expected little shacks dotting the beach with locals selling food and beers to visitors. If you’ve read any other guides you might have this same assumption.

The town was more low key than I expected, and actually felt quite residential, save for a handful of local eateries and accommodations along the beach and main road. These places were all raised above the beach, with stairs down for easy access.

Grand Case Beach St Maarten

The beach at Grand Case is still a nice beach, in fact it was definitely more spacious and less crowded than Maho Beach, but keep your pants dry for now because I think there are better beaches for swimming and relaxing if you aren’t tied here.

I’m getting sidetracked. the reason to go to Grand Case is actually to have lunch. Of the handful of eateries along the shore a few are referred to as lolos. I’m not sure what the translation is, but essentially they are small diners serving local delicacies such as Grilled Lobster, Conch sausage, Ribs, fish, and jimmy cakes.

All this while sipping a few $2 Carib beers with the local steel drum band, nay orchestra, serenaded you with unique melodies, backed by bass guitar and drums. It was quite something. In the video below, the last 20 seconds are of the band and you’ll understand what I mean.

Lunch was served and was incredible. I mean, it was no luxury resort seafood buffet (that was Christmas Day!), but it was barbecued to perfection. Even though the day was only half over this was already the highlight.

Incredible local food at Grand Case St Martin

Pic du Paradis

Pic du Paradis was one thing we missed, but even if we had have planned the day differently, it still would have been a stretch. You see, around St Maarten is a ring road. It’s not a big island, but most of the attractions are on the coast.

…Except for Pic du Paradise, which translates to Paradise Peak. I.e. a big ol’ mountain in the middle. There’s a road that goes up, but to get the view that’s worth seeing it was going to be a 1km walk from the car park and back, which was time we at the time could not spare.

If eating the local food is not important to you, you might choose Pic du Paradis over lunch at Grand Case, because they are quite close. Or if both sound like non-negotiables, think about what else on this list you could forego.

Already you are starting to feel like 1 day on this magnificent island is not enough!

Orient Beach

If you wanted to come to St Maarten for a day and just spend a day at the beach, this is where you’d come. The beach is long, it’s wide, and it’s bursting with water sports.

Orient Beach St Martin

For these reasons the beach is very popular with visitors and there are a great number of resorts that back onto the beach. The resorts all have a plethora of beach chairs and umbrellas that you can hire and park yourself for the day.

Orient Beach is perfect for the family, couple or group who want to get off the ship, and just want to relax on a beach with a book, absorbing the idyllic surroundings.

Philipsburg

About 10 minutes from Orient Beach is Philipsburg, the capital of the Dutch side and landing point for all cruise ships. It is perfectly setup to receive tourists with no shortage of beach bars, cafes, clothes and souvenir shops, and of course places to buy the famed guavaberry liqueur.

The beach is pretty big, also with plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs, and it is right in front of the ship so it’s very easy to setup camp here for the day. However, I found the beach at Orient Bay to be much nicer. The sand was softer, and there were more opportunities for activities.

Front Street Philipsburg Sint Maarten

Other Notes about St Maarten

Gambling is oddly legal here, we saw casinos everywhere. In fact, the first building we saw when we disembarked was a casino. It made me wonder how many people don’t actually make it any further.

The beer on St Maarten is mostly $1.50. This was the cheapest beer I found in the Caribbean so I made sure to bring some back onto the ship (which was really easy).

St Maarten was one of my favourite islands I visited on the cruise, and one that I would happily return to. If you’ve been to St Maarten, what was your favourite place?

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St Maarten cruise day: How to spend one day ashoreMaho Beach, St Maarten. How to spend one day ashore St Maarten.


Las Vegas: The Epic Guide to Drinking, Gambling and Entertainment

Endless rows of flashing machines; free drinks galore; and arguably more ways to be entertained than almost any other city on earth: Welcome to Las Vegas.

I consider Las Vegas to be like Disneyland for adults: pretty lights dazzle every guest, visitors are inundated with seemingly endless entertainment options, (and the workers are all probably on low wages from giant corporations).

I have been to Las Vegas 4 times now, which I consider quite impressive for someone that lives in Australia. There’s a few reasons for this: I love the energy of the place, it’s always buzzing, and there’s always a sense of excitement. I love the grandeur of the casinos, rising out of the desert, completely out of place.

But most of all it’s just fun. Continue Reading

St Lucia: How to Spend Your Cruise Day Ashore

Veiw of Castries St Lucia

St Lucia is a very common stop for many Caribbean cruise liners. It’s volcanic formation has resulted in a very mountainous island with challenging roads that provide stunning views literally around every corner.

You will likely make port in Castries, which is on the west coast. The beaches are up north and other activities worth doing are down south.

It’s an island of reasonable size – 617 square kilometres – but driving anywhere takes time because the roads are so slow due to their winding nature up and down mountains. So the first thing to realise is you won’t be able to see everything.

The colourful main street of Soufriere St Lucia
The colourful main street of Soufriere

When visiting St Lucia on a cruise, you have a few options: do an official cruise shore excursion, hire a car, or hire a guided taxi ride for the day.

Cruise excursions are always overpriced, and you spend your day on tour in a bus full of other people. Hiring a car is risky because cars on islands sell out quickly, and sometimes they don’t even honour your booking (I saw both of these happen this week). Lastly, as you exit the terminal you will no doubt be bombarded with tour and taxi salespeople, which generally feels like its own red flag.

It can be easy to immediately disregard these hawkers but I encourage you to actually ask around. They have different options and you’ll be able to find something you want to do. The prices vary depending on how many are in your group and you will get your own private taxi driver/tour guide for the day, which will give you as much (or as little) flexibility as  you need.

To give an idea on pricing, we had a group of 5 adults, who paid $45 each, but my parents also did their own (similar) tour and they paid $60 each, so the more you have in your group the  cheaper it will be per person.

Street Vendors along the main highway of St Lucia
Street Vendors along the main highway of St Lucia

Driving to Soufriere

We headed south from Castries towards Soufriere, which is a hub of a number of a number of attractions. To get to Soufriere you must drive about 90 minutes up and down at least 10 mountains (I genuinely lost count and the driver had no idea). This is easier said than done, as the road is windy, bumpy, thin, and riddled with potholes.

I was very glad to have taken a private tour at the cruise terminal rather than hiring a car for this reason alone. Although the extra flexibility would have been nice, the drive would have been long and stressful.

That said if you think you can handle yourself on the roads – like if you are from New Zealand which has similar roads – then go right ahead because it would have been cool to stop at one or some of the many local restaurants and bars with what I imagine are magnificent oceanic views.

Colourful houses in Canaries, St Lucia
Colourful houses in Canaries

Despite being so steep and windy – or in more likelihood because of it – it is a spectacular drive. Every gap in the trees is another opportunity to glimpse the stunning mountainous coastline. In typical Caribbean style, many of the houses in the villages are painted in differing pastel colours and looked really pretty from above. One village actually reminded me of Cinque Terre, Italy, being on the coast with coloured houses built closely up he side of a mountain.

Sulphur Springs Volcano

The first stop on the tour was Sulphur Springs Volcano, famed as the Caribbean’s only drive in Volcano. You pay US$12 for your entry which includes a very brief “tour” (or a walk up some steps with a guide), and entry into the mud baths.

It has an elevation of around 300 metres, it last erupted in 1769 and at its hottest point the water and mud is around 100 degrees Celcius.

Sulphur Springs Drive in Volcano St Lucia

It was really more of a rock formation with mud than an actual volcano so don’t expect to be seeing too much lava bubbling away. But the steam is obvious and it is a very dramatic location.

The mud bath was a bit fun. The water flows through the springs and at the baths I estimate that it had to have been over 40 degrees celcius. The heat was immediate and made me recoil at first. After you were feeling suitably relaxed they have buckets of the sulphur mud for you to lather up with, wait for it to dry, then wash off in the steaming muddy water.

I’m not much of an exfoliator, but I do think that my skin was noticeably smoother after the mud bath, so it’s not just a gimmick.

It can get really crowded on cruise days as it is a very popular activity, so just be prepared for lots of people – the baths are not very big.

Mud bath at the Sulphur Springs Volcano St Lucia

Toraille Waterfall

Our taxi driver took us to Toraille Waterfall, which was a nice waterfall, not to far from the Botanical Gardens. It is a refreshing place for a dip after the mud spa. In fact, many people left the mud on their face to wash off in waterfall as the distance between the two is not far.

Toraille Waterfall near Soufriere, St Lucia

Soufriere

We didn’t spend a lot of time in Soufriere unfortunately. We could have, but the day we went was January 2nd, which in St Lucia is still a public holiday for New Years. It was a lovely little seaside town, not much beach, but plenty of local places to eat and drink in well maintained, colourful colonial timber buildings.

There is also an ATM inside the Bank of St Lucia, housed in a beautifully well-preserved colonial building along the main street.

Bank of St Lucia Colonial Building in Soufriere, St Lucia

The Pitons

The Pitons are two steep mountains located right on the coast, dominating the landscape of Soufriere and surrounds, reaching a height of around 800 metres. Gros Piton, the larger of the two can be hiked, but it is a very strenuous and steep 2-3 hour hike – and that’s just to reach the summit. Your driver will likely stop at an excellent viewing point on the way into Soufriere.

Gross and Petit Piton dominating Soufriere, St Lucia

Due to the length of time it would take to hike, I probably wouldn’t advise doing it as a cruise excursion, because it would be the only activity you’ll have time for. Plus you’ll need to organise a guide and transport there.

Not impossible, but it would be tight.

Marigot Bay

We didn’t go down to the bay itself, and I doubt you would have time on a regular day trip, but our driver did stop at a place with a pretty special view of the bay. The only catch was you had to buy a drink at the place he stopped as it wasn’t just a lookout. Given that beers were only $3, and I was pretty thirsty this was an easy decision to make.

View of Marigot Bay, St Lucia

As an added bonus we were treated to a bit of a show as well. As I mentioned, you had buy a drink or at least pay $2 to take some photos and enjoy the view. Some large German guy thought he would try and take advantage of these people by taking his photos and just leaving. The owner lady, who was fairly hefty herself closed the gate and said he couldn’t leave until he paid, which he refused to do.

He pushed her, she pushed back, arms were thrown, the fence was bent, shirts were ripped and police were called. B.man couldn’t handle the excitement and broke into tears, I felt bad for the owner who is just trying to make an honest living and this man on vacation is just trying to take advantage of her for the sake of a couple of bucks.

Discover Castries

When we got back to the terminal, our tour had ended but we still had a couple of hours until “all aboard” so we took a short “taxi” into town to have a poke around. I use the word taxi loosely because it was clearly just some dudes car.

He dropped us near the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and since it was still the New Year’s holiday the whole town happened to be out in droves at a street market nearby.

Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Castries, St Lucia

There was a DJ playing music, stalls with drinks, food, toys, other random wares. Best of all, I didn’t see a single white person apart from our little group.

We missed lunch so we found a lady cooking chicken on a BBQ by the side of the road who sold us a leg and thigh for $2 each. I don’t know how this magical lady did it but the meat was perfectly moist with the skin ever so crispy, all in some delicious home made tomato sauce. It will go down as one of my favourite meals of the trip because of the experience and lack of food poisoning.

Lunch from this lady's bbq at the New Year's festival in Castries, St Lucia

We kept walking and since we had a few more dollars to spend we sat down at an outdoor bar and ordered a few beers: Piton, named for the towering mountains “Gros and Perit Piton” near Soufriere. It was another local joint and it was great to be able to sit down and watch the locals go by.

There were so many little bars along this road, many only just larger than a hole in the wall operation. We selected one where we were most sure we wouldn’t get murdered called Triple D’s and had a round of Pitons.

A couple of the local bars we didn't linger at in Castries, St Lucia
A couple of the local bars we didn’t linger at

Beaches of St Lucia

Unlike other Caribbean islands, St Lucia is not known for its beaches. In fact many beaches have black sand due to the volcanic nature of the island. While I didn’t visit a single beach on St Lucia, here are a few that had been recommended to me in one form or another.

  • Anse Chastanet, near Soufriere
  • Anse Mamin, near Soufriere
  • Smuggler’s Cove, northern St Lucia
  • LaBas Beach, Marigot Bay

Things to Note for visiting St Lucia

Getting a tour the day of at the cruise terminal seems counter-intutive as it feels like you’re just begging to be ripped off. But all things considered I actually think it is the best and most efficient way of seeing a lot of the attractions for a reasonable price with a fair bit flexibility built in. You’ll get a private tour and will pay less than half what you might pay with a cruise line excursion.

The cost of a taxi ride is also mandated by the government and is $20 each way to and from Soufriere, so we figured we might as well get a tour for a similar price.

Our tour cost $45 each with a group of 5. The van seated 14-15 but i think it would be rare that they fill it all the way up. The price would be more per person with a smaller group, I imagine, as they asked me how many people were in our group before giving a price.

St Lucia operates equally in USD (for the benefit of tourists) and the Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD) at an exchange of around 2.7. Tourist attractions are priced in both and most places will accept either. But know that almost no one accepts credit card so ensure you have enough cash with you to get by. This caught us out and actually had to borrow money from our tour guide.

Take snacks with you because our driver didn’t take us to any lunch spots, yours might not either.

Fast Facts

Price of a beer: USD$2.50-$3.00

Currency: USD and Eastern Caribbean Dollar (XCD).

Local beer: Piton Lager

Local distillery: St Lucia Rum Distillery and Marigot Bay Distillery. Keep an eye out for delicious banana and coconut creme liqueurs.

Make sure to bring: old swimmers (I had some disclolouration on mine from the sulphur springs mud bath)

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View of Marigot Bay, St Lucia. Many cruises stop at St Lucia and there is too much to see in one day. Here is how I spent my day ashore and how I recommend it for you. Gros Pitons, St Lucia. Many cruises stop at St Lucia and there is too much to see in one day. Here is how I spent my day ashore and how I recommend it for you.


5 Caribbean islands that will take your breath away

When searching for a slice of island life in which to spend a few days on vacation, by scrolling through the wonders of the Caribbean you would be hard pressed not to feel spoilt for choice. From relaxing on pristine beaches to hiking up rigorous mountains, there is sure to be something for everyone in this pocket of paradise.

When visiting the Caribbean, quite often it can be hard to go wrong, but when searching for deals, sometimes you just need a bit of a kick start. Here are just 5 islands to get your travel juices flowing.

Incredible sunsets are the highlight of Negril

Negril Jamaica

Negril is a paradise on the island of Jamaica with one beautiful white, 7 mile long beach dotted with resorts along its entirety. It is temperate year round and even through the afternoon tropical rain, which occurs daily around 2pm, it is still lovely weather for swimming.

The beautiful white sand runs seamlessly into the calm Caribbean waters, and being on the western side of the island makes it a perfect spot to watch the incredible sunset that lights up the sky every night. Negril is home to some of the best sunsets I’ve ever experienced so it is easy to see why many in the north visit here so frequently.

castaway cay bahamas

Castaway Cay, Bahamas

Beautiful crisp white sand and crystal clear azure water. All this with the added magic that Disney brings to every project they undertake. Welcome to Castaway Cay.

Castaway Cay is Disney’s own private island and it can only be reached on one of Disney Cruise Line’s Caribbean cruises. The island is divided into two main sections: a large primary horseshoe beach complete with an over-water jungle gym, and an adults only beach over the back of the island, where the atmosphere is much quieter.

Although the island is incredibly beautiful, Disney of course bring their own charm to the island, with features named for popular Disney characters and places, as well as visits from characters throughout the day.

Maho Beach Sint Maarten
Maho Beach Sint Maarten, by Ivan Wong Rodenas via Flickr CC

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

Not many islands this small offer visitors the opportunity to visit two very distinct cultures on the one island. Settled by the Dutch and the French, each side is visibly different, highlighting the incredible beauty of the respective archictecture, cuisine, and way of life.

Maho Beach on the island’s southwest is also adjacent to the airport so beachgoers are treated to a real show as the low planes almost skim the beach on their way in and out. It’s truly a sight to behold.

Vintage car in Havan Cuba by Jan Arendtsz via Flickr CC

Cuba

I have actually not been to Cuba, but it makes it into this article because it very high on of my list of places to visit soon. I tried to include it in my current USA/Caribbean trip but it was difficult to make it work how I wanted within the budget I could afford; flights are still quite expensive.

The reason I tried so hard to fit it in is because to me it comes across as a time capsule, a country frozen in time without access to much of the Americanism the rest of the world has been used to for the last 60 years.

The authentic culture is what attracts me most because of that restriction they’ve had from US exports. And now that the borders have just been opened up I expect the influence will begin to trickle through so time is of the essence.

The buildings and the cars are one thing, but once you get out of Havana, there is also many beautiful beaches to relax on with that perfect azure water flowing into that soft white sand. Varadero, Cayo Santa Maria and Playa los Flamencos are just some of the beaches you can explore, and are surrounded by resorts.

Sting Rays at Gibbs Cay, Grand Turk. Photo by visittci.com

Grand Turk

Grand Turk is a tiny island of only 18km squared. It is part of the Turks and Caicos Islands right near the edge of the Caribbean. Grand Turk hasn’t always been, but it is another big stop on the cruise circuit because it is geographically situated about half way between the eastern Caribbean Islands and Florida.

Apart from a convenience though it also boasts one of the best beaches in the world for snorkelling with sting rays. This is on Gibbs Beach, an even smaller island a short boat ride away from the main island.

The sting rays are friendly and as long as you follow the instructions from the tour operators and tread carefully you’ll be able to wade among the majestic creatures without incident. (I don’t believe you can visit easily without doing a tour).

I know there are many, many more breathtaking islands in the Caribbean, so which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments below.

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