The Algarve is the much-beloved summer southern destination of both Portuguese and Europeans alike, with a stunning topography of golden cliffs descending to meet the Atlantic Sea. Many hotels here even offer elevators to reach the beach below! The region is dotted with seaside towns but also has some very interesting interior excursions available for those who want to take a break from the beach and learn more about Portuguese culture. There are some excellent golf courses located here as well, and the region is often more than ten degrees warmer than other parts of Portugal in the winter. Despite its popularity, it’s possible to plan a unique trip to the Algarve, beyond the beaches if you so desire.
Choose this region if you’re interested in sun, sea, picturesque cliffs, water sports, and outdoor activities!
This area is truly one of the most photogenic in all of Portugal – the dramatic cliffs against the gorgeous Atlantic Ocean at sunset are sublime. But I would argue that this region could take more planning and thoughtful itinerary design than other areas of Portugal. Here’s why:
Know The Geography
“The Algarve” is the southernmost region of Portugal but stretches from the Atlantic Ocean on the west to the Spanish border to the east. While on the map it’s a two-hour drive across its length, it’s not quite so easy to navigate. The seaside towns and the beaches are not necessarily close to near the one major highway that travels east to west. Each time you change locations, you’ll be backtracking or detouring to get back to that highway to continue your journey. This is why knowing exactly where you wish to visit in the Algarve can be useful as you need an accurate location to judge how far away your excursion or hotel may be from your end destination.
The topography and vegetation in the Algarve can be quite diverse as well – so I always ask my travelers “what do you want to take photos of?” to make sure to match their expectations when we set off to plan a trip to the Algarve. The area between Lagos and Faro, for example, is most known for the dramatic cliffs, sea grottoes, and beautiful rock formations. It’s the area most likely to spring to mind if you’ve ever seen photos of the Algarve.
But there are other shifts in the scenery as well. The extreme western part of the Algarve (from Sarges to Odeceixe), known as Costa Vincente, is one of the least developed stretches of coastlines in all of Europe, with a strong emphasis on nature preservation, surfing, and wilderness – a far cry from the popular resort towns in the traditional Algarve. Because it’s fully exposed to the power of the Atlantic Ocean, you won’t find calm little swimming groves or tranquil waters here – expect wind-eroded cliffs and long stretches of beaches pounded by the full strength of the ocean. But this exposure means it’s an excellent destination for surfing, bodyboarding, and windsurfing – as well as walkers who want to explore the miles of cliffside trails available. If you plan your trip to the Algarve around off-the-beaten path locations, it’s possible to find beaches here unmarked by even one cafe or paved parking lot – just careful wooden boardwalks leading you to miles-long coastlines.
Traveling east, the upper-central Algarve has areas with red limestone clay earth between the mountains and the coastline – with typical Mediterranean shrub growth and opportunities to find fig and olive trees. And the northern part of the Algarve (before crossing into the Alentejo region) is distinguished by a small mountain range giving you plenty of hiking opportunities, swimming in hot springs, and discovering the traditional ways of rural life in Portugal. Don’t overlook excursions into these areas of the Algarve – I encourage you to “go beyond the beaches” here!
Be Aware: Everyone Else Wants to Go Here Too In the Summer
Insider tip: Try to avoid the Algarve in July and August, when lodging will be hard to find and prices will sky-rocket as thousands of Europeans and Portuguese alike descend for their summer holidays. Of course, this is also perfect beach weather time, so weigh your priorities if you’re seeking fewer crowds but still want to be able to go swimming. During the off-season, however, the scenery is no less gorgeous while the hotel prices will be much more reasonable!
While the area between Lagos and Faro is “the” destination for beach resorts, continuing east the area between Faro and Tavira (Eastern Algarve) is much less frequented by tourists but no less beautiful. Consider this as an option when you plan a trip to the Algarve. As a savvy traveler, you can experience the sunshine and beauty of the Algarve by choosing less touristy towns with plenty of welcoming vibes, delicious food, and gorgeous photo-ops. Talk to your travel advisor if you plan to be traveling during the high summer tourist season, and what type of atmosphere you’re looking for – there are still some great alternatives even if you’re looking to avoid crowds.
Another insider tip….Tavira is one of the best-known towns in the Eastern Algarve – but still relatively unknown to the tourists swarming the western areas! It still contains an authentic Portuguese experience while providing modern tourist facilities and some fantastic hotels. The town is built on two sides of the River Gilao and provides picturesque opportunities to stretch your legs and explore – perhaps shopping at the ceramic and handmade art stores that have not yet been overtaken by the souvenir shops found in other areas. You’re also able to take tours to the Ria Formosa lagoon, a nature preserve build around barrier islands, and nearby salt pans. And gorgeous beaches are just a short ferry ride away.
Transportation in the Algarve – What to Know
Most visitors to Portugal fly into either Porto or Lisbon. There’s an airport in the Algarve in the capital of Faro, but this is mainly served by other European airports, so it often isn’t an option for North American visitors. This means that to even access the Algarve, you’re looking at a 3-hour journey south from Lisbon.
If you don’t have a private transfer (I can arrange this), your options are to self-drive or to take the train. But the train has its own unique challenges. There’s really only a direct train route from Lisbon to Faro, and sometimes Albufeira. You then have to switch to a regional train that oddly doesn’t stop at all important Algarve destinations. With the transfer, train wait times, and multiple connections, it’s sometimes quicker to pay for a longer taxi to your final destination after arriving at Faro instead of waiting for the next train!
If you are only spending a few days in the Algarve, taking public transportation from Lisbon can cut into your vacation time, so it’s worth considering renting a car or hiring a driver-guide. This is why for short stays in the Algarve I often limit my suggestions to centrally-located towns to maximize your itinerary. If you have a bit more time or a private driver-guide, it’s easier to go a bit further afield when you plan your trip to the Algarve.
Activities – How to Plan A Trip to the Algarve
Here are some highlights of an Algarve itinerary, in addition to enjoying the fantastic pools and/or beaches of your hotel! Make sure to leave plenty of time for enjoying delicious seafood as well and people-watching on the boardwalks, perhaps with some ice cream in hand?
- Visit Sagres at dusk for some of the finest sunsets in all the country. While there is a wonderful hotel here, be aware that it’s quite far from many other areas of the Algarve and also extremely windy (more suitable for surfing than swimming). I prefer to visit on a day trip or to spend just one or two nights before moving to a more centrally located area for further excursions.
- In the centrally located major town of Lagos, from where Portuguese navigators departed on their ships during the Age of Exploration, head to the Ponta de Piedade headland, one of the most photographed sites in the region. There’s a lighthouse at the end of the road as well as stairways and boardwalks letting you explore the cliffsides. It’s a great place to capture some fantastic photos and get a feel for the beauty of the region, especially if you’re on a tight itinerary without much wiggle room.
- If in the south-central Algarve region, take a boat out to explore the sea caves and watch for dolphins, or sign up for a day of surfing lessons.
- Silves, the ancient capital of the Algarve, is not on the coast, and so can provide an interesting cultural excursion during your stay. It was an important stronghold during the Moorish occupation in the 9th-12th century. There’s a fantastic red brick castle here and it’s a great place to have lunch and do some strolling around the town square on a day-tour in the region.
- Learn about beekeeping on a small group tour and taste several different varieties of honey.
- Explore the mountainous town of Monchique, with heavy forests and dramatic viewpoints from the highest point of the Algarve, away from the coastline.
- Head into the hills for hiking and walking tours or cliffside coastal walks. Or, take a jeep safari off-road with a small group tour, showing you secret viewpoints and fantastic photo ops with a local guide.
- Learn about wines in the Algarve with tastings and small farm tours. Visit local markets and try out different olive oils or learn how to make traditional bread.
- Take a boat tour of the Rio Formosa National Park, with plenty of bird watching available including pink flamingoes!
- If staying in Tavira, don’t forget Seville is less than 2 hours away – doable for a day trip or to combine with your itinerary in Spain!
The Algarve is the southernmost picturesque region of mainland Portugal, best beloved by foreign tourists for its sunshine and gorgeous beaches – but don’t overlook the many opportunities to continue learning more about culture, history, and gastronomy here! With careful planning for your trip to the Algarve, you can not only have an amazing sun-drenched vacation but also see some of the best highlights of this area without falling into tourist traps or accidentally picking the wrong locations.
What do you think – could you spend a whole week here or are you looking for a different type of region for your Portuguese itinerary? Reach out to get started on the planning process!
Budapest is a fantastic city to spend a long weekend or to linger a little longer during a multi-stop Europe trip. If you’re boarding a Danube river cruise here, I highly encourage you to arrive a few days early to enjoy this lovely European city. It’s a stunning mix of beautiful architecture, a diverse & global food scene, and incredible history.
The Castle District / Fisherman’s Bastion
Central Market –
Night cruise down the Danube
Sweet treats – Cafe New York and/or the Parisi Passages
Another beautiful spot for coffee is the Parisi Passage Cafe (also connects to a brasserie for lunch/dinner!) where you will definitely want to order a treat and enjoy the beautiful interiors which feel rather Parisian. It’s part of the stunning Parisi Udvar Hotel, built around the Art Nouveau covered passageways.
Honorable mentions for history lovers
As you can see, Budapest is worth than just a quick visit! Make sure to extend your stay before/after a Danube river cruise, or spend a few nights here on a multi-country European train journey. Reach out to get started on the planning process!
There’s nothing quite like taking a vacation to get your mind and body back in shape. Being able to disconnect from the stresses of everyday life is a huge benefit of travel, but unfortunately, that also means exposure to new germs. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to stay healthy while traveling, regardless of how packed your itinerary may be. When you’re on the road it’s easy to feel as though you have no control over your day-to-day life. However, setting some precautions before you leave home, keeping up hydration while you’re away, maintaining good hygiene habits and following general travel tips will make it much easier to keep sickness at bay.
Hydration is key to keeping your immune system healthy. Be sure to drink lots of water in the days leading up to your departure, and while you’re on the road. Carry a reusable water bottle with you and refill it regularly. Enjoy yourself, but try not to go too hard on caffeine or alcohol, as both are dehydrating. And make sure to drink extra when you do have an adult beverage or go back for that extra cappuccino.
Already feeling run down? Before your trip, perhaps consider trying IV therapy to get fully hydrated with a vitamin boost.
I also recommend grabbing some electrolyte/rehydration tabs or powder, they can fit into your bag easily and are great for on the go. Here is one of my favs: LMNT salt rehydration
Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep is crucial to staving off sickness and keeping your immune system strong. Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Try to stick to your normal sleep patterns while you’re away from home.
If you are traveling to a different time zone, try to adjust to your new time as quickly as you can. Getting sunlight and fresh air can help reset your circadian rhythm. Avoid caffeine or stimulants too close to your new sleep time, and likewise use melatonin to help fall asleep when it is time.
For long-haul flights, upgrade your seat if it fits your budget. The extra room and comfort can help you arrive at your destination rested and ready to go.
Vitamins & supplements
Whether you’re traveling long-term or just heading out of town for a few days, it’s easy to put healthy eating on the back burner. While I do recommend eating well, it’s a good idea to add in some vitamins for a boost.
A daily multivitamin is always a good choice and maybe add in some vitamin C or zinc supplements as well. While they won’t prevent illness, they have been shown to reduce the length and severity of colds.
They work best when already in your system before you catch a bug, so start taking them in advance of your travel.
Since you’re likely to come into contact with more people while traveling, it’s important to maintain good hygiene practices to avoid spreading germs while striving to experience healthy traveling. Wash your hands often (especially after going to the bathroom and before eating) and use hand sanitizer when there’s no soap and water nearby.
Pack some alcohol-based sanitizing wipes to clean surfaces on the go (looking at you plane armrests and tray table). Avoid touching your face too often.
Allow for downtime during travel
It’s important to schedule some downtime on any trip, but it’s especially crucial when you’re traveling in a new place. Being in a new environment with new stresses and germs can put your body under stress. This can weaken your immune system and leave you more susceptible to getting sick.
Try to find time to relax when you can. It’s tempting to squeeze in everything possible when you have a big trip planned, but you’ll be better off if you spend a few hours a day doing something relaxing or even catching a quick nap.
Keep stress in check
Stress is a huge contributor to illness. It causes your body to produce excess cortisol, which is toxic to your body and immune system. It’s important to keep stress in check while you’re away from home in order to experience healthy traveling.
There are simple ways to reduce stress when you are on the road. First, always allow extra time for travel. Arrive earlier at the airport and give yourself extra time going from one site to the next while in destination.
Practice breathing exercises. One easy go-to is box breathing or 4×4 breathing. Here’s how:
- slowly breathe out, releasing all the air from your lungs
- breathe in slowly, counting to 4
- hold for a 4 count
- breathe out for a 4 count
- hold for a 4 count
- repeat a few times
Use supplements if they work for you. Things like CBD, L-theanine, and magnesium can help. Talk to your doctor to see what’s best for you.
Moving helps with your immune system, digestion and stress levels while you are on the go. All will make your vacay a little better. It’s easier than you think to work in some exercise on your trip.
No need to plan for intense workouts. Most vacations lend themselves to plenty of walking, so it’s easy to get steps in. If you need a bit more, add in some easy stretches in your room.
Want to make it more fun? Build in some activities you’ll enjoy during the trip. Yoga on the beach, a round of golf, a scenic hike, etc.
While you can’t control the people or places you’ll encounter on a vacation, you can do your best to prevent getting sick. Take care of your health before you go and you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your vacation to the fullest.
Want to really take your stress level down? Let us handle the planning and take care of all the details for you. Get started here https://travelobservations.com/contact-me/
If you want a vacation full of fun in the sun and Iberian charm, then the region of the Algarve should be on the top of your list. This slice of Southern Portugal isn’t a hidden secret either as it’s one of the most visited parts of the country, and the reasons are obvious. Firstly, the beaches are world-renowned, having been awarded Europe’s best beach destination in 2020. The cuisine is also to die for as both artisanal mom-and-pop stores and Michelin-starred restaurants are just scattered throughout the region. Aside from these, I highly recommend visiting Algarve for the stunning architecture and the rich history that goes along with it. If you map it right, you can hit a series of towns and cities that will take you along a trip through time.
Home to the famous city of Faro, we start our journey in the largest city in the region. The city traces its origins as a Roman city and even before as a Phoenecian colony. You can still see traces of this era with its wall, known as the Muralhas de Faro, which remains standing after nearly 2000 years. Make your way to the Arco de Villa to see the main entrance to the city with some touches of Arab influence. The Our Lady of the Assumption Convent can also give you a snapshot at another important period of the city – the 1500s. Here, you can see a mix of gothic and renaissance styles influenced by the royals of the time.
Head about an hour west into the interior and you’ll reach Silves which, before Faro gained influence, was the capital of Algarve. Here you can find one of the strongest symbols of Arab occupation – the Castelo de Silves. Started by the Romans, this defensive castle was built to its current state by the Moors and to this day towers above the city. You can still walk along the old patrol route along the wall which is made from limestone from the surrounding area. You can also go to the nearby Archeological Museum of Silves which was built from part of the old wall. This provides an interesting snapshot of the city from prehistory to the middle ages.
Head south towards the coast and you’ll reach the city of Portimao. Though the area has settled on since prehistoric times, the city only found its start as a way to defend the Arade river from the Moors during the reconquest. Signs of its storied past can be seen in the archeological site of Alcalar. Here you can see ancient dwellings and burial sites of a time gone by. Having been a struggling town from that point, the city saw a boom in the 19th century when fishing and canning became a dominant industry. That’s why visiting the city museum gives you a glimpse of what working at a canning factory at the time would have looked like.
Head westward along the coast for half an hour and you’ll reach the port city of Lagos. If that sounds familiar to you, it’s because it’s what the largest city in Nigeria was named after. Of course, the reason why isn’t as amusing. Still, the city was a hub for discovery at that time and signs of this shining past can be seen to this day. The city is surrounded by a well-preserved wall that dates back to the Romans but cannot be toured by the public. You can also find a coastal fort known as the Forte da Ponte de Bandeira. The oldest house in the city was also once the slave market. Now, it’s a museum for slavery known as the Mercado de Escarvos.
Head west for another thirty minutes and you’ll hit Vila do Bispo on the edge of Portugal. Though small in comparison to the other cities along this route, the town held religious, economic, and strategic significance and was constantly attacked by both the English and the Moors. This forced authorities to construct forts all along the coast. Three survive to this day – Cabo de San Vicente, Santo Antonio de Beliche, and Sagres, the latter of which was founded by and became the residence of Prince Henry the Navigator and is now a national monument.
When traveling, history isn’t always top of mind for most tourists. In fact, this might be far you’re your mind as the Algarve is a paradise for holiday seekers and sunbathers. But, I like to think that if you’ll be miles from home in a far away land straight out of a fairytale, then it might be worth immersing yourself in that experience. This route is easy, close to many touristy spots, and is perfect for making the most of Europe’s most famous secret.
Banff is a fantastic town in the Canadian Rockies that’s well worth a multi-day stay, perhaps on your trip with Rocky Mountaineer. Wondering what to do with your free time here? Here are my top suggestions. Please note: I have not included certain activities such as an excursion up to the Athabasca Icefields or the Banff Gondola because these are often included in Rocky Mountaineer packages. If you are not traveling with Rocky Mountaineer or you do not have these activities included, you should definitely consider adding these to your itinerary!
Banff Upper Hot Springs
Entry to Banff Upper Hot Springs is first come, first served. Reservations and pre-booked tickets are not available: https://www.hotsprings.ca/banff
Bow River Canoe Tours
River Explorer – Big Canoe Tours: Enjoy the serenity of the Bow River and marvel at the surroundings whilst on a Big Canoe Tour. As you journey upstream, our guides will entertain you with stories of the past, history of canoeing and interesting local facts. Every tour includes life jackets and paddles plus instruction on how to paddle as a team.
Wildlife on the Bow – Big Canoe Tours: Discover life on the Bow River. Join us on an early evening Big Canoe tour and learn fun facts about animal habitats, behaviors and conservation. Escape the bustling Banff Streets and get back to nature. Enjoy paddling up the scenic Bow River while keeping your eyes peeled for some of the locals – bald eagles, elk, muskrats and maybe even “Barry” our resident beaver.
Kayak Experience: Join us on a group kayak paddle to explore the Bow River. Check out the local wildlife, capture that perfect picture in front of Mount Rundle and maybe even catch a glimpse of our resident beaver, Barry. Connect with nature and other kayakers as you enjoy the serene surroundings and picturesque views from Vermilion Lake. Our friendly hosts will help answer your questions and point you in the right direction.
Hike Johnston’s Canyon – Upper and Lower Johnson’s Falls trails
The Roam Bus offers daily service from the town of Banff to Johnston Canyon from late June to mid-September. For the schedule and fares see: Banff Roam Bus Service To Johnston Canyon. There is no public transportation to the falls outside of this time frame. Booking through a company offering a tour to the area or taking a taxi would be the only options.
Cave and Basin National Historic Site
Cave and Basics Tour – Looking for a quick introduction to all the highlights Cave and Basin National Historic Site has to offer? Join us for this accessible 30-minute indoor/outdoor tour of the 1914 Bathing Pavilion and its many hidden wonders—from Indigenous significance and historic architecture, to a mysterious cave and the birth of national parks in Canada, to the tiny and endangered Banff Springs Snail.
Discovery Tour – On this stroll along lush marsh boardwalks, you will meet colourful characters from Banff’s past and learn why the Cave and Basin National Historic Site is the birthplace of national parks in Canada. Open your senses to jaw-dropping views and bubbling hot springs that have inspired people to visit this special place for millennia.
Natural History Tour – The unique Cave and Basin landscape has been shaped by three things: hot water, biology, and people. Explore the biodiversity of the wetland area surrounding the Cave and Basin, where snakes, fish, birds, bears, microbes, snails, flowers, and humans all share a connection with the thermal waters.
Thermal Waters Pass: https://parks.canada.ca/lhn-nhs/ab/caveandbasin/visit/thermales-thermal
Banf ATV tours
Lake Minnewanka Cruise
Feel the fresh mountain air, watch for wildlife and get adventurous on Banff’s largest lake. Choose from one of our acclaimed cruises and explore under the lead of a knowledgeable guide on a heated, covered boat. Or set your own course with a kayak, canoe or motorboat rental.
White Water Rafting
Raft gentle Class 2-3 rapids with the family on the Kananaskis River, get more adventurous on Class 3-4 rapids on the Horseshoe Canyon or go deeper and bigger with up to Class 5 rapids on the Kicking Horse River.
- Hydra River Guides – https://www.raftbanff.com/
- Chinook Rafting – https://bll.fyi/j9th
- Wild Water Adventures – https://www.wildwater.com/
Rocky Mountain Raft Tours
Rocky Mountain Raft Tours offers scenic guided float trips on the Bow River within Banff National Park.
Denali National Park is probably one of the top destinations you think of when you hear “Alaska,” and for good reason! It is home to America’s highest peak, Mt Denali, rising 20,310 feet above the Alaska range. It’s so tall that it creates its own weather system and is often shrouded in clouds – visitors proudly brag they are in the “30% club” when they get to see it as it’s usually under cloud cover 70% of the time.
Most visitors want to see Alaska’s “Big Five” animals in particular: moose, caribou, wolf, Dall sheep, and the brown/grizzly bear. See all five in the park, and you score what is called a “Denali Slam.” Unlike most wilderness areas in the continental USA, you don’t have to be an extreme backbacker in the remote wilds to see wildlife here in Denali – you have excellent chances of spotting amazing animals even without sleeping in a tent!
Here are some of the top activities to do in or near Denali National Park – linger a while here to appreciate this incredible preserve, and resist itineraries that have you rush your experience!
The park’s interior is strictly protected and to preserve its wilderness, only approved buses may transit past the 15-mile mark. The road is 92 miles long into the park. If you have your own car, you may drive as far as mile marker 15.
There are two main types of buses in Denali – narrated trips (tour buses) and non-narrated trips (transit buses). In addition, a few free buses travel routes around the park entrance, connecting visitor centers and points of interest in the same area where visitors may drive their own vehicles. The narrated/tour buses have driver-guides onboard and have three basic itineraries:
- Half day: Denali National History Tour, about 5 hours roundtrip, to mile marker 27
- Full day: Tundra Wilderness Tour, about 8 hours roundtrip, to mile marker 82
- Fullest day: Kantishna Tour, about 12 hours roundtrip, to mile marker 92
The non-narrated/transit buses follow the same road but are informal and do not have a formal “tour guide” onboard, although drivers will stop for animals and will share key pieces of information. These buses allow you to hop on/hop off at your convenience throughout the day for independent hiking, picnics, scenic viewpoints, and more. (For updated tours in 2022, check out the National Park Service page here.)
ATV Tours or Self-Drive Narrated Jeep Tours
For an active adventure, consider renting ATVs or jeeps to explore through the backcountry adjacent to Denali National Park. These guided adventures will thrill you with their views of the central Alaska Range and one of the USA’s most scenic drives. These tours do not go on the central road referenced above in the bus tour but is no less scenic and wildlife spotting is often possible on the Jeep tours!
See the sled dogs
You can visit the park rangers’ sled dogs and find out more about their training, for free! View a ranger-led sledding demonstration or simply stop by the kennels to visit the dogs. This is a fantastic opportunity to learn more about Alaska’s unique mode of transportation if you didn’t get up close with sled dogs during other parts of your trip. Free shuttles from the Denali Visitor Center depart daily in the summer to get to the kennels.
Denali offers hikes for visitors of all levels – for hiking enthusiasts, take the bus into the park and hop on/hop off throughout the day. For those who prefer to learn from park rangers, the rangers offer several guided hikes (free!) from the Denali Visitor Center which is easily accessible either with your own car or with a shuttle from your hotel. There are also trails in this area for you to do independently Ranger led hikes from the visitor center tend to be easy-paced, but they also offer ranger-led off-trail hikes that are more challenging and will drive you much deeper into the park before beginning a longer hike off-trail. If you’re not an experienced hiker but want to try off-trail hiking, I really recommend a ranger-led program.
For cycle enthusiasts, you can bike the entire 92 miles of the Denali park road if you wish. Electric bikes are allowed as far as mile 15.
Whitewater rafting or float trips
Most tours take place on the Nenana River just outside the park. Choose to battle the rapids, or simply embark on a 13 mile easy float (no rapids) with a guide that will help you spot bear, moose, caribou, lynx, Dall sheep, from the river. A river float is a very special way to appreciate the vastness of this area.
Get a bird’s eye view of Denali National Park with an airplane tour. You’ll be able to see glaciers, the Alaska Range, and even get within 5 miles of Mt Denali itself. Many people say this is an incredible memory-making experience and one of the highlights of their trip.
Do you need a car?
There are several hotels near the entrance to Denali National Park, often with restaurants in walking distance. Many hotels provide shuttles both from the train station and to/from the park entrance, so even if you don’t have a car, it’s quite possible to have a fantastic experience in this area.
I’m in the 30% club of people who have seen Mt Denali and it’s beautiful! What would you be most excited about experiencing in Denali National Park?
For more inspiration & for assistance in planning your next trip to Denali, please visit my Alaska planning services page!
1. Stay inside the historic center
The historic center of Cartagena is so magical, especially at nighttime, that I feel you lose something if you choose to head to the modern high-rise section where the Hyatts and Hiltons are. I’ve stayed both in the old city and the modern, beachfront area before and much prefer the historic area. You can walk everywhere and easily find hidden gems for dining and shopping. If you stay in the high-rise area, it’s a quick 10 min taxi ride into the walled section.
Wherever you stay, I strongly recommend making sure you have a swimming pool for quick cool-offs – it’s very hot all year round here. On this trip I stayed at the 5-star Casa San Agustin. Wow! I can’t thank them enough for such an amazing stay. Upon arrival at Hotel Casa San Agustín, the sense of place is immediate. Thoughtful details evoke the city’s rich 17th century history as a Spanish stronghold: original frescoes in the Library, hand-wrought iron sconces and details, high wood-beamed ceilings, elegant tile accents, and a central pool set against an ancient aqueduct.
Casa San Agustin’s staff are outstanding – friendly, not stuffy; genuinely excited to help you experience the culture of Colombia; and ever-ready to answer your questions on dining recommendations or help you to book a tour/activity. You’ll feel right at home as soon as you arrive – and maybe start pulling up availability to see if you can extend your stay!
The hotel itself only has 31 rooms & suites so it’s very intimate. Every single room is different – some have private terraces with the occasional private pool, while others have a second living area – but all are consistent in their thoughtful details such as Italian linens, Nespresso machines, slippers and bathrobes, extra towels for terrace sunbathing, and lovely bathroom toiletries. I also cannot forget to mention their restaurant Alma – it’s one of the best in the city and the chef is outstanding! I have to admit, I never knew a ‘simple’ tomato salad could have me practically licking my plate!
Make sure to book Casa San Agustin with a Virtuoso travel advisor like myself in order to receive complimentary breakfast, $100 food & beverage credit, and upgrades at time of check-in based on availability – as well as benefiting from insider knowledge and careful trip planning skills!
2. Coffee workshop
Colombia is so proud of its coffee production so while in Cartagena, don’t miss the chance to learn more! I took a coffee workshop at Cafe San Alberto, one of the best coffee producers in Colombia and who suppliers the coffee for Casa San Agustin directly – so it’s easy to add this to your itinerary when staying at this hotel. Cafe San Alberto has a coffee shop within walking distance and our 2 hour “Baptism by Coffee” workshop was wonderful.
We learned how to detect sour, bitter, sweet tastes; how to properly read a coffee bag’s back label to determine the quality and freshness of the product; and how to discern good coffee through some blind tasting exercises. Our barista, Einer, was fantastic at engaging with us and answering all our questions. I would highly recommend adding this type of activity to your itinerary. Of course, I had to buy some bags of coffee from San Alberto to bring back home.
3. Walking tour of Cartagena
On this trip, Casa San Agustin arranged a private walking tour for us through one of my spectacular on the ground partners there. This is no ordinary walking tour focused on memorizing facts & figures – with our captivating guide, we learned about the secret codes embedded in the doors of Cartagena, the meaning behind the women in colorful dresses selling fruit, the Afro-Caribbean heritage of the city, the fight for independence from the Spaniards, and a deeper understanding of the culture of the town known as “the jewel of Colombia.”
A great tour guide can help focus on your interests – from military history to a photography workshop to helping you walk the fortifications to finding all the best street art to your heart’s content. Along with your guide, let yourself wander and get lost in the back-streets – you’ll find some amazing murals and artwork and hidden gems.
4. Watch the sunset
The Caribbean sunsets are just magical. One of the most popular things to do is to visit Cafe del Mar – this cafe/bar is actually set on top of the walls surrounding the old city, so you have a fantastic viewpoint of the sunset. If you actually want a seat and a drink, go about an hour before sunset as it gets crowded. It’s a wonderful social atmosphere with music playing and everyone claps as the sun drops below the horizon.
5. Visit the barrier islands of Cartagena
Cartagena is a gorgeous walled colonial city… it’s one downfall is that it doesn’t have great beaches right on its coast. That’s why I tell people to stay in the historic center and not worry about if their hotel has a beach or not.
The lack of beach is no problem, because right off the coast are the lovely Isla Rosario as well as Baru island which are probably the most popular excursion for both locals and tourists. I’ve taken both private excursions and public boats to the islands, but the best excursion was on this trip with Hotel Casa San Agustin, because they own their own private beach club!
6. Have amazing food
I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much ceviche in the past three days on this trip, but there are lots of other options if ceviche isn’t your thing. The fine dining opportunities are incredible. Fresh caught fish, meat, & imaginative vegetarian dishes are all available at top-quality restaurants throughout the town. And the plantain chips served as appetizers are addicting! It would also be great to do a food tour here – there are so many exotic fruits, fried snacks like empanadas and buñuelos, queso costeño (local salty cheese), frozen treats, and more that you can try just walking around the city.
7. Explore Cartagena at night time
Cartagena is a destination that must be seen at nighttime. I’m an introvert and even *I* love being out at night in Cartagena. The shops stay open late, the town squares have great people watching, and the neighborhoods become full of dancers, live music, street carts selling amazing snacks. The colonial architecture and street-art murals are lit up by soft lights and there is something so magical about being out at night. Everyone in the old city is walking around at night – it’s a very nocturnal culture full of joyful energy. Don’t forget to sign up for salsa lessons too!
8. Castillo San Felipe
The San Felipe fortress is the most well known landmark in Cartagena – built in 1639, it has never fallen in battle. Take a little bit of your day to go and explore the tunnels and battle rampant (be aware there are some uphill climbs so wear appropriate shoes, and a hat is always a good idea in the Cartagena weather).
9. Shopping in Cartagena
Whether you prefer high-end boutique stores or local artisanal markets, there’s something for everyone here. Also, Colombia is known for its gold and emerald production so jewelry lovers will be in heaven here – in fact, my fiancé gave me an emerald engagement ring precisely due to having visited the Emerald Museum together in Cartagena previously.
10. Extend your stay
Cartagena is easily explored within 3 days, so it’s perfect for a long weekend or quick visit from the USA – there are direct flights from New York, Miami and Fort Lauderdale in particular. If you’d like to extend your time in Colombia, Cartagena is still a perfect stop on your itinerary.
If this is your second trip to Cartagena and you want to see more, I suggest either splitting your time between Cartagena and an overnight in the Rosario Islands/Baru, OR for a longer trip combine Cartagena and Santa Marta, the gateway to Tayrona National Park. (You can also stop in Barranquilla on the way to Santa Marta.) I know the next time I go to Cartagena I would love to add on extra days in Santa Marta, which is the oldest surviving city in the country and second oldest in the whole of South America.
You can also fly between Medillin, Bogota, and other areas of Colombia. Colombia is a stunning destination and there is always more to explore! Interested in booking a trip? Let’s start the conversation here.
In Central and Eastern Europe, you’ll find some of the most spectacular landscapes, architecture—castles, churches and war memorials—as well as some of the most colorful, inviting cultures in the world. But what’s the best way to see it all? By taking a Danube River Cruise, of course.
The journey begins with a guided tour through the beautiful medieval city of Nuremberg where you’ll see the Imperial Castle, the famous town wall and the legendary fountain of the Market Square. For history buffs, there’s a guided tour of the city’s most significant WWII sites, including the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds, and the Nuremberg Trials Memoriam and Courtroom 600 (if the courtroom is not in session).
Next, you can savor traditional Franconian specialties including Nuremburger bratwurst, rotbier (red beer) and lebkuchen (gingerbread). While en route to the next destination, Regensburg, you’ll cruise through the man-made Main-Danube Canal.
At Regensburg, you’ll be treated to a guided walking tour through one of Germany’s best-preserved medieval cities. In Regensburg, you’ll see all the city’s architectural highlights, including the Old Town Hall and the Porta Praetoria. And if all that walking makes you hungry, there’s the old Bavarian specialties to satisfy you—beer, sausage, and pretzels.
Next, take a bike tour to Walhalla where you will see the neoclassical white marble temple inspired by the Parthenon in Athens.
The journey continues as you cruise to lower Bavaria’s city of Passau, where you’ll enjoy a walking tour along cobblestone streets and see Gothic and Italian Baroque architecture as well as St. Stephen’s Cathedral. If you’re looking to work in a little exercise, choose between a guided bike tour along the Danube, or a guided hike up to the Veste Oberhaus Fortress.
Continuing down the Danube, you’ll next stop at the scenic town of Melk, which is celebrated for its magnificent Benedictine Abbey. The abbey contains the tomb of Saint Coloman of Stockerau and the remains of several members of the House of Babenberg, Austria’s first ruling dynasty. If you’d like something more active to do, you can join a guided bike tour that takes you through the UNESCO-designated Wachau Valley; or go on a walking tour along Dürnstein’s cobblestone streets to the famed Baroque church tower, Stiftskirche. Later in the day, set sail through the vineyard rich Wachau Valley.
No trip to Austria would be complete without a stop in Vienna, “The City of Waltzes.” Vienna is a treasure trove and your tour showcases its regal splendors, including the majestic Opera House and the former Imperial Palace of the Habsburgs. Conclude your tour in the designated historic city center and visit St. Stephen’s Cathedral. For a more active exploration, take a guided bike ride to Klosterneuburg Monastery.
The city of Budapest is known as the Queen of the Danube, and your tour begins with a visit to the Great Market Hall. The remainder of this tour takes you to both the Buda (hilly) and the Pest (flat) sides of the river. Alternatively, hike up to Castle Hill for breathtaking views of the city. Cap the day off with an illumination cruise.
Continue your trek through Hungary with a pitstop in Puszta. Known as the Great Hungarian Plain, tour a genuine Hungarian csárda (farm) run by world-champion carriage-drivers. Afterward, be treated to an unforgettable performance of horsemanship and then experience the Hungarians’ warm hospitality, along with a traditional lunch complete with authentic goulash.
From Puszta, set sail to Mohács where you’ll enjoy a scenic morning cruise past a town sprinkled with magnificent churches, including the 18th-century Baroque Protestant church, the Roman Catholic church (1776), the Serbian Greek Orthodox church, the votive church (1926), and the Avas church with its bell tower. Next, you’ll cruise to Pécs, a city founded more than 2,000 years ago by the Romans. In Pécs, you’ll find a city filled with historic architecture including the Christian Necropolis; St. Peter’s Basilica, the city’s main Catholic cathedral along with its catacombs; and Széchenyi Square, the heart of Old Town Pécs. For wine connoisseurs, there’s the Szekszárd wine region, one of the oldest red-wine-growing areas in Hungary, established more than 2,000 years ago.
Visiting Croatia on a Danube river cruise
The beautiful Baroque Croatian city of Vukovar is situated at the banks of the Vuka and Danube Rivers in the region of Srijem/Syrmia. Known as the “hero town” for the valor of brave Croatian civilians and volunteers during the 1991 war with Serbia, your city tour will include important war landmarks such as Ovčara Memorial and Eltz Castle. Or, you can opt to go wine tasting in Ilok, a center of wine production since Roman times, where you’ll sample its famous Grasevina, Traminac and Frankovka wines. Back on board, cruise to Novi Sad, sometimes called the “Serbian Athens.” Discover Novi Sad on a walking tour to Dunavski Park and through Stari Grad, the Old Town center. If you prefer a more active exploration, join a guided biking or hiking tour. During the evening, visit Petrovaradin Fortress.
Explore Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, on a city tour that includes the Kalemegdan Fortress and the Serbian Orthodox Temple of St. Sava. Later, choose from three intriguing excursions. Visit the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Serbian Royal Family; and then tour the House of Flowers, the mausoleum of Marshal Tito, who became the first President of Yugoslavia. Or enjoy a taste of the region by sampling Serbian plum brandy, Šlivovitz, and delicious local delights at the Quburich Distillery. For those wishing a more active adventure, join a guided bike tour.
Enjoy a full day of scenic cruising as you pass through the Iron Gates, one of Europe’s most awe-inspiring natural wonders. At the Iron Gates, the Danube narrows as it winds through a series of magnificent gorges between the Carpathian and Balkan Mountains.
Visiting Bulgaria on a Danube River Cruise
Explore Vidin, one of Bulgaria’s oldest cities, and surrounding areas with a choice of excursions. Discover Baba Vida Fortress, the largest preserved medieval castle in Bulgaria. Continue on to Belogradchik, one of Bulgaria’s natural wonders, where you can hike around its most spectacular rock formations. Alternatively, visit a local home for a demonstration of traditional Bulgarian yogurt and Banitsa, a pastry you will also get to make. You also have the choice to bike through Vidin and to the castle.
Visit Bulgaria’s ancient capital, Veliko Tarnovo, with its medieval fortress and multiple orthodox temples. You can opt instead to go to Rousse, known for its 19th- and 20th-century Neo-Baroque and Neo-Rococo architecture, and then afterward visit the Rock-Hewn Churches of Ivanovo with frescos revealing exceptional artistry of 14th-century paintings.
There you have it – seven incredible countries you can sail through on a Danube river cruise. River cruising is an incredible option for immersive and convenient travel – I’ve shared 10 reasons it’s different from ocean cruising and why you’ll love it right here at this link!
Are you interested in taking a river cruise on the Danube?
I’m a professional travel advisor with specialist credentials in many of the top river cruise brands and can help you in selecting the best river cruise brand for your travel style and the best itinerary for your wishlist. I am often able to add VIP amenities due to my relationships with the best river cruise companies in Europe. I’d love to help you plan your trip! Please reach out and let’s get the conversation started. You can also check out my River Cruise page here.
When you think of historic hotspots in Europe, Portugal’s extensive catalog may not immediately spring to mind. In fact, in 2019, Portugal was just the tenth most visited country in Europe by international tourists, with front-runner France receiving over three times as many visitors in the same year. However, for tourists with a penchant for history, Portugal remains a very popular destination, with 17 UNESCO world heritage sites and thousands of years of history to discover. Whether you are spending time in the bustling metropolises or venturing further off the beaten track, there are plenty of prominent historic sites for you to discover right across the country. Here are 3 of the best places in Portugal for history lovers.
Belém Tower, Lisbon
Situated on the northern bank of the River Tagus, Belém Tower is a distinct nod to the country’s celebrated maritime heritage which dates back to the 15th century. With construction beginning in 1514, the fortress was commissioned to defend Portugal’s valuable capital city from invaders, but was also used as a prison right up until the 19th century.
Alongside the neighboring Monastery of the Hieronymites (Jeronimos), the Belém Tower was one of the country’s first sites to be inscribed on UNESCO’s world heritage list. The unused tower remains a hotspot for tourists and locals alike, and has even been named as one of the Seven Wonders of Portugal! With kids under 12 going free and adults paying just €6, a trip to Belém Tower should certainly feature on your Lisbon to-do list.
Where better for history fans to learn about Portugal’s fascinating heritage than in Coimbra, one of the country’s oldest cities. If this alone wasn’t enough to entice you to Coimbra’s medieval, cobbled streets, maybe a potential trip to the city’s world-famous university can? Established in 1290, the University of Coimbra is one of the oldest universities on the planet and was the only operating university in Portugal for some centuries.
In 2013, the University of Coimbra was awarded UNESCO world heritage status, owing to its stunning make-up and architecture, particularly that of the Joanine Library. Adults can pay 20 euros for a guided tour accompanied by a member of the university’s vast student community. They will guide you around the most beautiful buildings on site, including the Baroque-style library and the Royal Palace.
Historic Center of Guimarães
Any historical tour of Portugal would not be complete without a visit to the historic center of Guimarães. Home to the country’s very first king, Afonso I, Guimarães is often referred to as the “birthplace of Portugal” and is synonymous with the creation of Portuguese identity. Situated in northern Portugal, Guimarães is no more than an hour’s drive from Porto, making for a perfect day trip away from the busy city center.
The former capital city is famed for its groundbreaking architecture, and whilst Guimarães has since transitioned into a more modern city, many of the medieval structures remain intact, with construction techniques from the 15th to 19th centuries still very much on display.
One of the must-see spots in the city is the Castelo de Guimarães, the site of many famous battles throughout the early years of Portugal’s independence. Whilst the castle was left abandoned for many years, 20th century restoration work now gives visitors a glimpse into the former glory of Castelo de Guimarães. Due to its historical importance and appeal, the castle sits alongside Belém Tower as one of the country’s Seven Wonders.
Why stop your historic Portuguese pilgrimage there? There are plenty more spots to discover, each detailing a segment of the rich and complex heritage of a nation entrenched in European history. You can add on visits to the historic center of Evora, the Convent of Christ in Tomar, the lighthouse of Sagres, or monastery of Batalha. All of these are some of the best places in Portugal for history lovers.
For more detailed descriptions, you may like my articles on what to do in Central Portugal as this is a very historic area of the country. Portugal is truly a history lover’s paradise!
Are you unsure of what to pack for your UnCruise in Alaska? It’s one of my favorite ways to experience Alaska and you can read my previous trip report here. UnCruise does a great job of telling you their suggested packing lists on their website, so I suggest you make sure you consult all your pre-departure documents to make sure you’re ready for your trip!
Here are all the items that I was glad I brought on my UnCruise in Alaska, and some that I wish I had packed:
What to pack for your UnCruise in Alaska:
- Rubber rain boots: UnCruise does supply these onboard but I appreciated bringing my own so that I knew they would fit well. I suggest bringing your own if you have unusual feet sizing. Trust me, if you do any type of land activity, you will wear these every day. If you plan on ONLY kayaking for the majority of your trip, you wouldn’t wear them – sneakers are preferred for that activity.
- Shoes for the boat: I liked having a pair of slip-on shoes to be more comfortable on the boat.
- Sneakers/hiking shoes: Although you’ll wear rubber boots for most of your trip, you may appreciate having sneakers either for 1) onboard the boat 2) certain stops such as Bartlett Cove in Glacier Bay which have some boardwalks/hiking trails that are well maintained or 3) your pre- and post- stays on land in Alaska.
- Waterproof rain-coat: I cannot overemphasize how important it is to protect yourself from inclement weather. RainPROOF is better than “rain resistant”. Kayaking and other activities will continue regardless of rain so you want to keep dry! If possible, the type with ventilation zippers are useful.
- Rainpants (waterproof)
My rain pants were the best investment for this trip. I purchased mine at REI and Mr TravelObservations purchased his at Columbia Outlets. If you’re kayaking you will splash water inside your kayak and/or be in the rain. During hikes, I wore these over athletic pants and it protected me when scooting along a wet log or getting splashed during the skiff ride.
Most people without waterproof pants regretted it. I liked the kind that zipped at least halfway up as then you could put them on without taking off your shoes.
Rainpaints are designed to be an outer layer, not your complete outfit. You can wear workout clothes or hiking pants underneath them so that you can take them on/off if you need to.
- Socks: Bring extra socks so that you always have a dry pair available. Wool is better than cotton.
- Long sleeve layers (thin enough to go under your fleece sweater)
- Short sleeved t-shirts
- Puffer jacket: I personally liked my thin down packable jacket and layered it under my raincoat or had it handy for rushing outside to photograph orcas.
- Fleeces/sweatshirts/hoodies: Everyone is very casual onboard. During cooler days you’ll definitely enjoy the comfort of a fleece or sweatshirt over your layers.
- Vest – padded or fleece
- Wool-lined tights: I liked to wear these under my hiking pants for kayaking or for glacier days when the wind was colder, but you could also wear a pair of workout leggings instead or long underwear
- Brimmed hat: A baseball cap was useful for keeping rain off your face.
- Winter hat: Keep your ears warm or layer over your baseball cap while kayaking or in cold weather.
- Hiking pants: If possible you’ll want to make sure you have NON-JEAN options for daily activities. Jeans are very heavy and take forever to dry when wet!
- Real camera: If you have a camera with a great zoom, this is invaluable for taking animal photos. Don’t buy a new expensive piece of equipment if you’re not sure how to use it though – practice before you go. Some smartphone zooms are also very powerful nowadays.
- Sweatpants/lounge clothes for walking to/from the hot tub if desired: It’s very casual on board and most people didn’t blink an eye if you had to dash back to your room in a towel, but you might want to bring lounge clothes if you prefer.
- Gloves – lightweight: Most people don’t need heavy snow gloves, but a cotton or wool pair is great to take the wind chill off. You might want to bring multiple pairs so that if they get wet, you have a new pair for the following day.
- Swimsuit – for hot tub or polar plunge or snorkeling
- Binoculars – only if you have them already. UnCruise supplies these on board, so no need to buy a pair of your own if you don’t already own one. However I was glad I brought the ones I already had since they were more lightweight and I was used to them from my previous cruise.
- Small backpack or daypack: Very useful for skiff rides and hiking, to keep your water bottle, camera equipment, scarf/gloves even if you don’t think you’ll need them, snacks, etc. It’s good to always have a layer of clothing to take on/off as the weather changes constantly.
What did I wish I had brought?
- Next time, I will invest in waterproof gloves. Kayaking in the rain I was perfectly dry thanks to my rain pants and rain coat… except for my hands which got pretty wet and soggy.
- A hanging toiletry bag and/or a hanging organizer – my room had a closet that was very tall to accommodate life jackets inside so there was some wasted space, and I could have hung up things on the bar inside (no point in hanging up my sweatshirts! 😉
- The phone water protector cases for peace of mind during kayaking photo opportunities.
What does UnCruise supply onboard?
- Hiking poles
- Water bottles
- Rubber boots
- Special lifejackets for kayaking and other activities
- A shared clothes dryer for passengers to toss in really wet clothing if you need to re-use it**I was on the Wilderness Explorer, please check with your travel advisor for your specific boat as this article is specific to my experience.
Do NOT pack:
- Formal clothes
- “Dinner clothes” – there is no dress code for dinner on board, most people will wear the same things all day, or change into clean clothes if it was a very cold/muddy day
- Any type of high heels
I hope this helps as you research what to pack for your Alaskan cruise! Let me know if you have more questions about what to pack for your UnCruise in Alaska and be sure to check out my Alaska travel planning services page.