Chiapas Mexico Attractions: My Top 5 Natural Sites, Maya Ruins and Cities

It is shocking how underrated Chiapas Mexico attractions are. The southernmost state in Mexico is one of the most beautiful regions I have visited in North America. Not only is Chiapas home of one of the largest indigenous populations in the country, but it is also Mexico’s breadbasket. A culturally and naturally rich destination, sprinkled with high sierras, deep canyons, traditional indigenous villages, and off-the-beaten-path Maya ruins.

Of all places I’ve visited on four different Mexico holidays, this region was the most surprising. While I still have much to explore, I’m thrilled to share with you my top 5 things to do in Chiapas.

My Top 5 Chiapas Mexico Attractions

Chiapas Mexico attractions

Sumidero Canyon National Park

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Known as Cañón del Sumidero in Spanish, this spectacular national park features gorges that go as deep as 250 meters – in addition to towering peaks reaching up to 1000 meters above sea level.

The 21,789-hectare protected area is a must visit in Chiapas not only because of its topography, but also due to its flora and fauna. Sumidero is, in fact, one of the most biodiverse canyons in the continent.

Its relative proximity to the Tuxtla Gutiérrez (TGZ) airport means a boat trip through this national park is doable shortly after your flight. I highly recommend it, as it was one of the highlights of my trip!

Chiapas Mayan Ruins, Palenque

Ancient Maya City of Palenque

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Pre-Columbian cities such as Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza may overshadow it, but the Maya city of Palenque is impressive in its own right.

Although this ancient archaeological zone already boasts some of the best preserved Mayan ruins in Mexico, it is believed that over 90% of its total area remains either underground or swallowed by the jungle. We can only imagine what treasures still lie beneath, dating from circa 226 BC to A.D. 799…

things to see in Chiapas

Colonial San Cristobal de Las Casas

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Over 90% of Chiapas state’s population may live in this picturesque colonial city, but that doesn’t take away from its intrinsic charm.

Founded in 1528 by Spanish conquistador Diego de Mazariegos, San Cristobal de Las Casas is a history buff’s dream. Its pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, Spanish-style interior patios, and terra-cotta rooftops will transport you to a different era.

I stayed at Hotel Casa Vieja, a converted convent run by a local family. I enjoyed impeccable service, a strategic location, gorgeous architecture, and à la carte breakfast. I felt like I was living in the 18th century for a few days!

things to do in Chiapas, Agua Azul

Agua Azul

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There was nothing more refreshing than a visit to the rain forest after a long day of hiking.

As its Spanish name suggests, Agua Azul is a group of bright sky-blue waterfalls. They rush from the Chiapas highlands, cutting through big boulders downstream. At the bottom of the river, a few natural pools form as well, making it a safe place to take a dip.

Do keep in mind though that if you visit during the rainy season like I did, Agua Azul will be more like “agua chocolate.” Still, it is a great pit stop on your way to Palenque.

best Chiapas attractions

Misol-Ha Waterfall

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Speaking of pit stops between Chiapas and Yucatán: Misol-Ha is another beautiful waterfall worth visiting. It is located about 12.4 miles from Palenque, on the way to San Cristobal de Las Casas, in the Salto de Agua municipality. The site is equipped with facilities, from cabins and a restaurant to guided tours.

I stopped at Misol-Ha on my way from Chiapas to Quintana Roo, so I just spent an hour or two there. Fair warning: don’t approach it if you don’t want to get wet like I did! You’ll be soaked after walking over the bridge leading to the waterfall.

It’s so worth it though, as you can see from the video above. Walking behind a raging waterfall is an incredible experience.

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Chiapas Mexico Attractions Guide

Know of any other interesting things to do in Chiapas? Comment below!

My Abu Dhabi Stopover: 24 Hours of Hospitality, Beaches, and Holiness

My dream to come back to the Middle East after a six-year absence came true by accident. Last summer, I was scheming for ways to find cheap flights from Asia to America…and what I found surprised me. An Abu Dhabi stopover was the answer to saving hundreds of dollars on my trip. Here’s how I spent my 24 hours in the United Arab Emirates on a budget.

Abu Dhabi stopover

Sleep off jetlag by Couchsurfing in a villa

FREE

Not only was I on a tight student’s budget, but I also wanted to experience Emirati culture firsthand. What better way to do this than by Couchsurfing?!

Many women are afraid to do this in the Middle East. However, if you follow proper Couchsurfing etiquette, you will have a wonderful experience. My host was very respectful and open.

Even though I went to bed right away and he had to go to work the next day, he was kind enough to go back to his apartment at lunch to take me to a traditional Middle Eastern restaurant. From there, he offered to drop me off at the beach so I could relax for a couple of hours until he was out of work.

At night, he gave me a tour of downtown Abu Dhabi and took me to the spectacular Sheikh Sayed Mosque. I wouldn’t have had it any other way!

Abu Dhabi food

Relaxing afternoon at Saadiyat Island

Opening hours: 8 a.m. until sunset; AED 50 per adult includes lounger.

My 3 p.m. arrival to Saadiyat Island’s public beach was surprising. The blinding-white powdery sand and sky-blue waters could have fooled me into believing I was in Florida. That is until I noticed that less than 10 of over 300 sun loungers were occupied.

The weekly beach yoga class wasn’t in session that day, but I experienced my own kind of zen. I decided to forgo the eco-friendly water sport activities and just relax until sunset. It was, by the way, one of the most beautiful I’ve seen anywhere in the world.

Sheikh Sayed Mosque at night

Saturday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday 4:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Free admission.

Sheikh Sayed Mosque, the highlight of my Abu Dhabi stopover, is one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited. It is even more special if you visit within an hour of its closing time, like I did. While its grandeur flabbergasted me, it was its special aura that touched me deeply. I coined it 82 Domes of Holiness, as that also happens to be one of its key architectural features.

Also known as UAE’s Grand Mosque, it is the third-largest in the world. It is estimated that as many as 40,000 people may kneel underneath its Swarovski-Crystal chandeliers during Eid and other important Muslim holidays.

My transatlantic journey wouldn’t have been the same without my Couchsurfing host. Between hotel rooms, taxis, and guided tours, I would have spent more money on this stopover than I would have saved if I booked a shorter flight itinerary. Thank you, Adel!

Unknown Mexican Food: 5 Delicacies You’ve Probably Never Heard of

I knew Chiapas would wow me with its beauty as soon as I received my latest Mexico itinerary. What I didn’t expect, though, was to be introduced to unknown Mexican food. You know, dishes I had never seen at a typical Mexican restaurant in the USA.

I think living in Florida is partly to blame. I’m sure Southern states such as Texas and Arizona get a wider variety of Mexican dishes!

Either way, my audience comes from all over the world. So! I wanted to introduce you to five Mexican dishes you’ve probably never heard of today. These are some of my new favorites after my Chiapas tour:

Unknown Mexican Food: 5 Delicacies You’ve Probably Never Heard of

unknown Mexican food

Asado de puerco and pollo

Up until July, I thought all moles were spicy. Chiapas food proved me wrong once again!

Namely, I learned that asado de puerco varies from region to region. Northern Mexican asados, for instance, tend to be tearfully-spicy, vinegar-based stews. Southern varieties, on the other hand, are more like mole-style stews.

While “puerco” means pork, another popular spin of this underrated Mexican food is made with chicken. Then, it’s called asado de pollo. Either way, it is full of Spanish spices and flavor, typically served with a mountain of rice.

The asado I tried was made with chicken, soaking in a thick chocolate base. The dark cacao notes really stood out, blending beautifully with a chili sauce that was actually served for my nachos. Yum!

unknown Mexican drinks

Chiapas pozol by Alejandro Linares Garcia, Wiki Commons

Pozol

I’ll admit: I wouldn’t have tried pozol if it weren’t for my Karma Trails guide. It is commonly sold in less-than-appealing plastic jugs, so most foreigners never dare to try it.

Made out of coarse cornmeal, sugar, and sometimes even cacao, this meal-replacement drink is a staple for farmers to kill hunger whilst on the field.

If you plan to go out and explore several Mayan ruins in a day, go ahead and have pozol for breakfast. You will thank me later!

authentic Mexican food

Chanfaina by Marbregal, Wiki Commons

Chanfaina

I’ve never been a fan of tripes pork or cow. However, I must admit that Latinos have a special gift to turn these typically-unloved organs into something delicious.

Akin to Puerto Rican mondongo, chanfaina is a hearty, time-consuming soup made with pork liver, heart, and kidneys.

While it originally hails from Western Spain, the Mexican version is typically cooked with tomatoes, garlic, onions, potatoes, sour orange, bay leaves, sweet and white chilies.

unique Mexican food

Sopa de pan

This warming soup is a delicacy of San Cristobal de Las Casas, a charming colonial town up in the Chiapas Highlands.

Traditionally, it is made with pork lard–although it is not as common to find this hard to version and restaurants anymore.

What your sopa de pan will sure have no matter where you go, though, is hen broth, cut vegetables, plantains strips, and bread.

authentic Mexican drinks

Mezcal

OK, so this is not Mexican food. Still, I had to come in its defense. Why does tequila take all the glory?! Mezcal is its unknown Mexican sibling. A mellow, smoky-flavored alcoholic beverage made from the same agave plant.

Literally meaning “oven-cooked agave,” mezcal is most commonly drunk in Oaxaca. As that region is just north of Chiapas, I got to sample a few shots at Belil Restaurant. Wonderful spot for authentic, mostly unknown Mexican food by the way. I highly recommend it if you drop by San Cristobal de Las Casas!

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Unique Mexican Food Guide

Special thanks to Karma Trails for my unforgettable 10-day press trip to Mexico this past July! I highly recommend them for any of your Mexico tour, accommodation, transportation needs. I was not paid for positive reviews however; all views set forth are product of independent research and my own opinions.

Hipmunk Hotels: Off The California Tourist Path Yet Close To It All – Fresno, Riverside, And More

Off The California Tourist Path post was originally published on ‘This Life in Trips‘ blog by Shaun Robertson.

off the California tourist path, Riverside

When you’re planning a vacation in the Golden State, attractions like Disneyland, Hollywood, and the Golden Gate Bridge instantly come to mind. If you don’t want to deal with the large crowds or the high prices that those destinations tend to have, don’t hesitate to look further. When it comes to accommodations and value, California has a lot to offer outside its main centers. With that in mind, check out these off-the-beaten-path destinations and places to stay in California.

L.A. Connection – Inglewood

off-the-beaten-path in California, Inglewood

With its proximity to Los Angeles and the many attractions it has to offer, Inglewood is an affordable option for those looking to save in the LA area. Sandwiched between LAX airport and LA itself, hotels in Inglewood are perfect for those looking to be close to it all without being in the center.

Silicon Valley for Less – Sunnyvale

In between the homes of tech giants Intel and Google is the Silicon Valley city of Sunnyvale. Although the city is home to its share of big-name companies, hotels in Sunnyvale generally have lower rates than neighboring cities like Santa Clara and Mountain View. The Vagabond Inn Sunnyvale and Extended Stay America San Jose – Sunnyvale offer some of the lowest prices in the valley, yet they’re still close to attractions like Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers. With commuter train service from Sunnyvale to downtown San Francisco, there’s plenty to see and do beyond Sunnyvale.

California Arts and Outdoors – Riverside

Although LA and all its excitement is just a short drive away, you’ll find plenty to see and do within Riverside’s borders. The Riverside Metropolitan Museum, the Riverside Art Museum, and the Mission Inn Museum are all within blocks of each other, and you can explore them on foot. If you’re looking to stretch your legs a little more, take a stroll through the California Citrus State Historic Park, birthplace of the navel orange. You’ll also find a good variety of hotels in Riverside, ranging from cozy inns to high-end resorts.

Gateway to the Great Outdoors – Fresno

California off-the-beaten-path destinations, El Capitan

Fresno is the perfect starting point for those looking to explore the best National Parks that California has to offer. Visit the ski areas of the Sierra Mountains in the winter months, or head to Yosemite in the summer to say hello to El Capitan, the park’s massive granite rock face. There are plenty of hotels in Fresno to choose from, but if you’re resting up between hikes, consider the DoubleTree by Hilton Fresno Convention Center for its pool and spa tubs. Your legs will thank you.

Celebrity Spotting – North Hollywood

Last up on this list of off-the-beaten-path cities in California is North Hollywood. As the name suggests, North Hollywood is located a short drive north of Hollywood. Hotels in North Hollywood are cheaper than those slightly to the south. Great value options include the Mikado Hotel and the Hollywood Inn Express North Hollywood. Visit nearby Studio City and take a tour behind the scenes of the Warner Bros. Studio, or continue on to Hollywood for a stroll down the Walk of Fame.

My Gilligan’s Island and Guanica, Puerto Rico Mini Guide

As crisp autumn breezes slowly start to caress Florida, my heart is inevitably transported back to my favorite hidden gems at home. Inspired by last week’s San Juan day trips, today I write a mini guide for Gilligan’s Island and Guanica, Puerto Rico!

Gilligan’s Island and Guanica, Puerto Rico Mini Guide

Gilligan's Island, Guanica Puerto Rico

I’ve previously described some of Guanica’s stunning attractions, such as the 4000-hectare UNESCO Guanica Biosphere Reserve and Playa Santa. Yet, I have not introduced you to Guilligan’s Island, one of its beautiful mangrove islands.

Cayo Aurora (as it is also known) is part of the famous Guanica Dry Forest. By taking the public ferry dock, you will find several mini gazebos outfitted with picnic tables. The surrounding shallow waters are perfect for kids and kayaking.

If you walk around the island or have a private boat drop you off elsewhere though, you will find narrow channels and fun currents. While they are not safe for kids, they are a blast to go tubing or swim against if you are fit enough!

how to get to Gilligan's Island, Guanica, Puerto Rico

How to Get There

The Caribbean beach town of Guanica, the gateway to Gilligan’s Island, is located on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico. It is an easy 2 to 2.5-hour drive from San Juan–particularly scenic if you take the southern route through Salinas, my personal favorite.

There are several ways to get to Gilligan’s Island proper. You can either hop on the public ferry, go on a long kayak ride or hire a small boat from wandering fisherman.

The easiest wait to get there is by the public ferry though. Boats leave every hour between 9 AM and 5 PM, Tuesday to Sunday (weather permitting). Better yet? The dock is located by the colorful Restaurante San Jacinto, where you can sample authentic Puerto Rican food as you wait for departure.

For the kayak option, stop by the Copamarina Beach Resort, Playa Caña Gorda or Mary Lee’s by the Sea. You will be able to rent kayaks there and ask about safe routes to get to Gilligan. Prices vary, but rule of thumb is to veer away from the resorts and head to the local Caña Gorda beach for more budget-friendly rentals.

Feeling adventurous? Practice your Spanish and haggling skills by talking to local fishermen! My advice if you go down this route though is to get a fisherman boat ride on the way to Gilligan’s Island, but hop on the public ferry back. If you don’t have a local cell phone or contact information of the fisherman, you run the risk of being cast away.

Cayo Aurora, Guanica, Puerto Rico

Best Time to Visit Gilligan’s Island and Guanica

Guanica is a popular southern beach town among Puerto Ricans, particularly between the summer months. Subsidized government summer rentals attract many middle-income families.

This explains the many holidays I spent along its coasts during my childhood–and why you should avoid it then as a visitor!

We are lucky to enjoy year-round summers in Puerto Rico, so I recommend avoiding American holidays and local festivities. This way, you’ll be able to soak in the solitude and natural peacefulness these southern pearls have to offer.

Remember: you have to take a boat to Cayo Aurora (Gilligan’s Island). Check the forecast prior to departure and don’t head there if stormy weather is in the horizon. This why I also advise against traveling there during the hurricane season in general, which runs from June to November.

That’s not to say you cannot be graced with sunny days then, though! If you can only visit Puerto Rico during those dates, I say take the risk and go for it.

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Where to Stay and Eat

Puerto Rico is small: about 110 x 32 square miles. It is quite easy to make Gilligan’s Island and Guanica a day trip from anywhere in the island. I personally recommend staying at night or two on the West Coast of Puerto Rico; it is magical!

Unfortunately, it is forbidden to camp at Gilligan’s Island, so you will have to stay on a nearby town. Don’t be disheartened though: there are so many wonderful options!

My favorite overnight spots include Cabo Rojo, Rincon, and Isabela. You could also stay in Guanica proper, booking a night at a local, family-owned parador. Speaking of which, I highly recommend Parador Guanica 1929 by Tropical Inns. My friends and I love its colonial design, fantastic Puerto Rican food, and location in relation to all of Guanica’s attractions (and beyond!).

A short walk or drive from Parador 1929 is Bodega Andreu Sole. A wonderful farm and restaurant, with decent Spanish food and wines. I love the alfresco dining with water views though, totally my favorite! They offer free tours of the grounds and tastings Sundays between 2 and 5 PM as well.

I also recommend the short drive to Rincon for more food options and nightlife. My favorite spot there? Casa Cofresi! It is another good place to stay on the West Coast, in addition to having a good restaurant and lively vibe on weekends. Great place to mingle with locals, too.

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Gilligan's Island, Guanica Puerto Rico guide

One last tip! If you have previously visited Puerto Rico, I advise you fly into into Aguadilla airport (BQN) instead of San Juan (SJU). This way, you’ll be right on the West Coast and enjoy the region without a crazy drive through the capital’s metro area 😉

San Juan Day Trips: My Favorite Excursions from Puerto Rico’s Capital

Having lived in Puerto Rico for over 18 years, my heart breaks looking at most tourists’ San Juan day trips. Cheesy Old San Juan rum tours; an afternoon at a resort in Dorado; a crowded “hike” (which could be done in a vehicle) at El Yunque Rainforest.

Puerto Rico does it better. I promise you.

So please take my advice: hunt down a flight deal, rent a car (it’s going to cost you less than USD $100-200 for the day, sitting a minimum of four people, which is less than any chore), and venture out to these gorgeous spots throughout the archipelago:

unique San Juan day trips, Arecibo

Arecibo

Cueva Ventana and Cueva del Indio, Arecibo

one-hour West (88 km), mostly down Expreso José de Diego PR-22

Silence only broken by a group of bats and feeding birds in the surrounding valley… Or foamy ocean waves, crashing against piles of rocks. Rocks which hide grottoes decorated with pre-Columbian petroglyphs!

Arecibo may be known for the second-largest radio telescope in the world, but barely mentioned as a top day trip from San Juan due to its natural beauty. Take the mere one-hour drive to explore peaceful Cueva Ventana and historical Cueva del Indio beach.

San Juan excursions, Camuy

Camuy Cave

Camuy Caverns

one hour, 24 minutes. West (102 km), through Arecibo

About 30 minutes southwest of Arecibo lie the third-largest subterranean river system in the world. Jaw-dropping hike through stalagmites, stalactites, and the purest water you’ve ever drunk await.

While you could wake up at the crack of dawn and do both Arecibo and Camuy, I recommend you spend the whole day taking in the grandiosity of this underground world.

excursions from San Juan, Fajardo

Fajardo

Governor’s House Beach and Bioluminescent Bay, Fajardo

one hour East (63 km), through Rio Grande and Luquillo

The Bioluminescent Bay is plastered over all Fajardo brochures and I know, it’s hard to turn down! While I highly advise you take the ferry ride or flight over to Vieques and explore Mosquito Bay instead, time strapped travelers might still find value in it.

My tip then? Take your rental car, spend the whole day in Fajardo, and book the sunset Biobay tour with an outfitter directly. Start with sunrise at Seven Seas Beach; take a morning hike to Governor’s House Beach; then drive to the outfitter in time for your tour.

day trips from San Juan, Vieques Island

Vieques Island

Scooter Road Trip, Vieques Island

one-hour drive to Fajardo port; then, a 10-minute flight or 1.5-hour ferry

If you have at least five days in San Juan, you have to spend a minimum of two days in Vieques. While renting a scooter (~USD $60/day) and beach hopping can be done in a day, the last thing you want to do is rush it.

Another tip: look up JetBlue coupons for VQS airport and see if you find a discount!

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San Juan, Puerto Rico day trips mini guide

Whether you cross the Caribbean Sea for an adventurous scooter road trip or take the easy drives East or West, these San Juan day trips will sprinkle some authentic spice to your Puerto Rican getaway.

Swimming with Holbox Whale Sharks Travel Guide: My VIDEO + Tips!

One of the Yucatan attractions I was looking forward to the most was swimming with Holbox whale sharks. While I’ve been lucky to have a variety of incredible marine creature encounters as a PADI Rescue Diver, I had yet found these gentle giants in the wild–until the Gulf of Mexico called.

swim with whale sharks Holbox

Holbox whale sharks photo by KarmaTrails.com

Swimming with Whale Sharks: First, My Urban Legend

I first heard story of swimming with whale sharks thousands of miles away, in Koh Tao, Thailand. There, divers daydream of meeting the elusive whale-like creatures, spotted sporadically beneath the waters of the majestic Chumphon Pinnacle, on a daily basis.

I found tiny box fishes, rare octopuses, dancing shrimp, and even several barracuda vortexes–but not whale sharks. Not even a baby one.

It wasn’t my time yet.

Back in 2015, I thought I could only encounter the largest fish in the world in deep waters. It wasn’t until I researched further that I found out these filter feeders mainly munch on plankton lurking in the surface.

I had to, literally, go with the flow.

Following the currents

That mini investigation taught me two vital facts. First, whale sharks love the tropics–they are rarely spotted in waters below 72°F. Second, their main source of food (plankton) is moved around by the ocean’s major currents.

Gee, what urban legend?! I didn’t even have to dive to find them!

It was then that Mexico called. Again.

The owner of Karma Trails was one of my partners in the first press trip I took to Playa Del Carmen. Earlier this summer, he reached out to me to see if I could explore more of the Yucatan Peninsula with his knowledgeable local guides.

“Only if I can swim with whale sharks. That’s one of your Holbox tours, right?”

I could feel him smiling from his computer monitor.

where to swim with whale sharks in Mexico

Where to swim with whale sharks in Mexico? HOLBOX!

Tale of the Holbox Whale Sharks

Whale sharks have lurked the waters around Holbox Island for many years, frightening local fishermen. We can’t blame them: it’s hard to believe the largest non-mammal vertebrate in the world, averaging between 33 to 40 feet long, isn’t a threat to humans.

Still, the Mexican fishermen didn’t bother them. Eventually, word spread out: giant creatures come to the same patch of the Gulf of Mexico between May and September (with higher concentrations between mid-July and August), every year.

Hundreds of them.

BOOM: Holbox was put on the map.

Holbox whale sharks and giant manta

Not only did I swim with Holbox whale sharks, but also beside a GIANT MANTA! 😀

Holbox Island: The Paradise I Got to Know

Going with the flow paid off. Colorful murals, charming bamboo-and-palapa architecture, scores of seafood, and some of the calmest Latinos I’ve met…Holbox is a speck of paradise I’m glad I got to know.

Despite its proximity to the Yucatan Peninsula, Holbox retains a laid-back vibe due to the lack of infrastructure. Thus, getting there can be time-consuming. A three-hour drive from most resorts to Chiquila, the only port of departure; a 20-min. ferry ride through the Gulf; and no paved roads upon arrival make it quite the journey.

Add to that a 2+ hour boat ride each way to find the plankton and pods of whale sharks…

This is where the locals’ advice really came in handy: stay a minimum of two days to make any Holbox tour worth it!

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Is swimming with Holbox whale sharks on your bucket list?

Special thanks to Karma Trails for booking my Holbox transfer, fabulous Holbox Dream Hotel, and unforgettable swim with whale sharks. I was not paid for positive reports, however, so all opinions and research facts on this article were independently written–on my own.

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swimming with whale sharks Holbox travel guide

My Top 5 Underrated Kuala Lumpur Attractions

I’m taking a break from my trip to Mexico to continue chronicling my epic adventures throughout Southeast Asia last summer! I picked Malaysia because the country was not even on my radar until I was invited to dive in Tioman. So it was during two stopovers of that journey that I was hit by a slew of surprises. This is why I’m introducing you to my top 5 underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions and travel tips today 😀

My Top Underrated Kuala Lumpur Attractions and Tips

underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions, Skybar

Another underrated Kuala Lumpur spot Couchsurfers introduced me to? The best viewpoint to see the Petronas Towers: Skybar at Traders Hotel!

1. Kuala Lumpur’s Couchsurfing community: even if you booked a hotel

I may be obsessed with Couchsurfing, but on my first stopover I just wanted to meet up and have my own space. This is why I used Traveloka.com to book my hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

I loved using the site to book hotels while living in ASEAN for two main reasons. Firstly, I was able to pay with my American debit card for no additional charge. This was great because my bank Charles Schwab has no foreign transaction fees. Secondly, Traveloka has no booking fees.

Once settled, I contacted local Couchsurfers (CSers), who encouraged me to join their wildly-popular Friday meetup.

underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions, Couchsurfing

Couchsurfer Lucienne and I exploring colorful Kuala Lumpur market summer 2015

Kuala Lumpur’s Couchsurfing (KL CS) group is a big tight family where locals, expats, and travelers passing by get together weekly. We ate deliciously-cheap Indian food, then went club hopping.

The KL CS community is huge by the way. I even got free rides from one of the locals!

So great is the vibe of KL CSers that I pulled an all-nighter hanging out with them 😀 Heck, one of the girls even explored the city the next day with me and came to visit me in Tampa, Florida earlier this year!

top Kuala Lumpur attractions, Islamic Museum

2. Visit the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia for unique Muslim world POV

As you know, I have lived in three different Muslim-majority countries and have a deep appreciation for their art. So imagine my reaction when I found some of the finest collections linking Egyptians, Moroccans, Indonesians, and other peoples of the Islamic world!

Opened in 1998, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia (IAMM) intricately weaves together centuries of Islamic culture in a variety of rotating and permanent exhibitions.

Traditional clothing, jewelry, artworks, complete room replicas and architectural models from dozens of countries are impeccably curated throughout 30,000 sq meters.

While I only spent half a day here due to another brief stopover, I would have happily spent on entire day prancing along the museum’s 12 galleries.

Easily reachable by metro and a pleasant (Google maps!) walk from the center, IAMM is on Jalan Lembah Perdana 50480. Still lost? Just ask where the National Mosque is — the Museum is right next door.

off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attractions, MUD

3. Learn more about Malaysian history with MUD

MUD may be popular among family travelers, yet barely on the radar of solo travelers in Kuala Lumpur.

This musical about Malaysian history follows the lives of three friends as they migrate to Kuala Lumpur seeking better lives.

Through songs and colorful costumes, the story gives the audience an entertaining introduction to the melting pot that makes up the modern nation of Malaysia. You can’t miss it!

unique things to see in Kuala Lumpur, skyline

4. Take in KLCC’s skyline: it’s free!

Got your tickets for an evening showing of MUD? Wake up early that day in order to explore other interesting parts of Kuala Lumpur’s City Centre District (KLCC).

Take in the mix of contemporary, British colonial, and Mughal designs that make the city’s skyline beautifully photogenic. Highlights include the 100-meter-high Menara KL; the (Islamic govt bldg?).

Midday, head to shady KLCC Park for a picnic–another option to save money. The 202,343-sq-meter oasis hosts a big dancing fountain at Lake Symphony; waterfalls; and approximately 1,900 trees and plants.

Can’t abandon the #fitfam? They got a 1.3-kilometer track to break a sweat at as well.

off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attractions, Aquaria

Off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attraction: off-the-beaten-path Kuala Lumpur attractions, Aquaria by SAM Cheong, cc-by-sa-2.0

5. Dive into Aquaria

Other underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions in KLCC include Aquaria, a complex aquarium like no other.

Highlands, jungle, and coral reef ecosystems flourish here, interconnected by walk-through tunnels.

The highlight at Aquaria though is the giant tank that holds a 90-meter-long shipwreck replica. You can even explore it with a moving travelator!

To fill your belly, I recommend you go off-the-eaten-track with one of Food Tour Malaysia food crawls. I was surprised by the variety of cuisines delicious dishes Kuala Lumpur has to offer as well.

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Underrated Kuala Lumpur Attractions Guide

Got other underrated Kuala Lumpur attractions & tips? Comment below!

 

Best Sicily Summer Festivals for Cultural Breadth

When I think of festivals, I think of cultural breadth: a shortcut to a destination’s most iconic customs and traditions. While I have already introduced you to some of the best beaches in Southern Italy, today I wish to delve deeper into this region’s culture by showcasing the best Sicily summer festivals.

Best Sicily Summer Festivals for Cultural Breadth

Sicily summer festivals, food

By Dedda71, Wiki Commons

Ferragosto
August 15: anywhere in Sicily

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Ferragosto is the grand Sicily fiesta no summer traveler can miss.

The main draws of Assumption Day in harbor cities include a vast array of authentic Sicilian foods; firework displays; traditional Sicilian boat races and yacht regattas with the Madonna herself as one of the sailors.

A sample festive dish you might not find any other time of the year? Gelo di mellone: a traditional watermelon dessert in Palermo. Akin to a gelatine pie, it is sprinkled with jasmine flowers and other toppings.

There are other secrets to discover in Sicily however, so you must visit the island to uncover them! 😉

summer festivals in Sicily, Palio

By Vincenzo Fileccia, Wiki Commons

Palio dei Normanni
August 12-14: Piazza Armerina, Enna

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Medieval enthusiasts will love the raucous horse races known as “palio.” Particularly, the jousts, full-costume processions, parades, and shows with over 600 participants have regarded the Norman Palio as the most important medieval history reconstruction of Southern Italy.

Being part of the Italian Federation of Historical Games and listed in the Register of Intangible Heritage of the Sicilian Region add to its historical and cultural importance.

Sicily summer festivals, Erice

By MrEHQE 2005 (CC)

Renaissance Music Festival
August 13-15: Erice, Trapani

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One of the best music festivals in Sicily is another medieval-themed event. The Renaissance Music Festival puts together not only local, but also internationally-acclaimed medieval artists.

The beauty of this festival is that it intertwines with popular Ferragosto, allowing attendees to enjoy several nuances of Sicilian culture.

Sicily festivals in the summer, Taormina Arte

Taormina International Arts Festival
July-September: Taormina, Messina

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One of the longest, most culturally-diverse Sicily summer festivals takes place in and around the ancient Greek amphitheater of Taormina.

With performances ranging from symphonic orchestras and operettas to classical dance, art exhibitions to special cinema viewings, Taormina Arte has become not only one of the most acclaimed cultural festivals in Italy, but the world.

Passeggiata di Giganti
August 13-14: capital of Messina

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Passeggiata di Giganti Festival is the feast of the mythical founders of the city, preceding the important procession of “La Vara.”

The legend of the two giants, Mata and Grifone, varies greatly: were they Muslim prisoners taken by the mercenary Ruggero D’Altavilla or the authentic founders of Messina?

Variations aside, they are mostly known as a Saracen soldier (Grifone) who converted to Christianity to finally capture the heart of Mata–and live happily ever after with many children.

Sicily summer festivals, Cefalu

By Oliver-Bonjoch, Wiki Commons

Madonna della Luce
August 14: Cefalù, Palermo

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During the Feast of the Mother of Light, Sicilians honor their patron saint and heritage, carrying the Madonna along the seas. The beautiful nocturnal procession, which culminates the festival, typically runs from the coast of Kalura to the Old Harbor.