My Favorite Mayan Ruins to Visit from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida

Are you wondering which are the best Mayan ruins to visit from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida? I had the same dilemma when visiting the Yucatán Peninsula for the fifth time last month. There were some Mayan cities I wanted to visit again because I loved them so much…

YET,  there were many more I had yet explored! So what to do?!

Given that I’m obsessed with carvings and ancient art, it was all about analyzing the size and amount of detail found at each Mayan site. Moreover, I had to take into consideration distances between cities I would overnight in.

After taking all these elements into consideration, I built the following list of Mayan ruins. They are in order of my personal must-sees, so add these to your Mexico itinerary first!

Top Mayan Ruins to Visit from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida

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Uxmal

If you can go on just one of the Yucatan tours I booked,  I tell you right now: make it Uxmal, one of the most important pre-Hispanic towns in Latin America!

Founded in 700 A.D., Uxmal tops the list of the most important Mayan ruins in Mexico–along with Palenque, Chichen Itza, and Calakmul. I easily compare it to Italian Florence, both because of its historical importance and beautiful art found throughout.

The intricate carvings and unique decorated moldings, roofs, and open plazas are absolutely breathtaking. So much detail and scale! It is, hands-down, my favorite Mayan city.

There’s simply no comparison to Uxmal in my eyes, artistically speaking.

Just 62 km south of Merida, I explored Uxmal with Karma Trails as one of my excursions from the aforementioned capital city of Yucatan. However, it can also be seen on a full, action-packed day from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. Prepare to walk and climb a lot!

main Mayan pyramid in Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

I had visited Chichen Itza both by public transport and a big tour company in the past…and my experiences weren’t the best. Gosh, is Chichen Itza crowded–but so worth it still.

The top trick here is to book a private tour and request your operator to get you there by opening time.

Another reason I think this is the best travel hack to visit Yucatan’s most popular Mayan ruins? Neither did I nor the big tour company went to explore the central area of Chichen Itza. It wasn’t until my local Karma Trails guide took me on my third visit that I saw this beautiful, ornate area of the ancient city.

Namely, this central area became my new favorite.

Geez, what I had been missing! Third time’s a charm: I could finally appreciate the variety of architectural styles present at the impressive ruins of the Terminal Classic period (AD 800–900).

Private homes of Mayan nobility, with deep reliefs and intricate art, popped in front of my eyes. Better yet? We pretty much had the central area of Chichen Itza to ourselves, as many tourists and companies skip it altogether.

Ek Balam

You all know I have a soft spot for Ek Balam: the first Mayan city I visited that wasn’t exclusively made out of rock.

Skillfully-carved stucco, mixed with rock inscriptions and paintings, give the site a unique color palette and design I had not seen at other Mayan sites.

My second visit was equally fulfilling. It was nice to take a deeper look at the detail of the Jaguar Temple carvings and jaw-dropping jungle surrounding it.

Many travelers are surprised when they find out this was the seat of the Mayan kingdom between the Preclassic and Postclassic periods, too.

A.k.a. you can’t miss this if you are in the area!

Given its relatively-compact size, it is easy to combine Ek Balam with a visit to Chichen Itza in one day. Wake up early to enjoy these contrasting Mayan ruins–the differences are a joy to appreciate.

Alternatively, you could book the Rio Lagartos Ek Balam tour I enjoyed on my first Playa Del Carmen trip–specially if you’re a nature lover.

The coastal Mayan city of Tulum

Tulum

It was tough to decide whether to recommend Tulum or Coba first. Assuming you go to either Uxmal, Chichen Itza, and Ek Balam, you should definitely head to Tulum for a change of scenery.

Not only was the pre-Columbian walled city built in a different period altogether, but it also managed to thrive approximately 70 years post-Spanish occupation!

Moreover, these coastal Mayan ruins are surrounded by the most intense turquoise-colored waters you’ve ever seen in your life.

So historical ruins AND a beach day?! These elements definitely make Tulum another fun day trip from Playa Del Carmen or Cancun!

Oh & did I mention there are many cenotes you can dive into in the Tulum region?

They look something like this:

Cenote by Mayan ruins in the Yucatan

Indeed: GO FOR IT

Coba

Lastly, you could visit the ancient Maya city of Coba. While it was the least impressive site I visited, Coba houses one of the few Mayan pyramids you can still climb in Mexico.

And that main pyramid in Coba is quite a steep, and exhilarating, climb for all.

If you have extra time or happen to be a history fanatic like myself, you will appreciate some elements. Namely, the many engraved stelae and inscriptions documenting ceremonial Mayan life in the Late Classic Period (AD 600–900).

Top of Mayan pyramid in Coba, Mexico

Which are your favorite Mayan ruins in the Yucatan?

Special thanks to Karma Trails for taking me on a deep exploration of these wonderful Mayan sites and other underrated Mexican attractions! More from this trip soon 😉

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Mayan ruins travel guide: best Yucatán day trips from Playa Del Carmen, Cancun or Merida

Cuban Culture Highlights: Music, History, Influences

Cuba is perhaps the most elusive and exciting of all Latin American countries. An interesting history combined with an intriguing mix of cultural influences make Cuba a fantastic travel destination. Beautiful beach areas like Varadero and Cayo Maria sit within easy reach of mainland Cuba and make the perfect base for all of your holiday needs. Boasting dramatic landscapes, unspoiled natural beauty and fun-loving locals that characterize so much of Latin America, Cuba is a country that everyone should visit at least once. Particularly, there are three elements of Cuban culture that stand out: their music, their history, their influences.

Cuban culture, beach ruins

Eclectic influences

The music, arts, architecture, religion and cuisine found in Cuba are a dynamic mix of styles that draw heavily from African and Spanish cultures which are evident all over Latin America. Many people feel that Cuba is at the heart of what it means to be Latino and it’s undeniable that Cubans radiate those typical and revered Latino charms; they’re warm, generous and, of course, party-loving.

What makes Cuba stand out from other Latin American countries is its lack of Western influence. While being as far removed from US culture as possible, Cuba has retained all of its Latin passion and poured it into their culture. Explore a little and you’ll see local Cubanrestaurants and bars rather than chains, unmissable coffee spots and brightly painted buildings with colonial architecture which all act to make Cuba so incomparable.

Rich in history

Cuba is perhaps best known for its place in recent history as a communist country and adversary to the United States. Far removed from Western and, specifically, US influence, Cuba has flourished into a truly unique destination. A country free from McDonald’s, and boasting old style cars, visiting Cuba is like visiting a different world altogether.

Experience a place that’s stuck in time — and is all the better for it — you’ll feel very far from home as you walk the streets of Cuba, watching beaten-up American cars from before the 60s roll by and spotting billboards that sport Che Guevara’s classic image rather than photos of fashion models advertising perfume. Wi-Fi in Cuba is also charged at higher rates, so holidaying in Cuba is the closest you can get to being fully unplugged from the rest of the world.

Cuban culture mural

Music as a way of life

Music is a key part of the culture in Cuba. You’ll hear it everywhere you go and you’ll soon become accustomed to Cuba’s eclectic style of music which has been instrumental in the development of jazz and salsa. The roots of most Cuban musical forms lie in the ‘Cabildos,’ a form of social club among African slaves who were brought to the island. The importance of music in Cuba is especially clear during their many festivals which music plays a vital part in such as Carnaval and the yearly Havana Jazz Festival.

Building on this, Cuba’s educational system is committed to supporting students in their musical development and once they’ve finished school, Cuban students will have had around 8 hours of music lessons a week! This means that most Cubans you come across will be able to play or hold a tune or two, so don’t invite them out for karaoke unless you want to be thoroughly embarrassed.

Go ahead and discover something entirely different in one of Cuba’s many side streets and surprise yourself when you see how alien a country with no ties to capitalism feels. Enjoy Cuba’s beauty and embrace a wholly unique culture.

Know of other Cuban culture highlights? Share them below!

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Images by Rog01t and marko8904, used under Creative Commons license

Special thanks to Joanne Rivers for contributing this article!

Mexican Customs and Traditions: Discovering the Real Mexico

How fun my trip to Mexico was! As expected, it was lively and action-packed. From the peaceful rural towns in Chiapas to the lively cities of Cancun and Playa del Carmen--they all share a rich cultural tapestry, woven together with threads that have grown, frayed, and changed over centuries. To delve a little bit deeper, I invited guest writer Megan Taylor to describe some unique Mexican customs and traditions.

Like its people, certain foods and events can be interestingly eclectic and colorful. Check them out below while I write more articles and details about my trip to Mexico in the coming week 😉

Unique Mexican Customs and Traditions

Mexican customs and traditions, Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead bread

In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a day of remembrance at the end of October, oor locals honor friends and family members who have passed away. Many events take place across Mexico during the season, but Cancun, Mexico’s party capital, puts on an elaborate show not to be missed..

In the days leading up to the celebration, families get together to make and bake pan de muerto: a sweet bread that is traditionally eaten during a picnic at a loved one’s grave on the Day of the Dead.

Family always comes first

Like in many other Latin American countries, family is extremely important in Mexican culture. The values of respect and responsibility are crucial to the way of life.

Typically, Mexican families are quite large–with the concepts of responsibility extending as far as second cousins. You will sometimes find that families live within the same neighborhood too, although this is a changing custom as people adapt to a more contemporary lifestyle.

Tequila

Tequila is the drink most people think of when they think of Mexico. For once, it is a truthful stereotypes: tequila is something Mexicans are immensely proud of. Its production predates colonial rule and so it represents the very essence of Mexican culture, history and nature.

So yes, I will still preach to the choir: take a shot!

Mexican customs and traditions, hat dance

Mexican hat dance by Sage Ross, Creative Commons

The Mexican Hat Dance

Jarabe Tapatío, known as The Mexican Hat Dance in English, is a traditional Mexican dance representing the courtship between a man and a woman.

Fun fact: the dance was banned during the colonial era. Upon Mexican Independence though, many people started to celebrate it more openly by holding fiestas and performing the dance upon Mexican independence. This made the Mexican Hat Dance explode in popularity soon after.

While it may have lost some of its charm in the eyes of youngsters today, the traditional Mexican dance is still taught to children in schools–so everyone at least knows the basics!

Big lunches

Lunch is a big deal in Mexico, so loosen those belts and get ready to tuck in! As the biggest meal of the day, lunch is usually eaten any time between 1 PM to as late as 4 PM.

Work ceases during the middle of the day, so Mexicans often eat a big lunch with their families and return to work later in the afternoon. Rice, corn, beans, wheat, chorizo, tomatoes, and chilli are the traditional staples, although European and American foods can also be found.

One excellent eatery where you can fill your bellies is the Kitchen Table in Tulum. The establishment is so traditional, with an outside kitchen and no electricity. Get the classic refried beans no matter your main entree for a true taste of Mexico.

Tipping

Although a 15% tax is added to the bill – that’s not the automatic gratuity that many of us assume it is! Make sure to leave a 15-20% tip, as customary in the USA, if you don’t want to appear rude.

Like this? PIN this photo and post below!

Mexican customs and traditions list

Feeling inspired? Check out some underrated Mexican attractions here

If you already have your eyes set on this region of Latin America, I highly recommend you check out the following Mexico tours I experienced myself.

Hipmunk Hotels: Budget Stays In The South

This post was first published on Samantha En Route blog on May 21, 2016 by Samantha

budget stays in the South, Gulf Coast beach

Photo by Esther Levy on Trover.com


Huntsville, AL

There are few major attractions in Huntsville, AL, including the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and Alabama Constitution Village. Being a low-tourist city means that pricing for accommodation is relatively low year-round. The La Quinta Inn Huntsville Space Center has rates starting at around $50 per night (where guests can enjoy a pool, complimentary Wi-Fi, and free breakfast), while the Huntsville Knights Inn starts at $44 per night and includes free breakfast. Boutique and charming hotels, such as the Embassy Suites Huntsville Hotel & Spa and the Homewood Suites by Hilton Huntsville are also available at around $110 per night.

Tuscaloosa, AL

Off the beaten track and not one of the more famous southern cities that draw travelers, Tuscaloosa, AL still has plenty to offer tourists with its up-and-coming feel in the form of live music, events, museums, and more. Many cheaper accommodations also exist, such as Home-Town Suites Tuscaloosa for around $54 per night, Days Inn Suites for around $58 per night, and even the Hampton Tuscaloosa East for around $94 per night. Since Tuscaloosa is becoming a bigger tourist city in the summer, it’s recommended to visit after the peak season to avoid any crowds.

Hot Springs Village, AR

Jacuzzi-goers will love a weekend getaway to Hot Springs Village, AR, where tourists can take in the city’s natural hot springs on Bathhouse Row or even enjoy it pumped directly to their hotel. To continue basking in the outdoors, fishing and boating are also popular activities in the area. Many accommodations are more than budget-friendly, including the Economy Inn Hot Springs at $43 per night, the Shamrock Motel at $58 per night, the Best Western Winners Circle Inn at around $77 per night, and even AirBnB accommodations at $100 per night or less for a simple room.

Little Rock, AR

Being one of the northernmost southern cities means that Little Rock, AR will have a mild climate year-round, perfect for touring. Most tourists visit in the fall to see the autumn colors. Cheap accommodations are abundant in the city, including the Rodeway Inn and Suites, the La Quinta Inn Little Rock West Medical Center, the Comfort Inn West, and the Courtyard Inn Little Rock West, which have rates from $50-$80 per night. Airbnb rooms average $83 per night and can even go down to $20 for a simple overnight spot.

Pompano Beach, FL

Fly directly into Fort Lauderdale from many US destinations and rent a car to the lesser-known Pompano Beach, FL. With great beaches and Florida sunshine but less popular than its more famous neighboring cities, beach-goers can often find a great deal to stay within a budget. The Budget Lodge runs for about $100 and the Executive Economy Lodge typically is about $80 per night. Airbnb rentals average about $50 per night or less, while higher-end properties are still on the less expensive side at around $200 or less, such as at the Fort Lauderdale Marriott Pompano Beach Resort and Spa.

I’m Heading to Chiapas, Merida, Holbox! Underrated Mexico Attractions

I’ve been to the Yucatán Peninsula three times already and can’t get enough. From the aquamarine waters of Cancun; to the vibrant, yet small town feel of Playa Del Carmen; to the majestic Chichen Itza all the way to Mexico’s own Dead Sea. Heck, I even partied with the Backstreet Boys in Cozumel! Yet, it’s time I explore some underrated Mexico attractions.

whale sharks, Mexico attractions

I want to go back to Mexico and not be stuck at an all-inclusive resort, though.

For this reason, I have partnered with Karma Trails to explore several gems that are very close to popular tourist attractions in Mexico; yet, very few tourists know about. These are all a short hop from Mexico City and/or Yucatán hotspots such as Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.

Their customized, flexible trips allow you to build the Mexico itinerary you want through local Destination Experts and guides who give it a special touch. To really get to know the cultural, historical, archaeological nuances and activities that are not so cookie-cutter.

I’m heading to explore the national treasures of Chiapas, Holbox Island, and the colonial city of Merida!

Chiapas, Holbox Island, and Merida: Underrated Mexico Attractions

Chiapas, unique Mexico attractions

Chiapas: San Cristobal de Las Casas, Sumidero, Palenque, Zinacatan

I had never heard of the Mexican state of Chiapas–except in the name of one of the hot sauces I like XD Antonello, the owner of Karma Trails, strongly suggested it as it is one of the most naturally-rich, yet underrated attractions in Mexico.

When I saw the pictures, my jaw dropped as low as yours.

It looks like freaking Southeast Asia! Towering peaks and flooded canyons–sprinkled with tropical greenery–hug the Guatemalan border. Ancient Maya cities, nearly swallowed by the rain forest, abound as well.

Speaking of which: more than 80% of all vegetables and fruits consumed within the country come from Chiapas! All electric energy consumed within the Yucatan and some of it even sold to Belize Guatemala, is produced in Chiapas.

San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, off-the-beaten-path Mexico

San Cristobal de Las Casas by Sofía Martínez Parente García, Wiki Commons

What’s missing? Foreign tourists, mostly.

I will spend 2 nights at San Cristobal de Las Casas (July 20-22)–a sparsely-visited Spanish colonial town in the central Mexican highlands. As you know I’m Puerto Rican, so I’m planning to haggle it up in the markets in my native language!

From my Chiapas base, I’ll be visiting Sumidero Canyon, Agua Azul, Maya city of Palenque, and the indigenous communities of Zinacatan and San Juan Chamula.

The state of Chiapas could easily become the next ecotourism hotspot in Mexico. I can’t wait to explore its colorful culture and natural attractions before most! Expect intense goPro footage from yours truly 😉

Merida: Ek Balam, Uxmal, Coba

Merida, off-the-beaten-path Mexico attractions

Palacio Cantòn – Museo Yucateco de Antropología e Historia in Merida

Merida is the stunning cultural center of the Yucatán Peninsula. While more popular than, say, Chiapas state, it is still overshadowed by its glitzy neighbor on the east: Cancun.

Unbeknownst to most, Merida is a cheaper, better base for the history buffs and cultural explorers who wish to visit all major Maya ruins in the region.

I will spend 3 days and 2 nights based out of Merida, exploring known and lesser-known Maya cities.

While I’m visiting Chichen Itza and Coba again, I’ll do so from a different perspective (and lens!) this time. I wish to catch corners and angles I didn’t notice the first time around.

Ek Balam temple, off-the-beaten-path Mexico

Ek Balam <3

Particularly, I’m anxious to see Ek Balam again. That unique Jaguar Temple left quite an impression on me on my 2012 Mexico trip.

Then, it is off to Uxmal and Tulum for the first time. The former is swallowed by the jungle; while the latter is caressed by the Gulf of Mexico. One is fairly off-the-beaten-path; while the other is more popular than I would like. Two Maya cities, two contrasting locales.

Expect cultural video galore from the Yucatán as well! ;D

Holbox Island: Whale Sharks + Laid-Back Vibes!

Holbox Island, unique Mexico itinerary

idyllic Holbox by Dronepicr, Wiki Commons

One of the most idyllic, incredibly-underrated Mexico attractions is Holbox Island.

Did you know this is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks, the largest fish (and shark) in the world?!

Imagine such a creature: akin a whale, that feeds on tiny plankton, swimming nearby.

It’s been on my travel bucket list forever. I can’t believe it’s finally happening.

OMFG. I’m about to cry just thinking about it…*%$&#@! 😀

Holbox beachfront hotel, off-the-beaten-path Yucatán Mexico

Swimming with whale sharks in Holbox is definitely one of my most anticipated Mexico attractions on this trip. I will also get to explore the.island proper, just a few miles north of the Yucatán Peninsula, with its low-key vibe and virgin beaches.

I plan to mostly chill, as the unique Holbox Dream Hotel has such a character that I’m sure it will suck me in and force me to truly relax <3

This trip will be for the books!

I arrive July 19 and depart July 29. Follow me and #latinabroadMX on Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter @LatinAbroad for real-time posts from these Mexico attractions!

Unique Mexico Attractions: My 10-Day Itinerary

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Again, many thanks to Karma Trails for sponsoring this epic trip <3

10 Amber Cove Port Shots That Will Make You Want to Book a Cruise

It was as if the sky’s jaw dropped, along with ours, as we approached Amber Cove port in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Puffy, gray clouds parted right when the mounting peaks started to pierce the horizon in front of us.

Bright green flora grew in front of our eyes as we sailed closer. Palm trees looked alive even, as the salty ocean breeze shook their fronds like a devout Christian on Palm Sunday. The bright blue Caribbean Sea crashed against a jagged coastline, wrapping the mountainside like a frame around a picture.

An observatory, akin a small Roman temple, served as centerpiece.

Amber Cove view, cruise port review

The cove, as it lushly enveloped us, reminded me of home.

It was not Puerto Rico, however. Rather, its bigger neighbor: the Dominican Republic.

Welcome to Puerto Plata: a destination in northern DR that remained out of cruise ship itineraries for decades. It has now reopened cruise passengers in the form of a multi-million-dollar development by Carnival Inc.

But…what does it look like?

When you think of a Caribbean cruise port, you probably imagine scores of souvenir shops, swarming touts, and haggling voices bouncing between buildings.

Amber Cove cruise, Dominican Republic

Not here. Not at Amber Cove.

Yes, there are souvenir shops–but take out the hassle. Sprinkle some chill. Add more flavor.

Better yet: Amber Cove employs LOCALS. It was refreshing to see beaming Dominican faces, thrilled to be working in this resort-style cruise port.

My Amber Cove cruise shots will make you want to book a Fathom cruise.

Puerto Plata cruise arrival

Picture the grounds of an all-inclusive resort: those that, as a cruise ship passenger, require you to buy an expensive day pass to enjoy.

Now picture this:

Views at the top of a flight of seemingly-melting asphalt stairs toward fun water slides:

Amber Cove port, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

Ahhh, water slides! One is predictable:

Amber Cove photos, waterslides

While the other is…weeeell

They will shake the kid inside out of you. Like a bear out of hibernation.

Amber-Cove-cruise-port-review

Then, head the opposite direction + dip into the largest hot tub you’ve ever seen:

Amber Cove resort pool, Puerto Plata cruise port

Yes: the Caribbean sun heats Amber Cove’s waist-deep resort pool in no time

Thank goodness there’s a swim up bar:

swim up bar, Puerto Plata cruise port

and friendly bartenders who pour heavy–Latin style!

Still: it feels like an all-inclusive resort. BUT IT’S FREE

(minus drinkies, of course. And USD $6-per-ride or $12-unlimited zip line)

Or splurge anyway: take a ride to Damajagua River and slide down 27 waterfalls:

27 waterfalls, Amber Cove excursion

Your legs will shake after chugging down so much adrenaline!

Deep down, I always knew there was a better alternative to rum & souvenir shops

Follow me on Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Twitter + Facebook for more!

7 Tips For Traveling Across The Country On A Budget

This post was first published on Tailwind blog on August 11, 2015.

traveling across the country, road trip tips

If you’re going to try to see the countless amazing sites across America, you’ll need to get started now. And if you’re hoping to remain within a budget, you should definitely follow these tips.

1. Use Technology for Cheap Gas

 

Imagine if you knew which gas stations along your route had the lowest-priced fuel. Just think of how much you could save! That’s exactly what GasBuddy does. You can check out their website or download the app, and never overpay for gas again!

traveling across the country with groceries

2. Bring Your Own Groceries

 

If you’re driving across the country, a cooler with lunch meats, soda and condiments can come in handy at rest stops. Even when you’re staying at a hotel, it’s best to have food stored in the refrigerator. Save eating out for those special restaurants that you just have to try.

3. Invest in a Federal Recreation Pass

 

Some cities are always going to be expensive, but if you think ahead and buy a Federal Recreation Pass, you can enter federally-funded recreation areas throughout the United States for free. This includes places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone Park. You can even have some friends tag along!

4. Check out Free Sites

 

Even if you don’t pay for a pass to see national landmarks, there are countless sites you can visit for free. From the White House in D.C. to the French Quarter — which also has low cost hotels in New Orleans like Historic Streetcar Inn — there are definite stopping points that can be accessed on a shoestring budget.

traveling across the country with friends

5. Bring Friends Along

 

If you’ve opted to see the country via automobile, one of the best ways to stay within your budget is to bring friends along. Not only will you get a better value on your Federal Recreation Pass, but you’ll also be able to split the cost of fuel and your lodging. Just imagine, for instance, how much more affordable a trip to The Big Apple would be if you weren’t footing the bill for New York hotels and taxis alone.

6. Utilize Travel Aggregation Sites

 

Online travel sites have become a popular way of saving money. Using travel aggregation sites like Hipmunk, which seek out the lowest prices from all the top travel sites, is an ideal way to save money on traveling.

 7. Avoid Dining in When Eating Out

 

When you do opt to buy food from a restaurant, it’s best to place your order to go. This will minimize the necessity of tipping. Even if you find a cheap hotel in cities ranging from Chicago to El Paso, tipping can quickly wipe out the money you’re saving on a low-cost hotel.

traveling across the country, food

Traveling across the country doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. There are now many methods for saving on cross-country trips. Fortunately, this means great travels without breaking the bank.

Redington Beach, FL Video: My Birthday Weekend + Local Tips

A Monday is even worse when you have just returned from your birthday weekend at the beach! I came back from one of my favorite beaches in the entire State of Florida, Redington Beach, yesterday. SO! Today, I’m going to share the short-and-sweet video I filmed at one of the beaches there last Saturday.

I just turned 29 on June 25th, by the way. Can’t believe it… I remember so clearly my first summer in Europe before I turned 18..

That was 11 YEARS ago. Absolutely insane how time flies after high school!

Redington Beach, Florida Video: My Birthday Shot!

The more I visit these beaches in Pinellas County, Florida, the deeper I fall in love with them. Sandwiched between the larger, ever-crowded Clearwater and St. Petersburg beaches, the small stretch made up by Redington Beach, Redington Shores, and North Redington Beach have captured my heart thanks to their local vibes.

Entertainment pricing and ample FREE parking, though, are the 2 huge pros that keep making me come back to for more.

It doesn’t matter which of the 3 Redingtons you choose: it’s hard to tell the difference between them, to be honest. You seamlessly go from one to the other, finding several family-owned businesses of outstanding value and quality sprinkled between the 3.

My Top Redington Beach Tips for Travelers

Again, all 3 Redingtons are so close together that these tips apply to Redington Beach and travelers in the vicinity.

Sunset at Redington Shores: one of Florida's best beaches

Top Spot for Happy Hour and Early Bird Specials: Seabreeze Island Grill

17855 Gulf Boulevard
Redington Shores, Florida 33708
Talk about not only the best deal in Redington Shores, but the best deal in any Coastal Florida town, perhaps: USD $12 for a three-course meal fromtheir Early Bird menu. Anyone showing up between opening and 6 PM can take advantage of this.

This deal includes their homemade, freshly-baked luau bread accompanied by either famous coconut macadamia butter as an appetizer; followed by one out of 10 entrée options that include things like Canadian-style lobster tacos or even a crab-meat-stuffed Mahi PLUS two sides; finished up with featured dessert of the day (typically a slice of their homemade cheesecake, drizzled with your choice of fruit, chocolate or caramel syrups).

Mah God. I’ve been there more than my toes and fingers can count and always come out of their stuff. Pair THAT combo with a USD $3 massive Margarita and then you understand why I have been going there almost every single weekend since I rung up 2016.

Best happy hour in Redington Beach

Top Spot for Breakfast and Brunch: Sweet Sage Café

16725 Gulf Boulevard
North Redington Beach, Florida 33708
Just tried this quirky café yesterday before we departed Redington and HOLY SCRAMBLED CRAB BENEDICT. I didn’t care much for the flatbread used as toast at the bottom, but the filler-free, perfectly-spiced crabby goodness topped by the fluffiest scrambled eggs I’ve ever seen in my life, then smothered with hot, creamy hollandaise sauce… It’s what egg Benedict lovers’ dreams are made of.

Oh, did I mention those just costed me USD $10.98?! God bless our waitress for recommending that! My partner got the waffles and they were equally-delicious and holy-whipped-cream presentation a plus.

If you are into buffets, Sweet Sage also offers a fantastic holiday and weekend brunch buffet for USD $12.99 per person.

best brunch in Redington Beach

Best-Value Accommodation: Carousel Motel

18202 Gulf Boulevard
Redington Shores, Florida 33708
There are many, many budget accommodation options in Redington Beach and beyond. If you have the time and patience, I actually recommend you drive down Gulf Boulevard between the 3 Redingtons and drop by any of the motels with a “VACANCY” sign and haggle.

No patience or just want the freedom to drop in and know you got a good rate, though? Stay at the Carousel Motel like I have done 2 times already, then.

Redington Beach hotel, Carousel Motel

Efficiency at Carousel Motel: double bed is on the right, tucked in a corner nook with a small closet

Their cheapest motel room, with 2 twin beds, is USD $65 a night in the low season. However, I believe their efficiency with one double bed is their best value, just USD $10 more a night (USD $75) in the low season as well. Remember the rates most local motels show in their websites typically do not include 12% taxes and are based on 1-2 people per room (although Carousel does allow additional people for USD $5 each).

Yes, the motel’s decor is a bit outdated, but it is always clean and you can’t beat its location. Carousel is right next door to the public parking of Redington Shores and a street away from direct beach access. Additionally, it’s an easy walk to several restaurants, a great pizza place, and 711 right across the street. Ad of course, it is at the doorstep of all 3 Redingtons, so you can walk to either Redington Beach (like I did to shoot the video above) or North Redington Beach.

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I can’t wait to go back after my trips to South Carolina & Cocoa Beach 😀

Unique Places to View NYC’s Skyline

This article was first published on IHG.com summer 2016

The Empire State Building, Top of the Rock, One World Trade Center…all of offer exceptional views of NYC, but only with some major trade-offs. You could wait hours in line just to reach the top, and the cost of admission is as sky-high as the observation deck. Plus, you’ll find the same exact views in every tour guide and on about half of all NYC postcards. Visiting New York City is breath taking, make sure you are getting the most out of your trip whether your hotel is within walking distance to Times Square or discovering more unique places off the beaten path.

So where should you go to see New York in a new way? Fortunately, there are several other locations which let you see the NYC skyline from a fresh perspective. While they aren’t featured in many city guides, we’ve put together a list of cool and unique locations with unbelievable skyline views. These are more than just tourist trap observation decks; each one doubles as a memorable New York experience, whether you’ll be enjoying a relaxing stroll in the park, learning about natural history, riding a famous carousel, listening to live music, or viewing some of the world’s finest artwork.

Keep this guide handy as you explore New York City from top to bottom. We’ve highlighted some local spots with seriously exceptional views of the city that will remind you why NYC is so special.

unique NYC skyline views