Roadtrippin’ in the Balkans with NOVA Rent a CarKollecting Koordinates - car rental in Montenegro 1

We celebrated our honeymoon on a few Greek islands and with a road trip through Croatia. Finding a reliable car rental company in the Balkans was not an easy feat. We have no problems with big names in North America but we came across many, many negative reviews of the same companies in Europe. After scouring the net, we decided to go with a well-established local company for our Croatia road trip: NOVA Rent a Car. Fast-forward two years- we’re back with the same car rental in Montenegro!

Kollecting Koordinates - car rental in Montenegro 1Kollecting Koordinates - car rental in Montenegro 1

Our best travel companion in the Balkans – NOVA Rent a Car

car rental in Montenegro and Croatia

Read more: The magical Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia

Car rental in Croatia

We booked online 6 months before our trip and immediately received an email confirming the details including the total price. Wary about our first time driving in Europe, I emailed back with a few questions. Rino, the manager, quickly responded and eased our concerns.

The amount quoted in the email was exactly what we paid in cash upon picking up our vehicle at Zagreb Airport (ZAG). The NOVA staff showed us to our automatic Opel Corsa, which was very clean and in mint condition, and we were soon on our way.

From ZAG, we made our way to Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes National Park, Zadar, and Split over the next 5 days. We crossed the border to Mostar in Bosnia & Herzegovina before ending our journey in Dubrovnik. On our last day, we said goodbye to our car at Dubrovnik Airport (DBV) before hopping on our flight to Crete. No questions asked, no additional fees charged, and no time wasted!

Read more: Don’t forget – Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Car rental in Montenegro

Pleased with our initial experience, we were excited to be on the road with NOVA again. We arrived at the same office in DBV, went through the same painless procedures, and embarked on our Montenegro journey with our best travel companion. Just like the good old times.

This time around we were given a brand spanking new BMW 116d. My chauffeur husband was very happy with its power, steering, and traction. The comfy bucket seats gave him serious Initial D feels as he drove along many winding roads and tight hairpins. We were surprised at how fuel efficient this little diesel-run beast is compared to our bimmer back home- we saved so much on gas!

Kollecting Koordinates - car rental in Montenegro 1

Crossing the Croatia/Montenegro border was just as simple as the Croatia/Bosnia border with the Green Card NOVA left in the glove compartment. Our red friend took us north to Zabljak and Durmitor National Park, as far east as Biogradska Gora National Park, south to Skadar Lake, west to Lovćen and Kotor, and finally back across the border to DBV.

Note: There are NO border crossing fees! Stay away from rental companies who tell you otherwise. All you need is the green cross-border document and your passports.

Other Tips and Info

  • THERE ARE NO HIDDEN FEES! The cost breakdown is clearly displayed on their booking portal and you’ll never be surprised by random charges
  • You pay when you collect the vehicle
  • The price includes basic insurance needed should there be an accident (Legal Liability, Third Party, and Public Liability), as well as Theft Protection and Damage Waiver (ranges from €500-€1300 depending on the vehicle class)
  • There are no cancellation fees!
  • For more information and rates about NOVA Rent a Car, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Read more: 9 Must-Do’s in Dubrovnik, Croatia

Kollecting Koordinates - car rental in Montenegro 1Kollecting Koordinates - car rental in Montenegro 1Disclaimer: NOVA Rent a Car provided us with a vehicle for our Montenegro road trip. However, all opinions and experiences are honest and our own. We wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves! 

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Overnight layovers in London – Sleep easy at YOTELAIRKollecting Koordinates - overnight layover in London 1

This was our third time with an overnight layover in London; making it our third sleep at YOTELAIR. We usually avoid lengthy layovers like a plague but we don’t mind them in London thanks to this innovative airport hotel! With two locations, one inside Terminal 4 at Heathrow and another inside the South terminal at Gatwick, YOTELAIR has become our new best friend in London.

Read more: Walking guide – How to see London in 24 hrs

Overnight layover in London at YOTELAIR

Just imagine rolling out of bed, pressing the UP button on the elevator, and scanning your boarding pass for security clearance for an early morning flight within minutes. Or getting off the plane after an exhausting flight, and being able to hop into a comfy bed right away.

Similar to the capsule hotels in Japan, YOTELAIR is where innovation meets comfort. The space is smartly designed so that you’ll find everything you need in a cabin that’s no larger than 110sqft. Every inch of space is used for something, like luggage storage underneath beds.

Our Premium Cabin came with complimentary WiFi, a foldout desk, flat screen TV, and en-suite bathroom with monsoon shower. With a touch of a button, the convertible SmartBed glides to any position to work, lounge, or sleep.

Note: Standard cabins are also available for solo travelers.

YOTELAIR is not only convenient for those with an overnight layover in London, but also travelers with connection times of awkward lengths. Booking is available by the hour, with a minimum stay of 4 hours.

Read more: Viewing London from 800ft above the ground

Having stayed at both locations, we prefer Gatwick just a tad more simply because of the gentlemen at the Mission Control (YOTEL talk for reception desk). This is where you can order complimentary hot drinks and bottled water 24/7. What’s impressive is that we found their service to be on par with hotels that are 4-star or higher- perhaps even better than some!

Other Tips and Info

  • Rates start at £49.00+ for a minimum stay of 4 hours, and £95.00+ for stays longer than 12 hours.
  • Bottled water, espresso coffee, tea and hot chocolate are free all day!
  • Food can be ordered at Mission Control- staff will bring your meal to your cabin when it’s ready.
  • For more information and current promos, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Disclaimer: We were invited guests at YOTELAIR Gatwick. However, all opinions and experiences are honest and our own. We wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves! 

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Kollecting Koordinates - overnight layover in London 2

 

Viewing London from 800ft above the groundKollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 11

With fewer than 24 hours to spare, we were on the hunt for the best view of London. We saw a few of London’s famous sites from the ground level the last time we were there. This time we kicked it up a notch and saw London from the 72nd floor!

The Best View of London: The View from the Shard

At 800ft above the ground, The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. It’s the only place where you’ll be able to enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of London, all at once. These views stretch for a whopping 40 miles! The View from the Shard is London’s twist on ‘Where’s Waldo’, where visitors find and spot London’s most iconic sites including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, London Eye, and Buckingham Palace.

There are two bars, allowing you to enjoy London’s stunning skyline over a drink or two. A glass of Champagne Lanson is included in your entrance fee when you purchase the Champagne Experience. Whether you’re visiting from abroad or a local looking for a fancy night out, there’s no better place to see the best view of London. The Shard even offers a private proposal service!

Our visit to The Shard was graced with clear skies and amazing visibility for great photo ops. It felt like the platform was swaying at times but it was probably my mind playing tricks on me since I’m terrified of heights. Anything for the ‘gram, though, right?

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changing elevators at level 33

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bar on the open-air skydeck

free audio & visual guides available in different languages on level 69

Tips on getting the best view of London

  • Use a polarizing filter to help suppress glare and reflections.
  • Take advantage of the free audio and visual guides; you can find these on the 69th floor.
  • It can get chilly on the open-air sky deck. Layer up if you’re not visiting in the summer time.
  • The ‘Day & Night Experience’ dual entry lets visitors experience London’s skyline both during the day and at night.
  • Book in advance to save money!
  • Don’t miss the washroom on the 68th floor- toilet views don’t get any better than this!

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 9

Other tips and info

  • Tickets are £15.95+ per adult and £9.95+ for children if booked in advance, or £20.95+ per adult and £14.95+ for children if booked on the day
  • The nearest tube station is London Bridge
  • Summer hours of operations are from 10AM – 10PM all week. Winter hours are from 10AM-7PM (Sunday to Wednesday), and 10AM-10PM (Thursday to Saturday).
  • For more information and upcoming special events, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 11
Disclaimer: AS and I received complimentary media passes for our visit. However, all opinions and experiences are honest and our own, and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

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Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London

20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido in Palawan

Hurricane Hagupit swept across the Philippines days before our flight to El Nido in 2014. We shrugged off the sunk costs and tried our luck again in 2016. When we arrived at Mactan-Cebu Airport to check in for our flight, we were told our flight was canceled. Dammit, what does it freaking take to visit this place?! We eventually made it there the following day and realized it was all worth it! Here are 20 photos to inspire you to visit El Nido in Palawan, Philippines.

READ MORE: 8 Reasons to convince you to visit Cebu in the Philippines

20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Island hopping is a must!

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Town proper from the sea

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Marvel at the countless islands and rock formations

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

The ocean has never been so inviting!

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Have breakfast with views overlooking the Corong Corong Bay

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Indulge in views like this from the Taraw Peak

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

And this

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Sun tan on this soft white sand beach

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

…as long as you bring sunscreen!

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Go island hopping on your own private banca and avoid crowds

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Explore this natural aquarium

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Enjoy sunsets while swinging in a hammock on your balcony

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Dive into crystal clear turquoise waters

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

The snorkeling conditions here are pristine!

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Live among trees in a cottage with an infinity pool

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Motorbike to the famous twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

The Twin Beaches of El Nido: Nacpan and Calitang

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Go kayaking in the Big and Small Lagoons

Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Get your hair fried and skin burnt…. worth it!

Still not convinced? Check out our Youtube video:

Stay tuned for our guide to visiting El Nido comfortably and efficiently without breaking your bank!

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Kollecting Koordinates - 20 Photos to inspire you to visit El Nido

Embracing the Wild Life with 8 things to do on Bowen Island + GIVEAWAY

This post is sponsored by Sakroots to promote the launch of the new Wild Life print by Niki Pilkington.

Call us biased but we’re proud to say we live in the most beautiful province in Canada, where Mother Nature has graced us with the most comfy climate and stunning scenery! This year, we’ve set a goal to embrace the wild life in British Columbia by exploring as many islands as we can. We started with a weekend getaway on a small island just 20 minutes from Vancouver by ferry: Bowen Island.

8 Things to do on Bowen Island

1. Enjoy the scenic ferry ride

Hop on the Queen of Capilano run by BC Ferries! Sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenic ferry ride from Horseshoe Bay to Snug Cove. Crossing time is only 20 minutes and passengers don’t need tickets for the return ferry.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen Island

2. Go kayaking

The kayak season runs from April to mid October. You can check out an abundance of wildlife while you paddle from beach to beach. Keep your eyes peeled for orcas, dolphins, seals, and bald eagles. We didn’t get a chance to do this as the sea was too choppy; the conditions were so bad that other ferry routes were canceled! We’ll be back again in the summer to explore the gulf by kayak.

3. Chill out at Snug Cove

Take a stroll along the picturesque marina with buildings from the early 1900’s. Snug Cove was once a summer resort where Vancouverites spent holiday time, and housed the largest dance hall in BC.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen Island

4. Visit Artisan Square

Artisan Square is a quaint cultural hub where you can find a collection of shops, restaurants, and galleries. It’s a 20-minute uphill walk from Snug Cove- or you can catch a 5-minute ride with one of the friendly locals by hitchhiking. Don’t miss organic chocolatey treats at Cocoa West Chocolatier!

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen IslandKollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen Island

5. Feast your heart out

With a population of just over 3,500, we were surprised to find the wide variety and high quality of dining options on Bowen Island. Sample Spanish tapas over vino at Barcelona, pig out on wood-fired pizzas at Tuscany, or indulge in French bistro fare at Artisan Square (legit French pastries baked onsite!). You can also find hearty pub food or sip on award-winning coffee. Eating clean is easy peasy on Bowen where many bistros use organic and garden-fresh ingredients.

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6. Zip around on a scooter

Scooter season runs from mi-April to mid-October. Weather permitting, this is by far the best way to explore the island!  Bowen Island is so small that it only takes 30 minutes to get from one end of the island to the other. Why not do it in style in a retro Yamaha Vino?

7. Attend a yoga retreat

Practicing in this geodesic dome at Nectar Yoga B&B is one of the best things to do on Bowen Island. Yoga enthusiasts from all over the world travel here to attend events and workshops immersed in nature. Namaste doesn’t get any better than this!

Kollecting Koordinates - Nectar Yoga BnB

8. Go hiking

With over 10 walks and hikes to choose from, Bowen Island offers trails for every kind of hiker. Stroll with ease around Killarney Lake or challenge yourself by summiting Mount Gardner, where you will be rewarded with views of Howe Sound and the Coast Mountains.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen Island

SAKROOTS GIVEAWAY – WIN AN ITEM FROM THE NEW WILD LIFE COLLECTION

I’ve partnered up with Sakroots to promote the launch of the ‘Wild Life’ print by illustrator Niki Pilkington. The winner will receive any Wild Life item of their choice.

The contest will go live on my Instagram on Monday, April 17 at 7PM PST. To enter:

  1. Follow @sakroots and @kollectingkoordinates on Instagram
  2. Post a photo showing how you live your wild life
  3. Tag and mention @sakroots and @kollectingkoordinates in your photo
  4. Use the hashtags #SRWildLife #sakroots in the caption

A winner will be selected by Sakroots and announced after 24 hours. This giveaway is open to everyone with a US-mailing address. Terms and conditions can be found here.

Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Sakroots. Special thanks to BC Ferries for providing us with complimentary fares to Bowen Island.

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Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen Island

24 hours in Hualien and Taroko National Park in TaiwanKollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Oh, Taiwan. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Taiwan is known for its mouthwatering food and unparalleled hospitality. Visitors rush to see the iconic Taipei 101, but there’s more to Taiwan than just Taipei. The true beauty of this island country lies on the east coast, where plains are forever green and where mountains meet the sea. 24 hours in Hualien and Taroko National Park doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but it’s totally doable (without being rushed) if you plan carefully.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

24 hours in Hualien – How do I even get there?

Chances are, you’re heading to Hualien from Taipei. Cities and counties in Taiwan are connected by the Taiwan Railways Administration, with the fastest being the Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains. Taroko Express and Puyuma Express are both reservation-only Tze-Chiang Limited Express trains that run from Taipei to Hualien. Duration and fares are the same- they’re just owned by different companies.

Tip: Buy your tickets ahead of time; you can do so up to 2 weeks in advance. The Puyuma line is very popular and sells out quickly, especially on weekends and national holidays. You can pick up your tickets at a post office or at any convenience store (7-Eleven, Family Mart, Hi-Life, OK Mart); make sure you have your passport with you.

Read more: Social responsibility at its best – Horizon Inn Taipei

How do I get around in Hualien?

If you’re only interested in checking out Taroko National Park, there are tours and hop-on hop-off buses that do just that. However, I strongly advise against them because let’s be honest- ain’t nobody got time for that! Rent a moped instead and explore the gorge on your own. You’ll be able to go at your own pace and stop whenever, wherever you want.

If you’re in a group of 2-4, aren’t comfortable with scootering around, or are pressed for time… just hire a private driver! We’re all about efficiency here so I highly recommend this option. This allowed us to customize our own itinerary and visit sites outside of Taroko.

Tip: Our driver no longer offers services but there are plenty of recommendations on Tripadvisor. The rate for an English-speaking driver is fairly standard at around $3,000NTD/day (around $100USD).

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

What can I see and do within 24 hours in Hualien?

Qixing Beach

QiXing means ‘seven stars’ in Mandarin. Once a thriving fishing village, this area is now home to Qixing Beach and the Hualien Air Force Base. If you visit at night you can even star-gaze! Visitors are able to see all seven stars of the Big Dipper (hence the name).

You won’t find any sand here- this pebble beach is considered one of the most beautiful in Taiwan. The waves and currents are too strong for a swim but the bike trail is perfect for a beach-side cruise. We spent half an hour here and watched in awe as an F-16 figher jet took off.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Qingshui Cliff

20 minutes away from QiXing Beach is the QingShui Cliff, arguably one of the most stunning sights in Taiwan. Dropping vertically into the Pacific Ocean, the cliff is over 3,000 feet high and stretches more than 12 miles along the Suao-Hualien highway.

Tip: There’s an observation deck once you exit the Chongde Tunnel. Here’s your chance to snap that IG-worthy shot!

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Shakadang trail

Also known as the ‘Mystery Valley’, this was once a narrow path used only by aboriginals- the Taroko people. When Taiwan was under Japanese rule in the 1940’s, the Japanese broadened the trail to transport equipment in order to build the Liwu Power Plant. Marvel at the marble stones and Shakadang River as you explore the past of the Taroko tribe.

Tip: This is by no means a strenuous hike; it’s more of a stroll stretching more than 4km that’ll take you 3-4hrs round-trip. You won’t miss out on much even if you turn back before you reach the end.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Lushui and Baiyang Trail

If you’re interested in more easy hikes check out the Lushui and Baiyang Trails. The scenery is more or less the same as Shakadang Trail.

Eternal Spring Shrine

Modeled after a famous temple from the Tang Dynasty, this shrine commemorates 225 veterans who lost their lives constructing the Central Cross-Island Highway. Visitors can’t enter the shrine; you can only view this picturesque landmark from afar.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Swallow’s Grotto

Weaving in and out of a mountain, this trail overlooks a deep gorge and powerful stream. Your driver will drop you off at the entrance while you make your way to the other end on foot. A safety helmet is not required but just put it on anyway. It’s free! This area is prone to falling rocks; better safe than sorry!

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

Dongdamen Night Market

This humongous night market will probably be the highlight of your 24 hours in Hualien. Come hungry! The food scene in Taiwan is like no other and I wrote about this in another post. You’ll be able to cross some dishes off that list at this night market.

Dongdamen Night Market has a section dedicated to traditional Taiwanese snacks, another featuring aboriginal cuisines, and a third with foods from mainland China. There’s even another smaller night market within Dongdamen… nightmarketception is a thing.

Tip: Listen to your Taiwanese homegirl and try these 3 stands: stinky tofu sticks, deep fried egg scallion pancake, and a variety of barbeque skewers- all pictured below because none of it is in English. If you see anything with signs in English, assume it’s a tourist trap.

Read more: The Ultimate Food Guide to Taiwan

Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 17
Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 18

Where should I stay in Hualien?

Echo Villa is where it’s at! You’ll see what I mean by Taiwanese hospitality once you meet the host. Situated right next to a forest, this glass house is the perfect hideaway. I wish we spent more than 24 hours in Hualien because I adored our little B&B so much. There are only 5 rooms, each tastefully decorated with a style of its own.

Homemade breakfast is served in your room every morning. Echo Villa is 20 minutes from city center but trust me, once you’re here you won’t want to leave. There’s also a short trail (20-30min walk) leading you to a hidden waterfall.

Tip: We were in the Stellar Attic and loved it. It’s almost always sold out due to its popularity. Booking opens 2 months in advance so get on it!

Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 5
Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 15
Kollecting Koordinates - Hualien 11

24 hours in Hualien – sample itinerary

7AM   –   train from Taipei to Hualien
9AM   –   arrive in Hualien, head to QiXing Beach (七星潭)
11AM  –   stop by the 7-ELEVEN before the Taroko National Park entrance for a quick lunch
Noon  –   QingShui Cliff (清水斷崖), Shakadang Trail (砂卡噹步道), Eternal Spring Shrine (長春祠), Swallow Grotto (燕子口)
4PM   –   check in at your B&B, wash up and rest before dinner
6PM   –   pig out at Dongdaemun Night Market (花蓮東大門觀光夜市)

Don’t miss Mukumugi Valley and Sixty Rock Mountain if you’re able to spend more than 24 hours in Hualien. They’re a bit out of the way so you’ll need an extra day or two.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

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Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Hualien

The perfect winter getaway at the No.1 ski resort – Whistler

Vancouverites are really lucky. We’re not only spoiled with 3 different local mountains all within a 45-minute drive, but also a world-class ski resort just 2 hours away. Every winter calls for a Whistler getaway to escape the city life, even if it’s just for a short weekend. If you haven’t already been to Whistler, what are you waiting for?!

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

one of the runs at 7th Heaven on Blackcomb Mountain

Know before you go

  • Everything is expensive. Brace your wallet; Whistler is coming.
  • Bring a pair of rainboots. They might not be #ootd-worthy but the joke’s on you when your fancy non-waterproof shoes get drenched by nasty slush.
  • Expect long lines at chairlifts. Lines move fairly quickly but they’re inevitable.

Tip: This is why we prefer riding at Sun Peaks in Kamloops or Big White in Kelowna. I don’t remember ever having to wait more than 5 minutes to get on a lift at Sun Peaks or Big White… but then again Whistler is only a 2hr drive from home versus 5-6hrs on the dreadful Coquihalla Highway.

Photo credit: Becca at @habitat9travels

Getting to Whistler

By car

Driving to Whistler from Vancouver is easy peasy because directions and signs are clearly marked. Strap in for a gorgeous ride along the Sea-to-Sky corridor. Follow signs for the Trans-Canada Highway/BC-1 W/BC-99 N from wherever you are, and continue on BC-99 N until you see the Whistler Village on your right. 

Tip: Winter tires are required by law on the Sea-to-Sky Highway from October 1 to March 31. Make sure your vehicle complies!

By bus/shuttle

Don’t have a car or don’t want to drive? Bus and shuttle services like Pacific Coach and Snow Bus offer transportation from YVR (Vancouver International Airport) and downtown Vancouver to Whistler. Prices range anywhere from $40-70, one way.

Tip: Check Groupon for deals. I’ve seen deals on shuttle passes for around $35, round trip.

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Peak to Peak Gondola – Photo credit: Becca at @habitat9travels

Where to stay on your Whistler getaway

How do you choose which hotel, lodge, or rental property to stay at? It really depends on how many people you’re traveling with. If it’s just you and a significant other, get a hotel or 1-bedroom Airbnb. If you’re traveling with a big group of friends or family, renting a cabin is the way to go. Rates start at $300CAD/night for upscale hotels and there’s always a 2+ night minimum stay required for cabins and Airbnb.

Tip: Always check the map to see if your accommodation is close to a gondola and chairlifts. Most hotels offer complimentary shuttles if they’re not in the village. Ski-in/out choices come with a hefty price-tag but it’s worth the convenience (and view!).

AS and I stayed at the newly renovated Crystal Lodge & Suites last December and it was perfect. Located in the center of the village, we were literally steps away from the Excalibur Gondola (takes you up the Blackcomb Mountain). It was so nice not having to lug our gear for more than a 3-minute walk after a long leg day on the slopes.

Read more: Crystal Lodge & Suites – The Perfect Place to Stay in Whistler

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler

Whistler village stroll

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler

Crystal guest room in Crystal Lodge & Suites

What to eat on your Whistler getaway

Eating in

The biggest advantage of renting a cabin or Airbnb is that it comes with a kitchen. Whistler is expensive, so you end up saving a lot of money by cooking your own meals. There are two grocery stores in the village: Whistler Grocery Store and MarketPlace IGA (larger, slightly cheaper). 

Dining out

No kitchen? Don’t worry! Start your morning with a breakfast of champions at Wild Wood Pacific Bistro. The large portions will keep you fueled throughout the day. For a mid-day snack (or second breakfast!), hop on the Crystal Ridge Express chairlift for some delicious Belgian waffles at the Crystal Hut.

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway 7

Peaked Pies serves authentic Australian meat pies- hearty comfort food at a reasonable price. Head to Araxi for their famous oyster happy hour from 3-5pm. And of course, don’t miss the charcuterie board and cheese fondue at Basalt.

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler

yummy charcuterie board at Basalt Wine & Salumeria

Things to do on your Whistler getaway

Ski / snowboard

Duh, if you’re not going to Whistler to ride why are you even going? Jokes. There’s actually a lot more to Whistler than just skiing and snowboarding, but you’re in for a treat if shredding fresh pow is your main goal. Connected by the Peak-to-Peak Gondola, Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains are comprised of 200+ marked runs, 8000+ acres of terrain, and 16 alpine bowls.

Tip: 1-Day lift passes are $139CAD but you can save by purchasing at least 3 days in advance. The more days you buy, the more you save. Children (7-12yrs), youths (13-18 yrs), and seniors (65+) also receive discounted rates. Check this page for more information.

Tip: Canadians and residents of Oregon and Washington States are eligible for the EDGE Card, which offers discounts on lift tickets and activities. It also links your credit card, allowing guests to pay easily at shops and restaurants.

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Go tubing at the Coca-Cola Tube Park

You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy the tube park! When I was younger, Papa Ko would spend the day cruising down the tubing hill while I learned how to snowboard. This fun activity is family-friendly and for people of all ages.

Tip: Rates are $23/hr or $31.50/2hrs for adults, but EDGE Card holders receive 20% off. Find out more about pricing and hours of operation here.

Go snowshoeing

If neither riding nor tubing is for you, slap on some snowshoes and hike through a winter wonderland. Tours start at $49CAD per person; check out the different tour options here.

Treat yo self at Scandinave Spa Whistler

You’re missing out on life if you haven’t tried hydrotherapy! The Scandinave Spa is the cherry on top for your Whistler getaway. Eucalyptus steam rooms, wood burning saunas, Nordic waterfalls, cold baths, and outdoor hot pools in the snow… what more do you need? Relax, rejuvenate, and recharge with the health benefits of hydrotherapy. You can also take your experience to the next level with a massage treatment.

Tip: They open at 10am- get there right when it opens so you’re the first ones to use the pools. It can get pretty busy in the afternoon, especially on weekends.

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Photo credit: Becca at @habitat9travels

Ball out on a helicopter tour

If you have a fat wallet, why not splurge on a heli-ride to make your Whistler getaway extra special? Enjoy a bird’s eye view of the glaciers, snowy valleys, and coastal mountains. You can even add a hike or glacier trek to your package to make it a full-day activity. Prices range from $170-715CAD depending on your tour.

Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Photo credit: Becca at @habitat9travels

Special thanks to Becca at @habitat9travels for providing some of these amazing photos of Whistler! Follow her on Instagram for more stunning travel photography.

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Kollecting Koordinates - Whistler getaway

Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, JapanKollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

If you’re visiting the Kansai region of Japan, chances are you’re including at least one of Kobe, Nara, Hiroshima, and Miyajima in your itinerary. All of these can be easily accessed because Japan’s vast transit network is ridiculously efficient (much like everything else in Japan)! Why not escape from the hustle and bustle of city life with a Miyajima day trip?

Itsukushima, more commonly known as Miyajima, is said to be an island where gods lived. Considered one of the most scenic spots in Japan, Miyajima is not only romantic but also family-friendly. AS and I brought Mama Ko along on this journey and we had a fantastic famjam time. We connected on a whole ‘nother level as we stepped back in time on this sacred island; the whole place radiates tranquility! I assure you you’ll suffer from a serious case of FOMO if you don’t make this Miyajima day trip a priority.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Getting to Miyajima

Tip: Because we only visited Kyoto, Osaka, and Miyajima on this trip, the JR-West Kansai Hiroshima Area Pass was enough. Find out which JR Pass best suits your needs depending on where else you’ll be visiting in Japan.

From KIX – Kansai International Airport

Take the JR Haruka Limited Express train from KIX to Shin-Osaka station (50min).

From Osaka

From Shin-Osaka station, take the Sanyo Shinkansen to Hiroshima station. This 90-minute journey will fly by because the Shinkansen is so darn fast and comfortable.

From Kyoto

If you’re making the Miyajima day trip from Kyoto, keep in mind that it’s close to 3 hours, one way. From Kyoto station, take the direct Hikari train to Hiroshima station.

Read more: How to see Kyoto in 2 days

FROM Hiroshima

Take the JR Sanyo Line, in the Iwakuni direction, to Miyajima-guchi station (30min). Follow the signs to the ferry and hop on for a 10 minute ride over to the island.

Tip: While it’s not okay to eat on most trains in Japan, you can on the Shinkansen. Shin-Osaka station has tons of mouthwatering food stalls; grab a bento (and a giant Pablo cheesecake) and enjoy on the ride.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

What to do and see on your Miyajima day trip

O-torii (The Great Gate) and Itsukushima Shrine

This giant vermilion gate, or torii, is the icon of Miyajima. The one we see today has withstood many typhoons and earthquakes since 1875, and is the eighth generation since the first was erected in 1547. Depending on the tide, you’ll either be able to walk to the pillars of the o-torii or see it floating in the sea from afar.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

A stone’s throw away from the o-torii is the Itsukushimajinja.  Numerous buildings and possessions from this Shinto shrine complex have been designated as National Treasures by the Japanese government. At high tide, this UNESCO World Heritage Site appears to be floating on water. The current structure was built in 1571; however, the shrine dates back to 593. Due to fires and typhoons, many restorations and constructions have taken place since the first buildings were constructed.

Tip: You can’t enter the shrine after sunset but both the o-torii and Itsukushima-jinja are illuminated every night until 11pm. The two vermilion structures paint the perfect backdrop, so put on your yukata and go for an evening stroll.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Goju-no-to (Five-storied Pagoda) and Senjokaku (Hall of 1000 Tatami Mats)

Constructed more than 500 years ago, these are both at the entrance of the Itsukushima Shrine. At nearly 28 meters high, this pagoda once enshrined the Buddha of Medicine. Visitors can’t enter the pavilion but this fusion of Japanese and Chinese architectural styles is stunning from any angle, any time of day.

Senjokaku originally served as a Buddhist library to hold sutra chants. The interior is decorated with countless ema, or Japanese wooden tablets with votive images. It’s the largest structure in Miyajima but it was actually never completed.

DSC05479

Mount Misen Ropeway

Indulge in aerial views of the Seto Inland Sea and Miyajima’s ancient forests as you glide through the sky in a ropeway gondola. You’ll have to hike another 1km or so to get to the summit, Mount Misen Observatory, where you can enjoy a sweeping panoramic view of the surrounding islands and sea.  Alternatively, Shishiiwa Observatory (right next to the ropeway station) also offers a great view.

Daisho-inn

Located at the foot of Mount Misen is one of the most significant temples of Shingon Buddhism. There are no crowds here, which makes the already spiritual experience even more spellbinding. You don’t have to understand much of the religious aspects to appreciate Daisho-in. Maybe it’s the serenity and stillness of the forest or maybe it’s the cute jizo statues watching over us, but we’ve never felt more at peace.

Tip: You’ll see a row of spinning wheels with sutra inscriptions on the steps. Turn them as you walk up; it is said that you can benefit from the blessings!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dogs)

A small, white and fluffy mammal strolled by as we were walking back to our ryokan late at night. We’ve never seen anything like it so we kept our distance until it sniffed and wiggled its way back into the forest. It wasn’t until we asked our host that we realized we had encountered a tanuki, or Japanese raccoon dogs. They’re usually dark brown in colour, but we were lucky seeing an extremely rare white tanuki! How rare? Think 1st Edition Charizard Pokemon Card.

Native to Japan, tanuki look like a cross between a big Pomeranian and tiny baby polar bear. Adorable, right? Wait ’til you hear about their gigantic ballsacks! In legends and folklore, tanuki are masters of shape-shifting and have huge scrotums symbolizing prosperity. If you’re a Studio Ghibli fan, you probably remember the movie Pom Poko where tanuki use their enormous scrotums to protect their community. Don’t worry, their balls are quite proportional in real life.

Sika deer

Hundreds of wild deer roam freely on the streets of Miyajima. Thought to be messengers of the Shinto gods, they’re considered sacred and killing one was once punishable by death. Ironically, many of them now suffer from malnutrition and starvation. In 2008 city officials prohibited the feeding of these deer as a form of population control. I’m not sure if the ban was lifted but we did see this dude feeding them crackers.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

What to eat on your Miyajima day trip

Miyajima is famous for its fresh oysters and conger eels caught from the Seto Inland Sea (different from the eel in unagi-don). You’ll find the best anago-meshi (grilled conger eel on rice) at Ueno, which is a restaurant in betwen the Miyajimaguchi JR Station and ferry terminal. Want oysters? Head to Kakiya for fresh-to-death bihalves, prepared any way you like, over a glass of wine.

Don’t leave the island without trying some momiji-manjuThese are freshly baked maple-leaf shaped castella with a sweet filling. You can choose from matcha, custard, chestnut, or red bean paste. They’re the perfect souvenior as they’re tasty and packaged in beautiful boxes.

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

If you’re staying at a ryokan you’ll also get to feast on Kaiseki-ryori (traditional multi-course Japanese meal). This is one of the reasons why you should stay overnight!

Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima Ryokan

Staying overnight in Miyajima

I know, I know. This is a post on a Miyajima day trip but I urge you to spend at least 1 night in a ryokan! Not only will you truly experience Japanese hospitality, but you’ll also have the opportunity to explore the island in the quiet mornings and evenings, without the daytrip crowds. We highly recommend Watanabe-inn!

READ MORE: Our first ryokan experience in Japan

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Kollecting Koordinates - Miyajima day trip

 

 

The Ultimate Guide to Tikal National Park in GuatemalaKollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Once a powerful empire with 120,000+ inhabitants at its peak, Tikal remains one of the largest and most iconic Maya ruins in Central America. Whether you’re a history junkie or Star Wars fan (or just an average Jane/Joe), I think it’s safe to say that nobody travels to Guatemala or mainland Belize without visiting Tikal.

Located in the Peten Region of Guatemala, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is very close to Belize. It made sense for Tikal to be our final stop in Guatemala before crossing the border.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

on top of Temple 4, which is the filming location for Yavin 4 in Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope

What to bring when you’re visiting Tikal

  • Water
  • Comfortable closed-toe shoes
  • Flashlight
  • Mosquito repellent with DEET
  • Clothes with breathable fabric
  • Binoculars for wildlife

We visited our local travel clinic to consult a doctor regarding Zika risks and precautions.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

our 6am Avianca flight from GUA to FRS

Getting here; visiting Tikal from Guatemala City or mainland Belize

From Guatemala City

BY LAND: If you’re feeling adventurous, you can hop on a chicken bus (and pray that you’ll arrive in one piece after a rough 15hr+ ride). Otherwise, take the comfortable, air-conditioned buses operated by Linea Dorada. This journey will take you around 10 hours for $30USD+.

Tip: Take the ‘luxury’ overnight bus to save on a night’s accommodation.

BY AIR: We chose to fly instead because of my sciatica. Avianca and TAG offer daily hour-long flights from Guatemala City to Flores ($120USD+, one way). The airport is another hour, by car, to Tikal.

From Belize

BY LAND:  The easiest way is to ask tour operators in San Ignacio if you can catch a ride with their day tour groups to Tikal. We did the reverse; border crossing was easy peasy and the whole trip took 4 hours from our hotel in Tikal to San Ignacio town center. If you’re coming from Belize City, take the local bus to San Ignacio first.

Tip: There are tons of tour operators in San Ignacio and they’ll quote you anywhere from $25-45USD per person, one way. Shop around and haggle. We had a very pleasant experience with Sergio from Explore Inland Tours who bent backwards for us at the very last minute. 

BY AIR: You can fly to Flores from Belize City via Tropic Air ($190USD+, one way). This flight is 45 minutes and again, you’ll have to arrange a ride to Tikal once you land. Ask your guide to include this in your tour.

READ MORE: Eating like a local in Belize – cheap eats and where to find them

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Where to stay when visiting Tikal

Stay in the Park

To get the most out of your Tikal experience, stay in one of three ‘hotels’ located in the park: Jungle Lodge, Tikal Inn, and Jaguar Inn. Rates start at $40USD for something very basic and $120USD+ for nicer rooms. Chances are, you’ll hear howler monkeys and see coatimundi roaming around. You’ll also be the first ones to enter the park and the last to leave. Little to no crowds is always a bonus!

We stayed in one of the newly renovated rooms at Hotel Jungle Lodge. It was clean and spacious but service was nonexistent and the overpriced food sucked. My fettuccine alfredo was more like a noodle soup and AS’s steak was so rare that we could still smell the hay the cow fed on.

Tip: Food is slightly better at Jaguar Inn.

Electricity is only available from 7-10am and 5-9:30pm, but an emergency generator keeps the ceiling fan running through the night. Even though we were there in the dry season, it was hella humid and the sheets felt damp. Multiply this discomfort by over 9000 if you’re visiting Tikal outside of the December to February period.

Stay in Flores

If you want to save some money (who doesn’t!), there are lots of affordable options in Flores. Shared dorm rooms at hostels start at $10USD (80GTQ) per person and basic private rooms range between $30-70USD. A major setback is the travel time; it takes more than an hour by car to reach Tikal which complicates things if you’re interested in the sunrise tour.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Visiting Tikal for the sunset vs sunrise

It’s rare to actually witness the sunrise. Because of the high humidity, a thick layer of fog usually covers the forest canopy. That said, the sunrise tour is still magical as you listen to the jungle wake up to the first light of day.

We opted for the sunset tour instead. We entered the park at around 1pm, visited all the temples and complexes, and ended our day at the Grand Plaza with a quiet, beautiful sunset. Dusk rolled in quickly and soon it became pitch black. There couldn’t have been more than 4 others with us at the time. It was a phenomenal experience!

READ MORE: Chasing sunrise at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

Choosing a tour guide

Because anybody with a highschool diploma can become a National Tour Guide in Guatemala, you’ll find that many tour guides lack proper knowledge and/or are only in it for the money (see below: the ugly side of Tikal).

Two names stood out when we scoured the net for reputable guides: Roxy Ortiz and Marlon Diaz. The former was unresponsive but communication with Marlon was excellent. Having done this for 18 years now, he is very well educated and extremely passionate about Tikal. His English is near perfect and we were able to appreciate not only Tikal, but also Guatemala and Maya history that much more because of his wealth of knowledge.

Marlon’s the real MVP- he’s pretty much a walking encyclopedia. We tip our hats to this dude for recognizing the importance of sustainable tourism and striving for the preservation of these ruins. He’s the owner of EM Guatemala Travel and we highly recommend his service!

The ugly side of Tikal National Park

Bribery and corruption. Some tour guides collude with guards to let big groups into the park without paying the proper amount and taking a cut. Others bribe park rangers to enter restricted areas (i.e. the Great Pyramid).

Ignorance and disrespect. We saw people, tourists and incompetent guides included, feeding animals, climbing restricted areas, and being obnoxiously loud. These actions were even encouraged by so-called ‘licensed guides’!

Please don’t be like these idiots. Respect the ruins as well as the animals that live in the park.

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

brontosaurus or coatimundi?

Kollecting Koordinates - Visiting Tikal

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Eating like a local in Belize – cheap eats and where to find them!Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

wPigging out is a huge part of traveling for us. I’m a picky eater so I was worried I’d only be eating rice and beans in Belize, but boy was I wrong! Because of the blend of ethnic groups in Belize, Belizean cuisine features the same mix of flavours and ingredients. A sprinkle of Mexico, a dash of El Savador, a tablespoon of Guatemala, and a few drops of the Caribbeans. Heck, they even had bubble tea! We’ve put together a list of things to eat in Belize without breaking your wallet, and where to find everything.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Know before you go:

  • Both Belizean Dollars (BZD) and US Dollars are accepted; the currency conversion is 2BZD = 1USD
  • Menus are in BZD; tipping is not mandatory but it’s nice to round up
  • Seafood and chicken are a lot more common than beef and pork
  • San Pedro = Ambergris Caye
  • Caye is pronounced ‘key’, not ‘kay’
  • Lobster fest takes places every July
  • Rum & coke and Belikin beer are the cheapest boozie options

Cheap local things to eat in Belize

Chocolate. Chocolate everything

We all know that Guatemala produces some of the world’s best chocolates, but did you know Belize’s chocolates are just as good as its neighbour’s? Chocolate was invented by the ancient Maya, who ruled the lands of Guatemala and Belize thousands of years ago. Belizean cacao, or raw chocolate seeds, are of superior quality as most of the cocoa trees here are grown organically.

AJAW Chocolate & Crafts in San Ignacio and Belize Chocolate Company in San Pedro both offer chocolate-making classes and a bunch of legit chocolate goodies. It’s pretty much chocolate heaven for those who love dark chocolate- the real deal. Stock up on cocoa nibs, raw chocolate bars, chocolate teas, and chocolate treats.

Tostada

These are crunchy open-faced tacos. Do not miss the shrimp tostadas at Pupuseria Salvadoreno in San Pedro. Each order costs 20BZD and comes with 4 delicious tostadas.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize - Tostada

shrimp tostadas from Pupuseria Salvadoreno

Pupusas

One of the most common things to eat in Belize is actually a traditional Salvadoran dish. These are handmade corn tortilla cooked on the grill; with or without beans, meats, and cheese. Load it up with some pickled slaw and hot sauce and you’ve got yourself a delicious quick bite.

The pupusas at Pupuseria Salvadoreno are 2.50BZD each and you can choose from a wide selection of fillings. Another place for pupusas is in San Ignacio at the Saturday Farmer’s Market. For 2BZD each, you can find them at all the food stands.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize - Pupusa

pupusa (left) and quesdilla (right) at Pupuseria Salvadoreno

Quesadilla

Lots of restaurants in Vancouver serve chicken quesadillas with sour cream and salsa, but nothing compares to the quesadillas we tasted at the San Ignacio Farmer’s Market. It was so simple- no sour cream, no salsa, no fillings. Just straight up cheese and tortilla, grilled to perfection. We got 2 huge pieces for just 3BZD!

Ceviche

Ceviche with conch, shrimp, or lobster? The choice is yours. Seafood is Belize’s forte, especially on the Cayes. You can find ceviche everywhere but prices vary quite a bit depending on where you go.

The best bang for the buck ceviche is at a beach-front restaurant in San Pedro called ‘Nook’. They have happy hour every day from 5-6:30pm with 50% off cocktails and appies. For 10BZD, their yummy ceviche comes in a huge bowl with freshly fried chips… if you’re lucky, that is. We had fresh chips the first time but they use prepackaged chips on our second visit.

Jerk Chicken

Belize ain’t Jamaica, but Robin’s Kitchen in San Pedro is bomb dot com. I don’t know if Robin’s actually his name but he’s a funny, chatty dude who makes chicken that’s out of this world. There’s no menu- it’s either jerk chicken/fish or curry chicken/fish served with rice and beans, plantains, and coleslaw. Prices are very fair at 14BZD a plate. If there’s smoke from the grill, it’s open. They get super busy, so go early before everything sells out!

Burrito

The burritos in Belize are massive! Stuffed with beans, rice, and your choice of protein, they’re bigger than your average dinner plate. Our favourite spot is Waruguma in San Pedro, where lobster burritos are 27BZD.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Taco

They’re not the big tacos North Americans are accustomed to. Tacos in Belize are more like taquitos. Neri’s Tacos is where all the locals go, and there’s always a line. For 1BZD you get 3 tacos; yes, that cheap! You’ll see locals with stacks of tacos on their plates. Despite it being so busy and a hole-in-the-wall kinda place, the service here is fantastic.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Fry Jacks

One of the best things to eat in Belize! You can’t leave without trying one. These puffy, deep-fried dough triangles or semi-circles are a Belizean breakfast staple. Some are bite-sized with scrambled eggs on the side; others are as big as your face, stuffed with your choice of fillings.

The best place is a little hut on Caye Caulker: Errolyn’s House of Fry JacksFillings include refried beans, ham, cheese, chicken, and eggs. Prices vary from 1.50BZD to 5.00BZD depending on what you add.

Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce

Of all the things to eat in Belize, this habanero sauce is the best. You can get it in the States but if you’re not American, you need to bring some home! They come in a variety of flavours and in all sorts of sizes. We’re carry-on travelers, which means we had to make room for the hot sauce in our liquids bags. The mini bottles are 1.69oz and we were able to Tetris 9 into a quart-sized Ziploc bag. The cheapest place to get these are at the Chinese grocery markets for 2BZD each.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize

Marie Sharp’s with a fry jack!

These are our favourite things to eat in Belize! How many have you tried or would like to try?

 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Things to eat in Belize