Skip the lines at David and Duomo in Florence!Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

Did you really go to Florence if you didn’t see Micheangelo’s David and climb the Duomo? Because they’re the most sought-out attractions in this iconic Renaissance city, you can imagine how crowded these sites get. Why not avoid crowds and skip lines with the best tour in Florence?

Read more: Where to stay in Florence

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

VIP David & Duomo Tour – Best tour in Florence

We signed up for the VIP David & Duomo Tour with Walks of Italy, highly recommended especially for first time visitors. Small groups of no more than 15 people are led with an expert local guide who will whisk you back to the Renaissance era. The headset allows you to hear your guide even if you stray a little from your group.

What will you see?

  • Accademia Gallery
  • Baptistery
  • Duomo Museum
  • Duomo
  • Duomo Terraces
  • Dome of the Duomo

Tip: Make sure you keep your ticket stub so you can climb Giotto’s Campanile on your own time

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceKollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

What does the 3hr tour look like?

  • Meet with your guide and the rest of your group at 7:45am
  • Skip the line and enter the Accademia Gallery by 8am
  • Tour the Gallery and see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in relative peace
  • Skip the line at the Baptistery and Duomo Museum
  • Skip the line at the Duomo
  • Get exclusive access to the Duomo terraces
  • Bypass all other tourists and climb the Duomo
  • Say goodbye to your guide and enjoy free time on the dome

Ishmael was our guide and he was fantastic. He painted history with such depth and passion, chaining each story and masterpiece with a great narrative arc. Each tile in the mosaic ceiling, each stroke in paintings, each curve in sculptures- they were all brought to life with his explanations. If only we had him as our history teacher back in school we would’ve aced the class!

The coolest part was being on the Duomo Terrace with no one else! We had incredible views of Florence and far into Tuscany without elbows jabbing us or selfie sticks poking our eyes. This is where we got an up-close view of Brunelleschi’s humongous brick dome (the largest in the world!).

We visited in early June, the beginning of the peak season. Lines snaked and wrapped around each attraction. Unlike AS I have 0 patience. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to wait for extended periods of time under the blistering sun- or anywhere, really! It felt sooooo good to cross multiple velvet ropes throughout the day, bypassing massive crowds.

Read more: How to see Rome in 3 days

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceKollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

How much does it cost and how do I book?

You can book online. Prices start at $145.79CAD per person for adults, $141.18CAD for students (ages 13-22), and $136.58CAD for children (ages 4-12). Kids under 4 don’t have to pay! The meticulous timing, special access, and knowledgeable guides that make this the best tour in Florence.

About Walks of Italy

Walks of Italy offers tours not only in Florence, but also Rome, Venice, and Paris. For more information and current promotions, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceDisclaimer: Many thanks to Walks of Italy for hosting our VIP David & Duomo Tour in Florence.  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 - best tour in Florence

24 hours in Ljubljana with the Ljubljana CardKollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Ljubljana

If you like canal cities with friendly locals, compelling architecture, and a laidback vibe, you’ll fall in love with Slovenia’s capital like we did. Ljubljana, pronounced lyoo-BLYAH-nah, is the perfect marriage of historical heritage and modern living. With the Ljubljana Card, you can make the most of your time with only 24 hours in Ljubljana.

Read more: Where to stay in Ljubljana

Itinerary – 24 hours in Ljubljana

 

– Morning –

Self-guided bike tour around the city

Visit the information booth (by the Triple Bridge) to pick up a Ljubljana Card and digital guide, then walk towards the castle funicular where you can rent a bike. Both are complimentary with the card for up to 4 hours. With the digital guide you will learn about the city’s history and attractions- pretty much everything you need to know about Ljubljana.

Guided City Tour

If you prefer a guided tour, a regular city tour is also included in your Ljubljana Card. Meet in front of the Town Hall where a guide will show you around the historical city centre and hit up Ljubljana’s major attractions. You’ll also have an opportunity to try traditional Slovene dishes as part of a brief tasting session.

Note: Tours are available daily at 11AM from October – March and at 10AM from April to September. Allow 2 hours.

Kollecting Koordinates - 24 hours in Ljubljana

 

– Afternoon –

Museums and Galleries

Cardholders get free access to numerous museums and galleries, such as the National Gallery and Museum of Modern Art. Simply hand your Ljubljana Card to the ticketing representative to be swiped upon entering an establishment.

Ljubljana Castle

Whether you toured the city on your own or with a guide, you’ll end up at Ljubljana Castle. Take the funicular up the hill and explore this 900 year-old beauty. Climb the Outlook Tower which offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city and surrounding areas.

 

– Evening –

Ljubljana River Cruise

See the city from a different perspective as you cruise down the Ljubljanica River. Boats depart from the Ribji trg pier every day at 10AM, 11AM, 1PM, 2PM, 5PM, 6PM, 7PM, and 8PM from April to September.

Tip: Allow 1 hour for the cruise. Arrive early to get front row seats for the best views!

Read more: Predjama Castle and Postojna Cave – Unmissable spots in Slovenia

Museum of Illusions

End your day at the Museum of Illusions; this is the only attraction that is open until late (9am-10pm). With over 40 exhibits, optical illusions, holograms, and interactive installations, both kids and adults will have a ton of fun. We almost missed our dinner reservation because we wanted to finish all the puzzles!

24 hours in Ljubljana with the Ljubljana Card

What the Ljubljana Card includes:

  • Unlimited free travel on city buses
  • Free WiFi in the city
  • Ljubljana city tour
  • Digital guide for self-sightseeing
  • Free bike rental for up to 4 hours
  • Ljubljana Castle and funicular
  • Ljubljana Zoo
  • Volčji Potok Arboretum
  • Over 15 museums and galleries
  • Union Experience – brewery tour

Where can I purchase it?

Online, hotels, or at one of the Tourist Information Centres.

What are my options and how much does it cost?

You can choose from 3 options: 24, 48, or 72 hours at €23.00, €30.00 and €35.00 respectively. Validity period starts from the moment when the card is first used.

Tip: Save 10% when you purchase online in advance.

For more information on the Ljubljana Card and to purchase in advance, please visit their official website.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Slovenian Tourist Board and Ljubljana Tourism for hosting us in Ljubljana. 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 - 24 hours in Ljubljana

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.

Kollecting Koordinates - Things to do on Bowen Island 8

 

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

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.

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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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How to See Kyoto in 2 DaysKollecting Koordinates - Kyoto

This little blog of mine is all about making the most out of limited travel time. Now, you obviously won’t be able to explore every little corner of Kyoto, but you’ll be able to hit up most of the must-see’s in just under 48 hours. Impossible? Nah. Ambitious? Just slightly. But if Mama Ko can do it, you can too! Here’s our comprehensive Kyoto 2 day itinerary.

This ain’t Mama Ko’s first rodeo in the Kansai region of Japan- having been here many times before, she told us Kyoto is even more breathtaking when it’s cherry blossom season or when it’s decked out in fall foliage. What a show off. Don’t mind her- Kyoto is beautiful regardless of the season.

 

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Fushimi Inari

 

What you need for this Kyoto 2 day itinerary:

  • Comfortable shoes for walking
  • Bus map of Kyoto – you should be able to grab one of these from the reception desk at your hotel or any info booth, or you can download the PDF here. This baby is gold- so listen to Gandalf and keep it secret, keep it safe
  • Base yourself at a hotel/Airbnb/cardboard box within walkable distance to both a major bus hub and Keihan Railway stop. We stayed at Piece Hostel Sanjo which is close by Shijo Karasuma and Sanjo Station.
  • Transportation:  ¥500‎ for a 1-day bus pass (enter through the rear door and exit through the front door; pay upon exit) and ¥210 for train fare (fares vary depending on where you stay)
  • Optional: Travel buddies with a good sense of humour (brownie points for taking your parents)

— Day 1 of Kyoto 2 day itinerary—

Arashiyama

Get your butt on a bus and make your way towards Arashiyama (left side of this trusty map). Get off at Arashiyama Tenryuji-mae, which literally means “in front of Tenryu-ji“. You’ll eventually end up in the bamboo grove after you make your way through the gardens.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Arashiyama bamboo

If you’re down to check out more temples and shrine compounds, there are a few you can choose from after you exit through the bamboo path. (i.e. Jojakko-jiNison-inGio-Ji ) If you’re ready to kick it (or if you’re traveling with your mum who doesn’t give a shit about temples and shrines), just follow the signs which will lead you back to the main road where the bus stop is.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Arashiyama bamboo

Read more: Our first ryokan experience in Japan

Kinkaku-ji

The easiest way to get to Kinkaku-ji from Arashiyama by bus is to take the 11 and transfer at Yamagoe Nakacho for the 59. Get off at Kinkakuji-mae and ta-da, you’re there!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kinkakuji

The grounds are gorgeous but this was by far the most crowded place we’ve visited in Kansai. Watch out for the hordes of Japanese students on school field trips and (some very classless) tourists. Some ajumma shoved me, quite hard actually, just so she could get a closer look at the Golden Pavilion. Ruuuuude.

Kiyomizu-dera

There are a couple of different ways to get from Kinkaku-ji to Kiyomizu-dera. We got on the 205 and transferred at Shijo Kawaramachi for the 207. Hop off at Kiyomizu-michi and follow the signs.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

If you wanna get fancy for photo opps you can head to a kimono rental store where they’ll do your hair and dress you up. If you’re peasants like us, just continue uphill in your peasant clothes. You might not be as kawaii but your photos will turn out just fine.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

The Main Hall and Kiyomizu Stage were built using a traditional Japanese method of construction, with wooden pillars and without a single nail! But don’t worry, it’s hella sturdy- it has withstood hundreds of disasters over centuries like a champ.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

Don’t forget to visit the Jishu Jinja Shrine to make a love wish! Given we were only 1 year into this supposedly lifelong marriage, I had to jump on the prayer bandwagon.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Kiyomizudera

Am I doing this right?

Legends say if you’re able to walk from one of these stone to the other that’s 10m away with your eyes closed, your wishes will come true. Tons of Japanese students cheered each other on as they made their way across. Awww young love is so cute.

Gion

Take the bus back to Gion and have dinner there. If you’re lucky you might even see a geisha!  There are hundreds of restaurants and pubs in this area but don’t get too wasted (easy, tiger). You’ll want to wake up early the next morning to beat the crowds.

 

— Day 2 of Kyoto 2 day itinerary —

Fushimi-inari Taisha

We left our hotel at around 7am and arrived at Fushimi Inari station via the Keihan Railway by 7:30am. It was dope because we had the whole place to ourselves.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Fushimi Inari

It takes around 2-3hrs to hike (stroll, really, the stairs aren’t bad at all) through over 10,000 of these red gates. By the time we made it back down the mountain the whole plaza was packed. A complete 180 from what we saw early in the morning. You’ll thank yourself for not drinking that extra shot the night before.

Read more: Planning your visit to the sacred island of Miyajima, Japan

Nishiki Market

Feast your eyes (and stomach) on this 400-yr old strip of shops and restaurants. You’ll find anything and everything food-related in this buzzing market. Mama Ko had a blast eating her way through these five blocks. This octopus with a quail egg in its head was her favourite.

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

AS and I spent no less than 4 hours (srs, no joke) at Daikoku Drug. This is the perfect place to stock up if you’re obsessed with Japanese products like we are. It’s also duty free for foreigners who spend more than ¥5000, which is easy to do considering we dropped close to 4 bills at this store. Oops!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Nishiki Market

Pontocho

To wrap up this Kyoto 2 day itinerary, spend your evening in Pontocho, one of Kyoto’s most atmospheric areas to grab a bite. Most establishments offer a view of the Kamogawa River. Now’s your chance to load up on all that beer and sake you’ve been deprived of the previous night!

Kollecting Koordinates - Kyoto 2 day itinerary - Pontocho

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