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.

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

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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8 Reasons to convince you to visit Cebu in the PhilippinesKollecting Koordinates - Things to do in Cebu - Sunset

Ahhh, the Philippines… Where the sun’s so hot that it hurts and the water’s so clear it looks like the pool. The first choice that comes to mind when people are picking a destination in the Philippines is usually Boracay or Palawan. While Cebu doesn’t have the white sandy beaches of Boracay nor the limestone cliffs and islands of Palawan, there are still plenty of reasons to visit this amazing island. With so many things to do in Cebu, you’ll never want to leave once you get there.

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Chasing Sunrise at Lake Atitlan in GuatemalaKollecting Koordinates - Indian Nose sunrise hike

The Indian Nose sunrise hike is an absolute must when visiting Lake Atitlan. I hear ya, who the hell wants to wake up at 4am for a leg workout while on vacation?! Trust me, this one’s worth your time. Plus, the hike ain’t even bad!

It’s named ‘Indian Nose’ because it’s shaped like a side profile facing the sky. You can cheat and end your hike at the mouth (like we did), or you can continue for another 10min to go all the way up to the nose. We hired a guide to take us because we weren’t comfortable navigating in the dark alone, especially after hearing stories about armed robberies in the area. This doesn’t mean a guide will protect you from these situations!

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10 Practical Gifts for Travelers They’ll Actually Use (Giveaway Inside – EXPIRED)Kollecting Koordinates - Sudio Sweden

I’ve compiled a list of things that AS and I swear by– things that we would never travel without. If you’re looking for a gift idea for that wanderluster on your list, you’ll find something here for just about every kind of traveler. Perfect timing because the holidays are just around the corner!

❅❅ Giveaway Alert: Scroll down to the bottom for a chance to win! ❅❅

Kollecting Koordinates - Sudio Sweden

 

— For the Fashionista —

DANIEL WELLINGTON – CLASSY TIMEPIECE SET

We prefer using a real watch to checking our phones for time. This is especially true when we have to shut off our devices on flights or when our phones are simply out of reach (like when it’s buried deep under all that junk in my bag). Not only are these Daniel Wellington watches practical, but also very classy. Gone are the days where I’m sitting on long-hauls wondering “How many more hours until my back stops hurting?”!

From now until December 30th get 10% off every watch and cuff purchase; use promo code kollectingkoordinates to get an additional 15% off until January 31st!

Kollecting Koordinates - Daniel Wellington

Image source: Daniel Wellington

 

— For the Music Lover —

SUDIO SWEDEN – WIRELESS EARBUDS

These are amazing. We watch shows and movies on our phones when we’re in transit, and it’s always a pain having to hold up our device close to our face. With these, we’re able to sit back, relax, and enjoy studio quality audio without getting tangled up in wires. The design is elegant and comes with a beautiful leather case; they even feel nice. These are compatible with any Bluetooth device and last up to 8 hours before needing a recharge. Seriously, once you go wireless you can’t go back!

Click here to learn more; use promo code kollectingkoordinates to get 15% off your purchase!

Kollecting Koordinates - Sudio Sweden

— For the Shutterbug —

MIRRORLESS CAMERA

A lot of you have asked what camera we use. We don’t have a DSLR- can’t afford one, but we’re taking donations if anyone’s feeling generous (jokes… not really). Mirrorless cameras are easier on the wallet and very compact, perfect for traveling! Our old Sony NEX-5R has been with us for many years now and we still love this little guy. We got a E-mount prime lens and wide-angle lens for different purposes and we’ve been really happy with it! If your wallet’s a little fatter, the Sony Alpha a6500 and Sony a7 Full-Frame are amazing contenders. There’s also the Canon EOS M3 or Nikon 1 J5 if you aren’t a Sony fan.

GOPRO

We love capturing memories but sometimes pictures just don’t do it justice. With our GoPro HERO4 Silver, we’ve been able to make videos from our travels and share it with our families who live vicariously through our blog and Youtube channel. Check out our video from our Philippines trip, shot with our GoPRo

The HERO5 Black came out not long ago but we’re gonna hang onto our 4 for the time being since we have all the accessories and gimbal for stabilizing. There’s also the Session if you’re looking for something more affordable.

— For the Carry-On Traveler —

E-BAG AND PACKING CUBES

We travel light and swear by the eBags Mother Loade Weekender Convertible. We’ve gone 3 weeks in Southeast Asia (on 2 separate occassions) and almost a month in Europe with it. You’ll be amazed at how much you can shove in this thing. It’s super light, sturdy, and costs less than 100 bucks!

— For the Bookworm —

E-READER

Long transits are now a lot more tolerable because of my Kindle Paperwhite. It’s thin, light, and super easy on the eyes even in dark settings (i.e. on flights). The touchscreen display reads like real paper and I never have to worry about screen glare even in sunlight. It’s got a crazy battery life too!

 

— For the Beachbum / Comfort-Seeker / Yogi —

ROUNDIE TOWEL

This baby is so versatile- you can use it as a blanket on flights, beach towel, or yoga mat!  I recently got one from Rollo and can’t wait to use it on our upcoming trip to Central America. Morning yoga at Lake Atitlan and sun tanning at the Belize Cayes? Yaaaaas! They’re 5ft in diameter, 100% cotton, and come in 5 different fun, fringy styles.

❅ ❅ GIVEAWAY – ROLLO TOWEL ❅ ❅

Want your own? I’ve teamed up with Alli from Rollo to give away a roundie towel to our North American* friends!

The winner will be announced on Instagram on December 1st. Here’s how to enter:

  1. Follow @kollectingkoordinates and @rollotowelco on Instagram
  2. Tag a friend- each friend counts as one entry
  3. Bonus entry: leave a comment below!

*You must have a valid address in Canada or US to enter.

Kollecting Koordinates - Rollo Towel

Disclaimer: I was gifted products from Sudio Sweden and Daniel Wellington in return for a blog post. As always, all views expressed here are my honest opinions and I wouldn’t recommend something I don’t personally use or believe in.

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Kollecting Koordinates - Travel Gifts

7 Must-Do’s in NYC for First TimersKollecting Koordinates - New York City

We’ve heard lots about New York City before going. The amazing food, the bright lights, and the majestic skyscrapers- we were so stoked until our friends told us not to get too excited. Friends who have gone had mostly negative things to say, like how dirty and smelly the streets and subways are, how unfriendly the people are, and how overpriced everything is. With this in mind, we prepared ourselves for the absolute worst.

After a delayed flight from Vancouver and a hectic connection in Toronto (ugh, I hate flying Air Canada), we finally landed in the Big Apple and made our way to our airbnb in Times Square. Food prices are steep, yes, but that’s standard in big metropolitan cities. We expected to be shoved around and yelled at but none of that happened. We were actually pleasantly surprised at how friendly people are! (Well, the ones we interacted with, anyway, hah)

Our friends were right about one thing- what they said about the filthy streets and subway is an absolute fact. We walked by heaps of leaking, overflowing garbage bags on different occasions and it staaaaank. But other than that, we loved everything else about New York!

Maybe it’s because we had such low expectations that we enjoyed NYC so much. Here are seven things we think all NYC first-timers should check off their list!

1. People-watch in Times Square

Times Square is a no brainer. You can’t really say you’ve been to New York City without seeing one of the most iconic crossroads of the world, right?

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2. Attend a show

This is the main reason why we were in New York: The Lord of the Rings in Concert. I’m a huuuuuuuuge fan of LOTR (nerd alert- our wedding was Middle Earth themed haha), so how could I miss the epic trilogy live in concert?! Experiencing the marriage of motion picture on a giant screen and film score performed by 250 musicians on stage was life-changing.

Because we spent a total of close to 10hrs at Lincoln Center (no joke lol), we didn’t have time for other shows. We’ve heard people rave about The Phantom of the Opera so we’ll be going to that next time. Whatever it is- a musical, concert, or Broadway show- do yourself a favour and get tickets to a show.

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3. Take a stroll in Central Park

We had some time to kill in between the second and third LOTR shows. There was no better way to spend this time than to visit Central Park since Lincoln Center is close by. I love skyscrapers and all but I was also relieved to escape the concrete jungle for a little while, especially with a hot cocoa in my hand on a cold day!

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4. Stuff your face at Smorgasburg

Located on the Williamsburg waterfront on Saturdays and Prospect Park on Sundays, Smorgasburg is an outdoor foodie paradise. With over 80+ vendors to try, you’ll need to go on an empty stomach! Our personal favourite? These bomb garlic fries from Home Frite. They were sooooo damn good.

5. Walk the Brooklyn Bridge

Get yourself on the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade and make your way across the bridge. Allow yourself at least an hour to walk from one end to another, while soaking in the beautiful Manhattan skyline. Oh, and watch out for cyclists!

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6. Eat at a Michelin starred restaurant

We usually travel on a tight budget but on the rare occasion we do like to treat ourselves to a fancy smancy meal. The only other times we’ve eaten at a Mchelin starred restaurant were in Paris and Las Vegas. Because we were blown away both times, how could we leave one of the world’s culinary capitals without splurging a little? After studying all the menus and reviews, we made lunch reservations at Bouley.

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The lunch tasting menu includes five courses at 59USD. That ain’t bad at all! Everything was cooked to perfection and service was impeccable. And ohh man, the porcini flan was out of this world!

7. Catch the sunset at the Top of the Rock

Okay, paying 32USD just to go up an elevator sounds pretty silly, right? That’s what we thought, too, but that 360 degree view of New York is breathtaking! We were on the observatory deck during golden hour- we can only imagine how mesmerizing the view would be at sunset.

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Kollecting Koordinates - New York

 

A Quick Guide to SantoriniKollecting Koordinates - Santorini

How can you miss Santorini when you’re in Greece?

Long have I dreamed about visiting this picture-perfect island in the Cyclades. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to walk along the caldera to see the whitewashed houses, to swim in the crystal clear blue waters of the Agean Sea, and to catch one of the world’s most beautiful sunsets. My wishes finally came true when we spent three nights here on our honeymoon last year. Here’s a quick guide to visiting this timeless destination- Santorini!

Kollecting Koordinates

1. Travel in low/shoulder seasons

Do NOT go during the summer months. If you hate crowds like us you’ll be setting yourself up for failure. Heck, we were there in early September and it was still extremely busy. We used the public bus to get around Fira-Imerovigli-Oia and passengers were packed like sardines every time. Unless you get on at the very first stop, chances are you’re gonna be standing in the aisle holding on for your dear life.

We went in early September and it was still very, very hot. Swimming in the ocean was heavenly but there was no shortage of sweat on land. Go either in early/mid June or mid/late September not only to avoid the crowds, but also for a more comfortable temperature.

2. Stay in Imerovigli

Because of its elevation and central location on the caldera, Imerovigli has my vote for having the best view in Santorini. Yes, we’d say it’s even better than the famous town of Oia.

Kollecting Koordinates

Our three nights at Vallais Villa was, without a doubt, one of our most memorable hotel stays. It was like waking up to paradise every morning! With a view of the Skaros Rock and caldera, a breakfast spread that is equally beautiful as delicious, and an outdoor Jacuzzi on our private balcony, this place is hard to fault.

 

3. Indulge in delicious food

Maybe it’s the lack of rice and noodles, maybe it’s the amazing seafood. Whatever it is, I LOVE Greek Food. Tzatziki, gyros, baked feta, hummus, calamari, moussaka, fresh octopus, … the list goes on! If you’re on a budget you can survive on gyros and souvlakis. Our go-to’s for cheap eats are Pitogyros in Oia and Lucky’s in Fira.

Our favourite is a little place that serves tapas and meze (Traditional Greek cuisine). We dined here multiple times and loved every dish we tried. Their portions are very generous and prices fairer than most restaurants in Oia. And of course, don’t forget to stop by Taverna Katina in Amoudi Bay for some fresh catch of the day!

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4. Get lost in the towns

This is an obvious one, but an absolute must! You can hike from Fira to Oia, or you can bus between towns to save time. Make sure your camera is fully charged because you’ll be greeted with a postcard moment every corner you turn.

Kollecting Koordinates

There are also many, many cats on the island… like this little guy who was very friendly! Most of them are pets of restaurant and shop owners but many are feral.

 

5. Go on a sunset cruise

We signed up with Santorini Sailing for an afternoon of sailing and swimming in the Agean Sea, visited the hot springs, and stopped by the Red and White Beaches. Oh and did I mention we were served unlimited drinks and food? Hell yeah!

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6. Catch the world famous sunset

There are a couple of places to watch the sun dip into the horizon and they all offer different perspectives of this beauty. We had a pretty good view from our balcony in Imerovigli with a long stretch of the caldera in the foreground, and we also had an unobstructed view from our boat. Another place is Santo Winery in Pyrgos. What better way to to enjoy the sunset than pairing it with some wine?

Then there’s Oia Castle, the obvious choice. You’ll have to camp out for a good spot but there’s a reason why everyone gathers here for the sun to go down. It was truly magical. 

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What took my breath away, though, is seeing the town light up against the multicoloured sky. I mean, just look at this! We couldn’t have asked for anything more romantic.

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Kollecting Koordinates - Santorini

3 days in an underrated paradise- West CreteKollecting Koordinates - Crete

Greece is not just about Santorini or Mykonos. The largest island is one that is underrated and often overlooked- Crete! On the hunt for beautiful beaches in Greece, we almost booked our flight to Zakynthos until we discovered Elafonissi Beach and Balos Lagoon. We ended up spending 3 days in Crete!

It’s been a year since we left the island and my tan lines are still slightly visible! No amount of sunscreen was going to protect us from the blazing sun; most definitely not in August and not in Crete. We were sweaty, sticky, smelly, and covered in sand or dirt the entire time. It was definitely not your typical honeymoon itinerary but did we regret it? Hell no! The adventurous aspect made it that much more fun!

How to spend 3 days in Crete

With only 3 days in Crete, there was no way we could’ve explored the entire island. We made our home base in Chania (pronounced HAN-NYA) and limited ourselves to 3 main points in West Crete: Elafonissi Beach, Samaria Gorge, and Balos Lagoon.

Our friend advised us against driving in Crete because of the rough terrains leading to these places. Boy, were we glad we listened. The only thing separating vehicles from falling off huge drops and cliffs were rails at about 3-4 feet high (srs, no joke!). Traffic isn’t bad within town but if you’re going to these 3 places, leave it to the pros! I don’t know how they do it but the Cretan bus drivers are able to navigate gigantic tour buses like nobody’s business. The ones on the Balos route especially deserve an award. It was a total shitshow squeezing a massive bus through parked cars on both sides on a cliff.

Kollecting Koordinates - 3 days in Crete - Greece - Elafonisi

3 Days in Crete – Day 1: Elafonissi Beach

We walked to the bus station from our Airbnb in Chania Old Town for the 9am bus (€10.90 per person). KTEL (Cretan bus service) uses tour buses as their public transport, so the 2.5hr ride was actually quite comfortable. We grabbed an umbrella and 2 chairs (I think it was about €7 for the whole day), slathered on sunscreen, and explored this famous pink-sand beach.

Kollecting Koordinates - 3 days in Crete - Greece - Elafonisi

Elafonissi is actually a small island, with a long strip of sand connecting it to the mainland with shallow waters on each side. The sand itself isn’t really pink- the hue comes from dead corals and red microscopic organisms. It’s no wonder it’s one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I mean, just look at it!

Of our 3 days in Crete, this was our favourite stop. 6 hours passed quickly splashing around in the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Libyan Sea. Before we knew it, we were 6 shades darker and on the bus ride back to Chania.

tips

  • Public bus services to Elafonissi and Balos are only available in tourist season, so check their most up-to-date timetables before you go. If you can’t see them on this site, it means they’re not operating these routes at this time.
  • There’s only ONE bus coming back from Elafonissi. Make sure you get on the 5pm bus!
  • Snacks, water, and sunscreen are a MUST. There are stands at the beach but prices are steep.

 

3 Days in Crete – Day 2: Samaria Gorge

This is a 16km hiking trail in one of Crete’s National Parks- the longest in Europe. You can drive here on your own but I wouldn’t recommend it because you’ll have to leave your car at the entrance of the park and somehow pick it up at the end of the day after your downhill journey ends in Agia Roumeli. Plus, you’ll want to save your energy for the hike.

Kollecting Koordinates - 3 days in Crete - Greece - Samaria Gorge

We joined an excursion for €18 each, and were picked up from Chania at 6am for a stunning 1hr comfy ride to Xyloskalo. We began our downhill journey from an altitude of 1250m, passing by floral and fauna (and tons of goat poop!) during our descend. You might come across “Kri-kri” goat on your hike, but we weren’t so lucky.

It was nice and cool for the first hour or so, but by the time we got to the 10km mark there was no more shade! We were baking in the August Cretan sun. It took us around 4-5 hours to reach Agia Roumeli– the hike really isn’t as bad as some make it sound unless you have knee problems, because it’s pretty much all downhill with some rocky parts. We also didn’t have an issue with overcrowding, even in peak season, because the gorge is massive. In fact, we were actually all alone 2-3hrs into the hike.

To be honest, we felt a little underwhelmed by Samaria Gorge, probably because we have some of the most beautiful hiking trails back home in BC Canada. However, that’s not to say Samaria Gorge isn’t amazing! The landscape, crystal clear creeks, and rock formations (especially the Iron Gates) are truly magnificent. This is something you’ll have to experience at least once in your lifetime. Definitely squeeze this in your itinerary of 3 days in Crete.

tips

  • The entrance fee to enter the gorge is €5; ferry ticket to Sougia is €10.
  • There are washrooms and water fountains throughout the trail. You’ll be fine with just a small water bottle.
  • Bring a roll of toilet paper with you- my husband thanked me for this.
  • Bring flip flops (and a swimsuit) so you can soak in the sea after you get to Agia Roumeli. So refreshing!
  • You can pay €2 for a shuttle ride for the last 2km of the trail.
  • Bring a hat and lots of sunscreen. Your skin will thank you, especially after you pass the 10km mark.
  • Make sure you keep your entrance ticket because you will need to show it when you exit. There is no overnight camping at the gorge. This is also how the rangers keep track of lost hikers.

 

3 Days in Crete – Day 3: Balos Lagoon

“Balos by bus or by boat?!” We took the 11am bus (7.80 per person) to Balos Lagoon via Kissamos from Chania. After 100min of being amazed by our bus driver (30min of which was us close to shitting our pants because of how close we were from falling off the cliffs, we arrived at another one of the most stunning beaches in Europe. 2 stunning beaches within only 3 days in Crete? Score!

Upon arrival, you have to walk for about 20-30min down a rocky hill. This is easy peasy as long as you watch out for goat poop. It is also here where you get the best view of the lagoons!

Kollecting Koordinates - 3 days in Crete - Greece - Balos

The first part of our day was fantastic. It started going downhill when more people and more people started to arrive, and then some. As the day went on, the temperature rose higher and higher. I started getting really dizzy and nauseous from the extreme heat. Hiking (or shall I say crawling) back up the rocky hill was an absolute nightmare, especially when there is no shade!

We liked Elafonissi a lot better than Balos because the sand here wasn’t as soft and clean. Once in the water it’s a different story, but there is a noticeable difference on the beach itself. Another thing to point out is the washroom at Balos, or lack of. I really needed to pee when we were waiting for the bus, but the closest thing was literally a hole in the ground in a little shack. No doors. No flushing mechanism. It was FILTHY in there with other people’s shit and piss everywhere, but when you gotta go, you gotta go!

tips

  • If you’re planning on driving, keep in mind that the last 30min is on a rocky, steep, and winding dirt road.
  • Or just take the bus! You’ll be able to rest up on the way back. There are multiple services to and from Balos every day during peak season.
  • Bring a pair of sneakers for the rocky descend/ascend.
  • I have yet to figure out where the legit washroom is at Balos. Do people just pee in the water? What if they have to take a dump?

 

 

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Kollecting Koordinates - 3 days in Crete - Greece

Don’t forget – MostarKollecting Koordinates - Mostar

We’ve never visited Eastern Europe before- Bosnia & Herzegovina was our first. I’ve fallen in love with it ever since- there’s something about the scenery, atmosphere, and architecture in Eastern Europe that tugs at my heart strings.

After swimming at Kravice Falls, we continued our drive to Mostar. Or Mo-crap (Мостар)- we’d giggle every time we passed by a sign. In all seriousness, the drive leading to Mostar was actually quite depressing. There was such a drastic change in scenery driving from Croatia to Bosnia & Herzegovina- you could still see the shell and bullet damage on building walls and roofs from the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.

Mostar came under siege twice in those years. Thousands of people were killed, and more lost their homes. The Old Bridge (Stari Most) connecting the two banks of Neretva River was destroyed in 1993. Today, there are stones all over the the town reminding its people and visitors of its sad history. Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

Another thing that made me very upset was the number of stray dogs in this country. On the drive to Mostar we saw an adult dog (mom?) limping in the bushes along the side of the road while two little pups followed at her heels. Leaving Mostar, we actually witnessed one getting hit by a car on the road! It was slowly making its way across the road when the car behind us hit it. I could hear its yelp from inside the car. AS said the driver pulled over but I wasn’t sure if he did or not… It was heartbreaking. We have a 4yr-old maltipoo who is pretty much our child. It’s extremely painful seeing other dogs get hurt.

DSC00463

We checked in at our hotel and made our way towards the stony old town. After paying a small entrance fee for the mosque we climbed up 89 steps. The stairwell is extremely narrow and only one person can go up/down at time (or 2 really skinny, small people); not a good time if you’re claustrophobic. Once we reached the top of the minaret, we were rewarded with this gorgeous view of Stari Most sitting over Neretva River.

Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

If you aren’t able to make the climb, the view from the courtyard is equally beautiful. This bridge was once the widest man-arch in the world that stood for more than 400 years! The Stari Most we see today is a reconstruction.

Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

You can jump/dive off Stari Most into Neretva River if you’re brave enough! Red Bull hosted its Cliff Diving World series here a few weeks before our arrival.

Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

We grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and called it a night before heading back to our hotel. It was a long day- we began our drive at 5am. I’m forever grateful for AS driving us from Zadar, to Split, to Kravice Falls, and finally to Mostar, all in one day.

Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

Its sad history aside, Mostar is actually very romantic. We saw very few people when we were there (late August) and the town had a lovely charm to it with its cobblestone streets and walls. Because Mostar is fairly small, you only really need one day- but do stay the night. Just make sure you start your drive early the next day if you’re planning on crossing the Croatian/Bosnian border on the way to Dubrovnik. We left our hotel at around 9 or 10am, and we had to wait close to 2 hours at the border in the blistering sun! 

One last GoPro shot of Stari Most and Neretva River from on top of the minaret!

Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

tips

  • stay the night; we stayed at Villa Eden for around 70€ a night. The hotel is brand spankin’ new and the breakfast is delicious with a huge variety. It even has a pool for you to cool off (much needed in the summer)
  • The entrance fee is around 8 marks (Aug 2015 price) for both the Koskin-Mehmed Pasha’s Mosque and courtyard; you can also visit one of the two for half the price.
  • Be careful when you’re driving! Watch out for the strays 🙁
  • Wear comfortable shoes with good grip- the uneven stone paved pathways can be quite slippery.
  • Come in the spring or fall. The summer months can be too hot and humid. The humidity level was so high last August that it was slightly hard to breathe.

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Kollecting Koordinates - Mostar

 

Chasing waterfalls at Kravice FallsKravice Falls - Kollecting Koordinates

I’m a sucker for waterfalls. When I saw Kravice Falls in pictures I knew I had to go, but that was of course, easier said than done. Planning this road trip down Croatia was no easy feat. Well, it was, until I added Bosnia & Herzegovina to our itinerary.

Driving in Croatia - Kollecting Koordinates

Driving in Croatia was a piece of cake because 1) I wasn’t the driver (hehe) and 2) we bought a data sim and relied on good ol’ Google maps to take us everywhere. We lost data once we crossed the border, which was fine because Google maps are useless in Bosnia anyway. So we’ll just follow the signs, right?

Wrong. There aren’t many signs to Kravice Falls.

I had printed out a map in advance but that was useless because it didn”t show the smaller roads. Half an hour into the drive we were on a winding road on a hill that seemed to be a residential area in the middle of nowhere; it didn’t look like a place for waterfalls.

We were lost.

There were no street names to refer to and no other cars in sight. Panic mode was on full blast when we came to a few crossings where we had to decide which paths to take. There was a lot of ‘which way?!’, ‘this map is a piece of s***’, ‘WTF is going on’, ‘omg where the f*** are we going’, ‘why aren’t there f***ing street names or signs’, ‘*where the f*** are we?!’.

AS doesn’t have the best sense of direction but thankfully, I inherited my mom’s awesome spidey senses. I answered each of one of our outbursts with ‘I don’t know but let’s go this way’ and ‘I don’t know but I think it’s that way’. A few  ‘ I don’t know’s later, we miraculously emerged on a small road next to a highway. 5 minutes after driving down this flat road, we saw a sign that read ‘Kravica’. A few minutes later, we were at the parking lot. I don’t know how we managed to navigate there in the end, but we were ecstatic!

Kravice Falls - Kollecting Koordinates

Kravice Falls - Kollecting Koordinates

It was a hot, humid day and Mother Nature graced me with her monthly gift to make things even more unbearable. Luckily, I had popped a Midol before we began the drive. While my cramps weren’t monstrous like they usually are, the flow was matching the waterfalls theme. Excuse me for the TMI. Because of this, I couldn’t go into the water with AS.

Kravice Falls - Kollecting Koordinates

AS had a blast swimming and exploring all the hidden passages. I chilled in the shade and watched our belongings, along with all the other moms who were waiting for their kids.

Kravice Falls - Kollecting Koordinates

Freaking gorgeous! Plitvice Lakes were unreal, but Kravica was magical in a different way. AS said this was, by far, his favourite destination on our Balkans trip. It was ridiculously frustrating to get to, but was it worth it? Hell yea! 

Kravice Falls - Kollecting Koordinates

tips

  • If you plan on driving, make sure you get an International Driving Permit (if you’re not European) before leaving your country. The officers at the Croatian/Bosnian border asked for ours; good thing we had one.
  • If you don’t plan on driving, you can hire a car to take you down to Kravice Falls from Mostar. The rate ranges from 50-70€.
  • Bring some snacks and lots of water with you to save money. Even if you don’t, there are 2-3 food stands on site if you get hungry or thirsty.
  • Bring a change of clothes, flip flops/sandals, and a towel with you. The restroom is surprisingly clean!
  • The entrance fee is around 2€ (price as of Aug 2015)- you can also pay in Kuna or Mark if you have the currency on hand.
  • Hang onto the rail (or grab someone’s arm) on the way down; some parts on the path down can be quite slippery!

 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Kravice Falls