After spending 6 days in Bali, I learned that the island is deceivingly larger than you might think. I stayed in Seminyak which is very central, but it is still about two hours away from many excursions. Bali has over 4 million people (that's 3x the amount of Hawaii's entire population) on an island half the size of Hawaii's Big Island. Translation - there is a lot of traffic. But don't let that stop you.
Here is how to make the most of your trip:
For reference, here is a map of Bali. You will land in Denpasar (in red below), and the closest places to stay near the airport are Kuta and Seminyak (in blue below).
Stay a few days in each of these spots:
1. Seminyak - Central, quieter than Kuta, nice blend of relaxation and activity.
2. Uluwatu - Beaches, spas, temples with beach views. As mentioned in my previous post, Seminyak and Kuta beaches have high surf and the beaches are gritty (stray dogs, litter, glass, etc). If you want a beautiful relaxing/swimming beach, check these out:
3. Ubud - Famous for Balinese cultural sights, rice terraces, relaxation, and yoga.
Where are your favorite places to stay in Bali? Comment Below!
I have been feeling Bali withdraws since coming back from this trip. Never before have I experienced such a unique culture. So what makes it so interesting and unique? Maybe it's the artisan crafts, the traditions, the temples, the mesmerizing dances, the tantalizing Luwak coffee, or the friendly people who make you feel like you belong. The vibes and the culture of this island hit you as soon as you land.
Here are the top places where you can experience the uniqueness of Bali.
1 . Kecak dance - Uluwatu
Balinese dance and musical drama developed in 1930s, where the men perform in a circle and permissively chant "cak" and move their arms and hands. It tells the Hindu story and Rama and Sita (who you will hear a lot about if you delve into Balinese/Hindu culture). This is a Romeo and Juliet-style story, only with a happy ending. It is an ancient Indian poem that narrated the struggle of Prince Rama to rescue his wife Sita from the demon king Ravana.
The performance was originally a trance ritual. In the 1930s, a German man became interested in it while living in Bali and adapted it as a drama based on the story of Rama and Sita. He intended the dance for Western tourist audiences. The dance ends with a raging fire. The costumes, the story, and the music make it a must see.
2. Legong Dance
The Legong dance originated in 19th century as royal entertainment where two maidens dance to gamelan music. The women wear majestic headdresses and move their eyes and hands in very precise contortions, all in sync with one another. This dance was mesmerizing and unique.
3. Ubud market
There are markets all around Bali, but the Ubud market is known for being a place of arts, crafts and food catering to both locals and tourists. Bali is known for it's stone crafts, wood carvings, intricate jewelry, and exquisite craftsmanship - all of which are made by hand. you can even watch the artisans make these pieces in the studios.
Disclaimer: Be sure to bargain your prices in Bali and research the average prices before purchasing.
4. Ubud Temple
Pura Taman Saraswati is located near rice paddies and water gardens. Many temples looks the same, but this one had beautiful grounds and statues as well as a large entrance gate.
5. Luwak Coffee Tasting - Most Expensive Coffee in the World
Luwak coffee is the most expensive and coveted coffee in the world. It's also delicious, if you can get past the thought of how it is produced.
The civet cats, a native weasel-like animal in Indonesia eat the coffee beans which do not get digested. The beans undergo a unique fermentation while in digestion, giving the coffee its flavor. The locals pick up the cat pellets and wash and dry the whole beans. Then it gets roasted and made into Kopi Luwak Coffee. There is a special coffee machine and grinder developed just for this kind of coffee. The finished product tastes like delicious espresso.
If you want to try it, check out these links on Amazon to purchase:
6. Bali Beaches
The best beaches in Bali are found in Uluwatu in Southern Bali, or the Gilli Islands - which are pristine islands off the coast and require additional travel.
Many resort beaches in Bali, like Kuta and Seminyak, are based around beach clubs. You enter the beach through a beach club which serves food in a lounge-like atmosphere. In fact, many restaurants double as lounges later in the day and serve delicious food at the same time. It's a great way to eat, socialize and enjoy the beautiful beach at the same time.
Beach Disclaimer: Bali beaches feature excellent surf. In fact the waves can be quite strong. If you are a surfer, you have come to the right place. If you are a casual swimmer, these beaches can be dangerous as many do not have lifeguards. Some beaches can be gritty - including glass bottles and stray dogs. In conclusion, if you are looking for serious beach activity - try Gilli Islands or Uluwatu.
We hope this helped you get a glimpse into Balinese culture. If you have any other tips, please comment below.
It is rare to travel to a place that doesn't remind you of anything you have ever seen. Bali is that place. Many people travel there for the beaches and the parties. I went there for the culture and the unmistakable photography opportunities. The island is lush, tropical, modern and developing at the same time, and uniquely Hindu which permeates through the region. I will let the photos do the talking.
Behind the scenes video:
Getting to Indonesia from LAX required two flights, with a layover in Taipei. When we landed in Denpasar, the airport was remarkably modern with a mix of Dutch and Indonesian architecture. Outside the airport were Hindu temples dotting the sidewalk in between commercial buildings. The roadways had Hindu gods in the median. We passed by Banyan trees, wrapped with black and white sarongs. The hot and humid air and smelled of smokey incense. It was clear that we had landed in one of the most culturally interesting locations.
We took a taxi to our hotel and along the route were Western billboards, surf shops, and craft stores selling every kind of raw material from wood to stone statues. The street life in Indonesia was fascinating and completely opposite to the Western roads of structure and insurance laws. The roadways in Bali were swarmed with motorscoters - whole families on motorscooters, kids without helmets, drivers carrying giant bushels of produce, Hello Kitty helmets. I could stay entertained just by watching them out of my car window.
1. Tirta Empul Temple
The first Hindu temple we went to is Tirta Empul Temple. This is a Hindu temple built in 962 AD famous for its holy spring water. The fountains are used by the Balinese Hindu population (and tourists) for ritual purification. Many people were giving offerings, or small palm leaf baskets filled with flowers, candies, coins, incense, crackers, and even cigarettes to the gods. As our tour guide explained, Balinese Hindus believe in one god, but many manifestations in god.
2. Mount Batur
This is an active volcano on Bali that last erupted in 2000. The mountain draws adventure tourists for trekking, especially at sunset and sunrise. Whether you are photographing it from atop the mountain on below, it is impressive.
3. Pura Ulun Danu Bratan
This is the iconic Hindu temple. In fact the image of the temple is on the Indonesian 50,000 Rupiah bill (equal to about a $5 US bill). It is located on Lake Bratan and surrounded by lush gardens where many locals go for picnics and family gatherings. The temple was built in the 17th century in worship of the main Hindu trinity, Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva, as well as the lake goddess, Dewi Danu. The temple is used as an offerings ceremonial site for the lake goddess. The worshipers paddle out on colorful boats to deliver the offerings.
4. Rice Terraces (Tegalalang Rice Terrace and Jatiluwih Rice Terraces)
The town in the center of Bali is called Ubud, known for its plentiful rice terraces, which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We hiked through the terraces, which are tiered platforms of rice covering the mountainsides. We even spotted the farmers plowing and seeding the rice.
There is so much to cover in Bali that I will have a Part 2 to cover more beautiful sights. What are your favorite places to photograph in Bali?
I just returned from a whirlwind trip to Indonesia. It was my first time to Southeast Asia and I wasn't sure what to expect. My interest in Indonesia started when I saw photos of Borobudur. It looked as grandiose as Bagan or Angkor Wat, although I never knew anyone who had actually been there. It looked so exotic - the largest Buddhist temple in the middle of a jungle landscape filled with volcanoes in a predominantly modern-day Muslim country. Where else in the world can you experience something like that? When I saw a travel deal to go during the less touristy "rainy season", I knew I had to jump on it.
In this tour we visit central Java in the city of Yogyakarta (often called “Jogja”) to see Borobudur and Prambanan, two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. We saw all this on a day trip from Bali with Bali Agung Tours.
When we landed in Jogja, it was clear that we were in an entirely different place than Bali. Same country, yet so different. First off, the airport had a mix of Western and Asian toilets, which if you haven't seen before are basically a porcelain hole in the ground. When I exited the airport, I saw motor scooters buzzing about the streets, one of which was carrying a pack of raw chickens hanging off the bike. The call to prayer could be heard at different times in the day. Welcome to Java!
Visiting Bali and Jogja are like visiting two countries in one. Unfortunately, many tourists only visit Bali and miss this unique cultural opportunity. Bali is predominantly Hindu and the rest of the country is predominantly Muslim dating back to the days when Indonesia was a popular trading zone for Arab, Indian, and European countries. Instead of Hindu temples, Jogja has mosques. And instead of beachwear and Hindu sarongs, there are colorful hijabs. Also, Jogja is recognizably less "Western" - although I did spot a Dunkin' Donuts and a McDonalds. In addition, Java has their own cuisine, traditions and customs.
We start at Prambanan, the largest Hindu temple in Indonesia dating back to the 10th Century when the country was predominantly Hindu and Buddhist (only Bali remained mostly Hindu). It contains temples dedicated to the three main Gods of the Hindu Trinity - Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva. The carvings on the outer part of the temple depict the love story of Rama and Sita.
Outside the temple, we saw many school children who came up to us to say hi and practice English. It was clear that we were the only English speaking tourists at the site. They were so friendly and sweet, and their English was great. We took selfies with them - many, many selfies.
Next we head to the Sultan's Palace where we see a glimpse into the Indonesian heritage and customs passed down through history. The Sultan is famous for traditionally having many wives, whose pictures were adorned throughout the grounds. In fact, our guide mentioned that he chooses his wives during a dance performance by pointing at the girl that he likes.
We watch the Wayang, or Shadow Puppet performance, which is an Javanese art form listed with UNESCO. The puppets are etched in intricate designs and the stories are accompanied by the traditional gamelan music, which is a gentle gong/percussion sounding music.
We visit a batik art shop to watch how this unique Javanese art form is created using wax and color on cloth and silk. This is a significant art form for the Indonesian culture. The batik technique is also applied to clothing in Indonesia. We went home with two batik paintings for our walls.
Next we try the local cuisine including snake fruit. This fruit is found in Southeast Asia and has a skin similar to a snakeskin, which you peel to reveal fruit that looks like garlic cloves. It tastes similar to a pineapple or Asian pear.
Finally, we reach Borobudur, one of the top three temples in Southeast Asia. Built in the 9th Century, it is was built as a monument to educate about Buddhism. It is the largest Buddhist temple complete with nine levels topped by a central dome, making it 10, a number signifying perfection. There are 504 Buddha statues, each in different positions ranging from meditation, teaching, to enlightenment.
The ground level of Borobudur is filled with motifs and carvings depicting temptation and as you walk clockwise, it tells the story of the Buddha's life. When you reach the top, all desire has been controlled and you reach enlightenment, or the heavens. At the top, you walk clockwise three times for good luck, as well as view the stupas (or bells) and take selfies with the locals.
Central Java was a dream come true. In fact, I have never seen such a unique country filled with so many friendly people. I hope that you get the chance to travel there soon. Comment below on your favorite destination in Indonesia!
Perth is known as the most remote city in the world. It has an edge of the world feeling, yet it is also strangely familiar (comparable to San Diego in terms of weather, demographics, size, and vibes). Same climate, sunny weather, surfboards, and carefree locals. It also features many unique places to photograph - that's if you can get past one minor thing...
Behind the scenes video.
It took three flights and 24 hours to get to Perth. It was my first time back to Australia in 25 years, so I was so excited to get another glimpse into the land down under. In fact, Australia was the first international destination I had ever been to (Sydney and Melbourne) and I was fascinated by the unique wildlife. I decided to visit the west side of this country and see Perth because it is relatively close to Indonesia, where I had been staying.
However upon arrival, I had the strangest customs encounter of my life.
"Why are you here?" - the customs officer asked
"I am visiting Perth" -me
"Do you have family or friends here?"
"What are you planning to see?"
"Pinnacles National Park"
"That's two hours away"
"I know. I am headed there right after this."
"You are going all the way there in a day?"
"Yes" - Mind you, it's 10am at this time.
"When does your tour start?"
"I don't have one. I am renting a car"
"When do you leave Australia?"
"Tomorrow at noon"
"That's an awfully short trip"
"Yes I know"
"Why such a short trip?"
The questions went on...
"What else are you planning to see" "Where are you staying" ...
Then a second officer asked us the same questions. They didn't stamp our passport. They didn't wish us a nice trip. They were in complete shock that they had visitors. Granted we were there for a short time, but with a welcome like that, it would seem like no one travels there. However, the Pinnacles and Nambung National Park attracts over 190,000 visitors per year.
Let me break it down for the travelers and customs officers out there on what Western Australia has to offer. Yes, Perth is remote but it is a city surrounded by many natural wonders, wildlife, and wineries which warrant it a visit.
I'll let the photos do the talking:
1. Pinnacles and Nambung National Park
Two hours north of Perth is the Nambung National Park. The drive is mostly isolated, starting with about 25 miles of upscale suburbs, and the next 100 miles of lone range outback scenery. Along the way, we spotted some road signs that said "wildlife in the area" with a picture of a kangaroo and an emu. That's something you don't see everyday.
Finally the scenery started changing. Pure white sand dunes emerged along the Indian Ocean on the left side of the road, which was indigo blue. Then we reached the Pinnacles. This national park features golden sands and thousand of tall stone pillars, some reaching 3.5 meters tall. They are like ancient desert sculptures. Visitors can walk, hike "aka bushwalk", or drive through the park. It looked like we were on another planet.
The park had a small visitor center but no restaurant, so we headed into the nearby town of Cervantes, a small cray-fishing town next to a windsurfing beach. Small - meaning one gas station, a handful of houses, and a bait shop.
On our way out of the park, we spotted a little critter along the road. It was a kangaroo! The kangaroo was eating grass along the roadside. We stopped to take photos of him. He continued to eat grass for a few minutes. Then he hopped away into the bushes. His feet were like spring boards (below is the kangaroo in mid-air). It was one of the coolest moments in all of my travels.
We reached a "country club" restaurant which was a very basic looking bar where you could order food. They sold the catch of the day, lobster, and Western Australian wine. It was a great ending to a rather strange start in Australia.
2. Fremantle Harbor
Fremantle is a city with a 200 year old history, beautiful 19th century buildings, naval sea port, and al fresco restaurants. It is also Perth's port. We stayed at the Be Apartments, located alongside the harbor. The apartments had harbor views and even included bike rentals. The city had bike and walking paths that wind through the city streets and parks. There is enough to do in this town to warrant a weekend visit.
3. Swan Valley
The Swan Valley is 3 hour south of Perth and contains Western Australia's numerous wineries. They are known for their tasty and pallet cleansing sauv blancs, as well the beautiful nature along the Margaret River. In our short trip, we did not have time for this, but we did taste the wine which was excellent.
The next day we had to leave. This time I asked the customs officers for a stamp on my passport (one of my proudest stamps and most difficult to obtain!).
So there you have it, that why we traveled all the way to Western Australia. Sometimes the places that are the hardest to get to are also the most rewarding. If you can get past the long flights and snarky customs officers, you will surly enjoy a treat in Perth.
Welcome to Taiwan! In this 24 hour layover trip, we scope out the top most instagramable places to photograph. We cover the northern coast, then head into the mountainside to Jiufen where we try street food, and finally Pingxi to make the magical sky lanterns. We booked our tour with MyTaiwanTours which took us to all these amazing sights.
Behind the Scenes Video:
We travel from Taipei to visit the northern coast at Jinguashi. We visit the Yin-Yang Sea and a copper and gold mine dating back to the era of Japanese rule over the island. The ocean even turned a copper color from the mine. We also visit the Gold Waterfall which is right next to the copper mine.
We travel a few miles north into the mountains to visit Jiufen, the town that inspired the classic anime movie "Spirited Away" by Hayao Miyazaki, Japan's equivalent to Walt Disney in film making. Jiufen is a lively and quaint area that includes tea houses decorated with lanterns and winding allies filled with street food. It can get quite crowded here during the weekends, so try visiting during the weekdays if you can!
3. Night Markets / Street Food
Taiwan is a foody nation. Some call it the country that never stops eating. There are numerous night markets in the city selling everything from sweet, savory, and exotic snacks. We wander the cobblestone streets and alleyways filled with food vendors and try the bubble tea and Taiwan's traditional dish - stinky tofu.
4. Pingxi / Sky Lantern
Pingxi is a unique area where you can make sky lanterns and release them in Shifen Old Street to send the wishes to the heavens. Our lantern's wish was "Peace Love and Taiwan!". Even if you don't make a sky lantern, they are fun to watch as the sky is filled with glowing lanterns which look like mini hot air balloons. The tradition combines culture and art and draws tourists from all over the world. There is also the famous Sky Lantern Festival in February.
5. Elephant Mountain
Many people go to Taipei 101 observatory for the skyline view, but the only problem is that Taipei 101 will not be in the photo! The best way to get the iconic Taiwan cityscape photo is from Elephant Mountain which is a relatively short and steep hike. We didn't quite have time to do this hike during our layover, but the Elephant Mountain hike offers one of the best (and free!) views of the city.
What are your favorite places to photograph in Taiwan? Comment below!
I have lived in Los Angeles for a long time, but I am always discovering new and exciting places to photograph. Many of you may have seen my article on the "Best Kept Secret Places to Photograph in Los Angeles". This is a follow up to that post with our latest discoveries in Los Angeles for the top places to photograph street art and architecture.
Behind the Scenes Video:
The top 10 sights include:
1. Stahl House - This is Case Study House 22. Perched high atop the Hollywood Hills is an unassuming facade with an amazing view and modernist, simple home. It has been featured in many LA films and commercials as well as photography. Book a tour to see it in person.
- 1635 Woods Dr, Los Angeles, CA 90069
2. Ennis House - Frank Lloyd Wright - 2607 Glendower Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90027
3. Eames House - Case Study House 8 - 203 Chautauqua Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272
4. Mondrian Mural - Artist & Craftsman Supply, 1660 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles
5. D*Face Mural - British street artist D*Face has painted a completely excellent new mural - 8522 Washington Blvd. in Culver City
6. Skirball Center - Lichtenstein exhibit - 2701 N Sepulveda Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90049
7. D*Face Mural - Korea Town - 3515 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010
9. Walt Disney Concert Hall - Frank Gehry - 111 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
10. Broad Museum - Downtown LA - 221 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90012
What are your favorite architecture sights or murals in Los Angeles? Comment below and let us know!
People ask me all this question all the time: How do you do it? How do you travel? Isn't it expensive? For many years, I thought the same thing. Then I learned how to hack the travel system. The truth is, with careful planning and the following hacks, travel is possible no matter what your budget. You must know how and when to buy for the best deals. So without further ado, here are my favorite hacks:
1. Take Advantage of Flash Sales
Usually around January, airlines start promoting travel flash sales. I sign up with Travelzoo, Airfarewatchdog, and individual airline carrier promotional emails so I can stay alert on upcoming deals. I'm talking emails that say "This is not a misprint- $300 to Tokyo". Airlines need to fill their aircraft, so these kind of deals can happen. In fact, I found my Iceland deal this way, and the fare was cheaper than a LAX>SFO trip. Flash sales don't last long, so act on them soon or they are gone. Also, make sure to read any fine print. Double check your dates, additional costs like taxes, and departing airports to make sure it all jives. So yes, you can really travel to interesting cities for less than a week's worth of lattes.
Example of a real email:
Sign up for credit cards and loyalty cards that give you perks with hotels and airlines. The Hyatt card grants you 2 free nights at a Hyatt when you meet their requirements. The Southwest card allows you to turn your spending into free travel. Check The Points Guy for more examples.
Aside from credit cards, use your Student ID, AARP card, Military card, AAA card, etc. These can give you significant savings at museums and stores while abroad.
3. Use Alternatives For Hotels
The biggest expense outside of airfare is lodging, but it doesn't have to be. If you stay at a hotel, book early. As an alternative, try budget hotels, hostels, couchsurfing, and AirBnB which can be cheaper. As you travel, make friends so you can possibly stay with them and visa-versa. Weigh the distance of your accommodation to the city with the price. If it's too far from the city, you may spend more on transit and be better off staying in the city center.
4. Travel Off Season
You don't need to take "summer" vacation in summer. You will get the cheapest airfare when you go to a place during its off season. I'm talking Bali during rainy season, Hawaii in winter, Italy in December. Guess when everyone is not in Hawaii? January! Hence cheap hotels and airfare. It's half the cost for the same beautiful place, only with less people and a chance of showers.
5. Use Alternatives to Taxis
Taxis will be your next biggest expense. So don't take them! Take public transit, walk, or use car sharing services. Uberpool is a great option because you split the fare with other riders. Weigh how much you will need transit and see if renting a car is cheaper.
6. Accumulate Airline/Hotel Points
I have one particular airline that I travel with all the time. I make a lot of sacrifices to travel this carrier, but it's worth it because I get points and am able to use the lounge (ahem, free food/beverages). Those points translate to free airplane rides and upgrades. If you stick with one hotel/airline you will get more perks. When it comes to hotels, make sure you book one with free breakfast and wifi.
7. Cut food expenses
First off, don't eat at tourist restaurants. Ask locals (not the concierge) for restaurant recommendations. Check out TripAdvisor which is always a great resource. Also, instead of dining out, check out the local supermarkets. Some countries have convenient stores with yummy take-away food.
Another great way to save on food is by enjoying the "free" food at the airport lounge (another reason to gather points), or at your hotel membership lounge. I stay at one particular hotel, which has a lounge stocked with "free" food and beverages which I take advantage of throughout my trip.
8. Enjoy "free" things.
Free walking tours (like the one I took in Munich - shown above), free museum days, free hikes, parks, observation decks can be found in almost every city. See if the city has free events or parades while you are in town. Sometimes you might be in luck. In Oaxaca and Cuzco, I stumbled upon a wedding parade and soccer festival. These events are a great way to experience the culture.
9. Consider Alternatives to Tours
English speaking tours can run you a bill in some countries. One way to get around that is by taking tours in the most common language. For example, I took the Spanish speaking tour in Mexico which was about 1/10 the price of the English speaking tour. The price for the English speaking tour was expensive because demand was very low (we were some of the only English speakers there). The Spanish speaking tour gave me a chance to practice my Spanish and also learn from the domestic traveler's point of view. Plus, I used the tour as my transportation.
Another alternative is to do DIY tours. Try downloading a city guide from GPSmyCity and do your own walking tour, like this one in Havana. Since it's downloaded to your phone, it works without a data plan. Chances are, people have been to the city before there are great guides already out there!
10. Don't go to extremely expensive places
There are those places that are notorious for being expensive. Some examples: SF, NYC, Norway, Switzerland. The prices will make you scream (see above). For example, average AirBnB's in San Francisco will run you over $250 per night. If you go to these places, know that your budget will be destroyed. Try commuting into these places from nearby towns, do a day trip, go off season, or stay with friends instead.
11. Take red eye flights
You might not like this one, but it will save you money. Save yourself one hotel night and sleep on the plane. Late night flights are often cheaper. Of course, bring these essentials to make the trip more comfortable. Then wake up in a new city and hit ground running. Make sure the accommodation and public transit is available when you get there because otherwise you could negate your savings.
12. Use Air Travel Aggregators
Sites like Skyscanner help you see which days, times, airports, and destinations are cheapest. The key is to be flexible and sign up for email alerts. For example, if you want to go to LAX>CDG, it may be cheaper to book one way flights, or to take connecting flights, or perhaps fly into another airport entirely. See if other lesser known airports can get you there cheaper. Look at the monthly schedule for the airline and see which day/time is cheapest. If you are flexible on destinations, search by destination on Google Flights to see which location is cheapest.
13. Use budget airlines (with caution)
Norwegian got me to Europe for about $400. That's less than most domestic flights. Other carriers with cheap fares include WOW airlines, Air Asia, Southwest, Volaris etc. Make sure you follow their baggage restrictions because they will charge you (as spoken from experience). Also, know that they probably won't give you a meal, so bring food. With these airlines, you get what you pay for. I have had a mixed bag of experiences with budget airlines. One particular budget airline hit me up with so many baggage costs that it negated my savings. My conclusion is to proceed with caution - you may be better off with your usual carrier and generating rewards points.
14. Do Day Trips
How can you cut out one of the biggest expenses of travel (ahem, hotels)? Do a day trip! For example, if you live within a one hour flight from a place, consider flying in for the day and returning that evening rather than staying for the entire weekend. This can pay off for those expensive cities I mentioned above, like SF and NYC.
15. Use layovers to your advantage
You won't believe this, but many airlines have free (yes, really free) layover city tours for airport travelers. This can enable you to see a new country or city without spending a dime. Check Turkish Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Eva Air for more info! Tourism boards also sometimes have tour programs to showcase their city (like Taiwan for example). Before visiting a city, google search to see if there are any of these programs in the place you are visiting.
I hope these hacks helped show you that travel is possible. There are so many more ways to save, hack and budget. Comment below on your favorite travel saving hacks.
Guanajuato is a state in Mexico considered to be the colonial heartland. It is filled with UNESCO sites and Spanish colonial architecture. We spend New Year's weekend in this region of Mexico and explore the beautiful sights. We even catch some New Year's Eve festivities along the way. ¡Feliz año nuevo!
Behind the scenes video of Guanajuato's picturesque sights and New Year's Eve festivities:
1. San Miguel de Allende
This is a city in Guanajuato that is a UNESCO site, home to a thriving expat community, and foodie scene. We walk through the cobblestone streets and try some of the delicious food. We also visit Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel, the iconic Gothic church built to resemble the European churches. It has an ornate steeple and pink stone façade. Next we visit Jacinto 1930, a modern and sophisticated Mexican restaurant.
One of the most interesting excursions in San Miguel is the pyramid found about 25 KM outside of the city called Cañada de la Virgen, so be sure to check that out during your visit.
2. Guanajuato City
We spend new years in Guanajuato City, a neighboring city about an hour and a half from San Miguel de Allende. It is a designated a UNESCO site, noted for its silver mines and architecture. It has unique topography, including a valley of colorful buildings, tunnels, and hills that contain silver mines which historically made the city very rich. We visit the zocalo and celebrate New Year's Eve with fireworks.
The next day, we visit El Pípila, a mountain top monument with a panoramic view of the city. Then we visit La Valenciana Church (San Cayetano) which is one of the most important churches in town, built in the 18th century at the opening of the La Valenciana silver mine, the largest silver mine in Mexico.
3. Dolores Hidlago
This is an important city for the Mexican War of Independence. It is where the cry for independence "Viva Mexico" occurred at the Church of the Grito. It is also where visitors can find some of the most unique ice cream (helados y nieves), including camarones (shrimp), mole, elote (corn), tequila, and tuna (a cactus fruit). I tried mole and tequila (see below). Next we visit the UNESCO site Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco, which is an 18th century Mexican Baroque church which is famous for its murals.
What are your favorite sights in Mexico?
Ready to discover to Mexico's best kept secret archaeological site? I'll give you a hint, it's not Chichen Itza or Monte Albán. In fact, this site is closer to the California border and even older than many other pyramids in Mexico.
This is Cañada de la Virgen, an Otomi archaeological site that has been recently excavated, giving it an undiscovered feel. In fact, the site was first discovered in 1998 and the official excavation began in 2002, with public access starting in 2011. During our tour, we were one of a handful of groups visiting this site. Located in the state of Guanajuato, this archaeological site is considered to be some of the northernmost pyramids which helped to redefine the Mesoamerica border. It is a short half hour ride, or 25 KM from the city of San Miguel de Allende.
Behind the scenes video:
Unlike other pyramids in Mexico, Cañada de la Virgen is located on private property, so you must book a tour in order to visit. We took a tour of this site with Coyote Canyon Adventures, which provided us with transportation and our local guide, Alberto, gave an excellent in-depth English guided explanation of the site.
Cañada de la Virgen was named after a geode found in the canyon resembled the image of the virgin Mary. The site historically served as a ceremonial space where the indigenous Otomi people created sophisticated time keeping instruments aligned to the movements of celestial bodies. As we found out during our tour, there are many theories about this site and much of the information still to be discovered. The site was occupied beginning in 530 AD. To give context on just how old that is - the capital of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, was built in 1325 - almost 800 years later. The site is still in great condition, despite being over a thousand years old.
The best photos are taken from the patio in the front of the pyramid. We were able to get up-close-and-personal and climbed to the top of the pyramid for a panoramic view of the entire complex. If you are able to time your visit to one of the celestial dates such as March 4th, you will get a the famous shot of the sun setting to the alignment of the pyramid.
Lastly, we were lucky enough to meet local archaeologist, Rosanna Quiroz, who studied the lunar calendar of the Otomi people. Much of what we know about this site is due to her research. We visited the Museum of Prehispanic Astronomy, which exhibited the images of the cycles of the moon and sun in relation to the pyramid. While at the museum, we ended our tour with a traditional Mexican lunch at the community restaurant.
Top instagramable shots of the pyramid:
What are your favorite "undiscovered" or best kept secret sites in Mexico?
Over New Year's Eve weekend, I decided to venture to a new city. But where to go when you only have three days?
I thought about spending the holiday in the USA, but decided it was time to try New Year's Eve in a different country. I only have spent New Year's in one other country - Barbados in 2003. I found the cultural differences of this holiday between the USA and other places to be very interesting. This time, I wanted to go somewhere close, fun but not rowdy, culturally rich but inexpensive. So, I went to Mexico!
Mexico's Best Kept Secret
The first step was to decide where in Mexico to go. Cancun and Cabo are obvious choices, but they are also overloaded with...well... Americans. And I wanted to go somewhere with more Mexican culture. The past year I had heard of Guanajuato from many other like-minded travelers. You may be wondering, where is Guanajuato? It is located north of Mexico City in the colonial heartland of Mexico. I finally added it to my bucket list after I saw Vicente Fox, former president of Mexico, talk about his childhood town with a gleaming testimonial of the city. He described the European streets, amazing architecture, and colorful buildings. It's also the childhood hometown of 20th Century muralist Diego Rivera. When I saw a cheap flight from TIJ, I was there.
New Years in Mexico
Mexico has different traditions during New Years than the US. In the US, it's usually a party night spent with friends and counting down the year's events, and trying to make it home without any strikes on your driving record. In Mexico, it is more family oriented, usually consisting of a dinner, 12 grapes, and celebrations spilling out onto the streets afterwards. At least that is what we experienced. The city was lit up with Christmas lights, there were people enjoying the local street food and free musical performances in the zocalo. Many restaurants offered gourmet al-fresco dining served with traditional food, such as bacalao and of course champagne. The night ended with a fireworks celebration that went off right above the buildings - so close that some of the sparks landed on the tables.
Top Sights to See in Guanajuato:
1. Pipila - A monument on the top of a hill overlooking the city of Guanajuato. It is a nickname of a local hero during the first victory of the Mexican independence. This is the best spot for panoramic photos of the city.
2. Basilica of Our Lady of Guanajuato - This is the iconic yellow cathedral with the red dome in the city center which is all lit up at night. Outside the church, there are usually performances and street food.
3. El Teatro Juárez - One of the most significant architectural buildings in Guanajuato built in the 19th C.
4. Centro Histórico - The colonial historic district includes colorful buildings, cobblestone streets, churches, shops, and pedestrian zones.
5. Mina la Valenciana - This silver mine is a popular attraction where you can walk into the historic mine with a plastic hard hat and submerge yourself (literally) into the history of this industrial side of this city.
6. Diego Rivera Museum - Diego Rivera's museum and childhood home is located in the city. You can see where one of the greatest artists of the 20th century grew up.
7. Templo La Valenciana - Located on the hills of Guanajuato is this magnificent church with a beautiful facade and three alters made of gold.
8. Funicular - Ride to the top of the mountains for an excellent view.
What are your favorite sites in Guanajuato?
Welcome to Cusco! This is the historic capital of the Inca Empire that lasted from the 13th until the 16th century Spanish conquest when the capital was moved to Lima. In 1983, Cusco was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and has become a major tourist destination, attracting over 2 million visitors per year. Cusco is also the epicenter of many Incan archeological sights as well as the gateway city to Machu Picchu.
Watch the behind the scenes vlog:
Music Credit: Chris Felix | All videos shot with iPhone 6 | Editing: iMovie
Arriving in Cusco:
Cusco has a high altitude of about 11,000 feet, so it is recommended to rest for about a day or two before embarking on any hikes or adventure tours. As soon as I landed at the airport, I felt out of breath as if I had just finished running. The altitude is so high that our hotel provided oxygen and free coca tea. After resting, we hit the town to photograph this extraordinary city.
Here are the most instagramable sites:
1. Plaza de Armas
The city tour of the Inca Royal City of Cusco starts in the very impressionable Central Square, known as the Plaza de Armas, which is surrounded by a beautiful stone arcade. Plaza de Armas is also the city's center point for activity, including performances, music, and fútbol parades.
In the Plaza is the Cathedral, which is exceptional because of its contrasts of styles. The outside façade is in Renaissance style, in contrast to its Baroque and plateresque style of its interiors. The first cathedral built in Cusco is the Iglesia del Triunfo, built in 1539 and the basilica was constructed using the stone extracted from the blocks of Incan fortress Saksaywaman.
2. The Church of the Society of Jesus
The Church of the Society of Jesus, (commonly known as the Jesuits), is highlighted by its carved stone façade and its large altar carved in cedar, plated in gold. It was constructed in 1576.
3. The Covent of Santo Domingo
This church is built above the most important Inca Temple, the Temple of the Sun, or Koricancha, as it is known in the Inca language Quechua. Gold laminas or sheets covered the original Inca Temple walls.
Near the City of Cusco, I visited the extraordinary Inca Fortress/temple Sacsayhuaman. This site is made up of three gigantic terraces, superimposed in a zigzag form, and surrounded by enormous walls of rock, some of which are up to 300 meters in length. The stone walls of Sacsayhuman remarkably have no mortar, and were constructed to fit together like puzzle pieces using pressure to secure them in place.
Qenqo, was a religious center formed by a singular flowering of calcareous rock. It has underground galleries and a semicircular amphitheater with a series of stone seats.
6. Puca Pucará
Puca Pucará or the Red Fort was military base made up of stone stairways, terraces, and walls. Nearby is Tambomachay, well known as Baths of the Incas, a place dedicated to the cult of the water, formed by aqueducts, channels and small cascades worked in the rock.
7. Museo de Arte Precolombino
We visited Museo de Arte Precolombino which has an impressive collection of indigenous crafts, jewelry, and ceramics drawn from all regions of pre-Columbian Peru.
Inca ruins of a prominent 15th-century temple that once had walls & floors covered in pure gold. The site also includes gardens and a beautiful view of Cusco city.
This Inca site with canals, waterfalls & aqueducts is thought to have been built to worship water.
10. Baby Alpacas
Around the city, you will see women wearing traditional dress holding lambs and baby alpacas (or were they llamas?). For a fee, you can take photos with them and even hold the baby alpaca/llama too.
What are your favorite sites to see in Cusco?
This past November, I made it to one of the wonders of the world, Machu Picchu! Here is how I got there.
Behind the Scenes Video
First, I booked a tour with Latin Escapes Tours (highly recommended tour group) and flew from Lima to Cusco, the gateway city to Machu Picchu. Once I landed in Cusco, I felt out of breath from the elevation. Cusco is over 10,000 feet high, so I had to take a day to acclimate and drink the local coca tea, an herbal remedy for elevation.
The next day, I boarded the PeruRail train which took about three hours and crossed through the scenic Urubamba River Valley. The scenery changed multiple times from corn fields, to river rapids, to cloud forest, and finally the towering Andes Mountains. The train was perfect for photographers as it had a domed glass ceiling and tall windows. During the ride, they served snacks and drinks, which I got the local drink, chicha morada.
At last, I reached Aguas Calientes, the village at the base of Machu Picchu. This was where I boarded the fifteen minute bus ride to get to the top of Machu Picchu. The other option was to trek the Inca Trail, which is a rewarding hike but takes much longer and requires a permit. At the top, we found a restaurant as well as a coat check where I stored my bags in preparation for the mountain climb.
It was time to enter Machu Picchu! At this point, I was about 8,500 feet high and every step felt like I was taking twenty steps. The weather in Machu Picchu was hard to predict (it could be anywhere from a humid 80 degrees, to a rainy 50 degrees in November), so I brought layers and active-wear clothing. Make sure to check out our recommended items to pack in the Travel Kit below!
Photo Stop #1: House of the Guardians
Next I climbed up the mountain where I reached a few viewpoints that offered the best photos of Machu Picchu. The first photo stop was at "The House of the Guardians" near the entrance to Machu Picchu (see map below). I stopped there for the famous aerial Machu Picchu shot with the river on either side.
Photo Stop #2: Llamas
I crossed through the Incan city gate into the ancient site. There were llamas roaming freely on the other side of Machu Picchu near the "Main Square". This made for an excellent photo shoot.
Photo Stop #3: Huyana Picchu
From there, you can find the entrance to Huayna Picchu, the tall steep mountain on the other side of Machu Picchu. You will need an additional ticket to climb this mountain, but views are spectacular.
Most of the tours end around 3pm and many people board the bus at that time. Instead of boarding the bus, I went back into Machu Picchu. I finally was able to get my best, unobstructed photos of the site.
Lastly, I got my passport stamped with the iconic Machu Picchu stamp!
Map of Machu Picchu
During my trip to Israel, I had a 5 hour layover at the Ataturk Airport in Istanbul and did not want to miss seeing this amazing city. I applied for my Turkey e-visa ahead of time so I could make a mad dash to the city after landing. With a long list of spectacular sights, it was challenging to figure out what to see in a limited time. I felt like I was in the show The Amazing Race. Here's what I was able to see in the city on a time crunch.
Istanbul In Hours Layover Tour Video:
There were many different options to get to Istanbul quickly from the Airport.
1. Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Mosque)
We drove along the Bosporus ocean front and about a half hour later, we reached the Blue Mosque. This is one of the architectural crown jewels of Istanbul. It was built in 1616 by Sultan Ahmet when he was only 19 years old. It was built in Islamic late classical Ottoman style with 6 minarets, as opposed to the usual two to four for mosques. The interior consists of 260 windows and 20,000 blue tiles, hence the name.
Before going inside, visitors must remove their shoes (they provide plastic bags for them) and also adhere to the dress code (there are scarves to rent). Basically, shoulders, knees, collarbones, and hair (for women) must be covered. There is no entry fee as this is a practicing mosque to this day.
2. Hagia Sophia
Adjacent to the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the architectural wonders of the world. The enormous domed building and towering minarets can be seen from afar. It was originally built as an Eastern Orthodox church in 537 AD, then converted to a mosque in 1453 adding Islamic disks and minarets, and has now been secularized into a museum starting in 1935. Many symbols from the original church were covered and not removed during the conversion.
There is an entry fee and optional tours (they take credit cards). Seeing this building in person is truly magical. The massive dome is the epitome of Byzantine architecture at 180 feet high. This church has been standing for over 1400 years.
3. Basilica Cistern
Last but not least, we walked across the street to the Basilica Cistern. Unfortunately, the Cistern only takes Turkish Lira for the entrance (no credit cards), so I wasn't able to get inside. Instead, we visited the bazaar and got some street food.
Istanbul is one of the most unique cities in the world. Demographically, it is one of the largest cities at roughly 15 million people and has a 99% Muslim population, although it maintains neutrality between church and state. It was ancient Byzantium and straddles two continents - Europe and Asia. It used to be known as Constantinople thanks to Roman Emperor Constantine. However, it is not the capital of Turkey (that is Ankara). It is also one of the most photogenic cities with colorful markets everywhere.
- Outside the Blue Mosque- Beware of aggressive shopkeepers at this mosque who will offer to be a tour guide for exchange for a visit to their shop. The Blue Mosque website warns about this.
- Outside the Hagia Sophia - People will offer you different tours with the promise of allowing you to skip the line. If you want a tour of the Hagia Sophia, make sure to go with a reputable guide.
- Wear appropriate clothing - This means cover up and wear a headscarf in mosques for women. Also, wear shoes that are easy to take off for the mosques.
- Ataturk Airport Turkish Airlines Lounge -Allow for extra time to get to the airport. And if you have extra time, don't miss the Turkish Airlines business class lounge. It is one of the most architecturally beautiful lounges where you can get a taste of the Turkish cuisine.
What are your must see places to see in Istanbul?
December...it's always a time for reflection. Here's a travel retrospective...a look behind each travel trip, how we got there, and what we learned along the way.
This year we went to:
I started 2016 with a long list of travel goals. We are privileged to have you along on our adventures. To me, travel is the best teacher. But learning is not enough - you have to pass it on. So here are some of the things I learned through travel that I might not have learned had I not ventured out.
January - Arizona Antelope Canyon and Monument Valley
Over the New Year's holiday, I wanted to go somewhere with a unique culture. With the time constraint of 3 days, I decided to stay in the US, but go somewhere very different. I went to Navajo Nation! It is like a country within a country - they have their own language, food, traditions, and beautiful nature. This trip taught us that you can see diverse cultures and surreal landscapes without leaving the USA.
2016 presented a new country that was previously off limits to us Americans...Cuba. In my 9 day trip, I got a mini-PhD in foreign policy, economics, and political science, as well as an expert lesson in dancing and learning to enjoy life in the face of adversity. The Cuban people are extremely hard working and never let their circumstances get them down. The trip taught me to be appreciative of many things - from having ATMs, to variety in supermarkets, to one thing many people take for granted - the ability to travel. The Cuban people are restricted from traveling and seeing those freedoms taken away taught me how special it is to live in a country where your passport enables you to go almost anywhere. It also taught me that one voice can make a difference. Each of us has a little bit of power, and we can use it to be a voice for others. Don't just travel here to go to the beach, do a people-to-people excursion or a volunteer trip. Cheers to a new beginning with this amazing country.
March - Iceland
Iceland had always been my ultimate goal for landscape photography travel. Being from California, I must admit that the harsh winter weather was daunting. I never thought I would make it up a volcano, let alone trek across the icy glacier. Aside from that, we packed in so much within 4 days. The biggest highlight was mother nature. From the geysers, to the waterfalls, to the northern lights, Iceland has it all. The trip taught me that you can accomplish anything if you push yourself. I documented my trip in a video that reached over 32K views on YouTube.
May - Sweden, Norway, Denmark
From the time I first saw pictures of the fjords, I knew I had to see them in person. They were epic. But what I liked most about this trip is the unexpected. I took a side trip to a small fjord town called Alesund that ended up being one of my highlights. Sometimes venturing off the beaten tourist path can be the most memorable part of the trip.
This year, I had the opportunity to revisit a city where I grew up - Boston. I left Boston at age 5 and am sorry to say that I had not visited since then. From the time I was little, I mostly remembered being snowed in so never thought about revisiting. A work trip brought me there, and was surprised at how my perception was instantly changed. I found the city enchanting and its history was inspiring. The trip made me realize that you should give cities a second chance. If you haven't been somewhere in a while, revisit.
June - Mexico City
As a huge foodie and fan or archeology, Mexico City was a perfect destination. The goal was to fit it in a weekend. I left SD airport on a red-eye on Friday night and came back Sunday evening. It opened my eyes to how much we Americans don't know about one of our closest neighbors, Mexico. The regional cultures, traditions, and foods are exquisite. I did not see many Americans during my trip and I learned that it's important to help change the travel perceptions of this great city. I documented my trip and the video ended up getting over 14K views.
July - Montana/ Calgary
Glacier National Park was a huge goal for me from the time I first learned about it. Getting there was another story. It is relatively isolated from any major airport, so we trekked in through Calgary. The scenery was unmatched, wild, and pure. We passed through Waterton-Glacier National Park on the Alberta side, which was less touristy and offered similarly beautiful sights. Sometimes, getting to the destination can be one of the highlights of the trip.
August - Oaxaca
Oaxaca is one of the foodie capitals of Mexico. I learned about how diverse Mexico is with many different indigenous cultures and language. In fact, our tour guide's native language was not Spanish, it was Zapotec. The food in this region is as complex as it is delicious. Somehow the travel gods smiled on us during this trip because I not only packed in the Herve de Agua trip that I wanted to see, but I also saw managed to see Monte Alban, and even stumbled upon a wedding festivity. It is amazing what you can see when you are in the right place at the right time.
September- Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech, Austria
I revisited Germany, Austria, and Hungary, but went to new parts. In Germany, I visited the castles, Austria- I went to Mozart's birthplace and the Alps regions, and Hungary- I saw the city from the Danube. I liked seeing the contrast of cultures from the West to the Eastern European side. Slovakia for example, was laid back and inexpensive, whereas Vienna is highbrow and elegant. The cities have a different language, currency, and for many years - political structure, and they are only an hour drive away. Go to cities that are lesser known and less touristy - they may be the best surprise.
October - Israel, Palestine, Turkey
Israel and Palestine were two of the more eye-opening and enlightening travel experiences thus far. This region is the source/epicenter of 3 major religions, and it was amazing to see where they got their start and visit the locations from the Bible. This trip challenged my beliefs in many things, including faith, culture, and history. Above all, we have more in common than we think. Had I listened to the news stories on this region, I would have never made it here. Go to places where you have the most to learn and seek to understand.
November - Peru
Peru and South America were two of my biggest travel goals. I was able to accomplish this over the Thanksgiving break. The Peruvian people are warm and genuinely care about the travelers who visit their country. Before embarking on this trip, I was a bit intimidated by the altitude of this region. Cusco is 10K feet high, and going from Lima which is sea level with no time to acclimate is very challenging. I drank a ton of coca tea to help alleviate altitude sickness. I must say I truly challenged myself, not only in cramming this trip into a 4 day weekend, but trekking, climbing, and beating the altitude. But the most surprising thing was seeing Machu Picchu - it truly is one of the wonders of the world. Challenge yourself, it will pay off.
So there you have it! If you learn anything from me and reading these posts, know that travel is possible - whatever your constraints of time, fear, money, etc. If you have the opportunity to travel, go! You can do it. Book those flights. Put a flag in that country. Make it happen.
Just in time for the holiday season, we conclude our Journey to the Holy Land with a visit to the Sea of Galilee region of Israel. This is a region with history that dates back to over 2,000 years with many important sites for the Christian faith. We start at the Sea of Galilee, then head to the ancient ruins at Capernaum, and finish at the River Jordan. Let's explore the top places to photograph.
Behind the scenes video:
1. Sea of Galilee - This is a region where you can literally follow in Jesus' footsteps. We start at the Sea of Galilee, which is the site where Jesus walked on water and performed many miracles. It is the largest lake in Israel and appears out of the desert. The water is warm, but is known to be stormy, so be sure to bring this before filming. It is surrounded by desert hills, making for a unique landscape.
2. Sea of Galilee Boat Ride - The best way to experience the Sea of Galilee is by riding along the waters. The boat ride is a picturesque and spiritual experience as many tours read through the excerpts of the Bible where the Sea of Galilee is mentioned.
3. The Yigal Allon Center - This is the museum where you can see the "Jesus Boat" which is an ancient boat from the time of Jesus, found miraculously in the 1980s.
4. Sermon on the Mount - Located on top of the mountains along the Sea of Galilee is a modern church said to be located on the area where Jesus gave his famous sermon. The views are spectacular and there are beautiful gardens outside of the church.
5. Capernaum - This is where Jesus performed his healings and the site of a 4th century synagogue. The ruins of the synagogue are picturesque, as many of the columns still stand.
6. River Jordan - This is the baptismal site of Jesus. The River Jordan is where many people travel to be baptized. The River Jordan flows to the Dead Sea. It is not only a spiritual area, but also very picturesque as it is surrounded by palms and some of the only natural lush landscape in the region.
The Journey to the Holy Land continues as we travel to the Dead Sea and Masada. These are two popular excursions that can be done within a day trip from Jerusalem and offer some of the most surreal photo shoot landscapes.
Watch the behind the scenes video:
First stop is Masada, which is located on top of a mountain in the Judean desert about an hour and a half from Jerusalem. We take a funicular to the top of the mountain, which is over 400 meters high. This is isolated spot is where King Herod, King of Judea's fortress was built so he could protect himself from a revolt. It is a fortified temple that includes his living quarters, a sauna, a swimming pool with mosaic floors, a cistern with rainwater, and more - all built in Roman style. It is amazing to see such a historic site in the middle of a barren desert.
After King Herod died, the Romans seized Masada and the Jewish rebels decided to take their own lives rather than be at the hands of the Romans. The site is now place where the Israeli Army takes an oath to protect Israel. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most respected sites for the Jewish people.
Photo Pro Tip: There are multiple vantage points along the edges of Masada where you can photograph the panorama of the Judean desert and Dead Sea.
Next stop is the Dead Sea, which is located on the Israeli, Jordanian, and Palestinian desert land. We visit Kalia beach and float in the water. The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth at 394 meters below sea level. The water has an unusual salt concentration, giving it a natural buoyancy. It is surrounded by a barren desert landscape, which makes for surreal photography. We covered ourselves with the mud from the muddy shores and floated in the water. The beach is enclosed with buoys and is very crowded at the sunset time.
Photo Pro Tip: Venture to the edge of the buoys where no one else is floating and bring a book into the water. Bring a waterproof case for your phone. This will help you get the iconic Dead Sea photo (see below).
Also, something to note about the Dead Sea is that it is very muddy. The sea floor is like quicksand, there are areas with coarse salt crystals, and the water can be harsh on your camera gear. Be sure to bring the following travel essentials and camera equiptment before embarking on the Dead Sea and Masada excursion:
Jerusalem is considered by many to be the holiest city in the world as it has sacred sites for the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. The old city of Jerusalem attracts pilgrims from these faiths, and has been fought over and conquered by many groups over the years. So many cultures have left their mark on the Israeli capital that it makes it truly unmatched in its abundance of photo-worthy sites.
In this video, we explore the four quarters of the city and see some of the most historic and sacred sites.
I recognize that this is an area of extreme importance to many people so please keep comments civil and respect all faiths.
1. Mount of Olives - Arguable the best panoramic view of Jerusalem. Many tour groups stop here and there is also an opportunity to ride the camel.
2. Church of All Nations - Beautiful church built next to garden of Gethsemane.
3. Tomb of King David - Jerusalem is King David's city, and he is buried in Jerusalem's Old City.
4. Jerusalem Walls - We enter Jerusalem through Zion Gate. We also pass by the Golden Gate which is sealed and has significant meaning to Jews as it is where the Messiah will enter the city when He comes to rule.
5. Gethsemane - Garden where Jesus prayed before the Crucifixion. Features olive trees from the time of Christ.
6. Church of Holy Sepulchre - Church built in the 4th Century, and arguably the most sacred site in Christianity as it is built on the site where Jesus was crucified, buried, and resurrected.
7. Via Dolorosa - Path where Jesus walked during the crucifixion.
8. Kotel (Western Wall) - Holiest site in the Jewish faith and only remaining relic of the Temple Mount. During our trip, there was a party in this area because someone had just completed writing the Torah.
9. Jewish Quarter - We walk through the Jewish Quarter which leads to the Kotel.
10. Armenian Quarter - Jerusalem has a large resettlement community for the Armenian people within the Old City.
11. Christian Quarter - The Christian Quarter contains the Church of Holy Sepulchre and Via Dolorosa.
12. Muslim Quarter - The Dome of the Rock and the souq (market) are main highlights.
What are your favorite sites in Jerusalem?
Stay tuned, next up is the Dead Sea and Masada!
This travel trip takes us to the site that is known for being the cradle of humanity, the land of milk and honey, the land of miracles, and a place that seems to always be in the news. It is a land that tends to spark controversy but after traveling there, I discovered that there is a lot more to it then what we see in the news. It's filled with beauty, rich history of many different cultures, and a place where many faiths come together. There is no place quite like it on earth, which makes it a great photography destination. That's right, this is the Holy Land!
View the behind the scenes video:
Music Credit: Ele "Sweet Love" | All videos shot with iPhone 6 | Editing: iMovie
I always like traveling to areas where I feel like there is a lot to learn. Israel and Palestine are some of the most revered and fought over areas that I wanted to experience it for myself. It ended up being such an interesting journey, that I created a five part series to showcase the country and the unique places to photograph. In our five part "Journey to the Holy Land" series, we start in the Israeli Coast and cover the top places to photograph.
1. Neyanya - Israeli Coastal Heaven
First we headed to Netanya, a popular beach resort in Israel. Upon arriving, we stayed at a very humble accommodation along the coast of Natanya. In the morning, we grabbed a Mediterranean breakfast, which included the Israeli staple of hummus of course, and noticed that the entire patio was filled with stray cats.
Although I couldn't see the ocean, my GPS signaled that it was less than a mile away, so I decided to check it out. I heard great things about the Israeli beaches. As soon as I ventured outside my hotel, the land became almost like a wasteland...barren, trash scattered on the ground, grey colored crows, barbed wire fences, hardly any people. The city was only a stone throw from the beach, marked by uniformly-shaped nondescript high-rises that looked like a Middle Eastern version of Miami.
The city seemed to spring right out of the sand. Once we reached the beach, the land looked more inviting. We spotted surfers, runners, and water sports rental areas. It looked like a real vacation spot. We took a dip in the water, which was warm and clear, like Hawaii. There were medium-sized waves and cliffs. I wished I could spend an entire day at the beach, but it was time to see some history. And by history, I don't mean hundreds of years old...I'm talking thousands of years old.
2. Caesarea National Park - Roman Ruins in Israel
We boarded our tour bus and went up the coast to the Caesarea National Park, famous for being the ancient capital of Roman Judea and built by King Herod. We visit the Roman ruins that include an aqueduct, hippodrome, and swimming pool. The site was like going back in time.
3. Haifa - The Garden of Eden
Next up, we travel up the coast to visit Haifa, Israel's third largest city. We visit the Bahá'í Gardens in Haifa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with panoramic views of the Mediterranean sea. The garden is about a mile long, filled with palm trees and flowers. From the top of the garden, we could see the entire Northern coast all the way to Jordan. Before entering the garden, we had to go through security, which I thought was a bit strange. But then, our guide explained that the Baha'i gardens are a sacred site for the Baha'i religion, thus they want to keep the area safe.
4. Acre - Old Crusader City
Then, we visit the Israel-Jordan Border in the north, followed by the Old Port of Acre, another UNESCO World Heritage Site with over a 2,000 year old history. The area has a significant Arab population, thus the call to prayer was being broadcast throughout the city. The city is noted for being a former Crusader site.
5. Israel-Jordan Border - Coastal Views Galore
Lastly, we see the border of Israel and Jordan, which is a sealed boarder at the moment. I took pictures of the beautiful sunset and coast, and also managed to get a photo with the Israeli army.
Stay tuned for our next episode where we travel to Bethlehem and Beit She'an National Park.
Mention the word Salzburg, and you will have the instant attention of Mozart and "The Sound of Music" fans. However, this central Austrian city is an excellent day trip for many other reasons. Located on the northern edge of the alps, Salzburg is scenic, compact, and beautiful. Aside from being known for Mozart's birthplace and filming location of "The Sound of Music", it is also famous for its baroque architecture which deemed the old town a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for the the Salzburg music festival, which draws classical music fans from far and wide. The city is divided by the Salzach river, with the new part of town on one side and the old part on the other.
Watch the behind the scenes video where we go on a quest to find Mozart's house:
Music Credit: Mozart | All videos shot with iPhone 6 | Editing: iMovie
Here are the Top 5 Sights to Photograph:
1. Hohensalzburg - translates to "high Salzburg fortress" perched high above the baroque towers of the city. It is the city's famous landmark and one of the largest, fully preserved medieval castles in Europe. Construction began in 1077, built under the archbishop Gebhard during the time when Salzburg was a city in the Holy Roman Empire. Even though you see many cannons at the fortress, it was never actually used in battle. It was so foreboding that nobody every attacked Salzburg for 1000 years!
The fortress is accessible by cable car, making it one of the major tourist attractions. It is also my favorite spot for panoramic views of the city. Make sure to grab a bite at one of the cafes at the top of the castle and appreciate the views of the alps.
2. Mozart's Birthplace - This is Mozart's childhood home. He lived on the third floor for 26 years and is now a museum. Mozart is regarded as one of the greatest composers of the classical period and recognized as a prodigy and one of the most prolific artists. By age 6 he was writing his own compositions. The music plays almost everywhere in this city, and many shops and tourist attractions are dedicated to him.
3. DomQuartier - If you like Baroque architecture, you will love photographing the grandiosity of the DomQuartier. The DomQuartier is the cultural highlight in the heart of the city. The archbishop was key in building this opulent city - he strived to make Salzburg the "Rome of the north". The city's planning and architecture is such a masterpiece that it is protected by UNESCO. It includes the Salzburg Cathedral constructed in the early 16oo's. The historic old town survived the ravages of the war, and is hence where most of the tourist attractions are located.
4. Residenzplatz - "Residence Square" - This part of the old town and one of the most impressive attractions in Salzburg.
5. "The Sound of Music" was filmed in 1965, and tours of the filming locations make Salzburg a popular destination.
If you are in central Europe, be sure to visit Salzburg. You don't have to be a Mozart fan, classic film geek, or architecture lover to appreciate the charm of this city. It is beautiful and easy to explore. In fact, I was able to see all this in one afternoon, but if you are here longer, don't even get me started on the nature, lakes, skiing and other adventures this area has to offer.
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I get this question all the time: what gear do you use and what do you bring when traveling? I wanted to help other travelers with my information that took me years to learn. Here is what I pack with me on my photo trips:
1. What do I film with?
I do all my professional photography with my Nikon D7100 with 18-140mm lens. This camera is able to accomplish just about everything I want it to do without being too bulky for travel. Occasionally I will swap out lenses if I want to get telescopic photos or macro photos, but that's it. Before embarking on a trip, make sure to bring plenty of memory cards. I always have two in my camera and at least one or two spares in my bag.
Here is the link to my exact camera on Amazon, where you can purchase the camera body and lens together:
2. What camera bag do you use?
I use a cross-body bag that disguises my camera because it doesn't look like a camera bag at all, does it? It has more padding than a traditional bag in order to protect my equipment. Best of all, it is a cross body bag which means it is easy for me to access my camera, but harder for those sticky-fingered folks to grab my camera.
3. Backup device:
Backing up your photos while traveling is essential. I cannot tell you how many incidents I have had where I was unable to backup because I didn't have WiFi and I ended up loosing my photos. Don't let that happen to you. Here's a handy UBS Flash Drive gadget that solves this problem:
4. What do you bring on long haul flights?
There are 5 essential items that I always bring on long haul flights to make the journey more comfortable:
There you have it! Those are my travel gear essentials. I hope these tips help you on your photo journeys abroad.
What are your must-haves for traveling?
During my trip to Munich, I took a side trip to the picturesque Bavarian alps to visit the famous castles: Neuschwanstein Castle and Hohenschwangau. The castles are nestled in the mountainside of the village called Hohenschwangau which is about an hour's drive from Munich. It is one of the most magical sights in Germany.
View the behind the scenes travel vlog:
First stop is Schloss Hohenschwangau, which was the childhood residence of "mad" King Ludwig II of Bavaria. It was built by his father, King Maximilian II of Bavaria.
King Maximilian died in 1864 and his son Ludwig succeeded to the throne at the age of 18, moving into his father's room in the castle. As Ludwig never married, his mother Marie was able to continue living on her floor during the summer months. King Ludwig II enjoyed living in Hohenschwangau, however mostly in the absence of his disliked mother, especially after 1869 when the building of his own castle, Neuschwanstein, began on the site of the old Schwangau fortress, high above his parent's castle.
Tours and Photo Guide
Both castles are accessible only via guided tours which give you and inside look into the interior and the history. There is no photography allowed inside the castles, although many rooms are quite impressive. The exterior of the castles can be photographed from two prime locations. One is from the town below, which will give you a view of the alps. My favorite place to photograph the castles in all their glory is from the Marienbrücke bridge, which is where I got the below photo:
King Ludwig II lived in nearby Neuschwanstein, only a 15 minute tram ride away. It was built in Romanesque revival style, which later served as the inspiration for the Disneyland Castle. He used the castle as a personal retreat. Touring the castle, it is clear that the young king had quite an imagination. The rooms include the Throne Room, Cave Room, and Bedroom, as well as many stairs. King Ludwig II died mysteriously at age 40, and his castle now serves as a major tourist site, attracting roughly 1.3 million visitors annually.
What are your favorite castles to visit in Germany?
Budapest is the largest city in Hungary and one of my favorite cities to photograph. The city is bisected by the Danube River, that divides the hilly Buda district to the flat Pest side. It is noted for its architecture, including numerous art nouveau buildings lining the Danube and boulevards, old fashioned cafes and elegant bath houses. It is one of the few cities in Europe that I decided to revisit, since it is so unique and expansive that I was not able to cover everything on my first trip. Here is a guide to capturing the top photo-worthy places in this city.
Budapest City Tour and Vlog:
Top 15 Places to Photograph:
1. Keleti Rail Way 0:35 - A vintage and eclectic railway station and great spot for people watching.
2. Heroe's Square 0:58 - The largest square in Budapest.
3. Széchényi Baths - 1:13 - Budapest has more thermal springs than any other capital city in the world.
4. Synagogue - 1:38 - Budapest is home to the second largest synagogue in the world and the largest synagogue in Europe. The Dohány Street Synagogue can accommodate 3,000 worshipers. The synagogue was built between 1854 and 1859 in Neo-Moorish style.
5. Castle Hill - 1:45 - The funicular runs up to Buda's Old Town, where the Budapest History Museum traces city life from the Roman times onward. Buda Castle was first completed in 1265 and served as the palace complex of the Hungarian kings. Most visitors enter Buda Castle from Siklo funicular, but due to the long wait times, we walked to the top to get the panoramic views.
6. St. Matthias Cathedral - 2:25 - Trinity Square is home to the 13th Century St. Matthias Cathedral and Fishermen's Bastion, which offer panoramic views of the city. St. Matthias Church and the Fishermen's Bastion are among the most beloved sights in Budapest and the best places to photograph. Be sure to get there early to beat the crowds.
7. Fishermen's Bastion 2:44 - On the top of the old fortress walls, the Fishermen’s bastion was constructed between 1895-1902. It is named after the fishermen’s guild because according to customs in the middle ages this guild was in charge of defending this part of the castle wall. As a matter of fact it has never had a defending function. Done in neo-gothic style, the seven towers symbolize the seven chieftains, who conquered the land for the Hungarians. The Fishermen’s bastion greatly contributes to the cityscape and offers a breathtaking panorama on the Pest side.
8. Chain Bridge 3:30 - The iconic bridge spanning the Danube, connecting the Pest side to the Buda side.
When it comes to travel, I don't usually retrace my steps so whenever I do, it is saying a lot. It is also rare for me to revisit the same location within a 12 month time span, so this is double-saying a lot. But I decided to make an exception because the city is one of my all-time favorites - Munich. Also, it happened to be September which is the most festive time to visit because of Oktoberfest.
My first trip to Munich was only a year ago and I immediately took a liking to the great vibes of the city and lively traditions. However, my time was cut short since I only had a half day to see the sights on my river cruise tour. Since then, I tried to find ways of bringing Munich to me by recreating the Bavarian experience at home. I went through great lengths, including ordering the authentic sweet mustard on Amazon, attending the American version of Oktoberfest, and scouting out the rare and seemingly only German restaurant I could find in my area. But alas, there is no comparison. So I listened to my travel bug which nudged me back to Munich for another round (literally - prost!). This time, I took a Munich walking tour, which covers many off-the-beaten-path places, historical sights, and the best photography spots in the city.
Check Out the City Walking Tour Video:
Music Credit: "Ein Prosit" | All videos shot with iPhone 6 | Editing: iMovie
Here are the top 10 places to photograph in Munich:
1. U-Bahn - It is rare to want to take a metro ride just to see the station stops, but in Munich it is worth it. The station are colorful and photogenic. The metro system itself is easy and efficient and will whisk you away to our second photo shoot stop....
2. Marienplatz - The central plaza where you can watch the bell tower come alive with the Glockenspiel, which plays three times a day.
3. Hofbräuhaus - Das Original - German Beer, History, and Bavarian traditions. Of course, I could post a photo of the ubiquitous beer stein, but the ceilings and architecture were surprisingly cool too.
4. Max-Joseph Platz - The central square where you can find the royal residence and opera house. It is marked by the central statue of Maximilian who ruled Bavaria. That's a photo of our tour group :)
5. Viscardigasse - Without the City Tour, we wouldn't know the meaning behind these golden cobblestones. Our guide explained that the street commemorates the brave citizens who risked their lives to defy the Nazi movement. It's a hidden gem and meaningful photo opportunity.
6. Funf Hofe - The beautiful shopping street filled with alleyways and hanging gardens.
7. Munich Frauenkirche - The iconic church with the two "salt shaker" looking towers which can be seen from almost everywhere.
8. Englischer Garten - This park is larger than Central Park in New York, filled with music and wonderfully landscaped English gardens.
9. Feldherrnhalle - A central plaza where locals gather for festivities. It is also marked by the two lion statues.
10. Schloss Nymphenburg - The royal residence and summer palace built in 1664. The interior and exterior gardens are beautiful to photograph.
And... Last by not least....
Oktoberfest - This festival occurs from the last two weekends of September to the first weekend of October to commemorate the wedding of King Ludwig I, which was so extraordinary that they decided to celebrate it each year - and hence Oktoberfest was born. I went last year and the spirit of the festival, unity of people from around the world, and celebration of Bavarian culture was unmatched by any other festival.
What are your favorite places to photograph in Munich?
Innsbruck Austria is recognized world-wide as being one of the top winter sports destinations. It was even the site of two Winter Olympics, 1964 and 1976.
While it gets plenty of tourism for its world-class ski slopes, we chose to visit in summer and found that the crowded were smaller but the photography opportunities were incredible, as the city is surrounded by Alps and offers many observation points.
The two sights featured in this video are the Bergisel Ski Jump and the Alps Observation Skywalk:
Music: Lakey Inspired "Beyond" | Filmed with iPhone 6 | Edited with iMovie
1. Bergisel Ski Jump
Designed by acclaimed architect Zaha Hadid, the ski jump building is modern and avant garde with tall glass windows and panoramic views of the city below. Take the funicular to top (50 meters high!) where you can watch the ski jumpers literally fly as they take their jump. From May to October, you can watch the winter sports action from down below or up above. It is not every day that you get to see athletes jump from 50 meters high.
2. Drachenfelsen Observation Deck
There are a number of places to get a sky-high panoramic view in Innsbruck. For great views of the alps from an easy hiking vantage point, check out this modern glass sky-walk. I drove to the base of the trail-head and hiked an easy trek through the forest to reach this spot. Be sure to leave your vertigo at home!
Aside from those two spots, the city of Innsbruck is more like a town and filled with interesting churches and architecture. Just outside of the city is the Swarovski Factory which features whimsical art installations. Additionally, there are other remnants from the Olympics in Innsbruck including the Olympic Sports Arena to check out. Enjoy!
What are your favorite places to photograph in Innsbruck?
Welcome to the Squiggles Travels Photography Blog. Here, you will get ideas on places to photograph, as well as a sneak peak into the creative process behind our photo shoots and art.
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