IRELAND ITINERARY

It’s that time of the year again- time to satisfy our wanderlust needs 😉 Life is short, time is valuable so go ahead and BOOK THAT TRIP! We were craving NATURE and thought what is the one place in the world that’s lush and green? IRELAND! It’s known as the Emerald Isle-from rolling hills, resplendent greenery and rich landscape, it is the most healing and unparalleled scenery.

This itinerary is specifically for those looking for a relaxing, small town vibe getaway. Personally, we are not city people- cars with smog, tall skyscrapers, hustle and bustle= no thank you! We needed to immerse ourselves in nature to recharge so if that is the kind of vacation you are looking for, this is the itinerary for you! Special shoutout to my childhood friend, Ruby, for providing soooo many authentic recommendations

Here’s Some Advice…

LET’S GET STARTED WITH THE ITINERARY!

This is the exact loop we did. Keep on reading below to find the exact spots we visited.

DAY 1

Land in Dublin bright and early! Arriving early to a country is such a plus- TSA security, car rentals, money exchange will not be crowded and you can breeze through the process! I urge everyone to rent their own vehicle for convenience & I’ve listed the rental options above. From the airport, grab your first authentic Irish breakfast in Dublin at Lemon Jelly Cafe to fuel up for your first day road tripping. 

Now that your belly is full, make your way through Wicklow National Park to get to Glendalough. Throughout the national park, you will find your first sheep spotting! They’re happily grazing on grass and roaming wildly free so be mindful of the road and give them the right of way when you see them crossing. The Wicklow mountains is an impressive 54,000 acres and offers plenty of attractions along the scenic drive. From nature walks to epic waterfalls to ancient ruins, there is an activity for everyone. P.S the weather here is changeable so plan and dress accordingly- it can get pretty windy!

GLENDALOUGH

You will only need 1-3 hours to stroll through this town. That will give you plenty of time to explore the iconic roundtower, church ruins and visitor center. There are a ton of walking trails to choose from- Glendalough Spinc Walk, Upper/Lower Lake Circular, The Woodland Road and The Derrybawn Woodland Trail. St. Kevin’s Kitchen is a snack truck parked right outside Glendalough Cathedral’s entrance and there’s outdoor seating along the river- it’s a lovely spot to drink some coffee & rest! Once you’re done exploring Glendalough, make your way to Kilkenny!

KILKENNY

Head over to Kilkenny in the early afternoon to give yourself plenty of time to check in and explore the town because there is plenty to do here. We stayed at the Kilkenny Rivercourt Hotel. They surprised us with a complimentary upgrade to a castle view room & I couldn’t be more grateful because I honestly couldn’t stop staring at the insane view! The downside to this hotel is the bathroom and carpet. For a 4 star hotel, I don’t think it’s up to its standards and could use some remodeling/deep cleaning, but maybe I’m just being too nit-picky. There are plenty of accommodations to choose from in Kilkenny, but I can promise you, none of them will beat this balcony view!

Kilkenny is the former medieval capital of Ireland. This town dates back to the 6th century. Spend your day strolling through the city center. Walk through The Butter Slip Alley– a quirky little alley built in 1616. This alley was used by butter merchants to sell their products because the space was so small it kept a low temperature. There is also a store called Butterslip with locally made products where you can buy gifts. Didn’t pack enough clothes? Visit Market Cross Shopping Center. There’s reasonably priced shops or stop by Penneys- it’s got everything you need at an extremely affordable price.

As for food, you’re in luck! Kilkenny has a ton of options! Grab dinner at Campagne / FoodWorks / Lady Helen for luxurious Michelin star meals, Petronella Cafe for a delicious, moderately priced meal (amazing & extensive vegan/ vegetarian options) or The Fig Tree for a casual cafe vibe with traditional Irish dishes. Craving a pint? How could you not in Ireland? Grab a pint at Kytler’s Inn. It was established in 1324 & this pub is filled with history and charm! You must grab dessert at Cakeface Patisserie– this little shop has homemade soup, bread, and best of all, fancy cakes that are works of art. The dessert presentation and flavor deserves a Michelin star! I recommended the Passionfruit Nut and Miss Lemony Rose- I wish I ordered one of everything.

DAY 2

Jetlag can be a bitch, but I’m telling you it is worth waking up early to get your day started here in Kilkenny!  The good thing about traveling during Fall/Winter is that sunrise is much later in the day and that will give you time to sleep in (just a little bit). Our hotel accommodation came with complimentary breakfast with a view of the castle. It did not feel real to eat and stare out at that view and you guessed it, I indulged in another full Irish breakfast!

Spend the early morning at Kilkenny Castle to avoid the crowds. The current admission price is €8 adults / €4 child (both are for self guided visits) Check this website for admission updates. If you’re not keen on spending money to enter the castle, you can opt to stroll the exterior for free! Kilkenny Castle dates all the back to 1172 AD. There is plenty of space on the grounds for families with kids to play and run around. We had a lovely time sitting on the benches admiring the architecture. For history lovers, head across the road to Kilkenny Medieval Mile Museum located inside St. Mary’s Church to dig deeper into the history. The museum is quite small, however there are original artifacts, renaissance tombs and medieval sculptures inside. You can opt for expert tour guides or do your own interactive audio tour. The entrance fee is extremely affordable- 5€ per adult, 2€ Child. Visit St. Canice Cathedral to see the gothic 13th century cathedral. It is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny and you can actually climb the round tower.

Rock of Cashel 

Once you’ve fully explored Kilkenny, hop back on the road to your new destination! As you make your way to a new town, stop by Rock of Cashel- do not skip it!! It’s worth the pitstop. Rock of Cashel admission is free, however you will need an online reservation. There is free street parking right below the uphill climb to the site. It’s a magnificent site & I HIGHLY recommend this attraction. Fun fact: Two of the most famous people of Irish legend and history are associated with the Rock of Cashel. They are St. Patrick whom according to legend, arrived in Cashel in AD 432 and baptized King Aengus who became Ireland’s first Christian ruler.

Cork

From Rock of Cashel, we quickly drove through Cork- you can even opt to stay the night here because Cork is the second largest city in Ireland and there’s so much to explore here. We were short on time and could only pick one attraction and ended up choosing Black Rock Castle Observatory (photo above) It’s a great place to bring lunch and admire the scenery from a picnic bench. Here are some top attractions in Cork that were on the top of my list: Blarney Castle , The English Market, Gleview Garden & Fairy Trail and St. Fin Barre Cathedral

Killarney

Killarney is the next town we stayed overnight. It is a long trek from Kilkenny so you will most likely arrive late afternoon/night. We checked into a quaint airbnb listing and was greeted by a very warm host! The location of the home is a short 10 minute drive to town center and the host even provides a lovely breakfast. Take the night to explore Killarney town center, shop for goodies (there is a Primark/ Penneys), feast on fresh seafood and grab ice cream at Murphy’s . This ice cream company uses all real, fresh ingredients straight from the farm, free range eggs, and organic sugar! Our favorite flavors were gin and soda bread. Killarney is a town on the shores so I highly recommended choosing a seafood spot. We went with our host’s recommendation and had dinner at Kitty O’Se’s Seafood and Grill

We spontaneously decided to visit Ross Castle VERY late at night… Ross Castle is open to the public, free of admission. It 100% feels like you’re in a horror film at night… don’t go alone and be cautious of your surroundings if you do decide to visit at night.

P.S While you’re in Killarney, give Murphy’s Irish Stout a try! It was our very first time trying it and oh my, it is the best beer I’ve ever tasted! & I am NOT a fan of any kind of beer- it truly reminds me of fraternity houses, but Murphy’s Irish Stout was so well made and the flavor was delicious.

DAY 3

Killarney National Park

Top of the morning to ya! Killarney is known for their beautifully lush national park so start your day off in nature! I highly recommend visiting Torc waterfall. There are 2 ways to reach it- the easy way & not so easy way… for Torc Waterfall, park at the lower lot (Ring of Kerry Rd / N71) for a short 5 min stroll to the waterfall or park at the upper lot for the trail we went on! The upper car park can be accessed by leaving the N71 about 1km earlier and following the road as it steadily ascends through the woods. Google maps brought us to this parking lot so we ended up having to hike 1.5 hours each way to reach this waterfall! The trail is long and strenuous, but extremely rewarding so if you’re up for a medium-strenuous hike, this is for you! FYI the lower car park is quite small and gets filled up quickly- I recommend going early in the morning.

Storytime… I was told this was a 5 minute stroll so I got dressed up in a cashmere sweater + tulle maxi skirt with a huge peacoat to get some cute content. However, we ended up parking at the wrong lot and was stuck doing a 4 hour hike. By the time we reached the waterfall, I was a sweaty mess and had no desire to get the instagrammable shot, ha!

Although we went on the wrong trail, I have no regrets because I discovered so many cool gems throughout the hike. Hikes in LA are SO bland, but this hike was filled up with abundance! The trees here are mossy, there’s a variety of cool looking mushrooms and every tree root, branch all holds a unique story. I couldn’t get enough of Mother Nature!

After all the huffin and puffin, you’ll want to fuel up so head back to Killarney town center for some food. I tasted the most decadent & scrumptious shepard’s pie from The Laurel’s Pub

For those spending more time in Killarney, the Ring of Kerry is a beautiful coastal loop that you can do in one afternoon. I recommend this guide here to plan out your Ring of Kerry adventures! From here, go along the Wild Atlantic Way up to your next iconic destination, Cliffs of Moher.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher attract more than 1 million tourists each year. It is located right off the R478 & free to enter! But, parking is $10€ per person, NOT per vehicle so it’s basically your entrance fee because there’s no where else to park there. These cliffs are estimated to have formed 320 million years ago- mindblown! We went for sunset on a very gloomy day, which kinda added to the whole Irelend mood. It gets extremely windy so bring a large coat when you visit! The photos above sums up our visit- those are the only photos we got because everything was getting blown over!

Fun fact: The makers of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince used Cliffs of Moher as inspiration for the scene where Dumbledore and Harry are off to find one of the Horocrux in the cave.

Right after sunset, we headed to the town of Doolin to get our grub on at Gus O’Connor’s Pub! It was a delicious 5 star meal-ordered the fresh Atlantic Mussels soaked in white wine & cream sauce, prime Hereford Sirloin steak with peppercorn sauce and a classic Guinness.

DAY 4

DOOLIN

Doolin is the perfect town to stop at after you visit Cliffs of Moher (only 12 minutes away) We stayed the night in a lovely airbnb linked HERE.  Doolin itself is a quaint little village, extremely small & you only really need 15 minutes to stroll through or even just do a quick drive by so I suggest grabbing a cup of coffee here in the morning and head out early for a fun filled day.

Poulnabrone Dolmen

Poulnabrone Dolmen is one of the most famous portal tombs in Ireland! This archeological site is a relic of the Neolithic Age. “Neolithic” means “New Stone Age,” when agriculture emerged in Ireland. It’s also the period of the megaliths, the great stone monuments that dot the landscape of Western Europe. The dolmen itself is made of limestone slabs. A pair of portal stones– the large upright stones at the dolmen’s entrance and two smaller standing stones support the capstone, which slants downward from the front to the rear to create a chamber. We know the dolmen was a tomb, because archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of at least thirty individuals and from the bone fragments we can tell that the dead bodies were already decomposed when they were moved into the chamber around 3000 BC.

There is a spacious parking lot for visitors and only requires a short 5 minute stroll to this site. There is a rope barrier that prevents anyone from getting too close to the monument. Please be respectful and stay behind it. I recommend wearing hiking shoes with good traction when visiting- the limestone rocks jut out the ground and the terrain is very rugged.

Galway

Spend the afternoon in Galway! Galway is a bustling Irish city filled with so much to do- it’s the place to be! First stop is the Latin Quarter– the lively city center is packed with quirky shops, cobblestone roads, traditional pubs and street performers- you can really feel the Irish spirit here. Grab breakfast or mid afternoon tea at Cupan Tae or Coffeewerk + Press. Looking to eat at a Traveler’s Choice Award? Eat at Ard Bia at Nimmo’s. For a more down to earth family owned restaurant, check out McCambridge’s. For authentic pubs, hit up Tigh Neachtain or Tig Coili.

Salthill Promenade is a short drive outside the city center and here you will discover the beautiful seaside. It is the perfect place to take a stroll beside the ocean, stop by the amusement park for some thrill or take a dip in the ocean.

If you have time to explore the surrounding area, visit or stay the night at Ballynahinch Castle– super dreamy, luxurious setting with a lake. Another destination nearby is Dog’s Lake which is known as the most beautiful beach in Ireland There are amazing shades of blue (only when the sun is shining brightly) so if you’re looking to take a dip in the ocean this is where you should go!

CLIFDEN RUINS

We headed to Clifden Ruins for a scenic sunset walk and this was by far my FAVORITE activity in Ireland! Make sure to park out on Sky Road located right before the castle’s entrance gate. You will need proper footwear for this trail as it gets extremely muddy when it rains.

As you walk on the muddy trail, there are private farm lands all around you with sheep, cows, and horses! What made this trail so unique is the wildlife, view of the sea, and ancient castle all combined within a short distance. The ruin is worth a visit- the outside walls are still intact with vines taking over however, I’d say it is pretty unsafe to wander inside the ruin because it has been abandoned for so long. Be a daredevil and carefully roam inside or if you’re like me, just admire it from the exterior.

WESTPORT

Spent the night in Westport- a charming seaside town. In 1767 Westport became the first planned town in Ireland so you’ll find stone bridges, and tree-lined promenades on the banks of the Carrowbeg River. Many visit this town to do the Croagh Patrick trek. This is a pilgrimage for many- Croagh Patrick is considered to be Ireland’s holiest mountain, and renowned for its Patrician Pilgrimage in honor of Saint Patrick, Ireland’s patron Saint. For those spending more time here, stop by the Westport House, which is a heritage home museum, amusement park, campground, and train ride rolled all into one. 

DAY 5

CABRA CASTLE

When in Ireland… You MUST stay overnight in a castle and live out your fairytale dreams. After a ton of research, we went with Cabra Castle and you can read more about our experience HERE! And yes, I packed a whole gown in my carry on luggage just so I can capture my princess moment.

DAY 6

DUBLIN

Our last stop, Dublin, the capital city bursting with awesome things to see and do. Go to Guinness Storehouse Factory to learn how to pour the perfect pint. Built in 1759, the Guinness Storehouse has been producing stout beer for its patrons. Step back in time at Dublin Castle. Dating back to the early 13th century, the Vikings established their headquarters in this medieval structure. Visit Trinity College Library– the largest library in all of Ireland. Its most famous section, known as The Long Room, has been known to resemble the Jedi Archives in Star Wars. See St. Patrick’s Cathedral, founded in 1191, it is known as the largest church in all of Ireland. Take a selfie at one of the easiest monuments to spot from afar, The Spire stands approximately 120 meters above ground. Walk across Ha’Penny Bridge, a cast iron bridge built in 1816 that carried a lot of history and people across Liffey River.

There are endless pubs and restaurants to choose from in Dublin. I recommend The Boxty House or Brother Hubbard– both featured on Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil S2. E2. episode. Some local pub favorites are Kehoe’s Bar, The Palace Bar, and The Long Hall.

I hope you found this guide helpful and please let me know down below your favorite spots in Ireland!

XO, Soph

Cabra Castle Hotel

Growing up, I was raised on Disney films! I’d get dressed up in princess gowns & dreamed of staying in a castle one day. Well… that dream came to life in IRELAND! It took me 20 years to realize that these real historical castles are the original inspiration to all those films I watched. I can promise you that it is truly a bucket list worthy experience at Cabra Castle! The next time you visit Ireland, treat yourself & indulge in a majestical castle experience.  

Cabra Castle History

Cabra Castle is one of the best known 4 star castle hotels in Ireland! It dates back to 1699 with 100 acres of beautifully manicured gardens and parkland to the magnificent 19th century. You will be taken back to a castle only seen in fairytales as you enter the long sweeping drive inside the grounds. From the outside, you will admire the grandeur and design of the castle. The English Ivy that climbs the wall was a plus (especially during Fall peak season) When you step inside, it’s like you’re walking back hundreds of years with all the historical artifacts and history seeping through the walls. A perk to this hotel is that you will most certainly be greeted and surrounded by the 2 Irish Wolfhounds that roam freely on property.

I fully lived out my princess dreams here at Cabra Castle and here is my review!

LOCATION

Cabra Castle is situated in the north-east of Ireland. Located only 1 hour from Dublin, the castle stands on the borders of County Monaghan, County Meath and County Cavan.

Address: Carrickmacross Rd, Cormey, Kingscourt, Co. Cavan, A82 EC64, Ireland

PRICE 

Cabra rates are on the affordable end (for a 4 star castle…) It ranges from 150€ to 350€ per night. The price of the room will depend on the accommodation options- main rooms in the castle, courtyard lodges, or cottages. All 3 types of rooms are located inside the property, however courtyard lodges and cottages are NOT inside the main castle. We booked directly on their website, chose a night in the castle and the total was 260€. Click here to book a night!

BEDROOM

You do not get the option to choose which room you stay in, but from what I could see on the map of the grounds, we lucked out with a luxurious corner suite. Room 35 was tucked away in the corner with a separate mini staircase that leads up to the entrance. You get the privacy and seclusion you need, all while staying inside a magnificent castle.

Personally, I love that the bedroom was a blend of modern and royalty decor. There was a couch, desk, dining table, The bedroom had a cal king mattress and the sheets were unbelievably soft. There was a little walk in closet that reminded me of Harry Potter’s cupboard- it was a bit creepy in there.

Bathroom was shockingly spacious with a bathtub and waterfall shower. I treated myself to a bubble bath and it was a night of bliss!

The Courtroom Restaurant

At Cabra Castle, you can easily have the royal dining experience. You have 2 options for the dinner menu: 2 course (37.50 € ) or 5 course meal (46 € )

To be 100% honest with you, the meal was decent. Don’t expect Michelin stars, unique plating, quirky flavors in the dishes. You will get well cooked, traditional recipes that cater towards the older generations that stick to what they know and are comfortable with. Every single dish was appetizing and filling, bu my tastebuds weren’t impressed. The portion is very generous- my steak came in 2 huge pieces. It’s definitely an indulgence to book a meal here but personally, if I were to stay at the castle again, I’d be happy eating a cup ramen in my bedroom! 

Money Saving Tip: If you are on a tight budget or just want to be more money conscious, pack your own food to eat in the bedroom- instant noodles, oatmeal packet, etc

THE ULTIMATE FLORENCE GUIDE

Firenze! One of the most beautiful and historically significant cities in the world. Founded in the first century BCE, the birthplace of Renaissance, this Italian city has an abundance of historical aesthetics and attractions, rich in culture, food, people and well preserved monuments. This quaint city attracts around 10 million tourists a year is a UNESCO World Heritage site and every inch of this city has a rustic aesthetic etched in the walls and cobblestone streets. Florence is a MUST when you are visiting Italy & I’ve got the perfect guide for you.

WHERE IS IT?

Located in the heart of Tuscany, Florence sits in north central Italy right in between Rome and Venice. It is a 1 hour and 30 min train ride from Rome and 2 hour train ride from Venice.

TRANSPORT ME HERE!

Florence is a relatively easy destination to get to. Because it is the most populous city in Tuscany, there are many ways to get here! 

FLY 

Amerigo Vespucci Airport is located directly in Florence- how convenient! From the airport, you can reach the main central station within 15 minutes by taking the T1 Tram. Average one-way ticket costs 1.5 EUR ($1.80) 

Galileo Galilei International Airport is located in Pisa. Flights into Pisa are less expensive, so this could be an option if you’re on a tight budget. A high speed train takes around 50 minutes from Pisa to get to Florence. 

TRAIN

Personally, it is the best form of transportation in Europe- comfortable & cost-effective! Opt for the train if you’re coming from other parts of Italy. The train will take you directly to the Firenze Santa Maria Novella Train Station, which is located in downtown Florence. It’s only a 2 hour ride from Rome or Venice. Book through Trenitalia or Italo for the best deals.

DRIVE

Driving into historic center Florence is a bit tricky for tourists. Not only are you driving on the opposite side of the car, but also there are restricted traffic zones, which means the center is closed to car traffic and ONLY residents, buses, & taxis can use the streets. Without a special permit, you could be fined for driving into zona a traffico limitato (ZTL) One option is to inform your hotel in advance so they can arrange a special permit for you!

GETTING AROUND FLORENCE

Easiest way is to walk! I promise you will easily get your 10,000 steps in by noon everyday. The cobblestone streets make it a bit more difficult, so wear a solid pair of walking shoes. There are buses that you can take, but Florence is truly a work of art in every corner- by walking  you’ll discover so much more in every little corners and streets. 

Avoid driving in Florence. Parking is hard to come by. Leave your car parked at the hotel and get your lazy butt up!  

SIGHTS TO SEE IN FLORENCE!


PIAZZALE MICHELANGELO

Address: Piazzale Michelangelo, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ohhhhh you will want to come here every single day because the panoramic skyline of Florence is unreal! Highly recommend coming during sunrise to have the whole place to yourself & watch this historic city glow up! Check out the photoshoot we did here (if you recreate the same pose, be sure to tag me so I can give it some love on Instagram!)

It is around a 25 minute walk from city center. There is a steep hill you’ll have to climb (great butt exercise) If you’re feeling lazy, you can take a bus or drive to the top. Click here to find the right bus line that takes you here.

Giardino Delle Rose

Stop and smell the roses- take a moment to yourself & appreciate how lucky you are to be in Italy! This gorgeous rose garden is located right below Piazzale Michelangelo & it’s completely free! Who doesn’t love a free attraction? This garden was created in 1865 with over 400 varieties of roses.  

THE DUOMO & CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE

Address: Piazza del Duomo, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

Did you really visit Florence if you didn’t get a photo in front of the Duomo? Hands down the most iconic landmark in Florence. The Duomo is part of the Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore and dates all the way back to the 13th century. The dome is an architectural feat and built without scaffolding! Now take in the grandness here because it is considered one of the world’s marvel! 

Cathedral of Santa Maria Del Fiore:

Free entrance. I highly recommend going in and exploring the underground area called The Crypt of Santa Reparata.

The Duomo

There is always a huge line that wraps around the corner so make sure to buy the Grande Museo Del Duomo ticket, which allows you to climb up the dome, bell tower, museum & Baptistery. You will get admission to all 5 monuments in Piazza Duomo. This must be reserved in advance online with a specific time slot. Time slot cannot be changed so choose wisely. Click here to buy your ticket- the pricing is 20 EUR ($24) for adults

Personally, I do not think it is worth paying a fee to climb up to the top of the Duomo. All you see from the top are terra cotta rooftops of the whole town, while Piazzale Micahengelo gives you a much better view for FREE. FYI there’s 463 steps… each way..

PONTE VECCHIO

Address: Ponte Vecchio, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Ponte Vecchio, translation means the old bridge and actually the very first bridge to cross the Arno River. The bridge was once filled with butcher shops and they’d toss the unwanted  leftover meat into the river, but nowadays, it is home to souvenir/jewelry shops.

PIAZZA DELLA SIGNORIA

Address: P.za della Signoria, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

This L-shaped square in Florence has a reputation of being the center of political focus of the city since the 14th century! There are important buildings in this palazza- a fortress like city hall that dominates the square, the David statue by Michaelangelo was placed outside here as a symbol of the Republic’s defiance of the tyrannical Medici and Loggia Dei Lanzi, an open-air museum showcasing famou Renaissance sculptures. You will be sure to find lively events going on every night from beautiful orchestras, fashion shows, art installations or street performances. 

MERCATO CENTRALE 

Address: Piazza del Mercato Centrale, Via dell’Ariento, 50123 Firenze FI, Italy

Can’t decide what to eat? This is the place to go to! This central market has options galore! The first floor is an open marketplace where you can buy all your groceries. They have fresh meat, cheese, truffle, seasonings, anything you can think of! The second floor has SO many vendors that can whip up a quick bite for you. There’s sandwiches, pasta, ice cream, juices, salads, etc. Mercato Centrale can feel a bit overwhelming if I’m being completely honest. Sometimes when there’s too many options, it’s tough to make a decision. Avoid coming here right at peak lunch/dinner time!

PHOTOBOOTH

Address: Piazza della Stazione 56r Florence, ITA 50123 or Via dell’Agnolo & Via Giuseppe Verdi

You’ll see some old school photobooths spread out all over Florence (see if you can find all 5!) Hop in one to capture some silly memories with each other. B&W, 4 per strip, €2.00

PITTI PALACE & BOBOLI GARDENS

Address: Piazza de’ Pitti, 1, 50125 Firenze FI, Italy

Pitti Palace

This palace was the symbol of the Medici Family’s power over Tuscany. Originally built in 1457, the famous Medici Family purchased it in 1549. This palace is divided into 4 museums: the Treasury of the Grand Dukes (ground floor), the Palatine Gallery and the Imperial and Royal Apartments (first floor), the Gallery of Modern Art and the Museum of Costume and Fashion (second floor) 

Regular Ticket Fee: 16 € /  Closed on Mondays 

Boboli Garden

This garden sits behind the palace. It is a historical open air museum with tons of statues, fountains and lush landscaping. It has been said that Boboli is what inspired the gardens at Versailles Palace. As you explore, there is a space that houses a little pink building- from there, you can see a panoramic view of Florence and the countryside. You can also stop by the Grottos, which has sculptures and fresco painting amongst stalactites. It’s the perfect space to roam around and get lost in! 

Regular Ticket Fee: 10 €

UFFIZI GALLERY

Address: Piazzale degli Uffizi, 6, 50122 Firenze FI, Italy

This gallery is home to priceless works of art! It is the second largest museum in Italy and houses a large collection Renaissance art gifted by the Medici family on the condition that these pieces never leave Florence. The name Uffizi translates into ‘offices’ and the museum is actually housed in a 16th century government office. Buy tickets ahead of time to skip the long lines. Click here to buy your tickets online!

Regular Ticket Fee: 20 €

WHERE TO EAT

All’Antico Vinaio ($): craving a panini? Check this palace out! Those on a tight budget, this spot is for you- SO cheap. No seating-  I recommend taking it to your airbnb or find a bench and have a picnic!

Il Nutino ($): Cozy, 1950s venue with frescoed decor & wooden beams. I had the BEST Linguine Vongole (Spaghetti with clams) and I still crave this dish soooo much.

Trattoria Toscana Gozzi Sergio ($): a local’s favorite! If you want an inexpensive, authentic Tuscan meal, this place is for you! There is outdoor seating along the side of San Lorenzo Basilica. The pasta with ragu, Pepeso- slow cooked beef with pepper and red wine sauce here is unreal. They are only open for 3-5 hours everyday so I recommend getting there before opening to get a seat before it fills up.

La Prosciutteria Firenze ($): who doesn’t love wine and an epic cheese plate? Come here for an impressive charcuterie board and a cute vintage sidewalk set up.

 Trattoria Mario ($$): family run eatery with unique handwritten menu on the wall. Get in here before noon and be prepared to share a table with other parties. Popular order here is the Florentine Steak & you can always ask what they’d recommend or look around to see what other people are ordering

Trattoria Sostanza ($$$): The history of the Florentine steak is as old as the Italian city of Florence. The steak is cut from the veal loin and in Tuscany, the animal has to be a Chianina breed- the oldest breed used for heavy work by the Romans. Food here may be pricy, but cooked to perfection!

La Terrazza Rooftop Bar ($$$): I don’t think there is any other bar that can top this location- rooftop floor of the medieval Consorti tower surrounded by impeccable Tuscan views. You’re def paying for the view… its steep in prices

GROM – Il Gelato ($): One of the best chain gelaterias in the world. Endless mouthwatering flavors to choose from and high quality ingredients.

WHERE TO STAY 

Florence has an abundance of Airbnbs AND hotels to choose from. Luckily, a couple of the Airbnb’s even have epic rooftop views of The Duomo from the living room! I’ve listed the ones that are on my bucketlist for the next visit . There is a huge range in prices- you can easily find budget places for $50/ night to $500 luxury hotels. Depending on your budget, there is a space for everyone!

BALCONY DUOMO VIEW ($)

MODERN ARTSY AIRBNB ($)

ROMANTIC ITALIAN SPACE with PARTIAL DUOMO VIEW ($)

MODERN SPACE WITH DUOMO VIEW ($$)

LUXURY DUOMO VIEW ($$$)

DAY TRIPS FROM FLORENCE

Florence is an excellent city to use as a homebase. Feel free to go on epic day trips/ weekend getaways! Trains are so accessible in Italy and is the perfect transportation to take for day trips. Check out the list of day trip ideas!

PISA : Read my A Day In Pisa guide here!

CINQUE TERRE– I’ve got a whole guide on the 5 coastal towns here! You MUST visit here on your trip!! Click here!

TUSCANY: SO many Tuscan towns to choose from- I’ve listed my favorites that stand out!

  • SAN GIMIGNANO: the postcard village of the Tuscan hill towns! Whole town is surrounded by 13th century walls and in the heart of San Gimignano is filled with museums, churches, small local shops. Honestly, we came here for the world famous, award winning gelato shop: Gelateria Dondoli. It tasted like any other gelato in Italy… haha still very delicious! However, we stumbled upon the cutest meat and cheese shop with created by the most passionate & kind butcher! Despite the language barrier, he gave us an interactive one on one experience that was unforgettable!

Dine at Da I’ Mariani ( Address: Via di Quercecchio, 19, 53037 San Gimignano SI, Italy) The charcuterie board is absolute perfection here! Also, buy a bottle of Truffle Honey- it’s soooo worth it!

  • BOLOGNA: Only half an hour from Florence by train, Bologna is one of the most underrated cities in Italy. The cuisine is one of the main reasons to visit Bologna, and it’s well worth taking a food tour  here. You can even tour a Gelato Museum and MAKE your own!!! HOW COOL. Piazza Maggiore is the main square and one of the top Bologna attractions. Here you’ll find the Basilica di San Petronio and a 16th-century Neptune Fountain built by Flemish sculptor Giambologna.
  • SIENA: This city is well known for its gorgeous architecture and beautiful main square – the Piazza del Campo. Explore the medieval streets and admire the premier examples of Gothic churches and palaces. You must see the magnificent Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta that was constructed in the 13th century, Palazzo Pubblico, & Biblioteca Piccolomini. I personally had a blast at the Torture Museum ( Opening hours: everyday from 10 to 7om / Tickets: 10 € )

Dine at Ristorante Tar- Tufo- restaurant that specializes in TRUFFLE. Need I say more? If you’re going to splurge on one meal in Italy, this is the place to go for luxury dining. They put a lot of effort into the presentation of the dish, the flavors are on point and the lovely outdoor terrace has a beautiful view of Siena.

  • MODENA: Modena is the home of balsamic vinegar! Visit Acetaia di Giorgio, a family run business that’s been making vinegar for the past 130 years and the tradition is passed down each generation.

Dine at three-Michelin-star Osteria Francescana– owned and run by chef Massimo Bottura. It has been named as one of the world’s best 50 restaurants! This restaurant has been featured in Chef’s Table and Somebody Feed Phil for those interested in seeing what they serve before making a reservation (Netflix shows!)

Follow me on instagram for more daily content!

XO, Soph

A DAY IN PISA

Did you know the Leaning Tower of Pisa is in Italy? That’s why it is italicized! And aren’t you surprised the tower of Pisa hasn’t fallen over during the pandemic… without all those tourists helping hold it up! Ok all jokes aside, Pisa is one of the most famous cities in Tuscany. Being less than 1 hour away from Florence, the city is a must-stop on your Italian itinerary. It was once a major seaport, but nowadays Pisa is known for the Leaning Tower. I would say 4-5 hours in Pisa is the perfect amount of time to spend here. Keep on reading to learn more about my recommendations!

GET ME HERE!

The train is the best way to get to Pisa. Train ticket from Florence is 8.70 € ($10) one way, with trains traveling every 20 minutes.

Fly into Galileo Galilei International Airport of Pisa– located only 1 kilometer southwards from the center of the city. The train between Pisa Airport and Pisa Centrale station takes just 5 mins. 

Buses are the cheapest of all transport options and many link the main Italian and Tuscan cities and towns to Pisa. There are three bus operators servicing the tourist platform of Pisa- Autolinee Lazzi, Compagnia Pisana Trasporti, CLAP.

GETTING AROUND PISA

Your best bet is to simply walk. Get your daily steps in! Another fun way to discover Pisa is by bike. Bikes are available for rent at Pisa Centrale where you also find a good luggage deposit service. There are buses available that takes you around the city- individual tickets are very affordable and can be bought from newsstands and ticket offices

SIGHTS TO SEE

LEANING TOWER OF PISA

Realistically, we are all only stopping in Pisa to see the leaning tower. The famous Leaning Tower of Pisa is a short walk away from the station and the route will take you directly through the city centre. Many tourists are surprised to see that the Leaning Tower is actually a part of a larger religious complex on the Square of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli). Right next to the Tower, you’ll find an impressive cathedral and baptistery. Access to the square is FREE, but access to specific attractions is ticketed. Visit the inside of the tower and go all the way to the top to enjoy the view over Pisa. The climb is 251 steps up FYI. Book your ticket in advance here!

A bit of history… Construction began in August 1173 and eventually completed in the mid-1300s. It was originally built as a freestanding tower bell for the nearby cathedral 850 years ago and is now an attraction on its own. WHY does the tower lean? Thanks to the soft ground, it had begun to lean by the time its builders got to the third story in 1178. Shifting soil had destabilized the tower’s foundations. Over the next 800 years, it became clear the 55-metre tower wasn’t just leaning, but was actually falling at a rate of one to two millimeters per year. Today, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is more than five meters off perpendicular. Due to this flaw, it’s the reason why the city is so famous.

TIP: the large crowds here can be so overwhelming. Get here in the early mornings to have the place to yourself! Don’t forget to do a CHEESY, stereotypical tourist pose here!

CATHEDRAL OF SANTA MARIA ASSUNTA

Construction on the cathedral started in 1063 and it boasts fascinating Pisan Romanesque architecture. It encapsulates diverse styles and highlights the international influence on the city- classical, Lombard-Emilian, Byzantine and Islamic. The Duomo di Pisa is the largest building of the religious complex on this square and like the tower, has clearly sunken into the ground. The most impressive thing is the gold plated ceiling inside!The cathedral is FREE to visit IF you have bought a ticket to any of the other buildings of the complex (Leaning Tower or Baptistery and Camposanto)

ARNO RIVER

The Arno River, which also flows through the nearby city of Florence, cuts through Pisa and offers an incredibly stunning view. Lugarno are the roads along the banks of the river and this is a wonderful road to stroll along to bring you past some iconic sights in Pisa. Take some time to pop into charming cafes, bars or have a picnic alongside the river.

THE KNIGHTS’ SQUARE OF PISA / PIAZZA DEI CAVALIERI

Piazza dei Cavalieri is a landmark in Pisa, Italy, and the second main square of the city. It was once used to be the heart of the city where everybody would gather around to discuss political/ everyday matters. The square was known as the Square of the seven streets (Piazza delle sette vie).

On the square, you’ll see the beautiful Palazzo della Carovana and the Church of Santo Stefano dei Cavalieri. The Order of the Knights of St. Stephen used the palace as headquarters. Cosimo I de’ Medici, the first Grand Duke of Tuscany, founded this order to fight the pirates in the Mediterranean Sea in the 16th century.

CHURCH OF SANTA MARIA DELLA SPINA

Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina is a small 14th-century church in a Pisan Gothic style. The church’s name has a special history: ‘spina’ means ‘thorn’ and the church is said to have hosted one of the thorn of Jesus’ crown

WHERE TO EAT

Filter Coffee Lab: industrial style cafe with outdoor courtyard. Grab some delicious espresso and pastries in the morning before you start your exploration around Pisa!

I Porci Comodi: offer really awesome appetizer platters with a great local selection of meat, ham, sausages, cheese and bread. A popular spot so be ready for long queue and long waiting time

Il Ristoro della Pe’ : Authentic atmosphere, Italian cuisine food is cooked right in front of you , off the main tourist route

Ristorante Alle Bandierine:  very popular with the locals which is always a good sign! Portion size are quite large, fresh pasta & house wine that will leave you wanting more

L’ Ostellino: a tiny hole in the wall spot away from the tourist traps! Has a wide range of paninis prepared freshly and quickly. Also very reasonably priced!

Pasticceria Cioccorocolato : endless desserts and pastries!

Gelateria De’ Coltelli : Come here for gelato- they offer different flavors everyday and is an award winning place!

Looking for daily content? You can find me on Instagram @sophcation

CA Gold Rush

We’ve all heard of the 49ers right? No no, I’m not referring to the San Francisco football team… I’m talking about something else! The 49ers- a nickname given to the miners that took part in the 1849 California Gold Rush. 

Located in the Northeastern area in CA, the historic Highway 49 passes through the old mining communities that have been very well preserved. Go on a roadtrip through this highway to travel back in time to the sights of these mining towns! It’s perfect for families with kids as there are tons of interactive mining activities to experience, for history lovers that want to take a step back in time, for architectural lovers to admire different structures and couples looking to get a change of scenery. 

HISTORY

A glimpse of history… On Jan 24,1848, James Wilson Marshall, a carpenter from NJ found flakes of gold in the American River at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains. This moment instantly changed California- leading to the largest immigration in US history! Word got out worldwide- migrants from Chile, China, Peru, Brazil, Caribbeans etc spent their life savings to make the trek to CA to pursue their dream of gaining immense wealth! People dreamed of striking big and living a prosperous life and California experienced a huge rapid economic growth. Because of this event, a total of $2 billion worth of precious metals was extracted during the Gold Rush period.

AWARENESS

Although the Gold Rush was a significant event that has shaped our history, it is IMPORTANT we recognize the shameful parts of our past as it created dark devastation to the Native Americans community. The Gold Rush was a heinous chapter in CA history & I personally find it important to address and spread more awareness on the whole truth before we get to the fun sights and itinerary.

First, all the mining, specifically hydraulic mining, destroyed the regions landscape. It ruined fertile land for native farmers, choked the rivers with sediments, ultimately destroying crops, making it extremely difficult for Native Americans to survive and eventually became victims of starvation.

Second, violence, discrimination and genocide against Native Americans were carried out. Hundreds of Native Americans were enslaved and used as laborers and makeshift militia for James Marshall (the one who found flakes of gold) to defend his territory and expand his empire. Mass massacres wiped out tribal populations (9,000-16,000 were murdered in cold blood), children were forced to attend “Indian Assimilation School,” and people caught diseases that were brought in from overseas. 80% of Native Americans were wiped out 20 years later, specifically the Nisenan Maidu and Miwok tribes, and by 1870, only 30,000 Native Americans remained in CA, most of them on reservations WITHOUT access to their homelands. 

This part of the history shouldn’t be overlooked or avoided because ignoring our history doesn’t make the situation disappear. There can only be progress by confronting the truth, acknowledging these experiences, learning from the past so we can move forward. Keep that in mind as you explore these communities!  

Towns and developments were created to accommodate the gold miners and to this day, so many of them are still well maintained for historical preservation and tourism! You’ll have an array of Gold Rush towns to choose from, however not all of them are worth visiting. All the towns start to blend together, but there was one town that was memorable and stood out the most so I will be highlighting that one!

COLUMBIA, CA 

Columbia State Historic Park 

This area is the largest single collection of existing Gold Rush era structures! You can spend a whole day roaming around here- the streets are lined up with boutiques specializing in nineteenth century goods. You’ll see merchants dressed in 1850’s costumes, areas for you to pan for gold, museums & blacksmith shops. Fun fact- I was told by a local that the reason so many of these towns are at the bottom of hilly mountains is because of all the mining. The land use to be flat and because of the insane digging it created these huge pits.

P.S I applaud the town for its free admission, parking, and guides!! You can even bowl for free at an antique bowling alley.

Stop by a saloon to quench your thirst with a Sarsaparilla soda (tastes just like root beer!) This is a popular soda in Southeast Asia- I actually grew up drinking it and didn’t understand why it was so popular in these historical towns. I learned that the Native Americans used Sarsaparilla as a medicinal drink to cure blood problems. Sarsaparilla is produced from a vine and the beverage became popular in the US in the 19th century.

Other Gold Rush Towns to visit if you have extra time!

Jamestown: Railtown 1897 State Historic Park- offers seasonal excursion rides! Featured in a ton of films. 

Murphy: For wine lovers! A Charming town known for their vineyards & award winning wine- there are 25 wine tasting rooms along the main street.

Nevada City: Hike the Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park

Sonora: Sonora, named after the miners from Sonora Mexico who settled the City in 1848. Visit the Tuolumne Museum  & History Center.

Sutter Creek: Visit Knight Fondry- a national historic mechanical Engineering Landmark

THE ULTIMATE SATURNIA GUIDE

HISTORY
INFORMATION
TRANSPORT
WHAT TO BRING
TIPS
WHERE TO STAY

Saturnia di Terme… also known as Cascate Del Mulino, the mythical landscape you’ve most likely seen in magazines wondering if it’s actually a real destination. I’m here to confirm that this natural Tuscan bath is very much a real spa town that does not disappoint and the pictures don’t do it justice!  

RUMOR HAS IT….

SATURN

This hotspot (see what I did there 😉 ) dates all the way back 3,000 years ago! According to the Etruscans and Romans, Terme di Saturnia was formed by lightning bolts thrown down by Jupiter. Two mythological deities were in the middle of a violent quarrel when Saturn had thrown bolts down and missed, causing the formations at this hot spring. 

A BIT OF HISTORY

Hot springs are heated by geothermal springs- heat from the Earth’s interior. The water in the ground comes into contact with hot rocks or magma and it seeps through the cracks/crevices of the Earth’s crust, which leads to hot springs like Saturnia!

So what is heating up Saturnia? Meet Amiata volcano, which also doubles as the tallest mountain in Tuscany. This volcano sits 80km south of Siena and is actually considered “extinct” because there has not been any recent activities in the past 200,000-300,000 years. 

INFORMATION

The best things in life are free: family, love, & SATURNIA’S NATURAL TUSCAN BATH! We all know how instagrammable spots have turned into huge money making businesses with entrance fees, life jackets, parking fees etc, but thankfully, this spot has remained generous and FREE all year round. You heard that right. Open 24 hours for 365 days!

WHERE IS SATURNIA?

Located in Tuscany, halfway in between Florence & Rome sits Saturnia. It is in the province of Grosseto, north central part of Italy.

Saturnia Di Terme coordinates: Latitude: 42.648; Longtitude: 11.513

TRANSPORT ME HERE

Easiest way to get here is by renting your own vehicle and driving through the hills of Tuscany. We rented from Hertz: started our trip in Florence and ended our road trip in Rome. The roads are well paved with clear markings and signs. Definitely use your GPS/ Google Maps to get around. Screenshot directions ahead of time because cell reception is a bit poor in some spots in Tuscany.

PARKING

As you approach the destination, you might see cars parked alongside the road, DO NOT stop or park there. You will get a ticket! 
Drive to the end of the road, make a right following the blue parking sign. The lot is pretty spacious & that is where you can park for free all day long. The area is safe, but don’t leave any valuables visible in the car- throw it in the trunk.

WHAT IS THAT SMELL?

Ever wondered why hotsprings smell like someone is cooking up dozens and dozens of hard boiled eggs? 

The water heats up due to the earth pressures and proximity to the core. As it comes through the surface, the warmth dissolves the rich mineral deposits (sulfur in the surrounding rocks/soil) and this chemical reaction creates that eggy smell. The hotter the water, the stronger it’ll be. The smell is actually caused by the bacterias eating up the sulfides in the water. The smell is pungent at first, but you get used to it. 

HEALTH IS WEALTH

The thermal waters have a temp of 37.5 °C and brings therapeutic and relaxing properties. The water helps with skin elasticity, psoriasis, relaxes the muscles/aches, rashes, circulation, supports respiratory and many more conditions! Nature truly heals!!!

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Spring! This place attracts locals and tourists from all over the world. Summer crowds are often big and the weather is wayyyyy too warm to soak in a hot bath.

WHAT TO BRING

  • Water shoes/flip flops: the pebbles and sharp rocks sitting in the springs is no joke. Couldn’t handle the pain so I ended up having to wear my Birkenstocks (totally destroyed my shoes!)
  • Towels: dry yourself before you destroy the rental car with the eggy smell and get fined for it
  • Biodegradable Sunscreen: there’s minimal shade here so protect your skin and make sure the sunscreen ingredients won’t harm the mineral deposits here
  • Water: hot springs dehydrate you, so bring/ drink plenty of water
  • Camera: don’t forget to capture some memories here to look back on! 

TIPS

  • Visit during sunrise: you will have this magical place to yourself! 
  • No changing rooms: come dressed in your bathing suit 
  • Wear an OLD bathing suit: the eggy smell will linger even after MANY washes…. I made this mistake and wore a brand new bathing suit… 
  • Remove all jewelry: the sulfur can tarnish silver
  • No lifeguard on duty: although it is shallow, always be extra careful 
  • LEAVE NO TRACE: preserve the beautiful land and keep it clean

!WARNING!

Saturnia’s OG tenants- itty bitty red worms….. No one warned me about this- I learned the hard way. As I was relaxing, soaking my body in the springs, I noticed  little worms swimming around me & YES I freaked the fuck out! They’re actually harmless, but yuck! This is just an FYI so you don’t get scared. Still totally worth going in and I have no regrets! 

WHERE TO STAY

Luckily, there are plenty of options from luxury spa hotels nearby to authentic Tuscan style airbnbs. Below are my recommendations!

SATURNIA TUSCANY HOTEL 

TERME DI SATURNIA  RESORT

ELEGANT TUSCAN VILLA AIRBNB

FARMHOUSE AIRBNB

SUBSCRIBE DOWN BELOW FOR EMAIL UPDATES!

XO,

Soph

Lavender Farm in SoCal

Ohhh we magically transported ourselves to Provence, France over the weekend! Juuuust kidding! No need to fly to Europe to see this when it’s right here in San Bernardino! 123 Farm celebrates lavender harvest season and it’s the largest organic lavender field in the state of CA.

Frolic through 20 acres of organic lavender (over 90 varieties of lavender too! Who knew?!) You can wander around yourself, participate in guided tours in an antique tractor, taste lavender inspired dishes, and learn about how essential oil is extracted. There’s rows of hundred year old Olive Trees with twinkle lights that transports you to Tuscany. You can take a break and chill in the small petting zoo filled with baby goats, sheep, chickens & dwarf pigs! There are even life size jenga blocks, chess pieces and a ping pong table in the woods for when you want to take a break from exploration. Obsessed with lavender products? There’s a shop for you to bring some goodies home with ya. 

The Lavender Festival season is only open from May 14-August 1. It’s closed on Mondays- make sure to check their online calendar to see if they are open. Admission fee is $15 IF you purchase online // $18 in person. However, there’s a separate parking fee $10 (boo i know, super annoying that parking isn’t included..) Click HERE to buy your tickets!

MUST KNOW TIPS

  • Cheaper to buy the tickets online ahead of time
  • Bees galore! Be mindful & don’t bother them.
  • Come on a weekday or right at opening to avoid crowds (10AM)
  • Heat: Weather there is dry and HOT so wear sunscreen

WHAT TO WEAR

Wear whatever makes you feel confident and comfortable! Keep in mind the weather gets pretty hot so go for the cottagecore boho vibes and wear a flowy dress! The easiest color to match is white or try a monochromatic look and wear any purple shade! Avoid jeans, leggings, tight clothing or sandals. Bring a HAT- the sun is pretty harsh out there. 

Tulum Travel Guide

GENERAL INFO

Click to enlarge & read.

GETTING AROUND TULUM

Tulum is divided into 2 different areas: Tulum town center and Tulum beach zone. Decide what kind of vacation you are looking for- relaxation? Then the beachfront is for you! If you’re off adventuring, getting out of tourist trap spots- then stay at the town center for a more authentic feel! Traffic is CRAZY since there’s only one road connecting the town center to the beach- keep that in mind. It can sometimes take 45 minutes just to go 7km to/from town center/ beach so if you’re constantly driving to explore other parts of Mexico, then staying at the beachfront will add time to your drive. Taxi ride from town to the beach is usually around 250 pesos. Always try to negotiate if they throw an unreasonably price tag at you. You can always rent a bike to get around too- only takes 30 minutes to bike the path between the 2 areas in Tulum!

ACCOMMODATION

Click here to read my review on the airbnb we stayed in! Depending on the kind of vacation you want, there are a ton of options to choose from- there’s a range from budget to luxury. Note: the beachfront properties are on the pricy end. 

RUINS

Chichen Itza

Truly a one of a kind archeological site! It is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The most well preserved, excavated ruin here in Mexico- you will NOT be disappointed. Because it is fully excavated, there aren’t many shady spots and the weather is oppressively hot. Make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen & stay hydrated.

Some fun facts about Chichen Itza.

  • Mayans were astronomically aligned! The main pyramid functions as one huge calendar. It has 365 steps total: 91 on each side and 1 at the top. Each side represents each season- Autumn, Winter, Spring & Summer. Coincidence? I think not!
  • Clap your hands at the base of El Castillo stairs. You will hear an echo that resembles the Mexican Quetzal- a bird that’s considered sacred in the Mayan culture & native to the Yucatan area! Mindblow!
  • The Temple of Kulkulkan forms the shadow of a serpent twice a year during Spring/Autum equinox. The body of the snake slowly moves down as the sun sets and merges with the serpents head at the bottom of the stairs. I mean, major goosebumps!!

The drive from Tulum takes about 2 hours. Come right at opening/ early in the morning to avoid crowds because this place fills up quickly with tour buses dropping off tourists. Literally over 2.5 million tourists visit Chichen Itza every year! There is plenty of space here to roam freely and local guides you can hire on the spot right as you enter. When you are putting in the address in Google Maps, type in Chichen Itza Parking Lot instead of Chichen Itza. 

Chichen Itza Entrance Fee is 533 MXN Pesos which translates to $27 USD approximately

Hours: Monday – Sunday 8AM- 5PM (last entrance at 4PM)

P.S.  Tripods are NOT allowed & GoPro’s count as a “professional gear” so they’ll charge you an extra $3 for it

Coba

Coba means “waters stirred by the wind’, which explains why this settlement is tucked in between 2 large lagoons. Coba is located deep in the jungle and not easily reached. You will truly have an authentic Mayan experience here & feel like you’re on an Indiana Jones adventure.

The main ruin (Nohuch Mul Pyramid) is deep in the jungle and requires you to trek a bit. The civilization here was a thriving so many of the sites are spread far apart. Your day at Coba can last up to 3 hours if you walk the site, 1.5 hours if you take advantage of the bike rentals or an hour if you opt for the Mayan Uber, a chauffeured tricycle where you just sit and take in the sights. Both bicycle options are inexpensive and super fun- definitely opt for it!

Some fun facts about Coba:

  • Coba structures show influences from Teotihuacan (near Mexico City) architecture- evidence that inhabitants had contact with Central Mexico.
  • It takes 120 steps up to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid (the main one), and reaches 137 feet in height. This is the tallest temple pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula! (unfortunately, due to the pandemic, you are no longer allowed to climb it- it may change)
  • There’s more than 50 sacbes (white roads) that have been discovered within the Coba settlement with 16 open to the public. All roads originate at the main pyramid and stretch out in the four cardinal directions; east, west, north and south.

Coba Entrance Fees: 80 Pesos // $4 Parking Fees: 50 Pesos // $2.50 Bike Rental: 50 Pesos // $2.50

Hours: Monday-Sunday 8AM-5PM

CENOTES

What are Cenotes?

pronounced “seh-no-tay”

Cenotes are natural sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes: caves, semi-open & open. The Yucatan peninsula use to be a gigantic underwater reef millions of years ago and as sea levels dropped, the limestone land mass was exposed and the network of fractures created an underground river system. As of 2021, there are over 7,000 cenotes in Mexico!

Importance of Cenotes

The Mayans considered cenotes as entrances to the underground world where the Mayan Gods were and it was a place that provided fresh water for them. These sinkholes holds significance to them, which explains why most temples & villages are built near cenotes. Some of the cenotes became sacred sites where human sacrificial offerings were made- many had human remains & gold at the bottom (eeeek!!)

Here are my thoughts on the cenotes we visited!

Click on image to enlarge & read!

Here are some more photos for you to get a better idea of each cenote’s vibe:

DAY TRIPS

IZAMAL

Izamal is nicknamed La Ciudad Amarilla– The Yellow City. It was founded nearly 2,000 years ago by the Mayans and became a center for the worship of the supreme god, Itzamná and the sun god, Kinich-Kakmó. We were told the town was painted yellow in honor of Kinich Kak Moo, a manifestation of the Maya sun god to impress Pope John Paul II visit in 1993. Izamal is often referred to as the ‘City of Three Cultures’ due to its fascinating blend of pre-Colombian, colonial and modern cultures. Around half the town’s population speak Mayan (along with Spanish).

The drive from Tulum to Izamal takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Alot of sites in Mexico can get extremely crowded, but Izamal is a hidden gem away from the tourists. It’s a little off the beaten path, but sooo worth it! Every inch of the town is photogenic & extremely instagrammable!

Izamal Sights

  • Kinich Kakmó Pyramid, translated to ‘fire parrot’, had the head of a macaw and was said to descend to Earth to accept offerings of fruit, flowers, animals and spices when the sun was at its apex.
  • Convento de San Antonio de Padua: one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in the Americas and its outdoor atrium is the second largest in the world (after the Vatican).
  • Dine at Kinich Restaurant: Yucatan food in a beautiful atmosphere

VALLADOLID

Valladolid is a breathtakingly restored colonial town UNESCO Heritage Site) It’s listed as one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos”, aka magic towns! My favorite activity was wandering around the streets admiring the colorful buildings, street vendors & people watching! You instantly feel the vibrant culture & it transport you back to how the Mayans use to live. This town is centrally located from all the major hotspots- Chichen Itza, Cenote Suytun, etc so it makes for a great place to stay overnight too! Everyday at 7pm you can join a free walking tour with a knowledgable guide! 

VALLADOLID SIGHTS

  • Cenote Zaci: located in the heart of the city
  • Visit Museums 

Museo San Roque – archeology lovers

Choco Story – Chocolate museum and shop

  • Walk around the main square:Plaza Central, walk the Calzada de los Frailes to the Ex Convento.
  • Convent of San Bernardino de Siena: one of the oldest colonial sites in the Yucatan, the former Convent of San Bernardino de Siena dates to the mid-16th century and even has a cenote on-site, which was used as part of an irrigation system during the time that a Franciscan order called the convent home.

Dine at El Saxon De Valladolid

RESTAURANTS in Tulum

What makes Tulum so versatile is that you can get a 25 cent taco in one corner and walk a block away to dine at a Michelin level restaurant.

Annnnnd if you’re too lazy to go out? Trust me, I get it. After a long day of exploration, you kinda just want take out. Order delivery from tomato.mx . Simply set up an account, pay a little delivery fee and you’re good to go! Below are my recommendations on the spots we went to!

VERDANT

This place was SO phenomenal I wanted to expand on my dining experience here.

The chef’s tasting menu was a culinary delight! You can taste the love and care that goes into the food and they use all locally sourced ingredients. The farm to table experience is evident – make sure to tour the garden in the back to see where they grow a portion of their herbs and vegetable. Each dish is inventive, flavorful, ingredient driven & sustainably ethos. They incorporate a whimsical twist on simple ingredients & it was worth the splurge! Make a reservation ahead of time!

BEACH CLUBS

EXTRA TRAVEL TIPS

  • FLIGHT: Book an overnight flight to Cancun & find a flight that lands in the early morning. CUN Airport is the second busiest airport and immigration/TSA takes FOREVER. The airport is a lot less busy when you land in the morning.
  • SUNSCREEN: You’ve got to wear lots & lots of sunscreen, but please make sure we keep our ocean life happy by using non toxic chemicals. Here is a guide breaking down on what types of chemicals to look out for when purchasing sunscreen.
  • WATER: Bring your own canteen to prevent buying plastic bottles. DO NOT drink from the tap in Mexico!!  I personally don’t even like to brush my teeth with tap water. Take precautions, stay on the safe side and avoid spending your whole trip in the bathroom. My Zojurushi bottle is vacuum insulated which keeps the water SUPER ice cold all day. Highly recommend!
  • SAFETY: Yucantan peninsula is considered one the safest place to drive around in Mexico in the daytime. Make sure you get to your destination before it gets dark. Walking around Tulum center/ beachfront at night is okay as long as you are not traveling alone. Also, don’t leave things in the car- hide it in the trunk!
  • HAVE FUN: You’re on vacation!! Go with the flow and channel your inner child mode. Plans might change, things might not go according to plan, but stay open minded & enjoy the time off!

Tulum Airbnb

Hola Tulum! A year later (that darn pandemic), we were finally able to get married and go on our honeymoon! In this post, I share the Airbnb we stayed at & damn, it was absolute perfection. I know there are SO many options to choose from on Airbnb, but this spot is truly a one of a kind! 

Firstly, we wanted an intimate & private space to celebrate our wedding shoot/honeymoon for this trip. We craved a space that was aesthetically breathtaking, simple and architecturally unique all at the same time. It was important for the space to incorporate lush natural elements in a luxurious way, but also provide that cozy feel!

The moment I saw the staircases next to the 20 ft living room windows looking out to tropical trees, my heart instantly knew this was where I’d celebrate my once in a lifetime moment.This airbnb has impeccable designs in every corner, the hosts adds special touches- from fresh bouquets of flowers in every room to all the amenities you’d need. The kitchen has a reverse osmosis water filter, in house washer/dryer and effective air conditions in the rooms, safe/secure area with parking spot included. The host is extremely responsive through messaging, he was happy to coordinate, answer any questions we had, and provided very clear/detailed directions. They even arranged for a nurse to come to the home to do a private COVID-19 PCR test for us! Here is the link to the airbnb! Enjoy!!

CHINO HILLS STATE PARK

CHINO HILLS STATE PARK

Spring is in full bloom! Chino Hills is thriving in Black Mustard flowers & it has caught everyone’s attention. Life doesn’t get any better than this. Being out in nature admiring blooms, hearing the birds chirp, bees buzzing with excitement & soaking in the sunshine. This is the perfect day trip for those living in LA- takes about 1 hour from Santa Monica and is a doable weekend venture to get in touch with mother earth.

When you do decide to visit, please stay on the trails. Be mindful of not stepping on any flowers/ destroying the wildlife, leaving behind trash & always remain respectful of the rules mandated at this state park. Be aware: that there are rattlesnakes!!!

Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle , $4 seniors 62+

ADDRESS: 4721 SAPPHIRE RD. CHINO HILLS, CA 91709

PARK HOURS: October-March 8:00AM- 5PM // April-September 8:00AM-7PM