Torre Latinoamericana

The Torre Latinoamericana (Latin American Tower) in downtown Mexico City provides great views of the city (which seems to continue on endlessly to the horizon) and the surrounding mountains. There is an observation deck, however, I opted instead for visiting the bar 2 floors below and still got a lovely (and free) view right around sunset.

View of the city from the tower.
View of the city from the tower.
View of the Zocalo from the tower.
View of the Zocalo from the tower.
Getting close to sunset...
Getting close to sunset…
My friend and I in the tower.
My friend and I in the tower.
Bellas Artes from above.
Bellas Artes from above.
The dirty window is ruining the view here a little, but you can still see.
The dirty window is ruining the view here a little, but you can still see.
Post sunset view from the tower.
Post sunset view from the tower.

Xochimilco

One of my favorite day trips while living in Mexico City was my visit to Xochimilco. Xochimilco, while formerly an independent city, is now actually one of the sections of Mexico City and is known (facetiously) as the Venice of Mexico. It’s a fun outing for people that want to escape the city for a nice day of food and drink on the water aboard small boats called trajineras. Basically, you hop on and float around the hundreds of (crowded) canals just enjoying time with your “shipmates.” You pay by the hour for your time on the trajinera (you pay by boat, not by passenger) and there are vendors that float around on other boats offering up everything from roasted corn on the cob to serenades from live mariachi bands.

If you have more than a few days in Mexico City and a great group of friends to go with, I would definitely recommend this outing.

Bienvenidos a Xochimilco
Bienvenidos a Xochimilco
The "gondoliers" steer the trajineras with long sticks - harder than it looks I think
The “gondoliers” steer the trajineras with long sticks – harder than it looks I think
The flags and names at the top of each trajinera are based on past passengers - I was promised my boat would be named Cate and fly the US and Puerto Rican flags :)
The flags and names at the top of each trajinera are based on past passengers – I was promised my boat would be named Cate and fly the US and Puerto Rican flags 🙂
Mariachi serenade
Mariachi serenade
Me with the mariachis
Me with the mariachis
We got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam
We got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam
We got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam
We got stuck in a bit of a traffic jam
Salud!
Salud!
My Xochimilco "shipmates" - France, Mexico, and the US represented :)
My Xochimilco “shipmates” – France, Mexico, and the US represented 🙂

Mexico City

Today’s post will be a quickie – just some photos of my time in Mexico City and I will do some other posts about specific attractions and adventures I’ve had here. The capital of Mexico is actually not one of the biggest tourist attractions in the country as many people prefer to head to the beach, however, it does have a lot to offer, as you’ll begin to see over my next few posts. Last year while I was here I took little day or weekend trips out to the pyramids of Teotihuacan, to Puebla, and to the pyramid at Cholula. This year I explored a bit of the city itself and will be sharing some weekend trips that are just a little further away, so stay tuned.

Fun fact: Mexico City is not part of any of the states that make up the United States of Mexico. It is a separate federal district (hence the name México, Distrito Federal) similar to Washington, DC in the U.S. of A.

Mexico City
Snapping some shots around the Zocalo
Mexico City
Outside the huge church in the Zocalo
Mexico City
Random murals – sorry for the fuzziness – it was a friend’s camera, not mine 😉
Mexico City
Palacio de las Bellas Artes
Mexico City
I actually don’t know what this building is but it looks pretty cool, right? Photo credit does not go to me though, thanks, James!
Mexico City
The entrance to Arena México right before we head in to watch some Lucha Libre

My Favorite Travel Tools and Tricks

Last week we talked about the tools I use to keep my business up and running while I travel the world – if you missed that you can see it here – and this week I promised to fill you in on all of the stuff that helps me with the actual travel. I will include links to everything I mention below and, just like in the other video, some are affiliate links – meaning I will get paid if you buy after clicking that link – and some are not. I want to be clear though, everything I mention here is stuff I actually use and I’m just giving you affiliate links because it would be silly for me not to. I didn’t put anything on here just so I could use an affiliate link. That’s why a lot of the links are just regular links – I tell you what I really use, whether or not I can get paid for it.

First of all, I love to see new places and meet new people, that’s why I travel as much as I do, but the actual travel part of travel really sucks. It’s expensive and uncomfortable and is just something you have to tolerate so you can get to your amazing destination – with a few exceptions like a bus ride crossing the Andes between Chile and Argentina. It’s been my experience that getting to your destination is not only the least fun part of the trip, it’s also the most costly. So let’s start with some tips for how to get cheap travel.

Of course, the first option is to look at alternatives to flying like buses or trains. These are especially good options outside of the U.S. They can be insanely inexpensive and there may be something worth looking at out of the window. You can also consider cruising as an actual transportation option as opposed to as a pseudo-destination in and of itself. For example, I will be spending the summer in Europe and I am cruising over instead of flying. The cruise is approximately the same price as my one-way flight would have been, even though I am paying double for my cabin because I am going solo, and I will get to enjoy 10 days on the open ocean with all of my needs catered to and an endless amount of free food before swinging by Portugal and landing in Spain. Not only can cruising be fun and cost effective, but it also forces those of us who are technology addicts to disconnect because the internet and cell service are so slow and expensive onboard.

If you must fly, however, there are some tricks I use to get the best fares. It takes some work, but I usually find some pretty good deals. Firstly, do all of your searching in the incognito window. All of the travel sites track you so if you start searching around for a particular flight and perform the same search over and over, it’s going to affect what you see, even though it shouldn’t. I’ve literally done the same search side by side and seen different prices because on one computer I had been tracked and on the other it was a brand new search. If you’re in Chrome, you can open an incognito window by clicking Ctrl + Shift + N.

When I search for flights I always look at both CheapoAir (affiliate link) and Kayak (not an affiliate link) and sometimes Hipmunk (not an affiliate link) as well. Plus, I check out Superfly (not an affiliate link) and my credit card rewards. Superfly aggregates all of your frequent flyer mile programs so when you search for a flight it can show how best to utilize your rewards points. If I’m traveling short distances I also check out local discount airlines in the region. Just remember to be careful when comparing because the vast majority of the airlines now are nickel and diming you on luggage charges, so you want to make sure you’re actually comparing apples to apples when you look at the quoted fares on the different sites. These discount airlines can also come in handy if booking a flight that you know you can’t go direct anyway. You can often fly to a less expensive hub in Europe, for example, and then take a discount airline to your final destination. The combo price of the two separate tickets can often be considerably lower than booking it all together on one major carrier.

You should also do your best to be flexible about travel dates. Sometimes you just have to be somewhere on a certain date and there is nothing you can do, however, if possible, flying in the middle of the week and/or at off peak times of year will usually save you quite a bit on the fare and can result in a more comfortable ride as the flight won’t likely be overbooked.

Once you arrive, you can obviously go the route of typical hotels or hostels but I’m not a huge fan of either. I like to get a bit deeper into the culture than I feel like you can at a regular hotel – I want to have a kitchen and be able to shop at the grocery, live in a normal neighborhood, etc. and I’m just a bit too old to be willing to share a bunk room in a hostel. So, I tend to opt for Airbnb (not an affiliate link) or a homestay through HomestayBooking.com (not an affiliate link) when I travel. Both options let you immerse yourself a bit more into the culture and are usually less expensive than your hotel options. I also love these options because I continue to have wonderful experiences meeting and hanging out with the hosts and other guests at these accommodations – some of which have turned into great friends that I am still in touch with today.

Finally, for the real nitty gritty of travel, I never leave home without a Nalgene (affiliate link) (a virtually indestructible water bottle), my passport case (affiliate link), so that I can keep all of my visas, entry cards, immunization records, etc. organized, super light luggage with 360 degree spinner wheels (affiliate link), and my favorite travel pillow (affiliate link). Now, a note about this travel pillow: it’s not a normal crescent travel pillow and it’s the best I have found. However, when inflated, it’s rather large and you will get some stares. It’s worth it though, for me anyway. Every time I have used it on a long flight the other passengers look at me like I am insane when I take it out but once we land and I have been getting my beauty rest for 8 hours and am ready to see the town while they’ve been uncomfortably bobbing their heads around and just want to go to sleep, they all ask me where I got it and want one for themselves.

So that’s it for my essential travel tools. I hope that helps you out a bit as you plan your next trip, whether for business or pleasure.

 

Now I want to hear from you: What are your best travel tips and favorite travel tools? Please let me know in the comments section below.

 

Castillo de Chapultepec / Chapultepec Castle

One of my quick little weekend day adventures while in Mexico City was a brief visit to the Castle of Chapultepec, a royal castle that been used as everything from a royal residence, to a military academy, to a museum. It’s easy to get to on public transportation (it has its own metro stop) and is a quick little adventure for a morning or afternoon in Mexico City that will give you some nice views of the city.

While I can’t say that the museum was all that impressive, it was fun enough and it was worth the trip to see the only(?) royal castle in North America, some great views of the city, and some interesting murals and artifacts. The day I went, there was also a free ballet performance on an open stage out in front of the castle’s entrance.

Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
The castle behind me…too bright to open my eyes! lol
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
View of Mexico City from the castle.
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
The back of the castle…I think is supposedly the site of the niños heroes.
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
Truthfully, I don’t remember what this is but it is in the front of the castle heading towards Reforma.
Chapultepec Castle, Mexico City
Weird, bending, panoramic view from the castle.

San Francisco

I don’t think much description is necessary about my trip to San Francisco. The city is a major tourist destination and everyone has wonderful things to say about it. My suggestions for what to do and see won’t add much to what you can find elsewhere on the internet, so I’ll just share some pictures instead 🙂

Riding the trolley car in San Francisco
Riding the trolley.
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge and what the suspension cables are made of.
Golden Gate Bridge suspension cable
Golden Gate Bridge suspension cable
Lombard Street from the top
Lombard Street from the top
Lombard Street from the bottom
Lombard Street from the bottom
Lombard Street from the bottom take 2
Lombard Street from the bottom take 2
Pier 39
Pier 39
Transamerica Pyramid
Transamerica Pyramid
Alcatraz
Alcatraz

Catamaran Sailing from Colombia to Panama

It’s the final week of my suggested travel bucket list for you 🙁 Not to worry though, I’ve still been traveling and I will have some more posts for you as well as some tips for how to make the most of your travel and how to get the best travel deals.

Anyway, back to the bucket list. In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about sailing from Colombia to Panama on a catamaran.

Instead of flying back to Panama to wrap up my journey at the end of last year, I decided to sail there on a 52′ catamaran from Cartagena, Colombia. The journey was 5 days and took us through open ocean as well as through the San Blas islands on the Caribbean coast of Panama.

For more details and info about how to do it yourself, check out my original post about the experience and take a look at this video of the journey:

Crossing the Andes

Only 2 more weeks until the end of my list of suggestions for your travel bucket list. Of all of my adventures so far, these are the 10 things that stick out in my mind as the most memorable.

In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about Crossing the Andes.

When I traveled from Santiago, Chile to Buenos Aires, Argentina last year, I decided to make a pit stop in Mendoza to get a taste of the Argentinian wine country. Instead of flying, I wanted to experience the zig-zagging roads that connect the two countries through the Andes, and I am definitely glad I did. The bus crossing was by far more entertaining than my time actually spent in Mendoza.

For more info, check out the video I took of some of the journey (it definitely does not do it justice) and/or read my original post on the crossing.

Helmet Diving in the Caribbean

We’re getting really close to the end of my list of suggestions for your travel bucket list.

In no particular order, my top 10 suggestions for your travel bucket list are:

  • Kayaking and swimming in the bioluminescent bay in Vieques, Puerto Rico
  • Seeing the millions of monarch butterflies in Michoacan, Mexico
  • Desert safari off-roading, camel riding, and dinner show in Dubai, UAE
  • The Grand Canyon in the USA
  • Superman zip-lining in the cloud forests of Costa Rica
  • Machu Picchu in Peru
  • Ruins of the city of Ephesus in Turkey
  • Helmet diving in the Caribbean
  • Crossing the Andes
  • Sailing from Colombia to Panama through the Sand Blas islands

This week I’ll talk about Helmet Diving in the Caribbean.

While I have spent most of my life on the coast and have traveled extensively in the Caribbean, I have never learned how to scuba dive and even when it come to snorkeling I’m a novice. However, with so much time out on the ocean and on beautiful beaches, I had to eventually see what was going on down below the surface so I decided to try helmet diving.

Helmet diving is a super cool experience where you are given a helmet that looks something like an astronaut’s helmet so that you can walk around underwater while still breathing completely normally. No need to learn how to scuba dive or even to breath through your mouth like you must while snorkeling. You just go about your business breathing normally but are under the sea and get to see all of the amazing fish and other sea creatures.

I don’t have any pictures of myself doing the helmet dive because I don’t have an underwater camera but you can see what it’s like here.

I did my helmet dive in Grand Cayman while on a cruise so I was met at the pier by the guide and we were taken out to our dive spot on a small boat. You don’t go super deep below the surface because 1) you don’t wear wetsuits and it would be very cold if you went too far down and 2) in order to allow you to breathe normally your helmet is connected to oxygen on the boat through a tube and you need to be able to walk on the sea floor. My guess is that we were about 40 feet beneath the surface, but I am pretty bad at estimates like that and could be totally off.

One by one, all of the “divers” climb down the boat’s ladder to the sea floor. The guides don’t put the helmet on you until the last moment, because it’s heavy, but as soon as you’re under water, you don’t even notice the weight. I can be a bit of an anxious person and definitely started to get a bit nervous as I waited for my turn to descend and while climbing down the ladder because it sways quite a bit in the waves. However, once I reached the bottom it was easy to relax and enjoy the view – perhaps a bit too easy because these helmets simply rest on your shoulders, they’re not air-tight, so if you lean your head too far forward or backward to look at something, water will rush in. It’s easy to correct by simply straightening up and there are guides in scuba gear with you to correct for you if you need assistance, but it’s still startling to be engrossed in watching a tropical fish and then all of a sudden feel your breathing space filling with water.

The tour I was on gave us quite a good amount of time on the sea floor to enjoy the experience and also allowed each of us to feed some of the fish a few times so they would come right up to you and take fish food out of your hand – some actually even pinch you a bit.

This was hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve had because, before hearing about this, I didn’t think I would ever have the opportunity to see the fish like this without putting in the time to learn to scuba. You can find helmet diving tours all over the Caribbean and I highly recommend it if you ever have the opportunity.

Just one tip: the boat you go to the dive spot in is rather small and moves quite a bit in the waves so, if you’re prone to seasickness, make sure to take whatever remedy or medication works for you before you head out on this tour and ask to be one of the first ones down the ladder.