Category: TRAVEL NEWS

Is Solo Traveling Lonely? Tips from a Solo Traveler of 9 Years


For some, the biggest hurdle to traveling solo is whether or not it will be lonely. If you’re worried about this, you’re not alone. It’s the most common question I get about traveling alone, and it was my biggest fear when I was deciding whether or not to solo travel as well.

I was terrified, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I worried that I would constantly feel lonely, and back then, I was an extreme extrovert who got my energy from interactions with other people.

I’m happy to tell you that I met people right away, and that it was a piece of cake. I still do when I travel alone, and it has become one of my favorite things about solo travel!

But I know that some people don’t have this experience, and it’s because they have not set themselves up for solo travel success, so here are all of my best tips to help you have the most social, enriching travel experience possible:

9. Pick Social Accommodation

I met them in a hostel in China!

The easiest way to make sure that you meet people when you travel is to pick social accommodation. This is why I, in addition to budget constraints, exclusively stayed in hostels and dorms during my first years of traveling in Southeast Asia. I was shocked by how easy it was to meet people. Not only were there tons of other solo travelers, but they were friendly and outgoing, and I rarely had any alone time – I loved it!

If you’re in your 30s or older, I know that you might be thinking hostels are for young people and not for you. In some parts of the world, you’re right about that. However I have found in South America, southern Africa, and China, that people of all ages stay in hostels. You can also choose a private room in a hostel if you want some alone time and your own personal space.

I have an entire post dedicated just to how to navigate hostels past 30, read more here.

8. Choose Destinations with a Common Sport or Draw

nusa ceningan
It was easy to meet others in Nusa Ceningan, famous for surfing and more!

Places with a common reason why people go, like kite surfing, diving, hiking, climbing, or surfing, will also tend to draw in other solo travelers.

Maybe the Maldives or Cancun aren’t your best bet, but Tofo in Mozambique (surfing and diving), Railay in Thailand (climbing), Patagonia (hiking), or Ubud in Bali (yoga and healthy living), are all places that tend to attract solo travelers. Those are just a few of MANY examples the world over.

Is there an activity you love or have been meaning to try? Center your trip around that, and you’re bound to meet others who are doing the same.

7. Take Group Trips

sossusvlei namibia
Part of my group on Dune 45 in Namibia

There’s no shame in taking a group trip to start off your solo travels. Even if you don’t think you’re the group trip type, there still might be something perfect for you, like a backpacking trip in the mountains, or a scuba diving liveaboard. These are some of my favorites when I’m abroad, and I meet the coolest people of all ages.

This is a big reason why I started leading my own women’s adventure trips as a tour guide. Some of my guests have told me it’s the first time that they were in such a supportive environment with other women, and many have made lifelong friends who they have traveled with since.

You never know who you’re going to meet, and it can be a great way to dip your toe in.

6. Take Day Trips

siargao sugba lagoon
Made some friends (who took this pic of me!) in Siargao

If you’re not keen on signing up for a group trip, consider doing day trips. There are many options available through sites like meetup.com, local Facebook groups, and your accommodation probably has some options or suggestions as well.

Walking tours, snorkeling trips, food tours, and hiking adventures can all be great ways to meet people. This is what I relied on for most of my solo trip back to Southeast Asia in my 30s when I wasn’t interested in staying in hostels anymore. I still made great friends on the snorkeling trips (especially in Siargao) whom I met up with in Berlin years later!

5. Join Retreats

Is Solo Traveling Lonely? Tips from a Solo Traveler of 9 Years
More and more solo women are traveling all over the world in the search for connection and rejuvenation

Now that I’m not staying in hostels much anymore, I love joining retreats to meet like-minded people. Sure, they can be a bit pricey, but if you choose your retreat wisely, you will hopefully come out of it relaxed, rejuvenated, and having made lifelong friendships.

I’ve done silent meditation retreats in Thailand (don’t worry, you can chat after it finishes!), spiritual retreats in Bali, Mexico, Egypt, and Ibiza, and have seen hybrid yoga retreats/hotels in Indonesia as well (particularly in Lombok and Bali).

Here’s a list of some great places to look for women’s retreats, or meditation retreats if that’s more your speed.

4. Resist the Urge to Hide in Your Room

Is Solo Traveling Lonely? Tips from a Solo Traveler of 9 Years
Get out sometimes!

For introverts, it can be difficult to go into a social situation, particularly alone. But you’ve got to do it! If the accommodation that you have chosen to stay in has a common area, go hang out there! Travelers are friendly, and you’re unlikely to be the only solo traveler around. Besides, you’re in a place where nobody knows you yet, so there’s nothing to worry about in terms of judgement or awkwardness.

I am definitely the type who will isolate despite wanting to connect with others. I used to be super extroverted, but I guess I outgrew it. This is why I like booking myself into day trips where I have already paid and can’t back out of it.

Sometimes I really like my solitude, too, but it’s all about balance.

3. Put Your Phone Down

hiking in the dolomites
Put it down!

Whether in the common area of social accommodation or hanging out in a social café, trust me when I say that you are unapproachable if you’re staring into your phone. I have met the most amazing people just hanging out in cafés in Southeast Asia and beyond, but it was always because I was willing to put my phone down, make eye contact, and smile at people.

I know it’s hard, because for many of us, looking at a phone is how we cope with being at a restaurant or social area alone. But that’s precisely why you should put it down. The phone is not a human who you can hang out with, and it might actually contribute to your loneliness and sense of isolation.

This is your chance to strike up a conversation with whoever is nearby, and it can be as easy as asking them where they are from. Trust me, try it!

2. Find Fellow Solo Travelers Online

Is Solo Traveling Lonely? Tips from a Solo Traveler of 9 Years
You never know who you’ll find!

These days, there are options for finding other solo travelers to meet up with online first. I’ve known many people who have used Tinder to find platonic hang out buddies abroad, and I’ve also heard that dating apps now have friend versions, like Bumble Friend, although I assume that’s for long-term friendships.

That’s why I started the BMTM Solo Female Traveler Connect Facebook group. It’s a group specifically for female-identifying people to connect, meet up, talk about trip plans, and get advice.

I have also used Couchsurfing, tapped into my friend group to meet friends-of-friends, and even Twitter for meetups with other bloggers abroad.

It’s best to do these meetings in a public place until you really know the person, but I’m happy to report that I have made some lifelong friendships by starting online first!

1. Be Willing to Make the First Move

Tulum
Maybe you’ll make a lifelong friend

Sometimes, I’ve just got to be the outgoing one and start a conversation. At first, this was uncomfortable for me, but the more I’ve approached travelers and started conversations, the more I’ve built up my confidence. Travelers are typically friendly, social people. Whether it’s a café, a bar, the common area of a social accommodation or tour, be willing to be the one who says hello or starts the conversation.

It can be empowering, and if it doesn’t work out or you and the person don’t click, that’s okay, you can just try again with someone else. Remember, you’re in a place where nobody knows you, and anything can happen. All you have to do is open yourself up to the possibilities.

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How to Save Money on Summer Travel


Now that we can finally see the light at the end of this dark pandemic tunnel, traveling is becoming more accessible. There’s been a boom in both air and land travel, and therefore prices have been increasing on things like flights, car rentals, and accommodation. Many of us are dying for a vacation — but also wondering how to save money on summer travel.

We’ve got you covered with plenty of ways to cut costs on your upcoming summer trip — everything from clever flight hacks to frugal Airbnb alternatives.

Getting Cheaper Flights

Fun fact: I once snagged a round-trip flight to Thailand from Chicago for $500!

If you’re looking to travel internationally, your flight will most likely be your biggest cost. That said, it can also be the best way to save money, if you are able to find a deal. There are a few ways you can cut flight costs, big-time.

It is best to begin searching for international flights about six months in advance (three months for domestic flights). I always start by searching Skyscanner and Hopper (for which you have to download the app) to see what prices are like. Both sites allow you to set up an alert so you can keep an eye on the prices.

If you’re traveling to Europe, consider looking for flights to and from Iceland, which are quite cheap right now. Then, look for flights from Iceland to your chosen European destination. You might have a gap of a day or two, which will allow you to explore Iceland a bit!

Being flexible with your travel dates is another way to save big on flights. Depending on the day of the week, the cost can differ significantly. Certain days of the week tend to be cheaper, particularly Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Keep your options open and you’ll be able to choose cheaper flights.

Flights with layovers, particularly long layovers, tend to be cheaper as well. I actually don’t mind long layovers if they are 12 or more hours and somewhere I’ve never been before. In fact, I got to explore Tokyo for a day on my way back from Thailand when I was in college due to a 24-hour layover. With a bit of planning and an open mind, this can be a cool way to see a new place!

Renting a Car

camping san pedro de atacama
Camper van in Chile

If you want to have the freedom of being able to drive at your destination, renting a car is the way to go. This can be a huge cost, but there are a few ways you can save money on your next rental.

One way to do so is to rent your vehicle from an off-airport location. If your destination has a decent public transport system or Uber, you can easily search for a rental company that has a location other than the one in the airport, where typically the wait is longer and the prices are higher.

Consider searching for smaller, mom-and-pop rental businesses at your destination, which tend to be much cheaper than larger rental companies. This is a great way to support the local economy too! These often won’t be available in the airport, so make sure to also plan how you’ll get there.

Another great way to rent a car for cheap is using Turo, which is a lot like Airbnb but for rental cars. The site allows you to rent from private owners, often for a fraction of what it would cost to rent from a large company.

Driving Instead of Flying

southwestroadtrip

Especially if you’re taking your own vehicle or splitting costs on an RV rental with friends, driving to your destination can end up being cheaper than flying. Taking a road trip as opposed to a fly-in-fly-out situation can be fun and more adventurous. If you camp along the way and bring food to cook over a campfire, your trip could end up costing far less than a round-trip flight.

Check out RVshare or Outdoorsy for rentals, which are kind of like Airbnb for RVs. Keep in mind that gas prices are unpredictable, just like airfares.

Ridesharing Options

Depending on where you are traveling to, your ridesharing options can vary. While Uber is the most well-known ridesharing platform, there are others that are cheaper and just as easy to use. Lyft is one that is available almost anywhere in the US where Uber operates, and it has a nearly identical user experience; it can also be cheaper than Uber, depending on where you are.

Another option is BlaBlaCar, which is sort of like carpooling with strangers. It connects people with private cars to other passengers in order to share costs. It operates in several countries; I’ve used it in Mexico with great success.

Accommodation

How to Save Money on Summer Travel
Be creative with your accommodation and you might be surprised at what you can find!

With the uptick in travel bookings, sites like Airbnb may have fewer affordable options this summer. Getting your accommodation booked several months ahead of time is a great way to lock down an Airbnb rental, but if you are in a pinch, you aren’t completely out of luck.

Glamping Hub is a stellar choice for more comfortable outdoorsy accommodations at an affordable price. Camping with your own gear or at a Glamping Hub site is a wonderful way to save money on accommodation and sometimes can feel more luxurious than a hotel stay. Don’t believe me? Check out our Camping Hacks and Genius Camping Ideas posts. You’ll see what I mean!

If you’re early in your planning process, consider if you’d like to save costs on accommodation by inviting a few friends along and renting a cabin or vacation home on Airbnb or Glamping Hub and splitting the cost. Having a full kitchen is another way to save money, as you can cook your own food.

You can also search for campsites, cabins, treehouses, or campers on Campspace. This site enables private landowners to rent their spaces, much like Airbnb.

Couchsurf

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve met travelers who raved about Couchsurfing. I’ve never tried it myself, but I always keep it in the back of my mind if I am in a pinch and need to cut travel costs.

Its basic principle is promoting cultural exchanges without involving money. Hosts offer their spaces on the website, and surfers can browse based on their chosen location.

While some people are all for this, others are really skeptical. After all, planning to crash on a stranger’s couch can sound a little bit risky, especially for solo female travelers. Luckily, the Couchsurfing platform is set up to help surfers choose wisely. There are references from other surfers on a host’s page that you can read through before choosing a host that feels like a good fit.

To use the Couchsurfing platform, there is a very small membership fee of about $15 per year. Considering how much you could save on accommodation, this fee is minimal. There are also other sites, such as BeWelcome and Horizon, that operate similarly but are less known.

House Sitting or Pet Sitting

If you’re itching for a vacation and want to cut costs drastically, try house sitting or pet sitting. TrustedHousesitters is a site where you can register as a sitter and get free accommodation in exchange for your house-sitting or pet-sitting services. If you don’t mind being responsible for someone else’s space or their pet, it’s an excellent way to save money. There is a yearly membership fee, which is relatively affordable considering how much you’ll save on accommodation.

If you’re an animal lover, it’s also a lot of fun. Often, people who seek house sitters or pet sitters will be very hospitable and give you plenty of insider tips on your destination as well. We’ve got a full guide on House Sitting where you can learn more.

Cheap, Delicious Eats

How to Save Money on Summer Travel

My previous point about choosing a rental with a kitchen applies here as well. Being able to purchase your own groceries and cook your meals at your rental can save money, big-time. This is especially true if you are traveling in more expensive destinations such as Europe or even the United States, where eating in restaurants can be quite costly.

As for eating out, I recommend researching restaurants before your trip and choosing a few that you know you definitely want to try, even if they’re a bit of a splurge. Even though a special restaurant may seem like a luxury, having a really mind-blowing meal can be a highlight of your trip. I like to treat these occasions like an experience, rather than just a meal. For example, last time I visited Mexico City, I took myself on a date to world-famous Pujol (which I made a reservation for three months in advance), and although it would normally be totally out of my budget, I regret absolutely nothing. The entire experience was perfection.

The key here is having a mix of higher-end, handpicked restaurants and cheap go-to stops. I’m not one to gamble on a restaurant that just looks good on the outside; I’ve learned that many mid-priced restaurants are quite mediocre and not worth the money. That’s why I look for a few really stellar restaurants I absolutely have to try and then go for street food, market stands, or home-cooked food for the rest of my meals.

I did this in Mexico City by having free breakfast at my Airbnb, eating lunch at market stands, and planning nicer dinners with friends (and alone). I ended up spending less than I would have if I’d had all three meals at mid-priced restaurants.

This might not be doable in every destination, but you might be surprised at how delicious the food at cheap mom-and-pop establishments can be. In Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, I’ve found that open-air markets are where I’ve had some of my best meals. These markets don’t exist everywhere, so some other options might be food trucks, dive bars, or simple hole-in-the-wall joints.

The key here is finding out what dishes your chosen destination is known for and where to get them. Sometimes these famous dishes are humble, wholesome meals that you can find for very cheap. Ask locals where to go and follow their lead.

Free Activities

How to Save Money on Summer Travel
Public beaches are always free and easy to access, even in the most touristy destinations!

You might be surprised at how many free things there are to do in your chosen destination. Since we often have it in our heads that travel is quite expensive, we might forget that some cities are boiling over with free activities.

I suggest starting off your trip with a free walking tour, something you can find in just about any city. This way, you can get your bearings in a new place and scope out any free things to do. Ask your guide if they have any recommendations, too.

Research your destination ahead of time to see what is available. A city’s tourism website will often advertise free events on its calendar. Do a Google search to see if there are any free museums, or if museums have certain discounted (or free) days.

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10 of Cancún’s Absolute Best Cenotes


So you’ve made it to Cancún, spent an entire day (or several) lying on the beach, and you’re looking for something else to do on the Riviera Maya. Luckily, Cancún is a great base for getting out and adventuring in the area.

One thing you definitely won’t want to miss out on is visiting the cenotes around Cancún. A cenote is a limestone sinkhole filled from underground freshwater rivers. They can be closed and cave-like, semi-open with cliff overhangs, or completely open, resembling a pond from above.

Intrigued? Here are my top picks for the best cenotes that are easily accessible from Cancún:

Cenote Chacmool

This cenote is one part of a system of three separate cenotes that open to the same larger body of water and are connected by underground rivers. It’s open on the surface, with rocky cliffs on one side. But it’s the epic underwater caves that attract visitors and make it ideal for divers. Given that, it is not as spectacular if you can only see it from the surface.

Some dive tours, like this one from AcuatiCaribe, include dives through the two other connected cenotes, Kukulcan and Little Brother. The tour will take you down to see the haloclines and thermoclines, the layers of cloudlike substances where freshwater and saltwater mix and create neat optical illusions.

  • Cost: 200 pesos ($10 USD)
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: The best time to visit for diving is in the morning. As you go below the surface, the rays of the morning and early afternoon light are spectacular.
  • How to get there: The inland turn to get to Chac Mool is just about a kilometer after Puerto Aventuras, on the right. If you’re taking public transportation, you can easily get dropped off at Puerto Aventuras and take a taxi to Chac Mool
  • Pros: The three-cenote system is an amazing place to dive and a great bang for your buck.
  • Cons: You aren’t allowed to take photos underwater.

Cenote Tajma-ha

This cenote got its name when cave divers used a clever play on words. Its deep and wondrous caverns had divers referring to it as the “Taj Mahal” of cenotes. As “ha” means “water” in the Mayan language, Tajma-ha sounds like a Mayan interpretation of “Taj Mahal.”

Tajma-ha is certainly well suited for divers, especially those who have a lot of experience. It boasts a maze of tunnels, limestone formations, and huge chambers. For more information on diving in Tajma-ha, check out Koox Diving.

You’ll find this cenote just 5 kilometers south of Puerto Aventuras; it is easy to access by car or public transportation.

  • Cost: 250 pesos ($12.50 USD) to enter; additional costs to dive, depending on which diving company you choose.
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm daily
  • When to go: This cenote is only popular among divers, so if you go just for a swim, don’t expect to see too many people there. Anytime of day is fine to visit, so take advantage of the morning sun for a refreshing dip.
  • How to get there: 3 kilometers south of Puerto Aventuras, take a right on the inland-bound Avenida Tajma-ha. You’ll find a sign for the cenote about 2 kilometers in. If you’re taking public transportation, ask the driver to drop you off at Xpu-ha; from there you can either walk or take a taxi to the cenote.
  • Pros: It’s one of the best dives in the area. If you’re going for a swim, there won’t be as many people there.
  • Cons: It is best suited for experienced divers, so if you’re a beginner, this one might not be the best choice.

Cenote Chikin-ha

Chikin-ha is the biggest of three cenotes on the same property. It is open, with underwater caves, making it a stellar location for diving. Throughout the flooded caves, there are several small openings that let light in, changing the color of the water as you swim through.

Even if you don’t go for the diving, Chikin-ha is next to two smaller cenotes, X’tabay and Ta’ak Bil-ha. X’tabay is an open cenote that is great for swimming, and Ta’ak Bil-ha is a ceremonial one that doesn’t allow visitors to get into the water. All three of these are in a gorgeous jungle setting and definitely worth a visit.

  • Cost: 350 pesos ($17.50 USD) for all three on-site cenotes
  • Hours: 8:30am to 6pm
  • When to go: Get there in the morning to beat the crowds and take advantage of the relaxing atmosphere.
  • How to get there: Just a couple kilometers after Puerto Aventuras, turn right at the marker for kilometer 265 and follow the road until you get to the entrance. If you’re taking public transportation, let the driver know you’re going to Chikin-ha and you can get out at the turn and walk.
  • Pros: The diving is incredible and definitely worthy of your bucket list. The close proximity to other cenotes is also a plus.
  • Cons: This cenote is quite built up, as it’s part of an eco-park, which isn’t everyone’s favorite thing. It’s not a seemingly untouched paradise like other more remote cenotes.

Ruta de Cenotes

The Ruta de Cenotes is a stretch of highway between Puerto Morelos (about 30 minutes south of Cancún) and the community of Leona Vicario. The 40-kilometer stretch of highway goes inland from the coast and has over 60 cenotes along it. Many of these are privately owned and have higher entrance fees than the public ones. They’re also much more built up and have more things to do, such as zip lines, ATV tours, and horseback riding.

Here are the best cenotes along the route:

Cenote Las Mojarras (aka Loma Bonita Park)

Named for the fish you’ll find in freshwater cenotes and lakes, Las Mojarras is a large, open cenote with emerald water. It’s one of the biggest on the Ruta de Cenotes and has a six-meter-high platform to jump in from. There are camping facilities on-site, along with bathrooms and changing areas. You’ll also find a fun zip line that goes through the surrounding jungle and over the cenote.

  • Cost: 250 pesos ($12.50 USD) to swim, 950 pesos ($47.50 USD) for an ATV tour.
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: Avoid going on the weekends. The best time to go is in the morning on a weekday. I suggest visiting this one first, because it gets more crowded than the others on the Ruta de Cenotes.
  • How to get there: Las Mojarras is at kilometer 12.5 and is the first cenote on the route.
  • Pros: The water is gorgeous and clear, so it’s perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The surrounding jungle makes a picturesque scene, and the ATV and zip line activities are unique to this cenote.
  • Cons: The price is high compared to others that are similar.

Cenote Siete Bocas

Siete Bocas is a semi-open cenote with seven different access points from above, which allow sunlight to pour into the semi-underground pool. There are ladders leading down to the water, but you can also take a leap through one of the mouths into the depths. There are some massive stalactites in the cenote that are especially neat to check out.

  • Cost: 300 pesos ($15 USD).
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: This one doesn’t tend to get too crowded, so you can visit anytime during the day on a weekday and find few visitors.
  • How to get there: This one is at kilometer 15.5 of the Ruta de Cenotes. From there, follow the sign for Siete Bocas, which will take you 2 kilometers further inland on a dirt road, where the cenote is.
  • Pros: You may get the place to yourself, because it doesn’t tend to get very crowded, which is always a plus!
  • Cons: The price is quite steep in comparison with other cenotes in the area, which can be a bit of a deterrent.

Cenote Verde Lucero

This cenote gets its name from its unusual green appearance. It’s open, with kayaks, a swing, and plenty of room to swim and snorkel. This one is at kilometer 17 on the Ruta de Cenotes and stays relatively uncrowded, so visit any time of the day for a nice, relaxing vibe. There’s also a zip line and a cliff diving spot for my fellow daredevils.

  • Cost: 300 pesos ($15 USD) to enter
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: Anytime during a weekday is fine, but weekends tend to be more crowded.
  • How to get there: This one is at kilometer 17 on the route, just past Siete Bocas.
  • Pros: The unique green color is a nice change from the other deep-blue cenotes.
  • Cons: The price is quite high for what it is, which is a calm swimming hole.

Cenote Zapote

Zapote, located inside an eco-park with the same name, is a mostly open cenote, with some caves to explore and platforms to jump in from. There is also a zip line that goes above the water.

It is also one of the best along the route for diving, as it is known for its underwater stalactites (Campanas del Inframundo, or “Bells of the Underworld”). For more information about diving, check out Koox Diving.

  • Cost: 700 pesos ($35 USD) to enter the eco-park, which includes entrance to the cenote.
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: Due the cost to enter, there are rarely large crowds here. Feel free to visit any time of the day, any day of the week.
  • How to get there: The turn off the Ruta de Cenotes for Zapote is at kilometer 19. From there, the Zapote Ecopark is 6 kilometers in.
  • Pros: The diving is incredible and a unique experience.
  • Cons: This is one of the most expensive cenotes I’ve seen. If you aren’t diving, I’d say skip it unless you don’t mind the price.

Cenote Kin-ha

This semi-open cenote is cavelike, with two large openings at the top to let light in. You have to climb down some stairs to get inside, and there are several wooden platforms to jump in the water from. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can jump into the cenote from one of the openings above.

Kin-ha has another open cenote called Blanca Flor about a kilometer away, which is great to stop at too.

  • Cost: 400 pesos ($20 USD) to swim, 1000 pesos ($50 USD) for an ATV tour.
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: This cenote gets pretty busy in the late morning and early afternoon, so it’s best to visit in the morning right when it opens.
  • How to get there: At the same kilometer marker as Zapote (kilometer 19), there is a separate turn for Kin-ha, so follow the signs.
  • Pros: The cavelike vibe of Kin-ha is really remarkable, and it’s full of fun activities. You could spend hours at both Kin-ha and Blanca Flor.
  • Cons: It has more of a hectic atmosphere, because it tends to get crowded in the late morning and early afternoon.

Cenote La Noria

cancun things to do la noria cenote

La Noria is a much more secluded and low-key semi-open cenote. It has beautiful turquoise waters that you can reach by climbing down the wooden stairs into the open cavern. The stalactites hanging from the ceiling make the place feel like you’ve stepped into the underworld, and they’re close enough to the water that you can get up close to look at them.

La Noria is along the same road as Kin-ha and Zapote, but just a bit closer to the highway. It’s great for a quick stop before or after an adventure at either of the other two bigger parks.

  • Cost: 200 pesos ($10 USD)
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm, closed on Mondays
  • When to go: Anytime during the day is fine, as it doesn’t tend to get very crowded. Consider visiting after going to Kin-ha or Zapote.
  • How to get there: At kilometer 19 of the Ruta de Cenotes, follow the signs for La Noria, which is before the entrances to Kin-ha and Zapote.
  • Pros: It’s quieter, more laid back, and cheaper than most of the cenotes on the Ruta de Cenotes.
  • Cons: There isn’t very much to do there besides swim and relax.

Bonus: Cenote Ik Kil

Even though this cenote is one of the most touristy I have ever visited, I still think it’s one of the most beautiful. The water is about 26 meters (85 feet) below ground level, and the large opening at the top has vines hanging down from it, creating a mystical atmosphere.

The stairs around the edge of the cenote lead to a cool jumping-off point. Life jackets are recommended but not required, and there is ample space to swim around. Even though it’s the furthest cenote from Cancún on this list (a 2.5-hour drive), it’s a must-see while visiting this part of Mexico, and since it’s close to Chichén Itzá and Valladolid, it makes a great day trip.

  • Cost: The entrance fee has two package options: Ik Kil Package 1 for 150 pesos ($7.50 USD) includes admission, plus a life jacket and a locker. Package 2 is 350 pesos ($17.50 USD) and includes admission, a life jacket, a meal (with five options to choose from), and a beverage.
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm; the entrance closes at 4pm.
  • When to go: If you want to avoid the inevitable crowds as much as possible, get there right when it opens. Even 10 minutes early is great. Tour groups get there around 11am, so try to get your visit in before then.
  • How to get there: Ik Kil is near the highway that goes from Cancún to Mérida and is only 3 kilometers from Chichén Itzá. The easiest way to get there via public transportation is to take a Chichén Itzá–bound ADO bus from Cancún and taxi to Ik Kil from there.
  • Pros: The place is gorgeous, and the price is reasonable. It’s a definite must-see while visiting Cancún, Valladolid, or Mérida.
  • Cons: The crowds are intense from 11am onward. It’s also quite built-up and developed so it doesn’t have that same off-the-beaten-path feel that many other cenotes do.

Guidelines and Best Practices

  • Sunblock: Most sunblocks contain chemicals that are very harmful to the the ecosystem of cenotes, lagoons, and the ocean. In fact, many of the chemicals in traditional sunblocks are partially responsible for coral bleaching. Yikes! Either omit sunblock, or opt for one that says “reef safe” or “eco-park friendly” on the label. These are mineral sunblocks and don’t cause damage the way chemical ones do.
  • Rinsing off: At some cenotes, like Ik Kil, for example, you’ll see an open shower area. Sometimes there are signs instructing visitors to rinse off before stepping into the cenote, but last time I visited the area, many of them didn’t have a sign. Make sure to keep an eye out for these shower areas, so you can rinse off any residue on your skin from lotions, soaps, etc.
  • Leave no trace: Would you want to roll up to your chosen cenote and find a ton of trash there, floating around in the water? Of course not! Be mindful of everything you bring with you, and make sure not to leave any trash behind.
  • Respect the local culture: Cenotes were and continue to be, in some cases, places of worship for the Mayan people. As you can see above, with Ta’ak Bil-ha, these sacred sinkholes have a rich history and immense cultural significance. Keep this in mind when you visit, and be kind to the staff working there.
  • Bring cash: Some of the more popular cenotes have card readers, but the smaller ones will only take cash. Make sure to bring enough pesos for your entrance fee, transportation, and snacks.

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How to Travel Alone for the First Time


I’ve been traveling alone for over nine years now, and what initially seemed like a terrifying prospect to me has now become my preferred mode of exploration. The freedom that comes with solo traveling is intoxicating, and you deserve to know what it feels like too.

But how can you avoid it being a lonely and/or unsafe experience? If you’re traveling alone for the first time here are a few tips to help make it a more social, safe, and enjoyable experience.

All of these are the things that I learned along the journey:

1. Pick the right spot

While I think after you get into the groove of it, you can turn anywhere into a great place to travel alone, at first it’s good to pick places that tend to attract other solo travelers and are inherently more social.

I tend to find that places with a sport or united interest attract people who are willing to travel alone just to be able to participate in that activity, whether it is surfing, scuba diving, or a unique culinary delight. Maybe it’s a landmark or hike, or just something unique that makes people want to come from far and wide, even if they have to go it alone.

Here are some suggestions to help you narrow it down, plus why I think Southeast Asia is perfect for first time travelers, and solo travelers alike, and my top spots to go it alone there.

-READ MORE-

The 20 best destinations for solo female travelers

The 10 best destinations to travel alone for the first time

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2. Stay in social accommodation

The easiest way to meet others is by staying in a place that’s social like a hostel or guesthouse. If you are open to staying in such places, it’s as simple as going to the common room. I found that even as a sometimes-shy person, it didn’t matter because people would talk to me.

By contrast, if you go to a big city and stay in a private hotel room, you effectively eliminate the possibility that you will meet people at your accommodation.

I don’t really like staying in dorms anymore, so that means I have to take a more active role in finding activities to do with other people. That brings me to my next point:

3. Actively participate in things that will help you meet others

sossusvlei namibia
Making new friends in Namibia

I don’t stay in dorms anymore, so I meet people by signing up for group activities, like scuba diving, surf school, or cooking classes. You can also take walking tours, look up meetup groups, and check out the Facebook groups as well for whatever destination you’re going to.

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Is it weird to stay in hostels past 30?

I also like to put out the call on my Facebook page to see if any friends of mine know people in the place I’m going to. It’s how I met an amazing group in South Africa, realized I already knew people in Chiang Mai, and have found travel buddies from time to time. As you travel more, your network will expand to provide more and more opportunities as well.

4. Take group trips or retreats

mutiara Laut
I made wonderful friends on my SCUBA diving trip in Raja Ampat

Even though I love traveling alone, I often will join groups to travel when it’s something I really want to do that’s easier shared with others. I have joined Safaris in Africa, whale swim trips in French Polynesia, and scuba diving liveaboards as well. I’ve met wonderful people this way.

This was part of the inspiration for starting BMTM Adventures, an adventurous alternative especially for women to travel abroad. We’ve been to Namibia, Patagonia, the Inca Trail, the Alaskan backcountry, and the South Pacific to swim with Humpback whales, among other adventures. It’s an opportunity to travel with fellow solo female travelers in a unique and supportive environment.

5. Look for people to connect with online

Back when I started traveling alone, I would use Couchsurfing to find locals to hang out with, whether I stayed with them or not. I also used Twitter to meet up with fellow bloggers, and I’ve heard of others having success using Tinder, even platonically!

But I wanted to create a safe space for solo female travelers to meet up with each other, so I created the BMTM solo female traveler connect Facebook group, it has over 14,000 members and the best stories about people meeting up come out of it!

No matter how you meet people online, I do recommend that you meet up for the first time in a public place for your own safety. Always listen to your intuition, and only meet up with people who you really feel a connection with. 

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How to meet other solo female travelers

6. Be smart about your safety

How to Travel Alone for the First Time
Having a wonderful (and safe) solo time in New Orleans

The biggest misconception there is about solo travel is that it is inherently dangerous. I completely disagree with this, because bad things can happen whether you are by yourself or with someone else, it just comes down to having your wits about you.

Both men and women tend to run into trouble late at night, and especially while intoxicated. But these things can be avoided easily enough by drinking less and taking cabs at night. Otherwise, it tends to come down to petty theft, which, if you have insurance, is not a big deal. Read these 31 safety tips from solo female travelers for more on how to stay safe abroad.

7. Pack light

When I went to Southeast Asia by myself for the first time, all I brought was a carry-on backpack and a messenger bag. Best decision ever!

I didn’t need anyone’s help to get from point A to point B because I could easily carry everything I had on my own. This gave me ultimate flexibility, the ability to always have my stuff with me, and to make a quick escape if I ever needed to – which thankfully never happened.

Less stuff just makes your life easier and you really don’t have to sacrifice basic necessities or fashion. Trust me on this one! I have a bunch of tips here on how to pack carry-on only.

8. Pack the right stuff

How to Travel Alone for the First Time
A scarf will come in handy especially in modest countries.

Whether you’re alone or not, looking at modesty requirements is important. I’m the last one to say that women who don’t dress conservatively deserve any unwanted attention, however the sad fact is it just will happen and in some countries, wearing a tank top is not acceptable. To figure it out, I usually just Google the country name + ‘modesty’ and see what people say.

For help on what to bring where, check out these packing lists for everywhere in the world.

9. Leave room for serendipity

How to Travel Alone for the First Time

As a solo traveler you can make last-minute decisions and change your mind all the time and since you’re not with anyone else, you have the freedom to do that. By leaving your itinerary open, you can say yes more to the things that appeal to you in the moment. It’s a beautiful thing.

I am not a planner by nature so this one was easy for me. I landed in Bangkok on day one of my solo journey without anything booked and just winged the entire trip. This would give some people anxiety shakes, and I understand that we are all wired differently. But give yourself at least some room for flexibility.

Keep in mind, there will be times when it’s not OK to wing it and it will cost you big time. I go into more detail in this post about when to wing it and when to plan ahead.

10. Be open and curious

How to Travel Alone for the First Time
Taken on a solo car camping trip

I find the best thing about traveling alone is that I get to form all of my own opinions about everything that I am seeing. I am also more aware because there is no one distracting me.

Embrace this, talk to locals, immerse yourself in your own present experience and you will notice so many more little details. I find that when I am alone, there are a lot more random, spur of the moment opportunities that come my way. Unless my intuition is screaming no, I say yes. It has led to some fantastic adventures, like the time I became a singer from Hollywood in Malaysia, or attended a coconut brawl in Nepal, or was gifted a bone bracelet in China. You just never know what might happen!

11. Get in your own photos

How to Travel Alone for the First Time
What makes this photo unique? ME!

For the first year that I traveled alone, I came back home with a bunch of photos without me in them. That was kind of sad, because looking back now, I really wish that I had gotten in front of the camera more. The view always looks the same in every photo, and the uniqueness comes through when you put yourself in there!

How do you do that if you’re traveling by yourself? I have a whole bunch of tips about how to take a selfie that doesn’t look like a selfie.

12. Embrace all of the things that come along with solo travel

My biggest fear about traveling alone was not safety, it was the fear of loneliness. I really did not like spending time by myself. Now I have come to absolutely love and crave it, and I think this is healthy. When you are by yourself without anyone else around, you can really ask yourself, ‘what is it that I care about, who am I really, and what matters to me?’

The alone times are a gift. And if you ever find that you’ve spent too much time alone, go back to numbers 1-3 and start again. If you find yourself in a low, read this post and it should help you through.

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Everyone should have the opportunity to travel alone at least once in his or her life. If you approach it the right way, it can be incredibly social, adventurous, but still safe, and a fantastic way to have a vacation completely on your own terms.

For more help on budgeting, traveling for free, finding work on the road, dealing with naysayers and getting support, and all of the other things that go along with planning a big trip, check out the guidebook for solo female travelers with everything I know about traveling alone, plus the advice and case studies from over a dozen other solo female travelers from around the world.

I wish you the most amazing journey ever, this is an amazing gift you’re giving yourself!

How to Travel Alone for the First Time



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25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland


If you happen to stop in Iceland for a quick layover or if you plan to stay longer, you are sure to find plenty of things to do in this chilly country.

Until recently, when the country became a popular stopover point for those traveling between the US and Europe, Iceland was generally quiet and little known. A lot has changed since then: nowadays the country gets hoards of travelers coming to see its natural beauty.

Iceland is the perfect place for outdoors adventurers and chill road-trippers alike. Its landscape is surprisingly diverse and full of surprises. It’s even a great spot for solo female travelers!

Without further ado, here is everything you absolutely have to do when you visit Iceland:

25. See the Northern Lights

iceland northern lights

September to April is the best time to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights in Iceland. Due to weather conditions, it’s not always guaranteed that you’ll be able to see them, but you can check the aurora forecast to get an idea what your chances might be.

There are plenty of options for getting out of light-polluted Reykjavík to see the Northern Lights. This bus tour will take you outside the city for a better view.

24. Stop at a food truck in Reykjavík

Street food wasn’t always a big deal in Iceland, due to the chilly weather, but in recent years it has become more common. Especially in the spring and summer, Reykjavík’s food trucks are plentiful and offer some of the most delicious food you can find in town, from chocolate treats to greasy burgers to traditional Icelandic cuisine.

Iceland is infamous for having very expensive food, so the less-expensive food trucks are a great option if you want to save money. There isn’t one specific place to find the food trucks, so keep an eye out for them in downtown Reykjavík.

23. Drive the Golden Circle

iceland roads

It only takes one day to traverse the entirety of the Golden Circle (a popular route between several of Iceland’s most visited attractions), as the total driving time is about three hours. You’ll want to allow plenty of extra time to explore, however. Start the drive first thing in the morning, so you’ll have enough time to enjoy each stop along the way.

Here are some must-see stops on the Golden Circle route:

22. Þingvellir

Þingvellir National Park
I mean, wow.

This national park is full of cultural, historical, and natural significance for Iceland — and it’s free. The highlight of Þingvellir is its plunging rift valleys, which have crystal-clear water that is perfect for snorkeling. You’ll also find rocky hills, multicolored flora, and green grass everywhere. It became a World Heritage Site in 2004, and you’ll definitely be able to see why.

Take the walkway out to a viewpoint to get the best panoramic vista of the park.

21. Haukadalur Valley

Haukadalur
Haukadalur’s Geysir

This stop highlights one of Iceland’s treasures: the Strokkur geyser. If you don’t mind the intense odor of sulfur, this geyser and bubbling pool is an absolute must-see along the Golden Circle. Expect to see it erupt every 5-6 minutes.

Nearby is the larger yet mostly dormant Geysir. This one rarely erupts, but you might get lucky and see it in action.

20. Gullfoss

Gulfoss

Not far from Haukadalur is an impressive waterfall that appears to fall sideways into a 105-foot-deep cavern. This natural wonder has been well preserved due to the concerted efforts of the waterfall owner’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir. How’s that for some environmentalist inspo?

Today, the waterfall is one of the most visited sites in Iceland.

19. Kerið Crater Lake

25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland

This lake has vibrant red rock surrounding it, making it stand out from other volcanic crater lakes, which usually have a black rock landscapes. The pop of red contrasts with the green grass and turquoise water, creating a lovely palette of colors to enjoy.

Swimming is forbidden at the lake, so your $3 entrance fee is solely for viewing taking in the scenery.

18. Kleifarvatn

Kleifarvatn
This lake is huge!

Just south of Reykjavik, there is a spectacular lake and geothermal area that is ideal for hikers. You can drive around it and stop at various lookouts along the way. Green mossy rocks cover the ground around the lake, creating a beautiful scene fit for a postcard.

17. Krýsuvík

Seltún
Walking the plank

You’ll love this spot if you enjoy hiking. A short hike will take you to a bubbling thermal field full of mud pots and multicolored soil. The soil appears green, red, and yellow due to the presence of sulfuric acid.

This stop isn’t as popular as the geysers mentioned above, so there’s a chance you’ll have the place to yourself!

16. Selatangar

Selatangar

At the end of a gravel road offshoot from the Golden Circle route, you’ll find black rocky cliffs that plunge into the sea below. At the bottom there is a black-sand beach that you can hike down to. The beach used to be a popular spot for fishermen, and there are some spooky ruins nearby.

This is great spot to witness the treacherous churning waters of the Atlantic. Just make sure you don’t get too close to the shore as you could get swept away!

15. Take a dip in the Blue Lagoon

iceland blue lagoon

The Blue Lagoon is at the end of the Golden Circle route, on the way back to the airport. The lagoon has sulfuric mud on the bottom that serves as a sort of natural spa treatment, as it can be applied to your skin. It works like a typical clay mud mask and purifies the skin. Different parts of the Blue Lagoon are warmer than others, so be patient and find a spot that feels good.

Expect to see plenty of other travelers here, as it’s one of the most popular attractions for visitors going to or coming from the airport, and those enjoying a layover.

Check out this tour from Get Your Guide, which includes a stop at Blue Lagoon and other awesome places along the Golden Circle.

14. Dive or snorkel the Silfra Fissure

Ever wondered what it would be like to swim between two tectonic plates that separate two continents? Well, I supposed I hadn’t either, but now I can’t stop thinking about it..

The Silfra Fissure is one of the most sought-after diving sites in the world, because of its incredible geology and crystal-clear glacial waters. Get ready for a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

The Silfra Fissure is inside the Þingvellir National Park; you can book a snorkeling trip here.

13. Road-trip the Ring Road

The Ring Road
The Ring Road

If you have more time to spend in Iceland, this multiday road trip around the periphery of Iceland is a definite bucket-list item. The country’s diverse landscape is showcased on this route. Expect to see constantly changing scenery and surprises at every turn.

Because of the rugged terrain, you will need a 4×4 vehicle to be able to make the most out of this route. This 4×4 camper is a great option.

For a truly otherworldly experience, embark on your Ring Road adventure, making stops at these jaw-dropping locations:

12. Landmannalaugar

landmannalaugar iceland
In Landmannalaugar, in Iceland’s highlands, in the winter.

Getting to this spot is where your four-wheel drive will certainly come in handy. Landmannalaugar is in the highlands, the beginning of the road trip if you choose the southbound route. The drive to get there is a long one, and even longer if you encounter rainy weather. The scenery is incredible the whole way, though, so sit back and enjoy the ride.

Once you get to Landmannalaugar, find a place to park and embark on a hike. The mountains here look like painted hills, and the giant boulders create a scene that feels like it couldn’t possibly be on earth.

11. Seljalandsfoss

25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland

This is the best spot along the Ring Road to catch a glorious sunrise. If you stay the night in Landmannalaugar, you’ll be able to head to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall early enough to catch it. There’s a pathway around the waterfall, allowing you to fully encircle it.

10. Skógafoss

Skógafoss

You’ll see misty green mountains and plenty of waterfalls on the drive to Skógafoss. Once you get there, you’ll find one of the most massive waterfalls along the Ring Road route. Don’t pass up the opportunity to get close enough to feel its magnitude.

This waterfall is one of the most popular sites in Iceland, so expect to see other visitors there. If you get there early enough in the morning, however, you might be able to have a moment with this natural beauty by yourself.

9. Fjaðrárgljúfur

Fjaðrárgljúfur
Fjaðrárgljúfur is too cool (but seriously, it got a little scary sitting there once I processed that I was dangling on a cliff edge — a very real cliff edge).

This 100-meter-deep canyon is one of those places in Iceland that you’ve probably seen all over Instagram. When you get there, you’ll see why so many people are eager to take a picture of it. The mossy green stones with the idyllic stream running through the canyon look like something straight out of a fairytale. Plus, there are plenty of rocks to climb on to release your inner child.

8. The Eastern Fjords

jokulsarlon glacier lagoon

This stretch of the Ring Road has plenty of incredible places to stop. One of them is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, which has huge glaciers floating in it. You’ll also see soft green hills with pony pastures and even some active volcanoes in the distance.

The Eastern Fjords is also an excellent spot to see the Northern Lights on a clear night. Consider making this area your camping spot during your road trip!

7. Ice cave trekking in Skaftafell

25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland

Hiking through the wilderness area of Skaftafell is an epic way to explore the glaciers in the Eastern Fjords. This tour will take you through ice crevasses and give you an up-close look at some incredible natural ice sculptures. You’ll even get to walk on a sheet of ice with some crampons!

6. Ásbyrgi Canyon

asbyrgi
Beautiful thanks to the fall foliage

After spending so much time in the car driving through the Eastern Fjords, this hike is the perfect way to get your legs moving. The A8 trail to the canyon is 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) long, and although it’s marked as “difficult,” it is well-suited for a variety of fitness levels.

On the hike to the canyon, you’ll see lots of foliage, a long stretch of rock that looks like the surface of the moon, and fields of colorful flowers and leaves. The colors are especially beautiful in the fall when the leaves are changing color.

This is one of those hikes where the route to get there is just as beautiful as the destination. The canyon itself is stunning, and it doesn’t hurt that there’s plenty to see on the way.

5. Whale-watching in Húsavík

25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland

There is a 97-99% chance that you’ll see whales in Húsavík, so it’s pretty much a guaranteed slam-dunk road-trip stop. You can go on a whale-watching tour for an up-close view of these amazing animals. It’s an experience you certainly won’t want to miss while visiting Iceland.

4. Goðafoss and Aldeyjarfoss

Godafoss
Goðafoss

These two massive waterfalls at the end of the Ring Road route are a sure way to end your trip with a bang. Goðafoss translates to “waterfall of the gods” — and you’ll definitely see why when you get there. This waterfall can be easily reached any time of year, but you’ll want to make sure you have four-wheel drive if visiting in the winter.

Aldeyjarfoss is only about 45 minutes away from Goðafoss and is fed by the same river, the Skjálfandafljót. You’ll be glad you opted to rent a 4×4 vehicle, as it is difficult to reach without it.

3. Kirkjufellsfoss

25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland

Getting to this final stop on the Ring Road route requires a bit of a detour, but it’s the perfect end to a perfect trip. The waterfall itself is gorgeous, but the neat-looking mountain in the background takes the scenery to the next level.

2. Do the Fimmvörðuháls hike

Fimmvörðuháls
You’d stop too, right?

This two-day hiking adventure typically begins in Skógar and ends in Þórsmörk, but can be done in the other direction as well. Expect to see plentiful waterfalls, vibrant green flora, staggering mountain peaks, and lots of jaw-dropping glacier views along this route.

The Fimmvörðuháls hike can be added on to the Laugavegur hike to make for a four-day journey, or it can be done on its own.

If you’re more of a solo hiker, this trail is perfect for an independent trip. We’ve got you covered with everything you need to know about doing the Fimmvörðuháls on your own.

1. Hike the Laugavegur Trail

Laugavegur trail
My favorite view of the Laugavegur trail

This trail is known for its incredibly diverse landscape. Its ever-changing scenery will have you feeling like you’ve traveled between countries in mere moments. It’s so unique that it caught National Geographic’s attention: they ranked it among their top 20 trails in the world.

In terms of difficulty level, this one is moderately difficult, so make sure you’re well prepared before setting out! Thinking of doing the hike alone? Check out our complete guide on how to hike the Laugavegur Trail solo.

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Whether you’re planning for your next epic road trip on the Golden Circle or Ring Road or just looking for things to do on your next Icelandic mini-adventure, this list is sure to give you plenty of ideas.

Did we miss your favorite spot? Let us know!

25 Things You NEED to Do in Iceland



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Your Guide to Tulum’s Best Cenotes


When you are planning your next trip to the Yucatán, don’t miss out on Tulum’s best cenotes. There are literally thousands of these sinkholes on the peninsula, and hundreds to choose from within an hour’s drive from Tulum. Some of them are even accessible via bicycle!

A cenote is a limestone sinkhole filled from underground freshwater rivers. They can be closed and cave-like, semi-open with cliff overhangs, or completely open, resembling a pond from above. Each has its own unique character. Whether you’re an expert diver or just looking for somewhere to swim, here are my top picks for the best cenotes close to Tulum:

1. Gran Cenote

El Gran Cenote

Gran Cenote is one of the most popular on the Riviera Maya — and you’ll understand why as soon as you get there. It’s a semi-open cenote with both open areas and cave-like areas underground that you can explore. Expertly placed platforms allow visitors to dip into the blue water at various points, and there are both shallow and deep areas for every level of swimmer. This cenote also has a lot of turtles swimming about that are relatively unfazed by humans coming in and out of their habitat.

Snorkeling gear is available to rent; I recommend doing so because there are plenty of turtles and fish to peek at, not to mention the cool rock formations below the water’s surface. You could spend anywhere from 1 to 3 hours here exploring, depending on how much you want to see.

There are plenty of tours that include Gran Cenote. Check them out here.

  • Cost: 180 pesos to enter ($9 USD, but if you pay in dollars, it costs $10 USD), a locker costs 30 pesos ($1.50 USD), and you can rent a life jacket for 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) or snorkeling gear for 80 pesos ($4 USD).
  • Hours: 8am to 4:45pm (entry until 4pm)
  • When to go: The least crowded times to go are at 8am (right when it opens) or around 3-4pm, when most people have left. Keep in mind that the 4:45pm closing time is strict, so going in the afternoon will limit the amount of time you have to explore.
  • How to get there: Gran Cenote is about 3 miles from downtown Tulum, along the highway to Coba. This cenote is easy to bike to, but you can also hop on a combi along the highway and tell the driver to drop you off at Gran Cenote. A taxi ride will cost you around 70-100 pesos ($3.50-5 USD).
  • Pros: This is one of the best cenotes for snorkeling, and it’s known for having a lot of freshwater turtles. It’s very easy to get to and from. Because it’s semi-open, you can explore the cavelike areas without having to scuba dive.
  • Cons: It’s one of the most expensive and the most popular cenotes, meaning there is a chance you’ll encounter big crowds.

2. Cenote Calavera

Your Guide to Tulum's Best Cenotes

This cenote is one of my favorites. It’s another semi-open one and gets its name (calavera, which means “skull”) from its skull-like look. The two openings look like eye holes, which is neat to look at from above. Even though it is on the same road as Gran Cenote, it attracts far fewer visitors and has a much more relaxed atmosphere.

There is a ladder that takes you down into the cenote, where you’ll find a swing and a rope to hold on to. There’s another opening that you can jump through into the cool water below. There isn’t any snorkeling gear available to rent, so if you want to take a look underwater, you’ll have to bring your own. Viator has a tour that includes both El Gran Cenote and Cenote Calavera.

  • Cost: 250 pesos ($12.50 USD)
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: Anytime of day is fine, because it generally doesn’t attract huge crowds. If you go around noon, when the sun is directly above the cenote, you’ll be able to snap a sweet pic from the swing in the bigger opening.
  • How to get there: This one is less than 2 miles from downtown Tulum, on the highway to Coba. It’s on the way to Gran Cenote, so you can hit up both of them in the same day if you’d like. It’s an easy distance to bike to, or you can take a combi or taxi there, just like you would if you were going to Gran Cenote.
  • Pros: It’s much less known than other bigger cenotes, so you likely won’t encounter huge crowds. There’s also ample shade, and the vibe is much more laid back in comparison to Gran Cenote.
  • Cons: There are no lockers to store your valuables while you swim. This cenote isn’t as developed as other more popular ones, so the facilities are very simple.

3. Cenote Car Wash (aka Cenote Aktun Ha)

Cenote Car Wash is one of the most unique and impressive cenotes you’ll find near Tulum. It’s open and quite large in comparison with others in the area. It got its name from a literal car wash that used to operate next to the entrance along the highway, which served as a landmark to find the cenote, but the indigenous name of it is actually Aktun Ha, which means “water cave” in Mayan.

This cenote is best known for its underwater garden that you absolutely have to explore, using snorkeling or scuba gear. The plants growing below are varied, differing from those in other cenotes because of its location and exposure to sunlight. In the summertime, there is even a part of the cenote that feels like a jacuzzi, because of the way the algae trap heat and release it in bubbles.

Cenote Car Wash is also a favorite among divers because it has an 18-meter-deep underwater cave with amazing stalactite formations and speleothems (structures formed by the deposition of minerals from water).

  • Cost: 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) to swim, 120 pesos ($6 USD) to dive with your own equipment.
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: It’s best to get there in the morning, right when it opens, but any time of day is fine, because it doesn’t get nearly as crowded and rarely sees tour groups.
  • How to get there: The entrance to Cenote Car Wash is on the Quintana Roo 109 highway to Coba, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Tulum. It’s further out than Gran Cenote and would be quite far to bike to, about 5.5 miles. A taxi ride there will cost 120-150 pesos ($6-7.50 USD), but you could also catch a combi along the highway there for about 10 pesos ($0.50 USD).
  • Pros: The underwater garden is an incredible sight, and the entire cenote is gorgeous. I like that the majority of visitors there when I went were divers. It’s quieter and more low-key than other cenotes.
  • Cons: There isn’t any snorkeling or diving gear to rent there, so you have to bring your own. You also need to have a certification to dive there, which can be a con for some people.

4. Cenote Zacil Ha

Cenote Zacil Ha is a go-to for families, because it has all the amenities you would want if you were traveling with children. It’s an open cenote with a wooden deck around it, making it easy to get in and out of. The key feature of this one is the zip-line that you can take over it; you can even jump into the cenote from above. The clear turquoise water is stunning and makes for perfect diving conditions.

The average depth is just 3 meters around most of the cenote, but there is an underwater cavern that is popular among divers. The opening to the cavern has a deep cobalt blue color from above. You have to have an open-water or cavern diving certificate to dive here. The chamber underneath is called Las Lágrimas (“tears” in English) and has stalactites that look like tears, which is how it got its name.

  • Cost: 100 pesos ($5 USD) to enter, 10 pesos ($0.50 USD) to zip-line
  • Hours: 9am or 10am to 5:30pm, depending on the season (during high season, it opens at 9am).
  • When to go: To avoid crowds as much as possible, try to get there right when it opens (by 10am, just to be on the safe side) or an hour or two before it closes. Avoid going on weekends, as it gets very packed with local families then.
  • How to get there: Zacil Ha is right next to Cenote Car Wash, about 6 miles from downtown Tulum, along the highway to Coba. A taxi ride there will cost 120-150 pesos ($6-7.50 USD), but you could also catch a combi along the highway there for about 10 pesos ($0.50 USD).
  • Pros: It’s one of the few cenotes in the area where you can zip-line above the water. It has a very family-friendly atmosphere, which is good if you’re traveling with kids. It’s quite built up, so there are plenty of facilities there, such as lockers and a restaurant.
  • Cons: It’s small in size, and if there are a lot of people there at once, it can feel claustrophobic. It’s also so developed nearby that it has more of a swimming pool feel than a natural cenote vibe.

5. Cenote Cristal

Cenote Cristal is another open sinkhole that has the appearance of a lake or lagoon. Its pristine waters are ideal for a swim, and it has a high wooden deck that you can climb to the top of and leap into the water from. The cenote is quite deep throughout, so much so that you can’t see the bottom of it regardless of the fact that the water is completely transparent.

You’ll mostly see fish swimming about, so if you want to explore what lies in the depths of Cenote Cristal, consider diving. The cenote has several underwater caves to explore, as well as an underground tunnel that connects it to Cenote Escondido, which is on the other side of the highway from Cristal.

This cenote is ideal for a picnic and a chill, relaxing day. There are palapas (small, thatched-roof huts) and tables around the water’s edge where you can hang out alone or with friends. You might even be able to spot a toucan or iguana if you’re lucky!

  • Cost: 120 pesos ($6 USD), which includes admission to Cenote Escondido across the road. You can buy your two-cenote pass at either of them.
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: Even when this cenote is crowded, it’s big enough and has enough places to chill out that it’s not too big of a deal. If you want to have the place to yourself, go as soon as it opens or a couple hours before it closes.
  • How to get there: This one is close to downtown Tulum (under 4 miles) and easy to bike to. You can also take a taxi for around 70-100 pesos ($3.50-5 USD). A cheaper option is hopping on a combi headed south toward Chetumal or Felipe Carrillo Puerto, which will only cost 15 pesos ($0.75 USD). Just make sure to tell the driver that you want to get off at Cenote Cristal or Cenote Escondido (which is across the street).
  • Pros: It’s a relatively quiet cenote for a swim and to enjoy the sunshine. It’s quite big and also very easy to get to.
  • Cons: The walk from the road to the cenote can get very buggy during the rainy season. I’m talking literal swarms of mosquitoes. Bring (eco-friendly) bug spray!

6. Cenote Escondido

Even though Cenote Escondido is just across the highway from Cenote Cristal and joined to it via an underground tunnel, they are quite different. While Escondido is also an open cenote, it’s long and thin, sort of like a river. The contrast of the lush green jungle with the deep blues of the water is stunning.

There are rock cliffs on the edge of the water, about 2-4 meters high, that are great for jumping into the water below. There is also a fun rope swing for all the daredevils out there.

This cenote is a popular diving spot, because of the number of caves below the surface. You will have to arrange your dive with a local company.

  • Cost: 120 pesos ($6 USD), which also includes admission to Cenote Cristal across the road. You can buy your two-cenote pass at either of them.
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm (entrance closes at 4pm)
  • When to go: This cenote is relatively uncrowded, so any time of day is fine to visit. There’s plenty of shade, and the water stays cool, so it’s a great place to take a break from the sweltering sun.
  • How to get there: Follow the same directions for Cenote Cristal, except look to the other side of the highway for the Cenote Escondido sign. From the entrance, you will have a short walk to the cenote.
  • Pros: It’s perfect for a midday swim, since it’s one of the least crowded cenotes in the area. There tend to be more families and small groups there as opposed to big tour groups, which makes it more serene compared to other, more popular cenotes.
  • Cons: Just like Cenote Cristal, it can get very buggy on the walk from the road.

7. Cenote Dos Ojos

Your Guide to Tulum's Best Cenotes

Dos Ojos (meaning “two eyes”) gets its name from the two adjacent sinkholes that are connected by a long corridor. Technically, Cenote Dos Ojos is two cenotes, one of them being more popular than the other. The incredibly clear water is breathtaking and definitely worth seeing, if you don’t mind the steep entrance fee.

Snorkeling is a great way to fully enjoy the beauty of Dos Ojos, and it’s also a favorite of divers — and a great place for beginner divers too! — but you have to organize your dive with a diving company in advance, per the rules of the cenote. If you want to snorkel, you can bring your own gear or rent it there.

If you’re not staying in Tulum but still want to include Dos Ojos during your Cancún or Riviera Maya vacation, this tour includes Dos Ojos and a full tour of the Tulum archaeological site in the same day.

  • Cost: Entrance is 350 pesos (about $18 USD). Snorkeling gear is 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) for a mask and snorkel plus 70 pesos ($3.50 USD) for flippers.
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: As soon as the cenote opens at 8am is the best time to go. Crowds will start arriving at this super-popular spot around 9:30 or 10am.
  • How to get there: Dos Ojos is about 14 miles north of downtown Tulum, on the highway to Playa del Carmen. You can either take a taxi there for about 200-250 ($10-12.50 USD) pesos or take a combi (40 pesos, $2 USD) going to Playa del Carmen and tell the driver to drop you off at the turn for Cenote Dos Ojos. From there it’s about a 20-minute walk to the cenote.
  • Pros: It’s close to two other great cenotes: El Pit and Nicte Ha (see below). The water is gorgeous, and the passageway between the two pools is unique to Dos Ojos.
  • Cons: The price for Dos Ojos is more expensive in comparison to most others, and it’s just as popular as Gran Cenote, meaning crowds accumulate quite quickly.

8. Cenote El Pit

This cenote is a diver’s paradise. Only experienced divers are allowed to dive here because of its depth (119 meters), making it the deepest cenote on the Yucatán Peninsula! There is a floating hydrogen sulfide cloud at 30 meters deep, which is one of the most exciting features of the dive. In fact, it is known to be one of the most legendary places to dive in the whole world!

Cenote El Pit is part of the Sac Actun system, which is the largest known underwater cave system in the world. This includes Dos Ojos and Nicte Ha, all of which you could visit in the same day.

  • Cost: 300 pesos ($15 USD) if you’re visiting this alone, or 500 pesos ($25 USD) for a combined ticket with Dos Ojos
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: If you’re diving (which is an extra cost), the morning hours have the best light streaming into the depths of the underwater cavern.
  • How to get there: El Pit is part of the same cenote system as Dos Ojos and is less than 2 miles past it. To get there, follow the directions for Dos Ojos and continue walking, following the signs for El Pit.
  • Pros: The diving is the main attraction here, so if you’re a diver, the biggest pro is that you’ll have one of the most epic dives of your life.
  • Cons: If you aren’t a diver, this cenote is quite expensive for just a swim and a look around. You can snorkel and see the stalactites below, but the surface of the cenote is quite comparable to other less expensive ones in the area.

9. Cenote Nicte Ha

Another part of the Sac Actun system is Cenote Nicte Ha, an open cenote that has beautiful turquoise waters just right for a swim. The vibrant green fauna around the edge give Nicte Ha a Garden of Eden vibe. You’ll even see plenty of lily pads and their flowers floating closer to the water’s edge. There’s also a rock overhang on one side that is fun to swim over to and explore.

Since it’s so close to Dos Ojos and El Pit, this place often gets overshadowed, even though it’s one of the best cenotes in the area for swimming and soaking up the surrounding jungle. It’s perfect after your early-morning stop at Dos Ojos, as it is much less popular, so it’s not necessary to get to super early. I like Nicte Ha more than Dos Ojos because of how peaceful and quiet it is.

To see Nicte Ha and Pet Cemetery (see below) in the same day, this tour from Viator is a great option.

  • Cost: 200 pesos ($10 USD)
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: The best time to go is in the morning, but you can save this one for late morning after you visit Dos Ojos, since it’s less crowded.
  • How to get there: The entrance to Nicte Ha is actually before Dos Ojos, so follow the directions to Dos Ojos but keep an eye out for the Nicte Ha sign after you head inland from the highway.
  • Pros: It’s a beautiful, tranquil place to relax, swim, and snorkel. It’s close to other popular cenotes and therefore a great place to check out while you’re staying in Tulum because you can hit up all of them in the same day. It’s less crowded than other cenotes, and there aren’t many tours that visit it.
  • Cons: There isn’t anywhere to rent snorkeling equipment, so you’ll have to bring your own. The walk in from the highway is about 20 minutes, which could be a con for some people.

10. Cenote Pet Cemetery

Are you confused or intrigued by the name of this one? Don’t worry, I was too! Cenote Pet Cemetery gets its name from the abundance of animal bones that can be found in its depths. Some researchers believe that the Mayan people made animal sacrifices here thousands of years ago.

This is another cenote that is best explored by scuba diving. The white stalactite, stalagmite, and column formations, paired with the abundance of natural light pouring in, create an exciting sparkling effect that can also be seen by snorkeling. In order to see the animal bones, however, you will have to dive.

Around the opening to the deep part of the cenote, there is an average depth of just 3 meters, making it a nice place to swim and snorkel. However, the steep entrance fee and the fact that you can only visit Pet Cemetery with a guide make it really only worth the price if you can dive there.

  • Cost: 450 pesos ($22.50 USD)
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: Since you can only visit Pet Cemetery with a guide, choose a time that works best for you. The light is best in the early morning and afternoon.
  • How to get there: Follow the directions to Dos Ojos and continue along the same road until you see the sign for Pet Cemetery.
  • Pros: It has a wealth of history and is one of the only places where you can find artifacts like animal bones.
  • Cons: It is very expensive for non-divers and perhaps not worth visiting if you aren’t diving.

11. Cenote Xunaan-Ha

This cenote is one of the most off-the-beaten-path ones you’ll find in the Riviera Maya. It’s in Chemuyil, a small village between Tulum and Akumal. If you are looking for a cenote that has a much more down-to-earth, local vibe, this is it. On any given weekend, you’ll likely find people from the community hanging out here, but it stays relatively quiet during the week.

Xunaan-Ha is an open cenote with a platform that you can jump from and ropes to hold onto while you swim. Bring your own snorkeling gear to make the most of the underwater flora and fauna, as there isn’t anywhere nearby to rent it.

Viator has a tour that includes this cenote along with the Tulum archaeological site. What a great combo!

  • Cost: 100 pesos ($5 USD)
  • Hours: 9am to 5pm
  • When to go: Since this cenote is relatively unknown, you can go any time of day and find very few people there. Locals tend to visit more on the weekends, so avoid going then if you want the place mostly to yourself.
  • How to get there: The cenote is about 14 miles from downtown Tulum, in the village of Chemuyil. The easiest and most cost-effective way to get there is by taking a combi toward Playa del Carmen and telling the driver to drop you off at Chemuyil. The ride should cost you around 45 pesos ($2.25 USD). From the highway, you can walk to the cenote entrance.
  • Pros: It’s pretty sweet that this cenote hasn’t gained a lot of popularity yet, because it’s just as beautiful as other cenotes but without nearly as many people. It’s also quite easy to get to from Tulum.
  • Cons: There aren’t many amenities available at the cenote itself, and there isn’t much else to do in Chemuyil besides visit the cenote.

12. Cenote Azul

Cenote Azul is sizable, with a few different connected pools. One of them is shallower and well suited for children or not-so-confident swimmers. There is another one that is much deeper and has a cliff to dive in from. The water is so clear that you can see all the way to the rocky bottom in most places.

This cenote is best for swimming and snorkeling, but flippers are not allowed. It’s not suited for diving at all. With the cliff to jump off, it’s a fun place to take a leap, swim around, and enjoy the atmosphere of the jungle.

  • Cost: 120 pesos ($6 USD) to enter
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: Like most of the more popular cenotes, this one is best to visit in the morning on a weekday when there are fewer people there.
  • How to get there: Cenote Azul is just south of Puerto Aventuras, about 30 minutes north of Tulum. A taxi from Tulum will cost around 200 pesos ($10 USD), but taking a combi is just as easy. To take a combi from downtown Tulum, find one that says Playa del Carmen and tell the driver to let you out at the entrance to Cenote Azul.
  • Pros: The water is pristine and the limestone is nice to sit on to chill out. There’s a more family-friendly vibe, with people cliff-jumping and having a good time.
  • Cons: It can get a little rowdy in the afternoons when it’s more crowded.

13. Cenote Angelita

Cenote Angelita is another superstar when it comes to diving. Most divers flock to this cenote to see the optical illusion that the hydrogen sulfate cloudlike layer creates underwater. This halocline is essentially where freshwater and saltwater meet, at around 30 meters below the water’s surface. There are tree branches reaching out from below the halocline, which create a mystical effect comparable to walking through a misty forest at night.

While Cenote Angelita is best known for its diving, it’s not a bad spot to relax and take a dip. In fact, it’s popularity among divers just might mean that you have the place to yourself if you’re just there to swim.

  • Cost: 100 pesos ($5 USD), plus an additional fee to dive.
  • Hours: 8am to 5pm
  • When to go: Anytime of the day is suitable to visit if you’re there to swim, as it rarely gets crowded. If you’re diving, the morning hours are the best, because the light can penetrate to the depths below much easier.
  • How to get there: Angelita is further south than Cristal and Escondido, and a bit too far to bike to. The easiest way to get there is to take a taxi for around 100-120 pesos ($5-6 USD) or to grab a Chetumal- or Felipe Carrillo Puerto-bound combi for 20 pesos ($1 USD).
  • Pros: It’s unlikely to be crowded. The halocline effect is an incredible sight to see if you’re a diver.
  • Cons: There aren’t many amenities, and you’ll have to arrange to dive with a local company if you wish to do so.

Guidelines and Best Practices

  • Sunblock: Most sunblocks contain chemicals that are very harmful to the the ecosystem of cenotes, lagoons, and the ocean. In fact, many of the chemicals in traditional sunblocks are partially responsible for coral bleaching. Yikes! Either omit sunblock, or opt for one that says “reef safe” or “ecopark friendly” on the label. These are mineral sunblocks and don’t cause damage the way chemical ones do.
  • Rinsing off: At some cenotes, like Gran Cenote, for example, you’ll see an open shower area. Sometimes there are signs instructing visitors to rinse off before stepping into the cenote, but last time I visited the area, many of them didn’t have a sign. Make sure to keep an eye out for these shower areas, so you can rinse off any residue on your skin from lotions, soaps, etc.
  • Leave no trace: Would you want to roll up to your chosen cenote and find a ton of trash there, floating around in the water? Of course not! Be mindful of everything you bring with you, and make sure not to leave any trash behind.
  • Respect the local culture: Cenotes were and continue to be, in some cases, places of worship for the Mayan people. As you can see above with Pet Cemetery, these sacred sinkholes have a rich history and immense cultural significance. Tulum is infamous for its raves, and some of them are held in privately owned cenotes. This has upset locals, and I personally think it’s pretty uncool, although I understand that everyone can make their own decisions. Just food for thought.
  • Bring cash: Some of the more popular cenotes have card readers, but the smaller ones will only take cash. Make sure to bring enough pesos for your entrance fee, transportation, and snacks.

Map

***

Not all cenotes are created equal. Some are best suited for seasoned divers, and some are excellent places to swim, snorkel, and relax for the day. Whatever cenote adventure you’re looking forward to, I hope you’ve found your next favorite spot on this list!

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Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide


Idyllic blue-domed churches, breezy sea views, sparkling sunsets, and colorful beaches all await you in Santorini. No doubt you’ve seen the “no filter needed” social media humble-brags about the charming scenes of this picturesque Greek island all over the place. In case you just can’t wait any longer for your slice of Grecian heaven, we’ve got everything you need to begin planning your Santorini getaway with this perfect guide.

What to Do in Santorini

1. Hike the Santorini volcano

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

This is an absolute must-do on Santorini. A small boat will take you to Nea Kameni Island, where you can hike a volcanic crater. The volcano is dormant at the moment, but the barren landscape from the previous eruptions makes for a unique change of scenery.

Bring your swimsuit! There are several great swimming spots on the island that you won’t want to skip after your sweaty hike.

2. Visit the Red Beach

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

While you’re fulfilling your volcano dreams at the Santorini volcano, don’t miss the vibrant Red Beach while you’re there. The unique red-colored sand comes from pulverized volcanic rock. Since this area is prone to landslides, make sure to check with a local guide to make sure it’s safe to visit.

3. Then visit the Black Beaches

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

Santorini is known for having different-colored beaches, so you might as well see how many colors you can find! Perivolos, Perissa, and Kamari are a few beaches that have black sand. Just like the Red Beach, the black beaches also get their color from volcanic rock that has been eroded into sand.

Parissa and Kamari are very close to one another, and all three of these black beaches have plenty of amenities, including restaurants and places to relax.

4. Transport yourself to the moon at Vlychada Beach

Have you ever wondered what a beach on the moon would look like? I hadn’t either… but now that I think about it, I’m curious. Vlychada Beach is also known as Moon Beach, due to the wacky rock formations that line it. It truly feels like you have stepped onto a lunar seaside heaven. It also has black sand, which makes for a truly unique beach experience.

5. Go sailing

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

A trip to Santorini isn’t complete without sailing around the islands. Not only are they gorgeous on land, but Santorini’s bays are especially beautiful when seen from the sea.

There are plenty of options for a range of budgets and tastes when it comes to sailing tours. Get Your Guide has a variety of sailing adventures to choose from. You can also rent your own boat, and we have a guide on how to do so.

6. Catch an iconic sunset in Oia

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

Oia is a laid-back cliffside town with a sleepy atmosphere — and some of the best sunsets on Santorini. Before the sun goes down, stroll through the winding, hilly streets then choose a cliffside restaurant at which to have a drink or a meal while watching the sunset.

This “to do” is quite popular. You can expect to see plenty of other travelers milling about Oia at this time of day, waiting to find that perfect sunset spot. Try to find a viewing point early in the afternoon and enjoy the atmosphere of one of Santorini’s best attractions.

7. Cliff-jump at Ammoudi Bay

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

Just below Oia is Ammoudi Bay, which you can get to by following the switchback paths down to the beach. This is a popular swimming spot, and there are cliff overhangs that are big among daredevils. Climb up to one and jump into the cobalt blue water below.

This beach is also one of the best places on Santorini to have a delicious seafood meal, so take advantage of that after you get your adrenaline fix!

8. Hike from Fira to Oia

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

If you thought the only thing to do in Santorini was sail around or hang out by a pool sipping wine, you’re in for a surprise. If you’re a regular reader, you know that over here at BMTM, we love a good hike. In case you’re missing some outdoors adventure while visiting Santorini, a hike from Fira to Oia awaits you.

The trail is called the Caldera Trail and is about 6.5 miles long. It takes anywhere between 2 and 5 hours to complete, depending on how quickly you hike and how often you stop. Start your hike early in the morning to avoid the heat in the summer, and make sure to bring plenty of water.

9. Peep into Agios Theodori Church

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

This classic blue-domed church is a potential short detour on the hike from Fira to Oia. Agios Theodori is one of the most popular churches of its kind, as well as a great photo spot for passersby: it’s perched on a cliff with a killer view that you have probably seen on all kinds of tourism ads for Greece. It’s that beautiful.

10. Make a stop in Pyrgos

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

Located along the caldera is the charming village of Pyrgos. This tiny town has a population of only about a thousand inhabitants. The quintessential stark-white stucco buildings are everywhere in Pyrgos, and the uphill alleyways will take you to some of the most stunning views of the sea.

Pyrgos is also known for having friendly locals who are extremely hospitable. Who knows, maybe someone will invite you in for lunch!

11. Peruse a mountaintop monastery at Profitis Ilias

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

The monastery at Profitis Ilias is the highest point on Santorini. That means it has some of the best views on the whole island. The monastic buildings, prime examples of Cycladic architecture, are fun to explore. The monastery has its own museum, which is home to centuries-old artifacts, books, and relics.

An interesting feature of the Profitis Ilias monastery is the variety of locally produced goods that you can buy, made and sold by the monks living there. They showcase the best of what the area has to offer.

12. Stroll through cobblestone streets in Fira

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

Fira, the capital of Santorini, may be tiny, but it is mighty! Along with kitschy shops, bustling markets, and elegant churches, you can find some excellent food at mom-and-pop restaurants there.

13. Visit the Archaeological Museum of Thera

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

While you’re in Fira, don’t forget to make a stop at the Archaeological Museum. This small museum houses ancient artifacts found on the islands, including dazzling pieces of sculptures and pottery. If you’re a history buff like me, this museum is a treasure trove of information and astounding feats of archaeology.

The museum is open 8:30am-3pm Tuesday through Sunday; tickets are 2-3 euros ($2.30-3.50 USD).

14. Venture to the Akrotiri Lighthouse

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide

On the other side of Santorini, opposite Oia, is the Akrotiri Lighthouse. This idyllic landmark is one of the most peaceful places on the island; you won’t want to miss out on it. Around the lighthouse, you’ll catch some incredible cliffside views and a romantic seaside breeze. This spot is the pure embodiment of Greek charm.

15. Check out the Akrotiri Archaeological Site, the real Atlantis

The Akrotiri Archaeological Site is a prehistoric settlement that was completely covered in ash following a volcanic eruption, which preserved it incredibly well. It is an exceptional piece of history and one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece. In fact, some describe it as the real lost city of Atlantis!

Despite its historical significance, Akrotiri is actually relatively unknown and doesn’t attract nearly as many tourists as other sites in Greece. Tickets cost 6-14 euros ($7-16.50 USD) and can be purchased ahead of time here.

16. Walk to Skaros Rock

Just below Imerovigli lies Skaros Rock, a huge rock formation that juts out from the island. There are a few trails leading to the rock with short, scenic hikes. Skaros Rock used to be the site for ancient fortresses and castles, so there are ruins scattered around it.

Once you get to the rock, enjoy the views and take advantage of the stunning backdrop of the sea for some unforgettable photos.

Where to Stay in Santorini:

Best bang for your buck: Caveland Hostel

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide
Source: Caveland Hostel

Caveland Hostel is situated inside an old 18th-century winery and features domed ceilings. There’s no wonder how it got its name! Caveland’s central location makes for easy access to a variety of attractions, including Karterados Beach. It offers both dorms and private rooms, all in unique cave-like rooms. There is a seasonal swimming pool, several terraces, and quaint gardens on the property.

Caveland’s location in the village of Karterados lends itself to an immersive local experience; guests may even see locals riding donkeys through town. If you want to get a taste of Greek island culture, Caveland is your best bet.

A dorm will run about 42 euros ($50 USD) per night, with a discount if you are staying more than seven nights. A private room at Caveland will cost 140-175 euros ($165-207 USD) per night. You can book your stay at Caveland here.

A mid-range paradise: Winery Hotel 1870

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide
Source: Winery Hotel 1870

Like Caveland, Winery Hotel 1870 was built inside an old winery, hence the name. This hotel is the pinnacle of contemporary Grecian style, and its soft white, gray, and blue hues create the dreamy atmosphere you didn’t know you needed.

It’s just 1.6 miles away from Exo Gialos Beach and also close to the Archaeological Museum of Thera, Megaro Gyzi (a local-history museum in a 17th-century house), and the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, right in the heart of Fira. The hotel has a shimmering turquoise pool, and each room has its own terrace perfect for seaside views.

Basic rooms range from 97 to 287 euros ($115-340 USD), with several luxury suites that cost significantly more. Make sure to book well in advance as this popular hotel often fills up!

The ultimate treat-‘yoself: Dana Villas & Infinity Suites

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide
Source: Dana Villas

This is the absolute realization of the perfect Grecian luxury stay. Its combination of naturalist architecture and chic design will have you feeling nostalgic as soon as you leave. Dana Villas & Infinity Suites hangs off the edge of the cliffside caldera trail, offering seclusion and panoramic views of the sea.

Dana Villas & Infinity Suites has several infinity pools, some of them part of large suites. You’ll also find spectacular gastronomy at the Orkos restaurant inside the hotel. The serene atmosphere provokes a deep sense of calm, further encouraged by the onsite spa. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to splurge on this one!

Prices start at around 225-411 euros ($265-485 USD) per night. Book here!

Tours You Can’t Miss:

Sailing tours

  • Luxury Catamaran Tour: This 5-6-hour tour includes a meal and stops at volcanic hot springs and white- and red-sand beaches. There is also snorkeling equipment included, so you can hop off the boat to take a gander under the water’s surface.
  • Caldera Sailing Tour: This adventure will take you past Indian Head Mountain, the Old Venetian Lighthouse, and into the caldera, towards the volcanic islands. Enjoy a nice meal after swimming and snorkeling in hot springs and other private bays.

Wine tasting

  • Sunset Wine Tour: This four-hour guided tour visits three local wineries and ends with a spectacular sunset. A guide will take you to a winery where you will learn about Santorini’s unique viticulture.

Horseback Riding

  • Horse Riding Trip from Vlychada to Eros Beach: This unique experience involves riding a horse along Eros Beach and catching views of canyons and sand dunes.

Scuba diving

  • Santorini Scuba Dive Experience: Santorini’s epic underwater volcanic scenery is best observed by scuba diving, and this tour is perfect for that. Explore reefs, shipwrecks, and volcanic step formations.

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The best thing about Santorini is that is has everything you’d expect from what you’ve see online — and more. It’s one of those destinations that is worth the hype and deserves all the praise it gets. Did we miss anything? Let us know your favorite things to do there!

Your One-Stop Dreamy Santorini Guide



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What You Need to Know Before Visiting Gran Cenote, Tulum


Gran Cenote is by far one of the most popular such attractions near Tulum. It has everything that makes a cenote magical: crystal-clear turquoise waters, jungle vines hanging down from rocky overhangs, vibrant green plants encircling the opening, and neat caves to explore. It’s no surprise to me that this cenote attracts so many visitors. Here is everything you need to know before visiting this enchanting place:

What Is a Cenote?

Tulum

A cenote (seh-NO-teh) is a natural limestone sinkhole filled with freshwater from underground rivers. In fact, the Yucatán Peninsula is home to the longest underground river and cave system in the world! Due to erosion, the ceilings of these water-filled caves collapse, and we know these openings as cenotes.

Since cenotes are part of a vast system of underground rivers, many of them have caverns beneath the surface that are a diver’s dream to explore. The deep, crystal-clear water makes for wonderful swimming and snorkeling as well. With rocky cliffs, hanging vines, and spectacular jungle views all around, cenotes are truly a treasure to visit.

There are three distinct types of cenotes:

  • Closed: Think underground swimming hole. Closed cenotes have a very small opening at the top where you can climb down into the cavern. There will be an open-air space that likely has stalactites hanging from the ceiling and even some bats. Some closed cenotes are pretty basic, with just a wooden deck, and some are more built-up, with stone platforms to sit on and jump in from.
  • Semi-open: Semi-open cenotes are similar to closed cenotes, except they have a more sizable opening at the top. They are underground and require stairs to get into. You might find cave pockets in these, and the light shining in from above is beautiful in the morning and mid-afternoon.
  • Open: An open cenote most resembles a pond or lagoon. It might have some rocky cliffs on the sides or rock overhangs, but most of the water’s surface is exposed to light. This means that open cenotes have much more plant life growing on the bottom, which is neat to check out with some snorkeling gear.

So, which kind is Gran Cenote? It’s open, with lots of rock overhangs and inlets. It has a few different sections, including a part that feels more like a cave.

Historical and Cultural Significance

Cenotes were and continue to be of huge importance to the Mayan people. They are the entrance points to the underworld, Xibalbá. For this reason, cenotes have been places of worship and ritual for centuries. Now that so many of them have become tourist hotspots, this important part of Mayan culture goes unnoticed.

Reasons to Visit

Tulum

Gran Cenote has a bit of everything: a cavern to swim through, an open pool to float in, turtles to observe, and loads of plant life all around it. Here are a few reasons why you have to visit next time you’re in Tulum:

Diving

While it isn’t the most popular diving location in the area, it’s still a great place to get below the surface of the water, as it has plenty of caverns to explore. It is part of the Sac Actun system, which is the largest underwater cave system in the world.

So much of the charm of Gran Cenote lies underwater, where you’ll find incredible geology, including several stalagmites. It’s a novice-level dive, which is perfect for beginners.

Check out Koox Diving for more information on how to book your adventure.

Snorkeling

Gran Cenote is one of the best spots near Tulum for snorkeling. As soon as you peer into the turquoise water, you’ll be able to see why. In the open areas of the cenote, there are plants growing on the bottom like an underwater garden.

If you go into the covered cave-like area, however, the scene slowly changes. As the water gets deeper, you’ll see the rocky caverns below. The walls under the surface are decorated with neat geological patterns and plant life. You’ll also see plenty of small fish and the famous turtles swimming about.

You can bring your own snorkeling gear, or you can rent it there.

Swimming

The clear water makes it an incredible place to take a dip, because you can see down into the depths. Even the shallow areas are a great place to swim, whether you’re an experienced swimmer or not.

Like many cenotes, this one has a rope that passes through the deeper parts of it, which is nice to hold on to if you get tired of swimming around. If you don’t feel confident about being in deep water, you can also rent a life jacket, which will allow you to explore more.

Turtles

There aren’t many cenotes where you’ll find freshwater turtles in the numbers that you’ll find them here. Likely due to the amount of human contact they have daily with visitors, the turtles seem very unfazed by people coming in and out of the water. In fact, I’ve had turtles bump straight into me while I was snorkeling! Keep an eye out for the clumsy ones, folks!

It’s important to avoid touching the turtles (on purpose), just as with any other wildlife. Seeing them up close is also a great reminder to leave no trash behind at the cenote — or anywhere else for that matter.

When to Visit

What You Need to Know Before Visiting Gran Cenote, Tulum

Due to its popularity, Gran Cenote is best to visit right when it opens at 8am. This natural wonder attracts hundreds of visitors a day, on average. Even though it’s big in comparison to other cenotes, it still feels quite crowded in the afternoon during high season.

Another option is to stop by for a quick visit shortly before it closes. The ticket booth will stop selling tickets around 4pm, and the cenote closes at 5pm. If you get there around 3pm, the crowds will likely have dissipated, and you’ll have plenty of time to explore.

Either way, avoid visiting Gran Cenote on a weekend when it is even more crowded than it is on weekday afternoons. Opt for a Monday or Tuesday for the best chance to have the place (mostly) to yourself.

How to Get There

Tulum

This cenote is one of the easiest to get to from downtown Tulum. It’s only about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from downtown, which means you can easily bike there.

If you choose to go there by bike from downtown, head north on the Carretera Tulum-Chetumal, toward the entrance to the Tulum archaeological site. Take a left onto Highway 109 going to Coba (there’s a Super Aki grocery store at the corner in case you don’t see the signs for the highway). From there, it’s a straight shot to the entrance of Gran Cenote, where there is a huge sign on the right-hand side of the road.

Taking a taxi to Gran Cenote is also easy and cheap. It should cost around 100 pesos ($5 USD) each way. You won’t have to worry about finding a cab going back to downtown Tulum (or your hotel), because there are always a few waiting outside.

Another cheaper option is to take a combi, which is a white van used for public transportation. You can catch a Coba-bound combi at the corner of the main highway that goes through downtown Tulum (referred to as the Carretera Chetumal-Tulum) and Highway 109. The ride only costs 20 pesos ($1 USD) each way. On the way back, you can flag one down along the highway.

Important Details

Tulum
  • Cost: This is one of the more expensive cenotes near Tulum. Entry is 180 pesos ($9 USD), plus 30 pesos ($1.50 USD) for a locker, 50 pesos ($2.50 USD) for a life jacket, and 80 pesos ($5 USD) for snorkeling gear.
  • Sunscreen: Do not wear sunscreen into the cenote. There are showers outside where you can rinse off any sunscreen or bug repellent, both of which have chemicals that are harmful to the biome in and around cenotes.
  • Etiquette: As I mentioned above, cenotes were used for centuries to perform sacred rituals and have huge importance to the Mayam people. There are signs at the entrance to Gran Cenote that explain what items are prohibited (most notably, alcohol and drugs). Please stick to the rules! They are there to protect the cenote.
  • Facilities: There are bathrooms, changing rooms, showers, and lockers at Gran Cenote. But make sure to bring a towel as they don’t have them for rent.

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***

There you have it! You’re now totally ready to visit Gran Cenote and have the best time. Enjoy the gorgeous scenery, soak up the sun, and splash around in one of nature’s most magical places.

(If you’re staying in Tulum, check out our awesome guide to Tulum Airbnbs!)

What You Need to Know Before Visiting Gran Cenote, Tulum



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The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)


This guest post is by Monica Chapon, a California-based desert enthusiast:

Would you believe me if I told you that there’s much more to Dubai than glamour and gold?

The United Arab Emirates is a country of duality. It’s a mix of old and new, tradition and modernity, of vast orange desert and abundant development. It’s a place I didn’t expect to form a deep connection with or return to as often as I have.

Monica exploring the things t do in Dubai.

Seven emirates, or “states” make up the UAE, and each of them offers something unique. Because the country is relatively small – roughly the size of Maine in the US – it’s possible to visit each of them quite easily. 

Without a doubt, Dubai (also the name of its capital city) is the best known of all. 

Expats from all over the world make up roughly 80% of the UAE’s population and the majority of them reside in Dubai.  A booming oil economy created quick and tremendous growth for the country, which covered Dubai’s desert floor in shining skyscrapers and architectural feats not dreamed of elsewhere.

Outside of the city, the natural desert landscape is king. The multi-colored mountains, lush green date farms, and rolling orange dunes are a welcome treat for the eyes. 

For visitors, this means a plentiful array of things to do in Dubai and nearby states.  From city to nature, here are the top sights you can’t miss.  

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

1. Visit the Burj Khalifa

Burj Khalifa, at the top of the list of things to do in Dubai!

Dubai is home to the tallest building in the world: the Burj Khalifa.  The skyline wouldn’t be the same without it!

This towering skyscraper can be seen all around the city. It stands at 2,722 feet tall (for reference, the Eiffel Tower is 984 feet tall). When skies are clear, it’s possible to see straight across the Persian Gulf to the shores of Iran from the top.

Architect Adrian Smith designed the Burj Khalifa’s unique shape after the spider lily, a regional desert flower.  It took six years to complete the structure.

Visitors can not only dine at one of several restaurants located inside the tower, but they can also visit observation decks one the 124th, 125th, and the 148th floors. 

2. Take an Abra to the Deira Grand Souk

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

If you are anything like me, then a trip to the Middle East would not be complete without exploring the souks (markets) and taking in a bit of traditional life. Thankfully there are pockets of this kind of atmosphere sprinkled throughout Dubai even today–though full disclosure:they are becoming smaller and smaller.

One of the most traditional things to do in Dubai is to take an abra across Dubai Creek. Abras are the oldest form of the public transportation in Dubai. Historically, these wooden boats enabled locals to cross the waters before the highways were built. They shuttled both men and materials across the creek between Deira and Bur Dubai.

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

Nowadays, abras are used as water taxis. They are extremely cheap to use (roughly 25 cents per person) and connect “new Dubai” to “old Dubai” and its souks. 

Aromatic spices, clothing, kitchen goods and souvenirs fill the Deira Grand Souk to the brim. It’s a great place to spend an afternoon and awaken the senses.

3. Fast-paced Ferrari World

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

For adrenaline junkies out there, the UAE is home to the fastest roller coaster in the world; the Formula Rossa.  And forget cartoon-character-themed amusement parks; this coaster resides at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi. By now you are noticing the UAE’s obsession with the “fastest” and “tallest.”

But it’s not at a cartoon-character-themed amusement park; this ride resides at Ferrari World Abu Dhabi.

Roughly one hour from downtown Dubai, Ferrari World is an easy trip and is mostly indoors — an important feature given how hot the summers can be. If you are a fan of free-falls, loops, and drops, then Ferrari World is a must! With roughly 40 rides and attractions, it’s a fun spot if you’re traveling in a group or have made some friends during your trip.

The current cost of entry is roughly $30 USD.

4. Take in the Dubai Miracle Garden

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

The Dubai Miracle Garden grounds feel a lot like stepping directly into the pages of Alice in Wonderland. Obscenely bright and colorful flowers blanket over 780,000 square feet of land. And remember, this is a desert!

Some 50 million flowers completely transform this attraction. They are arranged in every configuration imaginable, from low gardens on the ground to animatronic sculptures. You read that right: animatronic flower sculptures! It’s a colorful feast for the eyes and a bright change of pace.

Things to do in Dubai: explore the Miracle Garden.

Food stalls are located on-site, with tables and chairs set up throughout. The entire garden is accessible by foot, but golf carts are available if needed. The cost of entry is roughly $14 USD.

5. Appreciate art at the Louvre Abu Dhabi

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

Calling all art lovers! The famous Louvre in Paris now has an art museum located in the UAE, and the architecture is even more stunning than the original.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi opened in 2017. It is the first of several museums that will be built in the Saadiyat Island Cultural District and the largest art museum on the Arabian Peninsula. One of its primary goals is to bridge the divide between Eastern and Western art.

I’ve noticed that the arts have played a more pronounced role in the UAE over the last five years, meaning more public sculptures, more art galleries, and more creative expression in general.

Admission costs roughly $16 USD and exhibitions change four times per year. Additionally, visitors can take a yoga class under the dome twice per day. How cool is that?

6. Enjoy solitude in the Arabian Desert

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

The Arabian Desert is one of my favorite places on the planet. In fact, it’s the sole reason I chose to visit the UAE in the first place many years ago (not to mention it’s the one place I go back to on every single visit).

Now, there are smaller and closer deserts you can visit just outside of Dubai that offer dinner buffets, belly dancing shows, and dune-bashing. And don’t get me wrong: these are great for a tiny taste of the desert.

But for me, the four-hour trek into the heart of the Empty Quarter is not just “worth it” but is actually necessary to get to the true Arabian Desert. While there are no flashy shows or buffets, there are much more satisfying sights to be seen. 

Picture endless orange sand dunes stretching as far as the eye can see, or camels walking lazily across the scorched earth. Time stands still here, with only the changing skies to mark your days.

Camels in the Arabian Desert.

The Arabian Desert offers unbelievable stargazing opportunities if you camp overnight; I saw more shooting stars in one evening than in my entire life beforehand.

While it is easy to drive in the UAE in general, I do recommend hiring a skilled driver familiar with the landscape for this destination. Driving on dunes in the middle of nowhere is a dangerous feat.

7. Ascend the impressive Dubai Frame

Monica looking up at the Dubai Frame, one of the newest Things to do in Dubai.

One of the more recent architectural feats in Dubai, this unique building-slash-sculpture is a symbol of uniting the old and new.

Designed like an ornate gold picture frame, the Dubai Frame in Zabeel Park actually positions modern Dubai inside of a perfect rectangle, or, picture frame, if you view it at the correct angle.

For roughly $13 USD, daring visitors can take the fast 75-second elevator ride up to the Sky Deck, which showcases panoramic views of the city and the Burj Khalifa from atop the frame

8. Relax on the beach

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

In a place noted mostly for its desert and skyscrapers, sometimes a relaxing beach day under the hot Arabian sun can take a back seat on the attractions list. But it is one of the most unexpected ways to spend a day in the UAE.

Umm Suqeim Beach in Dubai is a flat, very pretty stretch of sand along the ultra-turquoise Persian (or Arabian) Gulf. It is a public beach, so you do not need to be staying at any specific hotel to gain access (like many others), though it is also home to the sailboat-shaped Burj al-Arab ultra-luxury hotel.

The northern end of Umm Suqeim Beach allows activities like kite surfing, kayaking, and paddleboarding, if you’re feeling full of energy. Both rentals and lessons are available.

Alternately, Fujairah (an hour and a half east of Dubai, on the Arabian Sea) offers excellent white-sand beaches and clear turquoise waters that would seem more at home in the tropics. Truly, my last visit there was one of the best days of my entire trip.

9. Experience the Dubai Fountain

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

This dancing fountain is another item on Dubai’s long list of over-the-top attractions.

Near the Burj Khalifa, the Dubai Fountain combines perfectly timed surges of water with various musical styles. Love it or hate it, it’s a spectacular sight — particularly with the nighttime light show.

Pro tip: There are a number of restaurants inside of Dubai Mall that overlook the fountain, giving viewers the ultimate and uninterrupted vantage point (all for the price of a tasty dinner). It’s a popular and often-crowded attraction, so this is the best way to view the show.

10. Tour the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)

The Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi is the largest mosque in the entire country. It is opulent, and inspired by Persian, Ottoman, and Indo-Islamic styles. Hundreds of expert craftsmen were flown in to create the intricate metalwork and mosaic decorations. The result is certainly grand.

This mosque is a key place of worship, and can hold up to ten thousand people at a time. Thankfully, tourists are welcome to visit the mosque (free) outside of prayer times. Women will need to cover their heads and wear modest clothing to enter.

The blend of old and new in is part of the UAE’s beauty. And while many visit Dubai for its glamour and luxury, I highly recommend exploring some of the traditional and natural spaces, too!

While one post can’t possibly contain all of the mystery to be explored here, this is a great sampling of things to do in Dubai (and vicinity) that will undoubtedly leave you wanting more!

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About the author: Monica Chapon has traveled to six continents solo and chronicles her adventures on her blog, This Rare Earth. She can usually be found exploring the deserts of the world, taking impromptu road trips, or performing as an aerialist on silks. Follow along with Monica’s adventures on Instagram.

The Best Things to Do in Dubai (and Beyond)



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Exploring the Mojave National Preserve in California


This guest post is by Monica Chapon, a California-based desert enthusiast:

The Mojave National Preserve must be exactly what the Wild West looked like long ago – raw, rugged, and untamed.

This wild stretch of relatively unknown, protected land sits nestled between Los Angeles and Las Vegas – a dry desert tucked away from civilization.

This preserve covers more than 2,000 square miles, making it the third largest in the US National Park System in the contiguous United States.  I’m not sure why, but this vast area is often overlooked and forgotten in favor of Joshua Tree or more popular parks.

From Joshua Tree forests to rugged mountains to sand dunes, The Mojave National Preserve offers so many sights just waiting to be explored.

mojave
Is it Namibia? Nope it’s California!

What To See

Before visiting, be sure to download offline maps, including the official park map.  GPS and cell signal are unreliable throughout the park.

Cinder Cone National Natural Landmark

Kelbaker Road meanders throughout the western third of the park.  While driving, keep your eye out for jagged red and black rock cones jutting out from the desert floor.  These volcanic rock mounds are called cinder cones, and they formed over 7 million years ago!

The Joshua Tree Forest

The Mojave National Preserve is just over one hour north of the better-known Joshua Tree National Park.  The Preserve houses its own large Joshua Tree forest at Cima Dome.  In fact, this forest is larger and denser than those found within Joshua Tree National Park!

Monica in front of Joshua Trees and mountains in the Mojave National Preserve.

The Mojave Cross

The Mojave Cross was built in 1934 as a war veteran memorial. Though not the most visually impressive monument I’ve seen, is a great tribute.  Check it out at sunset for a fiery view.

Kelso Dunes

The Kelso Dunes is one of my favorite stops in the park! 

The entire sand field is massive, and sits on the southwest edge of the park.  The dunes themselves tower over visitors.  In some areas they are over 600 feet tall; some of the tallest dunes found in the United States.

There is a hiking trail into Kelso Dunes.  It begins low, with desert brush and flat walking areas.  The trail gradually dissipates, and hikers can take various routes up and over the dunes. 

This is one of the only dune areas in the Mojave Desert that is accessible without a four-wheel-drive vehicle.

The Lava Tubes

The Lava Tubes are a must-see sight when possible, but check their status before you drive to the Preserve.  Occasionally, this area is closed off to visitors.

To reach the Lava Tube, vehicles need to drive on an unpaved road called Aiken Mine for several miles.  The ceiling of the lava tube is collapsed, making it the perfect (albeit somewhat sketchy) point of entry into the tunnels. 

Enter at your own risk!  The park does not maintain the Lave Tubes.

The Lava Tubes at the Mojave National Preserve.

Hiking Trails in the Mojave National Preserve

Though the Preserve is vast, it lacks a robust trail system.  However, a handful of trails are scattered throughout the park. A few of them are standout hikes that are more than worth the trouble.

First, a word of caution. 

Part of the beauty of the Mojave National Preserve is how empty and desolate it is.  You can visit for a full day and see very few other hikers.

However, this also means that visitors should take caution.  Cell service can be weak or nonexistent, and the only gas and service stations are located outside of the park.  Make sure your vehicle has a full tank of gas before entering the park. 

Also, the Mojave National Preserve gets HOT.  It’s remote, it’s rugged, and it is the true California desert.  If you are not well versed in desert hikes, be absolutely sure to read up on the appropriate desert hiking gear needed.  Dehydration and even death are real concerns on treks like these.

In all of my time in the Mojave National Preserve, I’ve only seen a park ranger vehicle one time.  You may truly be on your own.  Be smart and prepared, and you’ll enjoy your time here.

The Kelso Dunes at Mojave National Preserve.

Kelso Dunes

If you hike the full trail, you will walk a Moderate 2.5 miles on the sandy surface.  If you’ve never hiked on sand before, be prepared for a workout!  The summit is tough to reach but the reward is a vast view across the sand dunes.

Hole in the Wall Rings Trail

The Rings Trail is 1.3 mile Moderate loop through skinny canyons with pock-marked walls.  At some points, rock scrambling is required. Make sure you are up for the physical challenge!

The road to the trailhead requires a high clearance vehicle.

Rock Spring Loop

The Rock Spring trail is located near the center of the park, and is a Moderate 1.6 mile loop.  The well-maintained trail often hosts colorful wildflowers in spring.  There are ruins from an old brick house that are quite fun to investigate.

Monica walking the Mojave desert in California.

Where is the Mojave National Preserve?

Mojave National Preserve is located in San Bernardino County, California.  It sits very close to the Nevada border, between Interstate 15 and Interstate 40, and is roughly 2.5 hours from Los Angeles.

What is the Mojave National Preserve?

Mojave National Preserve, as well as other preserves in the USA, are similar to National Parks, except that they may allow hunting and fishing on site.  The National Park Service manages both types of protected land.

Established in 1994, the Mojave National Preserve is notable for its wide open spaces and few signs of civilization.  Scattered across the preserve are remnants of the Gold Rush era, as well as from the Native Americans who lived here beforehand.

This land feels untouched and wild.  Many of the roads are unpaved in this 1.6 million acre park, and the fact that very few visitors make their way here adds to the feeling of isolation.  Freight trains still rumble through the area, but passenger trains were halted in the late 90’s. 

It really is a forgotten piece of desert.

The Mojave National Preserve entry sign.

Camping in the Preserve

Two designated campgrounds are situated near the center of the park.  Both of them are first come first serve, and cost $12 per site.

The Mid Hills Campground features juniper and pinyon pine trees, and is a cooler spot to camp due to its higher elevation.  The unpaved road makes this campground harder to reach, though.

The Hole-in-the-Wall Campground is lower in elevation and has 35 designated sites.

Both campgrounds have pit toilets, potable water, fire rings, and picnic tables.  Be sure to bring your own food, as there is none available for purchase inside the park. Click here for more information on camping in the Preserve.

The sand and brush at Kelso Dunes.

When To Visit

The Mojave National Preserve is in the high desert, with elevations ranging from 1,000 feet upwards to 8,000 feet. Like most of the California deserts, the cooler months are the ideal time to visit for enjoying day-long adventures.

Spring (March – May):  Temperatures are mild, typically between 40-85 degrees.  Wildflowers carpet the hillsides, giving a bright pop of color to the typically dry landscape. The springtime is an excellent season for hiking.

Summer (June – September): Sweltering heat invades the Preserve, exceeding 100 degrees much of the time.  Hiking can be miserable (and dangerous!) at this time of year. Start before sunrise and finish by 10am.

Fall (October – November): The fall months mean few visitors and falling temperatures, back into the 40-85 degree range.  The cooler nights make camping more comfortable.

Winter (December – February): Winter can be a breathtaking season in the Preserve, and occasional snowfall can blanket the areas in higher elevation.  Though cool and comfortable, the sun will warm you up while hiking.  Winter rainfalls may occur, so check ahead to avoid flash floods.

If you’re a first time visitor, I recommend visiting the park across a weekend, preferably in Spring or Fall.  You can explore a few hikes, camp overnight, and check out the unusual rocks and trails. 

The Mojave National Preserve is an often-overlooked, wild and rugged place where you can experience solitude at its best.  It is a tougher drive and a less popular park, but the hidden gems within the Preserve make it so worth the effort!  Come prepared and you will have an unforgettable time.

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About the author: Monica Chapon has traveled to 6 continents solo and chronicles her adventures on her blog, This Rare Earth. She can usually be found exploring the deserts of the world, taking impromptu road trips, or performing as an aerialist on silks. Follow along with Monica’s adventures on Instagram.

Exploring the Mojave National Preserve in California



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