A First Timers Guide to Colombia


Over the years I have become somewhat of a master at travel logistics, but even I found it incredibly difficult to plan this trip. Colombia was off limits to American travelers for quite some time and I could not find a lot of literature to help me on the way, and I made a lot of mistakes that you can learn from. So if you are ready to book your trip to the beautiful, cultural and historic country that is Colombia, let me give you some information I wish I had. But first, a disclaimer and a digression.

The Disclaimer: A little bit on “Colombian Confusion”
This is what my husband and I affectionately (in some moments not so affectionately) called our misadventures. Colombia has only just become a big tourist destination for Americans (and we are probably the hardest travelers to please)- they aren’t Mexico yet, a country that has really gotten international travel down pat in their most traveled locations. This brings us to one of the great paradoxes of the want to be adventurer- we want things to be “off the beaten road”, a “true experience”, and lament when things have gotten “too touristy”- yet also are frustrated when many things don’t run smoothly

I Digress
I returned to Tulum in early 2017 and was shocked to see it had become LA en Mexico. Everyone was drinking green juice and doing yoga wearing tie dye shirts that in the swanky boutique stores were selling HUNDREDS of AMERICAN dollars.  I remember indignantly thinking, “this place didn’t even have electricity when I was here the first time!”, without remembering how annoyed I was back then without electricity and how I would have loved a yoga class. Nostalgia truly does make the heart grow fonder, especially in travel memories. Well, Colombia is like Mexico in it’s beginning (it has electricity to be clear, although hot water can be considered a luxury) and I am sure when we (hopefully) return I will say with a sigh, “Oh it has just been built up way too much! Remember how it used be, babe?!”

Back to the Disclaimer
This is not a country where things come easily. Here is one example. We had to take a boat to get to an island off Cartagena. Our hotel messed up and oversold and told us the day before we had no way to the island. So we had to buy boat tickets from a guy on the street we had to give a 50% down payment to (it was the only way and we were hoping that his official looking t-shirt made him legit), and arrived at the dock an hour and 45 minutes before the boat was to disembark. When we got there, no one had any idea what to do with us. We kept showing our receipt (literally wandering around with the paper in front of us) and got shuffled all around until we were sat with a group, with no confirmation we were actually in the right place. It was a small comfort to see many others doing the same. No one there had their shit together. BUT eventually, we got to where we needed to be and the guy in the tee-shirt proved to be an outstanding citizen.

My point is, if you or your companions are a super stressed out travelers and freak out at bumps in the travel road, then pick one spot to go to, whether it’s Cartagena or Medellion or Bogota, get a nice hotel and sit put. But if you’re ok with a little misadventures in your adventures, then I strongly recommend getting out there and discovering this beautiful country.

Safety Concerns
We traveled quite a bit and were often out late at night. Never once did either of us feel uncomfortable. Sure there are places you just don’t go to, just like there are places you just don’t walk through at night in NYC, or any other major city. The Colombian people are so unbelievable nice, there is a reason they are ranked amongst the happiest people in the world (America doesn’t even crack the top 100).

In terms of bang for your buck, the prices are very reasonable (you can have an amazing dinner and a few drinks for about $15-30 a person and hotels are beyond reasonable) and as I write the American dollar to Colombian Peso was almost 3-1 so it was a bit like hitting the lottery every time we took money out. Speaking of money, I have never been so confused with bills before (Colombian Confusion!). It was so bad that when something was rung up I just held a bunch of bills out and let them take what they needed. You can read more on that here:  Colombian Cash

What I Wish I Did
If I could do it all over again I would fly into Medellion, which I heard over and over from travelers was an amazing and fun city, and spend a day going to the coffee plantations. The pictures looked absolutely stunning and I have a bit of FOMO about it. From there I would fly up to Cartagena spend a few days, drive to Santa Marta have three nights there, go to the National Park, camp for a night, and leave from the Santa Marta airport. That would have been my ideal trip.

What We Actually Did
One place on my list was Tayrona National Park, which beckoned with white sanded beaches, turquoise water and lush jungle right in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. So after our flight to Cartagena we made our way to the rental desk of Avis to get our car to drive to Santa Marta, the closest home base to the Park. It was a straight highway run of 130 miles, should be a breeze, right? Lol. It took over 4 hours of driving so crazy it made NYC during rush hour look like child’s play. If you’re not an extremely confident and aggressive driver, driving in Colombia is not for you. Their “highway” was a single lane on either side with enormous tractor trailers slowing up traffic. In order to pass them you would have to play chicken with the other lane of traffic, peeking slightly out ahead of the truck, waiting for your moment, then saying a quick Hail Mary as you gunned it around the truck. There was also the occasional donkey to slow down for. If you’re not cool with this, there are express buses and I suggest you take that instead. They also tell you not to drive at night, and this also is really good advise that we didn’t take and wish we had.

Santa Marta & Tayrona
We loved our time in Santa Marta, we both wished we had stayed more than our two nights. There is not that much to do during the day (so it helps to have a hotel with a pool, not many have them) but there are so many amazing restaurants and bars. It has a lively yet laid back night time vibe and is such a manageable place to get around that you come to feel like it’s “your place”.


From Santa Marta the entrance to Tayrona is about an hour. You can drive and park (make sure you are there no later than 10 am to guarantee a space) or take a cab. They also only allow a certain amount of people in the Park so if it’s a big holiday weekend make sure you are there by 9am, if you are looking to get a good camping space I would suggest even earlier. From the entrance to the main beach it’s a 2 hour hike, or an hour horse ride through the jungle (being short on time we opted for the latter back and forth). The horse ride was an adventure in and of itself, but definitely not for the faint of heart! There were some steep hill and muddy terrain, and some very large monkeys growling from within the trees.

The beach was just as beautiful as a post card, although crowded as we were there right before New Years. There are many camping grounds to take advantage of and you also have the option to stay close by in Tangana, which I had originally booked. After reading many accounts about the high crime at night there I wound up canceling the hotel. You can do a day trip there (it’s supposed to be fun for day drinking) and that’s where the best scuba and snorkeling is supposed to be.

Cartagena & the Rosario Islands
The colorful Colonials and architecture of the Old City is spectacular. The only place where Cartagena can disappoint is the beaches. If you want those beautiful Caribbean beaches you will have to take a boat to the Rosario Islands (about an hour by ferry, just be prepared for that confusion!). What this city does have in spades is night life, restaurants, culture and history. When choosing a hotel, like in Santa Marta, choose one with a pool if you can. It gets devastatingly hot during mid day and it was really nice escaping to the pool for the hottest hours.


Ringing in the New Year
Apparently Cartagena is like the South Beach of Latin America and during this holiday in particular people from all over descend on the city and neighboring beaches. We had no idea about this until we arrived. It was crazy crowded and the hotels were extremely expensive over the New Year. But the Christmas lights are still up and everyone is still in the holiday mood. We opted out of the crazy expensive venues and instead walked around, drinking and eating from street vendors, and enjoyed the incredible firework show over the Old City and harbor. But if you want to skip the crowds and inflated hotel prices, my advice is to go at literally any other time. If you don’t mind some extra people and book extra early, it really is a celebration worth having at least once in your life. Maybe twice, if you’re lucky.


How To Sleep On a Plane – A Pro’s Guide


When you spend a good amount of your time up in the air, it’s vitally important to not only sleep on the plane, but get that good sleep, especially on dreaded red eyes. After much practice and experimenting with products I’ve become somewhat of a professional, I even get compliments from my seat neighbors at how amazing I slept. Upon landing, one person admitted he literally thought I might have died so he poked me, apparently I moved slightly proving to him my heart was still beating, and then went right back into my plane coma. Impressive, I know. But I get by with a little help from my friends. 

Silk Eye Mask

For me this is an absolute necessity because I can’t sleep in any light, I need a black out situation. The best product will be made of 100% silk, not only does the material feel the best, it also doesn’t cause lines on your skin like other materials, it’s also much better at keeping in moisture, which is a major score in the battle against in flight dehydration (more on that soon). You also want something with adjustable straps that do NOT use anything with velcro, not only do they not stay in place well, they also rip out your hair. My pick is Alaska Bear (Buy Here)

The Proper Plane Pillow

A very close 2nd in importance. Most of the pillows they sell in airports are garbage, save yourself the neck ache and buy one before your trip. What you want to look for is memory foam and a skinner back so your head isn’t lolling forward. My pick is the Cabeau Evolution Memory Foam Travel Pillow – The Best Neck Pillow with 360 Head & Neck Support

Book a Window Seat

Sure you have to inconvenience people to get out of your way when you need to get to the aisle, but that’s what they signed up for, not you. Having the window seat also makes you the official Window Keeper, you get to control the shade and you can also lean your pillow against it.

Noise Cancelling Head Phones

I have never gotten ear plugs that worked, so for me, it’s all about the noise cancelling headphones. Because I adore babies and children, just not when they’re having meltdowns (which babies and children will have) for hours when you literally have nowhere to escape to. If you too are not lulled to sleep by the sound of screaming children, spring for a good pair of these. But if you don’t heed my advice you do NOT get to parent shame by giving dirty looks or comments and make a mom or dad feel even worse than they already do over a situation they have no control over. 
These bad boys are considered the best on the market. At $349 they’re too rich for my blood as I tend to lose literally everything, but if any one is shopping for me for Christmas, I’ll take my chances. Or I guess, your chances.  Buy Bose Noise Canceling Head Phones For Me For Christmas

The Right Outfit

I have rarely been on a flight that was the perfect temperature during the full duration. It’s either too warm, or my extremities are in danger of freezing off. So layer up with super soft fabrics (I stick to cottons and cashmeres, stay away from denim, blends, and anything with buttons at your waist). But if you forget these pieces you can always wrap a blanket around your head and secure it in place with the head phones like so.
And if you are wearing open shoes always remember a nice pair of socks, nearly impossible to sleep properly when your feet are turning blue.

The next 4 tips are not only great for sleep, they’re also great for your skin. When you fly, the air inside the cabin is a lower humidity than normal. Your home is likely between 30-60% humidity, inside an airplane it can drop to less than 20%. During longer flights, cabin humidity dips even lower. 

No alcohol.

Booooo, yeah, yeah, I know. But if you want your best sleep in general, stay away from the booze as it messes with getting into deep sleep. But also, as discussed above, the plane’s lack of humidity is already dehydrating you, so put alcohol in the mix and it’s not just going to mess with your sleep, it’s going to mess with your skin. Nobody wants to start their trip, either business or pleasure, bloated, puffy and exhausted, and I speak from personal experience.


Now this you should binge drink. Get in a lot of it the day before and on your way to the airport so you don’t have to chug it all down right before your flight and then have to pee every five minutes annoying the people in your row (because you booked a window seat).

Rose Water Spray

Rose water has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce the redness of irritated skin, get rid of acne, dermatitis and eczema. It is a great cleanser and aids in removing oil and dirt accumulated in clogged pore. My go to is Mario Badescu.

And finally, we get to the last resort…. Drugs.

Obviously I sometimes use them as evidenced by the picture of me swaddled in a Delta blanket. I only use them if I need guaranteed red eye sleep so I won’t ruin the entire next day. For plane rides under 8 hours I am anti-Ambien, because if I am woken up before that I am so groggy and out of it I can barely get off the plane. But if you do choose Ambien, take your dosage after takeoff,  NOT while on the runway, especially if you are traveling alone. You have to be ready for sleep within 20 minutes of taking Ambien or as the label warns: 
After taking AMBIEN, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night…Reported activities include: driving a car (“sleep-driving”), making and eating food, talking on the phone, having sex, sleep-walking.”
Unless you want to make some new friends at Homeland Security, these are all things you do not want to do on a plane or in an airport. I had boarded a plane and thought I was in the safe zone, and just as I was about to pass out we had to change planes because of a mechanical failure. Don’t ask me how I got off the plane, about the walk to the other gate or re-boarding because it’s beyond hazy. Apparently I didn’t try to fly the plane, but I definitely do not feel comfortable that I was walking through an airport like a total zombie. This advice also goes for any anxiety medication, I understand that many people are anxious fliers and they need something to calm their nerves. Just know before hand how your body responds to the drugs and that there’s enough time for it to wear off before landing. Or you may wake up and find yourself the last person on a plane after allegedly telling the flight attendants who tried to wake you that you “need 15 more minutes.” Just a for instance. 

The Vampire Facial

Just from the name alone my initial reaction was probably like yours- revolted, yet also intrigued.

I don’t keep up with the Kardashians so I missed the episode where Kim K got one and put this facial on the map, so I’m a little behind on the fad. In case you missed it as well, here’s a pic of her in the middle of the procedure looking like she’s starring in a budget slasher film.

kim k

Why would anyone do this? Of course I had to spend countless hours after midnight googling it to find out. Once I was convinced there was no downside and overall very positive reviews I booked my own with James Christian Cosmetics  who himself came with rave reviews.

About Me & My Skin

  • Just turned 34
  • Combination oily-dry skin, not often prone to break outs
  • Sun worshipper (sorry, mom, I know)
  • In the past year have seen an increase in fine lines popping up particularly around eyes and  mouth, and deeper lines on my forehead
  • My biggest gripe about my skin has always been (well, before I found my first wrinkle) how large my pores are and my uneven skin tone. I use foundation not to cover up acne but for these two reasons.

About the Vampire Facial

There are two main components of the facial, the use of your own Platelet Rich Plasma and Microneedling.

What’s the deal with Platelet Rich Plasma (or PRP)?

  • Plasma is the liquid part of your blood. Platelets are cells in your blood best known for their importance in clotting, but they also contain hundreds of proteins called growth factors which are very important in the healing of injuries.
  • For almost 30 years surgeons have been using PRP to speed up recovery time because those growth factors recruit and increase reparative cells.

Microneedling is a procedure using a device covered with tiny, shallow needles to essentially poke holes in the skin surface. Those holes cause a “micro injury” that prompts skin to stimulate collagen production, which not only heals the injury, but also fills in fine lines and plumps up the skin. Collagen is a main component that helps keep our skin tight. As we age our body stops naturally producing it and environmental factors like smoke, pollution, toxins, and the sun damage the collagen we already have.

Average cost of the facial is $1,100-1500 a session. 2-3 are recommended per year, but if you have the budget and like the results you can do them as many times as you want.

The Procedure

Step 1: Numbing it Up

In preparation for the needles a numbing cream was applied to my face. Took about 30 minutes for it to kick in.

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Step 2: Time to suck your blood

This is where the “Vampire” part of the facial gets its name. Your blood is drawn from your arm, no more than any normal blood test. Then it is put into a centrifuge that whips it around separating the red blood cells from the plasma, and there you get your PRP.

Step 3: The Microneedle

This microneedling device is rolled over the skin, causing the micro-tears which are then immediately injected with your PRP. Because of the numbing cream, there was almost no pain, in fact regular facials are more painful! If you can take one of those, you can definitely survive this tear free- unless your Kim Kardashian and have to cry for the cameras. It took about 20 minutes total , so the entire procedure is done in under an hour.


The After Effects

(The pictures of myself have not been altered or filtered in any way)

I told my boss I could come in after the procedure, but I would have to lock myself in my office and I could under no circumstances be face to face with clients. I don’t think he took me seriously because when he saw me he actually let out a yelp and then, after composing himself, asked mid conversation if I needed to be driven to the emergency room. But, as I told him, it looks a hell of a lot worse than it feels. Even as the numbing cream started to fade off there was no pain just a bit of discomfort, like I got a bad windburn.

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Day 2. Although it does look like I took a beating, bruising was particularly bad under the eyes where the skin is always more sensitive, but there was no pain. You are also allowed to put on foundation, I chose not to, but it was nice to know that option was there in case I needed it.

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Day 3. I woke up and expected it to look like how I went to sleep the night before, and instead found this in the mirror. Wow! Not even 48 hours and all the redness and bruising was almost completely gone and my skin literally looked “dewey”. The guy I always get my coffee from in the morning actually said “Wow! I don’t know what’s different, but you look great!” Someone else stopped me and told me I was “glowing.”

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6 Weeks Later

(It takes 12-16 weeks for the full results to show up and I will be updating in a few months)


My skin looks and feels tighter and smoother, the overall skin tone is even for the first time since pre-adolescence. My pores are microscopic compared to what they were before. The fine lines are all but gone; deeper lines will need botox or filler, but I knew that going in there. My freckles even seem to have faded. I often go out now with only moisturizer, which is not something I used to do. I would absolutely recommend this procedure and will be doing it again with James!

James Christian has three locations, one in Manhattan and two in Long Island. He, and his staff, are absolutely wonderful, professional, and talented.


The Kentucky Derby IS Decadent & Depraved

That’s the title of a sports article written by Hunter S. Thompson in 1970. His account of the annual horse race held in Louisville, Kentucky  (Read Here) is not so much a commentary on the race itself, but of the drunken celebration that surrounds the event. This year I set out to find out first hand the level of decadence and depravity that takes place inside the legendary race course, Churchill Downs. So pour yourself some Bourbon and let’s take it back to May 6th where I got to participate in the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby.




The night before the big race I sat in my friend’s (and host’s) kitchen table struggling with my New York accent to pronounce the city like a local. No many how many times I tried, I just couldn’t properly extend and blend the vowels, to the amusement of her and her daughters. Saying it right now a month later at my New York kitchen table, I still can’t.

I went to sleep that night with that giddy excitement you experience so much less in life after finding out Santa, the Easter Bunny and Tooth Fairy don’t exist. But that morning we awoke to gray skies and a grim forecast, and all I had were the flip flops I wore on the plane and the Jimmy Choos I packed in my suitcase.

We set off at 10am on a race of our own, running into every store in the area for rain boots. It seemed the entire city of Louisville was sold out (shelves literally clear), as people more calculating than us had gone on their rain boot run the previous day. When we were close to giving up we got a tip that a sporting good store had just gotten in a Hunter Boot delivery. We gunned it over there and joined the other ill prepared women, all of us ripping through boxes like we were searching for the Golden Ticket. Both of us lucked out and we found boots in our size, and on sale. Crisis averted.

There’s an expression I hear quite often when I travel to the south and it’s, “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.”

There we were, all dressed up from the feathery fascinators on our head to the rubber soles on our feet, and we took a few steps out of the house and literally the clouds started blowing away revealing bluer and bluer skies. By the time we reached our destination, it was clear it was going to be a beautiful day for a Derby. The sun was shinning AND we got the excuse to wear ridiculously comfortable footwear. It was a win all the way around and we hadn’t even placed our bets yet.

As we joined the masses heading into Churchill Downs my eyes feasted on pure spectacle, I didn’t know where to look first. Within ten minutes of being there I knew Decadence was certainly an integral part of the day, that’s something you can bet your seersucker suit on. Upon that easy adjective confirmation, I immediatly sought out my first Mint Julep on the hunt for Depravity.


This was my one and only Mint Julep. Yes, it is tradition and you absolutely should try one. And then you never have to ever again.

Now that the first order of tradition was done, we needed to place our bets at one of the many Wagering Windows at the track. Always having a soft spot for the underdog I was gunning for Patch, the one eyed horse that was racing, because how could you not want a half blind colt with a name like Patch to beat the odds? I wasn’t alone, over $2 million dollars were waged on his very unlikely win. (Read more about Patch)

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As we went up to the box for the start of the race there was a hum of excitement you could almost feel vibrating in the track. After hours of cavorting with the most decadent and drinking my way to depravity it was finally time for what they call “the greatest two minutes in sports” and our seats were right by the finish line.



I couldn’t tell you exactly what happened in those hundred and twenty seconds, it was all a blur and I got lost in the adrenaline and wild cheering of the nearly 160,000 people in the crowd. The entire day that was a slow build of a buzz and anticipation was over so suddenly I almost didn’t know what to do with myself. Almost immediately after the last horse crossed the finish line everyone ran for the exits like the place was on fire. It was as illogical as the fact the most expensive seats I ever sat upon were folding chairs.

My horse Patch finished 14th, but the real winner of my heart was this guy with the twirling horse hat. As for will I be back to the races in 2018? Well, there’s Always Dreaming.


Booty Shaking in Bahia

Salvador da Bahia is one of those cities that gets into your soul because it seems to have a soul of its own. You roam the winding cobble stone streets and the colorful colonial buildings light up your eyes, the aroma of African spices tingles your nose, and the taste of cachaça and sugar sweetens your lips. Your ears are filled with the sound of the drums that begin to beat into your body until you can feel the rhythm pulsing in your own heart. It gets inside you, this city, and stays with you long after you leave.


Salvador is the epicenter of Afro-Brazilian culture, a blend of Portuguese, African and indigenous cultures. It is also known as Brazil’s Capital of Happiness and here there is always a reason party, to make music, to dance; and the reason is simply a celebration of being alive. The first night I arrived there was a huge street party that began in those winding streets and ended with everyone in the central plaza. The energy was humming around us, a flurry of mixed activities in every corner that blend together creating something the Brazilians call movimento. As the fireworks starting going off above us I asked a local what this was all for, he bared his teeth laughing and said, “Because it’s Tuesday.”



What I remember most about Salvador is the sound of the drums. You go to sleep with the drums, you wake up to the drums; they even beat in your dreams.  One thing you must do while there is take an Afro-Brazilian dance class. I’ve never before or since seen bodies move like that. The drummers were on the side of the class and as they played the music moved my body before my brain even had the chance; it took over and consumed every part of me from the inside out. At the end of the class the drum beat became erratic and ecstatic and everyone gave into it, as if possessed; and then at the last beats we all dropped down to our knees and bowed in joy and respect to the drums and the drummers. It was a deeply moving experience, a moment of time that has since become a part of me, and ever since, the sound of drums brings me back to those beats in Bahia.

(The video below is not my own and was published on YouTube by TheSambaYogi)


The Caipirinha is Brazil’s national drink. It is made with cachaça (a hard liquor distilled from sugarcane) sugar and lime
Along with samba, capoeira is a form of dance that originated in Brazil. Prohibited from practicing their traditional African martial arts, slaves disguised the moves into a form of dance. By doing so they were not only able to train to protect and liberate themselves, they were also able to preserve their cultural traditions.
Street food in Bahia is cheap and delicious. You will want to (and should!) try everything!

Viva Mexico! Riviera Maya Style

Playa De Carmen is only an hours drive from Cancun, but has little in common with it’s rowdier Spring Breaking neighbor. I’ve stayed in the resorts and in the center of downtown, both are great options, just depends on what kind of traveler you are. Last March my friend and I combined both those experiences and it was one of my favorite vacations. It also helps that my travel buddy is on the same speed as me and understands that “relaxing at the beach” means walking, swimming, cartwheeling, dancing, and making plans.

Ibero-Star Tucan 

$200-250 PP/night

Family friendly- Babysitting services available & free kids club

The property was converted into a natural habitat with a plush rainforest in the center- this is definitely the highlight. It gives the resort a Jungle Book feel and all around the property are monkeys, flamingos, peacocks, turtles, and, of course, toucans . The food is pretty good, but you’ll want to make reservations at their restaurants (they do book up so make reservations), the buffet food is merely mediocre.

You see a lot of these guy strutting around. It’s pretty awesome.

The white sanded beach is pristine (this is hands down where it has the downtown area beat) and we enjoyed a glorious drink  by the beach day, but neither one of us are really resorting kind of gals, and we were ready to head downtown.

The Playa’s 5th Avenue


All the action goes on for about 20 blocks on and directly around 5th Avenue. As you stroll down the pedestrian only cobblestone streets passing boutiques, wine bars, and restaurants with open air seating, you kind of feel like you’re in Europe. I had booked the resort first because I wasn’t sure how safe we would feel downtown, but never did we feel the slightest bit uncomfortable at any time of the day (or well into the night).

Aventura Mexicana


An amazing boutique hotel! We felt welcomed from the moment we walked in. The people at the resort were not even a fraction of how warm, friendly and eager to help the people who work in this hotel are. It’s centrally located on 5th, has a cute pool area, the restaurant is great, and the rate at $125 a night for a suite (including breakfast) cannot be beat. AND they have daily yoga classes in the garden. We didn’t actually attend, but it was great knowing the option was there (just like I like knowing I packed six sports bras I know I’ll never actually use but have to pack every single trip, just in case motivation strikes).


You can see the island Cozumel from the beach of Playa and it’s a short ferry ride over. Once docked you’ll have your pick of car rental agencies (you absolutely need one to properly enjoy the island). May I recommend not renting a moped. After crashing one and wiping out in Bermuda I should really just put this out there as a general rule. I still have the road rash as a reminder, yet I still tried to rent one again. After a minor incident involving a wall, we opted for the Jeep and we were way happier (and safer) for it. It was definitely one of the oldest and beat up Wranglers on the entire island and although we legitimately loved that old hunk of junk, I do recommend making a car reservation before getting there.

Directly off the coast (literally in knee deep water at some points) is one of the most beautiful and active reefs I have ever seen and you can just drive up to any of their beautiful beaches and rent snorkeling equipment. Want to take a dive excursion and you’re not certified? No problema. You’ll be able to take their “intensive” Mexican certification course in ten minutes or less. “Can you put on the mask and breathe? Si? Great, let’s dive.” is about the extent of it.

Tulum and the Mayan Ruins


On a bluff overlooking a turquoise Caribbean beach are the ruins of the ancient Mayan civilization. In Mayan times Tulum was called Zama, meaning “dawn,” and the structures all face the rising sun. The Mayan calendar revolved around the sun, and as a sun worshiper myself, I respect this. The Mayans built this palace window to line up with the sun on the equinoxes, the two days a year when the earth’s equator is aligned with the center of the sun and there is equal part day and night. If you travel during this time you might want to consider it, although I have heard it is extraordinarily packed.


With a guided tour it takes about 45 minutes to get through the ruins . The history is interesting, the views beautiful, and after you can take the steps down to the beach.


Joya- Cirque de Soleil
30 minute taxi ride from Playa 
VIP seating with 3 course dinner and unlimited champagne $200 per person

mexico7 When you see the tent glowing ethereally in the distance you instantly feel transported, and it only gets better from there. The venue is dreamy, the food is beautifully presented and delicious, and the production was wonderful and interactive. VIP package is worth the extra money.

Playa is great get away for the beach bum and adventure seeker. It is one of my favorite vacation spots and I can’t wait to go back. See you in April, Mexico!


Duck, Duck, HUNT

It’s an unseasonably warm Alabama night in Choctaw County and the air is heavy with humidity as we get on the golf cart and set out into the dense woods. Strapped in front of me a rifle, in back a flashlight cast ahead to light the uneven way. As we forge deeper into the forrest, the pines look even blacker against the blackness of the starless sky, every now and then luminescent deer eyes peak between the trees. We’re deep into hog country now, our guide says with a smile; it’s hogs we’re on the hunt for.

A light rain starts as we enter the clearing. Before the light gets snapped off I catch the sight of a hog carcass, its sharp yellow teeth are enormous and jut over its lips. I shiver a little despite the warmth of the night. That’s when he starts to call for them. It sounds like “shhhhwooooo shhhhwoooo”. We wait, listening intently for rustling leaves or snapping twigs; the silence is unnerving.

When no hogs come charging (a realization met with both disappointment and relief) we set back to camp. It’s near midnight when we get on the boat and take to the water. Although it’s a lake it feels a lot more like a bayou with dead Spanish moss draping down the trees and swamp grass spiking from the shallow ends. As the flashlight skims the water we find ourselves looking directly into the glowing red eyes of alligators.

One of them is arms distance away, a baby of about four feet, he is basking at the top of the water on this warm night, still and watchful. As we move into the center of the lake we catch a glimpse of a set of eyes set much further apart, and the shadow of a stealthy body glides through the water leaving a small wake. That is no baby. How big do they get, I ask. They grow to about 15 feet, is all the answer I need. Once we get back to camp sleep, surprisingly, comes easy.

I’m jolted out of dreams at 5am by a rifle boom.

Was it hogs? I ask. Yes, apparently they came to find us, our guide replies. I stare hard into the black woods, imagining what could be lurking. After a few moments he lets us know it’s time to get ready; the ducks fly at first light.

As we make our way back on the boat the humidity is flipped off like a switch, and the rain that comes down is bitter and cold. The drops hit my skin feel like ice pellets as the boat picks up speed, and I can’t help but think with unease of the red eyes hiding in the gray depths of the water. As we reach the hole the storm breaks but the clouds linger even as early dawn starts to lighten the sky. We anchor down and wait.

I can hear them before I see them, a sound resembling a whine, and moments later there’s a quick whoosh as they come into sight, black silhouettes dotting the soot colored sky. Their flight is fast as they pour in, seamlessly swooping through trees. I’m unprepared and shoot blindly. They continue to roll in and speed by for the next 20 minutes, I am dazzled by their quickness and mysterious flight. There is a long pause, then off in the distance we hear the caw of the crow, the hunter’s sign that the hunt is over.

It’s time to go home.

Continue reading “Duck, Duck, HUNT”

Virgin Islands & Boozy Beaches

I have a new island crush and its name is St. John.

aerial view of the beaches, St. John, US Virgin Islands

Crystal clear water of teal, turquoise and azure wash up on white sand beaches and the land rises and falls with plush green hills of untouched forrest . The contrast of colors makes you feel like you’re looking through a low-fi filter. Seventy-five percent of the island is protected National Park with meandering trails of unspoiled beauty. It is much less inhabited and urban than its USVI neighbors St. Thomas and St. Croix, and Cruz Bay itself is a cute, low key village with incredible dining and cute boutiques. A three mile coral reef is right off many of the beaches offering incredible snorkeling . The people are friendly, everyone always has a smile and salutation to offer as you pass. There is something about this place that is incredibly special, you’ll feel it the moment you set foot on the island. I know I will without a doubt return, the real question is, next time, will I leave?!?


Where to Stay: Estate Lindholm (Estatelindholm.com)

Nestled in the hills  overlooking St. John’s Cruz Bay is Estate Lindholm. A 16 room Bed & Breakfast that I wish I could move into, and from the moment you step on the property the owner and staff make you feel right at home.

(Disclaimer: If you’re looking for a luxury resort, sip your pina colada at the pool all day vacation, this is not what you’re looking for.)


We were in the Jumbie Suite, their most requested room.  All of the rooms have amazing views and large balconies but I believe this is the best, a sweeping vista of Cruz Bay, the National Park and that’s the island of St. Thomas the sun is setting behind. SWOON.


A continental breakfast is included and while you eat the staff and the owner chat with you about the island, talking about the history and making recommendations. There is a small pool, which we plunged in every day after the beach while raiding the “honor bar”. As the manager Gordon told us the first day, make your drinks as strong as you like, but if you have to be carried to your room you’ll  be charged for the bottle! Fair enough.


Solomon and Honeymoon Beach are a 10-15 minute hike down a trail through the National Park. Solomon is much more deserted and serene. Honeymoon has a beach bar, activities, hammocks and snorkeling. I also almost stepped on this “little” guy while in waist deep water!


Where to Eat 

North Shore Deli: If you want to quickly grab an egg or lunch sandwich or fill up your cooler for the beach this is a great place, plus it’s open early and close to the ferry.

Cruz Bay Landing: If I had let my husband get his way we would have eaten the shrimp here every day. Happy Hour is half off appetizers.

Asolare: Located right next to Estate Lindholm, tucked away from the busier streets of Cruz Bay, the view is phenomenal and the food is supposed to be as well. I say supposed because in a major choke, we never walked the fifteen feet to eat here! It will be our first dinner upon returning to the island.

Extra Virgin Bistro: The reason we never made it to Asolare is because we had to come here again. Everything here was amazing. From the homemade Portuguese bread to dessert, it was all phenomenal, especially the scallops and fried gnocchi.

Morgan’s Mango: The ambiance is much more of an “island” feel and has a great Caribbean menu. The paella was the best I’ve had since Brazil.

Colombos: If you choose to rent a car this smoothies spot is about midway through the other side of the island, and the added rum is free!

Adventures in BVI

The Baths

If you’re into seeing natural wonders, the Baths (in Virgin Gorda) is unlike any place on earth- no, seriously, nothing else like it. When the beach comes in sight you see these massive granite boulders, stacked on top of each other in what seems like mysterious ways. Could be aliens. Or it could be the slow cooling of magma and millions of years of erosion. (Or aliens)

The walk through the Baths is incredible. You step, or swim, into “rooms” with tidal pools and hidden grottos you can only get to by squeezing and crouching through granite tunnels and archways. (Side note: the walk through the Baths is a little on the precarious side with uneven and haphazerd wooden stairs and planks, slippery rocks, and the current can be strong especially during high tide and a full moon). Clausterphobics beware, there are some tight spaces. It isn’t rigorous or scary, just be careful.)

You only need about an hour to do the full experience and the rest of Virgin Gorda didn’t look like it had all that much to offer.


Jost Van Dyke

When the boat slowed down to this teeny tiny island in the British Virgin Islands, it was love at first sight. We swam to shore and paid for Painkillers with our soggy dollars at The Soggy Dollar bar, a drink created and perfected there, made of dark rum, cream of coconut, pineapple and orange juice topped with fresh grated Grenadian nutmeg. Magic mushrooms are legal and mixed in everything from tea to ice cream. I know, like this place wasn’t perfect already. I hear their full moon parties are not to be missed; just another reason I am counting down the days ’til we return.


Quick Tips

– You fly into St. Thomas (STT), a direct flight from NYC is only 3.5 hours. From there take a shared van ($15 PP) to the Red Hook Ferry (about a half hour in low traffic), the ferry to St. John is $7 PP and 15 minutes.
– Many restaurants and businesses are closed August and September and start reopening in October, but the beaches aren’t too crowded yet and rates are still down until Thanksgiving. April through June are supposed to be optimal times to visit to avoid hurricane and high seasons.
– A passport is not necessary for US citizens, but recommended so you can visit the very close and very beautiful British Virgin Islands. American dollars are accepted currency even in BVI.
– Rent a car for at least a day. You can get a jeep for about $70 in Cruz Bay and explore the island. Be advised, driving is on the left side, but the wheel is also on the left. “Stay left!” is a motto on island. It also gives you the chance to do some grocery shopping for staples.
– The best snorkeling is off of Maho Bay and Watermelon Cay. You can take a cab, but they do get expensive and then you’re at the mercy of having them pick you up, so see above tip.
– Ferries make it very easy to island hop including to BVI, which you can do on your own out of Cruz Bay (view schedule at http://www.stjohnusvi.com/ferry.html), passport IS necessary- A great day excursion is the Bad Kitty Tour which hits 5 different islands in the British Virgin Islands including the famous Baths and Jost Van Dyke’s White Bay. The total cost for the whole day including lunch, drinks and tip came to about $250 PP, it was worth it. (calypsovi.com) Trips do sell out, book in advance. Private charters also available.
– If you have the time, spend a full day on Jost Van Dyke, drink a painkiller from Soggy Dollar Bar and think of me.