Chichen Itza, A Slice of the Mayan World

In the last week of April, I took a tour from Cozumel to the Yucatán peninsula to visit the ancient Mayan archaeological site, Chichen Itza. Even though each way took three hours because of a ferry ride to the mainland and a shuttle service, it was well worth it. 31543518_10156962242623797_420894816344211456_n

Chichen Itza (At the edge of the well of the Itzaes) used to be one of the main Mayan cities. The site was settled largely in its present location because of its close vicinity to two cenotes, which are accessible areas that lead to underground pools of water. The site is historically significant due to the synthesis of Mayan and Mexican architectural stylization. The stonework and hieroglyphs on the buildings were painted with local colors, some residual colors can still be faintly seen.

The Kukulkan Pyramid or El Castillo is the iconic, large pyramid that attracts millions of tourists each year to learn about Mayan history and culture. Recently in 2017, it was established as a Wonder of the World. Although tourists are no longer able to climb up the stairs of El Castillo, the site is still impressive. A quirky feature to El Castillo is that if a group of people clap before it, the sound of a squawking bird will echo back.

Here are some other noteworthy areas on the complex to see:

  • Temple of Warriors with its many columns and a statue of Chacmool, where human sacrifices occurred.
  • The Great Ball Court and the North Temple (Temple of the Bearded Man)
  • The Osario Group is a short pyramid
  • The Observatory is a tower with a circular staircase that is thought to be used by the Mayan people to study astronomy.
  • Temple of Xtoloc
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Panoramic shot of the Temple of Warriors

When I visited a few days ago, the temperature was beyond 90 degrees Fahrenheit It’s important to frequently drink water and apply sunblock. The ideal time to go is in the morning because the site will be overwhelmed by tourists in the afternoon. I heard the site was commercialized, however I was stunned by the persistent vendors that lined many main pathways on the outskirts of the site.

Don’t forget to taste Xtabentún, a local liquor made from honey and anise seed.

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The Osario Group with El Castillo in the background

Snorkeling Belize’s Coral Reef

When I heard that Belize is home to the second largest coral reef in the world, I knew I needed to snorkel it. Especially since I already snorkeled the largest one – the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns, Australia. Belize’s reef stretches to be just shy of 200 miles and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

During my trip to Belize, my friends and I took a tour from Belize City to visit a coral reef about 45 minutes away. The coral reef in Belize did not disappoint. spotted starfish, rays, eels, living conch and varieties of vibrant fish. Even on our way there a dolphin curiously hitched a ride in the boat’s wake. I was relieved to see that the coral at our snorkeling site was still colorful and healthy.

During my snorkeling experience, I learned that there are over 500 different types of fish at this coral reef.

After snorkeling for a little over an hour, our boat stopped at the quaint, but privately owned “Starfish Island”. The island very touristy, but relaxing in a hammock merely steps away from the Caribbean water was the perfect way to end the day. The island has plenty of lounge chairs, a swing-set in the water, playground, hammocks, a bar, restaurant, and also rentable floats and kayaks.

You can learn more about traveling Belize and seeing it’s Coral Reef here.

Lake Ashi and Hakone’s Hot Springs

29425232_10156834205338797_7907052753489231872_nStaying in a ryoukan (a traditional Japanese inn with an outdoor hotspring) has been at the top of my bucket list for a while, especially since I endeavored in a lot of anime and manga as a child.

Last November, I made my second trip to Japan and made sure to include this experience. Before the trip, I scoured the internet for hours before carefully selecting a ryoukan in Hakone.

Hakone is widely known for is its variety of traditional onsen, Lake Ashi, and vicinity to Mount Fuji.

On the day of our check in to the ryoukan, we took a Shinkansen from Tokyo to Hakone to explore Lake Ashi. We were sure to purchase the Hakone Free Pass, which cost 4,000 yen (approx 40$) from Odawara Station, and also had our luggage delivered directly to the ryoukan. While the delivery can be a little expensive, it was so worth it to not have to worry about retrieving our luggage from a locker in the train station after a long day of riding the rails and ropeways.

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Volcanic activity in Hakone

The Hakone Tozan Railway brought us to the ropeway, which passed through cloudy mountain tops and leisurely deposited us at Togendai on the shore of Lake Ashi. While it was raining when we caught the boat, we held our breaths at the possibility of spotting any views of Mount Fuji. Nonetheless, the ride on Lake Ashi was memorable.

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Torii of Peace at Lake Ashi

We went took the pirate boat to one of the few ports, Motohakone, to visit the Hakone Shrine.

The shrine dates back to the Nara period, and the cedar trees on the main path are at least 800 years old. The walk is easily accessible from the docks, and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to reach.

That evening, we took the ropeway and train back to our ryoukan at the Naka-Gora Station.

At check-in we were able to choose a time slot for when we wanted to dip in a private outdoor onsen. We were also given yukata, socks, and sandals for walking about the resort and the traditional dinner.

  • Side note, many ryoukan offer a complimentary dinner and breakfast. While I don’t eat shellfish and I’m a borderline vegetarian, I struggled to enjoy the several course dinner. Bring snacks if you’re unsure whether you will enjoy the meal.

During our hour long time slot in the evening, my boyfriend and I relaxed in a private onsen that was hidden within bamboo thickets. The private bath was especially relaxing after a day of traveling from Tokyo and touring the countryside.

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My yukata hung beside the private onsen at the ryoukan

Our hotel room was spacious with tatami flooring, a king-sized bed, and we were greeted by Japanese sweets. There was also an intimate outdoor bath on our room’s porch with a view of the autumnal countryside. Although this additional feature was a costly upgrade, the next morning I enjoyed listening to the rain fall against the leaves in the hot bath.

While it was more expensive than would have been ideal, I’m glad that my boyfriend and I were able to do this together.

There are cheaper options available to have the Lake Ashi and/or onsen experience.

  • Catch an all day tour from Tokyo.
  • Take the Shinkansen/Romance Car to Hakone, and if you’re planning on staying in the area either store your luggage in a locker or have it delivered to your next destination.
  • There are many ryoukans in this region with various onsen options, such as gender segregated hot springs, a private bath at the ryoukan that can be ‘rented’ for you and your family/partner, or a private bath attached to your room.

48 Hours in Iceland

During my first trip to Iceland, I realized that it truly is a land of ice and fire.

When I went in the summertime, theres a midnight sun that refuses to set completely. The darkest it ever became resembled twilight. It was just before 8pm when I arrived at my hostel in Reykjavik, but since it was June, I was able to enjoy the city until midnight because of the sun. I wasn’t the only tourist taking advantage of the evening’s light.

Since I was jet-lagged I only lasted the few hours, but I saw Hallgrimskirkja, Reykajavik’s iconic church with it’s prominent statue of Lief Erikson, and the Prime Minister’s Building. I walked the popular shopping street, Laugauegur, and also sat at Faxa Bay to soak in the views of the gorgeous volcanic mountain range of Esja.

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Þingvellir National Park

On my only whole day in Iceland, I went on the Golden Circle Tour with Gateway to Iceland, which is a popular tour to do from Reykjavik. I found that the tour guide, Gauti, was upbeat and incredibly knowledgable.

  • Þingvellir National Parkthe landscape here was full of Purple Alaskan Flowers and the peaks of the mountains were speckled with snow. Its not only home to the largest lake in Iceland, but also the Great Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian Plate straddles the North American Plate. Walking through the park, you can spot the fissure within the earth.
  • Gullfoss waterfalla site I found comparable to Niagara, but with views of mountains and glaciers in the far distance.
  • Haukadalur geothermal area – this is an interesting stop with diverse geysers, but most notable are Strokkur and Geysir.
  • Secret Lagoon hot spring nature bathunlike the Blue Lagoon, this is a natural hot spring. Although the facilities were small, it had an intimate and relaxed vibe. The water smoked against the cool afternoon air and the hot spring’s walls were (unexpectedly) lined with thick multi-colored algae.

On my last day with only a few hours remaining to explore, I visited Reykajavik’s Opera House, Harpa, which resembled the interesting architecture of the opera houses in Oslo and Amsterdam. I wandered more of the street Laugauegur, the downtown area, and purchased Rúgbrauð (dense rye bread that has been cooked in the earth beside a geothermal spring).

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In the late afternoon, I was on my way back to the airport via the shuttle.

While I only had about 48 hours to explore Iceland, I really enjoyed myself and plan to return.

Here are some additional suggestions for the Reykajavik area:

  • Blue Lagoon
  • Snaefellsnes Peninsula
  • South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier
  • Puffins and/or Whale Watching Boat Tour

Norway and Krakow

On the last weekend of January, my friend Lindsay, and I arrived to Oslo City Centre by 18:00 on Saturday evening, and stayed at Anker Hostel. Although it was a little ways away from the city, it was only about 15-20 minutes walking distance. We traveled to the Sculpture Garden, but on the way we walked along Johan Street and through the city centre. We saw the cathedral, city hall and …we searched extensively for the Eternal Flame, however found out much later, that it was taken down.

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On Sunday morning we wandered about the Akershus Fortress before official opening time. We watched the raising of the flag and enjoyed the panoramic views of the harbor. The clouds were colored with the sunrise and mirrored on the waters surface. Also, the architecture of the opera house was quite pretty, especially since that part of the harbor was frozen. We departed Oslo, and headed for Krakow, Poland. Certainly it was not enough time spent in Oslo- as it were more of a layover, however next time I return to Norway it would be nice to visit the Viking Museum, Edvard Munch Museum and take an excursion around Oslos harbor/fjords.

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Although we arrived late to Krakow in the evening – we found ourselves in the market place of the Historic District – after enjoying a bottle of champagne… As we stayed at a Flat in Kazmirez, the walk over was brief and we could spot all of the monuments. We sat in Rynek Glowny – the main plaza – and drank Polish Wodka recommended by our waitress. We were cozy under our blankets, heat lamps and the holiday lights strung around the canopy.

We started early on Monday morning, as we had a full day tour of 2 UNESCO heritage sites, Auschwitz, followed by Wieliczka Salt Mines. I don’t typically do tours unless if I’m limited on time, but we booked with Krakow Shuttle. I would recommend the company as zero stress was involved, and they picked us up outside of our Airbnb flat.

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Unlike everyone else, I only took 1 photo during my visit to Auschwitz, which was of the entrance to Auschwitz I. I wanted to be wholly present. The tour started with touring the grounds of Auschwitz I, and was followed by the museum. I’ve heard about the piles of shoes and hair, but personally witnessing and smelling shook me. It’s a very tangible experience. To be honest, when we were brought to Auschwitz II (Birkenau) I wasn’t sure whether I had the strength to see more. But I walked along the road of death and entered the gas chamber with the fingernail markings engraved into walls.

sdfI think if possible, everyone should try to visit – it’s an incredibly powerful and haunting experience.

The Wieliczka Salt Mines were impressive and our tour guide was incredibly witty and comical.

After dinner in our flat, we visited the perimeter of Wavel Castel, and Krakow’s Old Town once more.

24 Hours in Copenhagen

On a whim last week, I booked an inexpensive flight to Copenhagen from Edinburgh for 1 day. So much has happened over the past week (my 24th birthday, the death of my grandfather, American Thanksgiving, and handed in 1 postgraduate final paper), that I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, but to be honest – I was due for a much needed a distraction from reality. Copenhagen was perfect for just that. I’m very content with everything I saw – albeit, I didn’t see it all! I left Sunday morning and returned to the UK during Monday afternoon.

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Copenhagen was all dressed up with festive lights and their Christmas markets were open! It cheered me up to see so many happy people. I wandered through the shops on Stroget. It’s the longest shopping street in Europe and there’s something for everyone. I was able to see the Rundertaarn too, but it was closed. I heard there’s a better view from another rounder tower, Church of Our Savior.

The main site I had to see was Nyhavn. It’s the infamous harbor area with colored houses and schooners peppering its canal. I paid 40kroner (around 4£) for a cruise around the canals that lasted an hour. It was worth it and I throughly enjoyed it. Everyone says don’t stop at the first one – which is true! The first one was 80kr. Unfortunately we saw so much I can’t remember it all and the tour didn’t offer any pamphlets. It was chilly on the boat, but I kept switching between seats with an open and shut window for the sake of photo opportunities and warmth. Some of the most notable icons I remember are, the Royal Danish Old and New homes, the Kastellet, the Opera House, the Ship Museum that accidentally blew up some holiday homes a few years ago, Christianshavns, and the Little Mermaid Statue!

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The boat itself was quite long and short, but I was very impressed with the captain’s ability to maneuver through the claustrophobic canals. I remember holding my breath and inwardly cheering whenever we successfully moved onto the next set of neighborhoods.

Please comment and let me know what I should see the next time I return! I spied Tivoli from outside and wanted to walk explore Christiana too. Next time?!

Around the Ring of Kerry We Go!

While in southwest Ireland, I visited the Ring of Kerry, otherwise called the Iveragh Peninsula. The landscape boasts the views of the coastline and mountainous terrain. Before the tour I worried over the rain, however I had (the Irish) luck on my side. The rain clouds cleared by the afternoon time. 
Our route traveled from Killarney in a counter-clockwise manner, through Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Cahirciveen, Waterville (Coomakista Pass), Sneem, and Kenmare. We saw a part of the Dingle Bay, the Skellig Michael Islands out in the distance (I remember from my undergrad course in Irish Art History the Islands house an abandoned Monastery), the Black Valley, and the Ladies View in Killarney National Park of the two lakes. There was even a rainbow over one of its lakes.


If you can – drive it on your own. I will warn you that if you’re unaccustomed to small roads or not driving on the left-hand side perhaps you should take a coach tour. As I’m not old enough to rent a car, I opted for the tour. The driver was silent for the majority of the time, and it’s unfortunate because I feel like I saw so much but don’t know what half of it was. As the tour offered student prices, it cost me 15€ (approx 16$). For those reasons I will say it was worth it, but I think it might be nice to do it with friends and on your own schedule.

I find the ocean’s breeze to be so purifying, even if it threatens to whisk you away.

Stepping Stones at the Giants Causeway

Long, long ago a volcano erupted and brought about one of the most popular modern day attractions in the UK/EU. In 1986, it was established as a UNESCO World heritage site and is a natural wonder of the world.

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The basalt hexagon rocks are incredible, and incredibly slick. The water swarms through the stacked rocks and can even splash you if you’re close enough. The day I visited was misty and incessantly drizzling.

If you go and it’s raining, be mindful of your footing and don’t be upset with the weather… After all, it is North Ireland ☺…

I went on the McComb Tour, which left from the hostel I booked for the duration of my stay, Belfast International Youth Hostel.

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The tour cruised along the infamous Antrim coast road with breath-taking views of the coastline and its Glens. We even passed by the Game of Thrones set for the Black Castle (oh, John Snow).

We visited Bushmills Whiskey Factory, Carrickfergus Castle, Dunluce Castle, and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. Early in the day it was clear at the rope bridge in Co Antrimand, and I could see Rathlin Island and Scotland’s silhouette across the water.

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The view from Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

There is a legend detailing how the heroic Finn McCool created the Giant’s Causeway as a defense mechanism against his enemies, the Giants from Scotland. The gist of the story is about how Finn and his wife tricked a Giant through self-infliction and deception. As the Giant was weakened, Finn McCool successfully rid NI of the menace. More stories about Finn McCool are found here

If you would like to find out more about the McComb Tour experience, click here