Rio De Janeiro: Home of Football and Samba

 

ipanema_beach
Ipanema Beach

Rio De Janeiro is Brazil’s second populous city after Sao Paulo. Known with plentiful beaches such as Copacabana and Ipanema, bossa-nova rhythms, football players, dramatic mountains and of course samba dancers of Rio Carnival, the city is pretty vibrant and it is impossible not to fall in love with it.

Founded in 1565 by the Portuguese, Rio has the largest Portuguese population after Lisbon and the Portuguese cultural influence is still seen in many parts of the city. As Rio was once the capital of Brazil, many global companies have their headquarters here. Brazilians in Rio don’t speak English well but you won’t have difficulty if you speak a bit of Spanish.

Maybe not as much as Australia but Rio De Janeiro is pretty expensive, and it is one of the most visited cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Being the 5th biggest country of the world, Brazil is bigger than Europe and hosts the biggest amount of Catholics in the world (even more than Italy and Spain).

So here are my views about Rio De Janeiro and how you can make the best out of your Rio De Janeiro vacation:

When to visit:

There is really no bad time to visit the city but summer runs from December through the first half of March while the winter months are July, August and September.

Prices are lower in winter even though it only gets a bit chilly at nights (15 C). Don’t expect snow or real cold weather. On the other hand, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Carnival seasons attract the most tourists while the temperatures go up to 40 C.

brazil_street_art
Street Art in Rio’s city centre

Where to stay:

We stayed in Rio for 6 nights. All we wanted was to be close to beach so our options were Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon.

Before our trip, we were warned that Rio De Janeiro is not a safe place and we should be careful especially at nights. As Copacabana is more middle class and packed, we selected Ipanema which is a bit quieter and upper class. Leblon on the other hand is also upscale and safe, however Ipanema provides more options in terms of restaurants and shops. Also, it is easy to walk to Copacabana and to Leblon from Ipanema Beach as it is in the middle of the two.

We loved our stay at Best Western Plus Sol Ipanema Hotel. We were upgraded to a high floor sea view room and the beach just across the road was Posto Number 9 which was probably the best beach among all the others. The wide sandy beach was full of people chatting, sun bathing, having cocktails and showing off their bodies. The boardwalk was also fun. You can sit at one of the kiosks, have your coconut drink and watch people passing by with their skateboards, surf boards and bikes.

As we arrived the hotel pretty late, we were welcomed with Caipiroscas near the pool at the terrace of the building. It was a perfect place to be for the upcoming 7 days, before our trip to Salvador De Bahia.

12001055_10152993406562038_6157721651748384622_o
Favelas

Beaches:

The 5 main beaches of Rio from east to west are Leme, Copacabana (posto 2 to 6), Arpoador (posto 7), Ipanema (posto 8,9 and 10) and Leblon (posto 11 and 12). The largest and crowdest one is Copacabana, however Ipanema Beach is more trendy. Postos 8 and 9 are LGBT friendly, and you can see rainbow flags marking the area. As these two are full of open minded people, it felt like the most friendly and fun beach to me. There are caipirinhas in huge cups are being sold, and beach vendors are all around selling colorful beach towels and souvenirs.

If you are looking for a more exclusive and laid back beach, go for Leblon. But if you want to be in the heart of everything, go for Copacabana.

You can easily spend your days around Ipanema and Copacabana. If you wake up early, you will see men with sea beds and umbrellas making the beach ready for the day. You can go for a walk on the beach and see people working out or walking their dogs on the beach. It starts to get crowded around 9-10am and the quietness gets replaced by the crowds, hot men and women getting sun tan and beach vendors. A Jamaican vendor asked if we would like to buy magic cakes, and when we asked if it is legal – he replied that he creates his own rules. Then another vendor came and asked if we would like a huge cup of caipirinha or caipirosca. One huge cup of Caipirinha is like 4 Euros so we said why not!

ipanema_boardwalk

What to see:

I wouldn’t recommend spending a lot of time in the city center but there are places you shouldn’t miss to see when you are in Rio De Janeiro. The cone-shaped Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian was pretty impressive. The famous Escadaria Selarón and Botanical Garden are not so far from the cathedral and are just walking distance. The streets are full of beautiful street art so don’t miss to take a few pictures of them.

spanish_steps

At nights, you can go to Lapa area which is famous with its nightlife. Go for small laid back bars or check out Rio Scenario. Rio Scenario is a perfect place for a fun night out. There was a queue at the door, however it was worth the wait. The menu is delivered at the entrance and payment is done at the exit. You can dance, eat, drink and have an amazing night in this building’s different floors.

Other than above, I strongly recommend taking tours to see one of the seven wonders of the world – Christ De Redeemer, Sugarloaf Mountain, Tijuca Forest and famous colorful favelas. If you get a chance, you can also watch a football game at Maracanã Stadium.

I was impressed by the number of tunnels I saw in the city. This is because the city was built in mountains and there are around 28 tunnels in Rio De Janeiro.

ChristRedeemer

Food:

When it comes to Brazilian food, the 1st thing that comes up in minds is Churrascaria restaurants. These are basically places where meat is cooked in churrasco style (barbecue in Portugese). All you need to do is to take your salads and side dishes from the open buffet, and the meat will be served to your plate until you are full! Maybe not for the vegetarians but I love the idea of unlimited meat, all in different tastes.

We went to a restaurant called Carretao do Lido before watching the Platoforma Samba show. It was pretty good but if you ask for recommendation – go for CT Boucherie in Leblon area.

When it comes to drinks, Caipirinhas and Caipiroscas are everywhere. Caipirinha is made by mixing the famous Brazilian Cachaca, lime and sugar. Cachaca is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice and they also mix it with rum. The most famous local beers are Skol, Brahma and Anctartica.

What to buy from Rio De Janeiro:

While you are in Rio De Janeiro, you should treat yourself with a locally-made souvenir. A typical Brazilian bikini, the colorful Brazilian sarong called Canga, Cachaca to make Caipirinhas when you go back home, a pair of Hawaianas, coffee or jewelry if you’d like to spend a bit more.

After spending a week in Rio De Janeiro, we were all tanned and happy, and ready to move to our second stop in Brazil – Salvador De Bahia.

 

Advertisements

Cherry Blossoms in Bonn

IMG_7773.JPG

When it’s about cherry blossoms, first destinations that come up in the minds are Japan and Washington DC, but the city of Bonn’s cherry blossoms are totally beating the competition these days.

Named among the ‘Places to See Before You Die’, Aldstadt (old district) of Bonn, Germany is covered with pink cherry blossoms for 20 days in spring. The trees were planted in 1984 and cherry blossoms are very sensitive to rain or cold.

French-inspired Old Town district is currently very popular with tourists and visitors so waiting for your turn for taking pictures might be a bit of challenge. Here are the photos that I managed to take this weekend in Bonn.

IMG_7784

IMG_7759

Why Visit Bonn:

Bonn is former capital of Germany and is also known by being the birthplace of the great composer Beethoven. The famous candy-maker Haribo has its headquarters in Bonn too. With its bakeries all around the city, café and bars on the streets of central area with many students, and a lot of greenery, it is a charming city lying on the romantic river Rhein.

Bonn is also a good base for day trips to Cologne or Dusseldorf by train or car. If you are planning a visit to Bonn, the carnival in February and cherry blossoms in April-May are not to be missed!

 

 

Crystal Clear Waters and White Sandy Beaches of Boracay

 

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_a8a

Southeast Asia has always been our favourite holiday destination. It just never fails you if you are into a relaxing and affordable vacation. No posh clothes, no restaurant reservation requirements and no security concerns. It is a place where you can be yourself and enjoy to the max.

Boracay is one of those destinations where you could be yourself while discovering and admiring the views it offers, people’s friendliness, culture and relaxation. And the greatest part is what we’ve experienced in Boracay has exceeded our expectations.

In 2013, the readers of Travel & Leisure voted Boracay the second best island destination in the world after Palawan. Even though we never thought about going to Philippines especially for a 7 nights vacation, we knew we wanted to recharge our batteries in this 7 km tall island after seeing its postcard-like beaches and sunsets.

Boracay is a small island in the central Philippines. East coast of the island is pretty windy making itself kite surfers paradise while the west coast, White Beach is backed by palm trees, bars and restaurants. Lots of wedding ceremonies take place on the White Beach during sunset as it has a miraculous atmosphere and scenery.

How to get there:

From Manila, you can fly either to Kalibo or Caticlan to reach Boracay Island. I strongly recommend flying to Caticlan even the flights are a bit more expensive than those fly to Kalibo Airport.

If you fly to Manila from another country, you will need to take a taxi to reach the domestic departures in Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL). Make sure to take a yellow metered taxi as we ended up paying 1,000 PHPs to one of the white taxis to go to another terminal. With yellow taxis, it costs max 150 PHPs to get from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4.

If you fly to Caticlan Airport: All you need to do is to take a boat/ferry from the Caticlan Jetty Port and get to Boracay in 7-8 minutes. You will need to take a tricycle from where you arrive in Boracay to get to your hotel and reaching to Station 1 from the jetty port takes 15 minutes.

If you fly to Kalibo Airport: You can arrange different shuttle options from the airport anytime, but the most affordable option is to take a yellow metered taxi to Caticlan Jetty Port (takes 1,5 hours), then take a boat to Boracay and then a tricycle to your hotel. The total journey takes about 2 to 2,5 hours so flying to Caticlan Airport will definitely save you time and energy.

In terms of flight times, I’m not sure if it’s common but both of our AirAsia flights from/to Kalibo got delayed. We were thankful for that as we had to spend extra time to find our luggage and we would miss our flight if it wasn’t delayed.

boracay

When to visit:

The best time to visit Boracay is November to May when the weather is around 25-32 C and dry. However, some people prefer to visit between October and December as it is before all the crowds fill the island.

Easter and Chinese New Year are the most crowded times, so try to avoid these times as it may get pretty crowded.

Visa:

Many nationalities don’t require a visa to enter Philippines. Just make sure to check your visa requirements here.

Also, note that you will be charged 200 PHP when you leave the domestic airports Kalibo or Caticlan, so don’t forget to bring some cash with you when you are leaving the island.

Snapseed
The Lind Boracay

Where to stay:

Boracay is a small island and wherever you stay, you always have a chance to go to other areas of the island easily with hotel shuttles or tricycles.

Station 1, 2 and 3 are the most touristic areas where everything is happening. Station 1 is the quietest of the three stations with some nice hotels and resorts, but it is also the most expensive one. Walking towards Station 2, it gets noisy especially at nights with the music coming from different bars, restaurants and clubs. Station 3 has more budget friendly hotels and is quieter than Station 2.

stations.jpg
White Beach Boracay

We stayed at The Lind Boracay at the Station 1 and we loved our stay. It is a good choice for those looking for a bit of luxury, but still want to be close to the central area. Not that you need it in Boracay but it is also a good option if you are looking for a hotel with a nice infinity pool. We had a room upgrade and very welcomed (and spoiled) by the friendly staff.  The restaurant and bar is a bit more expensive than the other places on White Beach but everywhere is walking distance. For example, if you don’t want to pay 170 PHPs for a beer, you can walk to Station 2 or 3 and it gets as cheap as 40 PHPs.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_9e7
The Lind Boracay

If you are travelling as a group and self catering is not a matter, you may also want to rent one of the villas on the beach.

Another option is to stay a bit further from Station 1, around Diniwid Beach. It is as quiet as Station 1 but cheaper. We loved sunset views from there especially by sitting at Wahine Bar. The rustic bamboo-built guesthouse Spider House Resort around the corner could also be an option to stay as it looked pretty laid back.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_b55.jpg
Diniwid Beach – Wahine Bar

Shangri-La Boracay is another option for those seeking for another kind of luxury in a secluded area on the north. The hotel is huge and located on a hill. The area is so large that you need to call a buggy to go around. Probably the most expensive hotel in Boracay, it seemed like a perfect honeymoon hotel. The Chi Spa is also amazing so I recommend getting at least a massage there even if you prefer to stay somewhere else.

chi spa
Chi The Spa at Shangri-La Boracay

What to do and see:

Boracay is a place where you can spend a week or two even though there is not many attractions.

Water sports is very common in the island. You can rent a kayak, go for parasailing, take a sailing tour around the island or try stand up paddling. You can also hire a boat for half day and do island hopping to see Puka Beach, Crocodile Beach and Tambisaan Beach. There are also around 15 dive sites where you can experience underwater.

Other tours you can take are cliff diving at Ariel’s Point, zip lining, atv rides and of course sunset watching either from the beach or a sailing boat.

You can get a massage in a luxurious spa at Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa or in one of the hundreds of small spa centres near the beach.

At nights, you can enjoy watching fire dancers while sipping your drinks in the outdoor clubs, try shisha (with or without alcohol) sitting on the bean bags on the beach, or have a quiet night out at a reggie bar while having your dinner. We loved Jony’s Beach Bar as it was quiet and also close to Station 2. Almost all bars and restaurants offer happy hours until 7pm or 8pm so you can also try region’s famous mango cocktails while watching amazing sunsets.

Sunsets are insanely beautiful! I would suggest escaping the crowds and loud music of Station 2 to watch the sky turning red, blue and purple. Other than Station 1, Diniwid Beach and Puka Beach are also quite spots, and both can be reached by tricycles from DMall.

pukabeach
Puka Beach Boracay

After spending 7 nights at this amazing island, we were totally relaxed, tanned and recharged. So thanks Boracay, for giving us a week of amazing memories, and letting us to see your unforgettable beauty!

Travel Bucket List – 1 

Just like every other traveler, I also have a travel bucket list from watching Northern Lights in an Igloo Hotel in Northern Finland to roaming the skies of Bagan with a hot-air balloon. So here is my list with some essential information and tips which may be useful for travelers while planning their trips.

Myanmar: Hot Air Ballooning in Bagan

What to see in Myanmar: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake.

Time required: 10 days required if you are including domestic flights.

Visa: You need to apply for an e-visa here. It is only possible to enter Myanmar on an e-visa at Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw international airports; and at three Thai-Myanmar land border crossings Tachileik, Myawadi and Kawthoung.

When to visit: November to March is the high season.

Jordan: See Petra World Heritage Site at night

What to see: Enter through the Siq and get out from The Treasury – the most photographed part of the area due to its fame from Indiana Jones. Then you may hike up to a mountain to the monastery building. If you visit at night, you will feel the mystery of place by passing through hundreds of candles in Siq.

Time required: 1 day would be more than enough to see the historical site. However, if you’d like to go ahead and see Dead Sea and Amman itself, add one more day and make it a weekend trip.

When to visit: As it is generally hot in Petra, spring or autumn are the best times to visit Petra. If you’re there in summer, try to get out early morning before it gets hot and crowded.

How to get there: It is 4 hour drive from Amman Airport, however you can also take a taxi from airport to Amman bus station so that you can take a public bus to the historical site.

Where to stay: Wadi Musa area is just 10 minutes walking distance from Petra so you may want to stay there to be close.

Petra_by_Night
Petra by night – Photo credit: Susanahajer

Bhutan: See The Mysterious Land of the Thunder Dragon

What to see: It’s worth to see Bhutan’s landscapes and well-preserved Buddhist temples especially Takstang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery. Tiger’s Nest is built around a cave where the Indian guru Rinpoche meditated in the eighth century. Today, visitors reach the monastery after a two-hour climb that is not for the faint of heart.

Visa: Tourists(except Bangladesh,India and Maldives passport holders) must use a licensed Bhutanese tour operator or one of their international partners to pre-arrange their visa and book their holiday. A daily fee is also charged for each day of your stay. For most foreign tourists, it costs $250 a day during the high season, and $200 a day for the low season. However, the good news is that the visa covers most of the things and there is nearly nothing to buy in Bhutan.

When to visit: October to December is the best time to visit as the air is clear and fresh during this season.

How to get there: Druk Air is the only airline that serves Bhutan. Flights enter from Delhi, Calcutta and Kathmandu.

bhutan
Bhutan – Photo credit: Douglas J. McLaughlin (edited by Vassil)

Tanzania: Safari in Serengeti

When to visit: Wildlife viewing is good throughout the year but June and July are the best times as you may get a chance to see the great migration.

How to get there: Most safaris to the Serengeti start from the town of Arusha. The best option to get there is to fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport which is 46km away from Arusha. Arusha to Serengeti takes 8 hours by car but safari tours include other parks on the way so tour companies make it a day or two.

5 days safari tours including Serengeti and Ngorongoro start from 900-1000 Euros per person.

Japan: See Cherry Blossoms

When to visit: March to May is the perfect season to see cherry blossoms.

Time required: Kyoto offers more temples, history and things to do for tourists, so spending more time there than Tokyo is suggested. One can easily spend 2 weeks in these two but if you want to limit it, 4 days in Tokyo and 6 days in Kyoto would be sufficient.

Where to go: The capital Tokyo and the cultural centre Kyoto are the priorities even though there are more to see and discover in Japan. Mt Fuji is also a must! For 4 days in Tokyo:

Day 1: See the modern west

Day 2:  See the traditional east

Day 3: Take a day trip to Mt Fuji

Day 4: Tsukiji Fish Market, Imperial Palace and Shinjuku (also the best area to stay)

How to get there: Tokyo has two airports – Narita (NRT) and Haneda (HND). Haneda is closer to the city so it would be the faster and cheaper option.

To go to Kyoto from Tokyo, take the shinkansen train from Tokyo Station. It takes 2 hours and 15 minutes (don’t take the slowest one called Kodama but the faster Nozomi or Hikari) to Kyoto and there are shinkansen every hour between Tokyo and Kyoto until 7:50pm.

Cambodia: Catch the breathtaking sunrise at Angkor Wat

Visa: You need to apply for an eVisa here.

Time required: 2 to 3 days would be enough to see Cambodia.

What to see: Visit archeological park and temples in the afternoon and enjoy sunset in Siem Reap. Enjoy the sunrise at Angkor Wat and take a tuk tuk (1 hour) to see Banteay Srei.

cambodia.jpg
Angkor Wat – Photo credit: Sam Garza (wikimedia)

Chile: Visit one of the world’s most remote inhabited islands – Easter Island 

What to see: It is one of the most remote places in the world. However, it is worth to go to see moai, colossal statues that were each carved from a single stone sometime between 1200 and the mid 17th century. Group tours are the most common way to explore the island.

When to visit: As it is on the southern hemisphere, the seasons are reversed. There is Tapati Festival end of January to the start of February each year so you may want to consider planning the trip around these days.

How to get there: Take a 5 hours domestic flight from Santiago, Chile to Hanga Roa.

northern
Northern Lights in Finland – Photo credit: Timo Newton-Syms

See Northern Lights from an Igloo Hotel in Finnish Lapland

What to see: Of course the nature’s most spectacular light show, the Aurora Borealis in one of the world’s best locations to watch this beautiful show.

When to visit: From late August to April.

How to get there: You can get to Lapland from Helsinki or Tromso, Norway. The high speed train – Lapland Express which takes you to Rovaniemi  leaves from Helsinki on Saturdays at 09:30 and arrives at 17:45 the same day. The train back to Helsinki leaves on Sunday around 15:00 and reaches the capital at around midnight. More info can be found here.

Where to stay: There is a selection of places that have made it very easy to keep cosy and sleep well under the Aurorae on Visit Finland’s website.

What is your travel bucket item? Feel free to share yours in the comments below.

Hakuna Matata in Zanzibar

IMG_6919

Zanzibar is a semiautonomous part of Tanzania in East Africa. Also known as the spice island, it is not only a coastal touristic paradise but has a very rich history and culture.

The capital is Zanzibar City, located on the island of Unguja. Its historic centre Stone Town is a World Heritage Site and located on the west side of the island. Stone Town’s streets and townhouses reminds me a lot of Oman, and the reason of it is that it was once the capital of Oman.

Zanzibar fell under the control of the Sultanate of Oman back in 1698. As it was a base for traders from African Lakes region, India and Arabian Peninsula – it is different than Tanzania or even East Africa. It has its own leader, governing bodies and unlike other African countries, 95% of the population’s religion is Islam.

Visa:

Many nationalities get Tanzania visa at the border by paying 50 USD. They asked for vaccination record and I didn’t have it but it was still ok.

More details about visa can be found here.

Language:

The main language is Swahili and you will hear it from the locals approaching you all the time, so better to know a few words beforehand. Below are the most common ones you will hear:

Jambo Jambo: Hello

Ashanti Sana: Thanks

Karibou: Welcome

Hakuna Matata: All is good, no worries

Currency:

You can use either US dollars or Tanzanian Shilling (TZS) in Zanzibar.

When to visit:

Zanzibar has two rainy seasons in a year. The long rainy season lasts from March until May and booking a beach holiday during this period is not a good idea. The short rains generally take place between November and December, but aren’t nearly as intense. Even though we were there at the beginning of May, it didn’t rain at all and the temperatures were perfect.

Don’t expect to have safari experience there as the only wildlife in Zanzibar is under water. Want to go for diving while you are in the island? The high diving season is July to September and December to January, and if you have limited time, make sure to reserve your diving experience beforehand.

How to get there:

There are two ways to get to Zanzibar by plane – either by flying to Dar Es Salaam and taking a small adventurous plane from there, or flying directly to Zanzibar.

If you fly to Dar Es Salaam and don’t have the guts to fly with small planes or want a cheaper option, you can also take a fast ferry to the main island. The high-speed boats run four times a day each way, take about two hours, and a ticket will run you less than half of what it costs to fly.

zanziplane
Plane in Dar Es Salaam about to take off to Zanzibar

Where to stay:

The coastline offers some of the best beaches of the world, and different areas of the island offer different experiences to visitors. If you’re looking for a beach escape with other Westerners, head north to Nungwi and Kendwa. North east on the other hand is where many top accommodation resorts are set on. Meliá Zanzibar is one of them, and that’s where we stayed during our 3 days trip.

First thing to know about the island is that it gets more remote and quieter when you go up to north, and more populated when you go down to south. Stone Town on the west coast is good for being explored in a full day with a guided tour but not to stay unless you want to be in the historical centre.

Melia Zanzibar:

Melia Zanzibar is a luxury beach all-inclusive resort situated on the north-east coast of the exotic island of Zanzibar. The hotel has private villas, an infinity pool, a spa, 5 restaurants and 4 bars providing guests the opportunity to experience culinary delights from around the world.

One thing to know about Zanzibar is that the whole island is under the effect of Indian Ocean tides, caused by the moon’s gravity against the mass of the ocean. At Melia, swimming is possible only at high tide. The difference  between the low and high tides are 6 hours but don’t worry – walking on the beach and finding colorful star fish when there is low tide was also fun.

Offering spectacular views especially when the sun is shining, it is a perfect hotel if you want to stay in and relax. About 1 hours away from Stone Town, it is far from all the night life and you feel a bit stuck with the hotel’s entertainment at nights.

The hotel’s Gabi Beach is accessible by a shuttle from the main building. There are hammocks and a bar/restaurant for a perfect day on the beach. Diving club is open during diving season if you wish to go diving as well.

For the evenings, I strongly recommend a tapas dinner at Jetty Restaurant but make sure to have a reservation as it is always fully booked.

gabihotel.JPG
Gabi Beach – Melia Hotel

What to do:

If you don’t want to spend your days on the beach, you can visit Prison Island which is a former prison for slaves and quarantine station, or head to north to see Nungwi and Kendwa beaches.

Unlike us, you may want to spend more time in Stone Town and take a famous spice tour which  usually takes 5-6 hours. You will be overwhelmed by the abundance of spices growing in spice plantations such as cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla or black pepper.

stonetown.JPG
Market in Stone Town

Other places of interest in Stone Town are House of Wonders, the Palace Museum, the market and the house where Queens’s Freddie Mercury was born in. Freddie was born in Zanzibar in 1946 in this house in Stone Town and it is now a guest house and unfortunately you cannot enter the building.

In short, even though 3-4 days is enough to see the island, you can stay longer to discover Zanzibar and relax a bit more.

Other Costs:

Zanzibar focuses on tourism to boost its economy, so prices of taxis, souvenirs, hotels and taxes are pretty high.

  • Transfer from Dar Es Salaam to domestic flights and the plane costed 65 USD.
  • We were asked to pay 10 USD tax entering Zanzibar at the airport
  • The taxi from Zanzibar Airport to Melia Hotel costed 60 USD
  • Melia Hotel to Zanzibar Stone Town with a 2 hours city tour (all arranged at the hotel) costed 90 USD

On our way back, we preferred to fly from Zanzibar with a stop in Kilimanjaro. It appeared to be a good idea as we got to see the tip of Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain of Africa from the plane’s window.

Sharing the same ocean as Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles, Zanzibar is a place that is worth a visit and a few more.Personally, I’d prefer Zanzibar over Maldives. While Maldives provides one of the best snorkeling and diving opportunities in the world, you don’t have to be stuck in a single hotel in Zanzibar. What do you think?

Must Have Travel Apps in 2017

IMG_6917

Technology has revolutionized traveling and travel planning just like anything else in the last few years.  There are various mobile applications that makes your travel planning process easier and your travels more enjoyable. From flight and hotel booking apps to review apps which help exploration more fun, you have hundreds of options to choose from.

Here is my top list of mobile applications for planning trips, exploring the area and getting around. Just don’t forget to clean up your phone’s storage before your travels in order to avoid the unnecessary stress.

To Plan:

Booking.com:

Even though I generally compare prices of hotels from a few different websites, Booking.com is the only one when it comes to a mobile application. Easy to use and provides a messaging system with the hotel itself. Pretty competitive hotel rates if you are a Genius member too.

Airbnb:

If you like to stay away from touristic areas and find a remote place to stay, you may want to check out Airbnb.  Offering unique homes or rooms, you can rent unique places to stay from local hosts in 191+ countries.

Skyscanner:

As number of choices increase, the flight booking process gets more complicated. However with Skyscanner, you can compare the prices of many airlines from one destination to another. Also by selecting ‘Flexible (Everywhere)’ as a destination country, you can also decide where to go depending on the flight rates.

TripAdvisor:

I use TripAdvisor both as a meta search engine to find the best rate of a single hotel I’m searching for, or to read about the reviews of specific destinations and hotels. If you have a specific question like ‘how to get to X Hotel from the X Airport’, write it on forums and you will get responses in less than a day.

Weather and Money:

AccuWeather:

Stay connected to the latest weather conditions with AccuWeather. It gives you minute-by-minute information on upcoming conditions for your exact location as well as video updates, details on humidity, UV, wind speed, clouds, pressure, sunrise and sunset times.

Oanda Currency Converter:

Oanda uses an easy interface that gives you access to daily filtered rates for more than 190 currencies. It is a must have app with an easy user interface.

To Explore:

Foursquare:

Foursquare is an app that shows you restaurants, bars, shops, beaches, points of interests and even the trending places that are close by or in the destination you are searching for. If you like, you can create lists before your travels and see their locations on a single map. This will help you save time from searching for where to go and discover the best places by seeing the ratings and reviews left by others.

One alternative to Foursquare is Yelp which is pretty common in the U.S.

TripIt

This is a dream app for organizers. TripIt shows all your trip details at a glance: flights, hotels, car, map, directions all in one place. And all you need to do is to connect your emails with the app so that it grabs the travel information automatically from your booking confirmations in e-mails.

To Get Around:

Uber:

There is Uber in many countries and it’s a life saver if you don’t speak the language of that country. It may not be available in all countries so here are the alternative apps to Uber in different countries:

  • EasyTaxi – Available in 30 countries
  • Careem – Qatar and UAE
  • Lyft – USA
  • Hailo – UK, Spain, Ireland, Japan and Singapore
  • LeCab – Paris
  • BiTaksi – Istanbul
  • Ingogo – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane
  • Cabify – Columbia, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Spain
  • Grab (GrabTaxi) –  Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia

Google Maps:

Google Maps is a must have app as you actually don’t need to have an internet connection to use it. Once the satellite locates you, you can turn your roaming off and navigate like a pro. It is pretty accurate and easy to use.

Which travel apps do you use the most? Write in the comments below.

My First Experience with Emirates and Etihad Airways

Flying mostly with Qatar Airways in The Middle East, I finally had a chance to experience Etihad Airways and Emirates economy classes last weekend, and I would like to share my experiences about the two premium Middle Eastern airlines based in UAE.

Before booking and flying with any airline, I check the airline’s safety ranking because safety comes before the luxury and comfort. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways being the best in safety ranking, it was followed by Emirates, Eva Air and Qatar Airways in 2016. Etihad Airways has been the 8th, pulling ahead Lufthansa, British Airways and Qantas.

So here is my review about both airline’s economy class to/from Dusseldorf, Germany from Doha.

Etihad Airways:

Route: Doha to Dusseldorf
Aircraft: A321
First leg: Doha to Abu Dhabi

Check in: Online check-in opens 48 hours before the departure so I checked in online one day before, and the online system let me select an exit seat which is not a common case for some airlines.

The aircraft: It was an old and small A321 probably because the flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi takes only 45 minutes. The legroom and seat comfort were good. There was no blanket or a goodie bag distributed to passengers which were not really required.

Cabin crew: As I mentioned above, I selected my seat online before, however, another passenger showed up with exactly the same seat number while I was already seated. We went to check with the cabin crew but all she said was it happens, and we could sit on an any empty seat. I would expect such a luxurious airline’s cabin crew to apologize and show passengers the seats, instead of giving this unprofessional attitude. Giving the same seat number is not something common and it gives an idea about how safety is important for that airline.

After the seat issue, all passengers were onloaded and the ground staff came to tell me to take my luggages out and follow them outside as I didn’t have a return ticket from Dusseldorf. All passengers were watching what was going on, and I told them I could book it right there and I don’t need to go out with my carry on luggage. Again, the attitude was unacceptable and I still don’t get why a passenger should have a return ticket to be able to fly to Dusseldorf. They told me the ground staff of Abu Dhabi ask for a return ticket but no one did. I booked a return ticket so I didn’t get out of the plane but the situation wasn’t managed well by the crew.

img_6600
Etihad’s Exit Seats

Generally, the cabin crew was not attentive or they just didn’t care much about the customer experience in a short haul flight.

Service: They distributed an express snack pack which was a small bottle of water and a cold sandwich.

Second leg: Abu Dhabi to Dusseldorf

Boarding at Abu Dhabi Airport: We were taken to a coach after getting off the plane in Abu Dhabi Airport which made me run to my next flight. Luckily, the boarding was just started when I was at the gate and there was a long queue of passengers. This is something Qatar Airways handles very properly. Passengers sit down, and they get onloaded according to their seat zone areas. Here with Etihad or in Abu Dhabi Airport, all passengers got in the plane after business class passengers which created a chaotic environment at the gate.

Aircraft: B787-9. The lighting, design, attentiveness of cabin crew, seat comfort and the leg room was pretty good. One of the things that I loved was the unique pillows that convert into neck pillows and the flexible headrests . Unfortunately they didn’t give any goodie bags but there was noise cancelling headphones as well as a blanket.

Service and meals: The service started with juices and tea/coffee with the express snack pack which was again a cartoon bag including a cold sandwich, sliced apple pieces and a small water bottle. Some passengers asked for coke and alcohol to drink with their sandwiches but the crew said they could only bring them after the service.

On-board Entertainment System: Entertainment system started only when the seat belt sign was off in the air, and the on-screen cursor was not really useful. There were new movies as well as TV shows but the variety of audio and video was less than Qatar Airways or Emirates.

There was no wifi on board, however you are allowed to use your mobile phone with roaming charges.

Emirates:

Route: Dusseldorf to Doha

First leg: Dusseldorf to Dubai (DXB)

Second leg: Dubai (DXB) to Doha

Aircraft: Both planes were A380s even though there were not many people traveling to Doha from Dubai, but it showed how rich the airline is or how they care about the customer experience.

The legroom and the seat comfort was as good as Qatar Airways A380s. Emirates didn’t give any goodie bag but a blanket and a cushion.

On-board Entertainment System: I can say that Emirates has the best entertainment system in terms of variety of videos and audios. However, the on-screen cursor was a bit difficult to use just as it was with Etihad.

img_6752
Cabin crew: It was announced that the cabin crew speaks 7-8 different languages, and they were wearing flags of the countries they are speaking the language of. Emirates’ cabin crew nationalities were mixed while Etihad’s were generally Russian or eastern European, and Qatar Airways has lots of Asian/ South Asian.

Service and meals: The whole service was pretty good. The cabin crew was running around to bring whatever passengers were asking for even before the meal service started. They asked if I would like my water/coke with ice and brought them immediately.

Meals were pretty good. There were only chicken and meat options while Qatar Airways has meat, chicken and vegetarian options in the menu. The chicken I ordered was pretty good, and there were also Italian bread, a bun as well as crackers on the tray. The salad had fish even though it was a chicken meal. They served only one meal for 6 hours of flight.

On the negative side: My seat wasn’t working! I couldn’t lie the seat down all night long and it was a long flight. I was informed the aircraft was full so I didn’t have a chance to change seats either.

In short, I wasn’t very impressed with Etihad’s service but I would still use it if I have to. On the other hand, Emirates made me feel much more safe and welcomed than Etihad. The whole experience was very close to Qatar Airways’ and I would definitely consider flying with Emirates as much as I do with Qatar Airways.