Ultimate Panamá Layover

Ultimate Panamá Layover

Panamá is a major hub for layovers. If you’re stopping at Panamá for a long layover, here are my top recommendations to make the most out of your time in Panama. 

Some cool facts about Panama:

*The Panama Canal generates one third of the country’s economy

*Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sunrise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic

*Panama was the first Latin American country to adopt the US Dollar to their currency

*There are more than 1,500 islands in Panama

*Panama elected it’s first female president in 1999

Here is how you can make a layover in Panama work:

First, when exiting the terminals, you’ll find a line of tour guides and taxis asking if you need a ride or a tour. I recommend that you talk to a few and ask their pricing for a tour around town within your layover time. Then, negotiate a price for your tour. 

Make sure you stop at the following locations(I highly recommend):

  • Panama Canal- There’s so much history there. You can ask your tour guide, but usually there’s schedules of times when ships are crossing the canal. There’s also a museum before you get to the watch deck. The museum displays notable history about how the canal was built and how it operates
  • Casco Viejo- the old city. This neighborhood is filled with lively restaurants, bars and colonial era landmarks. Bring your camera because this area is a great opportunity to snap some photos of the colonial architecture and you can also snap a cool shot of the city (as pictured below)
  • Flamenco Island- lovely restaurants along the harbor. One of the four small islands next to the entrance of the Panama Canal. Linked to the city by a causeway. 

So now you know…you can make the most out of your time and explore a nice glimpse of the country during a layover.

Nicaragua

Nicaragua

Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. Many say it’s the next Costa Rica as this country is gaining momentum and expanding in development.

Nicaragua has definitely exceeded our expectations. There are some hidden gems in this volcanic terrain. There’s something for everyone to explore when you’re in Nicaragua, from historical colonial cities to pacific coastlines.

What’s also nice about it is that it still is budget friendly and you can make the most out of your trip at an affordable price!

To start, let’s briefly talk about food: Beans, rice and meat are your most common meal. For “comedores/fritangas” (local street food eateries) you can expect to have the common options of gallo pinto (fried beans and rice) and choice of grilled chicken, beef or pork. For breakfast you can also expect the same, gallo pinto. The common breakfast also includes “queso frito”(fried cheese) and a choice of meat.

Nicaragua has definitely earned a special place in Gordi and my heart. We first visited Nicaragua in 2017. The first trip was before the major floods and civil war . The first trip in 2017 was a group trip. We lodged in San Juan del Sur at Pelican Eyes Resort. We loved the resort for it’s beautiful view of the ocean as well as it being so close to everything in San Juan. Pelican Eyes has 3 beautiful pools and the villas are roomy and homelike.

BUT we loved our quick visit to Rancho Santana in Rivas. Rancho Santana is exactly as it describes itself on their Instagram Bio ” Purity, authenticity and rustic elegance. Set serenely in the Southwest Pacific…”.

At that time, our wonderful friend worked for Rancho Santana and gave us a quick tour of the premisses. Who knew we would later return to fully explore and experience Rancho 3 years later. I’ll talk about towards the end of the post.

During our first trip to Nicaragua we also visited the following highly recommended locations:

-Granada – a small town nestled next to Lake Nicaragua. The architecture preserves the Spanish colonial styles. There is also a main plaza with the Cathedral de Granada.

-Masaya Volcano- on our drive down to San Juan del Sur we stopped at Masaya Volcano to check out the caldera and craters.

– Cristo de La Misericordia at San Juan del Sur- Because we were traveling as a group, we rented a large ATV and drove it up to the Cristo. The view from the Cristo is absolutely breathtaking and worth the short walk up there after parking the ATV lol.

-Playa Gigante – as a group, we did a full day excursion to Playa Gigante. We hopped on a sailboat and returned to shore right before sunset.

Our second trip to Nicaragua was completely unexpected. Gordi text me the week before and asked how I felt about going to Nicaragua next week. At first I thought he was joking, but then later that day found out it wasn’t a joke lol.

This time, we stayed with our dear friend at Rancho Santana. We were able to explore Rancho’s beautiful beaches and restaurants, and not to mention their stunning pools.

Isla de Omepete- we hopped on a ferry to the island and rented ATVs. We rode the ATVs to Ojo the Agua, a cool natural water pool.

We also visited Mukul in Guacalito, a posh hotel and resort. It pretty peaceful and relaxing. We then moved over to Hacienda Iguana, their neighbor. We fell in love with everything about Hacienda Iguana. It was a youthful, fun and upbeat place where everyone is filled with fun and positivity. We loved it so much that we contemplated buying property there and moving there-hahaha!

Anyway, the highlight of our last memorable trip of 2020 (right before shelter in place and the pandemic) was our experience at Rancho Santana. I highly recommend their Cafe main restaurant. Their Tona Fish Tacos are fire! Also make sure to check out their bosque spa for a relaxing and tranquil treatment.

Also, I’ll never forget the howling monkeys we spotted on the way to dinner at Rancho Santana!

So as you can see, there is so much to do. We can’t wait to return and hopefully during our next trip to Nicaragua, we’ll be able to explore the Caribbean side of the country and take a trip to Corn Island.

Paris

Paris

Ooh-la-la Paris. We only spent one full day and Paris for a long layover during our voyage to Dubai. Before visiting Paris, I had a vision of what in my head I imagined Paris would look like. It was actually completely different from what I imagined. To start, I didn’t expect there to be as much traffic, and there was a lot of it. I didn’t expect it to be as touristy as it was. I don’t know why I though it would be less crowded, but then again it is one of the most popular places in the world!

Nevertheless, it was amazing. The shopping and fashion – to die for. Did I mention the shopping?! Everything about the fashion is an omg moment!

Let’s start with some interesting facts and then dive into our short trip to Paris.

Interesting Facts:

*Paris was originally a Roman City called “Lutetia.

*It’s believed that Paris only has one stop sign in the entire city.

*The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be a temporary installation, intended to stand for 20 years after being built for the 1889 World Fair.

Now, about our short trip to Paris:

We started off our day visiting the Eiffel Tower. We purchased tickets to go up and dine at one of the restaurants. I highly recommend buying your tickets online, as it will save you so much time of standing in line to buy them there at the booth. There are several restaurants at the Eiffel Tower, and they all have different price ranges. Theres something to meet everyone’s price range there.

We then met with our tour guide who drove us across the city in a cute little 2CV Citroen. It was the highlight of our time in Paris. Our tour guide was knowledgeable and so friendly. We drove across all the well known neighborhoods and monuments in Paris. We ended the tour in the Montemarte District. A district that definitely capture the raw and authentic Parisian lifestyle. You could see Parisian families walking around and just going on about their day.

We bought a lot of wine when we were in Paris. I’m waiting for the day when we’re able to return and can explore the South of France as well as Bordeaux. I dream of sipping on Bordeaux, in Bordeaux.

Merci, Paris! We’ll be back!

Greece

Greece

Does the title of this post not say it all? Oh Greece… stunning, dreamy, beautiful, historic, breathtaking and I could go on and on. Greece is just the way you dreamed it would be. It has amazing food and stunning views. I know that Greece is on everyone’s bucket list and I highly encourage everyone to visit. Gordi and I spent about a week and a half in Greece and were able to explore a few cities and of course, dreamy Santorini.

I vividly remember arriving to our hotel in Santorini and literally stopped and was in awe at how stunning the caldera was. I turned over to Gordi and said “Wow, this is so beautiful it almost feels like it’s fake”. *Check out our Videos tab for a video of our Santorini footage. We got some great drone footage during this trip.

During out trip to Greece we also explored the following cities and towns: Athens, Corinth, Evia Island, Temple of Poseidon, and Nafplio.

Top Recommendation from our trip to Greece:

Santorini:

*Lauda Restaurant in Oia – Michelin Star Restaurant with a wonderful view of Oia

*Cavo Tagoo Hotel, Restaurant and Bar – Posh hotel

*Amoudi Bay – waterfront area with delicious restaurants and a stunning view of Oia

*2 Brothers Bar- laid back bar playing all the jams!

*Artemis Karamelegos Winery- stop by for a tasting of their splendid wine

*Red, black and white beaches on the island – every beach has different color sand and rocks. You’ll enjoy the different landscapes of every beach as they are all so distinct.

*Akro Beach Club-posh beach club serving food and beverage, as well as day beds and lounge chairs.

A heads up – taxis are very expensive in Santorini (about $60USD each way). I highly recommend renting a car during your stay in Santorini, it will be cost effective and you’ll be able to move around the island at anytime you desire.

Athens:

*Plaka – small town with shops and restaurants

*Little Kook- fun and decorative cafe

I also thought I’d take the time to share some cool facts about Greece that you may not know:

*80% of Greece is made up of mountains

*It’s considered one of the sunniest countries in the world

*There are more than 2,000 islands

*40% of the total population in Greece reside in Athens

Greece is rich and history. Not only is it beautiful, but there’s something for you to do- no matter what you’re into! Every neighborhood, town and island have a different feel. It’s truly wonderful and helps you understand why the Mediterranean life if the best way to live!

Mi Lindo El Salvador

Mi Lindo El Salvador

The title of this post says it all. Mi lindo El Savador = My beautiful El Salvador. This post hits a spot very close to my heart. Not only because my roots are from El Salvador, but because I hope this post changes the narrative that you have about El Salvador. I know that the media often portrays the country as a gang infested and horrible place. And yes, just like any other third world country in the world, there is violence and poverty. I hate how the media’s portrayal of all the negatives about the country, outshine the positives and all of the beauty the country has to offer.

El Salvador was the first international trip I had in my life, when I was about 6 years old. I’m not going to lie, the experience shook me. I mean, shook me! My mother’s family lives in a remote small village in the middle of the jungle, where there are only dirt roads and the closest “town” is about a 30 minute drive away. I am extremely grateful that my parents exposed me to what their life was like before they immigrated to the U.S. My parents always put extra effort to help me understand that we take so many things for granted in the U.S. As I look back, I think that is one of the reasons that I’m optimistic when traveling to another country. That was the first time I was forced to step out of my comfort zone. So now, as an adult, I feel comfortable being uncomfortable. It also helped me understand what poverty looked like and realize that there are people in this world that are doing whatever they can to just simply survive and eat. But the most important thing that always resonates with me after leaving a third world country is realizing that the people that have the least, have the most. I’ve learned to realize that some of the poorest people I’ve met, live the richest lives. I’ll let you dig deep and sink that sentence in, because you won’t get it, until you get it or see it with your own eyes.

My hopes in creating this blog is that it also inspires to travel somewhere you never thought you’d travel to, or even put on your bucket list. I’m hoping this is one of those places.

My last trip to El Salvador was in 2019, and I was so excited to explore and experience all of the beauty that is hidden in this small country.

I also hope that this helps explain that Salvadorans aren’t bad “hombres” lol. Sorry, had to laugh at that. I try to remove myself from political views and comments, but just had to throw that ignorant statement in there. The kindest people I have met were in El Salvador. The type of kind that will welcome you into their home and offer you their last pieces of food(literally) to show you that kind of hospitality.

Gordi and I plan on visiting El Salvador together within the coming years, and I hope to share all of those new experience with you soon! I cannot wait for this trip because the energy I’m going to put into the content is going to be on another level! Wait for it!

Ok, so for now…

My top recommendations in El Salvador:

*Playa El Tunco – this is the hot tourist spot with many beachfront resorts and restaurants

*Royal Decameron Salinitas – the nicest beachfront and all inclusive resort in the country.

*Los Planes de Renderos- Mountaintop with a strip of restaurants, bars and shops.

*Cafe Albania- stunning property that has a labyrinth, restaurant, cafe and bar.

*Cafe Santa Cruz- Mountaintop and lake view cafe and restaurant.

See, there are beautiful places in this small country! If you have some time, take a look at my Instagram Stories Highlight for El Salvador for some video footage of these recommendations.

I’d like to end this post with a few interesting facts that you probably didn’t know about El Salvador:

*El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America

*El Salvador is the most densely populated country in Central America

*It’s the only country in Central America without a Caribbean Coastline

*The country has more than 20 volcanoes in it’s territory

*Salvadoran foods do NOT consist of any spicy foods (meaning hot like chile spicy)

The Luxurious United Arab Emerites

The Luxurious United Arab Emerites

The UAE (United Arab Emerites) didn’t come into my radar until a few of my colleagues travelled there and highly recommended this destination. I always had the perception that there is no way Gordi and I would ever be able to afford to travel to the UAE. I mean, everything I’d seen on TV looked over the top and luxurious. Thankfully, my colleagues explained to me that there is something for everyone to do when visiting Dubai and Abu Dhabi. There are extremely luxurious hotels, but there are also affordable accommodations that can be made.

Dubai is the center for shopping and the hustle and bustle. The Dubai mall is like nothing I’ve ever seen. That mall has everything, and I mean everything! Every store you can imagine, every restaurant, an aquarium, an indoor snow park, and the Burj Khalifa (tallest building in the world).

During our trip to Dubai we stayed on one of the palm islands at Dukes The Palm, a Royal Hideaway. Gordi upgraded our room and we had the most beautiful view of the city and that side of the island.

On our first night, went to Elevate Penthouse Rooftop at the Nine hotel. The view of the city from the rooftop is incredible. We also tried the best hookah we’ve ever!

Top Recommendations in Dubai:

*Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world

*Jetski to the Burj Al Arab and Atlantis – you can rent jetskis with a tour guide from various companies on Expedia

*Dubai Desert Safari Tour- this tour takes you to the desert where you drive through the desert, have an opportunity to drive an ATV, ride camels and ends with a wonderful show and dinner at a desert camp

*Dubai Spice and Gold Souq- Souq means market. You’ll be able to find unique and local spices at the spice souq and at the gold souq you’ll find any gold piece you’re looking for

*Arabian Tea House in Old Dubai- tea house in old Dubai where you can enjoy some fantastic tea

After our stay in Dubai, we stayed in Abu Dhabi for a few days. Abu Dhabi was definitely a different scenery and feel. We noticed that Abu Dhabi was more of a laid back, quite and family oriented vibe. Whereas, Dubai was always busy and go-go-go.

In Abu Dhabi we stayed at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, which has a perfect view of the Grand Mosque. The customer service at the Fairmont was exceptional. We highly recommend staying there if you plan on visiting Abu Dhabi.

The highlight of Abu Dhabi: The Grand Mosque! I mean, wow! It’s like something out of dream. Every detail is exquisite, extravagant and beautiful. Pictures do it no justice. Please note that you will have to wear a covering that the mosque provides for you during your visit. There are strict wardrobe restrictions when entering the mosque.

We also enjoyed the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. We missed the Louvre when we were in Paris, but Abu Dhabi definitely made up for it. The architecture of the museum is pristine.

We got a lot of questions on why we chose to go to Dubai. We went for my Birthday in January of 2020, right when there was tension between the U.S and Iran. We still decided to go because this was another step at getting out of our comfort zone. We were totally open to visiting a place where the culture had completely different views than we do. We respectfully took everything in, including the the food and the culture. Although we may think that we are so different (because we have different cultural norms) than someone in another country, we actually share a lot of similarities. We learned so much on this trip and made some incredible friends, which we hope to see in the near future!

Spiritually Bali

Spiritually Bali

Bali has always been at the top of my bucket list. I’d read on other travel blogs that it was the perfect place to do absolutely everything. Gordi and I took our trip to Bali for my 30th Birthday a few years ago. It has become one of our top favorite trips we’ve taken thus far, and cannot wait to go back.

We spent 4 days in Ubud. Ubud is the more tranquil and zen area in Bali. Lush greenery, waterfalls, infinity pools and monkeys! We stayed at Kamandalu Ubud. We enjoyed a floating breakfast, explored the small town and ate amazing breakfast and the best Chinese food we have tried to date. The resort offers a shuttle that drives you down to the small town (about 15min drive). We also enjoyed a massage at the edge of the jungle. We could hear all the wildlife during the massage, which made the experience the most memorable. The Ubud Monkey Sanctuary is a must! We discovered a cool pool bar a few minutes away from the monkey sanctuary. It’s called Folk Pool & Garden. They offer day beds that sit right next to the pool, as well as refreshing slushy drinks.

I have to say, the person that made the trip most accommodating and informative was our driver. Our friend recommended our driver Made Dana(Instagram @madesuardana.dana). He was exceptional and informative about every question or request we had. He would pick us up early in the morning and helped make our day the most productive by taking us to different tours and activities.

During our trip to Bali, we also stayed at the famous Ayana Resort in Jimbaran. At Ayana we had the opportunity to visit Rock Bar and also swam in the coolest pools ever! Their property is filled with so many pools, each having a different style, theme and mood.

What we loved most about Bali was the tranquility as well as the positivity of its people. Everyone always greeted us with a smile and not one person we came across was rude. The Bali hospitality shines bright like no other place!

We also experienced Nusa Dua, where we dove down to feed fish and explore a local coral reef.

I don’t know if it’s the location, the jungle, the people or the tranquility, but Bali’s connection to your spirituality is definitely felt and present. I’m all about the vibes, and Bali gave me the most positive vibes I’ve ever felt before.

Here are some cool facts about Bali:

*Has some of the most expensive coffee Kopi Luwak

*Bali is in the Coral Triangle

*Bali Has one of the World’s Highest Densities of Spas

*Malevolent Spirits are not Welcome.

In Bali, spirits are everywhere, they sustain the balance of zen. And there are myriad practices to keep evil ones at bay.

There’s a screen behind compound gateways called an aling aling, intended to keep them out. Every morning, Balinese people leave offerings of food and incense wrapped in banana leaves outside their homes and businesses, to appease the spirits.

There are also noisy processions and fearsome stone carvings on walls to frighten them off.

Travel back in time in Cuba

Travel back in time in Cuba

Have you ever wondered what it feels like to travel back in time? Classic cars, vibrant colors surrounding you, and amazing music! That’s what Cuba is in a snapshot. Cuba was on the top of my bucketlist for the longest of times. I have always been intrigued by the history of Cuba. I vividly remember writing a history paper about Cuba in high school and doing extensive research on the the challenges and adversity that this country faced. I also remember researching the culture, the education and healthcare system. I was intrigued back then and I told myself I would travel there some day, and so I finally did in my adult life!

Before I go into our trip to Cuba, I would like to share some interesting facts:

*The main island of Cuba is the largest island in the Carribean

*Cuba has largely a state planned economy. This means most companies and production centers are  state owned and run by the government. The majority of Cubans are employed by the state. However, in recent years the private sector is expanding.

*People pay for staple food and supplies with coupons from their libretto. A libretto is a ration book with coupons for monthly food supplies such as rice, sugar, meats) and basic supplies such as cooking fuels. Food and basic supplies are rationed due to economic challenges.

*The literacy rate is 99.8%. The educational level in Cuba is very high, education is free in Cuba.

*Cuba has two national currencies: The Cuban Peso which is the currency the locals pay and trade with and the Convertible Peso which tourists and visitors use and which only can be used in special shops. The Cuban convertible peso is about 25 times more valuable!

Gordi and I had the opportunity to travel to Cuba during Obama’s presidency as travel restrictions to Cuba looked hopeful and as they were beginning to easy. We were only there for 2 days. But boy, it was a memorable experience!

We started off with a historic tour throughout the city of Habana. This included a tour of El Morro, Plaza de Armas, Plaza Vieja, Plaza de la Revolucion and The Christopher Columbus Cemetery.

We had the most refreshing Cuba Libre Cocktail at El Morro and the best mojito at a small bar near Plaza Vieja. We ended the day at an artisan market where there was a warehouse of the most incredible art I’ve seen. Paintings, trinkets, souvenirs, purses, etc. I wish I had more room in my luggage to bring more art home with me.

During our trip to Cuba, we also got to experience riding in a classic pink car. Our driver, Adrian, drove us to the famous Tropicana Cabaret Show. We enjoyed dinner and front row seats to the Tropicana Cabaret Show. That evening, we cruised the Malecon, where we witnessed the sunset and locals waving at us hello as we drove by. The Malecon is famous and you probably have seen it make in appearance in the Fast and the Furious Movie Pt.7. Gordi and I felt like we traveled back in time as we cruised through the city.

Our regrets during this trip: we should have stayed longer, brought back more cigars and rum, and packed less so we could bring home more art!

If you plan on visiting Cuba, you should know that you CANNOT access or use any USA credit cards, USA debit cards, or access any of your USA bank accounts. You must bring CASH ONLY. Bring plenty of cash, just in case of an emergency!

Every time I hear the song “Hasta que se seque el Malecon” (Until the Malecon dries up) it makes my heart stop and think about Cuba.

People dancing to live salsa, twirling around with a huge smile on their face is what you’ll see in the streets of Habana Vieja (Old Habana). And I promise you’ll never forget it. Regresaremos un dia, Cuba! (We’ll come back someday, Cuba!)