The Marieta Islands near Puerto Vallarta was a wonderful way for us to spend time both on and in the ocean. These islands are protected as a National Park with regulation and permits required to visit and a UNESCO recognized as a Biosphere Reserve area. I always seek out UNESCO sites to explore for their unique and interesting experiences.
We chose Dressel Divers to explore the area with because Kat & Kevin are very knowledgeable and passionate about the islands, preserving it’s natural wonders. They also gave us great insights in advance on why a smaller boat is best.
On our 30-minute boat ride from Punta Mita, we were lucky to spot Humpback whales. They just arrived for the season! We also learned about the islands’ history. Upon arrival, we saw the unique birds like the blue footed boobies which are also found in the Galapagos. I love their bright aqua webbed feet! Other colorful and interesting birds also call these islands home. We dropped anchor and snorkeled near the rocky shore. We “found Nemo” along with Angel fish and other colorful sea life.
The Marieta Islands have become famous for their beautiful hidden beaches and arched rock caves. Amor beach, also commonly called Hidden Beach, is featured in many travel photos. This beach is one for the brave as you need perfect timing of the tides and protective footwear to avoid cuts from the rocks. The reward is a sandy small perfectly circled beach to take an awesome selfie in. This beach gets all the social media love, but I actually preferred the more remote cave beach on the far side. We were able to get into the entrance while staying safely on our boat. I was thankful that we choose a small boat with an experienced guide like Kevin to be able to do this. Another larger “party boat” had joined us initially on the one side of the islands but did not explore the areas we did because of its size and large crowd onboard. As we are continually learning, smaller is sometimes better!
Here are a few tips to always ask before booking activities:
Asking these questions allows you to decide if it’s worth your time and costs. You will also learn the details of the experience and decide if it’s for you. We always recommend booking with reputable tour companies and booking with the operator in you lobby or water center at the resort is safer than someone on the street or a wandering beach vendor.
Photo permission & credit from Dressel Divers Punta Mita.
I’ll be honest, I was long overdue for a driving trip as I’m more of Jet Setter then a Road Warrior. There seemed to be no better time than now so my parents, my younger niece, and I set out to see a few National Parks with the iconic sights along the way.
We were on our way with all the necessities: snacks, maps, trip itinerary, and car games. The majority of the drive was easy and moved along quickly and scenic drives were perfectly placed to break up the interstate time.
We really have impressive sights beyond within our borders! It’s easy to see how the world’s first National Park is Yellowstone. At 2.2 million acres be sure to have a well-planned itinerary for your visit. We spent much of our time at Old Faithful, the multi jewel colored Prismatic springs, the scenic drives, and on the lookout for wildlife. The highlight was a rare viewing just off the road of a large grizzly protecting his prize elk. Not rare, but still awesome, was the 100+ Bison herd we had also seen stretched along on the side of the road.
Our visit to the Grand Tetons National Park was a day of beauty. The main three majestic Teton mountain peaks towering over pristine lakes like Lake Jenny was a perfect backdrop for the easy walks we did. We enjoyed our time in nearby Jackson Hole area exploring its unique shops and delicious eats. Huckleberry old fashioned soda is made locally here and was a new treat for us all.
I think the Badland’s National Park and surrounding area can be underrated and overlooked. We enjoyed the bands of color ribboning in its jagged rock formations and tried to imagine the lifestyles of the natives and early settlers here. This area also has so much family fun to offer, we had a great time at Wall Drug and posed for some funny photos. My niece loved the Cowgirl hat she found there and wore it our entire trip. Dinosaur digs, caves, and more are so close by that it make’s for perfect family fun.
Seeing the National Monuments such as Mount Rushmore and Devil’s Tower were also high lights of our trip. We visited Mount Rushmore by day and night. We loved the upper level and the walkway with all of the state flags and enjoyed seeing the faces glow as they were illuminated after dusk. The best sight of the 4 past Presidents was catching the first glimpse of their faces from afar as we arrived into the area. Devil’s Tower can be seen from quite a distance but viewing this rock tower created by volcanic force up close is so interesting. We enjoyed the massive bounders at its base.
Staying in towns like Cody, WY and Keystone, SD gave us time to get into the spirit of the wild west. Having great weather added to the experience and spending time splashing in the pools were great way to start or end our days.
Bringing three generations together on a road trip is my favorite memory of all. We kept focused on the reason for this trip which was that the joy was in the journey. This was what made a driving trip special for us and something we could not have experienced by flying alone.
Lori also recently spent family time on a Dude ranch out West. We love that we can blend time with family and gain current insights on what to see and how to see it. We also know what can really be left for a later visit if time is short so the trip will stay fun for all. We would love to help you plan your own adventure West!
By Lori Derauf
Ever hear the phrase “It’s not the destination but the journey”?
In this case it’s both.
Our family vacation a few summers ago involved taking the train from the Wisconsin Dells to West Glacier in Montana. Although you can book sleeper compartments, we thought it would be good family bonding to book standard seats for the 27+ hour ride (each way). The seats were similar in size to First Class seats on aircraft, had plenty of leg room, a footrest and charging ports. We packed a cooler and ate most of our meals from it but occasionally went to the dining car and found the food to be decent and at a reasonable price. We brought along a deck of cards and most times were able to snag a table in the observation car.
The train stops at East and West Glacier before crossing over into Washington. I had arranged for a rental car to be dropped off at the station in West Glacier. In just a few minutes of arriving we were on our way.
We stayed at the Village Inn at Apgar, an old national park motel with no AC and very uncomfortable beds. You cannot beat this location, though, as its on the edge of Lake Macdonald. The little village of Apgar is adjacent to the inn where you’ll find a few shops, a couple of restaurants and a place to rent kayaks and paddle boards. Book accommodations a year in advance if you plan to stay at a national park hotel, especially true for this motel as its very small.
During our week we hiked several trails, went horseback riding, whitewater rafting, took the Going to the Sun road to East Glacier, drove into Whitefish to shop and got our fill of Huckleberry everything!
All in all, it was a good experience but if I were to take this journey again, I would consider booking a sleeper compartment on the train, which also includes meals.
Just a backpack, is it even possible?
Jenni is a whiz at traveling like this. Here are her tips for enjoying a long weekend in the tropics without checking luggage or paying for overhead bin space.
Foodies like me (and you) will love San Sebastian, Spain
Gastronomy is taken very seriously here! Stroll the narrow streets of Old Town and peek in any tapa bar for a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. Artfully displayed plates laden with tapas (tastes) cover the bar counters. Enjoy with a local wine or sangria while people watching on long summer evenings!
Croissants aren’t just for Parisians!
I don’t typically eat a big breakfast but I did especially enjoy a sweet, flakey croissant with chocolate inside while sipping a strong espresso coffee in the early morning air outside my San Sebastian hotel.
Discovering Pasai Donibane (San Juan), Spain
The old town Pasai Donibane (San Juan), is a 10-minute ferry ride from the colorful fishing village of Hondarribia. Baroque and Renaissance styles homes built in the 16th & 18th centuries, line the single street that runs the length of the quaint little town. Casa Victor Hugo, directly on the bay, is where Victor Hugo stayed during his time in Pasaia in 1843
Sunny beaches of Biarritz, France
On the northwestern edge of France is the sweet little beach town of Biarritz where a full day can be spent on the sun-soaked beaches. Be amazed by sand artists who work their magic using rakes and branches to create beautiful artwork in the sand for onlookers who throw coins to the artists. Later, head town where you can stroll the narrow streets for fabulous shopping and amazing restaurants where. I loved eating at La Trattoria Pizzeria restaurant along the beachfront.
The Flysch of Zumaia, Spain
Do not miss this fantastic half-day trip in northern Basque Country. Visit the Geopark of the Basque Coast. Amazing marvels of nature, the Flysch are geological phenomena caused by the erosion of the sea into the limestone and marl rocks of the region over millions of years. The Algorri cliffs area in Zumaia is the start of the hermitage of San Telmo.
Some things to love about Bilboa
If you only have a day in Bilboa you will want to wander through the streets along the river to the Guggenheim Museum of Bilboa. You will fall in love with Jeff Koons’ adorable little Puppy sculpture sitting outside the museum. Puppy combines two of my favorite things, puppies and flowers!
Bilboa’s Guggenheim Museum is one of five Guggenheim Museums, (New York, Venice, Abu Dhabi and Berlin are the others) named after Solomon Guggenheim. The three levels of the building are organized around the Atrium and are connected by means of curved walkways, titanium and glass elevators, and staircases. The museum is a treat even if you only choose to view all the museum’s outside art sculptures! Yep, that’s what I did!
A Hike with a View
The 30-minute hike up Monte Urgull will lead you to the inspiring 12-meter statue of Jesus Christ which overlooks the beautiful city of San Sebastian, Spain. The rocky terrain led Monte Urgull to be converted into a military fortress in the 12th century with its walls which were subject to attacks and sieges throughout the years. The Sagrado Corazon (Sacred Heart) statue has been the custodian of the city since 1950 and can be seen from four miles out to sea.
By Jenni Schmitt
Zermatt’s upscale yet warm charm reminds me of a storybook setting.
The town is pedestrian friendly with no vehicles aside from hotel transfers. Beautiful strolls take you to the center square which is full of cute and interesting historic chalets and shops.
Stop at Cafe du Pont for an early lunch and order the Rosti for a memorable traditional meal. The shredded potato and cheese dish is crispy outside and buttery tender in the center. A roasted sausage completes the hearty Alpine meal. You will be all set for the gentle hike to see the famous Matterhorn with iconic peak from the best viewpoint.
Head upwards into the mountains on a funicular and scenic cable car to the Rothorn area for the best views closer to the Matterhorn. Excellent scenery and fairly level terrain from Blauherd to Sunnegga make for a great hike. The alpine lakes surrounded by flowers and the occasional bells from the sheep and goats are nature’s entertainment along the path.
After taking in the views of the Matterhorn, choose to take the path from Sunnega down into Zermatt by foot or the easy reverse back down by way of cable cars and funicular as you arrived.
Arriving back at your chalet, soak in one of the hot whirlpools before slipping back out for your evening’s dinner. Zermatt has excellent accommodation options but be sure to plan ahead as Zermatt is loved year-round by many for all its seasons. The interior of the room we choose was wall to ceiling carved wood and very luxe, Zermatt’s hospitality and beauty flows everywhere you look!
Zermatt is a destination you will want help planning as it's not as simple as hailing a taxing from the airport or making the drive in. Lucky for you, we have been there and can’t wait to help you see Zermatt’s charm firsthand too!
By Lori Derauf
A few years ago, I had a conference in Athens and decided to extend my stay and tour the Peloponnese Peninsula as I didn’t know much about it. I had sailed around the Greek Islands before and couldn’t imagine a better way to experience Greece. After 5 days on the mainland I had changed my mindset to realize that experiencing this area was just as fantastic as visiting the islands. Plus, it was a lot less crowded as most cruise ship traffic only visits Athens.
To get a feel for how big this area is, it covers over 8300 square miles. Its connected to the mainland by crossing the Corinth Canal. It’s very mountainous with lots of amazing coastal towns.
It’s pretty easy to get to from Athens but to truly see it you have to either rent a car or book into a guided group trip. Our group was 12 people with a driver and a guide who were from the area and very knowledgeable. In addition to visiting family owned vineyards and olive groves we visited Olympia and stayed on the sleepy coastal town of Nafplio.
I highly recommend dedicating a few days to this area when considering a trip to Greece. Here are a few pictures of my experiences there.
A fun and easy day trip from Cancun
10:00A – Boarded ferry to Isla Mujeres – $19 roundtrip
10:30A – Rented Golf Cart – $40 for the day
1:00P – Time for Lunch – 3 Fish Tacos and 2 beers – $5
1:30P – Shopped and enjoyed the downtown area
5:30P – Last ferry back to Cancun
By Lori Derauf
Where to stay:
A well-located hotel is a must. I prefer the Temple Bar/Fleet Street area which is close to the river Liffey and within walking distance of all the major sights.
Things to do:
There is no shortage of places to experience a pint or glass of whiskey. To avoid lines, make reservations in advance for the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery. If you would like to learn more about whiskey, stop in at the Irish Whiskey Museum for a tour and a taste. The tour moved along through different rooms of the museum and ended with a taste of 5 whiskeys.