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Accommodation Eco Tourism Peru Puerto Maldonado (Amazon Jungle) South America

Amazon Planet: Your Ticket to the Peruvian Amazon

November 26, 2017

The Amazon, without doubt, is a real bucket list destination for any nature lover.  With an ecosystem like no other, it’s one of the last true wilds in the world.

When we initially planned our visit to South America, we did so with a loose plan and a number of must-see spots in mind – Patagonia, Iguazu, Galapagos and of course the Amazon.

Did it live up to our expectations though?  We spent three nights at Amazon Planet putting them through their paces to find out.

Into the Wild – Activities Galore

With a range of programmes available to guests and a well-structured timetable, there’s plenty of time to make the most of your Amazon experience whilst still unwinding in this gorgeous jungle paradise.  Every morning an activity heads out whilst hammock-time is scheduled following lunch until the day cools down when a number of afternoon/evening activities come into play.

Books and board games are available throughout the day and happy hour does an excellent job of helping to form new friendships amongst fellow adventurers.

Let’s face it though – nobody’s in the Amazon with the main goal of playing cards, and good thing too – there’s plenty to do!

Upon arriving, we were introduced to Alejandro, our guide for the duration of our stay.  Throughout our time at Amazon Planet, he proved himself to be approachable, friendly and incredibly knowledgeable.  Alejandro had an incredible knack for recognising distant birdcall and barely noticable creepy-crawlies, bringing the jungle to life for us.

Jungle Walks, Day and Night

Throughout your stay at Amazon Planet you’ll be presented with many opportunities to head into the jungle – take them all!  With unique plants and incredible wildlife, you ever know what you’ll see whilst wandering the jungle.  The guides are exceptionally talented at identifying the vast variety of bird calls out in the jungle and easily spot the smallest of creatures, making every jungle walk a real chance to see new treasures.

When night falls, it’s time to grab your flashlight and go hunting for creepy crawlies!  Tarantulas, scorpions, frogs, caterpillars, snakes, lizards and more – there’s no shortage of beasties to catch your attention.

Alternatively, hop aboard the Amazon Planet boat on the hunt for caimans, the shy cousin of the alligator.  We were fortunate enough to spot a number of these small reptiles!

Generally, the animals we spotted in the wilds near Amazon Planet were smaller than we’d imagined – it’s not the place to find anacondas, for example, and though sloths are known to hang about in the region, they’re notoriously hard to spot.  Unfortunately, piranhas aren’t generally found in the fastmoving Madre de Dios River (but they can be spotted on the Tambopata programme!), nor are the pink river dolphins, but the few animals we didn’t see were soon forgotten in the buzz of excitement as we uncovered new ones.

And best of all, even if you don’t see much (though we promise, you will), Amazon Planet has a fantastic way of guaranteeing you’ll meet a bunch of local cuties – the Taricaya Ecological Reserve.

Taricaya Ecological Reserve

The only Amazon property in Peru to have their own ecological reserve, Amazon Planet really walk the talk when it comes to conversation.  Attracting biologists, vets and volunteers from the world over, they work together to ensure that local animals that are in need of some extra TLC are well looked after at Taricaya.

Not only do they release populations of native animals back into the wild, but they give those that are unable to reintroduced back into their habitats a fantastic life.

For visitors, it’s a real treat knowing that you’ll have the chance to see a variety of incredible animals, regardless of whether or not you spot them in the wild, but it’s even better knowing that some of the funds from your stay go towards running such a worthwhile operation.

Canopy Walk

Looking for an adrenaline rush (beyond tarantula spotting)?

Take to the skies, or the top of the Amazonian canopy to be exact, for a birdseye view of the surrounding rainforest – just remember to check your fear of heights at the door.

Nestled into the top of an ancient kapok tree, a 90-metre long suspension bridge stretches out to the viewing platform, 45 metres above the ground below.  The views out over the surrounding area are fantastic and being amongst the canopy really gives you a sense of the scale of the jungle.

Visit the Ese-Eja Tribe

A short ride upriver from Amazon Planet, lives Enrique, his wife and sometimes, his children.  Enrique and his wife span two very different generations – his father lived within the Amazon, completely immersed in a traditional, native way of life, whilst his children live during the week in the city, attending school in the hopes of joining the modern workforce as well-educated individuals.

We’ve attended a number of ‘community visits’ like this one now and, to be honest, some have been incredibly worthwhile and some have, quite simply, felt uncomfortable or inauthentic.  It’s fair to say that although we give these experiences a fair go, we are somewhat skeptical when approaching them – you just never know what you’re going to get and we certainly don’t like intruding where we’re not genuinely welcome.

That couldn’t have been further from the truth in this case though!

Enrique and his wife, despite the language barrier, did an amazing job of sharing their culture and customs with us, all with the biggest, most welcoming smiles.  Of course, we couldn’t communicate directly (as they spoke Quechuan) but a good giggle is universal as it turns out.

Over the course of the morning, we learnt how to make a bow and arrow (and eventually got better at shooting them), watched them start a fire using traditional methods, and learnt about their local foods, medicines and clothing – all of which comes directly from the rainforest.

Best of all, we left feeling connected to the local people, which is what an experience like this should be all about.

Boat Float

With the sun slowly disappearing over the horizon, where better to be in the Amazon than drifting gently downriver in the current?

The team at Amazon Planet organise for inflatable kayaks and boats to be taken upstream where guests jump in and spend put in some serious relaxation time.

Hunger Pangs – Food at Amazon Planet

Though you’ll be square in the middle of the jungle, the food at Amazon Planet is anything but rustic.  Banana pancakes and scrambled eggs for breakfast, fresh fish (caught locally) and delicious yuca fries for lunch and delicious steamed chicken and rice parcels for dinner.  Every meal is fresh, locally sourced, hearty and served in multiple courses.

As we near the end of our time in Peru, we can comfortably say it was amongst the best cuisine we’ve had during our time in the country!

It’s hard to go hungry out there but should you, additional snacks are available.  That’s not to mention the soft drinks and selection of beers and cocktails, all available at very reasonable prices.

A Place to Rest Your Head – Accommodation

With a busy day of jungle adventures behind you, a comfortable place to unwind is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Each bungalow at Amazon Planet is set back, away from the main dining quarters, along wooden boardwalks (perfect on those rainy Amazonian days).  The rooms are relatively basic but include high-quality mattresses, private bathrooms and a space to relax – ours had both a sofa and a little balcony with views out to the river.

Every day our room was cleaned and our water bottled topped up – a service that far exceeded our expectations in the middle of the jungle!

Transport: Getting to Puerto Maldonado from Cusco

Getting to Amazon Planet from Cusco is a relatively straightforward process and with the option of both buses and flights, there’s something to suit all budgets.

Overnight Buses

If you’re looking to save some money and have plenty of time on your hands, there is now a direct bus route servicing the region. Years ago it would have taken days to reach your final destination but now the journey runs a relatively comfortable 10 hours.

The route between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado is operated by Civa and Cruz Del Sur – both of which can be booked online through BusBud.  We rode with Excluciva (PEN50/USD15.40/NZD22/65 each) on the way there and Superciva (PEN40/USD12.35/NZD18.15 each) on the way back.  On both occasions, we booked the 1st floor (which is their salon cama offering – similar to business class on a flight) but found the Excluciva service to be far superior.  If you have the option to book on Excluciva, we’d definitely recommend spending the few extra dollars.

Flying

If you’d prefer to get to the Amazon via a more direct route then flying becomes your most efficient option.  A number of airlines offer fares to the Amazon, including StarPeru, Avianca, and LATAM, but we suggest you check SkyScanner to ensure you get the best price available.

Regardless of how you choose to arrive in Puerto Maldonado, Amazon Planet will organise someone to meet you at your point of arrival and for your transport to their offices on the outskirts of town.

Amazon Planet – Your Home in the Peruvian Amazon

Our stay in the Amazon was all about getting back to nature; to lay in bed with the sound of the evening jungle rains beating down, to explore the undergrowth, hunting out unique animals and simply soaking in the sights and sounds of one of the most incredible ecosystems in the world.

Amazon Planet offers all of the personal, homely touches that you’d hope for in the jungle but would never really expect.

Sure, the lodge isn’t the pinnacle of luxury, but it does exactly what it sets out to do – provide an amazing experience with caring, knowledgeable staff and many of the comforts of home.

The Amazon was on our South American bucket list, and for good reason, it’s retaining its spot there as a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Only, is it once-in-a-lifetime if you’d go back in a heartbeat?


Thank you to Amazon Planet for hosting our stay for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We joined them for the 3 night ‘native’ programme which we highly recommend.

Accommodation Chile Luxury Patagonia Reviews South America

EcoCamp Patagonia – Reviewing Torres del Paine’s Bucket-List Glamping

October 30, 2017

With the Towers piercing the dawning sky and the wild Patagonian winds swirling around, there’s no better place to be curled up in Torres del Paine than at EcoCamp.  Recently we had the pleasure of staying at this incredible property in an equally incredible part of the world.  Having read countless reviews online it was hard to imagine anywhere could live up to such exceptionally high expectations.

But it did.

Prime Position

Sitting atop a plateau, not too far from the start of the infamous W-Trek, guests to EcoCamp Patagonia find themselves in prime position to see the comings and goings of the park. 

First thing in the morning, the Towers, bathed in orange can be seen from the boardwalks around camp whilst those with eagle eyes might spot a puma in the nearby hills (it happened on our first morning so keep your eyes peeled!) 

By staying in the park, you’ll be treated to the very best of nature without giving up any of your home comforts.

EcoCamp’s Philosophy – Eco Through and Through

Not only was EcoCamp Patagonia the first fully sustainable accommodation provider south of the Amazon but they were also the first geodesic property in the world.

Leading the way in luxury and customer experience, they’ve also managed to prioritise environmentally friendly practises, something that is clear throughout the glampsite.

Though EcoCamp is the proud owner of countless awards (National Geographic Best Outfitter, TripAdvisor Greenleaders Platinum Level, Chile’s Most Sustainable Tourism Company and many more), as guests visiting the site, it’s clear that their sustainable practises extend far beyond awards and paperwork.

Composting toilets are used throughout the camp (to the untrained eye, they look and operate just like a normal toilet), lush-smelling biodegradable shower products are provided, reusable water bottles are available on-loan to avoid the use of single-use ones and energy efficient wood-burning fireplaces are used to warm up the domes.  The camp itself is powered by solar, wind and micro-hydro turbines whilst propaine gas is used to warm water for guests and though there’s no shortage of power, all guests are encouraged to minimise their impact on the local environment.

Activities to Suit Everyone

Each evening, guests come together in the community dome where a cocktail and delicious antipasto platters are served up as the following days’ activities are introduced.

In our excitement, we’d already planned out the activities we wanted to do during our stay (as a part of the ‘Patagonia Wildlife Tour‘) but plenty of information is given to help those who are unsure make an informed decision.

Generally, there are three options offered up – two that are considered challenging (they are after all based in a mountainous national park famous for its extreme hiking) and one that’s relatively low-key (great for the day after that big trek).

Alternatively, EcoCampers are able to relax in their domes, enjoying the scenery around the campsite (and that heavenly bed) but with the national park calling out, the temptation to get amongst the activities, for us, was too great to ignore.

Day One

Keen to rest our tired bodies after completing most of the W-Trek, we enthusiastically signed up for the Grey Glacier navigation.  On a clear day, this includes a boat trip right up to the glacier but unfortunately, with typically Patagonian weather, our navigation wasn’t able to go ahead.  Instead, we stopped at a number of viewpoints on our way to the glacial lake and keenly spotted icebergs as they inched closer to land.

It was the perfect way to spend the day before taking on the mammoth trek that brought us to Torres del Paine in the first place.

Day Two

The highlight of our visit to Patagonia, day two saw us take on the challenge of the towers – the jewel in Torres del Paine’s crown.  It was difficult.  It was amazing.  It was an absolute once-in-a-lifetime experience and definitely one for your adventure bucket-list.

To learn more about our experience, be sure to read our review of the hike to the Base of the Towers.

Time to Relax

Once your activities are done, there’s plenty of space to unwind with your new-found friends (there’s nothing like undertaking a challenging hike to bring a group together!) in the community domes and in the peak season, yoga is even offered to help relax tired muscles and rejuvenate the soul.

There are plenty of times we’ve travelled in the past when we’ve come back more tired than we started.  EcoCamp provides the perfect balance of adventure and relaxation though, ensuring that all guests come away fulfilled and recharged – if only we could be as dedicated to looking after ourselves in our everyday lives!

Inside the Domes

With a range of accommodation options, glamping here manages to be absolute bucket-list material whilst still being within reach for your average traveller.  From the attainable standard domes (where shared board is available for singles) to the luxurious suite domes, all guests get to enjoy the camp’s incredible hospitality, food and activities, at a price point to suit.

During our stay, we had the pleasure of staying in one of EcoCamp’s premium suite domes.  I’ll never forget walking in the door and seeing our new little home-away-from-home for the first time; with geodesic patterns lining the ceiling, an expansive (and incredibly comfortable) bed taking pride of place in the room and the fireplace roaring away in anticipation of the chilly night to come, it was incredibly clear that we were in for a treat.

Our dome was equipped with a fully functioning bathroom – complete with the most glorious, piping hot, rain shower – exactly the ticket after a long day out on the trails.

The EcoCamp Patagonia Team

The staff at EcoCamp are the best of the best.  From the guides that personally learn each of your names to the waitresses that enthusiastically exchange travel stories over dinner, the team in Torres del Paine instantly make their guests feel at home, as if part of one big, happy extended family.

Nothing was ever a problem and even in the depths of the national park, we experienced service on-par with (if not surpassing) all of the five-star properties we’ve stayed at in the past.

It’s funny as when we checked in, we were told that EcoCamp was almost an ‘anti-hotel’ but with care and attention like we were all shown, they’re certainly holding their own against the big boys of the industry.

World Class Cusine

The food on offer at EcoCamp is top notch – there’s no other way to put it.  With fully trained chefs personalising menus and a creative barman knocking up delicious concoctions, there was never a shortage of incredible treats to enjoy.

Each morning, as guests munch on a fabulous breakfast spread, they decide upon their evening menu.  With options like the following, making a decision is easier said than done!

  • King crab cannelloni with a king crab sauce
  • Pork sirloin with a honey and mustard sauce and Dauphinoise potatoes
  • Chicken supreme wrapped in bacon and stuffed with tomato, cheese and basil, served with quinoa and vegetables

It’s hard to believe meals like these are available in the depths of a national park!

Lunches are just as gourmet with a selection of breads, meats, cheeses and salads on offer, ensuring that guests are well fueled throughout a busy day of activities.  From quinoa salad filled with roasted vegetables and fresh chicken breast to mozzarella, ham and smashed avocado rolls, everyone is free to make exactly what they want, and trust me, you’ll want to make it all.  Throw in a brownie, muffin, dried and fresh fruit and a selection of nuts and you’ll start thinking that lunch might just be the highlight of your day out!

As delicious as EcoCamp’s food is though, you’d be wrong – nothing beats a day out in the national park.

EcoCamp Patagonia – The Epitome of Bucket-List Travel

There are some experiences that stay with you long after you leave and, for us, both our hike to the Base of the Towers and our stay at EcoCamp, fit squarely into this category.

We were amazed by the level of care and detail that both the staff and facilities offered and genuinely couldn’t fault a thing.

Get your pen out team – without a doubt, it’s time to update your travel wish-list!


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Torres del Paine Glamping at EcoCamp - bucket list accommodation in Patagonia.  Read our review to find out just why this is the one anti-hotel that you HAVE to visit. Torres del Paine Glamping at EcoCamp - bucket list accommodation in Patagonia.  Read our review to find out just why this is the one anti-hotel that you HAVE to visit.

Thank you to the team at EcoCamp for so kindly hosting us.  We had the most incredible time but as always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Brazil Eco Tourism Paraty South America

The Complete Guide to Paraty, Brazil – Paradise is Only a Bus Ride from Rio!

October 24, 2017

Perched on the shore of Ponta Grossa, skimming its own privately-accessed beach, Happy Hammock is the perfect spot to forget all of your worries. Here, we spent two nights (which wasn’t nearly enough) checking out what Paraty has to offer and falling asleep in their name-sake hammocks…

An easy 25-minute boat ride from the colonial town of Paraty, Happy Hammock is a world away from the hustle and bustle of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, the two monstrous cities this sleepy town sits in the middle of.

With the ever-constant waves lapping at the shore and the distant drone of boats passing by, it’s not difficult to slip into a fabulous state of relaxation. This place is made for it!

What to do in Paraty/Ponta Grossa

With Happy Hammock as a base, guests easily avoid the trappings of local hotspots, instead having the best of Paraty practically to themselves.

We’re not ones to sit back and do nothing on holiday though and being in such a secluded spot, we had wondered if there would be enough for us to do.  Of course, we needn’t had worry – you can do as much or as little as you like there!

Swim with Bioluminescent Plankton

We’d first heard about this natural phenomena in Puerto Rico but due to the full moon during our visit (light pollution makes them much harder to spot) and the inability to actually swim with them there, we decided against paying to join a tour. It was a right decision but something I’ve wanted to do ever since.

Imagine our excitement when we found out that, directly off the dock, visitors to this Paraty guesthouse are treated to an underwater bioluminescent light show. Not only is it free but this natural marvel is literally in stumbling distance!

With someone standing guard and water that felt warmer than the air, we couldn’t resist jumping in two nights in a row. Though we were initially hesitant, all of our reservations slipped away once we put our goggled-heads in the water.

With every kick of our feet and wave of our hands, countless tiny fluorescent dots swirled around us in the darkness.

If there’s one reason you visit this region, make sure it’s this!

Wander the Historical Centre of Paraty

With its cobbled streets and historic churches, a visit to Paraty is a little like taking a step back in time. Built by the Portuguese to flood intentionally once a month (in a bid to clear out the sewerage that would have once been pushed out onto the road), the town’s whitewashed buildings and colourful front doors make for a great afternoon out.

Long gone are the garbage problems but the charm of the historical centre remains.

Hike Across to Praia Vermelha

An easy 30-minute hike from Ponta Grossa will put you out on the shores of Praia Vermelha, a pristine white-sand beach that other tourists pay top-dollar to visit on day cruises. Instead, plan to arrive before 2.30pm and you’ll have the beach practically to yourselves before the makeshift pirateships arrive.

There’s a lovely spot for lunch and though it is expensive, the servings are generous and the food tasty – a portion of fresh battered fish and a root-vegetable chips, each suggested for two, very happily went around three of us.

Relax in Paradise

With hammocks in ready supply and the sound of the waves crashing below, it’s hard to drag yourself away from the comfort of the front deck. Hummingbirds flit around as guests curl up with a good book or one of the National Geographics sitting inside.

It’s fair to say, life by the bay is pretty good.

Where to Stay in Paraty

Though I doubt it needs to be said at this stage, the Happy Hammock is hands-down the place to stay on the coast.

In some ways, this eco guesthouse is relatively simple. The showers don’t always run particularly warm (as they’re at the mercy of solar-heating, as you’d expect) and you won’t find a bedside lamp in sight. Wifi is nonexistent and and the closest accessible shop is back in town.

Honestly though, none of this is an issue – the exact opposite in fact. Happy Hammock absolutely shines in its simplicity and with Patrick at the helm, nothing is a problem.

Home cooked meals are a given and are adapted to suit the needs of his guests. The look of fear in my eyes when we were told a vegetarian meal was coming up that evening resulted in the addition of chicken for me (how sweet is that!) and when our friend Becky explained that she had a few allergies, he was careful to exclude those foods from our meals.

Snorkelling gear and a standup paddle board is available for use at no charge and the boat in and out of town is so affordable that making a trip is really isn’t a problem – why you’d want to leave is beyond me though!

If you’re looking for an international WiFi device, we highly recommend the SkyRoam. With it, you can connect up to five devices at a time and get reliable WiFi practically anywhere you can get cellphone reception, all at a low daily rate… and yes, it works at the guesthouse.

Getting to Paraty

From Rio

Easy Transfer offers reliable and surprisingly affordable transfers direct to Paraty.  Though it’s possible to get on a local bus, the transfers weren’t much more expensive and it meant we didn’t have to make our way through Rio with all of our bags.

From Ilha Grande

Again, private transfers are offered by Easy Transfer and though we found out that it would be a little cheaper to do it ourselves (after we’d purchased our ticket), we wouldn’t have saved much money.

From Sao Paulo

We made this journey in reverse (flying out of Sao Paulo) but doing so was simple. To get to Paraty from the city simply book yourself a seat on a local bus (they only offer one class but they’re comfortable enough).  We travelled from Paraty to Sao Paulo by public overnight but and then purchased a ticket for the airport bus once we reached the Sao Paulo bus terminal.  The airport bus cost practically as much as our longer journey but it got us to the airport quickly and safely.

Getting from Paraty to Ponta Grossa

Once you’re in the township, Patrick will have organised a private transfer for you on his boat. Keep an eye out for the little white boat and his skipper – he’ll make sure you, along with all your luggage, get to the guesthouse safely.  Should you wish to pop back and forth, the boat is available around the clock, with a slight surcharge for journeys made after 7pm.

Don’t Make Rio & Iguazu Your Only Stops in Brazil!

When our lovely Maria returned from Brazil singing the praises of Happy Hammock and Paraty, I was instantly convinced that this little slice of paradise deserved a spot on our travel wishlist.

Having now visited ourselves, there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that this is one of the most relaxing places we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.

The food, the company, the outlook – it’s all perfect.

Sure, the water in the showers doesn’t run piping hot (it is after all warmed via solar panels) and getting to the shops to pick up forgotten items isn’t the easiest of things to do, but there’s magic in its seclusion.

Though we loved Rio and Iguazu and enjoyed Ilha Grande, we wholeheartedly believe that no trip to Brazil is complete without a visit to Paraty.

Happy Hammock, Paraty; giving the happiest place on earth a run for its money since 2015.


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Not far from Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is Brazil's best-kept vacation secret.  This guide shares where to stay, what to do and what to expect.  Snorkelling with bioluminescent plankton, standup paddleboarding and plenty of relaxation, this colonial town is one you don't want to miss whilst in South America. Not far from Rio de Janeiro, Paraty is Brazil's best-kept vacation secret.  This guide shares where to stay, what to do and what to expect.  Snorkelling with bioluminescent plankton, standup paddleboarding and plenty of relaxation, this colonial town is one you don't want to miss whilst in South America.


Thank you to Patrick at Happy Hammock for hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are 100% our own.

Accommodation Activities Adventure Budget Chile Eco Tourism Pucon South America

Pucón – The Home of Adventure in Chile (and our new favourite hostel!)

September 2, 2017

Sitting under the shadow of Volcan Villarrica (one of South America’s most active volcanoes) and on the shore of one of many lakes in the area, Pucón is a relatively small town in Chile that packs a massive punch.

This gorgeous spot is known as the adventure capital of Chile and offers the perfect combination of adrenaline and nature.  If you’re not careful, you might just blink and find an action-packed week has passed you by!

The Fun Stuff – Activities in Pucón

Huerquehue National Park

An easy bus ride from Pucon, Huerquehue National Park offers a variety of trails for nature-lovers and based on the photos we’ve seen, is equally gorgeous, whatever the season.

Entrance to the park is 2,500 pesos for tourists and the walk to the first lake inside the park is approximately 7km.  The day we visited, the tracks were overtaken with snow making it a fairly challenging hike but in the summer it would be a walk in the park (sorry, that pun was too good to pass up)!

Though some of our new friends gave us a ride in (thanks Lyle and Jackie!), buses are available from town – just chat with Chili Kiwi and they’ll send you on your way.

Horseback Riding

We’d already been told about the high quality of riding available in the region so when we arrived, this was one of the first things I checked out.

With beautifully cared for horses and an instructor that’s spent all of her life around these beauties, it was an easy decision to ride with Corina… and seriously, with views out over four volcanoes, you’d be hard pressed to find a better spot!

Hydrospeeding

Whatever you call it – riverboarding, white-water sledging, river surfing or hydrospeeding – it’s about as much fun as you’ll ever have in the water!

Though winter well and truly engulfed the day, we climbed into thick wetsuits and took to the river for a serious dose of adrenaline.  With a range of rapids, there were a number of occasions when we found ourselves gasping for air but the sense of accomplishment at the end of the run was amazing. Without doubt,

Without a doubt, it’s the best value extreme sport we’ve ever done.  The river is clear, the staff professional, the scenery gorgeous and the price is beyond good.  Adrenaline junkies, make sure it’s top of your Pucón must-do list!

Snowboarding/Skiing

It’s not every day you get to snowboard or ski on an active volcano but in Pucón, not only is it possible but it’s relatively affordable.

Lift passes will set you back 28,000 pesos each and by the time you arrange gear and transfers, you’ll be looking at around another 25,000 pesos.  The mountain itself has a few different runs and jumps but is really best suited to beginner to intermediate boarders.

Termas Geometricas

One of the surprise highlights of our visit to Pucón, was Termas Geometricas.  These stunning hot pools are dotted along a canyon and as natural stream rushes past, geothermal hot water keeps each of the 17 pools at their own constant temperature.

With the snow falling and steam rising all around you, you’d be hard pressed to find a more impressive place to relax and soak away your worries.

And yes, we have been to the Blue Lagoon in Iceland.  Believe it or not, this was much more impressive!


Kayaking/Stand Up Paddle Boarding

When you’re perfectly situated on the shores of a crystal-clear lake, even the chilly winter water can’t deter you from getting out there!

Our accommodation, Chili Kiwi, offers guests the use of their stand up paddle board and kayaks and with the volcano in the background and sun on your back, it’s a pretty magical way to spend an afternoon.  Guests can take them out to the nearby beaches or do as we did and enjoy just zipping around the lake.


In addition to all of these activities, there’s also a volcano to climb (it’s actually one of the main reasons people come to Pucón – on a good day, visitors will even see lava bubbling away in the crater) waterfalls to explore (Chili Kiwi will provide you with a treasure map – it’s well worth the hike), rafting, biking and more.

With all of the activities on offer though, you’ll definitely want a comfortable place to rest your head and prepare for the next days activities.

As luck would have it, Pucón is also home to the winner of the coveted ‘best hostel in Latin America‘ award and speaking from experience, it’s the only place in town we’d want to stay.

Where to Stay: Chili Kiwi – The friendliest hostel around!

Arriving into town we’d heard of the Chili Kiwi and knew we wanted to check it out.  After all, it’s not often you have the chance to stay in a hostel partially run by a fellow Kiwi in Chile!

What we didn’t realise was that our planned three-night stay in Pucón would turn into almost two and a half weeks of fun at the most friendly, social hostel around, resulting in what I imagine will be life-long friends.

There’s something special about this place.

It’s the kind of place you walk into to find someone baking cookies (true story!) and where everyone happily chats away to one another   There you’ll find a view would rival any top hotel and staff happy to share their insider knowledge about the town they love so much.

When we arrived, James, one of the owners, sat us down and took us personally through all of the activities in the region and his suggestions for the best restaurants, groceries and shops – as they do with everyone.

When a package didn’t arrive for us, Peter,  the other owner, drove me into town and spoke with the courier company to help ensure my gear would make it safely to me.

When Nathan needed a hair cut, Jean wrote down word for word (in Spanish of course) a description of the style he wanted.

For all of the funky rooms, toasty fireplaces and activities on offer, this is a place where they care about people to their very core.  A backpackers run by backpackers, for backpackers.  And maybe just the place for someone who’s never stayed in a hostel to give it a shot – I warn you though, it might just ruin you for life.

Pro tip – if your budget will extend to it, we highly recommend booking the hobbit holes – they’re private, warm and have incredibly comfy beds.

The Practical Stuff

Getting to Pucon

Your transport into Pucon will of course depend on where you’re coming from, but Chile being Chile, chances are you’ll arrive on a bus, like we did.

We purchased our tickets online for Pullman Bus through Recorrido and after visiting a copy shop in Santiago (to print a copy of our booking), we exchanged our paperwork for our actual ticket just before boarding at the terminal.

Santiago has two main stations, Terminal Borja and Terminal Sur; we opted for the second to allow ourselves a little more time in Valparaíso but either is fine.

The ride itself is comfortable (especially in Salón Cama seats) and came in at USD31.30 each or 19,600 pesos.  We were given a few snacks and drinks on the journey and drove continually through the night (save a few terminal stops)

Getting Around

Pucon is an easy town to walk around in but should you need to get a lift, you have a few choices.

Collectivos run relatively loose routes and can be flagged down at any stage (or hailed at set points in town).  For a flat rate of only 500 pesos each, they’ll drop you where you want to go, picking up and dropping others off along the way.  It’s an incredibly affordable means of transport and as the town’s quite small, a fast way to get around too.

For activities outside of town, tourist shuttles can be arranged through accommodation providers and booking agents.  These shuttles are fairly comfortable and will collect you either from your accommodation or a pre-designated location in town.

If you’re wanting to go further afield, bus stations are spread throughout the town (each company has their own office) and tickets can be purchased both online and in person.  The buses are comfortable and reliable, making both onward travel and local exploration a straightforward process.

When all is said and done though,

Is Pucón Worth a Visit?

In case you hadn’t figured it out already, absolutely – yes!

The town itself is drop-dead gorgeous whilst avoiding any sense of pretension.  It offers a range of activities to suit everyone, often at prices far superior to other adventure-capitals and plenty of restaurants in town to keep foodies happy.

For us though, the highlight of Pucón really was the people we met and that was made possible through our stay at Chili Kiwi.  It’s the one place in town where you’re practically guaranteed to make great friends and that’s worth a whole lot in our books!


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The best hostel in Latin America can be found in Pucon, Chile's adventure activity capital. This award winning backpackers welcomes travelers from around the world, offering amazing views, great activities and a friendly, inclusive environment. Find out why you should be planning a visit to Pucon to stay here! Pucon, Chile is known for its adventure activities but it's a must see in winter! This vacation destination offers amazing hiking, hot pools, snowboarding, skiing and more. If there's one place you visit, make sure it's Termas Geometricas!Thank you to Chili Kiwi for so kindly welcoming us to stay with them.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  We miss you already!

Abu Dhabi Accommodation Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

The Most Luxurious Desert Hotel in the World: Qasr Al Sarab

June 23, 2017

Located on the edge of the world’s largest uninterrupted sand desert, Rub Al Khali, Qasr Al Sarab delivers absolute luxury in a bucket-list location.  We visited to find out if it really could live up to the high praise it receives and we left every bit amazed.  Read on for our review of this spectacular Anantara property…

Since moving to Abu Dhabi almost two years ago, Qasr Al Sarab (“the Mirage Palace”) has been top of our wish-list.  This incredible property really is the incarnation of an Arabian dreamscape.

Can anywhere really live up to that level of hype though?  Though it’s hard to believe, yes!

Luxury in the Desert

Located approximately two hours from Abu Dhabi City (or three from Dubai), Qasr Al Sarab has been providing the very best in luxury (and the UAE sure knows how to do that right!) since it opened in 2009.

With a design that clearly mirrors its surrounding and gives a nod to the desert fortresses that once would have been prevalent in the area, there’s no denying where you are when you approach Qasr Al Sarab for the first time.

Everything about this hotel is beautifully considered – from the genuine Arabian antiques generously scattered throughout the property to the locally hand-crafted furnishings, this resort oozes warmth and romance.

Every room and common space offers expansive views out over the ever-changing sand dunes and let’s face it, it’s precisely those views that will spur your desire to visit Qasr Al Sarab.

As you would expect of any five star property, Qasr Al Sarab has a superb range of leisure facilities including a 24-hour gym, tennis, basketball, yoga, volleyball, spa services and of course, that bucket-list-worthy swimming pool.  When the sun goes down at night and the pool starts to glow, you’ll pinch yourself – it’s hard to believe that a place as beautiful as Qasr really exists!

If you’ve got a family to entertain there is both a kids and teens club and a wide range of organised activities that are designed to engage every single member of the crew.  Archery, nature walks, dune bashing, horse riding, fat biking, sand boarding and more – the resort is perfectly equipped, allowing you to be as active (or relaxed) as you like.

The resort offers a range of room types, from the beautifully appointed Deluxe Garden Rooms to the Royal Pavilion Villas, each serviced by private butler.  Should you opt for a villa, you’ll be treated to your own private pool, taking your bucket-list accommodation to the next level again – is that even possible?!

Why not take it a step further?  The team at Qasr Al Sarab can can even arrange a private helicopter offering a door-to-door service.  It’s all in a day’s work when you live in the lap of luxury!

Don’t worry though, if your budget won’t quite extend to private swimming pools, butlers and tailor-made chef tastings, they can also arrange a private chauffeur to transfer you from the city to the resort, or do as we did and drive yourself out in a rental car.

However you get there and whichever room you settle on, you’ll enjoy the facilities, service and views that make this undoubtedly the best desert hotel in the world.

Eat Like a King (actually, make that a Sheikh) 

With a number of restaurants and bars onsite, there’s an option to suit every occasion.

From the sumptuous but casual breakfast buffet, served each morning in Al Waha (including live cooking stations and donuts!) to the gorgeous fine-dining restaurant, Suhail, guests are able to treat themselves throughout the day.  We also enjoyed a lunch and casual dinner pool-side at Ghadeer – it’s a great place to unwind whilst making the most of the beautiful outdoor area.

Everything we ate during our stay was delicious and, as expected, the service was second-to-none.  You wouldn’t expect anything less at a resort like this.

Sunset Camel Trekking

Though we’ve rode camels on a number of occasions now, our experience in the Liwa Desert was by far the best.

Never ones to turn down an adventure, I must admit, we went in without particularly high exceptions – we are after all, a little bit spoilt by now when it comes to camels!

Not only have we ridden camels along the base of the pyramids in Cairo and through the towering valleys of Petra, but there was something special about this trek.  It felt more authentic than the rides that we’d been on in the past – almost as if we were trekking through the desert with our newfound bedouin friends.

Surrounded by massive dunes (literally, the biggest we’ve ever seen), we wove our way around and up through this sandy paradise, reaching for one of the highest peaks.  As we did so, we relaxed, soaking in the sights all around us, whilst listening to our guide impart his knowledge of the area to us.  He knew the desert inside out and was more than happy to explain the history of the area and share what he knew about the indigenous animals and plants.  Most of all, we enjoyed learning more about Islam through him – never in a forced manner, only ever sharing what we asked of him.  

It was such a pleasure connecting on a personal level and really did sum up our entire experience at Qasr Al Sarab; the team there care deeply about their guests and it shows in all of their interactions.

Back to the whole reason we were there though – to catch the unset in the most authentically Arabian of ways.

As we slipped over the crest of the huge dune, we were greeted with tea, coffee, fresh juices, dates and fruit kebabs along with cushions and stools from which we could perch and enjoy the slowly setting sun.

The more energetic amongst us decided to climb higher still, summiting the very top of the sand dune to catch the sun drifting below the horizon.

If you’re ever visited the Middle East, you’ll appreciate that there’s nothing quite like a sunset here.  The sun feels just that little closer here than it does elsewhere, glowing the most gorgeous shade of crimson – it has to be seen to be believed and where better than in the depths of the desert whilst being treated to the most luxurious of adventures?

With the last of the daylight fading away, we all pulled off our shoes and raced directly down the steepest bank to the awaiting 4WDs for the trip back to our Arabian oasis.

Why Do the Dunes Look So Different?

You’ll notice that the dunes look significantly different in each photograph.  In person, the colours change frequently, with the only real consistency amongst dunes being their inconsistent colouration!  This is due to the varying mineral compounds and the way in which they interact with the environment – iron-oxide, for example, gives much of the desert it’s obvious red/orange colour – it is quite literally, rust.

With the different colours of the dunes, the stunning Arabian sunshine and the winds constantly repositioning the sand, you’ll be sure to see a different desert-scape at each different time of the day, so don’t hide yourself away in your room – get out there!

Save Your Pennies – Qasr Al Sarab deserves to be on the top of your bucket list

Qasr Al Sarab is special, there’s no two ways about it.  Without doubt, this remote hotel will remain one of the most unique and memorable places we’ll ever stay.

Sure, you’ll need to reach into your pockets to book a room but we assure you the experience will stay with you long after the pain of looking at your bank account is gone.

If you have the opportunity to visit Qasr Al Sarab, snap it up!


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Qasr Al Sarab is the best luxury desert hotel in the world. Located in the Liwa Desert it offers world class restaurants, activities, relaxation and the ultimate in luxury. Don't visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai without heading out into the desert!Qasr Al Sarab is the best luxury desert hotel in the world. Located in the Liwa Desert it offers world class restaurants, activities, relaxation and the ultimate in luxury. Don't visit Abu Dhabi or Dubai without heading out into the desert!

Thank you to Anantara for inviting us for the purpose of this review.  As always all thoughts are our own.  We had the most amazing stay at Qasr Al Sarab and every single person we know that has visited has absolutely sung their praises.  A word of warning though – you’ll probably be ruined for all future accommodation – it’ll have a hard time living up to this!

Accommodation Dubai Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Dear Leisure Travellers: Why a business hotel might be your best move yet

June 12, 2017

Though a beautiful resort might be at the top of the wish-list for most leisure travellers, we urge you not to rule out a stay at a business hotel just yet.  Why?  Read on to find out…

Business hotels aren’t typically on the forefront of a leisure travellers mind but if you’re looking to save some money whilst packing in the facilities, we’d encourage you to consider one.  They tend to prioritise the most essential services, forgoing the ones that travellers can happily live without and cutting down your bill in the process.

These hotels are targeted as business travellers (not exactly surprising, right?) who expect the basics to be done perfectly and who doesn’t want that?

Comfort and Class without the Cost

Each business hotel will vary slightly in the facilities that it offers but they all operate with a similar premise – to cut down on unnecessary expense whilst providing a quiet and comfortable place to unwind (and obviously get some work done, should you choose).

We’ve stayed at a number of business hotels now but the our favourite would easily be the Centro Barsha in Dubai.  It’s perfectly located, comfortable and best of all, it ticks all of the boxes without costing the earth.

Dubai can be an expensive place to find a room so when you find one that treats you well, you return time and time again.

What Makes the Centro Barsha Special?

We had a fantastic weekend away at the Centro Barsha for a number of reasons – food, rest, welcoming smiles – considering the price of the rooms, they really punch above their weight!

Whilst there isn’t room service on offer, there is an in-house restaurant that consistently makes delicious food (seriously, it’s that good!) and should you choose, you’re welcome to take it up to your room.

If you’re looking to save even more money in Dubai, some of their rooms include a fully-equipped kitchenette which makes the preparation of a tasty home-cooked meal a breeze (assuming you can actually cook of course – no hotel can work miracles!)

Whilst you’re in the UAE you really have to check out their brunch culture at least once though and the Centro Barsha is the place to do so if you’re keeping an eye on your spending.

Each Friday from midday, the hotel runs an orange themed brunch (aptly named the BubbleOrange Brunch) and, without doubt, it would be the best value brunch we’ve been to in our two years in the United Arab Emirates.  Though the selection was smaller than many of the brunches we’ve attended, every dish we tried there was tasty and with the choice of premium a la carte options (at no additional charge), our tummies couldn’t have been happier.

If you’re new to Dubai, be sure to try their um-ali, a delicious Middle Eastern bread and butter pudding – easily the best version of this I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.

When you’re ready to sleep off all that food, you’ll find that the rooms are nicely sound-proofed and because of the clientele they attract, you’re practically guaranteed a good nights sleep – say goodbye to noisey neighbours and hello to sweet dreams.

Fast WiFi?  You bet.

A great selection of TV channels?  Of course.

So what if you won’t be able to book an in-hotel massage?  Pop down the road and you’ll find a local spa offering them at a significant discount to most resorts.

And whilst you’re there, check out The Mall of the Emirates – what used to be the biggest mall in Dubai (now only surpassed by The Dubai Mall) – and hit the slopes at the largest indoor ski-field in the world (in the desert, no less).

If you’re looking for ways to relax on-site, there’s a roof-top pool, a lively bar and a well-equipped gym – after all, business people like to take a bit of time out too.

Dubai has so much to offer and though there’s plenty of free/low cost sightseeing to be had, the paid activities soon add up – whatever you do, don’t blow your entire budget on a resort and leave yourself saying no to those once in a lifetime activities on offer.

What to Consider When Booking a Business Hotel

Though business hotels tick lots of boxes, regardless of your travel style, there are a few things to consider.

Is the location close to the tourist activities you want to see?

Is local transport easily accessible from the hotel location?

Do you require services that will likely be found at a full-service hotel?

As long as you’re happy with the answers to those questions then a business hotel really could be a serious contender for your next vacation.  Consider what really matters to you and think about the alternative accommodation options on offer to you – you may find yourself having the trip of a lifetime with the money you save!


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Business hotels can be a great option for leisure travellers. Save money, sleep comfortably and maximise your travel budget. Find out why we love business hotels when we're on vacation!

Thank you to Centro Barsha for inviting us along to review their brunch and learn more about what makes their business hotel special.  As always, all thoughts are our own.  Since returning, I’ve spoken to a number of friends in the UAE that have returned to the Centro time and time again for weekend Dubai trips so it’s clearly a local favourite! 

Accommodation Activities Dubai Expat Life Mid-Range Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

Stopping Over in Dubai – A Newbie’s Guide

June 4, 2017

Dubai truly is the epitome of luxury, the cars, the buildings, the hotels and the attractions.  It has so much to offer! If you haven’t visited or you are planning to visit read more to find out how to spend a weekend in Dubai.

Living as an expat in a different country is exciting but just like any other country, you get caught up in daily routines and life in general.  In the end, a lot of things are the same as they would be if I was still living in my home country.  I still spend the last day of the weekend frantically trying to get my lessons planned (only the day has changed from a Sunday to a Saturday), I still spend every day after school battling myself to get to the gym (only now the gym is in my building and I don’t really have any excuse – regardless though, I’m the queen of making them), I still spend the evenings cooking dinner and getting lunch ready for the next day and I still binge watch My Kitchen Rules.

Even though I live in an exciting and exotic location, life still goes on.

Every now and again though, I’m reminded of what an amazing place I do live in.  These moments are sporadic but they energise me and remind me to count my blessings.  In those moments, it strikes me just how lucky I am to be living this awesome life!

Dubai is one of places for me.

Every time we start to approach the Marina area and the high-rises emerge from the plains of sand I think how cool is it that I live in the UAE?!  It’s amazing that in around an hour and half I can drive to Dubai and experience all that this amazing city has to offer – people from all around the world dream of visiting and I’m lucky enough to have it on my doorstep.

Regardless of what brings you to Dubai, whether you live locally or are stopping off on the way somewhere else, this guide is for you.

Have fun, soak it all in and, when you’re done, waive the city goodbye, knowing that in a few years it will look substantially different – there’s nothing quite like it.

What to do in Dubai

Dubai is not short of fantastic things to do.  To some, this city is a shopping paradise but look beneath the surface and you’ll find it’s so much more than that.

The following are just some of my favourite ways to while away the time in this incredible city.

Sightseeing on the Water – Splash Tours

Splash Tours is a fairly new company based out of Dubai Marina that offer jet boat tours around the Palm and Dubai Marina – and man is it fun!  Before embarking on our journey we had imagined a tame, leisurely round-trip sightseeing tour.  The only thing we managed to get right was the round-trip part!

It was a thrilling adventure that had some of our fellow passengers white-knuckling the seats in front of them.  With the boat traveling up to 30 knots (around 55km/h), at times we felt like we were flying through the water.  If this doesn’t sound exhilarating enough, the twists, turns and 360’s definitely got the blood pumping!

The best part?  Not only were we jetting around The Palm but we were soaking up all of the iconic Dubai sights too.  With stops in front of JBR (Jumeirah Beach Residence), Atlantis the Palm, and the Burj Al Arab (the first seven star hotel in the world), a speedboat tour from the marina is the perfect way to tick all of your touristy boxes.

Not sure what all the buildings are or have questions along the way?  Don’t worry, they’ll have you covered with their knowledgeable onboard tour guide.  Ours was more than happy to provide us with facts and interesting information along the way – we’ve never had so much fun learning before!

Most importantly, we didn’t feel in danger at any time.  The crew were professional and we felt safe and secure every step of the way.

My only advice, apart from booking this tour immediately, would be apply sunscreen before setting out as the Middle Eastern sun is strong and there isn’t a lot of shade on the boats.

Dubai Museum

Dubai hasn’t always been 100% glitz and glamour – far from it in fact.  To gain an insight into life before the Emirates discovered oil, head to Dubai Museum.  There you’ll develop a surprising understanding of the emirate all housed inside the oldest building in Dubai, Al Fahidi Fort.

The displays recreate the way in which people would have traditionally lived and worked in Dubai and also explore the previous uses of the fort.

It’s informative and interesting to see how Dubai looked before all the high rises – it certainly didn’t always look as it does now!

Souks

Dubai is known for its luxurious hotels and expansive shopping malls but to your average person, not so much for its traditional souks.  If you’re visiting this amazing metropolis, you’ll no doubt want a taste of Arabic culture though and there’s no better place to get it than at one of their traditional markets.

Located across from Dubai Museum, you will find the textile souk which is a little like stepping back in time.  This is a great place to pick up presents and souvenirs for your family or just to peruse the colourful and vibrant displays.  The textile souk is still full of fabric shops and tailors ready to create a masterpiece, along with stalls selling beautiful pashminas, bright glass lamps and your typical tourist souvenirs.

Friendly bartering is expected and the way to ensure you get the best bargain.

From the textile souk you can catch a long boat across Dubai Creek (they are frequent, inexpensive and leave once the boat is full).  Once on the other side of the creek, you will find yourself in Deria, the oldest residential area in Dubai.

The short walk from the docks had us questioning if we were still in Dubai!  This is a side to the city that is rarely seen – the buildings are run down, the markets sell various wares (trinkets, school bags, material, abayas and an assortment of goodies) and, unlike in the malls, the shoppers aren’t locals – chances are they’re either tourists or some of the many expats that you will find living and working in Dubai.

After passing the markets crammed with what feels like a thousand different ethnicities and being hounded by the shop assistants to snap up their best deals, you will find yourself at Al Souk Al Kabir.  Here there’s a perfume souk, spice souk and the infamous gold souk, so plenty of opportunities to test out your new-found bartering skills.

Pro tip – if you’re not interested in making a purchase, a friendly but firm la, shukran (no, thank you) will see you left in peace.

While I wasn’t in the market to purchase any jewellery (it was slightly out of my price range) it’s a great way to spend some time  If you are looking for something shiny to take home, you’ll want to note that each jewellery piece has their weight written on the tag – this will determine the price depending on the gold prices for that day.

Burj Khalifa Fountains

A trip to Dubai isn’t complete without a visit to the Dubai fountains!  They put on an incredible show every half hour from 6pm, at which time the fountains burst to life, dancing in time to the booming music.  The tunes normally alternate between English and Arabic.

The back drop of the Burj Kahlifa is nearly as mesmerising as the fountains themselves and it still astounds me how talented the technicians must be who create the sequence and how much time they must put into planning out these phenomenal shows.

The fountains get very busy and, at times, finding a good spot can be challenging, as everyone vies for the prime spot with the Burj Khalifa in the background.

Pro tip – Head into Dubai Mall where on the second floor you will find several restaurants that have fabulous views overlooking the fountains.

Be sure to check out this guide to the Dubai malls so you can decide upon the other malls you’d like to visit during the course of your trip too!

Brunch

This is one of the favourite past times of western expats living in the UAE and though you may think you know what brunch is, you may just find yourself surprised.  The term brunch is significantly different in the UAE.

Brunch here is an all-you-can-eat affair that lasts for around 4 hours and generally falls only on Friday afternoons (our weekend).  The hotels that host these events are often the epitome of luxury.  The food is  usually so incredible that it’s hard to hold yourself back and with an amazing selection of top-notch international cuisine, why would you?

If you find yourself in Dubai on a Friday I would recommend trying out this favourite past time for yourself.

More Time up your Sleeve?

If you have more time in Dubai there is a plethora of activities for you to explore, including but  by no means limited to the following:

  • No trip to the middle east would be complete without participating in a desert safari, you will find yourself absolutely enthralled or terrified while dune bashing in 4WDs, once at your desert camp you will have the opportunity to dress like the locals while eating Middle Eastern cuisine and participating in whole array of different activities.
  • For nature lovers, check out Green Planet or Miracle Garden – both might take you by surprise within the concrete jungle that Dubai is.
  • If shopping is more you thing (and let’s face it, this is Dubai) check out Dubai Mall (which has a huge aquarium in the middle of the mall), Mall of the Emirates (which also houses an indoor ski slope) and head to Outlet Village to try and get high quality brands at discounted prices.
  • Or for a dose of excitement, there are countless possibilities with Skydive Dubai, Dubai Parks and Resorts, Aquaventure, Wild Wadi Waterpark and Aventura just being the tip of the iceberg.

Getting Around

The fastest and most convenient way to get around Dubai is by taxi.  They are well priced but be sure to enquire if they know how to get to your location before departing – if not try another taxi.

In other parts of the world, it might be surprising to find taxi drivers unsure of their own routes but buildings shoot up so quickly here, roads change in a flash and many taxi drivers are new to the country, so allowances certainly have to be made in the UAE.

Uber is another option but this will be dependent on your internet access in order to book one.  I’ve found Uber to be just as fast and often cheaper so it certainly is a good option.

Whatever you do, try to avoid the unregistered taxis at the airport – jump in one that’s sign written as they’ll always use the meter and you’ll be sure to pay a fair fare.  That is, assuming you picked someone that knows where you’re going.

During peak traffic times, which can be hard work in Dubai, it may be quicker to take the metro.  Dubai Metro is made up of two lines and covers an extensive part of the city.  Make sure you purchase a ticket before boarding as these driverless trains don’t have ticket conductors onboard.

Where to Stay

For this weekend staycation we opted to stay at the Amwaj Rotana.

I have a soft spot for the Rotana brand as on moving to the UAE I was housed in the Park Rotana for just over a month.  It was my first taste of the luxury that you grow accustomed to in the UAE and the customer service blew me away.

I was very eager to find out if the Amwaj Rotana would live up to the exceptional customer service I’ve come to expect from the Rotana brand and they didn’t disappoint.

Location, Location, Location

The Amwaj Rotana is located in the heart of JBR (Jumeriah Beach Residence) which is a stone throw from The Walk – a beautiful part of Dubai.

The Walk is a stunning outdoor area with plenty of al fresco dinning, boutique shopping and a beautiful promenade that has plenty to offer with parks, carnival games, a free public beach and even an outside gym facility.  It’s a great place to spend a day or an evening, provided you don’t start to melt with the heat and humidity that Dubai is known for in the summer months.

Checking out the Amwaj Rotana

Amwaj Rotana was built in 2010 and is one of the largest hotels located in JBR.  It has 301 rooms and suites spread over 25 floors, with each of the modestly decorated rooms being bigger than your standard hotel room.  The enormous beds are so comfortable that you will find it hard to get up in the mornings and, incredibly, every room has a balcony with unobstructed views of the stunning Arabian Gulf and Palm Jumeirah.

The hotel facilities will ensure that you have a memorable stay.  Aside from the standard facilities offered by hotels, the Amwaj also offers a complimentary shuttle bus service to popular shopping malls in Dubai, a car rental service, an on call doctor and a hair and beauty salon.

Recreational activities include a fully equipped gym (with 24 hour access), a jacuzzi, sauna, spa, steam rooms and for the little ones, Flipper’s Kids Club.  My personal favourite was the pool which I was absolutely fell in love with.  Not only was the water perfectly refreshing but with its location on a bridge that spanned the road, you were literally swimming above Dubai’s traffic!

Without doubt though, the highlight of my stay was the level of customer service.  The staff were amazing, so friendly, professional and went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one.  It was impressive how we were greeted by name everywhere we went in the hotel and in a city as big as Dubai, it’s a small touch like that that makes a hotel feel a little more like home.

How do you really judge a hotel though?  Everyone looks for something different in their perfect stay but I’m a real sucker for hotel slippers.  I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with them – I really need to stop collecting them as I have far too many knocking around home!

The first thing I usually do on arriving at a hotel is locate the complementary slippers, kick of my shoes and slide my tiny feet into them.  For this reason I’ve decided to accompany any accommodation reviews with Sarah’s slipper rating.

With that said, Amwaj Rotana slippers come in at 4 stars (out of 5).  The only factor letting them down is I have tiny feet (UK size 4) so the slippers were swimming on me.

Everything about this hotel hit the spot for us – from the comfortable rooms to the high-pressured showers and everything in between.

Did Someone Say ‘Food’?

Within the Amwaj Rotana, there are plenty of options for fine cuisine.

For our visit, we settled on Rosso, an authentic Italian restaurant.  Being a bit of a foodie, I was very impressed with the menu and the gorgeous outdoor setting, made all the better by a portable air conditioning unit.

Aircon outside – don’t we live in an amazing time?!

The wait staff were attentive, knowledgeable and eager to make sure our evening was one to remember. Their suggestions on what to order were spot on and the only disappointment we experienced all evening was not having enough room for dessert.

To start we shared a traditional antipasto which was absolutely gorgeous and included a selection of Italian pork cold cuts (hard to find in the UAE), mixed grilled vegetables, olives, melon, figs, and bocconcino cheese. This all came accompanied with parmesan, pesto and a scrumptious focaccia.

After our generous starter I was feeling full but with a mushroom and truffle risotto truffle I found it in me to push on through – someone’s got to do it, right?

I love truffles and can’t get enough of this tiny-but-expensive mushroom.  I usually find restaurants to be a bit stingy with the truffle but not in this case!  The risotto was full of rich flavour; it was creamy and cheesy and had truffle mixed throughout the whole dish – not just served on the top as many places do. I would wholeheartedly recommend this dish to anyone dining at Rosso’s.

I can’t wait to head back again to experience their scrumptious food, outstanding service and relaxed setting.

Dubai – Stop Over or Fly Through?

Is Dubai somewhere you should consider visiting?

Absolutely!  Whether you live locally, are on holiday or are making a quick stopover, Dubai has something to offer for everyone. It has glitz and glam that will wow you, inviting beaches, high end shopping and theme parks that rival some of the best in the world.

Above all where else can you experience a modern city with a traditional twist?

It’s a truly vibrant city that knows how to put on a good show!

The best time to visit is in the winter months where you can really experience everything the city has to offer without those hot rays beating you down.

So, next time you are flying through this international hub, think about making a stop to explore fascinating Dubai!  You might just surprise yourself.


Love Dubai enough to stay?  Check out these ten tips that Gabby wish she knew before making the move to Dubai.

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Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!Dubai: Your guide to the City of the Future. Iconic sight-seeing, delicious food, culture and the best places to stay - if you've never visited the UAE, this guide is for you!

Thank you to the Amwaj Rotana and Splash Tours for hosting Sarah for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Wishlist

Bucket List Accommodation – Hotels you’ll want to book Right Now!

May 27, 2017

Great accommodation can make or break a holiday.

It’s a good thing then that we’ve taken the guess work out of your planning and have found the most amazing, unique and gorgeous accommodation around.

All you need to do is decide which ones will make it to your personal bucket list!


Quintessentially Quirky

These anything-but-ordinary accommodation options make the most of their stunning settings.  Adventure is calling – will you answer?

Treehouse Point – United States

Located just 30 minutes from Seattle, Treehouse Point is home to six gorgeous and unique tree houses.  Tucked away amongst the forest and dotted the edge of their stunning pond, guests have all the comforts of home in a setting anyone would envy.

The hardest part is figuring out which cabin you want to call your own!


The Gibbon Experience – Laos

Few places make you work so hard to get to your accommodation and fewer still grant the peace and serenity found at the Gibbon Experience.  Guests zipline in and out of their tree houses amongst the lush South-East Asian jungle and spend their days exploring the vegetation below.

What will you spot from the treetops?


Whitepod – Switzerland

With its own private skifield (and 7km worth of runs) along with dogsledding and paragliding onsite, Whitepod’s activities are just as amazing as the accommodation itself.  Open year-round, your adventure starts from the moment you check in during winter as you’re provided with a map, headlight, snowshoes and talking sticks before being sent on your way!  The pods are located an easy 20 minute walk from the main reception, ensuring the curious passers-by don’t spoil the peace and quiet.

Whitepod is a haven for everyone that loves the outdoors.


Hotel Kakslauttanen – Finland

The original igloo hotel, Kakslauttanen is right up there as a bucket list hotel for many.

During winter, guests can sit back, marvelling at the northern lights as they work their magic in the endless night.  During the summer, visitors make the most of the ever-present sunshine, exploring their natural surroundings.

With different levels of price (and comfort), you may be surprised by how attainable a stay here can be.


Purepods – New Zealand

Imagine glass encompassing you as you lay surrounded by nothing by farmland and endless starry skies.  Now stop imagining and get yourself to Aotearoa!

Purepods have three glass cabins strategically placed around the South Island.  Each come equipped with a BBQ to cook up a good-old-fashioned Kiwi feast along with a telescope and bluetooth speaker to allow you to unwind in style.

360 degree views?  Yes please!

Choose between KahutataLittle River – Greystone – Manakau


Skylodge Adventure Suites – Peru

Perched 400 metres above the Sacred Valley of Cuzco, you’ll find these transparent luxury capsules.

Getting there is half the fun!  A via ferrata or hike and zipline course awaits all potential guests and once you’re tucked in for the night there’s no going back.

Fortunately, guests are treated to a gourmet dinner and breakfast along with one-in-a-lifetime views, so there’s really no need to go anywhere.


Icehotel – Sweden

If there was ever a hotel worth braving the cold for, this is surely it.

Carved fresh each season based on designs created by a team of artists, the Icehotel really is an ever-changing work of art.

Warm blankets are provided as is a toasty lounge space so guests can hear themselves up before hunkering down for the night.


Pure Perfection

There’s nothing like a good pampering session.  These hotels and glampsites do such a great job of treating their clients to something special you might never want to leave!

Hanging Gardens of Bali – Indonesia

Nothing makes a hotel quite like a breathtaking pool and they don’t come much better than the dual infinity pools at the Hanging Gardens of Bali.

Set amongst the jungle, this pool is absolutely magical, as is the service guests receive.


Giraffe Manor – Kenya

Make your inner animal lover happy with a memorable stay at the iconic Giraffe Manor.

This beautiful, stately homestead oozes luxury but nothing could outshine what makes the manor truely unique.

On multiple times throughout the day the resident Rothschild giraffe herd swings by the manor to say hello to guests.  Not content with staying outside though, these curious giants poke their long necks into the building, on the hunt for a treat.

It’s hard to believe a place like this exists!

If you’re looking for a more affordable option, you can still have an up-close-and-personal visit with the local giraffes at the Giraffe Centre – we highly recommend a stop there in Nairobi.


Madikwe Hills – South Africa

With the sun setting on an incredible day of game drives, can you imagine much better than snuggling up in a warm bath, watching the local elephants making themselves at home?

We can’t!


Kulu Safaris – Sri Lanka

With private chefs on hand to whip up anything your heart desires and a dedicated team of smiling staff, each determined to show their guests the time of their lives, Kulu Safaris is so much more than a glamping site.

By day guests are treated to game drives where leopards, elephants and sloth bears are just waiting to be discovered, whilst during moments of down-time, the Kulu Safari team are on hand with cold beers and warm, welcoming smiles.


Thalia Haven – Australia

Could you see yourself soaking in this tub?  Tasmania’s crisp ocean air lapping at your face whilst the waves below crash against the shoreline?  Did we mention, you’ll have 5 kilometres of beach all to yourselves?

It sounds like absolute bliss, doesn’t it.

Just wait until you turn around and spot the incredible private homestead behind you.  It doesn’t get better.


Qasr Al Sarab – United Arab Emirates

This stunning hotel is located on the edge of the largest sand desert in the world, Liwa Desert.  Just over an hours drive from Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, this hotel is both remote and easily accessible.

Whatever you do, be sure to get out of the city for a desert adventure whilst you’re visiting Dubai or Abu Dhabi!


Breathtaking on a Budget

Bucket-list-worthy experiences aren’t exclusive to high-fliers!  These unique options will wow you without doing the same to your wallet.

Jumbo Stay – Sweden

A hostel in a plane?  We’re not kidding!

If you’re in Sweden and are looking for a memorable experience, book a bed in this decommissioned 747-200 Bowing jetliner.

Beyond cool!


Borderlands – Sri Lanka

All-inclusive resorts aren’t normally music to the ears of independent travellers but Borderlands surprises in all the right aways.

Perched alongside the Kelani River, each room offers incredible views out over the river.  Don’t be surprised as you marvel at fireflies drifting through the night and spot chameleons sunning themselves as you eat breakfast.

Each day the team at Borderlands will whip up delicious meals and take you out into the local community for a range of adventure activities – whitewater rafting and kayaking, canyoning, mountain biking – this incredible eco lodge does it all.

Borderlands glamping Sri Lanka riverside


Greengos – Guatemala

Incase you missed the memo, Guatemala is home to one of the most unassuming little slices of paradise you’ll find anywhere.

A short walk from Greengos, a delightful eco lodge, you’ll find the marvel that is Semuc Champey – after spending the way swimming, hiking and just generally marvelling at nature, head back to the lodge for an evening besides the river.

It’s impossible not to fall in love with the depths of the Guatemalan jungle – we dare you to try.


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The best hotels in the world to fill your bucket list! From the most luxurious to the quirkiest. The most romantic to the most adventurous. These hotels around the world will surprise, delight and certainly leave a mark on you.The best hotels in the world to fill your bucket list! From the most luxurious to the quirkiest. The most romantic to the most adventurous. These hotels around the world will surprise, delight and certainly leave a mark on you.

Thank you to each of the hotels, Infinite Legroom, Expert Vagabond, Delta Lighting Solutions and Be a Secret for providing pictures where we did not have our own.

This page does contain affiliate links – should you choose to book some of these rooms through the links provided we may receive a small payment to help us keep Exploring Kiwis.  There is absolutely no additional charge to you for this – thanks so much for your support!

Accommodation Koh Samui Thailand

The Royal Muang Samui Villas – Your Slice of Thai Paradise

April 25, 2017

If you’re looking for paradise, look no further – we’ve found it at Choengmon Beach on Koh Samui, Thailand!

The Royal Muang Samui Villas have many fabulous room options. They range in price (to suit most budgets) and offer absolutr luxury to those seeking it.  Regardless of your choice, all  79 rooms are tastefully decorated with a mixture of traditional and contemporary Thai styled décor.  The spacious rooms are elegant and comfortable, including lovely touches to help ensure your stay is memorable.

Royal Muang Samui Villas Koh Samui hotel reviewWe opted to stay in one of the Pool Suite Garden View rooms and we were not disappointed – in fact I loved it so much it was hard to get me out!

Our suite included a small but peaceful outdoor terrace and private pool which could be accessed both via the cute outdoor terrace area and conveniently through the bathroom area (which meant we didn’t need to traipse through our room whilst sopping wet).

The bathroom itself was probably bigger than my last apartment and included an amazing whirlpool jacuzzi. It was such a pleasure to relax in the spa bath whilst being treated to stunning views of the pool and garden.

We found our stay at Royal Muang Samui Villas not only to be luxurious but incredibly relaxing and fulfilling – an awesome getaway, without doubt.

Fabulous Facilities

The facilities at the resort are first class through and through.

Cave Rai Ra Beach Spa is a unique spot that’s beautifully styled.  Located behind the waterfall in the pool area, treatments are provided in a cave-themed environment which is both inviting and exotic.

The spa is open from 10.00am – 10.00pm daily and offers various spa treatments and packages.

If your idea of relaxing requires a little more energy, there’s a well-equipped fitness room, kids corner and a complimentary shuttle service (offered four times a day to the sister beachfront resort in the bustling Chaweng Beach).

Not a villa resident lucky enough to have your own private pool?  Don’t worry – there’s a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by tropical palm trees with an amazing view out to Choengmon Beach.

If the beach is more your thing, there are plenty of sun loungers. That’s not the best part though – wait until you spot the buzzer! If you’re in need of a refreshing drink, cocktail or a spot of lunch, give it a ding and your wish will be their command.

Does it get better than that?

Extensive Activities on Offer

Alongside these facilities, the hotel also offers an exciting activities programme – the details of which are communicated through a weekly newsletter which will be delivered to your room.

They have an enticing array of options that include basic Thai language and cultural classes, Thai cooking, learning to make flower garlands, bike tours, morning yoga classes and many more.

Unfortunately our limited stay didn’t give us time to try out any of the classes and we were highly disappointed to have missed the Thai cooking class the day we arrived.  If you can make it into the kitchen, enjoy a delicious self-made curry for us!

To make your experience truly unique the hotel has a little floating market every Wednesday from 6pm – 11pm.  The floating market gives guests a taste of an authentic, traditional Thai experience without having to leave the hotel (but of course you’ll want to venture further afield too!)

I’m intrigued to know how exactly they fit everything they promise into the tiny canal in front of the hotel but next time you can bet we’ll include a Wednesday in our stay to experience the exquisite food and local products on offer!

Cuisine to Write Home About

There are three restaurants onsite, offering a range of delicious food.  After all, everyone knows meal times are one of the highlights of a good holiday!

Spice Zone, where you will find the breakfast buffet, provides a stunning setting to start your day.  The view overlooks luscious gardens and the beach, inviting guests to savour the first light of day.

The buffet is your typical hotel buffet, including a various fresh juices, a selection of bread, pastries, breakfast cereals, cheeses, cold cut meats and fresh fruit.  The hot section changes daily however it always has an egg station where they cook your eggs to order.  If you’re keen to make breakfast that little bit more luxurious (and why wouldn’t you?) they have sparkling wine and a bloody Mary station!

We also chose to dine at Spice Zone one evening and loved the romantic beach setting. The soft light glowing lanterns and the beautiful music provided by two very talented vocalists whom were accompanied by a guitar made it a meal to remember.

Whilst the restaurant offers different deals and specials on different evenings we opted for the la carte menu and to try the local food – it was a great choice!  Throughout the evening, the staff were extremely attentive and the extra gestures they made ensured we left happy.

You will also find Ciccio Ristorante & Pizzeria and Samui Sailor Grill & Restaurant at the resort, both serving up what looked to be delicious food!

Off to Thailand?  Book Yourself in at the Royal Muang Samui Villas

This spectacular resort lived up to everything we were expecting and more!

Aside from the gorgeous setting, the amazing rooms and the great location, the staff at Royal Muang Samui Villas are so incredibly friendly, helpful and warm.

They  ensured every part of our stay was as glorious and relaxing as we’d envisioned (and then some!)  It says a lot when you stay at a resort as gorgeous as this one and the staff still manage to shine – the team at Royal Muang really went above and beyond to make our stay a memorable one!


Off to the Land of Smiles?  Be sure to check out the top 10 things to do in Thailand before planning your visit.

We have no affiliation to Royal Muang in any way, we just loved our stay and wanted to give you the heads up.  If you do decide to visit Koh Samui we do not doubt that you’ll be just as impressed as us.

Accommodation Adventure Asia Eco Tourism Mid-Range Sri Lanka

Adventure & Glamping in Sri Lanka – Not Your Average All-Inclusive!

March 29, 2017
Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka

An easy drive from Colombo you’ll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word ‘all-inclusive’ when it comes to our travels but not this time!   Read on to find out why Borderlands should be a must-see on your visit to Sri Lanka…

It’s an amazing thing to leave a place feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude.

You’ve probably heard about the health benefits of practicing gratitude—how it can boost your mood, help you treat others better, improve physical health, and keep stress and fear at bay. Now, here’s a little trick for how to automatically infuse more gratitude into your life: Spend more money on experiences, and less on material objects.

Real Simple – Amanda MacMillan

Gazing through the shroud of netting out into the Sri Lankan jungle, you just can’t help but feel appreciative.  If experiences are where it’s at, then this one would be hard to top.

Layer after layer of a jungle, from the closest painted in hues of vibrant green, to the last few trees silhouetted against the sky, sitting high on the misty mountain – all laid out in front of us without having to leave our bed. The call of countless birds and lizards, the buzz of insects waking up, the river racing along below us.

How fortunate were we to have spent even a few nights in paradise like this?

Borderlands is about as far from a typical all-inclusive holiday destination as it gets.  Yes, for a set rate you’ll get a roof over your head (and a million dollar view to boot!) and all of your meals included.  Also included are two adventure activities a day with fully trained guides and free WiFi.  Unlike your average all-inclusive resort though, Borderlands has an overwhelming sense of character and a jungle outlook that just can’t be beaten.

Lounging in the chill-out area, we spotted a chameleon in the first five minutes of being there and throughout the day, magnificent eagles soared back and forth.  Even if you’re not on the hunt for adventure, Borderlands is a great choice in Kitulgala – it’s the ultimate in back-to-nature adventure in the true spirit of Sri Lanka.

Our room obviously wasn’t your standard hotel room but it was perfect for the location.  With plenty of ventilation and a fan, we didn’t get too hot and there was a partial sunshade to stop the morning daylight from streaming in – we went with it though, leaving it open so we could see the fireflies and birds out in the jungle.

Attached to our room was a partially outdoors ensuite (with a hot-water shower and toilet) and his and hers hand basins.  We also had a couple of tables, beanbags, fresh drinking water, electrical outlets and lights in our room – though it wasn’t fancy, it was more than adequate.

We’ve sometimes stayed in luxurious hotels and have come away less impressed than we did from Borderlands which says a lot about our experience there.  If you’ve got a good sense of adventure, this place is for you!

Food, Glorious Food!

We arrived at Borderlands a little unsure of what to expect when it came to meals but the food on offer was absolutely delicious!  Hearty and varied, every meal was one to look forward to and served up buffet style, there was plenty to go around.

Adventure is Calling

Though you can stay at Borderlands just to take advantage of the facilities and delicious food, we recommend you book in the full package including activities.  The team is known as being the most safety-conscious in the area (they were also one of the founding companies on the Kelani river) and their care and professionalism really shone through – if there’s one company you want to be pushing your personal boundaries with, it’s these guys.

White Water Kayaking

Our first activity started very quickly with a dunk in the water!  After jumping back in the kayak (and then falling out a few more times) we started to get the hang of keeping our balance in the whitewater.  The whole experience was a blast and with a river that’s currently a grade 2, it was the perfect introduction to kayaking in this environment – the right balance of challenge and security.

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka kayaking

Advanced Canyoning

Having been on an amazing canyoning trip once in the past we had high expectations from this activity!  Did it stack up?

We started with a hike down to the canyon though gorgeous tea plantations and farmland, our guides stopping to show us a range of local produce (with a few tastings thrown in too).  Once we made it to the river, we received a full safety briefing and made our way to the first obstacle, as double rock slide into the cool water below.  After slipping and sliding down a few rocks we approached the first of our cliff jumps… at approximately 12m high, we decided to save it for the braver souls amongst us and scrambled down the rocks instead.  With another smaller jump (which was much more to our liking) and an abseil our canyoning adventure was almost over.

We had a great time up the canyon with our two guides (we weren’t kidding when we said Borderlands was safety conscious) but wished the experience was a little longer.  Considering they’re making use of the natural environment only 10 minutes from the campsite though, it’s a fantastic introduction to canyoning.

Mountain Biking

From a fitness point of view, mountain biking made the other two activities feel like a walk in the park.

I can’t even recall the number of times I mentally chanted this saying back to myself as we kept pedalling up that mountain…

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger”

– Nietzsche, 1888

Fortunately, our lovely instructor foresaw what was to come and had the Borderlands truck follow not too far behind us up the hill.  We made it about half way before stopping and hitching a ride with him!

At the top, we stopped for a while in an ancient cave, tried to spot the local bats and admired one of the region’s waterfalls – a gorgeous spot and a great chance to catch our breath!

With the choice of going off-road or following the path we took up, we elected to stick to the ‘road’ – better safe than sorry we decided.  With spectacular views and a comfortable pace headed back downhill, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we made the right choice.

Was it physically hard?  Yes.

Were we pleased we did it?  For sure!

Borderlands - Adventure glamping in Sri Lanka mountain bikingBorderlands is about as close to the perfect jungle experience as it gets.  Tropical and wild whilst retaining a touch of comfort and calm, we really couldn’t recommend it enough to those adventurous spirits amongst us.

Leave your hair dryer at home, come with a can-do attitude and get stuck in – you won’t regret it!


Love a good adventure?  Save one of these pins!

An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation. An easy drive from Colombo you'll find Borderlands, an all-inclusive Sri Lankan adventure camp in Kitulgala, the adrenalin-sports capital of the country.  We normally recoil at the word 'all-inclusive' when it comes to our travels but not this time!  Find out why we fell in love with this unique accommodation.

Thank you to Red Dot Tours for recommending and organising our stay at Borderlands.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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