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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.

Accommodation Asia Destinations Luxury Reviews Sri Lanka

Staying on a Working Sri Lankan Plantation – Horathapola Estate

March 25, 2017
Horathapola Estate Sri Lanka review Red Dot Tours

How many hotels do you know that would check you in at 5.30am, graciously welcoming you with a fresh coconut and showing you to your room (when you don’t officially check in until later that afternoon)?

Prior to our visit to Sri Lanka, I would have said not one hotel would generally provide that level of service; I was proven wrong though.

Horathapola Estate has got you covered!

From the moment we arrived, we were treated like absolute royalty.  This boutique hotel, set on a genuine, working colonial estate is as authentic and gorgeous as they come but even with its obvious beauty, it’s the superb hospitality that stood out for us.

With 50 acres of crops and stunning gardens, it’s easy to slip into a slower pace of life.  Bird call rings out over the lush greenery as lizards and squirrels dart from one tree to another.  Life on the estate for guests is anything but hard with the staff carrying the load to ensure you won’t have to.

Dining at Horathapola Estate

All rooms at the estate come with the ‘half board’ option which includes breakfast and dinner – it’s a good thing too as meal times at Horathapola are a treat!

Their chef works hard to ensure food is prepared in a classically Sri Lankan manner, staying true to the property’s roots.  Fresh produce is taken from the plantation (including milk, rice, cashew nuts and salad greens) and cooked based on guest preferences.

Lunch is available a la carte and is fairly priced with a wide range of options available.

Touring the Estate

It’s not every day you’re welcomed onto a working plantation so we were delighted when the offer of a tour around the estate was made!

A bullock cart ride (you guessed it, that’s a cart pulled by a bull) takes guests around the expansive property, offering insight into rural life in Sri Lanka.  The unmistakable smell of cinnamon hangs in the air and countless trees bear fruit, ripe for picking – it really is a tropical paradise.

Whilst our guide explained the many different crops found on the plantation (coconut, rice, cashews, mango, pepper corn and cinnamon just to name a few) our driver raced up a coconut palm, more than happy to provide us with fresh coconut water and flesh.

On Your Bike!

Should you wish to head outside of the estate – and we recommend you do – mountain bikes are available at no additional charge.  We shouldn’t have been surprised by the quality of the bikes (we came to realise that this hotel doesn’t do things by half) but they really were heads and shoulders above what we’ve been offered in the past.

The roads around the estate are safe with locals driving slowly and incredibly patiently.  The majority of people we came across were on scooters or walking and everyone (literally everyone!) gave us a friendly beep or called out to us.  Compared to other parts of Sri Lanka, the Horathapola Estate feels a little off the tourist trail (which is fantastic news for those that visit) and though I’m not sure if the locals were excited to see us as they’re not yet inundated with tourists or if they’re just incredibly friendly to everyone they come across, it was a real pleasure being a guest in their slice of paradise for the day.

Why You Should Pick Horathapola Estate Over a Stay in Colombo

Others will tell you that although Colombo isn’t a drawcard for visitors to Sri Lanka, a stop in the country’s largest city is almost unavoidable.  Red Dot Tours are onto a winner here though, instead recommending visitors make the hour long drive out to Horathapola Estate for some serious rest and relaxation.  When I compare our stay here with the idea of contending with Colombo’s hustle and bustle, there’s absolutely no doubt that this was the right decision.

Really though, look at these photos.  Was there ever any doubt that this was the best choice?


 Skip Colombo and head straight to Horathapola Estate to unwind and experience the real Sri Lanka. Warm and welcoming staff, a stunning pool, delicious food and local tours - this working plantation is a must-see on your itinerary. Skip Colombo and head straight to Horathapola Estate to unwind and experience the real Sri Lanka. Warm and welcoming staff, a stunning pool, delicious food and local tours - this working plantation is a must-see on your itinerary. Skip Colombo and head straight to Horathapola Estate to unwind and experience the real Sri Lanka. Warm and welcoming staff, a stunning pool, delicious food and local tours - this working plantation is a must-see on your itinerary.

Thank you to Red Dot Tours and Horathapola Estate for making our visit possible.  To find out about the customised tour that Red Dot put together for us, check out our itinerary!

Accommodation Budget Europe Iceland Reviews

Kex: A Funky, Affordable Hostel in Reykjavik, Iceland

March 19, 2017
Kex Hostel review Reykjavik Iceland

Iceland is has a well-deserved reputation for being drop-dead-gorgeous.  It is.

It also has a reputation for being fairly expensive.  For the most part, that’s true too.

Though we tend to stay in more private, comfortable accommodation options these days, our desired locations and activities always drive our decisions.  If there’s only basic accommodation in the area we’re headed, we go regardless.  If we want to travel long term, we tend to favour hostels and Airbnbs apartments to help cut down on our spending (with the added bonus of meeting other travellers and locals).  If we’re headed to an expensive area, you can be sure we’ll reduce the amount we spend on accommodation, putting our savings towards amazing activities, as opposed to missing out on those.

So when we found ourselves looking at accommodation in Iceland, we knew we’d have to look at alternatives.  We were there to see the country, not blow our budget on hotels – after all, nobody goes to Iceland just to sit inside their fancy room (though if you are looking for one, we know just the place where you can treat yourself!)

Recommended by a blogger friend (thanks Diana – check her out at MVMT!), we knew off the bat that Kex was anything but a fall-back option.

Located in an old biscuit factory and decorated with salvaged materials, this hostel has a distinctively eclectic, industrial feel – one that’s impossible to miss.  It’s also known locally for hosting the best musicians in town – one of our tour guides even recommended it as the place to be come evening.

Funky, quirky and certainly memorable, Kex provided us with everything we needed in a comfortable base.

What We Loved About Kex:

  • Kex is well located, a comfortable walk from the centre of the city.  As far as position goes, the hostel is spot on.
  • Breakfast is hearty, filling and plentiful.  It’s reasonably rustic – don’t come expecting pancakes and eggs cooked to order – but for a hostel, it’s easily the best we’ve ever seen.
  • Earplugs are on offer at the front desk free of charge – take some!  Though our roommates (we were in a four person co-ed room) were incredibly respectful, there was a fair bit of noise coming from outside on the first night of our stay.  I made the mistake of passing on the earplug and regretted my decision for a number of hours as I lay there, wishing the noise away.  Learn from my mistake a grab a few packets!  We used them the next few nights and slept really well – no complaints from us.
  • The quirky vibe of the place was awesome.  Kex has a unique feel to it – it makes you take yourself a little less seriously (which is never a bad thing).
  • There’s a room configuration (and quality) to suit a range of travellers.  Sure, it’s not a high-end, boutique offering, but with a range of rooms from industrial mixed dorms right through to private hotel-style rooms (which come with private bathrooms – yes!), there are plenty of options on offer.
  • If you’re travelling by yourself or would just like someone else to take care of your activities, they offer a selection of day trips from Reykjavik – too easy.
  • There’s free WiFi and a fully equipped kitchen (another great way to save money in Iceland – we found eating in to be significantly cheaper than eating out).

Things to Note:

  • In true European fashion, showering is a communal affair at Kex.  I remember the feeling that washed over me when I first walked into the woman’s bathroom to find all of the shower heads grouped in the one big cubical – I must admit, my first thought certainly wasn’t “oh yea!”.  With that said, there are a few unisex single showers so as long as you’ve got time on your side, you are able to have a private shower if you prefer.  One morning we had to race out the door and the single showers weren’t available so I braved the communal one – it turns out I shouldn’t have been worried at all – not a single soul walked in whilst I was in there (but I still get kudos for being brave so it’s win-win).
  • Being right by the city, Kex doesn’t have any private parking.  This means that, if you’re driving, you’ll either need to figure out the pay and display machines out front, use the carpark building a few hundred meters down the road or do as we did – check out the spots around town and then come back once the free parking begins (which, from memory was at 6pm – just don’t overstay your welcome the next morning as we did see a car get ticketed).

Though Kex houses 215 guests, we never once felt crowded or like we saw even a portion of those guests.  Granted it wasn’t absolute peak season whilst we were there but the private rooms were fully booked, leading us to believe they were running at a fairly high level of occupancy.

If you’re looking for a polished, luxury hotel, there’s no doubt this isn’t the place for you.  However, if you’re looking for a bit of fun and a hostel you won’t soon forget, Kex could be the place for you!


Do you know someone headed to Iceland?  Pin this post to help them with their planning!

Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need? Iceland's funkiest hostel!  Accommodation in Reykjavik is expensive at the best of times but Kex Hostel is a great way to stay in the centre of the city without breaking the bank.  It's quirky, comfortable and social - what more could you need?

Thank you to Kex Hostel for so kindly hosting us for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Destinations Doha Luxury Middle East Qatar Stop Overs & Quick Trips

A Weekend Itinerary in Doha – Why You Shouldn’t Just Fly Through Qatar!

March 14, 2017

With a weekend to spare, Nathan and I decided to hop over to Doha, Qatar.  Though I work with a number of teachers that have lived in Doha in the past, I’d heard mixed things about just how worthwhile the city was.  Is it work a stopover if you’re flying through?  Should you book a flight if you’re living in the Middle East and want a weekend away?

Despite having the highest GDP per capita in the world, we found the people of Qatar to be welcoming and approachable.  The wealth of the country is evident in its gorgeous buildings that are shooting up like wildfire.

Though the city doesn’t rival Dubai in terms of scale or grandeur or compete with Muscat’s stunning mountain ranges, it does have an energy that is uniquely Qatari and, in our opinion, certainly worth seeing.

If you’re planning a visit to Doha or stopping over on your way elsewhere (which you definitely should do), this guide is for you.

Tourist Activities in Doha, Qatar

Admire the Museum of Islamic Arts

Home to a variety world-class exhibits, the Museum of Islamic Arts (MIA) contains beautiful and intriguing artworks from three continents, spanning 1,400 years.

Though we’ve lived in Abu Dhabi for the last year and a half and have travelled fairly extensively throughout the region, we’ve not seen an art collection that comes even close to rivalling this one.

Soak Up Traditional Middle Eastern Vibes at Souq Waqif

With the smell of shisha and oud drifting through the air and the buzz of goods changing hands as if in a scene from Aladdin, Souq Waqif has an old-world charm that is sometimes lacking in other Middle Eastern markets.

Souq Waqif was one of our favourite parts of Doha and we could have very happily stayed there people-watching all night.  The souq alone is reason to visit Qatar!

Take a Walk Along the Corniche and Check Out the City Lights

Winding 7 kilometres along Doha Bay is the corniche, providing visitors with perfect views back over the city.  Doha’s skyline is gorgeous and instantly recognisable with such iconic buildings – things will only get more exciting too as the city ramps up for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.  Construction is already well under way – we can’t wait to see how the skyline continues to evolve.

If parks, restaurants and statues are more your style, there are plenty of other options along the corniche including pop-up markets,  traditional arts and crafts and playgrounds.  If you’re after a cheap momento to take home, you might get lucky and find a local lady offering henna – if you do (and you’re a lady), jump at the chance – henna smells amazing thanks to the addition of essential oils and it’s a great opportunity to chat with a Qatari.

Did you know?  Qatari’s make up only 12% of the entire population in this small Middle Eastern country.

Relax with a Massage

After a busy week at work or when you’re straight off a long flight, there’s not much better than a luxurious massage or spa treatment.  Upon arriving into the city we checked into Chi, the beautiful spa at the Shangri-La – we booked in for a wellness massage (the ku nye to be specific) and it hit the spot perfectly!

If massages aren’t your thing, Chi also has a hydrotherapy pool and a full range of health and beauty therapies to help make you look and feel like a million dollars.

Enjoy World-Class Cuisine

When we talked to our friends that have lived in Qatar they all had the same advice – go to Doha and eat up a storm.  Food is an important part of life there and it’s done well because of it.  I’m not sure if people eat out lots because the food is good or if the food’s good because lots of people head out but either way, make the most of it!

Our favourite was the Shanghai Club where we enjoyed world-class Chinese food with breath-taking views (162.3m above ground to be exact) – just go in with empty tummies as the amount of food was absolutely incredible.  Duck pancakes and sweet and sour fish were the standout dishes of the night for me – I’m getting hungry just thinking about them again!

Have More Time Up Your Sleeve?

There’s a surprisingly diverse range of things to do in Qatar considering the size of the country.  Why not pay a visit to the Singing Sand Dunes, the Katara Cultural Village or the Pearl (Doha’s take on the Dubai’s Palm)?  Alternatively, head into the warm Arabian waters and enjoy a scuba dive or head out into the dessert on a quintessentially Middle Eastern desert safari.

Getting There – Flights and Visa Requirements

Qatar shares a land border with only one country, Saudi Arabia, and due to visa limitations, the vast majority of people are not able to use this point of entry to the country.

If you’re visiting Qatar, chances are it will be on a stopover or a quick getaway from another Middle Eastern country and your point of arrival will be Hamad International Airport.  This stunning airport sits approximately 25 minutes out of the city centre making it easily accessible.

Residents of thirty-three countries are entitled to a visa on arrival (for QAR100 per person) and though this can be purchased online, doing so at the airport is quick and easy making it a viable option.

Alternatively, if you’ve booked a stopover through Qatar Airways (for between 5 and 96 hours), you’re entitled to a complimentary transit visa – just be sure to allow at least 7 days to process the visa.  Once it’s up and running, you’ll have a 30 day window with which to use it.

If you book a through-ticket with Qatar Airways, you’ll also be eligible for a free city tour (on a first come, first served basis) but it is a real whistle-stop tour so should you have the time to explore on your own accord, we’d definitely recommend doing so.

To find the lowest priced fairs and compare value between different airlines, we recommend using Skyscanner.

Hamad International Airport teddy bear Urs FischerRegardless of how you get to Doha, you’ll want to head into the city.  To do so, you can choose between taxis (which you’ll find waiting just outside of the terminal) or have the Shangri-La organise a private car for you.  Check out our ride!

Getting Around

Doha is well serviced by taxis, which are the easiest way to get around.  They’re well priced and the drivers we had all knew their through the city (which is more than we can sometimes say for drivers in Abu Dhabi and Dubai!) – just remember to ask them to put the meter on and round your payment up for the driver.

Though it’s possible to hire a car, we did see some fairly erratic driving and taxis are cheap and comfortable so we’d be hard pressed to recommend driving yourself for a short stay.

Where to Stay in Qatar

Shangri-La Hotel Doha

Opened in 2015, the Shangri-La Hotel Doha is synonymous with warmth and luxury – the perfect balance, ensuring guests are spoilt whilst still feeling at home.  It’s a spectacular option in Doha.  With 272 rooms, this striking city hotel is located in the central business district of West Bay which makes it a convenient base for a weekend away.

With a fully appointed gym (and personal trainers on hand throughout the day), four restaurants, three bars, a falcon and its handler in the lobby (I’m not joking!) and a direct connection to one of the biggest malls in Doha, there’s plenty to keep guests busy.

Most impressive of all though is the incredible pool and the spectacular city views.

The pool, built on the 7th floor of the hotel, is surrounded by towering hotels and office blocks.  It’s a genuine oasis in the hustle and bustle of downtown and with its sheer size and the number of palm trees (2,000 square metres and over 70 palms!), it’s surprisingly easy to forget there you are.  In all our travels, we’ve never seen anything quite like it.

When you’re finished relaxing pool-side, we suggest heading up to the Horizon Club Lounge on the 42nd floor.  Here breakfast is served to guests in the largest lounge in all of Doha, with stunning 360-degree views.  Regardless of the time of day, refreshments are available at no additional charge and come early evening, a lavish spread is put on making the Horizon Club Lounge the perfect spot to relax before dinner and watch life in the city go by beneath you.

We’re not normally ones to sit around in a communal space, preferring instead to be out exploring or relaxing in our room but with snacks, relaxing music, books galore and incredible views, we found ourselves slipping quietly onto a comfy sofa more than once.

If you’re looking to treat yourselves (and why wouldn’t you?), the booking a Horizon Club room is the perfect way to do so.  By the time you account for all of the additional benefits, it’s an easy decision.

As you would expect, the rooms in the Shangri-La Hotel are exceptional, each with their own floor-to-ceiling windows allowing guests to make the most of views out over the ever-expanding city.

All rooms offer complimentary WiFi, TVs with a wide range of channels (and a sound system that even lets you listen to your favourite shows whilst in the bath!) and spacious floor plans.  The bathrooms are also generously sized with moulded bathtubs, rain showers and high-quality toiletries.

It’s the finishing touches in a five-star hotel that set it above the rest and the addition of a simple hair-tie to our amenity collection is surprisingly telling.  As silly as it is, I hate it when my hair tie breaks and the fact that the Shangri-La go to that level of detail to look after their guests tells you just how invested they are in giving their guests the very best experience, each and every time.

Beautiful pools and views aside, it’s those personal touches that take a gorgeous hotel to the next level and the Shangri-La Hotel Doha sits very comfortably in the that echelon – what I would call personalised-luxury.

As we found in when staying at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa in Oman, service is the core focus of these beautiful hotels.  When we walked around the Horizon Club Lounge we couldn’t help but notice that our hosts knew all of the guests by name – no small feat considering the number of people they must see through their doors.  Though the building and facilities are obviously top-notch, in our opinion, it’s the service and finishing touches that makes Shangri-La memorable as a brand.

When all is said and done, was the trip to Qatar worth our time and would we recommend others visit?

Absolutely.

Though it’s not a glitzy as as Dubai or steeped in history like Cairo, Doha has its own down-to-earth charm whilst still wowing with its obvious wealth (a difficult balance but one that it somehow manages).

Having visited, I can now understand why so many of my friends that have lived in the region consider Doha to be such a liveable city – it seems to strike the right balance in so many regards.

So, next time you’re looking for a weekend away from your adopted GCC homeland or are considering stopping off in the Middle East, don’t overlook Qatar.  Too many people pass through the airport without ever really setting foot on Qatari soil and take it from us, they’re missing out.


If you’re headed to Doha, Qatar, why not pin this post for future reference?

Doha is growing into a buzzing Middle Eastern city but too many people make the mistake of passing straight through. Don't be one of them! Find out why we recommend exploring Qatar. What to do, where to stay and how to get around - our guide will help you make the most of this charming city. Doha is growing into a buzzing Middle Eastern city but too many people make the mistake of passing straight through. Don't be one of them! Find out why we recommend exploring Qatar. What to do, where to stay and how to get around - our guide will help you make the most of this charming city. The best pool in all of Qatar! Check out why you have to stay at the Shangri-La Hotel in Doha (plus your guide to the city).

Thank you to the Shangri-La Hotel, Doha for inviting us to join them to experience a snippet into life in Qatar.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Accommodation Luxury Middle East Oman Reviews

Living It Up in Muscat, Oman – Pure Luxury at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa

February 19, 2017

The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, sitting just 20 minutes out of Muscat, represents pure luxury in the Sultanate of Oman.  So much more than just a resort, there is no delaying denying where you are – this hotel offers world-class hospitality, the most incredible Omani backdrop and a range of services to ensure your holiday is one you’ll never forget.

Arabian perfection at its finest.  

Don’t take our word for it though – read on to find out exactly why we fell in love with Muscat’s Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa.

A First Impression to Remember

Occasionally a sight takes your breath away.  Our first visit to Barr Al Jissah, Oman, in September of 2015 did exactly that.

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

From our perch atop sheer cliffs, azure blue waves washing gently upon the shore, we couldn’t help but wonder  – why don’t more people know about the beauty of Oman and its people?

Unsurprisingly, word is spreading!  This year it was recognised as one of the top 10 countries to visit in 2017 (by Lonely Planet, no less).

As we stood, then and there, we agreed that not only would we return to Muscat, but that the Shangri-La was precisely where we had to stay.

On our second visit back to this gorgeous part of North-Eastern Oman, we made good on our promise to return and, perhaps unsurprisingly, the Shangri-La exceeded all of our already-high expectations.

Arriving at The Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa

As you would expect, check-in was a pleasure thanks to friendly and efficient staff who graciously showed us around this touch of paradise (even if it was ours only for a weekend).

The unmistakable smell of oud floating through the air, glistening marble and intricate, ornate archways and ceilings; it was clear we had arrived somewhere special.

Perfectly situated in between the Sea of Oman and a dramatic mountainous backdrop, the five-star Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa spans an impressive 124 acres of prime Arabian real estate, providing guests with three unique but cohesive accommodation experiences.

640 beautifully appointed rooms and suites are spread between the exclusive Al Husn Hotel (The Castle), Al Bandar Hotel (The Town) and the family-oriented hotel, Al Waha (The Oasis), ensuring that all guests, whether visiting for business or pleasure, are perfectly catered for.

Every element of each hotel has been carefully considered; from the perfect beachfront setting to the Omani architecture, the incredible hospitality to the well matched outlets on site – it’s all designed for maximum enjoyment.

“When combining our delivery of Shangri-La’s legendary hospitality from the heart together with the warm welcome and hospitality of the Omani people, it is an unbeatable combination.” – Juergen Doerr, General Manager, Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa, Sultanate of Oman

Dining Options

A range of world-class restaurants, cafes and bars are spread between the three hotels, providing 21 different food and beverage experiences, each one unique.

Over the course of our stay, we visited three different restaurants and were delighted by all of them.  With pricing much more affordable than expected, we were able to treat ourselves to delicious food without ever thinking about our wallets which is always appreciated.

Sultanah

Each morning we enjoyed breakfast out on the deck of the Sultanah restaurant.  Included alongside the expansive buffet was an à la carte menu far exceeding anything we’ve come across at another included hotel breakfast – freshly poached snapper and steak cooked to perfection – nothing was too much trouble.

Circles

Looking for a casual late lunch we made ourselves at home outside by one of the Shangri-La’s beautiful pools.  As we’d hoped, lunch was tasty and filling – we were pleasantly surprised by just how large the portions and how reasonable the prices were.  A clear winner if you’re looking for a relaxed bite to eat during the day whilst enjoying beautiful views.

Asia

With options abound we settled on a visit to Asia for dinner – the collection of Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Chinese dishes were too good to resist.  Each plate was delicious, perfectly cooked and seasoned and again, served in generous portions.  The satay skewers were amongst the best I’ve ever tasted and Nathan couldn’t stop raving about the crab salad he had as an entree.  Warm and comforting, the food at Asia was exactly what we were after.

Unwinding at the Shangri-La

Once you’ve enjoyed a tasty bite to eat, there are plenty of options to help you relax including

  • two private beaches
  • six freshwater swimming pools (literally some of the nicest we’ve ever seen!)
  • mini golf
  • four tennis courts
  • a health club and spa
  • a well appointed kids zone (let them go to town whilst you unwind)
  • a marina and dive centre
  • water sports including kayaking, snorkelling and sailing
  • an Omani heritage village and
  • a library.

With so much to do, the relatively isolated location of the resort is not a problem in the slightest.  Both Nathan and I are generally active holiday-seekers and there was more than enough for us to do without stepping foot out of the resort.  We had in fact planned to head into town but opted to stay within the complex instead, making the most of the options on offer there.

How many resorts have you been to where you can ride a camel and Arabian horse along the beach or drift from one gorgeous hotel to another along a lazy river?

Al Husn – An Exclusive, Adults-Only Haven

Though we explored all three of the Shangri-La hotels during the course of our stay, we loved returning to Al Husn, the most exclusive part of the resort.

As guests at Al Husn, everyone is treated like absolute royalty – to be frank, it’s been hard adjusting back to the real world again.

All guests of the hotel enjoy a complimentary minibar (with an assortment of soft drinks, juices and imported beers), snacks, fresh fruit and flowers in their room, all replenished daily.  In addition, Al Husn visitors receive adults-only access to the resort’s private beach and the most incredible infinity pool, perched high above the clifftop.  After a day spent (as busy or relaxed as you please), invitations to high tea and and pre-dinner drinks & canapés are extended, all at no additional cost.

Absolutely everything is thought of at Al Husn.

Need a ride somewhere? Golf carts are on hand to help out (though we chose to walk and take in our gorgeous setting in a more leisurely way).

Relaxing by the pool?  Pick up an individually packed chilly-bin, filled with cool water, juice and Evian facial spray.

Heaven on earth!

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

Our Room a Al Husn Deluxe Seaview Room

Our room was as spacious as it was gorgeous – everything you would expect from a five-star resort like the Shangri-La.

With a generous dressing room, bathroom (which included a powerful rain-shower and a full bathtub and a selection of amazing L’Occitane products) and lounge area there was more than enough space to relax inside our room.  Combine that with a fully equipped desk, complimentary wi-fi, Bose sound system, wide-screen TV with a wide selection of international channels, a comfortable king-size bed and fresh fruit and flowers topped up daily (oh and remember that complimentary mini-bar?), it would have been hard to find a reason to actually leave the room in a lesser resort!

Would we Return to the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa?

Without hesitation!

There’s something about Oman that just steals your heart away – if you’ve not considered visiting, add this beautiful country to your bucket-list now.  While you’re at it, book yourself a room at the Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa – hotels just don’t get better.

When all was said and done, we left for the second time with a promise to return and no doubt, we will.


If you’re headed to Oman, be sure to pin this post for future reference.  This is a resort that you don’t want to miss out on!

Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa Oman review

Thank you to the Shangri-La for so generously hosting the majority of our stay.  As always, all thoughts expressed are our own.  

Supplementary photographs have been supplied by the Shangri-La – unfortunately the weekend that we visited, the GCC experienced one of the few storms of the season.  The grey skies didn’t represent the gorgeous weather that’s typical of the region year-round and we wanted to show you exactly how it looked on our first visit.

Abu Dhabi Accommodation Expat Life Luxury Middle East Reviews United Arab Emirates

A 2.5 Hour Drive from Abu Dhabi but a World Away: Jebel Dhanna’s Beachfront Paradise

February 9, 2017
danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review

Only two and a half hours from the buzz of Abu Dhabi City, you’ll find Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort, a welcome reprise from the rush of everyday life.

Located on the shore of the mainland, opposite Sir Bani Yas Island, guests benefit from many of the perks of being near this natural reserve without the often-hefty price tag of the resorts on the island.

We spent a weekend at the Danat Jebel Dhanna and wanted to share our honest thoughts with those of you living in the UAE or planning a visit to Abu Dhabi.  Read on to find out what we thought…

Arriving at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

After a comfortable 2.5 hour drive from Abu Dhabi, following the coast West past the sand dunes, we arrived at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort to begin our weekend of relaxation (and fun!)

As you would expect from a hotel of this calibre, check-in was a breeze and from the moment we arrived until the moment we left the staff greeted us with wide smiles and open arms.  This resort perfectly combines luxury with an unpretentious ease – if you want to dress up, you won’t be out of place but if you’re there to unwind after a busy week, you’ll also feel comfortable walking around in your trackies.

The grounds of the resort are fairly extensive and there’s lots of grass to relax on (a surprisingly significant treat when you live in the desert) along with beautifully maintained gardens.  The star of the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort is, without doubt, the gorgeous seafront location though – the water was absolutely stunning and calm, both day and night.  It’s there’s an oil refinery that sits out on the horizon but it doesn’t impact the view badly – in fact, seeing it lit up at night, it was surprisinly beautiful out on the water.

Our own Private Oasis

The rooms at Danat Jebel Dhanna are generously sized and all benefit from fantastic views out over the gardens and opposing beach (which genuinely has the clearest, most gorgeous water we’ve seen in the Middle East!)

With plenty of room to lounge, a desk to work from and a beautiful deck, spending time in our room as a pleasure, though I must admit, it was hard dragging ourselves out of the incredibly plush bed each morning – it was definitely up there with some of the best we’ve slept in.

The bathroom was also well-sized and included all of the amenities a guest could need – a shave kit, loofah and moisturiser along with all of the standard inclusions you would expect of a five-star hotel.

danat jebel dhanna resort Abu Dhabi review room

Dining Options at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort

Zaitoun

Serving contemporary Italian fare in an intimate and homely setting we were delighted to find a restaurant serving such delicious food so far out of Abu Dhabi.  We decided on the three course set menu and with complimentary bread and nibbles and large portion sizes, came away very full and very happy!

L’Attitude

If you’re looking for a relaxed adults-only spot to enjoy your evening, you’ll want to head to L’Attitude.  Delicious food served pub-style,  a live band (that featured three amazing singers and lots of classic tunes!) and tropical cocktails, we had a great night in there.

Tides

Tides is the main restaurant servicing the Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort and it’s open right through the day to ensure nobody goes hungry.

Every morning we enjoyed a delicious breakfast which included a wide selection of options at the buffet along with freshly made plates (waffles, pancakes and omelettes anyone?) and for lunch we were pleased to see a range of options including curries, Arabic barbecue, meat cooked to order, salads, soups and much more.

Restaurants in other parts of the world could really learn a thing or two from buffets in the United Arab Emirates – they do them incredibly well!

C-View

The best option if you’re looking for a treat in between meals or need a coffee hit.  When the sun goes down, they also serve a full selection of alcoholic drinks – all with views out over the garden – what a spot to relax.

Who is Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort Best Suited For?

Familes with Children

The resort is especially well set up to cater to the needs of families.  With a playground, kids club and a wading pool, there’s plenty to keep the little ones engaged and happy.

Though there’s plenty for kids to do at the hotel we were never once disturbed by them – all of the children there were well-behaved, respectful and well-occupied, making it not only good for families but for anyone planning a getaway.

Those Looking to be Pampered

Nathan loves a good massage and when he comes out saying he’s just had the best massage of his life, you know you’re onto a seriously good thing!  We settled on a Swedish and aromatherapy massage respectively and for an hour let all of our worries melt away (though let’s face it, when your weekends look like this, you don’t have too much to worry about!)

Active Relaxers

If your idea of relaxing involves expelling a little more energy, you’ll have plenty of options at Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort!

Over the course of our visit we jumped onboard their boat to go snorkelling out above their local reef and zipped around on the banana boat (which was really much more of a giant hotdog – fun!).  There’s also a basketball court, tennis and squash courts, volleyball, a swimming pool, kayaks, a full gym and the option of additional motorized watersports (wakeboarding or waterskiing, anyone?)

Would we Recommend Danat Jebel Dhanna Resort?

If we could be there right now, we would be, so yes, we definitely recommend you check this beautiful seaside spot out.  It’s not the newest of hotels but set out of the city, on a stunning beach, with fantastic activity options, tasty food and staff that go above and beyond to make you feel at home, it ticks all of the boxes for us!


Only 2.5 hours drive from Abu Dhabi, we found paradise!

We were guests of Danat Hotels and spent the weekend at the resort for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own and 100% honest.

Europe Iceland Luxury Reviews

Reviewing The Radisson Blu Saga – A Landmark in Reykjavík, Iceland

February 1, 2017
Radisson Blu Saga hotel review

During our recent visit to Iceland, we spent two glorious nights at the Radisson Blu Saga.  Warm and comfortable with fantastic service, we felt instantly at home (if our room was freshly renovated and we had people to look after our every need!)  We certainly recommend the Radisson Blu Saga – read on to find out why.

The Radisson Blu – An Icelandic Landmark

In a country where myths and stories take pride of place, it seems fitting that our favourite Icelandic hotel,  the Radisson Blu Saga comes with its own unique backstory.

Though Reykjavik is a bustling little city now, it wasn’t always that way.  When the capital made the decision to ban horses from the main city streets to make room for cars, the local farmers were understandably unimpressed – so much so, that the Icelandic Farmers Association decided to purchase land slightly outside of the city centre on which to build their new base.  After all, there’s not much more important to an Icelandic farmer than their prized horses!

By the time the new farmers’ headquarters was built, cars had well and truely infiltrated Iceland’s way of life, to the point that local farmers had been swept up by the automobile themselves.  Though their horses were as valued as always, the need for their new HQ to be based outside of the city centre wasn’t as great with cars becoming their preferred means of transport and their offices were eventually renovated and turned into the Radisson Blu.

If you use your imagination, you’ll be able to visualise where the horses would have been housed – breakfast is served in what were originally the stables!

Now however, you’ll only see the well-known Icelandic horses well outside of the city, keeping each other company (whilst often accompanied by a heard of tourists keen to snap a special picture) but the Radisson Blu remains in town as a nod to life gone-by in Iceland.

Pro Tip:  Your best chance of spotting the northern lights over Reykjavik are just down the road and when you’re finished up in the cold, you’ll look forward to returning to the comfort of this fantastic hotel.

Around the Hotel

With 236 rooms available, there’s something to suit most budgets and needs.  All rooms enjoy views of the city or seashore and include the standard amenities that you would expect from a five-star hotel, along with a level of personal service often reserved for a boutique hotel.

Though the building is getting on in age, the rooms themselves have been very tastefully renovated and there’s no doubt, the hotel has good bones.  The stairwells hint at the age of the building but last I checked, that’s not where people spend the majority of their vacation time.

Onsite you’ll find three restaurants and a lounge bar along with a small boutique selling gorgeous locally-made scarves, beanies and souvenirs.

For those that want to be more active, there’s a gym available for your use and a salon should you want to fancy yourself up before a night out on the town.

There is also plenty of complimentary parking on the grounds of the Radisson and all tour operators will happily come out to collect you should you prefer not to drive.

Our Room at the Radisson Blu Saga

From the second we walked into our room (until the moment when we begrudgingly left for the last time) we knew we were onto a winner.

With a massive, beautifully plush bed (literally one of the best we’ve ever slept on), a powerful rain shower and a great selection of supplies (robes, slippers, shower ammenities, tea and coffee making facilities and a chocolate each), we were well catered for in our room.

Though it was dark and cold outside, we’d have never known thanks to powerful heating and adjustable lighting within our room.  Whilst snuggled up in our room we enjoyed the TV which included a solid range of international channels and the complimentary Wi-Fi was, as always, well put to use.

At the end of a day of exploration around Reykjavik we really enjoyed coming back to the warmth and comfort of our room – a haven from the weather and darkness outside.

Good Eats in Reykjavik

There are some obvious perks that come with the Radisson Blu’s association to the Icelandic Farmers Association – namely, fantastic food!

Breakfast at Sunnusalur

Often when we reflect back on the quality of a hotel stay, it’s the cooked breakfast that seals the deal for us.  Breakfast at home is always a quick affair, focused more on convenience than culinary flair so we always look forward to our first meal of the day when we’re treated to a stand-out one whilst travelling.

The buffet at Sunnusalur (one of the Radisson’s three onsite restaurants) did not disappoint – in fact, it went down as one of the best breakfast buffets we’ve ever enjoyed!

They had a fantastic range of both hot and cold options, with something to please everyone – omelettes, bacon, sausage, skyr (a local favourite), fresh fruit, cereal, cold cuts, cheese, waffles with cream, fresh fruit juice (try the ‘hulk’ with spinach, mango, lemon, ginger and avocado or our favourite, banana and blueberry), there really wasn’t much they didn’t have.

With such a fantastic spread, you’ll be well set up for a busy day exploring Iceland.

Dinner at Grillið

Tucked away on the top floor of the Radisson Blu, you’ll find Grillið, a fine-dining restaurant with an incredible eye for detail.  Frequently rated as one of Reykjavik’s best restaurants, they serve only the freshest of local produce and sustainably-sourced ingredients.  Grillið take their food incredibly seriously and it shows.

With panoramic views of the city and service as friendly as it is slick, Grillið serves up local specialities, memorable and unique to the area.

A little unsure of what to expect, we tried the four course set menu which sounds relatively simple but in reality, is anything but.

  • Herring, eggs and onions
  • Liver, goose and bramble berries
  • Lamb, celeriac and crowberries
  • Chocolate and mandarins

Each dish was beautifully cooked and delicately seasoned, served with wine to compliment the different flavours found within each course.

I’m a chronically fussy eater and must admit that when I first sat down, I had my reservations about just how many of the presented meals I would be able to eat but to say I was pleasantly surprised would be a huge understatement.  Not only did I eat every dish but I genuinely enjoyed them all and came away having tried dishes that were as memorable as they were unique to Iceland.

Consider yourself a foodie?  Don’t miss Wake Up Reykjavik’s awesome food tour!

Why You Should Consider Staying at the Radisson Blu Saga

We had a fantastic stay at the Radisson Blu Saga and would unreservedly recommend a stay here to visitors to Iceland.

It’s close enough to the city to be convenient (especially if you have a car) but removed from the sometimes confusing one-way streets of the centre of town, plus you’ll save money by being on the outskirts of town.  The staff at the Radisson are second-to-none and somehow strike the perfect balance between treating you like family whilst catering to your needs as if you’re royalty – you can’t ask for more than that!


Headed to Iceland?  Save this pin for future reference.

Radisson Blu Saga Iceland review

Thank you to Radisson Blu Saga for hosting us.  All thoughts are honest and, as always, our own.

Reviews Travel Gear

Reviewing the Kathmandu XT driFILL Down Jacket

January 7, 2017
Kathmandu jacket review Iceland Norway

Nothing puts a damper on being out in the great outdoors like being ill-prepared. With frozen hands and chilly toes, it’s hard to think of anything but heading back inside to warm up.

With a trip to Iceland and Norway planned for the middle of their winter, we knew that having quality gear would be essential to enjoying our visit.  As New Zealanders currently living in Abu Dhabi, we’re not exactly used to the cold so when it came time to choose our gear, Kathmandu, a homegrown brand that we know and trust was an easy choice.  Though we purchased a number of items that we loved, the following is a review of our favourite item, their XT driFILL Down Jackets – they are literally the best piece of clothing either of us have ever owned.

 

Choosing a Jacket – Down or Synthetic?

When selecting a jacket, there are two main considerations – warmth and waterproofing.  Traditionally, the environment you’re doing into dictates the materials required of your jacket and because each have their own unique set of strengths and weaknesses, your jacket will not necessarily be ideally suited everything the outdoors throws at you.

With this in mind, which materials are best suited to different needs?

Down

If you require significant warmth then down is the most appropriate choice.  It is light-weight, packs down well (so is an excellent choice for travellers) and is incredibly breathable.  Unfortunately though, down does not retain its warmth when wet which means that it is traditionally suited to dry but cold climates.

The performance of down fill is measured by fill power. The numbers 550, 600, 750, for example, refer to the fill’s quality. Fill power is measured by the number of cubic inches that one ounce of down occupies in a climate-controlled test cylinder. The more volume occupied by the down, the greater the amount of air trapped and the greater the insulation generated – Kathmandu

Synthetic

If warmth is still a consideration but rain is expected, then a synthetic fill may be a better option.  Though it is not as warm as down and does not pack down as well, it does retain its warmth when wet and is a more affordable choice of material.

What options do adventurers have though when they require a jacket that provides both a high degree of warmth and waterproof capabilities?

Kathmandu XT driFILL – The Perfect Combination

In the past, outdoor enthusiasts would purchase a jacket with one weather condition in mind – you could get significant warmth or waterproofing but not both.  Fortunately, Kathmandu have changed the game by combining the best of a range of materials to create a jacket that delivers incredible protection, regardless of the elements.

With 750 loft goose down (coated with their own driFILL waterproofing treatment) and an NGX 2 waterproof shell, you’ll both be warm and dry in all conditions.  The combination of these materials results in a breathable and comfortable jacket that looks just as at home on the in the city as it does on a mountain-top.

As part of the elite XT Series, these jackets have a proven track record.  They have undergone significant testing in extreme conditions and we can attest that not once did we feel cold, even in the middle of the Icelandic and Norwegian winter.

Reviewing the XT driFILL Down Jacket

Though these jackets are made from the very best materials and offer a high-tech solution to an age-old problem, there’s much more to them than just that.  Kathmandu have thought of everything in the construction of these jackets – seriously, check out some of the key features below:

  • Each jacket includes a fully adjustable hem, cuffs and hood to ensure the best possible fit and weather protection.
  • They’re constructed with a seam-taped 3D baffle construction which allows the loft to sit plump (which keeps you as warm as possible) whilst remaining wind and water-proof.
  • All external zips include guards to prevent water finding its way inside your jacket and the main zip opens both from the top and bottom, providing harness compatibility should you need it.  They’ve also included a down-filled tube that sits just behind the zip to lock every bit of heat in.
  • To keep you toasty, the XT driFILL jackets have close-fitting fleece-lined, down-filled collars – though I took a scarf, I barely wore it because my jacket did such a superb job of keeping my neck warm.
  • Access to a range of different pockets to keep everything close by, including weather-protected chest pockets, large internal mesh pockets and the most exciting ones of all, fleece-lined hand-warming pockets (and yes, they really do the trick!)
  • If you’re travelling light, these jackets squeeze down into an included stuff-sack, allowing you to tuck it away safety when not in use.

If you’re looking for a warm jacket that can brave anything and everything the weather throws at you, whilst looking good in the process (and who doesn’t!) then we highly recommend Kathmandu’s XT driFILL jackets.  Both Iceland and Norway were absolutely amazing and a great deal of our enjoyment came from the fact that we were warm, dry and comfortable – our jackets allowed us to head out in all weather conditions and equipped us to have the time of our lives.  That’s what it’s all about!

Keen to kit yourself out?  Check these beauties out online – they’ll even ship to your door.

XT driFILL Men’s Goose Down Waterproof Hooded Jacket

XT driFILL Women’s Goose Down Waterproof Hooded Jacket

For more information regarding the difference in materials, check out Kathmandu’s guide to choosing your next jacket to see what other options they have on offer.


Kathmandu XT driFill Down Jacket Review

Thank you to Kathmandu for providing us with jackets for the purpose of this review.  All thoughts are our own – these jackets are just seriously amazing!

Now that you’re rugged up, check out our Iceland itinerary!

Activities Adventure Eco Tourism Europe Iceland Mid-Range Reviews

Snorkelling the Clearest Waters in the World in Sub-Zero Temperatures – Incredible Iceland

January 7, 2017
Scuba Iceland Snorkel Silfra review

It’s not everyday you snorkel in water that floats around 2 degrees, tucked into the rift between two tectonic plates but that’s exactly what we got to do in Iceland!

With snow on the ground and a chill in the air, we were promptly picked up from our hotel by Scuba Iceland and after collecting another two sets of guests, made our way out to the Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir).

Warming up inside the visitors centre, Astrid, our guide, filled us in on both the geographical and political significance of the area.  Much more than just a national park, the rift valley has an interesting history, having been home to the viking parliament in Iceland (where they understandably only met in the summer time!) and now one of the best examples anywhere in the world of the effects that consistent tectonic plate movement can have.  Looking back over the valley, it’s clear where the American and Eurasian plates stop and the gap in between – the rift valley – provides the perfect spot to snorkel and dive in some of the clearest water in the world.

Back in the van, we headed over to another site, only a few minutes away to get suited up.  With water temperatures staying a daily constant 2-4 degrees regardless of the time of year, the same equipment is used year-round.  We stripped down to our base layer of thermals (no need for swimming togs as with any luck, you won’t really get wet!) and donned smooshy marshmallow-like onesies for warmth.  On top of those went wooden socks and then the hard part – getting into our dry suits.  After a fair bit of pulling, squeezing and manoeuvring, we were snuggly in our suits.  With seals checked, we added neoprene mittens and hoods, masks and snorkels and flippers to our outfits and were ready to go.

We began the relatively short walk over to the entry point at the start of the fissure, where a platform and stairs have been built to assist adventurers in getting in.  Good thing too as after waiting around for about 30 minutes in sub-zero temperatures, we appreciated having an easy point of entry to the water!

Tentatively making our way into the fissure, we weren’t really sure what to expect.  It was the first time in a drysuit for any of us and the feeling of water closing in around first our boots and then our legs and torso, whilst remaining dry was an interesting one.  

Before we knew it though, it was time for our hands to enter the water and our faces – suddenly we had first-hand knowledge of just how cold the water was!  Throughout the snorkel, our hands and face/head were the only things exposed to the elements but it was a good thing that was all as I don’t think my fingers have ever been so cold!

After approximately 30 minutes in the water, we curved back into a sheltered lagoon where the option to continue snorkelling around was given.  With hands like ice-blocks, I charged right for the steps and clambered out of the water to begin thawing them out.  Standing there, looking back on the water, I couldn’t help but feel like we’d just experienced something that most people would never get to.

After making the relatively short walk back to the vans, we got out of our gear (which was a heck of a lot easier than getting into it!), warmed up in our own clothes and enjoyed a delicious treat of the most amazing hot chocolate (complete with cookies to dunk).

Snorkelling through the Silfra Fissure was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  We were mesmerised by the beautifully crisp, clear water and the rock formations surrounding us.  Jumping in was a real adrenaline rush and as we snorkelled along, it was hard to believe that we were in the middle of two tectonic plates, swimming through an Icelandic fissure that was covered in snow with crystal-clear water that hovered just above freezing – one for the bucket list for sure!


Save this post for later – why not pin it?

Scuba Iceland Snorkel Silfra Rift Review

Thank you to Scuba Iceland for allowing us to join them for the purpose of this review.  As always, all thoughts are our own.

Europe Food Iceland Mid-Range Reviews Reykjavík

Wake Up Reykjavík – The Foodie Tour With a Difference

January 2, 2017
Wake Up Reykjavík Food Tour Review

With food being such an important part of our daily lives and culture, is there a better way to get to know a new city than to eat your way around the most delicious and unique spots?  We don’t think so!

When we decided to forgo driving Iceland’s Ring Road, instead mostly basing ourselves in Reykjavík, it was entirely down to the number of fantastic options based in and around the capital city, including the Wake Up Reykjavík food tour (which consistently ranks top on Trip Advisor).  We knew that if we were to spend a fair bit of time in town, we’d want to know the best spots to eat at so booked onto a Wake Up Reykjavík food tour on our first full day in Iceland.

Tip:  Try to book your Wake Up Reykjavík food tour towards the beginning of your visit if you can so you’ve got plenty of time to revisit your favourite spots over the rest of your trip.

From our initial emails with Egill, it was clear that this wasn’t your ordinary foodies tour.  The Wake Up Reykjavík team are serious about fun and incredibly passionate about what they do.  Started by two local friends keen to show visitors the very best of Icelandic cuisine (and we’re not taking about the traditional sheep’s head and fermented shark – though there is an opportunity to try the later should you choose), the team will help you eat your way around the capital city, munching on the very best Iceland has to offer.

As instructed, we met our host, Gabríella at the entrance to one of Reykjavík’s most beautiful buildings, Harpa.  The city itself is relatively compact so makes for an easy walk, even in the snowy, windy conditions we faced.  Be sure to rug up warm with lots of layers though as you’ll be in and out of the weather as you duck into each new location on the tour.

We started the tour with one of my favourite stops of the day – an amazingly flavourful lamb soup which was served with with delicious fresh bread.  This soup is a traditional favourite in Iceland, varying depending on the part of the country you’re in – some areas serves it as a broth whilst in other parts of Iceland it’s more like a stew.  This one was somewhere in the middle and the lamb melted away instantly – it was the perfect start to our afternoon!

Next came the opportunity to try the very traditional fermented shark.  Due to the long, harsh winters Iceland used to face with limited resources, eating all manner of things became a necessity and fermented shark fell into this category – maybe not the tastiest thing around but nutritious and somewhat a right of passage for visitors to the country.  Described as being pungent and somewhere between fish and cheese, everyone in the group tried it but me (someone had to take the photos, right?) and the reactions varied from “well, I wouldn’t do that again” to surprise at how good it tasted.  I don’t think anyone was in a hurry to have a second nibble but it was great to be given the chance to try something so unique to Iceland.

On we continued to our next location where we sampled a range of local cheeses and meats.  Not traditionally a cheese making country, Iceland is proud of how far it’s come in a short space of time and their cheese speaks for itself – gouda, brie and blue, all creamy and delicious.  

They are better known for their high quality meat though and it didn’t disappoint – lamb, goose and horse (the later of which I didn’t try but Nathan loved) were all served up in bite-sized portions.

With a beautiful view of the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church, we again sat down, this time to the most surprising dish of the day.  Without telling us what it was, Gabríella encouraged us to dig in and though we had no idea what we were eating at first, we all agreed that it was delicious.  It turned out to be an unexpected combination of bread and ice-cream – that’s right, rye bread crumbs baked again and mixed in with freshly made ice cream, topped off with fresh whipped cream and rhubarb syrup.  It sounds like a strange combination (and it’s face it, it is) but it was amazing – flavourful, sweet and a little chewy – yum!

Already feeling pretty chocka, we were presented with our next treat as we walked back down town.  Skyr is a local milk-based product, similar to greek yoghurt but when flavoured it tasted a bit like a creamy strawberry yoghurt.  It’s high in protein and a real Icelandic staple for many families – when you visit Iceland, be sure to pop a tub in your trolly at the supermarket (or even better, join this tour!) but don’t be fooled into picking up the original flavour unless you like things on the sour side.

Marching on, we visited Reykjavík’s first fast-food stall where they dish up incredible hotdogs.  There was an obvious line even when we visited mid afternoon and people there just to take photos so we knew we were onto a good thing and man were we right!  Lamb hotdogs, fresh bread rolls and a combination of delicious sauces (one which was similar to a honey mustard and another almost like mayonnaise), what isn’t to love?  When offered a second one almost all of us excitedly said yes – they were really that good!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Icelanders love their lamb and for good reason – it’s amazing!  They’re not just about their lamb though – puffin, whale, reindeer, stingray, goose – there’s not much they won’t eat.

One thing the locals are known for is lobster soup and of course our food tour swung us by one of the local spots known for this dish.  Piping hot, served in a broth with lots of fresh bread and butter it was the perfect warmer everyone needed having braved the cold all afternoon.

After wandering through a gorgeous part of town, complete with Christmas lights and an iceskating rink, we arrived at our last stop for the day – a converted old pharmacy designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, the same architect that created the iconic church at the top of town.  There we were served hot chocolate, tea and coffee along with the most amazing dessert concoction which combined apricot with caramel mousse and a hazelnut base alongside passionfruit and mango sorbet.  At first it sounded like an odd pairing but our tastebuds were easily convinced otherwise.  What a way to finish!

Throughout our tour we learnt a great deal about Iceland’s history, tourism industry, produce, education and political system and about what it’s like to live in Iceland.  My favourite of all though were the stories from Iceland’s past – gods, trolls, elves and all sorts of mythical creatures add a touch of magic to a part of the world that is obviously filled with it.

Our guide, Gabríella, was knowledgeable, approachable and had a great sense of humour.  She did an excellent job of bringing the group of us together and was incredibly considerate our our needs (she even surprised us with an Icelandic chocolate bar each at the end of the tour)!  She was an awesome example of what we found Icelanders to be – warm, friendly and keen to share their passion for their beautiful country.

We whole-heartedly recommend Wake Up Reykjavík for foodie fun in Iceland’s capital.  Together with other like-minded travellers you’ll visit the best restaurants, delicatessens and and food stalls around and with their their expert help, you’ll be set up with delicious dining options for the rest of your visit.


Thank you to Wake Up Reykjavík for so warmly welcoming us as their guests on this tour.  Nathan came away saying that food tours are one of his favourite things to do on holiday now, so you know we were well and truely sold!  As always, all thoughts are our own.

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