Peru Uncovered with Contiki

I know it’s definitely been awhile since I’ve given an update on this blog! Earlier this year, I decided to take some time off from my career to spend 6 months traveling. This trip began with the 2 week Peru Uncovered tour with Contiki. I honestly didn’t know much about Peru besides Machu Picchu. When I took my Brazil & Argentina trip, the group was continuing on to Peru and I was so jealous! I knew I had to come back and tour Peru. I remember my tour guide, Flor, told me there was so much to see in Peru, so I decided to do the whole 2 week trip in the country.

The tour started in Lima for a night, then we flew to the Arequipa region where we took a bus around the region seeing sights like Colca Canyon. Then we went to Puno where we spent the day on Lake Titicaca before making our way to Cusco for a few nights. From there, we spent a day in Ollantaytambo and took the train to Aguas Calientes where we got ready to see Machu Picchu the next morning. Then we went back to Cusco for a night and took a flight to Puerto Maldonado (the jungle) where we stayed in a jungle lodge before going home. This was a modular trip, so some people joined at Lima and stayed for the whole thing, some joined at Cusco, and some left before we went to Puerto Maldonado.

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Here are some of my highlights:

The beautiful Plaza Mayor in Lima

Loved seeing the paragliding on the Lima coast

IMG_9683I was lucky to get Flor again as my tour manager! Here we are in Arequipa

IMG_9666One of the many great meals we had – Ceviche!

IMG_9673Some funny ad with llamas
IMG_9656The Queso Helado was delicious – They hand churn it and it looks like cheese afterwards

IMG_9680Beautiful grounds at our hotel in Arequipa 

IMG_9723We made a stop for some coca tea and they had lambs we could snuggle with

IMG_9780One of my favorite photos — this llama’s face cracks me up!

IMG_9749The tallest point we visited – over 19,000 feet! I was not feeling well haha

IMG_9766The volcano view from our hotel

IMG_9824The little alpaca I met named Blanca

IMG_9842Our fun group! One of the best I’ve traveled with!

IMG_9831One of the many beautiful stops – it was cold and I think I was a little sick from the altitude still

IMG_9893Beautiful lunch on Lake Titicaca

IMG_9917I got to play soccer with the locals

IMG_9867We visited this island made from reeds and these ladies welcomed us with open arms!

IMG_9948The group at ancient ruins in Raqchi 

IMG_0067Beautiful view in Ollantytambo

IMG_0061Trying one of the local foods – Guinea Pig!

IMG_0101Foggy morning view at Machu Picchu

IMG_9986Beautiful view of Cusco

IMG_0209View from our jungle lodge – One wall was open!

IMG_0604Last views of the jungle!

This was definitely one of the more off-the-beaten-path tours that I’ve done with Contiki. We were nearing Peru’s winter, so it was a little colder than I was used to. Also, the altitude took some adjusting to — one person on our trip had to go to the hospital because of it. I didn’t end up doing the day trek on the Inca Trail to save some money, but I’d definitely encourage anyone else taking the trip to do it. Peru ended up being a very affordable country and I only spent about half of my budget.

Overall, I’d definitely recommend Peru and the 2 week tour with Contiki. I was very surprised with how much the country had to offer and how safe I felt. I can’t wait to explore more countries in South America now!

Long Weekend in Iceland

Recently, I feel like more and more people were going to Iceland. I had a layover there last year and just knew I wanted to go back. I saw there were cheap direct flights with WOW Air and decided to take a chance with a solo trip for Labor Day. I had such a good time!

IMG_8405View of Reykjavik

Though Iceland is expensive, their tourism is booming and so convenient for travelers. Upon arrival, I took a shuttle to The Blue Lagoon, which then took me to my guest house later. So convenient! Since my flight got in around 4am, it was nice to get a chance to relax in the geothermal pools. I even got a massage while floating in the water which was bliss!

IMG_8358The Blue Lagoon in the morning

After getting a shuttle to my Airbnb, I decided to do my own little tour of downtown Reyjavik. I tried an Icelandic hot dog, stopped by a local bakery, checked out the Tjornin Lake, and took in the view from the top of the Lutheran church.

IMG_8386The Icelandic Hot Dog, love the sweet mustard!

IMG_8413Pretty view of the lake

IMG_8412Pretty scenery of downtown

IMG_8384My cozy Airbnb room

After a long day, I decided to take an early night in my cozy room. The next morning, I got up early for my Golden Circle Tour with GeoIceland. It’s called the Golden Circle because of the golden grass that lines the route.

IMG_8428Crazy geyser that made me jump whenever it erupted

IMG_8422I really love this photo

IMG_8444Pretty rainbows and waterfalls

IMG_8467The countryside was beautiful

After the tour, I had myself a nice dinner (delicious lamb!) and participated in a pub crawl that night to meet other travelers. They even have a popular place called “American Bar” that turns into a club at night. I slept in the next morning and rested up for my horseback riding tour that afternoon.

IMG_8482Cloudy day horseback riding through the lava fields

IMG_8495Me with my horse Mani

IMG_8509Yummy sushi meal I treated myself to that night

With just a half day left, I decided to check out the free walking tour of the city to make sure I didn’t miss anything. I didn’t hurt that the tour guide was very attractive. I also got one last hot dog, because Iceland :)

IMG_8518Pretty view of the Lutheran church

Overall, I loved Iceland! I was afraid that going solo was going to be lonely, but I had such a good time traveling at my own pace. Plus, the weather as beautiful and not too cold.  I only wish I had one more day to head south and do a glacier hike. Maybe on my next layover!

Beautiful Thailand & Bali

Over New Year’s I wanted to take a trip where I can relax on the beach with a drink in my hand and get away from it all. I decided on the Thai Island Hopper West with Contiki. Instead of the bustling streets on Bangkok, I opted for the beautiful islands and beaches of South Thailand. I also stopped in Singapore for layover and Bali for two nights on my way back. Here’s a snapshot of my favorite parts of the trip!

IMG_6397Kayaking around Hong Island

IMG_6463Visiting the famous James Bond Island

IMG_6499 (1)Visiting a beautiful hidden beach

IMG_6504Spending New Years in Phuket on crazy Bangla Road

IMG_6522Getting blessed by a monk to start 2016

IMG_6555The beachfront entrance to our resort on Koh Phi Phi

IMG_6616Visiting the famous location of “The Beach” aka Maya Bay

IMG_6660Beautiful clear waters for snorkeling, and saw baby sharks!

IMG_6716My favorite stop, the crystal-blue waters of Bamboo Beach

IMG_6804Beach party with fire dancers

IMG_6819Sweaty hike to take in this gorgeous sunset

IMG_7102Elephant Trekkin

IMG_7365Petting a tiger!

IMG_7386Trying Durian in Singapore (it was ok to me!)

IMG_7415The beautiful rice fields in Bali

IMG_7448Trying my hand at biking through the fields, it was harder than I thought!

IMG_7484And lastly, the Hello Kitty plane on EVA Air that was my return flight home. Event the toilet paper was branded!

Visiting Alaska!

Over Labor Day weekend, my friend Christa and I visited Alaska! I had always wanted to visit the state since doing a report on it in 5th grade. It definitely didn’t disappoint, I’ve been telling everyone that they have to visit someday! Here’s some of the highlights from our trip:

IMG_5614Making it to the top of Flattop mountain in Anchorage!

IMG_5592Checking out Moose’s Tooth, one of the best pizza places in the country

NelliOur cute Air Bnb in Anchorage which was a bus converted into a home (her name is Nellie!)

IMG_5627Beautiful harbor in Seward

IMG_5636Visiting Exit Glacier, apparently Obama was there recently!

IMG_5662Lots of Salmon, some dead :(

IMG_5667With bad cell reception, it was nice to get away for a weekend

IMG_5701Holgate glacier during the Kenai Fjords tour (it was cold!)

IMG_5730Pretty sunset along our drive

IMG_5746Pretty fall colors during the hike in Denali

IMG_5783I just can’t get over these colors!

IMG_5796My favorite shot from Denali :)

To give a little overview, we rented a car and went from Anchorage to Seward to Denali. It was a lot of driving, but definitely worth it! Everyone in Alaska is so nice and they have such a pride for their state. It was great to get out of the mainland and experience a different part of the country!

Try something new: Postcrossing

When I first graduated college, I quickly realized how much free time I had, so I was on the hunt for hobbies. I saw on someone’s blog that she did Postcrossing, so I decided to give it a go.

IMG_5466Some of the cards I’ve received

Postcrossing is a postcard exchange website where you can send and receive postcards from all over the world! It’s really easy, you click “send a postcard” and it gives you an address. Each postcard you send has a unique code you write on the card. Whomever receives it will register the card when it is received, the same goes for you when you receive it. That’s it!

I found that using Postcrossing was a fun way to add some variety to the work week. It’s nice to have an uplifting postcard in the mail from a far away place, rather than just bills. Also, it’s interesting to hear from locals living all over the world, even from countries I’ve never heard of. I got a few cards from a country called Belarus that I’d never come across. These postcards have now come prized possessions and every now and then I look back at them, seeing which places I’ve crossed off my list.

IMG_5467Some of my favorites, hope to see Russia someday!

There’s only a few cons to using Postcrossing. Since a lot of the postcards go so far, I have to use 2 stamps, which can get expensive. Sometimes the postcards never make it! Also, everyone has a profile where they describe themselves, some people are very picky about their postcards. Sometimes I’ve gotten some requests for private swaps from people wanting specific cards or stamps. Lastly, when the user receives the card and registers it, sometimes they don’t say “thank you” or anything, which can be disappointing.

Overall, I think Postcrossing is such a fun experience and I highly recommend it. There’s nothing better than receiving a postcard in the mail with a friendly message to keep sane during the work week.

Italian Espresso with Contiki!

I’m back! I took the Italian Espresso trip with Contiki and had an amazing time. This trip was relatively low-maintenance compared to my other trips. Brazil and China were so much work with the visa and preparation. I felt like I literally just showed up to the airport and was off!

I loved Italy, my favorite part was walking through the streets and getting lost in the city. This group was about 50 people and our tour guide Erica was the best! I think that really makes the trip. She was so organized and thoughtful. I ate so much pizza, pasta, wine, gelato, and espresso. The food was definitely a highlight! Often, I thought about the study abroad programs in college and how I should’ve done Italy like so many of my friends did. I know I would’ve loved it! Oh well.

Here are some of my highlights:

IMG_4534Seeing the Coliseum

IMG_4545Many Gelato trips!

**Side note, my luggage didn’t arrive so I was freezing in the rain the first day. I went to a vintage store in Rome and got some cute boots**

IMG_4566Pasta making class!

IMG_4619Visiting The Vatican

IMG_4638Karaoke night in Florence

IMG_4669Wandering around Florence

IMG_4680No description needed!

IMG_4701Seeing friends I have made through my travels – From China to Italy

IMG_4750Places like this — which I only had seen in movies

IMG_4775Wine tasting in beautiful Tuscany

IMG_4686Meeting David himself! I always put him in my house on The Sims

IMG_4816The Leaning Tower of Pisa!

IMG_4821As someone who falls asleep everywhere, these espressos were a godsend!

IMG_4834Visiting Juliet’s House – Verona was so beautiful!

IMG_4938Sunset Gondola ride in Venice!

I’d rate this one up with China for my Contiki trips. There was so much included and ample time to explore. I do like a more intimate group though, I still don’t remember everyone’s names! Like I said before, I think the tour manager really makes the trip and Erica was an amazing guide. However, this California girl couldn’t take the cold weather, so I definitely want to only do summer trips from now on!

Also, I stopped in Amsterdam on the way back for two nights. Since I’ve been traveling a lot, I decided to take the plunge and do a mini solo trip. I booked a nice hotel for myself and explored the city. However, it was even colder in Amsterdam! I couldn’t wait to get back to the 80 degree weather in California. Amsterdam was a beautiful city and I hope to explore it more when it’s a little warmer :)

IMG_4996A quick taste of Amsterdam

Also, I took Iceland Air on the way back and had a layover in Reykjavik. I literally felt like I was in a different planet when I was there. They were advertising stopovers in Iceland on your way to/from Europe. I’m thinking about trying this in the future!

Our day song for Contiki was “I Lived” by One Republic. It’s such an inspiring song and I hope to continue living my life saying “I did it all” :)

Ciao for now!

I’ll be taking a break from blogging to do a little traveling next week. I’m doing the Italian Espresso tour with Contiki, then spending a few days in Amsterdam. I’ve seen many parts of Europe but never been to Italy. I hope it involves a lot of pizza, pasta, and wine! Also, I think the recent reading/watching of The Fault in Our Stars left me longing to see Amsterdam. For some reason this trip seems very tame compared to my last couple. I’ll catch you up on all the adventures when I get back. Ciao!

Brazil/Argentina Experience

I’m finally starting to get back into the swing of things since my trip! It honestly felt like I was in an alternate reality for 10 days. I had such an amazing time exploring the sites in Brazil and Argentina. I’m excited to share some of my favorite parts!

If you haven’t heard of Contiki, it’s a travel company for 18-35 year olds. The best part is that it’s perfect if you don’t have anyone to travel with. You get yourself to the destination where you meet up with your group and tour guide. While some people travel with a friend, I’ve come to enjoy doing Contiki’s solo. A lot of other people travel alone and you make friends really fast. Plus, it’s nice to have a travel company arranging everything along the way.

I’ve done Australia and China with Contiki in the past. I’m not sure what compelled me to take this trip. I think it was more that the timing worked out and I knew I had to take the plunge and do it. My trip was called the Argentina & Brazil Experience (start Rio). I was really excited to see Rio and drink a coconut on the beach. I knew I wanted to take a selfie with Christ the Redeemer and take a speedboat ride through Iguassu Falls. It’s funny how you always see all these things on TV and it’s amazing to get to experience them, but sometimes it’s the random stuff that’s included on the trip that makes it for you. You discover and learn new things you never thought you would like.

Here are some of my highlights:

IMG_3610Selfie with Christ the Redeemer on his birthday!

IMG_3599Visiting Escadaria Selarón

IMG_3642Walking along the beautiful beaches of Buzios

IMG_3681Acai Bowl with fresh mango

IMG_3730Visiting the colorful Favelas in Rio

IMG_3836Relaxing afternoon boat cruise through Copacabana

IMG_3922All the beautiful hikes through the rainforest

IMG_3965Speedboat ride through Iguassu Falls

IMG_4040Empanadas (the food in Argentina was amazing!)

10387226_832956833436213_3638225741933993222_nLearning to play Polo and riding a horse! (I’m on the right)

In the beginning I was super nervous about going to South America. I heard so many stories. I think the most terrifying part of these trips is getting on an airplane and not knowing what to expect on the other end. Though you definitely need to exercise caution, the world isn’t such a scary place. I was super jealous of my fellow travel buddies that had more vacation time and were continuing on to other areas of South America. I can’t wait to see more of South America in the future!