In 2016, I set out a goal to travel more, experience more, and just live more. It has been an amazing adventure ! Below is a mini travel guide of all the places I’ve visited last year ! For the sake of this post, I will only focus on international travel and not domestic travel. Check out how I book my trips here.
1.) Cancun, Mexico
Mexico was sensational, read about it here. Instead of booking an all inclusive, we decided to book our vacation a’la cart. When considering the numbers, it just didn’t make sense to go all inclusive. We flew roundtrip from Miami on Interjet. Interjet is a Mexican owned low-cost airline. Interjet isn’t your average budget airline, the plane was super clean, spacious, comfortable seats, and we we were served free snacks and drinks (including liquor). I paid under $200 for the roundtrip ticket. What I wish I knew before booking this trip was that I need to also book transportation prior to arrival. You walk outside of the Mexican airport and you’re immediately bombarded by drivers charging high prices and competing for your business. Booking transportation in advance bypasses all of this.
We stayed at the JW Marriott in Cancun. The hotel was absolutely beautiful, the amenities were perfect, and the location was very central on the strip. I dined mostly at the resort and found all of the restaurants to be very reasonable. I’m sure the resort charged more than local restaurants, but I was actually pleased and do not regret not eating outside of the resort. My favorite was the breakfast served at the hotel restaurant. Fresh seasonal fruit, fresh pastries, and my omelet was delicious.
There was a dollar bus that we used to get around the city. The bus was pretty straight forward to follow and it seemed pretty safe. As we walked the strip we found an excursion that advertised a full day trip to the Chichen Itza which included breakfast, lunch, and a stop at the Cenote Yokdzonot. We we able to negotiate the price down, so I would recommend booking your excursion when you arrive in Mexico. Breakfast was a disappointing bologna sandwich. Lunch was traditional Mayan food that was delicious. The actual tour of the Chichen Itza was self-guided which i generally prefer over guided tours. After the tour, we then headed over to the Cenote Yokdsonot which featured a sinkhole made cave that we dove and swam in. It was said that a swim in this pool would provide youthfulness
2.) Havana, Cuba
The forbidden city was exotic, read more about it here. This was a day trip that was beautifully executed. JetBlue had a sale so we all spontaneously booked a flight from Orlando to Havana. We booked an Airbnb and stayed at a beautiful Colonial style Cuban house. The host arranged our transportation from the Airport to the house. From booking to the actual trip, the Host was very responsive and helpful. For about $6 per person the Host cooked us a homemade cuban breakfast with fresh seasonal fruit, fresh fruit juice, and of course cuban coffee! We spent the day exploring Old Havana, we visited art museums, cathedrals, and of course bars/restaurants. At night we visited El Turquino night club. There was live music and lots of dancing!
3.) Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
Traveling to Punta Cana was a lot more difficult than I expected. Particularly because of the airport I flew out of. I had a 12 hour layover both ways and I flew Delta. It was the best deal for my departure airport. We stayed at an Airbnb and it was a super cute penthouse condo located walking distance from the Beach. The host arranged our transportation from the airport. When in Punta Cana, its best to keep an exchange app handy and if you’re not strong in spanish then also have google translator. On multiple occasions we were overcharged intentionally. We spent the first day on a Catamaran and we went to Coca Bongos on the first night and it was amazing ! Live music, live show and open bar!
4.) Athens, Greece
Athens was a pleasant surprise, one of the few times when I was happy to be wrong. I chose this city as a long layover but quickly wish I chose it as a destination instead. Read about it here. We flew on Royal KLM airlines to get to Athens. The Dutch airline is affiliated with Delta, reasonably priced, and was a very comfortable ride. Athens was an easy favorite because the city offers so much to do in terms of tourist attractions, night life, and restaurants to fit any and every budget. It is very easy to get around the city without the need for renting a car. We chose a taxi to get us to and from the airport. While in Athens, we walked, took a tourist bus, and used a taxi on one other occasion. On our first night in Athens, we ate at the Premiere Restaurant & Lounge located on the rooftop of the InterContinental in the heart of Athens. We had views of the entire city and were quickly able to see that Acropolis is simply breathtaking. During the day, we ventured around Acropolis and awed at the remains of ancient Greece.
5.) Santorini, Greece
We flew from Athens to Santorini on EasyJet Airlines. EasyJet is a European budget airline that offers extremely affordable flights around Europe. Flights easily range from $20USD to $100USD. In some cases, you can pay more depending on when you book. For this flight, I spent approximately $70USD plus luggage check-in. Santorini was simply beautiful, we spent three lovely days here. The views alone will leave breathless, Santorini easily makes you feel as if you’re trapped inside of a moving portrait. We Stayed at the Aria Lito Mansion, the hospitality alone was well worth the stay here. The room included breakfast that was served fresh and in-room every morning. The hotel assisted with all our reservations and transfers.
Surprisingly, our favorite meal in Santorini was pizza. Easily the best pizza I have ever had. If you’re into the nightlife, I highly recommend going to 2 Brothers, by far the best bar on the island. You can easily move around the island either by foot or by ATV rental. We took our ATV To Kamari–the black sand beach. Kamari was beautiful and as I walked along the beach, lyrics from Joe filed my ears “make love on beach of jet black sand…” . Lastly, the infamous Santorini sunset was all that it was cracked up to be– STUNNING!
Not everything and everywhere is perfect unfortunately, there were two negatives. First, be prepared to maneuver around donkey droppings as you walk around the island. Second, practice some patience before heading to the Santorini airport to fly out. The airport is small, unorganized, dysfunctional, crowded, unkept, and hot. Those two negatives aren’t enough to keep me away and I will gladly visit Santorini again !
6.) Venice, Italy
The city on the Sea! It simply is that– a city built on top of the sea. It defies all logic. Upon arrival, we took a public water bus to a drop off point closest to our destination, which was the Rialto Bridge. We then followed a very confusing map and walked to our Hotel. We stayed at Duodo Palace Hotel. Once we were settled, we walked around the island and found a pizza place. The pizza wasn’t nearly as good as the pizza in Santorini. We then set out on a mission to try different pizza restaurants.
On the second day, we went on a full day tour to the island of Murano(the island of glass) and Burano (the island of lace). On day two, we did the infamous Gondola ride and experienced massive Gondola traffic throughout the canal! We then explored Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. You will see a lot of advertising online telling you to purchase advance tickets to avoid long lines with no promise of entry or to arrive at 7 am in order to get in— we found these to be false. We got in line at Doge’s Palace around noon and waited for about 15 minutes before getting in. We did a self-guided tour that took about two hours–that place is huge! We waited only a few minutes for St. Mark’s before we got in. I wore shorts that weren’t incredibly short, but since this is a holy church I had to purchase a warp to cover my legs. The final day was shopping and rest day.
7.) Jaco City, Costa Rica
The final international destination of 2017 was Jaco City, Costa Rica. The ride from the airport to Jaco City is about an hour, we felt safer using a transfer service as opposed to renting a car. We stayed at the beautiful Oceano Boutique Hotel and Gallery. Most rooms came with a small pool on the balcony and each room had a full kitchen. Breakfast was served near the Hotel lobby every morning, It was fresh and delicious. We went Zip-lining and took an ATV through the jungle and found a beautiful waterfall. I wrote about my experience here.
2017 was a hell of a travel year! I am excited to see where my wanderlust takes me in 2018! I have a few trips lined up but I am open and spontaneous! Ready for 2018!
Happy New Year from Esquire in Love and may you all have a prosperous, blessed, eventful, and exciting New Year.
–Esquire in Love.