We’ve been booking apartments on Airbnb for over 3 years and we’ve spent hours upon hours on the Airbnb website, and yet, we almost fell for a scam that would’ve cost us over $3,000 USD. The scam was so ingenious, and so well put together that I feel it’s extremely important that I share it with you all so that you don’t end up falling into the same trap.
Here’s how the Goats almost got scammed for $3,300…
We had been searching for a nice apartment in Lisbon, Portugal for about 3 weeks. We’d pretty much seen every place available on Airbnb in our price range but had no luck, so we started searching on Craigslist.
We were amazed to see that there were a couple of beautiful places that were within our price range. I contacted a few and the owners got back right away.
Don’t get scammed. Sign-up for (the real) Airbnb today and get $35 off your first booking. All you have to do is Click Here to get our special Goats On The Road deal.
One owner in particular (who had a nice 1 bedroom right in the city with a big patio) got back to me and seemed to be quite “legit”. His name was (supposedly) Reynolds Daniel and he told me that he felt more comfortable having me book the apartment through Airbnb.
He went on to say that Airbnb offers buyers protection so that I could simply put up the full payment, see the place before checking in and if I didn’t like or it wasn’t as it appeared in the photos, he’d allow a full refund through the Airbnb platform.
This sounded perfect to us. We know the rules on Airbnb and that they offer refunds for unhappy customers, so we were happy to have some kind of insurance for our initial deposit.
Finally, after a few more days, Reynolds Daniel sent me the link to book his apartment on the Airbnb website.
Here’s where the scam begins.
When I clicked over to the link, initially everything looked fine. The site looked exactly like Airbnb at first glance (even to my eye, having spent countless hours browsing the site).
I put in my dates and voila, the price showed exactly what Mr.Daniel said it would be in his emails. €650 per month for three months plus a €650 deposit, plus an Airbnb fee for a total of €2,700 ($3,300 USD).
At this point I called Dariece into the room.
“That Reynolds Daniel guy finally got back about the apartment and sent me the Airbnb link. Let’s book it!”.
Dariece was super excited and agreed that we should book it right away. She sat down next to me and scanned the website because she wanted to read the reviews. Sure enough there were ten 5 star reviews on the listing and everything looked great. The reviews were worded slightly strangely, but nothing too out of the ordinary.
Then we noticed that the URL of the listing was a little bit off. It showed “www.airbnb.com-request-booking.space/booking/…”. We were a bit confused by this, but as the URL started with “www.airbnb.com” I figured there was no way it could be a SPAM site.
It was my understanding that if the URL started with the proper brand with a dot com, it had to be authentic. We then scrolled down and scanned the site with a slightly more scrutinous eye. This time we realized that the listing included the apartments exact address in Lisbon.
Usually Airbnb doesn’t tell you the exact address until after you book in order to keep privacy of the owners location and stop people from soliciting apartment offers outside of the Airbnb platform. Now we were suspicious.
Save your friends from falling for the same con! Share this post on your social accounts and pay it forward.
Finally we spotted a working, live chat icon at the bottom right of the screen (yes, you could chat with it). While it would be great if Airbnb had this feature, we were well aware that they do not.
At this point we ran a Google search that went something like this:
Sure enough our search brought up a few very telling results, including an article on The Guardian and another on Huffington Post. We read the article on Huff and after just a couple of minutes we realized that we were almost the victims of a common, but unknown scam. The website we were looking at was a fake Airbnb site.
The article was titled: “Beware This Evil-Genius Airbnb Scam” (probably a better title than I chose for this post) and it detailed the experience of the author who actually fell for the fraudulent website trick and lost $3,800 USD.
He also pointed out the red flags he should’ve noticed on the website like the reviews, the strange URL (although his URL was different than mine) and the live chat icon. The only difference between the author’s story and ours was that he actually lost his money.
In the author’s defence, he experienced the scam from a different angle that would be far harder to catch. He was actually communicating with the homeowner through the chat on the real Airbnb platform.
He found a place he liked, contacted the owner via Airbnb’s chat function and began a dialogue with him on the site. The owner eventually told him to send an email and their communications continued over email. Then, after all was agreed upon, the owner emailed him a link to his fraudulent Airbnb listing to make the payment.
An Email From Our Con Man
Had I already been talking with the owner through the Airbnb platform, I may not have been so scrupulous in checking the website and I may very well had fallen for the trick, like this poor soul did when he lost $36,000.
Think about it. If you’re chatting on the real Airbnb site, then you chat over a couple of emails and then the host sends you an email back to Airbnb, you’ll probably be pretty quick to book.
Luckily Dariece has a keen eye for scams and we were able to thwart the efforts of this would-be cyber thief.
Had we booked, we would have then purchased our flights to Lisbon, gone there, taken a taxi from the airport to the address in the booking only to find out that there is no such apartment at that address and we’re out $3,800!
Heed This Warning
If you’re booking on Airbnb, be very weary of communicating outside of the platform and don’t book apartments through any Airbnb websites that don’t look exactly like the regular site. Keep your eye out for small differences on the site and especially, check the URL to make sure it’s a normal Airbnb web address.
We’re all for contacting hosts to ask for discounts or special offers, but when they send you the links, make sure they’re on the authentic website. If you have any doubts whatsoever, contact Airbnb customer support and send them the URL to check its authenticity.
We are so happy that we didn’t fall for this scam, but we are frequent Airbnb users. We feel that if we hadn’t spent hours upon hours on the real site in the past, we could have easily booked this apartment on the fraudulent site and been out $3,800.
This post is for anyone who may find themselves in this same situation. Whether you found your apartment on Craigslist or another free apartment forum, or if you were sent a link from a host on the actual Airbnb site, be aware of this scam.
Have you run into this scam or any others that you feel may help travellers? Please share in the comments below and help others avoid getting ripped off!
We’ve travelled and lived in Mexico on numerous occasions, visiting everywhere from Guanajuato and Mexico City, to Valladolid and San Cristobal de las Casas – and many places in between. We love how no trip to Mexico is identical, and how each state offers unique and wonderful regional specialties, cuisine and culture.
This was our first time in the State of Colima and as I sit here in our apartment in Manzanillo, we have just 6 days left in this Pacific coast city, a place we’ve called “home” for the past 6 weeks. I’m finding it difficult to sum up our time here, as our entrance into the city was a mess (24 hour journey from Japan, lost luggage for 6 days, etc.) and during our stay here there was a lot of uncertainty regarding…well, everything.
Nick contemplating life on the beach at Santiago, Manzanillo
But, there were some great memories made with our families and we were able to explore an area of Mexico that we hadn’t in the past.
In this article, I’ll share our personal experiences living in Manzanillo including how we felt, where we ate, what we did and where we stayed. Read on to learn if Manzanillo Colima is right for you!
Manzanillo & The State of Colima
Colima State is one of the smallest in Mexico, and has the lowest population. Known for its mountains, rivers, beaches, lagoons and 2 volcanos (Volcán de Fuego, which is active and the Nevado de Colima, which is inactive), Colima State is a place that hasn’t really been discovered by tourists. It’s not built up whatsoever and you’ll find that outside of major holidays, you have the place pretty much to yourself.
Manzanillo is the main beach city, and is probably the only place that tourists know about in this state! Manzanillo is spread out along 2 main bays: Santiago and Manzanillo, plus “centro”, which is mostly the harbour area.
Bahía de Santiago
This is the most northern area of Manzanillo Colima, and is the place you’ll want to spend most (all?) of your time. This bay is pristine with hard-packed, blackish sand perfect for long, relaxing beach strolls. During our 5 week stay in December – January the ocean itself has been calm except for 3 days when there were a few crashing waves. Swimming here is easy and it’s a great place for all ages.
Santiago Bay – a beauty!
Near to the center of the bay, you’ll find Playa Miramar, which during the high season (winter months) has many tables with chairs and umbrellas. The little restaurants here serve up typical beach fare – ceviche, seafood, tacos, nachos, beers, etc. This area is where you’ll find many Mexican tourists and Manzanillo locals as well.
Further north up the bay is Club Santiago. This is a lovely gated community (we usually don’t enjoy these), with cobblestone streets, Mexican styled homes and condos, and the highlight – Oasis Beach Club. This is a great place to spend the day.
We’ve spent at least three quarters of our time in Manzanillo Colima at this beach club. Why? The food is consistently fresh and delicious (lunch from 130 pesos, snacks from 50 pesos, dinner from 180 pesos) and the setting is stunning. Umbrellas, tables and chairs are available, and the service here is amazing. You can also rent paddleboards, get a massage or come by for happy hour on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Further north along the sand, about a 5-10 minute walk from Oasis, you’ll see Playa la Boquita which has more tables, chairs and umbrellas. This is where more locals will hangout, complete with soccer (football) games, loud music and large groups. It’s also where you can rent jet skis and book boat trips around the bay.
I highly recommend Santiago Bay. The beach is amazing and outside of the Christmas / New Year holiday time, it’s practically empty. This is probably the best beach we’ve seen in Mexico.
Relaxing at Oasis – where we spent almost every day!
Bahia de Manzanillo
Manzanillo Bay is the central beach that we are staying on in our Airbnb. It’s also the bay which is home to the large Barcelo all-inclusive resort. The beach here has less compact sand, and is rougher that Santiago – but, it makes for great exfoliation while walking! The sunsets here are spectacular and you can see them actually hit the ocean (in December and January anyways).
Oftentimes there will be large cargo ships parked out in the bay, and if you’re lucky, you may see a humpback whale or two.
Along the beach you’ll see some condos for rent and some restaurants as well. There’s no shade on this beach, and there are no beach bars, restaurants or vendors on the sand. The swimming here is considered dangerous due to strong tides and it’s more of an “open” bay than Santiago is.
I recommend heading to this beach for sunset, or eating a meal at La Huerta while the sun dips into the ocean.
Sunsets on Manzanillo Bay are the best
Centro (The Harbour)
This is the industrial port area of Manzanillo. There are cruise ships, cargo ships and sailboats that all dock here. However, unlike most Mexican cities which have a beautiful plaza / meeting area in the central part of the city, this centro area isn’t picturesque.
There is no real plaza, no Spanish colonial archicecture, hardly any nice streets to walk along and the sidewalks and streets are congested and somewhat dirty.
Except for the boat and motorcross show that we were there to watch, we didn’t feel like there was anything else to do here.
Because of this, and the fact that there’s a lot of drug trade and trafficking around the port, I personally wouldn’t recommend hanging around this area of Manzanillo – not to mention, there aren’t any good restaurants.
Colima State Day Trips
We ended up doing a day trip to check out the city of Colima and the nearby attractions. While we weren’t blown away by the actual city of Colima, we did enjoy the La Campana ruins which date back to 1500 BCE. The plaza in the city of Colima is very pretty, and you could also visit the nearby Colima volcano and the town of Comala.
La Campana ruins just outside of Colima city
If you haven’t seen other cities of Mexico (Guadalajara, Mexico City, Guanajuato, etc.), then you will probably enjoy the architecture of Colima. But for us, we’ve seen some incredible Mexican villages and cities and felt underwhelmed by Colima City.
*Note, many people use and recommend Danitours as a great way of seeing the recommend sites in the state of Colima. With a proper guide you’re likely to find more hidden gems of the region than we did independently.
The main plaza in Colima City
Things To Do in Manzanillo
The first thing you should know is that there aren’t a lot of things to actually do in Manzanillo. Unlike many other Mexican cities which have walking tours, food tours, numerous churches and plazas, historical sites, lots of bars, beach activities, etc., Manzanillo is more of a chill out on the beach sort of place…and that’s all. If you’re into going to the beach every day, you’ll be happy. But if you prefer to mix it up with tours and activities, you may be disappointed.
Here’s our list of things to do in Manzanillo Colima:
1. Visit Santiago Bay: This is the best beach in the area in my opinion! As I noted above, the food at Oasis Beach Club is great, but if you just want a drink, any of the small restaurants will do. During the high season you’ll also find some small craft markets here and in Santiago Town, there’s a Saturday market as well that you’ll see when driving out to the beach.
Swimming here is safe especially near Oasis as it’s more protected. Keep your eye out for riptides in the center of the bay and watch the flags on the beach – red meaning it’s more dangerous for swimming. We swam for 2 months out front of Oasis and it was great, apart from one crocodile sighting…
Pretty sunset over Santiago Bay
2. Watch Sunset: Each evening, I recommend heading down to Manzanillo Bay with a blanket (or chairs) and watch the sun dip into the water. We would always go down with our camp chairs that we bought at Walmart, a cooler with some wine and food, and enjoy the view.
3. Day Trip to Barra de Navidad: Just about 1 hour or so north of Manzanillo Bay is the small town of Barra de Navidad. It’s actually located in the Jalisco State which means you’ll have to cross through a military checkpoint – no problem though, just tell them where you came from and where you’re going. In the town you’ll find colourful little buildings, lots of restaurants, a pretty beach, and a lagoon. Lots of snowbirds from North America stay here and although it’s touristy, in heinsight we probably would have chosen this town to spend our time.
Wandering around the colourful streets of Barra de Navidad
4. Melaque: After you visit Barra, continue north along the coast until you come to Melaque, which is on the same bay as Barra. This is another cobblestone town with lots of beachside restaurants and bars. Again, lots of Snowbirds live here in the winter. We prefer swimming at the beach here as it’s a bit more protected and the water is calmer than in Barra.
5. Go Golfing: There are 2 golf courses in Manzanillo. One is Las Hadas Golf Club ($90 USD in the morning and $50 after 3:00pm), which is located just next to Barcelo Resort, and the other is El Corazon Golf Club further outside of Manzanillo.
6. Go to An Event: During the high season, Oasis Beach Club will often have some events on – a special Christmas dinner, a mariachi party night, a cowboy night, bocce ball game for charity, etc. The events will be listed at the entrance to the club. When we were here at the beginning of December, there was some Motocross and Champboat racing going on at the harbour. Check online or ask your hotel / host.
7. Try Surfing: The waves at Santiago Bay aren’t huge, but they are good for those who want to learn. There’s paddleboarding at Oasis, and further south near Playa de Oro Hotel, you’ll see a surfing school with boards for rent.
8. Go to a Movie: Ok, so we’re reaching a bit here! Normally going to a movie wouldn’t be on our list of things to do overseas, but as I said, there aren’t many things to do in Manzanillo Colima, so the movies it is. There are 2 Cinepolis theatres here and you’ll just have to check online or at the theatre to see which ones are in English. Some movies are dubbed in Spanish, while others will have Spanish subtitles (which is what you will likely want to look for).
Where to Eat in Manzanillo
As self proclaimed foodies, we struggled with the food here. Many restaurants served up sub-par meals, and if the food was good one time, it usually wasn’t the second time. However, there are a few places that we found to have consistently good food. Check out these restaurants in Manzanillo:
Oasis Beach Club: Can you tell that Oasis is our favourite, most recommended place?! The breakfast, lunch and dinner menus here are affordable and flavourful. There’s a proper chef in the kitchen, the food is fresh and most importantly, delicious. Every meal we’ve had here we enjoyed. Try the tuna “sushi”, shrimp tacos, caesar salad, roasted chicken, fresh fish fillet, breakfast burrito…it’s all good. Menu is in English and Spanish.
A grilled chicken salad with black beans, corn, avocado and pico de gallo! Yum!
El Vaquero: This is a steakhouse with fun Mexican decor and tasty meat. If you’re looking for steak or fajitas, this is the place to come. Most of the menu is beef (which they grill to perfection), but they also have chicken if you ask for it. You’ll also find salads and a couple of fish dishes on the menu. The menu is in Spanish only. Click here for directions.
La Huerta: We visited this oceanside restaurant two times and both times the food was tasty and the service was excellent. Plus, with views over the water, you really can’t beat the location. We had the fish fillet, sopes, ceviche and quesadilla and all were great. The menu is in Spanish. Click here for directions. Note: the restaurant has been renovated since the photos on TripAdvisor and Google, the decor is beautiful!
Taco Loco: If you’re’ looking for meat tacos, this is the place to come. Here you’ll find amazing al pastor tacos, plus other “unusual” kinds such as brain, stomach, eyeball and more. This restaurant is very clean, the service is great and the tacos are cheap (around $0.50 each). the menu here is in Spanish. Click here for directions.
Mahalo: Another restaurant on the water. This Tiki style place has cool decor and good service. The food here is a bit hit and miss, but the garlic shrimps with rice and salad have never disappointed us. The menu is in Spanish. Click here for directions.
The view from Mahalo restaurant is great
Cafe Bean: The location here isn’t special, but the coffee is great! They have a large breakfast menu and I’ve seen people working from their laptops here. It’s a busy place with friendly staff and good prices. The menu is in English and Spanish. Click here for directions.
Food Truck: Just next to Walmart you’ll see a red pickup truck serving Mexican food. Tacos, quesadillas and tortas are what they mostly offer with your choice of meats. There’s a selection of sauces and veggies to add to your tacos as well. The women running it are very nice and the food is so good! Tacos are around 11 pesos each.
The food truck serves up amazing, local food! Don’t be scared, give it a try
Taqueria Don Julio: Another good spot for typical Mexican fare – ceviche, tacos, quesadillas, tortas and more. Menu is in Spanish. Click here for directions.
Other Options: La Pergola Restaurant – some of our meals were good, others weren’t. Toscana – Nice setting on the water, but so-so food. The spaghetti bolognese was pretty good, but nothing else was. Monster Burger – we didn’t eat here, but the online reviews are good. Restaurante Juanitos – again, we didn’t eat here, but it’s American owned and the reviews are good.
You’ll also find some typical American chains such as Starbucks (a good place to work on your laptop), Carl’s Jr., Pizza Hut, Burger King, Dominos and KFC.
Places I recommend you AVOID: Senor Sushi, Blueberry Cafe, Sea Monster (in Barra de Navidad) and Pancho (in Barra de Navidad).
Where to Stay in Manzanillo
We are staying on Manzanillo Bay in an apartment. It’s worth noting that almost all of the buildings in this city are run down and aren’t well maintained. The outside of our building and the neighbouring apartments look condemned, but thankfully the inside of our place is nice and bright.
Manzanillo Bay offers restaurants, grocery stores (Walmart, Sam’s Club, Soriana & La Comer), a couple of gyms, the American chains I noted above and the movie theatres. You will also see sunset from this bay. However, this area is loud as it’s right along the highway, and isn’t the most secure area of Manzanillo Colima (more on that below).
Literally meaning, Lak Mountain, after one of the main peaks in this mountainous region of southwestern Thailand, Khao Lak offers travellers serene beauty, white sand beaches, towering cliffs and a less touristy alternative to other Andaman superstars like Phuket and Railay.
This is where most liveaboard dive boats leave for long scuba trips in the Similan Islands. It’s home to some excellent beaches, national parks, waterfalls and hikes and it’s just 60 kilometers north of the uber-popular Phuket Island.
Khao Lak was hit hard by the 2004 tsunami and the disaster still weighs heavily on the residents here, as made evident by the impactful Tsunami Museum which sits in the center of town. Over 4,000 people were recorded dead after the waves hit and 3,000 more remain unaccounted for, but somehow Khao Lak has bounced back.
The people here have regained the loving smiles that make Thailand famous and the tourism infrastructure has been rebuilt, with new escape routes and warning systems in place so that any future disaster will be better handled.
I wouldn’t call Khao Lak “off-the-beaten path”, but it definitely is one of the more laid back beach towns on the Andaman coast. There are lots of accommodation options for every budget and it’s in a great location, perfect for trips to the Similan Islands, the Surin Islands and the Khao Lak / Lam Ru National Park.
In this guide I’m going to break down everything you need to know about a trip to Khao Lak, including how to get there, the best places to stay and eat and the best things to do, as well as day trips around the region. If you’re planning on heading to Khao Lak, look no further than this essential insider’s guide.
Getting There & Away
There are numerous ways to get to Khao Lak. Although the area has an island vibe, it’s actually on the western coast of mainland Thailand. Similar to Railay Beach, Khao Lak does feel somewhat seluded even though it has roads leading in and out, making it considerably easier to reach.
Travellers coming to Khao Lak by plane will land in either the Phuket Airport (HKT) which is around 80 km outside of town or the Krabi Airport (KBV) which is 140 km from town. From the former, a minibus will take you from the airport to Khao Lak in just over an hour for around $3 (100 THB), or you can take a taxi for $37.50 (1,200 THB). From Krabi Airport you can book a shuttle bus to take you to Khao Lak for just over $5 (160 THB) while a taxi will run you over $50 (1,650 THB+).
There are multiple flights leaving daily from the airports in Bangkok to both of these airports. The best airline in the region is AirAsia, but you can also find flights with Thai Lion, Nok (not recommended), and Thai Airways. The cost to Phuket or Krabi will likely be between $50 – $70 per seat.
To reach Khao Lak by train from Bangkok you’ll have to get off at the Surat Thani Station. This journey takes around 12 hours and will cost you around $15 (500 THB). From Surat Thani Train Station you can hop on a 3 hour bus for $5 (150 THB).
If you’re renting a car in Thailand, you can drive from Bangkok to Khao Lak along Route 4. The drive will take you around 10.5 hours.
There are buses from Bangkok to Khao Lak and they usually cost between $15 (500 THB) to $30 (1,000 THB) depending on the class you choose. The journey will take around 13 hours.
Things To Do in Khao Lak
Being a beautiful beach area with lots of stretches of white sand, rocky outcroppings and turquoise green waters, it may be hard to peel yourself away from the coast, but if you do decide to leave your lounge chair, there is plenty to keep you busy in the region.
Go Beach Hopping
See how much faith I have in you leaving the beach? So little that I’m starting the things to do with some wonderful beach walks in the region.
The main stretches of sand are Nang Thong Beach and the strip in front of La On Village. They’re very close to the main shopping and restaurant areas so you don’t have to go far from your guest house to get to them.
If you want to go a little further afield, check out Khao Lak Beach itself which is 5km away from La On or Bang Niang Beach, Hat Pakarang, Hat Bang Sak or Pak Week. All are beautiful and you could easily spend an afternoon at each one of them.
Visit Ao Phang Nga National Park: The James Bond Island
The perfectly clear waters and dramatic rock formations of Phang Nga Bay set the scene for the famous James Bond movie The Man With The Golden Sun, and also make for the perfect place for a day trip from Khao Lak.
The lovely national park has amazing ocean scenery, stunning green and blue waters that almost appear to be lit from below, and lush jungle greenery. Check to see if your day trip includes a trip to Ko Panyi, a stilted village, and a canoeing trip.
Join a Liveaboard Trip
With the dazzling Similan and Surin islands lying offshore offering some of Thailand’s best diving opportunities, Khao Lak is the place to join a liveaboard. There are plenty of companies offering multiple day excursions out into the coral reefs and most can be booked from tourism agencies, guest houses and dive shops in town.
If you’re into wreck diving, you really can’t beat the eerie and amazing sunken giants like HTMS Prathong, Premchai, MV Sea Chart and Boonsung.
Visit Khao Sok National Park
There really is no limit to the beauty of this amazing national park. Home to countless species of flora and fauna and some wonderful camping areas, this 735 square kilometer natural reserve is smack dab in the middle of the Andaman and Gulf coasts.
Plan a full day trip or a multi-day camping and trekking excursion in the national park. Many tour operators in Khao Lak can help you book a trip and expect to find exotic creatures like tapirs, barking deer, macaque, gibbons, and even wild elephants (if you’re lucky).
Explore The Waterfalls
Escaping to a nearby waterfalls is a good way to see the raw nature near Khao Lak while cooling off in crystal clear pools. Don’t miss the five-tiered tumbling waters of Lam Ru or the pools of Khao Lak Lam Ru and Ton Chong Fah.
It’s best to pack a good pair of hiking shoes on a day to waterfalls because the rocks can be incredibly slippery near the pools. Bug spray is also a good idea for those jungle mosquitos.
International Tsunami Museum
The International Tsunami Museum in Khao Lak showcases the facts and horrors of the devastating 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. Still the most lethal natural disaster in history, the aftermath of the 9.1 magnitude earthquake off the coast of Indonesia sent 9 meter high waves that wreaked havoc around the rest of the region in their path.
The museum educates visitors about how tsunamis are formed, warning signs to watch out for and how to escape to safety quickly. It also tells amazing tales of survival and tragedy. A visit to the museum is a visceral experience and a must for those interested in natural phenomena.
Where To Stay in Khao Lak
If you look on sites like Airbnb and Booking.com you can find some great deals on accommodation for all budgets. Click Here to check out the top rated places on Booking.com, many of which are under $30 per night.
If you’re looking for a luxurious getaway to the region, then look no further than Luxury Escapes who are currently offering some incredible discounts on luxury hotels in the region.
Right now they have a 54% off deal on the award-winning five-star JW Marriott Khao Lak Resort & Spa. A couple can enjoy eight nights in a Deluxe Lagoon Pool View Room with all meals including daily buffet breakfasts, indulgent seaside lunches and nightly multi-course dinners included for just $1,589 USD ($1,998 AUD).
Plus, indulge with two spa treatments to share, an airport pickup and more for two adults and up to two kids (aged 11 years and under) stay free. This package would normally cost over $3,400 USD ($4,300 AUD), but for a limited time (the next few days only), you can get it for more than half price.
Whenever in Thailand, it’s hard to keep yourself to just three meals a day. Light, refreshing, salty, spicy, sweet and sour, the cuisine in southern Thailand is excellent and Khao Lak is a great place to try regional dishes and tasty seafood preparations.
The Ban Niang Night Market
Located just 20 minutes from Khao Lak Beach, this giant night market opens up every Wednesday and Saturday and is host to a ton of amazing Thai food. From the scrumptious to the strange, you can try everything from Pad Thai to grilled insects at this exciting night market. Even if you don’t decide to eat here, you should check it out as it could’ve easily been listed under “things to do” in this guide as well.
If looking for a tasty seafood barbeque and you’ve got a little bit of extra Baht to spend, then don’t miss Sala restaurant and Khao Lak Seafood, which are both located on Phet Kasem Rd in Bang Thong. Both restaurnats have a nice setting and great bars and offer generous portions of consistently fresh and well prepared seafood with Thai dipping sauces.
When To Visit
It’s worth planning your visit to the Andaman coast during the high season or shoulder season because the rains are very heavy in the off season. The dry season runs from November to April and the wet season from May to October.
Even in the Dry Season though you will get rain, particularly at the beginning and end (shoulder), but there is a considerable amount of downpour in the rainy season between May and October. During this time you’re better to be in the Gulf of Thailand (Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Ko Phangan etc.).
Khao Lak is Waiting…
Although Khao Lak is a little bit more expensive than some other places in Thailand, visitors here are rewarded with a laid back alternative to Phuket, with lots to see and do both in town and in the surrounding national parks and beaches.
You could easily make Khao Lak your home base while exploring more of the Andaman Coast, returning after each excursion to enjoy sunset on the powdery sands. No matter how you spend your time on the west coast of southern Thailand, try to make sure that beautiful Khao Lak is on your itinerary.
The Cook Islands are a small archipelago of 15 islands in the South Pacific covering a total combined land area of just 240 km². Technically Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand and rely on the larger, more developed nation for governance and military protection, but in recent years the islands have become more and more independent and a visit here will surely prove that this is a very different place than New Zealand.
Rarotonga is the main island and with a population of just over 10,500, the influx of nearly 100,000 travellers who visit the Cook Islands each year brings in the majority of the island’s economy.
Boasting funky cafes and a growing organic food scene, as well as numerous bars and nightclubs, Rarotonga is definitely the most affluent of the islands. Beneath the tourism infrastructure and modern facade, Rarotonga is still full of culture that is backed by Polynesian lifestyle, values and history.
It’s no question why these breathtaking islands have long been on the wishlist of luxury travellers and beach bums alike. Dazzling in the wild blue South Pacific, each island is blessed with healthy coral reefs and blinding white sand beaches.
In this article I’ll expose the hidden treasures of this, the most popular of the Cook Islands, and help you to plan the perfect trip to the beautiful island of Rarotonga.
Getting There & Away
The pristine nature of the Cook Islands is largely due to their remoteness, so getting there and away isn’t a quick experience for most. If you already live in the South Pacific (ie: Fiji, New Zealand, Australia etc.), then it’s not such a far journey, but for the rest of us in the world there are long flights needed to reach this paradise.
From New Zealand
New Zealand provides the closest major landmass to fly from and return flights run 7 days a week and take around 4 hours.
There are also numerous flights from Australia which take around 6 – 7.5 hours each way. Keep in mind that although the flights from Australia and New Zealand aren’t particularly long, they do cross the dateline so you’ll gain a day on your way to Cook Islands, and loose it again when returning back.
From Canada there are actually some amazing deals on flights from time to time. From Canada, check out YYC Deals and YVR Deals for last minute seat sales. Sometimes you can land a return flight to Rarotonga (10.5 hours each way), for under $500 CAD.
From The US
From the US Air New Zealand has a direct flight from Los Angeles to Rarotonga every Saturday departing at 0645, arriving in Raro at 0645 on the Sunday. These tickets can usually be picked up for around $1,000 USD return and they’re non-stop, so they’ll get you there in 10.5 hours or less.
Some accommodations can pre-arrange pick-up for you at the airport to bring you to your accommodation. Otherwise taxis will cost around $15 – $20 per person, while shuttles from the airport will usually cost around $15.
Where To Stay in Rarotonga
With 100,000 visitors coming to Rarotonga each year, it’s no surprise that there are some spectacular accommodation options available on the island. From rustic beach houses to luxury 5 star resorts, you’ll find it all here.
Luxury Escapes is currently offering an incredible deal on one of the islands most luxurious accommodation options, Pacific Resort Rarotonga.
For a limited time you can escape to a dreamy Polynesian paradise with five nights at the Pacific Resort Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The package includes daily breakfasts, nightly multi-course dinners, a glass bottom boat experience, and complimentary snorkelling and kayaking for two adults for just $1,774 USD ($2,249 AUD).
Image By: LuxuryEscapes.com
This deal is valued up to $4,339 USD ($5,500 AUD) so book in the next few days before the deal is sold out and save over 50% on this accommodation in Paradise.
Don’t worry, not all places on Rarotonga are luxury. You can find some great deals on Booking.com, including some lovely apartments for just $65 / night, and cool cottages for $90 / night. You can also check on Airbnb for some fantastic deals. Click Here and if it’s your first time using the service, you’ll get a special $35 credit on your first booking courtesy of Goats On The Road.
Cost Of Living in Rarotonga
The flight to and from the Cook Islands will definitely be your most expensive part of your trip, but that’s not to say that Rarotonga is a cheap destination to visit. Accommodation starts at around $50 / night, with more highly rated places starting at $65.
There are some shared places on Airbnb for just $20, so if you’re lucky, you could keep your accommodation prices down.
Luckily there’s something for all budgets here, so whether you’re backpacking around New Zealand and Australia and plan to pop over, or you’re going all out on a luxury honeymoon for you and your better half, you can find it all here.
According to Numbeo you’ll pay around $7.50 for a meal at an inexpensive restuarant, while a liter of milk will cost you $2.50 and 12 eggs will cost you $3.60. Internet is outrageously expensive with the best companies charging $15 per 100mb of data. If there was ever a good time for a digital detox, your visit to Cook Islands is it.
There’s no reason why you can’t get by on $50 per day or less in Rarotonga if you want to. At the luxury end of the spectrum you could easily spend upwards of $1000 per day to pamper yourself.
Things To Do in Rarotonga
For such a small island, there are actually quite a few activities in Rarotonga. The hardest part will be peeling yourself from your white sandy beach or from your hammock to actually get out and explore, but once you do you’ll be rewarded with rich culture and natural beauty.
Punanga Nui Market
Punanga Nui is a great example of Rarotonga’s burgeoning organic food movement. Here you can browse the many stalls for fresh fruit, vegetables, barbecued snacks, bread, fish and seafood. My personal favourites are the roast pork rolls with apple sauce, these sweet and savoury delicacies make the long flight to Rarotonga worth every minute.
Perhaps there is no more scene as stereotypically breathtaking as Aitutaki in all of the South Pacific. I tiny lagoon set in the middle of the impossibly blue ocean with a blindingly white sand bar and a couple of lounge chairs ready for relaxation. You can organize full day trips here for around NZ$400 including pick up and drop off at your hotel.
Don’t leave Rarotonga without a day trip Muri on the southeast coast, arguably the most beautiful beach on the island. Tropical fish filled water hovers over blindingly white sand, offering visitors the perfect opportunity to don a mask and snorkel and explore the marine life of the Cook Islands.
Glass Bottom Boat Experience
Perhaps you’re not much of a snorkeler / diver, consider hopping on a glass bottom boat to see the bewildering array of marine life in the waters of of Rarotonga. If you decide to stay at the Pacific Resort with Luxury Escapes, you’ll get a free glass bottom boat trip, but even if you don’t opt for the deal, I recommend booking a trip anyways.
Te Vara Nui Cultural Village Tour
Take a day to do this informative tour to give yourself a better understanding of Maori culture, traditions and history. Most tours will take in a drumming ceremony, centuries-old weaponry techniques, navigation tricks, and cultural legends.
You’ll likely pass through botanical gardens and try on a few costumes, while having the opportunity to purchase beautiful wood carvings and weavings.
With such an incredible biodiversity of coral and fishlife right off shore, it’s no surprise that there are plenty of dive outfitters on Rarotonga island. Join a dive shop and head out to spot rays, sharks, octopus and an endless stream of fish.
I didn’t have time to go diving during my stay, but The Big Fish Dive Center is a 5-star eco-friendly operator on the island that looked pretty good.
What Are You Waiting For?
In this article I listed amazing deals on YYC Deals and YVR Deals, as well as flight searches that can get you from LA to Rarotonga for under $1,000. Plus I listed the amazing 50% off deal currently on at Luxury Escapes as well as some budget options for accommodation on the island.
Depending on where you’re flying from, you can actually make a pretty cheap holiday out of a trip to the Cook Islands, even though they’re known to be some of the more luxurious islands on earth. All there’s left to do now is book your flights and hotels and explore these jewels of the South Pacific.
Disclaimer: This article was written by a guest author and was brought to you by Luxury Escapes, who offer amazing discounts on luxurious accommodations all over the world, allowing even backpackers to enjoy some luxury from time to time.
The southeastern state of New South Wales in Australia is famous for its charming coastal cities, breathtaking islands and a plethora of national parks. The jewel of the state is its capital, Sydney, with the iconic Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge showcasing the beauty of this port city.
Inland you’ll find the jagged Blue Mountains, endless rainforests and typical outback towns that you’d expect to find away from the coast in Australia. New South Wales has long been one of the first stops for backpackers and travellers because so many land in Sydney to begin their Australian adventures.
In this article we’re going to help you plan a 7 day trip to New South Wales with ideas of where to stay, what to see, where to eat and what not to miss. Let’s do it!
We’ll start the 7 day itinerary in New South Wales with 2 quick nights in the capital. Obviously you’re going to want to head out and see the Sydney Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but there are a few lesser known places of interest while you’re here.
To get a little off track, consider doing a pub crawl in Surry Hills. If you do, don’t miss the Button Bar, a total hole in the wall joint with an extensive booze list including superb whiskeys. For an attraction that few Sydneysiders know about, check out Paddington Reservoir Gardens. These are below street level and they combine the steel and brick structures of modern historical industrial development with beautiful garden design.
Also, to get a nice view of the Sydney Opera House, I recommend heading out to the Pylon Lookout Point for a gorgeous panoramic of the entire harbour.
A trip to New South Wales wouldn’t be complete without a day out in the Blue Mountains. Just over 90 minutes west of Sydney, this rugged mountain range is known for breathtakingly dramatic scenery, dense eucalyptus forests, charming villages, gardens and waterfalls. You could easily spend days exploring this massive region, but a day trip will suffice on this 7 day NSW itinerary.
To get out here you can take your rental car, or you can hire a tour company from Sydney. There are plenty available for day trips to the Blue Mountains and many of them will also include a river cruise or gondola ride in the park.
Whatever trip you decide to take to the Blue Mountains, make sure you visit Katoomba town and the Katoomba Waterfall. Here you can learn all about the Aboriginal History in the Blue Mountains and the legend of the world famous Three Sisters rock formation.
2 Nights In Hunter Valley
Hunter Valley is one of Australia’s prime winemaking regions with over a hundred wineries dotting the picturesque landscape near the coast. Here you can hike through ancient rainforest, visit tumbling waterfalls and witness an amazing diversity of wildlife.
You can also visit Wollemi National Park which is one of the largest in New South Wales. Home to the beautiful Wollemi pine tree, the national park offers wonderful rock climbing, hiking, canoeing and bushwalking opportunities.
I recommend basing yourself on the coast and exploring inland each day from here. Caves Coastal Beachside Hotel is a funky set of accommodations that’s quite close to Hunter Valley. 18 individual beach suites are nestled right under the dunes and only accessed by Hamptons style timber boardwalks.
These places are so funky that they are worthy of a stop. Plus for the next few days Luxury Escapes is running an incredible offer on them.
Photo By: LuxuryEscapes.com
For a limited time you can indulge in beachfront luxury amid the dunes of Caves Beach on New South Wales’ beautiful coastline, just 90 minutes’ drive from Sydney. Enjoy a two-night romantic getaway in a Beach Suite with ocean views, a daily breakfast pack, welcome cocktails on arrival, complimentary pizza and late midday checkout for two adults for just $399. That’s nearly half the regular price!
While you’re at the Caves Coastal Beachside Hotel, I recommend visiting Hunter Valley, but also organizing whale watching, scuba diving, hiking and other activities along the coast. There is plenty to keep you busy for a couple of days.
Get ready for a harsh and desolate land, scattered with sacred aboriginal sites and boasting a haunting natural beauty. The topography here is fascinating. Nestled between the arid wastelands to the west and the rainy coastal east, the ground here erupts with spectacular rock peaks and domes, all the result of ancient volcanic activity.
Here you can hunt for opals in the mining towns of Lightning Ridge and White Cliffs, or explore the rich history of Dubbo. You can spend your time in the more balmy lower lying regions or high in the snow dressed mountains.
Wherever you choose to visit in the Outback of New South Wales, you’ll be astonished by the eerie calm and the desolate beauty that has dran outback explorers for centuries.
1 Day in Lord Howe Island
Easily one of the most naturally blessed destinations in New South Wales, Lord Lowe has always been one of my favourite places to escape and seek some sunshine and nature. Engulfed by the world’s southernmost coral reef, this breathtaking island can only house a maximum 400 guests at a time, making it feel a little VIP.
Because over 60% of the island is protected, it makes for an excellent birding destination, as well as a place to explore an astonishingly rich diversity of flora and fauna. The Lord Howe Island Marine Park also protects the coral reefs that lie just offshore of the island, which provides visitors with fantastic snorkeling and diving opportunities.
The island itself is listed as a World Heritage site and makes for the perfect place for surfing, kayaking, cycling and hiking. To get here you’ll have to take a 2.5 hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane, so many visitors choose to stay longer than 1 day. At the very least you should fly in early in the morning, and return to Sydney the next day late in the afternoon.
Draw This Itinerary Out
Trying to fit all of this into 7 days would be very difficult, but it’s doable. If you’re able to double this into a 14 day itinerary then I would highly recommend it. Spend twice as much time in each place, or add new stops like Norfolk Island, the South Coast and Byron Bay.
Most New South Walers and travellers to this region will tell you that 7 days isn’t nearly enough, but if that’s all the time you have to explore then this itinerary should do well for you. Make sure to rent a car so that you have the freedom to explore and you don’t waste your time waiting for buses and day tours.
Dislaimer: This article was written by a guest author and was brought to you by Luxury Escapes, who offer amazing discounts on luxurious accommodations all over the world, allowing even backpackers to enjoy some luxury from time to time.
If you’re looking for the perfect beach holiday complete with swaying palm trees, glistening turquoise waters, and blindingly white sand, look no further than the Caribbean. There are numerous islands to visit in the region, but The Dominican Republic is especially popular with North American travellers looking for a luxurious all-inclusive vacation in Punta Cana.
The DR is home to numerous sandy stretches, with the area of Punta Cana being the most popular with tourists – and for good reason. Here you’ll find 35 kilometers of sand, with 8 main beaches, many of which have been given blue flag status. In fact, the DR has more blue flag beaches than any of the Caribbean islands!
When I first travelled to the Dominican Republic back in 2005, I was there on a holiday with my friend. Unfortunately, we stayed in Puerto Plata and weren’t able to enjoy the all inclusive resorts in Punta Cana, or the gorgeous beaches. Next time around, I’ll be on the lookout for these top 5 beautiful Punta Cana beaches!
1. Bavaro Beach
This stunning stretch of sand is the epitome of what you would expect to find on a tropical getaway. Wander along the powdery white sand, sit in the shade under a palm tree (watch out for falling coconuts!), or simply relax by the water with a book in hand. Postcard perfect Bavaro is definitely one of the best Punta Cana beaches.
If you don’t feel like sitting on a beach all day, there are numerous activities available: ATVing, scuba diving, snorkelling, sailing, caving, shopping…and so much more.
If you’re looking for a romantic, all inclusive vacation in Punta Cana on this gorgeous beach, the Barceló group of hotels offers a luxurious 5 star adults-only resort, complete with superior rooms, a wide variety of cuisine at the all-inclusive restaurants (Caribe, Mediterranean & International), and numerous activities. Laze by the pool, play tennis, join a volleyball game, or play 18 holes of golf. You’ll never be bored.
If you feel like heading out on the town for a meal one evening, don’t miss the fresh seafood options at Ceviche 301, Citrus Restaurant and Toc Beach Bar & Restaurant.
Exactly as the name suggests, the sand here is incredibly white. Unlike some Punta Cana beaches (and many in the Caribbean) which are only open to guests of the hotels, Playa Blanca is open to both locals and tourists. During the weekends it can be a little bit busy, but on the weekdays, you’ll have the beach virtually to yourself.
This pristine stretch of sand is a great place to spend the day. If you’re looking for a quiet, chilled out place, then White Beach is it. The water here is fairly shallow and incredibly calm, making it a great place for swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, give kitesurfing a try.
For food, there’s the funky Playa Blanca restaurant serving up international and tropical delights…and of course, blended cocktails!
3. Macao Beach (Best of The Punta Cana Beaches For Surfing)
Not only is Macao Beach a good spot to try surfing, but it’s also been listed by UNESCO as one of the Caribbean’s best beaches due to its pretty palm trees and fine sand. Macao Beach is located just a 30 minute drive north of the more popular Bavaro Beach, but unlike Bavaro, there are no all inclusive resorts here meaning that this beach is completely open to the public.
When you’re finished surfing or playing in the waves, make sure to sample some of the fresh seafood on offer from one of the beachside restaurants.
This is definitely one of the best Punta Cana beaches. As with many pretty beach areas, up until a few years ago this was just a quiet fishing village. These days, you’ll still find the same serenity, but it’s more built up with some Punta Cana all inclusive resorts. Having said that, there’s only 1 restaurant here called Juanillo Beach Food & Drinks. Dine on delicious food while chilling out on the sunbeds. Perfection.
Although this beach is open to the public, you might have to leave your passport or driver’s licence with the security guard before entering through the security gate. It really depends on the mood of the officer that day – he may just wave you through.
Directly translated, this is “Fat Sand” Beach. The name was given due to the width of this gorgeous white sand stretch. Like many of the Punta Cana beaches, Playa Arena Gorda has been given blue flag status. Although this beach is picturesque and is a great place for families, it’s not as quiet as the beaches listed above.
If you want access to the beach, you’ll need to enter through the KUKUA Restaurant Beach Club and you’ll need to leave your ID with the security guards. This is the only option, otherwise you won’t be granted access to Playa Arena Gorda.
With wheelchair access to the beach and lifeguards on duty from 9:00am – 6:00pm, this beach is for every type of traveller.
Ready For Punta Cana?!
The Dominican Republic is the ultimate tropical holiday destination. With direct flights to Punta Cana from the United States (Miami, Chicago, New York, Washington & more) and Canada (Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa & more), getting to this Caribbean island is a breeze. Book your holiday, pack your bags and enjoy the pristine beaches of the Dominican Republic.
As the year comes to a close, every travel lover starts planning their trips for the next year. As we all know, the cheaper the destination, the longer you can afford to stay – or the better your travel lifestyle can be while visiting. In some countries, $45 / night barely affords you a hostel dorm bed, while in others that can pay for a luxury villa!
This year we experienced the full scale of the travel-value index. We left Canggu, Bali in Indonesia, where we had a 2 bedroom private pool villa for $50 / night, and visited Japan where that same $50 barely afforded us a double bed on the floor of a small room.
2018 is sure to be an amazing year for travellers and if you’re already planning your travels for the new year, then this post is for you. Some of these countries are cheaper now than ever, largely due to drops in their local currency on the global market, or due to a recent lack of tourism.
We would never write a post to revel in low prices at the cost of economic struggle, but by visiting these places independently now, you can not only enjoy better prices for yourself, but also help the local businesses and people along the way!
Here are the top 10 cheap countries to travel to in 2018.
White sand beaches, world class surfing, the best scuba diving in the world and some of the most picturesque jungle and rice paddy scenery, Indonesia is without a doubt one of our favourite countries on Earth.
Currently Indonesia is one of the most affordable places that we know about. 1 US dollar will get you around 13,500 rupiah, which is much better than 5 years ago when you’d only get 9,050 rupiah to the dollar.
As I said in the opening paragraphs of this post, Indonesia offers incredible value for accommodation, food and transport. Here you can get beautiful guest house rooms, often set in pool villas, for as little as $20 / night.
You can eat delicious seafood meals and millenial classics like “smashed avo on toast” for around $3 and you can rent a motorbike here for just a couple of dollars per day (cars are around $15 / day).
The only thing that’s not of great value is alcohol. Indonesia has placed a pretty heavy tax on imported booze, so a low-quality bottle of imported wine will cost around $20, while a drinkable local wine is still $13 – $15. Bintang beer is nothing to write home about, but it’s affordable at around $1.50 – $3 at a beach bar or restaurant and imported beer is around twice the price.
Out of all the countries we’ve travelled to and kept track of our budgets, Indonesia is definitely amongst the top 3 best value for money, and with a stronger dollar / weaker rupiah, this has never been truer than it is today. Don’t miss the islands of Raja Ampat, Bali, Sumatra, Sumbawa, Lombok, Gili Islands, Flores, Komodo National Park, Alor…and more!
*Note: Due to an active Mount Agung volcano on Bali island, there are some incredible hotel deals right now. Not only can you save money on accommodation, but you will be helping out the locals who rely on tourism. Check out Booking.com to see the current deals, and click here to keep an eye on the status of the volcano.
A diverse and delicious (albeit not very healthy) cuisine, friendly local people, world-class beaches, all the amenities you could hope for and an intoxicating vibe make Mexico a place that we return to time and time again. It’s one of our favourite countries to travel to and one of the few destinations where we could see ourselves living long-term.
Mexico is extremely affordable these days thanks to a struggling peso added to an already affordable cost of living. At the time of writing, the US dollar is at 19 pesos which is incredible. When we travelled here back in 2014 when the dollar was at 12.8 pesos and even then we thought it was good value for money.
Today the country is theoretically 49% cheaper because of the currency conversion to the USD (and many other currencies including CAD).
If you want to really save money while visiting Mexico, avoid coming here during peak season (November – March) when accommodation prices can skyrocket (especially in December) and many of the best places are booked out.
No matter when you come, Mexico will shock you with its great value. Tacos for 30 cents each, a kilo of fresh prawns from the fish market for $3, Coronas with a slice of lime for $1.50 and strong margaritas served to you while your feet are buried in sand for just $1 each. You’ll find affordable internal flights with Viva Aerobus and Aeromexico, and cheap long distance bus rides.
On top of the great prices for food and booze bought in restaurants and bars, Mexico has many shops that North Americans love, like Sams Club, Costco in the major cities, and one that not everyone loves, Walmart. On top of these institutions, Mexico also has their own brand of grocery stores like La Comer and Soriana. Purchasing your own groceries and cooking for yourself is a great way to save money (and make a healthy meal) as the food in the grocery stores here is very affordable.
Oh yes, whether you love it or hate it, and even if you do love it you probably also hate it, India is one of the most exhilarating travel destinations on earth. Chaotic and tranquil. Pristine and filthy. Friendly and furious. Free and frustrating. India is the epitome of all the oxymoronic experiences that make travel so amazing.
While India is likely the most exciting and bewildering place to travel, it’s also probably the cheapest. Thanks to the Indian Rupee currently trading at 64 to the dollar (a full 28% better than when we last visited in 2012), India is likely the best place to travel if you want to stretch your dollars, euros or pounds.
Last time we were in, I purchased the cheapest (yet filling) meal I’ve ever had while travelling. 20 cents bought me a pile of puris (fluffy fried bread) and two different types of curries served to me from a street cart. The meal was delicious and completely filled me up… amazing.
While the cost of that meal was exceptionally low, we often ate all you can eat thali meals for as little as $1.50 and drank fresh lime juice squeezed on the street for 15 cents a glass. We had free accommodation in ashrams (it doesn’t get much cheaper than that) and when paying for our hotels, we had decent but basic double rooms for around $3 per night.
Depending on what class of train and bus you take, getting around India can be unbelievably affordable, with a train from Mumbai to Kolkata covering 1,968 km and taking over 30 hours costs just $11!
After backpacking Colombia in late 2016, it quickly set itself amongst our favourite countries we’ve ever been to. Friendly people, incredibly pristine and lush jungles, stunning Spanish colonial cities and breathtaking beaches, Colombia is a traveler’s dream.
The Colombian peso saw a massive drop in recent years which unfortunately isn’t good for local economies and Colombians looking to travel, but it does give budget travellers an added incentive to visit this incredible country.
We met a couple in Medellin who decided to move to Colombia to retire in 2014. Since their arrival the peso went from 1,800 to the US dollar, all the way to 3,350, an incredible 88% drop, essentially giving their retirement a massive boost.
Luckily the peso has started to stabilize again slightly and at the time of writing it’s sitting at around 3,000 pesos to the US dollar. This means that everything in Colombia is a great value for travellers. Whether you’ve visiting with a dollar, pound, euro, yen or yuan, Colombia is a better deal now than it’s ever been.
We were eating delicious seafood meals on the beach for just a few dollars, beautiful Spanish style guest houses only cost around $30 / night and you can enjoy scuba diving in the Caribbean here for as little as $24 / dive when buying a 10 dive package.
We stayed in some of the best hostels we’ve ever seen in Colombia, with rooftop pools, funky bars and luxurious rooms (one even had a jacuzzi in it). The cost of tours and experiences is also excellent in Colombia. We highly recommend doing the 4 day Ciudad Perdida trek and a coffee tour in Salento (the latter is only $2).
We’ll be the first to admit that Grenada doesn’t compare with the other countries on this list in terms of value for money, but if you’re looking to visit the Caribbean on a budget, it’s definitely one of your best bets.
Breathtaking and relatively empty beaches, a funky Caribbean vibe, some tasty local dishes and some of the best hiking and trekking opportunities in the region, Grenada is quickly becoming noticed on the global travel map.
We lived on the Isle of Spice for over a year and it’s easily our favourite country in the Caribbean. The American University means that there are quite a few amenities such as good supermarkets, western restaurants, fun bars and even a craft beer joint!
Grenada’s currency is the East Caribbean Dollar which has been pegged to the USD since 1976, so you’re not going to see a cheaper or more expensive time to travel here based on trading fluctuations, but when compared to most other islands in the Caribbean, Grenada is a great deal.
We’ve always been house sitting when we’ve visited the island and thus, have never paid for accommodation, but in researching this post and other articles we’ve written about Grenada, we’ve found lovely, well recommended homes and guest houses in good locations for as little as $35 / night.
The best deals are definitely found on Airbnb and if you Click Here and use the service for the first time, you’ll get a free $20 credit.
Accommodation in apartments offers pretty good value in Grenada, but hotels and guest houses aren’t so cheap. Food in restaurants is about the same as you’d expect to pay in the US, Canada and Europe, but keep in mind that you’re on an island in the Caribbean! Many of the islands east of central America cost more than double this price.
One of the things that makes Grenada even more affordable are the countless activities you can do for free. There are so many things to do in Grenada! Hundreds of hikes, a half dozen waterfalls and more beaches than you could possibly visit in a 2 week vacation, Grenada has plenty to offer the budget-challenged.
We do recommend renting a car here, which can be a little bit pricey but is completely worth it. If you’re renting for 2 weeks or more, you can probably get a car for around $30 / day.
Back to the truly great value destinations for 2018, Bulgaria is probably the cheapest country we’ve been to in Europe. With gorgeous old towns, phenomenal wine, lovely coastline and super friendly and ailak (relaxed) people, Bulgaria is also one of our favourites in the region.
While the country has offered great value to travellers for decades, a recent dip in the Bulgarian Lev on the global market, means that Bulgaria is an even better value now than it was just a few years ago.
Many people consider Montego Bay THE epicentre for tourism in Jamaica, and with so many things to do in Montego Bay, it’s not hard to see why. The home of the original all-inclusive due to its beautiful sandy beaches and epic turquoise waters, Montego Bay remains the core of the Jamaican traveler’s experience and really is more than just a line in a Beach Boys song.
One of the best things about this small Caribbean island is the diversity in things to do in Jamaica. Montego Bay acts as a microcosm of these amazing activities. Activities that bring visitors face to face with beautiful scenery, thrilling adventures, intriguing culture, delicious food, and that true Jamaican ethos of ‘irie‘.
Sumfest Reggae Festival (One of THE Coolest Things To Do in Montego Bay!)
Started in 1978, Sumfest is THE Reggae music festival in Jamaica every year. It attracts Reggae artists from all over the world, but is a true showcase of Jamaica’s trademark music genre.
Normally occurring between late July and early August, Sumfest is more than just a music festival. Theme parties and fashion shows pop up all throughout the weekend and a food stall of delicious Jamaican grub is never far away.
Eat Real Jamaican Jerk
Speaking of Jamaican food, a trip to the island is not complete without a tasting of real Jamaican jerk. Jamaicans take their jerk very seriously, and not all jerk is created equal. Roadside stalls are often the best places to sample the national staple, so brush off any fears you may have of street meat. If your jerk chicken doesn’t come wrapped in tin foil, you’re not doing it right.
One of the best places to get jerk in Montego Bay is Scotchies, the prefered eatery for any local Jamaican. Scotchies is a classic jerk stand, with chicken, pork, fish and seafood on the menu, as well as many sides to choose from.
All tables are outside under the palm frond thatched eves, and despite the odd location, a trip to Scotchies is always worth it. Try the roasted sweet potato, not only is it locally grown, but cooking time and technique softens those snacks to perfection. Eating real Jamaican jerk is definitely one of the top things to do in Montego Bay – and Jamaica as a whole!
Rose Hall Great House
Just east of Montego Bay, Rose Hall is seeped in both historical fact and ghost story lore. This great house sits on a historical plantation complimented with natural gardens and a beautiful pond. The plantation house has been returned to its glory days and serves as an example of the time.
What draws most Jamaicans’ interest to Rose Hall is the folklore attributed to the property. It is said that the proprietress of the estate, Annie Palmer, still haunts it. Rumoured to have murdered no less than four of her husbands (or slaves she took as lovers, semantics were fluid back in the day), Annie is one of the more fascinating characters in Jamaican history, though the truth of the stories remains debated.
Doctor’s Cave Beach
The most famous of all the Montego Bay beaches, Doctor’s Cave Beach is right in the heart of the Strip, and some may argue it is the true birthplace of Mo Bay tourism. Often busy and perhaps too full of hustlers, Doctor’s Cave Beach is nonetheless one of the more beautiful beaches in Jamaica, if not the Caribbean.
The private bathing club which was founded by the beach’s name sake is still around, and amenities at the club and the nearby Casa Blanca hotel can be rented. However, it’s not for the budget traveller in Jamaica.
Ride Horses on the Beach
Many travellers dream of riding a horse through the waves of the Caribbean Sea. In Montego Bay, that dream can be a reality. Ride through gardens on a retired race horse with Half Moon Equestrian before reaching the soft sands of the beaches.
Swimming along the softly crashing waves atop a well cared for horse is an experience that really can not be matched in many other beach destinations!
Raft the Martha Brae River
The Jamaican version of rafting is not the white water type. In Jamaica, a rafting trip down a river, especially one as scenic as the Martha Brae, is a chilled out, luxurious cruise on a bamboo float. This is for sure one of the more relaxing things to do in Montego Bay.
Steered by a local professional, rafting down the Martha Brae is a must do for any visitor to Jamaica’s North Coast. It’s also a great way to see Jamaica’s jungle and hear the local oral history.
Montego Bay Civic Centre
Despite the promised sunshine, it does rain in Montego Bay every so often. An option for those rainy days is a visit to the Montego Bay Civic Centre where one of the best museums in Jamaica lives.
The small museum is housed in a 2002 Georgian-style building. It stands as the only museum in Western Jamaican that speaks to the history of slavery, the plantation economy and lifestyle, and the resistance of the mid-1800’s.
The National Gallery West is also located on this site. A branch of Kingston’s National Art Gallery, this small one room exhibit of Jamaican art is quickly appreciated.
Where to Stay in Montego Bay
Here is a list of the top 3 rated, affordable properties in Montego Bay. Click on the links and check them out for yourself!
Mobay Kotch – From $45 / Night, Rating 8.8. Click here to see the latest price on Booking.com
☞ Click here to see all accommodation options available in Montego Bay
Visit the Glistening Waters
One of the more fascinating things to do in Montego Bay, Jamaica’s Glistening Waters is located about an hour east of Montego Bay in Falmouth. Visiting the Glistening Waters requires a night-time trip to the Luminous Lagoon. This is a natural phenomenon that occurs where the Martha Brae River meets the Caribbean Sea.
The water, due to the mixture of fresh and sea microorganisms, reacts to movement by either boat or humans, and glows a brilliant blue light when disturbed. This phosphorescent activity is one of only 4 places on the planet where such a marvel occurs, and the only one where it can be experienced all year around.
Most hotels in Montego Bay will run evening trips to the Glistening Waters, as it must be experienced after nightfall. Alternatively, taxis can be chartered to take visitors directly there and back again. Try the chocolate cake in the small bar at the boat dock. Trust me!
Indigenous Rastafarian Village
Typically, I am hesitant about cultural tourism. I worry about exploitation and that someone’s culture is being either watered down or ballooned to appeal to an outsider’s taste. The Rastafarian religion is one of the more misunderstood religions in the world, and the Indigenous Rastafarian Village actually does a very good job of explaining the truths and the realities.
Moving beyond the stereotypes, a 2-hour tour of the wooden ‘village’ which includes a drumming circle and a medicinal garden, weaves the visitor through the history, beliefs, and modern-day existence of Rasta. Learning about Rasta, and the intersections of music, nature, love, and lifestyles, deepened my understanding of Jamaica and definitely did away with some of those clichéd stereotypes. When you’re looking for things to do in Montego Bay, put a trip to this Rastafarian Village on your list.
Experience One of Montego Bay’s World Class Golf Courses
As the original tourism haven, Montego Bay was also the first area in Jamaica to start building golf courses (though the oldest golf course in the Western Hemisphere is actually in Mandeville, Jamaica).
There are ample options in the Montego Bay area for hitting the links. Many courses offer world-class fairways, stunning ocean views, and excellent dining for after the game. Jamaica is a year round golf destination, and several resorts in the Montego Bay area offer packages, all-inclusive experiences, and golfing day trips.
In particular, the Rose Hall Great House Golf course offers the best views of the sea from the 16th and 18th tees. And maybe the Witch of Rose Hall will help your long game.
Hit the Waves
Surrounded by turquoise sea and calm currents, Montego Bay is a water lover’s heaven. Scuba diving, snorkelling, jet skiing, deep-sea fishing, and sailing are all options to get off the beach and enjoy the water. Most hotels can set visitors up for day trips, or the tour operators can be approached directly. Hitting the water is one of the best things to do in Montego Bay!
My pick for a beautiful island experience is the sunset cruise on a wooden sail boat with the MoBay Undersea Tour company. There is no better way to enjoy the end of a beach day than with a glass of wine, a sunset backdrop and the quiet wind as your guide.
Other Things to Do in Montego Bay
Montego Bay is the tourist mecca of Jamaica and always has been. A massive variety of accommodation, dining, fun experiences, day adventures, and opportunities to relax are only some of the major draws to the area. Don’t forget to learn a bit about Jamaican life and culture, as the rich history of the island is unique and deep.
Mo Bay is also a great launching point to explore the rest of Western Jamaica. Negril and its beautiful Long Beach is only 90 minutes away, while Cockpit Country, Jamaica’s rugged jungle interior with endless caving and trekking possibilities, is only an hour south of town.
As a word of caution, parts of Montego Bay are definitely overly touristic. The Strip area is saturated with tourist shops, tacky restaurants, and folks looking to take advantage. But don’t let those potentially negative interactions sour the experience.
Many local Jamaicans are glad to have a chat about where you’re from, tell you about life in Jamaica, and generally relax for a while. After all, that is the definition of living the Jamaican irie life, summed up by Mr. Bob Marley when he sang Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
While travelling, it’s not always easy to keep in touch with friends and family. When we first started travelling in 2008 it was even more difficult. There was hardly ever any wifi, the connection at internet cafes was slow and unreliable and Skype was just starting to make a major impact on the communications marketplace.
Today, there are many ways to stay in touch with friends and family on the road, and some are a lot more unique than others. In this article I’m going to list 5 cool ways to stay in touch with friends and family while you’re on the road.
1. Send Postcards
MyPostcard.com offers one of the coolest ways to stay in touch with friends and family on the road, while sending them a fun gift. Postcards may be old school, but MyPostcards has added a fun twist to them, allowing travellers to easily upload their own travel photos online, add them to a postcard with custom text and send them to their loved ones while they’re away on a trip.
They even have a cool app (available in the App Store and Google Play) that allows you to create your own custom designed post cards right from your phone. These cards aren’t just for travellers either, they also have greeting cards, birthday cards and photo prints, all available for order online or through the app.
Dariece and I recently sent a few postcards using the service and it’s actually really easy to do. As long as you register first, you can quickly upload your own photos, design a postcard or a greeting card, type a message for the back and have it sent out in minutes.
Send a Free Postcard Now!
Goats On The Road has teamed up with MyPostcard and they’re offering our readers a limited number of free postcards. There are plenty available, but it’s on a first come first served basis, so click the button below and use promo code “Nick” at check-out to send your free postcard.
Note: Make sure you register an account before designing your postcard to ensure you don’t lose your design. It only takes a few minutes and it’s free.
This isn’t a so much a unique way to stay in touch with family, as it is the best way to gain access to the tools needed to connect with them. You may see a lot of people promoting different types of “International SIM Cards” or wifi devices, but outside of strange countries where SIM cards are more expensive (like Japan), these things really aren’t the best way to go.
In our experience, international SIM cards are just too slow. The ISPs throttle the speed down to a point that is almost unbearable. We were even offered money to promote one of these international SIMs and after testing the product in 2016, we had to turn down the offer as we didn’t want to promote a slow and expensive ($50 / month) internet option to our readers.
Still, the best way to connect while overseas is to get a local SIM card. You’ll have to make sure your phone is unlocked first, which is easier than you may think. You can either purchase an unlocked phone directly from the developer (Apple and Samsung phones offer unlocked versions), or if you’ve already completed most of your contract, contact your provider and ask them to unlock your phone for you, for free.
Lastly, you can pay for an unlocking service (usually around $30 – $50 USD per device depending on where you get it unlocked). You can find these services in local classifieds and on Craiglist and many independent mobile retailers will do it for you as well.
Once you have an unlocked phone, picking up a local SIM card is cheap and easy. In most cases, you can simply head into a corner store or any shop marked with the local mobile phone providers logo and ask to buy a SIM.
Most of the time you can just pop the SIM into an unlocked phone and start using it right away, but in some cases you have to send a text message to activate the SIM, or go through a 10 minute sign up process which can involve a passport, signature and some documentation.
Either way, it’s still much better (and cheaper) to have a local SIM in your phone. In our experience, this is the only way to get full 4G LTE speeds for an affordable price. In Canggu Bali, we paid just $12 for 36 GB of data and 60 minutes of talk time which lasted us 3 months! Those international SIMs cost as much as $50 per month and while unlimited, are often so slow that you can’t even check emails.
Do yourself a favour while travelling. Get a local SIM card, load it up with a fast data package and some talk time and you’re good to go. Once you have data and call time on your phone, you can use the internet data to access the rest of the methods of communication in this post.
3. Just Call Home
That’s right. In some cases you can forget about spotty internet connection and dropped calls on Skype and Facetime and simply dial home with your phone. Forget using your mobile data, just call using your mobile phone plan. I know what you’re thinking, “that will cost a fortune!”. But that’s not always the case.
In Mexico for example, you can pay just $20 / month and get 3.5 GB of data plus UNLIMITED calling anywhere to Mexico, The USA and Canada. While living here, we’ve avoided the echoing and delayed calls on Skype and simply called home using our unlimited plan.
Recently international European carriers have been forced to bill any calls within Europe as local calls, meaning with most providers, you can call from Italy to the UK and anywhere in between without paying roaming or long distance charges.
4. Start a Blog
Before we had this blog, we updated our friends and family with individual emails. We would write up a personal message for each friend and family member, attach a few photos and send each one off individually. This used to take us hours and before long, we realized that there was a much better way.
At first we had a free blog, but it was cumbersome, slow and annoying to design. We would spend a long time waiting for photos to upload and our blog was hard to find because it was shown alongside other free blogs.
In 2012 we bought this domain (www.GoatsOnTheRoad.com) and since then our audience has grown beyond our friends and family. From those first couple of years, our blog naturally grew and we understood that we could one day earn money from it.
Without any prior experience in web design or WordPress, we were able to grow this blog to the point where it completely funds our travels and allows us to visit some pretty exotic destinations, all expenses paid!
If you’re interested in starting a blog, whether it’s just to stay in touch with family or it’s to one day earn money and pay for your travels, check out our guide. For a limited time, you get 63% off the cost of your domain and hosting, and we’ll send you our 200 page beginner blogger ebook (a $20 value) totally free. Click here if you’re interested!
5. Utilize The Apps
Technology has made it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family while travelling. Of all the available tech out there, apps are by far the most convenient because most of them give you the ease of contacting loved ones from a device that you’re already carrying in your pocket.
But not all apps are created equal. It’s important that you check out all of the features like group calls, call forwarding, chat & video calling, to make sure you have all of the apps you need. If one app is lacking a feature, download another to make up for it! The ones listed below are all free, but you’ll have to make sure your friends and family also have them downloaded so that you can communicate with them.
The Best Messeging Apps:
Google Voice: Not only allows you to forward your calls, but it also enables you to answer them from your computer. Google Voice is basically like a physical phone at your work or home, even when you’re travelling.
Google Hangouts: Although there are some downfalls (it can be even slower than Skype) it is a good option for Google Lovers who don’t want to pay for calls to US and Canada.
Skype: The granddaddy of all online calling apps, Skype definitely has its faults. Despite a strong brand and a large presence in the marketplace, I wouldn’t say Skype is the best, but it’s certainly the most popular.
WhatsApp: A great app that offers fast video calling and a fun built in messaging app.
WeChat: Mainly based in China, this is a great chat app which also has calling functionality.
Facebook Messenger: Probably my favourite app for calling and chatting online, Facebook calls seem to work better on slow internet and if you don’t use video functionality, you rarely get delays or dropped calls.
iMessage & Facetime: Another great set of Apple products, iMessage and Facetime is alright, but iMessage can sometimes charge you for texting without you knowing and Facetime can be slow as it uses video.
Group Calls & Group Chats
Few people utilize these apps for their best feature, group calls. If you want to talk to your mom and grandma at the same time, add them to a group in Hangouts or Facebook Messenger and have a group video call.
These group calls can also be great for showing multiple people your photos or videos from your trip on the phone, or simply upload them to the chat window with some text explaining them.
If you don’t want to start a blog or you’re unable to call home very often, consider opening a massive group chat with your friends and family and simply update them with videos, pictures and descriptions from you trip.
Technology is Your Friend
Dariece and I are both so grateful for the technology that we have which allows us to stay in touch with our friends and family while travelling. When we first started this nomadic lifestyle, we were lucky if we made contact once every two months on the road.
Nowadays, every cafe has wifi, we’re all carrying around smartphones and it’s easier than ever before to stay in touch. This list is by no means exhaustive, so please add to it in the comments below!
What’s your favourite way to keep in touch with family while travelling?