Marfa, Texas is a small (population approximately 2000) and fascinating town. It also features perhaps the most photogenic trailer hotel on the planet- El Cosmico. I’ve glamped in an Airstream in Santa Barbara and was extremely curious about the quirky and colorful Kozy Coach, Imperial Mansion and Vagabond trailers turned into an instagram-friendly wonderland in the high desert of West Texas.
El Cosmico’s Sioux-style Tepees
In addition to trailers, El Cosmico has tepees, yurts, and safari tent accommodations. The property also has a campground. (NOTE: a wind storm on June 29, 2018 knocked down all of the tepees.) A friend of mine who worked on the show I Love Dick which was shot in the area advised me to “stay at El Cosmico for a night for the experience.”
Cloudlapse at El Cosmico, Marfa, TX - YouTube
Cloud lapse featuring El Cosmico Tepees
The whimsically painted trailers are the real draw at this Bunkhouse Hotels property and they are very well done. My medium Airstream was kitted out with everything from southwestern robes, mini-bars, fridges, space heaters and reading lamps. The kitchenette even had a toaster! I was surprised by how comfy my bed was. It had it’s own bathroom (although I preferred to use the bathhouse on the property). I also enjoyed the outdoor patio complete with furniture, perfect for late night star-gazing. If you’re curious about tiny living, this is a great place to try it out for a few days.
El Cosmico door
Amenities aside, El Cosmico is not for the faint of heart. Be sure to pack your cowboy boots. This is hardscrabble land and sandals don’t cut it. Pack closed toed shoes with Vibram soles if possible. Weather can be extreme. Because of it’s high desert altitude of 4800 feet, temperatures can dip below freezing.
El Cosmico Signage
The El Cosmico Provision Company is a great store and features an interesting edit of everything from camping supplies to adult coloring books and even yurts. It’s a destination to itself and worth stopping by even if you aren’t staying on the property.
Fridge in the communal kitchen at El Cosmico
El Cosmico is pet-friendly so this a great option if you’re traveling with your dog, There are also wood fired dutch hot tubs for rent (be sure to reserve at least 24 hours before arrival) and a hammock groves for guest to enjoy.
Mirror selfie at El Cosmico
The 21-acre property hosts events including music festivals and karaoke nights. The communal spirit of El Cosmico is it’s best feature. It’s a great place for a group of friends to get together and hang out or do nothing. It’s a fun and memorable stop on a Texas road trip (Big Bend National Park is about 2 hours by car).
Loving this paint job
Wifi is available in the lobby. Be aware, there are limited lobby hours so El Cosmico has an after-hours key drop. Make arrangements if you are arriving after hours.
Whimsical trailer with patio
I found the staff to be friendly and really enjoyed the vibe of the place. Maybe next time I’ll try sleeping in a yurt.
West Texas sky above El Cosmico
I stayed at a sister Bunkhouse Group property, the Hotel San Jose in Austin and was impressed with the brand’s fun attitude and attention to detail. Now the Hotel San Cristobal in Baja, Mexico is on my radar.
Adult coloring book for sale at the El Cosmico Provision Company
Last month my husband and I spent a few days at The Brando, a luxury resort with 35 private villas set on white sand beaches on the island of Tetiaroa in French Polynesia. Since this was our third trip to French Polynesia and we’ve already stayed in an overwater bungalow, we were excited to try something new.
The private flight to Tetiaroa was like something out of an episode of Fantasy Island, except we were greeted by Polynesian dancers instead of Mr. Rourke and Tattoo.
Views of the atoll of Tetiaroa
The Brando differs from other luxury hotels in the area because it doesn’t feature the overwater bungalows that one associates with the South Pacific. After five years of construction, the Brando Opened in 2014 on the atoll Marlon Brando purchased in the 60s after falling in love with the area while filming Mutiny on the Bounty.
Rum forward (and delicious) cocktails at Bob’s Bar
There are some old photos of Brando hanging in the breakfast room, and his granddaughter is involved in both the resort as well as the Tetiaroa Society, a non-profit dedicated to preserving the natural beauty of the island. The resort has some cool eco features as well, including solar panels and seawater air conditioning.
Dual vanities at the Brando
My favorite spot at the Brando (other than the awesome beach bed) is Bob’s Bar, where we ate lunch and went for happy hour. There you could overhead Australian, Kiwi, and American accents and rum-heavy drinks made the guests friendly.
Lovely welcome at The Brando
The newly built villas feature nice layouts (and one, two and three bedroom options), private pools and all the modern conveniences. Service is top notch if a little quirky (I’m not sure why we were required to wait in a sterile departure lounge for over an hour prior to leaving the resort when we’d rather be enjoying another Zombie at Bob’s Bar).
Rush hour at the Brando
Seriously. I think maybe one other couple walked by.
Guests reach the resort by plane on Air Tetairoa, which has it’s own private terminal at Faa’a International Airport in Papeete, Tahiti. The 20 minutes flight from Papeete on Tetiaroa Air is quick but stunning, and counted to me as a sight seeing activity.
This beach chair was big enough for two
There were a number of families at the resort during our stay, and kids seemed busy and happy.
Palm tree reflections in the private plunge pool at the Brando
We try and keep it simple when we’re on island time so we never bothered to go to the Brando’s fine dining restaurant, but it’s nice to know it’s an option.
The palm frond coconut stand was a nice touch
The Brando is especially comfortable. While the contemporary style villas don’t exude local charm, they are very nice and not in the least bit rustic.
Bob’s bob is fantastic
You can kick off your shoes on the island, see amazing wildlife (local fish and sharks can be seen from the beach), or choose to do nothing.
Service is top notch and the staff is friendly. Room service was speedy and tasty.
Palm trees and blue sky
The Brando Resort has all the necessary bells and whistles. There is an on-site spa, two restaurants, a communal pool (in addition to the private plunge pools), bikes for guest to use, a fitness center, a beach bar, and an activities desk with a willing concierge team dedicated to helping you explore the area or set up a private dining experience.
Morning view on Tetiaroa
On this trip, my husband and I decide to embrace doing absolutely nothing more strenuous than ordering room service (which has excellent). It was fantastic!
Food was good if not particularly memorable, but we opted to get salads and sandwiches from room service instead of trying out the resort’s more formal restaurant.
While I tried to get details on the Obama’s visit this from the staff, they remained tight lipped and refused to confirm or deny it, but all of them smiled immensely.
The virtual office at The Brando
My only real critique of The Brando is that communal spaces feel a bit generic. The breakfast room was a little cramped. We requested to eat outside and were happily accommodated. While I wasn’t a fan of the overly long stay departure lounge, wifi and air conditioning were strong and service forward. The staff was all top notch and very friendly.
Obligatory selfie in paradise
All this South Pacific luxury does not come cheap. At the time of publication, rates for two people in one villa start at $2554.75. We had a lovely time at this resort and liked it enough to return.
The Brando Teti’aroa Private Island, Arue Tahiti
P.O. Box 6014 Faa’a, 98702 Tahiti, French Polynesia firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone +689 40 866 300
Rates start for 1 bedroom villa (2 adults) start at :
Photographers headed to Cuba know there are a few iconic images of Havana that you just have to capture, cliched or not. While I usually try to stay away from “postcard” type images, I couldn’t resist snapping a few images of classic American cars perfectly restored (with Korean parts) painted in array of colors you’d find in a roll of Mentos. My favorite of these staple shots from my most recent trip were taken in Havana Centro, one along the Malecón and another off the beaten path.
White walls in Havana Centro
I love this shot of an orange car taken during golden hour with my iPhone X. I was street shooting and this part of town was far away from the cruise ship crowds clogging up Old Havana.
Flare and a white wall spare
I shot this car a few angles. I liked how the flare added some grit and imperfection to the image.
Havana Cloud lapse in Plaza de la Revolución - YouTube
Havana Cloud lapse in Plaza de la Revolución
There is a lot of political street art in Havana and images of Fidel and Che are everywhere. I am not a huge Che fan, so I like how the clouds make the iconic imagery a little more interesting and something I felt good about shooting and sharing.
Pepto pink classic car
A tour in a classic car is must and it’s a fun way to see the city. I particularly like the way this Pepto-bismol pink car looks parked in Plaza de la Revolución, with a Cuban flag waving the the background.
While I went on a small cultural tour with an emphasis on photography, Cuba has changed since I first visited more than a decade ago. Now that there are cruise ships and big tour companies, independent travelers and smaller groups might find themselves unable to book tables at prime restaurants and paladars or hotel rooms at the top properties.
La Guarida, still my favorite paladar in Havana
Reservations are required at a lot of restaurants, especially since Havana is now populated with cruise ships and tour groups.
La Guarida is still my favorite restaurant (it’s the one from the film Fresa y Chocolate). It’s tripled in size since I first visited and now has a lovely rooftop dining area, but it’s still one of the most atmospheric restaurants in the world.
This trip I also went to the popular La Bodeguita del Medio. It’s written up everywhere and popular with tourists, but for good reason. They serve the best ropa vieja (shredded beef) I’ve had, and the music is great too. Prepare to wait for a table and enjoy people watching while you do.
Mojitos, mojitos and more mojitos
O’Reilly 304 was another nice discovery. It’s what I’d describe as Havana hipster. It’s a modern restaurant with on trend food and cocktails with atmosphere that could be anywhere– Amsterdam, Brooklyn, or Habana Viejo. It’s a great option if you want a change from beans & rice.
The band at La Bodeguita del Medio
If you spend any time in Havana, you will encounter live music and mojitos. There are worse things in life.
Fan above the dining room at La Bodeguita del Medio
Travelers to Havana should keep their wifi expectations realistic. Internet is sub-par, but seems to be available at most 4 and 5 star hotels (although often only for their guests). It is notoriously slow.
You generally buy wifi (pronounced wee-fee) cards at the hotels. It’s a hassle. Expect minimal usage (and no streaming). Some hotel cafes will sell you a wifi card and a drink for 5-8 CUCs for an hour. A cold Cristal cerveza will make the painfully slow wifi more palatable.
Mosaic tile in Fusterlandia
US credit cards can’t be used in Cuba, so you’ll be bringing cash and exchanging it in Cuba. Some people exchange it at the Miami Airport but I haven’t used this service so I can’t vouch for it.
Pro Tip: Bring crisp and clean $100s and $50s.
Before handing it to the teller say “I want SMALL bills- fives and tens and at least five coins.” No one has change. You will need coins (up to 1 CUC) for bathrooms.
The crumbling interior of a theater in Centro Havana
Bring packs of tissue with you, as a lot of public restrooms do not have paper.
Paintings for sale on the streets of old Havana
I think the the food scene has gotten better since my first visit to the Caribbean island back in 2006, and the crowds worse.
Rush hour traffic jam in Havana
I really enjoyed reading Havana Nocturne about the mob ruled Cuba and lost it was a fun pre-trip read and made me enjoy my Cuba Libre at the Hall of Fame Bar at Hotel Nacional all that much more enjoyable.
The high desert has long attracted artsy types, and the funky California town of Joshua Tree is no exception. Joshua Tree prides itself on being an Artists Community, and has some notable outsider art worth exploring. There is a Joshua Tree Art Walk on the second Saturday of every month, when the galleries stay open late and live music acts perform.
Noah Purifoy’s The Quonset Gallery at the Joshua Tree Outdoor Art Museum
Musicians have long been drawn to this place. Gram Parsons died at the Joshua Tree Inn. A friend of mine spotted Led Zeppelin’s former front man, Robert Plant, at a nearby hotel, which is not all that shocking considering he has a song called 29 Palms. Queens of the Stone Age front man and desert rock god Josh Homme is a longtime Joshua Tree resident. Bands including the Foo Fighters, Arctic Monkeys and Iggy Pop are just some of the artists who have spent time recording at the highly regarded Rancho de la Luna recording studio.
Sid, the cactus security guard outside Mazamar Pottery
A mere 12 miles away, Pappy & Harriet’s Pioneertown Palace serves some of the best food in the desert and has had everyone from Paul McCartney to Vampire Weekend perform on their stage.
Noah Purifoy’s Everything and the Kitchen sink (1996) at the Outdoor Art Museum
Noah Purifoy was an African-American visual artist who was born in Alabama and was a founding director of the Watts Towers Art Center. He started creating sculptures from the debris of the Watts Riots. Purifoy spent the last 15 years of his life creating environmental sculptures made from found materials on the property between 1989 and 2004. Some of the sculptures have powerful political messages about segregation and racism. It’s well worth spending some time exploring the property.
Sculpture garden of heads
Be sure not to miss Shari Elf’s World Famous Crochet Museum housed in a re-purposed former Fotomat booth. When you walk into the compact space packed with crocheted animals, you might not be sure if you’re in a craft museum or have accidentally stumbled onto the set of a David Lynch film.
An image I shot of the Crochet Museum
I recently noticed images of the green tiny museum popping up on HSBC ads in the jetways of airports in Miami and Germany.
The World Famous Crochet Museum featured in an HSBC ad at Miami International Airport
The usual poodle suspects at the Crochet Museum
If you are looking for things to do in the desert and want something a bit grittier than the manicured mid-century goodness of nearby Palm Springs and Palm Desert, I’d highly recommend checking out Joshua Tree’s art scene. It might not be to everyone’s taste but it is definitely a memorable and like the HSBC ads state, unorthodox. It’s also a whole lot of fun.
Palm Springs is famous for it’s meticulously kept lawns and mid-century architecture. It’s also the home of the Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium, which houses over 3,000 cacti, succulents, and other plants native to the desert.
The $5.00 price of admission is well worth it to check out some of the unique and well maintained cacti. If you’re looking for things to do in Palm Springs and are over the overly manicured golf courses, The Moorten Botanical Garden and Cactarium is a nice change of pace. It’s also centrally located.
Rare varieties of cacti not for sale
There is also an event space and nursery on the one-acre property. There are guided tours as well, and if you want to take one it is is recommended that you book ahead.
Cool looking cactus
The Moorten Botanical Garden was founded in 1939 by desert lover (and former Keystone Cop) Chester “Cactus Slim” Moorten and his wife, Patricia.
The Moortens collected specimens themselves from Guatemala and Mexico. Today the couples son, Clark Moorten is in charge. He grew up in Palm Springs and shares his parents’ love of living desert flora.
The Cactarium houses some of the funkiest shaped cacti I’ve ever seen.
Desert still life
Visitors can bring home a bit of Palm Springs by purchasing a cactus at the on-site nursery.
Sunshine at the Moorten Botanical Garden
If you are visiting Palm Springs and want a hit of nature that feels a bit wild and don’t have time for a day trip to Joshua Tree National Park, the Moorten Botanical Gardens and Cactarium is a great option.
Pretty desert species
The gardens are open year-round, although the hours change according to season.
You need not be a plant lover to appreciate this place. It’s compact and just plain cool.