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Tourist crowds.

I’m not a huge fan. I just don’t feel comfortable when the streets are jam-packed, when I need to constantly dodge other people, when I’m faced with lines and groups and little space to call my own.

As travel becomes more and more popular and commonplace though, such tourist crowds seem to be the norm all over the world. Walking down the street in many destinations requires a lot of focus in order to avoid bumping into strollers, lost tourists and group leaders that don’t seem to mind taking over the sidewalks.

Of course, I know I’m part of the problem too. I am indeed a tourist visiting these very same destinations.

Forget about low seasons and high seasons, forget about visiting cold destinations in the heart of winter or tropical destinations in the middle of monsoon season. It almost doesn’t seem to matter any more. Travelers are everywhere, all the time.

We were just in Granada, Spain during what was supposedly the low season. It was 10C / 48F and rainy but the streets were packed and the tapas bars full, every day and every night.

Before that we were in Porto, Portugal, walking around in the cold, right alongside thousands of others willing to line up for an hour at the Livraria Lello or ready to walk along the Douro River.

In Lisbon earlier this month we were quite thankful to be staying at an Airbnb away from the city center, and away from the crowds that turned the streets of the Chiado and Alfama neighborhoods into one big bus tour.

Tourist Crowds Shouldn’t Ruin A Trip

Of course, we still loved these destinations. I’ve always been a strong believer that travel is about the mindset anyway, not the actual places we visit. It really is possible to enjoy any country, city or village if we’re open to getting the most out of our experiences and we focus on the important stuff.

For me, that focus has always been local interaction and local activity.

And no matter how crowded or touristy a place might be, those two things are still ALWAYS possible. (I follow a simple 5-minute rule to help ensure I have local experiences.)

Tourist Crowds Are NOT Everywhere

At the same time, there are definitely moments when I just want to push through a crowd and keep running until I’m somewhere quiet, somewhere without other tourists around, somewhere without lines, where we can just enjoy our surroundings on our own.

That takes me to last week…

As my girlfriend and I walked around the Alhambra in Granada, Spain, a breathtaking palace and fortress so very worthy of at least one visit in a lifetime, I made two observations:

  1. The Alhambra is one of the most impressive buildings in Europe.
  2. I love Romania.

Yes, you read that correctly.

While the Alhambra completely blew me away and quickly became a travel highlight of this year, my mind couldn’t help but drift to Romania at times.

The Alhambra. AWESOME. And crowded.
Corvin’s Castle in Hunedoara, Romania. Not as awesome, but definitely remarkable. And no tourist crowds at all.

The same goes for Sighisoara, Corund and Sibiu.

That short list includes one of the best preserved medieval villages in Europe, a stunning region in the countryside where traditional life is still the norm and a historic and gorgeous city. If all of those places were located in a more popular country, they, too, would be full of crowds.

But for now, they offer all the good stuff, without the over-tourism.

Sure, there are tourists in Romania but compared to the sights of Western Europe, there’s VERY, VERY, VERY few. (In Corund, one of my favorite areas, there’s almost none!)

Getting Away From the Crowds

Naturally, it’s not just Romania. There are many countries where even the greatest of what they offer can be enjoyed without the tourist crowds and lines and buses.

Such locations are becoming slightly harder to find these days, but they do still exist.

Actually, maybe they aren’t much harder to find. It’s just that everyone wants to visit the same places that they see on social media or that have the marketing budget to promote themselves as the destinations we ‘must see’ now. Or simply a destination where airlines are suddenly offering crazy cheap flights that we simply can’t turn down.

Whatever the root, though, it’s worth getting away from the crowds from time to time.

There really is something special about having a castle mostly to yourself, even if it’s not rated the most unbelievable castle on the planet.

There really is something rewarding about walking into a restaurant and being the only foreigner.

Or visiting a small workshop where the family is actually creating something useful for the community, not just to sell to tourists.

When you end up in the middle of a local religious ceremony or being invited off the street and into a birthday celebration, chances are high it didn’t happen in the middle of an extremely touristy city. It usually happens in places without crowds, where genuine interaction is still appreciated by all sides.

That’s why my mind drifts to Romania every now and then. It’s one of those countries that offers authentic interaction and rewarding travel experiences almost everywhere you go.

It’s also why my mind drifts to East Timor, Western Sahara and a local island in the Maldives. It’s why I’m just as happy in the streets of Timisoara or Moshi or on a random dirt road outside of Wanaka, New Zealand talking to a farmer about her horses as I am at the dreamy Gardens By The Bay in Singapore or wandering around Rome.

While those popular locations are popular for a reason, sometimes the lack of tourist crowds makes up for the lack of ‘top 10’ sights or ‘must do’ activities. Sometimes all we need is a destination all to ourselves.

Of course, ‘all to ourselves’ is impossible…but luckily, there are still destinations out there that offer something pretty darn close.

Thoughts? How do you feel about visiting incredible, but crowded, places vs less discovered destinations?

The post Let’s Talk About Tourist Crowds (Are They Everywhere?) appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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You want local travel experiences. You start researching destinations. You discover that so many cities are considered overrun with tourists. You hear about countries that appear to be so touristy, others say they’re not worth visiting.

It’s true. There’s a lot of destinations in the world that have a lot of tourists/travelers in them. So, if you prefer to stay away from mass tourism, it can seem like a real challenge to find an ideal destination to visit.

But…think about this.

In my 19 years of constant travel, it does seem to me that 90% of travelers (that’s not based on any real data!) visit the same places, eat at the same restaurants along the same main squares, walk down the same streets and wander in and out of the same shops, all over the world.

There’s nothing wrong with visiting the main sights or the most interesting neighborhoods as well, or eating that famous pastry from the famous bakery.

But if you want local travel experiences, all you really need to do is follow one very simple rule.

The 5-Minute Rule for Local Travel Experiences

Here’s how it works:

  • Step 1: Turn around.
  • Step 2: Walk away.

Yes, that easy. That’s the rule.

We’ve been here in Lisbon for a few weeks now and this city is absolutely jam-packed with tourists and travelers and cruise ship passengers and foreigners of all kinds. There are lines and crowds in all of the ‘famous’ areas and there are a lot of ‘famous’ areas!

If you aren’t into visiting touristy destinations, you might feel the urge to flee from this city within a few minutes of your arrival.

At the same time…

Despite Lisbon, and Portugal in general, being one of the ‘tourism hotspots’ in Europe right now, our experience here has not been a touristy one.

Far from it, actually.

Again, all we do is turn around and walk away.

When we look for a place to eat, we look in neighborhoods that are a 5 minute walk away from the areas that are full of tourist-oriented restaurants.

When we want to have a coffee, we turn from the famous square, lined with cafes serving up low quality food and drinks to a never-ending stream of travelers…and we walk away. We head down a random street and climb up some random stairs.

When we want to explore the city, we head to the areas that are most popular with tourists and then we pick a direction and start walking away. Sometimes we’ll later head back and do it again in a different direction.

The Wonderful Results

Using this easy method, we end up with the local travel experiences that we prefer.

We end up at cozy local restaurants down quiet lanes, with doors that are not plastered with TripAdvisor stickers. There will be no English spoken, the customers will all be Portuguese and the prices will be a fraction of the tourist restaurants nearby…and the food usually much better!

We also end up at cool places few people seem to know about, such as a remarkable bookbinder, a local hangout with an incredible view that quickly became our favorite cafe in the city and an attractive, yet non-touristy, beach.

We get a glimpse of real Lisbon life, in quaint parks full of locals hanging out, in hidden squares abuzz with everyday activity, in shops where the fruit and pastries are of the highest quality and the cheapest prices and in beautiful neighborhoods that don’t have well-known attractions to draw a crowd.

It’s authentic. It’s extremely rewarding. And it’s incredibly fun.

The real beauty of it all is that we don’t have to head towards the far outskirts of the city or to a small village an hour away from Lisbon (which would be wonderful too!) to make this happen. All we do is walk, for 5 minutes, away from the crowds of tourists.

It’s that simple. Local travel experiences can always be had…at any time, in every destination around the world.

It’s just up to us to have them.

What’s your experience in touristy destinations? How do you get away from the crowds?

The post How to Enjoy Local Travel Experiences – The 5-Minute Rule appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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It really is the best cafe in Lisbon. We figured this out as soon as we stepped inside.

The place is relaxed, well-decorated and offers comfy chairs perfectly positioned in front of huge windows overlooking the city below. There’s a great balcony with tables, too. I think the view from this cafe is one of the best views of the city by far.

The food and drink here are excellent and cheap. We enjoyed coffee followed by a bottle of vinho verde (12 Euros) and a huge cheese and homemade jam platter that was more than enough for two people to get stuffed on.

The staff are friendly, the atmosphere cozy and I can’t think of a better spot to spend a couple of hours in Lisbon, especially in the evening as the sun sets in front of you. (The cafe opens at 3pm or 5pm depending on the day.)

As one review I read put it, “Place should be packed, but it’s amazingly quiet.“

I absolutely agree with that statement. It’s the best cafe in Lisbon that apparently not many people know about.

This is Cafe da Garagem.

My girlfriend found it online one day when we wanted to escape the very touristy Rossio Square. We were looking for something different and this place popped up, along with the words ‘hidden gem’.

It’s a funny place to reach, I’ll say that. Located on the same hill as, but underneath, the imposing Castelo de Sao Jorge, we had to take two long outdoor escalators upwards, meander along a couple of narrow residential lanes, walk up two big flights of stairs and then find the relatively simple entrance. It’s about a 15 minute wander from Rossio Square in the end.

But all that climbing and meandering is worth it!

As soon as we took a seat in front of the windows, we were thrilled that we chose this cafe for our evening break. It wasn’t too crowded at all, the wifi worked quite well in case you want to browse or do some work on your laptop and nobody seems to care how long you stay there. It’s open until midnight as well.

However, it really comes down to the view. It’s worth it just for that, especially since you’ll be far away from the tourist crowds on the Santa Justa viewpoint or any of the other well-known lookout spots that most tourists flock to.

Why not enjoy a perfect combination of atmosphere, comfort, quality food and drink and a slightly off the beaten path location along with that view instead? That’s the combination that made Cafe da Garagem the best cafe in Lisbon in our opinion.

Enjoy!

Best Cafe in Lisbon

Cafe da Garagem
Website

Costa do Castelo 75, Lisbon, Portugal

(Want to know the one place you need to visit in Cascais, Portugal? Check out my post: The Bookbinder of Cascais)

The post The Best Cafe in Lisbon – Cafe da Garagem appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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*This is a guest post from a reader of Wandering Earl, a writer, fellow traveler and friend.

Hi Folks.

My name is Gordon Hopkins. I’m a writer for a small town newspaper in rural Nebraska, The Fairbury Journal-News.

A few years ago, I took one of Earl’s tours to India (I’m in the above photo!). It was my first ever journey to Asia and I think one of Earl’s earliest tours as well, so we were both finding our feet a bit.

Naturally, I wrote about the trip for the paper and the story has now found a second life in a new anthology called Beyond Our Borders: Unexpected Travel Writing, edited by myself.

Earl was nice enough to write a foreword to the book and even nicer to let me write a guest post on his blog. However, I promised him this wouldn’t be a commercial for my book. So I need to find something to write about that you folks might actually be interested in reading.

I have a great love for travel writing, as I suspect do you, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. So how about a list of travel books, a list of my favorite travel books? Travel book lists can be found all over the internet of course. The internet loves lists, after all. There is even a term for it: listicle (which sounds like something you see a doctor to get lanced).

Perusing these lists, you will certainly see a lot of the same titles over and over again. You will likely see some books you’ve never read or never heard of. However, there are some books you will never, ever see, despite containing some truly great travel writing.

So here is my list of the top five travel books never on anyone’s list of travel books.

1: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.” Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.”

Creative Writing 101 should always begin with this opening paragraph of Capote’s “non-fiction novel.” “This is a true crime book, not travel book,” you say? Perhaps, but to Capote, who was raised in the South before becoming the doyen of New York literati, Kansas was every bit as alien as Mars, and he wrote about it as such, observing the “natives” much as he might a primitive tribe on some remote island.

There is more than Capote’s view of the plains of the Midwest that fascinates the reader, however. As Dick Hickock and Perry Smith, the brutal killers of the Clutter family, hit the road, trying to evade capture, the book becomes a sort of homicidal variation of On the Road, with Hickok and Smith as evil twins of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady.

2: The Mole People by Jennifer Toth

Published in 1993, this book is, in a sense, a pretty standard travelogue. The writer took trips to an exotic locale not many have visited, interviewed the locals, learned the customs, and generally tried to give the reader an impression of what life is like in this place that most will never see.

The reason nobody thinks of this book as a travel book is because this “exotic locale” is the grim, underground tunnels of New York City, and the natives are mostly the homeless, the misfits, the outsiders of “polite society.”

More recently, a fellow named Matthew O’Brien wrote a similar book called Beneath the Neon, about those living in the tunnels under Las Vegas. Perhaps this is the start of a new genre.

3: The Curse of Lono by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Fairly or not, many fans of the late father of Gonzo journalism were disappointed with the good doctor’s account of the Honolulu Marathon. What they wanted was Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in Hawaii. What they got was somewhat different.

Oh, there is still plenty of alcohol and drug fueled lunacy. The book opens on a plane and a passenger exits the lavatory with a blue arm, having apparently dropped his stash down the toilet and then reached in to retrieve it.

However, Thompson’s view of the islands proved to be somewhat more thoughtful and introspective on occasion. The big difference between Fear and Loathing and this book is that Thompson despised Las Vegas and everything it stands for, whereas he clearly had respect and, in his own outrageous way, even love for the Hawaiian life.

It should also be noted that editing the book was something of an ordeal. It is liberally peppered with passages from Richard Hough’s The Last Voyage of Captain James Cook, which is in the public domain and clearly added to pad the book’s length.

4: Escape from Kathmandu by Kim Stanley Robinson

Why is a science fiction book on this list? It is true that many science fiction stories tell of explorers and undiscovered lands, but those places are usually made up.

This novel is actually made up of four novellas, three of which were published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine in the 1980’s. That is what those in the publishing game call a “fix-up.”

These stories are about a pair of American expats in Nepal, George Ferguson, a mountaineer and tour guide; and George Fredericks, apprentice to a Tibetan monk. Together they encounter a yeti, Shangri-la and the whole mythological milieu of that part of the world. But they also have to deal with the realities of beggars in the streets and bureaucrats in the offices and villagers scrambling for a living and demanding tourists and bugs and mud and rain and all the things one has to deal with when traveling in a foreign country. Despite the fantastic elements, it gives a surprisingly realistic look at Nepal.

Plus, the book is funny as hell.

5: Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays by Christopher Hitchens

Hitchens is best known today as one of the founding fathers of “New Atheism,”  but he was first and foremost one of the best journalists ever to hold the job. His writing included not just politics but literary criticism, interviews and, yes, travel writing.

It is a pity he never published a book exclusively of travel writing, but of all the collections of his journalism, Love, Poverty and War probably comes closest.

Hitchens was British and, even though he lived much of his adult life in the U.S, his origins informed his views on Americana. He gives readers his impressions of traveling down Route 66 and Sunset Strip, as well as his thoughts on the cultural impacts of such American icons as Bob Dylan and William Faulkner.

This list easily could have gone on (and on and on and on). So you see, if you love reading about other worlds and other peoples, sometimes you don’t want to stick to the obvious routes. Not unlike actual travel. There is plenty of unexpected travel writing out there if you are open to it.

Gordon Hopkins
Writer; Editor of Beyond Our Borders: Unexpected Travel Writing

(I want to thank Gordon for inviting me to write the foreword for Beyond Our Borders. It was my first foreword and it was an honor to write it. And Gordon, I definitely look forward to traveling with you again somewhere, hopefully soon! – Earl)

Do you have any interesting travel books to recommend that are not normally on lists of recommended travel books?

The post A List of Travel Books That Are Never On Anyone’s List appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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This is a simple one.

In my never ending search for ways to get the best deals on all things travel related, I recently came across a website that makes it remarkably easy to get massive hotel discounts.

The website, Club 1 Hotels, resells hotel rooms that were purchased in bulk by corporations. When bought in bulk, the rooms are purchased at much lower rates than what the public can get. Then, when some of those bulk rooms aren’t used, this website makes them available to everyone in order to avoid losing money.

The result is that regular travelers like us can actually take advantage of these hotel discounts at hotels all over the world. That’s really all there is to it, and it works.

The Big Difference

It seems like a normal hotel booking website. But again, other booking websites don’t have any access at all to these same discounts. That’s the difference.

When the VP of Club 1 got in touch with me via email last week, I was naturally skeptical. But he kept at it and after a good phone conversation with him, I decided to give the site a proper try.

What Kind of Hotel Discounts Did I Find?

I spent an hour playing around with it, comparing the rates and hotel discounts on Club 1 Hotels to what I could find on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia and others. While many of the rates were about the same as what I found on those other websites, once I figured out how to use the “Special Deals” filter, everything changed…

Here’s some of the crazy results:

Double Tree Hilton Hotel – Cape Town, South Africa
November 10th – 11th, 2018 (1 night)
1 Double Room, 2 Adults
Savings: $48 USD per night

Grandeur Hotel – Dubai, UAE
November 10th – 11th, 2018 (1 night)
1 Executive Room, 2 Adults
Savings: $28 USD per night

Tryp Barcelona Apolo Hotel – Barcelona, Spain
November 10th – 11th, 2018 (1 night)
1 Double Room, 2 Adults
Savings: $40 USD per night

Pullman Paris La Defense – Paris, France
November 23rd – 26th, 2018 (3 nights)
1 Classic Room, 2 Adults
Savings: $200+ USD

You can see what I’m talking about. No matter what destination I entered, I found significantly discounted hotel prices compared to the prices for the exact same hotel and room on other booking websites. You really need to try it out and see!

How to Sign Up? (It’s FREE for Wandering Earl readers)

1. Yes, usually, you need to pay $99 to use the website and access the low rates. But Club 1 has offered a great deal to readers of a few travel blogs. Wandering Earl made the list!

2. The deal: 100% FREE – It costs you nothing. You can sign up in about 30 seconds and start using the site. All you need to enter is an email address, home address and password, nothing else. No credit card, nothing. You then have a full 1 year membership for free.

They created a specific landing page for Wandering Earl readers so you can easily get your free membership. (You’ll see two other membership levels but the free one gives you access to all the hotel discounts!)


You’ll immediately be able to book hotels at incredible bulk rates. You’ll get 5% off your first booking as well. Bonus

When signing up, you’ll also automatically be entered into a giveaway for a $200 Club 1 Gift Card that can be used to book accommodation. The winner will be randomly drawn on September 30th from those who sign up through the Wandering Earl page above.

Important – Remember the REAL TRICK!

Once you’re signed up…

1. Log in to Club 1 Hotels.

2. Search for hotels by entering your destination, dates and number of people (just like any booking website).

3. THE REAL TRICK – Once the results appear, go to the left sidebar and check the “SPECIAL DEALS” box. This filters the results to show you only the absolute best hotel discounts, like the ones above. These are the rates you won’t find anywhere else. This is the game changer.

Finally, in their list of extras, Club 1 Hotels also offers a price matching guarantee. If you somehow find a cheaper deal after making a reservation, they will actually lower the price you paid so that it is less than what you found elsewhere.

The website basically guarantees that you’ll save money.

And that’s it. Whether you usually use Booking.com or Expedia or Agoda or any other booking site, you should definitely add Club 1 Hotels to the list of sites you check. It’s discounts are definitely a game changer…and it’s free!

Once you try it out, please let me know what deals you get. I definitely want to hear from you!

I’ve also written posts about the ‘tricks’ I use to save money with both Airbnb and Uber.

The post How to Get Massive Hotel Discounts (it’s easy and free) appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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I just returned from an 8 day trip to Las Vegas. It was my fourth time there.

As always, I spent half my time in this city shaking my head. There is no other place quite like it and regardless of any pre-conceptions, it’s worth seeing at least once in my opinion.

The main reason I was in Las Vegas was to attend the Star Trek Convention. And while I’m not a big Star Trek fan, a friend of mine had invited me to attend and I figured, why not? I’ll be writing a separate post soon about that bizarre experience.

As for the city itself, I get a kick out of being here. And while I don’t really gamble and I’m not much of a party person, I always manage to have a good time. If you look hard enough, there really are some awesome things to do in Las Vegas, the kind of experiences that have little to do with the ‘Vegas’ that we think about.

During my 8 day trip, I went to the ‘Strip’ only once and I gambled for about an hour total.

So why was this such a great trip?

Let me tell you all about it…

My Favorite Things To Do In Las Vegas Sky Combat Ace

Upside down, right side up, flip over again. Nose dives, barrel rolls, hammerhead stalls, loops and a backwards free fall. Those are some of the stunts you can experience when you step into the front seat of an advanced Extra 330LC stunt plane at Sky Combat Ace.

It’s absolutely wild.

Here’s how it works:

After a thorough orientation, you board the plane, get strapped in and off you go. Over the next 12-15 minutes, your ex-Air Force fighter pilot (in command of the plane) will take you up in the air and start doing insane stunts. He’ll make sure you get up to speeds of almost 250 mph (400 km/hr) and if the barrel roll doesn’t cause you to vomit into a bag, your pilot will then take it up a notch.

What does that mean? You’ll get to experience a Gravitational-force of around 6 or higher. As a reference, at a G-force of 7-9, most people apparently pass out.

While I didn’t vomit and I didn’t pass out, when we hit close to 6, I felt as if my body and brain were sucked into a black hole and were melting away into infinity from the pressure. It was a most bizarre and intense few seconds, and I loved it!

With the Explorer package, you’ll do about 3-5 stunts depending on how you feel up there. You can also choose other packages that include more stunts or allow you to fly the plane or where you can learn what it’s like to be in the midst of an aerial dogfight.

Of course, they offer a video package as well, with cameras on the wings and in the cockpit recording all of your crazy reactions to every twist and flip and roll.

My favorite moment was when my plane climbed straight up, completely perpendicular to the ground. Once it hit an altitude of about 5000 feet, the engine was cut and we entered into a free-fall straight back down…backwards. It’s as big of an adrenaline rush as you could ever imagine.

Good luck and enjoy one of the best things to do in Las Vegas!

Once you’re finished being a stunt person, you’ll probably want to take it easy for a couple of hours until your body adjusts from all the intensity.

But as soon as you’re feeling better…

Star Wars Virtual Reality

Head over to the Venetian Hotel and walk through the Grand Canal Shoppes until you almost reach the far end. That’s where you’ll find a most excellent Virtual Reality experience awaiting your arrival.

The Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire VR experience takes you straight into a surreal world where your commander gives you a mission to complete. You’ll go undercover, interact with Star Wars characters and do your best to achieve your objective.

Wearing a computerized backpack, helmet, microphone and headset, the adventure is detailed and incredibly realistic as you wander through several different scenes and situations. Within a few seconds of putting the VR gear on, you’ll absolutely forget about the outside world.

We came out of this with big smiles on our faces. To put it simply, it’s super fun.

*You should make a reservation as only 5 people can go at a time and there are time slots every 15 minutes until about 11pm. The VR experience itself lasts approximately 15 minutes.

Now that you’ve been upside down in the sky and you’ve fought off some Stormtroopers, you’re probably a little hungry…

Viva Las Arepas

This is my favorite place to eat in Las Vegas. It’s not on the Strip. It’s not a sit down restaurant. It’s nothing fancy or overly impressive from the outside.

Viva Las Arepas is a simple, local Venezuelan eatery near downtown Las Vegas.

Their famous arepas are served up nonstop, day and night, to a growing crowd of both locals and travelers who have heard about the place. It’s reputation is spreading, and for good reason.

They have about 12 different kinds of arepas (the arepa cachapa and arepa reina pepiada are my favorites) and they also serve up empanadas. Each arepa only costs around $6 and it’s best to go there hungry because you’ll absolutely want at least two!

You order at the counter and if you have any questions about the food, the staff are more than happy to assist.

I took my friends here on our second night in Vegas and I was not surprised when they wanted to go back a few nights later. It’s worth the short trip from the Strip (less than 10 minutes away), especially if you’re tired of buffets and expensive meals. This stuff is as good as it gets!

*Address: 1616 South Las Vegas Blvd, #120, Las Vegas, NV 89104

With stomach full, surely you’re thirsty…

Frankie’s Tiki Room

It’s time to make your way over to the unique Frankie’s Tiki Room. This Tiki bar is an institution. The bar itself has been around for 60 years and it’s been a Tiki bar since 2008.

It’s also not on the Strip. It’s also close to downtown Vegas, right next to a gas station. However, don’t let that fool you and don’t let the fact that this local bar doesn’t have any windows stop you from going either.

This is the real deal, designed by a famous Tiki bar designer, and unlike anything you can imagine.

When I took my friends there last week, here’s how it went:

– We entered.
– My friend said, “What on earth is this place? Looks like a crappy bar.”
– We hung out for an hour and a half, drinking a couple of their unique cocktails.
– We left.
– My friend said, “That was awesome! I love that bar.”

Sure, it might have been the cocktails talking but this is what happens every time I go there. What starts off as a weird experience, turns into a favorite bar. EVERY TIME.

The atmosphere is laid-back, the lighting dark and there’s only room for about 40 people in the place. There are totem poles, carved wooden furniture, original artwork, torches and of course, their strange, yummy cocktails that everyone comes for.

It’s a very welcoming place, even if you completely look like you’re not from the area. Nobody minds, just come on in!

And that’s what makes it one of my favorite things to do in Las Vegas.

Oh, it’s also open 24 hours.

(The Wai’anae Wipeout is my favorite drink – a mix of rum, mango and ginger.)

*Address: 1712 West Charleston Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89102

After a couple of drinks, you’ll probably have a good night’s sleep. Hopefully, the next day you’ll also have enough energy for an unforgettable day trip to…

Death Valley National Park

I was always curious about Death Valley and on this trip, I finally made it. Unfortunately, we went in the middle of summer. The day we were there, the temperature hit a ridiculous 123F (50.5C). It was brutal.

However, it was also beautiful and well worth the trip.

Only 2 hours away from Vegas along the scenic NV-160, Death Valley National Park offers a chance to see canyons, mountains, salt flats, hot springs, waterfalls, a Timbisha Shoshone Native American community, the lowest point in North America and one of the hottest spots in the world.

We stopped at Zabriskie Point, the village of Furnace Creek, Artist’s Drive and then we went for a short hike out to the Salt Flats at Badwater Basin. That last one is where the temperature reached 123F and we all almost passed out during the 30 minute hike.

However, despite the burning nostrils and my shorts being soaked in sweat all day just from standing outside, it was all mesmerizing and stunning.

Awesome day, highly recommended!

Just please bring a ton of water, a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and anything else that will help you handle the heat, especially if you go during the summer.

*The entrance fee per vehicle is $30 that you pay at a little kiosk as you enter the park.

With Death Valley out of the way, how about something a little more chill?

Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area

Located only 30 minutes outside of Las Vegas, you won’t believe that you’re so close to a city once you enter this conservation area. It’s all incredible nature, in every direction.

Set at the edge of the Mojave Desert, once you’re inside the Red Rock Canyon Conservation Area, there is a 13 mile scenic drive that loops all around.

You’ll be able to stop at the Calico Basin and Bridge Mountain, check out the Joshua trees, sandstone formations and short trails that wind along the hills. There are plenty of longer hiking trails as well, ranging from 1 to 11 miles in length, and there are also opportunities for climbing.

The red rocks are brilliantly red, the rocky mountains are imposing, the desert spreads out as far as you can see…you get the idea.

Again, being only 30 minutes from the city, this peaceful location is the most ideal mini-escape from the madness and one of the best things to do in Las Vegas as a result.

The photo at the top of this post is also from Red Rocks.

*The cost to enter is $15 per vehicle. There are also picnic areas in case you want to bring some food. We spent about 2 hours going around the loop but you could easily spend half a day out there without even doing any major hikes.

Are you ready for this kind of Vegas? Any other recommendations for cool things to do in Las Vegas?

The post Awesome Things To Do In Las Vegas (My Favorites) appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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Guide to Dakhla – Part 1

Brief History

Western Sahara is a disputed region in North Africa and is not a recognized country. About 80% of the territory is controlled by Morocco and 20% makes up the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. There is a sand wall that separates the two regions.

From what I’ve gathered, after the Spanish gave up control of this entire territory in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania shared control, with the native Sahrawi people lacking the power needed to take over their claimed homeland. Eventually, amidst fighting, Mauritania moved out of the region and Morocco reinforced its presence. Western Sahara has been a disputed territory ever since, with most of the Sahrawi people living in and operating from refugee camps in Western Algeria.

Dakhla is under Moroccan control, with Moroccan military checkpoints throughout the area and Moroccan government buildings and flags clearly displaying their presence. However, Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory has yet to be recognized by the international community.

Some people consider the entire region to be Western Sahara, while others (such as the Moroccan government) consider the Moroccan controlled portion to be Morocco or Moroccan Sahara and only the area under the control of the Sahrawi Republic to be Western Sahara.

Like many places, the history and current situation is complicated.

Guide to Dakhla – Part 2

Entry/Visas

Most people arrive via flight from either Casablanca or Agadir or overland from Morocco or Mauritania. Entry requirements are the same as Morocco given its control over Dakhla and 80% of Western Sahara. As a result, you do not need a visa if you have a passport from the UK, EU, USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand and you can stay in the region for 90 days. Other nationalities should check for the latest information as you might need to apply in advance for a visa.

Arrival and Departure

The very small airport is actually in the center of town. It’s about a 3 minute drive to any hotel. When you arrive you will go through a quick immigration check and then be on your way. Taxis and drivers are waiting outside the one exit and are easy to find. Overall, arriving and departing at the airport is very simple as there are only a couple of flights per day, either to Casablanca, Agadir or Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.

You can also arrive via land from the north (Morocco) or the south (Mauritania). I did not cross the land borders but from what I’ve heard, it’s a standard immigration check to enter the region.

Money

In Dakhla, the currency used is Moroccan dirhams. There are several ATMs in town and a few money exchange offices as well. There are also two ATMs at the airport in the arrivals hall. Most restaurants and smaller businesses will not accept credit cards so cash is important to have.

Language

Languages spoken in Western Sahara include Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Spanish and French. In Dakhla itself, there wasn’t much Spanish spoken, mostly Arabic and French. Very little English is spoken but people are friendly and will certainly do their best to communicate.

Safety

Western Sahara is a disputed territory and as a result, there is always the possibility of conflict and political demonstrations. You should check for the latest information on safety, via local and government websites, to assess any potential danger. With that said, Morocco’s heavy military presence in Dakhla itself does keep things relatively quiet. From what I was told by those I met in the region, Dakhla is quite safe in terms of regular crime.

The main thing to watch out for is dehydration and a constant dry and dusty wind during the spring and winter that can really take its toll on you.

Guide to Dakhla – Part 3

Accommodation

Guesthouse Dar Rio Oro – There aren’t many decent sleeping options in Dakhla but this one was as solid as the reviews stated. Good sized rooms in a cozy building across the street from the water, centrally located and with a friendly Arabic, French and Spanish-speaking owner who can assist with organizing a day trip into the desert. Rooms are approximately $40 USD per night, breakfast included. (Request a room with a private bathroom and this view!)

After walking around for 1 week, the only other accommodation that looked decent were the Hotel Albaraka ($100 USD per night) and Hotel Mansour ($80 USD per night), both in the center of town. However, I don’t see any reason to pay those prices when you can get the Dar Rio Oro for less than half.

*If you use this link to book accommodation, you’ll save up to $30 on your booking (and I’ll receive $20 as well): Booking.com discount

Where to Eat

There’s a handful of restaurants in town and you can always head into one of the bakeries for a sandwich, pastry or quiche as well. The main market, while quiet, does have some stalls serving prepared food.

I ate most of my meals at the friendly Ikram’s. This small restaurant is in the exact center of town at the main traffic light and offers simple, inexpensive and tasty soups, wraps, grilled meats and fish and salads. A hearty meal costs about 50 dirhams ($5 USD). The place only has about 6 tables but seemed to be popular compared to other restaurants. Across the street is the decent Restaurant Bahia, again, with simple offerings that were, in my opinion, not as good as Ikram’s.

For proper restaurants, there is the Villa Dakhla, offering typical Moroccan dishes as well as international food at a premium price. The setting is great, right on the water and they do serve alcohol. Casa Luis serves up good Spanish-Moroccan cuisine and Chez N’Tifi, on the edge of the town center, is an excellent option for cheap, local fare. Casa Lola and Samarkand were also both recommended but I never tried them.

In the evenings, many tea shops open up in town, although most remain pretty empty. If you find one with patrons, it’s a good chance to enjoy some Moroccan tea while trying to interact with locals who will certainly be curious about you.

Getting Around

Dakhla is small! You can walk everywhere and anywhere in this town. You can even walk from the airport to the town center in about 18 minutes. If you want to visit the outskirts, which include the opposite coast, the lighthouse or the nearest beach, you might want to take a taxi.

Taxis are shared and you simply wave one down, although you might have to wait a while for one to actually pass. Then, just tell the driver your destination and get in. They’ll get you there eventually, probably picking up and dropping off another person or two along the way. At the end, you hand over 15 dirhams ($1.58 USD) and you’re good. If you’re taking a taxi to the Beach KM 25 or the popular windsurfing area, located about 20-25 minutes north of town, you’ll have to negotiate a price ahead of time.

Guide to Dakhla – Part 4

Things to Do

In Dakhla itself, there isn’t much. Lighthouse, market and Oum Lbouer, the closest beach which is about 10 minutes drive out of town.

North of Dakhla, about 20 minutes, is Beach 25 (at KM 25 on the main road) on the edge of the Dakhla Lagoon. This spot marks the start of an area that is popular with those interested in windsurfing or kitesurfing. You can actually stay out here at one of the windsurfing camps, such as Ocean Vagabond, which offer bungalows and a restaurant/bar near the water (they range from budget to quite upscale). The main downside is that apart from the beach and windsurfing camps, there is nothing else around. If you’re really into windsurfing or kitesurfing, it’s perfect. If you’re just curious, it’s best to stay in Dakhla and spend an afternoon out here.

The desert and mainland coast! If you gain anything from this guide to Dakhla, it should be the need to hire a driver with a 4×4 vehicle and let them take you off the peninsula and show you the surrounding desert and the untouched coast. It’s some of the most inhospitable land on the planet but with that comes some of the most stunning and surreal landscapes I’ve ever seen in my 19 years of travel (it even rivals the unbelievable Socotra Island). We’re talking off-roading in the rough, barren Sahara, gorgeous white sand beaches without a soul around, 100 meter tall sand dunes rising out of the water, massive sweeping plains of soft pink sand and so much more.

I’ll be posting more about this in my next post, complete with videos and photos such as this one…

(The owner of Guesthouse Dar Rio Oro organized my driver. It was actually her neighbor, Sidi, a really kind guy that charged a reasonable $80 USD for a 10 hour adventure all over the mainland.)

Want to Know More About My Trip to Dakhla?

Check out my post Travel to Dakhla: Straight Into the Unknown for the complete story.

If you have any questions after reading this guide to Dakhla, just let me know!

The post A Quick Travel Guide to Dakhla, Western Sahara appeared first on Wandering Earl.

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