My Ultimate Travelist

I received the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist for Christmas last year. It details the “500 best places on the planet… ranked” and it is possibly the most wanderlust-inducing thing I’ve ever read!

It got me thinking about what my ultimate travelist would be. So, I’ve decided to put together a top 10 of the places I’ve already visited and the 10 that are highest on my bucket list. I’ve ranked them in order, which was not an easy task!

 

Top 10 Places Visited

1. Khao Sok National Park, Thailand

Khao Sok National Park is situated in the Surat Thani province of Thailand. The crowing jewel of the park is Cheow Lan lake, which is home to beautiful lime stone karsts.

I stayed in a floating bungalow on the lake, where the facilities are very basic and there is only electricity for a few hours in the evening. The setting is absolutely stunning and my one-night stay is one of my all time favourite travel memories. Quite simply, it’s the most breathtaking place I’ve ever visited.

Read more: 9 Reasons to Visit Thailand 

 

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2. Great Wall of China

The Great Wall probably makes it on to most people’s travel bucket lists, it is a bit of a cliche.

It rightly deserves a place, it is out of this world amazing. I was super excited to hike the wall but nothing could prepare me for quite how incredible (and steep!) it was.

I visited the Jinshanling section of this wall and there were barely any other people!

 

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3. Temples of Angkor

The Temples of Angkor are out of this world and like nothing I’ve ever seen before.

I joined a small cycling tour when I visited; we got to Angkor Wat for sunrise and then cycled around the other temples and surrounding countryside.

Read more: Female solo travel in Cambodia and Vietnam: a 3 week itinerary 

 

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4. Hoi An Old Town

Most people that have visited Hoi An Old Town would probably agree that the place just feels absolutely magical, especially at night when the beautiful old buildings are lit up with colourful lanterns.

It was definitely my favourite place in Vietnam, although as you’ll see, two more places in my favourite country ever have also made it on to my list!

 

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5. Hanoi Old Quarter, Vietnam

Hanoi is by far my favourite large city in Asia. It’s busy and it’s polluted but it also has so much charm!

Home to many beautiful buildings, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ngoc Son Temple and lots of lovely restaurants, there’s plenty to see and do. But this is also a place where you can just wander and get lost, taking it all in.

Read more: Vietnam Travel Tips

 

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6. Galle Fort, Sri Lanka

One of the things I loved most about Sri Lanka is that every place we visited was so different. Galle Fort was no exception, I certainly wasn’t expecting charming cobbled streets, boutique shops and a lighthouse in Sri Lanka!

I stayed within the fort, which I’d highly recommend doing.

Read more: Sri Lankan Adventure Part 1: Colombo to Galle

 

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7. Plaza Mayor, Cuba

Trinidad in Cuba is by far one of the prettiest towns I’ve ever visited. Cobbled streets and pastel coloured buildings, it is a delight. It attracts a fair amount of tourists but it still felt really laid back and not at all crowded.

Plaza Mayor is the historic centre of the town and it’s the perfect place to wander for a couple of hours, followed by a cold beer.

See more: Cuba: Photo Edit

 

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8. Halong Bay, Vietnam

Halong Bay is a must-see for visitors to Vietnam. It’s famous for its limestone karsts and dramatic scenery.

I stayed on a traditional junk boats for two days and it was an amazing experience, not to mention that the seafood served on board was some of the best and freshest I’ve ever eaten.

 

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9. Habana Vieja, Cuba

Think of Cuba and Habana Vieja is likely to be the picture in your head- the bright, pastel coloured old buildings in the old part of town.

They are iconic and even better experienced on a ride around Havana in an old American car.

Read more: Cuba Travel Tips

 

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10. Le Jardin Majorelle

I recently visited Marrakech and was concerned that I’d be disappointed by Le Jardin Majorelle given all the photos I’d seen and the masses of tourists.

I definitely wasn’t disappointed, the gardens were absolutely magical and like a complete oasis away from the slight madness of Marrakech itself.

Read more: How to Spend a Long Weekend in Marrakech

 

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So, that’s where I’ve been. Now for the list of the top 10 places I’d like go visit form the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist:

1. Bora Bora, French Polynesia

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

3. Petra, Jordan

4. Taj Mahal, India

5. Bagan, Myanmar

6. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

7. Dubrovnik Old City Walls, Croatia

8. Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

9. Cristo Redentor, Brazil

10. Empire State Building

Check out the Lonely Planet Ultimate Travelist here.

Where are your top 10 places visited and the top 10 you want to go to? I’d love to hear from you xxx

31 countries and counting

2017 has been the year that I ticked off 4 new places and my total countries visited reached 31. Now, to me, this doesn’t sound that many but I remind myself that I’ve visited many different cities and towns within a lot of those countries. And clearly visiting the USA doesn’t add any new tallies to my total.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ticking off countries purely to say that I’ve been to x number. I love visiting new places and experiencing new cultures. That said, I want to see as much of the world as I can within my lifetime and am slowly working my way through what this beautiful planet has to offer. I’m reluctant now to book trips to countries that I’ve visited before.

Compared to recent years, 4 new countries is quite a low number. However, the places I’ve visited have been absolutely awesome so I’m happy with quality if not quantity this time round! Here’s a round up of where I’ve been in 2017:

Copenhagen 

Scandinavia hasn’t really been on my radar travel- wise until this year, possibly something to do with the lack of beaches and cost of visiting. That all changed this year.

I headed off for a weekend in Copenhagen with friends in March this year and really, really liked it. You can read more about my trip here.

It was absolutely freezing and super pricey but everywhere was so pretty! And the vibe was just very laid back and cool. That trip made me eager to explore more of Scandi and what it has to offer. After all, the people in that neck of the woods are thought to be the happiest in the world!

IMG_0804.JPGThe oldest street in Copenhagen

IMG_0863Nyhavn

IMG_0886.JPGChristianshavn

IMG_0893.JPGChristianshavn

Warsaw 

Next up was a birthday trip to Poland with my other half. I know most people head to Krakow and I’d definitely like to visit, but I just felt it wasn’t the right place for a birthday weekend. I’d want to visit Auschwitz, which isn’t necessarily how I’d want to spend a birthday. I also wanted to head somewhere that wasn’t too heavy on the tourist front.

I’m so glad we booked to go to Warsaw. It was incredible; I totally fell in love with the Polish capital and would rate it as one of my favourite ever cities, particularly in Europe. The vibe was really chilled out, there was so much to see and do, and omg if you haven’t tried peroigis, do so right away! Amazing.

I wrote a little guide to the city; here if you fancy having a nosy.

IMG_1053.JPGWarsaw Old Town

IMG_1115.JPGWarsaw Barbican

 

IMG_1111.JPGWarsaw Old Town

IMG_0950.JPGWarsaw Neon Museum

Cuba 

As I wrote about in this post, all-inclusive holidays aren’t usually for me. I’m happiest with my backpack and Lonely Planet guide, living the flashpacker experience.

That being said, I loved this family trip to Cuba. The hotel was incredible and luxurious and I managed to explore a fair bit of what is an interesting, vibrant but sometimes frustrating country.

It was different to anywhere I’ve ever visited before, check out my travel tips here if you’re planning to visit. Even if not, I put together a post containing lots of pretty pictures; Cuba is by far the most photogenic place I have ever visited!

IMG_1157.JPGRoyalton Cayo Santa Maria infinity pool

IMG_1172.JPGPueblo Estrella

IMG_1507.JPGHavana

IMG_1329.JPGTrinidad

 

Stockholm 

Last but not least was my only solo trip of the year. I decided in September that I wanted to visit more of Scandinavia before the year was out and booked a flight to Stockholm, along with accommodation at City Backpackers Hostel.

I LOVED Stockholm. Although I really liked Copenhagen and had an amazing time with friends, Stockholm did steal my heart a little bit. As with Copenhagen, everything was super pretty and it had the chilled Scandi vibe. But even more than that, it had so many interesting things to see and do. I really discovered a bit of a love for art, especially when exploring the amazing installations featured in stations across the metro network.

I also went on a super cool Millenium tour (more here) of the city, which I got way too excited about given that the trilogy are some of my favourite books ever!

Also, two words: Swedish meatballs. I don’t actually think the locals eat them but oh my god they are bloody delicious. Give me all the gourmet venison meatballs and lingonberries, yum!

 

IMG_1784.JPGStockholm Old Town

IMG_1605.JPGEarly morning reflections

IMG_1809.JPGStockholm Old Town

IMG_1853.JPGArt in Stockholm metro station

2017 has definitely been a year of ups and downs and some big changes in my personal life; more about that here. But travel-wise, it’s only been positive! I’ve surpassed my goal of 30 countries before 30 four years early, so I’m upping the number to 40. Not quite the same ring to it, but it’ll do.

I can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store.

Where have you been in 2017? What’s been your favourite trip or travel moment? I’d love to hear from you! 

Cuba Travel Tips

Although Cuba is undoubtedly a beautiful and interesting country, it’s also a slightly odd one when it comes to travelling there. It’s likely to be completely different to any other country you’ve visited before. That’s no bad thing, it’s great to be different, but it can mean that you’re not sure what to expect. Although my trip was only 2 weeks long, I feel I got a good grasp of the country and potential pitfalls whilst travelling around it. Here’s a list of Cuba travel tips that I picked up along the way, hopefully they’ll make your planning and actual trip a little snoother…

 

Organise a visa (tourist card) before you fly 

 Most countries will need a visa to visit Cuba, and the UK is one of them. As a standard holidaymaker, you’ll need a 30-day tourist card. You must buy this before you fly, if not you’ll be refused boarding in the UK. The easiest way to get hold of one is to visit the Cuban Embassy in London, although obviously this isn’t feasible for a lot of people. You can apply for a tourist card from the Cuban embassy via the post or use an online travel company such as The Travelvisa Company.

Make sure you keep the cards in pristine condition, no folding or bending, as otherwise this might be rejected at the Cuban border.

IMG_1374Independence Square, Havana

Take cash to exchange when you arrive in Cuba

 There are two currencies in Cuba and visitors tend to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). You can’t buy this outside if Cuba, so I’d advise you to take cash to change once you arrive in the country. Take some small sterling or Euro notes for tips when you first arrive in Cuba. You can use cards in hotels and major cities but it’s wise to carry cash at all times.

 

 Tip generously 

It’s expected that you’ll give a small tip following a meal, to a bellboy or to a driver. I’d encourage you to embrace this and give what you can; Cuban people are extremely friendly and helpful even though they’re likely paid a pittance for the long hours they work.

 

A laid-back local

 

Pack extra toiletries to give to the locals

 In a similar vein, many Brits take toiletries and other gifts for hotel workers and local people. Again, I’d encourage you to do the same if you’re able to. The best things to take are probably soap and shampoo, which are expensive and can be difficult to get hold of for the locals. You may get Cuban ladies coming up to you in the street asking for soap; take some in your bag when you’re out and about.

 

Remember to pack toilet paper and hand sanitiser when travelling 

When travelling between towns, your bus or taxi will likely stop at local restaurants or the Cuba equivalent of a service station. Be aware that’s it very unlikely these will have toilet paper, make sure you pack your own when on the move. I’d recommend hand sanitiser too.

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Vintage cars

 

Don’t leave your accommodation without plenty of bottled water 

 It goes without saying that you shouldn’t drink Cuban tap water. Make sure that you take bottled water with you when you leave your accommodation; there are very few supermarkets in Cuba and it isn’t easy to find somewhere to buy water like in other countries. Even in Havana, we struggled to find places to buy water from (we flew up for the day so couldn’t take this with us).

 

Don’t expect to be delighted by the food

 Cuba is not renowned for its food, so don’t go expecting culinary delights. I had some delicious meals whilst there but these certainly weren’t comparable to the food you’ll find in Europe or South East Asia. Be sure to try Cuban speciality Ropa Vieja (shredded beef). The seafood is particularly good, as are exotic fruits such as papaya.

Enjoying a sunset dinner

Embrace the lack of wifi

 Wifi is not widely available in Cuba, as this is regulated by the government. There is no free wifi anywhere, we didn’t even have this in our 5* resort. You can buy a government issued wifi card from hotels or internet cafes, which last for an hour. The cost varies; we paid around £1.50/hour. My advice would be to embrace the lack of wifi and go technology-free if you can, it’s refreshing for a change and will give you a taste of the real Cuba.

 

Get ready for a slower pace of life

Life in Cuba is pretty laid back and things don’t get done particularly quickly, whether that’s organising a taxi or serving your food. Embrace the slower pace of life and relax.

 

Deserted beach

Enjoy your trip

Do your research and know what to expect before you go but most of all, enjoy your trip. Cuba is a beautiful, diverse and enchanting country with lots to offer.

Have you been to Cuba? Do you have any other travel tips? 

Cuba: Photo Edit

Cuba is by far the prettiest and most photogenic place I’ve ever visited, so I couldn’t not put together a photo edit post.

Please excuse the standard of photography, I’m still very much a beginner and trying to improve all the time!

Pueblo Estrella, Cayo Santa Maria

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Colourful Sancti Spiritus

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More colour in Sancti Spiritus

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Beautiful Trinidad

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Plaza Mayor, Trinidad

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Independence Square, Havana

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Park next to Plaza de Armas, Old Havana

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The pretty streets of Havana

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Retro American cars

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American Havana

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Me trying to look cool enough to own this car

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Have you got any cool photos of Cuba? I’d love to see them!

Hotel review: Royalton Cayo Santa Maria, Cuba

My trips usually involve a visiting a city for the weekend or backpacking around for a few weeks, staying in a mixture of hostels, cheap apartments and mid-range hotels. I haven’t been on an all-inclusive trip for a number of years, as these aren’t my preferred type of holiday to be perfectly honest.

Although not a convert to resorts, relaxing around a pool, eating and not much else, I jetted off to Cuba for a two-week all inclusive holiday in June and I loved it! It was a family holiday (thanks Dad!) and we stayed at the Royalton Cayo Santa Maria. I thought I’d put together an honest review in case you’re thinking of visiting Cuba or staying at the resort. Or for if, like me, you’re just nosy and like looking at photos of people’s holidays!

Getting there

The easiest airport to travel to is Santa Clara. There are limited flights from the UK; we flew in Premium Club with Thomson Airways on the Dreamliner and I’d highly recommend it. The transfer time is around 90 minutes to 2 hours. Other hotel guests that we spoke to flew with Virgin in to Havana, which involves a 5/6 hour journey by taxi.

Location

Cayo Santa Maria is a beautiful island, just off the mainland and connected by a causeway. In terms of culture and sightseeing, Cayo Santa Maria has none of that. Think beautiful, white sandy beaches and clear water lined by a number of all-inclusive resorts. The nearest town is Caribean, famous for its crab.

The Royalton is on a beautiful stretch of private beach. The sand is some of the whitest I’ve ever seen and is ridiculously soft and powdery. The water is warm and great for swimming; if you watch out for the jellyfish! A few guests got stung during our trip, so be careful.

IMG_1566The walkway down to the private beach

IMG_1578Powdery white sand and clear blue water

Cayo Santa Maria is around 6 hours from Havana, so it’s not an ideal base if you want to explore the capital city extensively. If you do, Varadero is probably a better, albeit more touristy, option.

Hotel facilities

The swimming pools and grounds of the Royalton are absolutely incredible, definitely a highlight of the hotel. There’s a quieter infinity pool up near reception (my favourite!) and a livelier one down near the beach. Both are lovely and have loungers in the water, perfect for lazing on with a cocktail in hand!

IMG_1185The “lively” swimming pool

IMG_1176The beautiful grounds

There’s a free gym in the pueblo, just around the corner from the hotel and a beautiful spa (not included in hotel price).

IMG_1174The spa

The pueblo is only a minute walk away from the hotel, and has a number of restaurants and shops. It was built just for tourists and isn’t authentic Cuban by any means, but is still super pretty and worth a wander.

IMG_1172The pueblo

Food

Compared to your usual all-inclusive, the set up food-wise is much better. Instead of buffets, all the food is a la carte except for breakfast. At lunch time, you can choose from full a la carte, a snack bar, customised pizzas, a barbeque or quesadillas at the beach bar. The quesadillas were my favourite option for lunch, delicious!

IMG_1574The beach bar

At dinner, you can choose from two a la carte restaurants, both of which serve similar menus. I enjoyed the food overall but it was hit and miss at times. I think this is more to do with Cuba and the supply of food being dodgy, rather than the hotel. Saying that, I’d avoid large pieces of chicken as these were rarely (excuse the pun) cooked.

You can also make a reservation with your butler (more about that later) to eat at one of the other restaurants at Memories Hotel next door. Although this adds a bit of variety, the food was very average in the Mexican restaurant that we visited.

IMG_1212Watching the sunset over dinner

Drinks

The drinks were much better than I expected and have experienced at other all-inclusives. Premium, imported spirits such as Bombay Sapphire and Jack Daniels, plus unlimited Champagne!

The cocktail selection was pretty good too, and they had a whole bar filled with different gins. Heaven.

Service

The service at this hotel is second to none. You’ll be assigned a butler, who will take care of your every need. Ana and Alexis were our butlers and nothing was too much trouble for them. Saying that, we were pretty low maintenance, only booking dinner reservations and the odd fruit platter delivery to our room.

The staff across the entire hotel are super friendly and helpful. They earn a pittance, especially given the hours they work, and so tips are much appreciated. We made sure to give out generous tips to everybody at the end of the trip. Other guests also took along soap and other toiletries for the staff; items that can cost a lot and be hard to get hold of in Cuba.

Trips

Two weeks of lazing around in the sun isn’t for everyone (certainly not my cup of tea) and so the hotel offers a number of tours, including snorkelling boat trips, trips to local towns and tours further afield to Trinidad and Havana.

I booked on to both the Trinidad and Sancti Spiritus and the Havana by plane day tours. Although short and sweet, I’d highly recommend both to get a taste of the real Cuba.

IMG_1265.JPGSancti Spiritus

IMG_1326Main square, Trinidad

My verdict

Overall, I’d definitely recommend the Royalton if you’re looking for a relaxing and luxurious beach holiday. The grounds, swimming pools, beach and staff are simply amazing. If you’re a real foodie, I’d say this place isn’t for you. The service was some of the best I’ve ever received and the staff really do make your stay very special.

Location: 4/5

Beach: 5/5

Hotel facilities: 5/5

Food: 3.5/5

Drinks: 4.5/5

Service: 5/5

Check out the Royalton website here:

http://royaltonresorts.com/royalton-cayo-santa-maria

Have you visited Cuba or a Royalton hotel? What did you think? Have you got any recommendations for luxurious all-inclusive hotels?