Stay at a Sustainable Boutique Resort in Aruba

If you are turned off by mega all-inclusive beach resorts, where thousands of people in their swimsuits wander from the breakfast buffet to the pool bar and back like vacationing zombies, you have come to the right blog site! When I travel, I look for places to stay that offer a peaceful atmosphere without sacrificing luxury. Manchebo Beach Resort and Spa is a gem I recently discovered on the island of Aruba, which is often brushed off as being too commercial.

Located away from the row of chain resorts, Manchebo is one of the oldest hotels in Aruba on the picturesque Eagle Beach, only 2.5 miles from downtown Oranjestad.

It was created by Dutch entrepreneur, Izaak “Ike” Cohen 50+ years ago, but looks almost brand new!

Balinese style spa

Wellness Focus

The oceanfront oasis promotes wellbeing through its daily offering of yoga and Pilates classes (by the beach) that are free for hotel guests. There is a beautifully designed spa constructed with teakwood imported from Bali. You can get a massage in one of the private cabanas overlooking the ocean and feel the sea breeze in your hair (it gets quite windy in Aruba).

Manchebo is one of the few resorts I have been to that offers carefully designed vegan menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I tried several vegan dishes during my stay and loved how flavorful, fresh and well incorporated they were. Vegan food here is not an afterthought to accommodate special dietary requests, rather a culinary lifestyle.

Vegan ceviche made with fresh lychee

Instead of cocktails on the beach, you can enjoy fresh fruit smoothies throughout the day. Made with local fruits like aloe, pineapple, papaya and mango, the blended drinks will keep you hydrated and healthy through your vacation.

Environment Consciousness

From the hotel’s electric cars (you can request airport transfers and drop offs in town), to using local products and Green Natura bathroom amenities, Manchebo is committed to operating in an eco-friendly manner and recipient of Green Globe’s Platinum Award. They also employ locals and track environmental impact as their sustainable tourism practice.

Relaxed atmosphere & perfect sunset viewing

The resort’s Green Team continues to support the environment and the community through means of sponsorship, supporting of local musical scholarships (there’s live music at the hotel almost every night), charitable fundraising, local school support, contributions to the Aruba Reef Care Project and Annual Coastal Clean-ups. Don’t be surprised to find nesting sea turtles on the hotel’s beach!

Manchebo Resort & Spa Aruba

Boutique Structure

There are only 72 rooms across 2-stories at Manchebo, which offers more privacy and great views of the Caribbean from practically everywhere. The rooms are modern and comfortable, yet also practical. Each room comes equipped with a microwave, mini refrigerator, beach towels and a picnic cooler so you can enjoy time on your balcony or the beach. Did I mention its pooch friendly too?

As if there weren’t enough reasons to book a stay at Manchebo, it also boasts the broadest beach in Aruba! Dushi, ha?

Make better choices when you travel. Stay at family-owner, sustainable and eco friendly resorts such as Manchebo Aruba.

Do You Know About This Mediterranean Island in Australia?

Until recently, my awareness of Tasmania was limited to the Hollywood movie – Lion. I envisioned it to be a cold, remote wet and dark place, with rough seas and bare mountains, leading on to Antarctica.

But I was absolutely wrong!

Tasmania feels a lot like the Mediterranean, because of its climate, scenery and produce.

Light lunch made with local ingredients at Prospect House

Located 150 miles south of mainland Australia, the state of Tasmania is similar in size to Ireland or Sri Lanka, and there are countless offshore islands. It’s true that Tasmania’s west coast is one of the wettest places in the world, but the eastern part lives in a rain-shadow. Hobart, the second-driest capital city in Australia, receives about half as much rain as Sydney.

At first glance, Hobart looks like a smaller version of Auckland, New Zealand. There are Victorian houses, English cottages with wrought iron balconies, a downtown with modern buildings overlooking the harbor, neat looking shops and restaurants along brick roads.

View of Hobart from my room at MACq01

There are lots of unique places to stay in Hobart. In the historic Hobart waterfront, MACq01 is a luxury hotel that looks like a shipyard from the outside, and a museum on the inside. Throughout the halls and across the walls of the hotel you’ll find engaging pieces of history, tales and fables that make up the remarkable history of Tasmania.

The Maylands Lodge is a 12-room heritage home located in the suburbs of Hobart, converted into an upscale hotel, with large suites overlooking a stunning garden. If you want the feeling of staying at an aristocratic home, where you can sit by the fireplace in a gorgeous living room, play a game of chess, or have a glass of whiskey after dinner, book yourself at Maylands.

View from my cabin at Freycinet Lodge

Freycinet Lodge was one of the most unique places I have stayed at. My wood cabin located inside the National Park, had amazing views of Richardson’s Beach, forest and wildlife. With all glass on the sides and roof, indoor fireplace, outdoor tub, it felt like a private and upscale log cabin. On a clear night, you can see some of the best starry skies in the world, right from Freycinet Lodge.

The food scene in Hobart is trendy. Because there’s a big university, you will find students packed in bakeries, ramen, kebab and dessert shops. Even the hotels serve excellent quality farm-fresh food. Tasmania is a small island, yet everyone has a backyard garden or a farm producing their own olives, fruits, nuts, wines and more. The waters are abundant in seafood, and Tasmanian wines and gins are rated some of the finest in the world.

Tasmanian Wild Seafood Adventures

I had quite a few unique experiences in Tasmania, one of which was a half-day tour on a catamaran to catch my own seafood. It was just me and two guys from Tasmanian Wild Seafood Adventures who dove in the ocean to catch mussels, oysters, periwinkles and more. They cooked a feast for me onboard!

Par Avion: Wineglass and Wildlife tour

Another adventure was flying on a 6-seater air plane over the breathtaking Freycinet Peninsula, Wineglass Bay, the seal colony of Ile Des Phoques, to Maria Island, where we landed among wild kangaroos and wombats. There was wine and seafood picnic spread in the national park, as well as free time to walk around and explore.

Lorraine and I taking a break at Pooley Wines

I also visited a couple of wineries and drove past a dozen of them in Tasmania. There are regular wine tours and tastings at Moorilla Estate, adjacent to

Outdoor art at MONA

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), one of the oldest vineyards on the island. I also made a stop at Pooley Wines to taste their light and refreshing Riesling and Chardonnay.

Lunch at The Agrarian Kitchen

One of the best meals I had in Tasmania was at The Agrarian Kitchen Eatery. The chef, who was teaching cooking classes from his home until recently, sources ingredients from a community of local growers, farmers and fishermen, as well as grows himself.

Fall colors in April

In April, leaves were turning colors and daytime temperature was in the 60Fs. Tasmania looked a lot like Tuscany in the Fall time.

Why Visit San Antonio Now?

Though the city is over 300 years old, in the past 5 years, San Antonio, Texas has had a major facelift. New developments in hotels, restaurants and events have made this city in the southern U.S. an attractive place for a family getaway. Here are a few reasons I discovered on a recent visit to San Antonio.

Hotel Emma lobby

There’s A Distillery Converted to a Luxury Hotel

If you love architecture, decor and a little funk, Hotel Emma is where you need to rest your head. Once a 19th century Brewhouse, the 146-room riverfront hotel incorporated some of the original machinery and stonework walls, balancing it Moorish chandeliers, modern and Southwestern furniture. Located at the newly developed mixed use space – The Pearl, the hotel is at the doorstep of chef-driven restaurants, trendy boutiques, green spaces and the Texas campus of the Culinary Institute of America. San Antonio’s first food hall and a popular weekend farmers market are also located here.

Mi Tierra bakery, bar and restaurant

San Antonio is a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy

With its confluence of cultures, San Antonio is one of only two cities in the country designated a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, honoring the city’s culinary history. This means, there are lots of local, family-run, and historic restaurants to eat at. Instrumental figures in obtaining the designation – Chef Johnny Hernandez (as seen on Food Network) has a dozen establishments; and Chef Elizabeth Johnson runs Pharm Table, a cozy cafe serving organic and vegan dishes. For delicious Tex-Mex in a vibrant setting, head to Mi Tierra; and enjoy the best pancakes and waffles in the gardens of an art nouveau-style home that was once home to the founders of Pioneer Flour Mills – The Guenther House.

Battle of Flowers parade at Fiesta San Antonio

There is a Lot of Fiesta

Forget Cinco de Mayo. Every April, San Antonio turns into a family-friendly cultural affair with over 100 events, including festive parades, patriotic observances, music concerts, lively fairs, creative culinary offerings and even, a pooch parade! Elaborate gowns are worn by Fiesta “royalty” and trading Fiesta medals is the norm in San Antonio during this unconventional festival.

Fiesta is a citywide celebration and involves all aspects of the community to organize, attend and host fundraisers. This year marked 127 years since the start of this annual party.

Mission San Jose

World Heritage Sites

Together, with The Alamo, San Antonio’s five historic missions form a UNESCO World Heritage site (the only one in Texas) and are the largest concentration of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America.

The complexes were built by Franciscan missionaries in the 18th century and illustrate the Spanish Crown’s efforts to colonize, evangelize and defend the northern frontier of New Spain. Here you can see archaeological sites, farmlands, residencies, churches and granaries, as well as water distribution systems.

Casa Rio restaurant at San Antonio riverwalk

A Historic Riverwalk Runs Through Downtown

The Riverwalk is the most popular tourist spot, with hotels, shops and restaurants located along the San Antonio river. Take a cruise with Go Rio to learn about the important structures located here, or rent out a dining boat for a party or proposal. Grab a drink at The Esquire – the oldest bar on the San Antonio Riverwalk (1933), or tacos and margaritas at Casa Rio – the first restaurant to open on the Riverwalk (1946) and still in the same family. The Riverwalk is especially crowded on weekends, when local vendors set up shops along the banks, selling handmade arts, crafts, jewelry and unique items.

What originally started as a project to help alleviate the Great Depression, was later guided by engineers from Disneyland, and became the central hub for visitors to San Antonio.

How To Rock a Baby Wombat

If you have read some of my earlier posts, you would know that I am a huge proponent of wildlife conservation. So when I had a chance to see kangaroos, wombats and Tasmanian devils up close, I was more excited than a kid!

The famous Tasmanian devil makes loud and disturbing screeching sounds

The island of Tasmania is located southeast of mainland Australia and the last landmass before Antarctica. Only half a million people live on the island, but there are a decent amount of visitors. The island is, however, abundant in wildlife. Tasmania is home to an incredible variety of animals, including four marsupial species that are now found nowhere else in the world. These are the Tasmanian devil, the eastern quoll, the Tasmanian pademelon and the shy Tasmanian bettong. There are also 12 endemic bird species in the state, some of which are among the most endangered in the world.

Located only a few minutes outside the city of Hobart is Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary, a privately run and Tasmania’s largest 24/7 Wildlife Rescue Service and sanctuary where you can view many endangered native wildlife and take guided educational tours. Bonorong is not a zoo, as their animals are generally rescued, rehabilitated and released back in the wild. They also built Tasmania’s first Wildlife Hospital in 2018.

You never know what you will see at Bonorong. These are rescued animals, so most of them are not permanent visitors. Wombats, devils, quolls, native birds, koalas, lizards, snakes, kangaroos and emus – are some of the animals you are likely to encounter.

Only a professional like Randall knows how to handle a spiky echidna

During my recent visit, knowledge keeper, Randall, took me on a personal tour to meet Tasmanian devils, a wombat, and echidna. He fed the animals and told me their names and rescue stories – how a female devil was blind, an echidna who had a rare disease and the 18-month old wombat was separated from her mom. This was the only place in Australia I got to see the famous Tasmanian devils, so it was really special!

Isn’t this wombat the cutest thing you have seen?

I had seen wombats in the wild before, but here I cuddled a young female called Millie. She even went belly-up like a puppy right next to me!

The kangaroos are not afraid and will eat off your hands!

Families could walk around among kangaroos, and take as many pictures as they liked.

Bonorong offers public and private tours where you can learn about the animals, feed them, and walk around for up to 3 hours. The night tours are really interesting as many of the animals are nocturnal. All of the money raised through tickets and experiences goes towards maintaining the sanctuary.

Individuals and groups interested in wildlife rescue, animal husbandry, or manual tasks are also welcome to volunteer at Bonorong.

Can Travel Stories Put You To Sleep?

If you are a light sleeper like me, changing hotels across time zones probably disrupts your sleep patterns more than anything else. I always carry my own TempurPedic pillow with me when I am traveling (even though it takes up 1/4 of my suitcase). But now, there’s another sleep-aid I am packing with me, and it takes up no space at all!

Did you know? 1 in 4 Americans suffer from insomnia according to Calm’s extensive research on sleep.

I downloaded the Calm App based on friends’ recommendations and discovered a spectrum of stories, music and guided meditations to help fall asleep.

One of the writers/ narrators is Phoebe Smith, a British adventurer who writes about travel and extreme sleep expeditions. Think dangling from a cliff, on a glacier or in a tree trunk! She was named the world’s first Sleep Storyteller in Residence for Calm.

Image source PhoebeSmith.com

Smith describes the places she travels to in a slow pace, guiding listeners through the sounds and sights, transporting you to the busy medinas of Morocco, cedar forests of North Africa, and the lavender fields in southern France.

Soothing voices of Matthew McConaughey and Stephen Fry narrate some of these sleep stories for grown-ups.

When I first listened to Smith’s story on the Calm App, I didn’t fall asleep right away. In fact, I enjoyed the art of simply laying there in bed and listening in the dark. We are often trying to multi-task during the day – watching tv while eating dinner, driving and listening to music, writing emails while conversing with family. I consciously set aside some time to listen, image and fall asleep using the App as an aid.

Image source Calm.com

I wasn’t successful the first time as my mind wandered through the markets in Marrakech long after Smith’s story had ended. But after listening to a few sleep stories, I am beginning to fall in and out a deep sense of relaxation.

Did you know that Washington, DC is US Insomnia Capital, and that New York is now the city that sleeps like a log?

Most people today try to fall asleep by watching TV or browsing on social media on their smart phones, but the Calm App provides a great alternate to using technology to help slow down.

The Calm app provides scientific based innovative audio content and techniques that is evolving to tackle some of the biggest mental health challenges of today: stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.

Here are Phoebe’s Sleep Stories featured on Calm. A new story is added each month.

• Blue Gold – narrated by Stephen Fry – A calming journey through the lavender fields and sleepy villages of Provence.

• Elephants of Nepal – narrated by Joanna Lumley – Relax and unwind on a scenic safari in Chitwan National Park, guided by an elephant.

• Morocco’s Hidden Forest – the first of Phoebe Smith’s stories to be narrated by her – Phoebe Smith describes her own experience of sleeping wild in the hidden cedar forests of Morocco.

• The Trans-Siberian Railroad – narrated by Erik Braa – Traveling to the farthest reaches of Northern Russia, to take a trip on the longest train ride in the world.

• Once Upon a Time in Bavaria – narrated by Anna Acton – An enchanting meander through a Bavarian forest to find the most famous fairy-tale castle in the world.

• The River Wild – narrated by Erik Braa – Traveling the famous Mississippi River from sea to source.

• The Orient Express – narrated by Erik Braa – A journey through Europe’s majestic mountains and rolling countryside aboard the historic Orient Express.

• Wild Sweden – narrated by Alan Sklar – Immersing travel into the wilderness of Sweden’s tranquil forests and fascinating wildlife.

• The Wild Ponies of Chincoteague – narrated by Alan Sklar – Travel to the tranquil eastern shores of Virginia and explore the legend behind the famed four-legged residents.

• The Jungles of Madagascar – narrated by Larry Davis – Joining a friendly pack of lemurs to explore the sleepy jungles and wildlife wonders from the African island.

• A Calm Christmas – narrated by Stephen Lyons – A heart felt magical journey of a young Christmas tree called Douglas who helps a family rediscover their holiday spirit.

• A Love Letter to Africa – narrated by Danai Gurira – Celebrating Calm’s partnership with the RED charity with a journey through Africa to experience the beautiful landscape and dream inducing sunsets.

• An Australian Adventure – narrated by Bindi Irwin – An enchanting adventure from rainforest to reef, exploring tropical Queensland.

• Reunion Island – narrated by Aurora De Blas – Exploring the volcanic island known as Reunion, Europe’s most easterly and far-flung outpost, and the island paradise you’ve never heard of…

• Scotland’s Hidden Hideaways – narrated by May Charters – A wander through Scotland’s craggy mountains and tranquil lakes, to discover the magic of the bothies.

• Crossing Australia By Train – narrated by Steen Bojsen-Møller -Cosy up aboard The Ghan, one of Australia’s most historic railways, as you take in the breath-taking scenery of the land down under.

• Stargazing on Stewart Island, New Zealand – narrated by Alan Sklar- Embark on a magical trip Down-Under to explore the colorful cosmos from breathtaking Stewart Island.

Image source News On Screen

Calm.com is the #1 app for meditation and sleep, with over 37 million downloads to date. Perhaps it will help you fall asleep as well on this World Sleep Day. The annual event is organized by the World Sleep Day Committee of World Sleep Society (founded by WASM and WSF) and aims to lessen the burden of sleep problems on society through better prevention and management of sleep disorders. World Sleep Day is held the Friday before Spring Vernal Equinox of each year. 

Share a comment below: What is the most unique place you have slept in? For me, it was the ice hotel in Quebec!

Travel Abroad With These Women-Owned Tour Companies

As we celebrate International Women’s Day, I want to especially recognize women in travel.

Travel is a powerful tool that helps women become independent, gain self-confidence, empower, be economically and socially impactful. Over the years, I have met countless women who worked in the tourism ministry, as travel agents, tour guides, and more. Here are some inspiring women that I met who are successful travel entrepreneurs.

Kelly Campbell relaxing on her dow in Lamu, Kenya

Kelly Campbell, Kenya

Kelly Campbell is a native of Indiana and founder of The Village Experience, a responsible tourism company. Kelly travels year-round taking groups of people to fund projects in Kenya, India, Egypt, Morocco and Guatemala, improving the lives of women and children, and providing water to remote villages.

I stayed with Kelly at her charming house in Lamu, Kenya, where she has been living since 2016. After spending a few days with Kelly, I really feel she spends every single waking minute thinking about other people. Her tour guides, personal chef, dow boat operator, hotel owners – everyone seems to have been impacted by Kelly at some point.

Read How This American Woman is Changing Lives

Veselka and I having dinner in Split

Veselka Huljic, Croatia

Veselka and I bonded instantly when we first met at a travel show in New York. But it was over a glass (or few glasses) of Dalmatian wine and delicious pasta in Split, Croatia, that we shared more personal details about our lives.

Like me, Veselka quit her corporate job so she could be her own boss and spend time doing what she was passionate about. Veselka founded an adventure tour company – AndAdventure Croatia, which focuses on biking, water sports, wine and culinary travel across Croatia.

Read Charming Small Towns in Croatia

Ramona at a view point in Transylvania

Ramona Cazacu, Romania

In her 30’s, Ramona was tired of her desk job. She enjoyed being outdoors, hiking through Romani’s countryside, chatting with locals, and introducing travelers to her native country. Her ability to speak many languages since she was a kid helped her create MyRomania, a tour company that specializes in creating authentic family-friendly experiences.

Soon, Ramona’s husband quit his job too and joined the business. They moved into their parent’s home in one of the villages, where they bring up their 2 kids. Ramona is one of the friendliest people I met during my travels and it seemed that everyone knew her wherever we went in Romania.

Read Why Romania Should be on Your Travel List

Justa at a spice farm in Zanzibar

Justa Lujwangana, Tanzania

Justa Lujwangana is from Tanzania and lives in New York. She worked in the healthcare business before pursuing her passion for dance and travel. Starting with just a Meetup group she called Curious on Tanzania (COT), she went on to form an experiential travel company offering tours to Tanzania.

During the trip, you will stay at Justa’s family home in Dar es Salaam, eating home cooked meals, attending Sunday mass in her neighborhood, meeting her friends, and learning the Tanzanian way of life.

Read more about my experience in Tanzania with COT.V

Khishigjargal walking on the sand dunes in the Gobi Desert

Khishigjargal Dorjderem, Mongolia

Khishigjargal has lived and studied abroad, speaks multiple languages, and runs Voyage Unique Mongolie, a customized travel company operating in Mongolia. As her personal guest, Khishigjargal and her husband drove me around the country for a week, making me feel as if I was on a trip with friends, rather than tour guides. We would drive through the barren Mongolian countryside for 8 hours a day and still have so much to talk about!

If you are looking to experience a nomadic life, walk in the Gobi Desert, or witness the historic Naadam Festival, Khishigjargal is your gal!

Read more about my travels to Mongolia

Divya riding a shikara at Dal Lake, Srinagar

Divya Pahwa, India

I met Divya Pahwa through friends of friends, as I was looking for a partner agency to organize Go Eat Give trip to India. Divya grew up traveling all over India and was always interested in travel. She worked in a Delhi based tour agency before starting her own travel agency – Explorer’s Travel Boutique. She has a team that oversees everything from Indian weddings and corporate travel to individual and group travels all over the world. Her entire business is based on word of mouth referrals.

While traveling with Divya (we were recently in Kashmir), I could see that Divya works non-stop, answering her phone at every hour of the day, and addressing to the smallest client request herself.

Veronika, founder of Aroha Tours

Veronika Vermeulen, New Zealand

Born and raised in Germany, Veronika fell in love with everything about New Zealand, so much that she moved there and opened a luxury tour company – Aroha Tours. She loves the Māori culture, landscapes, nature, culture, wine and all that the country offers. She is married to a dairy farmer and lives on a 600 hector farm with 1200 milking cows.

Veronika and I have not met in person as yet, but I’m looking forward to traveling with her around New Zealand this November.

Go Eat Give will often refer to or partner with these women to book your customized tours to the countries they specialize in. By supporting other women in travel, we commit to have a long lasting impact in the communities we visit, and show you the very best of the local hospitality.

How The Maltese Carnival Evolved Over 500 Years

When you think of the word “Carnival” you probably have an image of people dressed in lavish costumes parading the street, or merrymakers on giant colorful floats. But did you know carnival actually means “free to eat meat?”

The term refers to the dietary freedom one had before entering the season of Lent. Christians observe fasts, sacrifice meat and do more charity during the 40 days until Easter.

On the island of Malta in the Mediterranean, Carnival celebrations started in the late 15th century. They began celebrations soon after Christmas, because the government subsidized the price of meat for festivities.

Scenic view of Malta

During the sixteen century (1519-62), the Knights of Saint John arrived in Malta, bringing with them a more sophisticated approach to carnival. Different kinds of cheese, lasagne, veal, wine and macaroni were added to the Carnival buffets.

The Italian Knights also introduced new customs of wearing masks. They would disguise their lovers and mistresses in men’s costumes and masks, so they could party with the women.

Maltese kids dressed as Knights

The Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John was not too happy with the way Carnival was celebrated, and prohibited wearing masks and cross dressing. Instead he introduced military tournaments, which he considered to be “more Knightly.”

Often times, there were multiple Carnivals held during the year. These were not associated with Lent, but more of a feast before going to war.

Saint John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta

Carnivals were also cancelled by the church if there was a robbery or a death. The church had their special inquisitors at the parties who would report the knights’ boisterous behaviors.

From the mid-18th century, Carnival began to look like as we know of it today. There were balls that lasted through the night. No one was allowed to leave until the break of dawn for security concerns.

The Italian Knights introduces Il kukkanja (the cockaigne), where men would climb a greasy pole to win rewards. This was quite a public spectacle but people lost their lives, so it was stopped. In the recent years it’s been reintroduced with many safety related controls such as nets and padding to prevent accidents.

During this period, Carnival floats were introduced and the first documented evidence shows a float with a scene in a hospital. 

The entire city of Valletta is a UNESCO Heritage Site

Until 30 years ago, children were not allowed to participate in the Carnival.

Now, all generations participate and the Carnival is a significant part of Maltese culture. It is not only a period to celebrate with food, dance, music, but also to express one’s political views. There are dance competition, parades of floats, war reenactments and comedy plays.

Kids in the streets of Valletta

Family and friends roam the streets of Valletta and Gozo, dressed in costumes (think of Halloween), munching on typical carnival sweets such as perlini (sugar coasted almonds) and prinjolata (carnival cake). Almost everyone participates in some form – dancing in groups, choreographing routines, sewing costumes, parading, creating Papier-mâché floats, operating machinery, selling candy and more!

Dance competition at St George’s square

The Maltese Carnival is a lively family-friendly affair that you need to check out at least once.

A Secret Way to the Top of Table Mountain

Table Mountain is possibly the number one destination for travelers visiting Cape Town, South Africa. The prominent landmark consisting of approx. 500 million year old rocks, forms a dramatic backdrop to the city.

Most people take the aerial cableway to the top of Table Mountain, which offers spectacular views of jagged rocks, bare vegetation, and the city below. Once you reach the viewpoint, plan to spend an hour walking around to see as far out as Cape of Good Hope in the south, Devil’s Peak in the east, and Lion’s Head to the west. Buy tickets in advance, though also note that the aerial cableway is closed when there’s adverse weather, high winds or needs maintenance. On busy summer days, the lines can be very long and the visit may take an entire day, if not a better part of it.

Sunset is the best time to be on top of Table Mountain and local residents can get tickets for half off.

When I was in Cape Town in late December, I was stuck in traffic to get to the entrance of the park, it took about an hour in the line to get to the cable car (with advance tickets), and 2 hours to get back down. There was one restaurant on top, but I couldn’t get anything to eat or drink, because the lines took forever.

Another way to explore Table Mountain is by hiking, and the Platteklip Gorge trail is the most direct and popular trail up the mountain. It normally takes 2 hours each way. Some areas can be slippery and steep. In summer, this may be strenuous as the sun is quite strong and there aren’t many trees. You must carry lots of water, walking poles, some granola bars, hat and sunscreen.

The best way to see Table Mountain is a private wine safari. I met with my Durbanville Hills Table Mountain Wine Safari Guide, Henri Bruce, at the SANParks Table Mountain office, and we rode in his open safari jeep straight past the lines, unlocking barriers marked as no private entry, and driving through the winding rugged paths through the mountain. On the scenic drive, Henri pointed out the different shrubs and flowers indigenous to the mountain, and shared interesting stories of his many hikes. We stopped to take photos of sparkling fynbos trees and vibrant protea flowers, as well as False Bay, and the beaches dotting Cape Town below us.

Once we reached Devil’s Peak, we got off the vehicle and went for a walk around the block house and historic cannons. Meanwhile, Henri set up a picnic table with different kinds of cheese, fresh fruits, and cold cuts, accompanied by a selection of Durbanville Hills wines.

We spent about 3 hours wine tasting, talking about travel, and enjoying the infinite scenery, while an occasional hiker or two would walk past, perhaps a little jealous of how relaxed we were, while they still had the afternoon sun ahead. It also gets quite windy midday on top of the mountain, so make sure to bring a jacket.

After a beautiful day, Henri dropped us at the Cape Grace Hotel for a wine tasting at the bar, and a scrumptious dinner at Signal restaurant.

The experience can be booked through the concierge desk at Cape Grace Hotel, a charming family-owned boutique hotel located at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, or directly through Durbanville Hills.

Ten percent of all proceeds are donated to South African National Parks (SANParks) for the conservation and general upkeep of South Africa’s national parks.

Where to Sustainably See Wildlife in South Africa

Seeing wildlife in South Africa may be on top of your bucket list, or just one of the things in your itinerary. During my recent visit, I felt there were more places to see wildlife in South Africa, than anywhere else in the world. The reason being there are not just one or two national parks, there are countless reserves, safaris, game ranches, sanctuaries, farms, and more.

Perhaps you aren’t aware that many travelers go to South Africa for hunting and poaching as well. South Africa is one of the few countries in the world that allows private ownership of wild animals, so game ranching is a big industry. A simple google search will show you how many companies offer “trophy hunting” packages where you can select an animal to kill and bring back home. Many of them will claim that you are helping “conserve wildlife” by hunting the animals outside the parks that would otherwise harm agricultural land (which is usually not true). One such website offers an all-inclusive package of 1 x Impala, 1 x Blesbuck, 1 x Zebra, 1 x Redhartebeest, 1 x Warthog for only $5,000! Others, offer killing elephants, lions, leopards, hippos, and crocodiles. Sadly, majority of these hunters come from the US.

From Ash Adventure’s website

What I know is most of these animals are not really wild. They are the ones you have pet at so called “sanctuaries” that offer wildlife encounters (touching a lion, feeding a cub, walking with cheetahs, etc), even volunteer vacations taking care of animals. Therefore, the animals are attuned to humans. When they are released in a restricted area with a hunter, they don’t run away, and end up being killed rather easily.

So, if you want to see the Big 5, the best thing to do is see them in their natural habitats, which is mainly at Kruger National Park in South Africa, though there are a few other national parks where you can spot wildlife too.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money going on a safari, or perhaps are traveling with young kids who won’t appreciate being in the wild, there are other options to see wildlife in South Africa sustainably.

African penguins at Boulder Beach, South Africa

Penguins at Boulder Beach

Watch African penguins at Boulder Beach near Simon’s Town, about an hour south of Cape Town. This beachfront penguin colony resides in the Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area. You can kayak around the beach or watch them breed, swim, and moult from wheelchair friendly boardwalks. When I was there in late December, I saw lots of babies! Admission: $5 adults; $3 kids

White lion at Panthera Africa

Big Cats at Panthera Africa

See white lions, Bengal tigers, leopards, cheetahs, caracals and more at this sanctuary. Panthera Africa rescues captive bred big cats from private homes, circuses, game ranches and other places. The nonprofit’s mission is to allow the cats to spend the rest of their lives abuse free. They have plenty of space to roam, playtime and food. But unlike other “cat sanctuaries,” you can only visit Panthera for couple of hours a day, and won’t have any physical contact with the animals. Admission: $14 adults; $10 kids

African Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Elephants at Knysna Elephant Park

Here too you can see rescued orphaned elephants that are mostly sent on to private reserves to live out their lives. Advance reservations are needed for a guided visit where you will be briefly allowed to touch and feed an African elephant. The Knysna Elephant Park is a good place to learn about elephants, but if you want to see them in their natural habitat, go to Addo Elephant Park in the Eastern Cape. Admission: $23 adults; $12 kids; Free for under 5

Lunchtime in Monkeyland

Monkeys at Monkeyland Primate Sanctuary

Monkeyland is possibly the worlds first free roaming multi-specie primate sanctuary, located in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. You will get up close with lemurs, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, capuchins and gibbons. You walk through a jungle-like setting through a thick canopy of trees and a hanging bridge, while the monkeys go about doing their daily business, oblivious to humans. The best part is seeing all different species of monkeys come together over the dinner table! Please do not touch the monkeys. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Exotic Birds at Birds of Eden Free Flight Sanctuary

This is most beautiful bird sanctuary I have visited anywhere in the world! You can easily spend an entire day walking through 2 hectares of trails with different habitats. Birds of Eden is home to over 3,500 birds of over 220 species, with the main focus being African birds. Most of these are rescued caged birds that have only lived in small spaces and some are very friendly with humans. However, they go through a rehabilitation program where they relearn to fly, build flight muscles, and socialize with other birds. Admission: $19 adults; $10 kids; Get a discount when booking two or more sanctuaries.

Victims of lion bone trading displayed at Panthera

Please keep in mind that when you are visiting a fake sanctuary, petting a wild animal, purchasing animal products (such as zebra skin, tiger bones or ivory jewelry), or keeping wild animals as pets, you are directly and indirectly involved in the exploitation of wildlife.

To learn more about volunteering with animals in South Africa and big cat conservation, watch my interview with Panthera.

How To Celebrate Christmas in Innsbruck

When you think of Christmas, you probably picture brilliantly white snow falling on fir trees; people wearing woolen mittens holding steaming cups of hot chocolate, and little kids screaming with excitement as they watch Santa bring a bag full of surprises. You can see their little faces light up as they open up their presents and discover something awesome. They might be getting a new toy for Christmas like a fluffy teddy, or for the more older child, they might be getting a cooler gadget type toy. If you are stuck on what to get your son, then take a look at this page here for more inspiration (you can check this out here). Hopefully, your kid will be able to tell you what they want, although it probably doesn’t matter, as they’ll just be happy to see Santa! This is the very Christmasy feeling you get when you travel to Innsbruck, Austria – the capital of the Alps.

The small city located near the border of Germany and Italy transforms into a winter wonderland through the month of December. There are lots of events taking place so make sure to check the calendar and plan your trip accordingly. Starting mid November, there are advent and Christmas concerts, a Christmas flea market, brass music on the tower. The best part is, most of these are free and open to public.

Here are some ways you can get into the Christmas spirit in Innsbruck…

Shop at The Christmas Markets

This was my first time at a Christmas market in Europe and I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of families (mostly Italians) in town enjoying simple pleasures. While we in US focus mostly on shopping for presents at big name brands during the holiday season, the people at the Christmas market at Marktplatz were strolling through the decorated squares, sipping on gluhwein (mulled wine), eating cheesy raclette toast, roasted chestnuts and kiachl (fried donuts).

The market in Maria-Theresien-Strasse sold unique Christmas ornaments, little village scenes, handmade woolens, candles, statues, woodwork, candy, cards and so much more. I felt a gift bought here would be a lot more meaningful than from the mall!

Watch The Krampus Parade

Prior to visiting Innsbruck, I did not know much about the tradition of krampus – which apparently has been around for a couple of hundred years in western Europe. In olden times, the Catholic church used the mythological figure (half goat, half demon) to scare kids so they behave well. Men would dress up as krampus and beat up the naughty kids while Santa would bring gifts to the nice ones (naughty or nice, get it?).

Little did I know that I had been a bad girl this year because I was beaten up by many devils in the town of Igls this year! I arrived at the annual krampus parade as an innocent spectator taking videos of the masked devils riding their chariots lit with fire. But then some of these devils pulled adults and kids from the crowd and whipped them with their brooms and sticks. Yes it hurt, and by the time the fourth guy headed my way, I ran for the bus back to my hotel.

Though scary, it was an experience hanging out with locals who brought their little kids to watch the parade. Even the young ones went along with the whippings as it is just a part of tradition.

Stroll Through Swarovski Crystal Worlds

Located just outside the city is a magical Christmas themed garden with lighted figures. Also, the new poetic garden features a unique Crystal Cloud made from 800,000 hand-mounted and enchanted floating crystals – pictures don’t do justice to the glistening reflections!

Being a Swarovski fan, I also enjoyed visiting the museum that tells the story of the family (who was from Bohemia which is now in Czech Republic), and displays some of the most famous gowns and jewels that bestowed celebrities on red carpets. Also, there is the largest Swarovski store I have ever seen selling crystals ranging from $50-50,000. There’s no way you can walk out empty handed from here.

Brunch with a View

If you are dreaming of a white Christmas, you will definitely get it in Innsbruck. Just take the Nordketten cable car to Seegrube, where you will find some of the best ski slopes in the Alps. I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the majestic Stubai glacier as I enjoyed my first snowfall of the season. Many locals hike up the mountain, grab a delicious lunch at Seegrube Restaurant, and then take the cable car back down.

Another popular option for Sunday brunch is Restaurant Bergisel SKY (make reservations in advance) overlooking the famous Olympic Bergisel Ski Jump. Perched above the city, the glass enclosed restaurant has some of the best views of Innsbruck and the surrounding mountains.

In the mood for Christmas already? Then head to Innsbruck, Austria and enjoy the special season! I would recommend staying at least two days to enjoy the festivities, and longer if you like winter sports like skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing, or winter hiking.