Istanbul, Turkey - One City, Two Continents, A World of Culture

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Contributor:
Andy Marty

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual
Family

 

Destination: Istanbul, Turkey. April 2018

Inspiration:

I had visited Istanbul around 5 years ago and loved the unique culture, architecture and atmosphere of the city. This time I had the opportunity to take a group of Dubai based social media personalities to experience Istanbul as part of The Travel Hub's curated travel.

Getting There:

We were very fortunate to be looked after by flydubai and flew Business Class from Dubai to Sabiha Gocken (SAW) airport.  Often, the business class option with flydubai is comparable to the economy class fare on other airlines, meaning you can enjoy all the perks and comforts of business class without blowing your travel budget just getting there! The list of destinations offered by flydubai seems to grow every month, to learn more, check out the review on our website (click here).

There are 2 international airports in Istanbul, Attaturk and Sabiha Gocken. It is important to know which one you're flying in and out of, because quite literally Attaturk is in Europe and Sabiha Gocken is in Asia! Both are a little way out of the main area of Istanbul. Hotels will often provide an airport transfer or this can be arranged through your booking. Both our hotels provided transfers which saved any need for searching for options close to flying. Otherwise, we found Uber to work really well in Istanbul - cheap, efficient and clean. I would definitely use Uber in preference over the local taxis, which were for the most part rude and lazy. The Ubers are often actually quite luxurious - large vans with leather interior!

Local Knowledge:

Often when you travel, it helps to have certain things on the ground looked after for you. We used a service run by Istanbul Tourist Pass to assist in a lot of the logistical details during our visit. The website and app based platform provides a number of services that will make your visit to Istanbul easier and save you money. 

Staying connected online was an important feature for our group and we were provided with a portable "dongle" that provided unlimited wireless internet for multiple devices. Whether you're using this for social media, keeping in contact or simply searching for somewhere to eat nearby, having internet access is becoming essential for modern travel.

The pass also allowed priority access to things such as boarding the hop-on-hop-off Bosphorus cruise, which can be a huge advantage during busy months when these can get crowded. Similarly, we booked our guided tours of Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace and Basilica Cistern through Istanbul Tourist Pass and our private guide provided priority access, avoiding the lengthy queues and saving us hours of waiting in lines.

Istanbul Tourist Pass is an easy way to plan your your activities in Istanbul as well as a great way to save money if you're looking at experiencing a number of the attractions! 

Where To Stay:

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet: (map)
We spent the first 2 nights in the Sultanahmet neighbourhood, staying at Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet. This property was opened in 2017 and is stunningly appointed in traditional Ottoman design, which really sets the atmosphere for where you are staying. The interior has been expertly handcrafted and the detail of the workmanship is an impressive feature.

The rooms are beautifully furnished and the bathrooms in particular are themselves an "instagrammable" highlight, with each having a unique Ottoman mosaic. If you are really looking to indulge, there is a glamorous Sultan suite that takes luxury to the next level. Your booking will even include private use of a Bentley chauffeur during your stay.

Ajwa has just opened the first of its neighbourhood apartments which provide a wonderful alternative to staying in a traditional hotel. The 4 bedroom apartments can be shared amongst a group or a family and have features including a small "winter garden", private Hammam and your own kitchen facilities which can come with staff.

The breakfast at Ajwa Hotel is a wonderful selection of traditional regional cuisine and in the evening you can dine at the Azerbaijan inspired Zefaran Restaurant. The food is richly traditional and the view back over the Sultanahmet area creates the perfect atmosphere.

The Afiya Spa is the ideal opportunity to enjoy a traditional Turkish Hammam, so after a day wandering through the Grand Bazaar you can return and be fully refreshed ready for your next day of exploring the cultural sights. 

Perhaps one of the best features of this stunning property is its location within Istanbul's most popular tourist area - Sultanahmet. It is one of few hotels providing 5 star luxury in this more traditional neighbourhood. The convenience of being able to walk straight from the hotel doorsteps, through the colourful streets and a short distance to the iconic Blue Mosque & Hagia Sophia is a wonderful convenience.

Park Hyatt Istanbul - Macka Palas: (map)
We then stayed 2 nights at the Park Hyatt Istanbul, which is located in the heart of modern Istanbul, close to the trendy shopping and dining areas The hotel is everything you come to expect from a Park Hyatt property, with beautifully appointed rooms that are much larger than what you will find in most hotels. 

There is a rooftop pool and bar that is an oasis in the city, especially during the warmer months. The perfect place to relax and enjoy a poolside drink. The fitness centre is excellent if you are a traveller who likes to maintain their healthy lifestyle.

To upscale your stay at the Park Hyatt, you can consider the Presidential suite, which is more like an apartment than a hotel room. In addition to the stunning bedrooms, there is an upstairs sunroom perfect for unwinding with a good book and a large balcony with stunning views back over the iconic Bosphorus.

The breakfast at the Park Hyatt is something to absolutely ensure that you have included in your booking! You have the availability of a buffet breakfast along with selections from the menu including a variety of egg options, pancakes and local favourites such as Kuvurma & Menemen. 

A feature we found in both the Ajwa and Park Hyatt hotels was the staff were incredibly warm, friendly and accomodating. If you are visiting Istanbul for a 4 or more days, I would definitely recommend staying a couple of nights in Sultanahmet and then a couple of nights closer to Taksim. This allows the perfect opportunity to explore the best areas of Istanbul. I couldn't recommend these 2 hotels more highly based not just on the quality of the rooms, but also on the service they provide!

What To Do:

You can essentially separate Istanbul into different neighbourhoods and devote time to visiting each of these separately when travelling to the city.

Sultanahmet: (map)

My favourite area to explore in Istanbul is without doubt the "old" area known as Sultanahmet. It is here that much of the historically and culturally significant buildings can be found, but also where you will find a lot of the authentic places to eat, shop and just generally explore! A huge benefit of staying at the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet was the ease of walking from the hotel to any often highlights around this neighbourhood. Even the streets themselves are entertaining to wander through with camera in hand.

The Grand Bazaar (map) is an enormous traditional market with over 3,000 shops. You can buy almost anything here for a price that you will agree upon with the storekeeper. They are far more experienced with bargaining than you, but its entertaining to test your skills. You can definitely find great quality and good deals if you know what you want and have the time to wander through. Be aware the Bazaar is closed on Sundays and public holidays! Its opening hours are 8:30am to 7:00pm. We bought small souvenir bracelets, plates and scarves at a relatively cheap price. You can wander through most of the Bazaar in under 2-3 hours.

There is another small Bazaar close to the Blue Mosque - Arasta Bazaar (map), which is nice to walk through. It has several of the similar style of shops as the Grand Bazaar and Spice Bazaar but on a far smaller scale. If you dont like crowds, this might be more appealing.

Not far from the Grand Bazaar is the Spice Bazaar (map) and this is the place to do some gift shopping! You can buy all variety of Turkish sweets (Turkish delight, baklava, nuts, dried fruits), a huge range of spices and every sort of tea you can imagine. Again, the price you pay will come down to your bargaining skills, so you dont have to settle on the first offer! It will take you less than an hour to wander through the straight Spice Bazaar.

We used a guide arranged through Istanbul Tourist Pass to take us through the main historical buildings of Sultanahmet. Even if you normally like to explore places yourself, I found having a tour guide around Sultanahmet really helpful. Firstly the history is quite complex and involves several different phases. Secondly, it saves a large amount of time being able to fastback the queues and know what areas of these very large buildings to visit. 

First we went to Topkapi Palace (map) - now a museum, it was once the residence and headquarters for the Ottoman Empire. The details of how the Sultan of the time lived during the Ottoman time is fascinating, as is the evolution of this role through history. The Palace is divided into distinct areas that at one time, separated different the classes. It is interesting to learn about the history and relationships of the Sultan, his family, associates and workers who all lived in the Palace. Much of the Palace is now a museum, containing a huge number of mostly Ottoman and Islamic artefacts. Entry is L40 and opening hours are 9am to 6:45 (April-Oct) 4:45 (Nov-March).

The Basilica Cistern (map) is an impressive underground chamber built in 532 during the Byzantine Empire. It was used to store water that was delivered via aqueducts, supplying the Great Palace. When the Byzantine vacated the Great Palace, the cistern was closed and forgotten about for centuries to the point nobody in Istanbul knew it existed. In 1545, it was rediscovered when rumours of people collecting water and even catching fish from their basement lead researchers to locate the huge chamber. The symmetrical marble columns are impressive, as is the feeling of walking through the dripping chamber on a hot day in Istanbul. There are currently restoration works being done and the water has been drained from the majority of the cistern, leaving a uniquely exposed floor. Normally the floor is covered in water and you may recognise it from the scenes in the movie Inferno. Entry is L20 and opening hours are 9am to 6pm. The lighting inside the cistern is very dull, so look to use long exposure settings on your camera to create striking images (especially if the ground is full of water),

The Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) (map) is one of the most fascinating buildings in the world, let alone in Istanbul. Not only due to the architectural brilliance, but also because of the story it tells in relation to Istanbul as a city. Commissioned as a Church in 537 by the Byzantines, it became a mosque in 1453 during the Ottoman rule and since 1935, has been a museum. It is one of the only places in the world where you will see elements of Christian and Islamic design, artwork and traditions co-exist in the same building. Many of the original Christian mosaics have been painstakingly restored and this work continues, at considerable expense. Opening hours are 9am to 6pm (April to Oct) & 4pm (Nov to March), entry is L40 for adults.

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Unfortunately, the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmed Mosque) (map) was closed inside for restorations when we visited Istanbul, so we could only see it from the outside. At most times, you are allowed to enter and do a tour inside the Blue Mosque (outside of prayer times unless you are there to pray). It is one of those buildings, that you can get so many different perspectives from different places and it can look quite different depending on the time of day. We even found a small carpet shop that allowed us to take photos from their rooftop terrace which offered a really unique view of the Blue Mosque. See below for my favourite places to view/photograph the Blue Mosque.

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Probably my favourite place in all of Istanbul is the area between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - Sultanahmet Park (map). Especially on a warm spring day, there is a wonderful atmosphere with so many people coming to spend time there. Street food vendors selling Simit and roast corn on the cob, the fountains going and the gardens full of colour........all that between 2 of the most impressive buildings. On the East side are some restaurants and a traditional Turkish Hammam, Ayasofya Sultan Hammam (map). If you're looking for somewhere to have lunch, try Mihri Restaurant (map) at the North of the Hammam an get the Pide!

Taksim & Istiklal Caddesi:

In contrast to the "Old Town" of Sultanahmet, the area around Taksim Square is much more modern - everything from the architecture to the atmosphere. Taksim Square (map) is a large area that itself is relatively unflattering. It can be the site where people congregate for political rallies, football games etc. However the streets that run off Taksim Square are of more interest to the visiting tourist. In particular, Istiklal Caddesi (or Istiklal Avenue) (map). It runs from the Northern end at Taksim Square right down to the Galata District. The street is lined by boutiques, department stores, cafes and restaurants. Istiklal seems busy no matter what time of day or night you visit. The atmosphere the night we visited was wonderful - the 2 larger football clubs in Istanbul were playing a big game, so lots of people were out watching the game and afterwards, celebrating/commiserating the result. You will find a number of known retail brand stores as well as lots of local boutiques and traditional shops. The food scene along Istiklal street is fantastic if you want to sample authentic cuisine. There are lots of narrow streets and alleyways that run off Istiklal and have there own little vibe - you can take a wander up Sahne Sk (map) for example with its market-style stalls, traditional food and boutiques - see Sampyion Kokorec below in "where to eat". There is a red tram which runs the length of Istiklal and provides more of a fun photo opportunity than a genuine mode of transport. 

I would definitely suggest visiting Istiklal in the early evening and walking the length, stopping from time to time to sample different eateries or dining in one of the terrace restaurants.

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Bosphorus:

The Bosphorus is more than just a stretch of water for the city of Istanbul - it has shaped the city's history and defines who the city is. The narrow Bosphorus Straight runs from The Black Sea in the North, to the Sea of Mamara in the South. On the east bank is the continent of Asia and on the west, Europe. This geographically made the Bosphorus Straight and Istanbul, hugely important and is one of the reasons it has been a critical city in the development of civilisations through history. 

Now, the Bosphorus is a busy waterway, with people commuting under it, over it and across it as part of their daily life in Istanbul. You can just sit on the banks and watch all manner of vessels travel up and down - from huge shipping containers to small fishing boats. For so many locals in Istanbul, spending time on the banks of the Bosphorus is part of life.

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The best way to experience the Bosphorus is by getting out on it! There are a huge variety of options and itineraries. For simplicity and convenience, we decided to take the hop-on-hop-off cruise through Istanbul Tourist Pass. By booking through the website, the confirmation is sent to your mobile phone app and this serves as your pre-booked ticket. We quite literally skipped past the huge queues and collected our ticket from the side office at the dock at Kabatas (map). Many waiting in line had to wait for the next boat as the queues on bright sunny weekends can get quite busy! The boats leave the dock at Kabatas Dentur every hour from 11:45 through to 16:45 (you can also start your cruise from Besiktas). The whole loop takes around 1 hour 40 minutes, but you can hop off at any of the stops along the way and visit attractions such as the summer palaces of the Ottoman Sultans in Beylerbeyi. We chose to hop off in Emirgan (map) for a traditional Turkish Breakfast as Emirgan Suitis (see "Eating" below). Emirgan has a long stretch along the Bosphorus where hundreds of people come sit, walk and enjoy the views. There are people fishing from the banks, street food vendors, cafes and parks. A short walk in from the cafes is the huge Emirgan Park (map). On a nice day it is full of people playing, having a picnic or just enjoying the sunshine and green. In April the park is home to the International Tulip Festival. All the neighbourhoods along the European side of the Bosphorus have their unique charm and if you have the time are definitely worth visiting. 

Galata Tower:

The area to the South of Istiklal is Galata and is dominated by the tall cylindrical Galata Tower (map). Built in 1348 you can climb the tower to get a view across the city - however, be warned, the queues acan be very long in the tourist season!

Galata Bridge:

Word of note! When you put "Galata Bridge" in Uber, be sure you dont select the Galata Bridge in Bulgaria, as it becomes difficult to explain the situation with the driver if they dont speak English! For some reason, a lot of the Uber drivers didn't know where Galata Bridge is and you may be better referring to it as Galata Koprusu (MAP). The bridge spans the Golden Horn and as a visitor to Istanbul, I think its a hugely important landmark for several reasons.

Firstly, it links the traditional old area of Sultanahmet with the more modern area of Istanbul. If you are feeling adventurous, you could potentially walk all the way from Taksim Square, down Istiklal, through the Galata District, over the Galata Bridge and into the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. It would take you around an hour..........if you didn't stop along the way, which would be nearly impossible.

Secondly, the area around Galata Bridge is in its own right a great place to visit. On a weekend, huge numbers of fishermen will line Galata Bridge, casting their lines over the side. On a level below them on the bridge are cafes and restaurants that will literally look out through the fishing lines. Looking up the Golden Horn from the bridge you will have a view of the beautiful Suleymaniye Mosque to your left and then over to the Galata Tower to your right, making it a wonderful spot to compare 2 sides of Istanbul.

If you walk down onto the old side of Galata Bridge, there are a number of floating "restaurants" cooking fresh sardine sandwiches which are a must try!

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There is a tunnel under the road that leads you to a walk-through Bazaar selling lots of spices and arabic sweets. If you keep walking South from here you will find your way back to the Spice Bazaar, the Grand Bazaar and then eventually back to the Blue Mosque! You can also walk easily from here to the Suleymaniye Mosque (map) which overlooks the Golden Horn - there is a terrace behind the mosque with great views. It isn't the largest of the Ottoman mosques, but is definitely one of the more beautiful. The area around the Suleymaniye Mosque is also interesting with its very traditional wooden houses.

Eating:

If you love a place where you can walk around eating from small street stalls, calling in at cafes and sampling traditional cuisines...........you will love Istanbul!

There is absolutely no shortage of street vendors selling roast cobs of corn, roasted chestnuts, Turkish ice cream, fresh squeezed juices and of course, the Turkish equivalent of the bagel, Simit. You will be hard pressed to walk around most of the busier areas of the city and not find one of these mobile options.

In every Bazaar, from a small strip of stores through to the Grand Bazaar, there are countless stores selling Turkish sweets - baklava, Turkish delight, nougats, etc. Some are almost sickly sweet and you just have to censor the thought of calories and convince yourself that all the walking is burning it off. If you walk through the Spice Bazaar, there is no shortage of options and if you have the time/patience, you can sample whatever you fancy in the different stores and then bargain for a better price. There are a chain of stores called Hafiz Mustafa that are excellent for traditional sweets. Make a point of calling in to the store at Taksim square (map) and sitting down for a tea and some baklava...........you wont be the only person, its hugely popular. If you have a sweet tooth for chocolate, stop in at Tarihi Meshur (map) on Istiklal Caddesi and pick up some chocolate coated nuts. Another place for traditional deserts is the restaurant Saray Muhallebiisi (map) and the syrup dripping from the in the windows is sickly sweet!

The length of Istiklal Caddesi is a wonderful place for food. There are many terrace restaurants and bars which have seats overlooking the street, making them a perfect spot for dinner and watching everything go by below. Many are small and authentic with a cosy atmosphere. 

If you want something a little more upmarket and with a view to match, try 360 Istanbul (map) - more of a fine dining restaurant and the views are spectacular.

There are also a number of very authentic restaurants to try in the Taksim/Istiklal area. Tarihi Kalkanoglu Pilavcisi (map) serves hot dishes like Kavurma and beans - try the Karisik. Further down is Sampiyon Kokorec (map) - a well known local restaurant that specialises in traditional delicacies of Midye (stuffed mussels) and kokorec (sheeps intestine sandwich). The mussels are very nice, but I can honestly say the kokorec, despite the description, is actually really good! Its beautifully spiced, has a hint of chilli and the taste of "intestine" is not over-powering at all. A must try! Another local delicacy in Istanbul that tastes much better than it sounds are "wet hamburgers". At the top of Istiklal is a shop called Kizilkayalar Hamburger (map) - they sell doner kebabs and burgers. The hamburgers may not look much in the window, but they are surprisingly nice and its more than tempting to get another!

Near Galata Tower is Anemon Galata (map) - a hotel with a wonderful terrace overlooking the Golden Horn. Lovely spot for a drink, tea or coffee in the late afternoon or evening. 

As mentioned, close to Galata Bridge there are a number of floating restaurants that sell fresh fish sandwiches (map). The fish is cooked in front of you and placed in a fresh bun with lettuce and onion. Add a god squirt of lemon juice and a shake of salt and you have a very tasty snack to keep you going as you continue exploring.

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There are a huge number of options around the Blue Mosque/Hagia Sophia. For a nice traditional Pide, stop in at Mihri (map) at the Hagia Sophia end of the Ayasofya Hammam. Its a nice place to stop for lunch in the middle of your day in Sultanahmet. Pide is like a flat open pizza/calzone and with a  choice of toppings. The service perhaps leaves a little to be desired, but I think its a great place for lunch if you're doing the tours of the museums.

On the other side of Hagia Sofia (opposite the Basilica Cistern) (map) is a restaurant called Green Corner Cafe. The tea and coffee is quite good, although the food quite basic - kebab, chicken tawook, salads, etc. The staff were very entertaining and its a really nice spot for lunch our afternoon tea.

When you are exploring the Grand Bazaar for the day and need somewhere for lunch, the best place to try is Havuzlu Restaurant (map). This place in the heart of the bazaar is no-frills and serves home-style Turkish meals. You order from the warmer and the waiter will bring everything to your table. I recommend the roasted chicken and spiced meat-balls. There is also a good selection of vegetarian options.

If you want somewhere in Sultanahmet with an incredible view, look no further than Seven Hills Restaurant (at the top of Seven Hills Hotel) (map). Its a nice spot to come of an evening and you have wonderful views of both the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia - one of the best views in the city actually. The staff weren't great and the seafood in the ice box" could've done with having some ice in there. They do make a nice traditional tea and the view itself is worth going up for a drink! Go here for the view alone, its worth it!

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The restaurant at the top of Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, Zeferan, serves traditional Azerbaijan cuisine (map). The food is wonderful with a strong emphasis on grilled meats and fresh ingredients. Certainly try the Pilaf - an Azerbaijan specialty of rice in a crispy outer layer. The view from the Zeferan restaurant is equally as impressive and gives a great look back over the Sultanahmet neighbourhood and across the Sea of Mamara.

Part of our Bosphorus cruise was to take us to Emirgan to enjoy one of the best Turkish Breakfasts in Istanbul at Emirgan Sutis (map). An absolute must for anyone visiting Istanbul is to enjoy a traditional Turkish breakfast! It comprises of a huge spread of dishes ranging from a selection of breads, cheeses, honey and olives, to hot meals like egg dishes (Sucuk), Kavurma with meat and a delicious mince filled pasty known as Borek. Of course all this is accompanied with the customary Turkish tea! Emirgan Sutis came very highly recommended and it didn't disappoint, however if you're planning to visit here on a weekend, be prepared for a wait! They don't take bookings, so I would advise getting there a little earlier and putting your name down, then enjoying a stroll along the banks of the Bosphorus if you need to wait.

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If you are staying at the Park Hyatt Istanbul Macka Palas, you will be able to construct your own Turkish breakfast each morning. The breakfast here is excellent and includes your choice of a hot dish such as Kavurma. Just around the corner from the Park Hyatt, and walking distance from Taksim Square, is the Grand Hyatt Istanbul (map). Their restaurant 34 offers an all day menu of Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine. There is a lovely outdoor dining area that is perfectly suited to relaxing on warmer days and even when it cools down, in front of the open fire. The food is fantastic and I can definitely recommend the grilled octopus. They also have a great selection of Turkish desserts.

Must Do:

See Istanbul from the water! The Bosphorus has such importance to the city of Istanbul, through history and even now as it divides the uniquely different Asian and European sides. If you visit Istanbul, it is almost essential to view the city from the Bosphorus. The easiest way to do this is on one of the many cruise ships that go up and down the straight. We used our Istanbul Tourist Pass to catch the hop-on-hop-off boat from Kabatas, close to the Park Hyatt. The round trip takes you along both shorelines and you can see the different architecture on the Asian and European continents. We jumped off for a Turkish Breakfast at Emirgan. If you have time you can include a cruise of the Golden Horn and even out to places like Princes Island.

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Must See:

You won't visit Istanbul without seeing the Blue Mosque, so listing it as a must see almost goes without saying. However, it is truly one of those buildings you can find yourself looking at many times in the day and appreciating it in different ways. My top places to view the Blue Mosque include:

1. Sultanahmet Park (between the Mosque and the Hagia Sophia). Especially in the mornings when its quiet and again in the afternoon with the atmosphere of the crowd. (map)

2. A rooftop cafe such as Seven Hills in the evening around sunset. (map)

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3. From a residential terrace/rooftop, close to the Arasta Bazaar. (map)

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4. From the water.

5. For dinner from Zeferan Restaurant at Ajwa Hotel (map), giving you a stunning view back over the Sultanahmet neighbourhood. Especially just after sunset when the streetlights are taking over from the natural light.

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Number 1 Travel Tip:

Plan your itinerary of things to see & do by areas. Each neighbourhood has its various things to experience and its best to really focus on that area for an entire day or at least a morning/afternoon. Even if you use the hop-on-hop-off bus (which I have done previously and really enjoyed), you will find you need an entire day as a minimum for Sultanahmet and at least an afternoon for Taksim/Istiklal and then a morning at least for the Bosphorous and so on.

5 Word Travel:

One of my favourite cities

Excess Baggage:

Whilst Istanbul has some wonderful areas for walking around to explore, in particular, Sultanahmet, there are also some neighbourhoods that are a little harder to reach. The hop-on-hop-off boat and bus services in Istanbul are a great way to see some of these area! It is probably the best way to visit the less touristy Asian side of the Bosphorus if you want to tick the box of being in 2 continents in a day. You could easily spend weeks visiting Istanbul and its many unique neighbourhoods and then doing day trips to some of the places not far from the city. I think as an absolute minimum you need 4 days in Istanbul to experience parts of the old and new areas, less than that and you will feel you have missed things..........which might be a great excuse to come back!

Ultimate Travel Road Trips - The Garden Route, South Africa

 
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The Garden Route of South Africa is one of the iconic "road trips", taking in some spectacular coast-line. Thanks to Madelene for providing a lovely review from a visit along the famed drive. 

 

Contributor:
Madelene

Nationality:
South Africa

Social Links:
Instagram: @madelene_smuts

Age Group:
40-50
 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
 

 

Destination: Garden Route - Cape Town, South Africa

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Inspiration:

The Garden Route has according to the Guinness Book of records the mildest climate in the world after Hawaii. With long stretches of beautiful blue flag beaches it is a well recommend getaway.

Getting There:

As Capetonian this is a loved holiday destination. The stretch of coast which exstend from Mossel Bay in the Western Cape to the Storms River in the Eastern Cape is spectacular. Six hours traveling time from Cape Town per car/bus. Daily flights from Cape Town International airport to George or Plettenberg bay.

Where To Stay:

Accommodation for holiday makers is plentiful. There are many B&B's to choose from, from Central Beach to Sanctuary Beach. The Beacon Island Hotel in the center of Plettenberg bay is a well known family friendly hotel that also offers time share.

What To Do:

Plettenberg Bay offers long days of sunshine and multiple Watersport activities , surfing, suping, canoeing ...... The bay is a display of dolphin activity and for scuba divers a underwater kingdom. Robberg Nature Reserve offers hiking trails for young and old, with the Stone Age Nelson Bay Caves a definite must for the hiking enthusiast. If you are a keen Mountain Biker like me there is more than enough biking trails to choose from, from intermediate to advance and with every uphill the effort offers a big reward - the views are spectacular! Popular Harkeville Forest is a must.

Eating:

If you like lazy lunches there are a few wine farm to choose from witch is less than 20min drive from Plettenberg bay. A must is Bramon and Newstead wines that offers delicious tapas menus. Fish lovers will enjoy The Fat fish and Lookout and the popular Tables restaurant offers the best pizza's in town.

Must Do:

Go for hike at `Robberg nature reserve

Must See:

Sunset at Robberg Nature Reserve

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Staycation at Al Wadi Desert Resort - Ras Al Khaimah UAE

 
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Contributor:
Andy

Nationality:
Australian

Social Links:
Instagram: @andrewmarty_

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Male

Travel Style:
Casual travel
Family travel

 

Destination: Al Wadi Desert, Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
August 2017

Inspiration:

We wanted to go on a short "staycation" following the birth of our son and Al Wadi Desert is only a short drive from Dubai for us. We had heard good things about it being a nice escape from the city and unique in that it is located out in the desert - so we jumped online and made a booking.

Getting There:

Al Wadi Desert is only around an hours drive from Downtown Dubai and is located in the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah. It is relatively easy to find and is well marked on Google Maps.

 
 

Local Knowledge:

The resort was previously part of Banyan Tree, however since the start of 2017 has been under the management of the Ritz-Carlton group. Since taking over, they have put a lot of work into improving the property - from renovating the accomodation, re-developing the grounds and constructing new restaurants. Many of the works were still in progress, which did limit some of the experiences when we visited, however when completed they will be a significant improvement.

Where To Stay:

We stayed in one of the single bedroom villas. They are really spacious with an enormous bathroom overlooking a small private garden. They are really nicely set out inside and extremely comfortable! By far the most impressive part is that the villa opens out onto your own private deck and plunge pool overlooking the desert. We visited in August when it was still really quite warm, so looking out over the sand dunes from the cool waters of the pool was a real treat.

They are renovating the larger tented villas that look even more spacious.

What To Do:

The nature reserve covers an area of more than 500 hectares, providing a great example of true arabian desert without having to venture far from luxury. 

There is a host of activities available including archery, bike-riding, falconry, fishing, star-gazing and horse-riding. For a more traditional desert experience, guests can take a camel ride through the dunes. The reserve has populations of many of the native animals - arabian oryx, gazelle, desert hedgehogs, red fox, reptiles and a huge variety of birds. Each day there is an interactive falcon show where guests can get an up close look at this highly revered bird of Arabian culture.

 
dubaialwadi2017-1929.jpg
 

The Al Wadi Spa has a full list treatment options, including a unique rainforest circuit experience that has hydrotherapy stations of alternating pressures and temperatures. It's a novel way to refresh yourself after a day of exploring in the desert.

Eating:

Your dining options are essentially limited to those at the resort. There are currently 2 feature restaurants - Indian cuisine at Samar Lounge and western inspired at Kaheela. We dined at Kaheela and the food was really nice. We also had the in-room dining for lunch and the menu is more than adequate. For us, this was perfect - sitting by the plunge pool, enjoying a traditional arabic mixed grill.

The resort also offers some unique outdoor dining options - at the top the watchtowers, a bedouin experience in the dunes or a picnic hamper you can take yourself. As we had a young child and the temperatures were still really hot, we chose the options closer to air conditioning.

dubaialwadi2017-1906.jpg

They were also in the process of completing a new steak restaurant close to the small lake.

The meals were quite pricey for what you would get outside the resort or even in Dubai.

Must Do:

Definitely taking the opportunity to explore the reserve - whether on foot, vehicle or the unique experience of being on the back of the camel. Even living in Dubai, we seldom really get the chance to see the true desert, especially some of the native wildlife. 

Must See:

Desert sunsets can be spectacular! Whilst it was still quite hazy, things will start to clear up as the temperatures fall. There are some great vantage points, but from the top of Al Wadi Tower is a great place to get a good look over the reserve at sunset

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5 Word Travel:

Desert. Staycation. Close to Dubai.

 

Perth, Australia - Always Sunny

 
 
 

Contributor:
Jane

Nationality:
Malaysian

Social Links:
Instagram: @jojadan

Age Group:
30-40 years

Gender:
Female

Travel Style:
Family

 

Destination: Perth, Australia. December 2016 (9 days).

Inspiration:

I have never visited Australia before and Perth happens to be the nearest city to Malaysia. I usually travel end of the year and I love summer so Australia was the perfect choice!

Getting There:

Flew via Air Asia X

Local Knowledge:

Constant sunshine throughout summer so no worries of getting caught in any rainfall and no worries that your adventures would be hindered by rain!

Where To Stay:

Comfort Hotel. Highly recommended as it is within walking distance to CAT bus stops, rental car companies, eateries and mini supermarkets

What To Do:

As I only had 9 days, I squeezed in as many places of interests as possible. The amazing places of interests I managed to go, see and do were King's Park & Botanic Garden, Crawley Edge Boatshed, Caversham Wildlife Park, Bell Tower, Elizabeth Quay, Perth Hills, Fremantle, Cottesloe Beach, Swan Valley, Hillarys Boat Harbour abd Sorrento Quay

Highlight of my holiday in Perth was Boxing Day shopping. It was truly a first for me! Haha! So much fun to see so many people (locals and tourists) in long queues who literally shop like there's no tomorrow! Haha!

Eating:

A variety of western, fusion and Chinese food. The best food experience was at Kailis Fish Market Cafe at Fremantle. Definitely must try the seafood platter! So fresh and yummylicious!

Must Do:

Definitely has to be a visit to King's Park & Botanic Garden! Humongous park to walk and enjoy nature at its best! Plus there are a few look-out points to see the gorgeous city of Perth from a different perspective! And if you are an avid photographer, you will take photos non-stop! Haha! This place is truly a gem! The best part is that there is no entrance fee! Its FREE of charge and opens throughout day and night!

Must See:

I would recommend The Bell Tower and Elizabeth Quay together as both are situated on the same premise. The architecture of The Bell Tower is awesome and futuristic looking while Elizabeth Quay is a stunningly beautiful esplanade! Both are breathtaking!

Number 1 Travel Tip:

If you do rent a car to go around places of interests, do take note that parking fee can be quite expensive for certain places. Its also very important to stick to speed limit! You wouldn't want to get a traffic summon during your holiday!

5 Word Travel:

Vibrant! Fun! Refreshing! Enjoyable! Satisfying!

Excess Baggage:

Just go and have a blast! :D

Lake Balinsasayao, Philippines - Experiencing Mother Nature with the Family

 

Contributor   : Jancy
Nationality    : Philippines
Instagram      : @jancy_uy
Age Group     : 19-30 yo
Gender           : Female
Trave Style     : Family travel
Destination     : Lake Balinsasayao, Philippines
Date                : May 2017

Inspiration:
Lake Balinsasayao - is one of three crater lakes rising 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level located within the Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, an 8,016.05-hectare (19,808.1-acre) protected area covering the municipalities of Valencia, Sibulan, and San Jose in the province of Negros Oriental, Philippines.

Been there twice with group of friends but on the third time, I wanted to be with my family and let them experience mother nature at its best.

Getting There:

Since I was with my family including my grandma (70+ y.o.) and relatives I hired a Van and may cost you 3,000 Php (w/c I already bargained) for a whole day tour. For those who are bringing their own car, you can just pass through the National Highway going all the way to Amlan. Turn left at the La-Laan San Jose juncture and drive all the way up until you reach the registration point. From there the lakes are just a few minutes away.

Other ways to get there: From Dumaguete you can ride a PUJ (Public Utility Jeep) going to Amlan and get off at the juncture in La-laan in San Jose. Fare is approx P20 and may take just 15 minutes. From there hire a motorcycle (locals call it habal-habal). 2-way fare is P400 good for 2 people.

From San Jose juncture, there is just one concrete road leading to the lakes. There are sections where you will encounter blind curves so be extra careful with your driving. You will pass by 2 small villages before you reach the registration point where you will have to pay entrance and parking fees. Motorcycle ride may take 45 minutes but depending on the speed.

Local Knowledge:

History: Lake Balinsasayao, Lake Danao, and Lake Kabalin-an are part of Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park, a protected area totaling 8,016 hectares (19,810 acres).

As a protected natural park home to an expansive ecosystem and biodiversity, Balinsasayao Twin Lakes National Park is one of the major tourist attractions in Negros Oriental. The lake has a rich fish fauna and the surrounding dipterocarp forests are rich in bird life. However, invasive fish species such as tilapia, common carp, mudfish, shrimp, mosquito fish and milkfish have been introduced in the lake.

Where to Stay:

Hotels are affordable in Dumaguete City. You can stay in Harold's Mansion; Hotel Palwa, World View Pension Plaza, Go Hotels or any of your choice. 

No need to worry and it is a fact that the city is nicknamed The City of Gentle People. On top of that, Dumaguete is listed 5th in Forbes Magazine's "7 Best Places to Retire Around the World".

What To See & Do:
Tourism: The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) through the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) manages tourist activities in the natural park. The bureau allows swimming, sightseeing, mountain trekking, camping, birdwatching, paddle boating in Lake Balinsasayao. The natural park has a concrete view deck, umbrella cottages, a restaurant, a souvenir shop, restrooms, and a visitor center.

Where To Eat:
Try their famous chicken adobo and chicken tinola (soup) in Lake Balinsasayao restaurant. 

In Dumaguete, try Lab-as and Hayahay if you want seafood.

Dessert: Sans Rival (Try the signature dessert, the famous Silvanas and Sans Rival cake) Nobody can resist these sweet delights and it is good for pasalubong (small gift).

Must Do:The place is very peaceful and serene so just relax, distress and enjoy the scenery. (Don't forget to take pictures though)


Phinda Private Game Reserve, South Africa - African Safari

 

Contributor  : Andy
Nationality   : Australian
Social Links  :  Instagram: @andrewmarty_
Age Group    : 30-40
Gender          : Male
Travel Style   : Leisure, Family, Photography
Destination   : September 2017, 3 nights.

Inspiration:

We travel to South Africa each year to visit my wife's family. Previously my son had not been on safari before, but is obsessed with animals and wildlife. Having turned 7 years old, we decided he was old enough to join the experience. Phinda Mountain Lodge is close enough to Durban to drive, so we booked here for myself, my son and my father-in-law. Located within Phinda Private Game Reserve, it provides some of the best game viewing in South Africa. The Lodge is part of the highly rated &Beyond group, which has a number of properties throughout Africa and Asia that provide unique safari and adventure experiences. 

Getting There: 

We flew directly into Durban from Dubai on Emirates airlines. You can also fly via Johannesburg with internal connecting flights. Phinda Mountain Lodge is just over 4 hours drive North of Durban, passed Jefferies Bay. It is a relatively easy drive and the lodge sends straight-forward directions. Close to the property it does change to unsealed roads, but they are not difficult to navigate. You can also drive from Johannesburg, which is roughly 6 hours.

On the drive in, you will start to see many species of wildlife, so have the camera handy and not packed away in the trunk of the car!

Some guests, especially those short on time, can arrange for small domestic chartered flights directly into the airstrip at the reserve. I spoke to one couple who were visiting several game parks in a short period of time and they suggested the time saved made up for the costs involved. This may be worth looking into if you are tight on time.

 The small air-strip at Phinda Private Game Reserve

The small air-strip at Phinda Private Game Reserve

Local Knowledge:

Different game reserves throughout Africa vary in terms of the services they offer, the accomodation options and the variety of wildlife. Many visitors are desperate to see either a) a certain species of animal or b) the largest variety possible. Phinda is renowned for a great variety, with all of the Big 5 in the reserve. Of particular interest, Phinda has significant populations of White and Black Rhinoceros and cheetah. It is worth asking around and getting advice on the likelihood of sighting particular species at various reserves if you have a special request. If you are looking for a great variety, somewhere like Phinda is an excellent choice!

 The cheetah populations in Phinda Private Game Reserve are a highlight.

The cheetah populations in Phinda Private Game Reserve are a highlight.

Where To Stay:

Phinda Private Game Reserve is a massive reserve of 170sq km and has 6 separate lodges, providing a variety of accomodation options. We chose the Mountain Lodge as it is a family friendly lodge, with great accomodation and access to excellent game viewing.

The private huts are extremely comfortable - essentially 5-star accomodation in the bush. The interiors are beautifully fitted out and full amenities are provided. We had a private plunge pool which was great for cooling off during the day.

 5 Star Luxury in the African bush

5 Star Luxury in the African bush

The lodge has large common areas that are great for socialising with other guests and chatting with the guides. There is an swimming pool and a spectacular view out over the bush.

Mountain Lodge has a "kids room" and structured activities for children. Children over 6 years are allowed to go on game drives, which our son loved. In between time, he also went out making plaster casts of animal footprints and made traditional african crafts.

You are personally welcomed on arrival by extremely friendly staff and this carries through to the time they say goodbye. The atmosphere they have created at Mountain Lodge is honestly something that will leave a lasting impression - truly genuine hospitality.

Travel to South Africa, with the current conversion to the Rand, is relatively affordable for the most part. The luxury game reserve safaris however are one thing that is quite expensive. That said, if you are travelling to Africa, doing a safari should be really high on your list and spending a little extra to stay somewhere as nice as Phinda could certainly be seen as money well spent. 

What To Do:

For me, there are few things that compare to the magic of African safaris. Each drive has the excitement of what you might see and each interaction is completely different to those before. It was particularly special to share this experience with my son and father-in-law.

I have been on drives at many game reserves in South Africa and would have to say the variety at Phinda was probably the best I had encountered. Whilst we didn't spot any leopard (the only member of the big 5 that continues to elude me), the range and quality of other species was out-standing. The complete list of species we saw across the 4 days would be too long to list and the photographs in the gallery barely do justice. Personally the highlight of my experience would probably have been the amount of time we were able to sit and watch a family of cheetah. Or maybe it was the lion cubs? Or the enormous bull elephant? Its really impossible to choose.

For those who haven't been on safari before, most lodges operate in a very similar way. You start each day with a morning drive around sunrise, there is always tea/coffee and some cakes at the meeting point so you don't leave hungry. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, you will also stop for a morning tea break, with snacks and drinks all provided. The vehicles are comfortable and provide great viewing. We had a tracker, Cebu, whose knowledge of the bush was incredible and had an innate ability to spot even the most camouflaged animal. Our guide, Andy, was fantastic in explaining all that we needed to know about the lodge, the animals and the conservation work undertaken by &Beyond across its many properties across Africa.

 Morning tea stop

Morning tea stop

You will return to the lodge for a well earned breakfast that the chef prepares - the meals are served in a common dining room which is a great opportunity to share stories with guests from other vehicles. I really enjoyed the social atmosphere at Mountain Lodge and the guides also made an effort to get around and talk to everyone.

There is some down-time to have a dip in the pool, catch up on emails/photo editing or have a nap. There is also an option on one of the days, to go for a walk through the bush, which can put a completely different perspective on watching the animals - actually standing next to a lake with hippos or walking through grassland only 50 meters from grazing giraffe. 

The chef prepares a gourmet lunch back in the dining area, then, its back in the vehicles for an afternoon safari drive, with a quick stop for afternoon tea and sundowners.

If you enjoy nature, wildlife or animals, you will absolutely love safaris in South Africa. It is truly the best way to see these animals. There are no guarantees regarding which animals you will see or what they will be doing - but for me, that is probably the greatest part. You will see the animals in their natural state - sleeping, playing, hunting. Some will be so close you are convinced they have no fear of humans, others will be almost impossible to see, they are so timid. When you go on drives in reserves like Phinda, you do get an incredible opportunity to sit for extended periods of time and watch some of thee animals just go about their daily lives.

 Viewing these animals in the wild is an amazing experience 

Viewing these animals in the wild is an amazing experience 

The lodge does offer a number of other activities that you can look into doing. These include; rhino tracking on foot, scuba diving at nearby Sodwana Bay, leatherback sea turtle nesting, photographic safaris and spending a night out under the stars in the bush. Essentially they are capable of tailoring a safari experience to suit your needs.

Eating:

All meals at Phinda Private Game Reserve are provided, including breakfast, morning/afternoon teas, lunch and dinner, with consideration to any dietary requirements. The chef prepares wonderful dishes, using a lot of local ingredients and recipes. On one of the evenings we had dinner by candlelight at a bush camp, which was a memorable experience.

If you like to have some of your own snacks, you can bring them also, but generally speaking there is plenty and even during the day the common areas have something to snack on. 

Must Do:

It goes without saying that going on safari drives is the "must do", however there are some huge advantages of going on drives in places like Mountain Lodge. The guides at reserves like Phinda are experienced to know where the animals are likely to be and have an incredible eye to be able to spot them from a distance. Many people opt to go for cheaper self drive options in South Africa, but you will potentially end up missing out. I have always found that going on drives with the experts gives you a much better chance of seeing animals, getting in great positions to watch them and also learning a lot more about them. The staff at Phinda are really committed to ensuring you get the most out of the time you spend with them and the guides especially are fantastic. If like myself, you have limited time available when you visit South Africa or even if you are living in SA and have a set amount of time, it is well worth speaking to the team from &Beyond about the lodges and packages that best suit your situation. We dealt with Susie from their booking team and she was fantastic from arranging the best accomodation options through to ensuring we had the right directions to get us to the lodge.

 The guides at Phinda Mountain Lodge make sure you have an incredible time.

The guides at Phinda Mountain Lodge make sure you have an incredible time.

Must See:

The obvious answer here are the stars of the show - the animals. But I would also encourage you to ask about going out early for a sunrise. At Phinda Mountain Lodge, there is a beautiful lookout not far from the accomodation that has a stunning view over the bush at sunrise. It is an incredible way to start your day!

 Coffee at sunrise with our great group.

Coffee at sunrise with our great group.

5 Word Travel:

Safari
Wildlife
Luxury
Bucket-list
Africa

TravelTip:

When visiting the African bush, people become safety conscious of the obvious lions and hyenas, however, it can be some of the smaller creatures that can be a concern. It wasn't until after returning home that we discovered a small tick had hitch-hiked on my son. As well as being uncomfortable, ticks can be carriers of disease. To avoid any issues, you can take measures to prevent ticks (repellants, sensible clothing) and also be vigilant in checking and removing any ticks that do climb aboard. It isn't recommended these days to burn off ticks. Rather, correct manual removal or actually freezing them off using the nitrogen wart sprays were the methods recommended to us.

For those looking to stay in contact, I did find the wifi connection at the lodge was relatively poor. You may wish to look into 3G mobile phone coverage as the reception was adequate. Whilst nobody enjoys peoples phones ringing out on safari, if you like to be contactable for work or family reasons, then you will get local reception around the lodge.

Excess Baggage:

One of the many things that I was really impressed with at Phinda, was the significant work they do in conservation. The &Beyond group is fully committed to supporting both the local community within which their lodges operate as well as the animals that have made their reserves famous.

In all of the &Beyond lodges, they make a concerted effort to employ members of the local community, as well as invest back into those communities through purchasing of produce and leasing of land.

Africa has long had issues with illegal hunting and poaching of wildlife, to the point where certain species are on the brink of extinction. &Beyond puts significant efforts into breeding and conservation work, to promote the sustainability of species that are currently threatened. At Phinda, the rhino and cheetah conservation projects have been particularly successful. Whilst it is sad learning of the situation populations of these animals are in, it is encouraging to know groups like &Beyond are working on solutions. They place an emphasis on educating guests during their stay and then carry this through to breeding and anti-poaching programs on the ground. It is nice to know that some of your money spent staying at these lodges is being re-invested back into the conservation of the animals!

Declaration:

I did not receive any financial discount or benefits from &Beyond or Phinda Mountain Lodge to write this review. The information provided is completely independent of &Beyond.


Port Douglas, Australia - A family hot spot

Inspiration:

We went as an extended family for a long over-due family vacation- 2 Grandparents, 3 couples and 4 grandchildren (aged infant to 8 years)

Getting there:

We flew into Cairns airport and hired cars for the short drive to Port Douglas around 1 hour. There are many flights in and out of Cairns from all major cities in Australia.  

Many people also use Port Douglas as a stop as they drive up or down the East coast of Australia.

Local Knowledge:

Port Douglas is one of many locations located along the North-Eastern coast line of Australia that runs parallel to one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, The Great Barrier Reef. The Barrier Reef along with the many islands dotted around it are a massive tourist attraction to the area.

Words of Wisdom: 

Port Douglas has a reasonable sized supermarket and othernecessary services pharmacies, etc, although they are a a fair bit more expensive than in Cairns. So if you have time, it might be worth stopping in Cairns to buy some of the things you might need. Getting around Port Douglas would be difficult without a car, there is a taxi service but not many. Most places are within walking distance of the main street, but if you need to get anywhere quickly you will 

need a car. There are places to see within day-trips of Port Douglas, so if you fly in from Cairns, consider hiring a car rather than getting a shuttle bus or other to Port Douglas

Where to Stay: 

Port Douglas has a huge variety of accommodation options from low cost back-packer hostels, 5 star hotels and boutique B&Bs. We stayed at The Sheraton as The Sheraton has a reputation for being very family friendly. The Sheraton rooms were quite dated when we stayed there (2014), however I’m aware they have more recently completed refurbishments which have apparently breathed new life into the property. The facilities at The Sheraton are excellent, especially for children. The large pool/lagoon provides a safe but beach style place for kids to play. There is also direct access onto the beach - some people swim at the beach, however it should be noted that crocodiles and dangerous jellyfish can be an unwanted hazard. The buffet breakfast at the Sheraton is excellent and whilst the restaurants are adequate, there are some really great options in Port Douglas that I would suggest. There is fitness centre and golf club associated with the Sheraton. 

Both are a little dated, with the gym especially in need of some new equipment. The golf course is fun and a highlight is the resident crocodile in one of the lakes – added incentive to not hit in the water

What to do:

Scuba Diving: If you don’t have your SCUBA certification, planning a holiday to Port Douglas, or anywhere along the Barrier Reef, is a great incentive to go and get it! Its no secret that the reef has suffered due to human impact and whilst the diving is still excellent, it may not stay that way and they may look at further tightening up on access for tourists. We booked a days diving with Blue Dive. It was a full day out on the water with everything included. My wife and I had an instructor with us, which is something I always prefer when diving a new location. 

The large boat had many people including sightseers,  snorkelers and experienced scuba divers – with a guide we felt totally looked after the entire time. Without a doubt, the most complete way to experience the reef is scuba diving. You can get a pretty good look at some of the shallower areas by snorkel and mask, but the underwater world opens up the further you go. This dive was the first time I had taken a recently purchased GoPro with me – I really enjoyed being able to capture what we were seeing. 

From talking to other divers and the instructor, it certainly sounded like the 2-3 day “live-a-board” dive tours that allow you to spend more time out there and visit more remote areas of the reef are the best way to scuba dive this area. We simply didn’t have the time, however it has been added to the list and would be well worth looking into if you want to spend more of your time diving.

Yacht Charters:

For people looking to experience the reef, but also have an amazing family experience, I strongly recommend chartering a yacht for the day. It is not a cheap exercise, however when spread across a family it can be economical and the experience was an absolute highlight for everyone in our group. The yacht took us all to an island where everyone could walk around, the children could paddle or experiment with snorkeling and the adults could snorkel deeper or simply relax in sun. We also snorkeled off the back of the anchored yacht with several reef sharks and giant trevally - an amazing experience.

The crew provided a gourmet lunch and were a great help making sure all the children had a fun day.

I think if you are visiting Port Douglas as a large group or family, definitely consider this! We booked through the same company that arranged our Scube Diving, Blue Dive and I couldn’t speak highly enough of how they managed everything from booking to helping the last person off the boat!

Crocodile Tours: 

Tours leave from the marina and take you up the estuary.  It’s a pleasant

Eating:

There is a huge variety of dining options in Port Douglas. As would be expected, seafood lovers will stay happy, with most restaurants having numerous options on the menu. We ate at the following:

Chilly’s Pizza – We had to wait a long time (was during peak holiday season) for our take away pizza, but it was worth it! Really great pizza – we actually went twice it was so good!

LanternFish on Macrossan St serves really good fish and chips. I can definitely recommend the Moreton Bay Bugs!

The Central Hotel does a pretty good chicken parmagianaand is great for large groups, including children. Its very much pub fare! They do a trivia night once a week, which was also pretty good fun.

The Ironbar has cane toad races, live music and authentic Australian cuisine like kangaroo burgers. This is ok for a night out, but they only let you go to the toad races if you are having a meal…….and the steaks are not great!

Salsa Bar and Grill – In my opinion the best place to eat in Port Douglas! It’s a little more expensive than some of the other restaurants and cafes, but the food is fantastic! Its really nicely set up as well, a really enjoyable meal for lunch or dinner! I had a kingfish dish which was amazing!

2 Fish Restaurant– The service here was quite slow and the food only ok. The menu didn’t have a great variety either. Pass.

Lure Restaurant – Fantastic for an afternoon of tapas and drinks. Do great sharing dishes and pretty well priced.

Fresh prawns – Can get fresh seafood directly from the fishermen at the harbor. Strongly recommend a bag of freshly cooked prawns to take home! Cheap and as good as a prawn will taste. We had a night family night at the hotel in the villa with a huge bag of fresh cooked prawns and take away fish and chips that was just superb!

The restaurants at the Sheraton were quite pricey for dinner meals, so we chose to eat at the places in Port Douglas.

Favorite must do:

Spend a day going out to an island. Whether it is as a young couple or a large family group, spending a day on a chartered boat; visiting a remote island, snorkeling with sea turtles and enjoying the ocean is amazing. There are a huge number of options and companies offering these services. Do your research and check the reviews carefully. We could not have recommended Blue Dive any higher. They were a touch more expensive but had much better reviews and they were worth every cent! If you are going to splurge a little on your family holiday to Port Douglas, spend it on this.

Favorite must see:

The Great Barrier Reef is one of the 7 Wonders of the World. Whether its by air (helicopter flights take tourists out over the reef), snorkeling or scuba diving, being able to witness this massive living eco-system is incredible.

If you haven’t got a PADI certification, try and get one before travelling to Port Douglas. Otherwise, you can do your course through companies there, (you will be limited on the depth you can dive).

Number 1 travel tip:

Port Douglas can be quite expensive and crowded during peak holiday seasons and especially during school holidays. If you don’t enjoy crowds, I would recommend avoiding these times. Conversely, if youre travelling with kids, the atmosphere during these times can be a real boost. Choose wisely depending on your situation.

5 word travel:

Great Barrier Reef - Sun - Fun.

Excess Baggage: 

Consider insect repellant as a necessity, not an option. The sand flies and mosquitoes can be unrelenting!

If you are looking for a beach holiday where you can sit on the beach and swim in the ocean, think twice. The beach at Port Douglas is often plagued with box jellyfish (painful stings), can have a strong under-toe and can be frequented by crocodiles. Swimming pools are recommended. The pool at the Sheraton is a large lagoon with beaches for kids to play.

 

Contributor   : Andrew
Nationality    : Australian
Instagram      @andrewmarty_
Age Group     : All ages
Gender           : Male
Travel Style   : Family
Destination   : Port Douglas, Great Barrier Reef, Australia
Date                 : September 2014.

 
 

Kruger National Park, South Africa - Bucket-list African Safari

 

Contributor  : Andrew
Nationality   : Australian
Instagram     @andrewmarty_
Age Group   : 30-40 year
Gender         : Male
Travel Style   : Luxury, Wildlife, Leisure
Destination   : Hoyo-Hoyo Kruger National Park – South Africa

 

Inspiration:

A long-term dream had been going on a safari in the famous Kruger National Park. South Africa has a large number of National Parks and game reserves , however Kruger National is by far the most widely known. If you have ever wanted to go on safari in Africa, this is a bucketlist item!

Getting There: 

We flew to Johannesburg International Airport – from here you can either drive or catch small domestic flights. The fastest and perhaps easiest is the flight to Hoodspruit, however be warned, book these flights well in advance because there are limited seats on the smaller planes and the costs can get high! Most of the lodges have shuttles that will pick you up directly from the airport and drive you into the park and to your accommodation. Don’t pack the camera too deep in your bag though, from the time your plane starts its descent you’re a chance of spotting your first wildlife – even the airport has warthogs and cheetah! The drive from the airport to your lodge takes you through the gates and into the park and depending on where you’re staying and what time of day it is, you will almost certainly start seeing wildlife from the time you enter the gates.  I remember we got really excited and wanted to stop and photograph every zebra and buck we drove past on the way to the lodge – don’t worry, this is just an introduction!

Local Knowledge:

There are as many ways to experience Kruger National Park as there are animals within its boundaries. From day trips to luxury tours, from footed treks to bird’s eye views from helicopters. 

KNP is one of the largest parks in South Africa and stretches 360km North to South. It has 9 main gates, 21 rest camps and 15 designated safari lodges.

The Winter/dry season (June to September) is considered the preferred time to visit the park – the weather is milder and relatively dry, there’s a much lower risk of contracting malaria and the more sparse vegetation makes it easier to locate and see wildlife. 

Words of Wisdom:

Whilst you wont need spending money if youre staying at one of the lodges, if you want money for tips etc then you need to exchange or withdraw at Johannesburg.

Most places in the park have very poor phone coverage. If you are reliant on being contacable then take this into account. Hoyo-Hoyo had wifi in the common areas that allowed catching up on emails, social media or messages if you needed.

Where To Stay:

Hoyo-Hoyo Lodge genuinely exceeded our expectations. It was truly luxury in the bush. You will be welcomed by the extremely friendly staff who have usually grown up in the areas around Kruger NP. The accommodation itself is far from rough. Whilst small, the bungalows are more than adequate for the limited amount of time you end up sepnding in your room. One word of warning - the ground squirrels, whilst appearing cute, are highly effective thieves and will likely come into your rooms when you're asleep or not there and eat any food left out. They even went through our cases, chewing into anything that contained food!

The showers were outside, which provided a real “getting back to nature” feel, however it was also brutally cold if you wanted a shower before the early morning safaris in Winter.

The communal areas at the lodge are beautifully set up and overlook a waterhole that attracts a huge variety of wildlife. We found ourselves sitting for hours watching the monkeys annoy the elephants, the small gemsbock sleeping beside the deck or reading away whilst all variety of animal came by for their daily drink.

What To Do:

If you want to be certain of seeing every animal, go to a zoo. One of the greatest parts of a wildlife safari is that there are no guarantees, the animals, time of year, weather and a lot of luck determine what you will see. 

We found that some drives were incredible with a huge varierty of sightings, whilst others went for hours without seeing much at all. For that reason I would definitely recommend spending at least a couple of nights so you can go on a minimum of 4 drives.

Drives are typically done morning and evening to take advantage of the most likely times animals are active.

We probably expected it to be easier to spot things than it was – our guide, Sweety Boy, was beyond incredible. His experience and eyesight was remarkable. Sometimes it literally took minutes and getting hundreds of meters closer until people in our vehicle could see the things he spied. I understand some people like the intrigue of driving themselves around places like Kruger, however the money you spend on an experienced safari driver is worth every single Rand. His knowledge and stories as we drove made the whole experience so much more worthwhile. I would recommend trying to have the same guide for the time you are there if possible. You will genuinely get to know how they work and they will get to know what you have and haven’t seen and try to build the overall experience for you. 

We also did a guided walk through the Park. Whilst we felt safe at all times with the experienced (and armed) guide, it did have an additional element to the drives. Unfortunately we didn’t see a great deal as the area you can cover by foot compared to a car is very small. We did spend time following rhino and leopard tracks and it was definitely nice to get out and walk through such an incredible National Park.

Pack only what you need for the drives depending on the weather. It can be bitterly cold early morning and evening during the winter, so take lots of layers of clothes. 

Most things are provided by the lodge, including morning teas – ours usually consisted of traditional rusk biscuits, biltong, tea, dried fruit and nuts. Cold drinks including wine, beer and soft drinks were also supplied at each small camp stop.

Eating:

The all inclusive food at Hoyo-Hoyo was superb. They have their own chef who prepares restarant quality food from a menu that changes each day. Mostly it is a showcase of traditional South African cuisine – so ox-tail, malva pudding, boerworse and pap are all likely to be on the menu! We both love our food and I consider myself a pretty harsh critic, but the food at Hoya Hoya was excellent! They even went as far as setting up a private candlelit dinner for us on one of the nights. 

If you have any dietary requirements you will need to make this known before you arrive, because it is too far from any towns for the kitchen to change the menu last minute.

Must Do:

Goes without saying, the game drives are the highlight and the main reason to go to Kruger National Park. I think if you lived in South Africa and visiting the park was more regular, then the self-drive option would be great and more flexible – but when you are travelling and perhaps time is short and expectation high, the guided drives are the best. It has the advantage of taking care of everything for you including food, local knowledge and access to areas not permitted in public vehicles.

There is a variety of lodges that offer these services with a range of budgets. Compared to most things in South Africa, game safaris in parks like Kruger are relatively expensive. However I would certainly suggest that spending a little extra to maximize your experience is well worth it.

Must See:

The “Big Five” of African Safari animals are the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and buffalo. Seeing each of them is what everyone wants to tick off. Different areas of the park are more well known for different species. We saw lions, rhinos, elephants and buffalo. The leopard is our reason to return!

Get a reasonable book or animal guide for your drives. It is incredible just how many different animals beyond the obvious ones you will see.

5 Word Travel:

Bucketlist. Adventure. Wild. Nature. Animals.

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TravelTip:

These days, taking photos of your travel is a must. But for wildlife and safari drives, it becomes even more significant, because there is another variable in play – the animals! 

Everyone has their preference in terms of photography equipment and some people spend thousands on cameras and lenses for safaris. For wildlife photography, it is nice to have a camera with a zoom lens (at least 200mm) as many animals will be some distance from you. To be honest, we also use a lot of iPhone photography no matter where we go, as it is very quick and easy and can be uploaded immediately to social media etc. It was interesting to notice on our drives that some other guests had a lot of fancy equipment but didn’t have experience using it and became frustrated they couldn’t get the shots they wanted. 

Excess Baggage:

Plan and book early. Compared to most things in South Africa, game lodges can be extremely expensive, especially in peak seasons. This includes internal flights to places like Kruger NP.

The additional costs of staying at one of the many lodges will be well worth the money! The guides are excellent and will significantly improve your chances of having a successful drive.

Choose your photography equipment wisely. Go with familiar equipment, pack your chargers with universal plugs and as always back up your days work.