Relaxing at the Mayan Riviera

We’re a young family with 2 kids. Our favorite place in Mexico is the Mayan Riviera, and we keep going back to it. We’re not fans of visiting big, over-developed cities. We’re basically looking for a nice week of relaxation with minimal effort involved. Following our first trip there, we returned three times to the same place; that is how addicted we were!

Why the Mayan Riviera every time you ask? What does it offer that other destinations in Mexico don’t?

The answer is simple: The beach is our biggest consideration, and the Mayan Riviera has white sandy beaches, and is at a comfortable distance from the main cities; it is closer to some beautiful Mayan ruins and offers a healthy choice of ecological parks (on every trip, we’ve chosen to visit a different one). The other coast (Pacific side), on the other hand, has yellow sand beaches, and the water is not as calm as it is on the Mayan side.

Within the Mayan Riviera, there are options to lodge in either of these areas: Tulum, Playa del Carmen and Conzumel.

Conzumel is still largely untouched and undeveloped, and can therefore, be a tad expensive, but it offers the best facilities for water activity lovers. The crystal waters own a mammoth number of species for those who love to snorkel or scuba-dive. But we just want to relax!

Playa del Carmen is known as the hub of nightlife and shopping within the Mayan Riviera. That too, we are weary of. Enough of Saturday night binges, and I play my fair share of being a material girl in a material world, all year long. This week has to be special.

We, therefore, always prefer to stay in Tulum, which overlooks Mayan ruins, offers competitive accommodation packages, not to mention, of course, a stunning beach.
But I get it – everybody has their own considerations. Choose whichever area you will, but choose the Mayan Riviera at least once. I’m guessing you’ll want to keep coming back!



My Mommy and the Beach

By The Average Mommy

When I was seven my father worked for a large multinational company in Karachi and every summer we would head out once school ended and crashed with him in the annexe he rented.

This is my clearest memory of Karachi, standing on Clifton beach, my short hair blowing wild. It got caught in my eyes.

My mother was really afraid of the open sea, but we begged her to move closer and closer.

She held our hands so tightly, the waves would come and crash at our feet, but I remember I felt safe.

It never occurred to me that my mother was small and powerless in front of the sea, I pulled her in deeper, and never for a moment stopped to think what would happen to my tiny frame if our hands disconnected.

I remember the force with which she held on to my hand – they were soft and strong, and I knew the sea couldn’t hurt me.

Today, my husband and I decided to dip our feet in the Indian Ocean at Bentota in Sri Lanka, thousands of miles away from Clifton beach in Karachi.

We held on to our children and stood in front of the open water. The kids would scream and shout as the water lapped around their feet.

My children are wild and fearless, they inched closer and closer, wanting to go in deeper.

I felt so proud of the knowledge that we, as parents, had inspired this fearlessness.

It’s not naïveté that makes them believe their parents can save them from a merciless wave; it’s a solid record of good performance.

I love travelling. It inspires me; it unlocks so many memories and feelings, so many things you think you have forgotten, but only need a small reminder- the receding sand from between your toes, the salty ocean air, children screaming with delight – to remind you of a cherished memory.

All the things parenthood takes from you, all the sacrifice it requires, it is all paled and faded in comparison to what it gives.

The absolute trust of another human being in your capability.

This trust, this belief and fan-following can help us move mountains.

Here’s to the beauty of little children who remind us that we are extraordinary, when the rest of the world has convinced us otherwise.

A visit to the ‘Forbidden Land’ (Israel & Palestine)

By Madeeha Anwar

I had a dream of visiting ‘Jerusalem’ for as long as I can remember. I had inherited this love for Qibla e Awwal and Jerusalem from my parents especially my dad, who was an avid traveler and had a strong wish to visit Jerusalem but couldn’t; because he was a Pakistani passport holder. I wish my father Chaudhry Khurshid Anwar was alive to see this day, Unfortunately, we lost him in 2014 (may his soul rest in eternal peace), Ameen.

When I came to the US, I pledged to myself to visit this revered city as soon as I’d receive my blue passport. In December 2016, a few months after becoming a US Citizen, I visited Israel and prayed at Masjid e Aqsa, Dome of the Rock (Qubbatussakhra), roamed freely in the old streets of Jerusalem, felt the auspicious history in the oldest cities known to human civilization; Bethlehem, Hebron (AlKhalil), Dead Sea and Jericho (Ariha) and got a chance to interact with the locals, be it Muslims, Christians or Jews; and discovered that everyone had their own stories of a sacred, unique and holy connection to this land.
It was an amazing experience to be at a place which was so unfamiliar to us and where not many Pakistanis were able to set foot before.

I’ve arranged (below), a pictorial glimpse from my long-awaited journey to Israel.

The author is a multimedia journalist and web editor with Voice of America.

Take a Bosphorous Cruise and return ferry ride to a princes’ island on the cheap

Since the aforementioned are two of the best highlights of Istanbul, a multitude of companies offer organised trips to both which can cost anything between 200 to around 400 Turkish Liras (TYR)  depending on the company you choose.

I am of the opinion that organised trips are not value for money; they are typical tourist traps and best avoided by savvy travellers. In case you didn’t know, both can be done cheaply on a do-it-yourself basis without missing out on much.

1. The Bosphorous Cruise:

Take a day cruise offered by one of the commuter ferry services like Turyol. They have dedicated day cruises on the Bosphorous that last an hour and a half. The ticket is only TRY 15. The last cruise is around sundown, which is the best time to hop on a ferry to appreciate the beauty of the Bosphorous and take memorable pictures in ideal light conditions. There are no belly dancing and dinner combos on offer but I take those as a big plus. Take in the views of the strait without distractions.

You can take the ferry from any point served by Turyol. I took it from the station below the Galata Bridge (forgot station name) and disembarked at the Asian side by choice. The ferry does a round trip so you can return at the point where you boarded it.

2. Princess Island Ferry:

Büyükada is also served by many stations across the city. Take a one way ride and return at will. During summer time, it might be busy but ferries to Istanbul are dispatched around the clock: if you miss one, there’s always another one to take you back.

I took one from Beşiktaş and spent half a day at the island, roamed around at will, took a phaeton ride to the reserve, and bought another one-way ticket back to Istanbul, which made stops at both Kadıköy and then at Eminönü. The one way ticket cost TRY 7/8.

At the end of it all, I had covered the cruise jing bang in 30 TYR instead of a mammoth 400 TYR!

Ghost of Hamlet & The Strait of Øresund

If you are in Copenhagen, an easy and enjoyable way to go to Sweden is to cross the strait of Øresund that divides the Danish islands from the Swedish mainland. Øresund bridge, which has the honour of being the longest rail and road bridge in Europe, connects the two countries. You can take a bus from central Copenhagen that will take you to Malmo (app. one hour) or you can take the quick train. I, however, opted for a ferry ride between the Danish coastal town of Helsingor (Elsinore in English) to the Swedish town of Helsingbor (don’t confuse the names!) from where you can go to Malmo and farther afield.

My reason for taking the ferry was to be in Helsingor to see Kronborg Castle, which is the fictional location of William Shakespeare’s drama “Hamlet.” Being an aficionado of literature, I wanted to relive from memory the tragic story of prince Hamlet by being inside the very walls in which Shakespeare had imagined it.

Palaces and castles in Scandinavian countries are quite modest by European standards and this one is no different. This is where the monarchs of Denmark would come to seek leisure during summertime and enjoy beautiful vistas of the strait and be able to see the coast of Sweden on a clear day, as did I on the day I was there.

Don’t miss to visit the dungeons below the castle – a dank and dark labyrinth of cells where prisoners were kept in subhuman conditions. There is a life-sized statue of Ogier the Dane at one end of the dungeons. Legend has it that one day he will wake up from his stony slumber and conquer all of Scandinavia and rule forever!

Photo Essay: Baku, Azerbaijan

Outside the entrance of the Shirvanshah Palace in the Old City
Sehrli Tendir: A restaurant famous for its breakfast. This woman is known to make the best bread around this area.
A beautiful street in the Old City.
Karvansaray Baku
Open Museum
Philharmonia Park: a copy of the Monte Carlo Casino
Gobustan: Old rock carvings and formations
Good Morning! The view from Sahil Hostel’s balcony
Sheki Khan Palace in Sheki
Inside the Sheki Khan Palace, Sheki
Ichersheher (Old City)

By Maryam Haq

The contributor is from Pakistan. She loves to travel, and when at home, cooks amazing food.

A Day in Bratislava

It was not until I was mapping my way to build a viable rail itinerary through Italy, Austria, and Hungary that I discovered Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. I knew immediately that I would need to make room to explore it, and I did.

Bratislava is only one hour by train from Vienna and can be visited comfortably as a day trip. Trains depart every other hour and return with the same frequency. Having seen the highlights, I believe it deserves at least a couple of days to properly explore the city and its surroundings; even more if you want to go deeper into Slovak territory to see places that are not frequented by tourists on a busy itinerary.

The pièce de résistance is the picture perfect Devin Castle (Hrad Castle) sitting atop a hill that looks as though it was made from marzipan, like the eponymous hotel in the film “Hotel Budapest”, and the well-preserved old town centre with many historical sites to see on both sides of the River Danube that divides the city in two.

Various statues and artworks that dot the city centre provide another attraction to the visitors. Some of them are wacky and intended for fun, especially the signature landmark of “Man at Work.” Visitors take obligatory pics there and those who wish for good fortune are told to rub its nose. I duly observed the ritual!

3 Tips for Planning a Trip to Japan

Over the past two months, I have been asked numerous times about my recommendations for Japan, my itinerary and if I had any tips to share. It turns out that a lot of my friends are planning to visit Japan this year! I thought it would be a great idea to share a couple of tips and advice based on my experience planning for the trip.

1. Get a JR Pass (Japan Rail Pass) to travel around Japan.

If you plan on visiting multiple cities in Japan, I highly recommend getting a JR Pass. You might be hesitant to get one because of how pricey it is, but it’s worth it. A 7 day JR Pass cost roughly the same as a round trip ticket from Tokyo to Osaka/or Kyoto. You pretty much break even and you get to use the pass on all JR lines (subway/rail) and the JR Narita Express (from Narita Airport to Tokyo Station). Since I was in Japan for 2 weeks, I opted for the 14 day JR Pass and used it visit Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. I definitely took full advantage of the pass and you should too if you’re planning to visiting other cities: (Note: if you’re planning to get it, make sure you order it before you get to Japan because they will mail you the documents you need to pick up the pass when you get to Japan.)

2. Rent Pocket Wifi and stay connected 24/7 so you can share your adventures on Instagram and Snapchat in real time (jk but not really).

It was honestly one of the best investments for the trip. I was able to use Google maps, look up/research spots on the go and start this blog on my train ride to Osaka. It comes with a portable charger as well and it’ll only cost you ~$6/day, which is a bargain.

3. Save some room in your luggage for souvenirs if you’re staying in hotels.

If you’re staying in hotels, you will get basic toiletries – toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, shampoo, lotion, slippers and some places will even provide razors and body sponges (loofahs). I packed travel size toiletries that I didn’t even touch – aside from my contact lens solution.

Bonus tip: If you’re planning to visit the Ghibli Museum, make sure you buy tickets in advance (more than a month in advance).

You can’t buy the tickets at the museum, you can only get them online or at a Lawson convenience store in Japan. The tickets only go on sale during a certain time each month and you learn more about it here. I wish I knew about this when I was planning my trip – I wasn’t able to get tickets a month before my trip and when I was in Japan.

Guest Post by Explore with Kenneth