One of the best things about living in Melbourne is the number of amazing places at a reasonable driving distance, the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road being two of those gems.
Why to go: Get out of the city Where to stay: Camp, hostels, Airbnb How long to stay: 1-2 nights at the Grampians and 1 night along the Great Ocean Road Transport: Hire a car, go slow on the winding Ocean Road Don’t miss: The amazing views from the mountains and coastline Go with: A group of friends Food: Make sure to always keep your driver happy and fed Vibe: A breath of fresh non-urban air
Why this road trip?
I studied abroad in Melbourne from 2015-2016 and one of the best things about living there is the number of amazing places at a reasonable driving distance, the Grampians and the Great Ocean Road being two of those gems. I did two Great Ocean Road trips during my year abroad, one with my friends, and one when my cousin visited in March. You can’t go to Melbourne and not see the Great Ocean Road, so when I had visitors there was no getting out of a repeat. However, there are so many stops along the route that you are guaranteed to see something you haven’t seen before. I decided to tack on the Grampians when my cousin came to maximise what she got to see whilst also diversifying the route for myself. I loved the mixture of sea and mountains. We went to the Grampians first as we didn’t want to have to return to the city exhausted from hiking, which meant we were able to make our way back down to Melbourne at our own pace alongside the sea. The drive to the Grampians from Melbourne is around 3.5 hours and once you get to the ocean from the Grampians the drive back along the coast is approximately 5 hours.
What to do at the Grampians?
There are plenty of trails to choose from at the Grampians with varying levels of difficulty. We got to the campsite in the evening and woke up early in preparation to spend all day hiking around the mountains before heading to the Great Ocean Road. Below are three of the best spots not to miss in my opinion.
From the Reek Lookout car park, the walk to The Balconies jaw like structure is approximately 2km. It can get quite full of tourists and it isn’t a particularly big spot so it is probably one to visit first!
The Pinnacle is where I took the feature photo for this post, and it is definitely not a sight you want to miss. We took the easiest route from the Sundial Car Park which is around a 2km / 45 min walk and then spent a good bit of time there taking in the views.
I recommend getting up close to the MacKenzie Falls via the MacKenzie Falls Walk (2km return). There are some narrow steps to get to the bottom of the falls which of course you will need to climb back up, so bank some time to take a breather and chill by the water before you head back up.
Where to visit on the Great Ocean Road?
This is by no means an exhaustive list. I did a Great Ocean Road trip more than once during my time in Melbourne and I liked seeing different things every time to shake up the experience. If I went again I would choose some new spots to continue exploring the area but the below are definitely my three favourites so far.
London Arch is my favourite stop because you get the awe inspiring coastal formations with less tourists and quicker beach access. These stops are all beautiful from the lookouts, there is no denying that, but there is something special about walking on the beach alongside these structures. The experience gives you one of those ‘puts your life into perspective’ moments.
The image of these coastline formations are synonymous with any Great Ocean Road trip and there is a reason they are so famous, but what I love the most is the beaches these formations are on. The lookout gets packed quickly with tourists so I recommend committing the time to walk on the beaches alongside it to take in these beasts.
Split Point Lighthouse at Aireys Inlet
The coastline around Split Point Lighthouse is stunning. Ultimately all of the coast is beautiful but I liked that Split Point was less packed with tourist than the famed 12 Apostles. The greenery around the lighthouse was also a nice contrast from the pale tan of the rest of the stretch of beaches along the road.
How long should and where to stay at each stop?
My cousin and I are quite possibly the fanciest people you have ever met and may or may not have slept in our rental car throughout the whole three nights on the road. Now, if you aren’t on a student budget I fully recommend camping or finding some cool hostels and/or Airbnbs on the way. Our trip was only 3 days and 4 nights given the short time my cousin had in the country but I think it was enough. I would recommend sleeping the night at the Grampians before a full day of hiking. Given you will be tired post hike, stay the night in the Grampians before heading off toward the Great Ocean Road to slowly make your way back Melbourne. Break up your drive back down and the stops along the way by staying the night at a coastal town midway.
Make the trip moments
This being the first time I had driven since passing my driving test at 17 and having to deal with hook turns in Melbourne CBD and the winding roads along the coast
Spending approximately 30 minutes figuring out how to turn on the rental car and proceeding to graze it before leaving the parking lot (thank the travel gods I convinced my cousin we needed full cover)
Using KFC’s Wi-Fi to do an online test for university whilst eating others customers’ leftovers and a tupperware with tuna salad (one of my finer moments in this life)
Our Michelin star dinners of raw carrots and bacon and cheese dip
Getting back to the car to witness a parking ticket being slapped on our hood post a 5 minute stop, then backing into a pole when leaving late to return the rental car
Having our petrol gauge drop from half full to empty on the motorway on our way back to return the car with nearly 0% phone battery (we asked for a car with a USB port for charging, we did not get it)
Bringing a jar or gherkins along as if it was our favourite child, yes, there is a photo album of family pictures
If the sound of hiring a car, and roaming around a place with an interesting past, divine food, and some stunning seaside cliff views is up your street, Malta is for you!
Currency: EUR Why to go: Rich history, good food, & beautiful scenery Where to stay: Airbnbs with parking How long to stay: 1-2 nights at each place Transport: Hire a car, drive on the left Don’t miss: Area around St. Peters Pool and Ras il-Fniek Go with: A group of friends Food: Famed for rabbit Vibe: Easy going, slow pace
Why go to Malta
My cousins and I selected Malta for our first international trip as a group of three slightly disastrous humans. I won’t lie, it was chosen off the ‘Everywhere’ list of destinations on Skyscanner as it met our budget, none of us had ever been, and we were seeking some sun. However, having now experienced the islands in the archipelago, I am a firm fan. From one side of Malta to the other is less than an hour by car, making it perfect for a shorter trip that still feels very much complete. If the sound of hiring a car, and roaming around a place with an interesting past, divine food, and some stunning seaside cliff views is up your street, Malta is for you!
Where to visit in Malta
The Maltese archipelago consists of the islands of Malta (the largest), Gozo, and Comino (the smallest). Given time constraints, we opted to only visit Malta and Gozo stopping at various places on our way round with the car. Below is a selection of our top spots we found on offer during our Maltese road trip.
Sliema works as a perfect base for day visits to Valletta. It is cheaper to stay here overnight than Valletta itself and you get an awesome view of the city which you would not get from inside the walls. There is not too much to call out here in terms of sight seeing but we had the best food of the trip at a restaurant called Ta’ Kris which we could tell was top class due to all the local clientele. It’s a reasonably small place with hard worked staff, so don’t expect speed, but if you get yourself a booking you are really in for a treat. Rabbit is a Maltese specialty and the rabbit dishes here were super tasty!
Valletta was gorgeous to walk around. The city is a unique mix, housing beautiful churches, quirky coloured apartments, and a spattering of some ‘hipster’ bars. It is the ultimate cool city with a laidback vibe packed with a serious historical punch. You want to give yourself time to get lost amongst the streets here but make sure to visit some of the museums to ensure you leave with an appreciation of everything the country has seen in its past. I recommend The Malta Experience for a short movie which explains the history and the War Memorial at the ocean end of the city for some awesome views of the forts surrounding Valletta. Finish your day here watching the sunset from the upper Barrakka Gardens when you are too tired to walk anymore.
Gozo has plenty to offer, so although we only spent one day and night here, I would recommend tacking on a day or two. We started our visit by taking in the megalithic Ġgantija temples to get an understanding of how ancient the land is.
Following our cultural visit of the day we headed to Marsalforn which considering it was March was quite empty. However, during high season a lot of tourists stay around here, particularly those looking to dive, as the town hosts a few diving shops. It was nice to walk around the dock area and I can definitely see the outdoor restaurant spaces packed in summer with tourists enjoying an Aperol Spritz or two.
Next we headed to the Azure Window and Blue Hole site. The Azure Window has actually collapsed now so you can’t see the arc structure which used to stand at this location. Either way this is a breathtaking area at the edge of the island of Gozo with cliffs a plenty to fulfil your sit, stare, and contemplate life needs.
I recommend visiting Victoria at night. It is the main city on the island and boasts the stunning Ċittadella. At night the walls are lit up similarly to Valletta and it makes for a killer view. Walking around the place without other tourists made me feel like I was creeping around a castle in Dorne in Game of Thrones in the dead of night and I was all for it.
Mdina is another of the incredible walled cities Malta has to offer. We started our visit here during the day getting lost around the city streets. At night, once again the city lit up which gave it that important castle feel. The streets are peppered with classy bars and restaurants, so although it is the old capital, you get the sense that people really socialise there rather than just treating it as a tourist destination.
Marsaxlokk is known as the best place to see the famous Maltese luzzu fishing boats. The boats are typically painted bright blue yellow and red with a pair of eyes on the bow. This small fishing village did not disappoint on the boat front and we had a stellar seafood lunch to boot.
My favourite part of the whole trip was our hike from Marsaxlokk to the St. Peters Pool area. The walk is super nice, giving you a bird’s eye view of the village you leave behind from a path bordered by old beige walls, cacti, and yellow flowers. We actually took a wrong turn and happened to find the most beautiful place of the whole trip. We never made it to St. Peter’s Pool but found an area of multiple natural pools which were bordered by the Mediterranean, almost like natural infinity pools. There was no one around seeing as most tourist traffic heads to St. Peter’s, so it became our own little paradise. What made it was the view of the Ras il-Fniek cliffs to the left whilst we bathed!
How long to stay in Malta
Malta is ideal for short trips because it is so small. Crossing the main island of Malta on it’s longest side takes less than 1 hour by road, so if you hire a car you have your independence and can check out as much of the country as you want. We stayed 6 days including our departure and arrival days and we squeezed so much in. I don’t feel like I missed out on anything. However, we did not visit Comino. If you have the luxury of time and want to see absolutely everything, give yourself a full 7-10 days and you will leave feeling like locals.
Transport in Malta
Malta does have a public bus system which many opt for to get from place A to B. Many also just visit Malta as a beach destination and spend most of their time in one spot. Our intention was to see as much of the island as we reasonably could and a road trip gave us the freedom to do that. If you have the time, I am sure the bus is cheaper, however, we didn’t want to find ourselves having to wait 1 hour after missing a bus (which would be typical of us). Also, be aware that in Malta you drive on the left hand side of the road!
Where to stay in Malta
Parking isn’t the easiest in Malta if you are not a confident driver. It is a small place so you can imagine it is a lot of parallel parking situations on small streets. Given the best way to see Malta is by hiring a car, I would recommend trying to secure Airbnbs with some parking space to make your life easier. That said, we predominantly used Booking.com to secure hotels and hostels at reasonable prices. In all honesty, the important thing here is proximity to where you are visiting as once you have arrived, the best thing to do is leave the car close to your accommodation and walk around given the size of the place.
Make the trip moments
My first trip with some of my favourite humans, being the disastrous triplet cousins we are
Screaming on our way to Sliema from the airport after getting volunteered to drive us as the one who is ‘used to’ driving on the left
The flashy lights around the churches all over Malta
The food at Ta’ Kris (R.I.P. the leftover pasta we forgot in the fridge)
Taking photos of us sleeping everywhere to curate a beautiful album for our parents
Falling asleep during The Malta Experience movie – I swear it was good but two thirds of us are pale and the sun hit us hard
So many cats, cats everywhere, cat sanctuaries in the middle of more than one Maltese town
Initiating our cousin into our sleep in the car habits in Gozo
Watching Black Panther in Victoria one evening just because (favourite Marvel film)
Doing everything last minute: renting a car, finding accommodation, you name it we did it
Loving Cisk beer and not loving Kinnie so much (acquired taste)
Fly into Malta in the morning and pick up your rental car (hopefully you are more organised than us and booked ahead)
Argue over who has to drive first in this foreign land, and when that is settled, head off to Sliema to drop off your stuff (once again, hopefully you are not booking accommodation in the car on the way to the town like us)
Make a reservation for dinner at Ta’ Kris and go walk around Sliema and the waterfront, getting a glimpse of nearby Valletta all lit up in the dark
Make yourself comfortable (seriously, service was slow) at Ta’ Kris for the best food of the whole holiday – be sure to try the rabbit dishes
Day 2: Valletta
Wake up early and shake off your food hangover because it is time to drive to Valletta (see if you can find parking in one of the towns in between Sliema and Valletta and walk the rest of the way as you won’t need the car)
Spend the day roaming the quirky streets of the walled city, being sure to make time for some museums (I recommend The Malta Experience for a short film summarising the history of the island) and the War Memorial from which you get a great view of Fort Ricasoli
Watch sunset at the upper Barrakka Gardens accompanied by an ice cream
Day 3: Gozo
Stop at Għadira Bay for breakfast by the sea before heading to the ferry station near Cirkewwa to purchase a return ticket to Gozo
Kill the time until the ferry arrives by taking in the views at Sunset Spot
Enjoy the 30 min crossing to Mġarr and upon arrival make your way straight to the Ġgantija temples for your daily dose of Maltese history
Drive to Marsalforn for lunch and a nosy around the waterfront
Continue on to the Azure Window (collapsed but still beaut) and the Blue Hole and spend some time jumping around the rocks and letting the stellar cliff views sink in
When night falls, head to Victoria to spend the night, but only after wandering about the lit up Ċittadella without the bustle of the day tourists
Day 4: Mdina & Dingli Cliffs
It is finally time for a beach day, up to you where, but I would recommend Ramla which is one of the most popular on Gozo (be sure to pick up ice cold Cisk beer and some crisps)
Get the ferry back to the main island and drive to the Dingli Cliffs for a walk and sunset
After sunset, make your way to Mdina, park up and get lost around the awesome old fortified capital at night
Day 5: Marsaxlokk & St. Peter’s Pool
Drive over to Marsaxlokk and spend some time at the waterfront checking out the luzzus (traditional Maltese fishing boats which are brightly coloured with eyes on the bow)
Leave the car at Marsaxlokk, pack a picnic, and hike over to St. Peter’s Pool and Ras il-Fniek to take in the phenomenal cliffside views
Get a little lost and head just northeast of St. Peter’s Pool to find your own private little paddling pools with infinity style views of the ocean
Day 6: St Julian’s
Wake up and enjoy a farewell breakfast in St Julian’s followed by a walk along the waterfront
Head off to the airport with plenty of time to return the car
Bust out the cards, and enjoy the last moments before you fly off reminiscing about the best moments of the trip whilst absolutely dominating at any and every game
My favourite bits about Croatia were the beautiful drives perfect for a road trip, the national parks, and the awesome festival locations!
Currency: HRK (Croatian Kuna) Why to go: Ideal for road trips, natural parks, & festivals Where to stay: Airbnbs with parking How long to stay: 2-3 nights at each city max Transport: Hire a car Go with: A group of friends Food: Very mediterranean
Why go to Croatia
My friend and I actually decided to go to Croatia for a music festival. Pula boasts various popular festivals such as Dimensions and Ultra. We were headed to Outlook festival for a sunny dose of bass music to finish off summer. My favourite bits about Croatia were the beautiful drives perfect for a road trip, the national parks, and the awesome festival locations!
Where to visit & what to do in Croatia
We wanted to see some of the country during our trip but knew we would be knackered post festival so we flew in early to the south of the country, Split, and decided to road trip up to the festival location, Pula. The start and finish points of our trip were hugely influenced by flight prices and convenience but we saw a good bit of the country and enjoyed some beautiful drives. Below are the locations we visited and what we did in each.
We stayed in Split for 3 nights, largely because it was the minimum stay at our Airbnb but it worked perfectly as a base from which to do day trips to Krka National Park and Hvar. Split in itself has good nightlife (full of young people from all around Europe making their way up to the festivals in Pula) and a delightful old town to roam. One of our favourite bits was a tiki bar placed in one of the old town squares that transitioned from serving smoothies to cocktails as the sun dropped. Krka National Park is roughly a 1 hour drive from Split and boasts some awesome waterfalls where you can take a dip, which feels well deserved after your walk to get there.
Hvar is known as a party island for the rich. I believe it was featured as a Made in Chelsea holiday season destination. You understand why when you arrive on a ferry from Split to a port with several yachts. The ferry trip takes around 1.5 hours one way but is pleasant. We opted to not take our car and explored the quirky streets of Hvar by foot and hiked to some more secluded beaches away from the port. The water was beautiful here and some of the hotels looked stunning, but personally I was more enthralled by the parties had during the festival!
The drive from Split to Šibenik was only around 1 hour. We found a cute pop art style flat last minute and arrived at night ready to check out the city the next day. Šibenik is an awesome place to roam around in the sun, particularly the old town streets. If you wind your way up through the old town you reach St. Michael Fortress which gives you a great view over the city.
The drive to Zadar from Šibenik was again only about 1 hour (this country is honestly ideal for a road trip). The old town in Zadar is where its at. It is perfect to walk around and has plenty of options for a nice dinner and a cheeky ice cream whilst the sun goes down. One of our favourite spots was the Sea Organ, where you can sit on the marble steps leading into the ocean and watch the sunset accompanied by the sounds created by the waves and the 35 organ pipes under the steps. Next to the Organ was the Sun Salutation which is essentially a massive solar panel which uses the day’s sunlight as energy to light up a series of multicoloured light on top it. These exhibitions are the coolest bits of Zadar so you can imagine they can get quite busy!
Pula was our last stop and I won’t pretend that we saw much more than the festival locations but they were a gorgeous backdrop to the festival. The opening concert was held in the Pula amphitheatre and it was incredible. Imagine the Colosseum in Rome all lit up in hues of blue, green, and red accompanied by the dulcet sounds of Bonobo. Hopefully that image excites you as much as it did me. The rest of the festival was held in Fort Punta Christo. Everyone stayed nearby so it was easy to walk to and from the festival. The Fort was right on the water and some of the stages were in some incredible hidden nooks of the Fort. I cannot recommend a festival here enough!
How long to stay in Croatia
A good 10 days in Croatia is enough for a Split to Pula road trip finishing off in some festival fun. We had a bout of food poisoning so we missed out on some things we wanted to see but we did not leave feeling unsatisfied. If you want to drive less in a given day, consider staying longer. If I were to visit without going to a festival I would tack on Zagreb and Dubrovnik as additional stops.
Transport in Croatia
I am not someone who loves driving or who is a super confident driver. Unfortunately I always end up driving in random countries, here is to hoping soon I will feel like a pro. Regardless of my skills behind the wheel, Croatia was such a pleasure to drive! The roads were easy to follow, with the exception of some one way road drama in some of the smaller towns (but I blame Maps over anything else). Some of the roads we drove at sunset on the coast were stunning and I reckon you would be missing out if you don’t opt to hire a car here in favour of buses or trains.
Where to stay in Croatia
Stay in Airbnbs throughout your time in Croatia, it is more convenient if you have a car. We didn’t experience any much difficulty with booking accommodation same day (we are not plan ahead people) and even got to stay at a quirky pop art themed place for one night (one of my favourite Airbnbs ever). I would say that if you are going to a festival, book accommodation ASAP as prices sky rocket.
Make the trip moments
A red mess (guess what you will)
Our unfortunate laughing fit when returning our hire car with a dent from reversing into a pole (the guy at the rental place called us legends for being in such a good mood, but obviously we were so chill because we know ourselves and got full cover)
The amazing Catalans we met and hung with throughout our time at the festival
Morning sunrises at the beach post dancing all night
Never waking up before 2pm during the festival
All the amazing stage locations around Fort Punta Christo
My friend Vedran from the Airbnb
Having to make the long bus and train journey to Italy to get our flight out the day after the festival ended because we left everything last minute (naturally we had slept about 30 minutes and were absolutely destroyed)
Wake up bright and early (welcome to your holidays – I’m talking like 5am) and head to a food cart to pick up a quinoa, kiwicha, or maca drink for breakfast and some sandwiches for lunch
Get your pre-organised ride (typically from the Plaza de Armas) to Hidroeléctrica
Arrive midday at Hidroeléctrica and have a bite to eat
Set off on the hike to Aguas Calientes (around 2-3 hours at a calm pace admiring the surroundings – can also get the train but we were on a student budget)
Check in to your accommodation and grab dinner at one of the many restaurants around town (go easy on the mojitos as you’re hiking a lot tomorrow)
Day 2: Machu Picchu
Wake up even earlier than yesterday (4:30am) to hike up to the entrance of the Machu Picchu site (you can also get a bus, but again, we were on student budgets)
Find a tour guide at the entrance of the site (many around forming groups) and be one of the first groups to head in at 6am
Walk around the site and go up the mountain/Huaynu Picchu at the allocated time if you have a ticket
Tip: We had an early ticket for the mountain and our guide said it wasn’t worth it as there are a lot of steps and the cloud and fog was too thick to see anything at that time. We decided not to go and saw the site at the best time (fog/cloud dispersion was amazing). To be honest there is also enough walking around to do around the site that the mountain would be too much, especially considering we hiked to Aguas Calientes and to the site entrance! If you get tickets though, don’t get morning tickets!
Get your tour guide to negotiate with the guards to let you overstay your allotted 4 hours at the site (ours offered to do this!)
Walk around, get your fill, and get your passport stamped with a cool Machu Picchu stand before heading back to Aguas Calientes for dinner
Day 3: Cocalmayo hot springs
Have breakfast and head off on the hike back to the Hidroeléctrica train station
Get in a taxi and head to the Cocalmayo springs (there will be loads of taxis near the station)
Enjoy a day of relaxation following all your hikes enjoying the baths of varying temperatures (there is a restaurant and changing facilities)
Get a taxi to Santa Teresa and have a bite to eat at a local restaurant before getting a taxi to Santa Maria
At Santa Maria find a van making the trip back to Cusco (more likely to get road transport here than in Santa Teresa but beware you will have to wait until the van is full)
Day 4: Sacred Valley
Join your tour bus in the morning from Cusco and set off for a packed day of seeing all the top sites in the Sacred Valley
Start of with the Moray archaeological site
Next head off to the Maras salt mines
Following this, roam around the Ollantaytambo ruins and markets
Finish off the day at the Pisac site (our group took so long that the site closed shortly after we got there unfortunately)
Tip: try space out your exploration of the Valley over more than one day if you have the time to ensure you have enough time at each site
Day 5: Rainbow Mountain
Set off (you guessed it) early on your tour van towards the Rainbow Mountain from Cusco
Stop at a restaurant pit stop to have some Coca tea before heading to the mountain to begin your hike
Hike all the way up to the peak taking your time so as to not suffer any altitude sickness (have plenty of layers at it is very cold at the peak)
Enjoy the view, take your photos, then head down again at an equally calm pace as the way down is where my altitude sickness hit!
Return to the restaurant for a well deserved lunch and then it is back on the van to Cusco
Dinner and drinks in any of the cool spots around Cusco
Day 6: Cusco
Finally enjoy a bit more of a lie in before you take the chance to roam around the streets of Cusco before you leave the beautiful city
Visit the various markets, including San Pedro, in order to find beautiful textiles, Peruvian chocolate, and much more
Get lost in the San Blas area of the city which has lots of cool quirky stores
Try and eat and drink away from the Plaza de Armas to avoid the tourist trap and get a more local feel
Get an overnight bus to Arequipa to avoid paying a night’s accommodation
Day 7: Arequipa
Drop all your stuff off at your accommodation and head off to explore the streets of Arequipa
Visit the colourful Monastery of Santa Catalina
Take a browse around the Santuarios Andinos museum where the mummy of ‘Juanita’ is housed
Roam around the markets (most things are cheaper in Cusco so hopefully you have bought anything you wante to there)
Enjoy sunset with a drink at a bar overlooking the Plaza de Armas
Organise a day trip to Colca canyon for tomorrow at one of the tour agencies in the Plaza de Armas
Day 9: Colca canyon
Head off early in the morning with your tour to the Colca canyon, stopping off at various viewpoints for stunning views
Spend some time at the Mirador Cruz del Cóndor to catch the Andean condor in all its glory
Enjoy last night in Arequipa with a nice dinner, some drinks, and some cheeky picarones for dessert
Get on another overnight bus this time headed for Lima
Day 11: Lima
Drop your stuff off at your accommodation and prepare to roam around the city
Do a free walking tour to get a good sense of the city and its history
Peruse the huge Mercado Central (central market)
Walk to the Magic Water Circuit and watch the water show
Tip: roam around the park following the show as there is more to see than just the main event
Dinner at a typical polleria
Day 12: Barranco & Miraflores
Get to Barranco by tram from central Lima
Roam around Barranco and take in the beautiful street art
Head down to the beach to relax with a beer as you prepare to say goodbye to Peru
Have a ceviche lunch in Barranco
Walk along the coast to Miraflores to check out the fancy part of Lima (full of expats)
Arrive at St Thomas airport and get a taxi to the port
Enjoy your first of many Painkillers of the trip at the bar until the ferry arrives
Relax on your 20min ride to Cruz Bay on St John whilst breathing in the sea salt air
Pick up a rental wranglers (literally all rentals are wranglers on this island) if you are old enough to (i.e. 25 or above)
Have dinner at one of the restaurants near the Cruz Bay port
Get a taxi/drive to your accommodation (try not to leave it too late if it is a hard to find Airbnb)
Day 2: Hawksnest Beach & Cruz Bay
Drive down to Cruz Bay for a lazy breakfast at Cruz Bay Landing (the best company will get two things and share with you)
Head to Hawksnest Beach for your first taste of the island’s beautiful waters
If you have enough water (and no car) walk back on North Shore Road towards Cruz Bay to see the sights from the viewpoints on the way whilst the sun goes down
Wander around the Cruz Bay shops and galleries follower by dinner in one of the many restaurants in the Bay before calling it a night (the sun will have you worn out, truuust)
Day 3: Trunk Bay
Head to the grocery store in Cruz Bay before heading out to pick up any drinks and snacks you need for a full day at the beach
Drive to Trunk Bay with your snorkel gear in tow
Spend the day snorkelling and enjoying the Bay
Enjoy sunset on the beach and then get a taxi back (we left too late and ended up hiking it – perks was seeing Cruz Bay all lit up from the top of North Shore Road and a hell of an appetite for dinner)
Have dinner at The Longboard in Cruz Bay for some amazing Painkillers (amazing with nutmeg grated on top) and even better poké bowls
Day 4: Snorkelling at Waterlemon Cay
Get in a good breakfast in Cruz Bay (we just went back to Cruz Bay Landing because it was the best breakfast in the Bay in our opinion)
Drive to the start of the Leinster Bay trail and hike towards Waterlemon Cay (about 20min walk)
Spend some time snorkelling in Waterlemon Bay to see rays, turtles, barracuda, and nurse sharks
Following this, finish the trail towards the end of the Bay where the Cay sits (a couple was just leaving as we arrived leaving the spot fully to ourselves)
Snorkel around the small island just off the Cay to see a beautiful array of ocean life (you can spend hours here)
Tip: there is a slight current between St John and the small island, nothing very strong but it’s better to be aware of before you set off
Walk back on the trail (might find some donkeys) as the sun sets for beautiful views across the Bay
Dinner at another of the fine choices in Cruz Bay (fully guilty of returning to The Longboard again as it was so good)
Day 5: St Thomas & Magens Bay
Head to Cruz Bay to get the ferry over to St Thomas
Pick up a rental car (we went back to the airport as we had booked one here)
Drive to Charlotte Amalie for lunch and a wander round (mostly jewellery shops for all the cruise traffic so not too much to see)
Head to Magens Bay for sunset
Day 6: Coki Point
Have breakfast and head to Coki Point beach for the day in the company of the day’s DJ
Spend the day snorkelling around the coast and stay until sunset
Drive to Red Hook for a sushi dinner with some very fresh fish
Day 7: Mermaid’s Chair & Lindquist beach
Have breakfast at Barefoot Buddha (amazing sweet potato and goat’s cheese wrap)
Head to the Mermaid’s Chair and park up near the estate which you must hike down (we got caught in a downpour so bring a cagoule)
Clamber around the rocks at the literal end of St Thomas
Stop for some lunch and margaritas before driving around the island to reach Lindquist beach
Spend the rest of the day time at Lindquist before heading for some amazing sushi
Day 8: cheeky bit of beach & depart
Grab takeaway at Buddha again because it was just that good and head to Lindquist beach for a few hours before heading to the airport (absolutely don’t back into a pavement just before returning the car like we did)
Drop off your car and say goodbye to paradise
Note: This itinerary is based on not being able to rent a car. If you can rent one, I encourage you to explore much more of the island! I’ll have to return when I’m old enough to rent one! The renting age is lower in St Thomas but you are not supposed to bring your cars over on the ferry if not a local.
There were essentially two reasons we decided to extend our trip to include Jordan, the Petra archaeological site and a night’s stargazing in the Wadi Rum desert, and let me tell you they were definitely worth it.
Currency: JOD (Jordanian Dinar) Why to go: Petra & Wadi Rum Where to stay: 5* hotels (cheap comparative to western Europe) How long to stay: 3 nights to not pay anything at the Wadi Arab border when crossing from Israel Transport: Taxi Go with: A partner or friend Food: Disappointing but I mostly had hotel food to be fair
Why go to southern Jordan
I combined seeing southern Jordan with a trip from Tel Aviv to southern Israel I did with a friend. In Eilat, Israel there is a border with Jordan which is conveniently positioned to allow you to visit the most well known tourist attractions in the country. Click here to learn more about what to expect at the border. The border is around a fifteen minute drive from Aqaba (opposite Israel’s Eilat), a two hour drive to Petra, and around a one hour drive to the Wadi Rum desert. There were essentially two reasons we decided to extend our trip to include Jordan, the Petra archaeological site and a night’s stargazing in the Wadi Rum desert, and let me tell you they were definitely worth it.
Where to visit in southern Jordan
We crossed into Jordan from Israel around midday. After two hours driving to Petra, we arrived at our hotel at 2pm. The transport from the hotel to the archaeological site had already left and Khaled, who drove us to Petra, offered us a deal to drive us to and from Petra and to Wadi Rum the following day, allowing us to get straight to the site to make the most of our time. We didn’t go to the site prepared at all. We did not have enough water or any food and had bought Petra by night tickets before going in. We ended up staying at the site for around five and a half hours. The plan had originally been to return to the hotel or to eat something next to the site and go back for Petra by night. However, as closing time for Petra by night came and the crowds thinned, we didn’t want to miss the best time to roam around the site. Although the famous instagram photo is of the treasury at Petra, I urge you to walk around more. There are so many stunning structures and the site is huge. Walking beyond the treasury also leaves behind the tourist fanfare which I frankly found annoying.
Petra by night is very much a tourist trap. You walk the same path to the treasury (the first structure at the site) lit up by candles in paper bags only to sit down in front of the treasury lit up in various colours for 20-30 minutes. The event consists of a story by candlelight and some music played all whilst you sip on a small glass of tea. I’m not saying don’t go but I just think Petra is much more than this. There was no roaming around and seeing different structures lit up. Also, it was very cold, bring a jumper if you are going!
Wadi Rum became our desert stay destination thanks to my friend’s research. She had found a bubble hotel online and it became what she was looking forward to the most out of the trip. I had never stayed the night in a desert before but being in the middle of nowhere with minimal light pollution means you get a beautiful view of the night sky, the main attraction in my opinion. The hotel offered stargazing which we took advantage of, following which we just sat and stared at the stars on our bubble patio. It was a very romantic setting, hence most of our fellow travellers were couples. Although we decided we weren’t that fussed, the hotels in the desert also offer tours around the place to see various sites.
Aqaba wasn’t really an intended destination. We always knew that on the fourth day we were going to have to get a bus from Eilat and travel the five hour trip back to Tel Aviv. As such, the decision was to either stay the night in Eilat or Aqaba and set off in the morning. We decided to spend the night in Aqaba for two reasons: the hotels are cheaper than Eilat and if we stayed three nights in Jordan we saved 10 JOD each in exit fees at the Jordanian side of the border. Following our night in the desert, we got a car to Aqaba and had a relaxed beach and pool day. Rumour had it that easyJet is going to start direct flights to Aqaba, and I see why, the beaches were pleasant and for a cheap 5* stay with a nice beach, it worked well.
How long to stay in southern Jordan
This will differ depending on how you entered Jordan. If you are doing an extended full country tour of Jordan, you may want to stay longer and explore additional archaeological sites. However, my friend and I had limited time to explore southern Jordan and we found that three nights was the perfect amount of time to see what we really wanted to whilst avoiding Jordanian border costs and even getting a day of relaxation before commencing our long bus journey back to Tel Aviv before our flight out. Our three nights consisted of a day and night in Petra, a pool day in Petra and night in Wadi Rum, and a beach day and night in Aqaba before heading back to the Wadi Araba border.
Transport in southern Jordan
We didn’t look into hiring a car in Jordan but to be honest with the little time we were planning on spending in the country, as well as what we were planning on getting up to, it didn’t seem like it would be that worth it. After crossing the border into Jordan from Israel at the Wadi Araba border you are met by the taxi mafia. They do not like you grouping up to pay less on taxis and they charge more than the standard fare posted on the billboard right next to the border office. We didn’t actually take any of these taxis as we’d met a Brazilian couple who asked if we wanted to share the trip to Petra. Their hostel owner was picking them up and agreed to take us along which did cause a bit of an argument with the taxi leader but we just got out of there as quick as possible and all was fine.
The best way to travel across the country conveniently was taxis. I warn you they are not cheap. We got the name of the hostel owner who had taken us to Petra who basically agreed to ferry us around during our time in Jordan for a good price. He took us from our hotel to Petra, picked us up from Petra and took us to our hotel, took us from Petra to Wadi Rum, and arranged for a friend to pick us up from Wadi Rum to take us to Aqaba on our last night. We ended up using the same driver to take us to the border on the fourth day too.
To give you an idea of prices:
Border to Petra = JOD 35 for two (two other passengers paid the same) Hotel to Petra & back AND Petra to Wadi Rum = JOD 55 for two Wadi Rum to Aqaba = JOD 25 for two Aqaba to Border = JOD 10 for two
Where to stay in southern Jordan
Whilst taxis are expensive, you can stay at 5* star hotels here for a cheap price relative to what I’m used to in western Europe. Bear in mind that in Wadi Rum and Petra you are going to be roaming around desert so you may be in search of a bit of luxury when it comes to accommodation. Admittedly I’m more of an airbnb and hostel gal. I’m down for anything that has a good vibe, is convenient, and is well priced. On this trip I was with a friend who prefers a nice hotel so we both compromised, and frankly in a destination where you’re weary post hours in the desert, I was happy to change my usual habits. The most expensive stay was in Wadi Rum where we stayed in a luxury bubble. It was a once in a lifetime stay and well worth it for the experience. We ate in our hotels during our whole stay in Jordan and I must admit I wasn’t very impressed, but hey, I didn’t go to Jordan for the food!
We bought just enough dinars (around 13-15 JOD) on the Israeli side of the Wadi Araba border to get us a taxi to Aqaba. We only exchanged this much because the rate was pretty bad. The original plan had been to get a bus from Aqaba to Petra to save some money but of course we were lucky in bagging a car straight to Petra. We told the driver we needed to exchange more money which he did for us in the car at a better rate than the border. We kicked ourselves a little bit when we got to the hotel though, as it had a near perfect rate which usually isn’t the case at hotels. Lesson learned: change just enough for a taxi first chance you get, and then exchange the rest of your money at your hotel in Jordan.
Make the trip moments
Sunset from our bubble’s patio in the Wadi Rum desert (the most beautiful I have ever seen)
Stargazing in the Wadi Rum desert (we saw Saturn!)
Contemplating life whilst staring at all the stars from our bubble patio accompanied by a good stargazing playlist
Roaming around Petra in that sweet spot close to closing for Petra by night preparations, it was a lot less busy and made the experience all the more magical
Going on a “frienymoon” after my friend had just got married and come back from her honeymoon
Read about the procedure to cross the Wadi Araba / Yitzhak Rabin border when you enter Jordan from Israel.
Peru is a place of extremes. Extreme altitudes, hikes, and variation amongst communities and regions. Every bit worth the visit.
Peru is a place of extremes. Extreme altitudes, hikes, and variation amongst communities and regions.
Currency: PEN (Peruvian Sol) literally called sun! To do: Incredible hikes, charming cities, and Machu Picchu To stay: Hostels or booking.com How long to stay: Two weeks to see three cities Food: Pollerías and Arroz Chaufa Why to go: Machu Picchu – no photo does justice to being there Transport: Overnight buses, taxis, tours, and trams in Lima Go with: Small group of friends Driving: Don’t do it, some of the roads will give you ridiculous vertigo!
Why go to Peru
Peru is a place of extremes. Extreme altitudes, hikes, and variation amongst communities and regions. No two cities I visited were like each other which made for such a rich and diverse trip. I went to the beach, I roamed around cities, I soaked in thermal baths, and went on hikes with stunning views. There was just so much variety to this country which is the reason I highly rate it as a travel destination.
Peru was my first taste of South America and boy am I glad. It just so happened that I had a cousin who had been volunteering at the Universidad Nacional de San Agustin in Arequipa for six months. Before heading home she was going to do some travelling around and she told me to come. Naturally, I said yes, no thoughts or hesitations. When someone invites you to go to Peru with people who have actually been living the Peruvian life, you say yes.
Where to go in Peru
Peru is big (we are talking about five times larger than the UK here), so unless you have the privilege of spending a solid month plus here on your first visit, you will have to be selective about where you go. On my trip I went to Cusco, Arequipa, and Lima. Luckily my trip was planned for me. My cousin and her housemate had done some travelling of their own travelling during their stay but had graciously left some of the best bits to see with me.
Cusco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. The city is the old capital of the Inca empire as well as its ideal location for popular day trips like Machu Picchu, the Sacred Valley, and the Rainbow Mountain. There is a reason this city is one of the most popular and I absolutely loved it for it’s own merits too, not just as a base to see other things. Whatever time you have to play with in this beautiful country, put Cusco at the top of your list. It can be a bit touristy in the centre, but wander around and you find charming markets and hideaway haunts.
We went to Arequipa following our first stop in Cusco. My travel companions had to pack up their flat before we headed to Lima and of course they wanted to show me their home of the past three months. Once again though, I fell in love with the place! Arequipa was less touristy than Cusco and being in the desert, much more sunny! I had the privilege of staying in my cousin’s flat so had the chance to feel like I actually lived there, and it really was the kind of place where I could see myself living. The city is surrounded my three volcanoes and there are some cool day trips you can do from there. This may not be the highlight destination in terms of things to do and see but it’s a great location if you actually want to spend some time living in Peru.
My last stop was Lima, the capital of Peru. I spent around two days here and saw the beach, the Magic Water Circuit, had some awesome chicken, roamed around, and did a walking tour. It’s cheapest to fly in and out of Lima so it’s likely you will spend a day or two here. I did like the city but it was probably my least favourite destination. It was great to walk around the capital to get a sense of what life is like here but I preferred the other cities I visited as they had a more laidback vibe.
What to see and do in Peru
There are so many things to do in Peru and what I did does not even come close to an exhaustive list but here are a selection of three of my favourite things you absolutely must do. Give yourself time to see the place if you have the luxury! If you are tight on time like we were, don’t focus on fitting as much as you can in, but rather appreciate and spend time at the places you can see. Also, try visiting sites later in the day when there are less tourists as it is always more magical.
Machu Picchu is what most people think of first when they think of Peru and it is at the top of my top my list of things to see and do here. It is what you see plastered all over Instagram, but in all honesty it’s for a reason. This is the kind of site where no photo, no matter how rad, does it justice. We hiked up at 5am to be one of the first groups to enter the site. Hint: You find a guide outside the entrance. We entered the site to find near zero visibility due to fog and cloud cover. Walking around with our guide and group, slowly but surely, the sun started to break through and the clouds dispersed. Suddenly you find yourself are face to face with the regal impossibility of the place. You are in a citadel in the clouds. You are surrounded by breathtaking mountain ranges. Good luck getting that experience on an insta photo.
There is not one single thing about Cusco that warrants its place in my top three, it is the culmination of everything it offers. Our days here were filled with visits to the local food market for the best smoothie and sandwiches I think I’ve ever had, haggling at the markets for llama keychains with crazy eyes as souvenirs for everyone back home, and walking to viewpoints which offer an epic view of the city. There was no sense of urgency in this city and I think the fact that we could just be still here and enjoy and discover what Cusco had to offer was what I loved.
Once again there are plenty of awesome photos of the Rainbow Mountain and they are very warranted. The reason this hike features in my top three is purely due to the physical challenge and surrounding beauty of it. The peak of the mountain was the highest we’d been in Peru, standing at over 5,000m. Until this hike I had been lucky to have no altitude sickness, not even during our Machu Picchu hiking but the Rainbow Mountain defeated me.
I was actually the first of my group to make it up the mountain and I had felt fine, out of breath but not unwell in any way. The walk brought with it stunning surrounding mountain ranges, plenty of donkeys ferrying people up and down, and of course, llamas and alpacas. When we got to the top we took a break and tried some alpaca meat prior to taking our photos and checking out the impressive views. The way down is what ended me funnily enough. I think it was the speed of the descent at the urgency of the tour guide. During the walk down I started to feel dizzy. By the time we’d made it back to the restaurant I felt like puking and could not get one spoonful down me (trust me this is not like me) so my cousin ate for both of us (very like her). I drank loads of coca tea which the locals swear helps with altitude sickness, slept on the drive back to Cusco, and was fine when I woke up.
How long to spend in Peru
Peru is huge so at some point I would love to spend a solid two months travelling here, however, I work full time and the most I could get off was just over two weeks, but boy did I make it worth it. It isn’t a destination I would go to for less than that as you will be left wanting more and without a proper sense of the place and how it varies city by city and region by region. I managed to see three cities in this time and didn’t have a single boring day. If you have more time to play with, look to explore the north and all of Peru’s incredible terrains including the coastal, jungle, and mountainous areas. If you are looking at saving time, use overnight buses to travel between locations. They are more comfortable than planes and saves you a night’s accommodation!
Transport in Peru
Some of the roads I went on in Peru were the scariest of my life, so unsurprisingly I wouldn’t recommend driving there. The roads you wouldn’t want to drive are predominantly the mountainous roads, especially when it’s cloudy or foggy and you are super high up! Most of our tour transportation didn’t have seatbelts, a charming characteristic I quickly found was very common in Peru. Another delightful experience was the overnight bus from Cusco to Arequipa. We were asked to provide our fingerprints on some paperwork before boarding the bus. My travel companions relished my reaction when they told me this was so they could identify our bodies if we happened to have an accident on one of the perilous roads we were likely to be travelling along in the dead of night. Ah the joys! In all seriousness though, the buses are super comfortable. You get meals onboard, have a toilet accessible, movies throughout the ride, and it is more comfortable and spacious than a plane seat.
Where to stay in Peru
I mostly stayed in hostels or rooms found through booking.com during my stay in Peru. The quality of the rooms varied based on the location and the price of course but the hosts were always super friendly and helpful. Cusco had some awesome looking hostels so I’d look to stay at one next time I’m in the area. Either way you won’t go wrong with whatever you choose. I’d just advise you to keep it central in the cities to make getting around and back easy and if your accommodation has a kettle, boil some water to refill your bottles.
What to eat in Peru
The question should be what not to eat in Peru. I didn’t even have the chance to taste all the local delicacies here but most of what I ate I loved, save one bad experience at a mosquito ridden cafe in Aguas Calientes with chewy meat and lacklustre food. Peru has street stands which offer sandwiches with Peru’s unique salty cheese, egg, palta (avocado), or a mixture of these, if you are looking for something on the go for you tours. The avocado in Peru is a thing of true beauty and so cheap compared to Europe!
You will also find street stands offering various breakfast drinks, including my favourite made of kiwicha. The drinks come in plastic bags with straws (the locals bring their own containers) and the best way to describe them are warm, sweet, quinoa-y, liquidy porridge type concoctions. They are great sources of energy and super desirable on a cold morning.
Other things to mention are the smoothies and killer sandwiches you can get at any food market, churros, coca tea, and pollerías which offer insane portions of super tasty chicken. You will find most plates come with potatoes and rice so get used to carbs. If you want to try all the best local dishes, go to a picanteria for lunch like the locals in Cusco or Arequipa and try all the famous dishes with a jug of chicha morada (made form purple corn).
Make the trip moments
Me arriving in Cusco at the dead of night to find my cousin and our friend were late, typical Spaniards
Getting to Cusco only to find out I’d have to wake up at 5:30am the following morning to make our bus towards Hidroelectrica, and that these early mornings are how most of my days would continue…
My first day and the first drive way up in the mountains. Think windy roads, with near zero visibility, no seatbelts (not really a thing in Peru), and the driver crossing himself three times to pray for us to make it to our destination. The roads are petrifying, but you just have to accept there isn’t much you can do about it, or the screechy Peruvian music on the radio
Watching the mountains around Machu Picchu slowly appear from the clouds
The llamas at the university in Arequipa, they weren’t huge fans of me…
Taquitos, salsa aji, buñuelos, the Tres Leches cake from the lady outside the university in Arequipa, who am I kidding so much of the food
When you go to Peru everyone tags you in every llama video out there. I got tagged in one where a lady was getting in a taxi with a llama. And then, I kid you not, I witnessed such things in Cusco. We were too gobsmacked to capture the moment on video, but twas epic
Missing my flight back, because I had printed off the wrong email following a flight time change only to get the original (now incorrect) flight back at no extra cost (phew)
All the hiking/walking, such a refreshing break from corporate life
Ordering food from the polleria only to ram it into takeaway boxes 30 seconds after it made it to our table and run like mad women so we wouldn’t miss the tour bus
The company and all the damn laughs, thanks Peru, thanks you two