Iceland – An easy 4 day itinerary for first timers

Iceland – An easy 4 day itinerary for first timers

Iceland, the land of Fire and Ice

Plus waterfalls, volcanoes and more Game of Thrones settings than you can shake an ice dragon at.

Whilst this beautiful country has exploded in popularity as a tourist destination in the past few years, it still remains off the radar for many travellers and holiday makers, which makes now the perfect time to discover this unspoilt gem.

Highly deserving of it’s bucket list status, we chose Iceland as the perfect place for a short stay in between our time in Mexico and Asia, to experience something totally different and because, well, we’d always wanted to go. Usually we like to spend as long as possible in a country to fully immerse ourselves but Iceland actually lends itself nicely to short visits. While we can’t wait to go back and see more, four days allowed us to see everything we wanted without being too full on. Plus, Iceland is definitely NOT a budget destination, with food, drink and accommodation particularly pricey.

Icelandic horses are then cutest!

 Iceland is a horse lovers paradise!

However, it can all seem a bit overwhelming when you first start to investigate a trip to Iceland.

When to go, how much should you expect to pay and what’s the best way to get around are all questions we had when we started planning too. Plus many more!

The itinerary we ended up doing worked a treat so we wanted to share it as a suggestion for how to spend a really good four days in Iceland. As first timers, we managed to enjoy all the main attractions in the south without killing ourselves trying to stuff in too much. Next time we go (and there will definitely be a next time) we’ll look for more off the beaten track places to see, but for our first time, sticking to the main tourist sights was perfect.

This guide is designed to help you plan your first trip to Iceland by sharing how we did it and some of the costs. Of course you can adapt and switch things up to suit your own needs but hopefully you will find it helpful, at least as a starting point. We researched hard and read many articles and blog posts before going to ensure that our time in Iceland would be as awesome as possible. It’s thanks to all the people who took the time to write about their experiences that we were able to plan the perfect itinerary and had the most amazing time. We hope that this guide might do the same for you, inspire you to go to Iceland too and help with planning your perfect trip.

 

Travel Tip: Book in Advance.

Because of it’s popularity, demand outstrips supply for accommodation in Iceland. Which means high prices and not a huge amount of choice (especially if you’re on a budget). Even when we booked 6 months in advance many places were already sold out on Booking.com. Don’t leave this one till the last minute – plan ahead

BONUS – Use this link for Booking.com you’ll receive 10% back. You’re welcome.

 

 

You can stay on a goat farm in Iceland

Stay on a goat farm at the Skálatjörn Guesthouse. We’re not ‘kidding.’

 

When is the best time of the year to visit Iceland?

 

We went in mid September which is considered shoulder season. It’s a great time to go as there are less tourists after the peak summer months, the weather is still fine and it’s the start of Northern Lights season, yay!

We were really lucky with the weather as we had sunshine every day, temperatures around 10°C that dropped to just above freezing at night. We didn’t have to contend with any rain or icy roads, nor did we experience any of the high winds that can assail the island. Be aware that the weather can be highly changeable and plan accordingly. 

Iceland black sand beach in the sun

Beach days are still possible in September, although swimming is optional.

 

Another consideration when choosing time of year to visit are the daylight hours. In September it’s dark by 9.30pm and light at 7.30am so you get lots of daylight hours for exploring but it’s also dark when you want to sleep. If you go in high summer there are only a couple of hours of darkness, which can make sleep difficult for some people. Similarly in mid winter, darkness prevails which limits your activities.

 

Getting to Iceland

 

Several budget airlines now offer routes from the UK to Iceland. It’s an easy, direct, three hour flight and the time difference is only 1 hour, so there’s no jet lag to factor in. We flew with Wizz air from Luton airport to Keflavik and paid around £100 each, return.

We love budget airlines because you can choose what extras you want to pay for and what to leave off. Just be careful to read the baggage policy! We opted to just take hand luggage as we prefer to travel light and save pennies. Wizz Air only allows you to take one piece of hand luggage each onto the plane, unless you pay for a Priority ticket ie no handbag/laptop bag. We got around this by taking one small day bag, which we just stuffed into one of the main carry on bags whist boarding, then got it out on the plane.

Always check how much extras will cost you when comparing flight prices. We only took hand luggage, our own snacks and refillable water bottles but did pay for seats together.

It's easy to fly to Iceland from the UK

Do you prefer the window or aisle seat?

 

 

What’s the best way to get around in Iceland?

 

There are no buses or trains to help you get around Iceland and taxi’s are very expensive. There are plenty of tours that you can book on to see the main sights but we found the best way to experience Iceland was to hire a car and drive.  Without doubt, hiring a car is the best option for getting around because you can set your own pace, stop where you want and save money on tours or taxi’s.

Trust me, the landscape changes around every corner which means you’ll want to stop and get out A LOT.

Another cool way to get around is to hire a camper van but we prefer to have a proper bed to sleep in and also need wifi to work.

hiring a car in Iceland is the best way to get around

Hiring a car allowed us to discover some unexpected gems

 

We hired a small, 1.2l automatic which was fantastic for our trip as we weren’t wanting to go off road and we stayed around the warmer south coast. If you go during the winter or want to go up into the mountains you would be better off with a 4x4 and snow tyres. Make sure you have adequate insurance as potential damage from sand, ash or gravel are real possibilities. It’s also not uncommon for strong winds to gust and cause damage to doors when getting in and out.

 

Iceland roads are not very busy

 Highway 1. Traffic really isn’t an issue in Iceland

 

Don’t let that put you off however. Just make sure you have the right vehicle for the type of trip you’re doing and you read all the fine print for what you’re covered for and take out extra cover if necessary. We didn’t experience any issues at all on our trip and once I got used to driving on the wrong side of the road (Icelanders drive on the right hand side, the UK on the left!) it was really easy. The roads are well maintained and largely empty.

Indeed, outside of Reykjavik there is barely any traffic, just miles and miles of mostly empty roads.

 

Travel Tip: Use SkyScanner to compare car hire rates.

Not only useful for comparing flights, SkyScanner also does a handy car hire comparison. We ended up booking with Avis as they gave us the best deal and we didn’t have any problems. Always take pics or video of the car when you pick it up and make sure you check the damage on the report matches the car and report it if it doesn’t.

We paid £205 for a 1.2 litre automatic VW Polo for four days on a ‘full to full’ petrol policy. We only needed to fill up once and petrol prices were comparable to the UK, around £50 for 3/4 of a tank.

 

 

What are the main attractions to see in Iceland?

 

Here is a map of our Iceland itinerary. Click on it to view in Google and see each of the tourist spots, where we stayed and the routes we took each day. As I said at the start, as Iceland ‘first-timers’ we wanted to see the main tourist attractions so we planned our itinerary around the Golden Circle and the south coast. We weren’t disappointed with anything we saw, even with our expectations high, Iceland still blew us away. 

 

 

 

 

Our 4 day Iceland Itinerary

 

Below is a break-down of our 4 day Iceland itinerary to help you plan your own trip:

 

Day 1: Arrival and Blue Lagoon

Arrived at 9am at Keflavik International Airport

Collected hire car, drove to supermarket and stopped for lunch at a cafe near the airport.

25 min drive to The Blue Lagoon for the rest of the afternoon

Short drive to Grindavík and overnight stay at Anita’s Guest House

 

Day 2: The Golden Circle

Set off early along the coast road and join the Golden Circle route, stopping along the way to look at horses and views

Thringvellir National Park

Geysir hot springs area

Gulfoss Waterfall

Drive back south towards the coast to our accomodation for the next two nights, Skálatjörn Guesthouse goat farm

Keep a look out for the northern lights!

 

Day 3: The South coast and Vik

Head east along the south coast towards the town of Vik

Urrioafoss waterfall

Skogafoss waterfall

Arrive at Vik for lunch – we ate at Sudur Vik and can highly recommend!

Wander around the town then drive back stopping at Reynisfjara black sand beach

Drive back towards our guest house, stopping at Seljandsfoss waterfall as the last stop of the day. We decided to do this one last because you will get soaking wet going behind the waterfall!

 

Day 4: Horse Riding

Reluctantly leave our guest house and the gorgeous goats

Head north back towards Reykiavik

Private horse riding tour at Viking Horses just outside Reykiavik.

Head to our final night’s accomodation Maxhouse Reykjavik

(We had planned to check out Reykjavik on our last night but were too tired after the amazing horse riding)

 

Day 5: Depart

Early check out and drive the 40 mins back to the airport. Return the hire car and fly back to the UK

 

 

Travel Tip: Take snacks

– and tea bags, a thermos flask and reusable water bottles are all a great idea for the road. All the main tourist spots have cafe’s but they are not cheap, think £5 for a small cup of tea or coffee. We went to a supermarket on our first day and made packed lunches most days.

 

 

So what exactly are all these hard to pronounce places we keep refering to?

 

The Golden Circle

The ‘Golden Circle’ as the name suggests, is a 300km popular circular route that is easily accessed from Reykjavik and can be done comfortably in a day. Along this route you find three of the top tourist attractions within close proximity to each other; Thingvellar National park, Geysir and Gulfoss waterfall.

 

Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park

Designated a World Heritage Site since 2004, Thingvellir is celebrated for being the historic seat of Iceland’s parliament from Viking times until 1794. The park is also situated in the inter-continental rift between the Europe and North America tectonic plates. Here you can literally stand between two continents, one of the only places in the world it’s possible to do so.

When you arrive at the visitor centre it’s necessary to pay for the car park (one of the very few places where you have to pay.) It costs about £5 and you can pay easily by card using the touch screens in the toilet building. If you want to go in the exhibition in the Centre you’ll have to pay for a ticket, otherwise entry around the site is free.

It’s worth pointing out that, as everywhere in Iceland, snacks and drinks in the cafe are expensive; £5 for a small cup of tea/coffe for example. We made our own packed lunches and took flasks of hot drinks and reusable water bottles, which you can fill from the tap. It pays to be organised and plan ahead in Iceland, otherwise you can end up spending a lot of money.

We didn’t take any cash with us and had no problems as everywhere accepted card payments.

Thingvellir National Park

Culturally and geographically significant Thingvellir

 

 

Geysir Geothermal Area

About 40 mins further on from Thingvellir is the geothermic hot springs area where you can see boiling mud pits and water erupting out of the earth. The generic word ‘geysur,’ meaning an erupting hot spring, actually derives from Geysir as the one in Iceland was the first to be recorded. Geysir itself has been mostly dormant for many years, leaving the Strokkur geysur as the main attraction, erupting reliably every 10 minutes or so. 

There is a large visitor centre at the site with lots of free parking, a big gift shop, restaurants and toilets.

geysir erupting in Iceland

Strokkur geyser putting on a show

 

Gulfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss (meaning golden waterfall) is one of the iconic waterfalls of Iceland and a vision of unspoiled nature at it’s finest. Fed by the Hvítá (White) river which gushes down from Iceland´s second biggest glacier, water plummets down in two stages into a rugged canyon some 70 metres high.

There are walkways that allow you to get very close to the waterfall and there are many great spots to photograph it from. In the winter these paths are closed when the weather is bad but in September we had no issues.

Gulfoss waterfall, part of our easy 4 day itinerary in Iceland

 Gulfoss waterfall. Worth the drive

Seljelandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls

Two more awe-inspiring waterfalls to see along the south coast, which fit in perfectly on the way to the town of Vik, are Seljelandsfoss and Skogafoss. While there were plenty of other tourists around when we visited (which was at peak time through the middle of the day) it never felt overcrowded and we still managed to get good pics.

Mighty Skogafoss often has the added bonus of a rainbow to add to it’s appeal and at Seljelandsfoss you can climb up behind the waterfall to gain an entirely new perspective. Both are well worth visiting and to give you an idea, we probably spent an hour or so at each.

 

Skogafoss in Iceland

Skogafoss waterfall, complete with rainbow and tourists

 

Vik

The most southerly point in Iceland is the pretty town of Vik and the famous black sand beach and rock formations at Reynisfjara. Easily accessed from Highway 1, if we had more time to explore further around the coast, we would have potentially stayed in Vik. The town itself is quiet and quaint and we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a cute restaurant Sudur Vik.

There were quite a lot of tourists at the beach when we arrived but considering it was mid afternoon, it wasn’t too bad and the beach is pretty vast. Watch out for the ‘sneaker’ waves that come up higher than expected and can knock you off your feet!

 

black sand beach, Iceland

The curious rock formations and black sand at Reynisfjara beach

 

Horse Riding tour

On our last day we headed back towards Reyjavik but rather than explore the city, we went on a horse riding tour in the countryside just outside. The city does have some interesting things to see and most likely we’ll do this next time but we were more interested in seeing Iceland’s natural splendours than it’s urban sprawl.

Horses are everywhere in Iceland. Indeed, they are the only breed of horse permitted on the island and Icelanders are fiercely proud of them. Seeing the countryside from horseback was a truly special experience and probably the highlight of our whole trip. If you’re unsure whether to do this or not, don’t hesitate!

800 year old red lava field from horseback

 

There are many places where you can book a horse riding tour in Iceland. I researched carefully and ended up booking with Viking Horses because of their high rating, and because they offered the option of a private tour. Since Steve had never ridden before safety was especially important and we wanted to ride at a pace he felt comfortable with.

All the equipment was provided and we were given time at the start to allow us to get to know our horses and have a practice ride in the paddock before setting off. The three hour ride saw us go  through forests, lupins meadows and accross red lava rock fields. We even tried the tölt, which is a special kind of comfy trot. Afterwards we feasted on a hearty meal of lamb soup and Skyr (Icelandic yoghurt).

We had an exceptional time with Viking Horses and whilst they weren’t the cheapest, the experience was priceless.

 

The best way to experience Iceland was by horse

The best way to experience Iceland (even if you’ve never ridden)

 

The Blue Lagoon

No trip to Iceland would be complete without visiting the Blue Lagoon spa; Iceland’s premier tourist attraction. Roughly 80% of all tourists to Iceland go to the Blue Lagoon, a staggering statistic. Much is made in the media and by bloggers over whether it’s worth forking out the continually rising entrance fee for, and yet people still flock in their thousands to relax in the hot, milky blue waters.

You can read our take on whether the Blue Lagoon is worth a visit or not here

(spoiler alert – YES!)

 

relaxing at the Blue Lagoon

 The Blue Lagoon. Why wouldn’t you?

 

 

So there you have it. Our full four day Iceland itinerary broken down for you to help plan your own perfect trip. I hope we’ve provided a little inspiration and guidence for you to go and enjoy this incredible country. As always, if you have any questions, just shoot us a comment below or get in touch on our Facebook or Instagram pages.

Happy Travels!

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon – is it worth it?

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon – is it worth it?

Honestly, I was really worried about visiting Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. Okay, so it’s one of the 25 Wonders of the World and yes, it’s the premier tourist attraction on the island, is the top of many people’s wanderlust wish-list and hugely Insta-famous. 

But it also attracts a lot of criticism for being over hyped, cliched and expensive. So I had mixed feelings when I booked the tickets online. Could it possibly live up to expectations? Would it be worth the hefty £140 price tag for two basic entrance passes? Yes, that’s £70 EACH, essentially just to get in.

 relaxing at the Blue Lagoon

 

Well since you’re reading this and are therefore most likely interested in visiting the Blue Lagoon, you’ll be pleased to hear that I needn’t have worried. As soon as we immersed ourselves in the heavenly 38 °C/ 100°F milky blue water, I just felt my cares drain away. It was magical! 

What to expect when you visit the Blue Lagoon

 

Because it’s so popular and busy all year round, you need to book online in advance in order to visit the Blue Lagoon. Once you arrive and show your e-ticket, you are given an electronic wrist band which allows you to access a locker in the changing area and also to buy any food or drinks whilst you’re there. So no need to mess around with money or risk losing locker keys, which is great. You’ll also get given a towel. Robes and slippers are available to rent as extras, but honestly I don’t think they were worth it for the price.

view from the cafe over the Blue Lagoon

Changing areas at the Blue Lagoon

Once you’re through to the changing area (there are separate male and female locker rooms) you are required to shower without your bathing suit on before you go into the lagoon. The logistics of this are a little bit fiddly, depending on how shy you are. There is one changing cubicle with a door and a shower with a door, otherwise it’s all very communal if you pay for the basic ‘comfort’ ticket, as we did. The more expensive ticket options provide you with your own changing area and entrance to the lagoon with presumably fewer other people around.

What about your hair?

It’s also strongly recommended that you use the conditioner provided in the shower, apply it to your hair and leave it in, before you enter the lagoon. The highly mineralised water can make hair rather crispy so the conditioner offers some protection. I followed this advice and had no problems with my hair after at all (although I wore it up and out of the water for the most part). If you are worried or have sensitive hair then either wear a hat or just keep your head above the water. Worth knowing that there is also a hair dryer just outside the changing room,  if you want to use it after your visit.

Blue Lagoon Iceland entrance to the water

After you’ve showered and put on your bathing suit, I’m not going to lie, it’s an uncomfortable walk out into the cold air and quickly into the lagoon. But the feeling of being enveloped by the heavenly, hot blue water after the cold air is something truly special!

Despite many visitors being there at the same time, the lagoon is so huge, often with mist above it so that it’s easy to find a quiet spot away from the crowds and feel like you have some space. We enjoyed swimming around the whole area, feeling the changes in water temperature and just floating our cares away. 

Having fun in the Blue Lagoon, Iceland

The basic ticket also includes one complimentary drink which you can get from the swim up bar. No need to leave the water at all! The choices are soft drinks, fruit smoothies, cider or a selection of wine and prosecco. Naturally we went for the prosecco. If you want to order any more drinks you just ‘swipe’ your wristband and you pay when you leave. There is a drinking water fountain in the lagoon too so you can stay hydrated too. For food there’s a cafe and a fancy restaurant, if you really want to splash out.

 

How long can you stay at the Blue Lagoon for?

You book an arrival time when you buy your online ticket so you can stay for as long as you like at the lagoon.  We found that after a couple of hours we were turning into prunes so got out for a bit. You can get in and out as much as you want, or as much as you can stand to, depending on the air temps! There are pegs for towels (or robes) near the entrance and if you misplace yours the staff are on hand to replace it.

No filter travels wearing our silica mud masks at the Blue Lagoon

There’s a waterfall which is fun to stand under and you can help yourself to the complementary silica mud to use on your face. It’s said to be rejuvenating and beneficial to skin if applied for 7-10 minutes. It certainly felt nice and we had lots of fun smearing it on and laughing at how daft we looked. Obviously the Blue Lagoon is insta-heaven so make sure you take a waterproof phone case to get those envy inducing shots! I took my GoPro, which is waterproof, but I wasn’t prepared to test it actually in the water. 

 

Fun Facts about the Blue Lagoon:

 

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal pool, spa and hotel on an 800 year old lava field in the Southwest of Iceland

The 6 million litres of geothermal sea water is totally replenished every 40 hours

The Blue Lagoon is not natural, it’s basically a run off from the geothermal power plant next door

The temperature of the water is around 38°C/100°F – perfect for relaxing in and even when the air temps are freezing, keeps you surprisingly warm.

Water comes from 6.500 ft/1981 metres below ground where the temperature is a scorching 240°C/464°F

You don’t need shoes in the Blue Lagoon, the floor is smooth rock and quite pleasant to walk on

It’s possible to get a reservation for an in water massage, if you book in advance. There’s a separate roped off area next to the main pool for treatments

 

Getting to the Blue Lagoon

Getting to the Blue Lagoon is really easy since it’s only a 25 minute drive away from Keflavik International Airport. For that reason many people go on the first or last day of their stay in Iceland. We arrived early in the morning from London and went straight there for the rest of the day. It was a great way to wash away the stress of an early morning flight! It’s possible to stay at the Blue Lagoon Hotel itself but we stayed 10 mins away in Grindavik at the lovely Anita’s Guest House, for a fraction of the price via Booking.com.

You can get 10% off at Booking.com using our referral link here 

Blue Lagoon

 

I hope this blog post has answered some of the questions you might have had about visiting the Blue Lagoon. Okay, so the locals don’t go there as it really is just for the tourists. Icelanders prefer to use the much cheaper, naturally occurring hot springs that are all over the island. But even so, for us first time geothermal pool users wondering is the Blue Lagoon worth it, the answer is a resounding YES!

Do you have any questions about the Blue Lagoon? Do you agree with us or do you think it’s over-rated? We’d love to hear what you think, tell us in the comments…

If you want to read more about our Iceland trip, including the route we took, check out our blog post Iceland – an easy 4 day itinerary for first timers

How to spend 5 days in Guanajuato

How to spend 5 days in Guanajuato

Ah Guanajuato. Charming, quaint and rather hard on the legs! 

On our recent trip to Mexico we spent 5 days in this picturesque, colonial city in the heart of the country. Overall we loved it but it wasn’t all roses and unicorns. In this guide we’ll share the things we did and what we loved about Guanajuato, plus the stuff we didn’t love quite so much, in case you ever decide to visit. Which you absolutely should.

We went during June and the weather was, well, perfect. The 6600ft altitude meant that whilst the days were hot and sunny it wasn’t humid, and the night temperatures were cool enough to sleep without air con. Heaven. Having come from the unrelentingly steamy west coast we were very grateful for the respite.

Where to stay in Guanajuato

We stayed in a private room at Hostel Casa De Dante, partly because it came highly rated and partly because we were ready to meet some other travellers. We try and do that every now and again so we get to speak with other people and don’t and up killing each other; one of the challenges of couple travel when you live in each others pockets. 

Overall it was pretty good. Our room was comfy enough and the staff were helpful and friendly. The breakfast was the best we’ve had in any hostel anywhere so far in Mexico with fresh juice, fruit and a hot dish each morning. We even arrived back one day to find a Union Jack flag on our balcony, which was a cute surprise.

Our hostel balcony in Guanajuato, decorated with a Union Jack flag to help us feel at home?

Can you guess which room was ours?

 

What we weren’t quite prepared for was the location. Although clearly stated upon booking that ‘the property is located on the top of a hill and is accessed by a long, steep stairway of 150 steps’ we really weren’t prepared for what that actually mean’t. Because of the way the city lies within the mountains, the steps were VERY steep, uneven and 150 felt like a lot more than it sounds. At the high altitude and carrying backpacks, it was tough!

the steep steps to reach our hostel in Guanajuato

 No need to go to the gym in Guanajuato!

 

Plus side, we got awesome views from the roof terrace. Downside, we had to walk up and down the stairs anytime we wanted to go out which, sadly, due to the patchy wifi or desire to use the cooking facilities, was pretty often.  

Unless you’re staying right in the heart of the Guanajuato (in which case you are probably going to get a lot of noise) this is a city that requires a lot of walking and up and down steep steps. If you’re young and/or fit, lucky you! We found it quite a lot of hard work.

 

Things to do in Guanajuato City

So apart from getting a decent leg workout, what else is there to do in Guanajuato? Thanks to the University, one of oldest in Latin America, this is a city with a cool, laid back, youthful vibe. There is an energy and a diversity that gives it a modern feel, which seems a bit at odds with the strong colonial architecture and history but adds to the city’s uniqueness.

 

Wander the streets and marvel at the beautiful architecture

Established in 1548, Guanajuato was an influential colonial city due to it’s abundance of mineral wealth. Some stories from the pre-hispanic era report that gold nuggets could be found just lying on the ground and that the Aztecs established a presence there to collect metals for their religious elite.

Once the Spanish found the gold they soon sent soldiers and started mining the rich veins. One of the mines was so rich that, at it’s height, it was responsible for two thirds of the worlds silver production. The wealth of the city at that time resulted in the construction of particularly magnificent churches, some of which are considered to be the most beautiful examples of Baroque architecture in Central and South America, influencing later buildings throughout central Mexico. Wander around the city centre and you can’t really miss two of the highlights; Templo de la Compañia and Bascilica de Guanajuato

 

One of the finest baroque churches in latin America,Templo De La Compañía, Guanajuato

Templo de la Compañia is considered to be one of the finest examples of baroque architecture in Latin America

 

Hard to miss! The basilica de Guanajuato

 Strikingly yellow hued Bascilica de Guanajuato

 

Guanajuato is a city of brightly painted houses that spill down the mountainsides in a kaleidoscope of colours. The old mining tunnels, now turned into roads, criss cross below a city that appears deceptively small. Definitely the best way to appreciate Guanajuato is to just walk and get lost in the steep, narrow streets. When you’re not sure which way to go, just head downhill and you’ll eventually reach the town centre.

Old mining tunnels now used as roads and Pipila statue above the city of Guanajuato, Mexico

The maze of old mining tunnels, now roads, help keep the traffic off the streets in the centre.

 

Hang out at Jardin Unión

At the centre of Guanajuato is the main square ‘Jardin Unión.’ Here you’ll find the usual assortment of restaurants, bars and hotels surrounding a densely shaded plaza which, in the evenings, also plays host to numerous mariachi bands that vie with each other to play for the tourists. This is also the location of Starbucks, worth knowing if you need decent wifi, like we did when in Guanajuato. 

 

Enjoy dinner and mariachi music in El Jardin Unión 

 

Ride the funicular and visit ‘El Pilpa’

Overlooking Jardin Unión is the monument of local hero ‘El Pilpa.’ He can be reached either by a 15 minute hike up the steep steps, or by taking the funicular train just behind Jardin Unión. We found the best option was to go up in the funicular, which only takes a few minutes, then back down the steps. As a bonus, there’s some cool street art on the sides of the houses most of the route down. Also, marvel at how anyone can live in such hard to reach places – after all, there’s no Asda home delivery here!

Give your legs a break and take the funicular for the best views in Guanajuato

Trust us, take the funicular up to the top

 

Statue of local hero 'Pipila' in Guanajuato

El Pilpa was having some work done while we were there, but still impressive.

 

Take the steps back down and enjoy some street art along the way

 

After all that effort and excitement you’ll no doubt be ready for a sit down and some refreshment. At the bottom of the stairs as you head back towards the town centre there’s a trendy little gastropub that serves good food called La Santurrona which we ate at and can recommend.

 La Santurrona makes a great pitstop

 

Get romantic at ‘El callejon del beso’

Other things to do in Guanajuato include having a snog in  ‘El Callejon del beso’ or ‘alley of the kiss’. In true Romeo and Juliet style, legend has it that in Guanajuato there once lived a girl who fell in love with a lad from the wrong side of the tracks. Unable to be together due to the girl’s father’s disapproval, the young man rented the room across from the daughter’s which, due to the very narrow alleyway meant that they could lean out from the balconies and kiss. Sadly the tale has a tragic ending, with the father finding out and killing his daughter, but tourists still flock to the alley where it’s said that if you share a kiss on the third step, true love will be yours forever.

Seal your love for 7 years with a kiss in Callejón del beso, Guanajuato

 Best not to take chances with true love!

 

Get creeped out at ‘Museo de las momias’

One place we really didn’t enjoy was Guanajuato’s premier tourist attraction the ‘mummies museum.’ Containing the gruesomely well preserved remains of some of the towns deceased residents, whose families were unable to pay the burial tax dating back as far as 1870. Due to an outbreak of cholera in 1829, cemetery space in the town was running out so the local authorities introduced a new ‘burial tax’ to enable bodies to remain at rest in perpetuity. Those unable to pay the tax had their loved ones disinterred and stored in a nearby building. Some of the bodies remained weirdly well preserved (thought to be due to the dry climate) and by the 1900’s these ‘mummies’ started attracting tourists and the caretakers began to charge a small fee to view them.

Today, the museum is one of the most popular attractions in Guanajuato and a reminder of the cultural difference in how death is reviled by us Brits yet celebrated by Mexicans. We found it uncomfortable and creepy and couldn’t wait to get out. The Mexicans, on the other hand, were happily smiling and taking selfies with the mummies!

If you’re of a sensitive disposition you may want to skip this particular attraction.

Creep yourself out at the Mommies museum, Guanajuato

Not for the faint hearted ‘El museo de las momias’

Where to eat in Guanajuato

There isn’t a shortage of good food options in Guanajuato, with everything from tasty cheap street food to high end restaurants. Some of the places we ate at and can recommend include:

La vie en rose  Owned by a french family, this gorgeously decorated cute cafe offers beautiful cuisine that’s a welcome change if you’ve had enough of tacos.

Truco 7 Authentic yet quirky Mexican decor and decent food with a good menu selection

Santo Cafe Cosy atmosphere with a good selection of affordable food, plus some vegetarian options.

 

cute cafe Santo in GuanajuatoCoverted seats at Santo Cafe 

Do a day trip to San Miguel De Allende

If you don’t have time to go and stay in the UNESCO World Heritage city of San Miguel De Allende, it’s totally possible to catch the bus and do a day trip from Guanajuato. We did just that and you can read about our top 5 things to do in San Miguel de Allende.

We used Uber to get from our accommodation to the bus station and always had a great experience, knew what we would be paying up front and never waited more than 5 minutes for a driver. Other than taking the local ‘chicken’ buses or ‘collectivo’ minivans, it’s the cheapest way to go. Just be aware that it isn’t available everywhere in Mexico yet.

 

Other stuff we didn’t get chance to do in Guanajuato

There were plenty of things we didn’t get chance to do in Guanajuato and would do if we ever decide to go back. For example, we never made it to the home of the celebrated Mexican artist Diego Rivera, which is a now a museum showcasing some of his works. Or either of the two theatres, which apparently have wonderful musical performances for a modest entrance fee. We also didn’t bother to join one of the nightly troubadour tours, which, for around £10, sees you serenaded around the city by a gang of velvet clad musician/tour guides.

Something we’ve learned on our tour around Mexico is that if we try to cram everything in each time we visit a new place, we get burned out pretty quick! Long term travel as digital nomads requires a balance of being tourists, having days off where you just chill out and watch Netflix, as well as working. So we don’t beat ourselves up now when we don’t manage to see everything. Anyway, it gives us an excuse to return one day 😉

 

So, should you put Guanajuato on your bucket list? Definitely yes. Just remember to do your leg stretches first.

June 2018: Travel update

June 2018: Travel update

It’s hard to believe we’re already at the end of June and our Mexico adventure is nearly done.

Almost, but not quite. More on that in a moment!

From now on, we want to start keeping these monthly travel updates so A. we’re not constantly repeating ourselves to interested friends and family and B. as much as we love writing detailed blog posts about everything we’ve seen or done, we just don’t have the time. Hopefully, these updates will serve as an interesting summary of what we’ve been up to each month and we will also share our plans for what’s coming next. Because we’ve got big plans for what’s next!

Anyway, back to what we’ve been up to in June. We started the month in the vibrant Guadalajara, Mexico’s second most populous city, where we enjoyed all the benefits of big city life over the small coastal towns where we had been for the previous two months. We stayed in two different hostels, one good, one really not good, plus a last minute night in a lovely hotel when we decided we couldn’t stay in the ‘not so good’ hostel for another night.

Sometimes you just have to accept you’re not going to get the shot all to yourself

Initially we enjoyed the lower temperatures and humidity that being inland offered. Until an uncharacteristic heatwave struck and we were back to melting and taking several showers a day. We tried local delicacies such as ‘pozole’ (pork broth with cabbage) and ‘Birria’ (spicy goat stew) and of course sampled the tequila that Guadalajara is probably most famous for. We even got to see the annual tequila festival where local distilleries proudly display their best agave plants and everyone generally celebrates the wonder that is tequila. We checked out cathedrals and impressive colonial buildings, went to a VIP cinema and mall as well as sampling the local craft markets.

Venturing a bit further afield we spent a day visiting the beautiful city of Tlaquepaque and mourned our inability to stockpile the gorgeous arts and crafts due to traveling with just 40 litre backpacks that now barely contain our clothes.

friends in Guadalajara

Goofing around in Guadalajara

Easily the highlight of our stay in Guadalajara was meeting up and spending time with our friends Pablo and Eva who made us feel so welcome and shared their city with us. Without doubt, no matter where we go and irrespective of how amazing or beautiful a place is, it’s always the people you meet that make a place really special and cement it in your heart. Pablo and Eva did that for us in Guadalajara.

We reluctantly moved on from Guadalajara to discover the highly acclaimed cities of Guanajuato and San Miguel De Allende. Both of these cultural gems, so rich in colour and history lived up to expectation and, despite sore legs from walking up and down the steep hillsides, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring them. Apart from the ‘mummies museum’ that is. We really can’t say we enjoyed that experience.

The views worth the climb

We then headed south, via Mexico City, to the state of Oaxaca (pronounced Wuh-haa-ka), celebrated for it’s bio-diversity, indigenous people and food. Our cosy Air bnb had excellent wifi which meant that we were finally able to take a breath and focus on some work projects, as well as watch the start of the football World Cup.

With over two weeks to delve into all that the capital Oaxaca City had to offer, we didn’t need to rush and took our time exploring the ‘must dos’. Petrified waterfalls and swimming in natural infinity pools in the jungle, climbing up 2000 year old pyramids, sampling locally made artesianal mezcal and all seven types of ‘mole’ sauce were just some of the highlights. We’ve learned that Mexico really isn’t the place to come to if you’re trying to lose weight.

hierve agua in Oaxaca, Mexico

Hierve el Agua, one of only two petrified waterfalls in the world and utterly enchanting

It’s also worth mentioning that not for one moment have we felt unsafe anywhere we’ve stayed. If we had to choose the place we felt the least comfortable in, it would be the tourist trap town of Puerto Vallarta, and that’s only because we stood out as visitors and therefore couldn’t avoid attention from anyone trying to make a living from tourists. In Guadalajara particularly, which surprised us with it’s diversity of appearance, we blended in, and were often mistaken for locals. At least until we unleashed our broken Spanish, which always gave us away.

Our experience so far has been that this is an incredible country, with it’s friendly and hard working people undeserving of the sweeping generalisations made against it. Beware believing all that you see in the media! You’d be forgiven for thinking, as we did, that the U.S is anti Mexico with all the hype about walls and immigration camps. We’ve been amazed to find that more than two million North Americans live here and that number is on the rise. What an extraordinary thing then that there is so much anti Mexico hype – and that it doesn’t appear to be reciprocated.

 

What next?

 

So where do we go from here? Well, for the last two weeks of our 5 month trip, we have decided to move to the Oaxacan coast and the town of Puerto Escondido for some beach time. I’m hoping to try surfing again, although PE is famed for it’s ‘pipeline’ and 30ft waves so I’m not sure how well that will go. July is also the start of the egg laying season for the Olive Ridley sea turtles and we want to help in the conservation efforts and protect the females as they clambor ashore to lay their eggs on the beach.

Our final few days in Mexico will see us exploring Mexico City, with it’s esteemed museums, the Teotihuacan pyramids and lucha libre (mexican wrestling) all on the itinary, before flying to Toronto, Canada for a few days and then finally on to the UK. We are both ready to spend a few weeks at home and looking forward to catching up with friends and family, doing all the ‘stuff’ that needs taking care of and can’t be done easily from abroad.

Beyond that we have one other trip booked that we’re VERY excited about! As it’s my birthday in September we wanted to do something different and a bit special so we’re going to…. Iceland! Yes, we’ll be leaving our Mexican wardrobe behind, packing the snow gear and heading north for a short visit to see if Iceland really lives up to the hype and the hefty price tag. Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever been and have any suggestions or reccommendations? We already know some of the things we’ll be doing but are always keen to hear other’s idea.

We plan to return to Mexico for the end of the year and continue our exploration on the east side of the country then travel south down into Central and ultimately South America. The time scales on this are still flexible and we may fit some more of Europe in before we leave if we can.

Cappadocia anyone?

5 reasons you need to visit San Miguel De Allende, Mexico

5 reasons you need to visit San Miguel De Allende, Mexico

Whether you go for a day or a month, the UNESCO World Heritage site of San Miguel De Allende should definitely be high on your list of places to visit in Mexico. With a climate often described as perfect, and beautiful colonial architecture thanks to its importance as a silver mining city during the 1700’s, San Miguel is a tasteful mixture of both Mexican and the Canadian/American residents who have chosen to settle here. Rich in history, the city also played an important role during the revolution, as the first city in Mexico to declare independence from Spain.

Still not convinced you need to visit this cultural gem? After a day spent investigating the city, hopefully you’ll be convinced by our 5 top reasons you should definitely go to San Miguel De Allende:

 

1) It was voted the Best Small City in the World

 

If you’ve never heard of Mexico’s San Miguel De Allende, don’t worry, neither had we until last year when it was picked as 2017’s best small city in the world by Condé Nast voters. Intrigued, we immediately put it on our list of ‘must visit’ places in Mexico to see if it lived up to the hype. 

So you don’t just need to take our word for it!

2017’s best Small City in the World. Fact.

 

 

2) It’s picture perfect

 

San Miguel is absolutely stuffed full of gorgeous little cobbled streets and plazas and it’s colonial style buildings maintain a consistent, tasteful theme of terracotta hues. There’s a romantic, unspoiled charm about the city, partly thanks to the laws that were passed to safeguard it from modernisation, meaning you won’t find any traffic lights or neon signs, for example.

At an altitude of around 6000ft what you will find are plenty of views out over the mountains. So, whether you’re into finding the best Insta-worthy spots for a killer picture or simply prefer to find a shady plaza to just sit and take in all the scenery, you’re going to be spoilt for choice in San Miguel De Allende.

We enjoyed just wandering around some of the streets to the south of the centre, finding tucked away boutique shops and soaking up the ambiance.

Exploring the streets in San Miguel De Allende

 

 

3) It’s foodie heaven

 

You’re not going to find it hard to find great places to eat or drink in San Miguel. We highly recommend trying brunch at Néctar . This utterly charming little restaurant offers an organic veggie/vegan menu and also has a great tea and coffee selection. Steve particularly loved the Vietnamese iced coffee, the perfect way to cool down after wandering the lanes. The food and service are top notch but what really sets this restaurant apart are the many nectar feeders decorating the courtyard which attract multitudes of hummingbirds. Who wouldn’t want to watch these adorable little birds flitting about over tea?

Have some tea at Néctar, you won’t regret it!

Later on, when you’re in need of refreshment, you can enjoy cocktails and tapas at Luna rooftop bar, located in the Rosewood building. As well as top notch food and drinks, you get the best view in the city. This restaurant isn’t the cheapest option in town but it’s worth the splurge and a memorable way to finish the day.

Views over San Miguel De Allende from Luna Rooftop Bar

 

 

4) Marvel at the beautiful churches

 

We thought we’d seen enough baroque/gothic churches during our journeying around Mexico and San Miguel has it’s fair share, but we couldn’t help but be particularly awed by the pastel pink La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel which lies adjacent to the main square ‘El Jardin.’ It even reminded us a bit of a mini Sagrada Familia. The plaza itself is the perfect place to rest out of the sun and admire the church since ornate benches lie under the dense shade provided by huge square pruned Indian Laurel trees. This is the perfect place to sit and people watch.

 

Beautifully ornate and so pretty in pink La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel

 

 

5) Shopping at the ‘Mercados’

 

I’m a sucker for hand crafted jewellery and love perusing the little market stalls that usually fill the plazas in Mexico. San Miguel De Allende has a mix of both these kinds of souvenir item, plus high end boutique clothing and art if that’s more your thing. The markets (or ‘mercados’) themselves form part of everyday life here rather than being a novelty for tourists, since locals will shop at them too. As such, there’s a strong emphasis on local ingredients and artisan crafts. Two of the principle markets you can easily check out are Mercado de Artisanias and Mercado San Juan de Dios. Both have locally made, traditional craft and food items and are open daily. They are just a five minute walk from the main square and provide a great chance to interact with the locals, as well as shop.

 

We had a fantastic day exploring San Miguel and can honestly say that it probably is worth all the hype. Whilst the sizeable ex pat community means you are more likely to hear English spoken than Spanish in some parts, something we generally try to avoid, don’t let that put you off! If we’ve managed to convince you that you really do need to go visit and you’re wondering how to get there, here are some tips to help plan your visit:

 

Getting to San Miguel De Allende

 

Because we were staying close by in Guanajuato (and running out of days), we decided to do a day trip rather then stay in San Miguel De Allende. As a small city, you can see most of the sights fairly easily in a day. That said, we could happily have spent more time there and plan on returning another time to do the things we didn’t have time to do, like visit some of the museums.

Getting to San Miguel De Allende from Guanajuato is an easy 1.5hr bus ride from the main bus station, costing around £10 per person. We used Primera Plus and got a luxury bus with comfy reclining seats, air con, movies and a loo. When you arrive in San Miguel, come out the bus station and hop onto any of the local buses that say ‘Centro’ on them and head towards the main plaza ‘El Jardin.’ It takes about 10 mins and costs around 50p. We would usually use Uber but the buses in San Miguel De Allende were so easy it was worth saving a few pounds. There are also plenty of bright green taxi’s if you prefer to go that route.

Have we convinced you to visit San Miguel De Allende? Maybe you’ve already been; did we miss anything off our list? We’d love to know what you think so tell us know in the comments.

Pin It on Pinterest