More Fun On The Samana Peninsula

Heading to the beach, Las Galeras.

There are plenty of reasons to spend time exploring the Samana peninsula on the Northeast end of the DR. Beautiful beaches around every bend, whale watching and Los Haitises National Park being on the top of our list.

The tail end of a humpback whale in Samana Bay.

Whale Watching

Kim Beddall of Whale Samana is a marine mammal specialist who cares deeply for the 2,000 or more Atlantic humpback whales that arrive each year to Samana Bay. This is where the whales mate and give birth. She guarantees you’ll see whales if you go out on one of her tours, and we weren’t disappointed.

Dorsal fin of a humpback whale.

A highlight was seeing a mother with her tiny calf riding on her head while a male escort fended off a younger, more brash competitor male. Whale’s have unique markings on their tails (no two are the same, like fingerprints) which help scientists around the world keep track of their migrations.

Las Galeras

The white sand beach of Playa del Aserradero.

Las Galeras is a 45 minute drive from Santa Barbara de Samana. It’s a smaller, quieter town whose big draw is gorgeous uncrowded beaches. We stayed at a guesthouse within walking distance to Playa del Aserradero. Fine white sand and towering palm trees make this an especially gorgeous beach.

The west end of Playa Rincon.

A twenty minute drive from Las Galeras is Playa Rincon. There are restaurants on each far end and a freshwater stream to swim in on the west end. Besides that we found the long beach empty except for ourselves.

The east end of Playa Rincon.

After exploring many of Las Galeras’s beaches we returned to Santa Barbara de Samana in order to visit the National Park and visit a waterfall.

Los Haitises National Park

The Magnificent Frigatebird showing off for the ladies in Los Haitises National Park.

To visit Los Haitises National Park we booked a boat tour from Santa Barbara de Samana the day before. It left at 9:30 in the morning and returned at 4:30. We took a motorboat across the bay and visited several caves with petroglyphs drawn by the extinct Taino indigenous people in the 15th century. We toured around limestone islands where rare birds nest each year and moss and ferns hang into the water.

One of many bird nurseries in the park.

Our tour also took us among the extensive mangroves. Mangroves play an important role in the ecosystem here by providing fish nurseries and combating erosion due to hurricanes.

In among the mangroves.

Rio de los Cocos Waterfall

The easy to hike to but hard to find Rio de los Cocos waterfall.

A fifteen minute drive from Santa Barbara de Samana is non-touristed Cascada de Rio de los Cocos. This waterfall was a short hike through the jungle. There is no sign for the path on the road and we parked next to a house where the locals were playing outside. Unfortunately the water was brown due to recent heavy rains along with some trash washed down stream from the communities above.

The view of Samana Bay from our guesthouse was pretty sweet.

The actual large, sometimes loud town of Santa Barbara de Samana is somewhat lacking in charm but it’s a great jumping off point for lots of fun adventures!

Hiking to El Salto del Limon Waterfall, Dominican Republic

El Salto del Limon Falls

About a half hour drive from the town of Las Terrenas brings you to four different entrances to the waterfalls. At each entrance they’ll offer you horseback rides and guides. We found the best price for horses was $10 USD plus a tip for your guide. However we decided to use our own two feet and skip the ride.

The beginning of our hike had a few steep inclines.

We parked our rental scooter in a large grassy field and paid a local 100 pesos ($1.75 USD) to guard it. Then began an uphill trek that brought us through a tropical farm that passed by coffee trees, passion fruit vines and coconuts.

Colorful farm house on the hike to the falls.
A lush tropical farm on the hike.

It was an hour hike through some extremely muddy spots and a river crossing. I recommend river shoes. You’ll see tourists wearing rubber boots provided by their guides. It had also been raining for several days which added to the quagmire.

You can’t avoid getting muddy on this hike!
A smaller cascade on the way to El Limon.

After we passed the smaller falls with no other tourists we joined the main path where dozens of tourists on horseback and guides on foot are passing by. If you’re on foot you have to get out of the way. Up next is a ramshackle ‘bar’ selling rum drinks in fresh coconuts, a souveneir shop and the booth where you pay 50 pesos. Then its another 250 steps down the final stretch. There were LOTS of tourists there with their guides and a crazy horse ‘parking lot’ with horses tied up all over the jungle side by side.

The horse ‘parking lot’ before the steps.
Descending the 250 steps.

Once you reach the bottom you can swim in the cool refreshing water under a 170 ft waterfall, the highest in the Dominican. Local boys are climbing up and jumping off. There are caves behind the falls and an amazing back massage if you stand directly underneath.

If you are patient you can get a photo that makes it look like you’re all alone!
A more realistic view includes the tourists.

In summary, it’s worth the 1.5 mile (one way) muddy hike to this beautiful spot. Depending on your method of travel you can have parts of the trail all to yourself. Gracias to the DR for sharing this treasure!

Las Terrenas, Dominican Republic

Beautiful Playa Las Terrenas!

Getting There

Our trip to Ecuador was canceled because I had tested positive on a Covid PCR test and currently you have to wait a full month after a positive result in order to enter Ecuador. So after quarantining in Jamaica we decided to go to the Dominican Republic. We flew from Montego Bay Jamaica to Miami, turned around and flew into Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Taking a stroll down Las Ballenas Beach.

Santo Domingo is a short two hour flight from Miami. We spent the night in the city and then climbed aboard an air conditioned bus for the two and a half hour ride across the island to Las Terrenas. The bus didn’t have a sign on it and there wasn’t a typical bus station. No place to even buy tickets. Ian just asked a couple locals and they pointed at the bus parked in the street. We just hoped it was going in the right direction! After driving through the city streets and making a stop the bus attendant walked down the aisle asking for 500 pesos per person. We arrived at the bus ‘station’, a grass roofed uninhabited palapa shack, and were immediately inundated with moto taxis asking more than double the amount we expected. So we walked down the street and finally found two moto taxis to take us to the beach for 100 pesos each.

Yummy grilled seafood salad lunch!

We didn’t have a place booked yet and it started raining so we sat at a beach restaurant and used their wifi while we ate a late lunch. After a yummy lunch we walked to our first guest house.

Dominican Republic Pesos are so pretty!


The water is warm and an incredible blue color unless there has been a lot of rain. Playa Bonita is great for strolling, bar hopping, people watching and surfing if the surfs up. Playa Las Bellenas is long, mellow and tranquil, but there are beautiful bungalows and fancier homes to rent tucked in the trees and several beach restaurants.

Playa Bonita lives up to its name!
Renting a scooter is an affordable way to explore at $18 USD per day. Sunset at Coson Bay.

Playa Portillo offers a long dreamy quiet beach with our favorite restaurant for cocktails and Peruvian dishes named ‘Porto’.

Sunset from Porto restaurant.

Further out of town is Playa El Alcon with mangroves climbing into the water and manatees (if you’re lucky, we didn’t see any).

Mangroves in the clear waters of Playa El Alcon.


There are plenty of things to do besides beach hopping. There’s fishing, snorkeling, surfing and shopping and we recommend a great day trip either on foot or on horseback to see El Salto Limon Waterfall. You can read my earlier blog about our experience. Kite surfing is another popular activity here.

El Salto Limon Waterfall is an affordable excursion close to Las Terrenas.
Kite surfing off Playa Portillo.

Travel Tips

Pack light, the most common modes of transport are guaguas (small buses packed with locals) and motorcycle taxis unless you rent an ATV or scooter. A big suitcase would be more than awkward.

Try to speak Spanish even if it’s just a few words. The Dominican’s are super warm friendly people when you try.

RELAX! Things go slower here and sometimes unexpectedly. The power was out for over an entire day, and we don’t always have running water. Just look at the gorgeous water and remember you’re on an island in the Caribbean!

Playa Las Terrenas

The Cliffs and Seven Mile Beach, Negril, Jamaica

Aquamarine water for snorkel enthusiasts on the cliffs of Negril.

The Cliffs

Our home base in Negril was Xtabi. Rooms with an ocean view are a little more pricey so we got a cute cottage near the pool with a garden view for $77. They also have a bar and restaurant with several lobster preparations and Jamaican favorites like jerked chicken. For breakfast we tried the national dish of ackee and salt fish. Ackee is a fruit that tastes and resembles scrambled eggs when its cooked!

Our cute little cottage at Xtabi.
Breakfast of callaloo (Jamaican spinach), bread knots and ackee with salt fish.

The area of the cliffs is situated over lava caves and tunnels that make for great snorkeling and cliff jumping. Restaurants and hotels are perched on top with epic sunset views.

There are lots of lava caves under the cliffs of Negril.
Rick’s Cafe is a popular bar on the cliffs with live music and great people watching.
Cliff jumping at Rick’s Cafe. Ian is mid-air!

Travel Tip: bring a snorkel and mask to save money on rentals. If you’re a decent swimmer you can skip the fins. We found the water at the cliffs to be calm in the morning and easy to float.

Snorkel spot in front of Xtabi.
Ganja is almost like a house plant here.

Seven Mile Beach

Seven Mile Beach is a long white sand beach with calm, clean aquamarine water. The southern first three miles are full of bars, restaurants and small beach front hotels and the rest becomes larger all inclusive resorts.

Seven Mile Beach
Playing bar games at one of the many beach side bars.

Getting There

Negril is an hour and a half from the airport. Taxis will cost $70-$100 depending on your bargaining skills and the drivers aren’t shy to hint that tipping is appreciated. Most of their vehicles are pretty ramshackle.

Travel Tip: change money into Jamaican dollars (called ‘Jays’) at cambios for a better exchange rate. Most places accept American USD but their conversion rate won’t be as favorable.

Thank you Negril for a great time!

Zimbali Culinary Retreat, Jamaica

Take a journey to the roots of Jamaican food culture.

First, Relax

Lounging in a sun chair by the pool at Zimbali I hear chickens clucking, an old rasta man named Fiyah and a child named Mark Lion singing ‘itsy bitsy spider’, and multitudes of tropical birds calling and flitting among the palm trees. Punctuating this lively symphony is the sound of a blender as the chef turns some handpicked, home grown organic fruit into an easily consumed superfood.

Lounging at the pool at Zimbali.

As my pasty white skin drinks in the Jamaican sun I reminisce on the amazing cooking show and dinner we enjoyed last night. Zimbali is rated the top restaurant in Jamaica, but it’s so much more than a place to eat. This is an enriching environment of wholesome organic food, grown on-site, with intention.

The colorful walkway into Zimbali.
Bananas and coconuts growing together on the farm.

Tour the Farm

You can take a tour around the farm and see the mangos, breadfruit, coconuts, Noni, akee (the national fruit of Jamaica), bananas, and guava that will appear on your plate or in your cup. Chickens and roosters are scratching the ground below towering fig trees. A beautiful path leads to a natural bamboo grove called The Cathedral.

A cute little lizard seen on the farm.

Watch the Cooking Show

During the cooking show Alicia (co-owner and chef) describes the healing properties of each ingredient as she prepares a five course meal in front of you. ‘Good food makes good feelings’, and the love put into the harvest and creation of your meal will definitely put you in a good mood.

Excited for the cooking show!

The food is fantastic, the family vibe created by long shared tables guarantees closeness, and the humor of Alicia the chef and her co-chef Dixie make the night memorable.

Stuffed peppers and cucumber with beet and red wine relish.

We enjoyed the cooking show and our quiet retreat on the farm. Soaking in the pool and finding our way to the bamboo ‘cathedral’ was magical.

Inside the island of Jamaica, there is a bamboo cathedral waiting for you.

Zimbali was an immersion into local Jamaican life with the highlight on clean healthy organic homegrown foods. We instantly felt like part of the family, and the amazing meals made us feel like we’d been on a delicious culinary adventure. We even got to see Jamaica’s National bird, a beautiful hummingbird with a long split tail called The Doctor Bird!

Thank you Zimbali for an amazing experience!

Packing Light for Jamaica, The Galapagos Islands and Mainland Ecuador

My Gregory “Jade 38” carry on bag all packed!

Happy New Year 2022! It’s winter in Idaho so we are heading to warmer climates for a five week trip that will bring us to tropical sandy beaches, rough lava shores with meandering marine iguanas and high Andean altitudes. Hot and cold, sandals and hiking shoes. Here’s what I’m bringing in order 2 Travel Light!

The Whole Enchilada: What am I bringing?

Clothes and shoes for the entire trip. Travel Tip: Roll your clothes to save room!
Gear, Toiletries and Extras


For our Jamaica portion of the trip we’ll be staying at a couple retreats and then an all inclusive resort. Hot sun, sandy beach and pool side attire.

My Jamaican specific clothing and gear.
  • 2x t-shirts
  • 2x bathing suits
  • flip flops (and a plastic bag to keep sand in control)
  • reef safe 50 spf sun lotion
  • sun glasses
  • sun hat
  • shorts
  • sarong to use as a towel/suit cover up/dress
  • bathing suit cover up
  • sun dress

The Galapagos Islands and Mainland Ecuador

We’ll be spending 2 weeks island hopping the Galapagos. In addition to reef safe sun lotion, swimsuits, t-shirts and shorts we’ll need some expedition specific items.

Ian is bringing a day bag with these items.
Ecuador specific clothing.

Ecuador Mainland

For our Ecuador mainland adventure we’ll need warm clothes as we head to mountain tops and cloud forests.

  • rain jacket
  • down jacket
  • travel zip-off pants
  • long underwear top and bottoms
  • water shoes (for the Galapagos)
  • close toed Merrell hiking shoes
  • zip up hoodie

Gear Breakdown

Gear, Toiletries and Extras

Most of these items are things I bring on EVERY trip, regardless of where we’re going. Sometimes I also carry a universal plug adaptor but we won’t need it on this trip. And of course the face-masks are a must have since 2020!

  • tiny purse
  • toiletry bag: deodorant, hair ties, contact lenses and case, brush, DIVA cup, eyelash curler, ear plugs, toothbrush and tooth paste
  • sun hat
  • Kindle
  • camera (don’t forget your chargers and USB cords for electronics!) and bag to carry it with it’s charging cord
  • first aid bag: pepto bismol, imodium, ibuprofen, benadryl, band aids
  • quart bag of liquids: conditioner, shampoo, sun lotion, contact lens solution, hair gel
  • splitter for Kindle (so Ian and I can watch a movie on the plane) ear buds and bag to hold them all
  • reading glasses and sun glasses
  • quick dry Pack Towel
  • face masks

We’re all packed and ready to go. Follow us to see our next fun adventures in new lands!

What I Love About Istanbul

Istanbul Has a Diverse History

Istanbul, where Europe kisses Asia across the Bosphorous Strait. Two continents in one country. Where the most devout muezzin call to prayer 5 times a day, minarets decorate the skyline and the smell of spices fills the air. A land of many cultures melding, a tumultuous history and every language being spoken on the street. We flew to Istanbul from Corfu, Greece via Athens. The Istanbul Havalimani airport is huge and it took us 2 hours just to get through it and we only have carry on luggage.

A beautiful gate to the sea at Dolmabahce Palace.

Travel Tips: Currently (Oct 2021) you must get an HES QR code online (a pandemic travelor locator) within 3 days of arrival to Turkey. Also, you need a Turkish visa ($30 USD) to enter. There is a visa office close to passport control area where you can obtain one. We used a shuttle service for $35 euro to bring us into the city. Taxi cabs tend to take advantage of people by taking long routes and jacking up the fares.

Hagia Sophia Mosque at night.

Our room at Charm Hotel had a view of Suleymaniye Mosque, also known as The Blue Mosque because of blue tiles on the interior. It is currently under renovation so we barely got a glimpse of its famous beauty.
Travel Tip: it is free to visit the mosques, however they are closed to non Muslims during prayer hours so you need to be aware of the schedule. Also women need to be respectful and cover their hair and legs if wearing tight pants or skirt above the knee.


Inside Hagia Sophia Mosque.

For amazing examples of architecture and art visit Hagia Sophia Mosque and Topkapi Palace. As stated above, the mosque is free to enter but Topkapi Palace is 200 lira, and an additional 100 lira to see the Harem.

Travel Tip: Buy the museum pass that allows you to visit 13 museums for 360 Turkish lira.

Inside Topkapi Palace.
Galata Tower, which you can visit with the museum pass.

Boat Tour of the Bosphorus

We spent an entire day doing a hop on – hop off ferry boat tour around the Bosphorus Strait. It makes 5 stops, both on the European side and the Asian side. For only 12 euro a person this is a great way to visit palaces, have lunch in a cute village, step foot on 2 continents and see the sunset on the water while passing huge tankers and tiny fishing boats.

Dolmabahce Palace.
Rumeli Castle seen from the boat tour.

Food and Shopping

I’ve heard that Turkish cuisine is world renowned. Now I can confirm the rumors are true! A great introduction is to try the mezes (appetizers). A tray is brought out with dozens of small dishes and you pick the ones you want. Served with toasted pita bread to sop them up. Also, don’t miss Turkish coffee, stuffed eggplant, manti (Turkish ravioli), and testis (meat and veggies casserole cooked in pottery which is cracked open at your table).

Lunch with view of the Blue Mosque from our hotel rooftop restaurant.

Shopping at the Grand Bazaar and the Spice Market are adventures themselves and take a bit of negotiation finesse. If you’re in the market for something higher priced you’ll be treated to hot tea and most likely led to a quiet room where you can talk without other customers hearing.

Ian waves from our table while our food is prepared before my eyes.
Inside the Spice Market.
Yummy Turkish food: my new favorite dish manti on the right (served with yogurt sauce).

There are plenty of reasons to love Istanbul, and the people we’ve met are another reason we enjoyed our visit. Their sense of humor and welcoming attitude (once we attempted to speak a little Turkish) made us feel comfortable in a place far from home. Thank you Istanbul and we hope to return!

Cruising Around Corfu, Greece 2021

View of the Old Fort in Corfu town.

To reach the island of Corfu we took a ferry from Igoumenitsa that takes an hour and a half and costs 10 euro. There is also an international airport from which we’ll be leaving after spending five days exploring this large island. There is also a cruise ship port, so there are plenty of ways to reach Corfu.

A half carafe of local white wine and saganaki (fried cheese with honey and sesame seeds) in Corfu town.
A cafe next to a Venetian well in Old Town.

We rented an apartment in Old Town Corfu for 60 euro per night and stayed 5 nights. It was a great home base. The Old Town is mostly a walking town with tight alleyways but there are definitely larger avenues full of touristy shops and plenty of tourists.

Shopping in Old Town.
A walk in dream time, Corfu.

There is an Old Fortress and a New Fortress in Corfu Town. We chose to visit the larger and slightly more impressive Old Fort. Built in the Byzantine era it had a revamping when the Venetians arrived and again when the British took over in 1814.

The impressive gate at the Old Fortress.

Corfu is a large island, 40 miles long and 17 miles at its widest spot. We rented a car for two days (70 euro total) and explored the Northern areas.

Paleokastitsa is a beautiful cove with clear water and two sandy beaches. You can rent a boat or take a tour to several other beaches nearby.

Paleokastitsa has gorgeous water!

The village of Sidari has a long beach with umbrellas and sun chairs in the sand. This is also the location of the canal d’amour, a limestone formation with a tunnel through it. Legend says if you swim through the tunnel with someone you will marry them, so be careful who you’re swimming with!

The dramatic white limestone cliffs and formations at Cape Drastis, near Sidari.

We drove to the highest peak of the island where a monastery was hidden in the clouds. Pantokrator Peak is 2,972 feet high and up a crazy hairpin road that looks like it only fits one car at a time. Add to that the extremely fast driving Greeks and you are in for an adventure.

The monastery at the top of cloud shrouded Pantokrator Peak.

My personal favorite cove is Kassiopi on the Northwest side of the island. It even has a castle that supposedly had a dragon in it so no one entered for a hundred years. There’s also a church where a statue of Mother Mary restored a blind boy’s sight when he spent the night there. Tons of famous people have visited Kassiopi, ranging from Cicero to Princess Margaret.

Kassiopi with its dragon castle on the hill.

We loved our time on Corfu and can easily imagine spending several months there because of all the different areas to explore. There are beaches everywhere, museums, mountains, kumquats (only in Corfu, no where else in Greece), great food, friendly people and of course, cats.

Ioannina and the Vikos Gorge, Greece

Passing through Saint George gate is like walking from the past into the future in Ioannina.

The fall colors are just beginning in Northern Greece in October. We saw the changing of the seasons through the bus window on our way to Ioannina from Meteora.

Sleepy streets in old Town Ioannina.

We stayed within the castle walls in old town Ioannina. Inside the walls are sleepy cobble stone streets. Once you pass through Saint George gate there’s a bustling, young hip area full of bars and restaurants crowded with university students.

A busy university city awaits outside the castle walls.

For culture buffs you can visit several museums and two mosques within the castle walls. Then take a ferry across Lake Pamvotida to the Island of Ioannina. There are quaint walking streets, monasteries, restaurants, tourist shops and a very impressive museum at the actual site of Ali Pasha’s assassination at his home in 1822. We were surprised by the amount of Eastern influence in this area and of it’s historical importance.

The mosque with rusty cannon balls.
An example of beautiful artistry and weaponry in the Ali Pasha museum.

We rented a car and drove an hour away to the Vikos Gorge in the Zagoria region. Tiny villages with houses made of stone are nestled against cloud frosted mountain sides. Centuries old stone bridges built by monks are set against the backdrop of fall colors.

One of the largest stone bridges in the gorge area. See Ian on top?
Ancient stone bridges among fall colors.

Vikos Canyon is considered the deepest for it’s width in the world. Due to rainy and foggy fall weather we could only imagine how dramatic it must be in the summer months.

The Stone Forest is an abstract rock formation near the gorge.
The fog filled Vikos Gorge.

We stayed in a two hundred year old limestone mansion that felt like a castle. I guess you need to build thick walls of stone if you live in a place that gets snow in the winter.

Our room in the two hundred year old stone mansion.
Beautiful blue water in the Vikos Gorge area.

We managed to see some beautiful sites even though it rained on us the entire time. The weather added a mystical quality to our experience of the gorge area.

Monasteries in the Sky, Meteora Greece

Monastery of The Holy Trinity seen in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only.

In central Greece on the plain of Thessaly is a remarkable rock formation. Giant pillars tower into the sky. Now imagine looking up and seeing monasteries built in the 14th century perched on top like eagle’s nests.

View of The Great Meteoron Monastery.

To escape persecution monks climbed these monoliths and built their monasteries on top using ladders, ropes and mesh nets. Many monks died just trying to climb up or when the rope broke that held their net. The Great Meteoron Monastery is the largest one and the first one built. You could only reach it by ladder or net until 1923 when they built 146 stairs.

Climbing the stairs to The Great Meteoron Monastery, with Varlaam Monastery in the distance.
Inside The Great Meteoron Monastery.
View from Varlaam Monastery.

We paid 25 euro each for a 4 hour tour that picked us up at our hotel. We visited three monasteries (one was run by nuns, so actually a nunnery) but also stopped at a few viewpoints and were able to see a few more crowning the tops of pillars in the distance. The story of how the monks built on top of these stone outcrops and even basic survival was astounding.

Tucked into caves are the remnants of habitation.
View from Varlaam Monastery.

Travel Tip: Women must wear skirts or a scarf tied around their waist if they’re wearing pants. There are free scarves at The Great Meteoron Monastery but you must pay 3 euro to buy one for entrance into Varlaam.

Saint Nicholas Monastery.

The next day we hiked to The Dragon Cave, located beneath Varlaam Monastery. There are hiking trails around the rocks and rock climbing is allowed in designated areas to protect the monasteries and the rock formations.

Inside The Dragon Cave.

Meteora is one of the most spectacular places I have ever been. It’s a bit of an adventure to get there if you don’t have a car, but well worth it.