hawaii travel guide: do the big island circle tour

Hawaii’s been having a rough time, you guys. First the flooding in Kauai, and now the earthquake and subsequent eruption of Kilauea Volcano on the Big Island. It’s a far cry from how the Big Island looked a little over a year ago when the hubs and I spent a day there. And because we only had a day, and we wanted to see as much as possible in that short span of time, we did the Big Island in a Day tour—and it was totally worth it!

Our guide, Drew (who totally reminded me of Jason Mraz), picked us up at our hotel pretty much at dawn, and we set off to our first destination: the black sand beach! On the way, we stopped at a bakery, where we bought some pastries and some honey to take home with us (it’s since become “my thing” to bring honey home from places, but Hawaiian honey is in a league all its own!).

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach ParkHawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach ParkHawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach ParkHawaii Travel Guide | Big Island In a Day Tour | Punaluu Black Sand Beach Park

Next, we went to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the active volcano (or at least its billowing smoke). There’s also a visitor center there with lots of information about volcanoes in general, photos from eruptions, and information on the scientists who study volcanoes and their activity.

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day Tour | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park20170408_115056

I believe the lava tube we went through is part of the National Park as well (it basically feels like a long tunnel, but it’s noteworthy and kind of surreal to walk through knowing that hot lava actually created it).

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day Tour | Lava tubes!Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day Tour | Lava tubes!

After that, we stopped for lunch at the Akatsuka Orchid Gardens. We dined amongst some of the most beautiful and fragrant orchids I’ve ever seen. If it would have been easier for us to transport one home (and if I didn’t have a known history of killing orchids), I totally would have brought home with us. The lunch was pretty yummy too—we got to try Hawaii’s purple potatoes!

After lunch, Drew took us to the first of two waterfalls we would see that day. Along the way, Drew was fantastic about weaving a lively story about Hawaii’s history—about its kings and the various battles fought to control the islands—it’s super fascinating stuff, you guys, and it kept us entertained in the car between stops!

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We made two back-to-back waterfall stops that day—first at Rainbow Falls (above), and then at Akaka State Falls (below). The lookout for Rainbow Falls is pretty close to the parking lot, but for Akaka, there’s a short walk through the lush rainforest.

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Our final stop was at Waipio Lookout, which offers spectacular views of Waipio Valley, home to King Kamehameha I when he was a boy, called the Valley of the Kings.

Hawaii Travel Guide | Big Island in a Day | Waipio Lookout20170408_165540B01A2360Drew dropped us back off at our hotel around seven that night (yes, we saw pretty much the entire Big Island in 12 hours—or the highlights, at least), along with tips on where to get a good dinner, after which we promptly zonked out in our hotel.

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We had a little bit of time before our flight back to Kauai the next morning, so we spent a couple hours just exploring the area around our hotel, taking pictures of random beautiful things along the way. The little hut you see below is actually a reproduction of the home King Kamehameha lived in (yes, a king lived in that tiny hut, it’s true)!

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Hawaii Travel Guide | Do the Big Island Circle Tour to See the Most in a Short Amount of Time

the top 10 things to do in kauai, hawaii

Recently, I read an article in the LA Times about Kauai’s record rainfall earlier this month: Records indicate that Kauai got 50 inches of rain within 24 hours, and scientists posit that this record-breaking and destructive weather is a result of global warming—and that there’s plenty more where that came from. And while I know that an island that has rebounded from two tsunamis and two hurricanes will come back from this, too, it’s a discomfiting thought, certainly, that this crazy weather could become the norm.

I’d planned on sharing a list of top things to do and see in Kauai today, to cap off my Kauai series—and I’m still going to do that, but I want you to keep in mind that some of these things might be off-limits if you’re heading to Kauai in the very near future. Just do your research before you go, because if any of these places or activities is open for business, you should check out each and every one of them while you’re visiting.

And now, my top 10 list of things to do and places to see in Kauai:

1. climb wailua falls

The waterfall can actually be seen from the roadside in Lihue, but we actually went all the way down. It’s not an easy hike. It’s actually a little more like mountain-climbing. It’s a steep, steep decline, and you go down there at your own risk. If for some reason you can’t get back up on your own, you’ll have to be airlifted out, and man, would that suck. So if you choose to ignore the warnings plastered all along the guardrail, like we did, just be careful. I actually thought it was really fun. I like the logistical challenge of figuring out where to step and where to grab on. The view from the bottom of the falls is so spectacular and totally worth it. Once we made it down (and it took us a while, we really took our time, because safety), I took off my shoes and socks and stood with my feet in that cool, cool water and just basked in the view. Totally worth it. 

2. visit waimea canyon national park

Waimea Canyon is considered the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and though it’s smaller, it’s still a sigh to behold—and there’s plenty of hiking and viewpoints to keep you occupied along the way. We spent our first full day in Kauai exploring Waimea Canyon, which you can read about more here.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

3. take a surfing lesson in hanalei bay

When in Hawaii, try to surf. Seriously. Even this completely uncoordinated girl rode some waves, and man was it exhilarating! You can read more about our surfing experience here.

10 things to do in Kauai, Hawaii: Take a surfing lesson

4. sail along the na pali coast

The Na Pali coast, a sheer cliffside off of Kauai’s northern coast, can only be seen by boat or air; you can hike along the coast as well (I’m sure the views are spectacular), but from what I understand, they’re pretty challenging (and long) hikes. Between Waimea and Na Pali, Kauai’s main highway does not connect between them. We opted to see the coastline from the water with Captain Andy’s Sailing Adventures. You can read more about our experience snorkeling, picnicking, and sailing along Kauai’s stunning Na Pali coast here.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Sail Along the Na Pali Coast

5. eat all of the food

We ate so well in Kauai, you guys. It was expensive, but it was worth every penny. I don’t think we had a single meal in Kauai that was not orgasmic, but I whittled the list down for you guys to the best places we ate:

for breakfast: wake up cafe in hanalei or banandi

At the Wake Up Cafe, try the Hanalei Quesadilla (a Mexican omelette) and the mac nut cinnamon roll, which is heaped with pineapple and macadamia nuts.

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Get the mac nut cinnamon roll at Wake Up Hanalei Bay. Yes, those are pineapples and macadamia nuts piled on top. Yes, it’s as delicious as it looks.

At Banandi, get all of the crepes. To be, erm, relatively healthy, I started with a hearty crepe—salami and mozzarella—but then I also tried their strawberry-Nutella dessert crepe (which is a classic combination) and the lemon and sugar crepe on our second visit, which was utterly refreshing. My only complaint about Banandi is that they didn’t offer juice, but that might not bother you, or it the lovely Ukrainian gentleman who owns it may have changed that by now, who knows?

for hawaiian grilled cheese and fresh ice cream: pink’s creamery

For the record, Hawaiian grilled cheese has pulled pork and pineapple on it and is simply divine.

Get Hawaiian grilled cheese at Pink's Creamery in Kauai, Hawaii!

for shave ice: jojo’s shave ice

Shave ice is really big in Kauai, which I don’t 100% understand. It’s just a fancy and overly expensive snow cone. But apparently it’s one of the things you must-do there. The Fresh Shave is supposed to be the best; unfortunately, we never got around to trying it. But Jojo’s is an institution in Kauai; all of their syrups are homemade.

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for dinner: hanalei dolphin restaurant & fish market and tahiti nui

The fish tacos at the Hanalei Dolphin Restaurant are to die for (the fish is fresh fresh fresh since the fish market is attached). The Dolphin also offers a variety of sushi and Asian-inspired dishes.

You might recognize Tahiti Nui from that movie George Clooney filmed in Hawaii. No? Well, no matter. Their pizza is freaking amazing. I believe mine had Kalua pork and pineapples (pretty much everything I hate in Hawaii was adorned with pineapples and I have no regrets).

6. go tubing & ziplining

Do both with Kauai’s Backcountry Adventures and you get 10% off! (That’s what we did!) We went tubing in the morning through an old sugarcane plantation and went ziplining through the rainforest in the afternoon—both were really cool experiences and highly recommended. Want to know more? Check out this post.

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7. kayak & hike along wailua river

The hubs and I loved the various outdoor activities Kauai offered—we love both kayaking and hiking, so this excursion was perfect for us. Plus, you get to have lunch by a beautiful waterfall after all that hard work! Click here to read more.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Hike & Kayak Along the Wailua River

8. check out queen’s bath

Again, do this one at your own risk—people have died there. But really, just don’t be stupid. Don’t try to swim in them if the water is rough (or maybe at all, if you really don’t want to tempt the fates). We were there on a wild day, and it was so exhilarating to watch the water churn from the top of the rocks. It was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.

9. spend some time on hanae beach

We were actually looking for tunnel beach because I’d read the snorkeling is supposed to be top-notch there, but we ended up at Hanae Beach, which was still super nice—plus there’s a cool cave to explore right across the road. We had nothing in particular to do that day, so we spread out our towels in the shade of the trees that border the sand, and I took a nap while Jeremy frolicked in the insane waves. The beach was so clean—spotless tan sand dotted by black volcanic rock and crystal-clear water—absolute heaven. Bring a book, bring a picnic, bring some snorkel gear if you have it, and spend a few hours just chilling on this beautiful beach.

10. watch the sunset at poipu beach

On our last day in Kauai (sad face), we ended up on Poipu Beach, where if you’re lucky, you can spot seals and maybe whales (we weren’t that lucky, although the lifeguard announced a whale sighting while we were there, I, unfortunately, saw nothing). Except for the sunset—I did see that, and although it was a little cloudy that evening, the clouds just gave the sunset some character.

bonus: drive through the tunnel of trees

It’s a great photo-op.

bonus: walk across the hanapepe swinging bridge

I read about this “swinging bridge” in several blog posts when I was researching Kauai; many had it listed a “must-see.” I’m not sure I would agree, but who knows, maybe you’ll check it out and feel differently. The town of Hanapepe if pretty cute, though, so if nothing else, we enjoyed licking an ice cream cone and checking out the little shops.

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kauai, hawaii travel guide: tubing and ziplining with kauai backcountry adventures

It’s been so sad watching all this news coverage about Kauai over the last week or so, seeing the devastation wreaked by the excessive rain and flash flooding has caused the oldest of Hawaii’s islands. I worry about the folks whose homes have been washed away. If anyone is interested in helping Kauai rebound from what is no less than a natural disaster (the worst one since Hurricane Iniki hit Kauai in 1992), there are several fundraisers to which you can donate, if you would like to lend these folks a hand.

Kauai is easily one of my absolute favorite places in this world—and as you know, I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in the last six years.

When we were deciding which island we would spend the bulk of our time on, in the back of my mind, I remembered a video my sister had posted to her Facebook page that showed people tubing through an old sugar cane plantation—it looked so cool that when we decided on Kauai, I booked the tubing excursion almost immediately. While the tubing itself wasn’t necessarily as exciting as the video made it seem, it was still very cool (I mean that literally and figuratively—that water is hella cold). The tubing is rather leisurely actually, so if you’re not into thrills, per se, then this excursion will be perfect for you.

TIP: Make sure you bring your towels with you to the plantation, rather than, say, leaving them in your car back at “base camp.”  You’re driven into the mountains from base camp, and you can leave your things in their van to stay dry. After you go tubing, you go for a picnic lunch nearby. My mistake was assuming we were going back to base camp for lunch. Luckily, a kind family in our group took pity on the poor shivering girl and let me borrow one of their towels while we ate, bless their hearts. Of course, it was cloudy and drizzly the day we went tubing, which made a difference too, I’m sure.

 

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Later that day, we went ziplining through the rainforest, which was as adrenaline-pumping as the tubing was chill. We’d never been ziplining before, and let me tell you, it was kind of nerve-wracking and a little bit terrifying at first (in the good, adrenaline-pumping way). But with every line you zip, the nerves fade, and soon, flying through the air feels like second-nature (okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I did get more comfortable with it the more I did it, even if I couldn’t figure out how to keep myself straight or go in any way but ass-end first).

Afterward, we were offered snacks at a little picnic table that was near this natural little pool; the water was crystal-clear and refreshingly cold. The sun parted long enough for us to paddle around in there for a little bit before we were taken back along the bumpy backroads to base camp.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Go tubing and ziplining with Kauai Backcountry Adventures

TIP: By booking both excursions through Kauai Backcountry Adventures, you save 10%, which is totally worth it, because the excursions were not cheap. But it was almost an entire day of activity, and now I can say I’ve gone tubing through an old sugar plantation and been ziplining high in the trees, which is pretty cool. 😉

Next week, I’ll be compiling all of the top things to do in Kauai (who doesn’t love lists?!), including some sights and activities that I haven’t written about yet, so you’ll have a complete guide to Kauai and all the amazing and various things you can do on my favorite island! 🙂

In the meantime, continue to keep Kauai’s residents in your thoughts, send them all the good vibes, and, if you’re feeling generous, donate to some of those fundraisers!

To be continued!

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Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Go tubing and ziplining with Kauai Backcountry Adventures

kauai, hawaii travel guide: kayak and hike along the wailua river

Kauai has a lot going for it: It’s stunning, the weather’s perfect, and it offers a lot of different outdoorsy activities for when you feel like balancing your chill beach time with, you know, adventures of the physical variety. (If you don’t like being outdoors, though, maybe Hawaii isn’t your dream destination—which makes me sad for you, on so many levels…)

About halfway through our stay on the undeniable paradise of Kauai, we spent half a day kayaking and hiking along the Wailua River. Our guide, Josh, a transplant from Rhode Island or some other tiny state in the Northeast, was knowledgeable and entertaining. He gave us a quick and humorous tutorial about how to paddle and steer a kayak before we were on our way.

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HEADS-UP: You’re in a two-person kayak, so TEAMWORK is required, folks! Kayaking in tandem is not as easy as one would think! We weren’t always in sync with each other’s strokes and I have that annoying control-freak thing where I try to steer the boat even though I’m in the front and we ran into low-hanging trees a couple of times, but it was still totally fun! (Just, you know, tested our marriage a little bit—JK! But seriously, we did run right into a tree one; kayaks are harder to steer than you’d think. Or maybe it’s just user error. That’s entirely possible. I acknowledge this freely. [But I can to that, because technically my husband was in charge of steering—cue evil laughter!])

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Kayak & Hike Along Wailua River

We paddled for maybe 40 minutes before tying off and starting the hiking portion of the excursion. TIP: Get some waterproof hiking sandals or shoes if you do this excursion. I came “prepared” with my typical Eddie Bauer hiking shoes, but there were several times during the hike where we were wading knee-high water. Some people took their shoes off every time we waded through water; I didn’t want to deal with the hassle, though, so I went barefoot through most of it. Which was entirely doable—the trail was smooth (if a little muddy, but, you know, mud can be washed off in the ever-present river) and as long as I watched where I was going, I was perfectly fine. But some waterproof shoes would have made it a lot easier on me, probably. (A few months after our trip, I came across these quick-drying shoes on Amazon, one of their lightning deals, so I’ll be better prepared next time I do this or a similar excursion!)

But I digress. Let me tell you about the hike! We hiked along for maybe 30-40 minutes before we came upon our resting spot, which, incidentally, is in view of an amazing waterfall. We sat upon the giant boulders surrounding the waterfall and its pool eating homemade sandwiches and fresh cookies and food-gasming over insanely fresh pineapple. (Straight from the heavens, this pineapple was, I’m telling you. You’ve never had pineapple until you’ve eaten it in Hawaii. [Fun fact: Hawaii doesn’t export a lot of its pineapple anymore, so you’re not super likely to taste actual Hawaiian pineapple anywhere else.]) If you desired, you could also swim around the waterfall (my husband partook while I sat back and relaxed a bit and watched him get pummeled by water; I didn’t feel like sitting around in my wet suit).

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Hike & Kayak Along the Wailua River

After our time swimming and relaxing by the waterfall, we began our hike back through the rainforest. (Want to hear something funny? I slipped on some mossy rocks as we were wading our way toward our kayaks, my shoes flew from my hands and started swimming on down the stream, so all that effort to keep them [and myself] dry was so pointless, haha.) But I and my shoes dried off fairly quickly as we paddled back to our launch point; by then, the sky was high in the sky and blazing hot.

Our excursion concluded around 3 p.m., which gave us the rest of the afternoon to just relax and chill. I actually preferred that most of our Hawaiian excursions were over by mid-afternoon. Being behind six hours meant that for much of our time there, I was falling asleep early but was waking naturally by about six every morning, which was kind of nice, actually. I’m not much of a morning person, but this meant taking in the sunrise and having time before our excursions to have a leisurely breakfast before we had to report to our meeting point.

I would highly recommend this excursion if kayaking and hiking are picnicking are up your alley. We had such an amazing time. The river was so calm and peaceful, the paddling was just the right amount of exercise without exertion. The hike was easy enough, and the rainforest, with its rustling leaves and birdsong, was magical. We had such a great group of people with us, too, which always makes a big difference. Everyone was so game. You could probably also rent kayaks and do something like this by yourself, as I’m sure many people do, but (as you probably know already), I’m a fan of just being able to show up and have someone take me where I need to be, plus you get the added advantage of learning the history of the place and the different animals and fauna that populate the area. (Fun fact: Did you know that there actually aren’t any super dangerous species in Hawaii? They were never introduced to the islands, so pretty much anywhere you go in Hawaii is pretty safe—inland, at least, they do still have sharks and things in their water [duh]!) And if this review isn’t enough to convince you to do it, just take some time taking in all of the awesomeness I photographed along the way! 😉

More Hawaii adventures and tips to come! To be continued!

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kauai, hawaii travel guide: sail along the na pali coast

As I mentioned in my post about Waimea Canyon, the main road on Kauai doesn’t connect in a complete circle, and that’s because of the Na Pali coast, where the cliffs are so steep that you can only access that side of the island by boat or (strenuously) by foot.

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We spent my 30th birthday with Captain Andy’s doing the Classic Na Pali Snorkel & Picnic Sail. We started out bright and early that morning with breakfast offered on board.

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Around 10, the boat anchored and we hopped in the water for some snorkeling. Unfortunately, the water wasn’t super clear where we snorkeled and we didn’t get to see very much. That’s really my only complaint about the excursion, and really, that one’s out of their control.

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Then we sailed along the fifteen miles of pristine Na Pali coastline at a leisurely pace. Pictures absolutely don’t do this coastline justice (plus the light wasn’t working in our favor that particular day), but I assure you it is breathtaking—so many different shades of green!

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We anchored for a picnic lunch (traditional picnic fare, sandwiches, chips, etc.), where we were lucky to catch a playful pod of spinner dolphins [insert dolphin squeal here (I love dolphins)]!

We headed back to port at a leisurely pace (they actually lowered the sail), and we just sat back and took in the green cliffs and azure water. We were done by about 3 pm, so we had a few hours that afternoon to just chill poolside.

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Last Monday, this girl turned 31, which made me reflect on my thirtieth year, which, let’s be honest, is a rough milestone for most women. But you know what, I had a pretty stellar year, starting with our week in Hawaiian paradise, my twelve days with the ladies in stunning Italy, and our week in the Canary Islands and Portugal. On deck for this girl’s thirty-first year: A nine-day Baltic cruise in late summer and a three-week Australia and New Zealand adventure in December!

More to come on Hawaii in the next couple of weeks—it’s been saving me from being too depressed with this chilly spring weather in Michigan. To be continued!

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Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Sail Along the Na Pali Coast

kauai, hawaii travel guide: take a surfing lesson & explore queen’s bath

Those who know me well know that I’m not exactly what you would call “sporty” or coordinated. But this did not stop me from signing up for a surfing lesson with Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. It seemed like a must-do—when in Hawaii, attempt to ride those legendary waves.

We were in a small group, just us two and two younger girls. Our guide was the typical “surfer dude”—long hair, loose limbs, not a care in the world—and bottomless patience. The first half-hour was mostly talking about safety, then for the next hour, with our teacher’s guidance, we caught some waves—all of us (even me!) and more than once—to varying degrees of success.

My whole body was sore afterward, and I wiped out constantly (salt water up the nose and the whole shebang), but man was it fun! I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so accomplished as I did when I successfully rode a wave!

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Take a Surfing Lesson
This is, unfortunately, the only proof we have that we went surfing—but we did it, you guys, I promise! And it was SO MUCH FUN!

That afternoon, we headed over to Queen’s Bath, a tide pool located in Princeville. On a calm day, you (supposedly) can swim in the pool. We were not there on a calm day, however—but honestly, I’m so glad we were there when the waves were insane because it made for such a cool experience!

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This is (supposedly) what Queen’s Bath looks like on a calm day. We were not there on a calm day. Source: Wikimedia Commons

What the blog posts about Queen’s Bath didn’t really mention is who dangerous it actually is. From the parking lot, you take a trail through the woods, climbing over rocks and alongside waterfalls, until you reach the pool itself. Right before the trees clear, there’s a wooden warning sign that tallies the number of people who have died there that year. Which, I’ll admit, freaked me out just a little bit—but, you know, just be smart while you’re there. Don’t take any unnecessary risks. And for God’s sake, if it’s super wavy, don’t get in the pools, ya dig?

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Take a Surfing Lesson & Check Out Queen's Bath

There was no way on earth we were getting in the pools that day, so instead, we played on the igneous rock formations that surround it, watching over and over as the waves pummeled the coastline. It was breathtaking and actually quite exhilarating!

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Take a Surfing Lesson & Check Out Queen's Bath

 

 

We were there for maybe an hour (and really, that’s all the time you need), so if you find yourselves with a little bit of time to kill, it’s definitely worth checking out—think of it as a little mini-adventure! 🙂 Maybe even bring a picnic and spread out on the rocks and just enjoy the scenery!

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Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Take a Surfing Lesson and Explore Queen's Bath

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Take a Surfing Lesson & Check Out Queen's Bath

kauai, hawaii travel guide: visit waimea canyon, the grand canyon of the pacific

Late in 2016, I got it into my head that I wanted to go to Hawaii. How did this come about, you ask? It was the season six premiere of Mad Men, in which Don and Megan Draper live it up in Hawaii, that got me fixated on it. (Don’t ask. But once I set my mind to something…that’s it!) Before that, I didn’t really see the draw. It’s just a bunch of islands, right? So what—I can go to the beaches in the contiguous United States for a fraction of the cost and travel time. Was it really worth the 14+ hours and $1,000+ it would take to get there?

The short answer: Yes.

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The view of the beautiful blue Pacific from the Westin in Princeville.

We were incredibly fortunate that my husband’s aunt (my aunt-in-law? is that a thing?) has timeshares in Maui and Kauai that she was willing to let us use, which saved us a ton of money on lodging. All we had to do was decide which island we wanted to go to and when we wanted to go. So I thought, what could be better than spending my dreaded 30th birthday in paradise?

The short answer: Nothing.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

Because we only had about a week to work with (my husband didn’t want to use all of his vacation time in one fell swoop), we decided we would focus on just one of the islands rather than try to spread our time out between both. Maui seemed a little more hectic and commercial, but Kauai, on the other hand, is more natural, less built-up, and it offered more adventure-y things for us to do in addition to the laid-back stuff. So it was that we spent one glorious week in Kauai, Hawaii’s oldest island.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

And it was indeed glorious. I have never been somewhere that freaking beautiful in my life. Everywhere you looked, it was luscious and green with occasional bursts of reds, purples, and fuschia. You could see the mountains from almost anywhere on the island, their peaks kissing the clouds. And the water—well, the water is the deepest, purest shade of blue I’ve ever seen in my life.

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

We admittedly spent a lot of time in the car, but honestly, with so much to look at, we didn’t even mind. I’m usually that girl who immediately pulls out her book to keep herself occupied during a boring car ride—but not this time. I would lean back, let the sun kiss my face, let the wind blow through my hair, and take photographs from a moving vehicle (I actually got some pretty great ones, if I do say so myself!).

Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

On our first day in enchanting Kauai, we had nothing specific planned, so we decided to explore Waimea Canyon National Park. It took us about an hour and forty-five minutes to get there by car from Princeville. If you look at Princeville and Waimea Canyon on a map, it doesn’t look like they’re that far away. And, geographically-speaking, they’re not, but there is only one main road on Kauai; it hugs the coast, for the most part, but it never meets to complete the circle; we had to drive nearly around the whole perimeter of the island in order to get there. (But, see above about the breathtaking scenery: there were no complaints from me!)

Waimea Canyon is nicknamed “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific” (or so I’ve been told), and though it is neither as big or as old as the Grand Canyon, it is no less stunning. Now, I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, and while it is indeed jaw-dropping when you first see it, it gets a little less, well, grand, with each stop, because each lookout offers essentially the same view with little variation.

What’s awesome about Waimea Canyon National Park is that the canyon itself is not the only thing to see there (because let’s be honest, a canyon is a canyon is a canyon, even if Waimea is greener than the one in AZ). There is so much to see at each stop along the way, with little hikes, waterfalls, and panoramic views interspersed along the way.

Something to keep in mind before you head out to Waimea Canyon National Park: It’s really more of a day trip than a quick jaunt, so bring lots of water and some snacks with you, because there aren’t a whole lot of food or beverage offerings once you’re in the park. I’d say we spent about six hours in the park total, and by the time we were done, this girl was quite hangry, if I’m being completely honest. So, learn from my mistakes, please!

Stay tuned to hear more about our magical trip to Hawaii! To be continued!

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Kauai, Hawaii Travel Guide | Explore Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

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portugal travel guide: do we hate tourism’s x-day trip to sintra and cascais

r second day in Lisbon started bright and early in Rossio Square before we set off for higher altitudes. We first stopped in the super-tiny town of Sintra, which also offered an adorable bakery called Casa Piriquita, where a sugar bomb fortified me for the day ahead. (The Portuguese sure love their sugar, which I also love.)portugal travel guide: do we hate tourism's x-day trip to sintra and cascaisThe only thing I knew about Sintra prior to our visit was that it’s known for its castles (specifically, this one, Pena Palace, it’s most popular):

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We didn’t actually visit Pena Palace as part of our tour, however. Part of We Hate Tourism‘s “mission statement” is they want to show visitors the less touristy side of Portugal, so our guide took us to Quinta da Regaleira, another well-known estate in Sintra. portugal travel guide: do we hate tourism's x-day trip to sintra and cascaisWe started at the top of the Well of Initiation, which was used for Freemason ceremonial purposes rather than for gathering water. We wound our way down nine platforms and then through a network of tunnels that lead to a luminescent grotto, followed by Rapunzel-esque towers and well-manicured grounds and the palace itself.

After we explored the palace grounds, our guide took us to a roadside market, where we bought some amazing herbed cheese to take home with us. Lunch was a simple affair, prepared in a food truck: fresh bread braided around cured meats, straight out of the wood-fired oven; accompanied by fresh cherry tomatoes and cheese and plenty of green wine. portugal travel guide: do we hate tourism's x-day trip to sintra and cascais

Then our guide took us on a drive to the end of the world, Cabo da Roca. Actually, Cabo da Roca is the westernmost point in Europe, but early explorers thought it was actually the end of the world, because it was water as far as the eye could see. It is a breathtaking view.

On our way to Cascais, our guide made a pit stop at “Female Mouse Beach,” which is very popular among surfers. We dipped our toes in the cold, cold water; dug our toes in the sand; and breathed in the clean, salty air. And our guide surprised us with some of Portugal’s famous pastries and port wine, and we picnicked around a pile of crates.

Our final stop of the day was Cascais, a very wealthy seaside town in Portugal. We grabbed some gelato from Santini (delicious) and walked leisurely around charming Cascais taking pictures.

At the end of our tour, our guide offered to drop us off at the predetermined dropoff location, or take us back to the LX Factory, where the We Hate Tourism office is located. On Sundays, LX Factory hosts an impressive flea market. Every other day of the week, the old industrial complex has a bunch of quirky shops and restaurants.

I was really feeling tacos that night, and we came across Mez Cais LX, a quirky restaurant inspired by Mexican wrestlers. There’s a “wrestling ring” and little Mexican wrestler figurines glued to the wall. We ate some delicious tacos, accompanied by delicious minty lemonade, and topped off by mini-churros. Lisbon, Portugal Travel Guide: LX FactoryLisbon, Portugal Travel Guide: LX Factory

We ended our evening with a walk back to our hotel; Lisbon is so lovely at night, lamp-lit, quiet, beautiful.Lisbon, Portugal Travel GuideIt was a wonderful day—a wonderful two days—in Lisbon, but not nearly enough. I dream of going back. When I do, I will probably take another day trip to Sintra—maybe on my own, maybe on a different tour. I loved We Hate Tourism’s guides and their whole philosophy, but certain places are popular for a reason, and I do wish we’d visited Pena Palace; it looks oh-so-dreamy. But I will be back—and I will see Pena Palace for myself one day. 🙂

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Portugal Travel Tip | Do We Hate Tourism's X-Day Trip to Sintra and Cascais

 

 

portugal travel guide: do a belem dinner and tour with we hate tourism tours

It was the company’s name that caught my attention immediately—We Hate Tourism Tours. Oh, the irony, I thought to myself, then I noticed that they had over 1,000 five-star reviews on TripAdvisor, and that was it for me; I decided this was exactly the kind of excursion I wanted to do while in Lisbon. I clicked on the link and loved their website—every tour description is infused with the kind of snarky, deadpan humor that I love. And I liked what they had on offer so much that we did two tours with them—Dinner with Us or Starve (come on, that’s hilarious!) and the X-Day Trip to Sintra and Cascais (which I’ll be saving for my next post, because I really like to milk it, or because some of you have short attention spans ;))!

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Our tour didn’t exactly get off to a great start—but that was also entirely our fault. We were so proud of ourselves—we’d gotten to our meeting point early! We stood at the meeting point, searching for any groups that we thought could be ours, but we didn’t see anybody. Which led to a freakout that maybe we were in the wrong place. So the hubs pulled up the itinerary on his phone (the WiFi was being a bit spotty that night, too), and he looked and me and said we’re in the wrong place—which began a mad rush to where we thought we were supposed to be. We got to the square, and we stood at the meeting point, but there was no one there. Finally, our tour guide, Gonzi, called my phone trying to figure out where we were. Well, as it turned out, we were at the right meeting point—but for our other tour with We Hate Tourism Tours the next day (yes, that was a major fail on our part). So Gonzi instructed us to wait at the McDonald’s and said he was going to pick us up. Well, it turned out traffic was not cooperating, so he called me again and asked if we could meet him at the train station, but I had no idea where the train station was, our WiFi wasn’t working, and I was getting to that frazzled point of frustration. But Gonzi—bless his heart—did not give up on us. He by some miracle found us and ushered us into a car filled to the brim with some crazy Australian women who immediately gave us (well-deserved and good-spirited) shit for being so late. (Well, that was embarrassing.)

Gonzi took us through the city center and out to a quieter part of town, to a little hole-in-the-wall (i.e., authentic) restaurant for—I kid you not—a six-course meal (at least; I lost count after a while) and all the green wine we could drink (you guys, green wine is delicious). There was toast with mozzarella and honey, some kind of paella, a rice dish, a meat dish—every time I thought we were done, another course was placed in front of us. I won’t lie to you—I was in a sated haze through most of it, devouring the tasty food, plied with plenty of green wine (I’m a lightweight), and laughing along with those crazy, lovely Australian ladies who were actually living and working in Berlin (apparently it’s very easy to emigrate to Berlin—just in case you were wondering).

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After dinner, Gonzi took us on a little drive. He stopped by the Águas Livres Aqueduct, which by some miracle survived the catastrophic earthquake (seismologists estimate it at a nine-point magnitude), followed by an enormous tsunami, that destroyed much of Lisbon and took over 70,000 lives in 1755. The aqueduct is also the setting for Lisbon’s very own Jack-the-Ripper-esque serial killer story: Diogo Alves would loiter on the aqueduct until nightfall, rob those crossing the aqueduct, and then push them to their deaths; in the end, he murdered 70 people. He was hanged for his crimes, and then decapitated for good measure; scientists—phrenologists in particular—thought the shape of a person’s skull was determined by certain character traits, and they thought that by studying Alves’s brain they’d gain understanding on what could make a person so undeniably evil (his perfectly preserved severed head is on display at the University of Lisbon’s Medical School, if you want to see what a crazed murderer from the nineteenth century looks like).

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After that charming tale, Gonzi took us into the Belem district, where he picked up the most amazing traditional Portuguese egg tart pastries from Pasteis de Belem. You can get these pastries almost anywhere in Lisbon, but these are the “original” pastel de Belem; Pasteis de Belem has been making them since 1837.

 

From there, we headed to the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, also known as the Monument of Discoveries. The original monument was conceived and built for the World’s Fair in 1940 but was demolished in 1943. In 1958, the government decided they wanted to replicate the monument, but larger, and that is the monument that lives along the waterfront to this day, celebrating the Portuguese Age of Discovery during the 15th and 16th centuries. The walkway before the monument is rather special too—it is a map of the world in the center for a compass, constructed of black, white, and red tiles. There, we stood, looking up at the monument, savoring the delicious pastries (with cinnamon sprinkled on top—heaven) and a glass of port wine (which originates from the Portuguese town of Porto—did you know that?). Just a shot of that heady stuff (well, after all of the green wine), and I could not feel my face anymore (again: lightweight).

 

Gonzi carted us back to the original meeting place toward midnight; a few people were going to check out some of the nightlife in Lisbon after our tour, but the hubs and I, being the old farts that we are, walked back to our hotel, since we needed to get up early for our Sintra day trip! (And Gonzi, by the way, was a total card and a phenomenal tour guide; I would recommend this tour to anyone who has a sense of humor and loves authentic tourist experiences—which seems like an oxymoron, I know.)

To be continued!

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Portugal Travel Guide | Do Dinner and Tour in Belem with We Hate Tourism Tours

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portugal travel guide: first-timers’ guide to lisbon

Last summer, when I came across the deal on Travelzoo for a trip to the Canary Islands and Lisbon, the idea grabbed me right away, but my dubious husband required a bit of convincing that this was a trip worthy of our limited vacation time. (If you know me at all, though, you know that once I set my mind to something, I usually make it happen!) If you’ve read my last handful of posts about our experience in Gran Canaria, you know that while I was glad we went and explored the island, I have no strong desire to return; I feel like we saw everything there was to see. We did not feel that way about Lisbon, however—we didn’t have nearly enough time there, and I dream of going back. I feel like we saw and did a lot in the two days that we were there, but we really just scratched the surface of this magnificent country. Of all the counties I’ve visited in the last five years, Portugal lands at number two on my list of favorites, bested only by Italy. Why? Because it’s got the trifecta—the people are super friendly, the food is heavenly, and it’s freaking beautiful. After spending some more time in Portugal (one day hopefully in the not-too-distant future), who knows, maybe it’ll even inch its way into the number one spot!

The novelty of the great american disaster

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On our first night in Lisbon, what did we do? Oh, yes, we went and had good ol’ American food at a restaurant called the Great American Disaster. I know what you’re going to say—Ashley, you’re an American, you can have American food any day of the week, and I am 100% in agreement. However, the hubs wanted a burger, I was getting quite hangry, and the highly-rated places near our hotel were booked up—which was just poor planning on my part; I take full responsibility (but how was I to know?! saving those places for next time!).

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It was the name of the place—the Great American Disaster—which drew his attention. (Plus good reviews on Yelp.) There was something very strange and novel about being overseas and sitting down in a ’50s-style diner, complete with black-and-white checkered floor, red and aqua patent-leather booths and chairs, vintage posters, and lots and lots of neon. And, admittedly, the burgers and milkshakes we imbibed were tasty. Were they ah-mazing? Not really, but they were satisfying. If you find yourself away from the States and craving familiar comfort food, then it’s worth stopping in. But after experiencing the other food Lisbon had to offer, I regret eating there, especially given the small amount of time we had to eat quality Portuguese food!

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brunch at leitaria

On our first full day in Lisbon, we decided to hit the farmer’s market first, and, feeling energized and excited for the day ahead of us, we decided we would walk there. It was maybe three miles’ walking distance from our hotel, and the route would take us right through the neighborhood of Chiado, which is famous for its brightly-tiled homes.

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We got to the farmer’s market just as vendors were beginning to open, and being a typical American, I was hankering for some breakfast food, so we decided to head to a nearby restaurant called Leitaria before diving fully into the market. You guys, this was the cutest little shabby-chic place ever, everything white and baby blue and rustic wood pallets and crates. I had freshly-squeezed orange juice (which is one of my favorite things ever), the hubs had a freshly-squeezed berry juice of some kind, and we both had eggs, bacon, and fresh bread with the best freaking jam I’ve had in my life. (If we could have brought some home with us, I would’ve; but, alas, TSA frowns upon you bringing fruit and vegetable goods into the States…) We also got this sugar pastry with a creamy filling— which melted in my mouth and was complete heaven. The Portuguese love their sweets, and they do them very well, let me tell you!

mercado da ribeira

After our morning fortification, we walked back into Mercado Da Ribiera, which is the oldest and largest food market in Lisbon (its first reference dates back to 1100, but it moved to its current location on the water in the late 1800s; renovations began in 2010 and the new Time Out Lisbon opened in 2014).

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Inside, there are dozens of vendors offering fresh goods: stall after stall featuring fresh fish that they descale right there; fresh flower stalls; food vendors selling classic and unique delicacies and samples of ginja, Lisbon’s traditional cherry liqueur; folks selling their unique handmade goods made from cork, local jewelry celebrating the blue-and-white tiles Lisbon is famous for, and colorful hand-crafted puppets for children; and, of course, various stalls packed with souvenirs.

We walked away from that place laden with bags of souvenirs for us and our loved ones: a super-unique bag made from cork, two bottles of wine, a bottle of olive oil, two jars of honey, and a necklace featuring a swallow (a traditional symbol of Lisbon)—and were all surprisingly reasonable in price!

castelo de sao jorge

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We caught the bus back to our hotel to drop our soviets off before heading out to Castelo Da Sao Jorge (or St. George’s Castle): the castle features a 360-degree view across the city and is the perfect place to watch a sunset (or so I’ve read). We were there about midday, it was steadily raining, and we couldn’t see very far in the sea of terracotta Spanish-tiled roofs, but that didn’t dampen our spirits!

We jumped on the underground to the closest stop, but from there, it was about a 45-minute trek uphill to get to the Moorish castle. It had all the stereotypical castle-y things like a drawbridge and turrets and what I can imagine is a beautiful view of the water on clear days. We spent a couple hours exploring the castle’s different nooks and crannies, snapping photos, and sometimes, just sitting and taking in our surroundings.

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From there, we wound our way downhill through tiny little alleyways to get to Miradouro das Portas do Sol, which many argue is the most picturesque view in the city. We grabbed a quick lunch and sangrias while the rain petered out and we took in the view of the port where a couple of cruise ships were docked. It was a pretty, though, foggy view, not quite as picturesque as I was imagining, but I’ve seen pictures of the view when the sun is out, and it is stunning.

Afterward, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up before our dinner tour with We Hate Tourism Tours, which I’ll tell you all about in next week’s post!

Have you been to Lisbon? What was your favorite site? Tell me in the comments—they’ll go on the list for our next trip out there (whenever that may be)!

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Portugal Travel Guide | First Timers' Guide to Lisbon

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