Why Cappadocia is the Most Magical Place on Earth

Why Cappadocia is the Most Magical Place on Earth

Exactly a year ago, I visited a place called Cappadocia, which is in Turkey. This place is so picturesque and full of magic, that words are not enough to describe the beauty. Yes, that’s one of the reasons why I never ended up writing about Cappadocia, but I will give it a try.

Sunset at Red Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Sunset at Red Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Of course, I had seen pictures of Cappadocia before I arrived here, but I was not prepared for the magnitude of it all. I mean, when you visit a destination that is famous for its landscape, it is usually limited to a part of the city, or maximum the full city itself. But this is WAY more than that. It is more than 10 cities!

I arrived here on an overnight bus from Pamukkale and boy, I was really sleep deprived. I remember waking up when the bus had already entered Cappadocia region but was 15 minutes away from my destination – Göreme.

It may sound funny but my jaw actually dropped lower than usual as soon as I saw outside the window. My mouth stayed open in a weird way even when I got off the bus and sat in a car to my hotel. Yes, it is safe to say that I fell in love at the first sight with Cappadocia.

Alright, I have spent enough energy in trying to tell you how I felt while I was there, but here’s now it’s time to tell you why Cappadocia is the most magical place on Earth.

Here’s why Cappadocia is the Most Magical Place on Earth –

Evil Eye adorned tree in Göreme, Cappadocia

Evil Eye adorned tree in Göreme, Cappadocia

01 | Cappadocia Looks Like Another Planet

Sometimes weird can be truly beautiful. Cappadocia’s weird landscape is what makes it magical. Its strange beauty is unique and I doubt if you will ever see a place like this anywhere else on the planet. Perhaps Mother Nature was on LSD when she created Cappadocia.

Looks like Planet Tatooine - Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Looks like Planet Tatooine – Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

The correct way to describe Cappadocia’s landscape is actually “Moonscape” because it looks otherworldly. You may not ever get a chance to visit another planet, but a visit to Cappadocia will make you forget you’re on Earth.

Just look at this picture – how can this be real? (but it is!). As per me, this is truly magical.

Sunset point in Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Sunset point in Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Remember Planet Tatooine from Star Wars? The landscape of Cappadocia is strikingly similar. A little research on the Internet informed me that George Lucas actually wanted to shoot there, but did not get the permission so picked Tunisia instead. Reality looks even more beautiful than photoshop in Cappadocia.

02 | Cappadocia has Fairy Chimneys!

As if the name wasn’t magical enough, these fairy chimneys are dreamlike structures that are all over Cappadocia. I will be honest, to me they look like magic mushrooms.. or penises but I will let you decide for yourself.

Fairy Chimneys in Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Fairy Chimneys in Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

In case you’re curious, these strange formations exist because of volcanic eruptions and were carved beautifully by the wind. Yes, erosion can be pretty too.

 

03| Magic Carpet Hot Air Balloon Ride in Cappadocia is INSANE

One of the best ways to enjoy the beauty of Cappadocia’s moonscape is by flying over it. Yes, it’s expensive but Cappadocia is one of the cheapest locations in the world to experience a hot air balloon ride. It may be cheaper than the most but it is definitely the most beautiful one.

Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey

Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia, Turkey

A hot air balloon ride normally costs around $100, which includes a pickup, breakfast, the ride itself, champagne and a drop back to the hotel. There are many tour operators that offer this but since it can be risky, I’d suggest you pick the best.

After weeks of research, I picked Turkiye Balloons and I was very happy with their service. Thankfully, they don’t overstuff their balloon baskets and I was able to capture the moment without other people in them. Oh, and they have some of the most experienced pilots.

Bird's eye view of Cappadocia during my hot air balloon ride

Bird’s eye view of Cappadocia during my hot air balloon ride

I will never forget the stunning bird’s eye view of these Fairy Chimneys from up above when I went for a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia.

 

04 | Caves Everywhere.. and you can have one too

If Cappadocia wasn’t magical enough, things get better because there are caves everywhere, even inside the weird rock formations.

Cappadocia has caves everywhere

Cappadocia has caves everywhere

These caves were built many centuries ago and some are still inhabited. Of course, most of them have turned into hotels, so if you can have your own cave when you visit Cappadocia.

Thankfully, these cave hotels are not just for the rich travelers and are for literally every budget. Even some hostels are built inside them! The best thing is that the interiors stay cool and it feels like a natural air conditioner.

Inside a cave in Cappadocia, Turkey

Inside a cave in Cappadocia, Turkey

I stayed in Ottoman Cave Suites in Goreme and Kale Konak Cave Hotel in Uçhisar. They are both fantastic and the location is perfect. They are both equally good but the only thing that makes a difference is the location as they are in different cities. Goreme is in the middle of it all and has fun vibes where as Uçhisar is more fancy and high end.

To know more about where to stay in Cappadocia, scroll till the end of this article.

 

05 | Cappadocia’s Epic Sunrises and Sunsets Will Spoil You For Life

Sunset in Red Valley, Cappadocia

Sunset in Red Valley, Cappadocia

Waking up early is something I do rarely, but you will be surprised to know that I woke at 4 am every morning while I was in Cappadocia. The sun rises here at 4:30 am in summers and the view is worth a million dollars.

Sunrise view - Sultan Cave Suites, Cappadocia, Turkey

Sunrise view – Sultan Cave Suites, Cappadocia, Turkey

It’s beautiful to see how the colors change from orange to beige and the sky gets bejeweled by hundreds of hot air balloons! This sight is magical enough to make anyone forget the real world.

 

06 | Cappadocia’s Underground City Will Stun You

Cappadocia is stunning not just above the surface, but also beneath the ground. There are underground cities that were created many centuries ago and some of them are more than ten levels deep. And no, these were not just used as temporary places of shelter but people lived here permanently.

Cappadocia's underground city

Cappadocia’s underground city

It gets even stranger – more than 40 underground cities have been discovered in Cappadocia and some of them are connected to each other via tunnels. These were hidden for many years and one of the biggest was discovered in 2014. As per some archeologists, they were created in the 1200s BC. Whoa!

Inside Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia

Inside Derinkuyu underground city, Cappadocia

I visited Derinkuyu underground city and I was shocked to see the remains of schools, chapels, stables, and storage cellars that were many levels beneath the ground. If you suffer from claustrophobia (like I do), you can still visit them because they are surprisingly airy.

 

07 | Cappadocia Has Some Seriously Spectacular Viewpoints

If you’re a sucker for viewpoints, then Cappadocia will not disappoint you. It’s landscape is hilly, which makes it easy to find elevated areas where you can chill for hours and enjoy the view. I never had to research about or hunt for a viewpoint while I was there. I found a few while exploring on my own.

Just Married - Bride and groom in Red Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

Just Married – Bride and groom in Red Valley, Cappadocia, Turkey

I was lucky that some of the locals that I had met in Cappadocia took me to those viewpoints without me even asking. Some of the most popular viewpoints are Goreme’s sunset point, Uchisar castle, Three Sister Rock panorama point and Red Valley sunset point. In fact, the last one is so magical, that people actually come here for wedding shoots. I saw three newly married couples and I couldn’t help clicking them.

08 | Cappadocia Looks Like THIS Under Snow

Cappadocia under snow

Cappadocia looks like THIS when it snows – truly magical!

Cappadocia is not just a summer destination but it can be enjoyed through out the year. It came to me as a surprise that it snows in Cappadocia in the winters. Cappadocia’s weather is unpredictable and it has been known to snow in March too! Here’s another picture that will surely steal your heart.

A dog sitting on the road in Cappadocia with snow around

This adorable dog is surely enjoying the snow

I visited Cappadocia in the summer months but I’d go back in a heartbeat to see how it looks under snow. I can’t decide if it looks more beautiful with or without snow. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

 

09 | There is a LOT to explore in Cappadocia

Stunning viewpoints in Cappadocia, Turkey

Stunning viewpoints in Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia is massive and even if you spend a week here, you will barely just touch the surface. There is a love valley (Zemi valley), red valley, rose valley, Ihlara valley, pigeon valley, and many other valleys. You can go hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, historical tours, culture tours and what not.

The view from Uchisar Place, Cappadocia

The view from Uchisar Place, Cappadocia

Yes, there are many things to do in Cappadocia so you will definitely not be bored when you visit it. Honestly, you don’t really have to do everything here but you can just chill and explore your surroundings at your own pace.

You can also explore Cappadocia’s stunning art shops, cave monasteries, Uchisar palace, – seriously, there is so much to do in Cappadocia that I will write a separate post about it.

Cute art shops in Göreme, Cappadocia

Cute art shops in Göreme, Cappadocia

BONUS: Cappadocia will make you an Instagram superstar.

Haha – this point is especially relevant for new bloggers because it is difficult to take a bad photo in Cappadocia.

Where to stay in Cappadocia, Turkey?

If you’re visiting Cappadocia for more than 4 days, I’d suggest you stay in both – Göreme and Uçhisar. They are both beautiful but different and you should try to enjoy sunrise views at both locations. Here are a places that I recommend you book yourself a cave to make the most out of your visit to Cappadocia –

01 | Kale Konak Cave Hotel, Uchisar, Cappadocia

The view from my balcony at Kale Konak Konak Cave Hotel, Uçhisar, Cappadocia

The view from my balcony at Kale Konak Konak Cave Hotel, Uçhisar, Cappadocia

This hotel is super fancy and pretty. The views from the balcony are amazing and you will have a lot of fun exploring this hotel. This place is more suited for couples or families not solo travelers.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor or Compare prices on Hotelscombined.com

Location: Right behind the famous Uçhisar Castle

Price range: $95 – $120

Book Now (deals): Agoda.com or Booking.com or Hotels.com

02 | Ottoman Cave Suites

Ottoman Cave Suites, Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

Ottoman Cave Suites, Göreme, Cappadocia, Turkey

This place has massive suites that are inside caves. These suites are very big in size and so are the bathrooms. The hotel is very pretty and I loved their breakfast. The location is amazing and most of the famous attractions are within walking range. 

Read reviews on TripAdvisor or Compare prices on Hotelscombined.com

Location: 2 minutes walk from Goreme town center, Goreme bus stop

Price range: $60 – $80

Book Now (deals): Agoda.com or Booking.com or Hotels.com

03 | The Dorm Cave By Travellers

I made a friend in Cappadocia who was staying here and loved this place. It’s a very cute hostel with bunk beds inside caves.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor or Compare prices on Hotelscombined.com

Location: 5 minutes walk from Goreme town center, Goreme bus stop

Price range: $8 for a bunk bed and $25 for a private room

Book Now (deals): Agoda.com or Booking.com or Hotels.com

04 | Sultan Cave Suites

Sunrise view from Sultan Cave Suites, Göreme, Cappadocia

Sunrise view from Sultan Cave Suites, Göreme, Cappadocia

This place is really famous on Instagram because of its rooftop (and therefore expensive), but famous doesn’t always mean the best. Personally, I prefer Ottoman cave suites but you can have a look at Sultan Cave suites too.

Read reviews on TripAdvisor or Compare prices on Hotelscombined.com

Location: This hotel is on an elevated part of main Goreme town center, so wear comfortable shoes.

Price range: $95 – $120

Book Now (deals): Booking.com or Hotels.com

Ready to visit Cappadocia in Turkey?

If you want to lose touch with reality in a fairy tale destination, then Cappadocia is definitely for you. Which point about Cappadocia did you like the most? I’d love to know, so let me know in the comments. Please do me a favor, if you enjoyed this article, then please share it and spread the love.

Sri Lanka itinerary – Explore Sri Lanka in a Month (or so)

Sri Lanka itinerary – Explore Sri Lanka in a Month (or so)

I’m sure by now you know already that San and I spent about a month in Sri Lanka back in the beginning of this year. We fell in love with Sri Lanka and had some unique travel experiences that we will remember for life.

Wild elephants in Kaudulla National Park - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Wild elephants in Kaudulla National Park – Sri Lanka Itinerary

We started from west and gradually made our way to the east of the country. Our Sri Lanka itinerary had a little bit of everything – mountains, forests, beaches, history, culture and most importantly, adventure.

 

Sri Lanka Itinerary

This itinerary about Sri Lanka has a little bit of everything: history, temples, beaches forests and most importantly Sri Lanka’s hill country. No doubt Sri Lanka has an amazing coastline, thus spectacular beaches; but it is the middle part of this country that took our breath away.

The middle part is hilly and colder than rest of Sri Lanka. The hills here are covered with tea plantation and a train ride through this part is breathtaking. Yes, this is a month long itinerary but it’s a flexible. It can be easily turned into 2 weeks or 2 months.

Arrive at Colombo Airport

Negombo – Chill here for 2 days

Colombo’s airport is actually closer to the main Negombo city than Colombo city. It’s funny but I thought Negeombo is a part of Colombo because it is so close to the airport.

Sunset on Negombo Beach - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Sunset on Negombo Beach – Sri Lanka Itinerary

Negombo is the perfect place where you can start your Sri Lanka trip because of a very long uninterrupted beach strip. The main town is very pretty and literally wherever you stay, you will be close to the main beach.

I don’t recommend you stay in Negombo for more than two days because that’s enough to explore this city at a leisurely pace before you hit your next destination. There is not much to do here than chill on the beach, get a massage or see Negombo’s pretty (but stinky) canals.

How to reach Negombo from Colombo Airport

It’s very easy to reach Negombo from Colombo Airport. You will easily find taxis or a tuk tuks. If you reach early enough, you can also take a train. You can also take a bus – but you will have to get out of the airport and walk to the bus station, which is right outside the airport.

The taxi and tuk tuk prices at the airport are definitely not cheap. When we arrived, we kind of got scammed because we were misinformed that there is no bus to Negombo.

Obviously we got a bit suspicious and did not take a pre paid tuk tuk from the airport. Instead, we went outside and hailed another tuk tuk that matched the price that we had seen online and was much cheaper – LKR 700. Sadly, ended up getting scammed and you can read about it in my post about travel tips for Sri Lanka.

Where to stay in Negombo

We stayed in hostel called Colombo Airport Monkey Hostel @ Negombo beach that was booked by San. This hostel has got to be one of the cleanest ones that I have seen. It is on Negombo’s main beach road and everything that you will need is easily accessible.

Negombo Beach - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Negombo Beach – Sri Lanka Itinerary

The beach is just a minute away; the bars and restaurants are all over and in plenty and so are the supermarkets. The dorm bed price also included breakfast, which was eggs, coffee, toast, banana and mangos – delicious.

Our beds were in a six-bedroom dorm that had its own private toilet. There were plug sockets near every bed and mosquito nets. The WiFi was free to use and was fast.

Overall, we had a good time here and made many friends. It seems that this is the most popular hostel in this area. We recommended this to our friends but they didn’t get a bed because it was full. If you’re visiting Negombo, you should probably book a bed here in advance. You can click here to find deals.

If you don’t have any budget constrains, then I highly recommend you check out Heritance Negombo which is a newly renovated hotel and they have an amazing pool bar and beach. I also recommend you check out Jetwing Blue, which is simply GORGEOUS. If these two are sold out, you can try Pledge Boutique Hotel. For mid range rooms, check out Golden Star Beach HotelTranquil Negombo BoutiqueTerrace Green HotelDickman Resort, or Jetwing Lagoon.

If you’re specifically looking for a hostel, you can also try Flip flop HostelNew Negombo Beach Hostel and Negombo Travelers Inn. For budget rooms, you should check out Mama Beach VillaLily ResortMonkey Beach HostelWinston Dutch Canal Villa, or Bee Nest Bed and Breakfast for budget rooms in Negombo.

Sigiriya – Spend 5 – 7 Days here

I will be honest, I expected Sigiriya to be completely overrun by tourists because of the famous Sigiriya rock, but it wasn’t. What I enjoyed the most about this place was how most of it was covered in a forest. We even got to see a few elephants on the road!

View of the famous Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala rock

Sunrise View of the famous Sigiriya Rock from Pidurangala rock – Sri Lanka Itinerary

If you’re visiting Sri Lanka for a short trip, I highly suggest you visit Sigiriya because there are a lot of bucket list worthy travel experiences that you can check off just in one place.

The most obvious thing to do here is to climb the famous Sigiriya rock and visit the nearby Dambula cave temples. However, we really enjoyed climbing on top of Pidurangala rock to see the sunrise because we could also see the top of Sigiriya rock. These two are next to each other.

Apart from this, you can also visit the nearby Kaudulla National Park or Minneriya National Park where you can see a lot of animals. Quick tip – ask your hotel about which one to visit because sometimes the elephants leave one area and go to another.

Elephant at Kaudulla National Park - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Elephant at Kaudulla National Park – Sri Lanka Itinerary

Please keep in mind that the National Parks in Sri Lanka are not cheap and if you add the cost of jeep safari, then the total can be around $60 – $100 per person. The entry cost of most of the national parks in Sri Lanka is same and is fixed.

San and I riding a bicycle in Sigiriya - Sri Lanka Itinerary

San and I riding a bicycle in Sigiriya – Sri Lanka Itinerary

San and I really enjoyed my time in Sigiriya because we got to explore a lot on our bicycles. Moreover, we even got to spend a few nights in a tree house in the middle of the forest!

How to reach Sigiriya from Negombo

It is very easy to reach Sigiriya from Negombo by a local bus. The bus journey is shorter than train but is obviously not as comfortable and fun. You can reach Negombo bus station and ask for a bus for Sigiriya or Dambulla. If you reach early in the morning, you will most likely get a direct bus to Dambulla and after that you can take another bus to Sigiriya. Dambulla is just 30 minutes away from Sigiriya. This journey can take 4 hours if you get a direct bus but can take 5 – 6 hours if you have to change the bus. Sri Lankan buses have smaller seats, so prepare to be uncomfortable during the course of your journey.

To reach Sigiriya by train, you first have to reach Negombo Train Station. From there, take the Colombo Commuter train to Colombo Fort that leaves hourly. From Colombo Fort train station, you can take either the Night Mail Train or Express train that goes to Batticaloa. You need to get off at Habarana train station. From Habarana, Sigiriya is just 17 KMs and you can take a tuk tuk (or a taxi) to reach your hotel. The train leaves at 6 am from Colombo and arrives in Habarana at around 5 pm.

Where to stay in Sigiriya

Believe it or not – we actually stayed in 5 different hotels in Sigiriya. Yes, we came here without a booking and had to check out literally every morning because of low availability.

If you ask me to pick the best out of these 5, it was Back of Beyond – Dehigaha Ela, where we stayed in a tree house. Actually, this isn’t inside Sigiriya but is in middle of the forest in Dehigaha Ela. This place is 20 minutes away from the main Sigiriya town but is a paradise in itself.

Our tree house in Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Our tree house in Back of Beyond, Dehigaha Ela – Sri Lanka Itinerary

We had a tree house to ourselves while we were staying at Back of Beyond. We slept with the sounds of the jungle and woke up to the songs of birds. There is a lot that I that I want to tell you about this place and I even wrote a blog post about it. You can read more about this place on TripAdvisor or just click here to check the best deals and book a tree house for yourself.

Our tree house was 20 minutes away from Sigirya but if you want to be closer to the city, you can check out Back of Beyond – Pidurangala, which is as beautiful but is not in the middle of deep forest. It’s by the same hotel chain so you can expect the same quality of stay that San and I experienced.

Another place that I want to recommend is Nethmini Homestay (check deals on Booking.com for Nethmini Homestay), which is located in the main Sigiriya town. This place is just close to Sigiriya’s main attractions such as Sigiriya Fortess and Pidurangala Rock. While here, we rented bicycles and explored the most of Sigiriya on our own.

Kandy – Don’t Stay BUT Head to Nuwara Eliya from here

Yes, many travel guides will tell you to make a stop here but I think Kandy can be missed. No doubt Kandy has a few temples to see and an interesting culture, but it is a busy city. In my opinion, you can easily skip it and head to your next destination – Nuwara Eliya.

Kandy - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Kandy – Sri Lanka Itinerary – photo by Dezalab [CC0 Public Domain] via Pixabay

The thing is, Kandy’s location and connectivity makes it a good stop if you want to enter Sri Lanka’s hill country. You can arrive here at night and catch the train for Nuwara Eliya the next morning. Or, if you’re an early riser then you can arrive her in the morning and catch a train on the same day from here. There are three trains that run from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya everyday – at 8:45 am, 11 am and at 5 pm.

The train ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya is considered to be Sri Lanka’s most scenic train route. The train ride from Kandy to Ella is spectacular and Nuwara Eliya is going to be your first destination on this route.

Please keep in mind that due to the popularity of this route, the first and second-class tickets are generally sold out a week in advance. However, you can still buy third class tickets.

If you have read my post about travel tips for Sri Lanka, you must know that we had a lot of fun traveling in the third class coach. It was clean, comfortable and very interesting. The best seat was the door seat because we had the entire view to ourselves.

We didn’t carry any snacks but it wasn’t a problem because a lot of food vendors frequently did rounds. Our train journey was one of the most fun things that we did in Sri Lanka.

How to reach Kandy from Sigiriya

There is just one direct bus from Sigiriya to Kandy and it leaves at 6:30 am. The bus journey takes only 2.5 hours. If you miss this bus, you can head to the nearby city Dambulla by tuk tuk and take a bus from there to Kandy. Please bear in mind that buses in Sri Lanka can sometimes get massively delayed. If your plans are not flexible, then please wake up early for the direct bus.

Where to stay in Kandy

We decided not to stay in Kandy but we had shortlisted Clove Villa (Clove Villa on Agoda), Amaara Sky Hotel, and St Bridget’s Guest House. These are based on the recommendations that were given to us by fellow travelers in Sri Lanka.

Enjoy a Scenic Train Ride from Kandy to Nuwara Eliya

Me enjoying a scenic train journey - Sri Lanka Travel Tips

Me enjoying a scenic train journey – Sri Lanka Itinerary

Nuwara Eliya – Spend 4 Days here

Nuwara Eliya is one of the coldest places in Sri Lanka and is in the hill country of the Central Province. It is called “Little England” and it is usually raining here, so carry your raincoat.

This little toy town is surrounded by green hills that are covered with tea plantation and many little waterfalls. At the center of the town, there is Lake Gregory where you can hire a boat for a day.

The hills around Nuwara Eliya are covered with Tea Plantation - Sri Lanka Itinerary

The hills around Nuwara Eliya are covered with Tea Plantation – Sri Lanka Itinerary

When we arrived here, we were lucky that it was raining so much because the waterfalls were full. We visited at least three of them and the water was flowing at a very fierce speed.

There is a little post office in the middle of the city that looks like a toy building. We found a very interesting roadside food stall here where we could choose from a selection of Sri Lankan breakfast delicacies.

One of the most popular things to do in Nuwara Eliya is to visit the nearby Hortons Plains National park and walk till the World’s End to see an amazing view. You can also see the famous Baker Falls here but please keep in mind that it is expensive to reach here because you can only reach by taxi or tuk tuk.

San enjoying the view after our tea factory tour in Nuwara Eliya - Sri Lanka Itinerary

San enjoying the view after our tea factory tour in Nuwara Eliya – Sri Lanka Itinerary

Nuwara Eliya is very famous for it’s tea and you should try to visit a one of the many nearby Tea Estates. We visited Blue Field tea factory where they were running free tours at the time we visited. We did a 10-minute tea tour with a fresh cup of steaming hot tea at the end.

Read: 13 Amazing Things to do in Sri Lanka [in 2017]

How to reach Nuwara Eliya from Kandy

The travel time from Nuwara Eliya to Kandy is 4 hours by train. There are three trains that depart at 8:45 am, 11 am and 5 pm. Try taking one of the first two trains so that you can enjoy the views.

Please keep in mind that Nuwara Eliya train station is called Nanuoya. As mentioned before, there is no need to book your tickets in advance unless you’re traveling by first or second class with fixed seats. Third class seats are also comfortable and don’t require any advance reservation.

I met a few people who didn’t know this and were turned back at the station because the train staff did not tell them about the third class ticket.

Where to stay in Nuwara Eliya

If you’re looking for a quaint and charming place to stay, check out Glendower Hotel where rooms are usually for $30 per night. This place has a colonial type of architecture with wooden floors, fireplaces and even bathtubs.

You can also check out Midky Hotel which has an amazing mountain view from the restaurant. The rooms here are for around $37 per night. If you want to stay in an old school English style cottage, you can check out Sherwood Cottage where a room is usually between $20 to $30 depending on the season.

Haputale – Spend 3 Days Here

Haputale is definitely the cutest town that we visited in Sri Lanka and ended up being our favorite destination. The funny thing is, we had no idea about Haputale’s existence but we spotted a valley with little houses and a small station, so we decided to jump off spontaneously.

San and I jumped off the train at Haputale - Sri Lanka Itinerary

San and I jumped off the train at Haputale – Sri Lanka Itinerary

It was raining when we had boarded the train in Nanu Oya (Nuwara Eliya train station), but by the time we arrived in Haputale, the sun was shining and we instantly fell in love. With no plan in mind, we picked up our luggage and arrived in Haputale.

As we stood at the train station wondering if we made the right decision, a local approached us and asked if we have a place to stay. Luckily, we found a nearby hotel driver who was there to pick up their guest but had an available room due to last minute cancellation – just our luck.

Being spontaneous paid us well because the hotel was on the higher side of the mountain at the edge of the hill with a table outside in the garden. The room was cozy and the tariff was only 1000 LKR a day. Yes, we know we hit a jackpot.

We fell in love with Hapulate as fast as we got there. As soon as we checked in, we left out luggage and got out to explore. Within minutes of walking, we had explored the entire Haputale and eventually found our way into the tea plantation.

San enjoying the view in Haputale - Sri Lanka Itinerary

San enjoying the view in Haputale – Sri Lanka Itinerary

We found some of the most amazing viewpoints where we sat at the edge of rocks and admired a panoramic view around us. This is that one thing I that I really wanted to do in Nuwara Eliya but couldn’t because it’s a big town.

Tea Estates and Hills in Haputale - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Tea Estates and Hills in Haputale – Sri Lanka Itinerary

Another reason why we really enjoyed Haputale was that the food here was not overpriced and the prices were same for foreigners. A normal meal in other places in Sri Lanka was at least LKR 200 – 250 per person but was for LKR 50 in Haputale.

If you like viewpoints, you will also enjoy visiting the nearby Lipton’s seat, which is perhaps one of the main reasons why people visit Haputale in the first place. You can also visit Adisham Monastery, which looks more like a house and less like a Monastery. Another popular thing to do here is to visit Dambatenne Tea Factory. We had already visited a tea factory in Nuwara Eliya, so we skipped it.

Where to stay in Haputale

I’m sure by now you know how much we loved our hotel in Haputale. The name of that hotel is Bellview Guest House and it has amazing views because it is on the edge of a hill. To make the most of your stay here, ask for a corner room so that you can admire the view all day while sipping Sri Lankan tea. You can read the reviews about Bellview on tripadvisor.

The view from our hotel - Bellview in Haputale - Sri Lanka Itinerary

The view from our hotel – Bellview in Haputale – Sri Lanka Itinerary

If by any chance this amazing hotel is not available, you can check out Lily guest inn, White monkey, or Leisure Mount View Holiday Inn.

How to reach Haputale from Nuwara Eliya

The easiest and most fun way to reach Haputale from Nuwara Eliya is by train. This journey from Nuwara Eliya (Nanuoya train station) to Haputale is just less than 3 hours. The train departs Nanuoya station four times – at 9:30 am, 12:45 pm, 3 pm and 3:55 pm.

Ella – Spend 3 Days Here

Elle is to Sri Lanka was Thailand is to SE Asia – it’s a backpackers hub and has a lot of European style cafes. This little town is towards the end of this train route, right before Badulla.

Train ride in Ella - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Train ride in Ella – Sri Lanka Itinerary

Just like Haputale, even Ella is a small town in Sri Lanka’s Hil Country but unlike Haputale, you will see more travelers here than locals. There is not much to do the main town Ella but you can get out to hike but please be careful of leeches.

While here, you can hike up to Ella’s Rock, little Adam’s peak or just get lost in the tea plantation around. You can also visit the Ravana Ella waterfalls and swim if the weather permits.

How to reach Ella from Haputale

If you haven’t figured out by now, Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Haputale and Ella – all of them are on Sri Lanka’s hill country train route. This train originates from Colombo and ends at Badulla and then runs back to Colombo again. It is very easy to travel to and from these four places by train. So if you want to travel from Haputale to Ella, the train departs Haputale station at 12:00 pm, 2:15 pm, 4:30 pm and 5:25 pm. This schedule can be changed anytime, so please check with the locals before you leave.

Where to stay in Ella

One of the most popular places to stay in Ella is Ella Rock House where you can find rooms for as low as $25 – $30 per night. If you like being closer to the view, try Ella Nature View, which is slightly more high end when compared to Ella Rock House. If you’re looking for a value for money deal, check out Aurora Bunglows. For high end places, you can consider Hotel Onrock or Ravana Heights.

Arugam Bay – Spend 4 Days Here

Arugam Bay is a beach town in Sri Lanka’s East Coast and is popular for surfing. The main surfing season begins here in March and ends in May. Although, most of the people visit Arugam Bay to surf but even non-surfers will enjoy their time here.

Enjoying the beach at Arugam Bay - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Enjoying the beach at Arugam Bay – Sri Lanka Itinerary

To arrive in Arugam Bay, we first had to reach the nearby town Pottuvil on bus and from there we hired a tuk tuk. We saw a herd of wild elephants right before reaching Pottuvil. From Pottuvil, the drive to Aurgam Bay takes just about 15 minutes and costs around LKR 150.

Pottuvil near Arugam Bay - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Pottuvil near Arugam Bay – Sri Lanka Itinerary

The main town of Arugam Bay lies just beyond a bridge that connects it with Pottuvil. It is just one straight road with the main beach on one side with beach huts and cabanas along the beach. As you head further inside Arugam Bay, the room and food prices start increasing.

If you go around 10 KMs further on Arugam Bay’s main road, there is a massive peanut farm along a private crescent shaped beach. I’m not sure if that is just the name or if it actually has a peanut plantation inside. I definitely did not see it there when I visited in January 2017 for a psychedelic music festival.

Here's us enjoying Atman Festival at Peanut Farm, Arugam Bay - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Here’s us enjoying Atman Festival at Peanut Farm, Arugam Bay – Sri Lanka Itinerary

At the end of the beach on peanut farm, there are a few rocks that you can climb and there is a lagoon next to it. Although this lagoon is beautiful in its own way, it’s definitely not stunning. It is not advisable to swim in it because there are crocodiles in this area. I did see a crocodile in on my way to Pottuvil so I decided to take this warning seriously (unlike my trip to Hampi in India).

Oh and by the way – this peanut farm is just next to the military area so entry may be restricted at times so do ask the local residents before you decide to go.

Another fun thing to do in Arugam Bay is to explore the area around the bridge. There are multiple backwater streams here and the grassy patches around are beautiful to sit on. There is also a Buddist temple on the other side of the main stream that comes from the ocean.

Be careful when you’re here because the entire Sri Lanka is like one big national park and you never know what you find here. We saw a dead snake here but many told us that none of the snakes in this area are poisonous.

This place is good to meet locals. During rain, these streams get fuller and attract local fishermen. In fact, we spent a day with them and joined them in fishing. We even went to their beautiful houses and got to eat with them.

A local fisherman in Arugam Bay - Sri Lanka Itinerary

A local fisherman in Arugam Bay – Sri Lanka Itinerary

In case you missed Kaudulla or Minneriya National Parks near Sigiriya, you can go to the massive Yala National Park near Arugam Bay. If you have more time on your hands, you can also try the smaller and more beautiful Udawalawe National Park. If your next destination after Arugam Bay is Mirissa, then going to Udawalawe makes total sense because it is on the way.

Where to stay in Arugam Bay

Just like Sigiriya, we stayed in more than one place while we were in Arugam Bay. You can check out Fly Moon Hotel or Way of the Bay. In our experience, most of the rooms in Arugam Bay were similarly priced between $25 and $35 per day.

One of the most beautiful places to stay here is Kottukal Beach House by Jetwing and a room here is for around $120 – 150 per day.

How to reach Arugam Bay from Ella

The easiest way to reach Arugam Bay from Ella is by car and the cheapest is by bus. From Ella, you first have to catch the bus to Wellawaya and from there to Pottuvil. If you arrive early, you can find a direct bus from Wellawaya to Arugambay. From Pottuvil, Arugambay is just 10 minutes away on tuk tuk.

Be careful of tuk tuk mafia because they will misguide you and tell you that there is no direct bus to Arugambay. This is what the hotel guy told us but we still got scammed. The bus conductor told us that the bus doesn’t go to Arugam Bay and we had to hire a tuk tuk. However, after reaching our destination, we saw the same bus in Arugam Bay. The bus ride in total will cost you between 300 – 350 LKR and some of them even charge extra for luggage.

 

Mirissa – Spend 3 Days here

Mirissa is a small beach town in South of Sri Lanka. The beaches of South are busier but Mirissa has its low-key vibe. Just like Arugam Bay, even Mirissa is popular with surfers but the surfing season is different here.

Mirissa beach - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Mirissa beach – Sri Lanka Itinerary – by Claire Rowland [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

The reason why Mirissa is in this itinerary is because you can spot our planet’s biggest animal in the nearby waters. Yes, there are many whale spotting tours that you can find in Mirissa. Oh but just because you’re going for a whale spotting tour, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will see them.

Whale Watching in Mirissa by Charlotte

Whale Watching in Mirissa by Charlotte

Just like Arugam Bay, the nightlife in Mirissa is much better than the rest of Sri Lanka. If you occasionally like to have a drink after a long day and chill in a bar with music, you’re going to enjoy your time in Mirissa.

Where to stay in Mirissa

If you’re looking for a hostel or a similarly priced place, you can check out JJs Hostel Mirissa or Banana Garden Hotel. The most beautiful hotel in this town is Cape Weligama, which is slightly out of Mirissa but is located on top of a cliff with breathtaking views. If you stay here, you may not get out of your hotel at all because it is that gorgeous.

How to reach Mirissa from Arugam Bay

If you go to Mirissa from Arugam Bay by car, it will not take you more than 3.5 to 4 hours. A bus ride however can take up to 7 hours if you don’t find a direct bus, so please plan your day properly and start well in advance.

To reach Mirissa from Arugam bay, you first have to reach Pottuvil and catch a bus to Matara from there. If you arrive early (7 am), you can find a direct bus to Matara and from there you can reach Mirissa on a tuk tuk (or a connecting bus). The only direct bus leaves at 7 in the morning and the bus number is 35-1.

A smart thing to do here would be to split this bus trip into two and head to Udawalawe National Park in the middle because it is on the way.

 

Colombo – Spend 2 Days here

Colombo is last on this itinerary because this is where you will be before you get out of Sri Lanka. If you’re looking to relax on your last day, you can easily skip Colombo and head to Negombo instead because it is closer to the airport.

Busy Colombo - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Busy Colombo – Sri Lanka Itinerary by Bestbauch [CC0 Public] via Pixabay

Colombo is a busy town but if you’re up to it, you can get to see a few historical landmarks or cultural shows. There are three main museums in Colombo that you can visit – the National Museum of Colombo, the Natural History Museum and the Dutch Period Museum.

Colombo Promenade - Sri Lanka Itinerary

Colombo Promenade – Sri Lanka Itinerary by Maxos_dim [CC0 Public] via Pixabay

You can also visit Colombo’s most famous Buddhist temple – Seema Malakaya or watch a cultural show at Cirque Lanka. For sunset, you can head to Galle Face Green Promenade.

 

Where to stay in Colombo

Surprisingly the hotel prices are not so high in Colombo and it is possible to get better rooms as compared to many other destinations.

If you’re looking for a hotel, then you can check out Star Anise Boutique Capsule Hostel where you can sleep in your own capsule for $15 – $30 per night. Another cool hostel is CityRest Fort where the prices are similar.

For medium range, check out Ocean Edge Suites or Mandarina Colombo where a room for two can be between $80 – $100 depending on the season.

How to reach Colombo from Mirissa

The easiest way to reach Colombo from Mirissa is by train. You first have to reach Matara train station and take a train to Colombo Fort. The train ride will take around 3.5 to 4 hours. The trains leave at 6 am, 9:40 am, 1:35 pm and 2:10 pm. But please note that these timings can change anytime so ask the locals before you go. Alternatively, you can also do this journey by bus from Matara road.

Like our Sri Lanka itinerary? But wait, check your visa requirements before you go:

Visa for Sri Lanka

You can apply for an electronic visa for Sri Lanka by visiting this website.

Also, before you book your tickets, do read my post about 13 essential travel tips for visiting Sri Lanka – this post contains information about literally everything starting from eating to internal transport.

Final Thoughts

Our Sri Lanka itinerary post will help you plan your trip to Sri Lanka, but I highly recommend you keep your plans flexible to leave some room for spontaneity. Our flexibility helped us find some of the most amazing places. If you do, make sure you comment here or message us to tell us about those places.

20 Photos That Prove Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

20 Photos That Prove Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

It’s summer time in Europe but winter is coming to Westeros.

If you’re a GOT aficionado (like us), then we’re sure you can’t help yourself from watching the season 7 trailers just one more time. Did you ever wish that you could be a part of Westeros for just one goddamn day?

Good news – you can visit Iceland, which is pretty much the same thing. After all, they call it the land of Ice and Fire for a reason. You can expect to see glaciers, volcanoes, geothermal pools, and landscapes that are strange yet beautiful.

20 Spectacular Photos of Iceland –

Jökulsárlón / Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

Here’s what the north of Westeros “beyond the wall” would look like if it were real.

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By Jay Kumar [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Jökulsárlón is a large glacial lagoon and it’s near Vatnajökull National Park. To make things more interesting, the water here is jeweled with several icebergs.

In Icelandic, Jökulsárlón literally means “glacier river lagoon”. It came into existence when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier started thinning from where it meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon - Iceland - the land of Ice and Fire

Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon – Iceland – the land of Ice and Fire – By Andrés Nieto Porras [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

This lagoon (or lake) is home to several sea fishes that reach here from the Atlantic Ocean. These fish also attract several hundred seals for their meals.

Looks familiar? You may have seen it in Die Another Day or Batman Begins. For GOT Season 7, Jökulsárlón has been a major filming spot.

Víti, Askja

Location: Askja, Central Highlands

Askja is a caldera that’s located in the middle of a lava desert. It is in Iceland’s uninhabited interiors and can only be visited for a brief time in summer.

Víti, Askja - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

Fire under Ice in Víti, Askja – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By EleKtr•ORL [CC BY NC ND 2.0] via [Flickr]

Next to Askja is a geothermal lake, Viti that’s smaller in size. It is possible to swim in Víti’s milky waters but has a strong smell because of sulfur.

Víti, Askja - Fire under Ice - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

Víti, Askja – Fire under Ice – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By EleKtr•ORL [CC BY NC ND 2.0] via [Flickr]

As if it wasn’t fiery enough, there is a “canyon of dragons” nearby. It is called Drekagil and it looks like a movie set from the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Black Sand Beach, Vík

If Khaleesi’s dragons ever spit fire on a beach, the result would be something like this. Welcome to Iceland’s Black Sand beach!

Black Sand Beach Vik Iceland

Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland – By mariejirousek [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via Flickr

Vík is a popular tourist destination and is located in South of Iceland. It has glaciers, beaches and a stunning viewpoint from where you can get a bird’s eye view.

Reynisfjara, Black Sand Beach, Iceland

Reynisfjara, Black Sand Beach, Vik, Iceland – By dconvertini [CC BY SA 2.0] via Flickr

The Black Sand Beach with its strange basalt columns forms a fascinating picture. It is usually a part of Iceland’s South Coast tours.

Thrihnukagigur Volcano

Ever thought you can go inside a volcano? Yes, you can literally go on a journey to the center of the earth and walk on fire if you visit Thrihnukagigur Volcano.

Inside Thrihnukagigur Volcano - Iceland

Inside Thrihnukagigur Volcano – Iceland – By Dan (catching up) (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

The Icelandic name for this volcano is Þríhnúkagígur and it is a dormant volcano near Reykjavík. It’s the only volcano on the entire planet where visitors can go into the magma chamber.

Thrihnukagigur Volcano, Iceland

Thrihnukagigur Volcano – Iceland – By Dan (catching up) (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Jarðböðinn (Mývatn Nature Baths) and Grjótagjá

Location: East of Reykjahlíð

Mývatn is a popular destination in Iceland because of its amazing geothermal pools where one can take a relaxing bath. The geothermal lake and the area around it both are referred to as Mývatn.

Mývatn Nature Baths Iceland

Mývatn Nature Baths – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By Richard Baer [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

This lake is situated in an area that is frequently fed lava by Krafla volcano. The area around it is dominated by volcano landforms. As a result, this lake is mineral rich.

Do you remember the famous GOT episode where Jon Snow and Ygritte take a very special dip in a lagoon that’s inside a cave? Well, that lagoon cave is called Grjótagjá and it is near Myvatn Nature Baths.

Grjótagjá Cave - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

Grjótagjá Cave – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – Dan (catching up) (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Grjótagjá is a little lava cave that has a thermal spring inside it. However, the water can be as high as 50°C and is not always fit for a bath. It does look a little special, no?

Diamond Beach

Diamond Beach, Iceland

Diamond Beach, Iceland – By apasciuto [[CC BY 2.0]] via Flickr

Diamond Beach is another beach in Iceland with black sand but it has pieces of ice on it. This ice glitters in the light like a diamond, hence giving the beach its name.

Diamond Beach, a.k.a. Jokulsarlon Beach, Iceland

Diamond Beach, a.k.a. Jokulsarlon Beach, Iceland – By www.davidbaxendale.com [ CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

This beach is near Jökulsárlón lagoon and is also referred to as Jokulsarlon Beach. Many people just stop at Jokulsarlon and turn back. However, the Diamond Beach is towards the sea and on the other side of Road 1.

Strokkur, Geysir

Geysir, Iceland - Land of Ice and Fire

Geysir, Iceland – Land of Ice and Fire – By Annca [CC0 Public Domain] via Pixabay

It is the father of all the world’s geysers, and is named appropriately; Geysir in Iceland is another popular tourist destination. Several hundreds of years back Geysir would gush out water that was up to 80 m high but the activity has reduced.

Strokkur, Geysir - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

Strokkur, Geysir – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By Audrey [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Actually, the main Geysir rarely erupts but next to it is Strokkur, which erupts every few minutes. It can go as high as 30 meters high in the air before disappearing back into its hole. This natural activity can easily be perceived as an alien phenomenon.

Reykjadalur Hot Springs, Hveragerdi

Hveragerdi - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

Hveragerdi – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By Bernard McManus [CC BY 2.0] via Flickr

Another active geothermal field, the pictures of Hveragerði will remind you of GOT’s Riverlands. You can also enjoy a 3km long hike to reach Reykjadalur Hot Springs and bathe in the wild.

Reykjadalur Hot Springs, Hveragerdi, Iceland

Reykjadalur Hot Springs, Hveragerdi, Iceland – By Juan [CC BY NC 2.0] via Flickr

Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Kirkjubaejarklaustur

Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Iceland

Fjadrargljufur Canyon – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By Dirk Dallas [CC BY NC 2.0] via Flickr

More than Game of Thrones, this landscape may remind you of the Avatar movie. This magical canyon in 2 kilometers long and up to 100 meters wide. Iceland’s Fjaðrá river flows through it.

Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Kirkjubaejarklaustur

Fjadrargljufur Canyon, Kirkjubaejarklaustur – By Andrés Nieto Porras [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

The trail that leads to Fjadrargljufur canyon starts at the car park. This canyon is close to Iceland’s famous ring road, near Kirkjubæjarklaustur village.

The Northern Lights

What can be more magical than watching the fire in the sky? Words alone won’t do justice so I will leave it to pictures

The Northern Lights in Iceland - the land of Ice and Fire

The Northern Lights in Iceland – the land of Ice and Fire – By TPSDave [CC0 Public] via Pixabay

How lucky are the people who live here! Their winter nights are full of magic. Here’s one last picture that will make your eyes pop.

The Northern Lights - Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire

The Northern Lights – Iceland is the land of Ice and Fire – By Shaherald Chia [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

 

Are you daydreaming about visiting Iceland already? If you have visited this spectacular country and have a few pictures of your own to share, let us know in the comments.

4 Strange Things to Eat in Iceland

4 Strange Things to Eat in Iceland

Iceland.. the land of surreal landscape, unpronounceable names, geothermal hot-springs and Northern lights. Yes, these are the images that flash in literally everyone’s  minds at the mention of this country. But hey, have you ever heard about Icelandic food? I’m specifically talking about Iceland’s strange but interesting food local food that every meat lover should try if they like to get adventurous with food.

Due to Iceland’s harsh weather conditions, the locals are known to preserve their food for a long time so that nothing goes to waste. Not just cultural significance, these dishes also hold a tremendous historical importance. Even if you have already seen pictures of Icelandic food, these below things are sure to shock you. In fact, the first picture did shock me on Instagram, which in turn inspired me to write this post.

Strange Things to eat in Iceland –

01 | Svid (Svið) – Boiled Sheep Head

Svid is a local delicacy in Iceland that is made with a boiled sheep head. Sounds disgusting? But here’s the thing – this dish originated from the time when people couldn’t let any part of the caught animal remain unused. Would you ever try it? I’m not sure if I will. If your imagination hasn’t run wild already, here are a few pictures that I found on Instagram that will make you go crazy.

 

#svid #bsiterminal #reykjavik

A post shared by Stella Brewer (@stella677) on

Svid is much tastier than it looks! #svid #sheepshead #icelandiccuisine #iceland #travel #travelgram

A post shared by mary ruffcorn (@mpr16) on

 

02 | Hákarl (Kæstur hákarl) – Fermented Shark

Hákarl is fermented shark and is Iceland’s national dish. It is usually made with Greenland Shark which has high content of urea and is poisonous when it’s fresh. To prepare this, freshly caught shark is cured with preservatives and hung to ferment for four to five months. It is usually consumed as a side dish but also alone.

 

Hákarl #aspiringphotographer #photography #hákarl #iceland #travel #nature

A post shared by Sara Genke (@saragenks.photography) on

See ya next time #hákarl #myprecious #fermentedshark

A post shared by @instabjoerne on

 

03 | Súrsaðir hrútspungar (picked ram’s testicles)

Súrsaðir hrútspungar is picked ram’s testicles, which again shows that Icelanders did not waste any animal’s part after catching it.

Þorrablót! Tried some crazy stuff.. #hákarl #harðfiskur #súrsaðirhrútspungar #þorrablót

A post shared by Dani Christianson (@dhaneemuhrhee72) on

 

04 | Harðfiskur or Saltfiskur

 

Saltfiskur is dried and unsalted codfish. This dish again demonstrates Iceland’s old tradition of preserving food by drying. Many locals describe it as a local equivalent of bread.

 

About to become a delicacy #harðfiskur #Iceland #dry #fish

A post shared by Iva (@malaiva3) on

#harðfiskur #Iceland

A post shared by Iva (@malaiva3) on

Just a little afternoon snack…. #harðfiskur #Dill #Reykjavik #restaurantinabarn

A post shared by DILL Restaurant (@dillrestaurant) on

Jei Ísland! #heima #harðfiskur #happy #namm

A post shared by Herdís Jónasdóttir (@herdisanna) on

Ohhh yeah 😍. Icelandic treat for me. Give me all the protein 💪🏻😂

A post shared by Kristinn Arnason (@kristinn1986) on

 

Like this list? Well, I found an amazing infographic about food in Iceland on Dealchecker.co.uk. Here, take a look.

The Best Icelandic Foods Infographic by DealChecker

The Best Icelandic Foods Infographic by DealChecker

What’s the weirdest food that you have tried while traveling? Let me know in comments.

7 Thoughts That Crossed My Mind Before My First Bungee Jump

7 Thoughts That Crossed My Mind Before My First Bungee Jump

“Your turn”, said Olly, the jump instructor at Jumping Heights, Rishikesh. “OMG Whaaaaaat”, I thought. However, I smiled and said “Awesome!” I could hear my heart in my ears! I was standing at the edge of the bridge, 83 meters above the ground, ready to take a leap of faith. This was the first time I was going to bungee jump! What felt like an eternity but in reality was just a couple of seconds. In that moment, a lot of thoughts flashed through my mind but only a few of them I remember today. The common phrase is “butterflies in the stomach” but what I felt was more like a tornado through my nervous system. The tingling started from my toes, went up to my knees, made a circle in my stomach and rose up from my spine and I felt a little dizzy.

Things That Crossed My Mind Before My First Bungee Jump:

What if I accidentally pee while bungee jumping?

Don’t laugh but this can happen to anyone. Blame it on that MasterCard commercial where a guy actually poops in his pants while bungee jumping so the thought stuck in my head. What if I’m too scared while jumping and I end up peeing in fear?

What if I puke while bungee jumping?

Even though I had eaten a very light breakfast, I could still feel my it in my stomach. I was hoping it wouldn’t come out while jumping. What if I puke while bungee jumping? Will my puke fall back on my face?

What if my chord breaks while bungee jumping?

There is a reason why bungee jumping is a leap of faith. It’s because you have to trust the system. I still remembered a news article that I had read about an Aussie woman whose chord snapped in Victoria Falls and she fell into the water.

What if my back breaks during the bungee jump?

It just suddenly struck me that they had asked me if I had a back problem before I registered for the bungee jump. Is it because a jump can break someone’s back? What have I done?

What if I get a heart attack while bungee jumping?

What if this rush of excitement is too much for my heart? What if my heart cannot handle it and gives up. Do I have a strong heart? I was going to find out now.

What if I am too afraid to bungee jump?

What if I’m not as much of an adrenaline junkie that I thought I was? What if I chicken out? At this point, I was really hoping that it wouldn’t happen.

Am I crazy to be doing this?

Not completely crazy, but only a little. No sane person would ever jump off a bridge just for kicks. Why can’t I just eat chocolate and enjoy the rush? Or some form of intoxication for a decent high.

My first bungee jump in Rishikesh, India

My first bungee jump in Rishikesh, India

Yes, I did end up jumping and NONE of the above mentioned things happened. In fact, as soon as I jumped, the fear vanished and I was let out a sound that was a mix of laughter and scream. Oh and by the way, I was jumping with the famous Dangal girls – Fatima Sana Shaikh (“Geeta Phogat” in Dangal movie) and Sanya Malhotra (“Babita Phogat” in Dangal movie). In fact, Sanya did Jumping Heights’ 50,000th jump. It’s crazy but the first three jumpers at Jumping Heights were also women. Talk about celebrating girl power, eh?

Here, you can watch this video

https://youtu.be/LMWATmdF6eg Have you ever bungee jumped? If so, let me know about it in the comments. Note: Cover picture credit

Or, watch San’s first bungee jump in Last Resort, Nepal. This is Asia’s second highest bungee spot.

Like it? Please subscribe to our YouTube channel for more travel videos!

A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her partner in crime (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sonal Kwatra Paladini

How to Experience the Maharaja Life in Bikaner, Rajasthan

How to Experience the Maharaja Life in Bikaner, Rajasthan

Some are lucky enough to be born in royal families, but the rest can just dream of it.

Ever visited a palace and wondered what your life would have been if you were a king? Or maybe you imagined yourself to be Queen Daenerys and living in a massive castle with dragons? Ok, if you’re a practical daydreamer, I will talk about the present day scenario – what about being a part the royal family of Wales and being either Prince William or his beautiful Princess bride – Kate Middleton?

Yes, there is a reason why these thoughts are called “daydreams” because they are so far fetched that turning them into reality is nearly impossible.

What if I told you that there is a way you can experience “the Royal life” of a bygone era and pretend you’re a Maharaja (or a Maharani) for just a few days?

It is possible because I just did it and so can you. Yes, it is a tad expensive, but not THAT expensive that you will burn a hole in your pocket. Why? Because there is a new luxury hotel that was once a grand residence for a Maharaja is offering an introductory price for a year and curating special “royal” experiences.

In case you’ve been crushing on my Instagram pictures where I’m posing like a Maharani, I will do you a favor and NOT let this place remain a secret. Yes, I got to live the Maharaja life (or Maharani in my case), got pampered and spoilt beyond imagination during my time in this Red city of Rajasthan. I will share exactly how you can experience the royal like in Bikaner like I did.

How to live like a Maharaja and Experience the Royal life in Bikaner:

01 | Get Pampered at Narendra Bhawan – the last Maharaja’s residence

Experience the Royal Life at Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner

Experience the Royal Life at Narendra Bhawan in Bikaner

The easiest way to experience the royal life is by staying in a royal residence. I picked Narendra Bhawan, and I highly recommend you do so too. If you check TripAdvisor for hotel reviews in Bikaner, Narendra Bhawan is definitely a winner.

What was once the grand residence of the last reigning Maharaja of Bikaner is now a boutique hotel. This beautifully preserved Haveli actually tells the story of His Highness Narendra Singh Ji (1948).

As a guest, I received a memorable welcome with drums as soon as I got out of the car. While entering, I noticed a few beautifully decorated tables, perfect for a cozy soiree outside the main door. As soon as I stepped inside, my eyes literally popped out as I noticed the opulence of the décor inside. My first instinct was to run around like an excited little girl and click thousands of photos. In all due respect, I was in a palace and was being treated like a royalty, so I tried my best to behave like a “lady”. Later I got to know that Ayush Kasliwal (yes, the same guy who designed Delhi’s beautiful T3) and Karan Singh (the President of the hotel group) are the hands and brains behind the décor.

The stunning interior of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

The stunning interior of Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

During my stay here, I was amazed to see that there is so much to see inside the hotel itself. There are corners where His Highness Narendra Singh Ji’s memories are displayed as photographs, travel souvenirs and a few daily use items in a setting that’s influenced by south Mumbai’s timeless architecture and Bombay art deco. Btw, Bombay Art Deco style emerged in the 1930s and 1940s before the official end of British raj in India.

I have so much to talk about the hotel that I think I will write a separate post with pictures of the interiors, courtyard, lobby, food, rooftop pool, baby grand piano and my furry friends here – Eton, Simba and Nala.

Eton, Nala and Simba - Narendra Bhawan's furballs

Eton, Nala and Simba – Narendra Bhawan’s furballs

Wondering what my room looked like from the inside? Well, I wanna show you a 360 degree video because a single picture won’t suffice.

Don’t even get me started on the food here because even the fanciest of my words won’t do justice. I really enjoyed eating the royal Rajasthani cuisine – crescent thali, maas curry and kebabs.

On my first day here, I tried the typical Rajasthani breakfast of onion kachori, thali peeth, sabudana cheela with chaach. Yes, their local Rajasthani food is heavenly but I was very happy to know that their international food was equally good. I love their pumpkin soup, cauliflower soup, grilled chicken salad with sundried tomatoes, sandwiches and pizzas.

My favorite of course is their Mad Hatter bakery where I fell in love with their chocolate and apricot dessert which was very flavorful, yet light.

Enjoying a lazy meal in bed with beer in Narendra Bhawan

Enjoying a lazy meal in bed with beer in Narendra Bhawan

Being a professional travel writer, I have stayed in many five star hotels but the hospitality that I experienced in Narendra Bhawan is like no other. The staff in their comfortable looking imperial attire always said “Jai Jai, Ma’am” when they saw me. From simple things like never failing to give me a glass of iced lemonade as soon as I entered the lobby to something as fancy as pearl encrusted holders for water bottles – they definitely won me over.

Honestly, Narendra Bhawan is not the only royal resident in Bikaner. There is also the famous Laxmi Niwas Palace that is owned by the same group as Narendra Bhawan, and it’s bigger and obviously more expensive. Laxmi Niwas has a bit of subdued décor while Narendra Bhawan has more of a glamorous touch. You can also check out Lalgarh fort and Gajner Palace but none of them match the kind of lavishness that you can find inside Narendra Bhawan.

Note: If you want more information, you can check out Narendra Bhawan‘s website or find deals on Booking.com.

02 | Go for a jeep safari at Gajner Sanctuary and enjoy a Lakeside Meal at Gajner Palace

A Dry Patch in Gajner Sanctuary near Bikaner

A Dry Patch in Gajner Sanctuary near Bikaner

Around 30 kilometers outside Bikaner is a lakeside palace with a wildlife sanctuary next to it. This place is called Gajner Palace and right next to it is Gajner Wildlife Sanctuary.

Back in the early days, the royals often visited this place when they’d go hunting and then later enjoy a meal of their fresh kill. No, I don’t endorse game hunting and you should know that it’s illegal in India. However, I do recommend you visit this place and go for a safari in the sanctuary and then later enjoy a lakeside meal.

The best time to arrive here is early in the morning like we did; otherwise, it can get really hot. We arrived here at 7 am and then went on a jeep safari. As soon as we entered the sanctuary, we spotted a deer. It had twisted horns and later I got to know that it was actually a blackbuck. Yes, that’s the same animal that Salman Khan apparently shot in Rajasthan for “game hunting”. (Yes, I hate Salman Khan after this episode).

Jeep Safari at Gajner Sanctuary, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Jeep Safari at Gajner Sanctuary, Bikaner, Rajasthan

This is a small sanctuary and on 4 occasions we spotted a deer (or maybe it was a blackbuck or chinkara). At one point, we even saw an antelope. It is worth noting that everything around was beige and so were all these animals. I’m sure we missed many of them because they blended perfectly with the background. I did not manage to capture them on a picture because they move very fast. However, I do have a video from very far away where an antelope is running and looks as small as a dot.

A little deeper in the sanctuary we even saw a few structures that were used many years back by the royals as “shooting pods”. These were covered from all the sides and had holes from where they could look out and shoot.

After spending around an hour inside the wildlife sanctuary, we went back to Gajner Palace for breakfast. The location is really gorgeous but the food is average. I can imagine how pretty the ambiance would be around the lake after the sunset.

03 | Watch the Sunset with a few Drinks in the Hinterland

Deepti and I enjoying our sunset drinks in Bikaner

Deepti and I enjoying our sunset drinks in Bikaner

What would you do to cool off after spending a day exploring Bikaner’s famous landmarks? No need to think, I’ll suggest the best option. Head out to the outskirts of Bikaner to find an oasis in the middle of the barren land and watch the beauty around you with a cocktail as the sun goes down.

Having no idea about the location, my friend Deepti and I dressed up for the occasion and sat in the car with Faisal, ready to be surprised. By the way, Faisal is Narendra Bhawan’s Area General Manager and is an amazing company.

We drove for around 30 minutes and reached the outskirts of Bikaner. The barren land around me reminded me of Portugal’s Idanha-a-Nova where I went for Boom festival. Suddenly our car turned into a little lane and we reached our destination. We were in an oasis!

As we got out of the car, we heard the music of a flute. There was a lake on our left side and green grass all around it. There was a bar, a live grill and a sitting area that was completely white. This was our spot for the evening.

Perhaps it was because of the music of the flute or the beauty of the lake but it was one of the most memorable sunsets. We sat next to the lake and forgot about work as we sipped our cocktails, as the sky grew orange and then eventually dark.

Our set up in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Our set up in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Our beautiful set up for the evening in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Our beautiful set up for the evening in Darbari, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Sunset drinks in the hinterland with Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

Sunset drinks in the hinterland with Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner

Keeping in mind the legacy and lifestyle of His Highness Narendra Singh Ji, the staff at Narendra Bhawan has designed this epic sundowner experience for their guests. This is how he would occasionally enjoy his gratifying drinks after a long day of attending to his paperwork and guests.

 

04 | Go for a Sunset Swim and a Royal dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace

Swimming Pool at Laxmi Niwas Palace

Swimming Pool at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

You can’t just visit Bikaner and not visit one of the grandest palaces of this city. Just like Narendra Bhawan, even Laxmi Niwas Palace was once the grand residence of one of the Maharajas of Bikaner – Maharajah Ganga Singh. This palace is massive with a humungous sized garden area.

Apart from the garden, my favorite part of this palace turned hotel is the swimming pool. If you’re a guest of Narendra Bhawan, you can visit Laxmi Niwas Palace and enjoy a swim without paying extra because the same group owns them. This is how you can cool off from Bikaner’s heat, like a Maharaja.

Carry something special to wear after your swim so that you can enjoy the signature “Royal Dinner” in the lawn area of Laxmi Niwas Palace. Something worth noting is that you need to book this meal in advance and have to pay extra. (obviously)

Deepti and I enjoying our Royal dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

Deepti and I enjoying our Royal dinner at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner

We did a royal dinner in Laxmi Niwas Palace the day after we went for our sunset drinks in the desert. We didn’t expect to be very impressed after an experience like that but a royal dinner in Laxmi Niwas Palace was something else entirely.

With a backdrop of the grand palace, we walked on a path that was lit by rows of candles to reach our table. This table was decorated with a generous amount of rose petals and marigold flowers. There were candles on the table and literally everywhere around.

Just like the movie “Midnight in Paris”, I stepped into a forgotten era as I saw on my chair. I sipped my favorite cocktail with Bombay Sapphire gin and nibbled on tender Galauti Kebabs as I enjoyed being a queen for those hours.

Next day, as I narrated my experience to my husband, his reaction was “how will you ever get back to normal life?”

What to eat at Laxmi Niwas palace? Well, I ate here twice and I really enjoyed the food. For starters, vegetarians can order corn kebabs and hara bhara kebabs. I also had a mini roti here in starters with corn but I don’t remember the name. Non vegetarians will really enjoy mutton khasta kebabs, galauti kebabs, stuffed chicken tangari kebabs. For main course, vegetarians and non-vegetarians will both enjoy the typical Rajasthani crescent thali that has a variety of curries, veggies, rotis, papad, raita and optional meats. You can also order mutton biriyani, special Rajasthani laal maas and daal.

You can click here to find deals for booking a room at Laxmi Niwas Palace, Bikaner.

 

05 | Go on a Merchant’s trail on a Horse Carriage

Merchant's Trail in Bikaner on a horse carriage

Merchant’s Trail in Bikaner on a horse carriage – picture by Deepti Asthana

If you have traveled extensively in India, then I’m sure you know that almost every famous city in Rajasthan has the architecture of a different color. Most of the people know that Jaipur is “the pink city”, Jodhpur is “the blue city”, Udaipur is “the white city” and Jaisalmer is “the Golden city”.

Did you know that Rajasthan has a “Red city” and that city is Bikaner? It is because most of the palaces, Havelis and temples were built using red sandstone many years back. Oh, and by the way, a Haveli is a kind of old school Indian mansion with an open courtyard in the middle.

Many decades back, Bikaner was a trade hub and a preferred caravan route between Central and Western Asia. The noble families and merchants of Bikaner profited immensely because of the location of the city and the trade route. They built many Havelis in Bikaner’s old city. These Havelis are still there in the old town and some of them are very well maintained.

The Famous Rampuria Haveli of Bikaner, Rajasthan

The Famous Rampuria Haveli of Bikaner, Rajasthan

An exploration of this area is one of my favorite “royal” experiences that was designed by Narendra Bhawan because it really did feel like things had not changed here for decades, except for a few cars that were visible occasionally.

We arrived in Bikaner’s old city by car and sat on a horse carriage that was waiting for us. There was a sudden change in the architecture because everywhere around us we could only see red Havelis with blue or green doors. Almost all of these Havelis display a mix of Victorian and Mughal architecture.

There were many narrow lanes and at times a little traffic jam. We would have been completely lost if our exploration was not chaperoned. We even got to enter one of the Havelis that was maintained by Narendra Bhawan and looked like a dollhouse from inside.

This area of Bikaner was so beautiful that we woke up the next day at 4 am just to go back and click some pictures. If you have some more time on your hands, do check out Usta art of Bikaner.

06 | Discover Bikaner’s Places on a Royal Trail

I have mentioned the famous Laxmi Niwas Palace and Gajner Palace, but there is so much more to see in Bikaner. If you’re visiting Bikaner, I recommend you take out a day from your schedule to go on a Royal trail and see palaces and museums.

You can visit the famous Junagarh fort, which was built by Raja Rai Singh. The fort does look majestic from the outside but trust me it is the insides that will take your breath away. There are several sections that have a different theme and were built in different times.

They say that Junagarh Fort is one of the best-maintained ones in Rajasthan. As I explored the interiors, I understood why. When we entered, everything around was beige, but soon we reached a white section with a few blue rooms and later even saw a golden room and a silver door.

Apart from Junagarh fort, you can also check out Lalgarh palace and Sadul Singh museum. I was so mesmerized by Junagarh fort that it is my favorite out of them all.

7) Experience one of a kind Museum Dinner at Narendra Bhawan

Museum Dinner in Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner, Rajasthan

Museum Dinner in Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner, Rajasthan

This is perhaps the most royal of them all. Imagine, sitting at the same table where the King sat decades back. Yes, it is called the “Museum Dinner” for a reason. Instead of just admiring the items from a bygone era, you’re a part of the whole setting yourself.

This table is actually in the main dining area but is in a separate enclosed space to ensure privacy. The enclosure is in the form of thick curtains on one side and wall on the other. Under the low hanging lamps, there is a long dining table that can seat six to eight people. The chairs around this table have a “golden” look with a soft cushioned seat. There are a few highly ornate mirrors on the walls with small lamps in front of them. The carpet is thick and dark and looks Egyptian (I’m guessing but I can be wrong). The ceiling is light with a lot of off-white and a few traces of gold. This little room actually looks like it is a part of a museum!

In fact, on my first day at Narendra Bhawan, I had reached this part of the restaurant just by accident while exploring. I was delighted when Faisal told me that we would be eating here the next day.

 

Final Thoughts – experience the Royal Life in Bikaner

Now that I have talked so much about Narendra Bhawan in this post, you must be thinking that it is a very expensive hotel. You couldn’t have been more wrong. They have an introductory offer going on for the first year and you can book a room for two for as low as INR 6000 ($100). I found even better deals on Bookings.com. This is a steal if you compare it to the other hotels because the services are better than any five-star hotels’. (Yes, Rajasthani hospitality beats everything else). In fact, this is the perfect gift you should buy for your life partner, or even your parents if you want to pamper them.

PS: This is just a glimpse of what I did in Bikaner. To see more pictures, check out my hashtag #SonalinBikaner on Instagram.

Have you visited Bikaner already and have a few stories to share? Let me know in the comments.

Disclaimer: I was invited to Bikaner on a press trip. As usual, the views expressed in this article are mine.

Living life Maharani style - How to experience the Maharaja life in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
Rampuria Haveli in Bikaner, Rajasthan - how to experience the Maharaja life in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
Maharani style in Narendra Bhawan, Bikaner - How to experience the Maharaja life in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India
A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Sonal Kwatra Paladini

Pin It on Pinterest

Want More Fun? Join Our Travel Madness!

Want More Fun? Join Our Travel Madness!

Our occassional emails will make you smile even on your dullest day. Feel free to unsubscribe if we bore you. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!