Spring Break in Mazatlan, Mexico

Mazatlán, Mexico: Located at the base of Sierra Madre in the state of Sinaloa and by the stunning Sea of Cortez of the Pacific (also know as Gulf of California), Mazatlan is a Mexican colonial style town. This is an attractive holiday destination, especially for the people from West Coast of the USA.

Stunning beach of Mazatlan in Mexico

Stunning beach of Mazatlan in Mexico

Mazatlan Downtown and it’s historic city center are the main hot spots here.  This place is equally fun for the young crowds or the retired people or the ones in between. City’s symbol is deer. No, you won’t come across any deer but you’ll see statues and sculptures at many places in downtown.

This was my second trip to Mexico but first for my daughters. After traveling to more than 60 countries worldwide, I have to say Mexicans are some of the most humble and friendliest people I’ve ever met and talked to.

And that sunset by the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

And that sunset by the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

Although I converted some of my USD to Pesos, you can use USD or credit cards everywhere in Mazatlan. Small vendors may not accept credit cards, but they will always accept US dollars.

Time of Travel: We went to Mazatlan during my kids’ spring break at end of March, 2019. We traveled with another family friends and their kids, which made this trip extra fun for all of us. We enjoyed moderate tropical weather during our stay. It was around late 80s daytime but got a bit colder at night. It’s a good idea to carry a light sweater, especially for the kids.

Eating and Shopping: What to eat in Mazatlan? Short answer is shrimp, shrimp, and more shrimp. The quality and freshness of shrimp in Mazatlan is unbeatable. Our first lunch was at Mr. Lionso Restaurant during our city trip. The food was average here but it’s location by the beach, colorful decors, and live mariachi music make this an ideal place to enjoy weather and food. They have all the traditional Mexican food at Mr. Lionso with lots of seafood options, quesadillas, fajitas, ceviche, soup, and lots more.

Mazatlan_March20191.jpg

Since we stayed in a an all inclusive resort, most of our meals were at the resort, except for when we took excursions. Our Last dinner was at Casa Canobbio in Plaza Machado. I was inclining more towards Mexican cuisine since it was our last night in Mazatlan but the kids picked this Italian place “Casa Canobbio”. We sat outside to enjoy the live music. The food was good, nothing extraordinary but loved the atmosphere. Having a dinner in Plaza Machado on a Friday is the best, you get to be be part of an energetic atmosphere with the locals and other foreigners.

Mariachi band at Mr. Lionso in Mazatlan, Mexico

Mariachi band at Mr. Lionso in Mazatlan, Mexico

Mazatlan is known for it’s silver jewelries, and Real McCoy is one of the best (and expensive) places to shop for the good quality silver, opal, and mother of pearl. We were taken there during our city trip and I bought a silver bracelet for about $100 and few earnings and rings for friends and family. But bargain…they initially asked $450 for my bracelet and I ended up getting it for $100. Also, buy Mexican vanilla…it’s the best I’ve tasted so far. Lots of other colorful decorations like wooden bowls and Day of the Dead souvenirs are very popular too.

Our Hotel: We stayed in Pueblo Bonita Emerald Bay Resort in Mazatlan which is more than half an hour drive from the downtown or Centro Historico and close to an hour drive from the airport. There is another Pueblo Bonita near downtown but their Emerald Bay Resort is in the newer one in Zona Nuevo or New Mazatlan. We could see the Pacific and gorgeous sunsets over the ocean from our balcony . The best part of this resort was the sound of native birds, especially early morning. I used to wake up at 6:30am just to hear their loud chirping from the balcony.

Pueblo Bonita Emerald Bay Resort in Mazatlan, Mexico

Pueblo Bonita Emerald Bay Resort in Mazatlan, Mexico

Places We’ve Visited:  We had about 4 full days in Mazatlan and we didn’t rent any car. To get around the city, ride Mazatlan’s signature white open-aired taxi “Pulmonia”. Some of them have only doors and no windows while others have none. Although they are everywhere, do ask for the price before you get onto one. They are very cheap compared to US dollars and the drivers always appreciate a little tip.

Taxi in Mazatlan, Mexico, called Pulmonia

Taxi in Mazatlan, Mexico, called Pulmonia

Some places we couldn’t visit but worth making a trip would be Deer Island, Durango, and Copala. Deer Island can be done in half a day but Durang and Copala by the Seirra Madre are full day, 12-hour excursions. If you have extra few days, there is also a daily ferry that leaves Mazatlan everyday late afternoon and reaches Cabo San Lucas the next morning, within 14 hours. But if you want to stay locally, there are tons of water activities to do in Mazatlan, like Jet skiing, water-skiing, or parasailing.

Here are some of the things we did, saw, and visited while we were in Mazatlan.

  1. Centro Historico: This is a nice walking district of Mazatlan and a charming cultural center of the city. This old part of the town is a must see for any visitors.
Centro Historico in Mazatlan, Mexico

Centro Historico in Mazatlan, Mexico

      2. City Bus Tour: This was half a day tour of Mazatlan that we did on our first day there, focusing mainly on the older part of the city. The cost was $19 per person and we were picked up from our hotel around 10am and were dropped off around 3:30pm. This trip was organized with a small group of 3/4 families and consisted of little bit of walking and little bit of driving. My teenage daughter said that was her the most favorite part of this trip.

                           a. El Mercado or Mercado Pino Suarez: Our first stop of this trip on day 1 in Mazatlan is El Mercado in the Centro Historico. It’s a large indoor market place consists of countless small shops where you can find everything from fresh produce, to meat and fish, to household stuff, to Mexican handcrafts, and other souvenirs. It was a bit crowded with the locals and lots of tourist groups, but this was a great Mexico experience and a fun way to check out localities. I bought couple t-shirts for very cheap prices (2 kids t-shirts for $7). But do bargain before buying anything here.

Mercado Pino Suarez in Downtown Mazatlan, Mexico

Mercado Pino Suarez in Downtown Mazatlan, Mexico

                           b. La Inmaculada Concepcio or The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception: This grand architecture has been standing in the heart of Mazatlan since 1899 with its magnificent interior and exterior elements. There was a service going on inside the cathedral at the time we entered the building, so we couldn’t walk around and see all the details. But from its marvelous ceiling to stained-glass windows and the gorgeous alter, it’s pretty obvious why this is on the must-see list of Mazatlan.

La Inmaculada Concepcio or The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mazatlan, Mexico

La Inmaculada Concepcio or The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Mazatlan, Mexico

                            c. Plaza Machado: This is the main public square and the heart of Centro Historico. It’s surrounded mainly by lots of restaurants and some old and colorful buildings, like historic hotel, theater, old book store, and other commercial buildings. It’s a trendy place in an old setting with lots of young local crowds…a great place to do some people watching.

Loved those windows and doors in and around Plaza Machado in Mazatlan, Mexico

Loved those windows and doors in and around Plaza Machado in Mazatlan, Mexico

We came back to Plaza Machado on Friday which was our last evening in Mazatlan. It was very lively with lots of people, local performers and dancers, vendors, and loud music at almost every restaurant. We came here for dinner because this is the best place to enjoy any meal in the city. You will find Mexican, Italian, and other kinds of cuisines in this square.

Plaza Machado at night in Mazatlan, Mexico

Plaza Machado at night in Mazatlan, Mexico

Taxi from Malecon Beach to Plaza Machado is about 90 Pesos and is about 180 Pesos if you are coming from Pueblo Bonita Emerald Bay Resort or that area.

3. The Lighthouse: We didn’t go near the lighthouse, just saw it from a distance. But this is the world’s natural highest operating lighthouse (515 feet above sea level).

4. Cliff Divers: This was our last stop before we were taken to souvenir shopping and to the lunch venue at Mr. Lionso. As soon as our van parked and we stepped out, one of the divers approached us to see him diving from 45 feet high rock formation to a really shallow water area. They will climb up the stairs and will dive to a water area that is only 5-6 feet deep. The divers will have to wait for the right waves and time for this stunt. But they are there all day and only have to wait few minutes to see the jump right in front of your eyes. usually a nice medium size of crowd will gather to see them, take photos with these brave men, and tip them.

A cliff diver ready to jump to a shallow water body in Mazatlan, Mexico

A cliff diver ready to jump to a shallow water body in Mazatlan, Mexico

Visitors can also climb the stairs for a better view of the surrounding ocean. Check out the beautiful mermaid statue while you are there.

Mermaid by the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

Mermaid by the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

5. Malecon and Olas Altas Beach: Few miles away from Plaza Machado, Malecon is a hustling place for the tourists as well as for the locals. The beach below Malecon is Olas Atlas Beach. The famous “Mazatlan” structure is at one end of Malecon. Few iconic statues can be seen while walking on Malecon and many street side vendors can also be found selling small trinkets in the evening.

Walking on Malecon at night in Mazatlan, Mexico

Walking on Malecon at night in Mazatlan, Mexico

6. Stone Island: This was our another half-day excursion that we booked on our 3rd day in Mazatlan. After we were picked up from our hotel, we drove thru the city in a no-window bus, and arrived at the marina about in an hour to board the catamaran. This was a fun boat with loud Mexican music, fun attendants, and cold beverages. The catamaran took us around some beautiful seascape with old rock formations and caves. Our first stop was to meet some sea lions on a giant boulder in the middle of the sea who originally migrated from California.

On our way to Stone Island in Mazatlan

On our way to Stone Island in Mazatlan

After arriving Stone Island, we were taken to our chosen activities by the beach or riding thru the island. Buggy ride with my little daughter gave us a taste of the culture of the island and the locals’ lives.

Buggy ride thru Stone Island in Mazatlan, Mexico

Buggy ride thru Stone Island in Mazatlan, Mexico

The trip was $35 per adult and $17 for a child. The price included lunch and 2 activities on the island  from banana boat, kayaking, horseback riding and buggy ride.

Stone Island beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

Stone Island beach in Mazatlan, Mexico

 

 

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Exploring the Caribbean – Punta Cana in Dominican Republic

PUNTA CANA, DR: It was time for our 2nd girls trip and this time it was going to be somewhere in the Caribbean. It was the fearless five of us out to explore a new place while having some girl time. Initially, we were going to go to Montego Bay. But sorry Jamaica, Dominican Republic had better deals on flights and logistics.

Punta Cana in Dominican Republic - one of the top destinations in the Caribbean

Punta Cana in Dominican Republic – one of the top destinations in the Caribbean

 

Punta Cana, it is the home of white sandy beaches, great food, fantastic warm weather, and genuinely friendly people…and all these make this place one of the top Caribbean destinations. For tourists, like me, who can’t speak much Spanish, not to worry…most of the people we dealt with, like in restaurants, cab drivers, and etc spoke at least some English.

Beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, DR

Beautiful beaches of Punta Cana, DR

Punta Cana International Airport is about 40-45 minutes drive from all the resorts and hotels area. About currency, I only exchanged $100 to Dominican Peso from the airport and I didn’t even have to do that (but it’s always good to have some local currencies in the pocket in my opinion). We could and did use USD almost anywhere and everywhere.

TIME of TRAVEL: We visited Punta Cana at the very end of November last year. It was probably the best time to go there. No spring-break or winter holiday tourists, weather was around 80s…no scorching heat or humidity to deal with. We did get tropical rain couple nights, usually around 9/10pm.

OUR HOTEL: Sunscape Dominican Beach Punta Cana is where we stayed during this trip. We had the deluxe tropical view, basically just looking over the other buildings and the grassy areas of the resort.

Overall, the resort itself was good. They had good service, big and clean rooms with balcony, friendly services, and all that. I wasn’t a big fan of their food, except for the breakfast where they had fresh papaya, watermelon, passion fruit juice. But other Japanese, Mediterranea, French places were very disappointing. Another thing we should have complained to the hotel concierge, is that Punta Cana gets tropical rain here and there, and when it rains, all the paths inside the resort get really slippery. My friend fell on that (and later we found out few others too) and hurt her ankle really bad. There has to be something the hotel management can do to provide more safety in weather like that.

EATING and SHOPPING: This was a lesson learned for me that not all-inclusive places serve good food. Most of the meals that we had in our resort, if not all, were below average. I mean, even their pizza and hotdog tasted like chewed up beach slippers. I was, at one point, craving to taste some local food at some local restaurants. We did get delicious Dominican BBQ chicken and fish in our trip to Saona Island. But after few meals at the resort, I couldn’t take it anymore. So finally, the last day, we decided to go out and have dinner at a place, called La Delicasa, recommended by our hotel. It was more like a semi-fast food place, serving authentic Dominican food. Loved it, period.

Our lunch in Saona Island in Dominican Republic - BBQ chicken

Our lunch in Saona Island in Dominican Republic – BBQ chicken

For souvenirs, Taino Art works (like paintings, wall decor, masks, statues) are very ethnic and traditional gifts to bring back from DR. They are usually locally handcrafted containing tribal signs and symbols that supposed to bring good luck. Other wooden arts are also very popular here. I, myself, bought tapestry, Taino art paintings, Dominican coffee, chocolate, and coconut shell candle holders. Jewelries made with beautiful blue larimar stones are also something popular here which is only found in DR. Unlike many other places I’ve visited, going for souvenir hunting is a bit challenge in Punta Cana. We came across some people who were selling jewelries and small trinkets in Saona Island for really cheap prices. Whatever you buy here you can always bargain, unless they are fixed priced. I also found couple souvenir shops near our resort on the Bavaro Beach selling all sorts of stuff from paintings to jewelries to cigars and generic stuff. But I saw something in Punta Cana for our souvenir hunting that I’ve never seen in any other places before, maybe a Caribbean thing. We wanted to go to a place where we could find local trinkets. And when I asked the hotel concierge, they said they can contact the nearby souvenir “villages” and they will take us there free of charge, we walk around and look around and not obligated to buy anything. And in 2 hours, they will drop us back to the resort. Yes, it does sounds like a trap, but it was the only option we had and in a way, it was a fun experience. A minivan took us and 3 other families to their souvenir complex. There are few different “huts”, each had its own products. One for only cigars and you get to see how the cigars are made and try them, one for larimar jewelries, one for tequila and other drinks, one for only chocolates and coffee beans…where you can try and taste everything before you buy, and finally another one was with just other types of handicrafts, like paintings, t-shirts, generic trinkets, and other gift items.

Dominican souvenirs

Dominican souvenirs

PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We stayed in Punta Cana for total 4 nights. This trip was all about just relaxing, spending time at the resort and its beach, and taking it slow. We went there without much strict itinerary, except for the Saona Island trip which just took one of our four days. Other days, we basically enjoyed the pool, the resort parties, going to a nearby souvenir shop, eating out for one dinner, and last day we just decided to check out the Macao Beach. I did regret not booking a trip to Santo Domingo from Punta Cana for one day. It’s the capital of Dominican Republic and has tons of historic landmarks and cultural sites to visit and in about couple hours of drive each way, you are there. Santo Domingo will be my top priority if I come back to DR in the future again.

Below are few places we visited during our stay in Punta Cana:

  1. ALTOS de CHAVON and SAONA ISLAND DAY-TRIP: We booked this trip before arriving Punta Cana. For $84 per person, we got a 10-hour day excursion with lunch. We got to visit their history, local lives, and some of the most beautiful Caribbean coastlines. We were picked up from our hotel around 7am in a small minivan and were brought to a gas station to be shifted to a bigger bus with other tourists. One thing I want to mention here, we had a professional photographer with us all time during this trip, taking our photos everywhere, taking candid and posed shots. Some loved it and some not so much. But give this guy a chance, at the end he’ll show you all the photos which you can buy if you want to for about $5 per image. Our main tour guide was a funny, very enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and accommodating man…who could dance very well too.
A local wearing traditional Dominican dress in Punta Cana

A local wearing traditional Dominican dress in Punta Cana

                      a. ALTOS de CHAVON: Our first stop of that morning was Altos de Chavon, an artist’s village on top of a spectacular hill which was perched above the winding Chavon River. This place replicates the 16th-century Mediterranean town and is an architectural wonder. It did feel like a mini European village, with churches, cobbled stoned alleys, and small squares. Musician Carlos Santana had one of his concerts in the amphitheater in Altos de Chavon. The amphitheater was built around 1976-1982 and can hold around 5000 people. This town was also used in few Hollywood movies, such as Anaconda. The area of the main church and its square is probably one of the best places to take some shots of the surroundings. We couldn’t go inside the church. But from outside this stone-made church looked grand and very photogenic.

View of Chavon River from the hilltop town Altos de Chavon in Dominican Republi

View of Chavon River from the hilltop town Altos de Chavon in Dominican Republi

There are few small boutique shops, souvenir stores, art galleries,  cafes and snack places here. But the highlight is the view from this hilltop town.  Looking at the river down below with small hills surrounding the place is stunning, especially when we arrived in the morning, it was quiet and peaceful. Also, enjoy the garden with exotic flowers and fruits, like banana, mango, lemon. Explore the enchanting old buildings and enjoy the locals, especially women walking around in their colorful traditional dresses.  

Architectural beauty of Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

Architectural beauty of Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

We didn’t stop at the Casa de Campo once we reached the complex of Altos de Chavon, but we were told this is where rich Hollywood stars, like Vin Diesel, have their vacations homes.

The old church Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

The old church Altos de Chavon in Punta Cana, DR

Altos de Chavon is one of the most popular sites in Punta Cana and you can either combine it with your Saona Island trip or just take half a day trip from your hotel to come here. We spent about an hour in Altos de Chavon before getting on the bus again for our next spot.

             b. La PLAYA PALMIA: It was about 30 minutes bus ride to reach a small fishing village, called Bayahibe, by the Caribbean Sea. From here, we got onto a speed boat and cruised over the Caribbean Sea for about 15-20 minutes to come to a natural swimming pool, called La Playa Palmia or The Natural Beach. FYI, Hollywood film, Blue Lagoon-2 was shot here.

Going to La PLAYA PALMIA

Going to La PLAYA PALMIA

The water is shallow in La Playa Palmia and you’ll see many other excursion boats bring their tourists here to take a quick swim in this serene blue water lined with gentle palm trees. It was beautiful. I, personally, didn’t go to the water…simply because I am afraid of water and I didn’t bring any extra pair of clothes. But my two other friends, who got themselves wet and were served with both soft and hard drinks, while some of us enjoyed being on the boat and appreciating the surreal beauty of that beach. The 30-40 minutes we spent there, it was a total bliss.

               c. SAONA ISLAND: Another half an hour ride on that speed boat, we came to one of the most beautiful islands I’ve seen in my life…Isla Saona or Saona Island. This is beyond just a picturesque island bordered with thousands of palm trees. This was a true Caribbean paradise. The endless shallow turquoise waters of this natural reserve in Eastern National Park can’t be and shouldn’t be missed when you are in Punta Cana.

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Right after we got off the boat, which by the way anchors a bit far from the beach…so you are bound to get wet, we walked over to our “picnic shelter” for lunch. This was our first out of the resort meal and it was mind-blowing. If I only knew that actual Dominican cuisine is that good, I’d have avoided going for all-inclusive. We had the option of rice, grilled fish, BBQ chicken, and salad.

There aren’t many things to do on this island, but that was the whole purpose actually…not to do much. We just enjoyed the powdery white sandy beach, warm weather with gentle breeze, palm trees, locals, bought some jewelries from the shops, and relaxed by the beach.

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

Saona Island in Dominican Republic

We stayed about 2 ½ hours here. In the meantime, try fresh coconut water, fresh pineapple juice in the pineapple shell, a massage by the beach and under the sun. I walked around the lesser crowded side of the island with my camera for a while to get some shots and glad I did that.

A local making fresh pineapple juice for us in Saona Island, DR

A local making fresh pineapple juice for us in Saona Island, DR

Another fun highlight of this whole trip is cruising on the catamaran/party boat. Towards the end of the day, we got on the speedboat again from Saona Island and were shifted to this Catamaran. This is an open boat with sails and no chairs to sit, but they have metal benches all around the boat. We were all tired and some were sitting, some were dancing with the dancers and with Caribbean party music, and others were enjoying the vast sea. I enjoyed the sun, the breeze, and the music in the background while laying down on the boat making my backpack my pillow. This was one heavenly feelings and my every penny was worth of it.

Our trip ended by getting into that big bus after the catamaran docked near the fishing village and in about hour and half or so, we were back to our resort.

  1.  MACAO BEACH: We visited Macao Beach on the very last day of our stay in Punta Cana and thank goodness that we did. We arranged a taxi for couple hours from our resort to go to this beach (please visit his info in my recommended tour guide…knowledgeable, gentle, and very friendly). This Guatemalan taxi driver living in Punta Cana currently, told us that Macao Beach is his favorite spot to watch sunset over the Caribbean Sea.
Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

          It was truly a remarkable sunset that we watched that evening. This part of the sea was a bit rough, good place for the surfers. Buggy riders also come here to ride along the white sandy beach.

          It is a public beach, so no entrance fee to pay. There were some locals with us too. It was stunning when the sky was sprayed with all shades of orange and yellow colors and reflected that on the turquoise water of the sea.

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Macao Beach in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

         Absolutely fell in love with the Caribbean after this trip, have to plan to come back and explore other islands here.

Got One Day in Irvine, CA?

My girls and I were in Palm Springs, California for the Thanksgiving weekend. It was a sudden trip and urge to visit California. We were in Palm Springs for 4 nights and 31/2 days. We had a rental car, so planned to drive 2 hours to Irvine to visit some friends and spend some time in Irvine.

Laguna Beach in Irvine, CA

Laguna Beach in Irvine, CA

As far as the landscape and heat, Irvine is very different from Palm Springs. We stayed in Coachella Valley in Palm Springs which is a part of the Sonoran Desert. There aren’t any beaches here, only mountains and oases. Irvine, on the other hand, is more crowded, has lots of beaches to hang out, and milder weather.

 

We spent about 7 or 8 hours in Irvine with my high school friend, her sister, and her husband. Since my friend and her husband are local there, they took us to some not-so-touristy places where we did avoid some crowed and had a very relaxed time.

 

Lunch & Dinner – When you are in California, eating burger at In N Out is a must…or at least for me and my kids. Our lunch was animal style burgers and fries from In N Out. For dinner, my friends took us to California Pizza Kitchen. It’s a local Italian place with really good food. Their flatbread with chicken, shrimp and zucchini pasta, mac ‘n cheese fried balls, and cauliflower crusted pizza (no carb at all) are not only healthy, but also very tasty. Even my girls loved the carb free, cauliflower crust pizza.

 

Crystal Cove State Park: This was our first stop. It’s a small free public beach near Irvine. We took some pictures from the cliff side at first, then walked down to the beach. There were bathrooms and showers for the kids to change and take a shower after the beach time. Opposite of the park, there is a big shopping center with some restaurants and etc.

Crystal Cove State Park in Irvine, CA

Crystal Cove State Park in Irvine, CA

Crescent Bay Park/Laguna Beach: Crescent Bay Park was absolutely a charm. It’s a really small park on the cliff of Laguna Beach. Some really beautiful houses stand in this neighborhood. We spent about 10 minutes in the Crescent Bay Park, took some pictures, then walked 10 minutes down the stairs to go to the Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach itself was a bit crowded. And since we already went in the water in Crystal Cove, we just hung out for only a few minutes and came up to go to the Top of the World before the sunset.

Crescent Bay Park in Irvine, CA

Crescent Bay Park in Irvine, CA

 

Top of the World: This is where the local or tourists come to enjoy beautiful sunset over the city. On one side, you can see the mountains and other the ocean. It does get a bit chilly in the late afternoon. We stayed there until the sun went down and it was a beautiful sunset indeed.

Sunset from Top of the World in Irvine, CA

Sunset from Top of the World in Irvine, CA

Top African destinations for the best wildlife photography

Africa is one of those continents where you will get loads of different places to showcase your skills in photography. And when it is all about picturing the wildlife moments, then nowhere will be as best as the African national parks and the forests. After all, it is a country, which sports a huge number of wildlife species, including some of the endangered species.

Starting from Tanzania to South Africa, these countries form the best places for safari and hence, you can really get some unique shots of the animals living in their wild habitat.

zebra

If you are planning on spending holidays in Africa for wildlife photography, then here are some of the best places you wouldn’t dare to miss!

  1. Massai Mara National Reserve in Kenya

Located in the Eastern Africa, this is a preserved forestland with Savannah vegetation. The five beasts of the jungle can be found here- elephants, hippo, lion, cheetah, and the rhinoceros. A large number of the wildebeests migrate into the area during the winter season. Apart from the wildlife, you can also get to capture the precious moments of the Massai lifestyle in the nearby villages.

  1. The Kalahari Desert in Botswana

With the sand dunes, rusty valleys and mountains, desert plants, and a Savannah climate, Kalahari deserts is one of the important places for wildlife photography. The marshes and the floodplains within the desert are enriched with a variety of flora and fauna. Predators like lion, cheetah, spotted hyena, Cape wild dog, brown hyena, and even the predatory birds are found in abundance. Wildebeest is common in this area including the marine animals like the crocodile.

  1. Etosha National Park in Namibia

With the saltwater pan located in the middle of the Etosha National Park, the forest is said to e the home of many endangered and vulnerable species of animals. Four main types of vegetation covers are the there in the park- the woodlands, the Savannah, the grasslands, and the saline desert. Zebra, black rhinoceros, elephants, lions, springbok, blue wildebeest, and black-faced Impala are some of the different mammals found in the area. A large number of avian species are also there in the game.

  1. Samburu National Reserve in Kenya

Though Masaai Mara Reserve is one of the most important national parks in Kenya, you can never ignore the Samburu National Park. The main attraction of this woodland area is the Kamunyak, a lioness who is said to adopt the oryx calves. Reticulated giraffe, African leopard, lion, Cape Buffalo, and even the olive baboons, and the waterbuck can be found in this area. The Ewaso River is the home to a large number of the crocodile.

  1. Rain Forests of Atsinanana in Madagascar

The rainforests of the Atsinanana consist of six main national parks. Being UNESCO heritage site, the rainforests are important for maintaining the ecological balance of the forests as many species of the Madagascar biodiversity are endangered. Some of the unique species that you will witness within the six national parks are lemurs, mongooses, civets, Madagascar serpent eagle, red owl, and so on.

  1. Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda

The national park is best known for the endangered species of the Mountain Gorilla and the golden money. The main vegetations found in this area are the rainforests and the bamboo forests, providing an ambient habitat for the monkeys. Black-fronted duiker, buffalo, spotted hyena, bushbuck, and elephants are some of the common mammals you will find in the national park. Apart from this, 178 species of birds are found in the park. The Karisimbi volcano is one of the best places for getting some ethereal snaps of nature. Apart from this, there are lakes and caves for your photography session if you want something else other than the wildlife.

  1. Serengeti National Park in Tanzania

Being one of the main parts of the Serengeti ecosystem the park is famous for the migratory wildebeest. Serengeti plains, Western Park, and the Northern Serengeti are the three areas in which the entire national park is demarcated into. Considering the wildlife, you will definitely have the wildebeest, the largest mammal to have existed on the earth’s surface till date, zebras, Impala, Warthog, hippo, Masai giraffe, waterbuck, and so on. Some rare species of the Impala can be found in this national park.

  1. Okavango Delta in Botswana

Formed by the Okavango River, this inland basin is one of the main reserves for the wildlife. The Moremi Game Reserve is the national park, which is located on the eastern part of this deltaic region. Over 400 bird species can be found in this region including the crested crane, the lilac-beasted roller, hamerkop, and the sacred ibis. Considering the animals, you will get the African bush elephant, the hartebeest, springbok, kudu, gemsbok, roan antelope, black rhinoceros, Nile crocodile, and even the vervet monkey.

  1. Kidepo Valley National Park in Uganda

With the rugged Savannah type of vegetation, two main rivers drain the entire land- the Kidepo and the Narus rivers. As two different valleys are there, you will have two different wildlife varieties. In the Narus Valley, you will get the spotted hyena, lion, cheetah, African buffalo, bat-eared foxes, Rothschild’s giraffe and so on.

With so many wildernesses within the subcontinent, Africa has become a major spot for photography safari the wild animals and their daily lifestyle. After all, in the wild regions, the beasts can be on their own, with their primal instincts guarding their activities.

 

La Paz and Todos Santos, Mexico

La Paz and Todos Santos: It was our first ever girls-only trip and five of us were determined to go somewhere…anywhere to chill, bond, and be wild. Only one condition, it had to be outside USA. To go easy for the first time, we chose Mexico…a place which was closer to our home and within short distance. After lots of going back and forth, we chose Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. After visiting around 60 countries, this was the single most memorable trip that I’ll always cherish.

A small Mexican village - El Triunfo

A small Mexican village – El Triunfo

We planned ahead for the La Paz and Todos Santos trip to get out of the city life of Cabo. If you have an extra day and are looking for an excursion from Cabo San Lucas, this would be a great option. Both of these small towns are rich in history and culture, but my personal favorite was Todos Santos. The distance from Cabo San Lucas to La Paz is about 264 km and took us about 3 hours by car. But don’t fall asleep…most portion of the journey is very scenic and roads/highways are  surrounded by Sierra Mountains that should not be missed.

Reservation for this trip was made before arriving to Cabo thru Easy Cabo Trip. It was $70 per person and paid partial amount from the total to reserve the day. Originally I chatted with Alex from Easy Cabo Trip to book the trip who was extremely helpful with our needs. Our guide/driver, Eric, was someone who I would recommend highly for anyone. He was knowledgeable, friendly, very nice, dedicated, and spoke pretty good English too. We were picked up from our resort sharp at 8am. It was about 10 hours trip from pick up to drop off. And Eric helped us all the way at every step.

Time of Travel: We were in Cabo San Lucas during the 1st week of December 2017. We kept the first couple days and the last day for Cabo itself. In between, on the 3rd day, we decided to go out of the main tourist spots and enjoy the rural parts of the town. Weather in December in Cabo is usually very pleasant. It was somewhere in the 70s and 80s most of the time.

Our Hotel: We stayed in Marina Fiesta Resort and Spa in Cabo San Lucas. Please check out my page on Cabo right side to know more about the resort.

Eating and Shopping: The morning we went to La Paz, Eric, took us to a small breakfast place because we weren’t able to start our morning without some coffee. I had a freshly made delicious beef empanada while others tried burrito and etc. The place had a small shop attached to it where a lady was selling all sorts of dry fruit pastes, spicy candies, and traditional Mexican snacks. I bought a guava paste bar (my kids loved it) and some tamarind hot candies.

Our breakfast place on our way to La Paz, Mexico

Our breakfast place on our way to La Paz, Mexico

Todos Santos is a fun place to do some souvenir hunting. Hotel California can be slightly pricey but it has some nice selections of trinkets and gift items. I bought few keyrings, a rug, and a mug from here. Other stores here sell similar items, sometimes maybe a bit cheaper than Hotel California. But for my rug, I found that Hotel California was cheaper than other stores and they carry some unique items that other stores didn’t have…but don’t forget to bargain.

Souvenirs inside Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico

Souvenirs inside Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico

Places We’ve Visited: I wish I knew how beautiful Todos Santos is, I would have planned to go there first and spend more time and then go to La Paz after lunch. We barely got a chance to roam around Todos Santos, because it was already dark when we reached there and everything was getting ready to close.

  1. Tropic of Cancer: This is where we first stopped in the morning. It’s a very simple monument in between San Jose del Cabo and La Paz, where the tropic of cancer crosses. Other than the monument itself, there is a small church and some hand-crafts shops are here too. We spent about 15-20 minutes before heading towards our breakfast venue.

    Monument for Tropic of Cancer near Cabo, Mexico

    Monument for Tropic of Cancer near Cabo, Mexico

  2. Gold and Silver Mine: This is an old and unnamed gold and silver mine. It had no sign and was hidden in the middle of a small hill and bushes. A tiny door leads to the mouth of the mine. We didn’t dare to go inside the mine itself.
  3. Iglesia de El Triunfo: Once a mining urban settlement, El Triunfo is a small town where another silver mine, El Triunfo de la Cruz, is located. In fact, it is this silver mine that gave birth to the town El Triunfo. We didn’t go to the mine here, just saw it from a distance from this church. With the Latin cross floor plan of this building with wooden structured roof, Iglesia de El Triunfo dates back to the second half of the 19th The main altar was designed elaborately in neoclassic style.

    Iglesia de El Triunfo in Cabo, Mexico

    Iglesia de El Triunfo in Cabo, Mexico

  4. Playa Ballandra: Playa Ballandra is a calm and sandy beach with a beautiful landscape. We spent about an hour walking along the water and taking pictures. It was not overly crowded but was lively.

    Playa Ballandra in Cabo, Mexico

    Playa Ballandra in Cabo, Mexico

  5. Playa Tecolote: This is where we had our lunch. It’s a small private-like beach, didn’t see anything nearby, except for the restaurant which was almost packed with tourists and locals.

    Playa Tecolote in Cabo, Mexico

    Playa Tecolote in Cabo, Mexico

  6. La Paz Downtown: 30 minutes drive from Playa Tecolote is La Paz Downtown. This is an old Mexican port and still carries that feel and vibe. The corner stone of Cathedral de Nuestra Senora de la Paz was laid in 1861. It has some stained glass windows and a simple alter. We really didn’t do much here other than visiting the cathedral and looking over some local shops. There are few galleries…but everything was closed on Sunday.

    Cathedral of La Paz

    Cathedral of La Paz

  7. Todos Santos: Located in north of Cabo, Todos Santos is one of the small cities of Baja California on the Pacific side. It took about 1 ½ hours from La Paz to Todos Santos and we got here when it was already dark. It would have been ideal if we came to Todos Santos in the morning and stayed until lunch. We could have spent more time and enjoyed the inspirational characteristic of this Mexican town.

Even if you can’t do La Paz, I would highly recommend taking a day trip to Todos Santos…this is almost a must-see when you are visiting Cabo and makes perfect day trip from Cabo. Its tiny community is filled with old colonial style arts and architecture which take you few centuries back. Here are some places we managed to see in Todos Santos.

  1. Mission of Santa Rosa de Todos Santos: This century old monastery is at the heart of this town. The original building goes back to early 18th We could make it to the cathedral right before its closing and there is no charge to visit. It has a simple interior with elegant altar and grand exterior.
  2. Hotel California: The iconic colonial style red building of Todos Santos is the Hotel California. This is located only 2 minutes’ walk from the cathedral. Inside of the hotel is more beautiful than the outside. So make sure to go inside and check out the hotel lobby, bar, café, and shop.
Inside Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico

Inside Hotel California in Todos Santos, Mexico

 

 

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