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Viñales – Cuba

Viñales, located in the Pinar del Río province of Cuba, is beautiful and a must-visit destination if you travel to Cuba. We booked a day trip to Viñales to explore the lush tobacco plantations and to see a different side of Cuba. The day trip cost 67 CUC (~$75 USD) per person; we booked it through a local agency located in the lobby of Hotel Iberostar near Parque Central.

The drive was ~2 hours on a comfortable, air-conditioned bus. The tour guide was very pleasant and knowledgeable. She shared information about Cuba (i.e., the island, people, school, healthcare, etc.) then Pinar del Rio and Viñales. The tour was given in both Spanish and English and stoped at el Cuevo del Indio, a tobacco plantation, the Mural del la Prehistoria, and a lookout point near Hotel Los Jazmines.

The first stop was at Cuevo del Indio, a cave that Guanajatabey Indians used to reside in. The cave was rediscovered in 1920 and is definitely a hot tourist destination, we had to wait ~15 minutes before we could go inside. I would highly recommend trying the freshly squeeze sugar cane juice (with or without alcohol) for 2 CUC. It was so delicious!

The cave was lit inside and the walk was around 10 minutes, it wasn’t strenuous and definitely a good activity if you have little kids. At the end of our walk, we took a small boat ride in the underground river back out. I liked this cave and enjoyed gawking at the beautiful rock formations. If I had more time, I would have also liked to explore the Gran Caverna de Santo Tomas, the largest cave system in Cuba.

    

Our second stop was at a tobacco planation. Unfortunately, it wasn’t tobacco season so we didn’t see fields of tobacco plants (tobacco is usually planted in October / November and harvested a couple months later). We did go inside a thatched barn where the farmer passed around tobacco seeds and rolled a cigar in front of us. Once the plants are harvests, they will be dried and fermented inside these thatched barns. We explored the farmer’s home, had some coffee and then purchased some cigars. Cigars come in a pack for 10 for 10 CUC. Tobacco farmers in Cuba have to sell 90% of their tobacco to the government, the remaining 10% they can keep and sell.

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Ice Castles – New Hampshire

This weekend I finally made it to the ice castles in New Hampshire and was blown away by the various ice structures. It was as if I visited Arendelle and Elsa decided to throw a party! There were numerous castles, passage ways, tunnels and slides – all adorned with beautiful icicles. The whole outdoor facility was about the size of half of a football field. Although it doesn’t take long to walk through the park, you will likely wonder around some more and enjoy the enchanting structures.

There are ice castles in Midway, UT; Lincoln, NH; Stillman, MN; Wisconsin Dells, WI; and Edmonton, AB. Weekend tickets are $15.95 for adults and $12.95 for children. If you live around any of these five facilities, I would highly highly recommend you go check it out! Also dress warmly, especially warm boots so you can line up for the big slide – it looks so much fun but my toes were practically frozen so I didn’t wait in the long line.

When you purchase the tickets, you have to select a 30 minute window to enter the park, then you can stay in there for an unlimited amount of time. I would recommend picking 30 minutes before sunset so you get to see the park when it is still daylight and you can catch it when they turn on the light show!

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Puerto Vallarta

The sub-zero weather in Boston made me daydream about a warm sun beaming down on my skin and a soft breeze playfully tossing my hair. The cold definitely kept me indoors this weekend so instead of shivering outside and taking pictures for an outfit post, I looked through my Puerto Vallarta pictures and would like to share my favorites.

The main reason I wanted to visit Cabo / Puerto Vallarta last summer was to see the hidden beach in PV. However, the hidden beach was shut down for a few months to restore the site and limit tourist / human impact. Although I was extremely disappointed, I understood and respected the local government’s desire to protect the environment. So instead of visiting the hidden beach, we walked around the beautiful malecon (boardwalk). The boardwalk is filled with various statues to take pics, gift shops, snack vendors, and fresh juice stands. 

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Cabo San Lucas

I want to share a few pictures from Cabo San Lucas since the weather has been rainy and cold this whole weekend in Boston. My family and I took the Mexican Riviera cruise with Carnival this summer that stopped for 2 days at Cabo and 1 day at Puerto Vallarta.  I have always wanted to visit Cabo to look at the famous el Arco de Cabo! I would have to say Cabo was everything I imagined and more. The juxtaposition between the desert and the incredible rock formations / clear waters is absolutely incredible. I hope you will enjoy looking at the pictures below!

Day 1 – We arrived at the beautiful marina in Cabo and headed to our outback and camel safari excursion. Once you leave the downtown and drive deeper into Cabo, there were miles and miles of ginormous cacti!

1-1-cabo-san-lucas1-2-cabo-san-lucas1-3-cabo-san-lucasApparently there are over 120 species of cacti in Cabo and some of them can grow over 60 feet and live for hundreds of years.  We were told this beautiful creature below is 300+ years. Often when people think of Cabo, the first things that come to mind are the rock formations and the blue waters, I think seeing the cactus plants is just as incredible as the other two. During our excursion, we hiked around for a little bit and were introduced to a tree / shrub with clear sap that became white as you apply it on your skin as a natural sunscreen (I think the plant was called lomboy blanco)! There was also another tree with red sap that looks exactly like blood. 1-31-cabo-san-lucas-cactus1-4-cabo-san-lucasLook how cool these are, cacti growing from the sand!1-5-cabo-san-lucasThe second part of our adventure was riding on camels! These are dromedary (one hump) camels which are originally from the Arabian Peninsula which were later introduced to North America. The camels looked healthy and I liked seeing the camels that weren’t carrying passengers grazing freely in the Rancho San Cristobal reserve. I loved loved the camel adventure, I especially loved the short ride on the beach with just the sounds of the crashing waves crashing and the rhythm of the camel walking.1-6-cabo-san-lucas1-7-cabo-san-lucas1-8-cabo-san-lucasOn our second day, we scheduled a snorkeling tour on a catamaran with the PezGato group. We sailed past Cabo’s signature rock formations – they are truly majestic and beautiful! It’s really hard to describe how incredible these rock formations are. We all know about the arch but around the arch there are 50+ rock formations jetting out of the water, each with it’s own characteristic and charm. Also, the water is so clear around the rocks that you don’t even need to snorkel to be able to see the schools of fish swimming around.2-1-cabo-san-lucas

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Caribbean Island Series: St. Maarten

Another Caribbean stop during our family cruise was St. Maarten or Saint Martin. St. Maarten is a Caribbean island that is divided into two parts; southern part ruled by the Netherlands and northern part ruled by France. Regardless of its political divide, it is one beautiful island with stunning waters!

Look at these shades of blue!
1a. Caribbean - St. Marteen
1b. Caribbean - St. Marteen1c. Caribbean - St. Marteen

For the day, we booked an excursion to Dolphin Discovery which is located on the island of Anguilla, north of St. Maarten. More specifically, we booked the Dolphin Swim excursion included transportation to and from the port, lunch, beach access and of course 30 minutes with the Dolphins!

I love the underway on the beach with colorful chairs! 2a. Caribbean - St. Marteen2b. Caribbean - St. Marteen

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