Things to do in Melbourne CBD: Activities, Restaurants, and Hotels

Things to do in Melbourne CBD: Activities, Restaurants, and Hotels

The Melbourne CBD, or Central Business District, is the city center of Melbourne – the ‘downtown’ area as some would say. It’s where the busy businesspeople scurry between morning meetings, tourists and locals alike peruse laneway coffee shops, bars hide away beneath streets and on rooftops, and historical sites are most highly concentrated.

I was lucky enough to work for a while as a tour guide in the Melbourne CBD, leading historical walking tours and also hidden bar tours of the area. As it was literally my job to know the ins and outs of the Melbourne CBD, I can confidently share its best bits with you now!

I have organized this guide to the things to do in Melbourne CBD into categories – museums, historical sites, laneways, best hotels, restaurants, coffee, and breakfast – and added it all into the map below.

As I have spent a LOT of time exploring the CBD (and spending basically all my money on coffee and food, as any true Melburnian should), I have tried all these places myself and recommend them from personal experience. 

Things to do in Melbourne CBD - Sights, Museums, Shopping, Laneways, Food, Coffee, Breakfast, Restaurants, Bars, and Hotels in Melbourne's Central Business District.

40 Things to do in the Melbourne City Center, or Melbourne CBD . Including Sights, Food, Drink, Tours, and more to keep you busy exploring wonderful Melbourne Australia!

Before you start, pin this guide to the things to do in Melbourne CBD your Pinterest Boards

But before we begin, there are some things you should know about the Melbourne CBD and its layout:

Bit of Melbourne CBD History

Why the Grid?

When you look at a map of Melbourne, you’ll notice that the CBD is organized into a perfect grid – known as the Hoddle Grid (named after the surveyor who planned it). You’ll notice that this grid has some very WIDE streets, with lots of tiny little single-laned LANEWAYS in between.

Why the Laneways?

These laneways were originally intended to be the dumping grounds of the city. However, slowly ‘Melburnians’ were forced to make use of these laneways because the entire city was designed without any parks! Why would Hoddle do that?! As a rich, UK parliament official, his theory was that ‘parks are where people go to protest…’ so he designed the whole city without any!

Slowly over the years, people began to make use of these lanways, and today they are what many would call the most authentic part of Melbourne – the most important part to explore!

I always say, Melbourne is the only city I would say you SHOULD wander down a dark alleyway… you never know what you’ll find!

Rise of the Laneways

Melbourne’s CBD is arguably the busiest part of the city. However, it wasn’t always this way…

The Melbourne CBD used to be a place solely for business, but when workers finished their day, they’d simply go home. There wasn’t much going on … until small bar licensing laws changed in 1993 (making it possible to order a drink without a meal). This change in laws allowed for smaller venues to open up throughout the city when they could not before.

This was the beginning of the laneway revolution and the renaissance of the Melbourne CBD. Today, you could explore and get lost finding passageways, shopping, arcades, hidden restaurants, and bars for days!

hotel windsor view frm parliament house melbourne cbd

View of the Hotel Windsor from the Parliament House 

Getting Around the Melbourne CBD

To travel between all of these awesome things to do in the Melbourne CBD, you’ll mostly want to go by tram or on foot. 

The CBD is about 6 square kilometers, and as you’ll see in the map below, things are all quite close to each other. So first of all I recommend trying to walk as much s you can – you see more that way anyway!

When your feet are tired or when you’re saving your energy, the entirety of the Melbourne CBD is a free tram zone – so yes, all trams are free! This is one of the coolest things about Melbourne and something you’ll definitely want to make use of. You must use a Myki Card (Melbourne’s public transport card) when you exit the CBD, but within you you can hop on a tram fo free!

 

I have organized the below into a color-coded map of Melbourne CBD, because I love you. You’re welcome.

Attractions + Historical Sites in the Melbourne CBD

Parliament House

The Melbourne Parliament building stands sentinel over the CBD’s eastern edge, up on a massive platform sporting beautiful Victorian architecture and massive columns. It has free tours of the inside at multiple times during the day.

Hotel Windsor

Across from the Parliament building, the famous Hotel Windsor was built in 1883 and is still famously one of Melbourne’s top hotels. It too has beautiful Gold Rush-era Victorian architecture and a high-brow high tea.

Old Treasury Building + Museum

Near the Parliament Building, the Old Treasury Building was used during the gold rush to store and class gold. Nowadays, it’s a beautiful Victorian building that houses a museum all about Melbourne’s foundations (learn more about the Victorian Gold Rush here!)

Town Hall

The Town Hall stands central in the Melbourne CBD, on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Also build in a Victorian style, it holds many events and is often the hub for city-wide festivals and art shows.

Federation Square

Federation square was built in the early 00’s to be the town square that Melbourne never had (there are no parks in the Melbourne CBD as I said above). ‘Fed Square’ is now home to a massive gathering space, huge televisions that project sporting games and films, many restaurants and bars, and three free museums which I have listed below in the museums section.

flinders street train station motion blur blogger photo

Having fun with motion blur at Flinders St Station

Flinders Street Train Station

Flinders Street Train station may be one of the most defining buildings of Melbourne. All trains coming in and out of the city pass through this massive station, defined by its unique and colorful art nouveau architectural style.

Be sure to snag a photo of the clocks along its front entrance – which used to have to be changed hundreds of times in a day to keep up with the fast pace of the train times.

State Library of Victoria

The State Library is another must-see in Melbourne, not only for its glorious reading room but for some fascinating free museum exhibits, too.

The La Trobe reading room has floors of bookshelves under a huge windowed dome. Museum exhibits throughout the building detail comprehensive happenings through Melbourne’s interesting history.

Old Melbourne Gaol

The Old Melbourne Gaol is located at the northern end of the Melbourne CBD, within the RMIT university campus. Since it was built in 1845, it housed some of Melbourne’s most infamous criminals – such as Ned Kelly himself.

It’s now an amazingly eerie museum, which is one of the most fascinating things to do in Melbourne CBD. You can book discounted Old Melbourne Gaol tickets in advance too!

things to do in melbourne cbd - visit federation square and free museums

Federation “Fed” Square with ACMI on the left, Ian Potter Centre inside, and Koorie Heritage Centre on the right.

Best Museums + Exhibits in Melbourne CBD

Koorie Heritage Trust Cultural Centre – Fed Square

It’s very important to learn about Aboriginal culture + history when visiting Melbourne, and this is the best museum in the Melbourne CBD to do so. It’s also free! Combine it with a visit to the two museums below for a morning in Federation Square.

ACMI (Australian Center for the Moving Image) – Fed Square

The ACMI includes everything that has anything to do with moving images. Expect free exhibits on video games, video, cinematography, and more through the ages, and fun interactive exhibits too.

Ian Potter Center – Fed Square

This museum exhibits all kinds of art made by Australian artists. It’s the national art museums showcasing Aussie art, and also had a whole aboriginal art section too (also free).

NGV (National Gallery Victoria) – Southbank

The National Gallery of Victoria, better known as the NGV, is actually located in Southbank. But as it’s just a few minutes’ walk from Federation Square, I had to include it in the best things to do in Melbourne CBD because it’s the most prominent art gallery in the state!

It has interactive and varied exhibits coming in all the time from world renowned artists, and is a must-see in Melbourne. Most exhibits are free.

Immigration Museum

The immigration museum is down the western the of the Melbourne CBD, near Southern Cross train station which you may arrive into from the airport.

This museum speaks all about the waves of immigration into Melbourne, why people came, and where they came from. It’s a fascinating place to visit as Melbourne really is a city completely founded on immigration during the Gold Rush, making it the very multicultural city it is today.

SEA LIFE Melbourne Aquarium

The Melbourne Aquarium is right along the river, and is a very highly rated attraction especially for families. Inside you can see dozens of varieties of sea life, learn about them from licensed marine biologists, and even book special experienced like diving with sarks and getting up close to penguins. Get discounted tickets online in advance!

Chinese Museum

Located in Chinatown, the Chinese Museum has all kinds of fascinating artifacts from what has always been one of the most prominent cultural subsections in Melbourne – Chinese!

melbourne block arcade

The Block Arcade

bourke street mall emporium melbourne cbd shopping

Part of the Bourke St Mall. 6 floors. Don’t get lost! 

Shopping in the Melbourne CBD

Royal + Block Arcades

The Block and Royal arcades are historic shopping arcades built during the Gold Rush so Melbourne could showcase its great wealth. Come to these arcades to visit more unique and quirky shops, or to marvel at the beautiful European architecture and mosaics.

Melbourne Emporium – Bourke Street Mall

The Melbourne Emporium, better known as the Bourke Street Mall, is overwhelmingly MASSIVE. It begins on Bourke Street, but doesn’t officially end for FOUR BLOCKS amid the Melbourne CBD.

You can enter through David Jones or Myer on Bourke Street, or through the Melbourne Central Train station, and not leave the building the entire time. Expect everything from cheap sale clothing to high-end designers, electronics to beauty supplies, and everything in between.

Spencer Outlet Centre

This is an outlet centre above Southern Cross Train Station (where you may arrive into from the airport). This is the place to find popular stores at rock bottom prices.

Queen Victoria Market

This is the place to go if you want to shop for some Australian souvenirs, or cheap produce. It’s actually the largest open-air market in the soutern hemisphere, so there’s no limit to what you can find here! I guarantee you’ll be leaving with some interesting trinkets.

Suggested Tour:  Melbourne CBD + Market Food Tour (combine seeing the city with learning about Melbourne’s markets, and sampling food of course!)
AC/DC Lane melbourne street art in the central business district

AC/DC Lane

Laneways in Melbourne CBD

As I mentioned above, Melbourne’s laneways are the most unique and cultural part of the city. Laneways are famous for two things: street art, and also fabulous eateries. I have separated them into these two categories below:

Street Art Laneways

Hosier Lane

Hosier Lane is perhaps the most famous laneway and a must of the things to do in the Melbourne CBD. Because of its fame, it’s often very crowded, but you will oftentimes see street artists doing a new mural right in front of your eyes.

AC/DC Lane

Once you have your photo of Hosier Lane, make your way to my personal favorite laneway – AC/DC Lane. This one if lesser known and way less crowded, and has tons of rock-related murals alluding to album covers and logos of famous bands.

ALL the Things to do in Melbourne CBD - from the best coffee, bars, restaurants, and breakfast to laneways, street art, historic sites, and museums. Click To Tweet
Presgrave Pl

This one is hard to find – it’s a laneway, branching off a laneway, branching off another laneway. It’s my other favorite (ha sorry couldn’t choose) because it’s quite fascinating. See,  they say sometime in ’07 a bunch of photo frames showed up on the wall, and people have been adding to it ever since.

I like it because it’s an example of a more crowd-sourced kind of street art. Any random passerby could have stuck something on the wall to contribute to its awesomeness.

Union Lane

This one doesn’t usually have the highest quality of art and sometimes doesn’t smell the best (I warned you), but it’s also worth a mention. It’s a great photo op because there are no other businesses in the entire laneway, making it a long colorful sight to behold.

Street Art Tour

Is street art your forté? Then you might appreciate this awesome tour:

Suggested Tour: This Melbourne Street Art Tour given by a street artist themself. Learn in-depth info about certain murals and laneways and the artists that decorated them, ending in a gallery.

hardware lane melbourne laneways foodie restaurants

Hardware Lane

Block Place melbourne laneways brunch happy hour

Block Pl

Foodie Laneways

Degraves St

Degraves is right across from Flinders St train station, and a Melbourne CBD laneway staple. This one has everything from gelato + donuts to sit-down coffee and brunch spots to a bit of shopping, and is worth at least a photo due to its picturesque ovular signs throughout.

Centre Place

Directly across from Degraves St you’ll find Centre Place, a bit darker and grungier yet delightfully quirky laneways full of more food. There are lofs of takeaway baguette/quiche/sandwich type shops, and many hole-in-the-wall restaurants whre you can cram into a tiny table and taste delicious food. It’s not Melbourne if you don’t!

Block Place

Directly connecting to the Block Arcade, you have Block Place – a tiny little laneway that is lined with 4-5 fantastic breakfast/lunch spots. I know because I have been to them all! Kaikey’s Lane is my fave – best french toast EVER. 

Hardware Lane

While Degraves St and Centre Pl are more morning/brunch time laneways, Hardware Lane is a dinner laneway.

Hardware is the only place in Melbourne where waiters will beckon you into their establishments just like they would in Italy, and you’ll find bustling restaurants seated out onto their patios on this colorful brick-laid street.

Suggested Tour – Melbourne Foodie Discovery Walking Tour Taste food of many different  cultures with a Melbourne CBD walking tour!  Includes all the good stuff – coffee, dumplings, laneways, treats, and drinks at the end.
Yarra river sunset - melbourne CBD and southbank.

The Yarra River separates the Melbourne CBD (right) from Southbank (left). What a sunset! 

Other Things to Do in Melbourne CBD

Before I move on to food, drink, and accommodation in the Melbourne CBD, I will list a few other activities that don’t quite fit into a category.

Visit Chinatown

Chinatown in Melbourne is absolutely worth a visit. Peruse through Chinese shops, explore hidden laneways, and visit the Chinese museum… but most importantly, EAT!

Chinatown has dozens of little dumpling houses that are BYOB, tiny, affordable, and authentic. You can’t go wrong!

Take a Yarra River Cruise

One of the best ways to see the Melbourne CBD from a bit of a different perspective is to take a river cruise. You can see the skyline from the Yarra river, explore the green areas of South Yarra, and also the industrial areas of Docklands.

Cruises leave from berth 4 & 5 on the Yarra river beneath Federation Square, so it’s a perfect activity to mix in with visits to Fed Square museums.

Book a 2 Hour Cruise Here I recommend it to see both sides of the city.
Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour

If you are over walking around, you can see the Melbourne CBD and much more from a Hop on Hop Off Bus Tour. I’ll be honest- the ratings aren’t great – but its a great thing to do if you don’t want to walk (aka want to sit in a seat and see everything without moving).

Melbourne Chocolate Walking Tour

If bars, coffee, food, breakfast, and culture aren’t enough… Melbourne is also known for CHOCOLATE! There are chocolate-themed walking tours for you.

This ‘Chocolate Wonderland’ Walking Tour But only if tasting 10x chocolate, wine, tea, cacao and more sounds good to you…
Melbourne Ghost Tour

Beginning in the CBD, the ghost tour below takes you on a journey through historic haunted sites where you’ll learn ghost stories and possible experience it yourself!

Melbourne Magic Show

Located right in the central business district, a magic show is a great way to spend an evening!

patricia coffee brewers melbourne cbd best coffee

Best Coffee Shops in Melbourne CBD

Because most coffee shops also serve breakfast, I have listed here the best takeaway coffee shops when you just need a quick pick-me-up, and the best sit-down cafes that have great coffee and breakfast are in the next section.

Patricia Coffee Brewers

Patricia is a Melbourne classic, known for producing the absolute perfect cup of joe (maybe the best in the city – some say in the country!) – all day every day. Melburnians know their coffee well, and Melburnians all come here. It is standing room only, however – and expect a line out the door!

Duke’s Coffee Roasters

Duke’s is another tiny little spot on Flinders Ln that you would miss if you weren’t looking. They also know their way around a cup of coffee.

Little Rogue

Little Rogue is just that – very little, and also seemingly gone rogue down a tiny dumpster laneway with nothing else around. When you find it, however, you will be rewarded… with amazing coffee.

Suggested Tour- Melbourne Cafe and Coffee Culture Walk Learn all about this city’s unique coffee culture with amazing Hidden Secrets Tours.

White Mojo breakfast in melbourne CBD

White Mojo Cafe

kinfolk cafe melbourne cbd breakfast

Kinfolk Cafe (and ‘boilermaker!’)

Best Breakfast in Melbourne CBD

As I mentioned above, these best breakfast in Melbourne CBD restaurants also have fabulous coffee! You will be impressed by the food too though, trust me. It was SO HARD for me to narrow this down, but if you want more breakfast/brunch recommendations just ask me! I have probably been to 30+… I have a problem.

Higher Ground

Higher Ground is basically the pinnacle of Melbourne. It’s an obscenely trendy brunch spot located in a high-ceilinged and light old warehouse. It has multiple levels, each of which are adorned with the latest trend in greenery.

If you arrive in peak hours (breakfast time and lunch time) it might be hard to get a table. They also have some of the richest ricotta pancakes I’ve ever had!

Hash Specialty Coffee

Back in the center of the city we have another of the best breakfasts in Melbourne CBD – Hash Specialty Coffee. As its name suggests, the coffee is fantastic – but they made my shortlist because of the delicious food options they have also!

Hash is located on Hardware Lane, and is also next to another of my favorite spots, White Mojo.

Krimper Cafe

You would seriously never find Krimper if you were just wandering the streets, which is one of many reasons it’s awesome. It’s in a little brick laneway lined with plants, which is branching off a few other laneways – completely in the thick of the city.

It’s another old warehouse where you might think you’re wandering into someone’s parking garage. But, once you open the door, you’ll be greeted with a modern and trendy coffee house with delicious plates all day.

Kinfolk

Kinfolk is actually not far from Higher Ground, and is a much more quaint little coffee shop. MY favorite thing about it is their ‘Melbourne boilermaker,’ which is when you taste two different roasts of coffee, one as an espresso and one as a flat white (a boilermaker is traditionally a beer with a shot of whiskey). How much more Melbourne can you get?!

Kinfolk also donates to quite a few great causes, so you can be sure part of the cost of your brekkie will be doing good.

 

chin chin melbourne best restaurants kimmie conner blogger

VERY happy girl finally making it to Chin Chin.

Best Restaurants in Melbourne CBD

If there’s one thing Melbourne does well, it’s FOOD. When you move along from the breakfast time of day into dinner time, a whole new array of Melbourne CBD restaurants become available.

There are dozens of extremely high quality restaurants, and I mean DOZENS, but I think ANY Melburnian would agree that these three right here are up there among the best.

Chin Chin

Chin Chin might have taken the cake for the best rated restaurant in all of Melbourne. It can best be described as a southeast Asian fusion.  The best way to do Chin Chin is to select their “Feed Me” option – either regular or chef’s special – and then they will bring you multiple digits of delicious courses at the chef’s discretion. It’s magical.

If you come here, come early (they don’t take reservations and there will be a line by 5:30 on the weekend) and prepare for the experience being stuck into a cramped table next to a hundred or so other asian food fiends.

Tipo 00

Tipo 00 is generally known to be some of Melbourne’s best Italian food – located in the Melbourne CBD. Similarly to any good restaurant in Melbourne, reservations are required unless you get there VERY early!

Hakata Gensuke Ramen

Back on the asian side of the spectrum, we have Hakata Gensuke Ramen. If you’re a ramen fiend, you’ll DEFINITELY want to find your way to this amazing restaurant in Melbourne CBD while you’re here. Trust me on this.

fall from grace melbourne secret bookshelf cocktail bar

cocktail bars in melbourne

Melbourne is a cocktail lover’s paradise!

Best Bars in Melbourne CBD

It’s actually impossible to choose the best bars in Melbourne CBD… there are dozens. I used to lead hidden bar tours around Melbourne, which I highly recommend as an awesome way to explore Melbourne’s thriving bar scene.

Below I have included four of my favorites solely because they all represent different types of bars Melbourne does really well. I’ll have a post out soon about more of my favorites 😉

Eau de Vie

Eau de Vie wins most amazing cocktails in Melbourne in my book. Not only are the cocktails unbelievable (with a massive variety), but they are all presented in unique and creative ways, too.

In true Melbourne fashion, it’s also a but of an adventure to locate. There’s no signage and it’s down a dark laneway (called Malthouse Ln), but once you find the big dark wood door down the bottom, be sure to open it!

Rooftop Bar

This is surely not the most creatively named bar in the city (it’s a rooftop bar called… Rooftop Bar. Wow), but it makes up with it with an awesome view. Jump in an elevator near Chinatown on Swanston Street, and head up to the top (7 people max allowed in the elevator at a time).

You’ll find one of the largest bars in the city center, with sweeping views, cold drinks, and even a rooftop cinema in the winter.

Whitehart

Whitehart is, in my opinion, Melbourne’s coolest shipping container bar. It’s a multi-level bar made of shipping containers, adorned with murals and tons of greenery, and has a space for food trucks in the weekends. They have great craft beer and resident djs spinning nightly.

Fall from Grace

You can’t go to Melbourne without discovering at least one hidden bar, and this one takes the cake. Go to the bar “State of Grace,” look in the bookshelves, find the book called “Fall from Grace,” and pull it. You’ll be whisked away inthe the secret bar behind the bookshelf. You’re welcome.

Suggested Tour – Melbourne Hidden Laneways Bars Tour This is one of the tours that I spent the year guiding! It’s heaps of fun – you visit 4 awesome bars in 3 hours, and learn about dozens more in the city. They also just started a Craft Cocktail Crawl where drinks and food are all included.
melbourne cbd trams collins st

Trams making their way through the Melbourne CBD

 

Best Hotels in Melbourne CBD

Everyone has different hotel standards, of course, so I’m going to list the best Melbourne CBD hotel for each type of ‘taste’ below.

Contemporary, Central, High-Rise – Sofitel on Collins

You can’t get much better than the Sofitel on Collins – especially for the price! This 5-star hotel is completely decked out and has many luxurious amenities. Many rooms have amazing views, too.

Check Rates Here 

If You Really Want to Go All-Out – QT Melbourne

QT Melbourne is the place to book if you want to go all out for your comfort, luxury, and amenities – think, white robe with a bottle of wine status. Located in the heart of the city with a great restaurant/breakfast and sweet terrace bar, you can’t go wrong. Also 5-star.

Check Rates Here

Central, Budget, Still Awesome – The Victoria Hotel

You simply wouldn’t believe the price of the rooms at this 3.5 star boutique hotel right in the heart of the city. Seriously, you can walk/take the free tram everywhere and will have all the comforts you need at an amazing price!

Check Rates Here

Apartment-Style, Modern, Spacious – City Tempo Queen St

If you’re more of an apartment-style person, City Tempo Queen St has spacious rooms with their own kitchenette, just steps away from the Queen Victoria Market. It’s a 4-star accommodation and is also extremely affordable.

Check Rates Here

Unique, Trendy, Hidden – NOTEL Melbourne

Want to stay in a 5-star kitted-out airstream on a rooftop right in the middle of the CBD? How about with a private hot tub? If you want to spend a bit to stay somewhere fascinating, NOTEL Melbourne is the place to go. Book early though – they’re in high demand!

Check Rates Here


Well, I think that’s it for things to do in Melbourne CBD – for now! Let me know if I missed anything and don’t forget to pin me!

Things to do in Melbourne Central Business District (CBD). Laneways, street art, food, coffee, bars, historic sites, museums, restaurants, breakfast, shopping, and hotels.

 

 

 

 

October 6, 2019 0

Mt Hotham Weekend Guide – Lift Pass, Accommodation + Things to Do

Mt Hotham Weekend Guide – Lift Pass, Accommodation + Things to Do

Mt Hotham is a fantastic winter weekend getaway from Melbourne. I mean, if it’s freezing anyway, why not go up to actual snow and make the most of cold temperatures in the beautiful mountains?! That was my outlook, anyway, and I was glad that I planned an August trip up to the ‘Victorian Alps.”

Snow is most definitely not what comes to mind when you think of Australia, but I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the most mountainous part of the country. It’s incredibly gorgeous, and is inundated with quaint little alpine villages full of ski bums and mountain dwellers.

Mt Hotham Resort itself is a village set atop a mountain with incredible vistas and ski in ski out access to ski fields. The park has a dozen chair lifts that provide access to over 100 different runs of varying difficulties. There are lots of beautiful spots and viewpoints surrounding the main village, as well as some more smaller villages with restaurants/cafes galore, spas, hotels, and adventure areas. Of course most would come here for the snow, but there are actually loads of other amazing things to do in Mt Hotham than solely skiing!

A Guide to spending a weekend exploring one of Victoria's best alpine resorts - Mount Hotham! Mt Hotham is home to a fantastic terrain park and plenty more activities to go around, great food and drink, and even more adventures. #hotham #skiseason #mthotham

The Alpine Nature Experience in Mt Hotham, Victoria, Australia includes a showshoe walk, mulled wine around the fire, a three course traditional fondue meal, a night in an igloo under the stars, and a skidoo ride in the morning! It's a very unique experience to top off a weekend in Mt Hotham - one of Victoria's premiere ski resorts. Just 4 hours from Melbourne!

PIN this guide to Mt Hotham to your Pinterest boards!

What to Know Before Visiting Mt Hotham

When to Visit Mt Hotham

The Aussie mountains have a very short snow season – just over three months per year, maybe four depending on the season. This leaves a very slim amount of time that you can catch good snow. The best months are usually July and August, with occasional storms dumping fresh powder starting in June and into September. So if you want to catch snow, these are the times to go.

Although this Mt Hotham guide is mostly focused on winter, the region is just as spectacular in the summer! Visit in the summer months for mountain biking, trail running, hiking, and amazing views.

Hotham Weather

In winter, Mt Hotham will generally be about between the 5 and -5 degrees Celsius mark. Days can get up to 2-5, and nights can descend down to the negatives – only occasionally colder than -5. So prepare for (literally) freezing temperatures up in the snow, naturally!

The weather each day is quite unpredictable. There can be days of  snow and storms, extremely thick fog that descends over the mountaintop like a heavy blanket in the afternoon, and, usually come late August/September, some beautiful clear days where the snow glistens in the sun. The best thing I can say is to be prepared for whatever your weekend trip may bring – bring layers of clothing, goggles, AND sunglasses!

Mt Hotham Alpine resort snowy mountains victoria australia

 

Mt Hotham Accommodation

There are lots of options for accommodation in Mt Hotham  – from hotels to lodges to apartments to shared chalets.

However, it is VERY important to note that, because these properties only have a couple months a year to make all their money, it will be staggeringly expensive. This will be true most definitely if you plan to visit on a weekend.

This is the one unfortunate thing about a Mt Hotham weekend trip – it most definitely will not be cheap. Rooms fill up exceedingly quickly, and whichever are left over will be at least $700- $1200+ for one night. There are a few share-room options with bunk beds for groups, but if you want your own single room, it’s going to cost you due to limited supply and high demand.

I will list below a few main places to stay in Mt Hotham, followed by a  few other amazing options you will want to consider also:

Cloud 9 – More affordable/located in Dinner Plain – Check Rates

Zirky’s – Can go straight to the slopes from the door – Check Rates

Arlberg – centrally located and largest on the mountain – Check Rates

Alpine Nature Experience – See below!

Other options – If you find it hard to afford the options on the mountain, you can always stay in one of the towns at the foot of the mountain! Many people choose to stay in Bright, which ends up being about an hour’s drive down the Great Alpine Road from Hotham. Accommodation there will be much more reasonable, and the town is lively and beautiful as well.

snowboarding at mt hotham australia

 

Things to Do in Mt Hotham

Whether skiing or not, there’s still plenty to do!

Hotham Lift Pass + Terrain Park

To get the most obvious thing out of the way first, I assume you’ll be coming to Mount Hotham to do some form of skiing or snowboarding. Whether you’re spending half a day or three days straight on the slopes, I suggest getting a Hotham lift pass if you’re coming up here. It’s a must to experience the variety of slopes in the resort.

Get your Hotham Life Passes here – The more days you ride and the earlier you book, the better the deal! They also have discounts fo booking online and skiing mid-week.

On a good day there would be enough runs to last you most of the day in Mt Hotham. There are over 100 different runs, ranging from bunny slopes to double black diamonds. In seasons with less snow, keep in mind that some of these will be closed.

It’s a bit tough to gauge weather in a place where planning far in advance is essential,  but know that they will make snow for the main runs in high season no matter what the conditions. They have a three-lift snow guarantee.

If you have the freedom to be able to drive up after a big storm, you will be in the best place. In my situation, we planned an early weekend in August a month or so ahead of time, and there wasn’t much snow. The snow was sparse to the point of having quite a few runs closed (not that we didn’t have a great time, but we couldn’t experience absolutely everything as I like to do).

Then, about 4 days later, a MASSIVE snowstorm came through and within a week they had gotten TWO METERS of fresh powder. Talk about gutted! We still had a fab time, but it’s just unpredictable.

my hotham clouds sunset
Renting Gear in Mt Hotham

There are TONS of places for Mt Hotham Gear Rental. In  each little alpine town you will find a few ski shops, but I rented mine right from ‘Hotham Sports” ski shop at Hotham central. This is most definitely the most painless way to do it, as you can grab your gear, strap it on, and jump right onto the slopes within minutes!

Visit this link here to reserve your ski gear for Hotham at one of many approved gear rental outlets all over the mountain.

Car Chain Rental

Don’t forget to note that, in high season, it will be required to at least carry if not fit chains onto your car. The best place to do this if coming from Melbourne is Ray’s ski shop in Myrtleford; you can also rent skis here if it’s easier to get it all from one place.

alpine nature experience mt hotham bar

milky way and stars at alpine nature experience mt hotham

Alpine Nature Experience

And finally, the reason I came to Mt Hotham in the first place: the incredible Alpine Nature Experience! I somehow stumbled upon what turned out to be one of my most unique travel experiences, which was taking part in their ‘snowshoe to fondue’ and then ‘igloo to skidoo’ experiences. It all takes place at a small eco-village outside the main mountain village.

My intention to visit Mt Hotham was sealed upon learning about this. The Alpine Nature Experience starts with a 450ish meter snowshoe walk through the trees, learning bits of history about the area. After a little while you reach a tiny mountain eco village that was fully brought in and out by hand. Upon arrival, you are greeted with a steaming glass of homemade mulled wine, and invited to sit around a nice warm fire.

Arrival in the Eco-Village

At this point the bar opens (fully stocked with mulled wine, local craft beer, schnapps, different spirits, and more wine) and you are free to chat over the warm fire as the kitchen prepares for a delicious dinner.

showshoe to fondue experience mt hotham

mulled wine alpine nature experience

Snowshoe to Fondue

After a few warm drinks, you are invited into the massive teepee that is set to host dinner. And this is not just any dinner – it’s a three-course meal featuring a classic French fondue. The amazing owner, JF (Jean Francois), is a frenchman himself who relocated from the actual French alps to show visitors his newfound love in the Victorian alps.

After some delicious soup, JF teaches you all about the (proper) making of fondue. After the group pitches in to help make the fondue, it’s time for the moment we’ve all been waiting for – dipping that first piece of bread into the warm, dripping, melted cheese! An authentic fondue dinner ensues, as you drink wine by the warmth of the fireplace and share a piece of cake at the end as well.

Igloo to Skidoo

The second part of the experience is for those who dare to spend the night out in the snow – in an igloo! In the ‘igloo to skidoo’ experience, an igloo generally means one of their nice, massive, warmed tents with a clear top to view the stars.

HOWEVER, in our case, this meant, well… actual igloo. 

No, I am not kidding. They have TWO legitimate IGLOOS at the Alpine Nature Experience – full eskimo style. You must duck through a small door to enter a completely  snow-covered room – 5 or so feet  high – with a luxurious bed and side tables.

When we learned that it was possible to sleep in an actual igloo, we didn’t have to think twice. When given the opportunity to sleep in one of the most unique places you’ve ever slept, and in the only place in Australia to do so…. you most definitely don’t say no!

Night in the Igloo

After filling up to the brim with fondue, trying a classic French spirit called Genepi, and chatting away in the nice warm tipi, it was bed time. On the way to the igloo we just HAD to stop and have a little long-exposure photoshoot with some of the brightest stars I’ve ever seen.

sleeping in an igloo in australia at the mt hotham alpine nature experience

 

sleeping in an igloo in australia alpine nature experience

 

Climbing into the igloo felt like something out of a movie. It most definitely wasn’t something I thought I would be doing in my lifetime! The bed was covered with warm sleeping bags, blankets, and furs, and on the side tables were water bottles, a little light, and mats for our things. It was cozy, but it was all we needed!

The igloo had plenty of space to sit and change as we finished the last of our (many) mulled wines. Although cold at first, it warmed up quickly once we were inside, and this warmth was easily sustained by the few tonnes of insulating snow above our heads and around us! The bed was even more soft and warm, too. Before drifting off to sleep, I reached out in front of me and touched the snow roof above my head – just to make sure again that it  was real!

In the morning

Apparently these igloos tend to be completely sound-proof, because we didn’t even remotely hear the sound of the morning bell to signal breakfast time. We wandered over after 8am to find everyone up and about in the tipi, eating delicious breakfast sandwiches and drinking hot coffee from camping mugs.

We exchanged experiences from the igloo and the snow domes over a few brekky options, and had a last little wander around the beautiful grounds. There is a perfect view of the terrain park and surrounding mountains from different points in the area.

Skidoo ride

It’s not an igloo to skidoo experience without a skidoo ride! Like clockwork, our skidoo zoomed up to the camp as we were bringing our bags out of the igloo. We climbed into the back seats, and our driver took us on a looped route around the grounds. He showed us different viewpoints and told us a bit of history of the area on the way out. It was the perfect end to one of the most unique adventures I’ve done!

mt hotham dinner plain onsen spa experience

Dinner Plain

Dinner Plain is a quaint little alpine village 13 kilometers down the Great Alpine Road from Hotham Village. This is a fabulous place to look for more (potentially cheaper) accommodation options, and also a great place to visit for restaurants, a local brewery, and an Onsen spa.

Onsen Experience

The Onsen Spa in Dinner Plain is a classic option for those with sore muscles after a few days on the slopes – or those who simply want a bit of relaxation! With entry you can access a lap pool, a hot rock pool, a few different spas, a sauna, and showers.

If you want to up the ante a bit on your relaxation, you can book massages and other spa treatments, too. Again, it won’t be cheap, but there’s nothing quite like gazing out at fresh powdered snow from the warmth of a cozy spa.

SnowStuffPark Rides + Activities

If you want to see a bit more of the mountain than you can generally access, take a skidoo ride with SnowStuffPark. These guys will take you roaming out and about all over the mountains, down snow paths you didn’t know existed, to find different viewpoints and canyons inaccessible by foot or car.

They run skidoo rides for  sunset (which would be my choice, obviously) to get the best views, and also different sled tours through the back country. To have even more fun, try their tobogganing, snow scooter, or snow trampoline activities!

mt hotham furphy rail jam event

Mt Hotham Events + Competitions

No matter when you are arriving, make sure to check out whats on in Hotham for your dates. They are well known for having different kinds of events each weekend, including many ski/board competitions, races, and festivals – even in the summer!

When I was there they had the Furphy Rail Jam event, with skiers and boarders competing for the coolest rail trick right in from of the central bar. Jugs of Furphy were on special, of course!

Where to Eat+Drink in Mt Hotham

Swindler’s – Hotham Central

I wasn’t expecting much from the main bar/restaurant in Hotham Central. I expected it to be crazily expensive like everything else, but I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived and noticed $5 plates of wings, $8 poutine, and $7-8 happy hour drinks (including mulled wine of course).

Swindler’s really was a fabulous place to stop in for lunch for a beer and a cheap snack before heading out on the slopes again, and they also had more hearty  options for pizza and more. Don’t avoid the main resort area for food – it was actually not bad!

Frankie’s – By the Big D

Down on the other end of the terrain park you have Frankie’s, which is a small eatery near ‘the Big D’ bunny slope lift. Frankie’s has all you need – from breakfast sandwiches to snacks to mulled wine to their famous shakes.

Their shakes are famous because they are fully stacked ‘freak shakes’ – all different colors and piled high with cookies, lollies, and more. Definitely rich, but nothing less than an instagrammer’s paradise.

mt hotham dinner plain mountain kitchen home baked goods

mt hotham blizzard brewery beer tasting paddles

Mountain Kitchen –  Dinner Plain

When you make it over to Dinner Plain, make sure to check out Mountain Kitchen for some delicious coffee and homemade treats. They make EVERYTHING right there in their little, well, Mountain Kitchen. 😛

Try delicious coffees from massive colorful mugs, fresh baked muffins, and some savoury treats like and egg and bacon pie with their house made chutney. It’s a must!

Blizzard Brewing – Dinner Plain

It would also be silly not to stop by the local micro-brewery while in town to try all kinds of beer made right on site. Run by a friendly American man who  made the perfect getaway to the mountains, this quaint little brewery looks more like a big house with a bar area in the front, food truck in the middle, and actual brewery right there in the back.

Blizzard should have at least 10-12 different beers on tap, from IPA to lager to stout to sour to everything in between. I suggest heading in to try a beer paddle – a flight of four beers in one – to make the most of it! Make sure to grab some cans to take back with you… trust me, you’ll be happy you did!


Well, I think that’s all I can possibly say about a weekend getaway to Mt Hotham from Melbourne! Please pin this to your Pinterest to share the awesome experience of Australian snow, beautiful views, and sleeping in an actual igloo!

Disclosure: Thank you to the Alpine Nature Experience and Mt Hotham Ski Company for hosting me on many of my experiences this weekend. I can’t wait to come back!

can you hit the slopes in australia?! YES! There are many ski resorts in the great dividing range between Victoria and New South Wales where you can ski and snowboard. Here's a weekend guide to visiting Mt Hotham, one of the premiere alpine resorts in Australia.

 

 

September 10, 2019 0

Things to do in Ballarat: A Ballarat Travel Guide

Things to do in Ballarat: A Ballarat Travel Guide

During an exciting winter weekend trip this year, Ballarat really did prove to be a worthwhile travel destination in Victoria. There are so many things to do in Ballarat, and it’s only just over an hour’s journey from Melbourne. This Ballarat travel guide will outline some amazing places I got to experience, with even more possibility in the surrounding areas as well.

When I heard about the Ballarat Winter Festival, I knew that I had to plan a weekend trip from Melbourne. I may have hung up my clothes from attending tons of amazing Aussie music festivals over the summer, but the colder winter months meant planning some more cozy getaways – learning some history, exploring more nature, and discovering gems in regional Victoria.

To be completely honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when planning my visit to Ballarat. I usually tend to be more of a beaches + nature person (but let’s be honest, I’ll explore just about anything). But when I learned about all the rich history out here and fun things to do in Ballarat in any season, I knew I had to check it out.

Visit Ballarat was able to help me with the absolute perfect weekend itinerary. It included LOTS of delicious and trendy eateries (more than I knew existed out here!), some awesome wintertime activities as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival, wildlife, gorgeous views, and more. As soon as we checked into our luxurious apartment looking out over Lake Wendouree, I knew I was going to be sold on this city… and with our first delicious meal, it was sealed!

A Complete Ballarat Travel Guide to Victoria's largest inland city! Complete with all the things to do in Ballarat (including in winter) - including where to eat and drink, where to stay, where to walk, museums to visit, viewpoints to appreciate, and all sorts of historical places, too!

Things to do in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia - a complete Ballarat travel guide! Everything from nature to food/drink to history to viewpoints to accommodation to wildlife to special events. This guide has you covered!

Hey! This guide to all the best things to do in Ballarat is pretty long. Why not pin it to your Pinterest boards to save for later?

Things to Do in Ballarat

First of all, let’s get to all the adventurous, historic, and magical things to do in Ballarat. I may have visited in winter, but if I learned anything from their extremely involved tourism board, it’s that they won’t leave a single season without something exciting going on. I’ll start with general things to do, then tell you all about how amazing it is especially in winter.

Sovereign Hill

Sovereign Hill is perhaps the most notable of the things to do in Ballarat – it’s a must-do for all ages! This replica gold rush town has actually been constructed from real drawings/paintings of artists who lived in Ballrat during the gold rush that began in the 1850’s. They have done a fantastic job recreating it!

Sovereign Hill has some great accommodation options that look over the old town, and the buildings have recreated the same ones that would have been there in the 1800’s. There are eateries, post offices, gift shops, craft markets, plumbers, general stores, and more! You can even  explore an old mine!  If that’s not looking back into history, I don’t know what is. Walking around Sovereign Hill really makes it feel like you’ve stepped back in time, whether you’re a small child or a full-on adult (adults can have fun, too!).

sovereign hill things to do in ballarat sunset christmas in july

Ballarat Gold Mine Tour

Once inside Sovereign Hill, you can also tour a real Ballarat Gold Mine. Venture underneath the ground to explore the passageways of an old gold mine, similarly reimagined to look as it would have while it was in use. You can take a self-guided tour or also a few different tours that trace the experiences of real people in the mines long ago.

The Red Hill mine at Sovereign Hill may be open to visitors, but believe it or not, there’s actually a REAL mine not too far away. The Ballarat Gold Mine can be found a few kilometers away, within a protected industrial area. There are actually over 5km of underground mine tunnels underneath the city, but you’ll have to be very special to find your way in there. I would just stick with the Ballarat gold mine tour at Sovereign Hill if I were you!

ballarat sovereign hill gold museum

View from outside the Gold Museum

Gold Museum

Before you visit Sovereign Hill in Ballarat, you’ll definitely want to check out the Gold Museum. I say ‘before’ because the Gold Museum gives you a lot of the background facts and information that will help you understand different parts of the replica town.

The Gold Museum is actually situated atop a hilltop point that was actually once one of the most prolific areas to mine gold in the area (and there’s not a bad view, either!). Inside you’ll learn all about different sizes of gold nuggets found in the area, what gold was/is used for, history about the gold rush and massive immigration to the area, and even see the pictures that Sovereign Hill was created from.

Coming from someone who is sometimes iffy about museums, this one was really fascinating. You really get to learn all about the event that made Melbourne/Victoria boom to an international and multicultural city, and there are tons of fun facts!

feeding kangaroo or wallaby ballarat wildlife park winter

Feeding a mumma with a baby in her pouch!

koala cuddle ballarat wildlife park things to do in ballarat australia

A KOALA CUDDLE!! If that’s not the cutest thing in the world, I don’t know what is.

Ballarat Wildlife Park

Next, the Ballarat Wildlife Park is another of the must-do things to do in Ballarat. This park isn’t the same as your other, run-of-the-mill wildlife parks where you can gaze at kangaroos behind a fence. I mean, some of the animals are behind fences (and reasonably, too… no thanks, crocodile), but here dozens of kangaroos, wallabies, and emus run completely free.

You can wander through lots of different types of animals – reptiles, mammals, and even some birds (including penguins of course!) – but the real allure of this park is getting to pat and feed animals in the field.

For a small fee you can bring kangaroo feed with you, and let kangaroo mums and baby joeys eat straight from your hand! The animals are very tame here and enjoy being fed and patted, which, to someone like me from a different country, was VERY exciting! I made loads of new marsupial friends and even imitated a few emu before they ran away from me trying to peck a hole in the fence. Oh well.

This was a highlight of my day for sure, and getting to see animals so different than what I am used to will never get old during my time in Australia!

ballarat lake wendouree rowing club

One of many rowing clubs along Lake Wendouree

Lake Wendouree

Lake Wendouree is a fairly large lake just outside the Ballarat CBD. This lake is amazing for going on walks/runs (it’s about 6k round trip) and also plays host to the city’s many rowing clubs.

On any morning lots of rowing boats cut their way across the water, dozens of people run and walk the perimeter, and even more look on from waterside restaurants. The lake is bordered with leafy green trees and plenty of places to relax in the sun. This Lake provides a lovely little escape from an otherwise landlocked town, and is a mustt to at least check out when deciding on the best things to do in Ballarat.

Ballarat Botanical Gardens

On the opposite side of Lake Wendouree from the city, you’ll find the beautiful Ballarat Botanic Gardens. These gardens hold tons of different kinds of events, and are one of Australia’s most amazing cool climate gardens.

Wander through all the gorgeous trees, flowers, marble statues, and even greenhouses on a nice sunny day. Why not add it into your adventure around Lake Wendouree?

ballarat CBD

 

Ballarat CBD

Well you can’t leave our the city center when naming things to do in Ballarat now, can you? Of course, Ballarat’s city center deserves an exploration of its own. There are quite a few historic buildings you can tour, namely the Town Hall (1860’s), the Regent Threatre (1930’s) and more along  the main street, Sturt.

Sturt is a massive central street, separated by a leafy green area of grass and trees. It’s lined with mostly historic buildings, but sprinkled with a bit of more modern ones as well. This area is also home to tons of the city’s best eateries, museums, bars, and more.

Art Gallery of Ballarat

The Art Gallery of Ballarat is just off Sturt Street. It is best known for hosting regional art, and better yet, being the biggest and oldest art museum in Australia to do so! How’s that for a claim to fame?

You can find exhibitions from throughout the history of Australian art within this heritage-listed museum, from contemporary, to photography, to sculpture, to Victorian. Want to know the best part? It’s free!

Eureka Center

The Eureka Center is another historic center located on the site of one of Australia’s most defining rebellions – the Eureka stockade.  I don’t want to bore you so I’ll keep this short – but they say the Eureka Stockade was the foundation of moderns Australian democracy.

Why? Because gold miners started a rebellion in 1854 to fight to be given rights to vote, own land, and pay less crippling mining fees. They flew a special flag rather than the Victorian flag, which they named called the Eureka Flag. Although this rebellion was a huge failure (the military flattened it – killed more than 20 people in the first 30 mins), they were given the rights they wanted in the end when the news of a big rebellion got back to the UK.

Kept that nice and short and sweet now, didn’t I?! That’s quite impressive for a tour guide, if you ask me! Anyway – this center is on the site of that rebellion. It has tons of info about it and the area, and houses the original Eureka Flag, which you will see absolutely everywhere in Ballarat. No, like EVERYWHERE. Honestly, keep your eyes out – you’ll see what I mean.

mt buninyong view - things to do in Ballarat

Can you see the rainstorm approaching in the distance?!

Mount Buninyong

Mount Buninyong is another towering mountain (okay, let’s me honest – it’s more of a medium-sized hill) that is visible from around Ballarat. If you take the winding road up to the top, you’ll find a massive tower with stairs all the way to a platform up at the top. It’s the perfect amount taller than the hilltop trees, giving you panoramic views around the gorgeous countryside.

You can nearly see to the city, but what will be most impressive here is the view of surrounding farmland- green fields, paddocks, and bushland. Just don’t get caught in a rainstorm like we did! Either way, I love a good viewpoint, so this adventure was a highlight of all the things to do in Ballarat.

kryal castle things to do in ballarat

 

Kryal Castle

Ohhh, Kryal Castle. Although fairly dated, it will always be a staple of Ballarat. Located at the base of the big hill you can see from the city center (aka, like a 10 minute drive), Kryal Castle is a replicated medieval castle. Like, and actual castle, with big grey stone walls, towers, a moat, and all.

It’s complete with knights, dragons, rides, archery, pony rides, jester performances, and even medieval jousting shows! A highlight is watching horses gallop against each other through the sandy arena, surrounded by cheering fans. Of course this place is best suited for children, but it you can let that inner child free everyone will have fun.

woowookarung regional park Ballarat

Enjoying my Winter Wonderlights ginerbread man lollipop during my bush walk in the Woowookarung regional park!

Woowookarung Regional Park Viewpoint

This little park is a bit hard to come by, but once you get to the right part, the view is amazing! Woowookarung Regional park is on an elevated bit of bush just outside the city. The best scenic lookout (visible here on Google Maps for clarity) has a fantastic view of the city and also some great bushwalking trails.

You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see a few picnic tables just off the road, and can pick out some buildings from the city in the distance!

ballarat winter festival sovereign hill snow

Things to Do in Ballarat in Winter – Ballarat Winter Festival

Okay, so here we go with the specific things to do in Ballarat in Winter. They throw an absolutely MAGICAL ‘Christmas in July,’ which to my delight is actually a huge thing down here in Australia.

Clearly, the coldest month of July warrants the celebration of a more ‘stereotypical’ Christmas (northern hemisphere-style) full of snow, mulled wine, and Christmas sweaters. I mean, it makes sense when a classic Aussie Christmas includes barbecuing, cricket, and beach time in the sun!

Winter Wonderlights Festival at Sovereign Hill

So, I’ve already told you about how incredible Sovereign Hill is as a replica Gold Rush Town. Now, picture this: make the temperature nice and cold, and add in heaps of traditionally dressed villagers, bands, and processions. Picture amazing color-changing bright lights and scenes projected onto each and every building to music, and add in TONS of fake snow (it was really bubbles, but shhh). Picture EVERYTHING lit up, with workshops like arts and crafts and gold panning going on throughout the tiny town overlooking the city.

Sound magical? Yep, thats because IT WAS. I felt more Christmas spirit here than I have in quite a few years of warm Christmases…. and IT WAS JULY.

snowglobe kimmie conner ballrat winter wonderlights

sovereign hill winter wonderlights festival things to do in ballarat redcoat band

 

ice skating things to do in ballarat winter festival

I’m great at ice skating, I swear! 😛 

 

Ice Skating

Christmastime isn’t complete without ice skating, is it? I most certainly don’t think so, and if you agree with me you can visit the ice skating rink as part of the Ballarat Winter Festival. It’s conveniently located smack-dab in the city center, between the mall and the Town Hall.

It’s perfectly mixed in with a delicious brekky in the city and a few other CBD activities. There are even little penguin sleds for the little ones who may not be the most adept at ice skating quite yet 😉

Design Exchange Winter Market

The Design Exchange is yet another special event on at the Ballarat Winter Festival. This market is held in yet another open historic building, and will showcase the best of the artisan crafts that Ballarat is so well-known for. You can find artists of all kinds showcasing their handmade items and innovative design. In true Ballarat fashion, you can also expect certain showcases and workshops lead by the artists themselves.

Getting Around Ballarat

Getting around Ballarat is fairly easy, whether you have your own car or not. There are actually plenty of ubers around town if you’d like a quick car hire, or driving your own car around is fairly simple with plenty of parking around. If not, the city center is quite quaint and small and very possible to walk around on foot, too!

Where to Drink/Eat in Ballarat

Oh, there are SO many amazing, trendy, delicious places to eat in Ballarat – I was blown away! I didn’t think of this city as a foodie’s paradise before, but I surely do now. I wouldn’t even be able to decide on our favorite meal of the weekend, so I’ll leave you to see what you think from the mouth-watering photos from the five incredible eateries that we went to below.

oysters and cocktails moon and mountain

moon and mountain where to eat in ballarat DIY pork belly spring rolls

Moon & Mountain

We tried Moon & Mountain as soon as we arrived in Ballarat after driving from Melbourne, and oh what a warm welcome it was! This quaint little restaurant would best be labeled as ‘asian fusion,’ with asian-inspired dishes with a well-presented and Aussie twist.

I was first blown away by a few asian-inspired cocktails on the list, and we were quickly drawn to the ‘full moon’ tasting platter menu for two. This included seven or so different small courses from various facets of the menu, including chilli oysters, DIY pork belly spring rolls, salmon sashimi, chicken curry, and more. I mean… how could we not?!

webster's market and cafe breakfast ballarat

webster's market and cafe ballarat where to eat

Webster’s Market & Cafe

On the first morning of our weekend trip to Ballarat, we were welcomed warmly by Webster’s Market & Cafe down a quaint residential street near Lake Wendouree. Our lives were immediately completed by a breakfast tasting board (chia parfait, smashed avo + smoked salmon and eggs, home made jam on toast) and a chorizo egg + toast dish.

I reckon all good couples should order two dishes and split them both, so that’s exactly what we did (and always do)! It’s the way to try more things, if you ask me. We downed our delicious coffee and these scrumptios breakfast dishes by a green and leafy plant wall inside the warm restaurant. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day (or, should I say brunch because I rarely wake up in time…), and this was a great wake-up.

forge pizzeria charcuterie board - where to eat in ballarat

Can I finish all of this?! 

Forge Pizzeria

Although we were basically still full from brekky, when lunch time rolled around we knew we had to make room to try a new place because we only had so much time to do  eat all the things to do  eat in Ballarat. It was quickly becoming obvious that we would hardly scratch the surface! But we were going to have a damn good try.

At lunchtime we popped into the Forge Pizzeria – a large, brick, warehouse-style pizzeria right on the main cross street. It had a cozy and rustic vibe to match an old newspaper-style menu with just as much fun stories and info as there were items on the menu.

We started with a – you guessed it – tasting platter of a charcuterie board. Can you sense a common theme here?! 😛 Our jaws hit the floor when it came out, too – it was piled high with herbed flatbread and, like, a million different styles of meat. Well maybe realistically about 7 or 8, but who’s counting here?! We didn’t have time for that when sifting through prosciutto, chorizo, salami, and a few other delicious and spicy things I forgot the name of.

Although already stuffed, we ordered a pumpkin and feta pizza with two Aperol spritz’s to wash it down (obviously). We nearly had to roll each other out of the restaurant after this one, but luckily we were headed for a packed night at the Winter Wonderlights festival afterwards.

the pub with two names. the PWTN ballarat steak

The Pub with Two Names

This one came after our fun night at Sovereign Hill, so somehow we were actually hungry again! We made our way back into town to check out The Pub with Two Names, better known as The PWTN (which is how you’ll find it on maps and social media).

This was yet another lively yet cozy venue, with a bit of a twist on classic pub food. We tried croquettes and a risotto, and had a bit of a splash out on their steak when we heard it was delicious. The rumors were true – and we had officially eater FAR too much in one day but were oh-so-happily full! Make sure to try their desserts at the end too – I’m not usually a dessert person but their home-baked treats were to die for! 

yellow espresso ballarat

mushroom toast ballarat

Yellow Espresso

Ah, our last morning meal for out Ballarat weekend trip. It had to be Yellow Espresso – recommended to be both by Visit Ballarat and a few local friends! This one is right on Sturt street, with a trendy and leafy restaurant and tables out on the street for warmer days.

Yellow espresso was another delish and classic Aussie breakfast meal. After much deliberation we settles on the Eggs Benedict and Truffle egg toast, with a tumeric latte and a flat white. It was amazing, of course. I feel like there would have been no way to go wrong on this menu, though – a perfect start to the day!

BallaratExports-5

Where to Drink in Ballarat

The Lost Ones Basement Bar

This is an awesome 1920’s style bar just off of Sturt Street. Come in here for an array of classic cocktails in what I can best describe as a speakeasy vibe. It’s definitely one of the trendier bars in town! If you come in the day, there’s also an art gallery upstairs that you can check out, drink in hand.

Hop Temple

Hope temple is also right in the Ballarat CBD. As its name suggests, it truly is the temple of hops – aka TONS of fantastic beer! They have a lot on offer, both of local and national beers. My best recommendation is to get there early on a weekend to make sure there will be a space for you to sit, and to try ordering the beer flights so you can try a few different ones.

lake wndouree luxury apartments

Where to Stay in Ballarat

Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments

For the perfect balance between proximity to the city and some gorgeous nature, we stayed in Lake Wendouree Luxury Apartments. From our top corner room we woke up to a sunrise over the lake, which despite the cold was still inviting enough to coax us out for a morning walk.

These two-bedroom apartments are decked out with all the trimmings – fluffy blankets, comfy couches, books and interesting trinkets, TV’s in each room, full kitchen with all your coffee and tea needs, and pristine stocked bathrooms. We truly didn’t want to leave this warm haven of an apartment – can we stay forever next time, please?!

places to see outside ballarat

Places to Visit Outside Ballarat

Making a weekend trip to Ballarat from Melbourne, or anywhere else for that matter? Make sure to check out the amazing things to do around Ballarat, too. There are some awesome areas of nature, mountains, and countryside outside the city that warrant a visit just as much. Here are a few ideas!

Pyrenees Wine Region + Mountains

While it may be a bit different than the European mountain range of the same name, the Victorian Pyrenees are worthy of a visit just the same – both for the outdoor adventurers AND the wine lovers!

The Pyrenees mountains are a southern section of the Great Dividing Range, and their climate lends them well to be a fantastic wine region of Victoria. Dozens of family-owned wineries sprawl out through the scenic rolling hills of the region, making it a fantastic destination for views and delicious wine. There are over 20 wineries that will often host events and tastings for the ones who venture out into rural Victoria in search of hidden gems.

For the hikers, check out some amazing hiking trails in the area. For the advanced ones, there’s actually a full-day 24km Pyrenees Endurance Walk that touches on lots of gorgeous areas. For people in search of a quicker hike, check out the Ebling Track Walks or the Sugarloaf Track walk, too.

Tuki Trout Farm

While it miiiight not sound the most appealing, this place is much more than a trout farm, and more of a rustic and luxurious location where you can literally catch your own food and eat it moments later.

The Tuki Trout Farm outside Ballarat is home to luxurious, self-contained accommodation, a fantastic restaurant, and quite a lot of trout who are sadly awaiting their last fate as someone’s lunch. The views from the property are bar-none, and you can watch the soft golden sunset  over fields of distant sheep, from your balcony overlooking the pond. Next getaway? I think: yes.

 

July 25, 2019

Where to Go in Croatia: A Tour Guide’s Ultimate Croatia Travel Guide

Where to Go in Croatia: A Tour Guide’s Ultimate Croatia Travel Guide

And finally, the day has come for my completely comprehensive, totally decked-out, a-bit-too-extensive, tour guide’s guide to where to go in Croatia. After working as a tour guide here for 4 seasons, I’ve learned a quite lot about this country, if I do say so myself ;).

In this Croatia travel guide you will find all possible Croatia destinations, adventures, beaches, sailing + ferry info, language and pronunciation info, restaurants, all kinds of Croatia tours, islands, cities, sunset spots, and places to visit in Croatia.

So, you’re planning a trip to Croatia! That’s so incredibly exciting; you’re going to love one of the most beautiful countries in the world! 2018 was my fifth summer in a row coming to Croatia, and there’s no way I would’ve been back this many times if I didn’t think the absolute world of this country. I’m the luckiest to have been able to work out here! No matter how sleepless or full-on my tour guiding job has been, I could seriously discover new gems each and every week sailing the Adriatic.

This country guide to Croatia is broken down into lots of subsections, mostly based on different locations and important information.  I have a couple more in-depth city guides that I will link to below, a guide to festivals in Croatia, a guide to how to choose the best sailing tours in Croatia, a complete western Balkans Road Trip itinerary, and more. If you are planning a trip to Croatia, feel free to contact me – I am happy to answer any questions and help with Croatia consulting.

And now, the most ever-extensive, totally comprehensive, tour guide's guide to croatia. Including Croatian cities, history, adventures, alphabet, sailing, ferries, sunsets, and EVERYTHING!

Pssssst… This guide to where to go in Croatia and all of its satellite guides are over 10k words… why not Pin this image to Pinterest so you’ll be able to go back and read it whenever you want?

A BRIEF INTRO TO CROATIAN HISTORY

(If you don’t care, just skip to the next section! )

Croatia has LOTS of really incredible history – recent and ancient. History is one of the most interesting parts of Croatia and reasons to visit the Balkans in general! The area was inhabited by cavemen for tens of thousands of years, and artifacts from even 20,000 years ago can be found in various archaeological sites around the country. You can even find dinosaur footprints in a few places in this country! Fuuuun facts.

Ancient Greek sailors colonized Hvar island in 385BC – the same year Aristotle was born! Lots of Croatia became part of the Ancient Roman empire during the early AD years; namely, Split is the site of some of the most well-preserved ancient Roman ruins in the entire world (more on that later!). At that time it was two provinces, Pannonia (present day northern Croatia) and Dalmatae (modern day Dalmatia – the southern coast!)

The Slavic people came to present day Croatia in the 7th century, and the first King of Croatia, Tomislav, came to power from 925. Croatia became part of the Hungarian empire after a defeat in 1091, keeping its autonomy but being ruled by the Hungarian-Croatian King.

Medieval Period

From the late 1300’s to the late 1700’s, all of Croatia was basically constantly sought after by both the Venetian Empire and the Ottoman Empire, with many fortresses built, battles fought, and transfers of power during that time. This is when the current Dubrovnik and Korculan walls reached their present form, and when many fortresses you can visit today were constructed.

Dubrovnik, however (known as Ragusa at the time) was the only part of Croatia that was able to maintain its independence during that time (for 450 years) due to the intelligence and diplomacy of its people. They were constantly making deals with other empires and even sold some land to the Ottoman Turks to prevent a Venetian attack (which is why a tiny bit of Bosnian border reaches the coast north of Dubrovnik).

Napoleon and the French army came through and conquered the entire coastline in the early 1800’s (including Ragusa/Dubrovnik), until being defeated by the Austro-Hungarian Empire also in the early 1800’s. This is where Croatia remained until after WW1 when it united with many other Balkan countries to become the communist Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia

Long story short, and attempted biases aside, Yugoslavia was a forced union of three very different groups of people – Croats/Slavs, Bosnians/Muslims, and Serbs. The country was kept together very well under leader Marshall Tito until he died in the early 80’s, leading the country into a downward spiral. The power was very imbalanced, with Serbians holding most of it (the capital was Belgrade – the current capital of Serbia).

Croats were sick of sending all their hard earned tourism money from the Dalmatian coast to Belgrade and not getting much back. Eventually it became too much for the very proud Croatians, who voted and declared independence in 1991 starting a multi-year civil war. Dubrovnik was one of the places hit the hardest in this war, and was under siege for 8 months in ’91 and ’92 although its old walls had been an UNESCO World Heritage protected site for over 11 years.

Present Day

Croatia gained its independence in 1992 – just a mere 27 years ago! There is lots of recent history in the whole country, especially Dubrovnik, which I have outlined in my guide below. There is still a lot of tension and even racism between the Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, which is tough to this day. It’s been independent for 25 years and became part of the EU in 2013, and its tourism has been exponentially increasing each year (which has been pretty crazy for me to witness first hand!).

Sailing Croatia Wooden boat petrina tour guide's guide to croatia sailing tours ferries

I have lived in this boat for approximately 11 weeks of my life. No joke.

CROATIAN CURRENCY GUIDE

Here, they use the ‘kuna.’ General conversions would roughly be about 5 kuna to 1 AUD, 6.3 to 1 USD, 7.4 to 1 EUR, and the GBP keeps changing so would be somewhere mid-8 kuna to one (it was 10.4 when I first started – thanks Brexit!)

SO – if a meal costs 100 kuna… it would be about $20 AUD, $15USD, 13EUR, and 11.5GBP. This is a pretty good basis for conversion as 100kn is a fairly normal (slightly cheap) cost of a basic meal.

Kuna are broken down into 100 lipa, and all the bills are different colors to make it easy for you.

GUIDE TO CROATIA FERRIES

Croatia is very well connected by fast ferries – mainly the Jadrolinja line and the Krilo Star line. Timetables and tickets can very easily be found online, and you can purchase tickets in advance online also (recommended). Ferries are very affordable, too, and are the best way to get around the islands.

You can ask about these in any tourist office. The southern coast ferries mostly run in between Split and Dubrovnik, but there are ferries in the north, too. There are also overnight/10 hour ferries from Split and Dubrovnik to to Ancona and Bari, Italy.

BUSSES IN CROATIA

If you can’t get there by ferry in Croatia, you can certainly get there by bus. Busses in Croatia are fairly reliable too and will connect you with all the mainland parts of the country. Wondering where to go in Croatia by bus? Busbud is a reliable website to use.

GUIDE TO CROATIA SAILING TOURS

Yep, this is what I worked on! And no, I did not work for The Yacht Week. There are DOZENS of companies that do Croatia sailing! For three summers, I worked for a company called Topdeck Travel that does 7 day boat tours around the islands, for 18-39 year olds. Lucky for you, I actually wrote an ENTIRE GUIDE just to Croatia Sailing Tours, linked here or on the image below!

READ
Croatia Sailing Tours: How to Choose the Best Island Sail Week in Croatia

If you want to sail Croatia but aren’t sure where to start, feel free to contact me. I can help you plan your trip if you need!

Tour Guide's Super Guide to Croatia - Dubrovnik alleyways and little streets, with laundry hanging overhead!

Dubrovnik alleyways and side streets! (@kimmconn)

BRIEF GUIDE TO THE CROATIAN ALPHABET

Here’s just a wee lil’ lesson on Croatian letters and pronunciation!

J – pronounced exactly like a “y” in english. Someone named Daria or Mariana would be Darija or Marijana here.

You’ll see lots of ‘carrots’ above letters, like ‘ž’ ‘č’

Š is pronounced like ‘sh’

č is pronounced like ‘ch’

Ž is pronounced like ‘zh’

Р– like a ‘G’ so here “Georgia” looks like “Ðorđa”

C – pronounced here like ‘tz.’ So Someone whose name is Braco is pronounced like “Bratzo” and the rakija “Medica” is pronounced “Meditza.” So any name in English that would have a ‘c’ would have a ‘k’ here since it’s pronounced differently… like ‘Marco” would be “Marko.”

Let’s put a bunch of them together. In Croatia, a currency exchange is called a “Mjenjačnica.” So, using the rules above, you pronounce it “Myen-yach-neet-zah.”

So, while you’re there, just sound everything out with these rules above and you should be golden!

WHERE TO GO IN CROATIA: DALMATIA/SOUTHERN ISLANDS

Here in this guide to where to go in Croatia I have outlined pretty much the entire country and all I know about each place.  I have specific guides to many of the places, so you will find  links to these as well!

First up is the most well-known part of Croatia: The Dalmatian Coast. “Dalmatia” covers the southern coast and some of the most famous Croatia destinations, which I have outlined below.

Instaeditz-18

Dubrovnik, or as we lovingly call it, Dub City.

Where to Go in Croatia: DUBROVNIK

Days: 2-4+

Where to stay in Dubrovnik:

Hostel: Villa Angelina – for a view within old town

Hotel: Hotel Petka – affordable, in the port

Hilton Imperial –  great location (and pool!) next to Old Town

Rixos Libertas Hotel – fancier and more secluded resort

Airbnb: View Dubrovnik Airbnb’s here (make sure to book early!)

Getting here from Airport:

Shuttles from the Airport to the main Bus Station (which is in port Gruž where the boats dock) are 40 kuna. Taxis from the airport would be about 40 euro (300kn). They now have uber in Croatia which seems to be the cheapest non-bus option. You can also easily book a private transfer to your accommodation for cheapter than a taxi.

Busses: 1A, 1B, 1C, and 3 go between the main gate of old town (Pile – pronounced ‘pee-lay’) and the port/main bus station. Other busses can take you to the hospital and other places in town and maps at bus stations should tell you this.

Getting Here from Anywhere Else:

You can take a ferry to Dubrovnik from Mljet, Korcula, Split, and more. Book in advance on Bookaway.

Why Visit Dubrovnik:

Dubrovnik is a fairytale city manifest in real life. With red-roofed buildings sprawling between towering concrete walls, directly next to the sparkling blue adriatic sea… it’s easy to see why this city was named ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic.’ It can get extremely busy with cruise ships and tourists, but is worth visiting for the sheer beauty of such a well-preserved seaside walled town.

CLICK HERE OR THE PHOTO BELOW FOR MY GUIDE TO DUBROVNIK WITH IN-DEPTH SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS !

In the guide below: dozens of places to adventure & explore (beaches, museums, cable car, kayaking, GoT Tours, Buggy adventure), best places to watch the sunset, best places to eat, and a complete nightlife guide to Dubrovnik! 

READ
Things to Do in Dubrovnik: A Tour Guide's Guide to Dubrovnik Travel

Around Dubrovnik: ŠIPAN/ELAPHITE ISLANDS

I mention these much more in my Dubrovnik Guide, but these islands are just off the coast of Dubrovnik and are stunning. If you have extra time in Dubrovnik I highly recommend checking out the caves, blue cave, and serene little towns of these islands.  Šipan also has a stunning fortress hike – the one in the feature photo of this post! The Elaphite islands are best visited as a day tour of boat rental from Dubrovnik.

Book a day tour from Dubrovnik visiting three amazing islands!

 

blue cave dubrovnik elaphite islands

The Blue Cave on Koločep, one of the Elaphite Islands!

Where to Go in Croatia: SPLIT

Days: 1-3 (Best as a base for day trips)

Where to Stay in Split:

Hostel: Booze & Snooze or Fiesta Siesta for a bit of a party (attached to the only backpacker bar in the city)

Hotel – Palace Judita Heritage Hotel 

Airbnb – Main Square Apartment (central/large)/Silver Luxury Apartment for smaller groups

Getting here from the Airport: 

There is an airport bus that takes you directly to the bus station (which is at the end of the port) for 33 kuna. A taxi would be a bit more pricey, around 2-300kn.

Getting Here from Anywhere Else:

You can take a ferry to Split from Hvar, Brac, and more. Book in advance here.

Why Visit Split:

Split is the second largest city in Croatia (after the Capital, Zagreb) and the largest on the coast. It’s home to Diocletian’s Palace – an Ancient Roman palace which forms the entire city center. Split may be large in size, but is mostly suburbs without thaaaat much to do, honestly! This is why I recommend Split is a hub for some amazing day trips in the area. It’s got fantastic food and nightlife, but other than that the best things to do would be having a swim at the beach or doing a ton of day trips I have a post on below.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I have so much to say about Split that I had to split (ha… get it) it off into it’s own guide.

Click here or on the image below for my Tour Guide’s Super Guide to Split, Croatia!

In this guide: All I have to say about the places to swim, look at views, learn about history, party, and mostly EAT amazing food in Split.

READ
A Tour Guide's Split Travel Guide: Adventures, Food, + Nightlife (Croatia)

AROUND SPLIT:

As you will see in the guide above, , Split is awesome but there is not as much to do as other Croatian cities. This is why I always say Split is a great home base for day trips in Croatia. There are some smaller islands and national parks that are all accessible as day trips from Split, often on an organized bus/minibus tour.

I think day tours are some of the easiest ways to access different points of interest from Split, so much so that – you guessed it – they deserve their own post! I have briefly listed some possible day trips from Split below, but is you want more in-depth descriptions, click the headline or image below.

Click Here or on the Image Below to Read About 12 Great Day Trips From Split.

READ
12 Must-See Day Trips from Split, Croatia

 

plitvice lakes national park croatia waterfall park croatia

 

 

 

 

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If you want to hear a situation that describes my dumb competitive personality perfectly, continue reading. . . So we docked early in Omiš, the place we send passengers to Zipline. I had never actually explored the town and I knew there was a big hike to a fortress, but we only had an hour and a half. . . I decided I would walk into town, explore, and maybe locate the hiking path so I could try it another week. A few minutes into town I saw a sign with an arrow saying 'Fortica.' I decided I would suss out the path for next time, maybe walk up a bit because I like to hike. . . So I walked up for 5-10 minutes and found the marked trail. I then thought maybe I could walk 30 minutes up and then turn around, and get however high I could in that time so I could get an idea of how long the whole thing would take. . . After about 20 minutes I had made amazing distance, and that stupid competitive devil in my head wouldn't stop telling me I could totally go all the way. So I sped up. . . Huffing and puffing, I got to a sign that said the fortress was 15 minutes away. I decided I could make it in half that time at my speed. Lunch on the boat was in about an hour. All the way at the bottom. (See that tiny dock down there?!🔫) So I went for it. . . At this point I wouldn't let myself off without touching the actual fortress. So I did. I got there and ran around it with my @gopro and @sandmarc pole snapping quick shots all over the place before turning quickly around back down the mountain, overlooking Omiš and the mouth of the Cetina River. . . . And I was 15 minutes early for lunch.🙃 #competitivespirit #annoying #mylegsareshaking #thatVIEWthough . . . #gopro #sandmarc #goprogirl #omis #croatiafulloflife #croatia #goprotravel #competitive #view #water #peoplewhodofunstuff #inspiredbyyou #outdoorwomen #hiking_official #earthfocus #outside_project #theoutbound #earthdaily #dirtbarbieadventures #earthgirllifestyle #femmetravel #girlgetoutside #travelstoke #adventureculture #passionpassport

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Where to go in Croatia: OMIŠ

Days: Day Tours from Split or Makarska/ 1-2 Days

Getting There: Omiš is about 45 minutes from Split (and about the same from Makarska) if traffic cooperates, and you can get there by bus or with a transfer if you sign up for an adventure tour from Split. Many sailing tours also stop here for adventure activities.

A lot of adventure tours from Split actually take place in Omiš – zip lining, rock climbing, and river rafting are the main ones. Omiš is where the Cetina river empties out in the the channel between the mainland and Brac island. Omiš was actually owned by a family of pirates in the 12 and 1300’s who were so powerful that the Venetian and Ottoman conquerors would pay them a ransom to pass by their territories. The pirates would attack any ship that sailed by and would actually retreat into the Cetina River to hide!

Today Omiš is an adorable little town at the base of this river and the massive rocky mountains behind it. You can find lots of souvenir shops, alleyway restaurants and cafe’s, homemade flavored rakijas and spirits, great hiking, and other adventures.

Ziplining

Ziplining in Omiš is a must for anyone visiting Croatia, honestly. I’ve done a fair bit of zip lining throughout my travels, and this is the best by far. I have had hundreds of my passengers do this optional activity on my tours and have not had a single one say it wasn’t worth it or didn’t love it.

Reserve a space on your own zipline tour today, it’s one of the best adventures in the country.

Rock Climbing

This is surely a great place to try – the sheer cliff faces around the river mouth are the perfect opportunity.

River Rafting

I haven’t done this personally but from what I hear it’s more of a nice little river paddle/float with mild  rapids and stunning views. The rapids are levels 2 and 3 and you go for 12 kilometers through amazing countryside. I would recommend the zipline over everything but if you have time, definitely try it all!

Book a river rafting experience here!

Hiking

Omiš has one of my favorite hikes in Croatia for sure. The Omiš Fortica (Oh-meesh Four-teet-zah) it at the top of the rocky mountain overlooking the town. The hike is about an hour and the views are just incredible.

extensive guide to croatia travel

Have you pinned this guide to Croatia to Pinterest yet?!?

Where to Go in Croatia: MAKARSKA

Days: 1-4+

Where to Stay in Makarska:

Hostel: Hostel Makarska

Hotel: Hotel Maritimo

Airbnb: Studio by the beach + City Centre for small groups / Apartman Marina for views

Getting There:

Makarska shouldn’t be much more than an hour and fifteen minutes from Split, and is easily reachable by bus.

Why Visit Makarska:

People ask me very often what my favorite stop is on my sailing tours, and I honestly have different favorites for different reasons. But I would have to say in this guide to where to go in Croatia that Makarska is my overall favorite. I think this because overall it has everything: the sheer beauty, amount to do, number of adventures, beautiful scenery, and nightlife. It is situated at the base of the tallest mountain on the Croatian coast (Biokovo mountains – Sveti Jure peak is just over 1700m) and the mountain view honestly looks like a fake backdrop. Makarska surely has some of the best shopping, swimming, and scenery in the country.

The entire mountainous stretch of coastline just north and south of Makarska is called the Makarska Riviera, and it’s all simply beautiful! The mountains look like a painting and the colorful towns are wonderful to explore. I don’t have a specific guide to Makarska (yet), so read below for the best things to do.

Makarska Adventures:

Parasailing in Makarska

Parasailing here is a must. Choose the ‘extra high’ option and be blown away by being on the same level as the stunning rocky mountains, gazing down at the little white dot that is the boat you’re attached to!

Makarska Jet skiing

Jet skiing here is also awesome. Again, the backdrop sets it apart.

Swimming

Makarska is the swimming capital of the coast, with too many amazing spots to count!

  • On one side of the port, you have Deep cave bar and an entire cliffy coast full of cliff jumps and mind-blowingly clear water. The jetty near Deep cave bar also has some lovely swim spots.
  • On the peninsula between the port and beach, you have similar cliff jumps and secluded swimming spots.
  • Beach – If you aren’t the cliff swimming type, you also have the option of a whole 2km of pebbly beach to swim and relax under the shade of the trees.

Wipeout course

There are two inflatable ‘wipeout courses’ along Makarska’s beach; you can’t miss them! For just about 50kn you can run along this floating obstacle course with your friends. Honestly, I have never laughed so hard in my life! You will slip and fall in the water every 2 seconds and it’s a hilarious time.

Cliff jumping in Makarska

You can find jumping spots all along the cliffs surrounding Makarska’s protected port. Just be careful and ensure it’s safe before jumping!

Markets

Makarska has some of the best markets in Croatia. There’s a big maze of markets just at the beginning of the beach where you can get lost shopping for basically anything you can think of. There are markets all along the rest of the 2km beach as well – the toughest choice will be deciding where to get your souvenirs! Many sailing trips also hold their pirate party here, and you can buy pirate gear in all the markets.

Makarska Cafes and restaurants

Crepes, snacks, bars – Essentially all of Makarska is lined with cafe’s, restaurants, and takeaway food. Along the riva (main beach boardwalk), you can find crepes, all kinds of snacks, restaurants selling all possible Croatian foods, gelato everywhere, and cocktail bars for days. Just take a stroll along the water and see what tickles your fancy!

Hiking

Similar to the cliff jumping spots, there are hiking trails on either side of Makarska’s protected port. You can hike up through the trees and rocks to discover even more amazing views and swim spots!

Massages on the beach

Yep, that’s right! There are plenty of massage tents right on the main beach where you can enjoy any of about 6 different types of relaxing massages right on the water.

Buba Bar

This bar is a bit of a trek from the main port, but if you can make it its a rad beach bar with thatched umbrellas, great cocktails, and a view to-die-for.

 

makarska riviera croatia beautiful mountains beaches croatia adventure water sports

 

Makarska Restaurants

Riva

I have been here about 23 times and am still not tired of it! Riva is a lovely courtyard restaurant adorned in beautiful vines, and is a perfect setting for a secluded and delicious dinner. Riva prides itself on meat and seafood, and you can get a top-notch steak or select freshly caught seafood straight from a freezer display.

Bounty

This restaurant is right on the beach and also has great meat and seafood, and also a fantastic burger!

Makarska Nightlife: Bars & Clubs

Smile Bar

This is an awesome little bar with great drink deals before you go out.

Marineta Bar

This bar has great cocktails and is right on the port.

Deep Cave Bar (Cave Rave)

This club has become pretty well known as the ‘cave rave’ on Croatia’s coast and has to be featured in any guide to Croatia. We all dress up like pirates for this night out, right on the water (and yes, it’s an actual cave!). It gets pretty crowded in peak summer season, however, and we usually head to Petar Pan around 12:30 when it gets too packed.

Petar Pan

This open-air club is only open in the peak months of summer, but has fun DJ’s and lots more space than Deep on a hot July evening.

mljet national park croatia island relax sunset lakes adventures

Where to Go in Croatia: MLJET

Days: 1-2

Where to Stay in Mljet:

Hostel: none!

Hotel: Hotel Odisej (proximity to National Park)

Airbnb: Charming Apartments (for seclusion/proximity to National Park) Double Room with Sea View for affordable/in town

Getting Here:

You can take a direct ferry to various ports on Mljet island from Dubrovnik. Book in advance here. You can also take a Day trip from Dubrovnik.

Why Visit Mljet:

Mljet is a super chilled out, GORGEOUS, wooded island just north of Dubrovnik. More than half the island is taken up by a national park characterized by two salt water lakes, the Malo Jezero (small lake) and the Veliko Jezero (big lake). Creative names, right?!

There’s a little island in the middle of the big lake, called Sveti (saint) Marija (maria) island, and on it is a benedictine monastery that was constructed in the 1190’s. These monks are the reason for the saltwater lakes, which is a rare phenomenon in this day and age. See, the lakes used to be fresh water, until these monks dug a channel between the big lake and the small lake to the ocean.

Why? To harness the power of the tide! Smart monks, they were! These lakes are connected to each other by a small bridge (mali most) and a little channel. Because they’re connected to the sea, the saltwater lakes are tidal. This means that you can float through the little channel with the tide when it’s moving in or out. Pretty cool! Just watch out for sea urchins 😛

The best things to do in Mljet are to hike around the lakes or rent a bike or kayak. You can rent bikes from Pomena or Polače (the main ports around the National Park) but I recommend walking into the park and renting them from Mali Most to avoid having to ride up big hills.

 

 

Kayak – kayak out into the big lake to get a view of Sveti Marija island – it’s stunning!

Bike – You can actually ride an entire loop around the big lake now; last year they constructed a beautiful round bridge (Veliki most) to connect each side at its thinnest point. However, if you can, ride past this bridge out as far as you can go toward the open ocean. On one side (my favorite side, the north side) you can find a hiking trail, and on the other a simply stunning view! Both sides are amazing for swimming and honestly one of my favorite places in this whole world.

Ferry – Your entrance fee to the national park comes with an optional ferry to Sveti Marija island if you would like to check out the monastery and little cafe yourself. But, I always say that the view is better from afar!

Odysseus Cave – if you can get your hands on a scooter or rent a car, you can check out the impressive Odysseus cave on the other side of the island. You can climb down a precarious rock trail to enter the cave from above, or you can jump in the water and swim into it where it connects to the sea! Either way, it’s an amazing cave with, again, some of the clearest water i have seen.

Other Rental Car/Scooter Adventures – If you can get your hands on a car, you can visit any of a few other amazing places on Mljet island. Sobra is a fairytale-like little town in the middle of the island, and if you make it all the way to the other side (I don’t even know if the town has a name!) you can find a very rare sandy beach!

 

hvar island croatia spanjola fortress view pakleni islands carpe diem club nightlife croatia

 

Where to Go in Croatia: HVAR

Days: Maybe 1-3 nights… however long you can party, really! Or, take a trip to other POI’s on the island like Stari Grad, which is stunning.

Getting there:

Hvar is about one hour’s catamaran ferry ride from Split and also about an hour ferry from Korcula. Book in advance. Some ferries are slower.

Where to Stay in Hvar

Hostel: White Rabbit Hostel

Hotel: Hotel Adriana or Hotel Amfora

Airbnb: Apartnan Olive Tree (for bigger groups) but I recommend this one for smaller groups/central.

Why Visit Hvar?

Hvar is a must when talking about where to go in Croatia- the sheer natural beauty, amazing swim spots, and most importantly -Nightlife. Hvar Town has a crazy nightlife and people come specifically for this. The rest of the island is more serene with wineries, lavender farms, hills, and coves. Some of Dalmatia’s best clubs and bars are in Hvar – and some great food, too!

VIEW MY IN-DEPTH SUPER GUIDE TO HVAR BY CLICKING HERE OR THE IMAGE BELOW:

In this guide you can learn about all sorts of adventures and places to see on Hvar island, the best places to watch the sunset, lots of suggestions for dinner & food, and a complete nightlife guide! 

READ
A Tour Guide's Guide to Hvar Travel - All You Need to Know

 

Where to Go in Croatia: BRAČ ISLAND

Days: Day stopover/Day trip – 1 day

Getting here:

You can get a direct ferry from Split to different parts of Brač. Book in advance here. You can also take a Catamaran cruise from Split that takes you to Supetar, Bol, and some secluded bays all in one day.

Why Visit Brač:

Brač is the largest island in Dalmatia, located on the southern coast of Croatia. It is famous because white limestone is quarried here that is used in most Croatian old towns (you’ll notice the smooth light stone that pretty much EVERYTHING is made out of) and is also shipped all over the world.

Brač stone has been used in the houses of Parliament in Budapest and Vienna, the palace in Stockholm, and even the White House in the USA! Oh, I love fun facts. You can buy lots of souvenirs of white Brač stone – earrings, bracelets, other jewelry, and other home decor like clocks and candle holders.

My tours only stopped in Milna, a tiny little village. There’s a cute little place you can taste homemade olive oil, wine, prosek, and grapa, a few cafe’s, a pizzeria, and two bars. That’s it. They have live music sometimes but this isn’t the most fantastic place in Croatia.

Bol – This is a famous v-shaped beach that changes shape with the currents. It’s a very popular place for tourists and a lot of day tours from Split or Makarska will do trips to Bol.

Supetar – One of the biggest towns on Brač bordering the channel between Brač and Omis.

 

Vis Island Croatia Fort George War tours

The view from Fort George, Vis.

 

Where to Go in Croatia: VIS ISLAND

Time: 1-2 Days

Where to Stay in Vis

Hotel: Hotel San Giorgio (Vis Town) / Villa Kamenica (Komiza)

Getting There:

Vis is a stop for many ferries running from Split, Hvar, etc. It is also a stop on many boat tours. I recommend visiting Vis and the Blue Caves as a day tour from Split.

This tour with well-established Providenca Charters visits Komiža, Hvar, the Blue Caves, the Green Cave, and the incredible Stiniva Cove (Pictured below) in one day. Great value for people without much time!

Why Visit Vis:

Vis is the tenth largest Adriatic island, and is home to many peaceful getaways. The island was only opened to tourism in 1990 after being a military base for former Yugoslavia and a submarine base and hideaway for Marshall Tito during WW2!

Vis is great for quiet time and renting a scooter to explore old war areas. There are also some pretty big parties in amazing venues if you catch the right night! Vis is also known for gorgeous picturesque coves and its famous blue caves on an island just off the coast.

View my Super-Guide to Vis Island by clicking here or on the image below! Like many of these places, there is so much to do that it needs its own guide. 

READ
Vis Croatia: A Tour Guide's Guide to Vis Island Beaches, Nightlife, & More

Where to Go in Croatia: KORČULA ISLAND

Time: 1-2 days

Where to Stay in Korčula:

Hostel – Hostel Korčula – most well-rated and central

Hotel – Hotel Korčula – central with a great view

Airbnb –  Apartmant Justina – central and large – make sure to book early!

Getting There:

Korčula is about the mid-way point on a ferry trip between Split and Dubrovnik. Book ferries in advance here. You can also visit the island as a day tour from Dubrovnik along with some other wine regions.

Why Visit Korčula:

Known as the ‘mini-Dubrovnik’ because of its smaller walled town, Korčula is just as gorgeous but more low-key. You’ll learn some fascinating history and have time to relax with amazing views + wine. Youo can watch a cultural sword dance called Moreska, eat tons of fresh seafood, take part in wind sports, and more. There’s also some enjoyable nightlife as well.

I wrote another Super Guide to Korčula, and you can view it by clicking here!

In this guide: The best places to explore, adventure sports, sunset spots, places to eat, and nightlife in Korčula. 

READ
A Tour Guide's Travel Guide to Korčula Island, Croatia

 

Where to Go in Croatia: North  of Split/The North Coast

Although most sailing tours only touch on the places to go in Croatia I have mentioned ab0ve, the fun doesn’t stop there! There are tons of other gorgeous regions of Croatia it would be a shame to miss out on. In no particular order, here are some other must-see cities and National Parks that are important to note when  considering where to go in Croatia. Many are included in my Balkans Road Trip Itinerary as well.

KRKA NATIONAL PARK

Days: Day trip/road trip from Split/Zadar

Krka (pictured above) is one of two well-known waterfall parks in the country. This is the one you can swim in. Krka is a beautiful National park with different levels of waterfalls and forest trails to explore. Krka is the closest to Split so would be a good day trip from Split!

Day tours usually take you to the waterfalls and a few other viewpoints and points of interest, and will include an amazing included homemade lunch (depending on which company you use).

Visit Krka as a Day Trip from Split, or as a day trip from Zadar!  It’s about an equal distance from both.

ŠIBENIK

Days: Day Trip/Road Trip Stop

My tours to Krka also stop in Šibenik for an hour or so. Šibenik is another scenic coastal town characterized by a quaint stone old town full of alleyways and cafes, along a port full of boats looking out to the Adriatic.

PLITVICE LAKES NATIONAL PARK

Days: Day Trip/Road Trip Stop

This is the other well-known waterfall park in Croatia, perhaps more well-known than Krka. You cannot swim in this one, but it is much larger than Krka and has pathways and trails that you could walk around all day! There are dozens upon dozens of beautiful waterfalls atop the clearest and most turquoise water you can imagine (are you seeing a theme in this country?!).

It’s very, very overrun with tourists, though, and is borderline unsafely crowded in high season. My pro guide to Croatia tip? Go before or after peak season, in May/June or September/October. Read more about visiting Plitvice Lakes in my Balkans road trip guide.

Plitvice is best visited as a day tour, and can be booked from Split, Zadar, or Zagreb.  It’s cheapest from Zadar and about equidistant between Zadar and Zagreb.

READ
Balkans Road Trip: A Balkan Travel Itinerary with Coasts, Parks, & More

TISNO

Days: 3-4 for a festival or road trip stopover

Tisno is not too far from Šibenik and plays host to many of Croatia’s sunny summer music festivals. Love International, Electric Elephant, Beats Beer and Boogaloo, and Suncebeat are all held here. View my festival guide below!

READ
Festivals in Croatia: The 15 Best Croatia Music Festivals
zadar sea organ guide to croatia

Sunset at the Sea Organ

Where to go in Croatia: ZADAR

Days: 1-2

Where to Stay in Zadar

Hostel: Downtown Boutique Hostel 

Hotel: Bastion Heritage Hotel

Airbnb:  Apartment Blue Sun Aurora – central.

Getting There:

Zadar is under two hours from Split and is reachable by car or bus.

Why Visit Zadar

Zadar is a popular city to visit on the mid-coast of Croatia. Its town center is set on ancient ruins along the water – an Ottoman fortress with some ancient Roman ruins scattered around as well. Like fairly everywhere else, there are lots of cool bars, cafe’s, and shops in the alleys of old town, and some open-air clubs as well. Check out this Zadar Travel Guide for more info!

Zadar is perhaps most famous for its ‘sea organ.’ This is a little pier with holes drilled in at different widths and lengths so that when the waves crash up against it they play different notes. It’s quite amazing really, and a must-see in Croatia.

Adventure Guide to Zadar

Kayaking to Dugi Otok

Like every major Croatian city, Zadar offers some amazing kayaking tours. Zadar is enclosed by different islands off its coast, namely Dugi Otok. This kayaking tour will take you through beautiful sea caves and cliff jumps – an adventurer’s dream!

Book your kayaking and sea caves tour with Kayak & Bike Adventures 

Or try a sunset kayak tour if you’re a sunset lover like me! 

River Canoe Safari

Zadar is lucky enough to be close to the Zramanja River, home to some fun rapids, canyons, and swimming spots.

This top-rated tour takes you canoeing and adventuring right from Zadar.

Skydiving

Yep, you heard that correctly! You can skydive over Zadar and the beautiful, moon-like islands of Croatia’s north. If you are an adrenaline junkie, get on it! I know I will next time I am there.

Adventure lovers, try Skydiving Zadar! 

Explore Surrounding islands and Nature Parks

Zadar has its own archipelago off the coast, and is scattered with tiny and large islands alike. There’s even a National Park, Kornati, located on an island not too far away. You can also visit the gorgeous Telašćica Nature Park and swim in the secluded bays nearby.

Spend a day sailing and exploring the beautiful Telašćica Nature park and Dugo Otok (Dugi island)!

Day Tours to Krka and Plitvice

Like Split and Zagreb, you can take a day tour to both Plitvice and Krka National Parks from Zadar.

Here’s a tour to Krka and here’s one to Plitvice from Zadar. There’s a lot of options to visit these two parks!

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Looking out from a viewpoint on Pag Island

 

Where to Go in Croatia: PAG ISLAND / ZRCE BEACH

Days: 2-4+ for a festival

Where to Stay on Pag:

Novalja is one of the main towns on Pag island (besides the actual town of Pag) and is the main base of all festivals and parties at Zrce beach. Festival boat parties will leave from here, there are many accommodation options, and it actually has some of the best shopping I have come across in Croatia.

Hostels: Moon Rocks Hostel for a bit more secluded with a pool // Hostel Zrce for central

Hotel: Villa Ani (central)

Why Visit Pag/Novalja/Zrce Beach

If the south wasn’t enough of a party, Zrće (pronounced zur-chay) takes care of the rest of Croatia’s party reputation. Many say the northern islands of Croatia look like the moon, in that they are white and hilly and mostly devoid of vegetation. Pag island is no exception, and one of its calm bays houses one of the best party venues in all of Europe – Zrće beach.

Zrće is like Vegas meets Ibiza on the coast of Croatia, and is absolute insanity. In summary, Zrće has 5 super-clubs right on the water, with all sorts of restaurants, convenience stores, bars, and activities all in one place. On normal nights you would need to purchase tickets to any one of the clubs, but when Zrće holds festivals, 3-5 of the clubs take part and a ticket will come with free movement between all involved clubs. Some festivals here to check out are Hideout, Black Sheep, and Sonus.

To read more about Zrće than this guide to where to go in Croatia can tell, check out my Review + Guide to Hideout Festival that takes place up there each June.

READ
Hideout Festival Review + Guide: All You Need to Know for Croatia

 

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This is how the @beatstravellers do… exploring hidden gems by day and partying by night! This stunning beach is not too far away from where @Sonusestival was held on Zrce beach, but was totally secluded👌🏼 and like a lot of the northern islands, is totally devoid of vegetation and looks like the moon!🌕 . . Speaking of hidden gems, I have just touched down in Greece to help out hosting the first ever @sailbeats tour – a boutique music & sailing experience touring around the Greek islands. We have our own DJ's taking over exclusive day & night Sailbeats parties at amazing island venues the whole week! It will be a lot of work and planning but I can't wait to see how the week turns out. Stay tuned to my story for live updates on my Greek adventures!!🐬 #pag #beach #Croatia

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Pag Island – Other than Partying

There’s absolutely nothing else to do. Just kidding, there a couple things. Pag is actually well-known for its cheese of the same name, and you can take some food + wine tours that taste and appreciate Pag’s production. Pag is also home to one of the only naturally occurring olive tree groves in the world, which you can visit for a small fee.

Book a food + wine tour of Pag from Zadar, visiting vineyards, a dairy, and different sights on the island

Birdwatching

Yes, really. In the off-season you can observe rare birds on the island migrating from Europe to Africa, and take a private tour to do so.

Beaches

There are nice places to lay out all over the island, but Ručica Beach definitely takes the cake (pictured above). This may be one of my favorite beaches in the world! A white pebbly beach looks out over the moon-like landscape and clear blue water, and it’s like something out of a dream.

You guessed it – Kayaking.

Kayak around Pag’s ‘extraterrestrial’ environment by renting one at a beach or taking a tour. This tour by Adventure Driven Vacations (ADV) takes you kayaking, free-climbing, and snorkeling in some of the best spots.

 

Where to Go in Croatia: ZAGREB

Days: 2-3

Why Visit Zagreb

Zagreb is Croatia’s capital, and as I like to say, the ‘other half’ of Croatian culture. The coast is all about the sun, sea, and mediterranean vibes, but Zagreb is almost like another country! It’s important to visit Zagreb when considering where to go in Croatia because it’s entirely different than the rest of the country.

This lovely capital is far more similar to Eastern Europe than the rest of Croatia, and is fascinating to visit and wander the lovely little streets and massive cathedrals and churches. Take a free walking tour here, or try a bike tour of the city.

Around Zagreb there is a lot of wine country and small Croatian villages which are also lovely if you get the chance!

READ MORE ABOUT ZAGREB HERE IN MY ZAGREB POST! (not a guide, more like a story!)

READ
Visiting Zagreb: Showcasing Croatia’s Lesser-Known Personality

What to Do in Zagreb

Plitvice Lakes Day Tour – as I said above, this is a main starting point for a tour of Plitvice.

Explore the Town – there are many museums and amazing monuments and buildings in Zagreb.

Food Tours – there are also many food tours in Zagreb that harness the culture of the Mediterranean-style south, the rich north coast, and the more Eastern-European inland. See if you can see the difference in the food!

Slovenia – You can take a day trip from Zagreb to Ljubljana (the capital of Slovenia) and the stunning Lake Bled. I would recommend more time in Slovenia, but if you have a time constraint, a day trip from Zagreb could be the move.

motovun places where to go in croatia

Where to Go in Croatia: Istrian Peninsula

Istria is a hilly peninsula on Croatia’s northernmost coast, which is often compared to Tuscany. This is the ‘foodie’ region of Croatia, and is known for massive amounts of food, oil, wine, rakija, and truffles, too!

Similarly to what I said about Zagreb, Istria presents Croatia’s ‘third’ different ‘personality,’ with scenery differing completely from Dalmatia and also from the area surrounding the capital. Here are a few of the most notable places to visit in Istria, Croatia.

MOTOVUN

Days: 1-2

Where to Stay in Motovun

Hotel: Hotel Kastel (central)

Airbnb: Galerija Motovun for cheaper/smaller/central, House Valentino for a remote entire house, or Casa Adora for central + authentic (with a view)

Why Visit Motovun

Motovun is an incredible unique and iconic hilltop medieval walled town, and is also where the largest truffle ever found in history was located. Eat your bodyweight in truffle, cheese, oil, and wine, and gaze out at incredible views over rolling hills. Read my complete guide to Motovun below!

READ
Things to do in Motovun Croatia: A Truffle-tastic Medieval Hilltop Town
pula arena - ancient roman colosseum in Pula, croatia where to go in croatia

PULA

Days: 1-2

Why Visit Pula

Istria is most notably home to Pula, a city characterized by an ancient Roman Colosseum where they hold events (Such as Outlook and Dimensions Festivals). You can fly into Pula and tour the amazing area and some serene fishing towns like Rijeka.

Some of the best olive oil in the world is produced here, and Pula is home to an Olive Oil museum. The historic town is bustling at night, with alleyway restaurants and eateries full to the brim with locals and travelers alike.

Things to Do in Pula

Food Tours- Taste olive oil, cheese, and wine in one tour by Pula’s Krug Travel.

Kayaking – explore the local coves by kayak

Visit the Pula Arena – this colosseum is one of the best preserved in the world, besides the main one in Rome of course! It’s a must-see place when considering where to go in Croatia.

Visit Brijuni National Park – This island chain is hone to archaeological sites, amazing views, and some of the best-preserved dinosaur footprints the the world (nope, not kidding).

RIJEKA, ROVINJ, and POREC

These three coastal cities are also great to consider when planning out where to go in Croatia. They’re on all different sides of the Istrian peninsula, and all have something different to offer (well, they all offer fantastic coastal views, but what’s new there?!).

 

 

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I remember seeing photos of this place on a blog a few years back, and making a pact with myself to see it one day. It's called Blagaj (pronounced bla-guy) spring, the source of the Buna River in Southwest Bosnia & Herzegovina. They estimate that it's the deepest spring in Europe, and that 43,000 gallons come out of it per second. The surrounding restaurants just use the river water to keep their drinks cold!! The gorgeous white house next to it is the Dervish house – a branch of Islamic religion that is one with nature. I got the vibe that they were the Islamic hippies😝✌🏼️ More on this soon!! #blagaj #dervishes #dervishhouse #spring #bunariver #herzegovina #solotravel #mostar #birthday #nikon_photography_

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So, What Next? Where can you go from Croatia?

Depending on where you begin and end, many Eastern European and Balkan countries are easily accessible from Croatia. Here are some ideas, linked to blog posts I have written about them for more info.

Slovenia – beautiful nature, green cities, and lakes galore.

If you don’t have much time, you can see Slovenia’s highlights on a day tour from Zagreb.

Montenegro – stunning views, hikes, and nature. This is one of the most underrated countries if you ask me! Visit Montenegro from Dubrovnik; it’s only a few hours away! There are many Montenegro day tours leaving from Dubrovnik, as you will see in my guide to Dubrovnik day trips. Or, view my country guide below.

READ
The Best Things to Do in Montenegro in a Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

Hungary – Trains can go directly to Budapest from many places in Croatia. The overnight train between Budapest and Split is quite a doozy, though… make sure you bring plenty of food and water and quite possibly some sleeping pills.

Bosnia + Herzegovina – Visit the historic Sarajevo or any of lots of amazing natural wonders in and around Mostar. There are also many tours to Mostar, Pocitelj, Medigorje, Kravice waterfalls, and Blagaj Springs (pictured above) from Dubrovnik – all fantastic natural wonders of Bosnia & Herzegovina. Check my Dubrovnik Guide or an example tour here, or read all about Mostar in my guide below.

READ
Things to Do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Mostar Travel Guide 

Serbia – Visit lots of historical sites and the former Yugoslav Capital, Belgrade, the current capital of Serbia! Belgrade has an amazing music scene, a stunning countryside, and an amazing neighboring town, Novi Sad.

Need Help Planning Your Trip to Croatia?

Contact me! I have spent over ten months here over four years. I’ve seen the tourism grow with my own eyes, written over 10k words in this massive and multi-faceted guide to Croatia, and know the in’s and out’s of most of the country. I would love to help plan private tours, sailing trips, or any general Croatia consulting! Pop me an email at adventuresnsunsets@gmail.com and I’ll help you plan your perfect Croatian getaway!

A comprehensive guide to where to go in Croatia, including all different regions of the country and what makes each special. What to do, where to stay, how many days, how to get around in each destination with links to more in-depth guides.

WheretoGoinCroatia2

 

REMEMBER to PIN this Guide to where to go in Croatia to your Pinterest Boards and share the knowledge!

July 14, 2019

Things to do in Motovun Croatia: A Truffle-tastic Medieval Hilltop Town

Things to do in Motovun Croatia: A Truffle-tastic Medieval Hilltop Town

I’m embarrassed that it took me five summers in the country to make it to Motovun Croatia. This little Medieval town is truly like that of a fairytale. It has a walled fort, perched in an almost spiral-like formation around the top of a hill, smack-dab in the middle of the Istrian countryside in Croatia’s Northwest. If you haven’t visited Istria, you are truly missing out on part of the heart of Croatia and a truly different personality of the country, which is ordinarily known for its warm, clear water and island-dotted coast.

But, Istria presents a totally different side to Croatia (apart from the Zagreb area, which is a third side to the country – read my Zagreb post for more). Istria is often compared to Tuscany, and with great reason. The luscious green hills seem to endlessly roll into the distance, with small colorful settlements perched on forested hills here and there, getting smaller and smaller up to the horizon.

Motovun Croatia is truly the best expression of Istria – with the most scenic little town overlooking the beautiful countryside, and a food and wine culture to truly rival its Italian counterpart. There are lots of things to do in Motovun – and most of them do involve food and wine, but who’s complaining?!

Complete travel guide to Motovun Croatia - in the heart of 'the Tuscany of Croatia,' the Istrian peninsula. Explore the medieval walled hilltop town, taste local wine, and eat LOTS of truffles! #croatia #motovun #Istria

But first – PIN THIS massive guide to Motovun! 

Motovun Croatia – Getting There

Motovun By Air

As I said, Motovun is right in the middle of the rectangular Istrian peninsula. It’s about an hour north of Pula, a much larger coastal town on the southern tip of the peninsula. Pula is the nearest large airport that is internationally and easily accessible. Check flights to Pula here!

Rijeka is about an hour east of Motovun, and also has an airport you can fly into.

Motovun By Car

This is the preferred option and the way that I got to Motovun on my Balkans road trip this year. You can rent cars the most cheaply at Sixt Croatia (which allows you to cross borders), or you can compare rates of all companies on rentalcars.com if you are staying only in Croatia. I think Sixt still had the best deals though, and they have offices in all main cities – Split, Zagreb, Pula, Rijeka, etc.

Motovun By Bus

Pula and Rijeka are accessible by bus from pretty much all of Croatia. Motovun however is a bit more difficult. You can get a bus connection Pazin from either city, and Motovun is another 20km away by taxi. This is why a rental car is preferable!

Motovun Day Tours

Your final option getting to Motovun Croatia would be to take a day tour. There are lots of bus tours through Istria from Pula, Rovinj, and other places in Istria that will visit Motovun, Grožnjan, the coastal town of Poreč, and more. I recommend this tour here. 

motovun croatia hilltop town

Motovun Croatia from afar

Currency in Motovun Croatia

In Croatia, the currency is the kuna. It does vary, but you’re looking at about 6-7 kuna to the USD, 5 to the AUD, and about 8 to the GBP. Some places accept euros, but most don’t. It would be wise to withdraw/exchange some kuna if you can.

How Long to Spend in Motovun

It’s really tiny, so 1-2 nights would be totally fine here to do all the things I have mentioned below! A day tour would also be plenty if you’re short on time.

Things to do in Motovun Croatia

Truffle Hunting Tour

Perhaps the most popular/famous/well-known things to do in Motovun involve truffles, and more specifically, hunting them. What is a truffle, you may ask? Well, they’re pretty much the most expensive fungus ever to grow underground. Truffles are a delicious delicacy, and are found all over the place here and taste amazing on basically anything.

An important Motovun fact is that the LARGEST TRUFFLE EVER FOUND was found here – well, in the Motovun forest at the base of the main hill. That has brought the region even more fame, and it’s best known for the truffles found in the extremely prolific forest outside the town.

So, what does truffle hunting entail? Sadly, humans can’t really find truffles themselves. Our sense of smell isn’t strong enough. You need specially trained dogs to run through the extremely dense forest, following their noses toward one of the most expensive things that grows underground – truffles!

How does one find a dog to go truffle hunting with? Well, you sign up for a tour of course! There are a few main truffle brands in town, and some of them run their own truffle hunting and tasting tours. This is the most cultural and immersive thing to do in the area, and what I most highly recommend to do in Motovun.

The thing is, most of the companies who run these tours require booking in advance. Tourism has not quite reached Motovun as much as the rest of Croatia yet, and the business is not so booming that you can rock up and get on a tour just like that. Try checking out Truffle Hunting Croatia for local tours, and Karlic TartufiMiro Tartufi for family-led tours. Send them an email ahead of time, and you should have no problem getting on a tour.  This tour also includes truffle hunting and runs from Rijeka.

motovun croatia old town

motovun old town view istria

Explore Old Town + Sample Oil, Wine, Truffle, and More

To get to the hilltop town, you must drive or take a bus from the bottom. Public busses regularly run up and down from the base of the Motovun hill, which has a large parking lot as the hill can’t accommodate too many cars or any tour busses. Tickets for this bus are about 20kn, and they run all day.

Once you get to the top of the hill, you’ll have arrived at the main street of the tiny walled town. There’s basically only one street, so it’ll be hard to get lost! As you walk upwards towards the top, you’ll begin to pass loads of small tasting rooms and stands (among other tiny souvenir shops), which will be selling the main products of Motovun – wine, rakija (a Croatian spirit), different kinds of olive oil, and different kinds of truffle paste and truffle-flavored things.

Pop into as many of these shops as you like – you might even (read: probably will) find something you’d like to take back to your accommodation or back home as a gift for friends and family. We found some wine to bring back for dinner, and I brought a variety pack of truffle paste for my family!

Oh, and did I mention the views?! The views from the old town are unbelievable and very photo-worthy. With the medieval buildings in the foreground and rolling hills in the back, you can’t go wrong.

Cuisine/Wine to Look Out For:
  • Karlic and Zigante are two of the main truffle brands that are widely known and loved, so you can’t go wrong sampling/buying these.
  • Malvazija and Teran are two types of grape/wine that are local to this area. Make sure to try some!
  • Fakin is a winery close to town where you can try wine, and also has a sampling shop and restaurant in town.
motovun city walls walk istria croatia

 

Walk the Old Town Walls

Like many old Croatian (and European in general) towns, Motovun has a set of main city walls, and you can walk on top of them. Just past the main square of town, you’ll come to a gate which leads to the walls. If you go inside and pay a small fee of 25kn, you’ll receive a ticket to walk around the top of the walls.

Unfortunately it’s no Dubrovnik, but the Motovun walls are beautiful and full of character just the same. You’ll get the best views in town and get to look back out over the small town you just explored on the way up. You’ll see all the forests where the truffle hunting takes place, and even more colorful towns in the distance.

Motovun Cultural Education Center (Small Museum)

At the base of the hill, you’ll find a small museum within a courtyard of a hotel. Here, you can learn a little bit more about how the old town walls of Motovun were built many centuries ago. You’ll learn more about the fact that it  as part of the Venetian empire for centuries (hence who you’ll hear some Italian even in Motovun Croaita!) and how they also discovered more ancient Roman (read: VERY old) ruins here. Some ruins are  on display in the museum, and some are in one of the main archways of the town. You can’t miss it!

Motovun Film Festival

Motovun is also famous for its annual film festival which shows independent and small films from across Europe. It’s extremely popular, and draws travelers from near and far. Make sure to be aware of this as you travel to Motovun Croatia. If you plan your travel dates to visit the film festival (which is usually late July/early August), you should book far in advance because it will be crowded. Or, plan to avoid the crowds and choose different dates. They even put up a campground at the base of the hill for the festival!

fakin winery motovun croatia view

Where to Eat in Motovun

One of the main and most important things to do in the truffle capital is to EAT, of course – and eat well. There are a few top-rated restaurants in Motovun, all of which will meet all of your truffle-rich desires. Here are my faves:

Fakin Winery/Fakin Restaurant – Fakin winery is located just about a 5 minute drive from the base of Motovun Hill, right next to a lovely airbnb I stayed in once. You can visit the winery at any time for a tasting if you are so inclined in trying some Istrian Wine.

However, once in town, you’ll notice the Fakin restaurant along the main cobblestone road with a perfect view out over the Valley. This is where Fakin wine and Motovun food come together! I recommend sharing a few white and black truffle-inspired dishes at sunset, and watching the sun disappear over the hills in the distance.

Zigante Restaurant – This is another top-rated restaurant just outside of Motovun. If you don’t mind a short drive/adventure to another small town, you won’t be disappointed.

Pod Voltom – Situated within the old town walls, Pod Voltom will present you with an incredible view and even more incredible food. Make sure, again, to try plenty of truffle. The meat is to-die-for also.

You can also do a food + wine tour of Motovun + Istria from Pula if you’re specifically into the cuisine! 

motovun walls restaurant

Where to Stay in Motovun Croatia

We stayed a bit out of the city in Motovun, in an airbnb right next to the Fakin winery tasting rooms (which seemed too big of a coincidence to pass up!) If you have a car, Motovun could be a great place to stay a bit farther outside the city in an apartment with a view, to have a bit more of a getaway and look out over hills or vineyards. However, if not, there are plenty of options right amongst it all in the city. Here are some options:

Airbnb: Galerija Motovun for cheaper + smaller + central, House Valentino for a remote entire house (where I stayed) and Casa Adora if it’s available for central + authentic (with a view)
Hotel: Hotel Kastel (central)

Best Photo Spots in Motovun

Although photos are great from the top of the hill itself, some of the best photos that capture the essence of Motovun are actually from a bit farther away. There are lots of vineyards near the main road heading south from Motovun. Pull over behind one to get a glimpse of the colorful hilltop fortress behind grape vines.  There’s a wonderful viewpoint of Motovun from the town of Vižinada (pictured in vertical pin image below) if you are driving out towards Slovenia.

motovun through the grape vines

motovun city walls

Where to Travel from Motovun

There are lots of other places to see in Istria! Here are a few places you could take a bus or road trip from Motovun.

Grožnjan

You can also visit Grožnjan, which is known as a sort of mini-Motovun as Korcula is known as a Mini-Dubrovnik. Grožnjan is a similar hilltop fortressed medieval town, yet, you guessed it, smaller!

Poreč

Poreč is a gorgeous Istrian walled town on the water. It’s not extremely close to Motovun but would be worth checking out if you’ve got spare time and a car. If you don’t, this tour visits Poreč, Grožnjan, and Motovun all in one day.

Pula

As I mentioned above, Pula is one of the larger Istrian cities along the southern coast. It’s known for having an extremely well-preserved ancient Roman coliseum and very lively streets on a summer night.

Krk

Krk is Croatia’s largest island, but actually evades the general tourist route. It’s gorgeous and far less busy than other places in the country. Check out what to don in Krk here!

Rijeka

If you’re heading south, Rijeka could also be a great stopover city. It’s quite a large and hilly coastal city with a lovely old town and accommodations.

Slovenia

We went straight into Slovenia from Motovun on our Balkans Road Trip. You can drive or bus straight to the capital, Ljubljana, or you can stop off at Predjama castle and/or the Postojna caves along the way for some extra iconic Slovenian points of interest. If you aren’t quite done with the coast but want to head north, Piran is a beach town on the only tiny snippet of Slovenia that reaches the coast.


Well, I can’t possibly think of more to say about Motovun Croatia. Do you have any questions?! Drop them below, and don’t forget to Pin!

Visit one of the Balkans' most unique towns: Motovun, Croatia! A tiny medieval hilltop town, Motovun is home to the best truffles in the world, fantastic wine, Italian-influences culture, amazing views, and more! #balkans #croatia #motovun #truffle #foodtravel

May 15, 2019

The Best Things to Do in Montenegro in a Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

The Best Things to Do in Montenegro in a Montenegro Road Trip Itinerary

There are many more things to do in Montenegro than meets the eye. Having been awarded one of the most underrated countries in my eyes, Montenegro is the kind of place that just keeps giving. Many people assume it’s great for its coast – which it is – but it would be a mistake not to do a Montenegro road trip as well to check out the glorious mountains and ravines of the inner parts of the country.

Montenegro is home to beautiful beaches and bays, old walled towns, magical national parks, rocky mountains, towering cliffs, sparkling lakes, and more natural wonder than I thought possible to pack into such a tiny country. After visiting quite a few times, I’ve finally ticked most of the amazing places to visit in Montenegro off my list. Although I still discover more and more each time I return, I think I can confidently list all the best things to do in Montenegro – and not only that, but I have organized them into a looped Montenegro road trip itinerary so you can conveniently see them too.

This Montenegro road trip route can start anywhere you’d like (as it’s a loop – don’t you just love looped routes?!), but I have begun in the Bay of Kotor for convenience. Many people like to get to Kotor from either Dubrovnik, Croatia or Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina. You can drive or take a bus from either of these locations – see below!

hidden gems of Montenegro: things to do in montenegro organized into a montenegro road trip

montenegro road trip guide and all possible things to do and see in montenegro

There’s a LOT of info in this Montenegro Guide… Pin it to Pinterest?!

But First, Are You Traveling Around the Balkans?! Perhaps Some of my Other Articles Could be of Use, Too!:

What is the Best Time to go to Montenegro?

Montenegro is very coastal, so temperatures stay quite temperate even in the summer with an average temp of 27C in the peak of summer. The middle of the country, however, is quite mountainous with a higher elevation, leaving it a bit colder year round. I would say the best time to visit Montenegro (and everywhere in the Balkans) just before or on the tail end of the high summer season. May/June and September/October are ideal months; July and August can get a bit too busy and hot.

Currency in Montenegro

Montenegro uses the Euro, unlike its Croatian and Bosnian counterparts. Some markets still accept other currencies, but it would be a good idea to change over some Euros before your Montenegro travel plans.

Getting to Montenegro

Flights to Montenegro

There are airports in Tivat (which is near Kotor) and Podgorica (the capital) if you would like to fly in. You can easily connect to Kotor and Budva from either, or begin your Montenegro road trip from either place. Bus connections to main cities are easy to find. You can check flights to Montenegro from other places in Europe here; the cheapest flights tend to be from Italy.

Bus to Montenegro

You can easily reach Kotor from main northern cities of Dubrovnik and Mostar, or connect by bus from other surrounding countries as well. Check bus times from Dubrovnik to Kotor here. Budva and Kotor are about 30 minutes apart by cheap public bus.

Driving in Montenegro

We rented a car to do a big Montenegro road trip, which I recommend to have a more freestyle Montenegro trip and be able to see all the places to visit in Montenegro that you want to see. We had a big Balkans road trip through Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, so we rented our car from Sixt in Croatia (offices in the airports/city of Split and Dubrovnik, plus many other places). Sixt was much cheaper than competitors and offered free border crossings as well. You can check Sixt in Montenegro too if it’s the only country you’re going to – there are offices in Tivat, Podgorica, and Budva.

Montenegro Day Tours

If you want to do a Montenegro road trip but can’t rent a car, there are actually plenty of Montenegro day tours you can do from Kotor, Tivat, or Budva. These four tours below pretty much encompass all the main points of interest and adventures in the country if you prefer.

bay of kotor montenegro things to do

Bay of Kotor

Things to Do in Montenegro

Here are the best places to visit in Montenegro, organized in order to do a possible Montenegro Road trip between them all. I would highly recommend branching out from Kotor and Budva – there is so much to Montenegro than these two main cities, and I pretty much guarantee that you’ll be as completely blown away by the countryside as I was.

To do this whole Montenegro road trip, you would need to either do multiple day trips from Kotor/Budva or rent a car and stay the night in a few other places in the country, such as Durmitor National Park or Tara River Canyon. I will recommend places to stay the night where applicable. Everything I mention will be visible on Google Maps. You can do this whole road trip in a row, or you can do bits and pieces here and there; as with all my itineraries and ’things to do’ posts, it is a ‘create-you-own-adventure’ style!

Without further ado, here’s my Montenegro Travel guide with all the best things to do in Montenegro!

1. Bay of Kotor

Time: Stop for photos

The bay of Kotor is a sight to behold in and of itself. A huge bay surrounded by massive mountains, the Bay of Kotor is effortlessly picturesque all the way around. You can either drive all the way around it or take a short ferry ride from Kamenari to Lepetane if you’re looking just to cross. I do however recommend getting lots of different views of it, both from sea level and from some high roads leading into and out of it (Lipci is one of the best views – see all on Google Maps).

The Bay of Kotor is actually the largest inlet of the Adriatic Sea, and has lots of amazing views. Perhaps the best points of interest in the Bay of Kotor (besides Kotor itself) are the two tiny islands located in the Northern past of the Bay, near Perast. One island (Our Lady of the Rocks) has a monastery on it, and the other (Otok Sveti Dorde/Saint George Island) has a church. Both are reachable by boat (like this boat tour here), and there are also great views of them from the coast directly opposite them, or from afar up the hill in Lipci.

fortress hike kotor montenegro

Hiking above Kotor

kotor town

Scenes from Kotor Town

2. Kotor Town

Time: A few Days

Kotor is an amazing little walled town on the southern tip of the Bay of the same name.  The wall goes nearly vertically up the steep mountain behind the town and snakes its way to a massive fortress overlooking the town and back down to a small moat. The designs of the mountain fortifications are very impressive and unique, and have survived since the 15th century!

You could easily spend a few days in Kotor, so this is one of the places I recommend staying at least a night, up to 2 or 3.

The best things to do in Kotor are:
  • Hike up the mountain to the fortress (MUST do!).
  • Visit the many churches in town
  • Walk the front side of the city walls – you can get up to the top of the walls from the bay side entrances
  • Visit the cat museum and cat gift shops – Kotor is known as the city of cats!
  • Visit the archeological museum, Maritime museum, or other art galleries
  • Wander through the old medieval town and the many little shops with interesting souvenirs and trinkets

If you want, the hikes around Kotor are some of the coolest things to do in Montenegro. The hiking trails actually go up much farther than the fortress, and zig zag their way up distant mountains with even better views. Make sure to give yourself plenty of time, though, and bring lots of water!

Where to Eat in Kotor

There are also some top-rated restaurants in and around Kotor. Tables might book up in the high season so make sure to call in if you’re a foodie.

Where to Stay in Kotor
slansko lakes montenegro best views

Slansko Lakes

3. Slansko Lakes View – from Kuside

Getting There: Drive back around the Bay of Kotor from Kotor Town (heading north) and take the road up from the bay (P11 to M6). You will see the viewpoint on your right!

Time: Stop for a Photo

Slansko Lake is a really picturesque lake scattered with little islands. It’s a great place to stop for a photo on your Montenegro road trip; there’s also a restaurant or two overlooking it if you are so inclined. You don’t need to stay long – but it’s worth checking out and snapping a photo for sure.

4. Ostrog Monastery (+ Mountain Views Along the Way)

Time: An hour or two

Getting There: From Slansko Lake, you can go through the town of Niksic to the M18 (you don’t have to go through the town as the highway circumnavigates it, but if you’d like, you can stop for a coffee, food, or accommodation). Exit at the town of Bogetici and enjoy what will emerge into beautiful mountain views overlooking a ravine. You’ll travel up and up and up, eventually reaching a zig zag road that leads up to one of the most unique monasteries in the world.

Ostrog Monastery is a feat of architecture and engineering – its a monastery built right into the side of a hill, overlooking the entire (basically) country of Montenegro. It’s really cool to see. It’s hard to get a proper view of it, but it’s amazing to catch glimpses of it as you ascend the mountain and to eventually get up close to it and see how it was carved into the side of the massive rock.

On certain days you can go inside, but I don’t recommend going on the weekend (like we did) because people often make pilgrimages to it and it can get really crowded. We got there on what ended up being a holiday and could not get in as hundreds of people had slept there overnight! Either way, it’s a sight to behold and one of the most unique things to do in Montenegro.

ostrog monastery montenegro road trip

Standing below Ostrog Monastery

Etno Selo Izlazak Viewpoint + Restaurant/B&B

Time: Stop for a meal/photo or possibly overnight

Getting There: This is one part of the Montenegro road trip that you’ll have to retrace your steps, but not for longer than 15-20 minutes. You’ll now head up the E762 into the most amazing mountainous part of the country. This viewpoint is about 1:15 hours from the Ostrog Monastery.

This little viewpoint/restaurant/hotel is searchable on google maps as ‘Etno Selo Izlazak” and it’s a perfect introduction to this part of the country. You can enjoy a delicious traditional meal overlooking one of many amazing Montenegro river canyons.

Pluzine/Piva Lake/Overpass

Time:  Stop for a photo

Getting There: This overpass is simply a spectacular view. after you cross the bridge from the south, you’ll wind your way up the side of (yet another) mountain looking back upon a stunning view of Piva lake and the bridge that you just crossed over it.

Visitng the Piva area is one of the most scenic things to do in Montenegro, with a thin ice blue lake/river sitting between large green mountains. The terrain is so mountainous that you’ll have to constantly be looking in every possible direction for more incredible views. Pluzine is the small town you’ll pass through when crossing between different parts of Piva Lake, from Etno Selo Izlazak all the way to the Mratinje Dam (a large dam at the far side of Piva Lake) if you’d like to make a slight detour to see it as well.

piva lake overpass montenegro road trip

Driving over Piva Lake

crno jezero black lake durmitor national park montenegro road trip

Jumping for joy at the Crno Jezero in Durmitor National Park

durmitor national park things to do in montenegro mountain overpass view

The kinds of views to expect driving through Durmitor 

Durmitor National Park

Time:  From a few hours to 1-2 Days

Getting There: From Piva Lake, you’ll keep on the same small road (P14) which will eventually take you through Durmitor National Park and out the other side to the town of Zabljak.

Be on alert for this whole drive, trust me – there are some incredible views as you make your way into another cluster of rocky mountains and grassy countryside. There’s one specific overpass (marked on the map Prevoj Sedlo) that is extra special, where you can stop at the top and overlook a winding road on either side. But for this trip (until you get to the main town outside the National park entrance on the other side, Zabljak) I recommend putting some tunes on and keeping your eyes glued to the windows, because it’ll be a bona fide Montenegro road trip with sweeeeeet views.

After another epic leg of your Montenegro road trip, you will reach the small country town of Zabljak, which is the main entry point to the most popular and easiest part of Durmitor National Park to visit. There are grocery stores, shops, and tons of accommodation in this town ,which is why it would be  a great place to stay a night or two to be able to properly explore one of the best things to do in Montenegro.

From here you can access one of the main parts of Durmitor National Park, which has lakes and hiking trails backed up to large mountains. The Crno Jezero (Black Lake) in my opinion is the most picturesque part. You can hike through forests, across pebbly beaches, and up and down hills around two interconnected lakes, getting a true variety in viewpoint. You can hike around them in a few hours, but there are lots more adventures around the area if you have longer time to spend in Montenegro.

To spend more time exploring Durmitor National Park, you can find an airbnb or hotel in Zabljak.

Not Driving? This day tour takes you to Durmitor, Ostrog Monastery, and Tara River Canyon as a full day trip from Kotor, Budva, or Tivat. 

Tara River Canyon

Time: Few Hours – Half Day

Getting There: Now we have reached the farthest part of the Montenegro road trip, and the further places to visit in Montenegro will be getting closer and closer until we get back to the coast. We will take the most scenic route possible of course, through the Tara Canyon along the Tapa river. The P4 road (on Google Maps) can take you through some more amazing scenery as you drive south – and as you will be used to by now, more windy roads to get to epic viewpoints. You can reach the main town of the canyon, Rasova, in about 20 minutes from Zabljak.

The Tara River Canyon is actually recognized as the deepest canyon in Europe, and a must-see of the things to do in Montenegro. If nothing else, you’ll want to stop off and take photos of the gorgeous arched Tara bridge, which to me is actually almost more magnificent than the single-arched Bixby Bridge in Big Sur, California. The bridge is extremely picturesque against a jagged mountainous landscape surrounding a small blue river. This area is great for adventures, such as zip lining or river rafting.

The Tapa River is a popular place to go river rafting- perhaps the best in the Balkans. Rafting here is accessible on your Montenegro road trip or via day trips from Montenegrin cities/Dubrovnik. This tour here takes you on a full day of rafting and food from Kotor, Budva, or Tivat. You can also zipline over the canyon to get the most our of your adventure.

lovcen national park view

A lookout over Lovcen National Park

Podgorica

Time: Anywhere from a quick rest stop to 1 day

Getting There: This will be the largest commute of your Montenegro road trip. It’s 2-2.5 hours via the E65 to the E80 from the Tara area to the capital.

I feel inclined to include the country’s capital in this Montenegro road trip route, because, well, it’s one of the most obvious things to do in Montenegro. But, to be honest, the capital is more of an industrial center and doesn’t have crazy amounts to do. If you need a break, a meal, or a night’s stay (depending on how long you spend in other places and how long you have), you can spend some time here.

There are parks, shops, squares, riverside eateries, some gardens, a museum or two, and accommodations, but Podgorica isn’t particularly a tourist destination to be honest. You could easily spend a day wandering around, but the true magic of Montenegro is more elsewhere.

pavlova strana viewpoint montenegro lake skadar national park

Pavlova Strana Viewpoint

Skadar Lake National Park/ Pavlova Strana Viewpoint

Time: 30 minutes at the viewpoint to 1 day exploring the whole National Park

Getting There: The Pavlova Strana viewpoint is about 30 minutes from the capital via freeways and tiny mountains roads.

This national park is centered around (you guessed it) a massive lake, located in the southwestern part of the country on the border with Albania. It’s pretty massive, but if you were to visit just one part of Skadar Lake National Park on your Montenegro road trip, make it the Pavlova Strana viewpoint. You can find this viewpoint on google maps, and it is perhaps one of the most famous viewpoints and best things to do in Montenegro. 🇲🇪

This viewpoint looks out over a massive 180 degree river bend, and is pretty spectacular. You can see little boats going by on the river to give you perspective of its size, and look out to the river snaking through marshlands into the distance. It’s an unbeatable photo op! Just to warn you, though, the roads to get through the park to reach this point are, well, less than ideal. They’re thin and often overgrown, but don’t be discouraged that you’re going the wrong way. You’er not – it’s just quite remote.

If you only have time for this viewpoint, that’s totally fine. But if not, you can easily spend a day exploring the far reaches of this National Park. Just remember that you can’t drive around the entire lake unless you go into Albania.

Lovcen National Park + Mausoleum of Petar II Petrovic-Njegos Viewpoint

Time: A few hours to a half day

Getting There: It will take about 30 minutes from the Pavlova Strana viewpoint to get to the outskirts of Lovcen National Park, and about an hour to get to the top of the highest mountains viewpoint.

Lovcen National park is a little circular National park about mid-way between Budva and Kotor, inland. In my opinion the roads leading to it are easier to take from/to Budva, which is why I placed it in this position on the Montenegro Road trip itinerary. You’ll take a winding road almost in a circle around the outside of the park to get in, and be faced with beautiful rocky mountain views throughout.

The real treat comes in when you drive all the way to the top of Lovcen mountain, however. If you follow the one main road all the way to the end, you’ll head straight up a massive mountain and reach a restaurant and parking area at the top just below the mausoleum of an old Montenegrin leader.

Park there, and walk towards the massive, ominous-looking tunnel with hundreds of stairs. Pay a small worthwhile fee, and walk up to what is probably the most… interesting… mausoleums I’ve been to. To be honest, this one one of the most interesting places I have been, and definitely on the the coolest things to do in Montenegro. I can’t quite think of the words to describe what this huge mountaintop marble structure adorned with statues and columns is like. It’s ominous; it’s opulent; it’s over-the-top; its friggin’ awesome; it’s a bit spooky; it’s like something I would expect in like, Ancient Egypt or something. You can visit a few different rooms in the mausoleum or go downstairs for the actual tomb, and there are guides and workers who can give you pamphlets to explain what it’s all about.

Oh, and THE VIEW. The view is panoramic and unreal, assuming the fog hasn’t covered it all up. There’s a platform (Vidikovac observation deck) not far from the mausoleum where you can look out over the whole park and also back towards the mausoleum, perched on top of the hill for the rest of its days.

Not Driving? This day tour here takes you to Lovcen, Podgorica, a boat ride in Skadar National Park, and Sveti Stefan. 

lovcen national park viewpoint

Vidikovac Observation deck

petar hektorovic mausoleum things to do in montenegro

Scenes from inside the mausoleum

 

Budva

Time: 2+ Days

Getting There: From Lovcen National Park, you must return to the entrance in Cetinje and take the M2.3 back to the lovely coast! It should take just about an hour to see the sea again and another 15 or so minutes to get to the town. Another Montenegro road trip option for those with less time is to go to Sveti Stefan (the next item on the list) for a quick swim and a sunset before you go back to Budva.

Budva is probably the best city to visit in Montenegro. It’s coastal, has more to do than Kotor and the capital, and is all-around the biggest and most eventful tourist town. There’s a charming old walled town, beautiful beaches right outside of it, a harbor, a coastline full of clubs, games, and water sports, and some really large suburbs.

In the summer months there will always be something going on in Budva, from parties in the local parks to film screenings to live music in the squares of Old Town. There are tons of museums and other things to do, ruins to learn about, and too many great restaurants to choose from.

Some of the best things to do in Budva include:
  • Visit the beach outside old town – complete with thatched umbrellas and lounge chairs to rent
  • visit the dancer statue (‘Statua Ballerina’) up the coast from old town
  • Get lost exploring and shopping in the alleyways of Old Town
  • Visit the many churches in old town
  • Check out the Maritime Museum, City Museum, and a few art galleries
  • Visit Sveti Stephan (see below)
Where to Stay in Budva

Sveti Stefan

Time: A few hours – 1 day

Getting There: It’s right down the coast from Budva- about 10km south.

Sveti Stefan is one of the most unique places to visit in Montenegro. It’s a little island connected to the mainland by a very thin isthmus – about 100m long. It’s an extremely postcard-worthy view, both from a small viewpoint on a road above it and from the bridge itself.

Sveti Stefan is an extremely picturesque formation, and if it wasn’t beautiful enough already there is now a wonderfully designed (and expensive af) hotel on it that is also pleasing to the eye. There are no other things to do in Montenegro quite like it, or any of the Balkans really. I recommend spending a few hours here taking photos, swimming, and relaxing on the beach. The water here is warm and clear like the rest of the Adriatic, and with a view like Sveti Stefan it will be an unforgettable dip.

sveti stefan montenegro road trip go pro sunset

Sunset at Sveti Stefan… now time for a swim!

Ulcinj

Time: 1 Day Trip

Getting There: Ulcinj is about 1.5 hours from Budva, down the coast.

Ulcinj (Ult-zin-ee) is a lovely beach town on the farthest south end of Montenegro’s coast – close to Albania. It’s definitely not one of the necessary things to do in Montenegro, but I wanted to include a more off-the-beaten-track beachside destination for those who want to get away from the crowds. Ulcinj is a secret paradise with rocky headlands, beaches, and hilltop parks overlooking the sea. It would be a great getaway for 1+ days. It’s also quite close to Skadar Lake; if you end up exploring deeper into the national park you can always visit Ulcinj directly afterwards and re-route your Montenegro road trip a bit past Sveti Stefan towards Budva.

all the most incredible htings to do in montenegro organized into an epic montenegro road trip

Remember to PIN ME!

Phew, where there they are – ALL the best things to do in Montenegro, organized into the ultimate road trip. You can now know all the possible places to visit in Montenegro and plan your own trip accordingly – choose your own adventure and make a route with the time you have. Whether you hit all these spots or only Kotor and Budva, you’re sure to have a great time in what I have considered one of the most underrated countries in the world. As always, let me know if I can help in any way, if I missed something, or if you have any extra tips!

May 1, 2019

Things to Do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Mostar Travel Guide 

Things to Do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina: A Mostar Travel Guide 

You should be proud that you’ve made it to one of Europe’s most underrated cities: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina! There are tons of things to do in Mostar when you aren’t simply walking the streets and ogling over all the amazing Turkish-influenced markets.

This Mostar travel guide will take you through all the historic, adventurous, scenic, culinary, and full-of-nature things to do in and around the town of Mostar. Trust me, you’ll be totally impressed with this place and the surrounding countryside – it’s a sight to behold. I went to Mostar as part of my Balkans Road trip one summer, and will never get enough.

But first, let’s get a few important pieces of info out of the way:

When’s the Best Time to go To Mostar?

It’s important to note that Mostar weather is HOT during the summer. No, like REALLY hot. Uncomfortably hot. The kind of hot that will make you not want (or be able) to leave the house. For maximum adventure and to be able to accomplish all these awesome things to do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, you’ll want to visit when it’s a bit more of a manageable temperature.

This means that July and August are basically off-limits. I would personally recommend May or late September/early October, if that makes sense with your travel dates. This way, the temperature will be nice, warm, and manageable. Do June or early September if you must; or even more off-season months to beat the crowds.

What is the Currency in Mostar?

The currency in Bosnia and Herzegovina is the ‘Konvertible Mark,’ or as you will see on any street signs, the ‘KM.’ As of the late 2018, the KM was worth almost exactly twice as much as a Euro, and all businesses converted it this way. Many businesses will take Euros for exactly half the amount you would owe in the local currency.

How do You Get to Mostar?

Some of the best ways to get to Mostar from are from Dubrovnik, Croatia and Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s jut over two hours away from both Dubrovnik and Sarajevo. So, it’s quite easy to fly into either of those bigger cities and get a bus, private transfer, or rent a car to drive to Mostar.

things to do in mostar bosnia and herzegovina mlstar travel guide

travel guide mostar bosnia and herzegovina

Going to Mostar Bosnia & Herzegovina? Pin this Mostar travel guide to Pinterest! 

And now, here are all the awesome things you can do once you get to Mostar!

Things to do in Mostar Town

Here are all the things to do in Mostar that are walkable from anywhere in the city. There are tons of activities to do, and the main area of town is actually quite small! There are things to do on each side of the Stari Most (which directly translates to ‘Old Bridge’), which is basically the center of the main part of town itself.

Explore Old Town

One of the best and most obvious things to do in Mostar is to get totally lost in the cobblestone medieval streets of the old town! The old town extends on either side of the Stari Most (Old Bridge) and it’s covered floor to ceiling with market stalls with the most unique, colorful, and cultural souvenirs.

Wandering the streets of Mostar is the easiest way to understand how heavily the Turkish/Ottoman Empire influenced the country of Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s like another world if you have just come from Croatia or Slovenia, because the souvenir shops are totally different. In Mostar/Bosnia as a whole, the markets are full of Aladdin-type gold and silver lamps, cutlery sets, coffee sets, jugs, and plate sets, tons of turkish rugs and scarves, Amazing Turkish patterns on pouches and bags, skirts, hats and tops laden with old coins that clang when you walk, the type of stained glass lamps you’s expect to see in Morocco, and even war souvenirs such as little tanks and pens made from bullets.

Go ahead, get lost! But make sure you leave time for all the other awesome things to do in Mostar. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Stari Most / Old Bridge

Well, this should be the most obvious place to visit in Mostar! The Stari Most is quite possibly one of the most famous landmarks in all of the Balkans, and rightfully so – it’s downright incredible!

The Stari Most  is perhaps the most well-known for incredibly brave people jumping off of it. People do it almost every day! But, it’s not for the faint of heart – it’s 24m (79ft) tall!! Wow!

There are some locals who do it daily for money, and who also take tourists under their wing each day and teach them the correct jumping form off a nearby platform for a small fee. If you want to jump it, I would 10000% recommend not doing it on your own! 24m is NOT for the faint of heart, and these guys give you a full tutorial, help you jump, yell at you while you’re in the air at the exact point you should pencil your body, and even have guys in boats there waiting if you mess up. It’s a good deal.

mostar map best views of the old bridge

Not a jumper? Don’t worry; most people aren’t. Let’s stick to looking at the bridge then, shall we? There are a lot of great views of the old bridge, but here are the best views of Stari Most I recommend:

  1. From standing on the bridge, of course! Walk across it as many times as you like, look off the edge on both sides, and imagine what it would be like to jump off of it – cringe! Make sure you don’t slip while walking on the Stari Most, though – step on top of each step or you might eat it on the slippery tiles.
  2. From below – if you’re standing on the bridge, you’ll see a few huge platforms below it on one side where people sit and relax. Grab a takeaway from anywhere in old town (I recommend the cevapi – they come nice and easy inside a pita here – more on food below) and find a nice place to sit below the bridge. There are plenty of shaded spots both close to and a bit farther from the bridge. Choose a place you like, take some classic pictures under the bridge, and hope that you’re lucky and get to watch some jumpers during your meal. (I got to see two! Check my IG story highlights of Bosnia to see them)
  3. From a restaurant for dinner on the opposite side of the bridge from the platforms. There are lots of them that have views of the bridge, and it’s absolutely lovely when it’s lit up at night.

Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque (To Climb)

This is one of the most famous mosques in Mostar, and also happens to probably have the best view in Mostar. It’s definitely not for you if you’re claustrophobic, though; you actually have to climb up a stone spiral staircase all the way up a really tall temple spire/minaret. It’s not ideal, but oh, is it worth it!

Once you get to the top, you’ll see why this is one of the must-do things to do in Mostar. This view of the Stari Most might be better than the three above combined, and you can see more of the river and countryside than most places in town. The mosque is also very beautiful inside. Just make sure to cover up properly before going in (they also have scarves for you if you don’t have one)!

Cost of Entry: 6 Euro

view of the stari most old bridge from the mosque mostar bosnia go pro

View from the Pasha Mosque

Kajtaz House

The Kajtaz (kai-tahz) house is a fascinating old historic Turkish house that is now and UNESCO protected world heritage site. Located very close to town, the Kajtaz is actually run by a descendant of some of the original inhabitants back in the 16th century. He is extremely kind and knowledgeable about the entire history of the house and its rooms, and shows everyone around for a very small fee.

Unfortunately half of it was ruined in the Yugoslav wars, but they have done a fantastic job preserving the rest of it and setting the rooms up with traditional rugs, texts, pottery, and clothing that was worn when the home was new.

Cost of Entry: suggested donation of 2 Euro each for a tour

Nesuh-Aga Vučjaković Mosque

Not too far from the Pasha Mosque, we have the oldest mosque in Mostar. You can see just by looking at it that it’s quite ancient, and you can go inside and check it out more closely if you’re into that kind of thing.

War + Genocide Museum

This is a difficult, yet very important thing to do in Mostar. Recently opened, the Mostar Museum of War + Genocide Victims goes deep into tear-jerking detail about the war that happened in the Balkans/previous Yugoslavia a mere 26 years ago, from 1992-1995.

If you don’t know much about the Yugoslav Wars, you absolutely must visit this museum. There were terrible atrocities that occurred here during many of our lifetimes, and educating yourself about what happened is the first step to trying to empathize and understand what this country has gone through.

Cost of Entry: 10KM per person/5 Euro

bosnian coffee mostar

Bosnian coffee from Cafe de Alma

Try a Real Bosnian Coffee… and Yes, it’s Different than Turkish Coffee (But Similar!)

Did you know that Bosnian coffee is different than Turkish coffee? They’re actually really similar, but just prepared a bit differently. Make sure you don’t say ’Turkish coffee’ to a Bosnian, because they are adamant that theirs is far superior (it’s something about the roasting process and how Bosnians don’t burn theirs as often as Turks do, due to something…. ask at the cafe! 😛 ).

The best place to try a real Bosnian Coffee is Cafe de Alma. It’s a bit hidden behind a temple, but it’s super cute and authentic. Enjoy it with a turkish delight (unclear if they would be called Bosnian delight here?!), and maybe someone can read your fortune at the bottom of the cup!

Biscevic House

This is another old Turkish house – this one from the 17th century – right next to the War + Genocide Museum. Similar to some other historic houses to visit in Mostar, you can view old artifacts and information with a terrace over the river.

Things to do in Mostar, Surrounding Areas, and Herzegovina

Now it’s time for the second half of my Mostar travel guide, which refers to all the amazing places to visit outside of (yet close to) Mostar Town. I meant it when I said that this is one of the most scenic countries ever, so make sure to visit some nearby points of interest.

Getting to the Areas Outside of the City

To see the areas described below (Kravice, Blagaj, Pocitelj, and Medugorje), you can either rent a car and drive it yourself, or you can do a day tour from Mostar that will take you around.

blagaj springs dervish house

A local pomegranate in front of the Blagaj spring and dervish house

Blagaj Spring + The Dervish House/Tekija

One of the most unique things to to in Mostar and even the Balkans is to visit Blagaj (pronounced blah-guy) Spring. The spring is at the base of a very tall cliff, and is actually the deepest spring in Europe. Blagaj is actually the source of the entire Buna River, producing 43,000 gallons of water PER SECOND. No joke. The water is pure and cold, and many surrounding restaurants actually use it to cool their drinks rather than using fridges!

Next to the spring you have another old Turkish house that is now a tourist/historical site. This one is quite similar to the Kajtaz but has a bit of a different history, being occupied by ‘Dervishes.’ Dervishes are known to be the ‘Islamic hippies’ if you will, and they used to live very simply and off the land in this scenic white house near the spring.

Nowadays you must cover up to go inside, as with most old houses in Bosnia. You can visit all the different rooms, learn what each one was for and how they used them, and of course take pictures in the beautiful rug-adorned rooms.

Kravice Waterfalls

Kravice waterfalls (Krav-eet-zay) are some incredible waterfalls about an hour outside of Mostar. These waterfalls are extremely scenic; many people revel at how beautiful they are. I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in my travels but I still love visiting Kravice Falls, especially because you can swim in the water surrounding them. I love them so much I have written a specific guide to visiting Kravice Falls, too!

They have recently put up a lane line around the falls, but I personally had no problem climbing up to get closer to the falls and explore the rock pools. Just be careful – I didn’t tell you to do it!

There are loads of restaurants surrounding Kravice Falls where you can get a bite to eat overlooking the water. There’s also a tram that takes you up and down for 2 euro, but if you take the stairs the walk is easy enough.

Pocitelj Castle

Pocitelj Castle/Fort (po-chee-tell-ee) is an old Ottoman walled hillside town next to a beautiful river. It’s only about 15 minutes from Kravice Falls, and you can visit them both together quite easily. Just prepare for some stairs (some bus tours use a drop-off point above, but the parking lot is below). I’d recommend walking in a big circle from one main tower to the other (you’ll find your way easily enough) and seeing the views of the town and river from both sides. One tower has been fortified by glass, but most of the rest of town is as authentic-ruins as it gets. The eastern tower is crumbling a bit, and you can climb up to the top level to look out the windows just like Rapunzel.

You can pick pomegranates off the trees as you walk around the town – hopefully you get them while they’re ripe! You can also buy pomegranate juice, rose juice, and tons of little cones of fresh fruit and nuts from the locals who likely picked them from their gardens.

pocitelj castle mostar bosnia herzegovina

The View from Pocitelj 

Medugorje

Medugorje (med-oo-gohr-ee-yay) is a famous Christian pilgrimage site where, supposedly, the Virgin Mary appeared to some young people many years ago. Today, people from all over the world make pilgrimages to Medigorje, often for Christmas and religious holidays.

There is a MASSIVE outdoor church – the biggest I’ve ever seen – for people to attend mass. You can go into confession booths in like 20 different languages, and revel at quite a few statues of Jesus, Mary, and a few other religious figures. In the town, you’ll find gift shop after gift shop all centered around Virgin Mary. You can take your pick: life size Virgin Mary statues, Virgin Mary necklaces, magnets, cups, plates, bobbleheads, posters, keychains… literally everything. So if you’re into the Virgin Mary… this is your place, yo.

Visit a Winery

Yep, they do make wine in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are many family wineries near Mostar, many of which you can visit and have a taste for yourself. I mean, Bosnia isn’t KNOWN for its wine, but when in Rome, right?

Watching the Sunset in Mostar

It wouldn’t be an Adventure + Sunset guide without sunset spots, right?! Mostar isn’t the best place to see the sunset, but you best believe I always try the find the best sunset views no matter where I am. Here are some suggestions:

Drive Up the Hill Overlooking the City

You’ll see a big hill overlooking the city with a cross on top. You can drive up this (don’t try to hike though, I did that once – no trail along the road). This would be a great place to see the twilight over the city.

Riverside Restaurants

Grab yourself a table with a view for sunset – bonus if it has a view of the Old Bridge, too.

Platforms Under the Bridge

Watching the sky change with the Stari Most in the background is nothing but magic. And those platforms are a wonderful place to relax. Bring a picnic!

shopping in mostar bosnia and herzegovina

Shopping in Mostar

Where to Eat + Drink in Mostar

Phew, that was a lot of adventuring you had to do to complete all those cool things to do in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina! You must be hungry. Don’t worry, I have some great places for you to try.

But first, I want to warn you that sometimes the food can get a bit… sketchy in Mostar. It’s kind of the one thing that sucks about Mostar – I got reeeeeeally sick here once, and they think it was either salmonella or a parasite. Scary, I know – it’s not common, I just want you to be cautious and not eat anything that you feel unsure of. I felt unsure about my chicken salad, but I ate it anyway (who gets sick from a chicken salad?! it was probably the eggs). Not good. I have since found some super reliable places to eat in Mostar, so go to the places I recommend and exercise a general amount of caution (eat local dishes, order reliable things) and you’ll be totally fine.

The Food House

This place is a bit more affordable and has some absolutely delicious options both of very traditional food and more western-ish things you might be more familiar with. It’s very close to the bridge and is very reliable. A great chance to try something new.

Šadrvan

This place is right near the old bridge and perhaps has the best food in Mostar. The workers are all dressed up in traditional clothing, and provide great service as you sit among the fairy lights strung between trees. It’s super cute, really. Get a tasting platter that has a bit of everything, and get amongst the local/Turkish influenced food.

Cafe de Alma Coffee Shop

I already mentioned this, but you MUST try Bosnian coffee, and this is a good place to do it. If it’s full (which it often might be) there are a lot of other small cafes too.

Grab Food to Go and Picnic Near the Bridge

Grab some takeaway cevapi in the town – many places do this. (If you don’t know, cevapi is basically like little sausage sticks of hamburger meat. They’re a classic food for the Balkans, and in Bosnia they come with chopped onions and ajvar/red pepper sauce inside a pita. Delicious and hard to mess up.) Take the food to one of the public platforms near the old bridge and enjoy the sunset and/or old town lit up at night as you eat.

Alternatively, grab some groceries from a nearby market and make yourself a picnic fit for a king, with a view. You can’t go wrong with charcuterie platter supplies. I did this while traveling solo for my birthday one year.

Bakeries

There are lots of fresh and delicious bakeries, and they get cheaper and cheaper the farther you go from the main town.

Black Dog Pub

Black Dog Pub is the place to go have some drinks after dinner. It’s right along a smaller stream that empties into the Neretva, with a smaller version of the Stari Most bridge that was constructed prior to the larger version to make sure it was constructionally sound. You might meet some locals there who will take you to Mostar’s nightclub on the other side of the bridge, in a cave-like opening in the cliff.

kravice falls mostar herzegovina

Kravice Falls 

Where to Stay in Mostar

The last part of my Mostar travel guide has come: where to stay in Mostar. There are hostels in Mostar to stay in, but honestly this place is so cheap that you might as well treat yourself to a private room for no more than 30-40 Euro, or a nice airbnb.

I was able to find a one bedroom from a travel agency for 35 /night right next to the bridge a few years back. Another time when I was with a few others, I stayed at a lovely airbnb right outside of town and not far from the Kajtaz house. There are a few boutique hotels, with even nicer ones under construction. There are plenty of options! Here are a few links:

Airbnb

When traveling with a family, I stayed in this Airbnb/villa here with 3 rooms (7 guest capacity) right next to the city and loved it. This one is great for smaller groups/couples or solo travelers.

Hotels

There are plenty of highly rated hotels in the city, depending on what you’re looking for.

Hostels

There are also many cheaper hostels around town as well.

things to do in mostar bosnia

Remember to pin this guide to Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina! 

Where to Travel From Mostar

The Balkans are a stunning area to travel through, and many of Bosnia’s neighbouring countries are worth visiting on a Balkans road trip.

Croatia

Many people travel to Croatia from Mostar. Check out my Croatia Super-Guide for all the info you need about this country. You can also read my guides to Split, Dubrovnik, and more.

Montenegro

Montenegro is an east border crossing from Bosnia. Check out all the best things to do in Montenegro in my Montenegro Road Trip Guide.


 

Well, that’s it for things to do in Mostar! Did you enjoy my Mostar travel guide? Is there anything I missed?! Let me know if the comments!

April 23, 2019

Solomon Islands Tourism Tips, Facts, + Complete Travel Guide

Solomon Islands Tourism Tips, Facts, + Complete Travel Guide

This year I had the privilege of being able to visit the Solomon Islands – an incredibly untouched and authentic island nation in the South Pacific. Solomon Islands Tourism is only just gaining popularity, as the country is actually one of the ten least visited nations in the world. The island nation is spread out over more than 900 islands in 900 miles, with six main islands accessible from each other mainly via short internal flights. The country is very spread out, and consists of both mountainous/volcanic islands with dense jungles to flat white sandy beach islands laden with palms.

The Solomon Islands are laden with coral reefs and impossibly clear water, and are teeming with wildlife both above and below the surface. They have some of the most untouched and magnificent fishing, surfing, diving, and wildlife-spotting locations in the world, which you are likely to have all to yourself on any given day.

The people of the Solomon islands are mostly of Melanesian descent, with portions of Polynesian and Micronesian descendants as well. Locals are lovely and welcoming, however often intrigued and confused about the sight of visitors (more or less depending on where you go!). They’ve had quite a tumultuous history in the Solomons, being one of the main battlegrounds between the USA and Japan during WW2 and also periods of civil tensions and fighting in the late 90’s/early 00’s.

I was invited by Visit Solomon Islands to experience Solomon Islands tourism with my friend (aka instagram husband) Dana of The Wandering Donut, and they planned a jam-packed week for us both. Our trip started off on a high note when we were upgraded to business class on Solomon Airlines (woo!), and that high note maintained the entire week. After a few weeks of bad weather, we apparently brought the sun with us from Australia and we had an almost-seamless week of lovely weather, fascinating history, incredible photo ops, beautiful locations, and LOTS of my two favorite things – adventures & sunsets! 😉

a complete guide to solomon islands tourism: facts, tips, where to go, things to do, where to stay, histopry, what to know before ou go, how to get there, getting around, and more.

a complete guide to solomon islands tourism: facts, tips, where to go, things to do, where to stay, histopry, what to know before ou go, how to get there, getting around, and more.

Pssst – PIN ME to your Pinterest boards to save for later – this is a loooooong Solomon Islands Tourism Guide! 

Quick Solomon Islands Facts:

Solomon Islands Capital: Honiara, on the island of Guadalcanal (famous for a WW2 battle of the same name)

Solomon Islands Population: 611k (and rising steadily but slowly)

Solomon Islands Religion: 95% Christian – however, there were prevalent headhunting tribal traditions before the arrival of Christian missionaries.

Solomon Islands Climate: There are basically two seasons in ‘the Sollies,’ the dry (and cooler) season April to October and the wet (and warmer) season the other part of the year. The temperatures remain quite temperate year-round, with averages of 27 degrees Celsius (about 80F) year round.

Solomon Islands Language: The official language in the Solomon islands is English. However most of the population speak a fascinating dialect of English called Solomons Pidgin. This language is a mixture of Creole languages (of which a few more are spoken in certain parts of the country as well) with a largely phonetically spelled/pronounced version of English. A lot of words/signage can make sense in English if you sound them out. See a photo + explanation down the end of this post!

Solomon Islands Economy: The main exports/foreign exchange from the country are timber and fisheries, with lots of palm oil and copra as well. Solomon Islands tourism is growing industry as well with a ton of potential, but still requires government support for infrastructure.

Solomon Islands People: The people of the Solomon Islands are thought to have first migrated to the area around 3,000 years ago from Southeast Asia, forming the predominantly Melanesian archipelago which includes a few surrounding countries as well. There are also significant populations of Micronesian and Polynesian people as well.

One of the most interesting qualities about the people of the Solomon islands is their unique gene to produce blonde hair alongside dark skin – which is thought to have evolved from a diet rich in seafood and lifestyle rich in sunlight. About 10% of the population have naturally blonde hair. See below for a brief Solomon islands history!

  • Betelnut: one of the fascinating cultural traditions of the Solomon Islands the the use of betelnut, a nut grown locally and chewed. You’ll notice that many people of the Solomon Islands’ teeth and gums are stained red with the stuff. It’s something that is done socially with friends, and is a slight stimulant much like coffee.

solomon islands WW2 plane wreck dive site go pro

Looking over a submerged WW2 plane – one of many surreal dive sites in the Solomon Islands.

drone sunser over gizo fatboys resort

A Solomon Islands sunset from the sky in Gizo 

Solomon Islands History (In Brief)

The Solomon islands were home to indigenous tribes and peoples since they were first settled around 2000BC. In the mid 1500’s, a Spanish explorer ‘discovered’ them and named them the Isles of Solomon, thinking he had found the source of the riches of the biblical figure of the same name. This is why many islands still have Spanish names.

The islands were left mostly alone until the late 1800’s, when the occasional missionary or trading ship would make contact. Also during this time, many ships from Australia and Fiji began ‘blackbirding,’ or abducting Solomon Islanders to labour on plantations (which laid some of the foundations for the pidgin dialect of English that made it back to the islands).

In 1893 the Solomon islands became a British Protectorate, which it remained for decades. The islands were then occupied in 1942 by Japanese WW2 troops, and American troops soon after – leading to several years of intense and crucial battle which exploited and damaged the nation, but left it with a new identity. After the war the new capital, Honiara, was established next to USA’s Henderson airstrip, and the Islands became independent from British rule in 1978. They remain close with British rule and are a member of the Commonwealth.

Infrastructure was improved at a slow rate until ‘the tensions’ of 1998-2003, which was a period of battle and civil unrest between the islands of Guadalcanal and Malaita. Many residents of both islands were displaced or forced to flee conflict, and there were periods of violence until 2003 when the RAMSI (Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands) or ‘Helpem Fren” (‘help a friend’ in pidgin) arrived. RAMSI was a force of a few thousand soldiers from Australia, New Zealand, and many other Pacific Island Nations who arrived to help restore order and disarm militias, which was hugely successful.

solomon islands hapi isles happy people

The Solomon Islands are known as ‘the Hapi Isles’ because people are so happy and welcoming. These happy people were at the Honiara market. 

What to Know Before Considering Visiting the Solomon Islands

Before considering visiting the Solomon Islands, there are a few things you must know. The islands are still very untouched, and receive under 25,000 visitors per year (many of which visit on business or research purposes). Although they still lack the complete infrastructure to support mass tourism, they are very well suited to the off-the-beaten-path traveler who seeks some authenticity in their ventures.

You won’t find massive bus stations, decked-out resorts, tourism-directed advertisements and signage, or travel agencies all over the place eager to sign you up for your next tour. Most excursions and transport will be booked for you through your hotel, and Solomon Islands tourism leaves a bit more of your trip up to your own interpretation.

There aren’t many gift shops, touristy malls, or souvenir markets. I couldn’t find many places to get souvenirs/arts/crafts outside of Honiara, and most of the shopping malls and crowded food markets were simply stocked with necessities for locals and no tourist bait.

Essentially, what I am saying is that it’s certainly no Hawaii, but that’s what makes the Solomon Islands so intriguing, authentic, and alluring.

solomon islands view from the plane solomon airlines plane

solomon islands lola island reef sharks

Spotting islands from the plane, and little reef sharks from the pier!

Who Should Visit the Solomon Islands?

Because ‘the Sollies’ are more suited to a certain type of traveler and not really for others, I’ve made this handy dandy little chart listing out the types of people who would love Solomon Islands tourism and those who may not.

DEFINITELY COME IF YOU ENJOY:

  • Scuba Diving – some of the best in the world
  • Fishing – Amazing fishing and sport fishing, prolific sea life
  • Surfing – Remote + untouched reef breaks with perfect waves
  • Wildlife Spotting/Bird Watching – some of the most biodiverse places in the world (especially certain islands) and popular for birds
  • Eco and rustic travel and experiencing the true identity of a place
  • Adventure Travel – snorkeling, scuba, fishing, helicopter, hiking (volcanoes), jungle/rainforest walks
  • Culture – visiting communities/villages and interacting with locals to learn their customs and traditions
  • Being remote + in nature without much contact with the outside world (e.g. wifi)
  • Fascinating World War II history, memorials, ruins, museums, and artifacts
  • Potentially being the only people staying at an island hotel for a few days – getting to know the locals and workers
  • (Truly) untouched island paradises with clear blue water, sandbars, dozens of tiny white sand islands with jungle vegetation
  • Freshly prepared seafood- lobster, squid, shellfish, white fish, and more
  • Interacting with kind locals who would love to chat about where you’re from

MAYBE DON’T COME IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR:

  • A luxurious five star resort experience with people waiting on your hand and foot
  • A cheap party travel destination/a cheap place to go and get wasted for the weekend
  • Busy cities and populated resorts with lots of other international guests
  • Infrastructure on par with the Western World
  • Being able to constantly connect to wifi and stay in contact with the outside world/stream movies/upload photos/etc
  • Lots of options to go out and socialize at night
  • Big cities with lots of amenities/being able to access all food/drink/convenience/entertainment needs at any given moment

solomon islands relax fatboys resort gizo bikini girl

hiking solomon islands jungel walk blogger

I was having far too much fun, clearly! 

How to Get to the Solomon Islands (Solomon Islands Airports)

The Solomon Islands have two international airports – one of which actually just opened in late March 2019. Before the Munda International Airport opened its doors, you could only arrive in the Solomon Islands via a flight through the capital, Honiara. Brisbane is the main international hub through which most flights to the Solomon Islands will pass. There are a couple flights per day from Brisbane to Honiara (and vice versa – usually two). There are only a few other international flights out of Honiara to other South Pacific Islands such as Fiji, Kiribati, and Vanuatu, but other than that all must pass through Brisbane.

However, the recent opening of the Munda International Airport has and will continue to open up many new doors for Solomon Islands tourism. The flights from Brisbane to Munda were still in the trialing phase as of March 2019. But, they will continue to expand and proliferate through the year, in hopes that it will expand visitation and potentially investment in Solomon islands tourism and infrastructure. The main thing that must be established is the immigration system, but all plans are in place to have even cheaper flights to this part of the Solomon Islands soon.

The international flights to the Solomon Islands will have both business and economy class. Business class seats come with higher caliber meals and alcohol, however the meals in the economy class are also quite good with (lower quality) wine and drinks as well. See below for a Solomon Islands budget/pricing section.

solomon islands sunset locals on the pier solomon islands tourism

An unforgettable sunset in Munda

Getting Around in the Solomon Islands

The Solomon island chain is much larger than it may seem. As I mentioned earlier, it covers a distance of over 900 miles from Papua New Guinea to Vanuatu. Let me repeat that – nine hundred miles. This is no small feat to cross, folks! You can’t exactly get from one side to the other via small motorboat, and the infrastructure does not yet support large-scale ferry services to bring people around, especially in times of storms/rain.

So, as of now, you can get around the islands themselves by car/van of course, between some of the closer islands via small motorboat, and the rest is left up to tiny internal flights run by Solomon Airlines.

Solomon Islands Internal Flights

From Honiara you can take short flights to just over twenty islands/airports in the Solomon Islands. These flights go through the smallest airports you’ve ever seen, with singular check-in counters and one-human-looking-in-your-bag security checkpoints (if anything), and board onto the cutest little propeller planes on single-lane runways. Some flights have slightly larger propeller planes, while the shortest flights take tiny prop planes without much more than a few dozen seats.

My Experience/What to Know About Solomon Airlines

I couldn’t stop giggling about the tiny size of everything at the island airports. They were essentially one-room buildings with a counter and back door that lead right out to the tarmac. Baggage claim at Solomon Islands airports is nothing more than a cart of everyone’s bags being rolled out to the building, and leaving everyone to work together/scramble a bit between each other to find their bag.

The Honiara Domestic Airport was the only one with a security check, which was comprised of a woman checking inside everyone’s bags. This was also the only one with multiple rooms, with a waiting room and another with a few chairs (far less than the amount of seats on the plane, ha) after security.

The Gizo Airport is one of the most unique in the world; it’s literally an airstrip that is an island itself, and the only way to get to the mainland/other islands from it is by motorboat. It’s the type of thing where you’re looking out the airplane window seeing the sparkling blue ocean getting closer and closer as you descend, and momentarily getting slightly worried that land actually won’t appear because you can’t see land/the airstrip until you’re a mere few meters off the ground.

Picture locals selling coconuts on a grassy patch just outside the open ‘terminal,’ with a couple airport baggage carts laying beside them waiting for the chance to be used. You then make your way to a small pier where motorboats from various hotels are waiting to pick up their next patrons, for quite possibly the coolest airport taxi ride you’ll ever take.

The Munda Airport is at the end of a tiny main road of town, bordered by a single bar, a couple small hotels, some Chinese shops, market stalls, and a grocery. It’s a single room with a check-in counter and a bench around the outside, with tons of informational posters (likely made on Microsoft Word) on the walls about different hotels and islands to visit in the area. Planes from here back to Honiara will come from Gizo, so when you hear the plane land you’ll know it’s time to board. After some people have deplaned and entered the small building from the tarmac, you’ll jump on the small plane which will have patrons still on it from Gizo. Your ticket might even be written by hand.

What to Know about Internal Flights on Solomon Airlines:
  • These flights will have some of the best airplane window views you’ve ever seen. Make sure to keep your eyes fairly glued to the windows… by doing your best to get a window seat.
  • The seats may be assigned on the tickets (sometimes), but it’s essentially a free-for-all on all internal flights. This means the seats are first-come-first-serve.  Make sure to try and line up first to have your pick of seats so you can get one with a window for the epic viewage.
  • Make sure to pack your camera(s) in your carry-on so you can take photos out the window. Trust me.
  • The snack we got was a fascinating ‘butter cracker sandwich’ that tasted a bit lemon-y to me. Make sure to try this interesting local snack.
  • There will be lots of locals flying too. It might be a great opportunity to have a chat with someone who lives in the Sollies to get a fresh/authentic perspective on what it’s like and where they’re going.

shipwreck bonegi mbonege beach honiara solomon islands

Bonegi shipwreck on Mbonege beach

traditional cooking solomon islands

A traditional cooking display in Lumatapopoho village – cooking local cabbage in coconut milk by using hot stones to boil the milk.

Where to Travel/Things to Do in the Solomon Islands

Phew! Now that we have gotten the logistics out of the way, I assume if you’re still reading that you are the adventurous/getaway type of traveler. Great! There are LOADS of places for you to explore, all over the Solomons. I’ll begin with a brief outline of what each place has to offer, but I have specific guides and posts in the pipeline which will be coming out very soon with more in-depth specifics for each individual destination.

Guadalcanal Island

Guadalcanal Island is the largest of the Solomon Islands and home to the capital city, Honiara. The name Guadalcanal may be familiar to many due to a large and decisive World War 2 battle of the same name, between the US and Japan. As I mentioned above, battles in the Solomon Islands were some of the most crucial of the War, and just barely ended with US control over the Pacific rather than Japan moving closer toward Australia.

The Henderson Airstrip of Honiara (which is now the international airport) was the most crucial capture for the US Army; if control of that very airstrip was lost to Japan, the world may actually have ended up very differently today! Either way, there is a LOT of WW2 tourism in Honiara. There are many War sites, memorials, ruins, and museums to visit. The island was essentially ravaged by the war, and remnants can still be found to this day.

Honiara is also of course the capital and financial/governmental center of the Solomon Islands. It has the highest population and the hustle and bustle of a busier city. However, the Solomon Islands are one of few countries where the majority of the population still lives in rural communities (rather than most people gravitating to bigger cities for work), which is another reason it’s so authentic. This also means that the capital city is not as big as one may imagine. There are a few main roads, a couple restaurants, a cafe or two, a central market, a yacht club (pretty much the only form of nightlife), some bigger hotels, and quite expansive suburbs around the city as well.

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Posing with one of the many planes of the Vilu War Museum

What to See and Do in Honiara + Guadalcanal

  • US War Memorial and Japanese War Memorial – There is both a US and Japanese hilltop War memorial around the hills of Honiara. Here you can learn about how the War effected both countries, pay tribute to lives lost, and see lovely views.
  • Art Museum – The Art Museum in the city center houses two rooms of local art. Art from the Solomon Islands, in my opinion, tends to be very vibrant, abstract, and ocean/nature focused. I adored some of the paintings here – one of them is still the background on my phone!
  • National Museum – This museum was quite comprehensive, with Solomon Islands history all the way from prehistoric times (when the first humans are assumed to have arrived in the South Pacific), to the first people in the actual country, to the Spanish occupation and British Rule, to WW2, to the times of tension and RAMSI help. You could really learn everything you need about the islands at this museum if you had enough time.
  • Vilu War Museum – This museum is a bit of a drive out of town, but is fascinating. It’s a ‘museum’ comprised of all the remnants of the War that a local man found (with some items he bought from others), which are laid out aesthetically in a field scattered with trees and flowers. You can see broken-down skeletons of both US and Japanese cannons, bombs, many different types of airplanes, propellers, artillery, tanks, and more. You can also learn about what each thing was and how it was used in the war.
  • Honiara Central Market – This busy market is right in the city center and has locals selling every kind of food you can think of, and some crafts/jewelry too. It’s vibrant, bustling, and definitely worth a wander.
  • Mbonege Beach Bonegi Shipwreck – at Mbonege beach you can see the rusty remains of an old Japanese War ship. This is a lovely beach on a nice day, and if the tide is low enough you can get a quite good view of the old ship. You can also snorkel around the wreck because it’s just a few dozen meters from the shore.
  • Tenaru Falls Hike – Quite a bit farther into the hills outside the city, you’ll find a 1-2 hour waterfall hike. This adventure is perfect for having a quick getaway and experiencing more of the rainforest and nature of Guadalcanal.
  • Lumatapopoho Cultural Village – you can visit this small traditional village to learn about how tribes used to: cook cabbage, make different food recipes, make clothing, thatch palm for building roofs, make fire, peel and eat beetlenut.

Where to Stay in Honiara

Our Honiara hotel was called Heritage Park. This hotel has a lovely property comprised of multiple two-story buildings with balconies overlooking the pool, palm trees, and even the sea. It’s right on a rocky shoreline with a beach bar, very high quality restaurant (and even quicker bar meals), buffet breakfast, and events during the week (such as movie night/parties at the bar).

Heritage Park had all we could have asked for – large spacious rooms with hot water, air conditioning, and even a small TV. Properties in Honiara will definitely have more fixings than in the islands – make sure to remember that!

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Catch-Ups at the Honiara Central Market

My Experience on Guadalcanal/Final Thoughts

Guadalcanal was the first stop on our Solomon Islands trip, as I’m sure it will be for most people. Here Dana, Michael and I (the other travel writers/bloggers on the trip) did all the classic ‘touristing’ and visiting of memorials, museums, and well-known sites. It’s the best place to get a feel for the history and city-life vibe of the Solomon Islands.

We drove around in a van and ticked off the main sites, getting our first feel for the island nation. We spent a day going around the main city, and one a bit farther  out of the city to sites farther away. The drives were bumpy but scenic, and I took in the tropical foliage that reminded me of something between Hawaii and Southeast Asia (which makes complete sense I suppose! 😛 )

I wandered alone around the central market, stopped at a cafe for coffee, slinked in and out of shops on the main road, and chatted with locals here and there. I appreciated the view of a rainbow from the rocky coast near the hotel, and picked at a burger in between swims in the hotel pool. We tried some delicious seafood and enjoyed the extremely warm hospitality of nearly everyone we interacted with.

Guadalcanal/Honiara is not going to be what many people picture of the Solomon Islands – which is pristine beaches and islands. Guadalcanal is the more grungy city where you learn more about history and how people really live and go about their days.

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An adorable little nugget in one of the villages we visited. Precious!

Savo Island

Savo is right off the coast of Guadalcanal Island and can be seen as one of the many adventure capitals of the Solomon Islands. It’s a small volcanic island with prolific wildlife and adventurous activities, and is quite easy to visit from a small village on Guadalcanal outside Honiara on one of your days there. Savo is best done as a day trip from one of the hotels in Honiara, and bookable from most hotels also.

What to See and Do on Savo Island

  • Volcano Hikes – Savo is home to some easy (1 hour or less) and some harder (3+ hour) scenic treks up the volcano.
  • Wild Dolphin Nursery – a stop on the way to Savo Island from Guadalcanal – spot some dolphins in the wild!
  • Megapode Hatchery – Locals maintain hatcheries for megapode birds, which will lay their eggs on the sand at sunrise.
  • Waterfall walks -there are many up in the rainforest
  • Local Culture – There may be cultural displays and dancing in the villages

If you love the island, you can even stay at Savo Sunset Lodge for a few nights.

My Experience on Savo

Soooo, the weather was acting up like crazy the night before our Savo tour, causing us to have to make the tough call to cancel it. Unfortunately this is a reality of a tropical destination (especially in the wet season), and we got to see some extra spots in and around Honiara instead. However I have recommended the awesome activities that we were supposed to do with the Tourism Board above, plus a few more!

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Simple and elegant views from the Gizo area

Ghizo Island, Gizo Town, + Surrounding Sites

Gizo is where you’ll reach the parts of the Solomon Islands that you may have imagined or seen in catalogues. This is where the best diving and fishing in the Solomon Islands are located, along with lots of surf breaks, tiny pristine islands, white sand beaches, palm-topped landscapes, and pretty-much-perfect sunsets.

The main larger island is called Ghizo, the capital of which is called Gizo (confusing, I know!). But, the tiny surrounding islands dotting the coastline are where the magic really happens. Surrounding the main island, you’ll find remote rustic resorts, private rentable homes, reefs perfect for snorkeling, untouched surf, and some of the clearest blue water in the world.

What to See and Do In Gizo

  • Gizo Town – This is the main town of Gizo, with locals out and about near a few restaurants, a main strip of shops and restaurants, and a central food market. Grab a fresh coconut for sure!
  • Diving – The Gizo Dive Shop is owned by an American/Australian couple who have lived in the Sollies since the 80’s. They started it up from scratch, scouted out most of the dive sites themselves, and have built the region into one of the top dive areas in the whole world! Many dives and trips book up early these days, so get in early to make sure Danny is your dive guide.
  • Fishing – With some of the most wildlife-rich dives in the world come some of the best places for fishing, as well! Fishing trips will be conducted from most resorts, with the hope of being able to catch a fresh seafood dinner.
  • Boating – Many yachts sailing the south Pacific will stop from the Solomon Islands, and there are also sailing trips going around the islands as well. It’s a must to boat around the islands, especially in Gizo, and there are many multi-day diving and fishing boat trips too.
  • Snorkeling – Also an absolute must, snorkeling in and around Gizo is incredible. Diving still takes the cake in terms of clear water and amazing views, but there are some stunning shallow reefs among the islands to check out as well.
  • Sunsets – There are  plenty of western-facing sand bars and beaches where you can catch a magnificent Solomon Islands sunset. Many hotels will have sunset boat trips – make sure to jump on one!
  • Islands
    • Kennedy Island – Kennedy Island is just off the coast from Fatboys Resort, and is actually the island that JFK and his crew landed on after their ship was hit by a Japanese missile. It’s a tiny circular island with spongy white sand and and a jungle landscape – perfect for snorkeling and taking  beautiful photos.
    • Njari Island – The owners of Dive Gizo also own this island, which has one of the top-ranked dive sites in the entire world! It has lovely beaches and snorkeling as well.

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gizo clear blue water follow me to solomon islands go pro kimmie conner travel blogger

Just a few of the products from Dana and my MANY photoshoots – sipping wine on the shore at sunset, and having fun with the Go Pro dome in the clear waters of Njari island!

Where to Stay in Gizo

We saw so many beautiful island resorts and convenient accommodations in Gizo. Here are a few:

  • Fatboys Resort This is where we stayed! There’s an overwater restaurant, beachside bungalows, kayaks, boat trips, kayaks, adventure sports, and more.
  • Sanbis Resort –  This resort is on the other side of the island that Fatboys is on. More amazing beachside bungalows, overwater pier/bar/restaurant, and amazing views.
  • Imagination Island – This resort is an entire island in itself. It’s a few kilometers off the coast of the airport, and is a quaint and perfect little getaway with a few rooms, great food, and plenty of adventure + fishing trips.
  • Gizo Hotel – If you don’t want an island resort and prefer to be in the town, the Gizo hotel is the choice for you. It’s right across from the market as has convenient facilities and a restaurant balcony over the town.
  • Oravae Island Cottages – located on a tiny private island, the Oravae cottages are the best getaway you can possibly get! Think – rustic wooden houses right on the water, with an over-water swing as well.
Gizo solomon islands drone photo Orovae cottages from the sky

Those tiny little houses you see are the Oravae cottages!

My Experience in Gizo

When we arrived in Gizo, got off the plane, and immediately got on another boat and skimmed over beautiful blue water, I felt like the trip had finally begun. Arriving at the picturesque Fatboys resort was like something out of a dream, and Dana and I were squealing as we were greeted with colorful leis and fresh lemonade. It was the true island experience, and we felt so welcome and ready to explore.

We had so much fun taking photos, snorkeling, and having a traditional meal on Kennedy Island. Later that afternoon, we went on a fishing trip and were astounded to find (after a massive struggle) that we had actually hooked a reef shark – which we let free, of course! We boated between the islands, snorkeling at every stop, and flew my drone and captured moments in each place we stopped. We woke up each morning with a delicious breakfast and finished each night with a fresh dinner, and even  fed a few resident reef sharks off the overwater balcony.

One of my favorite moments from Gizo was our ‘ sunset wine-down,’ where we had a few glasses (bottles?) of wine on a pristine sand bar facing the sunset. After fiddling around for ages with cameras and tripods to get the perfect photo (and putting the drone up as well, of course!) we enjoyed a few too many glasses of wine with the water lapping up at our bare feet.

Gizo is a place you could spend lots and lots of time. It’s a true rustic island getaway, with attentive seaside accommodation and delicious food. If you can – spend the most time here!

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A cultural display in Ughele village, near Titiru Eco Lodge on Rendova Island

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A few of the skulls of skull island

Munda, Roviana Lagoon, + Surrounding Areas of New Georgia Island

As we jetted down a channel in our small open speedboat from Gizo to Munda, I noticed quite a big change in the landscape. We had gone from the sandy beaches of Gizo to a mangrove-bordered channel of New Georgia Island, with more of a deep green color than sea blue. The vegetation was a bit different, with trees growing all the way to the water on many of the islands. This was our arrival to Munda – a small town on the Southern half of New Georgia Island. This is where I realized how varied the landscapes are on these islands – there’s truly a bit of everything, from mangroves to beaches to volcanoes to waterfalls.

Munda is surrounded by the Roviana Lagoon, which is home to some tiny sandy islands, some wildlife rich reserves, some mangrove-laden channels, and more. It’s yet another great hub for adventure, and we got up to plenty of activities here as well.

What to See and Do in Munda

  • Munda Town – The main town is a few tiny streets with makeshift markets, a couple hotels, and a few stores.
  • Roviana Lagoon – this lagoon may be mentioned on many Munda tours, and just refers to the calm sea area and islands between Munda town, Roviana Island, and almost all the way to Vonavona island. This area has a certain dialect and culture.
  • Skull Island – this is a fascinating historical island on the way from Gizo to Munda. In brief (because I have more comprehensive posts coming soon!), it’s where they have left quite a lot of skulls from when the tribes here practiced headhunting. This ended with the coming of Christianity, and it was decided that the skulls would need to be moved somewhere more remote.
  • Peter Joseph Museum – This began as a single man’s passion for searching/digging/finding artifacts from the War, and has turned into one of the most impressive War Museums in the Solomon Islands. It’s an entire building/room filled with everything from dog tags, lighters, coke bottles, soap boxes, and bullets to canteens, helmets, rifles, and even toothbrushes. It’s amazing to see what he has found and learn some stories from the artifacts.
  • Scuba Diving– there are still plenty of places to dive in Munda as well as Gizo.
  • Rainforest Walks, Rivers, and Waterfalls – hotels can also organize day-long treks through the island’s jungles, to waterfalls and viewpoints alike. You can even see crocodiles in the island’s rivers.
  • Fishing Trips – This region is also great for fishing, and trips leave from the hotels regularly.
  • Local Villages – many day tours from the hotels will include visits to local villages, and some tours include cultural villages only.
  • Rendova island – About a 30-45 minute boat ride away is a stunning mountainous island called Rendova. It’s got a fantastic eco-lodge and a very visitor-friendly village with locals eager to share their traditions.

 

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Scenes from the Peter Joseph Museum

Where to Stay in Munda

  • Qua Roviana – We stayed here. It was a block back from the water in Munda town, and had fine facilities, a kitchen, a living space, and more, with air conditioning in each room as well (huge plus!)
  • Agnes Gateway Hotel – This is the biggest hotel in Munda town, right on the water. There’s a fantastic restaurant where we had all of our meals (helllooooo fresh lobster!) and they have both private and cheaper dorm options.
  • Zipolo Habu Resort, Lola Island – Lola Island is closer to skull island, between the Roviana and Vonavona regions. The beachside resort here is also beautiful and rustic, with a great restaurant and reef sharks visible from the pier.
  • Titiru Eco Lodge – We spent a full day here at Titiru and visiting the local village. The lodge is beautiful, with kayaking and SUP’ing possible right from the balconies of the rooms, amazing gardens, delicious food, and proximity to Ughele village. I would LOVE to come back and stay longer here.

My Experience in + Around Munda

At first, Munda area seemed a bit less tropical and more swampy than Gizo, but I was quickly proved wrong after visiting Skull Island, Rendova, and two other tiny islands off the coast of the town which are perfect for sunset (Kuru Kuru and Kundu Kundu, I believe). Munda is different in that it’s more diverse, with both mangrove forests, waterfall-dotted mountains and jungles, AND beautiful beaches (albeit a bit more overgrown).

Upon arrival, I had a quick walk around town. There really wasn’t too much to look at, but I did my best. I wandered through the market stalls made from makeshift tied tarps and sheets, and smiled at locals selling beetlenut, potatoes, and other roots and leaves. I wandered past the town pub, coffee shop, and in and out of a Chinese grocery store, and all the way to the small airstrip before turning back around. The whole thing wouldn’t have taken me much more than ten minutes! I returned to the Agnes hotel where I enjoyed a coffee and watched local fisherman traverse the Roviana Lagoon on their long wooden canoe boats.

Outside of Munda Town we had a few fantastic excursions. We saw Skull Island from Lola Island, which was both eye-opening, sad, and fascinating. Our trip to the Peter Joseph museum really hammered into us even more the significance of the War in this part of the world – the thousands upon thousands of left-behind artifacts each told their own unique and heart wrenching story.

Our trip to Rendova was also a highlight – we saw the beautiful Titiru Eco-Lodge and got to kayak in the harbor – but I adored being able to walk through the nearby village. It was like the locals had stations set up to display cultural practices to us. It started with a traditionally-dressed tribesman jumping out of the bushes and yelling at us at the top of his lungs; we were SO startled we nearly screamed, but soon realized that it was an (albeit extremely well-done) demonstration of painted men showing what it would have been like to land on this island a few hundred years ago. We saw an old woman traditionally washing her baby in the river when we first walked up, followed by catching eels in the river, making traditional clothing, shaping wood, making toys, and even making and sampling local food recipes.

One of the most memorable moments of the trip (and our last activity) was watching sunset from the tiny islands off the coast of Munda town. After Dana and I (obviously) had one last beachy photoshoot, the sky turned red and pink with swirling colors within the clouds. Our jaws dropped to the floor and we knew that the Solomon Islands were sending us off in the best way possible –  with my two favorite things, adventures & sunsets of course!

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Aerial view of beautiful Njari Island

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Roviana fisherman doing their thing

Solomon Islands Budget Notes

So – what should you budget for the Solomon Islands? The main thing to keep in mind is that, unfortunately, the Solomon Islands aren’t cheap. This is no Southeast Asia; the Hapi Isles are quite remote, difficult to get to, and have quite high prices that keep the economy going. I would say the restaurant prices are about on par with Australia. For basic meals/breakfast/lunch you’ll be looking at around $10-15USD, whereas for nicer meals and dinners you’ll be looking at around $15-30USD. This is at hotels/restaurants, however, and you can always shop at the markets to cook for yourself when you see fit.

For hotel rooms, you’ll be looking to pay about $120-$200USD/night. Some of the cheaper rooms will be a bit more basic, but for $200 you’ll get some nicer (although still often rustic!) beachside bungalows. For the more budget traveler, there are a couple cheaper simple twin room/dorm options on some of the islands for around $35-$50 per person.

Getting to the Solomon Islands may be the costliest part of the journey – flights are a bit fewer and far between, and therefore are pricier. However, the opening of the Munda international airport is showing a lot of promise for lower flight costs from Brisbane. Currently, the flights go for about $800-$1200 round trip to Honiara from Brisbane, depending on when you book. Add on whatever flight you’ll need to get to Brissy, and you have your budget! Just make sure to look out for the first flights from Brisbane to Munda, which are set to be cheaper.

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A quick glimpse into what a delicious lobster dinner might look like in the Solomon Islands

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a casual pose in front of our beachside bungalow at Fatboys resort

Final Solomon Islands Tourism Tips – What to Know Before You Go

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a few final, yet extremely important notes on things to  know before your Solomon Islands trip:

Passports + Visas

You must have at least 6 months validity on your passport to enter the country. Most visitors are granted visas upon arrival to the Solomon Islands, but make sure to check up about your country before you go. People from many European countries, the US, and the Commonwealth do not need a visa prior to arrival.

Medical Information

It is recommended to take Malaria pills during your visit to the Solomon Islands due to small pockets of malaria. Consult your doctor before your trip to stay up to date with the latest travel notices and injection recommendations. If you don’t have malaria pills, be SURE to bring strong bug spray!

Wifi in the Solomon Islands

Wifi in the Solomon islands is best described as a lack thereof. You’ll find much better (read: slow yet functional) wifi in Honiara, but as you get out to the more remote islands, wifi will be few & far between. Some resorts (such as Fatboys) have a wifi code that can only be used by one person at a time, and you may hear “the wifi isn’t working” more often than  not. But – this is not the kind of place you want to be spending connected to wifi, the Sollies are really a place to disconnect from the internet world and connect with the real world, amazing landscapes, other people, and wildlife.

Solomon Islands Food

Food in the Solomon Islands is, as I’m sure you can guess, very seafood-based. There will be tons of fish and shellfish, complimented by a lot of taro and potato for starch, rice, and local cabbage cooked in coconut milk. They cook up lots of home-grown veggies and have a bit of chicken and beef as well.

Money + ATM’s

The Solomon Islands currency is the Solomon Islands dollar. There’s about 8 SBD to 1 USD, just under 6 to the AUD, about 9 to the Euro, and just over 10.5 to the (current) GBP. There are ATM’s and currency exchanges in Honiara and a few solar-powered ATM’s in the islands. However, these ATM’s will always charge a fee, so if you can get some currency out before your trip you might be able to save a bit of money.

Tipping

Tipping is not a part of the culture here and not necessary.

Water

You should only purchase and drink bottled water here – no tap water, unfortunately!

Lastly, a few final Solomon Islands photos:
a complete guide to solomon islands tourism: facts, tips, where to go, things to do, where to stay, histopry, what to know before ou go, how to get there, getting around, and more. #solomonislands #travel #southpacific

ONE MORE PIN! Don’t forget to pin this Solomon Islands tourism guide to your Pinterest Boards.

solomon islands language pidgin english signs

See if you can sound out any of these signs in Pidgin english. I think the middle one should say ‘making you and me proud’ and something along the lines of ‘rice belongs to you and me’ in the Solomons, along with the final poster on the right saying ‘good taste fit in your pocket to feed the family.’ (please correct me if I am wrong – I was wandering around reading posters and was fascinated trying to sound out the words).

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A local fisherman showing off his gear

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One of my favorite things to do in the Solomon islands was find incredible shells. Each beach and snorkeling site was full of them! My inner mermaid was mesmerized 😛 

 

Well, I think that’s about it on Solomon Islands tourism – for now! I hope you have learned everything you need to know, but if I missed anything, go ahead and leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!

Thanks so much to Visit Solomon Islands for hosting me – as always, all words are completely my own, and I look forward to quite a few more articles on one of the most intriguing and alluring countries I’ve had the pleasure of visiting.

 

April 10, 2019

Boquete: A Guide to Panama’s Adventure Capital

Boquete: A Guide to Panama’s Adventure Capital

When most people dream of Central America, the first image that comes to mind is laying on a white-sand beach under the sun with the waves lapping at your ankles. But that’s only a small part of the picture when it comes to this fascinating region.

Case in point: Boquete.

No, there are no blissful beaches here for escaping your winter grind to work on your sun tan. But that doesn’t mean that this small highland town in Panama shouldn’t be high on your Central America bucket list.

Looking for More Panama Info? Read More:

things to do in Boquete Panama

Why Visit Boquete, Panama?

Barring its lack of a coastline to frolic upon, Boquete is as fantastic a winter getaway as it gets. All year round, the average temperatures here sit at a balmy 24 to 26ºC. Unlike other popular destinations in Panama like Panama City and Bocas del Toro, Boquete never gets too hot. Like Medellin in Colombia, Boquete’s a city of eternal spring.

Best of all for all the snowbirds hoping to escape the cold, Boquete’s at its hottest and driest between January and March when the worst of the winter weather in the Northern Hemisphere is at its peak.

On top of its weather, Boquete offers plenty to see & do. From searching for wildlife in a cloud forest to hiking up a volcano that’s the highest point in Panama, your schedule will always be full in Boquete. (If that’s what you want, of course!)

What to do in Boquete

Detaching from Panama’s beach-bummin’ reputation, Boquete is the perfect place for travellers who can’t sit still. The scenery here is simply jaw-dropping, and the best way to experience it is to throw yourself into it head first. Here are a few ideas for your trip to Boquete:

Visit a Coffee Plantation

Thanks to its highland climate, Boquete sits in Panama’s premier coffee-growing region. There are many coffee plantation tours you can take. The country’s most prestigious java, geisha coffee, is grown here.

Although originally from Ethiopia, geisha coffee in Panama has become one of the world’s most elite. The best-of-the-best in geisha can fetch hundreds of dollars per pound!

A good way to skip over the inflated world market prices is to visit a local coffee farm. There are plenty to choose from, but I’d wholeheartedly recommend Finca la Milagrosa.

Unlike other coffee plantations in the area, Finca la Milagrosa still sticks to old-school methods of production. The tour guide will take you through the owner’s ingenious machinery (fashioned mostly from spare car & tractor parts) that made this small farm a top coffee producer in the area.

Best of all, you’ll get to top off the tour with an oh-so-decadent cup of geisha coffee. Be sure to grab a bag of heavily-discounted geisha (whole beans, of course!) to share with your friends back home.

coffee in central america boquete pabnama coffee plantation

Ziplining at Boquete Tree Trek

Now, I’m generally not one for these types of activities (a debilitating and irrational fear of heights will do that to you), but I absolutely loved ziplining at Boquete Tree Trek. Located in the cloud forest above Boquete, this adventure outfitter delivers some of the most adrenaline-pumping ziplining you’ll experience anywhere!

The 12 zip lines span over 4.5 kilometres. At any given moment on your journey, you’ll be suspended anywhere between 30 and 60 metres (100 to 200 feet) above the forest floor. On the final run, you’ll zoom along a zip line half a kilometre long, hitting speeds up to 60 kilometres per hour!

Despite any anxieties you might have, I assure you that the views of the cloud forest & the surrounding mountains from the zip lines are nothing short of spectacular and well-worth fighting your urge to chicken out.

Even if you can’t hack the heights and the speed, Boquete Tree Trek offers plenty of other activities like a bird-watching tour and a hanging bridges tour through its lovely cloud forest surroundings.

Hike up Volcan Baru

For travellers who want to take their Boquete trip to the next level, there’s no better way than to take on the mighty Volcan Baru. This volcano, wedged almost directly in the centre of the isthmus, is the highest point in Panama. Needless to say, you shouldn’t expect a walk in the park!

Although some travellers attempt the hike alone, the safest way to tackle Volcan Baru is with a group. Most guided tours start the trek at night, finishing the bulk of the trek before camping out just a few kilometres from the summit.

In the morning, you’ll set off before sunset to complete the last leg. Once atop, you’ll witness one of the most glorious sunrises of your life.

If you happen to catch Volcan Baru on a clear day, you’ll also have the rare privilege of seeing both the Pacific and the Atlantic (Caribbean Sea) from the same point. It’s the only place in the world where this is possible! There are also easier forest hikes to do if you aren’t up for a whole volcano.

where to stay in boquete panama

Where to stay in Boquete

If you’re searching for the best accommodations in Boquete, I can’t recommend the Inn at Palo Alto enough.

Located in the Palo Alto area above the town of Boquete, the garden-like Inn at Palo Alto is simply sublime. Waking up to breakfast & a coffee with views of the forest, river & Volcan Baru might well become one of your favorite simple pleasures in Boquete.

On top of that, the expat owners & management understand hospitality to a tee. They’ll arrange everything you need in Boquete from tours to onward transportation, and ensure that your stay is nothing less than perfect.

If you’re looking for a hostel, Bambuda Castle is one of the most highly rated hostels in the country, and Mamallena is a well-known and very central chain hostel in Boquete.

Thanks to Ryan for the guest post! 

Ryan O’Rourke is a part-time Canadian travel aficionado and the founder of Treksplorer, a fiercely-independent guide to mid-range & luxury travel for busy professionals.
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Guide to Boquete Panama: Panama's adventure capital with mountains, a volcano, jungles, hiking, and more! #panama #boquete #centralamerica #boquete #travel

December 21, 2018

Things to do in Ciudad del Este Paraguay in 1-2 Days

Things to do in Ciudad del Este Paraguay in 1-2 Days

So, you’ve found yourself in Paraguay wondering what kinds of things to do in Ciudad del Este there are. These things can be done over one day in Ciudad del Este, or possibly two or three if you are more relaxed.

Two things that you need to do before traveling to Ciudad del Este are to make sure you don’t need a visa/have the proper visa (Americans need one) and to make sure that your bus driver knows to stop at the border if you are coming from Puerto Iguazu or Foz du Iguacu. Yes, you read that correctly… check my post about my god-awful bus from Puerto Iguazu to Ciudad del Este here. Don’t make the same mistakes as me… please.

Anyway, it’s random enough that you have ended up here like I did (as a solo traveler, who knows how good of an idea this was… but hey, I survived. It really didn’t seem unsafe at all, even walking alone in the day time and with hostel friends at night. It’s just… such a … random place to be!) I ended up here because I figured I would check out Paraguay while I was so close to it, and loop back around to Northern Argentina after visiting Asuncion. It was a successful travel route, although I’m not sure I would specifically recommend it.

Anyway, I digress… here are a couple cool things to do in Ciudad del Este Paraguay – the cheap shopping capital of the area, and home to a couple other cool things as well.

Things to do in Ciudad del Este Paraguay in 1-2 days - visit the shopping capital os South America and a triple border between Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina!

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things to do in ciudad del este panorama shopping city paraguay

 

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Things to do in Ciudad del Este: Walk Around Town, Shop, Eat, Hunt for Bargains, Avoid Scams

What do you need? Could you possibly need anything? Because you can find it here for sure. Need socks? Nearly every old lady in town is walking around selling them. Need clothes? A cute sweater? A motor scooter? A new DSLR? Sunglasses? Headphones? A knockoff (or real) Go Pro? A nice watch? A kebab?

The center of Ciudad del Este is quite compact, but is completely packed to the brim with little market/shop stalls. Tables and tables of market stalls protected by tarps and plastic bags line every street, often multiple rows of them, stacked to the makeshift ceiling with clothing and goods. Shop owners use sticks to get leather coats or stylish down jackets up from the high rungs of their shop. Before telling you the price, they ask which currency you would like it in, because they function in Guarani (Paraguay), Real (Brazil), Pesos (Argentina), and Dolores (USA).

Walking around Ciudad del Este can be quite overwhelming at first, because everything really is happening all at once. Cars and motorcycles zoom past, temporarily overshadowing multiple reggaeton beats playing in the distance. Shop owners call out to anyone passing by, and street peddlers come up to you asking in Spanish what you are looking for or try to sell you socks or watches from a basket in their arms. You can hear the bubbling oil from a street vendor frying fresh empanadas, and inhale some second-hand smoke from a shop worker taking a small break from their shift in an electronics store. Everyone is haggling prices down, and hopefully not being tricked into believing an imitation brand is a real one.

You’ll find kebabs, empanadas, sandwiches, and more throughout lots of street food stalls. Electronics vendors tend to be more inside buildings. I can guarantee you that if you don’t think you need anything when you begin to explore, you may walk out with a few things you didn’t know you did.

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ciudad del este paraguay shopping streets

Things to do in Ciudad del Este: Cataratas del Monday Waterfalls

If you have time after your city adventure, it’s quite popular to go to a waterfall just outside town called Monday. If you have just been to Iguazu Falls, clearly nothing can really top that, but this is a lovely little National Park where you can enjoy the nature, walk, and relax.

By anyone else’s standards, these waterfalls would be quite spectacular, but their proximity to the largest waterfall system in the entire world causes them to be overshadowed a bit.

Itaipu, elevation 144

Photo via Flickr

Things to do in Ciudad del Este: Itaipu Dam – The Now Second Largest in the World

Next to the largest waterfall system in the world is actually the (recently) second largest dam in the world (It used to be the largest but apparently China just built a bigger one. Classic China). But surprisingly enough, the Itaipu Dam is actually not even on the same river as Iguazu Falls – the two rivers meet up a few kilometers downstream, where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil all connect.

Itaipu actually forms the border just between Paraguay and Brazil, and is about 10km north from Iguazu Falls and/or Argentina. You can tour the inside of the dam and check out the massive turbines that produce more electricity than any dam in the world, or you can simply marvel at its impressiveness and size from the outside.

Where to Stay in Ciudad del Este Paraguay

I think I stayed at the only hostel in town, Teko Arte Hostel, and I actually loved it! I met some fellow like-minded travelers to walk around town with and get kebabs at night, got to relax in hammocks near a beautiful yard and pool, and enjoyed the hospitality of the hostel owner and her son.

You can always compare prices for hotels or check out Airbnb also!

Enjoy your trip! 🙂

 

October 12, 2018