Things to Do in Arequipa, Peru Other Than Hike Colca Canyon

Do you know the feeling you get when you first go to a new city and you are immediately drawn to it? That’s how I felt when our plane landed in Arequipa from Cusco in Peru. I usually don’t fall in love with a city so quickly but right away I liked Arequipa. There are white stone buildings everywhere and the historical section is especially beautiful. Our hotel in Arequipa was in the historical section and when we entered our hotel room, I could feel right away that it was much warmer than our room in Cusco. Yes! This was a much nicer hotel overall than that in Cusco, too although the price difference was only about $25/night. (If you’re wondering about my reference to Cusco, you can read my post here.)

Originally the rough plan was to spend two days and one night in Colca Canyon, the most popular attraction in Arequipa. I didn’t make reservations in advance because honestly I wasn’t sure how we would feel after our adventures in Cusco. We did a 4 day/3 night trek to Machu Picchu, camping in tents for the first 2 nights and staying in a hotel on the third night before going to Machu Picchu on the fourth day (you can read the posts about the trek here, here, and here). We also had tickets to hike up Huayna Picchu, a notoriously difficult climb to the top of the huge mountain overlooking Machu Picchu (you can read the post about that here).

I also wasn’t sure about the weather in Arequipa and didn’t want to camp out again if it was going to rain. Finally, I read that it would be considerably cheaper to make reservations in person in Arequipa rather than online in the US. It turns out that decision to wait until we reached Arequipa to make reservations wasn’t necessarily the best one because it meant we couldn’t go.

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Plaza de Armas near the historical center in Arequipa

I wasn’t thinking that it would be so late on a Saturday evening and none of the tour agencies would be open by the time we finished checking into our hotel and eating dinner, nor were many of them open when we tried Sunday morning (since the tours all leave very early in the morning, it was too late to make same-day plans anyway but we wanted to see what was available for the next day). Long story short, a visit to Colca Canyon was not to be this time around, so we figured out our best options for the next couple of days in Arequipa.

What did we end up doing? Well, we went on a free walking tour and ended up hitting most of the hot spots and learned some things about Arequipa along the way. For starters, Arequipa lies on a fault line and has had multiple earthquakes over the years. The city was completely destroyed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in the 1600’s. There are three major volcanoes (El Misti, Mount Chachani and Pichu Pichu Peak), but Arequipa and the surrounding area has more than 80 volcanoes, most of which are in the Valley of the Volcanoes. The historic center was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in December 2000 due to its architecture and historical integrity.

On the walking tour, we walked by several churches (there are so many churches in Arequipa), the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Plaza de Armas, Mundo Alpaca, and a street the equivalent of “lover’s lane.” The tour was a little over 2 hours and our guide was funny and informative. I highly recommend doing this if you’re in Arequipa and want to learn about the city.

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That’s a snake skin over the tops of the display cases in the Monasterio de la Recoleta!

On our own, we visited two former monasteries, Monasterio de Santa Catalina (the more popular of the two) and Monasterio de la Recoleta (which I liked even better than the first one). Both places charge a small admission fee and both are filled with historical information, but Monasterio de la Recoleta has a few unique things going for it that I feel put it a bit over the top than Monasterio de Santa Catalina. Monasterio de la Recoleta has  rooms with artifacts from the Amazon, textiles, stamps, money, pre-Columbian artifacts, animals, religious, artwork, an amazing library, the church that’s still being used for services, and stairs to the bell tower with great views. Monasterio de Santa Catalina has former rooms of nuns and monks and artwork but not nearly as many artifacts as Monasterio de la Recoleta.

We took a taxi and visited the Molino de Sabandía (Sabandía Mill), a water mill set in the old Arequipa countryside about 20 minutes from downtown Arequipa, built in 1621. In addition to the mill and various artifacts, the landscape is lovely and there is an  extensive collection of cacti and succulents, as well as a variety of local plants and flowers. You can see vicuñas, llamas, alpacas, guinea pigs, roosters, local birds and an enormous Arequipa fighting bull. There was a family having a photo shoot at the mill when we were there, and I can see why since it’s such a photogenic place. There isn’t much else in the area but we did find a resort within walking distance and had lunch there before having the front desk call us a taxi back to town.

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Sabandía Mill in the countryside of Arequipa

Casa del Moral is an 18th century mansion that we visited that’s filled with period furniture, paintings and sculptures. Its name is derived from the moral (mulberry in English) trees that grow in its courtyard. Although I read reviews that said the house is small and not worth visiting, we really enjoyed our visit. The mansion has such ornate woodwork and details that it’s not really a place to just quickly whiz by in 10 minutes. Now owned by the bank, there’s also a section in the house with very old coins and bills, which was interesting to see.

Finally, we visited the Mercado Central and found it to be utterly intriguing. We went for the queso helado (“cheese ice cream” but really the name is misleading since it’s actually just ice cream) and stayed for the sites. Queso helado looks like sliced cheese but tastes like vanilla ice cream with cinnamon sprinkled on top. This market is so colorful and so vibrant we loved walking around and taking it all in. There are huge sections for everything from cheeses, fruits and vegetables, clothing, meats, juice bars, flowers, and more. This is where local people shop but we did see the occasional tourist there as well, walking around in awe like we were.

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Mercado Central in Arequipa

There were so many restaurants in Arequipa that we really enjoyed but some of our favorites are Mixtos, Crepisimo, Inkari Pub Pizzeria, Manolo’s, and Chaqchao Chocolate Factory. We stayed at SureStay Plus Hotel by Best Western Tierrasur Colonial, which we loved, and it’s a short walk to Plaza de Armas and many other shops and restaurants in the historical district.

When we left Arequipa we were already talking about the next time we come back. We will of course go to Colca Canyon for a two-day tour and we’d like to climb the volcano El Misti as well. I’m already looking forward to going back!

Have you been to Arequipa and if so what did you like best when you were there? Would you like to go? Have you been to other parts of Peru?

Happy Travels!

Donna

 

 

 

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Exploring Grand Cayman Island on Foot-Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, Hiking a Trail, a Historical Site, and Hell

Previously, I wrote about the beaches and water-related parts of Grand Cayman Island, (Grand Cayman Island- Beautiful Beaches, Bioluminescent Water, Stingrays, and More) but the beaches and water aren’t the only beautiful and fun places to spend your time. If you enjoy exploring caves, you’ll love Cayman Crystal Caves. This 1.5 hour group tour through Cayman’s oldest landmark is one of the island’s newest natural tourist attractions. There are three caves, the roots cave, the lake cave, and the open-ceiling cave.

My favorite cave is the lake cave, which as you may guess from the name has a small lake in it. The color of the water is such a pretty shade of blue, and it is so peaceful in the cave. I can see why people used to come here on their own before the tour company took over and restricted entry. However, the stalactite and stalagmite crystal structures are extremely fragile, and without supervision, many formations were being broken.

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The Lake Cave

A cool bonus was we saw fruit bats in some portions of the caves. They were tiny little bats just hanging out (literally) in clusters, and one bat would occasionally fly from one side of the cave to another. We also saw tiny litte green tree frogs that the guide pointed out on the leaves of a couple of trees.

Tours are offered seven days a week at every hour starting at 9 am until 4 pm, except Good Friday and Christmas. Tickets are $40 for adults and $30 for children 12 and under. Be sure you wear appropriate footwear (i.e. not flip-flops).

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Bats at Cayman Caves!

We always love going to botanical gardens when we’re traveling and were happy to discover there is one in Grand Cayman Island. Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is on the east side of the island, not far from the Crystal Caves. There are three garden areas, each very different from one another. The Heritage Garden has a restored Caymanian House showing how life was like in the Cayman Islands at the turn of the century. The Xerophytic Garden has plants like cacti and succulents that require minimal water to grow. My favorite is the Floral Colour Garden, with a series of gardens arranged by color and a gazebo and seating area overlooking a lily pond and waterfall.

There is also the Lake and Wetland area on the edge of a Buttonwood Swamp. We saw some birds in the water here and I was very excited to look over at a nearby tree and see several Green Cayman Parrots. As excited as I was to see the parrots, the blue iguanas were the real reason I wanted to come to the gardens.

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Blue iguana on our tour guide’s head at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Gardens

Blue Cayman Iguanas are highly endangered animals and you can see them on the Blue Iguana Safari, which is a behind the scenes tour of the breeding and recovery program. Our guide, Alberto, was entertaining and enthusiastic about the blue iguanas. He fed some of the iguanas from a plant growing throughout the gardens and held a couple of the more tame ones, although he did show us quite a few of his scars from bites and scratches. We saw a couple of blue iguanas in the park on our own but it wasn’t nearly the experience as from the tour so I’m glad we took the tour.

Very close to the Botanic Park is the Mastic Trail, a two mile trail (although really 4 miles since it’s out and back) that you can arrange a guided tour through for $24 or just do on your own for free (we hiked it on our own). The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. There are some areas where the footing is a bit tricky, but being in Grand Cayman Island where everything is pancake flat, Mastic Trail is the highest point of the island at 60 feet. It’s an easy out and back hike and the only trail on the island as far as I can tell. The trail is well-shaded and quiet. We didn’t see many birds but it was the afternoon; I expect you would see more birds in the morning when they’re usually more active.

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Mastic Trail

I have to briefly mention a unique little part of Grand Cayman Island, known quite simply as Hell. Hell is an area in West Bay the size of half a football field made up of limestone formations. Stories abound about how the area got its name but some think “A ministration exclaimed, ‘This is what Hell must look like.'” Sure, it’s touristy but it’s still fun to go and get your photo taken in Hell.

There are actually two stops here, side-by-side, one that looks like it has a post office and the other has a small tourist shop in the front. I noticed tour buses stopping at the place that looks like a post office in the front and people in rental cars stopping at the other place beside it. We chose the one where tour buses were not visiting and were greeted by an older man who cheerfully brought us out some props for photos and led us inside where his wife or companion gave us a tour of the place and took some photos of us. The woman told us about the limestone formations and pointed out some birds and other things while she gave us a commentary and history about the area. Afterwards, I looked it up and found there are a few other places called Hell, namely one in California, Michigan, and Norway, in addition to Grand Cayman Island. Still, it’s not every day when you can say you went to Hell.

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None other than Hell

Finally, we visited Pedro St. James National Historic Site, a three-story house built by William Eden, an Englishman, in 1780. This was a mansion in comparison to the other houses on the island at the time, which was just a tiny fishing village. Perhaps best known as the “Birthplace of Democracy in the Cayman Islands”, Pedro St. James was the venue for a meeting on December 5, 1831 where the decision was made to form the first elected parliament.

You can tour the house and grounds on your own for C.I. $10 (Cayman Island dollars) and there is a 20 minute movie inside Pedro Theater to give you some information about the house. Outside, there is a gazebo and gardens and a building with some historical photos and information and other items like historical stamps. When we were there, they were setting up for an event at the gazebo. No doubt there are many special events like weddings held here because of the beautiful setting, with the ocean as the backdrop. It was a nice way to end out time in Grand Cayman Island and we made our way to the airport to go back home after our tour of Pedro St. James.

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Having fun at Pedro St. James and wishing I didn’t have to leave Cayman!

Cayman Crystal Caves

Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park

Pedro St. James National Historic Site

Have you been to Grand Cayman Island and if so what did you think of it? Want to go now if you’ve never been? Have you been to Hell?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

 

10 Reasons to Skip the Cruise and Stay in Grand Cayman Island Instead

Caribbean cruises are hugely popular and many stop at Grand Cayman Island, which is a British Overseas Territory. However, many of these cruises arrive at Grand Cayman Island in the morning and depart in the afternoon. To really get a feel for the island, I suggest you stay at a hotel on the island and rent a car or take taxis to be able to see and do more. Here are some of the things you can do in one week:

  1. Beach hop! In addition to the famous Seven Mile Beach, there are so many more white-sand beaches. If you stay on the island for a week, you will have time to explore them all and decide for yourself which ones you like the best.
  2. Eat your way around the island. There are some diverse restaurants spread around the island, ranging from those offering Mexican food, Italian, Indian, Australian with a Caribbean twist, Caribbean, steakhouses, seafood, and gourmet restaurants.
  3. Explore the island’s newest nature attraction:  Caves at Cayman Crystal Caves, only recently opened to the public.
  4. Go shopping in one of the most beautiful open-air shopping areas I’ve ever seen at Camana Bay. In addition to a nice array of shops and restaurants, you’ll find the area nicely landscaped with plenty of trees, flowers, fountains, and seating areas.
  5. Try out all of the water sports. You can rent jet skis, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards,  go sailing, parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving, or deep sea fishing. Many people from cruise ships will arrange a tour to go snorkeling at Sting Ray City but if you stay on the island, you can do much more than that, at your own leisure.
  6. Have your choice of where to stay. You can stay in a plush hotel like Westin, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, or a bed-and-breakfast, a family-friendly resort, or condo.
  7. Take in some historical sites. Georgetown gets much more busy and crowded when cruise ships are in, but if you choose a day when no cruise ships are in town, you’ll be able to walk around and have a more enjoyable day. Elmslie Memorial Church, the National Museum, the Government Post Office, the Government Library, and the Town Hall are all historical sites in Georgetown. In Bodden Town, learn about the island’s history at Pedro St. James castle, a wonderfully restored 3-story house overlooking the water.
  8. Go to Hell. Hell is the name given to a large outcropping of sharp limestone rocks in the district of West Bay. Sure it’s touristy but it’s still fun. While in the area, visit the Hell Post Office where you can send a letter postmarked “Hell” and take some photos with devil-themed props from the nice people who live next door to the post office.
  9. Kayak through bioluminescent waters and experience the fairy-dust-like magic as you skim your hands or kayak paddle along the water. You can only do this on certain nights when there is no moon. You can also touch a jellyfish; my husband and daughter both did this. Our guide showed us how the jellies in this area don’t have that potent of stingers so you feel only slightly numb after touching them (or so I’m told since I didn’t touch one). Bonus- see dozens of sea stars at nearby Starfish Point during the day before you go kayaking at night.
  10. Experience a moon rising. We were lucky enough to be able to see this on our first night and it was truly magical. I know it doesn’t sound nearly as fascinating as it actually was, but the only way I can describe it is to say it’s sort of like a sunrise, only in reverse, so you see the moon slowly rise over the horizon until it’s high in the sky.
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Cayman Crystal Caves
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Starfish Point
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Camana Bay Shopping Center

I have a couple of more in-depth posts coming that cover some of the things to do I listed here, but this was meant to pique your interest.

Have any of you been to Grand Cayman Island? Did you stop as part of a cruise or did you stay on the island? Have you ever seen a moon rising?

Happy travels?

Donna

Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia with Spring Bounce Tickets

Last year my family and I went to Williamsburg, Virginia with the main purpose to go to Busch Gardens. We were going to have a few hours to kill the morning after we went to the amusement park, so I thought we could go to Colonial Williamsburg and see what we could see without purchasing an admission ticket. Long story short, there isn’t a whole lot you can see without a ticket other than walking around the roads and going into some of the shops selling things. You can read more about our experience at Colonial Williamsburg without a ticket here if you’d like.

This year, we decided to allot more time in Williamsburg so we would have plenty of time to take in the sights. I made reservations for 4 nights and bought Spring Bounce tickets, which allow you to go to both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens for a week. There are also Summer Bounce tickets, single day tickets, and many combination tickets where you can combine Water Country USA, Historic Jamestowne, Jamestown Settlement, American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, and Yorktown Battlefield. The website for tickets is here.

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Governor’s Palace Gardens

With general admission tickets, we were able to tour the Governor’s Palace and Gardens, and pretty much any of the other homes and most areas that were open while we were there.  For example, the Governor’s Palace was only open from 4-5 pm so we needed to be there during those hours. I remember touring the Governor’s Palace when I was a child with my brother and mother and the gardens still looked exactly as I remembered them. The people working at the Palace, as well as all of Colonial Williamsburg, are extremely knowledgeable and thoroughly answered any questions we had as well as telling us about the sites.

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Governor’s Palace from the gardens

Some things do cost extra even with general admission tickets, such as firing a flintlock musket, which is an additional $76. My daughter was dying to go to the Ax Range where she could throw axes, something she had wanted to do ever since seeing it on one of her favorite TV shows, “Property Brothers.” We bought tickets for her and my husband for $10 each and went to the Ax Range. After being given a safety demonstration and instructions on how to properly throw an ax, my daughter and husband’s fun began. They were allowed to throw for about 15 or 20 minutes, which was plenty of time really. Both my husband and daughter managed to land some of the axes in the target as well. My daughter said later that this was a highlight of her time at Colonial Williamsburg.

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Ax throwing!

My husband and I also toured the extensive Art Museums, which have a wide array of galleries including portraits, furniture, Folk Art, silver objects such as tea sets and much more. You can easily spend a couple of hours here if you enjoy art museums. Although admission was included in our general admission tickets, you can buy day passes to the art museums for $11.99. When we went, the art museums also had a hands-on activity for children, where you could make a toy like ones on display in the toy section of the museum. Adjacent to the Art Museums is what’s left of the Mental Hospital that used to be on the grounds before it was moved to another area outside Colonial Williamsburg. It’s pretty much just a hallway now but has some displays of objects historically used to treat mental illness and some of the appalling accommodations mental patients used to have to endure.

This year, since we had more time to spend in Colonial Williamsburg, we went in more of the shops and buildings than we did last year. Two of our favorites were the printing press and book bindery buildings. We chatted for quite a while with the people working in both of these rooms. In addition to being shown how the printing press works and how books were historically bound, we talked to an art apprentice who showed us some of his pencil and ink drawings. He showed us some of the tools he uses and discussed the differences in these tools. Clearly the people working at Colonial Williamsburg are passionate about their trades and love discussing all of the techniques involved.

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One of many shops- this one sells toys!

With the Spring Bounce tickets, we were able to go between Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens any time we wanted, which was great. Originally, I had thought we would spend the first full day at Busch Gardens, then the next full day at Colonial Williamsburg, then back to Busch Gardens, and finally spend a few hours in the morning at Colonial Williamsburg before we drove back home. Instead, we ended up not spending the first full day at Busch Gardens so we went to Colonial Williamsburg and toured the Governor’s Palace and watched the Fife and Drum corps evening march. We continued to divide up our days between both Colonial Williamsburg and Busch Gardens, and that seemed like a better way to spend our days.

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Fife and Drum Corps

Planning tips for Colonial Williamsburg:

1. There are many, many other activities you can do for additional fees, as well. You can take a carriage ride, participate in a local court session, take several guided tours, take an ox wagon ride, watch a play, go to an organ recital, and go on ghost walks. Depending on what you choose to add on, a visit to Colonial Williamsburg can be quite expensive, however, so plan accordingly.

2. Williamsburg, Virginia gets hot and humid during the summer months so if you can manage a visit during the spring or fall, the weather should be more pleasant. While we were there in mid-May, the high for the day hit 95 degrees one day, so even in May it can get extremely hot here.

3. If you have a week to spend in the area, visit Yorktown and Jamestown also, which are a short drive from Williamsburg. Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg are about 15-20 minutes from each other. In my opinion, three full days for Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg (bouncing between the two places on all three days) is the perfect amount of time to spend if you’re only going to these two places. If you plan on going to Water Country USA in addition to Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburg, I would plan on spending four full days total in the area.

4. You will be doing a ton of walking no matter where you go in the area so wear comfortable shoes.

5. You can stay at one of the hotels within Colonial Williamsburg, or at a hotel in Williamsburg, but don’t feel like you have to stay within the colonial grounds. The hotel where we stayed was less than a five minute drive from the colonial area, and there were numerous hotels that were also this close.

6. A car is essential for getting around Williamsburg and the surrounding area so if you’re flying to the area, get a rental car. Busch Gardens is approximately 55 miles from Richmond and 150 miles from Washington D.C. Although you could fly into Washington, D.C. and drive from there, most people fly into Norfolk, Richmond or Newport-News-Williamsburg International Airport.

Have any of you been to Colonial Williamsburg? If so, tell me about your experience and if not, would you like to go? Any history buffs out there?

Happy travels!

Donna

 

 

 

Harbour Area of Malta- A Palace, a Fort, and Temples

Right beside Valletta in Malta is the Harbour Area. If you missed my post about Valletta, you can find it here. We tried to combine Valletta and the Harbour Area but it was too much for one day so we ended up splitting it into two days. I found the Harbour area to be a bit less hectic and crowded (a bit but not a ton) than Valletta and liked the Harbour area a bit more because of this. We enjoyed just walking around admiring the huge yachts and coming up with names for our future yacht after we win the lottery.

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Plan B looks pretty good to me!

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Continuing with our historical tour of Malta, we began with the Inquisitor’s Palace. This unused (at the time) palace was offered as a residence to an inquisitor in 1574 and is the only inquisitor’s place open to the public in the world so it’s a rare opportunity to be able to tour such a place. Although it’s sad to think about what went on here, especially when you see the prison and torture areas, it is a part of history that can’t be forgotten.

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A display in the Inquisitor’s Palace

It was getting late in the evening when we toured Fort St. Angelo so we got to see views of the harbour at dusk from the top of the fort, which was nice. There really isn’t much to see at the fort other than take in some stunning views of the area but the views are some of the best in the Harbour Area. While it’s not the biggest, oldest, or strongest fort in Malta, it is said that who ever controlled Fort St. Angelo controlled Malta. To me, that’s one powerful fort.

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View from Fort St. Angelo

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The Tarxien Temples turned out to be some of my favorite temples on Malta. Built between 3600 and 2500 B.C., they were re-used between 2400 and 1500 B.C. and are four megalithic structures. I really liked being able to walk around and get up close to these temples and see the prehistoric artwork unique to these temples. The temples contain highly decorated stone blocks and screens, reliefs of domestic animals and spirals, the colossal statue and a number of altars, one of which contained a flint knife and animal bones.

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Tarxien Temples
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Tarxien Temples

We tried to visit a dog rescue place, Island Sanctuary in this area but were turned away, since visitors are only admitted on Sundays from 9 to 12 and it was not a Sunday when we went. There was also a sign on the gate that said dog walks were cancelled until further notice. I had checked the website earlier and it seemed like there was a possibility we would be allowed in so I thought it was worth trying. It was a shame we weren’t allowed to go in and walk one or more of the dogs because I was looking forward to it. When we visited Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Utah and took one of the puppies on a walk with us and back to our cottage there for the night, we loved it. We were told there weren’t enough volunteers at Island Sanctuary for visitors other than the scant hours available. If you go, make sure you call in advance.

Like the rest of Malta, the harbour area did not disappoint. I loved this area for all it had to offer and couldn’t wait to see more of this beautiful island.

Happy travels!

Donna

I Almost Missed a Bucket List Item in Malta- Gozo Salt Pans

Before going to Malta, one of the things I knew I absolutely positively wanted to do was go to the salt pans in Gozo. It was on my bucket list because the photos looked so beautiful and I had never to been anywhere like it. We only had two nights in Gozo, and the first day included flying into Malta, taking the ferry to Gozo, checking into our apartment, and getting settled, which didn’t leave a whole lot of time.

On our second day in Gozo, we went to three historical sites, The Old Prison, Ggantija Temples, and the Ta’ Kola Windmill. The prison and windmill were my favorites of the three places. I especially liked learning the historical significance behind bread-making in Malta, which was powered by the windmill. The prisons were pretty extensive and included areas for men and women which you could see into, along with background information for the prison.

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We were ready go on a walk along the beach by our apartment and call it a day as far as things to do when I suddenly remembered the salt pans. Luckily they were within walking distance of our apartment and even more importantly it was still daylight.

Like so much of Malta, the salt pans were even better than I thought they would be. They reminded me a bit of Sunset Cliffs in San Diego, but were even better. When I first told my husband I wanted to see the salt pans in Gozo I could tell he was thinking, really? How interesting can salt pans be? But when we got there and he saw them, he understood and he was as much in awe as I was.

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These salt pans are a big reason why I wanted to go to Malta in the first place
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Trust me when I say it’s even more beautiful here than a camera can capture

So when you hear people like me go on about the salt pans in Gozo, just take our advice and go there to see them yourself if you’re ever in Malta. They’re one thing in life that’s completely free to see but is absolutely priceless to enjoy.

Has anyone else been to Malta? If so did you get a chance to go to Gozo?

Happy travels!

Donna