September 8, 2018

Belize Guatemala Border Crossing



Benque Viejo del Carmen Belize to Melchor de Mencos Guatemala Border Crossing

From San Ignacio Belize the border is about 20 minutes drive along the beautiful Mopan River. At the check point one walks into the Belize immigration,  there are 2 windows you'll need to go through. The first one is to Pay an exit fee, When leaving Belize you will have to pay 40 Belize dollars as an exit fee. Next window is where they stamp your passport. There is an Exit forum everyone has to fill out.

There are unofficial money changer there, to change money into Guatemala Quetzal. Most of them will give you a good rate. I used the money changers in central America before, so basically changed small amount to get me by.


Belize Side of the Border Immigration office

After getting your exit stamp, you'll walk through no man's land a few meters to Guatemala Immigration, this is hassle free for me as I have a US passport. There were other European and Asian tourists, they didn't have any issues either.


Guatemala Immigration

Guatemala Immigration there are no entry exit fees.

Entry Back into Belize, the only question the immigration officer asked me where I was going, I replied San Ignacio, there is no entry fee back into Belize.

When flying out of Belize city there is no exit fee.

Hope this helps any fellow traveler, feel free to ask any questions
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September 6, 2018

4 days in Belize




Visited Belize in September 2018, September is hot and humid, not the best time to visit. Everyone speaks English though locals speak Kriol among themselves.

Day 1                            

                                           Belize City Airport to San Ignacio 

I had booked a shuttle online to take take me from Belize City airport to San Ignacio, for $55 USD. They canceled on me as minimum 2 people are needed to take the shuttle or I could pay double. I took my chances as I coudl not find an online company to take me from Belize Airport to SAN Ignacio, so basically arrived around noon and immigration is quick and easy. Once outside the airport, cab drivers approached me, the price was $160 to go to San Ignacio, I declined and asked the taxi drive how much to go to the bus stop in Belize City, the price is $25 and I agreed. I had already searched the online forums and knew that to be a fair price.The taxi drive tried to convince me to go to San Ignacio, he kept saying the buses will be full.

At the Belize City bus stop I waited for 15 minutes and was on a Bus to San Ignacio. There are no AC in the bus, the ticket was 5.50 USD or 11 Belize dollars. And the bus was full, though I got a seat. Roughly 3 hours later I was in San Ignacio.


Belize City main bus terminal

                                                     San Ignacio 

 Small little border town, just a few city blocks, one can walk anywhere. Cayo welcome center is where you can get all the tourist information from. Its by the main bus stop, now in San Ignacio there is no bus terminal, just a stop by the road side. Locals are friendly and will help you directions if needed. Hot and sweaty from the bus ride, I headed to my hotel that I had booked though booking.com for $25 a night. Private room with attached bath.

Cayo welcome center

After a refreshing shower, I was off to explore the town. Found a place that sells organized tours, booked a day tour through them to Tikal Guatemala, for the following day. Price was $135.

Day 2 was spent in Tikal

First day in San Ignacio, I had dinner at Erva's, its on Far West street. A dinner of fish, rice and beans and a side salad with a beer was around 10 USD. The next night I ate a Chinese restaurant called Maxim's. There is also an Indian restaurant call Tandoor. There are no shortage of eating options in San Ignacio.

Day 3 and DAY 4, I headed back to Belize City, again at the bus stop in San Ignacio cab driver approached me, to take me back they wanted $75 this time. I took the bus back.

                                                                    Belize City

My hotel in Belize city was located between the main Bus stop and down town. The price was $60 a night for an A/C room with breakfast included.

TIP -  if you want to use ATM to get local currency, there is an ATM in downtown from Scotia bank, its near the Broadies supermarket.

Belize city is divided into 2 main parts, north side and south side. South side has extreme poverty. Broken down shacks with more than one family living in them, Belize city has 35% unemployment as per my cab driver. A lot of houses are on stilts due to flooding from the sea. North Side is the richer and nicer area with a lot of ex-pat and retires calling it home.

I made my way in South Side to St. John's Cathedral. Its the oldest Cathedral in the Caribbean built in 1812, made by bricks used to balance the ships that came from Europe and Africa.



The first picture is the Cathedral and the 2nd picture is what is left of a wall around the Cathedral, the slaves had to be on the other side of the wall.

I did go inside the Cathedral, it is beautiful.

Behind the Cathedral is an old governors mansion by the ocean. I had a cab drive me along the south part of the city. We drove past old cemeteries, the graves are above ground due to sea water in the ground. We went past government buildings, museum's, schools - kids in Belize wear white uniforms. Then we went to the nicer part of the city the north side. Beautiful drive along the ocean, beautiful colonial houses, sea side bars. Embassies and casinos and the cab driver gave me an commentary as he drove along. The hour and a half ride along Belize city in the Taxi cost was 25 USD.


 

The first picture above is an old colonial house on barrack street, back in the 1800's there was no A/C and the houses were built with all those windows to ventilate and keep the house cooler.
The 2nd photo is of Brodies supermarket, they have a deli for cheap eats. Downtown, though rest of the stores were Chinese and Indian owned as far as I could tell.

Due to lack of time I plan to visit Belize again to see the Belize Cayes (Islands)

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August 7, 2018

Things to do in Bogota Colombia


Plaza Bolivar
Plaza Bolivar Bogota


I Visited Bogota in July 2018, I had a direct flight from Quito Ecuador. A round trip Air ticket was cheaper than a one way ticket from Quito to Bogota.

Weather in July - evenings and nights get cold, pack some warm clothes

Airport to Hotel taxi, I got a cab from outside the airport, and the price was U$D 15.

Hotel - I stayed at Hostal Casa Cubil, Private room was $40 a night, I loved my stay there, check booking.com for discounts

Day 1 in Bogota

I met up with a friend through Couchsurfing and we went exploring around town, mostly Zona Rosa area. After walking all afternoon/evening we ended having dinner at a empanadas street food place, I had some kind of a egg cheese empanadas for under a dollar.

At the time of writing this 1 U$D = 2900 Colombian Pesos.

Taxis are everywhere and have meters, not too expensive.




Above Pictures: Juan Valdez café, there are over 100 Juan Valdez cafés in Colombia and 2nd Picture is BBC Bogota beer company, there are several of those in Bogota as well.



Day 2

I did 2 tours, the first one was a walking tour of Bogotá and the 2 one was a street food tour. Both tours met in front of the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum)



I highly recommend these tours, the first one started at 10 AM and the 2nd at 2 PM, after the food tour the group ended up at BBC, and I was back at my hotel by 10 PM.

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Bogota one of the best cities in the world for street art. Above picture I took during the free walking tour of Bogota at La Candelaria district, walking toura are the best way to see a city with a good local guide.La Candelaria district, the walking tour stopped fora alcoholic corn drink called 'chicha' it is sweetened with brown sugar.

DAY 3

Another tour, this time a history tour, we met at plaza Bolivar and talk about the history, walk to presidents house or palace. The tour guide talked about the FARC and the drug wars. The tour ended with lunch at a french cafe.

After lunch the group decided to go to Monserrate Mountain in Bogota for some great view of the city from the top. So we walked till the cable car station, to take the cable car to the top of the mountain was about 10USD going and coming back.


Day 4 time to catch a flight.




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August 1, 2018

Things to do in Quito Ecuador

Explore the Fascinating Quito, Ecuador

Quito happens to be the capital city of Ecuador, the highest capital in the world as far as altitude goes, and it can be found tucked away in between the breathtaking beauty of multiple mountain peaks.  The streets are always busy, but there is still a calm in the air, as the locals prefer a relaxed atmosphere at any hour of the day and night.

I visited Quito in July 2018, evenings can get cold. Pack a jacket with your clothes. Its in the same time zone as Texas, no jetlag.

Airport to City Taxi will cost $25 USD one way.

Stay: I stayed at Hostal L'Auberge Inn for about $12 a night, private room with shared bathroom. Loved my stay there, check booking.com for discounts.

Food: My Hostel was half way between the Old town and the New part of the town, walking distance to both. New part of the town is where all the clubs, Bars and fancy restaurants are, though street food is everywhere. Most of my time in Quito was spent in the old part of the town. 

Transportation: Taxis are cheap in Ecuador, I did a lot of walking in Quito also

TIP: Learn some Spanish, its hard to get by with just English

Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional Quito
Those who choose to visit Quito will be amazed at how much history can be seen and experienced without even stepping foot in one of the museums.  Everyone will love wandering the streets as they stop to admire the treasures that can be found within spectacular plazas and historical buildings and churches.


Here are the best things to see as people are exploring the fascinating Quito, Ecuador:

Old Town

Old Town is the historic district of this capital city and it is easy for everyone to wander around on foot as they look at every inch of it.  While in Old Town, there are plenty of museums to venture into, but most visitors will be more impressed with the plethora of old churches.  La Compania de Jesus was constructed during the 17th century and it is covered in gold, while the Roman Catholic San Francisco Church has been around since the 16th century and contains the Virgin of Quito.

Teleferiqo

Because of the high altitude, I was out of breath and didn't end up going up there.

The Teleferiqo is the cable car that takes visitors up twelve thousand feet so that they can see panoramic views that go on for miles.  This is the best way to see the nearby volcanoes, especially Cotopaxi, which is one of the world’s tallest ones.

Basilica del Voto Nacional

A 10 minute walk from my hostal, went there twice. There is a 2 dollar fee to take the elevator to the top. Once you exit the elevator you can view the city from the top or go even further higher by stairs to get to the tower, not an easy climb. The Basilica is a  must do/see in Quito.

El Panecillo


El Panecillo is a large hill that has a statue of the Virgin on top.  While everyone can see the Virgin from different vantage points within Quito, many people prefer to take a taxi to the top to see the statue up close.  It is also possible to walk to the top to see the fantastic views of the city below.

Important TIP: I Visited Panecillo in the evening, everyone I asked advised me not to go in the evening as its not safe, I wanted to take some night photos and went anyways, nothing happened to me. Besides I had less than 20 bucks on me, if someone was to rob me, no big deal. Now my advise, if you go there late in the evening make sure you have transportation both ways prearranged.

El Panecillo
El Panecillo


Carolina Park

This is the best place in the city to go and relax on any day of the week, but it is busiest on the weekends when the locals do not need to go to work.  Inside the park, everyone will find an exotic botanical garden, a planetarium, museum, and a reptile house.  Those who wish to participate in one of the many sports inside the park can play soccer or they can try to learn how to play Ecuavoli, which is volleyball with specific rules and three people to a team.  There are also paddle boats that people can take out on the water.

Middle of the World

I hired a private Cab to take me to the Middle of the world Monument where the equator is, in Ecuador, the cost was $30 dollars round trip, the cab drivers told me for an extra 15 U$D he would also take me to Pululahua volcano and Crater and I agreed. My Hostel had arranged for the private cab.






Calle de la Ronda

This unique street in the area of Old Town is covered in cobblestones for visitors to walk over as they venture in and out of the interesting art galleries and artisan shops.  No one will be able to resist making a purchase or two when they are there except me as I don't shop, and most people will stop in one of the little cafés for a bite to eat or a cup of coffee when they need a little break.  The best time to visit this area of the city is when they are hosting heritage and cultural events, and there are many of them throughout the year.

Now I on my 2nd day in Quito did a free walking tour of Quito that one through the old town, the tour is not free its based on tips, I tipped the tour guide 10 USD.

Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco
Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco, Quito

La Compania church in Quito
La Compania church in Quito



Both these Churches have beautiful gold work done inside and are a must see. Stay tuned for more videos from Quito coming soon.


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July 28, 2018

5 hour Layover in Denver Colorado

Another layover, this time in Denver or 'the mile high city' as its known as. So basically I was catching a flight to Panama City and the cheapest price I could find was on Copa Airlines, which flew from Denver, so I took United from Austin to Denver and Copa from there, I had a 5 hour layover.

Now I am not a big fan of airport food, so decided to take my chances and leave the airport and head to the city. So from arrival's, you'll need go down to departures and exit the airport and you'll see the train once out side the airport. There is a 9 dollar ticket you'll need to buy for the train ride. The last stop is Union Station.

IMPORTANT TIP: See the time on the ticket, you might be able to use the same tickets to get back to the airport.

Picture below taken at the last stop Union Station.

airport train denver

The train takes 40 minutes one way.

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Picture above The Union Station


Picture below: Several eating options inside the Union station and outside around the station.



So after a meal and a drink, I walked around the area, one can also take a pedicab, you'll see the pedicabs outside the station.

I was back at the airport with time to spare and was on my way to Panama city.

FYI There is no TSA Precheck at Denver airport, there were no long line on a Saturday evening.

Anyone from Denver or has been there, please leave your recommendations for a layover in the comments below.
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May 4, 2018

3 days in Barcelona

Sagrada Família
Sagrada Família
Visited in Early March 2018 - First thing first, Why did I go to Barcelona. I was looking for flights from Marrakesh Morocco to India and checked skyscanner and google flights, among others like Wego, most flights were over 800 USD one way. So I checked destinations in Europe and onwords to India and voila, got a cheap flight. for around 400 USD to India, So basically took a  3 day / 2 night break or stopover in Barcelona.


The first day I had arrived late, I was staying at the Generator Hostel, checked in and went to see Sagrada Família. It was walking distance from my hostel. The Sagrada Família was about to close and took a few pictures and headed back to the hostel. On the way back to the hostel, there was a rally by women, it was international women's day.


Barcelona is overrated


Just another big city in Europe with a cathedral under construction, not much else. Some other buildings with tiles and they call it Art and a beach which I didn't visit in Cold March.


People in Barcelona are rude, or atleast that was my experience. So basically I was trying to get to  the cathedral from my Hostel, I tried to ask for directions and people just look through you, not even a simply reply as I don't know or no English. So instead of walking I was taking cabs to go just a few blocks as no one would help me with directions.


Next day I took the Hop on Hop off bus, it so happens that there was a strike that day and the buses didn't run as expected. The bus cost was 30 euros, which I have no problem paying, just that I was stuck at a stop for over an hour waiting for the bus to show up.


Anyways, here are few pictures and some places I saw while in Barcelona.


Shop selling souvenirs outside the football stadium.




 


Above Las Ramblas, Barcelona, famous for its pickpockets, just don't have anything in your back pockets and you'll be okay.


 


Above Plaza de Cataluna, First and last stop for the Airport Shuttle just outside the plaza. 



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April 25, 2018

4 days in Marrakesh Morocco

Visited Marrakesh March 2018, used my frequent flyer miles and took a flight from from Dallas Texas to Madrid Spain and onwards to Marrakesh


Safety in Marrakesh Morocco In general, I found Marrakesh to be a very a safe city. Nevertheless, taking general safety precautions you can never get it wrong.

Money The local currency is the Moroccan dirham (MAD). At the time of writing this 1 US Dollar is equal to 9.12 MAD.

Scams:  I don't shop, no scams, I was hoping someone would try to lure me into their shop, that never happened either. Marrakesh is easy to navigate and I didnt have to ask for directions, no scams there either.


Airport to Hotel, my Hotel arranged for a taxi for 20 euros, on the way back I got a taxi and we agreed for 100 MAD and the driver charged me 150, so yes I was scammed for 5 USD.



Where to Stay in Marrakesh Morocco The city has a remarkable choice of places to stay. Hotels, hostels, riads or dars in Marrakesh Morocco offer plenty accommodation options. Riads and dars are old grand houses transformed into hotels and inns. They usually have gardens or open courtyards and represent examples of astonishing Moroccan architecture.



I stayed in Dar Daoud for 3 night, it was USD 100 for 3 nights 4 Days with breakfast included. Dar was 5 minutes walk from Jemaa El-Fna square.


Marrakesh is divided into two different parts: the Medina, the historical city and Gueliz or Ville Nouvelle, the new and modern European district.


Day I


Arrived in Marrakesh Airport, all tourist have to fill out immigration Arrival forum, expect long lines, the whole process is relatively easy. Once outside the airport I located my Cab driver, he had the Riad sign, and off we went through the streets of  Marrakesh, he dropped me off to one of the entrance to the city square, cabs are not allowed after 12 Noon in the jemaa El-Fna square. My hotel all in one receptionist, chef and tour guide was there to walk me rest of the way.


After check-in and a nice cup of mint tea, I got a map of the city from  the reception and was off to explorer. I walked through the old souks and arrived at jemaa El-Fna square, it was still early, evenings and night time is when the square comes alive, with 100's of food vendors selling traditional Moroccan food, Juice stalls, Artists performing, dances, snake charmers and thousands of people. This square is the highlight of Marrakesh nightlife, its one of the biggest squares in Africa.


From the square, I walked past all these horse drawn carriages to Koutoubia Mosque. The Koutoubia Mosque is not only at the epicenter of Moroccan culture, it is an architectural marvel that has influenced structures in Rabat and Spain since the 12th century. I took a few photos and made my way back across the street to the hop on hop off bus stop. Got the info I needed to take the bus  From there I headed back to the square, There I found an ATM next to a pharmacy. Got local currency and was off to get an early dinner. Found a seafood vendor as I am not into eating meat and got a delicious meal for under $10 USD with mint tea.





Henna Tattoo at the  jemaa El-Fna

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Above picture of the Souq.


DAY 2

I had stayed late out the night before and slept in, the breakfast gets over at 10:30 AM, I dragged myself out of the bed by 10 for some delicious Moroccan pancakes. Still was feeling jet-lagged. After shower it was close to noon, I took off to see. Jardin Majorelle, Over a course of 40 years, the famous French painter, Jacques Majorelle worked on bringing this mind blowing garden to life. Later, the fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent stepped in to finish the process.

Caught a cab for 3 USD, and I was at the entrance of the Garden, there were very long lines to buy the ticket and get in to see Jardin Majorelle, now I am not a big fan of long lines or big crowds, so I saw my cab driver and headed back to the Riad. The cab driver wanted to show me the clubs in the European district, I declined, not my thing.

Long lines outside Jardin Majorelle

At the Riad, I was checking online for a sunset camel ride, my Riad (hotel) reception dude told me He'd hook me up for the Palm grove camel ride for half the price. So after a few minutes this other Gentleman shows up, We walked though a maize of narrow streets, there was an SUV waiting and and I was off to the palm Groves.Cost 25 USD.



I did ride the camel, but mostly walked alongside the camel, later was Invited to mint tea and riifa (a Moroccan version of a crepe, a dough flattened and folded over, then cooked in a frying pan) at a Moroccan Berber family house. Its not free you are expected to tip the family.



Day 3

I had caught up on my sleep and was over the jetlag,  after breakfast went the hop on bus, cost 20 USD. Spent all day exploring Marrakesh. Both the historical city and the modern European district. There are 2 Hop on Hop off lines, red and blue line, I went on both.





Bab Agnaou and Saadian Tombs was my last stop of the day


Those who love history should include the Saadian Tombs in their Marrakech itinerary. The tombs were created for members of the Saadi dynasty, including Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour Eddahbi and had been lost to the sands for centuries, until they were discovered in 1917. The entire area is decorated with beautiful tiles, carvings, calligraphy and other splendors.



Shopping: Now I don't shop but if shopping is your thing, Don’t miss to visit Medina Souks shops sell anything from famous Moroccan spices to traditional kaftans, bargain letter shoes, jewelry and and other junk. I walk through the Souks is quiet an experience and highly recommended.



City View
There are several rooftop cafes around jemaa El-Fna square, Pick one and enjoy the experience, now I highly recommend this.


Day 4


Another late night and another struggle to getup, after breakfast, got the day to a start, walked through the Souks, had a nice lunch was off to the airport and was headed to Barcelona.

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April 13, 2018

8 Hour Layover in Casablanca Morocco

April 2018 - Oh no not Another Layover, this time almost 8 hours in Casablanca Morocco. Now I love Layovers, this time I was so tired, I flew from Nairobi Kenya, my flight left at 7 AM, and had to be at the airport at 5 AM, last part of my 5 country travel and was returning home to Texas, Kenya, NYC, Casablanca and to Austin. I barely got any sleep as I was in a hostel in Nairobi and a family showed up at midnight and woke everyone up. One of the things about staying in a hostel that makes me not stay at hostels, its just they are cheap and a great way to meet fellow travelers.

The flight stopped in N'Djamena Chad on the way to Casablanca, I tried to get off the plane at N'Djamena Chad, was not allowed, also I would have the hassle of re-booking my flight back to Texas. So its a good thing I didn't get off, the force was with me on that one.

N'Djamena Chad

So I arrived in Casablanca and headed straight to international connections, hoping to sleep at the airport, talked to Airlines folks, I was flying Air Morocco to New York.  They Informed me since my flight was not for another 7 or so hours, I could use their transit hospitality services. So I was off to the long Visa line and after that headed to the airlines office. There I was given some kind of a voucher for a hotel and told where to catch a shuttle. Next thing I am on the shuttle and headed to a  hotel. At the hotel I ate a shitty cold meal, some of it, and after the meal was given a room to nap. It was a decent room with hot shower, after a nice shower, I was not so tired anymore, went down to to the reception, handed the keys to the room. I spoke with the reception folks and asked about a cab that would take to see the city and drop me back to the airport in time for my flight. They told me that would cost 50 Euros, this was a once in a lifetime thing and I agreed.

French: I speak french, my Cab (Taxi) driver spoke Arabic and French, no English. Having been to Marrakesh, I am glad to speak it. So if you are going to be in Morocco learn some basic French, it come handy in lot of African countries. 

Airport to the Casablanca city center is a good 45 minutes. Now this was a weekend and I didn't come across much traffic while going to the city. So I got talking to the Taxi driver, he gave me a tour of the city. He asked me if this was my first time in Morocco, I said 2nd and had visited Marrakesh, he went off and told me Casablanca was mush better and much cheaper than Marrakesh. So anyways, I was kind of busy taking photos and just nodded to him.

We drove past the

Cathedral

Quartier Habous

Old Medina




Hassan II Mosque



Its right by the ocean and the whole area is just beautiful. I walk and saw the building from outside in admiration and felt he cool ocean breeze, with the sound of the waves.

After my last stop at the Mosque, the Taxi drive offered to take me to a coffee shop, I agreed and we went to the amazing coffee shop, I had a mint tea and he had a coffee. There were men only, we sat at the outside area and I was people watching in a city which I had only seen in a movie Casablanca, ' Here's Looking At You, Kid'. That stop at the coffee shop was the best part of my layover, I like the experience of being part of the culture.

Now it was time to head back to the Airport, I was late. And we met traffic, The Cab driver didn't drive fast, he though had some skills to cut through traffic, and kept saying to me in French 'Je Roule'. And he dropped me off in time, ofcourse I tipped him 5 extra euros.

Now at the airport there were long lines for exit customs and Immigration, and I made it to the boarding gate just in time.

Leave me some comments, questions or suggestions.

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April 10, 2018

Places to See in Muscat, Oman

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Not yet taken with the flashiness of Dubai but curious in the Arabian Peninsula? Oman, a small country, is a wonderfully progressive and open country with stunning landscapes and fascinating culture. Muscat, in particular, is known for breathtaking architecture, superb beaches, hiking trails, watersports, shopping, arts, and history. You can hike the Hajar Mountains in the morning then return to Muscat for a delicious seafood dinner, all in one day.


I was looking for flights from New Delhi to Nairobi and saw some great deals on Oman Air, and stopped in Muscat for 3 days. Taxi From the airport to My hotel, I paid 15 Omani Rial, about 40 U$D.

I have been several times to the Middle East, between Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Doha Qatar, and Muscat, I liked muscat the most. Muscat is a place more like something out of the Arabian nights story, where as the other 3 are concrete jungles.

Safety: Oman is one of the safest countries in the world.

Weather: I was there in March, days can get hot, evenings and nights are pleasent.

Oman is expensive, plan and budget accordingly. I stayed in Tulip Inn, Downtown Muscat. Nice Pool area and amazing Breakfast. 5 Minute walk from the Muscat Big bus, hop on hop off bus. Check discount hotel Prices on Booking.com


My list of places to see and things to do in Muscat



1. Muttrah Souq


Within Muscat, Oman, you will find the city known as Muttrah, a place where the best barterers of the world seem to gather. That’s right, if you’re looking to brush up on your haggling skills, you should definitely head to Muttrah Souq. The traditional market on the Muttrah Corniche (an attraction in and of itself) has several small shops selling authentic Omani goods, such as dyed fabrics, traditional garments, gold and silver jewelry, and souvenirs to bring home.


2. Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque


Years ago, the Sultan that built this stunning mosque had a mission to make the building accessible to non-Muslim visitors to help them understand the beauty of Islam. Not only is this openness a rarity, it is a wonderful chance to see and experience more about Islam than you would in other places on the Arabian Peninsula. The Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque has exquisite mosaics, a carpet that took 4 years to complete, one of the largest and most intricate chandeliers in the word, and mystery, so bring the camera!


3. Bait Al Zubair Museum


Opened to the public in 1998, the Bait AlZubair Museum is located in beautiful Old Muscat and was once the private collection of the wealthy Zubair family. Still, this museum is one of the largest permanent art collections in the country and offers a window into the past. There are six separate buildings to spread out all the exhibitions, including temporary displays. Aside from the exhibits, there is a garden with a miniature Omani village, a selection of indigenous plants and trees, and an aflaj system. The perfect place to go for a calming moment.


4. The Royal Opera House Muscat


Ever dream of seeing Arabian performing arts? Now you have the chance at the Royal Opera House of Muscat, built in 2011. There are not many Omani performing groups, sadly, but you can see international drama, theater, and dance groups quite often. Also, it is highly recommended that you sign up for a morning tour to learn about the traditional architecture of the building as well as some of its history. Be sure to catch a performance if you can.


5. Al Alam Palace

 



Many who visit the Al Alam Palace are quick to call it one of the most beautiful palaces in the entire world. The architecture and dazzling colors are what make the Al Alam Palace a favorite attraction of Oman. The palace has over 200 years of history, and it presently houses Sultan Qaboos. During the 16th century, the palace was surrounded by Mirani and Jalali forts, and some of those buildings still stand. Though you cannot actually get very close to the palace, you can stand by the gates. The recommended visiting time is in the evening, when the edifice gets lit up.


6. The National Museum of Oman


Established in 2016 in Muscat, the NationalMuseum is where Omani heritage is put on display and is best when paired with a visit to the aforementioned Bait Al Zubair Museum. As for the National Museum, it covers over 13,700 square meters (147,000 square feet), consists of several galleries and exhibits, and is rather high-tech. Some of the galleries are Oman and the World, the Land and the People, Ancient History, Splendours of Islam, and Renaissance, amongst others.


7. Bimmah Sinkhole


Though slightly on the outskirts of Muscat, you cannot visit Oman without seeing this remarkable natural wonder. Also known as the Dabab sinkhole, this gorgeous pool of water was created when the limestone layers beneath the desert started dissolving. Now, you can see the turquoise waters and awesome rock formations. It’s surreal.



Picture below of The Frankincense Burner, if you take the tour on the Big Bus, it's on the way from the Royal Palace to the Muttrah Souq.



Let me know if I Missed anything in the comments below.


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March 26, 2018

Nairobi and the Wonders of Masai Mara

Visited Masai Village

On the banks of the Nairobi River, this fast-growing metropolis is one of the largest cities in Kenya. The city is constantly growing and adapting, with chaotic roadways, open green spaces, and beautiful natural attractions just on the outskirts.  It is a very enjoyable place to spend a few days before beginning a safari!

When to Visit


The climate in Nairobi has comfortable, temperate conditions all year.  The nights are cool, and the days are warm with temperatures around 20 to 25 degrees Celsius.  Temperatures are highest in December to March, while the best time to see migrations are from July to October.  The wettest months are April and May, so be sure to plan ahead to get good prices while avoiding the rainy season.

Best Things to do in Nairobi


There are amazing activities both inside and outside the city of Nairobi for you to enjoy when visiting. 

The best way to get around Nairobi is by taxi or matatu.  Taxis don’t use meters and can be notoriously unreliable.  Use a reputable company only, and verify the average cost of a ride with a third party to ensure you don’t get ripped off.  Matatus are basically short buses, and they add to the chaos and confusion of the dizzying roadways.  But, they offer an easy and inexpensive way to get around.  If you aren’t going far, then walking on foot is usually a good option—many neighbourhoods have improving safety for visitors, but it is always best to check with your hotel first.
Downtown Kenya offers many attractions such as the old parliament buildings.  There is excellent colonial architecture in the downtown area.  If you want to learn more about the history and culture, check out the Nairobi National Museum.  Looking for some time away from hectic traffic?  Spend your afternoon at the lovely Jeevanjee Gardens, or cool off at Africa’s largest ice skating rink, Solar Ice Rink.  A visit to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, where baby elephants and rhinos live, is an incredible way to support conservation efforts and get an up-close glimpse of these playful giants.

Find quality souvenirs and goods at the Maasai Market—a huge open-air market filled with vendors selling any number of handcrafted items and local delicacies.  Masai Market is only open on weekends.




Food in Nairobi


If food is a big component of your travel, you can enjoy excellent Kenyan, Ethiopian, and Indian cuisine in Nairobi. Common local foods include Chai, beans, cornmeal, and chapatis which are a lovely thin, crispy bread.

The adventurers can turn their eyes to the horizons beyond Kenya—here you will find the northern face of Kilimanjaro.  You can trek up this mountain or the nearby Mount Kenya.  The true adventure lies to the west, at Masai Mara National Reserve.


Visit Wonderful Masai Mara


If you are in Kenya, a can’t-miss destination is the Masai Mara game reserve.  Masai Mara (also known as Maasai Mara or The Mara) is one of Kenya’s largest game reserves.  This is a popular destination for those that visit Kenya.

Getting There


About 280 kilometres away from the city centre of Nairobi, the easiest ways to get to Masai Mara are driving and flying.  The drive takes around 6 hours along a smooth, scenic road to Narok.  After the Narok pit stop, the road gets rougher, with pot holes or dirt roads only.  You can rent a 4x4 and a driver for the day to take you to Masai Mara. 
The other alternative is to fly.  A short 45-minute flight will take you over top of the expansive landscape.  Many safaris offer chartered flight options.

I used African Comfort Zone Safaris. The cost was around 300 USD for 3 days and 2 nights safari, and I recommend them. 


Visiting


The Masai Mara area is mostly open grassland, making it an excellent spot for wildlife viewing.  There are almost one hundred land animals and over four hundred birds that call the area home.  It is an important area of studying wildlife conservation and for visitors to garner respect and appreciation for these expansive natural surroundings.

The annual wildebeest migration sees 1.5 million animals coming into the are in July and leaving in November.  This is a prime time to visit, and it is common for visitors any time of the year to see the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino.  Other common animal sightings include zebra, crocodile, baboon, warthog, gazelle, cheetah, and hyena.

Out of the Big Five—buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino. Saw 4 and the one I did not see is Rhino.


The best way to see Masai Mara is with a safari guide.  The local Masai people work with certain companies to offer an in-depth and unique view of the animals and the local culture.  These guides know the land like no other and are able to provide visitors an authentic experience.  Stay at a basecamp, and work your way out from there with your guide on day trips, night safaris, outlying camps, and visits to local communities.  Many of these camps are truly world-class retreats where you are treated to excellent local cuisine, and comfortable lodgings.


However you choose to explore Nairobi and Masai Mara, it is sure to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience filled with unforgettable sites and wonders. 


2 pictures above - The Safari Van driver stopped at Rift Valley view point for some coffee. Read more about the rift valley at the UNESCO World Heritage Site Page.





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