The Ultimate 10 Day Coastal Maine Road Trip Itinerary

a beautiful sunset at five islands in maine

If you’re looking for the best way to experience summer on the East Coast, it’s got to be driving the beautiful coast of Maine.

With over 4,000 islands and the most coastline of any state in the United States, road tripping the coast of Maine is a bucket list item if there ever was one!

Taking a Maine coast road trip encompasses everything that is quintessentially New England in summer, from its seafood shacks to its charming coastal towns to its sandy beaches on the pristine Atlantic coast.

This road trip itinerary includes plenty of scenic Maine coastal drives, small towns worthy of day trips, and yes — plenty of beach time!

How This Maine Itinerary Works

This road trip begins in Southern Maine and ends in Northern Maine. It assumes you are within driving distance of Maine and are bringing your own car.

When I did this Maine road trip, I flew to Boston, Massachusetts from San Francisco. My friend came down to meet me in Boston, where we spent two days, and then we drove up to Maine from Boston.

If you do this Maine road trip from Boston, I suggest renting a car in advance from Boston Logan International Airport. They have the best rates and their location is convenient for the city. Compare prices on car rentals here.

From Boston to the first stop on this coastal Maine is only an hour and a half drive, so it’s easy enough to start your trip there. 

From the end of this itinerary, you could return your rental car in Bangor (the nearest airport to the final stop, Acadia National Park) or you could drive back to Boston if that’s better on your budget. 

One-way rentals are often really pricy, so while this definitely adds time and mileage to your trip, it may be worth it for the cost savings. 

The drive directly from Acadia National Park to Boston is about 5 hours with normal traffic, though it may be worse on weekends or holidays.

Where to Stay in Maine

This itinerary is crafted to be customizable to your personal travel style. Depending on how you prefer to road trip, you can adjust it.

I personally hate moving hotels every night, so I crafted this Maine itinerary with this in might, so that wouldn’t be strictly necessary.

However, if you do the itinerary this way, you may have to do a little more driving in between each stop and that may also involve a small amount of backtracking. 

Alternately, you could move hotels each night to keep moving without backtracking quite so much.

(No matter what, to some extent some backtracking is unavoidable due to the unconnected peninsulas and islands you’ll visit, particularly in Midcoast Maine.)

Here are two ways you could do it:

NightOption 1 (Fewer Stops)Option 2 (More Stops)
1Ogunquit or KennebunkportOgunquit
2Ogunquit or KennebunkportKennebunkport
3PortlandPortland
4PortlandPortland
5Brunswick or BathBailey Island
6Brunswick or BathDamariscotta
7CamdenRockland
8CamdenCamden
9Bar HarborBar Harbor
10Bar HarborBar Harbor

Your 10 Day Coastal Maine Road Trip Itinerary

Day 1: Ogunquit

Many boats in the marina of Ogunquit on a sunny day in Maine along the coast

Southern Maine is home to some of the few sand beaches along the Maine coast, which tends to trend rockier as it goes further north.

York, Ogunquit, and Kennebunkport are the three most popular beach getaways in Southern Maine – and in this itinerary, we’ll cover the latter two.

These three beach destinations tend to be quite busy with day and weekend trippers from New York, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, since it’s a relatively short distance from other points in New England.

A general rule of thumb: the further south you are in Maine, the busier it’ll be – with the exception of Acadia National Park, of course.

I didn’t get a chance to visit York on this trip, but I did get to see both Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.

I have to say that I preferred Kennebunkport, but my time in Ogunquit wasn’t ideal as the remnants of a tropical storm were blowing through (which is why I’m using primarily stock & other people’s photography in this section — my photos are really dark and gloomy!)

Drive to Ogunquit.

Coastline of Ogunquit with reeds and other plant life

The first destination on our whistle-stop tour of the Maine coastline is the charming seaside hamlet of Ogunquit.

Frankly, my experience with Ogunquit was subpar, simply for the fact that the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred made there be a total downpour during my stay in the town. It rained to the point of flooding: hardly what you want on a beach getaway!

However, I did get to eat a meal in Ogunquit and browse some of the shops and restaurants, so here is what I recommend you do when in Ogunquit.

Walk the Marginal Way.

Photo Credit: Dumphasizer via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

First things first: parking in Ogunquit can be a bit of a nightmare. The parking gets worth the further out towards Perkins Cove you drive.

As you drive towards the pier area, there is a very small municipal lot where you can park for $4 per hour… and that’s assuming you can find a spot! We had no such luck, and it wasn’t even a weekend.

More likely, you’ll have to pay $25 for a day pass for private parking. Alternately, you can park in a municipal lot up the road, also at $4 per hour, but then there is a lot of walking. We parked here at Obed’s Lot.

The Marginal Way stretches from the area near Obed’s Lot to Perkins Cove. I suggest parking at Obed’s Lot because it has a lot more space and the walk along Marginal Way along the coast is spectacular!

Admire all the beautiful buildings of Ogunquit on this peaceful coastal walk that passes Little Beach and Israels Head on a one-mile coastal walkway. It takes about 20 minutes to reach Perkins Cove.

Explore the Perkins Cove and Harbor area.

Grassy area looking over to perkins cove with boats in the marina

Once you arrive in Perkins Cove — either via Marginal Way or driving directly to Perkins Cove and parking — it’s time to explore the charms of Ogunquit, particularly the harbor area around Perkins Cove. Here are a few shops worth stopping in.

  • Whistling Oyster for whimsical and beautiful jewelry inspired by the sea
  • Perkins Cove Pottery Shop has gorgeous ceramic pieces for the home — it’s hard not to leave without something
  • Blue Whale Trading Company for beautifully curated pieces from local New England artists

Have the first of many seafood meals.

Wood house with white trim and planter basks and american flag and sign that reads "lobster shack" and "open"
Photo Credit: Jasperdo via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

When it comes time for lunch, hit up The Lobster Shack – it has the best reviews of any restaurant in Ogunquit and good prices to boot given what’s on offer.

I didn’t heed my own advice as the Lobster Shack was totally full when we visited and we had to make alternate plans!

It was pouring rain and we couldn’t find parking downtown, so we hopped back in the car and headed to Rose Cove Restaurant. I ordered the fried haddock tacos and they were just OK. Honestly, I wouldn’t go back.

Walk along the Footbridge.

Photo Credit: JR P via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This manually operated drawbridge is one of the biggest draws to Perkins Cove — just look how cute it is!

Take a stroll over the bridge to complete your walk of Perkins Cove and see it from the other side for perspective (and photo opps!).

Spend the day on Ogunquit Beach.

Sandy beach of Ogunquit Maine on a sunny summer day with rippled sand and water

Time for your first of a handful of sandy beaches in Maine! The main (ha) reason why people come to Ogunquit is for its enormous stretch of sandy shoreline… an anomaly in the mostly rocky coastline of Maine.

The powdery sand and gentle waves mean that Ogunquit Beach is a great place for families who are looking for some calm water to wade in and soft sand to luxuriate on.

End the day with another meal.

Photo Credit: JR P via Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

If you want more seafood, head back to Perkins Cove for one of the other delicious restaurants. Other recommended places in the area include Footbridge Lobster and The Trap.

If you want something different, the Front Porch has a wide variety of sandwiches and entrées for a break from seafood.

Day 2: Kennebunkport

Spend the day on Gooch’s Beach.

Allison Green, the author of the article, in a green bathing suit and reddish-brown hat sitting in the sand

I hope you didn’t have too much beach time yesterday… because it’s time for what is, in my opinion, one of the best beaches in Maine!

Gooch’s Beach in Kennebunkport is simply stunning. Lots of sandy coastline means that you can walk nearly a mile on the sand, the cool Atlantic water lapping at your ankles.

Note that the beach is on the narrow side and that during high tide, there can be very little room on the sand for towels! There is more room on the north side of the beach, as this is where the beach is wider.

Waves crashing on Kennebunkport beach on a sunny day in Maine in summer

Another caveat: parking here is rather pricy, at $25 for a day pass for street parking using one of the meters or the Passport app. We found it worth it, but if you are staying in a hotel in the area, you may be able to walk instead.

Parking here at Gooch’s will also allow you free parking access to Middle Beach and Mother’s Beach, as it is all one zone. So you can beach hop to all three Kennebunkport beaches… but frankly, Gooch’s is the best by a decent margin!

Have lunch at the Clam Shack.

Once you’ve soaked up a lot of salt air and need a break from roasting yourself in the sun, head back into downtown Kennebunkport for a delicious seafood meal at The Clam Shack.

Skip their lobster rolls: they’re trifling (who the hell puts a lobster roll on a hamburger bun?! Team hot dog bun for life).

The offending lobster roll.

But their fried clams are what they’re known for, and that’s absolutely what you should order.

Their fries and coleslaw aren’t half-bad, either!

Walk around the wharf and harbor.

The harbor area of Kennebunkport with a large sailboat and waterfront restaurant

Once you’ve had a filling meal, digest a little with a walk around the cute downtown area of Kennebunkport.

Since you’re already at the Clam Shack, start with a little wander around the wharf and marina area, where the Kennebunk River heads out to sea.

There are lots of beautiful buildings along this harbor area and the sailboats in the marina are beautiful when they bob in the waves.

Shop around the cute downtown of Kennebunkport.

a coffee shop in downtown kennebunkport maine

There are also a lot of shops and galleries you could explore. A few places we enjoyed were:

  • Dock Square Coffee House for an iced coffee pick-me-up after lots of time in the sun
  • The Candyman for homemade fudge, salt water taffy, truffles, and all sorts of other sweet goodness!
  • Fine Print Booksellers for a small but thoughtful selection of books that are perfect for beach reading

Drive to Point Walker.

the famous bush compound where the bush family summers in maine on the water at walkers point on a sunny day

Kennebunkport is famous for its Bush Compound summer home – you’ll see all sorts of Bush family regalia all over the town. They take it pretty seriously – even the Clam Shack is shilling Barbara Bush’s book!

If you’re curious to cast an eye on where the Bushes spend their summers, drive to Point Walker, about 10 minutes from downtown Kennebunkport. It’s absolutely stunning and you’ll be able to spot the Bush compound from here.

Have dinner at one of Kennebunkport’s finest.

The famous Alissons restaurant in Kennebunkport Maine which is known for its delicious and creative lobster dishes

Once you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, sand, and sun, it’s time to start thinking dinner. Luckily, Kennebunkport is a really thriving and bustling seaside town, and there are a lot of options.

So far, I’ve had you overdosing on seafood, so I’ll be sure to include a non-seafood option for dinner.

(And don’t worry – the next two days bring us to Portland, for a respite on seafood, before diving back into the seafood mania as we head up the coast!).

  • Alisson’s Restaurant: while I may be biased to the name, this gets the best consistent reviews in town and it’s located conveniently right in Dock Square. They’re famous for their lobster poutine, which is just as decadent as it sounds! They also have lobster pizza and lobster mac ‘n cheese. It’s as Maine as it gets!
  • Chez Rosa for casual, French-inspired seafood like moules frites as well as non-seafood options like beef bourgignon and French onion soup.
  • Old Vines Wine Bar for expertly curated wines and small plates so you can sample your way through a delicious dinner.

Day 3: Portland

Have breakfast at Becky’s Diner.

Photo Credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One of Portland’s main institutions is Becky’s Diner, and you can’t go wrong following the crowds to eat one of th best, heartiest breakfasts in Portland!

Lines can be long, so arrive early and expect to wait. Don’t miss their wild blueberry pancakes!

Wander around the Old Port.

Becky’s Diner is a short walk from the Old Port neighborhood, so it’s time for a short walking tour of this charming part of town!

There are a lot of cool sights in this area; let me list a few favorites.

First, walk to the fisherman’s wharf area with lots of lobster traps and quintessential New England fisherman vibes.

If you walk from J’s Oysters via the back alleyway to Harbor Fish Market (also a great stop!), you’ll see this view that seems right out of a painting!

Another favorite area in the Old Port is the one stretch of street that remains cobblestoned with beautiful buildings surrounding it (pictured above at the start of this section).

You can find the cobblestoned street pictured above at the intersection of Fore Street and Silver Street but there are some other cobblestone streets around on the side streets in the area.

Getting hungry for a mid-morning snack? Grab Maine-style potato donuts (odd — and frankly not a favorite — but unique to Maine) at The Holy Donut.

Take a harbor cruise.

Cruising out on the water in Portland Maine in Casco Bay on a sunny summer day

There are a few short cruises you can take that depart from the Old Port that explore beautiful Casco Bay.

While there are many islands you can access from Portland, on this coastal Maine itinerary we unfortunately don’t have time for that – even with 10 days in Maine!

Instead, hop on a boat for a quick harbor cruise!

I suggest the Diamond Pass run by Casco Bay Lines which leaves at 11 AM and takes 2 hours, returning at 1 PM.

Grab a quick bite before your brewery tour.

Photo Credit: saramarielin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Next up on this itinerary is a brewery tour at 3 PM – but you don’t want to sample Portland’s best brews on an empty stomach!

Let’s grab a bite to eat in the Old Port area first so that you can remain conscious for the rest of this Maine itinerary!

There are a number of great restaurants in the Old Port area. Here are our top recommendations for you to choose from:

  • Duckfat for delicious French fries fried in — you guessed it! — duck fat. Double up on the indulgence by having it as poutine, Canadian-style with cheese curds and gravy.
  • Eventide Oyster Co. for tasty fresh oysters from all up and down New England as well as delicious lobster rolls
  • The Thirsty Pig for tasty homemade sausages paired with excellent local beers

Go on a brewery tour.

A beer tasting flight of four different color beers

Maine is burgeoning as a craft beer destination, and Portland is at the very heart of it! There are a number of breweries in Portland proper, as well as many breweries elsewhere in Maine that have pubs and offerings in Portland.

You could do a self-guided tour of a few of Portland’s breweries, but frankly, it’s a lot more fun to do a brewery crawl!

This brewery tour starts at 3 PM and will take you to several of the best breweries in Portland on a guided walking tour. You’ll get to sample several beers at each stop and see a great representative sampling of the Portland, Maine brewing scene.

Book your brewery tour online here!

Walk up and over Munjoy Hill.

the charming munjoy hill neighborhood of portland with a red obseravatory tower on the highest point

After all those beers, it’s time to sober up with a walk through one of Portland’s most scenic and beautiful communities: Munjoy Hill.

Yes, it is a hill, and it is a bit steep, but it’s really worth the walk as this is one of the coolest neighborhoods in Portland.

Once you reach the crest of Munjoy Hill, there is a cool observatory tower called the Portland Observatory. It’s a historic maritime signal tower that was built in 1807, and it’s the only remaining tower of this type made of wood known in the United States!

Bonus: there’s also a museum inside, and you can ascend the observatory tower for fantastic views over all of Portland! It costs $10 and includes a tour.

Note: If you do the brewery tour, you will arrive here too late to do the tour as the tower closes at 4:30 PM, but you can see the exterior and maybe head back here on another day if you want to ascend the top and do the museum tour

Head down to the water’s edge.

a pillar memorial in front of the water and islands at the edge of portland

Once you arrive down at the water, you’ll find the Cleeve-Tucker Memorial marking the end of Portland’s East End neighborhood.

Along the water’s edge, you’ll find a lot of cool food trucks here!

There’s also East End Beach (rather a small beach, but it is possible to go for a dip here) and Fort Allen Park, which offer incredible views over Casco Bay.

Have a delicious dinner in Portland.

As you can see, Portland is all about eating your way through the city!

I’ve already recommended a lot of places above, so you can choose from one of the other sections.

If you want other suggestions, I’d pick: Sichuan Kitchen for delightfully authentic “ma la” spicy Chinese food from the Sichuan province, Boda for Thai street-style eats, or Central Provisions for trendy cocktails and small plates.

Day 4: Portland

Spend the morning on Washington Ave.

mural at portland pottery on washington avenue in portland

Like its West Coast sister city of the same name, Portland, ME is becoming a hipster-topia.

Nowhere else is that more obvious than on Washington Avenue in South Portland!

Start the day with a delicious breakfast at Portland Pottery Café, a hybrid pottery shop and café.

Their biscuits and gravy is obscenely large and obscenely delicious!

They also have a selection of great sandwiches if you’re not feeling particularly breakfast-y. The Figgy Piggy is also delicious: fig jam, prosciutto, what could go wrong?

Alternately, you could get a bagel at Forage, which looked really vibrant and popular with locals.

a mead brewery with benches outside

After breakfast, wander down Washington Avenue and explore some of the cool small businesses that have popped up here. Here are a few favorites.

  • Maine & Loire: a wine shop with a great selection of wines, though at a high price (I wish there were more mid-budget options)
  • The Cheese Shop of Portland: exactly what it sounds like — a delicious local cheese shop with a great selection
  • Maine Mead Works for mead (a fermented drink made of honey water!) and Oxbow for beers, particularly their sours

Drive to Portland Head Light House.

allison standing in front of portland head light house on a sunny day in summer

Located in Fort Williams Park, the Portland Head Lighthouse is an absolute can’t-miss on any Maine itinerary. Of all the lighthouses in Maine I saw, this one was my favorite!

The lighthouse is exquisite and there is a coastal trail where you can see a few different viewpoints of the lighthouse with different compositions, which is great for photographers.

There is also a cliff trail that goes on the other side of it, and there is an area where you can walk down to the beach if you want to swim in the water with lighthouse views behind you!

rocky beach in front of portland head light house where you can swim if you want

There are also a handful of food trucks in the area: I saw one gelato shop and two lobster shack style restaurants selling seafood sandwiches and fried seafood.

However, I have you getting lunch at the next destination, so only grab something to eat if you’re super hungry or planning to skip the next destination on this list.

Parking is $2 per hour with a minimum of 2 hours (so effectively $4 – honestly, you won’t really want to spend more than two hours here, and even that is pushing it).

Have lunch at Two Lights in Cape Elizabeth.

a small beach cove in front of one of the twin lighthouses at two lights

Two Lights is the name of both a lighthouse and a state park in the Cape Elizabeth area south of Portland.

Two Lights is so named because there are two lighthouses that look almost like twins about 300 meters from each other. You can see them at the same time, but they are not as close together as I expected.

picnic tables overlooking the ocean with some green lawn

If you want something to eat, I recommend heading towards The Lobster Shack at Two Lights.

Near the seafood shack, there is a small coastal path where you can walk out to get a better view of the lighthouses as well as a small cove where you could swim if you’ve brought your bathing suit.

Visit the Arts District and Portland Art Museum.

After exploring the Southern Portland area, it’s time to head back to downtown Portland: particularly the Arts District which is centered around the Portland Museum of Art.

This is one of my favorite areas in all of Portland. It’s artsy and funky, it’s full of great local small businesses, and there’s a lot of old-fashioned architecture given new life by the upstart businesses occupying there.

Here are a few of my favorite places in the Arts District area:

  • Speckled Ax for wood-roasted coffee — it’s quite unique, I haven’t had anything like it!
  • Yes Books for a wonderful selection of secondhand books
  • Flea For All for a great flea market on Fridays and Saturdays

After strolling around the Arts District area, you may or may not want to go to the Portland Museum of Art, depending on time, budget, and your interest in art.

The next activity on this list is also a museum, so you may want to opt for one over the other.

Portland Art Museum costs $18 and contains art ranging from 18th century works through to contemporary art.

Do a tour of Victoria Mansion.

a 200-year-old historic building in portland maine

The next place is a short walk away from the Portland Museum of Art but it feels a world away!

While the Portland Museum of Art is rather contemporary, the Victoria Mansion is elegant and old-fashioned, almost untouched over the last 200 years.

You can take a tour of the mansion – the final tour finishes at 3:50 PM (summer hours), or you can just check it out from outside if you are on a budget or are not interested in seeing the interior museum.

Tours are required and tickets cost $16. Booking in advance is recommended, particularly on weekends and rainy days.

Explore the neighborhood.

Rainbow houses in Portland Maine near Victoria Mansion

The area around Victoria Mansion is perhaps even more beautiful than the mansion itself! This is where I found virtually all of my favorite buildings in Portland.

Don’t miss the rainbow-colored row of townhouses (formerly carriage houses, I believe) which are just kitty-corner from Victoria Mansion. It looks almost like Rue Cremieux in Paris, minus the crowds!

Eat in downtown or head back to Washington Ave for drinks and dinner.

facade of a vietnamese restaurant with the words pho ga, bun cha, cong tu bot on it.

After a full day exploring downtown Portland, you have two areas where you could get a delicious dinner.

If you don’t want to leave the downtown area you’re currently in, here are the places I suggest: Bao Bao Dumpling House (a few blocks away from Victoria Mansion) or Sichuan Kitchen.

Alternately, you can head back to Washington Avenue for some more exploration of this charming part of town! There are a lot of great restaurants that are open for dinner here, many of which are Portland favorites.

  • Duckfat for poutine if you didn’t already have it at the other branch in Old Port.
  • Cong Tu Bot for delicious Vietnamese food like bun cha (pork patties served with herbs and dipping sauce)
  • Terlingua for Mexican food

Day 5: Mid-Coast Maine (Freeport, Brunswick, Harpswell & Islands)

Stop at the outlets in Freeport.

Allison wearing a black dress in front of a fake ll bean boot car

If you want to do a little morning shopping, head to the town of Freeport which is known for its outlets and massive L.L. Bean.

Take a photo with the giant Bean Boot — it’s cheesy, yes, but it’s a Maine must!

There are a number of good outlets, and I snagged a 40% off blazer at J. Crew, some of my favorite Smartwool socks from L.L. Bean… and tore myself away from the Loft outlet, because my credit card was weeping.

Take a stroll in Brunswick.

red building that used to be a fort called fort andross in brunswick maine

Brunswick is a delightful small city in Maine with a vibrant Maine Street (hopefully you enjoy the pun as much as I do) and great shopping and activities.

It’s home to Bowdoin College and as a result, there are a lot of businesses that cater to its large student population, and the town has a younger feel than other places in Maine.

There is a surprising amount to do in Brunswick! 

Take a walk by the Sea Dog Brewing Company on the Frank J Wood bridge (stop and admire the falls on the other side) to the Topsham side of town, and then take the pedestrian swinging bridge over the river back to Brunswick.

On your way back, walk past Fort Andross (and pop into the flea market there), or go shopping on Maine Street.

Grab something to eat in Brunswick before you go: I suggest Sweet Angel for Thai! It’s not on Maine Street, but it’s worth the detour. Currently, they are doing take-out only.

Take a hike on Orr’s Island.

rocks on the ocean on orrs island

After you’ve grabbed something to eat in Brunswick, it’s time to burn off that lunch with a hike!

Devil’s Back in Orr’s Island sounds intense, but it’s a relatively easy hike that is incredibly beautiful. It’s just 2.5-miles round trip with 200 feet of elevation gain, so rest easy that it’s not too strenuous!

Kayak around Bailey Island and stop at Cook’s for lunch.

kayaking in an orange kayak pointing torwards orrs island houses after leaving bailey island

If you haven’t exhausted yourself with all that hiking and eating, it’s time for one of my favorite things to do in Maine in summer: sea kayaking!

Luckily, you can rent kayaks easily at the rental company stand outside of Salt Cod Café, technically on Orr’s Island but located right next to the cool bridge to Bailey Island.

You could grab a bite to eat at Salt Cod Café, but I recommend saving your appetite for a delicious lobster feast at Cook’s after you kayaking!

Check out the Giant Steps and Land’s End for a great view.

the so-called giants steps in bailey island which are a series of steps going up to the water

Once you’ve returned your kayak and had a delicious lunch, it’s time to explore a bit more of Bailey Island. Luckily the island is very small, so it’s pretty easy to see the best of Bailey Island in a quick visit.

First, head to the Giant Steps. This is a short trail where you can see some cool rock formations: a set of volcanic rocks that look like a staircase that perhaps could have been used by a giant!

After, drive to the end of Bailey Island at Land’s End. Here, there is a small gift store, a memorial to drowned and lost fisherman, and stunning views of other islands further out in Casco Bay.

Finally, on your way back, be sure to stop at Mackerel Cove. This is one of the main harbors in Bailey Island and has an incredible view!

Grab ice cream at Pammy’s.

hand holding an ice cream sundae in front of a pink ice cream shop

I know this coastal Maine itinerary is full of food… but that’s the kind of traveler I am (and I hope you are too!)

It may seem crazy to say ‘dessert first’ but I think the vibe of Pammy’s is even more fun during the day.

When we went there was some live music and it was really pleasant to sit in the pink-painted Adirondack chairs and admire Pammy’s vision for her ice cream shop.

I got the coffee heath bar sundae and it was DELICIOUS.

Have dinner at Dolphin Marina & Restaurant.

Allison standing in front of the sunset at Dolphin marina making a silhouette

Finally, it’s time for dinner at one of my favorite restaurants in Maine: Dolphin Marina & Restaurant.

This is a spectacular place for sunset views because it’s out on one of Maine’s “fingers” and therefore is one of those rare East Coast spots that has a spectacular sunset view.

The food is also excellent. I had a jerk salmon sandwich with chili slaw and jammy roasted tomatoes – it was divine. We also split the crab cakes, which I could have eaten a half dozen of…. easily.

salmon slaw burger with jammy tomatoes

I suggest getting to Dolphin Marina & Restaurant about 1.5-2 hours before sunset. It’s really busy and it takes a while to get your table.

Luckily, there is a great bar area and you can grab a drink while you wait and there are plenty of places to walk and sit with a drink while you wait.

Aim to finish up your meal just before sunset so you can take a walk on the grounds and admire views like those above!

Day 6: Mid-Coast Maine (Bath, Wiscasset, Damariscotta, Georgetown)

Head to the charming town of Bath.

sign for bath brewing company in a brick building in downtown bath maine

Of all the towns in Maine to choose from, Bath is up there as one of the most charming.

Take a walk down Main Street, stop in some bookstores or shops, and peruse to your heart’s content.

If you’re thinking breakfast, I suggest just getting a small pastry from Cafe Creme or Mae’s Cafe & Bakery, because Maine’s largest lobster roll is waiting for you at our next stop!

Wander through Wiscasset.

Route 1 runs through it, and you could blink and miss it — but the charming town of Wiscasset is definitely worth the stop!

Wiscasset is one of those towns that is like a living museum. There are a lot of information placards throughout the city that showcase all the different architectural styles and buildings and their historical importance.

Another cool place to visit in Wiscasset is the Butter Mold Company. It’s a very unique place where they still make butter molds from scratch.

Bonus: everything there smells like cinnamon and apple pie. The owner is also extremely nice and great to chat with.

Grab one of Maine’s most famous lobster rolls.

people waiting in line at reds for a lobster roll

Wiscasset is best-known for its famous lobster shack, Red’s Eats. Frankly, there is always a huge line, and the price is not cheap.

The market price for a lobster roll was $35 when I went, compared to other places where it was $20-30!) – but their lobster rolls are massive, about double the size of other ones.

I made a mistake and didn’t wait in line at Red’s (I’m a bit contrarian about lines) and went to Sprague’s instead and got a crab roll. It was disappointing. Do as I say, not as I do, unless you also like disappointment.

Shop in Damariscotta.

street in damariscotta maine

There are a bunch of great boutiques and art galleries in Damariscotta. 

In fact, of all the places I shopped at in Maine (which was a devastatingly highly number), my favorite stores were in tiny little Damariscotta, and I even wrote a whole post on this charming small town!

There’s a great brand-new store called Wildings that I highly recommend. It’s hard not to leave with half the store! If you’re a millennial who loves plants, pots, jewelry, and quirky accessories, you’ll be hard-pressed not to leave without a maxed-out card.

Other things to do in Damariscotta include checking out the excellent bookstore and grabbing a cup of coffee at the adjoining café, walking around the pretty wharf, or visiting the oyster midden.

Wait, oyster midden? An oyster midden is a small ‘mountain’ of oyster shells left behind by the Native Americans who lived in this region for centuries. You can find one unperturbed midden at this park!

Have dinner at Five Islands.

a whole steamed lobster, steamed corn on the cob and a blueberry soda

From Wiscasset to  Five Islands Lobster Co. in the peaceful town of Georgetown, Maine is quite a trek… but it is worth it. It’s one of the most beautiful restaurants in Maine, hands down!

They serve delicious fried fish sandwiches and lobster rolls (get yours with cilantro mayo!), perfect onion rings, and exquisite steamed lobster dinners. 

sunset at five islands lobster shack with a beautiful sunset

The setting, though, almost edges out the food as the main draw. It’s one of the most beautiful harbors in all of Maine, with boats bobbing amidst a close cluster of, well, five islands.

One caveat: mosquitos LOVE this place, more than anywhere else I went in Maine. And according to the people I went with, it’s always that way. Bring lots of mosquito repellent and suck it up!

Day 7: Rockland

Visit the Olson House in Cushing.

black and white horse in front. ofa farmhouse

If you’re a fan of Andrew Wyeth, I strongly recommend making a detour to Cushing to visit the Olson House.

When we visited, a majestic black and white horse was just grazing in front of the house, and he came right up to us for pets and scratches!

This is where he painted his most seminal work, Christina’s World, as well as innumerable other paintings over his nearly 20 years living on the grounds.

The grounds and the house are currently closed for renovations, but you can still see the house from the field from afar, and you can visit his gravestone.

graveyard with old grave stones where andrew wyeth and his wife are buried

Cushing is a brief 15-minute detour off of Highway 1 on the way ro Rockland, so it’s not a huge sacrifice for a big art history lover.

However, if you don’t have much interest in Wyeth or pastoral landscapes, you can safely skip this part of the itinerary.

Have breakfast at a Rockland Cafe.

cafe in downtown rockland

Upon arriving in Rockland, it’s time to grab a bite to eat at one of the many cafés in this charming town.

There are a number of places serving breakfast pastries; I suggest Atlantic Baking Co.

Visit the Farnsworth Art Museum.

the interior of the excellent farnsworth art museum in rockland me

Rockland is considered the Art Capital of Maine and with good reason: the Farnsworth Museum is one of the best art museums in the country! 

The Farnsworth Museum has a rich collection of Andrew Wyeth works as well as gifts from the Wyeth family, recently bequeathed by Andrew Wyeth’s late widow and muse Betsy Wyeth, who passed away in 2020.

There is also a large collection of contemporary art by Mainers and other New England artists.

Stroll and shop down Main Street.

main street of rockland maine

Rockland is an arty little town and that extends beyond just the Farnsworth!

There are a number of excellent galleries and boutiques that are worth window shopping — or entering, if your wallet dares!

Grab a beer at Rock Harbor Pub & Brewery.

Once you’ve had your fill of Rockland, grab a drink and maybe a bite to eat at the Rock Harbor Pub & Brewery.

Don’t have too late a night — we’re going to wake up bright and early for a morning hike tomorrow!

Day 8: Camden

Take a hike in Camden Hills State Park.

allison at the top of mt battie

Camden is best known for its beautiful state park, Camden Hills State Park, just a few miles north of the city of Camden but feeling like a world away!

Camden Hills State Park has a lot of wonderful hiking trails available. You could hike up the trail to Mt. Battie (it’s about 3.1 miles with 800 feet of elevation gain).

You can also drive up to the summit if you’re unable to hike… no shame or judgment here: these beautiful views are for everyone!

At the top of Mount Battie, you’ll be treated to incredible views over Camden Harbor and the islands off the coast of the mainland dotting Penobscot Bay. It’s spectacular and you’ll absolutely want to spend some time up here, relaxing, meditating, taking pictures, perhaps eating a picnic lunch if you hiked.

From Mount Battie, you can even spot Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island off in the distance on a clear day!

For a much more intense hike, Mount Megunticook is an option. It’s a moderate hike, 3.8 miles roundtrip with about 1,000 feet of elevation gain (and then of course, just as much elevation in descent). Bring lots of water and a snack, and be prepared for Read trail reports here.

Unfortunately, during my visit to Maine I was having a chronic pain flare-up and wasn’t able to hike, but my friend has hiked Megunticook several times and insists it’s one of the most beautiful hikes in Maine.

Grab a bite to eat.

After your Camden Hills exploration, you’ll probably be hungry.

We wanted to eat at Merriner’s, which is excellent and came highly recommended by my friend, but we arrived too late (lunch ends at 2 PM!).

Instead, we had a Cuban sandwich next door at Camden Café and it was delicious – and the views of the harbor are impossible to beat.

Stroll and shop in downtown Camden.

shopping in a boutique in camden

Camden is one of the most charming small towns in coastal Maine and there is so much to do and see in Camden that I’ve written in a blog post here!

You should definitely spend some time walking around the Harbor area and the Harbor Park, shopping at some of the shops on Main Street and Bay View Avenue, and admiring Megunticook Falls in the harbor.

Take an afternoon swim at Laite Memorial Beach.

the beach at laite memorial beach with boats off in the distance, grass and a tree

If you’re feeling hot and sticky after all that hiking and walking and eating, it’s time to refresh yourself in the small but lovely beach just beside the harbor at Laite Memorial Beach.

It’s not the largest beach nor the most beautiful, but I loved going for a cool refreshing dip on the sandy/pebbly beach and bobbing in the water with sailboats off in the distance. It was magical.

Go sailing on the bay.

sailing past curtis lighthouse in the water near camden maine

Finish your magical day in Camden in the most magical way: on the sea on a boat cruise to explore the Bay and even get to see the beautiful Curtis Lighthouse on an island off the shore.

You may also get to see wildlife like seals, cormorants, porpoises, and more – and perhaps even some lobstermen pulling in their traps!

Day 9: Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park

Drive to Mount Desert Island and visit Sand Beach.

Let’s leave Camden bright and early to make our way to our final stop on this coastal Maine itinerary: Mount Desert Island, home to Acadia National Park.

Once you arrive at Mount Desert Island and check into your Bar Harbor hotel, it’s time to hit the ground running… or relaxing!

Since this itinerary has been pretty fast-paced, I think a little relaxation by the ocean is in order.

Although most of Mount Desert Island’s coastline is composed of rocky cliff faces (like much of Maine), there is one sandy ocean beach hidden inside Acadia National Park for all to enjoy!

Sand Beach is about a 20-minute drive from the Bar Harbor town center and is one of the first attractions along the Park Loop Road. The parking area tends to fill up quickly, so be prepared to scout for a parking spot.

The beach is staffed with park lifeguards to make swimming in the chilly water safe for all the brave souls that choose to do so. Though lately, Maine’s water has been warmer than ever before… a bittersweet side effect of the sad reality of global warming.

Sand Beach is the perfect spot to set up for a sunny afternoon with a picnic, beach chairs, and plenty of sunblock — that New England summer sun is no joke! 

Hit one of the hiking trails.

the iron rungs of the dificult beehive trek

If you’re not interested in swimming, there’s still plenty to do in this area, such as searching through tide pools and walking the shoreline to search for shells.

There are a couple of fun trails that take off from this area too. One of the nearby trailheads is for the Great Head Loop Trail, which starts on the east side of Sand Beach.

The shorter loop option is 1.6 miles around and offers spectacular panoramic views of the area, including a scenic overlook of Sand Beach.

If you want to add a more challenging hike to your Acadia itinerary on the first day, the trailhead for the Beehive Trail, a tough but rewarding 1.6-mile loop, is located right near Sand Beach.

It uses iron rungs to climb up the more difficult part of the trail. Be extremely careful here as some hikers have died. Do not descend the same way you ascended.

If you begin the hike, be prepared to finish it so that you do not endanger people who are coming up the iron rungs. This is not one for those with a fear of heights!

Stroll around Bar Harbor.

After soaking up the sun and relaxing the afternoon away, it’s time to head into town and enjoy all the cool things to do in Bar Harbor!

Bar Harbor is a charming New England coastal community with quirky boutique shops and amazing seafood restaurants.

Before dinner, take a walk along the Shore Path, which begins at the Town Pier. This short path offers beautiful views of the boats anchored in the harbor for the evening.

Have dinner at The Terrace Grille

Dine right on the water at this gorgeous restaurant!

The outdoor seating is decorated with beautiful yellow umbrellas and offers five-star views of Frenchman Bay and the Porcupine Islands. Not only are the views great, but the food is too!

Keep it classic with a boiled Maine lobster or indulge and order the Maine Lobster Bake.

The portion size is no joke, and definitely not for one: it comes with all the goods including New England clam chowder, steamed mussels and clams, over one pound of Maine Lobster, seasonal sides, and homemade blueberry pie!

Grab a cone at Mount Desert Island Ice Cream

Hope you saved room for dessert. Is any evening by the ocean complete without an ice cream cone? You already know the answer to that question!

The ice cream from Mount Desert Island Ice Cream is unlike any you’ve had before. Maybe it’s the premium flavors mixed with the ocean air, or maybe it’s the care that goes into every homemade batch. Yum!

Day 10: Acadia National Park

Drive the Park Loop Road

green trees along the road in acadia national park

Roll the windows down and let in that warm sea breeze as you head out to tour Acadia’s Park Loop Road.

The 27-mile road loops around Acadia National Park, and it is one of the best scenic drives in Maine, taking you from the ocean to the mountains and everywhere in between.

Set aside at least half a day to make the drive. There are lots of places to stop along the way, but here are some of the best sights.

Stop at Sieur des Monts.

leaves on the ground in a path in acadia national park

Sieur de Monts is the heart of Acadia National Park and one of the first attractions you’ll see when driving the scenic Park Loop Road.

This area is home to many sights, including the Sieur de Monts Spring, Acadia Nature Center, Wild Gardens of Acadia, Abbe Museum, and historic memorial paths.

See Thunder Hole with your own eyes (and ears!)

wild crash of water in. asmall rocky cove inlet

Thunder Hole is named after the booming sound like thunder that the ocean waves make as they slam against the rocky shore.

The force of the wave pushes air and settled water to the surface, creating a loud “thunderclap” made of water.

The small rocky inlet at Thunder Hole may not be as wild at low tide, so don’t be disappointed if you see it and it doesn’t live up to its name.

Check a tide chart and wait for some choppy water to come in with the high tide, and you’re sure to hear what all the hype is about.

Marvel at the views at Otter Point.

red rocky cove and sandy beach and trees.

Less than a mile past Thunder Hole, there will be a parking area for Otter Point.

This rocky shoreline is named after Acadia National Park’s spunky river otters. The most impressive feature at this stop is Otter Cliff, which stands an impressive 110 ft high!

This is a great spot to hang out in the sun and watch the ocean waves crash over the rocks.

 Lunch at Jordan Pond House Restaurant

After a morning of sightseeing, it’s time for a well-earned lunch break.

Famous for their mouth-watering popovers, the Jordan Pond House Restaurant is every foodie’s dream come true.

Take a hike around Jordan Pond Loop Trail.

After all that eating I’ve had you doing on this trip, It’s time to get a little hike in. Wouldn’t you agree?

The beautiful 3.5-mile loop trail around Jordan Pond is the perfect place. This scenic hike will take you along the shore of the pond, on a flat but rocky trail. Sturdy shoes are recommended for this trail.

Head home to end your time in Vacationland.

Whether you make the long drive back home or to Boston, or the shorter drive to Bangor to drop off your rental car and catch a flight, it’s time to say “see you soon” to Maine.

Make your plans to come back to Maine in other seasons. You’ve seen the glory of the summery coast. Plan to see the riotous fall colors or experience the desolate but sublime winter beauty.

Know that it’s not goodbye, but rather see you later: your first trip to Maine is just the beginning of a lifelong love!

12 Delightful Things to Do in Damariscotta, Maine

harbor of the town of damariscotta maine

There are so many charming small towns in Maine that it’s truly hard to pick a favorite!

If I had to pick, the area of Midcoast Maine and all of its charming small towns come to mind.

And in particular, I fell in love with the beauty and vibe of Damariscotta almost instantly.

It’s a small town — pretty much made up of one street and lots of beautiful bodies of water — but trust me that if you visit, it will steal your heart just as it stole mine!

Harbor of Damariscotta as seen from the water with an American flag

The Best Things to Do in Damariscotta, Maine

Wander around the galleries and jewelry stores on Main Street.

There are a number of excellent boutiques, galleries, and stores on the Main Street of Damariscotta, which stretches about three blocks long at its core.

Here are a few of my favorite stores:

  • Aboca Beads & Jewelry has well-priced classic pieces, including freshwater pearl necklaces, glass beaded jewelry, and other gorgeous sea-inspired jewelry.
  • Wildings has plants and all sorts of plant accessories, as well as devastatingly beautiful jewelry and accessories. I left with a beautiful blush pink belt bag; my friend left with a lovely brass geometric ring…. And that was us showing restraint!
  • Citizen Maine is a punnily-named wonderful shop selling all things Maine for your home décor.
Beautiful interiors shop selling minimalist pottery, plants, vases, etc.

Grab an old-fashioned soda at Rexall Malts.

Is there anything better than grabbing a frosty milkshake or soda float at an old-fashioned soda fountain? If you think of anything, I’ll be waiting.

Unfortunately, Rexall Malts was closed when I visited in 2021 due to a labor shortage, but they intend to reopen for the 2022 season.

However, I got to peer inside and it is all the vintage nostalgia that dreams are made of! I’ll definitely be returning for a float or a sundae sometime soon.

Bright red and white soda fountain selling ice cream, milk shakes, breakfast and lunch.

Have a wood-fired pizza with a view of the water.

Maine has so many delicious restaurants, with new ones opening frequently, and Damariscotta is no exception to the foodie fun!

Damariscotta has a new kid on the block in their small but mighty restaurant scene. There’s a brand-new pizza restaurant in Damariscotta called Oysterhead Pizza serving up wood-fired pizzas with a view of the harbor!

I didn’t get a chance to eat here, but like the soda shop, it’s on my list for my next visit to Damariscotta.

Blue building with wooden deck on a sunny day

Grab a pastry at Barn Door Baking Co, then browse some books.

There’s nothing I love more than grabbing a pastry and a coffee and browsing a bookstore.

Luckily, Barn Door Baking Co. is literally located within a bookstore, so a great book to stick your nose in is never far from reach!

The next-door bookstore is called Maine Coast Book Shop and it has a wide selection of Maine fiction and non-fiction as well as a great curated section of new releases.

sign for coffee shops and different coffee drinks inside the cafe near the bookstore in damariscotta, maine

Watch a movie at the Lincoln Theater.

I love small one-room theaters – perhaps because my hometown of Lafayette had one, and it was always fun to see what the (only) choice was for what to see!

In a world of Netflix and infinite options, sometimes it’s nice to have the choice made for you: and that’s just the case at Damariscotta’s Lincoln Theater.

When I was in Damariscotta, they were playing Roadrunner, the new Anthony Bourdain documentary!

I desperately want to see it, but I am not seeing movies in theaters at the moment due to the Delta variant. It’s on the list for next time!

Old fashioned movie theater with sign that reads Lincoln Theater

Grab some ice cream at Wicked Scoops.

If you haven’t already had enough to eat, grab something sweet at Wicked Scoops!

They serve ice cream from local Maine ice cream company Gifford’s which prides itself on its “HomeMaine” ice cream!

The two most delicious flavors are campfire s’mores and blueberry ice cream!

Sign for Wicked Scoops a popular ice cream spot in Damariscotta Maine

Have a cheeky drink at King Eider’s Pub.

I love a pub that looks like it comes straight out of another era, and that is exactly what King Eider’s Pub looks like!

With its British-inspired sign, brick façade, and Kelly green awning, the décor of this little pub is as classic as it gets.

The charming brick pub of King Eider in the Main Street of Damariscotta

Have a world-class seafood meal at Damariscotta River Grill.

I didn’t get a chance to eat dinner here, but my friend who was showing me around – who is a Maine local who lives nearby Brunswick – was raving about this Damariscotta River Grill.

Not sure what to get? She recommends the coconut-curry Thai seafood stew and the lobster cakes!

Window that says Damariscotta River Grill selling sea food, American flag and flag that says 'open

Wander around Damariscotta Town Harbor.

Virtually every Maine small town on the water – whether it be an ocean or a river – has its own little stretch of a harbor for locals to keep their boats.

Damariscotta’s harbor area is teeny-tiny but it’s lovely to go for a walk after digesting a meal at one of the many places I recommended in this post!

Boats and kayaks in the harbor of the Damariscotta River on a sunny day in summer

Go for a kayak or SUP.

Want to go kayaking? Head over to Midcoast Kayak in Damariscotta where you can rent a kayak.

Prices are reasonable: a two-hour rental costs $30 for a single kayak and $40 for a tandem kayak.

Stand up paddleboards are also available for $30 for a 2-hour rental. Other rental durations are available (half-day, full-day, weekly).

You might even see a harbor seal on the rocks in Damariscotta River — they love it here!

A very cute brown harbor seal sitting on a rock surrounded by shells

Enjoy a peaceful day on Damariscotta Lake.

Damariscotta Lake is a short drive from downtown Damariscotta and it’s a great place to spend some time relaxing with beautiful nature views.

The lake is massive, covering some 4,000+ acres, and has many islands and islets inside the lake. The northern portion of the lake is protected as a state park as well.

Note: Check online before visiting Damariscotta Lake as it may not be good for swimming — as of August 2021, there’s a cyanobacteria bloom.

Forest reflecting onto the waters of Lake Damariscotta on an overcast day

Visit the historic shell midden.

One of the more unique things to do in Damariscotta is visit Whaleback Shell Midden State Historic Site where you can find a shell midden.

What is a shell midden, you ask?

A midden is a historic dumping ground for organic waste: in this case, the oyster shells left behind by the Native American peoples centuries ago. Here is some more information on the shell middens of Maine.

The middens along the Damariscotta River were thought to be left behind by the Wawenock (or Walinakiak, meaning “People of the Bays”) Abenaki Indians over 2,500 years ago (source).

They are not only ecologically important, but they also tell important stories of people who lived in the region millennia ago, who have much to teach us but no written history: which is why these sites are so important!

17 Cool Things to Do in Camden, Maine

sailboats in the harbor of camden maine

The beautiful seaside town of Camden, Maine is one of Vacationland’s best-kept secrets.

Located on Highway 1 in the more remote reaches of Midcoast Maine, about an hour and a half drive from Acadia National Park, Camden is worthy of a weekend getaway or a stop on a coastal Maine road trip.

With typical New England architecture, fantastic shopping and art galleries, and a state park with dozens of gorgeous hiking trails just minutes away, Camden offers something for everyone in a charming coastal Maine town.

Whether you prefer culture or nature, Camden, Maine has something for you: here are our top picks for what to do in Camden!

Where to Stay in Camden, Maine

INN WITH HARBOR VIEW | Lord Camden InnFor a stunning harborside hotel located in downtown Camden, this inn has all the amenities you’d want and a great location to boot. There is a fitness center, free WiFi, and fresh coffee from a Keurig in room. Some rooms have a harbor or river view, so check your individual room to see!

>> Check availability at Lord Camden Inn here!

Luxury B&B | The Belmont InnThis beautiful B&B is less than half a mile to a beach and has beautiful architecture and furnishings. The rooms are simple but elegant, and there is a garden available for guests to enjoy. The B&B includes a delicious breakfast — your choice of traditional American or vegetarian.

>> Check availability at the Belmont Inn here!

Traditional B&B | Elms of Camden: This charming bed and breakfast is a great choice for those who love something a bit traditional. In addition to tastefully decorated rooms (some with their own fireplace!), guests can also enjoy a shared living space, multi-course breakfasts served in the inn each morning, and an on-site garden.

>> Check availability at Elms of Camden here!

Best Things to Do in Camden Maine in the Summer Months

Walk around the edge of Camden Harbor.

Camden Harbor is one of the most scenic harbors along the main coast, with stunning views of Penobscot Bay.

Taking a scenic stroll around the edge of the harbor is a great way to while away a few hours on a hot summer day in Camden.

Admire all the sailboats and enjoy the breeze of the ocean water wafting into town.

boats on the harbor on a hazy summer day in camden maine

Marvel at Penobscot Bay on a cruise.

Taking a one-hour boat tour of Penobscot Bay is a great way to spend some sightseeing time in the Camden area — while also getting off your feet and out onto the open seas!

On a boating tour, you’ll get to see the Curtis Island lighthouse, as well as beautiful stretches of the Maine coastline — including some massive and gorgeous seaside mansions! 

In terms of wildlife, you may spot harbor seals, bald eagles, porpoises, and guillemots (which are related to everyone’s favorite bird, the puffin). 

You may also see lobstermen setting traps, or get to see their own boat pick up their lobster trap! You’ll also get to see views of Camden from the water, which is another beautiful perspective!

Book your harbor cruise online with Camden Harbor Cruises.

the lighthouse on curtis island as seen from the rough choppy waters out on the bay near camden maine

Sail out on Schooner Olad.

If you prefer a more historic boat (or a longer boat ride), head out on the Schooner Olad for a two-hour sail.

The Schooner Olad is a classic sailing yacht with gorgeous billowing sails — it was built in 1927 and has been lovingly restored so that it’s in as good of shape now as it was on its maiden voyage over a century ago!

Book your sailing cruise with Maine Schooners here.

schooner boat with four peach-orange sails and the lighthouse on the island

Snap a photo of the lighthouse from the overlook.

While you can see the Curtis Island Lighthouse on a cruise or sailing trip, sometimes once isn’t enough!

If you want to see it from another perspective (or you don’t want to go on a boat in the first place), you can see it from Camden town at the Curtis Lighthouse Overlook, not far from Laite Memorial Beach.

a beautiful white lighthouse with a red roof and lightkeeper house on a rocky outcropping in the bay near camden

Take a day trip to Rockland for the Farnsworth Art Museum.

The charming small town of Rockland is not far from Camden and makes a worthwhile day trip if Camden is your base during your stay in Maine.

The Farnsworth Art Museum is one of the best art museums in New England and has an extensive collection of Andrew Wyeth’s works, as well as works from other members of the Wyeth family.

Betsy Wyeth bequeathed a large collection of works by the Wyeth family upon her death in 2020, so the museum has been newly updated with her generous gift. 

Besides works by the Wyeth family, you’ll also find contemporary and modern art primarily by Maine artists.

Camp in Camden Hills State Park.

There are a lot of campsites available in Camden Hills State Park, whether you bring your own set-up or choose one of the set-up canvas tents which you can rent here!

They come fully furnished with beds and linens and this one can even sleep up to 6 with a queen bed bunk bed! It’s a great ‘glamping’ camping experience that’s still full of outdoor adventure.

There are lots of sites available if you want to bring your own tent, but you will want to book in advance on recreation.gov as these spots go quickly!

Soak in at the views from the top of Mount Battie.

There are two ways to soak in the ocean views at the top of Mount Battie: the easy way or the hard way.

The easy way to check out the views from the summit of Mount Battie is beautiful and requires virtually no sacrifice. You can simply drive up from the entrance of Camden Hills State Park.

The hard way involves a hike. The distance isn’t long — just 3.1 miles out-and-back — but it’s steep, with an elevation gain of more than 600 feet via the Nature Trail.

If you prefer your views steeped in sweat, this is the way to go! Alternately, you may opt to drive up to Mt. Battie, and then save your hike for an even bigger challenge: Mount Megunticook!

Frankly, I would have loved to hike Mt. Battie but I was battling some chronic pain so we drove up and parked and walked around to admire the views! It was remarkable and worth the stop, whether you drive or hike.

Take on the tough hike up Mount Megunticook.

The hike up Mount Megunticook is not for the faint of heart but it offers the best views in all of Camden…. if you can stomach the summit!

The hike is 3.8 miles roundtrip, but that short distance means you also have to do 1,000 feet of elevation gain (and loss) rather quickly as you hustle to summit Megunticook.

Be sure to bring plenty of water and a hearty snack or lunch for the trail. It’s rather exposed and temperatures can be surprisingly hot for how far north you are! 

It may be a slog, but the spectacular views are worth it! The trail is rated as moderate, but the incline is pretty steep in parts, so it’s best for more experienced hikers. Read a trail report here.

Take the Maiden’s Cliff Trail.

For a hike that’s shorter than Megunticook but still offers lovely views, the Maiden Cliff Trail is a nice option.

It is steeper, since you have to hike up 700+ feet over a 1.7 mile loop, but it’s good for a quick hike if you’re limited on time but still want a workout.

At the end, you’ll spot the white cross that marks a memorial site for a fallen young hiker, with a beautiful view of Lake Megunticook spread out below you!

Lake Megunticook from above with green trees and rocks and lake

Marvel at the beautiful Public Library.

Camden has a lot of beautiful traditional architecture and the public library in the heart of town is no exception.

The brick architecture is a lovely change of pace from a lot of the more standard wood-painted houses in other parts of coastal Maine.

The library has existed in some form or another since 1796, but it was destroyed in a fire that razed much of downtown Camden in 1892. 

By 1896, it was rebuilt by the residents of Camden, and has been maintained beautifully over the years since.

Shop on Main Street and its side streets.

Camden has some of the best shopping in Maine! There are a number of great stores you can choose from but a few of my favorites are:

– Glendarragh Farm Lavender where you can buy natural lavender products from the largest lavender farm in Maine.

 Sugar Tools is a great boutique with lovely, fair-priced accessories and home goods and a small selection of clothing.

– Jessie Tobias Design is a new store with beautiful (but pricy!) home goods, bags, dresses and blouses, candles, and other gift items.

Clothing, bags, and small accessories in a fancy boutique in Camden ME

Cool off at Megunticook Lake.

Megunticook Lake is located in both Camden and Lincolnville and is a favored place for locals and visitors to cool off in the hot summer months!

One of the best places to go is to relax at Barrett’s Cove. It’s a small little beach cove on the lake, close to the Maiden Cliff trailhead.

If you’d like to kayak, there are rentals available at Maine Sport in Rockport and in town!

the beautiful calm waters of megunticook lake

Relax in Camden Harbor Park and Amphitheatre.

This small public park area in downtown Camden is a lovely green space that can be a nice escape on a hot and humid summer day in Maine.

It’d also be a great place to take a picnic if you grabbed a sandwich to-go from Camden Deli!

bench, walkway, and harbor with church steeple in the town skyline in the background on a partly cloudy day in summer in camden maine

Check out the Megunticook Falls in town.

Adjacent to Camden Harbor Park, as you walk along the harbor edge you’ll notice the ‘waterfall’ that cascades into the harbor. 

It’s not a true waterfall but rather the final stage of a many-tiered dam that controls of the flow of water from Megunticook Lake to Camden Harbor. Regardless, it’s beautiful.

Unfortunately, the falls are currently under threat of destruction so it may not be here forever — but for now, it’s one of the best things to do in Camden!

waterfall cascading over the rocks with some buildings behind it and a branch of a tree

Enjoy Laite Memorial Beach.

One of the most amazing things about Maine is that even within walking distance of the downtown of a rather large town, you can find a beautiful beach right at your fingertips.

While Laite Memorial Beach is just adjacent to the harbor, the water is clean and beautiful. The beach is a combination of small pebbles and coarse sand. 

Though some people may prefer a more remote, more natural beach, I loved swimming at Laite Memorial Beach. Personally, I found that the sailboats in the distance just add to the allure!

Check out the Owls Head Transportation Museum.

If you’re interested in vintage modes of transportation — classic cars, old airplanes, carriages and the like — head to the small town of Owls Head, about 25 minutes south of Camden.

It’s a great stop for history lovers and car enthusiasts to see some historical vehicles in a decommissioned aircraft hangar.

How to Spend 1 to 5 Days in Moab: Itinerary Ideas for an Epic Trip!

Allison standing at the edge in Canyonlands national park

I’ve spent a lot of time in Utah over the years, road tripping through its national parks and exploring as much of the Southwest as I could.

Of all the places in Utah I’ve visited — which include five national parks and at least twice as many state parks — truly nothing beats the beauty of Moab.  

While I love road tripping Utah, if I had to pick one place to base myself to explore the best that Utah has to offer on a short trip, it would be Moab.

Moab is otherworldly, surrounded by beautiful red rock formations everywhere you look. But it’s also in the perfect location, close to both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, as well as the Colorado River and Dead Horse Point State Park.

But Moab is more than just pretty views and a convenient location for ticking off a couple of national parks. It’s also an active mecca for everything from mountain biking to whitewater rafting to rock climbing to hiking. Every outdoorsy person should put Moab on their bucket list!

Honestly, it’s hard for any other place in the USA to come close for how much beauty Moab packs into such a small region.

How to Get to Moab, Utah

Sign for Moab town at the entrance to town

Typically, if you are heading to Moab, you will fly into Salt Lake City. There are many airports all over the U.S. that fly direct to SLC, making it a convenient choice.

From there, you can either drive to Moab (about 4 hour drive by car) or make a connecting flight to Canyonlands Airport (CNY). 

However, Canyonlands Airport is a small regional airport with limited flights. As a result, it can get rather expensive to fly into CNY. Another thing I’ll note is that renting a car at CNY typically is more expensive than renting at SLC.

If you don’t mind doing extra driving, you might want to fly into and rent a car from SLC. If time is really short and you don’t mind spending a little extra in order to maximize your Moab itinerary, then fly into CNY.

Insider Tip: If you are driving to Moab from SLC, Google Maps will have you go via Green River to I-70 and then turn off on Route 191. This is the fastest route! 

But there is an even more scenic drive if you continue east on I-70 and then turn off on Route 128. This is one of the prettiest roads in all of Utah! It will add about 1 hour of travel time, but it is so beautiful, as you track the Colorado River nearly the whole time. 

If you happen to be driving in around sunset, it’s even more majestic. Words don’t do it justice.

How This Moab Itinerary Works

Allison standing in Arches National Park in moab, Utah with the mountains behind her

This Moab itinerary is additive, meaning that the first day of the itinerary covers everything you’d want to see if you have only one day in Moab: the highlights, so to speak.

It is structured in a logical way that reduces backtracking and prioritizes the most important things, mindful of your limited time. 

It also makes sure you get out and do some light hiking, so that you’re not just doing a car-hopping, whistle-stop tour of overlooks without appreciating the nature. This is one of my pet peeves when traveling so I try to ensure that doesn’t happen in any of my itineraries.

If you have more time in Moab, you’ll find that the second day of this Moab itinerary contains the second most important things, and the third, fourth, and fifth days offer still more exciting things to do in Moab.

I would say that days 1 and 2 are the absolute core of a trip to Moab, covering Arches National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and a portion of Canyonlands National Park.

After that, I listed ideas for day 3, day 4, and day 5 based on my idea of importance and excitement. 

However, you could easily swap day 4 for 3, 5 for 4, etc. Stick to days 1 and 2 as the core of this Moab itinerary and feel flexible with the rest of it.

Where to Stay in Moab: Hotels & Glamping

Glamping at Moab Under Canvas with dark sky

There are lots of great places to stay in Moab for every type of traveler and budget!

GLAMPING | Moab Under Canvas

I finally got to stay at Moab Under Canvas on my last trip to Moab and it did not disappoint! The tents were laid out so thoughtfully and I loved the amenities like the in-tent bathrooms (including hot showers!).

There was also a wood stove in the tent which would have made it great for chilly nights, too. I stayed there in July and it was a little hot, though, so I would suggest it for the shoulder season.

>> Check availability and pricing on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

MID-RANGE | Red Cliffs Lodge

Located right on the Colorado River, this gem is a bit outside of Downtown Moab and Main Street but it’s worth the small sacrifice of convenience for a location this spectacular.

There’s an on-site pool, hot tub, fitness area, and restaurant, and there are also activities available such as wine tasting and horseback riding that the property can organize.

>> Check availability and pricing on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

BUDGET | Lazy Lizard Hostel

This was a godsend during my first trip to Moab, where we didn’t book anything in advance and then arrived in Moab, only to find the only remaining rooms were $300+ a night!

The setting was friendly, the amenities were basic but well-priced, and our private room was no-frills but comfortable. 

>> Check availability and pricing on Booking.com

Where to Stay in Moab: Vacation Rentals

Cabin Overlooking Moab

Image provided by the property

Cabin Overlooking Moab is a stylish cabin that can house 8 guests in 3 bedrooms. Best of all, it has one of the most impressive views in the entire Moab area. 

This cabin features 1,700 sq. feet of modern convenience, with all the things you’d need for an extended stay, but it’s still very much a cabin.

Best of all, it offers breathtaking views of the La Sal Mountains from one deck, the Moab rim from another, and Arches National Park from yet a third!

Book this VRBO cabin online here!

Wisteria Cottage at Cali Cochitta

A romantic, whimsical cottage surrounded by a tree and flowers, with a pastel green porch swing and a small dining table in front of the cottage in Moab.
Image provided by the property

The Wisteria Cottage at Cali Cochitta is a beautiful choice for couples and lovers of rustic cottage designs and colorful gardens.

The cottage is conveniently located 2 blocks from Main Street, and the inside comes equipped with a well-stocked kitchen, bathroom, and a beautifully designed bedroom with a king-size bed. Guests are also provided with a cruiser bike with which to explore the town, as well as secured bike storage.

The two main draws of this charming VRBO in Moab, however, are the garden area and hot tub. The garden is shared with other Cali Cochitta guests, so it makes for a beautiful place to chat with others outside.

On top of that, the hammocks are a great place to just sit back and unwind to the sounds of the stone water feature, another detail that adds to the dream-like ambient of the location.

Book this home in Moab!

Moab Travel Tips

Sitting on the edge of Dead Horse Point State Park at sunset in a black dress looking out onto the river

WHEN TO VISIT | Moab is indescribably hot in the summer! I visited Moab the last time in July and it was frankly pretty miserable. It was 110F the day we arrived! 

My previous trip to Moab was in May and the weather was gorgeous — warm but not overbearing. The best months are April-May and September-October. Note that it may snow in Arches in winter!

WHERE TO EAT | Downtown Moab has so many amazing places to eat, and if you’ve been on a larger Southwest road trip without much variety in your food, you can find a lot of variety in Moab! 

I had amazing Thai food at Thai Bella Moab (though some dishes were a bit too spicy, and I’m generally a person who can handle spice!) and Antica Forma has really nice Italian food. There are also a lot more options on Main Street.

Note that Moab can be very busy and crowded, so I always suggest making reservations or ordering take-out if picking last minute. On my last trip to Moab, waits for tables were like 1-2 hours!

If you’re on a budget, check out the take-out offerings at the Moab Food Truck Park — there are all sorts of delicious options.

GET AN EARLY START | While Arches currently does not run on a reservation system the way some national parks are, it is first-come, first-serve for space within the park. 

Once all 1,000 parking spots in the park are taken, it will shut down for a period of time — sometimes up to three hours. Avoid this by arriving early! My itinerary has you getting to Arches in time for sunrise on day 1, so you shouldn’t have this problem.

HIKING SAFETY | Always bring plenty of water when hiking in Moab. Stick to the trails and have an offline map downloaded on your phone in case you get disoriented. Bring filling snacks that aren’t too sugary to keep you fueled while hiking if it’s hot.

Your Customizable Multi-Day Moab Itinerary

Day One: Arches National Park + Colorado River Cruise

Windows section at Arches National Park with two arches next to each other

You can follow this guide or you can also download an audio guide to Arches National Park for less than $10. 

This one-day Arches mini-itinerary will walk you through the best spots quickly, but it may be more pleasant to have an audio guide if you’re an auditory learner!

Start with a sunrise hike to Delicate Arch.

Delicate Arch at sunrise with a sunburst and a small human figure at the base of the arch to give a sense of scale

For the first day of this Moab itinerary, I’m assuming you arrived the day before in Moab and are able to wake up bright and early for a sunrise hike.

I know I know. Waking up for sunrise is a pain. But at Arches National Park, which gets really crowded, it’s absolutely worth it — especially for the pay-off of seeing Delicate Arch at sunrise with minimal crowds. It’s the best hike in Arches for a reason.

Delicate Arch Trail is 1.5 miles each way (3 miles round trip), and note that the way there is uphill — 480 feet of uphill, to be precise — so you will get an early morning workout! Allow about 45 minutes to get there. 

To decide when to leave, I suggest looking at the sunrise time, then subtracting 45-60 minutes for the hike and however much time it’ll take you to drive to the trailhead. That should get you there around the right time!

Tip: You should bring a headlamp as it might still be dark when you begin your hike.

Explore the Devil’s Garden area.

Strange, towering red rock formations of the Devils Garden section of Arches National Park on a sunny day

Once you return to the Delicate Arch Trailhead and get back in your car, head to Devil’s Garden, about 15 minutes by car. 

You can do the entirety of the Devil’s Garden Trail if you are a serious hiker, or you can do just a small subsection of it. 

Here are a few trails to choose from in Devil’s Garden: pick whatever suits your current fitness level and desire!

The wide, narrow Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, with red rocks and green desert flora

EASY | Landscape Arch Trail: 1.9-mile out-and-back trail with little elevation gain. A good short hike for beginners.

MODERATE | Double O Arch Trail: 4.1-mile out-and-back trail with 670 feet of elevation gain and some scrambling and heights.

HARD | Devil’s Garden Trail: 8-mile loop with 1,085 feet of elevation gain. Some scrambling, primitive trails, and heights.

Snap photos at the Windows Section and Balanced Rock.

standing in the middle of an arch in utah

After you’ve done a fair bit of hiking, it’s time to take it easy, especially as the sun picks up in intensity. Luckily, the rest of this day in Arches is all easily accessible by car, with short walks rather than hikes.

Turn on The Windows Road about 15 minutes after leaving Devil’s Garden, and you’ll find a large parking lot. It may be difficult to find a spot here initially, so keep looking.

People tend to sightsee fairly quickly in this part of the park, since there are no long trails, so cars tend to cycle in and out at a decent clip. 

Once you find a parking spot, there are several gorgeous arches you can see in this section of the park. 

Those include Double Arch, North and South Window Arches, and Turret Arch, all of which are absolutely beautiful and worth seeing!

As you leave the Windows area, be sure to turn your head and spot Balanced Rock!

Make one final stop at the Park Avenue Viewpoint.

The red rock formations of the beautiful buttes and mesas and arches of Park Avenue in Arches

Finally, as you leave the park, make a stop at the Park Avenue Viewpoint, one of the best views in Arches National Park.

The viewpoint is beautiful, but you could also take the Park Avenue Trail for a short hike if you have enough time. It’s one mile to the Courthouse Towers Viewpoint one-way, two miles round trip, and the views from there are spectacular.

Relax and change at your hotel or glamp site.

Once you’ve tackled a full day at Arches, it’s time to head back to your hotel and get off your feet for a bit. 

Don’t get too comfortable, though — you’ve got to be out the door at 5 PM to get to your sunset cruise on time!

Take a sunset boat cruise on the Colorado River.

Sunset colors on the Colorado River near Moab

Time to finish your first day in Moab with a bang! A sunset boat cruise down the Colorado River is the stuff bucket lists are made of.

The cruise lasts 90 minutes, and then if you want, you can opt for a BBQ dinner add-on afterward so that you don’t have to figure out a dinner option after your cruise.

This tour starts at 5:30 PM, so be on time!

Book your sunset boat cruise here!

Day Two: Canyonlands National Park + Dead Horse Point State Park 

Allison standing at the edge in Canyonlands national park

Day two of this Moab itinerary is all about Canyonlands and its surrounding area. We will tackle one section of the park today, Island in the Sky. There are other districts of the park, but we won’t be visiting them today.

You can follow this guide for Canyonlands or you can also download the Canyonlands audioguide tour for under $10 if you want something to listen to while you drive!

A quick note on Canyonlands: The national park is divided into four districts: Island in the Sky, Needles, the Rivers and the Maze. I include Island in the Sky on Day 2 and Needles on Day 4. I don’t include the Maze (as it’s entirely backcountry and only suitable for experienced backpackers) or Rivers since it requires more planning.

Optional: Start the day with a scenic flight

Aerial view of the red rocks of canyonlands national park from a small plane above the park

For an incredible wake-up call, take the 9 AM scenic flight over both Arches and Canyonlands to get a birds-eye view of what you saw yesterday and what’s to come! 

It’s not cheap, but it is an otherworldly way to see the grandeur of the Moab region on an 80-minute flight — it’s certainly worthy of a spot on a Utah bucket list!

This is the only flight company allowed to fly over the national parks, so it’s a one-of-a-kind experience!

Book your scenic flight over Arches and Canyonlands here!

Check out Mesa Arch.

Allison sitting underneath Mesa Arch in Canyonlands national park on a sunny day

Whether or not you started the day with a flight, the first stop in Canyonlands is scenic Mesa Arch. 

If you didn’t opt for the flight, you could do another pre-dawn wake-up call to see the sunrise at Mesa Arch

At sunrise, there will be tons of photographers there, as the sun when it is rising lines up perfectly with the arch. With the right camera skills, you are able to get that classic framed “sunburst” you’ve probably seen on Instagram!

I didn’t visit Mesa Arch at sunrise (one sunrise is enough for me) but I still found it beautiful and worth the visit, with epic views and a gorgeous arch that rivals anything in Arches.

The Mesa Arch Trail is very short, just a 0.7-mile loop from the parking lot, making it an easy walk if you’re not in the mood for hiking.

Spend more time in the Island in the Sky District.

Sitting on the edge looking over Canyonlands national park

As you continue through Canyonlands, make your way to a few different stops along the Island in the Sky section of the park. 

Your final destination is Grand View Point, but there are a few spots along the way to stop at. I suggest stopping at Candlestick Tower Overlook, Buck Canyon Overlook, and Orange Cliffs Overlook before stopping at the Grand View Point.

There is an overlook there and you can also extend your sightseeing with a 1.8-mile return hike via the Grand View Point Trail.

If you want to hike in the Island in the Sky district, here are a few suggestions:

EASY | White Rim Overlook Trail1.8 miles out-and-back with 160 feet of elevation gain. Rocky terrain, so watch your footing, but the final viewpoint is otherworldly and worth every step.

MODERATE | Aztec Butte Trail: 1.7 miles out-and-back with 259 feet of elevation gain. However, it is moderate since there is slick rock and some scrambling necessary. 

HARD | Syncline Loop: 8.6 mile loop with 1,630 feet of elevation gain. Lots of scrambling and wayfinding, only for experienced hikers. Hiking the loop clockwise is recommended.

Watch the sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park.

Sitting at the edge of Dead Horse Canyon State Park looking out onto the Colorado RIver and red rocks and sunset colors

After a fun-filled day of hiking in Canyonlands, it’s time to rest your legs and watch the sun set over the beautiful Colorado River at Dead Horse Point State Park.

I consider Dead Horse Point State Park like a Grand Canyon in miniature. Personally, I find it more impressive than Horseshoe Bend in Arizona. It’s absolutely spectacular and sunset is when it’s the best.

If you arrive early at Dead Horse Point State Park you can opt for a hike. There is the Short Loop Trail (1 mile, easy), the Rim Loop Trail (5 miles, moderate), and the Big Horn Overlook Trail (3 miles, easy).

Note: There is a separate entry fee to Dead Horse Point that is a little pricy, about $20 per car, but it’s worth it in my opinion.

Grab a drink at Moab Brewery.

A beer tasting flight of four different color beers

After your long day hiking, you deserve a cold one!

This fun, lively microbrewery is a great spot to celebrate your hikes, scan through your snaps from the day, and enjoy a tasty beer.

They focus on ales and IPAs — the FMU Double IPA is especially delicious. 

The food, however, isn’t fantastic (though they do have good fries). I’d opt to eat at one of the restaurants I recommended above after you are finished with your beer!

Day Three: Rafting on the Colorado River

Start the morning with a half day rafting trip.

Three blue rafts sitting in the Colorado River in Moab near red rocks

Next up on this Moab itinerary, we’ve seen the Colorado River from a cruise and from afar, but now we’re going to see it up close and personal!

If you’re new to whitewater rafting, take it easy with a half-day Class I and II rapids tour. The tour lasts 4 hours as you traverse seven miles of river, and includes pick-up, drop off, a buffet-style lunch, and an expert guide.

Book your beginner rafting tour!

You could also pick a slightly more adventurous rafting tour, such as this Class I, II, and III rapids tour that includes Fisher Towers. 

Book your intermediate rafting tour here!

Hike Corona Arch.

The colors of the near night sky at Corona Arch

After you’ve rafted and had a tasty lunch, let’s go visit one of the coolest arches in Moab that isn’t part of a national park: Corona Arch!

The Corona and Bowtie Arch Trail is 2.4 miles long, out-and-back, with 482 feet of elevation gain. 

The trail starts on Potash Road near the Gold Bar camping sites. You start by crossing some train tracks and then make your way through the trail, which is well-marked. The scenery is nothing wildly special but when you arrive at Corona Arch: wow.

It’s rated as a moderate trail but I found it on the easy side, though there is some scrambling near the end of the trail as you approach Corona Arch, as well as a section with some cables and a ladder that helps you ascend the boulder.

Have a tasty dinner in town.

Once you’ve worked up an appetite again, it’s time to find somewhere to eat in Moab!

Grab a great dinner and then either head back to your hotel or onto our next activity.

Go stargazing.

Stargazing in Moab, Utah with the milky way visible as well as balanced rock silhouetted against the night sky in arches national park

I love stargazing and Moab is a fantastic place to do so! 

If you want to find one of the best places to see the stars, head back to Dead Horse Point State Park, which is an International Dark Sky Park!

Your pass should still be valid (they are good for two days), so you don’t have to pay the entry fee again. Just hold onto it from the day before. 

Dead Horse Point State Park holds occasional night sky programming, so check it out and see if anything is going on during your trip to Moab!

Canyonlands National Park is also a Dark Sky Park, and they even have night sky ranger programs!

While Arches isn’t technically a Dark Sky Park, the park is actively working on reducing light pollution and there are several great viewpoints in the park to do so. Panorama Point and The Windows are two great areas for stargazing!

Day Four: More Canyonlands National Park

Spend the day in the Needles District.

Red and white rock formations called 'the needles' in Canyonlands National Park

Tip: There is nowhere to eat in the Needles District, so have a hearty breakfast and pack a picnic lunch to enjoy later on one of your hikes!

Next up, we’re going to visit the Needles District, another part of Canyonlands National Park.

Here are some hikes you can choose from in Needles:

EASY | Slickrock Foot Trail: 2.4 miles with 137 feet of elevation gain. It’s on the moderate side of easy due to the uneven, rocky terrain, but it’s not a heart-pounder.

MODERATE | Lost Canyon Trail: 8.6 mile loop, 748 feet elevation gain, and some of the best views of all of the Needles District. Lots of up and down, so it’s a workout!

HARD | Druid Arch Trail: 10.8 miles and 1,614 feet of elevation gain. Added difficulty due to some sandy parts to hike through and some rock scrambling.

If you don’t feel like hiking, there’s still plenty to do in the Needles District! 

Check out the Roadside Ruin, which is an ancient granary from the Puebloan era. It’s just a short walk here. 

There are also some overlooks you can easily drive to, including Wooden Shoe Arch Overlook, and some very easy “hikes” that are really more like walks.

These mini-hikes clock in at around half a mile round trip. Pothole Point Trail and Cave Spring Trail are two of these short walks.

Take a sunset ATV ride on the Hell’s Revenge Trail.

The rocky formations of Hells Revenge in Moab, a perfect place for an ATV ride

After you’ve seen a good deal of the Needles District, it’s time for a sunset offroading adventure!

Be sure to time your day so that you can get back to Moab in time for your sunset ATV — around 6 to 6:30 PM in summer. Check the exact time on the GetYourGuide website as times may change throughout the year to reflect sunset time.

The famous Hell’s Revenge route takes you to a beautiful Colorado River overlook (a thousand feet above the river!) and includes a brief sojourn into Arches Natonal Park on a thrilling self-drive ATV ride. You’ll roar up petrified sand dunes and admire beautiful red rocks changing color as the sun sets on this 2.5-hour ATV adventure.

While this sounds every bit the adrenaline-pumping activity, it’s family-friendly — kids as young as 3 can be passengers in the ATV, and drivers need to be 18 or older with a valid license.

Book your sunset ATV ride here!

Day Five: Outdoor Adventure Your Way

Two women enjoying canyoneering in Moab

For your final day in Moab, let’s do some more outdoor activities — whatever you feel like trying, preferably something that you’ve never tried before!

Canyoneering is another popular activity in Moab, exploring beautiful slot canyons, rappelling down waterfalls (if the water level allows) or cliff edges, and getting to access all sorts of places you’d never be able to without this tour!

Book your canyoneering tour online here

And of course, another thing that Moab is famous is rock climbing. This is all set up with guides, so you can try rock climbing even if you’ve never learned the ropes (pardon the terrible pun).

I’ve just started getting into bouldering and rock climbing and I love it, but I’ve never tried it in Moab. It’s on my list for my next visit!

Book your rock climbing trip online here!

Moab Without a Car

Allison looking out of a car window in Moab

This itinerary assumes you have a rental car or your own car available to you. However, in case you don’t for whatever reason, note that there are no shuttles available in the Moab area national parks, and public transit is limited.

I don’t really recommend visiting Moab without a car, but if you had to, you could get around with tours. Here’s how I would do it.

Day One: Arches (4×4 tour of Arches) + Sunset Cruise

Day Two: Scenic Flight + Canyonlands (Island in the Sky 4×4 Tour)

Day Three: Rafting Tour 

Day Four: Canyonlands (Needles 4×4 Tour)

Day Five: Canyoneering or Rock Climbing

Where to Go Before or After Moab

Allison looking over the hoodoo fairy chimneys of Bryce Canyon National Park, another national park in Utah

You can continue your Utah road trip in any way you choose! 

Visit more of the Mighty 5, or head east to Colorado (Denver, Boulder, etc.), south to Arizona (Monument Valley, Page, Grand Canyon, etc.), or west to Zion National Park and Las Vegas.

The 9 Best Day Trips from San Ignacio, Belize: Tours & Excursions You’ll Love

Deep in the Belizean jungle close to the border with Guatemala is the beautiful town of San Ignacio. The Macal River runs right through town, and it’s a popular place for exploring by canoe or kayak.

San Ignacio is at the heart of the Cayo district of Belize. It’s a great jumping-off point for exploring Belizean nature, culture, and history. 

It’s also the perfect counterpoint to relaxing on the beaches of San Pedro or Caye Caulker, and mixing some adventure and culture in San Ignacio is a great way to round out a beachy Belize itinerary.

San Ignacio is located in an area of Belize where many Mayan ruins are located. It’s quite easy to visit many of these caves on a day trip!

Best Way to Do These Belize Day Trips

Allison in the Rio Frio cave complex on a guided tour
Inside the Rio Frio cave — part of a tour of Caracol from San Ignacio!

You can rent a car for Belize if you want to do these day trips on your own, or you can opt for a guided tour. 

Personally, I’ve never rented a car in Belize and have always gone with guided tours, as I like the expert touch you get from a licensed tour guide. 

I learn more about the history and the culture this way, as your professional guide has to have a fairly encyclopedic knowledge of the history to be a guide in Belize!

It’s also a lot less stressful, especially for me as I often travel solo, since they handle pick up, drop off, and often a meal as well.

I tend to book my tours in Belize via Get Your Guide whenever possible, because they offer the best cancellation policy if my plans change (free cancellation within 24 hours of the tour!).

However, if you are traveling as a family or in a large group, you might find that renting a car is better suited for your needs.

If you are renting a car, I suggest picking up your car at Belize City International Airport for the best price. I use and love Discover Cars whenever I’m traveling outside of the United States. 

Discover Cars searches through over 500 different car rental providers in order to find the best price for your rental. Check what’s available from Belize City Airport here!

Where to Stay in San Ignacio

The Cahal Pech ruins in San Ignacio town

I’ve written a full guide to the best eco-resorts and jungle lodges in San Ignacio, but here are my quick picks!

BUDGET | Cahal Pech Village Resort:It’s a testament to how green Belize is that you barely have to leave the city of San Ignacio to feel like you’re in your own personal jungle paradise!

There are lush trees planted everywhere and an infinity-style pool overlooking the river valley below. The Mayan ruins of Cahal Pech are located right nearby the eco-resort, a couple of blocks away!

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

MID-RANGE | Mystic River Resort: This resort offers some of the most incredible views you’ll ever see. It’s located in the jungles of Belize, up on a cliff with stunning views over the beloved Macal River.

Located 7 miles away from San Ignacio, all you need is at your fingertips, including an open-air restaurant, an inventive bar specializing in fun cocktails, a full-service spa, a pool with rainforest surroundings, and a yoga deck.

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

LUXURY | The Lodge at Chaa Creek: If you are after a once-in-a-lifetime stay in an eco-lodge in Belize… look no further. Chaa Creek is a next-tier incredible resort that’s known for its beautiful natural surroundings. 

The rooms are incredibly airy and spacious, with high-ceilinged thatch roofing and thoughtful details like beautiful textiles and local flowers. Outside your bungalow, you’ll find countless trees and plant life surrounding you and wake up to the sounds of birds and monkeys in the jungle.

Located on the Macal River, Chaa Creek offers activities like canoeing and kayaking down the river. You can also go for a swim in their infinity pool, try some “jungle cuisine” in their dining room made from local organic produce, or admire the butterflies at their butterfly exhibit.

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

Best Day Trips from San Ignacio, Belize

Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM Cave)

a room in the ATM cave as part of a tour with MayaWalk
Photo Credit: Maya Walk

Of all the day trips in Belize you could possibly choose from, this is my absolute favorite. In my mind, a trip to Belize without visiting ATM Cave just isn’t a Belize trip at all.

The Actun Tunichil Muknal Cave (called the ATM Cave for short) is an incredible cave system that you can only traverse with a licensed guide in a small group.

Permits and cave access to tourists are strictly limited in order to keep these caves preserved for future generations, as some parts of the cave were damaged in the past by tourists, unfortunately.

This is not an activity for the faint of heart! Doing an ATM Cave tour involves using a headlamp as your only light source, swimming through the cave, squeezing through some narrow parts of the cave system, and climbing up into the main cave atrium. 

While I loved visiting the ATM Cave so much, if you have severe claustrophobia, this is not the San Ignacio excursion for you! The cave is dark and narrow in some places.

Despite some moments of trepidation, though, I found the ATM Cave absolutely worth it! Read my full review of the experience here.

Inside the cave, you’ll find ancient pottery fragments as well as skulls and skeletons. These are the remains of human sacrifices that the ancient Maya people left in the cave. The cave was considered part of the Mayan underworld, where people could connect to the gods who ruled over death.

Archaeologists believe this was done to appease their gods as their civilization faced challenges such as drought and fighting between rival groups. It seemed not to work: not too long after the sacrifices were left, the Mayan civilization would slowly disappear.

Book this full-day tour of ATM Cave here!

Caracol

Allison sitting atop a pyramid in the Caracol Complex of ruins
Sitting atop the tallest Mayan structure in Belize at Caracol

Another fantastic place to visit near San Ignacio on a day trip is the Caracol Ruins archaeological site. 

These are the largest Mayan ruins in Belize, and they are relatively under-visited compared to many other ruins in Central America.

The ruins of Caracol are beautiful and impressive, and one of the coolest things is that you can climb the pyramids there, unlike many pyramids in Mexico which have closed off the climbing to tourists.

From the top of the largest pyramid in the Caracol complex, you can even look over the border into Guatemala!

A trip to Caracol is easily paired with some incredible nature as well. On a guided tour to Caracol, you can also hike through the Mountain Pine Ridge Forest Reserve, visit the Rio Frio Cave, and check out either the Rio-On Pools or the Big Rock Falls — all in a single day.

Trust me — you’ll relish a dunk in the waterfalls after spending the morning and early afternoon visiting the ruins in the hot Belizean sun!

Book your trip to Caracol and the Rio-On Pools here!

Barton Creek Cave Reserve

The Barton Creek Cave, a popular day trip from San Ignacio

Another fascinating cave system near San Ignacio is the Barton Creek Cave Reserve. Like ATM Cave, there is ample evidence of use by the Maya people.

Barton Creek is interesting, because the town itself is home to a Mennonite (Amish) settlement! There are actually a large number of Mennonites in Belize, over 10,000 of them actually — most of whom live in Cayo District.

Once you arrive at Barton Creek Cave, you’ll be able to explore it by canoeing through it! This is a great way to experience the caves in a peaceful way while learning about the history of this ancient Maya site — as well as Mayan traditions, rituals, and ceremonies — from a knowledgeable local guide.

Book a half-day canoeing tour here!

Belmopan

parliament building in belmopan belize with trees and flowers and steps
The Parliament Building in Belmopan, Belize

Belmopan is the capital of Belize and it’s an easy day trip from San Ignacio.

For a capital city, Belmopan is rather small — the tiniest capital city in the Americas by population, in fact, with a population of under 20,000 people!

Belmopan is a good gateway to outdoor adventure, as you’ll find Guanacaste National Park right within the city. 

This national park has some hiking trails and the beautiful Belize River runs right through the heart of it.

Belmopan is also close to other places you might want to visit: Ayala’s Natural Pool, St. Herman’s Cave, St. Herman’s Blue Hole, etc.

You can drive to Belmopan easily via rental car or take any of the buses heading towards Belize City, all of which will stop in Belmopan.

St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park

Swimming hole in belize surrounded by jungle flora and leaves
Belize’s other Blue Hole is smaller but still beautiful!

Belize is known for its Great Blue Hole of course… but it also has a lesser-known inland blue hole, located at St. Herman’s Blue Hole National Park!

This tour of the Blue Hole is combined with Crystal Cave, a beautiful limestone cave system. The cave system is only accessible through a rainforest hike which ends at the entrance to the cave, so it feels very remote and magical.

The tour involves spelunking through the cave to discover all the beautiful geographic features of the cave, as well as artifacts from Mayan ceremonies that number some thousands of years old — including pottery, fire pits, and even human remains!

One of the coolest parts of this tour is visiting ‘Wonderland’, a room in the cave system that is completely covered in sparkling crystals, for which the cave gets its name!

After exploring the cave system, you’ll have a chance to swim in the beautiful Blue Hole to cool off and feel refreshed before heading back to San Ignacio in the evening.

Book your Blue Hole and Crystal Cave tour online here!

Tikal

Allison wearing a black camisole and printed shorts,  looking at a pyramid in Tikal, Guatemala
Exploring the ruins of Tikal in Guatemala

If you’re looking for a full-day excursion from San Ignacio that will also get you a new stamp in your passport, be sure to save a day for a day trip to Tikal from San Ignacio!

This is one day trip for which I strongly suggest a tour. Navigating a border crossing by car is an experience many travelers have not have had before, and if there are language barriers it can be intimidating. 

Personally, I have done the border crossing solo when traveling from Belize to Guatemala, but I am an experienced solo traveler fluent in Spanish. 

I’ve also spent several months of my life in Central America and feel super comfortable traveling around. If you don’t have that sort of experience, booking a Tikal tour from San Ignacio is a much better idea.

The trip to Tikal takes about 2-2.5 hours by car, with some time for the border crossing, which your guide will help you navigate. 

Tikal is located in a beautiful national park, and so you’ll see wildlife everywhere you look: everything from monkeys to iguanas and more. 

Tikal is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it’s perhaps better-known as being a filming location for Star Wars!

This guided tour of Tikal includes all the main sightseeing of the ruins complex. With over 3,000 structures in the Tikal area, having a guide to help you narrow down the key things to see is really helpful. 

You’ll get to see temples, ball courts, plazas, palaces, and pyramids — the largest of which is over 200 feet!

Book this day trip to Tikal from San Ignacio here!

Cave Tubing and Ziplining

dark cave entrance with lots of water and trees visible through the mouth of the cave
Views from cave tubing in Belize

Cave tubing in Belize is a popular outdoor activity to do from San Ignacio, and there is no shortage of tours offering it! 

Cave tubing is basically what it sounds like: floating on a river through caves in an inner tube! You’ll have to hike to the cave systems before hopping in your tube, but the hike to the river and caves in the Caribbean heat is what makes the dip into the waters so refreshing!

For people who want to pair cave tubing with something a little more adventurous, add a zipline experience! This combo tour of cave tubing and ziplining is the perfect option.

Xunantunich

the largest stone structure at xunantunich surrounded by grass, trees, etc
The pyramid at Xunantunich – the second tallest Mayan structure in Belize

The Mayan archaeological site of Xunantunich is located a short distance from San Ignacio Town, practically on the Guatemalan border. 

Xunantunich enjoys a beautiful location on a ridge, looking over the scenic Mopan River. Its name means “Maiden of the Rock” in the Mayan language, but this is a modern name; the original name is unknown. Supposedly, this name comes from the ghost of a woman who haunts it!

Xunantunich was an ancient city, which takes up about one square mile. Its best-known feature is the 130-foot-tall pyramid ‘El Castillo’, which is the second tallest Mayan structure in Belize (after the temple pyramid at Caracol).

If you want to book a guided tour, this tour is highly rated and you can customize it to meet your interests, adding on either cave tubing, river tubing, or horseback riding for a full-day tour, or just visiting Xunantunich for a half-day trip.

Book your Xunantunich tour with optional combos online here!

Cahal Pech

smaller pyramid at cahal pech ruins surrounded by trees and shaded
The smaller but lovely ruins of Cahal Pech in San Ignacio town

This is not so much a day trip from San Ignacio town as an activity inside it, but it’s so important it deserves a spot on this list!

The ancient Maya site of Cahal Pech is about 10 square miles and includes nearly three dozen buildings, the largest of all being about 80 feet tall! 

It is believed by archaeologists to be one of the oldest Mayan settlements in Belize, and that the people who settled Cahal Pech likely came from Guatemala, perhaps around the Tikal area.

The Maya Ruins of Cahal Pech are a must-do while visiting San Ignacio, and it pairs well with a visit to Xunantunich above, since the two Mayan sites are only about 6 miles apart.

If you want some additional info, can hire a local guide to give you a private tour at the ruins themselves — a guided tour including pick-up and drop-off is not necessary here, as the ruins are within walking distance of town!

What to Pack for a Trip To San Ignacio

Entering San Ignacio via the Hawksworth Bridge

Mosquito repellent: San Ignacio has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Protect yourself with mosquito repellent. As a backup, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming.

Bug bite aftercare: It’s also inevitable that you won’t be able to get away totally scot-free in terms of bug bites, so bring some after-bite relief too. This is hard to find in Belize, so definitely bring it from home!

Full-size travel towel: Many of these San Ignacio day trips involve water — cave tubing, kayaking, swimming, waterfalls, etc. You’ll definitely want to bring a small, foldable, quick-dry towel on any day tour with water activities. This travel towel is full-size but compact, and it dries super quickly even in Belize’s humid climate.

A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Belize is no exception.

Reef-safe sunscreen: Reef-safe sunscreen isn’t just for reefs! The chemicals in sunscreen are bad for every natural ecosystem, like caves and swimming holes. When I know I’ll be in any natural body of water, I use a reef-safe sunscreen like this one.

GoPro: If you go cave tubing or ziplining, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! The GoPro Hero 9 is the newest, best option in the action camera landscape. Be sure to consider whether you want GoPro accessories like a chest harness or head mount.


Don’t forget travel insurance!
Travel insurance coverage helps you recoup your losses in case of emergency, accident, illness, or theft. I’ve relied on World Nomads for my travel insurance coverage for four years with no complaints, and I’m a happy paying customer. I recommend them highly to fellow travelers!

Get your free quote here.

17 Sun-Soaked Things to Do in San Pedro, Belize

For my 26th birthday, I took myself to Belize for a short 4-day trip after finding a $300 return ticket on a whim. 

Since I didn’t have much time in Belize, I decided to stay in one place and make the most of it. After some Googling, the most idyllic place to spend a weekend quickly emerged: San Pedro on Ambergris Caye.

Although Belize is an expensive destination, there are ways to travel Belize on a budget – and the Cayes are some of the best places to do so! 

I decided to spend my time in the small town of San Pedro, located on Ambergris Caye — the largest island in Belize, a short distance from mainland Mexico.

Nestled along the Caribbean sea, San Pedro boasts brilliant blue waters, incredible marine life (particularly along the Belize Barrier Reef, the second-largest reef system in the world), and plenty of cool things to do in San Pedro both in and out of the water.

Since my first visit to San Pedro, I’ve been back twice and also visited more of Belize, like Caye Caulker and San Ignacio. I just can’t seem to stay away from this part of the world! 

This list of the best things to do in San Pedro is the work of hours of research planning for three trips to Belize — so I hope you enjoy!

a red house built out on the dock with the beach and a boat
PLANNING SAN PEDRO AT A GLANCE:

Best Time to Visit: Dry season runs from November through April, which also coincides with colder temperatures up in North America -- bringing Americans and Canadians to Belize in huge numbers. Prices are higher and availability is lower, particularly over the winter holidays, but the weather is pretty much perfect.

Best Places to Stay: I've stayed at three different places in Belize over three different trips -- all representative of very different budgets. For luxury, I'd pick Victoria House (boutique hotel with casitas and suites), for families I'd pick White Sands Cove Resort (mid-range bungalows), and for solo travelers or travelers on a budget, Sandbar (hostel with great amenities).

Best Activities: Snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan on a sailboat snorkeling tour, spending the day at Secret Beach, and taking a day tour to the mainland to go caving in the ATM Cave.

Don't Forget to Pack: Bug spray and after-bite care for the inevitable insect bites. Reef-safe sunscreen (I like Sun Bum SPF 30 with Vitamin E) for snorkeling and swimming, to protect Belize's beautiful marine life. A large travel towel that doubles as a beach blanket without taking up space. 

Travel Insurance: I use and love World Nomads for travel in Central America! If you're diving, be sure to pick the Explorer Plan which includes coverage for dive-related incidents.

Where to Stay in San Pedro, Belize

casitas at victoria house
The small casitas at Victoria House with the larger pool suite villas behind them

LUXURY | I had the wonderful privilege of staying at Victoria House on my second trip to Belize on a hosted stay. It was absolutely marvelous and I can’t express enough how magical it was. 

From the pool that looks out over the Caribbean Sea to the well-manicured grounds shaded with palm trees, Victoria House is an oasis of peace and quiet in San Pedro. 

The Victoria House offers a private beach of sorts, with hammocks and loungers spread between the palm trees overlooking the ocean. While the water and marine life are stunning, the islands of Belize are not known for their sandy beaches. That said, Victoria House has created something out of nothing, with a sandy ‘beach’ giving way to a seawall.

We stayed in the Infinity Suite, a two-story apartment-style suite with a full kitchen, en-suite bath, outdoor shower, patio, upstairs balcony, and a massive master suite. It was the definition of luxury and I miss it terribly.

But there are also more reasonably priced statehouses and casitas, so there is something for all along the budget spectrum.

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

a fancy suite with a four poster bed, high ceilings and flat screen tv
The master suite!
a bright sunny day at victoria house looking over the palm trees, grass, and pols
The view from our gorgeous pool villa

MID-RANGE | On my third trip to San Pedro, I was traveling with family and we wanted a mid-range place to stay, and we ended up at White Sands Cove. It was an extremely beautiful location and the amenities were fantastic for the price. 

We stayed in a bungalow-style two-story house with a patio and small kitchen, and it was a really beautiful place. It’s not quite as luxe and fancy as Victoria House, but you do get a lot of space for the price.

The staff was really kind and wonderful and we loved the pool and restaurant (seriously, their food — especially their breakfast — was so good we found it hard to leave!).

The only downside is that it is a little bit far away from town, so it is a golf cart ride, taxi, or a long bike ride to town, which can add up over time!

>> Check availability and price on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

BUDGET | I stayed at the absolutely wonderful Sandbar Hostel on my first solo trip to Belize, and it was a great place to stay. I don’t think I’ve ever been more pleasantly surprised by a hostel experience. 

It had all the little details which make a good hostel great. I’m talking privacy screens, outlets and small shelves next to each bed, and personal luggage lockers beneath each bunk bed. The cleaning staff seemed to come in almost hourly to sweep up any sand on the ground, always with a friendly smile. The bathrooms and showers were clean, and — a real bonus in this part of the world — had excellent water pressure.

The hostel had its own bar and restaurant, which was a great way to socialize and meet other travelers. Luckily, it never got too rowdy to make it hard to sleep.

>> Check availability and prices on Booking.com | Hotels.com | Expedia

a colorful bar area with a mosaic tile counter and people sitting at the bar with the beach in the distance
The bar at Sandbar hostel

How to Get To San Pedro

I’ve traveled to and from San Pedro three times, so I’ve done it all! I’ve traveled overland to San Pedro from Mexico (and vice versa) and I’ve also come straight to Belize City from the United Sates.

On my first trip, I flew into Belize City International Airport and took a taxi into the city followed by the boat, which all together ended up being about $50 USD since I was traveling solo. 

On the way back,  I was a bit crunched for time so I decided to take the plane back to Belize City for about $75, and I was so glad that I did – the views are absolutely stunning! 

So if you’re planning on heading straight to San Pedro from the Belize City airport, you need to factor in some extra costs for either airfare to San Pedro or for a taxi to the ferry plus the water taxi rate.

Honestly, unless you really need to budget down to the last dollar, I’d just take the plane – it saves you hours and gives you amazing views to boot! 

Return tickets on Maya Island Air are about $90-120 per person if you book in advance, vs. around $60 using the water taxi (not counting the taxi from the airport).

green mangrove islands seen from above the water in a plane heading to san pedro belize

17 Best Things to Do in San Pedro Belize

Rent a golf cart and zip around town.

One of the most fun things to do in San Pedro is rent a golf cart like the locals do! Golf carts are a big part of the San Pedro culture, and it’s how locals get around the island.

You’ll want to rent a golf cart if you are visiting places like Secret Beach, the Truck Stop, and checking out the beaches in the southern part of the island!

Tip: It’s cheaper to pre-book a golf cart rental online than to book once you arrive — I suggest these golf carts which you can book via Viator.

A golf cart on the sand on a beach in Belize on San Pedro

Take a food tour.

On my last trip to Belize, I did a food tour where we got to sample our way around some of the island’s most famous eats!

It includes seven stops and 11 tastings — I was stuffed by the end of it, and I had a much better understanding of the delicious mix of cultures that created Belizean food by the end of the tour!

Spend the day on Secret Beach.

The lively, not-so-secret Secret Beach is a great place to spend a day in Belize. 

Beach bars, delicious Belizean food restaurants, picnic tables in the clear water: what else could you need to pass the time on a beachy vacation?

Secret Beach is a little out of the way of the main San Pedro town, but it’s about a 30-minute drive by golf cart on an unpaved road. It is totally worth it, though!

While it’s popular and touristy, it’s also one of the best places to visit in San Pedro, so don’t let the hype scare you off. 

Photo Credit: Stephanie Craig & her great guide to Secret Beach!

Sample chocolates at the Belize Chocolate Company.

Who doesn’t love chocolate? No one I know, at least.

The Belize Chocolate Company creates delicious artisan chocolate, “from bean to bar” in their words! They take delicious cacao grown in Belize and see it through every step of the transformation into delicious organic chocolate.

You can grab some chocolates there or even take a chocolate-making class!

Snorkel with​​​​ sharks and rays in Shark Ray Alley

There’s plenty of adventurous things to do in Belize — but snorkeling in Shark Ray Alley probably takes the cake!

You do have to take a day tour, because in Belize, you can’t just swim out to a reef. The water in San Pedro is very shallow for a long, long way out. You do have to go out in a boat a fair amount to get to the snorkeling destinations. 

Shark Ray Alley is basically a place where all the snorkeling companies in Ambergris Caye have decided to feed sharks and rays off the side of the boat so tourists can snorkel alongside them. 

The practice of chumming waters to attract marine life is not one with an easy answer. Mar Alliance believes it can be key to building bridges where humans understand that animals like sharks and rays are not to be feared, and that it builds more compassion and conservation.

Others believe chumming can be dangerous if it makes sharks dependent on humans for food. The sharks in Shark Ray Alley are nurse sharks, which are very docile creatures — very few nurse shark bites have ever been recorded, and never fatally.

It was exhilarating and only slightly scary to be 10 feet in the water, completely uncaged, from huge sharks about 10 feet in length! 

I kept myself calm by telling myself I was much more difficult prey than the fishes being fed to them off the side of the boat. Huge sting rays undulated alongside the sharks, trying to get their fill too. 

Sharks in the water at Shark Ray Alley

Go diving or snorkeling in Hol Chan Marine Reserve

Booking all the different diving and snorkeling tours in Belize can get expensive, but oh, is it ever worth it! 

Hol Chan Marine Reserve is probably one of the best places to snorkel in all of the Americas, and it’s certainly the best place in Central America. 

The reef is teeming with brilliant color, and its coral reef restoration projects have been wildly successful. 

I found an eagle ray while snorkeling

I’m terrible with identifying fish (which is something I actually really want to work on, because I’m a nerd like that) but they really ran the gamut: I saw everything from electric blue tiny fish to sea turtles to spotted eagle rays and clownfish.

Honestly, I’ve been to the Great Barrier Reef back in 2012 and I found Hol Chan to be just as exciting and colorful in terms of marine diversity!

This full day sailing tour covers both Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, so it makes it easy to hit two of San Pedro’s top attractions in a single day trip.

Book your sailing and snorkeling trip online here!

On a snorkeling tour in Belize

Go scuba diving.

If you’re PADI Open Water Certified, go even deeper under the water with a dive led by a divemaster!

There are one-tanktwo-tank, and three-tank dives you can book that will take you to different scuba sites all over the Belize Barrier Reef for a half or whole-day adventure!

Have a beer on the water.

If snorkeling or diving isn’t your jam, and you’d rather just take in a beer and enjoy the scenery, Palapa Bar & Grill is a great place to enjoy a beer over the water and relax. You can imagine you’re in your own private overwater bungalow for a fraction of the cost!

They also have a bunch of floating inner tubes at the back of the bar, where you can float with a beer and enjoy the sunshine.

Belikin beers – the local beer of Belize – are about $2 USD and go down a little too easily! Perhaps that’s why they’re often sold in a bucket?

Part of that is because they’re the thickest bottles I’ve ever drank out of. Seriously, they’re practically weaponized. Each presumptive “bottle” is probably actually half glass, half beer. Still, when in Belize, you gotta at least try a Belikin!

fullsizerender-67

Take a spin on a bike.

If the weather’s nice and you fancy a spin on a bike, you can rent a bike from Joe’s for the day for $15, which is a fun way to see more of San Pedro! 

The town of San Pedro is small and pretty walkable, and you really get to see just how small it is on a bike! 

I enjoyed biking towards the northern area of San Pedro, and seeing a more wild and less developed side of the island as well.

Relax on the beach.

Of course, the best thing you can do in San Pedro on a budget is relax in the sand and take in the views! 

San Pedro’s beaches aren’t your typical ocean beach. There aren’t really any waves to speak of, and the water is very shallow. There are some sandy beaches, but they are scattered around the island. 

Mar de Tumbo is probably the prettiest beach near San Pedro town, with lots of sandy shore line to stroll on and beautiful palm trees. 

Another pretty beach is Boca del Rio, which is right at the mouth of where the river passes between San Pedro town and Northern Ambergris Caye. The water here is electric blue and super beautiful!

Enjoying our private beach at Victoria House

Take a helicopter tour over the Great Blue Hole.

One of Belize’s most impressive sites is the Great Blue Hole, a natural sinkhole that spreads over 1,000 feet in diameter. 

It’s a brilliant, well… deep blue hole in the middle of a bright turquoise sea, ringed by a coral reef in the shape of a question mark.

You can dive in it, but you should be at an advanced level to do so. However, people I know who did dive the Blue Hole said it wasn’t as impressive as they hoped it would be, and that approaching it by boat, it was impossible to see the deep blue phenomenon.

Better yet is to take a helicopter if you really want to experience the beauty of the Great Blue Hole! This helicopter tour will take you right over it on a scenic 80-minute helicopter flight.

The blue hole in belize, as seen from above, a sinkhole surrounded by a reef

Catch a beautiful sunset.

Most of the developed side of San Pedro is on the east side of the island, not the west, so sunsets aren’t as big of a thing in San Pedro (they’re better on Caye Caulker, to be honest, if you want to take the boat ride over!).

Find a place on the lagoon (west) side of the island if you want to see a spectacular sunset, with mangroves and calm water. 

The Truck Stop is a good place, with a boardwalk around the back where you can walk out and watch the sunset.

Another good spot to see the sunset is the area by the docks, near where the water ferry to Chetumal departs from. Type in Chetumal Express Water Taxi into Google Maps and head over to that general area for a sunset view!

You could also go for a sunset sail on a 40-foot sailboat for a more romantic and unique way to catch the sunset!

A sunset on Caye Caulker
Pro Tip: Caye Caulker has better sunsets than San Pedro, so try to visit it for at least one sunset!

… but better yet, wake up for sunrise.

Listen, I love a good morning sleep-in just as much as the next person, if not more. 

But due to the geographic positioning of San Pedro, with most of its hotels and attractions on the east side of the island (since this is the side that faces the reef), sunrise is actually way better on San Pedro than sunset!

Every time I’ve been to San Pedro (three times now!), I make sure I wake up for sunrise at least one morning of the trip. It’s always been worth it.

Person sitting in front of the sunrise in Belize
Sunrise in San Pedro is always worth it!

Take a day trip to the ATM Cave.

The ATM Cave is located on mainland Belize, but it’s absolutely possible to visit the ATM Cave as part of a day trip from San Pedro.

If you are visiting other places in Belize, such as Belize City or San Ignacio, as part of a longer Belize itinerary, then there is no reason to make this day trip as it is a bit out of the way and you will be much closer at another point in your trip.

However, if you’re only visiting San Pedro on your Belize trip, definitely save a day to visit the ATM Cave. It’s absolutely worth the journey — it was the most magical thing I did in Belize!

Stalactites and stalagmites form an incredible cave system, and there are all sorts of Mayan artifacts such as pottery in there…. as well as the skeletal remains of several human sacrifices which were left in the cave hundreds and hundreds of years ago!

If I haven’t scared you off with that tidbit, it’s absolutely worth the trip. There’s nowhere else like it.

Book your day trip to ATM Cave here!

Photo credit belongs to Maya Walk, as after an idiot tourist dropped his camera on an ancient skull, cameras are no longer allowed in the cave!

Eat some tasty food at the Truck Stop.

One of the coolest places to hang out in San Pedro is at The Truck Stop, which is located north of the bridge in Northern Ambergris Caye.

There are a few different places to eat here, ‘food truck style’ (though actually run out of shipping containers, painted in bright colors!).

Options include pizza, tacos, Asian food, and cocktails! I personally love the food at Rasa and Sol Fresca best.

They also host a movie night every Wednesday!

Try some tasty salbutes. 

Belize and Mexico are neighbors, and a lot of the tastiest food of the Yucatán peninsula can also be found in Belize!

I had these delicioussalbutes, which are a famous Mexican antojito that’s also popular in Belize, at Sandbar, but you can find them in other places in San Pedro Town as well.

I would compare it to shredded chicken tostadas (if the tostada was a little thicker), topped with tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and lettuce. 

Go to the “Chicken Drop”.

One of the more… unique things to do in San Pedro, the Chicken Drop is a bizarre weekly gambling game that takes place at Wahoo’s Lounge and involves betting on where a chicken will sh*t on a board full of numbers.

That’s literally the game.

The Chicken Drop takes place at 7 PM every Thursday and involves a lot of drinking and raucous cheering and yelling to try to coax the chicken to crap on the number you bet on.

It’s a very strange, very uniquely San Pedro thing to do at night!

Have dinner at Elvi’s Kitchen.

I’ve eaten at more restaurants in San Pedro than I can count, but my favorite has to be Elvi’s Kitchen… I’ve been twice and would go back in a heartbeat!

My favorite dishes are the esquites (street-style roast corn) and the fish steamed in Mayan adobe in a banana leaf. I could eat that over and over again and never get bored!

Eat some delicious pupusas.

In the main town, I took advantage of Belize’s proximity to El Salvador by indulging in one of my favorite Latin American foods of all time: the humble pupusa. 

Made of masa and stuffed with delicious bits like pork, beans, chicken, cheese, squash, you name it, pupusas can be vegetarian or meaty depending on your tastes.

Once stuffed and griddle-cooked, pupusas are then topped with cabbage slaw, a mild tomato sauce, and as much Marie Sharp’s habanero hot sauce as you can stand! 

Salteados <3
Pupusas <3

7 Things You Must Pack for Belize

I’ve written an entire Belize packing list but if you just want the essentials, here’s what I think you must pack!

  • Mosquito repellent & after-care: Belize has a tropical climate with mosquitos year-round, particularly in the rainy season. Zika, dengue fever, malaria, and chikungunya have all been reported there. While there’s no reason to cancel your trip on account of it, protect yourself with mosquito repellent (as a back-up, I carry around a few mosquito repellent wipes with me in my purse in case I forget to apply spray before leaving or that I can apply after swimming). It’s also inevitable that you won’t leave without a few bites, so bring some after-bite relief too (this is hard to find in Belize).
  • Full-size travel towel: This travel towel is full-size so it’s big enough to use as a beach towel, thin enough to pack up super small for your luggage, and it dries super quickly in Belize’s humid climate.
  • A guidebook: I use travel blogs a lot when I’m on the road but I also love having a guidebook to give me more specific, thoroughly researched information. Lonely Planet is my go-to guidebook and Lonely Planet Belize is no exception. I usually buy the Kindle version, but paper versions are also great fun to peruse.
  • Reef-safe sunscreen: If you are planning to do any water activities, such as diving or snorkeling or even swimming, please use a reef-safe sunscreen like this one. The active ingredients in sunscreen are killing off coral in huge numbers. The Belize Barrier Reef is the second largest in the world and is under threat. So please don’t use normal, chemical-laden sunscreen in Belize’s fragile ocean ecosystem!
  • Filter water bottle or Steripen: Belize’s tap water is not drinkable anywhere in the country. I recommend traveling with a water bottle with a built-in filter that filters out nasty bacteria and viruses like this awesome LifeStraw bottle so you can reduce your plastic waste. Alternately, you can use a Steripen which sterilizes water using UV light. A great investment if you travel frequently and want to reduce your plastic bottle consumption!
  • GoPro: If you go snorkeling or cave tubing or ziplining, you’re going to want a way to capture all of that action! A GoPro Hero 6 is currently the highest-quality option, but if you’re on a budget, the GoPro Session is also an excellent choice. Be aware that you need to buy protective casing if you want to take either of these cameras diving. They are only waterproof to 10 meters, and you’ll exceed that if you dive (most dives are at least 15 meters or so).
  • Finally, don’t forget travel insurance! Whether you’re scuba diving, caving, ziplining through the jungle or just relaxing on the beach, don’t forget to purchase travel insurance!  It’ll protect you in case of accident, injury, lost luggage, theft, or any other disaster that could befall your trip. I have been a paying customer of World Nomads for two years and recommend them highly!

The Ultimate Weekend Trip Packing List: What to Pack for a Weekend Getaway

One thing I’ve always excelled at is packing light. 

I’ve been to the Arctic twice in the winter — using just a carry-on. A six-week trip spanning Moldova, Ukraine, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Portugal — also in a carry-on.

I even went on a five-month backpacking trip through Europe and Morocco, with temperatures spanning from 115° F to 40° F — yup, all in a single carry-on bag (and personal item).

But for some reason, when I would go on a weekend trip, I would always overpack. I would find my biggest reasonable-sized bag and then fill it up to the brim, and then I’d lament how heavy my bag was… as if I didn’t pack it myself. 

I decided to create a weekend trip packing list for myself so that I would stop overburdening my weak-a** shoulders with far more weight than necessary, especially when I pack at the last minute

I decided I should share it with my readers, since I know a lot of people struggle with figuring out exactly what to pack for a weekend getaway.

Best Carry-on Bag for a Weekend Away

man and a woman each with a carry on bag and a handbag

There are all sorts of carry-on bags you could bring for a weekend trip… but not all travel bags are created equal.

A duffel bag is the classic weekender bag, but the fact that it distributes weight unevenly on one shoulder is a no-go for me, personally.

Instead, I opt for a comfortable travel backpack most of the time when I am planning a weekend trip, especially if I am driving to my destination. 

That way I can use it as a travel daypack as well when I am at my destination for a day trip, hike, etc.

If I am flying, I often opt for a small roller suitcase like this underseat roller bag — that way, I don’t have to worry about finding overhead space on a packed plane, and possibly having to deal with a gate-checked bag at baggage claim!

The great thing about both of these types of bags if you are flying is that they count as a ‘personal item’ as opposed to a carry-on bag.

Weekend Packing List: Clothes (Women)

Allison sitting at the Grand Canyon wearing green pants and a black shirt
A denim tank top, green pants, and (very dirty!) slip on sneakers — an easy weekend trip outfit!

Packing cubes | I like to bring packing cubes on every trip, even when I’m just packing for a weekend away or a short trip. They keep my clothing items folded while I am rifling through my bag trying to find something that, inevitably, has made its way to the very bottom. I use these Eagle Creek packing cubes.

T-Shirts | I would bring 1-2 T-shirts for a weekend trip, short or long-sleeve depending on the weather. I like to bring black and white and liven them up with a pretty printed skirt. If it’s really hot, swap out T-shirts for tank tops.

Cardigan | A cardigan is a great layer for breezy evenings or spring or fall days. I prefer long, loose ones — preferably with pockets, like this one! It’s great for layering.

Leggings | I love leggings for underneath dresses or for sleeping in. I typically bring 1-2 pairs for a weekend away. I have these ones and love the high waist and stretch!

Printed skirt | I love a pretty printed skirt to go with a T-shirt — it’s the easiest outfit to throw together and feel put together!

Printed dress | I always like a beautiful printed dress which will pair nicely with a cardigan and leggings if it gets cold. It’s versatile but comfortable and fun!

Jeans or pants | A pair of pants or a pair of jeans — either black or blue — will serve you well on virtually any kind of weekend trip. Black is dressier, blue is more casual.

Shoes | This will vary greatly depending on your style, but I love Birkenstocks for sandals, Ilse Jacobsen for cute slip-on sneakers (I have a yellow pair of these and they are my most complimented shoe!), black Nikes for hiking/city walking shoes, and these Sorel waterproof leather Chelsea boots. You won’t need all of these for a weekend away, but mix and match 2-3 pairs.

Warm jacket or rain jacket, if needed | Depending on the weather at your destination, you might want to bring a warm jacket like a parka or a waterproof rain jacket if you are going on a winter vacation.

Bathing suit and cover-up, if needed | If you’re doing a weekend trip somewhere on the beach, I’d pack a cute swim suit (I love these high-waisted two-pieces) and a beach cover-up.

Allison wearing a swimsuit in Puerto Rico
Enjoying a weekend in Puerto Rico in a cute high-waisted swimsuit!

Beach bag, if needed | If you’re going on a beach vacation, you’ll want a separate beach bag or tote that you don’t mind getting sandy. This striped, nautical-themed beach bag is super cute!

Undergarments | I’d bring two bras and three pairs of underwear for a weekend trip.

Socks | Two to three pairs of socks is good for a weekend trip, less if you are doing a beach trip where you’ll be primarily in sandals.

Weekend Packing List: Hygiene & Toiletries 

A toiletry bag and some pants and a luggage

Hand sanitizer | It may be 2021, but there’s still a pandemic going on! I bring a small bottle of hand sanitizer in my purse (this orange-scented one from Whole Foods is less toxic-smelling than others)

Mask | I always wear a KN94 mask — they’re less often counterfeited than N95s and Korea, where the masks come from, have a less tolerant attitude towards fakes. Unfortunately with the Delta wave, the virus is more transmissible than ever before, so I have stopped wearing cloth masks.

Toothbrush, toothpaste, and case | Of course, you’ll need a toothbrush for a weekend away, but I also suggest an easy carrying case for your toothbrush. I’m trying to reduce my plastic footprint, so I love this set of 4 bamboo toothbrushes, which also comes with a bamboo carrying case + even charcoal dental floss. It’s all zero-waste and eco-friendly!

Deodorant | I was *finally* able to make the switch off of aluminum deodorants with this wonderful activated charcoal natural deodorant (which is also baking soda free!). I find I have to re-apply once a day, but I’m naturally a very sweaty and smelly individual, and I bet most normal people would be fine to go a whole day with it!

Make-up | Bring whatever make-up you normally wear day-to-day! I always pack a red lipstick (I’m obsessed with Glossier’s buildable red lipstick), mascara, a bit of concealer, and some lightweight tinted moisturizer.

Lipstick is my forever travel mood!
Red lipstick is my forever travel mood!

Shampoo and conditioner | I hate using whatever toiletries are given to me by the hotel, plus it wastes plastic packaging to use those little bottles. I always bring my toiletries from home, but I put them into small silicone GoToobs which squeeze out whatever is inside easily and without drama (much better than those plastic ones that you have to bang like a drum to get even a drop of your shampoo out!)

Body wash | Bring some body wash and put it in one of your GoToobs

Face wash | I always bring a separate face wash for sensitive skin, like this La Roche-Posay cleanser.

Sunscreen | Absolutely essential for a trip of any length! After getting some faint sun spots at age 30, I’m now fastidious about everyday SPF on my face. I use this bougie Supergoop! face sunscreen because it has all sorts of great natural ingredients, like red algae which protects against blue light emitted from phones and meadowfoam seed for hydration.

Moisturizer | I love this cruelty-free, hyaluronic-acid packed moisturizer from Honest.

Lip balm with SPF | Lips need SPF too! I use this SPF 25 lip balm.

Toiletry bag | Bring everything in a quart-sized Ziploc bag for TSA if you are flying, or in a reusable toiletry bag like this hanging one!

Contacts and contact solution, if needed | If you need it, you know.

Weekend Packing List: Electronics

Woman sitting in bed with an e-reader

Cell phone and phone charger | You’ll definitely need your phone and charger for a weekend away! I also suggest bringing a car charger if you are doing a road trip or driving to your destination

Portable battery | I always bring a portable battery with me to keep all my electronics juiced up. I use a portable battery (I have this one from Anker) — it’s especially essential you are doing a city trip with lots of walking and photo-taking. It’s also great if you are flying to your destination and need to charge on the plane as not all planes have accessible charging outlets.

Kindle | If you’ll be on a plane or have time to sit down with a book on your trip, a Kindle Paperwhite loaded up with a great book or two is a must-have! The new ones are waterproof, too, which is great if you’re lounging beachside or poolside on your trip. 

iPad | An iPad also works, if you prefer, and it’s great for distracting kids who need some screen time on longer trips to save your sanity. It’s also great so you can leave your laptop behind, but still be connected if you need it.

Haircare tools | I don’t personally bring any haircare tools on my trips for the weekend. I have stick-straight hair that I rarely ever blow dry unless the weather is freezing cold out and I need to dry my hair so I don’t get sick. However I know other people don’t have that luxury, so bring whatever haircare tools you use at home if that’s essential for you.

Adapters, if overseas | If you’re doing a domestic weekend trip, you won’t need a travel adapter, but if you are doing international travel, pack a universal adapter.

Weekend Packing List: Random Travel Gear

woman wearing an eye mask laying in bed

Eye mask | I hate not being able to sleep when I travel — you never know if your hotel room has good enough curtains, or if you want to sleep on the plane. I like these contoured sleep masks that don’t press down on your eyelids. I have this one, and it’s also great for headaches!

Medicine and mini first aid kit | You’ll want to bring a small medicine kit – painkillers, stomach medicine, etc. – and some first aid items such as Bandaids and hydrocolloid blister bandages if hiking or walking a lot.

Reusable water bottle | An insulated water bottle that keeps your drinking water cool is great to have while traveling. I use this one by Klean Kanteen.

Guidebooks, if using | If you are traveling somewhere that you’ve never been before, a paperback guidebook can be a great resource to throw in your day bag.

Minimalist Packing Tips

Capsule collection of five classic long sleeve shirts and black bag

As someone who lived out of a backpack for three years and still travels lightly, here are my best travel tips for how to pack light on your next trip.

Choose a color palette.

Pick one or two neutral colors (navy, black, brown, tan) to make up the bulk of your clothing and then add a few colors that you know look good with those. 

For example, I’d bring a pair of black jeans, a tan skirt, and then I’d pick a red blouse since I know that color would pair nicely with my neutrals.

Always opt for comfortable shoes.

Unless you have a specific reason to bring a pair of heels, such as you’re attending a wedding or know you’re going out clubbing, just don’t.

I’ll admit my minimalism often doesn’t extend to my shoes — I would bring as many as five pairs of shoes on my backpacking trips — but for a weekend away, packing two or a maximum of three pairs will work just fine.

I would suggest a comfortable pair of sneakers that work just as well on the city streets as on a hike AND a pair of either ankle boots or sandals (flip flops for a beach trip) that work well as walking shoes depending on the season. 

Add an optional pair of dressy shoes (stylish flats or heels) if you are doing anything that needs to be fancier and a little bit elevated.

Use packing cubes.

Packing cubes serve the function of keeping everything organized, of course.

But it also helps you visualize all your clothes together and make sure the colors go well together, and it helps you not overpack as you can take clothing in and out of the cubes, rather than throwing all the clothes into the bag until you can barely close it (guilty as charged).

Quick Weekend Packing Checklist

Above is the list of items in bullet point form, so as to be an easy packing checklist for a weekend trip:

Travel Essentials

  • Wallet, drivers license/ID, and credit cards
  • Car and house keys
  • Important documents
  • Boarding pass and other travel documents 
  • Travel bag (backpack, weekender bag, duffel bag, or roller suitcase)
  • Packing cubes

Travel Clothing

  • 1-2 T-shirts
  • 1 cardigan
  • 1-2 pairs leggings
  • 1 printed skirt
  • 1 printed dress
  • 1-2 pairs jeans or pants
  • 2-3 pairs shoes
  • Warm jacket or rain jacket (optional)
  • Bathing suit and cover-up (optional)
  • Beach bag or tote (optional)
  • 1-2 bras
  • 2-3 pairs underwear
  • 2-3 pairs socks

Hygiene & Toiletries

  • Hand sanitizer
  • KN94 masks
  • Toothbrush and carrying case
  • Toothpaste
  • Deodorant
  • Make-up
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Body wash
  • Face wash
  • Sunscreen
  • Moisturizer
  • Lip balm with SPF
  • Toiletry bag
  • Contacts and contact solution

Electronics & Etc.

  • Cell phone
  • Charger
  • Portable battery
  • Kindle and/or iPad
  • Haircare tools
  • Adapters (optional)
  • Eye mask
  • Medicine
  • Mini first-aid kit
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Guidebooks (optional)

Weekend Travel Checklist

Person's hand watering an indoor plant

This is a bit different in that this is a quick checklist of things to do before you leave for a weekend away!

– Organize a pet-sitter or house-sitter, if necessary

– Take out the trash

– Water any plants that need it

– Clear out the fridge of anything that needs to go

– Set up any alarm, if you have it

Your Ultimate Malta Itinerary for 3 to 7 Days!

Malta is one of Europe’s smallest countries, but it packs a lot in its small size, ensuring that even if you only have 3 days in Malta, you’ll still end up seeing quite a lot! 

Beautiful blue waters rivaling those of Greece, ancient ruins older than Stonehenge, is it any wonder that Malta recently was named one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 places to visit?

Long a favorite of British travelers desperately seeking a spot of sun, the secret seems to be getting out, and more and more people are discovering this gem of the Mediterranean for the first time.

Malta is enjoying its spotlight, even despite the loss of one of its most famous tourist attractions, the Azure Window, which crumbled into the sea amidst strong storms a few years back (it’s now called the Blue Hole, which has less of a romantic ring to it)

A red door and a red window against sandstone bricks on a historic building in Birgu

Even without its most “Instagrammable” spot, the gorgeous island nation of Malta is left with boundless beauty. From the stunning architecture of its ancient streets (with its Maltese balconies) to its cliffs and grottos, this is one gorgeous and unique island.

If the views don’t get you, the food in Malta will. I’m still dreaming of fresh octopus, flaky pea-filled pastries, and the most delicious white wine I’ve tried in recent memory.

Three days in Malta isn’t nearly enough, but it’s time enough to taste the best of what the island has to offer, and with a focused itinerary, you can end up seeing quite a lot.

If you have an extra day, I highly recommend making the trip out to Gozo to do some scuba diving in one of the best places in Malta.

Best Time to Visit Malta

Allison standing in front of arches at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Malta on a sunny day in October.
A sunny day in October – a light shirt over a romper with my trusty Birkenstocks was the perfect outfit for the warm weather!

Malta is a popular destination for most of the year.Being one of the southernmost parts of the Mediterranean, its climate is more similar to North Africa’s than it is to much of Europe’s.

Summer is far-and-away the most popular time to visit Malta’s beautiful beaches and have a sunbathing-focused trip. July and August are the busiest times in Malta so expect higher prices and less options in terms of accommodations. Book your tours in advance during this time!

The shoulder season of May/June and September/October are also great times to visit Malta. I personally visited Malta in early October and it was perfect. The water was still warm enough to swim in (I even dove during my trip) but it wasn’t too hot nor too crowded and I was able to enjoy the crystal clear waters and normally jam-packed places like the City of Mdina lived up to their “silent city” name!

Malta is very quiet during the winter, but that’s for a reason: boat trips, lagoon dips, and sunbathing just aren’t the same in the winter. As a result, prices are lower but you won’t have as much to do as a lot of Malta is outdoor-focused.

However, if you’re a history lover and are just visiting Malta for culture and history with no plans of beach time, winter would be a perfectly lovely time for a Malta getaway.

What to Pack for Malta

Vittoriosa is a spot to spend one of 3 days in Malta

Travel adaptor: Malta is a former British colony, and there are signs of that all over the islands. You’ll also see a number of quintessentially British phone boxes, which is a reminder that you need to bring a UK-compatible adaptor!

Water shoes: Water shoes are great for the Blue Lagoon, where the sea bottom can get rocky in places, especially near Cominotto, the small islet near the Blue Lagoon. These shoes are great for both men and women.

A bathing suit or two: Malta is a great destination for swimming, diving, sunbathing, catamaran rides, etc. — don’t forget your swimsuit (and bring a spare if you plan to swim on two days back to back). I love cute high-waisted bikinis like these ones.

Travel towel: A full-size travel towel is really compact, dries ultra-quickly, and is so convenient to have on days when you are visiting beaches, lagoons, and islands! I love this one which is as colorful as it is convenient.

Reef-safe sunscreen: Malta is home to some really beautiful undersea life, making it a mecca for divers and snorkelers. And yes, even though it’s not tropical, it’s home to coral reefs, including the deepest-growing red coral in the world. Keep Malta as beautiful underwater as it is above and wear chemical-free sunscreen when on the islands. I like this SunBum SPF 50 with Vitamin E.

Comfortable shoes: Day 1 & 3 of this Malta itinerary include a ton of walking around — make sure you bring your most comfortable shoes! I use and swear by Birkenstocks (I’ve had two pairs of Gizeh sandals over the last 5 years and wear them almost every day that it’s appropriate to). Just break them in for a day or two before you arrive as they’re more comfortable that way — the cork breaks down under the heat of your foot and molds to fit your arches, so the shoes are totally custom to your feet!

Scarf for covering up: There are a lot of churches in Malta and you’ll likely want to go into them during your trip! Be sure to bring a scarf for your shoulders if you are wearing a shirt with exposed shoulders.

Loose pants or maxi skirt: Similarly, you’ll want to wear loose pants or a skirt that goes past your knees if you are doing a lot of sightseeing in churches. Loose linen-blend pants are great in the heat, such as these white linen pants. More into skirts? A printed maxi skirt will also liven up photos but still be appropriate for churches.

Travel guide: While I’ve endeavored to make this blog post as up-to-date and jam-packed with helpful tips as I can, I do always suggest supplementing your online reading with a physical guide. It’s great for getting additional ideas, finding some off the beaten path gems, and having an easy-to-access reference point (most have a quick language guide, etc. in the back!). I suggest this Lonely Planet Malta & Gozo book.

Where to Stay in Malta

If you only have 3 days in Malta, you’ll want to use them wisely and minimize your time in transport. I recommend picking a central location for that reason!

I stayed at Seashells Resort in Qawra and while the hotel and pool were both lovely and breakfast was delicious, I found that I was spending quite a bit of time stuck in traffic.

The WiFi was also not up to par for my needs – I literally sat in my closet by the hallway door to get work done.

It’d be fine if you’re planning a poolside all-inclusive holiday (and would likely be great for kids and families), but if you’re looking to explore as much of Malta as possible I’d recommend somewhere a bit more central.

Next time I’m in Malta, I’d opt for Valletta, Sliema, or St. Julian’s for their central location for access to other points in Malta – here are my recommendations broken down by city.

St. Julian’s: Beaches, nightlife and luxury

Panorama of Balluta Bay and Neo-Gothic Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Balluta parish church, during evening blue hour in Saint Julien, Malta

Budget: Malta doesn’t have much in the way of hostels and the true budget end of the spectrum, but St. Julian’s is a lovely exception.

Trendy design, excellent location, and amenities such as an outdoor pool (great for the hot summer in Malta), Inhawi Boutique Hostel has excellent reviews and its dorm beds are moderately priced.

However, since there’s not a lot of competition in Malta for hostels, a dorm bed is still expensive here compared to many European cities despite the overall affordable costs of travel in Malta.

>> Check reviews, availability, and prices of dorms in Inhawi Boutique Hostel here.

Mid-range: Affordable in cost yet modern in design, The District Hotel is your best mid-range hotel you can find in happening St. Julian’s.

This trendy boutique hotel has a sleek bar, modern design with elegant midnight blue accented details, and spacious rooms, plus it’s just a 3-minute walk from the beach. Sold!

>> Check reviews, availability, and prices here.

Luxury: There are several five-star hotels in Malta but Le Méridien has the most consistently high reviews of the lot.

With both rooftop and indoor pools, tastefully decorated rooms, a huge fitness center, and balconies with sweeping sea views, it’s a favorite in St. Julian’s for a reason.

>> Check reviews, availability, and prices here.

Sliema: Proximity to Valletta and St. Julian’s, harbor views, shopping

Small harbor and baroque church in Sliema, on the island of Malta

Budget: Sliema also has one of the very few hostels in Malta, which makes it a perfect choice for budget travelers who want a more low-key vibe than St. Julian’s, which is a little more upscale.

If you’re looking for a good budget option, Two Pillows Boutique Hostel comes highly recommended by solo travelers. The dorms are well-furnished and have free AC – a godsend in Malta’s hot summers.

Again, same as before, dorms in Malta are more expensive than in much of Europe but that’s because there are basically two hostels on an island that gets over a million tourists a year.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability of dorms at Two Pillows here.

Mid-range: Again, Malta seems to do best in this price range. The Victoria Hotel has the best balance of high ratings, quiet luxury, and affordability in Sliema.

I love the quirky décor that this boutique hotel offers, plus it has both an indoor and outdoor pool, an excellent fitness room, and a much-loved restaurant.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability of The Victoria here.

Luxury: Hello, gorgeous infinity pool – I’m never leaving! 

The Palace in Sliema is one of the top-reviewed 5-star hotels in the city, with enormous rooms with giant balconies, in-house amenities like your own personal Nespresso, quirky themed rooms, a massive fitness room, indoor/outdoor pools…. you get the gist.

It’s kind of got it all, and the price isn’t that crazy, surprisingly, given what it offers.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Valletta: Capital of culture, good food, quiet nights

Budget: There is one hostel in Valletta — Valletta Boutique Living — but as it only has a 7.0 rating on Booking.com, it’s not something I’d recommend without seriously checking the reviews and seeing if it’s worth it to stay there (I’d pick a hostel in Sliema or St. Julian’s instead).

>> If you do want to check it out, you can see reviews and prices here.

Mid-range: This is where Valletta shines – there’s a ton of accommodation in this price range with beautiful views and comfortable digs.

I’d recommend Palazzo Paolina Boutique Hotel for the best combination of price and high reviews. It’s a mere 5-minute walk from St. John’s Co-Cathedral, the décor is over-the-top beautiful in a super Maltese way, and the rooms are spacious and comfortable for Valletta.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Luxury: Valletta has a lot of really cool upscale boutique accommodations and The Saint John is one of the coolest luxury accommodations out there.

Huge spacious rooms, an in-house gastro pub, balconies overlooking Valletta city, this hotel is one of the newest in Valletta and is well-worth checking out.

>> Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Malta Itinerary FAQs

View over Malta and the bay on a sunny day over beautiful architecture

How many days do you need in Malta?

To do Malta justice, 3 days in Malta is the minimum that I would suggest. This will allow you two days in Malta proper as well as a day trip enjoying Comino, the Blue Lagoon, and Gozo. 

However, the more days you have in Malta, the better! There’s so much to do and see here. You could spend up to a week in Malta and still not run out of things to do, even on these tiny islands!

Is Malta expensive to visit?

the Valletta harbor in Malta approaching from a boat

In general, I think Malta is a very reasonably priced destination in Europe. 

It is comparable to less expensive parts of Italy such as Puglia and Sicily, and cheaper than more touristic parts of Italy such as Tuscany and the Cinque Terre.

On average, you should budget around $100-200 per day per person in Malta depending on the kind of travel you like to do and what activities you enjoy. However, it could be done for less if budget is a big concern.

Is Malta safe?

Overall, I think Malta is very safe! I traveled to Malta solo and I had no issues as a solo female traveler in Malta. I’d happily go back again solo.

Coincidentally, I just happened to visit Malta during the most high-profile crime that has happened in Malta in decades — the assassination of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

However, I recognize that is an outlier event that is symptomatic of larger issues facing Maltese people with respect to freedom of the press and organized crime — and not something that would impact tourists in the slightest.

How to Use This Malta Itinerary

Colorful boats in a harbor in Malta with architecture behind

This Malta itinerary goes into detail for 1-3 days in Malta, with activity by activity ideas that it walks you through in depth.

3 days in Malta is really the minimum you should spend, so that’s where I focused the most energy.

If you have additional days in Malta, I suggest a few activities for each day to add to your itinerary, but I kept it shorter and broader rather than play-by-play so that you can mix and match an itinerary that suits your needs.

I suggest adding a few guided activities if you have more days in Malta as it’ll be less stressful than planning a sightseeing tour all on your own.

Here are a few of my favorite Malta activities I’ve curated, selected from my preferred tour aggregator, Get Your Guide (I love them for their ample selection of tours and generous cancellation policy!)

What to Do in Malta in 3 Days (+ Ideas For If you Have More Time)

Street and Marina in Senglea, one of the Three Cities in the Grand Harbour area of Malta.

If you want to make the most of a short visit to Malta, I recommend renting a car. It’ll make your trip a whole lot easier to plan, as the public transport and bus stops in Malta can be limiting.

Not sure where to get the best deal on your rental? I’ve rented cars dozens of times through various search engines and have settled on Discover Cars as the best car rental search engine – it searches over 500 trusted rental companies to find the cheapest price for your rental! Compare prices for car rental from Malta here.

Be aware that, as part of its legacy under British rule, all cars drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel is located on the right-hand side of the car.

Traffic in Malta can actually be quite bad during rush hour. Malta is one of the most densely populated nations in the world, with around 400,000 people living on an island of less than 100 square miles.

Still, since the only other option to get around Malta is by bus or taxi, you’ll be stuck in traffic anyway. So, you might as well have the freedom to pull over and take photos, which I guarantee you’ll want to do!

If you don’t want to drive or can’t, I’d recommend a hop-on, hop-off bus. Hop-on hop-off buses are actually something I rarely advise, especially in cities like NYC, Paris, etc. that have proper metro systems. 

It works well for Malta as the attractions are quite spread out on the island, and you’ll save a lot of headache of trying to figure out the local bus system this way. You can pre-book tickets here.

Malta Itinerary: Day 1

Visit the old town of Birgu.

Doors and a colorful bright greenish-blue box balcony in Malta's city of Birgu

Start your travels in Malta in Birgu. Birgu is one of the oldest inhabited areas in Malta, with tons of history to back it up. 

It is the most famous of what is referred to as “The Three Cities,” which also includes Senglea and Cospicua.

All three villages are built very close to each other around the Grand Harbor and are marked with traditional Maltese architecture, such as the famously brightly-painted wooden balconies.

Birgu was given the title Citta Vittoriosa after withstanding the Great Siege of 1565, when the Knights of the Order of St. John defeated the Ottoman attack.

A sandstone-brick street in Malta's Birgu with colorful balconies and doorways

Birgu’s other claim to fame is as the former capital city of Malta until 1571, when the building of Valletta was completed. Nowadays, Birgu’s population is almost 3,000, making it a sleepy though lovely part of Malta to visit.

While visiting Birgu, be sure not to miss the wine bars, shops, and hole-in-the-wall restaurants that line the streets and alleyways of the city!

I ate lunch at Don Berto, which has a stunning view of the mega-yachts in the harbor. I ordered a glass of Maltese white wine and the stewed octopus and couldn’t have been happier!

A dish of octopus with a salad in Malta

A few other points of interest in Birgu include the excellent Maritime Museum (which I’m a total nerd for) and the Inquisitor’s Palace.

Both museums are definitely worth spending an hour or so in.

The Three Cities are one of the most historic places to see when you visit Malta, so it definitely helped to have a guide with me. 

I recommend booking a tour (this one in a vintage bus looks adorable and fun!) or hiring a guide to make the most of your experience.

A model ship in the maritime museum in birgu

Visit the marvelous Fort St. Angelo.

Before leaving Birgu, be sure to visit the imposing and impressive Fort St. Angelo, a must on any Malta itinerary. 

This fortification on the edge of the city of Birgu was built by the Knights, strategically building over the ruins of a Roman castle that dated back hundreds of years. 

This fort was what granted safety to the harbor and its occupants due to its strategic position during the Great Siege of 1565.

One of the best places to visit in Malta in 3 days

These days the fort is of great pride to the Maltese people and while it has been restored over the years, it still maintains the old military look from when it was last used.

But let’s cut to the real reason why you’re probably interested: Fort St. Angelo was where some of the scenes from season 1 of Game of Thrones were shot. 

Diehard fans of the show can even take a private tour of all the locations in Malta where it was filmed!

Even if you don’t care much for the history – the views from Fort St. Angelo overlooking Valletta and the Grand Harbor can’t be beaten.

Take a Grand Harbor boat tour.

Arriving at the doors of Malta's grand harbor in Valletta

Although you’ve already got an aerial view of it: there is no better way to experience the Grand Harbor than by experiencing it by boat.

Sit back and relax (or, if you’re like me, frantically take photos like your life depends on it) while the tour takes you around some of Malta’s majestic natural harbor.

Be sure to look back and take a photo of the fort you were just on!

What to do in Malta? A scenic boat ride, naturally

You can take a lovely gondola ride in one of the colorful traditional Maltese fishing boats called the dgħajsa.

(Don’t worry, I have no idea how it’s pronounced either.)

This will take you over to Valletta, the capital of Malta, to continue your sightseeing.

Man steering a traditional colorful boat in Malta

Explore the UNESCO site of Valletta, Malta’s capital city.

Valletta is one of Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites – and with good reason. Valletta is one of the most well-preserved cities in Malta, despite the odds.

While the city has survived many historical events, including the Siege of Malta which took place during World War II for two years, it has undergone no significant modifications since 1798, simply rebuilding and repairing damage that was done.

Architectural details on a building in valletta, focusing on the carvings and shutters of the building

The fortified city of Valletta is one of the most stunning sites in the Mediterranean. The moment you pass through its giant city walls, you’ll understand why Valletta is so crucial to Malta’s history and identity.

Be sure to walk down Republic Street, the main walking street of Malta which stretches from the City Gate to the Fort of St. Elmo.

The main site that you shouldn’t miss in Valletta is the St. John’s Co-Cathedral, where an exiled Caraveggio’s masterpiece “The Beheading of Saint John” is displayed. This is a site with a lot of history for the Knights of St. John.

Unique places to visit in Malta include this beautiful church

The church is also unique for its tombstone-covered floor, where the epitaphs of over 400 knights and officers of the Order of Saint John were buried after having fallen during the Great Siege protecting Malta.

Maybe I’m just a bit morbid, but I found the epitaphs of the tombs to be incredibly beautiful.

Either way, you’ll never again see a church quite like it: it’s one of the most magnificent I’ve ever seen.

A few other spots of interest in Valletta include the Grand Master’s Palace, Casa Rocca Piccola (an ornate house dating back to the late 16th century), and the Valletta Waterfront. 

You also shouldn’t miss the Fort of St. Elmo which is also located in Valletta, on the other edge of Republic Street.

And of course, don’t forget to stop and take as many photos of Valletta’s beautiful doors and balconies as possible!

Photograph the doors of Valletta - what to do in Malta!

While Valletta is small and easy to navigate on foot, I really recommend going with a guided walking tour of Valletta.

It’ll help you understand all the reasons why this city is the European capital of culture and why it’s so important to Malta’s history.

Shop walking tours of Valletta here.

Valletta: 2-Hour Walking Tour
Valletta City Tour: St. John’s Cathedral, Malta Experience

Visit the Valletta harbor in your time in Malta

As for where to eat in Valletta, I highly recommend eating at Rampila, a delicious restaurant serving traditional Maltese dishes.

The restaurant has great views of the fortification walls and is a great choice for day or night.

Rabbit covered in a grape stew sauce

One of the dishes Malta is best known for is its rabbit stew. Here, it was served with an amazing stewed grape sauce.

It was absolutely delicious, especially with a glass of Maltese white wine featuring the local indigenous grape Girgentina. 

Be sure to have as much as you can while you’re there, as Malta only exports something like 3% of its wine to the world at large — making trying Maltese wines a priority when you’re there.

Maltese wine, a must for any itinerary of Malta!

Yup, that’s permission to drink like a fish!

Don’t forget dessert! I had imqaret, a traditional Maltese dessert.

These diamond-shaped sweet pastry parcels are filled with dates, lightly fried, dusted with powdered sugar, and served with a side of ice cream — perfect for someone like me who doesn’t like their desserts too sweet.

A dessert of fried pastry and ice cream in Malta

Visit the beautiful Upper Barrakka Gardens.

The Upper Barakka Gardens overlook the Grand Harbor and offer a stunning view.

It is located just opposite from Fort St. Angelo, where you started the day.

The arches of the Upper Barrakka Garden area

From here, you can take in one of the most beautiful panoramic views in all of Valletta.

Be sure to stop for a coffee at the Upper Barrakka Garden Cafe and enjoy the spectacular views from above.

Try to time your visit with the Saluting Battery, a theatrical ceremonial cannon firing. It occurs at noon and 4 PM daily.

A row of cannons lined on the old batttery

Walk to the Lower Barrakka Gardens.

Just 15 minutes’ walking distance away from Upper Barrakka Gardens down St. Ursula’s Street, you’ll find the equally scenic Lower Barrakka Gardens atop the old Valletta bastions. 

From the Lower Barrakka Gardens, you can enjoy stunning views of the Grand Harbour, Bighi Palace, Fort St. Angelo, and Fort Ricasoli.

A view of a building with four pillars in Lower Barrakka Gardens surrounded by palm trees and plant life.

Visit the Marsaxlokk fishing village

Marsaxlokk Bay is Malta’s second-largest natural harbor and where tens or even hundreds of colorful Maltese fishing boats dock, and its iconic status means you can’t miss putting it on your Malta itinerary.

The fishing village of Marsaxlokk is also home to a famous fish market which gives tourists a fascinating insight into the local life and traditions. Walk along the shoreline of the port in Malta to admire all the adorable boats. 

colorful boats on the edge of the harbor in marsaxlokk on a sunny day

Take a late afternoon dip at St. Peter’s Pool

To cap off the first day of this Malta itinerary, take a boat ride from Marsaxlokk to St. Peter’s Pool for a quick dip in one of Malta’s best swimming areas!

It costs 10 euro round-trip and each way takes about an hour by boat. It’s a great view of Malta by sea and arriving at St. Peter’s Pool is otherworldly!

After your dip, return by boat to Marsaxlokk after and dine at one of the seafood restaurants along the harbor or opt to head back to your hotel area and dine there.

Be sure to get a good night’s rest: we have an early wake-up call and a full day tomorrow!

Malta Itinerary: Day 2

Spend a day trip on a catamaran exploring St. Paul’s Bay, the Blue Lagoon, and Comino.

After a day with so much walking, it’s time to have a relaxing, mostly hands-off day in between our more sightseeing-heavy days!

On the second day of this Malta itinerary, we’ll leave the main island of Malta to explore the islands of Comino and Gozo on a half-day tour.

We’ll start by exploring the Blue Lagoon by boat tour. This tour leaves bright and early from Bugibba at 9:30, but you should arrive at least 30 minutes before departure, so start your day early so you can be sure you won’t miss the boat (literally!).

Pure crystal water of Blue Lagoon on Malta

I suggest this 6-hour catamaran tour of the Blue Lagoon of Comino as well as several of the nearby bays of Malta. 

It includes snorkeling equipment (with a 10 euro deposit), a barbecue lunch (if selected), and plenty of sunbeds and catamaran nets to lounge on! There are also cocktails you can buy on board to truly let loose and relax.

You’ll stop at the Blue Lagoon, of course, but you’ll also stop at a few hidden gems of Malta, such as the sandy beaches of Golden Bay or Gnejna Bay, or perhaps Mellieha Bay or Ramla Bay — all depends on the winds and weather!

Book your catamaran tour online here!

Optional: Visit Popeye Village

Aerial view of tourist attraction Popeye village, also known as Sweethaven village

Depending on what you want to do with the rest of your day, you could head to Gozo or you could visit Popeye Village on the island of Malta.

Popeye Village is a purpose-built set that was originally designed for the 1980 production of Popeye (the musical). 

It has since been converted into a small amusement park and it’s a major draw for Instagrammers because it’s just so darn cute.

I didn’t have time to visit Popeye Village during my visit to Malta but it’s definitely a draw for many.

Optional: Head to the island of Gozo by ferry.

People jumping into the Blue Hole in Gozo

After you’ve returned from your catamaran, around 3:30 PM, you’ll still have plenty of time to continue on with your Malta sightseeing should you choose.

I recommend making your way over to Gozo and getting on the ferry at the Ċirkewwa Ferry Terminal, about a 20-minute drive from Bugibba. The ferry runs 24/7 and there are ferries every 45 minutes (you can find a schedule here).

It takes 25 minutes to cross the Gozo Channel and it costs about 16 euro (plus an additional 5 euro per additional passenger besides the driver).

Once you arrive in Gozo, there is a lot you could opt to do and see, but with limited time, I’ll make a few recommendations. 

I suggest checking out the stunning views at Ramla Beach, which is one of the most beautiful places in all of Gozo! You can also get a good view of Ramla Beach and Ramla Bay from Tal Mixta Cave. 

Another good idea is driving to see the salt pans of Gozo outside the town of Marsalforn on Xwejni Bay. They’re really beautiful and it’s a great photo spot.

Another point of interest is World Record Rock, where a world record was set by Nicky Faruggia when he clocked the fastest swim between Sicily and Malta, which took 30 hours. He landed at this point!

Of course, you should check out the Blue Hole (formerly the site of the Azure Window) which is located next to Dwejra Bay. The views from here are simply breathtaking.

Finally, be sure to check out the city of Victoria, the capital of Gozo Island. The city is also known as ir-Rabat in Maltese. It’s home to the Citadel of ir-Rabat, aka Citadella, one of the most famous places in all of Gozo. 

Another place worth a visit in Victoria are the St. Paul’s Catacombs, the remnants of an ancient Roman burial site.

There is also St. Michael’s Bastion (Il-Bastjun ta San Mikiel), St. George’s Basilica with its beautiful marble carvings, and lots of great restaurant options to have dinner in before returning to your hotel on the island of Malta.

Malta Itinerary: Day 3

Start the day with Maltese pastizzi and tea

Close up detail of flaky breakfast pastry.

Il-Serkin (also called Crystal Palace) is one of the best places to try Malta’s traditional snacks called pastizzi (also called cheese cake)

Maltese pastizzi is typically filled with creamy ricotta or mushy peas and amidst several flaky layers of dough.

Served with coffee or tea in a glass, you can’t ask for a better breakfast in Malta.

Visit “the Silent City” — the Old Town of Mdina.

A man on a carriage with a black horse in Mdina

Mdina’s history is long and storied, originally settled by the Phoenicians and cycling through many hands as Malta’s history progressed.

These days, Mdina is one of Malta’s most famous sites, partly due to its mixture of architectural styles, ranging from medieval to Baroque. 

Pass through the City Gate at the entrance to the town and you’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time.

It’s also known as “the Silent City”, because of its small population (only 300) and lack of car traffic. However, visit during a busy day and you won’t find it so silent! 

At night, however, it really earns its namesake, and it’s quite magical to ride through the city on a karozzin (traditional horse and carriage). It might be worth it to double back for an evening carriage ride!

Something about Mdina in Malta makes you feel like you went back in time, from the rocky and narrow streets to the churches and quiet alleyways. Perhaps that’s why it was a filming location for Game of Thrones during the first season!

Don’t miss the St. Paul’s Cathedral (also known as the Mdina Cathedral) — it’s an absolutely beautiful example of classic Maltese Baroque Architecture, which is unique to this part of the world.

Eat a delicious Italian lunch

eating calamari fried squid

Italian food in Malta? Hey, why not — Italy’s only 50 miles away, after all.

Just outside of Mdina in the town of Rabat is Da Luigi, a deliciously authentic Italian restaurant.

You’ve got to eat as much seafood as humanly possible while in Malta, so I went for the seafood risotto with prawns, clams, and mussels and fried calamari. Both were absolutely delicious.

a dish of shrimp and mussel risotto

Wine tasting at Meridiana in Ta Qali

Remember how I said that Malta only exports a tiny fraction of its wines? So, what better place to drink Malta’s finest than at the source?

Meridiana is one of Malta’s most famous wineries and with good reason — the wines are delicious (spoken from someone who guzzled four quite generous pours before noon)

a series of four wines one white one rose two red

My favorite was the Melqart, a blend of Cabernet and Merlot that was delightfully velvety and soft in a way that I usually don’t think of Cabs being able to achieve. But the rosé (a Syrah and Cab blend) was also another stunner.

The grounds are also really beautiful, making a stop at Meridiana a great choice, especially on a warm autumn morning.

The grounds at Meridiana

The grounds of Meridiana

Take a boat ride through the Blue Grotto

The Blue Grotto is yet another incredible natural wonder of Malta!

This picturesque grotto (a fancy word for a series of caves) is located near Wied Iz-Zurrieq, south of the town of Qrendi.

the blue waters of the caves at blue grotto

A boat ride will take you through six caves, though I’ll admit the pace is quite rushed and the shouting of the boat driver to look and take photos diminished my enjoyment a bit. It’s still well worth a visit, though, for waters and natural formations that beautiful.

It’s possible to swim at the Blue Grotto, but you’d be dodging tons of boat traffic and I don’t think the atmosphere would be ideal. 

couple taking a selfie at the blue grotto

Instead, I’d recommend bringing a swimming suit and swimming nearby at Ghar Lapsi (Ascension Cave).

While nearby, you could also stop at Ħaġar Qim, one of the megalithic temples of Malta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site dating from 3200 B.C. 

I’m not a huge temple person so I skipped this, but if you’re into history (or pre-history, rather!) you really can’t miss it.

Visit the Dingli Cliffs for sunset.

Photo of a sunset in Malta at Dingli cliffs with orange and purple tones

The Maltese islands are known for their beautiful sheer cliffs which are made of layer upon layer of sedimentary rock. 

The Dingli Cliffs on the west coast of Malta are an especially impressive sight and one of the hidden gems of Malta.

They are the island’s natural fortress, and because of this, the Knights did not have to worry about protecting themselves from invaders the same way they did in the natural harbor of Valletta. 

The Dingli Cliffs stretch a massive 250 meters above sea level, protecting this coast of Malta from all sorts of enemies over the years.

While the view is surely beautiful during the day, I recommend aiming for a sunset here.

I mean, do I really need to say any more?

Have a final dinner in Dingli Village.

ravioli like dumplings covered in cheese and pepper

Diar il-Bniet is a delicious agrotourism restaurant near the cliffs of Dingli with tons of vegetarian (and meaty) options.

Their Maltese ravioli is a can’t-miss and their house white wine is delicious — and if you’re brave, go for the escargot braised in beer! 

You can also shop for various foodie gifts inside if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind souvenir to bring home (or gorge on for yourself, no judgments here).

escargot in a pot in malta

If You Have 4 Days in Malta…

I highly recommend adding more time in Gozo to your itinerary! Gozo is Malta’s more laidback, rural cousin. It also has stunning beaches and amazing diving, and it deserves a full day if you have the time for it.

I also did an quad bike tour in Gozo and loved the experience, especially the views of Ramla Bay we got from Tal Mixta cave.

Book your day tour of Gozo by quad bike here!

Photo of the waters of ramla bay and ramla beach as seen from a cave above the water

If you’re PADI-certified, you should absolutely add diving in Malta to your itinerary!

I dove with St. Andrew’s Diver’s Cove and highly recommend the company! The divemaster was excellent and really helpful. 

We dove through an amazing (and just slightly scary) sea tunnel, marveled at super cool underwater rock formations, and watched tons of sea life including an octopus! 

If You Have 5 Days in Malta…

The prehistoric megalithic complex Ta'Hagrat and Skorba on Malta island are older than famous Stonehenge

Explore more of Malta’s historic side! 

Drive to the town of Mgarr where you can find many temples worth visiting. There are the Ta’ Skorba Temples, Ta’ Ħaġrat Temples, and the Castello Żammitello all nearby Mgarr.

Nearby, there are also the Victoria Lines (a massive fortification built by the British in the 19th century) which makes a nice walking path. 

If You Have 6 Days in Malta…

Dedicate an extra day to exploring and relaxing on Malta’s beaches, either on the island of Gozo or on Malta.

On Gozo, Ramla Beach, Hondoq ir-Rummien, and Mġarr ix-Xini are all nice options.

On Malta, I suggest Għajn Tuffieħa Bay, Golden Bay, and Ġnejna Bay on the eastern side of the island.

If You Have 7 Days in Malta…

Spend your final day in Malta catching up on whatever you want more of — whether that’s time in Valletta exploring the city’s culture, beach time, or adventure time exploring Gozo.

You might even want to go back to the Blue Lagoon — it’s that beautiful!

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance!

While Malta is a safe destination, travel insurance is still important to have. 

It protects you in case of accident, illness, or injury, and it also covers your belongings in the event that your luggage is lost or something is stolen while you are traveling.

Since a trip to Malta combines a lot of outdoor activities with sightseeing in urban areas, travel insurance is great to have for peace of mind. 

I’ve been a paying customer of World Nomads for five years and use them to insure every trip I have. Their prices are reasonable, their coverage is excellent, and it’s super easy to book a policy. 

Get your free quote online here!

Note: A huge thanks to the Malta Tourism Authority for hosting me during my stay in Malta. All opinions and experiences are 100% my own.

North Rim Vs. South Rim Grand Canyon: Which Side is Right for You?

grand canyon lodge at sunset in the north rim grand canyon

The Grand Canyon is rightfully one of the most renowned landmarks in all of America, and there’s no wonder that it figures high on nearly everyone’s national parks bucket list.

The Grand Canyon was formed by the rushing waters of the Colorado River after many million years of erosion and assisted by plate tectonics which uplifted the Colorado Plateau, creating an even more…. well, grand, of a canyon!

The Grand Canyon National Park site encompasses a massive 1,902 square miles. At its longest point, the Grand Canyon measures 277 miles across, and is up to 18 miles wide… which means that the North and the South Rims are quite far apart!

In fact, to drive from the visitor center at the North Rim to the visitor center at the South Rim takes about 4 hours!

As a result, you’ll likely want to pick one or the other. 

Allison standing at the South rim of the grand canyon
Me standing at the edge of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017

If you are doing a huge, long Southwest road trip and have 2+ more weeks in the region, you can easily see both sides, but frankly, seeing one side of the Grand Canyon is plenty for one trip.

I spaced out my visits to the South Rim and the North Rim, visiting the South Rim in May of 2017 and just completing my visit to the North Rim in July of 2021.

In this post, I’ll quickly cover a few frequently asked questions about visiting the Grand Canyon, explain the difference and pros and cons of the North Rim vs. the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, and give some tips to help you pick which side of the Grand Canyon is better for your trip.

I’ll also include things to do on each side of the Grand Canyon, specific to the North Rim or the South Rim.

Finally, I’ll also have some tips on where to stay, including some feedback about the campsite I stayed at as well as suggestions for accommodations.

Grand Canyon FAQs

Which is better to see: the North Rim or the South Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Honestly: either!

If we are strictly talking views, both sides of the Grand Canyon offer exquisite ones. There is no real reason to privilege one side over the other in terms of what you can see.

When I go into whether you should pick the North Rim vs. the South Rim, views aren’t a factor, but itinerary, how far in advance you are planning, and time of year you are visiting the Grand Canyon all are!

Allison at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2017
At the South Rim of the Grand Canyon near sunset in 2017

Is visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon worth it?

Absolutely! The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is every bit as beautiful as its more popular southern rim. 

However, if you’re already visiting the South Rim for sure, I don’t know that the North Rim warrants a separate journey on the same trip.

I’d suggest picking one side of the Grand Canyon per trip. If you visit the area again on another road trip, then pick the side you haven’t visited before!

At the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at sunrise in 2021

Where is the best view of the Grand Canyon?

Every view of the Grand Canyon is pretty stunning. I’ll list a few of the best viewpoints of the Grand Canyon broken down between the two rims.

North Rim Viewpoints: Bright Angel Point, Cape Royal, Point Imperial, Walhalla Overlook.

South Rim Viewpoints: Mather Point, Yavapai Point, Yaki Point, Moran Point, Lipan Point.

Yavapai Point at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Can you drive from the South Rim to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon?

Totally… but it takes time! 4 hours, in fact. 

From the South Rim to the North Rim, you’ll leave the Tusayan / Grand Canyon Village area, drive along Highway 64 until you reach Highway 89 at Cameron. 

From there, you’d drive until Marble Canyon, then take Highway 89A to Jacob Lake. Once reaching Jacob Lake, you’d take Highway 67 the rest of the way.

This driving route would also work in reverse if you were visiting the North Rim first and then going to the South Rim.

However, I wouldn’t really advise this unless you have a ton of time that you only want to dedicate to Grand Canyon National Park. 

If you are visiting the Grand Canyon as part of a larger Southwest itinerary, I’d suggest allocating more time for other destinations and places.

So many places to visit in the Southwest, so little time!

What is the difference between North Rim and South Rim Grand Canyon?

That’s what this post is all about! We’ll go into more detail below, but here’s the TL;DR.

North Rim: Far less crowded (only 10% of the visitors), more remote, fewer amenities, better for a Utah parks road trip, not able to be visited in winter months, better in summer months.

South Rim: Much more crowded (90% of the visitors go here), better for Arizona road trips, better for day trips, more amenities and lodging options, open year-round.

One other thing to keep in mind is the appreciable elevation difference between North and South.

The elevation at the South Rim is 6,804 feet; the elevation at the North Rim is 8,297 feet (and up to 8,803 feet at Point Imperial, the highest point of the Canyon rim).

The South Rim tends to be several degrees hotter in summer as a result. However, hikers should note that the altitude is a little easier to adjust to at the South Rim, whereas hikers at the North Rim will have a little more struggle with the altitude.

Sign that reads "point imperial elevation 8803"
The highest point on the Canyon Rim!

Are there entrance fees to the Grand Canyon?

Yes. Park entrance fees are $35 per vehicle to the Grand Canyon. That grants 7 days of access to both the North and the South Rims, as they are both operated as one National Park Service site.

Both the North and the South Rim are also included in your America the Beautiful Pass, which can be purchased online at REI before your trip.

Which is the best time of the year to go to the Grand Canyon?

It depends! 

If you’re visiting the North Rim, know that it’s only open between May 15 and October 15… and any of those times is a good time to go! The North Rim is not very crowded, so any time will be fine within that period.

If you’re visiting the South Rim, the Grand Canyon is able to be visited year-round! However, the South Rim is very crowded in the summer and even in the shoulder seasons. 

I visited the South Rim in early May and it was packed… I can’t even imagine peak summer!

The South Rim is a popular option if you are visiting the Grand Canyon in winter, as it’s open year-round and is really beautiful under a layer of snow!

Snow covered landscape of the Grand Canyon in the winter months
Views of the Grand Canyon at wintertime (South Rim)

What is the best place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park?

There are so many options when it comes to where to stay!

North Rim: The Grand Canyon Lodge is the main traditional accommodation option. I went here to check out the sunset and it looked like a fantastic place to stay.

There is also the North Rim Campground, where I stayed — and I loved it! For $20 a night, I literally could see Grand Canyon views squeezed between some pine trees. It was incredible.

South Rim: There are so many options! The main lodges are Bright Angel Lodge, Yavapai Lodge, and the Thunderbird Lodge, but these need to be booked well in advance…. like 6+ months, typically.

There are also lots of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon if all the traditional accommodations and lodges within the National Park Service site are full!

Additionally, you can also stay at the Mather Campground outside of the South Rim.

Note that Bright Angel Campground is located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and has limited campsites that can only be accessed via a hike, for which you need a (highly coveted, hard-to-get) backcountry permit.

There’s also the Phantom Ranch located at the bottom of the Grand Canyon as well if you are hiking in!

One of the cabins at the Grand Canyon Lodge (North Rim) — almost worth booking a trip for on its own!

Pick the North Rim if… 

… You want to avoid the crowds.

Grand Canyon National Park sees nearly 6 million visitors each year… but 90% of those visitors will only see the South Rim.

Only 10% of people who visit the Grand Canyon make it to the North Rim of the park…. meaning that only some 600,000 people a year visit the North Rim, period. 

This means that the North Rim is far less crowded than the South Rim all year round.

I went to the North Rim right after the Fourth of July weekend, and it was really quiet and peaceful. 

Meanwhile, I visited the South Rim a few years back in early May, during the shoulder season before school holidays and summer vacations, and it was extremely busy and crowded.

For me, the serenity of the North Rim makes up for the fact that there are fewer amenities and activities around it. But more on that in a bit!

Views as seen from the North Rim

… You are also visiting Utah national parks.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon gets a bad rap for being “harder to reach” but I’m not really sure why that is.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is only open from May 15 to October 15 each year, but within that time frame, it’s very accessible, especially if you are doing a Southwest road trip that involves some of Southern Utah’s Mighty 5.

From Zion National Park to the North Rim, it’s 122 miles and 2 hours and 45 minutes.

From Bryce Canyon National Park to the North Rim, it’s 157 miles and 3 hours. 

Additionally, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is pretty easily accessible from Page, AZ (where you’ll find Antelope Canyon & Horseshoe Bend). 

From Page, it’s just 124 miles driving, which takes about 2 hours, 20 minutes.

However, from other places in Arizona, such as Flagstaff, Sedona, or points along Route 66, the South Rim is more convenient.

sign for sedona arizona with red rocks in the background
If you want to stay in Sedona, I suggest the South Rim, vs. the North Rim!

… You want to see wild bison.

One of the coolest things about visiting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is that the park encompasses a massive bison herd! 

Normally people think they need to head all the way to Yellowstone National Park if they want to see bison… but that’s not the case! 

There is a huge herd of bison living on the Kaibab Plateau, which you’ll find after you enter the NPS park boundary and the entrance station, but before you reach the North Rim.

The bison stay very close to the roadside and it’s very easy to spot them. In fact, on my trip into the North Rim, the bison literally were crossing the road and traffic was stopped until they passed!

On my trip out of the North Rim, coming out the same way we came in, there were still plenty of bison quite close to the roadside. 

Keep in mind that bison are wild animals and you should never approach them or make them feel uncomfortable. Staying in the car is the safest way to observe them, unless they are quite far away.

Stay at least 25 yards away as per the NPS guidelines, and watch for signs of them being uncomfortable (eye contact, raised tails). Bison can and do attack humans, so be careful.

Bison standing by the side of the road along the way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the North Rim

Catch the sunrise at Bright Angel Point.

One of the best places to catch the sunrise at the North Rim is at Bright Angel Point, which connects with both the Transept Trail (the trailhead is right in the campground!) and the Grand Canyon Lodge Area.

From the Grand Canyon Lodge, it’s about a 0.3-mile hike one-way, which takes about 10 minutes. The views at sunset are spectacular!

If you’re staying at the North Rim campsite, you can also do a sunrise hike to Bright Angel Point via the Transept Trail. 

Please note that there are no dogs allowed on the trail to Bright Angel Point or anywhere on the Transept Trail.

Sunrise at Bright Angel Point is a dream!

Watch the sunset from the Grand Canyon Lodge.

One of the best places to watch the sunset at the North Rim is from the Grand Canyon Lodge area, near the main parking lot for the North Rim.

You can either check out the viewpoints near it, from the dining area in the lodge, from the outdoor patio area of the lodge, or down the stairs there is access to the viewpoint via the Transept Trail.

Seeing the Grand canyon lodge at sunset with brilliant colors in the sky
The Grand Canyon Lodge at sunset at the North Rim is phenomenal!

Walk the Transept Trail.

The beautiful Transept Trail connects North Rim Campground with both the Grand Canyon Lodge and Bright Angel Point.

It’s a serene, easy, and peaceful trail. To the Grand Canyon Lodge from the campgrounds, it’s 1.2 miles one-way (2.4 miles round-trip). To Bright Angel Point, it’s 1.5 miles one-way (3 miles round-trip).

It’s a great and easy day hike option that has you on the rim of the canyon vs. going into it!

walking the transept trail towards bright angel point at sunset with trees and clouds and canyon
Views along the Transept Trail at sunset

Drive the Cape Royal Road.

This beautiful scenic drive is the southernmost point of the North Rim, with the widest panorama of all — 270 degrees of horizon is filled with the beautiful canyon!

The drive is 15 miles from the North Rim Visitor Center along a narrow and winding road, and it’s a bit hair-raising at times — but it’s extremely beautiful, especially as you reach the Walhalla Plateau. 

Once arriving at the Cape Royal parking area, there is a small paved 0.3-mile trail you can take to the overlook, which offers unparalleled views.

You’ll see a number of sights along the trail, including Freya Castle, Wotans Throne, and Angels Window.

Angels Window: one reason to visit the North Rim vs the South Rim!

How to Get to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Turn onto Highway 67 once you reach Jacob’s Lake. From Jacob’s Lake, it’s a little under 1 hour drive.

To get to Jacob’s Lake, you’ll be coming on Highway 89A, either from Utah (Kanab area) or from Arizona (Page + Marble Springs).

From Page: 2 hours 20 minutes

From Zion: 2 hours 45 minutes

From Bryce: 3 hours

From the South Rim: 4 hours

From Las Vegas: 4 hours 30 minutes

From Phoenix: 6 hours

the red rocks of zion canyon and hiking trails
Zion National Park is a popular waypoint for North Rim adventures!

Pick the South Rim if… 

… Accessibility is a concern for you and your group.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon is the far more built-up of the two, which means that there are a lot more accommodations in place for people with disabilities.

However, that’s not to say that the North Rim is inaccessible or not suitable for people with disabilities. 

The Grand Canyon Lodge is wheelchair accessible and the North Rim Campground has 6 accessible campsites, as well as accessible restrooms. Point Imperial and Cape Royal are accessible as well.

Both the Transept Trail and access to Bright Angel Point are not accessible, and the overlook by the Grand Canyon Lodge is definitely not accessible and would be hard for those with mobility limitations (stairs and deep steps).

The South Rim has a lot more accessibility options. Both the Bright Angel Trail and North Kaibab Trail are accessible up to a certain point. 

The shuttle buses that service the South Rim are all wheelchair accessible, with ramps and space to carry wheelchairs (up to 30″ wide by 48″ long). The bus can also ‘kneel’ for those who would like a reduced step up to the bus.

Most overlooks at the South Rim are wheelchair accessible and there are also many scenic drive options with accessible viewpoints and plenty of accessible restrooms

An excellent and far more complete guide to accessibility for people with disabilities is available on Frommer’s here; I’ve merely summarized a bit of the information here, but they cover it all!

… You are primarily visiting Arizona destinations.

One of the main reasons why you might want to choose the South Rim of the Grand Canyon over the North Rim is that it is far better if you are following an Arizona road trip itinerary (like mine!).

The South Rim is easily accessible by day trip from Williams, AZ (part of Route 66!) or Flagstaff, AZ. I personally visited the South Rim on a day trip from Flagstaff and I found it perfect, as it was only 90 minutes away by car. Just enough time for sightseeing and a day hike!

The South Rim is also a popular day trip from Sedona, Arizona, which is about a 2-hour drive each way. It’s a little bit of a long day, but it works!

Sedona church next to cactus
Sedona is an easy day trip destination for Grand Canyon adventures!

The only place in Arizona that the North Rim is easily accessible to is Page, AZ, which is right at the Utah border. 

In fact, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon pairs way better with a Utah National Parks itinerary than an Arizona road trip itinerary! 

If you were to do that, I would sandwich it between Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park to minimize your backtracking.

allison looking over the edge of bryce canyon and its orange hoodoos
Bryce Canyon National Park is an easy stop before or after the North Rim!

… You want lots of activity options.

There are so many things you can do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, including a ton of tour options and fun additional activities you can add to your trip. 

Helicopter ride? Those leave right from Grand Canyon Village and there are more helicopter tour companies than you can shake a stick at.

(And if you can afford it, do it — I did a helicopter tour over the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, and it’s one of my top 5 travel experiences of my entire lifetime).

Book your helicopter tour online here!

Allison in a helicopter taking off for the Grand Canyon
About to take off to check out the Grand Canyon via helicopter!
View over the Grand Canyon via helicopter
Viewing the Grand Canyon from above in a helicopter — priceless!

Small scenic plane tour? Yup, they have those too! 

They cover the Zuni Corridor, Point Imperial, the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, and even points on the North Rim such as Point Imperial, the Kaibab Plateau, and Kaibab National Forest.

Book your scenic plane tour here!

Pink Jeep Tour? Absolutely! Pink Jeep Tours is one of my favorite tour companies (I’ve used them in both Las Vegas’s Valley of Fire and in Sedona) and they offer incredible sightseeing tours right from the South Rim.

I didn’t get a chance to do a Pink Jeep Tour on my trip to the Grand Canyon’s South Rim, but I wish I had. Judging from past experience, it’s a great way to see the Grand Canyon through rose-colored glasses!

Book your Pink Jeep Tour online here!

Allison standing on top of a pink jeep in the valley of fire of las vegas

And these are but three of the many great Grand Canyon activities leaving from the South Rim.

Below are a few other select activities! The below tours leave from Tusayan and Williams, two spots near Grand Canyon Village.

… You are planning at the last minute.

Because the South Rim is so much more accessible and built-up than the North Rim, it’s not a problem at all to plan at the last minute.

If you want accommodations at the North Rim, you have one option inside the park, one option just outside it, one campground, and then a whole lot of nothing until you reach Jacob Lake one hour away (and there’s not much there, either).

If you are visiting the South Rim at the last minute, you don’t really have to worry because there are dozens of great vacation rentals near the Grand Canyon, plus abundant options in Williams and even Flagstaff. 

The main lodges will likely be booked up well in advance at the South Rim, but I was even able to find campsites at Mather Campground (the big South Rim campground) open with just one-week advance booking in the middle of July, peak season!

one of the lodges at the grand canyon south rim
One of the three lodges at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Things to Do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Walk some (or all of!) the Rim Trail.

The Rim Trail is a mostly-paved, easy trail that stretches between the South Kaibab Trail (which you can take into the canyon) all the way west to Hermits Rest.

The Rim Trail offers 13 miles of paved trail, but you can do any fraction of it and return via shuttle bus at any of the designated stops, so it’s easy to tailor to your own preferences and abilities.

girl sitting on the edge of a brick wall on the paved rim trail looking over the expanse of the grand canyon in mid afternoon sunlight

Take one of the many day hikes available.

The South Rim of the Grand Canyon has a ton of fantastic day hikes you can do — including short hikes into the canyon.

No need to sweat the Rim to Rim hike — there are plenty of in-between options!

Here are 5 of my favorite South Rim hikes including very short options that take about 1-2 hours to complete and can be done by total beginners.

a hike in the south rim of the grand canyon

Take a tough descent to Skeleton Point and back.

The South Kaibab Trail will take you all the way into the belly of the beast, but there are plenty of stop and turn-around points that make your hike in the Grand Canyon a lot less cumbersome.

The hike on the South Kaibab Trail to Skeleton Point and back is a great 6-mile hike that’s hard but not insane. Keep in mind the 2,000+ feet of elevation gain (and loss) when considering this hike!

a sign reading skeleton point halfway down into the grand canyon with expansive views of the canyon everywhere you look
The turn-around marker at Skeleton Point, two thousand feet below the Canyon rim

Check out the Desert View Watchtower.

Take the Desert View Drive 23 miles between Grand Canyon Village and the small settlement of Desert View for a beautiful drive.

It’s also home to a really cool viewpoint on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon!

Note that the Desert View Watchtower itself is currently closed due to the pandemic; however, it’s still well worth visiting for its beauty and the gorgeous drive to get there!

a brick-style watchtower towering over the south rim of the grand canyon; a couple wearing backpacks looking over the canyon off in the distance
The Desert View Watchtower is a popular South Rim viewpoint!

How to Get to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Williams, Arizona is a great gateway to the Grand Canyon!

Here is where you’ll find the historic and scenic Grand Canyon railway, which is one hell of a way to make an entrance to the South Rim!

Book your Grand Canyon Railway tickets online here!

the historic grand canyon train from a straight-on angle
The scenic Grand Canyon Railway connects Williams and the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Driving into the South Rim is also totally possible. You can come in via Las Vegas or via Flagstaff, depending on your trip itinerary.

From Vegas, you’ll take I-11 to the Hoover Dam, where you can check out one of the coolest marvels of engineering in the United States.

Did you know that the concrete in the middle of the Hoover Dam is still not dry nearly 100 years later?

You can also walk — on foot! — between Nevada and Arizona.

the giant dam at the hoover dam, holding in water from lake mead, near the border of arizona and nevada
The beautiful engineering of the Hoover Dam

Then you can continue along Highway 93 into Arizona, then turn onto I-40 / Route 66 in Kingman. Take that to Williams, AZ, where you’ll turn onto Highway 64, which brings you right to the Grand Canyon.

If coming from Tucson, Phoenix, Sedona, or any point south in Arizona, first make your way to Flagstaff (likely via I-17)

Then, take either I-40 / Route 66 to Williams then up to Highway 64, or alternately take Highway 180 up to Grand Canyon Junction and then onto Highway 64 to Grand Canyon Village and the South Rim Visitor Center.

What about the Grand Canyon West Rim?

I would advise against it, personally, in favor of the North or the South Rim. 

Yes, there is the Grand Canyon Skywalk attraction, which is $23 per person plus park admission. 

a skywalk deck at the grand canyon west rim, looking over canyon views below
People out on the Skywalk at Grand Canyon West Rim

Other than that there is not too much to see compared to North and South Rims (though there are a few other viewpoints, which you can check out more information on here.)

Plus, it has a separate $45 per person admission fee, as the site is not on national park land, but rather it is owned and operated by the Hualapai Native American tribe. That means your America the Beautiful pass will not apply, either.

In favor of it, I will say that it is beautiful, and it’s convenient if you are coming from Las Vegas, as it’s only a 2-hour, 15-minute drive (and hence it is a popular Vegas day trip!). 

It’s also a popular option for small group rafting trips which can be organized to depart from here.

people rafting on the colorado river which is part of the grand canyon around the sunrise hours
Rafting is a popular activity from Grand Canyon West

It’s a great option if you are coming from Vegas on a day trip and that’s all the time you have for the Grand Canyon. If you want an organized day tour, this is an affordable and easy one that has to option to add the Skywalk.

Book your Grand Canyon West Rim tour here!

But if you have more time, I’d offer that you should pick either the South Rim or the North Rim, especially if it’s your first time at the Grand Canyon!

Pick Both if… 

… You are visiting both Arizona and Utah and have plenty of time.

There is no reason not to visit both the North and the South Rim! 

I am writing this guide targeting people who want to choose between the North Rim or the South Rim, but there’s no law saying you have to visit just one.

If your road trip encompasses both Arizona destinations and Utah destinations, it’s pretty easy to visit both sides without a lot of backtracking!

the brilliant red rocks of sedona arizona, part of a popular arizona road trip itinerary
Sedona is a must-visit in Arizona!

If you want to visit both, this is how I would route it: Nevada / Southern Arizona sights (Las Vegas, Tucson, Phoenix) –> Sedona –> Flagstaff –> South Rim –> Page –> North Rim –> Zion –> Bryce Canyon –> Other Utah National Parks (Capitol Reef, Arches/Canyonlands in Moab).

Obviously the same also works in reverse!