17 Most Breathtaking Places to Visit in Switzerland

The old-fashioned cogwheel red and yellow train to schnyige platte in Switzerland's jungfrau region

Switzerland just may be the most beautiful country in Europe, especially in summer.

There’s something about the way the mountains still glisten with snow even into the sunniest of summer days, the turquoise lakes, the fields of alpine flowers… it just goes on and on.

Whether you opt for a luxurious stay in Switzerland or try to experience the country on a budget, the best part is that many of the most stunning views in Switzerland are completely free!

[woman on a train] - best places to visit in Switzerland

I used an 8-day Swiss Travel Pass to explore some of the best places to visit in Switzerland, all by train.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the most beautiful places in Switzerland to help you plan the best stops for sightseeing in Switzerland by train.

Rather than just give the usual Switzerland tourist spots, I’ve tried to show a handful of small town Switzerland highlights, plus popular cities like Zürich and Geneva.

Using my Swiss Travel Pass, I was able to take the Schynige Platte belle-époque railway, the steamboat across Lake Lucerne, the steepest cogwheel railway in the world up to Mt. Pilatus, and handfuls of scenic cable cars – all included in my ticket price.

train to schnyige platte

I also used the rail pass to get a discount on the Gornergrat in Zermatt to see the gorgeous Matterhorn up close.

The Swiss Travel Pass offers a variety of different passes for different budgets and trip durations. Check out pricing & details about the Swiss Travel Pass here!

Starting at around $239 USD for a 3 consecutive day 2nd class pass, there are also 4, 6, 8, and 15 day passes, offering more value the longer you stay. You can also upgrade to 1st class tickets if you want a slightly more luxe experience.

Traveling as a family? Kids under 16 travel for free with their parent or guardian, and youth aged 16-25 get to ride at a significant discount.

Check all the different options and prices for Swiss Travel Pass here!

[mountains and fields and blue sky] - off the beaten path Switzerland

This guide will cover a variety of the most beautiful places in Switzerland.

If you want to see how to organize all these places into a logical itinerary, I’ve done the work for you and created a 10-day Switzerland itinerary!

That itinerary incorporates as many of the places on this list as I could while still not traveling at a breakneck pace so you can still enjoy your vacation.

In that post, I include recommendations as well for what to do if you have more or fewer days.

Wondering where to go in Switzerland? I’ve got you covered below, with several recommended stops for your Switzerland itinerary plus accommodation and activity recommendations.

My Top 11 Best Places to Visit in Switzerland

Montreux and Lac Leman

orange flowers and blue lake in Montreux with mountains in the distance on a sunny day in switzerland in summer

Montreux is a normally quiet town on Lac Leman near Geneva that pops off for two weeks each year when the Jazz Festival (and 200,000+ visitors!) come to town.

Try to line up your time in Montreux with the Jazz Festival, when tons of musical acts (not just jazz) come to town and street food is available all up and down the main lakeside promenade.

Or you can grab some food from the local Coop, take advantage of the open container laws, and have a lakeside picnic while buskers entertain you before the main acts at night.

While Montreux is at its liveliest during the Jazz Festival, its Christmas Market season is a close runner-up, as Montreux is a popular Swiss winter destination!

What to Do in Montreux

rainbow colored sign that reads montreux jazz fest

Montreux is at its best during its yearly Jazz Fest. But your timing doesn’t line up, there’s still plenty to do in Montreux to experience one of the most beautiful places in Switzerland to its fullest.

Montreux is home to the stunning island Chateau de Chillon, a castle that dates back to the 11th century and which has been marvelously kept up over the centuries.

It’s certainly one of the most scenic places in Switzerland with stunning lake and mountain views framing the turrets of the castle.

Entrance is 12.50 CHF (about $13) but the entrance fee is included with your Swiss Travel Pass if you have one.

If you aren’t using a Swiss Travel Pass, but paying for each train individually without a pass, you can pre-book your castle entrance ticket here and skip the line.

Of course, the Lake Promenade (which you can take to walk to the castle) is absolutely stunning and definitely worth dedicating some time to enjoying.

The nearby Chaplin’s World is also a popular Montreux attraction. Charlie Chaplin, like many other celebrities, spent many years of his life enjoying Montreux and as a result you can enjoy a museum in his former home.

Day Trips and Tours from Montreux

Glacier 3000: A tour to the Glacier 3000 is one of the most loved day trips from Montreux. You start in the cute mountain village of Les Diablerets, where you can take a cable car up to a glacier.

At the glacier, there is a cool suspension bridge that connects two mountains, giving you impressive views of 20+ peaks over 4,000 meters — including the Matterhorn on a clear day. You can see snow even in the middle of summer here!

This is the most popular day trip from Montreux, so be sure to book in advance! Check prices, ratings, and availability of the tour here

Rochers de Naye: If time (and weather) permits, you can also take the scenic train up to Rochers de Naye for an aerial lake view.

Normally 70 CHF, if you have a Swiss Travel Pass you can make the journey for a much better 26 CHF roundtrip, as the first leg of the trip is included and you get a 50% discount on the second part of the trip.

Lausanne: A side trip to nearby Lausanne is a popular option for travelers staying in Montreux.

Lausanne is famous for its excellent Olympic Museum, the historic Old Town centered around Place de la Palud, and its gorgeous traditional architecture.

You can take the train to Lausanne in just a few minutes from Montreux – it’s quite fast and inexpensive by Swiss standards.

[castle on a lake edge - one of the most scenic places to visit in Switzerland]

Where to Stay in Montreux

Budget: There’s only one hostel in town that I’m aware of, and that’s where I stayed (I was on a tight budget during my entire time in Switzerland).

I stayed at the Montreux Youthhostel. It includes breakfast– an excellent value in pricy Switzerland! Keep in mind their late 4 PM check in, which is common throughout Switzerland.

>> Check rates and current availability here.

Mid-Range: If you’re on a bit of a budget, Le Coucou Hotel has excellent prices, a breathtaking view, and a well-reviewed restaurant.

It is a bit from Montreux proper, though it is close to a different train station (Haut-de-Caux).

>> Check lowest rates and availability here.

Luxury: A favorite of celebrities like the late Freddie Mercury, it’s not surprising that Montreux offers no shortage of luxury options.

The best balance of luxury to price ration is Fairmont Le Montreux Palace. I mean, just look at that building façade — it’s basically the architectural equivalent of the heart-eyes emoji.

>> Check lowest rates and availability here.

Geneva

Geneva is one of the most common arrival airports for travelers visiting Switzerland, so there’s a good chance that you’ll be at the very least transiting via Geneva at some point during your Switzerland itinerary.

Located right on Lac Leman, despite its large size, Geneva is still one of the most beautiful places in Switzerland!

Geneva is also great for chocolate lovers – you’ll find chocolatiers all over the city, as well as plenty of tours themed around sampling the best Swiss chocolate you can find.

Besides that, Geneva is known for its museums, its delicious fondue, and its stunning lake and mountain views.

Things to Do in Geneva

view of geneva and jet d'eau

The best way to explore Geneva is by foot. Walk around the historic city and marvel at all the beautiful buildings and all the watches you’ll never be able to afford.

Definitely stop into some of the different chocolate shops and sample some of Switzerland’s finest!

A common must-see on Geneva itineraries is the Jet D’Eau, a massive water fountain shooting water up a massive 140 meters in the air on Lake Geneva — it’s especially beautiful at night when it’s all lit up.

swiss flag on the lake with the jet in the water

The Palace of Nations, home to a huge branch of the United Nations, is also quite popular to visit when in Geneva.

Geneva is also famous for having a ton of unique museums. The Musée Ariana is great for glass and ceramics lovers, whereas those interested in history will appreciate the Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum

I recommend using Geneva Pass to save money if you plan on seeing a few museums and attractions as the savings will quickly add up.

If spending a few days in Geneva, the pass will be well-worth it, with admission to over 40 attractions plus included public transit. Click to prebook your Geneva Pass and pick it up when you arrive in Geneva.

Aside from museums, don’t miss a steamboat ride on Lake Geneva, or visiting some of the vineyards of Lavaux (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) nearby!

Day Trips and Tours from Geneva

Gruyeres: If you want the whole Swiss bucket list in one go — trains,  mountains, chocolate, and cheese — you can’t miss a full-day tour to Gruyères – yes, that Gruyères!

You’ll learn about chocolate making, meet Swiss cows, see how cheese is made in Switzerland, indulge in fondue, and get to ride the Golden Express, one of Switzerland’s most famous trains.

Want the full experience with a ride on the Golden Express? Be sure to book in advance – it’s #1 on many people’s Swiss bucket lists. Book in advance here to not miss your spot!

Money-Saving Tip: For a cheaper option that doesn’t include the train, you can book just a tour of the chocolate and cheese factories here.

Glacier 3000: This is far and away the most popular day trip from Geneva! Similar to the tour from Montreux, the tour takes you to the picturesque village of Les Diablerets.

It then sweeps you up a 3,000-meter high glacier where you can embark on the Peak Walk, a stunning suspension bridge that brings together two peaks, over 4,000 meters high.

If traveling in summer, there’s also a toboggan run which kids (and the young at heart!) will adore! It also includes a stop in Montreux on the way back.

Check prices, ratings, and availability of the tour here.

Steamboat on Lac Léman: A traditional steamboat ride on Lake Geneva (also called Lac Léman) is one of the most popular things to do in Geneva.

You can combine it with a city tour or if you have the Swiss Travel Pass it should be included on your ticket.

Book your steamboat ride on Lac Léman (plus a bonus city tour) today!

France! If you’re keen to visit a bit of France, Geneva is also extremely close to Chamonix which is at the foot of Mont Blanc as well as the fairytale town of Annecy (especially magical in winter!).

Both can be done as day trips from Geneva. There are very affordable half-day tours to Annecy (pictured below!) and slightly more expensive full-day trips to Chamonix (a great destination in summer as well as winter!) as well.

Check out affordable half-day tours to Annecy or full-day trips to Chamonix and Mont Blanc

flowers, like red and white poppies, in front of a building in the middle of a canal on a sunny day in annecy, france, a beautiful fairytale village

Lavaux: Love wine tasting? You’ll love Swiss wines and these UNESCO-listed vineyards. The Swiss like to say that Swiss wine is too delicious to export, and they drink it all at home in Switzerland!

I have to agree — Swiss wines are especially tasty, similar to German or Austrian wines but with a terroir all of their own. This affordable tour visits Lavaux — and several other sites around the lake — with a group.

Where to Stay in Geneva

Budget: I flew into in Geneva and made my way over to Montreux for the night, so I haven’t stayed in any Geneva hostels personally.

The best-reviewed hostel that several of my friends have stayed in is Geneva Hostel, which is no frills but quite affordable for pricy Switzerland.

It has spacious lockers, friendly staff, breakfast included, and best of all, it comes with a free travel card which will definitely help you save some money in pricy Geneva.

>> Check hostel availability and prices here.

Mid-range: Geneva has a decent selection of mid-range offerings. I’m a big fan of ibis hotels because they’re always clean, reliable, private, and inexpensive.

They don’t have the most personality, but sometimes you just want a clean, private room to rest your head in. There are several branches of ibis in Geneva, but ibis budget Petit-Lancy is the most affordable.

Like Geneva Hostel, it also includes a free travel card, which means that even though you’re located a bit outside the center you can get into the heart of the city easily without spending a dime.

>> Check lowest prices and availability here.

Luxury: The Mövenpick is one of my most trusted luxury hotel brands, and the one in Geneva is well-reviewed and not absurdly expensive (for a luxury option in Switzerland, that is)

>> Check best prices and availability here.

Another option, Hotel de la Cigogne is an excellent 5-star hotel, but it’s priced to match. Still, it may be worth it for the central location, luxury amenities, and artist-inspired décor.

>> Check availability and prices online.

Lauterbrunnen Valley and surrounding towns

[brown house with red shutters in a valley] Lauterbrunnen is one of the most scenic places in Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen is an adorable, typically Swiss town nestled in a mountain valley famed for being home to 72 waterfalls — two of which are prominently but casually hanging out in the center of town like it’s no big deal.

It’s definitely one of the top must-visit places in Switzerland with super traditional architecture and flower boxes.

Just 20 minutes from Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen is an oasis of calm with tons of opportunities for hiking if you’re feeling tame and all sorts of adventure activities if you’re keen to get your adrenaline pumping.

There’s tons of things to do in Switzerland in the summer and Lauterbrunnen is one of the best bases to experience it from!

It’s also one of the more affordable towns in Switzerland, with plenty of affordable accommodations choices, so it’s a popular choice for those backpacking Switzerland.

[pile of wood in a shed with flowers]

Things to Do in Lauterbrunnen

If you’re a fan of waterfalls, you’ll be in heaven here: Lauterbrunnen is the best place to go in Switzerland for waterfall chasing, as there are some 72 of them in Lauterbrunnen Valley alone.

There are countless hikes to embark on and other adventurous things to do in Lauterbrunnen to keep you busy for days.

Be sure to take the cable car and scenic train up to Mürren via Winteregg for stunning mountain and valley views — complete with lots of Swiss cows (and cowbells!).

Afterward, you can either hike down to Gimmelwald or take a cable car. When in Gimmelwald be sure to check out the Honesty Shop — Europe’s first village store based entirely on trust.

No shopkeepers or cameras — just trust, and it works perfectly. For this jaded New Yorker, it was actually a bit of an emotional experience to see this shop in action.

[storefront with wheelbarrow reading 'the honesty shop'] in Gimmelwald, one of the best places to visit in Switerland

Finally, be sure to check out the insanely powerful Trümmelbach Falls in between Lauterbrunnen and Stechelberg.

It’s a series of 10 glacial waterfalls which tumble INSIDE of a mountain, which has been carved out by both nature and man so you can see the insane power of the melting glacial water at work.

This is no dainty, Instagrammable waterfall — it’s sheer force and power, and an absolute sight to behold.

[waterfall from above]

If you’re keen to get your adrenaline pumping, there are several adventurous things you can do in Lauterbrunnen.

Common options include helicopter flights, paragliding, and skydiving, though of course — none of these activities come cheap!

If you’re on a budget, stick to hikes and exploring the cable cars and scenic trains in the region.

There are also more expensive scenic trains such as to Jungfraujoch (the “Top of Europe”) and Schilthorn (where James Bond was filmed) if you’re keen to get some height without the adrenaline rush, but it won’t come cheaply!

Where to Stay in Lauterbrunnen

[hotel with snowy mountains in the background] one of the most scenic parts of Switzerland

Budget: There are plenty of hostels in Lauterbrunnen. Even though Switzerland is expensive, I think Lauterbrunnen is one of the best towns to visit in Switzerland if you’re on a budget.

I stayed at Schutzenbach Backpackers and it was the cheapest hostel I stayed at during my entire time in Switzerland.

It had an amazing location and everything was comfortable, but there were some weird quirks (like you had to pay for hot water by the minute and pay for using the electric burners!) that I found annoying. It’s a short walk out of town (20 minutes) but you can also take a bus.

>> Check reviews and availability here.

Mid-range: If you have a medium budget, Hotel Staubbach is your best bet. It has great waterfall views and a super convenient location.

It’s cozy, but not ultra-luxurious. You could also stay in Mürren, Gimmelwald, or one of the other cute mountain towns in the area!

>> Check lowest prices and availability here.

Luxury: For those with money to spare, Hotel Silberhorn is one of the nicest hotels in town. They have a beautiful sun terrace with an amazing panoramic view of the Jungfrau mountains and an Alpine-style restaurant. Check prices, reviews, and availability here.

Interlaken

Interlaken is between two lakes (hence the name), Lake Brienz and Lake Thun. Both are stunning, but Lake Brienz is a particular charmer, the same color turquoise as Insta-famous Lake Louise.

Interlaken is commonly known as the adventure sports capital of Switzerland. Here, you’ll find activities such as paragliding and skydiving offered everywhere – though of course, being Switzerland, the prices are on the high side!

What to Do in Interlaken

As Interlaken is a mecca for adventure lovers, you really should try to save room in your budget for at least one adventurous splurge.

Whether that’s paragliding over the twin lakes of Thun and Brienz, taking a speedboat through one of the beautiful lakes, or even skydiving over one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland, there’s a lot to do in Interlaken that will get your heart racing.

The bravest amongst us can try their hand at paragliding over the twin lakes – one of the best views of Switzerland, which I can attest.

Admittedly, I was only brave enough to see it on my own two feet at the peak of Schynige Platte (anxiety and heights don’t mix!)

If you’re going to paraglide, ensure you’re going with a reputable company that has a good track record. Flying over the mountains with only another person and a parachute is not a place to pinch a penny!

I would recommend this paragliding experience, which won the Best Adrenaline Rush from GetYourGuide in 2019!

Book your paragliding experience with a trusted, award-winning company here!

If you prefer a different kind of adrenaline rush, you can try river rafting down the nearby Lütschine River as well.

But if you keep your feet on the ground, or if you are working with a tight budget, don’t worry – there are still plenty of other worthwhile things to see in Interlaken.

Indulge your sweet tooth at the Funky Chocolate Club, take the funicular 10 minutes up to the top of Harder Kulm for an epic view, or rent a kayak or paddleboard on Lake Brienz (or Thun, for that matter, but in my opinion, Brienz is way prettier).

Friendly Reminder: Whether you are doing crazy things like skydiving or having a more low-adrenaline trip, don't forget to buy travel insurance! I actually got insanely sick with a terrible summer flu in Switzerland and almost needed to visit a hospital - something that, had I not had insurance, likely would have cost me a fortune. I use World Nomads to cover me from anything from everything from trip cancellation to illness to injury on the road.

Day Trips and Tours from Interlaken

person at the top of jungfraujoch celebrating with their arms in the air

Jungfraujoch: This is the most popular day trip from Interlaken and with good reason: it’s the highest train station in all of Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Called “The Top of Europe,” this impressive superlative has great viewing areas, an ice palace that you can hang out in (even in the summer), and stunning views of the Jungfrau region and its famous mountains.

It’s not a cheap tour – check out prices here – but it’s on the top of many people’s Swiss bucket lists for good reason.

This tour is incredibly popular in summer, so book in advance here!

Castles: Interlaken is near several beautiful castles!

Check out the spectacular Thun Castle, or see the even more beautiful Oberhofen Castle on the edge of gorgeous Lake Thun.

red train making its way up the mountain with a view of one of interlaken's two lakes below

Schynige Platte: This is one of the best day trips in all of Switzerland and where you’ll get the most spectacular views of Interlaken. Better yet, if you have a Swiss Travel Pass then it is already included in your ticket price.

If you’re on a budget, I would recommend this over the Jungfraujoch train. The views are less impressive, but it’s entirely free with a pass! I’ll go into this in more detail below.

Where to Stay in Interlaken

Budget: Backpackers, rejoice! Interlaken is one of the most affordable cities in all of Switzerland. I’d recommend spending a little more time here if you’re on a budget.

There are several hostel options (unlike in other Swiss towns and cities, where the options are minimal). One of the cheapest and best-reviewed is Balmers Backpackers Hostel, and since it comes with free breakfast, it’s really a great deal for Switzerland!

>> Book in advance here as hostels in Switzerland often fill up early.

Mid-range: Switzerland doesn’t have a ton of boutique hotels – more often, you’ll choose between guesthouses and fancy chain hotels – but B3 Boutique Bed & Breakfast looks like a real charmer.

It’s a touch outside of central Interlaken in a town called Gsteigwiler, but for the great price and rave reviews, it’s a great choice in Interlaken.

>> Check availability and reviews here.

Luxury: The Royal St. James is a Sofitel property, a chain of hotels I trust.

It’s a gorgeous building with a great location, spa and sauna, and raved-over breakfasts. I think it’s one of the best luxury options in Interlaken.

>> Check prices and availability here.

Schynige Platte

allison with flowers in her hair, head tilted down, on the top of the mountains with snow-capped peaks visible covered in clouds in the distance

Wondering where to visit in Switzerland for the most sweepingly epic views? You can’t miss Schynige Platte and its views over the twin lakes of Interlaken.

When staying in Lauterbrunnen or nearby Interlaken, you simply must take a day trip using the scenic train up to Schynige Platte alpine garden departing from Wilderwil, one of the best train journeys in Europe.

The scenic railway will take you up a hill to incredible views of Lake Thun and the even more stunning turquoise Lake Brienz.

You end at the top of a mountain with views of the three of the tallest peaks in the Jungfrau region – Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau.

The three mountains on one side; the lakes on the other… is this any wonder it’s one of the most scenic places in Switzerland?

allison atop a mountain at schynigge platte with beautiful views of a lake behind her

Up at the top, you can enjoy a ton of different hiking trails of mild to moderate difficulty.

There’s a kiosk selling surprisingly affordably priced coffee, wine, and beer, as well as a restaurant if you really feel like splashing out and getting fancy.

But still, you’ll enjoy relative peace and quiet, as this scenic train in Switzerland is not super well known, making it one of off the beaten path Switzerland’s best-hidden gems.

The best part? A return trip to Schynige Platte is 100% included on your Swiss Travel Pass, making it one of the best places to visit in Switzerland in the summer.

Where to Stay for Schynige Platte

This is easy to do as a day trip from Lauterbrunnen, which I recommend, though you could also check out hostels and hotels in Interlaken if you want a bit more of a city feel than a small town vibe.

Check out check out hotel and hostel prices and availability in Interlaken if you prefer to stay in a hotel or guesthouse in one of the prettiest places in Switzerland.

Lucerne & Mt. Pilatus

view of lake lucerne from the top of mt pilatus

Lucerne is one of the best cities in Switzerland for proximity to mountain views!

Probably one of the most fun days I had in Switzerland was the day I took the steamer boat across Lake Lucerne to Alpnachstad, then the cogwheel railway up to Mount Pilatus at 2073 meters above sea level.

The cogwheel railway up to Mount Pilatus is literally the steepest in the world, with a staggering gradient of 48% incline!

The views at the top are spectacular, definitely one of the things you must see in Switzerland.

You can get some stunning views over Lake Lucerne from the top of Pilatus, do some hikes through alpine flowers, see the adorable mountain ibexes who call it home…. then go back down to Lucerne via cable car and bus.

Four distinctly different modes of transit in one day, all included on a travel pass — all running with insane efficiency.

Switzerland, you make my anxious heart very, very happy.

What to Do in Lucerne

covered bridge with red flowers in bloom on the outside of the bridge, with city behind it

Lucerne is a lovely, walkable town, and there’s plenty of things to see and do in Lucerne. You definitely have to enjoy a river cruise on one of the old-fashioned steamer.

It’s also quite close to Mount Rigi and Mount Pilatus, both of which offer excellent views and hiking opportunities.

I chose Mount Pilatus, but I wish I had time for Rigi, too! These are included if you have a Swiss Travel Pass, or you can purchase tickets a la carte if you’re not using a pass.

There is also the Lion Statue of Lucerne which is…. not very exciting, to be honest.

Kapellbrücke, however, is definitely worth the hype. This covered bridge dates back to the 14th century and it is absolutely gorgeous.

It’s usually crowded during the day so if you want the best photos I recommend getting an early start.

boat on lake lucerne with red flag with plus sign on in (swiss flag)

Finally, a cruise on Lake Lucerne is a must!

You can skip this if you are doing the trip to Mount Pilatus, as it’s included in the excursion.

But if you aren’t planning to go there, a panoramic yacht cruise is an essential (and surprisingly affordable) thing to do in Lucerne!

Book yours online here!

Day Trips and Tours from Lucerne

views from the top of mt pilatus with the lake in the background

Mount Pilatus: This is the classic day trip option from Lucerne. It’s included with a Swiss Travel Pass or you can purchase a day trip a la carte here.

This self-guided tour takes you across Lake Lucerne on a steamboat, ascends via the world’s steepest cogwheel railroad, then you descend using a cable car (and finish your trip back to Lucerne by a short bus ride).

You can experience the awesome efficiency of Swiss transport in 4 different forms on this tour, with gorgeous views on all of them (well, I guess the bus is less spectacular).

Book the self-guided day trip if you don’t have a travel pass!

Jungfraujoch: The highest point of Europe reachable by train, visiting the mountain station of Jungfraujoch is also available as a day trip from Lucerne if you don’t have plans to make it to Interlaken.

It is a little further, though, so I’d only pick visiting Jungfraujoch from Lucerne if my itinerary totally skipped Interlaken/Lauterbrunnen.

Book the day trip to Jungfraujoch here!

Titlis: For a nearer (and cheaper) day trip option if you’d like to see a glacier up close, Titlis is incredible!

The coolest thing about visiting Titlis is that you get to ascend to the glacier in a beautiful cable car, seeing a glacier from a totally different perspective than the typical train experience you’ll get used to after some time in Switzerland.

Check prices and tour reviews here!

Where to Stay in Lucerne

Budget: I stayed at Lion Lodge when in Lucerne. It’s okay and friendly to the wallet, but nothing that great. I’d stay somewhere else next time.

If you’re undeterred, you can check prices and availability here.

Mid-range: Had I not been traveling on such a strict budget, I likely would have opted for the ibis Lucerne. Ibis hotels are clean, affordable, and pretty inoffensive — but they’re not exactly luxurious.

Still, if you want privacy and cleanliness, ibis is reliable. Just be aware it’s about a kilometer’s walk from town, though Lucerne is pretty well connected when it comes to public transport.

>> Check prices and availability here.

Luxury: If you want the best of the best, Hotel Schweizerhof can’t be beaten. It’s beautiful — just look at the front of that building all lit up at night! — with an amazing lake view, a Finnish sauna, a bio sauna (whatever that is), and a spa.

One cool quirk about the hotel is that each room is furnished to represent the personal style of a famous person who has stayed at the hotel in the past, making it a super unique place to visit in Switzerland.

>> Check the prices and availability here.

Zürich

the city of zurich with bridges, a beautiful river, and lots of gorgeous buildings and churches

I didn’t spend too much time in Zürich, but the little time I did spend there was gorgeous!

Zürich spans the beautiful Limmat River, which makes all the old architecture even more beautiful.

Zürich is also the most cosmopolitan city in Switzerland, so this is where you’ll find a lot of different international cuisines in case you’re starting to tire of fondue (yes, anything is possible!).

Zürich is also one of the major entry points to Switzerland, so if you find yourself transiting through the city, you’ll likely want to give yourself at least a day to explore the city before getting out and seeing more.

What to Do in Zürich

steeple and spire of a church in zurich on a sunny summer day

There’s plenty to do in Zürich proper!

You can choose from exploring the beautiful churches of Grossmünster and Fraumünster, taking a walking tour of the Old Town, strolling down the luxurious shopping street of Bahnhofstrasse, or perusing some of the country’s best museums at a discount using a Zürich Pass.

Note: The Zürich Pass is a good option if you have at least 24 hours in the city planned. It’s inexpensive, covers museums and other sights you’d want to see, and covers public transit as well. Pre-book yours here!

However, if you have limited time in Zürich, I recommend this 4-hour tour which includes a ferry ride, a cable car, and coach tour of the city: you will cover the most ground and get the best views this way!

It’s a quick and easy way to make the most of your time there.

Book the 4-hour tour here!

For something a bit different: foodies can taste traditional Swiss chocolate at Maestrani’s or take a culinary walking tour of the city.

Those who like to hang out with the locals should not miss Frau Gerolds Garten.

This urban gardening project features container bars with craft beers, small boutiques, and wall murals – it’s pretty cool!

As the biggest city in Switzerland and the entry point for many travelers, Zürich is a great place to base yourself while doing day trips to beautiful lakes and mountains in the Swiss countryside.

Bernese Oberland is nearby, as well as beautiful Lake Constanz.

Day Trips and Tours from Zürich

peaks covered in snow at mt titlis in switzerland, one of the best day trips you can take from zurich or lucerne

Mount Titlis: I mentioned it above for a day trip from Lucerne, but it is also a very popular option to do a day trip from Zürich to this beautiful glacier via cable car.

This trip is beloved by fellow travelers, with over 700 5-star reviews. Read the itinerary and book it here!

Jungfraujoch: Also available from Interlaken and Lucerne, you can also make this day trip from Zürich. Check it out here!

rhine falls - a large waterfall with a town in the background, one of the most beautiful places in switzerland

Rhine Falls: This is one of the most popular day trips from Zürich. It’s been called Europe’s biggest waterfall – but that’s more for the sheer power of its rushing water than more impressive factors like width or height.

It’s still incredibly beautiful and an absolute force of nature. You can also see the beautiful town of Stein am Rhein, one of Switzerland’s most gorgeous small towns

Shop tours to Rhine Falls here

Liechtenstein: You can take a day trip to Liechtenstein, one of Europe’s smallest countries, if you are a country counter or just want to see some more beautiful mountains!

Take the train from Zürich to the Swiss border town Sargans. From there, you can catch bus #11 to Vaduz, the tiny mountainous capital of Liechtenstein. No guided tours are available, but it’s easy enough to do independently.

Grindelwald & Interlaken: No time for a proper stop in Interlaken on your Switzerland trip?

Luckily, a day trip to beautiful Bernese Oberland is ultra-easy. Check out this tour here.

Where to Stay in Zürich

Budget: Zürich is one of the most expensive cities in the world, and the hostel prices match that.

City Backpacker Biber is the best combination of low-ish prices and good reviews, and with a central location, you’ll save on transport costs which are no small matter in Switzerland.

>> Check prices and availability here.

Mid-range: If you can afford to upgrade to mid-range, this is where Zürich really shines.

The Motel One Zürich, despite the humble name, is one of the most gorgeous and conveniently located hotels in the city.

The design is gorgeous and trendy, the staff friendly, impeccably clean, and it’s located only a 10-minute walk from the central train station.

>> Check prices and availability here.

Luxury: Of course, this being Switzerland, plenty of luxury options abound for travelers with deep pockets.

The Park Hyatt is probably the nicest hotel in the city, but costs approximately one kidney to book. I stayed at a Park Hyatt during a winter trip to Vienna with family once, and it was incredible!

A luxe but more affordable option would be the Hotel Schweizerhof Zürich, which certainly isn’t cheap but is about half the price of staying at the Park Hyatt.

>> Check lowest prices and availability here.

Zermatt and the Gornergrat

top of the matterhorn hidden behind treetops

There’s a reason why Zermatt is one of the best places to visit in Switzerland.

It’s rightfully famous for the glimpse of the Matterhorn’s famous silhouette which you can see from certain angles within the town.

On a sunny day, the peak is clearly visible – other days, the Matterhorn shrouds herself in clouds, which makes sighting her even more majestic when it finally happens.

What to Do in Zermatt

allison smiling atop a mountain

When you have a good weather day, it’s definitely worth it to go up to the Gornergrat station on the scenic railway.

I took three mountain railways while in Switzerland and the Gornergrat was definitely the most awe-inspiring.

As in, I almost wanted to weep when I saw the Matterhorn peeking from behind the clouds on my last day in Zermatt!

The Gornergat is not 100% included with the Swiss Travel Pass, but you’ll get a 50% reduction on the return ticket price of 94 CHF (for a total cost of 47 CHF, an insanely good deal for Switzerland).

[train at top of mountain] a beautiful place in Switzerland!

If you don’t have the Swiss Travel Pass, you’ll need to buy it individually. I strongly recommend buying online in advance to avoid the massive crowds at Gornergrat station.

After all, this is the picture-perfect Matterhorn viewpoint in the Instagram age, and it is crowded.

Be sure to stop at Rotenboden for stunning views of one of the many alpine lakes dotting the region — if you’re lucky, you may get a glimpse of the Matterhorn hanging out reflected in the Riffelsee.

lake in the mountains of switzerland with a few people, clouds sweeping int he mountains

Unfortunately, as you can see, it was rather cloudy when I went up to Gornergrat, so my views weren’t quite as good as they could be.

Check the forecast (or just look at the Matterhorn to see if you can see it!) before purchasing your tickets.

While looking at the Matterhorn from afar is great, hiking it is reserved only for serious alpinists.

Hike in the Gornergrat area instead if you are a casual hiker and not a serious mountaineer.

view of matterhorn glacier paradise in switzerland with stunning mountain views everywhere you look

Another option — a newer one that wasn’t available on my trip to Switzerland — is taking a cable car up to Matterhorn Glacier Paradise!

This experience includes a stunning cable car ride which will bring you to the Matterhorn Glacier Paradise area, where you can check out a glacier palace and admire stunning views at 3,883 meters (12,740 feet).

It’s the highest mountain station in Europe (Jungfraujoch is the highest mountain station by train).

Reserve your Matterhorn Glacier Paradise tickets here!

Where to Stay in Zermatt

Budget: As one of the more popular touristic places to visit in Switzerland, Zermatt has a wide range of options, but they go quickly.

I enjoyed my stay at Matterhorn Hostel and thought the price was really good for Switzerland!

>> Book in advance here.

Mid-range: A surprisingly good value is ARCA Solebad Wellness & Spa. It’s right by the center train station and, as the name suggests, is home to an excellent spa!

It also has a salted heated swimming pool, steam bath, and sauna for the full-on relaxation experience.

>> Check prices and availability here.

Luxury: One of the most romantic and beautiful hotels in all of Zermatt is Romantik Hotel Julen Superior.

The outside of the building couldn’t be any more adorably Swiss, with wood design and flower boxes everywhere. I also really loved the warm, wood interiors and amazing detailing.

Plus, the location can’t be beat — after all, Matterhorn views are never far away.

>> Check prices, ratings, and availability here.

Nendaz and the Valais region

[mountain biking]

The Valais region is famed for its wines, cheeses, and mountains — literally three of my favorite things.

Virtually everywhere in the Valais is stunning, but the beautiful mountain town of Nendaz is a fantastic place to enjoy scenic mountain views and traditional Valaisianne cuisine and culture.

What to Do in Nendaz

allison looking out the window as a cable car ascends the mountain

Nendaz is a ski resort town, but surprisingly, there is so much to do in the summer! I suggest trying to go when the summer alphorn festival is happening – it’s a great cultural experience and the music is lovely, especially with those Swiss Alp views!

Otherwise, you can swim in one of the world’s most beautiful public pools, take the cable car up to Tracouet for some beautiful hikes, relax in the spa at 4 Vallées with a day pass, taste lots of fondue, or even go mountain biking!

I spent an entire week in Nendaz and you’re welcome to read all about it here if you want more detailed recommendations!

Where to Stay in Nendaz

allison in front of a church in the nendaz region

Budget: Nendaz is super small and there’s really not much in the way of budget accommodation — certainly no hostels! I’d recommend doing an apartment rental if you’re on a budget.

Mid-range: Your best bet if you are trying not to spend too much is to try to find an apartmental rental on Booking.com or to check out Airbnb.

Luxury: One of the best ways to enjoy the mountains is to book a luxury chalet rental in Switzerland.

If you prefer a hotel, I visited the spa at Nendaz 4 Vallées & Spa and holy heck guys it was AMAZING.

They have a ridiculous number of saunas and steam rooms, an ice room, indoor and outdoor pools, a salt/floating pool… and probably so much more that I’ve already forgotten.

Even if you don’t stay here, I recommend visiting their spa on a day pass!

>> Check out reviews, availability, and prices here.

More Beautiful Places to Visit in Switzerland

mountains of murren swtizerland in the jungfrau region

Above sums up my 11 favorite spots in Switzerland that I visited in my one week there… however, there is so much more to Switzerland than just that!

I tapped a few travel blogger colleagues to let me know their favorite parts of Switzerland, to share it with you. Here are a few of their top picks!

Ascona

water of lake maggiore in switzerland where ascona a beautiful swiss village is located

Written by Zoe from Together In Switzerland

For a pretty village to visit in Switzerland, find yourself walking the cobblestoned streets of Ascona!

This picturesque Southern Switzerland village is perfect place for exploring in the warm sunshine.

It’s easy to reach with either a car or public transportation, with at least a day needed to enjoy the village best. 

Ascona is very scenic with lots to see and do, situated along the waterside of Lake Maggiore and close to the surrounding mountains.

The view along from the promenade is gorgeous to sit and relax with.

There are many restaurants here, all ideal for sitting outside under the summer parasols for a bite to eat or a fresh cold drink.

They all have an Italian style and dishes, being so close to the border of Italy.

While looking out to the lake, you can spot many local and touristic boats.

These boats often visit the Island of Brissago, a stunning botanical garden situated on the island not far from the shore. It’s open daily during the April to November season.  

a downtown scene in the lakeside village of ascona with pedestrian street and cafes along the street


When not eating, drinking or enjoying the lake side, find yourself walking the streets of the village.

There are lots of boutiques with clothing and local souvenirs to enjoy!

There is also a famously known ‘swing of the world’ that you can swing on at for photos with a pretty mountain and lake background. 

Ascona is small enough to explore easily in a day, but spending more time in Ascona will allow you to take in the summer social aspect of the village.

Where to Stay in Ascona

For a beautiful 5 star hotel recommendation, the Parkhotel Delta Wellbeing Resort is well worth a stay at for at least a night.

Alternately, for a more homely feeling at a 3 star hotel, Antica Posta is just as nice, just with fewer amenities.

Gruyères

people walking around the medieval village of gruyeres switzerland which is famous for its cheese

Contributed by Jolene from Wanderlust Storytellers

Gruyères is a medieval village located two and a half hours by train outside of Geneva.

Once you reach this charming village you will instantly fall in love with its charm and quaint architecture as you feel you have landed in a fairytale.

Although Gruyères is not known for its nightlife, it has so much to offer during the day which makes this small, cobblestone village a must see and great for a day trip from Geneva.

If you are a lover of cheese, then Gruyères is your heaven as this charming village is known for its cheese that is used in many delicious dishes around the world!

Make sure to try the village specialty dish, known as Moitie-Moitie (fondue), which is a dish made with the popular Gruyères and Vacherin cheeses – it is simply divine and to die for.

stretchy, pully, gooey fondue cheese with skewers, bread, and white wine

Not only can you enjoy eating the local cheese, but you can visit the Gruyères Cheese Factory to see exactly how they make the cheese.

Before indulging in the speciality dish, be sure to walk through the village along the cobblestone streets to do a little shopping.

The village boasts many boutiques with a variety of local village crafts, specialty dishes and unique souvenirs on sale.

Do not miss visiting the Medieval Gruyères Castle as the views of the surrounding hills from the castle are to die for!

When you are done visiting this gorgeous village, make a small detour to the town of Broc where you can visit the Cailler Chocolate factory.

Where to Stay in Gruyères

If you spend a day or two in Gruyères, book a room at the Boutique Hotel Alpenrose, a luxurious hotel with balconies giving you superb views of the mountains about 45 minutes outside of town.

Alternately, another good option is the Hotel de Ville which is located in the village center. This hotel is a chalet building with rooms that still retain traditional wooden features.

Lugano

wildflowers with a view of the lake in the distance in southern switzerland italian canton of ticino

Contributed by Daria of the Discovery Nut

The largest city in the canton of Ticino, Lugano is a gateway to some of the best things art and culture.

Lugano is also a great starting point for your adventures, as you can take a drive or catch public transportation to many scenic places in the area.

While Lugano is a small city, it has plenty of things to do. 

Take a stroll in Parco Cívico along the shores of Lake Lugano; stop at Museo d’Arte della Svizzera that is home to artworks of Swiss-Italian artists or make your way to Piazza della Riforma, Lugano’s central square.

For the epic view of the area, make your way to the top of Monte Bre, the best spot in Lugano for enjoying the panorama of the city.

If you are in good shape, hike to the top of Monte Generoso that offers spectacular views of the entire area and even the snow-powdered Alps in the distance.

the beautiful lake lugano in southern switzerland with marina, city in background on lake shore

Some of the most popular day trips from Lugano are Valley Verzasca, home to Ponte dei Salti, a stone bridge that spans over the turquoise waters of the Verzasca River; and the famous Verzasca Dam, that was featured in one of the James Bond movies.

You can actually try bungee jumping, if you want to get a good dose of adrenaline and see what the movie stunt was all about. 

Another popular day trip from Lugano is Valley Maggia home to the only German-speaking village in the canton of Ticino – Bosco Gurin.

Carved by the glacier, Valley Maggia boasts impressive landscapes with many trails, waterfalls and alpine villages. It’s a great place to spend a day if you want to be in the nature. 

Where to Stay in Lugano

For a comfortable stay in the heart of Lugano, look into Hotel de la Paix, housed in a beautiful Italianate-style 18th century building with amenities like a pool and on-sit restaurants.

For a stylish yet budget friendly option, the Hotel&Hostel Montana offers simple accommodations in a stunning former villa right in the heart of Lugano.

Bern

the old town of bern with a tram, swiss flags, and tourists visiting the beautiful town cneter

Contributed by Kriszti of She Wanders Abroad

Bern, the capital of Switzerland, is a charming city with well-preserved architecture and a lively cultural scene.

Situated on the Aare River, Bern is a popular tourist destination thanks to its many attractions, including the Bear Pit, Bundeshaus (Federal Palace), Zytglogge Clock Tower, and numerous churches.

With its narrow cobblestone streets and medieval facades, Bern feels like it’s straight out of a storybook.

There are plenty of things to do in Bern, from exploring the city’s museums and art galleries to strolling through its picturesque parks. Travelers can also enjoy the city’s vibrant nightlife and dining scene.

view of the city of bern and its aare river that is brilliant turquoise running through it

Despite being the capital of Switzerland, Bern is actually pretty small so you can easily see the highlights by spending one day in Bern.

However, if you have longer, Bern is also an excellent base for exploring the rest of Switzerland, as it’s centrally located and well-connected by public transportation.

Some of the best day trips from Bern include excursions to the nearby towns of Interlaken and Grindelwald.

If you’re planning a trip to Switzerland, be sure to add Bern to your itinerary!

Where to Stay in Bern

For an elegant place to stay in Bern, Hotel Landaus has spacious and stylish rooms in an old house just a 5-minute walk from the Old Town, with views of the Aare River.

If you’re on a budget, Bern Backpackers Hotel Glocke is an excellently-priced, well-reviewed hostel in the heart of the Old Town, just 300 feet from the Zytglogge Tower.

Champex-Lac

a beautiful mountain chalet and outdoor tent in the town of champex-lac with mountains behind it

Contributed by Dean and Laynni at Routinely Nomadic

Nestled in the beautiful Val d’Arpette among the fabulous mountains of southwestern Switzerland, the sublime Champex-Lac is one of the top year-round locations in the country.

An outstanding ski resort in winter and popular hiking destination in summer, Champex-Lac has something to offer just about every type of visitor.

Probably best known as one of the nicest stops along the world-famous Tour du Mont Blanc long-distance trek, a spectacular 170-kilometre circuit of epic Mont Blanc itself.

However, even those who aren’t ready to commit to 10 days of strenuous hiking can enjoy a wide range of outstanding day hikes around Champex-Lac, the most impressive of which is the high-altitude Fenetre d’Arpette crossing.

Art lovers, on the other hand, should check out the excellent collection of wood carvings along the relatively easy Mushroom Route.

In winter, the skiing is fantastic (both downhill and cross-country) and the glassy surface of Champex-Lac becomes one of the most scenic ice skating spots in Switzerland.

Where to Stay in Champex-Lac

There are many good mountain chalets and comfortable apartments to choose from in Champex-Lac!

However, if you feel like splashing out, spending a few nights in the luxurious, lakefront Au Club Alpin will make for a truly memorable vacation!

Basel

the scenic old town of basel on the water with a bridge

Contributed by Paula of UK Every Day

With its unique architecture, historic streets, and Rhine River, Basel is one of the best places to visit in Switzerland!

During summer you can swim in the river which is an amazing activity to spend a day out in the city.

However, Basel is also abundant in many other attractions. One of the prettiest places is Spalentor – a fairytale city gate.

This medieval structure from 1400 looks like a little castle that will take you back in time.

If you love architecture, the Basel Exhibition Center is a must-see attraction. The huge hole in a roof, known as the “window to heaven” designed by Herzog & de Meuron, will take your breath away.

This famous architectural practice always impresses with modern designs which you can admire among others in Basel!

Where to Stay in Basel

One of the best hotels in the city is ART HOUSE Basel. It offers a contemporary interior and a great location!

This 4-star hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the Jewish Museum of Basel or a 7-minute walk to the Zoological Garden.  

If you are planning to travel on a budget, Community Hostel & Lounge by Hyve Basel SBB is a perfect choice.

It is next to the train station and getting to the city center from the hostel should not take more than 15 minutes walk.

3 Key Switzerland Experiences

5 Important Things to Pack for Switzerland

Allison with backpack in switzerland

I’ve actually written a whole all-season packing list for Switzerland (for men and women) but here are the 5 essentials in case you want the quick version.

  • An adaptor: Annoyingly, Switzerland uses a slightly different outlet (Type J) than the rest of continental Europe. While sometimes continental Europe adaptors will work in some outlets, some are more fussy, and I ended up needing to buy a Switzerland-specific adaptor. This Type J adaptor has several outlets so you can plug in multiple devices into one adaptor, which is handy.
  • A guidebook: While I use travel blogs for much of my travel research, I love a good old-fashioned guidebook as well. Lonely Planet Switzerland is recently updated and full of excellent travel inspiration and budget restaurant advice. Rick Steves’ Switzerland is also a winner. I typically download the Kindle version and bring it on my Kindle Paperwhite to minimize how much space it takes up in my bag
  • A rain jacket & packable down jacket: Switzerland can occasionally be quite rainy, so having a lightweight waterproof rain jacket is a must. I love my Marmot PreCip rain jacket and bring it with me everywhere – it’s lasted me years. If you plan on visiting any mountains, you’ll likely want to bring an extra layer with you – it’s cold up there even if it is sunny! I love having this packable down jacket that I can easily roll up and place in my bag.
  • A theft-proof bag: While Switzerland is generally pretty safe, there is a risk of pickpockets in the major cities like Geneva, Zürich, and Lucerne. I deter thieves by carrying a fashionable travel backpack with security features like locking zippers, RFID blockers, and slash-proof material. PacSafe is my favorite travel security item brand (this is the exact PacSafe backpack I love and bring on every city trip).
  • A reusable water bottle: Water in Switzerland is safe to drink everywhere and you will find public fountains in most cities spouting out pure, glacial water that is better than anything you can buy. Save some serious money and the environment by carrying your own reusable water bottle like this Klean Kanteen.
Friendly Reminder: Don’t forget to buy travel insurance before your trip. I’ve been using World Nomads for the past 3+ years of travel, to cover me from anything from trip cancellation to illness to injury on the road.

More Switzerland Travel Resources

Need help planning your perfect Switzerland trip? First, check out my guide to planning a trip to Switzerland.

I’ve written up this itinerary for 10 days in Switzerland, as well as suggestions for how to modify the itinerary if you have more or less time.

I have posts on all the best day trips from Interlaken as well as the best day trips from Geneva, including side trips to France!

Finally, be sure to check out this Switzerland packing list for all seasons and genders! It’s your one-stop shop for everything you need to bring to Switzerland.

Note: Swiss Travel Pass offered me an 8-day pass to test out their product. I can honestly say I loved it and wouldn’t travel Switzerland any way!

30 Otherworldly Things to Do in the Azores

If you’re traveling to the Azores, you’re in for the trip of a lifetime.

There are so many incredible things to do in the Azores that I anticipate you’ll never experience a moment of boredom. It’s simply impossible to feel boredom in a place this beautiful, diverse, and intriguing.

I spent three days driving the Azores, all on the main island of São Miguel.

It’s an incredibly easy destination to road trip, as the roads and infrastructure are excellent and the island is relatively small.

waterfall in the azores

If you’d like to follow my recommended 3-day itinerary, you can read that post here as it organizes much of the items on this list of things to do in the Azores into a simple circuit that you can complete in a few days.

However, if you’re just looking for inspiration or want to hand-craft your own Azores itinerary based on your interests, this is a great place to start.

Read on to discover 30 places to visit in the Azores that seem like they’re from another planet!

2022 Entry Requirements for Portugal

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, there are certain entry requirements in place for entering the country of Portugal.

I’ve updated this post as of February 9, 2022, and all information was correct at the time of writing. 

However, confirm with Portugal’s official website, as you’ve prbably figured out after the last few years of pandemic times… things can change quickly!

Check the list of countries allowed to enter Mainland Portugal on their website. The USA and UK are currently included (note: Canada is not included at the time of writing, but this may change).

You must present one of the following if you are over the age of 12. 

  1. A negative PCR test taken with 72 hours
  2. A rapid antigen test taken within 24 hours of boarding
  3. An EU Digital Covid Certificate OR similar certificate from one of the 33 permitted countries. *NOTE: The US is not included.

You must also submit a Passenger Locator Card before departing.

Until recently, the EU digital certificate (Green Pass) was required for staying in hotels and eating at restaurants. 

This meant that non-EU citizens who weren’t one of the 33 listed countries could effectively enter the country but not dine at restaurants or stay in hotels… making travel very difficult for them!

However, a friend who is residing in Portugal recently informed me that as of the first week of February, this requirement has been dropped within the country and this is no longer required.

Where to Stay in the Azores

I have a full guide to where to stay in the Azores that covers all the different islands; however, since this post focuses on Sao Miguel, I’ll just include those suggestions here.

Budget: Casa Ateneu

our bedroom at casa ateneu

Casa Ateneu is where I personally stayed when in the Azores. I was traveling on a low to mid-range budget and was so happy to find Casa Ateneu at a reasonable price (check here for current rates and availability).

We paid 35 euros per night for a double room with ensuite bathroom and thought it was an amazing value! However, keep in mind we traveled a bit off-season near the end of March, so I would imagine the rooms would cost about twice as much in the summer.

The room was not huge but it felt really spacious with insanely high ceilings (seriously… like two stories tall high!), and lovely, comfortable bedding and plenty of outlets and places to store things.

The whole interior of the house had a really lovely, homey vibe to it, and there was a kitchen that was free to use if you wanted to cook for yourself as well. We didn’t use it but it looked quite well-stocked!

One thing to note: the reception is not actually located at Casa Ateneu but just down the street from it. 

That said, check-in was super easy since we could just walk one block away to meet them to get our keys and get a tour of the property.

The staff was always available to help us, even walking over with our printed boarding passes one evening, when the computer at Casa Ateneu was having trouble printing.

But my favorite part of staying at Casa Ateneu was the picnic baskets full of delicious breakfast goodies — most of them local and Azorean! — they gave us every day in lieu of a standard breakfast buffet!

the breakfast picnic basket they gave us

We brought it to eat by a lake one day and it was the most magical morning of our trip. It was a really thoughtful gesture that I wish more hotels did!

Check reviews and availability at Casa Ateneu here

Mid-Range: Pedras do Mar Resort

The incredible Pedras do Mar Resort won the World Luxury Hotels award in 2017, due to its excellent customer service and luxe amenities — so you can tell this is clearly one of the best places to stay in São Miguel, especially given the mid-range price tag.

Choose between a breathtaking view of the mountains or the hypnotic view of the sea. The rooms are spacious and you will love the natural light coming in from your large windows! All rooms are carefully decorated with wooden details and sophisticated furniture that enhances its minimalist appeal. 

In terms of amenities, there is a fitness center, a spa treatment center, a heated indoor pool, a kids pool, and an outdoor infinity pool. There is also an on-site restaurant that serves gourmet a la carte meals that are beautifully plated, and they are happy to meet a variety of dietary needs.

Check out guest reviews, prices, and availability at Pedros Do Mar here 

Luxury: Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort

This is a 4-star Azores resort that you shouldn’t miss! This gorgeous Azores resort has just 14 villas, each with a nice view of the city, mountain, or the sea. 

The style of the resort is a little rustic, with wooden walls, floors, and ceilings. They didn’t disturb the natural topography of the hills when they built the resort, and it truly blends into its beautiful rugged Atlantic surroundings.

Some of the furniture and décor are also made from driftwood, and most are very simple yet elegant. The villas are divided by concrete walls and each has a huge sliding window that also serves as its main door. They have private tubs where you can soak and relax after a hike, and the private bathrooms are enclosed in glass walls.  

One unique feature of their villas is a room that has a private tub which is divided by the concrete bed headboard! There are also 2-bedroom villas with an outdoor Jacuzzi. 

The outdoor infinity pool is simple yet elegant, and you will love the deck where you can watch seabirds flying or just simply allowing the sea breeze to waft aross your face.

Guests have mentioned that one of the most outstanding things you will experience at the resort is the service of their staff – which is remarkably great.

The nostalgic feeling of living in the countryside, while still providing world-class service, is their major selling point to guests.

Check out reviews, prices, and availability at Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort here 

What to Pack for the Azores

allison standing in front of a lake in the azores

I have a full Azores packing list here, but here is a quick bullet-point list for remembering easily!

Getting Around the Azores

the car we rented in the azores
My cute little rental in the Azores!

Taking public transportation around the Azores is hard to do: routes are limited and you’ll end up having to supplement with a lot of guided tours if you want to see a lot of the islands.

I suggest renting a car, especially on São Miguel. I have a full post with guidance on renting a car in the Azores here!

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 in the Azores here.

30 Incredible Things to Do in the Azores

This post focuses on São Miguel, as its the only island I visited on my trip to the Azores.

I’m hoping to revisit the Azores soon and add more from other islands – so share your recommendations for places on other islands in the comments!

Soak in the iron-rich yellow waters of Terra Nostra

One of the strangest places in the Azores, taking a warm soak in the waters of Terra Nostra Gardens is one of the most essential things to do in the Azores.

Don’t be put off by its strange golden-yellow color: the hue comes from the iron-rich mineral deposits in the water, which are a great natural remedy for a variety of ailments.

Personally, I sprained my ankle a few weeks prior to visiting Terra Nostra, and it had been having a hard time healing.

When I got out of the waters after about an hour and a half, I noticed that my ankle’s swelling had reduced dramatically and it was less painful to walk on or twist.

Do wear a black or navy bathing suit (or one you’re ready to sacrifice), as the iron deposits in the water will ruthlessly stain whatever light-colored bathing suit you are wearing.

Walk around the lovely landscaped garden oasis at Terra Nostra

Terra Nostra isn’t just known for its funky gold waters, but it’s also beloved for its gorgeous garden landscaping that encompasses 31 acres.

It dates back to 1775 and has been continually built upon and improved over the past few centuries.

You’ll find all sorts of flowers, vines, and trees here. I visited in March and I was surprised at how much was in bloom.

We just had time for a short walk through the gardens but I wished I had dedicated a bit more time to exploring it, as it was truly spectacular.

Marvel at a brilliant green lake

One of my favorite places we visited in Sao Miguel was the stunning, off the beaten path lake of Lagoa do Congro.

Not well-known by many tourists compared to the lakes of Sete Cidades, Lagoa do Fogo, or Lagoa das Furnas, this quiet little lake was a perfect addition to our Sao Miguel itinerary.

It’s relatively easy to get here, despite being a bit off the path.

The road to get there is a little perilous and we were nervous in our tiny car, so we stopped a bit before the end of the road.

If you’re in a higher-up car than we were, you should be fine driving all the way to the starting point of the hike.

The hike itself is quite easy, a short 15-minute walk through a beautiful forest.

When you reach a fork in the path (there’s only one fork, and it’s quite obvious) head to your left to get down the lake the easiest way possible.

Relax in the natural ocean bath at Ferraria

Of all the glorious things to do in the Azores, this was my favorite: experiencing the incredible natural pools of Ferraria.

If you head down to the pools, you’ll find a geothermal oddity that’s absolutely incredible to experience firsthand.

Hot thermal waters from the ground mix and mingle with the ocean tide, creating a bathwater feel that changes slightly and pleasantly with each ebb and flow of the current.

The smooth ocean rocks and the gentle but incessant tug of the current remind you that you’re in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, even though the water temperature feels like a bathtub!

Keep in mind that as Ferraria is a natural (and free) phenomenon, you’ll have to pay attention to the ocean tide schedule and plan your visit accordingly.

The hours right before and right after low tide are perfect: too close to low tide and the water can get way too hot, too close to high tide and the water will be Atlantic-cold and the water level too high to enjoy safely.

Stare slack-jawed at the incredible views from Boca do Inferno

The Azores are known for their incredible miradouros (viewpoints) and one of my favorites was Miradouro da Boca do Inferno.

Overlooking the stunning lakes of Sete Cidades, and yet overshadowed by the nearby and less impressive Miradouro da Vista do Rei, you’ll enjoy incredible views over the volcanic-cratered landscape dotted with lakes that makes up the lush Azorean countryside.

Note that the pathway to get to Boca do Inferno is a bit tricky, and if there has been any sort of inclement weather (not at all unusual in the Azores), it will be closed.

This was true for our first attempt at seeing Boca do Inferno. I am so glad we returned, as this was definitely one of my favorite things to do in the Azores.

There is a parking lot just across from the turnoff point to Boca do Inferno, but you can actually drive even closer as the road will take you all the way to the hiking point.

However, you should also explore the beautiful Lagoa do Canario nearby (described below) which is often overlooked.

I recommend parking here and walking the 1 kilometer or so to Boca do Inferno (it’s an easy, flat walk and the anticipation build-up is worth it)

Make a quick stop at the mirror-like Lagoa do Canario

So many travelers must drive right past the small sign for Lagoa do Canario while en route to the viewpoint at Boca do Inferno and not even give it another thought.

Well, I think that’s a shame!

Just a two-minute walk (literally) from the road, this serene and calm lake is almost entirely ringed by trees.

This protects it from the legendary Azorean winds, making a calm and still lake that shows a near-perfect reflection.

Have a picnic breakfast somewhere epic

One of the best things of the place I stayed in the Azores, Casa Ataneu, was that every morning they left a picnic basket full of local cheese, tea, bread, and other breakfast goodies outside of our door.

We’d simply wake up in the morning, make ourselves a quick cup of Gorreana tea, grab our picnic basket, and hop in the car en route to our first destination.

We enjoyed one breakfast at Lagoa do Congro, this beautiful green lake pictured above, and another we enjoyed at the picnic tables before the Miradouro da Boca de Inferno.

Tip: Bring a Thermos capable of holding hot water so you can make your own tea or coffee! We didn’t have one and we wished they did as the guesthouse provided things to make tea and coffee, but no Thermos or way to bring hot water with us.

Admire the stunning Lagoa do Fogo from above (if fog permits)

The weather in the Azores is famously fussy and while we tried to see this view and planned our whole day around visiting the lake and its various miradouros, we failed epically when we hit a fall of fog.

Turns out, that’s quite common: the name of the lake, Lagoa do Fogo, literally means Lake of Fire.

While it does pay homage to its volcanic, fiery origins, it also has another meaning, as the ever-present tendrils of fog lifting off the lake resemble smoke a lot of the time.

While you should definitely add this to your list of things to see in the Azores, be aware that the odds are generally not in your favor when it comes to seeing this famous spot!

See the abandoned chapel at Furnas Lake

This beautiful, abandoned chapel on the banks of Lake Furnas are one of the most otherworldly places to visit in the Azores.

Despite being in a place so beautifully alive that even the ground boils, this chapel is a place of peace and quiet, in honor of a local woman who fell ill and passed away.

According to Atlas Obscura:

Capella de Nossa Senhora das Vitórias, Chapel of Our Lady of Victories, was intended to honor Maria Guilhermina Taveira de Brum da Silveira, the wife of a local landowner named José Do Conto. She had fallen tragically and terminally ill, and her husband took it upon himself to create this magical lakeside chapel. Calling on his renowned design and landscaping talents, despite the structural elements the whole endeavor feels more like the soft-focus of magical realism than hard-edge gothic.

There are no services held here, which gives it an ancient, abandoned, and even timeless feeling as the natural elements take over. It stands like an old tree, firmly rooted and infused into the forest. Between the Chapel, the gardens, the lake, and the surrounding mountains, it stands out as one of the most endearing and rustic places in the Azores.

Stroll the stunning perimeter of Furnas Lake

Many people just make a stop at the Furnas fumaroles and then move onwards to other places like Terra Nostra on their whistle-stop Azores tours.

We took about two hours to circumnavigate the path around Furnas Lake and we were so glad we took the time to slow down, get out of the car, and enjoy the lake at a more leisurely pace.

In addition to getting to walk through a bamboo forest and seeing gorgeous pink flowers blooming everywhere, we got to watch the colors of the lake slowly change colors as the afternoon progressed.

It was a rewarding experience that you won’t get if you just pop by the lake for your shot and leave; you have to give it the time it deserves.

Laugh at the silly Casa Invertida

This unique structure in the center of the town of Furnas about one block from the town’s bus station is worth a quick visit as it’s one of the quirkier things to do in the Azores.

This simple electrical power station was given a funky facelift to look like an upturned house, earning it the name of Casa Tombada (“fallen house”) or Casa Invertida (“inverted house”).

You can’t enter the house or do much other than take a photo and crack a smile at it, but it’s worth a visit while you’re in the Azores all the same.

See the stunning waterfalls of Ribeira dos Caldeirões

Just outside the entrance to Parque Natural da Ribeira dos Caldeirões (free admission), you’ll find this stunning waterfall in the Azores.

You can walk just a few minutes from the parking lot, making it easily accessible to all.

The park itself is lovely, with azalea bushes, palm trees, and just general Jurassic Park minus the dinosaurs vibes (and a river and waterfalls inside the park as well) but I enjoyed this waterfall outside the park just a touch more.

Go whale and dolphin watching in Ponta Delgada

One of the main reasons why people visit the Azores is for the chance to spot whales in their natural habitats.

Blue whales, sperm whales, spotted dolphins, and bottlenose dolphins are all known to frequent the waters around the Azores.

In fact, the Azores are of the best places to spot whales in the world, with one of the highest success rates of successful whale sightings out there!

We were a bit early for whale season when we visited in March so we gave this activity a skip, but if you visit in the whale watching season between April and October you’re in for a treat!

Marine mammals make their annual migrations past the Azores at different points throughout the year, but April through October is the peak.

Be sure to go with an ethical operator who refuses to chase the animals and stays within internationally-recognized guidelines.

One note about whale watching: breaching (when a whale ‘flops’ on its back acrobatically through the air) is rather rare and you are much more likely to just see spouting and tails as they make their dives.

Should you see a whale breach, you’re incredibly lucky, but don’t make this your primary expectation or you will likely be a bit disappointed in your trip!

Squeal over tiny pineapples at Plantação A Arrudas

The Azores are known for their unique pineapples, and as far as I can tell, it’s the only place in Europe where they grow these delicious fruits.

Azorean pineapples have a distinctive taste, far sweeter and more concentrated than their larger brethren, because of their smaller and more compact size.

Plantação A Arrudas is the most famous plantation, and it’s just outside of Ponta Delgada so it’s easy for tourists to visit.

Entrance is free, but just try to leave their gift shop without a bag of pineapple toffee or pineapple liqueur!

Eat lunch with a view at Caloura

One of my happiest unexpected discoveries in the Azores was the beautiful seaside restaurant of Bar Caloura, where we ended up on a whim after we hit a wall of fog on our way to Lagoa do Fogo.

This gorgeous seaside restaurant is near one of the most breathtaking stretches of coastline, and there’s even a small natural pool that gets filled up by the ocean that you can relax in if the weather is warm enough (it definitely wasn’t in March!).

It was a popular place amongst tourists and locals alike, and I enjoyed a fish soup and a sandwich while enviously eying everyone’s shrimp plates and wondering why I didn’t order that instead!

Marvel at the black sand beaches of Mosteiro

The Azores are volcanic islands and as a result of that you’ll see a lot of black sand beaches from when lava rock broke apart and formed a fine, gorgeous sand.

There are several places where you can indulge in some black sand bliss in the Azores.

However, I think Mosteiro just outside of Sete Cidades offered the finest sand and the beautiful view of sea stacks just off in the distance was a nice bonus!

Gawk at one of the best views in the Azores (with hundreds of your closest fellow tourists)

Since I visited the Azores in March, I was lucky to avoid the island at its most touristic time.

While that came with some sacrifices – namely, missing out on whale watching season and not having beach water – it meant that largely, I wasn’t fighting for room with other tourists.

A notable exception to that was visiting the Miradouro da Vista do Rei, aka “the King’s Lookout.”

While you can easily see why the view is fit for a king, you’ll feel like a peasant amidst all the other tourists angling to get their photos and crowding.

There’s a 20-minute time limit enforced in the parking lot and it was utter madness trying to find a parking spot.

Do I still recommend going? Absolutely. But keep in mind that is no hidden gem and that you’ll be around plenty of other tourists who will test your patience.

Pay your respects at a local graveyard

I may be a weirdo (no, I definitely am!) but I enjoy visiting graveyards in other countries because it gives me insight into one of their deepest-held traditions: how they honor their dead.

Visiting this graveyard in Furnas was an eye-opening experience as I found it interesting how the Azoreans display so prominently photos of their loved ones and adorn them with flowers: it makes the loss seem more personal somehow.

Marvel at the hauntingly beautiful church of Sete Cidades

In the small town of Sete Cidades, the beautiful lakes often get most of the attention. It’s easy to see why: these crater lakes are brilliant turquoise and frankly, simply stunning.

However, I fell in love with this gorgeous church, the Church of Saint Nicolau, nestled among moss-covered trees in the center of Sete Cidades.

It’s quietly located away from tourist crowds nearby at Vista do Rei, and somehow even though it’s in the middle of town it has a feel of a place forgotten by time.

The interior has been recently redone, but the grove of trees around it make it look slightly forgotten by time.

See the lesser-known miradouro over Mosteiro

On your way to the black sand beaches of Mosteiro, don’t miss a stop at the Miradouro da Ponta do Escalvado.

From there, you’ll have a beautiful look over the sea stacks of Mosteiro as well as the rugged coastline nearby.

Apparently, in the right season, you can see whales from this spot, so bring binoculars if you’re feeling patient!

Spot the house that time forgot in Sete Cidades

Perhaps it was just the foggy atmosphere on the day that I visited Sete Cidades but I found the town quietly beautiful in a time-worn sort of way.

I fell in love with this house located near the lake – if you cross the bridge that bisects the lake, park at the side of the lake, and turn around, you’ll see it not far behind you.

Keep in mind that this is private property and I’m not sure if it’s abandoned or just in a bit of disrepair, so just admire from a distance and be a respectful tourist.

Marvel at the facade of the Caloura Convent

I loved visiting the Caloura Convent on my way to Bar Caloura (just a hundred meters down the road) with its beautiful azulejo-covered facade.

The church and convent was closed when I visited, and I’m not sure if it’s open to the public, but you should at least visit the facade if you are making your way to Bar Caloura for a seaside meal.

Explore the gorgeous churches of Ponta Delgada

I loved wandering around the town of Ponta Delgada and while I’ll write a full post on that soon, one of my favorite things to do in town was visiting the churches.

The most impressive of all the churches is the hillside Ladeira da Mãe de Deus, which offers beautiful views of the entire harbor at Ponta Delgada and would likely be a killer spot at sunset.

Other honorable mentions go to St. Peter’s Parish Church and Santuário de Nosso Senhor Santo Cristo dos Milagres, both of which are lovely but not quite as beautifully imposing as Mãe de Deus.

Check out the incredible sulfur fumaroles of Furnas

On one bank of Furnas Lake, you won’t miss the sulfur fumaroles where the earth quite literally bubbles beneath your feet. If you don’t see it, you will most certainly smell it!

It’s interesting to walk around the wooden pathways and see the mud bubbling at a rolling boil around you, and it reminds you just how young and active these islands truly are.

Nearby, you’ll see some piles of dirt which are actually cozidos, where stew in earthenware pots is quite literally being cooked by Mother Earth!

Have your breath taken away at Ponta do Sossego

Of all the places to visit in the Azores, Miradouro da Ponta do Sossego is by far my favorite.

It’s located in the Nordeste, far from Ponta Delgada and thus the tourists, but it’s well worth going out of your way for.

It’s a good idea to combine it with the waterfalls at Ribeira dos Caldeirões, which are not too far away.

This is where I took my best-performing Instagram photo of the last two years, so if you’re visiting Azores for the photos, this is a spot you shouldn’t miss.

Photograph the incredible steps of the Our Lady of Peace Chapel

One of the most famous photography spots in the Azores, you shouldn’t miss the beautiful Our Lady of Peace Chapel in Vila Franca do Campo, near to Caloura.

This church is home to stunning series of steps with azulejos embellishing each tier, and there are incredible views from the top of the chapel.

Enjoy an incredible Japanese-Azorean degustação

The most delicious thing to do in the Azores is eat a meal at the new Japanese-Azorean fusion restaurant Õtaka in Ponta Delgada.

Our meal there was simply incredible. There are several ‘discovery’ menus you can try at various price tiers!

You can enjoy a 6- or 7-course tasting menu for literally 25 euros, which is an incredible value for the quality.

My friend and I enjoyed a multi-course meal which included fresh sashimi, tartar on toasted rice, karaage chicken, tempura eggplant that tasted like a cloud, and so much more for 25 euros per person.

Want a fancier meal and splash out even more? There are other menus at higher price points with more expensive ingredients.

Take a soak with locals at Poça da Dona Beijo

While Terra Nostra in Furnas gets all the tourist cred, the smaller Poça da Dona Beijo flies under the radar and is visited far less often.

If you only have time for one hot spring in Furnas, I’d lean towards terra Nostra because the gardens are really beautiful and worth exploring.

But if you have time to visit both, I’d pop into Poça da Dona Beijo, especially since it’s open late (until 11 PM) so you can take a hot soak under the stars.

See Europe’s only tea plantations

The tea fields of Gorreana Tea Factory are the only operational tea plantations in Europe and the tea they create is absolutely tasty!

I had it every morning during my stay in the Azores and wish I had brought some home with me.

They grow both black and green tea on their plantations and you can check see their fields, tour their factory, and sample all the free tea your heart desires at the factory.

Relax in the thermal baths of Caldeira Velha

Located near to Lagoa do Fogo, this is a great stop to rest your legs in after you’ve hiked around the lake… or if you just want to take a hot soak in thermal waters surrounded by ferns and flora.

Similar to the other hot springs like Terra Nostra and Dona Beija, your suit will stain in the iron-rich waters (so this girl’s swimsuit color is not recommended!) so be cautious to either wear a suit you don’t mind getting stained or to choose a dark color.

21 Unique Things to Do in Belize: The Ultimate Guide

Paradise views are everywhere in Caye Caulker, like this beach scene with a boat

For a tiny country, Belize punches well above its weight.

The Caribbean coastline is home to the second-largest coral reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef, naturally), while its lush inland is filled with dense jungle.

If you’re adventurous and nature-loving, there are countless exciting things to do in Belize.

Belize is a true melting pot, which reflects in the language, culture, and food. Though English is its official language, many speak Kriol, Spanish, Maya, or Garifuna. 

Recent immigrant groups – primarily the Chinese and, oddly, the Mennonites – as well as American and Canadian retirees add to the diversity of Belize that make this beautiful country such a special place.

With its diverse culture and cuisine, dedication to preserving its history and biodiversity, and insane natural wonders, Belize is a bucket list must for every traveler.

Keep reading to see the variety of diverse options for what to see and do in Belize, Central America’s most unique country!

This post was originally written after my second trip to Belize in 2017, was updated again after my third trip in 2019, and has been updated twice in 2022 and once in 2023 to reflect changes. The most recent update was on March 29, 2023.

Best Time to Visit Belize

Allison sitting on a swing in Caye Caulker enjoying the sunny weather in the dry season

Being a tropical country, Belize has a rainy season and a dry season as opposed to the typical “4 season” model of non-tropical countries.

The wet season is between May and October, where you can expect rain about half the days and scorchingly hot temperatures. 

I really don’t really recommend traveling Belize during the wet season! 

Not only can the rain be a pain, it can also disrupt a lot of tours and activities, such as snorkeling/diving tours and cave tours, due to unfavorable conditions.

Hurricanes can also happen during this time of the year.

Between November and April, it is the dry season in Belize. This coincides with much of Belize’s peak travel season.

While there will still be occasional rainfall, storms will be much more dispersed, plus you’ll experience shorter periods of rain that are less disruptive to your plans.

Note that Belize can be incredibly popular (and expensive) over Christmas and New Years. 

I suggest going during January through March for a better balance between good weather and good prices.

Read Next: What to Pack for a Trip to Belize

21 of the Best Things to Do in Belize

Go caving in the world’s #1 most sacred cave

National Geographic knows a thing or two about travel, wouldn’t you say? Since it’s consistently voted for Actun Tunichil Muknal as its #1 sacred cave in the world… I’d say it’s worth checking out.

Tours aren’t cheap, thanks to permit requirements and the fact that everyone needs to be accompanied by a licensed guide in groups no larger than 8.

But trust me, even this cheapo says it’s well worth every dollar you spend: it’s one of the best excursions in Belize for a reason.

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!
Photo credit Maya Walk

Expect to spend about $100-120 USD per person for an 8-hour cave tour, depending on the company you go with.

Yes, it’s expensive, but for a reason: only 125 people are allowed to visit daily, tour groups are capped at 8 people per guide, and all tour companies must pay a large fee to pay for the preservation of the cave.

Important note: I strongly recommend booking in advance due to the strict limit of people allowed in daily: this company offers the best price and best rating. Click to check prices, availability, and traveler reviews!

For a full review of my day caving in ATM, read it here.

I strongly recommend booking activities in Belize online in advance rather than waiting to arriving in Belize to book, as hotels will often overprice them so they can make a commission — not to mention, with sites with limited daily availability like the ATM cave, there may not be space for you if you book when you arrive.

Meanwhile, GetYourGuide, the online tour aggregator I always use, has a best price guarantee, so you can rest assured you’re not paying more for the same tour just by booking online. Click to learn more and book your spot in advance.

Pro Tip: Never travel without travel insurance – especially if you’re doing crazy activities like caving! I use World Nomads Explorer Plan to cover me from anything from caving to scuba diving at very affordable prices. I buy travel insurance every time I travel – it’s the one thing I never leave home without.

Where to Stay:  Bella’s Backpackers is great for solo travelers on a budget, with a great location and a good social atmosphere.

I’ve written a full guide to Belize eco resorts here, but here are two of my favorites.

A great mid-range option is Maya Mountain Lodge, which has a beautiful garden and pools and hammocks with jungle views. It’s located a bit outside the center of San Ignacio, so it’s a great area for hiking, bird watching, and other outdoorsy adventures.

For ultra-luxury, there are also super upscale options like Ka’ana Resort & Spa, which offer 5-star treatment with a decidedly eco twist in a pristine jungle setting.

Drink in an inner tube at a bar

One of my favorite things to do in Belize is to chill in an inner tube outside of a bar, baking in the Belizean heat.

Sip ‘N’ Dip is a cute little beach bar right by the Split on the north end of Caye Caulker, and it’s the perfect place to meet new friends, have some drinks, and hang out in a tube (or swing, or hammock!).

There’s also Palapa Bar on Ambergris Caye, but I’m partial to Sip ‘N’ Dip!

Where to Stay: Caye Caulker is one of the most relaxing places I can think of. We stayed at Sea N Sun Guest House and thought it offered excellent value (and great wifi, which can be hit or miss on the island!). We especially enjoyed that it included free kayak and bicycle rental.

For a hostel, I’d recommend Go Slow — the backpacker favorite on the island, Dirty McNasty’s, pretty much lives up to its name and doesn’t come recommended.

Stay in a luxurious beachfront hotel 

Victoria House is the nicest boutique hotel on the beach in Belize, and you can see the stunning turquoise water from pretty much every room in the hotel.

As a bonus, you’re just steps away from unreal sunrises. These cabañas will cost you a fraction of the cost of bungalows in the South Pacific — but with gorgeous Caribbean blues and access to one of the world’s largest reef systems.

Accommodations in Belize offer a great bargain in comparison to other countries, so take advantage of Belize’s best hotels if you have the budget for it! Check out my full review here.

Drink way too many coconuts on Caye Caulker

Walking too fast on Caye Caulker may very well be a misdemeanor for the way that random passersby will shout at you to “go slow.”

In fact, the sole occupation of some of Caye Caulker’s residents seems to be to admonish travelers for walking too fast.

But who am I to go against the locals? When in Rome, right? Just order up a coconut from one of the men on the main drag (hold the rum, trust me) and listen.

Sometimes, the best answer to the question what to do in Belize is: nothing.

Where to Stay: It’d be apropos here to recommend Go Slow again, or the Sea N Sun Guest House where I stayed for several nights.

Visit the least crowded Mayan Ruins you’ll ever see

Caracol is a hidden gem right on the border of Belize — and with none of the crowds of Tikal, the ruins made famous by Star Wars in neighboring Guatemala.

While it’s not quite as objectively impressive as Tikal, I think Caracol is more charming as you can climb the highest pyramid and see epic views over the whole landscape, including into Guatemala.

It’s definitely one of the best points of interest in Belize, if you want to see Mayan ruins in Belize without the crowds.

Plus, there are far fewer people visiting Caracol as it’s quite difficult to get to without a tour or renting a 4×4.

I recommend going on a tour — unless you have a group to defray the costs of a rental car.

As a bonus, there are amazing natural pools right outside of Caracol, the Rio On Pools, which most tours will add on at the end of your day — the perfect way to cool off in the heat that often exceeds 90 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity!

It’s definitely one of the places you should visit if you’re planning a trip to Belize.

Looking to follow my itinerary? This is pretty much the same exact itinerary as I did when visiting Caracol. Check out this Caracol & Rio On Pools tour!

There are also other ruins which are even more off the beaten path, such as the ruins of Lamanai, which are also worth seeing!

Where to Stay: Again, I recommend Bella’s for backpackers, Maya Mountain Lodge for people who want an affordable luxury experience, and Ka’ana Resort & Spa for those who want an over-the-top luxury getaway.

Order a bucket of Belikins and enjoy the sea

If you’re looking to just log off and enjoy some sunny holidays in Belize, get yourself to Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye. I’ve never seen water bluer or calmer than off the coast of Belize’s cayes.

There’s no better drinking buddy (except for an actual drinking buddy, I guess) than a bucket of Belikins – Belize’s national beer. Be warned that Belikins are basically 50% glass and very little beer, so even a bucket of six Belikins won’t get you that tipsy!

Where to Stay: One of my favorite hostels ever, Sandbar in Ambergris Caye, is conveniently located super close to Palapa Bar in San Pedro, and has both private rooms and dormitories.

Snorkel and sail with sharks and rays

There are plenty of speedboats that will take you out to Shark Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve, but nothing beats doing it on a proper sailboat.

With refreshments like rum punch and delicious fresh lunches, taking a full-day snorkeling trip on one of the Cayes is definitely one of the best things to do in Belize. I went with Raggamuffin Tours during my time in Belize and recommend them.

A snorkel tour usually lasts the majority of the day and is inclusive of snorkel equipment, fees to access the Marine Reserve, snacks, and sometimes even rum punch, because #Belize.

Check prices, availability, and reviews of snorkeling tours in Caye Caulker here

Check snorkeling tours in Ambergris Caye / San Pedro here

Where to Stay: Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye both have great snorkeling tours available. Our room at Sea N Sun Guest House was centrally located in Caye Caulker and is my personal recommendation for snorkeling and diving lovers.

Catch a Belizean sunset

Believe it or not, a beach sunset in Belize can be a bit elusive, as most of the country’s coastline faces the east. But not so on Caye Caulker!

This island is so narrow that no matter where you are, you can walk to a prime sunset spot in under five minutes (this is not true for Ambergris Caye, by the way – sunrises are way better there, as good sunset spots can take a bit of work to get to).

Bring some rum punch (or Belikins, or wine, or rum, or anything else, really…) and enjoy with some friends and your camera!

Where to Stay: Anywhere on Caye Caulker, you’re never more than a 5-minute walk from an epic sunset.

Spend a day at the Split on Caye Caulker

The Split is the best place to chill in all of Caye Caulker – which is saying something for an island whose motto is literally “go slow.”

Since the cayes of Belize don’t have sandy beaches, The Split is a makeshift beach where the water is deeper and bluer than usual – perfect for diving into and swimming.

Luckily there are plenty of bars and restaurants around in case you need refreshments. Check out The Lazy Lizard for drinks or the pizza place for food, a great option if you’re visiting Belize on a budget.

Explore the ruins of Altun Ha

Check out the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha – one of the most important in the country – just 30 miles from Belize City.

Explore stone Mayan structures and climb up to the top of the central temple, which is not too much of a hike at only 54 feet tall.

Since Altun Ha is so close to Belize City, most tours will combine visiting the ruins with a guided tour of Belize City.

I’ll be honest: Belize City is a bit of a dump. I’ve been twice and it felt even sketchier the second time. It’s not really a place you want to walk around by yourself, especially as a female traveler. There are some cool historic landmarks and points of interest, but nothing crazy.

So, if you really want to visit Belize City,  it’s best to book a guided tour to keep yourself safe and stress-free.

To travel safely and hassle-free, I recommend this tour which also includes a trip to the Belize Zoo!

Where to Stay: You could stay in Belize City, but for safety reasons, I’d recommend staying in either Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye and making this a day trip, instead. It’s safer, and you’ll have a better time.

If you choose to stay in Belize City for convenience or personal preference, I’d say that Sea Breeze felt safe and secure and was comfortable; my one-night there was incident-free and the host was very friendly!

Visit the Belize Zoo

Before I get my head put on a stake for suggesting you visit a zoo — The Belize Zoo is different.

For one, they only house animal species native to Belize — you won’t see any polar bears suffering in humid climates here! They have 45 species of animals, all of whom have been orphaned or hurt and are unable to survive in the wild.

The Belize Zoo also works to rehabilitate animals like jaguars and wild birds and release them back into the wild. While zoos worldwide understandably hold a bad rap, I really can’t find anything to fault the Belize Zoo for.

You can take the tour I mentioned above, which hits both the Belize Zoo + Altun Ha, or you can save money by taking a local bus from Belize City towards Benque and asking to be let off at the zoo, if you feel savvy enough to navigate the chicken bus scene independently.

Where to Stay: As I wrote above, I don’t really recommend staying overnight in Belize City as it’s not the safest of cities.

I stayed there one night and it was fine, but I will admit that I had some uncomfortable moments, and I’m a pretty seasoned traveler!

I didn’t have cash after I arrived in Belize overland from Mexico, and when I asked my cab driver to stop at an ATM to get money out, I was followed by a man when getting money from an ATM. Then our taxi driver tried to extort us and double the price that we had agreed upon!

If you must stay in Belize City for logistical reasons, I stayed at Sea Breeze and found it to be quite safe and pleasant. However, I’d avoid Belize City if you can!

Snorkel with manatees 

Caye Caulker is located right nearby an amazing wildlife reserve, Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can actually swim with manatees in their natural habitat.

Of course, you aren’t allowed to touch or chase these gentle but enormous sea mammals!

Belize is doing excellent things to preserve to conserve and protect their manatees, to ensure that they live happy and healthy lives with their environment protected.

I highly recommend doing a manatee and snorkeling tour with a reputable company. Please note that you should never swim with manatees in captivity or do any tours that promise you can touch the animals – and this goes for dolphins, whales, and any other sea animal in captivity as well.

Tours are not cheap, but it is truly one of the best things to do in Belize, so if you can afford it I’d highly recommend doing it.

Note that manatees are only around at certain times of year – I tried to do a manatee tour this February and we didn’t see them. Our guide told us we would have had better luck in the summer – they like the warm water!

Where to Stay: Manatee watching and snorkeling tours leave from Caye Caulker or Ambergris Caye

Enjoy your own private tropical island for a day

A short boat ride away from the beaches of Placencia is a small island called Ranguana, which is a private island only for day trippers and those who stay at the one hotel on the island.

You’ll need to take a tour to get here, but once you do, you can spend all day snorkeling, kayaking, paddleboarding, or just lazing out in sun with a Belikin in hand on one of the most pristine beaches in Belize.

Where to Stay: Placencia has a really wide range of accommodation options, from budget to midrange to the astronomically expensive. My top pick for budget travelers is Andi Di Hows hostel; for mid-range, Southern Shores Cabanas; for luxury, Ellysian Boutique Hotel or Naia Resort & Spa.

swim with turtles in Belize

Eat some jerk chicken

Belize’s national dish may technically be rice and beans, but jerk chicken is a strong contender. Originally from nearby Jamaica, Belize has taken on jerk chicken as one of its own and makes a mean – though slightly less spicy – version of it.

If you’re on San Pedro, be sure to check out Robin’s Kitchen for some of the best jerk I’ve ever eaten… and I used to live in the predominantly Caribbean neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn (and got Jamaican takeout at least weekly) so I know my jerk!

If you’re not a fan of BBQ jerk chicken (what’s wrong with you?) you’ve got to at least try a Belizean curry!

Where to Stay: Jerk chicken is available everywhere, but I had some of the best at Robin’s Kitchen in San Pedro just a few blocks from Victoria House. That said, you can find it virtually everywhere, but Robin’s is the real deal, grilled in a steel drum over pimento wood!

Helicopter over the Blue Hole

The top Belize attraction for a reason – but it’ll cost you!

If you want to see a good view of Belize’s iconic Blue Hole, you’re way better off flying over it than diving it.

People I spoke to who dove the Blue Hole said that they really couldn’t see much of the Blue Hole from the boat, and that once they started diving, there actually wasn’t much to see.

Honestly, I’ve heard some not-so-great things about diving the Blue Hole.

Apparently, some of the divemasters encouraged people to go beyond their PADI-certified limits — a big no-go in my book — and one girl got nitrogen narcosis and was feeling really ill and almost passed out underwater — a huge risk!

Photo credit U.S. Geological Survey

So if you do dive the Blue Hole, make sure you stay within your limits and go with a reputable company. Luckily, you have none of those risks – and a much better view – when you helicopter over the Blue Hole!

It is expensive as hell, but if it’s on your bucket list or you’re visiting Belize to celebrate a special occasion, it may be worth the splurge.

Check prices of a helicopter ride over the Blue Hole here (just be sure you’re sitting down first!)

Explore the Mayan ruins of Xunantunich

While not quite as large or impressive as the ruins of Caracol, Xunantunich is still one of the best attractions in Belize.

Plus, it’s a whole hell of a lot easier to get to from San Ignacio, which one of the best places to stay in Belize if you’re looking for exciting day trips.

You can take a bus and then walk a mile or hire a taxi for cheap. The ruins of Cahal Pech are even closer, but not quite as exciting as Xunantunich.

I recommend visiting while you stay in San Ignacio, but if you’re staying in Belize City and won’t make your way into the interior of Belize, it’s possible to visit on a day trip.

To do so, opt for this tour that combines Xunantunich, the Belize Zoo, and cave tubing through ancient Mayan caves – not bad for a day trip!

Where to Stay: Again, I’d suggest Bella’s for backpackers and solo travelers, Maya Mountain Lodge for mid-range budgets, and Ka’ana Resort & Spa for blow-out luxury.

Photo Credit C. Juneau, Wikimedia Commons

Visit a howler monkey sanctuary

Howler monkeys kind of sound like demons, but they sure are cute! If you want to connect with your primate kin while in Belize, check out the Community Baboon Sanctuary close to Belize City.

Note for my fellow pendants: there are no baboons here – that’s apparently just the old local name for howler monkeys. Go figure.

Eight villages have worked together to preserve the ecosystem around the river and protect the howler monkeys in their natural habitats. You can take a tour or rent a car to go to the sanctuary.

Where to Stay: Tours leave from Belize City, but as I’ve said above, I’d recommend doing it as a day trip from one of the islands and taking the ferry into Belize City for the day. If you must stay in Belize City, Sea Breeze is affordable and felt secure.

visit with howler monkeys, one of the greatest things to do in Belize

Scuba dive in one of the many reefs

If you’re scuba certified, you need to plan a diving vacation to Belize! Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker are home to several scuba shops which can take you to some of the best destinations in the area: Mexico Rocks, Hol Chan, and Turneffe Atoll are all fantastic dive locations.

Bonus: if you’re in Hopkins or Placencia during the right time of year, you may even be lucky and spot some whale sharks!

Pro Tip: Not every travel insurance covers diving-related accidents, which can be incredibly expensive if not covered. One of the few plans I’ve found that covers diving accidents is the World Nomads Explorer Plan (the standard plan doesn’t cover it). I don’t ever dive without insurance.

Where to Stay: Anywhere on the coast has plenty of options, but I think Ambergris Caye has the best range of SCUBA operators. I organized snorkeling trips through Sandbar Hostel and received a discount for staying with them.

Stay in an eco-friendly jungle lodge

San Ignacio Belize is somewhat of a hub for eco-lodges. I stayed at Table Rock Jungle Lodge, which is almost entirely solar powered and 100% off the electrical grid (don’t fear though — there is wifi, just not in your room!), and I absolutely adored it.

I mean, how many hotels can say they come with their own donkeys and that you’re free to pick any fruit on their farm at any time (the staff will even give you free coconuts from their trees!).

You can also borrow canoes or tubes to coast down the beautiful Macal River nearby.

If you want a little more luxury in the jungle, there are a few higher-end options, with a higher price tag to boot.

Chaa Creek and Ka’ana are widely recognized as some of the most luxurious Belize jungle resorts. If you crave a little more glamor with your eco digs, check out one of those two options: Ka’ana or Chaa Creek.

Read More: 6 Most Incredible Eco Lodges in Belize (For All Budgets)

Play with ALL THE DOGS at Caye Caulker’s only animal shelter

Okay, I’m probably the only person who thinks that laying around in the sand with a bunch of homeless dogs is an essential thing to do in Belize, but stay with me, here.

A sweet local guy named Kenny runs this humble little animal shelter that takes in and helps rehome dogs and cats in need of some TLC.

Caye Caulker Animal Shelter is entirely run by donations – so if you can, donate either your time to love on these dogs (or take them for a walk around the island) or a few extra dollars to help support Kenny’s mission.

Pray to spot a jaguar in Cockscomb Basin

Did you know Belize is home to the world’s only jaguar preserve?

These endangered beauties can be found if you’re incredibly lucky in Cockscomb Basin (check prices for tours here), though I wouldn’t count on a spotting — there are only 200 of them in this wildlife preserve spanning 150 square miles.

Still, countless other species call this protected area home, including other wild cats like the ocelot and the adorable jaguarundi.

For the less patient and less deep-pocketed: if you simply must see a jaguar, the Belize Zoo has a jaguar rehabilitation program that does excellent work.

I normally don’t support zoos – I find them unethical and cruel – but the Belize Zoo is a notable exception as it houses only A) species native to Belize and B) animals who are not yet able to be released into the wild for health or socialization reasons.

No polar bears sweating in the humidity here – it’s one of few truly ethical zoos in the world.

Looking for jaguars in Belize

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 are the absolute essentials.

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. I’ve included a way to get a free quote below.

 
The ultimate list of things to do in Belize. From scuba and snorkeling adventures to honeymoon resorts or eco lodges, suggestions for what to do and where to stay in San Pedro (Ambergris Caye), Caye Caulker, San Ignacio, and beyond!

33 Epic Things to Do in Tahiti, the Heart of French Polynesia

Aerial Photo of Tropical Islands of French Polynesia. Capital City Papeete on Tahiti

Obsidian black sand beaches, hundred-foot tall waterfalls, canopy-covered mountain peaks: there’s no shortage of beauty on the island of Tahiti.

… And that’s not counting Tahiti’s pristine coral reefs and the amazing variety of marine life they shelter.

While many people skip over Tahiti in favor of more popular islands of Tahiti such as Bora Bora, I think Tahiti is the perfect place to spend several days.

Allison exploring Tahiti while staying at a resort, wearing a bikini, with infinity pool, palm tree, blue sky, and Moorea in distance, while walking barefoot on a bridge.

In this post, I’ll show you just why Tahiti is worth visiting: mix and match these 33 top things to do in Tahiti to find the best way to enjoy your Tahiti vacation according to your own style!

This guide to Tahiti includes all sorts of different things, from water activities to 4×4 tours through otherwise inaccessible valleys, featuring all the most beautiful places in Tahiti along the way.

You can read this guide to make your own itinerary, or you can read my 3 to 5 day Tahiti itinerary to get an idea of how to structure your trip (and add on anything else you want along the way).

By the way, also visiting Moorea? I have a sister post to this one, with 33 more epic things to do, but in Moorea this time!

You can also see a post where I organize some of the top things to do in a Moorea itinerary.

Where is Tahiti?

View along the East Side of tahiti, a beautiful isolated part of the island that is beautiful to visit but not as popular as the west coast, with green trees and blue water and a black sand beach, time approaching sunset.

One of the largest and most famous South Pacific Islands, the island of Tahiti is the main island of French Polynesia.

Tahiti is home to the capital city of Papeete, the most populated island in French Polynesia.

Approximately 27,000 people live in Papeete itself, and about 137,000 people in the metro area of Papeete.

Tahiti is part of the Windward Islands, the eastern group of the Society Islands. Its neighboring islands include Moorea, Mehetia, Tetiaroa, and Maiao.

The larger group of islands which Tahiti belongs to is called the Society Islands, which includes Bora Bora, Huahine, Raiatea, Maupiti, Tahaa, Maupihaa, Manuae, and Tupai.

There are four other island groups which are part of French Polynesia the Tuamoto Islands, the Austral Islands, the Marquesas Islands, and the Gambier Islands.

How Do You Get to Tahiti?

A five-person band of local Polynesians wearing yellow outfits, playing instruments and welcoming arriving guests off the plane as they land at Tahiti's International Airport.

Several airlines serve Faa’a International Airport (PPT), the only international airport in French Polynesia.

If you want to go to any other French Polynesian Islands, you’ll have to pass through Tahiti first!

Most major airlines leave either from California (SFO or LAX) if you’re coming from the United States, or New Zealand (AKL) if you’re coming from Oceania.

French Bee, United, Air Tahiti Nui, Air France, Air Calin, Air New Zealand, Hawaiian Airlines, and Latam Airlines are the airlines that serve Tahiti.

The Best Things to Do in Tahiti

Swim with the humpback whales of Tahiti.

View of a mother humpback whale and her baby as seen from underwater from the point of view of a snorkeler in Tahiti.

If you visit Tahiti during humpback whale season, you can’t miss the chance to swim with these gentle giants!

From roughly July to October each year (and sometimes into early November) the humpback whales migrate to the waters around Tahiti: it’s the perfect place to mate, birth, and raise their babies.

One of the most memorable activities you can do in Tahiti is go swimming with humpback whales.

To make sure your whale watching is ethical, I suggest going with a small operator.

The tour I’m recommending is run by a small operator with a great reputation on the island, in a remote part of the island where there are fewer operators so you won’t be crowded by other people.

Book your humpback whale snorkel excursion here!

Very few places in the world allow you to do this, but Tahiti is one of them where you can actually snorkel in the water with these incredible creatures!

Your local guide will make sure you interact with these whales safely and ethically, keeping a safe distance for everyone.

Humpback whales are not dangerous, but as with any wildlife, you shouldn’t mess with their natural habitat by interacting with them: just admire them from a distance.

If you’re lucky, you may even get to hear their unique whale song from underwater!

When I went whale watching in Oahu, I learned that the whale song is the same between all the whales, but it changes each year: they pick a new tune that they like, and they all use it in unison! Pretty cool, right?

Make sure you add this to your Tahiti itinerary if you’re visiting in whale season!

Eat delicious local foods at Tahiti’s many food trucks.

Grilled tuna fish with herb butter and BBQ sauce and fries served as a local eatery food truck on a beach in Tahiti Iti with a virgin pina colada.

An essential part of experiencing Tahitian culture is joining the locals and tourists alike at a food truck (locally called a roulotte).

These food trucks serve up delicious fresh and often rather healthy food for affordable prices.

Of course, with all the crystal clear waters around you, it’s no surprise that many of the food trucks in Tahiti feature incredible seafood!

One of the most famous Tahitian dishes is poisson cru, which is French for raw fish.

The freshly sliced raw tuna is served with thinly julienned vegetables like raw onion and carrots, and doused in delicious coconut milk!

Other popular dishes you’ll see served at the food trucks in Tahiti and Moorea include seafood brochettes (kebabs), fish burgers, tuna ceviche, tuna carpaccio… you name it, there’s probably a tuna version of it!

You’ll find food trucks all over Tahiti and Moorea, but the most popular place in Tahiti is Viate Square.

Splurge on a fancy night out in Papeete’s best restaurants.

Allison's partner eating a mahi mahi filet with vanilla sauce and drinking a glass of wine, Allison's dish which is a papio covered in passionfruit sauce is also visible, as well as side dishes, in a fancy restaurant.

While Tahiti’s food trucks are incredible, Papeete also has some great fine dining options where you can have an incredible meal at a reasonable price, especially compared to U.S. food prices (which is my point of comparison).

My partner and I had an incredible meal at L’O A La Bouche. We started with some of the best beef tartar we’ve ever had, and then followed it up with a seafood course each.

She had the mahi mahi with Tahitian vanilla and coconut sauce, and I tried the papio (a local fish) with a passionfruit and ginger coulis. Both were incredible!

We ended the meal with a trio of crème brûlées, including pistachio, Tahitian vanilla, and chocolate.

It was certainly a meal to remember, and at just $55 per person including drinks, it was a great deal!

Explore the fresh tropical fruits at Papeete Market.

A sign that reads "carambole" which is French for star fruit, with orange and yellow star-shaped fruits for display on newspaper in the market.

One thing I really like when traveling to tropical places is seeing what sort of unique tropical fruits you can find!

You’ll find all sorts of fresh produce at the Papeete Market (Marche de Papeete), including star fruit (carambole), breadfruit (ulu), taro, and more.

Best of all, the produce is really affordable for the quality and freshness!

Besides tasty fresh produce, you can also get some beautiful Tahitian souvenirs here.

Go canyoning in Tahiti’s lava tubes.

People doing a canyoning activity climbing up and down a waterfall with rappelling gear in Tahiti
Photo Credit: Manawa

While everyone’s mind goes to sun-drenched beaches and coconut trees when thinking of Tahiti, there’s plenty of things to do in Tahiti for more adventurous travelers!

A can’t-miss activity for adrenaline seekers is the Tahiti lava tube full-day tour, where you go hiking through dark lava tubes, canyoning in beautiful waters, and rappelling down waterfalls in Tahiti’s rugged interior.

Because Tahiti — much like Hawaii — was formed by volcanic activity, there are a number of lava tubes located all over the island, but the most famous for exploring are in Hitiaa.

Together with your canyoning guide, you’ll explore several lava tunnels with a headlamp before reaching an impressive area where there are also waterfalls and pools to jump into — all this in an underground cave structure!

After exploring the lava tubes, you can explore a river, swim in the waterfalls, and even get the chance to try

At the exit of the lavatubes, you will follow a beautiful river with waterfalls where you will be able to swim. The second part of the trip is done in the middle of a luxuriant vegetation with magnificent landscapes.

The canyoning option allows you to discover the lavatubes of Tahiti in a more technical way with abseiling.

Book your lava tube canyoning tour here!

Take a road trip down to Tahiti Iti.

A river running through Tahiti Iti and leading out into the ocean, with palm trees and other lush green landscape and mountains in the distance, with a cloudy sky above.

One of my favorite parts of my trip to Tahiti was driving all the way from Tahiti Nui (Big Tahiti) to Tahiti Iti (Little Tahiti), the little peninsula at the southern coast of Tahiti.

We drove all the way down to Plage de Tautira, where we enjoyed one of the best views of Tahiti.

You could see all its natural wonders in one vista here: three waterfalls lined up in a row against a backdrop of rough, jagged green mountains, and a river creating a valley through it. It was stunning!

There was also a phenomenal snack bar at Plage de Tautira where we enjoyed some of the best grilled fish we had in our entire time!

Admire the Vaipahi Water Gardens.

Allison in front of a waterfall in Tahiti

Home to a beautiful waterfall, the Vaipahi Water Gardens are a lovely place to take a stroll through Tahiti’s flora.

There is a waterfall here that you can easily walk to, and then you can continue your walk either on one of the many hiking trails that departs from here or stay on flat ground and explore the large lake filled with water lilies.

There are three hiking options here: the Vaipahi Great Loop, which is 5 km and takes about 2 hours, the Vaipahi Small Loop, which is 2.7 km and takes about an hour and 15 minutes, or the Vaipahi River Trail, which is 1 km and takes about 35 minutes.

Take in the three stunning Faarumai Waterfalls.

Allison with her back to the camera with her arms in front of a waterfall in Tahiti

Vaipahi is just one of many beautiful waterfalls in Tahiti! The most stunning waterfalls in my opinion are the trio at Faarumai, located on the east coast of Tahiti.

It’s quite easy to access these waterfalls: simply put Faarumai Waterfalls in the GPS and head to the end of the road, where you’ll find a parking lot.

The first waterfall is just a 5-minute walk through the tropical forest. The other two are located in the opposite direction, about 15 minutes from where you began.

All in all, it’s pretty epic that you can see three stunning waterfalls in less than an hourlong hike, including plenty of time to stop for photos!

Admire the beauty of Tahiti’s grottoes.

Allison standing in front of the grotto, which has ferns dripping down off the cave, with blue turquoise water underneath the cave, she is wearing a rainbow shirt and overalls and rainbow sandals.

One of my favorite places on the west coast of Tahiti were the quiet, peaceful grottoes of Mara’a (Grottes de Mara’a on Google Maps).

I was surprised by the beauty of this little site that few people seemed to be visiting!

The walk through the dense foliage was stunning, and when we arrived at the cave, it was even more stunning than I could have imagined.

Imagine an isolated cave with ferns crawling all over the rock as a trickle of water cascaded over its face, creating rainbows, and an inviting deep turquoise pool in the cave.

Unfortunately, there’s no going for a refreshing dip here: it’s strictly prohibited for safety reasons, so don’t be that person.

Explore the Papeno’o Valley by 4×4 tour.

The beautiful still lake of the Papenoo Valley in Tahiti which is a deserted beautiful area

One of the most incredible parts of Tahiti is completely inaccessible with your standard rental car in Tahiti.

The interior of the island used to have a road passing through, but it no longer is maintained.

For that reason, you’ll need to book a guided 4×4 tour if you want to check out the Papeno’o Valley — and once you realize what you’ll see on a tour there, you’ll certainly want to!

But its inaccessibility makes it one of the most scenic parts of Tahiti, practically untouched by tourism: you’ll see so many waterfalls, scenic lakes set amidst lush valleys, tropical flora, and Jurassic-era looking landscapes everywhere you look.

I recommend this 4×4 Island Crossing tour to show you the parts of the island that you can’t access with your own car!

Book your tour of Papeno’o Valley in a 4×4 here!

Check out the unique Arahoho Blowhole.

Black Lava Rocks with big waves, Blue Water erupting from a Blowhole which is like a marine geyser, ocean surf comes into stone lava tube and pushes water up through the hole

For a unique spot to visit in Tahiti near the Faarumai Waterfalls, don’t miss the Arahoho Blowhole.

This natural geological phenomenon was created by a lava tube which cooled and formed a tunnel hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Now, when there is a particularly strong wave, the lava tube will form a ‘blowhole’ similar to what you’d see from a whale: seawater shooting up into the air dramatically.

Typically, the water spout only is a few feet high, but it can spout up to 30 feet in height during storms and/or high tide!

Stay in an overwater bungalow at the Intercontinental Tahiti Resort.

Allison wearing a monstera print swim cover up and a bikini in front of bungalows

Tahiti has only one resort with overwater bungalows, unlike other islands like Bora Bora which have almost too many to choose from!

That is the Intercontinental Tahiti, which is located on the west coast of Tahiti with a beautiful view of Moorea.

We stayed here for two nights — though in a room facing the ocean and not in an overwater bungalow — and we thought it was epic!

I’ve also stayed in an overwater bungalow in the Maldives before, and it was an unforgettable experience (although the price tag is similarly unforgettable).

While I didn’t get the chance to do this in Tahiti this trip, I hope to return to French Polynesia soon and check out some overwater bungalows!

We did swim over to the snorkeling in front of the Motu Bungalows and can confirm that it’s excellent!

While staying there, we also spoke to a couple staying in one of the Motu suites and one of them said they saw a spotted eagle ray swimming past as they were sitting on their balcony!

Check bungalow rates & availability and other room options here!

Check out the Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens.

Just down the road from the Vaipahi Water Gardens is the Harrison Smith Botanical Garden, home to groves of palm trees, colorful hibiscus bushes, and hundreds of other tropical flora imported from the Americas, Asia, and Africa.

On one side, you can look out to the ocean, to the other, you can look behind and see the mountains of Tahiti: that’s part of what makes this botanical garden so special.

Once a private land owned by an American, the botanical garden fell into disuse, but it was restored by the tourism office in 2017 and has been getting a beautiful glow up ever since.

Best of all, admission is free!

See the exterior of the (now-closed) Paul Gauguin Museum.

The French painter Paul Gauguin was one of Tahiti’s most famous — and controversial — residents.

The Paul Gauguin Museum was dedicated to his work, but it closed in 2013 and shows no signs of reopening.

While Gauguin was a talented artist, you can’t overlook his personal transgressions, especially when you’re talking about his work in the context of Tahiti — where he had several child brides, potentially as young as 11.

Many people are grappling now with how to retrospectively live with Gauguin’s legacy — from writing novels from the perspective of his child bride to penning thinkpieces on whether Gauguin should be ‘cancelled’.

This museum, closed for years with no plans to reopen, seems frozen in time struggling with this same question.

That said, if you’re already visiting the Harrison Smith Botanical Gardens, this is right nearby and you can check out the grounds and the beautiful (but abandoned) Japanese-inspired architecture of the museum.

Visit the spectacular Ta Pahi Point.

One of the most beautiful places on Tahiti’s East Coast is Ta Pahi Point.

Raising more than 70 feet above the sea, you can look on one side and see the island of Moorea and Point Venus — to the other, you’ll see Hiro’s Rock and the black sand beaches below it.

This is also a great place to stop and watch the surfers around sunset!

Go snorkeling in Tahiti’s pristine blue waters.

Allison snorkeling in swim leggings, a swim top, white fins, above a reef in Tahiti

We mostly dove while we were in Tahiti — because really, once you start diving, it’s hard to settle for snorkeling — but when we did snorkel, we were wildly impressed!

When we stayed at the Intercontinental we snorkeled their house reef and we were wildly impressed — it was some of the best off-shore snorkeling we’ve ever done!

We saw an uncountable number of colorful tropical fish, but more excitingly, we also got to see a day octopus, a moray eel, huge anemone gardens with clownfish (including babies!), and triggerfish.

An octopus trying to hide in a coral rock while not disguising itself fully

If you’re staying at the Intercontinental, you can definitely enjoy snorkeling in front of the bungalows or in the enclosed lagoonarium if you feel uncomfortable in the open ocean.

You can also do a snorkeling tour like this one, which brings you to a snorkeling site called The Aquarium that features three wrecks and all the coral life and fish that have sprung up around the wreckage.

Note: Be careful when booking activities — many snorkeling activities are set on Moorea, Tahiti’s sister island, so double check that your activity is departing from the right island!

Book your snorkeling tour of Tahiti here!

Allison's partner snorkeling in Tahiti and giving two peace signs while underwater above a coral reef

If you want to try something unique instead of your average snorkel, you can up the ante and try sea scootering.

You’ll still have your snorkel and mask, but instead of swimming, you’ll be zooming around by holding a powered motor that will bring you swiftly through the water with ease.

This tour also covers The Aquarium snorkel site, so it’s a matter of whether you want a more traditional snorkel experience or if you want to have some mechanical assistance and speed!

Whichever tour you see, you’re likely to see all sorts of fish but also possibly sting rays and small (harmless!) black-tipped reef sharks.

Book your sea scooter + snorkel tour of The Aquarium here!

Dive Tahiti’s beautiful reefs with colorful fish and turtles galore!

A sea turtle resting on the sea floor in Tahiti

While we loved our snorkeling, scuba diving in Tahiti was definitely the highlight!

We dove four times during our stay and all were incredible in their own way.

We dived in Moorea as well and we found that excellent as well — it’s hard to compare the two, but Moorea did slightly edge out Tahiti, but only by a nose!

Checking out glowy, illuminated plankton visible when using a dive light while scuba diving.

We saw all sorts of things: unique plankton formations (seen above), spiny rockfish, black-tipped reef sharks, hawksbill and green turtles, barracudas, and so much more.

But even just the topography of the dive sites we saw in Tahiti were incredible, with the underwater formations of valleys and coral walls and even underwater water sources spouting cold water from a vent!

Take in the sunset at Point Venus.

Black sand beach at Point venus with view of moorea at sunset with orange colors and sun setting on horizon

There are quite a few great spots in Tahiti to catch the sunset, but I think one of the best is at Point Venus, where there is a lighthouse and a public beach.

Get there before sunset to check out the historic lighthouse, then set up a little picnic with a view of Moorea to watch the sunset!

Admire Tahiti’s beautiful black sand beaches.

Allison standing in a rainbow tank top and overalls wearing sunglasses on a black sand beach in Tahiti

Tahiti is known for its stunning black sand beaches, due to its origins as a volcanic island.

While there are many black sand beaches, a few stand out: Lafayette Beach, Papenoo Beach, which is a great place to watch surfers, the beach at Point Venus, and Taharuu Beach which is shown above.

Sun yourself on Tahiti’s white sand beaches.

The white sand beach of Temae in Moorea

While the black sand beaches are beautiful, they’re not very comfortable for sitting on… the soaring temperatures and the heat-absorbing black sand does not make for a good combination!

Luckily, Tahiti does have a few white sand beaches worth mentioning that are more pleasant for sunbathing.

One of the best white sand beaches in Tahiti is Vaiava Beach, which also happens to have an excellent snorkeling area. A few others are Maui Beach on Tahiti Iti and Toaroto Beach which is closer to Papeete.

There are even more white sand beaches on Moorea, such as Temae Beach (pictured above) if you really want some white sand beach time!

Take a day trip to Moorea.

The colorful turquoise waters of Moorea with the background of Moorea in the distance, as seen from a snorkeling boat in the lagoon

I will readily say that Moorea deserves more than just a day trip from Tahiti… in fact, we dedicated 5 of the 10 days of our French Polynesia itinerary to just our Moorea itinerary!

That said, if you only have a day trip, you can absolutely make the most of it because the ferry from Tahiti to Moorea is so easy.

You could spend the day relaxing and snorkeling on Temae Beach (one of the best snorkeling spots in Moorea!) or you can go on a 4×4 safari tour of Moorea that will bring you to all the most famous spots on the island.

Tip: If you’re not staying overnight in Moorea, book the afternoon tour to give yourself enough time to get to and from Moorea from Tahiti!

Book your 4×4 safari tour of Moorea!

Watch surfers on Tahiti’s East Coast.

Rainbow on the horizon with surfers in the water on the east coast of tahiti in the late afternoon

While I’m not a surfer, I love watching surfers do their thing — I find it really peaceful and amazing.

There are lots of places on the East Coast of Tahiti that have great waves and lots of surfers at all times of day, particularly in the afternoon before sunset.

We found a few great spots to watch surfers were around the Bay of Papeno’o (Baie de Papeno’o on Google Maps) and just a bit south of that, on the other side of Ta Pahi Point.

For more surf-watching, Teahupoo on Tahiti Iti is famous for its big waves, but we didn’t have time to check it out on this recent trip to Tahiti, unfortunately!

Learn more about the island at the Museum of Tahiti.

The beautiful verdant green landscapes of Moorea with mountains and clouds

Unfortunately, the Museum of Tahiti and its Islands is temporarily closed for renovations, and it’s not clear on the website when it will reopen.

When it’s open, though, it should be well worth a visit!

You’ll find everything from historical Polynesian artifacts that show the rich history of this islands to work from contemporary Polynesian artists.

Check out the historic marae of Tahiti.

An ancient set of ruins made of rocks that are joined together perfectly so they do not fall, on a cloudy, misty day in Tahiti

Did you know there are ancient ruins on Tahiti?

These sites, called marae, are the remnants of Polynesian settlements and give a glimpse into how people lived on the islands many centuries ago.

The two more interesting and well-preserved marae are found on the west coast of the island, not far from each other.

Don’t miss checking out both Marae Ta’ata and ‘Ārahurahu Marae if you’re interested in learning more about the culture and history of Tahiti, and not just seeing its beaches and marine life!

Take a romantic sunset cruise.

View of Moorea with the sun setting behind it while out on the water in Tahiti

Getting out on the water is one of the best ways to appreciate Tahiti’s stunning geography, with its tall mountain peaks that are hard to appreciate when you’re on the island itself.

You can also get a closer view of Tahiti’s sister island of Moorea, which is even more beautiful as you approach it on the water.

If you want to have a romantic evening activity during your time in Tahiti, a sunset cruise is a fantastic idea for you and your loved one.

This cruise includes pick-up and drop-off, a complimentary sunset cocktail, and a beautiful 1.5-hour cruise where you relax on a stunning lagoon with views of Tahiti and Moorea both.

Best of all, the boat is limited to 12 guests, so you’re guaranteed an intimate, romantic atmosphere for a date night you can never forget!

Book your Tahiti sunset cruise here!

Spend some time enjoying downtown Papeete’s sights.

The town hall in Papeete with two stories, yellow and red colors, with Christmas lights strung up and the word "family" in French written in lights in the front

I spent three days in Papeete and while I’m happy to have spent the time there, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not exactly a big bustling capital!

There still are a few sights worth seeing in downtown Papeete, generally clustered around the main Vaima Shopping Center in town.

It’s worth taking a short walk around downtown Papeete to check out the following sites: the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Marina, the Town Hall (Mairie de Papeete), Place Vai’ete, and Pā’ōfa’i Gardens.

Part of what makes travel so interesting for me is not just the destination’s landscapes and activities, but its people and everyday culture.

I enjoyed Papeete for the simple fact of getting to see the place where many Tahiti locals live, shop, and play!

Try delicious French pastries.

Different cream-filled French pastries in the case at a popular French bakery in Papeete Tahiti

Since Tahiti and its islands are a French territory, the French influence is undeniable everywhere you look, from the language to downtown Papeete’s architecture to the food.

That means that when you visit Tahiti, you get a taste of two cuisines in one place: the delicious Polynesian cuisine that showcases bountiful local seafood and tropical ingredients as well as traditional continental French cuisine… as well as tasty fusions of both!

While you absolutely should try local Tahitian food, it’d also be a crying shame to be technically on French soil and not eat all the delicious French pastries your stomach can fit.

Downtown Papeete has some of the best French bakeries — we loved Les Rêves de Lucie and Le Pālais Pātisserie and stocked up on pastries there during our trip! On Moorea, we loved Carameline.

Note: While I did enjoy getting to eat French food while in Tahiti, it’s important that visitors don’t take for granted that French Polynesia is and has been impacted by the hurtful legacy of colonialism, and the question of if and when French Polynesia should become independent are important matters close to the heart of many Polynesians, without one uniform answer across the board.

Explore the street art of downtown Papeete.

Street art in Papeete of a girl holding two birds in her hands with blue makeup and background

Papeete has some great street art that is well worth keeping an eye out for while you’re exploring the downtown area.

A few pieces that I really liked were the following:

  • The octopus metal sculpture piece on the side of the ART’GRICULTURE building
  • The above pictured portrait near the Territorial Assembly building on Rue de Dr. Cassiau and Ave. du General de Gaulle
  • A piece meditating on immigration and identity in the Vaima Mall near the Karaaji restaurant.

Drive the coastal road around the island of Tahiti.

Coastal road with a red car on it on Tahiti

One of the coolest things to do in Tahiti is circumnavigate the island by car — it takes less time than you’d think, and there’s so much to see that just requires quickly pulling over off the main road!

One thing to consider when driving around Tahiti is that the west side is far more developed whereas the east side is a lot more rustic, and the roads match that!

If you think there’s a chance that you might be driving in the dark, do the east side first — the roads there are very dicey to drive at night, with almost no lights, zero reflector strips, and winding roads!

We learned this the hard way so you don’t have to!

If you plan to do a road trip in Tahiti, I recommend you read my guide to renting a car in Tahiti first — it has a ton of helpful hints in it!

Shop for your very own Tahitian black pearls.

Tahitian black pearls on a strand of a necklace with three pearls of black, white, and grayish brown

French Polynesia is famous for its Tahitian black pearls, although as an interesting fact, the pearls are actually not found on the island of Tahiti!

They are typically sourced from outer Tahitian islands, such as the Tuamoto Islands, in lower-lying coral atoll archipelagos.

These pearls are famous because they only come from one particular oyster found in very few other places in the world: the Tahitian black lip pearl oyster (its official name is the Pinctada margaritifera).

Many shops all over Tahiti specialize in pearls so you won’t be hard-pressed to find one!

Take a helicopter tour over the island.

Aerial view over the island of Tahiti with the view pointing towards the capital city of Papeete

Tahiti is impressive no matter which way you slice it, but the best way to appreciate the magnificence of this stunning island is to see it from above!

We actually had a 30-minute helicopter tour booked with Air Tahiti Nui (you can book here) but unfortunately, it got canceled due to bad weather.

We were unable to rebook because group helicopter tours are only available on weekends (private tours are available on weekdays).

It’s something I hope to be able to do on a repeat trip to Tahiti for sure, because Tahiti’s landscape reminds me a lot of Kauai’s Na Pali coast, which was the most memorable helicopter tour I’ve ever been able to do — and I’ve helicoptered over the Grand Canyon!

Judging by the landscape of Tahiti that I did get to see, I’d bet that a helicopter tour of Tahiti is just as impressive, if not more so, than a helicopter tour of the Na Pali coastline of Kauai.

There are 10-minute, 20-minute, and 30-minute helicopter tour options available — I recommend at least the 20-minute version so you can see the Papeno’o Valley and Orohena Mountain.

Book your helicopter tour here!

Go jetskiing in beautiful turquoise waters.

Jet ski with pod of dolphins swimming alongside it
Photo Credit: Manawa

If you prefer your adrenaline to take place on the water, jet skiing in Tahiti may be the perfect activity for you!

Personally, I’ve never tried jet skiing and it’s never called to me — I prefer to be under the water than on it! — but it’s definitely a popular thing to do in Tahiti.

There are 30-minute, 1-hour, and 2-hour day tours as well as a 1.5-hour sunset tour to pick from.

You may even get the chance to see dolphins and jet ski alongside a pod of them during your trip!

Book your jet ski tour of Tahiti here!

Watch the epic waves of Teapuhoo.

A large 10+ foot wave in Teahupoo on Tahiti, a famous surf spot for big waves, four men in wetsuits in the water waiting for their turn to surf

Teahupo’o literally means “to sever the head” or “place of skulls” in Tahitian — a macabre name befitting one of the deadliest waves in the world.

The waves of Teapuho’o are no joke and are only meant for advanced surfers. While they only measure 7-10 feet on average, they can surge up to 20+ feet during storms.

But that’s not the only reason the waves are so dangerous — they’re located above a shallow reef, which creates consistent “hollow” waves that are particularly precarious, despite having that beautiful barrel look.

That said, your average traveler to Tahiti can still enjoy seeing the waves of Teapuho’o, located at the western edge of Tahiti Iti.

You can drive there in your own rental car or you can also take a guided boat tour to see the waves of Teapuho’o from a safe distance.

Book your boat tour to Teapuho’o here!

Take a surf lesson and try out Tahiti’s waves.

Woman on a surfboard in Tahiti

That said, there are plenty of safer waves in Tahiti for beginner and intermediate surfers!

You can take a 2-hour private lesson for about $55 — quite a bargain!

All the materials will be included except a rashguard, which you should bring from home.

Book your private surf lesson here!

If you’re already an experienced surfer, here’s a list of surf spots recommended by the Tahiti Tourism Board.

Where to Stay in Tahiti

We stayed at two places in Tahiti and can recommend them both highly.

Which one you should choose depends whether you prefer a guesthouse experience or a resort experience!

Guesthouse Pick: Fare Rearea

I loved Fare Rearea in Papeete — the location was so central that we could walk to many places we wanted to eat at, though parking at the guesthouse was easy when we needed it. 

The lush garden and pool and kitchen area were great to relax in, and our private studio room was incredible, with our own private terrace with an outdoor kitchen and garden.

And the included daily breakfast was incredible!

Check availability at Fare Rearea here!

Resort Pick: Intercontinental Tahiti

Allison wearing a monstera print swim cover up and a bikini in front of bungalows

While we didn’t stay in an overwater bungalow this trip, we wanted a little taste of the resort experience and chose to stay in the Intercontinental Tahiti in Faa’a.

We stayed in a deluxe room with a view of Moorea and it was stunning and spacious, with a beautiful balcony perfect for taking in the sunset.

The hotel’s amenities were great — we loved the hotel restaurant, the infinity pool, the house reef you could snorkel at, and the lagoonarium where you could snorkel with colorful fish in an enclosed area.

Check availability at the Intercontinental here!

What to Pack for Tahiti

Allison in bikini in front of Moorea background

I have a full Tahiti packing list here — but here are 10 quick essentials!

  1. Swimwear, including high-coverage swimwear like sunsuits/swim leggings/rash guards or other things to wear under a wetsuit for snorkeling, kayaking, diving and other water activities. If diving, you may want to bring your own wetsuit. I was fine in a 3mm, but I typically wear a 5mm.
  2. Reef safe sunscreen, so you can protect Tahiti’s beautiful marine ecosystem (I love Stream 2 Sea).
  3. Swim coverup, so that you can easily transition between swimwear and being public-ready. I had two, because one would often be damp — my monstera print one and my white sheer lacy coverup.
  4. Mosquito repellent, because Tahiti and Moorea’s mosquito population is no joke!
  5. Afterbite care, because no matter how good you are with mosquito repellent, you will end up with some bites! This interesting afterbite healer doesn’t use any chemicals but instead uses heat to stop the itching.
  6. GoPro, to capture all of your underwater adventures (with dive housing and filters if you’re diving too!). The Hero 11 is the newest and most up-to-date version.
  7. Your own snorkeling gear, so you have the freedom to snorkel at any beach you choose — many beaches don’t have snorkel shops with gear rental nearby. I have a TUSA mask and TUSA snorkel set, and IST fins.
  8. Rain jacket, because Tahiti will have the occasional downpour and you don’t want to get caught off guard! I brought my Patagonia Torrentshell.
  9. Packable sun hat and baseball caps, because sun protection should come first from your hat and second from your sunscreen!
  10. Travel insurance, because let’s face it — Tahiti is a pricy trip and you don’t want anything to go awry while you’re there! I used SafetyWing for a policy that cost just $18 for a 10-day policy.

When’s The Best Time to Visit Taiwan? Weather & Season Guide

If you ask a local when is the best time to visit Taiwan, you won’t get a straight answer.

Each season offers different activities and landscapes, unique festivals and weather patterns, and distinct pluses and minuses.

The best time to visit Taiwan ends up depending on what you want, and so knowing that is key to deciding what you want to do.

There are so many things you can do in Taiwan that are dependent on the different seasons.

view of taiwanese landscape in a beautiful lush month

To truly answer the best time to visit Taiwan, you just have to basically know what you want to do so that you can select the perfect season to book that trip.

If you want to see turquoise water, white sand beaches, and pristine seascapes, then summer is the perfect time to visit.

If you like long walks and hiking amongst a kaleidoscope of rust-colored trees, then autumn will be best.

If soaking in warm hot springs is something you enjoy, then winter (which is rather mild in Taiwan) will be a delight for you.

And if you’re rabid for cherry blossoms, then you can’t miss visiting in spring!

As you can see, every season offers a memorable experience, so it’s more of a matter of picking the experience that most resonates with your interests and travel style.

To further narrow down when to visit Taiwan, I have listed some key information about each season that can help you plan your trip.

Summer (June – August)

brilliant ocean waters in turquoise and dark blue meeting a sandy beach and green landscape

As an island, many people would think that Taiwan is a perfect island getaway and thus perfect to visit during the summer.

However, there are pros and cons to this.

Budget travelers will enjoy slightly cheaper flights and accommodation in Taiwan during the summer season.

However, this is for a reason, as this is the most hot and humid time of the year, with rampant mosquitos and the occasional typhoon!

Be sure to check online weather forecasts before booking that Taiwan trip and be sure to bring proper rain gear.

I always bring my Marmot PreCip jacket and a compact travel umbrella when traveling places with unpredictable rain patterns.

The temperature can rise up to around 97° F (around 36° C), though temperatures around 93° F (around 34° C) are more common.

However, that doesn’t factor for the punishing humidity, which can push the heat index into the 100° F range (nearly 40° C!).

If you visit Taiwan in summer, you should bring lightweight and comfortable clothes (I have more suggestions on my Taiwan packing list here).

Quick-drying fabrics, like linen and silk, will do better than clothing that stays damp, like cotton.

Whatever you do — get ready to sweat from the heat! Think of it as a free sauna… that you can never escape from.

However, if you can brave the high temperatures, summer is the perfect time to visit Taiwan’s beaches!

If possible, try to go during a weekday to avoid the crowds. Still, regardless of the day of the week, expect a lot of local students in July until August, when schools are on break.

Kenting National Park in the very far south of Taiwan is a fantastic option for beaches.

One of the most popular beaches there is Little Bay (Xiaowan) but frankly, you can barely go wrong with anywhere in Kenting!

packed beach in the kenting area with rainbow colored umbrellas and lots of people enjoying holidays

The nearest beach you can go from Taipei Main Station is Fulong Beach, a quick ride on the TRA.

You will definitely cool down once the ocean waves hit you with the refreshingly cold water!

There is an entrance fee to the beach, approximately $NTD 100 (around $3.50 USD).

If you’re visiting sometime between mid-April and mid-July, there is the Fulong International Sand Sculpture Festival going on — you may want to come for this, or you may want to avoid it!

Make sure to bring food or try the popular Fulong Bento, as there is only one café once you enter the premises.

If you are the type of person who loves serene views of nature and lovely beaches, I suggest getting out of Taipei and heading to one of the beautiful islands of Taiwan.

The most gorgeous islands are Xiao Liuqiu, Lanyu Island (Orchid Island), Matsu Island, and the Penghu Islands.

The most interesting of the bunch is perhaps Penghu, which is actually an archipelago of islands.

Virtually all of these beautiful islands will make you feel like you are in a time capsule away from the city!

The culture is well-preserved and not a lot of tourists are there, due to the limited capacity of people these small islands can accommodate.

Lastly, who says you can’t enjoy springs during the summer? While Taiwan is famous for its ubiquitous hot springs, cold springs are also a thing in Taiwan!

There are a few ones like the Su’ao Cold Spring in Yilan and the Sishierfeng Cold Spring in Miaoli.

Fall (September – November)

yellow and orange foliage taking over the forest around a beautiful waterfall called shifen waterfall

If pressed, Taiwanese people might say that this is the best time of the year to visit Taiwan.

The weather starts to cool down (finally), and it is perfect for trekking or hiking. Temperatures can go from 68-79° F (around 20-26° C), much more humane!

As a result, flights and accommodation costs can skyrocket rather high during this season.

September is generally considered the most expensive time to visit. Budget travelers should look elsewhere during this month!

But it’s priced high for a reason: there’s also less rainfall when compared to summer and spring, so autumn is a more convenient time to visit.

beautiful autumn trees and peaceful water in a natural area of taiwan

Plus, landscapes start to flourish into fall colors around this time of year, with leaves turning to beautiful shades of red, brown and yellow.

Note that the Moon Festival or the Mid-Autumn Festival is a really significant holiday, when prices and crowds can get quite crazy.

But it’s also quite fun, as moon cakes and Taiwanese BBQ treats will be served under the full moon!

This is a good time to do some day trips from Taipei, as the weather isn’t too hot to explore, and Taiwan’s lush countryside isn’t a far ride away.

I asked a Taiwanese local what was the best place to go to during the fall, and he recommended the Aowanda National Forest Recreation Area.

I personally have not been there (yet), but it just looks amazing in photos!

Winter (December – February)

snow capped peak with cloud puff in a cool season of taiwan

December is when the temperatures start to drop, going as low as 50°F (around 10°C).

The coldest month of the year is January; however, I spent two weeks in January in Taiwan, and I found the weather rather lovely (but I’m from the Bay Area, and that’s a typical winter weather day for me!).

Taiwan is not as cold as the winter in most western countries, and it is definitely warmer than other East Asian countries such as China, Japan, and South Korea!

If you are from North America, and you want to experience a warmer winter (but not stifling heat and humidity the way you would in Southeast Asia), then it will be a good idea to travel to Taiwan at this time of the year.

Snow in Taiwan is quite rare, and when it does snow, it’s only in some mountainous areas.

This is the perfect time to get your cozy and warm clothing ready! While Taiwan isn’t particularly cold compared to other places, you’ll still want to be layered up appropriately.

Again, I’ve covered winter in Taiwan clothing recommendations on my Taiwan packing list.

However, while December and January are more affordable months to travel, keep in mind that flights and accommodation inflate like crazy in February due to the Lunar New Year.

This holiday is very festive and unique, so it’s definitely worth visiting if you don’t mind paying higher prices!

On the first full moon of the Lunar New Year, the Pingxi Lantern Festival takes place — it’s a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience, but expect crazy crowds and prices.

If you’re on a budget, aim for December or January instead — these months are much more reliable.

lit orange lanterns floating towards the sky, as seen from a low angle

Remember that during the Lunar New Year holidays (which can last for a week around early February), stores are mostly closed.

To warm up, there are a ton of hot springs, especially in Beitou, where you have the unique opportunity to stay at a hot spring hotel — many hotels even offer your own personal hot spring in your room!

There are public springs as well. Local people love to flock to the hot springs in winter, so expect a crowd at the public ones, but they are quite cheap.

I suggest you pre-book a hot spring hotel in Beitou in advance and enjoy your time there!

Spring (March – May)

brilliant cherry blossoms in front of a yellow and blue and red pagoda temple

Spring starts and all of a sudden, the flowers of Taiwan are gorgeously blooming!

This means endless Instagram-worthy pictures, rich with stunning pink cherry blossoms and colorful hydrangeas.

Yangmingshan National Park is one of the best places to find cherry blossoms in Taipei!

If you want to go further afield in Taiwan, there are other national parks and scenic areas such as Alishan, Wulai, and Wuling Farm as well.

Another popular spot that’s easy to get to from Taipei is the Tian Yuan Temple in Danshui, which is especially beautiful when the cherry blossoms erupt.

If you are planning to have a less expensive trip while enjoying the weather, then spring can be a good time to visit Taiwan.

However, the peak cherry blossom season can be a bit more expensive than the rest of spring.

beautiful pink flowers blooming in the taiwan landscape on a cloudy, misty spring day in the hills

In general, spring is not as warm and humid as the summer season and not as rainy as well, though May is when the rainy season starts to kick in.

Generally, temperatures stay around 75° F (around 24° C) and some national parks in mountainous areas can have temperatures going around 68° F (around 20° C).

In terms of festivals, the Swimming Carnival of Sun Moon Lake takes place during this season.

Unsurprisingly, the festival makes accommodations near the park in high demand, and thus rather expensive — plan and book accordingly!

Strolling around Jiufen and Shifen Old Streets will be a spectacular choice during this time of year.

It’s not too hot, nor too cold, nor will there be too many tourists! You can check my article about traveling Shifen and Jiufen here.

General Notes about Festivals and Holidays in Taiwan

Taiwan has two calendars: the national calendar and the lunar calendar.

While most of the time they follow the national calendar, for most holidays and festivals Taiwan follows the Chinese lunar calendar.

The holidays and festivities are sure to give you a taste of Taiwan’s culture at its finest, but keep in mind that there is a cost proportional to this experience!

12 Breathtaking Overwater Bungalows in Panama

Dreaming of a relaxing trip to Central America?

There’s simply no better way to relax than waking up in an overwater bungalow in Panama.

There’s one main region where you’ll find Panama overwater bungalows, the Bocas del Toro region in the country’s northeast corner, a collection of islands tucked away along the sapphire-blue waters of the Caribbean Coast.

Bocas del Toro is an archipelago of islands in Panama known for its lively culture, surf breaks, and verdant rainforest — all juxtaposed against those brilliant blue Caribbean waters and so-soft-it’s-almost-dust sandy shores. 

It’s easy to hop between the islands by private boat or water taxi, and the laid-back feel is the perfect escape to recharge from your busy everyday life.  

Dock with buildings on it and a thatch roof building all on an over-the-water pier with a lagoon and palm tree

And if you really, and I mean really, want to get away from it all, the best way to unwind is by staying in one of these overwater bungalows in Panama.

I should note, Panama’s overwater bungalows are gorgeous and comfortable, but they’re on the more rustic end of the overwater villa spectrum.

These aren’t the million-star resorts complete with butlers you’ll find in destinations like French Polynesia and the Maldives, but rather a more down-to-earth, budget-friendly alternative.

If this sounds like the perfect getaway for you, keep reading to discover our favorite overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro!

My Top 3 Picks for OVerwater Bungalows in Panama

#1 TOP PICK

indonesian wooden house style of a joglo in bocas del toro at a resort called nayara with overwater bungalows

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Nayara Bocas del Toro
✔️ Balinese style design meets overwater bungalows
✔️ Has world’s only “floating beach”

↳ Book it

#2 PICK

view of the magenta colorful panama overwater bungalows in urraca resort

Urraca Private Island Resort
✔️ Colorful magenta bungalows on a private island
✔️ Entire eco-friendly resort built 100% over the water!

↳ Book it

#3 PICK

brilliant colorful bungalows on turquoise and blue sea

Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge
✔️ More budget friendly bungalows
✔️ 10 two-story bungalows

↳ Book it
Palm tree and coconuts on a beach in Bocas del Toro Panama with a pier leading out into the Caribbean Sea

The Best Panama Overwater Bungalows in Bocas del Toro

1. Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge

Brilliant waters and bungalows seen on a gorgeous shallow lagoon area
Photo Credit: Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge

🌟 Rating: 8.8/10 from 375+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$ | Book Now

Unique Features:
🛖 Large two-story bungalows
🐬
Dolphins & marine life in the area
🕯️Candlelit dinners in an open-air restaurant


Check rates and availability at Punta Caracol here!

Punta Caracol is one of the top destinations for overwater bungalows in Bocas del Toro! 

It’s situated on the island of Colón, the main island of the archipelago, which draws in visitors to the gorgeous Starfish Beach and lively atmosphere of Bocas Town. 

This rustic lodge is a great place to relax with a good book, as there is limited WiFi availability… but with these views, we really doubt you’ll mind the break from screentime! 

These Panama overwater bungalows are two stories, making it easy to accommodate either a family or a bigger group. Not bad considering the price!

You can lounge on your patio area and watch the dolphins swim by, as sightings of them are common here – how magical does it get?!

The staff is able to help you arrange different excursions, like a boat trip or visiting the village of an Indigenous tribe

Aerial view of the punta caracol aqua lodge with lots of bungalows and bright yellow handrails on the raised boardwalk above the water
Photo Credit: Punta Caracol Acqua Lodge

“Our stay here was lovely. The property is beautiful. The rooms are not luxury which I feel is the expectation for overwater bungalows but people need to take into account both price and location when determining value… The bungalow is spacious and clean, no TV but you’re here to relax. The snorkeling was great fun and we enjoyed taking out the kayaks on an adventure.” – Maggie

Read more reviews here!

They are also extremely eco-conscious!

The ten bungalows of the Acqua Lodge are arranged in a careful formation around the coral reefs, so as not to disturb the beautiful surrounding ecosystem. 

After your adventures, end your day with a candlelit dinner in the open-air restaurant, also perched above the sea

It’s a lovely place to disconnect from the outside world, get off your phone, and make some memories with one hell of a backdrop! 

2. Sol Bungalows 

Two bungalows with hammock, net, deck chairs, perched over the water in Bocas del Toro with forest in the background
Photo credit: solbungalowsbocas.com

🌟 Rating: 9.9/10 from 25+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$$ | Book Now

Unique Features:
🏝️ Very small and intimate – just two bungalows
🛖 Thatched bungalows and cataraman-style hammocks in the deck
🐠 Glass floor to watch sea life below you
🌿 Off-grid & eco-friendly with a rain catching system


Check availability and rates at Sol Bungalows here

Sol was started by an expat couple from Switzerland and the US, who have lived and worked in tourism in Panama for nearly a decade.

Sol Bungalows is a labor of love, the culmination of their expertise in tourism. This couple knows what travelers want, and they’ve not only taken the time to seek out the best spots in Bocas, but they are also ready to share their knowledge with you! 

The hotel is teeny and intimate, made up of two bungalows stilted above the Caribbean Sea

The bungalows are done in a traditional style, with thatch roofs and wood floors with glass panels to watch the sea life before you

They also have covered verandas complete with catamaran-style net hammocks, perfect for taking in the sunset from your bungalow! 

Woman sitting on net of a deck watching two paddle boarders in Panama
Photo credit: solbungalowsbocas.com

“I did a lot of research before choosing Sol Bungalows and came in with really high expectations.. those expectations were quickly exceeded across the board. I’m not kidding!! Easily the best food we’ve had on the entire trip… The accommodations are brand new and offer 5 star luxury right on the water. The location is perfect, extremely safe, and only 5 min boat taxi from everything.” – Marc

Read more reviews here!

Each bungalow has a bedroom separated from the living room, and can comfortably fit up to four guests. 

Sol has a great location – it’s located off of the less-populated Isla Solarte, so you’ll be able to soak in the private serenity and enjoy the beautiful sunsets without any crowds to detract from the views. 

This location isn’t on one of the three main islands of the archipelago, but it’s only a 5-minute water taxi ride from Bocas Town’s nightlife and shops, as well as famous surf and diving spots, so you are still well-connected. 

Plus, this more secluded island allows you to catch a glimpse of more wildlife on your jungle hikes – now that’s a win-win! 

Sol is an incredibly eco-friendly option with solar power and a rainwater harvesting system, so you can take a real rainwater shower!. 

They have an on-site restaurant, but if you get bored of eating at the same place or just want to mix it up, they are 5 minutes from popular eateries if you prefer to go into town. 

Included in your stay are two snorkeling masks – you can jump right off your deck and into the clear blue water! Free kayak and stand-up paddleboard use is also included.

The only downside is that with only two bungalows and such high popularity, this hotel is often booked up in advance — and by that, I mean many months in advance.

But if you see it, snap it up, because these Panama overwater bungalows go quickly!

3. Eclypse del Mar Acqua Lodge

red frog beach in bocas del toro in bastimentos island

🌟 Rating: 8.9/10 from 300+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$ | Book Here

Unique Features:
🦥 Jungle garden with guides to see sloths and more!
💵 Relatively budget friendly compared to other Panama water villas
🌴 Treehouse stay also available


Check rates and availability at Eclypse Del Mar here!

Eclypse del Mar is especially exciting if you are a nature lover – the resort has its own private nature reserve and botanical garden area to aid the conservation effort of the area! 

You can explore the surrounding jungle area with a knowledgeable, bilingual guide for no additional charge. 

You’ll have the opportunity to see some incredible animals in the wild, such as sloths, monkeys, and tropical birds.

The small, colorful frogs unique to the region are fun to spot, and your guide’s expert eye will make sure no animal goes unnoticed!

One of the coolest things about Eclypse del Mar is how it blends the jungle with the sea.

“It was over the water!! Amazing experience. We loved that the team knocked on our doors to show us sloths. There is a whole amazing tropical garden area which you can access- we saw a caiman, red frog and sloths. The on-site restaurant served really excellent food (delicious and reasonably priced).” – Harriet

Check more reviews here!

You can choose to stay in one of seven overwater bungalows just off-shore, or even in a treehouse on the island! 

Best of all, it’s not extremely expensive unlike other overwater bungalows in Panama and elsewhere in the world.

A stay at this overwater bungalow is roughly the same cost as a chain hotel in a large American city.

Now that’s a deal!

They offer traditional hotel rooms as well if you want to be around overwater bungalows but don’t quite have the budget for a stay in one. 

The bungalows are two bedrooms, except for the larger special Honeymoon Suite, and made from local wood with palm roofs. 

The lodge is located on Bastimentos, a nice balance somewhere between the popular and secluded islands mentioned above. 

It’s one of the three main islands of the area, but doesn’t contain the capital area of Colón, so it’s a nice choice if you want the best of both worlds. 

4. Nayara Bocas del Toro

View of the gorgeous landscape of Nayara bocas del toro from the air with glimpse of pool and six bungalows floating over the sea
Photo Credit: Brice Ferre courtesy of Nayara

🌟 Rating: 9.2/10 from 10+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$$ | Book Now

Unique Features:
🧖🏻‍♀️ All-inclusive and adults-only for a luxe stay
🏖️ World’s only “floating beach”
🌴 Stunning luxury treehouses also available
🎋 Balinese style design with water villas and temples


Learn more about Nayara Boca del Toro here!

The overwater villas at this Panama resort are actually coined as “water villas.” Why?

Because Nayara Bocas del Toro was designed in the style of Bali, Indonesia! 

Not exactly what you were expecting to find in Panama? Sure, but sometimes the most unexpected combinations make a beautiful thing. 

The joglo-style buildings definitely fit the island vibe, and you can relax in the paradise of a private oasis. 

indonesian wooden house style of a joglo in bocas del toro at a resort called nayara with overwater bungalows
Photo Credit: Brice Ferre courtesy of Nayara

Best of all is its privacy and seclusion: you’ll need to travel about 15 minutes on a boat from Bocas Town to reach the tiny, remote Frangipani island where the hotel is located. 

Nayara is a luxury, all-inclusive, adults-only resort with two five-star restaurants that are sure to blow your mind. 

“Staff is very kind and treat the guests by name. The hotel is very beautiful, pleasant, comfortable and clean. Food is out of this world. On top of that, Bocas Bali made my birthday very special and unforgettable!” – Isabela

Read more reviews here!

Some of the villas even include a private pool or a boat to use during the day! 

The rooms also have air conditioning –- a rare sight in this remote area, even in nicer Panama bungalow resorts!

a woman hanging out in the pool area of her luxury accommodations which is an overwater bungalow in panama
Photo Credit: Brice Ferre courtesy of Nayara

There’s no shortage of on-site amenities, either. You can bliss out during a massage treatment in the on-site spa or work up a sweat in the fitness center. 

The architecture of Naraya is uniquely thrilling, with treehouses as another accommodation option, and the world’s only ‘floating beach’ created on stilts above the water. 

The usual activities for the area of paddleboarding, kayaking, snorkeling, and more are included with your stay, and the staff can help you with organizing other excursions. 

One special offering is a day trip to Oreba Chocolate Farm, where the Ngäbe people cultivate some of the world’s best cacao and turn it into chocolate. 

On this outing, you can hike through the jungle, watch the traditional chocolate-making process (and sample the results, naturally), and enjoy a local meal. 

5. El Faro de Colibri 

Photo Credit: El Faro de Colibri

🌟 Rating: 9.5/10 from 250+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$ | Book Now

Unique Features:
Centered around a lighthouse with colorful painted houses
🏖️
Restaurants and beaches in walking distance
🛖
Small and intimate with only five bungalows

Check rates and availability at El Faro de Colibri here!

The styling of these brightly painted wooden houses situated over the sea (and centered around a lighthouse, after which the hotel is named) might remind you of Cape Cod.

That said, at El Faro de Colibri, the brilliant blue waters behind you will alleviate any doubt you’re on the Caribbean coast! 

The rustic cabins are sure to make you feel at home, no matter how far you’ve flown to be here. 

“Position over the sea was lovely. The views again lovely. Short ferry boat trip to Bocas Town. The lady who manages the property is very friendly.” – Martin

Read more reviews here!
Yellow bungalows and a boardwalk
Photo Credit: El Faro de Colibri

El Faro has just five bungalows available, giving it a private, intimate atmosphere.

And that homey feel is amplified by the tasty home cooked buffet breakfast guests rave about, as well as the friendliness of the owner and staff. 

Situated on Isla Carnero, El Faro de Colibri is convenient because you can walk to different restaurants and beaches on the shore. 

And if you want to venture into the popular Bocas Town yourself? It’s only a 3 minute boat ride away. 

You can fill your days with traditional water activities, such as kayaking or snorkeling. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous – give wind surfing a try!

bird island in Panama with natural double archway  with lots of nature and foliage on the island

6. Urraca Private Island Eco Resort

Magenta-colored overwater bungalows with high thatched roofs, on a greenish-blueish brackish water mangrove island, with just a few clouds in the beautiful sky.
Photo Credit: © Juan de Dios courtesy of Urraca Private Island

🌟 Rating: 9.6/10 from 15+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$ | Book Now

Unique Features:
🏖️ Private island for ultra seclusion and luxury
🌴
Eco jungle surroundings for total nature immersion
🐒 Monkey sanctuary for rehabilitating wildlife
🤫
Only for those aged 12+ for peace and quiet

Check rates and availability at Urraca here!

If you’re looking for a special getaway off the beaten track, Urraca Private Island Resort could be the option for you

Keep in mind that it’s a 35 minute boat trip from Isla Colón, so you probably won’t be going to Bocas Town or other tourist hotspots frequently. 

But in return, you’ll receive an immersive nature experience unlike other areas of Bocas del Toro. 

This ‘island’ has no real walkable landmass; instead you’ll be nested off of a grove of mangrove trees in your own private oasis – does it get any more magical than that? 

The sea is crystal-clear and calm here, perfect for swimming, snorkeling, and kayaking. 

Tip: If you choose to plan your trip around the time of the full moon, the water lights up with bioluminescence in an otherworldly, beautiful way! 

A drone shot showcasing the landscape of this private island, which consists of a handful of private overwater bungalows and a bridge to another small island that has very minimal development. The water around the islands is dark colored where there is some reef, and then deep turquoise further out.
Photo Credit: © Juan de Dios courtesy of Urraca Private Island

The goal of Urraca is to get you out into nature – but in a sustainable way. 

The ‘island’ puts its money where its mouth is when it comes to being eco-friendly, providing a sanctuary for rescued monkeys and taking care of the coral reefs that surround the hotel. 

Urraca partners with the Monkey Life Foundation helps provide veterinary care and rehabilitation to those animals that need it, so you’ll know your primate neighbors are healthy (though don’t trust them not to steal your food!)

“What a paradise! Urraca is everything you’d want in a tropical eco lodge. The food is amazing, the water surrounding the island is calm and clear, and Francine (the owner) is lovely. We enjoyed kayaking around the island and of course the monkeys.” – Kathryn

Read more reviews here!

Being truly “eco-friendly” goes beyond environmentalism and animal welfare – it also includes working with the Indigenous communities who live, breathe, and know the region. 

Urraca works with the Indigenous community of the Ngabe people to include them in tourism, different from the many Bocas hotels run by expats.

You can meet the staff of local Ngabe people and learn a little more about their culture, and dine on fresh seafood caught by Ngabe fishermen as well. 

Delicious lobster seafood dish plated beautifully with sauce, and lobster head creating an ornamental aspect to this fine dining dish served at an overwater bungalow in Panama
Photo Credit: © Juan de Dios courtesy of Urraca Private Island

Need to unwind? There is a space to do yoga or read in the sun, and a retreat space perfect for larger groups.

The vibe here is small and intimate: there are ten bungalows here, as well as a special honeymoon suite

You can enjoy a complimentary breakfast on your terrace while watching the sunrise.

There are lunch and dinner options at the on-site restaurant if you so choose (and you probably will, given that getting into town can be such a pain – luckily, the food is great!). 

To maintain a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, note that Urraca is only for guests aged 12 and older, so families with younger children should look elsewhere. 

nature in Bocas del Toro on the beach, driftwood and palm trees, and clear water on a mostly sunny day

7. Aqui Hoy Cabanas

🌟 Rating: 8.1/10 from 80+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $ | Book Now

Unique Features:
🛖 Small, new property with just four overwater cabanas
💸
Affordable prices for budget-conscious travelers
🚣‍♀️
Dock launchpad for snorkeling, swimming, kayaking etc.

Check rates and availability of Aqui Hoy Cabanas here!

The wooden decks and hammocks of Aqui Hoy Cabanas are perfect for enjoying any kind of waterfront vacation

The property is pretty new, but already guests are really enjoying their experience, with a mountain of positive reviews. 

The four cabanas are situated off of Isla Solarte, so they sit in front of a peaceful lagoon with stunning ocean views. 

“Wow! Absolutely Wow! Gorgeous views of the sea from a beach front balcony. Wonderful service. Best check in ever. Very welcoming. Stunning sunset. Quiet and peaceful! Highly recommended!” – Lilia

Read more reviews here!

Jump off the dock and into the clear blue sea to swim, snorkel, kayak, and more! 

You can also experience their world-class restaurant, offering meat, pescatarian, and vegetarian options. 

Spend your days jet skiing or head over to Carneros Beach to lounge on the sand. 

people hanging out on a dock area in panama's boca del toro region with a palm tree showing up large in the foreground

8. El Clandestino 

🌟 Rating: 9.0/10 from 190+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $ | Book Now

Unique Features:
💻 Great WiFi for the area
🏝️ Remote from Bocas Town
💸 Affordable bungalows and rooms


Check rates and availability at El Clandestino here!

El Clandestino is run by a super friendly owner, Sebastian, who is accommodating to your needs (and bonus, he’s also a great cook!). 

Tucked away off Isla Cristobal, you can get to Bocas Town or Almirante in 30 minutes – far enough that you feel removed from it all, but close enough that you can get to town if you have a little island fever! 

The WiFi speed is one of the best in the area – so if you need to get a little work done in between all the fun, this is a great option for remote workers and digital nomads!

There are mostly normal rooms, but there are also two overwater bungalows that are offered at a great price.

They are rustic, but for this price, you truly can’t complain!

“Beautiful remote setting. Owner and staff are very friendly and welcoming. Free water was a plus. Free use of snorkelling gear, kayak and paddle boards was a brilliant extra. Food was excellent and drinks were reasonable priced. Would highly recommend for a tranquil few days.” – Leah

Read more reviews here!

 El Clandestino is family friendly, and accepts guests of all ages. They also take care of some local friendly dogs who live on the property, ready to welcome you home after your day out. 

The rooms are basic but clean, providing you with everything you need for a good price. 

When you’re in such a beautiful place, you won’t want to miss out on evenings spent watching the sunset, playing board games, and catching up over some good food and drinks. 

An overwater bungalow in Bocas del Toro with rope handrails on the walkway, clear water in the background

9. Cosmic Crab Resort

🌟 Rating: 7.4/10 from 25+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$$ | Book Now

Unique Features:
🌊 Waterslide into the sea
🏋️
24-hour gym, spa, dining, and A/C
🤫
Quiet but close to Bocas Town

Check rates and availability at Cosmic Crab here!

This casual, funky choice is sure to bring a smile to you and your family’s face!

Kids (and hey, adults too) will love the waterslide into the sea! 

Located on a marina in Carenero Island, you can enjoy casual comfort, and also some extra amenities like a 24 hour gym, spa, restaurant, and air conditioning to help you cool off on those hot Panamanian days. 

“Would absolutely recommend Cosmic Crab for your stay in Bocas del Toro! Opening up our door in the morning directly to the ocean was amazing, and the breakfast each morning was sooo delicious. The owners are always available on property and are super helpful in booking tours, making local recommendations, and making sure your stay is comfortable.” – Brianna

Read more reviews here!

It’s still central and well-connected (about a two minute boat ride to the main island) but allows you to enjoy quiet nights that you wouldn’t have in Bocas Town. 

There’s still some liveliness and fun though, since every weekend Cosmic Crab brings in local live music performers!

palm trees and water and brilliant blue sky in Bocas del Toro view on a boat

10. Azul Paradise Resort 

🌟 Rating: 8.2/10 from 65+ reviews | 💸 Budget: $$ | Book Here

Unique Features:
🛖 Overwater bungalows or beach villas — you choose
🐠
Glass panels in the bungalows to watch fish below you
🧘
Rooftop yoga and fun tiki bar

Check reviews and availability at Azul here!

Azul gives you options: choose from overwater bungalows or villas on the beach, and if you want to stay more central, they have a hotel in town as well. 

That said, we love the overwater cabins for a truly unique Panama experience (at a price that’s hard to beat elsewhere in the world)

The glass floor panels allow you to watch the colorful marine life from your room, and there is a two bedroom bungalow option if you’re traveling in a group. 

“We absolutely loved our stay here. The staff was amazing and made sure we got the full experience that we wanted, including taking us out on a snorkel and private island tour. The accommodations are truly beautiful and the water is perfect to swim or relax all day. The only thing to note is there are no nearby restaurants so all of your meals will be at the hotel, but the food there was great so we had no issue with that. ” – Riley

Read more reviews here!

There is air conditioning available, but it’s in the nighttime only (since you hopefully will be out and about enjoying the beautiful area during the day). 

Rooftop yoga is a huge hit with travelers, as well as the fun tiki bar to sip on something fruity and delicious!

view of the beach at sunrise with palm fronds and clouds lit up in pastel colors

12. Viceroy Bocas del Toro

🌟 Rating: Not Yet Available | 💸 Budget: $$$$ | Not Yet Available

Unique Features:
🍴 8 high-end restaurants for endless choice
🧖‍♀️
Huge resort with ultimate selection of wellness facilities
🌳
Surrounded by the San Pond San wetlands

Be one of the first to experience the luxurious Viceroy resort – it opens in 2024! 

The beautiful resort-in-the-making will feature everything you could want, spanning eight high-end restaurants, 42 overwater villas, and a massive 457 acres of grounds. 

The focus on wellness and relaxation amenities is huge here: you can enjoy a spa, meditation rooms, on-site gym, and so much more. 

You’ll be in experienced hands, even with the grand opening pending – this is Viceroy’s 12th project around the globe, with lovely hotels and resorts in San Francisco, Portugal, and St. Lucia, just to name a few. 

The grounds are surrounded by natural wildlife in the San Pond Sak wetlands, which you can explore solo or with a guide through a hiking or cycling expedition. 

Alternately, you can stay closer to home and enjoy one of the many swimming pools on the property.

If you choose to stay in one of the pool villas, you’ll have your own private plunge pool out front

If you fall in love, you can even purchase one of the villas to own yourself, and come back to paradise whenever you wish. 

Shifen to Jiufen: How to See 2 of Taiwan’s Best Towns in A Day

view of jiufen at night beautiful colors of the teahouses

While there is so much to do in Taipei itself, one of the best things about traveling to Taipei is the sheer abundance of day trip possibilities there are in the region.

The small town of Shifen with a train track running straight through it is one of the best-loved day trips from Taipei!

It’s especially easy because the gorgeous Shifen Waterfall is just a short walk or electric scooter ride from the train stop.

The lovely town of Jiufen is also a hugely popular day trip, especially in the evening.

As the night falls, the orange lanterns come to life and you can watch the sunset from one of the magical teahouses on the hill!

Lanterns in the city of Jiufen seen at night

While you can go to both towns in one day on a guided tour, you can also go from Shifen to Jiufen independently to give yourself more flexibility to explore and photograph at your leisure.

Public transportation in Taiwan is very affordable and reliable, although signage can sometimes be a bit difficult due to the written language barrier.

However, I never really found the language barrier to be that much of an issue.

I found that Taiwanese people were always willing to go above and beyond to help, no matter what their proficiency in English was.

That said, if you don’t want to stress getting there with public transportation, there are convenient day tours of Shifen and Jiufen together that allow you to see both towns easily.

  • This tour includes not only Shifen and Jiufen, but also Yehliu Geopark, and also throws in a Taiwanese pastry class to boot!
  • This tour includes Heping Island and its beautiful geological formations, as well as visits to Shifen and Jiufen
  • These organized private shuttles will let you get between Shifen and Jiufen at your leisure, without needing to deal with public transportation.

How to Get to Shifen from Taipei via Ruifang

A train on a track in shifen with the mountains covered in greenery behind it

In case you’re not in Shifen yet, here’s how I recommend going independently on public transport from Taipei.

Start at Taipei Main Station, which is accessible on both the Red and Blue MRT lines.

Walk towards the train section of the station. You can buy your ticket at one of the machines or from a staff member.

Tip: If using a machine, have cash rather than use a card, as many foreign credit cards don’t work properly in Taiwan

We chose the Tze-chiang class, which is a limited express train, and it took about 45 minutes to get to Ruifang. The cost was 76 Taiwanese dollars, which is about $2.50 USD

From Taipei Main Station, you’ll need to take a train to Ruifang (in Chinese: 瑞芳站). Basically, you can take any northbound train that is not headed towards Keelung.

Trains Traveling at Pingxi Line in , New Taipei City, Taiwan

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from locals when finding your train, as it can be a bit confusing to find the right train, as only the ending destinations are listed.

Just ask people for Ruifang and perhaps have the Chinese translation saved in your phone notes so you can show people.

Locals will be glad to point you in the direction of the right train.

From Ruifang, you can easily transfer to the Pingxi line.

Buy a one day pass from the stand; it’s the best option and it costs only 80 Taiwanese dollars (about $2 USD).

Ride the train from Ruifang to the end of the line at Shifen– easy!

view of shifen waterfall framed by green foliage

When you’re in Shifen, be sure to see the Shifen Waterfall and Old Street, the suspension bridge, and watch the people setting off lanterns on the train tracks!

Optionally, you can stop at Houtong Cat Village on the way from Shifen to Jiufen, as it’s located on the Pingxi line as well.

I didn’t have a chance to visit (I slept in too late that day, as I am likely to do!) but it would have been as easy as getting off the train, checking out the town for a bit, and getting back on when I was finished.

How to Get from Shifen to Jiufen Independently

Shifen Old Street - the train goes through the center

If you’re already in Shifen, luckily it’s pretty easy to get to Jiufen from there.

Using your one-day train ticket on the Pingxi Small Railway line, you’ll want to ride the train back to the terminus at Ruifang.

You won’t have to pay again as you will have already bought the one-day pass.

Once you get back from Ruifang, you’ll need to exit the train station and head to the bus stop. After exiting the train station, walk to the main street, then turn left.

Walk about two blocks. (You can find the exact location of the bus stop by inputting Jiufen as your destination in your Google Maps).

There are three different buses which will bring you to Jiufen, the #788, #827, or #1062.

I don’t recall the exact cost of the bus, but it was quite cheap (carry cash!).

There is signage on the bus stop that is translated into English as well, making it easy to figure out which bus route to take.

It’ll take about 25-30 minutes to go from Ruifang to Jiufen. Don’t let yourself get lost in your phone: the views on the way to Jiufen are simply incredible.

Temple detail with coastline in the distance with setting sun light

It’ll let you off right by a temple that looks like this.

Not a bad view, eh?

Walk up the street past the temple and you’ll see the start of the Jiufen Old Street area!

Keep walking up, passing the food stalls, until you reach the iconic teahouses everyone visits Shifen for.

The famous teahouses of Jiufen with Mount Keelung in the distance and the beautiful coastline of Taiwan

It’s especially stunning right around sunset — just look at that landscape overlooking the sea, with Mount Keelung in the distance.

Now you can see why everyone loves it!

Just be prepared for the massive crowds that descend on Jiufen virtually every night.

It was packed with tourists when we visited on a random weekday in January, which is pretty much low season!

Getting Back to Taipei from Jiufen

Returning from Jiufen going down the stairs of a narrow old street

This part can be a real pain in the neck, because Jiufen is such a popular nighttime destinations and the buses only run about once every 30 minutes.

We waited at the bus stop for a while, only to find every bus going back to Taipei (#1062) completely full.

Another option would be to take the #788 to Keelung Station and then take the 4107 shuttle to Songshan Station.

Instead, we were really tired, so we opted for a collective taxi, which cost 300 Taiwanese dollars per person (approximately ~$10 USD).

For a comfortable and convenient ride back to Taipei minus all the waiting, it was well worth the extra price.

You could also book a private shuttle from Jiufen back to Taipei if you wanted a smooth return trip home without needing to share a cab.

Renting a Car in Tuscany: 15 Essential Tips & Tricks From an Italy Local

View of a road in Tuscany overlooking a vineyard

Tuscany is truly an essential vacation destination for every visitor to Italy!

Hilltop villages with medieval architecture, rolling foothills extending as far as the eye can see, and long country roads lined with cypresses: it all adds up to make Tuscany an incredible destination that can’t be missed.

Tuscany’s capital city of Florence may be one of the most visited cities in the Mediterranean country, but the region has so much more to offer (Tuscan wine tour, anyone?).

Tuscany’s charm lies not only in its big-hitters like Florence and Siena, but also in its smaller villages and towns, which are best seen by renting a car in Tuscany and exploring it by road trip. 

Landscape of the Tuscany seen from the walls of Montepulciano, one of the most scenic towns in Tuscany
With charming towns like Montepulciano, renting a car in Tuscany is a no brainer

Of course, Hollywood movies have done a fantastic job romanticizing the region, and rightly so.

With that said, whatever you expect from this Italian region, it’s sure to live up to (and exceed) even your wildest dreams. 

So, now that you’re (hopefully!) convinced that you need to get to Tuscany ASAP, let’s start planning the perfect way to explore it: a road trip through Tuscany, of course!

During the fifteen years I spent living in Italy, I traveled to Tuscany several times, mostly via car, and I know I’ve still got more to discover about this gorgeous region. 

In this guide, I am so excited to share everything you need to know about renting a car in Tuscany, including some Tuscany-specific driving tips.

About Italy’s Tuscany Region

Duomo in Florence, with rounded building and marble artwork with stripes and symmetry
Florence may be Tuscany’s capital, but it’s only the beginning what this region has to offer!

So, let’s start with the basics! Tuscany is a gorgeous region in central Italy, best known for beautiful cities, delicious cuisine, charming medieval villages and rolling sun-drenched hills covered in vineyards. 

The capital of Tuscany is Florence, a city often referred to as the birthplace of the Renaissance. 

And that’s no surprise — home to countless famous landmarks and works of art, including the original of Michelangelo’s Statue of David.

David is a Renaissance sculpture masterpiece of Michelangelo in florence italy, shown in the Accademia Gallery
The Statue of David — one of Florence’s most famous and long-enduring residents!

With its stunning architecture and superb museums, the Tuscan capital is one of the best cities to visit if you’re looking to really dive into Italian history.

You simply must spend at least one day in Florence before leaving for your Tuscany itinerary!

Aside from Florence, Tuscany is home to many popular tourist spots such as Siena, Pisa, San Gimignano, and the Chianti Region, which all make great day trips from Florence or stops on a Tuscany itinerary.

Across Tuscany, you can visit eight World Heritage Sites and countless nature reserves to admire the gorgeous countryside.

The sheer variety of historical, natural, and cultural sites in Tuscany makes it one of the top regions to visit in Italy — and the wealth of great accommodations, like these villas with private pools, make it an even more epic place to stay.

While you could easily spend several days or weeks discovering Tuscany’s most important cities, your trip wouldn’t be complete without exploring the picturesque countryside on winding backroads.

Do You Need to Rent a Car in Tuscany?

Typical Tuscany landscape with grain fields, cypress trees and houses on the hills at sunset. Summer rural landscape with curved road in Tuscany, Italy, Europe
You’ll need to rent a car in Tuscany for views like this one!

If you want freedom of movement and the chance to explore more than just the major cities, renting a car in Tuscany is the way to go. 

You could also get around by train or bus, but you’d miss out on all the stunning landscapes and delightful little villages.

Of course, whether or not it’s worth renting a car in Tuscany also depends on how much time you have.

If you just want to visit Florence (Firenze) and maybe a couple other nearby towns, you can do that just by taking a Tuscany tour as a day trip.

Driving in big cities in Italy can be a waste of time and energy, so it’s better to get around by public transport.

However, once you start to tally up your wishlist of the smaller towns that make Tuscany so charming, public transport can be more trouble than it’s worth.

If you’re short on time or have a lot of smaller towns and wineries planned for your trip, renting a car is the best option to make the most of just a few days in Tuscany.

View of a road in Tuscany overlooking a vineyard
Renting a car lets you pause and enjoy Tuscany’s small towns and wineries!

Checking out your options for renting a car in Tuscany only takes a few minutes, but this guide will help you make the right choice and avoid any logistical headaches or last-minute complications!

First of all, who to rent with? I always pick Discover Cars to search for the best deal for car rentals in Italy for multiple reasons.

In short, it has the widest selection, the clearest prices, the best cancellation policy, and the most affordable full coverage insurance.

🚗 Best Tuscany Rental Car Prices: Discover Cars

This search engine not only looks at the typical rental car agencies (which can be $$$), it also looks at local, small Italian agencies that may offer better deals. Their pricing is straightforward (no bait-and-switches) and they offer free cancellation if you need it.

➜ Check rental prices in Tuscany with Discover Cars here!

Things to Know About Driving in Tuscany

Although the rental process is basically the same as other countries, there’s a few country-specific aspects to be aware of, as well as some things about driving in Tuscany in particular. 

Here are the most important things to know before renting a car in Tuscany!

Roads in Tuscany

highway sign with the signs of the junction to go to Florence on the panoramic road or on the Direttissima road (a direct route that is not as scenic)

In Tuscany, you’ll likely drive on all kinds of roads, from motorways (autostrade) to narrow roads passing through small villages. 

The motorways have tolls, but they’re your best option to get from one place to the other quickly.

There are three motorways that run across Tuscany. The A1 motorway is Italy’s longest motorway, as well as the oldest in Europe! 

This motorway connects Milan to Naples and passes by Florence.

The other two motorways are the A11 from Florence to Pisa (Firenze Mare) and the A12 from Cecina to Genova.

A vintage Italian Fiat 500 convertible car drives along a typical Tuscan tree-lined avenue
The scenic backroads of Tuscany are the best part!

While the motorway may be the fastest option, the smaller regional roads are far and away the most scenic.

In particular, the Via Chiantigiana is the region’s most beautiful road, connecting Florence to Siena. 

The road passes through the beautiful Tuscan wine region of Chianti Hills (Colline del Chianti). 

If you decide to rent a car, driving along this road is a must, and make sure to leave yourself plenty of time to enjoy the scenery!

Best Place to Rent a Car in Tuscany

A road in tuscany going through the landscape
Driving in Tuscany means taking scenic backroads like this!

You can rent a car in most cities in Tuscany, such as Florence, Siena, Arezzo, Pisa, and Lucca

Even easier, the international airports of Florence and Pisa also have several car rental companies, so you can pick up your car as soon as you land!

You’ll also generally find the best prices at these international airports, since there is more competition than in cities that don’t have airports.

Depending on the season, you really need to book a few weeks in advance, especially if you want to pick up your car in one of the smaller cities or if you must have an automatic transmission car (more on this later). 

Florence and Pisa have more options, so you may be able to find a car here even on short notice, but I’d still book early just to be careful — luckily, Discover Cars has free cancellation so you’re not on the hook if your plans change.

Cost of Renting a Car in Tuscany

Winding country road in rural landscape with cars, view of town in the distance beyond the road
Book your rental car early to get the best prices, especially in high season

The cost of renting a car in Tuscany can vary greatly depending on the season and how far in advance you book. 

You can expect to pay between $35 and $90 per day for economy cars, and well over $100 daily for bigger ones.

Usually, airport rentals are cheaper (check prices at Florence Airport or Pisa Airport here), even if you only book a few days in advance. 

Rentals in the city center of Florence or Pisa can cost a lot more, even twice the rates of airport rentals, so you should definitely check all the options if you’re looking to save money.

One more note on cost: on top of the base cost for the rental, you’ll have to factor in the cost of full insurance coverage (typically around $7/day if bought with your rental) and the gas you’ll use. 

Unfortunately, in recent years, the price of fuel in Italy has increased significantly like in much of the world, so be prepared to pay at the pump!

Car Rental Insurance

Bolgheri famous cypresses trees straight boulevard landscape
Full coverage is inexpensive and gives you peace of mind on the road!

Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) is included by default in every car rental because it’s mandatory in Italy. 

However, this only covers the car’s bodywork in the event of an accident, and even then, it usually has a pretty high deductible that you’d have to pay out of pocket.

For just a few extra dollars — typically about $7 a day with Discover Cars — you can get full coverage.

This covers, well, everything fully: not only accidents, but theft, damages ranging from a small chip in the windscreen to major repairs, and even inconveniences such as replacing lost keys. 

Full coverage is not mandatory but can come in handy, especially for those minor incidents that are more likely to happen.

Why not protect your road trip from any bad luck with a little planning ahead?

Necessary Documents for Car Rental

An international driving permit and car keys
Coming from the US or Canada? You’ll need an IDP!

The documents required to drive in Tuscany vary depending on your nationality. 

European travelers can drive in Italy with their driving license, while most travelers from outside the EU, including US and Canadian citizens, will need an international driving permit (IDP).

You have to obtain the IDP before traveling to Italy, so be sure to take care of that when booking your trip.

Americans can obtain their IDP through AAA’s website; other nationalities can check here.

To rent a car in Tuscany, you’ll also need your passport (or ID for EU citizens) and a credit card. 

Some rental companies accept debit cards now, but they’ll require a really hefty deposit that you won’t get back until several days after the end of the rental period.

It’s far better to use a credit card to avoid this big deposit, since they will just place a hold for the deposit as opposed to actually taking out the deposit.

The Best Car Type for Driving in Tuscany

Person's hand on an automatic transmission car
If you can only drive automatic, be sure you don’t accidentally book a manual car!

When choosing your rental car for Tuscany, you should consider two things: transmission type and car size. 

Unlike the US, most cars have a manual transmission in Italy, so pay attention to this detail when booking your car. 

Typically, automatic transmission cars are a bit more expensive than manual cars since there are fewer of them in Europe, where most people drive manual cars.

However, if you’re not used to driving cars with manual transmission, or if you just don’t want to worry about it, it’s worth paying a little extra for a smoother driving experience.

Last but not least, a good guideline when renting a car in Italy is that smaller is better.

Old vintage car on a street of Tuscany, a small car suitable for small roads
Go as small as you can when renting a car in Tuscany

Of course, the ideal car size for your rental will depend on how large your group is and how much luggage you have.

No matter how cute it is, that family of 4 with young kids won’t fit into a Fiat! It’s just not happening.

Luckily, there’s a wide range of options available, from zippy little Fiat 500s (an Italian classic – especially the convertible kind!) to mid-range sedans to SUVs.

In general, renting a smaller car will make it easier to drive along the narrow streets of the Tuscan villages, especially when it comes time to find parking!

Navigating the Roads in Tuscany

Famous winding road with a car driving in Tuscany, Italy in summer with dry fields that have recently been razed
Navigating in Tuscany isn’t too complex, but you’ll still want offline maps downloaded!

Driving on the motorway or big roads outside urban areas is fairly easy. You’ll find signs to guide you along the route no matter where you need to go.

Additionally, navigation apps like Google Maps will help you get around without problems.

However, always (and I do mean always) check traffic signs, especially when driving in the city.

Be aware that on Italian motorways, road signs point to highways that go to specific cities, not cardinal directions like we may be used to in the USA. 

Unless you plan to use a navigation app, take a moment before you start driving to double check the map and see in which direction you need to drive.

For instance, to drive from Florence to Arezzo, you must take the motorway toward Rome.

You should be sure to download an offline map in case you get lost and have no service on your phone to check Google Maps.

Driving through areas in the countryside where you get little or no coverage is not uncommon, so I definitely recommend this backup plan!

The Best Time for a Road Trip in Tuscany

Fall in Tuscany with vineyards turning beautiful orange and yellow colors
Fall in Tuscany is the perfect time for a road trip!

Although you can go on a road trip in Tuscany any time of the year, spring and fall are the best seasons. 

Summer is a great time, especially with the gorgeous Mediterranean weather, but you’ll face big crowds in all the most popular attractions and much higher prices across the board to match the increased demand.

The downside of a road trip in winter is that it can be rainy and quite cold.

Snow is uncommon in Tuscan cities and even in the countryside, but occasionally at higher altitudes, you may find a bit of snow, which can make driving slightly more complicated.

In spring, the weather is pleasant, especially if you visit from Mid-April to late May. 

If you decide to visit Tuscany in the fall, October is the best month.

Especially towards the end of the month, the Tuscan countryside’s rolling hills take on vibrant fall colors that make them even prettier.  

Where to Go on a Road Trip in Tuscany

the beautiful town of volterra in italy
Towns like Volterra are a must-visit in Tuscany!

In addition to visiting Florence and the other big cities in Tuscany, renting a car will give you the freedom to discover delightful little towns such as Montepulciano, Pitigliano, Volterra, and San Gimignano.

The most picturesque drive in the region has to be along the Via Chiantigiana, which passes through the Chianti Hills and small villages such as Greve in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Montefioralle, and Radda in Chianti.

Last, but certainly not least, you can explore the Tuscan seaside with its lovely coastal towns, like Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio, and Orbetello.

Whether you only have a few days or a couple of weeks, renting a car in Tuscany is surely the best way to experience this stunning region.

If you want a jumping off point to plan the perfect Tuscan itinerary, we have a five-day Tuscany road trip itinerary here, with ideas on how you can extend your stay beyond that.

Important Driving Rules in Tuscany

View from car to the Tuscany wine fields, you can see the rearview mirror and someone taking a photo in the mirror.
Read up on how to avoid fines and you’ll have a stress-free time in Tuscany!

Driving in Tuscany is generally a pleasant experience — as long as you’re aware of important rules you’ll want to follow to avoid fines.

These can be hefty — trust me, as someone who has paid several Italian traffic tickets — and they hit even harder when your rental car agency adds on their own fees for handling the ticket on your behalf.

Aside from that, driving in Tuscany is pretty breezy. The streets are in good condition, and the weather rarely gets too extreme. ‘

The only places that can be slightly stressful to drive are the cities and small villages with narrow streets, but here’s where that smaller rental will really come in handy!

Lucky for you, I’m here to take you through the most important driving rules so you can make it through your Tuscany road trip without inconvenience.

Limited Traffic Areas

Restricted traffic zone road sign in Italy for the historic center
Avoid ZTLs and you’ll be safe!

The biggest thing that most foreigners will struggle with when driving in Tuscany is the ZTL.

The acronym stands for Zona a Traffico Limitato, which translates to “limited traffic zone”.

These areas are clearly marked with signs and monitors indicating whether the limitation is active.

You’ll usually find ZTL in the historic centers of big cities, such as Florence. If you notice a sign stating “ZTL Attiva,” steer clear of  driving there!

These areas are equipped with cameras, so you’ll get a fine if you don’t respect this rule.

The ZTL is usually only active during certain times of the day, or on specific days of the week.

If you see “ZTL Non Attiva,” you’re all clear to drive through. You’ll also find signs stating on which days and time intervals the limitation applies.

Keep in mind that your phone will likely ignore the ZTL and keep trying to direct you to drive on limited roads — ignore this, go around, and let your phone re-route you.

Parking

Old-fashioned green car in courtyard of brick house in a typical Italian countryside style village
Not only are smaller cars cute, they’re convenient for parking!

Parking in big cities, especially in or around the city center, can be really tricky.

The first thing to keep in mind is that parking lots have different colored lines marking spaces — and these colored lines likely differ from what you’re used to back home. 

Parking lots with white lines are free, while blue ones have a fee. Yellow lines signal parking spots dedicated to disabled people or for unloading.

For paid parking, you’ll find ticket machines within a short distance. Always carry coins, as most of them don’t take a card and don’t give change! 

Parking spots usually have specific periods of time when they require payment. You’ll notice that most of them are free after a certain hour in the evening. 

Keep an eye out for signs to see when you can make the most of this free parking!

If you’re looking to keep things simple and smooth, the easiest way to book a parking lot and pay online is by using the app EasyPark.

Road Tolls

Lanes on the motorway with yellow lanes demarcated for the Telepass users
You will likely end up taking some toll roads in Italy — here’s what to know

If you plan to drive exclusively on small country roads, you probably won’t have to worry about toll booths.

However, if you’re going to drive on the motorway, it’s important to know that you’ll have to pay tolls.

Don’t worry, though! The process is super simple. You just take a ticket at the booth when entering the motorway, and pay the corresponding amount when you exit.

You’ll also notice yellow signs dedicated to Telepass users.

These are only for cars with a transponder connected to the Telepass system, so unless your rental includes one, follow signs for booths dedicated to cash and card payments.

Lastly, don’t forget to carry cash for the tolls!

Most toll booths accept card payments, but it’s not unusual for them to be out of service or not accept certain cards, so it’s always better to have some cash.

Autovelox vs. Tutor

A sign showing that the speed limit is 50 km per hour with a blurry city in the background
Keep an eye on your speed when driving in Tuscany!

Always (and again, I do mean always!) respect speed limits when driving in Tuscany.

These can vary greatly, but usually, the limit is 50 km/h in urban areas, 90 km/hr on major roads outside the urban area, and 130 km/hr on the motorway. 

Certain navigation apps will notify you if you drive faster than the allowed speed limit, but always check the road signs to be sure.

Remember for Italy (and everywhere, really): what you see on the road always trumps what you see on an app!

Surpassing speed limits can lead to big fines, so don’t risk it. Speed cameras (“autovelox” in Italian) are common on most roads. 

In addition to these, motorways are also equipped with safety tutors, which also keep tabs on your speed.

The tutor system takes pictures of the license plate at two points along the highway and calculates the average speed on that portion.

If your average speed is higher than the limit, you’ll get a fine. 

This means you should always drive within speed limits, even in the absence of speed cameras or police.

Drinking and Driving in Tuscany

Two glasses of wine overlooking fields and vineyards in Tuscany
Wine tasting in Tuscany is a must — but be sure you drive safely!

Of course, a road trip in the Tuscan countryside is practically synonymous with wine tasting.

How could you pass up a chance to try some of the world’s best wines, right where they’re made?

Before enjoying a glass (or two) you must be aware of the laws on drinking and driving in Italy, not just to avoid fines, but also for your own safety.

An ABV over 0.5% will get you a fine in Italy, so always stay below this limit. At the most, you can have a glass of wine with your meal if you need to keep driving. 

With that said, the best way to avoid issues and make the most of your trip  is to schedule your wine tastings at the end of the day after you’re done driving.

You can find many places across the Tuscan countryside to enjoy wine tasting and spend the night. 

The Chianti Hills are dotted with gorgeous villas, castles, and family-owned structures (agriturismi), where you can stay overnight, tour the vineyards, and sample delicious wine. What more could you ask for?

7 Best Douro Valley Winery Hotels & Quintas to Stay In

view of a quinta in the douro valley region with vineyards in the background

Immersing yourself in the beauty of the Douro Valley is best experienced through a stay at one of the quintas, the famed Douro Valley winery hotels.

These traditional Portuguese wine estates offer more than just accommodation; you get to live and breathe the wine culture of the Douro Valley as these properties are also working vineyards.

From the moment you leave Porto behind and arrive in the Douro Valley, you are enveloped in a landscape where rolling vine-covered terraces cascade down steep slopes, converging on the meandering Douro River below.

Many of these charming Douro winery hotels are housed in renovated 18th or 19th-century manor houses that were either part of the farm or are the original living quarters for the vineyard owners.

While the exterior structures tend to be traditional farm properties, their interiors range wildly, some maintaining their old-world charm while others integrate contemporary designs that reflect a more future-forward vision.

Traditional house on a winery estate converted into a hotel with a pool overlooking the terraced vineyards of the Douro River valley

But really, when it comes down to it with these Douro Valley winery hotels: it’s all about the land (and the landscape).

Whether that’s walking trails through the vineyards, enjoying wine-tasting experiences where you can sip on the grapes grown on-site once they’re all grown up, or relaxing in a pool with a gorgeous river view, the land is an essential part of every Douro wine hotel experience.

Here are our top picks for Douro Valley quintas you can stay in!

The Best Douro Valley Winery Hotels & Quintas

view of the douro valley river and landscape and quintas on a sunny day with the hillside very lush and green

Quinta da Pecheca (Wine House Hotel) – Book Here

Quinta da Pecheca, located in Lamego just a stone’s throw from the town of Peso da Régua, is perhaps the most unique Douro Valley wine hotel!

This distinguished wine estate offers a very unusual and unique experience — the chance to sleep in a wine barrel-shaped room!

Listed as deluxe bungalows, these standalone units look traditional on the outside but feature modern interiors on the inside, each with their own private patio with views of the sprawling winery.

The barrel rooms are limited in supply and high in demand though, so even if staying at one is out of your budget (or they are unavailable during your stay) it’s still worth staying at Quinta da Pecheca.

Within the meticulously restored 18th-century house, you’ll find tastefully decorated traditional double rooms, blending the elegant old-world architecture with modern interior design.

The quinta has year-round opportunities for relaxation: in summer, use the delightful plunge pool, surrounded by sun loungers, perfect for an afternoon dip.

But unlike most other quintas, this hotel offers year-round swimming: an indoor pool within its serene spa area, which also has a hot tub and treatments like massages available.

Beyond relaxing, there’s lots of fun to be had, from ceramics-making to “sip and paint” sessions at the Atelier d’Or, an on-site gallery space dedicated to art, hosted by the Douro-born Óscar Rodrigues.

Other activities they can arrange are cooking classes, curated wine tastings, and picnics in the vineyards, making it a great choice for an activity-fueled romantic getaway.

Check availability and prices here

Close up of the edge of an infinity pool at a Douro Valley wine hotel in Portugal

Ventozelo Hotel & Quinta – Book Here

This gorgeously re-envisioned quinta meets wine hotel is the epitome of what Douro Valley winery hotels have to offer.

Tucked away in rural Ervedosa do Douro, just 20 minutes from Pinhão, Ventozelo Hotel & Quinta is a 4-star sanctuary, immersing guests into the region’s winemaking culture.

Ventozelo is distinct for how it embraces its past, with guest rooms distributed across seven repurposed farm buildings, including the former overseer’s house, an old barn, and even inside spacious suites created within giant wine storage tanks known as balões.

While repurposed, the rooms have been updated with all creature comforts, like air-conditioning and modern bathrooms.

Another great draw? The attention-grabbing outdoor infinity pool, overlooking the river and surrounding vineyards.

While breakfast is included your stay, it’s also worth eating at the onsite restaurant, where esteemed chef Miguel Castro e Silva (yes, the one of Time Out Market fame) works his magic.

The concept behind the restaurant is “zero kilometers”: everything crafted using fresh produce, like vegetables and fruits harvested from Ventozelo’s grounds, accompanied by regional products from local suppliers.

And naturally, no stay is complete without experiencing the onsite wine tasting, where the estate’s exquisite local wines can be savored.

Check availability and prices here

a selection of wines in douro valley portugal on a ledge wtih the river behind it

Quinta da Côrte – Book Here

Nestled in the heart of Valença do Douro and a short journey from the well-known town of Pinhão, Quinta da Côrte is a distinguished name in the world of port wine.

However, its charm doesn’t end in the vineyards; it extends into a luxurious hospitality experience, brought to life by the renowned interior architect Pierre Yovanovitch.

He blends quintessentially Portuguese aesthetics, like azulejo-inspired tiles, with a warm modern minimalism that evokes only natural materials like wicker and wood.

One of Quinta da Côrte’s most striking features is its infinity pool, overlooking the verdant vineyards and undulating hills.

Breakfast in included, and there’s also an on-site dinner restaurant where you can enjoy a marvelous meal and a glass of wine while watching the sun set over the valley.

And of course, you simply must try their local wines!

Check availability and prices here!

View from a miradouro above the Douro River with vineyards and quintas below and the river bisecting the valley

Quinta da Casa Cimeira – Book Here

Also situated in the scenic Valença do Douro a short drive from Pinhao, Quinta da Casa Cimeira is perfect for those who want a more intimate, heartful quinta stay in the Douro Valley.

This family-operated quinta and hotel offers an experience that’s less like a typical hotel stay and more akin to joining a Portuguese family in their historic country home.

With lush gardens and its own vineyards, Quinta da Casa Cimeira’s rural charm is everywhere, from its panoramic vineyard views to its outdoor swimming pool to its library for guests.

The interior feels very cozy, with simple, unpretentious design that contributes to the homey feel of the quinta.

That final dash of homey-ness is driven home with the ability to have dinner with all the guests, a hodgepodge of travelers from around the world united at a communal table.

And of course, breakfast is included in your stay.

Check availability and prices here

people cheersing while wine tasting in portugal

Casa do Santo Wine & Tourism – Book Here

Staying at Casa do Santo feels a lot more like being invited into the home of your most tasteful friend.

It doesn’t look like a hotel at all, with its tasteful mix of vintage and modern furnishings and refurbished stone walls — it’s an interior design dream.

Located in the rural village of Provesende, Casa do Santo gives you that quintessential Douro Valley charm with rustic chic rooms that overlook the sprawling terraced vineyards for which the valley is so beloved.

The standout feature here is the scenic plunge pool, surrounded by sun loungers, with the vineyards quite literally at your backyard.

This hotel offers a variety of charming double rooms with breathtaking views, all with with a delightful continental breakfast included in the stay, for a unique and personalized stay in the Douro region.

Check availability and prices here

view of the douro valley from above at a wine hotel area

Quinta do Tedo – Book Here

The lovely accommodations at Quinta do Tedo in the village of Folgosa stand at the confluence of the Douro and Tedo rivers, an idyllic setting with the perfect view for an unforgettable stay.

This award-winning B&B renowned for its wine tourism promises a deeply authentic experience, harmonizing luxurious comfort with the rich traditions of the Douro Valley.

The quinta welcomes visitors to partake in guided tours, offering an insider’s glimpse (and taste!) into the meticulous art of winemaking and olive oil production.

Amidst the vine-covered terrains, a stunning outdoor pool beckons with views overlooking the gorgeous place where the Tedo unfurls from the Douro, creating its own river.

Accommodation at Quinta do Tedo is small and intimate, with just five rooms, each offering a river view. Every room features air conditioning for ultimate comfort, and select suites boast split-level duplex-style accommodations.

You won’t have to miss a moment of enjoying the view with their dining room enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass walls, ensuring the gorgeous scenery accompanies every meal — and glass of wine, of course.

Offering free bike rentals, canoes, and binoculars, the quinta encourages you to explore by two wheels (or none at all!) instead of four, exploring the picturesque countryside by pedaling (or paddling) about.

Check availability and prices here

view of a quinta in the douro valley region with vineyards in the background

Quinta da Gricha – Book Here

Another option in enchanting Ervedosa do Douro, Quinta da Gricha is perfect for those looking for a serene and exclusive retreat.

With only four rooms across its sprawling expanse, you’ll feel like this quinta is almost your own private villa — while still enjoying all the amenities of a hotel as opposed to a vacation rental.

The rooms at Quinta da Gricha are beautifully designed, with soothing pastel color palettes and pared-back furnishings which intentionally recede to highlight the true masterpiece: the breathtaking view from your balcony.

The bathrooms too pay homage to rustic aesthetics, blending stone structures and exquisite tilework to give that old-world charm.

Breakfast is included, but you can also arrange for dinners at the quinta, opting between the interior and exterior dining spaces — all paired with the estate’s delicious home-grown wines, of course.

Best of all just might be the quinta’s gorgeous infinity pool — and with only a few other guests possible, it’s likely you’ll have many moments with it all to yourself.

Check availability and prices here