Trip Pulse: Phi Phi is for the young of heart. Our round the world trip continues.

Ko Phi Phi is a must for your round the world itinerary


Average visitor’s age is late twenties, it has amazing beaches, cheap yet delicious cuisine and excellent, inexpensive scuba diving. Oh yeah, and no mopeds or cars:)


Tsunami and Leo

This small, 28 sq km paradise island on the Andaman Sea, even though it is advertised as one of Phuket’s main attractions, is in fact 50 km away from it. The 2004 tsunami and some say, the production and aftermath of the famous movie “The Beach” devastated the island. The character’s experiences and Leo De Caprio’s wide appeal contributed in making this paradise one of the most sought after travel destinations where travellers search for the quintessential zen-like freedom.

Ko Phi Phi beach sunset during a looming storm - Round the world with kids

Unlike Phuket, which is full of leash-less dogs, Phi Phi Don is the opposite with hundreds of cats in its valleys. Its Muslim background and Ladyboys’s prevalence and acceptance also add to the unique nature and distinct vibe of this island.

Phi Phi for families:

Even though it was scorching hot, the crystal clear turquoise waters, white sand beaches, jungle fauna and flora and amazing views make this island one of our favourite destinations! The car and moped free alleys filled with dive shops, street food vendors and tourists still managed to deliver a laid back atmosphere that was very enjoyable.

Hotels are more expensive yet sub-standard to Phuket. For a good reason; it is paradise after all.

Our toddler Niko playing with the fish at Maya Beach-Round the world with kids

Needless to say, our son Niko loved the warm waters, his endless search for the most beautiful seashells as well as his first experiences swimming with the colourful tropical fish. He did also perfect a new saying while strolling with us in the alleys full of vendors: No thank you!:)

Maya Beach Island is a must see

We decided to visit the infamously beautiful Phi Phi Kah (Maya Beach) Island where “The Beach” was filmed. It is located just a short boat ride away from the main island. The trip itself is an adventure as we rented a long-tail boat with a personal driver ($40 or 1200 Baht). We  explored the island’s amazing topography, Monkey Beach (with monkeys running freely), a mini cave village and a stopover at a few amazing snorkelling spots.

The Maya beach itself is letdown with hundreds of visitors and boats covering up its beauty. We opted out for a tiny beach without any other visitors to enjoy the magnificent views.

Close encounters with fellow Torontonians

Big shout out to Mike, a zookeeper and dive master from Toronto whom we met on a bus ride to Surat Thani. He told us some unreal stories about his Phi Phi adventures living with a family deep in the jungle. At times he had to defend the fort from monkeys attempting to steal food from the house. He also gave us invaluable and practical tips on how to behave around animals including monkeys, potentially aggressive dogs or other freely roaming animals on the streets of Thailand.

For instance … to tell  if a dog is potentially dangerous, look for his tail between his legs when approaching. This suggests a non-confident dog that could potentially attack when frightened. His suggestion is to walk around the dog, while looking in his direction to avoid direct eye-contact, as it may be interpreted as provocation.

We would love to hear your thoughts? Anything on Phi Phi, other favourite beach destination or Leo De Caprio? Please share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

Here are some of our photos from our Phi Phi (Thailand) visit:

Final thoughts: Canary Islands and Barcelona

As one of the Canary Islands ( El Hierro) shakes and a volcanic alert is in effect, we are reminded of our unforgettable adventure on this volcanic archipelago The turbulent archipelago is as beautiful as it is unique with the perfect weather of eternal spring. The islands bear the name Insula Canaria, meaning “Island of the Dogs” and not, as I erroneously believed, from the bird Canary. In fact, the bird is named after these islands, where they are native.

We had an opportunity to explore only three out of its thirteen islands. Every island delivers breathtaking views and its own unique character. Tenerife is the largest and most developed. It provides the mix of luxury, topographical variety, dark-sand beaches and great infrastructure, yet it’s still full of small hidden gems. Fuerteventura however, is all about beach life, adventure and R&R. Lanzarote is breathtakingly cute with its uniformly coloured houses (green and white) against the dark volcanic backdrop and charming little towns and villages.

We also had a 2-day stopover in Barcelona, the Catalan capital. It has been a while since our last visit, but we loved the city even more this time around with its welcoming and relaxed atmosphere, Gaudi’s architectural influences and amazing tapas. So far, it’s our favourite small city, with a big attitude.

1. What we enjoyed the most or the least:

Tenerife

The sky was often covered with dark clouds suggesting an approaching storm, but the rain never came. The island of Eternal Spring is truly a sub tropical paradise with temperate weather. Volcanic beaches followed by pine trees, fed by clouds a few hundred meters up the mountain and mars-like dry and orange panorama around el Teide, are all examples of its geological richness. We liked the variety of activities you can enjoy on the island from adventuresome drives on “forgotten” roads, discovery of its ancestral (Guanches) and colonial past, unbelievable views from tiny villages or its rich infrastructure.

Here are some highlights:

Parque Nacional Las Canadas del Teide is centred around 3718m Mount Teide, the highest mountain in Spain and the islands of the Atlantic (it is the third largest volcano in the world from its base) and was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2007.

E Teide Volcano

Masca is a small mountain village in Buenavista del Norte on a small mountain road (accessible only since the 70’s). The village is home to circa 150 inhabitants. The views are spectacular and reminded us of Machu Picchu in Peru.

Garachico is a little unspoiled gem in the northern part of the island with a very Spanish character and natural volcanic rock pools made into swimming pools.

Fuerteventura (strong winds and strong adventures)

This island is every surfer’s paradise with its waves, open waters and perfect winds. The island is home to over 150 white sand beaches compliments of the Sahara desert, just 100 km east of the island. During sand storms that originate in the African desert you can expect visibility to drop to just a few meters and temperature to rise by 10 degrees Celsius.

I particularly loved one hour of glory as a body-board surfer on the largest waves I have ever met. I also loved spending time with Niko and Natasza on the widest beaches we have ever seen with naturally formed lakes or lagoons. The Island is more laid back than its siblings to the west with its surfer community and sun worshippers. That makes it the perfect place to catch some much-needed R&R.

Here are some highlights:

Jandia and Sotavento – you can expect only the largest and most beautiful beaches of the island. At high tide, enormous “lakes” form on these grand beaches providing warm and shallow pools perfect for kids.  It is also home to windsurfers and kite boarders practising their sport here. Sotavento Beach in FuerteventuraAs it’s so large (20km), you can run naked without being seen by another human … and yes, I did run around nude with Niko. What a feeling of freedom! Highly recommended:)

El Cotillo – is a small fishermen village at the northern end of Fuerteventura, surrounded by amazing beaches and naturally formed lagoons. El Cotillo surfer's beachYou will also find some charming restaurants here. We kept returning to this part of the island because of the variety it delivered.

Betancuria (and the drive via PAJARA, a real green oasis at the foot of the mountains) – bears the name of its founder Jean de Béthencourt and was founded in 1404.

 

 

Lanzarote

We took a day trip from Corralejo with a ferry to explore this little gem. Lanzarote is a UNESCO protected biosphere that almost lost its status. The status is well-earned however with such geological world wonders as …

Timanfaya National Park is entirely made up of volcanic rock and sand-like soil giving the viewer unreal visuals. This national park makes up the core area of the biosphere reserve on the island.

Timanfaya National Park - Vulcanic Scenery

El Golfo and Los Hervideros– Imagine the Volcano vs. the Atlantic. The orange, dark brown, black, green colours of the coast mix perfectly with the coastline carved by the waves … truly amazing!

La Geria region is drawn up with mini craters of volcanic stone called Zocos, built to protect each vine from harsh winds of the island. The dark volcanic soil mixed with the green vineyards and the Zacos deliver a wicked panorama.

Papagayo Beach is a protected national park accessible only by a dirt road. It is made up of tiny beaches seperated by high cliffs. I’m glad such a gem still exists, considering the pressures to develop this natural land into hotel-land. I hope it stays this way.

What we didn’t enjoy?:

Tenerife

As Tenerife is highly developed and modern and you can expect many tourists here. You can expect many  signs in English, German and Russian as well as the multitude of British pubs which make up much of the landscape in touristy areas including Playa de las Americas and Los Cristianos. Considering the many Europeans who moved here permanently, I’m not surprised they wanted to bring a piece of home here.

Fuerteventura

The weakened economy is felt in some parts of Fuerteventura with many unoccupied buildings. The unemployment rate there is one of the highest in the EU standing at 20%+. It’s too bad but not too surprising considering the island’s reliance on tourism as the main contributor to its economy.

2. Activities our toddler Niko enjoyed the most:

Running around the Sand Dunes of Corralejo. Every beach was a treat for Niko, he especially loved the lagoons by El Costillo with warmer waters full of fish for him to feed.

Laro Park is a zoo located on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife. It is a must see place when you visit with your children. Loro Park Orcas - at the zooSome say the park has Europe’s largest dolphin show pool, the world’s largest indoor penguin show, the longest shark tunnel, the largest Thai village outside Thailand, and second largest place in Europe to house orcas:)

Sand Dunes. As you arrive by car from the airport towards Corralejo you will experience an amazing landscape change. All of a sudden you will migrate from volcanic rock into the Sahara. I’m not kidding, as the enormous sand dunes you see ,are in fact blown in from Africa. This is an amazing sight and loads of fun.

3. Our average expenses: The Canary Islands are affordable (in Europe)

 

  • Accommodations: This was an amazing treat from our friends Justyna and Arkadiusz … once again thank you!
  • Restaurants: 30 – 50 euro/visit for 3 of us
  • Food, transportation (car rental) and entertainment: 40 euro/day ($60)

4. Our first impressions of the locals, their culture and customs:

People were friendly and helpful. The relaxed atmosphere and the mañana approach is felt at times … and the siesta is still a daily routine (expect closed doors between 2 and 5 PM sometimes longer).

As much as we loved the local cuisine featuring its fresh seafood and the Canary potatoes with mojo sauces, we still preferred the seafood more on the Greek Isles. Our search for the greatest seafood dish goes on:).

We can’t wait to discover other islands in the future as we will return for sure. We truly recommend these islands to anyone, even with the looming dangers of volcanic eruptions in the Canaries!

Volcanos vs beaches? Do you still think it’s worth a visit? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Here are some of our photos from this trip:

Pictures from beautiful Barbados

Barbados is a versatile and beautiful Caribbean island. The time we spent there with the family was quite amazing. Here are a few pictures from this trip back in January of 2011.
Just click on any of the thumbs to see full images.
Enjoy:

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157625857169266″]

To see all other pictures from Barbados please go here

Barbados – the non ‘all inclusive deal’ is the best way to experience the island!

We arrived in Barbados without any issues. Niko was a champ once again, as if he was born to travel. We decided to use this trip to show our parents what our days will look like when travelling around the world. It was important for us to show them our new lifestyle and how well prepared we are.

Once we landed, it became very apparent that Barbados is one of the most efficiently run Caribbean nations. If you notice the speed at which the customs officers processed new arrivals, then you can agree with the Wikipedia’s statement that “Barbados is the third most developed nation in the Americas!”.

The air filled with natural scents of the exotic plant life, made us forget that just 5 hours prior we were freezing our behinds off in Toronto. Niko jumped up in joy as he stepped off the aircraft in 30 degree Celsius weather.

At the airport we took a 1970 van taxi to take us to our new home for the next 10 days. The house manager was there to meet us with a big smile. The townhouse was beautiful and much bigger than expected and we were very happy with our choice. We unpacked, and ran to the beach (located a 10 min. hike away) just to be greeted by darkness and an overpriced Italian restaurant. We didn’t care, as that night we celebrated our first night together!

We spent the next few days looking for the ‘perfect beach’ and there are plenty in Barbados. We decided to use the local bus to make our first discoveries. The atmosphere in every bus was very friendly with reggae tunes and a nice breeze provided by the open windows.

Here are the best five beaches of Barbados we have been able to conquer:

Paynes Bay Beach

Paynes Bay Barbadosis a touristy yet beautiful beach that neighbours the Sandy Lane Beach but is less exclusive. This is the place to visit if you wish to swim with the sea turtles. Rather than take expensive catamaran tours, we recommend you just swim out a hundred yards from shore when the catamarans arrive and swim up to the area. You will save yourself at least fifty dollars.

Folkestone Marine Park

features an artificial reef, purposefully formed by the sinking of the ship Stavronikita which had been destroyed by fire in 1976. We just went snorkelling and saw no ship, just plenty of fish and the reef:) It is well worth a visit.

Sandy Lane

is home to one of the most luxurious hotels that also bares the name Sandy Lane. At times, the hotel is home to the A-listers including Tiger Woods, Jennifer Aniston, Rihanna and Jay Z.  It’s located just a few miles south of Holetown home to calm, turquoise waters of the West Coast.

Miami Beach

is located on the south coast near the fishing village of Oistins where you can grab very tasty fried flying fish. This is a beautiful beach away from the many hotels and resorts of the South coast. The beach has finer sand than its West Coast cousins as the waters are much more wavy here. We especially liked a small lagoon off the centre of the beach that offered calmer and shallower waters, perfect for Niko.

Bathsheba


Surfer's paradise in Barbados
On the rustic East Coast, this is a very picturesque fishing village popular with surfers. It’s known for its strong waves craved by surfers. It is home to several surfer’s contests every year. Swimming, especially with young children is not advised. We came for the beautiful views only.

Here are our general observations and tips about Barbados:

Best Places for Kids

  • Ensure to visit the Barbados Wildlife Reserve where monkeys and other animals run freely. Niko had a blast
  • Go to Paynes Bay Beach to see the turtles and fish from the glass bottom boats
  • Stay at any of the most beautiful beaches…Your kids will love the sand and the warm water. Stay away from the East coast as the waters are very wavy
  • Transportation:

  • If you are planning to rent a car, do so from home or a few weeks in advance
  • Always bargain with your cabbie, as prices appear to vary widely dependent on progress of the drivers’ card game with his buddies
  • Take local transportation whenever possible as it’s very affordable and safe ($2 per trip)
  • The traffic is left-handed however some cars with the driver’s seat on the left are allowed. These cars have special markings on their license plates. Letter ‘H’ on license plates is for tourists rental cars. Other drivers are aware and quite forgiving…:)
  • The weirdest thing to get used to when driving on the left side of the road (if you come from the right hand traffic region) is to figure out exactly where the left side of the car is located in relation to the road.
  • When on the road be careful of the roundabouts. Barbados is not well ‘signed’ and it is tough to estimate your precise location… the good news is that the island is only 34 by 23 km wide so you can’t get lost for too long!
  • Food

  • I was surprised to find out that the water is safe to drink as it comes from naturally filtered spring water via volcanic rock
  • You must try the local MountGay rum, it’s relatively inexpensive and goes down really smoothly
  • Eat and shop where you can spot locals, some say finding a good valued restaurant on the West coast is like trying to find a black hole
  • Try to find small local run places, that serve local dishes like the famous flying fish sandwich
  • Cost and Shopping

  • Hotels, especially offering all-inclusive deals are very expensive. Price lists of a ‘regular’ hotel run from $200-$500 per night. We recommend you rent out your own apartment or houses that you can easily find with services like HomeAway.
  • Apparently Barbados was one of the few Concord (aircraft) destinations outside of London and Paris and NYC suggesting the high calibre of the visitors to the island
  • Due to its small size, high import costs of goods and being spoiled by the British tourists, Barbados remains a pretty expensive place. Even our house manager told us, she can’t afford to shop for clothes on the island
  • More expensive items and luxury items are tax-free, not sure how it works but it provides an incentive for the few rich visitors who wish to shop for brand watches and sunglasses
  • Avoid touristy shopping centres, you will overpay, guaranteed
  • General and interesting

  • Plan to visit the south and east coast that promise much more local flavour
  • Barbados has a very high literacy rate and good infrastructure
  • The island is relatively safe especially the West Coast but ensure to lock your home and put away your valuables just in case
  • Bajan people are very proud of their traditions, heritage and proud of the fact that their beaches are public and accessible to all locals
  • If you have other tips or observations please leave a comment below. Thanks

    To see all other pictures from Barbados please go here Also, visit our interactive travel map here to see where we have been so far. Zoom in to see each location with our points of interest