The Authentic Side of Brussels

Everyone knows to try Belgium chocolate, waffles and fries. But you might me surprised by how multiculturaly rich is Brussels, especially when referring to food. I was amazed to find such an open community, as well as unforgettable art at every corner. I’ll share how my perception went from fearful to this being one of my favorite cities. It was overwhelming at first, but it’s so easy to get around and meet people in the capital of the European Union.

Brussels at First Glance

I looked to the window next to me and saw a big, beautiful butt.

My first perception of Belgium was culture shock. I arrived in Brussels at Gare de Nord (North train station) and stepped into a gray sky, looked to the window next to me and saw a big, beautiful butt. First I thought it was a mannequin, but IT MOVED! I wish I knew before going to Brussels that it has a red light district. I was standing in the middle of it! I’ve been to Amsterdam before, but I was well aware of the existence and location of the red light district. This time, it took me by surprise.

The second thing I noticed were the mothers and little girls begging for money to eat. They didn’t speak French, nor did it sound to me like Flemish (native tongue in parts of Belgium) so I suppose they were refugees. I, unfortunately, had not a dime of cash nor a bite of food with me since I had been traveling in Germany for about a week and I had recently lost my debit card, BUT that’s another story.

I was tired, sweaty, carrying my luggage and trying to find my hostel with a broken heart. I wish I had at least some snacks to give these people, but then again, that wouldn’t even be close to solving the problem. During my stay in Brussels, I met other immigrants who also arrived in Belgium as refugees and can now share success stories. That definitely changed my perspective of the city, as well as the beautiful Grand Place.

If you think that Grand Place is beautiful during the day, wait until you see the lights of the baroque building reflected into the dark-shiny floor at night, turning the Place into a beautiful dark sea of lights. Absolutely breath-taking.

Grand Place at night
Grand Place

Surrounding the Grand Place were several narrow streets brimming with souvenir and chocolate shops, as well as mediterranean restaurants, waffle and frites (aka french fries) stands and bars with a wide variety of Belgian beers.  Despite all this deliciousness, one of my main reason for visiting Bruxelles, besides Belgian beer, is Le Boutique de TinTin. I’m a nerd for comics and I absolutely love TinTin, but no more than I adore his pup Milou, the true hero in the stories. The shop is more of a museum, unless you’re willing to spend about €70 in a figurine. I did get a €2 postcard as souvenir that is now pinned to my wall.

Bruxelles, land of TinTin and Delirium beer.

If you’re a fan of beer, Delirium alley is a must! In this alley you’ll find Delirium Cafe, Monasterium, Taphouse and even a Tequileria. People drink their beers in any of the bars or even in the alley on hot days (or nights). Delirium has a wide selection of beers from wheat, stouts, IPAs, sours and lambics. You also have a choice of size or beer flights if you want to taste a few. Remember, Belgian beers tend to be stronger. Keep an eye on the alcohol % so they don’t sneak up on you. The bartenders are friendly and speak English so don’t be a afraid to ask for a taster before deciding on one.

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Just a few beer to choose from at Delirium Cafe


How to Get to Brussels

Something important to know is that Centraal Station is the closest to the city centre (closest to the Grand Place), there’s also Midi and North station. Most trains stop at all 3 stations which are about a 20 minute walk from each other. If you’re coming from Charleroi (south airport), the first station is Midi, then Centraal, followed by the North station (opposite if you’re coming from the northern airport). The shuttle bus to the southern airport (Charleroi) departs from Midi Station.

What to See in Brussels

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Pissing Boy Statue

There are many famous monuments, parks and historical buildings to see, such as the pissing boy statue known as Manneken Pis and the pissing dog Zinneke Pis.

Just to mention a few more:

Brussels is definitely one of those cities where no matter where you turn or which street you take, you’ll find something interesting. Defintely a good idea to have your camera ready and charged at all times.

TInTin Mural
If like me, you’re a fan of street art, you’ll find a beautiful mural by Okudart right outside the North station. There are also many murals based on comics around Brussels. My favorite is, of course, the TinTin mural, shown above. You can also see the Smurf’s passage, leading to Centraal Station, as well as the Caroline Baldwin and the Broussaille mural.

A perfect way to end the day at Brussels is by enjoying the sunset and the live music performer at the steps in Mont des Arts (featured image on top). This is a very picturesque and romantic area with a beautiful sight in every corner. I was on my own (#foreveralone) but didn’t mind all the embracing couples around me because I was in love with the moment and the colorful sky. I also had a delicious chocolate covered waffle to keep me company ❤

Where and What to Eat in Brussels Center

You’ll never taste french fries the same way, since you’ll soon realize they’re actually from Belgium and they’re called Frites! Waffles with maple syrup will no longer suffice either, it’s strawberries, chocolate and chantilly or dead!… ok, maybe I’m taking it a bit to the extreme but there’s a reason why Belgians take great pride in their food.

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Frites and waffles are musts in Belgium. I also found mediterranean food to be very popular in Brussels. Here are a few inexpensive and delicious places with great customer service, as well as English speaking staff:

Here is the Google mpas list of every place mentioned in this post. Don’t forget to download the Brussels map in Google maps so as to save data and time when roaming around Brussels. This city is a great place to just walk around and get lost. You’ll find wonderful things to see or places to eat and drink everywhere you go. Follow me on Instagram joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas. I hope you make the best of your time in this amazing city and always, BE PRESENT.

 

The Ultimate Itinerary for the Captivating Island of Mallorca

Explore Mallorca in a weekend! This captivating island has everything you need for a relaxing getaway or unforgettable party crazed adventures. You can also feel like a true explorer when traversing the many caves hidden between breath-taking beaches.

Mallorca is a small and beautiful island in an archipelago in Spain called, Balearic Islands. The other Balearic islands are Ibiza, Menorca, Formentera, and Cabrera.
What I found to be the most intriguing thing about Mallorca is that it’s a truly multi-lingual island.

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Despite it being petite, the locals working in the tourist sector speak at least 3 languages, sometimes more! Some of the spoken languages are Spanish, English, German, French, Italian, and of course, Mallorquín. Yes, Mallorca has its own language, which I learned is a dialect deriving from Catalán, the language spoken in Cataluña (where Barcelona is).

Most street signs were written in all these languages. I was amazed by how many polyglots I met during my short stay in Mallorca. This is very uncommon for Spain, which makes this island stand out even more. As if the clear, blue Mediterranean ocean wasn’t attractive enough, now you know you won’t have any issues with communication when traveling on this island.

Where and What to Eat in Mallorca

Markets are the best way to try local food in Spain.

As expected on an island, seafood is fresh and everywhere. Markets are the best way to try local food in Spain. There are a few markets where you can choose fresh fish and have it grilled it right there and then. The most popular one is Mercat de Santa Catalina which is in Palma, near Plaza Mayor. It closes at 5pm every day and it’s closed on holidays. Another market in my list, that I, unfortunately, did not have a chance to visit is Mercado Gastronómico de San Juan. It seemed like the perfect place to try different types of food.

In the town of Sollér, I had a delicious and authentic meal with a breathtaking view of the mountains in a hidden alley. Service was outstanding at Bar Molino but I arrived for a late lunch/early dinner and had no problem finding a table outside. It got busier in the evening, so best make a reservation, especially during peak season.

Nightlife in Mallorca

There are plenty of cocktail bars to choose from in Palma. I had the chance to try a few, including Brassclub which had amazing cocktails and a very chill vibe. Havanna is also a cool cocktail bar in Palma. I especially loved the corky art in this bar but my favorite one is an Italian bar in Santa Catalina named Ventuno. I’m not a huge Aperol fan, I find it too bitter but Italians are such experts at mixing it that I absolutely loved the cocktails here. The food looked delicious as well but I did not try it. My only complaint is that I wish there was a dance floor or at least more space. Music was too good not to move but there was hardly any space to even stand in this bar.

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Potato quality selfie @ Havanna

Sometimes, it’s best to go with the flow, you’ll be amazed by where the night takes you. I found myself dancing the night away at an Irish pub! Right around the corner of Ventuno you’ll find Molly Mallone. Definitely not the place where I expected to listen to Latino and 90’s music but if you rather not pay the cover for a club, know you can party it up here, at least on a weekend. From here, we walked to a club in the area but I cannot recall the name (it was that kind of night). Never be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and meet new people. I ended up singing my heart out to THE Spice Girls song with a Dominican friend I made that night and following an Italian group of friends to the next club. C’est la vie!

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Cathedral in Palma

Lodging in Mallorca

If you want the Historic Centre to be within walking distance I recommend staying in Palma. There are quite a few bars and restaurants in the area, the Cathedral and beach boardwalk are within walking distance as well. If you’re worried about staying in a loud neighborhood, Palma is actually pretty calm and quiet at night. A downside is that if you’re looking to lay out at a beach, you’ll need to rent a bike or take the bus since the nearest beach is a small boat port.

Another popular area is  Santa Catalina which is a 30-40 minute walk back to Palma. There are also plenty of taxis and a bus that ends its route around 9pm. Portopí is next to the port, so the beach is not as beautiful as other ones in Mallorca, but it’s surrounded by restaurants and night clubs if you’re planning on partying it up.

I wish I would’ve stayed at least one night in either Port Sollér or Porto Cristo. These beaches are unrealistically beautiful but both locations are far from the action. So it really does depend on what kind of vacation you’re looking for and if you have a car since everything is a short drive away but buses are not as regular as in a big city.

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Porto Cristo

Best Day Trips in Mallorca

Sollér & Port Sóller are definitely worth the trip if you have at least one whole day to visit. The small and charming town of Sollér hosts the beautiful Església de Sant Bartomeu (Church of St. Bartomeu) designed by Joan Rubió, an Antoni Gaudí follower. Gaudí is best known for the Sagrada Familia, an enormously impressive church in Barçelona. I’ve become difficult to impress by churches in Europe, but the one in Sollér is so unique since it has Baroque, Gothic and even Modernist elements.

An easy and scenic way to get there is the Palma-Sollér train which departs from the historic center in Palma and arrives in the town of Sollér. The stop is right next to the church. You can find the timetable and prices here

The Caves are a must-see when in Mallorca!

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Mediterranean sea entering the Caves of Drach

Porto Cristo is a small yet beautiful beach next to the Caves of Drach. The Caves are a must-see when in Mallorca! They were formed from the entrance of the Mediterranean ocean. Their discovery dates back to the Middle Ages but they have been conditioned with en easy entrance and exit, as well as lights and stairs for visitor access.

I was at awe with the naturally made stalagmites from hundreds, possibly thousands, of years of water dripping from and onto the rocks. These rocky spikes went in all directions causing a perfect reflection in the calm Martel lake.

The tour includes a live classical music concert, as well as a boat ride along lake Martel, which is inside the caves. There’s a limited amount of tours available per day so make sure you plan ahead. You can arrive by bus, the cost from Palma as of 2019 was €8.65 one way. You can find the bus time table here. There are also tours departing from Palma that include transportation and entrance, they range around €40.

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Boat ride in the Caves of Drach

Here’s the list of all the locations I mentioned in this post, along with some other restaurants that were referred to me but I did not get a chance to try.

I visited during March, and even though it was sunny it was also windy, so it wasn’t perfect beach weather. The humidity made it quite chilly at night. On the other hand, it wasn’t peak season so I was able to enjoy Mallorca without being overwhelmed by other tourists. Whenever you visit, even if things don’t go as planned (as they rarely do) remember to appreciate the breathtaking views, delicious food, and friendly locals. Mallorca is a beautiful place and I’m sure you’ll agree, so always… BE PRESENT!

Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for more travel pics & ideas!

How to Have an Epic Vacation in Porto

It is one of my favorite cities in Portugal, perhaps even in Europe. Oporto, or Porto in English, has become increasingly more popular, almost as much as Lisboa (Lisbon). You can easily see the main attractions in a weekend if you don’t mind the hills. I’ll give you a breakdown of what to see, eat and where to party in Porto.

There’s a unique charm in the neighborhoods and their decayed buildings. Porto is not as metropolitan as Lisbon, but the views from Dom Luís I Bridge are breathtakingly stunning. The main reasons I fell in love with this city are because of its friendly people, delicious food, breathtaking views, and peculiar street art.

Must-See Landmarks in Porto

Most memorable landmarks are the Dom Luis I Bridge, Lello Library,  São Bento train station, and the fanciest McDonald’s you’ll ever see. But as always, I recommend a walking tour. They’re between 2-3 hours long and they’re free! Simply Google “Porto Free Walking Tour”. These tours are tip-based where you pay what you consider appropriate or however much you can afford.

Another J.K Rowling inspiration and an unforgettable sight.

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Lello Library, aka “Harry Potter’s Library”

If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll have a familiar feeling when entering  Livreria Lello. It is said that J.K. Rowling was inspired by Oporto after living in the city back in the 90’s. In the books, she describes the library, where Harry buys his books before attending Hogwart’s, as a place similar to this Lello.

Lello is a small library that charges €4 as an entrance fee, which can be used towards a purchase. There will most likely be a line of people waiting to get in, which moves kinda fast, but don’t expect to take any pics inside without people in the frame. It gets pretty busy in there since this is such a popular destination in Porto.

Something else you’ll see if you’re in Porto during graduation season, is that the University’s graduates wear a very similar black cloak to the one Hogwart’s students wear. Another J.K Rowling inspiration and an unforgettable sight. The main difference is that the graduates tend to have a bottle in hand instead of a wand.

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São Bento Train Station

São Bento train station is beautifully decorated with hand-painted blue tiles. There are about 200,000 blue tiles dating back to the 1900s. The art in the station tells the city’s story. I remember the tour guide mentioning that one of the walls is about a foreign princess who arrived in Porto to marry the king. The Portuguese covered the roads in rose petals so the princess wouldn’t realize that the streets were actually covered in horse shit. And if you look at the images carefully you’ll notice small mistakes such as the foot of a horse pointing backward. These elements make this art even more unique and prove that it was hand-painted.

Around the corner from São Bento, you’ll see the fanciest Mc Donald’s ever. This building used to be the Imperial Café in the 1930s. It was restored by the city but no local business owner could afford it. Porto’s administration agreed to sell the building to the well known fast-food franchise under the condition of maintaining the building as is. The food and prices are the same, with a few Portuguese pastries included. If you’re into beautiful cafes, don’t skip a visit to Majestic Café or Café Guarany, both really close by and also totally worth a visit.

Portuguese Food

An important dish in Porto is the Francesinha, a calofrancesinharie overload type of sandwich layered with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (smoke-cured pork sausage seasoned with garlic and paprika), fresh sausage like chipolata (thin and short sausage), steak or roast meat, and covered with melted cheese and a hot-thick tomato and beer sauce similar, in regards to consistency, to gravy. It is typically served with french fries and a fried egg on top. The flavor of the sauce varied since every restaurant had its own recipe. An affordable restaurant near the river and the Dom Luís Bridge is Restaurante Verso Em Pedra. Expect huge portions. Big enough to share one Francesinha between two people since it’s such a rich dish.

Another typical Portuguese dish is the Bifana, basically a pork sandwich. The pork steak is slowly marinated and heavily seasoned, making it a bit spicy. The bread is a simple white bread roll, that ends up being moistened with the pork steak sauce. Apparently, the south of Portugal has a different recipe, where the pork is less spicy and tastes more of mustard. I personally detest mustard but love spicy food, so the version I tried in Porto was not only delicious, but the meat was oh so tender and the bread was so soft and freshly made. It paired great with a Super Bock, a great Portuguese beer you’ll find anywhere. Pictures don’t do this sandwich justice, so I suggest you try it before judging it by its basic appearance. A great place to try out this simple, yet very tasty sandwich is Casa GuedesCafe Piolho also serves this delicious sandwich and other typical Portuguese dishes like the green vegetable soup served as a popular side dish.

“I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people”

Portugal, in general, is also famous for its fresh seafood. Codfish (Bacalao) is the region’s fish and is also quite affordable. I tried in several Portuguese towns, including Cascais, and always asked for Mediterranean style, which is grilled in cult in the middle for easy eating.  Once, a waiter told me “I’m sorry but our fish is not too fresh today.” So I asked “Why? How old is it?” and his answer was “It was caught yesterday.” I found this hilarious and so typical of Portuguese people wanting to offer you the best, always.

Porto’s Nightlife

Drinking in public is legal in Portugal! Locals start and end the night by drinking next to the fountain with the two lions, Fonte dos Leões. You’ll find plenty of bars near this fountain. I recommend starting the night at Porto Tónico. I am not a fan of the Porto wine, since I find it to be too sweet for my taste, but Porto Tonics are delicious! They’re so refreshing, just the right amount of sweet and something you won’t find anywhere else. If you prefer craft beers, you’ll find a great place a 5-minute walk away called Catraio.

If you feel like dancing, I had a lot of fun at Plan B Club where I danced my butt off to electronic and Latin music. Even if you don’t enjoy dancing, you’ll be entertained by the laser show displaying several images, a very unique touch in my opinion. Although, a bit busier, I also had a lot of fun at The Wall. None of these clubs charged a cover and they have a mixed crowd of locals and tourists. This made for a very interesting and fun night where I got to dance with people from different parts of the world. If you’re a day drinker, I recommend you enjoy a cocktail at the garden in Base Porto on a sunny day.

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View from Gaia

Wine tasting in Gaia

Across the Duoro River you’ll find Gaia. You must hike up the Miradouro da Serra do Pilar. This is one of the best viewpoints where you can appreciate the bridge and most of Porto. When you cross the Dom Luis I Bridge, be mindful that you’re sharing the “road” with the tramway. Tourists stop anywhere along the bridge to take pictures without realizing how narrow the pedestrian path actually is once the train passes by.

Gaia, is known for its vineyards and wineries along the river. As I mentioned, I personally do not enjoy Porto wine. I realized this after a 3-hour long wine tasting tour in Gaia but I truly enjoyed visiting the wineries. They’re all so different, some have terraces next to the river and one even had a rooftop bar and Virtual Reality set where you could “fly” above Porto. Some of the most famous are SandemanCalemOffley, among others.

No matter what time of the year you visit, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy your time in Porto since it’s such a beautiful city with so much to offer. Even if the rain is pouring down, there are plenty of cozy cafés and restaurants to enjoy the local delicacies. Have fun and remember to always BE PRESENT. For updates on travel pics and tips follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez.

 

 

 

 

How to Visit Teide, Tenerife’s Largest Attraction

Tenerife is known for its microclimates and diverse vegetation as well as their biggest attraction, Teide, a volcano that you can see from almost any point on the island. A visit to Teide is in itself a day trip, or a few days trip if you are into hiking. The regional parks surrounding Teide vary in a lot in views, vegetation, hiking difficulty, weather, etc. Most viewpoints are only accessible by car since there is only one “guagua” (bus) going to the cable car on Teide. Below are detailed instructions on how to get there and what to look for.

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Exploring Teide and its surroundings

How to get to Teide

I was at awe with all the sudden changes and beautiful landscapes.

If you’re planning on making it to the peak of the volcano, you have to reserve a permit allowing you to enter the hiking path towards the peak. You need to reserve this at least 2 months prior to your visit. You can reserve it by clicking here.

If there are no more permits available and you really want to make it to the peak, you can book a tour with a third party, FYI… it’s a bit pricey. Tours to the peak are around €60. A company I recommend, which I’ve used before in other countries is Viator.
You can also go near the peak without the permit for €27 roundtrip by taking the Cable Car. The official instructions on how to get to the cable car by car or bus from either the north or south side of the island are here.  There is only one bus around 9am getting there, and the departing bus around 4pm. As of 2019, the details are as follow:

Getting there by bus from the north side of the island: Bus Line 348  Puerto de  La Cruz – Las Cañadas del Teide (www.titsa.com). Departing: 09:15am from Puerto de la Cruz, with a stop in La Orotava, Montaña Blanca and Teide’s cable car. The return bus leaves from the cable car at 4pm (16:00)

Getting there by bus from the south side of the island: Bus Line 342 Playa de Las Américas – Las Cañadas del Teide (www.titsa.com). Departing at 09:15 am from Las Américas, with a stop at Los Cristianos at 9:30am. The return bus departs from the cable car at 3:30pm (15.30).

Driving up Teide is like entering the Twilight zone. First you see palm trees, then pine trees, and the closer you get to the peak, the more dessert vibes you get with so many huge rocks and succulent plants. I was at awe with all the sudden changes and beautiful landscapes. Another way of exploring Teide is by hiking the regional parks. I recommend Anaga Regional Park. There are different paths you can take with a range of difficulty, length, and views. You can inquire about the hiking paths in the Anaga information point. There’s parking for your convenience and an amazing viewpoint from the parking lot. The main road that leads to the viewpoint is the TF-12 road from La Laguna, which goes past Las Mercedes; and the TF-12 road from San Andrés, if you are coming from Santa Cruz. You can get there by private vehicle and by public transport.

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Mirador in Anaga Regional Park

There are also some stargazing tours around Teide at night. A local mentioned that it’s so clear, you can even see the Milky Way during the summer. If you decide to wait for darkness and enjoy this majestic night sky with its mesh of stars, I recommend you spend the night. The streets are not properly lit and it’s quite dangerous driving down that windy road in complete darkness with opposite side traffic. There’s a quiet and small, but nice looking hotel near the cable car, Parada de Cañadas del Teide. It’s across the highway from some impressive rocky magma rocks with an amazing view. A fellow tourist mentioned how this specific area is popular because it’s the image seen in the old Spaniard bills. More specifically, the 1,000 pesetas bill.

Expect the climate to be cooler in the Regional Parks and near the peak in comparison to sea level. The higher up you go, the chillier it gets. Bring enough layers, water, snacks and a camera. Wear comfortable and warm clothes, as well as shoes with a good grip since you’ll be walking on gravel and rocks. Cellphone service is spotty up there so I recommend downloading the map in your phone so you know how to get back. However you decide to visit Teide, I hope you enjoy this majestic location at its fullest. When you’re up there breathing the fresh air and gazing upon the stunning views, remember to be leave all other busy thoughts behind and enjoy the moment. Always BE PRESENT. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for updates on travel pics & tips

Why Tenerife is the Best Travel Spot in Spain

Tenerife is amazing! Even if the flight is expensive, the island is not. The weather is great, even if the north was a bit chilly. Don’t be discouraged from learning that you either need a car or patience for the Guagua, aka bus. There’s something for everyone on this island.

It was December in Madrid and I decided to escape the cold winter by visiting my first Spanish island. I’ve heard great things about the weather in Tenerife and how it has microclimates, making it always beach weather. The more research I did, and the more advice I received, the more I realized this trip wouldn’t be as easy as in other cities in Europe. In this case, I wouldn’t get to know the city, and see all that is worth seeing with a walking tour. There is no metro in the island, only “guaguas”, buses. These are reliable but since they connect long distances, they don’t run as often as city buses in big cities.

They’re so different it almost seems like two different islands.

The island is divided by the north and south side. They’re so different it almost seems like two different islands. Sometimes, I even forgot I was still in Spain, especially in the south, which is overflowing with tourists from England, Ireland, and Russia.

Near the center of the island lies the biggest attraction of Tenerife, its volcano Teide, which you can see from almost any point on the island. This in itself, is a day trip or a few days trip if you are into hiking. Check out my blog post on Teide for advice on how to visit this volcano.

The Best of Northern Tenerife

The neighborhood of La Laguna is a must when visiting the north side of Tenerife. It’s a short 10 minute drive from the North Tenerife Airport. You can get a taxi from the airport. It shouldn’t be more than 11. If you land in the southern airport but prefer to start your trip in the north, here’s how to get from South Tenerife Airport to La Laguna:

1. Take the 111 guagua (bus) to Santa Cruz. It costs approximately €9.
2. About an hour later, arrive at the bus station in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Take the 015 bus to La Laguna.
3. It’s a 15-minute walk to the Cathedral, a centric point in La Laguna.

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Stunning mural in San Cristóbal de La Laguna

You can quickly explore the center of La Laguna on foot by going around Iglesia de Concepción and admire the colorful aesthetic of the buildings. You’ll also discover stunning street art decorating different areas of the neighborhood. There are so many restaurants and cafés in the area that your only concern will be deciding on one.

At night, I really recommend El Rincón de TinTinthis is where the locals go enjoy craft beers from all over Europe at an affordable price. Some nights you’ll be blessed with great live music. I was lucky to have heard an amazing blues band.

La Laguna is also known for its great hiking paths and because of it’s proximity to the beach of Las Teresitas. This beach is a 20-minute drive from the center of La Laguna. The beautiful contrast of mountains and the beach reminded me of home in California because of the succulent plants growing next to palm trees. I also recommend driving or hiking up to the viewpoint, El Mirador Las Teresitas for awe-trucking views, especially during sunset. It reminded of the Amalfi Coast in Italy.

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El Mirador de Las Teresitas

Another short drive from La Laguna or Santa Cruz is Puerto de la Cruz; a stunning beach, popular by its black, volcanic sand, and lively boardwalk. This area is a bit more touristy and the restaurants and bars had an older crowd. Still, the exfoliating black sand was impressive, but I’m sure it gets really warm by absorbing all the sun rays in the summer.

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Sand art in Puerto de la Cruz

Garachico is a small but pretty town known for its natural rocky pools, which were created by lava from the volcano. It is worth visiting if you have the time. La Caleta, is another rocky beach worth checking out, but not somewhere where you could lay down in the sand since it’s rocky.

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Jardin Victoria in La Orotava

La Orotava, is one of the cutest Spanish towns I’ve seen. You can do a DIY walking tour in about two hours. We started the day by parking near the houses then walking to the tourism office. There, we were provided a map with many landmarks that were walking distance from each other. Among them the Jardin Victoria, the museum Casa de los Balcones, and amazing ocean views from Molino de Gofio. From La Orotava we drove up to Santa Ursula, less than 15 minutes away. We were hunting for the famous “guachinches”, which are the best places to eat in this area.

Eating at a Guachinche is the most local thing you can do in Tenerife.

The Best of Tenerife’s Food

Eating at a Guachinche is the most local thing you can do in Tenerife. These are small restaurants in people’s houses. They have a set menu based on what they fished that morning and they’re located near the town of La Orotava, in Santa Ursula. There were also a few in La Orotava. I recommend a car for this trek since it’s high up in the mountain. There are many Guachinches in the area, the best way to decide on one is to ask a local. We heard several recommendations but opted for the only one opened on January 2nd.

Seafood is popular in Tenerife for obvious reasons. You can order a grilled-Mediterranean style fish, or bathed in sauce. Rabbit seemed to also be a common dish in the north. The most iconic side dish is “papas arrugadas”, these are boiled potatoes with “mojo”. Mojo is a very delicious sauce that goes amazing with many things, especially seafood. There’s the green one, which has cilantro, garlic, oil, and other spices. The red one tends to be spicier. Every restaurant seemed to have their own mojo recipe, encouraging us to try all of them. I apologize for not having any food pics, but my mind was focused on only one thing whenever food arrived. You gotta trust me that everything was delicious.

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Twilight in Costa Adeje, South Tenerife

The Best of Southern Tenerife

Costa Adeje is a popular destination in south Tenerife because of its abundance of beaches, as well as shops, restaurants, and bars. Definitely a very touristy area. Never had I seen so many Irish people gathered together in the same place. Not even in Dublin!  My friends and I walked into “Temple Bar” in Tenerife and we were the only two black haired people in that pub. Everyone assumed we were locals despite our American accent. This was definitely a first.

We had a great time in Costa Adeje but we didn’t get to meet any locals in this area. Expect the same all over Avenida de las Americas, which is a popular strip that despite the tourist prices, it wasn’t as expensive as other large cities in Spain. You’ll find many British pubs and if you’re looking to dance the night away, there are also many clubs in the area, among the most popular ones are Papagayo Beach Club,  TIBU, and Envy.

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Los Gigantes

Los Cristianos is another lovely beach frequented by tourists. It’s walking distance from Costa Adeje and Playa de las Americas.  If you have a car or the time to take a “guagua” to Los Gigantes I truly recommend it. The trip was simple, it cost roughly 4, and took about 30-40 minutes one way. We hopped on a big green bus from Playa de las Americas to the Los Gigantes bus stop. The cliffs, aka “Los Gigantes”, are huge and beautiful. I suggest walking up to the viewpoint, El Mirador Archipenque. It is possible to hike around the cliffs, but a tour guide is recommended if you’re not an experienced hiker.

This whole neighborhood has many family-owned restaurants with authentic and delicious “mojo” recipes. We met the owner of El Pescador, an authentic Canarian restaurant with ocean views. He spoke about how he’s related to every staff member in the restaurant and how he’s daughter is teaching Chinese in the U.S. Quite an interesting experience. He definitely made us feel like another member of the family.

La Gomera is the closest island to Tenerife and can be visited in a day. You can easily see it from Los Cristianos beach in the south of Tenerife. The ferry departs from Los Cristianos port and arrives, an hour later, at La Gomera. Two companies connect both islands: Fred Olsen and Armas Naviera.

TL,DR… Tenerife is amazing! Even if the flight is expensive, the island is not. The weather is great, even if the north was a bit chilly. Don’t be discouraged from learning that you either need a car or patience for the Guagua (bus). There’s something for everyone on this island, so I hope you’re able to visit and enjoy every moment just like I did. Follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for updates on travel pics & tips!

 

How to Make the Most Out of Your Visit to Dublin

There are a few options of day trips from Dublin, but the most popular ones are The Cliffs of Moher and the Game of Thrones shooting locations. The roads in Ireland are narrow, windy, and foggy so renting a car is not advisable unless you are accustomed to driving in these conditions. There are plenty of companies offering bus tours that include a brief visit to small towns along the way.  The prices range from €40-60.  Below is the research I did before going to the Moher Cliffs.

Get Your Guide

Viator

Finn McCool

  • Moher Cliffs
  • Moher Cliffs
  • Kilmacduagh Monastery
  • Doolin Village
  • Wild Atlantic Way
  • The Burren
  • Galway City
  • Galway City
  • Galway City

12 hours, 50 EUR

14 hours, 40 EUR

45 EUR

The differences between tours are minimal. I opted for the Viator tour, which turned out to be the same as Finn McCool since our buses had the Finn McCool logo on them, and the itinerary was the same as their website.

What You Need to Know Before Visiting The Cliffs of Moher

No matter when you go, take a windbreaker or a raincoat. Umbrellas are practically useless against the strong winds nears the cliffs and beaches. If you go in the winter, there are not enough layers to keep you warm. Make sure you carry a beanie, gloves and boots. Your tennis shoes/sneakers/trainers, or whatever you want to call them, will get wet. Your chances of slipping in rocks or along the cliffs are larger with shoes that have no grip on the sole.

Now, onto the fun part… the itinerary.

monastery
Kilmacduagh Monastery

The first stop was a quick one at the Kilmacduagh Monastery. It is an impressive and small cemetery next to the road towards The Burren. I personally enjoy visiting old cemeteries, especially medieval-looking ones. This place is eerie and wonderful at the same time. It has a small stone church made out of stone which is surrounded by medieval crosses. We were here for 15-20 minutes since we had a bit of a storm. You can read about the monastery’s story here: http://monastic.ie/history/kilmacduagh/

 

crazy hair.jpg

 

Fighting against the strong wind at Cliffs of Moher

About four hours from departure, we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher. The bus was already shaking from the strong December wind. We waited out the rain and wind inside the museum where you can take a green screen picture “in front” of the cliffs. Pretty useful since we didn’t get to spend much time outside admiring the cliffs. When we finally stepped out of the building and head towards the cliffs, I truly feared for my life. At first it seemed like a nice challenge to venture against the wind, but there were times when I thought that I would fly away. The wind pushed back even the strongest person. Imagine a 5 foot (1.5 meters) woman, fighting against mother nature for the sake of an adventure. The rain slapped our faces repeatedly, still, we laughed at this situation and were grateful for a fogless day which allowed for some pics.

I was warned about the biggest risk of visiting the cliffs, the fog. It can impede the visitor from seeing anything at all on certain days. So, I’ll take strong winds over fog since admiring those 300-million-year-old cliffs was more than words can describe.

wind
Three strong Latina warriors against that Irish wind

On our way to Galway City, we stopped by The Burren where the sun graced us with its presence. This beautiful place is a region in the southwest of Ireland known for the view shown in the pic below. The Burren is a beach paved by limestone dating back to the ice age. Mind your step when walking in this bedrock of cracked limestone and when crossing the highway from the bus to the beach. I almost got run over since my hood blocked my peripherals.

burren
The Burren

Not far from The Burren you can visit either Doolin Village or Galway City. I wish I would’ve chosen the tour stopping by Doolin Village since it’s known for its folklore and cute pubs. Galway is also a charming small town but seemed to own more city vibes when its biggest attraction being the mall. We spent most of our time there due to the weather but there was a small Christmas market in December. We explored it within 30 minutes or less. Here, I finally got to taste some authentic Irish coffee!

Galway
The Christmas Market at Galway

 

If you’re spending time in Dublin, check out my post on a quick trip to this amazing city. No matter where you go, no matter the weather I hope you enjoy every sip of that Irish coffee (or Guinness). Take a deep breath of that crisp Irish air and remember to enjoy every moment of your trip. It’s up to you to make the most out of this adventure which you’ve decided to embark on. Always, BE PRESENT and follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for updates on travel pics & tips.


irish coffee

The Magic of Dublin at Christmas Time

I somehow convinced my friends to join me on a trip to Ireland in December. I had a long weekend and the flight from Madrid was short and affordable. I’m not sure if my Mexican/Californian blood is getting used to real winters or I overly prepared with a coat that barely allows for movement, but the cold Irish winter seemed bearable. Going to the Cliffs of Moher, of course, was a different story which I shared in a separated post. Here, I share with you my notes on this weekend getaway so you can take advantage of your time in Ireland.

Transportation in Dublin

The airport is not too far from the city. The Airlink express (747) bus leaves every 15 minutes from the airport and will take you 30 minutes to arrive at the Gardiner Street stop, where most hostels and B&B’s are. This bus costs €7 for a single trip or €12 for a roundtrip. The last bus departing from the airport leaves at 12:30am (00:

Bus number 41 and 16 lead to O’Connell Street, which is near Dublin One Mall, a good centric point of reference. These buses cost €3.30 for a single journey and the driver accepts exact change only. Another option is the Aircoach, which runs 24 hours a day. It costs €8 for a single journey.

As of December 2018, a taxi roughly cost €25 to the city center. Lynk is a popular company and their phone number is 00 353 14600000. Uber is not commonly used, therefore, there aren’t many drivers out there. All information and timetables can be found on each company’s website.

The Best Landmarks in Dublin

As always, I recommend a walking tour. This time I chose the popular SANDEMANs. They have free tours departing at 10am, 11am or 2pm (14:00) from Barnardo Square which is right in front of City Hall. Check their website for updated times and departing locations.
Dublin is very walkable but be prepared for rain and wind, especially during the winter.

Dublin Castle.jpg

Dublin Castle

Dating from 1204 it has two small museums and gardens. One of the gardens is a small, cute and patio-like located on the rooftop. It’s a perfect place to chill over the summer. Inside the castle, you can also find the Chester Beatty Library with cushions where you can seat and relax. I went here to warm up and rest after the walking tour.

temple bar

Temple Bar

Temple Bar, is not only a famous bar among tourists, it is also a popular neighborhood along the river. Its cobble stone streets give Dublin such an old timey and distinctive vibe along with the crowded pubs hosting live music almost every night.

Trinity College

Trinity College

This beautiful college is located in the center of Dublin and it’s surrounded by many shops and restaurants. Trinity College is a notorious tourist destination because of its library holding the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin dating back to the 9th century. I personally opted for not visiting the library despite hearing good things since I only had one day to explore the city. Another reason being that I’m on a budget and the €14 (€11 for students) entrance fee was not feasible. You can still appreciate the beauty of the campus for free.

Best Places to Eat and Drink in Dublin

You’ll find delicious food in any pub. An important thing to remember though is that kitchens close at 9pm (21:00). Pints range from €5-7 depending on the beer and most pubs have a good selection of draught beers.

Cornucopia is famous amongst locals for its big portions of delicious and healthy food. You can choose from several mouthwatering vegetarian and vegan dishes. The restaurant is large and homey. It has several dining areas and is decorated as if you’re having lunch or dinner at a relative’s home. Definitely my favorite place for lunch in Dublin.

Another popular place isBunsen, which has a simple menu and delicious burgers. There are alsomany kebab places in Dublin, but Zaytoon is the most popular one. It’s not the cheapest option, but it has the freshest ingredients. They even have a salmon kebab! There’s a branch in Temple Bar.

For dessert, Murphy’s  is a must try while in Dublin. This ice cream parlor is known for its extravagant flavors, such as salt, gin, brown bread, etc.

The Reason for Visting Ireland… Irish Pubs

Porterhouse ended up being my go-to pub. It’s a three story pub with a good selection of home-brewed craft beers, good service, decent prices and great live music. It’s right around the corner of City Hall, which is also near Temple Bar.

The Brazen Head claims to be the oldest pub in Ireland, dating back 1198. I only drank a pint of Guinness but the food looked amazing. A reservation is recommended for dinner time. Although it was not my favorite pub, I did enjoy relaxing by the fireplace. There’s live music every night at 9:30pm (21:30).


The Wild Duck an expensive but gorgeous pub in Temple Bar. It’s quite big so you have a bigger chance of finding a seat. As in any pub, the decorations are plenty and random, but, in my opinion, Wild Duck had the best decor out of all the pubs I visited. I was especially attracted to the entrance which was covered with lights during Christmas. It made it hard to miss the pub despite it being located in a small alley.

Mulligan’s is an 18th century riverside pub frequented by an older crowd of locals, hence  making it a chiller vibe. The decorations are simple, unlike the bars on Temple Bar but without lacking a good selection of draught beers.

McNeill’s is also frequented by locals since it has the cheapest pints at €4, but keep in mind they only accept cash. There’s live music on Thursdays at 9:30pm (21:30).

Copper Face Jacks was recommended by a local as THE club to dance in Dublin. Also serving lunch.

Museums are free in Dublin!

All of the national museums are free! These are the National Gallery (next to Trinity College), the Irish Whiskey Museum, the Archeological Museum, which is next to the National Library, and the Collin Barracks Museum, exhibiting military uniforms and replicas of weapons.

In general, Dublin is an expensive city, but it has so much to offer in return. In other countries, you normally pay a cover at a bar if there’s a local band playing while running the risk of them not being any good. In Dublin, there’s no such risk. Not only are the shows free, but the musicians are also talented, at least, in my experience. I really loved the random decor in most pubs, the beer variety, the amazing food and portions, as well as the friendliness of the local islanders. Remeber to dress for the occasion since Dublin will most likely be rainy and chilly at any season. Despite the weather, remember to always BE PRESENT during your trip and follow me on Instagram @joyzcortez for updated travel pics & tips.