Reasons to Return to…

There are so many reasons you may want to return to a particular destination; such as, great memories that you want to relive, sights that you missed because of lack of time or money, or circumstances beyond your control which resulting in missed opportunities on your first trip. I love discovering new destinations and crossing new countries off my list but there are also some places that I can’t wait to return to. Most of the time, it is because I enjoyed these vacations so much that there is so much more I want to experience. On occasion, I want to resolve certain travel regrets like unfortunate weather that prevented me from participating in a particular activity.

Portugal

Sintra – To see the views from Pena Palace and the Moors Castle in a clear sunny day

Part of the reason to visit these two castles in the mountains just outside of Lisbon are the views available from the castle walls. Pena Palace and the Moors Castle both sit on rocky outcrops in the Sintra Mountains with views from the sea and to the Lisbon city centre. We enjoyed exploring the fairytale Pena Palace regardless of the cold foggy weather but we would love to return to see the castle in all its colourful glory. We didn’t bother, however, to visit the Moors Castle as we were told by locals that there was no point in climbing the castle walls if it was foggy and cloudy. Sometimes when your scheduled plans go awry, you make other fun discoveries like we did as we walked down the trails from Pena Palace back to Sintra and discovered some old stone walls of the Moors Castle along the path.

Old stone walls in Sintra, Portugal

Lisbon – A seafood feast at Ramiro’s

We had heard about this iconic Lisbon restaurant from watching Anthony Bourdain’s trip to the city as well as many other food and travel shows. This informal, although still expensive, restaurant has been open since the 1950s and is famous for the variety of seafood available for order, including clams, oysters, gooseneck barnacles and every type of prawn you can image. We had many wonderful meals during our trip including a fantastic food tour of Alfama with Treasures of Lisboa food tours, but there were so many restaurants to try and so little time, so we didn’t have time to make to to Ramiro’s.

Seafood lunch in Sintra, Portugal

Madeira – Hiking PR1 between the highest peaks of Madeira, Pico Areeiro and Pico Ruivo.

The island of Madeira is full of amazing hiking opportunities. The top hike on my list was the PR8 Ponta da Sao Lourenco, which is a dramatic barren landscape on the Eastern edge of Madeira. The island is also known for its levada walks which are irrigation canals built by the Madeirans to distribute rainwater from the rainy north to the dryer southern part of the island. We hiked the Levada das 25 Fontes and Levada do Risco in central Madeira. However, the most incredible looking hike, PR1 Vereda do Areeiro, left me more than a little intimidated. The views look incredible and vertigo inducing but in the end we were unsure the clouds would clear enough to take advantage of those views. Plus we were not confident our little rental car would make it up the crazy mountain roads. Next time we will take the rental car company’s advice and get the upgrade.

Hiking in Madeira, Portugal

Croatia

Krka National Park

The Krka National Park didn’t make it into our itinerary for our two week trip in Croatia as we expected it to be similar to the larger and more well known waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park. Our day trip to Plitvice Lakes from Zagreb was amazingly beautiful although incredibly rainy and partially flooded. When (not if) I were to return to Croatia, I would definitely try to go to Krka National Park to have the opportunity to swim in the waters in front of the waterfalls which is not possible in Plitvice Lakes. Krka National Park is only about a 20 minute drive from the coastal city of Sibenik and the highlight of this park are the 17 waterfalls that make up Skradinski Buk. Boat tours are available to explore the park but you can also wander along the footpaths or explore a monastery on the tiny island of Visovac.

View from above of Plitvice Lakes National Park

Japan

Hakone – A clear view of Mount Fuji.

We got a quick peek of the majestic Mount Fuji on the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto, but since we were on the bullet train it was blink or you’ll miss it. We also saw Mount Fuji from a distance from the free observation deck at the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building in Tokyo just before sunset. We had planned to get a spectacular view of Mount Fuji on our day trip to Hakone from Tokyo but Mount Fuji hid behind the clouds the entire day. Part of the reason we chose Hakone as a day trip was because of the circular path that would normally allow numerous viewing points for Mount Fuji as you travelled by tram, cable way and boat, but it was not meant to be on this trip. Next time, I would stay in Hakone for a night or two to enjoy the local hot springs as well as give me a few opportunities for a view of Fujisan.

One of the modes of transportation in Hakone, Japan

Tokyo – Food tour in Tokyo

We had some incredible food during our trip to Japan but we really could have benefited from the knowledge and experience of a local guide. We had done research in advance in search of restaurants and foods to try but our biggest challenge was often finding the restaurants we were seeking. Tokyo is a very vertical city and even if we had the restaurant starred on our Google maps, we struggled to find the restaurant when it could be anywhere from the basement to the 30th floor of a skyscraper, or hidden within a massive train station. We tried ramen, sushi, okonomiyaki and all sorts of street food such as takoyaki and yakitori, and the Japanese take such pride in their food that it can be hard to go wrong with food anywhere in Japan. However, a local guide could have helped us with more local specialties and customs as well as seeking out some of the best restaurants and dishes only known by locals.

Bowl of tonkotsu ramen in Tokyo

Italy

Cinque Terre – Spending more time in each of the five fishing villages that make up the Cinque Terre

We stayed in Riomaggiore for 3 nights with one full day spent hiking from Riomaggiore to Monterosso (including a detour to Volastra due to trail closures between Manarola and Corniglia). That left only one full day to explore each of the villages in more depth, which based on my experience, definitely wasn’t enough time to spend wandering aimlessly through these enchanting colourful towns. Nevermind the fact that you also need to schedule some time to drink the local wine, sample the local Italian delicacies such as the Ligurian pesto and spent some time basking in sun on the Italian Riviera.

View of Vernazza, one of the colourful towns of the Cinque Terre

Amalfi Coast – Hiking the Path of the Gods

During this trip to Italy we had already completed a big hike between the five fishing villages of the Cinque Terre, so we didn’t end up hiking the Path of the Gods. There were so many other things we wanted to do in the Amalfi Coast that the Path of the Gods hike got left off the itinerary. We spent time in Sorrento and explored the ruins of Pompeii, leaving only one day to explore the Amafi Coast towns of Positano and Amalfi by boat. The Path of the Gods hiking trail (or Sentiero degli Dei) is a clifftop hike with stunning view of the Amalfi Coast which winds its way through lemon groves and quaint coastal villages. The trail is 6.5km between the towns of Bomerano and Nocelle but you can follow the path all the way back to the town of Positano, if you are willing to attempt the 1,500 steps.

One of the coastal towns on the Amalfi Coast

Panama

Visiting the San Blas Islands

Most of my trip to Panama was spent in Panama City and various spots on the Pacific side of Panama rather than the Caribbean side. This meant that I missed out on the beautiful white sand and clear blue waters of the San Blas Islands. The San Blas Islands are an island paradise with local hotels only run by local Kuna families rather than large resorts. These islands are a bit more off the beaten path which allows them to keep their magic.

Taboga Island off the coast of Panama City

Mexico

Mayan Riviera – Visiting the Mayan temple of Chichen Itza

We had the pleasure of visiting the Mayan Riviera during some unusually cold rainy weather. Despite the weather we were able to visit the beautiful Mayan ruins of Tulum but we didn’t make the trip to Chichen Itza, mainly due to the distance from where we were staying in Playa del Carmen. The ruins in Tulum were beautiful especially as they were within view of the incredible white sand beaches and clear blue waters; however, Chichen Itza consists of a massive step pyramid known as El Castillo which was the center of one of the most important cities of the Mayan Empire.

Ruins in Tulum, Mexico

Philippines

Palawan – Island Hop in Coron

We really enjoyed our time island hopping around El Nido in Palawan, Philippines. We stayed in El Nido for 5 nights and did each of the four standard island hopping tours (Tour A, B, C and D), as well a day trip to Nacpan Beach. We had decided to spend more time in El Nido for a more relaxing experience rather than cutting our trip in El Nido short to add a few days in nearby Coron, Palawan. As hard as it is to believe, my relatives who have visited both El Nido and Coron are unanimous in their opinion that Coron is even more beautiful than El Nido. This is saying a lot considering how incredible the beautiful white sand beaches, limestone cliffs and clear turquoise water were in El Nido. Coron is known for its dive sites to sunken Japanese warships, crystal clear waters of of Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake and the Twin Lagoons, and the Maquinit Hot Springs.

One of the many beautiful white sand beaches on an island near El Nido, Palawan

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