A Mini Paradise: Mykonos Island, Greece

Mykonos Is one of the most popular Greek islands, known for its breathtaking views, blue and white houses, charming churches, windmills and amazing night life. This island has something to offer for just about anyone!

There you will see travelers, expats, honeymooners, youth and families. There is also a large homosexual scene, with many bars and night clubs of that style.

Mykonos is a beautiful places to visit, but it is highly suggested to pick a time of the year to visit that is not peak season if at all possible.  I made my first trip there in the middle of June, right before high season, and it was just beginning to get more crowded.

Many locals will say that the best time to visit is around September and October, just right after the end of the high season. In that time, you will be able to visit with lower prices and without the crazy traffic and large crowds of people.

Getting to Mykonos is simple. There is an airport located on the island, or you can choose to take a ferry from other greek islands, or from the capital, Athens.

I departed at 1600 from Athens on a high speed boat and was there by 1930 to see the amazing sunset.

One of my favorite parts about Mykonos was the amount of charming churches throughout the island.

Rumor has it that there are more than 800 churches, all unique with their own history and charm.

As you drive along the road you will see churches hidden off into the hills and along the seaside. One of the best ways to get around is by a scooter, four wheeler or renting a car, giving you the flexibility to stop at as many churches as possible and take in as much of the beautiful scenery as possible.

Mykonos has a wide range of beaches, from highly crowded and touristic, to quiet and completely isolated.  One of the most popular beaches in all of the island is called Super Paradise, also known as the most famous homosexual beach. While it’s beautiful, this place can get packed!

Other popular beaches include:

  • Platys Gialos (5km from the town)
  • Ornos (Known as the most family friendly beach on the island)
  • Ella Beach (the longest beach)

There are multiple other beaches, so don’t be afraid to get there and ask the local people their opinion on which to visit. Greek people are so friendly and can give you their local advice that you might not find on Google.

The night scene in the island is absolutely crazy! Many people refer to Mykonos as the Ibiza of Greece. Some places can get very crowded, so its necessary to book a table in advance, so you are not just one of hundreds of people crammed into the open area.

Some of the Popular night clubs are:

  • Cavo Paradiso
  • Scandanavian Disco
  • Tropicana Beach Bar and Restaurant,
  • Babylon Super Paradise Beach Club

If you want to escape the party scene and move into a more romantic place, you can visit Little Venice. This is an area, located right along the water that is lined with 18th century fishing houses that have been turned into restaurants, and bars.

The water is so close to the sitting area that when the waves break against the walls, you will most likely get drizzled by water. Walking through the narrow streets of this part of Mykonos you can see art at its best form.

People travel from all over the world to take a stroll through this area and take pictures of the unique streets and art styles, which are distinct from any other place in Europe.

In the evening time, most visit Little Venice to see the sunset reflecting over the ocean. Its possible to enjoy the views while having dinner along the waterfront, but its important to reserve in advance.

Apart from the amazing night life, beautiful views, the artistic streets, and the amazing sunsets, one of the main things this island is known for is their fresh fish, greek salad and delicious wine.

While many places are highly touristic, you will be able to find many local places with delicious, freshly caught fish. I have to admit, I have eaten at places all over the world, but nothing beats the fresh taste of Greek food.

Mykonos is highly recommended on my list and it’s a place that I will visit again in the future!

 

 

Don´t forget to also check out: 

SUSTAINABLE TRAVEL: CULTURAL IMMERSION WITH MAYAN COMMUNITY IN BELIZE

MOST COMMON TRAVEL MISTAKES: PART 3

PHOTOS TO INSPIRE YOU TO TRAVEL TO BRUNEI

 

 

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5 Lessons I Learned from Traveling to Indigenous Communities

Travel has a way of changing and opening you up to new ways of living and seeing the world. It connects you to this beautiful world that we live in and can drastically transform you as a person if you travel with an open mind and heart.

However, believe it or not, travel can be a dull, unfulfilling experience, leaving you with the sensation that “once you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all.”

I have to admit, traveling from one tourist trap to the next can be an unpleasant travel experience. In my case, I travel desperately seeking out cultural experiences, where I am completely surrounded by different people, doing something completely outside of my comfort zone.

However, what you typically find in most big cities is superficial, unauthentic experiences, loaded with tourists, hotel chains and fast food restaurants on every corner. When I started traveling, this was the only way that I wanted to travel, but after a couple of years of the same thing over and over, I started feeling an empty sensation and a disconnect from what I felt like travel should really be about.

Outside the major cities, to the more rural areas where most tourists do not tend to travel, is where it’s easy to find real, authentic experiences.  Traveling to these more rural areas, stopping to have a traditional meal, taking a class with a local or buying a hand made craft may seem insignificant, but those are some of the best ways travelers can explore and make a sustainable impact and support the true local culture and economy.

When I traveled to South America,  I had the chance to really connect on a personal level with different indigenous groups for the first time and learn about their traditions, customs, gastronomy, art, music and ways of living.

 “There are around 370,000 indigenous people living in over 70 countries around the world.” (European Commission).

Supporting and connecting with them is simple and can truly add value to your travels and give you an unforgettable story.

After my experience traveling and connecting across indigenous communities throughout the whole world, I have made a list of the top lessons that I have learned in my experience :

1. The Joy of Simplicity

The great thing about different indigenous communities is that, while most of the world is progressing in technology and changing their lifestyles, they remain simple and stand strong on how their ancestors lived and taught them.

Just because the world around them started buying computers, cell phones and adopting new ways of living, does not mean that they are influenced by this advancement. Their way of living comes to show you that it is possible to live in a progressive world and to be happy with little.

When I arrived In Paraguay I had the chance to see their simple way of living. They enjoyed the little things and found pleasure in something as simple as gathering together, with no technology and connecting as a community.

The kids happily played with rocks and sticks in the road and were not complaining about not watching TV or playing video games. In fact, the children had never even seen a TV screen before. They live in very basic houses and don’t feel the need to have all of the materialistic possessions that many feel the need to have in order to survive.

2. Respect and Love for Nature

For many indigenous groups, nature and their surrounding land is the most important element for them. Given that they’re living independently from the rest of society, they depend greatly on the resources that come from nature in order to live. With this being the case, they tend to respect and appreciate nature in a way that many modern people do not.

In many cultures, land and spirituality are directly connected and it’s the source that connects them with God, as well as there ancestors.

In today’s world, it’s easy to take for granted nature and not see the value that it really has.  However, a few days in an indigenous community will help you to regain that respect, value and appreciate again.

3. The True Meaning of an Authentic Cultural Experience

In a very rapidly changing world, it’s difficult to find true authentic cultural experiences while traveling. Many of the authentic experiences that you pay for today are highly commercialized, and as a result, the experience feels forced and unauthentic. However, escaping many of the touristic traps, you can find new experiences, meet people and connect with cultures in a way that will leave you wanting to go back for more.

Over the years, I have seen different cultural ceremonies where I was able to see culture through a different lens. I have been able to watch unique styles of dancing in traditional outfits, as well as listen to their music, instruments and chants.

4. Amazing Power of Natural Remedies from Nature

One of the most interesting experiences that I have had with indigenous communities is seeing their powerful connecting with natural medicine. They strictly depend on nature in order to find the cure for all their daily discomforts and problems, instead of going to the pharmacy.

In Belize, I was given a class in the woods on natural medicine from an indigenous man that was able to name every tree and the health benefit one could get from each one.  There were treatments for everything, from just a small headache, to a case of chicken pox for a toddler.

Indigenous people are experts at living in nature, given the fact that they have done it their whole life, as well as their ancestors, without external help.

5. Power of Non Verbal Communication

Traveling to more rural areas can be a rich experience, but often times travelers fear the unpaved paths due to communication barriers. My first time visiting an indigenous community was in Paraguay in South America and I went there will full confidence in my ability to communicate, given my fluency in Spanish.

However, what I quickly discovered is, while the average person in the big cities generally speak Spanish, most indigenous groups do not speak a word. What I thought would be a day of asking questions and getting a deeper understanding of their culture from their perspective, turned into a day of gestures, singing and laughing in order to communicate.

Although we were not able to communicate the way that I thought we would be able to, I still learned a great amount from them by just non verbal communication. A smile, laugh and light touch can sure go a long way in connecting and sending a message of love and care.

 

Don´t forget to also check out: 

 

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5 Ways to Travel Sustainably & Support Local Cultures

Learning about different cultures from around the world is one of the most enriching experiences that I have had on this amazing adventure around the globe. However, having an open mind and the willingness to connect with others across cultures is not something that came naturally for me.

I grew up in a small, conservative town in the south of the USA. Growing up, we had just under 10,000 people and was an area very safe in comparison to other parts of the world. Life for the most part was generally comfortable and considering there was no mixture of cultures living together in one small area, it was generally peaceful.

Leaving my small state and venturing off into the world completely alone was an act of courage and something that tested me on all different levels, especially culturally. I truly believed in my heart that my way of living was the right way and that everyone else was just wrong. My narrow mindset limited me and made me a judgmental person towards anyone that did not believe exactly what I believed, or acted according to my ways of thinking.

Each country from around the world has had a way of changing my narrow mind and getting me to open my mind a little bit more. What I have discovered is that travel is about learning to adapt and expand your way of thinking.

The art of travel is about having true, authentic experiences that can change your perception about the world and make you a more well rounded individual.

The girl who left Arkansas in 2013, to the current moment that I write this article, has had a transformation of night and day. This has been cause by many factors, the main one being my deep rooted commitment to travel sustainably and responsibly in every way that I can.

Being a sustainable traveler does not mean just traveling the world, only focusing on taking care of the environment, although that is a very important aspect of sustainable tourism.

Traveling sustainably focuses around the idea that you should travel in a way that is beneficial for the country and culture that you travel to, as well as you as the traveler. Its about working together with local cultures and making it a positive experience for everyone, while leaving a minimal impact on the environment.

From my personal experience, here are 5 ways that I have found to travel more sustainably, while supporting local cultures at the same time.

1. Take time to learn and ask questions about the culture, customs and cultural differences.

This is something that you can do before leaving your house. Take time to read about the culture and learn as much as you can. A little knowledge before traveling can go along ways. Continue learning as you visit the country by having the courage to connect with locals, ask questions or even take a class or two.

Different cultures across the world have their own unique dances, art, festivals and gastronomy. Hands on experience is one of the easiest and best ways to learn, so don’t be afraid to get a little adventurous!

This is a photo I had in the Garifuna Community in Hopkins Village in Belize. I was able to do a full cultural immersion, dress in traditional clothes, learn the traditional way of cooking and end with a private drum class. I was not the best cook or drum player, but what matters in the end is the interest and the lessons you learn from trying something completely new.

However, if you keep an open mind, you might find in the end that you are actually a good drummer, so open yourself up to live all kinds of new experiences.

2. Travel outside the city to smaller villages or communities that tend to not have as much tourism.

This does not mean you cannot see the big cities. It just simply means that a more sustainable option would be to organize your trip to explore more unmarked territories.  In more traditional towns you are more willing to find the true culture and beauty of the country.

The photo below is from a small Indian Village in Panama. I was able to visit them by a small boat, see their traditional dances, style of living and art work. These type of experiences can really open your eyes to how most people lived years back. Many of these indigenous families live completely independently from the society and live only from their own produce and art work.

3. Choose locally owned accomodation and dining.

This is one of the best ways you can support the local community. Cities are full of Hiltons, Marriott, McDonalds and Starbucks. Look for privately owned places instead. This will give you a more cultural experience and will also support the real local economy of the destination you have chosen.

If you are wanting a full cultural immersion, you could try Couch Surfing, which can you an authentic experience.  CouchSurfing gives you a deeper look into the local culture by giving you the opportunity to stay in the homes of locals, spend time and explore the culture together and form a new friendship. I have Couchsurfed across the whole world and the experience has truly added value to my life and travels.

4. Work or volunteer with an organization that supports a good cause

There are countless organizations that are making a difference in the world today. Find a cause that is important to you and reach out to them in order to volunteer. Even if you don’t have much time to volunteer, even helping out for one day or visiting the organization to learn about the work they are doing can be a great way to show your respect and support for them.

In Costa Rica I was able to connect with the Ostional Wildlife Reserve, which is dedicated to helping the turtles. Each year thousands of turtles visit the shores in order to lay their eggs. During this process, the vultures are always in the surrounding area waiting for their next meal. When they see the eggs of the turtles, they quickly fly their in order to snatch them. Also, when the babies leave their eggs and make their way through the sand to enter the ocean, they are at risk as well by the vultures and other external factors.

This organization helps assist the mothers in order to keep their eggs safe, as well as babies that are trying to make their way to the ocean to start their life on Earth. They have been able to save thousands of turtles each and every year, which is a perfect example of sustainable work.

5. Pack for a Purpose.

This is an American Non Profit organization that challenges travelers to make a sustainable impact and support local cultures by just one small step. The concept is very simple. Usually a travelers carry 1-2 bags full of materialistic possessions. The majority of time time half of the items in the bag are unused and just extra weight. This organization challenges travelers to take out a few kilos or unnecessary items and put school supplies to donate to kids in need in that extra space.

Thanks to this simple action, they have been able to give thousands of kilos of school supplies each and every year, supporting and helping thousands of peoples and communities around the world

 

Traveling sustainable in a way that is beneficial for everyone can be done be just one small simple act. So, the next time you are planning your next vacation, keep these 5 actions in mind and choose to be a more sustainable traveler!

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

COUCHSURFING: WHAT EXACTLY DOES THAT MEAN?

INDIA: MEDITATION BOOT CAMP: THE START OF MY MEDITATION PRACTICE

9 POWERFUL WAYS TRAVEL AND INTERCULTURAL EXPERIENCE HAS CHANGED MY LIFE

 

 

 

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Sustainable Travel: Cultural Immersion with Mayan Community in Belize

Belize is a small country in Central America that is rich in culture and Mayan history. I traveled to Belize to explore the vast history and to gain a better cultural understanding of how the Mayans once lived and still live today.

Part of traveling sustainabally is getting to know and support local cultures, explore different ways of living and to have gain a sense of cultural understanding by living new experiences.

After a series of unpleasant travel situations and being robbed at gunpoint, I arrived to Belize feeling a bit exhausted and stressed.

While travel can be the most amazing and beautiful experience, sometimes negative situations can cross your path.

As soon as I arrived to the Mayan Community with Patty at Splash Dive Center, I was met by a nice indigenous lady who gave me one good look up and down and lead me to her outside porch area. I briefly shared with her some of the negative things that had happened to me prior to arriving, and the look of concern overwhelmed her face.

She quickly grab some leaves, started rubbing them all over my body and put me in a small closet in order to detoxify from the negative energy that had followed me there. She then lit some incense and took the leaves away, to which later I would have to take to a body of water and throw them out from behind my head in order to start a new and fresh beginning.

This type of experience does not happen to me on a daily basis, but even with the unfamiliarity, I continued to smile and keep an open attitude.

As we walked around her property, she talked to me all about their culture, customs and wide range of traditions. Every culture around the world is unique in its own special way and the joy of travel is the chance to explore different ones and get a little taste of it all.

However, what I have found is that no matter where I am in the world, that all cultural encounters almost always lead to one main topic: the traditional cuisine.  I am always willing to explore the gastronomy of each country and to learn to cook new things, although I am not the best cook.

The Mayan culture is known for many different types of foods, ranging from avocados and guacamole, homemade corn tortillas, to mouth watering chocolate.  My first test in the kitchen was to learn how to make homemade fresh corn tortillas. This has always a been a very important part of the Mayan cuisine and is something that is found in most of the meal times.

We then moved on to learn how to make tamales, something that I instantly fell in love with. This is kind of similar to a corn hot pocket, cooked, wrapped in a banana leaves and then filled with chicken, meat, pork of vegetables.

Fun fact: Mayan women used to go from door to door back in the day selling their fresh tamales and earning an income for their family.

After our delicious home cooked meals, we then moved onto the best part, chocolate. The Mayans are believed to have discovered Cocoa as early as 900A.D. The locals randomly found this fruit and by trial and error found out that they could roast the seeds, grind them up,  and mix some spices in to make it taste better.

However, they didn’t just eat it for pleasure like we do now, they actually used chocolate beans as currency. It was such a special part of their culture that cocoa pods were painted on the walls of temples and Mayan artifacts.

Knowing the long line of history and importance of chocolate within the Mayans only made my chocolate experience even more special and delicious. The process was not complicated, but the labor was a bit harder that what I thought. However, in the end, I ended up making delicious home made chocolate and was able to connect with a very interesting and special part of their culture.

Most cultures around the world are brought together by mealtime, and as a traveler, one of the best ways I have found to connect across cultures is by sitting together, sharing a delicious home cooked meal and having a good conversation.

Traveling sustainably is done by simple actions, such as opening yourself up and showing interest in a culture that is not your own.

A sustainable decision that we can all make in our travels is to look for opportunities to immerse ourselves into a new culture, by taking a cooking class and exploring the local cuisine, instead of eating something familiar to us.

 

Travel sustainably, and support local communities by cultural immersion and authentic experiences.

 

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Sustainable Diving For a Purpose: Help Control the Lion Fish Invasion

Diving in order to enjoy the beautiful coral reefs, variety a beautiful colorful fish and discovering the mysteries of the underwater world, is an adventure that keeps one going back for more. Every dive is unique and you truly never know what kind interesting sea creatures that may cross your path from one dive to the next.

From the early age of 16 years old,  I have had the chance to explore many incredible dive spots throughout the world, including the famous Great Blue Hole in Belize. 

I actively seek out new and exciting places to dive every time I travel to the Caribbean, in hopes to discover something completely new. Belize, in Central America,  is considered to have some of the best diving spots in the world, and is home to the second largest barrier reef, right after the one in Australia.

During my stay in Belize, I collaborated with an inclusive Eco Resort called Hamansi, which is known for their sustainable impact throughout the world.

My mission at Hamanasi was to visit and learn about the advancements that they are making in comparison to other parts of the world in terms of being more sustainable. In addition,  we decided to combine sustainable practices with adventure in order to create a perfect day together on the ocean.

I instantly fell in love with the beauty of the coral reef and the variety of beautiful fish. However, in the midst of all the tiny fish swimming around, I noticed one fish in particular that was more beautiful than others. The Lion Fish is brightly colored, with all of the colors of the rainbow and notably stuck out.

Although this gorgeous fish seems innocent, its actually quite dangerous and causes a very high threat to the biodiversity of the marine life and the coral reef. The scary part about this type of fish is that they are serious predators and are multiplying at a very fast rate. Its crazy to think that just one single female can lay up to 2 million eggs!

They will eat absolutely anything that will fit into their mouth along their path, including things that are up to over 2/3 their body size, such as snapper, grouper, octopus, lobsters, crabs and the list keeps going on and on.

The stomach of a Lionfish can expand up to 30 times their normal volume and can easily consume up to 30 juvenile fish in just one minute! With this information its very easy to see how they will be able to reduce the marine life by up to 80% in the years to come if not controlled.

The sad part about this is that they have no predators and more and more damage is being done each day. If the problem continues to get worse, this will kill all of our coral, which greatly affects tourism in countries such as Belize, where over half of their revenue is from. This will also affect fishermen as the fish die off, which in return will greatly hurt the economy.

However, with every problem there is a solution and many people from around the world are taking action against this serious problem. Different organizations are being formed in hope to control this problem and get more divers involved in hunting these vicious fish.

In fact, there are even competitions set up in many countries to see at the end of the day who can catch the “biggest and baddest” fish of all. After they are caught, they are taken to the kitchen, cleaned, cut up and cooked. Just because they are venomous does not mean they are poison to eat.

After learning all of that valuable information,  I couldn’t just dive into the ocean for fun and not show my respect by doing my part in making a sustainable difference while under water. So in the end, I decided to take the spear gun down and go on my own hunt in order to see what I could find. In just 45 minutes I hunted 5 Lionfish, which I think was pretty good for a newby.

The night after our dive, we took what we caught to the kitchen, cleaned them up and prepared them in different ways.  I was surprised by the delicious taste and I have to admit that it was one of the best tasting fish I have ever had.

In the end, it may seem like the five lionfish that I hunted, in an ocean of billions, does not make that big of a difference. However, if each and every diver took some of their vacation time in order to dive sustainably, together, we could make a lasting change.

Dive responsibly and sustainably and help towards eradicating the Lionfish invasion.

 

 

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

9 POWERFUL WAYS TRAVEL AND INTERCULTURAL EXPERIENCE HAS CHANGED MY LIFE

7 FEARS TO CONFRONT AS A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER

6 TIPS FOR A SMOOTH TRANSITION IN YOUR FIRST DAY IN INDIA

 

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