Eastern Trail

I finally did it, I took the plunge and uploaded my first YouTube video! It’s nothing fancy, simply a GoPro short of my time travelling Eastern Europe with Contiki. I look forward to making more of these and eventually transitioning to ‘proper’ YouTube videos. In the meantime, you can check my first video out here:

The tour featured is the nine-day Eastern Trail, and takes in seven European countries: Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy. The full itinerary can be found here.

Gateway to India

Like many, I have spent much of lockdown dreaming of not only when I can travel again, but where I will travel too. Stunning images of destinations near and far have filled my Instagram feed; Turkey, Greece, Hawaii, Vietnam, Australia. Although unlike ‘before’ many of the images are from locals rather than tourists and I have to say, I’m rather enjoying seeing a destination from a locals perspective. It’s refreshing for my explore page to be filled with authentic images rather than those that are staged for the ultimate amount of likes and comments.

One destination that has come up, again and again, is India. A destination that has been pretty low on my travel bucket list, until now. The India that is my imagination; colourful, chaotic and exotic exists alongside tigers, temples, palaces and bazaars. However, it’s the everyday side of India that has caught my imagination; here are the Instagram accounts of some of my favourite locals:

Harswaroop captures a different view of the Pink City with the intricate beauty of this doorway found in the capital of India’s Rajasthan state. Jaipur evokes the royal family that once ruled the region and the City Palace and Hawa Mahal (Jaipur’s most-distinctive landmark) dominate social media feeds. However, it’s the marvellous doors of the inner courtyard of the City Palace that caught my attention. Pictured here is the Lehariya Gate, the vivid green represents the green of Spring season and is dedicated to Lord Ganesha.

Jalebis, captured by Shourya, is a sweet snack found all over India and are made by deep-frying maida flour batter in pretzel or circular shapes, it’s then soaked in sugar syrup, and can be served warm or cold.

Located in Kolkata, the Mallick Ghat Flower Market is the largest in the whole of India. The flower market is over 130 years old, and people travel from all over the city and suburbs to sell flowers here. It is primarily for people who want to pick up flowers for temple offerings and prayers. This image, captured by Jyoti, captures the organised chaos of the market perfectly.

This image from Ashwani highlights just one of the many modes of transport available to locals in India. Captured in Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state, this bus transports locals daily from their homes to their place of employment.

Dhobi Ghat is Mumbai‘s 140-year-old, open-air laundromat and it is estimated that each day over half a million pieces of clothing are sent here from hotels, hospitals, and homes, for the over 200 traditional laundrymen to wash. It’s an impressive operation and one that warrants hard work, which Navya has captured well with this photo.

Khari Baoli Wale, located in Delhi, is the largest spice market in the whole of Asia. Narrow lanes, covered by hessian sacks, are packed with huge parcels of herbs and spices. Electric red chillies, vibrant yellow turmeric and bright green cardamoms are just some of the spices included in the eye-catching displays. However, there is more to the market than large crowds and an overwhelming abundance of smells, like the sunset from the market’s rooftop as captured by Deepak.

It’s hard not to visit the Taj Mahal and capture an ‘Instagram’ photo. Other than the fact that it wasn’t, the building was built for Instagram. I’m sure, like mine, that your feed is filled with the signature image of the Taj Mahal – tourists sat on the iconic bench in front of the Taj Mahal. While that’s great and a must-do, it’s so refreshing to see a different angle of the Taj Mahal, like this one from Romita from North East India. The lighting cast on the exterior of the building is perfect, and the detail featured shows off the immaculate building, built to serve as a memorial for Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631.

Thanks to these locals, India has made it’s to the top of my list of planned travel destinations for 2021. Being such a large country, I know I won’t cover it all. If you’ve made it to India before, where do you recommend I don’t miss? Let me know in the comments below!

Rio Carnival 101

When I booked my Rio Carnival 2020 holiday in late 2018, it was somewhat a spur of the moment thing. I was working on a Rio Carnival creative piece at work and my friend and then colleague, Kim, was getting excited for her own upcoming trip to Brazil. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with my local independent travel agent, securing a space on a tour that I hadn’t done any research on!

Now, if you’re a friend of mine you’ll know that I’m typically an avid planner. Having worked in the travel industry for a number of years, I know how to research and plan a trip, and I know how to do it well. Saying this, I just didn’t have the motivation or urge to want to research much ahead of this particular trip. In retrospect, I think it was because I was part of a small group tour and knew that I’d have the help on the ground if I needed it.

Being a solo female traveller, I always knew I wanted the security of a group while experiencing Brazil, Rio de Janeiro and Carnival. I had travelled with G Adventures previously and had had a wonderful time, and so it just made sense that I book my Carnival experience with them.

Fast forward 12 months. A new job, a new home and a new relationship meant that I was no longer a solo female traveller. During our first date, my boyfriend and I discovered that we were both travelling to Brazil in 2020 for Carnival. We were both departing from London on the same day, at the same time, on the SAME FLIGHT! (I mean what are the chances?) We joked that it would be an awkward flight if things didn’t work out, but luckily for me (and I like to think for him too), they did. We decided that as I was already confirmed on a tour, he would simply add himself on and we’d experience Carnival together with G Adventures.

Fast forward to March 2020, and we’re home from what was an incredible trip. Carnival really is everything that everyone says it is – and so much more. I don’t think there are enough words to describe just how phenomenal the experience was. It’s something that I think everyone should experience at least once in their lifetime.


As we were part of a small group tour, the stress of purchasing Carnival tickets and organising other elements was taken away. Nonetheless, I learnt a lot and wanted to share my experiences with you so that whether you’re travelling independently or as part of a small group tour, you get the best out of Carnival! 

The Main Event
Did you know that the main Carnival parades actually form part of a ticketed event? Prior to finding this out, I believed that floats passed through the streets of Rio de Janeiro while bystanders cheered them on from the sidewalk – somewhat like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City. But that’s not actually the case. It’s held in the Sambadrome, located on the outskirts of the city centre. Each year, on the Sunday and Monday before Ash Wednesday, the top 12 Rio de Janeiro samba schools compete in front of 90,000 spectators in a taught competition for the Carnival title. Each school picks a theme, which is expressed through their performance and elaborate costumes, and between 200 and 400 drummers help by beating a quick, hypnotic rhythm that draws the crowd into the school’s compelling scene. The whole thing is honestly just magical!

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Sambadrome Seating
The Sambadrome is divided into various sections, numbered from one to 13, and are located on both sides of the Samba runway. We were seated in section 11 and honestly, it was perfect! We were directly across from the judges, where each school pauses to give the judges time to, well judge. With this in mind, consider looking at tickets in sections 10 (behind the judges) or 11 (across from the judges). If you’re purchasing tickets in the grandstands, seating is in the form of concrete bleachers and so isn’t comfortable. You will find vendors selling foam pads however, you can bring in your own cushion/pillow. Seating is on a first come first serve basis and as you can imagine, everyone tries to sit at the front of their section. So, if you want the best seat, it’s advised that you arrive early to claim your spot (the Sambadrome opens at 18:00 while the first parade states at 21:00).


The first samba school begins their procession at 21:00 – or thereabouts. Each school has approximately 85 minutes to complete their entire procession (points are actually deducted from a samba school’s overall score if the procession runs shorter or goes longer than the allotted time). With six schools performing per night, at 85 minutes each, it’s a long night. The last samba school begins their procession at approximately 04:30, finishing around 06:00!


Carnival is known for its over the top costumes however, dressing up is not obligatory. Whether you decide to wear a swimsuit, accessorised with glitter and sequins, or shorts and a t-shirt, you won’t look out of place in the Sambadrome. You will be hot and sweaty though, so keep that in mind when choosing what to wear and be sure to wear comfortable shoes! Depending on the weather forecast, you may want to incorporate a raincoat into your costume. The Sambadrome is an open-air venue and so if it rains – you’re getting wet! 

Note: If you arrive in Rio and want to spice up your original outfit, or find a whole new one, there are plenty of shops selling costume accessories. If you plan on wearing a headpiece – be mindful of those behind you as they’ll want to be able to see the parade.


Photography and Video
I took my iPhone, Canon and GoPro with me into the sambadrome and had no concerns over safety. I positioned myself right at the front of our section and got some fabulous footage of the floats/dancers as they passed by. I’ve read from multiple sources that the Sambadrome is considered one of the safest places during Carnival and I couldn’t agree more. I never felt unsafe or that my belongings were at risk of being stolen.


Food and Drink
You’re allowed to bring two 500ml plastic bottles of water and two items of food per person into the Sambadrome, but like any event, you’ll find plenty of fast food trucks. There were also men circling the stands selling water, alcohol and ice cream so you never need to miss out on any of the action! Note: be sure to take plenty of cash as the cash machines are known to run out.

There are toilets located in the Sambadrome however, be aware that there are 90,000 other spectators. It’s known that toilet paper runs out by the end of the performances; therefore, it is advisable to bring an extra roll from your hotel with you just in case…

As a part of our small group tour, we had round trip transport included. We were picked up from our accommodation and dropped off right outside the entrance to the Sambadrome – it was seamless and made the experience stress free! If you’re travelling independently, I would recommend pre-booking a return shuttle from your hotel. Bear in mind that there will be street parties happening with tens of thousands of people in attendance, so factor in major traffic delays. If you’re happy using public transport, take the metro to Praça Onze and walk for around 15 minutes from here. It’s well signposted – and you can enjoy some of the street celebrations along the way.


And finally, Blocos
Blocos are the street parties of Rio Carnival. They’re much more casual than the parades in the Sambadrome however they’re considered the heart and soul of Rio Carnival. Each bloco writes a theme song and has a live band to play the music – typically from the top of a moving bus! There are numerous blocos located around the city of Rio de Janeiro in the days leading up to Carnival, but also during the days after. Blocos can be as small as a couple of hundred people or as large as 400,000 people, so it’s best to plan which bloco you wish to attend ahead of time. The best way to get to a bloco is by using the subway. A one-way ticket costs R$4.30 (£0.64GBP/$0.83USD) and you’ll find that there is typically a subway station within a block or two from a bloco. Blocos are a pickpockets dream, so ensure you’re carrying the bare minimum – I always wore a bum bag (fanny pack) and had no issues! Once you’ve decided on your blocos, planned your costume and your transport route – be prepared to party into the small hours of the morning. Blocos last all day and night!


Regardless of whether you’re attending Carnival independently or as part of a small group tour, you’re guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime. To try and put into words the quality of the costumes, the elaborateness of the floats and the atmosphere of the Sambadrome is close to impossible! If you’re heading to Rio Carnival in 2021, let me know in the comments below and keep your eyes peeled for my next blog: The City of God.

Notes: I experienced Rio Carnival as part of a small group adventure tour with G Adventures. Rio Carnival: Sequins & the Sambadrome is a limited edition, six-day guided tour with a maximum group size of 16 however, there are ‘multiple departures’ and so you’ll be exploring Rio with a bigger group. Prices start from £899 excluding flights. This is not a sponsored post. All thoughts and images are my own.


The lone bull

The mokoro glides through the shallow, murky waters of the delta and onto land. I climb out, firmly gripping my camera; not ready to let go of what I have just captured. As the rest of my group head back to camp to tell those that stayed behind what we encountered, I linger by the shore. I close my eyes, in an attempt to relive my encounter when I’m disturbed by a partition in the tall, unkempt grass across the bank.

As we trundle down the dirt road out of the campsite, the truck sends a vortex of dust into the previously stagnant air. We pass by huts crouched in the shadows, encompassed by grazing cattle and the bright faces of locals, before arriving at the entryway to the Okavango Delta, Africa’s biggest oasis.

Okavango Delta Drop Off

After some lawless commotion, we’re assigned a poler and a mokoro; a traditional canoe. I clamber inside and before I lose my balance, I sit back. We push off and I find myself listening intently to the sound of the mokoro passing through reed beds and water lilies, somewhere between a swish and wizz. I discuss life on the delta with my poler, a local guy named Shoes. He tells us stories of his childhood, of the delta itself and how he came to earn the name Shoes. I’m hanging on his every word but we’ve reached our campsite. 

Okavango Delta

Once tents are erected, firewood collected and the toilet dug (there are no luxuries in the middle of Africa); Shoes offers to guide me deeper into the delta. I hurriedly locate my camera and follow Shoes down to the mokoro. Others in the group have caught wind of my proposal and follow suit. After only a short time on the water, Shoes’ hand shoots into the air, silencing the group. He’s spotted something. I crane my neck, trying to catch a glimpse of what it is that he can see. 

Out of the tree line lumbers a lone elephant, a bull. Paying us no attention, he continues his quest for food, stretching his weathered trunk to reach the higher branches of a fragrant marula tree; completely oblivious to the impact his presence has on the group. I feel an overwhelming sense of exhilaration. We linger, in a trance-like state, until the elephant has taken what he can from the tree and wanders back into the bush and out of sight. 

Male elephant attempting to reach a marula tree.

Shoes gets us safely back to camp and while the rest of the group wander in purposefully, armed with stories of our encounter, I’m just not ready to share mine so I stay close to the water’s edge. I gaze out into the delta, thinking of my late grandmother and how she would have cherished my recollection of this moment.

Abruptly, I’m brought back to the present by movement from across the bank. I study the long grass, waiting on tenterhooks – after all, I am in Africa. Suddenly, yet at the same time in slow motion, the grass parts and there he is. The lone bull. 

At an almost sloth-like pace, I bring my camera towards my eye, attempting to capture everything that this moment is. Only then, as tears are falling, do I realise that happiness is pouring out of me like sunshine through fine white linen, pure and light. 

The Lone Bull
Myself and the amazing Shoes

The elusive diva of the north

In March 2018, National Geographic Traveller asked their readers to submit a great piece of travel writing in a bid to discover the very best untapped talent. The prize, a two-week Thailand Hike, Bike and Kayak Adventure courtesy of G Adventures. They, of course, received hundreds of entries, however, had to whittle these down to just three compelling tales that would be published in the October issue of the magazine. The winning piece; Uganda: Songs for Elephants by Dom Tulett was a compelling read and left a lasting impression with its reader. Of course, I was a little enervated at not being published; nonetheless I have decided to post my entry here:

We have spent the past five days traversing northern Norway; wolf encounters in Narvik, reindeer spotting on the North Cape and husky sledging through Alta. Each night we’ve waited patiently to catch a glimpse of what the locals call the ‘diva of the north’; however she has yet to make an appearance and so tonight, our last night, is our last chance.

Wolf Encounter at Polar Park, Narvik

We were due to be flying further north to Spitsbergen, the crown of Arctic Norway. However, the vast blanket of white that is engulfing the city, swallowing distant objects, means our plane has been grounded, and we’re going nowhere. Although disheartened at the missed opportunity of scouring the horizons of Svalbard for polar bears, we are determined to make the most of our extra night in Tromsø, the gateway to the Arctic.

As dusk falls over the city, we wander the historic centre, delighting in the traditional architecture, imagining what stories live within the chestnut red and burnt yellow walls. I look out across the steel grey Tromsøysundet strait, and admire the iconic Arctic Cathedral, built in the 1960’s the triangular structure stretches skyward, imitating the hulking snow-capped mountains behind.

We cross over the Tromsø Bridge, toward the mainland and take a cable car to the top of Mount Storsteinen where we are rewarded with a sweeping view of the city. Beneath the canopy of the night sky, Tromsø appears almost as though it’s been dusted with glitter; for the city is alive with lights. Our guide, a professor at the city’s university, draws our attention to the emerging constellations from the palette of stars above; the Little Dipper, the Northern Cross and a lone orbiting satellite.

Tromsø from Mount Storsteinen, 421 metres above sea level.

Inside, I take a bite of my reindeer burger and listen intently as the professor tells me of his encounters with the ‘diva of the north’. He recounts the variety of forms, colours and intensities that she can take on. Suddenly, as though she knows she’s being spoken about, she teases the sky with the first hint of her approach and the excitable buzz of chatter in the restaurant increases in volume. I find the nearest exit, hoping this is it; the moment I’ve been waiting for.

I look up at the night sky. At first, it appears indistinct, a light smudge behind a bank of clouds. The smudge starts to glow and gather into tormented twists of ethereal green. It is indisputable now, the elusive diva of the north as arrived. The Northern Lights dance across the sky in a sequence that only Mother Nature could choreograph. I gasp as a halo of vibrating violet light explodes almost directly above my head. I am speechless, awestruck. Bursts of white, green and purple continue to splash themselves against the canvas of the sky, as though being formed by the brushstrokes of a haphazard hand. There is nothing inexpert about this artist, though; every touch is calculated, every motion nuances the breathtaking final masterpiece.

Aurora Borealis from Storsteinen

And then, as swiftly as it began, the spectacle above me dissolves into nothing, and I’m sure the natural phenomena has departed. But then, instantaneously she forms on another horizon, dancing onwards, swirling streams of colour amid the craggy peaks. She continues late into the night, the diva of the north, the sensation of the sky, has given us the performance of a lifetime.

Bula Bula

As we drive away from the airport towards my accommodation in Wailoaloa Bay, my first impression of Fiji is not what I expected it to be. The skies are filled with angry clouds, the land is lush emerald green, and the ocean looks unforgiving; not quite the idyllic blue skies and azure waters I have seen plastered online.

Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian Islands, is home to three-quarters of the population and is the hub of the entire Fijian archipelago. Nadi, (pronounced NAN – DEE) located on the west side of the island is where I’ll be basing myself for the short time that I have in this pacific paradise.

Once I’ve dumped my luggage in my dorm room I head to the beach where I witness some tourists and locals playing rugby – Fiji’s national sport. The sun is starting to set, and although the grey clouds are still lingering and it’s raining, it’s a sight to behold. The setting sun paints the horizon hues of orange and shades of burnt red.

Locals & tourists playing rugby on the beach.
Wailoaloa Bay Sunset

I spend my first full day exploring Wailoaloa Bay and the town of Nadi; the local bus offers an easy and convenient way of exploring the main island with fares starting at $0.70. There wasn’t much to the centre of Nadi, only some shops, restaurants, cafes a small handicraft market as well as a produce market. However, at the base of Main Street, I stumbled across the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple. The Hindu temple offered an insight into the traditional Dravidian architecture and is one of only a handful of traditional temples outside of India. The colourful exterior pops against the clearing skies.

Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple
Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple
The detail on the sari I purchased to enter the temple.
Selfie inside the Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple

It’s late afternoon by the time I make it back to the hostel, the rain has since passed, and the temperature has risen. I walk down to the beach and make a conscious decision to explore. I head in both directions, taking in the rugged coastline and for a while, I just sit, watching a seaplane land and not long after, take off again.

Seaplane landing in Wailoaloa Bay
Wailoalioa Bay
Rugby on the beach at sunset

For my second and third days, I’ve booked myself onto two different sailing tours. One that focuses on exploring some of the various islands while the latter is all about discovering the regions marine life. I take the local bus to Denarau Island where all boats trips/island cruises depart.

Not long after we pick up anchor, I see a break in the clouds ahead – the sun is attempting to make an appearance. As soon as we sail through the threshold, there is nothing but clear blue skies ahead. THIS is the Fiji I came to see.

After sailing for around an hour and a half, we drop anchor just off the coast of Modriki. Modriki is an uninhabited island, part of the Atolls islands and was the scene for Tom Hanks ‘Castaway.’ Castaway is an epic survival drama starring Tom Hanks; a FedEx employee marooned on an uninhabited island after his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean. He attempts to survive on the island using remnants of his plane’s cargo and after visiting the island and experiencing its remoteness, it’s no wonder Tom Hanks’ character turned to Wilson for company. We leave Modriki behind and sail north-east towards Yanuya, where we are welcomed by the local community with a Kava Ceremony, an important aspect when visiting any village. We receive a short tour of the island, the local homes and school and meet some of the local children who bear some of the happiest smiles I have ever come across!

Atoll Islands
Sailing the Atoll Islands
Modriki Island
Modriki Island
Yanuya Island
Yanuya Island
Yanuya Island Locals
Yanuya Island Locals
The most happiest, friendliest souls!
Sailing back to Port Denarau

Day three included another early morning departure from Port Denarau; this time we were headed towards the magical islands of Malolo Lailai , Tavarua, Namotu and out to the outer reefs. After sailing for a while, we drop anchor at a sand quay close to the Malolo Barrier Reef, where the calm, clear waters make it easy to spot the elaborate reef structures and masses of marine life. I place numerous linckia laevigata (cobalt blue starfish), crescent wrasse, parrotfish and scissortail. After a generous amount of time snorkelling, we climb back on board and make our way towards Malolo Lailai Island where a sumptuous Fijian BBQ has been laid out. Freshly grilled fish, various meats, salads and fresh fruit. After filling up on the delicious spread, I swam in the Likuliku Lagoon and just appreciated the beauty that surrounded me before we made our way back to Viti Levu.

The ocean floor was covered in these cobalt blue starfish. (I of course had to dive down and borrow one for a selfie before gently placing it back.)
Diving with the scissor-tail sergeant
Coral Cats Catamaran anchored at Malolo Lailai Island.

If this trip has taught me anything, it’s that there are two sides to Fiji, a green side and a blue side. Do your research before you go, plan what you want to see, what it is you want to get from your time here and plan your base accordingly.

Sitting on the plane back to Melbourne, I felt that actually, Nadi was a great base for myself to be able to explore the variety that this country has to offer. If you find yourself wanting to base yourself on one of the smaller islands, I get it. Who wouldn’t want to wake up to calm clear waters each morning? But don’t confine yourself to one island, because Fiji is so much more!

Departing Nadi International Airport, bound for Melbourne.

The big red

Stepping out of the van, I am hit in the face by intense heat, yet I don’t notice it, not really, my attention is elsewhere. My eyes are drawn like magnets to the solitary and prodigious sight before me.

I have just spent the last three weeks traversing the east coast of Australia; snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, sailing the Whitsunday Islands, exploring Fraser Island, Sydney and Cairns. After flying across the top end and spending a few days in Darwin, I embarked on an epic train journey. The Ghan is regarded as one of the world’s greatest rail journeys and gazing out the window at the ever-changing landscape; I could see why. Sitting back in my seat, I took in the tropical greens of Darwin and Katherine and the rusty reds of the MacDonnell Ranges.

After a restless nights sleep, I was awoken by the whistle of the train piercing the silence of the calm exterior as we made our approach into Alice Springs. Disembarking the train, it felt good to stretch my legs. I located my transfer and made my way to my night’s accommodation, a base before tomorrows adventure.

I awoke super early the next morning, way before the sun, filled with excitement. The day had arrived – I was heading out into the Big Red. I lumped my luggage into the back of the van and introduced myself to our driver and guide; Tom. Tom was a typical Aussie bloke, wearing a white t-shirt that was no longer white and a Crocodile Dundee style hat, he had abundant knowledge of the Northern Territory.

After several hours on the road, the first orange hued rays of sunshine kiss the horizon and those on the bus began to stir. It wasn’t long before we made a roadside stop; we split up and like a colony of ants working together to collect wood for that evening’s campfire. Back on board, introductions were made: a family and several friends from Taiwan and some solo travellers from the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. A friendly buzz now filled the van while Tom navigated us deeper the outback.

And then I saw it, the rugged carmine blur in the distance – Uluru.

Our group gathers and we begin our base walk. Following in the footsteps of ancestral beings we pass blackened stripes from channelled rainwater, acacia woodlands, grassed claypans and caves that are roped off from the public, reserved only for traditional business by the local indigenous men and women. Tom tells us stories of The Dreamtime, the Mala people and the incredible rock art.

Before we make our way to the sunset viewing site, I take a moment to stand before Uluru, otherwise known as Ayers Rock, and just be. I block out the noise of the nearby chattering tourists and the distant cricket and allow myself to soak up the spirituality and majesty of Uluru, and as I stand in front of the spectacular natural formation, I realise just why people travel halfway across a continent to see it.

The Ghan
The Ghan Carriage
Alice Springs Train Station
Collecting Fire Wood
Thorny Devil/Thorny Dragon (Australian Lizard) Found Whilst Collecting Fire Wood
Kangaroo Warning Sign Near Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park
Uluru Base Walk
Uluru Base Walk – Blackened Stripes From Channelled Rainwater
Uluru Base Walk – Wall Art
Uluru at Sunset

Call it magic

Pastel-hued deco design buildings, palm-fringed boulevards and sun-kissed bodies on white-sand beaches; Miami – the beating heart of the state of Florida.

During the two and a half years that I spent living and working in North Carolina, I was fortunate enough to experience the variety that the Sunshine State has to offer on numerous occasions; this included two separate trips to Miami. My first time in the aptly named ‘Magic City,’ I travelled with a friend, and we celebrated the New Year, hitting up the key attractions in South Beach and Downtown Miami. The second time I visited, I was by myself; I hired a car and ventured out a little further.

Ocean Drive
Ocean Drive

Miami and its surrounding suburbs could almost be a world of their own, a melting pot of ethnicities from around the USA, the Caribbean and Latin America. Miami is one of the few genuinely international cities in the United States – over half the population is Latino and more than 60% speak predominantly Spanish – with so many different facets, it’s hard to believe they all fit in one place.

When tourists think of Miami, they generally consider Miami Beach to be a part of Miami when in fact it is a municipality of it its own. Miami is on the mainland, while Miami Beach is four miles east across the Biscayne Bay. Miami Beach, more specifically Ocean Drive in South Beach (1st to 11th Street) is everything that you see in the movies, white sand, art-deco design, cruising cars and in-line skaters.

The pastel shaded heart of South Beach is the world-famous Historic Art-Deco District. Stretching between 5th and 23rd Street, along Ocean Drive, Collins Drive and Washington Drive, the whimsical pastel buildings evoke the beauty of Miami and were, in the early 20th century, meant to arouse the future and futuristic modes of transport. Today, the 800 plus 1930s and 1940s art-deco structures have National Protection. Ocean Drive has some of the most striking art-deco architecture in Miami Beach. Between 11th and 14th streets you’ll see some of the best examples: the Congress Hotel  shows pristine symmetry in it’s three story exterior. The Tides is one of the most beautiful nautical themed hotels, and the Cavalier (pictured below) flaunts its seahorse theme, in stylised depictions of the sea creature.

Avalon Hotel, Ocean Drive
Cavalier Hotel, Ocean Drive

Dotting the shores of South Beach itself are the brightly coloured South Beach Lifeguard stands. Each stand has a unique art-deco design and features an array of bright colours. The stands were introduced after Hurricane Andrew hit Florida’s shores in the early 1990s and became a hallmark of Miami’s revival after the devastation. Today, there are 31 chimerical stands scattered along South Beach, and besides providing support to the Miami Beach Patrol Lifeguard staff, they’ve become a cherished symbol of Miami. Each lifeguard stand has its own charm, but my personal favourite is the lifeguard station at 13th street, (pictured below) painted red, white and blue, it depicts the beloved American flag.

shutterstock_58075429 (c) fotomak
5th Street Lifeguard Stand © fotomak
shutterstock_512234701 (c) Alexander Demyanenko
13th Street Lifeguard stand © Alexander Demyanenko
South Beach Aerial © Miami2you

South Beach offers much more than just white sand beaches and beautiful buildings. It is home to some of the best bars and restaurants in the whole of Miami, if not the world. Whenever I travel, I attempt to eat local cuisine that is low-cost. Nonetheless, I will always treat myself to at least one meal from an acclaimed restaurant. In Miami, I chose Hakkasan. Located on the top floor of the Fontainebleau Hotel’s spaceship-like tower, Hakkasan is a Michelin star, award-winning restaurant that offers modern Cantonese cuisine. Hakkasan has been rated within the top 20 restaurants in the world by Restaurant Magazine, and after dining here, it’s not hard to understand why. It’s as close to a perfect dining experience that one can have; from the 1930s Shanghai setting to the attentive waiters to the flavour infused food. My recommendation: Crispy Orange Chicken.

Another noteworthy restaurant in South Beach is the Sugar Factory. Located on Ocean Drive itself, Sugar Factory is an American Brasserie famous for its celebrity-inspired Couture Pops. Having dined at another of their locations in the Meatpacking district of New York City, I knew the standard of food would be high and the selection extensive. I wasn’t disappointed. After much contemplating, I ordered a S’mores Martini (non-alcoholic) and the Banana-Split waffle. The waffle was cooked perfectly, and the fruit so fresh and juicy. The martini, however, was unrivalled. The star of the show.

Sugar Factory Banana-Split Waffle
Sugar Factory S’mores Martini

Across Biscayne Bay is Downtown Miami, the beating urban heart of Miami. The bustling epicentre is packed tightly with fluorescing skyscrapers, modern art galleries and a wealth of shops, bars and restaurants. Downtown Miami is a mix of old and new, a neighbourhood of layers and unlike other parts of Miami, you don’t need a car. Free public transport is available to shuttle you from place to place, and parts of downtown are walkable.

It was downtown, from the Bayside Marketplace, north of the Miami river, that my friend and I embarked on our cruise around the Miami Islands. A 90-minute narrated tour past the Downtown Miami skyline, the Port of Miami, Fisher Island, Miami Beach and Millionaires Row – an exclusive area of Miami known for its billion-dollar, star-studded homes. I found our cruise not only enjoyable but informative and marvelled at the grandeur of the houses sprinkled through the Miami islands.

Bayside Market Place © oneinchpunch
Shaquille O’neal’s House
Liz Taylor’s House

Little Havana is Miami’s vibrant Cuban heart and is the most prominent community of Cuban Americans in the United States. The district is a living, breathing, immigrant enclave and was one of the neighbourhoods I was most excited to explore. Cubans began migrating to Florida in the 1950s, but their numbers swelled after Castro came to power in 1959, and in the 1960s the area was named Little Havana. Its main drag, Calle Ocho, attracts tourists for authentic Latino food and music, however when I wandered off the main track, I saw the neighbourhood unfold.

My first time in Miami, I found a hole in the wall take out (Pinolandia, 119 NW 12th Ave, Miami) and in broken Spanish, I ordered the best Cuban/Nicaraguan food I have ever sampled. Strips of succulent steak, rice and beans and the most delicious Cuban toast. Upon returning to Miami a few years later, I visited the famous Versailles Restaurant, featured in one of my most loved movies, ‘CHEF.’ Versailles restaurant is ranked the number one restaurant for Cuban food in Miami year after year. Be sure to try the celebrated Cuban sandwich if dining at Versailles.

Located on the corner of Calle Ocho and 15th Avenue is Maximo Gomez Park, or as the locals call it ‘Domino Park.’ Named after the famous Cuban revolutionary commander, Maximo Gomez, the park is a quintessential hangout for Cuban veterans and families. It is where you’ll find the real Little Havana locals smoking Cuban cigars, talking over the latest headlines, all while playing a game of dominoes.

Calle Ocho
Murals painted on the exterior wall of ‘La Esquina De La Fama.’
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Versaille’s Restaurant, 8th Street
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Domino Park

When I visited Miami solo, I rented myself a car as it allowed me the freedom to explore further. If you head north, away from South Beach, you’ll find the Design District, a mecca for interior designers and home to dozens of galleries and furniture showrooms. Wynwood, the former warehouse district, has quickly become the standout arts hub of southern Florida. Starting with murals, street art and graffiti, today there are more than 70 galleries and museums housed in abandoned factories and warehouses. This thriving district centres around Wynwood Walls, a collection of murals and paintings laid out over an open courtyard. Wynwood walls is as unique as it is creative. Embellished in everything from life-size murals and graffiti quotes to abstract paintings and larger than life sculptures and although the galleries are significant, Wynwood is an outdoor art exhibit, and some of the best art can be found by simply wandering the streets.

Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls
Wynwood Walls

Miami is a city of layers, and after visiting the city twice I feel that I have still only scratched the surface. I hope to return one day and explore Little Havana and Wynwood further but also venture to new neighbourhoods, including Coconut Grove.  Miami’s oldest neighbourhood; it is an upscale, leafy neighbourhood with relaxed sidewalk cafes, chic shops and bayfront views that exudes bohemian vibes. Little Haiti, steeped in the complex and rich cultural histories of the Afro-Caribbean immigrants that reside here, the neighbourhood is known for its global restaurants, colourful street murals and fruit stand. Nonetheless, Miami, the Magic City, truly offers something for everyone.