Mexico: Beneath the Yucatan Peninsula

I’ve traveled from country to country visiting museums, seeing different architectures, experiencing different cultures, but I’m mostly drawn to the natural world. So, imagine my delight when I discovered the beauty of Rio Secreto, a subterranean world. Rio Secreto or Secret River is Mexico and Central America’s leading Nature Reserve that features wonderful ‘cenotes’ or cave pools, limestone caverns and rivers beneath the Yucatan peninsula.

My adventure began at Playa del Carmen. The drive into the National Reserve from Playa del Carmen was about thirty minutes.  After the paved road, we bounced farther away from the park entrance over a bumpy and dusty strip into the depth of the jungle.  I had expected a bare minimum changing and restroom facility in the middle of the jungle.  But when we arrived, we were greeted by a professional guide who handed us our keys to our lockers.

A professional guide by the name of Carolina led our group step-by-step through the journey. There was a la…

Grand Cayman: From Paradise to Hell

After two days of rough sailing, I was not really in the mood to participate in any water sports activities.  When we reached Grand Cayman, I decided to just relax on the beach.  Our driver took us to the Royal Palm Beach Club with beachfront access to the Seven-Mile Beach, a sun-bathers mecca of Grand Cayman.  Although it’s said that the Seven-Mile beach could get crowded with people from the cruise ships, the cabanas and lounge chairs were mostly empty.  There was no crowd, and the weather was just perfect for me.  I did not have to use the umbrella.

I saw a couple popping in and out of the water and three others swimming away from the beach. After drowning a mango smoothie and a blue alcoholic drink, and lounging for almost an hour, I was tempted to swim in the clear turquoise water.   I went in, face first into the wave and gave myself no moment to adjust to the water.  It was invigorating.  I swam along the wave and was enjoying it until a big wave hit me like a truck and pushe…

Puerto Rico: Post Hurricane Maria

A Stroll Through Old San Juan 
We took a bus ride uphill past the Puerto Rico Capitol and San Cristobal fortress along the Atlantic Coast before the walking tour. While it was sad to see a few buildings damaged by the hurricane, it was exciting to come over the hill for my glimpse of the ocean. The ocean has incredibly Caribbean and Atlantic blue color. Before starting our walking tour, our guide shared plenty of information about the historical buildings, with details about life in the Old City.  As we walked the broad lawn to the entrance of Castillo del Morro, he continued to describe what we were seeing - from the Santa Maria Magdalena de Pazzi cemetery by the seaside to the Bacardi Distillery on the other side and the karst from a distance. During the early 16th century, San Juan was the point of departure of Spanish expeditions to the New World. Today, it’s one the busiest ports for cruise ships in the Caribbean. Old San Juan is one of the 3 distinct areas of the metropolitan S…

Eastern Caribbean: Escape from the Freezing Cold

I always wanted to visit Cuba, but there were specific regulations that must be met to get travel authorization to Cuba. When I learned that participating in group people-to-people program by a sponsoring organization such as Holland America would make me eligible to travel to Cuba, I booked a 14-Day Cruise to Cuba. However, the 14-day cruise turned out to be a two-part cruise. The first segment was to the Eastern Caribbean. And it worked out fine because I also wanted to see the hurricane-ravaged island's recovery progress. Also, the timing of the cruise coincided with the freezing weather in the US. So, sailing to the Eastern Caribbean was a great escape from the freezing cold, so I thought.

Our first port of call was Half Moon Cay. Half Moon Cay is a private island owned by the cruise ship. People pretty much come here to enjoy the beaches. I signed up for the Eco Lagoon Kayak Adventure. We were taken by a tender, but as we reached the island, it started to rain. I took shelte…

Iceland, Part 1: The Ring Road

While the Aurora Borealis was the highlight of my trip to Iceland,  Iceland’s storybook geography and natural wonder were really worth the trip.  I saw glaciers, ice-capped volcanoes, lava fields, black sand beach, geysers, hot springs, and waterfalls. It was like middle earth. Another plus of Iceland for me was the ease of visiting. Many visitors come to Iceland and rent a car and drive around the one highway (Route 1) that runs around throughout the island. But I opted for an all-inclusive package tour because I wanted an expert guide who could show me the best area to see the Aurora.

We started with a drive to Hella on a very clear day, we passed flat landscape with lava rocks sticking out. After hours, the lava rocks ended and started to grow green moss.

The Ring Road The following morning, the weather had turned cold and gray as we traveled along the South Coast of Iceland to Vik village. Clouds hang over the horizon, but the drive was gorgeous as streaks of sunlight tried to bre…

Chasing the Aurora Borealis in Iceland

What a prelude to my Aurora Borealis hunting trip!!! In the middle of my flight from Seattle to Iceland, the captain spotted the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights and announced that it could be viewed from the right side of the plane. Since I was seated on the left side, I rushed towards the right-side window by the exit door, but a few people were already in line taking pictures. I only had a quick glimpse before it disappeared. When I returned to my seat, I saw so much light outside, and I knew it was not coming from the plane. Then I saw shimmering curtains of light high up in the sky, coming from different directions. OMG Aurora Borealis! I tried to grab my big camera, but instead of wasting time trying to set it up, I decided to take a few snaps with my iPhone and just enjoy the Aurora in its full glory. Seeing it up close was really something special. I was like a kid on Christmas morning with the biggest smile on my face, looking through a foggy window and seeing Santa. It wa…

Chasing Waterfalls in Ecuador

In a country known as the land of the volcanoes with towering mountain peaks and deep plunging valleys, it was easy to find some waterfalls. I’ve been to Iguazu Falls, the largest waterfall system in the world, so I was not that excited about seeing waterfalls smaller than Iguazu Falls.  However, several waterfalls in Ecuador have trails, so 'chasing waterfalls' was a good excuse for me to hike on the valley floor than a hike on higher elevation or climbing mountains.

The first waterfall was quite small. On the way to the Mindo Cloud Forest, we stopped at El Pahuma Orchid Reserve, an ecological center, to see more than 200 species of orchids. As it turned out the orchids were not in bloom. The visit turned into a guided hike into a secondary forest (private land), a tropical rainforest with gorgeous waterfalls.  The walk to the waterfalls was short.  However, it was not easy navigating through the mossy forest floor and the short climb on wet and slippery pathways. Our guide m…