travel guide

Rio de Janeiro - Mini Guide

Sunrise from Mirante Dona Marta

Sunrise from Mirante Dona Marta

Let’s start this guide by acknowledging one thing: Rio de Janeiro is not for amateurs. Before you go to the wonderful city you should do research on how to get around, which areas are safe and etc... In every big city, Paris, NY, London, you should be aware of your surroundings. Multiply that kind of awareness by ten (or fifty) and you’re ready to go to Rio!

This unique city has literally everything. So I’ve decided to split this guide into a few different categories.

 

 1. Beaches

Probably the first thing people think about when they hear Rio and that’s accurate. Rio has an insane amount of beaches spread all over and all of them have a unique character and personality. My personal favorites are Grumari and Prainha. They’re less touristy and full of surfers, which is always fun to watch. The scenery is absolutely beautiful, I still can’t get over it. Copacabana is a must. As a local, I don’t go there very often but you have to. It’s always full of life and people/animals and some of the kiosques actually sell really good food and drinks. For sunset, my absolute favorite, Arpoador, located in Ipanema. You can join everyone else on the big rock and watch the sun go down in between two mountains, the city, and the ocean. Yeah, I know.

 

2. Forest

Yes, forest. How can one city have all of these things? I really don’t know, but Rio does. Tijuca Forest is the biggest urban forest in the world. There are plenty of trails and hikes to do there but, if that’s not your vibe, you can also drive around and enjoy all the green surrounding you. I’ll put Parque Lage and the Botanical Gardens in this category as well just because of all the nature in those two places.

If you enjoy hiking, my favorite ones are Pedra Bonita (easy, 40 minutes up and an insane view) and Pedra da Gávea (definitely not easy, around 4 hours up, but the view is even more insane). Mirante Dona Marta is another amazing viewpoint and possibily the prettiest one. There’s a big parking lot there, so no need to hike. If you feel adventurous I would recommend watching sunrise from this place.

 

3. City

There is definitely a lot to do downtown! Just know that this area of town is usually better during the day unless you’re going to bars at Lapa. Speaking of Lapa, you can not miss seeing Arcos da Lapa and the neighborhood trolly going by on top of them! In the same area, you’ll find the famous Selarón Stair Steps, also a must-see while downtown. Lastly, you can’t miss what we call “Porto Maravilha”. It’s the port area that was completely renovated for the 2016 Olympics and it’s full of fun things to do. Make sure you see Museu do Amanhã and the biggest graffiti wall in the world, the famous Mural Etnias, do artista Kobra.

 

4. Typical

I named this category this way because this is just all the places that everyone knows you should visit when in Rio, and they’re all very very touristy but really, you should go. Sugar Loaf Mountain and Christ The Redeemer are one of the most amazing landmarks in the world and you CAN NOT go to Rio and not see them. It’s worth the crowds, tourists and whatever else you have to face it. Maybe plan to go on a weekday and it will be more enjoyable! But seriously, go.

On a side note, Rio is best seen with a local. Having someone that truly knows the city to take you around is much better than trying to figure it all out by yourself or hiring day tours.

And lastly, know that my husband Stephan has been to Rio de Janeiro 3 times in his lifetime. A total of 9 weeks or more. And he still hasn’t seen or done it all. And that is also why I called this a “mini guide” of Rio, because I definitely didn’t cover it all.

So depending on how much time you have don’t feel bad if you can’t do absolutely everything, that just means you’ll have to come back.

Big Sur Guide, on a budget (as per usual)

This week we took a super last minute trip to Big Sur. Stephan has been wanting to photograph the Milky Way there and last time we tried it was a fail. The fog was thick every single day we were there and we saw no sunrise, sunset or night sky. But Sunday night he looked up the weather and this week it was gonna be perfect conditions for seeing the Milky Way, so at midnight we booked a hotel and left the next day after work.

  • Accommodation

Since any hotel in Big Sur is very expensive and even camping isn’t too much on budget, both times we decided to stay in Monterey, at a hotel called Pacific Inn and I super recommend it! It’s not fancy, of course, but it’s super clean and the room is very nice. It had a microwave, coffee machine and a fridge, which for us was a must. Because it’s not located right in the water or downtown Monterey it’s cheaper than other hotels and still so close to everything.

  • Food

Stephan and I have traveled quite a bit, and we figured that the easiest way of saving money is not eating out so frequently (unless you’re in South East Asia). In Eastern Europe, we would only book Airbnb’s with kitchens so we could cook. Here in California, we try to plan our meals ahead of time, go to the grocery store before a trip and pack our food along with us. For this Big Sur trip, we got yogurt, granola, bananas, and blueberries for breakfast, had peanut butter and banana sandwiches for lunch and for dinner we would eat Trader Joe’s salads or wraps. I spent a total of $41 on all of our food for 3 and a half days. We ran out of food the last day and decided to eat lunch in Carmel, at the most affordable and chill place I found. On that one meal, we spent $30. It’s fine to do it once in a while and to have an experience at a certain restaurant, but if you eat out for every single meal, do the math. It adds up.

  • Things to Do

Good news here, most of the activities in this area are free! You basically will only be spending money in gas for all the driving. Here’s a list of my favorite spots for hiking and taking pictures!

  1. Garrapata Beach

    The parking lot that leads to this trail is just a bigpull out on the side of the main road. The trail goes along the water and it’s huge! We didn’t even do the whole thing and had amazing views, photo opportunities and tired legs from all the walking!

2. Bixby Bridge

It’s famous for a reason. Watching sunset there is magical. It can be pretty crowded during the day, but it isn’t so bad closer to sunset, especially during summer, when the sunset is at 8:15 PM, lots of people don’t stay that late.

Photo by Stephan Alvin, available for print   HERE

Photo by Stephan Alvin, available for print HERE

3. Mcway Falls

My very favorite spot of all! The path that begins at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park is still partially closed, but don’t worry! This view is actually from a pullout on the side of the road, just before you get to the actual entrance of the park, and it’s beautiful and most importantly: empty!

4. Point Lobos State Park

Not free, but worth it! Such a beautiful place to wander around, hike, take pictures and breath some fresh air! These photos are from earlier this year, February to be exact. And because it was winter it was pretty empty, we had no problem parking inside the park whatsoever. But since then we’ve been to Big Sur twice and every time we drive by the entrance it says the parking lot is full and there are loads of cars trying to park on the side of the road. So my tip is, go during winter or go really early, like as soon as they open!

5. Pfeiffer Beach

The entrance is a little tricky to find and there are no signs leading to it, and since the signal at Big Sur is pretty spotty I would download the offline map before you go! It’s a 5 to 10 minute drive down this super windy and tight road that leads you to one of the most photogenic beaches in Big Sur! You can’t miss this spot!

There is so much to do and see in Big Sur, and if you haven’t been you should plan a trip there ASAP, it’s gorgeous!

Not convinced yet? Check out more landscape photos from this amazing place at Stephan Alvin Photography!

How We Fell In Love With Myanmar

Balloons Over Bagan - one of the best experiences we’ve had in life was to watch baloons fly over 2,000 temples while the sun was rising.

Balloons Over Bagan - one of the best experiences we’ve had in life was to watch baloons fly over 2,000 temples while the sun was rising.

Myanmar, a country that was never in my radar of places to go. Never on my list, top five or even top ten. But Stephan, like always, convinced me we had to travel there. Sometimes when he has an idea, I’m not gonna lie, I’m not so sure about it. But then I usually get on board at some point because he has proven to be the best world explorer and travel buddy I could have asked for!

So anyways, Myanmar... where to even start? We headed there after a busy week of shows in Bangkok, both had been pretty sick and both were beyond exhausted. The thought of getting on a plane early in the morning and landing in a country we had no idea about wasn’t very appealing honestly. But since we always push each other, we did it.

We woke up at the crack of dawn, flew to Mandalay and took a shuttle to Bagan. A shuttle that by the way, we had booked online but had no confirmation email and no clue if the driver was actually gonna show up. Well, he did, and he was the nicest guy. He helped us get sim cards at the airport and drove us all the way to Bagan, our first stop in this country that was about to become one of our favorites.

Over the next ten days, we learned so much about their culture, saw so many beautiful things and ate the most amazing food. We rode our scooter through the 2,000 temples in Bagan, spent days on a boat exploring Inle Lake, woke up way too early to catch all of the sunrises and had a blast. I can’t even imagine how much regret we would have felt if we had cancelled the trip just because we were overtired and sick.

By pushing ourselves we learned, once again, to never let doubt or fear of being uncomfortable to stop you from doing something, from going to a new place. The rewards that come from getting out of your comfort zone are huge.

I'm not usually one for quotes and all but this one has been leading our lives for a while:

Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer
— unknown

Santa Barbara Guide – Coffee & Food

It’s pretty impossible not to fall in love with Santa Barbara. I went with a friend for the first time last month and I couldn’t wait to be back and show Stephan around! I was so excited because believe me, it’s really rare that we go to a place that he hasn’t been before!

When we were traveling the world I would always tell Stephan that if I had one wish in life it would be that I could try all the food in a city and drink all the coffee in the world without feeling awful after. Trying local foods and going to local coffee shops was always part of our sightseeing schedule. In Santa Barbara, you can spend hours wandering around the famous State Street and smelling all of the smells coming from many restaurants around, so it can be hard to make a choice. Here is a list I made of our top favorite places to help you out!

  • Brazil Arts Café

I know, I know, I’m biased. But this is my favorite Brazilian restaurant in the states! When we were on tour I would occasionally find Brazilian restaurants here and there, but Brazil Arts Café won my heart and stomach. It has all of the best Brazilian dishes, sides, fresh juices, açaí bowls, and the list goes on... If you go make sure to get their pão de queijo (best I’ve had in the states) and acerola juice (a Brazilian berry you can’t find here, packed with Vitamin C). Besides the amazing food, it has such a cool atmosphere, you have to go check it out, even if you’re not Brazilian! Click here for the Menu.

  • Handlebar Coffee Roasters

Are you a coffee enthusiast? Welcome to the club. Stephan and I basically plan our trips around the coffee shops we have to visit. When we thought about taking a trip to Santa Barbara months ago I had already looked up coffee shops and saved this one on my maps. We finally made it there and let me tell you, it did not disappoint. We always just drink black coffee, which is pretty simple I know, but this was one of the best americanos I’ve had in a while. So smooth that was dangerous, we could’ve had two or three cups each! Check out this coffee shop.

  • The French Press

Another great coffee shop! Awesome baristas, lovely decoration and plenty of tables. We rarely take coffee to go, so we love when a coffee shop has lots of tables and you don’t have to wonder if you’ll be able to sit and enjoy your coffee. They serve Dune Coffee, an amazing roasting company. This one is right on State Street, you can sit outside, enjoy a good coffee and watch people (and dogs, so many dogs!) walk by.

  • Savoy Café & Deli

On a Saturday night, I thought everything would be super crowded for dinner, and then I found this place, just a little away from State Street. They had plenty of healthy options which it was what I was looking for. Their quiches and salads looked so good that I couldn’t pick, so I asked them to pick for me! They made me a plate with broccoli and cheddar quiche and the best strawberry salad I’ve had! Inexpensive, simple and amazing tastes, is usually what makes my stomach happy! I enjoyed my dinner while reading my book and listening to an awesome live band playing. And that’s what I call a good Saturday night. Check out this restaurant!

  • Public Market

We did not end up eating at the Public Market, but the smells there were amazing! There were lots of vendors selling a variety of foods from cookie dough balls, organic ice cream, to Mediterranean and Mexican food. Everything looked delicious! And even though we didn’t try the food I decided to put it on the list because the walk there was so pleasant. There were so many cute and hidden corners, lots of beautiful staircases, walls covered with flowers and more. I couldn’t stop taking pictures and it took me way longer than it should have to get to the market! So even if you’re not gonna eat there it’s worth the visit!

Santa Barbara won my heart and my belly. I don’t know when it will be, but I already can’t wait to be back to this city!

On the way to the Public Market. Santa Barbara is full of cute corners and photo options!

On the way to the Public Market. Santa Barbara is full of cute corners and photo options!