VACATION

TRAVEL GUIDE: SAN FRANCISCO IN 48 HOURS

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Imagine being in a deep sleep, and then receiving a phone call in the middle of the night asking if you want to come to San Francisco when you woke up. If you know me, you know the answer was not only, “Yes,” but “Hell yes.” So, I set my alarm for an early morning wake up call to at least make sure I woke up in enough time to pack a bag and pick up any last minute essentials before heading to the airport.

As much as I have travelled, this was my first trip to the Bay Area, and over an 8 hour span, I decided to tackle all of the major touristy attractions to make my trip well worth it. I mean, my original weekend plans involved laundry and a feather duster, so a weekend trip to San Francisco trumps that any day.

Click here to get your San Francisco city pass for discounts and/or entry to some of the most popular attractions.

Here are my five things to see and/or do for all of my San Francisco newbies:

Take a picture on the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps.

Disclaimer: Both the GPS systems of my Uber driver and myself seemed to be on a circular, scenic tour of San Francisco, and we had a hard time getting to this location. We finally found a nice neighborhood security officer to lead us to our destination.

However, in the process, I found a little known set of tiled steps called the Hidden Garden, and they were just as spectacular as their more Instagrammed counterpart.

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Relive your childhood at the Painted Ladies.

If you were alive in the era of Full House, then these houses should look really familiar to you? And while you’re there, there’s a nice park across the street to sit and enjoy the weather.

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Stroll down the Wharf and enjoy some hot steamy clam or crab chowder.

There are many great spots to get the perfect chowder all around San Francisco, and on this trip, I was able to enjoy a steamy bowl at Pier Market Seafood. Let’s just say yum!

Walk down the most crooked street in the world.

With my self-diagnosed vertigo, I was nervous to even walk down Lombard street, but I made the trek and watched the cars ease their way on down this infamous street.

Visit Alcatraz, the notorious prison and former home to some of the country’s most dangerous criminals.

This tour has one of the best self-guided audio guides that I’ve ever had the chance to experience. From listening to prisoners recount their days to being led into the hole, home to the worst and mostly deadly offenders, I’m convinced this is something that will make it back on my list to revisit in the future.

You can click here for a tour that combines Alcatraz and a San Fran city tour.

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Have you been to San Francisco? What are your favorite things to do and places to eat?

Click here to get your San Francisco city pass for discounts and/or entry to some of the most popular attractions.

P.S.  If you would like assistance booking your next trip, click here.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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TRAVEL GUIDE: EAT, PLAY, STAY IN MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA

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When I first visited Jamaica for my 30th birthday, it was understood that the only thing I was concerned about was jumping down a waterfall or 2, drinking Red Stripes for breakfast, and eating oxtails in the city. Let’s just say, mission accomplished and exceeded in all of areas mentioned above. And while I was able to scratch those things off of my bucket list, I also walked away from Jamaica with a newfound respect for the culture, the people, and the land. My first trip to Jamaica was centered around Ocho Rios, because I’d always been advised it was the better option to the more touristy Montego Bay, however, when it came to finding a luxury all-inclusive room to accommodate three guests, the better options were in MoBay (the local name for Montego Bay).

Out of the group of 3, there was one Jamaica newbie, so in order to create a trip filled with new experiences for us all, I made sure to peruse blogs, Pinterest, and tour sites for the best off-resort excursions.

My only regret from this entire stay was not being able to stay longer. This trip was a reminder of everything that I loved about Jamaica, from the people to the food, and we even left with a new adopted uncle in the form of our driver, Dean. Our respect for Uncle Dean might have been the only thing that kept our party animal sides in check when the cocktails and shots started flowing like the water down Dunn’s River Falls while at Rick’s Cafe.

Here is my comprehensive guide to enjoying Montego Bay on your next visit to Jamaica.

Eat

It goes without saying that one of the best things in Jamaica, next to the people, is the food. On vacation, God removes gluttiny as a sin, and encourages you to eat as much as want, whenever you want. Well actually, I’m sure that I made that up, so don’t quote me at the pearly gates, but that’s definitely my rule of thumb. Just in case you’ve either been under a rock or are far removed from anything that resembles Jamaican culture, I’m listing some of the staples below:

  • Jerk Anything (but start with the chicken)

  • Oxtails

  • Rice and Peas

  • Beef Patties

  • Curry Goat

  • Coco Bread

  • Fried Plantains

  • Callaloo

  • Rum Cake

  • Rum Punch

  • Blue Mountain Coffee

There are to many traditional foods to name, but the list above should leave you off to a good start. And if you’re a lover of spice, try the Jamaican pepper sauce made with scotch bonnet peppers. Yum!

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The best place to try authentic Jamaican food is in town or by suggestion of the locals, so I’ve listed and linked some favorites below:

Scotchies

The Pork Pit

The Pelican Grill

And just in case, you decide to try your hand at making some jerk delicacies when you return back home, pick up these seasonings either in town or at the airport.

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Play

Since this was not my first trip to Jamaica, I had already knocked some of the popular touristy things out like Dunn’s River Falls and the Bob Marley tour in Nine Mile. You can read about those by clicking here. This trip we were torn between a day in Negril and a trip to Kingston for the extended Bob Marley tour, where Negril won by a hairline fracture (only because I wanted to cliff dive).

Negril is most famous for two things: Seven Mile Beach and Rick’s Cafe. Even though it took almost 2 hours to get there from our hotel in Trelawny, the day spent in Negril might have been one of the best days on vacation in my life. Seven Mile Beach is breathtaking, even though the hagglers can be overwhelming, but between the authentic jerk chicken and pork being grilled on the beach, that according to Uncle Dean is some of the best in all of Jamaica, and the free cream rum tasting at the gift shops, you can haggle me for my last $2 any day.

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And Rick’s Cafe. I really want to write a soliloquy about the romanticism of the sunset, the water that is an emerald blue like nothing I’ve seen yet on this planet, the DJ that must have a part time residency learning the hits in the States, the lobster that we ate like someone was going to steal it from us, and the rum punches and test tube shots that made cliff diving from the highest point seem like a good idea… But instead, I will just tell you, go to Ricks and thanks me later. And if you can swim, cliff dive. #TheEnd

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Sidenote: Imagine our surprise when Mike Epps walked in to enjoy Rick’s on a random Tuesday with the rest of us.

Our day in Negril was perfect, but there’s another excursion that I added onto the itinerary as a surprise to my girls for letting me drag them across the Caribbean more than once. Jamaica is one of only five places in the world that has a bioluminescent bay, which is essentially a body of water that lights up with millions of microorganisms to the touch. The only way that the glow of the water can be captured is with a specialized camera, so even our fancy new IPhones didn’t do the trick, but the sunset dip in the dark lagoon surrounded by glowing microorganisms was one pretty dope experience that will forever be committed to memory.

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Our tour to Luminous Lagoon can be found by clicking here, but for any other tour or transportation needs in and/or around the Montego Bay Area, I recommend my Uncle Dean. He’s a preferred driver for Riu properties, so if you’re staying at one of them, even better, but if not, he can be reached via What’s App at (1-876-394-1171). You can tell him that one of his nieces from Houston sent you.

Note: US Dollars are widely accepted in Jamaica preventing the dreaded currency exchange.

Stay

There are 2 things that determine whether a resort is perfect in my eyes, besides visual aesthetics, and those things are food and service. Melia Braco’s Village, almost 5 star overall customer reviews on Trip Advisor was solidified from the moment that we stepped foot on the resort.

Since we had been traveling since early morning, after dropping off our luggage, the only thing on our minds was the nearest place to fill our rumbling stomachs (and maybe grab a rum punch or 2). If you’ve been to multiple all-inclusive resorts, then you probably know that the lunch food by the pool can be either hit or miss, but let me tell you about my first meal. Imagine jerk snapper covered in sautéed greens, onions, and bell peppers before being grilled in a foil pack and served to your table hot and ready to enjoy. This was the first of many great meals, including hibachi good enough to put Benihana’s out of business.

Our resort was filled with many amenities, including it’s very own complimentary adventure park with zip-lining and an obstacle course. And let me not forget the many photographic areas, like this little hut that just screamed Jamaica.

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Confession: I’ve realized that I might need to start writing in some travel picture time into each day, because my camera is often replaced by a cocktail or plate of food within the first few hours of any trip. Hence, the lack of shots around the resort.

Would I recommend Melia Braco Village for your next trip to Jamaica? Yes, BUT that’s only if your sole purpose is enjoying the resort and the food. I could talk about the food, amenities, and great service all day, however, since our resort was situated in Trelawny, about 30-45 minutes outside of Montego Bay, cabs were pricey and hard to come by, preventing us from getting to enjoy the nightlife as much as we would have preferred on this trip.

On my next trip to Jamaica, I’m sure I will be staying at one the Secrets Resorts or Breathless, which can be booked directly from my website by clicking here.

Have you been to Jamaica? What were some of your favorite food and local spots?

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P.S.  If you would like assistance booking your next trip, click here.

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

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TRAVEL GUIDE: SOUTH AFRICA

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While many of us are familiar with the term “apartheid” and Nelson Mandela, it was not until my trip to South Africa that I was able to get a firsthand account of this racial divide that had such a profound impact on South African history and culture. Ironically, I had purchased Trevor Noah's Born a Crime months before my trip, however, I didn’t get a chance to read it until I got back to the States. Simply reading this book would have given me some of the background knowledge and terminology to improve my cultural context. For example, when I heard the term “colored” used in South Africa, I was automatically transported to images of the segregated South, however, the term “colored” refers to lighter skinned Africans of mixed heritage. I am a black woman that lives in America, so I am not unfamiliar with racism, but the systematic divisions of apartheid were chilling, knowing that this dark time in history ended as recent as 1994.

Johannesburg was filled with stark reminders of the apartheid era, and there were countless times that my sisters and I were advised to remain inside of most buildings during tours and to not peruse the city streets due to the threats of muggings and/or harm. And while Cape Town on the surface gave the impression of prosperity and the good life, it only took a quick drive out of the touristy areas to “smash and grab” territory to remind you that the economic impacts of apartheid are still thriving in many townships.

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Johannesburg and Cape Town are both filled with a seemingly endless amount of rich and powerful history, and my trip only scratched the surface. However, I have outlined some of the activities and/or tours that I would recommend for each city below.

Johannesburg

Take a city tour.

One of the best ways to see the top sites in any city, especially if you’re on a limited schedule, is by spending a day or two on the hop-on hop-off bus. Instead of spending your day piecing together your own itinerary and trying to figure out the best methods of transportation, you can buy a ticket for the bus route of your choice and depart the bus at any time to visit those must-see locations on your list. And being that I am a self-proclaimed historian, one of my favorite things about the Hop-On Hop-Off bus is that as it cruises through the city, you are given free headphones to listen to historical facts about the city. Below are pictures of some of my favorite stops:

World of Beer.

World of Beer.

World of Beer Exhibit.

World of Beer Exhibit.

Apartheid Museum with my sisters.

Apartheid Museum with my sisters.

One of my biggest regrets was not having enough time to fully immerse myself in the history at the Apartheid Museum and/or not paying additional money for a guided tour.  If I was to go back to Johannesburg, I would definitely add space into my itinerary for this tour.

Visit Mandela House in Soweto.

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Soweto is one of the most historic black townships in South Africa and was home to Nelson Mandela and many other South African advocates and popular figures.  For $5 US, you can walk through Mandela House and continue your trek through Soweto to get a taste of authentic “Jo-Berg” culture. 

Grab lunch at the original Nandos.

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Take a safari.

Kruger National Park is one of the most popular (and expensive) locations for an authentic South African safari, but for those of you with limited time, you can also take a trip to the Lion Park.

See Johannesburg from the observation deck of the Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa.

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Cape Town

The five days that we spent in Cape Town was not nearly enough time to scratch the surface of this beautiful port city flanked by views of the infamous Table Mountain.  From the Cape of Good Hope to the wineries of Stellenbosch, there were so many places to go and things to see in and around Cape Town. 

Ride the Hop-on Hop-off bus up to Table Mountain.

One of the things to note when visiting South Africa is that it is Winter when the States are celebrating Summer.  While the temperatures were not brutally cold, riding up to Table Mountain versus hiking, all while getting a tour of the city and nearby beaches, is a must add to your itinerary. Click here to secure your seat.

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Visit Robben Island.

Robben Island is probably one of the most popular attractions for tourists visiting Cape Town and is home to the infamous prison where Nelson Mandela would serve a large portion of his prison sentence.  And being that this tour is so popular, I recommend booking in advance to secure your spot on one of the outgoing ferries.  Unfortunately,  the waters were so choppy on the day of our tour to Robben Island that all ferries were cancelled, and being that our itinerary was super tight, we didn't have the time to move this tour to another day. 

Hike Table Mountain.

For adventure and fitness enthusiast, a trip to Cape Town is not complete without hiking Table Mountain.  Being that the weather and terrain can be unpredictable, it is always advised to hike with a knowledgable guide.  You can click here to book a private hiking tour.

Visit Stellenbosch (or any of the other Winelands).

Cape Town is surrounded by wineries, and the day that we spent in Stellenbosch was one of the best days of the entire trip.  There are many ways to visit the wineries from Cape Town, such as the wine tram, the vine hopper bus, group tours, private tours, etc.  And there is a winery for every wine connoisseur. JC Le Roux and Mulderbosch made the top of our favorites list. 

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Jc Le Roux (Try the Le Domaine).

Jc Le Roux (Try the Le Domaine).

Mulderbosch Pizza.

Mulderbosch Pizza.

Mulderbosch Burger.

Mulderbosch Burger.

Sidenote:  If you have time for dinner while visiting the Winelands, The Tasting Room is highly recommended. 

Take the drive to Boulder Beach and The Cape of Good Hope.

Chapman’s Peak.

Chapman’s Peak.

Boulder’s Beach.

Boulder’s Beach.

Cape of Good Hope.

Cape of Good Hope.

Chapman’s Peak.

Chapman’s Peak.

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Eat seafood near the beach at Camps Bay.

Visit the townships.

Cape Town is home to Langa, one of the oldest townships and Khayelitsha, one of the largest and fastest growing townships in Cape Town. You can click here to safely visit these townships and others with a guide.

Khayelitsha.

Khayelitsha.

Shop and Dine at the VA Waterfront.

“Where the city meets the sea”

One of the perks of traveling to South Africa, especially is you are from the US, is that your $ go very far. We were able to dine and live the luxe lifestyle on a minimal budget, whether shopping for trendy new outfits or fine dining at one of the many restaurants on and/or near the waterfront.

Sidenote: The Ocean Basket became one of our favorite chain eateries while in Capetown, and there was even a location in the airport for us to enjoy while waiting for our flight to depart.

Pose for pictures in the Bo-Kaap.

The Bo-Kaap, one of the most photographed areas in Cape Town, was previously home to slaves that expressed their love for color through the painting of their homes due to a law that prevented them from wearing colorful clothing.  Like many black neighborhoods that have become prime real estate, gentrification is threatening to push out homeowners to make way for new real estate ventures by either buying out residences and/or increasing taxes to a point of in-affordibility for most home owners in that area.  This has prompted several protests, causing many tour companies to remove the Bo-Kaap from its list of safe sites for tourists.  However, we decided to chance it, and asked a couple of homeowners for permission to take pictures in front of their historical homes. 

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I would love to visit Cape Town during the summer and enjoy their thriving nightlife, and I can now see why many celebrities like Will Smith own homes in his beautiful city.  Have you been to South Africa?  And if so, what are some of your favorite things to do, see, or eat while there?

P.S.  If you would like assistance booking your next trip, click here

Disclaimer: Some of the links in this blog are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.