My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites

Tripoto
6th Jan 2011

Moorea, French Polynesia

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Montevideo, Uruguay

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Auckland, New Zealand

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Bangkok, Thailand

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Mamutik Island, Borneo

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Borneo

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Cebu, Philippines

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Santiago, Chile

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Casablanca, Chile

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Vina del Mar, Chile

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Rarotonga, Cook Islands

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Cyprus

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Cyprus

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Tumon Bay, Guam

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Luang Prabang, Laos

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Mekong River, Laos

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Moorea, French Polynesia

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

Jellyfish Lake, Palau

Photo of My RTW Trip Itinerary: Re-visiting Old Favorites by Jenny McIver

This was my sixth annual month-long trip around the world in 2011.  When I first began my RTW adventures little did I know it would turn into an annual obsession? This years’ trip was my longest yet at just under 6 weeks. RTW 6 saw my return to some of my favorite places from previous trips (Bangkok, Auckland, Moorea & Cabo) as well as a number of new destinations

 This time I re-visited some favorites (Thailand, Cabo and Moorea) and explored a few new off-the-beaten path spots like Brunei and Palau. The full itinerary was: Chile, Uruguay, Cyprus, Laos, Thailand, Borneo, Brunei, Philippines, Palau, Guam, New Zealand, Cook Islands, Moorea and Cabo. Here are some highlights of the trip along with a detailed itinerary below.

Though it was a short stay in Uruguay, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Montevideo. It’s a charming city and one that I’d definitely visit again…though next time I’ll add a few more days to hit the playground of South America’s rich and famous – Punta del Este.

Bangkok is one of my favourite cities and I make sure it is a part of my itinerary of most of my RTW trips. This trip to Bangkok was all about food, shopping and massages. Grand total for my full day in Bangkok?  $41.10. Yes, ladies…that included TWO massages. And that, in a nutshell, is why I love Bangkok so much. And despite its reputation as backpacker central, Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri are a great resource for anyone.

Phillippines was another pleasant surprise. The areas of Cebu and Mactan Island are world-famous for their beaches, diving and snorkeling and I only got a little taste of that. It was disappointing to have never seen even a glimpse of the sun in 3 days. But I guess that means I’ll have to come back and give the Philippines another chance someday. I do have to say that all of the people I met there were wonderful and cheerful, despite the weather conditions. I was always greeted with a smile by everyone I passed on the street. With luck, I’ll get the chance to return and see more of their beautiful country.

My experience in the Jellyfish lake in Palau was, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in all of my travels. I’ve never experienced anything quite like it and I’ll surely never forget it. Very soon I moved on to watching rainbows in Guam. Because of its proximity to the International Date Line, the island of Guam is the first US territory to greet each new day inspiring its slogan “where America’s Day begins.”

The highlight of this trip, however, were the Cook Islands. I loved them! The best way I can describe it? It was all I had hoped Bora Bora would be – but wasn’t. No wait, Aitutaki was the island that whacked Bora Bora with an ugly stick. It was the island that told Maui to sit down and shut up. Seriously. It was the dreamy turquoise waters and white wisps of sand that is the stuff of South Pacific legend. Idyllic. Exotic. Serene. Unspoiled. Stunning. Pure. I’m at a loss for adequate adjectives. If you think I’m exaggerating, go immediately and see for yourself…the Cook Islands Tourism Bureau would love to have you. It may well be Tahiti without the French but it’s also Tahiti without the exorbitant prices and more importantly, the tourist crowds.  Of course, comparing it to Tahiti probably isn’t fair. Truly, it doesn’t compare. It’s that much better.

On my last night in Cabo as I watched the sun set, I sipped a Chilean wine and reminisced about my first stop in Chile…it seems like so long ago. What a trip this had been, I couldn't believe when it was almost over. I was ready to go home, but at the same time not. Honestly, I feel like I could travel forever. Maybe someday I will.

I set out on foot to explore Santiago. I loved the feeling of walking around a new international city and seeing the people, the shops, the streets, the lifestyle, etc. for the first time. It’s a thrill I never get tired of. My first stop was the nearby artsy neighborhood of Providencia. I spent the afternoon enjoying the streets of downtown Santiago including a visit to the Plaza de Armas and climbing the many stairs up to Santa Lucia Hill for an awe-inspiring view of the city. I wrapped up my tour of Santiago with a funicular ride up to the peak of Cerro San Cristobal (the second highest peak in the city) to see the Virgin Mary statue that – like the Christ the redeemer statue in Rio – overlooks all of Santiago. It was a beautifully clear day and the view of the city and the surrounding mountain ranges was divine. The next day I reached the sprawling vineyards of Veramonte – one of Chile’s most well-known worldwide. The tasting selections were excellent but I especially enjoyed the beauty of the expansive vineyard as I wandered completely unsupervised around it. What a treat!
Photo of Santiago, Chile by Jenny McIver
I continued on through the valley making a few other stops but none that surpassed the beauty of the Chilean countryside at Veramonte. I spent the afternoon wandering the colorful streets of Valparaiso and with my toes in the sand on the beaches of Vina del Mar. That evening I watched the sun set from my balcony on my last night in Chile. First planted in the mid-1980’s, the relatively new valley of Casablanca has become one of Chile’s most successful wine-producing regions and is known for some of the country’s outstanding white wines. Taking advantage of the influence of the cool coastal breezes, it specializes in Sauvignon Blanc (my favorite), Chardonnay and also the red Pinot Noir.
Photo of Veramonte, Casablanca, Chile by Jenny McIver
After a few days in Santiago, I decided to head to the coast to the resort town of Vina del Mar. By early afternoon I had reached my destination, the Sheraton Miramar in Vina del Mar. Perched right on the coast and practically over the sea, the hotel had an exquisite panoramic view of Vina and nearby Valparaiso. Known as the “Garden City”, Vina del Mar is one of the most developed and visited cities in the country. And since I was envisioning a sleepy little beach town, it was much larger than I anticipated. Located on the coast about 120km from Santiago, it had excellent beaches, an outstanding tourist infrastructure, active cultural and social life and a thriving business community.
Photo of Sheraton Miramar Hotel & Convention Center, Viña del Mar, Chile by Jenny McIver
The nearby World Heritage site of Valparaiso is a city filled with both history and nostalgia. Before the completion of the Panama Canal, it was once the most important port in the area, called the “Pearl of the Pacific”. Today, its famous hills dotted with elevators and homes are being painstakingly restored to their original beauty. Valparaiso is a cultural center in its own right and a favorite artists’ residence with a growing restaurant and music scene. I spent the afternoon wandering the colorful streets of Valparaiso and with my toes in the sand on the beaches of Vina del Mar.
Photo of Valparaiso, Chile by Jenny McIver
I first came upon Montevideo’s “Locks Fountain” where couples in love carve their initials into a lock and secure it to the fence surrounding the fountain, thereby securing their love forever. How romantic! I took a quick look around for a prospective ”lock” candidate, but no dice. Moving on! My next stop was the famous Plaza Independencia, which marks the dividing line between Montevideo’s City Centre and its Old Town and is considered the most important open space in all of Uruguay. In the center of the square sits the bronze equestrian monument of General Jose Gervasio Artigas, the hero of Uruguayan independence. His ashes rest in an urn under the monument. The plaza was designed in 1837 and features four fountains and 33 palm trees. The most prominent building in Plaza Independencia is the Salvo Palace. When it first opened in 1928, it was both the tallest building in South America and the largest in the world made from reinforced concrete. Designed by Italian architect Mario Palanti, it is similar in style to another of his famous projects, the Barolo Palace in Buenos Aires.
Photo of Plaza de la Independencia, Plaza Independencia, Montevideo, Montevideo Department, Uruguay by Jenny McIver
My first stop was the seaside town of Pafos, a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to some of the finest Roman mosaics and Greek ruins in Europe. I began my day with a visit to Pafos harbor and a climb to the top of the fort that guards it. The view from the top over the colorful fishing boats in the harbor is spectacular. I wandered around the harbor for a bit before settling into a waterfront taverna for a delicious Greek lunch of salad and moussaka. My next (and final) stop for the day was Kourion to visit the ruins of ancient Curium. Perched high above the sea, the visible remains at Kourion date back to the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian periods. Raised and covered walkways allow you to view the elaborately detailed mosaic floors in the Annexe of Eustolios thought to date back to the 5th century. Next up was the theater, Kourion’s best-known feature. With a view to die for over the Mediterranean, it was fully restored in 1960 and can seat 3,500 for a concert or play. I wandered through the rest of the sight visiting the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates and the Christian basilica. The entire site was as amazing as anything I’ve seen in Greece or Italy.
Photo of Paphos, Cyprus by Jenny McIver
My short trip to Lefkara turned out to be the highlight of my visit. Lefkara is one of those darling towns quite literally built into the side of a mountain. From its red-tiled roofs to its beautiful monastery, it was a wonderful look into real Cyprus life outside the usual tourist zones. I walked the hilly streets for a while watching the locals go about their morning routines and the kids walk to school. Then I drove back along the highway and stopped a few times on the other side of the mountain to take pictures as the morning sun lit up the red-tiled roofs. Just beautiful!
Photo of Lefkara, Pano Lefkara, Cyprus by Jenny McIver
I arrived in Bangkok with an agenda. One of my favorite cities in the world, I decided to change things up a bit and focus on one of the city’s most fascinating streets. I visited Bangkok’s most famous street - the backpacker gateway to Southeast Asia – Khao San Road and its neighbor, the equally handy Soi Rambuttri. Just about anything is available on Khao San Road. Accommodation, travel services, massages, food, clothing, jewelry, used books, pirated DVDs, tattoos, hair braiding, fake IDs, you name it. Forgot to graduate from Oxford? Or become a member of the media? Or turn 21? No problem! Khao San’s fake ID merchants can help. Need a tattoo and a bus ticket to Vietnam? Khao San’s got you covered. If you need it, you can probably find it on Khao San Road. It’s a place to disappear or, perhaps, to find yourself.
Photo of Khao San Road Bangkok Thailand by Jenny McIver
I walked around the hotel to took a few pictures of the deserted beach and pool area and during a brief break in the rain, I noticed there were two people heading into the water to do some snorkeling. Now, why didn’t I think of that? I mean, if you’re going to get drenched on land, why not just get underwater? It was also the perfect opportunity to practice a little more with my new underwater camera gear. The hotel’s beach had a protected coral area for snorkeling so I grabbed my camera and took to the water. The snorkeling was fun but not as great as it should have been since days of rain had clouded the water quite a bit. Next stop was Magellan’s Cross, a replica of one planted here by Magellan when the very first Filipinos were baptized. When Magellan first arrived in Cebu in 1521, a new chapter in Philippine history began. The local chief was surprisingly receptive to Magellan, even agreeing to a baptism that was the first stroke of Christianity in the region.
Photo of Hilton Cebu Resort and Towers, Lapu-Lapu City, Central Visayas, Philippines by Jenny McIver
The Rock Islands of Palau are a grouping of more than 200 limestone and coral islands dotting Palau’s Southern lagoon. These uninhabited islands are famous for their beaches and dive sites. Though it was an overcast day, riding through the soaring limestone cliffs with their emerald green waters was still a gorgeous sight. The rain continued in Palau but it didn't take away from the #1 place I wanted to see on the island - Jellyfish Lake. I took a day trip around the Rock Islands and the highlight was definitely a swim with the million or so inhabitants of Jellyfish Lake. More than 12,000 years old, Jellyfish Lake is filled with millions of migrating golden jellyfish who have evolved over the years without stinging capability due to a lack of natural predators. It is one of several marine lakes like it in Palau but the only one that can be visited. A swim in the lake was featured in two episodes of the TV show Survivor as a reward for winning a challenge. Palau is the only place in the world where it is possible to swim among these harmless prehistoric creatures.
Photo of Jellyfish Lake, Koror, Palau by Jenny McIver
On-again, off-again rain meant a day full of rainbows in Guam. Though I didn’t have any wheels, the resort area of Tumon Bay was a sight in itself so I decided the least I could do was head out and explore my immediate surroundings for the day. The sun came and went all day with bouts of rain showers in between but it was still a great day at the beach. I walked from one end of the bay to the other and did a little swimming in the gorgeous clear blue waters. The beach area reminded me a lot of Waikiki in Hawaii but without the fancy resorts. It’s interesting that Guam has such amazing natural beauty but the hotels and resorts seem decidedly outdated. Almost like Hawaii 20 years ago. Regardless of accommodation, I thought the island was lovely and I wish I’d had the time and the transportation to explore it further.
Photo of Tumon Bay, Guam by Jenny McIver
Auckland is the perfect jumping off point to the South Pacific and it also happens to be home to one of my favorite meals in the world...green-lipped mussels and a sauvignon blanc. I spent the two days enjoying the views from the apartment, catching up on sleep, watching crazy people jump of the Sky Tower every few minutes and making plans for my next stop in Rarotonga. It was a glorious 4 days in Auckland and I am starting to think of that Sky Deck apartment as my second home (if only!). There is no doubt in my mind I’ll be renting it again before too long.
Photo of Buffalo Bar & Grill, Quay Street, Auckland, New Zealand by Jenny McIver
This was the perfect place to base for a week in the Cook Islands - inexpensive and located on a fantastic beach. Known primarily as a popular backpacker guest house, Vara’s also featured beachfront studios with private bath that appealed to non-backpacker types (that’s me!) as well. After settling in my room I ventured out and spent a fun 4 or 5 hours circling the island and stopping to check out each of Rarotonga’s gorgeous lagoons. I even made another stop in town to visit the market. By mid-afternoon I felt like I’d seen everything but the beach my hotel was sitting on so I returned the car and spent the rest of the afternoon swimming and snorkeling at Muri Beach just a few steps from my room. Now this is more like it!
Photo of Vara's Beach House, Ngatangiia District, Cook Islands by Jenny McIver
From Rarotonga, I did a day trip to the incredible island of Aitutaki. It was about $300 and required a short flight each way but it was a spectacular day. I've never seen any place quite as beautiful as Aitutaki. The tiny island of Aitutaki is miniscule in land mass but surrounded by miles and miles of the most magnificent lagoon you’ve ever imagined. So many hues of blue I lost count.We made our way up to Piraki Point for a dramatic view over the lagoon below. If I had it to do over again, I would have spent the extra money and actually stayed at one of the few hotels on the island. Highly recommended.
Photo of Aitutaki, Arutanga, Cook Islands by Jenny McIver
After my incredibly expensive Bora Bora cyclone experience on RTW #5, this year I decided to return to Moorea. To me, it's better than Bora Bora - less expensive and less touristy. I absolutely love it there. I spent my days jumping into the crystal blue lagoon off my own personal dock and snorkeling around for hours taking photos and video. The lagoon is the primary form of entertainment in Moorea for good reason – you could spend countless hours there and never see the same thing twice. It’s simply mesmerizing. File this under, “the travel rich keep getting richer.” I was lucky enough to go from the paradise of the Cook Islands to the Eden of Moorea.
Photo of Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, Windward Islands, French Polynesia by Jenny McIver
I also decided to return to Cabo to end the trip again since I loved watching the whales there on RTW #5. Again, the whales did not disappoint! We saw dozens of whales on our 2-hour trip in the Sea of Cortez making Cabo one of the best values in the world for whale-watching. I spent the final night of my trip sitting on my balcony watching the sun set and the whales putting on yet another show. I saw several of them leap out of the water in a full breach and even got a few good pictures. (Remind me again why it’s necessary to pay for a whale-watching trip in this town?) Of all the whales we did see between the two trips – that’s one thing I’ve never seen them do up close. So cool.
Photo of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico by Jenny McIver
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