Spotting “The Big Five”

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Thornybush, Sabi Sands, Kruger National Park, September 2017

When I first started dreaming of an African safari (many, many years ago) all I knew was that I wanted to see “the big five”. You know, lions, tigers & bears (oh my!). HA…well, I quickly came to realize that I didn’t even know what the big five were! Or why they were called that. A little nature lesson: the “big five” game animals were coined that by hunters, referring to the five most difficult animals to hunt on food. Yes, some of these animals are huge, but they’re also camouflage, quick, and always one step ahead. They’re also five of the most dangerous. By the time you would spot them on foot, it would be too late. They are now the gold standard by which all safari tours operate – it was most definitely our goal to spot the big five during our safari and I am so thrilled to say we did!

African Elephant

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We always saw them in herds of 5+

This was very first animals we saw as they were at our lodge’s watering hole when we arrived. And holy crap they are HUGE! Being the largest land mammal, the average African elephant is over 10′ at shoulder height and weighs around 5 tons, with the largest being over 7. It’s so crazy how much they blend into the trees, given how large they are. Over the 4 days, we came across 5-6 different packs. I must admit, to me, they were the most frightening in person. Their behavior is typically calm but they’re a little unpredictable and we heard a lot of stories about them charging at people. They were the only animals that I felt a little uneasy around – though the babies are beyond adorable!

Fun fact: Mama elephants are pregnant for 22 months and at birth, babies are already 3 feet tall and 200 lbs.

Black Rhinoceros

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I mean, look at all that muscle!

Oh, the rhino. Looking at pictures of these pre-historic beauties makes me equally happy and heartbroken. They are the most unbelievable animals to see in person – I truly felt like I was in Jurassic Park. At the same time, it’s devastating to know that they are being closer to extinction by the day. Our guide estimated that at the rate they’re being killed (for their horns by horrible, ignorant poachers), they will likely be extinct by 2020. That’s only 2 years away y’all! I won’t get too much into my “save the rhinos” rant but you can read more about the animals here, the poaching crisis here, and how you can help here.

We were lucky enough to see one on our first drive & saw four more throughout the stay. They were typically alone and usually just chillin’ – eating some leaves or bathing in the ponds. They are unbelievably strong, travel alone and are very territorial. I feel so blessed to have seen these beautiful creatures in person. 

Fun Fact: Though they’re large, they are speedy! A rhino can run up to 40 miles per hour – over twice as fast as the world’s fastest human. So finding a tree to climb is your best strategy to stay safe!

Cape Buffalo

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These guys were so creepy – always watching us watch them

Considered to be the most dangerous for hunters, the cape buffalo are notorious for being aggressive & ambushing. So, naturally when we learned that a group of 20 were lounging around a mere 50 yards from our front door, we were a wee bit nervous. At first glance, they just look like a cow or normal buffalo but then you hear stories of how quickly they charge and you’re on high alert. When we saw them, they just sat around eating grass for about 20 minutes and then we drove off. Uneventful – the way I like it on safari ha!

Fun Fact: Actually, crazy story – our guide told us how he accidentally stumbled upon a cape buffalo while walking back to his lodge one day and it started to charge him. He had to sprint the other direction & climb a tree to hang out there for a few hours until the buffalo left. He said it was the scariest experience he’s had in the bush!

African Leopard

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The male leopard waiting for the female to give the “ok” to begin mating

The smallest of the big cats, and solitary by nature, these look like sweet little cats that you just want to cuddle up with and pet…until you realize that they will quickly eat your face off. (as evidenced by the feeding leopard we saw). The Sabi Sands area is known for their leopards so we knew we had a great chance of seeing them. What we witness though, blew us away. Days 1 & 2 we saw a pair of leopards mating – a very rare occurrence to see – and it was fascinating! We were total creeps and watched them for a while and took videos. Our guide told us that in his 10 years in South Africa, he’s only come across this three times. How lucky are we? On day 3 we also saw a female leopard feeding on a recently killed kudu. We watched her try to carry this 80# dead animal…in her mouth… up a tree. Nature is fascinating, y’all!

Fun Fact: Female leopards birth 2-3 cubs at a time and they stay with their mama until about age 2 when they’re old enough to hunt on their own.

African Lion

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King of the Jungle

I think my husband said it best: “when you see a lion for the first time and you know exactly where you stand on the food chain”…this was the one and only lion we saw (we did see a lioness but the females don’t have the manes) and it was spectacular. This was the only animal that took my breath away, which was such a surprise! For some reason, the sheer presence of a male lion is surreal – they are so regal and grand. Lucky for us, we saw him on our last drive of the trip. My hope is to see more on our next safari. They travel in prides so there’s usually a good chance that you’ll spot multiple.

Fun Fact: A lions roar can be heard for up to 5 miles away. One night at dinner, we all heard a lion roaring in the distance. The next morning, our tracker noted that a male lion had walked through our camp while we were all sleeping. So scary!

And just because these other animals aren’t part of “the big five” doesn’t mean they’re not incredible to see. A few of my personal favorites…

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The zebra, so cute with that little mohawk! While their skin appears to be white with black stripes, rumor has it that if you shave them, the skin is actually black. The mystery continues!

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A personal favorite, the warthog. So ugly that they’re cute, these silly fellas are always frolicking around the bush and chasing each other around. They totally reminded me of our French Bulldog, but with horns!

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The hyenas are mangy, mean & big bullies. But they are a little cute at times. We had one visit our BBQ site on our first night and I swear, he looked like a little teddy bear.

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Given their height, the giraffes are always watching from afar and curious what you’re up to. They are long, lanky, clumsy & adorable. Especially the babies.

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Fun Fact: African cash is also known as “The Big Five”, with each having a picture of one of the big five animals on the front.

All I can say is – if you’ve ever considered going on a safari, do it now. Time is of the essence with these animals and nothing is guaranteed. This was the most humbling experience and I am just itching every moment to go back.

Africa, I love you!
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Hotel Review: La Petite Ferme

When in Africa on our honeymoon, we spent one night in Franschhoek exploring wine country. It was about an hour drive from Cape Town (we took uber) and reminded us a lot of Sonoma. We drove right past downtown Franschhoek and ended up at La Petite Ferme.

The property is set on a hill and looks quite modest from the front, but don’t let this fool you. We walked into the quaint, charming lobby and immediately felt at home. The lodge is an adobe style house with doorway arches, natural decor elements, and an entire wall of windows overlooking their vineyard. The entire property had a very quaint, European cottage feel. The decor was full of creams, light blues & green colors. The rooms were full of texture, including our velvet headboard, silk drapes, ornate mirrors & fireplaces, etc. Beyond the vineyard is the mountain range, which provides an absolutely stunning backdrop.

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To the left is the main dining room where we had breakfast and to the right is a bar / lounge / library area. This area has a grand fireplace with a few chairs, a small library with their wine displayed and a bar with 8 high top seats. We were seated here to sign our check-in papers while the bellman took our bags to our room. Refreshing spritzers and salty nibbles were served.

Within five minutes, our butler led us to our room…and I was floored. If I’m being honest, this room is much nicer than it looks online. We walked through a pristine courtyard with a running fountain where a set of French doors opened into our room. We stepped into a stunning library area, equipped with a sofa, two chairs, a wood burning fireplace, built ins bookshelves and an armoire cleverly storing our mini bar & coffee maker.

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From there we saw the powder room and walk down the hall into our master, which just so happens to be bigger than any bedroom I have ever lived in. It was very classic meets cozy, with our second wood burning fireplace (with freshly chopped wood in a basket), a writing desk, a flat screen television, an wardrobe, an oversized king bed and two side tables. The excitement continued when I saw the oversized soaker tub in our bathroom, overlooking our back yard pool. Yup, our bedroom had French doors that led to our private patio and infinity pool, which overlooked the vineyards I previously mentioned. 

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The next morning, we enjoyed the tasty breakfast spread served in the dining room & sunroom (each has a wood burning fireplace). The food was an English breakfast spread of fruit, cereal, pastries, breads, jams, meats (something you’ll see a lot in South Africa). There were also eggs, sausage & bacon made to order.

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I have to just take a moment to brag about the staff. From check in to check out, we were treated by the friendliest, cheerful, accommodating people. The kind wait staff heard that I had food poisoning (not from their restaurant) and so they dropped off some hot tea, extra bottled water & toast for me when they brought Terry his dinner. Our sweet butler even brought us fresh firewood and started a fire for us…twice! We also had a change to speak with the manager a good bit before breakfast and learned so much about the property. The personal touches they provided did not go unnoticed and truly made our stay that much more special.

Needless to say, we were very bummed to leave – I would have loved to stay at least two nights here. The property is stunning, the staff beyond accommodating & the room just exquisite. Everything was outstanding and I can’t imagine a better place to stay in Franschhoek.

 

Thank you to La Petite Ferme for sponsoring this post. Even though our stay was complimentary, thoughts & opinions are my own.

12 Hours in Zurich

Given that we had a 20+ hour flight from Boston to Johannesburg, we wanted to plan our layover strategically. In my opinion, it’s best to either have a 2-3 hour layover (enough to grab a bite to eat, stretch your legs, and get back on the plane) or a 9+ hour layover (plenty of time to explore the local town). Given that Zurich is one of our favorite cities, we opted for a long (12 hour) layover so that we could have enough time to enjoy the city. Last time we were in Zurich, it was May and a little bit chilly outside. This time we majorly lucked out as it was 87 degrees and sunny the day we were there!

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We deplaned around 11:30am and headed straight to the train station to take the metro into town. The train system in Zurich is very simple & intuitive. We took the 6 train to Tiefenbrunnen. Once we arrived at our stop (around 1:00pm), we went to an awesome spot that my husband found – it was essentially an outdoor beach/grass area for us to lay out & go swim in the lake. We paid 25CHF to enter, which included entry for two and towels. The area is a large grassy space with multiple picnic tables, wooden decks & floating docks. It is equipped with bath houses that have lockers, bathrooms & showers. It felt like a community pool, except the pool was Lake Zurich.

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We weren’t sure how crowded it would be, given that it was a Wednesday mid-afternoon, but the place was jam packed with families, kids & friends of all ages. Apparently this was an unusually warm day for them, so I guess everyone was taking advantage of the weather! We swam in the lake (cold & refreshing), ate ice cream, drank a beer and basked in the warm sun. After a few hours, we decided to hit the showers and change.

We spent the next hour or so re-discovering Zurich – the old town is so charming and quaint, filled with hilly, winding streets, various local stores, coffee shops and colorful pastel homes with very distinct old-world architecture. The window boxes were in full bloom and stunning!

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We walked about 4 miles in & out of various streets, getting lost in the best way. Finally we decided it was time to grab some dinner at one of our favorites, Zeughauskeller. It’s a touristy spot, but we love it. The building was built in 1487 and is an old armory turned restaurant. Pre-Christopher Columbus, y’all!  The restaurant is classic Swiss – the menu has over 5 pages of sausage options (no joke). T got the classic bratwurst (#50), served with their delicious warm potato salad and I got the crumbed chicken (#95) served with salad. Two aperol spritz’s to toast. It felt good to be back at this spot, at the same table we ate at less than 18 months ago for our first big trip abroad together. Ahh, memories.

And let’s be honest, no trip to Switzerland is finished without a visit to the chocolate shop!

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And just like that, it was time to head back to the airport. With another international flight (ZRH > JNB) ahead of us, we arrived with about two hours to spare. All in all, during our 12 hour layover we spent about 8 hours in Zurich (1 hour travel, 3 hours in/out of airport) and walked over five miles. It was a fun, relaxing day and well worth the layover.

How would you spend 12 hours in Zurich?

Iceland: 10 things to know before you go

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  1. Book everything ahead of time.

Unfortunately, Iceland is not one of those places where you can just “wing” it, especially if you’re only going for a long weekend like we did. The Blue lagoon sells out & excursions book up quickly. For example, I went online about 2 weeks ahead to purchase our Blue Lagoon tickets and every single day except one was sold out. I was shocked! We also booked FlyBus to/from the airport ahead of time so we didn’t have to waste any time buying tickets once there.

Travel Tip: If you’re there for a 24 hour or less layover, I would recommend just renting a car and doing your own tour. It will be cheaper, easier & more flexible. You can squeeze a lot into 1 day if you’re your own driver.

2. It’s expensive. Like, insanely expensive.

The only other place I’ve ever been to that even compares is Zurich, Switzerland where we paid over $50 for a B. Good salad & sandwich. Iceland is, well, and island so things are understandably priced higher than anywhere in the U.S. Food, drink, hotels, excursions – you name it, it’s expensive. I remember drinking a 12 oz Heineken Light at happy hour for “half off drinks” and my beer was $9. Yup, you read that right – that’s almost $20 for a can of beer. As long as you do your homework and you’re mentally prepared for this, you’ll be fine.

Travel Tip: Make sure you book a hotel with breakfast (most of them include it) to save!

  1. Bring your own booze & snacks.

For risk of sounding like the biggest cheapass on the planet, let me explain…so given tip #2, you’ll want to pack a variety of snacks to save money during flights and excursions. (The excursions last 8+ hours so trust me when I say, you’ll get hungry!) Also, bring water bottles to refill instead of buying bottles of water.

Travel Tip: You can buy booze & snacks duty-free at the Keflavik Airport as you arrive.

4. Pack layers.

Trust me on this one. You can read my post HERE regarding what to pack.

5. The wildlife is so different

 

Yes, this is kind of a random fact; however, I couldn’t stop talking about it! It’s one of those bizarre things that we noticed a few hours in…where are the birds? Does nobody here have pets? Am I in the twilight zone? Haha. Our tour guide from our Golden Circle Tour told us that in all of Iceland, there are no snakes or scorpions. There are minimal animals and very few native ones. All we saw were Icelandic horses and a few sheep. Believe it or not, I only saw 2 dogs the whole time I was there…two! We weren’t sure if that was because it was mostly raining or if people just don’t have as many house pets.

6. It’s not all snow

After all, this is the “land of fire and ice”. We were interested to find that although much of the land is desolate and covered by ice or rock, there are over 600 types of moss in Iceland. The moss (and the grass) cover a vast majority of the land and is insanely lush and vibrant shades of green. The water is unbelievably blue. The color are truly out of this world. It’s one of the many lures of Iceland

Travel Tip: Take many, many pictures. You won’t even need filters as the colors are beautifully saturated on their own.

7. Everyone speaks English

Maybe not a surprise to most, but it’s helpful to know. Language barriers can add an additional level of stress to travel so rest assured that you will have no problem getting around or communicating with the locals.

8. Drink all of the water

Literally. Bring a water bottle to fill up – don’t be a sucker and buy bottled water. The water everywhere is glacier fresh and ice cold – hotel sinks, water fountains, bar dispensers, you name it. This is not only a huge cost saver but their natural water is seriously the best of all!

9. Get ready to walk

In a good way! Bring shoes that are warm, comfortable & waterproof – no matter the season. We walked over 16,000 steps on day 1, over 11,000 steps on day 2. There were a lot of stairs & a lot of climbing. We felt great and exhausted at the end of each day.

10. Come with a plan

If I could give one main piece of advice when visiting Iceland, it’s to make a plan (as I mentioned in #1, #2, #3 & #9!)  There’s a lot to be prepared for – the weather, the food, the cost, etc. The list goes on and on so it’s really just best to do as much research as possible. This way, you will enjoy your trip much more!

I hope this post helped any of you planning an Iceland trip – I cannot recommend this beautiful country enough. Feel free to email me with any questions!

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Travel Guides: Santa Monica + Malibu + Santa Barbara

Last winter we took a road trip up the PCH from LA to SF…and yes, I’m just now finishing the recap. What can I say, sometimes I’m scatterbrained! You may remember our road trip plan here. Well, let me just say…all we did wrong was not make enough time. This drive is STUNNING and I am dying to do it again and spend more time in some of the places we zipped through.

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We stayed night 1 in Santa Monica at a friends condo. We hung by the rooftop pool, went for a jog on the beach, explored the area & grabbed some sushi at SugarFish. Okay, okay – I know this place has alllll of the hype (maybe because Ryan Seacrest talks about it all the time on his radio show?) but I gotta be honest- we didn’t love it. In fact, we left after our glass of wine and edamame. From the moment we walked in, the staff were a-holes quite rude, the service was horrible and we just weren’t feeling the vibe. At all. Maybe I’ll give it another try in the future, but for me this place was a miss.

Lucky for us, we found passed Blue Plate Taco on the way home and popped right in. They had a killer patio, fun music playing & a chill, friendly vibe. We had a blast drinking margs and eating tacos. Win for sure!

Our time in Santa Monica was pretty short – less than 24 hours. Given that we were coming off of a 6 hour flight, we relaxed a bit more than usual and enjoyed our time lounging. We were hoping to make it for happy hour at Shutters on the Beach but weren’t ready. Next time!

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The next morning we got up and drove a quick 30 minutes to Malibu, where we hiked the Corral Canyon Trail. It was an 2.5 miles up & down the mountain. We walked up, ran down and thoroughly enjoyed the warm sun! I swear, getting a morning workout not at the gym while on vacation is the best thing ever. We spent a couple of hours soaking in the sun while burning off last night’s margaritas – win/win! Plus, the best part of this trail is that the trail ends at Malibu Seafood- my new favorite place. It’s a seafood shop & cafe where you can sit right outside on the picnic tables and enjoy the fresh catch of the day. Highly recommend this combination of activity + food!

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Headed up the coast to Malibu

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If you’re near Malibu, check it out!

After lunch, we drove about an hour or two, stopping off here & there for photo ops- and made our way to the Four Seasons, Santa Barbara which is hands down one of the most beautiful properties I have ever seen. This is where we got engaged and where I never, ever wanted to leave. Aside from the fact that it was the best day of my life, the service was unbelievable & the property just flawless. The sprawling, lush grounds felt like a rainforest inside, with a beach outside. We spent time at the pool, the bar, the lobby & of course, on Butteryfly Beach where Terry proposed (having flashbacks & loving every moment!)

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The stunning property

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Truly felt like we were in the Mediterranean

We had our engagement dinner at Lucky’s in Montecito, a charming steakhouse with an oversized fireplace. It’s just perfect for winter. The food was delicious, service amazing & truth be told, I hardly remember any of it because I was still in shock! (Needless to say, I didn’t snap a single photo)

One other place I must mention is Jeannine’s, also in Montecito. This adorable cafe with the best outdoor patio surrounded by trees. The owner heard that we were recently engaged and sent over a celebratory dessert on the house. So thoughtful! You order at the counter and they serve your coffee & bites on a very eclectic-vintage blue & white china. It’s fabulous and you should go there.

The yummy food & darling plates at Jeannine's

The yummy food & darling plates at Jeannine’s

Lastly, no trip to Santa Barbara would be complete without a stop at McConnells ice cream. They’re world famous for a reason – the ice cream is to die for and you’ve gotta get some. Don’t leave SB without a scoop!

Next stop on our road trip was through Big Sur to Carmel-by-the-Sea. AKA Heaven – I cannot wait to share more!

ICYMI: Our weekend in Sonoma and review of the Cottage Inn & Spa

 

 

What’s in my Carry On Bag

One of the questions I get asked ALL of the time is “what do you pack in your carry on bag”? Now, truth be told, I almost always try to carry on both pieces of luggage – my 20″ spinner bag and my trusted Longchamp (my favorite carry-on because it’s liquid proof, has a zipper, an internal pocket & seriously holds a ton!). Today I’m sharing what’s in my personal bag – you know, the one that goes at your feet (unless you’re like me and stick it up in the overhead bin to have more footspace…#sorrynotsorry).

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Ok, so now let me break it down for you. Given that I travel a TON and I pretty much have packing down to an art, I have a solid list of items I take on almost every trip. This list is tried & true and will be sure to help you get you through any flight:

Headphones…and not just earbuds- those kill my ears after a while & don’t drown out the background noise well enough. I recently was gifted these headphones and let me tell you – they’re great! They’re very affordable, stylish & lightweight. If you don’t want to spend the money on Beats or Bose (the crème de la crème), I definitely recommend them.

Bonus: they’ve also been great to run with.

So if you’re flying business or 1st they’ll give you an amenities kit; otherwise I always pack one myself with some face wipes, toothpaste/toothbrush and a few mini toiletries. When flying overnight or more than 3 hours, a little freshening up works wonders.

A couple of key items that are easy to forget, but critical for flying are an eye mask to help sleep and a pen for crosswords, Sudoku or customs forms. They’re so small and take up no space in your bag, but make a huge impact on your trip. Trust me.

iPads, books and magazines are a must to keep entertained, especially on a long flight. I usually read the magazine during takeoff and then try to watch a pre-purchased movie on my ipad while in flight. Thank goodness for in-flight internet!

Tip: if you’re not flying a carrier with free tv (such as Jet Blue or Virgin), head to the GoGo website to pre-purchase internet for a lower price than you’d pay once on board the plane.

I never leave for the airport without a water bottle – it’s cheaper than buying airport bottled water and it’s more eco-friendly. Plus, we all know that staying hydrated while flying is key. This is my #1 item that I must have while flying (or road tripping!).

Two critical pieces of clothing I always bring with me on flights are extra socks (the more plush, the better) and either an oversized scarf or an open front cardigan. Planes are notorious for being chilly & layering is key! I never, ever wear jeans – usually a maxi dress or these leggings with a long v-neck top. Comfort, while remaining presentable, is key my friends. Let’s not forget we’re in public.

So there you have it, 9 critical pieces that must go with you on your next flight. Use this list as a base and you’ll be sure to be comfy, cozy & have what you need to get through the most painful of flights (I’m looking at you, United).

What’s your “must have” item in your carry on?!

Iceland Part 3: The Blue Lagoon

We arrived back in Rekjavik around 6pm (read about our day 1 excursion here), grabbed a quick bite at happy hour & then quickly changed into our bathing suits for our 8:00 pm pickup. I wondered if we were too rushed and packed too much into one day, but let me tell you…Blue Lagoon at night is the way to go!

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We booked this transfer via FlyBus which was super easy. They picked us up at 8:30 pm and we arrived at the Blue Lagoon exactly 45 minutes later. As you pull up, the building is very sleek and feels very “of the element”- it’s all built with wood, stone, and moss.

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So, here’s how the Blue Lagoon works:

Step 1: You must buy your tickets ahead of time. This is critical. We bought ours about a week ahead and almost every time slot was sold out.

Hint: Buy the basic entry package. We brought a towel from our hotel & they had free silica face masks everywhere. There’s really no need to buy a more expensive package.

Step 2: They give you a wristband to control your provided locker and for any purchases. I threw my clothes in the locker, rinsed off, grabbed my towel & walked right in.

Hint: Bring either a waterproof phone case or a Go Pro – you’ll want to take pics!

Step 3: Grab a drink, put on a mask and enjoy all that the lagoon has to offer! I must say, the lagoon is much bigger than I was imagining, with rocks, bridges & coves all around. It’s this milky, creamy hot tub feel, sans bubbles. They’ve got a swim up bar, various grottos and coves. It’s super chill and relaxing, though I imagine it may not feel this way if it were crowded. We didn’t partake in the spa or restaurant; however, I heard they’re both very nice.

Hint: Plan to spend at least 2 hours at the lagoon. We could easily have spent another hour or two wandering around and enjoying the amenities.

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We packed up around 11:00 pm and headed out to catch the bus back. We caught the most incredible pink sunset and were back in our beds by 1am. We were so relaxed from the evening that we passed out right away & slept like babies. One last thing to mention (especially you ladies!), your hair is going to be a frazzled mess the next day. I used a lot of their provided conditioner but still had a slimy, dry feeling to it.

Overall the Blue Lagoon is incredible and so worth it! I’ve heard many people say it’s “too touristy” or “overcrowded” but I think that if you go at the right time of you, you’ll be able to enjoy the area as much as we did.

Related Posts:

Iceland Part 1: Golden Circle Tour

Iceland Part 2: Southern Iceland Tour

Below are some unedited pictures from our Go Pro to give you an idea of the size/space:

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Entrance to the huge lagoon

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enjoying a cold brew in the hot lagoon

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silica face masks

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pure relaxation

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heaven 🙂