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Iceland In July: What to pack for Iceland in summer

How to pack for Iceland in summer

Headed to Iceland but aren’t sure yet what to pack for Iceland? I’ve got you covered!

I’ve gathered together my advice for an Iceland summer packing list. I visited Iceland in July, and can tell you it can go from sunny and bright to moody very quickly! Iceland is the type of destination you need to make sure you pack accordingly for.

This Iceland packing list includes what to wear in Iceland, boots for Iceland, Iceland clothing – even waterproof pants for Iceland (!),  and all of the gadgets you should bring to Iceland.

So without further ado… here are my tips on what to pack for Iceland in June or Iceland in July.

iceland packing list


Iceland clothing

Water Proof Shells and Iceland outer wear

Sure, they won’t be the sexiest items in your wardrobe, but if you visit Seljalandsfoss, and the “hidden” waterfall Gljúfrabúi just 10 minutes walk from Seljalandsfoss, you’re going to want to make sure you have water proof pants to wear in Iceland! I can’t tell you how many other people I saw climbing out from Gljúfrabúi, completely drenched and looking miserable – and we were there on one of the warmest days of the year! Meanwhile, I was drive and splashing about in my shells – these are items you must bring to Iceland! Of all the items on this Iceland packing list, this one is right up there with the DSLR.

You WILL get sprayed by the waterfalls, and you won’t be happy if you’re wet for the rest of the day.

I wore a really like pair just like these Paradox Womens Waterproof Breathable Rain Pants (Large). I prefer really light ones because then you can just throw them in your bag without adding much weight, and they can be worn in both warm and cold weather. These are ideal to add to your packing for Iceland, so I strongly recommend them!

what to pack for Iceland
Pants for Iceland

Staying dry… barely!

You might have guessed already, but you’re also going to want a water proof jacket as well on your packing list for Iceland in July!

Again, I’d suggest an unlined waterproof shell jacket. You might want to get one size larger so you can choose to layer underneath or just wear it with a t-shirt for warm weather as well. This  The North Face Womens Venture 2 Jacket TNF Black – M is perfect for these types of trips and can be used in both warm and cold weather, making it a great jacket for Iceland.

iceland packing list
jacket for Iceland

Boots for Iceland

If you plan to go hiking in Iceland, I’d strongly recommend a good pair of hiking boots. Any packing for Iceland should include a sturdy pair of boots, no matter what. To be honest, I didn’t spend too much money on mine, and picked up a waterproof pair from Decathlon for only 38euro!! – for all those who don’t live in Europe, sorry! This ultra cheap retailer is not available for you! But here are a few I would recommend that don’t cost a fortune if you can’t shop at Decathlon:

iceland packing list
Merrell Women’s Azura Mid Waterproof Hiking Boot,Castle Rock/Purple,10.5 M US
iceland packing list
Columbia Women’s Newton Ridge Plus Waterproof Amped Hiking Boot, Elk, Mountain Red, 5.5 Regular US

One big tip on your boots – make sure they are WATER PROOF! Not water-resistant. Trust me, you’ll be glad your feet won’t be wet!

If you’re wondering what shoes to wear in Iceland, just know that I pretty much exclusively wore hiking boots… even when we went out to dinner. Hey, you’re gonna be out in nature, not attending any fashion shows, right? In any case, hiking books are a definitely must for your Iceland packing list.


A good day pack

Snaefellesnes peninsula
With my trusty Osprey pack

If you’re in Iceland you’ll probably spend half of your time driving and half of your time hiking, walking, etc, which is why I would strongly recommend having a good day pack. If you’re hiking you’ll want to make sure you bring layers with you, especially a waterproof layer in case it rains, and likely some water and snacks as well.

My favorite day pack is actually one that came along with my backpacking pack from Osprey, and is very similar to the Osprey Packs Quasar Daypack, Black. I like Osprey packs because they can pack a lot, are very light, and are very comfortable. Mine has traveled with me around the world to Indonesia, Iceland and South Africa, and is still in great shape. In my day pack I can usually fit a water bottle, an extra jacket, and my DSLR (and some snacks as well).

iceland packing list

Backpack for Iceland

Of course, you can be ULTRA prepared, and also bring a bag cover, like
Osprey Hi-Visibility Raincover, Electric Lime, Small to keep your backpack from getting soaked – but I’ll leave this one up to your discretion 😉 to add to your Iceland packing list

Mittens and gloves for Iceland… yes, even in summer

Ok, I know this item seems weird for the summer, but this is Iceland we are talking about. When we went whale watching, we got suited up from head to toe but with nothing to wear on our hands. By the end of the boat ride my hands were freezing and I so wished I had brought mittens along with me! I’d recommend mittens like Carhartt Women’s Quilts Insulated Breathable Mitt with Waterproof Wicking Insert, they can go with nearly anything, are breathable, and are ideal to throw in your bag!

iceland packing list

Gadgets to Pack for a trip to Iceland

A waterproof camera

The best option for a waterproof camera is a GoPro HERO5 Black. On our trip I brought Nikon DSLR, but sometimes when we got a bit too close to the waterfalls I was a bit nervous about it, so I pulled our GoPro instead. What I love about GoPro’s is that they can withstand a fair amount of abuse without getting damaged, they are incredibly light, and they have a fairly sharp picture. It probably goes without saying that a GoPro HERO5 Black is the perfect way to capture an adventure like Iceland, especially when you’re likely to get wet. 

iceland packing list

A kick-ass DSLR camera

This has got to be one of my favorite photos… colors of the grass, the sea, the mountains the house all come together perfectly… this photo sums up how beautiful Iceland is

I know, I know, this one is pretty expensive, but it is so worth it! Before I bought my Nikon 5300 all of my vacation photos were from my smart phone. Smart phones do take pretty good pictures nowadays, but they are still completely incomparable with the types of shots a good DSLR can get you. Since splurging and buying my camera I have never regretted it. My pictures are sharp, colorful and honestly a joy to look at post-vacation.

I would recommend buying the camera body and the lens separately. I have a Nikon D5300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS Body Only (Black) and Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras. If you are new to DSLR’s or trying to find a good one, let me explain below why these are great!

First off the camera body:  D5300 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with Built-in Wi-Fi and GPS Body Only (Black)

iceland packing list

  • I love that this model has built-in WiFi and GPS. Once you download the Nikon app to your phone, you can easily use your phone to remotely take photos, and to download your best snaps to your phone – perfect if you are traveling without a laptop and want to do some ‘gramming on the go.
  • GPS is also a must have feature for me – it makes sorting through my images on Google Photos so much easier when I can just search by location!

The lens: Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED Vibration Reduction Zoom Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras

    • This is an 18-105mm lens which is not the tightest zoom you can get, but it is pretty good on the go, and captures detail even at a distance. I’m not the kind of person that wants to travel with 2-3 different camera lenses – that is too much weight and too much value for me to carry at one time! Once you have the pics on your computer or phone you can still zoom quite far into the photo without losing much quality.

iceland packing list

glacial lagoon

This camera wouldn’t just make it on my Iceland packing list, but ALL of my packing lists. It has been my best travel buddy (besides my boyfriend), since I bought it.

For a look at some of my best shots, check out these blog posts

A trip to Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

The trip of a lifetime: a 6 day South African safari with Viva Safaris

A pair of binoculars

One thing that I really looked forward to on our trip to Iceland was spotting puffins – luckily for us we were there during the right season. But… these little bird are faster than you might imagine, and in many cases you won’t get too close to them. So, I’d recommend getting a Bushnell Perma Focus 7x 50mm Wide Angle Binocular.  I wish I would have had binoculars when we went to Iceland, but luckily we brought them along for our South African safari having learned out lesson in Iceland.

iceland packing list

Power Adapter

Asking yourself “what kind of adapter do I need for Iceland?”. The answer is that Iceland uses the same kind of adapter as the rest of Europe, so if you’ve got one of these, you’re already solid.

what to pack for Iceland

Books to read before going to Iceland

Where would I ever be without my handy Lonely Planet? I buy one for every destination we visit, and 9 times out of 10 its my best friend in the planning process – besides reading other blogs of course! They say one of the best parts of traveling is the planning process, and the excitement is just as enjoyable as the trip itself. Buying my Lonely Planet each time definitely contributes to my enjoyment, and they look good on the bookshelf to boot!

iceland packing list
Lonely Planet Iceland (Travel Guide)

The other book I’d recommend is Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition. My dad was coincidentally reading this when we visited Iceland together, and read out of this book to us while we drove around, explaining to us why you hardly see any trees in Iceland.

Whenever I visit a new country I find myself asking: what is driving the economy here? What are the main industries? How did the culture develop? Collapse is not solely focused on Iceland, but has a chapter dedicated to Iceland that tells about how the vikings landed there, how they pillaged the land, and how that society collapsed afterward, an interesting read for anyone interested in how things got to be the way they are there.

iceland packing listThat’s it! I hope this helped you know how to begin your packing for Iceland! If this Iceland packing list helped you, please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear from you!

Looking for other posts on Iceland? Check out these

Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click-through and make a purchase.

Planning your trip to Iceland: what to know before you go

What to know before you plan a trip to Iceland

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland, you might have realized its one of those places you might want to plan ahead for, especially if you visit during peak season. Planning a trip to Iceland will probably take you a bit more time up front, especially if you are like me and typically don’t plan at all before a trip.

Spoiler alert: this post mentions how expensive Iceland is! If you’re trying to save more money, check out these free things to do in Reykjavik!

Looking for more Iceland travel tips? Check out these posts:

When it comes to food… just forget about restaurants… or save up for months ahead of time

Prior to visiting Iceland I heard about how expensive it was. Yeah, yeah, I thought… I’d read it all on travel blogs from people who travel full time. Of course it would be expensive for people who travel full time, but for someone with a full time job like me, it would be no problem right?

WRONG! Restaurants in Iceland are so expensive… they made me feel like a pauper.

Here’s are examples from actual meals we ate:

  • 1 spaghetti bolognese – 19euro
  • 1 beer – 8 euro
  • 1 burger – 26 euro

Sadly, I’m not exaggerating on the prices. So if you want to eat out, choose wisely. And if you want to splurge on nice Icelandic restaurants, then more power to you…. but good luck! The cost of food is one of my main Iceland travel tips to watch out for.

Which leads me to my next point…

You’re gonna want to hit up the grocery stores

Every day in Iceland started off the same for us. Drive to the nearest (hopefully discount grocery store), load up on bread, cheese, sandwich meat, apples and crackers, and load those goodies into the car for a picnic lunch. Buying your own food at grocery stores for lunch (and also for dinner…) is one of the best options in Iceland for a few reasons.

  1. Iceland is f**king expensive. There is no such thing as a cheap trip to Iceland. There are just ways to save a bit of money
  2. It will be really hard to find a restaurant to eat at during lunch time (unless you are in Reykjavik)

Instead, you’re gonna want to load up your car with snacks and lunch supplies so you’re ready for a picnic whenever hunger strikes.

There are a few discount grocery stores you should visit when you have the chance:

  1.                                                                                                                                                                     Bonus – best known for its logo with a piggy that looks like its just dropped acid
  2. Kronan – I guess this logo is a smiling lemon or something?
  3. Netto – with an apple logo (no, not that apple logo)

And I say when you have the chance because outside of the Golden Circle the grocery stores can be pretty few and far between. By few and far between I mean sometimes at least an hour between grocery stores. Sometimes more, sometimes less. So stop when you can.

Check out this post for a complete Iceland budget break down

…and you should consider eating at gas stations

Yes, you read that correctly. Anyone who knows me personally is probably sure to know I would never normally recommend eating at gas stations – they don’t typically offer my preferred cuisine 😉

But, when in Iceland, all bets are off. Hit up that gas station for your meal if you can’t or didn’t make it to the grocery store. Iceland actually offers some damn good gas station hot dogs, which I am not ashamed I say I ate at least four of during our time there. In a pinch, a gas station hot dog is a cheap and easy option to solve your hunger! The hotdogs there are pretty similar to the ones they sell at Ikea.

hotdog iceland

Besides the decent hot dogs, many gas stations in Iceland (at least in the more populous areas) offer pretty decent looking take-away meals. Once you’re outside of the busy areas these meals might be a bit questionable (I’d stick to the hotdog if I were you), but at least they are good for a pastry and a coffee in the morning.

While you’re at it, fill up your tank

Not only grocery stores, but gas station too are few and far between. You don’t want to be in the middle of nowhere running out of gas in your car. Do yourself a favor and load up on gas whenever you can so you don’t find yourself stranded.

Iceland is not a place to be spontaneous with your lodging (unless you’re hitchhiking!) – Book ahead!

I’m not especially known for my planning skills… I have other strengths 😉 But luckily I read up on enough blogs prior to our visit to Iceland to realize in time that I needed to book our accommodations, rental car and tours well ahead of time (we visited end of July/early August).

During our visit to the south east of the country to visit Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon we stayed in was could loosely be called a hotel in the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The four of us (keep in mind that is my boyfriend, brother, dad and myself), stayed in what was closer to a dorm room (albeit clean) with a shared shower. Not shared between the four of us. But shared with other guests. The price? €250 per night. PER NIGHT! Visiting Iceland seriously made me question how far I have come in my life. Oh, you just got a promotion at work and own a house? Well, better rethink things, cause in Iceland you’re gonna be dead BROKE! Or at least you’re gonna feel pretty broke if you visit during peak season. We were luckily to have 7 days of full sun and one day of 20 celsius weather though, so we paid a premium for the weather.

Because Iceland has such a low density of inhabitants across the country, there just aren’t enough accommodations outside of Reykjavik to handle all the demand from tourists in the busy summer months. The farther away from the Golden Circle and Reykjavik you venture, the more limited and expensive the accommodation will become. To make things more challenging, we were traveling with four people – if you travel with two it might be easier, but still count on booking ahead. I booked all of our accommodation about 1.5 months in advance to our trip to Iceland and I paid a PREMIUM! The only other hotel which was available in the area would have cost us €750 per night. If you plan to visit Skaftafell National Park or Jokulsarlon, make sure you already have a place to stay, (likely in Vik or Kirkjubæjarklaustur), and make sure you book ahead of time… please! As mentioned, when I booked 1.5 months in advance, almost everything was already sold out. So, if you visit in high season, you’ll probably want to book you hotels at least 2 months in advance (maybe even earlier) to get the best deals.

When you look for places to stay in Iceland, keep in mind that many of the hotels include shared bathrooms (with other guests) like the one I mentioned. This is typical of many lodgings there. And often you’ll just have to choose your lodging based on where you want to go and because you need a place to sleep.

And as a final point, when you’re looking for places to stay, DEFINITELY CONSIDER AirBnB’s or any hotel with a kitchen in the room! Having a kitchen is going to save you a lot of money if you are able to eat both breakfast and dinner where you stay. Cooking in our apartments helped us to save quite a bit of money. Buying groceries for one meal probably cost us between €15-20 euro, while a meal for each of us would have easily cost €25.

Plan your Iceland itinerary ahead of time

When you plan your trip to Iceland, go there with a game plan. Of course you can be spontaneous along the way, but since you’ll have to book your accommodation ahead of time, you’re best off having a list of highlights or activities you want to hit up every day.

For example, I knew we’d go to Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon at the end of the day, so we planned in out hike to Svartifoss in the morning/early afternoon since they were in the same general direction. If you visit in summer, you’ll have ample day light to see as much as you can, but it can also be a bit overwhelming not to have a plan at all and just fly by the seat of your pants… there are so many highlights, it can be hard to choose! Anyway, plan your route so you can get hotels in the right locations for where you want to visit.


Book your Iceland rental car ahead of time

Are you getting a sense of what the biggest tip is? Plan ahead! Especially if you cannot drive a manual (ahem, American friends), you’re gonna need to find yourself a car, and fast. When you book don’t forget to get a car big enough to fit all your gear and bags. Touring Iceland by car is by far the best way to get around Iceland. I see a lot of questions online about doing a guided tour in Iceland, but I would strongly suggest you drive Iceland yourself. It isn’t a hard country to navigate, and you’ll be happy with the freedom driving yourself gives you.

iceland car

We booked our car through Guide to Iceland Car Rental, and had no problems with our car. Make sure you rent a car that is allowed to go off road if you plan to go off road. Sounds pretty straight forward but a lot of people forget to do this. Driving off-road without a 4×4 is illegal in Iceland and is actually punishable by death.

Just kidding, but it really is illegal, and knowing this country, you’ll probably be slapped with an expensive fine.

Pack for Iceland appropriately… duh!

If you plan on getting anywhere near a waterfall, bring waterproof clothes and boots for christsakes. I can’t tell you how many people I saw wearing just jeans near a waterfall and walking away soaking wet. Yes, a rainsuit might not be the sexiest look… it sure wasn’t for me. But, you’ll be glad you can experience all that nature has to offer without worrying about getting wet and cold if you pack appropriately.

This is probably most important for your feet, so invest in a decent pair of waterproof boots before you go, even if you visit in summer time.

I didn’t want to invest too much money, so bought this pair at Decathlon for 38 euros. 38 freaking euros for waterproof boots – how can you go wrong? Sure the stunk like glue at first (now they stink like feet…). And let me tell you, my feet stayed dry and warm the whole time, even while splashing around and jumping through streams.

Remember, there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing 😉

If you are looking for more tips on what to pack for Iceland, don’t miss this other post on my blog.

Don’t be dumb… be respectful

When we visited Iceland I read several articles about how annoyed the locals are with all the uninformed tourists who visit their country. Of course, the country relies in large part on tourism, but please don’t be one of those people that doesn’t book lodging ahead of time and knocks on some poor Icelandic person’s door for a place to stay. And don’t resort to pooping on someone’s farmland because you think you’re one with nature.

There is no reason not to plan ahead properly for your trip… or to poop on someone’s property for that matter. It should go without saying, but people actually live here, so don’t mess up the place. Or pick moss out on a hill side to spell out “Send Nudes.”

Thanks to the NY Post for this depressing/hilarious photo

Respect nature and the signage… don’t do something you’re not allowed to

This is a big one but one that sadly can take people’s lives. Iceland has extremely beautiful nature but it can come with its dangers. If you visit the basalt column beach near Vik, you’ll see a sign listing the recent tourist deaths from people who were swept out to sea by a sneaker wave.

If you visit Kirkjufell you’ll learn not to go without a guide because some hikers have slipped off this very steep mountain and died.

If a sign says not to do something, don’t do it. The rules apply to everyone! We all think we are the ones who won’t get hurt, but its best to take these signs seriously so you can leave your trip to Iceland with only happy memories.

Also, it might not hurt to stay up to date with Icelandic news when you’re there. When we visited there was a 50% chance Katla volcano would blow. As we were…um, delighted to find out, Katla is Iceland’s most powerful volcano. And we were staying only 30km away. Thankfully it didn’t blow its top, but if you visit you should probably stay up to date on the news in case there is a volcano warning so you can have a bit of time to build your mental escape route 😉

What did I miss? Was this post helpful to you in planning your trip to Iceland? If so, please let me know in the comments below!
plan your trip to iceland

 Looking for more Iceland travel tips? Don’t miss these posts:

Hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

Whale watching in Iceland with Laki Tours

How to visit Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in Iceland

How to visit Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon

As soon as I saw the image of Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in my Lonely Planet Iceland, I knew we had to make it there. In fact, I pretty much planned our entire route through the south of Iceland to lead up to a grand finale at Jökulsárlón… its true!

Without exaggerating, the glacier lagoon is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited. Like so much of Iceland it is other-worldly and makes your existence seem tiny – just like seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland˚.  It’s also quite famous for being a film location. Apparently some James Bond movies have been shot there, but hell, I’ve never seen them so I’m just trusting what I read online 😉

glacial lagoon
whee! off to the glacier lagoon I go

Looking to plan your visit to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon? Look no further, I’ve got you covered with all your basic info (and inspirational pics) below! This Iceland lake is more than worth the visit.

Looking for more amazing things to do in Iceland? Check out these posts:

First things first… Jökulsárlón is stunning beyond words … and best of all, none of these images are  edited – this is really how it looks!

glacial lagoon
Looking at Jökulsárlón from the bridge you drive over to reach it – I couldn’t stop staring.. the colors were incredible

glacial lagoon
Another one of this stunning view… just to make sure you’re really inspired to visit 😉
glacial lagoon
How blue can they be?

glacial lagoon

glacial lagoon

Glacial lagoon

glacial lagoon
I call this one… the screw

Where is Jökulsárlón?

Jökulsárlón is located in the south-east of Iceland, and the closest nearby towns are Hof and Hofn. It is about a 5-6 drive from Reykjavik, so I’d definitely recommend making an overnight stop on the way there and on the way back if you don’t plan to drive the entire ring road.

Visiting Iceland? Here are 10 experiences you can’t miss!

The glacier lagoon is actually a lake that is connected to Vatnajökull glacier. Icebergs break off from the glacier and drift toward the sea on their way to their final destination – melting into the ocean of course. The result is truly spectacular.

Due to its proximity to Vatnajökull  National Park, it is ideal to combine a trip to Svartifoss (at the national park) and the glacier lagoon in one day – they are only located around a 45 minute drive from each other.

How can I book a tour of the Jökulsárlón Iceland?

We booked our Jökulsárlón boat tour through Icelagoon.is and did an amphibian tour of the lagoon – prices are around $50 per person – which is COMPLETELY worth it!

glacial lagoon
Our cruise ship
glacial lagoon
Our great tour guide, teaching us about the lagoon. We all had a taste of the ice he’s holding – yum!

Our guide was really knowledgable and imparted all his wisdom about the lagoon on us. As an added bonus, one of his colleagues who was patrolling the water for ice in front of our boat picked up that block of ice he’s holding and we all got to have a taste. The glacial ice is some of the purest in the world! Yum.

glacial lagoon
Our ice patrolman

If you’re lucky, you might catch some seals taking a nap on the icebergs during your tour. Seals often swim into Jökulsárlón for protection from orcas – so you might find them resting after surviving a long chase! Orcas apparently don’t enter the lagoon, so seals are safe here.

glacial lagoon
Spoiler alert! You can also hold the ice block yourself.. but beware.. it is f’king cold!

As with everything in Iceland, make sure to book well in advance during high season. It would be terrible to drive all the way there only to find all the tours filled. I booked about one week in advance during the beginning of August and could only choose a few times in the early evening on our selected day – so be sure to plan ahead! That being said, visiting at the end of the day meant that we had gorgeous light hitting the lagoon for our entire tour, making for some pretty incredible pictures.

Where should I stay for a visit to the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon?

We stayed in Kirkjubæjarklaustur (try saying that ten times fast… or better yet, try saying it just once!), which was about an hour and forty-five minute drive away. For us it was perfect since the glacier lagoon was as far east as we would drive before turning back toward Reykjavik and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula . Kirkjubæjarklaustur is pretty much the only “big” town nearby the glacier lagoon. And by big town, I mean a place where you can stop and get gas an a hot dog. That’s pretty much it. So, whether you stay there or not, you might want to stop there to get some food on your way to the glacier lagoon cause you’ll hardly see anywhere else in between – and it is the last place you can stop for gas!

Find hotels in Kirkjubæjarklaustur

We stayed at Klausterhof Guest House, which was just OK. We visited during very high season so we had to share what amounted to a four person dorm with a bathroom that was shared with other guests. Not my preferred lodging situation, but hey, it was clean and it gave us a place to stay in the area, so it worked out alright.

If you plan to visit, please make sure you book your hotel well in advance. I booked 2 months prior to our visit and Klausterhof was the only hotel left in the area (there are very few), and I got the last room.

And lastly… don’t forget to visit Diamond Beach!

Just before you cross the bridge (if you approach the glacier lagoon from the west), turn right to visit Diamond Beach, a glacier beach in Iceland. As the name suggests, you’ll find ice littering the black sand beach. Not the ice you wear though, the ice that melts 😉

diamond beach
One of the diamonds that washed ashore
diamond beach
hi from Diamond Beach!

Some of the icebergs that didn’t melt yet find their way out to the sea where they get washed up on Diamond Beach, and melt over a few days.

We saw a little seal washed up on the shore here. My immediate thought seeing it laying there on the beach was “Oh no, its dying… how can people be taking a picture?” Well, stupid me. It was apparently just resting, likely after an orca chase. So I lied, we did see a seal, but just not on an iceberg.

Pro tip: sometimes Diamond Beach is referred to as Iceberg Beach

Have you visited Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon? What was your experience like?


glacial lagoon

Looking for more posts on Iceland? Don’t miss these:

The Ulimate Iceland Packing list

What to know before you visit Iceland

Hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, Iceland

 Hiking in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is often called Iceland in miniature, and for good reason. Its landscape has nearly all the same features you can find in the Golden Circle, jam-packed into one arm stretching out from the west coast of the country. Luckily, this area still isn’t as popular with other tourists as the Golden Circle, so you’re more likely to have nature to yourself. We did see the odd tour bus coming through, but mostly the visitors jumped out, took pictures, and jumped back in the bus, leaving the hiking paths clear for us.

Spending a few days hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is the best way to see all the magic of Iceland in one compact area – it’s also ideal to combine this with a trip to the Golden Circle if you’re short on time, but if you have enough time, I’d recommend an extended self-drive itinerary. And, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is where we spotted a pod of 7 orcas on our whale watching tour, so if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will! When if you just do a Snaefellsnes day trip, it will be well worth the trip to this beautiful area of west Iceland.

If we could have, we would have stayed longer here and would have loved to rent a camper van to stay in along the way – for more info on what that experience is like, check out Its All Bee’s post on traveling Iceland via camper van.

Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Kirkjufell… looks just like the pictures!

When you visit the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the first place you’ll probably want to check off your list is iconic Kirkjufell – the mountain (more like a hill) that is on dozens of postcards. Be aware that you can’t really access Kirkjufell since the land around it is private property. It’s also apparently quite dangerous to climb and a tourist unfortunately died there in July 2017. So, either satisfy yourself by stopping to take pictures, or arrange a guided climb of Kirkjufell.

After deciding not to take our chances at Kirkufell we headed to Snaefellsjokull National Park to do some hiking. Snaefellsjokull is best known for its glacier of the same name made infamous in Journey to the Center of the Earth, but we weren’t willing to shell out a couple hundred euros for a guided glacier tour, so we looked around for the best free way to enjoy nature: hiking!

Visiting Iceland? Here are 10 experiences you can’t miss!

Thankfully I stumbled upon this blog post from Canyons to Clouds which informed some of our hiking around the peninsula. I’d say hiking is one of the best things to do in Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but maybe I’m biased because I always love hiking!

Looking for more Iceland travel tips? Don’t miss these posts:

Hike the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in West Iceland: First stop, Saxholl volcanic crater

Sure, it might be a short hike, but it is still worth a visit! Climb up the steps built around the crater to get sweeping views of the area including to the shoreline. It’s easy to find from the main road through Snaefellsjokull national park.

Saxholl crater
View toward the mountains and glacier from Saxholl crater
Saxholl Crater
The stairs up the crater – photo borrowed from Visit West Iceland

Hike Saxholl to Bárðarkista on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Once you’ve done your jaunt up Saxholl, cross the street toward the mountains to hike up to Bárðarkista – but keep a good eye out for the route! This hike will take you about 3-4 hours and is about 5km each way. We got lost on the route and started heading up toward the ice patches instead, hoping to make it to the top for a glimpse of the glacier. It made us a bit nervous straying from the path – were we trampling on any delicate plant life? Most of the walk was a bit bouncy from stepping on what seemed like moss mattresses on the way up… We tried to tread lightly and hope for the least impact on the environment.

Snaefellsnes peninsula
Whoo! Beginning the hike with lots of energy.. which I would need!

Unfortunately we didn’t make it all the way to the top – once we got to the ice patches it only got steeper and steeper so we decided to turn back, but it was a great hike anyway. Click here to download a map with hiking routes of the area. 

Along this hike we only saw 2 other people – and those 2 other people were quite a distance away. So, if you’re looking for a quiet hike to enjoy the silence of nature alone, this route is for you. Hiking here is one of the best things to do in west Iceland.

Psst, if you love hiking, check out the best hiking gifts

Snaefellsnes peninsula
See that little ice pocket on the right? Took us 2.5 hours to get up there!
Snaefellsnes peninsula
See that little bump in the background? That’s Saxholl crater!
Snaefellsness peninsula
Crossing the stream on the way back down

Hike the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: The beautiful walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi

This was one of my favorite hikes we did on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. Start in either Hellnar or Arnarstapi to walk the coastline between the two towns. Along this 5km round trip route you’ll walk past lava fields, rock arches, charming houses, and the breeding grounds of Arctic gulls. Apparently this 2.5km track is actually an ancient main road that used to be crossed by horseback. This route is also one of the most popular hikes on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and one of the best things do to in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, so you can definitely expect to run into more tourists here, but likely it won’t be so crowded that it disturbs you. I think the hike from Hellnar to Arnarstapi is one of the best things to do in western Iceland.

The pictures below are in chronological order of what you will see on your route from Hellnar toward Arnarstapi.

Starting from Hellnar this archway is one of the first things you’ll see.. just be careful not to be pooped on by one of the gulls swooping overhead!
A bright house to add some charm to the lava fields and glacier… perfect Iceland
Snaefellsnes Peninsula
Lava fields between Hellnar and Arnarstapi


Snaefellesnes peninsula
The water in Iceland is so blue when the sun is out… the route from Hellnar to Arnarstapi is just gorgeous
Gatklettur near Arnarstapi
The stunning coastline around Arnarstapi
The beautiful harbor of Arnarstapi – how blue is that water?
This has got to be one of my favorite photos… colors of the grass, the sea, the mountains the house all come together perfectly… this photo sums up how beautiful Iceland is
Houses in the village of Arnarstapi

Don’t forget to treat yourself to a well deserved coffee break on your halfway point at either of the villages!

If you’re looking for more incredible places to visit that are as beautiful as this hike, check out the best lagoons to visit in Iceland

Visit the black sand beach of Djúpalónssandur and hike the coastline along it

For an other worldly experience, visit Djúpalónssandur and stroll its black sand beaches and curious rock formations covering the coast line. The black rocks formed along the coast would be the perfect setting for a sci-fi film and visiting them helps you understand how the Icelandic people have come to believe in trolls and other mystical creatures. Who knows what could be lurking in the pockets of these rocks? Maybe a fairy, maybe a troll? Or maybe nothing most likely, but visiting this area will surely tap into an imagination you might not have visited since childhood.

After visiting the beach you can head out on one of the several hiking trails that hug the coast line. Though not as visually impressive as the walk from Hellnar to Arnarstapi, it’s still a lovely way to spend a morning hiking the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

The black beach with the glacier looming in the background
I was waiting for an alien to pop out here
Snaefellsnes peninsula
Walking the coastline along the beach
More eery rock formations along the coast… do yourself a favor and stay back from the edge

You can follow the past for a 6km route each way, or turn around whenever you like. This is a great hike to combine the same day as the route from Hellnar to Arnarstapi since they are a short drive from each other.

Where to stay in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

As you might have already figured out, there aren’t tons of hotels in Iceland. So here are some quick tips on Snaefellsnes hotels.

Hotels in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: We stayed at a comfortable AirBnB in Olafsvik, which turned out to be perfect for us since we also did whale watching out of Olafsvik. Since Iceland is so expensive I’d strongly recommend booking AirBnB’s if possible so you can cook for yourself to save money.

Actually, there aren’t really any hotels in Olafsvik, so opt to stay in guesthouses instead where you can cook your own meals and bring in your own groceries.

Olafsvik does have a super market, albeit not a discount chain, and also offers a few small restaurants and a very delicious bakery.


The small town of Olafsvik, seen from the water

Of course we couldn’t see it all on our trip to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, but we did manage to hike pretty much all day every day which was a big plus in my book. Still, I’d love to return to Iceland another time to do more hiking and see more of what this beautiful country has to offer.

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Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Whale Watching in Iceland with Láki Tours

Whale tour Iceland

Iceland is incredible for its landscape, nature and its wildlife – but some of that wildlife lives offshore. Whale watching in Iceland is one of the best ways to experience this nature first hand.

One of the highlights of our trip to Iceland was a whale watching tour with Láki Tours out of Olafsvik on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, about 2.5 hours north of Reykjavik. Seeing whales in Iceland was incredible. Let me start by saying I’m a huge fan of whale watching, but I was honestly a bit unsure of investing in a tour in Iceland. Partly because we already had such an amazing experience humpback whale watching in Maui, and partly because Iceland was already so expensive and I wasn’t sure I could justify spending €80 more euros on a tour after a week of shelling out what felt like every dime in my bank account.

whale watching in iceland

Finally, I was convinced to go whale watching with Láki Tours since there is the possibility of seeing up to four different types of whales in the fjord off of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. On Láki Tours you have the chance to see humpbacks, minke whales, sperm whales, and orcas. ORCAS! As usual I found the tour through my trusty Lonely Planet, and once I saw the opportunity for killer whale watching Iceland, I was convinced.

The last time I saw an orca in real life was when I was kid visiting Six Flags and saw a trained orca in a tank – which in retrospect is completely depressing and I’d never do now that I know better. I’d argue that our tour with Láki Tours was the best whale watching Iceland has to offer – I mean, did you see that we saw orcas?! Ok, I’ll try to get over my excitement now.

Looking for more adventures in Iceland? Don’t miss my other Iceland tips:

Where to see whales in Iceland

We visited Iceland during the first week of August, which is not the best time of year for orca spotting, but my hopes were high. We set off from Olafsvik at 10am, and spent about 2 hours in the waters of the fjord spotting only a few minke whales along the way.

Not that minke whales aren’t special or anything… but hey, they aren’t the wolves of the ocean that orcas are. After two hours of scouting the waters (our tour was 3 hours), the boat had already started turning back toward Olafsvik and I started to lose hope of an orca spotting. Some days you just don’t get lucky of course. Just as I was turning toward the captain’s nest to head inside to get warm again, I saw the captain excitedly toss aside his binoculars and radio the other crew members – orcas were in sight!

whale watching in iceland

We had the pleasure of finding a pod of seven orcas (!) which we got to view on our whale watching in Iceland. Seeing orcas in the wild so close to our boat was one of the high points – of which there were many – of our trip to Iceland. Whales have a way of taking my breath away. It is incredible to hear them blow water out of their blowhole as they surface. What was more incredible was seeing a calf with its mother in the wild. Seeing orcas in Iceland was truly one of the best moments of our trip… and there were a lot of incredible moments in Iceland!

Swimming, swimming, swimming

Read more: Hiking in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

Whale watching in Iceland with Láki Tours

Iceland Whale watching tours with Láki Tours leave from both Olafsvik and Grundarfjörður, and cost €80 at the time of publication.

What I appreciated about Láki Tours was how knowledgable the staff on board was. I’m fascinated to learn about whales, especially orcas, and their knowledge of the whales we saw was impressive. Whale watching trips in Iceland are a must add on to your Iceland itinerary – don’t miss an opportunity to go orca whale watching in Iceland!

Laki tours
Look for the bus!

What many people don’t know about orcas is that they are at the top of the oceanic food chain, even eating great white sharks! Orcas are also incredibly smart, and teach each other when they learn new hunting tricks.

The dorsal fins on orcas are HUGE – maybe that’s how the crew spotted them from so far away. An orca’s dorsal fin can but nearly 2 meters – that’s over 6 feet long!whale watching in iceland

Did you know that male orcas live with their mothers for life? The only time they ever leave is during mating season – besides that, they’re always by mom’s side – real mama’s boys.

Book your whale watching in Iceland with Láki Tours

Make sure to wear warm clothing, but know that you will get a warm suit to wear over your clothes – pretty much the same outfit you see the people wearing on Deadliest Catch. Trust me, you’ll need this outfit. The boat ride will be cold – really cold. This was one of the only moments I wish I brought gloves and a beanie with me to Iceland. We were there in August so I didn’t need these warm items at any other time, but I did wish I had them on the whale watching tour.

Feeling sexy in my warm suit, ready to see whales in Iceland

Iceland whale watching season

Wondering when is the best time to see whales in Iceland? Whales are best seen in Iceland in the summer time, between April and September, there are even 20 different types of whales you can see off the coast of Iceland! I would definitely recommend to plan your trip around whale watching if this is something important to you. I don’t know any other place where I could have seen orcas!

orca iceland
Seeing orcas in Iceland is incredible – add this to your Iceland itinerary!

For more info on when to see whales in Iceland click here

I might add here that I was definitely was not paid to join this whale watching tour – I’m just a satisfied customer who wants to share with others 🙂

Thanks Láki Tours for adding whale watching in Iceland to the highlights of our trip!

What to bring while whale watching in Iceland

When you go orca watching in Iceland, you’re going to want to make sure you bring the right gear to not only spot whales in Iceland, but also to stay comfortable. Even if you visit Iceland in summer like I did, you’ll get pretty cold on the boat – this is Iceland after all!

Spotting whales: Don’t forget to bring a pair of binoculars with you so you can spot whales from a distance. You’ll also want a GoPro to film your whale watching experience – you don’t want to miss a photo of a whale breaching! I was very happy I brought my DSLR as well – I put it into sports mode and got dozens and dozens of photos of the orcas in Iceland – that’s how I made that cool little gif at the top of this post.

Staying warm: It gets pretty cold on the whale watching boat, but luckily you’ll be given a warm body suit. That suit however won’t keep your head and your hands warm, so be sure to bring a beanie and a pair of gloves. My hands felt frozen – I had my hands out the whole time to take pictures, of course – and I really wished I had brought a pair of gloves!

Planning your trip to Iceland? Don’t miss these tips:

Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 

Hiking in California around Castle Crags State Park & Mount Shasta

Castle Crags State Park

There is an area of California that is often overlooked, since it’s not within an easy day trip from the Bay Area or Los Angeles. It’s up north – way up north. I’m talking about Mt. Shasta. The area surrounding Mount Shasta as some of the best hikes in California, and is also home to some of the most incredible waterfalls in California.

If you’re willing to take the trek, your trip near Shasta will be well worth it. The trails aren’t busy, and the campgrounds are relatively easy to hike. Castle Crags State Park alone is worth a weekend trip, and is underrated compared to the beauty of the park. If you plan to camp, don’t miss this list of camping essentials.

Castle Crags State Park
Castle Crags

In this blog post you’ll find tips on the best hikes in California near Mount Shasta, Mt Shasta camping, and waterfalls in California around Castle Crags State Park.

castle crags

Looking for more inspiration for your California trip? Check out these posts:

The best hikes around Castle Crags State Park

Hedge Creek Falls

Warm up with a short walk to Hedge Creek Falls,  a waterfall that you’d never guess would be located right off of I-5. Pull off the road at Siskiyou Avenue in Dunsmuir, and you’ll be able to park your car right next to the freeway to start your hike.

Hedge Creek Falls is a bit busy, simply because it is such a short easy hike. That being said, we were up there on Memorial Day weekend, so I’m guessing it would be less busy at other times.

Hedge Creek Falls looks like a waterfall straight out of a movie, or at least a waterfall that would be typical in Iceland!

Mossbrae Falls

mossbrae falls
Doesn’t Mossbrae Falls look straight out of a movie?

Mossbrae Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever seen. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I’ve seen a lot of waterfalls in my life, and Mossbrae Falls really stood out amongst other waterfalls in California, or any waterfalls I’ve seen in place like Maui, Indonesia, or Iceland.

Mossbrae falls flows into the Sacramento River over a mossy wall that is approximately 50 feet tall by 175 feet wide. The effect is just magical. Mossbrae Falls looks like something straight out of Ferngully.

Reaching Mossbrae Falls on the other hand is a bit strange. Sure, you could call it a Northern California hike, but it is more of a walk along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks.

If you look on AllTrails, you’ll see that they’ve noted that this trail is closed. I suspect they note that for safety reasons, but if you go there yourself you’ll see there are many visitors to Mossbrae Falls.

To reach Mossbrae Falls you’ll need to park your car along Dunsmuir Avenue, and walk through the neighborhood of Shasta Retreat. Once you reach the railroad tracks, head right and follow the tracks for about twenty five minutes until you reach the bridge. If you don’t hear them already, the waterfalls will be on your right side about one hundred feet before the train bridge.

Please DO NOT walk on the tracks themselves. This walk is incredibly dangerous if you do not have your wits about you – this is an operating railroad! There is enough room on either side of the train tracks to walk on the rocks next to the tracks – you have enough space in most places to stay at least six feet away from the tracks.

mossbrae falls
Lookin’ shady at Mossbrae Falls

When we were there we saw plenty of people walking along the tracks themselves, which shocked me, considering that there was plenty of room around the tracks to walk. Anyway, please pay attention and remember that it takes a very long time for a train to come to a complete stop, so it won’t be able to brake in time for you!

Anyway, enough of the warnings. Mossbrae is one of the most beautiful sites I saw around Mount Shasta, and is a must-do if you’re at Castle Crags State Park. Mossbrae Falls is also relatively easy for all ages – we saw visitors across the age spectrum. Just be sure that you have decent shoes on, as it is pretty easy to twist your ankle while walking along the rocks next to the railroad.

Castle Crags Trail

castle crags state park
Yup, you can hike all the way up to the crags

Length: 6.5 miles out-and-back

Elevation gain: 2,135 feet

Granite crags tower above the Sacramento River between Dunsmuir and Castella – and you can hike all the way to the top. Welcome to Castle Crags State Park!

These dramatic crags make for a beautiful and heart-pounding day hike. According to the state parks site, these crags are more than 170 million years old.


castle crags
This looks more like Yosemite than what you’d expect for Shasta!

You can hike from the base at the campsites of Castle Crags State Park all the way up. The trip will take between 4-5 hours round trip from the campgrounds, depending on how often you stop and how quickly you’re hiking. In total the hike is about 10 miles round trip, and you’ll gain well over 2,000 feet. You can also start from the Vista Point parking lot to shave off a mile in each direction, and some of that elevation gain. But what’s the fun in that?

The start of the Castle Crags Trail is a butt-burner. It’s a steep uphill hike that will have your legs aching in no time. Be sure to bring plenty of water, especially in the summer months.

castle crags
This was the most epic lunch view on the Castle Crags trail

As you wind your way up the hill, the crags and Crag Dome will start to come into view, and suddenly you’ll be amongst the crags looking out over the hills and valley below. This is the perfect location for a lunch spot. Perched in the crags, you’ll feel like you’re getting a view that only birds usually get. A view like this is what makes the Castle Crags Trail a great northern California hike, and one of the best hikes in California in general.

From this spot, you’ll continue following the trail which requires a bit of scrambling, although the scrambling sections are relatively limited. I wouldn’t suggest this hike for anyone who isn’t sure footed, or anyone without decent walking shoes with them. Since the way up is fairly steep, the hike down is a knee buster. Those with knee problems should keep that in mind.

castle dome
Castle Dome

The trail leads all the way to Castle Dome, which you can climb at your own risk. I wouldn’t, considering that there are huge drop-offs all around Castle Dome. I personally stuck to the main trail, and that was both strenuous and gorgeous enough for me.

Root Creek Trail Hike

root creek falls
Root Creek Falls at Castle Crags State Park

Length: 4.5 miles out-and-back

Elevation gain: 816 feet

The other beautiful, and less strenuous hike, you can do in Castle Crags State Park is the Root Creek Trail. Root Creek starts at the Vista Point (same as the Castle Crags Trail), but forks to the right while the Castle Crags trail forks to the left.

Anyone interested in seeing waterfalls in California definitely needs to check out this hike. Root Creek Falls is a multi-tiered waterfall that is seemingly tumbling out of the crags above it.  The beginning of the hike is easy and flat, making it a great recovery hike the day after you do Castle Crags. As you follow the trail, you’ll wind up next to Root Creek, a rushing creek with rocks and trees covered in moss making it look like something out of a fairytale.

root creek
Root Creek looks pretty magical, right?

If you follow the creek for a little while, you’ll feel like the trail dead-ends – don’t be alarmed! Just head up the left bank next to the creek, and soon you’ll see a well-worn trail that will lead to all the way to an impressive waterfall.

As you approach the waterfall the trail will become more and more slippery and mossy. Be careful with your footing here. You’ll get to a few clearings where you can get good views of the waterfall.

For those who are more adventurous, you can continue left up the hill and scramble to the huge granite boulders to get an even better lookout. I tried it, but the rocks were pretty slippery so I opted for a lower view of Root Creek Falls instead.

The PCT also intersects the Root Creek Falls trail, so be on the lookout for any long term hikers.

Camping at Castle Crags State Park

Camping at Castle Crags State Park is the cheapest and easiest way to visit this area. Many state and national parks sell out spaces pretty far in advance, but you probably have a better chance of finding a spot at Castle Crags since the Shasta region is much less busy than regions of coastal California.

Keep in mind if you camp at Castle Crags State Park that the campgrounds are located very close to I-5 AND the railroad, so you’ll get a fair amount of noise from both of those. We were fairly busy hiking during the day, but if your plan is to spend time relaxing in nature at the campground, this probably isn’t the best place to go!

If hotels are more your speed, check out the hotel overview below:


What to bring on your trip to Castle Crags

When hiking in California, there are a few must-haves that you’ll want to bring with you to make you much more comfortable when out in nature:

  • A good day pack: I personally love my Osprey daypack that comes with a built in water reservoir. I can carry 2 liters of water with me, and still have space to pack my lunch and an extra windbreaker. Not only that, but this daypack rests on your hips, so it takes a huge burden off of your shoulders on a long hike.
  • Hiking boots: On trails like these that require some scrambling from time to time, you’ll definitely want a good pair of hiking boots that goes over the ankle. I have a pair just like these from Columbia and I always feel secure when on long hikes with them.
  • Hiking socks: I know, it sounds a bit dorky, but you don’t want to get blisters in your boots! Plus you’ll want to avoid getting a bunch of dirt in your shoes. So buy yourself a good pair of hiking socks.
  • A headlamp: these are a lifesaver when camping, and should always be in your pack if you’re planning to hike close to dusk. Headlamps might look a little silly, but with your hands free you’ll never regret having one.

Did this post help you plan your trip to Castle Crags State Park? Let me know in the comments below!

11 reasons you need to visit Mammoth Lakes, California


Visit Mammoth Lakes

Mammoth California is easily one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, which makes it even more mind boggling to me to imagine why I had never visited until nearly my third decade on this earth. In Mammoth Lakes, you’ll find jagged peaks cutting into the sky, sparkling alpine lakes waiting for you to jump in after a sweaty hike, and adventure waiting for you around every corner.

If you are planning a California road trip, or are just a Californian looking for a beautiful weekend away, in this visit Mammoth Lakes guide, you’ll find 11 reasons you need to visit Mammoth in the summer and things to do in Mammoth Lakes.

But first, a brief intro into Mammoth lakes

Where is Mammoth Lakes, California?

Mammoth Lakes is located in the Eastern Sierras nestled right between Yosemite National Park and the Nevada border. It is approximately equidistant from both San Francisco and Los Angeles – about a 5.5 hour drive from each. If you’re driving from Sacramento like me, congratulations, you’ll save an hour and will only need 4.5 hours to reach it — and you can choose to drive through Yosemite, or through South Lake Tahoe, so your entire drive to and from Mammoth Lakes will be epic.

Mammoth Lakes is a small town that has grocery stores, outdoor stores, restaurants, shops, etc – so don’t worry about bringing all your food with you. Gas however, is very expensive in Mammoth, so try to fuel up before reaching it, if you can.


Mammoth Lakes Altitude

Mammoth Lakes sits at 7,880 feet, and if you’re driving through Yosemite, you’ll need to cross the highest pass in California to reach it – the Tioga Pass. Since the Mammoth Lakes altitude is so high, you might experience some altitude sickness, especially if you go skiing or go on hikes where you’ll be at an even higher elevation. Be sure to drink lots of water if you feel sick, and go to lower elevation if you have any symptoms of altitude sickness.

Wildlife in Mammoth Lakes

There is a pretty good size population of black bears living in and around Mammoth Lakes. Nothing that should scare you away from visiting Mammoth Lakes, but you need to be aware that you should NEVER leave any food or cosmetics in your car or your tent as bears can and will break in. That means you need to remove all food wrappers, chapsticks, lost McDonalds french fries, or whatever might be floating around in your car. Be sure to lock all of these items away in a bear box (yes that includes shampoo, lotion, sunblock, toothpaste, etc). If you visit Mammoth Lakes, keep in mind there is tons of wildlife around and you are coming into their territory.

Once bears have eaten human food they become less afraid of humans which makes them more likely to be aggressive toward humans. Do your part to keep the bears away by locking up your food.

When we stayed in Mammoth my friends actually accidentally ran into a bear in the parking garage of our apartment (luckily it ran out and seemed scared), but that just goes to show how likely it could be to have a bear encounter.

For more information on bear safety check out this page from the Mammoth Visitor Center

Ok, now that we’ve got the basics down, here are 11 reasons you need to visit Mammoth

1. Mammoth Lakes Hiking

I’m a huge hiking fan, and Mammoth Lakes has some of the most gorgeous hiking trails I’ve seen anywhere. I’ve only scratched the surface when it comes to hiking in and around Mammoth, but here are two awesome hikes that you shouldn’t miss if you visit Mammoth and love hiking as much as I do. Both of these hikes are fairly long, and will take you at least 4 hours round trip, so plan accordingly! It can be warm, so make sure when you plan for your Mammoth Lakes summer trip that you plan your hikes accordingly.

Little Lakes Valley to Gem Lakes: 11.6km (7.2 miles), 303m (1000ft) elevation gain

This out and back hike is so picturesque and captures the beauty of the area perfectly. Along this moderate hike you’ll pass by scene alpine lake after scene alpine lake, with the trickling of Rock Creek as the background music to this hike. The hike is dog and kid friendly – there aren’t any really steep or difficult parts to this one. Be sure to arrive early or else you’ll likely have to park fairly far away, but hey, that can add some extra distance on to your hike.

Rock Creek Mammoth Lakes
Rock Creek
Gem Lake
Gem Lake
Long Lake Mammoth Lakes
Long Lake

Duck Lake Trail: 15.3km (9.5miles), 650m (2130ft) elevation gain

Duck Lake Trail is located at the Coldwater campground and is a pretty significant hike in terms of elevation gain. Along this hike you’ll also pass by several alpine lakes, but the real doozy with this hike is that you’ll literally climb a mountain! Well, you’ll take switchbacks up a pass til you reach Duck Lake, which is probably the most challenging part of this hike, but also the most rewarding.

There are tons of other hikes in the area, so head to AllTrails, or better yet, download the app, to find more great areas to stretch your legs.

Duck lake pass
The pass before Duck Lake that you hike to reach the lake
Duck Lake
Cheesing on the way to Duck Lake

If you plan to hike in Mammoth Lakes, check out this list of the best outdoor gear to bring with you.

2. Visiting the Devil’s Postpile and Rainbow Falls

If you’ve never visited the Devil’s Postpile National Monument, you’ve gotta put this one on your list when you visit Mammoth Lakes. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll need to whip out your National Parks Passport book to get it stamped along the way!

The Devil’s Postpile is a rock formation of basalt columns that have cooled in a hexagonal pattern, very reminiscent of the basalt columns you’ll find in Iceland.

Devil's postpile Mammoth Lakes
Devil’s Postpile

To reach the Devil’s Postpile, head to the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center which you can reach by bus or by car. There you will need to purchase a ticket for $8 roundtrip for the bus that will take you down to the Devil’s Postpile. You can’t park down there yourself since space is limited and cars aren’t allowed to park there anymore. The drive down will take about 25 minutes, and from there you can hop out and walk to the Devil’s Postpile, which is a small hike in itself.

devil's postpile

After reaching the Devil’s Postpile, keep walking about 2 miles until you reach Rainbow Falls, a 101 foot waterfall where the San Joaquin River tumbles over the ledge which creates a mist where you can catch glimpses of rainbows forming. If you visit Mammoth Lake, you need to make it to the Devil’s Postpile!

Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

At the time we visited, the bottom of Rainbow Falls we closed off to visitors, but it is usually open for you to go and take a swim!

3. Mountain biking in Mammoth Lakes

Photo borrowed from Mammoth Mountain

Mammoth Mountain has 80+ miles of mountain bike tracks, and virtually everywhere you go in the town of Mammoth Lakes, you’ll come across dozens of mountain bikers all over the place. Mammoth Mountain has tracks for all levels of mountain bikers, whether you’re a badass, experienced biker, or whether you’re like me and just want to mix it up after a few days of hiking.

There are bike rental shops all over Mammoth Lakes, but the best known terrain is on Mammoth Mountain, where you can visit the Adventure Center (same place you’ll go for the Devil’s Postpile) to arrange a bike rental and pass.

4. Visit Mono Lake

Mono Lake
Mono Lake at dusk

No trip to the Eastern Sierras would be complete without a trip to Mono Lake. This eery lake is best visited at sunset or sundown, but if you can’t make it during those time periods, at least make sure to swing by during the day. You’ll catch a glimpse of Mono Lake if you drive to Mammoth Lakes driving over the Tioga Pass.

Mono Lake is a 750,000 year old saline lake and is home to brine shrimp and visiting migratory birds. What Mono Lake is more famous for though, is its tufa formations – limestone towers that have sprouted out of the lake.

The most impressive tufas are seen at the South Tufa Area, reached via highway 120.

Mono Lake
Mono Lake

If you don’t have an America the Beautiful pass, be sure to bring some cash with you to pay for parking. Last time I visited it was $3. If you visit Mammoth, you’ve gotta make it to Mono Lake.

5. Mammoth Lakes Brewing

A trip only becomes a vacation once you head to the local brewery. Thankfully Mammoth Lakes has you covered with the locals brews at Mammoth Lakes Brewing. If the weather is nice, sit outside or challenge other beer lovers to a game of cornhole.

Photo borrowed from Alaska Air

My personal favorite is the Saison beer, and they’ve got a restaurant there to dish up some grub if you’ve worked up an appetite with all the fun you’re having in Mammoth. Be sure to check out their merch section, they’ve got some pretty cool shirts, beanies and doggie leashes for sale as a sweet souvenir.

18 Lake Mary Road
Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
(760) 934-7141

6. Schat’s Bakery Mammoth Lakes

Schat’s Bakery is almost reason in itself to visit Mammoth Lakes. This old school, German style bakery has something for everyone – seriously. Donuts, baklava, cookies, croissants, freshly baked bread, bon-bons, this place has it all and has my mouth watering just thinking about it.

Fuel up pre-hike or post-hike and give your taste buds a treat.

3305 Main Street
Mammoth LakesCA 93546


7. Minaret Vista

Photo borrowed from Wikimedia

Unfortunately when I was on my second trip to Mammoth Lakes we didn’t get to do see the Minaret Vista since there were so many wildfires at the time, but my loss might be your gain! And it gives me a good reason to return to Mammoth Lakes.

Minaret Vista offers views of the Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness areas below, and from there you’ll see the peaks of Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. Apparently there are also star gazing parties up there as well, which seems like a pretty amazing place to enjoy the stars.

Minaret Vista is located just 2 miles up the road from the Mammoth Mountain Adventure Center.

Lookout Point Rd, Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546

8. June Lake

June Lake
Beautiful June Lake

June Lake is a year-round resort, located about 20 minutes from the Mammoth Lakes town center. June Lake is the perfect place to spread out under the sun for a picnic, or jump in the lake on a hot day to cool down.

If you head to June Lake, be sure to check out June Lake Brewing, located in the small town of June Lake (can you tell I like breweries?).

9. Heat up in the hot springs

Wild Willy's Hot Springs
Photo borrowed from Outdoor Project

The Eastern Sierras are dotted with hot springs, most hidden away from the main roads, but always occupied with someone, or many people soaking in the hot water. Both times I visited Mammoth Lakes, we hit up Wild Willy’s Hot Springs, located about 25 minutes from the center of Mammoth Lakes. Wild Willy’s is located on BLM land (Bureau of Land Management), and you’ll need to drive on some dirt roads to reach it, but you won’t be sorry.

Be sure to bring a headlamp with you to light the way to the hot springs, wear a swimsuit – or go in in your birthday suit if you’re into that kind of thing, and hop in the hot spring and marvel at the night sky above you. If it’s a clear night, you’ll get a clear view of the milky way, with virtually no light pollution. Relax your muscles and look up above you, you’ll probably spot more than one falling star. This is truly the best way to unwind after an active day.

10. Kayak or SUP on the many lakes around Mammoth

Photo borrowed from Mammoth Kayaks

If you’re into kayaking, don’t miss the opportunity to kayak when you visit Mono Lake. From your kayak you’ll be able to get up close and personal with the tufas, and have an even better chance of seeing those migratory birds. Your best bet is to rent kayaks in the morning, as the weather can change by afternoon time, and kayaking might not be guaranteed. Taking a trip to Mammoth Lakes in summer allows you to take advantage of the best activities. Check out Mono Basin Kayak Rentals for more info.

For those of you who like to stand up on the board, head to Horseshoe Lake which is a favorite of paddleboarders. If you don’t have your own gear you can head to Footloose Sports (conveniently located right by Schat’s Bakery 😉 ).

Whichever water sport you choose, don’t forget the sunblock. You’re at a high altitude and the sunburns can come fast and furious around here!

11. Visit Hot Creek Geologic Site, near Mammoth

Hot Creek Geologic Site Mammoth Lakes
Hot Creek Geologic Site

I’m not sure how I overlooked this place the first times I visited Mammoth Lakes. Hot Creek Geologic Site is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited in the area, and it is definitely worth a visit. Located down Highway 395 about 15 minutes from the village of Mammoth Lakes you can experience geology in real life with bubbling water and steam rising from the creek.

What to bring to Mammoth Lakes

Chances are, if you’re headed to Mammoth, you’re likely planning on being outdoorsy while you’re there. Here are a few items you shouldn’t forget when you pack for your trip to Mammoth Lakes:

  • good day pack: I  love my Osprey daypack  with a built in water reservoir. This has space for 2 liters of water, and you still have room for lunch and a light jacket. Not only that, but this daypack rests on your hips, so it takes a huge burden off of your shoulders on a long hike.
  • Hiking boots: You’ll definitely want a good pair of hiking boots like the pair just like these from Columbia – they are my go-to hiking shoes!
  • Hiking socks: Not the sexiest item, but you’ll be happy when you don’t have blisters after a long hike. Trust me!
  • A headlamp: having your hands free will come in really handy if you’re camping or heading out to some of those hot springs. If its not a full moon, you’re definitely going to need a headlamp!

Where to stay in Mammoth Lakes

Luckily there is no shortage of places to stay around Mammoth Lakes, you can find loads of campsites, apartments, hotels, and even some BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land where you can camp for free.

Campsites in Mammoth Lakes

  • Sherwin Creek: This is the first place I stayed in Mammoth Lakes. It’s a family friendly campground located a very short drive to the town center. The campground is located next to Sherwin Creek, so try to get a spot close to the creek to let the water lull you to sleep. There are no showers here. And watch out for bears
  • Coldwater Campground: This campground is located at the start of the hike to Duck Lake. No showers.
  • Lake Mary: One of Mammoth’s largest campgrounds. Lake Mary is famous for fishing.

Hotels in Mammoth Lakes

Westin Monache Resort Mammoth Lakes

There are loads of Mammoth hotels to choose from, but my personal favorite is the Westin Monache Resort Mammoth. The Westin is located right across from the main village and gondola, making it the perfect spot if you are headed up the mountain, or going out for a bite to eat. The hotel offers spacious suites with kitchens if you’re looking to self-cater, or if you just need a quiet spot for your kiddos to go to bed early while you stay up! The Westin in Mammoth ALSO has a fantastic pool, so dive right in!

 Apartments in Mammoth Lakes

I personally love staying in apartments since it gives you the freedom to cook your own meals, so we did just that on our girls trip to Mammoth. We stayed in an apartment in Aspen Creek, just 4 minutes drive from the center of Mammoth. We had a great stay there with a complete kitchen, parking, Netflix… everything you could want!


Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. 


Looking for more amazing places to visit in California? Check out these posts:

What its like to be an American in the Netherlands: 8 years as an expat

Funny that I didn’t really consider writing this until my final days living in the Netherlands after eight years. I’ve written about how Americans are viewed here, and the civic integration test I had to do, but not really about how it has been to live abroad here. If you’re about to move to the Netherlands as an expat, or if you are already an expat in the Netherlands, maybe this will give you some insight or you can relate. Or maybe not.

First things first, before anyone asks how to move to the Netherlands – since I get asked that a lot by other Americans who want to move to Europe: If you want to move to the Netherlands (and I believe the laws are similar in the rest of the EU), you’re going to need one of the following: 1) an EU passport, 2) an invite from a company who will give a work visa and sponsor you, 3) a visa on behalf of a family member or partner who you are coming to live with. I moved here nearly eight years ago via option 3 after meeting my Dutchie in California. If you want clarification on who the Dutch are, check out this post on the Netherlands vs Holland.

I should also mention that because I have a Dutch partner, my experience as an expat is vastly different to that of other expats I know who came for work. Having a Dutch partner has meant that I have my expat life, and I have my Dutch life. That means family events in the small town where he’s from, where out of 60 people I’m the only foreigner, over 10 Dutch weddings we’ve attended together, family vacations to Austria where the entire hotel is filled with Dutch people from his family’s province and on and on. I need to mention this because some of my other expat friends haven’t experienced the sides of expat life that I mention below, simply because they have never been exposed to it. My life here has largely been the life of a Dutch person, which has sometimes isolated me as a foreigner and an American more than I might have otherwise felt.

american in the netherlands


So, what is it like to move to the Netherlands from the US? What is life like abroad? I can only assume my family and friends have wondered this at some point in time, most likely right when I moved here.

A whole new world

Living abroad in any country, and in the Netherlands especially gives you (and has certainly given me) a great opportunity to explore a new country and a new continent. I had visited Europe and studied abroad in Europe before moving here, so I’d already seen a lot, but living here full time gave me the opportunity to not only see nearly everywhere in the Netherlands, but nearly every country in Europe.

Although it is pretty tiny by US standards, the Netherlands has a ton of great cities and attractions to visit, and you could easily spend many of the weekends of your first year in the Amsterdam visiting castles, going to other cities like The Hague, Rotterdam or Haarlem, or checking out the islands in the north. When I first moved here we spent the majority of our weekends exploring other cities in the Netherlands or using our museum passes. It was exciting, and made for a great adventure.

The Netherlands is also a super convenient place to live because it is pretty much in the middle of everything you might want to visit in Europe. You can easily reach any other country via Schiphol Airport, you can take a 4 hour train ride to Paris, a 1 hour flight to London, or just drive across the border to Germany or Belgium.

Grote Markt haarlem

Kasteel de Haar

dutch door


And yes, this makes living in the Netherlands fabulous. My friends and family from home often couldn’t believe how often I was traveling, or how many countries I visited per year (it helped that I traveled all the time for work as well), and for a period of time it did feel a bit glamorous I suppose. But, as with everywhere you live, you soon become used to your surroundings, and they don’t feel so special anymore. The ability to travel anywhere and everywhere in Europe is fantastic – I was able to visit Belgium, Germany, the UK, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Monaco, Iceland, and the Czech Republic while living here. And out of those places I’ve been to Berlin likely 10 times, London at least 5 times, Barcelona 5 times, Paris 5 or 6 times, and on and on.

Let’s be honest: me living abroad in the Netherlands in large part why I’ve been able to start this blog. I’ve traveled all the time for work, explored Europe extensively, and have had 25 days+ off of vacation every year that I’ve worked here. It has opened the door to the world for me, quite literally.

mustard normandy
Easter Weekend in Haute Normandy

That is the glamorous side that most people see on Facebook and Instagram, but expat life isn’t all that you see on my Instagram, there’s a lot more.

Expat Loneliness

This is a tough one. When I first moved here I was fresh out of college and had really never had a day in my life where I didn’t know what was going to happen next. Life until you graduate is so predictable – school every day, with friends and activities that are pretty much built in. It takes such little effort to make friends or have a social life, and even if you have no plans with friends, you always have your family.

Not so when I moved abroad. Coincidentally, before I moved to the Hague in 2010, I had spent a semester abroad in Utrecht in 2008 before I met my Dutchie, so I assumed I knew what life would be like here. In a way that was true, because I knew how to get around, knew how to open a bank account, knew where to go, but what I didn’t know was how isolating moving abroad can be.

If you don’t move abroad with a job or school lined up, the days in a new country can go by really slowly. There are only so many days you can spend discovering a city on your own before you start to feel loneliness creeping in. That’s essentially how I spent my first year in the Netherlands. I was actually very fortunate to get an internship literally the day after I arrived in the Hague which gave me something to do a few days a week, but it didn’t provide me with a serious social network, so I spent a lot of time feeling lonely and wishing I had a group of girlfriends I could spend time with.

Sure, I had my Dutchie and we went out a lot on the weekends to get beers with his friends, but going out like that didn’t fulfill the gap I was missing when it came to people who really knew me. I missed the nights of getting ready to go out with my best friends from home, missed calling my brother or sister at the last minute and seeing them, and missed having people around me who I didn’t have to explain myself to. It sort of felt like he was the only person in the whole country who knew me or cared about me, and without him I’d be completely alone. And that was pretty much true.

Amsterdam canal cruise

Luckily, the feelings of loneliness dissipated when I got accepted to grad school here and started my program, but that said the loneliness you may feel as an expat is a bit of a recurring challenge. Every couple years or so, some of my closest friends have moved way. That happened after grad school, and happened with my colleagues. Of course colleagues move on to other companies, but I was working in an industry where people are really moving internationally, which means that sometimes a friend would up and leave to Germany all of the sudden, and my Friday night buddy had vanished.

As an expat, you don’t have that built-in network you have at home. There aren’t the friends who are just part of your life. You have to work – almost constantly in the beginning – to make friends and find a place for yourself.

I don’t want to discourage anyone from moving abroad, or throw myself a pity party, but honestly, it was really hard. But am I glad I did it? 100% ! Moving anywhere where you don’t know anyone is a huge challenge and forces you out of your comfort zone to go out of your way to make friends. It forces you to have to deal with being lonely once in a while. And that’s totally ok, because everyone feels that way. Most of all, it makes you appreciate when you have really good friends, because you know what it is like without them.

Finding a job

To be totally honest, I sort of hit the jackpot when it came to finding a job in the Netherlands. I spent my second year in the Netherlands getting my master’s degree, which ended in writing and defending my master’s thesis, which also gave me a fair amount of time to apply to jobs. After several months of applying, I landed a traineeship at one of the biggest sports companies, which I started at only 3 days after my official graduation.

Amsterdam, and the Netherlands in general is a pretty great place for expats. Because of the corporate tax rate, many, many companies have their European headquarters here, which means most jobs are in English. How many companies exactly? Well here’s a short list: Heineken, Tommy Hilfiger, Nike, ASICS, Adidas (their main office is in Germany), Under Armour, Brooks, Netflix, Booking.com, Uber, TomTom, Philips, AkzoNobel – these are just the companies that are immediately in my network and where I know people, there are countless big ad agencies, media agencies, consulting firms, and everything in between where you can get by without speaking any Dutch. Working in the Netherlands is pretty much an expat’s dream.

Making friends with the locals

Sometimes people ask me if I have a lot of American friends here, since there are so many Americans living in the Netherlands – last I heard there are 40,000 of us living here. The answer, truthfully, is no. I’ve always had an American friend here or there, some long-lasting, some short, but I haven’t made a ton of American friends here – not that I’ve been avoided fellow Americans either, that’s just how it happened.

Many of my friends are Dutch, or are expats themselves. It is always easiest to make friends with other expats because, well, they just get it. Even if they aren’t from the same country, they also find the Dutch funny in all the same ways I do, and we can certainly always bitch about the weather together.

Am I Dutch yet?

In general, I would say it is hard to make friends with the Dutch. But at the same time, most of my closest friends here are Dutch. I know, that sounds contradictory, but I’ll explain.

Breaking into Dutch inner circles is really hard. It is a country praised for its openness, but I dare anyone to try to break into a Dutch friendship circle and you’ll find its impenetrable. Whether this is a friend group from high school or college, these groups are rock solid – especially if these people have lived in the Netherlands their entire lives. I had the idea before I arrived here that I might become friends with some of my girlfriends of my boyfriend’s friends, but those interactions pretty much led to a “Nice to meet you,” and that was it. I was substantially younger than them at the time (still am, but then the age difference seemed greater), and I honestly felt a bit rejected. It ended up being no problem in the end, since I found my own path, and ended up with many close Dutch friends.

The Dutch people I’ve almost always become friends with have either spent a good deal of their lives abroad, have gone to an international school in the Netherlands, or have a foreign partner. I’m curious to see how similar my Dutchie’s experience will be in the US to mine in the Netherlands.

That being said, with nearly all of the Dutch friends I’ve made who are open to me, I’ve often still had to overcome the “you’re an American” barrier.

Being American in the Netherlands

You can hear it in my accent when I talk, I’m an American in Amsterdam (whoa, I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien)

Ok, ok, enough of the Sting reference.

No matter what I say or do, nearly every conversation I have with a new Dutch person (outside of the work context) is focused on me being an American. That goes for the many of the close friends I’ve made here too. I’ve dreaded going to weddings or parties where I know I have to meet a ton of new people, because that typically means a night that I spend having to explain myself or answer questions about being an American.

Sometimes I wonder why Dutch people are so fixated on this. I find it hard to imagine that a Spanish or Italian person would be treated this way. I know, I know, the decisions the US makes are much more far-reaching than those of other countries, the US impacts the rest of the world and on and on. But the Dutch love to tell me how stupid they think Americans are (this typically comes from the people who have never visited the US), how terrible the government is (you’re preaching to the choir), or their experience with one other American person they met who somehow represents a population of 330 million.

Ugh. This is tiring. I always try to politely change the subject but it gets exhausting to constantly have to talk about where you are from, as if it completely defines you as a human being. Sometimes I’ve felt like shouting “I’m a HUMAN not just a f**king American!!”.

This has been a point that has greatly frustrated me, and has made me realize that the Dutch LOVE to define and characterize things. Don’t get me wrong here, I have tons of Dutch friends and a Dutch partner as I mentioned, but this is one of my biggest observations. Dutch people love to say “Oh, that is SO Dutch” or that is “SO American” as if all of their behaviors are attributed to being Dutch and all mine are attributed to being American.

At the same time, there is a weird phenomenon I’ve experienced where the very same people who tell me how American I am, also tell me how UN-American I am, because I’m one of those “cool” Americans, whatever the hell that means. Sigh. Am I so American? So un-American? I don’t really care honestly, but it is interesting to live abroad and see how people characterize you.

It is curious to me, because Americans are acutely unaware of how very “American” their behavior is – most of us wouldn’t know how to characterize American behavior at all. I’ve become a bit Dutch myself in this regard, looking at people from other countries and thinking that’s “so German”, or even at my own people and thinking that something is so “American.” While the Dutch love to put everyone in their pre-judged box of where they come from, Americans on the other hand are completely clueless (for the most part) about the defining characteristics of any other nationalities.

Being here has made me very aware of my American-ness. I would never say I try to hide being American, and I’m also not one of those expats suffering from American guilt, but I have gone into many social situations here feeling completely judged and disregarded before I’ve properly gotten to know someone – many people think they know who I am already because of my accent.

I must be uninformed.

I need to be educated by someone who properly understand my country, as I apparently do not.

I am fake.

As we prepare our move to the US, I can only hope that my Dutchie will never be treated this way by Americans. It is a behavior in the Netherlands that he is never able to explain, and is embarrassed by himself – I can honestly say that no other nationality has ever responded to me the way the Dutch have. And yet, for the most part I’ve loved living here for nearly eight years.

Living abroad as an American in the Netherlands can be a rude awakening, to find out that your nationality may initially be a barrier to those you meet, but having said that, it is a wonderful way to understand and giggle at your own culture. I think you can’t know what it truly means to be American (or from whatever country you are from), until you’ve lived somewhere else and understood all the nuances that set you apart in your way of thinking, problem solving or building social bonds.

Being American in the Netherlands has sometimes been a challenge for the reasons I mentioned above. It can be tough to break through in friendship circles, and people might initially write you off as just another American. But once you break through with people, you can form great friendships with some fiercely loyal Dutchies – who are able to handle my flurry of critiques on the Dutch as much as the love critiquing Americans.

As Sting says, be yourself, no matter what they say.

The goddamn weather

Today, as I write this, it is officially the first day of summer. The sky is, as per usual, overcast. The high will be 14 celsius (59 fahrenheit). This my friends, is not what the first day of summer means to me.

Every winter I spent here, I threatened my Dutchie that this was my “last f**king winter!”.

There are four seasons here:

1. cold, grey and rainy

2. chilly, grey and rainy

3. approximately 2 weeks of 25+ celsius when you can’t get a spot on a terrace because they are suddenly full

4. chilly, grey and rainy with some red and yellow leafs.

Amsterdam canal cruise
A rare day with blue skies

No one moves to the Netherlands for the weather. After growing up in California, I always found rain romantic. The idea of being in a brown cafe in Amsterdam while the rain poured down outside seemed so idealistic to me. Until I was here and the rain stopped being romantic after a couple weeks.

Unless you are from the UK, the weather here might be a pretty big adjustment, but it does make you appreciate the sunny days so much more.

All the clichés are true

As we prepare for our move back to California, I’ve come to realize every cliché about moving abroad is true.

You expand your worldview. Living in another place, or another country, amongst people different from you, and especially interacting with people from a variety of different cultures does expand your world view. You become more empathetic. You understand that we all have more things in common than things that set us apart. You learn about more cultures and backgrounds than you ever could have imagined which humbles and inspires you.

You make incredible connections. You become friends with people from other backgrounds, who on the surface, you might think you have nothing in common with. Until you realize you have a shared professional passion. Or they understand the part of you that is sometimes riddled with anxiety. Or they are the one person who wishes you luck on a big day. These people at this point understand you better than anyone back home. They become a sort of pseudo family abroad – the people who you know you could call when you have a shit day, or who would give you a place to stay if your roof is leaking. The types of friendships that when you first move to the country, you long for, and when you leave make your heart break.

You become more independent. I came here to be with my boyfriend (now fiance), who helped me tremendously in setting up a new life here and gave me more support than I could hope for… and who is just my best friend and partner in everything in life. But, there are some things that no one can help you with. No one can help you with pushing yourself to get out of your comfort zone and make friends. No one can help you get over the small cultural differences that seem cute at first but start to really tick you off. No one can establish your identity in a new place or create a new path for you. It’s all on you to make it work in a new place. It can be scary and challenging. But once you’ve done it in a new country you know you can do it anywhere, and as cliché as it sounds, you get to know yourself better – both your strengths and your weaknesses. 

Besides these benefits, you’ll feel more comfortable with change, more comfortable with the unknown and unfamiliar, and will be able to adapt to new situations in the future more easily. 

After eight years here I wonder how my life will be back in California. Will I stick out like a sore thumb? Will I fit in seamlessly? Will I miss walking and biking everywhere? (Yes to that one for sure). 

If you have an opportunity to move abroad for any period of time – or even to move to a new place where you don’t know anyone – do it. Having an opportunity to forge a new path for yourself anywhere new is challenging, liberating and humbling. 

Looking for my favorite tips on what to do in the Netherlands? Check out these posts:

Bali packing list: Packing for Indonesia

What to pack for Indonesia

Headed to Indonesia for the first time and not sure what to pack? This Bali packing list has you covered! I’ve listed all the things I brought and wish I had packed for my trip to Indonesia, so you can learn from my lessons. This is a list of what to bring backpacking, as I strongly suggest you bring a backpack instead of a suitcase – unless you only plan to stay in one location! In this post you’ll find what to pack for Bali for your Bali backpacking, which can also be used as an Indonesia packing list.

how to pack for indonesia

Looking for more tips on Indonesia? Don’t miss these posts:

Essentials for traveling to Indonesia

  • A good backpacking backpack that comes with a day pack: Indonesia was my first trip traveling with a backpack, and I’m so glad we chose to travel that way instead of bringing a suitcase. If you plan on traveling at all within Indonesia, and especially if you expect you might take any boats, I very strongly recommend you bring a backpack. Why? Because often the ferries don’t pull up to a dock but just out several meters from the beach, meaning you need to trek through the water to and from the boat. That’s not too easy to do with a suitcase! A backpack will also naturally limit how much you pack, and trust me, you’re not going to need too many clothes since it is so hot there. I use the Osprey Farpoint 55, which comes with a day pack that can be detached from the bag, making it easy to carry around for a day, or simply zip back into the backpack to carry everything at once. This is the perfect bag for Bali backpacking. I was able to load up 4 weeks worth of packing in here, so the Osprey Farpoint 55 is definitely suitable for longer trips as well. A backpack like this is a must have on your Indonesia packing list. Check out this post if you’re looking for more tips on the best backpacks for travel.

  • Mosquito repellant with DEET: If you visit Indonesia, you’re going to need to bring mosquito repellant with DEET in it. Without mosquito repellant, I’d be bitten nearly everywhere if we were out during dusk, and I was always kicking myself when I forgot to put it on. Do yourself a favor and bring more insect repellant than you think you’re going to need, it is always useful! Mosquito repellant is one of the most essential items to bring with you to Indonesia.
  • Sunscreen: Indonesia is HOT, and the sun is intense! Protect yourself by lathering up everyday with sunscreen to protect against the sun’s harmful rays – you don’t want to be an Indonesian lobster! Honestly, I would recommend bringing the highest SPF possible. Be sure to bring a sunscreen that is water-resistant, cause boy, you’re going to be sweaty!
  • Baby Wipes: When you think of packing for Indonesia, baby wipes might not immediately come to mind, but trust me, these will come in handy when you’re feeling extra sticky and you’re not near a shower!
  • Hand Sanitizer: While we’re on the topic of staying clean and fresh, don’t forget to pack hand sanitizer for your trip to Indonesia. I don’t think I need to explain all the situations where it will be handy to have it 🙂
  • Bars of shampoo and conditioner: Bottles of shampoo and conditioner are heavy to lug around, not to mention bad for the environment. How about trying shampoo and conditioner bars instead? They are much lighter to carry with you, and typically last 60-90 washes! J.R. Liggett’s shampoo bars use all natural ingredients and are biodegradable. Bar shampoo has become one of my backpacking essentials and an essential for my Indonesia packing list.

  • Tampons: Ladies, if you think there is any chance you’ll get your period in Indonesia, bring your own tampons. Tampons can be hard to find, especially when you are out of city centers or main tourist areas, like the Gili Islands or Nusa Lembongan. Not only are they hard to find, but they’re expensive to buy once you’ve found them and not many come in a pack. Be prepared and bring your own, be sure to add these to your Indonesia packing list.

  • Motion sickness bracelet: One of the best ways to explore Indonesia is to travel by boat to other islands, especially from Bali to the Gilis, but you should be prepared for a rocky journey. A motion sickness bracelet is one of the items you should bring with you to Indonesia if there is any slight possibility of hopping aboard a boat.
  • A roll of toilet paper, or packs of travel tissues: Just in case you find some toilets without toilet paper… that can definitely happen in Indonesia 😉 so keep these in your day pack
  • A large, light scarf: When you pack for Indonesia don’t forget to bring a scarf which can double (triple? quadruple?) as a cover up when you visit temple, a sarong, a beach towel, and various other uses.
  • PacSafe portable safe:This is an item I’m actually about to try out for my upcoming trip, but I wish we had it when we visited Indonesia. The PacSafe portable safes are great for storing your valuables while you travel and are convenient to bring with you if you visit a beach and need to tie up your valuables somewhere nearby. The PacSafe bags are lined with stainless steel wire which makes them very difficult to cut through, as well as a long wire cable that allows you to lock it to anything heavy and stationary. The PacSafe has become one of my must-haves for my Indonesia packing list.
  • GoPro: A GoPro really is one of the easiest ways to capture your trip, they are super light, are high quality, and you can drop them without worrying! The GoPro HERO5 Black is perfect for getting footage of your adventure in any environment.

iceland packing list

  • GoPro accessories: You wouldn’t want to bring your GoPro while you go snorkeling on Nusa Lembongan, only to drop it in the ocean, never to be seen again. One of the best purchases we made and the best things we brought to Indonesia was our GoPro accessory kit, complete with a floating hand grip so your GoPro won’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. If you don’t have these accessories for your GoPro yet, do yourself a favor and get them ASAP.

  • Lonely Planet Indonesia: Whenever I travel, buying the accompanying Lonely Planet for wherever I’m going is a prerequisite! They say planning your trip is half the fun, and I always get a kick out of planning with my Lonely Planet. It also comes in handy when you’re in a place and need some fresh inspiration for what to do there.
  • Malaria Pills: Bringing malaria pills with you to Indonesia really depends on where in Indonesia you are going. If you are visiting only Bali, you won’t need malaria pills at all – though don’t quote me on that and definitely check with your doctor first. We brought malaria pills for Lombok, but didn’t need them since we ended up only staying by the coast line. If you think you might do some deep jungle trekking, definitely visit your doctor first to see if you should bring malaria pills to Indonesia – these might be a must for your Indonesia packing list.
  • SteriPen: Like the rest of South East Asia, the tap water is unfortunately not safe to drink in Indonesia, so most people buy bottle after bottle of water to stay hydrated, wasting more plastic and your money. The SteriPen is a UV water purifier which can clean up to 8,000 liters of water, making that SEA tap water safe to drink. This is handy for wherever you go, and is great to have for all your trips.

What not to bring to Indonesia

  • Don’t bring too much make up: trust me, you’re not going to wear it when you are there. It is way to hot and humid to wear a face full of make up, so going natural is best. Mascara and eyeliner are of course easy to wear in the heat.
  • Don’t overpack: It is hot in Indonesia, which means you’ll likely be wearing very light clothes or a swimsuit every day. I ended up not wearing half of what I brought, so go easy on yourself and pack light.
  • Don’t bother with anything dressy: That includes high heels. Sure, if you really want to, you can bring dress clothes, heels, etc, but you likely will not wear any of it – so take those items off of your Indonesia packing list.

Did this post help you decide what to pack for Indonesia? Let me know in the comments below!

Disclosure: some of the links on this Indonesia packing list are affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click-through and make a purchase.

10+ Most incredible animal experiences to inspire your travel

10+ incredible animal encounters to inspire you to travel

One of the best things about traveling is of course being exposed to new people and new cultures. But how about new animals and wildlife? I and so many others are inspired by the incredible wildlife abroad to seek out new destinations and experiences on my travels. Together with my fellow travel bloggers, we’ve put together a list of amazing animal encounters to inspire your next travels.

whale shark

Swimming with turtles in Oahu, Hawaii

turtle hawaii

From: Born to be Alive | Instagram | Twitter

*Disclaimer* Marine life are not harmed in any way in this tour and there are rules that apply when swimming/snorkelling around the marine life to protect their safety.*
I have been to Oahu, Hawaii twice and both times I have done a tour with an awesome company called ‘Ocean Joy Cruises’ (http://www.oceanjoycruises.com). The staff is so kind and helpful! The company offer various day tours that you can choose from.
On the day tour that I did   Calm and Afternoon Adventure’ we got on a boat. We toured around the West Coast of Oahu seeing and learning about the history of the Island along with watching dolphins and whales out playing! Later on you get to enjoy a lunch that’s provided by the crew – which is delicious! The boat then parks up in the ocean and you get your snorkel gear on (which they provide) and you jump into the crystal clear waters and snorkel around the marine life.
The marine life is very visible to the eye but you and the marine life tend to keep a distance from each other – for their safety. The crew takes professional photos of everyone and of the marine life under water. This is truly an incredible experience and I would highly recommend it! You can book a tour on their website or book through your hotel (if they have an activity desk). There are different tours available – some examples; sunset cruise or the one I did. These cruises are suitable for children as well.

Visiting American Bison in Montana



From Pink Caddy Travelogue | Facebook | Instagram

Once upon a time, the American West was the land where the bison freely roamed in enormous numbers. They were a staple part of life for the Blackfeet Indians; bison provided food, clothing, shelter. The near-extinction of these animals drastically changed the way of life for the thousands of people who depended on them. But today, after years of careful cultivation and education, the bison are returning home.

 I had the opportunity to spend a summer on one of the bison ranches located on the Blackfeet reservation in northern Montana. Each week, we’d take our trusty steed, the old Ford farm pickup, and drive all over the land until we found the bison. Then we’d drive into the heart of the herd and toss out special bison treats from the bed of the truck. It never took long for the animals to come right up to the truck and try to take the snacks right out of our hands.

 Most people won’t get to live on a bison ranch. But the Blackfeet have a public herd descendant from the bison that last lived there in the 1800s that any visitor can see. Off of Highway 2, between East Glacier and Browning, is a “Buffalo Viewing Area.” There are never crowds of people there, and the bison are usually close by. It’s the perfect place to go to see these majestic creatures roaming their homeland.

Visiting the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in Borneo


From Reading the Book Travel | Facebook | Twitter

A visit to Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre in Malaysian Borneo is a bit of a bucket list trip for most people. Close to the town of Sandakan in the far north, Sepilok is world-renowned for good reason. Working primarily with the endangered orangutan, which is endemic to Borneo and found only on this island and Sumatra in Indonesia, they do incredible work rescuing mainly young orangutans. The babies are looked after in the nursery where they are hand-reared and taught how to swing from branches and feed themselves; once they reach adulthood, they are released back into the jungle. Some will never return, but many choose to come back regularly to take advantage of the free food laid out for them each day.

Visitors don’t have access to the very young and vulnerable babies, but can watch the slightly older “children” from behind glass as they play on their (very literal) jungle gym. The highlight, however, is the twice-daily feedings of the adult orangutans. A raised walkway takes visitors to a viewing platform with a clear view of the feeding area; it is great fun to watch the orangutans swing their way down ropes to take the food, often performing for their audience once they’ve had their fill.

There is affordable accommodation close to the Centre, which is also home to sun bears. Short trips are available to visit proboscis monkeys at a nearby sanctuary. Sepilok is a relatively inexpensive long weekend visit from Kuala Lumpur, and more than worth the effort!

Swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Mozambique

whale shark

From: Monday Feelings |Facebook | Instagram

Tofo Beach, in Mozambique, has one of the largest whale shark population in the world. We didn’t know about this until arriving over there, during our Central and East Africa trip, let alone knowing we can actually swim with them.
Lucky us, we were there with a couple of biologists friends who were also professional divers. They convinced us to go to an Ocean Safari with them to try seeing the gigantic “vegetarian” shark.

We were really excited and apprehensive. Regardless of payment – U$ 50 -, there is no guarantee one will see a whale shark. In fact, we heard from other travellers who had been on the trip before us, that they were unlucky.
After three hours sailing in deep-sea, seeing many humpback whales, dolphins and turtles, there was no sight of the whale shark. Just before giving up, we spotted a large dark shadow on the water, at last. We were really impressed with that perfect seven meters shadow next to our boat, and even more impressed to hear the captain: “Right, jump in!”. We were like, “Whaaaat? With that thing over there?”

As everyone else jumped, so did we. It was one of the most spectacular moments of our lives. Swimming freely with that giant of the seas, completely immersed in their world, getting real close to it and letting him dictate the rhythm and rules, was a touching experience. To be able to interact with such a rare animal in its natural environment and, most of all, freely, definitely opened our eyes to many issues related to animal conservation.

Encounter with a rescued baby kangaroo in Australia

baby kangaroo

From: My Favorite Escapes | Facebook | Instagram

Seeing a kangaroo is on everyone’s Australia Bucket List. But what about feeding a rescued baby kangaroo? That easily goes to the top of my favourite animal encounter memories.

The best part is that I had no expectation when it happened. We booked at the last-minute an Airbnb stay at a Queensland farm. They did mention that there were many animals around the farm. But I was surprised when we came back after our hike and our host met us with this cute baby wallaby in a poach in her arms. They did not only take care of their farm animals, but they also had many young rescued animals staying on their property. They release them in the wild when they’re ready, but some grown-ups would always come back.

I don’t like visiting zoos as I find it sad to keep animals in captivity and I always favour rescued centres or experiences in the wild. It’s a lot more rewarding when you know that your money contributes to a great cause and that the animals are genuinely being taken care of – with no profit in mind.

Snorkeling with turtles in Barbados

turtle barbados

From: The Traveling Stomach | Facebook | Instagram

Like many of you I’ve dreamt of seeing turtles in the wild for years, I don’t know what it is about them as they aren’t fluffy and cuddly but they’re just so cute in their own way! On my recent travels to Barbados I was lucky enough to spot turtles swimming around Carlisle Bay whilst we were out stand up paddle boarding – and we soon jumped off our boards to snorkel with these amazing creatures. There are lots of boats that offer tours to swim with the turtles and will take food in the water to attract them, in my opinion the groups in the water were too large and although the staff would clearly ask people not to inevitably there was at least one person who would chase after the poor turtle(s). However due to these boat trips visiting Carlisle Bay regularly and feeding the turtles they tend to hang around here.

Grab your snorkel and swim or paddleboard out into the bay in the afternoon so as to avoid majority of the boats and you should be able to spot some of the turtles either having a snooze on the sandy bottom or mooching around looking for leftover food. There are also some purpose-built wrecks around the bay to see, meaning that even if you don’t manage to spot a turtle you’ll still have a great time exploring the corals and marine life that now inhabit these old boats.

Swimming with dolphins in New Zealand

dolphins new zealand

From: The Atlas Edit | Facebook | Instagram

I could barely sleep the night before, tossing and turning in bed. It was probably the most excited I’d ever been. The next morning, I was going to have one of the best experiences in my life–I was to swim with dolphins in the open sea!

I jumped out of bed when the tiniest slither of light peaked across the horizon, full of excitement and anticipation. By 7am, I was at the Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura office, waiting to get suited up and briefed on what to expect out in the water.

We were taken out into the ocean by boat, and once the captain spotted dolphins, we jumped into the water and the rest was history.

There were dolphins everywhere, and they were playfully swimming around us. Our instructor told us to make as much noise as possible in the water by humming and playing with the zippers on our wetsuit, as this would attract the dolphins.

The feeling was so surreal, swimming out in the open water with one of the most intelligent creatures in the animal kingdom. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the full duration I was underwater.

This was hands down one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, thanks to Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura who were extremely professional. If you’d like to also have one of the best experiences money can buy, visit Dolphin Encounter Kaikoura’s website for more information.

Visiting Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

yala national park

From: Bev & Shams | Facebook | YouTube

Sri Lanka hosts a number of large national parks, with an array of avi, fauna, and flora. Yala National Park being one the most popular of places to visit. Bird lovers can view many 100s of different species, elephant lovers get the opportunity to see these beautiful pachyderm in the wild. What you are trying to feast your eyes upon are the illusive leopards, the sloth bear and the wild buffalo, and the best way to seek these out, are on a safari in Yala.

We headed out early in the morning on a jeep, with a driver and a tracker. The morning mainly consisted of seeing many species of bird, crocodile, elephants, and many more animals. By the afternoon, we were still searching for the illusive leopard. The tracker did well and eventually we captured images of the leopard just as it walked out from the bushes with pride. The beauty of this fierce animal in front of us.

We travelled as group, so stayed in a bungalow near to Yala, however many travellers visit Yala on a day trip. The best way to organise a safari would be through your accommodation in Tissa and be prepared to be in a jeep all day, so take lunch.

Although Africa has its famous ‘big five’ animals to see on safari, Sri Lanka is not far behind with ‘big four’ in their national parks!

Snorkeling with Salmon in Canadasnorkeling with salmon

From: TheHotFlashPacker | Twitter| Instagram

I love wildlife and have been lucky to view wildlife on all 7 continents, but the craziest wildlife encounter I ever had was snorkeling with salmon in the Campbell River of Vancouver Island, BC. Destiny River Adventures runs this unique rafting and snorkeling trip each July to September.  They provided a very tight wet suit and ride in an old school bus to the river.  After a short paddle and an option to jump off a rock to get wet in the cold river, you get the first chance to swim with pink salmon.  After another raft ride down mild rapids, you jump in the water again for about 45 minutes.   During this swim you’re shooting down the rapids as chinook salmon dart by.  These mature salmon are amazingly large and fast.  It’s impossible to swim down this fast-moving river – you really need to “go with the flow.”  If you’re lucky, you might spot something other than fish.  On my trip, I spotted something large and black on the left bank of the river.  I raised my head and realized there was a black bear fishing for salmon on the river bank!  Later in the swim, as I approached the estuary of the river and the sea, a friendly seal swam by.  He was too fast to follow but it was a cool experience and a great end to an exciting ride on the Campbell River.

Orca Spotting in Iceland

whale watching in iceland

Iceland is known for its beautiful landscape and nature, but did you know it has incredible wildlife as well? The coast of Iceland is teeming with whales, there are around 20 different types of whale species in Iceland’s waters, including humpback whales, sperm whales and orcas.

While on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula in north Western Iceland, I went on an incredible whale watching tour where we had the opportunity to see 7 of these species. My goal that day was to see orcas. I’d been lucky enough to see humpbacks on a whale watching trip in Maui already, which was incredible itself, but I really wanted a chance to see orcas in the wild.

We booked a tour with Laki Tours, which I strongly recommend doing on your trip to Iceland. We were lucky enough to see 7 orcas in total which completely blew my mind, and the team and Laki Tours did a great job educating us about the whales. On your tour you’ll be outfitted with a very warm suit that covers your whole body (even in summer!) to keep your warm on the very cold seas. Whale watching season in Olafsvik (where we departed from), lasts from March – September. If you plan on visiting Iceland, definitely try to spot some orcas!

Seeing Snow Monkeys in Japan

snow monkeys japan

From The Travel Sisters | Facebook | Twitter

One of my best animal encounters was seeing the snow monkeys in Japan.  The snow monkeys are Japanese macaques native to northern Japan and famous for their reddish/pink faces and for soaking in hot springs.  I was able to see a large group of snow monkeys at Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park where they come down from the mountains to play, hang out, groom and cuddle each other and relax in hot springs just inches away from humans. With a name like snow monkey park one could assume that this isn’t an ethical animal encounter.  On the contrary, the snow monkeys are in their natural habitat and free to roam as they please.  The park also has very strict rules about visitors not being allowed to feed or touch the monkeys.

Jigokudani is located about an hour from Nagano and three hours from Tokyo by public transportation so you can stay in the area or just visit on a day trip.  If traveling from Tokyo, the fastest way to reach the snow monkeys is to take the bullet train to Nagano and then transfer to either a local train or bus.   While the park is open every day year round, winter is the best time to see these cute monkeys as everything is covered in snow making them true “snow monkeys”.

Swimming with manta rays in the Maldives

manta ray

From: Meandering Wild | Facebook | Instagram

As a diver, manta rays have always been on my radar.  These huge fish spend their lives roaming the ocean, a life that very little is known about.  To see manta rays in the wild the two almost guaranteed locations are in Mexico and the Maldives.  Nothing in nature is guaranteed, but these encounters are fairly certain.  On Addu Atoll in the southern Maldives we headed out to Manta Point.  An area known to have a manta ray cleaning station.  On arrival the guide went for a little look, were the mantas there today.  Luckily they were.  We headed into the water, finning hard against the current to get from the deep blue of the outer reef into the entrance of the atoll where the manta rays congregate.
Securing ourselves in place against the current we waited and from the blue a huge shadow appeared.  Circling in the distance and gradually moving closer the first of 7 manta rays came to see who was in their world.  Cruising by he sized us up and then when he was finally ready, curled his fin and moved into position on the cleaning station.  Our air ran out long before the manta rays finished their ablutions for the day and it was a sad moment leaving them far below.  We returned a number of times and every visit had manta rays.
To do this for yourself I recommend Addu Atoll in the southern Maldives.  Diving is organised by Aquaventure Maldives who run a professional and safe business.  Diving with the manta rays needs some experience, but Aquaventure can provide the training needed.

Did this post inspire your travels? Let us know in the comments below!