Taj Bekal, Kerala

If you want to cut off from the world and just enjoy a weekend of luxury and pampering, then this is the place for you. Taj Resorts & Spa, Bekal.

Bekal is a 2hr drive from Mangalore. It has a beach and the backwaters making it an idyllic spot to relax. The sea is rough and not the most suitable for swimming. However the sunsets make up for that.

We were given a traditional welcome on arrival with cold towels and a drink. The hotel accommodated our early check-in request and we were personally escorted to room 819. This was the superior room with a lovely balcony.

The steward explained everything about the hotel and guided us on the activities and services. I was pleasantly surprised by the size of the room. The interiors are done tastefully and have a lot of traditional yet contemporary touches giving it a lot of personality

The bathroom was even better! It had a large bathtub, with two showers, two sinks and the WC. The balcony had a swing cum bed, overlooking the backwaters.

There is plenty to do here for two nights. There is a swimming pool, and kayaking, yoga, spa, indoor games, gym, paint ball, bar, restaurants, library. Enough for two nights.

The spa has services ranging from INR 2500 to INR 12000.

The average cost per meal is roughly INR 2000 for two.

The best thing about this property is the staff. Just like any Taj, this one also has an eye for detail and every person we met was a manifestation of that philosophy. They were helpful, courteous and always preemptive of our needs. It really made us feel special, despite the resort being fully booked. The staff never ignored a single guest.

The breakfast was to die for! Probably the best spread I have ever seen in a long time and I travel a lot! Once again the staff was on their toes and managed the crowd beautifully.

It’s the little things that make Taj, the Taj.

1. When you remove the room key, the plug points stay on, so that your phone can continue charging!

2. If you have an issue, it is addressed almost immediately with no reminders needed.

3. The check-in happenes in the room and not at the reception unlike other hotels.

4. You might see chefs playing with kids and interacting like friends with guests. Very special!

My verdict: Taj Bekal is special in every way. It will make you miss it!

My rating: 5/5

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14 days in Portugal

A road trip in Portugal is what I wanted when I started my research. But there were many reviews and articles online warning against it. They said nobody follows rules and the drivers are rash. But we still went ahead and booked us a car! And I am here to tell you to do that same! DO NOT LISTEN TO THOSE PEOPLE! Driving was just fine there.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

We wanted to experience the entire country and therefore planned for the cities, beaches and the villages. And we can safely say that Portugal is now right on top of our list of places. It was the most outrageously beautiful 14 days and here is what the itinerary looked like:

Day 1- Land in Lisbon. Stay at Lisbon

Day 2- Lisbon- See Alfama and Tower of Belem

Day 3- Lisbon- Visit Sintra and Coba de Roca

Day 4- Pick up the car and drive 2.5hrs to the Algarve region. Stay in Lagos

Day 5- Lagos- enjoy the beach, caves, rock formations.

Day 6- Lagos- enjoy the beach, caves, rock formations.

Day 7- Drive 1 hr to Baleeira, Sagres. Stay at Sagres

Day 8- Drive 1 hr to Arrifana beach. Drive for 1 hr and stay at Milfontes town.

Day 9- Drive for 2 hrs to Mafra then Nazare. Stay at Nazare.

Day 10- Nazare- Enjoy the beach and the big waves.

Day 11- Drive to Aveiro via Coimbra. Then to Porto. Give up the car. Stay at Porto.

Day 12- Porto- Do the free city walking tour. See Gaia and the wineries.

Day 13- Day trip to Braga- See Viana De Castelo. Stay at Porto

Day 14- Go to Lisbon by bus or train and fly back.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

FACTS:

  • Travel dates- 20th Sept to 3rd Oct 2018
  • Weather- Bright and sunny at 30-35 degrees in most places. Sagres was cold and windy.
  • Budget- INR 1.5 lacs or 1750 Euros per person all inclusive (Flight from Mumbai, car, hotel, food, drinks, visa, fuel, tips)
  • Number of travelers- 2 adults.
  • Do not say “gracias”. They hate that. It is “obrigado” (masculine) or “obrigada” (feminine)

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

COMMON TIPS FOR DRIVING AROUND IN PORTUGAL

  1. Left hand drive. International license is a must.
  2. Uber is easily available and is a lot cheaper than local taxis in the big cities.
  3. Avoid driving in cities because there is cheap public transport and Uber available.
  4. There are not too many speed guns on the highways- top speed limit 120km/h.
  5. Highways have tolls ranging from 0.5 EUROS to 2.5 EUROS but are worth it.
  6. Opt for Via Verde automatic toll machine in your car as it is very convenient.
  7. Drives are not as scenic as Italy or Scotland perhaps, but help you to explore the various offbeat beaches.
  8. Free parking was there in all the places outside of the big cities. But be careful of your bags and belongings.
  9. Google maps works just fine and will get you wherever you want to go!
  10. Overall, Portugal was very safe and people were very nice.

COMMON TIPS FOR FOOD AND ACCOMMODATION IN PORTUGAL

  1. Hostels in the cities are the best option. They are clean, well located and cheap.
  2. Hostels even have private suites with attached bath which are quite spacious.
  3. Big hotels are best avoided if you want a local feel and not waste money.
  4. Check in time is 3pm in most places. And check out is mostly 12 noon.
  5. Average meal cost- 20 Euros for two, without drinks.
  6. Very limited options for vegetarians throughout the country- mostly salads and sandwiches.
  7. Popular dishes are cod-fish and sardines. Pork, beef , chicken are also available in most places.
  8. Mainly 2 brands of beer- Sagres and Super bock. Not all places have it on tap.
  9. Wine is available everywhere and is the staple drink. Avg price is 3.5 Euros per glass.
  10. Water from the tap is potable across the country.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

PLACES WE STAYED AT:

  • Lisbon- Grapes & Bites Hostel– Private Suite with a terrace (4.5/5)
    • Excellent location
    • Great price
    • Lovely room with terrace and a bathtub. Thin walls though.

 

  • Lagos- Our House Guesthouse– Sea view room (3.5/5)
    • A bit away from the main harbor- suitable only if you have a car
    • Beach facing and quiet, clean property
    • Nice room with glass bathroom walls

 

  • Sagres- Memmo Baleeira– Street view room (4/5)
    • A bit pricey but great location. Beach access.
    • Excellent breakfast spread. Heated pool
    • Lovely room with a bathtub

 

  • Milfontes- Rural Moitra Mar– Superior room with terrace (3/5)
    • Quiet little village hotel. With tennis court and swimming pool
    • Not the best location but excellent food. Suitable for families
    • Large room with a sit out but no air conditioning

 

  • Nazare- Hotel Magic– Double Room (4/5)
    • Quirky little hotel with parking. Close to the funicular station
    • Not beach facing. But great location for the price
    • Nice room with glass bathroom walls

 

  • Porto- Airbnb- Ribeira Vintage Suite (4.5/5)
    • Excellent location and price
    • On the 2nd floor. No lift
    • Cozy room with a balcony. No kitchenette

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

DAY 1-3: LISBON

The first thing that will get you by surprise in Lisbon is its narrow cobbled streets. I guarantee it. The way cars maneuver those turns is fascinating. It is a big city with an old world charm. The roads go up and down as the entire city is built on small hills. Most buildings have hand painted tiles on the outside walls, which is trademark Portugal. This is done to insulate the houses.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

The famous trams of Lisbon are indeed a sight to see. They are the real celebrities on the streets. Then there are the innumerable monuments and old buildings that loom large everywhere. The most magnificent one being the Arco Da Rua Augusta.

The main areas to stay at are Barrio Alto or Chiado. These places have the best bars and restaurants in town that are open all night. And Rossio is the main metro station in Lisbon. However, the entire city can be covered on foot. Which to my mind is the best way to see it.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

Alfama is a must visit. It is the oldest part of the city and is very colourful, creative and cultural. You can just walk around all day and not get bored. Each corner is an unreal experience. This part of the city has some of the most dramatic hand painted tiles on the walls giving the area a lot of character and personality. This area is also the best to try the local ham and also the local drink Ginja!

Every Tuesdays and Saturdays, there is a flea market called the Thief’s market that is set up, with shops selling local products and gifts. Beware of pick-pockets here. But the atmosphere is awesome and you will find good stuff to buy at great prices.

Tower of Belem is a short drive away and is a beautiful area to go to. One can take Bus 15 to get there. It drops you right in front of it. The Jeronimos monastery is another stunning building on the way to Belem. Don’t miss it. Both places close by 5pm.

Did you know that Lisbon has a bridge exactly like the Golden Gate, only higher? It is called 25th April- the day of their revolution. One gets a great view of the bridge from the Padroa dos Descrobrimentos.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

Sintra is a 30 mins drive from Lisbon. It is on the western side. One can spend half a day exploring the palaces and castles there and go to Cabo Da Roca for some nice views of the ocean. Please be very careful of your bags here as it is a very popular tourist destination. You have hop on hop off buses and Ubers going there.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

DAY 4-6: LAGOS

We are beach buffs and no place better than the Algarve for that. South of Portugal has some of the best beaches in the world. It is just a short 2.5hr drive away from Lisbon.

Lagos has the famous rock formations and caves that you see all over Instagram. Ponda Da Piedade, Benagil Caves and the Camilo Beach, are all in and around Lagos.

The Marina De Lagos is where most of the boats leave from. There is free parking available close to the marina. I would say that this is a good place to book a hotel at. We were booked 5mins away.

In Lagos you can book the small boats to go inside the caves (15-20 euros per person). Or even a yacht that takes you for a half day tour with lunch, beer, swimming and music (40-50 euros per person). We did both and we would do them again! It was a brand new experience and I would urge you all to book it. The dolphins also paid us a visit on the tour. We used viator.com to book. Kayaks are rented out on the beaches and not the marina. Needless to say, tides dictate the bookings of all these trips.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

There is a stunning walkway on the cliffs, all along the coast, from where you get breath-taking views of the ocean and the rock formations. You can start your walk at the lighthouse or Farol, close to Camilo beach. It is pretty simple and easy. No strenuous trekking needed. Once again there is free parking available here.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

Behind the main road of the Marina is a cute little street with bars and restaurants and shops. This is the old side with churches and cobbled streets. Find the shop called Poticho. It is a treasure!! You will thank me once you see it. And for all the Indian travelers, there are 2 Indian restaurants on this strip 🙂 You are welcome!

DAY 7: SAGRES

Sagres is a short 1hr drive from Lagos. It is at the south-west tip of Portugal. Known for its windy surfing conditions, this place can get a bit cold. We stayed at a wonderful location called Baleeira. It had some fabulous views of the bay that left us gaping. There is just one street in this town which has all the bars and restaurants. We loved this sleepy little place for its beauty and simplicity and local vibe.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

The lighthouse in Sagres is a destination stop for the sunsets. Menacingly high cliffs make up the south-west coast of Portugal and it is best seen from here. People gather on the rocks every evening to soak in the setting sun. Oh! and don’t forget to try the fresh churros after. They are heavenly!

One of the best beaches here is called Beliche. However Sagres is popular mostly for surfing. One of the bars that I recommend in Baleeira, Sagres is Pau De Pita and the restaurant you must try is Batedor

DAY 8- ARRIFANA AND MILFONTES

I had a long list of beaches that I wanted to see along the way. Like Amado, Marcas etc. And we saw them all. But Arrifana turned out to be the most memorable. From the moment you park the car to the time you reach the beach, you are in awe of it’s beauty. There are moments when it reminds you of Cape Town. I wish we had stayed here one night. But we were booked at Milfontes to cover some distance before our drive to Nazare.

Milfontes is a small town which served as a mere pit stop for us after a long day of swimming and driving. We were booked in a village resort which was relaxing.

DAY 9-10: MAFRA AND NAZARE

Mafra is a pretty little Portuguese town that contains one of Europe’s largest and most extravagant palaces, the Palacio de Mafra. This vast complex includes a huge monastery, an ornate basilica and a library that contains over 36,000 ancient books and its own colony of bats!

Nazaré is a popular surfing destination because of its very high breaking waves that form due to the presence of the underwater Nazaré Canyon

It is said to be the largest canyon in Europe having the maximum depth of at least 5,000 meters and about 230 kms long. (Wikipedia)

Due to the height of the waves, numerous surfing records have been set at Nazaré. On November 8, 2017, German big wave specialist Sebastian Steudtner surfed an 80 ft wave. In the meantime, Portuguese surfer Hugo Vau surfed a potentially 35 m (115 ft) high wave, known as “the big mama”, on 19 January 2018; an achievement yet to be authenticated by the Guinness Book of Records.

While we were not there during the season of the big waves, we still got to witness some swells. I can only imagine how it is in November. Nazare is a stop you just have to make during your trip to Portugal. There is plenty to see and do here.

There is also a funicular built in 1889 that takes you to the top of the cliff where the lighthouse is. It is a very convenient way to get to the top and get a 270 degree view of the ocean. Cost- Roughly 3 Euros per person return.

DAY 11- AVEIRO AND COIMBRA

These are 2 very unique places to cross on the way to Porto. Coimbra, a riverfront city in central Portugal and the country’s former capital, is home to a preserved medieval old town and the historic University of Coimbra. In the city’s old town lies the 12th-century Romanesque cathedral Sé Velha.

Aveiro is a city on the west coast of Portugal set along a lagoon called Ria de Aveiro. It’s distinguished by its canals navigated by colorful boats (barcos moliceiros), traditionally used to harvest seaweed. Not far from its core, known for art nouveau buildings, is the Cathedral of Aveiro, with its prominent bell tower.

When in Aveiro, resist the temptation to get on those boats at 10 Euros per person. Instead see the town on green bicycles which are available for free. Ask anyone!

DAY 11-13: PORTO

Ah! Porto!

Don’t ever make the mistake of seeing Porto before Lisbon. That would be disastrous. Because this place will take your breath away! Lisbon is just a trailer, Porto is the movie.

Much smaller than Lisbon, Porto has the delicate balance of a small touristy town with it’s old world charm intact. Everything here is artistic, including their train station.

The best way to see Porto is to walk. And there are these FREE walking tours conducted, where a guide takes you around for free and you just tip him/her what you want. I think that is a brilliant way to see the city. Instead of opting for a sight-seeing bus tour, I suggest walking if your legs permit. It can get a bit tiring with the uphill climb and the steps.

The main places to see are:

  • Ponte Luiz I Bridge
  • Livlaria Lello
  • Palacio Da Bolsa
  • Clerigos Church
  • Sao Bento Station
  • Praca Da Liberdade
  • Paco Episcopal
  • Mosteiro Da Serra do Pilar

There are vineyard tours and also the Duoro valley tour that is very popular here. But we wanted to explore the town as there was enough to see.

Please note: Most trains from Porto to Lisbon leave from Campanha Station and not Sao Bento. Take the train that has Lisbon Apolonia as the last stop and not Lisbon Oriente. The former is closer to the main city than the latter.

To conclude…

The one thing that I will take away from Portugal is the down to earth vibe. Everybody was so relaxed and chilled out. We never saw a very dressed up crowd anywhere. No hoity-toity folks like you find in France or Italy perhaps. The land had a very welcoming nature that made everyone feel at home. We are certain we will be back there someday!

Coonoor, Tamil Nadu

A 7.5 hour drive from Bangalore, Coonoor is a quaint little hill station near Ooty. It recently came in the limelight because of a Bollywood movie called Kapoor & sons which was shot there. Before that it was visited by the off beat travelers.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

Nestled in the Nilgiris this town is a much better option than Ooty these days. It is less crowded and more personal. We took the road via Salem to get there, which is a slightly longer but faster route. The drive is also very scenic compared to the mysore- bandipur highway. There are 3-4 toll booths which are the only bottlenecks.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

Coonoor is famous for its heritage properties, home made chocolates and cosy vibes. We went in May and the weather was a pleasant 20 degrees. There are several nice places to stay, like:

1. Kurumba resort- away from the town

2. Taj gateway- in the heart of coonoor

But since we don’t like to splurge too much on stay, we picked the 200yr old heritage property called Wallwood by Neemrana. It cost INR 5000 a night and looked quite decent.

We booked a room called “Camphor” which had a lovely balcony overlooking the estate and was away from the noise of the main house. If you are a couple that wants to avoid families then I strongly recommend Camphor. The rooms in the main house can get very noisy during meals since the dining area is right there.

This room was quite basic but had everything we needed including privacy. Also the food at this hotel was really tasty and homely. The staff was very helpful too. The hotel is located bang in the middle of the town and is close to all the touristy places.

Although we didn’t go to any 😉

What we did was breathe, eat, drink, drive around and sleep.

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

One day we went to a place which was called 43 hair pin bends on the map. This is a very popular biking route with breathtaking views of the mountains. The drive took us through lovely tea gardens coupled with thick woods. We even saw a family of wild Indian Gaur on the way!

On the way back we passed the Lovedale boarding school. A campus like no other! It really felt like we were in the UK countryside. You must try and take a look while you are there.

Some Places to eat and drink in coonoor are:

1. Hopscotch- a nice pub

2. Cullinarium- lovely food

3. Cafe McIver- nice place to chill

4. Taj gateway- good for a snack

5. Wellington club – if you have a army connection

(Instagram- thefanatictraveller)

All in all, it was a nice laid back holiday in the peak of summer. There are some nice walking trails and also lakes that one can explore.

Waterfalls are in plenty too if you are interested. But do not go to Coonoor seeking activities. Go there for the warmth, and the chill 😉

My verdict: A lazy little hill station where there is no rat race. Enjoy the clean air and poor service 🙂

My rating: 3.5/5 Wallwood Neemrana was ideal for us since we were out the most of the day. Food was excellent. Total value for money.

Tuli Tiger Resort, Kanha, MP

Kanha tiger reserve is roughly a 4 hour drive from Nagpur. One can even fly to Raipur or Jabalpur to get there by road. It is one of the prettiest forests in India and also one of the best managed.

Each safari vehicle has a GPS tracker that monitors the speed limit. Any reading above 20km/h inside the park is flagged off and interrogated.

Every vehicle is assigned an experienced guide who instructs the driver and monitors the safari. The staff is disciplined and respectful of the forest. Even the tourists are very well mannered here compared to some other parks in India.

The safari timings are:

Morning safari – 6:15am-11am

Evening safari – 3pm -6:30pm

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Situated in the heart of India, Kanha has three prominent zones for tourists:

1. Kanha zone

2. Kisli zone

3. Mukki zone

The saal trees are a signature of this forest. Kanha is also the best place to see tigers in the jungle meadows. The landscape and the habitat is inspiring and incredibly relaxing. This is also one of the few reserves in India that has clean toilets at the rest area.

Spread over an area of roughly 1900sq.kms, it is one of largest national parks in central India. Tiger sightings in each zone vary from season to season based on tiger activities. There are over 100 tigers in this reserve but the main species that represent Kanha is the barasingha, or the swamp deer.

We decided to stay in Tuli Tiger Resort, which is just 15 mins from the gates. This property was in the buffer zone and was the perfect choice for us.

Rooms were nice and big. And the bed was quite comfortable. The service was impeccable and so was the food. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay here and would highly recommend it to all tourists who enjoy a luxurious stay in the wilderness.

There is a pond inside the property which makes it blend with the forest beautifully. And a small swimming pool to cool off after a long safari is always a welcome option.

The resort would set up a bonfire each evening, where the guests would share their safari stories. With a drink in our hands and good conversation, it was the perfect setting to end the day.

The packed breakfast each morning was a delight. We were pampered with a large spread which lifted one’s spirits if one had no sighting 🙂

I have stayed at the Earth Lodge, Kanha but I prefer Tuli. The former is a lovely resort but a bit far from the gates. Tuli was convenient, comfortable and clean. They also have ultra luxury tents which looked out of the world. We stayed in the villas.

My verdict: Kanha is a must visit for any wildlife lover. And Tuli is a great choice. Pick the zones based on local knowledge of sightings.

My rating: 4.5/5 Very little to complain about. Except that the bathroom was flooding on and off but was fixed by the staff.

Hampi, Karnataka

I had heard so much about Hampi but somehow the place eluded me. We finally made a plan this January to spend three nights at this fascinating place where God plays Jenga.

Hampi is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in east-central Karnataka, India. It became the centre of the Hindu Vijayanagara Empire capital in the 14th century.

Transportation:

Train was the best option from Bangalore as it gave us 3 full days to explore the ruins. You leave at 10pm and arrive at Hospet at 7am. The same holds good for the return journey too.

Budget: INR 20,000 for two

Stay- 6000/- for 3 nights

Train- 1500/- both ways for two

Cab- 2500/- for 3 days

Sightseeing- 2500/-

F&B- 6000/-

Tax – 1500/-

Hotel:

Most people stay in Hospet which has the big hotels like Royal Orchid and The Hyatt. However we decided to stay in Hampi, close to the monuments.

There are two sides to explore on the Tungabhadra river. One side has the most famous ruins where historians, pilgrims and tourists flock to be mesmerized by the strange rock formations and structures. And on the other side you have the hippie vibe with bars and cafes lined up. One can get from one side to the other by boat or car. It’s very easy.

We decided to stay in Clark’s Inn which was closer to the monuments. The plan was to hire a car and see the ruins during the day and go to the other side to enjoy the night life.

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The hotel was the right choice for us because it had all the facilities like AC, swimming pool, restaurant etc that one needs in a place like Hampi where temperatures can touch 40 degrees. We paid just INR 2000/- per night for a superior room. Across the river, the homestays are cheaper but quite basic.

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There is a Jungle lodge and an Orange County property as well, but I don’t recommend them at all. Firstly both are away from the main area and secondly not worth the money they charge.

(Orange County)

( Stepped Pushkarni)

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What to see:

When you are visiting the sights, please make sure you take a guide from the Virupaksha temple office. The official rate is 1200-1500 for the day. A guide is very useful in Hampi because only when you hear the interesting stories do you appreciate what you are seeing.

Some of the must visit places are:

1. Virupaksha temple

2. Queen’s bath

3. Lotus Mahal

4. Pushkarni

5. Vithala temple

6. Elephant stables

7. Matanga hill

8. Hazara Rama Temple

9. Underground Shiv temple

10. Mahanavami Dibba

11. Malavanta- sunset point

You will need good two days to cover these and more.

( Lotus Mahal)

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The cafes that are famous are:

  • Laughing Buddha
  • Cafe chill out
  • The mango tree
  • Nargila guest house

The laid back vibe in these cafes remind you that you are on holiday. Do not expect fast service here and just thank your stars if you manage to get a place to sit.

Technically these bars are not allowed to serve alcohol. But many of them do so on request.

Close to these cafes is a sunset point which is not to be missed. Locals play music along with foreign tourists as everyone waits for the light to fade. The feeling is inexplicable as you stand atop the rocks, with the breeze in your face and happy tunes filling the air.. as the sun goes down.

(The chill out cafe)

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Best time to visit- October to February

My verdict: Overall, Hampi is a place one can keep returning to. I am in awe of its strange, barren beauty and would like to learn more about it’s ever unfolding mysteries in the years to come. The rocks defy gravity and are unlike anything else you will ever see.

My rating: 4/5 for Clark’s Inn. It exceeded expectations on all counts for the tariff . Only thing missing was an alcohol license.

River Tern Lodge, Bhadra, Karnataka

The River Tern Lodge in Bhadra is one of the many properties owned and run by Jungle Lodges, Karnataka.  Situated in the midst of the Western Ghats of Chikmaglur district in Karnataka, surrounded by the lofty hill ranges of Babubudangiri. The River Tern Lodge is a perfect blend of nature and wildlife. The lodge gets its name from the congregation of thousands of River Terns during their breeding on a nearby island.

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Accommodation:

Set next to the Bhadra dam, all rooms here overlook the serene waters of the reservoir. Rooms 1-9 are closer to the restaurant, bar and the reception and are more suited for senior citizens and families. Rooms 10-21 are a bit away from the reception and the dining hall but are more scenic and peaceful. One has to walk 50-70 steps to get there.

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We were first given room 20 which is a newly constructed cottage. The room had spectacular views, however the toilet was not fully covered with a wall till the roof. So, it was a bit strange to have the loo share the same air as the rest of the room 🙂 One could hear and smell things one didn’t want to. That too with an AC in the room!! There is always a need for a fully covered bathroom no matter now close you and your fellow traveler are 🙂 So I would not suggest room 20 and 21 for this reason alone.

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Rooms 12, 14, 16 are the best! They have big balconies overlooking the reservoir, and the bathrooms have large glass windows making it a very stunning setting! We were shifted to room 14 the next day and it was far better than room 20. The latter is also the farthest room making it even more undesirable.

Rooms have 1 double bed and 1 single bed, an electric kettle, emergency lamp, water bottles, toiletries and towels. The brightness of the cottages instantly add life to the stay and you feel immersed in nature. The constant chirping of birds and the rustling by squirrels keep you busy and entertained. There is something incredibly relaxed about this place. It grows on you!

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Activities:

People come to this lodge for the jeep and boat safaris in the Bhadra Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. But they also have water sports- kayaking, boating, swimming etc. All included in the per head rate of INR 7,500 per day.

In the safaris, sightings of cats is low, but not impossible. However, this resort is perfect for birding. It attracts hundreds of river terns during the breeding season. Bird-lovers are in for a treat with over 200 species including, grey jungle fowl, red spur fowl, Malabar parakeet, etc. calling these forests home.

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Food and Service

Unlike other JLR properties, where food and service are nothing to write home about, River Tern was an exception. We loved the spread and the courteous staff. Every member was very helpful and knowledgeable about the forest.

The Bar has a limited menu but the rates are very reasonable.

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My verdict: This resort is perfect for nature lovers and those who wish to relax. Do not go there expecting to see cats. The safaris are more like joy-rides. Enjoy the park for other things. And enjoy the resort for its views and service

My rating: 3.5/5 Room no. 20 was a bit awkward.. but after we were moved to Room 14 it was heaven. Good service and good views make this a very relaxing and tranquil property.

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3 nights in Zanzibar, Tanzania

I am a beach buff that grabs any chance of visiting a sandy stretch with blue waters. Zanzibar was on my list for a long time, especially after I read about “The Rock Restaurant“. It is a place surrounded by blue waters and serves alcohol! What more does one need as incentive? Below is an image of this unique bar which I saw on the internet and I knew I had to go there 🙂

One can make a reservation online, and since the place is very popular among tourists, I would recommend an advance booking to avoid standing in a queue. The food and drinks are expensive but well worth it, for the overall experience you get.

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So, we booked a 3 night stay at Zanzibar as an extension to our Kenya Masai Mara trip.

Our itinerary 

Day 1- Land in Zanzibar and head to Pongwe Beach hotel. Relax at the hotel

Day 2- Go for a half day snorkeling tour to Mnemba island. Have lunch and return to the hotel. Head to Nungwi and Kendwa in the evening for the sunset and some drinks.

Day 3- Go swimming at Pongwe and enjoy the high tide. Then go to The Rock restaurant for a late lunch . Enjoy a lazy evening. Head back and enjoy dinner and live music at the hotel

Day 4- Check out after breakfast. Drive to Stone town. Eat lunch at stone town and fly out at 5pm to Nairobi

Total Budget for 2 with airfare- INR 60,000-70,000

Airfare- 15,000 (from Nairobi)

Taxi- 12,000

Hotel- 20,000

F&B & activities- 13,000

Planning the trip in advance really helped because the prices of flights and hotels shot up during peak season. We went to Zanzibar in August 2017 (high season), and booked our flights from Nairobi in February 2017 itself. We got return air tickets for INR 7,000 per person which went up to INR 25,000 by July end. One of our friends wanted to join us, but the hike in airfares made it unviable for him.

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The island

Like most islands, the pace on Zanzibar is slower than on the mainland. You will never feel the need to rush here, and you’ll hear “Hakuna matata” all day long as locals send out their “no worries” vibe to tourists . The island is just magnificent. and combines amazing beaches with many different thing to do, lots of history and culture to explore.

However, as soon as you land, the economic disparity becomes very apparent. Zanzibar is a poor country. Locals make less than a dollar per day. Tourism is their main source of income therefore, everyone is expected to tip handsomely to help the locals.

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The roads around the island are fantastic. So getting from one part to the other is easy and comfortable. Having said that, the taxis here are very expensive. It will cost you anywhere between $80-$100 for a 5-6 hour rental. One can hire bikes as well, but the assumption is that on an island like this, you will consume alcohol 🙂 so riding is not advisable. There are several beaches to choose from depending on your preference.

The Zanzibar airport is a nightmare especially on departure. I would request all tourists to account for minimum 3 hours as check in time because the queues are endless and the process is very poor. There is no air conditioning and people push and shove to make their way. The new airport is still under construction and until it is done, you must be ready for a tussle on departure.

The Beaches

I have been to many beach destinations, both in India and abroad, but nowhere else have I seen water this blue. It just takes you by surprise. However, each side of the island witnesses very different behavior by the sea. So you must know about it.

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North- The beaches in the north of the island, unlike the east coast, are not as tidal, so you can spend the whole day at the beach. This is the most popular side for tourists and has all the big hotel chains and also some great bars. The north-west side is famous for its beautiful sunsets. Two best beaches here are:

  • Nungwi- Very commercial yet very pretty. A lot of local vendors around. Not as clean as I thought.
  • Kendwa- My favourite part of the north. The sunset and the vibe here are unmatched. Highly recommended for a night out. Food and Drinks are much cheaper here compared to other parts

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(Nungwi)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

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(Kendwa sunset)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

East- The east coast of Zanzibar is less developed, but impresses with beautiful white sand beaches. The beaches along the east coast are very tidal. At low tide the water withdraws for up to 1 kilometer, making bathing virtually impossible. During this time, you can take a long beach walk or walk straight into the sea. At high tide the water is perfect for swimming and gives tourists a lot of privacy. 3 best beaches here are:

  1. Pongwe- The most private and beautiful beach I have ever seen.
  2. Pwani Mchangani- A nice and quiet stretch of white sand with big hotels
  3. Paje- white sandy dream beach in the south-east of Zanzibar is popular with water-sports and its good kite-surfing conditions.

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(Pongwe)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

West- Even though the beaches on the west coast cannot compete with the dream beaches on the north and east coasts, they are still worth a visit  The best thing about the beaches on the west coast are the sunsets, truly unforgettable! The best beach here:

  1. Prison Island beach

South– The south coast of Zanzibar boasts reefs, sandbanks, and mangrove forests. This area hardly touched, but even though there are but a few sand beaches suitable for bathing here, visitors love to come to this region thanks to the dolphins that have made their home in the waters of the south coast.

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(Kendwa)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

Stone Town

Stone town for me was a huge disappointment. Perhaps, because I am Indian, dirt and dilapidation is not something that fascinates me. The entire town felt as if it was gonna come crumbling down any minute. It’s one thing to see historic buildings and ancient ruins, but quite another to just witness badly maintained monuments.

Half a day in Stone Town is more than enough according to me. You can visit the spice market, see the slave chambers, and experience the narrow streets. Don’t waste any more time here and head to one of the amazing beaches instead.

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Pongwe Beach Hotel

Zanzibar offers accommodation in all shapes and sizes. There are the big chain hotels like the Hilton and then there are boutique hotels like the Pongwe Beach Hotel. We chose the latter because the beach is private and the place is not very commercial. It is a romantic getaway. Situated right at the beach, this hotel looked irresistible.

 

(Pongwe Beach Hotel)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

The ratings were really high on tripadvisor, and it did not disappoint. We were greeted with a personalized note in our room and a complimentary champagne bottle for our special occasion. The room was large and traditionally decorated.

The breakfast menu was limited for vegetarians but the service was fabulous. All members of staff were always smiling and willing to go out of their way to help. Every Friday this hotel has a live music show, which we absolutely loved! Food and drinks are more expensive in this part of the island, as compared to Kendwa. But the privacy and peace made it all worth it for us.

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(Pongwe)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

Heidi was the person in-charge and she was very helpful and proactive in making arrangements for us. The hotel had paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking as activities. There was also a small library with some very interesting choice of books. What we found very fascinating is the high tide and low tide hours. During low tide, we walked 500mts into the sea with ankle deep still waters.

The best part about this hotel is its infinity pool overlooking the blue waters! One can spend the entire day on that deck just sun bathing and sipping wine.

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(Pongwe Beach Hotel)- instagram ID- thefanatictraveller

Other things to do

Zanzibar has many activities which we didn’t opt for. Here are some that might help you:

  1. One night at Mnemba Resort/Lodge- beautiful but expensive resort on a private island
  2. Cheetah’s Rock- A place where tourists get up-close with rescued cheetahs
  3. Dolphin safaris- south of the island
  4. Bawe beach- on the west side

Quick tips

  • USD is easily accepted everywhere. But cards are not
  • $2 is a good tip for waiters. $5 for drivers
  • Book in advance to enjoy cheaper rates- be it flights or hotels
  • Reach the airport well in advance before your departure.

My verdict: Zanzibar is a must visit for all beach lovers. Choose Pongwe beach if you want to have a quiet, private, lazy holiday. Do not expect ultra luxury here. The stay is cozy, personal and very peaceful. Kendwa is the more happening beach with loud music, sunsets and great bars.

My rating: 4/5 Everything was nearly perfect. The only issue was the price of food and alcohol was much higher here compared to Kendwa beach. Also, there are no sunset views in this part of the island.