My All-Time Favorite Hotels

When I was in Cambodia, I fell in love with my hotel and started thinking about how many hotels I’ve stayed in and which ones were truly memorable.  I love staying in hotels, especially nice hotels, but there are definitely a few standouts that make the cut as my all-time favorite hotels.  Many of these aren’t even fancy, but there was something special about them that seared them into memory.

Le Meridien Angkor; Siem Reap, Cambodia

This is the hotel that spawned this list in the first place.  From the second I walked through the entrance and was greeted by a cool washcloth and cold juice, I was smitten.  A gorgeous oasis to retreat from the heat of Cambodia.  Beautifully designed pool and spa area, excellent service and good food, too!

Le Meridien Angkor

Le Meridien Angkor

Renaissance Carambola; St. Croix, US Virgin Islands

My mom and I stayed here two Christmas vacations in a row!  After a late night arrival, waking up to this ocean view was such a treat!  I love a hotel room with outdoor space, and these screened in porches were perfect, not to mention the hammocks and uncrowded beach. This place is a great destination for a quiet escape from the real world.  I know we’ll be back again!

Davis Bay

Hacienda la Jiminita; Quito, Ecuador

We stayed here before and after our Galapagos cruise, and it was so charming, especially the resident French bulldogs, Francois and Maya.  I wish we’d had more time to explore the grounds, but it was another whirlwind trip! This is a place I’d love to return with a pile of books and just relax.  (we know my trips are never relaxing, but maybe someday they will be!)

Casa de Hacienda "La Jimenita" - we spent the first two nights at this cute hacienda near the Quito airporthttp://hotelnuevoaeropuerto.com/

Breakfast at the hacienda - the food was delicious, and fresh squeezed fruit juice!

Flanigan’s Inn; Springdale, Utah

Oh, Flanigan’s!  Someone on a backpacking forum recommended this place for its proximity to Zion National Park and I visited with my friends in 2008.  I then spent the next 8 years dreaming of a return until I finally made it back in 2016 after my Grand Canyon rafting trip.  On the 2nd visit, I also got to experience the spa and the hilltop labyrinth, which was pretty cool.  Honestly, I think there’s something in the air here that just captivates me.

Flanigan's in Springdale, UT - awesome place to stay!(Photo Credit:  Amy)

The pool at Flanigan's - I love that view!

Redstone Inn; Redstone, Colorado

We’ve been visiting the Redstone area for many summers, and in 2005, my mom, sister and I decided to fly out for Christmas at the Redstone Inn.  What a treat, and I think this started the Christmas travel tradition for us.  We had all our meals in the gorgeous lodge, enjoyed stunning views of the night skies from the hot tub, and even a horse-drawn sleigh ride to nearby Redstone Castle.  What an experience!

redinnsnow

Photo Credit: Aspen Valley Film

Christmas Eve sleigh ride at the Redstone Inn

Freestone Inn; Mazama, Washington

My sister and I stayed here on a trip to Washington State, after seeing Dave Matthews Band at the Gorge.   The cabin-like rooms each had their own patio, the lodge was gorgeous, the location remote. I would love to come back here sometime.

Lake outside our deck at Freestone Inn

Heaton’s Guest House; Dingle, Ireland

I don’t even have a photo of Heaton’s, but the Dingle Peninsula was just stunning.  I think we only stayed at Heaton’s 1 night, on a whirlwind trip across Ireland, but it had the perfect location near town right on the water.  I remember saying it would be the perfect place to come back and just relax with a bunch of books.  It’s been 13 years, and I haven’t made it back there yet 🙁

Honorable Mention:

Indian Lodge at Davis Mountains State Park, Texas

This place looked so great, and I really, really want to go back and give it a proper visit.  Unfortunately, when I visited I came down with a cold/flu and spent pretty much the entire time in bed.

Sunset from Skyline Drive(BW)

Far View Lodge at Mesa Verde National Park

I guess I have a thing for lodges?!  This was a short visit on a road trip to Utah and Colorado.  Super cute rooms, good food at the restaurant and of course, stunning scenery and history.

Mesa Verde - my last National park of the trip, and where I would meet my mom.

I have a feeling I will be adding a few more to this list soon!  Any suggestions?

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Favorite Hotels

 

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Christmas Sailing the Galapagos Islands

Remember OARS, the rafting company I love so much?  I pore over their annual glossy catalog every year!  After a few U.S. river trips with them, I decided to check out their international offerings.  I chose the Galapagos Adventure Sailing Multi-Sport trip in the Galapagos Islands, and I somehow talked my mom into going with me, despite the fact that she doesn’t kayak, swim or snorkel.

Thus began a year of anticipation and preparation.  We started with our flights, which we booked using American miles for the departure and United miles for the return.  This trip required evacuation insurance, so we purchased the policy offered with our flight, from Allianz.  Fortunately, we didn’t need it, but it wasn’t expensive for the small policy we purchased.  Better safe than sorry, since we don’t have Jeff Bezos’ money! (he was airlifted out of the Galapagos with kidney stones recently)

Quito, Ecuador

Our trip began in Quito, Ecuador and in hindsight, I wish I had booked more time on mainland Ecuador after the cruise. We stayed at a wonderful hacienda near the airport, Casa de Hacienda/”La Jimenita” and spent our free day on a trip to the hot springs pools at Papallacta, at 10,800′ in the Andes mountains.

Courtyard at the hacienda

Saturday, 12/20 we were taken up to Papallacta Hot Springs.  Swimming caps mandatory!http://www.termaspapallacta.com

Galapagos Islands

After two nights at the hacienda, it was time to board another flight to the islands! It’s a 45 minute flight from Quito to Guayaquil, where we stayed on the plane for about an hour layover, then another 2 hours to Baltra in the Galapagos Islands.  As soon as we landed, we were met by our nature guide, Carlos, and transferred to the dinghy which took us to our boat, the Nemo III.

Nemo III waiting for us near the airport (another Nemo inthe background)

Ahead of us were 8 days of luxurious sailing the Southern route of the Galapagos Islands.

Flock of birds feeding

Daily Routine

Most days were structured the same, so we had a nice routine.  At dinner each night, Carlos gave us the run-down of the following day’s activities. We pestered him with questions like what kind of shoes to wear and how much water to bring, but he was very patient with all of us!

Galapagos Islands Nature Guide

Each day began at 7am with fresh juice and a breakfast buffet, usually including eggs, meat and cheese, granola and yogurt.  At 8:00 we’d jump in the dinghy for our first hike of the day.  We would then return to the boat, usually to some waiting snacks and juice, then change into our wetsuits for a snorkel outing.  Lunch is served at noon, starting with soup.  Lunch was more like dinner portions – pasta or meat, always with fresh fruit for dessert.  Afternoons included another snorkel and another hike, another snack, followed by some downtime before a 7:00 dinner.  Needless to say, we were well-fed on Nemo III!

Galapagos Islands Cruise

Galapagos Islands Wildlife

The Galapagos Islands are best known for wildlife. It’s funny that the passport stamp and the guide logo are a Giant Tortoise and a Hammerhead Shark – both of which were less common than you would think.  I guess those look better than a lizard and a sea lion as the official mascot!  However, the overall diversity of wildlife was really impressive. I think the only thing we didn’t see was a hammerhead shark!  It wasn’t enough just seeing a bunch of species, but the interaction between them, the diversity you might see all in one photo opp, as well as some pretty special experiences.

Early in the trip, we saw a sea lion with a bloody tail and thought it had been in a fight.  As it turns out, she had just given birth!  Nearby was a squawking little pup, crying for mama.

Galapagos Sea Lion Pup

This sea turtle looked dead on the beach, totally motionless – we could see she had laid her eggs overnight, but just couldn’t go any farther.  We all gathered around to see if she was alive.  I don’t know if it was our annoying presence, but slowly and surely, she got herself turned around and began a very slow crawl back to the ocean, to the cheers of ours and another group.

Galapagos Sea Turtle

Of course, there are the famous Galapagos Tortoises, which we saw only on Santa Cruz – first at a farm/sanctuary and then at the Darwin Research Center.

The most colorful inhabitants were the Sally Lightfoot Crabs.  The bright color on these guys is a defense from birds – bright colors usually means POISON!

Sally Lightfoot Crab

And then there’s the birds….so many birds.  Oddly enough, the famous Darwin finches are mostly all black and the diversity there is more in diet and habitat, not appearance.

Magnificent Frigatebirds (their name, not my adjective)

Magnificent Frigatebird

Blue Footed Booby – their feet are so blue, it’s actually reflected on their feathers!

Galapagos Booby

Nazca Boobies (with babies on the way!)

Galapagos Island Booby

Albatross

Galapagos Island Albatros

The last full day we finally got to see penguins, which I was most looking forward to.  Aren’t they cute?!

Penguins

And last but not least, our cold-blooded reptile friends.  So many iguanas (land iguanas and marine iguanas), lava lizards, chameleons, etc.  There were places where you really had to watch your step because they were just everywhere! Way worse than Chicago rats, which will scurry when you get close!

Iguana

Other than the first and last day at the airport, we only visited 1 town, Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz.  That meant no wireless or cell for pretty much the whole week!  This was A-OK with me!

All in all, this was absolutely the trip of a lifetime!  At about $6,000 all in, it was the most expensive vacation I’ve taken so far, but definitely worth every penny.  Aside from the trip cost, flights and tips, there really wasn’t much to spend money on – I bought 1 T-shirt and a tote bag at the airport.  Definitely not a shopping kind of trip.  Also OK with me 🙂

Given the isolated location, I can’t say I’ll ever go back to the Galapagos Islands, but I can’t recommend this trip highly enough!

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galapagos island cruise

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