Iceland: The ULTIMATE road trip itinerary!

In October 2017, we decided to return to Iceland after an amazing whirlwind trip in 2015.

However, this time we were determined to travel around the whole country via the ring road, rather than not venturing much further than Reykjavik. We hired a Dacia Duster 4×4 , loaded the boot up with cases and enough gadgets to make MI5 jealous and headed off on the ULTIMATE 8-day road trip.

Keep reading for our full itinerary and useful information to make your trip as COOL as possible   😉

 

DAY 1

We took an early morning flight from London Gatwick, arriving at chilly Keflavik airport by 10am local time. After grabbing our bags we jumped on the shuttle bus just outside of the arrivals hall to Geysir Car Rentals. We used Geysir for car hire during our previous trip and found them to be very reasonably priced without any hidden premiums for young drivers. Again, we had a very good experience with them with easy pick up/drop off and a very helpful representative who gave us a discount fuel card to use at Olis petrol stations that gave you money off fuel and food as well as free coffee at every stop. We went with standard vehicle insurance that is included in the hire cost but decided to add on gravel protection at a cost of … for the duration of the trip as we planned to use the dreaded F-roads which are not paved.

 

After we left the vicinity of the airport we headed straight to the Perlan, a glass dome that offers 360′ panoramic views over Reykjavik as well as various exhibitions throughout the year. During our visit they were holding The Glacier & Ice Cave Exhibition which illustrated the history and future of Iceland’s great glaciers as well as exhibiting a man-made replica ice cave that you can venture in to with an informative guide. Whilst they do provide thermal ponchos I would recommend wrapping up warm before you head into the -10c tunnels! The cost of the exhibition is 2.900 ISK for adults and 1,450 ISK for children aged between 6 – 15 years old. Children under 6 go free. Included in the price of the ticket is the observation deck although since we visited I am told that if you wish to visit the Perlan just for the observation deck you just need to register your email address at reception and they will give you access free of charge. There is also a restaurant and coffee shop on the very top floor but we decided to head straight into Reykjavik after the exhibition in order to make the most of our time there.

Once we arrived in Reykjavik, we were able to park outside our apartment we had booked for the night. The apartment was exactly what we needed considering there was 4 of us. 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms (one an ensuite) and a large open space kitchen/lounge/diner. As well as being a really nice place to stay it was located very centrally in Reykjavik. V54 Harbour Apartments, Reykjavik

We would really recommend using booking.com for road trip accommodation as we found it so easy to book rooms in advance and not pay until we checked out. Booking.com also lets you cancel rooms without charging you a fee which is handy if you want to extend your time in a certain place or if you find yourself somewhere quicker than what was expected.

Once we dropped our bags off we headed straight out into Reykjavik to start having a look round. Alex and I had already explored Reykjavik during our trip in March 2015 but this was before we had the drone and in 2015 the weather was really bad for the duration of the trip meaning that this time everything looked quite different. We saw the main sites including the Sun Voyager, Hallgrímskirkja and the Harpa building. We also visited the many Christmas shops that were already open (much to Meg’s delight) and a small, family-run bakery that sold delicious pastries and danishes. The queue for this bakery was out the door and so we decided to queue to see what the fuss was about – we’re glad we did!

We decided to stay in Reykjavik for just 1 night as we we felt that it was long enough to see the main attractions on offer and we were keen to get on the road so we ate at the Hard Rock (obviously) and then headed back to the apartment for a good night’s sleep.

DAY 1 SUMMARY

Driving time: < 1 hour

Sites seen: Perlan, Sun Voyager, Harpa building, Hallgrímskirkja, downton Reykjavik 

AccommodationV54 Harbour Apartments, Reykjavik

 

 

DAY 2

After a relaxed start to the morning we jumped back in the Dacia Duster and drove to a nearby supermarket for essential road trip supplies (mainly crisps, biscuits and coca colas). The cost of everything in Iceland is eye-wateringly expensive and so if you plan to eat out every night you need to budget around £40 (5,550 Icelandic Krona) per person for a main course and a drink. However, on a few nights we planned to stay in cottages that were in very remote areas and so we knew this would not always be possible. So we picked up a few bits and pieces for the cottage stays (tea bags, coffee etc.) and made a point to do more supermarket shops when we stopped in the major towns on our route.

Our first scheduled stops were on the Golden Circle route – Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss. In 2015 we visited these sites with a tour company but now that we had a 4 x 4 (and the gravel insurance!) we headed to them without any worries. We needn’t have worried about the road conditions as they were absolutely fine – there was no snow or ice and the roads themselves were all tarmac. After a successful Golden Circle tour (see our 2015 blog post for more information on these stops) we headed for our last stop of the day – Seljalandsfoss. We did see this waterfall in 2015 but again, we made a stop here as it was on the way to our hotel for the night and it’s not every day you get to see such a beautiful waterfall that seems to just appear on the side of the road! It wasn’t any less beautiful than when we last saw it and actually looked quite different without the snow and ice surrounding it. We finally made it to our hotel just as it was getting dark which was a bonus. This was actually our least favourite hotel of the trip. The stay itself was absolutely fine and the staff here were really friendly but the rooms were very basic – Hotel Drangshild, Skogar

There is a restaurant at the hotel which is where we ate. The food was ok but the price to eat here was very expensive for what it was. However, we were literally in the middle of no where and so we didn’t have many other options for dinner (other than a feast of chocolate disgestive biscuits and monster munch crisps!). Our itinerary for the following day was absolutely jam packed and so we had an early night and set our alarms for 7am (way before the 8:30am sunrise!).

DAY 2 SUMMARY

Driving time: 4 hours

Sites seen: Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss, The Great Geysir, Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss

AccommodationHotel Drangshild, Skogar

DAY 3

After having breakfast at the hotel we set off just as the sun was starting to come up and so decided to swing by Skogafoss waterfall as we could see it from our hotel and it seemed a shame to miss it. I was explaining to Alex’s family that when we last came to see Skogafoss waterfall a rainbow appeared right in front of it and it made for some amazing photos and as if on cue, the sun came up above the waterfall and the rainbow appeared! Skogafoss is still one of my favourite places in Iceland, purely for this reason.

Back in the Dacia Duster we set off for our first stop on our itinerary, the Sólheimasandur plane wreckage. In November 1973 a US navy plane crash landed on Sólheimasandur black sand beach in Iceland, just a few moles from the small town of Vik. All passengers survived the crash but the wreckage was never recovered. This was one of the first things we added to our itinerary when we decided to do the Iceland road trip and so after reading about the hike to the crash site online, this is why we decided to head out early to try and get the plane to ourselves. It is an 8km hike (round trip) to reach it but 100% worth it. You used to be able to drive there if you had a 4 x 4 but the land owners have since stopped this due to damage caused to the gravel road by the vehicles.

Driving instructions to reach the plane wreckage:

After driving past Skógafoss waterfall going East on Route 1, you’ll cross a bridge with flashing yellow lights and a dirt road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left. Keep driving East for about 2 kilometers and look out for another dirt road with a gate on your right – pull in here. (If you end up driving over a 2nd bridge, you’ve gone too far). It is then a 4km straight walk to the plane. The plane will only come into view when you are nearly on top of it due to mounds of sand blocking your view and so don’t be surprised if you feel like you are getting no where and then it suddenly appears!

This really was one of the highlights of our trip as although many people make the trek here every year there are no information boards, no signs pointing you in the direction of the plane and no tourists queuing up to take photos. It really does feel like a secret, undiscovered place. So much so that I can imagine that if you are completely alone with the wreckage it would feel quite eerie.

A few miles on from here is Vik beach. Similar to Sólheimasandur, Vik’s beach is black sand. It it without a doubt one of the most peaceful, calming places we have visited. Please read our 2015 blog to find out more about this special place.

Next was a short drive to Fjaðrárgljúfur, a canyon that was 100 meters deep and around 2km in length. The Fjaðrá river runs through it and it’s great to see if you have the time to stop. We stopped here for around 20 mins just to get a few photos but it is quite a strenuous walk up hill to get to the view point so bear this in mind. We then had a 1 hr 45 min drive to Jokulsarlon, a beautiful glacial lagoon filled with icebergs of all different shapes and sizes. The lagoon shines a brilliant blue when the sun shines on it and it makes for a really impressive site. We got there just as the sun was coming down which made it even more beautiful still. During the spring and summer months Ice Lagoon operate boat trips which look brilliant. This will definitely be on my bucket list to do when we next visit Iceland during the peak season. It was then an hour’s drive to our hotel for the night. It was one of our favourite stays, the rooms were lovely and modern and the breakfast the following morning was the best we had during the whole trip. Fosshotel Vatnajokull

DAY 3 SUMMARY

Driving time: 4 hours

Sites seen: Skogafoss, Sólheimasandur plane wreckage, Vik Beach, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon

AccommodationFosshotel Vatnajokull

DAY 4

After a lazy start to the morning with a lovely breakfast we packed up the car again and got all the snacks ready. I was given the job of chief snack distributor as I was riding shotgun ;). We always knew that day 4 was going to be a day of driving so we put on the long road trip playlist and set off. Our first stop was only a 15 min drive away at the little fishing town of Hofn. We took this opportunity to stock up with food at one of the bigger supermarkets here as it was the first one we had seen in a while. We also filled up with Petrol as we knew that our drive through the East Fjords of Iceland was going to be very remote with no civilisation until we reached our next hotel. This was the only time we stopped at a Petrol garage and didn’t get hot dogs all round! They are served at every Olis garage and are the cheapest hot meal to buy that are actually quite filling. Costing only £2 (140 Icelandic Kroner) per hot dog – it’s safe to say we lived on them whether it be for breakfast, lunch or dinner!

Back on the road again we made regular stops where Alex just pulled over to the edge of the road to take in the views and scenery (and for photo opportunities). Not a lot of tourists visit the Eastern Fjords of Iceland unless they are driving the Ring Road because there is not much in terms of touristy things to see or do but it is without a doubt the most beautiful part of the island. One minute you are driving through rocky, magnificent mountains that soar way up into the clouds and within a few minutes drive you are presented with a flat, green landscape featuring brilliant blue, crystal clear lakes that stretch as far as the eye can see. It really made the long drive much less monotonous but we were glad to reach our Icelandair hotel after a 3 hour drive. This was another lovely hotel and the staff here were very knowledgeable about things to do in the local area.  Icelandair Hotel Herad. They recommended we take the hike up to Hengifoss, the third tallest waterfall in Iceland, which would take around 90 mins to ascend. It was getting quite late in the afternoon and we were conscious of the sun setting very early during the winter but we decided to go for it. It was an extremely steep ascent and we had to take a few breaks to catch our breath but when we eventually made it the view was amazing and the 128 metre high waterfall was different to any other than we had seen in Iceland. The waterfall is surrounded by thin, red layers of clay between the basaltic layers which gives it a very unique look. Another bonus was having the waterfall completely to ourselves because of the time of day – Alex even managed to get the drone up to get some beautiful shots. The descent was much easier but still took around an hour to do and we got back to the hotel just as the sun went down, ready for more driving the following day.

DAY 4 SUMMARY

Driving time: 3 hours

Sites seen: Hofn fishing village, Eastern Fjords, Hengifoss

AccommodationIcelandair Hotel Herad

 

 

DAY 5

Days 4, 5 & 6 were always going to be ‘driving days’ but we found a few things to see see on route to Akureyri, our next stop. We had a couple of hour’s drive through yet more beautiful, everchanging landscapes before our first stop at Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Something to bear in mind when you are travelling to Dettifoss is that the access road (Road 862) is closed during winter time due to the weather and does not open until late May or early June. We tried to make it down there in our 4 x 4 but the road was impassable and we could see other vehicles turning round in the distance. We joined the ring road again and thanks to Google we found that on the west river bank there is a new, paved road which is passable for all vehicles (however this road is not in service from January until the beginning of April). It was a 10 minute walk from the car to the waterfall but just before you get there you can hear the roar of the water and you can feel the vibrations underfoot. It is a magnificent waterfall and is one of those places that make you feel very small in such a huge world. We nearly had a terrible accident when Alex lost his footing near the edge of the waterfall that resulted in a few tears (from me!) but other than that it is an absolute MUST SEE. We were even treated to a perfect rainbow above the falls. Absolutely beautiful.

Back in the car it was another 90 minutes before our next stop – a geothermal field in the Myvatn area. Here, water at a temperature of between 80 and 100c beneath the earth causes the ground to hiss, bubble and steam. It’s a mystical sight to see and the sulphur level here is extremely high causing a very strong, quite unpleasant aroma!

Back in the car we stopped a few more times to admire the scenery and take some photos of Lake Myvatn and the Krafla Lava Fields. It was Instagram heaven – without the need for any filters!

Our last stop before Akureyri was at Godafoss – known locally as the waterfall of the Gods. Its name is said to have come from an old legend whereby a local parliamentarian, Þorgeir, decided to change the religion of Iceland to Christianity and threw his Pagan God statues in the falls to mark a new beginning.

Although it is not very tall, it is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland and when the water level is very high, smaller waterfalls appear below. To get a good view of the falls it is fairly simple to access however, during the winter months (when we visited), the surrounding rocks are extremely slippery. I took a tumble (much to Alex’s amusement) more than once and we were only there 10 minutes! Please bear this in mind if you do get close to the edge!

It was then around a 45 minute drive to Akureyri, our base for the night. After Reykjavik, the capital city, Akureyri is the largest town in Iceland. So we made sure to stock up on supplies as our next couple of stops were going to be in very remote locations (our next scheduled stop was in a town with a population of 266 people!). Our cottage in Akureyri was lovely and even had an outdoor hot tub which was interesting in the sub zero temperatures! We really noticed a drop in temperature on Day 5. We were used to around 1c/2c but in Akureyri and for the next few days of our road trip the temperatures were on average -3c/-4c. Saeluhus Apartments & Houses, Akureyri

DAY 5 SUMMARY

Driving time: 5 hours

Sites seen: Dettifoss, Lake Myvatn, Mount Krafla Lava Fields, Godafoss

AccommodationSaeluhus Apartments & Houses, Akureyri

 

 

DAY 6

We spent the morning of day 6 having a wander around Akureyri. It is a charming little town with a 1940s church (Akureyrarkirkja) as its centre. Also in the town is an art museum and a 3.6 hectare Botanical Garden. It was the wrong time of year for us to visit the Botanical Garden and we are not art lovers and so we just enjoyed a quick walk around the town. We packed up the car and set off again mid-morning to our next stop in a very small little town called Búðardalur. It was a 3 hr 30 min straight drive and we planned to spend 2 nights here as we were going to visit the Dynjandi Falls which is situated in the Western Fjords, a very isolated part of Iceland. The drive to Dynjandi was going to take us around 3 hours each way so it made sense to have a base for a couple of nights. On arrival in Búðardalur we found our cottage (with some difficulty!) and met the owner who gave us the keys and some knowledge of the small town. Asubud Apartments, Búðardalur

There were 2 restaurants – one attached to a guest house and one family owned fish and chip shop! We decided to try the guest house restaurant for a late lunch and then the fish and chip shop for dinner later that evening. After lunch we took a 5 minute drive to a house located right on the ‘beach’ that the owner had told us about. Here, in the garden, was a large pool that was home to 2 baby seals! The seal pups were rescued from slaughter by a resident of Búðardalur after he found out that a zoo in Reykjavik could no longer keep them. He plans to let them go into the wild once they are old enough – only in Iceland would you find a story like this! Read more about them here – http://icelandreview.com/news/2017/11/01/rescued-seal-pups-doing-well

We then took a drive out to Erikstaddir, a small hut located just off the main road which tells a story of Viking Iceland. Eiríksstaðir is famous for being the place where Leifur heppni (‘Leif the Lucky’ – born in 980AD) lived. According to history books, Leif was the first European to discover America. During peak season it is possible to visit inside where staff (dressed in typical viking attire!) tell you the history of how the vikings from Norway eventually came to settle in Iceland. I would give this a go if you are able as I imagine it would be a bit of fun and the TripAdvisor reviews are great.

Dinner at the fish and chip shop was lovely but very expensive, although this was to be expected in such a small town. It was nice to meet the family who run the business. We headed back to the cottage in the pitch black for an early night, ready for our adventure to Dynjandi the following morning!

DAY 6 SUMMARY

Driving time: 4 hours (including the drive to Erikstaddir)

Sites seen: Akureyri town, Búðardalur town, Erikstaddir

Accommodation: Asubud Apartments, Búðardalur 

DAY 7

This was the day that we were most looking forward to. Even though Alex had a LOT of driving, we were so excited to see Dynjandi! Voted Iceland’s most beautiful waterfall and having looked at hundreds of Instagram pictures (search #Dynjandi now to see what I mean!) we made sure all the cameras and drone was charged and set off. Although it was a long drive without any stops, it was straightforward and even though it was off the beaten track none of the roads were impassable for smaller vehicles. We are so pleased we made the effort of going out of our way as it was easily our favourite site of our whole trip. Photos really do not do it justice, it was breathtakingly beautiful. We climbed up to the base of the waterfall and got some photos. For a while we were the only people there which made it even more special. If you have the time to spare and you don’t mind a bit of driving make sure you have this on your itinerary as it really shouldn’t be missed. In a way, the fact that it is in such an isolated area makes it even more of a must-see without the herds of tourists queuing up for a selfie.

After a long day of driving in the Western Fjords we returned to our little cottage and spent some time organising our photos and videos from the last 7 days (all 2,000 of them!).

DAY 7 SUMMARY

Driving time: 6 hours 30 mins

Sites seen: Dynjandi, Western Fjords

Accommodation: Asubud Apartments, Búðardalur 

 

DAY 8

 

Dubai

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I don’t tend to use this phrase much as it’s so overused but Dubai really is like Marmite – you love it or you hate it. Considering I keep going back, it’s safe to say my opinion is the former! A combination of flashy cars, oversized shopping malls, thrilling theme parks and enough sun to last you a lifetime, Dubai is a place like no other. There’s no denying that the heat can sometimes become uncomfortable, especially in the summer months when it climbs to a sticky 50c at times, but the ice cold air conditioning that blasts you at every indoor opportunity is nothing short of heavenly and makes things bearable. This year, we went away with a big group of my family at the end of July, one of the hottest times of year to visit the United Arab Emirates. A lot of people said we were crazy but with promises of an extensive all-inclusive cocktail list and 5 refreshing swimming pools to choose from at the Jebel Ali Golf Resort and Spa, we happily took our chances! After a 7 hour flight from London Heathrow, we arrived at Dubai airport, one of the busiest airports in the world. We then had a 45 minute transfer before we stepped into the oasis of the Jebel Ali, around a 30 minute drive from downtown Dubai. Downtown Dubai is not necessarily a very busy city but it was nice to stay slightly further out. I first came to the Jebel Ali with my parents in 2004 and we like it so much here that we don’t tend to stay anywhere else. The staff are friendly, the hotel and grounds are beautiful and with 7 different restaurants to choose from, all serving different cuisine, it’s safe to say we were never hungry! The hotel also has a shooting range where we each had a go at shooting a 9mm pistol with guidance from a dedicated instructor. Not wanting to blow my own trumpet but getting 4 in the bullseye wasn’t bad for my first attempt whilst wearing 6 inch heels! 😜

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Aerial shot of Jebel Ali

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Volleyball on the beach

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Hotel grounds

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Infinity pool

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While in Dubai we went on a couple of excursions, one being a Desert Safari and the other being a Penguin Encounter at Ski Dubai (yes, you read that right – SKI DUBAI – but more on that later!) which were both based outside of our resort. There are a number of things to bear in mind when out and about in Dubai. The culture and religious views of people in this part of the world say that it is unacceptable for women to show their bare shoulders or legs in public. Any public display of affection between couples is also frowned upon. There is no need to refrain from showing a lot of skin or holding hands within your hotel, but it’s important to abide by their laws when at the shopping malls or in downtown Dubai as you may be stopped by police if they feel you are not being respectful. Saying this, it has never affected our time spent outside of the resort and I think in recent years, the people of Dubai have actually become a lot more relaxed and tolerant of the English culture. After reading a lot of great reviews for Desert Safari Dubai, I enquired about a trip for 6 of us via their website (www.desertsafaridubai.com). After a few emails back and forth I decided to spend a little extra and upgrade our ride to a Hummer which in my opinion was well worth the money. All in all, we were in the Hummer for around 4 hours and were grateful for the extra space it gave us. We arrived in the desert after an hour’s drive from the Jebel Ali and were ushered into a row of gift shops while our driver let all of the air out of his tyres before our dune bashing session. There were a number of pushy shopkeepers mulling around trying to get us to buy traditional costume in the form of head scarves and robes which made us all feel slightly uncomfortable. It was a side to Dubai that I hadn’t seen before and it wasn’t a place I would want to visit again. After around a 15 minute wait, we piled back in the Hummer and edged forward into the desert. Our driver wasn’t much of a talker but he sure knew how to ride the sand dunes! We had a 20 minute thrill-ride going up, down and sideways(!) along the dunes at stomach-churning speed before stopping in the heart of the desert for photo opportunities. As we stepped out of the Hummer, cameras in hand, I was surprised at how windy it was. So much so that I lost my sunglasses, hat and scarf all with one huge gust of wind! This paired with the ridiculous heat made it quite an unpleasant environment to be in. Nevertheless, we climbed the tallest sand dune (with much effort I must add) and the view was fantastic, all you could see was desert for miles and miles with no other cars, people or even landmarks in sight. We pumped the tyres back up and drove to base camp, around 25 mins from where we did the dune bashing. Base camp consisted of cushions on the sand for you to sit on, a small shack that served drinks and an undercover area where a lady was carrying out Henna tattoos; not the most luxury of sites but it certainly felt as if you were in the middle of a desert! Here we rode camels and were given the opportunity to do some quad-biking but after an afternoon of adrenaline, we decided to sit this out, choosing instead to get a drink from the shack and wait for the traditional arabic entertainment to start. We watched the blood-orange sun set on the horizon and settled down to watch the dancers, one being a very scantily-clad belly dancer which I was surprised to see in a country like Dubai who impose such a strict dress-code for women. A BBQ was included in the price of our excursion and although it looked perfectly fine to eat, we chose to wait until we got back to the hotel to have dinner. It’s definitely an experience I would recommend, even if it’s just to say that you have spent a night under the stars in the middle of an Arabian desert. It’s certainly an experience I will remember.

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Now onto my favourite experience I had in Dubai…! This took place within the second largest shopping mall in the world – The Mall of the Emirates. The Mall of the Emirates is huge with over 700 shops, an indoor theme park, a 500 seat theatre and of course, the main attraction, Ski Dubai (https://booking.skidxb.com). Ski Dubai is an indoor ski centre, boasting 22,500 square meters of fun in a – 4c environment. With skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing and snowy adventures to be had, it’s not an experience you would necessarily associate with the skyscrapers and deserts of the middle east but that is part of its appeal. While we didn’t do any skiing on this trip, we did visit Ski Dubai to meet with the 3 ft tall residents that live there – penguins (Gentoo and King penguins to be exact)! We booked an exclusive encounter, which at just over £100 each, wasn’t cheap but this package ensures that it is a 1-to-1 experience with your group and the penguin trainer (if your group size is 4 persons or more). It’s an experience that can only be done in Dubai and nowhere else in the world gives you the opportunity to cuddle, feed and play with penguins in such an intimate environment. We were first kitted out with Ski Dubai snowsuits before making our way to the Penguin meeting point and being introduced to our dedicated trainer. He then proceeded to take us into the freezing cold habitat where the penguins live, 19 in total including a number of chicks that were born this year. We were given a behind the scenes tour before we were introduced to all the penguins by name (McFatty being my personal favourite!). We were told lots of interesting facts before we were given opportunities to stroke, cuddle and feed the penguins. It was the most amazing experience, all captured by our own personal photographer who followed us around the habitat. As part of the price we paid for the encounter, we received 1 photo per person and then they offer photo packages for you to purchase afterwards. These are not cheap though – before we bartered the price with them they asked us for another £100 for all the photos on a disc! I won’t go into too much detail of what happens during the encounter as I don’t want to ruin the fun for anyone else but it’s something that I can happily tick off my bucket list. Find out more about the Penguin habitat here – http://skidubaipenguins.com. There’s even a package that allows you to swim with them!

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The largest shopping mall in the world is also located in Dubai – The Dubai Mall. With over 1200 shops, an ice rink and an underwater zoo and aquarium (that you can see by going on a glass-bottom boat ride!) among other things, it really is a monster of a mall but a very impressive one at that. Walking through the indoor Souk here is mesmerising with 220 jewellery outlets that are full to the brim with gold and rare jewels (including the biggest diamonds you will ever see) – you’ll be sure to fall in love with something! The original Gold Souk can be found in an area called Deira and is open 7 days a week. This busy outdoor market is the place to go for bargains or if you are in search of a momento to take home with you. Just next door is also the Spice Souk – just as interesting a place with a rainbow of weird and wonderful spices on display for you to purchase or taste. Dubai Mall is also home to the Dubai Fountains, the world’s largest choreographed fountain system in the world set on the 30-acre manmade Burj Khalifa Lake and designed by the same people that built the Bellagio Fountains in Las Vegas. The shows are scheduled at 1pm and 1:30pm during the day and then every 30 minutes from 6pm in the evening. The musical displays definitely have the wow-factor, especially with the Burj Khalifa soaring majestically above them. The Burj Khalifa is the world’s tallest building (we’re beginning to see a bit of a theme here…) at 830m tall meaning it’s three times as tall as the Eiffel Tower and nearly twice as tall as the Empire State Building. It was made famous in the latest Mission Impossible film and believe it or not, Tom Cruise was granted permission to climb up and have a seat at the very top of the spire. Rather him than me! Entrance to the Sky Observation Deck can be accessed through the shopping mall but it is extremely pricey (see prices and information on peak timings here – https://tickets.atthetop.ae/atthetop). However, discounts can be had if purchased in conjunction with tickets to the Aquarium or if you visit outside of peak hours so it is definitely worth looking into this before booking your visit. There is no real need to purchase tickets in advance of visiting the shopping mall as you can book a time slot for entry every 30 minutes until closing. The only slots that tend to get booked up are at the time of the sunset as the views are pretty spectacular. You have to go through a security check, similar to the ones at an airport but this doesn’t take long and the lift travels at 10 metres per second, meaning it takes just under 1 minute to reach the 126th floor! The view is fantastic and as it’s the tallest skyscraper in the world, it’s a must-do in Dubai.

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One thing to bear in mind when you leave a shopping mall – there are organised queues for taxis with staff pointing you to available cars when you near the front of the queue. The staff will automatically point you towards an unmarked taxi who will charge you double the price of a normal one! The staff here obviously have some sort of deal going with the unmarked taxi drivers and although it is perfectly safe to get in one, if you are on a budget make sure you refuse and ask to ride in a marked taxi!

There are a number of different water parks in Dubai but Wild Wadi next door to the Jumeirah Beach hotel is my favourite (http://www.jumeirah.com/en/hotels-resorts/dubai/wild-wadi/). It’s not as big as some of the others in Dubai but the rides have got some serious thrill-factor with signs telling you not to ride if you’re the sort of person that eats your pizza with a knife and fork or if you always safely eject a USB!

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View from the Jumeirah Sceirah waterslide – not for the feint hearted!

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If you are staying at the Jumeirah Beach, entry is free. As my little brother was a bit older for this trip, we decided to take him on some rides with a hilarious outcome – our favourite ride being the Burj Surj.

Saying this, the Aquaventure waterpark at the Atlantis hotel on Palm Island is a lot of fun too. Again, if you are staying at the hotel, entrance is free of charge. With a Leap of Faith waterslide that takes you through a glass tunnel within a shark-infested aquarium and a Dolphin lagoon where you can swim with them, it’s a unique attraction to visit. While we didn’t go to the Atlantis during this trip, it’s worth a visit if you’re a bit of a big kid at heart! (https://www.atlantisthepalm.com/marine-water-park/aquaventure-waterpark)

The other main thing to see in Dubai if you’re into ticking off all the sites is the Burj Al Arab. Built in 1999, it has prided itself in being the world’s only 7 star hotel. The distinctive shape of the hotel that mimics a sail is arguably the most recognisable structure in Dubai, known for it’s ridiculously luxurious interiors and services that it offers. It sits on an artificial island that is 280m from Jumeirah beach and you also gain free entrance to Wild Wadi waterpark if you stay here. Rooms can cost from anywhere between £2,000 and £4,000 per night and it seems to be more of a statement to stay here than anything else. When I was a bit younger, I went to the Al Muntaha restaurant positioned on the 27th floor with a magnificent view of the Arabian Gulf. It’s a once in a lifetime experience with menu prices that also reflect this! A visit to the Burj Al Arab should be on your list of things to do in Dubai but take along a credit card with a high limit if you plan on stopping for a drink! This short video uploaded to their official YouTube account should give you a feel for it!

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_-TTQBUPz6w

Dubai is fast becoming a tourist hotspot, especially for the English and it’s easy to see why. When I need to recharge my batteries or fancy a (LARGE) dose of vitamin D, it’ll be my go-to holiday destination for many more years to come.

Jamaica – everything irieeee!

Jamaica will always be special for Alex and I. It was our first 2 week holiday together and we had a blast! We travelled in September which is during shoulder season, just after their hurricane season. I was slightly apprehensive when we booked it but all my worries disappeared as I realised that when we were told that there would be thunderstorms every day, what that actually meant was that at around 4pm every afternoon it would rain very heavily for around 45 minutes before the sun would appear again in time for the most brilliant sunset I’ve ever seen. It didn’t make our holiday any less special and in fact I quite liked going back to the hotel room for an hour in the afternoon as the rain helped to clear the humidity that built throughout the day. We certainly wouldn’t hesitate to go back at that time of year and it certainly didn’t mean any less sun, Alex and I returned to England the most tanned we’ve ever been!
We booked our holiday through Thomson Holidays and chose an all inclusive package so that we could take full advantage of all the rum and spirits that were on offer! We were staying at the new Azul Sensatori hotel in Negril (http://karismahotels.com/Hotels-Resorts-Villas/For-Everyone/Azul-Hotels/Azul-Sensatori-Jamaica) which sits on the picturesque 7 mile beach. We flew on Thomson’s new Dreamliner which I thought was fantastic. I usually get really travel sick on planes but I felt fine on the flight, even though it was a long 10 hours. The cabin pressure on the Dreamliner allows more oxygen to be absorbed into the blood which is meant to help with travel sickness and the lighting mimics the time of day outside which is said to ease the feeling of jet lag. As for leg room, I don’t usually have any problems (being barely above 5ft tall) but Alex who stands a whole foot taller than me struggles so we booked ourselves seats with extra leg room which was a god send for him.

We landed in Montego Bay at around lunchtime and felt tired but not as tired as we thought we’d be after a long flight. We jumped on the coach we had booked and after an hour and a half bumpy transfer through the rocky roads of Negril, arrived at the Sensatori. We were given ice cold towels to freshen up and a fruit punch cocktail as soon as we set foot in reception. The reception area of the hotel is amazing as it opens up right onto the beach. We could see the waves lapping up on the white powdery sand as we were checking in which made us even more impatient to dump our bags and change into our beach attire. We were taken to our room really quickly and just when we thought we couldn’t be anymore impressed with the hotel we were even more amazed. The room was a fresh white and blue combination and we had a balcony overlooking the pool and sea with a ‘love seat’.


  

Even though we were tempted to relax in the room we quickly changed into our swimwear and headed out. We wandered along the beach for a few miles, passing other resorts including the Sandals Couples hotel which looked amazing before returning to the Sensatori’s private beach and settling on one of the day beds where we both had a little snooze .

  

The next morning jet lag woke us up really early and so we sat on the balcony and watched the most beautiful sunrise over the hotel. While we were there we utilised the many watersports the hotel had on offer including kayaking and a snorkelling trip to the nearby coral reefs. While on the snorkelling trip we made friends with an American couple who had been in Jamaica a little while longer than us and who recommended various trips and excursions that we booked later on. The snorkelling was great and we saw hundreds of tropical fish.

 

 
  

Back on the beach we found several starfish in shallow water and were encouraged by other guests and hotel staff to pick them up for a photo. It took me a while to buck up the courage to touch one but eventually we both had our photos taken with it – me being the bravest and picking it up first I hasten to add!


One lunchtime we took a boat ride to Boobycay island, a private island where the locals set up their food stalls in the morning, grilling freshly-caught lobsters for you. We got one to share and spent the whole afternoon snorkelling and sunbathing on the beach. We mostly got the island all to ourselves – it was paradise 😍


  

  

Throughout the two weeks, our favourite place to be was the swim up bar where we made friends with the bartender. We made it our mission to work our way through the entire cocktail list and whenever we chose what cocktails we wanted next he’d yell a “yah mon!” and slide them along to us. The alcohol measures in Jamaica are insane and so be careful when you’re ordering drinks – one day we had a few too many and in a rush to get out of the pool during one of the afternoon storms, I ever so slightly misjudged the number of steps to exit the pool, ending with me falling in a very dramatic fashion out of the pool and into the shower area. Certainly not one of my classier moments of the holiday!



A short taxi ride from our hotel was Rick’s Cafe (http://www.rickscafejamaica.com), a bar made famous by the daredevils that go there to jump from the tall cliffs into the crystal clear blue sea that surrounds it. It’s also well known for it’s optimal location to catch the best view of the sunset. We arrived an hour before sunset, something we were advised to do in order to get the best view and also to give us time to join in with the locals in jumping from the cliff 85 ft above sea level. I was full of bravado before I arrived but felt slightly more cautious when I saw people somersaulting off the edge! After watching for a little while I decided against it but Alex was keen to give it a go so off he went and I watched with baited breath as he launched himself into the sea. Of course I didn’t hear anything else other than what a wimp I was for the rest of the evening as he soaked up the glory of people clapping and cheering him! Alex dried off and we grabbed a Rick’s World Famous Rum Punch and Sex with Rick (a cocktail of course!). After watching the sunset, we had dinner overlooking the ocean and listened to the Bob Marley tribute band before heading back to the hotel. It was a perfect evening and one that I will never forget.


  
  
  
We went on a few excursions on the holiday – one being to dolphin cove in Negril. When we arrived we regressed to being 5 years old as we were so excited! We were told lots of facts about the Dolphins themselves and were given an insight into a typical day of a dolphin trainer. It was fascinating and we were told that as the Dolphins were not in a pool but in a lagoon within the sea, they were free to leave anytime as they could easily jump the barriers that enclosed them within the lagoon. Apparently Dolphins, as creatures, crave attention and so that is what keeps them there. It was brilliant. We each got kisses, a ride with the Dolphins and they performed various tricks for us. Only on the way back to our hotel did I realised that it was a Monday. As far as Monday’s go, this was one of the better ones I’ve had!


  
Our next trip out of the resort was to Mystic Mountain, a zip-lining and Bob-sledding adventure in the rainforest near Ocho Rios (http://www.rainforestadventure.com/jamaica-mystic-mountain). It was here that I really felt like I was in Jamaica! We ziplined through the trees (and giant spider webs!!! 😁), rode the bobsled (inspired by the famous Jamaica bobsled Olympic team) and ate typical Jamaica cuisine for lunch – jerk chicken – delicious! Alex wore the GoPro head cam while we took part in all the activities which meant we got some great footage of us zooming through the jungle at high speed! We also got a ride in the sky explorer, a chair lift that takes you 700ft above the rainforest which gave you the most amazing view of Ocho Rios.


  

After lunch we took a coach to the nearby Dunns River Falls (http://www.dunnsriverfallsja.com). This was my favourite experience while in Jamaica. We started right at the bottom of the waterfall and climbed up the rocks to the top, stopping to relax and have pictures taken every now and then in the various rock pools and lagoons. The water was absolutely freezing but our guide was great – energetic, full of enthusiasm and totally in love with his country – something we found was true with all the locals which was so nice to experience!

 

  

  
The relaxed vibe of the Caribbean islands is like no other and the people of Jamaica are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Everything about our holiday was IRIEEEE!!! and we will definitely be returning in the not so distant future.

 

Take a look at our brand new video – part 1 of our Jamaica adventures – over on our YouTube channel! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TVIIY8UxNoA

 

M x