Genie Traveler is the new way to travel the world at wholesale rates.
If you’re like me and have a passion – or rather obsession – for traveling then you’ll know that the biggest pain point is the costs involved. Searching for hotel deals, cheap flights and various travel hacks becomes a bit of an obsession. We all have limited funds and we want to maximize the travel opportunities we can get for them. I am so hopeless at saving when traveling that I even wrote a post calling myself “an unsuccessful backpacker.”
There are various sites that promise travel deals, cheap airline tickets and discounted hotels but the reality is that these deals just don’t exist. Trust me. I’ve been doing this a long time and while the big sites might seem like they’re offering you deals, the prices they offer are mostly just marketing spin, enticing you in, while not really exposing the limit of their pricing strategy.
The travel industry, specifically the Online Travel Agents (known in the business as OTAs), are a duopoly – there are just two companies that control the market. You might have heard of lots of different brands but 80% of this online travel space is controlled by just two companies – Expedia and Priceline.
You might think when you’re booking flights, hotels, car rentals and more that you can compare the prices and get the best deals by going to a few different sites. But all they do is compete against themselves with small price differences to make you feel like you’re getting a deal.
In fact, because they’re so powerful they enforce something called rate parity and ensure the public rates they offer can’t be undercut. Well, at least in public.
That public part is important. There are also wholesale rates that aren’t available to the general public. These rates can be significantly lower than you can find elsewhere. This is often how your high street travel agency access their inventory and makes bookings on your behalf. There can be a huge difference between the retail rates you and I pay and the actual wholesale rates that are available behind closed doors.
Travel deals do exist. Just not for you. Until now…
Wholesale rates aren’t meant for the likes of you or I. They’re aimed at businesses. Those that buy in bulk. I’m talking about Fortune 500 companies or travel agents. These businesses pay a premium to access these rates, often $50,000 to $250,000. But, because of their scale, it’s worth it for them. The rates are normally 30% to 70% cheaper than the rest of us can get. Sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less but, even so, that’s some pretty significant savings.
Businesses either sell the products (travel agents), use them to book their own corporate travel and/or as an employee benefit which they can use for their own (and family) personal travel. Access to these wholesale rates are restricted and behind a password protected firewall preventing us from accessing them.
These wholesale feeds are only allowed to be accessed by authorized personnel. The people that can access them must be members or a group, known as a Closed User Group (CUG). If you’re not in a CUG you can’t access these secret rates.
And you can’t get into a CUG. Until now…
How You Can Save With Genie Traveler
I recently teamed up with a company called Genie Traveler that is breaking open these travel myths and exposing the travel industry’s Dirty Little Secret. They’re bringing these wholesale rates straight to the general public and disrupting the OTAs.
They’ve created their own CUG and they’re letting anyone join. Instead of marking up their rates 30% to 70% like the OTAs might do they are making their money in a really ingenious way; they’re charging a small monthly fee for you to access these incredible deals. Rates start at just $3.99 a month (when you pay annually). You can easily save more than the cost of a years membership in just one booking through them.
These guys are fairly new to the marketplace but are already making waves and upsetting the more traditional OTAs.
Of course, I had to check them out for myself.
Travel Savings With Genie Traveler
I wouldn’t have teamed up with Genie Traveler if I hadn’t checked it all out properly myself.
First I had a look at their flights. I didn’t think the deals would be that great. The margins on flights are so small that I really didn’t think they’d be able to do much.
I picked some dates and decided I’d look at a flight from JFK in New York to London Heathrow. Here’s a screenshot:
Genie Traveler’s best deal was $697.17 with British Airways (all inclusive of taxes too).
I then went to the British Airways website to see what I could get it for:
British Airways (including taxes) was $983.01.
That’s a $285.84 saving at Genie Traveler or a 30% saving. Now that’s impressive.
I searched a long haul flight on purpose. Savings on short haul flights are not as likely to be so good (unless you’re flying Business Class). If you’re a short haul traveler then the flight savings might not be for you.
Next I went on to look at hotels. I was hoping for some good savings here as I know the margins can be quite good.
I also wanted to check in a few different countries to see how the rates stood up.
First stop, Washington DC.
As this was the first place I was checking out I decided to test their top two best deals, especially given that they were at very different price points as well.
The Mayflower Hotel is a beautiful hotel. Genie Traveler shows an incredible 80% saving (note you can only get savings above 70% on their All Travel Elite annual plans which work out at $4.99 a month) from $2,975.60 down to $610.94.
I checked Expedia first:
They have it listed at $3,000.
Orbitz also list it for $3,000:
Note on the bottom of the Orbitz listing they show prices as well at Hotels.com, Hotwire and Travelocity also all at $3,000.
Genie Traveler are offering incredible value here with their huge 80% savings. If you stayed for one night you’d save $2,364.66. You could buy 40 years of membership at Genie Traveler with that saving (even more if you use a coupon code – more on that soon)!
I then checked the second hotel in Washington DC, Courtyard by Marriott which is showing a 54% discount down from $647.08 to $302.42.
I went to Hotels.com and found this:
They’re selling it at $659.
I’ll save you from too many screenshots but Expedia and Travelocity also have it at $659.
Genie Traveler again save you $344.66 on this hotel.
With that done I went to check Europe. I settled on Venice, Italy:
The savings weren’t as high for Hotel Carlton on the Grand Canal at 39% off but that’s still pretty impressive.
Booking.com lists it at $356 (including breakfast, but Genie Traveler includes breakfast as well):
Hotels.com does a little better at $323:
But even at the Hotels.com rate it’s still a 38% saving at Genie Traveler.
I went on to check Prague, in the Czech Republic, which has an incredible 86% saving:
Although, I found that the best comparison savings I could find worked out at 83% and not 86%. I’ll happily take the 83% though.
See again on the Orbitz listing you get prices at Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire and Hotels.com all at $441 compared to the Genie Traveler price of $77.67.
How To Use Genie Traveler
There are a couple of ways to use their service. You can either save massively on your travel budget – that’s probably the option that most people will take. But the other way is to upgrade how you travel. For example, if you normally stay in a 3 star hotel then you can often find a 5 star hotel for the price you would normally pay for a 3 star hotel. In fact, Genie Traveler will even let you search by star rating too (and they use TripAdvisor’s rating system so you know it’s valid).
I’ve given my examples in dollars but there’s an option to switch your currency too, so don’t worry too much if you’re not from the US. Membership though for Genie Traveler is only currently in US dollars though – they’re rolling out more currencies later this year though.
There are no packages (currently) so you would need to book your hotel and your flight separately. They also don’t have car rental although they expect to add that to their site soon.
Is Genie Traveler Worth It?
Is this worth it? Well that’s up to you and what fits for your personal travel needs. Personally, with savings like this, I’m hooked.
But, here’s the best bit. Genie Traveler offer a 7 day free trial. That means you can sign up and check out the deals yourself, all for free. In fact, it’s even better than that – you can book as much as you want during that period and, even if you cancel your free trial, all of those bookings will still be honored.
But wait, it gets even better.
I said earlier that I’d teamed up with them. Well in doing so I’ve negotiated an exclusive discount code just for readers of my blog.
If you sign up before 28 March 2018 on an annual plan then you’ll receive 18% off membership for life. Most promotions give you a deal to sign up but then boost you back up to their normal rate later on. I had a long talk with the team at Genie Traveler and persuaded them that you guys deserve the best. They agreed and made the discount code last for life.
If you want to check them out, and huge savings then make sure you use code CLAUDIA18 for a significant discount. Prices start at just $3.99 if you pay annually. That’s less than a cup of coffee a month or a Netflix subscription yet giving you incredible savings. Go here to sign up (and don’t forget to use your code).
I don’t get anything from you using this code but I just wanted to pass the value on to you. They’ve got 800,000 hotels, a Best Rate Guarantee and 15,000 destinations.
130 million people have been using this technology for the last 20 years. Genie Traveler have now opened this up to the general public to allow us all to get these incredible savings.
Why pay retail like everyone else when you don’t have to?
Legal Disclaimer: this post is written in cooperation with Genie Traveler.
Pin It For Later
We’ve all spent at least one nightmare night in a hostel during our backpacking years, haven’t we? Well, I can count at least 3 that have been less than memorable in terms of getting proper rest, but which somehow managed to stick to my memory for the hilarity and absurdity of what happened.
Fighting the drunk hordes in The Terrace, Antigua (Guatemala)
I had only been in Guatemala for four days. This was meant to be the beginning of my 6 months adventure across Latin America. I was sure I had everything under control and I would be able to face any bad experience that may occur along the way. After the first three nights in Antigua, I decided to spend an extra night before making my way to Lake Atitlan. Unfortunately, the lovely hostel where I had been sleeping was all booked up, so I decided to make online reservations for another one. As a backpacker on a tight budget, I was looking for something cheap. The Terrace, at $ 8 per night, breakfast included, in a 4 beds dorm, looked good on the pictures and it had good reviews on hostelworld. One of the most popular hostels in Antigua, indeed: there must be a reason for this, I thought!
Another church in Antigua – as many others, it has been destroyed by an earthquake
I made my way there in the morning, wanting to drop my backpack and have time to browse around town more. I missed the front door a couple of times before actually finding the place – it was hardly visible. When I finally found the place, I walked in to be welcomed by a 20-something American receptionist (and her lovely dog). She seemed nice enough. The hostel seemed a bit old and in need of refurbishment but I did not think too much of it. I would only be staying here for one night after all. When I was shown to my dorm, I realised it would be worse than what I had expected. A dressed guy was sleeping in his bunk – considering it was around 12 pm, it was a bit odd to me. The dorm was tiny, to say the least. The only window faced an internal covered patio and hardly any natural light or fresh air would come in. You can imagine the stench. The toilet and bathroom in front of the dorm had the mouldiest rug and shower curtain I have ever seen. The wooden door was so rotten that I thought it would fall apart if I pulled it too hard. The electric shower had wires coming out – I thought I might get electrocuted if I did not pay attention (or even if I did).
After a day of walking around and a lovely dinner, still a bit jet legged, I wanted to have an early night and went back to the hotel. I then realised I had accidentally booked at a party hostel, were all the other backpackers except me were in their early twenties. Noise travelled easily in the badly organised place: young boys and girls were all getting ready to spend a night out and party. I thought that, as soon as they would leave, I could finally fall asleep. Wanting to be extra safe I even put my earplugs on. I jumped on the bed to find out that I could feel the wires – this was by far one of the least comfortable beds I had ever slept on. I thought of sleeping on the floor, but there was not enough room to do that. The synthetic sheets on my bed were so old that they would come off the matress, revealing stains. I kept my clothes on, in an attempt not to catch bed bugs (luckly, it worked).
Worried but exhausted I fell asleep but my rest only lasted two hours: that’s when the other guests started making their way back to the hostel. Completely drunk, they kept laughing loudly, screaming, opening doors (which I kept on closing). To top this off, despite my earplugs I could hear them gagging and vomiting (and then laughing about it). The entire affair must have lasted about one hour, without anybody from the reception intervening to stop the noise. When the drunken crew finally collapsed, I sighted and thought I could finally rest a bit more. Or not. One hour later, somebody entered the room, pointing a flashlight at my face, calling for a girl named Myra. I told him off, and said there was no Myra in that room: I was the only girl there and I definitely wasn’t Myra. He then asked if I knew where she was, as he had to wake her up for her bus. I told him to go away, I did not know who this Myra was and I had no idea where she may be.
That was the end of my attempts to rest – I decided to get up, shower, and wait for my ride to Lake Atitlan – where I found a super cool hostel and finally rested my sore bones. However, the cherry on the cake was finding out that The Terrace was actually meant to be the hostel where I was supposed to volunteer in Antigua – I had talked to the owner several times over skype, but I had forgotten the name and despite being offered the position I decided I did not want to work on my first week of travelling.
The lesson I have learned? Always always always check Tripadvisor for reviews, and also check the age of the reviewer. Always read the bad comments – they are usually honest comments. Try not to book online, as you may end up having to pay for a terrible room and thus get stuck. It is better to walk around a bit, check the rooms, the bathrooms, and the overall vibe of the place. And, more than anything else, stay away from The Terrace, in Antigua.
Dancing the night away in Cartagena (Colombia)
I was happy to find Mama Waldy when checking for places to stay in Cartagena, Colombia. Conveniently located in the heart of Getsemani, a cool area undergoing constant restoration, popular among backpackers and with a lovely relaxed feel to it. I soon discovered that the location was just about the only positive thing about this hostel.
Tiny streets of Getsemani
Upon checking in, I knew I had made a mistake. This is possibly one of the worst hostels I found in my entire life. It used to be an old colonial house. By the look of it, this had never been restored nor properly cleaned. I arrived there at night, after a day of travelling, to find there was a party going on. My dorm was just on the main lobby, and since there were no keys to the dorms, people could walk in and out as they liked – and by people I mean people, not just guests. In fact, while I was there, somebody who was at the party just did. All the guests belongings were left around for people to grab them if they liked. The room was so dirty (paper, food, clothes, shoes and what not on the floor, under the bed, etc; no bins to place garbage), the bathroom so cramped, small and filthy, that I did not even consider using the toilet. I just locked my stuff away and ran out to eat and breathe.
As I got back past midnight, it was finally quiet. But the dorm was so hot and suffocating (there were no windows in any of the room, just a door to the lobby) that I soon realised I would be unable to sleep there. I walked out and I must have looked so disheartened that one of the owners saw me and asked what was wrong, and I plainly said that my dorm was filthy, hot, and I could not sleep there. He eagerly explained that they cleaned the rooms regularly but there was little they could do against messy backpackers. Possibly, what would help would be putting less beds in a dorm and maybe a hanger and a basket to throw away stuff? Anyways, he thankfully offered to put me in a private room, which was only slightly better – yet, no shower curtain, tiny bathroom, and covered in an inch of dust.
Breakfast was supposedly included, and surely paid for, but consisted of 2 slices of toasted bread (with, I guess, cream cheese or butter), and coffee. Not even served on plates. After all, the kitchen hardly seemed equipped. There was a laundry service. That’s if you fancy your clothes being hung to dry on the roof of the hostel. By which I do not mean hanging lines in the roof, but actual tiles.
What really bothered me the most about Mama Waldy was the music and noise. It only stopped past midnight and was really so loud that, if one is up for an early night and feel tired, one won’t be able to sleep. It felt like being in a disco, really. And since noise travelled really easily and by 6 am people would start waking up, my sleep would be cut short every day.
Running water in Suchitoto (El Salvador)
I arrived in Suchitoto after a very long day of travelling from Leon, Nicaragua, during which I took a bus to the village of Potosi, where I did my immigration formalities; waited on the beach for 3 hours without having the possibility to go back to the village in search of shade, water or food (by then I was legally already out of Nicaragua!), as the Nicaraguan marina would not allow the boat to leave due to the rough sea conditions; eventually, 2 hours on the speed boat along the challenging Gulf of Fonseca during which I got completely soaked due to the bumping and the waves, and various more hours on a bus from La Union to Suchitoto.
By the time I reached my final destination, I was grateful that my hostel room at El Gringo had not been given away, since it was so late. The owner drove me to the hostel, on the other side of town from where he lives. His wife showed me to my room and explained how the keys worked. They immediately left and there was no staff on site.
The reality of the hostel was not hard to spot. My room was below a restaurant, the only window was on a living room which faced an internal living rooom (mind you, that is a big word). The bathroom, which was shared with another room, was no more than a sink in the patio, a wall to separate a toilet and the cold water only shower. And for as hot as it is in Suchitoto, I was not ready to have a cold shower that late at night, and went to bed with my hair full of salt from the Gulf. The room was so humid that it was covered in mould stains and paint was coming off the walls. The sheets so small and so acrylic that they would slide off the bed, so that despite all my efforts to arrange them, I ended up sleeping on the matress. The floor below the bed was so dirty and full of dust, hair, and garbage, that I wondered if it had ever been cleaned. I was so tired anyhow, that I could hardly be bothered with any of this.
This 97 year old lady keeps on rolling her cigars on a daily basis. What’s her youth secret?
A refreshing shower the morning after and a lovely day in Suchitoto almost made me forget about the terrible hostel. That was, until the new Canadian guest came in. Hard to avoid him since my window gave into the living room where he was relaxing on a rocking chair. So, we chatted along for a few moments, until eventually he decided it was bed time and he’d brush his teeth, and I laid on my bed to do some emailing. That’t when I heard a crushing noise, like that of porcelain plates being broken, and the poor Canadian kid screaming “what the heck!”. I ran out to check what had happened. Water was splashing all over and he was completely wet. The remains of the sink were scattered on the floor: apparently, the guy decided he’d lean on the sink with his hand while brushing his teeth, but despite being a fit guy the sink did not hold his weight and collapsed! You can imagine the hilarity of such a scene. We took pictures, we laughed and eventually we decided that if we did not want to flood the entire place, we had to close all the pipes. It worked, but it meant that we were not even able to flush the toilet.
Los Tercios waterfalls look a bit like the Giant Causeway
The morning after I was glad to have an early start and having to leave at 6:00 am, leaving the other guest alone to explain to the owner what had happened, and that perhaps restoration and refurbishing was much needed in the hostel!
What’s your worst hostel experience to date?
Click here for more of my misadventures.
Mine is an adaptation from the title of Sophie Kinsella’s famous series “I love shopping”. In fact, it is meant ironically. There is no such thing as crazy shopping in Cuba, unless by “crazy” one means literally going crazy in order to find needed things. It is not even a matter of not having enough money to buy what you need and want: it is a matter of having the money but not finding it!
Before leaving, whilst packing my bag, I thought of carrying two pairs of flip flops. After all, one never knows when those rubber things may break and another pair may be needed. My sister, who travelled with me, said it would just be unnecessary weight. If my flip flops broke, I could surely buy another pair in Cuba and that was it. Or not. I swear I hardly saw shops selling flip flops in the entire island.
We realised on our first day in Havana that shops were different, to say the least. All merchandise is kept behind counters, and whatever you may want to see, you’d have to ask the person at the counter to show you. Not to mention that there normally is a line outside, with a guard letting people in and out and not allowing more than a certain amount inside. Shops are not very inviting. You won’t feel like going in, have a look around, try on stuff, and buy. Merchandise is hardly exposed in a nice way (it is all wrapped). The same applies to grocery shops – most of all for things such as soaps, shampoos etc. Whatever you need, you have to ask for.
Shopping in Cuba is a hard business
The other problem we had was that there are no real supermarkets, those where you may get lost and where you may be able to find anything you need – from fresh fruit and milk, to meat, cheese, bread, soap, detergents and what not. Cuba knows only shops, some smaller, some bigger, but in none of them you will be able to do all your shopping. A shop that sells bottles may only have soda, beer and rum. If you want water, you will have to go to the one next door. Fruits and vegetables are only sold by small carts in the streets or in the mercado agropecuario. Same with meet – there are small carnicerias, you can see them every now and then, but it seems like there is no meat there. I have not seen a fishmonger in the entire island, which is interesting since we mostly ate seafood. And even if you can find what you need – pasta, rice, or even toilet paper, there is only one kind of it. We noticed that it was a bit ironic to call “Cierro Montegro” la primera agua de Cuba, since it also is the only one. And the same goes for beer, sodas, etc.
I guess that for anybody who is not used to the Cuban system it will take a while to shop for daily needs. When we wanted yogurt, the landlady at our casa particular was so kind to spend an entire day looking for it in Trinidad. When we needed toothpaste, we had to ask her, as we were unable to find a shop that would sell it.
Another thing we noticed is that there are some shops which seem to sell second hand clothes. We eventually realised this was the case. These are called tiendas particulares (private shops) and I suppose owners get their stuff one way or another (I am pretty certain that the clothes I gave away here and there ended up in some of these shops!) and then sell it. But you know, in an island that does not really know free commerce, people have to make do with whatever they have. Cubans hardly make a distinction between female and male clothing. If it fits, they will wear it. So you will see super-cool guys wearing a blue-girl t-shirt tight as a second skin. And you bet they will fix and keep fixing clothes. Nothing goes wasted.
The good thing about having so little choice when shopping is that you will not be wasting time wondering which cereals to buy, which t-shirt you want, and what not. You will have more time to spend with friends, relatives, talking and living life, you will be less consumed by the want for things, since you will hardly be able to get them anyways. At least that is how we – westerners coming from countries with a free market – felt. I suppose it was refreshing to us, but it may be tiring for Cubans who have to live a constant battle to get what they need.
The other side of the coin is that there is a huge black market, where people sell and buy just about anything and they hardly declare whatever money they make to the competent authorities. Casas particulares have to register whoever sleeps at the house, and the number of nights. So they have to pay taxes on that. But they do not register whatever meals you may be having there, and hardly any of the owners give customers a receipt when they leave. Some of them don’t say anything when they “forget” to give you receipts. Some others openly admit that this way they can round up a bit extra CUCs. And the rush to get CUCs from tourists can be seen in many other ways. Drivers will “accidentally” stop for breaks right outside their friends homes, who will rush out to offer drinks, food, sweets, bananas and what not. Surely they will get a percentage of the profits. Same with tourist guides. All drivers and all landlords know tourist guides. None of them will show you any accreditation, and you will have to negotiate the price, and you can bet you will again accidentally run into them on the way to a site and will end up hiring them.
The need for CUC is so desperate that even in state owned shops sales assistant will refuse to give you receipts. This is an account of what happened to us at the airport in Havana. A lady in front of us at the counter had the brilliant idea of paying her rum in Euro. But instead of making a conversion, and paying the exact amount she owed (say it was 20 CUC, so it would have to be 15 Euro), the cashier made the conversion 1 CUC = 1 Euro. She did not give any change, and she kept the rest. My sister asked for a receipt, as she claimed that she might be needing it when cathing our connecting flight in Paris airport. She then went back to the same shop to buy more, and again demanded a receipt. However, she had to argue with the sales assistant who did not want to provide it, claiming “she had already given one before.”
For as much as I appreciate the revolution, I wonder how it is possible, in 2013, to live in a country where there hardly is any free commerce. The poverty we saw, the rush to get the precious CUC in any possible “legal” way leads me to think that socialism, for as good an ideal it was, is hardly applicable to real life.
What is yet more interesting is that the myth of Che Guevara, one of the leaders of the revolution, one of the strongest critics of capitalism, is possibly the main source of money in Cuba. Any goods you may buy speak of him: t-shirts show his pictures, the same goes with paintings, postcards, hats. Bookshops mostly sell photography books of Che Guevara, or his biographies, his diaries, etc. Factories exploit his name by publicizing the fact that they were opened up by him.
Che Comandante Amigo…
Having read a lot of Che Guevara life, thoughts and ideologies, I can’t help but wonder if he would like the island today, if this is what he fought so hard for, if he would be proud to see that his face is on any painting, t-shirt and good tourists can buy, and he – the very critic of capitalism – is indeed the only capitalistic good in Cuba.
Want to find out more about this amazing country? Read here.
Best beaches in Sardinia: Crazy gorgeous fjords of Cala Domestica
Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sartiglia in Oristano – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia
Things to do in Sardinia: watch the Sant’Efisio parade of traditional Sardinia costumes – photo courtesy of Marcello Treglia
Where to go in Sardinia: Roman ruins and lighthouse in Nora
Visit Sardinia: Su Nuraxi – Barumini
At the heart of the Mediterranean, Sardinia will make you feel like you are a world apart from the rest of the world. Here you can switch off from your daily routine, without having to cross an ocean; you can enjoy lush nature, incredible beaches, wild mountains, tasty food and a secular cultural traditions. The good news is that although it is almost mythologically described as a place for a few rich people, it can actually be visited on a budget and there are so many things to do in Sardinia that you could spend a year without ever getting bored.
Here are a few simple rules for your low budget holidays. For more ideas on things to do in Sardinia, check my post “A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia”.
Do book your flight in advance, making sure you catch one during the week (avoid weekends) and playing around with the dates (be flexible). This way you can even catch a round trip ticket for less than €50. There are three airports: Alghero, Cagliari and Olbia, all a great starting point for a tour of the island. Most budget airlines have fights to Sardinia from a number of cities in Italy and Europe.
Do use public transport: it links the main cities, villages and tourist destinations. While a bit slow, it is cheap enough, and once you get to your destination you can walk, rent a bike, or participate in organised tours that offer pick up services. For information on bus and train schedules visit the pages of ARST and Trenitalia.
Do consider a car rental. A splurge if travelling alone or as a couple, but if there is a few of you it may actually turn out cheap and you will have the opportunity to roam around independently. Most well known agencies have stands at the airport and are quite convenient. But book in advance to catch special deals.
Do book your accommodation early. Most cities have budget places and all tourist destinations provide camping sites. Rooms are easy to find in the low season, but during the summer, when Sardinia is at its peak season, it may be harder to get cheap accommodation. Camping sites are good options if you can carry your tent, and they often have bungalows for rent.
If travelling in a group, do consider holiday home rentals: prices are surprisingly cheap and estate agencies and apartments can be easily found online. Considering you will have your own kitchen, your budget will benefit in the end.
Do enjoy your days at some of the best beaches in Sardinia, which all have free access: carry your umbrella, towel and plenty of sunblock and relax for free.
Do go on a boat tour: some of Sardinia best beaches, especially in the Golfo di Orosei or La Maddalena, can only reached this way. Although not too cheap it is completely worth it. Do book a day or two in advance!
Best beaches in Sardinia: Cala Luna
Do go on a free trekking: hiking is one of the best ways to visit Sardinia. There is a gorgeous path to Cala Goloritzé leaving from the Altipiano del Golgo; a well signaled hike to Cala Domestica; a roughly 2 hours walk from Cala Fuili to Cala Luna; or try any of the trails in Isola dell’Asinara.
Do enjoy free festivals and cultural events. If you are searching for what to do in Sardinia and feeling in the mood for some cultural activity, you will be glad to know that on first of May Cagliari hosts the spectacular “parata di Sant’Efisio”: people from villages all over Sardinia, wearing their traditional dresses, go on a march in honour of the Saint patron of the island (Sant’Efisio). In February, the beautiful Sartiglia takes place in Oristano: men (and women) wearing traditional carnival costumes gallop down a street mounded with sand as fast as they can and attempt skewering a hanging star using their foil – pure adrenaline.
If you are a jazz and nature lover, don’t miss Time in Jazz in Berchidda, patroned by trumpet player and native Paolo Fresu. Picture a whole week of jazz, across a number of villages in the area, with open air concerts (free to attend) and the possibility to stay in camping sites. This is only one of the many jazz festivals here: listening to live quality music is one of the things to do in Sardinia.
Do enjoy nightlife in Cagliari: locals go out no earlier than 10 pm. You can either walk around Largo Carlo Felice, or, for some fresh air, Libarium, in Castello, which has a great terrace and view of the city; or Caffè degli Spiriti or De Candia in the Bastione – the lattest occasionally have some live concerts: look for local bands such as Sikitikis for real fun. Cocktails cost between € 7 and 9, wine and beer are cheaper (around 3 or 4 euros).
Do enjoy a romantic dinner at Quintilio, right outside Alghero, and admire the great view of the city, the bay and Capo Caccia. Sunset is the best time to go. Do book in advance to seat outside.
Do try traditional Sardinian food: piglet on the spit, malloreddus (small gnocchi), mussles soup, fregola (a sort of cous cous made with seafood), pecorino cheese, seadas (sweet fried pastries filled with cheese and topped with honey)… There is a lot of variety.
Don’t miss Isola dell’Asinara, originally a fishing community, later on a criminal colony, a peasant colony and leprosy centre, and a maximum security jail; it was finally turned into a National Park in 1997. Should you not have much time to sleep on the only hostel in the island (highly recommended!), book a guided tour on a jeep. This will allow you to visit the sites of historical and natural importance, such as the historic jail of Cala d’Oliva and of Fornelli, and some of the best beaches in Sardinia, such as Cala Sabina, Cala Trabuccato and Cala d’Arena. You can also go on one of the many hikes (free and well signaled) or opt for a bike tour.
Where to go in Sardinia? Asinara, for sure!
Donkeys are the only inhabitants of Asinara, together with boars, cats, goats…
Don’t miss a sunset walk on the beautiful bastion overlooking the sea in Alghero. The same goes for Cagliari and its lovely bastion or the Poetto beach: they are gorgeous at sunset. You can’t visit Sardinia and miss a sunset here!
Don’t think Sardinia is only beautiful in the summer. It is just as nice in the winter, although weather in Sardinia can be brutal in the winter months. But of course summer is the best season to enjoy the beaches.
Don’t litter: all beaches have bins for garbage and if they don’t, carry your garbage back with your and throw where appropriate.
Don’t forget to try “gelato artigianale”: ice-cream made from scratch. Tip to know it is the real thing: it melts really fast!
Don’t miss a sip of mirto or fil’e ferru: the first one is a strong liquor made of myrtle berries. The second is more like a grappa. They are very much Sardinian!
Don’t miss the archeological sites such as the beautiful roman ruins of Nora, are easy to access from Cagliari, or the many “nuraghe” which are unique to Sardinia such as that of Barumini. Take lots of pictures!
Don’t miss some off the beaten path places, such as Is Aruttas beach, with its incredible white tiny pebbles; S’Archittu, with a rock formation in the shape of an arch, Masua Pan di Zucchero, Buggerru and Cala Domestica, and Porto Pino, famous for its sand dunes.
Sardinia best beaches: Masua Pan di Zucchero
Don’t be afraid to communicate with Sardinians, as they are very friendly. They may not all speak English, but they will always help out.
Don’t forget to read my other posts on Sardinia for more information and to ask me if you have any more questions!
Are you ever tired of having to travel by bus? Well, I must say I am and each time I get to a place, I need a long time to work up the courage to jump on another bus. Travelling up to Nicaragua was a real adventure, despite being very uncomfortable it was an interesting experience, and very funny – those chicken buses are really filled up to extremes, to the point that due to the heat, the amount of people, the way the drive (insane! Speeding like mad even uphill, overtaking in curves, hills and what not) you really can’t wait to get off. Yet, I enjoyed it as I got to sit next to the locals, chat, ask for information, they would ask about what I am doing, and I got to see a lot of their culture and way of life. There isn’t a real bus timetable. Buses leave when full, which means that you may be lucky and leave almost immediately after boarding, or you may have to wait for hours while the assistant driver/ticket seller calls people around the bus station, yelling the destination (“dale Granada Granada Granada!”). There are no real bus stops either. People just wait along the bus route, and wave at it to stop. Same thing to get off. Whenever somebody wants to get off, he yells at the driver. People get off wherever, so the bus may stop 10 times within 200 meters as people really want to get off in front of their homes!
Traveling by bus in Central America is no joke – photo courtesy of Zhu (flickr)
Buses are a bit more comfortable in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, where they may even exceed European standards. On some of them, seats are so comfortable that they can be reclined almost entirely, leaving plenty of room for the legs. So, if you have had a rough night in a terrible hostel, you may actually rest on the bus. The only problem is that, for some reason which I fail to understand, air conditioning is kept so so low that, when it is 35 degrees outside, you may have 18 inside and have to wear a sweater, a jacket, scarf and, if you are travelling a long distance, carry on board a blanket or sleeping bag. I have asked around why they do this, but received no real explanation.
Safety is apparently an issue on certain bus routes in Colombia, at night, and indeed passengers are searched for weapons before boarding, seats are assigned and a security officer gets on board to snap pictures of all passengers before leaving. Sleeping is apparently the best thing one can do, unless willing to get terribly scared. If asleep, you do not enjoy the amazing views, but you may also be spared to experience the bad driving, with drivers overtaking on hills, on curves, overtaking dangerous trucks when really there is no distance to allow it, and speeding-breaking all the time. Drivers behave like they are driving a Ferrari! I should know something about crazy drivers, I am from Italy and we are world (in)famous for being terrible drivers. But it does get really scary in Colombia, to the point that backpackers may get discouraged from going to certain places they would otherwise like to see, because too afraid of the long distance, dangerous road and crazy drivers.
Traveling comfortably is not a thing in Latin America – photo courtesy of John Barie (flickr)
The funny part though is that people are supposed to express an opinion on the drivers. Indeed on each bus, cab, minivan there is a sign asking “como conduzco?” or “how do I drive?”, which refers to an application through which you can judge. I have no taste for apps, but at times I get so scared that I really feel like yelling to the driver “tienen buses super-lindos, pero conducen como locos” or “your buses are amazing, but you drive like crazy!”
Then there are the unexpected incidents – getting a flat tire. While in some places drivers immediately stop and check what the sound is. This happened on my bus from Santiago to Baracoa in Cuba, where we stopped in the middle of nowhere so the tire could be changed – passengers took the chance to walk out, take pictures, and chat along (this is actually how I have met one of my best friends!); and on my ride from Flores to El Florido in Guatemala (where on the other hand we all had to stay on the bus as the tire was being changed, and it was tremendously hot inside). However, at times passengers have to protest and the drivers will keep on driving for kilometers without bothering to check what has happened. In Ecuador, on a 10 hours bus ride from Quito to Guayaquil, we all had to stand and scream, as the assistant driver said we had only hit a can while we all did hear the explosion of the tire and the bus was shaking! Eventually, we stopped and changed that tire.
All in all, I really can’t understand why drivers all over Latin America play with peoples’ lives like that; at times, seeing how there are even children and babies on the bus, I end up thinking that in these countries life is too cheap for them to care at all. Most of all, drivers do behave like real Kamikazes!
Want to know more about travelling by bus in Central America? Read my post on chicken buses!