We had to wake up entirely too early for this experience. I would have traded anything to be able to spend the morning lounging in our warm bed. It was still incredibly dark out, and I assumed freezing. We layered up, ate Skyr for breakfast, and walked half a mile to our van’s stop. Apparently we were at the wrong place and had no internet service on the street which made for a wonderful way to start the day.
We had to run up and down the streets finding an open venue with wi-fi to get in touch with our driver several times. Finally, we made contact and walked to the right pick up spot. We climbed in a van full of guests, who were definitely already sick of our shit, and hit the open road.
I was not excited for this experience in any way, shape, for form. I embarked on it because my husband wanted only to pick one excursion, and this was the one his heart was set on. I wasn’t opposed because I hate nature, or think I’m too good for the hike. In fact, it’s the opposite. I have a severe phobia of trying new sports and physical activities.
I especially have anxiety about doing such things in groups. Occasionally, I like solo workouts such as running, yoga, and barre. However, I’m not at all what you would consider “athletic.” My nerves were getting to me. I kept feeling that I was going to be terrible at the hike and everyone would wonder why I even came. Sometimes, my anxiety manifests as anger or annoyance. I definitely remember making a bigger deal out of the morning mix up than I need to do.
The Notorious I-C-E
Solheimajokull is located in southern Iceland and took a number of hours to get to considering the conditions on the road. We had three guides in our van, and I remember thinking how cool they all seemed. They were young, energetic, and badass. Our lead guide told us his name was “Biggie.”
He is an absolute legend for this one quote. “You both are from the east coast of USA, that is where your Biggie, Mr. Smalls is from. Well, I am Biggie, and I am also from the east coast…of Iceland.” He still looms so fucking large in my imagination for this one. However, as the guides described the procedure for the hike, I felt my stomach tighten into knots. Everything sounded so intense and I wasn’t able to follow along because I was so overwhelmed.
The guides talked cheerfully and made jokes because they had been doing this apparently since they were born. I already felt inadequate. That’s the weird thing about anxiety, it puts all sorts of thoughts into your head. Everyone on the tour was new to glacier hiking, yet, I had convinced myself entirely that I was without a doubt the worse one.
I was really proud of the boots I had picked out for the trip, as they looked the part of a glacier hiker. However, I was told that they were actually too soft and that I needed to rent a pair of sturdier boots. Womp, felt like an idiot. No one else had to do this, but I did. I eventually moved past that and was suited up for my helmet and gear.
Before arriving at the base of the glacier, we walked through a valley of black dirt and green earth. Being a big fan of The Great Gatsby, I nicknamed it the valley of ashes. The walk through the valley was fairly easy, and I thought, stupidly, that the entire hike on the glacier would be this way. Walking through the valley of ashes gave me a little while to collect my thoughts and nerve before embarking on the greatest test of my (non) athletic prowess. It was also an opportunity to soak in the amazing nature around us!
I was surprised to see that there were icy steps involved to get onto the glacier – as in actual steps cut out of snow. We had to hold onto ropes as we were told several times that it was very, very slippery on the stairs. I made peace with the fact that I would probably bust my ass and take everyone out behind me with my large body. I welcomed that high possibility. I was just glad that we were starting off with something I had done before, climbing steps.
The tougher of our tour guides led, and we passed an attractive young woman and her group who were coming down as we went up. He announced to our group that it was her birthday and we all must sing her the HBD song. I think our group definitely thought this was weird, and even patronizing. However, we were afraid he would toss us off a cliff if we didn’t help him get it in with this woman, so we sang like a bunch of awkward middle schoolers with a mean choral director.
Finally, we reached the top of the glacier. I felt like I was in a National Geographic show and was totally stunned into silence. I felt so frail, so tiny, and so helpless as I looked around at the sweeping landscapes surrounding us. We were ants compared to the size of the glacier and natural formations around us.
On Top of the World
We would next have to attach our crampons to our boots. I’m only adding this detail here because crampon is the best word in the entire world. Luckily, one of our guides chose me as a volunteer and attached mine for me! I’m really glad that I didn’t have to figure out for myself how to attach the crampons, it looked difficult. As fearless as Icelanders are, the guides take safety very seriously. A few people in our group were talking over the demonstration. The stricter guide told them if they don’t know what the hell they are doing, then they should shut their mouths.
Walking around for most of the experience was only mildly difficult, and at some points – not difficult at all. However, the more that time went on the more difficult the hike began to feel. At one point, most of us could not even lift our feet out of the snow and were gasping and panting – as if we had run for miles. Everywhere we looked was barren except for snow. I felt as though we were transported to a different planet entirely.
A Feel Bad Tale of Ice Climbing
One of the coolest parts about our tour was that it allowed for the opportunity to go ice climbing. This involves literally using only pick axes and a harness system to scale up a giant wall made of ice within the glacier. As our guides demonstrated after setting up, it was not easy or for the faint of heart. You dig your pick axes into the ice, then make holes with the tips of your boots by kicking into the ice repeatedly. You step into those holes, straighten your body out, then begin again.
I was shaking purely from nerves – there is no way I wanted to do this. I didn’t mind watching other people go, but I became annoyed. Hiking this glacier wasn’t enough? Now, I have to fucking scale an ice wall with pick axes?! Do I look like Yukon Cornelius. After hearing our group talking shit about the first woman to go and how long she took, I was even more apprehensive.
I’ll bet you think this is a tale about overcoming my fears and rising to the challenge. Well, it’s not. Fuck that shit. I didn’t want to do it, and so I didn’t. As soon as one person said, “I’m going to opt out” and I found out that this was an option, I did the same. My body was exhausted, and I just didn’t feel like it. So, there. However, Arthur did the scaling (perfectly I might add) and I enjoyed watching him have a good time.
What I Learned
The final steps back into the valley of ashes brought on an entire parade of emotions. First, I felt grateful, so grateful to have experienced such beauty. This beauty will probably cease to exist with global warming and to have had the chance to see it, to hike up a fucking glacier, how could I feel anything other than gratitude?
I felt so proud of myself. To have had such very low confidence in the beginning of this journey and to walk away feeling like a total bad-ass made me feel so much stronger. As soon as I stepped off of the mountain, I walked with a straighter back and my head literally held up instead of looking down at the floor.
I looked people in the eye, spoke freely, and chimed into conversations with our guides without hesitation. Having faced such an enormous fear and obstacle gave me an ability to look at all challenges and uncertainty in a different light. I’m always able to look back on this moment when I’m nervous and say, “Bitch, you climbed a glacier. You climbed Solheimajokull in Iceland!”
Finally, Iceland is definitely over touristed. I cannot image the huge price that this is taking on their natural landscape. To have been welcomed to see such a treasure of the country was such an honor. I’m so grateful to have been able to see such a unique aspect of Icelandic culture.
We purchased hot chocolate with Bailey’s in it at the snack stand. I’ll never forget how amazing that warm cup of sweetness was to my bones. The slight burning warmth in my throat allowed my tired muscles to feel just a bit of soothing. Our guides had one final surprise for us, and allowed us to check out Skogafoss waterfall. It was the most confidently I think I have ever posed for photographs in my life. After climbed Solheimajokull in Iceland, why would something like an impromptu photo shoot scare me?
Iceland is eccentric. No doubt about that. It is eclectic, artsy, open minded, and fiercely independent. Its capital city is the only one I know of that has silly walk day where everyone walks around the city apparently doing a silly style of walk. I’ve been told that Reykjavik also unveiled one, if not more, “silly walk crosswalks.” I’m sure my Russian family in law would hate this. They do not do silly things. But, I think it’s great!
What I describe as oddities are actually things that make Iceland unique. For starters, its language is not related to or “like” any other language in the world. Its closest to Old Norse which is what the Vikings spoke. For that reason alone, I want to learn it.
Icelanders also try to preserve their unique culture through names. No child born in Iceland may have a non Icelandic name. Check out this article for more specific information on the law and tradition!
Iceland Phallological Museum
This place holds more dicks than even the most promiscuous of sorority girls. This museum is devoted entirely to – you guessed it- penises! There are 282 natural specimens and 350 art installments related to penises. The museum is more specifically devoted to scientific realm of phallology. This academic area studies penises through different lenses including artistic, psychological, social, and biological. These different areas are apparent throughout the museum.
In terms of biology, you can see vast amounts of preserved pee pees from all sorts of creatures including whales, seals, and even a polar bear. There are artistic expressions of dicks including exhibits such as a penis lamp and utensils carved to look phallic. Iceland’s culture is big on believing in mythical creatures.
Naturally, you can see troll and elf penises as well. While my husband got nauseous half way through and left, I had a damn good time. All I can say is, I’m so happy that I won’t ever have to sleep with a mink whale. Ow.
One of the quirkiest places to eat in Reykjavik is undoubtedly the Laundromat Cafe. It is an “all types” welcome eatery in which they boast their acceptance of the LGBTQ community as well as breastfeeding moms! The space is bright in both its lighting and pop art decor. In many ways it feels as if you’ve stepped into a hip and woke comic book. The name, as you guessed, is because you can complete your laundry in the basement of the restaurant – and then come upstairs for a great meal.
The restaurant also offers books and games to peruse during your time at the cafe. I came for brunch and there was a fair offering of choices ranging from pancakes to acai bowls. You can also choose between a “clean laundry” platter or a “dirty laundry” platter for brunch. Of course I chose the dirty – who the hell eats healthy on vacation? I highly recommend this place if you are looking for “zanier” things to experience in Iceland.
It’s impossible not to talk about Icelandic oddities without mentioning the Lebowski Bar! The bar is inspired by and is named after the cult class movie, The Big Lebowski. The film surfaced in 1998 and features legends such as Jeff Bridges, John Goodman (LOVE), Steve Buscemi, and Julianne Moore. The bar is open for food and drink throughout the day and night, and becomes a night club meets bar on Friday and Saturday evenings.
The bar is decked out in eccentric style and pays a ton of homage to the film with movie posters and still photographs galore. Jeff Bridges, who is the lead in the movie, displays a serious affinity for white Russians throughout the film. Naturally, the Big Lebowski Bar has an entire menu dedicated to “white Russians.” The most famous is perhaps the “cocoa Puffcasian.” It has vodka, kahlua, and cream with a generous layer of cocoa puffs on top. It’s a boozier version of the end of a cereal bowl. This place offers a ton of great dancing on the weekends and fun to be had – as well as a great bite to eat.
More than half of Iceland’s population believes in elves, or as they are also called – hidden people. To be fair – Iceland’s landscape definitely lends itself to that belief. We took a free walking tour of Reykjavik and learned all about a particular elf stone. By the way, an elf stone is a typical stone, boulder, or rock that an elf has decided to make its home.
As the story goes, during an expansion project this particular stone was in the way of city planners. There were several attempts using various types of equipment to remove the stone to no avail. The city hired an elf whisperer to step in. After listening to the demands of the hidden folk living inside the rock the whisperer was able to convince the elves to “ease up.” Apparently – the rock was moved with ease after this encounter.
Bleeding Vagina Wall
Iceland is proud of their feminist culture. As such, it is only appropriate that a giant painting of a menstruating vagina hang in Reykjavik’s City Hall building. I’ll always remember the look of pride our tour guide had as she beamed at the painting. More so, I’ll remember the elderly people in our group who couldn’t believe the word vagina had been uttered aloud – let alone painting shown on the tour.
Monument to the Unknown Bureaucrat Statue
Our next Icelandic oddity, is this man with a giant rock over his head. Iceland has erected this status in honor of its many civil servants who give service to the country every single day. There are so many, that in this piece they are depicted as a single person and that is why the man, with his briefcase on the way to work does not have an identity.
This Giant Fucking Goose
More than half of all Icelanders have Viking DNA coursing through their blood. Apparently, this fucking goose we found also has Viking blood running through his soulless body. He made it very clear who ran things down the the water, and I was never more terrified in my life. I’ll never forget the terror in my heart when I heard his big feet stomping against the ground. He turned a corner to find me and said, “this is my turf sucka. Don’t forget it.” It was a weird way to start our trip, I’ll be honest.
We took a bar crawl on our first night in Reykjavik. I highly recommend doing it through the company “Wake Up Reykjavik.” We met a lot of great friends and it was a really cool way to see the city. The price was a bit steep, but it covered all drinks and entrance into a nightclub. Typically drinks are ridiculously expensive in Iceland, so I found this reasonable.
At one stop in particular, we tried two of Iceland’s famous items. The first is the “black death” shot – also called Brennvin. It has a lethal reputation, and is popularly consumed within the country. It’s made from fermented potato or grain and fermented with carraway seeds. tastes…well…a lot like death.
Apparently, people used to get hammered off this shit and the government felt less than happy about that. They made all makers of Brennvin put a black label and skull on the bottle to make it less appealing. It had the opposite effect and is still drank far and wide today. The skull is gone, but the black label remains.
A note about drinking in Iceland. Reykjavik-ers lover to do bar crawls on the weekends. Make sure to get a good buzz going in your hotel or rental before hitting the bars, or else you’ll be paying off your credit card from now until next year!
Fermented shark came with the black death shots, and I was less than enthused about this option. Fermented shark used to be eaten by Vikings way back in the day, and that is about its only appeal. It tastes like raw and rotten fish mixed with ammonia. If you were looking for a dish that mixes those two flavors – this is your snack!
Hot Dog Hero
If you don’t try an Icelandic hot dog when you visit, you suck. Compared to all other dining options they are pretty cheap and SO fucking delicious. It is hands down my favorite “street snack” to date. Particularly you want to go to the stand where Bill Clinton – in a shocking twist of an old classic – put a weiner in his mouth. This weiner being a hot dog, though. I feel like I need to end that joke by saying if you think Monica Lewinsky is a whore, you are actual human trash.
You need to know that this hotdog has exceptional snap. I mean really, we’re talking a legit 10 out of 10 for snap. The hot dog also consists of a mix of pork, beef, and lamb meat which certainly makes it an oddity to anyone coming from America. The meat is top notch, organic, and free range. You should order your hotdog with everything for the best experience. This includes raw onions, crispy onions, ketchup, remoulade sauce and a sweet brown mustard sauce. You will know true love after finishing your dog.
I lay on my back in my swimsuit laying next to my (now husband) fiancee. The stars were copious and the air around us was freezing. Every breath I exhaled floated as white matter in the direction of the plentiful stars. We had visited a local “swimming pool” as the Icelanders call them. As an American, I’m more inclined to call them “thermal baths” because they are scolding hot.
“Us locals like to come take a swim with our children. Then we wash them, change them into pajamas – it’s a natural way to induce sleep. Visiting the baths before bedtime will be the best sleep you ever get. Trust me.” We did trust our tour guide, and that’s how we found ourselves at Vesturbaejarlaug swimming pool. It’s the favorite one among locals. Many Reykjavik citizens have memories of splashing about as children and return now as adults to discuss the matters of the week with their peers.
Most of Reykjavik believes that the baths, being full of geothermal water, have healing properties. People will come in order to soothe all sorts of ailments. Many, I assume, visit just to lay back in the warm water and look up at the stars as we were doing. Bathing in the water had a strange way of making me feel like I was doing something “natural.” That would be the first of many of the “swimming pools” we visited, and of course the Blue Lagoon would be our final one.
Iceland has a way of throwing travelers steadfast into its way of living. You cannot find “whatever you want and need” in Iceland, and that’s why I like it. Icelanders are decidedly proud of their culture and fierce about protecting it. Citizens cannot even give their children non-Icelandic names! With that, nature is pervasive within the culture. It is the basis for much of the literature and sagas of the country.
Where I live, New York City, I’m hardly ever aware of circumstances such as the trees blowing in the wind or the sky changing from light to dark. There is a business in the people, the energy, and the aesthetics. Iceland is quiet and spacious.
One cannot help but be conscious of nature’s subtleties. The sudden dimness of the light in the sky was always something I enjoyed watching. I more enjoyed the opposite too. Since we visited in winter, the morning hours were frequently pitch black and ethereal. When we arrived in the city at 4AM it was DARK and there was not a ton of man made light around. However, people continue on their day as normal.
In our AirBnB there was a window inside of the shower. I always enjoyed feeling the hot water hit my back and hair as the cool velvet air from the evening sky rushed in through the window at the same time. It felt therapeutic and was a daily ritual. The cold wind in my face during walks caressed me so tenderly, that it was easy to imagine that it had hands and lips. If you’re afraid you won’t pick up on these subtleties of nature – don’t fret. You will not be able to help but notice that in one moment there is a blizzard while in the next there is absolute sunshine. Reykjavik has a saying. “If you don’t like the weather – wait five minutes – it will change.”
Iceland has a proud Viking history, and when taking a meditative walk by the water at the edge of Reykjavik as the fog rolls in, it is not too hard to imagine a Viking longboat rowing in from a faraway raid.
I have an obsession with the Vikings, possibly since the show on the history channel aired. Walking through Thingvellir National Park to see where Vikings from near and far gathered to discuss important matters at the parliament was a bucket list item for me. I couldn’t believe that people so long ago would travel to such a remote area. I imagined what must have went through their mind as they took in the immense natural splendour around them and the seemingly endless and vast swaths of land.
At no time was this more apparent than watching the Northern Lights at the park. Our guide warned us that there was a minimal chance of seeing nature’s best performance. Dozens of travelers stood in Thingvellir Park, seemingly all being told the same news. I’m a weirdo, so I pretended we were Vikings and all gathered around for a mid winter ceremony. It was a weird ass ceremony because nobody out of the entire crowd spoke at all.
One guide announced, “you know – ancient people believe if you clap and cheer it brings the lights out.” HELL YEAH if ancient people did it, then I want to as well. Again, I have a really idiosyncratic obsession with early people. The crowd clapped and cheered with all of its might and a faint green light appeared. The crowd went wild, and screamed louder as the light became stronger and spread across the sky. With one final gusto of enthusiasm the lights became their strongest. I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the crowd.
The Northern Lights were a little different than I expected. For one, they do not dance and sweep across the sky as I imagined. You know when you stare at an image for a long time? Then you stare at a blank wall and see that image? It felt a lot like that. However, it was incredibly magical and made me feel connected to the nature around me and the people before me.
There’s no shortage of waterfalls in Iceland. Standing above them, in front of them, and even behind them will surely stun anyone into silence.
Standing in front of Skogafoss falls was a reminder of how frail we are as humans when compared to natural elements.
I could not believe how close we were able to get. I can totally see how early settlers must have believed that the gods inhabited Iceland. Skogafoss certainly looks and feels as though one is in another dimension entirely.
Gullfoss falls is especially powerful and is a good reminder how frail humanity in comparison to the powers of nature.
Iceland’s nature isn’t just limited to its landscapes. It has a host of wildlife – none more famous than the Icelandic horse.
Despite its small stature, they are considered horses and not ponies. They are only found in Iceland and not shipped anywhere else. They date all the way back to the Viking age.
During a lesson, the guide said that in the summer some locals will get drunk and ride their horses around, laughing as they get thrown off. The horses sometimes run away, but always return safely home. Many Icelanders also ride bareback as well. Icelanders are fucking fearless!
Have you read my post about the douchiest horse ever? You should! It’s my top rated story and will make your sides hurt with laughter.
Nature even inspires many of the locally sourced meal options at restaurants. Menus are full of langoustines and seafood. The fish chowder is not at all what I expected. It’s so thick that it comes served on a plate. It comes with their famous brown bread and butter.
Iceland is synonymous with the sea. Walking around the old harbor area we came across some old boats and rustic seaside cottages. It’s not at all unusual that the best lobster bisque ever would be served in such surroundings.
Saegreifinn definitely gets my vote, and many others, for best lobster soup. It has HUGE chunks of lobster in a velvety, creamy broth served with fresh bread and butter. It might have been one of the best things I ate in Iceland.
A great opportunity for anyone able to do so is glacier hiking and ice climbing. It’s a unique chance to really connect with some of the greatest natural wonders of Iceland. I’ll have an entire post coming soon on hiking Solheimajokull glacier!
Nature has long been a source of inspiration for much of Iceland’s creative masterpieces. Sometimes, when if you get really lucky, it might inspire the person you love to ask you to spend the rest of their life “adventuring” side by side together.
As soon as Arthur and I began planning our wedding, it was a given that we would have a destination wedding. After looking at tons of countries and possible locations, we settled on an all inclusive resort in Mexico. I really think Mexico is the best in the business when it comes to all inclusive packages.
I got a lot of pressure, mostly from my family to have a “normal wedding.” There were a lot of people who could not make it to Mexico, and I was told over and over to consider them. At the end of the day, I couldn’t have a New York wedding. Weddings in New York cost upwards of $25,000. Shocked? I’m serious! It is not at all unusual for couples in New York to go into debt to pay 45-100 thousand dollars for their big day. I do not know a single friend who paid anything less than $30,000.
I couldn’t see myself spending that much money for a wedding that we didn’t want. A destination wedding even with airfare and hotel wound up costing a fraction of that price. Not to mention, we got so much for what we spent. For starters, a week long trip to fucking Mexico. If you’re concerned about cost I highly recommend visiting with a travel agent who specializes in destination weddings. Often, they can find great deals. These almost always include your room free and upgraded. In addition, many resorts will throw in a deal like every fifth room booked is free.
I know a woman who had a wedding in St. Lucia. Every detail from her rehearsal dinner (which took place on a catamaran during sunset) to a steel drum band to DJ and everything else cost only $12,000 for 45 people.
Remember – destination weddings tend to be small because there will be many people who cannot travel, or travel on the dates of your big bash. Zika Virus was a concern for many of the young friends we invited. So, you will wind up paying much less than a typical wedding of 150 people or more.
I was OK with a smaller gathering. Originally, I wanted to elope in Vegas and not even have a wedding. I despise how “goo-goo” women go over their big day. However, 60 people (our total number) is actually a HUGE turn out for a destination wedding!
Making Friends Before the Big Day
By the time our actual wedding reception rolled around, everyone knew each other. Seriously – all of the guests who were strangers at the beginning of the week acted like they had been friends or family forever. I’ve always loved bringing people together. Few things make me as content as being with a big group of my loved ones.
Being surrounded by people who love me and have my best interests in mind is so joyous. To have all of those people get along and act so warmly and loving toward each other was the best wedding gift I could have ever received. How many opportunities in life will you have to spend a week with so many of the people you know and love? This is hands down one of the best parts of having a destination wedding.
Tip: The night before the wedding I made my guests play “Getting to Know You Bingo” in the hotel lobby. Guests had to find a new person to initial each box that corresponded to their new friend. An example would be, “find someone who has never been to Mexico before” or “find someone who would love to have a shot with you” and “find someone who met the groom in college.” It was way more successful than I ever expected. Each Bingo box gave the guests a way to start a conversation with someone new. I can thank teaching for this hit!
Young, old, it didn’t matter. Everyone got along so well. It was a great way for everyone who is important in my life to get to the know the other people who were important to me as well!
Week Long Party
At the end of our wedding, I gave a speech to our guests. As I looked around at the dozens of people who were in attendance, I began to cry. I knew in that moment that there would be few moments in my life going forward that would ever compare to the joy that I felt during that entire week in Mexico.
So much planning goes into a wedding – nearly a year or two full of effort. I couldn’t stomach the idea of all of that zipping by in a matter of four hours. Instead, we were able to enjoy the company of those we loved most for an entire week. What made it so special is that everyone was so relaxed.
In a typical wedding, you barely get to spend time with your guests depending on the number. People travel far and wide and drop serious money to be acknowledged for maybe a total of ten minutes if they are lucky. Having a week with my guests meant I was able to enjoy quality time with each of them in a way that wasn’t rushed.
We enjoyed meals together, pool time, and WAY too many evenings shutting down the nightclub. I was out until at least 1:30 in the morning the night before our wedding!
You’re only young once. Few people have the foresight to know that life will change in the near future. I’m glad that in this respect – I was. Growing up changes things. I knew after my wedding that everyone would continue on with their busy paths in life, and seeing friends would be a special occurrence. I made sure to spend every moment of that week partying like a rock star with my friends. The first thing in the morning there would be a mimosa in my hand!
Since we would all start drinking so early, this would ultimately lead to more and more fun as the day went on. I’ll never forget performing choreographed dances in the club with my friends or several of us hanging onto the same raft in the pool and telling other guests that it was our dinner table.
Vacation for All
People were not only coming to Mexico for our wedding day, it was a vacation for them as well. Our guests spent anywhere from a long weekend to two weeks at the resort. Everyone was able to enjoy all of the activities that the resort had to offer. Some even took day trips and excursions and that way were able to see more of the country. To see the tension melt from the shoulders of my guests who work so hard day to day was a treat in and of itself.
Double the Honeymoon
Being in Mexico allowed us to feel like we were on a honeymoon for the entire week. Our resort really treated us so special. The day after our wedding we were given a private romantic dinner right on the beach complete with bottles of wine and an exclusive menu. We also received a couples massage! The chance to relax on the beach and let loose in the sun as we celebrated our love was a great way to start a marriage together immediately following our wedding!
The best part? We had a real honeymoon to look forward to a few months later.
It Was Just So “Us”
When I look back on our pictures, we couldn’t have done it any other way. These photos of us in the lush Mexican nature surrounded by bright warm colors is just who we are as people. The joy in these shots and the joy I have looking back on them makes me feel like I made the right choice. We eat, breathe, and dream about travel constantly. Planning our wedding was also like planning a vacation. It was doubly exciting to plan the wedding for this reason. It was not only a special day for us, but a week long getaway with friends.
I’ve always been an odd duck. I don’t like to do what everyone else does. By having a destination wedding we had some unique opportunities during the party..like jumping in the pool in our outfits!
Are you considering a destination wedding? Reach out to me if you have questions or need advice! Leave a comment below!
There is no place more controversial in Costa Rica than Jaco.
Jaco is the closest beach town for tourists coming from the San Jose international airport. It’s about an hour and a half to two hour drive. That close proximity, to many, has been its downfall. For years Jaco was a dirt cheap destination for travelers looking for debauchery. Those looking to buy drugs, or a good time with a hooker could certainly find both in Jaco.
These types of travelers never left, and on their heels came investors and retirees from the United States. The result of both types of folks flocking to Jaco? High rise condos, English signs everywhere, shitty American food, and crime. In addition, the high price of the area catered towards those with an American salary have in many ways pushed the local people out, and suppressed the culture. It has made way for a new wave, hybrid, Costa Rica meets trashy American ethos.
This has been the case for years now, and every year it gets worse.
Jaco’s Unconventional Appeal
I first visited Jaco four years ago looking for great nightlife and experiences at cheap prices. My husband (then boyfriend) had visited with friends, and considering it was the only town I had heard of in the country, I went. I stayed for one week with my girlfriends, and I fell in love. As someone who lives in New York City and had very little travel experience at the time, Jaco felt like the most exotic and exciting place one could visit.
Truth be told, I’m an urbanite. I love the chaos, grittiness, and edgy feeling of big cities. I’m also a writer, and a creative in this way, and so naturally, I enjoy places that are a touch unsettling and dangerous. It’s where I draw my best ideas from, and it excites me. Who the hell finds the inspiration to be creative in a place like the fucking Maldives? No true, self respecting, author – that’s for sure.
“Who the hell finds the inspiration to be creative in a place like the fucking Maldives? No true, self respecting, author – that’s for sure. “
The truth? I loved seeing the prostitutes walk around at night and try to pick up men. It was thrilling ducking into sketchy little makeshift bars with my friends in the dead of night while the rain poured down around us. I liked walking around the graffiti covered streets, trying to find a place that looked good for a drink. I laughed while piling into a small taxi, buzzed at the end of the night with four of my friends and no one giving a shit if we wore seat belts and smacked our heads against the car windows as a result. All of this thrilled me.
So, with the image I’ve painted, why in God’s name would I choose Jaco for a family vacation?
Simply put, because Jaco is so much more than its hookers and giant Walmart.
All That Jaco Offers
Jaco has the opportunity for adventure:
It’s beaches are more than perfect for lounging and relaxing.
Plus, it’s a great place to learn to surf, or to practice surfing if it’s a skill that you already have
It’s absolutely beautiful, and the sunsets are world class.
It’s a great central location to take day trips from:
It is family friendly. I never met a single local or employee who didn’t dote over our son. We were never made to feel embarrassed or ashamed of his sometimes less than perfect behavior.
No one seemed to think it was weird to bring him to late night dinners or live music venues.
If you walk around in the day or night, you will see tons of other families around grabbing gelato, having meals together, and playing at the beach.
What I’ve learned is, whatever you go looking for, you will find. If you are looking for the sinister and more dark aspects of travel – such as sex tourism – you will find it. If you are looking for places that feel like America, but are actually in Costa Rica, sure you can find it. There are hamburger joints with English menus aplenty.
However, if you want to interact with locals and learn about Costa Rican culture, there is plenty of opportunity for that as well.
I love that Jaco has a bite to it, but is also really friendly and approachable. When one thinks of art in Europe, we think classical paintings. We met some really wonderful people from Jaco who are always up for having a conversation, and are never without a smile. However, nearly every one of them has some form of well done, badass looking tattoo and often more than one. It became a rarity to meet a Jaco local who did not have tattoos. Every tattoo I inquired about told a story of childhood memories, hopes, dreams, or was a tribute to a loved one.
When one thinks of art in Jaco, the mediums are largely street art and body art. One of the best examples of this is when engaging with the locals. Jaco could easily be viewed with the same romantic intrigue as Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Birmingham in the UK, or Berlin, Germany. It’s only Achilles heel was perhaps its accessibility to the wrong kind of tourists who took an interest in its low costs. By the way, Jaco is no longer inexpensive. My husband and I both having gone years ago (on separate occasions) were surprised that a roundabout 23% tax was imposed! So, prices in Jaco are now comparable to that of New York.
I have few qualms with Jaco. I have few qualms with any destination that I visit, truth be told. However, I think it will be a while before we return. There are so many other places we would like to visit for starters. Second, the now sky high prices of things like dining experiences and excursions will prevent us from returning as our family grows. I hope someday, however, to return to Costa Rica and perhaps see a new part of the country. I would hate to think I will never return. After all, it holds a special place in my heart, click here to see why.
Would I recommend it? I think it depends on what you’re looking for. It has a great mix of beaches, accessibility to other parts of the country, local excursions, and great food. It’s a beach town with the “grit” of a city in many respects.
Is it safe? That depends on your version of safe. Jaco is relatively safe if you practice precautions. I wouldn’t walk around at night, especially alone. I would take a registered cab instead. Have a plan before you go out at night and don’t wander aimlessly, unless you are on the main strip. In the populated areas of Jaco there are always many people and families around. For a more in depth look at Jaco and Costa Rica, check out all of my other posts on the country!
When I look back on my young life, I feel blessed to have had an idyllic childhood. While we never flew to Italy or Morocco, my parents had an adventurous spirit. I remember taking road trips, traveling to Florida often, and visiting the Caribbean with our family.
From those memories, a love of exploration was cultivated. However, I did not travel in high school or even college. Instead, I got lost in the small town way of thinking and found myself doing the same things every weekend. Then, at 24 years old, I took my first international trip as an adult to Costa Rica. I went with a group of girlfriends and we had a blast. Years later we can still easily laugh about and reminisce on all of the memories that we made.
Naturally, when the opportunity to visit Costa Rica years later a second time presented itself, I gave an enthusiastic “hell yes”. This time, I wouldn’t be going with my gal-pals. As a married woman and mother, I would be going with my husband and 10 month old son.
So how did the two trips compare? What did I learn after going back a second time – in a completely different place in my life?
Damn. I remember coming home from Costa Rica and feeling like I had seen some shit. I think to some extent – everyone feels that way after their first international trip. People at home just can’t relate and don’t get it. But, really. I had done things that for me were incredibly adventurous. Things I would never have thought I would find myself doing.
Costa Rica is known for its adventure tourism, and ziplining is more or less a right of passage. If you talk to anyone on a trip to Costa Rica or has been to the country – odds are – they’ve ziplined. Considering so many people zipline, before going it doesn’t even feel like such a big deal. However, I can assure you, once you’re looking down over the edge of your first platform…it is a very big deal. My girl friends and I went through the Los Suenos company for our ziplining adventure. n my opinion, I highly recommend them if you plan on going – professional, enthusiastic, and they provide free transportation to and from the hotels!
While getting suited up, I remember all of us girls jesting with one another and making jokes about falling out of the trees. I put on a brave face, but inside, I was a nervous wreck. During each step of the process, my heart would pound just a touch more. When it was our group’s turn – I was really shocked that I raised my hand to go first.
It was almost as if my hand has a mind of its own. I gripped the rope with both hands and pushed off the platform. The wind rushed through every inch of me. I had never been simultaneously thrilled and terrified at once until this point.
I was thrilled because I had a full realization of how high in the air I was flying. It was me, and the trees. All I heard was the “whirring” of the line and my yelling to myself “Oh my God! Woohoo!” My heart was pounding once I landed. It was weird because even though I had the thrill of a lifetime – I remember saying, “I don’t want to go again.” Of course, there is no other option. I finished the course.
A few times I even got stuck and had to climb my way to the landing platform. I was so proud of myself, I felt like a professional. I don’t think I stopped shaking or smiling the entire time. However, one time was more than enough for me.
The Hike From Hell
I don’t remember who started it- but at some point all of us got it in our heads that the quintessential Costa Rican experience would be to see a waterfall. The entire week we were in Jaco we scoured for the perfect guide and the perfect excursion. Somehow, we found Ronald, his driver Andy, and Nauyaca waterfall in Dominical.
How do I begin to describe Ronald? He is the Costa Rican version of Zamir from Parts Unknown. Ronald makes you do things you’d rather not do, and are really annoyed about, but always with a positive outcome. Often, he has a vision that is usually pretty hard to see at first. Also, he has an enthusiasm that feels oppressive, especially when you’re hot and hungover. However, he is knowledgeable, happy-go-lucky, and was committed, I mean, FULLY committed to making our day memorable. He’s an exceptional human and made the trip worthwhile – we still talk about him to this day.
None of us are athletes, yet somehow, decided a five mile hike upwards in mud and cowshit would be the perfect experience. This hike is so trying, to long, so hot – I remember thinking, “is this legal?” at least 500 times on the walk. There are parts of the walk which are uphill and too many times we slid, pulled, at weeds for stability, and had to put our bare hands on the ground to steady ourselves. I have never been so angry, so frustrated, or laughed so hard in all my life. The further we got along on our hike, the more I felt like I was in a different world.
What’s more – everything felt undiscovered. We were the only ones around wherever we went. We passed sheep on a really high mountain, unique bugs, and wide open fields. In addition to angry, frustrated, and giggling – I was also left quite speechless at times. I’d never experienced nature in the capacity that I saw during our hike. There were so many sites that took my breath away, and I was hardly sure they were real. Sometimes the mountains and fields seemed to go on forever.
The first view of Nauyaca waterfall took my breath away. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen. There are seven levels at the bottom and even more at the top and the water cascades down powerfully into a giant and freezing lake. By that time we were drenched in sweat and couldn’t wait to dive in. Although – that was no easy task either. The first few feet into the water are extremely slippery and I definitely busted my ass more than once. The water is so cold that it numbs your body, but looking at the falls from the lake makes you forget all of that.
The people climbing up high onto the falls make it look easy, but it’s definitely not! It’s extremely slippery and the jump from even the first level of rocks into the water is scary! This was one of my fondest travel memories even to this day.
The hike back down was interesting to say the least. It began raining, and we began getting hot again and just wanted to get the fuck back to the hotel. The mud and cow shit became wildly slippery and our friend, Morgan, went sliding and landed on her back. She fell so hard that the tongue of her sneaker was all the way out to the side. We were really worried and I remember Amanda and I running to her and immediately thinking we needed to clean out her wounds. “NO!” Ronald exclaimed.
“I know what to do.” His plan…was…weird. “First, I need one of your friends to push your back.” *Insert WTF meme here.* “Now, listen to me, I’m going to tie your shoe very tight, this will fix most of the problem.” We had no idea why he thought to do this, and we still don’t. We went from shock and fear to outright CRYING from laughing. No one can retell this story with a straight face – it’s so absurd. It took Morgan a really long time to heal from that fall, God knows how much longer had Ronald not tied her shoe really tight.
We still went through Los Suenos tours – and this time I watched from afar as people suited up for the adventure of a lifetime. I remembered fondly that I had once been them. However, I don’t think I’d have the nerve to go soaring through the trees again! Now, we were embarking on a different journey offered at the adventure site – a chocolate tour.
We were able to follow the entire process of chocolate from start to finish. We tasted chocolate at each stage of the process. I have seen images of the giant cocoa fruit, and have always been curious what it tastes like. I finally figured it out, and the answer is Styrofoam. Generally, you scoop out the seeds and chew off the flesh around them.
Each stage of the process becomes sweeter and sweeter. We were even able to see that there is a noticeable difference in quality between chocolate that is handmade versus made by a machine. If you follow my adventures enough – you will see that I am a huge fan of ancient civilizations and Shamanism.
One story that stands out to me from high school history class is Cacao. Cacao is essentially hot chocolate. The Mayan people would make the drink and considered it a gift from the gods. Beginning in the 8th century (AD) the image of the Cacao god began to appear on pottery. I always imagined what this drink might taste like. No seriously – I spent a fuck ton of my childhood imagining what Cacao might taste like. I pictured bubbles and it being cold for some reason, but super thick and mildly sweet. I also pictured people drinking it through a straw. Basically, I pictured chocolate milk.
I’m happy to say that I finally got to try it! It was essentially hot chocolate, but with a much more earthy and natural taste.
On our girls’ trip, we were apparently ALL about self care before it was even a thing. We treated ourselves to massages and yoga class on the terrace of our hotel:
We also took a four hour ride (each way!) to visit the Baldi Hot Springs at the base of Arenal volcano.
Baldi Hot Springs is a resort which offers a fuck ton of thermal baths to soak and relax in. Some have the look of a jacuzzi, some are more like pools, and others have water slides and waterfalls! The temperature of the baths range from hot to scolding hot, and a few cold pools to dip into as well.
Yes, it’s possible to unwind and relax with a baby. Every morning we would take Henry to the pool and the three of us would splash around. The hotel had a baby floaty and Henry enjoyed peddling his legs underwater and being able to move on his own. We started him off in the kiddie pool, and wondered why more of the children weren’t using it.
Then one day, we saw an iguana take a massive crap in it, and quickly switched exclusively to the big pool. Arthur and I were so much, and family time between the three of us is pretty much exclusive to the weekend, and sometimes, one day a week. It was such a joy and so relaxing to laze around in the pool with my two boys without a care in the world.
Sometimes, Arthur would swim with Henry and I’d make my way over to the deep end and just float. My ears would be submerged and I couldn’t hear a thing. I would just stare at the palm trees and be in the moment. I would just think to myself how grateful, lucky, and happy I was to be in Costa Rica with my family. When there is no clutter in your mind, no anger in your heart, and no maelstrom in your soul – that is the definition of relaxation. A smile on everyone’s face and a few laughs along the way doesn’t hurt either!
We made a whole event out of watching the sunset. Villa Calletas is THE place to watch the sun go down over the water. The big draw is their stone amphitheater made solely for watching the sunset. It was so much fun to grab our bougie drinks, sit in the amphitheater, and watch the sun go down while having some much needed girl time and talk. We got dressed up, did our make up, and took some great photos!
While we couldn’t make our way to Villa Calletas this time around, the view from our balcony was just as stunning. The sunset in Costa Rica is perfect no matter where you are watching from. In this case, each evening, Henry napped in the room while we sat outside on our rocking chairs. Arthur grabbed us each a frozen drink as we talked about life and watched the brilliant orange sun go down over the water. We would talk about where we saw ourselves in a year, five years, ten, retired. We would talk about our dreams and our hopes. It was really nice to re-connect on such a deep level with such a romantic backdrop.
I jumped at the chance to see monkeys up close and personal. On our trip to Baldi hot springs, our guide offered to stop at some random-ass house where guests can interact with the tiny tree dwellers. We paid $20 each to feed and hold them – which was definitely a fucking rip-off. But, experiences build experience – even negative ones. In my mind, I probably would have paid any price to experience something that I felt was so exotic.
I still remember my heart beating as I washed my hands and walked to the tree after. The alpha climbed down and inspected us, even showing his teeth once to let us know he was the boss. After he gave us the “all clear” many more monkeys joined. I was sniffed, climbed on, and nearly had my sunglasses stolen. My hair was yanked, my arms were scratched, and I loved every second.
There was plenty of time to explore the beaches on our girls trip! We laid out, drank daiquiris, and ate poke bowls at Playa Hermosa. I had never seen a black sand beach before and the ethereal fog among the palm trees made me feel like I was in Jurassic Park. While we had plenty of time to enjoy the beach, we didn’t spend a lot of time there. Our schedule was jam packed!
Beach Time Now
In terms of the beach, there is not a lot of difference between Costa Rica then and now! I was still wowed by the unique aesthetics of Costa Rican beaches. That familiar foggy, pre-dawn, jungle-esque feeling was all around. We spent our entire first day just walking up and down the shoreline and exploring.
As a family, we made it a point to get to the beach every day. Often, we would only stay for 20 – 30 minutes. Henry as a baby is susceptible to heat stroke, especially being completely covered because he can burn easily. We would go into our air conditioned room where he could have playtime. That wound up being fine with me, I’m not someone who can lay out on the sweltering sand all day.
Arthur got to get a good surf lesson in while Henry took a nap in his beach tent and I did some relaxing and tanning. All in all, I was surprised by how much didn’t change. I was surprised that it was still possible to have a normal beach outing and do our usual stuff. Something that did change was that we used the beautiful beach behind the hotel to do a family photo shoot. I used to heavily make fun of travel bloggers who partook in professional photos. (I hate false candid.) However, I definitely see the value after getting them back. Professional photographers are able to come up with unique poses in flattering angles. These will be photos our family will cherish for a lifetime.
Crew Hang Outs Then
Our first morning in Costa Rica started with a bang. We took a catamaran cruise to Isla Tortuga, and we started drinking insanely early in the morning – I really think it had to be around eight a.m. After a great breakfast, we boarded the boat with dozens of other young people. We laid out on the nets in front of the boat, vibed to music, and talked SO much shit about people back home.
I remember first pulling up to the island and being inspired for a novel instantaneously. With the swaying palm trees, strong sun, warm sand, and lapping waves – I was transported to somewhere remote and relaxing. We drank beer and I tried ceviche for the first time and thought it was the most amazing blend of tastes in the world. I can still taste the freshness of the fish and tanginess of the citrus on my tongue! My best friend and I re-made the dish shortly after getting home.
The day was an endless barrage of eating, drinking beer, tanning, swimming, and napping in hammocks. I remember walking into the water (in a fucking TWO PIECE) and feeling a sharp pain on my ass cheek. The island was so remote that I thought an islander shot me with a blow dart. I looked down, and I had been stung by a bee – good thing I’m not allergic!
My favorite memory of the day was snorkeling. A small, rickety, boat took several of us out to sea. When the driver pointed to each person – you were expected to throw your body backward into the water so as not to capsize the boat. I got so nervous that I jumped up on the seat and dove into the water – causing a COMPLETE panic on the boat.
The resistance in the water was really strong – I specifically remember us being afraid of that. One of the guides dove to the bottom of the sea and pulled up some type of mollusk. “Cool, I wish I could dive like you.” I remember saying. “Yes?” The next thing I know he was deflating my life vest, thinking I wanted to go under water, and I was screaming NO while my friends cackled. It was a day full of that childish, side clenching, ear to ear smiling laughter – and I’ll never forget it.
Crew Hang Outs Now
We were still able to embark on excursions, but we had to definitely scale back the pace of how we travel. We only did two excursions on our two week trip, and one per day. One was the chocolate tour from above and the other was the monkey mangrove tour. The other days we were either taking Spanish lessons at Academia Tica, or just lounging and relaxing at the resort. Even on the days we hung back, we still would go out for lunch and take walks around the town. Life moves at a slower pace now.
I noticed we also had to be very cognizant of time. Whenever we looked for an excursion, we had to consider if Henry could withstand being on “go mode” for X amount of hours. His max is about four to six hours, which is pretty freaking good for a baby. If a parent is reading, work your way up to this slowly! We also had to consider safety and be realistic. Would I have loved to visit Isla Tortuga again? Yes.
However, realistically, could I imagine taking my 10 month old on a catamaran ride for two hours each way? No. Can I imagine us being stuck on an island all day long with no way of getting back if Henry was cranky, sick, or we ran out of food? No. So, it wasn’t so much about NOT doing so much as it was adjusting what we do and how we do it.
Night Life Then
We went to the few bigger bars and clubs that Jaco had to offer. For some reason they all seem to be colors…”Orange” or “Blu.” I don’t recall being too wild and crazy, but I remember the freedom of being able to have four of five drinks with no responsibilities in the morning other than excursions. Flash forward, for a moment, to 2020. We took taxis everywhere at night at the advice of our concierge. Jaco can be pretty sketchy at night. For that reason I was shocked at remembering how we would walk around at night – sometimes late at night – to different clubs and bars. Although I do remember one night of piling into a taxi cab, barely fitting, and DEFINITELY no seat belts being worn.
On our trip to Costa Rica – we turned in fairy early – usually by 10:00. I’ll be honest with you right now…I FUCKING LOVE IT. There is no greater joy than collapsing into clean sheets after spending all day in the sun. I didn’t long for one bit for being out until 2 in the morning and spending the next day sick from a hangover.
That is not to say we spent every evening in our polo sweaters playing checkers. We were still able to enjoy all of the “adult” things that we like. We drank margaritas, caught a lot of live music, walked the strip, and bullshitted over beers and greasy food on the beach. Henry slept through most of this and we were able to have legitimate adult time.
What I Learned
I will always cherish the memories I made as a young woman who traveled the world. I’m so happy that at an early age, I invested in traveling when many of my peers were content to blow every last dollar at the same bars every weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I did plenty of that before I saw the light – but I got out early. My travels were full of time to do whatever I wanted without a care in the world beyond seeing everything on my itinerary and nursing a hangover.
Things are different now, but I have to be honest – not so much so. For the most part, when we travel, we are still able to do everything we want. We’ve still been able to eat out at restaurants, go on excursions, and engage in local culture and unique experiences. I now have the added benefit of seeing the world through the most innocent and excited eyes. I’m so grateful to get to share so much of the world and travel with him and my husband. Both trips to Costa Rica were so very memorable. I hope I will get to go back someday, I’m sure I will. Life is long. Arthur and I talk about retiring in Costa Rica. Maybe! Who knows? Writing this piece has been refreshing. It was really eye opening for me to see how my trips to Costa Rica from then to now have changed.
Considering travel to anywhere is pretty much obsolete at this point, I decided to explore my home. I spend so much time working that I don’t spend a ton of time here. Well, in the past week I’ve uncovered and traveled to every nook and cranny.
I thought baby’s room would be really soothing and comforting – so I started off there. I’ll be honest – it wasn’t exactly what I imagined. There is only one local living there and he speaks the indigenous language of baby’s room – so it was difficult to communicate. He seemed pretty demanding. I’m not one to disrespect the culture and people of a destination. However, the inhabitant of baby’s room…was a little stinky. I announced I wouldn’t be staying, and he seemed indifferent to losing my business. He was way too focused with picking up a single cheerio.
This part of the condo might be my favorite. It has a lot of offer and you’re never really bored. I was able to work on my laptop, do some exercise, watch TV, and hang out on the giant “L” shaped couch that is offered to guests for relaxation. I will definitely be visiting this part of the condo again, probably at least 3,000 times before the pandemic is over 10/10!
I’d say this area was about average – not great/not terrible. If I had to describe my experience in the restroom with one word – practical. I’ve heard some restrooms have TOO much toilet paper during this pandemic – others, not enough. I’d say this restroom had an average amount. The latest travel trend is washing hands – and the restroom offered a space for doing that called the sink. My hands felt incredibly clean afterwards, and the smell of the soap offered was divine.