Southern Spain – Guadalupe and Trujillo

The first two stops on our self-guided tour of southern Spain were Guadalupe, home of an important monastery and Trujillo, known as the home of Francisco Pizarro, conquistador of the Inca empire of Peru. Our interest in visiting Trujillo was not really about conquistadors, but more the well-preserved old town and castle.

The towns of Guadalupe and Trujillo are show in relation to Madrid. Guadalupe is 240 km (150) southwest of Madrid and Trujillo is 78 km (48 miles) west of Guadalupe.

Guadalupe

This little town is not really on the tourist map, but its glorious Monasterio de Guadalupe should be. The monastery was founded in 1340 and is right in the center of town (the town grew up around the monastery over the centuries). It was the most important monastery in Spain for four centuries. The monastery was a great center of learning, having one of the largest libraries in Spain, and home to schools of grammar and medicine. It was the site of the baptisms of some of the first native Caribbean people brought to Europe by Columbus. It has an amazing embroidery museum (I cannot fathom the hours spent in making these vestments), and an ancient texts museum, among other treasures. The only way to visit the monastery is with a guided tour (in Spanish only). It looks like a giant castle from the exterior and photos are difficult–from the outside due to its cramped location in town and the fact that photography is forbidden in much of the interior.

The Guadalupe town square and monastery. The circular font in front of the monastery is supposedly where the Caribbean natives were baptized.
There are over 90 large illustrated music and other books from the 15th and 16th centuries in one of the museum rooms in the monastery.
The beautiful Baroque style 17th century Sacristy in the Guadalupe Monastery. I had to take this photo quickly.
The cloisters at the Guadalupe Monastery.
Bronze baptismal font.

Trujillo

Trujillo is just 78 km (48 miles) west of Guadalupe, and we spent a night here in an old converted convent.

A view of Trujillo as we drove into town.
The courtyard of our 16th century Dominican Convent hotel, just below the center of the old town (Convento de Franciscanas Descalzas de San Antonio).

While the occasional tour bus makes its way into the main square, this is a pretty quiet town also. Trujillo has many historical structures, and as you wander the narrow little streets, signs on the buildings will give you some historical information.

Plaza Mayor de Trujillo, with a statue of Francisco Pizzaro in the center. The church is the 16th century Parish Church of San Martin de Tours.
Another view of the Plaza Mayor in Trujillo – historical municipal buildings and palaces line the Plaza.

We were able to wander into a few churches and climb their towers for great views and also visit the ramparts of the castle, which stands as a reminder of the battles for this land between the Moors and Christians during the 1200’s.

13th century castle walls built on the remains of an earlier Islamic fortress stand at the top of the hill overlooking Trujillo.
My wife and mother-in-law on the castle walls (foreground).
One of my favorite images from our trip.
Overlooking the old town of Trujillo and countryside from the castle.
A view of the castle from a church tower (I love to climb towers in Europe!).

There are also several 16th century palaces in Trujillo built with the wealth obtained from the conquering of the Americas. Many of the historical sites are open and charge a small entrance fee.

If you have the time, add a visit to Guadalupe and Trujillo to your Spain tourist experience! I love quiet, interesting, and almost undiscovered destinations like these.

I had to throw this image in. All along our route between Guadalupe and Trujillo we saw orange trees just loaded with fruit. We decided to try them. WOW – were these oranges BITTER! We found a few sweeter ones, but now we know why the oranges are just left to drop on the ground!

A Tour Through Southern Spain-Overview

Overview

This spring we decided to take our first international trip in over two years due to the pandemic. It felt so good to be out in the world again! The COVID situation is changing rapidly as I write this, but we found the actual travel to be very easy. We decided on southern Spain for several reasons: While we had toured northern Spain (and as far south as Toledo) a number of years ago, we had not previously visited some of the primary tourist destinations in southern Spain (such as Seville, Cordoba, and Granada). Also, Spain’s COVID travel restrictions as of this spring were a little less restrictive than other countries. Finally, we love Europe!

Our primary destinations were: Trujillo, Merida, Seville, Ronda, Gibraltar (U.K.), Granada, Córdoba, Conseugra, and Cuenca, with a number of other interesting stops along the way.

The Roman Temple of Diana in Merida.

Pandemic Travel

The biggest hassle was the paperwork required by the airlines (United and Lufthansa) prior to departure and return. We had to upload our vaccination cards and fill out questionnaires besides providing the typical passport information. All this information had to be approved by the airline prior to receiving boarding passes, but not more than 24 hours in advance. Frankly, it was easier just providing all the required documentation at the airport check-in counters. Spain required us to fill out a straightforward questionnaire and obtain a QR code ahead of time that we could show (upon arrival at the Madrid airport they just scanned the QR code and that was it, simple). Traveling back to the U.S. (at the time) required a negative COVID test which we were able to get at the Madrid airport prior to our departing return flight (test results were available in less than 30 minutes). Masks were required indoors in Spain, so we just kept our masks with us at all times, and also kept our vaccination cards with us in case anyone asked (which they didn’t).

We traveled in early March, a pretty good time to go. Tourist sites were not crowded, and the weather was generally pleasant (we had one rainy day and one stormy/windy day with Saharan sand covering our car with a fine layer of dust and turning the sky an orange hue).

Tourist Site Reservations

The only reservations we made ahead of time were for the Alhambra in Granada and the Cathedral/Rooftop Tour in Seville. There were no lines to speak of at either site, but we thought it would be smart to book ahead for these popular sites. Under normal travel conditions, reserving tickets for the Alhambra is a must.

A view of the Alhambra in Granada. In March, the mountains were covered in snow.

Logistics

As we typically do, we rented a car (through Avis this time) and are very glad we did. Having a car allows you to explore surprising little out-of-the-way villages or sights that would not be accessible otherwise. Examples include Alcalá la Real, Calatrava la Nueva and Alarcón – more to come on these little gems in later posts.

Alarcón castle – now a parador (hotel).

We covered about 1,600 miles during our two-week tour and didn’t need to drive more than about 3.5 hours in any given day. A map of our approximate route is shown below. We will break down the trip into segments for future posts.

Our approximate route through Southern Spain and Gibraltar. We covered a lot of ground over two weeks, but never felt rushed. We saw an amazing number of interesting sights and also enjoyed the varied landscape.

We stayed in lovely apartments in most destinations and found some great deals at the time – often not more than $100 US per night for 2+ bedrooms, kitchen, clothes washer and often 2 bathrooms (we had 4 people in our group). Our hosts were very prompt, friendly and welcoming.

Street entrance for our Granada apartment, in the old Albaicin quarter of the city.
Our bedroom in Granada, we loved the old architecture.

It felt GREAT to be “back on the road again”….keep a look out for more to come on this amazing adventure!

Finding the Perfect Retreat

In this post our guest writer, Jesse Clark, provides ideas for a relaxing retreat-type of vacation. Her bio information is below. 

Holidays and year-end work and school projects can be overwhelming, so much so that if you can squeeze in a quick self-care retreat at the beginning of a new year, it can work wonders on your mental and emotional health. When you’re scouting out locations, consider places where you might ultimately like to buy a vacation home and “test drive” the city or state on your quest for relaxation. Today, The Independent Tourist offers some tips and resources to help you on your way.

Southern Arizona

There’s a real sense of calm in the desert, and visiting in January, February, or March offers beautifully temperate daytime temps in the mid-50s and 60s. It’s also “spring” in the desert, which makes for beautiful hikes at Camelback, Santan, or Four Peaks. While you can certainly commune with nature, if you’d like a more traditional wellness retreat, consider any one of the city’s 5-star hotels with award-winning spas, or a hidden gem like CIVANA in the aptly-named Carefree, AZ. Wellness packages include a variety of options, including healthy vegan meals, yoga and meditation, spiritual wellness consultations, and traditional spa treatments and amenities.

Southern California

If you’re in the mood for a wellness beach trip, San Diego is home to pristine beaches, seaside dining, and historic landmarks. It’s also home to a 600-acre Japanese-style mountain retreat, the Golden Door. A true zen experience includes an array of class offerings, hiking trails and labyrinths, traditional spa treatments and offerings, and one-on-one coaching from renowned clinicians and personal wellness experts. While you’re in SoCal, consider a visit to Malibu’s famed Ranch, an exclusive, immersive experience that includes specialized eating and fitness regimens, and personalized experiences.

A trip to California doesn’t have to be exclusively for gardens and spas. If you’re in Los Angeles, you can catch a Dodgers game in the afternoon or evening. Simply choose your price point and select from your choice of great seats at great prices.

Southern Colorado

If you prefer the smell of pines and mountain air, the Crestone Mountain Zen Center in San Luis Valley, Colorado may be the right fit for your rejuvenation needs. This real-life Zen Buddhist monastery offers truly personalized plans intended to be wholly transformative. If you’d rather explore the solitude of nature treks, consider hiking through the Great Sand Dunes National Park, or explore Mesa Verde National Park. While Colorado weather can vary during the winter months, it also offers opportunities for invigorating snow sports like skiing and snowboarding.

International Destinations

If you really want an opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and rest and recharge, Destination Deluxe recommends you consider an international trek. Explore the Bodhi Tree House in Costa Rica and find yourself at one with the jungle, or explore the mountains of Positano at Italy’s Dolce Vitality.  If you need a true detox, SHA Wellness Clinic in Alicante, Spain takes a holistic approach that includes stress and anxiety relief and unconventional therapies that are sure to please.

Taking a Permanent Vacation

You may very well fall in love with your wellness destination city and decide you’d like to take return trips on a regular basis. Buying a vacation property typically requires a 20% down payment, which can be steep for many homeowners. A home equity loan or second mortgage may be an option for making your vacay dreams become a reality. According to Bankrate, a mortgage lender can help you crunch your numbers, and a qualified real estate agent in your destination city of choice can help you find the perfect long-term retreat. You should also look into forming your own LLC if you’d like to get into the vacation rental business!

We all need an opportunity to rest, relax, and recharge, and having a vacation home in a beautiful city can be just what you need. You can likely rent out your property when it’s not in use, and be better suited to managing the stress of everyday life when you know you have a special escape that’s all your own.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Find out more and contact her through soulful-travel.com. 

Featured image credit: Pixabay

3 Ways to Optimize Your Self-Care Vacation

In this post our guest writer, Jesse Clark, provides some excellent tips on taking a vacation that takes care of you. Her bio information is below. 

Feeling stressed or overwhelmed by your everyday life? If so, then taking a self-care vacation may be your ticket to feeling calmer and more at ease. Planning a mental health-boosting escape is actually easier than you think — you just need the right tips and tricks to get you in the right headspace to relax and unwind. If you’re looking for more ideas to help you plan your self-care escape, then you need to read through these tips from The Independent Tourist.

Leave Work at Work

Being able to work from anywhere is one of the blessings of living and working in the modern day. It’s also one of the curses. If you’re one of those people who lives with this double-edged sword, and especially if you’re in a management role, think twice before allowing your work to stowaway on your vacation. Of course, you’ll want to complete necessary tasks before you take time off so nothing is lingering unfinished, but also do a metal check to not bring work-related concerns with you on vacation. It’s called “downtime” for a reason, so leave work at work, where it belongs.

Another tactic to increase your peace of mind is to automate some processes. You can automate any number of concerns these days, from payroll to social media outreach. Knowing that even while you’re vacationing it’s “business as usual” is a great way to ensure you are comfortable leaving work at work. 

Photo Credit: Pexels

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone on Your Trip

Livening up your travels might mean something as simple as switching up your hair, but if you want even more of the empowering emotions that go along with doing something fresh, Develop Good Habits suggests booking a trip that really challenges your normal routine.

We tend to think that our routines and comfort zones protect and guide us, but those routines can also be limiting. When you get too caught up in feeling comfortable, you are more likely to feel fearful and anxious about trying new things, and about life’s inevitable changes. So, Nomadic Matt says to treat yourself to some ultimate self-care by facing your fears during your vacation!

Photo Credit: Pexels

This could be as simple as getting onto an airplane for the very first time or planning something truly adventurous during your self-care vacation. You could swim with sharks in Hawaii or climb mountains in Colorado. Whether you stay in the States or travel abroad, there are endless options for testing your limits and conquering your fears. So, start small and then work your way up to more on your next trip.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Relax, Unwind and Refresh While on Your Trip

If shark-diving and mountain-climbing sound way too stressful, know that you can always plan a more calming mental health break. If you are still looking to get away from your current location, you could always travel to one of the top wellness destinations in the country. Seaside towns such as Amelia Island in Florida or Wailea in Hawaii can provide the perfect environment to refresh your mind and recharge your senses. There are plenty of activities in these destinations to help you unwind, or Fix.com suggests just spending your entire vacation relaxing by the ocean.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

If a pampered escape sounds more like your ultimate version of self-care, a spa trip could be your best bet for de-stressing. From a desert oasis in Palm Springs to a getaway in the heart of Oregon’s wine country, there’s truly a spa destination for everyone.

Stress doesn’t have to get you down, especially when it can be so simple to plan a self-care retreat to recharge and unwind. You can challenge your fears or calm your senses, but either way, your health and well-being are sure to improve when you make self-care a focus.

The Independent Tourist shares information and advice for those who wish to travel independently all around the world. Reach out for more info today! theindependenttourist@gmail.com.

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Find out more and contact her through soulful-travel.com. 

Featured Image Photo Credit: Rawpixel

Post-Pandemic Travel: 3 Mistakes To Avoid

In this post our guest writer, Jesse Clark, provides some excellent tips on post-pandemic travel. Her bio information is below. 

Since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, people have been spending most of their time in or near their homes. Travel of any kind, especially nonessential, recreational travel like sightseeing and vacationing, was heavily frowned upon or outright prohibited until very recently when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced a major policy change. Even if you were able to travel a bit, you likely found many attractions and accommodations either closed completely or operating at a nearly unrecognizable level.

As the nation’s vaccination figures rise and the number of new COVID-19 cases declines, travel is making its comeback. However, don’t expect everything to bounce back to the way it was immediately — or, in some cases, ever. The pandemic has inflicted some permanent changes on the way businesses and travelers operate, and some of those changes may be here to stay.

Go ahead and strap on that fanny pack. But before hitting the road or taking to the skies, The Independent Tourist gives you these three common mistakes to watch out for.

Mistake No. 1: Thinking There’s Only One Safe Way To Travel

Condé Nast Traveler points out that health experts and travel industry leaders alike have been debating for some time about which mode of transportation has the lowest COVID-19 risk for travelers. As it turns out, the safest travel method may depend on how far you’re traveling.

For a shorter trip of fewer than 500 miles, car travel is likely your best bet. On a road trip, most of your time is spent in a vehicle with just a few other people whose vaccination records are easy to verify. You’ll avoid spending hours at the airport being in close contact with hundreds or thousands of strangers who may or may not be vaccinated, and you won’t be seated inches away from a stranger who will share your airspace for the entire flight.

That said, car travel requires more frequent stops than air travel, and each stop means interacting with new people. Beyond a one-day trip — roughly 500 miles — the COVID-19 risks of all those necessary road trip stops begin to outweigh the risks of airport crowds. For longer trips, air travel is likely the safest choice.

Mistake No. 2: Choosing the Wrong Destinations

You may be itching to get back to your favorite beach or shopping mecca, but so are thousands of other people. Avoiding crowds is still critical to staying safe on your travels. Outdoor destinations, such as parks and campgrounds, are a safer choice than crowded resorts and hotels.

A surprising silver lining to the COVID-19 cloud is that, with international travel bans still in effect, there has never been a better time to visit some of the country’s most stunning national parks. These destinations are seeing smaller-than-normal crowds due to the absence of international tourists.

Mistake No. 3: Not Updating Your Tech Gear

In a post-pandemic world, expect to have your smartphone always glued to your hand. From navigating trails in the great outdoors to taking advantage of contact-free reservations and check-ins, your phone is more important than ever. If you need an upgrade, now’s the time. Because your smartphone will be everywhere you’re venturing, the risk of damage from the elements — rain, dirt, the sun — as well as drops increases, so you’ll want to invest in a rugged, durable screen protector to protect your lifeline. Many of today’s screen protectors go through extensive testing for things like scratches and impacts.

Also look into a good phone sanitizer to keep germs at bay. Noise-isolating headphones may help you remember to practice safe distancing, and a backup battery or power bank will keep you connected on the go.

While you’re no doubt excited to start traveling again, it’s important to prioritize your health and make smart choices to keep you and your travel companions safe on your adventures.

The Independent Tourist is your source for worldwide independent travel, a blog and guide written by an independent tourism enthusiast for independent tourists. Check us out today! theindependenttourist@gmail.com

Jesse Clark is a traveler, so she’s no stranger to experiencing wanderlust and that strong desire to travel. She’s already had enough experiences to last a lifetime, but she’s not stopping anytime soon. Find out more and contact her through soulful-travel.com. 

(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

Two Days in an Overwater Bungalow in Moorea

After seven wonderful days on our Windstar Cruise in French Polynesia, we sailed back into port at Papeete, Tahiti. Fortunately, we had decided beforehand to extend our stay in French Polynesia by booking rooms at the Hilton Moorea property on the north shore. Having seen many dreamy pictures of overwater bungalows in exotic locales, we decided to give the bungalows on Moorea a try and we were not disappointed. Our budget would only afford two nights, but that was better than nothing (rooms can run about $1,000/night or more, depending on location, meal plans, season, etc.).

We chose Moorea because its proximity to Papeete (only a short ferry ride away), rather than an expensive flight back out to Bora Bora.

The uncrowded ferry to Moorea. The ferry terminal was right next to the cruise ship terminal.

From the ferry dock in Moorea, we found a taxi to take us to the Hilton, about a 20 minute ride to the northwest around the coast. The luggage claim was a bit of a zoo, I wish I would have gotten a photo of the chaotic scenes of several ferries and luggage stacked up at the terminal–almost comical. No problem finding our bags however.

View of Hilton Moorea property from the beach.

There is no lack of things to do in this setting – hit the beach, hit the pool, have a casual lunch, paddle board, jet ski (a blast in the nearby stunningly scenic bays), snorkel, take an island tour, etc. (See our post on our cruise stop in Moorea). Our hotel package included a wonderful buffet breakfast. We ate dinner one day at the hotel in a beachside cafe and the second evening we got a taxi to a restaurant on the beach a few miles down the coast.

There’s nothing like waking up in the morning, stepping down to your own private swim platform and jumping into the calm water for a quick swim and watching rays and other fish swim by.

Our bungalow for two nights. The room had a glass floor so you could look down and see the water and fish.
A short video showing our bungalow room.
It’s a surreal setting – it does feel like a dream!
It was funny watching our very cruise ship pass by the Hilton Moorea (exactly one week later after our cruise!)
A sunset on Moorea–the end to another perfect day!

Huahine – French Polynesia’s Quiet Island

Ok, if you REALLY want to get away from it all, the island of Huahine in French Polynesia may be your spot. This was the last stop on our Windstar Seven-Day Cruise. Huahine is 86 km (54 miles) southeast of Bora Bora, and to the east of Taha’a and Raiatea.

Our cruise ship at anchor in Maroe Bay, looking south towards Huahine Iti.

Huahine has a population of about 6,000 and is actually two islands, Huahine Nui (the north island, larger) and Huahine Iti (the south island, smaller), which are connected by a short bridge. Both islands are surrounded by a reef as is common in French Polynesia.

This is a relief map of Huahine, our ship anchored in Maroe Bay in the upper middle of the map, you can see where the island halves nearly touch. You can also see the reef surrounding the island(s), and that there are not many entrances into the lagoon from the sea.
An image of the bridge connecting Huahine Nui and Huahine Iti.

Huahine Nui Tour

Given the quiet nature of this island, we decided to “wing it” for the day and managed to hire a car and driver to take us around Huahine Nui (the north island and where most of the population lives). There wasn’t much of a tour desk (basically a park bench) when we arrived via tender from the cruise ship, but I think there was a number to call, or someone called for us, and we secured a driver. There is one road circling the island.

Below are a few pictures from our morning excursion on Huahine. What a lovely, quiet day in another idyllic spot in French Polynesia.

These are vanilla beans drying. Vanilla is a major cash crop on Huahine, as is the case for several of the French Polynesian islands.
A ancient fish trap on Huahine, the Polynesians would use the tides to pull the fish in the direction of the trap and then it would just be a matter of scooping them up with nets in the stone circle at the far end.

The tour was 2+ hours, and in the afternoon Windstar offered our last water skiing opportunity with their small boat so I went skiing in the bay with a few other passengers. A great way to end seven fun-filled, relaxing days in French Polynesia!

Bora Bora – What Dreams are Made of

The highlight of our 7 day Windstar cruise in French Polynesia was Bora Bora. We sailed here in the evening after a wonderful day in Taha’a, just 18 km to the south. Our visit to Bora Bora lasted 2 days, allowing us a bit more time to truly enjoy this amazingly beautiful island. Having heard about exotic Bora Bora since childhood, it was a little surreal actually visiting this fabled island and enjoying its many charms.

Our ship at anchor in Bora Bora

Bora Bora is pretty quiet – all you see is a small town (Vaitape), some scattered homes, various beach parks and a few restaurants. Most of the resorts (and airport) are on the motus (islets) surrounding the lagoon and main island. Our time was filled with the following activities over our two days:

Island Tour

We started our visit to Bora Bora with a tour that took us completely around the island. This adventure gave us a feel for the island and various views of the island, motus and lagoon.

I don’t know how our tour vehicle made it up some of the ‘roads’ we took – the guide had to make several attempts to get up some of the muddy slopes!

Glass Bottom Boat Tour

This tour was arranged through Windstar. Our guide knew how to attract the fish for our viewing pleasure! Our guide was very kind and enjoyable, and like so many tour guides, had musical talents!

Our Glass Bottom Boat guide attracting the fish for us!
Our guide providing musical entertainment on our way back to the ship, and letting me pilot our boat.

Private Boat Tour of the Lagoon

We arranged this tour ourselves at the tiny tour desk at the Viatape dock, and it was really worth it. We had the boat and driver all to ourselves. We circumnavigated the island and our captain took us to different spots around the lagoon where we could snorkel, play with the friendly rays, get amazing views of Bora Bora, and swim with the black-tipped reef sharks, just outside the protected lagoon in open, deep water.

Diving

Also arranged through Windstar, I took my first dive ever in Bora Bora. While there were several experienced divers in our group, there were also several of us for whom this was a first experience. We received instructions and then did a 30 minute, 6 meter dive (about 20 ft). What a blast. I really loved the dive and what better place try it out than Bora Bora!

Evening Dinner and Show

Windstar hosted a dinner and show on a motu not far from our ship during our overnight stop. The meal, show, and stunning setting made this a very memorable event.

A great show was put on by the local talent.
Looking out over the sunset after another perfect day in Bora Bora.

Taha’a – Life’s a Beach

From Raiatea, we cruised a few kilometers across the strait in the evening to our next stop, the island of Taha’a and Motu Mahaea, an islet in the reef that surrounds Raiatea and Taha’a. What a great day this was! I had decided to take advantage of the morning cruise excursion, which was a “drift snorkel tour” on the northwestern side of Taha’a. For many passengers (and the rest of my family), they enjoyed the free day on Motu Mahaea, where the cruise line has a nice set-up — lounge chairs on the beach, kayaks, paddle boarding, beach games, snorkeling and swimming, in addition to a great BBQ lunch. I was able to join the rest of the my family on Motu Mahaea for the afternoon after the morning snorkel.

Drift Snorkel Tour

On our way out to our snorkel spot. Our guide was wearing a t-shirt map of Taha’a and Raiatea, very helpful to get our bearings. The island of Taha’a is in the background.

Our snorkel spot was on the northwestern reef of Taha’a, with a spectacular view of Bora Bora providing the backdrop. The channel has a strong current and you literally just drift along with the current taking in the underwater sights.

This was the channel in the reef where we snorkeled. There is a pretty strong current through here–from the ocean side into the protected lagoon (Bora Bora is in the distance).
We did three snorkel tours through this channel taking different routes.
Views of our snorkel tour using my GoPro knock-off camera — works pretty well!
Another snorkel view of the channel.
The abundance of coral and varieties of fish were amazing and beautiful.

There are a few resorts out here on this part of the reef of Taha’a, which would be a nice place to stay, and maybe a little less expensive than Bora Bora.

Motu Mahaea

After our great snorkel tour, we headed over to Motu Mahaea, to join many other passengers for an afternoon BBQ and fun on the beach.

A view of Motu Mahaea as we arrived. Nothing like your own private play island in French Polynesia!
Cruise passengers enjoying a kayak, with our cruise ship anchored in the background.
The facilities on Motu Mahaea were very nice, and you can’t beat the setting!
After our day in Taha’a and Motu Mahaea, we set sail for Bora Bora (my in-laws enjoying the view as we got underway).

The sunset highlights the beautiful coastline of Taha’a.
One more evening view of the gorgeous island of Taha’a.
Leaving Taha’a – I really loved this evening shot showing the difference between the open sea and the calmness and protection that the reef provides.

Raiatea – the Birthplace of Polynesia

After Moorea, our next stop was Raiatea. Although it is the second largest island (of the Society Islands) and home to the “second largest city” in French Polynesia, the island is blissfully undeveloped. Waking up early and walking out onto the deck as we sailed along the coast of the island and into the port of Uturoa was the way I’d love to start every day! (More information below about Raiatea’s significance to the history and exploration of Polynesia).

My wife Robyn taking in the beautiful coastline of Raitea as we arrive for another day in paradise.
Coming in to Uturoa, on Raiatea.
Our cruise ship, Windstar (on the left), docked in Uturoa.

Geographically, Raiatea shares the same lagoon with Taha’a (our next stop) and both islands are close to Bora Bora.

Raiatea was one stop where we decide to “wing it” from a tour standpoint. We got off the ship, found a small tour desk and eventually we were able to secure a guide who gave us a fabulous tour of the island.

Our tour guide explains the growing of breadfruit and other crops on Raiatea.
Breadfruit, not my favorite fruit!
Raiatea has the only navigable river in French Polynesia – one of the cruise ship tours takes kayaks on the river for a few kilometers.

Raiatea has significant cultural and spiritual importance to the native population because it is the geographical center of eastern Polynesisa (a triangle can be formed between New Zealand, Raiatea and Hawaii), and it is considered the ancestral homeland of the Maori people, most closely associated with New Zealand. A traditional name for the island is Havai’i, which sounds very similar to Hawai’i, which also has a close link anciently to Raiatea. It is believed that ancient Polynesians set out to explore the Pacific from this island. Learn more here.

Taputapuatea

We visited the sacred temple site of Taputapuatea, where our guide gave a great history and navigation lesson in the sand (taking a stick and drawing out symbols, maps, and terms in the packed sand). This sacred spot was the launch site for exploration and a worship center for Polynesians across the Pacific.

Some of our guide’s drawings in the sand – fascinating information on how the ancient Polynesians navigated on the ocean.
Our tour guide explaining the history at the thousand year-old Taputapuatea Marae.

We also visited the home of a friend of our guide (I’m sure everyone on the island knows each other). This gentleman was from San Francisco originally and has lived on Raiatea for many years, in a very simple fashion. His home was essentially a small wood framed structure with metal siding and swing out “windows”. He lives largely off the land with what he can produce. He offered us some lovely fruit dishes and we enjoyed visiting with him. Not a bad way to retire!

The gentleman whose home we visited is on the left, partially hidden by my mother-in-law.

Before heading back to our cruise ship, our guide took us to a pretty spot with a nice view of the southern part of the island, where he shared a little more about this wonderful slice of paradise.

View of the coral reef protecting the south shore of Raiatea.
Another view of the southern part of Raiatea.
One more view of Uturoa, Raiatea, as we depart in the evening.

Our next stop was just a few kilometers across the strait which separates Raiatea from Taha’a. Our next day was going to be all about playing in and enjoying the water – stay tuned!