A 5-Day Tour of Vancouver

Known affectionately as “The Garden City,” “Vansterdam,” “Rain City,” and—my personal favourite—“Hongcouver,” Canada’s third largest metropolitan area has a lot to offer beyond leafy terraces and freezing beaches.  I’ve spent weekends, evenings, and mid-week days enjoy everything the city has to offer.

Here is my ideal way to pass 5 days in Vancouver:

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Day 1: Check in, walk out.

Beaches and parks litter Vancouver’s suburban streets, colliding Lulu Lemon-clad runners with hipster city strollers. Large logs are scattered across English Bay, welcoming loungers and cute couples.  This is the perfect place for people watching.

There are plenty of restaurants and cafes around, so when your stomach starts grumbling try a place you’ve never heard before and grab a seat with a sea-side view. Watch the sun go down and hide from the incessant drizzle under a Foulton umbrella.  Soak in (haha) Canada’s favourite city and take the time to aquire your taste to the most Canadian drink, the Ceaser.

Day 2: Get Artsy
Take the ferry or wander across the bridge to Granville Island, where you will find a bustling market, quiet galleries and more unique souvenirs than you could ever imagine.

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Admission to Vancouver’s Art Gallery is by donation on Tuesday nights.  The large, impressive building lingers on the edge of Robson Square.

Day 3: Take a hike.
Grouse Mountain lingers amongst the Pacific Ranges in North Vancouver.  It exceeds 1,200m and offers over 26 skiing runs and a 2.9km hike in summer.

The lift is open year-round, with skiers overtaking the mountain from November near into June. The more adventurous can by-pass the gondola and do the Grind.

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I conquered the Grouse Grind in August 2015, exactly one year and one day after my second back surgery. Although my boyfriend can scale the stairs in 45 minutes, it took me an hour longer – but the feeling (and chocolate-covered Beavertail) at the summit was worth it.

At the top, you will come face-to-face with not one, but two full grown grizzly bears, held back by nothing more than a thin electric wire.  In the summer months, owls and various birds of prey are displayed in wildlife shows.  Although the views are peaceful and serene, this mountain is anything but quiet.       

Day 4: Listen up.
Whatever your fancy—art shows, concerts, hockey games, club nights—a little research goes a long way.  On my Thursday in VanCity, a local radio station released free tickets to a concert featuring Stars and Feist.

After the event, we headed to Gastown for a well-deserved locally-brewed beer.  Guilt & Co is a dimly-lit cave bar that often features live music and expensive (yet creative) cocktails.  I was comforted by the squeaky mistakes and offbeat rhythm of the rather talented local band, and I quickly discovered that perfection cannot outweigh reality.

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Day 5: Try something new.

Whether it’s a run through Stanley Park along the Sea Wall, an educational visit to the Vancouver Aquarium, or lacing up your skates at the vividly lit Robson Square Skating Rink, Vancouver is a fantastic place to step out of your comfort zone and try something new. With stretching mountains, glossy buildings and a horizon of sea, Vancouver is a city even non-city-lovers (like me!) can enjoy.

 

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Two Very Different Trips to Mexico: The Pros and Cons of Cabo and Cancun, Hotels vs Resorts

Throughout past month, I have been lucky enough to experience two very different parts of Mexico in two very different ways.

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At the end of April, my mom and I took off to the dry desert of Cabo.  We weaved through polluted cities along a perfectly paved four-lane highway, hugging the coast as we made our way to what the taxi drivers called “the boonies.”  The Hacienda Cerritos wasn’t quite in the middle of nowhere, but it was a good two hour drive from Cabo San Lucas.  We made a few day trips into the various cities along the coast, searching for something to keep us intrigued.  I found some bongos.

When my friend offered a spot on her family holiday to Playa del Carmen, I would have been insane to refuse.  My traveling style has always been limited to hostels, economy class, and couch surfing, thanks to my diminishing backpacking funds.  An all-inclusive was just what I needed to extend my experience.  We touched down in sunny, humid Cancun, checked into our resort, and only went out once for an entire week.

In order to adequately compare these two distinct vacations, I’ve decided to make two condensed “Pros” and “Cons” lists.  However, it’s difficult to pin-point which experience was “better”, because they were both so different.  I hope a quick glance at my experiences will help you decide what kind of Mexican holiday is best suited to you, if any is at all.  (You can view photos of both places and both trips by clicking here).

HOTEL IN CABO:

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PROS:

  1. Renting a car and staying out of the big city gave us the freedom to explore far and wide.  We spent afternoons in small cities, ate street food, and basically did what we want, whenever we wanted to.
  2. Because we had to pay for food and drinks, we never overate or got ridiculously day drunk.  If it wasn’t for my horrific sunburn, I would have felt incredibly healthy the entire time.  (SIDENOTE: Apply sunscreen.  And then reapply.  Ten thousand times a day.  Or at least three.)
  3. The hotel was very small (only 10 rooms) and hung out into the ocean.  The sound of pounding waves sung us to sleep each night.

CONS:

  1. Being far away from everything made getting anywhere quite the trek.  The Hacienda had a terrible dirt road that nearly ripped our rental cars tires apart.  The rest of the roads were outstanding, but driving through the cities caused some anxiety.  Not to mention trying to find parking.
  2. Because we weren’t at an all-inclusive, we had to pay for every meal and drink.  Things aren’t expensive in Mexico, but it’s still an extra cost.  Have the correct amount of American dollars or Pesos, because Mexicans don’t exactly enjoy giving back change.  Service was also quite slow, lazy, and seemingly uninterested everywhere we went.  My mom and I got used to referring to the working attitude as ‘Mexican time’.
  3. The waves in Cabo were far too rough for me to swim in.  There’s a dangerous rip.  The sand is a dirty brown and it’s common to see the Mexican military walking around the beach with rifles.  It’s a little off-putting, to say the least.
  4. As the hotel was very small and I was only with my mom, I didn’t meet anyone else my own age.  Unfortunately I did not experience the crazy “Spring Break” party scene as Mexico is so often portrayed.

ALL-INCLUSIVE PLAYA DEL CARMEN:

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PROS:

  1. Free food and endless drinks.  All day, everyday.  Need I say more?
  2. The service at Dreams Puerto Aventuras Resort was incredible.  Speaking as a frequent waitress and hotel staff, service jobs are not easy.  The staff was efficient, friendly (maybe a little too friendly), and energetic; even if they were only doing it for a little extra tip.
  3. Not quite as open as hostels, resorts offer a relatively friendly, safe environment to meet other travelers.  Of course, Mexico is chalk full of North Americans, making it impossible to escape our own annoying accents and habits.

CONS:

  1. Free food and endless drinks means constant overeating, unnecessary indulging, and sweet sugary slushy alcoholic beverage breakfasts.  The buffets aren’t always fresh and North American cuisine fills the menu.  There is no authenticity here, folks.
  2. You can never trust anyone.  My friend’s camera was stolen; mine broken.  The maids came into our room more often than necessary.   When making purchases, it’s imperative to haggle, but you’ll probably still get ripped off.  With so much poverty and corruption, stealing is simply survival of the fittest.  The people doing the dirty deeds have no conscious or remorse, so keep your valuables close.
  3. Resorts are secluded and Americanized.  We left the resort once, by taxi, to go down a shopping street.  That’s all I saw of Playa del Carmen: one evening hour.  I could have been anywhere in the world with palm trees and sunshine.
  4. I’m not sure if it was just this resort, or bad timing, but there were couples everywhere, leaving few new single friends my own age.  As I was with a friend, this didn’t matter much, but once again I missed out on Cancun’s “Spring Break” party scene, which was greatly disappointing.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery revealed by my initial trip and confirmed by my second was that I don’t really like Mexico, or countries like it.  As a single female, I don’t enjoy being constantly hit on, feeling unsafe, or being restricted to a resort area.  I’m an explorer; resorts are for relaxers.

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I do not mean to dissuade you from visiting a resort.  In both cases, I’m glad I went—if nothing else I got some cute beach pictures, time with friends and family, and an awesome tan.  I just want you to have an idea of what’s in store.

I hope you are able to learn from my experiences to make yours even better.

Happy travels!