What to Expect on Your European Road Trip

European Road Trip

European Road Trip

If you want to make the most of your European vacation, you can live like a local by renting a car.

Still, traveling somewhere new can always be a bit stressful, so we created this helpful resource to get a better idea of what to expect driving in Europe for the first time. This will afford you the freedom to go where you want to go, when you want to go.

How much time should you factor in for road travel?

With 44 countries packed into a landmass that’s similar to the US, you can immerse yourself into a number of different and fascinating cultures in a very short amount of time. While Europe is comprised of many countries, most of these countries will actually compare more directly in terms of size to individual states.

For example, the major highways going from west to east in France total 590 miles, while the major highways going from west to east in Texas total 790 miles. The key difference, however, is that it would take 3 days to drive across France, while the trip across Texas could safely be done in 1 day. This is due to road systems being much more direct in the US, rather than slower and winding through much of Europe.

Keep this in mind as you plan out your trip. Always factor in extra stops along the way to fit in time for pictures, site-seeing, shopping, amazing food and other surprises (good and bad).

What are the rules of the road?

  • Expect to drive on the right side of the road except in the UK.
  • There are no right turns on red unless a sign specifies otherwise.
  • On turnabouts, give yourself a full loop before taking your exit to avoid any snap decisions.
  • It is unlawful to pass in the slow lane.
  • Some countries will require the use of headlights (even in broad daylight).
  • Speeding is often enforced via a camera system, so don’t just watch for police vehicles if you want to avoid getting a ticket.

What can I expect in terms of regulations, safety and costs?

Don’t drink and drive! Outside of the UK, expect all countries to have a lower blood alcohol tolerance than our standard .08. Most European countries will enforce a .05 blood alcohol limit, while some will require drivers to have .00 alcohol in their systems to operate a vehicle.

Expect tolls, especially along the Mediterranean coast. Some countries will require the purchase of a sticker (many rentals will have an up-to-date sticker). Toll roads may seem inconvenient but factoring in the time and gas of the more scenic routes, it’s a fair price to pay.

Certain cities may require a congestion charge in an effort to limit traffic within the city. It may be wisest to park outside of the city limits and take public transportation into the city.

Some cities have banned car traffic altogether. Watch for zones that indicate that parking is not permitted, as tickets can swiftly be enforced without your knowledge until you receive the bill at home a month or two later.

It’s best to enter your European road trip with an open mind. Some areas can be strict towards its drivers, while other areas can be very loose (in Italy, drivers can sometimes view red lights as optional, if they do not see any cars coming). Speak with your car rental agency for further driving details and understand that the overall experience is absolutely worth making a few adjustments to your expectations.

When parking, understand the differences of each city/country. In the UK, drivers expect plenty of space in between vehicles, while in France, drivers are encouraged to leave off the parking brake to allow other drivers to nudge (seriously) neighboring vehicles back and forth until they can fit in. Make sure you cover your rental with the appropriate insurance to avoid costly fines.

Assume that each country has its own set of colored lines with different meanings for parking, passing lanes, etc. Get to know the specific details of each country you will be driving in ahead of time to avoid the potential for fines or accidents.

How do I rent a car in Europe?

Just as with domestic travel, you can rent a car for European use on most travel booking websites. You can also add options like GPS, car seats, luggage racks and more.

Make the most of your European travels by collecting valuable travel points on your car rentals and hotel stays. Turn your points into a free flight, hotel stay or fun gift card if you are a Bonwi member. Find out more about Bonwi’s membership program here.

European Swim Etiquette for Summer Trips

european-swim-etiquette
european-swim-etiquette
Travel Tueday: European Swim Etiquette

If you’re a casual swim enthusiast, you have likely not run into many rules or restrictions about what you can or cannot wear while swimming. Most of your swimming experiences have likely been a fun free-for-all. 

If you’re planning a European getaway this summer, you may run into some unique rules regarding swimming pool and beach usage. In order to minimize the inconvenience of arriving at a swimming pool or beach ill-prepared, we’ve put together this helpful resource that covers the dos and don’ts of European swim etiquette and why some swimming venues enforce these strict rules.

An emphasis on cleanliness

At the root of European pool restrictions is the goal of maintaining a healthy environment for pool guests. Ideally, this empowers guests to enjoy their time swimming, splashing and sunbathing, with a significantly reduced risk of spreading germs. The World Health Organization released its guidelines for safe recreational water environments Volume 2, which focuses on swimming pools and similar environments. In this report, you’ll find a number of bacterial and viral infections that are commonly spread in public pools. Utilizing this knowledge, many European countries and cities have established best practices for limiting the potential for outbreaks.

The result is still a very similar pool going experience to how things are in the states, but with heavier up-front requirements. One main theme that is universal across Europe is the expectation, if not requirement, that all swimmers will shower before entering the pool, rather than only showering after you are done swimming. The key benefit to this is that it eliminates many of the surface level germs and dirt from the swimmers before they enter the pool. Swimmers then have the option to rinse off after the fact if they so desire. This can significantly reduce the potential for outbreaks of rashes and other illnesses.

Another effort that some European areas enforce to keep their pools clean is to restrict swimmers from entering the pool area with “street clothing”. This can include longer swim trunks, which are sometimes considered “streetwear” by lifeguards. Some pools even sell appropriate swimwear in vending machines so that unprepared visitors can still swim. Yes, this means Speedos and bikinis! 

Can this be a bit annoying for US tourists? Of course. However, going in with the right expectation and understanding the reasoning behind cultural customs and local practices can mitigate your frustrations. You may actually find it encouraging that you are entering a cleaner public pool than the one back home.

The typical European pool experience

  1. Leave your shoes at the door – Right from the start, you may be asked to leave your outdoor shoes on the designated “shoe bench” before even entering the locker room. Guests are encouraged to either put on a separate pair of swim-specific shoes, place plastic coverings over their shoes or go barefoot. This allows those that are barefoot to go in and out of the locker room without tracking dirt to the pool area and/or inside the pool.
  2. Pre-swim bathing – A heavy use pool could be filled with dozens, if not hundreds, of guests at a given time. Guests will be expected to clean themselves before entering the pool. 
  3. Wearing the proper swimwear – While tiny racing trunks (“Speedos”) aren’t required swimwear for all European pools, some will require a much more tiny garment for men and boys than popularly worn in the US. Most facilities will restrict guests from wearing t-shirts, dresses or bottoms that aren’t specifically designated for swim-use.

All of the above are designed to limit the number of dirt, contaminants and germs carried into the pool space.

What to expect at the beach

No European trip is complete without a trip to the beach! Whether you’re in the UK, Spain, France, Italy or Greece, there are any number of idyllic beach locations to spend a day that you won’t soon forget. Here are a few notes to help you maximize your European beach retreat:

  1. Not all European beaches are sans clothing – There may be a higher percentage of nude beaches in Europe than there are in the US, but it is unwise to assume that a given beach is nude-friendly. 
  2. Expect women of all ages and sizes to be wearing bikinis – One thing that is very common in European beaches is for women to wear two-piece bikinis rather than one-piece swimsuits. So, regardless of your age or comfort with your body, understand that the beaches in Europe are judgment-free zones.
  3. Clothing restrictions are less prevalent – In the ocean, the water is so massive and ever-changing that the risk for the spread of germs is less likely than a public pool. That being said, you will still likely see more tiny racing pants than in the states. Many men are already comfortable wearing shorter trunks, making it less necessary to own a different style of swimwear for the beach.

No matter where your travels take you this summer, traveling with Bonwi can help you find the best deals and accumulate points that can be redeemed for free flights, hotel stays or gift cards to make future travels that much more seamless. Find out more about our memberships here.

Don’t Ignore the Independent Hotel Chains

Explora hotel Atacama

Inkaterra hotel in Peru, part of a local chain

You know a lot of the international chains when you pull up a list of what to book in a city, but sometimes the independent hotel chains are a better option in a specific location.

It’s easy to understand the appeal of the big international hotel chains. Just as you gravitate to a familiar food chain logo when you pull off an interstate highway exit, it’s easy to book a logo you know for hotels as well.

The hotel developers know this, which is why they would often rather be a Hilton, Holiday Inn Express, or Wyndham. That way they have far fewer decisions to make in the building (blueprints are ready), the furniture purchasing (it’s all in the catalog), and the staffing (hiring and training manual, check). They they can tap into a giant marketing and reservation machine that keeps the bookings coming. Even though there are around 30 brands just under Marriott, being one of them makes guests feel like they’re taking less of a chance.

There are plenty of smaller hotels chains that are not part of the big conglomerate system, however. This is especially true outside the USA, where guests don’t normally like the cookie-cutter approach as much as we Americans do. Maybe the people who gave birth to McDonald’s, Walmart, and Starbucks are just more comfortable with spending money on conformity, despite that whole “land of the free” sloganeering.

Keep your eye out for regional chains, especially when you travel outside of the states and Canada. Don’t forget that many of today’s best-known names, like Fairmont, Kimpton, and Swissotel, were once regional independent chains before selling out to a larger corporation. Orient-Express became Belmond and got bought up, but not by a typical hospitality company: they’re part of LVMH luxury brands instead.

There are still a few (for now) independent chains based in the USA as well, so let’s start there.

USA Independent Hotel Options

This batch of scrappy independents surely has suitors swirling around them this very minute, but as this post goes to press you can book a room at these  and be outside the conglomerate sphere.

– Thompson Hotels
– Joie de Vivre
– Rosewood
– Viceroy
– Montage
– Auberge Resorts

It’s probably no coincidence that these are all luxury brands catering to independent-minded globetrotters and style mavens.

At the other end of the scale, there are some regional motel chains that probably won’t get you too excited, but Graduate Hotels are located in college towns and the Drury Inn chain regularly rates at the top in its rate class for comfort and service.

Mexican and Caribbean Independent Hotel Chains

One of the largest hotels groups in the world that has remained independent is Grupo Posadas of Mexico, which is best known for the Fiesta Americana and Live Aqua brands. It also runs several others, like Explorean, and mid-range options.

Independent hotel chains include luxury resorts like Le Blanc Los Cabos

AM Resorts is based in Mexico but has other resorts in the Caribbean, all-inclusive beach spots mostly under the brands Secrets, Now, Breathless, Dreams, Zoetry, and more.

Palace Resorts is a big player in Mexican resort destinations as well, with 10 properties under several brands, including the high-end Le Blanc.

With fewer beds but often the top choice in some Mexican cities are Quinta Real, Grupo Habita, and Velas Resorts.

In the Caribbean, Jamaica-based Sandals Resorts is a major force in the resort world, with 16 all-inclusive beachfront places to stay.

Find the best rates and point returns in Mexico and the Caribbean.

South American Regional Lodging Groups

Across South America, it hasn’t been until the last two decades that foreign chains have really come on strong. More often than not, the independent hotels outnumber the chain ones. A few regional groups that stayed independent have some of the prime locations in some cities and often have competitive rates. Check into these when exploring the countries of South America.

Colombia: Estelar and GLH Hotels
Peru: Inkaterra, Libertador, Aranwa, and Casa Andina.
Chile: Vik Retreats (also in Uruguay), Explora, Tierra Hotels, and Singular Hotels.
Argentina: Alvear and Casa Sur for Buenos Aires, Design Suites in four locations.
Brazil: Fasano, Louvre (most has Tulip in the name), Nobile, Blue Tree, Transamerica

See more details on some of them on this list.

Explora hotel Atacama

Europe Regional Hotel Chains

Europe has plenty of regional hotel chainsThere’s an assumption that Europe has fewer chain hotels than North America and in some markets there are indeed a large number of independent properties. Chain hotels tend to have about a third to one half of the room count in many countries though since they are the largest properties. Those with the biggest percentage are the UK, France, and Spain, which not coincidentally have their own international chains based in the country.

Many of Spain and France’s biggest groups are international names you’ve heard of, under the Accor, Melia, Riu, and NH various brands. Here are some independent hotels chains on the scene though.

Britannia, MacDonald, Old English Inns, easyHotel, and Red Carnation in England
Valamar Riviera in Croatia
Louvre Hotels Group, B&B Hotels, and Apart City in France
Motel One, Steigenberger Hotels, and Maritim in Germany
Dinubius, Hunguest, and Mellow Mood in Hungary
Clayton, Maldron, and Tifco in Ireland
Valtur, Aeroviaggi, TH Resorts, and many more in Italy (country has 137 total)
Van der Valk, Fletcher, Bilderberg, and Bastion in the Netherlands
Colonia, H10, Hipotels, and Vincci Seleccion in Spain

Independent Hotel Chains in Asia

Some Asian brands have spread far and wide across the world but still have the most properties in their homelands, like Banyan Tree, Aman Resorts, Shangri-La, and Peninsula. Some of these listed below have just a few here and there abroad.

India: Taj, Oberoi, ITC, and Royal Orchid
Indonesia: Aston, Amaris, Favehotel, and Santika
Japan: APA, Tokyo Inn, Route-Inn, and Super Hotel
Thailand: Centara, Hop Inn, B2
Malaysia: Sunway, Tune, Hotel Seri
Vietnam: Muong Thanh, Vinpearl, A25
Philippines: Sogo, Hotel Go, GV
Singapore: Hotel 81, Fragrance, Village

So with all these choices out there, on top of the big international chains, how do you decide?

Well one way might be to look at how much of a payback you get from booking. Sometimes these independent hotel chains will earn you far more points on Bonwi than the international chains. Other times the big boys will come out on top. If you play the game right, you could earn a free night’s stay or an airline ticket from the points scored on your trip.

Search here for the best rates and payback.

Tim Leffel has been reviewing hotels across the world since the mid-90s and is the editor of Hotel Scoop.

It’s FESTIVAL Season: Get Ready with Our Top Festival-goer Tips

Festival Season

Festival season is in full swing! You may have already learned the hard way that having an unforgettable experience at these amazing events requires a decent amount of planning. You can try to go with the flow and hope for the best, or you can take our advice and become an instant festival traveling pro.

#1 Book your lodging ASAP

There are only so many hotels near these venues. In order to ensure that you are getting a good deal, the right number of rooms and/or the best proximity, you have to book your lodging as soon as you get your festival tickets. Look into any hotels that are partnering with your festival for a special discount.

#2 Never act solo

Traveling is always a lot to handle. Having a friend or group of friends to help coordinate your trip, navigate your travels and execute your festival plans can make all the difference. Not only will you be safer with a co-pilot to talk to and manage the Waze or Google Maps, but festivals are a whole lot more fun when you get to share the amazing experience with your friends.

If you’re going to trade off driving, try to always have at least one person awake to accompany the driver.

#3 Pack early and double-check your list

Festivals can either be one long party filled with amazing entertainment, food, drinks, and fun OR they can be exhausting and overwhelming if you feel unprepared. Someone spill their drink on you and you didn’t pack extra clothes? Forget the one thing you can’t forget (the all-mighty phone charger)? By creating your own personal checklist and starting the packing process early, you make sure that among the excitement of the travel and the festival events that you are prepared for whatever comes up. Here’s a quick festival checklist to start with:

  • Tickets/wristbands
  • A physical map for traveling through dead zones
  • More than enough clothes in case of accidents/emergencies
  • Cash – whether it’s for the trip or during the festival, it’s always important to have multiple payment methods at your disposal
  • Sunscreen
  • Hand sanitizer/wet wipes to keep you feeling fresh
  • Bug spray
  • Backpack or similarly easy to carry bag for extended time away from your hotel/tent
  • Tent and sleeping bag (if applicable)
  • Refillable water bottle – likely holds more than 16 ounces so you don’t get dehydrated while you’re busting a move (bonus for cutting down on waste!)
  • Phone charger
  • Chairs for downtimes
  • Blankets or mats to lay down on
  • Cards or other travel-friendly games in between sets or for in your hotel/tent
#4 Get to know the details of your festival

How is your festival laid out? What times are your favorite artists performing? How easy is it to get back to your lodging accommodations? Be certain to answer these questions ahead of time to ensure that you feel prepared to make the most of your festival weekend.

Here’s a list of some of the biggest, baddest festivals

  1. Boston Calling – May 24-26, Harvard Athletic Complex, Allston, MA
  2. Bottlerock – May 24-26; Napa Valley, CA
  3. Bayou Country Super Fest – May 25-26, 2019; LSU Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, LA
  4. Primavera Sound – May 30-June 1; Barcelona, Spain
  5. Governors Ball – May 31-June 2; Randall’s Island, New York City, NY
  6. Roots Picnic – June 1, The Mann at Fairmount Park, Philadelphia, PA
  7. CMA Music Festival /Austin City Limits – June 6–9, 2019; Nissan Stadium, Nashville, TN
  8. Bonnaroo – June 13-18; Manchester, TN
  9. Firefly – June 21-23; The Woodlands, Dover, DE
  10. Glastonbury – June 26-30; Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset, England
  11. Longitude – July 5-7; Marlay Park, Rathfarnham, Dublin, Ireland
  12. Pitchfork Music Festival – July 19-21, Union Park, Chicago, IL
  13. Lollapalooza Paris – July 20-21; Hippodrome Paris Longchamp, Paris, France
  14. Cincinnati Music Festival – July 25-27, 2019; Paul Brown Stadium – Cincinnati, OH
  15. Mo Pop – July 27-28; West Riverfront Park, Detroit, MI
  16. Lollapalooza – August 1-4; Grant Park, Chicago, IL
  17. Outside Lands – August 9-11; Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, CA
  18. Woodstock 50 – August 16-18; Watkins Glen, NY
  19. Burning Man – Aug 25-Sep 2, 2019; Black Rock City, Gerlach, NV
#5 Map out your set-list

Which acts can you absolutely not miss? If these acts are headliners, odds are you’re going to have to stake your claim around a half hour before the set starts.

Don’t leave an amazing festival with a sour taste in your mouth because you missed your favorite band or had to wear the same pair of underwear the entire weekend. Start your planning early so that your weekend can be a breeze.

Looking for a great deal on your festival hotel so you can increase your food budget (Chi’lantro is calling…)? Do a quick search with Bonwi.com to review our best offers.

Destination Wedding I-Do’s

Destination Weddings
Destination Weddings

You get the invitation and you’re instantly hit with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. While a wedding in Italy, or Tokyo, or even Key West seems fun and exciting and you’ve been looking for a good chance for you to get out of town for a while, it’s also daunting. Can I take off this much work? How much will this cost? Who all is going?

We’ve put together the most important questions for you to ask yourself before you commit to a destination wedding.

Where am I headed?

A destination wedding that takes place on a remote island is a completely different experience than one that takes place in a major city or a small town two states over. Will you need to be ready for a rugged, adventurous week away, or a posh and metropolitan excursion? Do you need to dress for deep humidity, arid sunshine, or mountain snow? Are non-wedding meals and activities close by and walkable, taking place on an intimate resort, or spread out all over a busy city? How will you keep in touch with the other members of your party?

Know where you’re headed and what that location will imply.

Where will I be staying?

Whether you’re staying in a chain hotel in a block of rooms side-by-side with your fam, nestled into cabins or rooms on a cruise ship, estate, or grounds, or doing something more unique, you’ll want to know what’s included and how to prepare. Are guests sharing accommodations? Is there free breakfast, Wi-Fi, an onsite gym, a pool? Will entertainment be onsite or will you need to keep yourself busy elsewhere?

Prepare in advance.

What’s paid for? (And what isn’t?)

Some destination weddings are an all-expenses adventure for a few key family members or friends. Other destination weddings are a big party with a “come if you can” invitation to every acquaintance. If travel or accommodations are covered, know what else you will need to pay for. If all expenses are paid by you, the guest, make sure you know what those costs look like and whether or not the itinerary includes other expensive events, too.

Plan to tip for room cleaning, transportation and other services, even if it’s an all-expenses paid trip.

What’s the WHOLE itinerary?

Speaking of the itinerary, make sure you know what it includes. If you’re going to Bali for the week, you may want to know if that week includes planned group adventures or tours, multiple dinners out, after-wedding breakfasts, etc. or if you’re just attending a one-night event and spending a week on the sand, or left to your own devices. If the latter is true, make sure you sync up with other guests you know and see what everyone wants to do.

PRO TIP: The best way to optimize and make the most of this expense is to do more than attend a wedding – make sure you take some photos, see some sights, and take in the beauty of whatever area you’re in.

How will I get around?

It’s smart to know where you’re headed and how people normally get from place to place. If you’re headed to an all-inclusive resort or a cruise line, this may be a non-issue. However, if you and the other guests are stationed all over and events are spread throughout the city, you may want to rent a car, arrange for group transit, or know the public systems.

How will I pack your formal attire?

A beachy wedding where everyone is wearing linen and rattan may not require formal attire. Additionally, you may be able to fold everything and press at the hotel. A cosmopolitan black-tie event, however, might require special arrangements. You may need to send your tuxes and dresses to the destination ahead of time, or bring a garment bag as your personal item on the flight. Be ready.

Am I traveling internationally?

If your destination is overseas, you will need to make special arrangements including getting that passport up to date, securing immunizations as necessary, and being ready to exchange currency. We have more international travel tips here.

Am I taking the kids?

Not all weddings are kid-friendly, but many are. If your event is a family-friendly fete and you’re bringing children under 10, you’ll need to entertain them. Address what entertainment options are onsite for families or where else you can go to keep your family happy. Team up with other parents in your group so the kids can team up, too.

How long will I be gone?

This may be the most important question to ask before you RSVP. If you’re just going a couple states away for a long weekend, you may only need to take off 1-2 days of work and get your neighbor to water your plants. If this trip extends past a week, you’ll need to account for your vacation hours at work, make arrangements for your pets and plants, and consider the kids’ absence from school.

Ultimately, couples who plan destination weddings understand that not every guest can swing the trip – especially the further from home they will be. If you can’t sweat the expense or time away, don’t feel guilty. But if you can make it, and it makes sense, this wedding could be an excuse for you to take some much-needed vacation time and rack up (or cash in) all those Bonwi rewards points!

Your Perfect Weekend in Mexico City

weekend in Mexico City

weekend in Mexico City

Montezuma and Cortes, Frida and Diego, tacos and tasting menus: there are two sides to every aspect of Mexico City.

The old perception of the city still hangs on with many who haven’t visited since its low point in the mid-1990s though, when crime was high and the smog count was higher. Now the air and streets are cleaner, crime stats are on par with Las Vegas or Miami, and blue skies are seen more days every year. Among the clanging of rising skyscrapers and rising wealth, there’s an electric feeling in the air of a city on the move.

The foodie capital of Latin America can also credibly claim to be the museum capital of the world. There are 173 official museums in the city, ranging in subject from tequila to the art collection of the world’s richest man.

CDMX is huge, but many of the city’s attractions are close to the center. Visit on a Sunday and you can explore some of them on a bicycle or take a traffic-free walk as the main Paseo de la Reforma boulevard is closed to traffic.

Getting there is usually quite reasonable too by air. Besides the big U.S. legacy airlines, there are flights from Southwest, Aeromexico, Interjet, Volaris, and more. With prices often dipping down to $300 round trip, it’s worth considering a weekend in Mexico City trip as a getaway.

Where to Stay in Mexico City

First you’ll need a base and if your visit is short, it’s best to be somewhere central to minimize your time in traffic. Fortunately, the hotel zones of Mexico City are pretty cut and dry.

Some of the best luxury chain hotels in town are in two distinct areas. The first batch is a few blocks from each other on Paseo de la Reforma: the Four Seasons Mexico and the St. Regis. For tricked-out rooms on top of two of the city’s best restaurants, choose 35-room Las Alcobas in the chic Polanco district. There you’ll also find a JW Marriott and a W nearby. There are also a few good choices in the historic center, like Downtown México and Hotel Ciudad de Mexico.

Four Seasons Mexico City

Go to Bonwi to find the best deals on Mexico City Hotels in all price ranges and earn more points than you probably would from a direct hotel chain loyalty program like Bonvoy.

What to Do in Mexico City

Exhibit at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico CityThe museum choices in this metropolis are overwhelming, but for a true understanding of Mexico’s pre-Columbian history start with the National Museum of Anthropology. Extensive exhibits are arranged by time period, from giant Olmec stone heads to Mayan artifacts to items recovered from the original capital city here.

The delightful Museum of Popular Art is fun for all ages, with whimsical Day of the Dead skeletons, masks, and fantastical alebrije creatures from Oaxaca. Explore the historic center and cross the Zócolo (Constitution Plaza) to see the giant cathedral, remainders of the pyramids it was built on top of, and buildings that date back to the founding of New Spain. If the national Ballet Folklorica is in town, enjoy a colorful performance in the gorgeous Bellas Artes performance hall.

Teotihuacan pyramids and ruins in Mexico

Or if you can spare much of a day, head out to the huge and mysterious ruins complex of Teotihuacan and climb a giant pyramid to understand the scope. Better to go on a day other than Sunday though–that’s a free day for Mexicans and the place gets packed.

You’ll Eat Well in Mexico City

A plate of chilaquiles from a restaurant in Mexico City CDMXMexico City has a well-deserved reputation as a great food city, the best one in Latin America in most respects. From street carts and taco stands to some of the world’s best restaurants, you’ll be looking forward to every meal. See this post on the best restaurants in the city at the moment, but there are so many memorable ones here that any list will only scratch the surface. It’s best to ask around and if you can spend some time in Roma, you’ll catch many chef stars of tomorrow.

You’ll drink well too and find plenty of new taste sensations. Mexico is the home of tequila and mezcal, after all, plus the original agave drink pulque is coming back in style. Mexico produces good wines in the northern section of Baja California and there’s finally a real craft beer scene in the capital.

Where to Shop in CDMX

Cheap and kitschy souvenirs are easy to find, but for good quality items at a fixed price the best bet is Fonart, a government-sponsored handicraft promotion cooperative with five locations. Another reliable option is the Museum of Popular Art’s boutique.

In the historic center, browse the eclectic Shops at Downtown Hotel for something more contemporary.

Take a Walk

One of the best ways to get a feel for this vibrant city is to do lots of walking. You could stroll for miles in the historic center, in the Condesa neighborhood, or Roma. If you have Frida Kahlo’s Blue House high on your list, spend some time strolling around Coyoacan and maybe catch a meal on the main square.

Enter your dates on Bonwi.com to get a high reward points payback and book a flight to one of North America’s most vibrant cities. Even if you only have a weekend in Mexico City, you can see and do a lot.

Article and photos by Timothy Scott Leffel, who lives in Mexico and edits a luxury travel blog about travel in Latin America. 

Lima Hotel Zones: Where to Stay in the Capital of Peru

Country Club Lima Hotel review

Peru capital places to stay hotel zones

Most tourists don’t spend a lot of time in Lima hotels. The South American capital of Peru tends to be a one-night or two-night stop on the way to the country’s more enticing attractions.

Lima is the best foodie destinations on the continent though, plus it can be a fun place for nightlife. It’s also a good spot for a cooking class: in mine with SkyKitchen Peru we learned how to make ceviche, lomo saltado, a dessert kind of like funnel cakes, and a pisco sour.

More importantly for the hotel zones, this is a major business center in Latin America. Many international companies have big operations here and of course it’s an export leader in a lot of products coming out of Peru.

Traffic in Lima can move at a crawl during busy times, however, and there’s no metro system. So it’s important to pick carefully from the Lima hotel districts to make sure you’re where you’ll be spending most of your time. Here are the main hotel zones of the capital city. Head over to Bonwi.com for the best Lima hotel rates and you could rack up enough points for a room in Cusco, Puno, or Arequipa to go have some fun afterwards.

get the most points back for Lima hotel bookings with Bonwi

Best Lima Airport Hotels

If you are just stopping in Lima on the way to somewhere else, there’s a good chance your flight will come in at an odd time or leave at an odd time. You may end up with a 10-hour layover before your domestic flight to another destination in Peru. If that’s the case, there’s not much point in heading all the way into the city just to sleep for a few hours and come back. Get a room at the airport instead.

Lima airport hotel across from the terminal

The most convenient option is the Wyndham Costa del Sol Lima. It’s literally steps from the terminal. You walk out of the arrivals area, cross the street, and you’re there. That photo above was the view from my room when I stayed there. It’s a comfortable place with a decent restaurant and bar and the staff stays chipper at all hours. The other option is a Holiday Inn Express, which is only slightly further away. You could walk it if you don’t have much luggage, but that involves a pedestrian overpass to cross a 6-lane road so you may want to just hop a cab. Breakfast is included in the rates at these properties.

Miraflores Hotels of Lima

Miraflores Lima hotel zoneThis is the most desirable neighborhood for most tourists, with some of the best leisure hotels, a range of great restaurants, the seaside, casinos, and nightclubs. It’s a pleasant area to walk around, with a few things to see like the Huaca Pucllana pyramid structure that dates back to 700 AD and the Larcomar shopping complex for picking up some last souvenirs to take home.

There are high-end hotels like a JW Marriott and a Belmond—both with views of the Pacific Ocean—as well as some good mid-range and budget options. Atemporal Boutique Hotel is a good alternative to the chains, with just nine rooms. It’s a rather long ride from the airport to Miraflores though (as well as Barranco), so pick this area if you’re actually going to have time to enjoy it.

Barranco Hotels in Peru’s Capital City

Every city has its area where the artists congregated and made their mark. In Lima that’s the Barranco neighborhood, where abandoned historic structures and street art mix with lovingly restored mansions that are now boutique hotels.

Artsy boutique hotel in Barranco area of Lima

The best places to stay are Hotel B, part of the Relais and Chateaux collection, plus Casa Republica Barranco.

Hotels in San Isidro, Lima

The main business district of Lima is San Isidro, chock full of chain hotels and the international business travelers who book them. This area has the most embassies, multinational company offices, and accounting firms, but is rather staid when it comes to where you go to eat and drink. Thankfully there are some standout hotels that make it worth staying put.

Country Club Lima Hotel review

The best independent luxury hotel is Country Club Lima, with the feel of an elegant boutique hotel that’s also a social center for Lima’s elite. But there’s also a Swissotel, a high-rise Westin, and a bunch of mid-range Accor hotels from Ibis to Atton.

Slim Pickings in the Historic Center

In many Spanish Colonial cities, the historic center is the most interesting hotel zone and there are usually plenty of places to stay. Lima’s center tends to be a day tour kind of place though and there are surprisingly few good good hotels in the centro historico. There’s a very large Sheraton right downtown that averages $120 per night, but after that you have mostly small, independent budget hotels favored more by backpackers than flashpackers.

Tack on a couple extra days in Lima to visit the impressive Museo Larco with its vast collection of pre-Colombian art, have some great meals, and see the place where one-third of all Peruvians actually live. With this guide to Lima hotel districts, you’ll know where to stay depending on your main reason for visiting and what your flight schedules are like.

Get the best price for hotels in Lima and a nice rewards payoff too that you can use for another hotel, flights, rental cars, or gift cards.

Review and photos by Tim S. Leffel, editor of Hotel Scoop and Luxury Latin America.

Ferris Wheels!

Ferris-Wheels

Ferris-Wheels

This list ranks the best Ferris wheels that are currently in operation; based not only on height, but also beauty, uniqueness and other historical noteworthiness.

High Roller – Las Vegas, Nevada

Located in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip, the High Roller is the world’s largest observation wheel with 28 transparent pods holding 40 passengers each.

Singapore Flyer – Singapore

Standing at a stunning 541 feet from the ground, the Singapore Flyer offers you breathtaking, panoramic views of the Marina Bay and beyond.

Star Of Nanchang – Nanchang, China

The Star Of Nanchang looks like a huge dazzling clock at night since it is adorned with 7,000 LED lights.

Orlando Eye – Orlando, Florida

Each capsule contains Apple iPads allowing you to learn about the landmarks and surroundings in several languages and see beyond what the eye can see.

Melbourne Star – Docklands, Australia

Whether you know and love Melbourne, or are a first-time visitor to the cultural capital, the Melbourne Star is a spectacular way to get your bearings.

Tianjin Eye – Tianjin, China

The Tianjin Eye is a 394 foot tall Ferris wheel built on the Yongle Bridge over the Hai River in Tianjin, China. It is the only such wheel to have been constructed over a bridge.

Mickey’s Fun Wheel – Anaheim, California

Mickey’s Fun Wheel offers two different ride experiences: swinging or stationary gondola.

Ready to explore destinations? Try a search with Bonwi.

The Hotel Zones of Mexico City

Zocolo of Mexico City has hotels nearby

When you’re trying to figure out where to stay in Mexico City, it makes a lot of sense to start with the location. What are you planning to do while you’re there? Are you going to have business meetings or do you want to stroll around the historic center? Do you want to be in a nightlife area? In a leafy park zone? Near the best restaurants?

hotel zones of Mexico City neighborhoods

For such a large metropolis, Mexico City is actually quite easy to navigate from a tourist standpoint. Most of the hotel zones of Mexico City are within a mile of two main streets that meander from downtown out through Polanco. Here are the areas to consider when you’re planning your trip to this capital of food and culture.

Historic District Hotels of Mexico City

The most atmospheric part of Mexico’s capital city is the oldest part. The historic centro is grounded by the huge Zocolo public square, with the off-kilter cathedral on one side and the municipal buildings on the other. You can take the subway straight here and it’s not very far from the airport.

There are a few chain hotels, like a Hampton Inn and Holiday Inn, but most of the properties are independent or small-chain ones with lots of personality. Hotel Downtown Mexico is part of Grupo Habita and has sections for both high-end travelers and budget backpackers, both mingling on the roof desk with pool. You may have seen Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico in several movies and one episode of The Romanoffs on Amazon streaming. It has an amazing view from the roof, where there’s a restaurant.

Zocolo of Mexico City has hotels nearby

There are also some hostels and budget hotels in this area that are a good value and you can take the metro from here to anywhere it goes.

Paseo de La Reforma, Zona Rosa, and Condesa

I’m lumping these three together because if you’re someone who doesn’t mind walking for a half hour, you can get from one of these areas to the other on foot.

Many of the embassies and bank headquarters are along the Paseo de la Reforma boulevard leading from Alameda Park to Chapultapec Park. So you’ve got familiar chains like Marriott, Sheraton, Four Seasons, St. Regis, and Hilton along this corridor, along with a few Mexican chains. The eventual Ritz-Carlton will be along here too.

Paseo de la Reforma hotel zone has Four Seasons

The Zona Rosa is a big nightlife area a few blocks from the main drag and some of the best mid-range bargains in the city are in this area. It’s convenient and fun for going out, though it can be noisy on the low floors.

Condesa and Roma transform from business district to leafy residential areas with lots of restaurants and nightlife. Most of the hotels in this area are independent ones and some are a great value.

Polanco and Chapultapec Park

Polanco is the richest neighborhood near the city and it will dispel any notions you may have about Mexicans not having a lot of money. You’ll find shops from Prada and Louis Vuitton, Mercedes and BMW showrooms, and restaurants that can top $100 per person without many drinks.

Las Alcobas Hotel stairwell Mexico City

One street on the edge of Chapultapec Park has a string of chain hotels like Hyatt, JW Marriott, Intercontinental, and W.  Habita’s original hotel is in this area, as is the upscale Las Alcobas with the staircase pictured above.

Neighborhood Hotels of Mexico City

There area distinct hotel zones where you can stay in Mexico City, plus a few scattered around neighborhoods like San AngelIf you want to be in an area where you won’t see many other tourists at night, a place where Mexicans live and work, there are a few nice sections of town besides Condesa and Roma where you can stay in a real neighborhood.

Coyoacan is where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera spent most of their time, so you can visit both houses they lived in together here. Plus there are some nice restaurants on the main place you can enjoy after the day visitors have all left.

The local Stara group has hotels in neighborhoods without a whole lot else. Stara San Angel Inn is in the area where there’s a big weekend art market and they also have a property in Colonia Juarez.

There are hotels at the airport of course, including a Camino Real right outside of Terminal 1 and a Hilton inside the terminal itself.

For reviews of the top choices, see detailed reviews here of the best luxury hotels in Mexico City.

When you’re ready to book, be sure you get a good points payback wherever you stay by checking out Mexico City Hotels at Bonwi. You may get enough points from this stay to pay for a flight to a Mexican beach area like Los Cabos the next time around.

 

Travel writer Tim Leffel has written about Mexico City for more than a decade and has a home base a few hours north in Guanajuato.

Best Ways To Exchange Currency!

Bonwi-Travel-Tip-Tuesday-Best-Ways-To-Exchange-Currency

Travel-Tip-Tuesday-Best-Ways-To-Exchange-Currency

By using these tips as a guideline, you can better organize and prepare for your trip.

ATMs Are The Best Choice for Day-To-Day Funds

Best exchange rates usually come from your bank or credit union. Your bank typically charges 0% – 3% in fees when using international branches and machines, or partnered institutions. Check if your bank has international transaction fees. If they do, make fewer trips to the ATM by withdrawing larger amounts.

Ordering Foreign Currency Before Traveling

Check if your local bank or credit union sells foreign currency. Ordering cash through your bank is a good option because the banks themselves receive preferred exchange rates, and in turn, so do you.

Avoid Exchanging Cash at Airports, Hotels or Travelex Counters

While these are the most convenient, the exchange rates offered are poor and the fees are high. These should only be used for emergencies.

Use a Credit Card for Large Purchases

Paying with a credit card is a good option for favorable exchange rates. Visa, MasterCard, Diners Club, and American Express give wholesale exchange rates on purchases and charge 1% – 2% conversion fee. Check if your bank tacks on their own fee for international charges.

Bonwi finds you the best travel deals so you can travel more often, everywhere your heart desires! TRY A SEARCH HERE.

The World’s Most Exotic Swimming Pools

Bonwi-swimming-pools-of-the-world

Bonwi-swimming-pools-of-the-world

Dive into the world’s most exotic pools.

From Miami to the Maldives, we’ve circled the globe to find the most incredible places to take a dip.

Grace-Santorini

1.) The Grace Santorini – Greek Island of Santorini
Known to have one of the most beautiful views from a pool.
Bondi-Icebergs-Club
2.) Bondi Icebergs Club – Bondi Beaches of Australia
Some might question the sanity of anyone willing to swim outdoors on a cold winter’s day, but for the Bondi Icebergs, winter swimming is a time-honored tradition.
Four-Seasons-Pool-Guangzhou
3.) Four Seasons Pool – Guangzhou International Finance Center, 69th floor
Ranked as one of the highest infinity pools in the world.
Marina-Bay-Sands-Infinity-Pool
4.) Marina Bay Sands Infinity Pool – Singapore
The 500 ft long infinity pool is the largest in the world. To put that in perspective, the pool is longer than the Eiffel Tower itself.
The St. Regis Gold Energy Pool
5.) St. Regis Gold Energy Pool – Lhasa, China
This pool is suitable for those who like to swim with the riches that has views of the lake and the Himalaya Palace.
San-Alfonso
6.) San Alfonso Seawater Pool – Algarrobo, Chile
Named the largest pool on the planet. It is more than 1,000 yards long, covers 20 acres, has a 115-ft deep end and holds 66 million gallons of water.
The Oberoi Udaivilas pool
7.) The Oberoi Udaivilas pool – Lake Pichola in Udaipur, India
With lush green lawns framed by geometric patterns of sandstone and white marble tiles, the sapphire pool is a majestic centerpiece.
Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North
8.) Four Seasons at Troon North – Scottsdale, Arizona
This pool is found in an outdoor oasis of relaxation with picturesque mountain and desert views.
Unud-Hanging-Pools
9.) Ubud Hanging Gardens – Rainforest of Bali
Named “The World’s Best Swimming Pool” by TripAdvisor. This pool is high on the Verdant Cliffs, overlooking the rainforest and facing an ancient temple.
By using these tips as a guideline, you can better organize and prepare for your trip to the most amazing swimming pools in the world. Ready to search? Click here.

9 Things to See in Sunny Mazatlan, Mexico

Golden Zone of Mazatlan

What to do and where to go in Mazatlan Mexico

Mazatlan, facing the Sea of Cortez on the western coast of Mexico, doesn’t get nearly the attention of many other resort areas, like Los Cabos. It only has a few glitzy hotels aimed at the rich and famous and has traditionally had fewer international air connections than Puerto Vallarta or the Los Cabos area. This is also a real city, not a custom-built resort area, so there’s a history before tourism and plenty of jobs that have nothing to do with that part of the economy.

The main draws for vacationers have long been sport fishing and the terrific beaches, from the Golden Zone and “New Mazatlan” to the north down to surfer beach OlasAtlas near Old Mazatlan. Both are still the reasons many fly here on vacation, but Mazatlan also has the distinction of having a real historic district—most of it from the late 1800s—that you can stroll and dine in when you need a break from the beach.

So while there are the usual sun and fun opportunities by the water, including island excursions and water sports, Mazatlan is also a city where you can explore blocks of buildings that go back to the Gold Rush days and visit shops selling more than jewelry and cheap souvenirs. Last, you can explore it all by pulmonia, the unique Mazatlan taxis that are Volkswagens converted to covered open-air buggies.

Angela Peralta Theater

This pride and joy of the historic district of Mazatlan has been through a tumultuous history. Built in the late 1800s, it was named after a famous singer who contracted yellow fever upon traveling here to perform and died. After a period of glory the building served as a movie theater, boxing arena, and eventually an abandoned ruin. Renovated and restored to its former glory, it reopened in 1992. You can tour the neoclassical structure for a nominal fee with a guide or catch a performance at night. Except for big-name concerts, the ticket charges are nearly always a bargain and this is a center for student performances of dance, music, or theater.

An art gallery near the entrance shows off temporary exhibitions by local and international artists. Tours also visit a museum upstairs shows the building in ruins and at different stages of restoration.

Peralta Theater Mazatlan

Location: Calle Carnaval pedestrian walkway between Constitucion and Libertad.

 

Plazuela Machado

Plazuela Machado historic district of Mazatlan in MexicoThe heart of the historic district is this leafy rectangular plaza, with leafy trees and palm trees both in place, many buildings painted bright colors. It is lined by restaurants, shops, and museums, plus the Angela Perlata theater is nearby, making this a good place to linger from lunch time onward. Built in 1837 by the wealthy businessman it was named after, in the center is a wrought iron gazebo from 1870.

It’s a hub of activity, especially at night when there’s frequently live music coming from stages on the plaza or performers outside the restaurant tables on the sidewalks. By day there are a few small museums worth a visit. It’s easy to walk from here to other central Mazatlan attractions that are on the edge of the historic district, such as the main square, basilica, and central market.

Centro Historico

While this area of Mazatlan has gone through several periods of ascent and decline, a government focus on restoration incentives and sensible zoning laws has resulted in spruced-up buildings that are also functional. The exteriors remain historic, but inside the owners have flexibility in making the (often deteriorated) space work for current needs. So there’s a good range of nightclubs, boutiques, galleries, restaurants, and residences. Many buildings in the Old Mazatlan area date from the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the bustling port city was wealthy from shrimp, fish, minerals, and an iron foundry.

The historic sights of Old Mazatlan are concentrated in a rather limited area near the Plazuela Machado, a small, tree-filled square with a wrought-iron kiosk in the center. Nearby is the ornate, neoclassical Teatro Angela Peralta.

Historic district of Mazatlan

On the edge of the historic district are several other spots worth the walk. The late 1800s church here is an oddity in several respects, including Moorish touches and even Stars of David by the door. The main zocolo is not nearly as attractive as Plazuela Machado, but is a good spot for watching how the locals bide their time.

El Faro

The Lighthouse of port city Mazatlan has been shining since 1879, guiding ships coming up the Sea of Cortez. It can be seen 30 nautical miles away. For tourists, the main reason to come here is to see the divers. From a high platform, young men sometimes make daring high dives for assembled crowds for tips.

You can hike up to the lighthouse itself though to take in the view of the port and entering ships—mostly shrimp boats, plus an occasional cruise ship. Because it sits on a high hill, it’s reportedly the highest lighthouse in the Americas, as 523 feet above the high tide line.

Estero Ecological Reserve

This estuary nature park area is quite close to Mazatlan, making it a popular excursion for those who want to explore the coastal wildlife while in the area. Some 270 kinds of birds make their home in this area, which is a mix of streams, mangrove swamps, and beach. You’re sure to see herons, egrets, and other sea birds, as well as smaller ones feeding on this ecosystem.

Most tours spend time motoring through the estuary by boat, stopping at strategic spots where different kinds of birds congregate. It’s an educational trip on local nature, the seafood industry, and coastal wildlife. The tour ends with lunch and time to spend on a deserted beach the group will have to itself.

Zona Dorada (Golden Zone)

A deserted stretch of sand just a few decades ago, the Golden Zone of Mazatlan is now the area where package tourists spend most of their time. Lined with hotels, restaurants, and bars, it pulses with activity from the morning until the wee hours. All the usual water sports are on offer and sailing trips depart to nearby islands.

Golden Zone of Mazatlan

Playa Los Sabalos is the center of the zone and is the best area for swimming, with a surf that is calm most of the time. There are plenty of choices for toes-in-sand dining and drinking, as well as discos that are pumping at night.

Playa las Gaviotas offers more of the same, but has rougher waters and can be more crowded because of the size of the hotels fronting it. You can walk from one to the other along miles of golden sand or catch an open-air taxi called a pulmonia.

Stone Island

This offshore island is a popular excursion stop for cruise ship passengers docking in Mazatlan, but most of the visitors are locals on weekends and it’s not very crowded on non-cruise weekdays. The main reason to visit is to lie on the beach, swim, and eat grilled seafood at a thatched-roof restaurant, but you can also explore the island by horseback or on walking trails. The beach here is a good spot for seashell collecting.

There are two ways to get to Isla de Piedra as it’s known locally. The independent route is to take a pulmonia to the cruise ship port and take the public launch, running every 15 to 30 minutes. Another option is to sign up for a tour that includes some time at Stone Island. Most of them also visit mangrove swamps in a jungle area to spot birds.

Mazatlan Aquarium

This aquarium is a bit of a cobbled-together affair with displays in multiple buildings spread throughout the grounds. It contains more than 300 species of fish, plus crowd pleasers like porpoises, rays, turtles, and sharks. If you pony up extra money, you can swim with those sharks or feed them yourself.

show at the Mazatlan Aquarium

This is a varied attraction for families, with tropical birds doing tricks in an open theater and in another area, trained sea lions jumping and splashing. There are play areas for the kids and a restaurant on site with reasonable prices. You can also tour botanical gardens and a small zoo, the highlight being several aviaries with colorful birds overhead.

Location: Avenida de los Deportes 111, just off Avenida del Mar

Playa Olas Altas

Near historic Old Mazatlan, Olas Atlas beach fronts the original tourist zone. Here a long and wide malecon sidewalk is popular with joggers and in-line skaters moving past the city’s first waterfront hotels, like the Freeman—the first building in town to have an elevator. It’s a pleasant place for a stroll, with a shady cocktail or beer being just across the street.

Olas city beach in Mazatlan

The beach itself isn’t as wide or attractive as the Golden Zone further north, but its proximity to inexpensive hotels and downtown living quarters means it’s often just as busy. This is also one of the best stretches in the area for surfing and boogie boarding, so you can get in on the action yourself or just watch from a beach blanket.

Since a good number of the vacationers in Mazatlan are domestic ones, hotel prices here are more reasonable then many other beach resort areas of Mexico. There are only a few resorts above $200 a night, even in high season. Find the best Mazatlan rates at Bonwi and earn lots of points back that you can use on another vacation later. You can cash in points for a hotel room, rental car, or flight.

Finding History in Futuristic Tokyo

Historic buildings in Tokyo at night

Historic buildings in Tokyo at night

When it comes to fashion, trends, and electronic gadgets, Tokyo is often ahead of the rest of the world. The gleaming skyscrapers, towers, and lights give Japan’s capital a futuristic sheen. This is a city with many centuries of history, however. Before 1868 it even had a different name: Edo.

Shrines and buildings from long before the electric light are often nestled in parks and quiet places away from the bustle. Here are a few notable locations that will take you back to an earlier era.

The Imperial Palace of Tokyo

Chiyoda ward, Eidan Subway Takebashi station or Otemachi station

One of many historic pagodas tucked in around the gleaming skyscrapers of TokyoThe home of the Japanese Emperor was the Shogun’s castle before that, but since it was bombed during WWII, much of what you see as a visitor is not original: it was rebuilt in the traditional style. Some portions of the past remain, however, especially in the easy-to-visit East Gardens. Here you find the original foundation of the castle tower, plus moats, walls, entrance gates and several guardhouses. Naturally there’s an impeccably maintained Japanese garden.

To get insight into the history of the city, from the 1500s to the modern age, take a guided tour of the palace. You can see a model of what Edo looked like in its early days.

Toshogu Shrine

Ueno Park, Taito-ku, Ueno station

This is one of the few shrines in the city that managed to escape all the calamities that wiped out many others: the civil war of 1868, the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, and World War II. It is dedicated to the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate and the man who made this city the capital.

Toshuga Shrine in Tokyo Japan

It was restored to glory earlier this decade. Come to see the artwork, murals, and samurai armor in an impressive building and then wander the gardens and see the large stone lanterns along the entrance pathway.

Rikugi-en Garden

Bunkyo ward, JR Komagome station

This garden is considered to be one of Tokyo’s most beautiful places for a walk and it dates back to the early 18th century. It was built for one of the shoguns and reproduces 88 scenes from history and Japanese poems. Several teahouses on the pond’s northwestern shore are good places for quiet conversation and relaxation after a long walk.

Kawagoe

30 minutes NW from Tokyo by express train, or 43 minutes from Seibu Shinjuku

This is as close as you can get to the feel of Japan’s real historic capital, Kyoto, without traveling halfway down the country. If you take the Tobu Tojo Express train from Central Tokyo, around a half hour later you’ll step back in time to buildings from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.

For the oldest structure, find the Toke no Kane bell tower, ringing since the 1600s. Nearby are former warehouses that now house traditional Japanese restaurants. Save some room for sweets and stroll the candy shops from the 1800s along Kashiya Yokosho, a narrow lane paved in stone where you can see people still making hard candy.

Further afield, there was a castle built here in 1457, but now there’s just a building containing residences and offices from the mid 1800s. You can explore inside to see how the nobles lived and worked then. For more info see the local tourism site in English.

Hotels in Tokyo can be pricey, so get a fat points rebate by booking through Bonwi at that link. You could earn enough for a free rental car, a vacation hotel night, or even a flight. 

Related post: Free Attractions and Events in 5 Expensive Cities

World Tipping Chart

travel-tip-tuesday-tipping-while-traveling

travel-tip-tuesday-tipping-while-traveling

World Tipping Chart

Get up to speed with the tipping etiquette of your destination. Know how much to tip and when to tip based on where you are in the world.

Food Drinks Taxis
Australia 5%-10% Change (round to the nearest Dollar) Change (round to the nearest Dollar)
Canada 15% 10%-15% 10%-15%
Czech Republic 5%-10% 5%-10% 5%-10%
Ireland 10% Not expected (uncommon) 10%
Italy 10% Change (round to the nearest Euro) Not expected (uncommon)
Japan Not customary (often refused) Not customary (often refused) Not customary (often refused)
Mexico 10%-20% 20-40 Pesos ($1-$2)/drink Not expected (but appreciated)
Morocco 10% 10% 5%-10%
Spain 5%-10% Not expected (uncommon) 5%
United Kingdom 10%-15% Change (round up to the nearest Pound) 10%
United States 15%-20% $1/drink 10%-15%
Vietnam 5% Not expected (but appreciated) Not expected (but appreciated)

Ready to explore destinations? Try a search on Bonwi.com.

Get more Bonwi travel tips here.

 

Where to Stay for the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Montreal Jazz Festival performers

Montreal Jazz Festival performers Lowdown Brass Band

Where are the best places to stay near the Montreal Jazz Fest that happens each summer? Which hotels get you close to the action?

If you’re headed to the International Festival of Jazz in Montreal, Canada, one of the great advantages is that it’s in a very central, pedestrian-friendly area. You don’t have to bus out to some distant fairgrounds area or spend a fortune on taxi rides. All of the outdoor stage shows are free and they’re clustered around the largest concert hall, where the big-name paid shows are. You can come and go as you please, doing your dining and drinking at local bars and restaurants if you don’t like the selection near the stages. (When I attended in 2018, none of the available beers were Canadian!)

If you stay near the event, you can pop back to your hotel to change, shower, or take a nap between shows. Then you’ll be ready to hit the late concerts, which can run until midnight. Then the fun moves to the clubs. Here’s where to check in nearby.

Hyatt Regency Montreal

You can literally watch a show from the sun deck a

bar at the Hyatt Regency Montreal right by the Jazz Festival

t this Hyatt in the center of the action. You walk out the door and you’re at the entrance to the festival, so you may be sharing the elevator with a legendary jazz musician on the way.

There are nearly 600 rooms though, so you can snag one fairly easily if you book ahead. The set-up is a little strange in that the first few floors are a shopping mall, but this being Quebec, you’ll find plenty of quality meals in the food court. You can also go grocery shopping without leaving the building–and there’s a fridge in the room.

Delta Hotels by Marriott Montreal

One of the 30 brands you can’t keep straight in the Marriott portfolio, this is the best one if you’re looking for a solid chain property with no quirkiness or surprises. With 465 rooms, there’s often availability and a good rate right up to a few weeks before the festival. There’s a spa and 24-hour room service if you party too hard at the festivities.

Courtyard Montreal Downtown

Another “no surprises” Marriott choice, this one is just one block downhill from the festival perimeter, so when you’re done for the night it’s all downhill to your room.

Montreal International Jazz Festival crowd

L’Appartement Hotel

Near the Delta but with lower rates and free breakfast, this one will get your day started right and leave a little cash for food trucks and drinks. Or you can make use of the in-room kitchen that most rooms have. It does have a gym if you overindulge and there’s even a rooftop pool to take advantage of the summer sun.

Best Western Plus on Ste. Catherine Street

This is often the best value choice in the area, so book well ahead of time for Montreal Jazz Festival 2019 or 2020. Otherwise those strapped international touring musicians  may beat you to it. Although it’s a relatively inexpensive option, this is one of the newest hotels in the area.

Le Square Phillips Montreal hotel

Le Square Phillips Hotel

Rates here are often reasonable and Le Square is in a great location. It’s near the metro, the Underground City, and Chinatown, but it’ll take you less than 10 minutes of walking to get to your favorite performance stage.

Hotel Le Dauphin Montreal Downtown

If you’d like to spend your days in the historic section and your nights at the Jazz Festival, Le Dauphin is in a good location between the two. Rates are usually reasonable at this minimalist, Danish-modern feel hip hotel.

Hôtel Zero 1

This is another stylish choice near the festival if you’re trying to avoid the typical chain hotel feel. Most of the 124 rooms are smaller than you’ll find at other properties on this list, but they’re well-designed and have a fridge. There’s a gym and a roof deck, but no pool.

Hotel Quartier des Spectacles

This budget hotel option is close enough that you could catch glimpses of who is coming on stage from your window if you’re on the top floor, with the hotel located right on Ste. Catherine Street. This is a quirky choice, sharing a lobby with Hotel Abri du Voyageur and with no elevators for the four-floor building, so you may not want to just blindly pick the cheapest room.

Montreal Jazz Festival performers

Fairmont The Queen Elizabeth

If you’re not much of a planner and you decide the week before to head to the International Festival of Jazz, you may well end up here at the Fairmont. It’s Montreal’s largest hotel, with 950 rooms in a building complex started in 1958. It has been through many renovations over the years and is known for running like a well-oiled machine.

Get the most reward points back with Bonwi

If you book any of these Montreal hotels with Bonwi, you can compare rates to other sites right on the page to make sure you’re getting the best possible rate. Even better, you will earn reward points back on every night’s stay that you can redeem later for free hotels nights, an airline seat with no restrictions, or a rental car. If none of that works, you can get the same return value on a gift card! See all the options here:

Montreal hotels with high reward point earnings.

 

Ease the Sting of 5 Expensive Cities by Finding Free Attractions and Events

Paris on a budget

visiting Paris on a budget tips

Ah, the glamorous life of jetting off to Paris or Tokyo. If only we all had unlimited travel funds, right? Visiting the world’s most expensive–and popular–cities can mean blowing through cash at an alarming rate.

There are ways to have a great time without draining your life savings though, thankfully. You just have to make some adjustments on your transportation and sightseeing.

First, there are some obvious moves that will ease the pain in any city. Seek out the free museum days. Use public transportation instead of taxis. Spend some time scouting out the best hotel deals. Pick up the local tourist magazines and flyers for coupons and cheap entertainment tips.

Here is some insider advice for each location, however, with tips to keep the budget in line and one unique experience that won’t cost you a thing.

Tokyo on the Cheap?

When it comes to expensive destinations, Tokyo is quite the role model. You know you’re in trouble when half the “affordable tips” section of a city’s website is made up of ways to get from the airport to the city for under $50. If you search “free” on the official Japan Tourism website, it says “0 Results.”

To find an affordable meal, eat at noodle stalls for under $10 or explore the unique Japanese culinary stop: the department store basement. Seibu Department Store in the Ikebukuro area is a destination in itself, with two giant underground floors of food stalls extending several city blocks. The prim uniformed greeters will even bow as you enter.

There are 44 things listed to do for free at the Go Tokyo site, but this may be the strangest collection you ever see. Fancy a visit to the Sewage Museum? How about the Gas Science Museum or the National Diet Laboratory?

Temple with free admission in Tokyo

Thankfully, there are better options. You can Book a free walking tour of the Shinjuku commercial avenue through the Toyko tourist office and you can get the lay of the land with volunteers who speak English. You can also ride to the top of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Building skyscraper and visit the observation room at no charge. There’s no admission for Sensoji Temple, the oldest in Tokyo. Get up early to stroll through the Tokyo Central Wholesale Market, otherwise known as the Tsukiji Fish Market. By either name it’s the world’s largest, with active auctions going on from 5 to 10 a.m. and 1,700 active stalls selling everything that moves in the ocean.

Elusive Bargains in London

How to visit London without spending a fortune

Traveling in England has gotten a bit less expensive for travelers since the Brexit vote hammered down their currency, which still hasn’t fully recovered. London is a popular destination for business travelers and well-heeled vacationers though, so you’ll pay dearly for those theater tickets and hot restaurants.

Travel cheaply in these five expensive cities (like London) with these tips and linksOn the plus side London has a better choice of hotels in all price ranges than most other European capitals and most of its fantastic museums are always free.

To find other bargains, go to the free attractions section of the Visit London website for an exhaustive rundown on free attractions, museums, and performances. Be sure to get a refillable Oyster Card if you’ll be using the Tube regularly. It cuts the ticket price down by half for your rides.

Want a unique free experience? Put yourself into a BBC show audience by reserving tickets for a TV show taping.

Penny Pinching in Paris

France is the most popular tourist destination on Earth, so restaurants and hotels in Paris don’t have to try very hard to stay full. Thankfully there are plenty of ways to save a euro besides sitting by the Seine eating baguettes and cheese.

Paris on a budget

Marie Curie’s laboratory? The home of Victor Hugo? Eau de toilette? Visiting the Louvre will cost you (unless you’re under 26), but plenty of less famous museums in Paris are free. Three of the municipal museums in the pedestrian-friendly Marais neighborhood are free: an art museum, a photography museum, and a Paris history museum. The Fragonard Perfume Museum doesn’t charge admission and it won’t cost you anything to visit the Cathedral of Notre Dame on your own, posed hunchback photos optional.

See a full listing of free attractions, museums, and show at the dedicated page on the Paris Tourism site.

Finding Travel Deals in New York City

New York City edges out San Francisco as the most expensive place to travel or live in the USA, partly because it has the highest-priced real estate. That impacts everything from New York City hotels to prices at that hole-in-the-wall restaurant. You can save a bit with a CityPass or other discount book for attractions, but finding the freebies will help even more.

There are a good number of free museums in New York City every day of the week, some all of the time and some on specific days. If you time it right, you can even check out the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as well as most of the zoos and botanical gardens. Central Park is free, of course, and the long-running insider tip is to hop the free Staten Island Ferry to get a view of the Statue of Liberty and Lower Manhattan from the water. There are regular free concerts going on around the city, especially in the summer.

Oslo on a Budget

The whole of Scandinavia rivals Japan for eye-popping prices and it’s not easy to find a cheap place to sleep or eat in Oslo. With some advance planning and some time to enjoy nature, however, you can avoid spending your life savings on a visit.

Oslo free atttraction Akershus Fortress

For €41 a day or less, you can use the Oslo Pass to control costs. It gives you free entry to 30 museums and attractions, free travel on all public transport, free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free walking tours, and lots of discounts.

The city’s Oslo on a Budget website provides tips on free attractions and events, cheaper accommodation, and places to eat well for less.

Oslo has plenty of free outdoor concerts and cultural performances from June through September. Any month of the year you can keep your wallet tucked away for the popular Vigeland Sculpture Park. You don’t have to go very far to find good public hiking and biking trails around Oslo, no fees required. There are an incredible 40 islands and 343 lakes within the city limits.

You want Bonwi points? Go to London!
You want Bonwi points? Go to London!

So if you find a good flight deal to one of the expensive cities, don’t assume you can’t do it on a budget. Get a nice points payback when you book your hotel on Bonwi, then use the links above to keep the costs in check upon arrival.

Tim Leffel is author of books The World’s Cheapest Destinations and Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune. He runs the popular Cheapest Destinations Blog, running continuously since 2003.

Puerto Rico: What’s New in this U.S. Territory?

The Boardwalk in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
The Boardwalk in Ponce, Puerto Rico.
The Boardwalk in Ponce, Puerto Rico.

A lot of people give Puerto Rico a bad rap for various reasons, but we’re here to tell you that Puerto Rico deserves some praise. Despite what some people will tell you about the U.S. territory, Puerto Rico actually holds a lot of treasures and attractions. Areas such as Rincon, Aguadilla, Ponce, and many more have so many fun things to see and do!

In Ponce, the Paseo Tablado La Guancha is a bustling boardwalk with activities bursting out of every corner. Between oceanside restaurants, multiple shops, an arcade, various events, and boat rentals, there’s something for everyone on this tropical boardwalk! Ponce is also home to many museums and historical sites, such as the Parque de Bombas, the Museo de Arte de Ponce, the Ponce Cathedral and the Museo de la Historia de Ponce! And when in Ponce, head to Lola for some great escargot, lobster egg rolls, and fantastic service!

Rincon is famous for its surf scene along its beautiful beaches. Central Sandy Beach, Maria’s Beach, and the Balneario Pico de Piedra are three lovely beaches within Rincon. There are even quieter beach options, such as Corcega. Rincon is also known for its Tres Palmas Marine Reserve, which protects hawksbill turtles and parrotfish. For some great food, great cocktails, and an overall great dining experience, try the Red Flamboyan in Rincon.

Crash Boat Beach, Las Cascadas Water Park, Colon Park, and the Hermitage of San Antonio de Padua de la Tuna are just a few of the many attractions Aguadilla has to offer. The surf scene is perhaps just as popular here as it is in Rincon, with Crash Boat Beach being the most popular surfing beach. Aguadilla’s Punta Borinquen Golf Club offers miraculous sunset views, and the Museo de Arte de Aguadilla Y del Caribe showcases lovely Puerto Rican art! For great views and fantastic, colorful cuisine, have a meal at Aguadilla’s Restaurante Marina’s!

Discover what you’re missing by taking a trip to Puerto Rico this winter…and find the perfect hotel using your Bonwi points!

Rome Offers Many Unique Hotels

Rome Hassler Hotel
Elizabeth Unique Hotel, Rome.
Elizabeth Unique Hotel, Rome.

New places are always popping up around the city of Rome, but two new and improved options, both near the famous Spanish Steps in the city center, are great options for your next stop in the Eternal City.

Elizabeth Unique Hotel

As of January 2018, the Elizabeth Unique Hotel of Rome has reaped as a newly restored 17th-century palace. Inside the centuries-old palazzo, the boutique hotel is located just a few minutes walk from the famous Spanish Steps in the pedestrianized Via del Corso neighborhood. With thirty-three freshly renovated guest rooms, Elizabeth’s quarters are perfect for savvy travelers with antique wallpaper, couture, one-of-a-kind textiles, and incredibly varnished floors.

The guest rooms’ canopy beds welcome visitors as they sip espresso while taking in the breathtaking views from outside their window. The living room offers guests a relaxing atmosphere to wind down in after their day of sightseeing in the city, complete with a fireplace or their garden terrace.

Centrally located and tragically chic, the Elizabeth Unique Hotel’s contemporary style, innovative use of technology, trendy bar, and international team offer guests an unforgettable stay in the city on seven hills.

Rome Hassler Hotel
Rome Hassler hotel

Roma Hassler Hotel

If you’re looking for a more historic accommodation, a notable Roman property, and another uniquely non-chain lodging option, the Hassler is a fan favorite. Owned and operated by the same family since the early twentieth century, perched atop the Spanish Steps, the Hassler is overridden by Roman style and personality.

Three newly renovated suites were recently revealed, adding more appeal to this timeless classic. At their in-house bistro, Italian fusion cuisine is served to guests, dishes like tandoori-style duck and cacio e pepe risotto, all while overlooking beautiful panoramic views of Rome.

Find hotels in Rome and then use the points from Bonwi for another stay.

The Hotel Zones of Los Cabos, Mexico

Las Ventanas Rosewood luxury resort

Las Ventanas Rosewood luxury resort

If you’re headed to the resort area of Los Cabos in Mexico for the first time, you may not realize what a large, spread-out region this is. Occupying the whole bottom of the Baja Peninsula, it’s a sprawling cement truck parade of hotels, condos, golf courses, and two cities amidst dry desert and cacti.

Los Cabos has the greatest concentration of luxury resorts in Mexico though, with more being added every year, so it’s not a place filled with high-rises that can host 1,000 guests. Here the emphasis is increasingly on the guests who put this place on the map: upscale travelers from Hollywood, Silicon Valley, New York City, and oil country in Texas.  Don’t expect to find great  bargains here just because you’re heading south of the border: everything has to be shipped in or flown in except for seafood. Just getting water requires an expensive desalinization process. You’ll pay $200 an up to play golf because, well, Jack Nicklaus designed the course and…it’s a desert!

Los Cabos Quivira golf course

Here are the geographic options when you book a resort in Los Cabos. Make sure you’ve got a map handy to figure out what’s what.

Cabo San Lucas

This is the busiest part of the region because it’s where the cruise ships dock, where the nightlife is, and where the marina is that leaves on whale-watching trips. This calm bay is one of the few places where you can swim from the beach in this whole area: in most spots the waves are too rough and the undertow is serious.

There is a mix of upscale lodging (like Cabo Azul) here, as well as more budget-friendly options fanning back from the sea.

Le Blanc Los Cabos in the Corridor

The Corridor

The Corridor of Los Cabos was once and long and lonely stretch of desert dotted with a few hotels and golf courses. The cement trucks have been working overtime the past few years though and a new hotel goes up every month or two. Most of the best high-end resorts are here, like Rosewood Las Ventanas, One & Only Palmilla, and The Cape. The latest additions are a new Le Blanc and a new Casa Velas—both luxury all-inclusive resorts.

An all-inclusive or a high credit limit on your card can make a lot of sense here because you’re miles from anything when you arrive. You probably won’t leave the resort much except for adventure excursions.

San Jose del Cabo and the Port/Marina

San Jose del Cabo has long been the sleepy cousin at the other end of the corridor, but it has caught the development bug as well, especially in its marina/port area, where there’s a Secrets Resort and soon a Four Seasons.

Land’s End Los Cabos and North

Los Cabos Land's End waves

Where the Sea of Cortes and the Pacific Ocean meet is the tip of Baja known as Land’s End. Grand Solmar and Pedregal resorts are there, around the corner from the famous arch, and not far from downtown Cabo San Lucas.

Development is stretching north from there, with the Diamante and Quivira golf courses being the centerpieces of major real estate and hotel developments. There’s a Pueblo Bonito resort, a partially opened Grand Solmar Rancho San Lucas, and a Nobu. The further north toward Todos Santos you get, the more isolated the areas become. The idea is to play golf and hang out by the pool, though there are plenty of adventure activities on the wide beaches and among the cacti.

To book your perfect Los Cabos vacation and earn lots of points back you can use for future trips, go to Bonwi.com and rack up the rewards.

 

Lisbon’s Pink Street is Your Nightlife Destination

Pink Street is one of the highlights of Lisbon's great nightlife. photo: www.itsallbee.com
Pink Street is one of the highlights of Lisbon's great nightlife. photo: www.itsallbee.com
Pink Street is one of the highlights of Lisbon’s great nightlife. photo: www.itsallbee.com

Lisbon: From Red Light District to Pink Street, the Rehabilitation of a Neighborhood

A party scene like you’ve never seen before. Lisbon’s Rua Nova do Carvalho, nicknamed Pink Street, is the heart of Lisbon’s fierce nightlife. A visitor has not truly experienced a night out in Portugal’s capital without blessing themselves with a trip to Pink Street.

Dotted with bars, clubs, and late night eateries, Pink Street is a more upscale alternative to Lisbon’s famous Barrio Alto, whose nightlife thunders through the streets every night of the week. In 2011, Pink Street was born after the city’s former red light district was rehabilitated into what it is today.

Now, it is a destination for party goers wishing to experience a true night out Lisboa style. With action picking up around 3am, people dance and drink their way to morning at the eclectic bars. Located near the old port of Lisbon in the Cais de Sodre neighborhood, Pink Street is conveniently positioned near a metro stop.

Before your big night out, check out Time Out Market. This dreamy Ikea-sized warehouse was recently refurbished by Lisbon’s greatest chefs. The cafeteria-style food court destination is the perfect place to eat a high end dinner at an affordable price before napping and heading back out to Pink Street in the Middle of the night.

In it’s past life, Pink Street was home to trouble, and visitors did not visit their without encountered from thieves, prostitutes, or people looking to rent out rooms for an hour or two with a friend. Today, with interest from both tourists and locals, tons of new bars and hang outs have popped up along the infamous road.

For the best cocktails on the street, check out 4 Caravelas Cocktail Bar and order a Honey Pot. This 5 Euro concoction does not disappoint. Just up the street a bit, Povo offers outdoor seating and a tapas menu, perfect for people watching in this amazing neighborhood. Music Box is perfect for those looking for live music and a dance floor, and it’s one of Pink Street’s most visited night spots.

Lisbon is famous for its streetcars and steep streets. Max Hartshorne photo.
Lisbon is famous for its streetcars and steep streets. Max Hartshorne photo.

There are literally dozens of options to explore on Pink Street, and whether you’re a frequent party goer or out for a special occasion, you will no the disappointed with the color, excitement, liveliness, and unique vibe Rua Nova do Carvalho will show you.

Have you been to Portugal lately?  If you want to save money and get more out of every euro you spend on lodging, use Bonwi to find hotels in Lisbon and get points for every night you can use another time.

The Tivoli Lisboa, for example, will cost you just $551 for two nights and net you 6,051 Bonwi points you can use for your next trip.