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Discovering Santorini’s Secret Treasures (An insider’s guide)

“But Santorini is so touristy,” is what everyone says.

They are absolutely right. I have been to Santorini five times, and the towns of Fira and Oia are getting more and more crowded by the season. Sometimes, you can’t even find a space to stand on.

While the main attractions of Santorini are undeniably captivating, let’s embark on a journey to explore some lesser-known, hidden tourist attractions that offer a unique perspective on this Greek paradise. Prepare to be amazed as I unveil the secrets of Santorini’s off-the-beaten-path gems.

  1. Amoudi Bay: Tucked away below the iconic village of Oia lies Amoudi Bay, a hidden coastal enclave that feels like a world of its own. A scenic hike down the cliffside will lead you to this picturesque harbor, where colorful fishing boats bob in the crystal-clear turquoise waters. Here, you can savor the freshest seafood at one of the charming tavernas while enjoying breathtaking views of the Caldera. For the adventurous, take a dip in the inviting waters or even try cliff jumping for an adrenaline rush.
  2. Pyrgos Village: Escape the crowds and head inland to Pyrgos, a tranquil hilltop village that exudes traditional Cycladic charm. With its labyrinthine alleyways and Cycladic architecture, Pyrgos offers a glimpse into the island’s rich history. Climb to the top of the medieval Kastelli, the village’s highest point, and be rewarded with panoramic views of Santorini’s vineyards and the Aegean Sea. Explore the quaint shops, indulge in local delicacies, and immerse yourself in the slow-paced ambiance of Pyrgos.
  3. Akrotiri Archaeological Site: Step back in time at the captivating Akrotiri Archaeological Site, often referred to as the “Pompeii of the Aegean.” This Minoan Bronze Age settlement was preserved by volcanic ash for centuries, offering an unparalleled glimpse into ancient Santorini. Wander through the well-preserved ruins, marvel at the intricate frescoes, and learn about the lives of the inhabitants who thrived here thousands of years ago. This archaeological gem is a must-visit for history enthusiasts.
  4. Vlychada Beach: Escape the crowded shores of Kamari and Perissa and make your way to Vlychada Beach, a hidden gem with a distinct lunar landscape. Nestled in a secluded bay, this beach boasts dramatic cliffs sculpted by wind and sea, resembling an otherworldly setting. Relax on the unique grayish-black sand, soak up the sun, and admire the rock formations that add an ethereal touch to the scenery. The tranquil ambiance and natural beauty of Vlychada Beach make it a true hidden paradise.
  5. Megalochori Village: Immerse yourself in the authentic village life of Santorini by visiting Megalochori. Wander through its narrow streets adorned with bougainvillea-covered houses and traditional wineries. Take a leisurely stroll to the village square, where you can sip on local wines, savor Greek delicacies, and engage in friendly conversations with the welcoming locals. Megalochori offers an unspoiled glimpse into the island’s traditional way of life.

6. Fishing Boat Trip: Overall, fishing boat trips in Santorini offer a wonderful opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of the island, engage in a relaxing activity, and potentially catch some delicious fish. Whether you’re a seasoned angler or a curious traveler, this experience can be a memorable addition to your Santorini itinerary. I highly recommend this company owned by my violinist friend Antoni’s family. You can learn more about the excursions at: www.florafishingtours.com/el

EXTRA TIPS:

a) While most guide books will tell you that the best place to watch the sunset is Oia, try to go to Pyrgos instead. There are lovely wine bars on top and it is not nearly as packed.

b) You definitely need to visit Oia and Fira, but try to get there at 7:00 am so that you can easily find parking and beat the Cruise ship crowd that arrive around 10:00 am.

c) Rent a car or a motobike and venture out to uncharted areas! Seek out these hidden gems and create unforgettable memories in this Aegean paradise.

 

Top Neighborhoods in Paros, Greece

Exploring the Timeless Beauty of Paros

Nestled in the heart of the Cyclades archipelago in Greece, the picturesque island of Paros beckons travelers with its enchanting landscapes, crystal-clear waters, captivating traditional charm and wonderful locals. Renowned for its traditional whitewashed buildings, idyllic beaches, and rich history, Paros has become an increasingly popular destination for tourists seeking a perfect blend of relaxation, culture, and natural beauty.

President Barack Obama and the first lady were both in Paros vacationing at the same time I was on the island. Last year, I was on the island at the same time James Franco was visiting. We were at the same restaurant Stratheros, just a table away. Then two years ago, Justin Bieber and wife Hayley, were on there the same time I was visiting.

Join us as we embark on a virtual journey to discover the top tourist spots that make Paros an irresistible gem in the Aegean Sea for these celebrities:

  1. Parikia – The Charming Capital:

Your exploration of Paros begins in Parikia, the island’s vibrant capital. This enchanting town welcomes you with its narrow streets, traditional architecture, and a delightful waterfront lined with tavernas and cafes. Stroll through the winding alleys of the old town, visit the historic Church of Panagia Ekatontapyliani (Our Lady of a Hundred Gates), and immerse yourself in the captivating atmosphere of this ancient Greek port. Great shopping on these winding alleys! Greek designers are very talented! I always come home with a suitcase filled with locally-sourced products.

  1. Naoussa – A Seaside Paradise:

Located on the northern coast of Paros, the quaint fishing village of Naoussa is a must-visit destination for travelers. Its picturesque harbor, adorned with colorful fishing boats and lined with charming waterfront restaurants, exudes a romantic ambiance. Explore the narrow streets filled with boutique shops, visit the Venetian castle, and bask in the idyllic beaches nearby, such as Kolymbithres Beach, known for its unique granite rock formations.

  1. Lefkes – A Step Back in Time:

Escape the coastal allure and venture inland to the picturesque village of Lefkes, situated in the heart of Paros. Immerse yourself in the island’s rich history and traditional way of life as you wander through its whitewashed houses, Byzantine churches, and winding stone paths. Don’t miss the opportunity to hike along the Byzantine Road, offering breathtaking views of the island’s verdant landscapes.

  1. Golden Beach and Pounda – Paradise for Watersports Enthusiasts:

Paros boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the Aegean, and Golden Beach (Chrissi Akti) is a paradise for watersports enthusiasts. With its golden sand and turquoise waters, this expansive beach offers excellent conditions for windsurfing, kiteboarding, and other water activities. If you prefer a more relaxed atmosphere, head to Pounda Beach, where you can enjoy the tranquil surroundings or take a short boat ride to the neighboring island of Antiparos.

  1. Antiparos – A Hidden Gem:

While technically a separate island, Antiparos is easily accessible from Paros and well worth a visit. This unspoiled paradise captivates visitors with its laid-back atmosphere, pristine beaches, and charming cave, the Antiparos Cave. Explore the winding streets of the main town, relax on secluded beaches, and savor the tranquility that defines this hidden gem of the Cyclades. Tom Hanks and wife Rita has a house on this island.

Paros, with its unique blend of natural beauty, rich history, and timeless charm, offers a truly unforgettable Greek island experience. From the captivating capital of Parikia to the romantic village of Naoussa, and from the windsurfing paradise of Golden Beach to the hidden gem of Antiparos, every corner of this idyllic island has something special to offer. Whether you seek relaxation on pristine beaches, a glimpse into ancient Greek culture, or an adventure on the turquoise waters of the Aegean Sea, Paros is a destination that will undoubtedly leave you with lasting memories. So, pack your bags and embark on this wonderful journey.

 

Guatemala: Exploring the Rich Heritage of Antigua and Lake Atitlan

Villa Santa Catarina is on the base of this beautiful mountainside community. Just 2 minutes walk is the lake. The rooms offer views of the 3 majestic volcanoes.

Welcome to the heart of Central America, where ancient traditions meet breathtaking landscapes. Antigua, Guatemala, and Lake Atitlan together create a magical journey that blends colonial charm with natural splendor. Over the next seven days, I invite you to immerse yourself in the vibrant culture, explore historical sites, and unwind by the serene shores of Lake Atitlan.

Fly to Guatemala’s La Aurora International Airport (Airport Code: GUA). There are several airlines that fly direct to GUA from LA (Delta and Avianca). Upon landing, skip Guatemala City because there is not much to see in this city, even my Guatemalan friends would admit this. Guatamala City is safe and very clean, but the beauty of the country is outside the city.

From the airport, you can arrange for a private service from your hotel, take a taxi or uber to head to Antigua, which is roughly 15 miles from the airport, or a beautiful 45 to 60 minute car ride. A private car costs about USD $60 to $70, and about USD$40 for uber. My friend Charlie Revolorio is a travel guide and can help you book a seemless ride – you can reach him on Whatsapp at +502-5559-8986. He is very kind, honest and amazing.

Side tip while you’re at the airport- buy a simm card for your phone. They can do it quick and cheap!

Day 1-2: Antigua – Colonial Marvels and Culinary Delights

Start your adventure in Antigua, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its well-preserved Spanish Baroque-influenced architecture.

I stayed at the Hotel Meson de Maria (http://hotelmesondemaria.com/esp/) which is a mansion or a noble ancestral home turned into a hotel. I loved this hotel and it was fairly inexpensive ($80/night for the regular room). If you have more budget, stay at the room that has a balcony or has a window that overlooks the outdoors. The location of this hotel couldn’t be more perfect.

 

Hotel Meson de Maria is a small hotel centrally located in the heart of the historical district.

 

There other more fabulous hotels in the area. The key in picking a hotel is to make sure you’re in the town and NOT OUTSIDE OF THE OLD TOWN. I cannot stress this enough.

Spend your first day wandering through cobbled streets lined with pastel-hued buildings. Don’t miss the iconic Santa Catalina Arch, a symbol of Antigua’s rich history. Visit the Central Plaza, Parque Central, surrounded by the stunning Antigua Cathedral and the Palace of the Captains General.

 

The famous arch in Antigua. You must come here!

In the evenings, explore the local culinary scene. Antigua boasts a diverse array of restaurants, from traditional Guatemalan fare to international cuisine. Savor a cup of world-renowned Guatemalan coffee in one of the charming cafes, and treat your taste buds to local specialties like Pepián or Kak’ik.

Day 3-4: Antigua – Cultural Immersion Dive deeper into Antigua’s cultural treasures on day three. Visit the Santo Domingo Monastery, home to the Jade Maya exhibit and a stunning courtyard. Explore the Casa Popenoe and the La Merced Church, each showcasing unique architectural details.

If you want to know more about the rich history of the town, please call Charlie for a very fascinating walking tour of the town. He can take you to secret spots as well!

Take a coffee tour to discover the journey from bean to cup, learning about Guatemala’s coffee-making traditions. (This was incredible!)

In the evening, join a traditional dance performance or catch live music at one of the local venues. You can arrange this coffee tour from little travel shops in the town. The hotel can also make a recommendation.

When dining, ask for authentic restaurants from a local and read reviews. There are so many restaurants in town that try to be too westernized (avoid those).

This may sound silly- but check out the local Starbucks and McDonald’s. They are probably the most beautiful Starbucks you have ever been to. Don’t worry, they serve Guatemalan coffee.

Antigua’s Starbucks isn’t your typical chain outlet in West Hollywood. As you step inside, the air is infused with the warm aroma of freshly brewed Guatemalan coffee beans. The interior design pays homage to the city’s colonial heritage, featuring intricate wooden accents and vibrant textiles that mirror the traditional Mayan craftsmanship found in the local markets.

One of the highlights of the Starbucks in Antigua is its charming outdoor patio adorned with terracotta tiles. Surrounded by lush greenery and colorful bougainvillea, the patio offers a tranquil escape from the bustling streets. It’s an ideal spot to sip your favorite Starbucks beverage while soaking in the colonial architecture and absorbing the vibrant energy of Antigua.

Me at Starbucks waiting for my order. The leaves protect me from the sun. LOL.

Day 5-7: Lake Atitlan – Tranquil Bliss and Indigenous Culture

On day five, embark on a scenic journey to Lake Atitlan, one of the most picturesque lakes in the world.

From Antigua, you can take a public shuttle to Lake Atitlan for 2.5 hours (Panajachel is the main town there). The shuttle costs about $22 per person. Or you can hire a private driver like I did and pay USD$100. I heard that the shuttle service is pretty safe.

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Surrounded by volcanoes and indigenous villages, the lake offers a serene escape. Stay in one of the lakeside towns like Panajachel, San Pedro, San Marcos, Santa Cruz or Santa Catarina. You can get to Santa Catarina by car or tuktuk (motorized vehicle for 3-4), and take a short ferry ride to San Pedro, Santa Cruz and San Marcos.

Charlie (left, my tour guide and friend) and Miguel, a new friend I met there from Colombia. Amazing guys!

I met Julie from New York when I offered to take her photos. Gaby is Charlie’s best friend. Great group!

There are many small hotels by the lake which are very charming and fairly inexpensive. I stayed at Villa Santa Catarina and it was absolutely peaceful and gorgeous. The only downside are – 1) There are no restaurants outside the hotel (but many street food vendors) 2) You have to take a tuktuk to get to a ferry. HOWEVER, the upside is, it is very tranquil and peaceful because it is off the beaten path. To book this hotel: https://www.villasdeguatemala.com/es/villa-santa-catarina (Rates go for $85 to $100 and it includes a delicious breakfast).

Airbnb has incredible Conde Nast-worthy lake houses that will make you the envy of your social circle. The best part? Many are under $150 for a 1 bedroom with a view of the 3 glorious volcanoes and the lake. (There are even gems for $50/night).

Days six and seven are dedicated to exploring the beauty of Lake Atitlan. Take a boat tour to visit the charming villages of Santiago Atitlan, San Marcos, and Santa Cruz. Engage with the indigenous Mayan communities, known for their vibrant textiles and handicrafts.

For adventure seekers, consider hiking one of the surrounding volcanoes for panoramic views of the lake and its surroundings. There are so many hiking trails for all levels. We managed to hike several hills and the view was absolutely incredible.

Wind down your week with yoga by the lake or a relaxing spa day. Have a cerveza or two from any of the beautiful cantinas. I hired a local masseuse for only $35. I also had a foot massage at a local spa for $28.

The lake is so peaceful, I can stay here for a week and not get bored. (With $40 massages, yoga and delicious fruit salad – I am a happy camper).

A week split between the historical wonders of Antigua and the tranquil beauty of Lake Atitlan provides a perfect balance of culture, history, and natural splendor. As you bid farewell to this enchanting region, take with you not just memories of picturesque landscapes but a deep appreciation for the rich tapestry of Guatemala’s cultural heritage.

Home is where your mother is …

Back at our lake house in Tagaytay. This place holds so many memories for a over 2 decades now. It was my mom’s dream house she had constructed based on a cabin we stayed at in Big Bear.

 

It was here where I surprised my family after 8 years of absence. I wrapped myself up in a blanket and walked towards my family while they were eating. The screaming can be heard for miles and miles.

It was also here where I first Introduced John to the family. “Mom, this is my American ‘friend’ John.” She hugged him and gave him a tour.

When my sister was assigning rooms, she said “John will sleep in the masters bedroom.” So I leaned over and whispered “Where will I sleep?” She said “Masters bedroom with John, of course.”
They knew.

The house is about 5,000 square feet in size (464 square meters) and has 5 floors. But our entire family of 20+ always hang out In one room- the kitchen. My parents watched their smalll family of 6 grow and grow and grow.

When we are here, we would literally sit around all day and the housekeepers (or my sisters) would bring out food and snacks all day long. We have had this house for over 25 years and we have never seen most of the attractions around the lake. Being together with the family was the main attraction when we visited.

Even at my age, my mom insisted I sleep on her bed with her. There are a dozen beds, but I had to sleep next to her. We would be face to face and she would hold my two hands with hers and caress it. I can’t understand it back then, but she must have been enjoying having her child home.

As we grew older, our nephews and nieces made their own memories here. They have many drunken moments here. (Yes kids, we know). They have brought their friends here for weekend getaways and sung karaoke all night long.

My mother loved this house. Even during her last years, she would ask the family to visit. She would lay on the couch while all her great grand kids scream and jump all over her. She enjoyed every minute of it.

She loved this place so much, she purchased the four other parcels of land next to it. She didnt want to have neighbors.

It was a bit bitter sweet coming In to the house last night without her. There’s so many memories of my mother in every corner.

Thanks mom … we will cherish you, and this house forever.

Asakusa is Tokyo’s Best Area

My family ranks Japan in their Top 3 favorite countries- except for me. I have been there 6 times and never understood the fascination until my recent trip. I never used to like it because for me, Tokyo looks like New York, but with Japanese writings on the buildings. I have always thought that Japan lacked culture unlike Bali.

 

However, during our last visit, we stayed in Asakusa. It was my first time there and I fell in love with it immediately .

Asakusa retains the vibe of an older Tokyo, with traditional craft shops and street-food stalls along Nakamise Street near the ancient Sensō-ji temple. Mid-19th-century Hanayashiki amusement park has rides and cafes, while riverside Kuritsu Sumida Park hosts regular festivals and firework displays.

I would get lost in alleys lined with traditional stores selling kimonos, silk fabrics, Japanese wares, etc. This is how I imagined Japan.

If you’re ever in Tokyo, I recommend you stay in this area.

The Road to Happiness

Eveyone’s end goal is always retirement, right?
You go to school for 22 to 28 years, then work for another 35 to 44 years. Then you can start enjoying life at 65.

I think people have this concept all wrong. By 65, you probably can’t hike that hill anymore, can’t golf as much, can’t scuba dive, and can’t party. Your body at 65 is a lot different than a 45 year old version of you. And for some people, they save all their money, and sadly don’t make it to 65.

When I was 38, I had chest pains so bad, I thought I was going to die. That’s when I realized that life can be cut short anytime. Since then, I lived my years like it was my last one.

When I was young, I have always aimed at becoming rich someday. Now, I don’t care about money as much. Experiences, adventures, friendships, charities, kindness and happiness are the core values I strive for. (Not always successful, but I always aim for them).

My mother, a planner, constant worrier and the most frugal woman I know, always worried about me. “What will happen to you when I pass?” She would always say that. And now, my sisters ask me the same question . “I will be fine,” I assured them.

Though money is important, always remember that when you pass away, no one cares about what car you drove, but they would remember how you many times you made them laugh, how you made them
feel, and how much time you spent together.

I have learned from the Dalai Lama that one’s goal in life should not be to be rich, but to be happy. And the only way you get there is through contentment.

Happiness is not just a fleeting emotion, but an essential aspect of our well-being. It is the fuel that propels us forward, giving us the strength to overcome challenges and embrace life’s joys. Striving to be happy is not a selfish pursuit. When we prioritize our own happiness, we become better equipped to spread positivity and make a meaningful impact on the world.

Remember that happiness is not a destination to be reached, but a journey to be embraced, and let us strive for it with unwavering determination and gratitude.

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Buenos Aires is Muy Bueno!


  • I have been to Argentina before (2014), while I loved it, I really had no intentions of coming back. But my friend Sarantos begged me. (I am not good at saying “No”).

Surprisingly, I loved it. I feel like it is a new city again. There are so many new things and the city is now so much cleaner, and more organized. Hotels are more upscale and restaurants, too. The city have undergone a massive makeover.

The downside- the prices have more than doubled since 2014. Hotels in Buenos Aires used to average $70/night. That’s gone now. Want to stay at the Four Seasons? That’s $650/night.

I stayed at 725 Continental Hotel just a few blocks from the Obelisk and enjoyed its central location.

But one thing remains – people here are still
insanely beautiful and kind. People always ask me, “Where do you think people are the prettiest?” I would say Argentinians always rank on my Top 5. I think it’s in the water.

Glad to be back! And I will come back again


Quaint and Cute Colonia, Uruguay

If you’re ever in Buenos Aires and have an extra day, a trip to Colonia, Uruguay can be a good idea.you’re ever in Buenos Aires and have an extra day, a trip to Colonia, Uruguay can be a good idea.

You can visit its UNESCO World Heritage Site old town and have a taste of Uruguay cuisine.

The Banque Bus ferry takes about an hour and a half and it is a pretty decent ship (spring for first class if you can). They sell food on the ferry and have very clean washrooms. It even has a duty free store.

The ferry costs about $90 round trip, and about $125 if you want to Include a walking tour.

From Colonia, there are beautiful, modern buses that can take you to Montevideo if you want to explore further.

Not gonna lie- you have to check in (takes 20 min) and stand in line at immigration (another 20 to 30 minutes or so) in both countries. I wish they can streamline this process.

Five hours At Colonia Uruguay should be plenty of time to walk around and enjoy a nice lunch by the ocean.

 

We met this lovely and hilarious American woman, Charlotte, on the boat. She was a hoot! We love her!

At Old Town Colonia

 

This light house is the focal point of the small fortress village.

 

These antique plates were so beautiful

 

Beautiful handcrafted hats by the locals

 

Okay, the water isn’t exactly crystal clear or emerald. But it is still a charming town.

 

There are so many stray dogs- but they all look healthy and were very friendly.

 

Adventures in Iguazu

Iguazu Falls seems like a world away, and to be honest, it kinda is. But it is definitely worth the trip.

You can reach Iguazu via a 2 hour plane ride from Buenos Aires or an hour flight from Rio Brazil.

There are many tour groups available from either countries, but to be honest, you don’t really need to join a tour group. The town of Iguazu is very small and it is very easy to get around.

My friend Sarantos and I flew from Buenos Aires, his dream destination. But as soon as we landed in Iguazu, he quickly said “Iguazu is a lot more magical than Buenos Aires.” And it is true.

Many Argentinians don’t speak English (I speak a little Spanish). But we got lucky and our taxi driver Carlos, who drove us from the airport in Iguazu to our hotel, was so kind and friendly.

He was so kind, friendly and nice that we bonded immediately. I asked for his Instagram account and we asked him again to drive us into the town later that evening.

He was soooooo sweet, he showed us around the town and helped us run errands too.

He took us around several places which was great. Because the following day, we had to bolt out of Iguazu to go home to the Philippines for my mom. So it was great that we got to see quite a bit.

He drove us around to show us where the locals live, the other hotels, and to a park where the borders of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina meets.

As a thank you, we took him to a nice restaurant. When the bill came, this 22 year old kid asked us how much his share was for his meal (it would have cost him his entire day’s wage). He was such a class act.
He was such an amazing kid- so nice, fun, trustworthy and well mannered. We will definitely stay in touch.

The following day, he drove us to the Iguazu park. It costs about $12 to get in. Wear hiking shoes because you will need to walk around the park through pathways, bridges and rocky paths to get around the park.

Tip- try to get to the park on weekdays, or exactly at 8 am when it opens! You will have the entire park to yourself!

There are two sides to the waterfall- the Argentina side or the Brazil side.

We planned on seeing both but due to a personal emergency, we had to leave right away. This gives me reason to come back!

 

Zion National Park: A Tale That’s All About the Trails

I have always wanted to explore Southwest Utah and Arizona’s National Parks but never had the chance. Living in LA, it’s oddly difficult to convince friends to drive anywhere north of Las Vegas. Finally I was able to drag my friend John – a National Parks junkie to come along for the ride.

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Our first stopover was at Zion National Park. We started our trip from Los Angeles and left midday. From LA, it’s an eight-hour drive passing through the endless miles of desert scenery (which is always easier to bear with a good playlist). Halfway through, we stopped in Vegas for an early dinner and to refuel, then headed directly to Zion, which was another three hours away. Note to self: Every guide book will tell you that summer is the best time to visit the parks. I think it’s far too hot. Temps can reach up to a humidity-free heat of 110 degrees. It is arduous to hike in such conditions. Visiting in spring is ideal for me; the weather was bearable and the wildflowers abundant.

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