Mexico City, Mexico

Given that we were heading to Cancun for a wedding at Nizuc Resort & Spa and it was Melanie’s 30th birthday, we decided to extend our stay in Mexico and fly from Cancun to Mexico City! Given that Mexico City has become a popular destination recently, we received many recommendations. For those planning a trip to Mexico City, here is our compiled list of recommendations.

There are two great neighborhoods to stay in – La Condesa and Roma Norte. We stayed in La Condesa at a boutique hotel called Casa Decu. We loved it! It had a little gym that we used in the mornings and a great rooftop.


Museo Nacional de Antropología: This is known to be the largest and most visited museum in Mexico. The museum tells the story of Mexico from pre-historic times to the current day through archeological evidence.

Free Walking Tour: As we do in most cities we visit, we found a free walking tour! The tour was ~3 hours and took place mostly in the historic center. The tour guide explained the complicated history of Mexico City and led us to an ancient temple that was discovered in the 1990s while the city was building its subway system. Some other spots we saw and learned about were the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace, the Postal Palace, Santo Domingo Square, House of Tiles, and the Palace of Fine Arts.

Visit Teotihuacán: Teotihuacán is an archaeological complex located to the northeast of Mexico City. To see these ruins, we booked a Tour and Balloon Ride over Teotihuacán. We were a little hesitant about the balloon ride, but it far exceeded our expectations! The day began at 5:00am, when our tour guide picked us up from our hotel and drove us to the ancient city. There we met our hot air balloon pilot and crew and within minutes we were hovering at ~2,000 ft in the air toward the pyramids! After ~1 hour in the sky, we had a very soft landing (right next to a cacti field!), ate some breakfast, and went to the ruins. A private guide led us around the ruins, explained the history of the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, and led us on “the Path of the Dead.” We learned about how the early archaeologists used dynamite when excavating, which led to massive damage and complications in restoration. After ~2 hours at the ruins, we were driven back to our hotel in La Condesa.


Ojo de Agua: We stumbled across this spot near our hotel in La Condesa. It is a very fresh (and always very crowded!) breakfast spot. The juices were yummy!

El Tizoncito: Our friends recently visited Mexico City and had the best time doing a food tour with The Taco Mensch. We weren’t able to book a tour with The Taco Mensch because timing and dates didn’t work out. Instead, our friends gave us the list of spots that The Taco Mensch brought them to and El Tizoncito was one of them. This place was casual, had very quick service, and the Al Pastor tacos (which they are known for) were deeeeelish!

Carlotta Reforma Sky Bar: One night before dinner, we went to the bar at the Ritz Carlton. The views of the city from here are great and the cocktails are delicious and creative!

Toledo Rooftop: This spot was recommended by a few friends, so we popped by when we had some time to kill before a late lunch reservation. We got a little confused finding the entrance, but once we found it we grabbed a drink, watched some soccer, and enjoyed the sunshine!

Em: Lucho Martinez’s newest endeavor, Em, is definitely high-end and accessible (i.e. it is said be an alternative to Pujol, which requires a two-months-in-advance reservation). With a farm-to-table-focused menu, this spot offers a wide range of interesting and fun dishes. Our favorite dishes were the fish collars and the baby corn.

Contramar: We had so much fun at Contramar! This buzzy and vibrant seafood restaurant from chef and restaurateur Gabriela Cámara is the ideal spot for a long lunch. We had a lunch reservation at 12pm, but happened to be in the area so decided to walk in early. We were so glad that we went early because Mexico was playing in the World Cup and the restaurant was filled with very loud and rowdy locals. The grilled fish with two sauces and the tuna tostadas are just as good as everyone says!

Máximo Bistrot: Chef Eduardo García is among Mexico’s best culinary talents. In 2020, his flagship fine dining restaurant, Máximo Bistrot, moved to a brand new location, a beautifully designed space filled with natural light. This move provided a chance to revisit the menu, improving his classic dishes and creating new ones that celebrate Mexican flavors with a French twist. This was one of our favorite meals during our stay in Mexico City. The bread was served with goat cheese butter and the crab tostada were out of this world! Also, the homemade Nutella for dessert was amazing.

Rosetta: This is a refined venue crafting elevated local cuisine in a restored villa that has a plant-filled courtyard. The vibe and food were incredible. This Goop review describes the restaurant perfectly. If you go here, make sure to save room for lots of incredible bread!

Panadería Rosetta: This tiny bakery is an extension of the Rosetta restaurant and it serves incredible pastries and ice cream. The croissants, cinnamon rolls, ricotta rolls, and focaccias are pretty perfect, and a nice break from the traditional Mexican classics. Supposedly the guava pastry is very popular (we didn’t get it). We ordered a vanilla bean soft serve in a croissant cone, which Cody continues to dream about!

Lardo: Lardo is run by the same people as Rosetta and is a hip Mexican-Mediterranean fusion spot. We went for brunch on Melanie’s birthday and absolutely loved it. As recommended by The Infatuation, we got the octopus. Also, we don’t typically love carrot cake, but the carrot cake from here was SO GOOD!


Carla Fernández: This spot was recommended by Melanie’s friend from grad school who grew up in Mexico City. Carla Fernández is a Mexican fashion designer dedicated to preserving and revitalizing the textile legacy of indigenous and mestizo communities of Mexico. We enjoyed walking through the store looking at the unique clothing and bags.

home Mexico: This spot had a bunch of great home goods made in Mexico.

HAPPENING Roma Norte: This was another spot recommended by Melanie’s friend from grad school who grew up in Mexico City. This store was in a lovely part of Roma Norte, had a great selection of pottery and jewelry, and also had adorable baby clothes! We enjoyed spending time in this store and purchased some Mexican pottery.

Básicos de México: We stumbled upon this store when walking throughout La Condesa one morning. Cody bought some high-quality, well-priced t-shirts and Melanie bought a set of marble candle holders made in Mexico.

We absolutely loved our time in Mexico City. We felt very safe, took many Ubers (Ubers were ~$3 USD for a 15-20min ride), and loved the unlimited options of activities and food to choose from. We definitely want to go back to Mexico City and stay for a lot longer (4 nights was no where near enough time)!

Madrid, Spain

In July 2022 we flew from San Sebastián to Madrid so that we could explore the capital of Spain and also have a direct flight back to NYC. We were only in Madrid for two nights and we stayed at NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado, which was a great price point and in a great location.


Free Walking Tour: As we do in most cities, we did a free walking tour! Our guide, Miguel, began the tour by explaining the rich history of Madrid, which began with the Arabs in the 9th century. He taught us that Madrid became Spanish speaking when it was conquered by the Segovians in the 14th century and then it became the capital of the Spanish Empire in the 16th century. As he taught us about the history of Madrid, Miguel led us from the city center to the Royal Palace, a palace of over 1 million square feet and over 3,000 rooms designed with French influence. Then he led us to Plaza Mayor, which is a large square that reminded us of many Plaza De Armas that we have seen in Spanish cities throughout South America. There we observed the historic influence of Arabic, French, and Spanish architecture. We really enjoyed our walking tour with Miguel and highly recommend it to anyone planning to visit Madrid!

Flamenco: On our walking tour, Miguel recommended that we go see Flamenco during our stay in Madrid. And so, we booked tickets to Cardamomo Flamenco! Flamenco is an art form based on the various folkloric music traditions of southern Spain. It is a highly-expressive solo dance characterized by hand clapping, percussive footwork, and intricate hand, arm, and body movements. The dance is usually accompanied by a singer and guitar player. Given that it was so hot during the daytime (temperatures were reaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit), we were very glad to sit inside and watch Flamenco!


Ferretería Restaurante: This spot was recommended by Luis, our pintxos tour guide in San Sebastián. While the food was good, the vibe of this restaurant was what really made it stand out. The restaurant used to be a hardware store, so the walls are covered in cabinets and iron tools!

Chocolatería San Ginés: This is Madrid’s most famous chocolate shop and it was recommended to us by many friends! We ordered the “classic” which is six churros and a thick, warm hot chocolate dipping sauce. The churros were a lot skinnier than churros we are used to seeing in the United States, which we later learned is the difference between Spanish churros and Mexican churros. Also, the people in Spain call the chocolate dipping sauce “hot chocolate,” but it is much more thick and fudge-like compared to what we consider hot chocolate to be in the United States. The dessert was unique and so were the walls of the restaurant which were covered in many photos of famous people who have visited Chocolatería San Ginés over the years.

La Venencia: According to Culture Trip (one of our favorite travel blogs), this is the one bar to visit while in Madrid. Luis also told us about this spot and that it is known for it’s sherry wines.

Feliz Coffee: We stumbled upon this cute coffee shop when exploring the streets near our hotel.

Saint Michael Market: Many people recommended we go here. We passed it on our free walking tour with Miguel, but we didn’t go. Miguel said that it is very touristy and that it has overpriced tapas.

Bodega de La Ardosa: This spot was recommended to us by Luis. It is a casual, time-tested tapas bar. It is located in the neighborhood of Chueca, which is the gay-friendly neighborhood with jam-packed cozy sidewalk cafes, tapas bars, restaurants, and vibrant nightlife. It was extra fun to eat here when we did because it was the day of the gay pride parade in Madrid, so the neighborhood was even more lively than it typically is.

Tapas: Given that Madrid is such a walkable city (we didn’t take the subway nor an Uber/cab once during our stay), we spent a lot of the days just wandering around and popping into many tapas bars. We made sure to have lots of cured meats, tortilla de patatas (also known as a Spanish omelette), and croquettes.

Next time we are in Madrid, we definitely want to go to the museums, which we were unable to get to this time around. Although our stay was brief, we had a great time in Madrid!

San Sebastián, Spain

In July 2022, we spent 3 nights in San Sebastián. We stayed at Hotel de Londres y de Inglaterra which was clean, comfortable, and in the perfect location. We spent most of our time in San Sebastián eating, drinking, and taking siestas, as one does when visiting the food capital of the planet!


Walk along the beach and throughout the old town

Day trip to Biarritz: Biarritz is a beach town in France that is a 45 minute drive from San Sebastián. It is beautiful and Jessie claims she had the best crepe of her life there!

Pintxos Tour with Luis: We did a Secret Gastronomic Society & Pintxo Tour with a local named Luis and it was THE BEST!! The tour started in a wine cellar where we were introduced to Txakoli. This type of wine is very acidic, so Luis recommends not drinking it in excess and instead having a small glass of it to start an evening. Little did we know that this would be the first of many glasses of Txakoli that we would have during our stay in San Sebastián.

After having a glass of Txakoli, it was time to start our pintxos tour. The first stop was La Cuchara de San Telmo, where we had octopus with cauliflower purée and blood pudding. The experience was bonkers – we walked into an insanely tight and narrow bar, Luis chatted in Basque with the guy behind the counter, and within minutes we had our pintxos and a glass of wine. We honestly didn’t know what exactly we were eating, but as soon as we took our first bite, we were in heaven.

Our next stop was Borda Berri, where we had cod with cucumber and slow-cooked pork cheek. Once again, we walked in, Luis did his thing, and in no time we had our pintxos and wine!

Our final pintxo bar with Luis was Casa Vergara, where we had cod with pil-pil sauce. At this pintxo bar, we spent time chatting with Luis and learning more about him and his interest and love for food. Turns out, in his now retired life, Luis and his wife travel the world to write about all that they eat and drink. In fact, Luis was recently in NYC and visited many restaurants just minutes from our apartment in SoHo! Luis mentioned that early in his career he was so focused on going to famous and expensive restaurants which was a great experience, but now he is focused on finding unique, hole-in-the-wall spots. We became instant friends with Luis and really want to and plan to keep in touch with him!

After the three pintxo bars, Luis took us to his gastronomic society. Gastronomic societies play an enormously important part in San Sebastián’s social life. Here, members meet in a club complete with a kitchen for lunch or dinner, either with other members of the society or with their families and/or friends. When you go to a gastronomic society in San Sebastián (which you can only do on invitation by a member), the cooking is usually done by 2 or 3 of the diners who bring along their own food. During our experience, Luis cooked green peppers alongside some cheese and bread. He also served us local IPA beers and Basque-style cider. Now, THIS, was an absolutely incredible and unique experience!

Hike: Knowing that we would be drinking and eating a lot, we made sure to book a guided hike during our stay in San Sebastián. We really loved the hike and our guide, Borja! The views were stunning and one thing that really stood out were how many hydrangeas were just growing in the wild throughout the forest and along the trail. We finished our hike by taking a small boat across the bay for a light lunch.


Akelarre: Wow! Words cannot describe how amazing this meal was! At the helm of Akelarre for most of its existence, Chef Pedro Subijana, has earned three Michelin stars and established the restaurant as one of the world’s best.

After our delicious meal, we went outside and enjoyed more drinks and the views for many hours! Whether or not you choose to eat at the three Michelin star restaurant, we highly recommend going to Akelarre to enjoy a drink while looking at the breathtaking views.

Martín Berasategui Restaurant: This was another three Michelin star restaurant that we went to while in San Sebastián. The chef, Martín, was born in San Sebastián and spent his early years training to be a chef in Spain and in France. He is known as the Spanish chef with the most Michelin stars in Spain, twelve in all, and the third top chef in the world. In 1993, together with his wife Oneka Arregui, he opened up the Martín Berasategui Restaurant in Lasarte-Oria, just 7 km from San Sebastián. Six months after the inauguration, he got the first Michelin Star, three years later he received the second one, and in the 2002 Guide he was awarded the highest rating of the emblematic guide, three. All of this to say, we had our last dinner in San Sebastián here and it was quite the meal and experience!!

Bar Nestor: Yes there are famous Michelin star restaurants in San Sebastián, but also there are a variety of incredibly delicious, casual, hole-in-the-wall restaurants. Bar Nestor is located in the old town among many pintxo bars. We had absolutely amazing steak, tomatoes, and green peppers! The best part about our meal at Bar Nestor was that the chef came out to us with a few steak options and asked us which one we preferred!

Ganbara: Everyone we know who has visited San Sebastián was adamant that we go to Ganbara and order the famous mushroom dish. This pintxo bar is a favorite of the legendary Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak, and is therefore a much-loved spot in San Sebastian’s charming old town. That being said, it is also very touristy and over-priced compared to the other pintxo bars. All in all, we had some delicious pintxos here and the mushroom dish was good, but it wasn’t as amazing as many made it out to be.

Old Town Coffee: Luis, our local foodie, recommended this for a morning coffee. We walked here one morning and enjoyed coffee and a cinnamon roll.

La Viña: Similar to Ganbara and the mushroom dish, La Viña and its burnt cheesecake came highly recommended. Melanie and Jessie don’t even like cheesecake, so they had little-to-no expectations. That being said, we still, of course, had to go and check it out! We ordered a fish cake (as suggested by Luis, our local foodie) and we ordered a slice of burnt cheesecake…and it was GREAT! Jessie and Melanie couldn’t stop taking bite after bite of the cheesecake.

La Cuchara de San Telmo: We discovered this spot on our Pintxo Tour with Luis during our first night in San Sebastián. We loved it so much that we went back a few days later for another round of pintxos!

We loved our time in San Sebastián! We plan to go back sometime soon and spend way more than just 3 nights there!

Paris, France

In early July 2022, we spent 5 nights in Paris. We stayed in St-Germain at Hotel de Buci, which we absolutely loved! Below are some recommendations and insights as to what we did during our short stay in Paris!

Food & Drinks

Macaroons & Crepes: We don’t have a specific place to recommend, but we definitely recommend eating lots of macaroons and crepes while in Paris!

JJ Beaumarchais: This was recommended by a few people. The restaurant serves seasonal dishes that revolve around vegetables, fish, and beef. We went here for our first dinner in Paris and it was a great introduction to Parisian food.

CINQ-MARS: This spot was so cozy, the food was absolutely delicious, and the staff were beyond friendly (even though they spoke little English and we spoke even less French).

Frenchie: This restaurant is very popular right now and it is very, very hard to get a reservation. Luckily, we logged in a few weeks before exactly when reservations opened and were able to snag a reservation for the earliest dinner seating. We went with Jessie and Aaron for Jessie’s 30th birthday. The food was delicious and the ambiance was great. We did the wine pairing with the tasting menu and definitely recommend it! If you’re unable to get a reservation, Frenchie has opened up a few other restaurants which you can find here.

Ellsworth: This snug and romantic spot has a super delicious menu. The restaurant has become popular recently since it is listed as one of Ina Garten’s favorite spots to eat in Paris. We recommend getting the fried chicken and the panisse.

Chez Janou: This place was SO good and is very local! We weren’t given an English menu when seated, but the French couple next to us saw us struggling and helped us figure out what was on the menu. Cody was very, very happy with the steak that he ordered and Melanie was very happy with her big bowl of greens!

Un Zèbre à Montmartre: This was recommended by Harry, our Montmartre tour guide. This restaurant was a nice change of cuisine since we were eating a lot of French bistro food and baguettes. Here, we ordered some Thai dishes and vegetable bowls.

La Palette: We stumbled upon this and it was a great bistro in a great area!

Septime: Similar to Frenchie, Septime is very popular right now and hard to get a reservation. The tasting menu and vibe of this restaurant far exceeded that of Frenchie, and the waiters were so, so friendly. We will 100% try to go back the next time we are in Paris! Next time we are in Paris, we really want to try Septime’s sister restaurant named Clamato.

Things to Do

Walking Tours: We always aim to do a free walking tour on our first day in every city we visit. In Paris, we did Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour. The tour was rather short distance-wise and we covered Notre Dame (although there was not much to see since there is still a lot of construction from the 2019 fire), Le Palais des Congrès (which is now a courthouse where the terrorist trial dating back to 2015 had just wrapped up a week prior), the Louvre, and the Tuileries Gardens. The tour guide did a great job connecting the each location’s history with its modern relevance.

Moulin Rouge: Moulin Rouge is a cabaret in the neighborhood of Montmartre. It is best known as the birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Originally introduced as a seductive dance by the courtesans who operated from the site, the can-can dance evolved into a form of entertainment and led to the introduction of cabarets all across Europe. For Jessie’s 30th birthday, we decided to surprise her with a late night show at Moulin Rouge. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience!!

Versailles: The Palace of Versailles is a former royal residence and is located in about 12 miles west of Paris. There are several tour operators that provide full day tours to and from Versailles, but we decided to do it on our own. The train near our hotel got us there in ~40 minutes. Upon arrival, we found a local market to pick up lunch and snacks for a picnic. Since we had the Paris Museum Pass (which we highly recommend for convenience and cost if you plan on visiting 4+ museums), we were able to easily enter the palace and then pay a few extra Euros to access the gardens. The gardens are HUGE! In fact, they are more than twice the size of Central Park for comparison. We had a lot of fun exploring and wandering aimlessly through the gardens for a few hours. The visit was absolutely worth it, but it’s important to note that visiting Versailles is most definitely a full day adventure.

Jardin des Tuileries: The Tuileries Garden is a public garden located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde in the 1st arrondissement. We had such a great time strolling through this garden many times during our stay in Paris. It was especially lovely to walk through the garden during sunset while getting a great view of the Eiffel Tower.

Pont Alexandre III: We went here to meet up with our friend, Alex, who has been living in Paris for a few months now. This area is very crowded and full of clubs that get super lively at sunset and after sundown. We met up with Alex at Le Flow and had so much fun!

Place des Vosges in Le Marais: The Place des Vosges is one of the oldest squares in Paris, and also one of the most beautiful. We definitely recommend visiting it while also making sure to bop around Le Marais, which is known as the Jewish quarter and also known for its focus on fashion.

Walking Tour of Montmartre (including Sacré-Cœur): Not only did we do the free walking tour with Sandesman on our first day in Paris, but we also booked a walking tour of Montmartre with Sandesman for our third day in Paris. While this tour wasn’t free, it was only 16 Euro each and well worth it! Our tour guide, Harry, was amazing! We started outside Moulin Rouge which seemed a bit touristy at first, but he explained the relevance. Moulin Rouge translates to Red Windmill, representing the 13 windmills which once stood on top the hills of Montmartre in the historically agricultural parts of the city. Moulin Rouge was created for the World Fair in 1889 and has since become a landmark of the city. Harry led us from Moulin Rouge to the Sacré-Cœur, which sits atop the tallest hill in the neighborhood. The neighborhood of Montmartre is very artsy, was once home to several world famous artists, and has since largely become a gentrified hipster neighborhood. We visited the only vineyard in the city (a small city block that produces horrible wine which sells at high prices for charitable causes), as well as several small bistros. We learned that the name bistro comes from the Russian term “bistra” which translates to “hurry up” in English. When Russians began immigrating to the neighborhood in the 1900s they were annoyed with the slow French service, hence the development of French “fast-food” bistros.

Shop in Saint-Germain: Given that we were staying in such a beautiful neighborhood with great shopping and because the 1 USD = 0.99 EUR right now, we had fun walking in and out of a bunch of boutiques throughout the neighborhood and doing some shopping.


Musee D’Orsay: The Musée d’Orsay is a museum in Paris on the Left Bank of the Seine. It is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898 and 1900. The museum holds mainly French art dating from 1848 to 1914, including paintings, sculptures, furniture, and photography. We enjoyed seeing Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Cezanne, and Degas. They also had a temporary Gaudi exhibit, which we very much enjoyed and appreciated after knowing a bit about Gaudi from our trip to Barcelona in fall 2018.

Musée Rodin: The Musée Rodin opened in 1919 and is primarily dedicated to the works of the French sculptor, Auguste Rodin. We enjoyed seeing the famous Thinker!

Louvre: Since we were in Paris, we, of course, had to go to the Louvre! That being said, we spent very little time inside (as it was hot and extremely crowded, as expected).

Musée de l’Orangerie: The Musée de l’Orangerie is an art gallery of impressionist and post-impressionist paintings located in the west corner of the Tuileries Gardens next to the Place de la Concorde in Paris. We really enjoyed our time here. The water lilies are not only beautiful, but also so meditative and relaxing. Melanie spent some extra time walking through here and thinking of the last time she visited this museum with her Nana.

The Liberation of Paris Museum: We don’t have any photos from the museum, but we very much liked our visit to The Liberation of Paris Museum. The museum takes you through the timeline of WWII through the lens of Parisians. There were several exhibits that showed the role of the French Resistance in WWII and how they were severely prosecuted by the Nazis for illustrating any support for the Allies. The museum was centrally located and a great 1-2 hour visit if you have the time!


Arc de Triomphe

Eiffel Tower

Sabi Sands Game Reserve, South Africa

On Tuesday, November 16, we crossed the border from Zimbabwe to Zambia and then flew from Zambia International Airport to Nelspruit Airport in South Africa. After a 1.5 hour drive from the airport, we arrived at Tengile River Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve.


On arrival to the lodge, we were blown away. The lounge, our room, and all of the amenities far exceeded our expectations!


Similar to the safari we went on the previous week in Zimbabwe, this safari also had a daily schedule. We woke up early each morning at ~4:30am, had coffee in the room, and then headed out on a morning game drive.

After spending a few hours driving around and spotting game, we then would have breakfast. One morning, our guides treated us to a seated breakfast in the wild, inclusive of mimosas, omelets, baked goods, and smoothie bowls!

In between our morning and evening game drives, we had time to relax at the lodge. We went to the gym, had lunch and relaxed in our room, and swam in our plunge pool!

At ~3:30pm, we would grab a cocktail to-go from the bar and head out on our evening game drive. The bartender at the lodge taught us about Amarula, which is basically the South African equivalent of Baileys. While it was delicious, it was also heavy so we didn’t have tooooo much of it (remember, Mel is lactose-intolerant)!

On the evening game drives, we would stop to watch the sunset and have some more drinks and snacks.

After the evening game drives, we had bonfires, more drinks, and delicious dinners!

We were so grateful to meet another couple from the United States, Max and Amanda. They were also on their honeymoon and we enjoyed having them in our safari truck with our driver, Vusi, and our guide, Martin.

Animals! (in no particular order)

We accomplished our goal of seeing the big five and the super seven on this safari!! The big five are (1) lions, (2) leopards, (3) elephants, (4) rhinos, and (5) buffalos. The super seven are the big five plus (6) wilds dogs and (7) cheetahs.

Giraffes: We got very close to many giraffes on this safari. They are very skittish, but not hard to find because of their long necks.

Zebras: We saw a bunch of zebras grazing, but they truly are not super exciting to observe. Cody likes to call them “cat food.”

Leopards: We were very excited to spot leopards on this safari since we were unable to find any on our previous safari in Zimbabwe. The first leopard we found was on a morning game drive. It was still cool out and the leopard was hiding in a thicket of grass, which meant he was most likely attempting to hunt. We watched the leopard for about an hour and boy were we amazed!

After hiding in the thicket for some time, the leopard bolted at a crowd of impala and caught a baby.

While it was extremely difficult to watch, we saw the leopard slowly kill the baby impala. Our guide, Vusi, explained that the leopard slowly kills the baby impala so that the mother impala hears her child in pain and comes back to check on her child. In that moment, the leopard then tries to attack and kill the mother impala as well. The mother of this baby impala seemed to be quite smart, because she did not return after at least 15-20 minutes of her baby suffering.

It was beyond devastating to watch this and half of the time we couldn’t look at what was happening before us. But, surprisingly enough, later that same day we saw an impala give birth (and eat the placenta) and we left the safari being truly in awe of mother nature.

Elephants: We saw some elephants on this safari, but frankly we saw far less than when we were on our safari in Zimbabwe. In Zimbabwe, we encountered a fair share of lone, male elephants and on this safari the only elephants we encountered were those in herds. We definitely cannot get enough of these huge, yet peaceful, creatures.

Lions: On our first morning game drive, we found a male lion lounging in the heat of the late morning sun.

Then, later that same day when we went out on our evening game drive, we found the same male lion and he had captured and killed (already, thank goodness) an African buffalo. We spent at least an hour watching the male lion eat the African buffalo. Our guides, Vusi and Martin, were very shocked at how much the male lion was struggling to break through the skin and eat the African buffalo. They also told us to listen closely to sound of the male lion’s tongue as he licked the African buffalo. Given that their tongues are similar to sandpaper and very coarse, male lions actually use their teeth way less than we would suspect. Instead, they lick and savor their dinner for many, many hours (and sometimes days).

After observing the male lion for a sufficient amount of time, we left him to eat his dinner in peace.

On our game drive the following morning, we found the male lion under a tree with his half-devoured African buffalo. He had made progress on eating the African buffalo throughout the night, although there was still a significant amount left. Vusi and Martin explained that the male lion dragged the African buffalo under this tree so that they could be covered and somewhat hidden from other animals in the daylight. For example, hawks can smell the decomposing African buffalo and circle around it, which would prompt other animals to come by and compete with the male lion for the African buffalo remains.

In addition to seeing a male lion, we also saw female lions (lionesses) with many cubs. Our first encounter of the lionesses and their cubs was along the beach. It was very hot out and it seemed like they were enjoying basking in the sun.

Later that day, during our evening game drive, we found the lionesses ad their cubs again. The lionesses were looking to hunt zebra and impala and their cubs observed. We are still so amazed by how close we were able to get to all of these lions!

White Rhinoceroses: It was a very incredible moment when we spotted the white rhinos because this sighting marked us officially seeing the big five!

We even got to experience the white rhino marking his territory…yuck!

African Wild Dogs: We spent some time during our safari looking for African Wild Dogs, but both Vusi and Martin were not too optimistic since they had not spotted African Wild Dogs for many months. African Wild Dogs are endangered and so there are very few that remain on earth and, most certainly, very few that remain in Sabi Sands Game Reserve. So, when we found African Wild Dogs towards the end of our last evening game drive, we were PUMPED! We definitely would not describe these dogs as cute, that’s for sure. They are pretty ugly looking and their run/walk is very unique and interesting to watch.

Waterbuck: We spotted many waterbucks on this safari.

African Buffalo: We spotted a bunch of African Buffalo, one of the big five, on this safari.

Blue Wildebeest: We definitely saw our fair share of wildebeests.

Hippopotamus: We saw many hippos prior to this safari, so we told Vusi and Martin that we didn’t need to really look for a ton of them during our game drives. That being said, on our last evening game drive, we took a quick stop to look at a few.

Painted Reed Frog: On one evening game drive, Martin spotted a painted reed frog basically in the complete darkness. These frogs are tiny and typically blend in with the reeds around them. The fact that Martin was able to spot this just goes to show how incredibly good he is at his job!

Black Mambas: While we were aware that we would be traveling to South Africa during the start of rainy season, we were unaware that rainy season is when the snakes are most commonly found! Black mambas are known to be the most dangerous snakes to humans in Africa. Even Martin, who has been guiding for 20+ years, says that the only animals he is truly afraid of in the bush are black mambas. Luckily, we personally did not spot any black mambas. Another safari vehicle from our camp did see one that was startled by their car, but the car slowly backed away to allow for the black mamba to get where it was going, and then they started to drive again. All in all, we are so, so grateful that we DID NOT see any black mambas!!!

Dung Beetles: We saw lots and lots of dung beetles.

Warthogs: We saw a good amount of warthogs. They look a bit vicious because they have big husks, but they are herbivores and relatively harmless.

Black-backed Jackals: We saw some of these and they reminded us of foxes.

Dwarf Mongooses: These are cute, but also kind of creepy looking. We were unable to get a photo of these.

Impala: There were lots and lots and lots of impala everywhere!

Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe

On Thursday, November 11, we flew from Cape Town to Victoria Falls International airport in Zimbabwe. Getting through customs didn’t take long at all, and before we knew it we were in the Safari Logistics office waiting to take a (very!) small plane to our first safari!

To get to and from our safari location, we took a 45 minute flight on the smallest airplane we’ve ever been on! Luckily our pilot, Ronald, made us feel very safe and comfortable!


After landing in our tiny plane at Manga Air Strip, we were greeted by our guide, Calvet, who drove us 30 minutes to our camp. Upon arrival, the staff greeted us with a traditional song and dance!

We stayed at Somalisa Camp, which is a protected area within Hwange National Park. It is home to three safari camps and a few bore holes that have water pumped in using solar panels year round. Since not all of the park is protected, this ensures that the larger animals have consistent water and prey without the risk of being killed by humans.

Every moment during our stay, we were in awe of how comfortable the accommodations were and how delicious the food was!


This being our first safari, we quickly learned that most safaris follow a fairly standard schedule. The schedule optimizes viewing of “big game” that hunt during the early morning and evening when the weather is cooler and prey is resting. During our two full days at Somalisa Camp, we woke up at 5:00am and walked to the common area where coffee, toast, and fruit were waiting. After a quick breakfast, we hopped in the safari truck as the sun began to rise. The first hour or so was spent tracking lions and cheetahs. If found, we would wait for them to begin hunting, otherwise we would move on to view other animals.

After a few hours of driving, we would typically stop at a watering hole at 7:30am to watch the elephants drink and bathe. Our guide, Calvet, would make us coffee and provide light snacks.

Speaking of snacks…we came to find that we were fed 5x times per day, which seems excessive (which it was), but it was also amazing. After a short break and close interaction with the elephants, back on the safari truck we went. The next few hours of the morning game drive were spent touring the park and observing how different animals interact (more on that below).

During the morning, we also did a walking safari. This is when you get out of the safari vehicle with your guide and see some animals on foot. During our walking safari, we were beyond nervous and excited. The feelings and emotions that come over you when you’re out in the wild and can be approached by a lion, cheetah, or elephant are unexplainable! After a few minutes of walking, we heard a solo male elephant approaching us. Calvet turned around and indicated to Cody to walk quickly and quietly back towards the vehicle! Cody turned and began to retrace our steps. After a minute or two, we reached a large tree and hid behind it as the elephant approached. While observing these animals from a close range on the safari truck is amazing, but we recognized that when we’re up close and on foot all the rules change.

We typically returned to the camp at 10:30am as the temperature reached ~90 degrees Fahrenheit and we would take a quick nap before lunch at All the meals at Somalisa Camp were incredible! Each dish was beyond gourmet (and they even catered to Melanie’s lactose-intolerance)! After lunch, we would take another siesta or relax by the pool.

Our favorite part of the camp was the natural watering hole ~50ft away from the main area of the camp. Hundreds of elephants would pass through each day to cool themselves off by spraying and rolling in the water. And, at the foot of the camp’s main area, there was a man-made pool that was filled each morning. Most elephant herds would come to the pool and drink ~10ft away from us!

3:30pm each day was “tea time” (aka happy hour)! We gathered in the common area for drinks and snacks before heading on the evening game drive.

The evening game drive began at ~4:30pm. And then, at around 6:30pm, we are fed (once again)! Calvet would pull out a cooler full of drinks and snacks while we watched the sunset and observed animals congregating in the distance.

Animals! (in no particular order & more pictures coming soon)

Baboons: We spotted many of these monkeys throughout our game drives. We loved watching the mothers care for their babies and we also loved watching them clean and pick bugs off one another. They really are so human-like!

Spotted Hyaenas: We don’t have any good pictures of hyaenas because they are nocturnal and we only spotted them after dark. We could hear them cackling as we went to bed each night. It really did sound like The Lion King!

Cheetahs: Calvet taught us that cheetahs are different from leopards because they have slender bodies and a dark tear-drop marking, whereas leopards are stockier and have rosettes (vs. spots). We saw cheetahs on all the days we were at Somalisa Camp. We even saw a female chase an impala while her three cubs followed behind!

Lions: We saw a total of eight lions during our stay at Somalia Camp; all of which were females (lionesses) and their cubs. It was incredible how close we got to them, it felt like they could hear our hearts beating!! We didn’t spot any males since they hunt alone which makes them very difficult to spot. Maybe we will see some on our next safari in Sabi Sands Game Reserve!

Zebras: We will never forget how locals pronounce this word z•eh•bras (the “e” is pronounced like the “e” in “eggs”). These were beautiful to see in person. Some zebras have “shadow stripes,” which are the faded stripes in between the darker, black stripes on their coat.

Giraffes: It was incredible to see these in the wild! They are so tranquil and just mind their own business. When they bend down to drink, they need to splay their legs so that their heads can reach the ground.

Hippopotamuses: We were pleasantly surprised to see hippos on this safari. Hippos do not eat meat, but they are also known to be the most dangerous animals to humans when on safaris. This is because they can easily be startled and are very territorial. We made sure to approach them very slowly and to keep a relatively far distance away from them. We were fortunate enough to see a hippo interact with a cheetah. The cheetah came to the watering hole with two of her cubs. The hippo approached them in a way to say “back away, this is my space” and the mother cheetah stood her ground. Then, the hippo came a bit closer and the mother cheetah scurried away. Even though cheetahs are extremely fast, hippos can and do kill cheetahs when they feel that their territory and boundaries are not respected.

African Elephants: Never have we ever seen so many elephants until this safari!! We loved watching the baby elephants, especially those with undeveloped trunks that had to submerge their entire face in the watering holes to drink! These elephants were definitely wayyy larger than the ones we saw in Asia.

Tortoises: We saw some of these in a few different sizes. They weren’t as big as the ones we saw in the Galapagos, but still very cute!!

Ostriches: We saw a good amount of these! They are very goofy and entertaining to watch.

Impalas: Impalas seemed equivalent to our deer.

Vivid Monkeys: We spotted these only once. They are very different looking than the baboons that we saw often on this safari. The vivid monkeys are white and slender with a black face.

Wildebeests: We saw many of these, but didn’t get any great pictures. We plan to share pictures with our friend we met on our safari, Kelly, and hope she has a few that we can add to this blog post.

Water Buffalo: When we saw water buffalo, they were typically just co-existing with other animals. We saw zebras just hanging out right beside water buffalo and elephants!

Water Monitor Lizard: This was a unique finding. These reminded us of the iguanas we see in St. Croix!

Wharthogs: All we could think about when seeing these was…Pumbaa!

Springhares: These reminded us of rabbits.

Jackals: We saw many of these and they reminded us of foxes.

Coqui Francolins: This was the first animal Calvet identified for us in Hwange National Park. It is a bird that camouflages well with the ground.

Secretary Bird: This is supposedly the tallest flying bird in Africa. When it kills its pray, its legs move like a secretary typing.

Bradfield’s Hornbills, Tawny Eagles, and Red-Crested Korhaans: These were other birds we saw plenty of. The Red-Crested Korhaan pretends to be dead to attract its mate.

Polecats: Supposedly this was a very rare sighting and Calvet was SO excited!

Kurus: We saw so many of these! We hope Kelly got some pictures of Kurus so that we can add them to this blog post.

Stembok: These were always just hanging out with the kurus and the impala.

Cape Town, South Africa

Thursday, November 4, 2021

After about 2 years of planning our honeymoon to Africa, it seemed surreal to actually be going on it!!

We flew KLM from JFK to Amsterdam and then Amsterdam to Johannesburg.

Thanks to the incredible travel agents at Classic Escapes, we were escorted off our flight in Johannesburg, taken safely through customs, and driven to a hotel near the airport for a quick rest before our flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town the following morning.

The hotel near the airport was way nicer than expected. And, they knew it was our honeymoon and surprised us with rose petals all over the room!

Saturday, November 6, 2021

After sleeping soundly, we woke up, had a quick breakfast at the hotel, and then we were escorted back to the airport in Johannesburg for our flight to Cape Town. After a quick 2 hour flight, we landed and were greeted by another driver who took us to our boutique hotel, Gorgeous George.

Upon entering our room at Gorgeous George, we were surprised to find an incredible welcome present from our travel agent, Natalie, from Classic Escapes!

After unpacking and having a quick bite upstairs at Gigi Rooftop, we met our driver, Abdullah, who took us to the waterfront. We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening exploring the waterfront. Some people compare Cape Town to San Francisco and, we must admit, the waterfront area of Cape Town very much reminded us of the waterfront area in San Francisco!

We also made sure to stop by the Lindt store. In the car ride over to the waterfront, Abdullah told us that this store is only one of seven in the world that has chocolate making classes! While we don’t have time and aren’t super interested in attending a class, we still enjoyed visiting the store.

We got to our dinner reservation at The Silo Hotel early, so we decided to enjoy some drinks and bites on the rooftop!

When it was time for our dinner reservation, we went to take the elevator down and the power went out! Luckily it went out while we were waiting for the elevator (and not while we were in the elevator!!!), but either way it was quite scary. We learned more about daily power outages later during our stay in Cape Town (stay tuned)!

Luckily, after a few minutes, the generator kicked in and we were able to take the elevator down to our reservation at The Granary Cafe. The staff were beyond friendly to us and, when we sat at our table, we were so surprised to find an incredible wedding gift from Jessie and Aaron!! Not only did they treat us to our first dinner on our honeymoon, but they also treated us to a bottle of champagne from La Lude, which is one of the vineyards we plan to visit later on in our trip when we are in Franschhoek!

The dinner and drinks were delicious and a perfect start to our honeymoon!! The waiters were incredible, so friendly, and explained that the ginormous pink flower on our table is a king protea, which is the national flower of South Africa.

After our dinner, Abdullah picked us up to bring us back to our hotel. On the ride home, he explained that he writes poems in his free time. Before we left the car to go into the hotel, he gifted us a book of his poems! What an incredibly nice gesture, we can’t wait to read his book!

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Unfortunately, our jet lag got to us and we woke up early after a restless night. After a nice breakfast at Gigi Rooftop, we met our tour guide, Wayne, to explore Cape Town for the day. We don’t typically hire tour guides and pride ourselves on researching and booking everything on our own, but it’s our honeymoon so we decided to hire a guide this time around 🤗!

We started the morning by hiking Signal Hill, the smallest of the three distinct mountains in Cape Town. Signal Hill is one of the best view points in Cape Town. On every day of the week (except Sunday), canons are fired from Signal Hill. This has been happening since 1806 to relay the precise moment of 12:00pm to enable ships in the bay to check their chronometers, which are crucial for navigating rough seas.

After taking in the views of the city, we drove to Truth Coffee Roasting, which was named the World’s Best Coffee Shop three times. We enjoyed some of their signature blends and cold brew. While sipping our coffee, we told Wayne about the electricity going out while we were waiting for the elevator at our dinner the night prior. Wayne explained how this electricity outage is recurring and is called power shedding. The increased demand for electricity in South Africa over the past two decades has led to a shortage in electricity production and the government needs allocate electricity to avoid outages. Citizens here check an app each day to determine when the power in their neighborhood will be out. While we there, the country entered Stage 4, which meant the power was out for about 8 hours each day. Wayne explained how the app is helpful because he and his family can look at it each morning (similar to how we look at our weather app) and plan out their day around the power outages.

After an exciting morning, we headed next to Table Mountain and took the cable car to the top. Although it is a hikable mountain, our driver the day prior mentioned that Table Mountain claims more lives each year than Everest, so we skipped the hike and jumped on the cable car.

After spending some time at the top of Table Mountain enjoying the beautiful views, we got back in the car with Wayne and drove to Hout Bay Harbour Market. This market was extremely authentic and Wayne assured us that we were the only tourists there. We enjoyed a late lunch and Cody purchased some locally-made sunglasses.

Then we went to Camps Bay to enjoy the beach and have some delicious juice shots from Kauai.

On our way back to the hotel, we stopped in the Malay neighborhood of Cape Town which is filled with many colorful houses!

Wayne insisted that, while in the Malay neighborhood, we try koeksisters. They were basically fried dough balls and absolutely delicious!

Then Wayne took us back to the hotel and we met our travel agent, Natalie, for a drink at Gigi Rooftop. It was so great to meet Natalie in person after rescheduling this trip so many times during COVID and Zooming with her often!

After drinks we just stayed at Gigi Rooftop to have a low key dinner and head to bed early to conquer our jet lag!

Monday, November 8, 2021

We started our morning early by ordering room service and making sure to meet our guide, Clive, in the hotel lobby by 8:00am. Once in the car with him, we drove along Chapman’s Peak Drive, which is one of South Africa’s most famous scenic drives. Along the drive, we made some stops at beautiful overlooks and also in a bohemian town for coffee and bathrooms.

After about 2 hours, we made it to the Cape of Good Hope Nature Preserve. There was absolutely no line to get in and barely anyone it the park (one of the silver linings of COVID impacting tourism right now). We stopped a few times within the park to see the many types of flora and fauna unique to South Africa. For example, Clive showed us beautiful white flowers that felt like dried out paper!

Clive also stopped along the road to show us a bunch of ostriches! Supposedly their vision is so good that they can see clearly for 3 miles. That being said, their brains are so tiny that they tend to be extremely dumb. Clive also let us know that ostrich meat is very popular in South Africa.

After a few stops with Clive, we parked the car at Cape of Good Hope.

After taking a touristy picture in front of the Cape of Good Hope sign, we hiked up for about 10 minutes. At the top, Clive told us to take a quick break and enjoy the views while he prepped a surprise…

When we turned around, Clive handed us glasses and was ready to pour champagne to congratulate us on our marriage and honeymoon!!

While drinking our champagne, we encountered our first (of what we will assume will be many) baboons!

After our baboon encounter, it was time to keep trekking on to enjoy the beautiful views of Cape Point!

From Cape Point, we made our way back along False Bay to Simon’s Town to view the African Penguins. We got right up close to the adorable creatures that populate the beach in hundreds.

After penguin viewing, it was time for lunch! Clive gave us a few options in the area and we decided to go to a spot in Kalk Bay called The Courtyard Cafe. The food was delicious and we tried Rooibos tea, which is very popular and made in South Africa. It was yummy!

From lunch, we made our way to visit the world renowned Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, which were breathtaking!

After visiting the gardens, Clive dropped us off at the hotel. We relaxed and then went to our dinner reservation at The Potluck Club. The restaurant was in a very bohemian, newly developed food market and was on the top floor. While in the elevator heading up to the restaurant, the song Everywhere by Fleetwood Mac started playing!! This is the song we listened to throughout our 2017-2018 backpacking journey anddd it was our first dance at our wedding! We both started cracking up when we heard it playing and the other couple in the elevator looked at us like we were nuts! Not only did the elevator ride exceed our expectations, but so did the dinner!!

Tuesday, November 9

We FINALLY had a good night’s sleep and slept over 9 hours! We took our time getting ready and then had a leisurely breakfast at Gigi Rooftop.

We then packed up, said goodbye to the friendly man at the front desk and the security guard, and hopped in the car with Clive to head to wine country! 🍷

About 30-45 minutes outside of Cape Town is Stellenbosch, which is a historically Dutch farming town, home to a large university, and contains many wine “farms” (yes, they call vineyards “farms” here 😁).

Clive dropped us off for our lunch reservation at Delaire Graff Estate. Wow was it incredible!! We made sure to order Cap Classique, which is a sparkling wine that is similar to champagne!

After lunch, we walked around the Delaire Graff wine farm and then Clive picked us up and drove us to La Clé Des Montagnes! The staff greeted us with open arms, we unpacked, and then we soaked up the sun until dinner time. 🌞

For dinner, the staff at La Clé made us a traditional South African braai. Traditionally South African braai are meats and vegetable dishes cooked over an open flame and served with salads. Not only was the food delicious, but the table setting was beautiful as well!

After dinner, we enjoyed the gardens and relaxed ❤️.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

After a very, very good night’s sleep, we woke up and had breakfast on the patio right outside our room 🤗.

We then walked 5 minutes into downtown to explore and check out the local shops.

After our walk into town, we hung at the pool at La Clé until it was time to head to our lunch at Le Lude Estate and Orangerie Restaurant. This wine farm is famous for their champagne (or rather “Cap Classique”) which is the bottle Jessie and Aaron gifted us during our first meal in Cape Town!