It was my first time in San Diego, or actually my first time out to the West coast so we wanted to make the best out of our short trip. What a memorable adventure this was. From listening to the waves of the Pacific Ocean, to standing in awe of the Grand Canyon and sliding down the sand dunes in Brawley, this was a trip to remember for a lifetime! A lot of this letter was a reflection of this trip, where in hindsight I should’ve just took more time off to enjoy.
We flew into San Diego where Carl’s parents live and set off to our first stop, Las Vegas. This trip was more for sightseeing and not so much the nightlife so we stayed at a Holiday Inn off the strip (which was still nice and cheaper). We only spent a full day in Vegas so we did some shopping at the Premium Outlet, had a delicious buffet dinner at the Bellagio and toured the hotels at night. Most stores on the Vegas strip stays open till midnight so Carl and I did some damage.
Our next stop was the Lake Mead National Recreational Area, which was only a 50 minute drive away. This area consists of Lake Mead with smaller lakes like Lake Mohave – reservoirs on the river created by Hoover Dam and Davis Dam surrounded by desert terrain and wilderness. On the drive up, you get to see the depth of the reservoirs and the different shades in the rocks. This portion of the trip took around 2 hours just to get out of the car and take some pictures.
Then we were off to check off one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world from our Bucket List, the majestic Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is a steep-sided canyon defined by the Colorado River with nearly 2 billion years of geological history. Also something to keep in mind, we went on this trip in May, and considering the fact that it was more desert areas we only packed shorts with us – this was a mistake! At 7,000 feet above sea level, even in May, the weather was quite chilly. We spent the next day here and stayed at the Grand Canyon national Park Lodges. If this is where you’d like to stay, you must book months in advance!
After a 2 hour drive, we got to my favourite place on this trip, but also a place where my naive 22 year old self I didn’t spend enough time appreciating (instead, we visited a random but decent outlet mall!). Up until this trip, I had never seen naturally coloured red rocks before. As Sedona’s main attraction, the famous red rocks are formed by a layer of rock known as the Schnebly Hill Formation. The Schnebly Hill Formation is a thick layer of red to orange-colored sandstone found only in the Sedona vicinity (wiki). That night, we drove into a small parking area off the main road turned off the car and gazed out in the sky. To this day, I can still remember how clear the night sky was. Given the opportunity, I would definitely go back.
From the red rocks of Sedona, we made our last stop to the Imperial Sand Dunes Cahuilla Ranger Station. The Imperial Sand Dunes are the largest sand dunes open to off-highway vehicle use in the United States. The dunes begin 10 miles southeast of Niland and stretch all the way into Mexico, over 40 miles away (ISDRA Sand Dune Guide). Standing on top of the sand dunes, it felt like the endless Arabian desert minus the heat. The sand was cool to touch and fine to sand on. There is the opportunity to rent an ATV, unfortunately for Carl, it was closed by the time we got there but what we did get to see was the incredible sunset with layers of vibrant colours. This night was also a special night to remember, Carl tried his first heart-attack-Double-Down from KFC.
And this concluded our 7 day road trip to some of the coolest places by the West Coast. We’re quite proud to conclude that on this trip, we drove more than 1,200 miles (that’s almost 2,000 kms) and more than 20 hours of total driving time – talk about a road trip!
Share your road trip route in the comment section below!
Holguin, Cuba. This was my first trip to Cuba and I had a few questions that even veteran Cuba travelers couldn’t remember answers to.
- What currency do I pay in? Do they exchange Canadian or American dollars?
As a traveler, they will exchange your money into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC almost 1:1). Cuban Pesos are local currencies that are not exchanged to travelers. We brought both American and Canadian currency with us and had no issues with exchange either at our hotel. However, they do not accept coins.
- Where do I get my currency exchange?
Our flight was late at night so the exchange at the airport was closed (although we were told we can get slightly better rates here). Of course, our hotel also provided currency exchange as long as we have our passport and (duh) cash.
- Who do I look for when my flight lands?
There will be someone holding up a sign of the tour company you signed up with. As you board the bus, this will be the first time you tip so be prepared to bring some American dollar bills.
- Should I book an ocean view room?
On selloffvacations.com to get an ocean view room, we had to pay an extra $10/day/person + 13% HST so we decided against it. When we arrived at the reception, I tried my luck and asked if there’s a possibility of an upgrade. She showed me a list of prices and it was for $110 to upgrade so we shook our head, but then she told us that since it’s our first time in Cuba, we can get it for $65 and of course we accepted.
- Should I tip in gifts or money? How much should I tip?
I did both! Every day I left a gift – some clothes I’ve never worn, or jewelry that I never used – along with $1 CUC. For the first day of the week and the last day before I left, I left a nicer gift as well as $2 CUC.
- Where should I buy those famous Cuban cigars?
There were cigars available for purchase in the hotel gift shop. However, if you have time, go for an excursion to a cigar factory! They’re much cheaper, and honestly, the tour guide will also have some sort of hook up in the city to sell way cheaper cigars from the factory workers. But that’s at your own discretion.
- My flight leaves at 9pm, what do I do between check out and time to the airport?
You have two options. You can either pay extra for a late check out or have your baggage locked up while you soak up the sun! We paid the extra money for a late check out – reason being that after you’re in the sun you’d want a nice shower and possibly a nap! The public shower at our resort closed at 4pm and we didn’t leave till 6pm. Also, if you’re staying at a resort similar to ours, the resort was entirely outdoors and there’s no such thing as cooling down in an air conditioned bar/restaurant.
- Are there any other charges?
There is actually a $25 CUC departure tax you have to pay before you leave the airport so be sure not to spend it all! There is no way around it.