Visa-Free transits in China // 12hrs in Beijing

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Here’s my short guide to the invaluable visa-free transits in China.  The deal- you have up to 72 hours to take advantage of your layover and go explore the city!  (Yes, you can leave the airport!) This applies to most major Chinese cities (Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Tianjin, etc).

So here’s my experience.  We landed on Christmas Eve at around 6am, the visa control was packed and chaotic, and there seemed to be no one working… and no one to ask.  (Correction: nobody to ask who spoke proper english! This really surprised me)  Yep, a not so merry start.

We luckily had booked a tour to see the Great Wall of China, and we were therefore provided with paperwork (which we had printed) which was written in Chinese and apparently granted us a ‘speedy access’.  After standing in a queue for already 40 minutes with nothing happening, we hurried over to the ‘special access’ line immediately, where there seemed to be someone working, to see if they would let us through.  Somehow, they did.  After the temporary entry stamps in our passports, we left the long queues behind us (we definitely saved ourselves over 2 hours!!) and we crossed to the other side, feeling proud and content for being only of a select few granted the freedom to leave the airport!

If you don’t have any ‘special paperwork’ like we did (through booking a tour), I would advise you to literally run to the visa zone as soon as you land.  (We knew what we would have to deal with again on the way back and we were unfortunately without any chinese paperwork to help us get through faster!)  Head straight to the Visa-free transit line on your far left, fill out your arrival form and make sure you have proof of your ongoing flight (show your boarding pass).  Regardless, you will still probably be waiting for at least 30 minutes.

We had 2- 12 hour layovers (before our trip to the Philippines and on the way back).  We prioritised The Great Wall and The Forbidden City to see over these 2 days.

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THE GREAT WALL

We had booked a private car to take us to Mutianyu (the closest part of the wall to the airport) as I read that getting there on your own may be difficult (I may be wrong!).  At a hefty price of €77 each, we were driven to the wall (about an hour to get there) and it cost about another €13 (100 Yuan) to take a cable car to get up to the wall. (Please note: it may be called a cable car, but it’s actually the equivalent of an open ski lift, prepare yourself for a very high up and unsteady ride to the top!!)  The private tour was pricey, but when you’re on a layover and pushed for time (and in below freezing temperatures) we decided it was a worthwhile investment- and it was.  The wall is not something to be missed!  

If you go to the Mutianyu wall, make sure you take the toboggan on the way down the mountain. I was skeptical about it, and slightly terrified… but it was probably the most fun thing I have ever done-  I’m serious!!  (I lost my GoPro footage of this annoyingly!!)  But more or less, you’re speeding down the mountain for 6 minutes on your own toboggan down an open metal shoot and it’s exhilarating (You can see the shoot in the images below).  You will have a lot of fun, so I suggest you do it (Tip: go for it and scream all the way).

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THE FORBIDDEN CITY

On the way back, we tackled the Chinese metro and headed to Tianyamen East/West, which involved a couple of changes, and we entered the Forbidden City (costs 20 Yuan- just under €3).  The scale of the ancient emperor city really will take you by surprise, it was incredible.  After exploring for a while, we left to go eat some authentic chinese food!  This really was an experience, and if you haven’t gotten the jist of chop sticks yet, you better start learning!  (Please note: think twice before you order that noodle soup, it took me probably 45 minutes to finish it!)  When it comes to ordering food, portions can be quite big so don’t order too much, I couldn’t finish and I eat a lot!  No one will speak english probably either, so get your hand movements and facial expressions on point (from living in Italy, I’m pretty good at this by now!)

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We had a successful 2 days in Beijing, but I cannot wait to go back to the city and to explore the rest of the country with more time!  What’s your experience with a China transit?!  Have you visited Beijing?  Leave me a comment, I want to hear your experience!

To find out more information about the 72 Hour Visa-Free Transits, click here

Winter Sun // Fuerteventura

If you live in Europe and haven’t been to the Canary Islands, you’re crazy.  If you have visited, but went during the summer, you’re crazier.

The Canary Islands are the perfect getaway from the cold winters in Northern Europe.  Just under 3 hours travel time from London Gatwick and you’re in 20+ degree sun.  And with regular cheap flights (booked a couple months in advance) you can escape some of the brutal weather back home during the coldest months.  [This is the highlight of the destination, take advantage of the islands during the winter!]

Fuerteventura is my favourite island out of the ones I’ve visited (Tenerife and Lanzarote I’ve been to as well) because of numerous reasons listed below.  Fuerteventura is the oldest island of the archipelagos and closest to Africa and Western Sahara, which means the outstanding feature of this island are the sand dunes… basically making it a doable desert you can visit and enjoy!

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My Top 5 Highlights // Fuerteventura

  1. The island has the perfect culture mix.  It’s a spanish speaking island, but just as many italians live there, and the majority of tourists are british.  So let’s just say I was speaking all 3 languages in a northern African climate (my ideal place really!!)
  2. Food.  The island is well supplied with supermarkets (I would know as I’ve been to most of them in the north of the island!!)  Here you can get lots of fresh fruit (papayas are the one to go for) and lots of good food at cheap prices compared with western Europe.  Restaurants also cook up the mediterranean favourites such as paella and seafood etc.  You must try the famous papas arrugadas which are canary potatoes served with a spicy mojo sauce, they’re delicious!  For my fellow veggies, you will be probably be surprised to hear that there a handful of vegan restaurants and cafes!  (D. Sanchez Bar is the best for vegan burgers!)
  3. You will get the best tan in a short amount of time.  The island is cooled by regular winds (fuerte viento in its name means strong winds but fuerteventura actually means strong fortune.)  You will tan easier without having to deal with boiling and uncomfortable heat!
  4. There are endless activities from buggy riding alongside volcanoes to surfing in the ocean to camel riding in the dunes- if you love outdoor adventures you will be kept busy for sure!  When you’re out and about on the beaches, just watch out for all the Adams’ and Eves’ walking around naked… definitely an interesting quirk to the island!  You will find many of them settling in bunkers on the beach (beware before you go peeking inside them)
  5. The landscape is still very much untouched and unspoilt, the island coastline consists of white sand beaches and inland consists of jagged black volcanic rock.  With a total island population of just 100,000 people all scattered around, it definitely has a deserted (and desert!) feel, which makes the island more intriguing and relaxing if you’re after some peace and quiet.

img_6388img_6551img_6325img_6546img_6133img_6116img_5841img_5844img_5788img_5750img_5674img_5631img_6097Have you been or planning a trip to Fuerteventura?  Send me a message! 🙂

Hell Nido?!?

El Nido (Palawan) has been named as “Heaven on Earth” and is currently ranked as one of the top island destinations in the world.

So why the title “Hell Nido” ?!

This is is actually a nickname by the Filipino locals for El Nido town- Perhaps a bit extreme but I get their point.  I too was disappointed by the actual place, it was overcrowded with tourists, the streets were dirty, the air polluted and there were tricycles everywhere making it difficult just walking around.  There seemed to be a couple decent looking restaurants and shops, but from the few 3 hours we spent there, I can tell you that it was enough.

So as to not be of confusion, the El Nido tours of the surrounding islands and lagoons are what really make this destination spectacular.  We did a combination island hopping tour which involved: Small lagoon, Helicopter island, Cadlao lagoon and Cadlao beach– and I was extremely impressed.  The first stop was my least favourite, not in terms of place (you can see how stunning the water is below) but because it was the first stop in Tour A, therefore many other boats and tourists were already there.  As our tour was organized by our AirBnb, we got our guys to do a combination tour for us, as we wanted to avoid the crowds as much as possible.

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SMALL LAGOON (Note: This was taken after most of the other boats had left- It was packed just 20 mins earlier!)

img_4227So after the first crowded stop, the day got better and better and soon we were dropped off in more stunning locations, with not a single person in sight.  Helicopter island was the perfect pit stop for a lunch break- by far the best lunch time I’ve ever had!!

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Next up was Cadlao lagoon, which is actually where they’ve filmed series of the American TV show ‘Surivor’.  It was really secluded, with the most turquoise water. We swam through an archway of rocks to get to the tiny beach behind, home to some giant lizards!  Cadlao beach afterwards really made us feel like castaways with perfect gold sand and aligned coconut trees and even a hidden path into the jungle!

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CADLAO LAGOON

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CADLAO BEACH

So I can tell you now that we were extremely lucky in our accommodation. A couple of months prior to the trip we were searching for places to stay, only to discover that everywhere was booked up!  What originally we thought would be a disaster, actually worked in our favour. We ended up booking an AirBnB further up north on Twin beach (Nacpan and Calitang). Where we stayed was just an incredible experience, we had probably two of the world’s best beaches right on our doorstep!!  Calitang beach is almost unknown to tourists, and many times we had the whole beach to ourselves (definitely winning).  It felt crazy to me to be surrounded by such a stunning landscape with absolutely no one in sight!  We had a very comfortable stay at Mama Cherry’s (she was the bomb) and we had the most delicious food and fresh fruit smoothies every day.  From our beach I witnessed the most spectacular sunsets I had ever seen, the sequence of images below were taken from one single evening!

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Despite being 45 mins away from El Nido, we realized that it didn’t make a difference as we never left where we were (especially after hearing about Hell Nido, which we did visit for the sake of seeing it!). You can happily enjoy your time in the area, get to know the local people and really live the island life.  There aren’t many options for eating out, but you’ll find that there’s enough.  On Nacpan beach I recommend Prince’s restaurant and on Calitang beach I recommend Mama Cherry’s (of course).

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TWIN BEACH (CALITANG-NACPAN)

Getting to Twin Beach involves a very dangerous but interesting dirt track- vehicles actually cross a small river at one point… I do not recommend driving a motorbike, I heard of quite a few serious (and fatal) accidents which happened the week before our arrival.  For your safety, please don’t do it!  Pay a little extra to take a tricycle, or better still, one of the Jitney buses from El Nido bus terminal.  And if you want to avoid the craziness of “Hell Nido” and really want a relaxing beach holiday, I suggest staying on Twin beach.  But be warned: staying in a stunning location comes with a sacrifice.. There is no phone service out there and don’t rely on wifi either!  We went 6 days without contact, which in hindsight, was the perfect break from our phones to really appreciate every moment of where we were.  I had the best time here!!

Feel free to leave me a message if you have any questions!

Happy travelling! (Please take me back with you)