8/13/2018

Mia's Adventures at Palawan & El Nido and 12 Useful Tips!

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, I spent last October traveling around the Philippines.

Originally, I was supposed to go to Bali, but due to the sudden activation of the volcano, we had to cancel our trip and change our plans only less than 2 weeks before the departure.
We already had our first leg; Helsinki-Bangkok by Finnair (lovely business class of A350 of course) booked. It's the only pleasant way to travel long-hauls and especially if you have 2 more connecting flights after your flight!


We decided to book flights from Bangkok to Manila and from Manila to Puerto Princesa, in Palawan, of which we basically knew nothing about.
As if it would be as simple as that...

After the arrival at Bangkok, the 2 consecutive flights were both delayed for hours, in the end, it actually took 28 hrs to get to our hotel, which was way more than we anticipated. However, the funny thing is, we didn't even have a hotel until we were waiting at the Manila airport... Now that I think about it I can't believe we left it so last minute!
Well, we were going to be in the Philippines for the entire October so we figured we'd have time...

Tip No 1. 
When you fly in Asia during the monsoon season, prepare yourself for delays, they are inevitable.
(There was a major thunderstorm in Manila, for which reason all flights were delayed), which leads us to

Tip No. 2. 
Buy local SIM cards at the airport. Buy 2 separate cards from both operators as it depends on the area which car has coverage. It was really cheap so we ended up buying multiple cards during our stay.


First Accommodation

So, we simply just took a leap of faith, which ended up being a good one. We booked our first night to Canvas Boutique Hotel  (Link to the hotel's website:  CANVAS BOUTIQUE HOTEL (click here) which is only 3 star hotel but seemed like a good bargain. Yes, you know me, not very typical of me, but this trip was going to be different, I wanted to experience shabby beach bungalows as well as 5 star hotels, so I reckoned 3 star was a good start...

Hotel's exterior and the pool area


It was actually a very nice hotel considering it was only 3 stars. The service, or at least the willingness to serve us well, deserved 4,5 stars for sure! For example, I didn't book any pickup service from the airport so you can imagine what an amazingly lovely surprise it was after traveling for 27 hrs to see a sign that says Mia when we arrived at the airport - they just decided to pick us up! Wonderful!

Our room was surprisingly spacious and the pool area was nicer than in many 4 star hotels, which was a great bonus and yes, of course, I jumped in as soon as possible!

I loved all the artistic details they had in the hotel, in particular, all the murals they had all over the walls. We were told that they actually tell stories of villages and villagers' lives, how fascinating!


Hotel's breakfast was really versatile and even though I have food restrictions I was able to have all the food I needed, much appreciated, which was also a pleasant surprise was the fact that the staff had relatively good English skills. 
The bar in the restaurant and our breakfast & dinner table

The reception and the restaurant patio


It was time for us to plan our next adventure, which was to rent a car and drive to the small local town of Sabang, which, based on Google Maps was only less than 50 km away...
The receptionist was kind enough to connect us with his friend who rents cars and I insisted that we take the strongest and biggest car available - don't ask why, I just did, and that was the saving grace for us as it turned out later! So we chose to rent Mitsubishi Montero Sports GLS, which was huge, I didn't realize how big it was until I saw it. Its roof was above my head when I stood right next to it and I literally had to climb in, cool, this is going to be fun I thought. Oh, well, there's different types of funness... I bet that's what my friend, Charles McCool would say.

Tip No. 3 
Don't even think about a road trip in Palawan without a four wheeler!

Our route map, white spot on the left lower corner was our departure spot, Puerto Princesa & our car 

The Road Trip Begins

While trying to navigate out of the city of Puerto Princesa...

While in town, navigating the SUV among the local transportation.
After exiting the town area enjoying the first part of the drive; lush greenery.
we knew we have to make a pit stop at the local mall (which was huge, by the way) to get all kinds of necessities as we figured it may be our last chance to get some and thank God we got them, that was the only proper shopping mall we saw during the entire trip!

After we had done our last chores we took off around 4 pm and thought we'd reach our destination by 6 pm aka around sunset. It didn't take long to see that the jungle was right out there. That trip that was supposed to take about an hour turned out to be a 4 hour trip including a visit to a local, very small fisherman village and driving at times very carefully as there were so many dogs running around and they were like reindeers in Finland's Lapland, they couldn't care less if there was a car coming down the road - as if it was their kingdom and it's the driver's duty to give road to them. I am still up to date amazed we didn't hit any of them!

Tip No. 4
If you think it takes an hour to reach your destination, add two hours and that's more likely what it takes and always, always WATCH OUT FOR THE DOGS!

Again, we were naive and thought we can google a hotel while driving. Ha! After 20 min drive, we lost all our WIFI connections and we basically just had to trust our luck to find a hotel once we get to the town.

It was a lovely ride though, I love watching locals in their very own environment and that local fishermen's village, oh, so authentic and peaceful, filled with tiny, mean mosquitoes tho as the place was surrounded by mangroves, which apparently mean you get eaten alive unless you spray plenty of repellents - which I should've known, after all, we do have the insane density of mosquitoes in Lapland - but the difference is, you can see and hear them, these ones, you can't!

Tip No. 5
Make sure that you carry some mosquito repellent spray with you at all times! Where there are mangrove trees, there are sneaky little mosquitoes, that bite without you even seeing of feeling anything, but you'll feel it soon, trust me..

On the left:Arriving at the village - On the right: Some gigantic roots!

A local fisherman (and his friend in a 3-wheeler) who insisted I take a photo of him and his fish,
and how about that, the bird decided that it wants to have its photo taken as well!


We also got to see first Filipino sunsets along the way, too bad that lush jungle covered most of it.

Tip No. 6
Every now and then, take the Road Less Traveled #TRLT - you'll never know what you'll discover!



I do have a somewhat photographic memory though, so I remembered for example wherein the national park area begins, so when the sunset was over and the darkness came (which by the way caught us by surprise, it was pitch black dark, the only light were the lights of our car) we had no idea where we were other than that when I saw that really lush jungle and some mountains I knew we were around the national park area and that it wouldn't be too long now.

We also got our WIFI back about 3 min before we got to the town, which meant we were able to google some hotels. Well, it turned out that there were only say, 3 hotels that I accepted at that point.
Once we got to the town we realized that it's not actually a town, it's a small village with only a few street lights and a tiny little harbor for people to go to their underground river excursions.

The first hotel we saw was the Sheridan hotel (Here's a link to the hotel's website: http://www.sheridanbeachresort.com/

I've already written a blog post of the hotel, which you can read here:
My Lovely Stay at the Sheridan (click here)


Sheridan turned out to be a wonderful hotel and we stayed there for two nights. I actually partnered up with them for which reason I only paid media price for the room.

Next stop - who knows?

After Sabang we only knew that we need to get back to the main road, and it was actually quite lovely to see the surrounding area in the daylight, it is surrounded by beautiful, rocky mountains. And that approximately 50 km was heaps faster now as we were actually able to see the road and all the animals on it: Dragon sized (like Komodo dragons) lizards, snakes, water buffalos, cows, chickens, dogs, a monkey... it was like driving around in a zoo - WOW! Cool!
During our ride, we also saw some interesting looking local transportation vehicles...



Now we reached the main road again, which was kind of a relief, to be honest, driving there is so much easier, after all, there were at least some type of lanes there.

Tip No. 7
Don't rely on WIFI when driving around on an island, you may either have it or not!

Once again, we just went for it, no plans, no hotel booked, we just decided to keep on driving once our WIFI is on and then google the next hotel. We went to check out one hotel alongside the main road but no, I didn't feel it. So off we go to the next one. It was called Astoria Palawan Astoria Palawan's website (click here) which turned out to be one of, if not the best decision of the entire trip.
Once we went to the reception, I already had a good feeling about it. Hotel's GM, Joy Suarez showed up, I introduced myself, we made a deal (which lead me to cooperate with also 2 other Astoria hotels during our trip, those are in the island of Boracay, which is currently closed, but will open again soon, please read about them from my blog - you'll love them!) and we decided to stay there for 3 nights.

Check out my enjoyable Astoria Palawan, Astoria Current & Astoria Boracay blogs here:
(By the way, Astorias in Boracay had the most amazing sunsets I've seen in my life!!)

BE WARNED THOUGH, you may find yourself booking a trip to the Philippines...

ASTORIA PALAWAN's blog post (click here)

Astoria Hotels in Boracay:
ASTORIA CURRENT blog post (click here)  & ASTORIA CURRENT's website (click here)

Whitebeach by Astoria Current
ASTORIA BORACAY'S blog post  &  ASTORIA BORACAY'S website (click here)

Astoria Current served the best food (night after night) I've ever eaten, delicious!
Tip No. 8
No need to plan everything ahead, sometimes just going for it, letting go of all the preparations may lead you to wonderful experiences and meeting beautiful, kind-hearted people, such as Ms. Joy, whose wonderful personality I will always miss and hope truly that our paths will cross again one day.


Next stop, Port Barton - let the next adventure begin..!
It was about 3 pm we finally got to take off, and we figured, we'd make it around 6 pm to Port Barton.
Since basically, the only places that popped up during our search of Palawan were Puerto Princesa, Sabang and Port Barton (and of course El Nido) we decided that we want to explore those places. So, this time we decided to be smart (yeah, right, as if!) and book our stay in advance. So we browsed hotels and bungalows on the web and we agreed that after staying in lovely 3, 4 and 5-star hotels so far, it was now time for something different. So we decided to book a one night stay at a beach bungalow resort called Sunset Colors. We paid for it and got the confirmation but boy oh boy, we had no idea...

Tip No. 9
Check out the actual location and how to get to get to your hotel when you book your stay, don't trust OTA's info!

Again, huge mistake, we trusted a) the location b) the driving time estimation given to us by Google Maps. Since it was a monsoon season the condition of this road was unreal, however, I'm pretty sure it may be even worse at times, which we thought was crazy, and we seriously wondered how an earth locals got through the thick, sticky mud with their tiny little mopeds!

There were so muddy spots on the unpaved parts of the road that I literally didn't know whether to cover my head from hitting the roof of the car or hold on to my dear life so that I don't hurt my head while going sideways when the car was just going everywhere uncontrollably (well, it wasn't but it certainly felt like it as you just couldn't drive slowly in those muddy spots otherwise the car ended up being stuck so all I could say was, hell yeah, step on it!) and you wouldn't believe how bumpy a soft, muddy road can be. I thought I could tell but no, nope to the nopest nope. Now I know.
Well, I wanted adventure, and that I certainly got!

At least the road was wide here, there were spots our SUV barely could fit in as the road was so muddy & narrow!
Expect the unexpected and you'll be fine. Yes, it was one adventure on top of the other, however, we were literally in the middle of NOWHERE so had we been stuck, it might have taken hours, even a day before someone showed up to rescue us...

Ok, so it started to feel like we may be heading to town... and reading the famous Port Barton.. and based on Google Maps, the road to the Sunset Colors would actually go past the "town" (village,  in my opinion) so, naturally, that's where we went. However, we ended up to the point where the road so narrow that I couldn't stay on it with a scooter, so there was no chance for us to go there with our SUV. Now what? There was no room to make a U-turn. For some reason, I love reversing cars and I'm actually really good at it, so we made it back to the spot wherein we were able to turn around and head to town, wherein we actually got our mobiles up and running again.

We decided to call the resort and turned out that we should have known to be there at the certain time, and they would have picked us up from the village's pier. It was already way beyond sunset and we had no idea where we were.

Well, we knew we were in the middle of the Port Barton village, a place that had maybe 20 "houses" (here they would be called something else, maybe a hut or something), a couple of bars (fit maybe 5 people), no supermarket, just some locals wandering around.

We were told by the resort manager (on the phone) that they would send someone to pick us up, and hey, we got lucky! That person who was supposed to pick us up with the earlier boat, had seen us and since our SUV was somewhat unusual sight there, he guessed that it was us! So we just decided to leave our car behind, trust this man with no English skills, and take our small bags (for 1 nights exotic stay) with us, and leave everything else behind into the car. So we followed him through the pitch black night with no idea what you're stepping on... My imagination was running wild, no denying.

Next thing I see (barely) was a tiny pier and a boat next to it. Ok, that's our ride but how do we get there? By taking our shoes off, walking there - and let me remind you, it was truly dark, for all I knew there could be any type of creatures on the bottom of the ocean, I can't believe I was so calm when walking there, I was the only one that had to take my shoes off as they were not meant to be used in water.
That boat ride, about 15 min in the middle of the night, in a moonlight was something I NEVER forget. At first, it was a bit scary but it soon turned into a fascinating adventure and I got excited. This was what I came to the Philippines for - to experience some real, local life. Boat rides in the middle of the night on a fishing boat, when we arrived at Sunset Colors, again, barefoot walk to the beach and to the "reception" which was also their "restaurant". This place was something else. It was literally just a two-storey hut made out bamboo and that's it. They had electricity on only twice a day when they prepared food, other than that, we were on our own. Quite a strange feeling to go to bed not knowing what's around you and not even a mosquito net around you. You were able to hear all the sounds of the jungle - WOW! And the room temperature was around 30-35 C - but to my great surprise, I slept pretty well.

On the left: Single/double hut - in the middle: the OCEAN VIEW from the 2nd floor!
On the right; "main house; the restaurant & reception downstairs and two rooms upstairs.
And that view I was lucky enough to wake up to was something I never forget - so peaceful, surrounded by a lush garden and only maybe 9 people in total in the entire area... Jungle sounds were so strong, lovely ocean breeze... This is what I call a paradise!


Unfortunately, we didn't have much time to just chill, maybe two hours as we had to continue our road trip as we only had one more night left with our car. Had we known what type of lush, isolated paradise it was, we would have booked it for at least 2 nights, despite the brutally basic (but calming) room.

The stars? Don't know about the official rating but the way they showed hospitality and took care of us was 4 stars (I wish there were separate ratings for service & premises). Price? I think it was 25 Eur/night, so not the cheapest beach hut, but certainly the cheapest hotel night for me, probably in my life. (well, it's up to you if you want to call it a hotel, I don't really care. I'm just pleasantly surprised how much I loved this living right in the middle of nowhere. Stunning!
(Oh, by the way, this place is not in Port Barton, it's a bit further north, in a place called San Vincente, which again, we didn't know until the day we were leaving. Irrelevant for us at this point, but relevant info to you who may want to visit it one day!

Website? Well, couldn't find any, but just google Sunset Colors and you'll find plenty of info.


So above is a photo of our room, as I said, it was just a bamboo room with a double bed (with pillows and sheets) and a bathroom and that's it. There was a fan but didn't work. It might have been more pleasant if it was turned on, but we didn't bother, especially since the electricity was turned off, I think around 9 or 10 pm. That alone makes this a perfect place to enjoy outdoors, the ocean and just to get proper rest!

Port Barton
El Nido is calling!
I have wanted to experience El Nido's islands for as long as I can remember. I've seen photos on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and I knew they were my travel goal.

So, once we got to Port Barton we got to our car, and started heading back to the main road, meaning we would have to drive that muddy, bumpy road again! Luckily now it was a bright, sunny day so the road was more dry, less muddy and it was easier to see as the sky was clear. We were able to actually also focus on the surroundings a bit and we didn't even realize that the road was circling along the mountain's side. Now I realized why the road was the way it was. When it rains, all the water comes down the mountain, goes across the road, makes those unpaved legs muddy (and quite dangerous).

On our way we saw local kids walking home from school, they were all waving their hands, I heard "Hello" multiple times while we drove by. I started to film them and wave back, and what a joy it was for them, they were jumping up and down, I was able to see that from the rear mirror. Everyone seems really enjoying their lives here, which was nice to see as these people certainly don't have much, they work very hard, kids walk kilometers to get to school and back home, and the humidity is high as is the temperature. Their positive, happy, grateful attitude is something I certainly picked and want to carry with me every day for the rest of my life.


On this leg from Port Barton to the main road and then on our way to the north, we learned that weather can change here, on this island very rapidly. One minute the sun is shining and all of a sudden, you see dark mass of clouds approaching and you can sense the pressure, and you know it, winds will pick up, the sun disappears and the next thing you know it's raining cats and dogs....

You know how much I love the sun so what do I say?
I say Yay! Adventure!!
Nature's phenomenon is something I've always enjoyed, whether it's a storm, northern lights, thunder, typhoon...


Thunderstorm on its way...
On our way we also saw some pretty spectacular ocean views that we just had to stop to admire and, of course, photograph. Oh my days, the amount of beautiful things on this island is endless!



It was amazing how the colors of the ocean and the sky changes depending on the location, the number of clouds, the depth of the water, reflections... When I was watching photos that I took, I couldn't find two photos with ocean or sky having the same colors - literally, wonders of nature!

Finally, after driving hours and hours (felt like it), up and down the hills, we noticed that we are approaching our last hotel in the island of Palawan. This one we booked already while still at Astoria Palawan, and this one was basically booked only to stay overnight as we would get picked up in the morning from the El Nido pier and we'd get a boat ride to our next hotel. Wow, what an adventure that turned out to be. Well, I wished for adventures.

Tip No. 10
Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it!
On the left: Our construction site view from the hotel
On the right: Our paradise-like view from the boat the next morning

The hotel was called Swiftlets Inn.

Tripadvisor says it's 4 star - well, I would've given it 2. First of all, the construction site noise is 24/7. Secondly, there were power failures all the time and it was very important for us to get all the appliances (phones & laptops charged, I'm a travel blogger, I can't work without them, although this trip was a combined work & leisure). Further, the humidity in our room was so bad that even our sheets were wet and we were told that there's A/C in our room - well, doesn't help much if there's no electricity. Despite the somewhat odd vibes that I got there, and despite all the fatigue, the positive side was, everyone tried to serve us to their best abilities. 

It was time to return our rental car, which meant we had to carry all our luggage up to the top floor along those very steep, very narrow stairs. I'm quite short and those steps were literally up to my knees! Which would be fine without luggage...

We slept ok, after a long day and in the morning the sky had cleared up and it seemed like we were going to have an awesome weather for the boat trip to our next resort.
Again, all kinds of mix-ups... but finally, someone showed up and picked us up with a minivan. He drove us to the pier and told us to wait there with our luggage. This really started to show us that we are NOT in a well-organized place. I'm very well organized and always plan things ahead and one of my fortes is to take care of a hundred things at once, so for me, this was somewhat a culture shock. However, it was a nice day so no problem, we just wait and they will come - and they did, it just took a bit longer than expected...It was a long boat ride, probably about an hour, luckily the weather remained relatively nice until we got to our destination, Seahorse and Mangroves hotel's pier platform.

Seahorse and Mangroves
The first form of action, how to get safely to the platform as the sea was getting quite rough? Well, I jumped while one of the boat guys pulled my hand, and I ended up having quite nice bruises - yes, that was an accident but it (slightly) pissed me off because I asked them not to touch me as I knew that I'd be fine as long as I do it myself.
Not a good start... ok, let's stay positive, they were young blokes, maybe they are just inexperienced.

Nothing could have prepared me for what was yet to come. Talking about the inexperienced staff...

There was a very long pier to walk to get to the hotel, which would be lovely if only it felt safe. It was wobbly and felt like it's going to give in any minute.

(But I had to admit, it was very picturesque!)


It was a jungle island with a hotel on it, no beach, no entertainment, but it looked like it has a nice patio/deck where one could relax, play cards, read a book and have some cocktails... Little did I know. Dream on, Mia, dream on - not happening in this place.

We had a welcome snack (I think it was pineapple and some juice) waiting for us, which was a pleasant surprise, except that we had to share them with flies and ants. Ok, now this is starting to feel like the tv show Naked and afraid, except that we weren't naked - thank goodness for that as those mosquitoes would have eaten us alive. They were just brutal. After the first day, I was unable to go outside, I was so badly bitten.

We were greeted by Layla, the resort manager and quite honestly, I think it's just simply too much for her to handle - she is kind but she lacks skills and authority, as well as energy and determination.
I can tell she tried, but it became obvious within the first 5 minutes that she is not trained and skilled to run a hotel.

I don't often do this but now I do:

Pros:
+ When the weather is beautiful, the view is stunning and it's fun to go kayaking and to snorkeling tours around El Nido
+ Beds were quite comfy
+ Stunning sunsets
+ when in luck, they provide guests with fresh fish, which I heard was delicious (I don't eat seafood)
+ it has potential (but not until someone else owns it and a professional staff runs it)
+ the furniture and woodwork was beautiful, truly looked high quality and expensive, loved it

Cons:
- The transportation process was very confusing both arrival and departure
- On stormy weather, the sewer system was not draining, on the contrary, and the smell in the bathroom was disgusting
- There's no bar or an actual restaurant, just some tables out on the deck (again, would have potential to be heaps better under a proper management and some major investments)
- got a stomach bug/food poisoning there (many guests have had that)
- when it's raining there's nothing to do there
- you can't get off the island without asking the staff to take you to other islands i.e. to Palawan
- communication is not working


Our room was relatively spacious, in particular, due to its separate dining space right when you step into the room. It had a separate sleeping area from which you have access to the bathroom.
At first, it seemed to be ok but once that horrible smell spread everywhere when there was a heavy rain outside I realized things aren't all right. After dinner that night I got a different type of adventure, a long night in a smelly bathroom, that was absolutely horrible, the worst experience of the entire trip! Thank god I didn't see that giant cockroach in the bathroom until later!
Had I seen that I would have probably swum my way out of there!

On our second day the weather was beautiful again, in the morning, however, in the afternoon I felt the thunderstorm of my life! I mean, I was sitting on a wooden deck built on a giant rock that basically covered half the island and a lightning struck somewhere behind me - that sound, I will never forget it, it literally scared the living daylight out of me!! I have always respected mother nature and its signs and I reckoned, this was a strong sign for me to get back to my room and stay there...

On the left, minutes before the storm - On the right, sunset in the evening, after the storm had past.

Snorkeling

So we booked a snorkeling tour around El Nido area for a day and that was a superb experience.
El Nido Tour A (click the link open) - which was exactly what I was hoping to experience while on El Nido area. Unfortunately, I didn't have back then a waterproof camera so I don't have underwater photos. However as you can see, I have photos of some spectacular scenery along the route. Snorkeling was fun, the only downside was that the Big Lagoon had way too many people with kayaks in it, you really had to be careful as they seemed to be thinking that ones in the water should give them the way, which is totally odd as when you snorkel you watch the water, not above the surface! But overall, worth every penny, I absolutely loved it and can't wait to go on a snorkeling trip again in a place where they have warm, calm waters!




Tour A included masks, snorkel, fins, lunch, soft drinks and transportation and some guidance along the way. We got to see the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon (which literally was huge!!), Secret Lagoon and the Commando Beach, which I particularly enjoyed as it was all for our group of 3 for a while before another boat showed up (the photo in the middle). Loved the calm water and there were so many fish there, just beautiful, I wish I could stay in a place like this one day. (It actually reminded me a bit of the place in Koh Tao, about 10 years ago.)


After all of this, we were quite ready to leave and pamper ourselves with a nice, luxury hotel, so we booked a night at Matinloc Resort, located on Matinloc island.

On the day of our departure, there were some problems with our invoicing, which is not uncommon in this place based on other people's experiences. We got that sorted though, finally and then we (so) ready to check out.

We got driven to a different beach than where we got picked up, which totally confused us, especially since we had set up a pick up for our next hotel already. The staff (aka boys) took our bags and led us to walk across the muddy wasteland to the side of a very busy road, from which we had to drag our bags to the car, which would supposedly take us to this El Nido beachfront hotel, Matinloc's pick up spot. Thank goodness it actually happened.

I was pretty much done with all the next to none communication, I don't mind walking around, I don't mind taking care of my own belongings, I don't mind the adventure etc. - on the contrary. But what I mind is when things don't happen how they were said to happen or when someone tries to charge us extra for pretty much everything.

Anyway, that was it, we were waiting for our Matinloc boat to arrive, and once we got into that one it immediately felt like luxury. It was a speedboat so it only took like 15 minutes to get to Matinloc, YAY! Service, luxury, proper food, clean environment, beautiful beach and pool area... The sad part was that the weather wasn't that good on the day of our arrival but of course it was perfect when it was our time to leave on the following day!


Matinloc Resort


This was a beautiful resort, we could tell. Not quite the 5 star luxury I experienced, for example at Astoria Hotels or Grand Hyatt's etc. but certainly luxury compared to what I had just experienced for the last couple of nights! MATINLOC RESORT's website (click to open)


Arrival pier of Matinloc Resort

On the left, reception desk & on the background the restaurant
On the right, the building wherein our room was
There were some constructions going on during our visit, which we didn't know of, that was a bit disappointing, for example, the other pool was closed and some noise existed. Further, considering the fact that it is a luxury resort, they should know what gluten-free meal means, but I had to order even French fries (which I don't even normally eat, but graved for some reason that day) three times before I got the ones that were not covered with breadcrumbs.




Well, that was basically the only downfall at that point, I was so happy we got out of the smelly place. I had to wash some clothes as even my clothes had an unpleasant odor in them!

It was a lovely resort to wander around, take photos, just enjoy the view and lush gardens. Its beach was nice, beautiful sandy beach and the water was excellent for snorkeling during the high tide, a lot to see in the sea!


Tip No. 11
Always check if there are some construction work happening at the hotel, as they often do that when it's not the peak season!


I wish we had more time there but unfortunately, it was only one night, as the following day was our time to leave El Nido and the island of Palawan and head to lovely Boracay, which turned out to be much more stunning than I ever anticipated!

Tip No. 12
Don't bring your fanciest suitcases, you'll never know how they get treated, my brand new suitcase was carried most of the time but this last drop off was a completely different story, those guys literally dragged it in the sand!! Those wheels didn't roll at all after that, I had to rinse them before trying to use it as a rollable suitcase. (It was heavy, about 25 kg so I couldn't carry it and there was a reason I bought a suitcase that can be easily rolled around.)

Our plane to Caticlan from which we had boat transportation to Boracay
Overall, this was just a fraction of everything I experience in Palawan and El Nido areas and even though the lady luck was not always on our side and everything wasn't perfect all the time, I wouldn't change this experience for anything else! There is a lesson to learn in every misfortune and they certainly show that there are so many things to be grateful for. My wanderlust is incurable and I feel so happy to be able to do what I love the most; travel!

I felt so blessed that I got to do this trip, it was one of my long-time dreams, now I can tick that off my travel goals list and start to plan my next adventure!

The most important tip of all:

ENJOY THE MOMENTS, they are always over sooner than you can imagine
.


Thank you my dear #TravelTribe for reading and sharing the link to my blog to your followers, your support means a lot!
I hope you enjoyed my Asian adventures!

Live, love, laugh and get connected, the world is filled with wonderful people! 

Peace!

P.s. Have you been to the Philippines? What did you like most about it?
If you haven't, would  you like to? What in this blog was the thing that makes you wanna go?
Feel free to comment, would love to hear your input!

5/08/2018

Rovaniemi, the Northern Star of Finland's Lapland

My Dear Readers,

Today I will tell you about the city that has a very special place in my heart, now and forever.


ROVANIEMI - The Shining Star of Finland's Lapland!

Winter 2017-2018 was very different for me - compared to other winters during the last, say 10 years, in such a cool (literally) way!

I spent it entirely here in Finland without any trips to tropics and in my opinion, I spent most of it in Finland's best place, namely Rovaniemi, the official hometown of Santa Claus and the city of endless summer nights.

Jätkänkynttilä bridge and an ice swimming hole "avanto" (ice swimming translates to avanto uinti)
I just recently found out about a worldwide study that proved Lappish air to be the freshest and purest in the world - how incredible and awesome is that? That alone is a very special reason to visit this northern gem, especially people from metropolis probably can't even comprehend the peacefulness and the freshness of the air we have here.

I was born in a very small town called Salla, near to Russian border in Lapland but raised in Rovaniemi. Some Sami blood runs in my veins from my dad's side so I'm proud to say I'm a true "lappilainen" (someone whose roots are in Lapland, have been for generations).

As most of you know I've been in hospitality industry more or less for the last 20 years.
I got an opportunity to import some wonderful travel bloggers to visit Rovaniemi in January-April 2018 and to co-operate with a company called Santa Claus Holiday Village as well as with Visit Rovaniemi Oy along with many local vendors.


I have to say it was a lot of work to organize all that, sometimes felt like I was working 24/7 but at the same time I enjoyed it a lot and had so MUCH FUN!

Rovaniemi is located about 900 km up to north from Helsinki, with the population of approximately 62 000. The city center is relatively small, however geographically the rural area is quite wide and thinly populated, which is actually one of Lapland's charms - if you want to go wander by yourself, you can. Lapland is the place where you can hear the silence, you can hear the wind, and that is the beauty of it.


In this blog post...

I will briefly introduce you the 3 travel bloggers along with links to their websites.

Further, you get to learn a bit more about Rovaniemi, accommodation, dining and activity service providers that sponsored my blogger guests and, I will also briefly share some information of a few dining options in town.
I've mostly chosen to introduce you places that sponsored these bloggers because, well, let's face it, sponsors deserve to be acknowledged and, besides, I only chose the type of sponsors to cooperate with that I could warmly recommend to any of you, my dear readers.
However, please don't get me wrong, there are plenty of absolutely wonderful other service providers and tour operators in Rovaniemi area as well. On this blog though, I mainly focus on those that we cooperated with.
Links to their websites are also added hereto so that you can perhaps start planning your next holiday to this magical place called Rovaniemi!

This was taken in January, this is the brightest it gets that time of the year.

BLOGGERS and a brief introduction and links to their sites

Pip & Luke Jones

The first visitor in early January 2018 was a travel blogger Portia Jones and her husband Luke Jones. This couple lives in Cardiff, UK and it's safe to say, despite their relatively young age, they've been to many wonderful places and certainly have done trips worth sharing and stories worth telling.
Pip and Luke stayed in Rovaniemi for an entire week and during that time they stayed at 4 different places.
As I later realized, every time my blogger guests arrived in town, it got more and more snow - as if the universe had known that now is a good time to provide these guests of the taste of what it's like living in Rovaniemi during the winter season!

You may read more about this wonderful, cheeky beautiful young woman here:
Pip in the City (click this to open the link)

Portia aka Pip is a lovely, sparkly world traveler and if I had to describe her by two words, I'd say: laughter and adventure.
Her writings are about travel, food (and wine) and good living, she has a lovely, fresh way of expressing herself and painting pictures with words of places she visits. I warmly recommend to follow her via social media!

Pip's Blog Post of Rovaniemi (click to open)
You should definitely read her writing, she has done an excellent job in describing their experience whilel visiting my beloved Rovaniemi!



Dante and Alexander (Alex) Harker

My second travel blogger/travel influencer/writer visitors were Dand and Alex. They are a funny, outgoing and adventurous couple from northern England. Dante writes also fiction, not just blogs and has many professions other than being solely a social media travel influencer, whereas Alex is the one who gathers all the details, makes sure they have all the necessary facts and plenty of photos and also in cooperation with Dante is responsible for the content on social media. Alex also has his own career in another industry but on this trip he was very much involved in gathering information, taking photos etc.

Dante and Alex experienced activities mainly at the Arctic Circle, or at least that's where their activities started from (got picked up from there).

More of them here: Dante Harker's website (click this to open)
Dante and Alex were in Rovaniemi for 4 nights in early March and they spent all nights at Santa Claus Holiday Village.



Family McCool - McCool Travels

My third travel blogger/travel influencer guests were the McCool family;
Charles McCool of McCool Travel (click this to open the link) is an independent travel writer, speaker, and a consultant, as well as an ambassador of fun travels and positivity.

His lovely wife Julie Bingham-McCool of Fun in Fairfax VA (click this to open the link) mainly shares her experiences in dine, wine and fun play in Northern Virginia, the area they live in. They traveled with their wonderful, adult daughter Katherine who was at the time studying in Sweden.

This super cool, fun loving and adventurous family visited Rovaniemi  5 days, at the end of March-early April and stayed at Santa Claus Holiday Village for 3 nights and at Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi for 2 nights.

Their schedule was probably the busiest and they got to experience perhaps more than the others, mainly because the season was almost over so area's service and tour providers had more time to host them too. I had such an awesome time with them, in particular, I enjoyed watching them trying local winter activities...


I have to say I feel so privileged to have met all these wonderful people. We are all part of the same travel tribe that constantly supports each other on social media. We "tribers" are very loyal and supportive for everyone's cause; we share each others' posts, tweets, blogs, whatever the content is that one puts out there. This way we can all provide our partnering companies the type of social media publicity that is extremely beneficial to all parties; to companies that partner up with us, to us, bloggers and most importantly to people who search for information in order to book their next trip,  adventure, tour, experience etc.

Our circle of "travel tribers" is large, when our network is put together, we easily reach millions of social media users, which means we get information and experiences shared quickly around the world, in a way that is pretty much impossible to get done in any other way and, that makes us such a powerful marketing tool for travel and hospitality companies. Not just macro but also micro influencers truly are a force to be reckoned with!
We are influencers, marketers, storytellers, adventurers, wanderers and friends, basically normal people around the world with strong passion, which makes us truly dedicated to whatever it is that we do.


ROVANIEMI

The best way to find out wonderful facts and information of my old (and future) hometown, this magical gem and center of Finland's Lapland is to check out the website of Visit Rovaniemi (click to open the link) - it has pretty much all the info you need and much more!

***

One of the things many travelers miss even though it's right next to the city center is our beautiful church. In particular, around Christmas, walking in the area is truly calming.


Rovaniemi is well known for many things, here are just a few:

1. Of course, the most famous person and reason to visit Rovaniemi is probably our very own
 Santa Claus (click to open)
Charles, Julie & Santa Claus taking an "elfie"! 
2. Nature's very own attraction, always so intriguing phenomenon is the Northern Lights (click to open)
Northern lights on a Northern Lights tour 
3. Location of the city at the Arctic Circle (click to open) is quite exotic as that's where you enter the arctic region.
4. We have these beautiful endless summer nights when you can see that unreal midnight sun (click to open) and as a contrast to that, we have our unique "Kaamos" - the time in the middle of the winter season when the sun doesn't rise at all.

If you ask me, Rovaniemi is so much more than just those 4 things.

Life in Rovaniemi is very much in connection with nature and seasons, of which there are 4;

Winter can be brutal in someone's opinion but I always say, it's about having the right kind of gear. It's dark, it's cold, but it's also magical, snowy and filled with joy, especially among tourist who feel that festive ambiance due to snow, all the trees decorated with Christmas lights and of course because our dear old Santa Claus is there all year round.
Spring in Rovaniemi area is stunning, weather can be a bit unpredictable but also so beautiful with clear, blue skies and the night sky filled with dancing northern lights.. Days are getting warmer, snow starts to melt, colors are changing from shades of white, sparkly snow to many shades of blue sky, snow turning into the water when melting, then nature starts to change it colors to greener and greener, migrant birds start to return...
Summer, that is the most magical time in Rovaniemi - you can literally say it's a place where you don't have to sleep if you don't feel like it because there will be no darkness when the night comes. Midnight sun will shine even at 1 am. At first, it may be confusing but you get used to it and soon you grow to love it because it makes your days feel so much longer; you can go wander in the woods at 2 am and you do not need to worry about getting lost in the darkness, you can go fishing at 5 am and it's beautiful and bright.
Well, I do want to mention one thing though, that might be a bit of a shock to people who come to Rovaniemi at summer time for the first time: mosquitoes. I honestly can say that I have never seen so many mosquitoes than in Lapland, the density is quite unreal - but again; after a few days you get used to it, there are so many spectacular things around you that you just don't want to waste time worrying about mosquitoes.
Rovaniemi at summertime is filled with countless opportunities to try all kinds of activities. One of which is canoeing and with two major rivers; Kemijoki and Ounasjoki, you have excellent circumstances for that. Want to plan more fun things to do? Go to: Visit Rovaniemi - what to do?
Fall in Rovaniemi and Lapland area is super colorful before it turns the world grey. Foliage can be spectacular, and even before that those warm August nights when days are getting shorter, nights darker, you may even get lucky and see the first northern lights.
September-November brings the foliage; colors of the trees take your breath away, just like the fall seems to take trees' lives away - but it doesn't, they just drop their leaves and get ready to sleep over the winter. Nature takes its course and the circle of seasons starts all over again...
The beauty of life in Rovaniemi 💖

When you plan your trip to Rovaniemi, Visit Rovaniemi website is the place to find the info, the accommodation, the tours etc. They are always happy to help and at your service!


Sponsored ACCOMMODATIONS that bloggers got to experience 

Santa Claus Holiday Village

Santa Claus Holiday Village (click this to open the link) is located in Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle, about 8 km from Rovaniemi's city center. You get there easily either by taxi or by bus, although the last bus goes, I think around 5 pm.
If you are staying at this lovely holiday cottage resort, they provide you with free airport transportation, which is really handy as most people have quite a lot of luggage when coming to the north, for obvious reasons; cold weather requires many layers of warm, thermal gears. Although, in case you want, you can rent thermal suits and boots from the resort, so no need to take all of them with you.
Santa Claus Holiday Village's Gate and its cottages 
This holiday village consists of 74 classic and superior cottages, which all have their own little kitchen, sauna and a small patio outside. There are two separate apartments in each of the cottages, they only share the entrance door and a little hallway, from which both apartments have their own doors to the entrance and everything else is very private.
Each of the cottages accommodates either 2 adults (+ 1 adult on sofabed or 1 or 2 children on a sofabed). So, for example for bigger groups getting two, adjoining apartments i.e. one cottage is an excellent solution, as well as to bigger families.
There are Superior Cottages and Classic Cottages which both have same basic amenities and superior cottages have some lovely extras along with some extra services as well as breakfast served in Three Elves Restaurant.


All of the bloggers stayed here, Pip and Luke for 2 nights, Dante and Alex for 4 nights and McCools for 3 nights. You may see more photos and information also on their social media channels, so make sure you check them out!
Inside the cabin
There are two restaurants in this resort and breakfasts are served in both of them; Three Elves Restaurant and Christmas House Cafe/Restaurant.

There is a free wifi for all the guests.

Sometimes there can be fire in the sky by nature and sometimes by humans...


Santa Claus Holiday Village is owned and run by Inga and Marko who you can meet daily working around the premises. The village has been established years ago and Santa Claus Holiday Village is still run by the same family that established area's first souvenir and gift shops decades ago.


I very much enjoyed wandering around the village at night time, whether it was chasing northern lights or the magical full moon. It is so peaceful there. For me, it's self-explanatory that it's safe to wander around, whether it's in the village or in the woods, but I just want to emphasize that here as well, Rovaniemi is a very safe place in so many ways.


Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi

Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi (click this to open the link) is a city hotel right in the middle of the city. The hotel has been there for decades and for me it's an essential part of the city center.

It's part of the Scandic hotel chain. Scandic's beautiful, uniquely furbished rooms provide you with a relaxing stay within a walking distance of all the main attractions of the city center. Scandic Rovaniemi has 178 rooms and its own restaurant as well as a public sauna and a gym.
Breakfast is included and served daily for its guests. For non-guests it can be served for certain small charge.
The entrance of the hotel and a centerpiece inside of the lobby area

Rooms really have this relaxing, Lappish vibe and I have to say I was a bit envious that I couldn't stay here, only my guests Pip & Luke and McCools did, both for 2 nights and they all had only good things to say about this wonderful hotel and its services for which reason I can warmly recommend this city hotel to anyone who wants to stay at a hotel that has wonderful service, great, recently renovated modern rooms, with all the necessary amenities.

There is also an outdoor parking space here in case you have a car at your disposal. However, I do want to emphasize that this hotel is perfect if you want to explore Rovaniemi without driving!


By the way, I love their family room; the beds for children are hidden into the wall and can be put away for the day and then pulled out for the night - how smart use of space is that?!
On the left, the family room with wall integrated beds.
Lobby bar of Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi
Lobby Bar of Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi is on street level and very easy to access. You can just sit down, have a chat with a friend, have a few drinks, or just read day's paper or watch TV and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.


Apukka Resort 

Apukka Resort (click this to open the link) is located about 20 min drive from the city center. This authentic, beautiful resort stands by Olkkajärvi (lake Olkkajärvi) and is ideally situated in terms of chasing the northern lights and enjoying a pristine Lappish nature.


Apukka resort has 117 beds and you can choose from private rooms, apartments, holiday homes and Aurora Cabins.

Following photos are all of Aurora Cabins, wherein you get to sleep under the stars, but lucky for you, in a warm, very cozy, comfy bed! That spectacular glass ceiling provides you with a unique panorama view and the best part is; it's heated, which means it stays clear even on the coldest winter nights. All cabins have shower, minibar and a wifi.


I did not have an opportunity to see Apukka's other accommodation options but based on what I've heard, they are pretty fantastic too!

The one thing that I would, in particular, like to experience, just because it's so different from anything else is their Aurora Wagon, which can be transported anywhere to spend the night under the starts, watching the northern lights and enjoy the sounds of Lappish nature - and by this I mean, in Lapland, you truly CAN to hear them, because there's just you and the nature!

Read more about Apukka's exotic and interesting accommodation options here:
 Apukka Accommodations

There is also an exotic, supercool - eh, I mean hot sauna world at Apukka resort wherein you can enjoy the igloo sauna and then cool of in a heated jacuzzi under the stars - it doesn't get much more exotic than that!


Apukka Resort also provides its guests with multiple activities to choose from.
There is also a restaurant in the resort and breakfasts are served daily free of charge for resort's guests.


Pip and Luke stayed here for 2 nights and McCools experienced a sauna & jacuzzi night under the stars during their visit to Rovaniemi.

Apukka is an exotic resort with a relaxed vibe and true feel of nature as there is no traffic or disturbing city lights, you really get that feeling of being in the middle of Lapland's unspoiled nature, you can see the stars, you can watch the northern lights dancing above the lake...
Hands up, who would love to experience that? Well, you know what to do if you do!


Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara

Lapland Hotels Sky Ounasvaara (click this to open the link) is located on top of Ounasvaara hill, in the Ounasvaara Winter Sports Center.  The hotel is part of Lapland Hotels hotel chain.


This hotel has been part of Rovaniemi's travel scene for a long time. It is surrounded by a spectacular nature and views from the top are incredible. Here, you can experience the culture, the cuisine and the sports, all in one place. Sky Ounasvaara's restaurant serves breakfast daily for its guests.


Sky Ounasvaara has accommodation options from basic hotel rooms to high-quality holiday apartments. Most of the rooms have their own sauna, which, naturally many travelers find very luxurious. Those beautiful holiday apartments are located about 200 meters from the hotel and are in semi-detached houses, with plenty of space for families and for example group of friends.



Pip and Luke stayed in this nature surrounded hotel for one night on their trip to Rovaniemi.


Snowman Word - Lumiukkomaailma

None of my blogger guests stayed here but we got an opportunity to visit the place.



During the winter season, there is an amazing snow structured ice hotel Snowman World (click to open) in Santa Claus Village area in the Arctic Circle. The place is filled with unique snow carved figures, like the snowman Charles poses here with. (cf. below)


It has a cool (literally!) ice bar, actual hotel rooms made out of snow and they also have beautiful hotels rooms in Igloo Hotel. If you wonder how on earth can you sleep in a hotel room made out of the snow; well, your bed is actually heated and you get proper sleeping gear for it. I tried the bed and it actually felt really comfortable and I wish I had a chance to actually stay there overnight! I sure hope I get to fix this next season!

They also have the more (a lot more) luxurious accommodations in their Glass Resort. They are currently building more of these fantastic Glass Resort accommodation units, and once they are finished this place will certainly be one to beat in the area. You will hear more of these from me, for sure!

In these beautiful Glass Apartments have pretty much everything you can ask for: pristine Lapland nature view is the best part and probably the reason people from all over the world come here for.
These luxury apartments have also fully equipped kitchen, beautiful sauna, lounge area and on the top of the circular staircase is the sleeping area, what could be more appealing that fall asleep watching the stars and northern lights?



These high standard Glass Apartments are very well executed, well designed with high-quality products, they have services that make guests' stay very effortless, which for me is one of the main definitions of luxury, for example, tablet computers that provide guests with a direct connection with the front desk is something I know I would appreciate as high-end guest - in particular when guests often come from Asia wherein technology in hospitality industry is so much further along than ours is.



Staying in one of these Glass apartments is, for sure, truly a service-oriented, unique experience that I can warmly recommend to anyone that wants to stay in the middle of the Lappish nature and yet enjoy all the services and facilities of a luxury resort.

Drinks by this bar are, for sure, cool, straight or on the rocks! So if you think you may not stay warm enough, a shot of Finlandia Vodka will certainly help you with that!



Snowman world was open until early April and will open again next fall, i.e. later at 2018.
Stay tuned with what's happening by checking out their website: Snowman World



ACTIVITIES

Many of the activities mentioned below were experienced by all the bloggers.

Outdoor activities

Husky sleigh rides


One of the most liked activity was a husky ride, organized by very professional BearHill Husky (click to open) again, conveniently located at Santa Claus Village at the Arctic Circle. (They do have their actual farm elsewhere but we went to our rides here.)

I went to one ride myself too, with Dante & Alex and it was fun, I do have to admit, although, unlike other days, the weather wasn't the best, about 0 degrees and very hard for the huskies as the snow was so wet. They did seem to love running though so no worries, no animals were harmed - nor humans!


All of my hosted bloggers got to experience husky sleigh ride provided by BearHill Husky.


On the left:  Charles practicing snowshoeing - it's fun but also hard work!
On the right; Charles & Katherine saying Hello! to one of the huskies. 


Reindeer Safaris

All of my blogger guests got to experience a visit to a reindeer farm as well as a reindeer sleigh ride.
There are many companies that provide such safaris but my guests' safaris were all arranged by ChristmasHouse Safaris.

Guests got picked up from the Santa Claus Holiday Village's reception lobby and got driven by a minibus to a local reindeer farm wherein an authentic reindeer farmer told our guests more about the life of reindeer farmers and facts of reindeers as well, which foreigners, in general, find very interesting. Guests got to feed some reindeers and they were also taken to reindeer sleigh ride, which everyone spoke very highly of after the experience.

If you are worried about how you tolerate the weather, don't. The storytelling will happen by a bonfire in a tepee, while having a hot drink and if necessary, the tour operator will provide you with all the necessary thermal gear and boots.

I don't have photos of reindeer farm trip & safaris because I wasn't there with my guests.
Here are 2 photos of Pip and Luke's experience, thank you Pip for letting me publish them here!


Here is a link to a wild, wild video of a reindeer sleigh ride, filmed by Julie Bingham-McCool:
Reindeers gone wild!
(No animals or humans were harmed during the filming, it's just their competitive nature.)


The Ranua Wildlife Park

The Ranua Wildlife Park was established in1983 and it specializes in arctic animals and species. There are actually about 50 different animal species in the area, living as close to their natural, authentic environment as possible. The Ranua Wildlife Park is a member of European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), which has several programmes with aim of healthy, genetically well-varied populations of endangered species in wildlife parks, in order to ensure their survival in the future.

Ranua zoo is about an hour drive from Rovaniemi and it is open every day of the year.
The only bloggers that got to experience this wonderful place were McCools. Their trip was organized in cooperation with ChristmasHouse Safaris (transportation & guide) and Visit Rovaniemi as well as Ranua Zoo (the tickets).
Ranua Info by Visit Rovaniemi

This is how Julie Bingham-McCool described their visits to Ranua Zoo:
"It was excellent! Loved the boardwalk through the woods. Felt like a woodland hike with wildlife stops. Our guide was very informative. Watching the big cats was the highlight!"

Unfortunately, I don't have photos of my own of Ranua excursion as I didn't join McCools for this one, but Julie was kind enough to allow me to use these photos:



Meeting Santa

Pretty much every one of the hosted guests was like a child again; smiling from ear to ear and being nervous when they got to sit down and meet with the big boss. Who? Well, the Santa Claus of course! We went to meet him in his chambers and my guests got to have a nice chat with the man himself. Who is, by the way, old enough not to be able to count the years of his age because he falls asleep before he gets to the end! If adults get this excited over meeting this kind man, you can only imagine what happens when kids get to do the same, their energy and excitement are probably at the point where they are ready to go through the roof.


Both Santa Claus visits, as well as Reindeer farm safaris, were organized by Christmas Houses Safaris (click to open) - which has a sales desk adjacent to Santa Claus Holiday Village's reception (i.e. inside the same building). You can also book these tours online.

***
Further, bloggers and their families all got to try some various winter activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, sliding the down those snow hills, making snow angels etc.
There's probably about a hundred other outdoor activity - winter and summer based that you can try out in Rovaniemi, these were only a few of them. One, very traditional, another crazy Finn thing to do is ice swimming. Yes, you read right; not ice fishing (although we do that too, very much so) - I did say ice swimming.

Another, very old tradition that we Finns love is our saunas and in particular, rolling around in the snow between the löyly (that moment when hot steam arises, caused by throwing water to the hot stones in the sauna is called Löyly).
Now that people live more and more in cities, this crazy but actually fun tradition is vanishing. We do cherish it where ever possible; in our summer cabin saunas, in rural areas etc and we certainly recommend everyone to try it at least once when in Rovaniemi / Lapland in the winter time and going to saunas. It may be best to wear your swimming gear though if you feel it's a bit too much to roll around in the snow out on the open, naked and afraid. The choice is yours, though, trust me, Finns have seen plenty of people doing that and we really don't pay That much attention to it!

Northern Lights

Above, at the beginning of this post is a photo of one of the ice swimming holes, located by the Kemijoki river. There is a sauna next to it so you can experience a true extreme experience by being in a hot sauna first and then walking into ice cold "avanto" (hole in the ice) and go for a short swim. Experienced ice swimmers normally have some type of socks our wetshoes (something similar that you'd wear on a beach with many corals) on as well as a swimsuit (regular, summer suit) and a beanie on, that makes it more tolerable, I presume. I've done that myself but without any of the extra gear, I didn't know about them so I just went for it - yes, not going to lie, it was freezing cold! However, when the weather is way below zero, say -20 C, the water is actually warmer than the air, as the water is around zero!

Dante and Alex had no luck with northern lights as the weather was very cloudy and snowy during their visit. McCools actually got to go on the Northern Lights' tour, but unfortunately only saw one minor light.
However, Pip and Luke were lucky in that respect and based on their reactions, it was worth getting really cold and waiting for the phenomenon for hours outside. You should check out Pip's social media accounts to read more about their experience!

Northern light tours were organized in cooperation by Christmas House Safaris and Santa Claus Holiday Village. However, there are plenty of Northern Lights tour operators in Rovaniemi to choose from. There are even Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis flights - however, I would like to remind you that regardless of what anyone tells you, there can be no guarantee that you actually do see northern lights on these tours. There are ways to predict the odds of seeing them but still, it's a nature's phenomenon, so no human can control it and either turn them on or off. Although the aurora forecasts are getting more and more accurate along the technology, for example, a cloudy night may prevent you from seeing them. The best month to actually see them is statistically March due to its most amount of clear sky nights.

I did some private excursions to the wilderness, which is one of my favorite things to do in Lapland in the middle of the winter. And my waiting was rewarded: I saw multiple mind-blowing northern lights! It was -25 C and I had about 5 layers of cotton & woolen clothes underneath my thermal winter clothes. I also made a little fire for myself so I was just fine. It's an incredible feeling to be in the woods, all by myself, no one else but me and about a million stars and then, all of a sudden, those breathtaking northern lights are dancing all over the sky!


I will never forget that feeling. If it is that meaningful and unforgettable for me, who is originally from Lapland, I can only imagine what if feels like for someone who has dreamt of seeing proper northern lights for their entire lives.

I also attended to two of the Christmas House Safaris Northern Lights' tours, it's pretty awesome to join a group of Santa Claus Holiday Village guests as they are so excited even for the experience; being in the woods at night time, when it's way below zero. This tour operator luckily have these two lovely little huts with firepits in the middle so guests can get inside, get warm, have some hot drinks and they also get to fry some Finnish sausages above the fire, which is, by the way, very traditional thing in Finland, we always do that when camping.


Snowmobiles


McCools and Dante & Alex got to try out snowmobiling too, provided in cooperation with Visit Rovaniemi and Arctic Snowmobile Park  (located conveniently at the Santa Claus Village).

On the left, McCools are getting their training on how to handle a snowmobile, on the right; Dante & Alex.
That is a very common thing to do in Lapland and pretty much every local has driven a snowmobile. Especially in the old days, owning a snowmobile was more of a necessity than an apparatus to have fun with.
Many travelers are excited and yet a bit nervous to do this. I noticed that among the visitors, women often rather sit back and enjoy the ride whereas men take care of the driving. This is not always a case, but it does happen quite often. I think the reason for this is that women think snowmobiling to be harder than it actually is. If you've done jet skiing, this is piece of cake!
Snowmobile safaris/excursions can last from 30 minutes to days!

However, remember if you book a snowmobile safari, with this wonderful company or any other company, you cannot drink and drive, it is an absolute no. Further, in order to be able to rent a snowmobile, you have to have a valid driver's license (with you, not sufficient if you left it to your hotel room).

You get all the necessary gears from head to toe from the operator so you don't need to worry about that. They will tell you how to operate a snowmobile and what are the rules for driving on those routes.

So, all you need is a driver's license, an open mind, and willingness to have fun!


City activities:

One city activity that pretty much everyone loves is going to Rovaniemi's museums. Visit Rovaniemi was kind enough to sponsor these guests Culture Passes (click to open) so they got to visit all the museums they wanted. My favorite is, without a doubt, Arktikum museum (click to open) as it is interactive and tells so many stories that involve Lapland, Finland, our culture etc. I've visited it multiple times and each time I see something I haven't seen before and learn something new. This time they had an exhibition called "Hot Stuff - Arctic Dating and Mating" and I have to say if I was a prude, I would have had some blushing cheeks - good thing I'm not. It was actually quite enjoyable and humorous, especially since the signs and art were based on facts and people's stories.

Another fun thing to in Rovaniemi, which we didn't try though, is Fat Biking (click to open) - I bumped into a group of bikers on top of Ounasvaara and that looked like a lot of fun, I hope I get to try that myself one day and I sure hope you do too!

One of the most popular places to go for a walk is by the beautiful Kemijoki river that has 3 bridges that provide you with fantastic views.

This sunset photo I took at 1.30 pm - yes, you read right, not much after noon. In January, that's what's life like in Rovaniemi, full of nature's wonders!




DINING

All guests had breakfasts included to their stays at all resorts.

I will not comment in details the menus of restaurants as they are very often changing after seasons so by the time you get there one day, they are not what they were this past season.
However, I can give you one great tip though: You can't go wrong if you choose reindeer or salmon!


Three Elves Restaurant

In Santa Claus Holiday Village all of the above-mentioned bloggers dined at Three Elves Restaurant which is located in the main building. There is also a lobby bar at the imminent vicinity.
You may check out the menu here: Three Elves Restaurant (click to open)

By the way, even though I was basically always the designated driver, I heard that the drink list and the cocktails here at the lobby bar are quite great and worth checking out so go for it once you're there! I mean, after all, most likely you're on holidays!



My favorite meal was, without a doubt the grilled chicken. However, most of the guests said the reindeer burger was the best. Well, we all have our own favorites...



Sky Ounasvaara Restaurant

Pip & Luke also had a lovely dinner at Sky Ounasvaara Restaurant (click to open), which by the way got to be among 50 best restaurants in entire Finland, that's is such an honor. and a huge achievement. Although, I'm not surprised. I know their head chef, Tero Mäntykangas and he truly is a superstar of Finnish chefs, he knows Lappish food inside and out and he is very innovative with new ingredients and dishes. In Lapland Hotels' restaurants, you often get to try combinations that have not even been invented elsewhere yet.
Unfortunately I do not have photos to share of this experience, however, if you check out Pip's social media, you will certainly find some beautiful foodie shots!


Nili Restaurant

I took all of my guests to Nili Restaurant (click to open) - the most Lappish restaurant in town.

Love & marriage and bread & shots

The interior design is simple, based on all natural materials such as logs, reindeer hides and horns, old skies, etc. which gives the restaurant truly an authentic vibe, makes you feel as if you have been taken about 50 years back in time, and yet they serve superb food made of local ingredients, as organic as possible.
Our waiter, Waltteri and our shared starter/appetizer: Rovaniemen Markkinoilla - a mixture of local delicacies


The drinks are often very Finnish, such as Finnish Lingonberry Vodka, which every guest got to try and also liked. The yellow drink on the left was my sea buckthorn berry shot - non-alcoholic, of course. This particular berry happens to be extremely healty, very rich in vitamin C.


I was always the designated driver so I didn't have any of the alcoholic drinks, although, I did take my family to Nili as well as I sincerely love the place and wanted them to experience it as well. Food will never let you down, I can promise you that, neither does the service.


Everyone seems to really enjoy working there and part of Nili's charm comes from people who work there; serving their customers with joy and always smiling!


Rakas Restaurant and Bar

With McCools we had an early dinner at Rakas Restaurant (click to open) which is located nearby the SantaPark, only about 1 km from the Santa Claus Village. We all were extremely satisfied with our meals and both my guests and I loved the warm atmosphere of the place.
Word Rakas translates to "My love", which I think is a superb name for such a cozy and yet stylish restaurant!

The lobby area of Rakas - our table is the furthest one on the left.

On the left: starter: King of the Arctic Ocean (which Julie commented to be absolutely delicious!)
And this is how the lovely starter was served (filmed by lovely Julie Bingham-McCool):
Serving the King of the Arctic Ocean

On the left upper corner (of the photo above) was our table, right next to the floor to ceiling windows, providing us with views to Finnish nature along with the houses of Arctic TreeHouse Hotel (click to open) - which is part of the same company with Rakas Restaurant and Bar.

If you don't feel like dining, you can just sit down by the bar or relax by the beautiful fireplace, which, in my opinion, was the real centerpiece of the lobby area, I just couldn't walk by and not take some photos, as the area had such warm vibes. I could easily imagine myself sitting there with a drink, reading some magazine... Such a lovely ambiance!

On the left; Mccools and on the right; my starter from the All day menu: 
Rakas restaurant's design is very warm, with some nature-related decor, spiced with stylish details. Absolutely a beautiful place with very professional and friendly service.

Delicious local dishes; reindeer stew "Poronkäristys" & whitefish dish (hope I remembered it right)


Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi - À la Carte

Both Pip & Luke and McCools had the opportunity to dine at Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi's new restaurant Scandi Deli, which was opened just recently, at the end of last year. The menu changes seasonally, offering the best flavors and ingredients of each season.
Unfortunately, since I was not with my guests here, I have no photos to share. However, Pip kindly let me publish two of her photos of their absolutely delicious meals at Scandic's à la carte restaurant:


You may read more about it here:
Scandic Hotel Rovaniemi - À la Carte Restaurant




Miscellaneous information:

Car rental
Since I hosted my guests basically the entire time and drove them around they didn't need a car. I However, if you need to rent a car in Rovaniemi, I can warmly recommend Herz Rovaniemi (click to open) - they provided me with a car in early December when I needed one for three days and it was such an effortless renting experience and that Toyota was an excellent choice, much appreciated, thank you!


A fair warning though for you that are not familiar with driving in winter conditions, I'd think twice before driving here. Roads are deadly slippery even with our cars having winter tires and believe it or not, right around the next curve there may be a hurdle of reindeers in the middle of the road and they don't care if you want to drive there or not. They are either stupid or stubborn - or both, but they don't move and give the road to your disposal just because you want them to. If they don't want to do so, they won't - so be prepared. They can also jump to the road, from the woods, all of a sudden, they do not fear cars!


I have to admit, I could write stories of Rovaniemi to the point you wouldn't want to read further. It's the city that has given me so much, I was raised there and now that Rovaniemi is becoming more and more popular and draws more and more travelers each year we plan on moving back there as I can work anywhere with my broad education and decades of experience in hospitality and marketing & sales.

If you have any questions regarding Rovaniemi, do not hesitate to contact me, either with the contact field on the right side column of this blog or just by emailing me (or feel free to DM me via any of my social media accounts!).

Which reminds me, make sure you follow these wonderful bloggers and companies also on social media too!

Special thanks to all of the above mentioned local vendors that were kind enough to sponsor our guests' accommodations, tours, activities, dinners etc. You are all a superb example of Lappish hospitality - no wonder everyone wants to visit Lapland -  you are all superstars, reasons why everyone thinks Rovaniemi certainly is worth visiting!

I'm very proud to say I'm originally (and will soon be again) a citizen of Rovaniemi, the gem of Finland's Lapland and I warmly welcome all of you to visit this exotic and exciting town!

Visit Rovaniemi (website) and you will soon find yourself booking a trip to Visit Rovaniemi for real!

But be warned, you may fall in love with the place, nature, and the people!

Photo taken by Pip Jones, published on her permission.

Thank you for reading and I hope to see you all one day in Rovaniemi. Let me know if you're coming, would love to meet you!


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As always, all photo rights belong to me, unless stated otherwise, like in the above with some photos. Kindly respect that. If you find photos here or in any other blog posts of mine that you would like to use for your own purposes, which are not related to topics mentioned here, please contact me first.