Insider's Guide To Sayulita

Ay Sayulita! 

This slice of Mexican paradise is filled with beautiful beaches, relaxed surfer vibe, and boho chic sensibility. This is where Mexico-meets-Malibu.

My earliest memory this beachy town dates back to the mid-90's. This was long before it was the "happening destination" and more so of a super sleepy surf town that only those in the know knew about. And, as the years have changed this place, it is still simply the perfect place to be.

It had been many moons since I sat in your golden sand, eating tacos de pescado, surrounded by the resplendent beauty of this pueblo magico.

The Mexican government just designated Sayulita one of its Pueblos Magicos, a pretty polarizing award igniting ire in some locals dreading the bus loads of day trippers from Punta Mita and Puerto Vallarta and glee in others that see ample opportunities for economic growth. But, to me, Sayulita will always have a special place in my heart.

Ready to live the little things in Sayulita? Let’s dive in!

Sayulita
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photo credit:   Paletas La Reinita

photo credit: Paletas La Reinita

EAT WELL

 Naty’s Cocina, I dream of this place when I’m back in the States. You know you’re going local when you wake up and can eat a taco for breakfast, and the best place for this craving is Naty’s Cocina (only open until 2pm). My favorite is the chicken mole. Wow, my mouth is watering right now.

El Jakal is perfect for an authentic Sayulita lunchtime experience. Staples like the coconut shrimp and ceviche tostado are a must, but be sure to ask about today’s catch. You may get to try rare surprises, like a stingray ceviche!

Estrella de Mar Mariscos is a family run restaurant that opened on the Northside of town that I’ve added to my list after trying their octopus ceviche. All outdoors, the menu is simple, fresh, and delicious. The perfect beach fare. Another is Su Casa where you can easily find yourself hanging out here nightly enjoying the fresh cocktails, live band and good-looking staff. And when I tried the freshly smoked ribs, it was a game changer.

A small homestyle Mexican-restaurant, Sayulita Café infuses fine-dining but in a very Sayulita way. This is the kind of restaurant where they never forget a face and they’ll “make” a table in a packed house for a friend just returning into town for the winter.

Cafe’s

Because I love a good cup of coffee, Coffee on the Corner is a great place to stop for morning coffee. They even offer bulletproof coffee and other keto-friendly food options. Yah-Yah is another coffee shop worth checking out. It’s a coffee shop and cafe offering 100% Mexican coffee and delicious food with vegan and gluten-free options.

The beautiful retro style wall mural of Paletas La Reinita will catch your eye but the delicious ice pops and granitas in exotic pairings and cocktails are what will keep you coming back. Try the piña con chile or the rum, coconut and mango; and if you want a really authentic Mexican experience, try a raicilla granita!

Bars

Located in the center of town, right on the square, Bar Don Pato’s is perfectly positioned to be your go-to bar in Sayulita every night after dinner, with a live band playing 6 nights a week and an open mic night on Tuesdays. If a low-key glass of wine is more your scene try Le Zouave de Hafa, a wine bar opened in the last year from the same owners of the Petite Hotel Hafa and right downstairs! In line with Hafa, this intimate wine bar has gorgeous Moroccan decor and true to the Mignot family is a favorite of the expats and surfers of Sayu. To be honest, during my recent time in Sayulita, the bars in town were packed! For a more casual option, I’ve been really into beach fires over a bottle of Clase Azul Reposado or chilling out while living to live reggae at Su Casa.

Fresh, Clean Eats

While the town’s small size makes it hard for too many restauranteurs to venture into the market, a lot of spots now cater to various dietary needs. Sayulita’s boho-wellness vibe is seen around town with their amazing selection of places to eat… clean! This family-run restaurant Yeikame serves mostly Mexican dishes and also pays homage to the local indigenous culture through the murals featuring Huichol elements on its brightly colored walls. While not strictly vegetarian, the restaurant serves quite a few meat-free dishes, like the blue corn quesadillas and the huevos rancheros.

One of the few places in town that commit 100% to only serving vegan and vegetarian cuisine, Veggie Land is open all day for all three meals and is influenced by traditional Mexican cooking methods. The owners source fresh produce from local farmers, allowing for a farm-to-table experience that appeals to any type of eater. While this taco restaurant does serve a lot of meat-based dishes, El Itacate’s meatless section on the menu takes up quite a bit of space and is truly delicious. Some of the vegetarian tacos on offer include garlic mushrooms, poblano chile strips with cheese and carrot “tinga” – a dish normally made from shredded chicken in a chipotle and tomato sauce. Atico Breakfast Cafe & Bar is a vibrant café that serves vegetarian and vegan breakfasts. Besides delicious dishes like wholemeal pancakes made from scratch and perfectly poached eggs, the highlight of this place is its quirky atmosphere with swing seats! Orangy is a juice bar exclusively serves vegetarian and vegan options, ranging from what they call “liquid breakfasts” (juice blends with yogurt) and amazing smoothies to more solid menu items like breakfast bowls with fruit and healthy toppings including chia, flax or granola. It’s the ideal healthy start to the day.

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LIVE WELL

Petit Hotel Hafa ≫ The first place I stayed in Sayulita, I always visit the Hafa team when I’m in town. Founded by Christophe & Marina Mignot, this 6-room boutique hotel is the epitome of the boho-chic traveler’s dream, blending Mexican art and a Moroccan aesthetic in a gorgeous oasis right in the heart of town and just a few minutes walk from the beach.

Villa Amor ≫ A few years ago I would have said Villa Amor was a bit of a hike away, but with town ever growing, Villa Amor’s proximity to the town center seems to be growing as well! This stunning mini-resort rises out of the surrounding jungle hillsides of Sayulita overlooking the ocean with beautiful traditional Mexican palapas style architecture. Close enough but far away, this is the perfect retreat overlooking the water for a little R&R.

Airbnb ≫ Villa rentals were always a booming business in Sayulita, but with Airbnb a lot of property owners have really upped their game! I’m lucky enough to stay with friends while I’m there, but if this is your first time in Sayulita, why not stay with my friends, or at least in their Air BnBs and get a first hand insider’s experience? If Sayulita and MTV Cribs had a modern Morrocan lovechild, it would be my friend Taylor’s four bedroom beach front villa complete with a private bar, chef on request and amazing views of the surf break. Travelling a little lower key? Try my friend Isis’s jungle hideaway a little removed from town’s main drag with mango, banana, jackfruit, passion fruit trees on the property, amazing ocean views and access to a rooftop terrace that I spent many a night star gazing.

Shop

For such a small town, there is no shortage of boutiques in Sayulita with many functioning as galleries as well, displaying beautiful made in Mexico crafts and artisanal goods. My apartment in Portland could practically be filled and look like a gallery itself with pieces displayed from some of my favorites. it’s not though.

This concept store, gallery, bohemian lair is a destination itself. Pachamama has been featured in international mags like Elle alongside owners, Les Gazelles, the Mignot sisters. The Mignot family is tantamount to Sayulita royalty and with family spread through the Caribbean, Europe, and North Africa, they have become world-renowned as synonymous with gypsey life and style. I have yet to spend a vacation in Sayulita without buying something from Pachamama, from bags, dresses to Pachamama’s well known take on the colorful embroidered Mexican wedding dress, even if you don’t buy anyting, it’s a great place to visit and check out..

Set up like a Mexican bazaar, Gypsy Galeria  is one of those shops where you’ll want to leave with everything. do NOT enter this store unless you’re fully prepped with an extra suitcase. From hand-painted Mexican tiles to revamp your kitchen or bathroom to paintings, crosses, and ceramics, this is one of my favorite places in town to shop for souvenirs for friends and family back home in San Francisco or Portland.

You know that cool friend, the one that has the immaculately decorated loft in earthy soothing tones, which each piece telling a travel story? Chances are, she has a piece from Evoke. With pop ups in NYC (where owner Brittney Borjeson hails from) and a new beachside outpost, Spirit, this zen shop should definitely be on your shopping trail when hitting the town. For sale you’ll find beautiful locally made clothing, textiles and jewelry, many of which are made by the Huichol tribe. What sets Evoke’s textiles apart from what you might see being sold in the town square are simply the soft, beautiful colors.

Located in the center of town, the amazing jolly rancher-colored chandelier was what first drew me into Ula Boutique. The only thing brighter than the neon pompoms (another Huichol artisanal trademark) is the smile of owner Paola.

BE WELL

Enjoy the Beach. Sayulita is known as the boho surf town that has grown from a few surf shacks to a blossoming and vibrant boho town. Take a surf lesson, boogie board, go Standup Paddel boarding (SUP) or just lay out and people watch. Sayulita life revolves around the waves so embrace beachtime! There are some smaller, less crowded beaches in the area like Playa Escondida and Play Pedro that are my favorites to take in the sunset and spend a great day with friends. Make friends with a local and find out about some others! There is also Playa de los Muertos is one of Sayulita's most appealing treasures. Tucked away in a little nook of a cove just a few minutes away from the main, downtown beach, many of the swells that roll into the main beach, bringing thrills to wave-riders of all sorts, are blocked by Punta Sayulita.

Jungle Hikes! The terrain surrounding this beach town is breathtaking; there are points where it the jungle seems to cascade down into the beach. There are a variety of levels from the short hike from Villa Amor, which you can actually do with your sandals, to the steep hike up Nanzal Hill that gives you panoramic views of the town of Sayulita, the bay, Punta Sayulita and Monkey Mountain. Monkey Mountain is the most difficult hike in the immediate area surrounding Sayulita, averaging about 4 hours of rugged terrain. The mountain is considered sacred to the Huichol Indians and the trail winds through dense forests, ripe with wildlife from ocelots and jaguars to macaws and jays and beautiful flora and forest canopy. The view is spectacular: a 360-degree view from Bahia de Banderas to San Blas.

 After a successful first year, the Sayulita Festival was back for January 2016. An International Film, Tequila, Surf & Music Festival, Festival Sayulita has already generated some buzz in Latin America. If you’ve never heard of Cumbia at El Camaron , Sayulita is the perfect place to listen to this percussion-heavy Latin American music genre. And there is no better place to dance all night to cumbia beats than beach bar El Camaron, a local favorite.

 

Published 2013; Updated, August 2019

Cover photo credit: Villa Amor

Insiders Guide To Ubud

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Insiders Guide to Ubud

Bali Travel Guide

Nothing inspires holistic wellbeing and healing more than a small peaceful island in Southeast Asia like Bali, with all its natural and cultural features. The island's wellness retreats have it all: beautiful nature, centuries-old tradition, and ancient wisdom to hoist travelers' physical and mental health.

Bali is a place where I'd dreamt of visiting for many years. I'd close my eyes and envision a tropical paradise, a place to "find" yourself filled with rejuvenating, sun-drenched days.

So why did I pick Bali now?

The question is, what took me this long to get there?

It had been a destination that I had always wanted to visit, yet never got to it. When I was given the opportunity to go through a Portland yoga studio's retreat, Namaste On Williams, I felt like I needed to just go...

Go where I felt most alive.

As clique as it might seem to visit Bali, practice yoga and especially "finding yourself," this was a part of Bali I had always envisioned.

It was just about everything. From a soul-centering, blissful week in Ubud, to daily yoga, to the most postcard-picture-perfect beach of the Virgin Beach and jaw-dropping views of the rice terraces, Bali did not disappoint.

So this city guide -- and really more of a visual diary -- is really 84a all about Ubud guide… for healthy food lovers and wellness travel seekers.

Are you ready? Let's dive in!

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EAT

Ubud is a perfect destination for anyone with a dietary restriction, especially for vegetarians. The Balinese weather supports the growth of delicious veggies and juicy tropical fruits. Most restaurants have vegetarian options and try to locally source organic products, some of them even have their own permaculture garden. The results are mouthwatering vegetarian dishes: you'll be spoiled for choice.

While most of my meals centered around the fantastic menu at Soulshine Hotel, there were plenty of places that are worth checking out.

Whatever you do, visit Clear Cafe! Recommended by Melissa Suzuno, a writer and content market whom I met on this trip, had recommended the dessert -- specifically, the raw food includes a chocolate cream pie. It was amazing! But, Clear Café offers locally sourced ingredient dishes that mostly vegetarian and plenty of dairy- and gluten-free dishes. Raw food includes a chocolate cream pie that's riveting. Drinks are equally sensational; nut mylk (from local cashews) is made in-house and substitutes dairy in beverages such as the chocolate matrix, mixed with mint, gingko, and spirulina.

For more healthy eats, smoothies, and gluten-free soups, Atman Kafe also offers organic coffee, cold brew, and kombucha. I've heard the grilled tuna steak salad, and butternut squash salad are pretty darn amazing! The Garden Kafe (at The Yoga Barn) for gf pandan crepes! For a 100% raw vegan cafe and juice bar with a mini organic health food store tucked inside of Alchemy Bali.

Soma Cafe, Sari Organik, and Earth Cafe for plenty of gluten-free dishes. There are also Bali Buda, Seeds of Life, Seniman Coffee Studio, and Dayu's Warung that were highly recommended. For nice Dinners Bridges Bali, Locavore and Mozai.

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SLEEP

Soulshine Bali is the work of musician, filmmaker, and humanitarian Michael Franti. This boutique hotel and yoga retreat oasis is in the heart of Ubud, and the setting of the week-long retreat is a great place to unwind.

Another of the websites that I use the most to book accommodation is Airbnb. If you like to stay in cool places that aren't just vacation rentals, but unique boutique hotels, you won't be disappointed.  It is a closer and personal way to stay.

For the luxe experience or even just a spa day experience, there are, Four Seasons (FS) Sayan, Kamandalu, Padma Resort Ubud and Hanging Gardens of Bali -- think infinity pools, pouring water down the jungle and a perfect place for refreshing both body and soul.

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DO

Ubud's various palaces and temples attest to the neighborhood's significance and dynamics as a destination. Ubud Royal Palace or Puri Saren Agung is easily one of the neighborhood's most highlighted landmarks. With ornate carvings and a magnificent structure, it reverberates a genuinely regal feel but with a calming ambiance amid lush, manicured gardens. Among the must-visit temples in Ubud are the stone-carved Goa Gajah, Tirta Empul Water Temple, and Pura Taman Saraswati with the beautiful lotus ponds.

Nothing says Bali like the sweeping, scenic stretch of Rice Terraces, that has become one of the most iconic sights in Bali. Clear blue sky, tall palm trees, and lush tropical greeneries surrounding different levels of rice fields are surely a breathtaking sight to behold, but Ubud's rice terraces are more than just a postcard-worthy view.

It’s a manifestation of an ancient Balinese Hindu philosophy organized by a local social unit called subak. Tourists can also explore the villages nearby to hear fascinating local stories and observe the customs and lifestyles of people who built and now maintain the beautiful rice terraces.

Ubud Monkey Forest is more than just a natural attraction within a lush forest with hundreds of monkey's roaming around. The 12.5-hectare (30.8-acre) land does offer a serene atmosphere, from the towering trees to traditional stone-carved statues. Built as a manifestation of an ancient traditional philosophy called Tri Hita Karana, the 'three causes of wellbeing,' that include the harmony with God, with other people, and with nature; so it also houses temples and social halls to observe.

Cycling will not only set a more relaxed pace to immerse in the sublime nature atmosphere, but it'll also be an enjoyable exercise to help burn some of that holiday weight from overeating satay or Balinese grilled pork with beer. You can rent a bicycle and figure your own route through the rice fields and villages or sign up for an organized cycling tour in Ubud. Now, my experience cycling was far from a “peaceful ride” due to a miscommunication. But, if Mountain Biking is your thing, that is that as well!

One way to embrace Ubud's tranquil surroundings and the quirky vibe is to get on the yoga mat and hit some poses. The fresh air, warm sunshine, chirping of birds, and shady trees will definitely create a remarkable and unforgettable Zen experience. There are numerous reputable yoga studios in Ubud, many of which offer an all-around wellness rejuvenation, such as Yoga Barn and Radiantly Alive. But if you're feeling adventurous, head to Ambar Ashram and try their intriguing laughter yoga.

For a full on Indonesian experience, a cultural dinner is worth checking out. Dances happen every night of the week, and most performances offer a dinner. Balinese Dance Galore (pictured above), Uluwata Temple, and Devdan Show at Nusa Dua Theater are worth checking out.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links where I earn a commission from. Your support helps keep this blog running! Thanks in advance :)

Insiders Guide to Oaxaca

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I am often asked about my favorite places in the world, and often a conversation occurs where it doesn't cross my mind to mention my beloved Mexico; the motherland, my parents home country.

Although my parents home state is vastly different, the culture and food, the people and varied landscapes remain the same and make it a favored destination of mine year after year. Yet of all the spots I claim to conocer oh so well, Oaxaca. However, a place I have only made a small dent of all the thrills and frills of this amazingly vibrant, colonial city with rich indigenous roots.

There is no doubt that Oaxaca will always hold a near and dear place to my heart. It's the significance of a closing chapter in my life, yet welcoming a new horizon, a new chapter if you will. This charming town with Mexican hospitality and endless corazon is also the heart of Mexican cuisine.

After falling in love with its storied and cobbled streets, the vibrant culture, colors, sounds, tastes, and the amazingly hospitable climate. It’s a place with bustling marketplaces, lively fiestas, and beautiful folk art traditions and fascinating history.

It is time to teeter into the unknown, this way by way of Oaxaca. Ready to discover some of the hidden (and not so hidden) gems?

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DORMIR [to sleep]

Casa Oaxaca is the charming little hotel with a quirky heart-shaped pool, stands on its own two feet, with its mixture of colonial architecture with modern touches. Be sure to eat at the restaurant here, it’s been touted as one of the best. Taking up residence in this architecturally stunning and historically fascinating 19th century Oaxacan mansion is Casa de Sierra Azul. This is also a place my group stayed, and enjoyed the 17 high-ceilinged rooms to choose from, each one decorated in a classy yet simple style, with colorful accents. Casa de las Bugambilias is just one of three guest houses that they run in Oaxaca and is well located only one block from the famed Santa Domingo temple. It's personal touches and traditional Mexican artesanías within each of the 8 rooms.

COMER [to eat]

When it comes to food and drink, Oaxaca will not disappoint because this is one of Mexico's best foodie destinations, and many of the regional dishes date back to pre-Hispanic times. Its culinary offerings include a wide variety of corn-based dishes, and the local gastronomy also makes good use of the vast array of chiles grown in the state. Mole sauces are a specialty; you'll hear about seven different moles, but there are in fact more. Oaxaca is a significant mezcal producing center, and tasting the endless varieties is a favorite pastime.

Don’t miss out on the street food in Oaxaca. You’ll find many street foods stands throughout the city. Forget about gourmet restaurants: these stands are where some of the city’s best food is served, and the friendly banter of your dining companions will be hard to beat. From Elotes y Esquites (Mexican Street Corn) to Chapulines to fresh mango with chili, there’s plenty to pick from.

Origen Oaxacan herbs and chiles, ceviches and risottos converge on the menu of Origen, the restaurant of Top Chef Mexico winner, Castellanos Reyes. The creation of their dishes is based on tradition; it is enough to try the unforgettable language in Mole Chichilo to realize the office of the cradle of chef Castellanos.

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Come for the fantastic breakfast 
in the leafy garden, stay for a conversation with Alejandro Ruiz, the amiable chef. of Casa Oaxaca Café. The sprawling food market of Central de Abastos Mercado is an excellent place for lunch, with dozens of vendors preparing meals on the spot. Between Juárez Maza and Calle de Victoria. Enrique Olvera’s new restaurant, 
Criollo, serves creative spin on classic Oaxacan dishes in a modern space with an outdoor dining room.
 Run by the talented Chef Pilar Cabrera, Restaurant la Olla is an unpretentious restaurant offering Oaxacan specialties. Head to the upper-level dining room, which is more spacious than the ground floor, with artwork by local artists. The moles are delicious, but to start, order the squash blossom soup.

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Los Danzantes has three restaurants scattered across Southern Mexico, but the one in Oaxaca is locally considered to be outstanding with equally impressive cocktails. Get out of the city and pay a visit to the distillery as well. For 
 education in Oaxaca’s signature spirit, book 
a tasting at this bar/classroom in the city center for Mezcaloteca. There 
are nearly 100 varieties on 
offer.. 
Graciela Ángeles Carreño’s distillery is a farm-to-glass operation at Mezcal Real Minero. Tour the agave crops before settling into the tasting room.

Mexico is perhaps not the most well-known coffee producing country, but in Veracruz, Chiapas and Guerrero in particular, there are quality beans being produced. However, what about colonial Oaxaca? Your coffee options are not limited in this historic, quaint and vibrant city. El Volador, Cofetarika, and Alma de Café are worth checking out.

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HACER [to do]

Wander through the Historic Center of Zócalo. Oaxaca City was built for the wanderer; winding streets take you high up above the center with views over the Oaxacan skyline, and cobbled paths lead you to cafés you wouldn’t ordinarily have found in a million years. The multi-colored façades of many of Oaxaca City’s houses and edifices only add to this charming town. You’d be hard-pressed to visit Oaxaca and not stop by the Museo de las Culturas at least once, given that it’s located next to the famed Templo de Santo Domingo in the 17th century converted monastery. Even if you’re not big on museums, this one does have some cool exhibits you should check it out for the location alone. The large open windows frame the surrounding Ethnobotanical Garden, creating some literally picture perfect views.

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Explore the art galleries throughout Oaxaca is a must. While Mexico City takes the title for the most museums, Oaxaca is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to art galleries. From smaller independent ones that you can dip in and out of as you wander the cobbled, winding streets of the city to the larger more famous ones that display pieces from renowned artists, the art scene in Oaxaca is absolutely one of the things you must see. Visit the mezcal distilleries. The spiky agave plants whose piñas (hearts) harvested to roast, mash and ferment, it became clear why this is one of the most excellent mezcal you’ll taste.
 Chef Pilar Cabrera of Restaurant la Olla, also offers cooking classes through Casa de los Sabores. For more fun experiences, check out Airbnb Experiences, where you’ll find unique cooking classes, tours, gallery walks and so much more.


Updated May 2019



Photo Diary: Agra

There are those places that we all dream of visiting. One's the you must visit and experience for yourself, and Agra is one of them. The main reason why visitors come to Agra is to visit the timeless monument to love and one for the bucket list, the Taj Mahal.

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Photo Diary

Agra

It's the city of the Taj Mahal, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, some 200 km from Delhi. Agra has three UNESCO World Heritage sites, the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort in the city and Fatehpur Sikri nearby. There are also many other buildings and tombs from Agra's days of glory as the capital of the Mughal Empire.

Truth be told, the city has little else to recommend it making it a place for an over night stay before moving on to your next destination. You can also opt for a one day excursion from Delhi to Agra. Keep in mind that due to the very high number of tourists, Agra is a breeding ground for touts and people looking to separate you from your money. 

Getting into Agra from Delhi is a quick train or bus ride, and an experience to be had.

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The Agra Fort

The Agra Fort, built by rulers of the Mughal empire, is a sight to behold. It's sandstone walls and white marble interior will hold you in awe. But before you go, be sure to find your way to the back of the Fort and catch the view of it's sister monument, the Taj Mahal off in the distance.

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Taj Mahal

One for the bucketlist. Despite the hype, it’s every bit as good as you’ve heard. I know everyone takes this picture but when you capture it with your own eyes, it because something magical and a memory that will last a lifetime!

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Insiders Guide to Madrid

Madrid, where do I begin?

In my mind, Madrid was going to be somewhere I didn’t like. I imagined it would be polluted, busy, hot, and an overly crowded commercial city without a heart; without a soul. I couldn’t have been more wrong. So wrong, to the point I've returned back three times in a matter of four months. 

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Five days. That’s all I had in the bustling city of Madrid the first time around. Madrid captivated me so much, I returned back a few weeks later. And while I was personally able to make the most of it, hopping from museum to cafe to landmark to Jamón Ibérico stand to smoothie shop to cocktail bar to gastronomic experiences with reckless abandon, it was simply not enough time. So much so that I returned back a few weeks later; and flash forward a couple months later, here I am in the Spanish Capital once again -- a third time in four months. Madrid swept me off my feet, and placed me in a love spell. There is an exiting buzz to this city, that one cannot explain without experiencing it all.

Like many other travelers to Spain, I overlooked the Spanish capital as a destination to visit. Madrid, often overshadowed by its northern coastal neighbor, beach-y Barcelona; there seems little reason for this, though. It's a place with gratifying food fare, fantastic museum exhibitions, a vibrant nightlife, luxurious shopping, incredible sights, charming neighborhoods, and an up-and-coming coffee culture.

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It's a place where the weather is reminiscent of the West Coast -- hot, dry summers, mild, balmy winters and sunny spring and autumn days with infrequent rainfall. It's a place where even those that aren't erudite in Spanish can get around; you'll find that many people speak English. It's a city, like many American metropolis is experiencing gentrification caused by the global economic downturn of 2008; yet so humble you feel like you are part of a community. It is as hipster if you will. So hipster it practically hurts and rightfully so comparable to Brooklynn, San Francisco and Portland. As a millennial, I despise the term, hipster, but for the sake of painting you a picture, it'll do.

There have been plenty of times that I've chatted with other travelers that either loved or hated Madrid. There is no in between. I think this is due to the comparison to Barcelona. Barça, it is not. Far from it. It would be like visiting New York and expecting LA; two buzzing cities but completely different in every regard.

Spain is a country filled with plenty of rich history that has shaped a lot of the Americas and for me personally, who I am and my Latin heritage and roots. So, naturally, why wouldn't I be attracted to this magical place? 

Get excited yet again for that glorious feeling of teetering in the unknown; this time, by way of Madrid..

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Neighborhoods

Madrid hosts many neighborhoods that offers up something for everyone. Here are my top 3 neighborhoods worth spending time in:

Barrio de las Letras

Also known as Huertas, this is a central neighborhood in Madrid with some of the best, trendiest bars and restaurants. Huertas was once home to many of Spain’s most famous literary figures. It is very close to Atocha, which is another boho-chic neighborhood. Come here for sightseeing or for its great nightlife.

Malasaña

Close to Chueca, Malasaña is also one of the trendiest neighborhoods in Madrid, well known for its counter-cultural scene. It was the hub of the movida movement in Madrid in the 1970s and 1980s and to this date it conserves its alternative atmosphere. The nightlife here is much less pretentious than elsewhere in Madrid, so if you are looking for a fun but relaxed night out this is the place to be. There are also many boutiques to be discovered in this area.

Chueca

Chueca is one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in Madrid, and is known as the LGBTQ neighborhood. It's home to the trendiest bars, restaurants and shops. Many of Madrid’s youth, LGBTQ or not, head to this neighborhood at night for its fun, relaxed, atmosphere and its chic establishments. Come here and enjoy the stylish atmosphere whilst sipping on some sangria on one of the many outdoor terraces.

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EAT

First and foremost, most of my list of recommendations is credited to my friend and the cocktail master Diego Cabrera of Salmon Guru.  Without his recommendations, I'm sure we'd be rambling aimlessly around Madrid using TripAdvisor, ending up sub-par, tourist-filled places. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but a local guide's opinion takes priority, and bartenders tend to be "in the know."(My tip? Always ask the bartender. They are always "in-the-know.") You should know that Madrid has a plethora of traditional, authentic Spanish cuisine and world-class dining with a contrasting flair. A city that is making it's mark in the global foodie scene, here are some of the must-try places to eat in Madrid: 

Tapas and Vermut at Mercado de San Miguel

Tapas and Vermut at Mercado de San Miguel

Yatai Market

Yatai Market

Eat your heart out at Mercado de San Miguel. Sure, it's a tourist-laden mercado, but an excellent way to get a quick intro to Madrid. The beautiful Mercado de San Miguel sits next to Plaza Mayor and serves a variety of pastries, snacks, and tapas. Locals and tourists alike flock here to sample fresh nibbles, and it’s a great way to see Madrid through the eyes of its natives. Yatai Market is the new kid on the foodie marketplace block. This is cute food market stands out with the whole concept and an ode to Asian street food. Here you'll find plenty of stands from boa to ramen to sushi and poke bowls. Mercado San Antón and Mercado de Antón Martín are two others worth checking out. 

StreetXO

StreetXO

Insiders Guide to Madrid
StreetXO

StreetXO

Shrimp at Taberna Del Sur

Shrimp at Taberna Del Sur

Prepare to get your mind blown at David Muñoz's more casual Asian-fusion StreetXO. This is a dining experience you'll never forget. A visit here requires zero reservation but DO early arrive. Get here 30 minutes before it opens at 8:30 pm without having to wait 2 hours. And above all, try and snag a spot at the bar. It is all part of the dining experience here--dinner is basically a show! 

Sala de Despiece is a must on your Madrid foodie to-do list. They don't take reservations; you'll just need to be patient and hope spots open up quickly. All the dishes are in some way, shape or form traditional Spanish cuisine with modern and artful influences. A must order is the Rolex, a flavorful and rich dish bacon wrapped foie gras and rich yolk. The server comes to you and melts the bacon with a torch, enhancing the visual experience. Nothing is left unimagined here. 

insiders guide to madrid triciolo
insiders guide to madrid triciolo
Dinner at Angelitas

Dinner at Angelitas

The red prawns, in particular, are worth a visit at TriCiclo; an elegant but unassuming at the same time kinda place.

Angelita will not disappoint. The tomato salad, possibly the best tomatoes I have ever eaten, dressed to shine in EVOO and sea salt. And a must order dish is the Pork--so tender and yet so rich with fat and yet still cooked to a medium level. After dinner head downstairs and enjoy a cocktail in their cocktail bar.

GoFio is an excellent place for Canaria cuisine. The food is traditional but with a modern interpretation.  The price is really good for the quality of food and experience. Make sure to have reservations for dinner as it tends to get busy most nights. 

Subtle, refined, tasteful and tasty, that's what you'll find at Bistronomica. The restaurant has an intimate and relaxed vibe, making it a perfect dinner escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. The food is a modern take on Spanish cuisine with simple flavors with a few standouts being the raw fish preparations.

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Very nice, modern dining room of La Malaje is a quite unexpected Andalusian restaurant in Madrid's old city. Try the tortilla on gazpacho with an Andalusian wine; you won't be disappointed.

For really good Northern Europe cuisine with a menu that changes daily, Fismuler is a place you'll enjoy. Taberna el Sur for really good Spanish food in a casual environment.

Taste the sea at Glass Mar. Located inside the Hotel Urban, Glass Mar will excite your sense. Order the tasting menu and you won't be disappointed. 

Founded in 1725, Sobrino de Botin is one of the oldest restaurants continuously operating in the world, the oldest being Ma Yu Ching's Bucket Chicken House.

Madrid Travel Guide Frutas Prohibidas Chuca Smoothies Healthy Madrid
Travel Guide maDRID healthy restaurants in madrid
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Healthy Eats

There is no denying that Madrid is full of amazing place to eat. But what happens when you just can’t eat any more jamon, cheese, and vermut? It’s time to head to one of Madrid’s healthy spots, juice bars, and eco-friendly cafes. Thanks to vegan foodie and insta-friend Steffana, I was able to find a balance!

Honest Greens is beautiful, yet casual restaurant is in the financial district of Madrid so gets quite busy during lunch times. You can get warm entree plates or amazing entree salads. They also serve a range of juices that they make on site (and bottle) that are delicious. Absolutely delicious vegetarian food, lovely place and great service, Level Bistro is a great place for a plant-based lunch. Located in Malasana, Super Chulo is a twist on asian fusion but with a vegetarian flair.  Frutas Prohibidas in Chuca neighborhood is a really good lunch spot with a great menu offering of items like avocado toast, salads, acai bowls, smoothies, juices and nut milks. Fit Food is another good smoothie spot offering juices, acai bowls and nut milks with various locations around Madrid. 

Flat White at Toma Cafe

Flat White at Toma Cafe

And, a trip anywhere wouldn't be complete without coffee, and as a self-proclaimed coffee snob, you know my search for the best was on. The coffee culture in Madrid is thriving, and you'll find plenty of great places serving up single origin beans in any form from flat white, americano and single drip. Toma Cafe is an institute for being the trailblazer in the coffee scene in Madrid. , HanSo Cafe is great for that uber hip coffee spot with breakfast items like Avocado Toast and Matcha waffles. They also make a really good matcha latte if coffee isn't your thing. Coffee and Kicks and ZeroPoint are also great spots to stop for a good cup of coffee.


insiders guide to madrid salmon guru
Madrid Travel Guide Salmon Guru
Madrid Travel Guide Salmon Guru

DRINKS

It is said that Madrid has more bars per capita than anywhere else in the world. If you want to ditch the beers and sip on something a little more elegant, there are plenty of cocktail bars not to be missed. 

Your first stop? Salmón Gurú, the latest venture from Diego Cabrera. This boutique sized cocktail bar with an eclectic speakeasy feel, are serving up some of the best drinks I've had. Creative and dressed to impress. Hungry? The lite bites don't stand far behind. Located in the super cool neighborhood of Malasaña is 1862 Dry Bar that brings a dash of old glamour and vintage cocktail classics. Located under Angelita's is Bar Americano offers a hint of a speakeasy vibe, down-right delicious cocktails, and an impressive collection of rare spirits. Filled with antique and restored furniture, V Manneken is another great place for classics. The Bar at Ten Con Ten for a G&T. Madrid’s favorite cocktail is the gin and tonic—and there’s no better one than at Ten Con Ten. This chic bar is hugely popular with upscale Madrileños and celebrities. The eclectic menu also includes queen scallops, roasted octopus, Asturian beans with quail, and monkfish hamburger. Be sure to reserve your spot well in advance!

insiders guide to madrid
Hotel Urban Madrid Travel Guide Madrid
Urban Hotel

Urban Hotel

The cutest little corner in Madrid in my  Airbnb .

The cutest little corner in Madrid in my Airbnb.

SLEEP

Airbnb. This is the most perfect way to experience Madrid like a real local. Opt for neighborhoods like Alonso Martínez, Barrio de las Letras or Malasaña.

It’s all about location, location, location. And, the Hotel Urban 5*GL is sitting in the center of it all, with high-end and high-street boutiques all within a short stroll, and some more bohemian hipster-neighborhood-feel atmosphere kind of shops within steps of the hotel. The Urban Hotel is precisely what a five-star hotel should be, where not one detail is left undone.

High-roller and feeling fancy? Hotel Ritz, Madrid is your place. Built in 1910, this beautiful Belle Époque hotel offers excellent restaurants and an intimate cocktail bar. Don’t miss the luxury spa wellness center, which offers premium massage treatments and facials. The Hotel Orfila is a stunning boutique with cream-color walls, a flowered patio, and a rooftop terrace. Built in 1886, the hotel feels more like an art gallery with its period furniture and marble décor. Single, double, family, and panorama rooms all with Wi-Fi are available at La Pepa Chic. La Pepa Chic, a modest B&B in the historic center, is close to the Atocha train station and has an Art Nouveau feel.

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The Wellness Experience Spa

The Wellness Experience Spa

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Super cute and uber cool tee's at Typographia

Super cute and uber cool tee's at Typographia

INSIDERS GUIDE TO MADRID SHOPPING

PLAY

As a lively capital city, full of history and culture, beautiful parks, and exciting nightlife, Madrid envelops everything a traveler could ever want -- world class museums, spas, culture.

First and foremost visiting the Golden Triangle of world-class museums: Prado Museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Fundación Reina Sofia. Get lost strolling around Paseo del Prado, Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor and the Retiro Park.

Flamenco Dinner is a must. One of the most iconic forms of dance, Flamenco originated in Spain and still plays an important role in the culture. Madrid has a range of venues that offer Flamenco shows with a traditional Spanish dinner—a lively and fantastic way to spend the evening. Be sure to check out Villa Rosa  or Corral de la Morería.

Catch a fútbol Match. Fútbol (aka soccer) fan or not, catch a Real Madrid match at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. Not into the sport? It's a great way to get a peak into another side of the culture here. Or, at the very least ogle over Cristiano Ronaldo. 

Marvel at Palacio de Cristal. Located inside of Retiro Park, the Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 and is made almost entirely of glass set in an iron framework. It is set in a 130-hectare park alongside a large lake where there is a variety of flora and more than 15,000 trees to discover on a sunny Spanish afternoon.

Visit the Catedral de la Almudena. This ornate cathedral is one of the largest in Europe and blends a neo-Gothic style with modern statues and pop art décor. Construction took more than a century and the cathedral was only consecrated in 1993.

Be Well and relax. Allow yourself to be taken to a world of relaxation and beauty at Wellness Boutique Experience, Chi Spa, or The Natura Bissé spa at the Urso. Get pampered, primped and lashes at The Lab Room.

Shop till you drop. Madrid offers plenty of shopping with your typical run-of-the-mill shops from Gucci to Zara. But, if that isn't your thing for the obvious reasons, and then head to Malasana, Chuca and Barrio de las Letras. A few of my favorite must visit shops have been: Typographia for screen printed tee's, Trakabarraka and Kling for vibrant mod fashion, and . Vintage and second-hand shops, check out Magpie VintageThe The Storage, and Flamingos Vintage KiloNomada Market is a pretty rad place for shopping that brings together creative designers and dozens of shops. If you're into vinyl head to El Almacén de Discos and Recycled Music Centre.

Valerie Fidan

Valerie is a San Francisco native who gave up the comforts of home to travel the world continuously. Now based in Portland, OR, Valerie is a Social Media Marketing Consultant, helping solo entrepreneurs and small business owners DIY their social media by teaching them the in’s and out’s of SMM. She enjoys health hacking recipes, a good cocktail, yoga, hikes, live shows, puns & dad jokes.