Getting to know Japan’s tallest peak: Mount Fuji

While we are definitely not traveling and not making travel plans since we don’t know exactly what the next few months will have in store, I’ve found comfort looking back at some of my favorite memories. While you may not be planning trips now, I hope this gives you inspiration for the future.

I keep going back to Japan in my mind, so I wanted to reflect on one of the many highlights: hiking Japan’s tallest mountain and enjoying a couple comfy nights in a ryokan (traditional Japanese inn) style hotel.

There is something so captivating about Mt. Fuji. Perhaps it’s how its reputation precedes itself. I’ve seen various artwork featuring Fuji before I ever saw a photograph, and then finally, the real thing. It’s the picture-book mountain – one lone peak with a perfectly sloped outline high into the sky. When I found out the trek to the top wasn’t technical and could be done in one day, I knew I wanted to experience the top of Japan!

I spent quite a bit of time researching how to get there and what to plan for, so wanted to share my experience!

Timing: We climbed Fuji via Yoshida trail at the very end of September. We chose this timing because it was off-season, so less crowded, but well before the first snow fall. The season is July 1-Sept. 10, so huts were closed but we still felt very safe on the mountain and saw a few other hikers. We completed this as a day hike over nine hours, though many chose to stay in one of the huts and complete the trek over two days.

Travel from Tokyo to Fuji: We flew into Tokyo from the U.S. and then immediately began the journey to a town called Fujikawaguchiko at the base of Fuji. We purchased Japan Rail passes in advance and found them to be well worth it throughout our travels in Japan. Here you can find details on getting to the Fuji area from Tokyo. For me, this journey was a jet-lagged blur! I was so grateful that our hotel picked us up from the Kawaguchiko train station even though we arrived after the usual shuttle time.

To get to the trail head (5th Station) of Fuji, our hotel helped us schedule a taxi, and it was about an hour ride. There is also a bus available which is more cost effective, but we wanted to leave early for a head start on the trail. We chose to do this during our first full day in Japan, so we were completely jet-lagged with a strange eating schedule. I would definitely not recommend doing that, but we were trying to squeeze the most out of the time we had in Japan.

The hike

As you can see above, this hike from 5th Station to the peak via Yoshida trail is quite the elevation gain over almost nine miles. In fact, this was the steepest hike in terms of elevation gain per mile that I’ve ever done. This hike was no joke.

The trails are nicely maintained and very clear. Yet, somehow we did manage to hike up the trail meant for vehicles which was incredibly steep. I’m blaming it on the jet lag and lack of breakfast. So please pay attention to the trail. If you are an experienced hiker in good shape and start early, you can definitely get this done in a one day without staying in the hut. The attitude got to me as we got closer to the peak, so please take your time, breath, eat and stay hydrated! I’ve been fine in higher altitudes, so I keep wondering if it’s related to how I was treating my body that day (jet-lagged, tired, eating snacks and not meals). Don’t do what i did!

It was a long day, but we made it to the peak and had enough energy left for a smiling photo opp!

We were lucky to hike on a clear day with amazing views of the blue sky and surrounding terrain. I’m glad we started early because clouds rolled in and erased that view on the descent. There is a separate ascending trail and descending trail which is great for hiker traffic (though the trail was not crowded at this time).

When we returned to the 5th Station, the shops and restaurants were now open and it was quite busy with tourists waiting for the clouds to show the view of Fuji’s perfect flat peak. We grabbed a bus ticket to return to Kawaguchiko station and then a shuttle back to our comfy hotel!

Matcha and strawberry soft serve at 5th Station

What to bring on the hike:

  • Day pack (mine is 30L, perfect size)
  • Hiking poles (these were SO helpful coming down the steep descent trail)
  • Sunscreen
  • Plenty of water, I had three liters
  • Snacks for energy (trail mix, protein bars, packed lunch, etc.)
  • Rain jacket, rain cover for pack
  • Warm gear (jacket, gloves, hat)
  • Good hiking boots and hiking socks

Mizno Hotel: Knowing we’d go for affordable Airbnbs or hotels the rest of our trip, I really wanted to splurge for a nice, but reasonable, place with a view of Fuji, and I was so thrilled by Mizno Hotel. The hotel itself is beautiful, service was lovely and we had so much fun trying fancy Japanese food at their restaurant for both dinner and breakfast. The Japanese breakfast with views of Fuji on the patio were extra special. We also took advantage of the private onsen (hot bath) which came with a bottle of sparkling wine. A very special treat!

Germany Road Trip: Munich to Berlin and everywhere in between

After Spain, the next European country I had my eye on was Germany. I had dreams of biergartens, pretzels as big as my face and friendly locals. Last fall, that all came true, and then some, including moments of learning and self reflection about our world’s past and my first view of the Alps – stoic, icy mountains warmed by September’s fall foliage. I got some stormy and dreamy photographs that I wasn’t expecting – see below!

We traveled in planes, trains and automobiles from Munich to Berlin and back through charming Bavaria. For once, I wasn’t involved much in the planning and went along for the ride. I’ll briefly list our stops and share some photos in hopes of inspiring your adventure to Deutschland.


We purposely planned our trip around Oktoberfest (usually the last two weeks of September). If you’re into German beer and don’t mind a crowd – I highly recommend this experience. We came on a Thursday and started early so we a chance to walk through all the tents and sit down in a few to enjoy steins of beer. By 4-5 p.m. the tents were filled and it was hard to find a seat. While more than 7 million people visit Oktoberfest every year, this was hands down the best and quickest service we had in Germany. We ate the 1/2 roasted chicken and apple strudel which was fantastic, not to mention the liters and liters of German beer (Augustine was our favorite)!

The next day, we locked up our luggage at the train station as we enjoyed our last day in Munich. We stopped by the park where you can watch surfers. That’s right. There’s no beaches in Munich, but stop by the Englischer Garten where you can watch people expertly surf on the Eisbach river below the bridge!

Then, we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. While the sobering experience is difficult to communicate here, it’s important to see and learn. Maintaining memorials and museums like this will help humankind avoid making the same terrible mistakes in the future.


We rode the ICE (high speed train), a long but comfortable ride, from Munich to Berlin. I have family in Berlin that were kind enough to let us stay with them for a couple nights. With one full day in Berlin, it was a whirlwind of walking around the city, taking in the sights, history, people, and of course, stopping by a biergarten. I wish I had more time here to experience the city and really take in the sights.

Learning about the history of Berlin and experiencing what it is today had my head spinning with thoughts of what it must have been like. We visited the Topography of Terror (free museum on the former site of the SS Reich Main Security Office) where we read about the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. Additionally, we saw buildings damaged by bullet and bombs during WWII and walked along parts of the Berlin Wall. Our host lived in West Berlin before, during and after the wall came down. It was fascinating to hear her stories at breakfast and then walk along traces of the wall and the East Side Gallery that same afternoon.


After a night of rest, we picked up a rental car and headed south for a Bavarian road trip on the autobahn. Our first stop was Rothenberg, a charming town that looks right out of a fairy tale. We walked along the ancient wall and towers that protected the town during medieval times. It almost didn’t seem real, like I was in a fabricated village of Disneyland. You’ll see the Disneyland theme return a few times while in Bavaria.

We spent a quiet morning walking around the town, admiring the adorable architecture and enjoying cappuccinos and schneeballen (snowballs in English). Schneeballen are a local treat of shortbread and covered with powered sugar, chocolate, coconut and various other combinations! Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of shortbread, and think they look better than they taste.

Hohenschwangau (specifically, Nuestchwanstein castle)

Here’s where the magic of Disney returns, but in real life. We drove to Hohenschwangau and hiked up to see Neuschwanstein castle twice – this is said to be the inspiration for Cinderella’s fictional home. I’ll let you read about the history from a different source. It’s a short, up-hill hike to see a view of the castle, and we kept going past the trail as far as we could until the clouds and rain rolled in an we could no longer see beyond the trees. The next morning, we hiked up in the dark to watch the sunrise over the castle. There were only a couple others out there, so I highly recommend going at this time to beat the crowd and take in the magical views.

After watching the sunrise, we strolled over to Alpsee lake where I became fascinated with photographing the reflective water and its feathered inhabitants.

We stayed at the Hotel Muller where we had a lovely suite with views of the castle. I also enjoyed a wine tasting here – I believe it was 30 something Euros for the basic tasting of 4-5 wines.

Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Hoellentalklamm or Hell Valley Gorge)

If the Neuschwanstein was Cinderella’s Castle, then Hoellentalklamm (Hell Valley Gorge) was Splash Mountain. For a small entrance fee, you can hike through this beautiful gorge, ducking through tunnels in the rock, watching your step over slippery surfaces and getting totally wet! The gorge-ous (get it?) hike was all worth it to be so close to nature. The trail ends at a hostel with views of the Alps.

We were starving after a full day of hiking and made our way to Gasthof Fraundorfer for Bavarian cuisine and what ended up to be our favorite beer of the trip, Konig Ludwig Weiss. 

Kehlsteinhause (The Eagle’s Nest)

View of the Eagle’s Nest from about 1/2 through our hike. See what I mean by a long, uphill walk?

One of our last adventures in Germany was the hike to The Eagle’s Nest, Hitler’s mountain retreat which still stands on a peak in the Bavarian Alps. It is now a restaurant, and a tourist destination to take in beautiful views of the mountains. Weather was not great when we went, so I’m afraid I missed out on the view. However, I did not miss out on some exercise. There is a bus that will take you a majority of the way up the hill, and then an elevator that a bus ticket will get you a ride on. We skipped the bus and made the hike from the parking lot. It was a steep, uphill walk, but the path was paved and well maintained. If you like walking/hiking, I would recommend this to really take in the experience (and get it for free!). Just don’t be like me, as I wasn’t expecting a 4 hour hike like this and did not pack any water or snacks. 


I really enjoyed my time in Germany, and was surprised by all the hiking and views we squeezed in. It was also a great lesson in history regarding the Holocaust, WWII and Cold War.

I would come back for a few days at Oktoberfest for sure! I wish I had more time in the Alps, too, so I suppose I’ll have to return another time. We moved through town to town pretty quickly when I wish I could have slowed down a bit to explore deeper. I didn’t even mention the time we drove over the border to get coffee in Austria or stopped to visit Dirk Nowitzki’s hometown! The only downside was that this wasn’t a foodie destination for me, as I got tired of Bavarian food pretty quickly.

Have you ever been to Germany? What sights would you recommenced? Let me know in the comments!


Ocho Rios, Jamaica & The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort

I like to think of my travel style as adventurous – always exploring new places and pushing myself to the limit physically and mentally. However, we all need a relaxing getaway every once in a while. All-inclusive beach resorts are the perfect venue for that. Honestly, the world would be a better place if we all did this more often. I recently took a trip to Ocho Rios, Jamaica to celebrate a friend’s 30th, and want to share my experience and recommendations here…


View of the ocean and our resort from the balcony

Why Ocho Rios?

Ocho Rios is in the parish of Saint Ann on the northern coast of Jamaica. We chose it because it was more affordable than Montego Bay, but still had plenty of what we wanted to do. And honestly, all I wanted to do was sit on the beach in the sunshine with a tropical drink! Ocho Rios has several different resorts and tourists activities and is famous for being featured in the very first James Bond movie.

Getting to Ocho Rios

We flew into Montego Bay (Sangster International Airport) and our resort included airport pick up and drop off which was AWESOME! There was a traffic jam and the bus stopped at other resorts first, so we were on the bus for several hours. Not as fun, but still worth the trouble and cost savings.


The Resort: Jewel Dunn’s River Resort 

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-9-25,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-YWe stayed at Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort and Spa, part of the Curio Collection by Hilton (btw, when I’m not in an Airbnb while traveling, I’m probably staying in a Hilton!). We got a great bundle deal on flights and resort from Cheap Caribbean and were able to upgrade our room to an ocean view balcony! I truly enjoyed my stay here and here’s why:

  • Adults only
  • Several pools and outdoor bars
  • Small feel to the resort, and it wasn’t crowded at all
  • Variety of food options and pretty good food! The buffet serves Caribbean/Jamaican food so it was fun to try new things (always plantains. I love plantains!). We also had SO much fun at the hibachi/Japanese restaurant
  • Dive shop on site that can take you on snorkel, scuba and sailboat trips for a very reasonable price
  • SO MANY free activities: water sports (sailboats, water bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, etc.), volleyball, fitness center, tennis courts, shuffle board, basketball and more
  • Free entertainment at night and bars open late (other resorts I’ve been too are basically dead after dinner!)
  • Coffee bar – not the best but definitely took advantage of it!
  • Clean beach with lots of seating
  • I took advantage of one of the spa specials and had a nice massage


One of the pools at the Jewel Dunn’s River Resort

Excursions: Scuba, Blue Mountain Coffee, Dunn’s River Falls and Park

You know how I said this was a relaxing trip? Well that still doesn’t mean I’m going to do nothing! While lots of lounging at the pool and beach happened, I also took the opportunity to get off of the resort!

Scuba (through the resort)
As I mentioned above, the resort has a dive shop on site which made planning our dive super easy and affordable! We went to the dive shop the day before, paid $100 per person for a two tank dive and met the dive master the next morning. We took a boat from the resort out to the water. We dove around the reefs and saw some fish and rays – first dive was down to 60 feet and the second was to 30 feet. Nothing spectacular, but it was nice to get a dive in!

Blue Mountain with Dr. Fun Tours (Click here for the direct website | click here for Trip Advisor)
Delton (aka Dr. Fun) will basically take you on a custom tour based on what you want to do! We wanted to see the famous Blue Mountain coffee of Jamaica. So he picked us up from our resort and the road trip to Blue Mountain began! It was a great time and the highlight of the trip. It was a long ride to Blue Mountain, but Dr. Fun made it FUN! Delton talked almost the entire ride telling us about Jamaica and the area, plus we added some extra stops!


We learned about and tasted the local fruit from a fruit stand and straight from the trees (Jamaica Apples which are kinda like pears and only grow two places in the world, Coconuts, Sugar Cane and more).


Stopping at a local fruit stand to drink coconut water and try coconut jelly (flesh of young coconut) for the first time!

We visited the James Dennis Coffee Farm where we learned about the coffee process from start to finish. We then tasted fresh, fire roasted coffee and enjoyed an authentic Jamaican lunch. You can buy a pound of beans for $30 – much less than you’ll find at the airport! The coffee was very unique and fresh tasting. As someone obsessed with coffee, I loved being able to try this.

The last stop was Bob Marley falls for a dip in the refreshing water – OK, I totally fell in on accident 🙂


Bob Marley Falls on Blue Mountain

We booked a tour with Dr. Fun through Trip Advisor, but I also linked to his direct website above. I would totally trust booking with him directly. (Click here for the direct website | click here for Trip Advisor)

Dunn’s River and Falls Park (through the resort which included admission and transportation)
These falls are famous in Jamaica and they basically made a water park out of it. After entering the park, you’ll be grouped together and hike up the falls. You’ll be asked to leave your hat, sunglasses, etc. behind so you don’t lose them! Groups were holding hands to help each other up, but we opted not to do that as we were very comfortable with hiking (wear good water shoes!). It was pretty crowded but we still had a good time climbing up the falls and getting in the water. I wouldn’t go again (I’m glad I did it once, though!), but if I were to, I’d try to go much earlier to beat the crowd!