Mailbag: Pacific Babymoon, Iceland/Greenland, Hilton Malabo without a Tourist Permit

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Editor’s note: I will start publishing items from my mailbag, edited for relevance and scrubbing out personal details, so feel free to send travel inquires to me at stefan -at-

Readers, do you prefer:

  • Saturday or Sunday mailbag
  • One post with several emails or separate posts for each question?


C in NY: Stefan, for four days time frame in September of Iceland, what would you recommend to maximize the experience there? Would you recommend to rent a car instead of the local tours? Some says it can be quite challenging to driver in Iceland…

Stefan: Driving is easy, roads are great except the D or F or whatever they are called that you are not allowed to take rentals and mostly don’t need. When you drive onto a pile of rubble you will have found one.

Golden Circle is great, even if touristy. Blue Lagoon too touristy. Go down to Heimay or up to Snaefellsness Peninsula. Group tour only if going up mountains or volcanoes where can’t take the rental.

C in NY: It is possible to add in Greenland?

Stefan: You can spend $700 to see some village.

Better to go via Copenhagen some other time, and fly right to the ice sheet for a stopover, then continue to the coast. Similar flight price. The Kangerlussuaq airport has paid stopover activities for all flight connections. Air Greenland has packages for flight plus activities to many destinations.



K in NY: Hi Stefan. We will be in Japan in September, then have another 8-10 days’ vacation. Any suggestions on where to go? H wants a nice hotel with a pool and ideally a beach. She doesn’t need many activities. Just good food, service, etc.

Would prefer a non-stop flight from Tokyo or decent routing. We have top status with Hyatt, Hilton, IHG, and Club Carlson. Only airline status is EXP with AA.

I’ve been looking at Hawaii. But, hard to find good value. No award availability at the Andaz Maui, the other Hyatt properties look not great and definitely not good values when factoring in all costs.

The past year we really enjoyed the Intercontinental Thalasso Bora Bora and PH Maldives. Probably hard to match that level.

Could stay in Asia. Or stop somewhere en route home (either way around the globe). H will be ## weeks pregnant at the time. So, comfort and safety is also a consideration.

Stefan: Elsewhere you are not going to match those two Pacific experiences. From Japan there are nonstop Micronesia flights. The Hyatt Saipan is old, Guam has nothing special points hotel-wise, Palau is more about diving and activities rather than resorts, so for your case I am not sure any will fit what you want.

Some ideas that come to mind, excluding the obvious SE Asia stuff that you know as well as I:

  • Stay in Japan, Okinawa has new openings like the new Sheraton, you have some great food with only in Okinawa ingredients, and all the comforts of Japan; or, we have been looking at a Kyushu onsen + seafood trip to Beppu
  • Jeju Island, South Korea, I give this a half-hearted recommendation, food is good and if you find the right place not overrun by tourist groups it can be ok, mainly mentioning it for convenience, September might already be getting chilly
  • Philippines I mention because you will be in Japan, and Philippines Airlines partners with ANA and Etihad, and has that Manila – Vancouver – JFK route for the return, you might find good value on some award
  • Taiwan’ southern coast I have not explored, they have beach resorts and nonstop Japan flights to KHH
  • AeroMexico NRT-MEX should have good availability, Mexico is fantastic and the bonus is that you will be close to NYC for the end of trip return
  • New Caledonia has nonstop Aircalin flights you can use Flying Blue, award prices not cheap though availability is good, there are Hilton and SPG properties, Nomea city is urbanized with good food and full French healthcare, it would be a long haul back to the US (and no AF service out of there), any other Pacific destination is not what you are looking for or too complicated to reach, here’s Noumea harbor:


D in Chicago: It seems like you have been to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, but I don’t see anything in your blog about it. I’m going to have 24 hours – not enough time to get the tourist permit, but surely enough to get a taste of the capital. Do you have any tips on landing at, leaving from, and making the most of a permitless day in Equatorial Guinea? Do you recommend the Hilton?

Stefan: I am hoping to blog more going forward, I am so far behind on my trips.

So, about Malabo. If you don’t speak Spanish, you’ll be in for hassle like I was. First, if you have Hilton points, use them for Hilton Malabo, either cash and points or full points. Great value for the country. They did try to charge me taxes on my award booking, I pushed back and they backed down. It is walkable from the airport which was a great help. Across the street is some new park that was due to open after I left, celebrating birthday of the president.

Hilton Malabo

Getting around is a pain. A friend I made in Lome transit works in oil and had a driver friend take me around for the day. Without the permit, Malabo was fine, everything outside was roadblock after roadblock, as well anything like a tourist site someone would come out in a panic at the sight of my camera and want my permit. No visa and no permit took a lot of explaining from the driver, in Spanish only. Without the driver I would not have gotten far with my “Guinea Equatorial, America, amigos,” line.

This may sound like a crazy suggestion on a short trip. Consider flying to Bata for the day. Flights are frequent and seem reliable. Bata is much more pleasant and low-key. Share taxis run throughout. Between airport and town you pass president or president son palaces. Town is good to stroll, with people out more casually. Much more pleasant than gritty, hilly Malabo. In Bata I thought I could live in the place if I got a cushy expat package, in Malabo I wasn’t charmed.

The airports do not blink at US citizen no visa. Booking tickets is tough, one OTA worked then didn’t, so I found Angel at Ruta47 who took care of it in great service and English. He was on top of everything when SSG-TMS schedule changed and everything had to be re-done. The Bata flight is cheaper than hiring most drivers.

The airport lounge at Malabo just joined Priority Pass. Looks lavish.

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6 years ago

I had no trouble at all in Malabo. I hired a (admittedly terrible) driver and go to see a variety of places on Bioko Island. I took a number of photos and was not questioned by anyone. Luba was a pleasant place. I wholeheartedly agree that using points at the Hilton is the way to go. Nice hotel, good breakfast.

6 years ago

you are lucky you had a good driver. So what excuse for not having a tourist permit worked?

6 years ago

I’m interested in Equatorial Guinea, and the Bata suggestion is an interesting one. I do speak Spanish and one of my goals is to visit every Spanish speaking country. Having just returned from Cuba, it’s down to one. But for me that’s too far to go just to say I’ve been there. Any other recommended regional destinations it can reasonably be combined with? Or is it best just to tack it on sometime when I go to Spain? Or maybe use it as a stopover (“excursionist perk” in the new United nomenclature) on a trip that really focuses on Southern… Read more »