Adventure Travel

Alaska: Tutka Bay Lodge

If Alaska is on your mind, you are in the right place. Amanda Watkins Travel knows all of the best ways to explore Alaska - whether by sea (on a cruise) or on land (at a luxury lodge like the ones described below) or both! Click here to learn more about Amanda Watkins Travel. Click here to get started planning your Alaskan dream trip!


This past summer my family experienced the most extraordinary 5 nights at Tutka Bay Lodge in Kachmak Bay near Homer, Alaska. 

I was looking for an experience that would be educational for the kids, enjoyable for my husband and I, and would allow us to experience unspoiled nature. Alaska appealed to me for numerous reasons…the summer weather, the wildlife, and its remoteness to name a few. We had already experienced an Alaskan cruise and now wanted explore Alaska by land. 

Enter Tutka Bay Lodge, a Virtuoso resort.

Tutka Bay Lodge

Tutka Bay Lodge is eleven-acre property offering a main lodge, six private guest accommodations, a sauna, hot tub and boat house – all connected by a boardwalk. A large deck offers seating, a hot tub and a steam banya - as well as an area for helicopter landing. And, somewhat unexpectedly, a short walk down the boardwalk finds you at the acclaimed Cooking School at Tutka Bay. On the short walk up to the main lodge you pass the spa cabin and the Lodge’s garden which seems to be a favorite chill spot for bunnies, chickens and the resident porcupine.

Upon our arrival at Tutka Bay Lodge via water taxi from Homer (you can also take a water plane from Anchorage) and were shown to Kittiwake Cabin – our cozy home for the duration of our stay. On the first floor there was a king bed, sofa, and bathroom. A spiral staircase let upstairs to a large room with two double beds and one twin. While the décor was charmingly rustic, the linens, robes and toiletries were nothing but luxury.

Shortly after settling in, we met Karyn  - our guide during our stay. Each family is assigned their own naturalist who tends to their itinerary, answers any and all questions and makes sure that every single need is being met. I had no idea at the time that Karyn was absolutely one of the smartest human beings I have had the pleasure of meeting. But I quickly found out. Karyn was not some college kids working they way through summer. Karyn is a physicist who has accomplished some pretty amazing things in her life. She now chooses to spend her summers at Tutka Bay Lodge sharing her knowledge and love of nature with others. In minutes, she had my kids belly down on the pier doing what she called “belly button biology”. They were looking through the wide slats of the pier and she was helping them identify the various anemone and sea life. 

Food is taken very seriously at Tutka Bay. This is because Tutka is the brainchild of Cordon Blue graduate and famed food writer Kirsten Dixon and her husband Carl. Menus are thoughtfully – even lovingly – planned out. Even the music playing in the kitchen while the chefs are cooking seems to pair beautifully with that days menu. Guests are actively involved in the process as they often forage for the berries and catch the fish that is served. The menu is posted each morning and if a guest needs modifications, they are more than willing to accommodate. In fact, this is a fabulous place for travelers with gluten sensitivities. They beautifully accommodate gluten free guests and even make their own gluten free bread and pastries.

Dinner at Tutka is a casually elegant affair. There is a pre-dinner cocktail hour with an assortment of cheeses and appetizers such as gougère with crispy prosciutto and wild herbs or rockfish fritters. You enjoy the company of the other guests while sipping on the wine selected for that evening and sharing your days adventures.  While the adults chatted, the kiddos would play in the garden with the bunnies and look for the elusive porcupine that frequented the area. We would all come together to enjoy dishes ranging from from elk medallions to short rib ravioli to salmon with risotto. Desserts were painstakingly made from scratch by the pastry chef. If you have picky kids – no sweat – they will happily whip up something that your kids will enjoy. 

After dinner activities vary depending on the guests, the weather and whimsy of the staff. One night after dinner we hopped on the boat to go whale watching. Another night they made a bonfire on the beach and we enjoyed homemade s’mores (with homemade marshmallows!). 

Now here is where it gets REALLY exciting. Let me tell you how we spent our days!

Day 1: We kayaked over to a small little island, built a bonfire and had lunch. We explored in the woods, played in the sand and listened to the bald eagles. Later that afternoon, we went out on Tutka’s boat and saw more Orca’s than I could count. 

Day 2: The boys went deep sea fishing for halibut and Hattie and I, along with other guests and guides, picked berries to be included in that evening’s dessert. Later, Karyn took Hattie for a hike and I enjoyed one of the best massages I have ever had!

Day 3: We flew via seaplane and landed on the beach of a very remote area Alaska to view brown bears. We were literally the only people for hundreds of miles. We were able to get so close to the bears – who could have cared less about our presence! Watching them in their own, undisturbed habitat fishing for salmon was one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed.

Day 4: We took a helicopter and landed on a glacier where we saw wolves and more bears. We drank the glacier water and brought back some glacier ice for our evening cocktails. We were freezing when we got back, so we all raced into the Banya for a steam. 

Amanda Knows Best:

  • Combine your stay at Tutka with 3 nights at their sister property Winterlake Lodge to also experience interior Alaska.

  • If your stay requires overnighting in Anchorage, try to stay at Hotel Captain Cook.

  • Consider renting a car in Homer and driving back to Anchorage. The drive is beautiful and you can make a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

By booking through Amanda Watkins Travel, you will also get:

  • One $100 resort credit.

  • Welcome gift basket with the Lodge cookbook and snacks.

Want to start planning your trip?

Colombia Part 1: Cartagena

My husband and I had two of our sons at sleep-away camp and our daughter at camp Grammie, so we decided to take off and go somewhere we have never been: Colombia. Boasting beaches on the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, as well as the stunning Andes mountain region and the legendary Amazon rainforest, Colombia is proud to be the second most biodiverse country in the world. And booming cosmopolitan cities like Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena can impress anyone with their magnificent views, innovative architecture, rich culture, and exceptional restaurants. In short, Colombia is a fascinating destination to explore. Keep reading to learn more about where to stay, eat, and explore in Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia

We started our trip in Cartagena - just a short 2.5 hour flight from Miami. Located on the northern Caribbean coast of Colombia, Cartagena was founded in 1553 and served as a major port city. Dripping with history (fantastical and true stories of pirates and Sir Francis Drake terrorizing the city), the walled Old Town boasts cobblestone streets and beautiful examples of colonial, republican and modern architecture. Within the walls, you can spend hours wandering through the town. Whether your interests are shopping, history, culture or cuisine, Cartagena will meet all of your needs. Cartagena is such a colorful city – it literally VIBRATES with energy.

Day One: Tour Cartagena 

I used one of my trusted partner companies in Colombia to help us get the most out of our time there. Our first day, we went on an architectural and history tour with a locally-renowned historian to orient ourselves with the city. He really brought the city alive for us and he knew everything. We were completely unable to stump him with any of our questions. We learned fascinating stories about the Spanish colonization, Inquisition era, and pirate sieges that influenced Cartagena’s history. Also, by doing this tour on the first day, it was a great way to orient ourselves to the city.

Day Two: Explore Getsemani

On our second day we met with a leading expert in all things Cartagena to sample the Cartagena’s street food – which was AMAZING. I am still dreaming about the arepas de queso and papas rellenas we sampled. Our guide also took us outside the walled city to explore the street art in Getsemani. This neighborhood was once a no-go due to drugs and crime, but it has evolved into the cultural epicenter of Cartagena. Internationally renowned for its street art, you can wander the streets and see the history of Cartagena and spirit of its people on the crumbling stucco walls of once majestic Spanish Colonial buildings.

Day Three: Islas del Rosario

On our final day in Cartagena, we hopped on a boat to explore the Islas del Rosario, located 50-minutes from Cartagena. These 30 islands are blessed with white-sand beaches, clear blue waters, magnificent coral reefs, and abundant marine life. We stopped at a couple of the small boutique hotels located in the islands for cocktails, swimming and lunch.

As a special treat, we had a gin tasting where we got to actually MAKE our own gin. Our expert mixologist taught us how gin is processed and learned how to recognized its numerous characteristics. So fun!!

Sleep & Eat & Explore

In between all of that…we wandered the streets and plazas browsing the stores, art galleries and listening to the street music. And we ate truly delicious meals. Colombians love their soups and ceviche and we had much of both. Some of the finest restaurants in South America in Colombia. Carmen has to be my favorite! From first bite to last ... delicious.

While there are several lovely places to stay in Cartagena, we opted to stay at the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara. Housed in a seventeenth century convent, the hotel has all of the modern comforts of a five-star resort but the crypts, confessionals and Botero sculptures make you feel as if you are in on a secret. 

Cartagena captured my heart. And I know it will capture your heat. Grab your significant other, your family or a group of friends – you need to check this place out. Trust me.

Who should go to Cartagena

Anyone who loves history, art,  culture and great food. If you like Charleston and New Orleans…you will LOVE Cartagena.

Where to stay

Sofital Legend Santa Clara

Originally built as a convent in 1621, the Sofitel Legend Santa Clara Cartagena is a legendary landmark in the heart of Cartagena's walled city.

Amanda Watkins Travel offers free breakfast, a $100 food and beverage credit, and free wifi for clients.

Casa San Augustin

This small, 30 room hotel Casa San Augustin is a gem. The L-shaped pool passing through an aqueduct cut out is a stunning entry to the hotel.

Amanda Watkins Travel offers free breakfast, a $100 food and beverage credit, and free wifi for clients.

Where to eat

El Boliche Cebicheria

Chef Oscar Colmenares became a true master of ceviches after spending years in the kitchens of Michelin-star chefs— Gaston Acurio, Rafael Osterling, and Martin Berastegui.


This top-notch restaurant specializes in mixing contemporary cuisine with traditional Caribbean recipes, prepared with the freshest local ingredients. We loved it so much we ate their twice!

La Cocina de Pepina

This pink-and-orange-walled, six-table dining room restaurant, is a well kept secret in the city which specializes in serving lunch only. Try their mote de queso!

Amanda Watkins Travel specializes in luxury and adventure travel. Our affiliations ensure VIP treatment and amenities on any trip - including local weekend getaways. Plan your trip.