Category Archives: Travel

Our Vacation in Aspen, Colorado Has Not Been Topped Yet

The kids wanted to go on a skiing vacation. We have always gone on vacations in the summer, and this would be our first winter experience. Our neighbors wanted to go too, so we all planned work, school and the holidays around our ski trip. We looked at luxury cabin rentals in Aspen, and sharing the costs for the week of skiing made it something we could do as well as making it end up being the most fabulous vacation we have ever been on yet.

The most popular time for the luxury cabin rentals in Aspen is during the ski season. You can save a considerable amount on the per-night rental fee if you want to have a summertime Aspen experience.

Destinations for Family adventure

1. Iceland

Travel to Iceland and within one trip your family can go dog-sledding, whale watching and glacier trekking, as well as see the Northern Lights and spend plenty of time jumping in and out of thermal pools. If that isn’t adventurous enough for you, how about descending into the bowels of an active volcano?

2. New Zealand

New Zealand’s natural beauty and excellent reputation for outdoor pursuits make it a popular destination for families. Hiring a camper van is not only an economical way to explore the country but also gives you the freedom of the open road and the fun of outdoor life without having to put a tent up each night.

3. Marrakesh, Morocco

The call to prayer and snake charmers plying their trade; tiny alleys to explore; shops with wares piled high; spices, tagines and fresh juices to sample – a visit to the medina in Marrakesh is an adventure for the senses. It’s also a great opportunity to learn an important skill of travelling: the art of haggling.

4. South Africa

Seeing animals in the wild scores pretty high on the adventure meter for most people. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is recommended for children due to the high likelihood of spotting animals and the relatively small distances involved in travelling round the southern part of the park. There are also family-friendly lodges with pools for when everyone needs to cool off.

5. Snowdonia, UK

‘Bounce below’ on trampolines hidden within caves, fly through the air on a giant swing and surf an inland lagoon. It’s not hard to see why North Wales made our Top Destinations list for 2017. Kids will also love adventuring through history at the many castles, climbing to the top of Snowdon and resting weary legs on a narrow-gauge railway or two.

6. Washington, DC, USA

Exploring a world-famous city is an adventure in itself. In DC you can combine learning the art of espionage (at the International Spy Museum) with a dose of history (the Lincoln Memorial, plus a range of excellent museums) and lots of fun (the elevator ride to the top of the Washington Monument, paddle boating in the Tidal Basin).

7. Southwestern Australia

Do your kids have their heads in the clouds? Treat them to a 600m-long treetop walk in the Valley of the Giants. Or do they prefer to go underground? Check out the fascinating caves in the Margaret Riverregion. Is wildlife their thing? Go whale watching in Geographe Bay. Beach combing? Bike riding? Tree climbing? You’ve guessed it…

8. Japan

For robot-loving, game-playing, tech-happy teens a trip to Japan is a dream come true. Add some cerebral pursuits – discover manga and anime together or visit ancient temples and shrines – and include a visit to one of the national parks or island beaches for when everyone needs to breathe out. Before you know it, you’ve got a trip to please even the most reluctant adventurers in your family.

9. Sri Lanka

Between elephants and trains, ancient temples and beaches, forts and natural parks, there’s plenty to keep families busy in this little part of the Indian subcontinent. Even better, Sri Lankans welcome children with open arms, so – with a little planning and an appetite for adventure – travelling here is a rewarding experience for all.

10. Malaysia

Whether you go for beaches, jungle or one of the child-friendly cities, exploring Malaysia is a great way to introduce Southeast Asia to your kids. The mix of cultures allows just enough of the familiar (colonial architecture, shopping centres, Western food) for when the exotic (the heat, the flavours, the bustle) becomes overwhelming.

10 adventures in Naples’ underworld

The city’s inhabitants have been tunnelling into the easily quarriable yellow tuff rock beneath their feet for millennia, leaving a veritable honeycomb of crypts, catacombs and air-raid shelters for visitors to explore.

Time travel at Napoli Sotterranea

Illuminating and entertaining, the Napoli Sotterranea guided tour digs deep down, forty meters down, into Naples’ multi-layered history. You will cross through the reverberant cavities of an ancient Greco-Roman aqueduct and squeeze through a constricted channel with only a candle as your guide and the promise of an aquamarine cistern at the other end. Reminders of the underground’s use as a WWII air raid shelter cast a sombre note, whilst an experimental underground vegetable garden shines a light towards the future.

Remember WWII at the Bourbon Tunnel

No one escapes the Bourbon Tunnel tour unscathed. The sheer size and scale of this cavernous 17th-century cistern turned would-be royal escape route are humbling enough, but the cruel reminders of its use as a WWII air-raid shelter will chill you to the bone: low-voltage electricity supplies, toilets, showers, cots, toys and heart-breaking graffiti – messages of hope and fear etched into the walls for posterity. Book ahead for a longer and more immersive experience on the ‘Adventure’ or ‘Speleo’ tours.

Walk the streets of ancient Neapolis

Discover the often overlooked Greco-Roman city of Neapolis, hidden down a secret stairway in San Lorenzo Maggiore’s main cloister. Descending one flight down lands you smack in the middle of ancient Neapolis’ marketplace. Stroll amongst dimly lit shopfronts of pale-yellow diamond-patterned bricks: once premises for the butcher, the baker, even the banker. Pass through an arched cryptoportico (a covered passageway that was perhaps the city’s fish market) and beyond find precious fragments of frescoes and mosaic floors.

Explore ancient-Greek tombs at the Necropolis of Neapolis

Join a guided tour with Celanapoli (celanapoli.it, reservations required) to step behind the creaking door of an unremarkable palazzo and down a flight of dusty stairs into this treasured vestige: two hypogea of the Hellenistic Necropolis of Neapolis. An earthquake serendipitously unearthed these 2400-year-old Greek aristocratic tombs, their lavish burial practices evidenced by precious fresco fragments and extraordinarily, the ochre feet and draped legs of a partially excavated high-relief sculpture, seemingly trapped in time and rock.

Carve out time to explore the San Gennaro Catacombs

A two-level labyrinthine complex chiselled into the yellow tuff of Capodimonte hill, the San Gennaro Catacombs are the largest in southern Italy. State of the art LED lighting casts an otherworldly glow on the floor-to-ceiling burial chambers, solemn chapels and precious frescoes and mosaics. Naples’ favourite patron saint, San Gennaro, once rested here. His deserted tomb and the oldest known portrait of him remain.

Dig into Dominican death rituals at the San Gaudioso Catacombs

Decompose and drain away: this was the ghastly burial practice favoured by the 17th-century Dominicans. Left behind at the San Gaudioso Catacombs are both the hollowed-out stone seats (cantarelle) that collected body fluids as they drained away and the skull-topped frescoes that acted as Dominican grave markers. Before the Dominicans, the North African bishop San Gaudioso and his contemporaries were entombed here. Frescoes and mosaics from the 5th and 6th centuries linger still.

Both San Gaudioso and San Gennaro Catacombs can only be visited on a guided tour, with the same ticket valid for both sites.

Care for lost souls at Fontanelle Cemetery

Witness the bygone cult of the anime pezzentelle (adopting a skull and caring for it in return for good graces) at Fontanelle Cemetery. Purposefully piled into ashen skeletal stacks around the perimeter of this colossal cave, are the skulls and bones – perhaps 40,000 or more above ground, millions more below – of the indigent and victims of large-scale epidemics. Adopted skulls are adorned with rosaries, crosses, prayer cards, flowers and other paraphernalia.

You can visit the cemetery, as well as the San Gennaro and San Gaudioso catacombs on Catacombe di Napoli’s Holy Mile tour.

One more crypt for the road

Skulls and femurs on this church’s facade foretell what is hidden beneath. Its name – Santa Maria of the Souls of Purgatory – hints that the cult of the anime pezzentelle is active here too. Find flower-strewn dirt beds, skulls and bones stacked into wall niches and a decrepit altar in a small, dank and dusty underground chapel (guided tours only). Most leave their offerings for the remains of the aspiring virgin-bride Lucia near the altar.

Journey to the centre of the earth at Toledo Metro Art Station

Naples Metro’s pioneering Art Stations project has made top-quality contemporary architecture and artworks an integral part of its citizens’ daily commutes. Of all the city’s Art Stations, Toledo Station (Via Toledo, open 6am-11pm, metro ticket required to go beyond the turnstiles) shines brighter than the rest, and it has the awards to prove it. Burrowed 50 meters into the earth, this descent is not into darkness, but into the light, from the black ground, through the ochre earth and into the soft blues of the sea, where Robert Wilson’s light panels ferry passengers to the train platform.

10 reasons you need to get to Niue

From July to September, migrating humpback whales stop off in Niue’s warm tropical waters to nurse their newly born calves, and the island is one of the only places on the planet where it is possible to swim with these gentle leviathans. The whales are often in surprisingly shallow waters, around 30 metres from Niue’s rocky coastline, which means some lucky participants on snorkelling trips have the opportunity to float gently in crystalline waters above the giant cetaceans. And dolphins are also regular visitors in these waters. Niue supports marine mammal conservation and is a signatory to the South Pacific Whale Sanctuary with a 200-mile exclusive zone. Whale interactions here are from a safe distance which respects their privacy and ensures the safety of the humans in the water too.

A network of exploration-ready caves

One of the world’s largest raised coral atolls, Niue is very different geographically from other South Pacific islands. There’s only one sandy beach at Avatele, and instead the craggy shoreline is dotted with  idiosyncratic sea caves. Bathed in shadow and light, Avaiki is cathedral-like; cool and shaded Matapa Chasm was the preferred swimming spot of Niuean nobility in earlier times; and the pools at Limu offer a super-sized natural aquarium that’s perfect for snorkelling.

Descending into Togo Chasm

Just reaching Togo Chasm is a mini-adventure as a 20-minute track meanders carefully from Niue’s circular coastal road through a jagged terrace of indigo coral pinnacles. As the wild blue of the Pacific extends to the horizon, a rustic ladder at the end of the track descends into a sandy palm-studded oasis that feels more Middle Eastern than the Pacific. Niue’s more exposed southeastern edge can be windy, but inside Togo’s compact natural canyon is always a warm and sheltered haven.

Deep-sea fishing a few hundred metres from shore

Savvy fishing fans from New Zealand regard Niue as one of the Pacific’s best open water fishing destinations, and marine anglers from other countries are also increasingly drawn by the opportunity to catch marlin, tuna, mahi mahi and sailfish. Because the waters around the island become extremely deep just a short distance from the coast, local fishing charters ensure it’s always a short boat trip to the best fishing areas. Traditional Niuean fishing opportunities include fishing from a vaka (canoe) or catching flying fish with an oversized net.

Crystalline waters and an idiosyncratic underwater landscape

With no streams or rivers draining into the ocean – instead, rainfall percolates the island’s porous interior to produce a huge subterranean water lens – the ocean waters around Niue are some of the South Pacific’s clearest. Underwater visibility can extend up to 100m, and local operators Buccaneer Adventures Niue Dive (dive.nu) and Magical Niue Sea Adventures (magicalniue.com) both other dive trips exploring the caverns, spectacular drop-offs and walls of coral around the island. Snorkelling and kayaking amid sheltered waters along Niue’s coastal network of sea caves is also very accessible.

Two-wheeled island adventures

Rugged trails radiate inland from Niue’s solitary coastal road, and mountain biking is growing in popularity.  More than 170km of relatively gentle trails course through taro plantations and tropical forest – bikes are available from most accommodation – and the annual Rally of the Rock (ridetherock2017.com) across two days in early June attracts riders from Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly the world. Day one is a competitive combination of road and trail riding, while day two sees participants immersed in a slightly less serious 64km circumnavigation of the entire island.

Meeting the locals

Fourteen villages host Niue’s concise population of around 1300 people and also provide familial links to the approximately 25,000 Niueans living in New Zealand. Visitors to the island are welcome at each village’s annual show day, wonderfully authentic, low-key affairs combining singing, dancing and local foods and crafts. Niuean weaving is renowned around the Pacific, and village matriarchs specialise in delicate hats and fans. Niue Tourism’s website (niueisland.com) lists village show days and other events throughout the year. Look forward to local flavours prepared in a traditional umu (earth oven).

Heavenly harmonies on a Sunday morning

Ethereal singing, friendly welcomes from the pastors to visitors to the island, and billowing hats decorated with tropical flowers all feature at Niuean churches every Sunday morning. It’s a day of rest, reflection and family – more energetic activities are not allowed – and attending church is a wonderfully warm way to meet the local community. It’s appropriate for men to wear long trousers and for women to don a hat, and don’t be surprised if you’re invited to stay for morning tea and a chat after the service.

Serve yourself on a Sunday afternoon

Perched right above the compact curve of Avatele Beach, the rustic, open-sided Washaway Bar & Cafe only opens on Sunday afternoons, but it’s an essential weekly destination for both locals and visitors. Quite possibly the South Pacific’s best burgers and fresh fish sandwiches team with cold beer, New Zealand wine and generously-poured spirits, and guests are encouraged to help themselves and settle the tab with owner Willie Saniteli at the end of the night. Welcome to perhaps the South Pacific’s only self-serve bar.

10 Best Vacation Islands in the Caribbean

Magnificent surroundings, turquoise blue water, palm trees, sandy beaches, exotic food and diverse cultures all come to mind when one dreams of escaping to the Caribbean isles. With over 7,000 islands to choose from, each one with its own unique charms, it can be a daunting task trying to plan the perfect Caribbean holiday. But that’s what we’re here for! So take a look at our list of the Caribbean’s best vacation islands.

1. U.S. Virgin Islands

The US Virgin Islands, only 1,000 miles away from the city of Miami, are something akin to 50 floating emeralds in a sapphire sea. Because they are part of the United States, the islands have somewhat of an American feel, but they nonetheless remain quintessentially Caribbean.

There are three main islands, all located within easy travel distance from each other. St. Croix, the easternmost island is also the largest and covered in green, rolling hills. St. Thomas hosts the capital city of Charlotte Amalie, and offers 13 miles of sandy beaches along its irregular coastline. Then there is St. John, the smallest of the three, most of which is covered by national park.

The US Virgin Islands has the busiest cruise port in the Caribbean and stellar shopping facilities on both St. Croix and St. Thomas. Liquor, tobacco, jewelry, native arts and crafts, fine art, leather goods, the list goes on. St. Thomas particularly is one of the best duty free shopping destinations in the Caribbean. There is no sales tax up to $1,200 per family member when you shop in the US Virgin Islands!

The islands are also great location for activities like hiking, turtle watching, snorkeling, scuba diving and water sports.

2. Turks and Caicos

Imagine 224 miles of beaches! That’s what you’ll find in Turks and Caicos! This coral reef-laden island paradise is known throughout the region for its unspoiled natural beauty. Providenciales, also called Provo, is the most popular among the many islands with tourists. However, if you prefer a quieter island, head over to Grand Turk and discover its charming old town and colonial past.

The Turks and Caicos are considered to be some of the world’s top destinations for scuba diving. Both islands have abundant coral reef, and thanks to the many dive shops it’s easy for both novices and experienced divers to get out on the water.

Shopping addicts will also love the Turks and Caicos with its array of designer watches, gold jewelry, local art and casual-island wear on display.

For nighttime entertainment, head over to Osprey Beach Hotel in Grand Turk for ripsaw music on Wednesdays and Sundays or to Grace Bay Club for a beautiful sunset around a beachfront fire pit.

3. St Kitts

St. Kitts was once known as ‘The Mother Colony’, the first permanent English settlement in the Caribbean. Today the island is covered in tea plantations with the locals still practicing decidedly British traditions like afternoon tea. One of the island’s prime attractions is the Brimstone Hill Fortress, which stands 800 feet high and offers stunning views of the mountainous island and its beaches.

Visitors looking for more of the island’s rich colonial history can visit the Romney Manor Plantation, which was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Likewise they can also visit the capital city of Basseterre to check out its many colonial-era buildings.

It’s not all history on St Kitts, the island has plenty of water activities too. Deep sea fishing, sailing, diving and windsurfing are all possible in the area. Check out Pinney’s Beach, the most happening spot on the island!

4. Sint Maarten/Saint Martin

Sint Maarten is an island that is divided into two halves, a French northern half and a Dutch southern half. At less than 100 square kilometers, it is one of the smallest islands in the world to be divided amongst two nations.

There is a border between the two sides, though checks are infrequent. The principal airport on the island is the Princess Juliana Airport, located on the Dutch side of the island. The airport is an attraction in itself because of its wild landing approach, which sees jets flying above a nearby beach and beachgoers just before hitting the runway.

The French side of the island is called Saint Martin. Known for its nude beaches and naturist lifestyle destinations, it is also noted for its delicious cuisine and luxury shopping. Its capital and largest city, with just under 6,000 people, is Marigot.

The Dutch side of the island is called Sint Maarten. Its capital and largest city, with only 1,300 people, is Philipsburg. Mostly famous for its vibrant nightlife, casinos and rum-based alcoholic beverages, it serves as a popular port of call for visiting cruise liners.

5. Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia is an island nation in the Lesser Antilles that was formerly a colony of both Britain and France. At only 600 square kilometers and 170,000 people, Saint Lucia is one of the world’s smallest independent countries.

It’s a beautiful, volcanic island that is covered in lush green rainforest. Its most famous landmarks are the Pitons, two peaks that jut straight up from the sea and are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One fun way for visitors to really explore the island is to hike to the peaks of these mountains with local tour guides.

The capital and largest city of Saint Lucia is Castries. The city has 60,000 people and is the point of disembarkation for most cruise ship passengers who visit the island. Marigot Bay is another city in Saint Lucia and is home to what many say is the most beautiful bay in the entire Caribbean!

Saint Lucia is a popular island for vacationers because of its hiking, diving, snorkeling and numerous beaches. Special note to Jazz music lovers, the St. Lucia Jazz festival is held in early May and is a great time to visit the island.

6. Aruba

Aruba is well known for its luxurious resorts, timeshares and fantastic casinos. Leading the way is the Copacabana Casino at the Hyatt Regency Aruba, the Crystal Casino at Renaissance Aruba and the Stellaris Casino at Aruba Marriott.

Don’t blow all of your money though, because Aruba also has other activities worth your while. Visitors can try their hand at snorkeling, diving and windsurfing, just to name a few. The Arikok National Wildlife Park is a great place to explore and hike the island’s desert terrain.

Aruba is a constituent country of Holland and has an interesting mix of Caribbean and Dutch culture. This is best seen in the island’s local cuisine. Check out the “dine around” program from the Aruba Gastronomic Association, which offers visitors a chance to dine at a wide number of restaurants throughout the entire island and taste everything Aruba has to offer!

7. Jamaica

Jamaica is one of the most popular islands in the entire Caribbean for vacationers! It’s a large island, more than 10,000 square kilometers, and befitting its size it has a wide array of beaches and charming cities.

Port Antonio on the island’s northeastern coast is home to one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country, Boston Bay Beach. Pass the time by relaxing on its white sand, trying your hand at surfing or eating at one of its many jerk pork street-food stands.

Another interesting part of Jamaica is Montego Bay, on the island’s northwestern coast. This is where many of Jamaica’s large resorts are situated, and is a very popular getaway with international visitors. There’s certainly no denying the appeal of long white sand beaches, all-inclusive luxury resorts, sunny weather and pulsating nightlife!

A unique way to experience Jamaica is by visiting the world-famous and raunchy resort Hedonism II. Located in Negril, this exclusive attraction is known for its anything-goes party atmosphere. Swingers and exhibitionists alike have been singing its praises for years!

PS: Make sure to brush up on your Jamaican English before your trip by listening to some Bob Marley!

8. Dominican Republic

One the largest countries in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic occupies the eastern half of the island Hispaniola, which it shares with Haiti. Rest assured though, the Dominican Republic is a world apart from the troubles that have recently befallen Haiti.

The Dominican Republic is famous for its rich wildlife, beautiful white sand beaches and exciting nightlife. Its locals, meanwhile, are known for their good looks, tanned bodies and relaxed demeanors.

The two most visited areas in the Dominican Republic are Puerto Plata and Punta Cana. Puerto Plata is a medium-sized city located on the country’s northern coast. It offers a sizzling nightlife, beautiful beaches and excellent shopping. Punta Cana, on the other hand, is located in the far east of the country. It’s a more remote area than Puerto Plata and it offers plenty of solitude and some of the most striking beaches in the Dominican Republic!

9. Cuba

It may come as a surprise to many Americans, but Cuba’s tourism industry is alive and well. In fact, tourists from every nation but America have been frequenting Cuba for years and the island is especially popular amongst Canadian and French travelers.

Travelers who have visited Cuba, often say that vacationing on the island offers a glimpse of what the Caribbean was like thirty years ago. With its paradisaical natural beauty, unspoiled by large resorts and mass tourism, Cuba is certainly a welcome relief from the Caribbean’s more commercial destinations.

The capital of Cuba is Havana; a city steeped in historical lore. Before the communist revolution, after all, Havana was the hottest spot in the Caribbean. A center for movie stars, international playboys and gangsters alike, who came to celebrate the good life in one of the city’s many casinos.

These days the casinos are gone, but remnants of the city’s glamor still remain. Hemingway’s old haunts call to visitors and classic American cars ply the streets, sailing past the crumbling facades of disused hotels.

But that’s enough about Havana. The best place to enjoy Cuba’s beautiful sun, sand and surf is at Varadero on the island’s northern coast. Situated on a tiny peninsula, only one-kilometer wide and jutting out into the sea, visitors will find 20 kilometers of white sand beaches, dozens of beachfront resorts and Cuba’s only 18-hole golf course.

10. Barbados

The small island of Barbados is without a doubt one of the most beautiful islands in the world! It is the easternmost island in the Caribbean and is surrounded by an offshore coral reef, giving the island’s waters an amazing turquoise color and making them ideal for snorkeling or swimming.

More so, friendly locals, known as Bajans, do their best to make sure that visitors to Barbados feel the true warmth of the Caribbean!

Most visitors to the island choose to stay on its west coast, also known as the Platinum Coast, where many of the island’s luxury resorts and villas are located. One of the many notable beaches in the vicinity is Mullins Beach; a great place for swimming.

The capital of Barbados is Bridgetown. Here visitors will find a large selection of duty-free shops and restaurants. Many of the hotels and resorts on the island offer free shuttle services to and from Bridgetown.

For a great dining experience, Brown Sugar in southern Barbados offers more than 30 creole and local dishes. Try souse (pickled pork, stewed for hours), cou-cou, buljol, Bajan flying fish, coconut shrimp and many more. Don’t miss the pawpaw pie and rum pudding for dessert.

10 Destinations for Honeymooners

More than just a romantic getaway, a honeymoon is about creating memories that will last a lifetime. The destination selected for such an important life event has to be many things: romantic, exotic, fun and most importantly, memorable.

Las Vegas, Nevada

While Vegas has a reputation of being “Sin City”, the truth is that the city is well suited for all and there are plenty of fun and exciting options for couples. Of course there are the various casinos offering poker games and other gambling, but Vegas is much more than just gambling.

Las Vegas casinos offer numerous options to newlyweds for entertainment including Broadway caliber shows, world-class entertainers, and some of the best nightlife in the United States. The Excalibur offers something you don’t see everywhere and that is live action jousting tournament known as the Tournament of Champions. While technically a dinner theater, patrons dine Medieval style while watching one of the more unique performances you will see in Vegas.

If you are a bit more adventurous, you can try the Vegas Zip Line. The zip line runs the length of Fremont Street and is an 800 ft controlled descent that can reach speeds of 30 miles per hour. Also, remember that the Grand Canyon is just a couple of hours away and you can even purchase day trip tickets with local companies and save the expense of renting a car for the trip.

France

While it sounds cliché, France is without a doubt the most romantic country in the world! Of course, Paris is the most popular destination for honeymooners. Known as the city of lights and considered to be the world’s most romantic city, Paris has been entrancing newlyweds for centuries. Take a romantic stroll along the river Seine, shop as much as your pocketbook can handle on the Champs-Élysées and enjoy the incredible views from the Eiffel Tower.

France, of course, is much more than just Paris. The Loire Valley is located several hundred kilometers southeast of Paris is world renowned for its charming vineyards, delicious wine, rural beauty and elegant châteaux. Although many of the châteaux have unique qualities that would make them special to visit, three that truly stand out are Chambord, Azay le Rideau and Chenonceau.

In the south of France visitors flock to the Côte d’Azur and the city of Nice. Here the turquoise water, year-round sun and pulsating nightlife keeps couples entertained. One interesting time to visit the French Riviera is during the Cannes Film Festival. Held every year in May, this festival attracts celebrities and entertainers from around the world. The entire region takes on a festive atmosphere and there are many free shows and concerts to enjoy.

Saint Lucia

Saint Lucia is an island nation in the Lesser Antilles that was formerly a colony of both Britain and France. At only 600 square kilometers and 170,000 people, Saint Lucia is one of the world’s smallest independent countries.

It’s a beautiful, volcanic island that is covered in lush green rainforest. Its most famous landmarks are the Pitons, two peaks that jut straight from the sea and are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One fun way for visitors to explore the island is to hike to the peaks of these mountains with local tour guides.

The capital and largest city of Saint Lucia is Castries. The city has 60,000 people and is the point of disembarkation for most cruise ship passengers who visit the island. Marigot Bay is another city in Saint Lucia and is home to what many say is the most beautiful bay in the entire Caribbean!

Saint Lucia is a popular island for honeymooning couples because of its hiking, diving, snorkeling and many beaches. Special note to Jazz music lovers, the St. Lucia Jazz festival is in early May and is a fun time to visit the island.

Mexico

Mexico’s popularity as a honeymoon destination is undeniable! Tourists tend to stick to the coastal regions, but thankfully Mexico has about 6,000 miles of coastline to enjoy!

One Pacific coast hot spot for honeymooners is Cabo San Lucas. Popular with Californians, Cabo is located on the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula. The city hosts a countless number of luxury resorts and health spas. The weather is almost always perfect and the drinks are cold!

On the opposite side of the country the tropical Yucatan and its Caribbean coastline is the big attraction. While Cancun gets its fair share of honeymooners, the city may be better suited for drunken spring breakers. Other places in the Yucatan like Playa del Carmen and the island of Cozumel offer quieter and more romantic alternatives. The warm nights, Caribbean Sea and jungle atmosphere all combine to create the perfect honeymoon.

Want to do something crazy on your honeymoon? Check out the Hidden Beach Resort near Playa del Carmen. This is one of the world’s most luxurious nudist resorts! Guests are greeted upon arrival with a glass of champagne and stay in one of 42 beachfront suites overlooking the Caribbean Sea, complete with a private two-person Jacuzzi. The resort is gated and surrounded by walls within a mangrove jungle and no one is allowed to take photos or videos, perfect for a relaxing vacation.

French Polynesia

French Polynesia is the ultimate honeymoon destination for couples who can afford it. Consisting of several island groups in the South Pacific, there are three main islands: Tahiti, Moorea and Bora Bora.

Tahiti, being home to the territory’s only international airport, is the first island most visitors see. It’s known for its indulgent health resorts and spas, however there are other activities like the local markets, cascading waterfalls, jungle hikes and secluded beaches.

Bora Bora is the most strikingly beautiful island in French Polynesia. Surrounded by coral reel, the island is a volcanic caldera and has a dramatic rise from the sea. Here couples can find some of the world’s most secluded, luxurious and expensive resorts. The traditional style on the island is to build private bungalows over the water and connected via wooden piers. This type of accommodation provides the utmost in elegance and surely makes for an unforgettable experience.

10 Most Visited Caribbean Islands

The choice destination for daydreamers everywhere, the Caribbean easily surpasses even the most fantastic images that spring to mind. Grab a pina colada and get ready to leave the slush behind because it’s time to check out the top 10 most visited Caribbean islands. A few more sips, and yes, there’s the warm breeze and the azure waves lazily lapping at your feet while you feast on mango and fried yucca. And we’re off…

1. Turks and Caicos Islands with 354,000 visitors

Turks and Caicos is the ideal Caribbean destination, with around 230 miles of white sand beaches lining the 40-island archipelago. Avid divers and snorkelers can enjoy pristine reefs, thanks to the protected status and lack of industry. Additionally, visitors can fish, bird watch and explore caves and shipwrecks. Or just unwind and indulge at the upscale resorts that often play host to vacationing celebrities.

2. Sint Maarten with 424,000 visitors

Sint Maarten is a mix-and-match of various cultures, cuisines and things to do. The Dutch constituent country shares the tiny island with the French collectivity of Saint-Martin. Visitors can feast on cuisine that mixes Dutch, French and native elements, test their luck at the casinos, spend the winnings at the duty-free shops, party until dawn, and then finally, take in the natural beauty. Adrenaline junkies can parachute over the island, explore the central mountain range and partake in any number of water sports. Sint Maarten is also ground zero for yachting, echoing the over-the-top indulgence of the whole island.

3. U.S. Virgin Islands with 536,000 visitors

Water Island, St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas comprise the U.S. Virgin Islands, each with their own unique, must-see qualities. Over half of St. John’s 12,500 acres are national park, and each beach comes standard with clear waters, pristine sand and unspoiled views. For a historical take, walk the Heritage Trail on St. Croix and then visit the protected sea turtles at Sandy Point. Splash around in shallow Magens Bay and walk through the capital on St. Thomas. And if that isn’t enough, truly get away from it all on Water Island, where there’s no cars and nary a store, and barely 200 inhabitants.

4. Barbados with 568,000 visitors

As if the beaches and slow pace of life wasn’t enough, Barbados is also the birthplace of rum, and no visit is complete without a night of too many rum punches. Enjoy the signature drink while watching the horse races, at a fish fry, at the club or at any point of the the 70 miles of beaches. Honeymooners and travelers can snorkel or swim in the reefs on the south side of the island or surf on the choppy waves on the eastern edge, which is considered one of the best surfing spots in the world.

5. Aruba with 870,000 visitors

Just off the coast of Venezuela, Aruba is outside the the main hurricane avenue and has a dry, sunny climate, making it the ideal for a Caribbean getaway. The island has it all, from Arikok National Park, which covers almost 20% of the island, to world-class wreck diving and surfing to an all-night nightlife. Whether chilling out on Eagle Beach or horseback riding through the countryside, Aruba’s motto of “One Happy Island” immediately rings true.

6. The Bahamas with 1,346,000 visitors

Consisting of 700 islands, of which just 23 are inhabited, it seems the possibilities are endless in The Bahamas. From Christopher Columbus to the pirate Blackbeard, the chain of islands has seen its fair share of history’s noted adventurers, but these days the visitors tend to be of a calmer ilk. Honeymooners, adventure seekers and families can soak up a wide range of activities, including the endless beaches and pampering in the many resorts. Get moving with all sorts of water sports or a dive for some sunken treasure. For even more traveling, check out the unique sights and history of the various islands.

7. Jamaica with 1,952,000 visitors

Jamaica’s probably the best known out of all the Caribbean offerings thanks to Bob Marley, reggae and Rastafarianism. Swirled together with jerk seasoning, Jamaica presents a rich mix of culture and history unlike the rest of the Caribbean. The island is also the poster child of elopers and newlyweds everywhere, with its romantic all-inclusive resorts and dreamy landscapes. Outside the resorts, visitors can find breathtaking waterfalls and trails as well as the Caribbean’s dependable crystalline waters and the chance to swim with dolphins.

8. Cuba with 2,688,000 visitors

Although restricted for U.S. citizens, Cuba sees a steady stream of worldwide visitors every year, including a growing number of American visitors arriving from Canada or Mexico. The Antilles’ biggest island lack of economic powerhouse pales in comparison to its incredible rich heritage, food, and history. The faded architecture looks more shabby chic than run-down, and the preservation of iconic sites and traditions presents visitors with a deep look into Cuban history and pride. And the country’s popular medical tourism proves that Cuba has plenty of modern offerings. Of course, it should go without saying that the lush countryside, bays and inlets are just as vivid as the houses, music and people in the cities.

9. Puerto Rico with 3,048,000 visitors

Although small, Puerto Rico requires at least a week’s stay to truly experience the wide range of activities and day trips available. The flawless island features world-class beaches, stick-to-your-ribs food and the El Yunque rainforest. Added to the charming colonial architecture and electric hum of life, Puerto Rico is one place that fits the bill for all types. The rum tastings certainly don’t hurt the island’s image, either.

10. Dominican Republic with 4,306,000 visitors

The beauty and the sense of being a part of a buzzing, pulsing atmosphere makes the Dominican Republic a fine choice for a holiday. The scenery just doesn’t stop, from beaches and waterfalls to deserts and mountains packed into its half of the island of Hispaniola. Santo Domingo, the Caribbean’s largest city, bounces along to a blasting merengue soundtrack, stealing the title of the city that never sleeps. And the near guarantee of new friends and a push to eat more all signify the makings of a perfect getaway that requires a sequel.

Whale Watching in Vancouver

The west coast of British Columbia is home to thousands of marine and terrestrial wildlife, and spans almost 1000 kilometers of fertile coastline and temperate rain forest from Victoria on Vancouver Island to the border of Alaska. But for many people, even those who live their entire lives in this beautiful stretch of wilderness, few things compare to witnessing whales and orca in their natural habitat.

Wild Whales, owned and operated by Roger Obayashi, and staffed by a number of knowledgeable biologists and naturalists, is the only dedicated whaling tour operating in Vancouver. Conveniently located on Granville Island, they have several different tours that leave daily, including open-air and covered jet boats. The open-air is definitely the way to go if one’s feeling adventurous – not only is it thrilling to be exposed to the elements, but it gives a much more “organic” feel to the experience as the boat skips across the waves of the Georgia Strait and navigates through the many labyrinthine archipelagos and islands that make up geography of the Gulf Islands (from Pender Island all the way down to the San Juan islands, there’s almost 400 different islands ranging in size and shape).

However, although they equip travelers with very comfortable and water-proof anti-exposure suits, it’s a good idea to bring several warm under-layers if the weather looks iffy, and if it’s sunny don’t forget the sun-screen. Also keep in mind that the closer travelers are the front of the boat, the more they’ll feel the thump of the waves, and the more likely they are to get a face full of ocean spray (although, if you’re like me, that’s half the fun).

As much as it’s advertised as “whale watching,” there’s a lot more to the experience – the naturalist who acts as the guide is also a wealth of information regarding the history and landscape of the area, other sea life in the area, and offers their own personal anecdotes about living and studying marine life. For instance, the difference between transient and resident orca pods, and the fact that whales stay with their pods for life, often times hunting other smaller prey in packs like wolves.

When the boat does finally come across one of the three resident orca pods in the region – popularly known as “killer whales” – it will be well worth the wait, and enough to elicit “ooohs” and “aaahs” from everyone on board. Because they’re mammals they require air, and will breach the surface with their slick black dorsal fins, sometimes slapping their flukes on the water or popping their heads up to take a look around. They’re graceful undulating forms belong to a species that have, like wolves, endured a fallacious reputation as ‘murderous killers’ – they are hunters, but many people are surprised by their generally docile behavior, and Wild Whales takes its role as facilitators to educate guests on all aspects of orca behavior.

This includes the fact that, unlike baleen species (like humpback and blue whales who have plates they used to strain krill), orca have actual teeth. Sightings of them differ from day to day because they can travel great distances – their maximum speed can be in excess of 50 kilometers per hour. However, Wild Whales is a devoted partner of the Pacific Whale Watch Association (PWWA) that enforces a strong philosophy and practice of respecting orcas in their natural habitat, limiting contact to an hour at a time and always staying at least 100 meters back.

It is one thing to see these creatures in an aquarium, which offers its own advantages in terms of being able to learn from and study them – however it is quite another thing to observe them in their natural habitat where they can roam freely. It is no wonder that they have inspired the First Nations people of Canada and the United States for millennia in their arts and mythology, and through the efforts of conservation organization and other programs designed to increase public awareness, hopefully they will continue to inspire future generations.

10 Best Places to See Wildlife in Asia

It’s true that illegal logging, poachers and globalization are all taking their unfortunate toll on lush Asian terrain and the wildlife it houses. However, many sanctuaries and national parks are doing their part to rehabilitate endangered species and reintroduce them into the wild, as well as to establish eco-tourism adventures. And with so many refuges across Asia, travelers can choose by country, animal or type of adventure for a customized visit to the animal kingdom. To make that choice easier, however, we have collected the ten best places in all of Asia for wildlife watching.

1. Ranthambore National Park, India

The former hunting grounds of the maharajas of Jaipur, Ranthambore National Park is now one of the largest national parks in northern India. Its main draw is seeing tigers in their natural habitat; however, the park has much more to offer. The 10th-century, 700-foot tall Ranthambore fortress lies within the sanctuary, and visitors can also spot hyenas, wild boar, leopards and a huge variety of local flora and fauna.

2. Woraksan National Park, South Korea

Woraksan sees visitors all year around, yet it’s still a great escape as it never gets too crowded. Steep hikes may be a reason why it’s never teeming with visitors, but making the trip results in spectacular views above the clouds and the chance to climb around the ruins of a 13th-century fortress. The park features thousands of plant, amphibian, mammal, reptile and insect species, 16 of which are endangered. Lucky trekkers will spot the rare antelope that are monitored with radio transmitters.

3. Shaanxi Province, China

Just seeing photos of pandas is enough for an involuntary “aww!” so it may be hard to control yourself when visiting the Foping Nature Reserve, which had a population of 64 giant pandas at last count. Nestled in the bio-diverse Qinling Mountains, the reserve is surrounded by other sanctuaries, like the Zhouzhi Nature Reserve, which is in the foothills of the Qinling Mountains and specializes in rescuing injured animals and protecting endangered species, including giant pandas and golden monkeys.

4. Xe Pian National Protected Area, Laos

Tucked near the Cambodian border, Xe Pian is renowned for its gibbon population and diversity of species, several of which have not been found in any other park in Laos. In addition to the gibbon, visitors can spot Asian elephants, tigers and the so-cute-it-hurts Asian black bear. Dolphins reside in the three rivers that run through the evergreen and deciduous forests and vast flatlands.

5. Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Yala National Park is one of Sri Lanka’s oldest and most well-known national parks. It’s most famous for its large numbers of elephants and leopards, which can be seen when on safari. The park covers several ecosystems, including moist and dry monsoon forests and wetlands. Historical and religious sites and ruins add to the must-see list. The park is divided into five blocks, making it easier to plan a trip.

6. Similan Islands, Thailand

This archipelago of nine islands is known as one of the top diving destinations in the world. Whether diving or snorkeling, it’s possible to see spectacular coral reefs, schools of tropical fish, manta rays and sea turtles during the short November-April open season. Mu Ko Similan National Park allows visitors the pleasure of seeing air, land and sea-based wildlife, from birds and sixteen species of bats, to vipers, pythons and lizards, to much friendlier bottlenose dolphins.

7. Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary, The Philippines

Going on an African safari can, in fact, be done on a friendlier budget and possibly closer to home at the Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary, an island off the coast of Busuanga in the Philippines. Established in 1976, the sanctuary took in 104 animals, including zebras, gazelles, giraffes and impalas that were at risk of drought and being affected by war in their native Kenya. The animal population has grown nearly five-fold since its inception. The sanctuary has also been beneficial for local wildlife. Calamian deer, once on the edge of extinction, are now flourishing, and the protected coral reefs have mostly recovered from damaging fishing practices.

8. Danum Valley Conservation Area, Sabah, Malaysia

Spread over nearly 440 square kilometers in lowland rainforest, Danum Valley was unoccupied by humans when it opened. Once in the valley, visitors can take guided walks and drives and nighttime safaris to try and spot the Borneo pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino, Malay sun bear and more. During durian season, the chances of seeing orangutans increase. The real treat here, however, is the birdwatching, as it’s the only place where the spectacled flowerpecker has been spotted.

9. Bonin Islands, Japan

The Bonin Islands (known as the Ogasawara Islands in Japan) have the distinction of being the most isolated destination on this list, as the only way to get there is by a 25-hour ferry from Tokyo. It’s totally worth it, though, as visitors have an astounding 90% chance of seeing humpback whales from February-April. Visitors can also see sperm whales in the summer and fall, and dolphins all year around. The islands are also unusual in that they were never connected to the Japanese mainland or any other continent, and therefore are home to crabs, insects and birds not found anywhere else in the world.

10. Gunung Leuser National Park, Indonesia

This national park is home to over 500 species of animals, including nearly 200 types of mammals. Sumatran tigers and flying lemurs, along with clouded leopards, flying frogs and sambar deer are just a sampling of one of the most diverse animal populations in Indonesia. Gunung Leuser also includes a rehabilitation house for orangutans. Situated in the near-pristine Bukit Barisan Mountains, the park’s altitude shoots from zero to 3,381 meters, with the Alas River cutting the park in half.

10 Places to See Wildlife in the United States

With such diverse and delicate ecosystems, it’s no surprise that the United States has several top-notch parks, refuges and slightly off-the-beaten-track areas to spot the nation’s breathtaking wildlife and nature. These coral reefs, glaciers, woods and swamplands highlight the vast array of the country’s wildlife, including many endangered species. Visitors can see the world how Mother Nature intended and get a very practical education at these unique sites.

1. Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky

The world’s longest cave system, Mammoth Cave has rightly earned its name with over 400 miles of underground twists and turns that have been explored. Mammoth can also describe its abundance of 130 species, 70 of which are endangered. Much of the wildlife is is small in size but accurately reflect the otherworldly vibe. Opossums, Kentucky Cave Shrimp and white-tailed deer occupy the caves and surrounding Green River Valley. The most famous draw of all though are the several species of bat the populate the caves. There is a heavy emphasis on preservation to increase their numbers, but even in their small groups, they remain a fascinating and creepy sight. Outside the caves, the focus on preservation continues, as the river otter was recently reintroduced to the Green River.

2. Orcas Island, Washington

True to its name, Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands, is a prime location to see orca whales, but this island has much more to offer. While on a boat tour or just kayaking around, visitors are likely to see whales, seals and a cacophonous array of seabirds. Elephant seals, sea lions and dolphins make seasonal appearances. To brush off sea legs, get on a bike or horse in Moran State Park and look up to appreciate all manner of birds, from hummingbirds to owls.

3. Acadia National Park, Maine

New England’s only national park, Acadia sits along Maine’s rocky eastern coast. The meeting of sea and land, besides breathtaking views, means seeing double the wildlife. Acadia is a natural draw for birdwatchers, who can see the peregrine falcon that’s recently come back from the brink of extinction. Songbirds, herons, seabirds and harlequin ducks abound in the 53,000-acre park.Starfish, crabs and more make an appearance along the shoreline when the tide goes out, and much harder to miss are the whales, dolphins and seals splashing about off the coast of Mt. Desert Island.

4. Big Bend National Park, Texas

Situated along the Texas-Mexico border, Big Bend National Park retains a wild, rambling feel. While the 3,600 varieties of insects may only appeal to a sliver of the population, they are dwarfed literally and figuratively by regular bear and mountain lion sightings, or the chance to see a roadrunner, javelina or coyote. Bats are one of the main draws, as there are more than 20 different species, including the Mexican Long-Nosed Bat, which has only been observed in this part of the United States.

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee/North Carolina

Over 1,500 black bears populate this national park, making them the unofficial symbol of this region of the Smoky Mountains. Really, though, they’re just the tip of the animal kingdom, as the park is home to over 200 varieties of birds and an impressive amount of mammals, fish and reptiles. Elk were recently reintroduced to the park in 2001, although it’s more common to spot white-tailed deer, groundhogs and some species of bat. Unexpectedly, the park is also home to 30 species of salamander, making it one of the only places on earth to have such a vast array of these critters.

6. Virgin Islands National Park, St. John

Combining a chance to jet to the Caribbean and the opportunity to swim alongside schools of fish, Virgin Islands National Park seems like a no-brainer choice for a destination. The park covers nearly 65% of the island, and of course the crystalline waters also provide snorkelers a trail along which they can see the hundreds of species of fish in action. Visitors can check out fish as they dart in and out of coral reefs or seagrass meadows and possibly see how the seascape and marine traffic shift if they visit at different times during the day. Back on land, the park is home to six native species of bat, wild donkeys and lizards and frogs of all sizes.

7. Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii

Waves crashing onto the ragged cliffs provide a stunning backdrop to Kilauea Point refuge, which deftly combines Hawaii’s world-famous beauty and the need to preserve it and its animal kingdom. Located on the island of Kaua’i, the refuge works to preserve and protect migratory seabirds and the native nene, or Hawaiian goose, which is also the state bird. There’s an established colony of nene, and albatross, boobies and various shorebirds often stop by for a visit. Offshore, visitors can spot monk seals in the water or catching some rays on the beaches, and endangered humpback whales and spinner dolphins will occasionally breach nearby.

8. Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Alaska is full of natural treasures, not least of which is the nation’s highest mountain Mt. McKinley, in Denali National Park. But to the south of Denali lies Kenai Fjords National Park, the majority of which is only accessible by boat and contains one of the largest ice fields in the United States. Harding Icefield covers much of the inland territory, and just over half of the fjords are covered in ice. But there’s still a seemingly endless amount of wildlife in the area. In the water, sea otters, sea lions, seals, orcas and humpback whales play and hunt, while black bears, Alaskan brown bears, moose and mountain goats call the park home. The park is next to the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, where visitors can camp and those with permits can fish for salmon and trout or hunt moose and caribou.

9. Everglades National Park, Florida

It’s hard to believe that downtown Miami sits barely 45 minutes by car from the Everglades, which have achieved a near-mythical and mysterious status in popular culture, thanks to the allure of danger. Leaving the urban jungle leads straight into another one, or rather the largest subtropical wilderness in the country. Egrets, wood storks and spoonbills will please bird enthusiasts and provide a soothing counterpart to the main reason everyone comes here: it’s the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side. See these creatures while walking or biking through the park paths. Visitors can take tram or boat rides, or rent an airboat for a more up close and personal experience.

10. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Overflowing into three states, Yellowstone is one of best things the United States has on offer. The 2.2 million acres are simply majestic, with the Old Faithful geyser, its own version of the Grand Canyon and the endless persistence to continually overcome devastating forest fires. Added to the fact that the park sits on an apocalyptic-sounding “super volcano” and the whole experience becomes transformative. And that’s not even including the 67 different mammals that call the park home. Elk, bison, grizzly and black bears, coyotes, wolverines, mountain lions and the bald eagle snap visitors to attention, realizing that the heavenly park is definitively ruled by the animal kingdom. Most controversially, gray wolves were reintroduced to the park in 1995 after a nearly 70-year absence, and it remains a point of contention among locals.