8 Ways to Explore the Mighty Amazon River

The diversity and unrivaled size of the Amazon basin is a wonder adventure travelers flock to for experiencing the incredible ecosystem and boundless opportunity for exploration. Larger than India, the basin stretches over eight countries, offering more subtle joys than grandiose expectations: quiet, riverside villages, haunting cries of howler monkeys, and the silent but mighty movement of the river itself. This springboard to almost 30% of the word’s species provides a look at astounding bio-diversity and though unexpected surprises are possible, it’s the sheer breadth of the backdrop that’s most impressive.

8. White Water Rafting

The largest section of the Amazon River flows through Brazil just below the equator: the river runs east to west, crosses into Peru, and features tributaries throughout Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Columbia. Immense amounts of water cascade from the Andes into flourishing Amazon canyons, crating exhilarating white water rafting experiences. The Amazon delivers exciting journeys spanning a day or two to three weeks and more with options for different ability levels. A four-day journey along the Rio Apurímac starts near Lima, Peru: the river carves through 9,000-foot deep canyons then unwaveringly descends into broad, bucolic valleys and lush Amazon rainforests. Adrenaline junkies might prefer a 12-day jaunt along the Tambopata River beginning north on the Lake Titicaca shoreline in Puno in Peru’s high plains. Riverside camping, and wildlife viewing (parrots, monkeys, alligators, tapirs, and more) are part of this intoxicating adventure.

Photo by: Ecuador and More
Photo by: Ecuador and More

7. Canopy Tours

Where primates effortlessly glide through forest canopies, navigating the trees has become a long lost skill among people today. Thankfully some innovative and ambitious entrepreneurs have allowed us to reclaim some of that lush domain and take the trees via zip-line and canopy tours, and what better place to experience the joy of careening over the jungle than in the Amazon basin. This incredible perspective offers a close look at wildlife whose habitats would otherwise be completely shrouded. These tours are also environmentally friendly, eliminating the need for disrupting habitats while trekking through undisturbed forest areas. This eco-friendly activity involves gliding nimbly amid treetops from platform to platform, gaining speeds of around 30 kilometers, hitting both penchants for raising adrenaline and exploring the Amazon’s ecosystem without disturbing animals and plant life. There are opportunities in each country in the basin to arrange zip-lining and canopy tours.

Zipline jungle

6. Wildlife Sanctuary Volunteer Work

Volunteering at one of the many wildlife sanctuaries in the Amazon is an eye-opening, and rewarding experience. Volunteers needn’t have special knowledge of animals but are required to have passion and stamina as well as a team-building attitude. Volunteers help to rehabilitate some of the most exotic wildlife found in the Amazon basin–animals injured by other animals, suffering from unfortunate accidents, rescued from animal trafficking, or situations of mistreatment and/or illegal situations. In Ecuador, there is ample opportunity to participate in wildlife rehabilitation and release programs, many which work together with local indigenous communities. Volunteers work on feeding and care, helping to maintain the sanctuary, and constructing animal enclosures with professionals among other specified duties. These programs are great for anyone in a wildlife field or program though you truly only have to be an animal lover to participate.

baby monkey

5. Jungle Trekking

Wildlife reserves and national parks throughout the Amazon River basin are plentiful and ideal for observing wildlife in natural habitats. Guided hikes (especially through Brazil’s Jaú National Park and Peru’s Manú National Park) are the most popular ways to explore–a professional, well-versed expert treks where you’re almost guaranteed a look at a host of native animals including pink river dolphins, manatees, caimans, massive river turtles, a wealth of primate species and maybe even a jaguar, not to mention some incredible trees and plants. Treks span anywhere from a day to several days to weeks with accommodation in a lodge or camp in the jungle. To reach the deepest parts of the Amazon, treks usually involve a lot of canoeing or kayaking which requires a healthy level of physical fitness. The packages are diverse, including anything from piranha fishing to bird watching and anaconda hunting (just to look at of course).

Amazon jungle trekking

4. Amazon River Jungle Beaches

The beaches of the Amazon River are scattered around Manuas in Brazil. Ponta Negra Beach is 12 kilometers long, running along a Brazilian neighborhood ripe with restaurants and bars. The beach is far from the deepest reaches of the Amazon rainforest but sits on a tributary and is perhaps one of the most relaxing and convenient aspects of the basin. Tupe Beach is 32 kilometers from Manuas, a white sand beach on the dark Rio Negro busiest on weekends but sublimely empty during the week. When the river recedes, 260 feet of sand is available–a popular place for sunbathing. On the Rio Negro’s left bank is Moon Beach, shaped like a crescent moon and backed by lush vegetation. The water is cold, clean, and clear and fringed by white sand–an ideal Amazon river beach to enjoy the Brazilian sun and relax or a day or two.

Ponta Negra Beach

3. Go Eco-Chic

For some, the Amazon jungle is extremely enticing but roughing it in a tent or rustic lodge just isn’t in the cards. Staying in an eco-chic cabin, or glamping, is a great solution–a way to revel in rainforest beauty without worrying about insects, snakes, or other possibly undesirable creatures. Staying in a comfortable, and often chic little cabin, rather than taking a machete through a week-long jungle trek, is an ideal solution. In fact, you can skip the trek altogether, pick up a few nice bottles of wine, and spend some time basking in the rainforest backdrop while wiling away your time in a breezy hammock. Eco-lodges built from reclaimed materials, are a great way to stay protected in the thick of the jungle and often feature flush toilets, screened restaurants, and hot showers in sustainable accommodations with little to no environmental impact.

eco lodge amazon

2. River Cruising

From budget to luxury, there are hundreds of options for navigating tributaries of the Amazon River and Rio Negro to explore the forest depths. Cruises offer a different perspective than jungle trekking, showcasing marine species such as piranha, river dolphins, and giant otters along with wildlife along the riverbanks: kingfishers, herons, squirrel monkeys, parrots, and more. As budget and time allow, river cruise activities can also include fishing, viewing colossal water lilies, and visiting riverside villages. Hammock-rigged boats afford a look at passing scenery with ease–some boats are fully equipped with professional guides (and air conditioned cabins) ready and able to cruise the whole stretch of the Amazon, stopping at points of interest along the way. Pontoon boats, big barges, and simple, traditional boats make this journey all the time. Villages use the river as a main transportation source so there’s always many options for different tastes.

Amazon Discovery Cruise

1. Anavilhanas Archipelago

The unforgettable scenic journey throughout the scenic Anavilanas Archipelago is one of the most impressive adventures available in the Amazon. This group of river islands is the largest in a freshwater archipelago and located in Brazilian Amazon on the Rio Negro–just over 95 kilometers from Manaus upstream where the river broadens 26 kilometers wider. Extreme biodiversity is the main attractions here, where the preserved area encompasses more than 390 islands spanning almost 100 kilometers and blanketed by native rainforest. This natural, incredible labyrinth teems with wildlife and diverse landscapes. Many say the best way to see the archipelago is on a live-aboard cruiser or by staying overnight at one of the area’s lodges. This spot is especially good for birders–hummingbirds, parrots, and owls are just a few bird species to spot. Pink dolphins and caimans also make appearances in this flourishing Amazon region.

Anavilhanas Amazon

10 of the World’s Most Unusual Accommodations

There are traditional hotels the world over, from inexpensive motels to five-star luxury resorts offering a spread of classic services. For some, a clean room, comfortable bed, and a few valuable services are ideal but for those with a wild side and a definitive sense of adventure, something more unexampled is in the cards. Thankfully innovative hoteliers have come out of the woodwork to share their unusual–and sometimes even bizarre–hotel concepts. From Brazilian treetop rooms to a hotel made entirely of salt, here are ten of the world’s most interesting and unusual accommodations.

10. Propeller Island City Lodge, Germany

Berlin’s Propeller Island City Lodge is a visual masterpiece and a hotel unlike any other. Lars Stroschen, a renowned German artist, has designed a hotel-meets-museum backdrop with 30 one-of-a-kind rooms spanning from tame to incredibly dramatic. From a room with beds crafted from lion’s cages to one with a padded cell and another with a sloping floor called Mineshaft, these rooms are anything but conventional. The living work of art is nothing short of incredibly creativity–an inspiring feat for any visitor. The hotel is situated in fairly incognito postwar area block mostly comprising flats and accessible to exploring Berlin’s most significant destinations. A truly standout hotel, Propeller Island City Lodge is imagination coming to life from the head of an extremely innovative mind. If possible, ask for a multi-room stay to get real a feel for the breadth of the rooms.

Photo by: Mercury Press / Caters News
Photo by: Mercury Press / Caters News

9. The Dog Bark Park Inn, Idaho

About as unconventional as it gets when it comes to hotels, The Dog Bark Park Inns in Idaho is an immediate attraction for dog-lovers, even those just driving by. Chainsaw artists own the Beagle-shaped hotel, which stands at 12 feet and sleeps four. The second-story deck is the entryway and portal to the interior body, reached via a large sliding door and near (surprise) a giant fire hydrant. The Dog Bark Park Inns is on the grounds of Dog Bark Park where visitors can browse folk-art chainsaw sculptures including dogs, moose, bear, and fish throughout the grounds and explore the husband and wife’s art studio. The artists in residence, Dennis and Frances Sullivan, are each self-taught in chainsaw art methods and have created more than 60 different breeds of dogs. The property of pet-friendly of course!

Photo by: Frances Conklin via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Frances Conklin via Wikimedia Commons

8. V8 Hotel, Germany

In Stuttgart, Germany, in the area’s Motorworld Region (an international hub for car traders), the four-star V8 hotel has been attracting auto lovers from all around the world. Classic modernism is the style used throughout the hotel, where racing paraphernalia,  and even a drive-thru cinema, are key players. Ten car-theme suites are offered here, with beds designed in the shape of various cars, from modern to sporty and vintage to classic. Book early and choose from suite themes like a car wash or automotive garage. Sleep in a classic Mercedes, VW Bug, or Morris Minor. Each room is designed with dedicated car enthusiasts in mind and features a host of unique props like car-shaped soaps and faux gas pumps. The historic airport terminal was once a docking station for the 1920s Graf Zeppelin flights and home to the ME-109 squadron fighter during WWII.

Photo by: V8 Hotel
Photo by: V8 Hotel

7. Hotel Marqués De Riscal, Spain

In Elciego, Spain southwest of Pamplona is one of Canadian architect Frank Gehry’s most unusual endeavors, Hotel Marqués De Riscal. Situated in one of the country’s prominent Rioja wine regions, the avant-garde hotel is similar in style to Gehry’s other revered projects including the Bilbao Guggenheim: a mammoth structure with colossal metal ribbons implemented on the exterior creating dramatic contrast between nature and modern design. The ornate structure overlooks the surrounding vineyard, appearing as a whimsical creation from afar. Belonging to world-famous Starwood Hotels group, Hotel Marqués De Riscal is available for those with thicker wallets but worth the cost for the onsite Michelin-starred chef, luxurious Spa Caudalie Marqués de Riscal, and exquisite wine selection. Certainly one of the most unique looking hotels, it’s the exterior that shines while rooms really only stand out for their massive, slanted picture windows fringing sweeping terraces.

Photo by: Hotel Marques de Riscal
Photo by: Hotel Marques de Riscal

6. El Cosmico, Texas

Anyone with nomadic tendencies–or simply a love for unique experiences–will admire 21-acre El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas. Rather than one building, El Cosmico features a variety of shelters for guests including Aboriginal-style tepees, tent campsites, scout and vintage trailers, Mongolian yurts, and safari tents. Though it all sounds rather slapstick, design is an integral part of the shelters which are based in the high plains Texan desert. Communal spaces include an outdoor kitchen, outdoor stage, a hammock grove, and a community lounge. The owner, Liz Lambert, encourages guests to liberate themselves from modern world constructs and build on the unique theme: El Cosmico offers several ways to become truly involved in the concept of creativity with cooking and art classes, onsite building projects, song-writing classes, and more. Bikes for exploring the desert area and wood-fire hot tubs are also available at El Cosmico.

Photo by: El Cosmico via Facebook
Photo by: El Cosmico via Facebook

5. Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico

Get in the ring without the bull at Quinta Real Zacatecas, the 17th century San Pedro bullring painstakingly transformed into a luxury hotel. In 1975, the bullring hosted its final run and stood stagnant for years. Snapped up by Quinta Real hotel group, it was extensively renovated while maintaining the original colonial architecture. One of the details of the hotel design is the bullpens: the bullpen wall was integrated into the hotel’s restaurant as part of the main bar. But the most impressive parts are the grounds. The entire bullring floor, now called the plaza, is still intact, and the hotel faces an ancient viaduct–both are near the Mexican capital of Zacatecas, sitting on the edge of a rocky cliff side alongside the hills of the Cerro de la Bufa and lying almost 9,000 feet above sea level just five minutes outside of the city.

Photo by: Quinta Real
Photo by: Quinta Real

4. Inntel Amsterdam Zaandamn, Netherlands

Stacking houses to create one seamless building is an unconventional but creative way to build a hotel. The fairytale-esque Inntel Amsterdam Zaandamn is made from 70 individual houses put together like puzzle from both townhouses and cottages typical to the local Zaan area. The hotel, just 12 minutes by train to Amsterdam, is a sight to behold–each of the house are brightly painted in various colors which makes each individual house stand out accentuates the puzzle-like construction. The house colors, each a shade of vibrant green, are traditional colors of region. The inspiration for each of the rooms comes from local history and each is modern with clean lines and interesting features such as giant wall murals.  Guests have access to onsite amenities including a Finnish sauna, Turkish steam bath and a pool with adjacent spa. This is modern-day comfort meeting tradition head on.

Photo by: Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam via Facebook
Photo by: Inntel Hotels Amsterdam Zaandam via Facebook

3. Capsulevalue Kanda, Japan

In Japan, capsule hotels are a popular concept and one that works quite well with the country’s high population and very limited space. Stacked on top of each other and side by side to maximize on space, the capsules are exactly as they sound, tiny spaces perfect for one person and a few items. The capsule hotel concept has become so popular in fact that sleeping pods will also be introduced in Helsinki airports. Basic and cheap, the Capsule value Kana in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi area is a popular stopover for both tourists and businessmen looking for inexpensive accommodations who don’t require a host of services traditionally offered by hotels. The entrance to each capsule opens to enter and can be closed up to create private quarters. Communal washroom and baggage storage is also available. Capsulevalue Kanda also offers TVs, alarms, and free WiFi along with a business lounge.

Photo by: Agoda
Photo by: Agoda

2. Ariau Amazon Towers, Brazil

Far west of Fortaleza along the Rio Negro riverbanks in Manaus, Brazil is Ariau Amazon Towers, an eco-retreat high in the treetops where guests wake to the sounds of songbirds and the calls of primates. Visitors can stay in a dense jungle paradise and enjoy animal sights and encounters of all kinds. Tucked into the lush canopy, several circular buildings are incorporated into the tree-top level high above the river. Within this high-reaching resort, there are bars, restaurants, a swimming pool, and almost ten kilometers of wooden walkways skimming along the tree canopies through thick forest canopies. Each and every room includes a balcony affording incredible jungle panoramas and the perfect place to hear the call of the wild. This treetop wonder is one-of-a-kind, built by Dr. Francisco Ritta Bernardino in 1987–his inspiration was Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, a staunch Amazon River preservationist.

Photo by: Ariau Amazon Towers via Travel + Leisure
Photo by: Ariau Amazon Towers via Travel + Leisure

1. Palacio de Sal, Bolivia

At more than 10,000 square kilometers, Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats are the largest in the world so where better to build a hotel made entirely of salt?  The entire hotel and most of its furnishings are constructed from salt. The magical, natural space is on the majestic banks of the Salar de Uyuni, less than 30 kilometers from its namesake town, and in complete harmony with the surrounding landscape. Some might think a hotel built of salt would be more of a rustic experience but that couldn’t be farther from the truth: Palacio de Sal’s single and double rooms include central heating, hot and cold running water, and private baths. Each exhibits an igloo-shaped ceiling and simple, modern furniture and several spectacular common areas with fantastic outdoor views. A broad lobby, bar, central heat, and a complete electrical system throughout 30 rooms are offered.

Photo by: Palacio de Sal
Photo by: Palacio de Sal

9 Awesome Canyons That are Just as “Grand”

What’s in a name? When we’re talking about canyons, one name will always come to mind before any other: the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. The name sure seems like a successful marketing ploy—not only is the Grand Canyon the first name that comes to mind, it’s often the only one. That’s despite the fact there are plenty of other canyons out there, scattered around the world, some of them larger, wider or deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here are just 9 examples of canyons that are just as “grand” as their American counterpart.

9. Katherine Gorge (Australia)

Bordering on the better-known Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia is home to a series of gorges on the Katherine River and Edith Falls. The Katherine Gorge is the central attraction of the park, which was formerly called Katherine Gorge National Park. The Katherine Gorge is actually a series of 13 gorges cut deep into the sandstone by the Katherine River. The gorges are home to a series of rapids and falls, as the Katherine River moves through the area. In the dry season, the gorges are disconnected from each other as the water dries up. Cruises will take you up to the 5th gorge, but you can also strike out and explore on your own via canoe or flat-bottomed boat. There are also 2 campgrounds and a number of trails throughout the park.

Katherine Gorge

8. Copper Canyon (Mexico)

Move over, Grand Canyon; Mexico’s Copper Canyon system should probably be your top North American canyon destination. This group of 6 distinct canyons, located in the southwestern part of Chihuahua state, is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. They’re also breathtaking, thanks to the large deposits of copper in their formation: the canyon walls are eye-catching copper and green hues. Copper Canyon has been the site of tourist development for the Mexican state, although there has been some resistance from local peoples and there are concerns about developing a tourist industry that protects and respects this sensitive ecosystem. Popular ways of exploring the canyons include hiking, biking and horseback riding. The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, and the train travels through Canyon Urique, the main canyon in the system.

Copper Canyon

7. Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

Don’t let the name fool you—Nine Mile Canyon in Utah is actually more like 40 miles (60 kilometers) long. While it’s not necessarily the longest, deepest or widest canyon in the U.S.—and certainly not in the world—it has earned itself a reputation as the world’s “longest art gallery,” thanks to its extensive collection of rock art by the Fremont and Ute peoples. Ruins from these cultures also make the area an archaeological hotspot. There may be 10,000 or more individual pieces of rock art in the canyon, including the famous Cottonwood Panel, making it North America’s largest concentration of rock art. Many sites in the canyon have been added to the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, and there are plans to add more in the coming years as efforts to preserve the rich heritage of Nine Mile Canyon continue.

Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

6. Rugova Canyon (Kosovo)

The Rugova Canyon, also known as the Rugova Gorge, is approximately 16 miles (25 kilometers) long and up to 1,000 meters deep in some places, making it one of Europe’s longest and deepest canyons. The canyon was carved out over years as the glacier near modern-day Pec melted and eroded through the Prokletije Mountains, near the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. The Pec Bistrica river cuts through the canyon, dividing it in 2. Waterfalls, colossal rocks and caves dot the landscape. The Gryka e Madhe (Great Canyon Cave) is one of the better-known caves in the area, although only about 11 kilometers of the cave system have been explored to date. Obviously, the area is popular for spelunkers, but it is also popular for rock-climbers, reflected in the recent addition of a via ferrata (iron road) for climbers.

Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons

5. Itaimbezinho Canyon (Brazil)

About 170 kilometers from Porto Alegre, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, is the Itaimbezinho Canyon. The canyon is located within the Aparados da Serra National Park, which was created in 1959 specifically to protect the canyon. One of Brazil’s first parks, Aparados da Serra is relatively small and has a daily cap on the number of visitors in order to better protect sensitive environments. The canyon is approximately 6,000 meters (6 miles) long and has a maximum width of 2,000 meters at some points, with a depth of about 1 mile, making it the largest canyon in Brazil. Waterfalls dot the landscape as the Rio do Boi wends its way through the canyon. The park offers hiking tours through the area. The Cotovelo Trail is a popular option, as it winds around the edge of the canyon.

Itaimbezinho Canyon

4. Fish River Canyon (Namibia)

Namibia is home to plenty of natural wonders, including the Namibian desert’s infamous red sands, but this African country is also home to Fish River Canyon—not only the largest canyon in the country, but the largest canyon on the whole African continent. The canyon is approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) in length, with gaps up to 27 kilometers wide and depths of nearly 550 meters in some areas. The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail follows the canyon for about 88 kilometers, from Hobas to the hot spring resort Ai Ais. There are a number of footpaths and some shortcuts, which means that the hike will be largely up to the hikers. While hiking the trail can take 5 days, trail running is a popular and faster way of taking in the canyon—the current record for trail running is just under 7 hours.

Fish River Canyon

3. Colca Canyon (Peru)

The Colca Canyon, located on the Colca River in Peru, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. That’s fitting, considering that the canyon is one of the deepest in the world, with a depth of 3,270 meters (10,725 feet). More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it is only the second-deepest gorge in Peru, ranking behind the Cotahuasi Canyon. The Colca Valley area surrounding the canyon is popular with tourists for other reasons as well: the area is rich with pre-Inca cultures, including the Collagua and Cabana peoples who still inhabit the area, as well as Spanish colonial towns. The Canyon is also noted for bird-watching, as it is home to the Andean condor and tourists flock to see them flying at close range near the Cruz del Condor. Ruins, rock art and local festivals are also popular attractions.

Colca Canyon

2. Tiger Leaping Gorge (China)

Part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan World Heritage Site, the Tiger Leaping Gorge lies on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze River. The river passes between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain in a series of rapids, down cliffs 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) high, creating one of the world’s deepest and most spectacular river canyons. The name comes from a legend, in which a tiger leaped across the gorge at its narrowest point to escape a hunter. Even then, the tiger was still leaping across 82 feet (25 meters)! The area is popular with hikers and backpackers from other areas of China and abroad. The high-road hiking path is well-maintained and takes hikers through a variety of micro-ecosystems along the gorge’s length. Although the gorge is only 15 kilometers long, the high road is approximately 22 kilometers (14 miles).

Tiger Leaping Gorge

l. Indus River Gorge (Pakistan)

The Indus River passes through the Himalayas, rising in Tibet and flowing through India and Pakistan, before emptying into the Arabian Sea. In the northern territories of Pakistan, the river must pass through the Nanga Parbat region, home of the world’s ninth-highest peak, the infamous Nanga Parbat. As the Indus winds through this mountainous region, it flows through enormous gorges, some of them 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) deep. Near Dasu Patan in Kohistan, the gorge plunges to a maximum depth of 6,500 meters—making it one of the deepest, if not the deepest, canyon in the world. Some dispute about the depth of the gorge and other contenders continues today. Nanga Parbat is likely the better-known tourist attraction in the area, but the Deosai Plains and the Karakorum Highway are also popular with visitors.

Indus River Gorge

6 Outstanding South American Festivals

Of all the continents in the world, it’s apparent South America’s people have the most innate penchant for parties of all kinds, from food fairs to music festivals and religious fetes, each is celebrated with passion, enthusiasm, and a rainbow of costumes. If you’re lucky enough to hit a festival, be sure to book well in advance–the secret has long been out and people literally flock to these fantastic fiestas. Some are complete chaos and others orderly and easygoing; be sure to do some research and know what you’re in for because some South American festivals can be off-the-charts-wild.

6. Semana Santa, Peru

Kicking off two days before Palm Sunday and celebrated for ten dynamic days until Easter Sunday arrives, Semana Santa is one of Peru’s most outstanding festivals. This religious fete is a hotel-filler and one of the best times to stay with a local family (Peru’s tourist office provides homestay options). The Friday kick-off starts with a parade honoring Our Lady of Sorrows (La Virgen de los Delores)–at this point consider standing out of the way: it’s customary to levy “sorrows” upon spectators by slingshot fitted with pebbles. Otherwise the mood is fairly somber yet Semana Santa still paints the streets colorful with religious traditions, vibrant processions, art and music shows, traditional competitions, and abundant, delicious Peruvian fare. Be sure to attend on the Saturday preceding Easter Sunday for an all-out Peruvian bash that plays out until morning, definitely showing the wilder side of locals.

Photo by: Flickr/motoperu
Photo by: Flickr/motoperu

5. Tomorrowland -Sao Paulo, Brazil

Tomorrowland is an extension of an electronic dance music (EDM) festival stemming from Boom, Belgium, also one of the world’s biggest and one that’s been happening annually since 2005. Tomorrowland has stepped into South American terrain–where it’s evident crowds can’t get enough–bringing in some of the best Djs to Sao Paulo in the first week of May over three days solid. Dreamville is the onsite camping accommodations available to festival-goers at Tomorrowland where you can pitch your own tent but there are three other (much easier) camping options including a pre-made tent fit with sleeping bags, small but arty cabanas, and the Dream Lodge reminiscent of a night safari tent complete with access to scores of amenities–the prices aren’t cheap though! This festival is so popular tickets sell out in a matter of minutes and then the only way in is to buy a package deal.

Photo by: Fest 300
Photo by: Fest 300

4. Mendoza Wine Harvest Festival

Since 1936, the Mendoza Wine Harvest Festival (Fiesta National de la Vendimia) has been uniting wine growers, vineyard hands, locals, and thousands of visitors in a spectacular show of love for the Cuyo region and the incredible wines it produces. The festival is a culmination of celebrations happening between December and February throughout Mendoza’s 18 districts. Starting off the first weekend of March, the region’s bumper harvest is celebrated famously with wine, food, music, and innumerable special events.  Concerts, parades, fireworks, and general merrymaking create a definitive carnival-esque atmosphere under blue skies and starry nights. A mammoth finale performance at Mendoza’s Greek Theater features hundreds of dancers and actors, the National Grape Harvest Queen is crowned, and the entire celebration ends with a huge fireworks display. As one of the world’s most renowned harvest festivals, this Mendoza gala is definite must for any traveling oenophile.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

3. Corpus Christi Festival, Ecuador

Ecuador has long been recognized for enduring indigenous traditions including numerous festivals throughout the year. Ecuadorians love just about any reason to celebrate and especially love their customary observances–they really do put on extravagant shows. In the small town of Pujili, the  Corpus Christi Festival happens in the second week of June, welcoming thousands of Ecuadorians for a fete blending the commemoration of both harvest to Incan Sun God Inti and Holy Communion. Food, art, folk and regional dance, and music are intrinsic parts of the festival and culminate following a days-long fiesta in the El Danzante parade where traditional clothing and costumes come together in a kaleidoscopic exhibition. If you do make it to Pujili, head just 15 minutes further to Latacunga National Park for Andean forests alongside striking rivers and lakes and forest habitats within the Amazon, a dramatic area mostly unexplored by tourists.

Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com
Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

2. Tango Festival -Buenos Aires, Argentina

Precision, tempo, elaborate clothing, and most of all passion rise to crescendo during the Tango Festival in Buenos Aires, one of the most famous dance festivals in the world and one for both pros and the keenly interested but inexperienced. The dramatic tango was born in Argentina’s brothels and over the decades, has become one of the most sensual, provocative, and emotional dances of all time favored by all social classes. The Tango Festival starts with a series of recitals and shows called La Festival; there are film screenings and lessons city-wide. Then comes the main event: the Tango Championships. During the celebrations, there’s a must-see event at the massive, alfresco milonga (tango hall) where more than 10,000 dancers (tangueros) careen across Buenos Aires’ cobblestone streets–it’s a beguiling show that can make anyone want to learn the tango if they don’t already know.

Photo by: Fest300
Photo by: Fest300

1. Carnival -Brazil, Columbia & Uruguay

Carnival is celebrated throughout South America in Uruguay, Argentina, Brazil, and Columbia but the Brazilians undoubtedly celebrate with the most passion. Prior to the onset of Lent, numerous Argentinian towns celebrate Mardi Gras but no one seems to do it quite as well as it’s done in Rio de Janeiro where a phenomenal party takes place. In Salvador, flatbeds called blocos, fitted with pumping sound systems drive music bands around the city for a full-on, three-day party to end all parties. Second prize for the best Carnival celebration goes to the city of Barranquilla in Columbia where African-style dancing, parades of floats, and ultimately Miss Carnival receives her crown. Riding in at close third is Uruguay, where in the city of Montevideo, they carry Brazil’s zeal for Carnival and celebrate with unbridled enthusiasm–no neighborhood goes untouched by Carnival–with dance parties, countless parades, and extreme Latin revelry.

Celso Pupo / Shutterstock.com
Celso Pupo / Shutterstock.com

The 8 Most Beautiful and Underrated Places in Brazil

Throughout the country of Brazil there are many beautiful cities, yet they don’t always get the attention they deserve. If you are planning a trip in the near future, you may want to stay out of the obvious tourist-focused cities like Rio and instead try one of the other cities that are just as beautiful but with half the crowds. Many of these places have stayed off the radar simply because they are not as popular among tourists, while some can be a little hard to get to as there are no airports directly into them. If you want to rent a car or don’t mind taking public transit, however, they are more than worth seeing.

8. Salvador, Bahia

The city of Salvador sits in Brazil’s northeastern state of Bahia and was the first colonial capital of the country. It’s also one of the oldest cities in both North and South America. The colorful colonial architecture adds to the city’s reputation as a place of happiness and celebration. Salvador’s street carnival is known as the largest in the world  so if that’s a draw for your tourist time, head south to the state of Bahia.

Salvador, Bahia Brazil

7. Curitiba, Paraná

Unlike many popular Brazilian cities, Curitiba sits inland, away from the coastline and consequently, the beaches that make the country so popular. Despite this, the city if Curitiba has much to offer in terms of attractions, especially if you’re into art and nature. The Botanical Garden of Curitiba is one of the most popular places to visit in this city and offers a serene French-inspired nature escape. Also popular is the Oscar Niemeyer Museum which focus on visual arts, architecture and design.

Curitiba Botanical Garden, Paraná Brazil

6. Lençóis National Park, Maranhão

At first glance, this national park in Brazil’s south end may look like a dessert but closer inspection sees that the giant sweeping sand dunes are broken up by turquoise lagoons. The spectacular landscape is created by rainfall as the area sits just outside the Amazon basin and this rainfall collects in the valleys between the dunes. The water remains above ground thanks to a layer of impermeable rock underneath the sand. Visiting the park will be tricky as there are no access roads and 4-wheel drive vehicles are required but make the trip and this is a view you won’t soon forget.

Lençóis National Park Brazil

5. Florianopolis, Santa Catarina

The city of Florianopolis has been dubbed “the best place to live in Brazil” by Brazilian magazine Veja, so it’s only natural that tourists would want to see what all the fuss is about. The coastal proximity and abundance of beaches (42 if you’re counting) are a major draw for visitors and the area is also known as one of Brazil’s surfing capitals. Those looking for more than beaches will enjoy the city’s mix of modern mega-city with 16th century colonial architecture and historic fortresses.

Florianopolis, Santa Catarina

4. Ilha Grande, Rio de Janeiro

The island of Ilha Grande sits off the coast of the state of Rio de Janeiro and is truly a piece of Brazilian paradise. The island is still very undeveloped and unspoiled by tourism so visitors can enjoy the natural beauty of this Atlantic rainforest. Pristine beaches are ripe for snorkeling and rugged terrain provide plenty of hiking and exploration opportunities.

Ilha Grande Brazil

3. Jericoacoara, Ceará

This small coastal village in Brazil’s Ceara state is remote and not the easiest to get to but if you make your way, you’ll be rewarded with a paradise-like scene of sand streets, beaches, kite surfing and magical sunset views from the sand dunes. Lounge on hammocks above the tranquil lagoon or try out another favorite activity;  sandboarding down the massive dunes. No matter how you spend your time in Jericoacoara, it’s sure to be nothing short of amazing.

Jericoacoara, Ceará Brazil

2. Porto de Galinhas, Pernambuco

If you’re going to Brazil for the beaches, Porto de Galinhas is one town that you simply can’t miss. Located, about 60 kilometers south of the state capital of Recife, this destination has been voted “Best Brazilian Beach” eight times in a row by the readers of Voyage & Tourism Brazilian magazine. There’s spectacular reef snorkeling just a couple hundred meters from the shore and at low tide you an explore the natural tide pools teeming with marine life.

Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock.com
Filipe Frazao / Shutterstock.com

1. Fortaleza, Ceará

Despite the size of this Brazilian state capital, it still remains relatively underrated as most international tourists tend to stick to the better known names like Rio and Sao Paulo but the name may be familiar as the city played host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The rapidly growing city is a popular leisure destination for Brazilians who enjoy the 25 kilometers of urban beach front along the city’s coast. Each of the four beach areas of  Iracema, Meireles, Mucuripe and Praia do Futuro has it’s own distinct vibe.

Fortaleza Brazil

Chasing Summer: 10 Escapes From Winter

Autumn has arrived in the northern hemisphere and with it, a sense of sadness for many people. Whether you suffer from seasonal affective disorder or just like the long, hot days of summer, this time of year can be rough. But we often forget that just because it’s fall here doesn’t mean it’s fall everywhere. The southern hemisphere’s seasons are reversed, meaning countries on the other side of the equator experience their spring and summer while the north moves through fall and winter. If you want to follow the sun, these 10 destinations should help you escape:

10. Seychelles

Whether or not you’re trying to escape the cold of winter, the Seychelles should be on your bucket list. This African nation, comprised of a number of individual tropical islands, is warm just about any time of the year. Temperatures reach their peak between December and April, with March and April recording the warmest temperatures of the year, usually in the high 80s (low 30s Celsisu). Although the climate can be humid, especially between December and April, the islands are not usually affected by high winds or tropical storms. The islands have a reputation as “paradise,” and renowned for a diversity of plants and animals, gorgeous landscapes, great beaches and plentiful outdoor activities. Visit any time between September and April if you’re looking to get away from the northern hemisphere’s fall and winter.

Seychelles

9. Indonesia

If you’re trying to chase summer, you shouldn’t jump south of the equator right away. September through December is spring in the south, so save those destinations for later. Nonetheless, if you’re looking to get away from the increasing hours of darkness and the frosty weather autumn brings with it, an equatorial destination should be your first consideration. Indonesia lies along the equator and, like many equatorial areas, it experiences 2 season: a dry season and a monsoon season. The temperature varies little throughout the course of the year (averaging 26 degrees Celsius), and the length of the day is relatively constant: there is only 48 minutes difference between the longest and shortest days of the year. That’s good news for anyone looking to escape the longer nights of autumn and winter in the north. September and October are good months to visit Indonesia; the rainy season starts in November.

Bali, Indonesia

8. French Polynesia

With over 100 islands and atolls, the overseas collective of French Polynesia makes an excellent destination for those travelers looking to get away from chilly weather in northern climes. The islands, the most famous of which are Tahiti and Bora Bora, have well-developed tourist industries and they are often equated with tropical paradise. There are 4 volcanic islands and 1 coral island in the 5 archipelagos. Both Tahiti and Bora Bora are volcanic, and both provide opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving, as well as other water activities. The temperature on the French Polynesia islands varies little from season to season; December through February are the wettest months, however. If you can, travel to these islands in September, October or November when temperatures are still warm but rainfall is significantly less.

Bora Bora 5

7. Sao Tome and Principe

Sao Tome and Principe might seem like a strange choice; the country has experienced some political and economic instability in the past decade. But these 2 African islands are rich in culture, history and ecology, which make them great destinations for travelers looking to get off the beaten path. The 2 islands, located about 87 miles apart, lie approximately 150 miles off the coast of Gabon. The influence of Portuguese colonizers is still evident in the country’s religious and linguistic traditions, but music and cuisine better reflect a fusion of African and Portuguese heritages. The islands are part of the Cameroon volcanic mountain line, and the tallest peak is Pico de Principe at over 3,000 feet. The equator passes over an islet just south of Sao Tome island, which means the climate is tropical and temperatures hover around 80 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.

Sao Tome and Principe Africa

6. Brazil

It’s hard to make generalizations about climate in a country as big and diverse as Brazil, but here’s what you need to know: the average temperature is about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (around 25 degrees Celsius) and the temperature difference between night and day is more significant than changes in the seasons. That said, Brazil is home to more than 5 different climate types, and part of the country actually lies north of the equator. Rainfall between December and April can be quite significant, especially in the Amazon region, which is humid but rarely exceeds temperatures of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius). The various microclimates make Brazil one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, which means there’s plenty to see in all of Brazil’s ecozones. Or, if an Amazon trek doesn’t suit you, the country’s Atlantic coast is home to some excellent beaches.

Ipanema beach Brazil

5. Galapagos

At first glance, you might think the Galapagos Islands, scattered on either side of the equator as they are, would be perfect candidates for an autumnal escape between September and December. In fact, it’s better to visit the Galapagos in December or later, because of the effects of the Humboldt Current, which brings cold water to the islands. Between June and November, the islands experience frequent drizzle, cold winds and cool temperatures. It still rains during the other 6 months of the year, but the temperatures are warmer and the sun shines more frequently. For that reason, the Galapagos make an excellent winter destination; they teem with life at any time of year, from finches to tortoises to penguins. Bird-watching is especially popular, and many species nest between December and May.

Galapagos Islands

4. Fiji

The Melanesian island-nation of Fiji is a dream destination for a lot of people. Located near Vanuatu, Tonga and the Samoas, among others, the island is something of a tropical paradise. With an advanced tourism industry, Fiji offers a great escape from wintery weather in the northern latitudes. Located in the South Pacific, the island is renowned for outdoor activities like scuba diving and ocean kayaking. Fiji has a number of white-sand beaches, which are attractive to visitors. Perhaps the best thing about the island-nation is its climate: there is little seasonal variation, so the weather is warm year-round. November through April is considered the “warm” season, with temperatures slightly higher than the rest of the year, so consider Fiji a romantic escape from frigid temperatures and snowfall in more northerly places.

Fiji Jetty

3. Chile

Chile lies in the southern hemisphere and throughout most of the country, there are 4 seasons. Here, the seasons are inverse to the northern hemisphere, which means you can take off from winter north of the equator and land in Chilean summer. Chile is a diverse country, though, spanning no less than 7 different climatic subtypes, from the dry Atacama desert in the north to alpine tundra in the extreme south. The Andes also run through the country, offering up even more diverse climes. The warmest month is February and rainfall during the summer months is minimal throughout much of the country—something noted by European explorers to the area in the 1500s. Clear nights in the Atacama Desert make for great star-gazing. Or why not embark on a wine tour in Central Chile’s vineyards?

Vineyard Chile

2. Australia

Australia is likely the first place anyone thinks of when we talk about the southern hemisphere; the land down under has a certain reputation with folks in the north. While it’s true that the continent is protected from the wintry airmasses that sweep across northerly continents, which minimizes the impact of seasonal change on temperature, summer is still inverse to the northern hemisphere. That means that you can visit Australia between December and February and experience not winter, but summer weather. Temperatures are usually in the high 70s to low 90s (mid-20s to low 30s Celsius), which means you can get outside and enjoy all of your favorite summertime activities. Or maybe a trip down under is a chance to try something new, like surfing at Broad Beach or trailblazing through the Outback.

Hamilton Island Whitsundays Australia

1. Maldives

The Maldives are perhaps most infamous for slowly sinking thanks to rising sea levels, but they also have a reputation as a tourist destination. The Maldives are a chain of 1,192 coral islands in a double atoll, and, as such, the country is one of the most geographically dispersed in the world. Located in the Indian Ocean, southwest of India and Sri Lanka, the islands experience a tropical-monsoon type climate. January through March provides the best time to visit the islands, as temperatures hover in the high 80s (around 30 degrees Celsius) and rainfall is at its lowest for the year; February is the driest month of the year. The islands are famed for their blue lagoons and white beaches, which have traditionally driven tourism, but they are also becoming a hotspot for ecotourism as the country attempts to reduce carbon emissions to zero by 2020.

Maldives sunset

10 Waterfalls to See Before You Die

Thundering water, “smoking” water—these are just a couple of the ways people around the world have conceptualized waterfalls. No matter where in the world you live, you have a good idea of what a waterfall is. In all shapes and sizes, these landmarks and their majesty have captured the imagination of generations. The world is filled with amazing waterfalls and while picking a waterfall destination is never the wrong choice, there are some that are must-see locations—like the ones on this list. From highest to largest to widest, you should put the waterfalls down on your bucket list.

10. Ebor Falls, Australia

Named for a nearby town, Ebor Falls are a cascade-type waterfall formation on the Guy Fawkes River in the New England area of New South Wales, Australia. They are situated about 23 miles northeast of Wollomombi on the Waterfall Way, one of Australia’s most scenic drives. The upper falls plummet 115 meters in 2 cascades, while the lower falls, about 600 meters downstream, plunge into a steep, forested gorge. The falls are located in Guy Fawkes River National Park, and are popular with tourists, with nearly 80,000 people visiting in 2008. Viewing platforms, as well as rest areas and walking trails, are available. Camping is available at the nearby Cathedral Rock National Park, home of Round Mountain, about 6 kilometers west of Ebor. Ebor Falls have longer been recognized as a site for recreation and preservation; they were first protected in 1895.

Ebor Falls, Australia

9. Gocta Cataracts, Peru

We like to think that there’s nothing left to discover on this planet of ours, but as the case of the Gocta Cataracts proves, nothing could be further from the truth. The Gocta Cataracts, about 430 miles northwest of Lima, the Peruvian capital, were a well-kept secret until 2005 when an expedition by Stefan Ziemendorff brought the falls onto the world stage. Ziemendorff convinced the Peruvian government to measure the falls’ height—a staggering 2,530 feet, making it one of the tallest in the world (although its exact ranking is disputed). Since discovery, the Peruvian government has developed the waterfall as a tourist attraction, building a hotel 6 miles from the base of the falls. Hiking trails and horse paths allow tourists to access the falls—which are said to be haunted by a beautiful mermaid. Given the falls’ altitude, at over 7,000 feet, clouds sometimes obscure the view.

Catarata de Gocta

8. Humboldt Falls, New Zealand

New Zealand’s mountains are now famous, and where there are mountains, there’s a good chance you’ll find waterfalls. That holds true in the island-nation: in Hollyford Valley, in Fiordland, you’ll find the spectacular Humboldt Falls. The falls are nearly 1,000 feet high, with the water cascading down the rock face in 3 distinct steps. The largest of the 3 drops is 440 feet, almost 50% of the falls’ total height. The falls are a horsetail-type waterfall, and, despite their height, are relatively easy to reach. The trail from the falls, along Hollyford Road, is about 600 meters long and will take you about half-an-hour to navigate. The grade is relatively easy, allowing visitors to get close enough to glimpse some spectacular views of the waters of the Hollyford River rushing into the gorge below.

"Humboldt Falls" by Karora - Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.
Humboldt Falls” by KaroraOwn work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

7. Trümmelbach Falls, Switzerland

Where there are mountains, there are waterfalls. Nowhere is that more true than in the soaring heights of the Alps. As snow and glaciers melt, the resulting water flows down the steep inclines, resulting in some spectacular feats of nature. The Trümmelbach is one of those feats: it drains the glacier defiles of Switzerland’s 3 most famous mountains, Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau. Up to 20,000 liters of water pass through the falls per second. The Trümmelbach is a series of 10 falls and they are actually located within the mountain, twisting and turning through the rockface as they rush to lower ground. The falls have been made accessible to tourists by tunnel-lift and they are illuminated for viewing. Viewing the glacial water plunging through the “Corkscrew Chute” is a glimpse into some of nature’s most secretive workings.

Trümmelbach Falls, Switzerland

6. Huangguoshu Waterfall, China

The name of this stunning Chinese waterfall means “Yellow-fruit Tree Waterfalls.” Located on the Baishui River, it is one of the largest waterfalls in the whole country and in East Asia. It stands 255 feet high, with the main fall boasting a 220-foot drop. The falls span a width of approximately 330 feet. They are an example of a segmented block waterfall formation. The falls are considered a natural tourist draw and have been rated as an AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration. Tourism is served by a special line of buses and 3 viewing platforms offering different views of the falls. Another attraction is Shuliandong, the Water-Curtain cave, a 440-foot cave that formed naturally at the back of the falls. There are several other waterfalls in the area, about 28 miles southwest of Anshun city.

Huangguoshu Waterfall, China

5. Dettifoss, Iceland

Dettifoss is the largest waterfall in Iceland, which says something as this island-nation is a place of many waterfalls. It’s also reputed to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe, with an average flow of 193 cubic meters per second. The falls are 330 feet wide and plunge 150 feet into the Jökulsárglijúfur canyon. Located in Vatnajökull National Park in the northeast of the island, Dettifoss is situated on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, whose waters originate at the Vatnajökull glacier. A new road, finished in 2011, allows better visitor access. The waterfall is located on Iceland’s popular Diamond Circle tourist route, which also includes Húsavík and Lake Myvatn. The falls are a multi-step formation, which is a series of waterfalls of roughly the same size, each with its own sunken plunge pool.

Dettifoss, Iceland

4. Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina

Located along the border between Brazil and Argentina, Iguazu Falls are a sight to behold as they stretch along for more than 1.5 miles. Depending on the water level, there may be between 150 and 300 smaller waterfalls, most of them on the Argentine side of the border, with plunges between 197 and 269 feet. The main attraction is the Devil’s Throat, a U-shaped waterfall that spans nearly 3,000 feet. Perhaps the best feature of Iguzau’s structure is that it allows visitors to be surrounded by waterfalls up to 260 degrees at a time—not quite encircled, but close. Iguazu is wider and discharges more water than the equally impressive Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and Zambia. Tourism in the area is well developed, and the falls can be reached from either the Brazilian or Argentine side, as well as from Ciudad del Este in Paraguay.

Iguazu Falls - Iguazu National Park

3. Angel Falls, Venezuela

If you’ve seen Pixar’s Up, you’ve seen Angel Falls. The Venezuelan waterfall is well known to people around the world. Part of its fame comes from the fact that it is indeed the world’s highest uninterrupted waterfall—the plunge is an astounding 2,648 feet. The official height given by the Venezuelan state and UNESCO is 3,212 feet, which includes sloped cascades, rapids below the drop and another plunge downstream. The falls were given their current name in honor of Jimmie Angel, an American aviator. In 2009, the Venezuelan president indicated his intention to give the indigenous name to official status. Although the indigenous people were aware of the falls before Angel’s 1933 flight, they did not visit the area and it was not known to the outside world. Today, the falls are a popular tourist attraction, despite the difficulty in reaching them through isolated stretches of jungle.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

2. Niagara Falls, Canada/USA

Along the Canadian-American border lies Niagara Falls, which drains Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side, named for their shape, are larger and more renowned than the (still impressive) American falls. The distinctive color of the water flowing over the drop is a by-product of finely ground rock dust and dissolved salts, which occur in the water because of the erosive power of the Niagara River and the falls. Currently, erosion moves the falls back about 1 foot per year. The falls were already a huge tourist attraction in the late 19th century, and they continue to be a popular attraction today, with many hotels, casinos and excursions available to visitors. It is also a popular location for honeymooners and for film and television.

Niagara Falls

1. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe

Located near the Zambia-Zimbabwe border, Victoria Falls is the widest waterfall in the world, which results in the largest sheet of falling water. While other falls may be wider, many of these actually contain several distinct falls; Victoria Falls is a single flow. The falls are viewable from both the Zambian side and the Zimbabwean side; traditionally, the Zimbabwean side was more popular with tourists, but recently the number of visitors to the Zambian side has been increasing. The Zimbabwean government has considered renaming the falls to Mosi-oa-Tonya, the indigenous name for the formation. The name means “the smoke that thunders.” The falls are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, although extensive tourist development in the area has led the UN to reconsider this designation. Nonetheless, the falls remain majestic to see at peak flow in April. In the dry season, it is possible to walk through the First Gorge.

Victoria Falls, Zambia Zimbabwe

 

UNESCO’S 15 Most Beautifully Designed Cities In The World

Designations from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are much sought after by cities around the world. Its best known one is the World Heritage Site that calls on signatories to protect and preserve important monuments from a small church to a vast jungle. Less well known but still dandy for planning itineraries is the Creative Cities Network in which cities receive a special designation if it can prove its creative specialty is unique of important cultural and economic significance and is sustainable. One of the most intriguing is Design. UNESCO has identified 15 Cities of Design that “(place) creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans.” It is about not just the urban space but the things that fill space that, to meet UNESCO criteria must enhance the quality of life for people and be environmentally sustainable. And of course make a whole bunch of seriously cool stuff. Here are, in UNESCO’s estimation the 15 most aesthetically pleasing and innovative Cities of Design.

15. Montréal, Canada

The genius of some of the world’s great architects dot the Montreal skyline despite the civic edict that no building exceeds the height of Mont Royal under whose slopes the city was founded in 1642. I.M Pei’s Place Ville Marie still dominates the downtown more than 50 years after its debut. Other stellar works include Mies van der Rohe’s Westmount Square, Buckminster Fuller’s stunning Geodesic Dome and Moshe Sadie’s Habitat, the latter two built for the 1967 World’s Fair has found new life. Old Montreal by the Old Port is a treasure of preserved 19th century buildings on cobblestone streets. It is the home of the Canadian Centre for Architecture as well as the UNESCO Chair in Landscape and Environmental Design at l’ Université de Montréal. UNESCO calls Montreal “The City of Designers” with 25,000 people in design development in one of the most stylish cities in North America.

Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com
Songquan Deng / Shutterstock.com

14. Buenos Aires, Argentina

For architecture fans and design geeks, Buenos Aires is already heaven. One of its iconic historic buildings, Palacio Barolo is an homage to the Dante’s 15th century masterpiece, The Divine Comedy with the Hell, the ground floor with flame images on the walls, to the mid-level office space, called Purgatory and the upper floors with their fantastic views of the great city being ‘Paradise.” It has a stable of great works on its skyline built in a jumble of Old World Styles from Renaissance to Art Deco. The Planetarium and Women’s Bridge continue the creative tradition into the 21st century. UNESCO notes with praise the use of government incentives to grow the design industry which now accounts for almost a tenth of the giant city’s Gross Domestic Product and “contributes to turning Buenos Aires into a benchmark of design in Latin America: while fostering inclusive and sustainable development.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

13. Curitiba, Brazil

This city of 3 million people in southern Brazil is at the forefront of sustainable urban development in the world. Already a cultural and design center, UNESCO singles out the city’s innovation for “Recognizing design as an agent for urban transformation.” In this context the term “design” goes beyond buildings in post-modern, futuristic shapes to the materials used to make them. The sustainable city mission was begun by architect and three-term, Curitiba Mayor Jaime Lerner and inspired similar initiatives across the country. Lerner combined an overhaul of mass transit and garbage collection with the promotion of alternative building materials to streamline costs and provide affordable housing. An, NGO (Nongovernmental Organization) Curadores da Terra or Keepers of the earth has developed a process that turns the environmental plague of plastic bottles into a popular, inexpensive building material.

Curitiba, Brazil

12. Bilbao, Spain

What leaps to mind at the Mention of Bilbao, is the beautiful jumble that is the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry, one of the most famous and renowned pieces of architecture since it opened in 1997. In fact the whole process of reclaiming former heavily industrial urban areas that are in decline or abandoned has come to be called “The Guggenheim Effect, the great Museum reclaimed a derelict section of the old port for a sustainable addition to the city’s tourism infrastructure. The policy continues with the Alhondiga, a beautiful wine warehouse from 1909 on the verge of demolition but rescued and turned into a multi use cultural facility in 2010. Bilbao’s approach using design and technology to transition from an old industrial economy to a modern service economy is the model UNESCO wants more cities to follow, the creation of “major cultural facilities contributing to the economy in terms of wealth creation, employment and social well-being.

Migel / Shutterstock.com
Migel / Shutterstock.com

11. Turin, Italy

Italy has been at the forefront of global design since they built the Roman Senate in 753 BCE. Turin has been called the Detroit of Italy, the home of great automotive brands like Fiat and Alfa Romeo. And like its American counterpart it experienced economic crisis and depopulation in the 1980’s. Still with about the same GDP as the country of Croatia, Turin has used its accumulated wealth  expertise and world class schools to move upstream into more sustainable, knowledge based industries, most notably aerospace. Several of the International Space Station modules were designed here. The greatest symbol of the city’s rejuvenation and transition is the fabulous Lingotto Fiere, which remains futurists despite being nearly a century old. Even Le Corbusier the great French architect raved about it. The old Fiat plant opened in 1922, but then became outmoded in the seventies and eventually closed in the 80’s. It reopened as a multi-use complex, including a hotels, concert halls art gallery shopping mall and a campus for the world renowned Polytechnic University of Turin.

Turin, Italy

10. Graz, Austria

Graz is already home to two UNESCO World Heritage sites. Eggenberg Castle is a grand historical work in the Baroque style. The Old Town is an impeccably preserved wealth of centuries of buildings in wide range of architectural styles. But the small city of 300,000 isn’t resting on those fortunate laurels of the distant past. UNESCO’s website is prone to thick bureaucratic gibberish, but the spirit of the initiative comes through in statements like noting a fashion festival “is committed to cultural exchange on the textile level.” It’s just an example of the injection of sustainability into everyday goods that is providing the basis of The Next Economy in First World places that can afford to lead the way. Consider it the next Industrial Revolution. The Creative Sector in Graz has almost 5,000 companies, mostly small and medium size that generate about $700,000,000 in additional revenue allowing the city to commission innovative, iconic works of architecture that goes beyond fancy buildings for the sake of being fancy to making intelligent design that “and values both the aesthetic component of design as well as its ability to make daily life more livable.”

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

9. Berlin, Germany

Berlin has been one of the creative centers of the world for centuries and is now becoming leader in Design with some 2,400 companies been over $400,000,000 in annual revenue. Its International Center for Design is focused on what it believes is the way of the future: “Environmentally-conscious design is thus the key to a sustainable society.” At its heart is the emerging consumer behaviour called LOHAS “Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability” as individuals seek out healthier lifestyle and environmentally sensitive choices. They have become a world leader in ‘eco-design…to optimize energy efficiency, to minimize pollution emission and waste production.” There are 5000 Design students in the city’s elite schools. Berlindesign.net acts as an independent, fair trade platform for hundreds of independent Berlin designers from fashion to furniture to food. It’s all based on a highly innovative business plan called the “Triple Bottom Line,” in which design marketing and pricing reflect not just profit margins but ecological, economic and social concerns as well.

Berline Germany, Spree River

8. Helsinki, Finland

Design is embedded in the Finnish soul. Or as the Guardian wrote “Design is to Helsinki as literature is to Dublin and samba is to Rio.” Scandinavia in general is known for its modernist, minimalist furniture but Finland itself with a population of 5.5 million has given the world two of its greatest architects, Eero Saarinen and Alvar Aalto. The Finnish capital is an architectural garden of delights. Volumes have been written about the Finns creativity but UNESCO pointed to two things in particular that propelled Helsinki to 2012’s World City of Design status. One, Design is a government priority. The Finnish Innovation Fund stimulates the sector to design solutions to a wide variety of public policy issues from sustainability to education. It especially notes the inclusion of passengers in the process of designing the seats on the transit system.

Helsinki, Finland

7. Dundee, Scotland

A charter member of the global Rust Belt of once vibrant juggernauts of heavy industry, Dundee was made the United Kingdom’s first Creative City of Design. It is a case study in urban reinvention in knowledge based economic sectors and an example of just how broad the discipline of design has become. The booming shipbuilding and textile industries have given way to biotechnology and digital media. Dundee is home to one of the largest teaching hospitals in the world as well as the company that produced the hugely popular video game called Grand Theft Auto. The city is spending 1.5 billion dollars on revitalizing its waterfront, including a striking  Museum Of Design with the goal of making the city an international design center, creatively financed by government and private sector funding.

Dundee, Scotland

6. Shenzhen, China

Shenzhen’s skyline shimmers with stunning, cutting edge architectural design as befits to an emerging innovative powerhouse of 11 million people. The Stock Exchange, the Asian Cairns and the Oct Museum push the design envelope. In southern China close to Hong Kong, design is a multi-billion dollar business employing 100,000 people. A generation of Chinese designers were trained here and excel in a wide spectrum of disciplines, women’s fashion being the most notable but that includes crafts, jewelry and toys. The city has moved upstream into creative, knowledge-based sectors, finance primarily among them as integration with the wealth creation machine that is Hong Kong.

Shenzhen, China

5. Shanghai, China

The Shanghai Design Show is Asia’s biggest and most important attracting the world designing elite, from Jaguar to Nike to Cognac giant Martell. A truly international city home to 25 million people faces enormous challenges in sustainable development. But it has a huge creative sector to meet those challenges and develop sectors that add about $40 billion to the city’s GDP. UNESCO notes that the city was the Chinese leader in creative sectors such as film and music. It takes one look at Shanghai’s dynamic skyline to grasp the tremendous creative power the city is harnessing under the aegis of the Municipal Commission of Economy and Technology. Shanghai’s Creative Cites page boasts 87 Creative Clusters, over 4,000 innovative design-related agencies and institutions, 283 art institutions, 239 art and cultural community centers, 100 museums, 25 libraries and 743 archive institutions. It is perhaps Exhibit A of a city growing its economy by investing in Design.

Top Cities 2013 - Shanghai

4. Kobe, Japan

There is a 21st century about the Kobe skyline partly because of its innovative nature and sadly, from a major rebuild after the catastrophic earthquake in 1995. But in one form or another the city has been adept at self-reinvention through history. As an open port it has absorbed the influence of many cultures and has long been regarded as a cosmopolitan city. There is an old saying that says, “If you can’t go to Paris go to Kobe.” Like the French city to which it’s compared, Kobe is a fashion design center. Kobe Biennale is a major annual art and design event that aims to use the twin disciplines “not only to promote the arts, but also to contribute to the enrichment and environment of Kobe.” In 2015 a number eclectic competitions were held for Art-in-a Box, using old containers as a kind of urban canvas; creative toys, ceramic art, comic illustration and ‘green’ art.

Kobe, Japan

3. Nagoya, Japan

One of the rare cities that has managed to retain its blue collar and artistic pedigrees. It is home to major Toyota and Mitsubishi auto plants as well as traditional Japanese theater, cuisine and craft work dating back to medieval times. All under the magnificent watch of the fabulous 17th century Nagoya Castle. Even the modern manufacturing systems are based on the old Japanese principle of Monozukuri which Toyota defines as “manufacturing which is in harmony with nature and that is value adding for the society… the older sister of sustainable manufacturing.” Also unlike many others on the list, Nagoya can claim a design specialty. An army of engineers advance robot technology as well as a sector that discovers and designs new materials. UNESCO lauds its combination of tradition and the philosophy of Humanism with advanced technology.

Nagoya, Japan

2. Seoul, South Korea

The economy of South Korea is an aggressively powerful export machine barging into giant-dominated sectors like cars and cellphones. Seoul, the dynamic capital, is home to three-quarters of the country’s designers. Seoul’s design sector is heavy on IT related products now honing fashion and digital home appliance design. City government policy acts as a facilitator linking design companies with its thriving industrial base. Dongdaemun Design Plaza is like a modern Silicon Valley of design and creative expertise that not only serves as an incubator for innovation, but transformed one of the city’s oldest, most historic districts.

Top Cities 2013 - Seoul

1. Beijing, China

Far and away the most controversial and debatable of UNESCO’s designations is Beijing, China. However, UNESCO notes the city’s 3000 years rich with history. The architecture and design of the venues for the 2008 Olympics were spectacular but remain underused and unable to be integrated into the city fabric. Meanwhile the brutally bulldozing of the city’s legendary hutongs or traditional neighborhoods of narrow alleys have been documented in books and documentaries. UNESCO cites the huge number of museums and creativity clusters “bearing in mind their relevance for sustainable development.”

Beijing, China

10 Soccer Stadiums You Need to Visit

One of the best ways to experience a city as a local does is to attend its local sporting events. The crowds are often friendly (as long as no one makes the mistake of wearing the other team’s colors) and they’ll point out the best street food, the cheapest beer, and most likely, they’ll be using local slang to insult the opposition. But not all soccer teams are created equal, nor are their arenas. Read on to find the 10 sporting teams whose arenas should be on your bucket list.

10. Estádio Municipal de Braga – Braga, Portugal

The Estádio da Luz might be “the Cathedral” and Estádio José Alvalade is bright and beautiful, but it’s the Estádio Municipal that should be on soccer fans’ must-visit list. How many stadiums are carved out of a quarry? The Portuguese stadium might be unique in its setting, providing a beautiful place to watch a match. Only two sides of the field are flanked by stands, meaning the stadium is on the small side, holding just over 30,000. But a glance toward the hew rocks on one end, upon which the scoreboard stands, can fool visitors into believing they’re in the middle of nowhere. Look around to the other end, however, and the city of Braga sprawls below. The stadium sits just a 15 minute walk outside the city center, meaning there’s also plenty of opportunity to enjoy the delights of Portugal’s food and drink.

Photo by: Leon
Photo by: Leon

9. Anfield Stadium – Liverpool, England

For neutral fans wanting to catch a game in the country that gave birth to modern soccer, Anfield is by far the best choice. While Manchester United has a slick new complex and both Chelsea and Arsenal are located in London, all three are known for the rather tepid atmosphere pervading their stadiums. So for those seeking both a great stadium experience and a fun city to explore, the choice must be Anfield. Liverpool hasn’t won a major trophy in over a decade, but that doesn’t mean Reds fans are any less dedicated. The stadium is filled to capacity for nearly every league match, and the Kop – where the most vocal supporters sit – is guaranteed to be raucous. Be sure to learn the words to the club’s anthem, You’ll Never Walk Alone, before showing up at Anfield, as the entire stadium sings along just prior to kickoff.

nui7711 / Shutterstock.com
nui7711 / Shutterstock.com

8. Juventus Stadium – Turin, Italy

Serie A was once the top league in Europe, but Italian football is on the decline. That means less money, and less money means once-glorious stadiums like the San Siro in Milan are now crumbling. Juventus Stadium, however, provides not just a bright spot on the peninsula, but a prime model other clubs are in the process of emulating. Filled to almost its 40,000 capacity for every game, all that money goes to the team, a rarity in Italy. For Juventus, that means the ability to buy better players, which has lead to a run of league titles. For fans, it means getting to watch great soccer in the comfort of a modern stadium. For the visitor, it’s a wonderful atmosphere with seats almost right on top of the field. In short, it’s where to go to see the future of Italian soccer.

Pix4Pix / Shutterstock.com
Pix4Pix / Shutterstock.com

7. Maracanã Stadium – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Brazil’s Maracanã is one of the most famous stadiums in the world. Even those who have no idea of its history (the venue was built to wow visitors coming to Brazil for the 1950 World Cup) would likely recognize it as an icon. All those memorable shots of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue, broadcast to millions during the 2014 World Cup final, often showed the stadium in the background. Visitors might be disappointed to learn they can’t see the famous statue from inside any longer, however, as the roof has been extended to protect nearly every seat in the house. But the upgrades make this a great place to watch a game, from the open, single tier of yellow and blue seats to the airy roof above. And lovers of soccer history will be thrilled to know they’re sitting in the same stadium where the legendary striker Pelé scored his 1,000th goal.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

6. Celtic Park – Glasgow, Scotland

Celtic played their first match at Parkhead, as fans refer to the stadium, way back in 1892. The park has come a long way since those days when just one wooden stand loomed over the field. Rebuilt in the 1990s, 60,000 seats now enclose the field, and the noise from the stands creates an intimidating atmosphere for visiting teams. Those wanting to catch a game at Celtic Park should try to get tickets to an Old Firm derby, when Celtic play their rivals Rangers. More difficult to find now that Rangers are in the second division, when a tournament draws these two together, these tickets are some of the hottest in Europe. Not only does the Old Firm pit the two most successful teams in Scottish history together, but it brings together passionate fans that absolutely despise the other side, making for a cracking atmosphere.

Cornfield / Shutterstock.com
Cornfield / Shutterstock.com

5. Estadio Azteca – Mexico City, Mexico

Club América is one of the most successful teams in Mexico, and it’s definitely worth a trip to watch them play Chivas Guadalajara, another of the country’s best and América’s most bitter rivals. But the real reason to come to this stadium is for international matches. The Mexico national soccer team, nicknamed El Tri, rarely ever loses a game at its home stadium, largely due to the intimidating atmosphere in the stands, which hold more than 95,000 spectators. Even when El Tri isn’t playing, history gets made. The Azteca, the first stadium to host two World Cup finals, has given the world some of the most famous moments in soccer. In 1970, Italy beat West Germany 4-3 in what’s known as the “Game of the Century,” while 1986 brought not only the “Goal of the Century” from Diego Maradona, but his infamous “Hand of God” incident against England.

Jess Kraft / Shutterstock.com
Jess Kraft / Shutterstock.com

4. Türk Telekom Arena – Istanbul, Turkey

Once the holders of the Guinness Book of World Records title for the loudest crowd noise at a sporting event, now Galatasaray fans behave as though they’re determined to take back their crown. The Türk Telekom Arena isn’t one of the biggest in the sport, holding just over 50,000, but the cim bom faithful know how to create a fantastic atmosphere. Galatasaray supporters are also partial to fire, so keep an eye out for flares and flames coming from the sections that house the hardcore fans. For those lucky enough to score a ticket to the Intercontinental Derby, when city rivals Fenerbahçe come to visit, huge displays of choreography and massive banners exalting Galatasaray are to be expected. Expect to be entertained by antics on the pitch as well, as tempers flare there’s usually at least one sending off.

Photo by: Omer via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Omer via Wikimedia Commons

3. La Bombonera – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Officially named the Estadio Alberto J. Armando, this stadium is called “La Bombonera” due to the fact that it resembles a chocolate box, having originally been built in a U-shape, although the fourth side is now filled with a low stand and VIP boxes. The addition of more space for spectators along that fourth side hasn’t diminished the stadium’s acoustics. The triple-tiered stands along three sides trap the noise, aiding the 49,000 supporters in creating an atmosphere hostile to visiting teams. The smallish capacity can make tickets hard to come by, especially if Boca Juniors are playing rivals River Plate, but the experience of being among such passionate fans is worth the effort. Take time before the game to walk around La Bombonera, admiring the murals depicting important moments in Boca Juniors’ history – particularly the choosing of the club’s famed blue and yellow colors.

Jess Kraft / Shutterstock.com
Jess Kraft / Shutterstock.com

2. Camp Nou – Barcelona, Spain

The biggest soccer stadium that can be found outside North Korea, the Camp Nou is on nearly every serious soccer fan’s bucket list. And no wonder: the stadium plays host to one of the most successful teams in Europe and offers a stage to many of the best players on earth.The fans also demonstrate a fierce pride in Catalonia, the autonomous region in which Barcelona is located. The club’s Catalan motto, “Mes que un club”, is spelled out in the seats, the supporters sing in Catalan, and the region’s flag waves throughout the stands. If going to El Clásico, the meeting between Barça and Real Madrid, read up on the political background for some fascinating insights into the rivalry. Even without a visit from the rivals, however, visitors are certain to see some wonderful soccer played out.

Natursports / Shutterstock.com
Natursports / Shutterstock.com

1. Westfalenstadion – Dortmund, Germany

The absolute best place to go for fans who want to experience both entertaining soccer and a fantastic atmosphere. Officially named Signal Iduna Park, the Westfalenstadion is the biggest in Germany and one of the largest in Europe, holding 81,359 when both seating and standing are included. While standing is not allowed when Borussia Dortmund are playing in European tournaments, it is their standing section that is perhaps the most attractive feature of a trip to the stadium. Die Gelbe Wand, or the Yellow Wall, comprises the Westfalenstadion southern terrace. It was named so because Dortmund’s primary color is bright yellow. The wall is an intimidating sight, featuring 25,000 supporters doing their best to strike fear in the heart of the opposition. Also watch for Dortmund’s tifo, or giant banners, unfurled in impressive displays of choreography as the match begins.

Photo by: lackystrike via Flickr
Photo by: lackystrike via Flickr

15 Amazing Libraries for Literature Lovers

Libraries are those unique cultural institutions that combine art, history and innovation to create a space for people of all ages and backgrounds to indulge in the pursuit of knowledge and exploration of literature. For book lovers, there are few things that compare to wandering amid stacks of a historically or culturally significant building and finding a rare volume of their favorite author or an ancient text pertinent to human history. Luckily, the major libraries of the world that house such exquisite collections work hard to keep them preserved and accessible to the public, and out of the hundreds of worldwide options, we’ve narrowed down the 15 institutions all literature lovers must visit at least once in their lives.

15. Royal Grammar School Chained Library, Guildford, England

The headmaster’s study in Guilford’s Royal Grammar School is home to one extremely unique feature—an original chained library. The custom of chaining books originated with the idea of providing public access to valuable and important texts by affixing them to shelving in public places, an idea that eventually became the predecessor for the modern library system. This particular one in Guildford, England is one of the last remaining chained libraries in the world and houses a collection with works dating back to the 15th century, and most notably, two early editions of Newton’s Principia.

Royal Grammar School
Photo by: The Despectacled Librarian

14. Austrian National Library, Vienna, Austria

As the country’s largest library, the Austrian National Library is found within Hofburg Palace in Vienna and houses upwards of 7.4 million items. The acquisition of holdings dates back to the Middle Ages, with the permanent home at the Hofburg Palace constructed in the early 18th century, and now containing the largest collection of contemporary literature and research materials in Austria, as well as several unique collections, archives and museums. The most notable of these is the collection of Maps, one of the most comprehensive in the world, which today includes 295,000 maps, 45,000 geographic-topographic views, 700 globes and over 80,000 atlases and books of a technical nature. Also impressive is the library’s holding of manuscripts and rare books, a collection comprised of over 500,000 printed materials organized into incunabula (pre-1500s), works from the 16th to 19th centuries and items of rare, valuable and bibliophilic importance.

Radiokafka / Shutterstock.com
Radiokafka / Shutterstock.com

13. Thomas Fisher Rare Books Library, Toronto, Canada

This library houses the University of Toronto’s Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, the acquisition of which started in 1955 under the direction of Chief Librarian Robert H. Blackburn (largely sourced from the University’s main library). The department didn’t have a permanent home until 1973 when Thomas Fisher’s descendants donated their personal collections of Shakespeare and various 20th century writers, accentuating the growing collection’s need for a designated space. The building is now home to Canada’s largest publicly accessible selection of rare books and manuscripts, consisting of over 700,000 volumes including several medieval manuscripts and a set of Pyne’s Royal Residences which was presented to the University by Queen Victoria.

Photo by: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto
Photo by: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

12. Trinity College Library, Dublin, Ireland

Located at the University of Dublin, the Trinity College Library holds Ireland’s largest collection of literature and is home to one of the country’s  biggest attractions—the incomparable Long Room. Built between 1712 and 1732, the Long Room measures over 65 meters in length and contains the institution’s 200,000 item collection of rare and early edition manuscripts and novels, including the world-famous Book of Kells  and one of the last surviving copies of the 1916 Proclamation of the Irish Republic. Also interesting to see are the marble busts of famous writers and philosophers that adorn the room, the highlight of which seems to be the one of Jonathan Swift created by Louis Francois Roubiliac.

VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com
VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock.com

11. Royal Portuguese Reading Room, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Brazil’s Real Gabinete Portugues de Leitura, known in English as the Royal Portuguese Reading Room, must be visited as much for its unbelievably stunning interior as for its extensive literary collection. Housing the largest collection of Portuguese literature outside of Portugal itself, the library was built from 1880 to 1887 in the Neo-Manueline style (Portuguese answer to Neo-Gothic architecture) designed by lead architect Rafael da Silva e Castro. Today, the library houses over 350,000 rare volumes spread over three levels, topped with a wrought iron chandelier and stained-glass skylight, making it a must see for anyone who appreciates both literature and 19th century architecture.

T photography / Shutterstock.com
T photography / Shutterstock.com

10. Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Connecticut, United States

Currently closed for renovation (it will reopen in September 2016) the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University houses one of the world’s largest rare book and manuscript collections. Completed in 1963, the building’s geometric architecture and innovative translucent marble “windows” allow a unique method of filtered lighting to illuminate the interior of the building while protecting its precious contents—thousands of rare manuscripts, papyri and early edition novels. The library is also home to various other literary collections acquired by the University, as well as several temporary and permanent exhibits; amid these treasured displays you can find an early printing of the Gutenberg Bible and Audubon’s Birds of America.

LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com
LEE SNIDER PHOTO IMAGES / Shutterstock.com

9. St. Catherine’s Monastery Library, South Sinai, Egypt

This Greek Orthodox Monastery, officially known as The Holy Monastery of the God-trodden Mount Sinai, and unofficially as Santa Katarina, is the oldest inhabited monastery in the world with origins predating the Middle Ages. Though it is worth the visit just to admire and stand in a structure that has witnessed 17 centuries of history, exploring the monastery’s cultural inheritance is a truly unique experience. Housing an extensive collection of Christian art, the site is also home to a library of over 16,000 ancient texts, including hand-written manuscripts on papyrus and scrolls, early printed books and an archive of ancient documents. While the majority of the works found here are written in Greek and are religious in nature, the library also houses a number of educational works such as lexicons, medical texts and travel accounts. Most notable holdings include several pages of the Codex Sinaiticus (4th century manuscript of the Holy Scriptures) and especially of interest for classical literature lovers, first editions of Homer, Plato and the Comedies of Aristophanes.

Photo by: Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr
Photo by: Nathan Hughes Hamilton via Flickr

8. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC, United States

Planned, funded and brought into being by Henry and Emily Folger, the Folger Shakespeare Library currently holds the world’s largest collection of William Shakespeare’s work, and is a must see for anyone who is a fan of Renaissance literature. Up until the building’s opening in 1932, the Folgers worked tirelessly to provide the American people with the best possible selection of the poet’s works, and personally took on all of the responsibilities involved with bringing their dream to life, including acquisitions, location scouting and structural planning. Today, the couple’s gift continues to expand, and now (in addition to the Shakespeare) houses an impressive collection of other Renaissance books, manuscripts and art, as well as being home to a world class research facility and numerous public outreach programs.

Photo by:  NCinDC via Flickr
Photo by: NCinDC via Flickr

7. Alexandria Library, Alexandria, Egypt

Opened in 2002, this new Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Egypt’s northern coast is committed to replicating the ancient versions legacy as a universal center for culture and learning. While this was originally regarded by many as an impossible task, the library has managed it, becoming a hub in Alexandria not only for literature, but for performances, art, and special events. A stunning example of modern architecture, the library complex consists of a main reading room (which has the capacity to shelve eight million volumes) and four smaller libraries—a children’s library, youth’s library, multimedia library and braille library. Also on the premises are a planetarium and several museums that exhibit everything from ancient artefacts to antiquarian texts, including a copy of the only known scroll that remains from the city’s ancient library.

RiumaLab / Shutterstock.com
RiumaLab / Shutterstock.com

6. National Library of St. Mark’s, Venice, Italy

This beautiful library in Venice’s Piazza San Marco was constructed in the mid 1500’s after Cardinal Bessarion 1468 literary donation demanded a designated library building. The two level structure, officially called the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana was designed by Jacopo Sansovino and features Doric-style arches on the ground floor and Ionic friezes and sculptures on the second, as well as decorative artworks by Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto, among other. The library is also among the oldest in the country and houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of classical literature and historic works. With holdings that comprise upwards of a million total items, among the library’s most treasured pieces are two manuscripts of the Iliad (5th and 6th century) and opera scores and sonatas by Francesco Cavalli and Domenico Scarlatti, respectively.

Photo by:  Iain Cameron via Flickr
Photo by: Iain Cameron via Flickr

5. Russian State Library, Moscow, Russia

With a history dating back to 1862, The Russian State Library is the country’s national library and houses the 5th largest literary collection in the world, containing over 17.5 million books. The institution also holds a renowned collection of maps, as well an extensive amount of specialized items such as journals, sheet music, sound recordings and dissertations. While obviously home to the largest selection of Russian literature in the world, the library also houses foreign works represented in over 247 languages, which comprise approximately 30 percent of the building’s 43 million item collection. The building itself is also an interesting site, with construction more or less completed by 1945, it is a perfect example of Soviet Neo-Classical architecture and offers an insightful contrast to other libraries of this magnitude.

Russian State Library

4. New York Public Library, New York City, United States

Not only is the New York Public Library a city landmark and popular tourist attraction, it is also an extremely important part of the worldwide literary family. With a collection of over 53 million items, the library is the 4th largest in the world, drawing around 18 million annual visitors. Originally founded in 1895, today’s main branch at Bryant Park was opened in 1911 with over one million volumes consolidated from the Astor and Lenox Libraries. The institution has since expanded to include 88 neighborhood branches and four resource centers, servicing approximately 17 million people and offering over 67,000 free programs yearly. Visitors to the main branch, located in Manhattan`s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, can admire the beauty of the building’s Beaux-Arts architecture and interiors and explore the collections in the General Research, Manuscripts and Archives, History and Genealogy and Rare Books Divisions (among others). This building is also home to some of the country’s most significant historic documents, including Columbus’s letter about the New World (1943) and George Washington’s original Farewell Address.

Photo by: Jeremy Keith via Flickr
Photo by: Jeremy Keith via Flickr

3. Vatican Library, Vatican City

Among the many culturally significant things to see in Vatican City, the Vatican Library is no exception. Officially established in 1448 (though acquisition began much earlier) in the Vatican Palace, the current collection tops 1.1 million items and includes ancient manuscripts, codices, classical Greek and Latin texts, and perhaps the most impressive selection of incunabula (text printed in Europe prior to 1501) in the world. Though holding a vast amount of religious texts, the library’s holdings are actually extremely diverse in scope, with notable pieces ranging from the oldest known Bible (Codex Vaticanus) to letters from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn.

Photo by: Anna & Michal via Flickr
Photo by: Anna & Michal via Flickr

2. Library of Congress, Washington DC, United States

Established in 1800, with the doors of the current building opening to the public in 1897, The Library of Congress in Washington DC is the 2nd largest library in the world, housing upwards of 158 million items. Now a national monument, the building is one of the world’s foremost research centers home to 36 million printed materials in over 460 languages as well as over 69 million manuscripts. It is also here that you will find the world’s largest selection of films, sound recordings, sheet music and maps, in addition to the most extensive holdings of rare books on the continent. Along with this amazing collection of literature, the building itself is also worth the tour, showcasing magnificent Beaux-Arts architecture with interiors and reading rooms featuring fine art, marble halls, carved hardwood, and of course, the incomparable central stained-glass dome.

Photo by: m01229 via Flickr
Photo by: m01229 via Flickr

1. The British Library, London, England

This jaw-dropping institution contains an astounding 625 km of shelving to house its 170 million+ item collection which includes over 300,000 original manuscripts (both ancient and contemporary) and 60 million patents. With figures such as these, it is no wonder that the British Library is the largest in the world, and attract over 16,000 daily visitors. The main building, located in St. Pancras in London, is England’s largest public building constructed in the 20th century and consists of over 112,000 square meters spread over 14 floors. Along with the unparalleled collection of books, maps, newspapers and musical scores, the library is home to one of the world’s most comprehensive selections of literary treasures, including the Magna Carta, The Times first edition and the audio recording of Mandela’s Rivonia trial speech.

Photo by: Andrew Gustar via Flickr
Photo by: Andrew Gustar via Flickr