Exciting Nautical Adventures Every Aquaphile Should Experience

There’s nothing quite like getting out to sea and sailing the mighty waters and if you’ve ever experienced it, there’s a good chance you’re hooked. For some, sailing around the world is a dream but for others, a blithe reality. Whether it’s your first time sailing or you’re an accomplished ocean master, the spray of the sea and the feel of the salty wind in your hair never gets old. Moorings and anchorages are easy to find alongside dynamic coastal destinations, from classic sailing points such as the British Virgin Islands to exotic stops like Zanzibar.

7. Galápagos Islands | Ecuador

Sailing in the Galapagos Islands is like cruising through one of the world’s most magical places filled with so many different species it’s literally a wild kingdom. Sailing around the volcanic peninsula, the name Galapagos conjures images of some of the world’s most important wildlife but it’s also a lesser known yet equally thrilling sailing destination. A live-aboard boat is one of the best ways to experience sailing throughout the area–take a week-long cruise aboard a yacht (but don’t worry, there’s usually a motor just incase the wind’s not sufficient). The days can be wiled away diving or snorkeling or just relaxing offshore or head to land and cavort–while treading carefully ofcourse–among the vast numbers of giant tortoises, playful sea lions, emerald iguanas, and bounty of bird species in this ecological Eden. Get there on any of the daily flights leaving Quito, Ecuador’s capital, via Guayaquil.

6. Bay of Islands | New Zealand

Over the last decade, there have been an abundance of cruising boats around the Bay Islands in Honduras–spectacular scenery and world-class worthy diving and snorkeling are easy guesses for why this small island region has been named one of the largest per-population estimated rates of boat ownership around the globe. From 25km to 50 km off the northern mainland coast, Honduras’s three main islands–Guanaja, Roatan, and Utila–are home to barrier reefs that are the world’s second largest, churning with fish, sea turtles, sponges, whale sharks, coral, and rays. Dozens of coves make for an interesting nautical adventure, where clear waters beckon into the cool, refreshing turquoise depths. Most of the other islands, numbering around 150, are free of the advancing development found on the three favourites, making it a choice area for exploring. Anchor offshore and spend weeks discovering some of nature’s finest, uninhabited islands.

5. French Riviera

The glitz, the glamour…the sailing! Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Monaco, Nice–this revered coastline is brimming with myths and legends and scandals of the rich and famous. This is where ultra-luxurious yachts host some of the most enduring, hedonistic lifestyles in the world but not to fret, there’s still room for the average sailor swapping the sometimes-pretentious coast for offshore pursuits. You don’t need a monumental yacht–you can hire a classic sail boat and crew for a trip around the Cote D’Azur–or if you’re a greenhorn, take an independent journey around the calm waters. One of the best places to avoid the crowds is to sail to Port Cros and I_le de Porquerolle, a beautiful, pristine paradise several nautical miles from the Cote-D’Azur’s stratospheric indulgences. These unspoilt islands are the best place to be unseen, showcasing the pretty, rocky inlets, rugged shorelines, and some of the riviera’s finest stretches of sand.

4. British Virgin Islands

The name British Virgin Islands swiftly brings to mind nature’s most unsullied landscapes and one of the best-known destinations for getting your sails wet, whether as an experienced captain or complete novice. Stretched out in front, like in a sailor’s most vivid dream, is the Sir Frances Drake Channel, the main focus of the nautical crowd. The trade winds are so beautifully consistent, the sun shines almost every day, cerulean water is all about, and most surrounding islands are so close they’re navigated by eye alone. The total navigating area in the British Virgin Islands is a broad 51 x 24 kilometers, a perfect amount of space for an easygoing journey. With hundreds of anchorages across more than 40 islands, this is one easy place to sail. With hundreds upon hundreds of protected bays ideal for mooring for a day–or days on end–and such tame currents there’s virtually never a cause for concern, the BVIs are seafarer’s Shangri-la.

3. Croatia

Croatia has headed in one direction only when it comes to the travel world, and that is up-way up. Called the “new Tuscany,” and reminiscent of both the Riviera and the Greek Islands, Croatia has gained substantial attention from the sailing world. The in-crowd is here, taking full advantage of the incredible conditions and lower costs of sailing in the Adriatic. Less trend-setting and more timeless, Croatia’s 1777km coastline and no less than 1184 islands practically begs to be discovered and there’s really no better way to achieve that then by sailing. It puts you in the perfect position for all the best places. Dubrovnik, Kornati, Split, Zadar, Skradin, and countless other coastal cities keep sailors tied up for weeks, even months. Traditional fishing villages, clandestine coves, and remote islands like Elafiti make the decision between land and water difficult but the clear choice is both. Gateway cities like famed and stunning Dubrovnik are history-filled, landmark dotted travel havens–be sure to set your feet on dry land, even if just for a while.

2. Nile River | Egypt

One of the most relaxing and euphoric experiences in Egypt is sailing up the Nile River on a traditional Felucca boat, a wood vessel used in calmer waters of the Nile and rigged with one, and sometimes two, canvas lateen sails. Crewed by two or three people and taking up to ten passengers, a Felucca is still a great way to slow-travel outside of the popular and most frequented ferries and motorboats. Feluccas are more than just budget-friendly, but that’s one of the great things about them. You can hardly believe how inexpensive a journey up the Nile can be–a fraction of the cost of sailing on a dahabiyya, extravagant houseboats that have become the Nile’s version of a Rolls Royce. Following a millennia of transportation over one of the world’s oldest trade routes, a sailing journey will take you deep into nautical history and tradition. Start in Aswan and take the well-sailed route to Edfu, stopping at landmarks and smaller islands en route.

1. Zanzibar

Arty, edgy, and historically rich, Zanzibar is a proper archipelago off Tanzania’s east coast in the Indian Ocean. It’s a destination ideal for stepping off Tanzania’s beaten path–in fact, get right off any path and onto the waters surrounding Zanzibar and the area’s wild, raw backdrop will take your breath away. It’s not hard to feel as if you’ve slipped back a century or two, as the flat-topped, low-rise buildings in Stone Town’s (a World Heritage accredited town) come into view off the ocean, laid out along the coast while the Muslim call to prayer reproduces itself endlessly across the water. Old town, with it’s twisting, narrow streets and fabulously adorned doors evoke memories of a Persia lost, ancient kingdom, sultans, and caliphs. If you’re not up for manning a boat yourself, hire a dhow, an ancient traditional Arabic vessel, to whisk you off into the distance where snorkeling and diving are first-rate and the beaches are stunning.

The World’s 8 Most Remote Hotels

Imagine touching down somewhere that few people have ever been, discovering a remote world that you didn’t know existed. Travelers are becoming more interested in places that offer more remoteness, that often take a journey to get to. Luckily the call for these types of places have been answered and throughout the world, remote hotels are popping up in places you didn’t even know existed. From a beachfront hotel in Iceland to a surfing getaway in Samoa, these 8 remote hotels all have a few things in common- exceptional accommodations, stunning scenery, delicious cuisine and an air of privacy.

8. Hotel Budir, Iceland

The only real beachfront hotel in Iceland lies next to a lava field with views over the Snaefellsnes glacier. The accommodations here are simple, chic and unpretentious offering a variety of rooms including eight rooms in the attic, one suite, nine deluxe rooms and ten standard rooms. In the wintertime, guests cozy up by the fireplace in the lobby while staring out the large windows at the breathtaking surroundings.

Summertime brings bonfire parties on the beach and swimming during the day. Guests here will be treated to exceptional service, an exquisite restaurant and one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. The possibilities for activities here are endless and hotel staff is delighted to help guests plan whatever their heart desires, whether they want to take a tour by helicopter, go horseback riding, fishing and more.

Via Iceland Times

7. Fogo Island Inn, Newfoundland, Canada

Fogo Island is a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland, halfway between the North Pole and the Equator and home to the simple yet charming Fogo Island Inn. Open all year round, guests here are treated to the floor to ceiling views of the North Atlantic Ocean in one of 29 guest suites. Every piece of furniture and textile in the rooms are handcrafted, from the quilts to the chairs to the wallpaper.

Three meals a day are catered to suit your personal preferences along with snacks and focuses on fresh seasonal ingredients. In wintertime watch, as winter storms crash through, try your hand at cross-country skiing or ice fishing. In the spring the gigantic icebergs float by, bonfires are lit and wildlife viewing is at its finest. To get here, visitors have to take a ferry from Farewell Harbor or arrive in style in a helicopter.

Via Hospitality Net

6. Ultima Thule Lodge, Alaska

Deep in the Alaskan wilderness, hundreds of miles from paved roads sits this incredible remote lodge, taking people to places where nobody has gone before. It is a six-hour drive from Anchorage and then a 90-minute flight into the Wrangell Mountains to reach this lodge, set amongst the largest protected wilderness on earth. Visitors here should expect luxurious like bearskin rugs, floor-to-ceiling windows, a wood-fired sauna, freshly baked goods and stunning scenery.

There are no set itineraries at this lodge; every day is customized depending on the time of year, flying conditions and interests. Activities range from kayaking in a glacier-fed river, flying over the largest vertical rock face on earth, driving over glacier fields, and hiking across arctic tundra. Every experience at this lodge is unique and unforgettable and entirely worth the journey.

Via LiveTheLife.tv

5. Aganoa Lodge, Samoa

Surfing is the main draw at this ultra-remote lodge, located on Savai’i, the more remote of the two main islands of Samoa. This lodge offers fully guided surfing experiences for a maximum of eight guests while catering to non-surfers and families who want an active travel experience. Eight open-air bungalows set the stage for this beautiful experience, each one constructed of reclaimed timber and lava rocks that were collected on site.

Beautiful white sand and crystal clear water beckon guests to swim, snorkel, surf, kayak and more; with the included equipment from the lodge. Dinner is served nightly in the open lounge and features the fresh catch of the day, along with other incredible seasonal ingredients. Whether you are looking to surf, dine or relax; this remote lodge will appeal to you.

Via PegasusLodges

4. Lyngen Lodge, Norway

The ultimate remote getaway for winter sports enthusiasts is Lyngen Lodge, a remote lodge offering luxury accommodation, top quality cuisine and epic adventures in the world’s most beautiful and undisturbed arctic regions on earth. The lodge only caters to 18 guests at a time so expect a personalized retreat with incredible cuisine and exceptional customer service. Relax in the center of the lodge where large panoramic windows offer spectacular views of the Lyngen Alps and a crackling fireplace keeps you warm.

Activities here include dog sledding, snowmobiling, skiing, Northern Lights viewing, boat tours, water sports, and Heli-hiking. Whether you choose to come in the winter for the unforgettable skiing or the summer for the abundance of activities, chances are, the experience will be unforgettable.

Via Natural World Safari

3. Yemaya Island Hideaway, Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Little Corn Island is literally a speck in the in Caribbean Ocean, 43 miles off the east coast of Nicaragua. Getting here requires multiple forms of transportation including flight, taxi, panga boat and your own two feet. The reward is well worth it though, 16 private cabanas nestled among swaying coco palms with views of the crystal clear ocean. Private outdoor verandahs, a rainforest shower, and beautiful handcrafted furnishings await you.

Dining is done in the open-air restaurant that serves up local and organic ingredients grown on site along with fresh seafood. Guests here can enjoy activities such as daily yoga, sailing, kayaking, snorkeling, paddle boarding and incredible spa treatments. This hideaway offers the chance to reconnect, explore nature and live carefree, if only for a few short days.

Via Small Luxury Hotels

2. The Oberoi Vanyavilas, India

Situated just ten minutes from Ranthambhore National Park, this is a chance for visitors to get up close and personal with the incredible Royal Bengal Tigers in the wild, while staying at an amazing remote hotel. Accommodations are in luxury tents, complete with a four-poster bed, a claw-footed tub, personal stocked bar, silk bathrobes and more.

Dining is done in the main hall of the restaurant in the winter time in front of an open wood fireplace while the outside courtyard becomes transformed into a restaurant in the summer complete with bonfires, candles and folk musicians. Explore the national park with its incredible ruins, elephants; hundreds of species of birds and of course the majestic tigers. Pamper yourself at the beautiful spa, have a private candlelit dinner or learn how to cook with Indian Spices; whatever your heart desires, you will find it here.

Via Jetsetter

1. Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador

Perched at 3,116 feet above sea level in between rainforest and cloud forests sits an incredible lodge, surrounded by plants, orchids and a staggering 500 species of birds; along with monkeys, pumas and an abundance of waterfalls. Luxury and nature merge here at this five-star lodge where rooms feature floor-to-ceiling windows and glass walls that look out into the lush forest.

The towering two-story dining room features fully panoramic views and seasonal menu items that are prepared fresh by fine dining chefs. Top naturalist guides are on hand to take you through the surrounding trails and explain the flora and fauna that surrounds you. Voted as one of the most unique lodges in the world by National Geographic; this remote hotel is not to be missed.

Via Mashpi Lodge

The World’s Scariest Stairs

Stairways have the ability to be beautiful, graceful and elegant but not all stairs are created equally. There are hundreds of thousands of staircases around the world that are downright scary, for many different reasons. Some have caused death, many are falling apart and others lead to eerie experiences. From the depths of Paris to the peaks in Yosemite to the tops of temples; here are 12 of the world’s scariest staircases.

12. Inca Stairs, Peru

The Inca Stairs leads up to one of the most famous photographed peaks, carved into the side of Huayna Picchu and they are among the scariest stairs in the world. If you want to ascend these stairs you will have to be one of the first 400 visitors to the ruins, as in recent years the park has capped the number of climbers.

A total of about 600 feet of steep granite rocks create the stairs and in recent years metal chains have been added to some parts that are especially dangerous. The stairs lead to the Moon Temple, one of the least visited worship places in Machu Picchu and many do not make it all the way up them as they are that scary. The views from the top are surreal, overlooking the Urubamba River and the ruins below.

11. Moaning Cavern Stairs, California, USA

The bones of approximately 100 prehistoric humans were once found at the bottom of these stairs, in this largest single-chamber public cave in California. In order to reach this cave, that is big enough to fit the Statue of Liberty in, climbers must descend 235 stairs, 144 of which are on a spiral staircase.

This damp cave is known for its eeriness, sounds of moaning and wailing are often heard as visitors make their way down. Back in the early 1900’s before the stairs were built visitors were actually lowered into the cavern in buckets with only candles or whale oil lamps to light the way. The history of this place, along with the creepy sounds will surely make the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up.

Via Pintrest

10. Cape Horn Stairs, Chile

Cape Horn is known as the last piece of land on earth before Antarctica and this tiny little piece of land is visited by few people. Most people come here to visit the Albatross Monument, a monument dedicated to the thousands of sailors that lost their lives in the treacherous seas. To climb these stairs you must first be able to get here, a harrowing thought considering only seven cruise ships disembark at the Island.

Grab your rain gear and some water as you land on the island to face 162 slippery ocean sprayed stairs. By the time you reach the top you will most likely be soaked, cold and wind whipped. The hardest part of the stairs comes at the top when the stairs flatten into tiers of wooden boardwalk, slippery, soaked and covered in mist. The reward when you climb these stairs is access to a place that few ever get to visit.

9. Sagrada Familia, Spain

It was clear when architects built this Roman Catholic Church they did not consider the number of people who would be coming here to worship. Gaudi has envisioned a forest canopy when designing the rooftop here but didn’t quite think of what the stairs would look like when more and more people came.

The spiral staircase to the top is downright scary, void of any banisters or handrails. It coils high and long against the tightly enclosed walls and at anytime hordes of people are trying to ascend and descend. Many people avoid this church simply because of the stairs and if you think are brave enough to challenge it, don’t say we didn’t warn you.

8. Flørli Stairs, Norway

These stairs pride themselves on being the longest wooden staircase on earth, made up of 4,444 steps that ascend 2,427 feet from the bottom. They start at the edge of Lysefjord and run to the top of the mountain in the small village of Flørli. The stairs run alongside the former water pipes as the now abandoned village of Flørli used to be a power plant village.

The stairs seemingly cling to the side of the mountain and provide breathtaking views all the way up. Count on questioning every creak you hear as you ascend up as these stairs, as they are both old and noisy, due in large part to the fact they are wooden. The hike up will take you anywhere from 3-5 hours and at the top, you will be rewarded with fantastic views and a history lesson from the historic hydropower hall that still exists.

Via Pulpit Rock Experience

7. Angkor Wat Temple Stairs, Cambodia

These stairs were supposedly created to be steep, in order to remind climbers that heaven is hard to reach. Therefore it seems there is no shame in hanging your head, dropping down to your hands and knees or pulling yourself up with the ropes provided to reach the uppermost temples. The stairs are actually inclined at a 70 degree angle and are known to be some of the steepest stairs in the world.

Many people have actually spoken out about these stairs, proclaiming that it’s not right to have tempting stairs in a worship area. Take extreme caution if you choose to climb these stairs as one missed step can lead to you tumbling down them, sure to cause injury and maybe even death.

6. Half Dome Stairs, California, USA

Located in Yosemite National Park, these next stairs lead up to the most iconic peak in Yosemite Valley but getting up here is only possible for about 400 people a day. Snag one of these hard to get permits between Memorial Day and October to attempt this gruesome seven mile all-incline hike. What awaits climbers is a climb up a rock face along a cable ladder, for more than 400 vertical feet. It is absolutely essential that climbers check the weather forecast before attempting this hike as people have fallen to their death.

Proper footwear and gear is a necessity and be aware that if you try and climb these stairs without a permit, you will face possible jail time and fines. Hikers will be rewarded at the top with incredible panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra.

5. Catacombs, Paris

Most everyone has heard of the Catacombs, the home of the remains of more than six million people, and if visiting isn’t scary enough, one has to contend with the creepy staircases. To reach the actual catacombs visitors will have to descend 130 steps, a narrow spiral stone staircase that leaves many claustrophobic. The sun and light quickly fade away as you descend into the darkness where bones and skulls await.

There is another set of stairs that await visitors on the way out, this one made up of only 83 stairs and most people ascend them quickly, wanting to get back into the fresh air and sunlight. A dizzying spiral staircase leading to rooms of bones; yup we think that qualifies as one of the scariest sets of stairs in the world.

4. Taihang Mountains Spiral Staircase, China

Far southwest of Beijing is a 300-foot tall spiral staircase that draws visitors from all over the world. That, in fact, was the goal of this incredible staircase when it was built, to encourage visitors to come to the Taihang Mountains in Linzhou. This so called “Stairway to Heaven” is built right on the side of the mountain and offers incredible views. But not just anyone is allowed to climb this staircase.

All potential climbers here have to sign a form stating that they have no heart or lung problems and that they are under 60 years of age. Looking more like a beanstalk, this dizzying staircase is not meant for the weak and visitors who plan on going on should be in good shape. No one quite knows what will happen if you lie about your age, but we suggest sticking to the rules and getting here before you turn 60.

Via Daily Mail

3. Pailon del Diablo Waterfall, Ecuador

Translate the name of this waterfall into English and you get “The Devil’s Cauldron”, therefore it should come as no surprise that these stairs are extremely scary! They were built to blend into the landscape and at first glance, you won’t even notice them but be aware, these steps can play tricks on you. The steps themselves are made out of smooth, oversize pebbles that become slippery from the mist of the waterfalls and offer extremely little traction.

When looking down at them they create an illusion of a slippery stone slide and the chance of falling off is high. For those of you who want something to hold onto, there is a metal railing that runs the length of the stairs. Don’t depend too much on it though, it gets slippery from all the water droplets and some say it’s really not that sturdy. The view of the waterfall from the top though is totally worth trekking up and down these stairs.

2. Haiku Stairs, Oahu, Hawaii

These stairs are actually so scary that they have been banned, as in no one is allowed to use them anymore. This rickety set of 3,922 stairs lead half a mile up Oahu’s Koolau Mountain Range. These stairs were actually contrasted in 1942 by the U.S Navy as a means to install communication wires and were nicknamed the “Highway to Heaven”. Daredevil hikers quickly discovered them after WWII and started to climb them for their absolutely incredible views.

In the 1980’s the stairs were officially closed to the public due to safety reasons, although many chose to ignore it and still climbed them. Nowadays there is a guard placed at the bottom of the stairs and many of them were destroyed when a storm blew through in 2015. It is unsure what the future of these stairs is, but if they ever happen to reopen we suggest tackling them, as even though they are scary, the views are beyond words.

1. Mount Huashan Heavenly Stairs, China

It is considered one of the most dangerous walks in the world and although the name deceives you with the word “heaven”, these stairs are more like hell. No one in history has actually even counted the number of steps, perhaps they lost count as they peered over the edge and were faced with a deathly drop. The stairs are carved into a sacred Taoist mountain and go so high up into the mountainside you lose track of them.

The side stone steps are supported by a single railing in which many trekkers hang on to as they ascend up. Unfortunately, if you thought these steps were the most dangerous part, you would be wrong. What awaits climbers after these steps is a trail known as the most dangerous on earth, a horizontal walkway consisting of planks fastened to the side of the mountain with just a single chain.

Via The Beauty of Travel

9 Landscapes That Inspired Great Works of Art

The world we live in is gorgeous and often awe-inspiring. Given that fact, it’s little wonder that many artists throughout the years, in many different places and cultures, have tried to capture just a little bit of that beauty on their canvases. From the natural to the man-made, there is no shortage of vantage points that have inspired—and continued to inspire—us to create memorable works of art. Here are 9 masterpieces that are almost as breathtaking as the real thing.

9. San Giorgio Maggiore (Monet)

San Giorgio Maggiore is one of Venice’s islands, so it should come as little surprise that it’s been the subject of a painting or two. Venice is regularly cited as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, thanks to a combination of architecture and natural endowments. The island’s most recognizable feature is the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, a 16th-century church. The building’s silhouette certainly dominates Claude Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore by Twilight, an Impressionist work completed between 1908 and 1912. The painting was started during Monet’s only trip to Venice. Even more than a century later, you can visit Venice and experience this precise view for yourself, with the sun setting over the water and the buildings of San Giorgio Maggiore silhouetted against the darkening sky.

monet

8. Lander’s Peak (Bierstadt)

Albert Bierstadt was born in Dusseldorf, Germany, but immigrated to the United States at an early age. Soon determining to become a painter, Bierstadt returned to Europe to study art. In 1859, he joined an expedition led by Frederick W. Lander, a land surveyor. They traveled west from Fort Laramie, Wyoming, to the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, Bierstadt sketched and painted many majestic scenes of the American west. His 1863 piece The Rocky Mountains, Lander’s Peak is based on one of the sketches he made during this expedition. The painting depicts Lander Peak, a summit of more than 3,000 meters (10,000 feet) located in the Wyoming Range; the peak is one of the highest in the area. Although Bierstadt’s painting isn’t true to nature, Rocky Mountain landscapes like Lander’s Peak are breathtakingly beautiful and popular with photographers and tourists alike.

Photo by: Albert Bierstadt via Wikimedia Commons

7. Lake McArthur (MacDonald)

J.E.H. MacDonald was part of the Group of Seven, a famed group of Canadian artists working in the early part of the 20th century. The Group of Seven tended to have a nationalistic bent and painted many iconic scenes of the Canadian wilderness; at least 2 members were also war artists capturing Canadian soldiers during the First World War. Beginning in 1924, MacDonald traveled west annually and produced many works featuring the Rocky Mountains, which dominated his later works. Lake McArthur, Yoho Park was painted in 1924, the year of MacDonald’s inaugural trek west. Yoho National Park was the second national park in Canada and forms part of the Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks World Heritage Site with several other parks. The Lake McArthur Trail, an 8-kilometer circuit, will take you to the north shore of the lake—which looks much the same today as it did in 1924.

group of seven Lake McArthur

6. Cotopaxi (Church)

Frederic Edwin Church, like Albert Bierstadt, was a member of the Hudson River School of landscape painting in the 19th century. Like Bierstadt, Church painted grandiose landscapes. Whereas Bierstadt painted the American West, Church was lured in by South America; many of his works feature Andean landscapes, inspired by 2 trips to Quito, Ecuador. While his most famous work is The Heart of the Andes, his 1855 painting Cotopaxi is perhaps a truer depiction of a South American landscape. The work shows the volcano Cotopaxi, one of the world’s highest volcanoes and the second-highest summit in Ecuador. As of 2015, Church’s 1862 painting depicting Cotopaxi smoldering away might be more accurate—the volcano, one of the most active in Ecuador with 87 recorded eruptions since 1534, has entered a new phase of activity and is under constant monitoring since an eruption of ash on August 14 and 15, 2015.

Cotopaxi church

5. Autumn Mountain Shadow (Guan Tong)

Guan Tong lived more than 1,000 years ago, during China’s Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. A painter of the Northern Landscape style, he lived in Chang’an (Xi’an) and was no doubt inspired by the mountainous terrain that surrounded him. Autumn Mountain Shadow is perhaps the most famous painting attributed to Guan Tong and while it’s difficult to discern the precise place that he was painting, there are hundreds of similar views of the rugged northern mountains in and around Xi’an. A barely visible path in the painting is reminiscent of many of the winding trails near Xi’an, especially those about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of the city, near Mount Hua. Mount Hua itself is similar to the landscape Guan Tong depicts in Autumn Mountain Shadow, and many tourists today visit Mount Hua for its ancient, sacred sites and temples, as well as its breathtaking views.

Mount Hua

4. Staubbach Falls (Bierstadt)

Albert Bierstadt painted much of the American West, but he also painted plenty of European landscapes as well; one of his first exhibits featured a large canvas of a Swiss landscape. Bierstadt studied in Europe and later traveled widely there, making many sketches and paintings in his signature grandiose style. Among his Swiss landscapes is this 1865 piece, entitled Staubbach Falls, Near Lauterbrunnen. The waterfall is one of Europe’s highest unbroken falls, descending about 1,000 feet into the valley below. Located in the Bernese Oberland, the Falls are a popular site in Switzerland, along with the iconic peaks of Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau in the east. The Falls are about 1 kilometer from the village of Lauterbrunnen, which lies at the bottom of one of the deepest valleys in the Alps.

Staubbach Falls

3. Grand Canal, Venice (Canaletto)

Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, was born in Venice in 1697. He spent most of his life there and took up his father’s line of work: painting. Much of his early artwork was painted “from nature,” rather than in the studio, a technique he returned to in his later years. In his later works, he painted grand scenes of Venice’s iconic canals, including the Doge’s Palace. His 1738 painting The Grand Canal in Venice from Palazzo Flangini to Campo San Marcuola depicts the Grand Canal as it was—and, perhaps surprisingly, this is a scene that remains remarkably similar even today. The buildings still bear a likeness to those depicted in Canaletto’s work, a testament to Venice’s enduring local flavor. And, of course, gondoliers are still a common sight on the waterways of this iconic city.

Grand Canal, Venice

2. Futamigaura at Dawn (Kunisada)

During the 19th century, Utagawa Kunisada was one of the most prolific masters of ukiyo-e woodblock prints. His works were incredibly popular, although they have been overshadowed since by artists such as Hokusai and Hiroshige. Today, Kunisada’s work is becoming more recognized. Although he was more known for prints of popular actors and pretty girls, he also produced landscapes and seascapes like Futamigaura at Dawn. Completed around 1830, the print depicts Sakurai Futamigaura, a scenic place north of Itoshima. Known as the “Married Couple Rock,” the feature is two large rocks about 150 meters from the beach. The rocks have been joined together by a shimenawa, a sacred Shinto rope used to ward off evil. The shimenawa at Sakurai Futamigaura is 30 meters long and weighs approximately one ton. Although Kunisada painted the area at dawn, Sakurai Futamigaura has become renowned for its sunsets.

Futamigaura at Dawn (Kunisada)

1. Roman Campagna

The Roman Campagna is a low-lying area that surrounds Rome. In ancient times, it was important in agriculture, but was abandoned during the Middle Ages. Many Roman ruins dotted the landscape. The Campagna became one of the most painted landscapes during the 18th and 19th centuries, when a trip to the Roman countryside to paint was considered part of the European Grand Tour. Today, however, much of the Campagna has been built over; the spaces that remain are clustered along the Appian Way. Today you might see the Mausoleum of Caecilia Metella or the Circus of Maxentius as part of your own Grand Tour. Another popular subject is the Ponte Nomentano, which is now in a pedestrian-only park within the city. The bridge’s medieval tower was popular for painters and a visit to this scenic spot may want to make you paint—or at least take a photo.

Appian Way

8 Fantastic Free Things to Do in the Galapagos Islands

Vacationing in the Galapagos Islands is a dream shared by countless outdoor adventurers and wildlife enthusiasts. Like any vacation, a trip to this Darwinian dreamscape can be planned on a fairly limited budget, after all the biggest attractions are naturally occurring and available to anyone with a little ambition and a good pair of shoes. There are even beachfront areas allowing camping with park permission which can take the heat off your wallet. One of the most promising items to pack is a decent snorkel and mask–snorkeling opportunities abound.

8. Bird Watch at Las Tijeritas

Las Tijeritas is one of the best places for bird watching in the Galapagos Islands and within walking distance of Port Baquerizo Moreno, the former home of a fishing community named La Predial and in operation between 1952 through 1960. Approach to Las Tijeritas is via the main avenue leading to Playa Mann. There’s a 5.6 kilometer hike here–easily done without a guide–which showcases some of the fantastic outdoor island scenery. The loop varies in elevation and there’s a great cove on route to enjoy some snorkeling and cool off from hiking in the hot sun. The cove is home to several species commonly found in the Galapagos Islands including sea lions, a wide variety of birds, and turtles. The main attractions is the Frigate bird colony; this is one of the only island spots you’ll witness two nesting colonies in the same place.

Great Frigate Bird Galapagos

7. Visit Jacinto Gordillo Giant Tortoise Breeding Center

The Jacinto Gordillo Giant Tortoise Breeding Center on Isabela Island is the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon in the company of the monstrous turtles the Galapagos Islands have become famous for. The onsite museum is a well-planned education center where visitors can learn about the mating process and also see baby tortoises. To get there, walk through the wetlands of the town, which is an interesting experience in itself. The route winds through the wetlands, passing pink flamingos and sunbathing iguanas, some quite large in size. The tortoise center is located in a thick, lush forest, a natural habitat of the giant animals. Jacinto Gordilla’s mission began following a severe decline of the giant tortoise population; the center allows turtles to live in a natural habitat cordoned off for protection from predators.

Giant tortise Isabela Island Galapagos

6. Hike Volcan Sierra Negra

Isabela Island’s five volcanoes are big attractions, with Sierra Negra the most popular one for hiking. Aside from Yellowstone, Sierra Negra is the biggest volcano with a cauldron-shaped top which is a natural feature (usually created by collapsing earth) fittingly called a caldera. Sierra Negra, (a shield volcano rupturing every three to six years) is largely flat and reminiscent of a knight’s shield laid horizontally on the ground. The volcanic eruptions aren’t film-worthy explosions blasting piping hot lava from the top but more ash and gas ejecting at a steady pace. For some, its anticlimactic.  Almost 100 fern species and the 16-foot candelabra cactus are just two of hundreds of fascinating plants growing across the volcano. Expect the hike to last around two hours and involve some strenuous exercise over a gradual but persistent incline; then prepare for some gorgeous, 360-degree island vistas.

Volcan Sierra Negra Galapagos

5. Spot Sharks at Night in Puerto Chino

Located on the southeast side of San Cristobal Island where land starts to careen northward, Puerto Chino is a small port town and home to a small and quiet beach where, with permission from national park officials, visitors can camp overnight. A bit of a trek from the main town of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, the long walk is still worth the effort of getting there. The beach itself is stunning though many skip the sunbathing, swimming, and snorkeling and come instead around sunset to crowd around the ship ports where sharks congregate at night. If night-time shark viewing sounds interesting, this is one of the best places to do it. The lights shining along the port for the arriving and departing ships can attract dozens of sharks to the water’s edge where you’ll get excellent views of the majestic mammals.

Marisa Estivill / Shutterstock.com
Marisa Estivill / Shutterstock.com

4. Explore Puerto Villamil

Remote Isabela Island is home to less than 3,000 people, most who live in this small, peaceful, and interesting town. Tourism has increased but at a fairly slow pace. Traditionally a fishing and agricultural town, the harbor is a busy spot and a great place to people-watch. The town’s resident’s are friendly and the atmosphere quite enchanting. It’s a great place to chill with the locals, explore small shops and eateries, and enjoy an easy walking tour. To the southwest of town is a long boardwalk constructed by the park which carves through a mangrove forest dotted with saltwater lagoons home to pintails, common stilts, flamingos, and other birds combing the mud in search of saltwater brine. The boardwalk ends at the Tortoise Breeding Center. There’s also a great beach nearby and good shark viewing in the channels between a series of small islets southeast of town.

Puerto Villamil Galapagos

3. Cliff Jump at Las Grietas

Las Grietas, meaning crevice in Spanish, is a popular spot for cliff jumping on Santa Cruz Island. The rocky, escarpment is accessible via a hike featuring scenic lava rocks and salt water lagoons and requires solid shoes with good grip. The fjords of Las Grietas extend from Estrada Point to Academy End. Between the crevice is a body of water that is a mix of rain and sea water, a few kilometers deep, and comprising a one-of-a-kind ecosystem. The hiking is fairly easy but increases in difficulty when it comes time to descend a steep and rocky staircase onto a section naturally made of rocks–a slow and steady climb is key here. The cliffs can become really crowded with tourists so try to make your way over earlier in the day rather than later. Take a snorkel and enjoy some magnificent underwater views.

Photo by: IES Abroad
Photo by: IES Abroad

2. Sunbathe on Playa Mann

Centrally located and convenient to many places throughout San Cristobal Island, Playa Mann is on San Cristobal Island, the most easterly of the Galapagos Islands. San Cristobal is just ten minutes from Puerto Baquerizo, the island’s capital, and a good place to use as a base for exploring. Though not quite as developed for tourism as some of the other island towns, tourism, along with fishing, are the main industries. Across the way from the University San Francisco‑Gaiás, Playa Mann’s biggest attractions is the unfolding scene of lazy, lounging sea lions coming shore for a break and lounging along the beach and rock formations in the shallower waters. Exceptionally clear water and white sand are also stars of this waterfront backdrop and with such clear water, snorkeling is ideal. Fishing, diving, and surfing are also possibilities but require renting equipment.

Photo by: Youtube/Jérémy Fontaine
Photo by: Youtube/Jérémy Fontaine

1. Watch Sea Lions at La Loberia

Exceptionally playful sea lions are all around the Galapagos Islands. Healthy in population, they can be seen in great numbers at a large majority of oceanfront areas, especially beaches with rocky outcrops providing ideal spots for these sunbathing beauties. You might go for the sea lions but what you’ll find is a scenic crescent bay on San Cristobal Island and fantastic snorkeling. Roughly a forty minute walk from Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, this is another stunning island beach with a pristine backdrop and a perfect spot to wile away the day kicking back on the sand and exploring the forest fringes.  The sea lions are so accustomed to people they’ll curiously swim around you in the shallows and have no problem catching a nearby nap while you snap away. Keep a lookout for yellow warblers, lava lizards, frigate birds, and immense iguanas.

Sea Lion galapagos

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

Lonely Planet’s Best Animal Adventures for Families

Looking to spice your family vacation up? Perhaps you are sick of white sand beaches, all-inclusive resorts of over-the-top kid based destinations. If you are after adventure, animals and something out of the ordinary, Lonely Planet has just named its Best Animal Adventures for Families for 2016. So what are you waiting for? Pack those bags, get those passports out and discover these once-in-a-lifetime adventures.

9. Giant Panda Breeding Research Base, Chengdu, China

Giant Panda’s are not only a Chinese national treasure but are loved around the world by many, and with fewer than 2,000 of them left they are an endangered species. This non-profit research and breeding facility for these animals was founded in 1987 with just 6 pandas that were rescued from the wild. It has recreated the natural habitat for the pandas to have the best environment possible for rearing and breeding. Visitors here will walk along the paths observing the giant pandas of all ages, resting, eating, drinking and playing with one another. Visit early in the morning to see the baby pandas playing about. Experts are on hand to speak to visitors about the pandas, and how you can best protect them. Note that this experience should be for slightly older kids as there is a policy on being quiet within the base.

"1 panda trio sichuan china 2011" by chensiyuan - chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.
1 panda trio sichuan china 2011” by chensiyuan – chensiyuan. Licensed under GFDL via Commons.

8. Yellowstone National Park, U.S.A

Over three million guests visit Yellowstone National Park each year and as the world’s oldest National Park, it has plenty to offer families in search of an animal adventure. It has the world-famous reputation of easy-to-spot wildlife and whether you are looking for bears, moose, mountain goats, elks, eagles or beavers, they can all be found here. One of the best ways for families to spot wildlife is to head deep into the park, camping and staying off the beaten path. There are numerous tour operators that run specialty family tour throughout the park where rangers help kids track, catch and band songbirds, take float trips down the Snake River- a popular spot for bears, moose and beavers, or horseback through the park. Self-guided or guided, this park is a family fun adventure not to be missed.

Yellowstone National Park

7. Goats in Trees, Essaouira, Morocco

The best part about Morocco, other than the goats in the trees, is the fact that this country LOVES children. Expect to find locals who pat your little one’s heads as they walk by, family-friendly hotels with playground and playrooms and plenty of stretches of beach to discover. Back to the goats in the trees though. It is an extraordinary sight to see goats, high up in the trees, munching on argan nuts. Indeed, though these goats absolutely love the nuts that grow on the Argania tree and are known to swarm the trees all at once, making this one roadside stop worth making.

Goats in Trees, Essaouira, Morocco

6. Refugio Nacional de Fauna Silvestre Ostional, Costa Rica

This 248-acre coastal refuge was created in 1992 to protect the arribadas, or mass nesting of the Olive Ridley sea turtles. This phenomenon occurs from July to November, peaking from August to October and these turtles nest in large groups that can number in the thousands. You will have to keep your kids up late for this activity but it is well worth it, trust us. You can spend the rest of your days exploring the incredible country of Costa Rica and all that it offers including even more turtles, crocodiles, butterflies, birds and more. There is no shortage of wildlife or incredible activities to do here!

Photo by: Efetur
Photo by: Efetur

5. Bat Flights, Carlsbad Caverns, U.S.A

Every evening in the summer, in Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico, visitors are treated to a spectacle of bats leaving their home in search of dinner. If your kids have any fascination with bats, this is absolutely the place to take them. The bat flight program starts with a talk from a park ranger in an outdoor amphitheater where visitors sit to take in the dazzling display of hundreds of thousands of bat as they begin to pour out of the cave. They fly in a spiral pattern, sort of like a bat tornado and the acoustics are so good you can hear their wings as they whoosh by. Not only will this blow your kids minds, but yours as well. Check the website for certain nights when you can stay after the bat flight and learn about the nighttime sky.

Photo by: CNN
Photo by: CNN

4. Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

It is Uganda’s most visited national park and attracts visitors of all ages from all over the world with its enormous display of wildlife. Count on seeing hippopotamus, elephants, African leopards, Congo lions, chimpanzees and more. Housing over 95 species of mammal and 500 species of birds, you won’t ever hear your kids mutter the words “I’m bored”. This national park is also famous for its tree-climbing lions whose males actually sport a black mane. Within the park expect to see volcanic cones and deep craters, crater lakes, wetlands, forests and more. With lodges located within the park, along with the Kazinga Channel, it is easy to spend a week exploring this incredible habitat.

Queen Elizabeth National Park, Uganda

3. Walkabout Wildlife Park, New South Wales, Australia

A visit to this wildlife park where native Australian animals roam free is a spectacle whether you visit during the day or at night. Some of the animals you will see during the day include koalas, dingoes, flying foxes, Tasmanian devils, cockatoos, lizards and dragons. The favorite part of the day though comes when the sun sets and the nocturnal animals come out such as the boobook owls, tawny frogmouths, bilbies, bandicoots, sugar gliders and more. Roaming free around the park visitors can expect to see emus, wallaroos, kangaroos, wallabies and snakes. Families can experience the nocturnal animals during either a nocturnal tour or a ranger-led wild sleep over, in either an eco-cottage or under the stars at the campsite.

Photo by: Walkabout Wildlife Park
Photo by: Walkabout Wildlife Park

2. Monkey Rescue, Pretoria, South Africa

Do something meaningful as a family during your next vacation and volunteer at the primate sanctuary in South Africa. Caring for more than 120 primates that have been rescued from labs, zoos and people; this organization is dedicated to caring for these monkeys that cannot go back into the wild. Volunteers will help with food preparation, making monkey beds, providing enrichment and more. And don’t worry, there is special “monkey time” carved out which will allow you to spend time with the primates and get to know them. Note that this experience is only for families with older children.

Photo by: International Primate Rescue sanctuary
Photo by: International Primate Rescue sanctuary

1. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

It just may be the ultimate wildlife adventure, for anyone of any age. Discovering the Galapagos Islands with kids means creating one of the most intimate wildlife encounters, and requires a lot of planning. Family friendly cruises are the recommended way to do this trip with kids, as they offer a ton of amenities on board and create special learning opportunities for young ones. Swim with friendly sea lions, snorkel with turtles, observe giant wild tortoises and learn about the incredible ecology of this magical place. Do note that some tour operators require children to be a minimum age and it’s best to do your research before booking this incredible vacation.

Photo by: Abercrombie & Kent
Photo by: Abercrombie & Kent

8 Interesting Travel Destinations With Low Terror Risks

The tragic events of the Paris attacks and political instability in many countries has some travelers re-evaluating their upcoming travel plans. In the wake of the attacks, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office released a list of terror threat ratings by country, and the surprising part is that more than 30 countries around the world are currently sitting at a threat level of ‘high’. Vacation favorites like Spain, Australia, Thailand and much of Europe all have a level 4 (high) rating, putting them alongside countries like Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. If you’d rather have peace of mind on your vacation here are 8 countries that currently have a low, level 1 threat rating as per the Foreign Office report:

8. Laos

If you were hoping to escape for an exotic trip through Asia this winter, you still can and Laos is one of a few countries that poses a low threat of terrorism activities. There are other dangers to be aware of in this beautiful country like drug trade and unexploded ordnance in certain rural areas but these issues are nothing new. A visit to the capital and largest city of Vientiane will allow you to enjoy the many temples and Buddhist monuments located within the city.

Laos Buddhist statue

7. Japan

If you’re looking for a far-flung vacation destination with political stability, low threat of terrorism and plenty to see and do, Japan should be a strong contender. Shop in Tokyo’s Ginza fashion district, explore the Imperial Palace and gardens and dine on some of the best and freshest sushi you can get on this planet.

Korkusung / Shutterstock.com
Korkusung / Shutterstock.com

6. Vietnam

Another exotic Asian destination and popular place for backpackers and budget travelers, Vietnam currently has a low threat of terrorism activity. In visiting the country, you’ll quickly find it’s a place of breathtaking natural beauty, abundant in beaches, historic architecture and friendly people.

Vietnam Rice fields

5. Madagascar

If a trip to the mysterious island of Madagascar has always seemed out of reach, perhaps now is the time to consider this popular eco-travel country for a holiday. Though the threat of terrorism is low in Madagascar, there are other safety concerns to be aware of such as political issues which sometimes result in violence. Still, thousands travel to this country annually and without issue to see the amazing scenery and wildlife that can only be found here.

Madagascar trees

4. Cuba

Canadians and Europeans (and soon to be Americans) will be pleased to hear that Cuba is currently low on the threat level. The popular winter vacation destination is a favorite for offering an affordable escape from the chilly winter months. Visitors can opt for the popular resort life offered in many towns around the country or instead, head to the capital city of Havana for an authentic cultural experience without the worries of many other countries.

Cuba

3. Costa Rica

This Latin American gem is perhaps one of the most popular tourist destinations in all of Central America, so thankfully for travelers there is little threat of terror at this time. The green country famously abolished their army in 1949 becoming one of only a few nations without a standing army. It’s a perfect retreat for beach seekers, eco-travelers and adventure types looking for their next big thrill.

Cloudforest Monteverde, Costa Rica

2. Ecuador

While bordered by higher threat countries like Colombia and Peru, Ecuador remains at a loe level 1 threat level. Good news for travelers who have been thinking of visiting this country whose popularity has been growing exponentially in recent years. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed city of Quito where every angle provides a picture perfect view, rich in colonial history.

UNESCO old town in Quito Ecuador

1. Iceland

While already wildly popular in recent years, Iceland remains a place of safe travel. The Nordic nation, like Costa Rica, has long been considered a peaceful country and has no standing army of its own. Visitors will be nothing short of awestruck when they take in landscapes that seem almost otherworldly. A visit to the famous Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa is a must and you won’t want to miss out on the notoriously fun nightlife in the capital city of Reykjavik, not to mention catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights in action.

Arseniy Krasnevsky / Shutterstock.com
Arseniy Krasnevsky / Shutterstock.com

Lonely Planet’s 10 Most Accessible Vacation Destinations for 2016

The world’s population is rapidly aging and this is having an impact on global business and tourism as companies are slowly starting to realize that accessibility is not just an issue that must be addressed for those with a disability. It’s a real issue that many grey nomads are putting some extra thought into before booking their next vacation. Lonely Planet agrees that with an aging baby boomer population that isn’t willing to slow down when it comes to travel, accessibility is becoming paramount. With this in mind they’ve put together this list of the most accessible vacation destinations for 2016:

10. Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Snowbirds love to head south in the winter, and mexico is a popular winter destination for many including those over the age of 65. Playa del Carmen is only an hour away from Cancun airport but it’s a far cry from the lively Spring Break destination city. Accessible hotels are available and the beach is also easy to navigate with the help of special beach wheelchairs and even special equipment to help you snorkel, even if you can’t swim.

wheelchair accessible beach

9. Barcelona, Spain

The tourism agencies of Spain and especially the Catalonia region have been pushing the importance of accessible tourism for quite some time now. As a result, 80 per cent of metro stations and 100 per cent of public buses are wheelchair accessible. And unlike many old historic cities, the old town of Barcelona is cobblestone free reducing the risks of trip and falls and making it easier for those with walkers and wheelchairs.

Plaza Barcelona, Spain

8. Galápagos and Amazonia, Ecuador

After watching these nature-centric destinations on programs like Planet Earth, they may not seem like an option for those with mobility issues, however they’re a lot closer in reach thanks to Lenín Moreno, a paraplegic who was the vice president of Ecuador from 2006-2013. Moreno’s work is responsible for the inroads in accessibility in this largely inaccessible continent.

blue footed booby

7. Sicily, Italy

When one thinks of Italy, images of cobblestone streets and elevated countryside usually come to mind -not exactly the picture of accessibility. But Lonely Planet says Sicily is breaking new ground on this front and is home to a tactile museum and Europe’s only sensorial botanic garden. Two Guinness world records have also been set here by people with disabilities; the first paraplegic to dive to 59m and first blind woman to dive to 41m.

Sicily, Italy Cathedral of Palermo

6. Manchester, England

Although Manchester is indeed an old city, much of the central business district was rebuilt in the late 1900s. The result is a city with wide, smooth pavements and many shopfronts, bars and restaurants that are completely step free. Perfect for those with reduced mobility. The city’s public transit is also wheelchair friendly and offers service to just about anywhere you’d want to get to in the city.

Manchester street sign

5. Melbourne, Australia

The city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia has been called the ‘best in the world’ for a lot of things, but it can now add ‘most accessible’ to that list as well. The city’s highly accessible public transit has received global praise and the compact central city core helps earn the city’s status as one of the most accessible cities in the world. Lonely Planet even has a guidebook dedicated to the subject titled ‘Accessible Melbourne.’

Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com
Tooykrub / Shutterstock.com

4. Ljubljana, Slovenia

The capital city of Slovenia is relatively flat, a fact that many aging travelers will appreciate. It’s also equipped with highly accessible public transit which features audio and video stop announcements on buses (because there’s nothing worse than missing your stop!) The main attraction of the city is the 16th century Ljubljana Castle, and while you wouldn’t expect anything built in the 16th century to be accessible, the castle is actually wheelchair accessible.

Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia

3. Singapore

Singapore is arguably the most accessible city in Asia and one of the most overall accessible in the whole world. You’ll find stepless access to most buildings and an endless supply of curb cuts to make sure there are no barriers for those in wheelchairs.  The city’s mass rail transit (MRT) and buses are also designed for the visually and motor impaired, making this city one were there are essentially no limitations.

Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com
Ritu Manoj Jethani / Shutterstock.com

2. San Diego, USA

Thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary) most of the United States is very accessible, but Lonely Planet picked San Diego, California as a standout in its class. The city is easy to get around with a fairly flat grid system and public transit is easy with a fully accessible tram system. The most notable feature is the miles long beachfront promenade which offers beach wheelchairs to those who need them.

Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com
Greta Gabaglio / Shutterstock.com

1. Vienna, Austria

Like Manchester but perhaps even richer in history, Vienna is a historic city that’s been refurbished to meet modern day demands. Unlike many old European cities, its cobblestones have been removed as have many curbs and central shops, cafes and restaurants are wheelchair friendly. One of the city’s most notable attractions, the Schloss Schönbrunn is fully accessible making it a must-see for everyone, no matter your age.

Schloss Schönbrunn Vienna

11 Islands That Look Like Other Things

When viewed from above there are hundreds of islands that look like shapes, animals and objects. What they have in common is the ability to stand out among so many in their unique features. From hearts to dolphins to a penis shaped island, there is fun to be had discovering what islands can really look like if you use your imagination. From uninhabited islands to groups of islands, here are our favorite 11 islands that look a whole lot like other things.

11. Spratly Islands, Asia

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of more than 750 reefs, islets, atolls, cays and islands in the South China Sea and one just happens to look exactly like a boomerang. The islands here have no indigenous inhabitants, but offer rich fishing grounds and may contain significant oil and natural gas reserves, which is why these islands are in hot dispute. There are actually only four square kilometers of land with six countries staking territorial claims and the vast majority of these islands are uninhabited, closed military bases or off-limits to casual visitors. The best way to take in the shape of the boomerang is to fly directly over it, but depending on the season and flow of current, it doesn’t always resemble its shape.

Photo by: Storm Crypt's Flickr photostream via cogitASIA
Photo by: Storm Crypt’s Flickr photostream via cogitASIA

10. Tasmania, Australia

It is the first of two islands that are shaped like hearts and the heart island of Tasmania is located about 150 miles south of the Australian mainland. It is one of the most romantic places on earth with its white sandy beaches, beautiful lakes, fishing villages, rugged mountain peaks and breathtaking coasts. It makes complete sense that indeed this island than should be shaped like a heart. Boasting some of the cleanest air in the world, along with a spellbinding landscape, and just under half a million friendly locals; this island deserves to be looked at from both above and on the ground. Whether you are looking to relax on the beach or fly through the mountains, visitors certainly won’t be bored here.

Photo by: NASA via Why Files
Photo by: NASA via Why Files

9. Islet of Vila Franca do Campo, Portugal

This small paradise when looked at from above truly looks like a slice of pizza, with a huge pepperoni slice smack dab in the middle. The islet is a result of the crater of a submerged volcano and an almost perfectly round lake at the center is linked to the sea by a narrow channel. It is located offshore of the larger island of São Miguel. It is actually one of São Miguel’s main tourist attractions, especially since an event in the Red Bull Cliff Diving world championship was held here. It’s crystal clear waters and the small but lovely beach are excellent for swimming, sunbathing, snorkeling and diving. It was once open all year round, but now the islet can only be visited during the high season, between June and September, during which a special boat service takes passengers from Vila Franca to the islet on a daily basis.

Photo by: Amusing Planet
Photo by: Amusing Planet

8. Crocodile Island, Philippines

The Philippines are known for their crocodiles and it should come as no surprise that they not only have an island shaped like one but the actual name of the island is Crocodile Island. This island is located near the popular beach destination Boracay and takes just 20 minutes to reach by boat. The most popular activities here are scuba diving and sailing due to the abundance of marine life. Currents can sometimes be strong in the area but this island is recommended for divers of all experience. Expect to see schools of colorful fish, moray eels, sea snakes and fan corals here. Visitors won’t likely step foot on the island; instead they will dive or snorkel right off the boat that brings you here. In recent years the corals have been damaged and snorkeling isn’t as good as it once was.

Photo by: Panoramio
Photo by: Panoramio

7. Guishan Island, Taiwan

This island is actually a volcano and just so happens to be the only active volcano in Taiwan. It also most definitely resembles a turtle with its head peaking out of the water. This island has a few claims to fame including being the largest and only island with residents in the Yilan County. Tourists love to come visit this island but in order to preserve it, the number of tourists is controlled and you must apply to come here before visiting. One of the main draws to the island is the whale watching opportunities and the marine life viewing on the island, even though there are large amounts of sulfur and acid in the air. The coastal views alone are worth visiting for and make sure to view it from a distance to get the full turtle shape experience.

Photo by: Panoramio
Photo by: Panoramio

6. Mavuva Island, Fiji

Sweeping beaches, crystal clear waters and lots for sale at a great price makes this island seem like a dream come true. There is only one unfortunate thing about it; it has a very…phallic shape to it. The 42-acre private island is located off the northern coast of Fiji’s second largest island, Vanua Levu. It has been carved into 97 lots that are up for sale and a beachfront clubhouse, restaurant, bar and organic garden are all part of the development. The island sits in protected coral lagoon and is home to an abundance of marine life. Although many will find building a dream home here on this male genitalia-shaped island, offensive; others snap up the bargain lots on this phallus-shaped island.

Photo by: Distractify
Photo by: Distractify

5. Molokini Island, Hawaii

This crescent-shaped, partially submerged volcanic crater that forms a small islet just happens to look just like a crescent moon. This carefully protected Marine Life Conservation District is also a Hawaii State Seabird Sanctuary. It is considered one of Hawaii’s premier dive spots as the unusual shape protects divers and snorkelers from strong currents and large waves. What awaits divers is crystal clear waters teeming with over 250 species of fish and the chance to see the gentle gigantic whale sharks. More experienced divers can head to the underwater wall area down 70 feet while beginners can dive 35 feet into the crater basin. Visitors aren’t actually allowed to walk on the island and fish are not allowed to be caught.

Photo by: Islands
Photo by: Islands

4. Dilumacad Island, Philippines

This island found in El Nido, Palawan catches the eyes of many due to its unusual shape. When viewed from a distance the limestone cliffs resemble the shape of a helicopter, without the propeller. The island is home to a beautiful white sand beach that stretches some 300 meters as well as dark green rainforests and towering cliffs. At the northern side of the island there is an amazing underwater tunnel and the southern edge gives way to a fringing reef. Many island hopping tourists find paradise on this amazing island and choose to picnic of the long stretch of sand, while relaxing in the shining sun.

Photo by: When On Earth
Photo by: When On Earth

3. Sirenuse, Italy

Known as Li Galli or Sirenuse, the dolphin-shaped archipelago is located off the beautiful Amalfi Coast in Southern Italy, between the Isle of Capri and the village of Positano. Sirenuse got its name after the Greek mythology’s Sirens who were believed to have visited the islands frequently tempted Ulysses on his way back home with their enchanting voices. The island has had many owners and most recently was bought by Giovanni Russo, a Sorrento hotelier who spent 15 years and millions of dollars restoring it. Besides using it as a private residence, Russo has also made the villas available for private rental and employs a staff and a launch to take guests to and from the mainland. Although members of the public cannot land here, they are welcome to swim in the surrounding waters.

Photo by: Panoramio
Photo by: Panoramio

2. Isabela Island, Galapagos, Ecuador

Isabela Island is considered the largest island in the Galapagos archipelago with an area of 4,640 square meters and the youngest among other islands as it was only formed about one million years ago. This island truly looks exactly like a seahorse and there is no second guessing what it is when looked at from above. Isabela Island is home to about 1,800 residents who make their living by fishing, farming and tourism. Visitors to the island love to watch the 16 species of whales that live nearby and dive into the waters with sea lions, sharks, stingrays and more at one of seven dive spots located off the shores. Another interesting fact about this large island is that it is home to more wild tortoises than all the other islands combined, with a separate species on each volcano.

Photo by: Earth Observatory via Tales Maze
Photo by: Earth Observatory via Tales Maze

1. Tavarua, Fiji

This teeny tiny island in Fiji is shaped like a perfect heart, ringed with white sand beaches and surrounded by a coral reef. Measuring only 29 acres in size, it is hard to believe that Fiji’s most iconic surf resort is here. This spot has been visited for a long time by surfers who journey here to catch world-class waves, although it wasn’t until 1982 when the island was truly discovered. There is no shortage of activities to do here including swimming, surfing, kayaking, sport fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling. The resort is made up of six cabins and visitors rave about the friendly local staff, great food and incredible surfing spots.

Photo by: Official Website of Tourism Fiji
Photo by: Tourism Fiji