7 Ancient Ruins of Central America

Many of the peoples of Central America were prolific builders and empire-makers; when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they found bustling metropolises and impressive monuments. Today, the ruins of cities built by the Mayans, Toltecs, Zapotecs and others serve as a testament to their civilizations, and many of them are preserved as World Heritage Sites scattered throughout the countries of Central America. A great way to begin learning about these ancient cultures is to visit 1 of these 7 sites; if you’re lucky, you’ll get to meet some of the descendants of these amazing builders.

7. Caracol, Belize

Long thought to be a relatively unimportant Mayan city, Caracol has revealed itself to be one of the most influential political centers in the Maya Lowlands during the Classical Period of the Mayan civilization. The complex was larger than Belize’s capital city today and supported a population twice as large. The site was rediscovered in 1937 and archaeological work has been ongoing since 1985. Caracol was a dense city, with approximately 270 structures per square kilometer, which is denser than Tikal at its height. Caracol weathered the initial collapse of the Mayan empire, but was fully abandoned by 1050. When Europeans arrived, the site had already been disused for 500 years. The largest building at the site is Caana, the Sky Palace; the ruin is, in fact, one of the largest buildings in Belize.

Caana, Belize

6. Las Mercedes, Costa Rica

Las Mercedes was an important political center for the Indigenous peoples of Costa Rica. Associated with the Huetar, a Chibchan-speaking people, Las Mercedes was rediscovered in the late 19th century, when a railway connecting the capital city to Puerto Limon was built. The site has been excavated several times, although the earliest “excavations” were unscientific and many artifacts were removed. Las Mercedes was inhabited from around 1500 BC until 1500 AD, when the Spanish arrived. Glass beads at the site indicate the Indigenous peoples may have traded with the Spaniards. Spanning 25 hectares, the site has 3 large complexes, with a total of 15 platforms and many plazas, retaining walls and causeways. The causeways, which are paved, are a particular testament to the skill of the people that built them.

Photo by: International Expeditions / Jim O'Donnell
Photo by: International Expeditions / Jim O’Donnell

5. Joya de Ceren, El Salvador

Popularly known as the “Pompeii of the Americas,” Joya de Ceren is remarkably well preserved. Much like its ancient Roman counterpart in Italy, this Mayan farming village was covered in volcanic ash when the nearby Loma Caldera erupted, dumping between 4 and 8 feet of ash over the town. The inhabitants fled, but they left behind utensils, ceramics, furniture and even half-eaten food when they escaped the town. Excavations have uncovered about 70 buildings since the site’s 1976 discovery, all of which give us remarkable insight into day-to-day life and Mayan civilization in the late 6th century. Even the farm fields, which had been planted just hours before the eruption, have been preserved. Joya de Ceren was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993, and archaeological work has been ongoing since the late 1980s.

Joya de Ceren

4. Copan, Honduras

The ancient city of Copan lies in western Honduras, in the far reaches of the Mayan cultural region; in fact, Copan would have been almost surrounded by peoples from the Isthmo-Colombian cultural region. Nonetheless, the city was occupied for more than 2,000 years and, between the 5th and 9th centuries AD, became an important center of Mayan culture. The site contains multiple temples and the royal Acropolis, as well as a court for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame ōllamaliztli. Copan is famous for a series of stelae depicting rulers and Altar Q is the most famous monument in the entire complex. During the 8th and 9th centuries, the population of Copan declined, as did its influence. Today, Copan is the best-known Mayan site in Honduras, as well as a World Heritage Site.

Copan

3. Canta Gallo, Nicaragua

Nicaragua’s Indigenous peoples are most closely related to the Choco-speaking peoples of Panama and Colombia. Most of these groups weren’t prolific builders, unlike the Aztecs and Maya further north. That’s part of what makes Canta Gallo so special; it’s one of the few sites in Nicaragua where you can see the ruins of ancient pyramids built by some of the country’s Indigenous peoples. To get there, you’ll need to travel deep into the jungle of Indio Maiz in southwestern Nicaragua. The site is sacred to the Rama Indians, descendants of the Chibcha. Relatively little is known about Canta Gallo, but some believe it is a lost city. Since the area is remote, the ruins have yet to attract mobs of tourists, meaning that this is a site where you’ll actually be able to get up close to the ruins.

Photo by: Niina  / Bizarre Globe Hopper
Photo by: Niina / Bizarre Globe Hopper

2. Teotihuacán, Mexico

Is it possible to write about Central America’s ancient ruins without addressing Mexico? Although not usually classed as part of Central America proper, Mexico’s Indigenous peoples were drivers of empire and modern Mexico is littered with the ruins of civilizations like the Maya, Zapotecs, Aztecs and Toltecs. The inhabitants of Mexico’s most famous ruins, however, remain unknown; the Aztecs claimed common ancestry with the Teotihuacans, but the ethnicity of the inhabitants is the subject of debate. Perhaps a multi-ethnic center, Teotihuacan was at one time the largest city in pre-Columbian America and its influence was felt throughout Mesoamerica, from Tikal to Copan. Today, it is is famous for its pyramids, including the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, as well as the Avenue of the Dead and its multi-family residences.

Teotihuacán

1. Tikal, Guatemala

The ruins of Tikal are instantly recognizable from the famous Tikal Temple I, a 47-meter tall limestone step pyramid with a Mayan roof comb. The temple is also known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar. Of course, Temple I isn’t the only building at Tikal; there are many more buildings. Given that Tikal was once the most powerful city in the Mayan empire, the complex of temples, altars, palaces and pyramids only makes sense. The site is divided into several groups, including the Great Plaza located at the core of the site, the Central Acropolis to its south, the North and South Acropolises and the Plaza of the Seven Temples. Located in the Peten rainforest in northern Guatemala, this World Heritage Site is perhaps one of the best-known in Central America.

Tikal, Guatemala

10 Things to See and Do in Honduras

Honduras has long since been known for its violence and tends not to be at the top of people’s vacation destinations but not everywhere in this wonderful country is dangerous. By taking a little extra precaution and staying away from the bigger cities, visitors can explore the breathtaking landscapes, swim in stunningly clear waters and be privy to exceptional wildlife. From raging white water rafting to serene lakes with hundreds of species of birds to turquoise waters teeming with marine life; there is truly an experience for everyone here. Discover 10 of our favorite things to see and do in the country of Honduras.

10. Visit Parque Nacional Cusuco

It may be the hardest place to reach on this list but the scenery and wildlife in the Parque Nacional Cusuco is worth all the trouble it takes you to get there. Local guides can be hired at the visitor’s center and it is recommended you do so, as they have a wealth of information about the forest and wildlife. There are five different hiking trails that lead from the visitor’s center, two of which lead to waterfalls and swimming holes. The wildlife in the park includes parrots, toucans, and a large population of quetzals; famed to be the loveliest of all tropical birds which are on the brink of extinction. Hikes will also take you to the famous midget cloud forest and introduce you to a variety of frogs and reptiles. Camping is possible right at the visitor’s center and provides early morning wildlife sightings, which are often the best.

Photo by: Joe Townsend
Photo by: Joe Townsend via Flickr

9. Bird at Lago de Yojoa

It is the largest natural lake in Honduras, largely underdeveloped, ringed by tropical forest and over 400 species of birds call this lake and the surrounding area home. Lake tours are the most popular way to see the hundreds of species of birds where experienced guides can take you to the best vantage points. The tranquil waters make it an ideal place to fish or sail, while drinking in the dramatic scenery that surrounds you. Although it is largely still a well-kept secret, there are a number of impressive hotels that have popped up along the lake to stay at. One of the favorite places to stay here is the microbrewery that produces four or five new beers each week. Other activities other than birding include hiking in the mountains, tubing, zip lining and visiting the butterfly farm. Lake Yojoa, Honudras

8. Whitewater raft down the Rio Cangrejal

If you feel like a thrilling adventure, white water rafting down one of the most challenging rivers in Central America is sure to get your heart pumping. From September to January is the best time to raft this river and visitors should expect to raft up to 20 miles of rapids that range from Class 2 to Class 6. Huge drop offs that come out of nowhere, narrow dark passages and mazes of boulders are just normal on this adventure. Count on being surrounded by wildlife including howler monkeys, bright colorful butterflies, jumping fish and many species of birds. Many companies offer half-day shorter trips for less experienced paddlers but still count on it being an exciting ride. Water levels can fluctuate heavily throughout the year so make sure to do your research before you go.

Barna Tanko / Shutterstock.com
Barna Tanko / Shutterstock.com

7. Dive the Waters of Roatan

Thick green forests, white sandy beaches and sparkling blue waters await visitors to Roatan. Unknown to many, this island is a hotspot for divers and snorkelers. The entire island is surrounded by a shallow reef, making it perfect for both beginners and experienced divers. It features thousands of marine animals, many drop offs and canyons, and the Caribbean’s largest variety of coral and sponges. It is easy to get your dive certification here for beginners as native English speaking instructors tend to flock to this island. If diving isn’t your thing, snorkeling is excellent anywhere around the water. For dolphin lovers, head over to Anthony’s Key Resort where you can play and swim with well trained dolphins. Plenty of accommodation choices, marine rich waters and white sandy beaches set the stage for the perfect island getaway. Diving Roatan, Honduras

6. Explore Pico Bonito National Park

It is one of Honduras best known National Parks and features abundant wildlife that enthrall and excite visitors. The landscape here is diverse, ranging from a low tropical rain forest to a high elevation cloud forest to extremely dry forests on the backside of the park. What this means for visitors is a wealth of animals, waterfalls and breathtaking views. The Lodge at El Pino is the most protected area of the entire park, as this privately owned area employs security to ensure laws are followed and that no hunting occurs. This small luxury eco-lodge is on 400 acres with private trails, lookout towers, roaring rivers and the most wildlife in one place. Here visitors are encouraged to hike through the rain forest with a guide, white water raft down the rivers, boat through a manatee reserve and snorkel the clear waters. This is truly a gem not to be missed.

Photo by: Denis Fournier via Flickr
Photo by: Denis Fournier via Flickr

5. Shop at Mercado Guamilito

Get your bargaining skills ready before heading out to shop at Mercado Guamilito, one of the best places to shop in Honduras where everything you could ever want can be found at rock bottom prices. Handicrafts are the specialty at this market including paintings, pottery, hammocks, wood carvings and leather goods, just to name a few. Open year round the market is made up of hundreds of stalls including delicious local food and exotic flowers for sale. Bargaining is a way of life in this country and it pays to work on your skills before heading here as most vendors will try and charge foreigners a higher price. A little Spanish, polite manners and a big smile will go a long way with these locals. Leather is a popular commodity here and expect to pay significantly less than you would at home. Make sure you take the time to explore the whole market, including the food for an authentic Honduras experience.

Street Market

4. Escape to Cayos Cochinos

This group of two small islands and 11 smaller coral cays boast some of the best diving, snorkeling and beaches in all of Honduras. Many visitors choose to escape to Cayos Cochinos as it is located just a short boat trip away from La Ceiba, Nueva Armenia, or Sambo Creek, making it the perfect one day getaway. Large white sandy beaches coupled with sparkling turquoise waters is what you will find here at this exquisite protected nature reserve. There are several companies that offer daily snorkel or dive trips and many that offer multi-day trips with lodging in one of the few hotels. Sea kayaking, snorkeling, soaking up the sun, visits to the tiny villages and a step back in time is what awaits you here. If you are looking for the ultimate relaxation and don’t mind the lack of amenities (electricity and running water are non-existent in many places); the Cayos Cochinos is the perfect getaway.

Photo by: fabulousfabs via Flickr
Photo by: fabulousfabs via Flickr

3. Visit the Copan Ruins

Copan was once one of the great centers of Mayan civilization nearly a thousand years ago and today the beautiful remains have some of the most impressive pre-Columbian art. The ruins are located just outside the modern yet charming town of Copan Ruinas; and can be reached by foot or bus. Visitors should expect extremely extensive ruins with some of the most well preserved hieroglyphics. Along with the ruins is an excellent museum that features Mayan artifacts and a reconstructed temple. Included in your admission is access to Las Sepulturas, ruins that are believed to be the remains of the “Beverly Hills” of Copan. This is where the upper class of Copan lived and their houses were built and decorated accordingly so, this is still evident in the carvings and details found on the ruins. Tombs and burial sites are also found here and it pays to take along a guide who can explain the history and what has been found. Copan, Honduras

2. Dive at Utila

The island of Utila is known all over the backpacking world as the cheapest and best place to learn how to dive in all of Latin America. It also happens to be home to plenty of whale sharks year round, but especially plentiful in the months of March and April. The island itself is tiny and a little rough around the edges, with the entire population living in one settlement. But what visitors come here for are the reefs and the incredible diving. Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish and around Utila tend to be about 20-35 feet and weigh around 20 tons. They tend to travel by themselves as opposed to in a pod but many singular whale sharks are found at one time around the island. The warm waters and clear visibility along with colorful reefs, turtles, dolphins, schools of fish and rays make this the perfect destination to get underwater. Whale Sharks -Honduras

1. Visit the Río Plátano Biosphere Reserve

This amazing reserve encompasses over 5,200 square kilometers of tropical rain forest, complete with over 39 species of mammal, 377 species of bird and 126 reptiles and amphibians, as well as over 2,000 indigenous people. Visiting here is like stepping into another world and getting here can be tricky as there are no roads that lead directly here so you must either take a flight, boat or join with a tour. What visitors can expect is dugout canoe trips up the river, spotting of rare and endangered wildlife and amazing hikes through the jungle. Stay with a local family, use the local tour operators and see how eco-tourism works at its best. This reserve also happens to be home to the site of Ciudad Blanca (White City), one of the most important archaeological sites of Mayan civilization. Unfortunately visitors are not granted access to this site yet as it was just discovered and is heavily guarded.

Photo by: Rainforest Alliance
Photo by: Rainforest Alliance

The 10 Best Scuba Diving Locations in the World

There is no better way to explore the underwater world of marine animals, shipwrecks, fascinating coral towers, limestone formations and schools of colorful fish than scuba diving. Whether you are a beginner or an expert with decades of experience, the amazing underwater world you can discover around the planet is absolutely mind-blowing. From hammerhead sharks to manta rays to ancient cenotes; these 10 locations around the world are the best of the best.

10. Cozumel, Mexico

Divers will certainly have their choice of dive operators on this island as there are more than 100 offering everything from deep dives, wreck dives, night dives, and underwater photography dives. This world-class diving site offers everything from swim throughs to tunnels to walls of coral to cenotes to sharks to rays. It is best to dive here in the summer when the water temperature is warmer and the hotel prices are cheaper. Cozumel is also known for its incredible visibility and deep dives. Divers can expect up to 100 feet of visibility. There are plenty of dives both for the beginner and advanced but visitors should be aware that the current can be especially strong in some sites and diving experience is recommend for these. With the 600-mile long Maya Reef that stretches from Cozumel to Central America, and boasts an abundance of colorful fish and coral, it is easy to see why Cozumel is a premier diving spot.

Cozumel, Mexico

9. Hawaii, U.S.A

This Pacific paradise attracts divers from all over the world, both beginners and experienced. The remoteness of Hawaii means fewer fish species than waters like the Caribbean, but offers the chance to discover marine life found nowhere else on earth. One of the most popular dives in the world occurs off the island of Kona, the manta ray night dive. Divers descend into the darkness while giant manta rays swim overhead, most describe it is as truly magical. Diving off Lana’I is popular amongst those looking to discover new fish and rare invertebrates while Moloka’i offers divers the chance to catch a glimpse of the rare Hawaiian monk seal and hammerhead sharks. Kaua’i is home to an abundance of collapsed lava tubes and huge green sea turtles that aren’t afraid to get their pictures taken. Divers who are in the water from December to April may be able to hear the song of the humpback whales as they migrate through these waters.

Kauai Sea Turtle

8. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is so large that one can actually see it from space and has been known over the years for being one of the world’s most premier diving spots. It stretches 1,430 miles along Australia’s northeastern coast and offers over 4,000 separate reefs, cays and islands. It could truly take more than a lifetime to explore this entire reef which features over 1,500 species of fish and shipwrecks. It is the world’s largest and healthiest coral reef system that teams with biodiversity and an array of species you won’t find anywhere else. Divers here will come face to face with large sea turtles, reef sharks, sea snakes, barracudas and dolphins. The size and variety of this reef makes it perfect for any type of diver and visitors won’t be hard pressed to find an operator in one of the many seaside towns.

Great Barrier Reef

7. The French Polynesian Islands

It has long been known as a destination for honeymooners and other species of lovebirds, but besides the gorgeous white sand beaches over the water bungalows and framed palm trees lays a world to discover under the water. There are over 118 islands and atolls throughout this vast area and with 11 of them offering diving centers; it is easy to be overwhelmed with choices on where to dive. Fortunately there is an array of varied dives, from the shallow lagoons for beginners to the drop-offs and passes for the advanced divers. Moorea Island is also known as ‘Shark World’ and is famous for its hand-fed shark and stingray dives. The atoll Rangiroa is also known for both its calm lagoon that teems with marine life and it’s thrilling passes that feature sharks, big fish species and turtles. These waters explode with colorful coral, fish, sharks and other marine species that proudly show themselves off. No matter where you dive, this promises to be unforgettable.

Diving French Polynesia

6. Roatan and The Bay Islands, Honduras

This popular diving spot has been attracting divers for decades as it feature amazing shipwrecks and endless colorful coral. It is here that the world’s second largest barrier reef is located and divers will be privy to swimming with eagle rays, schools of colorful fish and the all mighty whale sharks. Utila is where divers will head if they want to swim with these majestic creatures and it is one of the only places year round that the whale sharks can be seen. This destination is inclusive for all levels of divers and whether you are just getting your feet wet, or you have been diving for years, there is an experience here for you unlike anywhere else in the world.

Whale Sharks -Honduras

5. Malaysia

It is blessed with some of the richest waters and diving here offers experiences unlike any other in the world. Sipadan, the little island off the east coast of Borneo is what most divers come to experience. It lies in one of the richest marine habitats in the world and boasts an extremely high number of turtles, grey and whitetip reef sharks, and large schools of bumphead parrotfish, barracuda and trevally. Layang-Layang is another reason to dive in these waters as this little speck of an atoll is fringed by some of the best coral fields in the world along with its huge schools of scalloped hammerhead sharks. Where you want to dive and what you want to see will determine the best time of year to visit these waters as different seasons bring different water conditions.

Diving in Sipadan

4. Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

It is where Charles Darwin came up with his theory of evolution, a place where countless mammals, reptiles and birds thrive and its waters are some of the most pristine areas left to dive in this world. These waters work best for experienced divers as currents are strong and conditions are often choppy. The tiny Darwin Island is an excellent choice for divers as the waters are full of fur seals, sea lions, whales, marine turtles, marine iguanas and schools of sharks. Isabela Island, the largest island in the Galapagos is home to penguins that shoot by you, sea lions, sea turtles, and a challenging underwater volcano that is swarming with Galapagos sharks, along with schools of hammerheads and barracudas. July to November is when divers choose to head here as the sharks tend to be the most active and plentiful. These waters deserve at least two weeks to explore and promise to surprise you at every twist and turn.

Diving Galapgos Islands

3. Turks and Caicos

It boasts some of the clearest water in the world and with so many islands that are uninhabited; it makes for a perfect place to escape the crowds of the Caribbean. Turks and Caicos is not only known for its brilliant turquoise water but also for its incredible wall diving. It is here you will dive into the world’s third largest coral reef system and find drops that plunge hundreds of feet into the deep. The Columbus Passage, a 35-kilometer channel that separates the Turks Islands from the Caicos Islands is a water highway for migrating fish, rays, turtles, dolphins and Humpback whales from January through March. With incredibly calm waters and an abundance of marine life, every dive here promises to be thrilling.

Turks and Caicos

2. Belize

Belize is most widely known for its famous dive spot the Blue Hole, an underwater sinkhole that descends over 400 feet. To dive the Blue Hole it is recommend that you are an experienced diver and you are well prepared for this magical experience. The Blue Hole doesn’t teem with colorful fish or coral; in fact the only marine life you might see deep in the depths of this hole is a hammerhead or reef shark. Instead you will dive into an ancient geographical phenomena complete with an array of limestone formations and bizarre stalactites. If you want colorful fish and coral, Belize offers plenty of that along the reef and is home to many species of sharks, rays, barracudas and many species of fish. Belize is known as a destination for the more adventurous divers and you will certainly benefit if you have some experience under your belt before you travel to this country.

Pete Niesen / Shutterstock.com
Pete Niesen / Shutterstock.com

1. The Red Sea, Egypt

For many people, Egypt is known for its incredible above the water attractions and although one should not discount the ancient monuments and pyramids, it is below the water that is the real jewel of the country. Divers here are privy to hundreds of miles of coral, millions of fish, warm water, great visibility, sheltered reefs, walls, coral gardens and wrecks. This destination is also known for having an excellent availability of instructors which makes the Red Sea a perfect spot for learning how to dive. Drift dives are quite common in the Red Sea due to currents as are night dives amongst towering coral and schools of fish. Whale sharks, moray eels, barracudas and tuna are all spotted throughout these waters. The warm water temperature year round makes diving here at anytime an unforgettable experience.

Diving Red Sea, Egypt

The 8 Best Places in the World to Swim with Sharks

“Actually, nobody wants to swim with sharks. It is not an acknowledged sport and it is neither enjoyable nor exhilarating.“ – Voltaire Cousteau, How to Swim With Sharks, A Primer.
See that quote there? Ignore it, because it was written by some dude back in the late 1700’s who may or may not have been an ancestor of Jacques Cousteau, the person responsible for the very idea of swimming with sharks the way we do today. The fact of the matter is that YOU want to swim with sharks, let some other weirdo tell you about how they communed with dolphins and wept about how special it was, you want to cement yourself at the top of the food chain in both land and sea. EscapeHere is going to help you realize that goal, with this handy guide.

8. Tiger Sharks -Hawaii

The Tiger Shark is known to be a solitary hunter that generally pursues its prey at night. This shark is also known as the “Sea Tiger” due to its distinctive striped features and aggressiveness, noted for having the widest food spectrum of all sharks (from lobsters to surfboards). The Tiger Shark can easily reach a length of 16 feet and is common around the Pacific islands, but less so in recent years due to the fact that they are considered to be a near-threatened species because some cultures prize their fins as a magical cure-all. The best people to help you swim with Tiger Sharks are the folks at Hawaii Shark Encounters. Owned and operated by Stefanie Brendl, who started the company with her late partner and Shark Week personality Jimmy Hall, Hawaii Shark Encounters offers full service eco-tourist packages that allow you to get up close and personal with these predators from the safety of a shark cage.  Find out more at http://hawaiisharkencounters.com.

Tiger Sharks -Hawaii

7. Hammerhead Sharks –Costa Rica

Shaped like your most intuitive workshop implement, the Hammerhead Shark is one of the most distinctive sharks under the sea. Scientists have been arguing amongst themselves for years about the evolutionary function of their noggins, some argue that it is to improve either sensory input, maneuvering, prey manipulation or all three. The Hammerhead usually likes to swim in schools by day, then switches to solo-hunter mode at night. These unique predators can be found along almost every warm coast of the planet, from Costa Rica to Africa. There are only 11 species of Hammerhead shark, of those only 3 are considered to be ‘bitey’ to humans, none fatal, as of 2013 there have been 33 recorded attacks, none of them fatal. In Hawaiian culture, the Hammerhead is a sign of fortune, and to be passed by one is a sign that the gods are watching over your loved ones, and the ocean is clean. If you find yourself in the clean waters of Costa Rica, spend some time with a reputable dive operator, requesting a dive in an area frequented by Hammerheads. Rich coast diving is a well-reviewed outfitter, you would be served well to check them out: http://richcoastdiving.com/.

Hammerhead Sharks –Costa Rica

6. Bull Sharks -Fiji

Of all the sharks, the Bull Shark is the most dangerous to people, and the one that’s most likely to nibble your pink hand/foot bits that dangle off the end of a surfboard. A story about the series of shark attacks on the Jersey Shore back in 1916 was the inspiration for Peter Benchley’s Jaws story (they only missed Snooki by a hundred years or so). Generally it is the Bull Shark one sees when you think of anything shark-like, and it gets its name from its stubby appearance and aggressive nature. The Bull Shark is one of the few species of saltwater shark that actually tolerates fresh water, and they have been known to swim up the Mississippi River as far as Illinois. Bull Sharks are found in any warm ocean water coastal areas, in rivers, lakes and large rivers that are open to the ocean. Some of the best Bull Shark diving in the world is found in Fiji, and a great number of diving professionals name the Fiji Shark Dive as the best shark dive in the world. The Fiji Shark Dive is hosted by the Beqa Adventure Divers, which attracts some of the world’s best underwater professional cameramen and photographers.

Bull Sharks -Fiji

5. Whale Sharks -Honduras

The Whale Shark is the largest species of fish in existence, and is a non-aggressive filter feeder. These aquatic gentle giants have a mouth that is about 4.5 feet wide, with a wide flat head and two small eyes at the front. Bearing distinctive yellow spots and stripes, the Whale Shark’s skin can be almost four inches thick, serving as natural armor against many predators.  Even though the Whale Shark is huge, they pose little danger to humans, they are known to be very docile and sometimes give “rides” to divers (they let you grab their dorsal fins and they pull you along). Like most sharks, Whale Sharks are found in most warm coastal regions, one of the most popular regions you can find them is the Bay Islands in Honduras. The Deep Blue Utila resort, in conjunction with the Utila Whale Shark Research Project offer up a unique PADI certified diving package, as well as paradise on a private beach.

Whale Sharks -Honduras

4. Whitetip Reef Sharks -Australia

One of most common sharks in the Indo-Pacific, the Whitetip Reef Shark is easily spotted by its grey skin, slender shape, pronounced gills, and irregular swim pattern (its distinctive and hard to miss). These string beans of the shark family grow to be about 8 feet long but only weigh about 44 lbs. Whitetip Reef Sharks like to hang out in coral reefs, reef edges, sandy flats and shallow lagoons (they are relatively short water swimmers). Only found in the Indo-Pacific region, the Whitetip Reef Shark’s best habitat for the discerning diver is the Great Barrier Reef (one of the seven wonders of the natural world) in Australia. The very best reef shark-diving experience is from aboard a dive boat, in a live-aboard 4 Day Coral Sea Trip spanning two reef systems. Learn how you can book your Whitetip Reef Shark experience on the Spirit of Freedom by visiting the Diving Cairns website.

Whitetip Reef Sharks -Australia

3. Lemon Shark -Moorea

The Lemon Shark is the most studied shark in history, unlike most of their shark kin, the Lemon Shark handles captivity better than any other observable species. They get their name from their distinctive light colored yellowish skin, and they grow to be about 11 feet long, usually weighing around 420 lbs. The lemon Shark has electro-receptors which help them track prey, it’s a sort of radar that senses the electric impulses emitted by all living things. In addition to this tingly sense, the have a secondary olfactory sense aided by magnetic sensors in their nose offsetting their poor vision. Lemon Sharks are social hunters that roam in schools, migrating thousands of miles through the ocean to reach mating locations (like shark nightclubs with half price drinks on Wednesdays). They love the tropical and subtropical waters along the coast of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans opting for shallow water, hardly going deeper than 80 meters.  Tahiti’s sister island, Moorea, is known as the Lemon Shark Diving capital of the world, and TopDive’s Moorea Shark Experience allows you to have a safe excursion into this apex-predator’s habitat.

Lemon Shark -Moorea

2. The Basking Shark -Scotland

The Cetorhinus maximus, also known as the Basking Shark, can’t help but eat with its mouth open, no matter what his mom says. Not a lot is known about this giant fish, second in size only to its cousin the Whale Shark, it grows over 35 feet long and has an enormous mouth over 3 feet wide. The mouth is not to be feared however, the teeth on this giant fish are tiny, and the wide open mouth is only menacing to the plankton and other small floating sea creatures it hoovers up as it swims along. Basking sharks like to swim in water that swings from warm to cool, and like staying close to the surface where their food lives. These big mouthed superfish patrol the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and can sometimes be spotted off the coast of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. When it comes to swimming with these living fossils, Oban Scotland seems to be the place to be, and there is an extensive dive program that caters to those that want to swim with Basking Sharks specifically. Feel free to check out their tour schedule at http://baskingsharkscotland.co.uk/.

Photo by: YouTube/Simon Spear
Photo by: YouTube/Simon Spear

1. The Great White Shark –San Francisco

This is it, the moment you have all been waiting for, I can feel the anticipation as you have plowed through this exhaustive shark list and muttered to yourselves “jeez, get with the Jaws already!!” This Boogyman of the Sea, popularized by Peter Benchley and Spielberg movies, is hands down, the deadliest predator on the planet, and we as a species are fortunate that we don’t share the same habitat. Seriously, why would you swim with these guys, what would your mother think? Well, actually, Great White Shark attacks are very rare, even when humans and Great Whites swim together. Generally these toothy fish just aren’t that into you, for example, in the Mediterranean Sea (where their concentrations are great), there are only 31 confirmed attacks against people in the last 200 years! Now, if you still want to swim with these guys, contact the good people at Great White Adventures who host dives in San Francisco and Guadalupe Mexico, tell them Mike sent you, they will ask what the hell you are talking about, just wink and say “gotcha”.

Great White Shark Cage Dive

9 Countries With The Highest Air Travel Fees

One of the most consistent differences between countries throughout the world is the discrepancy in the fees and taxes paid by air travelers upon arrival or departure (and sometimes both). Every nation has a different set of rules and regulations pertaining to air transit, which creates a vast landscape of costs for travelers depending on origin and destination. Many people book flights and wonder what are all the extra taxes and fees we see listed. Sometimes these taxes and fees are worked in to the initial price showing on a booking site but sometimes taxes and fees are added in after, often leaving travelers scratching their heads at the final price. This list examines the 9 countries with consistently high expenses so you can be aware of what taxes and fees go into the final cost you pay to fly.

9. Mexico – $25 USD

The numerous beaches, resorts, temples and ruins throughout Mexico make it an incredibly popular tourist destination not just for North Americans, but travelers from across the world.  Busy airports in Mexico City, Cancun, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Tijuana service millions of visitors a year, all of whom pay a tax upon arrival. All non-Mexican nationals must pay a $25 fee except those who have a permanent resident status, or are just on a connecting flight.

Though it isn’t an extremely high fee, it is one that often irritates confused tourists who are unaware of the charge when arriving; however, it is hard to blame the Mexican government for the charge, as it provides a steady income from the more than 20-million international visitors per year, a number which looks set to continue to climb as the tourism industry recovers from the slump seen during recent global economic troubles.

Mexico city

8. Costa Rica – $28 USD

Much like Mexico, Costa Rica is another country that is renowned for its beautiful beaches and resorts. The capital, San Jose, is home to the second busiest airport in Central America, Juan Santamaria International Airport, which sees nearly 4-million passengers per year. Though Costa Rica has a number of great destinations, the country is not among the most visited in the Americas. Air travelers to Costa Rica are greeted with a $28 fee upon their arrival to the country.

Much like Mexico, the fee charged isn’t an exorbitant price, but can be enough to frustrate visitors to the country who have already paid a great deal of money for a trip. Though Costa Rica may not be a top destination in the Americas, the economy is still heavily reliant on the tourism industry. Given that, it is unsurprising that the government would tax air travelers as a source of income.

Juan Santamaria memorial park Alajuela, Costa Rica

7. Samoa – $30 USD

The small island of Samoa is a country that relies more on agriculture than it does on tourism as a source of income for the economy. That doesn’t stop the country from levying a $30 fee on all travelers departing from the capital, Apia. Apia of course, is the home of Faleolo International Airport, the only international airport in the country.

Until more modern times, the airport could not accommodate jets larger than a Boeing 737. Faleolo was initially built as a military base in 1942, and has only recently started to become more open to international travel. The tourism industry is an area that is being seen as an area of opportunity for expansion in Samoa. Travelers can hope the $30 fee is being budgeted back into the future plans for development of the tourist sector, as the small nation looks to attract visitors.

Apia Samoa

6. Honduras – $37 USD

Unlike a number of other countries in Central and South America, Honduras is more known for its exporting of coffee and bananas instead of tourism like nearby Mexico and Costa Rica. That isn’t to say there are no spots that appeal to tourists, as the country is home to ancient Mayan ruins and coral reef near Bay Island. Those who do choose to visit Honduras are required to pay a $37.50 fee for air travel.

Travelers should find some solace in the fact that the somewhat stiff fee is also applied to native Hondurans as well, although at a slightly cheaper $34 instead. The fee is perhaps in place due to the amount of air travel in Honduras relative to its neighbors, as the country is home to 4 of the top 15 busiest airports in Central America.

West End Beach, Roatan, Honduras

5. Austria – €35

A number of European countries have begun introducing taxes on air travel, and in 2010 Austria initiated a departure tax. For travelers moving within Europe, the tax is a minor fee. Those individuals who need to fly outside of Europe on the other hand, are paying nearly $45 USD for departure taxes.

The tourism industry is a major part of the Austrian economy and accounts for close to 10% of the countries gross domestic product, and saw some 24-million visitors in 2013. Though the departure tax benefits the government by providing millions of dollars, there are a number of critics in the country (specifically the airline business) who fear the tax will push potential tourists to land in neighboring areas before taking an alternative means of transportation into the country, thus averting the hefty departure tax.

Vienna Austria Night Aerial

4. Germany – €42.18

The inspiration for Austria to go forward with its departure tax was the creation of a similar tax created in Germany that begun in January of 2011. Just like the model featured in Austria, the German departure tax setup charges travelers heading between European countries the least amount of money, with a slight increase for parts of Africa and the Middle East, and up to nearly $53 USD for any other country.

In 2012, Germany ranked as the 7th most popular tourist destination in the world (5th most popular in Europe) and saw slightly over 30-million visitors to the country. Just as in Austria, critics of the German departure tax cite it as an instance of a heavy-handed government money-generating ploy. Though the tourism sector doesn’t seem to be suffering yet, the opposition believes it will only hurt the country in the long term.

Berline Germany, Spree River

3. Australia – $55 AUD

Unlike a number of other countries on this list, the Australian version of a departure tax is included into a traveler’s ticket price. That is about the only positive (if that can be considered positive) about the Australian Passenger Movement Charge. The fee hits visitors to the country with a charge equivalent to about $45.25 USD when leaving.

Few countries have a fee higher than what travelers pay in Australia, and tourism is a relatively important business in the Australian economy. Sydney and Melbourne are popular destinations, as well as Queensland, the Gold Coast and of course, the largest reef in the world, the Great Barrier Reef and the most common idea associated with the Australia: the outback. Because of the unique places of interest to visit, it is unlikely the $55 Passenger Movement Charge will be deterring potential tourists any time soon.

Circular Quay Sydney Australia

2. Fiji – $198.93 FJD

Fiji is one of the only countries with an outright cost higher than Australia; Fiji instituted a 33% hike in its departure tax in 2013, which saw the fee rise to just over $100 USD in 2014. Like many other countries with departure taxes, the Fiji government cites obligations to cleanliness of the natural environment as the reason for the increase in cost to travelers.

Fiji is not a particularly common tourist destination. The country is home to a number of natural resources and is considered to be a developed economy in relation to its neighbors in the Pacific island area. Though the island may be small, and the fees may be high, Nadi International Airport saw more than 2-million visitors pass through its doors. While tourism is not yet a main industry, Fiji is another country that has identified this as an area of potential economic growth.

Don Mammoser / Shutterstock.com
Don Mammoser / Shutterstock.com

1. United States/United Kingdom – varying

While the departure taxes in the United States and United Kingdom are not as high as the rest of the countries on this list, air travelers in these countries pay a number of taxes on seemingly every aspect of flight. Fees paid for baggage at an airport in the United States can cost a traveler $100 on a budget airline. In the United Kingdom, the Air Passenger duty can cost travelers flying outside of Europe well over $200.

Both countries rank within the top 10 most visited in the world (United States, 1st, United Kingdom, 8th). It is unlikely to see any changes to these fees as tourism to these two global destinations are always going to remain steady, regardless of fees put on travelers, as more than 90-million people combined visited the two countries in 2013.

 

skyearth / Shutterstock.com
skyearth / Shutterstock.com