Categories
Beach Fashion & Beauty

13 Stylish Swimsuit Cover-ups for Your Next Beach Vacation

Whether you’re imagining yourself in Hawaii, Florida, Tahiti, or the Caribbean, a week on the beach sounds pretty appealing right about now. Though it’s not yet clear when we’ll be able to take those dreamy beach vacations, you’ll want to be prepared with a cute cover-up to protect yourself from the sun as you make your way down to the sand. Check out the best beach cover-ups for your next tropical getaway.

Venus Deep V Cover-up Beach Dress

Venus Deep V Cover-up Beach Dress.

This simple, affordable cover-up from Venus comes in bright tropical colors or basic black to match any look. An adjustable drawstring under the bust helps you find a comfortable fit. This cover-up is available in a wide range of sizes from XS to 2X.

SHEIN Flounce Sleeve Floral Kimono

SHEIN Flounce Sleeve Floral Kimono.

Slip into this airy, lightweight kimono that packs easily and adds a touch of floral charm to any beach outfit. The three-quarter ruffled sleeves add a little sun protection without making you hot. Bonus: This swimsuit cover-up is ultra-affordable, too.

ELAN Cover-up Maxi Dress

ELAN Cover-up Maxi Dress.

Looking for a little more coverage? Try this plus-size maxi dress, which ties at the neck and has an elastic back so it always feels comfortable. It has a breezy fit and comes in a universally flattering black color.

Aerie Chiffon Kimono

Aerie Chiffon Kimono.

This one-size-fits-all chiffon kimono comes at an affordable price and has a cheery floral pattern. Its breezy slip-on style provides coverage without hassle. Its care is easy, too: It’s machine washable.

ELAN Maxi Cover-up Dress

ELAN Maxi Cover-up Dress.

This full-length cover-up comes in a variety of colors including black, denim, and mauve. A drawstring waist and V-shaped neckline create a flattering silhouette, and the slit skirt is easy to walk in.  

Eberjey Mediterranean Dream Blythe Dress

Eberjey Mediterranean Dream Blythe Dress.

This lacy beach cover-up is made from a combination of bamboo and cotton, creating a soft, lightweight fabric that you won’t want to take off. The dress features a scoop neckline and a thin belt at the waist.

J. Valdi Kimono Swim Cover-Up

J. Valdi Kimono Swim Cover-Up.

Just slipping into this beachy green and white kimono will put you in a tropical mood. The lightweight garment packs easily and ties in the front to keep it in place even on the breeziest beach days.

Seafolly Amelia Caftan

Seafolly Amelia Caftan.

This one-size-fits-all caftan is made of flowing cotton gauze with fun decorative tassels along the edges. Its midi length and short sleeves are long enough to keep you covered, but the billowing design ensures that you stay cool. The caftan comes in two attractive colors.

Kona Sol Striped Knit Beach Cover-up Hoodie

Kona Sol Striped Knit Beach Cover-up Hoodie.

This striped, hoodie-style beach cover-up has a handy front pocket for your phone or other small items, as well as a waist tie to keep the garment in place. The hood will keep you warm on breezy evenings by the shore.

Becca Etc. Tide Pool Cover-up Dress

Becca Etc. Tide Pool Cover-up Dress.

This cute tie-dye beach cover-up from Nordstrom is designed for plus-size travelers. The viscose material is mixed with a bit of spandex for a comfy stretch, and there’s a waist tie to keep the cover-up in place.

ELAN Smocked Waist Cover-up Pants

ELAN Smocked Waist Cover-up Pants.

If you’re only interested in covering up your bottom half, consider these wide-leg, smocked-waist pants from ELAN. They’ve got two side pockets where you can keep small items, and they look equally stylish at the beach or by the pool.

SHEIN Tropical Tie Waist Cover-up Skirt

SHEIN Tropical Tie Waist Cover-up Skirt.

For another fun bottom-only option, consider this tropical-print cover-up skirt from SHEIN. It ties at the waist for an easy-on, easy-off style. Lightweight and breathable, this skirt complements any beach outfit.

Eberjay Summer of Love Sofia Cover-Up

Eberjay Summer of Love Sofia Cover-Up.

This fun, flirty cover-up from Eberjay is long-sleeved and tunic-length, made of soft bamboo and cotton that make it ultra-comfortable to wear. Ruffles and a low-cut tie neck add a hint of retro 60s style.

More from SmarterTravel:

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. Codey Albers contributed to this story.

Categories
Beach Island

The 8 Caribbean Destinations with the Cleanest Beaches

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel abroad. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

In a world where we’re all trying to be a little more environmentally-conscious, these eight Caribbean destinations are doing their part in keeping themselves as clean as can be.

The Caribbean’s Cleanest Beaches

So, if you’re dreaming of white sand beaches and crystal-clear water, here’s where you’ll find the cleanest beaches in the Caribbean.

We used information from the Ocean Health Index and an ocean health study done by Get Going Travel Insurance for this story.

The Bahamas

beach chairs on a bahamas beach.

The Bahamas rank highest in the world out of all the Caribbean nations on the Ocean Health Index, with its 84-point score coming in at 11th. Explore its untouched Out Islands for an even more pristine landscape.

Antigua and Barbuda

antigua caribbean pristine beach.

The two-island nation is positioned where the Atlantic meets the Caribbean, so its ecosystem is incredibly unique with reef-lined beaches and rainforests. Its beaches are among the purest in the Caribbean, with an overall Ocean Health Index of 80 and rated 27th in the world.

Aruba

Straw umbrella Eagle Beach Aruba.

Aruba’s waters come in 31st in the world with an Ocean Health Index of 79. Its biodiversity and protected coastline help Aruba rank among the best countries to visit for its beaches in the Caribbean.

Turks and Caicos Islands

caribbean providenciales island in turks and caicos.

Turks and Caicos’ Grace Bay consistently ranks as one of the top beaches in the world, so it’s no surprise that the country has some of the cleanest and most enjoyable beaches in the Caribbean. The islands come in at 35th in the world, with an overall Ocean Health Index of 79.

The U.S. Virgin Islands

Coral Bay St Johns U.S. Virgin Islands.

With an overall Ocean Health Index of 76, the U.S. Virgin Islands places 47th in the world (the listing is combined with Puerto Rico). The island chain is also ranked at number 10 on Get Going’s study, making it one of the cleanest oceans in the Caribbean.

Saba

saba island caribbean.

This Caribbean island is among the least-visited, which means fewer tourists to pollute its beaches. It’s known as the “Unspoiled Queen” of the Caribbean and its overall index score is 73, ranking 60th in the world on the Ocean Health Index.

Curacao

Grote Knip beach Curacao Netherlands Antilles.

It’s no wonder why Blue Curacao liqueur uses the country’s beaches for its color inspiration. Get Going ranks Curacao’s beaches as 11th in the world, and the country has an overall Ocean Health Index of 73, ranking 61st in the world.

Isla Mujeres, Mexico

aerial view of isla mujeres in mexico.

While the country of Mexico doesn’t place very high on the Ocean Health Index (166th, with an index of 67), Get Going’s study positions Isla Mujeres as 15th in the world for its underwater experience, and as one of the best places to swim with whale sharks during their peak season. Located off the coast of tourist-filled Cancun, the island feels thousands of miles away (when it’s really only eight).

More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

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Categories
Beach Oddities Travel Etiquette

What Not to Do at a Nude Beach

From Hawaii to Mexico, Greece to Croatia, and even to the coastal shores of New Jersey, nude beaches abound. These hot spots are great if you want a carefree and clothing-optional getaway. But before you hit a nudist beach, know that strict etiquette reigns supreme. In fact, most clothes-free destinations have more rules than a boarding school. Here’s the skinny on what you need to know—and what you shouldn’t do—at a nude beach.

Don’t Assume That a Beach Is Clothing-Optional

Reading somewhere that a beach is clothing-optional does not mean that the beach is actually clothing-optional. Do your due diligence and ensure that the area is truly safe for your naked patronage. To get you started, the American Association for Nude Recreation supplies a short list of nude beaches in the U.S. (there aren’t many), while SmarterTravel has rounded up some of the world’s top nudist destinations.

And if you’re ever unsure as to whether a nude beach is a nude beach? Keep your clothes on. In many places, public nudity is a serious crime that could lead to a fine (or worse).

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Don’t Forget to Research Naturist Resorts

Naturist resorts cater to completely clothing-free vacation seekers, so if you want to go all in (or off), consider these options rather than a one-time visit to a nude beach. From family-friendly campgrounds in the Poconos to luxe all-inclusives in the Caribbean, there’s likely a nudist resort option that suits your style and budget.

Rules at each of these resorts differ, and many are adults-only. As with any hotel stay, read the resort’s policies closely before you book.

At a Nude Beach? Don’t Stare

Once you’re on a nudist beach, don’t stare, gawk, point, or giggle. Obviously, you will be required to look at your fellow sunbathers at some point, whether greeting them or fetching their Frisbee from your beach towel. But play it cool: Most nude beach insiders insist that it’s easy, and that at a certain point, you simply stop noticing all the bare skin.

Can’t handle the realities of polite naked society? That’s okay, but stick to clothing-required beaches for the sake of everyone’s comfort.

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Don’t Expect Too Much at Nude Beaches

Contrary to popular belief, most nude beaches are not sexy places ripped straight out of the pages of a Playboy Mansion memoir. Patrons come in all sizes, shapes, and states of physical fitness, and are far more likely to veer into dad bod territory than to look like Channing Tatum in the buff. So don’t expect models at a nude beach and then be disappointed when you see, well, normal humans in all their hirsute glory.

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Don’t Take Pictures at a Nude Beach

A good rule of thumb: Never, ever take anyone’s photo without their permission. This goes for all tourist destinations—from nude beaches to theme parks to UNESCO World Heritage sites—but it’s especially true when the subject of your photo is naked. Always ask explicitly if you may take a photo and make sure photography is even allowed where you are. (Many nudist beaches prohibit it.)

Furthermore, even if you’re okay with someone snapping a pic of you, keep in mind that you have little control over where that photo ends up—from travel review sites to social media to less pleasant parts of the internet.

[st_related]Travel Etiquette: 5 Controversial Rules You Might Be Violating[/st_related]

Don’t Go Naked in Certain Public Areas

Due to local regulations, many areas at nudist beaches or resorts may, in fact, require clothing, including parking lots, cafes, shops, and so on. Consult any posted signs regarding clothing-required venues and follow them closely. Pack a beach tote with readily accessible garments in case you need to suit up to use the facilities. Most nudist beaches and resorts require you use a towel to sit on public chairs as well.

[st_related]Nude Resort Etiquette Rules You Need to Know[/st_related]

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen

While this doesn’t fall squarely in the etiquette department, it’s still a critical piece of information to have at a nudist beach: Yes, those sensitive areas that are normally protected by swim trunks and bikinis will need a slather of sunscreen, preferably one that’s gentle on sensitive skin. Test it a few weeks before you hit a nude beach to ensure that you don’t end up with an unsightly rash somewhere that you definitely don’t want one.

Women's Nude Beach Outfit

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2015. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Beach Fashion & Beauty Island

13 Tropical Vacation Outfits for Better Days

Warmer weather will be here soon. Be ready for it with these fun outfits that will make you feel like you’re on a tropical vacation.

Anne Cole Maxi Robe Coverup

Anne Cole Maxi Robe Coverup.

Available in regular and plus size, Anne Cole’s Maxi Robe is the perfect cover-up for hot destinations. The robe style is one-size-fits-all, and simply ties in the middle, so you don’t have to worry about it clinging to you in the heat. Plus, the ultra-colorful sunset floral print will look great in poolside photos.

Tilley TOY1 Audrey Hat

Tilley TOY1 Audrey Hat.

For stylish sun protection, you can’t beat Tilley’s TOY1 Audrey Hat. With a four-inch brim, this hat will add a touch of glamour to any tropical vacation outfit. Made from 100 percent rice paper, the Audrey is lightweight but still provides UPF 50 sun protection. It’s lined with mesh on the inside and has a moisture-wicking sweatband to help keep you cool. There’s even a secret pocket on the interior to store your valuables.

 [st_related]The Best Women’s Clothes with Pockets[/st_related]

Viscata Espadrilles

Viscata Espadrilles.

Add (comfortable) height to your tropical vacation outfit with Viscata Barcelona’s Roses Canvas Wedges. These on-trend espadrille wedge pumps add three inches of height via a 2 1/3 inch heel and half-inch platform that’s still easy to walk in. Made out of a soft cotton canvas lined with leather, these are some of the world’s most comfortable wedges. 

Ably Valerie Maxi Skirt

Ably Valerie Maxi Skirt.

Ably’s Valerie Maxi Skirt is a versatile item that can work for a long plane ride, as a beach cover-up, or as a part of a fun outfit in a hot climate where you want to remain modest. The skirt is made from a trademarked Filium activated fabric that repels liquids, stains, and odors, so you can wear it multiple times on one trip without needing to visit the laundromat.

[st_related]Modest Travel Clothing: What to Wear When You Need to Cover Up[/st_related]

Public Rec All Day Every Day Short

Public Rec All Day Every Day Short.

Public Rec’s All Day Every Day Shorts look casual, but they have plenty of serious features. Two front zipper pockets are deep enough to hold all your valuables, and two large back pockets hold anything you need easy access to. An elastic waistband makes these comfortable enough to wear on a long plane ride, or after a day of vacation indulgence.

Nisolo Serena Sandals

Nisolo Serena Sandals.

Nisolo’s Serena Sandals are the only shoes you need to pack for your tropical vacation. Available in three neutral colors, these minimalist sandals will go with everything—and they’re so comfortable you’ll want to wear them every day. A small three-quarter-inch wedge heel adds a little bit of support without causing pain and makes these sandals easy to pack. A cushioned insole, ankle strap, and soft leather lining add to the comfort factor.

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Catalina Swim Bikini

Catalina Swim Bikini.

No tropical vacation outfit is complete without a cute bikini underneath. Catalina Swim’s Twist Front Underwire Bikini Top and Hipster Bikini Bottom are flattering and comfortable. The twist front and ruching add a pop of style. The bikini top has underwire for extra support, plus removable cups and adjustable straps so you can get the perfect fit.

Belongsci 3/4 Sleeve Dress

This incredibly breathable dress comes in a wide variety of styles, colors, and sizes. This adaptable find is a cute and casual dress for any tropical occasion.

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Milumia Plus Size Tropical Maxi Dress

Milumia Plus Size Tropical Maxi Dress.

Looking for plus size tropical vacation outfits? Check out Milumia’s Plus Size Tropical Maxi Dress which is available in sizes up to 3XL. The dress has a trendy cold shoulder design and a flirty split hem and comes in lots of tropical prints like palm leaf or florals.

Sanuk Water Shoes

Yes, water shoes can look stylish. In fact, you’d never know that these slip-on shoes from Sanuk are designed to be worn in the water—they look just like a cute beach espadrille. Made out of canvas with a rubber sole, these shoes are perfect for when you need to transition from the beach to lunch. They come in a variety of styles, including a men’s version.

KGB Running Shorts

KGB Running Shorts.

Whether you plan on working out on vacation or just want something casual to throw on over your swimsuit bottoms, the KGB Running Shorts are a perfect choice. Available for men and women, these shorts hide a secret SmartSlot pocket in the waistband that’s large enough to hold a phone or wallet—or your sunscreen.

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Halo AIR Series Headband

Tired of headbands slipping off your head whenever you do anything remotely active? Give Halo AIR Series Headband a try; it has silicone nubs on the inside to keep it securely in place. The headband offers UV protection, making it great to wear during sunny activities like snorkeling or hiking.

Poseshe Plus Size Maxi Dress

Nothing says vacation like a maxi dress. Poseshe’s Plus Size Maxi Dress is flowy without being frumpy, thanks to an adjustable waist tie that gives you definition. Made from a modal/spandex fabric blend, this dress travels beautifully and can be packed without causing wrinkles.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor at SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach

The 10 Best Bathing Suit Websites for Men and Women

Don’t let swimsuit shopping anxiety prevent you from booking your next tropical vacation. These 10 bathing suit websites make swimsuit shopping easy and breezy … just like those palm trees you’re dreaming of. And since finding the right fit can be particularly tricky for swimsuits, we’ve included the return policies for each of these bathing suit websites.

The Best Bathing Suit Websites for Women

Everything But Water

two female bathing suit styles

The swimsuit website and retail chain Everything But Water doesn’t just sell hundreds of bathing suit styles, but also rash guards, cover-ups, resort wear, and accessories (including sandals, beach bags, sunglasses, sun hats, and more). The bathing suit brand earns a spot on this list for its variety in sizing—there is an entire plus-size line—and its quality. The brand also supports sustainability practices through beach cleanups, donations, and waste reduction and recycling programs within its supply chain.

Return Policy: Full refund for in-store or online purchases within 21 days of purchase. If your order is over $100, return shipping is free; if your order is under $100, an $8 shipping fee will be deducted from the refund.

Anne Cole

two female bathing suit styles

Peruse the bathing suit website from iconic swimwear designer Anne Cole, the inventor of the “tankini,” for stylish, high-quality swimsuits at reasonable prices. The brand offers a plus-size line as well as cover-ups and swim dresses for even more coverage. This year, I have my eye on the Textured Twist swim top and bottom set.

Return Policy: Full refund with free return shipping within the U.S. and within 30 days of the original ship date.

Summersalt

two women wearing bathing suits

The direct-to-consumer bathing suit website Summersalt prides itself on impeccable fit, use of eco-friendly materials, and comfortable, but still trendy pieces. Oh, and did we mention most styles are under $100?  The brand also sells high-quality and reasonably priced loungewear, travelwear, and sleepwear.

Return Policy: Full refund with free return shipping within 30 days of delivery date.

Bare Necessities

two female bathing suit styles

With over 1,000 swimsuit styles, Bare Necessities is your go-to for the best online bathing suit selection. The intimate apparel and swimsuit website offers free two-day shipping and returns to make online bathing suit shopping easier.

Return Policy: Free returns and a full refund on qualifying orders within 60 days of purchase. After 60 days, you receive an online voucher.

Athleta

two female bathing suit styles

Popular athleisure brand Athleta designs a specific swim line each season. We love the bathing suits for their high-performance abilities while still being stylish. From rash guards to swim shorts to bikinis and everything in between, you’ll feel comfortable and on-trend whether you’re just sunbathing or taking a surf lesson.

Return Policy: Free returns for a full refund at any time. You can even wear the item and decide if you like it.

The Best Bathing Suit Websites for Men

Nordstrom

two mens bathing suit styles

You’ll find hundreds of options from popular swimsuit brands like O’Neill, Trunks Surf & Swim Co., Fair Harbor, and Volcom on Nordstrom’s website as well as bathing suits from menswear-focused brands like Tommy Bahama, Barbour, and Peter Millar. With one of the best return policies in the business (see below), Nordstrom is an ideal website to use for testing out different swimsuit styles.

Return Policy: Free returns via mail and full refund with no time frame restrictions. You can also return at any Nordstrom location.

Bonobos

two male bathing suit styles

From solid colors to fun prints (think flamingos), the online men’s retailer Bonobos makes a killer bathing suit line. Note that Bonobos does have select Guideshop locations around the U.S. where you can try on styles and also process returns. This line stands out in particular because customers can customize the waist and length of their swim trunks. Choose from a range of waist sizes from XS to XXL and a length of five to nine inches. Most of the current styles are even made with a recycled polyester fabric.

Return Policy: Full refund within 45 days of the purchase date, or for store credit for up to 90 days after purchase.

Rhone

two male bathing suit styles

Menswear line Rhone might just sell the best board shorts on the market. Constructed with water-flow pockets and a secure waistband, you can body surf, paddleboard, wakeboard, or simply lounge at the pool with no worries in these board shorts. Rhone also sells a trunk style, which is quick-drying and made with four-way stretch for comfort.

Return Policy: Free full refunds within 45 days of purchase.

Chubbies

two male bathing suit styles

Bright, fun patterns are Chubbies’ bread and butter, and the brand’s creativity is visible across all of its swim styles. From roosters to hippos to roaring dinosaurs, pick your print (or solid) in a variety of lengths ranging from four to nine inches. Most styles even come with a back zippered pocket.

Return Policy: Returns and exchanges are accepted within 90 days of purchase.

Hill City

two mens bathing suit styles

Online men’s retailer Hill City sells two well-designed swim styles online: the Easy Swim Short and the Boardshort. Both styles are stretchy, quick-drying, and abrasion-resistant, and have a UV-protective fabric as well as a rear pocket.

Return Policy: Like its sister site Athleta, Hill City offers free returns for a full refund at any time. You can even wear the item and decide if you like it.

Accessorize Your Bathing Suit

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More from SmarterTravel:

Ashley Rossi is always ready for her next trip. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram for travel tips, destination ideas, and off the beaten path spots.

Some review products are sent to us free of charge and with no incentive to offer a favorable review. We offer our unbiased opinions, positive and negative, and will never accept compensation to review a product.

Categories
Active Travel Beach Budget Travel Island Outdoors

The Cheapest Caribbean Islands to Find Your Paradise

A week of sun and sand may be priceless for your mental health (and your tan), but you don’t need to pay a fortune to get it. We gathered data on airfare, hotel rates, and package deals to unearth the cheapest Caribbean islands to visit, along with reasonably priced places to stay on each one. To qualify, the destination also must be ranked on the top half of the Price of Travel’s index of the cheapest Caribbean islands.

Cozumel

shopping street in cozumel mexico

This small island off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is known for its white-sand beaches, colorful marine life, and the Mayan ruins of San Gervasio. While you can fly directly to Cozumel from a handful of U.S. airports, including Dallas and Charlotte, you can often save hundreds of dollars by flying to Cancun instead and then taking a ferry to Cozumel from nearby Playa del Carmen.

“Regularly under the $300 mark, nonstops to Cancun can be found from most major U.S. airports at any time throughout the year,” advises Tracy Stewart, Content Editor at Airfarewatchdog, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

You’ll likely find cheaper hotel nightly rates between August and November. (Note that this falls within Caribbean hurricane season.)

Where to stay: Past guests rave about the friendly service and quiet, homey vibe at Casita de Maya Boutique Hotel, where rates are regularly below $75 a night. If you’re looking for a beachfront resort experience, try the Blue Angel Resort, where you’ll usually pay less than $150 a night.

Jamaica

sea view jamaica

Eco-adventurers will find plenty to do in Jamaica, from swimming in waterfalls to zip-lining through the rainforest. Only-in-Jamaica spots to visit include the Bob Marley Museum and the Rastafari Indigenous Village. And, of course, there are plenty of beaches to relax on between excursions.

With three main tourist areas—Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril—you can price-shop for the best rates for your Caribbean vacation. Again, travel between May and October may offer lower rates because of hurricane season.

Where to stay: For hotels, try the budget-priced Westender Inn, where you can look out over the ocean from an infinity pool.

Puerto Rico

colorful buildings in old san juan

In Puerto Rico, you can split your vacation between the lush El Yunque Rainforest, the island’s wide sandy beaches, and the vibrant colonial streets of Old San Juan. A boat trip into one of the island’s bioluminescent bays is another must-do.

“If departing from most East Coast major cities, San Juan is consistently low (under $300) and [has] plenty of flight options,” says Stewart of Airfarewatchdog.

It’s easy to budget for expenses in Puerto Rico, as the local currency is the U.S. dollar. Bonus: You don’t need to pay for a passport to get there. And with a variety of hotel options all over the island, it’s not hard to find one in your price range.

Where to stay: The laid-back, beachfront Luquillo Sunrise Beach Inn is a convenient jumping-off point for trips to El Yunque or San Juan, at rates typically under $150 a night. Even cheaper are the clean, no-frills rooms at Dreams Hotel Puerto Rico in the outskirts of San Juan.

Dominican Republic

beach chairs in punta cana

The Dominican Republic is probably the cheapest Caribbean island to visit if you’re looking for affordable all-inclusive deals. You’ll find dozens of packages in Punta Cana on CheapCaribbean.com, with prices such as $499 per person for air and four nights’ accommodations. Activities in the area include snorkeling, zip-lining, and off-road ATV tours through the jungle. You can also go hiking and swim in clear lagoons at the Indigenous Eyes Ecological Park & Reserve.

You’ll have plenty of popular resort areas in the Dominican Republic to compare prices at which include La Romana, Puerto Plata, and Samana.

Where to stay: The Punta Cana Princess All Suites Resort & Spa offers a beachfront all-inclusive experience for less than $200 to $250 a night on a recent search. If you’re not up for a big resort, consider the NH Punta Cana, a boutique hotel with breakfast included and a beach within walking distance.

Curacao

Wilemstad_curacao_colorful_buildings.

You can’t go wrong with a visit to the “C” of the ABC Islands, especially during the spring or fall shoulder season, when you’ll find even more savings. And since Curacao falls outside of the hurricane belt, you can book a trip here without worrying about the storm season. Whether you visit for the numerous festivals or the pleasant beach weather year-round, on a Caribbean visit to Curacao you’ll fall in love with the local food trucks, colorful Dutch architecture, unparalleled snorkel spots, and secret beaches.

With nonstop flight options from major U.S. cities like Charlotte, New York’s JFK, and Miami, Curacao is accessible from the East Coast.

Where to stay: The island has plenty of hotel inventory with competitive nightly rates. Check out ACOYA Curacao Resort, Villas, & Spa in downtown Willemstad, which averages $133 per night. Or try the Boho Bohemian Boutique Hotel in the Pietermaai District, one of the hottest areas to stay in Curacao; it has nightly rates starting at $105.

Trinidad & Tobago

beach with palm trees

Get two Caribbean islands for the price of one: Trinidad and Tobago are connected via a fast ferry that takes about three hours. And like the ABC islands, Trinidad and Tobago are located outside of the hurricane belt and you can experience even more savings in the late spring and fall months. Enjoy the vibrant culture, serene beaches, and rainforest landscapes.

While most nationals live on the island of Trinidad, more than half of the country’s resorts are on Tobago. North Americans can enjoy nonstop routes to the main airport, Port of Spain on Trinidad, from cities like Dallas, Houston, New York, Newark, Miami, and Toronto. (New Yorkers also have a nonstop option to Tobago.)

Where to stay: Hotel prices are well below average expectations for Caribbean resorts, with many chain properties in Port of Spain posting under $200 nightly rates. Blue Waters Inn, Half Moon Blue Hotel, and Native Abode are three wallet-friendly options on Tobago within a short distance of beaches.

Bonus Destination: Bahamas

speedboat in nassau bahamas

While this destination isn’t ranked on the top half of the Price of Travel Index, it’s worth considering a trip here to help put money back into the economy post-Hurricane Dorian … and it doesn’t have to cost a pretty penny.

This Caribbean-adjacent strand of tropical islands is a popular getaway just an hour-long flight from Miami. Most visitors fly into Nassau (on New Providence Island) or Freeport (on Grand Bahama Island); it’s worth checking fares to both airports to see which is cheaper. Consider Grand Bahama Island for a quieter, more laid-back vacation, while high-energy Nassau suits travelers looking for lots of activities and nightlife.

One way to save money is by looking into packages from sites such as CheapCaribbean.com or Expedia.

Where to stay: The Bell Channel Inn in Freeport offers basic but comfortable rooms within walking distance of the beach. Bay View Suites Paradise Island is a modestly priced option near Nassau.

More from SmarterTravel:

What to Wear on a Caribbean Island

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

Follow Sarah Schlichter on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Island Luxury Travel

Wish for Rain: The Elemental Splendor of Tofino

“I hope it rains every day you’re there.”

My friend says this as I’m leaving for Tofino, and I laugh. I’m not sure what to make of this unlikely send-off.

By the time I arrive in Tofino, this hope has manifested into dense rain that falls from a matte gray sky. I step off the plane and look up, curious about this wished-for rain, wondering what makes it the sort of guest you invite on vacation. Cold drops pummel my face, challenging the elasticity of my skin; if I were made of sand, the rain would already be carving channels down my cheeks. I shudder involuntarily as a trail of water slides past my ear and settles on the nape of my neck, sending a snaking sensation up my spine. I nestle back into my hood and wipe my face with my already-wet jacket sleeve.

The rain is steady but not dramatic—there are no thunderclaps, no lightning bolts. The impenetrable rainforest surrounding the small air strip signals that this storm is just another day of the usual water cycle commute, southbound.

I’ve packed strategically, and think I’m prepared for the weather. But I’m not. On the tarmac trudge from the plane to the one-room airport, my water-resistant jacket reaches maximum saturation. Soon, my toes are swimming inside my shoes. 

If the West, itself a frontier, has a frontier, this is it. This stretch of Vancouver Island the wildest, wettest, West—where thick forests invent new shades of green with each flicker of sunlight and you’re never far from the roar of waves that have been building strength for 4,500 miles of open Pacific before crashing into Tofino’s rocky shores. On this far left edge of North America, people rush out to meet the rain. In Tofino, home of storm-watching, cold-water surfing, and temperate rainforests, rain is the reason—it’s why people come, and why they stay. 

Tofino’s Alchemy of Rain

Tofino is the end of the road, and no one comes here accidentally. I am no exception—I’ve been dreaming of this place for years. At home in California, I live within sight of the Pacific, yet my daily glimpse is of an ocean tamed by straits and bays into tentative whitecaps or, at most, assertive lapping. In Tofino, however, the Pacific gets a true running start, and I’m ready to see this wild ocean unleashed.

In most places, storms clear a beach. But this is a place that comes alive with each deluge. Here, there’s an alchemy of rain and big waves. Roiling currents, torrential downpours, and surfers claiming every wave—this is Tofino life. Even non-surfers get in on the action; there’s no surer sight than storm-swept shorelines dotted with beachcombers suited up like New England fishing crews, savoring every minute of big weather.

Storm-Watching from the Inside …

Around here, there’s nowhere more famous for pairing wild and welcoming than the Wickanninish Inn, the hotel that invented storm season. I slosh to the hotel, leaving puddles in my wake, unsure about this adventure as I drip my way through the lobby and up to my room. But after a change of clothes and a warm drink beside a hot fire, I begin to understand the wisdom of my friend’s parting wish.

The Wick, as it’s known locally, sits deep in a forest on the edge of the continent; cradled by trees and holding tight to an outcropping that extends out over the Pacific. Inside, hand-carved wooden columns and windows angled for perfect sea views keep nature close. 

Settled inside the warm hotel, I get down to the serious business of storm-watching. I stretch out by the fire and watch surfers take on the storm. I stake out the lobby, which feels more like a living room lined with soft leather chairs and dotted with driftwood tables. I divide my time between watching the waves break around the point and casually inspecting guests—young families, Italian backpackers, retirees, urban sophisticates, honeymooners. I settle onto my sheltered balcony, watching the waves crash into the outcropping just below my room. Not a view goes uninspected, not an overstuffed chair untested.

And yet, the more I watch the rain, the waves, and the dark skies, the more the storm beckons. So instead of putting back on my still-damp jacket—total rookie-wear—I suit up in one of the hotel’s Tofino-grade rubber suits and knee-high galoshes, and set off to discover that the real place to be is not watching the storm, it’s out in the middle of it. 

… And Out

Some beaches are backdrop. Tofino’s take center stage. 

Clusters of rocks frame the long stretch of beach, guarding its edges like continental bastions. As soon as I step onto the sand, this place owns my every sense. The wind catches the ocean’s spray and anoints my forehead, my lips, my nose. My cheeks tighten and flush, awake to the tingle of warm and cold pressing in from opposite sides of my skin. The briny tang rushes in on the stiff breeze; I recognize scents that have relied on the same recipe of salt water, seaweed, and sand for millions of years. There is no horizon from here, just towering whitecaps riding a heaving gray sea. 

I walk for a while and then realize staying still is the only way to take all this in. I stop, crouch down next to a tangle of brown and orange seaweed knitted slickly together, and watch the ocean. The alternating crash of the waves and the waterfall rush of the retreating water creates a rhythm that slows my thoughts and softens my breathing. 

I’ve entirely lost track of time when something, some shift in the breeze, compels me to turn around. I catch sight of the trees at the sand’s border—the trees seem to inhale me, pull me toward it. I walk closer. Here, the tangled branching torrent of the temperate rainforest tumbles down to the edge of the sand.

Standing in this in-between place, I’m struck by the sound of the sea and the rain, these two instruments of Tofino. The symphonic deluge plays the densely forested land-—droplets making each leaf sing a slightly different note—and the crashing waves maintain the baseline for an audience of anyone willing to stop and listen.

I inhale again, and smell the trees as they swap volatile organics for fresh water, flooding the air with Sitka spruce, western hemlock, cedar, and fir. This is a place to feel the earth breathing. I follow a narrow path into the forest, finding my way around the ferns that carpet the forest floor. If I stand still for just a moment too long, I suspect the forest would start to grow up around me, claiming me back.

Hiking the Rainforest

Walking through the temperate rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park in the driving rain, shrouded in waterproof gear, I rediscover something I hadn’t realized was lost: the joy of rain.

I remember playing in the rain as a child and wondering why the adults didn’t join the fun. For a while, they’d hunker under an umbrella and watch us splash and jump, stomp and spin. And then, they’d grow impatient to get back inside, and that would be it. Fun over.

It seemed so strange to me at the time, to act like rain was a hassle instead of the sky inviting you to play. And then it happened: year by year, the delight faded. The thrill of tilting my face up to the rain, arms open to embrace every drop, was replaced by the power of forethought, of being able to imagine the stickiness of a wet jacket, the claustrophobia of soggy socks. Adulthood seemed to leave no room for the ancient pleasure of rain.

And yet, here in the forest, I discover a new form of playing in the rain. The falling drops tickle my face, but the rest of me remains responsibly dry, sheltered within this oversized fisherman’s suit. I wade through pond-caliber puddles and feel the weight of the water pushing up against my boots. I don’t go full Singing in the Rain, but I do stomp, sending out concentric waves and then watching as the water ricochets off the edges of the puddle and bounces back to meet me.

I clear the puddle and walk deeper into the woods. The rain continues, threading its way through the maze of the forest canopy. Drops shatter on leaves around me. 

Another puddle. A stream. A waterfall. The rain and the distant percussion of the ocean. I’ve stumbled onto a family reunion, water greeting the earth after a long trip. Feeding the churn of the seas, the green of the trees; creating congregations in creeks and channels—the land transforms the water, and the water transforms the land. And the water, it will continue to transform, through millions of years of precipitation, evaporation, and condensation. But for a moment, it’s home. I realize I’m holding my breath, and I don’t know why. Then I understand, I’m caught up in a wish. I’m wishing for rain. 

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Christine Sarkis experienced a version of the Ultimate B.C. package as a guest of the participating hotels and Visit Canada. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Cities Island

The 10 Best Beach Destinations in the World

You could spend hours daydreaming about the world’s best beach destinations. But how do you choose one that’s right for you?

The following list can help. All of the beaches below offer exceptional beauty, clean sand and water, and nearby tourist infrastructure—and many of them are trending upward in traveler popularity.

Editor’s note: Due to COVID-19 concerns, the U.S. State Department is encouraging potential visitors to reconsider all travel. Read more here for updates on the situation and information on when it might be safe to travel again to destinations like the ones below.

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

grace bay beach providenciales

Providenciales is home to Grace Bay Beach, which made Tripadvisor’s list of the top 25 beaches in the Caribbean as well as SmarterTravel’s own list of the 10 best Caribbean beaches. (Tripadvisor is SmarterTravel’s parent company.)

“Provo” is the picture-perfect Caribbean destination, one that’s been discovered but not overrun. There are clear turquoise waters, coral reefs for snorkeling, and soft white sand where you can beach comb for miles without encountering crowds. Groove to ripsaw music with the locals and savor conch fritters and jerk chicken at the outdoor island fish fry on Thursday nights.

Where to stay: The Oasis at Grace Bay offers rooms, suites, and villas just a short walk from the soft sand of Grace Bay Beach.

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Bali, Indonesia

grace bay beach providenciales

Find your beach nirvana on the southern peninsula of Bali, where scenes from Eat, Pray, Love were filmed. Spirituality infuses many aspects of daily life here, so expect encounters with local traditions that prompt a little soul searching.

Among Bali’s best beaches are Kelingking Beach, which requires some 500 steps to access (but don’t worry, the jaw-dropping views from above are worth it); and Gunung Payung Beach, one of the island’s hidden gems.

Where to stay: Highlights of a stay at the dreamy Seminyak Beach Resort & Spa include the warm, friendly service and the infinity pool overlooking the ocean.

Maui, Hawaii

tropical beach maui hawaii

Maui is among America’s most iconic bucket-list beach destinations. Its beaches—including Kaanapali Beach and Kapalua Beach—consistently rank among the best in the world. And what Maui lacks in affordability, it makes up for in beauty and novelty far beyond the perfect palm-fringed beaches.

Experience fire dancing at luaus, sunrise hikes to dormant volcano summits, and countless waterfalls along the curvy drive to Hana. And it’s now a little more affordable to get there: Southwest started regular service to Maui (and other Hawaiian destinations) from select West Coast cities last year.

Where to stay: Each spacious unit at Aston at The Whaler on Kaanapali Beach includes a full kitchen and a private balcony.

[st_related]What’s the Best Island in Hawaii for You?[/st_related]

Grenada

morne rouge beach grenada

Ringed with silky white sand, Grenada, the Caribbean’s “Spice Island,” even smells like paradise with all the nutmeg grown here. While you can find cruise passengers and hawkers if you go looking for them (at Grand Anse Beach, for instance), the beauty of this island lies in its quieter corners, including Morne Rouge Beach, the underwater sculpture park, and rainforest trails.

Grenada tourism is on the rise, with growth in visitor numbers over the past couple of years.

Where to stay: The cottages and hotel rooms at Petite Anse Beachfront Hotel & Restaurant are located on a secluded beach in the northern part of the island.

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

fernando de noronha brazil

A 21-island archipelago and natural UNESCO World Heritage site 224 miles off the northern coast of Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is home to three of the world’s top-ranked beaches. One of them, Baia do Sancho, topped Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in the world.

The archipelago limits the number of visitors to protect its delicate ecosystems and wildlife. Those lucky enough to experience Noronha’s secluded beaches will see crystalline waters flanked by reddish sand, volcanic cliffs covered in lush vegetation, and dramatic sightings of the local spinner dolphins.

Where to stay: Rooms at Pousada Del Mares are simple but comfortable, with a location near restaurants, beaches, and shops.

[st_related]7 Best Remote Islands for a Tropical Getaway[/st_related]

Clearwater Beach, Florida

sunset clearwater beach florida

White sand as soft as powdered sugar brings spring breakers and retirees in droves to Clearwater Beach, where restaurants, hotels, and souvenir shops vie for space within sight of the calm waters. Clearwater made Tripadvisor’s 2020 list of the best beaches in America.

The most pristine beaches in the area are at Caladesi Island State Park, an undeveloped paradise accessible only by ferry.

Where to stay: The family-owned Barefoot Bay Resort & Marina overlooks Clearwater Bay and is just a short walk from the beach.

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Crete, Greece

elafonissi beach pink sand crete greece

The 2018 release of the Mamma Mia! sequel brought the buzz back to the magical Greek Isles, where the storyline is set. Crete isn’t as popular—or pricey—as Mykonos or Santorini, but it still offers plentiful sun, sand, and history.

You can split time between the island’s rich culinary culture, ancient ruins, and alluring beaches. Laze in sheltered coves or on the top-rated Elafonissi Beach, a nearly mile-long protected stretch of white sand with shallow turquoise lagoons and sea turtles.

Where to stay: The intimate Theodore Boutique Hotel has just nine rooms, most with full or partial sea views.

[st_related]10 Gorgeous Beaches You’ve Probably Never Heard Of[/st_related]

St. Lucia

white sand-beach saint lucia caribbean

A favorite of honeymooners, St. Lucia is growing more popular with tourists of all types. Last year, this exclusive tropical paradise saw a record-setting number of visitors.

In between adventures such as swimming in waterfalls, hiking to the summit of Gros Piton, and kayaking to Pigeon Island, you can relax on St. Lucia’s many beautiful beaches. Traveler favorites include Anse Mamin and Jalousie Beach.

Where to stay: The all-inclusive Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort offers a little something for everyone, from half a dozen swimming pools to a spa and wellness center.

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Praslin Island, Seychelles

anse lazio beach praslin island seychelles

Secluded and romantic, the 115-island Seychelles archipelago, located in the Indian Ocean off East Africa, has a mystical draw. Seychelles’ beaches, including Anse Lazio on Praslin Island, are among the most photographed in the world.

Anse Lazio is a sweeping white crescent framed by granite rocks and tropical rainforest. It’s isolated but worth the effort to get to Anse Lazio, where solitude and nature reign. Or hop a 15-minute ferry from Praslin Island to La Digue to see the stunning pink sands of Anse Source d’Argent.

Where to stay: Hotel Cote d’Or overlooks a stunning white beach on Praslin Island and offers activities such as canoeing, beach volleyball, and even archery.

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

myrtle beach south carolina at night

Myrtle Beach is one of the most family-friendly and affordable beach destinations in the U.S. Here you’ll find 60 miles of sandy shores with nonstop fun for kids, plus reasonably priced condo-style accommodations that parents love.

There’s always something happening in Myrtle Beach, from the opening of new restaurants and breweries to special events year-round.

Where to stay: One of the newest hotels in town, South Bay Inn and Suites, is an ideal option for families with its indoor water park and convenient boardwalk location.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Packing

The Essential Beach Packing List

Headed on a beach vacation? Use our essential beach packing list to help you pack everything you’ll need for a relaxing beach getaway. Best of all, it can save you money, since packing the right things now will keep you from having to repurchase items once you arrive. (Just click on the below image or this link to download, edit, or print).

Let other people sweat the small stuff, and streamline your list of hot weather must-haves so you look cool, even when the temperature isn’t. Here’s what to pack for the beach—without overpacking.

beach packing list

Luggage

Whether you’re heading on a weekend trip or a two-week beach getaway, here are some of our favorite bag options to get your stuff there in one piece.

Other Beach Packing Tips

Overall Plan: Light and breezy items should dominate your wardrobe choices. While you want to be comfortable, skip the faded and raggedy T-shirts and instead aim for a summery look that’s casual but polished. And while you’re packing, you may be tempted to focus just on getting there, make sure you also spend some time thinking about how you’ll transport wet and sandy items back home. There’s nothing worse than a suitcase full of sand. CGear has a line of products, including lounge chairs, blankets, and bags, that are “sand-free” and are must-have additions to your beach packing list.

What’s Essential? No beach vacation is complete without a swimsuit. Buy more than one so there’s always something dry to wear, and bring them along in your carry-on. For footwear, pack flip-flops, sandals, water shoes, or canvas tennis shoes, depending on the type of beach you’re on.

Choose a mesh or nylon beach bag with a distinctive pattern so it’s easy to spot in a crowd, and make sure it has inside pockets, preferably waterproof, to store valuables and small electronics such as your cell phone. Speaking of gadgets, make sure that they’re waterproof or have protective covers. A soft-sided insulated tote for drinks and snacks is easier to carry than a bulky cooler. Pack some disposable wipes for quick clean-up. Reusable plastic bags can be your best friend: Use them to bring food to the beach, and then carry wet swimsuits and towels on the way home. And you’ll probably want a portable speaker, too. For more ideas, see 15 Beach Bag Essentials You Need for Summer.

Secret Weapon: If you wear corrective lenses and your beach sessions involve exploring reefs for colorful fish, you may want to invest in a prescription snorkel mask. Having your own mask can also prevent communicable diseases. (I once got a wicked case of pinkeye from a tainted snorkel mask in Costa Rica. Lesson learned.)

Safety First: No matter how good it feels, the sun is not your friend. Load up on sun protection with a strong sunscreen that you can reapply often. If you’re traveling to your destination by plane, look into sunscreen towelettes that won’t explode or leak like bottled sunscreen. When you’re lathering up, don’t forget your face. Add SPF lip balm, and wear sunglasses and a sun hat. Make sure to check the environmental regulations at your beach destination, as some places are banning harmful and coral-damaging chemical sunscreens. Instead, shop for reef-safe sunscreens.

Leave at Home: Being on the beach is an excuse to cut loose; avoid bringing clothing that’s too stuffy or structured. If you’re staying at a hotel, find out ahead of time if towels and other beach amenities are included. Many vacation rentals also have “house” items such as camp chairs and barbecue grills so there’s no need to bring your own.

For more ideas, see The Best Beach Accessories and Traveler Tips for Your Next Beach Trip.

Featured Items

For info on these editor-selected items, click to visit the seller’s site. Things you buy may earn us a commission.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Chris Gray Faust contributed to this story.

Categories
Booking Strategy Cities Security

Is Cabo San Lucas Safe? Crime, Swimming Dangers, Drinking Water, and More

Cabo San Lucas is one of the world’s prime vacation spots for good reason. Accommodations range from ultra-luxury retreats to down-to-earth glamping getaways, with levels of hospitality to match. There’s a rich, uplifting culture to enjoy; adventures galore, whether organized or not; that unbeatable Cabo San Lucas weather; and, of course, the main attraction: the vast, inviting sea, alongside the region’s other iconic natural wonders.

Still, if you’re planning a trip here, you might wonder: Is Cabo San Lucas safe? That’s a valid thing to ask, especially considering that in recent years, the Baja Peninsula has suffered from a higher per capita homicide rate than any other region in the world.

Tthe U.S. government recommends “increased caution” when traveling to the state of Baja California Sur, where Cabo San Lucas is located, because of “criminal activity and violence.” It should be noted, however, that most forms of violence in Baja California—homicides, kidnappings, extortions, and so on—are related to the drug war, so travelers have mostly been spared.

While that’s reassuring to know, it’ll behoove you, before landing in Cabo, Mexico, to be informed about what not to do in Cabo, whether you can drink the water in Cabo San Lucas, what you need to know about swimming in Cabo, plus key information about wildlife like snakes and scorpions in Cabo San Lucas.

Tips for Safety in Cabo San Lucas

  • When making your way around Cabo San Lucas, limit your explorations to daytime hours, beware of pickpockets and other thieves, don’t hail taxis off the street, and if you get into an Uber, share your ride’s progress with a friend or loved one.
  • Drinking water in Cabo San Lucas should be restricted only to bottled water and glasses of water poured at reputable hotels, resorts, and restaurants where your server has reassured you that what they’re serving is agua purificada—purified water. And skip the ice.
  • In Cabo San Lucas, swimming in the ocean can be a risky proposition. The riptides are fierce, the jellyfish are plenty, and the lifeguards are all but nonexistent. Stick to swimming only at your hotel’s swimming pool, or at a beach that’s known to be safe, most of which are on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula. Never enter a closed beach, and heed all posted signs and flags.
  • Some of Cabo’s wildlife species are forces to be reckoned with. Snakes and scorpions in Cabo San Lucas can cause serious injuries and medical emergencies—especially rattlesnakes, yellow-bellied sea snakes, and the bark scorpion. Know how to identify and avoid these species, but if you get bitten, seek immediate medical attention. Worried about bug bites in Cabo San Lucas? The key ones to avoid include the Baja brown recluse and mosquitoes, so wear DEET and pack antihistamines.

How to Get Around Safely in Cabo San Lucas

Yes, there are larger security issues going on throughout Baja California, as well as in adjacent parts of Mexico. But in Cabo San Lucas, crimes that affect tourists are mostly relegated to pickpocketing and other petty forms of theft—so hide your valuables, lock your doors, and use common sense when it comes to exploring anywhere off the beaten path or going out after dark. If you get mugged or forced to access an ATM, don’t resist—your physical safety is always more important than your money.

In terms of what to avoid in Cabo San Lucas, the U.S. Department of State recommends that travelers not hail taxis directly off the street anywhere in Mexico. Instead, use hotel transportation services or taxis that have been officially dispatched; unlicensed cab drivers have been known to rob travelers. Taxis are not metered in Cabo San Lucas, so always negotiate the price before getting in, and don’t pay until you arrive at your destination. Taking public transportation in Cabo San Lucas is not recommended either, since buses have been hijacked and theft is commonplace.

Uber runs in Cabo as well, though tensions between taxi and Uber drivers have sparked protests at times. If you decide to use a ridesharing app in Cabo San Lucas, take all the usual precautions: Share the progress of your ride with a friend or family member so that someone always knows where you are. When waiting for your ride, choose a busy, well-lit area. And when your driver arrives, confirm that his or her face and license plate match what comes up on your phone. Then sit in the back seat—never the front.

The American government also recommends that travelers in Mexico “avoid driving alone or at night” and to use toll roads when possible. If you must drive, keep your gas tank as full as possible, carry a spare tire, and charge your phone.

Topping the list of what should you not do in Cabo San Lucas: drugs. Not only do they incapacitate you, making you more likely to be targeted as a victim, but if you’re caught using drugs in Cabo San Lucas, the punishment will be severe—Americans charged with drug possession can be kept in a Mexican prison for months before their cases finally go to court.

How dangerous is Cabo San Lucas in terms of natural disasters? The region is prone to hurricanes from roughly July through September; if one should hit while you’re there, take cover and follow authorities’ instructions. Baja California Sur is also subject to earthquakes and volcano eruptions, so read up on what to do in case either of those happens while you’re visiting, follow official advice, and pay attention to any and all warnings.

Drinking Water in Cabo San Lucas

Can you drink the tap water in Cabo San Lucas? The short answer: It’s not recommended. The pipes here can contaminate the Cabo San Lucas water, which often causes digestive issues for anyone not used to drinking water in Cabo right out of the faucet.

Instead, stick to bottled water, or ask your restaurant server for purified water—agua purificada—with no ice. (Speaking of drinking in Los Cabos, never leave your beverage—or your meal—unattended, since spikings are not unheard of here.)

Other hygienic factors to keep in mind while traveling in Los Cabos: Wash your hands often, don’t buy street food (it’s often not prepared in sanitary fashion), and avoid raw vegetables.

Swimming in Cabo San Lucas

The expansive sea, of course, is the main draw in this part (and many other parts) of Mexico. But is swimming in Cabo San Lucas safe? Not always. There’s much to know before submerging yourself in the Cabo ocean. The fiercest danger is riptides, which make many Cabo beaches unswimmable. Along with rogue waves, they regularly drown strong swimmers, tragically sweeping them out to sea. They can even knock over adults who are standing in water that’s only ankle-deep.

If you do find yourself getting pulled out by a riptide, try to stay calm and swim parallel to the beach into the breaking waves. Should you need saving, try to float, raise one arm up in the air, wave, and call for help.

Most beaches in Cabo San Lucas don’t have lifeguards, unfortunately, but officials often put out colored flags to let beach-goers know where and when swimming in the Cabo San Lucas ocean is safe—and where and when it’s not. It’s critical to obey all posted signs, never enter a closed beach, and know that this isn’t the place to rent or play around in water vehicles, since many aren’t maintained to standard. Instead, swim at your resort’s swimming pool or at a beach that’s well-known to be safe. Many are on the eastern side of the Baja Peninsula; the beach at Melia’s Paradisus resort is also known to be swimmable.

One other danger to be alert for if you’re planning on swimming in Cabo San Lucas: jellyfish. You can wear a Lycra skin for protection, or just consider this just one more reason why you shouldn’t swim in Cabo seas.

Snakes, Scorpions, and Insects: Wildlife Dangers in Cabo San Lucas

Besides jellyfish, there are other animals to be wary of in Baja California. There are 35 species of snakes in Cabo San Lucas, about half of which are venomous. Most people never encounter one, but it’s still good to know what the poisonous snakes in Cabo San Lucas look like: The yellow-bellied sea snake looks like a floating stick in the water, while the area’s 18 species of rattlesnake are identifiable by their signature noisemakers.

Cabo’s snakes tend to hide in rock piles, brush, or trash piles, so avoid those. It helps to wear closed-toe shoes, stay on the beaten path, and carry a travel first-aid kit. If you get bitten, keep the wound below your heart and don’t cut open the wound or try to suck the venom out. Most importantly, get to a doctor or hospital as soon as possible.

Bugs in Cabo San Lucas are also worth knowing about. The Baja brown recluse spider, in particular, can cause extremely damaging bites. Identify it by its tan to brown color; long, fuzzy legs; and the “violin” pattern on its back.

Cabo has plenty of mosquitoes, too, so wear DEET repellent and pack antihistamines. There haven’t been many cases of Zika in Mexico recently, but the CDC reminds travelers that a risk of the mosquito-borne illness may still remain.

Mexico has upwards of 200 scorpion species, though only eight of those are dangerous to humans. The scorpions in Baja, Mexico, that travelers need to know about include the venomous bark scorpion, which is yellow and about three inches long. You definitely don’t want it to sting you, especially if you’re older or a child. If you do get stung, apply ice and seek medical help immediately.

Scorpions are more active in summer and at night. To keep your life free of them, tap and shake out your shoes before putting them on, shut your bags tightly so they can’t crawl in, and leave them alone if you see them. You can also carry a scorpion toxin antidote, available at some Mexican pharmacies.

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—original reporting by Avital Andrews

Categories
Beach Island Outdoors

The 10 Best Beaches in the Caribbean for a Relaxing Escape


[st_content_ad]There’s no shortage of things do in the Caribbean, from snorkeling and hiking to sailing along the coast with a rum punch in hand. But let’s face it, most people visit the islands for one main reason: to hit the beach. After all, there’s something about slipping your toes into soft white sand and looking out over shimmering turquoise waters that’s basically guaranteed to lower your blood pressure. But which stretches of sand are the best Caribbean beaches for your next trip?

Some of the following beaches made the list because they’re simply picture-perfect—like stepping into an Instagram shot. Others made the cut for the best Caribbean beaches because they have special features that make them unforgettable. (Pink sand, anyone?) For the perfect Caribbean vacation, pack your flip-flops and hit the sand at one of these beaches.

Grace Bay, Turks and Caicos

Picture the classic Caribbean beach, and it probably looks a lot like Grace Bay: a wide stretch of pristine, powdery-white sand fringed by curving palm trees on one side and clear azure waters on the other. Because it’s protected by an offshore barrier reef, this beach rarely sees large waves, making it family-friendly and ideal for swimming, stand-up paddleboarding, and other watersports.

Where to stay: Most of the spacious, individually decorated condos at Ocean Club Resort feature full kitchens and laundry facilities. The resort is located right on Grace Bay Beach.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:150362″ /]

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The Baths, British Virgin Islands

Massive volcanic rocks shelter a series of ocean pools and caves at the edge of this unique beach on the island of Virgin Gorda. It makes for an otherworldly place to swim or snorkel. When you reach the end of the caves, guided by ropes and ladders, you’ll emerge onto yet another lovely beach called Devil’s Bay.

Where to stay: The cozy Gordian Terrace offers 10 one- and two-bedroom condos with private balconies, refrigerators, and microwaves. It’s about a 20-minute drive from The Baths National Park.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1782980″ /]

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Maracas Bay, Trinidad and Tobago

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Maracas Bay is Trinidad’s most popular beach for many reasons: the scenic rainforest drive that brings you there, the lush hills that frame its soft sand, and the beachside vendors offering up the delicious local specialty: bake and shark. It consists of fried shark meat served on flatbread with your choice of toppings and sauces, from standard lettuce and tomatoes to citrusy tamarind or spicy pepper sauce.

Where to stay: Culture Crossroads Inn offers homey rooms and cheerful service in Port of Spain, less than 10 miles from Maracas Bay.

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Eagle Beach, Aruba

Sunny Aruba has no shortage of fantastic beaches, but Eagle Beach is the best of the bunch—spectacularly beautiful, not overly crowded, and home to a few of the island’s photogenic divi divi trees. Keep an eye out for the sea turtles that nest here.

Where to stay: MVC Eagle Beach is just across the street from the sand and sea. Freebies include Wi-Fi, beach chairs, and towels, and the on-site Tulip restaurant offers reasonably priced dishes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

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Sugar Beach, St. Lucia

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Set between St. Lucia’s Twin Pitons, Sugar Beach—also known as Jalousie Beach—offers some of the most Insta-worthy views on this list, as well as some of the island’s best snorkeling. Many beachgoers stay at the eponymous luxury resort that overlooks the sand (see below), but day visitors are also welcome.

Where to stay: The splurge-worthy Sugar Beach, part of the luxury Viceroy chain, is the only hotel right on this stretch of sand. Each room comes with butler service and its own private plunge pool.

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Pink Sands Beach, Bahamas

 

pink sands beach harbour island bahamas.

The ultra-soft sand on Pink Sands Beach, located on quiet Harbour Island, gets its distinctive rosy hue from the breakdown of red- and pink-shelled organisms that live on the coral reefs offshore. You can easily swim out to the reefs for snorkeling, or stay on land and go for a horseback ride along the surf.

Where to stay: Located right on the beach of the same name, the Pink Sands Resort offers 29 cottages and villas, each decorated with breezy charm.

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Shoal Bay, Anguilla

A regular on “best Caribbean beaches” lists, Shoal Bay is a stunning stretch of powder-soft sand on the northern coast of Anguilla. You can go swimming or snorkeling right off the beach in its clear, calm waters, and there are plenty of dining options nearby when you’re ready for a break.

Where to stay: Many of the airy apartments at Shoal Bay Villas look out over the turquoise waters of Shoal Bay. The hotel’s beach chairs and umbrellas are complimentary for guest use, and the free Wi-Fi extends onto the beach.

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Playa Porto Mari, Curacao

playa porto mari beach curacao aerial view.

Popular with tourists and locals alike, this laid-back Caribbean beach is the perfect spot to spend your vacation. There are beach chairs for rent, a dive shop, a bar, and a restaurant serving meals and drinks all day long. You might even spot a couple of wild pigs ambling through the sand. If you want to take a walk, there are nature trails accessible via the beach’s parking lot.

Where to stay: The studios and apartments at Jan Kok Lodges are centrally located within easy driving distance of Playa Porto Mari and numerous other attractions around the island. Each unit has its own private terrace.

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Bathsheba Beach, Barbados

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If you like your beaches wild and rugged, head to the Atlantic coast of Barbados, where waves roll and crash into the large boulders at Bathsheba Beach. Strong currents and big waves make this a less-than-ideal spot for swimming, but it is popular with surfers and makes for dramatic photos.

Where to stay: Housed in a 19th-century building overlooking the ocean, the Round House Inn features five individually decorated rooms as well as a restaurant serving locally sourced Caribbean cuisine.

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Seven Mile Beach, Cayman Islands

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This dreamy stretch of pure white sand is the center of the action on Grand Cayman. At Seven Mile Beach you’ll find dive shops, beach bars, seafood restaurants, and some of the island’s ritziest resorts. You can snorkel right off the beach or try your hand at stand-up paddleboarding in the calm waters offshore.

Where to stay: You can save hundreds of dollars a night by staying across the street from Seven Mile Beach at Sunshine Suites Resort, which offers beach access through its nearby sister property, the Westin. All rooms include full kitchens and free Wi-Fi.

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to Turks and Caicos as a guest of Ocean Club Resorts. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Beach Booking Strategy Cities Island

What’s the Best Island in Hawaii for You?

There’s no wrong choice when it comes to deciding which Hawaiian island to visit. They’re all naturally beautiful, they all have gorgeous beaches, and they all welcome visitors with the gentle “aloha” spirit for which the islands are known. But there are important differences from one island to the next—and while there’s no such thing as a single best island in Hawaii, there may be a best island for you.

What’s the Best Island in Hawaii?

The best island in Hawaii depends on your passions. Are you into food? Adventure? Hiking? Beaches? There are six Hawaiian islands open to visitors, and each one offers something unique.

Luckily, you don’t have to choose just one. Most flights from the mainland U.S. land in Oahu, but frequent service from Hawaiian Airlines makes it easy to fly to other islands in the chain. You can also visit four different islands in seven days with Norwegian Cruise Line, allowing you to sample the best of Oahu, Maui, Kauai, and the Big Island.

Below is a rundown of Hawaii’s six main islands to help you decide which one (or more than one) is the right choice for your next tropical vacation.

Oahu

oahu skyline

About 1.4 million people live in Hawaii, and you’ll find the bulk of them on Oahu. The capital city, Honolulu, is home to the best high-end shopping, fine dining, and nightlife in the islands. Waikiki is the heart of the action, where you can hit the beach, snag a new pair of Gucci sunglasses, and sample chef Roy Yamaguchi’s Japanese/Hawaiian fusion cuisine all in the same day.

But Oahu has its quieter sides, too. Get outside of Honolulu and you’ll discover the laid-back surf towns of the North Shore and the lush green mountains of the windward (east) coast. Movie buffs and adventurers should stop at Kualoa Ranch, where you can go horseback riding or mountain biking, take an ATV tour, or check out the filming locations for dozens of movies including Jurassic Park and 50 First Dates. For more ideas, see The 10 Best Things to Do in Oahu Beyond Waikiki.

Best for: Shoppers, foodies, city lovers, and those who like a mix of action and relaxation. Oahu is also probably the best island in Hawaii for travelers on a budget, as you don’t have to spend extra on inter-island airfare, and the wide choice of hotels and vacation rentals means it’s easier to find a reasonably priced place to sleep.

Where to stay: One of the most popular spots to stay in Waikiki is the upscale Aston Waikiki Beach Tower, with spacious condos located right in the heart of the action. A more affordable option is the Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort, which has two towers right on the beach as well as a vast outdoor complex including a saltwater lagoon, waterslides, and five swimming pools.

Maui

garden of eden maui

The second-largest of the Hawaiian islands, Maui is a perennial visitor favorite because it has a little of everything: golden beaches, tumbling waterfalls, laid-back nightlife, championship-caliber golf courses, and plenty of outdoor adventure, from hiking and biking to snorkeling and surfing. You can get a taste of many of these attractions along the rugged Road to Hana, one of the most gorgeous drives on the planet.

If all you want to do during your vacation is to lie on a beach and relax, you can do so in popular resort areas like Kaanapali and Wailea. But more active travelers will find endless things to do in Maui. Head to Haleakala National Park to watch the sunrise from the summit of a volcano and then take an exhilarating 26-mile bike ride back down to the base. Go snorkeling among sea turtles and lava arches off the small island of Molokini. Come in the winter months to see migrating humpback whales. Or visit Maui’s many farms and plantations to sample local specialties like coffee, dragon fruit, and chocolate. (Many of these ingredients make it into farm-to-table cuisine around the island.)

Best for: Adventure seekers, honeymooners, foodies who love sampling local fare, and travelers who enjoy scenic drives.

Where to stay: Hotel Wailea is an ultra-luxe, adults-only resort featuring 72 beautifully designed suites with ocean or garden views; it’s the perfect spot for a secluded honeymoon. Or book yourself a beachfront condo at Maui Kai, where family-friendly units include kitchenettes and on-site laundry is available.

Big Island (Island of Hawaii)

beach turtle

Put all the other Hawaiian islands together and they’re still only about half the size of the Big Island (officially known as the Island of Hawaii). Nor can they match the Big Island’s sheer natural diversity. As you travel around the island, you’ll see not only the landscapes you’d expect to see in Hawaii—black and white sand beaches, golf courses, fertile jungle valleys, waterfalls—but also a green sand beach (Papakolea), stark black lava fields, and even a little snow.

This varied terrain means there’s plenty to do on the Big Island for any visitor, starting with its most famous attraction, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which you can explore on foot or by car. Try stargazing from Maunakea, the island’s highest peak, where you’ll see that aforementioned snow. Near Kona you can relax on the beach or go snorkeling at night with manta rays, while the Hilo area is known for rainforest hikes, botanical gardens, and waterfalls. The Big Island is also a good spot to see Hawaiian green sea turtles, especially along the Kohala Coast.

Best for: Animal lovers, golfers, and outdoorsy travelers. The Big Island is also the best island in Hawaii for those seeking a variety of climates and landscapes on their vacation.

Where to stay: The Fairmont Orchid sprawls over 32 oceanfront acres in the northwestern part of the Big Island. Thanks to its large swimming pool, tennis courts, fitness center, and “spa without walls,” you may never leave the resort. If a B&B is more your speed, try The Inn at Kulaniapia Falls, an eco-friendly collection of rooms surrounding Hawaii’s largest privately accessible waterfall.

Kauai

kauai hawaii

As you drive past mile after mile of lush foliage in every imaginable shade of green, it’s not hard to see how Kauai earned the nickname “the Garden Isle.” Only about 20 percent of the island is accessible by foot or road; the rest is a dense tangle of rugged cliffs, primeval jungle, and rain-drenched mountain peaks. Consider taking a helicopter ride for the best views over Kauai’s most remote landscapes.

But there’s plenty to do on land, too. Drive to the western part of the island where lookout points and hiking trails offer spectacular views into Waimea Canyon, a deep and colorful gorge that’s often compared to the Grand Canyon. Just up the road is Koke’e State Park, where you can gaze out over Kauai’s distinctive Napali Coast and the pristine Kalalau Valley. Another must-see spot is the North Shore. Here you’ll find Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, home to albatrosses and red-footed boobies, and Kauapea Beach (also known as Secret Beach), a vast, unspoiled stretch of golden sand accessible via a short downhill hike. For more ideas, see The 10 Best Things to Do in Kauai.

Best for: Nature lovers, beach bums, hikers, bird watchers, and travelers who want to escape tourist crowds without getting too far from civilization.

Where to stay: Those looking for a resort experience should try the Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort & Spa, which offers multiple restaurants, a golf course, a massive pool area (including a lagoon and a lazy river), and a location right on the beach. A more affordable option is the family-owned Garden Island Inn in Lihue, with 21 rooms featuring kitchenettes and freshly cut tropical flowers from the hotel’s own gardens. The beach is a short walk away. For more ideas, see The 10 Best Kauai Hotels for Every Budget.

Lanai

lanai hawaii menele bay

Lanai sees only a tiny fraction of the tourists that visit the four best-known islands, and that’s part of its appeal. For much of the 20th century, the island was used exclusively for pineapple farming by the Dole company, but these days the main source of income for Lanai is its small but growing tourism industry. About 98 percent of the island—including its two Four Seasons resorts—is owned by billionaire Larry Ellison.

Apart from relaxing on Lanai’s uncrowded beaches, travelers can visit the Lanai Cat Sanctuary to see what the staff playfully calls “Hawaiian lions,” check out the galleries and boutiques in Lanai City, relax on serene Hulopoe Beach, or hike the 12.8-mile Munro Trail to Lanaihale, the island’s highest point.

Best for: Well-heeled travelers looking for an exclusive escape and day trippers from Maui (via the Lanai Ferry).

Where to stay: The Four Seasons Resort Lanai is all about oceanfront opulence and seclusion, complete with a spa, an 18-hole golf course, limo service, and a Nobu restaurant. Non-Four Seasons options on Lanai are few and far between, but the 1920s-era Hotel Lanai offers 11 simple, recently renovated rooms.

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Molokai

molokai hawaii

The only Hawaiian island that sees fewer visitors than Lanai is Molokai, which feels like the island that time forgot. The pace of life is slow, there are no big resorts or traffic lights, and the mostly Native Hawaiian locals still embrace a simple, laid-back lifestyle. “If you want a place where you can sit on the beach by yourself and have no one talk to you, Molokai might be the best bet,” one recent visitor told me.

Molokai’s most unique attraction is Kalaupapa National Historical Park, a remote part of the island where people with Hansen’s disease (leprosy) were once sent to isolate them from the rest of the Hawaiian population. (You can currently reach the park only by air due to a landslide that wiped out the trail used by mules and hikers; restoration efforts are under way.) The island also has numerous uncrowded beaches, including Papohaku, a three-mile stretch of white sand. Take a guided hike through the stunning Halawa Valley to learn about local history and see one of the island’s most impressive waterfalls.

Best for: Outdoorsy travelers, those looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences, and people who want to get away from it all.

Where to stay: Accommodations on the island are limited. Hotel Molokai is the best of the bunch, offering comfortable rooms (some with air conditioning, some cooled only by the trade winds) as well as a pool and restaurant. The condos at Ke Nani Kai are another good option, though past guests report that some units feel dated.

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What to Pack

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2018. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Island

9 of Tahiti’s Best Overwater Bungalows


Tahiti’s first overwater bungalows were built back in the 1960s as stilted homes. Who would’ve thought that half a century later, these water huts would be synonymous with luxury. Today, French Polynesia is home to nearly 900 overwater villas scattered across 22 hotels on seven of the 118 islands. Some of the most jaw-droppingly gorgeous suites are tucked away under thatched roofs styled after traditional Tahitian fishing huts, and are outfitted with swanky, state-of-the-art technology and super-sleek furnishings that bring a five-star hotel element to remote stretches of French Polynesia. Here are nine of the most beautiful overwater bungalows worth booking when you’re ready to finally take that bucket list trip to Tahiti.[st_content_ad]

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort

The St. Regis Bora Bora Resort.

Just because you’re on an island doesn’t mean you can’t indulge in the same luxuries you would find at hotels back on the mainland. Take The St. Regis Bora Bora, for instance, where you’re catered to around the clock by the brand’s signature butler service, as well as by pool attendants, who will happily whisk smoothies (or something stronger) straight to your chaise. Celeb chef Jean-Georges is behind the menu at Asian-fusion eatery The Lagoon, where you can watch a show of sharks swimming beneath the glass-paneled restaurant floor. The resort stretches across three “motus,” or islands, with jagged Mount Otemanu rising as a beacon in the distance, and the sparkling turquoise water is on full display from the transparent floors of the overwater villas—the largest in the South Pacific.

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Four Seasons Bora Bora.

Most of the hundred-plus bungalows at Four Seasons Bora Bora stand proudly on stilts over the lagoon (and the few that don’t make up for it in size). Modeled after a traditional Polynesian village, the design—dreamt up by a local architect, with the help of Paris- and San Francisco-based design firms—plays on the natural beauty of the lagoon with an indoor-outdoor concept. Think mother of pearl-accented light fixtures (a nod to Tahiti’s infamous black pearls), tattoo- patterned pillows, and sleek teak furnishings. Named No. 1 in French Polynesia in TripAdvisor’s 2019 Travelers’ Choice Awards, the Four Seasons Bora Bora is the quintessential vision of Tahiti: plunge pools and private ladders leading straight from water bungalows down to the tropical fish-filled lagoon—plus lavish spa treatments like 24-karat gold monoi oil massages.

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InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa

InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa.

When deciding between InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa’s 84 overwater villas, the main choice you’ll have to make is the view: lagoon, beach or mountains? Traditional architectural touches (bamboo, carved mother of pearl, weavings) remind you you’re in French Polynesia, but the state-of-the-art in-room technology feels as cosmopolitan as New York. A glass-bottomed coffee table doubles as a porthole to the al fresco aquarium below, and sundecks feature outdoor freshwater showers perfect for cooling off in between sunbathing and dips in the lagoon. You can also soak up the views while soaking in your private plunge pool. Another reason to book a stay here: the thalassotherapy center, the first seawater therapy spa in the region that weaves nutrients extracted from the depths of the South Pacific into its ancient Polynesian rituals (performed in glass-bottom treatment rooms, of course). The InterContinental is also home to four new satellite suites with the largest private plunge pools in French Polynesia courtesy of Tahiti’s most exclusive resort—The Brando.

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Conrad Bora Bora Nui

Conrad Bora Bora Nui.

The majority of the high-end resorts in Bora Bora sit on the opposite side of the lagoon, so you won’t have to worry about sharing space—or views. Set on its own private atoll, across from Bora Bora on the southwest end of Motu To’opua, the Conrad Bora Bora Nui offers the largest stretch of sand in the area (spanning nearly half a mile), plus some of Tahiti’s best coral reefs—so snorkeling here is top-notch. Lounge on the pool deck of your overwater private bungalow on a hammock suspended over the sea—or in the sauna if you’ve opted for the presidential villa. Sporting the only two-story, overwater villas in French Polynesia, rooms here feature butler service, three terraces, an infinity pool overlooking the horizon, and a bar area, so you don’t have to go too far to find refreshments for sunset.

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InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa

InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa.

Nestled along the northwest coast of Moorea, just a seven-minute flight from sister island Tahiti or a 30-minutes ferry ride, the InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa is a beautiful blend of tropical gardens and sea. Covered gazebos shield sundecks with sunbeds, showers, and direct lagoon access below. The junior suites are set up in a style so that you not only score the best views of the lagoon, you also don’t have to worry about anyone peering into the private sanctuary of your very own Tahitian water hut.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:307160″ /]

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Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island

Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island.

Once you land in Tahiti, hop on a powerboat and speed off to Sofitel Bora Bora Private Island, which is just as idyllic as it sounds. A five-minute boat ride from mainland sister hotel Sofitel Marara Beach Resort, the 21-bungalow beauty wisely chose its locale right next to a coral garden teeming with angelfish—which is why it’s home to some of the best snorkeling in Tahiti. One of the only luxury boutique resorts to claim its own private island, this spot really feels like a secluded, unspoiled paradise (with plenty of haute amenities). Admire panoramic views of nearby Bora Bora and its peaks from the sundeck of your overwater bungalow, or set off and explore the surrounding waters in one of the most traditional ways possible—by outrigger canoe.

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Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort

Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort.

French Polynesia is home to six archipelagos, but one of the lesser known (and less crowded) is Tuamotu, 220 miles north of Tahiti. White- and pink-sand islands dot the 177-square-mile lagoon surrounding the Tikehau atoll (population 500), an hour’s flight from Tahiti’s capital. You won’t find modern luxuries at Tikehau Pearl Beach Resort (sorry, no air-conditioning). But the cool, marine breeze and views of the crystal-clear lagoons make up for it. With only 24 overwater suites and bungalows (which span over 1,000 square feet), you’ll practically have the lagoon all to yourself. If you really want privacy, go for the premium bungalows at the far end of the pontoon, which feature chaise lounges, glass floors, and easy access to the lagoon below.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:320588″ /]

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Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort.

Why choose between sunrise or sunset views when you can have both? That’s the luxury of a stay in one of Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa’s overwater bungalows, which dot the two bays bordering the island of Moorea. The W-shaped string of bungalows offers picture-perfect views of both the lagoon and mountain-lined island, and while the style is still very much classic French Polynesian in design, inside is the complete opposite. Marble-clad bathrooms sport rain showers, claw-foot tubs, and flat-screen TVs loaded with films. The best show is right below your feet, though, thanks to the glass-floor viewing panel.

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Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort

Tahiti la Ora Beach Resort.

Most travelers use Pape’ete—Tahiti’s capital city and the gateway to the Tahitian islands—as a stopover en route to the more fashionable isles of Moorea and Bora Bora. But save yourself an extra flight (or ferry ride) with a stay at Tahiti Ia Ora Beach Resort, a Sofitel-managed property located 15 minutes from downtown Papeete. Since the resort sits on Tahiti’s west coast, you’re guaranteed sunset views each evening. In addition to the contemporary complex’s 146 rooms, a pier stretches out to a string of 12 overwater bungalows that offer vistas of Moorea in the distance—plus glass floors, so if you don’t feel like taking a dip in the water, you can still admire the vibrant marine life swimming right below your bed.

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From her base in Paris, journalist Lane Nieset covers travel, lifestyle, wine, and food for publications such as National Geographic Travel, Departures, T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Travel + Leisure, Vogue.com and Food & Wine. She has also appeared as a guest host in the Cannes episode of BBC Travel’s RSVP Abroad series. Follow her on Twitter @LaneNieset or Instagram @LaneNieset, or keep up with her adventures on LaneNieset.com.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Food & Drink Historical Travel Island Outdoors

10 Fun Off-Resort Things to Do in Oahu


It’s easy to soak up the sun on Waikiki Beach for a week, sampling the area’s many restaurants and taking side trips to nearby Pearl Harbor or Diamond Head. But if you limit your Hawaiian vacation to just one area, you’re missing out. There are plenty of other things to do in Oahu, an island that spans 597 square miles of golden beaches, crashing waves, deep green forests, and laid-back surf towns.

To learn about Honolulu’s most popular attractions, see SmarterTravel’s Honolulu Travel Guide. But for the best things to do in Oahu outside the capital city, read on.

Have an Adventure

atvs at kualoa ranch

Sprawling across 4,000 verdant acres on Oahu’s Windward Coast, Kualoa Ranch offers just about every adventure you can imagine, from horseback riding and zip-lining to kayaking and ATV tours. This private nature reserve is also a popular Hollywood filming spot; movie tours lead visitors past familiar landmarks from films and TV shows such as Jurassic Park, 50 First Dates, and Lost.

You can also relax at Kualoa’s exclusive Secret Island Beach, where you can swim, kayak, play beach volleyball, or simply enjoy the views of Mokolii, a small island off the coast also known as “Chinaman’s Hat.”

Other adventurous things to do in Oahu include a hike or off-road expedition with North Shore EcoTours. The company operates on private conservation land, so there are no other tourists around.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”5132_ATV02,5132MOVIE,5132EXP”]

Hit the Beach

oahu beach

Waikiki is the island’s most famous (and most crowded) beach, but there are plenty of other golden stretches of sand on Oahu where you can lay your towel. On the island’s Windward (eastern) Coast is Kailua Beach Park, which spans more than two miles and includes bathroom facilities, picnic tables, and multiple parking lots. Its calm waters are popular for swimming and kite surfing. Nearby is Lanikai Beach, which some travelers find even more beautiful, despite its lack of facilities and limited parking.

On the North Shore are beaches with towering wintertime waves for surfing, including Waimea Bay and Sunset Beach. Or head to the Leeward Coast on the west side of the island to catch the sunset from Keawaula Beach, also known as Yokohama; keep an eye out for dolphins or whales.

Help alleviate the environmental effects of your visit by participating in a beach cleanup. The company Travel2change offers a variety of activities like a yoga class or biking trip combined with a beach cleanup after your desired activity.

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Soak Up Local History and Culture

performer at polynesian cultural center

Oahu may be best known for beaches and natural beauty, but it’s also home to a wealth of fascinating cultural attractions. Start with the Polynesian Cultural Center, where you can watch performances and visit villages representing the cultures of Hawaii, Tahiti, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, and Aotearoa. The popular attraction now offers immersive cultural experiences with locals like the Umu Making Experience. Each ticket entry (when purchased online) allows you to come back for free for three days, so you can experience other parts of the center.

Learn about the island’s history at Hawaii Plantation Village, which features restored buildings from the sugar plantation era of 1850 through 1950. Follow it up with a visit to Queen Emma Summer Palace, the former royal mountain retreat that’s now a museum housing furniture and regalia belonging to the 19th-century queen. Oahu is also home to spectacular museums like the Bishop Museum, Honolulu Museum of Art, the Hawaii State Art Museum, Iolani Palace, and the Shangri La Museum of Islamic Art, Culture & Design.

And don’t discount Oahu’s modern art scene; street art is increasingly prominent in Honolulu and its surrounding neighborhoods. Check out Pow! Wow!’s interactive mural map of Oahu.

Taste the Island Flavors

hawaiian poke

From fresh seafood (poke, anyone?) to shave ice, Oahu offers plenty of delicious flavors to sample throughout your trip. A great place to start is at the many farmers’ markets that take place around the island, offering locally grown produce and artisan food items. You can visit the North Shore Country Market on Saturday mornings, the Windward Mall on Wednesdays and Sundays, or a number of others supported by the Hawaii Farm Bureau. If you’re in Oahu on a Saturday or Tuesday evening, check out the KCC Farmer’s Market for fresh and local food like fried mochi balls, seafood, coffee, and more.

Also be sure to explore the island’s more modern neighborhoods like Kaka’ako for juice bars, farm-to-table dining, and its own farmers’ market. And don’t leave the North Shore without trying shave ice: Visitors line up for the famed Matsumoto Shave Ice, and it’s worth it!

And, of course, you can’t visit Hawaii without going to a luau. This traditional Polynesian-style feast typically features pork roasted in an umu, or underground oven, as well as other Hawaiian dishes such as poi (mashed taro) and poke. Some of the most popular luau events on Oahu include the Alii Luau at the Polynesian Cultural Center and the Ka Moana Luau at Sea Life Park.

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Take a Hike

hiker on mountaintop in oahu

Stretch your legs and enjoy some of Oahu’s best views by incorporating a hike or two into your vacation. One popular, not too strenuous option is the Makapuu Lighthouse Trail, located along the Kalanianaole Highway east of Honolulu. The two-mile paved trail overlooks the ocean; keep an eye out for whales in season.

Not far away is a significantly more challenging hike, the Koko Crater Railway Trail, where railroad ties now serve as steps for a steep uphill climb. The reward for all that effort? Sweeping views of Hanauma Bay, Diamond Head, and other landmarks in the eastern part of Oahu.

Other trails to consider include the Kuliouou Ridge Hike and the coastal trail at Kaena Point State Park.

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Stroll Through Gorgeous Gardens

pink flowers in oahu

Nature lovers will enjoy the lush foliage and vibrant flowers in botanical gardens across the island. A particular highlight is Waimea Valley, where a walking trail winds through a mix of tropical plants and cultural sites on the way to a waterfall visitors can swim in.

Hoomaluhia Botanical Garden is another serene place for a stroll, spanning some 400 acres of plants from various parts of Asia, Africa, Polynesia, and the Americas. Or you can wander among the native Hawaiian plants at Wahiawa Botanical Garden, located just down the road from Dole Plantation.

You can also stop by Byodo-In Temple, a scale replica of a Japanese temple surrounded by Japanese-style gardens.

Hit the Water

surfer north shore oahu

If you wanted to, you could spend the majority of your vacation enjoying the crashing waves and turquoise waters surrounding Oahu. Learn to hang 10 with a surfing lesson at Uncle Bryan’s Sunset Suratt Surf Academy or North Shore Surf Girls. Or, for something a little different, go “canoe surfing” with We Go! Island Canoe in Kailua. On the North Shore, Sea and Board Sports Hawaii offers a little of everything, from stand-up paddleboarding to glass-bottom kayaking.

And don’t neglect Oahu’s underwater world. Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve, just a short drive from Honolulu, is one of the island’s most popular snorkeling spots, but you can also snorkel right off the beach at Shark’s Cove or Kuilima Cove on the North Shore.

The brave can book an open snorkeling session with famed marine biologist Ocean Ramsey and her company One Ocean Diving. The pelagic shark research snorkel teaches you about shark safety, biology, and conservation. And yes, you really get to swim in the open ocean with these fantastic animals.

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Play a Round

golf course oahu

The spectacular views at Oahu’s courses might ruin you for golf at home, but it’s a risk worth taking. Many of the most popular courses are on the grounds of resorts, including Ko Olina Golf Club, which features a Ted Robinson-designed course with plenty of water features, and Turtle Bay, which has two 18-hole courses on the scenic North Shore.

Non-resort courses to consider include the Ewa Beach Golf Club, a challenging course on the western side of the island, and the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club, offering lush foliage and mountain views on Oahu’s eastern side.

Learn About Agritourism

giant machine cog on display at the decommissioned Kahuku sugar mill plantation on the island of Oahu Hawaii

Many of Hawaii’s former sugar plantations are getting a second life. One example is Ko Hana Distillers, which is a rum distillery set on a former sugar plantation. You can even combine a distillery tour with a hike through the company Hawaii Forest & Trail. Or experience even more agritourism with the Farm to Forest Experience, which includes a tour of a working organic farm and a hike with amazing views.

A visit to Gunstock Ranch is another agritourism experience on Oahu. The ranch is home to a Hawaiian Legacy forest and offers tours to help plant trees as well as go horseback riding or tour the ranch. 

Kahumana offers tours of its organic farm, which offers vocational training for locals struggling with homelessness or disability. You can also enjoy a delicious meal on site at the Kahumana Cafe.

Kahuku Farms offers tours as well as a cafe featuring ingredients grown on site. At the Dole Plantation, you can take a train tour, find your way through a garden maze, and sample ice cream made with the company’s famous pineapples.

Discover WWII History

uss bowfin submarine admiral clarey bridge oahu.

Of course, no visit to Oahu is complete without a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial, but there are three other Pearl Harbor Historic Sites that are also worth visiting: the Battleship Missouri Memorial, USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park, and the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum. Experiences range from guided tours to climbing aboard a real WWII-era submarine. The USS Missouri Memorial and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are located on Ford Island and accessible via shuttle buses. Here you can tour the historic battleship, see the battle-damaged airfield, and even walk inside hangars with a fleet of vintage airplanes. Tours and passes are available for all four sites.

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to Hawaii as a guest of Hawaiian Airlines and Barclays. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration. 

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2019. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this story.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel

The 12 Best National Parks in Europe


The United States may seem like the obvious choice for a national park vacation, especially for American travelers, but Europe has an abundance of national parks worth exploring as well. Whether your thing is hiking fjords in Norway, exploring castle ruins in Portugal, or sampling local cheese in Slovenia, the national parks of Europe appeal to a wide range of interests.

Ready to get inspired? Here are 12 of the best national parks in Europe.

Jotunheimen National Park, Norway

About 100 kilometers southwest of the Norway’s oldest national park, you’ll find Jotunheimen National Park, home to Norway’s highest mountain, Galdhopiggen.

It’s got all the water features you’d want for an outdoor adventure: waterfalls, rivers, lakes, and glaciers. It’s also known for its spectacular day hikes and hut-to-hut treks, including the famous Besseggen Ridge. People come here to ski, river raft, and glacier walk, too.

While you’re in the (relative) area, pay a visit to the largest glacier in continental Europe.

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Saxon Switzerland National Park (Germany)/Bohemian Switzerland National Park (Czech Republic)

Don’t let the name throw you off: Saxon Switzerland National Park borders the Czech Republic and is nowhere near Switzerland. The park continues into the Czech Republic where it is called Bohemian Switzerland National Park (there’s even a border crossing for hikers, though with more than 150 square miles of trails, including some for cyclists, you may not need to leave the country).

Rock climbers can choose from among 700-plus sandstone summits, carved by the Elbe River for millions of years. You don’t have to dangle from a rope, however, to appreciate the flower-filled valleys, chalky cliffs, mesas, and surrounding castles and fortresses. In fact, one of the best ways to take in the rocky terrain is from the source that created it: the Elbe. Entrance to the park is free.

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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Lakes make up only one percent of Plitvice Lakes National Park‘s surface area (the northwest part of the park is a beech-fir forest), but they’re one of its biggest draws. There are 12 in the Upper Lakes area and four in the Lower Lakes group.

Boardwalk-style hiking trails lead around many of them, allowing you to get up close without disturbing the delicate ecosystem. The steep canyons make for dramatic waterfalls, including Great Waterfall, the highest in the country. And because limestone is prone to weathering, sinkholes and caves like Supljara Cave have formed in the park. Admission prices vary with the seasons, but include boat rides on Lake Kozjak and panoramic train rides.

Plitvice Lakes National Park is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its geological and ecological value. The karst topography, defined by its limestone and dolomite rocks, retains water in the lakes thanks to tufa formations that act as a natural barrier.

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Vatnajokul, Iceland

The largest national park in Iceland, Vatnajokull covers 13 percent of the country and encompasses the Vatnajokull glacier, as well as the area that once made up Skaftafell and Jokulsarglijufur national parks. This is where fire meets ice in the form of glaciers and volcanoes.

For those looking to climb the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur, Skaftafell is a good place to start. Another popular hiking route takes visitors along a canyon from Asbyrgi to Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Europe.

The park’s lowland areas are the most easily accessible, with highland areas being only accessible by 4×4 vehicle for a few months at the height of summer and beginning of autumn. In the winter, ice caves formed by water or the geothermal activity are a popular draw. And though outside the park, Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon is also worth a stop if only to glimpse the icebergs floating on the lake’s waters.

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North York Moors National Park, England

North York Moors National Park is part forest, part moorland, with a mix of heathland, bog, and coastal cliffs thrown in. Wandering through villages on the rocky coastline between bays and beaches will give you an entirely different sense of the park than wandering through the higher ground covered in heather, turning the moors into a purple magic carpet in summer.

Explore the coast on the cliff path, part of the Cleveland Way National Trail, but otherwise don’t worry too much about sticking to trails; most of the park is open access, so you can wander at will through wooded valleys and past grazing sheep.

Beyond the natural features of the park, this chunk of earth has witnessed a considerable amount of history, with remains in the area dating to the end of the last Ice Age (tools and camps from the first hunters) on through the Cold War (concrete bunkers). Roman fortifications, ancient crosses, and medieval castles and abbeys are seemingly (and fortunately) unavoidable.

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Triglav National Park, Slovenia

It may be Slovenia’s only national park, but Triglav National Park preserves three percent of the country’s land, including much of the Julian Alps, the park’s namesake mountain, and the country’s highest peak, Triglav. Several mountaineering routes lead adventurous climbers to the top.

Elsewhere in Triglav National Park, deep gorges carved by the park’s rivers contrast with the high peaks, while caves have formed in the limestone mountainsides. It’s no surprise that hiking trails offer one of the best ways to appreciate the varied park features.

There are 25 settlements within Triglav, and many of the inhabitants make their living from agriculture (try the local hard and soft cheeses made from cow’s or sheep’s milks). Just outside the park’s eastern edge, picturesque Lake Bled is a good base for exploring the park’s attractions like Vintgar Gorge.

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Bialowieza National Park, Poland

On the border with Belarus, Bialowieza National Park is a rare area of undisturbed nature. It’s Poland’s oldest national park, covering the central part of Bialowieza Forest, considered the last original bit of European lowland forest. Because of its extensive old-growth forest and the role it plays in conserving the area’s biodiversity, Bialowieza National Park was named UNESCO World Heritage Site.

It’s also is also home to the largest population of European bison, with breeding reserves located within the park. The oldest (and most protected) sections of the park are only accessible with a guide, but there are areas for hiking and biking that do not require supervision. Admission fees to the park are minimal.

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Cevennes National Park, France

The appeal of Cevennes National Park (website in French) is varied. For some, the park is at its best in summer thanks to canoeing, kayaking, climbing, caving, and fishing. For others, it’s winter with snowshoeing, tobogganing, and Nordic skiing. But whether you hang out in the woods, moors, and meadows or the valleys, mountains, and gorges, you’ll likely see traces of human settlements past and present. People have inhabited the lands here since at least 400,000 B.C.E., and much remains: ancient megaliths from the Neolithic era, Roman ruins, medieval churches and monasteries, mills once famous for producing silk, and remnants of silver, coal, and iron mines, including water towers and railway tracks.

Eight national hiking trails cross through Cevennes National Park, which has hundreds of miles of marked trails, including mountain bike and equestrian routes. Around 300 footpaths with the average length of about five miles make for easy day hikes, though the park is equally great for scenic drives. Forage for mushrooms and chestnuts, among other edibles, but make sure you’re not picking them from private property.

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Gargano National Park, Italy

Forgo the most well-known national park in the country, Cinque Terre, and skip the also-packed Amalfi Coast for even more gorgeous cliff-side villages, hikes, and Mediterranean views in the less-traveled Gargano National Park. Located in Puglia in the “spur” of Italy’s boot, the rocky coastline of white limestone cliffs abutting turquoise blue waters of the Adriatic is a major draw. But Gargano National Park also encompasses wetlands, valleys dotted with wild orchids, and woodlands in the Foresta Umbra.

Millions of years ago, this section of land was disconnected from mainland Italy, which helps explain the dramatic geography dotted with almond, orange, and olive trees. The Tremiti islands also form a section of the park with the most developed, San Domino, also being the only isle in the archipelago with a sand beach. And there are enough coves, caves, and sea stacks to fill a photo album.

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Sarek National Park, Sweden

Sweden has a ton of national parks worth exploring, including Tyresta National Park (an easy day trip from Stockholm) and Fulufjallet, home to the country’s tallest waterfall and one of world’s oldest trees (more than 9,500 years old and counting). But Sarek is otherworldly.
The inaccessibility of the park (you have to hike or ski in and will probably end up wading through water since there are few bridges) only adds to its allure. This is the real wild, with no marked trails. Reading a map and compass aren’t just nice to know—they’re essential. The park contains nearly 100 glaciers and almost half of Sweden’s tallest peaks, including Barddetjahkka, the country’s most easily ascended 2,000-meter summit with views of its largest glacier.

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Peneda Geres, Portugal

Abutting the border with Spain, Portugal’s only national park is notable for its castles, culture, and ponies—Peneda Geres is full of wild Garrano ponies that have been in the region since the first millennium B.C.E. Today, you can find domesticated ponies that will take you across the park’s countryside. Granite cliffs, forests, and bogs keep the terrain interesting.

Castles like Laboreiro and monasteries like Santa Maria dos Pitoes are popular spots within the park for those interested in history. Beyond castles, remnants from earlier eras like megalithic tombs and a Roman road that you can still cross via bike are evidence of the area’s long history.

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Archipelago National Park, Finland

You might expect to find Archipelago National Park, with more islands than any other archipelago in world, in someplace like the Maldives. But this park and UNESCO Biosphere reserve is in the Baltic Sea off the southwest coast of Finland. The fairly remote location is reached by ferry, taxi boat, rented motor or sailboat, or kayak.

The larger islands have villages where cattle and sheep still graze, while some of the smaller ones are rocky islets. Oro Fortress Island, a former military area, was only recently reopened to visitors. Because it was closed for so long, it has protected threatened species and habitats. All the islands are good for birding, and you may also spot moose and seals. Two underwater nature trails off Stora Hasto Island give snorkelers and divers a different perspective on the landscape. Off Dalskar Island are statues on the seabed.

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What to Pack

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