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Adventure Travel Cities Outdoors

The 7 Most Beautiful Places on Earth

Need a little inspiration for your next vacation, either real or imagined? SmarterTravel’s editors have crisscrossed the planet, visiting dozens of countries on every continent—and these are the spots they’ve declared the most beautiful places in the world.

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

The Antarctic Peninsula, Antarctica

“Antarctica feels otherworldly. It’s devoid of human life, with an almost eerie emptiness in places—no manmade buildings, no power lines, no planes flying overhead, and no lights. Simultaneously, it teems with natural life, from penguins calling for their mates in a cacophony of sounds to fur seals lurking below the surface waiting to pounce on their next meal. All that against a backdrop of towering mountains, brilliantly blue glaciers, and an unpolluted sky—I’ve yet to find anywhere else on earth that can compare.” — Caroline Morse Teel, Principal Editor

Granada, Spain

sunset over the alhambra in Granada, SPain

“Like all the towns in Andalucia, Granada is something special. The architecture, the food, and the people all make for a memorable trip. But the real gem in Granada is the Alhambra. Climb up the steep, skinny streets of the Albayzin neighborhood to the Mirador de San Nicolás and watch the sun set over the Alhambra. It’s been (accurately) called ‘the most beautiful sunset in the world’ and is one of those magical experiences that will stay with you forever.” — Noemi de la Torre, Senior Photo Editor

South Island, New Zealand

landscape south island new zealand.

“My then-partner (now husband) and I were reduced almost to speechlessness during a road trip around New Zealand’s spectacular South Island. ‘Wow,’ I said as we rounded a curve and a crystalline lake spread out before us. ‘Wow,’ he echoed a few minutes later as the late-day sun cast a rosy glow across hulking mountains capped with snow. Glaciers, fjords, beaches—the South Island has it all, and it’s all stunning.” — Sarah Schlichter, Deputy Executive Editor

Krka National Park, Croatia

Krka National Park was supposed to be a small pit stop on my guided trip to Split, but it ended up being the highlight of the week. Rivers and streams crisscross the ground beneath you as you navigate the forest on elevated wooden pathways. The entire journey has a deep stillness to it, with only your own footsteps and the sounds of water and bird calls to interrupt. Finally, at the end of the walk, you’re greeted by a picnic ground surrounded by tiers of beautiful waterfalls. The views were stunning and, on the way out, I got to visit a family of wild kittens—so it was probably the best day ever.”  — Carol McPherson, Video Editor/Creator

Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia, Canada

great bear rainforest section

“The Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia haunts my dreams in the best possible way. I only spent two days there, but even that short amount of time earns it a spot at the top of my list. This picture was taken after a short flight from Vancouver Island to the tiny wilderness lodge of Nimmo Bay. It was an intoxicating blur of dense temperate rainforest hikes, paddling bays so still that my kayak seemed to skim above the clouds, and rushing waterfalls that exhaled the rainforest into the sea.” — Christine Sarkis, Executive Editor

Haputale Tea Country, Sri Lanka

Haputale tea country Sri Lanka.

“The most beautiful places are always the ones that photos inevitably can’t do justice. And for me, that paradox always brings to mind Sri Lankan tea country. I took a rickety train ride to Haputale in monsoon-season rains, snaking through verdant slopes and misty gorges made even more dream-like by the drizzle. As if the postcard-esque viaducts and Nine Arch Bridge along the way weren’t enough, meeting Haputale’s local tea pickers in a cloud forest precariously perched at 7,000 feet above sea level certainly was. From the foothills of Agarapatana Plantation I was gobsmacked by the views, which only grew more dream-like as we ascended to the peak to enjoy many fresh cups of tea, served with roti and sweets, overlooking the cloud cover that would occasionally break to reveal miles of rolling greenery below. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to walking into the pages of a Dr. Seuss book and staying a while.” — Shannon McMahon, Editor of News and Features

Tayrona National Park, Colombia 

tayrona national park.

“Many of the world’s most beautiful places come with crowds of tourists and lines that you have to wait in; it’s rare to find that true sense of unspoiled beauty. And when you do, it’s often far, far away from the beaten path. But you’ll usually find that it’s the search that makes the final destination worth it, and that’s exactly the case with Tayrona National Park in Colombia. A trip here makes you feel like you’re on your own journey of youthful exploration in Lord of the Flies. Hours from the vibrant city of Cartagena sit miles and miles of coastline where the Sierra Nevada foothills kiss the Caribbean coast. Find relaxation in the secluded coves and lagoons, or trek in the rainforest to ancient Taryonan ruins. To get here, find the beach city of Santa Marta and then make your way via bus to the forest. There are plenty of hidden retreats and treehouses to stay at, where inviting hammocks swing in the wind waiting for you. There’s nothing quite like following a winding path in the rainforest that suddenly ends with golden sand and open ocean.” —Ashley Rossi, Senior Editor

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At Home Entertainment Health & Wellness Outdoors

Forest Bathing Audio Experience

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

Don’t have Spotify? Find Virtual Vacations on your preferred listening platform here.

Let’s head into nature for a guided virtual forest bathing experience. Traditional forest bathing strengthens your relationship to nature by connecting you via your five senses.

We’ve created these audio tours to transport you to inspiring destinations around the world, even when you can’t be there in person. So settle in and let’s imagine a peaceful walk through a beautiful forest. Along the way, we’ll practice some traditional forest-bathing techniques to help you relax and connect with the outdoors.

Note that each virtual vacation begins with a short breathing exercise to help you come into the moment and make the most of your virtual vacation.

Discover more Virtual Vacations.

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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.

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

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At Home

Messages of Hope Around the World Amid the Pandemic

In this time of isolation, businesses and individuals around the world are sending out messages of hope. Discover, in photos, how we’re keeping our spirits up during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hotels Lighting Vacant Windows

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

In Philadelphia, the Four Seasons Hotel lit up its windows with a heart.

Boston, Massachusetts

Encore Boston Harbor lit up heart covid-19
Encore Boston Harbor lit up heart covid-19

The Encore Boston Harbor lit up windows in vacant rooms in the shape of a heart. A few nights later it displayed the message “Be Strong.”

New York, New York

moxy east village lights hotel rooms blue in heart SHape

Moxy East Village lit vacant rooms blue in support of health care heroes, essential workers, and first responders across the city.

Rainbows Everywhere

Rome, Italy

Italians locked up in the quarantined house display the rainbow flag with the words "everything will be fine".

During the nationwide lockdown, Italians quarantined in their houses are putting up rainbow flags with the words “everything will be fine.”

Nottingham, England

Nottingham city Rainbow messages of hope from children displayed on advertising board outside Intu shopping mall Nottingham.

Rainbow messages of hope from children all around England are displayed on a digital advertising board outside Intu Victoria Centre in Nottingham.

Montreal, Canada

House window with rainbow drawings and slogan "Ca va bien Aller" as message of hope in Montreal part of "It's going to be OK" movement during CoVID19 epidemic

Rainbow drawings appear in a home window with the slogan “ca va bien aller” (“it’s going to be OK”) as a message of hope in Montreal.

City Landmarks Lighting Up

New York, New York

Famous landmarks in New York City were lit up blue in a tribute to healthcare workers battling COVID-19.

Montreal, Canada

montreal rainbow bridges lit up

The Jacques Cartier bridge will be lit up in rainbow colors throughout the month of April to let Montrealers know they’re not alone. 

Signs of Solidarity

Bloomington, Indiana

The Buskirk-Chumley Theater in Bloomington, Indiana, has put the famous Mr. Rogers quote on its marquee.

Rutherford, New Jersey

Sign on the lawn of the Rutherford United Methodist Church during the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

A sign on the lawn of the Rutherford United Methodist Church in Rutherford, New Jersey, offers a message of hope.

Atlanta, Georgia

Emory Hospital entrance; signs of support during the COVID-19 pandemic

A sign reads “heroes work here” in front of the entrance to Atlanta’s Emory Hospital.

Cheerleaders from Home

Spain

In Spain, residents all over the country came out to their windows and balconies to applaud healthcare workers.

United Kingdom

#ClapForOurCarers has become a weekly demonstration of appreciation in the U.K. Kensington Palace posted a video of Prince George, Princess Charlotte, and Prince Louis joining in to clap for healthcare workers.

Italy

While on lockdown, people in Italy have clapped and cheered and sung opera from their balconies. Recently, people all over the country staged a “flash mob,” shining lights out of their windows.

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At Home

Audio Escape: Zion National Park

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

Don’t have Spotify? Find Virtual Vacations on your preferred listening platform here.

Come with us on a meditative hike through Zion National Park. Imagine the towering red rocks, hear the gurgle of newly formed streams, and feel the cool mist of waterfalls on your face as you wander the canyon.

We’ve created these audio tours to transport you to inspiring destinations around the world, even when you can’t be there in person. So settle in, close your eyes, and breathe in the fresh air of one of the United States’ most popular parks.

Note that each virtual vacation begins with a short breathing exercise to help you come into the moment and make the most of your virtual vacation.

Discover more Virtual Vacations.

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At Home Cities

Escape to Paris: A Relaxing Audio Tour Walk

Welcome to Virtual Vacations, our series of meditative audio travel tours of both popular and off-the-beaten-path destinations around the world.

Don’t have Spotify? Find Virtual Vacations on your preferred listening platform here.

Come with us on a meditative walking tour of Paris. Starting at a small, peaceful park, we’ll take a walk to a cafe. Along the way, we’ll wander from the Left Bank over the Ile de la Cite, along the Ile Saint-Louis, and across to the Right Bank.

We’ll pass gardens, parks, and bistros, cross bridges, and soak up the springtime splendor of Paris. We’ve created these audio tours to transport you to inspiring destinations around the world, even when you can’t be there in person. So settle in, close your eyes, and imagine yourself exploring the City of Light.

Note that each virtual vacation begins with a short breathing exercise to help you come into the moment and make the most of your virtual vacation.

Discover more Virtual Vacations.

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Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Romantic Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Student Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

9 Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms We're Dreaming About

You don’t need to be a nature expert to appreciate the seas of colorful flowers that mark the end of winter each year, or to get lost in photos of them. Some of the world’s biggest and best spring flower blooms turn travel-worthy spots like national parks and famous cities into a sea of color.

The World’s Most Whimsical Spring Flower Blooms

Here’s where to look for a breathtaking dose of color in spring, and which ones offer livestreams.

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.

Mount Fuji, Japan

Spring flower blooms

Every April and May, pink-hued flowers blanket the meadows at the base of Mount Fuji. The Shibazakura Festival marks the occasion, drawing crowds who stroll through the electric-pink fields and snack at the many local food stalls that set up to offer Japanese buns, ramen, soups, and more. During the peak spring flower bloom this is one of the most photogenic places in the world. You can livestream the blooms here.

Death Valley, Southern California

spring flower blooms

Southern California’s parks are home to many different types of spring flower blooms, and they come to life earlier than most thanks to the region’s warm climate. Death Valley National Park and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park are popular for yellow and purple desert flowers that peek through the cracked desert floor as early as March. The Antelope Valley’s California Poppy Reserve becomes a sea of yellow, orange, and red poppies around April—and can look like a scene straight out of the Wizard of Oz. The small orange variation of poppy happens to be the state flower of California.

The California Parks Department offers a poppy live-stream here.

Keukenhof, Netherlands

spring flower blooms

If rainbow palettes of tulips don’t come to mind when you think of the Netherlands, it’s time to venture beyond Amsterdam. Spring is a great time to head into the countryside to discover windmill-dotted fields of bright tulips, which often bloom as late as May. The Flower Bulb Region is home to vast tulip farms as well as public gardens like Keukenhof—one of the largest botanical gardens in the world, and home to seven million flowers. You can virtually tour the gardens here.

Western Australia (September)

spring flower blooms

Take your pick of Western Australia’s incredible array of wildflower trails in September—the southern hemisphere’s spring. Guided or self-driven spring flower bloom tours are available in wildflower-blanketed Perth, along the Coral Coast, and as far north as Pilbara. Options include the Esperance Wildflower Trail, wild orchids south of Perth, and rainbow desert blooms in Broome to the north.

Valley of Flowers National Park, India

spring flower blooms

India’s Valley of Flowers is both a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its six miles of alpine flowers and rare, protected wildlife. Nestled between the Himalayas and the sacred Ganges River in Uttarakhand, the valley has 1,000 different species of flowers, including daisies, poppies, rhododendrons, lavender, and more. Hike along its waterways and through pastures blanketed in spring flower blooms—just keep an eye out for Himalayan black bears.

Monet’s House and Gardens, France

spring flower blooms

Claude Monet’s mesmerizing flowers don’t only exist in paintings. See the lavender and lily pad-filled settings that inspired his works in Giverny, France, where you can visit the Impressionist artist’s house and gardens. The grounds are separated into two main gardens: one around the house that includes an orchard and bulb flowers like daffodils, and an enchanting Japanese water garden across the street.

Texas Hill Country, U.S.

spring flower blooms

Combine wildflowers with wineries in Texas Hill Country, west of bustling Houston. Spring flower blooms come early to the Lone Star State, so you can get a jump start on summer by heading to Fredericksburg or Brenham to see the region’s famed bluebonnets—which the nearby Bluebonnet Wine Trail is named for. Stop at wineries and spot classic Texan ranches along the way.

Kew Gardens, London, England

Spring flower blooms

Spring flower blooms don’t have to require a trek from the city, especially if you’re in London. The U.K. capital has an abundance of gardens that come to life every spring, and Kew Royal Botanic Gardens is London’s largest UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its 300 acres house 27,000 colorful plants, and are thick with tulips, poppies, peonies, and cherry blossoms each spring. The gardens even offer online educational horticulture courses so you can learn to identify species of plants.

Tidal Basin, Washington, D.C.

washington monument with cherry blossoms tidal basin.

Washington, D.C.’s Tidal Basin is famously popular in spring for the thousands of cherry trees gifted to the park by the mayor of Tokyo, Japan, over a century ago. The pink and white buds explode into peak bloom all at once in a matter of just a few days, typically in March or April. The National Mall’s live webcam is here.

Share Your Virtual Vacation or Travel Inspiration with Us:

Are you itching to travel? So are we … that’s why we started the #GoLater campaign on social media. We want to see which destinations YOU are dreaming of. Head over to our Instagram channel (@smartertravel) to learn more. 

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel

8 Hard-to-Plan Dream Trips to Research at Home While You Have the Time

In stressful times like this global pandemic, it’s easy to get caught up in fear, confusion, and the never-ending news cycle. But perhaps the best way to escape it all is to mentally dive into a good vacation. Researching your dream trip of choice is a helpful reminder that the world will go back to normal again—and when it does, you’ll have a decisive plan of action for a trip you’re excited to take. Whether it’s a new type of travel for you (sailing, hiking, train itineraries, or road tripping) or a destination you’re unfamiliar with, now’s the time to tackle all your wildest travel ambitions.

Here are the dream trips we’re researching while we’re stuck at home, and where to look for the most reliable and up-to-date information on each.

Island Hopping Greece’s Far-Flung Islands

aerial view agios sosts zakynthos greece

While Greece’s main hot spots get a break from the overtourism they’ve faced for years, explore the country’s thousands of islands online to find out which groupings are best for your travel style.

There are the easily accessible Ionian Islands of the north (think Corfu and Zakynthos), more remote North Aegean options near Turkey, and, of course, the famous Cyclades: hard-partying Mykonos and picturesque Santorini included. But you also won’t want to miss their smaller siblings either: Folegandros, Milos, Amorgos, and more are among the lesser-known Cycladic gems. There’s simply not enough time to see them all, so why not choose now which ones you want to see later?

Where to look: Visit Greece’s guide to the Greek Islands is the perfect place to start. Here you can download brochures, guides, and maps, and sign up for their newsletter.

An Off-the-Beaten-Path African Safari

zebras botswana okavango delta khwai.

Go beyond the standard South African romp by extending your dream trip into even more untouched areas like Botswana’s Okavango Delta, where you can safari via canoe, or Zambia’s Liuwa Plain, one of the oldest nature reserves on the continent.

Where to look: African Parks is a 16-park nonprofit organization that advises travelers on up-to-date travel information, including travel advisories and which parks are leading in balancing conservation and tourism. You can find information about visiting each park here, and sign up for their good-news newsletter here.

Hiking Jordan Top-to-Bottom

camels Wadi Rum desert Jordan.

Petra is far from the only site to see in Jordan, which recently opened its new 400-mile Jordan Trail to hikers’ delight. If you’re not aiming to tackle the entire route, you can opt instead for mapping out the sections you would like to conquer, like the southernmost part of the route from Petra to the Red Sea’s world-renowned snorkeling and scuba sites.

Where to look: You can virtually explore the Jordan Trail and monitor when its sites will reopen here.

Meeting Penguins on Antarctica

chinstrap penguin antarctica.

Watching nature documentaries at home can certainly make your travel bug act up. And there’s perhaps no wilder adventure than heading to the southernmost continent for untouched beauty and penguins.

Where to look: Read about one SmarterTravel editor’s Antarctic adventures at sea, and bookmark our 12 Amazing Ways to Explore Antarctica for when tour companies heading to the icy continent reopen.

A Grand Wildlife Tour of the Galapagos

darwin's finch galapagos islands.

A warmer wildlife adventure than setting out for the South Pole, Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands are an adventure of a lifetime that you’ll need to plan to a tee considering environmental regulations limit access to government-trained tour guides. Species unique to the islands include Galapagos penguins, tortoises, sea lions, rare birds like waved albatross and blue-footed boobies, and more.

Where to look: The Galapagos Conservancy offers travel information like its sustainability restrictions/park rules, where to plan a dream trip, and corporate travel partners that enforce policies in line with the islands’ standards. You can sign up for their newsletter here for updates on all of those topics.

Seeing Japan’s Cherry Blossoms by Bullet Train

cherry blossom japan bullet train.

With Japan’s cherry blossom festivals canceled this year, many travelers vying for this dream trip during peak season start planning up to a year in advance to ensure they’ll get their ideal hotel during what’s usually the busiest time of year for the country’s tourism. The fast and affordable bullet trains, which were recently updated to accommodate the now-postponed Olympics, are the best way to get around the mainland.

Where to look: The Japan Rail Pass website is perhaps the best way to familiarize yourself with Japan’s regions and transportation options, and it provides cherry-blossom-season information here, including information about the typical timing of peak blooms for different regions and major cities.

The Ultimate New Zealand Road Trip

Road Lake Wakatipu Queenstown New Zealand.

Not familiar with New Zealand’s North Island and South Island geography? Most people aren’t aware you can drive both in their entirety if you plan out an appropriate route and spend at least two weeks. That’s a lot of pit stops, hikes, and hotel stays to plan: Check out SmarterTravel’s best places in New Zealand and How to Do New Zealand’s North and South Islands in Two Weeks.

Where else to look: Pure New Zealand provides detailed itineraries and background information on road tripping around the country’s otherworldly landscapes.

The Towers of Pain: Patagonia via Buenos Aires

Patagonia Torres del Paine Three Giant.

Patagonia’s Torres del Paine (or Towers of Paine) National Park is a bucket-list item for hikers, skiers, and just about any outdoor enthusiast. The best way to conquer a trek in 800,000-square-kilometer Patagonia is with a seasoned tour company that can show you the way, but you’ll still need to figure out which season you want to see this spectacular scenery in, how to get there, and if you want to tack on some time in romantic Buenos Aires since most air routes will include a stop there. See our story on planning a trip to Patagonia and check out one SmarterTravel editor’s experience of conquering the challenging paths in winter.

Where to look: The South America Tourism Office has lots of background information and recommended tour providers specific to Patagonia.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel Island Luxury Travel

10 Rules for Sailing the Seychelles

Remote, wild, lush—when the first European explorers discovered the 115-archipelago that is the Seychelles, they thought they had found the Garden of Eden.

Upon arriving at these pristine, white sand, palm tree-fringed islands populated with gorgeous creatures that don’t roam the earth anywhere else, I wasn’t sure that they were wrong.

On my island-hopping cruise around the Seychelles with Zegrahm Expeditions, I learned a few valuable lessons that apply to the Seychelles or any adventure.

Always Get Off the Boat

Our Zegrahm Expeditions cruise director wanted to manage expectations. The snorkeling wasn’t as good as some of the other times, the announcement warned. There was a light chop in the water, and we might not see as many fish as before. Not needing more of an excuse to stay in bed for a long post-lunch nap, many people opted to stay on the boat. I dragged myself out and had one of my favorite snorkels of all time, thanks to two sea turtles that joined me (apparently they didn’t get the announcement). Sure, I swallowed some seawater due to the waves, but I would have always wondered what I’d missed if I didn’t go out.

Take a Trusted Guide (or 14)

Me, on this trip: “I saw a fish; it was shaped like a potato but a bright yellow color.” “What’s that crazy thing that looks like it’s embedded inside a rock but has teeth and moves?” Rich Pagen, a conservation biologist and one of our designated marine life guides/”fish guys” onboard always had an answer for me, no matter how odd my description sounded.

We had a team of 14 expedition guides on this trip, with expertise in microbiology, ornithology, anthropology, and more—it was like having access to a highly specialized (and fact-checked) Wikipedia of the Seychelles. The experts dined with us at every meal and were always socializing in the ship’s lounge at night, so we could corner them with more questions at any time.

Perhaps most importantly, we had Gemma Jessy, a naturalist and native Seychelloise. Gemma grew up on the island of Praslin and was invaluable for her knowledge of the Seychelles’ history, culture, and best places to go.

If you try to do this trip alone, you’ll miss out on the knowledge, stories, and expertise that make it so memorable.

Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid of looking dumb. Ask the question. The experts onboard won’t judge you, and you’ll learn things in a way that you’ll remember for the rest of your life. It’s better to say “hey, what’s that?” any time you see a unique bird or animal and get an instantaneous answer (usually along with a few fun facts) rather than try to Google it yourself later.

However, if you’re the person who asked (while we were on a boat) what elevation we were at, the other guests might judge you a little. Blame your mental lapse on the altitude sickness.

Never Miss a Sunset

On a cruise, your daily life can be a bit regimented. There are set times for meals and activities, with repeated announcements to get you to the right place at the right time. But sunset is an extracurricular that you’ll have to plan for on your own.

Make it a priority to figure out what time the sun sets each day and which side of the boat will be best for viewing. Be settled in well before the sun dips below the horizon, so you can watch the sky gradually change from a golden glow to a fiery red—the show is spectacular, wildly unproductive, and different every night.

Saving time for simple joys in life like a sunset can remind you to slow down and appreciate each day.

Bring SPF 50…

…and a sun shirt, swim tights, and a bandanna. The Seychelles are only a few hundred miles from the equator, and the sun is merciless down here. Any inch of exposed skin gets sunburned after an hour or two in the water, so covering up is the way to go. Just make sure that any sunscreen you wear is reef-safe.

Covering up is a reminder that sometimes, there’s an easier and simpler solution to what you’ve always done (slathering yourself in sunscreen).

Don’t Forget to Look Up

Change your viewpoint from what’s in front of you and you’ll find more stars than you’d know the sky contained. Birds you won’t see anywhere else on the planet, eyeing you with confusion and curiosity but no fear. Clouds lit up by the setting sun. Stunning, clear blue skies with an unbroken horizon that you could lose yourself in.

Sometimes in life, we’re so focused on what’s in front of us, or watching our feet so we don’t trip, that we forget to look up and appreciate the bigger picture.

Minimize Your Impact

The Seychelles are special because they are so untouched by humanity. Follow the “leave no trace” rule by packing out anything you bring in and never stealing anything (like sand or shells) for a souvenir.

Protect the wildlife by keeping your distance from animals, who can catch diseases from humans or learn bad behaviors. Never touch a coral reef (the oils from your skin can cause destruction), and avoid kicking or walking on coral, which can kill it.  

Many of our Zegrahm guides on this trip made their own reef-safe sunscreen, picked up marine trash, and even took home plastic water bottles for recycling—emulate that behavior. 

Don’t Give up the Moment for the Photograph

I could have taken a million photos and videos and never quite accurately recreated the delicate light here, the sparkling emerald-turquoise color of the waves, or the softness of the sand. If I spent the whole time trying, I would have missed out on the real-life moment.

Snap a photo or two and then put the camera down, so you can fully embrace this moment in time that you’ll never have again. Feel the heat of the sun warming your skin. Smell the unpolluted fresh air. Taste the salt spray on your lips. Run the sand through your fingers and marvel at its softness. Be fully present, and the memory will stick with you much longer than any photo.

Leave Your Plastics at Home

The Seychelles have banned plastic bags, cups, plates, and cutlery. Remember that as you’re packing and leave your Ziploc bags behind—and think about how you can replace them with eco-friendly alternatives. It was an eye-opening lesson to me as I was packing for this trip just how much I rely on one-time use plastic bags for travel, and I’ve now replaced them with reusable alternatives.

Be Flexible

The Seychelles are wild, and you can’t plan your trip down to the minute, unless you want to miss out on an amazing snorkel because you refused to wait for the right tide. No matter where you go, you can’t plan every minute of your trip, or you’ll lose the chance for spontaneous adventures to occur.

Be flexible in your plans, release your expectations, and give yourself up to the flow of the islands—you’ll be rightly rewarded.

More from SmarterTravel:

Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by Zegrahm Expeditions on its Ultimate Seychelles Tour With Aldabra Atoll. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline for pictures of the tour and more.

Categories
Cities Photography

10 Eerily Beautiful Photos of Deserted Cities

As countries lock down in an attempt to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic, tourists have canceled their trips and citizens are being told to stay home. The destinations below are usually swarmed with tourists crowding for a good view, trying to get that perfect photo. Today they are largely empty. Streets are deserted, metro stations quiet, shops and cafes closed. These images of empty cities offer a different view that we don’t often, if ever, see—and despite the circumstances, they have a certain melancholy beauty.

Rome, Italy

A Police stands alone in front of the Spanish Steps in Rome, Italy

A police officer stands in front of the Spanish Steps on March 12, 2020.

New York, New York

Times square is practically empty of tourists

Times Square stands mostly empty on March 21, 2020.

Madrid, Spain

Empty puerta del sol in Madrid Spain

Madrid’s Puerta del Sol is deserted on March 15, 2020.

London, England

A lone tourist in deserted London under lockdown during the Corona Virus Covid-19 outbreak.

A lone tourist sits in an empty Trafalgar Square on March 23, 2020.

Florence, Italy

piazza del dumo in florence, italy

Piazza del Duomo is shuttered in Florence on March 24, 2020.

Paris, France

Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

Few tourists gather around the Eiffel Tower on March 17, 2020.

Warsaw, Poland

Empty Old Town Square in Warsaw , Poland

Old Town Square is empty in Warsaw, Poland.

Berlin, Germany

Brandenburg gate Berlin, Germany

Berlin’s famous Brandenburg Gate is void of tourists on March 21, 2020.

Kolkata, India

Railway platform is empty in West Bengal, India Kolkata

A railway platform is empty for Janata Curfew in Kolkata on March 22, 2020.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

typically busy streets of Amsterdam are shown nearly empty as the Coronavirus pandemic

The typically busy streets of Amsterdam are nearly empty on March 7, 2020.

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Active Travel Health & Wellness Outdoors

Some National Parks Are Free Right Now—But Should You Visit?

Editor’s note: Since this story was published, an increasing number of state and national parks have closed to the public. Be sure to check the individual park’s website for the most up-to-date information before you visit.

A visit to a national park seems like a great idea right about now. Getting out of your house, fresh air, and plenty of room to social distance—what could be bad about that?

After Interior Secretary David Bernhardt waived fees for national parks visitors earlier this week, many people may be wondering: Is it okay to visit national parks during the COVID-19 outbreak?

Unfortunately, like much about this pandemic, the answer isn’t simple. Yes, the majority of national parks are remaining open (for now), but many things will be modified.

Essential services (such as visitor centers, restrooms, campground, and shuttles) will be closed as a health precaution. If you do visit a park, you’ll need to be prepared to be totally self-reliant—so come ready with maps, plenty of food and drink, and emergency supplies.

Other parks are experiencing a flood of visitors right now that makes it impossible to follow social distancing guidelines, and that’s sparking concern in residents over an influx of people increasing the risk of contagion. The Mayor of Moab, Emily Niehaus, told the Salt Lake Tribune, “Moab is asking people to please stay in their home community. This is an urgent message to people considering travel to Moab.”

It’s also important to consider if you would be putting park rangers in danger by visiting a park. The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks released a statement saying, “National parks welcome visitors from around the world. Many National Park Service (NPS) employees interact with members of the public daily. These employees should not be exempt from recommendations made by the CDC. Further, to suggest to the public that gathering at national park sites is acceptable when gathering at restaurants, theaters, libraries, and other public spaces is no longer safe is irresponsible to the visiting public and employees.”

If you are considering a trip to a national park, think about whether or not you can do it responsibly.

Before departing, ask yourself: Will you have to travel a long distance to get there, resulting in stops at rest areas, restaurants, and hotels? Or can you travel there and back in your car, from your home, without much public exposure?

Are you visiting a crowded trailhead, where it may be tough to stay six feet away from other groups of hikers, or can you park your car and hike without interacting with anyone else?

If you do decide to go, The NPS is urging park visitors to follow all current CDC guidelines, especially washing hands frequently and most importantly—staying home if you feel sick.

Be sure to check the individual park’s NPS page before visiting, as some parks (especially those in urban environments, such as the National Mall) have closed.

The same advice applies for visiting state parks, some of which may be waiving fees at this time. Check the website for the state park you wish to visit before you go, to confirm it is open and to see what restrictions apply to visitors.

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Caroline Morse Teel is a Principal Editor for SmarterTravel. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline for travel photos and advice.

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).

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Experiential Travel Family Travel Outdoors Road Trip Sustainable Travel

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

No matter how many photos you’ve seen of the Grand Canyon, standing at the rim’s edge for the first time will take your breath away—especially if you’re there at sunset, as the fading light paints shades of rose, violet, and gold onto the ancient rocks. But planning a trip to the Grand Canyon requires more than just booking a hotel and packing your camera.

Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon

When should you travel to avoid the heaviest crowds and the most intense heat? Should you visit the North Rim or the South Rim? Where’s the best place to stay? For answers to these questions and more, read the following tips for planning a trip to the Grand Canyon.

Editor’s note: Many Grand Canyon facilities and tour operators have temporarily closed or made other modifications due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Check each provider’s website for full details before making plans.

South Rim vs. North Rim vs. Grand Canyon West

Grand Canyon National Park is split into two sections: the South Rim and the North Rim, located more than four hours apart by car. Then there’s Grand Canyon West, located on the Hualapai Native American Reservation, four hours from the South Rim and nearly seven hours from the North Rim. If you’re planning a trip to the Grand Canyon and your time is limited, where should you go?

The South Rim is the most visited part of the Grand Canyon for a reason. It has more viewpoints than the North Rim, with more expansive views of the canyon’s depth, as well as a wider range of lodging options and other visitor services. It also has plenty of hiking trails and activities like river rafting and mule rides. If you’re looking for classic Grand Canyon views, this is the place to go.

Popular with hikers and photographers, the North Rim is the South Rim’s quieter, more heavily forested cousin. While the views may be less spectacular, many travelers prefer the North Rim for its undisturbed wildlife and pristine trails.

The key draw at Grand Canyon West is the Skywalk, a glass bridge that extends 70 feet over the canyon for dizzying views on all sides—including right under your feet. (Important note: The Skywalk does not permit cameras or phones. Professional photos are available for sale.) This isn’t the best bet for avid hikers, as there are only two (relatively easy) trails here, but other activities include zip-lining, pontoon boat rides, and touring a Native American village. Grand Canyon West is the closest part of the canyon to Las Vegas, making it a convenient, though long, day trip.

Note that because Grand Canyon West is located on Native American land, it requires a separate entry fee than the North and South Rims, which are administered by the National Park Service.

When to Visit the Grand Canyon

planning a trip to the grand canyon

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, consider visiting the South Rim any time other than summer—especially if you’re hoping to hike all the way down to the bottom of the canyon, where temperatures can soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in July and August. Summer is also the busiest time of year; lodging in the park is expensive and sells out quickly, and viewpoints along the rim can be jammed with crowds.

The South Rim is open all year round, and you’ll find pleasant temperatures and smaller crowds in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall). Even a winter visit can be rewarding; bundle up and enjoy the sight of the canyon dusted with snow.

Thanks to its higher altitude, the North Rim has a cooler climate and is closed between mid-October and mid-May. Fortunately, this part of the park sees fewer visitors and isn’t usually crowded even during the summer high season. Consider visiting in the fall, when the Kaibab National Forest erupts in vibrant colors.

Grand Canyon West, open year-round, is less crowded outside the summer months.

Getting to the Grand Canyon

Most visitors to the Grand Canyon fly into Las Vegas or Phoenix. There’s also a small airport in Flagstaff, just an hour from the South Rim, and some North Rim travelers fly into Salt Lake City. No matter where you land you’ll need to rent a car, as public transit is extremely limited in this part of the U.S.

Once you arrive at the Grand Canyon, you might need to park your car and take a shuttle bus to get around. Grand Canyon West is closed to private vehicles and operates a hop-on, hop-off shuttle around the park, while certain parts of the South Rim are only accessible by bus. A shuttle service makes the 4.5-hour trip between the North and South Rims; it’s particularly handy for rim-to-rim hikers. The North Rim is fully open to private vehicles.

One fun alternative way to arrive at the South Rim is via the Grand Canyon Railway, which runs from the town of Williams, Arizona, into the heart of the park, allowing for a half-day of exploring before returning in the afternoon.

Grand Canyon Lodging

The most convenient Grand Canyon lodging options are within the national park or Grand Canyon West rather than in nearby towns, but these options tend to book up quickly—sometimes months in advance. When planning a trip to the Canyon, reserve your accommodations first.

The South Rim section of Grand Canyon National Park is home to half a dozen lodges, including the venerable El Tovar, which dates back to 1905 and has hosted former presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Bill Clinton. Another option is the Bright Angel Lodge, situated at the top of the park’s most popular trail. There’s also an RV park near the main visitor center, as well as two campgrounds.

If you can’t find lodging within the South Rim section of the park, there’s a handful of options in nearby Tusayan, as well as dozens of hotels (mostly chain motels) in Williams and Flagstaff, each a little more than an hour from the park entrance gates.

The North Rim has just two places to stay inside the park: the Grand Canyon Lodge, which offers motel rooms and cabins, and the North Rim Campground. If these are booked, consider the Jacob Lake Inn, 45 miles away, or head farther afield to Kanab, Utah, or Page, Arizona.

The most unique place to stay at Grand Canyon National Park is Phantom Ranch, located on the canyon floor. The only ways to get there are to hike or ride a mule down.

If you want to stay overnight within Grand Canyon West, you can book a cabin at Hualapai Ranch; each one features a front porch where you can relax and enjoy the desert views.

Grand Canyon Hikes

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, leave time for a hike or two.

The simplest walk at Grand Canyon National Park is the Rim Trail, which stretches for 13—mostly flat—miles along the top of the South Rim. Much of it is paved and wheelchair-accessible, and you can enter and leave the path at any viewpoint.

If your fitness allows, try to hike at least part of the way into the Grand Canyon; you’ll get a completely different perspective than you do from the top.

The most popular South Rim trail into the canyon is the Bright Angel Trail, which is well maintained and offers some shade along the way. Another good option is the South Kaibab Trail—it is a little steeper and has less shade, but boasts slightly more dramatic views if you’re only doing part of the trail. While both of these trails go all the way to the bottom, you can easily transform each of them into a day hike by turning around at one of the mile markers and going back the way you came.

The North Rim offers a variety of day hikes ranging from less than a mile to about 10 miles round-trip. It’s possible to hike into the canyon from the North Rim on the North Kaibab Trail and back out of the canyon via one of the trails on the South Rim (or vice versa); this is recommended only for fit, experienced hikers.

For information on all the trails listed above, see the day hiking information page on NPS.gov.

The National Park Service strongly recommends against hiking down to the river and back in a single day, even if you’re a veteran hiker. Instead, plan to overnight at Phantom Ranch or one of several backcountry campgrounds within the canyon.

Keep in mind that it usually takes twice as long to come back up the trail as it does to go down, and that temperatures at the bottom of the canyon can be up to 20 degrees higher than those at the top. Hundreds of hikers are rescued each year from the canyon due to dehydration, heat exhaustion, or injury.

Grand Canyon West offers just two hiking trails, one easy and one moderate, and neither one goes into the canyon.

One intriguing Grand Canyon hike to consider is the 10-mile (each way) track to Havasu Falls, the famous turquoise cascade you’ve probably seen on your Instagram feed. It’s located on Native American land between the South Rim and Grand Canyon West. Reservations are required (and limited). To learn more, see the NPS website.

Mule Rides, Rafting Trips, and Helicopter Tours

When planning a trip to the Grand Canyon, don’t forget about other activities besides hiking, like riding a mule into the canyon. (Why a mule? They’re more sure-footed than horses.)

From the South Rim you can ride a mule to the Colorado River and spend a night or two at Phantom Ranch, or take a shorter two-hour ride along the rim. (See GrandCanyonLodges.com.) From the North Rim you can take one- or three-hour rides along the rim or part of the way into the canyon. (See CanyonRides.com.) Book as far in advance as possible to guarantee yourself a spot.

Dreaming of rafting the Colorado River? You can take a guided trip in the national park with options from a half-day to more than two weeks, or plan your own trip with a permit from the National Park Service. To plan a one- or two-day rafting trip at Grand Canyon West, visit GrandCanyonWest.com.

Finally, one of the most incredible ways to view the Grand Canyon is from the air. Numerous companies operate helicopter tours over the canyon, including Grand Canyon Helicopters and Papillon.

General Grand Canyon Travel Tips

As soon as you arrive, stop by the visitor center—especially if you have limited time. Park rangers can help design an itinerary to make the most of your visit, suggest hikes to suit your fitness level, and recommend the best viewpoints for sunrise and/or sunset.

The desert heat can be deadly, so hikers should pack plenty of water as well as salty snacks. Bring a reusable bottle that you can fill up at water stations located throughout the national park. Start hiking early in the morning to avoid the midday sun. If you get a headache or start to feel dizzy or sick to your stomach, stop to rest and rehydrate.

The South Rim is located at 7,000 feet above sea level, and the North Rim is at nearly 8,300 feet. Some travelers may experience fatigue, headaches, or other symptoms of altitude sickness.

Stick to the trail. Not only does this protect the landscape, but it also protects you. Numerous tourists have died after falling from the rim of the canyon.

The most crowded viewpoints at the South Rim are those nearest the parking lots and bus stops. To avoid getting a hundred other people in every photo, walk along the Rim Trail in either direction. Often you can snap great shots along the trail or find your way to a less congested viewpoint.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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).

[st_related]The 10 Best Beach Destinations in the World[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]The Essential Beach Packing List[/st_related]

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
Adventure Travel Island

When We Were the Wild Adventurers: Sailing Between the Stars and the Sea in the Seychelles

An expedition cruise conjures up a picture of explorers suffering through harsh conditions to experience some of the most secret corners of the globe. Of rations and camping in battered tents aboard a cold freighter. With Zegrahm Expeditions, an expedition cruise meant surprise macarons on the beach and a floating bar in the bluest, warmest ocean you’ve ever seen—all while still seeing those same hidden places previously reserved for tough explorers.

And yet, on even on a comfortably luxurious cruise ship, I found myself surrounded by explorers. There’s something different about the people you meet onboard an expedition cruise. It wasn’t your standard group of tourists who were just there for the buffet. It was three-course meals eaten next to the only person in the world who’s stood on the bottom of the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan, sitting in a zodiac with someone about to embark on a round-the-world private jet cruise, and drinking a sunset cocktail next to a traveler who could tell me what Tibet was like in the 70s. Every conversation referenced places I couldn’t find on a map, but immediately added to my bucket list.

Meeting people like the gentleman in his 80s who was nearly to his goal of visiting all the national parks in the U.S. and Canada sparked a promise to myself to never stop traveling, learning, or appreciating life.

A Trip Unlike Any Other

sunset in seychelles

The Greek Philosopher Heraclitus said, “you cannot step in the same river twice.” I keenly felt this on the tour, as every snorkel, every dip into the water brought unknown surprises, with tides bringing me past brilliant corals and curious fish that flitted by in a moment that I’d never have again. Likewise, you can’t take the same Zegrahm Expedition trip twice. The Ultimate Seychelles With Aldabra Atoll trip that I took won’t ever be offered again.

The company changes up the trips each time, offering different stops and switching up the game on a daily basis. I dined with a couple who had been on multiple Zegrahm trips across the globe, and asked how they had decided on the Seychelles as their next trip. It was easy, they replied. They asked the Zegrahm staff on their last trip which voyage the guides were all fighting to get assigned to, and picked that one.

While I slept in late, ensconced in my perfectly air-conditioned, silent cabin each morning, the expedition guides were scouting the area for the best landing spot. There was no plan to tear up when the tides dictated a new itinerary, as the staff didn’t make a schedule beyond a general briefing—what we did and where we went depended on what nature had in store for us. The running joke at the briefing was to show a miles-wide circle around the area we were in, and say that we would snorkel “somewhere in here.” Local guides were called in for expertise, helping us find the perfect snorkel sites and deserted beaches.

Le Bouganville ship exterior

Our first day of the voyage was spent at sea as we cruised away from Zanzibar and toward the Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago in the Indian Ocean. I ran on the ship’s treadmill in front of a wall of panoramic windows displaying the real ocean breaking around the ship, while a simulated beach and ocean scene played on the screen before me, and thought:

How much of what we see lives up to real life? We admire photos on Instagram and travel websites that have been edited past all recognition, and are disappointed when we arrive to find crowds of tourists just like us clutching their phones and looking for the perfect shot. Would the much-hyped Seychelles be the same?

“Look around the room,” our expedition leader Brad solemnly advised that night. “By this time tomorrow, one of you will be lobster red. Will it be you?” Spoiler: It was me.

If you want to make God laugh, the saying goes, make plans. If you want to make Mother Nature laugh, be part Irish and face the sun south of the equator with a mere SPF 50. Fortunately, the very fashionable French ship Le Bouganville that we were sailing on had a well-stocked gift shop that sold swim tights (which is obviously what all French women wear to look good at the beach).

I reassured myself that at least wearing these sexy tights every day of the cruise brought the price down to a very reasonable cost per wear. There’s nothing to make you feel more glamorous than washing out a sun-safe uniform in your luxury cruise bathroom with the complimentary Hermes toiletries, but now I was ready to dive in again—which was good, since we were about to arrive at Aldabra Atoll.  

Aldabra Atoll

Our most anticipated stop on this voyage was to the Aldabra Atoll.

Aldabra has been compared to the Galapagos Islands. Both locations are home to hundreds of endemic species, but it seems an unfair analogy for Aldabra to be compared to a destination that’s so relatively invaded by tourism. While the Galapagos see over 225,000 visitors a year, only around 1,000 people get the privilege of setting foot on Aldabra each year.

Aldabra’s relative harshness has been its savior. No fresh water sources are found here, and the area is fairly inaccessible—rough waters make it impossible to visit for a significant portion of the year.

Aldabra consists of four islands around a lagoon. The size of the island of Manhattan, Aldabra is the world’s second-largest coral atoll and home to over 400 endemic species and subspecies that you won’t see anywhere else on this planet.

Zodiacs ferried us out to the top of Grand Passe, where the incoming tide would whisk us into Aldabra’s lagoon. Right before we dropped into the water for the first time, one of our guides mentioned the possibility of sharks, striking fear in my heart and the theme song to Jaws in my head.

It only took one snorkel and one encounter with a shy and graceful reef shark (who was so small, I figured I could take him in a fight if it came to that) to go from “please don’t let me see a shark” to “please let me see lots of sharks up close.” It helped that the water was crystal clear, the visibility so good that nothing could sneak up on me.

Hundreds of orange fish were suspended in the light beams around me, like a fistful of glittering confetti thrown into the crystal-clear water.

swimming with fish scuba diving

A drift snorkel feels like flying.  As we drifted along without the need to kick or swim, we had a bird’s-eye view of the vibrant ecosystem below. The tides swept us up along with huge schools of fish, in vivid oranges and yellow and patterns so flamboyant they seemed unnatural.

A turtle, as big as myself, startled me as it zipped past at high speed. A shot of fear turned into adrenaline and a gasp of joy inside my snorkel at seeing this gentle giant up close, even if it had no interest in hanging out with me for long. Whoever gave this graceful beast a reputation as being slow must have never seen one swim.

A small grey reef shark gaped at the schools of snorkelers before darting away to quieter waters.

At the end of the drift, we were scooped up in a zodiac and pleaded like kids at an amusement park to go again and again, the boats bringing us back to the start to experience nature’s magical ride once more.

How rare it was to be one of a few people on the planet to get to experience this golden moment. We headed to shore and strolled along soft, white-sand beaches as gold-tipped reef sharks swirled around the waves, visible just inches away from our feet. We watched the giant tortoises go about their daily life in their beautiful habitat.

I wondered if they were enjoying the golden sunset and soft light as much as I was or if it was just another day on the sand to them.

turtle walks along the beach

Learning Life-Changing Lessons

There’s nothing like an expedition cruise to make you feel humbled—insignificant against the millions of stars above and endless expanse of ocean and sky—but also powerful and important with every choice you make every minute of every day.

Before the voyage, I knew that plastics were bad for the environment. But to sit in on a lecture from Dr. Merel Dalebout, a naturalist with a Ph.D in ecology and evolution, and learn that one million plastic water bottles are sold every minute worldwide, and then to go for a swim with the magnificent creatures that ingest and die from these plastics, and then to see plastic bottles and flip-flops washed up on remote shores miles from civilization, makes me realize just how powerful my everyday choices are, and I vowed to become a more conscious consumer upon returning home.

“Le Hard” on La Digue

La Digue beach

In this untouched part of the world, there’s no local population putting pressure on the ecosystem, and you can see what nature is like when it’s left wild and unafraid of humans. After two glorious days at Aldabra, we sailed on, exploring remote corners and secret sections of the Seychelles, before finishing up our journey on La Digue.

You may have seen the picture-perfect island of La Digue on generic, calming screensavers before. This island is the embodiment of the word paradise: huge, granite boulders that frame blindingly white sand, fringed with lush green palm trees. Brilliantly turquoise waves crest in white foam and pound on the shores in a white-noise-worthy soundtrack. The night before we landed, we were given a choice that honored the French heritage of these islands.

Pick “Le Hard, L’Easy, or Le Truck.” I tentatively wrote my name down on Le Hard, also branded as the Survival of the Fittest Hike/Bike/Swim. Was I up for this mini-triathlon after two weeks of French cheese?

Fortune and jaw-dropping scenery favor the brave … and the cheese-stuffed. On La Digue, a fleet of the island’s finest bikes were waiting for us. Slightly ocean-rusted and creaking, these beach cruisers let us stretch our legs and fly down the dirt roads of the islands. We passed through local villages and forests to emerge triumphant at what I thought was the most beautiful beach I’d ever seen. It looked just like I had been dropped into the screensaver I had imagined. But this was not the beach we were here to see—our guide Murph promised us an even more stunning one in exchange for a little sweat.

We trekked over the beach and up a rocky trail that confirmed La Digue’s granitic island history. The boulders formed stairs, and at the top of the natural granite staircase, a breeze and sparkling ocean view gave a signal that this hike would be more than worth it. We descended down to Anse Coco beach.

Accessible only by boat or hike, the crowds were minimal. Desperate to cool off after our expedition, we shed our sweaty clothes down to our sweatier swimsuits and plunged into the water. Cooler than many other spots in the Seychelles, the water offered sweet relief, at a price. The undertow made the ocean’s power very clear. The aggressive waves came tumbling one after another, knocking us off our feet much as did the beauty of the island. We frolicked in the glowing turquoise water, getting taken out by waves and giggling with glee, feeling like explorers who’d stumbled upon a secret paradise.

At the day’s end, we’d return to the ship and our pampered existence as cruisers. But out here in the swirling waters, we were the wild adventurers.

From the Stars to the Bottom of the Ocean

Each night on the ship, we journeyed from the stars to the bottom of the ocean. At 9 pm, the boat lights were turned off. The top deck was empty and still, with just the hum of the engines and the rushing of the waves as we cut through the water. There was no light to compete with the stars, their brilliance shone brighter than I’d ever seen—a natural dark sky reserve. The Milky Way cut a vibrant swath through the sky, and too many other stars for me to identify lit up the sky. After hours of stargazing and tracing constellations I’d never seen before, I tore myself away and took the elevator down six flights, emerging underwater.

Ponant Blue Eye Lounge

Le Bouganville’s Blue Eye Lounge added a submarine element to the ship. Four holes cut into the hull and encased in 18 layers of glass let us live underneath the sea each night. Blue underwater lights lit up the ocean around us, giving us a peek into life below the water line. I felt like a spy suspended in space as curious needlenose fish darted by the windows. The room erupted in cheers as a sea turtle swam by, and gasps when a flying fish danced across our view. Bioluminescence sparkled below, looking like precious gems in the blue light, bringing one of the ship’s marine experts nearly to tears at seeing such a rare sight up close, dry, and with a drink in hand.

We spent our nights pressed up against the glass in wonder and with our eyes turned up to the sky. Back in Boston I lift my gaze up to the light-polluted skies in search of the same brilliance. It doesn’t matter that I can’t see them anymore—I know the stars are up there just as I know the spirit of the adventurous expeditioner lives on inside me.    

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Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by Zegrahm Expeditions on their Ultimate Seychelles Tour With Aldabra Atoll. Follow her on Instagram @travelwithcaroline for pictures of the tour and more.