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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.

Working from home? Make it comfy with our top products for your home right now:

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

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 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.

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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.    

More from SmarterTravel:

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.

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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

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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.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Airport Booking Strategy

St. Lucia Passport Requirements: Do I Need a Passport to Go to St. Lucia?

The last thing you want to think about once you book your tropical getaway to St. Lucia is paperwork or documents (anything else that doesn’t involve the sun, sand, and sea). There are, however, a few things to keep in mind when traveling from the U.S. to St. Lucia that will ensure you have a stress-free vacation. Here’s what you’ll need in terms of a passport and visa to enter the Caribbean island nation.

First things first: St. Lucia passport requirements state that your U.S. passport must be valid for at least six months following your departure date, and that it has at least one blank page for an entry stamp. Also, in lieu of a visa, be prepared to present proof that you’ve booked onward travel tickets, evidence of booked accommodations, and/or financial means for onward travel.

If traveling by a closed-loop Caribbean cruise (one that begins and ends in the United States), you aren’t required to have a passport. However, it’s strongly recommended you carry one to avoid any obstacles that may occur in case of emergency disembarkation on international soil or an unexpected flight from a foreign destination.

St. Lucia Passport Requirements

A U.S. passport—valid within six months following your departure date—with at least one blank page for an entry stamp is required to visit St. Lucia. U.S. citizens are not required to obtain a visa if they can show proof of reserved onward or return travel, booked accommodations, and/or means to cover travel costs.

How to Get a Passport Book for Travel to St. Lucia

Apply for a passport as soon as international travel is confirmed. The cost will be greater if you apply for a passport within two weeks of travel time and need an expedited application. You can learn more about the requirements and documents needed to obtain a U.S. passport by visiting USA.gov.

Other St. Lucia Travel Requirements

Visa: U.S. citizens with proof of an onward or return ticket, booked accommodations, and the evidence of means to cover travel expenses, do not need a visa to travel to St. Lucia.

Vaccinations: No special vaccinations are required when visiting St. Lucia.

HIV/AIDS: Some entry restrictions may exist. Contact the Embassy of Saint Lucia before you travel.

So, Do I Need a Passport to Visit St. Lucia?

In summary: Yes, U.S. travelers need a valid passport to visit St. Lucia. Additionally, the passport must be valid for six months following your departure date and contain at least one blank page for an entry stamp.

Protect Your Passport

We recommend investing in a passport cover or wallet to protect your pages from bends, tears and spills. It’s important to keep your passport in good condition for easy inspection. 

On travel days, only take your passport out during inspection. Otherwise, keep it stowed away in a dedicated section of your bag (if you keep it in the same place every time, you won’t ever scramble to locate it). Once you arrive at your destination, find a way to stow it securely. In-room safes or safe deposit boxes at the hotel front desk are generally good options, but if neither is available, you’ll need to decide how to keep your passport secure. You might consider keeping it in an under-clothing money belt that you wear, or leaving it in the hotel or vacation rental but locking it in your suitcase with a TSA-approved lock.

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

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 Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Cities Island Outdoors

The Best Travel Destinations for Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type

Editor’s note: Travel to some countries mentioned in this story have been affected by COVID-19. Check the websites of the CDC and the U.S. State Department before your trip for current recommendations about the safety of travel to your intended destination.

Spin a globe, point your finger, and see where it lands—if only planning a trip were that easy. For those who prefer to take a more rational approach when arranging travel, look to your Myers-Briggs personality type.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a behavioral assessment that calculates how people perceive the world and make decisions. Based on the theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the test determines your four-letter personality archetype based on the following main factors:

  • Extroversion (E) vs. Introversion (I): Do you draw energy from your surroundings (outgoing) or from within (reserved)?
  • Sensing (S) vs. Intuition (N): Do you process new information through concrete facts or by reading between the lines?
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): When making decisions, are you more likely to prioritize logic and objective criteria or personal values and others’ feelings?
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P): Do you approach life in a systematic, schedule-oriented way or prefer more flexibility and open-endedness?

Not sure of your Myers-Briggs personality type? You can read about the various types here.

For each of the 16 total Myers-Briggs types, we’ve recommended destinations around the world that best complement your personality and comfort zone. Find out in which direction your internal compass points you for your next trip below.

ENFJ: Sao Miguel Island, Azores

hydrangeas coastal path Sao Miguel, Azores Islands.

Go on vacation with an ENFJ, and they’ll frantically ensure that you’re happy and living your best life. These people pleasers strive to cultivate a sense of community wherever they go, which is why the Azores’ largest and most lively island is the perfect spot for their next getaway. With diverse attractions and easy accessibility (you can drive from one end of the island to the other in less than two hours), the ENFJ will be in their element, organizing activities galore.

Where to stay: Because planning can be exhausting, we suggest seeking respite in the wellness-inspired Furnas Boutique Hotel.

ISTP: Rwanda

Solo travel can be food for any type’s soul, but perhaps no one “owns” that style quite like the ISTP. Often described as an adventurous loner, this type gravitates toward the road less traveled, and the Central African country of Rwanda is a perfect example. Any visit to Rwanda’s dense forests will reward the ISTP with a renewed sense of peace, while local interactions will leave them feeling humbled and with an enriched perspective on the world, something they’re always seeking.

Where to stay: The journey continues at the Bisate Lodge, where the ISTP can become one with nature in an environmentally friendly hut nestled in the mountains.

ISFJ: Santa Fe, New Mexico

“The City Different” is an ideal trip for these unique social introverts who can adapt to their surroundings arguably more than any other type. With its communal atmosphere and colorful melding of Mexican, Native American, and Spanish cultures, the oldest capital city in North America will satiate ISFJs’ love of history and tradition while fostering personal connections along the way.

Where to stay: Bunk up at the Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi, a traditionally designed hotel only steps from Santa Fe’s historic Plaza.

ENFP: Tbilisi, Republic of Georgia

Routines don’t sit well with the ENFP, a type with an aching desire for anything out of the ordinary. Behold: the Republic of Georgia. Nestled at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, the underrated city of Tbilisi is a hub of food, wine, history, and adventure. These amiable free spirits will have plenty of options to bounce around, based on whatever feels right in the moment, and they’re sure to make friends along the way.

Where to stay: ENFPs will swoon over the Stamba Hotel, a former printing house with a storied past and a hip, social vibe that will quench the ENFP’s thirst for creativity and personal connections.

INTP: Hydra, Greece

Channeling one of history’s great INTPs, Socrates, this philosophical type was born to explore the deeper meaning of life. The small, slow-paced Greek island of Hydra offers a welcome invitation for INTPs to unravel details of some of humanity’s earliest civilizations and see the world in a new way, while savoring all the alone time they need.

Where to stay: The historic Bratsera Hotel is more than a place for INTPs to rest their heads; with a fascinating history, this converted sponge factory is an experience all its own.

ESFJ: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap continues to rise in the ranks as a top travel destination, with any mention usually complemented by a glossy image of the famed ancient temple of Angkor Wat. While ESFJs will be highly attuned to the country’s history, these altruistic social butterflies also will love the city’s trendy downtown peppered with colorful boutiques and culturally rich restaurants.

Where to stay: Plan early so you can snag one of three rooms at Hotel Be Angkor, each of which features the work of a local artist.

ISFP: Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Living in the moment is an ISFP’s mantra. Pair that with their emotionally driven spirit, and we can’t think of a better place to go with the flow than Mostar. This small city is an inspiring representation of the country’s perseverance—a story that will pull at the ISFP’s heartstrings as they stroll through its intimate cobblestone streets. When the need to recharge strikes, retreat to the banks of the Neretva River and marvel at Mostar’s iconic Stari Most bridge.

Where to stay: The cozy, traditionally designed Hotel-Restaurant Kriva Cuprija offers picturesque views.

ESTJ: Bhutan

When it comes to planning a trip, ESTJs are more likely to save up for one big, bucket-list adventure than take a few spontaneous vacations throughout the year. This logical approach is bound to lead them to places of which people only dream—and next year or the following (because we know this year is already planned), we set the ESTJ’s sights on Bhutan. Tucked away in the Himalayas, the small kingdom will invigorate this high-energy type with its friendly locals, vibrant culture, and breathtaking mountain landscapes.

Where to stay: The Dhensa Boutique Resort’s prominent location near several hiking trails means the ESTJ will never get bored.

INFP: Tunisia

Daydreaming is the INFP’s pastime, but when traveling, this empathetic type prefers places with which they can emotionally connect while simultaneously feeding their curiosity. Tunisia’s capital city of Tunis and its suburbs are a conglomerate of cultures, historic landmarks, and streets made for getting lost. Soak up the sights and sounds of the Medina, revel in the white and blue buildings of Sidi Bou Said, and discover centuries past at the ancient ruins of Carthage.

Where to stay: All the areas listed above are within proximity of Tunis, so we suggest using the city center as a starting point, with the Dar El Jeld Hotel and Spa as your home base.

ESFP: Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

Where there’s a spotlight, there’s an ESFP. Old San Juan’s cobblestone streets lined with pastel-colored, Spanish colonial buildings set the stage for these natural entertainers, who enjoy surrounding themselves with people in fun-filled environments. That’s exactly what you’ll find in Puerto Rico’s capital: bustling locales and musical block parties that beckon everyone to have a good time—all within few steps of fresh local cuisine.

Where to stay: To balance out the party scene, stay at the Gallery Inn, where 300-year-old buildings and sea breezes make for a relaxing escape in the heart of downtown.

INTJ: Telluride, Colorado

Unlike ESFPs on the opposite end of the spectrum, INTJs make it a point to avoid the spotlight. Their ideal vacation involves a lot of time dedicated to introspection, and Colorado’s postcard-perfect town of Telluride—isolated by its surrounding cliffs and forested mountains—affords ample opportunities to do so. Hike amid alpine lakes and wildflowers in the summer, bike through fall foliage in September and October, or take advantage of world-class skiing without the crowds and over-commercialization during the long winters.

Where to stay: Downtown Telluride’s charming Hotel Columbia is only steps from the gondola, the United States’ first and only free public transportation service of its kind.

ESTP: Tasmania, Australia

From hiking seemingly untouched mountains to whitewater rafting in the UNESCO World Heritage-designated Franklin River, Tasmania’s diverse terrain affords myriad thrills for this risk-taking type. When you’re not relishing the rugged, protected lands that comprise most of the island, embark on an urban adventure through Tasmania’s quaint capital city of Hobart.

Where to stay: Pamper yourself in between treks at Hobart’s historic Islington Hotel.

ISTJ: Kyoto, Japan

If anyone lives by the book, it’s the ISTJ—which is why they thrive in the peaceful, orderly environment of Kyoto, Japan. The ancient city is replete with temples, museums, and shrines that pique the ISTJ’s intellectual senses as they pace through their spreadsheet of activities.

Where to stay: At Villa Sanjo Muromachi Kyoto, a local, Kyoto-based publisher offers highly organized concierge services with “travel solutions” geared toward individual interests.

ENTP: Guyana

Driven by a desire to challenge the standard, ENTPs continuously seek new experiences, using logic over their emotions to make decisions, including when it comes to travel. A logical reason for the ENTP to visit Guyana now is that its natural beauty remains unspoiled, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a chain store in any of its cities or towns. In South America’s only English-speaking country, you can trek to Kaieteur Falls, the largest single-drop waterfall in the world, and taste your way through history during a rum distillery tour.

Where to stay: Find your home away from home at the Cara Lodge, one of the oldest buildings in the capital city of Georgetown.

INFJ: Alacati, Turkey

To an outsider, the INFJ might appear quiet and reserved; in reality, they love connecting with others and sharing their advice and wisdom, as long as the setting is right. This setting conjures up visions of Alacati, a Turkish fishing village where alfresco cafes on bougainvillea-canopied cobblestone streets inspire deep conversation, and quiet moments allow you to hear the breeze roll off the Aegean Sea, carrying with it the scents of lemon, thyme, and other herbs.

Where to stay: Alacati’s intimacy continues at Alavya, where lovingly restored stone buildings are surrounded by private gardens and courtyards.

ENTJ: Jerusalem, Israel

Every group of travelers needs an ENTJ—someone to take charge and put activities into motion. When it comes to vacation planning, these natural-born leaders set the bar higher than any other type. Jerusalem’s historically significant archeological sites could fill a week-long itinerary, so a trip to this city requires strategic organization; this way, you get to enjoy a little bit of everything.

Where to stay: Plant yourself at the Alegra Boutique Hotel, and explore hidden gems in the heart of Jerusalem’s tranquil Ein Karem neighborhood.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Maracas Bay, Trinidad and Tobago

PGB.cz/Shutterstock

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

Solarisys/Shutterstock

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

PHB.cz/Shutterstock

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

Mikolajn/Shutterstock

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.

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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.

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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.

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Cities Experiential Travel Island

10 Best Places to Go in New Zealand


For many travelers, New Zealand is both a dream destination and a once-in-a-lifetime place to visit. If you’re planning your first trip to New Zealand, or if you’re planning a return trip to see more of this beautiful and wild country, you may want to know which places in New Zealand are at the top of the must-see list. Here are our picks for the 10 best places to go in New Zealand.

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Bay of Islands

Bay of islands new zealand

The Bay of Islands is one of the best places to go in New Zealand for fishing, sailing, and other watersports. The Bay of Islands is about three hours by car from Auckland. This gorgeous region is made up of 144 islands between Cape Brett and the Purerua Peninsula.

What’s there to do in the Bay of Islands? Get on or in the water! Try scuba diving with Paihia Dive‘s intro-to-diving course. You will be ferried far out into the bay to explore a whole new underwater world.

[st_content_ad]Or get up close and personal with the marine life in the Bay of Islands on a Fullers GreatSights Hole in the Rock Dolphin Cruise. On a good day, you’ll see both whales and dolphins on this cruise.

The cruise will take you to one of the Bay of Islands’ most famous sights, the Hole in the Rock. You can sail through this unique opening in a rock formation when the tide is right.

Where to stay: Spend a night at the historic Duke of Marlborough Hotel, which has the distinction of holding the oldest pub license in New Zealand and is located on a peninsula that sticks straight out into the middle of the bay.

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Fiordland

Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound the “eighth wonder of the world,” and if you visit this region of New Zealand, you’ll see why. Formed by glaciers during the Ice Age, the landscape around Milford Sound still bears evidence of its creation in the form of epic scenery: Cliffs rise from fjords crowned by mountains and waterfalls.

The best way to see Milford Sound is via boat. Take a sightseeing cruise on the fjord to see waterfalls and wildlife such as dolphins and penguins. Or navigate the waters under your own steam on a kayaking tour.

Once you’ve experienced the water from the surface, go underneath with a visit to the Milford Discovery Centre and Underwater Observatory. This is the only floating, underwater observatory in New Zealand, and visitors can go more than 30 feet deep (while staying dry) and get 360 degrees of the underwater environment.

Where to stay: There are not a lot of places to stay close to the Sound, but if you’d rather not drive the three and a half hours from Queenstown, consider The Milford Sound Lodge. The lodge offers several packages for hiking and boat tours, and there really is no beating this spot in terms of access to the Sound.

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Auckland, New Zealand

As both the largest city in New Zealand and its international air travel hub, Auckland is one of the best places to go in New Zealand. Many international flights arrive in New Zealand through Auckland Airport, which makes it an ideal city from which to start your exploration of New Zealand.

Spend at least a day or two in Auckland to get over your long flight and explore the vibrant metropolis before venturing farther afield in New Zealand. Here are our suggestions for what to see and do in Auckland:

  • Get some culture by visiting one of the many museums in Auckland, such as the Auckland Art Gallery. This is the largest art institution in New Zealand, featuring more than 15,000 works of historic, modern, and contemporary art.
  • If the weather is nice, take a stroll through the 185-acre Auckland Domain park. If you’re visiting on a Saturday, include a stop at the nearby Parnell Farmers’ Market, which sells fresh produce in the morning.
  • Auckland is also home to a host of multicultural bars and restaurants serving up all types of cuisine, so be sure to dine in downtown Auckland (and go out for a cocktail or two to check out the nightlife).
  • If you’re looking for adventure activities in Auckland, consider the Auckland Bridge Climb. And if you’re really brave, try the Auckland Bridge bungee jump.
  • If you’re looking for guided trips in Auckland, book an Auckland City Tour or an America’s Cup sailing experience on Waitemata Harbour.

Where to stay: No matter where you stay in Auckland, you will be close to something interesting. Try the accommodations at CityLife Auckland, which is within walking distance of several Auckland highlights like the harbor, both North and Princes Wharf, and the SkyTower.

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Waiheke Island, New Zealand

Just a little more than 30 minutes by boat from downtown Auckland is Waiheke Island, one of the best places to go in New Zealand for wine lovers. For a small island in the middle of Hauraki Gulf, Waiheke Island sure is home to a lot of vineyards. To sample as many of them as you can on your visit to Waiheke Island, you’ll want to find someone else to drive. Our pick is Waiheke Island Wine Tours, whose expert local guides will shuttle you around to three vineyards to sample 14 different wines.

All that wine from the vineyards of Waiheke Island will make you hungry. When it’s time to eat, book your lunch or dinner at the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant, a gorgeous eatery with sprawling views of the vineyard and the sea. For a really special meal, book the Mudbrick Vineyard Restaurant’s tasting menu, a seven-course event with wine pairings.

Of course, there’s more to do on Waiheke Island than just drink wine! Waiheke Island is also famous for its vibrant art community, beaches, forests, and olive groves. We recommend booking a culture tour, scenic flight, or hiking trip while you’re there to really see why Waiheke Island is one of the best places to go in New Zealand.

Where to stay: It’s definitely worth staying overnight on Waiheke Island, too. Choose the Delamore Lodge, one of the best-reviewed Waiheke Island hotels on Tripadvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company). The hotel also offers some great packages featuring everything from wine and food to spa treatments for couples.

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Christchurch, New Zealand

Aerial view of the christchurch gondola and lyttelton port from hills in new zealand

Despite being rocked by four large earthquakes between September 2010 and December 2011, Christchurch has made a true comeback. Visitors to Christchurch will see evidence of the city’s rebirth everywhere, including new buildings made out of old shipping containers and other unique materials like the Cardboard Cathedral.

Of course, many of Christchurch’s original attractions are still standing. One of the best places to visit is the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, a sprawling network of conservatories, walking tracks, and horticultural displays. The gardens also feature some of the largest, tallest, and oldest trees in New Zealand.

Take in the new and the old of Christchurch from above with a journey on the Christchurch Gondola. This cable car lifts you on a scenic ride to the top of Mt. Cavendish.

Where to stay: Pick Heritage Christchurch for its central location and status as a World Luxury Hotel. It might cost a little extra, but it will be worth it.

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Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown from the skyline luge at sunrise

Located on the southwest side of the South Island, Queenstown has a well-deserved reputation as the adventure capital of New Zealand. During the winter and spring months (June to October), Queenstown is known for world-class skiing. Of course, there’s plenty to do in Queenstown year-round. Adventure activities such as bungee jumping, skydiving, jet boating, and river rafting will let you experience the region from dizzying heights and at breathtaking speeds.

Queenstown is also home to the world’s highest cliff jump, the Shotover Canyon Swing, where you can hurl yourself off a cliff in a number of different ways—including backward or tied to a chair.

If you haven’t lost your appetite (or your lunch) on these adrenaline-pumping activities, enjoy the dining scene in Queenstown—it’s one of the best in New Zealand. As locals and tour guides alike will tell you, one of the best places to eat in Queenstown is Fergburger, which CNN says “may be the best burger joint on the planet.”

Where to stay: Queenstown Park Boutique Hotel is located on the edge of town, giving easy access to the restaurants and other shops but also letting you sleep in relative peace away from the hub of activity.

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Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, New Zealand

Whakarewarewa geyser at te pui thermal park in geothermal valley of rotorua

No list of the best places to go in New Zealand would be complete without mentioning Te Puia, the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute located in Rotorua’s Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley. At this Maori heritage center, you can get an authentic “steambox” meal prepared using ancient geothermal cooking techniques. You’ll also experience a Maori welcome ceremony and traditional song and dance performance.

The Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley is also home to a number of active geysers, including Pohutu, the largest active geyser in the southern hemisphere. Mud pools are another natural attraction in the geothermal valley: These boiling pools reach temperatures of more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

Where to stay: The Aura Accommodation in nearby Rotorua is located on the coast of Lake Rotorua. The entire facility is powered by geothermal heat to give you a better appreciation for the valley.

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Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Waitomo glowworm caves

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves, naturally illuminated by thousands of glowworms, are among the most unique places to go in New Zealand—and a visit to the caves is one experience you’ll be hard-pressed to duplicate anywhere else. You can take a boat ride through the caves to learn about the history and science behind the phenomenon.

Or, if you really want a unique adventure, try black-water rafting with The Legendary Black Water Rafting Company, which will float you on an inner tube down a subterranean stream. It will be pitch-dark (except for the glowworms), and you’ll get to do everything from jumping off waterfalls to rappelling down cave walls. Choose your own adventure when you book the tour.

There are other (non-glowworm) caves in Waitomo, too. Aranui Cave features ancient cave decorations; Ruakuri Cave has an awesome spiral entrance and unique limestone formations—and, okay, more glowworms, but in this cave, you can do a walking tour rather than a water-based excursion.

Where to stay: The Waitomo Caves Hotel is minutes from the famous glowworm caves. It offers a spa as well as cave tour reservations through its website.

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Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Franz josef glacier

You can hike an actual glacier in New Zealand. The Franz Josef Glacier plays host to both guided walks and jaw-dropping helicopter tours. Tours offer everything from ice climbing to a more relaxed hike on the 6.8-mile-long glacier.

Won’t you be freezing on top of a giant glacier? Nope! The Franz Josef Glacier receives a lot of sunlight, and temperatures on the ice are usually only a few degrees colder than in the nearby town.

Cap off a day touring the Franz Josef Glacier with a soak in the Glacier Hot Pools. The pools are fed by the waters from the Franz Josef Glacier, and you can use one of the three warm pools or get a private pool.

Where to stay: Franz Josef is a small enough town that precise location won’t make too much of a difference (you’ll be close to everything no matter where you are). Consider the Aspen Court Franz Josef, which has received some of the best ratings in the area.

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Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

mount cook new zealand.

See New Zealand’s highest mountains and longest glacier in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. There are plenty of opportunities for hiking here, no matter what your skill level. For experienced climbers, there are 23 peaks over 9,800 feet. For those looking for something a little more low-key, there are lots of walks along paved trails or boardwalks that still offer spectacular views.

Make sure you stay past sunset for a visit to the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, where light pollution is strictly controlled for amazing stargazing opportunities.

Where to stay: Located inside the national park, The Hermitage Hotel will put you close to everything you want to see and do. Splurge on a room with a view of Mt. Cook—it’s worth it.

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What to Pack on Your Trip

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

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Active Travel Outdoors

The 10 Best National Parks to Visit in Winter

National parks are for more than just summer hiking. Break out of your cold-weather hibernation and check out these 10 national parks that are at their best winter.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Big bend national park

Big Bend National Park serves as a border between the United States and Mexico, and offers a unique way to cross between the two countries—by rowboat. Visitors can pay $5 to be ferried across the Rio Grande on a small boat, or you can walk across for free (at your own risk, and only at a designated area when the water levels are low).

Winter is one of the best times to visit Big Bend National Park, as the temperatures average around 60-70 degrees during the day, whereas in the summer it can get dangerously hot (over 100 degrees).

Olympic National Park, Washington

Olympic national park

Olympic is one of only three national parks with a full ski area in the winter. (To find out the other two, keep reading.) The Hurricane Ridge Ski and Snowboard Area has one lift and two rope tows, and operates from mid-December through March depending on conditions. Ski here, and you’ll be able to brag “I skied in the Olympics” without technically lying. The Elwha Ranch Bed and Bath overlooks Olympic National Park and the Glacier Mountains.

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Virgin Islands National Park, U.S. Virgin Islands

british virgin islands boats and beach.

Not embracing the cold? Hit the beach at Virgin Islands National Park, where daily high temps hover in the 80s throughout winter. Covering half of the island of St. John, the park is a lush undeveloped landscape of dense forests and beaches fringed with coconut palms. Dive into the warm, clear Caribbean waters of Trunk Bay, with its 225-yard snorkeling trail that includes underwater signs to help you identify the coral and 30 species of fish that could be swimming around you. In winter, whale-watching excursions spot humpback whales on their migration routes through the Virgin Islands.

Death Valley National Park, California

Death valley national park

Death Valley is the hottest and driest place in North America, and has set the world record for the highest air temperature (134 degrees). Unsurprisingly, it’s not a place you want to visit in the summer. In the winter, you’ll get mild temperatures that rarely drop below freezing, plus smaller crowds—the weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas are the least busy time of the year, according to the NPS. The Ranch at Death Valley is located next to the NPS Visitor Center, offering easy access to the park. The 224-room hotel has restaurants, a general store, and even a saloon to keep you entertained.

Everglades National Park, Florida

Everglades national park

Winter is the best time of year to visit Everglades National Park, as December through April is the dry season. You’ll usually have temperatures in the upper 70s with low humidity, the biting insects that can be prevalent in summer are gone, and lower water levels make it easier to spot wildlife. There are no hotels inside the park (although there are two campgrounds), but Everglades City is just next to the park and has plenty of overnight options. Everglades City Motel is affordable and a five-minute drive from the park.

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Mount rainier national park

Embrace winter at Mount Rainier National Park, which has a designated “snow play area” where you can go sledding or tubing. Ranger-guided snowshoe walks are also available, as are plenty of trails for cross-country skiing. The National Park Inn is the only hotel within Mount Rainier National Park that is open year-round. This quaint property has 25 guest rooms, a dining room, and a general store, so you don’t have to leave the park once you’ve checked in.

Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite national park

Enjoy a side of history with your skiing at Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, California’s oldest downhill skiing area. Located off of the park’s Glacier Point Road, lifts here serve 10 runs, and there are also more than 90 miles of marked trails for cross-country skiing or snowshoeing. For an unforgettable winter experience, you can even cross-country ski a 10.5-mile trail to Glacier Point, which overlooks Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.

Built in the 1920s, The Ahwahnee (formerly called The Majestic Yosemite) has been painstakingly renovated to preserve its heritage. This AAA Four-Diamond property is located within the park and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand canyon national park

Approximately five million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, but only about 10 percent of visitors come in the winter. Although the North Rim is closed in the winter, the South Rim is completely open year-round. Certain roads that are closed to personal vehicles in the summer reopen for the winter (weather-dependent), allowing you to explore at your own pace. Temperatures on the South Rim are generally cold, but if you venture to the canyon’s floor, the weather is much warmer, reaching up to 60 degrees during a winter day. To learn more about the park, see Planning a Trip to the Grand Canyon. You can find great winter deals at the normally expensive El Tovar Hotel, a historic lodge located on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

bryce canyon in the snow.

When winter falls on Utah’s Bryce Canyon, deep snow blankets the plateau and settles in layers on red-rock hoodoos like striped candy spires. Set against a huge blue sky, the colors are absolutely striking. When you look out across the Grand Staircase, it feels like a Dr. Seuss-inspired planet, one you get all to yourself. On a clear day, you can see nearly 200 miles to the Black Mesas in Arizona. At night, this vast sky becomes one of the darkest in North America. Winter’s cold, clear, dry air gives naked-eye stargazers a chance to see 7,500 stars, more than three times what you typically see in the country’s rural areas.

Join rangers every Saturday night for the winter astronomy program’s multimedia show, complete with stargazing through telescopes. The park’s “Dark Rangers” also lead one- to two-hour nocturnal hikes under the full moon, on which you’ll see snow-dusted hoodoos illuminated by moonlight. Snowshoe rentals are free throughout winter.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

hiker in rocky mountain national park.

A low-key alternative to Colorado’s nearby big ski resorts, Rocky Mountain National Park is a backcountry paradise in winter. You can easily reach remote areas on snowshoes or skis, while hiking boots will suffice for winter treks in the lower elevations of the 250,000-acre wilderness area. Watch for moose along the Colorado River on the park’s west side and bighorn sheep along Highway 34 on its east side. Don’t miss the frost-encrusted trees along Bear Lake under a full moon. For a more extreme adventure, hire one of Colorado Mountain School’s certified guides to take you rock climbing, ice climbing, or winter mountaineering on Longs Peak.

Rangers lead free snowshoe and cross-country skiing programs. In Hidden Valley, on the bunny hill of a former ski area, sledding is a family tradition. The warming hut opens on weekends. This is one of the few national parks to offer backcountry camping in winter.

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Caroline Morse Teel wants to visit all these best national parks in winter. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for more national park photos.

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

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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.

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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.

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 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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