Categories
Adventure Travel Experiential Travel Group Travel Island Luxury Travel

10 Rules for Sailing the Seychelles

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

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

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

Always Get Off the Boat

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

Take a Trusted Guide (or 14)

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

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

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

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

Ask Questions

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

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

Never Miss a Sunset

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

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

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

Bring SPF 50…

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

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

Don’t Forget to Look Up

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

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

Minimize Your Impact

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

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

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

Don’t Give up the Moment for the Photograph

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

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

Leave Your Plastics at Home

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

Be Flexible

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

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

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Categories
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.

Categories
Active Travel Outdoors Trip Ideas

9 Incredible Lakeside Retreats

Whether their waters are glass-like or rippling towards the shore, lakes have a calming effect and make for an ideal vacation base. So launch your canoe or settle into an Adirondack chair and get ready to take in the glistening views. From rustic luxury in the woods of Maine to down-low waterside cabins in Washington, these nine lakeside retreats are sure to mellow you out.

Lake Quinault, Washington

lake quinault washington.

Great for: Cabin living
What’s Relaxing: Solitude in the woods

Surrounded by the temperate Quinault Rain Forest, Lake Quinault straddles Olympic National Park to the north and Olympic National Forest to the south. With so much natural beauty, it’s tempting to quit your day job, head in, and hide away for life. But even if you can only visit for a few days, Lochaerie Resort on the lake’s north shore has the perfect solution: private rustic cabins. While part of the one-, two-, and three-bedroom structures’ charm is the Depression-era architecture, each cabin is tastefully decorated and comes well equipped with a fireplace, a kitchen, and stunning lake views.

Things to Do: Drive the 31-mile rainforest loop around the lake to scout for wildlife and see some of the biggest trees in the world. Canoe, kayak, and paddleboard on the lake, or go hiking or bird watching on land. You’ll never run out of things to do outdoors, but don’t forget to savor the opportunity to stay in the moment.

Cayuga Lake, New York

eb morgan house.

Great for: Oenophiles
What’s Relaxing: Sipping wine while enjoying lake views

What could be more relaxing than porch sitting by a calm lake? Porch sitting and drinking a glass of fine wine, of course. And you can do just that at the Inns of Aurora, which include the Aurora Inn and the E.B. Morgan House, set on Cayuga Lake in New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Amenities are ready-made for a perfect weekend getaway and come in the form of in-room dining, massages, fireplaces, and broad lakeside porches. Plus, wine tastings and cooking classes that feature local bounty from area farms and vineyards are available.

Things to Do: While the Finger Lakes region encompasses over 9,000 square miles and boasts more than 100 vineyards, Cayuga Lake has its own wine trail. Visitors can learn to make wine at Heart & Hands Wine Company or explore the historical village of Aurora.

Table Rock Lake, Missouri

table rock lake fall foliage.

Great for: Outdoor adventure
What’s Relaxing: Campfire time after active play

Tucked away from Branson, Missouri’s bustling music scene, Table Rock Lake is a hidden treasure that snakes and twists through the Ozark Mountains like a Chinese dragon. While the lake is technically a reservoir (made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), it delivers big in the nature and outdoors departments. Near Branson, Bavarian Village Resort offers affordable multi-bedroom duplexes, cottages, and cabins. Further out in Shell Knob, Stonewater Cove Resort and Club combines seclusion and rugged adventure with a bit of luxury in the heart of Mark Twain National Forest.

Things to Do: Table Rock Lake has all the components of a classic summer lake retreat. Plunge into the waters for a swim or glide along in kayaks. Or spend the most active part of the day boating, zip-lining, and biking before chilling out at night by gazing at gorgeous sunsets or into the mesmerizing flames of a campfire.

Lake Champlain, Vermont

lake champlain sunset.

Great for: Families
What’s Relaxing: A complete vacation with a break from the kids

Does a relaxing vacation with the kids sound like an oxymoron? At Tyler Place Family Resort on the shores of Lake Champlain in northern Vermont, it’s anything but. While children of all ages get the benefits of a summer camp, their parents can laze in lakeside Adirondack chairs, play tennis, take yoga classes, or rekindle romance over candlelit dinners and dancing. Accommodations range from private cottages to multi-room suites, all with living rooms, screened-in porches, and separate bedrooms for parents and children.

Things to Do: Whether the adults spend their mornings hiking, taking sailing lessons, or doing nothing at all, the kids won’t even notice, since they’ll be off having fun on counselor-led kids programs and activities like playing soccer and jumping on trampolines. However, a little family QT on the lake—paddleboarding, anyone?—is always an option.

Twin Lakes, California

mountain biker twin lakes california.

Great for: Mountain living
What’s Relaxing: Motor-free water play

In Mammoth Lakes Basin, Twin Lakes delivers an authentic mountain escape in California’s Eastern Sierra. Consider a stay at Tamarack Lodge, a rustic woodland resort with varied accommodations including restored cabins originally built in 1924, historical lodge rooms, and a newer LEED-certified cabin with three bedrooms.

Things to Do: Most of the Jet Skiers and motor boaters go to other, larger lakes in the area, so you’ll usually enjoy peaceful fishing, paddleboarding, and swimming at Twin Lakes. You can go horseback riding or hiking in the bordering Ansel Adams Wilderness and the John Muir Wilderness, or take scenic drives to Devils Postpile National Monument in Mammoth Lakes or further out to Yosemite. Whether your day is rugged or serene, you can come back for a relaxing evening spent indulging on French-inspired cuisine at Tamarack’s acclaimed Lakefront Restaurant.

Lake Huron (Mackinac Island), Michigan

mackinac island waterfront.

Great for: Island seclusion
What’s Relaxing: The simple pleasures of a bygone era

Forget cars. Forget your worries. And forget the present. Staying true to its Victorian roots, Michigan’s Mackinac Island in Lake Huron will surely transport you to a slower pace of life. While many inns and resorts capture the island’s turn-of-the-century essence, two stand out for their tranquil lakeside settings away from the bustle of town. Hotel Iroquois, overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, is best known for its views and waterfront dining. Individually decorated rooms come with king or queen beds. Built in 1904, the Tudor-style Inn at Stonecliffe sits high on the island’s west bluff and offers bed-and-breakfast-style rooms and more modern suites, in addition to classic lawn games like bocce and croquet for guests.

Things to Do: Because no cars are allowed on the island, you have to get around by foot, bicycle, or horse-drawn carriage. No matter how you explore the island, head to the Mackinac Island Butterfly House, admiring blooming lilacs or lady slippers along the way, or shop for handmade fudge in town in between strolling through the many shops lining Main Street.

Lake Austin, Texas

yoga class at lake austin spa resort.

Great for: Wellness
What’s Relaxing: Meditative lake activities

One of seven reservoirs on the Colorado River, Lake Austin in Austin, Texas, is popular for paddlewheeling and pampering. Touted as one of the top spas in the country, Lake Austin Spa Resort will help you de-stress while attending to your health and well-being, all within a tranquil lake setting.

Things to Do: Lake activities range from kayaking and hydrobiking (which allows you to literally bike on water) to a relaxing boat cruise along the shore in an authentic stern-wheel riverboat. Exercise junkies can take part in cardio or dance programs, while meditation, Pilates, and yoga will help you stretch and balance both mind and body. Completely decompress with the resort’s vast menu of spa treatments and recharge with healthy organic dishes made from the on-site garden.

Moosehead Lake, Maine

lodge at moosehead lake maine adirondack chairs.

Great for: Luxury
What’s Relaxing?: Lakeside moose viewing

Only in Maine can you pair a moose safari with rustic elegance. At The Lodge at Moosehead Lake in Greenville, you get the very best the state has to offer, from lodge-style accommodations and local cuisine to mountain views and forays into the wilderness. Rooms don’t skimp on luxurious trimmings and are outfitted with amenities like fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs, pillow-top mattresses, and private decks.

Things to Do: Activities at Moosehead Lake are all about taking it slow. Paddle around the lake in a canoe or kayak, or take a guided pontoon boating excursion. The North Woods offers plenty of opportunities for bird watching and backwoods exploration, like viewing the pristine lake after a hike to the 800-foot summit of Mt. Kineo. And don’t miss the moose-sighting tours.

Lake Superior, Minnesota

grand marais lake superior.

Great for: Groups
What’s Relaxing: Listening to the waves from the warmth of your suite

Grand Marais in northern Minnesota makes for the perfect cool getaway. Not only does the town nearly reach the borders of Canada, but it’s set on Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes, with average temperatures of 40 degrees (though harbor waters can warm up enough for summer swimming). But when the chill strikes, there are plenty of ways to warm up, such as by a fireplace or in a hot tub at one of the area’s hotels. In town, East Bay Suites offers anything from studios to three bedrooms and can accommodate various guest arrangements. A bit farther down the lake on a beach, Lutsen Resort‘s luxury condos, historical lodge, seaside villas, and log cabins have something for everyone.

Things to Do: Kayak the shoreline along the Lake Superior Water Trail, or get in the car and tour the wilds of the Gunflint Trail, a National Scenic Byway that starts in Grand Marais and ends at Saganaga Lake on the U.S.-Canadian border. Or stay local and hike to Artists’ Point, a half-mile walk through a small boreal forest that leads to a breakwall with views of the East Bay.

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Packing

The Essential Beach Packing List

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

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

beach packing list

Luggage

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

Other Beach Packing Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Featured Items

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

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Categories
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.

[st_related]The 9 Best Cheap Hotels in Hawaii[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]7 Most Romantic Hawaii Resorts[/st_related]

What to Pack

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

More from SmarterTravel:

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.

Categories
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.

[viator_tour destination=”24″]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:293056″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:257718″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:256696″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:295678″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:256481″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:671097″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:640917″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:600155″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:5894209″ /]

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.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:287850″ /]

What to Pack on Your Trip

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

[viator_tour destination=”24″]

More from SmarterTravel:

[amazon_native_ad]

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

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

10 Fun Off-Resort Things to Do in Oahu


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

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

Have an Adventure

atvs at kualoa ranch

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

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

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

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

Hit the Beach

oahu beach

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

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

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

[st_related]10 Best Beaches in Honolulu[/st_related]

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.

[st_related]10 Great Places to Try Hawaiian Food in Honolulu[/st_related]

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.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”3326P12,20544P5,69524P11″]

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.

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod” tours=”14778P4,5140_W0018,6845P25″]

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

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

More from SmarterTravel:

[viator_tour destination=”672″ type=”3-mod”]

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 Beach Island

Which Brazilian Beach Matches Your Personality?

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

No trip to Brazil is complete without a trip to at least one of its beautiful beaches, but with over 7,000 miles of coastline, you’ll need to find the beach that’s right for you. Some people like to swim in the waves, others want to stay as still as humanly possible as they get their tan on, and many of us fall somewhere in between. Here are the best beaches in Brazil for every type of personality.

Rio de Janeiro: The Olympian

Rio de Janeiro tram brazil

Rio de Janeiro was host to the summer 2016 Olympics, but even when the city is not in an Olympic year, Rio de Janeiro is all about movement. If you want to jog along the Atlantic or maybe find a pick-up game of volleyball or futebol on the sand, Rio is the place to be. And as you explore the city along the shore, you’ll find outdoor gymnasiums where you can tone your muscles while you tan.

Even if you’re not the type of person who packs their running shoes on every vacation, you’ll still want to stay close to the beach to appreciate the beauty of the city and, maybe, be lucky enough to witness some prime Olympic eye-candy in training.

Grumari: The Day-Tripper

Paradise beach, beautiful beach, wonderful beaches around the world, Grumari beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, South America Brazil

Only an hour from the crowds of Copacabana in Rio, the beach town of Grumari has less than 200 inhabitants. The Atlantic forests and its mountains meet the sea, making the neighborhood a panorama like no other, making it the perfect day trip from Rio. How to get there? A tour company, like SouthAmerica.travel, will bring travelers to Grumari’s off-the-beaten-path beaches inaccessible by car—including Praia do Perigoso, Praia do Fundo, Praia do Inferno and Praia do Meio. On the way back to Rio, guests stop at a traditional seafood restaurant for famous dishes like Moquca de peixe (a Brazilian saltwater fish stew) and pastel de camarão (shrimp pastry).

São Sebastião: The Adventurer

Conceicao dos Gatos Waterfall Chapada Diamantina Bahia Brazil

If you’re looking for nature in Brazil, São Sebastião is renowned not only for its tranquil and clean beaches like Juquei and Camburi but also for its thick jungles and trails. Take the ferry across the channel to explore the island of Ilhabela. Once you’re there, it’s best to sign on for a jeep tour in order to ride the one road that will take you through the mountains to the other side of the island, where you’ll find the beautiful and remote Bonete Beach. Nearby hiking trails lead to stunning waterfalls like Cachoiera do Gato pictured above.

Guaruja: The Beach Bum

GUARUJA, BRAZIL

Among the most popular beaches for native Brazilians, Guaruja and the nearby city of Santos are great spots for travelers who want to sit back, beer in hand, and enjoy the ocean. With plenty of bars and snack-shops right on the sand—with vendors plying—you’ll never need to stray far from your towel. Because in Guaruja, everything comes to you. This beach-shopping culture is common throughout Brazil, and here you’ll see it in full effect as people stroll by selling everything from peanuts by the handful to horse rides. Praia de Enseada is the city’s main stretch, but if you’re looking for something different, the smaller and little-known Eden Beach is a little less crowded, as it takes a short drive through the forest and a steep hike down a staircase to get there. Despite this, when you arrive you’ll find all your needs met with a restaurant and full bar.

Ubatuba: The Surfer

Felix beach brazil in the summer season

Known as the surfing capital of Brazil, Ubatuba hosts more than ten important surf competitions every year, and it’s not hard to see why. Just down the coast from São Sebastião, Ubatuba offers beaches perfect for surfers of any level, though some, like Brava Da Almada, can only be accessed by hiking paths. If you’re looking to stay in touch, Felix Beach is located in a lively neighborhood with plenty of restaurants and bars to visit after a long day in the ocean. With plenty of beaches to choose from, you can always find the right one to suit your mood.

[st_related]Brazil’s Kitesurfing Paradise[/st_related]

Praia do Rosa: Sophisticated Surfing

beach of Rosa - Garopaba - Santa Catarina - Brazil - Drone Aerial Photo

Revered as the ultimate beach town escape from the bustling Brazilian cities of Curitiba and Florianopolis, Praia do Rosa’s verdant Atlantic forest, white-sandy dunes, and picturesque beaches have brought photographers and models here for photoshoots throughout the years. The area is also known for its cobblestone streets as well as cultured, eco-conscious residents, who contribute to its reputation as a “sophisticated surf village.”

Traveler Tip: Peak migratory season for the endangered Southern Right Whales is from July to November.

Natal: The Resort Lover

Unspoiled beautiful dunes of genipabu, Natal. brazil

The city called Christmas, or Natal in Portuguese, is a gift to beach-goers. Its proximity to the equator combines with a constant breeze to make this city the perfect resort town for stress-free vacation seekers. But Natal doesn’t only have beaches—visitors can also visit the world’s largest cashew tree or tour the epic sand dunes via dune buggy.

Salvador: The Historian

Aerial view of city salvador Elavator lacerda in bahia brazil

Salvador, aka “the capital of happiness,” is well known for its Afro-Brazilian history and is the perfect city for blending cultural immersion with your beach vacation. As the first colonial capital of Brazil, the city began as a main port for the slave trade, and no city has preserved the unique and colorful culture of Afro-Brazilians like Salvador. In the streets of the Pelourinho, the historic center of the old city, you’ll find musicians playing everything from samba to reggae and street performers practicing capoeira, the Brazilian fight-dance martial art that was invented by African slaves. Throughout the city, you’ll find museums, monuments, and some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in all of Brazil. Best of all for beach-seekers, Salvador is located on a peninsula, which means there’s plenty of coastline.

Beaches close to the city center are not known for being very clean, so it’s best to follow the locals and head to beaches in the city’s smaller neighborhoods like Farol da Barra BeachItapo, and Flamengo.

Ilha Grande: The Naturalist/The Adventurer

Cataguases Island in Angra dos Reis, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Blessed with white-sandy beaches, crystal-blue water, forested rolling hills and crisscrossing trails, Ilha Grande is an island paradise and small detour between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The area’s unruffled environment boasts 93 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, tranquil villages, and secluded beaches—the island does not allow cars, which makes it even more quiet and reposeful. If you’re looking to book a tour, SouthAmerica.travel brings you to stunning beaches, like Lopes Mendes Beach, which includes a boat ride and a hike through the forest to get there. There is also Ilha Comprida, which is home to Lagoa Azul—known as the “Blue Lagoon”—a crystal-clear lagoon with calm waters and perfect for swimming and snorkeling.

More from SmarterTravel:

What to Wear in Brazil:

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

Jamie Ditaranto identifies most with “the adventurer,” but also has “beach bum” tendencies whenever her book is good enough. Follow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. This article has been updated since the date of its publication with the input of SouthAmerica.travel.

Categories
Beach Island Luxury Travel Outdoors

10 Amazing Overwater Bungalows You Can Sleep In

For most of us, staying in an overwater bungalow perched above some turquoise lagoon far, far away, is a dream trip, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. We scrimp and save so we can spare no expense. And it’s worth it—especially if you’re headed for one of the world’s best.

Escape with us to thatched-roof hideaways where colorful reefs await at the bottom of your ladder and glass floor panels and outdoor showers remind you that there’s no vacation quite like this.

Overwater Bungalows to Add to Your Bucket-List

overwater bungalows four seasons resort bora bora

Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora

Number of Bungalows: 108

What’s Unique: The classic magazine cover shot, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora‘s picturesque string of bungalows arcs over turquoise South Pacific waters at the foot of Mt. Otemanu. The bungalows, fanning out from a lush private island, are some of the newest and most luxurious in French Polynesia. And, at the moment, they rank #1 on TripAdvisor for Bora Bora accommodations. Most thatched-roof bungalows have glass floor panels that look into the lagoon and some have private infinity-edge pools. The resort’s own marine biologist grafts coral and offers tours of the lagoon sanctuary.

Over-the-Top Services: Breakfast is delivered to you in a ceremonial Polynesian canoe and served with fragrant bouquets of flowers. As your table is being set, you can take a short canoe ride with a rower and wake to the sounds of Tahitian song.

overwater bungalow anantara kihavah villas

Anantara Kihavah Villas, Kihavah Huravalhi Island, Maldives

Number of Bungalows: 42

What’s Unique: Book a stay at the Anantara Kihavah Villas resort in the Baa Atoll region and you’ll arrive via seaplane from Male, the Maldives’ capital. Set out over crystal-clear waters are the resort’s one-bedroom and two-bedroom overwater villas, each with its own private infinity-edge pool. From your sunken glass-bottom bathtub (built for two) you can watch tiny fish swim beneath you while you soak. Other luxuries include his-and-hers walk-in wardrobes, a wine chiller, a hammock, a rain shower, an outdoor shower, and a personal villa host who is on call 24 hours a day.

Over-the-Top Services: Dine at the Anantara Kihavah’s underwater restaurant, then return to your villa for the Slumber Guru experience: a luxury milk bath by candlelight, a massage, homemade cookies and tea, mist for your pillow, lavender silk eye masks, and earplugs. It sure beats the standard “Do Not Disturb” door hanger.

overwater bungalows song saa private island

Song Saa Private Island, Koh Ouen And Koh Rong, Cambodia

Number of Bungalows: 9

What’s Unique: This resort is the first to be built on Cambodia’s mostly untouched islands in the Koh Rong archipelago. Song Saa spreads across two islands which are connected by a footbridge over a marine reserve, and with any luck, you’ll spot one of the protected sea turtles or seahorses during your stay. The resort’s ultramodern overwater villas have an air of always-been-here authenticity thanks to the reclaimed wood from retired fishing boats and local driftwood incorporated into the architecture and furnishings. The organic design manages to effortlessly blend luxuries like private infinity-edge pools, outdoor showers, and twin bathtubs into the surrounding rainforest.

Over-the-Top Services: Indulge in a Buddhist-inspired treatment at the resort’s rainforest wellness center or have local monks perform a traditional blessings ceremony for you. Staff can also turn your villa into a private cinema with a screen and projector for movie night.

overwater bungalows sofitel moorea la ora beach resort

Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort, Moorea Island, French Polynesia

Number of Bungalows: 39 overwater bungalows, with a total of 113 on the property on beaches and in the gardens

What’s Unique: On the northeastern coast of Moorea overlooking Tahiti, Sofitel Moorea occupies a coveted spot on one of the island’s most beautiful white-sand beaches. Snorkeling is popular here, and overwater-bungalow guests often have to shoo aside fish when climbing into the water from their private terraces. The bungalows—with glass floor panels, daybeds, stunning stone-tiled rain showers, and lavish bath amenities—define modern luxury with the French sophistication the Sofitel brand is known for.

Over-the-Top Services: You can book a lobster dinner right on the seashore. The resort’s K restaurant, with views of Tahiti and the peaceful lagoon, presents Te Vahine (The Woman), a Polynesian dance performance. Snorkeling-gear rental is free during your stay.

overwater bungalow cocoa island by como

Cocoa Island By COMO, South Male Atoll, Maldives

Number of Bungalows: 34

What’s Unique: Just a 40-minute speedboat ride from the Maldives’ international airport, this luxurious COMO resort on the private Cocoa Island (known locally as Makunufushi) is like no other. Cocoa Island by COMO‘s overwater-bungalow suites are built in the style of traditional Dhoni, the wooden boats used by local fishermen. They might look like mini Noah’s arks, but these suites don’t actually float. They’re fixed to stilts over the Indian Ocean and include private sundecks, luxurious bathrooms, and large windows with gorgeous views.

Over-the-Top Services: Wellness is a major focus at the resort, with therapies at the Shambhala Retreat center and Shambhala raw-cuisine options. Take a yoga or meditation class in the retreat center’s open-air pavilion, or experience India’s holistic Ayurvedic therapy in one of four massage-treatment rooms. Cocoa Island butlers often arrange intimate dinners for guests and give guided snorkeling tours.

overwater bungalow cayo espanto

Cayo Espanto, Ambergris Caye, Belize

Number of Bungalows: 1

What’s Unique: Cayo Espanto, on a private four-acre island in Belize’s Ambergris Caye area, is the next best thing to having your own Caribbean island. There are no more than 18 guests here at any given time, and the overwater bungalow and six beachfront villas are situated so that you need not see another soul during your stay if you don’t want to. As overwater bungalows go, Cayo Espanto’s one-bedroom is huge at 1,000 square feet. It sits alone at the end of a 150-foot dock. A glass floor panel looks onto the silvery bonefish below, and one of the world’s largest barrier reefs is nearby.

Over-the-Top Services: The chef customizes a menu based on the preferences you indicate in a pre-arrival survey. While you’re here, a personal butler is assigned to you.

overwater bungalows likuliku lagoon resort

Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Malolo Island, Fiji

Number of Bungalows: 10

What’s Unique: The first and only resort in Fiji with overwater bungalows (called bure in Fijian), Likuliku is built on the edge of a protected coral reef. Between the overwater bures and the shoreline is a tidal lagoon that fills at high tide and dries at low tide, which makes for interesting seabed exploring. Since there are only 10 overwater bungalows here, foot traffic on the boardwalk is minimal. The experience feels exclusive in this remote part of the Mamanuca archipelago, making the five-star resort especially popular with honeymooners.

Over-the-Top Services: The chef delivers a complimentary daily canape plate at sunset, exclusively to overwater-bure guests. Planning an engagement or vow renewal? Check Remarkable Honeymoons or Likuliku’s wedding page for packages that include everything from engagement-ring scavenger hunts to a Fijian-warrior guard and escort.

overwater bungalows hilton moorea lagoon resort & spa

Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa, Moorea Island, French Polynesia

Number of Bungalows: 54

What’s Unique: These bungalows perch above the wide, shallow lagoon that surrounds the island of Moorea, a seven-minute flight from Tahiti. Located on Moorea’s north side, Hilton Moorea Lagoon‘s bungalows are perfectly positioned for taking in views of sunrises, sunsets, and the island’s mountain ridges. Bedrooms feature a glass floor panel, and large Italian bathrooms include marble flooring, rain showers, golden claw-foot tubs, and dual vessel sinks made of stone. You can snorkel right off your deck. At night, sharks are occasionally sighted beneath the boardwalk at the resort’s Toatea Bar.

Over-the-Top Services: There’s private butler service to cater to your every whim. You can have breakfast delivered by canoe or a romantic dinner on your deck. When you order turndown service you’re greeted with lit candles, essential-oil aromas, soft music, and flowers on the bed and floor.

overwater bungalows intercontinental bora resort & thalasso spa

InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa, Motu Piti Aau, French Polynesia

Number of Bungalows: 80

What’s Unique: This eco-friendly hotel pumps ice-cold seawater from depths of 3,000 feet to power the air-conditioning in overwater bungalows and throughout the resort. InterContinental Bora Bora Resort & Thalasso Spa is also home to the South Pacific’s first thalassotherapy center and uses the deep-sea waters in spa treatments. In the overwater bungalows, very little separates you from spectacular mountain and lagoon views. There’s a glass wall in the bedroom, and the living room features a glass coffee table that opens up so you can toss pieces of bread to the colorful fish below. Even the bathtub offers a picture-perfect view of the water.

Over-the-Top Services: During a treatment at the Deep Ocean Spa, you can watch marine life pass below glass floor panels. Resort staff will deliver breakfast by a traditional decorated outrigger canoe.

view from the dive center misool eco resort

Misool Eco Resort, Raja Ampat, Indonesia

Number of Bungalows: 8

What’s Unique: On a private Indonesian island inside a protected No-Take Zone, this dive resort and conservation center treads lightly. Not a single tree was felled to create Misool, a Secret Retreats-member resort. It was built entirely of driftwood and naturally fallen timbers milled onsite in the presence of cockatoos, parrots, baby sharks, and sea turtles. Surrounding Misool are some of the richest reefs on Earth, in the waters of the Coral Triangle region. When you’re not diving, read a book on your verandah’s hammock or soak in the tropical vibe while showering in a Balinese-style bathroom that opens up to the sky.

Over-the-Top Services: Excellent service is a hallmark here. The resort’s maximum capacity is only 32 guests and the staff-to-guest ratio is three to one. Book the spa’s after-sun skin-rescue treatment, complete with a banana-leaf body wrap right on your verandah.

More from SmarterTravel:

What to Pack

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 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Budget Travel Cities Entertainment Travel Technology Travel Trends

The 5 Best Ticket Websites for Booking Day Tours and Travel Activities

When it comes to booking travel, most of our attention goes to finding the best airfare, hotel rate, cruise price, and maybe car rental; the big ticket, can’t-get-there-without-it, stuff. Those are obviously fundamental components of any trip. But they’re certainly not the only important bookings you’ll make. Once you’ve booked everything you need to get there, consider these activity and excursion ticket websites—the best of which let you search popular things to do and see in your destination. And whether you’re looking for something as exhilarating as skydiving or something as simple as a walking food tour, you can usually search for them on one site.

The excursions, tours, performances, and other activities you experience on your travels can make or break a trip. No one wants to be disappointed when an activity booking doesn’t work out or turns out not to be what you though it was—so you’ll want to be able to search offerings, and preferably to compare ratings of them. Plus, it’s essential to make sure you’re booking with reputable ticket websites offering reasonable prices. 

[st_related]The 12 Best Flight Search Sites for Booking Cheap Airfare[/st_related]

The Best Excursion Ticket Websites for Travelers

Here are five ticket websites and providers that won’t let you down.

Viator

Owned by TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company), Viator is a vast activity and excursion ticket website; one of the largest out there. Travelers can book anything from airport shuttle service, to guided tours, to skip-the-line admission at attractions all over the world. And because it’s similar to TripAdvisor, travelers can also browse reviews of the activity they’re eyeing. Most listings include comprehensive details about the tour and a generous cancellation policy (usually 24-hours prior to the activity with no penalty).

Viator does not operate the tours it sells. Rather, it’s a search engine of things to do. As such, its offerings tend to focus on cities and better-known travel destinations, although that includes excursions out of those places into the surrounding areas; like tours from Boston to New Hampshire’s White Mountains, tours of the Dutch countryside from a departure point in Amsterdam, etc. This makes Viator a great option for travelers who want to headquarter themselves in one hotspot but still experience the broader region. 

GetYourGuide

Another day-tour-heavy option, GetYourGuide overlaps somewhat with Viator, but is focused more solely on experiences and tours (Viator includes services such as airport and in-town transportation services). Functionally, the sites aren’t very different; both offer an opportunity to compare tours and prices. And on that last note, it can be worth checking both: I found the exact same Dutch windmill tour on both sites, and the price on GetYourGuide was $67, compared to $73 on Viator. Not a huge difference, but for the exact same experience it’s worth noting.

StubHub

For more event-focused resale ticket website StubHub is a useful last-minute option for verified tickets to everything from sports and concerts to comedy shows and theater seats. For the uninitiated, StubHub is a resale marketplace for ticket holders (and, let’s be honest, scalpers) to unload tickets they can’t use. This means shopping on StubHub is a double-edged sword: You’ll likely pay well above face value for high-demand or sold out events, but you can also find great deals at the last minute if the opposite is true. In the former case, StubHub (or similar initial-sale and resale option Ticketmaster) may be your only viable option. And in the latter case, StubHub can be a savvy way to save or even make some money; keep that in mind if you’ve ever bought some event tickets and then couldn’t attend.

Check out SmarterTravel’s roundup of the best in booking sites for 2020. Want more expert tips and vacation inspiration? Subscribe to SmarterTravel on YouTube!

Airbnb Experiences

Airbnb is all about living like a local, and Airbnb Experiences is no different. The emphasis here is on small or even private tours led by locals rather than tour companies, with an eye toward unique experiences rather than traditional sightseeing. Sometimes these experiences can be tailored to your interests: I booked a private bicycle tour of Berlin through Airbnb Experiences a few years back, and the guide all but ditched his preset itinerary and improvised based on my interests. As a result I got to see parts of the city I might never have found on my own. 

One important consideration to remember: These are often regular folks, not full-time professional guides or tour operators, so it’s a good idea to bring a go-with-the-flow attitude on your excursion. Your experience may not be as polished or precise as a traditional tour, even if the host has been doing this for a while. Of course, the point of these experiences is to forgo those cookie cutter tours in favor of something different. AirBnB includes reviews and makes it easy to communicate with the experience host beforehand, so don’t hesitate to ask questions prior to booking.

Atlas Obscura

Speaking of forgoing the cookie cutter experience, Atlas Obscura focuses, as its name implies, on all things obscure: The bizarre, forgotten, and hard-to-reach corners of a given city or destination that you wouldn’t normally find on excursion ticket websites. While nowhere near as robust as the other entries on this list, Atlas Obscura also offers a curated selection of tours and experiences. It’s currently in a half dozen U.S. cities, with more to come. Think: A guided wine-and-bug (yes, insects) pairing experience in Los Angeles, or a trip inside a holographer (maker of holograms) laboratory in New York. The tours are offered through Atlas Obscura, but AirBnB handles the booking, After all, anyone can visit the Hollywood Walk of Fame, right? So why not be different and check out a … Sci Fi Sewage Sanctuary

Readers: What are your go-to providers for on-the-ground activities? Share your favorites in the comments below.

More from SmarterTravel:

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Airport Beach Entertainment Experiential Travel Group Travel Outdoors Peer-to-Peer Travel Senior Travel Solo Travel Travel Trends

8 Best Mancations for Every Type of Guy


No offense guys, but many of you are tough to please when it comes to travel. While plenty of you are avid travelers, for the most part, women dominate travel decisions and planning. Whether you’re looking for a guy’s trip, bachelor party, solo getaway, or a father-son vacation, here are eight destinations where you can truly have a stress-free vacation.

San Diego, California

three men surfing in san diego california

Relax and unwind in California while avoiding the hassle of Los Angeles. San Diego makes for a great solo trip or bachelor party destination—with activities suiting both types of trips. La Jolla is a great surfing destination, while downtown San Diego is home to great nightlife. Go to a Padres game, play a round at world-famous Torrey Pines, take a craft brewery tour, enjoy rooftop bars in the Gaslamp Quarter—the activities are endless with year-round mild weather and fewer crowds than other popular California destinations.

Where to Stay: If you want to golf, stay at Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines for a guaranteed tee time at the legendary course every day. Or opt to stay closer to downtown at Hotel Indigo San Diego Gaslamp Quarter for a more urban experience.

[st_related]10 Fun Things to Do in San Diego[/st_related]

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:1237001″ /]

Rome, Italy

Outdoor view of the colosseum or coliseum, also known as flavian amphitheatre

For an incomparable European experience, look no further than Rome. From the ruins of the Forum, Palatine Hill, and the Circus Maximus to the lively nightlife, Rome is the perfect guys trip. You can also golf at the championship course, Parco di Roma Golf Club, with the St. Peter’s dome as your backdrop.

Where to Stay: The Rome Cavalieri offers pools, access to Parco di Roma Golf Club, gladiator training in the hotel’s private park, a central location, an Italian Super Car “experience day”, a private visit to the Vatican Gardens and Sistine Chapel, and its own art collection for the ultimate Roman experience.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:190138″ /]

Phoenix, Arizona

Man holds a bike in the air phoenix arizona

Enjoy the desert heat in Phoenix poolside or on the golf course at any of the area’s 185 courses. Depending on the time of year, you can also catch a football game at the University of Phoenix Stadium or a baseball game at Chase Field. Take an ATV tour in the desert, river raft and fish outside of Scottsdale, or rent a boat on Tempe Town Lake (all within driving distance of Phoenix).

Where to Stay: The Arizona Biltmore boasts eight pools, private cabanas, bike rentals, desert jeep tours, Grand Canyon tours, and a championship golf course. You’ll have it all at this resort.

[st_related]8 Awesome Things to Do in Arizona (That Aren’t the Grand Canyon)[/st_related]

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:115484″ /]

Bali, Indonesia

tourists walk through the gate of a hindu temple in bali

If you’re willing to make the journey, Bali is the best Southeast Asian destination for a guys trip. You can surf at some of the world’s best beaches, relax at countless infinity pools, visit Hindu temples, and enjoy the beautiful landscape of the rice paddies and volcanoes. Once you’re there, everything is pretty inexpensive and the food, nightlife, and culture are well worth the flight.

Where to Stay: Conrad Bali is located on the coast of Nusa Dua at Tanjung Benoa and offers activity planning, golf, a beach coastline, a wellness studio, three restaurants, and multiple pools.

Maine

man hiking in the woods of main

If you’re looking to go off-the-grid, the Maine Huts & Trails is the perfect adventure trip. The hut-and-trail system is located in western Maine along trails marked by mountains, lakes, rivers, and waterfalls. There are four hut stops—Stratton Brook, Flagstaff, Grand Falls, and Poplar—connected by paths accessible via foot or bike. From hiking and biking to fishing, canoeing, paddleboarding, and swimming, the options are endless. And if you’re looking for a winter trip, you can ski and snowshoe.

Where to Stay: Book your trip through Maine Huts & Trails, with rates at $90 per night, including three daily meals.

[st_related]9 Epic Hut-to-Hut Hiking Trips[/st_related]

Louisville, Kentucky

a bourbon flight in louisville kentucky

Take on the bourbon trail with your group of guy friends (and SmarterTravel’s handy five-day guide). From the bourbon to the food, Louisville makes for a great weekend or long-weekend destination. Check out the Louisville Slugger Museum and Muhammad Ali Center for some non-bourbon activities.

 Where to Stay: 21c Museum Hotel Louisville also doubles as a contemporary art museum, fulfilling your childhood dream of sleeping in a museum. They offer free tours, and a great view of downtown Louisville, all within a few blocks of 4th Street’s nightlife.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:601490″ /]

Killarney, Ireland

view of canoes on lake in killarney ireland

You can have any type of vacation in Killarney. It’s a stop on the Ring of Kerry circuit, the start and endpoint for the Kerry Way walking trail, and home to the castles, lakes, and mountains found in Killarney National Park. It also offers access to renowned golf courses and a great culinary and pub scene.

Where to Stay: The Ross is located in the heart of the town center, close to the national park. They also offer an “Off the Beaten Track” guide and cater to whatever activity you decide to do: if you’re golfing, they will store your golf equipment and offer early breakfast, or if you’re hiking, they will reserve guides, pack a lunch, and give route recommendations.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:218639″ /]

Lake Louise, Canada

man paddles on lake louise in canada

Located in Banff National Park, Lake Louise offers a variety of activities for your guys-only trip in Canada’s “Diamond in the Wilderness.” Come summertime, the area offers hiking, ATV excursions, canoeing, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, rock climbing, and white water rafting. And in the winter, the lake is home to some of the best downhill skiing areas anywhere. Year-round, you can opt for a helicopter tour, glacier walk, wildlife safari, skydiving, paragliding, cave tours, or grizzly bear tour. Make sure to also check out the town of Banff, about a 40-minute drive away for even more activities, bars, and fine dining.

Where to Stay: The Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise will plan your entire trip through their concierge service so you can enjoy your vacation stress-free. Choose from their seasonal guides and make sure to take one of their GoPros with you to capture your adventures.

[js_hotel_rates_cta hotel=”taid:186815″ /]

More From SmarterTravel:

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

[st_deals_search search_type=vacation]