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Sustainable Travel

12 Ways to Travel Sustainably and Still Have a Great Vacation

Sustainable travel is more than a trend—for an increasing number of travelers, it’s as integral to trip planning as comparing flight prices and browsing hotel listings. Motivated by the idea that a planet this spectacular deserves the care of those who navigate it, travelers are taking easy, small steps that reduce the impact of their travels while protecting natural resources and supporting local economies.

How would you rate your travel sustainability? Here are 12 sustainable travel tips—including shopping local, getting off the beaten path, and offsetting your carbon footprint—to help you reduce the impact of your travels. This generation of travelers—and the next, and the next—will thank you for it.

Buy from Local Artists and Eat Local Food

Market vendor in oaxaca,mexico

Farmers’ markets are a great place to find locally produced art and food. Buying locally supports the economy and—because the goods haven’t travelled far to get to you—helps keep the carbon footprint low.

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Support Businesses That Support Local Sustainability  

Before booking any tour, ask in advance about group size (smaller has less of an impact), whether locals guide the tours, and how the operator gives back to the community and prevents harming ecosystems. When you visit the Amazon, for example, hire a tour company that helps preserve indigenous communities most directly affected by deforestation. Wherever you go, look for locally owned hotels that compost and recycle or use alternative energy sources. This list of environmentally friendly tour operators and hotels is a great place to start when you’re considering how to travel sustainably.

Make a Donation to Help Preserve Natural and Historic Sites

Instead of leaving a few coins during your visit, consider a more significant contribution. If you’re hiking Borneo, for instance, paying more than your park fee or hiring a sustainable tour operator will help convince the government that preserving the forest, rather than exploiting it, is good for business and may prompt conservation. Donating to the Sustainable Preservation Initiative helps poor communities leverage their historic sites responsibly so they can create self-reliance and economic stability to thrive.

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Skip Activities That Negatively Impact the Environment or Community

man hiking thorugh mountains lago delle fate, italia

As a result of climate change, many ski towns in the European Alps whose economies rely on winter tourism are now overusing snowmaking machines. Unfortunately, these machines only contribute to the escalation of global warming. Visit the Alps in summer for hiking instead, or find an alternate ski destination with natural snow. If you’re a fan of animal attractions, do a bit of investigating and visit only those that are true sanctuaries with high standards.

Pay a Little Extra if it Means Having Less of an Impact

For your next road trip, rent a hybrid or electric car. On your next cruise, try a smaller ship, which has a significantly smaller carbon footprint and produces less waste than a 6,000-passenger behemoth. It often doesn’t cost much more to travel more sustainably, but it can make a big difference in your personal impact.

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Spend More Time in Less Touristy Attractions

Overdevelopment and overcrowding can be as threatening as climate change in the most popular destinations around the world. Spain’s Costa del Sol and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat temple complex are only a couple of examples of places where tourism’s footprint could cause irreparable damage. Seek alternative destinations. Instead of joining the hoards in Machu Picchu, visit the similar but lesser-known “lost” Inca city of Choquequirao. Instead of Ibiza or Majorca, go to Sardinia or Crete—larger islands that can handle more visitors.

Bike or Use Public Transit Instead of Driving or Hailing a Taxi

two women riding bicycles in city

Bike-sharing programs in more than 1,000 cities around the world make it easier and cheaper than ever to explore urban destinations. Seeing a new destination by bike, public transit, or on foot reduces your impact and offers more opportunities for interacting with locals. Touring Florida’s everglades? Go minimal impact with a guided swamp walk.

Switch to Reef-Safe, Oxybenzone-Free Sunscreen

Harmful chemicals from sunscreen worn by swimmers and snorkelers contribute to the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other reefs around the world. Oxybenzone damages adult coral and deforms and kills new coral, reducing its ability to regenerate. Choose oxybenzone-free products or wear protective clothing when swimming and snorkeling.

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Volunteer During Your Trip

See your travel destination from an entirely different perspective. As a volunteer rather than a traveler, you’ll learn more about the place you’re visiting and have a chance to be part of the sustainability solution. Consider participating in a conservation project or another cause that makes your heart sing. Check Transitions Abroad and Idealist for links to some organizations to consider for your volunteer vacation. But make sure your volunteer efforts will be helpful, not harmful, before you decide where to go.

Bring Your Own Water Bottle

Man holding a bottle on the carpathian mountains background

According to the Sierra Club, the billions of plastic water bottles that end up in landfills each year will take up to 1,000 years to decompose. Invest in a stainless steel reusable bottle for your next trip. If the tap water in your destination isn’t safe to drink, purify it with a SteriPEN or water purification tablets. Another option: Pick up a gallon (or larger container) of water to keep in your room.

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Offset Your Carbon Footprint

Contribute to a carbon offsetting company and, on your behalf, someone will plant a tree or contribute to another carbon sequestration project that can absorb the toxic carbon dioxide emitted for every mile you travel, netting a zero-sum total. Some popular destinations even have their own offset programs.

Stick to the Trail

It’s tempting to step over the roped-off area to get the perfect photo for Instagram. But when millions of tourists follow suit, the effect is substantial. Whether you’re at a UNESCO World Heritage site or a local park, preserve the land by staying on the marked trails. Many ecosystems are so delicate that even a couple steps across the greenery or light brush against the coral can cause irreparable damage.

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

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

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Beach Cities Island

The 10 Best Beach Destinations in the World

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

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

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

Providenciales, Turks and Caicos

grace bay beach providenciales

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

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

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

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Bali, Indonesia

grace bay beach providenciales

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

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

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

Maui, Hawaii

tropical beach maui hawaii

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

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

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

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Grenada

morne rouge beach grenada

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

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

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

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

fernando de noronha brazil

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

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

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

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Clearwater Beach, Florida

sunset clearwater beach florida

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

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

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

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Crete, Greece

elafonissi beach pink sand crete greece

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

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

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

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St. Lucia

white sand-beach saint lucia caribbean

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

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

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

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Praslin Island, Seychelles

anse lazio beach praslin island seychelles

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

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

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

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

myrtle beach south carolina at night

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

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

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

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

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Cities Historical Travel

10 Mythical Places That Really Exist

They say there’s a grain of truth in every tale, so we went looking for it. As it turns out, there could have been a Camelot with Round Table knights. A lost city of gold. A Trojan War among Greek gods.

We’re taking you to 10 of the world’s must-see mythical places, some of which are actual archaeological sites, so you can experience the intrigue and see why scholars haven’t ruled out the possibility of their existence.

The Odyssey’s Cyclops Riviera, Sicily, Italy

Cyclops Rocks in Calabria Italy mythical places.

The Myth: An ancient Greek poem attributed to Homer, The Odyssey traces Odysseus (or Ulysses, in the Roman version of the myth) and his epic journey home after the Trojan War. A fantastic chain of events has the homesick hero battling a fierce one-eyed monster Cyclops and a six-headed sea monster, Scylla.

The Place: Along the real-life Cyclops Riviera (who knew?) that stretches from Catania to Acireale along Sicily’s gorgeous eastern coast, you’ll find seaside towns, citrus orchards, and looming Mount Etna, home of Cyclops and Vulcan, the god of fire. Scilla, the nearby Calabria fishing village, is named after the sea monster that devoured Odysseus’ companions.

Why Go: To see Cyclops Rocks, the volcanic cliffs offshore that, as legend has it, Cyclops threw at Odysseus. Ride a cable car to the top of Mount Etna, then take a special terrain vehicle to the crater area at this active volcano. Sicily is also home to the Valley of Temples, ruins of temples built for Zeus, Hercules, and other gods.

Site of the Trojan War, Troy, Turkey

Turkey trojan horse mythical places.

The Myth: Homer’s other epic Greek poem, The Iliad, recounts the brutal 10-year Trojan War between the city of Troy and the Achaeans (ancient Greeks) that sparked when the prince of Troy kidnapped Helen, the daughter of Zeus. Thanks to Odysseus’ plan to use the fabled wooden Trojan horse, he and the Achaeans penetrated the massive walls of Troy and besieged the city.

The Place: For centuries, scholars were convinced the Trojan War was entirely a Greek myth. But in the late 1800s, archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann uncovered what historians believe are the remnants of Troy near Turkey’s northwest coast. Today the 4,000-year-old ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Why Go: To wander the temples and ruins once ravaged by slaughter and widespread fire. There’s also a reconstruction of the Trojan horse at the archeological site. If you want to see the prop horse from the 2004 film Troy that starred a buff Brad Pitt, visit the boardwalk in nearby Canakkale.

Shangri-La, Himalayan Mountains, Tibet

Shangri La Himilayas mythical places.

The Myth: The name “Shangri-La” first appeared in James Hilton’s 1933 novel Lost Horizon as a fictional utopia high in the Tibetan Himalayas, where life is enlightened and days are lived in peace and wonder. So influential was the myth that the term now appears in the dictionary as a synonym for a remote paradise.

The Place: Several communities deep within the snow-capped Himalayas have since claimed to be the novel’s inspiration, and the China-Tibet border town of Zhondian even renamed itself Shangri-La in 2001. But any definite location of any actual Shangri-La, as with Buddhism’s enlightened Himalayan kingdom of Shambhala, is pure speculation.

Why Go: To marvel at the peace and wonder you’ll find in early morning hours at Zhondian’s Songzanlin Monastery. In the village are teahouses and Buddhist prayer flags flapping in the high-altitude breeze. Area hiking trails will lead you through paradise’s Tiger Leaping Gorge and Shangri-La Canyon.

King Arthur’s Camelot, Cornwall, England

Tintagel, England's King Arthur Court and Merlin's Cave mythical places.

The Myth: As the legend goes, King Arthur was a British leader who led his Knights of the Round Table against Saxon invaders in the 5th or 6th century CE. He took the throne at Camelot by pulling a magical sword, Excalibur, from a stone, a feat only the true king of Britain could accomplish.

The Place: British Library manuscripts suggest Arthur is based on an actual person who lived in Shropshire. That county’s Wroxeter archaeological dig site, with remains of an ancient city and castle, is believed to be King Arthur’s Camelot.

Why Go: To check out the dig site and its museum, which displays artifacts from the excavation. Explore possible Sword in the Stone evidence at Mitchell’s Fold stone circle. You can visit Arthur’s reputed birthplace in Tintagel near clifftop castle ruins and Merlin’s cave. Mecca for mystics, the town of Glastonbury now sits on what is considered the king’s final resting place, the Isle of Avalon.

Loch Ness, Highlands, Scotland

The Myth: In Scotland’s most famous modern-day myth, the Loch Ness Monster is said to inhabit the 23-mile-long and 600-foot-deep Loch Ness. A London doctor first captured “Nessie” on film in 1934. Dozens of reported sightings and hoaxes have cropped up ever since, and the mystery remains unsolved.

The Place: At this glacier-carved lake, the peaty-brown water never freezes, and in calm, warm conditions some say it’s prone to mirage. Several monster-related attractions and souvenir shops satisfy the droves of tourists that visit each year.

Why Go: For a chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive Nessie. Take a boat cruise tour with a guide who will recount stories of sightings and take you past Urquhart Castle, a medieval fortress. In Drumnadrochit, the Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition presents research and eyewitness accounts of the monster. See an impressive series of canal locks at the south end of Loch Ness.

Pele’s Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii

Pele's Hawaii, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Hilo, Hawaii

The Myth: Not just a cute legend told in grass skirts at luaus, Pele, the goddess of the volcano, is a very real part of the beliefs held by Hawaiian natives. Every fiery eruption here is said to be her molten body moving across the land. According to legend, anyone who removes a piece of rock from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park suffers Pele’s wrath with streaks of bad luck, often prompting the offender to abandon the rock or return it.

The Place: Locals say Pele’s home is Halema’uma’u Crater at the national park’s summit caldera of Kilauea. In this sacred place, Hawaiians still practice the ancient tradition of giving Pele offerings—chants, dances, or leis made of native materials.

Why Go: To see the caldera, walk through a lava tube, or watch glowing lava spew and ooze after dark. Along the 11-mile Crater Rim Drive, the Jaggar Museum overlook offers the best and closest view of Halema’uma’u when it erupts.

El Dorado, Bogota, Colombia

Guatavita Bogota Lake mythical places.

The Myth: The mention of El Dorado conjures up images of a fabled city rich in treasures somewhere in the thick South American jungle. But the myth is actually linked to sunken treasure in a Colombian lake. It is said that a Muisca tribal chief, in worshipping the goddess of water, would cover himself in gold dust, load a raft with his priests and the village’s gold treasures, then dive into the lake with the offerings.

The Place: On an ecological reserve outside of Bogota, the green-hued Lake Guatavita is the sacred El Dorado ceremonial site. Since the days of the Spaniards, several expeditions have attempted to loot the gold, turning up small amounts of everything from jewelry to ornaments and armor.

Why Go: To hike the trails around the lake and imagine what still lies at the muddy bottom. At the Museo del Oro (Gold Museum) in Bogota, check out the golden Muisca raft, a piece that dates to somewhere between 1200 and 1500 BCE.

Xanadu, Inner Mongolia

Xanadu Mongolia mythical places.

The Myth: Some of us hear “Xanadu” and immediately flash back to the ’80s musical with Olivia Newton-John on roller skates. Roller discos aside, the definition of Xanadu is an idyllic place of great beauty, luxury, and contentment. And that’s what English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge describes when he references Xanadu in his famous poem “Kubla Khan.”

The Place: As Coleridge’s poem notes, Xanadu (or Shangdu) was the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s Yuan Dynasty after 1264. It was located in what is now Inner Mongolia, some 220 miles north of Beijing, but was abandoned in 1430. Xanadu was recently added to the list of World Heritage sites and features the remains of the city’s temples, palaces, and tombs, and a canal.

Why Go: To experience an idyllic place set among mountains and a river and planned according to traditional Chinese feng shui. At the Xanadu archaeological site, you can see how the city was laid out to accommodate Mongolian tribal meetings and hunting.

Mount Olympus, Greece

Mount Olympus Greece, mythical places.

The Myth: The setting for numerous Greek myths, Mount Olympus is known as the home of the 12 ancient gods (Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Athena, and other big names). According to Homer, the gods live in the mountain’s mysterious folds. Pantheon (now called Mytikas) is their meeting place, where Zeus hears heated discussions and unleashes his thunderous wrath.

The Place: From ancient days, fog and frequent storms have enshrouded this mountain in mystery, inspiring the awe and admiration of onlookers at its base. Now a protected national park, Olympus is an important sanctuary for birds and rare plants and animals.

Why Go: To experience the wrath of Zeus as you watch a tempestuous storm roll in. Well-marked trails traverse Mount Olympus, and they’re relatively easy to climb. You can follow one of several mountaineering clubs, stopping at refuges along the way.

Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, England

nottingham castle Robin Hood mythical places.

The Myth: More than 600 years’ worth of ballads, plays, novels, and movies have spun the tale of this fearless, noble outlaw. Accounts vary, but most modern versions peg Robin Hood as a highly skilled archer who steals from the rich and gives to the poor, leading a merry gang against the injustices of the Sheriff of Nottingham.

The Place: Once a royal hunting forest, Sherwood Forest is now a 450-acre national nature reserve with visitor-center exhibits and trails leading past some of Europe’s oldest trees. See what’s believed to be Robin Hood’s hideout: the hollow trunk of Major Oak, a giant twisted tree with a girth of 36 feet that’s estimated at 800 years old.

Why Go: For the Robin Hood Festival in July, where you’ll find characters in medieval costume as well as archery and jousting demonstrations. In Nottingham you can take a guided walking tour to learn about key sites, including Robin’s grave.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

Categories
Active Travel Adventure Travel Outdoors

10 Best Hidden Hot Springs in North America


Nothing beats a warm soak outside on a crisp day. You’ll have to ramble down dirt roads, hike into canyons, and cross suspension bridges to get to these hidden hot springs. But the effort will make the “ahhh” even sweeter when you finally slip into a steamy bath set in the middle of thick forest or beneath the glittery Milky Way. Here are 10 of our favorite hot springs in the U.S. and Canada.

Chena Hot Springs, Near Fairbanks, Alaska

At McCredie Hot Springs, a little string of hot pools lines the edge of Salt Creek, where you can sit and enjoy a warm soak with the sound of a river rushing by. Here, in the middle of the Willamette National Forest, bathers shift rocks to create just the right mix of warm and cool water in the pools, which can range from 98 to 114 degrees (temperatures can be dangerously hot, so proceed with caution when enjoying the hot springs). In winter, this area, at an elevation of 2,000 feet, is often blanketed in snow, so you can have a roll in the white stuff and then watch it melt off your skin in the hot springs. It’s a great way to spend the afternoon after hitting the slopes in Willamette Pass or snowshoeing at Salt Creek Falls, one of Oregon’s highest waterfalls.

Getting There: From Eugene, follow Highway 58 east for 46 miles. McCredie is between mileposts 46 and 47, just east of Oakridge and near Blue Pool Campground in Willamette National Forest. The springs are about 200 yards from the roadside parking lot. Note that the campgrounds are closed in the winter and operate on a first-come, first-serve basis.

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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.

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

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Categories
In-Flight Experience

What Happens If You Don’t Switch Your Phone to Airplane Mode When You Fly?


It’s a familiar routine: You board the plane, settle into your seat, and then text frantically, trying to eke out just one last message before you hear the flight attendant’s announcement to switch your portable electronic devices to airplane mode.

For now, switching to airplane mode is a federal requirement on U.S. domestic flights. You must disable wireless transmission functions such as cellular voice and data.

But why?

Here’s the answer: Cell phones are designed to send out signals strong enough to reach great distances. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which originally put the ban in place back in the early 1990s, the radio frequency emitted by these and other electronic devices could interfere with cell tower networks on the ground.

What Happens If You Forget to Turn On Airplane Mode?

If you don’t switch into airplane mode then your cell phone or cellular-enabled tablet will keep attempting to make connections with every cell tower on the ground that the airplane passes.

Not only will the signals cause interference with airplane navigation, but the effort it takes your cell phone to keep scanning and tower hopping at fly-by speeds will also drain your battery and still not maintain a constant signal.

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“Cellular does not function as well with the speed and altitude of the plane and so needs an alternate off-aircraft connectivity solution to make it work,” says John Wade, EVP and Chief Operating Officer at Gogo, a technology company that provides in-flight connectivity and wireless entertainment services for Delta, United, and others.

“Wi-Fi usage takes advantage of the aircraft’s off-aircraft connectivity, enabling a better connection and functionality.”

Accessing In-Flight Wi-Fi

Almost all airlines nowadays offer in-flight Wi-Fi, which is made possible because it’s satellite-based and not dependent on cellular tower connections. Almost every domestic airline offers in-flight Wi-Fi but there is only one airline that offers it for free, and that is customer-favorite, JetBlue. You can view our Airline Fees chart to see which domestic airlines have in-flight Wi-Fi and at what cost.

Through this network, you can surf online, read emails, check social media, or chat using Internet-based messaging apps like iMessage, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp. Although you can’t now text with SMS over cellular, you can use Wi-Fi.

And although you can’t now make in-flight voice calls over cellular, you could use Wi-Fi. But U.S. airlines won’t allow it. All domestic carriers prohibit VoIP calls even though many international carriers do. And what happens to that plane when it enters U.S. airspace? The technology that allows in-flight calling is turned off.

Today, there is more extensive bandwidth and upgraded satellite technology on most airlines around the world, with Qantas and JetBlue among the first to adopt.

In February 2017, Qantas introduced its new in-flight Wi-Fi network using the upgraded technology. Connection speeds are up to 10 times faster than conventional in-flight Wi-Fi, allowing passengers to stream Netflix, Spotify, and other online content to their personal devices. And recently more airlines have come out with gate-to-gate connectivity like Southwest, Norwegian, and JetBlue (which also supports streaming services).

And if airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi, they most likely also allow you to stream video and other media in-flight, but it’ll cost you. Similar to the tiered Wi-Fi plans that you’ll find at hotels, you now see on planes with passengers having the option to select a certain speed of Wi-Fi for their inflight plans. The only exception to this is when the airline offers in-flight entertainment on your own device via its app, which is free to stream.

Stay Entertained with Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Bose noise cancelling headphones
Bose Noise-Cancelling Headphones

Whether your flight is one hour or 10, the best way to make the time soar by is by watching pre-downloaded movies, audiobooks, or music with noise-canceling headphones.

The Future of In-Flight Cellular

Over a decade ago the European Commission began allowing in-flight cellular service throughout the EU. Several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, offer onboard voice calling, data, and texting, while others allow only data and texting.

Technically speaking, the service requires that each plane be fitted with its own mobile base station, a network control unit that prevents onboard phone signals from reaching land-based networks and a satellite link to terrestrial phone networks.

The technology has been deployed successfully in Europe and around the world without incident, according to the FCC. It’s available in the United States, too. Some of Gogo’s business aviation customers are already using it, but none of the technology company’s 16 commercial airline customers have requested it.

Over the past several years the FCC has been collecting consumer and technical input as it considers new proposed rules that would give airlines the freedom to allow cellular service if the aircraft is outfitted with the proper onboard equipment.

If the FCC adopts the new rules, the final decision whether to implement in-flight cellular service is up to the airlines, which would still need to comply with FAA and U.S. Department of Transportation regulations.

The Perfect Bag to Store Your Essentials

The Weekender Bag by Away

It’s the ideal bag to compliment your carry-on. Hop on the latest trend with the Away brand’s Weekend bag to hold all your belongings.

Do Americans Even Want Voice Calling?

A 2016 Gogo Global Traveler study evaluated passengers’ interest in using and willingness to pay for voice calls in the air. It found wide variations by region, with the greatest interest among Asian and Latin American markets. Forty-two percent of global passengers were interested in using voice services, compared to only 23 percent in the United States.

“The majority of passengers do not want in-flight mobile phone calls, so even if the FAA approves it many airlines have received feedback from their customers opposing it,” says Wade.

Stay Comfortable on Your Flight with These Looks

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Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to note that the ban on in-flight cellular data use originated with the FCC, not the FAA, and to clarify the reasons behind this ban. This article was written in 2017 and has been updated with the latest information.

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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.

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8 Genius Ways to Preserve Your Phone’s Battery Life While Traveling


You rely on your phone more than ever while traveling. It’s your camera, your lifeline to social media, a phrase translator, and a nearby restaurant locator, among other things. Is it any wonder battery life drains so quickly?

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How to Preserve Battery Life on Your Phone

But not to worry—there are battery-life preserving hacks that can make all the difference when you’re on the go. Here are eight tips from Apple, T-Mobile, and Verizon to help you preserve phone battery life whether you’re day-tripping or globetrotting to some dream destination.

1. Switch to Airplane Mode (Even When You’re Not on the Plane)

[st_content_ad]When you’re traveling internationally or in more remote areas, your phone is working hard to keep you connected even if you don’t want to be. No matter where you are, your phone is always searching for a signal. And even after your phone has found a signal, it will keep churning until it finds a better one.

Try this: Turn on airplane mode to disable your cellular service and stop the signal searching. Or, before you travel (especially if you’re going abroad), add an international phone plan with free-roaming, data, texting, and flat-rate calling.

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2. Enable Low-Power/Battery-Saver Mode

There’s a gorgeous sunset and your eye has already framed the perfect photo—palm tree, sand, overwater bungalow—but your phone battery is nearly dead. There’s no time to find an outlet and recharge. In this case, it’s best to hunker down and make the most of what you’ve got, so reduce your phone’s performance to stretch your battery life.

Try this: Some phones will let you know when your battery level reaches 20 percent or 10 percent and will give you the option of activating low-power mode or battery-saver mode. It’s a quick one-stop fix, turning off non-essential features. It dims the display brightness, reduces some visual effects, stops automatic email fetching, and completely disables other features  (like iCloud sync on iPhone). If you don’t automatically get the battery saver prompt, then go to battery settings to turn it on. You can also add this to your “swipe up” menu in iPhone’s Control Center menu.

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3. Customize Your Notifications and Apps Before Traveling

If you have cellular data turned off, it’s a bit of a thrill to find Wi-Fi when traveling, especially overseas. Unfortunately, the moment you do connect to a Wi-Fi network all your apps automatically start to update and refresh at the same time, eating up your battery. Another drain is when an app frequently wakes up your display screen with notifications.

Try this: Turn off auto-update and some notifications for social apps so you don’t get hit with a bunch of notifications all at once, recommends Albert Aydin, public relations manager at Verizon Wireless. When you do that, those apps will only refresh and use the battery if you open them manually. Go to your notifications settings to turn off the alerts. Turn off automatic downloads of your apps in Google Play or iTunes store settings.

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4. Turn Off Location Services

Sure, location services are handy when you’re wandering Paris’ Avenue des Champs-Elysees, wondering what cafes are nearby, and voila! Google Maps already knows where you are and instantly drops the location pins. But, really, is it worth the toll it takes on your battery to constantly run that app? Probably not.

Try this: Switch off location services and turn it on only at the moment you need it and only for the one app you’re using at the time. In the location services function, you can see which apps are using it and toggle the on/off switch for each. Other battery life zappers to turn off until you need them include GPS, Bluetooth, AirDrop (iPhone), and Wi-Fi. “These technologies work by pinging mobile networks, and each time your smartphone pings the network your battery drains a bit,” says Christian Anderson, vice president of business management at T-Mobile.

5. Avoid Extreme Temperatures

It might be the last thing on your mind when you’re sitting by the pool in Vegas or soaking in the apres-ski scene at an outdoor table in Whistler village, but the temperature does affect your phone’s battery life and battery performance. An Apple device is designed to perform best in temps from 62 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit (16 to 22 degrees Celsius), for example. Your battery may not charge beyond 80 percent in hotter conditions. Temperatures higher than 95 degrees F (35 degrees C) can permanently damage battery capacity. In cold conditions, battery life temporarily diminishes but returns to normal functioning once back in its comfort zone.

Try this: Keep your phone warm in cold conditions by tucking it in a pocket close to your body. In extreme heat, stash your phone in the shade, out of direct sunlight, or leave it behind in your an air-conditioned hotel room.

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6. Adjust Your Screen Brightness and OLED Displays

Your phone’s display screen is the greatest battery consumer, and brightness can make a tremendous difference in battery life. New iPhones and Android devices have OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diodes) display screens with better colors and true black, a feature you can’t get on older models. In order to display true black, the pixels actually turn completely off, decreasing the screen’s battery consumption. If you like to use your phone at bedtime, the dimmer light is also less likely to disrupt your sleep cycle.

Try this: Reduce your phone’s brightness to as low as your eyesight can manage or put it on auto-adjust. Auto adjust automatically adapts to save power and compensate for different activities like Internet use. If you have a newer phone, use the true black backgrounds for both the home screen and lock screen. Also, turn on dark themes whenever possible to decrease battery use while within apps.

7. Stop Fetching and Refreshing

Who doesn’t love the instant gratification of seeing “likes” on social media just seconds after posting a fun pic of the day’s travel adventures? Unfortunately, Facebook and Twitter are two of the biggest battery-killer apps because they’re constantly refreshing. Even when they’re not in use they’re updating so that when you open them you’ll see up-to-the-minute info.

Try this: The iPhone battery settings show you what apps are running in the background. In general settings, you can turn off “background app refresh” for any apps your phone is running. On other phones, you’ll need to go into settings then apps and select the specific app to change battery optimization and background activity. Another tip: In your email app you can choose to fetch data manually or less frequently.

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8. Download Apps and Content Before Your Trip 

Flight delays and cancellations are unavoidable, and when they happen you’re often stuck at an airport gate where outlets are scarce. Watching movies on your phone or another device might sound like a great idea. But beware of battery drain if you haven’t already downloaded the shows you want to watch and the games you want to play. Downloading a movie or new app can quickly eat up battery life.

Try this: Before you leave home, download TV shows and movies through the Netflix app on your Apple iOS or Android smartphone. If you download shows and movies that are available offline, you’ll be able to watch them later without an Internet connection and the resulting battery drain.

The Best Travel Tech for Your Phone & More

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

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

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Active Travel Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Cities Experiential Travel Historical Travel Island Outdoors Photography Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

10 Natural Wonders to See Before They’re Gone


As you work your way through your list of places to see before you die, consider flagging a few as urgent. These 10 iconic coral reefs, glaciers, low-lying islands and other gorgeous natural wonders are disappearing at an alarming rate.

Natural Wonders That Won’t Be Around Forever

Read on to learn the stories of these wonders of the world, and get ideas about how to explore them before they’re gone.

Glacier National Park, Montana

In 1850, more than 150 glaciers capped the peaks in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Only 26 are left today. Of those still in existence, some have retreated as much as 85 percent over the past 50 years, according to a recent study from the U.S. Geological Survey. Global warming continues to take its toll on glacier mass—mean annual temperatures are up 1.33 degrees Celsius since 1900. It might sound like an insignificant uptick, but it’s enough of a shift to impact park ecosystems. Without glaciers and their continual meltwater running into streams, the streams get too warm in summer for some aquatic insects to survive. When those die off, it disrupts the food chain for the native bull trout population.

If you go: Hike the trails on Many Glacier for a great view of the waterfalls and alpine lakes that characterize this closer-to-home wonder of the world. The best place to see a glacier from the road is at Jackson Glacier Overlook on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. Watch for mountain goats and Bighorn sheep near Logan Pass.

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Amazon Rainforest, South America

Spanning nine countries in South America, the Amazon Basin holds about half of the world’s tropical rainforests. If you laid the Amazon rainforest over the 48 contiguous United States it would cover 70 percent of the country. Unfortunately, about 17 percent of that rainforest has been lost in the last 50 years, mostly to cattle ranching, according to the World Wildlife Fund. So large is the rainforest that the wellbeing of the planet depends on the health of the Amazon, which stabilizes global climate. Deforestation releases significant amounts of the Amazon’s 90-140 billion metric tons of carbon, potentially causing devastating consequences to the earth’s water cycle. When trees are cut down, not only is carbon dioxide released, but less is absorbed going forward. The Nature Conservancy compares it to opening a forgotten container of leftovers in the fridge … except on a global scale.

If you go: You can go deep into the rainforest on the Amazon Conservation Association’s Manu Cloud Forest Canopy Walkway slung between trees at dizzying heights of up to 144 feet.

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Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, Mexico

About a 2.5-hour drive west of Mexico City, you’ll find a great wonder of the world: The planet’s only place to see millions of migrating monarch butterflies in a single spot. After a 3,000-mile journey to Canada and the U.S., they return each year to overwinter in the fir forests of the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. But deforestation in Mexico, climate change, and habitat loss along their migratory route are endangering the migrating subspecies. According to a 2015 report by UNESCO, the area of forest the butterflies cover in their winter home is the second lowest it has been since monitoring began in 1993. The habitat surrounding their reserve is at risk—it is being illegally deforested and replaced with groves of avocados, a high-yield cash crop.

If you go: Hire a local guide to take you by bike or horseback along a forest trail to a remote part of the butterfly reserve. January and February are the best times to see the monarchs clustering in such massive quantities that they weigh down the boughs of fir trees in quivering heaps.

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Mesoamerican Barrier Reef; Mexico, Belize, and Honduras

You might not have heard of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, but if you’ve snorkeled in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or elsewhere along the Caribbean coast of Central America, then you’ve likely already visited this natural wonder. The Mesoamerican stretches 600 miles from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula through Belize and Honduras. It’s the world’s second largest barrier reef, and the color is slowly draining from it. The Belize section is a protected UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the 54 sites on UNESCO’s “in danger” list. Rising ocean temperatures have caused mass bleaching of the coral. When temperatures rise even slightly, the corals expel the algae that lives in coral tissues, which causes them to turn completely white and become susceptible to disease and death. Overfishing, pollution, potential offshore oil drilling, and changes in the water’s pH are other threats cited by the Nature Conservancy.

If you go: Viator’s Belize tour offers snorkeling in protected areas of the coral reef. See manta rays, sea turtles and the occasional manatee on a night snorkeling tour.

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White Cliffs of Dover, Great Britain

The iconic white cliffs of Dover are slipping away at an alarming rate. The rare cliffs, exposed to the weather and battered by storm waves, are retreating at a rate 10 times faster in the last 150 years than they did in the 7,000 years prior. Each year eight to 12 inches calve from the soft-cliff coastline of this natural wonder and tumble down to the beach below, according to a 2016 report. What’s to blame for the accelerated erosion? The research team suggests thinning cliff-front beaches play a role. The dynamic is exacerbated by rising sea levels and increased storm intensity due to global warming.

If you go: Hike the trails that wander surprisingly close to the cliff edge. From the top you’ll see the nearby ferries crossing between England and France. You can also view this natural wonder from below on a boat tour.

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Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The only living thing visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is a true natural wonder—the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, stretching 1,240 miles along Australia’s northeast coast. More than 400 types of coral and 1,500 species of fish live here. But by the end of the century, this World Heritage site could be gone. In the past three years, soaring ocean temperatures have caused some of the worst bleaching ever observed at the Great Barrier Reef, according to the UNESCO’s 2017 Impacts of Climate Change on World Heritage Coral Reefs scientific assessment. Greenpeace estimates that nearly a quarter of the reef’s coral died in 2016 alone. UNESCO’s report warns that if business-as-usual emissions continue, this and other reefs on the planet will cease to exist as functioning ecosystems in the next 100 years.

If you go: Take a snorkeling tour to see the annual coral spawning, or the large green turtle, which is threatened with extinction. Humpback whales migrate through these waters from June through October.

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The Dead Sea, Israel

Since ancient times, the Dead Sea has been a place of healing and relaxation, where people come to float in therapeutic, super-buoyant waters that are more than eight times saltier than the ocean. Some experts believe this natural wonder could disappear completely within the next hundred years. Water levels are dropping at a rate of about three feet per year, and have fallen more than 82 feet since the 1970s according to the World Wildlife Fund. The waters that used to lap near the doorstep of resorts are now a mile in the distance—with thousands of massive sinkholes in between. A big part of the problem is that the inflow from this lake’s main tributary, the Jordan River, has been reduced to only five percent of the original volume. Bordering countries Israel and Jordan siphon the water for drinking, agriculture, and mineral mining.

If you go: Cover yourself in the mineral-rich mud and let the water (30 percent salt) buoy you. There’s no way to sink even if you try.

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Islands of the Maldives

Off the southern coast of India, this tropical nation of 26 atolls and more than 1,000 coral islands is known for its white powder beaches, coral reefs, and unrivaled luxury. For now. The low-lying islands of the Maldives are slowly being swallowed up by rising sea levels. As carbon emissions increase and ice sheets melt, rising sea levels have begun to submerge this beautiful natural wonder, whose highest point is only eight feet above the water. Maldivians live with the constant danger of being forced to evacuate their homeland, writes Trevor Greene in his book There Is No Planet B: Promise And Peril On Our Warming World. He says the nation could be reduced to a network of “interesting new reefs” by 2112. The die-off of coral reefs that supply food and income for islanders may happen even sooner.

If you go: Take a charter on a dhoni (pole-and-line fishing boat) and learn how pole-and-line fishing sustains healthy fish stocks that are wiped out by net fishing.

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Sundarbans Mangrove Forest, India and Bangladesh

Where India’s Ganges River spills into the Bay of Bengal lies a tidal delta swamp with endless labyrinths of river channels and the world’s largest mangrove forest. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a rich ecosystem with exceptional biodiversity. Numerous endangered species, including the Royal Bengal Tiger and Ganges River Dolphin, breed in the Sundarbans. Climate change is now threatening this natural wonder. According to a 2016 study by World Bank Group, the most significant challenge is increased saltwater intrusion from rising sea levels. Tidal surges are so dramatic (up to 24 feet high) that up to a third of the Sundarbans get submerged every day, creating an ecosystem in which the mangroves aren’t getting enough fresh water. Other threats include increasingly intense cyclones, illegal hunting, harvesting of mangrove timber, and agricultural encroachment.

If you go: Track tigers on a boat trip through the narrow river channels of this natural wonder. Even if you don’t spot one, you’ll likely see wild boar, monkeys, and reptiles. Multi-day tours depart from Khulna in Bangladesh.

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Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Polar bears and walrus depend on the Arctic’s sea ice for hunting grounds. The rest of the earth depends on the ice and permafrost to act as a global “air conditioner” to regulate climate. But the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world, according to Dan Ritzman from the Sierra Club’s Our Wild America campaign. He says the effects can easily be seen in northeast Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the most biodiverse place in the Arctic Circle and the calving grounds for the Porcupine Caribou herd. There’s less water now and sea ice is disappearing. At the same time, oil drilling is pushing in, with the newest expansion only about 12 miles from the edge of the refuge.

If you go: The Sierra Club recommends visiting the refuge’s Aichilik River delta in mid-June to see the caribou and sea ice. An alternative: World Wildlife Fund and Natural Habitat Adventures offer polar bear expeditions in Churchill, Manitoba.

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

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

Categories
Active Travel Arts & Culture Cities Group Travel Historical Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

10 Timeless Cities Where the Past Comes to Life


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The world’s oldest cities are once-in-a-lifetime destinations, places that effortlessly inspire awe and put you in the shoes of a time traveler. To walk labyrinthine streets, marvel at crumbling fortress walls, or see kings’ tombs that have endured thousands of years is to experience a fleeting moment of what life was like for the first civilizations on Earth. Read on to be transported to 10 ancient cities to visit (without travel advisories) where you can take part in age-old rituals and learn about the legends that have been passed down for more generations than you can ever fathom.

Luoyang, China

First Inhabited: Around 2070 BCE

Asia’s oldest continuously inhabited city, Luoyang was considered to be the geographical center and one of the four great ancient capitals of China. It lies on the north or sunny (yang) side of the Luo River where it converges with the Yi River. Stunning mountains surround the city, where Chinese Buddhist temples and monuments are carved into the sides of hills. As a capital of several dynasties, Luoyang has become a city renowned for its culture and recognized by UNESCO for its heritage sites.

What to See: At the Longmen Grottoes, there are 2,345 niches for Buddha, 100,000 statues, and 2,800 calligraphic inscriptions. Be prepared to climb several hillside steps to see the most majestic of statues. Take a bus just outside of town for a visit to the first Buddhist temple in China: White Horse Temple, a small and uncommercialized temple with many monks.

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Athens, Greece

athens-greece

First Inhabited: 5th to 4th millennium BCE

Think of ancient Athens and likely the first image that comes to mind is the Parthenon, the 5th century BCE temple dedicated to the goddess Athena. But archaeologists say this Acropolis site on the rocky bluff was inhabited thousands of years before the Parthenon existed and thousands of years before Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle walked the city streets. The ancient home of philosophy and birthplace of Western civilization, Athens also has bragging rights as the first host city of the modern Olympic Games.

What to See: Climb up to the Acropolis on a walking tour. See displays of striking classical sculptures and watch curators restore similar marble statues with laser technology at the Acropolis Museum. Along the historic Plaka neighborhood’s narrow, labyrinthine streets, you’ll find neoclassical mansions, ancient monuments, and scores of churches. Run on the Olympic track and get your photo taken on the winner’s podium at the Panathenaic Stadium.

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Gaziantep, Turkey

Gaziantep-Turkey

First Inhabited: 3650 BCE

Previously known as Antioch and as Antep, the city of Gaziantep lies where the Mediterranean meets Mesopotamia, an area considered the center of the first civilizations. In 300 BCE, Alexander the Great’s generals founded Zeugma (now part of Gaziantep) before it was conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire as an important outpost on the Silk Road to China. Several ancient sites remain in Gaziantep and 13 different museums house impressive collections of artifacts.

What to See: Check out the remains of baths and cisterns in the Ravanda citadel, restored by the Byzantines in the sixth century. Nearby are several 15th-century mosques and caravanserais, which once provided lodging, food and refuge to passing caravans. The Zeugma Mosaic Museum, one of the world’s largest mosaic museums, displays massive pieces dating from the first century BCE. Shop for baklava and yemeni (shoes made from local leather) at the city’s two well-known bazaars.

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Luxor, Egypt

luxor-egypt-obelisk

First Inhabited: 3200 BCE

This city was the capital of the ancient Egyptian empire during its heyday. The Nile River cuts through the center of Luxor, dividing the modern city on the East Bank from the ancient necropolis and mortuary temples on the West Bank. Legends say ancient Egyptians buried their dead on the West Bank because the setting sun in that direction symbolized the journey to the afterlife. The West Bank is where you’ll find the tomb of King Tutankhamun and tombs of other ancient kings and queens. The East Bank, which symbolized life for the ancient Egyptians, boasts some of the country’s most upscale hotels and spas.

What to See: Visit the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens, the West Bank’s grand-scale tombs. Find hundreds of relics in the Luxor Museum, overlooking the Nile River. The Avenue of Sphinxes connecting the Karnak Temple and Luxor Temple is lined with 1,350 sphinx statues. Visit the temples at night for a completely different experience.

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Jerusalem, Israel

jerusalem

First Inhabited: 2800 BCE

This timeless city and holy place of the three monotheistic religions was long considered the center of the world. Ancient maps show Jerusalem at the middle of the three continents known at the time: Europe, Asia, and Africa. Set high in the Jerusalem Hills, this is the place where the Jews built the temple, where Jesus was crucified, and where Muhammad rose to heaven. The Old City’s narrow streets lead you past towering stone walls and ancient buildings that have survived centuries of destruction and resurrection.

What to See: At the base of the massive Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, write a prayer or wish and wedge it into the cracks. Follow the Via Dolorosa, the road Jesus walked that leads from the courthouse site where he was sentenced to Golgotha Hill where he was killed. Other must-see sites are the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Temple Mount, Mount of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, and Yad Vashem.

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Fayoum, Egypt

fayoum-egypt

First Inhabited: 4000 BCE

About 60 miles southwest of Cairo, Fayoum is part of Egypt’s largest oasis, where the pharaohs built pleasure palaces and the Greeks built temples paying homage to the Lake Moeris (Lake Qaroun) crocodiles they believed were sacred. Fayoum, called Crocodilopolis by the Greeks, became the most significant center for the cult of Sobek, the crocodile god. Ruins of two temples dedicated to Sobek still stand today. The modern city is home to large bazaars, mosques, and baths.

What to See: Don’t miss Madinat Madi, the largest surviving temple of the intermediate period of the Pharaonic era. At the three-floor Qaroun Palace, you’ll see a king’s throne, wall drawings, and inscriptions that date to 323 BCE. The Hawwara and Al-Lahun pyramids are nearby. Other interesting archaeological sites include the Whale Valley fossil area, an open museum with whale skeletons, shark teeth, and petrified shells and corals.

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Kutaisi, Georgia

kutaisi-georgia

Inhabited Since: Around 2000 BCE

Just north of Turkey, at the crossroads where Europe meets Asia, is Kutaisi, Georgia, the former capital of the country and the land of the Golden Fleece. While this city, originally part of the Colchis kingdom, dates to ancient times, it is perhaps best known for its place in Greek mythology. According to the epic Greek poem, Jason and his Argonauts were said to have traveled to Kutaisi to find the Golden Fleece. The city’s magnificent Renaissance heritage sites from the 10th to 12th centuries are well preserved and offer terrific views overlooking the city, the surrounding mountain ranges, and the Rioni River.

What to See: The Bagrati Cathedral and Gelati Monastery are both UNESCO World Heritage sites. The monastery, where the most celebrated king of Georgia is buried, is known for its mosaics and frescoes. Not far from the city are two caves, one with dinosaur footprints and the other offering boat trips on an underground river.

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Plovdiv, Bulgaria

roman-amphitheater-bulgaria

First Inhabited: 3000 to 4000 BCE

In south-central Bulgaria, near the border of both Greece and Turkey, is the beautiful “City of Seven Hills,” originally a Thracian city before it changed hands under the rule of the Greeks, Romans, and Russians. Today, you can still see the influences those cultures left behind in Plovdiv’s cobblestone streets, fortress walls, Roman amphitheater and aqueduct, and Ottoman baths. High on the naturally fortified northern hill of the three-hill massif Nebet Tepe is the site of the original prehistoric settlement.

What to See: Walk through the archaeological complex at Nebet Tepe and Old Town’s museums and galleries. Go to a performance in the Ancient Theatre, a restored first-century open-air venue made of marble that was originally used for theatrical performances and gladiators’ and hunting games. Nearby in the Roman Stadium, athletic contests were held in 2 CE. The city was named the European Capital of Culture 2019.

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Amesbury, England

amesbury-england-tombstone

First Inhabited: 8th millennium BCE

Hundreds of prehistoric burial grounds are scattered in and around Amesbury, and Stonehenge, just two miles away, sits in the middle of them. Archaeological evidence suggests that Amesbury’s first inhabitants—who settled in England’s River Avon valley at the site of what has historically been an important river crossing—predate even Stonehenge. Amesbury, the home of Stonehenge, is also linked with the legend of King Arthur. As the story goes, Guinevere came to the convent here after leaving Arthur, and she is buried on the grounds of the former abbey.

What to See: At Stonehenge’s new visitor center, check out artifacts unearthed from burial sites and tour an outdoor cluster of recreated Neolithic houses from the period. Walk around the Stonehenge circle, listening to the audio tour on headphones to learn about the site’s mysteries and why it may have been located here. The Amesbury Museum and Heritage Centre displays huge quantities of handcrafted flint tools that predate Stonehenge by more than 5,000 years.

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Varanasi, India

varanasi-india-boat

First Inhabited: Around 1200 to 1100 BCE

India’s oldest city, Varanasi is also the holiest city in the world. The god Shiva is believed to have lived in the area and a major shrine here honors this lord of the universe. Pilgrims travel from as far away as 1,250 miles to visit the shrine and bathe in the city’s sacred Ganges River. Every day, thousands of locals and pilgrims immerse themselves or come to die in these waters that are said to have absolved the sins of many generations. Along the water’s edge, ghats (riverfront steps) associated with Hindu mythology are sacred sites for yoga, cremation, or meditation and worship with prayer and fire.

What to See: Don’t miss Varanasi’s various temples and ghats. The Vishwanath Temple, dedicated to Shiva, is closed to non-Hindus but others can recognize it by its golden spire. Visit an excavated site in the Sarnath area of town and see a large collection of Buddhist sculptures in the Sarnath Museum.

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

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Adventure Travel Sustainable Travel Travel Trends

The 10 Best Fall Train Rides in the U.S.


[st_content_ad]If you love leaf peeping, there’s nothing more magical than steaming through colorful landscapes on a fall foliage train ride. Leave the driving to someone else and join one of these memorable fall train rides, which offer brilliant pockets of color throughout the United States. Settle into a historic dining car with a glass of wine, or stake out a spot for your camera in an open-air car. Let the stress-free gawking begin.

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire

mount washington cog railway train autumn.

Every September in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, fall-color predictions are the talk of all the local coffee shops. And TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) buzzes with enthusiastic Mount Washington Cog Railway posts about the view from the top of the Northeast’s highest peak. This popular 150-year-old railway carries passengers via replica coaches (biodiesel engine or vintage steam engine) up a three-mile-long trestle to the 6,288-foot summit. Here you’ll see the surrounding national forest’s brilliant hues from some of the steepest railroad tracks in North America (there’s a 37 percent incline in one stretch). From the summit, you can take in panoramas of the mountains and valleys from New Hampshire to Vermont. On clear days, you can see as far as Maine and Canada.

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Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, Colorado

durango and silverton narrow gauge railroad train.

Originally constructed in 1881 to haul silver and gold from mining camps in the San Juan Mountains, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is popular for its awe-inspiring views. As you ride from the remote wilderness of Durango to the mining town of Silverton on this historic coal-fired steam train, you can enjoy autumn’s golden and crimson hues set among the majestic peaks of the San Juan Mountains and along the Animas River. There’s a special ride for fall photographers in late September, as well as a Great Pumpkin Patch Express for families on the first three weekends of October.

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Reading Blue Mountain & Northern, Pennsylvania

reading blue mountain and northern train autumn.

Ride a 1920s-era steam locomotive or diesel train to from the Reading area to Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, the heart of the Pocono Mountains. The Reading Blue Mountain & Northern railroad offers 120-mile round-trip rides on weekends throughout October and the first weekend of November, giving passengers a chance to enjoy lunch in town and explore Jim Thorpe’s historic buildings and museums. Hop aboard another train, the Lehigh Gorge Scenic Railway, to savor the foliage in nearby Lehigh Gorge State Park.

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Tennessee Central Railway Museum, Tennessee

tennessee central railway train.

This volunteer organization runs a wide range of short excursions year-round, but it features three autumn-themed journeys covering up to 168 miles round-trip from Nashville. This year’s offerings include a trip to celebrate Oktoberfest in Watertown, an excursion to DelMonaco Winery, and a journey to a fall festival in Baxter. The museum uses its own stable of 1950s vintage passenger cars and diesel locomotives; book a dome seat for the best views.

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Napa Valley Wine Train, California

napa valley wine train at night.

Fall in the Napa Valley is one of those unexpected sensory delights. During harvest season the air carries the aroma of fermenting grapes, and changing leaves on grapevines cover the undulating landscape. The Napa Valley Wine Train is a great way to experience it without having to drive. The 36-mile trip takes you from the historic town of Napa through the countryside to the village of St. Helena and back. Enjoy vineyard views, wine tastings, and an onboard multi-course lunch or dinner in a restored early-1900s Pullman car. You also have the option to add on winery tours.

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Blue Ridge Scenic Railway, Georgia

blue ridge scenic railway train.

Climb aboard on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway in downtown Blue Ridge’s historic 1905 depot, and ride the rails from the charming mountain village into the lush Chattahoochee National Forest, enjoying vibrant displays of sweeping color along the way. You’ll stop for a layover in the Georgia/Tennessee border towns of McCaysville and Copperhill, where antique and craft shops and down-home hospitality take you back in time. Back onboard, ask a crewmember to show you around the cars and explain the history behind each one.

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Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Ohio

fall foliage in cuyahoga valley national park.

Winding through the 33,000-acre Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad takes you along scenic stretches of fall color. Starting just 15 miles outside of Cleveland, the route allows passengers to hop on or off at any of nine stations to explore small towns, canal museums, and a 19th-century working farm. The route runs along several miles of the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath Trail. For a small fee, you can put your bike on the train, ride a few stops, then bike back to your car. Alternatively, you can book a two-hour, nonstop trip aboard the Fall Flyer for a relaxing ride dedicated to leaf peeping; this trip operates on October weekends.

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Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, North Carolina

great smoky mountains railroad steam locomotive.

Less than a 90-minute drive from Tennessee’s Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad‘s Nantahala Gorge trip follows a historic rail line through mountain tunnels on a beautiful fall foliage excursion. See rich auburns and buttery yellows reflected in the water as you cross over Fontana Lake, then trace the winding river through the mountains. The railway’s Peanuts Pumpkin Patch Express route is a family favorite, with an onboard narration of It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and the chance for kids to pick a pumpkin, take a wagon ride, or meet Snoopy.

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Grand Canyon Railway, Arizona

grand canyon railway pumpkin train.

Forget the stereotype that Arizona is all desert and rattlesnakes. You can see brilliant pockets of yellow aspens tucked within forests of ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, and spruce in and around Kaibab National Forest when you board the Grand Canyon Railway. It’s known for its daily trips to the South Rim, but a less expensive option is the line’s special Pumpkin Patch ride in October, which takes families to a secret pumpkin patch that’s only accessible by train. Back at the depot, walk through a haunted train car, purchase a few treats, and enjoy fall-themed crafts and games.

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Essex Steam Train & Riverboat, Connecticut

essex steam train autumn.

The sound of the steam locomotive’s whistle and the smell of its burnt-coal smoke have turned many a New England leaf peeper into a hopeless romantic or wistful nostalgic. On the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat excursion, a 1920s locomotive meanders through the Connecticut River Valley over rivers and through forests on a narrated ride before connecting with an open-deck riverboat. You’ll float past the Gillette Castle, the Goodspeed Opera House, and the Haddam Swing Bridge, all festooned in the season’s brilliant colors. The train operates daily during foliage season: September 27 through October 27.

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Other Fall Train Rides

amtrak adirondack train autumn.

Many of Amtrak’s long-haul routes pass through regions of the country with beautiful fall foliage. Consider the Adirondack, which runs between New York City and Montreal; the Pennsylvanian, which travels from New York City to Pittsburgh; the Vermonter, which whisks passengers from Washington, D.C. to northern Vermont; and the California Zephyr, which passes through the Rockies on its route between Chicago and San Francisco.

Shorter tourist lines throughout the country operate other fall foliage train rides as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other seasonally themed excursions. American-Rails.com has a state-by-state searchable directory of scenic rail excursions, including a section on fall foliage.

What to Wear

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2013. It has been updated to reflect the most current information. Ed Perkins contributed to this story.

Categories
Adventure Travel Arts & Culture Beach Cities Family Travel Outdoors

The 10 Best Lake Towns in North America


There’s no better place to stretch out the lazy days of summer than in a nostalgic little lake town, watching the sun set over the water from an Adirondack chair. I’ve rounded up the 10 best lake towns in North America, offering quaint main streets, boardwalk shops, wooden roller coasters, and, of course, ice cream parlors.

The Best Lake Towns in North America

You can find your summertime bliss in the best lake towns across the U.S. and Canada.

Meredith, New Hampshire

This quintessential New England town on Lake Winnipesaukee is a 90-minute drive from Boston and about 50 years back in time. In the White Mountain foothills, the town of Meredith charms with historic buildings and nostalgia at every turn. It’s the kind of place that’s reminiscent of your summer camp days. Kids leap from swimming rafts with a stunning mountain backdrop. Restaurants serve comfort food and upscale versions of s’mores. There’s even a comic book shop.

If you go: Do the adult version of New England summer camp: Try the fruit wines at Hermit Woods, take a cruise on an official U.S. Mail boat, and see the summer run of a Broadway musical.

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Port Carling, Ontario

Some of Canada’s best lake towns are in what locals call “cottage country,” the popular Muskoka lakes region just north of Toronto where city dwellers escape in droves each summer. Family cottages line the shores of lakes tucked away in evergreen forests inhabited by black bears.

Port Carling is the hub of activity. A set of locks in the center of town connects two of the region’s most popular lakes: Lake Muskoka and Lake Rosseau. You can walk from one end of this quaint lake town to the other, passing by sandy beaches, a farmers’ market, and little shops selling cottage decor.

If you go: Stop in at Muskoka Bear Wear for plaid pajama bottoms and other comfy Canadian-made clothing with the signature paw print logo. Eat a burger on the waterfront patio at Turtle Jack’s Muskoka Grill. Play a round of golf at one of nearly 25 area courses.

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Lake Lure, North Carolina

At the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the scenic town of Lake Lure was the film set for the 1987 blockbuster Dirty Dancing. Several locals were extras in the movie. Each summer, residents relive the magic at the Dirty Dancing Festival with a “Baby & Johnny lake lift” competition.

This lake town is an adventurous getaway less than an hour’s drive from Asheville. There are bumper boats, water cannons, waterslides, and certified ski and wakeboard instructors ready to pull you behind their boats. Sunsets are especially spectacular here and best enjoyed by paddleboat or pontoon cruise.

If you go: Spend some time exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains foothills that surround the lake. Chimney Rock State Park is the main attraction. From mountain biking and hiking trails you can take in views of Hickory Nut Gorge and see one of the tallest waterfalls east of the Mississippi. There’s also an area where kids can learn to rock climb.

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Grand Lake, Colorado

A two-hour drive northwest of Denver takes you past Boulder and into the wilderness to the secluded town of Grand Lake. There’s a Wild West feel to this tiny historic village with fewer than 500 residents—mostly artists, musicians, and outdoorsy types.

You can still see hitching posts and old log cabin-style buildings throughout this lake town. The boardwalk, dotted with shops, dates to 1881. Quaint cabins and summer homes rim the lakeshore. Beyond those are Rocky Mountain National Park, Arapaho National Forest, and perfect tranquility without much cell phone service.

If you go: Rent a kayak or paddleboard or go fishing off the dock at Point Park. Don’t miss the regattas in August run by one of the oldest yacht clubs in the west. Grand Lake Lodge’s dining room, with antler chandeliers and plaid carpet, has incredible views of the lake.

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Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

Often called the “Newport of the West” for its historic lakeside mansions built by wealthy Chicago families (think Wrigley and Schwinn), Lake Geneva is a lovely lake town to stroll. The 21-mile Geneva Lake Shore Path takes you past century-old mansions. It’s a local summer ritual to gather in the waterfront gardens at sunset for a Champagne toast at the Victorian-style Baker House.

On the water you can hire a private fishing guide, go parasailing, or rent a boat for the day. Don’t miss the U.S. Mailboat Tour where you’ll see “jumpers” skillfully leap from the boat to deliver and pick up mail in dockside mailboxes as the boat keeps moving.

If you go: Book a tee time or a spa treatment in advance. Lake Geneva is a popular destination for both golf and spa experiences at luxury resorts including the Grand Geneva Resort, formerly Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Club.

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Okoboji, Iowa

One of Iowa’s favorite summer playgrounds, the town of Okoboji sits at the center of the Iowa Great Lakes: a chain of five glacier-carved bodies of water. Aside from waterskiing, paddling, and beach volleyball, there are countless kid-friendly activities to keep families busy.

When in Okoboji, a visit to the legendary Arnolds Park Amusement Park on the waterfront is a must. The wooden 1930s roller coaster, log ride, go-karts, and aroma of funnel cakes make for classic summer memories. Mini-golf, a water park, and ziplining are also nearby.

If you go: Expect jam-packed waterfront restaurant patios and lots of boats on the lake. Try parasailing or flyboarding, where you strap to your feet a water jetpack that propels you up to 50 feet in the air above the lake.

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Lake Placid, New York

Lake Placid hosted two Winter Olympic Games and is best known for its scenic winter vistas, but the town is actually busier in summer. Germans originally settled this Adirondack Mountain lake town, so there’s a bit of an alpine European feel to it on Main Street and throughout the village of shops, restaurants, and brewpubs.

Freshwater springs and mountain streams feed the crystal-clear lake. You can rent a canoe, pontoon, or ski boat and cruise along the shoreline to see the Great Camps, log mansions from the Gilded Age.

If you go: Head to the waterfront park on Main Street on Tuesday nights throughout summer for a concert series. The lawn fills with people, and kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders listen from the water.

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Sandpoint, Idaho

In the northern Idaho panhandle, huge glacial lakes glitter in the shadow of mountain ranges. One of the best lake towns in the region is Sandpoint, which sits on Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho’s largest lake (43 miles long). It’s a favorite place for locals to spend the long, lazy days of summer.

Bald eagles soar overhead and moose and bears are occasionally spotted in the surrounding forest. Brick buildings line Main Street in this walkable lake town of antique shops and boutiques. You’ll need an afternoon nap in a lakeside hammock after joining in a beach volleyball game or heading out on the water for paddling, sailing, Jet Skiing, or wakeboarding.

If you go: For an incredible view of the lake, take a chairlift ride at Schweitzer Mountain Resort. Silverwood Theme Park, at the southern tip of the lake, has more than 70 roller coasters, waterslides, and rides. Horseback riding is popular in the nearby Cabinet or Selkirk mountains.

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Osoyoos, British Columbia

This lake town is an oasis in the desert between Vancouver’s Coastal Mountain Range and the Canadian Rockies of Banff National Park. Locals and visitors keep cool by waterskiing and wake surfing on Osoyoos Lake, billed as Canada’s warmest. You can find your inner zen at stand-up paddleboard yoga classes on the lake or at one of the town’s resort spas.

Younger kids love Rattlesnake Canyon’s bumper boats, giant trampolines, and other attractions. Yes, there really are rattlesnakes here. You might see them or their eggs on the golf course or on horseback trail rides through this gorgeous landscape.

If you go: Stop by a roadside fruit stand and eat peaches so ripe the juice drips down your arm. Visit tasting rooms at some of the 30+ wineries in the area, including one at a resort run by the local indigenous band.

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Saugatuck, Michigan

In this scenic lake town, soft sand piles up in heaps along the shoreline of the vast Lake Michigan. Sitting atop Saugatuck’s dunes and watching the sunset on the lake, you can easily imagine you’re overlooking the ocean.

Oval Beach is consistently ranked among the Midwest’s top beaches, and Saugatuck Dunes State Park draws numerous thrill seekers who zip around on dune buggies or cross-country ski on the 200-foot mounds. Little resorts and B&Bs provide bicycles for guests to pedal around this artsy town with plenty of galleries, ice cream shops, and craft breweries.

If you go: Check out a performance or exhibit at the new Saugatuck Center for the Arts. At the Express Yourself Art Barn you can paint or fuse glass in a 19th-century barn. Pick cherries or peaches in summer at a nearby orchard and cider mill in Fennville.

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What to Wear at the Best Lake Towns

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Lake Lure was in the Blue Mountains rather than the Blue Ridge Mountains. It has been corrected.

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How to Avoid Caribbean Hurricane Season


Caribbean hurricane season is prime time for landing a deal. Sure, there’s some risk involved, but with smart planning and a bit of luck you can end up with a sunny and affordable tropical vacation … or get a refund if Mother Nature is seriously uncooperative.

How to Avoid Caribbean Hurricane Season

Here are tips from meteorologists, a travel insurance agent, and other experts who offered advice on where to go, where to avoid, and how to hedge your bets once you’ve booked your trip during Caribbean hurricane season.

When Is Hurricane Season?

[st_content_ad]Each year, an average of 13 tropical storms whirl through the Caribbean, Atlantic, and Gulf of Mexico during hurricane season, which officially runs from June 1 through November 30. Six of those storms will become hurricanes, according to data from the National Weather Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Hurricane season peaks from mid-August to late October. During this intense period bands of thunderstorms near the Equator drift over the region’s warm waters, giving hurricanes the ability to develop.

If you’re willing to take the risk, the rewards are numerous. Sylma Brown, director of the Caribbean Tourism Organization USA Inc., says hotel savings are up to 50 percent, airfare is typically lower, beaches are less crowded, and temperatures stay in the mid to upper 80s.

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Spots Most Likely to Be Hit

There’s a science to dodging the Caribbean hurricane season. The areas most likely to get hit are those where the ocean happens to be warming the quickest from late spring to fall.

NOAA meteorologists have mapped these hot spots month by month and determined the places at highest risk of a tropical storm or hurricane by percentage in any given month.

AccuWeather meteorologist Evan Duffey breaks it down below.

He offers an overview of the annual pattern: Early in the season the waters in the Gulf of Mexico warm more quickly than other parts of the Atlantic. By August and September the eastern Caribbean sees an uptick in storm activity. Later in the season the focus shifts west and north.

June and July: Gulf of Mexico

August and September: Northern Windward Islands (Martinique, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, etc.), Leeward Islands (U.S./British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, St. Maarten/St. Martin, Guadeloupe Islands, etc.), Greater Antilles (Cayman Islands, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, etc.)

October and November: Western Caribbean and Southeast U.S. coastline

Spots Least Likely to Be Hit

If you’re planning a trip during Caribbean hurricane season, head for the southern Caribbean where there’s a lower chance of being disrupted by tropical systems.

The far southern Windward Islands (Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada) and the ABC Islands (Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire) are relatively free of tropical system impacts. The same goes for southern Central America (Panama, Costa Rica), says Duffey.

“These are too close to the Equator and generally south of a large percentage of historical hurricane tracks,” he says. For more ideas, see The 5 Best Beach Vacations During Hurricane Season.

Considering cruising during Caribbean hurricane season? It’s a great option for a couple of reasons. Cruise ships have sophisticated onboard weather-monitoring technology that allows captains to track storms and, if necessary, reroute their ships to a different port with better weather.

Cruise ships can also typically “outrun” a hurricane. According to Cruise Critic, storms tend to move at about eight to 10 knots, while ships can attain speeds of up to 22 knots and beyond.

Your Chance of a Hurricane Hitting

When weighing the odds, NOAA and National Hurricane Center meteorologist Dennis Feltgen would be the first to tell you there are no storm-free guarantees during Caribbean hurricane season.

“Every island and coastline across the Caribbean region is vulnerable to a hurricane impact every year,” he says. “Whether one occurs at a specific location this season is impossible to predict.”

But the geographic span of the Caribbean is so vast that even when a hurricane is affecting one area, much of the rest of the region is likely enjoying beautiful weather, says Frank Comito, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s director general and CEO.

Travel Insurance

Is a hurricane season trip worth the risk? Meteorologist Evan Duffey says if given the opportunity, he’d go. So would Dennis Feltgen, a meteorologist at NOAA and the National Hurricane Center.

“You just need to be smart about it,” says Feltgen. “Traveling into any part of the Caribbean during hurricane season carries some risk. Those who do so should always have travel insurance and check in advance with the hotel or resort at which they are staying to learn its hurricane plan.”

According to InsureMyTrip.com, an online travel insurance comparison site, 75 percent of customers will choose a comprehensive travel insurance policy for hurricane season travel.

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A comprehensive policy comes with extensive benefits: medical coverage, emergency travel services, baggage protection, and trip-cancellation and trip-interruption coverage. If you opt for trip-cancellation insurance, you’ll receive benefits in a number of different scenarios. Policies vary, but these are some typical cancellations that are covered:

  • Weather: When your airline or cruise line ceases service due to weather
  • Hurricane alert: When your destination is under a NOAA-issued hurricane warning or alert
  • Storm damage: When your destination hotel, resort, or vacation rental is made uninhabitable by a storm
  • “Cancel for Any Reason”: When you want coverage for canceling a trip for any reason (a time-sensitive option)

Before You Buy

Be sure to read the fine print on travel insurance, especially regarding unforeseen events and coverage for inclement weather. You’ll need to have your insurance purchased before meteorologists are talking about a storm in your destination.

“Travelers concerned about hurricanes should purchase travel insurance early,” says Julie Loffredi, InsureMyTrip’s news editor. “Once a storm starts forming, it’s considered a foreseeable event and insurance coverage will no longer be available to cover losses related to that storm.”

When comparing travel insurance policies, Loffredi suggests asking these questions:

  • What will happen if my destination is made uninhabitable by a storm?
  • What about delays and cancellations on both ends of my itinerary?
  • Is there any insurance plan available to me that will allow me to cancel my trip because of a hurricane warning?
  • Can I get “Cancel for Any Reason” coverage? Would it be wise for me to do so?
  • If I have to interrupt my trip because of bad weather, what kind of insurance will cover the cost of my missed travels?

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Hotel and Airline Cancellation Policy Basics

Take the time to clearly understand your airline, cruise line, or resort’s hurricane cancellation policy. Most airlines will allow you to rebook on a future flight. Most hotels in hurricane-prone destinations offer rebooking and refund options.

“Hotel cancellation policies typically don’t kick in unless there is an official storm watch or alert issued,” says Comito at CHTA. “Hotels generally will offer to rebook without penalty. Some hotels go as far as offering a full refund, while chains often offer a stay at one of their hotels in another destination. For guests whose stay may be interrupted, there is no cancellation fee.”

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Hotel Hurricane Plans

Most Caribbean hotels are prepared for the worst: This isn’t their first rodeo. Hotel staff members are accustomed to weathering storms, attending hurricane response workshops, and serving on emergency response committees.

Before you travel, ask what your hotel’s hurricane plan entails. Generators, flashlights, backup supplies of food, water, first aid kits, blankets, and cots are all the norm, according to the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA).

Even if a storm hits during your vacation, it might not be all doom and gloom.

“Some hotels have reported that guest satisfaction levels actually increase during a storm because staff go above and beyond to ensure their comfort,” says Comito. “And if a storm does strike, typically, the next day the weather is brilliant and guests are enjoying the beaches and facilities across their respective destinations.”

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

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

Categories
Travel Etiquette

How Much to Tip Hotel Housekeeping


It’s a thankless job scrubbing toilets and tucking perfect sheet corners all day. But hotel housekeepers seem to be endowed with a special fortitude and grace that allows them to keep smiling no matter how big the mess.

No doubt, that’s tip-worthy.

“We’ve set a tradition and precedent in our culture where a tip is expected in this situation,” says Lizzie Post, who is a great-great-granddaughter of Emily Post, co-host of the Awesome Etiquette podcast, and co-author of several books.

How Much to Tip Hotel Housekeeping

Just how much of a tip is appropriate? Post recommends tipping $2 to $5 per day. The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s Gratuity Guide suggests $1 to $5 per day. Industry standard, according to the International Executive Housekeepers Association (IEHA), is about $5 per day in the U.S.

Be sure to tip each day rather than leaving one large tip before checking out on your last day. It’s likely that different housekeepers will clean your room throughout your stay.

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If you ask for extra towels or make some other special request, the consensus is that a $1 to $2 tip is appropriate for each delivery.

“When I’m really on top of my game on a longer trip, I carry about $100 worth of singles with me, so that I don’t have to track down change from the reception desk,” says Megan Wood, editor at Oyster.com, SmarterTravel’s sister site.

Where to Leave the Tip

Leave your tip on the desk or nightstand in an envelope, or put it with a thank you note. That way you don’t keep your housekeeper guessing, and you know the money gets into the right hands.

“I leave a note so housekeepers know the money is intended for them,” says Post. “Many times I’ve left cash without a note and they won’t take it because they’re not absolutely sure it’s for them and they don’t want to pick up your loose change.”

If you forget to leave your tip in your room and instead leave it with another staff member, there are, unfortunately, no guarantees that the cash will reach your housekeeper.

Tipping at Upscale Hotels

Should you tip more at nicer hotels? That depends, say the experts.

Etiquette expert Diane Gottsman suggests tipping more in finer hotels. “The level of service and the quality of the hotel and location will play a part in the amount of gratuity,” says Gottsman, author of etiquette books and owner of The Protocol School of Texas.

According to president of the IEHA Michael Patterson, however, there’s no need to tip more in an upscale hotel. Why? He says that whether it’s a three- or five-star property, housekeepers make approximately the same wages across the board in a given city.

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Lizzie Post recommends tipping based on the service, not the hotel.

“Tip more if the service is exceptional,” says Post. “Don’t leave less tip just because you’re at a motel instead of the Waldorf.”

No matter where you’re staying, if you didn’t receive good service, then don’t feel obligated to leave a tip, says Patterson. But do remember that sometimes certain factors are out of the housekeeper’s control.

Tipping Hotel Housekeeping Overseas

Every country has different customs around tipping. It’s best to ask the concierge or take the time to research the destination’s culture and tipping customs before you travel, says Gottsman.

Tipping for Exceptional Service

In every corner of the world, housekeepers have a difficult and labor-intensive job. Patterson encourages people to thank their housekeepers if they see them, especially if the hotel’s housekeeping staff has gone the extra mile.

Gottsman tells the story of a hotel stay when she was so ill in her room that she had a hard time getting to the restroom to be sick. A hotel staff member sat by her side while her head was hanging over the commode.

“She brought me chicken soup and checked in on me throughout the day,” says Gottsman. “I will never forget the kindness. And, yes, I made sure to show her my gratitude with an extra-large gesture of gratuity.”

It’s a thankless job, says Patterson, but a very important one.

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

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

Categories
Adventure Travel Beach Island Outdoors Sustainable Travel

10 Epic South Pacific Adventures for Your Bucket List


Leave the hammock lazing and sunbathing to some other South Pacific visitor. Chances are, you’re here only once, and this part of paradise is packed with unique places to explore. I’ve turned up 10 unexpected South Pacific adventures that put you in mud baths, whitewater rapids, craters, caverns, shark corridors, and more. Read on to discover the fun you never imagined could lie beyond your overwater bungalow.

Harvesting a Black Pearl in Raiatea, French Polynesia

[st_content_ad]French Polynesia’s largest export, the Tahitian pearl or black pearl is the darling souvenir of local markets and jewelry shops. You can hop a five-minute boat ride off shore from Raiatea to harvest one for yourself at Anapa Pearl Farm. From its center of operations in a thatched-roof overwater bungalow, the farm cultivates and harvests black pearls each year from some 20,000 oysters attached to a series of underwater ropes. Bring your snorkeling gear and you can dive down and choose an oyster. Expert grafters use what look like dental instruments to extract your prize and show you the cultivation process.

If you go: Book in advance. The tiny bungalow has a capacity of less than 20 people, which makes the experience feel exclusive both on the deck and as you’re snorkeling the reef around the bungalow.

Book it: Get prices for Family Hotel Fare Vai Nui and other area hotels

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Water-Skiing Around a Cruise Ship in Moorea, French Polynesia

Smaller cruise ships sailing Tahiti’s Society Islands, including Windstar’s four-masted sailing yacht, have watersports platforms that open like hatches directly onto the water at the back of the ship. From here, the watersports crew pulls you water-skiing or wakeboarding behind an inflatable Zodiac speedboat. It’s a novel experience to ski around the cruise ship in the shadow of volcanic formations in a turquoise Moorea bay—especially when you’re used to skiing with a lake backdrop at home. Receiving cheers and waves from passengers on the sundeck is the icing on the cake.

If you go: Ask the watersports crew which port on your route usually has the calmest water for skiing. Go in the morning when most passengers are embarking on shore excursions or shopping in port.

Book it: Get prices for InterContinental Moorea Resort & Spa and other area hotels

Whitewater Rafting on Class II & III Rapids in Viti Levu, Fiji

When you’re ready for a change of Fiji scenery, ditch the beach and head for the jungle. All-day rafting adventures on Fiji’s Upper Navua River take you past dozens of waterfalls and through several miles of deep, narrow river canyon. Some stretches are only 15 feet wide and 130 feet high. It’s not what you picture when you imagine Fiji, but this canyon is precious to islanders who worked to make it an official conservation area. Whitewater rafting trips through the lush rainforest stop for a swim beneath a waterfall and a visit to a local village where you can watch ceremonies, traditional dancing, and arts and crafts demonstrations.

If you go: Ask questions. Local guides are quick to share stories about their culture and day-to-day life at home.

Book it: Get prices for Sheraton Denarau Villas and other area hotels

Soaking in a Mud Pool and Hot Springs in Viti Levu, Fiji

There’s nothing fancy or commercialized about the rustic outdoor experience at Sabeto Mud Pool and Hot Springs in Fiji’s lush Sabeto Valley. But it’s a favorite among locals and visitors who claim the benefits of relaxation and softer skin. The three geothermal springs and mud pool are right next to each other and make for an indulgent self-serve spa treatment. You’re given a bucket of mud to generously slather over your skin. Once the caked-on mud dries in the sun, you dunk in the mud pool before a final rinse and soak in the hot spring pools, which range from warm to extremely hot.

If you go: Wear an old swimsuit and bring a change of clothes so you can clean up and take advantage of the on-site massages.

Book it: Get prices for Stoney Creek and other area hotels

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Island Hopping by Kayak in the Yasawa or Kadavu Islands, Fiji

Most visitors to Fiji never venture beyond the main island, Viti Levu, to the country’s other 300 islands. Weeklong kayaking trips in Fiji’s more remote islands are an adventure away from civilization, an escape to a place without shops or banks. On a guided tour you’ll paddle three or four hours a day, stopping to snorkel coral reefs, swim at powdery white sand beaches, or explore limestone caves. With Southern Sea Ventures you’ll camp on uninhabited islands or stay as an exclusive guest in native villages within the Yasawa Island group. If you want to hop between islands with hotels, book a kayaking trip in the Kadavu Islands with Tamarillo Active Travel.

If you go: Look for the Yasawa archipelago’s Turtle Island, the film set for the movie The Blue Lagoon (1980) starring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.

Book it: Get prices for Viwa Island Resort and other area hotels

Shark Diving in a Marine Reserve in Viti Levu, Fiji

One of the world’s renowned shark dives, the Fiji Shark Corridor is a 19-mile stretch along the southern coast of Fiji’s main island. Divers descend and kneel on the ocean floor behind a wall and watch as several species of sharks gather. Grey, blacktip, and whitetip reef sharks visit regularly, as do the tawny nurse, sickle-fin lemon, and the main attraction: the bull shark. Fiji’s shark population was nearing extinction when this Marine Protected Area was established in 2002. Local villagers relinquished fishing rights in exchange for an income source that comes from the divers. Recent data shows healthier fishing yields in the surrounding areas.

If you go: Beqa Adventure Divers, the steward of the marine reserve, hires local divers to lead the tours. They use fish heads to attract the sharks. Dives at this site in the Beqa Passage are limited to two boats daily, five days a week.

Book it: Get prices for Grand Pacific Hotel and other area hotels

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4×4 Driving to an Active Volcano Rim in Tanna, Vanuatu

Located between Fiji and Australia, Vanuatu is a nation of some 80 islands including the island of Tanna, home to one of the world’s most accessible active volcanoes. Hire a guide for the 4×4 ride to the top of the fiery volcano. You’ll ascend barren volcanic ash fields reminiscent of a Star Trek scene and ramble over huge black sand dunes created by ash rain. Walking the last 50 yards is a bit of a trek, but the reward is like none other: a view over the edge of the crater rim and into the red glow of bubbling lava. As each sudden eruption happens you can feel the bang shake your body, see the lava flying overhead, and watch as it splatters back inside the cone.

If you go: Take a late afternoon tour so you can watch the fiery spectacle at night. Tanna Evergreen Resort and Tanna Adventures offer both accommodation and volcano tours.

Book it: Get prices for White Grass Ocean Resort & Spa and other area hotels

Swimming in a Crater in Upolu, Samoa

Samoa’s iconic swimming hole is also one of Earth’s most unusual. On the south coast of the main island, To Sua Trench is an almost perfectly circular volcanic crater filled with seawater ebbing and flowing with the tide through an underground tunnel to the ocean. Occasionally you’ll see someone leap from the top and plunge the entire 98 feet into the clear, turquoise water below. Most visitors, once they work up the courage, carefully inch their way down a steep, slippery wooden ladder to the swim platform for a dip. The scene is magical. Lush vegetation rims the crater and vines spill over the edges.

If you go: Don’t miss the lush gardens and ocean views at the top. Picnic like a local in the fales (Samoan thatched-roof huts) or explore blowholes and rock pools.

Book it: Get prices for Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa and other area hotels

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Exploring Bird Caves in Atiu, Cook Islands

With a handful of villages and only 400 residents, Atiu Island in the Cook Islands offers adventurers the opportunity to explore the subterranean world of the South Pacific. Atiu is ringed by a raised coral limestone reef, where several caves along the coastline were once used as burial grounds. A 30-minute trek through the dense tropical jungle leads to Anatakitaki Cave. Inside the cave you’ll likely hear the kopeka bird before you see it flying overhead. This tiny swiftlet, endemic to the island, nests among stalactites and stalagmites, and navigates in the pitch black using sonar with a series of clicking sounds.

If you go: Wear sturdy shoes and hire a guide who will help you navigate over the jungle’s sharp fossil coral to the cave. Tours typically include a candlelit swim in a crystal-clear cavern pool.

Book it: Get prices for Atiu Villas and other area hotels

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Snorkeling with Humpback Whales in Tonga

Each year from July to October, hundreds of humpback whales arrive in the waters of Tonga to mate and give birth to their young before returning to their summer feeding grounds in Antarctica. Several tour operators on the islands of Tongatapu, Vava’u, Ha’apai, and ‘Eua take you to the breeding grounds and provide snorkeling gear for your swim. You’ll get close enough to hear whales singing underwater. Expert guides ensure a safe distance and offer insight on the behaviors you’re witnessing, from a group of males pursuing a female to a mother nursing her calf.

If you go: Book a charter that takes only small groups of six or eight, which are less likely to disturb the whales. Some charters combine swimming with whales and a sunbathing detour to a deserted beach.

Book it: Get prices for Blue Banana Beach House and other area hotels

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.

Categories
Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Cities Historical Travel

10 Castle Hotels in Europe That Are Worth the Splurge


For the ultimate fairy-tale getaway in Europe, there’s nothing like spending a night in a centuries-old castle. These 10 alluring castle hotels in Europe will transport you to secret gardens, canopy beds in stone towers, and drawing rooms where sipping afternoon tea is a centuries-old tradition.

Castle Hotels in Europe That Are Worth the Splurge

Here’s where you’ll find some of Europe’s most opulent spots to wake up in a castle and feel like royalty.

Amberley Castle: West Sussex, England

Less than a two-hour drive south of London, near England’s southern coast, is the 900-year-old Amberley Castle. A luxurious Relais & Chateaux property, this medieval castle hotel in South Downs is enclosed by a 60-foot stone wall and an iron portcullis that remains open. Suits of armor stand in the occasional castle corridor.

Here you can sleep in a four-poster bed in front of an original fireplace or soak in a whirlpool bath beneath stone arches and leaded windows. On sunny days you can take your afternoon tea outside overlooking the formal gardens. Tennis courts, an 18-hole putting course, and a croquet lawn are also on the castle grounds.

The castle is part of South Downs National Park, a popular area for walking and discovering England’s white chalk cliffs, rolling farmland, villages, vineyards, and traditional pubs.

Book it: Get prices for Amberley Castle and other area hotels

Dromoland Castle: Newmarket-on-Fergus, Ireland

Rich fabrics, glittering chandeliers, and ornate wallpaper grace this luxurious five-star hotel, one of the most famous baronial castles in Ireland. You’ll feel like royalty in the 16th-century Dromoland Castle, where grand staircases and ornate fireplaces take you back to a bygone era.

Explore the walled garden and trails that meander through the 400-acre castle grounds. The chef can pack a picnic basket with a bottle of Champagne. Save time for archery, horseback riding, a round of golf, or a falconry experience at this castle hotel that has welcomed Nelson Mandela, Johnny Cash, and several other celebrities and heads of state.

The trails of the nearby Wild Atlantic Way will take you along the coast. The castle hotel runs day trips to the dramatic Cliffs of Moher. Bunratty’s 15th-century castle, an Irish tower house, is a few miles south of Dromoland.

Book it: Get prices for Dromoland Castle and other area hotels

Borgia Castle: Perugia, Italy

If you’ve ever dreamed of renting an entire castle for a fairy-tale wedding or family gathering, Italy’s Borgia Castle is a gorgeous option. A seven-bedroom medieval castle on the border of Tuscany and Umbria, this vacation rental property sleeps 13. It’s a true Italian countryside experience. Bedrooms feature timber beams, chandeliers, and intricately carved furniture. Big fireplaces and frescoes add to the historic charm.

From the terrace you can take in panoramic views of Lake Trasimeno and green, rolling hills. The castle hotel also has a swimming pool, tennis courts, and lovely gardens to explore. In the area are quaint medieval villages, olive groves, and vineyards to explore. Sienna and Florence are easy destinations for a day trip.

Book it: Get prices for Borgia Castle

Chateau de Bagnols: Bagnols, France

The Chateau de Bagnols is everything you imagine a chateau should be in the south of France’s Rhone-Alpes. Built in 1217, this honey-hued stone fortress is set atop a hill overlooking the Beaujolais vineyards and sprawling countryside just 30 minutes from Lyon.

At this five-star castle hotel, historic murals, tapestries, period fireplaces, and four-poster beds with canopies adorn the guest rooms. To satisfy your sophisticated palate, the Michelin-rated restaurant and tastings in the wine-pressing room offer an authentic taste of the region. There’s also an outdoor pool set among beautifully manicured hedges and aromatic gardens.

You can take a biking excursion to a neighboring medieval village or a horse-drawn carriage ride through Beaujolais. The Beaujolais wine route takes you through several picturesque villages.

Book it: Get prices for Chateau de Bagnols and other area hotels

Glenapp Castle: Ayrshire, Scotland

Near Scotland’s southwest coast, Glenapp Castle draws you into a world of tranquility and understated five-star elegance. Its sandstone battlements with turrets and towers are surrounded by formal gardens and woodlands. Inside, a roaring fire in the lounge welcomes you after a day of golf, horseback riding, hunting, or sailing.

Guest rooms, some with sea views, are luxurious without being stuffy. Country house decor and generous sitting areas are the epitome of fine living. On the 36-acre grounds are ponds, a labyrinth, and a walled garden where you can take your afternoon tea in summer.

Four championship golf courses are within an hour’s drive of this castle hotel. Just east you’ll find miles of hiking trails in the massive Galloway Forest Park, home to wild goats, otters, ospreys, and eagles.

Book it: Get prices for Glenapp Castle and other area hotels

Pousada Mosteiro Crato: Crato, Portugal

Once upon a time the stone walls of Pousada Mosteiro Crato served other purposes: a Gothic church, a Renaissance convent, and a luxurious manor house. Originally built during the 14th century, this castle hotel near the Portugal-Spain border sits in the quiet Alentejo countryside.

Climb up to your stone-walled suite in the tower. Waking up in the morning to almost no sound is one of the luxuries guests love here. Guest room balconies offer pastoral views and excellent stargazing far from any city. Sunbathe on the outdoor pool’s sunny terrace, go horseback riding, and try the restaurant’s favorite regional dishes: roasted wild boar and lamb stew.

Nearby are the medieval towns of Castelo de Vide and Alegrete, and the city of Portalegre with many manor houses and convents. A 30-minute drive east of Crato is the mountainous Parque Natural da Serra de Sao Mamede.

Book it: Get prices for Pousada Mosteiro Crato and other area hotels

Castlehotel Schoenburg: Oberwesel, Germany

An imposing beauty above the banks of the Rhine River, Castlehotel Schoenburg is the embodiment of romance. A steep climb on a winding road takes you over a narrow wooden bridge and to the foot of the castle’s cobbled pathways. The inviting fireplace room and library are cozy places to relax, but there are plenty of other nooks and crannies and secret places to discover.

Dine outdoors on the terrace with panoramic river valley views or beneath leaded windows in the elegant dining room, reminiscent of a Disney princess movie set. At the end of the day, retire to a four-poster canopy bed.

By day you can take a Rhine River cruise or stroll the streets of Oberwesel, a town hit hard by the wars where holes from cannon balls and bullets are still evident in the city wall. Stop for a glass of riesling, one of the grape varietals grown in this renowned wine region.

Book it: Get prices for Castlehotel Schoenburg and other area hotels

Ashford Castle: Cong, Ireland

The glamorous 800-year-old Ashford Castle hotel estate, part 13th-century Norman stronghold and part 18th-century French chateau, is the ultimate splurge. This former home of the Guinness family recently underwent a two-year, $75 million renovation to return it to its original splendor. Curved stone ceilings, suits of armor, castle banners, and other details right down to the monogrammed bedsheets add to the magical ambiance.

Sip a glass of Guinness next to the roaring fire in the wood-paneled bar, or dine like royalty (dinner jacket required) in the formal dining room. For centuries the expansive 350-acre waterfront estate has been known as one of the country’s finest sporting estates with activities such as falconry, horse riding, fishing, and shooting.

Off site you can visit Kylemore Abbey and its Victorian walled gardens, home to Benedictine nuns for nearly 100 years. The Cliffs of Moher are also nearby.

Book it: Get prices for Ashford Castle and other area hotels

Parador de Cardona: Cardona, Spain

About 60 miles from Barcelona, in the heart of Catalonia, sits the majestic Parador de Cardona, a former fort and church that dates to medieval times. High on a promontory above the ancient, narrow streets of Cardona, the castle commands awe with its beautiful blend of Gothic and Catalan Romanesque styles.

The best room in the castle is the elegantly styled Cardona room above the powder arsenal. Here you can sleep in a four-poster iron bed, admire the cupola, breathe in the serenity, and know you’re far, far away from ordinary life.

At the Salt Mountain Cultural Park you can put on a helmet and tour a salt mine that was still in production until 1990. A museum on site explains the history, geology, and minerology of Cardona’s Salt Valley. The castle hotel is also near hiking and biking trails that pass old stone mills along the Cardoner River that were used to process salt.

Book it: Get prices for Parador de Cardona

Castel Porrona Relais & Spa: Porrona, Italy

Italy wouldn’t be a dream come true without waking up in a castle that overlooks Tuscany’s olive groves, vineyards, and hillsides of cypress trees. The five-star Castel Porrona Relais & Spa is perfectly positioned for an exclusive retreat.

Steeped in history and meticulously restored, this castle hotel in a medieval stone village has only a handful of rooms, which makes it feel like you’re visiting a private country home. Doting staff, antique furniture, and fine fabrics are exquisite. Memorable experiences range from swimming in an underground pool to cooking classes with fresh-made pasta to the signature couples’ spa treatment using olive oil and red wine therapy.

Within a 40-minute drive are the seaside beaches of Castiglione della Pescaia and Follonica. The stunning mountain village of Montalcino to the northwest is even closer.

Book it: Get prices for Castel Porrona Relais & Spa and other area hotels

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Jamie Moore is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel. Her articles have appeared on USA Today, Yahoo Travel, Huffington Post, and WestJet.