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10 Best Places to Go in New Zealand

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

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Bay of Islands

Bay of islands new zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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Milford Sound, New Zealand

Fiordland

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

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

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

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

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Auckland, New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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Waiheke Island, New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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Christchurch, New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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

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Queenstown, New Zealand

Queenstown from the skyline luge at sunrise

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

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

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

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

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Te Whakarewarewa Geothermal Valley, New Zealand

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

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

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

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

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Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

Waitomo glowworm caves

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

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

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

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

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Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Franz josef glacier

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

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

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

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

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Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

mount cook new zealand.

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

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

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

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What to Pack on Your Trip

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

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10 Fun Off-Resort Things to Do in Oahu

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

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

Have an Adventure

atvs at kualoa ranch

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

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

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

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Hit the Beach

oahu beach

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

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

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

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Soak Up Local History and Culture

performer at polynesian cultural center

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

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

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

Taste the Island Flavors

hawaiian poke

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

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

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

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

Take a Hike

hiker on mountaintop in oahu

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

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

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

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Stroll Through Gorgeous Gardens

pink flowers in oahu

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

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

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

Hit the Water

surfer north shore oahu

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

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

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

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Play a Round

golf course oahu

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

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

Learn About Agritourism

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

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

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

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

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

Discover WWII History

uss bowfin submarine admiral clarey bridge oahu.

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

What to Pack

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

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

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14 Things a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You (And 6 Things They Can’t)

Few travelers think to contact the hotel concierge for much more than directions or restaurant recommendations—but if you don’t, you’re missing out on a wealth of local expertise. A good hotel concierge has impressive powers and can assist with almost any travel problem you might face, so you shouldn’t be afraid to take advantage.[st_content_ad]

That said, a concierge is not a magician. Below are 14 things your hotel concierge can do for you, six more they can’t, and four tips for maximizing your moments at the hotel lobby.

What a Hotel Concierge Can Do for You

Save You Money

The concierge can tell you how to get to the airport for less, where to find nearby happy hours, what the best free sights and activities are, and how much is a fair price for a taxi.

Recommend Fitness Facilities

If your hotel doesn’t have a gym or lacks the equipment you want, the concierge can usually point you to an affiliated hotel with better facilities, recommend a good running trail, or give you a list of nearby fitness centers that offer daily or weekly passes.

Get You a Ride When There Seems to Be None Available

If it is rush hour, raining, or really late, finding a taxi or Uber ride can be tough. The concierge can make this happen with a phone call in many cases. This can even work if you’re not staying at the hotel in question. I once saw a friend walk into the lobby of a New York hotel and offer the concierge a tip; within seconds, we had a ride.

Get Tickets for You

Many concierges are careful to say they can’t get tickets for sold-out shows, but the truth is they sometimes can. They may have relationships with brokers, or know season ticket holders who may not be using their seats, or even have tickets themselves; Michael Fazio, author of Concierge Confidential, started to purchase tickets to certain shows that he would then sell to guests, usually at a markup that matched the secondary market.

Keep You Safe

A concierge can offer advice on whether a neighborhood, park, or activity is safe to visit, and what you can do instead if your idea is iffy.

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Help You Celebrate

Are you proposing to your partner or celebrating a landmark birthday? Your hotel concierge can help with anything from filling your hotel room with flowers and balloons to organizing a rooftop proposal, complete with a photographer to document the occasion.

Help You Do Your Job

A concierge can assist with all kinds of work-related tasks, such as getting materials to a printer, setting up a courier service, mailing packages, and setting up a meeting space.

Help You Look Good

A concierge can get you an appointment with a barber or hairdresser, get clothes pressed, and more.

Fix Sticky Travel Problems

A concierge can help you find an expeditor or make an embassy appointment if your passport is stolen, or facilitate repairs if your smartphone goes on the fritz. They can also accept overnight mail or late-arriving luggage.

Get You a Table

Restaurants will often find a way to fit in customers who are recommended by their preferred concierge contacts. If the restaurant is truly full, the concierge can often get you to the front of a waiting list.

Recommend Local Service Folks

Need a babysitter, an auto repair shop, or a dog walker? Your concierge can help.

Create a Custom Itinerary

If you have a bunch of stuff you definitely want to do but are uncertain how to make it all fit together, the concierge can take your list of attractions and put together a coherent and achievable plan. He or she can also help you avoid pitfalls such as road construction or closed subway stations.

Help with Special Needs

If you are disabled, aren’t feeling well, or have other special needs, a hotel concierge can offer considerable assistance—like calling wheelchair-accessible taxis, finding English-speaking doctors, and recommending restaurants that can accommodate certain food allergies.

Provide Assistance Before You Arrive

The concierge can be a resource not just once you’re at the hotel but beforehand as well. For instance, he or she could help you plan out your first day, including a restaurant reservation for dinner.

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What Your Hotel Concierge Can’t Do for You

Gossip

Discretion is an integral part of a concierge’s job, so they tend not to talk about other guests, including which celebrities might be staying in the hotel.

Illegal or Immoral Activities

You shouldn’t expose a concierge to risk by asking him or her to help with illegal—or dubiously legal—activities such as obtaining drugs, forging signatures, finding “companions,” or the like.

Babysit

A concierge can help you find someone else to look after your child, but he or she can’t actually do the babysitting while on duty.

Float You a Loan

They’ll help you with money concerns, but concierges are not banks; don’t ask them to dig into their pockets for you.

Sell Stuff for You

Concierges are also not your personal eBay or Craigslist; they can’t sell tickets you no longer need or items you don’t want to take home. However, he or she may be able to recommend a place where you can do the sale yourself.

Book Tickets to Sold-Out Shows

Truly sold-out shows tend to be just that; however, you can ask if the concierge has any ideas or contacts to help get you tickets, and he or she might have a strategy for you. If there is truly no way to get certain tickets, the concierge will tell you so.

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Tips for Using a Hotel Concierge

Don’t Be Shy

You might feel as though the concierge is only there for the folks in the penthouse suite, but this isn’t the case; he or she is there to help all guests, so feel free to ask.

Give Them Some Time

Concierges can often pull off difficult tasks, but to do so on very short notice is tricky, and it distracts them from helping other guests. Give the concierge some notice if you need something beyond simple advice.

Present the Concierge’s Card

When a concierge sends you to a restaurant or other establishment, it is often his or her name, not yours, that is the attraction for the proprietor. So if a concierge asks you to show his or her card, do it; these relationships are what makes concierges able to help you now and in the future.

Not All Concierges Are the Same

Concierges at the very best (and most expensive) hotels are notorious for pulling off near-miracles; those at less prestigious establishments typically don’t have the same pull.

Traveling? Get a Carry-On That Does More

The Bigger Carry-On from Away

3 words: lightweight, durable, & multi-functional. The Carry-On from Away makes traveling that much easier, especially with its removable, TSA-approved battery for your electronics.

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Ed Hewitt is a seasoned globetrotter who brings you a biweekly glimpse into the latest travel news, views, and trends—and how they could affect your travel plans.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the latest information.

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Tipping in Greece: The Greece Tipping Guide

A vacation in Greece promises beautiful scenery, fresh and delicious food, and interactions with friendly locals. As a visitor, you’ll find yourself in plenty of situations in which you might naturally think to tip. But should you?

Tipping in Greece is customary, but is by no means obligatory. This Greece tipping guide will help you navigate when/where you can leave a little extra for great service.

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Tipping in Greece

[st_content_ad]Tipping in Greece may be expected in most places, but it is by no means an obligation. There is no set standard for how much to leave when service exceeds expectations, but there are certain times when it’s expected you’ll tip. For instance, some restaurants may round up the bill to include gratuity, so it is wise to look for this inclusion before tipping. Note that it’s also common for servers not to receive tips included on a credit card, so try to leave cash whenever possible so ensure the person you’re trying to tip actually receives the gratuity.

Want to know when to tip for other services? Read on to make sense of where, when, and how much to tip when you’re traveling in Greece.

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View of a narrow street in the old town of Thessaloniki, Greece

How To Tip In Greece

Cafe Server:

Greece doesn’t have a strong culture of tipping at cafes. But if there is a tip jar by the cash register, it’s a nice gesture to leave a couple of coins. For exceptional table service, round up to the nearest €1.

Restaurant Server:

A tip is typically expected, especially for stellar service, but some restaurants round up the bill to include gratuity. Check the bill first for these inclusions before deciding whether or not to tip. If there is no added tip, leave 5 to 10 percent, and a few coins on the table for the busser. Some restaurants may refuse gratuity for service, so if you’re unsure, you can certainly ask before tipping. There may be a “cover charge” on the bill, which covers the cost of bread and non-bottled water, but doesn’t include gratuity.

Bartender:

At bars, it’s not necessary to tip a bartender, as most do not expect it; but it is considerate to round to the nearest €1 for great service.

Tour Guides:

In Greece, it’s customary to tip tour guides. Tip €2 to €5 per person, per day for a group tour; and €20 per person, per day for a private tour.

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View of Greek Orthodox Church in Monastiraki Square and line of yellow cabs

Taxis:

A good rule of thumb is to round up to the nearest euro. This approach simplifies paying with cash, and it’s not an unusual way to tip without actually tipping. For exceptional service, or if you use a taxi driver for multiple stops, for a longer distance, or as a guide, you might add 5 to 10 percent of the final fare to your total payment.

Airport Shuttle Driver:

It is not necessary to tip your driver, but feel free to give €1 per bag if they help with your luggage.

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Doorman:

If a doorman assists with luggage or hailing transportation, a simple thank you is appreciated. But for exceptional service, it certainly wouldn’t be remiss to offer €1.

Bellhop:

At hotels, feel free to tip the bellhop €1 to €2 per bag delivered to your room, but no more than €5 total. 

Housecleaning:

At hotels, or in vacation rentals that have daily cleaning services, it’s customary to leave €1 per night, especially if the cleaner is doing a great job.

Front Desk at the Astra Suites

Concierge:

If the concierge goes above and beyond with helping you book reservations, giving you directions, and/or providing insider recommendations, it’s considerate to tip €5 to €10. For answers to quick questions, though, you shouldn’t feel obligated.

Stylist:

For haircuts, shampoos, trims, and shaves, it’s considerate, but not expected, to tip 10 percent of the final bill if you’re satisfied with your new look.

Spa Service Provider:

A tip isn’t expected, but you can leave up to 10 percent for anything that goes above and beyond your expectations. Simply ask for an envelope for the tip at the front desk, and then either deliver the envelope to your provider or leave the tip at the front desk.

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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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10 Magical Canal Cities That Aren’t Venice

Everyone swoons over Venice’s celebrated canals and bridges—but did you know that there are dozens of other canal cities across the globe that are known as the “Venice of” their respective locations? (Think “the Venice of the North” or “the Venice of the East”) Sure, there’s only one real Venice, but these other watery cities offer plenty of charms of their own, from riverfront palaces to classical Chinese pagodas and even gondola rides. With overtourism at the forefront of Venice’s problems and a new daily admission fee proposed, there has never been a better time to seek an alternative.

Canal Cities Around the World

Check out 10 of the most magical canal cities around the globe.

Delft, Netherlands

delft canal and church

Fun Fact: The 17th-century painter Johannes Vermeer lived in this serenely beautiful Dutch city, and his well-known “View of Delft” captures its picturesque buildings and canals.

What to Do: Delft is perfect for strolling. Wander along the canals and cobblestone streets to see sights like the Nieuwe Kerk (“New” Church, dating back to 1510) and the Oostpoort, the only remaining gate from the city’s ancient walls.

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Suzhou, China

bright lights over suzhou canal in china at night.

Fun Fact: Suzhou’s historic district, filled with narrow canals, historic pagodas, and exquisite gardens, is protected by the government of China; no skyscrapers may be built here.

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What to Do: An evening boat tour is one of the most romantic ways to experience Suzhou’s canals and bridges. By day, wander through the city’s many classical gardens, which are collectively recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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Birmingham, England

brick buildings surrounding birmingham canals.

Fun Fact: Birmingham has more miles of canals than Venice.

What to Do: Birmingham’s historic canals—once vital to the city’s commerce during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century—are now primarily a tourist attraction. You can walk along the towpaths, eat lunch at a waterfront restaurant, browse the shops along the canals, or take a sightseeing cruise.

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Fort Lauderdale, Florida

boats in fort lauderdale harbor at dusk.

Fun Fact: Fort Lauderdale is located on the Intracoastal Waterway, a 3,000-mile network of bays, inlets, sounds, and canals that run along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of the United States.

What to Do: You don’t need to go all the way to Italy to take a traditional gondola ride—you can also do it right here in Fort Lauderdale. You can also zip around this sunny city by water taxi or take a sightseeing boat tour.

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Alappuzha, India

boat in alappuzha india on canal waterways.

Fun Fact: Alappuzha (traditionally known as Alleppey) is the gateway to the backwater region of Kerala, on India’s southwestern coast. “Snake boat” races are held here every summer, featuring long, narrow boats propelled by up to 100 local rowers.

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What to Do: Take a boat tour or stay in a traditional houseboat and explore the region’s rivers, lagoons, and canals. These tranquil waters are lined with palms and offer a glimpse into local industries like shrimp farming and coir making (coir fibers are harvested from coconuts and used to produce rope, floor mats, and other products).

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Gold Coast City, Australia

gold coast broadwater boats

Fun Fact: Gold Coast City is best known for its spectacular beaches, but the city also has some 160 miles of canals—lined with thousands of waterfront homes.

What to Do: Thrill seekers can go jetboating through Gold Coast’s waterways at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. Too fast for your blood? Try a kayaking excursion or take a dinner cruise.

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Bruges, Belgium

bruges belgium evening canals.

Fun Fact: This picture-perfect medieval city is often packed with day trippers, so consider an overnight stay or off-season visit to see it at its best.

What to Do: After you take a boat ride along the canals, stroll the streets to sample the local chocolates (there are dozens of chocolatiers in town) and take in the best of Flemish art at the Groeninge and Memling Museums.

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St. Petersburg, Russia

boat going through archway on canal in st. petersburg russia.

Fun Fact: On scheduled nights between April and November, St. Petersburg’s historic bridges over the River Neva are raised to allow ships to pass under them—a fascinating scene to watch, especially during “White Nights” in late June, when the sky never goes fully dark.

What to Do: You can ride public ferries up and down the Neva to see its magnificent palaces and monuments, but you’ll get a more intimate look at the city by taking a canal tour to explore St. Petersburg’s narrower waterways and beautiful bridges.

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Annecy, France

canals winding through buildings in european village.

Fun Fact: Annecy is referred to as the “Venice of the Alps” and it’s where three canals cut through the old city. Complete with cobblestoned streets, Annecy is located in the foothills of the French Alps.

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What to Do: Wander the canals along the pastel-colored buildings in the old town, Vieille Ville. The Thiou River leads to Lake Annecy, where you can walk along shoreline trails and relax on a boat in the summer.

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Xochimilco, Mexico

colorful river boats along a canal.

Fun Fact: Xochimilco directly translates to the “place where flowers grow” and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

What to Do: Take a colorful boat ride along the canal on a trajinera, or gondola. Xochimilco is a popular day trip from Mexico City and travelers rent a boat, driven by a rower, by the hour. Choose your course from the main canal, an ecological reserve, or the quirky Island of Dolls. Onboard you are served food and drink and can even buy souvenirs from boats floating by.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the most recent information. Ashley Rossi contributed to this article.

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10 Best Places to Go in Africa (and What to Do There)

People tend to think of Africa as a country, not a continent. But with 54 countries calling it home, Africa’s topography, landscape, and activities vary drastically by region. I’ve been to the continent 26 times, yet each time I go I’m surprised at just how many new things there are to see and do.

Where to Go in Africa

To make it easier for you to plan a trip, I’ve highlighted some of the most popular countries and best places to go in Africa, as well as what to see and do there, when to go, and where to stay. Hopefully this primer will get you motivated to hop on a plane—it’s worth the long flight to get there.

Uganda

[st_content_ad]Why go: One of only three countries in the world where you can trek to see mountain gorillas in the wild (there are only 1,000 mountain gorillas left in the world), the experience in Uganda is truly amazing.

Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda is home to the Nyakagezi gorilla family with its two silverbacks (adult males). It holds a certain allure, since it boasts one of the highest concentrations of silverbacks within a family. Tours are small, no more than eight people, and once the gorillas are spotted, you have 60 minutes with them—and believe me, it goes really fast.

I was surprised to see how playful the juveniles are, not unlike my own little kids. One even came up and gave me a light fist bump to the leg (the animals can do what they want, but we were instructed to stay seven meters away from them; they came much, much closer).

For me, witnessing the adult silverback males in action was the most moving experience. Pounding their chests, making conversation with guttural sounds, climbing effortlessly up the bamboo trees to build a nest—they seem so human-like, which isn’t surprising given that these mammals share 98 percent of our DNA. Seeing the gorillas in their natural habitat was one of my favorite experiences in Africa.

When to go: Since it’s a rain forest, there’s a chance you’ll get wet anytime, so there’s no really bad time to go. Just be sure to pack appropriately.

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Kenya and Tanzania

 

Why go: Kenya and Tanzania are often combined into one trip. Many people consider these two counties among the best places to go in Africa because they’re where you can see the Great Migration—where 2 million wildebeest, zebra, and gazelle make a migratory circle from the Masa Mara in Kenya to the Serengeti in Tanzania and back again.

But even if you don’t go during the migration, Kenya and Tanzania have some of the most extensive populations of wildlife in all of Africa; it’s not uncommon to see 50 elephants in a herd, or to see the Big Five (lion, rhino, cape buffalo, elephant and leopard) on your first game drive.

And, of course, Tanzania is home to Mount Kilimanjaro—one of the great bucket-list hiking destinations in the entire world.

When to go: “Avoid the long-rains of April and May. If you’re going to catch the migration, it’s July through September,” says Daniel Saperstein, co-owner of Hippo Creek Safaris and an Africa travel specialist.

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Zambia and Zimbabwe

 

Why Go: Head to these two countries to see Victoria Falls, the largest waterfalls in the world. Plus, you can go white water rafting down the Zambezi river, chock-full of crocs and hippos (it’s an amazing experience and one I highly recommend).

“Additionally, Zambia focuses on fantastic walking safaris in wonderful national parks like South Luangwa and the Lower Zambezi. In the latter, you can also do canoeing and fishing in addition to the game drives and walks,” says Hippo Creek Safari’s Daniel Saperstein. “The game is very good and the experience in Zambia feels like Kenya did 30 years ago—still very raw and real.”

Combing these two countries gives you a look at Victoria Falls from both sides and you’ll see different game.

When to go: “Peak season will be their winter time, when it is dry and mild—anywhere from June through September is ideal,” says Saperstein. “It can be very hot from October through January.”

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Namibia

 

Why go: In Namibia, you can climb some of the highest sand dunes in the world (or better yet, take a hot air balloon ride over them). The scenery is dramatic and vaults Namibia into the discussion for one of the best places to go in Africa.

“However, don’t go to Namibia expecting to see game. You may see some up north in Etosha, but it’s more about the dynamic landscapes, which are breathtaking,” explains Saperstein.

If you can afford the stopover, it’s worth doing a Living Desert Tour, a Ghost Town tour, and an overflight of the Skeleton Coast.

Best time to go: Namibia is a year-round destination, but remember that since it’s a desert environment, you can get a big shift any day of the year, from very hot to very cold.  Pack both warm-weather and cool clothes. 

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Botswana

 

Why go: This country’s focus is on high-end, low-impact tourism, so the properties are all very luxurious and the crowds you see in East Africa are noticeably absent here. It’s where to go in Africa for up-close wildlife experiences, sans crowds.

Plus, the landscape is simply stunning with the Okavango Delta, so instead of traditional game drives by vehicle, you’ll be able to go out in mokoros (traditional dug-out canoes), which brings you eye-level with the game. Nothing says safari like being five feet away from a bathing elephant.

When to go: The game viewing gets progressively better in the winter, from June through September, after the Okavango Delta floodwaters have started to recede. September is considered peak season.

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South Africa

 

Why go: From shark cage diving and malaria-free safari zones to experiencing the flavors of Durban, an enclave of Indian culture in Africa that rests right on the Indian Ocean, South Africa combines a European and African flair.

Private game reserves abound in South Africa, which makes it easier to see the Big Five animals up close and in limited time than in other destinations. You can also go on wine tours or get in some hiking up Table Mountain—on its own, one of the best places to go in Africa for a day trip.

When to go: Almost any time of the year is great for game viewing; but December through February sees the bulk of the rain and May through July are the coldest months.

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Egypt

 

Why go: Visiting the pyramids and taking a cruise up (yes up) the Nile River is a bucket list adventure for good reason. “Egypt is the cradle of Western civilization. Few experiences can measure up to the massive scale of the pyramids and the sphinx,” says Claudia Worth, Product Manager of Abercrombie &Kent.

“Discover the Aswan islands by felucca (traditional sailboat) or privately tour the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, home to artifacts recovered from Tutankhamun’s tomb.” This part of Northern Africa appeals to history buffs and those interested in a cultural journey.

When to go: “Egypt is a year-round destination, but the most comfortable temperatures are between October and April,” notes Worth.

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Morocco

 

Why go: Visit the famous spice markets and entrench yourself in Arab culture. “With a history stretching back nearly 10,000 years, the country’s great cities—Marrakech, Tangier, Fez and Rabat—offer a look into ancient traditions,” says Worth.

Morocco offers so many different kinds of experiences—I did a camel trek in the Sahara Desert and slept under the stars, and had tea with nomadic Berbers to learn about their lifestyle. In Marrakech, known as the red city,  there’s plenty to grab your attention.

“A must is the Djemaa el Fna, the largest market in Morocco and the biggest square in Africa,” says Worth. “Make sure to have a walk around the square in the evening when musicians, dancers, and storytellers come out.”

Wander around the many souks adjacent to Djemaa el Fna, where you can buy everything from spices to teapots.

When to go: Morocco is a year-round destination and one of the best places to go in Africa. Marrakesh can be hot in the summer months, however, and the desert gets very cold in January.

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What to Pack on Your African Getaway

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Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of the city of Durban. It has been corrected.

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

Judy Koutsky writes often about luxury, adventure, spa, and family travel. Her work has appeared in more than 30 publications, including Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveler. She has traveled to six of the seven continents (Antarctica is next on her list). Whether it is hang gliding in New Zealand, shark-cage diving in South Africa, or swimming with whale sharks in Belize, she and her family of four are always up for an adventure.

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10 Fun Things to Do in Wildwood, New Jersey

There’s nothing like summer at the Jersey Shore, where you can spend your days relaxing on the beach and your evenings playing mini golf, riding roller coasters, and eating ice cream on the boardwalk. But while the beach and the boardwalk are the main draws, there are many other fun things to do in Wildwood, New Jersey—one of the most popular family resorts on the state’s southern coast.

The Best Things to Do in Wildwood, NJ

[st_content_ad]If you get restless sitting on the beach, active options in Wildwood, New Jersey, include biking, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding. History buffs will appreciate Wildwood’s collection of 1950s and ’60s architecture. And there are plenty of day trip possibilities if you want to add a change of scene to your Wildwood vacation.

A note on geography: What many people think of as Wildwood, NJ, is actually three municipalities that share an island: Wildwood Crest, Wildwood (also known as Wildwood by the Sea), and North Wildwood. Cresse Avenue divides Wildwood from Wildwood Crest, and 26th Avenue marks the boundary between Wildwood and North Wildwood.

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Each municipality has a slightly different vibe—Wildwood Crest and North Wildwood have a quieter, more residential feel than lively Wildwood itself, where you’ll find the big amusement parks and the bulk of the boardwalk. But each town runs seamlessly into the next, so you can take advantage of all the fun things to do in New Jersey’s Wildwoods, regardless of where you stay.

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Enjoy the Beach

Wildwood new jersey beach

During peak season at some New Jersey beaches, it can feel like you’re elbow to elbow with the family under the next umbrella. That’s not a problem in the Wildwoods, home to the state’s widest beaches. Here, it’s easy to find your own personal stretch of sand for sunbathing, reading, building sandcastles, or playing cornhole.

Wildwood Beach has recently started allowing beachgoers to park right on the beach, for a fee that starts at $10 per day (it goes higher during special events). And if you’re not up for the long walk to the water across the hot sand, you can hire a beach taxi to cart you and your boogie board to the waves. Or you can head to North Wildwood, where the beaches are significantly narrower than those in Wildwood and Wildwood Crest.

Bonus: Access to Wildwood beaches is free all year long.

Hit the Boardwalk

Wildwood-Jersey-Boardwalk

Wildwood Boardwalk stretches about two miles from Cresse Avenue in the south to 15th Avenue in the north. During summer, it’s a kaleidoscope of activity: Kids scream from the tops of roller coasters, bright yellow Sightseer trams trundle by with their perpetual refrain (“Watch the tram car, please.”), seagulls wheel overhead, and the air is redolent with the sweet smells of funnel cake and cotton candy.

The boardwalk’s shops, arcades, amusement parks, golf courses, and eateries can easily keep you entertained all day long. If you get tired, hop aboard one of the eco-friendly electric tram cars, which run the length of the boardwalk, typically from 11:00 a.m. until whenever the amusement parks close that day. You can pay per ride ($3.50), purchase a hop-on-hop-off daily wristband ($7), or buy a book of single-ride tickets ($15 for 5; $29 for 10; $60 for 25). These iconic tram cars have been shuttling beachgoers and up and down Wildwood’s boardwalk since the summer of 1949.

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Ride the Rides and Slide the Slides

Three massive piers stretch from Wildwood’s boardwalk across the beach, featuring roller coasters, water slides, and other rides of all sizes—including a giant Ferris wheel that provides panoramic views over the Atlantic Ocean and Wildwood, NJ. Families will never run out of things to do at Morey’s Piers, encompassing three amusement park areas and two water parks.

Offerings for little ones include an old-timey carousel and kid-sized trains and boats. Thrill seekers should head to Adventure Pier for a heart-pounding ride on the Skycoaster, which hurtles you more than 100 feet into the air above Wildwood Beach.

Take a Morning Bike Ride

wildwood jersey bikers

Biking is one of the most popular things to do in Wildwood, thanks to the island’s many miles of dedicated bike paths. You can pedal the entire length of the island from the Wildwood Crest Dunes Bike Path up onto the boardwalk and then along the Mulberry Bike Path and seawall in North Wildwood, for a 12-mile round trip. (Note that bikes are not permitted on the boardwalk after 11:00 a.m. on weekdays or 10:30 a.m. on weekends.)

Bring your own wheels, or rent bicycles or surreys from local operators like Zippy’s Bikes, Crest Bike Rental, and D R Bradley Bike Rentals.

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Behold a Blast from the Past

wildwood-jersey-starlux

What sets the Wildwoods apart from just about any other Jersey Shore community is its collection of motels, diners, and other historical buildings from the 1950s and early ’60s. Neon signs, plastic palm trees, bright colors, and angular roofs are hallmarks of this retro architectural style, dubbed “Googie architecture,” or “Doo Wop architecture,” after the music of the era.

You can learn more at the Doo Wop Preservation League Museum, housed in a former 1960s diner. This small, colorful museum features a collection of signs, furniture, and memorabilia from the Doo Wop era. The museum also runs “Back to the ’50s” trolley tours on select summer nights to show visitors the best Doo Wop architecture around town. Call (609) 729-4000 for information and reservations.

Can’t get enough Doo Wop? Stay in one of the Wildwoods’ dozens of midcentury-style motels, including the Starlux Boutique Hotel in Wildwood, Caribbean Motel in Wildwood Crest, or Lollipop Motel in North Wildwood.

Savor a Great Meal

wildwood-jersey-breakfast-surfing-pig

Think “Jersey Shore food,” and you’ll probably think pizza and ice cream. Of course, you can find plenty of both in Wildwood, NJ: Try Sam’s Pizza Palace, which has been serving up great slices since 1957, or Cool Scoops for sweet treats in a ’50s-style ice cream parlor. But Wildwood also has plenty of other options for hungry travelers.

One favorite fine-dining option in Wildwood, NJ, is Beach Creek Oyster Bar & Grill, where you can enjoy seafood and steak on a deck overlooking the bay; come at sunset for great views. Pacific Grill Wildwood, for its part, offers a reasonably priced three-course prix-fixe menu nightly, along with à la carte dishes such as crabcakes and braised short ribs.

For more casual fare in Wildwood, NJ, head to Maui’s Doghouse, where you can choose from more than 30 hot dog toppings, like beer-cooked sauerkraut, homemade chili, spicy brown mustard, and spinach sauteed in garlic and white wine. The final product comes to you in a plastic dog bowl. Also in North Wildwood is The Surfing Pig, serving up burgers, barbecue, and seafood with a side of lovely bay views.

Get on the Water

Wildwood-Jersey-Jet-Skis

In the Wildwoods, the ocean and bay offer more than just pretty views. Fun things to do in Wildwood, NJ, on the water include fishing, kayaking, surfing, and wildlife watching. You can even take a swashbuckling “pirate cruise.”

The Starlight Fleet offers fishing trips as well as whale- and dolphin-watching excursions. At Lakeview Docks, you can rent WaveRunners, kayaks, fishing boats, swan-shaped pedal boats, and standup paddleboards. And Ocean Outfitters offers surfing lessons and board rentals.

Play a Round of Golf

golf

There are several golf courses within an easy drive of Wildwood, NJ. In Cape May Court House, about a 15-minute drive from downtown Wildwood, Laguna Oaks offers 10 holes spread across 200 acres. And the beautiful 18-hole course at Cape May National Golf Club was built around a private bird sanctuary.

If mini-golf is more your thing, you don’t have to look far. Popular courses in Wildwood, NJ, include Island Miniature Golf, which also has a rock-climbing wall; Dragon’s Lair Mini Golf, a medieval-themed indoor blacklight course; and Harbor Light Golf, which also sells ice cream.

Check Out Special Events in Wildwood, NJ

wildwood-jersey-international-kite-festival

Some of the best things to do in Wildwood, NJ, only happen once a year. Wildwoods International Kite Festival kicks off summer on Memorial Day weekend, followed by other annual events like the National Marbles Tournament in June, the New Jersey State Barbecue Championship in July, and the Wildwoods Baby Parade in August. Autumn brings the Wildwoods Food & Music Festival and the Fabulous ’50s & Beyond Weekend, both held in October.

For more information about what’s on during your trip, refer to the Wildwoods’ events calendar.

Take a Day Trip from Wildwood, NJ

cape-may-houses

The Victorian charms of Cape May are just a 20-minute drive from Wildwood, NJ. Here, you can bike through the historic district, take a carriage ride, or visit the Cape May Lighthouse. The Cape May County Park & Zoo makes a fun—and free—day trip with children.

If casinos and big-name entertainment are more your things, Atlantic City is less than an hour’s drive from Wildwood, NJ.

Ready to hit the beach? See What to Pack for a Jersey Shore Vacation: 28 Essentials from SmarterTravel’s sister site, What to Pack.

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Sarah Schlichter traveled to the Wildwoods as a guest of the Greater Wildwoods Tourism Improvement and Development Authority. Follow her on Twitter @TravelEditor for more travel tips and inspiration.

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

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Italy’s Best Local Wine Tasting Experiences

Nothing speaks more to la dolce vita than sipping and swirling your way through a local wine tasting in Tuscany. As well as providing the opportunity to sample some of the world’s finest vinos, each experience offers a glimpse into local life through the lens of the people who know the land best. Enter our exclusive Be My Guest experiences in Tuscany, each crafted with the desire to connect guests to the region and the people who lovingly produce each drop.

Join us as we venture through Italy, where Be My Guest all began, and explore Tuscany’s best local wine tasting experiences with Trafalgar.

Villa Ill Leccio with the Landi Family
Chianti, Tuscany

Feel the warmth of the sun on your skin as you step into the grounds of Villa Il Leccio, a storybook 18th-century Italian villa situated in the heart of Tuscany’s Chianti wine region. The Landi family have lived here since the late 19th-century and with a welcome as warm as the weather, you’ll never want to leave.

Enjoy the villa’s picturesque surroundings as host Giada takes you on a tour of her family’s Tuscan home, traditional wine cellars, olive groves and vineyards before reaching their tranquil garden of oak trees for a unique Chianti tasting. Although Chianti celebrated 300 years of ‘official’ winemaking in 2016, the famous drop has arguably been produced in the region for over 2,000 years. A blend of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and sometimes Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti is a very dry red with an aroma that is similar to cherries and like most Italian wines, best enjoyed with food. Befittingly, guests can accompany their wine tasting with a home-cooked Tuscan dinner prepared by Giada herself, using ingredients grown in her kitchen garden and served alfresco.

Experience this on: Italian HolidayItalian DiscoveryEuropean Whirl  

Fattoria di Petroio with the Pallini-Lenzi Family
Quercegrossa, Tuscany

Located on the old road between Siena and Florence in Tuscany’s Chianti region, is Fattoria di Petroio – 280 hectares of Tuscan paradise, with an ancient villa at its heart dating back to the twelfth century. Originally inhabited by monks, this is one Italian relic that will charm you quicker than Robert De Niro.

Now home to the Pallini-Lenzi family – including Gian Luigi Lenzi, his American wife Pamela and their daughter Diana, a trained chef – the family are all actively involved in wine making, producing about 4,000 bottles of Chianti Classico annually. Not only are they producing highly-acclaimed red wine but the family also make extra-virgin olive oil from three different types of olive trees and a delicious, golden Chianti dessert wine.

Feel like old friends, as Diana Pallini-Lenzi takes you on a tour of her family’s home and grants you exclusive access to their winery. Watch as she demonstrates the family’s traditional wine production methods, while telling you about the villa’s rich past including a peek at the distinctive ‘hole in the wall’ caused by an unexploded bomb during WWII. You’ll have the chance to explore the villa’s ancient wine cellar, sip some of the finest Chianti, taste fresh olive oils and indulge in a unique type of chocolate spread made with Fattoria wines. ​

Experience this on: Wonders of Italy 

Agriturismo Borgo Della Limonaia with the Callistri Family
Pistoia, Tuscany

Discover what life is really like in rural Italy at the Callistri family’s agriturismo or ‘farm-stay’. Located at the foot of a natural amphitheatre and with the rolling Tuscan countryside as its backdrop, Agriturismo Borgo della Limonaia is an idyllic escape from the daily stresses of life.

Agriturismos are independently-owned farms that farmers have decided to open as accommodations for travellers across the world. The farms continue to run as they normally would and you can expect your room to be within the farm house or a converted out-building. The experience is informal, authentic and the best bit, the food is unrivalled.

As you stroll through gardens of ripe fruit and vegetables, Raffaelle Callistri shares the history of his home and local area – including stories from the great siege between the Florentine and Sienese armies during the 16th-century. With clucking hens at your feet, you’ll enjoy an authentic wine and olive-oil tasting before tucking into a Tuscan feast cooked by land lady, Daniela using organic ingredients from the farm.

Experience this on: Rome and Tuscan HighlightsItaly Bellissimo   

Castello del Trebbio with Alberto & Anna
Pontassieve, Tuscany

Listen to tales gone by as you step back in time to 12th-century Italy at Castello del Trebbio, a 12th-century fortress cloaked in history and intrigue. Here, at the height of the Florence Renaissance in 1478, the Pazzi family masterminded to kill the last remaining members of the powerful Medici family, resulting in the infamous feud that we read about today. Feel like part of the plot in the castle’s “Conspiracy Room” as you sip Chianti and revel in cloak-and-dagger mystery.

Join hosts, Alberta and Anna Baj-Macario as they unveil secrets of the castle’s past with a tour of its ground floor and cellars – which were once the castle’s dungeons – all the while explaining how the family now run the farm and winery using traditional Tuscan farming methods (including producing their wine in line with the stars!).

Feel like a king as you dine in the castle’s great hall on a delicious organic supper, with all the ingredients sourced from within one kilometre of the property. Lovingly prepared by the family, this is one meal you won’t forget in a hurry. Later, join the family in the castle gardens for an appertivo under the stars and professional tasting of Castello del Trebbio’s home-grown wine. ​

Experience this on: Italian ConcertoItalian GloryEuropean DreamEuropean Wonderland

2019 marks the anniversary of Trafalgar’s exclusive Be My Guest experiences – a travel industry first that started in Italy a decade ago. Book your Italy trip today, with Be My Guest experiences included on each and every one, and get to the heart of the place where it all began.

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The 10 Best All-Inclusive Resorts in Mexico

Whether you’re planning a family vacation or a spring break trip to Mexico, all-inclusive resorts take a lot of the planning and guesswork out of vacationing since you know that everything’s included upfront. But some hotels with all-inclusive packages can serve mediocre food, compromise on the quality (and quantity) of liquor, and have hidden fees for extra amenities or activities.

Here are the 10 best all-inclusive resorts in Mexico for every type of traveler—each has been expertly vetted for food, price, activity offerings, and location.

Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun All-Inclusive

exterior view of hotel in mexico

The Fiesta Americana Condesa Cancun is a reasonably priced beachfront property located in the main section of the hotel zone in Cancun. It’s one of the best all-inclusive resorts in Cancun for families since family-friendly accommodations, dining, drinks, entertainment, culture, recreational, and sporting activities are all included. Fiesta Americana properties include more cultural elements than most resorts, and the Condesa has authentic architecture, palapas, and even an arts and crafts program that showcases Maya culture.

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Grand Sirenis Matlali Hills Resort & Spa

resort in mexico cliffs

The Grand Sirenis Matlali Hills all-inclusive resort in Mexico is located in the trendy Riviera Nayarit near Puerto Vallarta. The adults-only (18 and up) property recently added 140 suites to its property, which already includes an award-winning spa, a private beach club at Banderas Bay (less than 10-minutes away) with shuttle service, five pools, plus plenty of on-site culinary offerings—the property has four restaurants, three buffets, and three bars. Rooms overlook the Sierra Madre Mountains and Riviera Nayarit coastline. 

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The Explorean Kohunlich by Fiesta Americana

mexico resort pool view

If you’re looking for something different than a beachside resort in the Cancun area, but still want to stay at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico, then book a stay at Explorean Kohunlich. The property is located in the heart of the Maya jungle in Quintana Roo, less than a mile away from ancient ruins. Your rate includes your room, gourmet food, and beverages, plus a daily activity like snorkeling, kayaking, or a visit to an archaeological site.

Bonus Pick: Explorean Kohunlich has a sister property on Cozumel that offers a similar aesthetic and the same all-inclusive resort experience but with a beachside location.

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The Fives Azul Beach Resort Playa del Carmen

hotel pool with beach view and palm trees

This beachside group- and family-friendly resort is just 10 minutes from Playa del Carmen. All-inclusive features include the brand’s “Gourmet Inclusive” concept, which offers flexible meal plan options to suit all types of travelers. Guests love the kids’ club, rooms with rooftop decks, and activity offerings like scuba diving, beach volleyball, and yoga on the beach.

Bonus Pick: If you’re looking for an adults-only resort in Playa del Carmen, check out Live Aqua Boutique Resort Playa del Carmen. While it doesn’t have beachfront access, this boutique all-inclusive does have a rooftop infinity pool and central location on La Quinta Avenida. 

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Beloved Playa Mujeres

mexico beach resort

Beloved Playa Mujeres adults-only resort in Mexico is an all-inclusive, beachside, five-star boutique property. With resort features like an on-site spa, golf course, boating and fishing excursions, four different gourmet restaurants, and beachside dining, you’ll never want to leave. But if you do, car-free Isla Mujeres is just off the coast and accessible by boat.

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Grand Velas Los Cabos

mexico resort with pools and beach in cabo

You’ll find this luxury all-inclusive resort in Mexico on the coastline between San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas. Three infinity pools, oceanfront yoga, a kids’ and teens’ program, as well as a spa and themed gourmet restaurants make this the place to be if you’re looking for an all-inclusive resort in Los Cabos. Panoramic views of the Sea of Cortez from your balcony await (and private plunge pool if you feel like really indulging).

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Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort

tulum beach resort at night

For trendy jetsetters, the Kore Tulum Retreat and Spa Resort is the only adults-only all-inclusive resort in the Tulum area. Known for its bohemian decor and Instagram-worthy food dishes, Kore Tulum is a hot destination for millennials (and the millennial at heart). The property has rooms with Jacuzzis, an impressive spa, access to the beach club “El Paraiso,” an infinity pool, and plenty of on-site dining options. Travelers appreciate the good value this all-inclusive resort offers. Bonus: The daily rate includes unlimited drinks brought to your room via room service.

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Villas HM Paraiso del Mar

isla holbox beach resort

Looking for the next up-and-coming hot spot in Mexico? Welcome to Isla Holbox. And while the area isn’t known for its all-inclusive resorts, beachfront Villas HM Paraiso del Mar has exceptional reviews on TripAdvisor and does offer two all-inclusive packages. These include food, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), and access to the kayaks and bicycles; the premium option also includes a seafood beachfront dinner option as well as paddleboard rentals and even a pillow menu. 

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Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta

ocean hotel room view in mexico with pool

The Hyatt Ziva Puerto Vallarta is an all-ages, oceanfront, all-inclusive resort that has the exclusivity of its own private cove. Rates include unlimited drinks and dining, non-motorized water sports, daily fitness classes, some of the best swim-up suites in the world, cooking classes, Wi-Fi, and in-room dining. The property has six restaurants, five bars and lounges, five infinity pools (one is adults-only), oceanfront dining, a kids’ club, and live entertainment.

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Occidental at Xcaret Destination

mexico resort in cove

For travelers looking for adventure and to maximize their time, Occidental at Xcaret Destination is the ideal all-inclusive resort. Located right at the Xcaret eco-archaeological park—there’s even a package with included admission—in Playa del Carmen, there’s plenty to do off the resort (if you do ever want to leave). On-site amenities include an impressive seven swimming pools, 10 bars, 11 restaurants, a club, a dolphinarium, and a private bay and beach area, as well as natural river formations that flow through the property.

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What to Wear at the Best All Inclusive Resorts in Mexico

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

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the location of Beloved Playa Mujeres. It has been corrected.

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10 Best Cities for Day Trips

The beauty of day tours is that they give you two or more destinations in one. If you’re trying to accomplish more on your next trip, check out these 10 cities around the world. They stand out for their proximity to nearby attractions and for the increased value they can add to your itinerary.

Best Day Trips from London, England

bath-street-bath-england

While there’s plenty to see in sprawling London itself, there are also many easily accessible nearby options that allow you to get out of the city and explore more of the country’s heritage.

  • Brighton: This seaside town is especially popular in summer. It’s great for thrift shopping, casual dining, and the beach.
  • Oxford: Oxford is best known as home to the famous university. From here you can also explore Blenheim Palace (Winston Churchill’s birthplace) and the Cotswold region.
  • Cambridge: Another famous university town, Cambridge is also known for its picturesque river.
  • Bath: The UNESCO-designated city of Bath is home to ancient Roman spas. It’s also possible to book a tour that combines Bath with nearby Stonehenge.
  • Harry Potter Studio Tour: Take a self-guided or an interactive tour of the sets, costumes, and props from the franchise.

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Best Day Trips from Boston, Massachusetts

provincetown cape cod house on dock

Since most of Boston can be seen in a day or two, it’s one of the best cities for day tours. Capitalize on your visit to the Commonwealth State with any of these day tours.

  • Salem: This pretty city has a sinister past as the home of the famous Witch Trails in the late 1600s.
  • Provincetown: Accessible via ferry from Boston, this gay-friendly beach town is home to beaches and amazing seafood restaurants.
  • Coastal Maine: Lighthouses, lobster, and a stop in Kennebunkport make for a quintessential day out in New England.
  • Newport Mansions: Explore the summer homes of the Gilded Age rich and famous in Rhode Island’s coastal town.
  • Plimoth Plantation: Visit the historic site of the Pilgrims, see the replica of the Mayflower ship, and scout Plymouth Rock, all on the south shore of Massachusetts.

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Best Day Trips from Paris, France

chateau-of-fontainebleau-in-france-reflections-on-the-water

Just outside Paris, you’ll find gorgeous chateaux, palaces, and gardens worth a day trip.

  • Versailles: You can’t go to Paris without tacking on a day tour to this famed palace. Make sure you book a skip-the-line tour though.
  • Champagne: Visit wineries and attend tastings in this famous sparkling wine region.
  • Chantilly: This idyllic town is best known for its Renaissance-era chateau.
  • Fontainebleau: With its town, forest, and historic chateau, Fontainebleau offers plenty of reasons to visit. The Royal Chateau de Fontainebleau is a medieval castle that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Giverny: Monet’s home and gardens are open to visitors. It’s a quick trip but it can get crowded; so consider booking a day tour that skips the line.

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Best Day Trips from Cape Town, South Africa 

african-penguin-colony-boulders-beach-simons-town-south-africa

Make the most of your trip to the southernmost part of the African continent and see the coastline and wildlife outside the city.

  • The Winelands: Go on a day tour and taste the wines of South Africa’s wine region in the towns of Paarl, Franschoek, and Stellenbosch.
  • Cape West Coast: Go wine and olive tasting, visit West Coast National Park, see local villages, and more all in a day tour to this region.
  • Aquila Private Game Reserve: This game reserve is the closest area to Cape Town where you have a chance to see the “Big Five” game animals.
  • Hermanus: Hermanus is the perfect jumping-off point for whale watching near Cape Town.
  • Cape of Good Hope and Cape Point: Take a full day to see the coastline and highlights like Simon’s Town (home to the African Penguins).

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Best Day Trips from Dublin, Ireland

the-giants-causeway-in-county-antrim-in-northern-ireland

You can see many of Ireland’s most famous attractions on a day trip from Dublin thanks to the country’s small size; here are some of the best offerings.

  • Cliffs of Moher: A must-do if you’re going to Ireland. While it’s a long trip from Dublin, you can minimize the driving by going on a day tour.
  • Giant’s Causeway – Game of Thrones: Hit Giant’s Causeway and more famous natural spots in Northern Ireland—many that fans will recognize from the show Game of Thrones.
  • Belfast: See where the RMS Titanic was built on a day trip to Northern Ireland’s capital.
  • Wicklow Mountains National Park: The mountains, forests, and lakes of this national park make for a gorgeous backdrop for a day of leisurely hiking.
  • Carlingford: Hike the nearby Cooley Mountains and visit this small Irish village.

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Best Day Trips from Sydney, Australia

canyon view in australia blue mountains near sydney 

You’ll encounter incredible natural parks and beaches just outside of well-known Sydney.

  • Hunter Valley: This is New South Wales’ wine region, and is a popular day tour.
  • Blue Mountains: See the Three Sisters, go on an exhilarating tram ride, and learn about the Aboriginal culture on this day tour from Sydney.
  • Royal National Park Tour: Spend a full day hiking and exploring this national park just outside Sydney.
  • Manly: Just a ferry ride away are gorgeous beaches, fun shops, cafes, bars, hiking, and surfing.
  • Port Stephens: Head up the East Coast for an exciting day of dolphin and whale watching. You can also go on a 4WD tour or sandboarding on the dunes at Stockton Beach.

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Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California

muir-woods-redwood-trees-aerial 

Northern California is home to a jaw-dropping coastline, world-famous wineries, and national parks; luckily San Francisco is an ideal starting point for these attractions. 

  • Napa and Sonoma Wine Country: Discover the different vibes of these two neighboring wine regions on a full-day tour of visiting wineries and tasting rooms.
  • Muir Woods: This nearby coastal redwood forest is a must if you’re staying in San Francisco.
  • Monterey, Carmel, and 17-Mile Drive: Cruise down Highway 1 for the day, with stops in seaside towns and at landmarks.
  • Yosemite Tour: This is a long day trip, but worth it if you’re looking to cross this national park off your bucket list. Day tours pick up from many San Francisco hotels.
  • Berkeley Gourmet Food Tour: Explore neighboring Berkeley through its famous food scene.

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Best Day Trips from Reykjavik, Iceland

geysir-geyser-in-iceland 

There are endless day trips you can take from Reykjavik, and many travelers use it as a home base for exploring elsewhere in Iceland.

  • Golden Circle: See the majority of Iceland in a day with stops at waterfalls, the Geysir, and hot springs. Depending on time, you can also add on stops to the Blue Lagoon or even snorkeling between tectonic plates.
  • Northern Lights: Capitalize on the chance to see the Northern Lights. An easy way to do it is via a four- or five-hour night tour from Reykjavik.
  • South Coast: Stops on this day tour include the black sand beach (Reynisfjara), Skogafoss Waterfall, Solaheimasandur Glacier, and more.
  • Langjokull Ice Cave: This day trip includes stops at an ice cave, hot springs, and lava falls.

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Best Day Trips from Lisbon, Portugal

porto day trip from lisbon view of port city 

Lisbon has plenty of scenic and historical attractions to offer travelers in its surrounding area.

  • Sintra: This municipality is home to the famous Pena National Palace, villages, and parks.
  • Porto: Explore the city center, a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and taste the namesake drink.
  • Fatima, Nazare, and Obidos: Head out to the countryside and admire medieval villages, a monastery, and a fishing town.
  • Arrabida and Sesimbra: Drive over Europe’s longest bridge, tour a castle, see the country’s coastline, and explore the wine region. 

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Best Day Trips from Tokyo, Japan

mt-fuji-with-omnipresent-cherry-blossoms-around

With Japanese bullet trains to speed you to your day trip, you can see even more of Tokyo’s surrounding area in a day than ever before. 

  • Fuji: Many day tours to the famous mountain also include stops at Lake Ashi, the Mt. Komagatake Ropeway, Hakone National Park, an onsen (spa), or Gotemba Premium Outlets.
  • Kawagoe: Take a walking tour of this Edo-period castle town with its preserved merchant homes and traditional warehouses.
  • Katori: Visit this small town with a famous shrine, and cruise down its canal. (Insider Tip: It’s also known for its sweet potato treats.)
  • Nagano: If you want to see snow monkeys bathing in a hot spring, this is the Tokyo day trip for you. Note that this is offered seasonally in winter.
  • Nikko National Park: The park is home to a UNESCO-designated shrine, a waterfall, and a lake.
  • Kamakura and Tokyo Bay: This day tour from Tokyo includes a visit to two temples, a bamboo grove, and the Great Buddha.

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More from SmarterTravel:

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

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Categories
Arts & Culture Cities Weekend Getaways

How to Do a Weekend in Albuquerque

Made famous by Breaking Bad, New Mexico’s largest city makes for a quirky weekend trip. I found my trip here to be relaxing and inspired by the elements. From Native American influences to a Main Street that’s part of Route 66, the city offers a variety of architecture, cuisine, and culture. Here’s how to do a weekend in Albuquerque and get a glimpse of it all.

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The Hotel: Los Poblanos Ranch & Inn

As you make the turn down the tree-lined road to Los Poblanos Ranch & Inn, you’re instantly hit with the smell of lavender and enchanted by this working farm from the ’30s. Accommodations range from rooms at the original inn to the newly built farmhouses that skirt the lavender fields and roaming llamas. The property has an outdoor pool, event space, an onsite restaurant called Campo, and a farm shop that sells goods made with in-house harvested lavender. Inside the shop is a cafe stand that sells unique drinks like iced lavender lattes. It’s hard to want to leave the property, but when you do, here’s a suggested itinerary for a weekend in Albuquerque.

Itinerary: How to Do a Weekend in Albuquerque

weekend guide to albuquerque

Friday

  • Afternoon: Arrive and check into Los Poblanos. If you arrive early, take a ride on the Sandia Tram. Fun Fact: Sandia means “watermelon” in Spanish, and the mountain is named after the pink color it turns during sunrise and sunset.
  • Night: Head to the Casa Rondeña Winery tasting room, which only a few minutes’ drive away. For dinner, go to El Pinto, which is known for its free-range “hen hotel.” It’s the only animal welfare-approved restaurant in the U.S. Try the world-class margaritas and homemade (and generously distributed) salsa.

Saturday

  • Morning: Rise early for a hot air balloon ride with Rainbow Ryders. Afterward, check out the Anderson-Abruzzo Albuquerque International Balloon Museum, located at Balloon Fiesta Park, where the city’s famous annual hot air balloon festival takes place.
  • Afternoon: Orient yourself with the city on a bike tour with Routes Bicycle Tours. You can pick from several themes, like Breaking Bad, Bike & Brew, and more.
  • Night: Eat at Farm & Table, where you literally can see the farm where the fresh ingredients in your food come from. Then head to downtown Albuquerque and see a show at the historic KiMo Theatre (and if no show is playing, you can take a tour).

Sunday

  • Morning: Enjoy breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant, Campo. The avocado toast and lavender latte are to die for.
  • Afternoon: Pick a day trip. I went to Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument. Leave plenty of time to hike the trails and take photos in the slot canyon. If you have time, go to nearby Cochiti Lake for a swim or stand-up paddleboarding.

Other

Restaurants & Cafes

Day Trips

Attractions

Highlights from my Weekend in ABQ:

 

More from SmarterTravel:

SmarterTravel Editor Ashley Rossi traveled to Albuquerque courtesy of Visit Albuquerque. Follow her adventures (big and small) on Twitter and Instagram.

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

The 10 Best Things to Do in Kauai

Just 33 miles across at its widest point, Kauai may seem small enough to explore in a day or two, but this lush little Hawaiian isle has plenty to keep you busy for a week or more—think hidden beaches, colorful botanical gardens, laid-back small towns, hiking trails through rugged rainforest landscapes, and reefs teeming with colorful fish. Read on to discover the best things to do in Kauai.

See the Grand Canyon of the Pacific

waimea canyon

[st_content_ad]Though it’s only half as deep as the Grand Canyon and nowhere near as long, Waimea Canyon is still a jaw-dropping sight, with its vibrant green, red, and brown walls sloping into a deep valley. From some viewpoints you can see Waipoo Falls tumbling some 800 feet to the bottom of the canyon.

Allow half a day to drive along Highway 550 through the park and into neighboring Kokee State Park—or  longer if you want to hike any of the trails into the canyon.

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Discover the Napali Coast

napali coast

Unlike some other Hawaiian islands, you can’t circumnavigate Kauai by car. You’ll run out of road in the northwestern corner of the island, where steep, jagged green cliffs plunge precipitously into the sea. This is the famed Napali Coast (na pali means “high cliffs” in Hawaiian). You can catch a glimpse of the cliffs from viewpoints in Kokee State Park, or take the strenuous, 11-mile Kalalau Trail into the heart of the wilderness park, with incredible views of beaches, waterfalls, and fluted cliffs.

Most travelers, however, see the Napali Coast from the water or the air. Consider a dinner cruise to watch the rosy light of sunset fall over the cliffs, or go earlier in the day for a snorkeling and rafting adventure along the coast. Aerial tours include views of the entire island, not just the Napali Coast, and can be done via helicopter or small plane.

Hit the Beach

hawaii beach

For travelers who want to relax on the sand between hikes and outdoor Kauai adventures, the island offers plenty of pristine beaches. Many of the most popular options are on the sunny south side of the island, including Poipu Beach and Baby Beach. Farther west are the calm, clear waters of Salt Pond Beach near Hanapepe, and the remote golden sands of Polihale State Park, accessible via a rough, 4WD-only road.

Though Kauai’s North Shore gets a bit more rain than other parts of the island, it’s also home to some spectacular beaches worth visiting. Anini Beach is a superb spot for snorkeling, and Secret Beach (officially known as Kauapea Beach) is big, beautiful, and blissfully uncrowded.

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Take a Hike

person on hiking trail

Lace up your boots and walk off that long flight from the mainland. Hiking is one of the most popular Kauai activities for visitors thanks to the island’s wide variety of landscapes, including waterfalls, rainforest, bogs, beaches, mountain cliffs, and verdant valleys.

Aside from the challenging Kalalau Trail mentioned above, popular Kauai hiking trails include the Kuilau Ridge Trail, which winds through the lush Keahua Arboretum to a view of the Makaleha Mountains; the Awaawapuhi Trail, which descends more than 2,000 feet through part of Kokee State Park to impressive 360-degree views of the Napali cliffs; and the Mahaulepu Trail, a rocky path along the ocean from Shipwreck Beach to Keoneloa Bay. See Kauai.com and Hawaii-Guide.com for detailed descriptions of Kauai’s best hikes.

Look for Wildlife

whale tail

You’ll spot Kauai’s most common animal pretty much as soon as you step out of the airport: Wild chickens cluck and crow their way across nearly the entire island. But wildlife lovers have many more animals to appreciate both on land and in the waters surrounding Kauai.

Perched on the northernmost tip of the island is Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, where seabirds like red-footed boobies and Laysan albatrosses nest on steep rocky cliffs. You can also sometimes spot whales, dolphins, or seals in the sea around the point. The best time to see humpback whales in the waters around Kauai is between December and May; take a dedicated whale-watching cruise to up your chances.

To spot Kauai’s colorful fish and green sea turtles, spend a few hours snorkeling or scuba diving. You can do so from the shore in places like Poipu Beach or Tunnels Beach, or book a snorkeling trip by boat.

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Discover Gardens, Grottos, and Waterfalls

hawaii waterfall

Discover the leafy foliage and natural beauty that have earned Kauai its nickname: the Garden Isle. At Allerton Garden the plants and flowers are arranged into “rooms,” while nearby McBryde Garden has the world’s largest collection of native Hawaiian flora. Na Aina Kai is both a botanical garden and a sculpture park on the North Shore.

Two of Kauai’s most easily accessible waterfalls are Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls, both near Lihue and located just a short walk from their respective parking areas. Another must-see natural sight is the Fern Grotto, where ferns grow upside down in a cave surrounded by tropical greenery.

Get a Taste of Kauai

tropical fruit

You can’t come to Kauai without sampling some of the local food and drink. Kauai Coffee, America’s biggest coffee farm, offers tastings and tours near Poipu. Need something a little stronger? Sample rums made with locally grown cane sugar at Koloa Rum Company in Lihue. Kauai Beer Company serves up craft brews down the street from the Kauai Museum in Lihue.

Tasting Kauai offers food tours in the southern, northern, and eastern parts of the island, featuring everything from street food to gelato. At Princeville Botanical Gardens, you can take a chocolate tasting tour that also includes samples of local fruit and honey.

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Explore Local History and Culture

hawaii church

Though the island is famous for its natural beauty, some of the best things to do in Kauai involve its rich history and culture. Start at the Kauai Museum, where exhibits celebrate the indigenous and immigrant people of the isle. Then visit Grove Farm, a 19th-century sugar cane plantation that now offers informative guided tours. You’ll find other pieces of Kauai history in Old Koloa Town, where plantation buildings have been repurposed as shops and restaurants, or along the nearby Koloa Heritage Trail.

To explore more contemporary Kauaian culture, stop by the town of Hanapepe, known for its shops and galleries. Every Friday is Art Night, when local artists open their doors till 9:00 p.m.

Play a Round of Golf

golf hawaii

What’s better than a relaxing round of golf? A relaxing round of golf in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Consider 18 holes at the oceanfront Poipu Bay Golf Course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr. and located adjacent to the Grand Hyatt on the southern coast of the island. Also designed by Jones is the Princeville Makai Golf Club overlooking Hanalei Bay on the North Shore. The course has been ranked in the top 100 greatest public courses by Golf Digest.

More affordable public courses include Puakea Golf Course and Wailua Municipal Golf Course in the Lihue area, both also offering sea views.

[st_related]Kauai Travel Guide[/st_related]

Have an Adventure

surfing

Some of the best things to do in Kauai will get your blood pumping—like zip-lining over jungle treetops, learning to surf in Hanalei, biking downhill through Waimea Canyon State Park, or taking an off-road ride through Kipu Ranch.

If you enjoy kayaking, you’ve got options in Kauai. For a serene ride, paddle along the Hanalei or Wailua Rivers. Experienced paddlers up for a bigger challenge—and incredible views—can kayak in the ocean along the Napali Coast.

More from SmarterTravel:

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

Categories
Arts & Culture Beach Island

10 Unforgettable Things to Do in the British Virgin Islands

Many Caribbean islands feel like an unfortunate extension of the United States, complete with familiar chain restaurants, shopping centers, and all the comforts of home. But you don’t have to venture far to experience the unique culture of the Caribbean—you just have to pick the right spot. And if you’re planning a trip to the British Virgin Islands (BVI), you’ve already got a great head start.

A string of islands located east of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands are a perfect destination for lounging on the beach, getting down in the dirt, or taking off with the wind. With sparkling waters and beautiful bays, it’s no wonder so many celebrities and millionaires build their homes in the BVI.

Once you arrive, here are the most unforgettable things to do in the British Virgin Islands.

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Charter a Boat

 boats at cooper island in the british virgin islands

You don’t have to own your own boat to enjoy the boating scene in the British Virgin Islands. If you’re traveling in a large group or are happy making friends with your cabinmates on a shared vessel, chartering a boat is one of the best ways to experience the BVI. With a charter company like BVI Yacht Charters or Dream Yacht Charter, you can select which boat you’d like to travel on, and the rest is up to you.

Private charters give you the freedom to explore the stunning blue waters and anchor down wherever you like. Being on a boat will also let you participate in many boating events in the British Virgin Islands, like the annual Leverick Bay Poker Run, where you’ll witness more than 300 decked-out boats race around the islands to collect playing cards and compete for the prizewinning hand.

If you only have the budget for one day of the good life, many companies and tour operators offer fully customizable yachting day trips.

Explore the Baths on Virgin Gorda

 

No matter what else you decide to do on the British Virgin Islands, the Baths on Virgin Gorda is the one stop you should not miss. A geological wonder, the Baths appear from far away like a pile of rocks in a frozen state of tumbling. Made up of massive boulders, the Baths are a series of pools and caves that sit right on the beach, from which you enter through a tiny opening between the rocks.

As you wander barefoot through the soft sand and cool waters of the caves, stopping to bask in the ethereal light of “the Cathedral,” you’ll have rope guides and wooden ladders handy to assist your exploration. Don’t forget to walk through to the end of the caves, where you’ll find Devil’s Bay—a small and serene beach adjacent to the Baths.

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Spend a Night in Anegada

 

As you approach the island of Anegada from the water, the island appears comically flat—a thin green line cheating the horizon. That’s because unlike many of the other islands in the Caribbean that were formed by volcanic eruptions, Anegada sits on a coral reef.

With an hour-long ferry ride separating the island and its small population from the main islands, Anegada feels spacious, wild, and distant. On a clear night, you’ll struggle to find a piece of sky not sparkling with stars.

The island offers beaches, flamingos, an iguana sanctuary that’s free to visit, and a population of wild cows that almost outnumber the people. From the shore, you might spot the pink mounds of conch shells in the water—they’re piles of excess shells stacked in the water by fishermen. Because Anegada is the most distant of all the British Virgin Islands, make sure to spend at least one full day and one night to enjoy all it has to offer.

To make a trip extra special, check out the waterfront glamping cabins at the Anegada Beach Club.

Try the Street Food in Tortola

Burger man in tortola bvi 

Tortola is the busiest of all the British Virgin Islands and is full of experiences that shouldn’t be missed, whether or not you spend the night there. For an authentic Caribbean bite, take advantage of Tortola’s plentiful street food options. Throughout the island, you’ll find small food shacks serving up all kinds of Caribbean fare, from home-cooked chicken and rice to roti and salt fish.

On my trip to the British Virgin Islands, I stopped by De Burger Man to try what I had heard was the best burger to be found throughout the islands. The wait was long at this super-popular shack, but the burger was well worth it.

Try the Brews on Cooper Island

 Cooper island bar at bvi

Think you can’t get craft beer in the Caribbean? Think again. At Cooper Island Beach Club, the drafts never stop flowing, thanks to the on-site microbrewery. Tucked behind the café, the small brewing operation provides all the beer—from pilsners to lagers and even IPAS—for the resort.

It might appear to be an excessively hip luxury, but the microbrewery actually helps the resort stay eco-friendly. By producing its own drafts, Cooper Island Beach Club cuts down on aluminum and glass waste, as well as the fuel needed to transport bottles and cans to the island. So you can enjoy the beach views and a cold beer without a trace of guilt.

Plus, if you’re longing for a brew of the coffee bean variety, the on-site café can make just about any drink to satisfy your caffeine craving.

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Try the Conch

Man holding conch shells on anegada in the bvi

When it comes to beach décor, conch shells are king. You’ve seen them embroidered on towels and maybe even serving the role as an exotic paperweight, but in the British Virgin Islands, you can taste some of the freshest conch in the world. As evidenced by the giant mountains of empty conch shells you’ll find on Anegada, the British Virgin Islands has no shortage of the shellfish, and it’s one of the territory’s most iconic foods. You can try it fried, in a salad, or even in a ceviche.

If you’re already a huge conch-lover, seek out Kelly’s Sea and Land Tours on Anegada, where you can see the giant conch mountains for yourself and learn how to harvest your own conch.

Board the Willy T

BVI willy t boat from above

This floating bar and restaurant is one of the most iconic spots in all of the British Virgin Islands. Famous for its water-ski shots, pirate décor, and boisterous parties, Willy T is a must-stop if you’re sailing around the islands looking for the young and rowdy crowd. Though the bar, which is located on a pirate ship, sustained damage during Hurricane Irma in 2017, the repaired boat has re-opened with an even bigger capacity in the harbor on Peter Island. Don’t miss the fish tacos—or the chance to jump off the top of the boat into the clear blue waters of the Caribbean.

Dive the Kodiak Queen

 Kodiak queen before sinking in bvi

Whether you’re a diver or a snorkeler, don’t overlook the Caribbean’s newest underwater art-piece and dive site—the Kodiak Queen. In 2012, the Kodiak Queen was just another ship in a junkyard on Tortola, until one day an amateur naval historian on a sailing vacation in the British Virgin Islands uncovered its major historical significance. Formerly a U.S. Navy fuel barge, this ship was one of only five that survived the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941. Officially retired and beyond repair after its second life as a fishing vessel, an employee of Richard Branson posed an idea to his billionaire boss—to sink the Kodiak Queen and turn it into an art piece with the addition of a giant kraken sculpture made out of rebar and mesh, which will serve as an artificial coral reef and dive site. To arrange a diving or snorkeling trip, check out Dive BVI for schedules and rates.

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Learn Kitesurfing

Kitesurfer in blue water

If you’ve ever been inspired to join the kitesurfers scenically zooming along the horizon, this is a great place to pick up the sport. As one of the world’s kitesurfing paradises due to its good trade winds, calm waters, and plenty of room for gliding around, the British Virgin Islands are a great place to learn the basics. You can sign up for an introductory course with Carib Kiteboarding, or head to Anegada to take a lesson with Tommy Gaunt Kitesurfing. Anegada is also the home of the Anegada Kite and Paddle festival, which attracts an annual crowd of water sports enthusiasts.

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Plant a Tree

Men holding coconut palm seedlings

The British Virgin Islands were badly damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017, and much of its famously lush vegetation was torn up and blown away. In response, the tourism board launched the Seeds of Love Campaign to help the islands regrow their natural vegetation. Thanks to a donation of 3,000 fruit trees from the neighboring islands of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, palm trees and other kinds of necessary vegetation are being planted all over the territory to help restore balance to the ecosystem.

If you’re interested in organizing a group to participate in the Seeds of Love program, your hotel or charter company can coordinate and arrange a tree-planting session.

More from SmarterTravel

Jamie Ditaranto visited the British Virgin Islands as a guest of the BVI Tourist BoardFollow her on Twitter @jamieditaranto.

Categories
Arts & Culture Booking Strategy Cities Experiential Travel Family Travel Historical Travel

What Happens If You Don’t Plan Your Vacation?

I am a planner. I’ve been making to-do lists since I learned how to write, and I love the thrill of really researching a place before I visit. So it wasn’t until recently—when I was in the throes of prepping for a monthlong trip to Italy with my four- and six-year-old kids—that I wondered for the first time: What would happen if I just didn’t plan part of the vacation? Would everything fall apart?

Because I love experiments just about as much as I love planning, I decided to try it. I took two cities on our itinerary—Venice and Rome—and made them the test cases. For Venice, I’d do my usual research and planning. But for Rome, I wouldn’t open a book or do a single Google search. Instead, I would book one tour a day through SmarterTravel sister site Viator and trust the local guides for suggestions of what we should do with the rest of our time in Rome.

For our three days in Venice, I researched and planned—about 11 hours of online time stretched over a series of days. For our three days in Rome, I did no advance planning beyond browsing on Viator and booking one tour a day—choosing the tours took about 40 minutes total.

The Control: Venice

For Venice, my research skewed a little more toward what I was interested in and slightly less toward kid-pleasing activities. Happily, Venice helps parents and kids strike a balance by offering up endless squares (just look for “campos” on the map) where parents can sit at a café and have a drink and snack while kids play tag or soccer with other kids.

I knew my children were too young to deal with long lines and big crowds, so we steered clear of Venice’s most touristy areas. Instead of spending time in Piazza San Marco, for instance, we hung out in Campo Santa Margherita and Campo San Giacomo dell’Orio. Rather than braving the crowds at the Doge’s Palace, we explored the hands-on Da Vinci Museum and the elaborately decorated but totally uncrowded ballrooms of the Ca’Rezzonico. And we opted for a round-trip traghetto (a stripped-down gondola offering passage from one side to the Grand Canal to the other) ride to get the feeling of being in a gondola at a fraction of the cost of an actual gondola ride.

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The Experiment: Rome

It wasn’t until we hopped off the train at Roma Termini that I realized just how underprepared I was for Rome. While it had been a luxury to skip the hours researching, I felt uncomfortable arriving in a city without a long wish list of activities, meals, and sights. What if the local guides gave us bad advice? Worse yet, what if they didn’t even have advice to give?

Our first tour—a family-focused excursion around central Rome that included pizza and gelato—started just a few hours after our arrival, so I didn’t have to wait long to put my plan into action.

Tour 1: Illuminated Rome Tour for Kids and Families with Gelato and Pizza

Wandering into Piazza Campo de’ Fiori in the early evening to meet our guide Maria, we were greeted by the waning moments of the daily open-air market and a bustling square lined with packed terrace cafes. Maria waved us over, introduced herself, and immediately swept the kids up in stories of what surrounded them. Through Maria, Rome suddenly came alive. “Imagine this square 600 years ago as a field of flowers; this statue above us with a seagull on its head is a famous philosopher; look down at the ground, do you see the letters SPQR? That stands for Senatus Populusque Romanus and is the official sign of Rome even today. Let’s start a treasure hunt and see how many we can find. Do you think we can get to 100?”

We were off, kids and Maria leading the way, grownups close behind to discover the stories of nearly every major square in Rome. We gazed up at Remus and Romulus, learned how to drink out of a Roman fountain like a local, marveled at places where ancient and modern Rome knitted together in a single building, and then made our first stop: pizza.

Maria expertly wove us through a crowd of locals at a beloved local bakery and pizza shop, ordered us a sampling of kid- and adult-pleasing pieces, got us drinks, and found us a comfortable spot to enjoy our dinner. She told us the story of Pizza Margherita and of Rome’s famous pizza rossa—a crisp crust topped simply with tomato sauce.

After dinner, we continued our unhurried wander, soaking up the stories that surrounded us. We stood next to the fountain in Piazza Navona and learned to read the intertwined figures as rivers and continents, and we discovered that Rome has the most Egyptian obelisks of anywhere outside of Egypt. Along the way, Maria gave us great ideas of more spots to explore all over Rome. By the time we arrived at our gelato stop, I had gathered a week’s worth of activity ideas.

As dusk faded into night, we ended our tour at the packed Trevi fountain. But Maria had one final trick up her sleeve: We followed her as she threaded her way through the crowds to a quiet corner of the fountain. There stood a smaller fountain, the “fountain of the lovers.” It’s said that those who drink from the twin cascades of the fountain at the same time will remain forever in love. We all took a sip, and as I looked around after the tour, I realized that I was seeing Rome in a new way, one that focused less on the crowds (of which there were plenty) and more on the stories Maria had told.

Tour Travel Takeaway #1: If you can, find a small group or private tour. Your tour guide likely has a lot to share with you and your kids, but if you’re in a small group or on a private tour (rather than on a larger group tour), you’ll have more time to chat and discover their favorite haunts around the city.

Through advice from our guide, we discovered neighborhoods we wouldn’t have found on our own, parks where kids could get a much-needed break from sightseeing, unmissable gelato, and hole-in-the-wall pizzerias serving up some of Rome’s best—and least known by non-locals—pizza.

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Tour #2: Rome for Kids: Small Group Pizza-Making Class

We spent the morning and afternoon of our second day checking out some of the spots Maria suggested. And then we headed to Viator tour number two: a pizza-making class geared to kids and their grownups.

When in Rome … you should learn to make pizza, right? I once interviewed Tim Winkworth from Intrepid Travel about how the company creates its family trips, and something he said really stuck with me. He suggested making sure that family vacations include activities that allow kids and parents to be on “a parallel track, where everyone is learning about a place together.” Making pizza in Rome seemed like the perfect chance to do that, and to pick up some eating-in-Rome tips from the experts along the way.

Our class started with a briefing on the science behind great pizza dough. This was geared more toward older kids and adults than younger kids, but the explanation was short and useful, and gave us something to visualize as we kneaded our dough a few minutes later. In front of each of us were all the ingredients we needed to make the magic happen: double-zero flour, room-temperature water, salt, a bit of yeast, and a little olive oil. Two teachers rotated around the room, offering more help to younger kids and guidance and encouragement to the rest of us.

Since pizza dough takes hours to rise, once we had all tried our hand at dough making, our teacher traded us our dough for some that was ready to become pizza. We hand-stretched and patted our dough into a pizza shape, swirled on tomato sauce just the way we were instructed to, and each added our own toppings. A veteran pizzaiolo then scooped up the pizzas and slid them into the wood-fired oven. A few minutes later, we were seated around a restaurant table enjoying our creations.

Since we were all engaged with the pizza-making process, we didn’t get much advice from our teachers about what else we should see in Rome—though we did get a few ideas about where else to eat.

Tour Travel Takeaway #2: I learned an important lesson here: Don’t ask specialists for general advice. Each guide or teacher, I realized, was a person who was so passionate about their way of seeing Rome—whether it was through the lens of history, culture, or food—that they wanted to make a living sharing it with others. Once I understood this, I adjusted my technique and instead of asking for general suggestions, I talked to each person about how to see Rome through their eyes.

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Tour #3: Skip-the-Lines Colosseum and Roman Forum Tour for Kids and Families

Early next morning, we headed to a skip-the-line tour of the Colosseum and the Forum. As we arrived and met up with our guide Veronica, I caught sight of the line snaking its way around the Colosseum even at 8:00 a.m. “It’s not just one line, explained Veronica. “There’s the line to get through the metal detector, that’s about an hour long right now, and then a second line to buy tickets, and then a line to enter the Colosseum.” Noted. And while we breezed through all of them, we did need to stand in a short line to prove that we were indeed bringing children in on pre-purchased child tickets.

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I had chosen this tour because it was different from the first two: Rather than featuring Rome in a general or a specific activity, it focused on one of the most famous sights in the world. I hoped we’d learn a lot that we would have missed otherwise, and I was also curious to get tips on cultural and historical sights from the guide.

As an edifice, the Colosseum is impressive. But it was the stories that kept us there for nearly an hour, exploring the different levels and imagining a time when more than 50,000 people would funnel through the many entrances and exits (fun fact: these pathways in and out were called vomitorio). Veronica told us stories of the arena’s elaborate basement, which housed gladiators, prisoners, wild animals, and more—and of how they would flood the arena to recreate Roman sea battles in a bloody blend of entertainment and history come alive.

We walked to a shady part of the Forum to continue our tour, and learned about eternal flames, vestal virgins (a good job if you could get it), and the social hub of early Roman public toilets. The Forum is enormous, and we only saw part of it, so at the end of our tour, Veronica gave us our tickets so we could come back and continue to explore later. As we wrapped up, I realized we had all been so absorbed in the stories of ancient Rome, I hadn’t pumped the guide for information about what else we should do. When I did ask, almost as an afterthought, she was ready with great suggestions about where to eat and what else to do.

Tour Travel Takeaway #3: An unexpected benefit of small group or private tours geared to families is that tour guides engage with kids for the length of the tour, keeping them entertained and answering their (many) questions. That means parents can take a breather and just relax into the experience—which, if you have a kid who’s always asking questions, can feel like a mini-vacation within a vacation.

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The Verdict

Don’t have time to plan activities on a trip? Booking tours based on interest—and on what else you’d like to know about a city—can be a true alternative to researching on your own. You run the risk of missing out on something you would have found through your own planning. But it also opens up opportunities to discover cool spots suggested by local experts who know the destination better than most.

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Christine Sarkis recently spent a month in Italy with kids. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.