Tag Archives: brazil

The Radar: Travel Lately

30 Apr

The mineral-rich Champagne Pool in Wai-O-Tapu thermal park near Rotorua. (Photograph by Francesa Onesti, My Shot)

The Radar – the best of the travel blogosphere – is a regular feature on Intelligent Travel every Wednesday.

Here’s this week’s:  

  • New Zealand is known for its incredible natural beauty, and the geothermal wonder just outside Rotorua is no exception. Old Faithful, meet your match in Wai-O-Tapu. (If you’re wondering, that’s Māori for “sacred waters.”) @wanderlustersuk
  • São Paulo may be Brazil’s largest city (and the world’s eighth largest by population), but it’s often overshadowed by Rio de Janeiro, its sister city to the north. Find out why this South American metropolis is a treasure in its own right. @thismyhappiness
  • This time of year, visitors swarm Washington, D.C. to see the cherry blossoms. But with crowds as unrelenting as a filibuster and lots of ground to cover, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Check out this guide to the best eats in “the District.” @packDsuitcase
  • Lyon is located halfway between grande-dame Paris and the seaside swank of the Cote D’Azur. Though other French destinations have more star quality, this cultural center has its own brand of charm. @InspirngTrvlrs 
  • Only have a day to spare in Montreal? There’s no way to see everything anyway, so why not embrace it by trying the immersive approach? Check out this 24-hour guide to the heart of French Canada to get off on the right foot. @atlasobscura

The Radar: Travel Lately

10 Best Cities to See From Above

29 Apr

For the ultimate bird’s eye view of your destination there’s no more thrilling way to get your bearings than zooming over the landscape in a helicopter. Whether hovering over a kaleidoscope of corals at the Great Barrier Reef or soaring around the Statue of Liberty in New York, here are 10 of the best places in the world to see from above.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon View

Grand Canyon View

The world wonder of the Grand Canyon is so immense you’ll have to take to the skies to get a feel for its true magnitude – an incredible 446 km long and up to 29 km wide. Helicopter flights have become a hugely popular way of viewing the canyon, with various flight paths taking in Hoover Dam, Lake Mead, the Kaibab National Forest and the Grand Canyon National Park. Best of all, you can fly through the canyon itself, plummeting 1,500 feet beneath the rim for a spectacular journey through the Dragon Corridor, the canyon’s widest and deepest section where the vast expanses of colored rock showcase millions of years of geology.

Las Vegas

Las Vegas Strip

Las Vegas Strip

Don’t blow all your cash on the slot machines because there’s an even better way to take in the dazzling lights of Las Vegas – by helicopter. Fly over the famous Strip at night for the most atmospheric views over downtown Vegas, the Stratosphere Tower and the Luxor Pyramid. Keep your eyes peeled for overhead views of New York New York, Bellagio, Paris, the Venetian, Caesars Palace and Treasure Island, as well as getting the chance to peek into the famous resort pools and hotels. Prefer a daytime flight? Combine it with a flight over the nearby Red Rock Canyon where you’ll get views of the Nellis Air Force Base, the Las Vegas Motor Speedway and Mt Charleston.

Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii

Swap the urban sprawl for an up-close encounter with Hawaii’s stunning natural scenery with a helicopter flight over the most tropical state in the US. Fly over dense rainforest, crashing waterfalls – including the epic ‘Wall of Tears’ – and volcanic peaks for a breathtaking airborne adventure. Best of all, you can look down on one of the most active volcanoes in the world, Kilauea, which is often oozing lava from its gaping crater.

New York

New York City Skyline

New York City Skyline

Few city skylines are as iconic as New York’s but the only way to cram all the city sights into one tour is by soaring overhead. Helicopter flights over New York head up the Hudson River, taking in the Financial District, the Yankee Stadium, the Chrysler Building, the Empire State Building, the George Washington Bridge and Central Park, as well as offering unbeatable aerial views over Manhattan, New York Harbor and Staten Island. The main highlight though, is the chance to circle the inimitable Statue of Liberty – the city’s most legendary landmark.

San Francisco

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco.

If you can’t make it to New York, flying over the San Francisco skyline comes a close second, with its exhilarating mix of towering bridges, rolling hills and urban beaches. Flights swoop over the notorious Alcatraz Island, the magnificent 1.7-mile long Golden Gate Bridge, the picturesque San Francisco Bay and the historic Ferry Building, but for the most atmospheric views, take to the skies at night when the city will be aglow with neon.

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Great Barrier Reef

Often deemed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ Australia’s underwater marvel is one of the country’s biggest attractions. Divers and snorkelers flock to the northern shores to experience the colorful coral gardens of the Great Barrier Reef, but to really grasp its size, take a helicopter ride over the ocean. Flights not only offer a bird’s eye view of the reef – an otherworldly mass of corals – but take in the World Heritage Rainforest of the Daintree National Park, the surrounding white sand cays and the nearby city of Cairns.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

Los Angeles

There are few better ways to mark your arrival in Los Angeles than looping around the iconic Hollywood sign in your own personal VIP helicopter. Couple it with a glamorous aerial tour of the Santa Monica Mountains, the Palos Verdes Peninsula and the Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan beaches, then soar over the celebrity studded haunts of Beverly Hills and Bel Air’s luxury mansions. Your guide can even point out the most iconic LA sights from above – the Hollywood Bowl, Sunset Strip, Downtown LA and Universal Studios.

French Riviera

Villefranche Bay, French Riviera

Villefranche Bay, French Riviera

Join the European jetset for a James Bond esque retreat to the star-studded French Riviera, where you can enjoy a taste of the highlife with a helicopter tour over the famous Mediterranean coastline. Floating overhead, the shimmering ocean, luxury yachts and endless beaches provide the perfect backdrop, but the real highlights are the panoramic views of sights like the Prince’s Palace, the Rock of Monaco, the Monte Carlo Casino and the Monaco Grand Prix race track.

New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

Auckland, New Zealand

The self-proclaimed adventure capital of the world offers plenty of ways to take flight, but if you’d rather not jump out of a plane or turn yourself into a human yo-yo, get a view while safely strapped into a helicopter seat instead. Choose from a jaw-dropping flight over the glistening Franz Josef or Fox Glacier on the South Island’s West coast; a close up view of the iconic Sky Tower and volcanic Rangitoto Island in Auckland; a bird’s eye view of the famous Craters of the Moon and the mighty Huka Falls at Lake Taupo; or hovering over bubbling mud pools in Rotorua.

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Taking the pilgrimage to the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue at the summit of Corcovado Mountain is a right of passage for visitors to Rio de Janeiro, but for an even better view of the holy man, take a helicopter flight over the mountaintop instead.  That’s not all; you’ll get a bird’s eye view of the legendary Ipanema and Copacabana beaches, Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake and the Maracana Stadium. Make sure to toast your safe return with a Caipirinha – Brazil’s national cocktail.

10 Best Cities to See From Above

The World’s Strangest Beaches

29 Apr

While white sand beaches with azure waters and billowing palms are nice, they’re far from unusual. For those looking for a truly unique coastal experience, the following beaches provide just that. Barking sand, star-shaped fossils and natural underground hot springs are just a few of the strange experiences you can have on the following strangest beaches.

Hoshizuna Beach, Okinawa, Japan

Hoshizuna Beach is one of the unique beaches in the world where you can find star-shaped sand (the other two are on Taketomi Island in Okinawa, Kaijihama Beach and Aiyaruhama Beach). The tiny stars are actually fossils from thousands of tiny crustaceans. That being said, locals have a mythical story to go along with why the beaches contain star-shaped sand. Legend has it that there once was a star mother and father who had a star baby. While they consulted God of Sky about the birth they left God of Ocean out of the decision making, who became infuriated and killed the baby star with a big snake. The snake’s feces became the fossils we see today on the beach. Additionally, God of Sky put the baby star into the heavens as a fossil, which is why you see stars in the sky today.

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain

Gulpiyuri Beach; World's Strangest Beaches

Gulpiyuri Beach, Llanes, Spain. Photo courtesy of guillenperez via Flickr.

While there’s nothing unusual about a beach with golden sand, crystal waters and waves, it is when its location is in the middle of a meadow. The 131-foot (40-meter) shoreline of Gulpiyuri Beach offers a whole new type of beach serenity, as you can cool off in the translucent salt waters while taking in both beach and rolling countryside hills.

Loango National Park, Gabon, Africa

For those who want a mixture of pristine beach and wildlife spotting, Loango National Park is the place for you. The park extends all the way to the white sanded coast, where you can watch hippos, gorillas, buffalos, leopards, elephants and wild pigs take a dip in the water — and sometimes even surfing. It’s definitely not your usual day of building sand castles and playing beach volleyball.

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. World's Strangest Beaches

Petroglyph Beach, Wrangell, Alaska. Photo courtesy of brewbooks via Flickr.

Petroglyph Beach will take you back in time. Nobody is quite sure how the 40 rock carvings got there, but they make the beach quite unusual as you take in the boulders etched with faces, birds and fish, thought to be carved over 8,000 years ago. For a mix of mystery, history and culture, Petroglyph Beach is a must.

Barking Sands Beach, Kaua’i, Hawaii

Just as the name says, the sand on Barking Sands Beach makes a barking noise when rubbed. This means that as you walk over its 17 miles (27 kilometers) of coastline it will sound like a rambunctious dog. What makes this strange beach even more unusual is it’s also home to a rocket-launch site and missile-defense testing center.

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. World's Strangest Beaches

Pink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Bahamas. Photo courtesy of dany13 via Flickr.

While white- and golden-sand beaches are commonplace, when is the last time you laid out on a beach of striking pink sand? Pink Sands Beach is over three miles (5 kilometers) long and 50 to 100 feet (80 to 161 kilometers) wide. The cause of its unusual hue is Foraminifera, a coral organism that leaves behind its pink shell when it dies.

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. World's Strangest Beaches

Hot Water Beach, Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. Photo courtesy of eliduke via Flickr.

Due to intense geothermal activity on the Coromandel Peninsula, visitors to Hot Water Beach can dig holes into the sand to create natural hot spring pools. The water gets as hot as 147°F (64°C), and makes for a relaxing and unique beach experience.

Schooner Gulch, Mendocino Coast, California

Also known as “Bowling Ball Beach,” visitors to Schooner Gulch can witness thousands of boulders of equal shape, size and spacing sit lined up like soldiers defying the tides. What’s truly amazing about this rare phenomenon is it is completely natural, with no human interference. The geological explanation is that these concretions are created from resilient minerals and materials that have been able to withstand damage from the Pacific Ocean.

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

Giant's Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland. World's Strangest Beaches

Giant’s Causeway, Near Bushmills, Northern Ireland

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway is home to 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, created by volcanic eruptions. These natural formations feature precise hexagonal shapes laid out like honeycomb clusters that disappear into the sea.

The landscape is so dramatic in appearance it has inspired local legends of giants walking over the water to Scotland, hence the word “causeway.”

Chandipur Beach, Chandipur, India

At high tide Chandipur Beach may appear like any other; however, at low tide the water recedes about three miles (five kilometers) from the shore, exposing the seabed to beach-goers. Visitors can see unusual seashells, driftwood, crabs and  other organisms  usually not exposed on the beach, giving them the feeling they’re walking into the sea.

Genipabu Beach, Natal, Brazil

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. World's Strangest Beaches

Genipabu beach. Natal, Brazil. Photo courtesy of Leandro’s World Tour via Flickr.

Genipabu Beach offers much more than just swimming, as the landscape is a mix of beach and desert. Enormous sand dunes allow for sand boarding and camel riding, while the Atlantic Ocean provides opportunities for water sports. Basically, this unusual beach offers two completely unique experiences in one.

Perissa, Santorini, Greece

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece. World's Strangest Beaches

Perissa Beach, Santorini, Greece.

While we’ve all seen white and gold sand — and sometimes even strange beaches glowing with hues of pinks, oranges and reds — Perissa Beach in Greece is the complete opposite. The endless beach’s pitch black sand creates a strikingly eery yet beautiful landscape. These dark volcanic granules are extremely soft and fine, as well. From the beach you can also walk to the ancient city of Thira, thought to have once been a Spartan colony, by hiking up the Perissa’s backdrop mountain of Mesa Vouno. Warning: Because of the sand’s dark color it tends to get extremely hot, so bring your flip flops.

The World’s Strangest Beaches

World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls

20 Mar

For those who love experiencing beautiful landscapes, visiting waterfalls is one of the best ways to add some extra beauty to a day in the outdoors. Not all falls are created equal, however. If you want to view some of the world’s best cascades, here are our suggestions.

Niagara Falls, USA/Canada

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Located in both Ontario and New York, Niagara Falls is made up of three waterfalls — Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side and the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls on the U.S. side — that form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge. Although the height of Niagara Falls varies due to seasonal flow, American Falls can get up to 194 feet during peak season June through August. While not the highest waterfall in the world, it certainly is the most powerful, and it’s sheer overall size is enough to draw over 10 million visitors each year.

For the best views, opt to do either the Journey Behind the Falls or the Maid of the Mist. Journey Behind the Falls is an unguided excursion that takes you below and behind the falls as it travels up to 40 miles per second before crashing into the basin below. On the other hand, the Maid of the Mist is a guided boat tour that takes riders past the American and Bridal Veil Falls right into the curve of Horseshoe Falls and into the mist. It’s also worth visiting the attraction at night, as the cascades are lit up in an array of colors.

Sutherland Falls, New Zealand

Located near the scenic ford of Milford Sound, Sutherland Falls in New Zealand is one of the tallest water falls in the world. It features three drops at heights of 751 feet, 815 feet and 1902 feet, thundering down dramatically into an enormous pool at the bottom. It’s beautiful to look up and see the water pouring from the glacial reservoir of Lake Quill over the edges of the mountaintops. To get to the falls, you’ll need to hike a section of the Milford Track from the Quintin Public Shelter.

Dettifoss, Iceland

Dettifoss

Dettifoss. Photo credit: csproete via Flickr.

Located in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, Dettifoss is touted as the most powerful waterfall in Europe, flowing at about 17,657 cubic feet per second. The falls are about 145 feet tall and 328 feet wide, and takes on a milky color from the sediment-rich meltwaters of the Vatnajökull glacier, from which the falls is fed its water. To access Dettifoss, it is a 30 minute hike from the parking lot. The best views of the falls are had from the top of the falls, watching it from above as it drops off. Just don’t get too close to the edge as the risk of erosion is quite high. If you’re still in the mood to see more waterfalls afterward, distant views of Selfoss can be has just a short hike upstream.

Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador 

For those staying in the adventurous city of Banos, one popular excursion is to bike the “Waterfalls Route,” which includes Agoyan, Manto de la Novia, Machay and the most impressive of all, Pailon del Diablo, Ecuador’s second biggest waterfall. You’ll go about 11 miles, taking in lush jungle, roaring rivers and beautiful mountains until you reach the parking lots for Pailon del Diablo. Here you’ll park your bike before hiking about 15 minutes to the approximately 100-feet-high falls.

To get the best view, you’ll need to shimmy through a narrow cave and climb some stairs that will take you about midway to the top. Make sure to bring a raincoat, as the powerful falls ensure you will get a little wet. If you don’t want to bike, you can also take the bus from Banos to Puyo and stop off at the falls, or take tour of the area’s waterfalls on a colorful “chiva” trolley.

Iguaza Falls, Brazil/Argentina

Iguazu Falls

Iguazu Falls

Iguaza Falls features an edge that is 1.7 miles long, with about 275 individual waterfalls and cascades that range from 197 to 269 feet in height. Because of its immense size, visitors should allot at least one full day, preferably two, to explore the entire attraction, which is littered with catwalks and lookout platforms for closeup views. Additionally, visitors can take a boat tour to go under some of the falls.

Usually, visitors will spend one day exploring the Brazilian side and the other traversing the Argentinian side, as both offer completely different views. The most impressive section of the falls is undoubtedly the Devil’s Throat, which is best seen from the Brazilian side. Here you’ll witness 14 falls plunge 350 feet and spraying mist 100-feet into the air. It’s a beautiful sight, especially since you’re almost guaranteed to see a rainbow.

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls

Victoria Falls. Photo credit: i_pinz via Flickr.

Located across Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park in Zambia and Victoria Falls National Park in Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most impressive waterfalls, boasting the largest curtain of water formed on the planet. In terms of size, Victoria Falls are 355 feet high, 5,577 feet wide and with over 500 million liter plunging over the edge into the Zambezi River. Because of the water flow’s intensity, a spray is shot 1,000 feet into the air that can be seen from 30 miles away. Not surprisingly, there are almost always rainbows.

In terms of viewing, the best time to go is June through August when they are between medium and high water. Additionally, the Zimbabwe side offers the best rim-level views, while the Zambia side allows visitors the best base-level view via the rainforest footpath. If you have the time, it’s worthwhile to explore both sides as each has completely different perspectives. Additionally, you can see the falls in a more adventurous way by white water rafting on the river below the falls, bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls bridge, taking a microlite flight over the forge from the Zambia side or canoeing on the river above the falls where you can also view wildlife.

Na-ra Falls, Iriomote Island, Okinawa, Japan

Located on the lush rainforest island of Iriomote in Okinawa, Japan, is the lesser-known Na-ra Falls. While not the largest falls in the world, it is a truly beautiful and natural site and the journey adds an element of adventure. At Nirakanai Iriomotejima lodge you can hire a guide to take you to the falls, which requires a boat ride down the mangrove and Adan fruit tree-littered Nakama River, before de-boarding for a hike through the jungle. The trek can be difficult at times as you make your way over narrow hilltop trails, shimmy over boulders and wade through knee-deep water to reach your destination.

After about an hour, you will be rewarded for your efforts with the Na-ra Falls, a multitiered waterfall creating a calm swimming pool at the base. You can wade at the base on rocks to view the falls from the base or continue your trek to the top for the best views. What really makes this waterfall so worthwhile to visit is the fact nobody really knows about, leaving it wild and untouched by tourism.

Erawan Falls, Thailand

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls. Photo credit: Todd Huffman via Flickr.

Thailand is home to some of the world’s most beautiful waterfalls, the most magnificent being the 4,921-foot Erawan Falls. Located in Erawan National Park in the Kanchanaburi Province, the seven-tiered Erawan Falls are thought to resemble a three-headed white elephant from Hindu mythology called the erawan. As the water spills over limestone cliffs it plunges down into cool blue pools. Visitors can do jungle hikes around the falls or swim in its pools. For the best views, trek to the top of the falls, which takes about three hours round-trip. Along the way, you’ll have many opportunities to cool down in the fall’s many levels.

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls, China/Vietnam

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls

Ban Gioc-Detian Falls. Photo credit: Denise Chan via Flickr.

Composed of two waterfalls straddling the Guichun River and the China-Vietnam border, Ban Gioc-Detian Falls is so powerful it sounds like thunder when it hits the basin, especially during wet season. With multiple tiers, crystal waters and surrounding karst peaks, it is a moving setting to be in. While Ban Gioc is considered the largest waterfall in Vietnam, Detian Falls is thought to be one of China’s most spectacular natural sites.

As a whole, the waterfall drops 98 feet and is 656 feet wide, making it the 4th-largest waterfall along a national border. For the best views, visit during June and July when river flow speeds up. Additionally, the Chinese side offers a scenic rainforest walking alongside the falls to the top, while the Vietnamese side allows you to swim in a refreshing natural pool. To get a closer look at the falls, there are locals nearby offering bamboo rafting tours.

MacKenzie Falls, Australia

MacKenzie Falls

MacKenzie Falls. Photo credit: Alpha via Flickr.

Located in one of Australia’s most scenic but lesser-traversed parks, you’ll find MacKenzie Falls in the Grampians National Park. You’ll have to hike down a well-marked steep set of stairs — and then back up again — to reach the waterfall; however, you’re hard work will be rewarded by a frontal view of gushing torrents of water from Lake Wartook cascading over a cliff edge. Viewing the waterfall from the stairs as you come down is also a worthwhile photo opportunity, as it is easier to make out the tiers of the falls. While the

The view that awaits you at the end of this steep trail is spectacular. Enormous torrents of water cascade over huge cliffs into a deep pool, sending fine sprays of rainbow mist high into the air above a stunning gorge. While MacKenzie Falls flows all year, it is must stronger in June through September when it rains more frequently. And if you’re hot after your hike, feel free to take a dip in the fall’s refreshing waters.

Marmore’s Falls, Italy

A beautiful as well as historical attraction, Marmore’s Falls (Cascate delle Marmore) in Italy is a man-made falls built by the ancient Romans. Located in Umbria, the falls are the highest man-made waterfall in the world and one of the highest in Europe at 541 feet. The area itself is very relaxing, with hiking trails and an expansive park. Although fed by the Velino River, the falls are sometimes deviated to feed the hydroelectric power plants system, so double check their website’s timetable before visiting. Generally, they’re open longer in the summer and less in the winter.

For the best views of Cascate delle Marmore, you can either go to the Lower Outlook for an entire view of the falls and panoramic of the first drop. The Upper Lookout offers views from the top as well as the chance to see La Specola, a 1781 arcaded loggia built by Pope Pius VI.  The Upper Outlook is also known for its wonderful rainbow views.

Burney Falls, California

Burney Falls

Burney Falls. Photo credit: Amit Patel via Flickr.

Not as well-known as some of the United States’ other waterfalls, Burney Falls is located in McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Shasta County, California. The falls have a height of 129 feet and strong flow year-round of over 100 million gallons of water per day, which appears to burst from the middle of the cliff face. This is because the source of the falls is from underground springs. While you’ll be able to drive to the lookout point to see the falls, the best views are had after a 2.4 mile loop hike to the base.


World’s Most Beautiful Waterfalls Argentina , Australia , brazil , California , China , Ecuador , Iceland , Italy , japan , Niagara Falls , South Africa , thailand , Vietnam

One Night in Samba City

10 Mar

A Mocidade samba school performer out in front of a float full of Freddie Mercury look-alikes. The school's theme was Rock in Rio.  (Photograph by Emily Ainsworth)

Bottle the pheromones in Rio de Janeiro during carnival, and you’ll become a billionaire overnight.

It’s no surprise that the heart of carnival pumps faster in Rio than it does anywhere else in the world. In a city of seismic social disparities, it’s the one time of year when it doesn’t matter if you measure out your wages in handfuls of beans or if you live in the most expensive gated estate in the Southern Hemisphere. Instead, it’s how many kisses you steal in a night and how many samba steps you squeeze into a second that count.

Men dressed in drag at bloco called Me Espeta (Poke Me). (Photograph by Emily Ainsworth)

When carnival season hits, it claims the streets with hundreds of blocos (minor parades), and parties on nearly every corner of the city. No matter where you are, you can hear the beat of a tamborim drum. And there’s something for everyone.

There’s the delightfully named celebration, Suvaco do Cristo (Christ’s Armpit), which takes place at the base of Rio’s most recognizable icon near the city’s world-class botanical garden. There’s one for devoted pet owners, where chihuahuas in frilly dresses and costume jewelry steal the show. And, of course, the sugary sands of Copacabana and Ipanema are hit by a tidal wave of parties, with the Bola Preta (Black Ball) attracting more than two million revelers.

You can follow the samba beat as it twists through rush-hour traffic and beach volleyball games, up into the hills to the unforgettable Bloco das Piranhas in the recently pacified favela of Vidigal, where the night air is thick with confetti and raucous laughter.

Or, if you’re like me and embrace the idea that you’re only going to live once, carnival means it’s high time to finagle your way into Samba City, the warehouse complex where Brazil’s most celebrated samba schools make their magic. The experience rivals Alice’s free fall into Wonderland. It might just be the hot glue vapors, or the 30-meter lizard being put through its paces.

Me, being helped into my very bedazzled costume. (Photograph by Emily Ainsworth)

Each year the city trembles and frets and half-believes the rumors that nothing will be ready for the big night. Fires in ateliers burn costumes to ash; the flag bearer develops terrible acne; Brazil suffers a nationwide sequin shortage.

It was in this climate of hand-wringing anticipation that I ambushed the president of Mangueira, one of Rio’s most prestigious samba schools. He cuts a fearsome figure, even whilst sporting his team colors: a powder-pink afro and day-glo-green Nikes. I was hoping to snag a spot on top of a float, positions normally reserved for those with the best bottoms in the city. I was thankful when he was too preoccupied to say no.

The creative director, who was tasked with outfitting me for my parade debut, asked me how naked I wanted to be. ‘The Brazilian girls I dress tell me my g-strings are too modest,” he said, by way of explanation. Modest is fine by my standards, so I was measured up, promised a flamboyant tropical flower outfit sewn with a King’s ransom of plastic emeralds. I skipped off before someone could pinch me and tell me I was dreaming.

Carnival fantasias (costumes) are the stuff of dreams. You can spend the better part of your day scrolling through page after page of costumes – Indian princesses, Pierrots and Cardinals, you name it. What you cannot do, however, is try on your outfit before the big night; it’s bad luck. Instead, waiting behind the Sambadrome for your cue at 3:00, 4:00, or 5:00 in the morning, you might find yourself stripping amongst strangers dressed as pigs, mummies, and astronauts in a backstreet gutter, panicking that your headdress will fall off, or that you’ve smeared lipstick across your face.

The parade of course, is serious business. You sing your soul inside out, and samba all the sweat from your body. I danced so hard that the fluorescent tulle pompoms fell off my costume.

The Unidos da Tijuca samba school. (Photograph by Emily Ainsworth)

Each school puts a highly choreographed spin on a narrative in praise of Brazil. Grande Rio made a protest about oil royalties both hilariously sexy; Estacio de Sa, the city’s oldest samba school, resurrected a long-dead musician with its rousing eulogy; and Beija-Flor whipped the topic of horse breeding into an epic.

World-renowned musician (and former Minister of Culture) Gilberto Gil has called Rio home since the 70s. He explained how Rio’s take on carnival is unique because it is so cosmopolitan; how his own hypnotic sambas have been inspired by the city’s shimmering heat; how Rio is his muse. “Like any great city, [Rio] is always in flux, but essentially it is Rio,” he said. “It stays the same – incredible, beautiful…it is central to interpreting Brazil and Brazilians.” As he said, cariocas have flair — and at carnival, that simple truth is on full display.

So this is why on results night the fire brigade have their hoses at the ready, and why the suitcase containing the final scores is delivered to the Sambadrome by armed guard, as if it holds the secret formula for Coca-Cola, or a map of the world’s undiscovered gold mines. Whether Carnival holds the key to Rio’s allure or the other way around, the city and its most famous celebration are locked in a passionate embrace.

One Night in Samba City Beija-Flor , brazil , Emily Ainsworth , Estacio de Sa , Gilberto Gil , Grande Rio , Magueira , National Geographic Young Explorer , Rio de Janeiro , Samba City , samba schools , Sambadrome , Suvaco do Cristo , Vidigal

Spring Break Destinations for Every Kind of Traveler

8 Mar

With Spring Break just around the corner, now’s the time to cast aside your studies, hunt down those last-minute deals and plan an unforgettable trip.  Whether you’re looking for a budget beach break, a romantic getaway or an adrenaline-pumping adventure, here’s a roundup of the best Spring Break destinations.

For budget travelers

Bahamas

Nassau Cable Beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Budget travelers can find good deals in the Bahamas

One of the most affordable destinations in the Caribbean, the Bahamas offer plenty of Spring Break deals, with cheap flights running from the US to Nassau and Paradise Islands and a variety of island cruises available. Lounge on white sand beaches or try your hand at water sports during the day, then hit the beach clubs by night.

Puerto Rico

With a drinking age of 18 and prices far cheaper than most U.S destinations, the aptly nicknamed ‘Island of Enchantment’ is fast becoming a popular alternative to the party hotspots of Mexico. If the pristine beaches and lively nightlife aren’t enough to entice you to Puerto Rican shores, there are plenty of alternative activities to try, from horseback riding to scuba diving to trekking in the rainforest.

Florida

If you’d prefer to stay stateside and cut down on pricey airfares, there are plenty of options in Florida. Hit the beach bars and celebrity studded nightclubs at Panama City Beach, join the crowds at Miami Beach, or get involved in myriad spring break activities in the Florida Keys.

Mexico

We couldn’t complete a spring break roundup without a nod to the student party Mecca of Mexico. If you’re looking for a non-stop roster of sunbathing and parties, head to the beach resorts of Cancun, Los Cabos or Acapulco, but don’t expect to have the beach to yourself – masses of students will be descending on the coast for the busiest season of the year.

For sun seekers

Thailand

If you’re happy to fly further afield, Thailand offers some of the world’s best value beach resorts, with vast beaches, coral filled waters and a notoriously debauched party scene. Spend your time snorkeling or elephant trekking in the jungle, then hit the beach bars at night. Phuket, Hua Hin and Koh Samui are all popular among beach lovers, but be sure to join the masses for one of Koh Phangan’s infamous Full Moon Parties where cocktail buckets and blaring dance music keep the scantily clad revelers dancing until the early hours.

India

Goa Baga Beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Goa’s Baga Beach

Uncover India’s bohemian roots with a beach vacation in Goa, where you can revel in the laid-back vibe and try wakeboarding, kite surfing and jet skiing, before hitting the beach bars at sunset. Once you tire of the sun, sea and sand, head inland to the ‘pink city’ of Jaipur, home to some of the country’s most spectacular architecture, and undergo a pilgrimage to the magnificent Taj Mahal.

Brazil

With powder white beaches, scorching temperatures and endless Caipirinhas, Brazilians know a thing or two about a beach holiday. Head to Rio where you can soak up the rays on the famous Copocabana beach, hit the waves on neighboring Ipanema and pay a visit to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. If you’d prefer to dodge the crowds, travel north to Natal where you can spread your beach towel on the popular Ponta Negra beach and hit the samba clubs in the evening hours.

South Africa

Few countries boast more sunny days than South Africa and whether you’re after an action packed vacation or a leisurely beach break, there’s something for everyone. Of course, you just might need a trust fund to afford the airfare, but if you’ve got the cash to splash out, a South Africa Spring Break is an unforgettable adventure. Brave the waves on the famous Wild Coast, spot the Big 5 on safari in the vast Kruger National Park or come face to face with Great White sharks on a shark diving excursion from Cape Town.

For adrenaline junkies

Costa Rica

Costa Rica offers myriad activities to get your blood pumping, from hurtling down rapids in a whitewater raft to scaling the crater of an active volcano. For the most mind-blowing experience, make like Tarzan on a rainforest canopy tour, where you’ll get to zip line at breakneck speed through acres of untamed jungle, or zoom along the rainforest floor on an ATV instead.

Belize

Belize scuba divers in Blue Hole - Best Spring Break Destinations

Go underwater in Belize

Home to the second largest Barrier Reef in the world, Belize is the perfect place to strap on some fins and dive to the depths of the ocean on a scuba diving excursion. Another hugely popular activity is cave tubing with Belize harboring one of Central America’s most extensive underground cave networks. Still not exciting enough for you? Try zip lining through the jungle, kayaking through crocodile infested waters or parasailing on the open ocean.

Las Vegas

The bright lights of the famous Strip aren’t just for revelers and gamblers; Las Vegas makes the perfect destination for thrill-seekers, with the vast Grand Canyon right nearby. Take a helicopter flight over the strip, whiz through the Valley of Fire on a dune buggy, brave the Grand Canyon Skywalk, take a sunrise hot air balloon ride or skydive over the spectacular Red Rock Canyon. Or you could just blow your savings on the roulette table.

Niagara Falls

One of Northern America’s most celebrated natural attractions, just catching sight of the thundering Niagara Falls is a thrill but those hoping for an action packed trip can hurtle beneath the falls on a high-speed jet boat, zoom over the top in a helicopter or get a view from a giant tethered helium balloon. Not all activities have to involve the falls, though – go kayaking along the Niagara River, bungee jumping in the Niagara Falls area or climb the precipitous gorge at the nearby Devil’s Hole.

For snow bunnies

Whistler, British Columbia

Just because it’s spring doesn’t mean you have to opt for a beach holiday – swap sand for snow and hit the ski slopes instead. Head to the world-renowned Whistler resort – the continent’s largest ski area – where you’ll have the pick of over 200 ski runs. There’s plenty of snow-free activities to keep you busy on the warmer days too – horse riding, canoeing and mountain biking are all popular pastimes.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

With some of the best ski runs in America, Jackson Hole is a veritable paradise for skiers and snowboarders. Springtime offers warmer weather activities too, so once you tire of the slopes you can hike or horseback ride through the Grand Teton Park, whitewater raft in the Snake River Canyon or explore the legendary landscapes of nearby Yellowstone National Park.

Lake Tahoe

Springtime in Lake Tahoe is the perfect time to explore the area’s idyllic beaches and waterfalls, but those hoping to hit the slopes will find plenty of powder still dusting the peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Squaw Valley and the Heavenly Mountain resorts are popular spots, where you can ski or snowboard through the day, enjoy a beachside barbecue, then party the night away at one of the lakeside casinos.

For couples

Hawaii

Couple in Hawai - Best Spring Break Destinations

Hawaii is great for couples

Whether you take a romantic sunset boat cruise, cuddle up in a luxury eco lodge or just stroll hand in hand along a moonlit beach, Hawaii is a destination tailor-made for falling in love. There are plenty of adventures to be had in paradise too – try your hand at surfing, snorkel among the shimmering corals or take a helicopter ride over the famous ‘Ring of Fire’.

Vancouver

With its impressive mountain-backdrop and park-lined waterfront, Vancouver offers the perfect backdrop for a loved up getaway. Enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride around Stanley Park, take the ferry over to the picturesque Vancouver Island, then enjoy dinner with a view at Grouse Mountain’s observatory restaurant or on a sunset dinner cruise through Vancouver harbor.

Buenos Aires

Effortlessly cool and oozing with Latino charm, Buenos Aires is the unofficial romance capital of Latin America. Get in the mood with a tango show or dance class; enjoy a stroll through the Palermo Rose Gardens, where you can hire a rowing boat on the lake and visit the planetarium for some sunset stargazing; then head to the waterfront Puerto Madero for dinner with a glittering view of the docks.

San Francisco

With its abundance of art galleries, designer boutiques, hip bars and gourmet restaurants, San Francisco never falls short of ideas for date night. If you prefer some low-key romance, snuggle up on a boat cruise around San Francisco Bay, take a day trip to the Sonoma and Napa Valley wineries or take in the sunset from the famous Golden Gate Bridge.

For Europhiles

Tuscany

Rent a villa in the idyllic Tuscan countryside and spend your days cycling the vineyards and olive groves, pouring over masterpieces in the birthplace of the Renaissance and over-indulging in delicious Italian pastas. Whether you’re after serene landscapes or iconic architecture (don’t miss the famous leaning tower of Pisa), few European destinations offer such variety as Tuscany.

Paris

Alternatively, opt for a memorable sojourn in the City of Lights, where you can breakfast on croissants and shop among the world’s most fashionable people. A trip to the Louvre, the exquisite Château de Versailles and of course, the inimitable Eiffel Tower, are all must-dos, along with a cruise long the River Seine and an entertaining evening at the notorious Moulin Rouge.

Costa Brava, Spain

Costa Brava beach - Best Spring Break Destinations

Join the sunbathers in Costa Brava

If you want to guarantee some warm weather, the glamorous resorts of Spain’s Costa Brava coastline are one of Europe’s most popular springtime destinations. Beloved by the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Welles, the vast Mediterranean beaches are not only popular with sunbathers but renowned among surfers, windsurfers and kite surfers, and with a network of hiking and cycling trails running along the coast, you’ll never be short of things to do.

London

You can’t visit Europe without paying a visit to the British capital and even after the excitement of the 2012 Olympics has died down, there’s still lots to see and do in London. Take a tour on the city’s iconic double-decker buses, enjoy a boat cruise along the Thames, watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace and get spectacular views of the city from the London Eye and The Shard. Make sure you spare some time for the quintessentially English tradition of afternoon tea at one of London’s glitziest venues.

Spring Break Destinations for Every Kind of Traveler Bahamas , Belize , brazil , Buenos Aires , Costa Brava , costa rica , featured , florida , hawaii , india , Lake Tahoe , las vegas , London , Mexico , Niagara Falls , Paris , Puerto Rico , San Francisco , South Africa , spring break , thailand , tuscany , vancouver , whistler

Carnival Celebrations Around the World

12 Feb

Most of us are familiar with some of the most famous Carnival celebrations in the world – Rio, Venice, and New Orleans among them. But Carnival is celebrated all over the world in nearly any place that has a strong Catholic background, so there are plenty of places where you can enjoy Carnival festivities even if you’re not in Brazil or Louisiana this year.

Here are the countries with some of the more interesting Carnival celebrations around the world.

Salvador, Brazil

Brazil Carnival

Carnival in Brazil

Sure, we’ve all heard about Carnival in Rio, but there are celebrations in other parts of Brazil, too. One of the other cities that does Carnival in a big way is Salvador, where the traditional Brazilian dancing is accompanied by live Bahia music performed by bands carried on the back of big trucks through the city center. Virtually anywhere you go in Brazil during Carnival, however, you’ll find some kind of party.

Ivrea, Italy

Ivrea Carnevale

Post-orange fight in Ivrea. Photo credit: Sebastiano Rossi via Flickr.

Venice’s Carnival masks and ornate costumes are legendary, but for something even more strange in Italy you’ll need to visit the town of Ivrea during Carnival. Ivrea’s Battle of the Oranges pits orange-throwing teams against one another. It’s a food fight of epic proportions. The town of Viareggio takes a more stately approach toward Carnival, with its parades of caricatures of famous people.

Binche, Belgium

Binche Carnival

Carnival masks in Binche, Belgium. Photo credit: Véronique Mergaux via Flickr.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, “Carnival? In Belgium?” But the Carnival in Binche, Belgium dates back several centuries and is now on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. Binche celebrates with three days of parades, during one of which men known as Gilles, dressed in colorful costumes and clogs, throw blood oranges into the crowds.

Oruro, Bolivia

Oruro Carnival

Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia. Photo credit: bjaglin via Flickr.

Another Carnival celebration that makes UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage List is La Diablada Carnival in Oruro, Bolivia. The Diablada is a particular dance that features prominently in Oruro’s Carnival parades, when nearly 50 different groups of dancers form a procession each Saturday during Carnival. The religious roots of Oruro’s celebrations date back to pre-colonial times, when the indigenous people would make offerings to Mother Earth and a God of the Mountains.

Moscow, Russia

Caviar blini

Caviar blini. Photo credit: Bolshakov via Flickr.

Cold places aren’t ideally suited to scantily clad parade dancers, but the weather lends yet another reason for a celebration that’ll warm the spirit. So in Moscow, the week before Lent is marked by locals stuffing themselves silly on the thin pancakes known as blini. Moscow’s Carnival-esque week is called Mslenitsa, translated as either “Pancake Week” or the even more fattening “Butter Week,” and celebrations also include masquerade balls and outdoor winter sports.

Mazatlán, Mexico

Mazatlan Carnival

Carnival celebrations in Mazatlán. Photo credit: Frank Kovalchek via Flickr.

Mexico celebrates Carnival in cities throughout the country, but the biggest Carnival celebration happens in the seaside city of Mazatlán. Some smaller towns incorporate the indigenous traditions of those towns, but in Mazatlán the Carnival celebrations are similar to the ones you’ll see in other parts of the world, with costumes, parades, and live music. The popular local blend of Mexican and polka music, called Banda, is what you’ll hear most often during Carnival in Mazatlán.

Goa, India

The Indian state of Goa is well-known for its festive atmosphere, so it shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Goa is home to India’s biggest Carnival celebration, too. This is partly thanks to the influence left from Portugal’s centuries of rule over Goa, and partly thanks to Goa’s modern residents who have incorporated their own Hindu elements into Carnival. Carnival in Goa lasts for three days, during which you’ll see fireworks and parades of costumed characters, as well as revelers dumping buckets of colored water on spectators.

Nice, France

Carnival in Nice

Carnival parade in Nice. Photo credit: Deb Collins via Flickr.

Residents of Nice will tell you theirs is the oldest Carnival celebration in the world, dating back to 1294. Whatever the truth of that statement is, Carnival in modern Nice is a great spectacle with parades of huge floats over multiple days during the festival, which lasts more than two weeks. Nice’s party may not be as famous worldwide as that of New Orleans or Rio, but it’s well-known enough to attract more than one million revelers each year.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago Carnival

Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago. Photo credit: Jean-Marc via Wikimedia Commons.

The capital of Trinidad and Tobago claims to have the biggest Carnival celebration in the Caribbean, and although some of the elements are familiar – outlandish costumes and big parade floats – some are unique combinations of Catholic and local features. Carnival in Trinidad and Tobago lasts for months, with a Carnival Steel Pan competition happening before Carnival, so to really get the full flavor of the festival you might want to plan to stay awhile.

Quebec City, Canada

Quebec Carnival

Snow sculptures in Quebec. Photo credit: meddygarnet via Flickr.

Carnival is a moving target, the dates changing each year with the Catholic calendar, but in Quebec City they’ve removed the date-related confusion. Quebec’s Winter Carnival is held in late January/early February each year, and highlights include ice and snow sculptures as well as a variety of outdoor winter sports. You won’t see the skimpy Rio-style attire in Quebec, but you can attend a masquerade ball (indoors!) and stay warm with Caribou, a heated drink made of wine, whiskey, and maple syrup.

Portugal

Portugal Carnival

Carnival costumes in Portugal. Photo credit: Rosino via Flickr.

Portugal might have exported its Catholicism to places like Brazil, thereby influencing the original Carnival celebrations there, but these days Portugal has imported Brazilian-style Carnival traditions back across the pond. Carnival celebrations differ across the country, but most Portuguese regions incorporate things like elaborate costumes and samba parades. In some regions, large masks or figures are made and then burned in big bonfires.

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