Tag Archives: japan

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

Asha and Brock in Asia and Australia

29 Apr

In 2012, Viator sent two teams of two travel videographers around Europe and North America with our Dream Travel Job project. For 60 days each, they traveled, took Viator tours, and filmed.

This year we have Asha from our Europe team and Brock from the North America team back to do it all again in Asia and Australia! Read on to see where they are and what they’re doing on their adventure.

But first…

Meet Asha & Brock

Asha in Europe

Fun Facts about Asha:
– Toured Europe (Italy, Germany, France, Switzerland), Latin America (Chile) and Australia as a musician
– Plays a 7-string electric violin and was the lead violinist for the Trans Siberian Orchestra
– Toured the U.S. with Gnarls Barkley and played at the Grammys
– Breast cancer survivor
– Appeared on several pilots for the Travel Channel and the Food Network
– Skydived in New Zealand, white water rafted down the Grand Canyon and rode her bike across Tuscan

 

Brock at Niagara Falls

Fun Facts about Brock Groombridge:
– In 2010 he backpacked through 36 countries on 6 continents
– Backpack With Brock is his travel video blog
– He once ate a cobra snake in Vietnam
– He climbed to Mt. Everest Base Camp in Tibet
– He has lived with a Maasai Tribe in Kenya
– Does he look familiar? Maybe you’ve seen him in a TV commercial for Diet Pepsi, Skittles or Subway!

 

Their Asia & Australia itinerary

After a quick stop in the Viator San Francisco office, Asha and Brock took off on their journey around Asia and Australia! Make sure to follow Viator on Twitter, Facebook, Google , Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram for the latest updates.

Here’s their route:

Asia Australia travel route

Check back below for updates from Asha and Brock:

1st Stop: Tokyo

Welcome to Japan - Tokyo airport

Sayonara, San Francisco and Konichiwa, Tokyo! The team has safely landed in Tokyo, where they will spend a week exploring this fascinating city. Read more about their Tokyo itinerary.


Asha and Brock in Asia and Australia

Meet Setsuko Hayashi, a Private Tour Guide in Japan

28 Apr

Although originally from Tokyo, Setsuko Hayashi grew up in Osaka and has called the Japanese metropolis home for much of her life. Setsuko speaks impeccable English (she was an English teacher for many years) and her ability as a guide is the result of several seminars and five years as a licensed tour operator. She specializes in private, tailor-made tours of Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara.

Meet Setsuko!

Meet Setsuko!

The main objective of Setsuko’s tours is to help foreign visitors experience and understand Japanese culture and history. She strives to make her excursions unique, building itineraries to suit your preferences and leading you through the highlights of Osaka and the surrounding area via public transportation, allowing you to see the city’s best sites and at the same time providing a up-close encounter with the everyday flow of Japanese life.

Setsuko offers both private individual and group tours in Japan, custom-designed to fit your preferences and expectations. There is no better way to experience Osaka and the surrounding area than with a knowledgeable and professional local private tour guide in Japan. They are there to make your trip as worry-free and educational as possible and to introduce you to the sort of places most tourists don’t usually get to see.

Check out Setsuko Hayashi’s Viator Private Tour Guide profile for more details of her private Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe and Nara tours and further information on how to contact and book with Setsuko.

Meet Setsuko Hayashi, a Private Tour Guide in Japan Asia , japan , Kyoto , osaka , Viator Private Guides

Meet Private Tour Guide Mami Sorimachi in Tokyo

5 Apr


Mami Sorimachi; Tokyo private tour guide

Meet Mami!

As a Tokyo native who has been working in the tourism industry for many years, Mami Sorimachi is the ideal guide for personalized tours around Tokyo and the surrounding region. Professional yet fun, Mami specializes in walking tours around Tokyo, using public transportation to deliver you to the cities historical highlights — a unique approach that allows you to experience Japan’s greatest metropolis through the eyes of a local.

Mami is one of Viator’s top-rated guides, consistently earning five-star rave reviews from travelers. She was even chosen as one of our top ten guides of the year in 2012.

Mami is a wealth of information about Japanese history and traditional culture, but she can also introduce you to the idiosyncrasies of the modern Japanese. Not up-to-date with the pop and anime sub-cultural currents within Japanese society? Mami can fill you in as she guides you around the country.

As a certified tour guide with years of experience, Mami will custom design a Tokyo tour to fit your interests. She can also extend her personalized services to destinations outside of Tokyo, including Mt. Fuji and the Fuji five lakes in Yamanashi Prefecture, Hakone, Kamakura, Yokohama, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka.

Check out Mami Sorimachi’s Viator Private Tour Guide profile for more details of her private Tokyo, Japan tours and further information on how to contact and book with Mami.

Meet Private Tour Guide Mami Sorimachi in Tokyo japan , tokyo

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World

3 Apr

While it might seem like a strange thing to add to your vacation to-do list, visiting cemeteries when you travel can be an interesting way to learn about a place’s history – not to mention see some of its most beautiful landscapes.

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Primosten Cemetery, Croatia. Photo by Jessica Speigel

Of course, what constitutes a “beautiful” cemetery will depend on the viewer’s opinion. Some will be painstakingly landscaped, some will be historically meaningful, some will be haunting, and some will have stunning views. But in this selection of final resting places around the world we think everyone will be able to find one that deserves “beautiful” as a descriptor.

Père Lachaise – Paris

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père-Lachaise cemetery. Photo courtesy of extranoise via Flickr.

Père Lachaise is one of the world’s most famous cemeteries, largely thanks to its long list of famous residents. Fans of the late singer Jim Morrison have made pilgrimages to his grave for decades, painting other graves en route to his with Doors-inspired graffiti. Other famous names on Père Lachaise headstones include Chopin, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Eugene Delacroix, Sarah Bernhardt, Colette, Isadora Duncan, Moliere, and Marcel Proust. There are also many graves and tombs of people you won’t know that are even more beautiful than the famous ones. Take the Paris Metro to the Philippe Auguste stop, near the main entrance, and buy a cemetery map before you enter.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 – New Orleans

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. Photo courtesy of JasonParis via Flickr.

You almost can’t go wrong with the cemeteries in New Orleans. They’re above-ground cities of the dead, thanks to the city’s low elevation, and every bit as hauntingly beautiful as you’d expect from a place steeped in Voodoo and vampire lore. St. Louis No. 1 is home to the tomb of Marie Laveau, the 19th century Voodoo priestess. There are other famous names from New Orleans’ history buried here, but its appeal is far greater than just local history. The cemetery is just outside the French Quarter, and guided tours (of this and any cemetery in New Orleans) are highly recommended.

American Cemetery – Normandy, France

American Cemetery - Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

American Cemetery – Normandy. Photo courtesy of stephenminnig via Flickr.

Just up from Omaha Beach, where so many young soldiers fought and died during the Normandy Invasion in 1944, there’s a plot of land that’s US soil even though it’s well inside French borders. Across the pristine lawns of the 172-acre American Cemetery and War Memorial there are more than 9,300 simple white crosses and Stars of David, most of which mark the graves of men who died during the Normandy Invasion. Also in the area there are cemeteries for the fallen soldiers of Canada and Great Britain, as well as the largest (and most haunting) cemetery in the area – for more than 21,000 of the German soldiers who died in World War II.

La Recoleta Cemetery – Buenos Aires

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

La Recoleta Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Liam Quinn via Flickr.

The cemetery in the Recoleta neighborhood of Buenos Aires is entirely composed of above-ground tombs, giving La Recoleta the same “city of the dead” feel of Pere Lachaise and the cemeteries in New Orleans. 94 of the tombs have even been added to the list of National Historical Monuments. Among the famous graves at La Recoleta you’ll find Eva Peron – known popularly as Evita – and many presidents of Argentina. You can take the bus to Avenue del Libertador and walk up the hill. Buy a cemetery map before you enter.

Primosten Cemetery – Primosten, Croatia

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

Primosten Cemetery. Photo courtesy of Gruenemann via Flickr.

There are no famous names on the headstones in the tiny cemetery next to the church in Primosten, but should you end up in this tiny hill of a town on the Croatian coast it’s well worth a visit anyway. The small church and adjacent cemetery sit on top of the hill, affording all of those graves with a stunning view over the Adriatic Sea toward the islands just offshore. And because Primosten is so small and not a popular tourist stop (unlike nearby Split or Trogir), you’re likely to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet of the hilltop cemetery and its sparkling view.

Kokai Mausoleum and Okunoin Cemetery – Mount Koya , Japan

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Okunoin cemetery. Photo courtesy of Stéfan via Flickr.

Japan’s largest cemetery is located at the mausoleum of Kokai, a 9th century Japanese monk, scholar, and artist who founded the Shingon sect of Buddhism on Mount Koya. The Okunoin Cemetery contains more than 200,000 gravestones and 120 Buddhist temples, and Mount Koya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the things you can see in the Okunoin Cemetery are tombs with statues of UFOs, coffee mugs, and hundreds of statues of a Japanese deity who is supposed to protect children who have died – he is represented in the cemetery by small statues wearing articles of children’s clothing. You can reach the Okunoin Cemetery via the Nankai Electric Railway from Osaka’s Namba Station, followed by a cable car up the mountain.

Highgate Cemetery – London

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

Highgate Cemetery. Photo courtesy of loretahur via Flickr.

You could be forgiven for mistaking London’s Highgate Cemetery for a park that happened to have a few graves in it rather than a cemetery that looks like a park. In fact, this Victorian cemetery is a nature reserve and is registered as a park. The fact that it’s also the city’s most famous cemetery is almost beside the point. Highgate is separated into two sections – the East Cemetery and West Cemetery – and you can only visit the latter with a guided tour. People buried in the West Cemetery include the wife and parents of Charles Dickens, but most of the famous graves are in the East Cemetery – including Douglas Adams, Malcolm McLaren, George Eliot, and Karl Marx. Highgate is near Waterlow Park, and the closest London Underground station is Archway.

Bonaventure Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

Bonaventure Cemetery. Photo Courtesy of ann gav via Flickr.

The city of Savannah is widely known for its beauty, and that extends to the Bonaventure Cemetery. Bonaventure used to simply be an historic cemetery in an historic city, but after the success of John Berendt’s novel “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” the cemetery became a major tourist attraction. The book’s cover was a photograph of a statue called “Bird Girl” that had been in the cemetery for more than a half-century. When the book became a best-seller and the statue increased tourist traffic into the cemetery, it was moved to Savannah’s Telfair Museum of Art. Bonaventure Cemetery is still worth a visit for its historic significance, its huge live oaks dripping with moss, and the grave of Johnny Mercer.

Panteón de Dolores – Mexico City

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Panteon Civil de Dolores. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mexico’s largest cemetery, Panteón de Dolores, is crowded with more than one million interments and 700,000 tombs covering 590 acres. This is where you’ll find the graves of muralists Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, opera singer Ángela Peralta, and many other notable Mexicans in the “Rotunda de las Personas Illustres.” The Panteón de Dolores cemetery itself is park-like in many respects, but it’s also sandwiched between two sections of the enormous Chapultepec Park in Mexico City. Especially in a city as big and busy as Mexico City, having a park as large as Chapultepec is a welcome respite – and almost as an added bonus, there’s an historic cemetery in there, too.

Capuchin Crypt – Rome

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Capuchin Crypt. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

While not exactly a “cemetery” in the truest sense, Rome’s Capuchin Crypt can be considered beautiful – as long as you’ve got a strong constitution and enjoy a little whimsy with your macabre. The row of small chapels underneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini is decorated with the bones of the more than 4,000 Capuchin monks who had been buried in the crypt in the early 17th century. When newly deceased monks were buried, old skeletons had to be removed – and as those bones were removed, many of them were used in designs on the walls and ceilings of the chapels. The patterns are quite elaborate, and any student of the human body will likely enjoy identifying which bones are which. The faint of heart may want to skip this, but if your interest is piqued the Capuchin Crypt is on Via Veneto near Piazza Barberini. Donations are strongly encouraged.

The 10 Most Beautiful Cemeteries in the World Buenos Aires , croatia , France , Georgia , japan , London , Mexico City , new orleans , Normandy , Paris , Primosten , rome , Savannah

I Heart My City (in the Spring)

29 Mar

Hanami cherry blossoms outside the Tokyo National Museum. (Photograph by Rob Towell, Flickr)

There’s still a chill in the air here in Washington, D.C., but the days are getting longer, the cherry blossoms are starting to pop, and residents are beginning to shed those cumbersome winter coats. Spring is upon us (at least for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere), and we’re embracing it with open arms by highlighting seasonal must-dos from our amazing I Heart My City community.

From ice cream to air shows, palaces to train rides, here are 20 ways to make the most of the next few months in 20 cities around the globe:

Shelly’s Oxford (United Kingdom): Head to nearby Wytham Woods to see the bluebells at their finest.

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

The Hyangwonjeong Pavilion, on the grounds of Gyeongbokgung Palace. (Photograph by Ncburton, Flickr)

Megan Natalie’s Seoul (South Korea): Visit Gyeongbokgung Palace’s gardens to experience a piece of paradise you’d swear couldn’t exist in Seoul (make sure to watch the changing of the guards).

Ewelina’s Krakow (Poland): Take a walk to Krakus Mound at Podgórze; a nice, green hill where you can take a blanket and relax.

Annie Fitzsimmon’s NYC (United States): Celebrate the bounty of post-winter produce and eat anything with ramps on it because they’re only in season for a few weeks! Motorino has a great ramp pizza, and ABC Kitchen never fails with its in-season menu.

Keith Bellow’s Montreal (Canada): Hang around near McGill and Prince Arthur, soaking up the sun and the street life.

Anya’s Istanbul (Turkey): Visit Topkapi Palace. The flowers are in bloom and it’s positively stunning.

Katherine’s Athens (Greece): Take a bus to Cape Sounion, the ancient ruins of Poseidon’s temple. On the short bus ride from Athens, you’ll wind along the coast and enjoy some of my favorite views.

The Boxi-Platz flea market in Berlin. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Berlin’s Boxhagener Platz flea market is open on Sundays. (Photograph by La Citta Vita, Flickr)

Madeleine’s Annapolis (U.S.): Check out the Blue Angels air show at the United States Naval Academy commencement.

Maja’s Belgrade (Serbia): Go to Zemun in Old Town and have lunch at one of the fish restaurants on the Danube.

Colleen’s Beijing (China): Fly kites by Houhai Lake.

Zain’s Amman (Jordan): Pack a picnic and visit the Hellenistic site known as Iraq Al Amir.

Shannon Switzer’s San Diego (U.S.): Check out the wildflowers in Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Yvonne’s Berlin (Germany): Explore Berlin’s many flea markets to find great vintage clothes, furniture, books, and local art.

Sylvia’s Tokyo (Japan): Go for hanami (cherry-blossom-viewing parties) in a park with a big group of Japanese friends, some beer, and some sushi.

Jessica’s Barcelona (Spain): Experience a traditional Catalan calçotada which consists of getting together and eating large quantities of local green onions known as calçots along with romenesco sauce, regional wine, and good company.

Vienna's MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Hang out outside Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier. (Photograph by Photongatherer, Flickr)

Jennifer’s Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates): See Abu Dhabi from the water. Hire a dhow (traditional wooden boat) for a tour, charter a speedboat to take you to one of the 200 islands off the main island, or kayak amongst the mangroves.

Karen’s St. John’s, Newfoundland (Canada): Watch the last ice depart from the Atlantic from atop Signal Hill National Historic Site. Check out the on-site gift shop where local music, books, and culinary delights make excellent gifts.

Isabel Eva’s Madrid (Spain): Take a trip on the Tren de la Fresa to Aranjuez. During the 50-minute ride, you will be served fresh strawberries. Once in Aranjuez, you can take a tour of the Museo del Ferrocarril (the railway museum) and the Palacio Real (the royal palace).

Lea’s Vienna (Austria): Do as the locals do and head to the MuseumsQuartier to hang out on one of the over-sized flexible furniture elements called Enzis.

Nat Geo’s Washington, D.C. (U.S.): Check out the National Arboretum and Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, two of D.C.’s hidden gems.

Wherever you are, what’s your favorite thing about your city in the springtime? Tell us about it in the comment section below.

I Heart My City (in the Spring) Abu Dhabi , annapolis , athens , austria , belgium , Belgrade , California , canada , d.c. , England , France , Ghent , Gouda , Greece , Iceland , Istanbul , japan , krakow , Madrid , maryland , Montreal , netherlands , New York , new york city , oxford , Paris , Poland , Reykjavík , san diego , Seoul , Serbia , South Korea , Spain , St. John’s Newfoundland , tokyo , turkey , United Arab Emirates , United Kingdom , United States , vienna , washington

The Radar: Travel Lately

28 Mar

Sensō-ji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Tokyo. (Photograph by Aapo Haapanen, Flickr)

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

Here’s this week’s:

  • Easter Island may be hard to access (after all, it’s the most remote inhabited island in the world). It can also be expensive. But budget options abound for those that seek them in this tiny Chilean outpost. @budgettravelsac
  • Cannes, St. Tropez, and Nice are, well, nice, but you don’t have to keep to the French side of the Riviera while you’re on holiday. Trade your bonjour for buongiorno across the border in San Remo. @easyhiker101
  • Despite making headlines recently as a hotbed of instability, Beirut possesses a charm worthy of praise. And in the Lebanese city’s low-key Mar Mikhael district, old and new converge in the most surprising ways. @Gadling 
  • A bus designed to look like a panda bear whisks visitors around a city, free of charge. As kitschy as it may sound, this “only in Japan” phenomenon proves to be a terrific way to get to know Tokyo. @HuffPostTravel
  • Just 90 miles away from U.S. shores, Cuba exudes the aura of a bygone era. For those bogged down by the grind of modernity, consider this unique Caribbean island your great escape.  @NevEndingVoyage

The Radar: Travel Lately Beirut , budget travel adventures , Cuba , Easter Island , Easy Hiker 101 , gadling , Havana , Huffington Post Travel , Italy , japan , Lebanon , Never Ending Voyage , ngtradar , San Remo , The Radar , tokyo

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

Kyoto and Nara Day Trip from Kyoto

9 Mar

Tokyo has been the imperial capital of Japan since only 1868. The capital from the late 700s until then was Kyoto, which still means “Capital”. For 70 years before that it was in Nara near Kyoto. Because of the importance of Nara and later Kyoto some of Japan’s most significant historic sites are in the Kyoto area. 17 different sites within the Kyoto/Nara area have been designated by the United Nations as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I wanted to see some of them while I was in the area, so I opted for the Kyoto and Nara Day Trip from Kyoto including Nijo Castle. The tour I took could be done as two separate half day tours.

Kyoto Morning Tour

Nijo Castle

Kyoto Nijo Castle tour

The Kyoto morning tour visited three significant sites in Kyoto. We started at the Nijo Castle which was built by the Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. 17th century Japan was a land of feuding rival feudal lords. While all might recognize the emperor it was far from a united country. After a series of military victories Tokugawa Ieyasu united Japan and was proclaimed Shogun in 1603. The house of Tokugawa retained the title of Shogun and control of the whole country… in the name of the emperor… until 1868. He quickly moved the capital away from the sway of the Emperor to what is now Tokyo but used this castle when he was visiting Kyoto.

No photography is allowed inside the castle which has a small number of large rooms with decorative paintings of tigers (not native to Japan) that reminded people of the power of the Shogun. Mannequins play the part of visiting lords and samurai coming to request favors of the Shogun. Visiting in winter I could appreciate how warm a kimono needed to be as the palace windows are paper and the palace contained no fireplaces. In the summer the shutters could be opened so that the Shogun could view his beautiful gardens.

Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion)

Kinkakuji tour

The Temple of the Golden Pavilion may be the most photographed of the historic sites of Kyoto. It is currently a Buddhist temple but was originally built as a palace for a retired Shogun. The building, like many historic buildings in Japan, was lost to fire and reconstructed in 1955. Our tour guide told us the bird of the top of the building is a phoenix, which seems appropriate given its rise from the ashes.

Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace, Kyoto tour

While the emperor moved the capital to Edo, changing the name to Tokyo, in 1868, he still retains a palace here in Kyoto and the residence of Kyoto are ready for him to move back at any time. Because this is still a palace the tour goes more around the palace than through it.

Nara Afternoon Tour

Nara is an hour away from Kyoto, more on the return trip with rush hour traffic. So after a filling, if unspectacular, lunch we drove to Nara. One of the most unusual things about Nara is that there are deer everywhere. The deer are considered sacred because they “brought the god down the mountain” according to Shinto beliefs. Warning signs tell tourists that the deer can get aggressive when you feed them. Our tour guide advised us not to run with food or they will chase you.

Todai-ji (Eastern Great Temple) 

T?dai-ji, Nara tour

The Eastern Great Temple (Todai-ji) is the largest wooden building in the world and contains an equally colossal Buddha statue.  It was one of the first statues of Buddha that was cast in Japan instead of imported from China, India or Korea (all of which received Buddhism before Japan).

Kasuga Grand Shrine

Lanterns at the Kasuga Grand Shrine, Nara tour

There are many Shinto shrines in Japan but the Kasuga Grand Shrine is one of the most significant. It was built in 768. As a photographer it was not the shrine itself but the many moss-covered stone lanterns lining the path to the shrine that captured my attention.

I am not a big fan of a week-long bus tour to a country, but selected day trips, particularly in Japan where about half of the sites we visited didn’t have brochures in English, can simplify seeing some of the larger sites. In addition to learning more about the history of Japan and the Shinto and Buddhist faiths that the Japanese integrate, we also learned about some of the more popular culture on the bus rides. We watched televised sumo wrestling while our guide explained sports, entertainment, education and even taxes. I could have visited all of these sites on my own but with more effort and less information.

Kyoto and Nara Day Trip from Kyoto featured , japan , Kyoto

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in March

7 Mar

Holi is also known as the Festival of Colors, for obvious reasons.  (Photograph by Anurag Kumar, My Shot)

There are some amazing events on tap all over the world, all the time. Here’s a taste of what you can see and do in March:

  • As the summer sun sets on the Southern Hemisphere, one Australian beach town isn’t quite ready to bid the season adieu. In Coolangatta, surfing greats like Kelly Slater duke it out on the waves at the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast (March 2-13) competition. While the riders paddle their way toward big cash prizes prize, spectators can keep their toes in the sand with meet and greets, live music, and shopping.
  • Call it a bruja brouhaha. Subscribers to the supernatural flood the streets of Catemaco, Mexico for the annual Noche de Brujas (March 1), a festival that fetes the ancient tradition of Mexican sorcery in a community that claims to be the world capital of witchcraft. Healers and local shamans abound, but if the magic fails, don’t fret. The calming lap of nearby Laguna Catemaco may be just as entrancing.
  • The Gathering Ireland, a yearlong initiative intended to draw the Irish diaspora back to their homeland, takes a literary turn this month at the Ennis Book Club Festival (March 1-3). Acclaimed author Joseph O’Connor will headline the event, but he’s not the only draw. The weekend will be filled with enough readings, seminars, and literary love-ins to appease even the most hardcore bookworms.
    Many women --

    Many women wear traditional dress during Las Fallas. (Photograph by Alexander Rostocki, My Shot)

  • Once a simple feast intended to honor the carpentry of Saint Joseph, today’s Las Fallas (March 15-19) in Valencia, Spain is a veritable ode to pyrotechnic prowess. Watch as local tinkers construct enormous effigies, only to set them ablaze on the festival’s final night. Not all the statues face the stake though. A citywide vote bestows clemency to the crowd favorite.
  • Foodies and oenophiles the world over have been flocking to Sonoma County for decades. Discover why at the California’s Artisan Cheese Festival (March 22-24). Farm tours, cheese making seminars, and pairing demos are all part of the program, but the festival’s location — with Napa Valley, San Francisco, and the Muir Woods just a stone’s throw away — may be the biggest star of all.
  • Music festival season is upon us. From Austin to Glastonbury, large crowds and loud sounds are an inextricable part of spring. This year, take the path less traveled to the principality of Andorra as it hosts its first ever ElectroSnow festival (March 30-April 1). What traveler in their right mind (and with enough scratch in their pocket) could resist a trip to the Pyrenees for a weekend of skiing and electronic music?
  • Savannah, Georgia may be known for its Southern charm and delightful squares decorated with Spanish moss, but it bleeds green on at least one day of the year. The Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade(March 16), now in its 189th year, is one the largest in the world, and pays jubilant homage to the city’s unique Irish heritage.
    The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the March 1912 gift of cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C.  (Photograph by Sachin Nayak, Flickr)

    The National Cherry Blossom Festival commemorates the March 1912 gift of cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to Washington, D.C. (Photograph by Sachin Nayak, Flickr)

  • Baseball hasn’t always hit it out of the park with the International Olympic Committee. After being axed from the summer games in 2012, the international baseball community responded with the World Baseball Classic (March 2-19). With opening games staged in stadiums from Taiwan to San Juan and everywhere in between, the quadrennial event is on pace to become a global institution.
  • Devotees of Krishna the world over descend on Vrindavan, India for Holi. The Hindu holiday celebrates Radha and Krishna’s love bond and the beginning of spring, with each major Krishna temple celebrating on a different day. But the most anticipated event takes place at the Banke Bihari Temple on March 27, where worshippers and visitors alike are doused in brightly colored powder.
  • Washington, D.C. ushers in spring with the National Cherry Blossom Festival (March 20-April 14). Celebrating the end of winter and the enduring friendship between the U.S. and Japan, the beloved festival centers around the willowy sakuras that Nat Geo’s first female board member, Eliza Scidmore, played a vital role in bringing to the capital city.
  • Bali is back. A string of attacks left the island reeling, but tourists are once again flocking to this Indonesian paradise. Discover it for yourself during the Bali Spirit Festival (March 20-24), where music and movement come into perfect balance. By day, festival-goers attend yoga, meditation, and dance classes. When the stars come up, international musicians take the stage.
  • In Birmingham, England mankind celebrates man’s best friend at Crufts (March 7-10), the “largest annual dog show in the world.” Founder Charles Cruft’s first show, staged in 1886, boasted 600 entries. This year, the four-day event — which includes competitions, displays, and a trade show – will play host to more than 25,0o0 four-legged friends.

Event-o-Rama: 12 Must-Dos in March Andorra , Australia , bali , Banke Bihari , Birmingham , California , Catemaco , Coolangatta , ElectroSnow , Ennis , Georgia , Holi , india , Ireland , japan , Laguna Catemaco , Las Fallas , Mexico , Muir Woods , Napa , National Cherry Blossom Festival , Phoenix , Quiksilver Pro , San Francisco , San Juan , Savannah , sonoma , Spain , St. Patrick’s Day , Taiwan , tokyo , USA , Valencia , Vrindavan , Washington D.C. , World Baseball Classic