Explore a Central American Safari, at Nekupe.

Ever want to go horseback riding, drive ATV's, play with monkeys and do some clay shooting all while having an active Volcano as your backdrop? Nekupe is just the place...and the greatest part? You don't have to travel around the globe to do it.

There are several direct flights to Nicaragua from the US and even if you happen to live in a city without a direct flight, it's still pretty easy. I was lucky enough to travel to Nicaragua last week from Los Angeles. We took a 10pm flight from LAX and were at the hotel sipping on a signature drink by 11am the next day. Super easy and Super worth it. 

Now, let the fun begin! Along with your amazing room, you're assigned a personal Ranger that helps you explore the resort. How do you get around you ask? An ATV of course! Way cooler than any golf cart you'll ever get at a hotel. Your activities and meals are all included in the cost of your room too....pretty hard to beat that. 

I'm not the only one to think this new hotel is something to see and know about, Nekupe was just named one of the "Best New Hotels in the World" by Travel + Leisure

I could walk you through the day by day but why would I do that when I can show you? Check out my adventure, it was Epic to say the least and of course, let me know when I can book your trip! Contact me at jennifer@imouttravels.com

From Street Children to Tour Guides in Delhi, India: How Salaam Baalak Trust is Changing Children's Lives

Few places in the world embody a contrast starker than India, with its vibrating colors, rich culture, legendary temples, forts, and luxurious hotels…and dilapidation and poverty. On my recent trip, which started in Delhi, this contrast was evident from the moment I landed. The following two weeks would expose me to many awe-inspiring moments, from stepping inside the Taj Mahal to feeding elephants, but what impacted me the most was just a few little faces in one of the biggest cities in the world during a tour that very first day in Delhi.

Nine children go missing a day in Delhi, a city of 20 million people. Some cases are accidental- at the crowded train stations, buses, and markets. Due to the dense population and rapid movement of large crowds, it's a common reality for children to be separated from their families. Other children are abandoned because of medical issues, sexually exploited or run away. It’s foundations like Salaam Baalak Trust that give hope to what sounds like a hopeless epidemic.

The work of Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT) started with 25 children in 1988 and now cares for 6,600 children a year. SBT has six centers throughout India, four homes for boys and two girls homes, one of which is solely for victims of sexual abuse and exploitation. 70% of the children return home at their will, while the rest are cared for and educated at SBT’s long-term centers.

In addition to providing safety and education, SBT trains the teenagers to become tour guides of their own backyards, building their confidence, improving their English and teaching them to earn a living.

On that painfully humid, sunny afternoon, our guide, Ejaz, confidently walked us through the dirt alleyways of Old Delhi, past stray dogs and produce carts, educating us on the daily lives and stories of the locals. Alongside him walked a timid guide-in-training, Pav, whose smile caught my eye and innocence won my heart. We walked side by side and I began asking about school, life in India, and his family. The young man – no more than 16 – spoke of studying like it was a privilege, a gift he was so grateful to be given. He smiled a little wider when he told me he plans to return to his home country of Nepal and his sister.

We ended the tour at the center where a dozen boys flocked us. They sang twinkle twinkle little star and took turns taking center circle to show off their Bollywood-inspired dance moves. They were completely enamored by our iPhones and were antsy waiting for us to snap photos as they posed in our sunglasses.

And then a simple, heartfelt answer to a question a man in our group asked Ejaz: “What do you want to do after this? Your aspirations, goals?”

“I want to be a good man.”

I start to tear up from his honesty and gratitude for all he’s been given, which is nothing in a Westerner’s mind. (Had I not just complained about the weather?) The outlook Ejaz and the other boys have on their future, how much they value each other and SBT, and of course their smiles marked my memory forever.

After the walk and visit to SBT, our guides took us back to our bus. We boarded, waved through the window at their royal blue shirts shrinking down the street as we picked up speed past the teetering rickshaws. That was probably the last time I’ll see Ejaz and Pav, but I’m confident they have bright lives ahead of them, including the big screens of Bollywood.

Salaam Baalak Trust is funded from a combination of government, international agency and tourism donations. For more information on booking a tour and visit, go to the foundation’s website.

Discovering the 7th Continent with Quark Expeditions | Antarctica Cruise

by Tye Rogerson

Travel Consultant, Tye Rogerson, just returned from the adventure of a lifetime on a Quark Expedition to Antarctica.  Follow his journey as he takes us from the southern tip of Ushuaia to the White Wilderness, Antarctica. 

We reached Antarctica the old fashioned way, by crossing the Drake Passage. It is now possible to fly over the passage and then cruise, avoiding the dark and moody waters of the southern seas. But we wanted to grab ahold of distance, and wait for the moment until the world’s largest wilderness area faded into view. And in the meantime, it wasn’t hard to enjoy the sight of half a dozen albatross strafing our stern. We were aboard the Ocean Endeavour, owned by Quark Expeditions, on one of the first departures of the season. Everyone beamed, we knew we were going somewhere rare.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, driest place on earth, and it has the highest average elevation. It is nearly twice the size of Australia, and in the winter the sea ice expands its size almost twofold. There never were any indigenous peoples dwelling on the seventh continent, and today Antarctica is a symbol of international cooperation. The whaling has almost entirely ended, and where there are people, they are there in pursuit of science. Or simply curiosity. As a travel destination, it’s on most people’s bucket list because…what can possibly compare? ­­

Our expedition leader was an adventurous Alaskan native, who had previously studied philosophy and been an iron worker at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. He explained that as an expedition trip we had a general daily itinerary, but would pivot as necessary to make the most of our weather and wildlife opportunities. This approach came in handy a few days later when somebody spotted a pod of orcas, and a few days after that when our resident bird expert spied an emperor penguin.

 

Ocean Endeavour – Ship Amenities

Although we crossed the Drake like the heroic explorers a century ago, our onboard experience was very comfortable. As a hotel, the Ocean Endeavour had multiple decks with a variety of areas to spend time in. There were saunas and a full health spa (massage, facial, etc.) on Deck 8, as well as the Meridian Lounge which served as the quiet area for reading. On Deck 7 we often took tea in the Aurora Lounge, Deck 5 was the lobby, and on Deck 4 was the mud room where we suited up before boarding the zodiacs. After making landings and leaving our outerwear in the lockers, staff always had a mug of hot cocoa to hand us. Deck 6 was the main one, and included a pool heated by the ship’s engine, the bar and Nautilus Lounge where scientists and adventurers gave talks and shared stories, the library and Compass Lounge stocked with every polar book one could wish for, the dining area (very popular!), and the Polar Boutique store. Outdoor observation was possible on several decks, and the bow was open a couple times during the week. It was a pleasant surprise to learn the ship’s captain maintained an “open bridge” policy where, most of the time, passengers could see what it takes to pilot a 137m vessel around icebergs and islands.

 

Shore Excursions

The landings were our favorite part of the voyage, whether it was walking thru chinstrap and gentoo penguin colonies or watching elephant seals groan along the rocky beaches. Some days we passed Adélie penguins porpoising across the wavelets, and others we gazed at tabular icebergs the size of city blocks floating ever so slowly out from the Weddell Sea. The places we visited were varied and endlessly photogenic. The expedition photographer took photos of those silly enough to take the polar plunge (worth it!), and he gave us plenty of tips on how to compose and shoot better images ourselves.

Quark also offered adventure activities, such as sea kayaking, cross country skiing and mountaineering. We opted for the stand up paddle boarding and snow camping, a stunning day of fresh air and the super moon looming over Cuverville Island. In the distance we heard some “Antarctic Thunder”, a falling cornice became an avalanche. Then night.

At certain points some of us found ourselves waking up at dawn to listen to orchestral music and watch the first light strike the glacial fjords. Indoors, the Ocean Endeavour was brimming with talented and interesting people, and stepping outside presented this unbelievable world, Antarctica, and everything that represented to us. Some people said they wanted to check off a bucket list item, some came for nature photography, and others couldn’t quite put it into words.

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We re-crossed the Drake Passage and disembarked at the very tip of Argentina in the charming town of Ushuaia. It is known as the “End of the World”, but that is only if you’re arriving from the north. Reflecting on where we had been, it was more like the beginning.

To learn more about  South America Travel News please visit their website

5 Things You Should Try in Belize

Of all the places I’ve visited in the last few years, Belize may have surprised me the most. The beautiful natural scenery, uninhibited adventure, incredibly friendly people and more-than-reasonable prices made this Central American paradise one of my favorite destinations. I only spent a week in Belize, but I made the most of the experience. If you only have a short time to visit, here are five things I highly recommend doing in Belize.

  • ATM Tour

The Actun Tunichil Muknal (ATM) Cave Tour is one of the most incredible experiences I’ve had while traveling. This cave, located in the Cayo District near San Ignacio, is one of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites in the country. There are several skeletal remains, calcified ceramics and artifacts throughout the cave. In order to reach them, however, you need to do some walking, swimming and climbing.

Let me preface this by saying that I’ve done cave tours before, but nothing quite like this. In the U.S., and many other countries, caves are equipped with lighted walkways, bridges and railings to keep people safe and dry. Not in Belize. We swam in water up to our necks, climbed along limestone and squeezed through tightly spaced rocks, with only the headlights on our helmets to light the way. In order to see the burial site, we had to climb a tall limestone rock face (without the help of a ladder), and pull ourselves up to a ledge.

Despite it being a challenge, the ATM tour is something I encourage everyone to try. The physical aspect makes you appreciate what’s at the end of the journey. The caves reveal an ancient world and a way of life we could never truly understand. Even though I was drenched at the end of it, I loved how natural an experience it was, without anything man-made obstructing the beauty of the cave.

  • Mayan Ruins

There are a number of ruins and temples sprinkled around the western portion of Belize. You really can’t go wrong with whichever one you choose to visit. We picked Xunantunich, which means “maiden of the rock” and is located close to the Guatemalan border. We arrived early in the morning—and I would highly recommend this in order to avoid a lot of crowds and get some good pictures without a lot of photo bombers. As we walked amid the ruins, a heavy fog hung over the moss-covered stone temples. It was eerie, yet serene. From the trees, we could hear the load, haunting calls of howler monkeys as they leaped from branch to branch. After the sun burned off most of the fog, we climbed up to the top of the highest ruin (133 feet), where we had a gorgeous view of the jungle and neighboring Guatemala. The site includes six major plazas, more than 25 temples and palaces and a small museum where you can learn about the history of Xunantunich.

A few other options to visit include Caracol, located on the western edge of the Maya Mountains within the Chiquibal Forest Preserve; Cahal Pech, which sits on a hill that overlooks San Ignacio and Santa Elena; and Lamanai, one of the largest Maya ceremonial centers, which sits on the banks of the New River Lagoon.

  • Belize Zoo

This was not something we originally thought we would see when we were in Belize. But we were driving from Belize City to San Ignacio, and it was right off the road, so we decided…why not? It was one of the best decisions we made the whole trip.

The Belize Zoo started as a small, backyard zoo in 1983 to house a collection of animals. Soon, it was developed into a 29-acre zoo and education center that exhibits over 170 animals, all native to Belize. The zoo was a great introduction to the animals of this country. It gave us the chance to get closer than I ever imagined we could to some of the most incredible creatures. The Belize Zoo is unlike any in the U.S. The zoos I’m familiar with keep animals a good distance away from people, and they are separated by strong iron fences, cement walls and deep moats. In Belize, animals and people are separated by little more than chicken fence. I was mere feet from monkeys, parrots and even jaguars, but I never felt unsafe.

I know it sounds a little sentimental, but I really did learn a lot at the zoo. It was an educational experience, and one I would do again in a heartbeat. Plus, it’s incredibly affordable, only $15 for adults and $5 for kids.

  • The Local Fare and the Local Beer

Belize is known for both its fresh seafood and its local brew: Belikin. Even if you aren’t a beer fan, try it at least once, because it’s not distributed outside of Central America. The best meals can be found off-the-beaten path. The one time we picked a restaurant that was along the main thoroughfare, we were disappointed with the food and the service (and it was much more expensive than other options). Speak to the locals and ask them for the best place to eat. Our second night in San Ignacio, we followed the recommendation of our guide and went to a place called Cenaida’s, hidden on a quiet street away from the bustle of the city center. We dined on coconut curried fish, complete with a super fresh and well-seasoned fillet, coconut flavored rice, black beans and vegetables. Simple, but delicious. Two meals and four Belikins, all for under $25. There are many of these eateries throughout Belize, you just have to do a little searching to find them.

  • Snorkel in the Belize Barrier Reef

Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996, the Belize Barrier Reef straddles the coast and is protected by the country’s reserve system. The Belize Reef is a 190-mile long section that is part of the 560-mile Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, which is the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef. Popular among snorkelers and scuba divers, the reef provides a diverse underwater landscape that includes walls, pinnacles and reef flats, and is home to hundreds of coral and fish species.

The islands of Belize are the best launching point for a snorkel expedition. We started from Caye Caulker, a small island located about 20 miles northeast of Belize City. There were a number of companies on the island offering snorkeling tours, and we organized ours through the hotel since it was a convenient option and the company they use was highly recommended. The tour ran about 3 hours, and we made three stops along the reef.

The first stop, the local reef, introduced us to many of the local species that call the reef home. I can’t even recall how many kinds of fish and crustaceans we saw, but with every turn of my head, our guide was pointing out something new. The next stop was the Coral Garden where we could explore on our own and see the diversity of the coral structures. The last stop was Shark and Ray Alley, where the guides tossed food into the water to attract dozens of sharks and stingrays. I was reluctant to get in the water, for fear of being bit or stung, but the guides assured me that they would not attack, and as long as I kept my distance from the stingray tails, I would be fine. I was still very nervous, but I’m glad I experienced it—as short lived as it was.

Longer snorkeling tours will take you to the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, where you may be lucky enough to see Manatees. Check with the operators to see what tour options they have to make sure you find the right one for you.

A quick note: If you’re a scuba diver, the most famous dive site in Belize is the Blue Hole. It’s over 900 feet across and just over 400 feet deep, with a diverse collection of fish, sharks and corals. Dive depth is usually 130 feet, which gives you a decent view of the coral formations and a good opportunity to see reef sharks. If you’re just looking to snorkel, I would not advise going to the Blue Hole.

These were true highlights of my trip, and are just a few of the many things you can do in Belize. When I go back, I hope to explore more of the Southern portions of the country, including Santa Cruz, Placencia, Payne’s Creek National Park, and Punta Gorda, among others.

If you’re been to Belize, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the best places to visit and things to do!

To learn more about Vanessa, please visit her website Hops on the Road

The Many Sides of Malta

When my husband and I started planning our honeymoon, we decided we wanted to go somewhere different; somewhere that wasn’t a typical honeymoon destination. I chose Croatia and he picked Malta. Both uncommon, both unique and both filming locations for Game of Thrones (yes, we are big GoT fans).

Croatia had been on my bucket list for a long time, but to be completely honest, Malta had never really crossed my mind. It’s a little surprising, too, considering I have family from Malta, and many of them still vacation there during the summer.

As a result, I was a little unfamiliar with the country, with the exception of the Knights of Saint John and the Maltese Falcon. For many people, those are probably the only things they associate with Malta, too. But there is so much more to this small, yet significant island nation.

View of Malta from the plane

View of Malta from the plane

Malta is a collection of islands in the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast. The country consists of three islands: Malta, Gozo and Comino. Its location has given it strategic advantages over the years, and it has been ruled by many different powers, including the Romans, the Moors, Sicilians, Phoenicians, French, British and Spanish. All of these civilizations left their marks on the islands.

It’s this wide range of cultural influences, combined with the striking medieval architecture and some of the oldest known structures in the world that have led people to call the islands an open-air museum.

Due to the relatively small size of the country, we had the chance to explore a lot of the islands in a short period of time. Despite being small, Malta manages to deliver a varying degree of landscapes and cities, each extraordinarily different from the others.

Small Towns and Beaches

While Valletta may be considered the main attraction in Malta, the villages and towns of the islands play a huge role in the country’s cultural landscape. Each village is defined its unique character.

We had the pleasure of staying in my uncle’s flat in St. Paul’s Bay, one of Malta’s largest seaside villages. Named after the Apostle, St. Paul’s Bay started as a small fishing village nestled in an alcove. It offers wonderful open sea views and a subtle yet active nightlife. The flat is located right on the water, and it was lovely to enjoy a cup of coffee and locally made pastries while sitting on the patio overlooking the bay.

St. Paul’s Bay – view from our flat

St. Paul’s Bay – view from our flat

During the summer, St. Paul’s Bay is bustling with activity, mostly from foreigners coming in for summer vacation. We visited in mid-September, when things are much more quiet and peaceful. We thought it was a little odd that the streets were practically empty in the evenings, but at the same time it was nice not having to deal with crowds of people.

We had our pick of restaurants, no reservations needed and no wait time. Our favorite meal was at La Buona Trattoria Del Nonno. We sat out in the garden, next to a small gold fountain. They offered us a complimentary appetizer and prosecco, and it really set the tone for a great evening. Steve ordered the Fish & Chips, a house specialty, while I had the Ravioli di Casa. Yes, we were pretty boring with our orders, but the menu is full of fresh pasta, seafood and char grilled meats for those feeling a little more adventurous.

 

 

My family also recommended the 1930’s Carpentry Wine Bar. While we didn’t make it there, we passed it a couple times going to and from the flat, and it looked absolutely adorable. It’s housed in a traditional Maltese dwelling that was once used as a coffee shop, and now it’s filled with old carpentry tools and machinery dating to the industrial revolution. I would recommend it for sure, despite not actually eating there myself.

The village is very walkable, but the streets are pretty narrow in spots, and they do drive on the opposite side of the road. We had to keep reminding each other which side of the road we needed to be on to catch the bus. Malta’s bus system is very intricate and easy to use; you can pretty much get anywhere you need to go by taking a bus (or walking).

On the coast of St. Paul’s Bay, you can visit the Parish Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, built in 1617 and carefully restored after being heavily damaged in World War II. Near the parish is the Wignacourt Tower, built during Grand Master Alof de Wignacourt’s reign. It houses a small museum showcasing Malta’s military and architectural heritage. If you have time, you can take a boat over to St. Paul’s island, where legend has it that the Apostle was shipwrecked.

A short walk (or bus ride) from St. Paul’s Bay is Bugibba and Qawra, two of the islands main resorts. We didn’t make our way over to these coastline gems until our last day in Malta, and it’s a real shame we didn’t. These resort towns are brimming with shops, restaurants and activities, as well as significantly more people. The seaside promenade features a pool, basketball court, playgrounds and carnival-style games and rides. We had a quick lunch in Bugibba Square, where a majority of people were also dining, and then ended our experience with a visit to Sottozero gelato factory for some delicious creamy dessert.

Our first full day in Malta was spent on the other side of the island from St. Paul’s Bay in the village of Manikata, known for its beaches. The beaches here are all situated in bays carved out of the cliffs by the rough currents. The most well-known beach is Golden Bay, one of the few sandy beaches on the coast of Malta. There is a smaller beach to the east of Golden Bay, called Ghajn Tuffieha Bay, which means Apple’s Spring. We heard about it from the driver who took us from the airport to the flat, and she highly recommended it. We actually opted for Golden Bay, despite it being larger and more crowded.

We rented beach chairs and an umbrella for a nominal fee, and spent the afternoon lazing in the sun, catching up on our reading and toeing the water to cool off. There’s a café right next to the water, where you can order snacks and smoothies, or you can head up the hill a little way to a restaurant that serves larger meals and drinks. We ordered a pizza to share and a couple pints of Cisk, a local Maltese beer (not the best I’ve ever had, but we had to try it). We watched as the sun crept closer to the top of the water, shimmering with the last remnants of the sun’s rays.

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Another adventure took us to Meridiana Wine Estate and the city of Mdina. We hopped a bus over to Ta’ Qali in the center of Malta, and took a walk to the winery. It was late in the day, but we hoped they would still have tours or a tasting we could enjoy. With half an hour to spare until they closed, the woman at the front desk told us tours were finished for the day, but since we were the only ones there, she would be happy to give us a mini tour and tasting. What hospitality!

We tried sips of the Astarte (a white wine Vermentino of Malta), Baltis(Moscato), Isis (chardonnay), Nexus (merlot), and Melqart (Cabernet Sauvignon & Merlot blend). I’m a big fan of red wines, but the whites really won me over here. They were crisp, with some floral and citrusy flavors. Since we knew we wouldn’t be able to find these wines in the U.S., we decided to pick up a couple bottles before we left.

We took a way-longer-than-expected trudge from the winery over to Mdina (not something I would recommend doing). The ancient walled city was once the capital of Malta, and was home to the country’s noble families. Today, it still possesses a timeless ambiance, as if the world moved on without it, leaving it to flourish in quiet solitude. As we walked amid the impressive homes, the streets were empty. We wondered if we missed the memo that the city was actually closed.

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We did see some small groups here and there, visiting St, Paul’s Cathedral, poking in and out of shops, but for the most part, it was pretty quiet. Walking through the narrow streets, I definitely understood why the city was used as the setting for King’s Landing during the first season of Game of Thrones. Maybe it was the lack of activity—or the agonizing trek to get there—but I wasn’t that impressed with Mdina. However, it is definitely worth visiting, especially for medieval history buffs and architecture enthusiasts.

Big Cities

Known as the Fortress City, Valletta is Malta’s capital, the heart of the island’s commercial industry. Built by the Knights of St. John in the mid-1500s, the so-called “city built by gentlemen for gentlemen” has become a World Heritage City and is one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world.

Outer wall of Valletta – It’s clear to see why it’s called the Fortress City

Outer wall of Valletta – It’s clear to see why it’s called the Fortress City

A stark contrast from the area of Malta where we were staying, Valletta is abundant with both people and attractions. The moment we walked through the main entrance of the city, we were inundated with shops, restaurants, museums, historical buildings and more.

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It was tough to decide where to start first, and after grabbing some much needed caffeine and sustenance from a nearby café, we made our way to St. John’s co-Cathedral & museum.

We felt it was a good place to start, considering the city has such a strong tie to the Knights of St. John. We paid €8 each for the entrance fee (it now costs €10) and a handheld audio guide that conveniently led us through the church and its many significant rooms and altars. Ladies be warned, if you’re wearing shorts, a dress or any shirt that shows your bare shoulders, you will need to use the shawls and wraps provided at the entrance to cover your shoulders and knees. I looked incredibly fashionable, let me tell you.

The inside of the cathedral is incredibly beautiful, with intricate carved stone and painted high ceilings. The chapels were the most impressive, each of them dedicated to the patron saints of the Order’s eight langues and one for Our Lady of Philermos. The audio tour provides an extensive background for all of the chapels, which helped me understand the artistic depictions and symbols in each.

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral

St. John’s Co-Cathedral – altar

St. John’s Co-Cathedral – altar

After completing the audio tour (and browsing around in the gift shop), we left the Cathedral and walked down Merchant Street, filled with bars, restaurants and a flea market. We wandered over to Fort St. Elmo, and strolled along the waters edge, taking in the surrounding areas, before arriving at the Lower Barracca Garden and admiring the Siege Bell Memorial. This is what I love about Valletta, it’s so easy to walk around the city.

Siege Bell Memorial

Siege Bell Memorial

We grabbed a quick lunch at a place down a small street, almost hidden from the crowded main streets. If you’re visiting, keep your eye out for these hole-in-the-wall eateries—fewer people, great food and affordable! We spent a few more hours exploring the city. We visited St. George’s Square, located in front of the Main Guard Building and the Grand Masters Palace, and cooled off in the blasts of water shooting up from the stones. We took in views of the Grand Harbour as we sat in the Upper Barracca Garden, where I found my Grandma’s maiden name carved into a stone plaque—a sign perhaps?

I picked up a few souvenirs—a ceramic cross of the Knights of St. John, a Maltese Falcon statue, and some Maltese candies—before we headed to the bus terminal outside the city walls.

Natural Wonders of Gozo

Since one of the main reasons we selected Malta was because it was a filming location for Game of Thrones, we knew we had to visit Gozo and its iconic Azure Window. (This is the setting for the Dothraki Wedding in Season 1.) Just a 25-minute ferry ride from Malta, Gozo definitely should not be missed. It is filled with incredible architecture and UNESCO world heritage sites, not to mention some unbelievable naturally formed structures and caves waiting to be explored.

We didn’t rent a car, so we decided to do one of the hop-on, hop-off bus tours. We figured this was the best way to see most of the island, get some useful background and information about Gozo, and ultimately reach the Azure Window. Along the way, we stopped at the Xewkija Rotunda Church, the city of Victoria and St. George’s Basilica, a shopping village filled with all kinds of artisan crafts, before finally reaching San Lawrenz and Dwejra Bay, home of the Azure Window.

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This flat-topped rock arch reaches naturally over the sea. The geography was created thousands of years ago after two limestone caves buckled. Now, it’s a breathtaking sight that draws hundreds of visitors every day. We stood on the shore, navigating through shallow pools of clear water that had carved homes in the rock. It is the kind of place where you can just sit, perfectly content, listening to the waves and watching the blue water foam up against the rock.

Next to the Azure Window is the Inland Sea, a small lake connected to the Mediterranean Sea by a narrow tunnel. This is a very popular dive sight, and is also a docking place for fishermen. We wandered over to the Inland Sea, and settled on the stony beach, next to several fishermen huts and boats. It was the perfect place to cool off from the heat, and we took a quick swim in the cool water before heading to the nearby restaurant for a nice lunch.

On the way back to the ferry, we stopped at the Giants’ Tower, a megalithic temple. We heard good things about it, and figured it would be worth a visit. I consider myself a history enthusiast, but I wasn’t that impressed with the complex. The temples are basically crumbling structures, filled with rubble and the occasional rock formation that shows some form of civilization created this. I’m not sure it was worth money to visit, but I can now proudly say that I have been to the world’s second oldest manmade religious structure. These temples are even older than the pyramids of Egypt, so I guess that’s pretty cool.

My experience in Malta reinforced the knowledge that every destination brings different elements to the table. You can explore a metropolitan city one day, walk through small towns and farmland the next, and finish the adventure at a naturally formed spectacle. Malta exposed me to a different world, one of immensely deep history, stunning architecture, entertaining culture and peaceful beaches. It’s a place worth visiting, and one I hope to return to very soon.

To learn more about Vanessa, please visit her website Hops on the Road

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

My husband and I just reached our goal of hitting 50 countries by entering Prague! We are absolutely obsessed with Europe, and this city checked off all the boxes of things we love about Europe. From it's ancient architecture, delectable cuisine, and great night life. Here are some recommendations on what to do when in Prague! 

Where to Stay: We stayed in a very convenient and safe hotel, the Golden Deer. It was a very big room compared to most European hotels. It had high ceilings and even a large jacuzzi tub! A large buffet breakfast was included. The best part was it was just a short block away from the main square. 

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If there happens to be a soccer game on this is a great cultural experience to witness. We were fortunate enough to be in Prague when the Euro 2016 final was being played. It was so fun to go to the bar surrounded by people from all over the world cheering like mad! 

 

What to do: The main attraction to Prague is  it's beautiful buildings including the St. Vitus Cathedral, Astronomical clock, the Charles Bridge, Jewish district and the Prague Castle. You can view the city by foot, cruise, horse and carriage, or old fashioned convertible!  

Check out the art! Pictured to the left is the famous Lennon wall who history is fascinating read more about it here. Check out the Beneficial Brick Exchange which is a cool display of painted blocks that you can contribute to to help people with special needs pictured below. There are also a plethora of strange statues to view in Prague including the Franz Kafka statue. 

What to eat: We enjoyed splitting a typical meat platter that included bratwurst, dumplings, duck and chicken surrounded by very flavorful sauerkraut.  Your typical Italian food was also very common, I had parmesan spinach gnocchi which was delicious! A famous desert in Prague is the Trdelnik which is basically ice cream on a donut cone. Now why didn't I think of making that?!

Side note: You do not need to dress up at night clubs here - I was clearly overdressed in this pic. Just pull on some shorts and a shirt and sandals and you are good to go! 

Where is the nightlife: Prague has a plethora of night clubs. One of my favorites being the famous Karlovy Lazne. This club has 5 floors with something new and fun on each one including hip hop, dance music, oldies, chill music, and even a floor with an oxygen bar and ice bar! Be prepared to wait in line on the weekends, and by line I mean a couple hours! Or just come early on a Sunday (and by early I mean 11 since clubs stay open all night) and beat the rush! 

To learn more about Jenny, please visit her website Adventures are out there 

SONEVA KIRI: THE BEST WAY TO BEAT JET LAG

If you are travelling to Southeast Asia from North America, you will have to contend with a few days of jet lag-induced disorientation. The best way to soften the blow and adjust for the adventure ahead is to treat yourself to a stay at the eco-luxury resort Soneva Kiri

Sprawled over a bluff and beach on the island of Koh Kood, 350 kilometres southeast of Bangkok and 80 km off the Thai mainland, Soneva Kiri is great for couples and multi-generational families. It could serve as base to start your exploration of Thailand, Cambodia, including the magnificent temple city of Angkor Wat, Myanmar and Vietnam. Or it could also be your pampering reward after an active itinerary of biking or hiking through the region.

Like all the Soneva resorts, this one espouses the “Slowlife” philosophy – embracing sustainability, social responsibility, local buying, wellness and engaging experiences. It recycles waste, conserves water, preserves local environments (including the fragile marine ecosystem), grows organic food and also buys its meat, vegetables, fruits and seafood from local farmers and fishermen.

The adventure begins after landing in Thailand. You reach Soneva Kiri via a private flight from Bangkok or Siem Reap, and then taking a short boat ride to the fourth largest island in Thailand and the resort with its “rustic-chic” design, with recycled wood, including poles reminiscent of the stilts of local fishing villages. When signing in, you get your own electric buggy to transverse the custom-built pathways connecting the sprawling resort. And more importantly, you are introduced to your own personal concierge.

All accommodations are well-appointed luxury villas, ranging from one to six bedrooms, with both beachside villas and ones perched on the cliff.  Each spacious villa has its own pool, outdoor showers and bathtubs with all-natural bath products, iPod music systems with speakers place strategically throughout the compound, TVs with DVD libraries and more.

While the resort sits on a beach, the  bay here is a bit shallow. But a short shuttle boat ride takes you to a lovely white sand, private beach on the south side of the island, where you can indulge in watersports, such as kayaking, sailboarding, waterskiing and wake-boarding.

You can also take guided snorkelling trips to reefs teaming with colourful sealife or go to one of two-dozen dive sites (some 30 meters deep) in Koh Chang National Park.

There are, of course, great restaurants throughout the resort. For example, you can cruise through the mangroves of Klong Yai Kee to the open-air lantern-lit Benz’s restaurant, perched on stilts. Talented chef Khun Benz offers signature Thai cuisine with an ever-changing nine-course dinner menu only using ingredients grown on Koh Kood and neighbouring Koh Chang.

Or there is the The View, which takes its name from its sweeping outlook from its cantilevered location at the top of the cliff. Its bistro menu pairs fresh local produce with Western cooking techniques.

Among the other resort eating choices, one of our favourites is Treepod dining, where you enter a bamboo pod and are winched six meters in the air. While full meals are available, we went for the decadent but life-affirming Champagne Tea. From our view on high we enjoyed panoramas of the ocean and rainforest, while our waiter used a zip line with athletic prowess to retrieve our drinks and edibles from ground level.

Soneva Kiri’s Six Senses Spa really blew me away. Very unique and innovative. You can sit down first with a wellness practitioner – who is both versed in Western medicine and Ayurvedic practices from India – for a consultation, looking at the state of your health and giving you a suite of treatments to try at the spa. It’s a customized regimen that you can continue at other Six Senses Spas in the region or when you go home.

Soneva  Kiri is a great way to start a trip in Southeast Asia. But watch out, you might find it hard to leave when the time comes.

Natahsa Rhodes specializes in creating adventurous travel experiences for her clients. As a lover of experimental travel herself, Natasha has always taken the road less traveled. As a travel advisor with more than a decade of experience, Natasha specializes in creating one-of-a-kind experiences for a discriminating clientele of world travelers. To learn more about Natasha, please visit her website Rhodes Less Travelled  or contact her at natasha@rhodeslesstravelled.com

 

 

A Day Trip South of Anchorage

There are many beautiful drives near Anchorage, but the Seward Highway has to be one of the most stunning as it winds alongside the waters of Turnagain Arm off the Cook Inlet. The Seward Highway is a National Scenic Byway connecting Anchorage and Seward and the perfect way to spend a day if you want to squeeze a variety of unique Alaska experiences into a day trip from Anchorage.

From Anchorage you should hit the open road early, grab a coffee at one of the many coffee huts Anchorage is famous for, and head down the Seward Highway (AK-1) South.  The entire drive from Anchorage to Seward is two and a half hours so for a quick day trip a good option is to take your time driving to the Portage area about one hour south of Anchorage and enjoy some of these stops along the way before you turn around and head back to Anchorage. 

Must-See Stops!

Potter Marsh: Mile 115.6

This wildlife refuge is just south of Anchorage and worth a quick stop to take in the views of the marsh and your first look at Turnagain Arm – the inlet that you’ll be driving along as you continue down the highway.  From the boardwalks at the marsh you can see many different birds and depending on the season may even find some salmon swimming in the streams below you!

Beluga Point: Mile 110.5

As you continue down the highway past Potter Marsh and start to round the bend to really get into Turnagain Arm you’ll come across Beluga Point, named after the whales that can often be spotted from this point in July and August. It’s worth a photo stop anytime though to take in the views. Be sure to also turn around and look at the mountain behind you to see if there are any Dall Sheep climbing around!

Scenic Viewpoints

You’ll pass a lot of scenic viewpoints along the way with room to pullover and snap a photo. Seward Highway is a moderately windy two-lane road so the last thing you want to be is distracted trying to take a photo and drive.  Focus on the road and take advantage of these opportunities to safely pull over and take it all in. Keep an eye out for eagles in the trees and along the edge of Turnagain Arm.

Girdwood: Mile 90

The town of Girdwood has enough activities to have a trip of it’s own, but if you’re passing through a fun stop is at the Girdwood Bake Shop for their famous sweet rolls (cinnamon rolls) and to check out the unbelievable flowers they have out front in the summer.

If you’re taking advantage of that Midnight Sun giving you extra daylight hours to squeeze a hike in you can try Lower Winner Creek Trail (http://www.alaska.org/detail/winner-creek-trail) from the Hotel Alyeska in Girdwood. It’s a fun and easy 3-mile forest hike that includes wooden bridges, some seasonal berry picking opportunities, and ends at a hand tram across a gorge!  Yes, you get to pull yourself across a gorge in a tram using a rope.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center: Mile 79

Once you’re back on the road from Girdwood head on towards the Alaska Wildlife Center. On the way you may notice there are a lot of dead trees sticking out of the ground in this area. These ghost forests are remnants from the 1964 earthquake that dropped the land here up to 12 feet in some areas exposing the trees to saltwater that both killed and preserved them.

Chances are you may have already seen some Alaska wildlife on your drive today, but in case you’d like to have some guaranteed wildlife viewing the conservation center offers exceptional opportunities to see moose, bears, caribou, and many other Alaskan animals up-close. The center shelters animals that were injured or orphaned and works to restore native wildlife populations by reintroducing Elk and Wood Bison into the Alaska wild.

Portage Glacier: Mile 78

It’s not a trip to Alaska without visiting a glacier! At Portage Junction at Mile 78 head towards Portage Lake and take a short boat road to see Portage Glacier. They can sometimes accommodate walk-up bookings but it’s best to make a reservation ahead of time to make sure you don’t miss out (http://www.portageglaciercruises.com/).

Delphia McCarty is the owner of McCarty Creative Strategies and brings 10 years experience in marketing and digital media for tourism, with an emphasis on Alaska Tourism. She is also the National Manager of Exclusive Benefits for Millennials in Travel. To learn more about Alaska and Delphia's services, please contact her at hello@mccartystrategies.com

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

This is one of our favorite places. Not just, oh that was a fun trip. It was more like when can we move? Our first time was a a very laid back trip. We stayed in a hostel that was surrounded with monkey families, spent our days surfing, and the nights chowing down tacos and guacamole, and enjoying the shopping and bars in town. We fell in love with it's laid back lifestyle. We recently went back with my family and partook in a very adventurous tour! Although I would consider this city has a younger vibe it is perfect for singles, couples, families or retirees. It was the perfect way to experience all that Costa Rica has to offer. 

Where to stay:

  • Hostels - There are many hostels to choose from in this small town as it is a meca for young travelers. We personally stayed in Hostel Chocolate in a private room. This hostel had it's own pool, and was surrounded with monkeys, and was very inexpensive. 
  • Air Bnb - When traveling with a group of 6 it can be hard to figure out where to stay. We were fortunate enough to find 3 bed/2 bath condo right in the heart of the city that had a shared pool and was a short walk to the beach. Not to mention is was very affordable. 
  • Hotel - Capitan Suizo is a boutique hotel right on the beach known for it's howler monkeys on property. Besides the monkeys it's a generally a quiet hotel. It has a beach front restaurant right on property which is open for all meals, a spa, and you can even stay in your own bungalow. 

What to do

  • Surfing - Tamarindo is a great location to learn how to surf for around $20 a day - I recommend bringing, purchasing, or borrowing from the surf board rentals, a long sleeve surf shirt. This is not only to protect you from the sun, but also your surf board as it can cause rashes on your skin.
  • Adventurous Tour - No Costa Rica trip is complete without an adventure. I recommend the Bueno Vista combo tour. It includes zip lining, horeback riding, white water rafting and hot springs and it's all done at a canyon just 1 hour away from Tamarindo. You can simply purchase these tours from the locals on the beach or through one of the many tour stands throughout the city. Or if you are a planner book it through your travel agent or online with Anywhere Costa Rica tour company.  
  • Turtle Nesting tours -  The best time to see this is April - November. There are nighttime tours in which you can either witness the hard work the mother puts into digging her nest in the sand, or the hatching of the cute little baby turtles. 
  • Sunsets - Tamarindo has beautiful sunsets over the beach, grab a spot on one of the many restaurants located on the beach for your viewing pleasure.

Transportation

  • Shuttle or taxi - Tamarindo is approximately one hour from the Liberia Airport via shuttle which is approximately $20 per person but you can also use your bargaining skills. 
  • City bus - If you have the time and wanna go for a cheaper $2 option you can experience a little culture by taking the city bus. My husband and I did this the first time we went and it was kind of fun. It took about 2 hours on bumpy back roads, we were literally the only tourists, someone brought a chicken on the bus, but in the end we thought it was a really fun cultural experience getting to see all the little towns along the way untouched by tourists. 

When to go

  • Best time to travel: November - May
  • Best value: June - October 

Jenny Schultz is an Elite Service Agent for MLT Vacations and serves as the Officer of Events for the Minneapolis/St.Paul Millennials in Travel chapter. Jenny has visited over 45 countries and counting! Follow along on her own blog, Adventures Are Out There

Paragliding, Rocking and Eating My Way Through the Alps

Over dinner one evening, a fellow Francophile told me about a peculiar party in the French Alps—one that involved skiing, wine and live bands playing rock, reggae and pop on the slopes. I'm a sucker for music festivals and all things French. So yeah, the annual Rock the Pistes music festival, sounded pretty hard to miss. 

Past performers of Rock the Pistes include reggae legend Lee "Scratch" Perry, Klaxons and Babyshambles with frontman Pete Doherty (formerly of The Libertines). For me, the highlights of the most recent edition of the festival were Belgium's own Selah Sue and London singer-songwriter, Charlie Winston.

The following video shares the best moments of the free, week-long concert series and gives you a sense of what it's like to hang out and party in the snow.

This year's festival takes place from March 14-19 and includes performances by Two Door Cinema Club and Gotthard, among other musicians. 

Portes du Soleil, the ski resort that plays host to Rock the Pistes, is absolutely massive. In fact, it's billed as one of the largest ski areas in the world, encompassing some 400 square miles. So even if you're not a huge festival person, there are plenty of other ways to get your kicks.

I like to live on the edge a bit. Sometimes, that's the edge of a 6,000-foot cliff. 

Paragliding in the French Alps was one of the most memorable things I did last year. The scenery was incredible, and the introductory lesson was a bargain at approximately $83. I'll never forget this moment, and I'm so glad I had a camera on me to capture my first flight. 

There were quite a few other aspects of my trip to the Alps that blew me away. Perhaps most notable was the cuisine. In the Savoy region of France, the key to any winter meal is melted Abondance cheese — and lots of it. Abondance cheese gets its name from its origins in the Abondance (Abundance) Valley and adheres to strict guidelines to make sure that the geographical area, local cheese-making methods and traditional taste are preserved.

If you like melted cheese, you will be eating it several times during your stay (without apologies) and loving every gooey second of it. I am not joking when I tell you that I purchased a fondue set as soon as I returned home.

In this video, I hand-select my favorite things to see and do while vacationing in the Alps. (Hint: Eating lots of cheese is one of them.)

If you ever make it to the French Alps, please be sure to pour out a little fondue for your homegirl.

Skye Mayring is a travel producer and blogger on a mission to visit 100 countries by 2025. Subscribe to her YouTube channel for weekly travel videos or follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at JoanJetsetter.