Top 10 Bucket List Destinations for 2017

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Trends, new groundbreaking attractions, law changes, and amped tourism campaigns can drastically alter the travel landscape. Although countries like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Singapore have consistently been popular with travellers, there are new “hot” destinations rising to the tops of bucket lists every year.

With over 300 million annual visitors to HotelsCombined, we’ve revealed the  most popular travel destinations, many of which may come as a surprise. From the Netherlands and Greece to Cuba and Saudi Arabia, there’s reason to wonder how some previously underrated destinations have created even greater pulling power than the seemingly “unmissable” travel hotspots.

1. Australia

Located far from the world’s biggest cities, Australia is for many a faraway land with incredibly rare wildlife, attractive beach culture and mesmerising natural landmarks. Travellers are typically drawn in by the country’s culturally rich cities like Sydney and Melbourne, Great Barrier Reef, and iconic Australian Outback. However, it seems two previously secondary destinations are catching travellers’ attentions as of late. According to the Courier Mail, the Northern Territory has seen a 26 per cent increase in Japanese visitors this year with its creative tourism campaigns highlighting unmissable attractions that include crocodile safaris and Nitmiluk National Park. South Australia was also ranked in the top five regions of the world by Lonely Planet this year, partly due to its appealing wine country, produce festivals and uncrowded beaches.

2. United States of America 

Although there’s been a slight drop in US visitors, this premier travel destination is still one of the most popular around the world. For years people have seen this country as the “Land of Opportunity”, where it’s possible to surf and ski on the same day in California, cruise the Mississippi on a riverboat in New Orleans, or dine among A-list celebrities in New York. It’s not just the main cities like Los Angeles or Miami attracting travellers, as The Telegraph recently highlighted Philadelphia, Austin and Charleston as new favoured destinations.

3. Greece

Greece has weathered the storm of its economic crisis, pushing back with its booming travel industry. The country lowered the cost of hotels and made sure the travel experience for visitors remained rewarding, attracting people from around the world. To be fair, the rest of the world should’ve never doubted Greece’s pulling power, thanks to its picturesque beaches, historic sights and quaint island towns. In fact, HotelsCombined bookings to Greece increased by more than 17 per cent compared to last year. Popular publications, such as The Huffington Post, also supported the country with numerous articles highlighting reasons to visit Greece, including The Acropolis, Crete and the Ionian Islands.

4. Japan

A holiday destination for all seasons, that’s how many travellers see Japan these days. Cherry blossoms in spring, festivals and fireworks in summer, colourful autumn leaves in autumn, and skiing in winter; Japan is full of fun and adventure year round. Travellers have picked up on this, with a consistent interest for holidays in Japan every month according to HotelsCombined bookings. Lonely Planet also listed Hokkaido, Japan as its top Asian destination for 2017, which isn’t a surprise considering the island is home to snow festivals, heavenly hot springs, vast national parks and eclectic coastal cities.

5. Taiwan

With its hot springs, friendly locals, diverse mountain terrain, eclectic festivals and breathtaking islands, no one could’ve expected Taiwan to remain an under-the-radar destination for long. The country is experiencing a well-earned rise in popularity but remains a very affordable holiday destination. According to local Indian news provider, Zee News, Taiwan has also become more popular with India, the second-largest population in the world, thanks to low-cost airfares with Scoot Airlines and a greater variety of accommodation.

6. United Kingdom 

Interest in the United Kingdom has picked up significantly since Brexit. Britain’s decision to separate from the European Union has made it more affordable to visit the UK now than the last two years. This classic holiday destination is still as incredible and accessible as ever. From Scotland and Northern Ireland to Wales and England, the United Kingdom boasts a range of beautiful nature and historic cities. London is still also one of the most captivating cities for both first-time and experienced travellers, offering Michelin-starred restaurants, world-renowned attractions and unique monarchy culture and history.

7. Malaysia

Lonely Planet just named Perak in its top 10 travel regions for 2017. This widely unheralded region of Malaysia is just one of the many reasons we’ve seen a 26 per cent increase in HotelsCombined bookings to the country. Part of a growing popularity in Asian countries, Malaysia is a cultural melting pot filled with tropical beaches, wildlife sanctuaries and unimaginable cave environments. Tourism Malaysia is also committed to attracting visitors through partnerships with leading airlines and niche tourism experiences such as immersive homestays, according to Travel Daily Media.

8. United Arab Emirates

The United Arab Emirates packs a lot into its small landmass. Dubai and Abu Dhabi may be two of the most opulent cities in the world delivering luxury, adventure and culture unlike anywhere else. In Dubai, visitors can combine world-famous attractions such as Burj Khalifa and the Dubai Mall with skydiving and desert safaris. Abu Dhabi, however, delivers zoos, traditional markets and eco tours. Dubai’s plan to build the world’s biggest theme park by the end of 2016 will officially establish it as the theme park capital of the world, attracting more and more families.

9. Indonesia

Indonesia has had its ups and downs with holidaymakers over the years but has enjoyed relatively consistent popularity recently. One local travel guide attributes this to the country’s diversity. With more than 18,000 islands, including holiday hotspots such as Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia is considered the most varied archipelago on the globe. The Indonesian Rupiah offers travellers a favourable exchange rate, making this an ideal destination for both budget-savvy and luxury-inclined travellers to stretch their dollars. Whether it’s surfing in Bali, diving off Lombok or hiking volcanoes in Sumatra, there’s an affordable holiday for everyone.

10. Thailand

Thailand has recently veered away from promoting its party scene, instead focusing on the delicious street food, immersive railway trips, island excursions and vibrant festivals. However, for most travellers, the biggest reason to visit Thailand is its promise of a cheap and rewarding holiday. In November, Travelers Today highlighted Chiang Mai as one of the best Thai destinations for budget-savvy travellers. Not only can visitors enjoy meditation retreats, visit majestic Buddhist temples or bathe an elephant in an animal sanctuary, they can also purchase meals for less than $1 and stay in top hotels for a bargain price.

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5 Dream Islands to Visit in French Polynesia

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The Islands of Tahiti, officially known as French Polynesia, are a collection of 118 dream islands and coral atolls floating in a vast area of the South Pacific Ocean, roughly the size of Western Europe. Despite their image as an over-the-top luxury destination, the islands offer a wide array of activities for those willing to explore its diverse landscapes. If you’ve ever wondered what paradise might look like and where to book your next stay, let’s discover five of French Polynesia’s finest islands.

Tahiti: the “Queen of the Pacific”

 

Rising out of the depths of the ocean in the shape of a figure-eight, Tahiti is the starting point for any visit to French Polynesia. Begin your visit to paradise with a stroll through the colourful Papeete Market, the capital city’s biggest attraction, as you put all your senses to work while examining exotic local delights such as vanilla, black pearls, taro and seafood. When you’ve had enough of the “big city”, hit the road and explore Tahiti’s coastline, famous for its black sand beaches, ancient Polynesian temples, botanical gardens and legendary surf spots.

To really get a feel for the island, head to its uninhabited mountainous interior on a 4X4 guided trip to the waterfall-laden Papenoo Valley, or set off on a challenging hike through the island’s valleys and peaks. What happens at night? Head to the evening food market in Papeete’s main square for some poisson cru, the territory’s signature dish of raw tuna marinated in coconut milk, lime and veggies.

Where to stay: if you’re looking for the overwater bungalow experience in a luxury setting, nothing beats the Intercontinental Resort Tahiti. For a stay immersed in nature and away from the city, Vanira Lodge is a top choice in the heart of Teahupoo, the surf capital of French Polynesia.

 

Moorea: the “Magical Island”

 

Connected by a ferry from Tahiti, life on Moorea moves at a much slower pace. The island’s star attractions are concentrated on its northern coast, carved by two deep bays which sculpt the island into the shape of a heart. The Belvedere scenic lookout is the best place for a bird’s-eye view of the two bays, your starting point for a number of hikes, or to simply admire the sublime views of the lush Opunohu Valley with its patches of pineapple fields.

Moorea is blessed with an impressive lagoon whose clear waters attract colourful fish of all denominations. Outside the lagoon, scuba divers can get acquainted with sharks, dolphins and whales. You can easily spend a few relaxing days on one the island’s fine white-sand beaches, indulging in watersports, snorkelling and even feeding stingrays. When night falls, head to the Tiki Village for a Polynesian buffet dinner followed by a spectacular fire and dance show.

Where to stay: located on the island’s finest beach in Temae, Sofitel Moorea la Ora Beach Resort is the top luxury choice, while Hotel Fenua Mata’i’oa is loved by those seeking a boutique experience.

 

Bora Bora: the “Romantic Island”

Saved as a computer screensaver around the world, Bora Bora is perhaps the most famous tropical island in the world. With dreamy overwater bungalows sprinkled across its immense lagoon, Bora Bora is the ultimate romantic getaway. Aside from cocktails and massages, there is a lot to see and do on the island, starting with a trip along its coast and up its mountains to enjoy spectacular panoramic views. Here you can also learn about the island’s strategic WWII role, as attested by the rusting remains of large cannons facing the lagoon’s entrance. At night, head to Bloody Mary’s, the preferred dining choice for celebrities visiting the island.

Without a doubt, Bora Bora’s star attraction is its lagoon, best explored on a guided tour of the top sights. On a day you’ll likely never forget, you can swim with sharks, snorkel in pristine coral gardens, feed a few hungry (but friendly) stingrays and enjoy a traditional Tahitian picnic lunch on a tiny island at the very edge of the lagoon.

Where to stay: for the ultimate Bora Bora experience, Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora boasts the finest views of the island’s signature peaks and the highest standard of service. For a more intimate setting, stay at one of only three bungalows at the scenic Rohotu Fare Lodge.

 

Taha’a: the “Vanilla Island”

Sharing the same lagoon as its larger sister Raiatea, Taha’a is a sparsely populated island where time has very little meaning. The island is home to the finest vanilla in the world, grown in small farms deep inside the lush interior. Visitors are welcomed to learn about this sweet cash crop as part of a tour of the island, which also includes a visit to a local black pearl farm and a scenic drive to impressive lookouts where there isn’t much in the way aside from coconut trees.

While the main island is not known for its beach scene, the small islets dotting the edge of Tahaa’s lagoon are home to stereotypically beautiful white-sand beaches and coral gardens for those who wish to snorkel.

Where to stayLe Taha’a Island Resort & Spa is one of the best-kept secrets in French Polynesia, perhaps the reason why so many Hollywood stars choose to go incognito over here. For a down-to-earth stay, Au Phil Du Temps provides that warm Polynesian local touch.

 

Nuku Hiva: the “Real Jurassic Park”

Nuku Hiva is located in the distant Marquesas Islands, one of the most remote island chains on the planet. Here, nature’s elements are free to sculpt the islands as they wish in the absence of a protective coral reef. Centuries of complete isolation from the outside world have created a unique culture in Nuku Hiva that coupled with the island’s dramatic pristine nature have the makings of an unforgettable adventure.

Nuku Hiva’s only town, Taiohae, is located 90 minutes from the tiny airport. En route, awe-stricken new arrivals traverse multiple micro-climates, from alpine to tropical, and make several stops that include an overlook above the South Pacific’s version of the Grand Canyon. Of Nuku Hiva’s many attractions, none are more memorable than the journey to Vaipo Falls, the highest in French Polynesia. After a quick boat ride, hikers enter the rain forest squeezed on both sides by jagged basalt cliffs, the island’s signature feature. After passing ancient temples, stone statues and fruit trees galore, the waterfall comes into view and a mad dash begins to splash in its secret pool at the base.

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The Perfect Iceland Ring Road Itinerary

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Iceland is a land of extremes – extreme weather, landscape, and a complete aloneness that reminded me that I’m a mere human in the palm of mother nature’s hand.

I just couldn’t believe that scenery could really look like that on earth. There were so many waterfalls, we just stopped pointing them out to each other the third day into the drive, and the landscape changed so often, we never got bored.

Keep in mind that when driving the ring road, you’ll want a minimum of seven days to do it. More would be even better and will allow you to see way more of the scenery. I left wishing I’d had a month on that beautiful island.

Day One: Driving to the Highlands

icelandWhat a cool bridge en route to the highlands

There’s no right or wrong direction to head on the ring road. You can go north or south, but we chose to go south first because we were chasing clear skies for a chance to see the northern lights, a plan that paid off. Check the aurora forecast if you’re in Iceland at a time of year when you will have some dark skies (not in the summer time) and plan accordingly.

If you haven’t had a chance to check out Iceland’s golden circle yet, it’s definitely worth the detour and is a great way to start your ring road trip . I’d already had 48 hours in Iceland so I started on the ring road right away, bound for Landmannalaugar in the highlands because the photos of its painted mountains looked spectacular.

We spent that day almost entirely in the car, mostly because the rain and wind were so heavy that I was terrified – honestly, terrified – to step outside for longer than a minute. Plus, driving on the 4×4 roads at 10-20km/hour takes a lot of time.

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The road on the F-208

Even though we spent most of the day in the car, it was still an awesome day as the scenery was pretty incredible. We started to question if we had accidentally ended up on another planet when we came to the part of the road pictured above, which looks like a black and white photo but in reality, the landscape was black as far as the eye could see.

If you don’t have a 4×4 but still want to see the highlands, tours depart daily from Reykjavik and will take you to the same place, though you won’t have the freedom to stop for photos when you want to along the way.

Map: Landmannalaugar

Camp: The wind and rain were so scary strong that day that the road to the campgrounds closed due to flooding (check road closures here), so we had to find a dead end to hole up in until the morning. This was fine given nobody was crazy enough to drive that road in that weather in the dark, and the nice camper van had heating and kitchenette. After a cup of whiskey to chase the fear away I slept like a baby – rocking back and forth in the (strong as h$@l) wind. I’ve heard great things about the whole F-208 road, but unfortunately due to flooding and closures, we couldn’t go any further than Landmannalaugar and never got to check out the camp 30km away.

Day Two: Landmannalaugar Hike and Drive to Seljalandsfoss

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Hiking In Landmannalaugar – Iceland’s Highlands

I awoke to snowy surroundings and thanked the universe for letting me live through the previous night’s storm. Landmannalaugar is a great place to hike for an hour or two, though one could do so for days or even weeks, so we explored a bit, eager to see the mountains that looked like painted hills.

Landmannalaugar
The partially hidden mountains

Hiking around took half of the day while retracing our steps and heading back to the ring road filled the other. We spent most of it jumping over about two dozen freezing streams of water across the valley and finding a waterfall, only to lose the trail in the snow and jump right back over them to head back to the starting point.

Landmannalaugar
The Waterfall

Our goal for the rest of the afternoon was to thaw out, dry off, and make it to Seljalandsfoss for an AM viewing of the waterfall, especially since sunrise there is particularly famous.

Technically, I didn’t really start driving the actual ring road in the daytime until day three. But my, what a dazzling introduction it turned out to be.

MapSeljalandsfoss

Camp: There’s a great little campsite right next to Seljalandsfoss. Highly recommended if you’d like to catch the sunrise at the falls!

Day Three: Skógafoss, Fjaðrárgljúfur, and the Black Waterfall

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Second morning shower at Seljalandsfoss

Waking up to a massive waterfall is an excellent way to start the day, and I simply can’t believe I hadn’t tried it until hitting Iceland. I suppose I can credit that to few opportunities, but everyone should do it at least once!

Seljalandsfoss is popular with tourists, so don’t expect to get it to yourself, and you will get wet if you want to get behind it for photos. We didn’t get a sunrise that day thanks to the clouds. That said, it is impressive, and the drive from there to Skógafoss is delightful, punctuated with tons of waterfalls and green misty mountains.

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Loved the drive!

Skógafoss

Skógafoss
Skógafoss

Skógafoss is also popular with tourists thanks to its massive flow and relative proximity to Reykjavik. It’s very close to the ring road and worth a quick photo stop.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that we saw hundreds of waterfalls streaming from green cliff edges and volcanic basalt columns throughout the drive. I kept wondering to myself how one waterfall could be more famous than another considering there must be thousands, no exaggeration, all across Iceland. There are tons that you’ll pass during the trip that would all be famous if they existed in other countries. But in Iceland, waterfalls are a dime a dozen.

Fjaðrárgljúfur

Fjaðrárgljúfur
Fjaðrárgljúfur is too cool (and seriously, it got a little scary sitting there once I processed that I was dangling on a cliff edge – a very real cliff edge)
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Fjaðrárgljúfur from below

I got the inspiration to visit Fjaðrárgljúfur, along with most of the other places we stopped at, from a combination of looking around Instagram for suggestions and consulting a big picture book that my buddy Maksim brought (which was in German, but there’s a similar English version here). For us, the easiest way to pick and choose was visually. If one of us enthusiastically said, “Wow, I really want to go there!” we added it to the itinerary if we could possibly fit it.

FjaðrárgljúfurFjaðrárgljúfur from the other side

Fjaðrárgljúfur is a canyon that is 100 m deep and about 2 km long and was likely created during the last ice age. I dug it because it gave me multiple opportunities to be really foolish and hang around the edge of things, something I have a habit of doing (which, if you watch my snapchat with any regularity, you already know: @krislikewhaat).

There were tons of places to stop along the drive, so we did just that, enjoying our first day of sunshine. Next thing I knew, we rounded a curve and there was a giant glacier, and stretching out from under it, a black sand sea that stretched onwards for miles to the horizon.

The Ring Road
A random stop along the Ring Road
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The first peek of a glacier
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Not mad about that gorgeous waterfall and the fall leaves!
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Svartifoss adorned in gold

Maksim asked me what I’d do if I saw northern lights over the glacier lagoon that night as I frowned at the cloud cover above. I told him I could die happy if that happened and an hour later, he called me outside and there they were:

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Struggled with the focus here but as you’ll see later in the post my photography improved 😉

Maps: SkógafossFjaðrárgljúfur, the Black Waterfall (Svartifoss), Jökulsárlón Iceberg lagoon

Camp: We arrived at the Jökulsárlón Iceberg lagoon just after dark and were worried when we didn’t see any camping options. Luckily after checking their website it turned out camping is allowed in a contained camper van or RV. Score!

Day Four: The Eastern Fjords

Maksim and I woke up to a glorious sunrise. It was the first we’d seen in days due to the rain but it made up for the inclement weather in the highlands when a rainbow arced down to the glacier lagoon.

The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
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The rainbow

This was a big driving day for us. There was a lot that we wanted to see in the north and the aurora forecast looked bleak due to cloud cover everywhere with the exception of a spot over 445km away. We wanted to see them again and figured it was our best chance. We turned out to be happily, gloriously correct.

The Eastern Fjords are lovely, and I suggest stopping whenever you see something beautiful for a photo or even taking little detours from the ring road for some of the coastal towns. We didn’t feel we had time for that (as it was we barely made it back to Reykjavik within the seven days we allotted), so we stuck to the Ring Road.

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Gorgeous ponies in the Eastern Fjords

There’s a lot you can do that we missed out on, such as ice cave trekking, which was booked out way farther in advance than I’d bargained for, or helicopter tours of the active volcanoes, but the nature of the ring road trip is that you’ll have to pick and choose – you can’t do it all.

That night before the sun had even fully set, the northern lights came out and started dancing. The sky was completely clear and dark, giving us a dazzling display that beat out the first night’s, snaking across the sky and dancing like lines of classical music across the pages of a hauntingly enchanting song. How else can I describe it? It brought tears to my eyes.

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Spotted them again!
 

Map: Asbyrgi

Camp: Asbyrgi has awesome camp grounds equipped with showers, sinks, clean bathrooms, and places to charge your electronics.

Day Five: Hiking Ásbyrgi Canyon

Most of day five was spent on foot rather than in a car, which was a welcome change from the day before which was quite the opposite.

Maksim and I elected to do the A8 trail, which takes you to the canyon view from the top and over to the river on the other side, spanning 12 kilometers. The trail was marked as red which means “difficult” but honestly I don’t know what whoever ranked that trail was smoking (a lot of weed, apparently), because the trail wasn’t difficult at all, and even those with limited fitness could do it.

Ásbyrgi Iceland
Ásbyrgi, Iceland, looks so much better in the Fall
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Beautiful thanks to the fall foliage
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Just after the turnoff for the A8 – a worthwhile detour if the colors are changing in the trees as they were for us

What I loved about it was an aerial view of the fall foliage below, plus landscape that seriously looked like the moon. The middle part was my favorite, feeling like an astronaut for an hour, followed by fields that were so red and orange, they appeared to be on fire.

asbyrgi
Seriously? Have we landed on the moon?

asbyrgiDidn’t expect that my red jacket would make me blend in!

I wondered, will Iceland ruin everything that comes after it? Will anything be impressive to me ever again? Of course it’s impossible as each country has its own special and unique beauty, but in Iceland, it’s easy to forget that anything else exists, you’re so wrapped up in the sights before you.Source

7 COMMON MYTHS ABOUT TRAVELING AFRICA – AND WHY THEY ARE WRONG

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When I told my friends about my first solo trip to Africa, they thought I was crazy.

“What about Ebola?”

“You can’t travel to Africa alone! It’s too dangerous!”

“You’re going to get eaten by a lion or something!”

This is a common reaction from those who have not been to the continent and are used to seeing it portrayed in a very negative light in the news and popular culture. We often hear only about the bad side: corruption, war, disease, crime, and poverty. With little else to go on, most people naturally have a negative impression of Africa.

The reality is that Africa is a continent with incredibly varied cultures, landscapes, and activities that you can only experience there.

“Africa is just one big place.”

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Africa is often thought of as a single place in the media and pop culture, like when Australia’s shadow foreign affairs spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek referred to Africa as a country. But the continent contains 54 countries, thousands of cultures, an estimated 2,000 languages, and widely divergent landscapes. Africa is home to the largest desert on earth (the Sahara) and the highest free-standing mountain in the world (Kilimanjaro). More than 600 new species have been discovered in Madagascar in just the last decade.

I’m constantly blown away by how much variety there is in Africa. I’ve sandboarded down giant orange dunes in Namibia, walked along white sand beaches in Tanzania, trekked with gorillas in Uganda, and eaten at BBQ joints in the South African townships (and fancy restaurants just a few miles away).

Talking about it like one big place is kind of like saying that Europe or Asia is one big place. With Africa, you can’t generalize.

“Africa is dangerous.”

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Recent terrorist attacks in Kenya by the extremist group Al-Shabab, the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram in Nigeria, the difficulty establishing a solid government in Somalia, civil war in South Sudan, and the whole Kony 2012 movement hasn’t helped Africa’s image. Combined with our cultural memory of “blood diamonds,” the Rwandan genocide, and Black Hawk Down, most people’s mental image of Africa is that of a place teeming with conflict and danger at every corner.

It’s true that some — but certainly not all — of Africa is very dangerous to travel through at the moment. But this is another instance where you can’t generalize. There are many, many safe parts. According to the Institute for Economics and Peace (which bases its rankings on such factors as violent crime, terrorism, and internal and external conflicts), Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Madagascar, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, and Malawi (just to name a few on the list) are all safer than the United States.

“Traveling in Africa is only for voluntourism or safaris.”

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I remember sitting in a restaurant in Namibia with some locals when one of them asked cheekily, “So what are you here to save?” After all, Africa sees a large number of voluntourists who come to save something and try to do good (though often do the opposite). 47% of Peace Corps volunteers serve in Africa and, in 2014, South Africa alone welcomed 2.2 million volunteers!

As for tourism, most people think that in order to see Africa, you have to go on a safari and have everything planned out for you. Very few imagine “backpacking” through Africa as feasible and safe, but just like Asia or South America, Africa has a backpacker’s trail as well, and it’s full of people who are neither volunteers nor safari seekers.

There’s so much else to do and see in Africa, like touring the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, lazing away on the famous beaches of Zanzibar, climbing Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, exploring the ancient cities of Marrakech and Timbuktu, scuba diving in Mozambique, exploring the townships in South Africa, and bungee-jumping at Victoria Falls in Zambia, one of the natural wonders of the world.

You need a lot of money to travel through Africa.”

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Since most people assume they have to go on a safari, they think it’s expensive to travel in Africa. But Africa doesn’t have to be the land of safaris that cost several thousand dollars per day and beach hotels with private butlers.

The opposite is actually true. I was surprised that I could drive myself through Kruger National Park in South Africa or Etosha National Park in Namibia, without paying top dollar for a tour. Between those two parks, you can easily spot “the big five” (the lion, elephant, buffalo, rhinoceros, and leopard) on your own.

I was impressed by the great value for accommodations as well. In Mozambique, I was able to rent a beach hut for only $15 per night, and you can find budget accommodations ranging from $10 for a dorm room to $20 for a private bungalow (in South Africa, Namibia, and Morocco, as well). I couldn’t believe how unique and funky the accommodations in South Africa were, from campsites to self-contained vacation rentals. In Tanzania, the campsites were usually in beautiful locations, with hot showers and cooking areas and sometimes even swimming pools!

Transportation doesn’t have to be expensive either. For example, there are budget safari options as low as $80 per day including food, accommodation, and activities (or take yourself on a self-driving safari); Baz Bus (aimed at backpackers in South Africa) offers $10 short rides or a three-week pass for around $325; and car rentals in Namibia and South Africa run around $25 per day for a basic vehicle.

Africa doesn’t have to be super luxury to be enjoyable!

“Africa is dirty and underdeveloped.”
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As I drove into Rwanda, I couldn’t believe how clean everything was, with almost zero trash on the side of the road. I was equally amazed by the sprawling mansions I saw upon entering the capital, Kigali. Since the mid-’90s, Rwanda has pulled over one million people out of poverty and maintained peace, as well as involving more women in politics (64% of people in parliament are women) than any other country in the world.

Cell phone ownership is skyrocketing in Africa. I couldn’t believe that in Tanzania, in the Serengeti of all places, I still had full 3G service. My coverage was way better out there than I often get in the United States!

I was similarly blown away by how good the roads were in most of southern Africa and parts of east Africa, including Tanzania and Zambia, for example. There are certainly plenty of roads riddled with potholes or simply made of dirt, but that wasn’t the majority of my experience on the roads there.

While there are many (very many) development problems that need to be solved, the notion that the majority of the countries in Africa are barely developed, poor backwaters is just very far from the currently reality.

“Africa is full of diseases.”
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The Ebola scare a couple of years ago prompted my friends to worry that heading to South Africa might put me in danger. The reality was that Europe, where I was living at the time, was actually closer geographically to the epidemic than South Africa. (Again, people are geographically challenged when it comes to this continent.)

Malaria is another big concern; however, there are major initiatives in place to eradicate it. While asking your doctor about preventative measures like malarone or doxycycline is still absolutely advisable, between 2000 and 2015, cases of malaria on the continent have dropped an estimated 88% thanks to an increase of insecticide and mosquito nets. There’s been a 60% drop in mortality! Here’s a chart:

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HIV and AIDS is also a major problem, especially in South Africa and Botswana, where over 19-25% of the population are infected. That said, the rate of infection in the region has fallen by 14% from 2010 to 2015. Elsewhere in Africa, such as in Madagascar, Morocco, and Tunisia, among others, the infection rate is below 0.5% of the population.

“Traveling alone there, especially as a woman, is a terrible idea.”

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Tell anyone that you plan to travel alone to Africa and you might be met with horrified reactions, due to all of the perceptions listed above. I was admittedly a little bit afraid to travel solo in Mozambique, mostly because I couldn’t find much information about it that was positive, but I went anyway and came out of the experience with tons of new friends and wonderful memories.

I have found that solo female travel in Africa is just like anywhere else — you definitely have to be careful not to walk alone (especially at night), should not get too intoxicated, must remain aware, and need to trust your intuition, but it’s not a big disadvantage to be solo there. The locals often took me under their wing more, and per usual, I was surprised to find that there were plenty of other solo travelers around, too.

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WHY TRAVEL MAKES YOU AWESOME

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People always ask how travel has changed me. If I look back at who I was before I began traveling and compare that to who I am now, I would have to say that travel has made me a better and more well-rounded person. I’m way cooler now than I was at 25 when I first left to explore the world.

Simply put, I’m a lot more awesome now than I used to be.

In fact, I think travel makes everybody a more awesome person. We end our travels way better off than when we started. I’m not saying this to be conceited or egotistical; I’m saying it because I believe that travel is something that makes you not only a better human being but a way cooler one too. The kind of person people gravitate toward and want to be around.

be awesome by traveling the world

How and why does travel make you more awesome? Let me count the ways:

More social – It’s sink or swim on the road. You either get better at making friends or you end up alone, crying each night into a pillow. You learn to make friends out of strangers and get more comfortable talking to new people. When I first started traveling, I was kind of an introvert and uncomfortable talking to those I didn’t know. Now, I’ll happily talk to strangers like we’ve been best friends for years.

Better at conversation – Travel not only makes you comfortable talking to strangers, it makes you better at it too. After talking to people all the time, the same questions get boring. You start to even bore yourself. After a while, you don’t care about where people are from, where they are going, how long they’ve been traveling, and yada yada yada. Those kinds of questions don’t actually tell you anything about the person. You’ll get better at small talk and how to ask interesting questions — the ones that matter and tell you more about the person.

More confident – You’ve traveled the world. Hiked Mt. Everest. Dived the Great Barrier Reef. Wined and dined that beautiful French girl in Paris, navigated unknown cities, and conquered your fear of heights. In short, you did awesome things. How can you not be more confident? How can you not be sure about your abilities? After accomplishing so much, you’re going to feel a lot more confident in your ability to achieve anything you set your mind to.

More adaptable – You’ve dealt with missed flights, slow buses, wrong turns, delays, bad street food, and much, much more. After a while, you learn how to adapt your plans to changing situations. You don’t get mad, you don’t get angry; you just alter what you are doing and move on. Life throws you curve balls and you hit them out of the park. Why? Because you’re awesome like that.

More easy-going – All those mistakes? They did something else for you, too. They made you more easy-going and relaxed. Why? Because you’ve dealt with all those errors and you don’t care. You go with the flow now, because if travel taught you anything, it’s that it all works out in the end and that there’s no need to stress.

Sexier – Stress causes aging. Those carefree, relaxing days on the road are going to make you more confident and radiant, and you’ll age slower. You’ll look young and sexy.

Smarter – Unless you sit at a resort drowning your brain in frozen drinks, travel will teach you about the world. You’ll learn about people, history, and culture, and arcane facts about places some people could only dream about. In short, you’ll have a better understanding about how it works and how people behave. That’s something that can’t be learned from books; you can only pick it up with on-the-road experience.

Less materialistic – On the road, you learn just how little stuff you actually need. You’ll realize that all that crap they sell at the mall is pretty useless in leading a truly happy life. Coming home, you’ll find yourself a minimalist simply because you realize what you need to live and what you don’t. As they say, the more you own, the more it owns you.

Happier – Travel simply teaches you how to be happy. You’ll become more relaxed, more confident, and see the world as a brighter place. How can you not be happy about life after all of that?

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I Travelled 25000 Km In Siberia To Photograph Its Indigenous People, 6 Months Later Here’s The Result

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Hi! My name is Alexander Khimushin. Nine years ago I packed my backpack to see the world and have been globe-trotting ever since visited 84 countries. While travelling the world, I realized that people are the most amazing part of it.

Three years ago I came up with an idea of the photo project ‘The World In Faces’ that would celebrate beauty and diversity of the world through the portraits of ordinary people. Especially from those remote places, where culture and traditions are still alive. Since then I have taken thousands of portraits all over the world. Last six months I photographed indigenous people of Siberia.

 An enormous region, almost a double size of Australia and 30% larger than the United States, Canada or the whole Europe. Siberia is one of the world’s last frontiers of the unknown. No doubt, everyone heard that it is very cold and sparsely populated, but what do we know about people living there?

#1 Dolgan Girl

Dolgan Girl

During my half-a-year-long solo journey, I covered 25,000 km to visit many remote locations across Siberia: from lake Baikal shores to the coast of Japan sea, from endless steppes of Mongolia to the coldest place on Earth – Yakutia. All with only one mission – to capture faces and traditions of various groups of indigenous people living there. While some of the ethnic groups are dominant in their regions, many others are on the edge of disappearance, with a total population as low as only a hundred people left. They remain largely unknown to the outside world.

#3 Evenki Little Reindeer Herder

Evenki Little Reindeer Herder

Daddy, daddy, I want a dog…wait no, a caribou! for my birthday 😀

Ulchi Woman

That coat she’s wearing is incredible…i imagine its waterproof? So interesting how she’s incorporated silks and cotton.

The United States’ Most Mystical Places to Visit

Some places have a certain energy: You feel it the moment you arrive—or, in some cases, the moment you even begin to think about visiting. And while some of those places—like Machu Picchu, Easter Island, or the temples of Tibet—are known worldwide as destinations where spiritual seekers, vortex hunters, and healers gather, there are places even closer to home that hold a similar cosmic draw. Below, a look some of the United States’ most mystical places to visit.

Joshua Tree, California

Creative types began flocking to the remote region near Joshua Tree National Park in the ’60s, and many of that decade’s bohemian spiritual leanings remain. Located where the Mojave and Colorado Deserts meet, the surreal landscape is punctuated with gnarled Yucca trees, formidable rock formations, and pastel-shaded sunsets—and sure to lull anyone into a meditative state. And if the scenery doesn’t do it, the sound bath at the famed Integratron will.

Mount Shasta CaliforniaPhoto: Alamy

Mount Shasta, California

This dormant volcano in northern California is believed to be one of the strongest energy vortexes in North America, and tales of its unexplained mysteries abound—one legend even claims that a hidden city filled with advanced beings from a lost continent hides beneath its peaks. Visitors report feeling “drawn” to the mountain, with overwhelming feelings of lightness and peace coming over them in its presence.

Cedar Breaks, Utah

For strong cosmic vibes, head to the state of Utah, which is now home to eight of the best places to stargaze in the United States. This year, Cedar Breaks National Monument—a stunning park with 10,000-foot-high vistas—was granted International Dark Sky Park status, a designation reserved only for places with the darkest night skies.

St Augustine, FloridaPhoto: Alamy

St. Augustine, Florida

When it comes to historic, haunting American cities, New Orleans and Savannah, Georgia, have well-cemented reputations. But the title of America’s oldest city actually belongs to St. Augustine, which was founded in 1565. Of course, a place with over 500 years of human history is bound to hold its share of mysteries: Residents claim that the city’s iconic lighthouse, Historic District, and the alleged site of Ponce de León’s Fountain of Youth are all hotbeds of spiritual energy.

The Big Island, Hawaii

Dramatic views, crashing waves, active volcanoes: The forces of nature are on dynamic display on the Big Island. Many of the Hawaiian Islands’ most sacred monuments and temples—Honaunau National Park, Kealakekua Bay, Mookini Heaiau State Monument—are located on the Big Island, which is also said to be the home of Pele, the volcano goddess.

Sedona, ArizonaPhoto: Alamy

Sedona, Arizona

The tranquil desert town surrounded by otherworldly red mountains is a famed center of the New Age movement, with a multitude of energy vortexes, crystal shops, and healing centers.

Crater Lake, OregonPhoto: Alamy

Crater Lake, Oregon

Nearly everyone who has peered into the bright blue abyss that is the U.S.’s deepest lake (1,943 feet!) admits they’ve been moved by its stunning natural beauty; some even insist that the electromagnetic energy flowing from the lake is on par with that of sacred places like Tibet or Peru. But the Klamath tribes who populated the area had a more ominous perspective on the water-filled crater: They warned that looking too long into its depths would invite “death and lasting sorrow,” and only the tribe’s shaman was allowed to visit the lake. Nowadays, reports of UFO and Big Foot sightings are not uncommon.

Ojai, California

Spiritual seekers have long been drawn to this secluded town nestled in a valley below the Topa Topa mountains. Some swear it sits on an electromagnetic vortex; others claim the area’s hot springs have healing properties.

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TULUM, MEXICO – ACTIVITY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE PERFECT DAY

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Being in a new destination is best experienced by getting out and enjoying the perks of that particular place. During a stay in the Riviera Maya, I made sure to be very active and explore the highlights offered within this lush region of Mexico.

  • SWIMMING WITH SEA TURTLES
  • SHOPPING FOR SPECIALTY ITEMS
  • EXPLORING ANCIET MAYAN RUINS
  • SWIMMING AND SNORKELING IN UNDERGROUND CAVES

In this suggested one-day itinerary, I will take you to a beach where you can swim with sea turtles and enjoy margaritas to a picturesque setting. From there, we will indulge in some souvenir and home décor shopping at local boutiques followed by a tour of the nearby ancient ruins.  And finally, we will end this perfectly planned day by cooling off in caves filled with fresh cold water. Follow along through a detailed recap of each destination in the day with personal photographs depicting this awesome travel experience.

SWIMMING WITH TURTLES IN AKUMAL BAY

ladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattan

First stop is swimming with turtles at Akumal Bay. Located right off the major highway headed toward Tulum, turn off where the sign directs you to Akumal. With its reefs, lagoons and caves, Akumal offers plenty of snorkeling if you know where to look for it. But the main feature of Akumal is the enormous population of Turtles! Here you will have the opportunity to swim alongside Green Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles and Loggerhead Sea Turtles in the wild.

There is no admission price to visit Akumal. If you are approached and asked to pay for anything other than a tour, simply walk away. The beach is free to access, so if you’ve got your snorkel equipment, you’re good to go swim with those magnificent creatures on your own. If you are a bit more tentative about the whole swimming with turtles in the wild thing, then there are plenty of group tours that you can sign-up for onsite in the Akumal village. You can also choose to rent snorkel equipment here and swim on your own, however, plan ahead and just bring your snorkel gear from the hotel to avoid spiked prices catered toward the touristy environment.

But before we snorkel, why not take a ride with a skeleton and enjoy an extra strong Mexico Margarita? To build up the courage to knock on the door of the house of turtles, I zipped around the village in a golf-cart and enjoyed a few delicious Margaritas… When in Mexico, Ladies.

ladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattanladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattanladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattanladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattan

SHOPPING BREAK

You will see many boutique shops during your time in Akumal Bay and can also venture over to downtown Play del Carmen or Tulum, all located within easy driving vicinity inside the Riviera Maya region. I love collecting great pieces, souvenirs and presents for loved ones while I am traveling, so shopping anywhere I go is always a must! When I shop, I often look for things that are unique to the region – whether that be a particular type of craft, specialty stone or product. Yes, I’m a lady on the hunt for a treasure.

Here are the top things you should shop for while in Mexico:

  • CORAL
  • SILVER
  • DECORATIVE ARTS/SOUVENIRS
  • RUGS AND TEXTILES (PASHMINAS/SCARVES)
  • TRADITIONAL POTTERY (ASK FOR TALAVERA OR SPECIALTY CLAY PIECES)
  • PANAMA HATS
  • TEQUILA
  • COFFEE

ladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattanladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattanladyhattan luxury travel world travel destinations mexico tulum turtles caves mayan ruins activities nyc manhattan

EXPLORE NEARBY TULUM RUINS

Being Quintana Roo’s most known and advertised site, Tulum is a “not to be missed” archaeological site. The site is open from 8AM to 5PM, every day. Parking is available just off the highway past the first set of lights when you enter Tulum. The access fee is roughly 30 Pesos. You can choose to pay more for a guided tour with extensive facts and history on the site, or you can just wander the space all on your own.

The 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site at Tulum National Park overlooks the sea. The ruins of Tulum preside over a rugged coastline, a strip of brilliant beach and green-and-turquoise waters that’ll leave you in absolute awe. It incorporates the clifftop Castillo, built as a watchtower, and the Templo de las Pinturas, with a partially restored mural. Inland, the Cobá archaeological site has pyramid-shaped temples with views over the surrounding jungle.

Skipping out on a private tour guide, I wandered around carrying my home-made book of fun facts for reference. For example, did you know that Tulum had an estimated population of about 1,000 to 1,600 inhabitants? Did you know Tulum honored the “the God of the bee” which remains an important insect for the Maya even today? See, this lady is full of fun facts. Just use online resources to create your own historical guide before visiting and you can pass on an elaborate (and often boring) tour. Plus, it’s Mexico, and the temperature is fierce. After walking around for nearly an hour, we were ready to leave because the heat was so strong. However, the blazing sun and dripping sweat is worth seeing the spectacular ruins perched just above one of Mexico’s finest beaches.

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COOL OFF BY SWIMMING IN THE CAVES

From the ruins, we then drove to the one of the most beautiful underwater cave systems in the world. On such a blistering hot day, nothing sounded better than diving into fresh cold water. The rush as you swan dive into the picturesque water is exhilarating. There I am photographed below swimming through these cooling waters, and yes, ladies, I know, I really need a spray tan.

So where and what is this place? Cenote Dos Ojos (pronounced “o-hos”) is called “Two Eyes” in Spanish because it is comprised of two large circular cenotes. Underneath these two large cenotes is one of the most expansive cave system filled with water. The large underground river which flows through Dos Ojos is the same water which creates the large Caribbean cove known as Xel Ha. These healing waters include the natural nutrients of miles and miles of untouched jungle. Because the water is so pure and nutrient filled as it is secluded from exposure to heavy pollution, it makes for the perfect place to enjoy snorkeling, diving or simply swimming.

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When you arrive to Dos Ojos you have a few options for how you would like to explore depending on your activity of preference. You can pay a simple admission pass (100 Pesos) and enjoy the water on your own – dive in, swim around, and look around the main cave. Alternatively, you can purchase a more elaborate admission pass that includes access to additional cave sites with a tour guide. Because we were unfamiliar with what the caves had to offer, and overly excited as most tourists are, we purchased the guided tour package. This package also included our snorkel equipment and flashlight. The guide took us through an extremely narrow passageway where we were able to see and explore the infamous “bat cave”.  This cave is filled with bats flying about and hanging from the dark ceiling space of the cave. Although I was a bit terrified, seeing the bat cave was an incredibly unique travel experience that I highly recommend.

 

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MOROCCO TRAVEL GUIDE

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Morocco is intense. It’s chaotic. It’s colorful. It’s fragrant. It’s an in your face sensory overload that travelers either love or hate. My time around the country was challenging but it was a reminder that the best part of travel is learning to be comfortable being uncomfortable. I gorged myself on couscous, drank my body weight in mint tea, hiked, and absorbed the sights and sounds of Morocco. From the high Atlas mountains to the desert to the coasts, Morocco is an amazing country that hits all a traveler’s senses.  You may love it or hate it but you’ll walk away a better traveler because you went. Use this travel guide to plan your trip, save money, and avoid common pitfalls!

Top Things to See and Do in Morocco

  • Explore Marrakesh – Spend some time in the Djemaa el-Fna (“Assembly of the Dead”), where you can find exotic street performers of varying talents including snake charmers, monkey owners, tattoo artists, musicians, and chefs. After that, wander around the medina, explore the souks, eat in the market, see the old city, and enjoy Morocco’s most international city. Marrakesh has it all and was by far my favorite city I visited in Morocco. I especially loved getting lost in the never-ending streets of the old city.

  • Sleep in the Sahara Desert – The Sahara is exactly how it is portrayed in the movies – vast, empty, and absolutely spectacular. Visit with a guided tour and explore the desert via 4×4 (or camel!). You can spend the night in a simple tent in the dunes, or splurge a little for a luxury one. This was my favorite activity while in the country and I highly recommend it. The stars go on forever and there’s no light pollution to block them out. (The camel ride isn’t that comfortable, though!)
  • Visit Fez – This old and powerful city is definitely worthy of a visit. The medina of Fès el-Bali, or “Old Fez”, is the most visited part. Its narrow streets are filled with wonderful aromas, mosques, craft shops, and crowds upon crowds of people. Though Fez can be a bit overwhelming, once you get used to the pace of the city, you’ll enjoy its charm and charisma. It’s a great city to shop in too.

  • Get lost in the medinas – The medinas are the historic hearts of each city in Morocco: part residential area, part shopping center, part food market. Here you’ll find twisting and turning streets where shops, restaurants, markets, and homes all line the streets in buildings seemingly too close together and too old to stay up much longer. As someone who loves to get lost, the medinas were heaven. Word of caution: The Fez Medina is a bit sketchy and unsafe, so do not go too far off the beaten path. Stick to streets with lots of people. 

 

  • Trek the High Atlas – The rugged and beautiful Atlas Mountains stretch over 1,500 miles, from the West Coast of Morocco all the way to Tunisia. This mountain range is home to Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s tallest peak at 13,671 feet. You can hike all year round, but the best time is from April to May.

 

  • Trek through the Torda Gorge – This gorge is one of the most recognized in the world and has become very popular with travelers looking to hike the canyon. It’s a challenging hike but if you’re looking for something truly different and outdoorsy in Morocco, don’t miss out on this.

 

  • Visit the Hassan II Mosque – The Hassan II Mosque, located in Casablanca, is a population attraction among tourists. It took thousands of Moroccan artists a total of five years to build this detailed architectural masterpiece. Its mosaics, plaster moldings, marble and stone columns and floors, and wood ceilings are utterly impressive. It is big enough for 105,000 worshipers, making it one of the largest mosques in the world! I was awed.

  • Relax in a traditional hammam – A hammam is a steam bath popular in North Africa. They are usually found near mosques or toiletry shops and can be upscale or public (traditional). Visit a no-frills traditional one for an authentic and enlightening experience. Public hammams cost about 10 MAD, while hotel hammams can cost 300-500 MAD.

 

  • Learn to cook traditional food – Traditional Moroccan food is a blend of Berber, Arabic, Turkish, Middle Eastern, and French cuisine. Many riads (Moroccan house or palace) offer cooking classes in the big cities like Marrakesh and Fez. You’ll be able to buy fresh produce from the local market and then make a traditional dish. Cafe Clock offers some of the best classes. It was recommended to me by many people and with locations in Marrakesh and Fez, this Western-influenced café is famous for its gigantic and delicious camel burger (which tastes a lot like spicy shawarma).

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CANADA TRAVEL GUIDE

Canada is a country filled with wonderfully friendly people, classy, diverse cities, and a diverse landscape that includes tundras, rainforest, deserts, huge mountains, and much more. From the icy tundra of the Yukon to rocky beaches of the east coast, the mountains of Calgary to the rainforests of Vancouver, Canada is a country that is often skipped over on many world trips. That’s such a shame. Canada is so big and makes for a wonderful road trip country! Spend a few months going from end to end. I love our friendly neighbor to the north and believe Canada is a really underrated destination. There’s a reason everyone around the world loves Canadians. They rock. Visit their homeland and find out why. Added bonus: It’s easy to get a working holiday visa here so you can stay, work, and make money here for future trips! This travel guide will help you plan a trip to the Great White North!

Typical Costs

Accommodation Rates can vary a lot depending on what city you’re staying in. On average, you’ll wind up paying about 30 CAD for a dorm room at a hostel while you should expect to pay around 65 CAD for a budget hotel room. Expect prices to rise drastically in larger cities (notably Vancouver, Toronto, and Ottawa). Airbnb is available across the country, rivaling budget hotels for price and convenience. Expect to pay an average of 30 CAD per night for a shared room, while entire homes/apartments will cost you around 80 CAD. Just keep in mind many smaller towns won’t have many options, though they will usually have locally-owned hotels or motels that are generally quite cheap. Don’t hesitate to ask the locals for advice. Remember, Canadians are friendly!

If camping is your thing, you’ll have plenty of options all across the country. Prices will vary depending on the grounds but expect to pay between 10-30 CAD per night for a basic pitch. Many of the major campgrounds will sell out early, so be sure to book in advance during the peak season (June-August).

Food – Food can be inexpensive as long as you stick to cooking for yourself or hit pubs. Conversely, a meal out at a restaurant will cost you around 15-35 CAD! Cheap sandwich shops and fast food are your best bet and will be less than 13 CAD per meal. If you are going to cook your own food, expect to pay between 50-75 CAD per week.

Transportation This is a big country, and it’s hard to get around without a car. Within city limits, you’ll find great public transportation networks, especially the metro system which is about 3 CAD for a one-way ticket. There is a train service (VIA Rail) that runs from coast to coast and is very scenic, though not cheap. Megabus is the cheapest option when it comes to traveling between cities in Ontario and Quebec as fares can be as low as 1 CAD if booked in advance! Where Megabus doesn’t operate you’ll find Red Arrow, Greyhound, Coach Canada. They have long-haul routes throughout much of the country, though it isn’t the most comfortable way to travel such great distances. If you’re going between provinces or staying a while in the country, consider renting a car for between 35-80 CAD per day. As your last alternative, you can fly, but since the country has only two major airlines (WestJet and Air Canada) prices are often very high.

Activities Canada has a lot of outdoor activities – kayaking and canoeing, hiking, skiing and snowboarding, white-water rafting are just some of the many options available. No matter what part of the country you are in, and no matter the season, there is always something to do. Costs range from 20-over 100 CAD depending what you are doing and if you need a guide.

Suggested daily budget – 70-80 CAD / 52-60 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)

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Argentina

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Cool cities, endless Pampas, rugged peaks and Patagonian glaciers

Studded with outstanding natural wonders and endowed with one of the world’s hot-list cities, Argentina is a vast and varied land. Tapering from the Tropic of Capricorn towards the tip of Antarctica it encompasses a staggering diversity of terrains, from the lush wetlands of the Litoral and the bone-dry Andean plateaux of the Northwest to the end-of-the-world archipelago of Tierra del Fuego. Its most emblematic landscapes are the verdant flatlands of the Pampas and the dramatic steppe of Patagonia, whose very name evokes windswept plains inhabited by hardy pioneers.

 

At first glance, Argentina may seem less “exotic” than the rest of South America and its inhabitants will readily, and rightly, tell you how powerful an influence Europe has been on their nation.

It has been quipped that Argentina is the most American of all European countries and the most European of all American countries, but it actually has a very special character all of its own, distilled into the national ideal of Argentinidad, characterized by proud, defiant passion. While there is a lot of truth in the clichés – Argentine society really is dominated by football, politics and living life in the fast lane (literally, when it comes to driving) – not everyone dances the tango, or is obsessed with Evita or gallops around on a horse. Wherever you go, though, you’re bound to be wowed by Argentines’ zeal for so many aspects of their own culture and curiosity about the outside world.

 

One of Argentina’s top attractions is the leviathan metropolis of Buenos Aires, the most fascinating of all South American capitals. It’s a riveting place just to wander about, people-watching, shopping or simply soaking up the unique atmosphere. Its many barrios (neighbourhoods) are startlingly different – some are decadently old-fashioned, others daringly modern – but all of them ooze character. The other main cities worth visiting are colonial Salta in the Northwest, beguiling Rosario – the birthplace of Che Guevara – and Ushuaia, which, in addition to being the world’s most southerly city, enjoys a fabulous waterfront setting on the Beagle Channel.

 

But the country’s real trump cards outside the capital are the sheer size of the land and the diverse wildlife inhabiting it. In theory, by hopping on a plane or two you could spot howler monkeys and toucans in northern jungles in the morning, then watch the antics of penguins tobogganing into the icy South Atlantic in the afternoon. Argentina hosts hundreds of bird species – including the Andean condor and three varieties of flamingo – plus pumas, armadillos, llamas, foxes and tapirs roaming the country’s forests and mountainsides and the dizzying heights of the altiplano, or puna. Lush tea plantations and parched salt-flats, palm groves and icebergs, plus the world’s mightiest waterfalls, are just some of the scenes that will catch you unawares if you were expecting Argentina to be one big cattle ranch. Dozens of these biosystems are protected by an extensive network of national and provincial parks and reserves.

For getting around and seeing these marvels, you can generally rely on a well-developed infrastructure inherited from decades of domestic tourism. Thanks in part to an increasing number of boutique hotels, the range and quality of accommodation has improved no end in the last decade. Among the best lodgings are the beautiful ranches known as estancias – or fincas in the north – that function as luxury resorts. In most places, you’ll be able to rely on the services of top-notch tour operators, who will not only show you the sights but also fix you up with a staggering range of outdoor adventures: horseriding, trekking, whitewater rafting, kayaking, skiing and hang-gliding, along with more relaxing pursuits such as wine tasting, birdwatching or photography safaris. Argentina offers such a hallucinating variety it’s all but impossible to take in on one trip – don’t be surprised if you find yourself longing to return to explore the bits you didn’t get to see the first time around.

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The Great Lakes

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The five interconnected Great Lakes (Superior, Ontario, Michigan, Erie and Huron) are impressive enough taken singly. Taken as a whole, the Great Lakes form the largest body of fresh water in the world; Lake Superior alone is more than three hundred miles from east to west. The shores of these inland seas can rival any coastline: Superior and the northern reaches of Lake Michigan offer stunning rocky peninsulas, craggy cliffs, tree-covered islands, mammoth dunes and deserted beaches.

Such natural amenities and marvels stand in contrast to the areas along Lake Erie, and the southern environs of lakes Michigan and Huron, where sluggish waters lap against massive conurbations and ports that have seen better days.

 

To varying degrees, the principal states that line the American side of the lakes – Ohio, Michigan,Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota – share this mixture of natural beauty and heavy industry. Cities such as Chicago and Detroit, for all their pros and cons, do not characterize the entire region, although the former’s magnificent architecture, museums, music and restaurants make it a worthy destination. Within the first hundred miles or so of the lakeshores, especially in Wisconsin and Minnesota, tens of thousands of smaller lakes and tumbling streams are scattered through a luxuriant rural wilderness; beyond that, you are soon in the heart of the Corn Belt, where you can drive for hours and encounter nothing more than a succession of crossroads communities, grain silos and giant barns.

 

Getting around the Great Lakes region can be a challenge without a car, but with a little planning it can be fairly manageable, with frequent air and bus connections between the main cities and Amtrak passing through most larger places, if only once daily.

 

Brief history

The first foreigner to reach the Great Lakes, the French explorer Champlain, found the region in 1603 inhabited mostly by tribes of Huron, Iroquois and Algonquin. France soon established a network of military forts, Jesuit missions and fur-trading posts here, which entailed treating the native people as allies rather than subjects. After the French and Indian War with Britain from 1754 to 1761, however, the victorious British felt under no constraints to deal equitably with the Native Americans, and things grew worse with large-scale American settlement after Independence. The Black Hawk War of 1832 put a bloody end to traditional Native American life.

 

Settlers from the east were followed to Wisconsin and Minnesota by waves of Scandinavians andGermans, while the lower halves of Illinois and Indiana attracted Southerners, who attempted to maintain slavery here and resisted Union conscription during the Civil War. As regards culture and ideological inclinations, these areas still have more in common with neighbouring Kentucky and Tennessee than with the industrial cities of their own states.

 

The demands of the Civil War encouraged the growth of industry in the region, with its abundant supplies of ores and fuel, as well as efficient transport by water and rail. As lakeshore cities like Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland grew in the early twentieth century, their populations swelled with hundreds of thousands of European immigrants and poor blacks from the South. But a lack of planning, inadequate housing and mass lay-offs at times of low demand bred conditions led to the riots of the late 1960s and continuing inner-city deprivation. Depression in the 1970s ravaged the economy – especially the automobile industry, on which so much else depended – and gave the area the unpleasant title of “Rust Belt”. Since then, cities such as Cleveland have revived their fortunes to some degree, although the current economic crisis has hit the region especially hard. Times have remained tough for Detroit, and the city declared bankruptcy in 2013, making it the largest American city to do so.

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10 things everyone learns travelling solo

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Ask anyone who’s ever travelled solo, and they probably wouldn’t want to adventure any other way. It might be daunting at first, and it’s certainly simpler for some people than it is for others. But spending time alone on the road is among the most rewarding travel experiences out there.

Whether it’s a long trip around the world or a habit of solitary weekend jaunts, here are 10 things everybody learns while travelling alone:

1. You always return home with lots of new friends

Ever noticed that you’re more likely to ask one person for directions than you are to ask a group of people? Solos are more approachable, plain and simple. Lone travellers learn that the benefits of this are twofold: not only will other travellers feel far more comfortable introducing themselves to you, but it’s actually easier for you to strike up conversation with others as well.

2. You can engage with locals on a level that only solo travellers can

You know that local folks are more open, and definitely more curious, when it’s only you walking into that hole-in-the-wall café, or sampling the pungent flavours of that roadside food stall. From a heartfelt conversation on a rickety train, to suddenly having a network of genial families happy to host you for a night, you know none of these incredible experiences would have been possible if you’d been travelling with others.

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3. You’re free to adventure as you please, and it feels awesome

There is no need to compromise when travelling alone. No need to appease a friend’s unfortunate craving for an overpriced burger and fries, or their incessant complaints about mosquito bites in a jungle where you’re on travel cloud 9. As a lonesome wanderer you travel where you want, when and however you want to – all with a liberating degree of indulgence.

4. You gain a deep understanding of the destinations you’ve visited

Travelling solo, you’re more immersed in your surroundings. You notice the unique quirks, and subtle character that truly makes a place what it is. But walk around the same street chatting with an old friend, and your mind is often immersed elsewhere.

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5. There is something liberating about travelling to a place where no one knows you

For some, travelling alone is like a fresh start. Or a temporary escape from the life-baggage you’re forced to lug around back home. That’s not to say you’re a different person when abroad, but you may notice how much that therapeutic anonymity has changed you by the time you return home.

6. Alone time is healthy and we rarely get enough of it

Time spent alone and unplugged forces you to really reflect on your life back home, your recent experiences on the road and the direction things are headed. Some of those thoughts aren’t always pleasant to deal with, but solo travellers know that even if solitude is a struggle at times, they’re stronger because of it.

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7. Distance makes you appreciate the important people in your life

Distance makes you appreciate the people who matter most in your life back home. Especially those you’ve taken for granted. Far away and alone, you’re reminded to make the most of every second with loved ones when you return.

8. Distance teaches you that some people who you thought were important, really aren’t

The same distance can also make you realise that some people in your life aren’t quite as important as you thought they were. Be they a bad influence, a toxic love or a fair-weather friend, it’s not always a welcome realisation. But it’s usually for the best.

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9. When you’re a little lonely, you’ll get more creative

Whether it’s journaling, drawing, philosophising or brainstorming future entrepreneurial endeavours, solo travellers are usually forced to find new expressive ways to amuse themselves when there’s no conversation (or wi-fi). You might have even stumbled upon your vocation.

10. Sometimes it’s fun to pretend you’re the only tourist in the world

Isn’t that really what every solo traveller secretly wants, to boldly go where no-one has gone before?

But let’s be honest for a second: very rarely are we ever as intrepid or adventurous as we’d like to imagine ourselves.Still, when you’re the only tourist on that bush bus to nowhere there’s a thrilling fantasy that plays out in your mind as you watch a new world go by out the window – and solo travellers know that feeling is addictive, and stays with you for the rest of your life.

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Surfing Muizenberg Beach Around Cape Town

Cape Town, South Africa

What’s it like surfing Cape Town’s Muizenberg Beach in the winter? Not as cold as I thought it would be! My surfing road trip update from South Africa.

After two weeks of intense surfing in Cape Town, I’m already seeing a huge improvement in my technique. The surfing at Muizenberg has been a lot of fun, with plenty of waves for everyone to practice on. In fact they never seem to stop!

This is the reason why Muizenberg Beach is considered by many to be one of the best places in the world for learning how to surf.

Muizenberg Beach Warm Up

Warming Up with Instructors TK and Nikita

Surfing At Muizenberg

My surf adventure began in Cape Town, where I spent 12 days surfing on and off with instructors. We learned how to paddle into waves, proper positioning to catch them, how to pop up onto the board, correct stance, the basics of turning, and how to stay safe.

The abundant practice time really helped me improve. We’d usually have a lesson in the morning followed by free surfing in the afternoon almost every day.

The ocean was a chilly 62 degrees (17C), so wetsuits are required. But surfing Cape Town in the winter is not as uncomfortable as I thought it would be.

A decent 4/3 wetsuit will keep you warm enough during a 2 hour session.

Paddling Muizenberg Beach

Paddling Into the Waves

Surfing Cape Town South Africa

Surfing Muizenberg Beach

Great White Sharks

The water around Cape Town, specifically False Bay, is notorious for its abundance of Great White Sharks. However it’s important to note that just because they’re around doesn’t mean surfing in the ocean here is deadly.

Do attacks happen? Yes. But compared to the number of people in the water every year, shark attacks are an extremely rare occurrence. I wasn’t worried about them. The fact is, your bathtub is more likely to kill you.

Muizenberg beach has a shark warning system in place, with spotters located at high lookout points. If a shark is seen nearby, the water is cleared until it swims away from the area.

Cage diving with great white sharks is a very popular activity around Cape Town. Some friends went cage diving in False Bay while we were there.

It’s a spectacular experience to see these powerful animals up close!

Shark Diving South Africa

Great White Shark Underwater

Funny Penguins & Table Mountain

Surfing wasn’t the only activity I enjoyed in Cape Town though. We also spent an afternoon hanging out with the African penguin colony at Boulder’s Beach. The area is part of Table Mountain National Park, and you can walk along raised wooden platforms right next to families of cute penguins.

The African Penguin is endangered, and Boulder’s Beach gives you a very unique opportunity to view these birds in a natural environment. If you’re lucky, you can even get pretty close to them! Just don’t touch, they like to bite.

We also hiked up Cape Town’s most famous landmark, the majestic Table Mountain. This short but steep hike takes 2-3 hours, and the views at the top are fabulous. Provided it isn’t too cloudy…

However a blanket of fast-moving clouds below you can be interesting too.

Penguins Boulder's Beach South Africa

African Penguin at Boulder’s Beach

Table Mountain Cape Town

Early Morning Hike Up Table Mountain

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Horseback Riding & Cuban Tobacco Farms In Viñales

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Riding through endless fields of green tobacco and fertile red soil in Viñales, we passed local farmers harvesting the leaves that would become Cuba’s world famous cigars.

Viñales is a small town located on the Western tip of Cuba. Set in a beautiful lush valley with funky looking hills and limestone caves, people have been growing tobacco in the area for over 200 years.

In Havana we hired Jose and his sweet red 1957 Ford Victoria to drive the four of us 3 hours out to Viñales, passing only a handful of other classic cars and a bunch of horse-drawn carriages on Cuba’s poorly maintained highways.

Vinales National Park

Lush Green Viñales Valley

Vinales Cars

Plenty of Classic Cars

Welcome To Viñales

Viñales feels stuck in time. The main street is lined with small single story wooden homes with faded paint. Locals pass by riding old bicycles, horses, or driving colorful vintage American cars.

While there are some hotels in town, most travelers stay with locals in casas particulares, which are like guest bedrooms in other people’s homes.

Our host was Lay, a welcoming lady who turned her home into a guesthouse with two double rooms. This is how many Cubans make extra income beyond their communist government regulated salary of about $30 USD per month.

The town has plenty of small restaurants and bars with live music, but it doesn’t feel overcrowded. In fact, Viñales is rumored to be Fidel Castro’s favorite part of Cuba!

Horseback Riding Vinales Cuba

Horseback Riding Through Tobacco Farms

Vinales Cigars

Best Cigars in the World?

Viñales National Park

Viñales Valley was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 due to its dramatic landscape of karst limestone domes called mogotes, traditional agricultural methods of farming, and rich cultural history.

The valley was formed underwater, rising from the sea millions of years ago. Ancient ocean fossils can still be found in the caves that dot the landscape.

The New York Times called Viñales one of the top places to visit in 2016.

But aside from being a beautiful travel destination, Viñales is known for the quality of its tobacco. I’m not a “smoker” per se, but I do enjoy the occasional cigar at the end of a big trek or for special occasions.

So I was excited to learn how Cuba’s world-famous cigars are actually made.

Tobacco Farm Cuba

Harvesting Tobacco Leaves

Vinales Livestock

Friendly Livestock!

Home Of Cuban Cigars

Why are Cuban cigars so special? Well, many people believe Cuba is the birthplace of cigars. Christopher Columbus encountered native Cubans smoking cylindrical bundles of twisted tobacco leaves in 1492.

The practice was eventually exported to Europe, and by the 19th century, smoking cigars became a popular pastime for wealthy men — who formed special cigar clubs called divans.

Cuba’s time-honored tobacco growing and production techniques were exported to places like the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. Then came the United States trade embargo, making Cuban cigars illegal — and increasing their value even more.

The fertile land and favorable climate of Viñales make for perfect cigar tobacco growing conditions. Most residents here are in the tobacco farming business.

Farmhouse in Vinales

Pastel Colored Farmhouse

Vinales Tobacco Farm Tour

Old Farm House

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