Mahajanga, Madagascar

Madagascar is an island nation located off the southeast coast of Africa that is well known for its varied species of wildlife and beautiful landscapes. The city of Mahajanga boasts a tropical climate,  pristine beaches, and picturesque scenery.  Accessible by taxi-brousse (a van; the Malagasy form of medium-to-long distance transit) from the capital city of Antananarivo (about 10 hours with the taxi-brousse company Cotisse), it’s one of the more accessible tourist destinations in Madagascar.

What to do in Madagascar

Petite Plage is a serene beach area just north of the city (via taxi-bus #6).  For 3,000ar (1 USD) you can rent an umbrella and mats for the day, and enjoy the year-round warmth of the Mozambique Channel.  There are local foods available there, including lunches served to your spot on the beach (3 to 7 USD per meal).


About 3 miles up the coast is another beach area called Grand Pavois, which is even quieter than Petite Plage. This area has a few more restaurants and bars, as well as nicer hotels nearby.  This beach also offers cabanas with beach beds, chairs, or picnic tables.  Grand Pavois can be reached by taking a private taxi from Mahajanga (60,000ar or 19 USD round trip) or taxi-bus #15 and walking a further 1.5 miles (500ar or 16 cents).  Some great sightseeing can be done just a 10 minute walk beyond Grand Pavois at Cirque Rouge.  This group of small mountains ranges in color from lilac to all shades of red.


While Malagasy meals are famous for their rice, ‘brochettes’ are a local hit, particularly in Mahajanga where the fresh seafood is a special.  The Jardin D’amour is the most scenic location from which to enjoy this cuisine, but it can also be found at countless grills along the city’s boardwalk.


Madagascar sunset

Madagascar food

Madagascar food

What to wear in Madagascar

Summer clothes are a must, year round.  Even in the coldest month of the year, July, it is humid and 85 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit.  Good walking shoes are a must for the hiking, national park, and are a plus for walking around town.

Where to stay in Madagascar

Hotel Konto was in a great location, a 5-10 minute walk from the center of town, in a quiet area with a slight view of the Mozambique Channel.  The staff were great, prices fair, and room basic but adequate – especially for the price.

Tourist sites in Madagascar

-Tsingy (unique rock formations, accessible by private car only)

-Ankarafantsika National Park (enjoy hiking and viewing unique species of animals)

-Lighthouse Tour (hotel “Chez Tranquillle” organizes day trips to a nearby lighthouse)

Author: Devan Mizzoni

The “Lost City” of Petra, Jordan

The ancient city of Petra in Jordan is famous for its architecture carved into sandstone cliffs as well as for its hidden location within the canyon landscape. Petra was established over 2000 years ago-as early as 312 B.C. Until 106 A.D., Petra was the capital of the Nabataean empire, but then soon became abandoned, and was not found again until 1812. In 2007, it was listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Travelers will need at least one full day to explore Petra, but many people spend two to three days exploring all the hidden gems of this lost city. The highlights of visiting Petra include viewing the famous Treasury (the famous scene from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and hiking up to the Monastery (about 800 steps). Remember, this truly is a city- in one day, I hiked almost 10 miles and still only covered a part of it.

Walking through the canyons before arriving in the hidden city of Petra
Walking through the canyons before arriving in the hidden city of Petra

Petra Jordan

Petra Jordan

Taking a break during my hike to the Monastery to take in the magnificent views
Taking a break during my hike to the Monastery to take in the magnificent views
Monastery Petra Jordan
After an 800 step climb, arrive at the enormous Monastery

How to Get to Petra

The two main ways to get to Petra are through Amman, the capital city of Jordan, or from Israel, which neighbors Jordan to the west. Direct flights to Tel Aviv are operated by Delta and El Al airways. While I enjoy arranging all my travel independently, I would highly recommend using a tour company to visit Petra. We used Desert Eco Tours, and entered Jordan from Eilat in the south of Israel. It is also possible to cross from Israel to Jordan in the northern part of Israel, however, due to the unrest in neighboring Syria, it is not recommended. Desert Eco Tours coordinated our visit from Israel to Petra – this was seamless as they also arranged for our visa into Jordan, and booked our hotels and transportation within Jordan. Once you cross the Israeli-Jordanian border on foot, your Jordanian tour guide will be waiting to pick you up on the other side. As you walk from Israel to Jordan, you will see that in just a few hundred feet, the language, culture, and religion changes – it is quite an amazing experience.

Israeli Jordan Border Crossing

Petra Travel Tips

Bring layered clothing. The Jordanian desert is cold and windy at night, and temperatures can be scorching hot during the day. Dress modestly – women should cover shoulders and knees – this will also prevent against the intense sun during the day. You will need good shoes as Petra is vast and the climb to the Monastery (a must see) is a strenuous 1 to 2 hour climb. Stay hydrated and arrive early as it is much cooler in the morning. If you are not in adequate physical health, buggies and donkeys are available to take tourists around Petra’s sites. The tour company will assist in time management, but allow yourself at least 2 to 3 hours to cross the Israeli-Jordanian border both ways.

Best Time to Visit Petra

Spring or late Fall is the best time to visit Petra. From March to April, the temperatures are pleasant and the crowds are mild. In general, due to unrest in the Middle East, tourism has declined in Jordan. We stayed in a Bedouin Camp the night before visiting Petra, and our group of 8 were the only guests. That being said, by taking appropriate and common sense precautions and following the advice of our tour guide, we did not feel unsafe, and truly had an amazing experience. Arrive early in the morning to visit the sites to avoid the intense midday heat.

Petra’s Best Sites

The most well known site in Petra is The Treasury, which was made famous by the Indiana Jones Movie. In the movie, it seems that there is a passageway and several rooms beyond the facade. But, in reality, beyond the magnificent facade is just one empty room that was thought to be a tomb.

Treasury at Petra Jordan

As you hike deeper into the lost city, be sure to make the one hour climb to the Monastery. It is an enduring hike, but well worth it.

Me and the magnificent Monastery behind me
Me and the magnificent Monastery behind me

As mentioned earlier, there are several hikes to explore all the small gems of this ancient hidden city, but the Treasury and the Monastery are the main highlights if you only have one full day in Petra (at least 6 to 7 hours). If you have more time, explore the scenic landscapes of Wadi Rum and spend a day on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea.


5 Reasons New Yorkers Should Visit Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv, on the western coast of Israel, is well known for its rich history and modern flair. Here are 5 reasons New Yorkers will love visiting Tel Aviv.

1. Accessibility and Ease of Travel

Delta, United, and El Al offer nonstop overnight flights to and from Tel Aviv out of NYC airports, which means you hardly lose any time traveling. Once in Tel Aviv, airport staff, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, and the general population all speak English well. Wifi is available at nearly every establishment (Ben Gurion Airport, hotels, restaurants, coffee shops) so you can stay connected and explore the city on your own. The car service company Gett (an Israeli based startup) is also widely used in Tel Aviv so you can book taxi rides through your phone. Gett service to the airport (at the time of this post) needs to be booked at least 18 hours in advance.


2. Restaurants and Nightlife

Foodies will rejoice at all the dining options in Tel Aviv. Indulge in tasty tapas options at Vicky Cristina’s (order the sliders!), savory shakshuka at Cafe Sonya, and some modern European cuisine at Babayaga while you are here. For breakfast, head to Benedict in the Rothschild area. Thursday and Friday nights are most popular for late night going out, but, just like New York, the after work crowd can be found enjoying drinks on Tuesday and Wednesday nights during the week. New Yorkers have a high bar set for food and cocktails, and Tel Aviv does not disappoint.
tel aviv cocktails
 tel aviv

3. Historical Significance

Admist the trendy dining and widely available wifi, it is easy to forget how much history Tel Aviv has. Head to the Old Jaffa area in Tel Aviv to explore this ancient port city. Make Tel Aviv your base as you take day trips to Jerusalem, Caesarea, Masada, and, of course, the Dead Sea.
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
The Old Jaffa area of Tel Aviv
The Old Jaffa area of Tel Aviv
Exploring the Old Jaffa District of Tel Aviv
Exploring the Old Jaffa District of Tel Aviv

4. Affordability

Dining at trendy and delicious restaurants will run anywhere between 35 USD and 55 USD per person, including alcohol. The same meal and type of restaurant in NYC would be nearly double. More importantly, the majority of the upscale restaurants take credit card and will actually split a bill over 9 credit cards (from experience). For casual meals, the per person cost is anywhere between 10 USD and 20 USD.


5. Beaches

Break up your historical sightseeing with a day or two at the beach. The beaches in Tel Aviv are great for sunbathing, surfing, and swimming. The surfing is more towards the Jaffa portion of town and the jettys further north provide safe and calm waters for relaxing. Bars and restaurants line the beach so you can enjoy the sunset over dinner. Make a reservation at Manta Ray well in advance as this popular spot fills up quickly for seaside dinner reservations.
Tel Aviv Beaches
Tel Aviv Sunset

Things to remember

Smoking IS allowed in bars and restaurants so keep it in mind when selecting a table. While Tel Aviv is very safe, given the region’s turbulent history, security here is taken very seriously. Plan to spend a few hours at the airport on arrival and on departure. It is common for questioning to take close to 30 minutes per person and for luggage to be searched very thoroughly. While Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan city, remember to dress modestly when visiting religious sites in the surrounding areas. Strongly consider hiring a local tour guide. We did and it made our experience exceptional. Some sites, especially ones in Jerusalem, are best visited with a guide that speaks the local language and knows how to get around the city. Overall, by taking proper precautions, safety was never an issue during our visit, and I would not hesitate to return.

King Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, Morocco

Set against the backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean, is the famous King Hassan II Mosque- one of Casablanca’s most visited sites, and a place of worship for millions. The busiest time of year is during Ramadan. At it’s capacity the mosque can hold as many as 25,000 visitors inside, and 80,000 on its grounds for prayer. The planning and construction of this magnificent structure was funded entirely by the public, and it was built in a short span of seven years from 1986 to 1993. The Hassan II Mosque was commissioned by King Hassan II and designed by a French architect Michel Pinseau. It is the third largest of its kind internationally, falling behind only the Haramain Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina.

Hassan II Mosque Casablanca

The mosque is decorated with intricately carved stucco and unique mosaics in various shades of blue. The mosque’s minaret, from which the call to prayer is proclaimed, stands 650 feet high. Inside, the mosque’s 200 foot high ceiling is retractable to allow air in during the hot summer months. The building is actually partially constructed over water, and this portion has a glass floor through which the ocean can be seen. Elegant chandeliers serve as both decoration and light sources during the evening. The chandeliers’ glass comes from Spain, making them the only portion of the mosque not composed entirely of Moroccan resources.

Most Visited Site Casablanca Morocco

Interior detail of the mosque
Interior detail of the mosque


Direct flights to Morocco from NYC are available on Royal Air Maroc into Casablanca’s Mohammed V Airport (airport code: CMN). Non-stop flights to Morocco are also available from several European cities, including Marrakech, Brussels, Lisbon, Paris, Frankfurt and Madrid. From the airport, a taxi ride directly to the mosque will take approximately an hour. There are also many hotels conveniently located in the vicinity of the mosque.


Morocco can be very hot from May to September, so best to plan a trip in the fall, winter or spring. Fortunately, the mosque’s unique architecture limits the humidity felt inside. This is one of the few mosques which is open to non-Muslims, and even here access is restricted to four scheduled tours in English days of the week. The tours are scheduled at 9am, 10am, 11am and 2pm from Saturday to Thursday. Friday is a holy day, hence the lack of scheduled tours. During Ramadan, the mosque becomes very busy and may be more difficult to visit, however the rest of the year the building is easily accessible to tourism.


Visitors to Morocco, and specifically the mosque, should dress in moderately conservative clothing. Long, looser pants or skirts for women and shirts reaching the elbow are most commonly seen. Although it is not required, it is recommended for women to cover their heads with scarves out of respect when visiting religious sites. Upon entering the mosque, visitors will be given a plastic bag to put their shoes in. Outside of religious sites, Casablanca is the most cosmopolitan of Morocco’s cities and clothing styles mirror trends seen in both Europe and the United States.


The Hassan II Mosque is by far the most visited site by tourists traveling to Casablanca. For those short on time, this should be the main tourist site to see in Casablanca before traveling to the cities of Marrakech, Fez, or Agadir. Travelers with more time should visit the Habous area of Casablanca, which was an area created by the French in the 1930s to solve the housing crisis. Here travelers will find European influences juxtaposed against Moroccan riads, traditional Moroccan markets and souks. Spend a few hours wandering through this area before leaving Casablanca. Being a more cosmopolitan city, Casablanca does offer nightlife and a variety of restaurants for international travelers.

AUTHOR: Sarita Hira