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.
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)
El Nido is a major access point to unlocking the beauty of Palawan’s Bacuit Archipelago, which is known to have some of the most breathtaking beaches in the world. There are remote, uninhabited islands across the entire stretch of northern Palawan, and travelers will have no trouble finding stunning beaches, private coves and untouched lagoons . The town of El Nido has hospitable residents that will cook you hearty meals (either on land or during your boat rides across the islands) and welcome you graciously to their humble town.
Palawan was my first destination in The Philippines and it set the bar very high for my future trips – the hues of the water against the karst backdrop, the people, the hidden lagoons, and the amazing diving experiences for scuba lovers. I joined a Filipino family of twelve to see Palawan’s Underground River on my way to El Nido, and took a seven-hour ferry ride from El Nido to Coron. It was a blissful meditation experience to converse with a Filipino navy officer on the deck of the ferry while taking in beautiful views.
When to Visit El Nido:
Always check for typhoons, as the country is unfortunately prone to them. For the best experience, I recommended going anytime in June-August, which is off-peak season. You are taking a risk with the weather, but you can island hop without excessive crowds. Even off peak, expect at least seven to ten other tourist boats while island hopping. If you like to go off the beaten track, look up TAO Adventures and sign up for their island hopping tours that range from three to five days. They operate closer to the peak season, and take travelers to private islands.
What you need in El Nido:
Bring cash! El Nido is a small town and credit cards are not accepted everywhere. Bring your bathing suit, hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, mosquito repellant, clothes to keep you cool, and a book. Snorkeling and scuba gear can be rented but the quality is inconsistent. If you have dietary restrictions, keep those on your list of packing priorities. There aren’t too many healthy or eclectic packaged goods available at the tiny shacks here. Remember to hydrate and do not drink tap water.
How to get to El Nido:
Your options depend on your time and budget. Direct flights from Manila (MNL) to El Nido (ENI) are few and expensive for SE Asia standards (approx: $250-300). But if you are short on time, take a flight. If you have a relaxed schedule, then you have a few cool options:
1) Take a flight from Manila (MNL) to Puerto Princesa (PPS), a city at the center of Palawan. Not a whole lot to do here, but you can definitely spend a night and have a nice meal in the country’s cleanest city. You can then take a direct eight-hour road trip by minivan or bus all available at the city center or through your accommodation.
2) Travel 50 miles north of Puerto Princesa to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World: the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Explore the Underground River for a few days before you make your way up to El Nido.
3) Travel to El Nido by ferry from Manila. Ferries in The Philippines are quite comfortable (air conditioning, entertainment and food) but the rides are long and often delayed, so this is an option for the traveler with plenty of time.
Best things to see in El Nido:
Island hopping around El Nido is the number one attraction here. Rent a private boat through your hotel or private companies in town. Explore the 7 Commandos Island for snorkeling, the Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Talisay Island, Matinloc Shrine and Helicopter Island. El Nido itself also has some beautiful beaches accessible by foot or tricycle (their version of a tuk-tuk). These are Marimegmeg Beach/Las Cabanas Beach, 7 Commandos Beach (accessible by boat and part of one of the island hopping tours), and Corong Corong Beach. Matinloc Island now has a resort with facilities to ferry you to El Nido and back, about a 15 minute ride. This is a great stay option if you want to avoid crowds. More adventurous travelers can rent kayaks to go from El Nido to Matinloc. Scuba enthusiasts can use the company Palawan Divers to set up a dive. During my night dive, I saw a blue-spotted stingray, an egg cowry, three types of seahorses, and several nudibranchs – all quite rare. Coron is also a very popular dive spot with actual WWII wrecks to explore.
Getting around El Nido:
Transportation is easy, as El Nido is small and you can walk to most places. Additionally, most people speak English here. If you’re staying a bit further away from shore, there are tricycles (small tuk-tuks) everywhere always looking for your business. Also, this tiny town was hit badly by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, so a lot part of their economy still depends on you. Haggling with the tricycle driver is not needed, as unlike in Manila, they will quote you a fair price and will go out of their way to ensure you’re at the right destination.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On Cambodia’s southwest coast lies serene Otres Beach- a hidden paradise that most people have never heard of, much less visited. With gentle waves, sandy beaches and lazy cafes, Otres is your typical countryside beach. It is tucked away from the busier party area surrounding Serendipity beach, which is closer to the town center of Sihanoukville. With its backpacker and hippie vibe, this beach is certainly on the road less traveled. This part of Cambodia is still relatively unknown. Travelers who are able to spend time exploring Cambodia beyond Angkor Wat will be happy they made the trip to Otres Beach. Dabbled with western tourists, it is not crowded-yet. The hot Cambodian climate lends itself to beach lounging, yoga, drinking cheap Angkor beer and perhaps a little paddle boarding- if you are up for it. The sunsets on Otres are particularly amazing, so be sure to have your camera ready.
The good thing is, for most western travelers, Cambodia is very budget friendly. On Otres beach, travelers can treat themselves to inexpensive pedicures, manicures and massages for a few dollars. To feast at a fraction of western prices, buy grilled calamari or fresh mango from a Khmer woman selling food on the beach. Luckily, the local vendors are respectful, keeping the atmosphere calm. This region of the ocean is also scattered with small beautiful islands that are an hour’s boat ride away from the mainland. In fact, you can see two of biggest islands, Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem from the shore. Travelers can explore these islands by reserving an island “cruise” from one of the beach travel vendors.
How to get to Otres Beach:
The nearest town is Sihanoukville, which has an airport. If visiting Angkor Wat (a must!) during your time in Cambodia, the easiest way is to take a flight from Siem Reap. The cheapest way to get to Otres Beach is by bus. Buses run from both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Taking about 4 hours from Phnom Penh and 10 hours from Siem Reap, the bus will drop you off at the town center. From there, take a 15 minute, 5 USD tuk tuk ride to get to Otres Beach.
What to bring to Cambodia:
Bring beach wear for Otres beach, sunscreen, and insect repellant. Luckily, if you can’t carry it with you due to airline liquid regulations, insect repellant can be cheaply purchased in Cambodia.
Best time of the year to visit Cambodia:
Because Cambodia has a warm to hot climate year around, Otres Beach is always a good place to relax. However, the monsoon season runs from late May to November. To avoid rain, plan travel around those months. For budget travelers, room rates (which are already low for western travelers) can be a real bargain during the rainy season.
What not to miss in Cambodia:
Leave Otres for a day to explore one of the islands. They are great for snorkeling, swimming and hiking. The island cruises are usually day trips leaving from the port in the town center. Those to really wish to get away from it all may choose to stay overnight at Koh Rong or Koh Rong Samloem. Of course, while in Cambodia, no visit is complete with a visit to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. The temples in and around Angkor Wat are not to be missed when visiting this fantastic country. Cheap flights to Siem Reap can be found on local Asian carriers. Be sure to get to Otres Beach before everyone else does!
For breathtaking views, blue-green seas, white sand and G rated massages, be happy and head to Krabi. The province of Krabi is located along the Andaman Sea in southern Thailand. This area is famous for its stunning landscapes with limestone peaks jutting from both the land and sea. The beach town of Ao Nang is a good place to stay while exploring this area. From Ao Nang, visitors can take a long tail boat to visit Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach, Phra Nang Cave, and several small picturesque islands on the Andaman Sea. The famous Phi Phi islands (where the movie “The Beach” was filmed) and Maya Bay can also be visited as a day trip from Ao Nang. This area is also famous amongst rock climbers who come from around the world to climb at both Railay Beach and Ton Sai Beach. To the north of Krabi lies Phang Nga Bay (known for its James Bond filming location) and to the west is Phuket. The beach landscapes in Krabi, with stunning limestone mountains in the backdrop, make this scenic area of Thailand unforgettable.
Where to stay in krabi, Thailand:
Ao nang has plenty of hotel and restaurant options which are all walking distance to Ao Nang beach (where you can get a long tail boat). Ao Nang pier (where the ferry to Phi Phi leaves from) is a short tuk tuk ride from the main strip of hotels in Ao Nang. There are limited hotel options on Railay Beach and Phra Nang Beach, but remember that these beaches are only accessible by boat, which will limit your options for finding food at night, but gives you first access to the beach in the morning.
How to get to Krabi, thailand:
Krabi has a airport (airport code: KBV) that is located 30 minutes from the beach town of Ao Nang. From Phuket airport (code HKT), Ao Nang is a 2 hour drive. From the airport, take a taxi or pre-arranged transport to your Ao Nang hotel.
HOw to get to the phi phi islands and other islands:
Travelers should consider staying in the town of Ao Nang as it has many hotel options, food options, and is a good base for further travel. This small Krabi beach town has a pier where speedboats can be rented, and it is from the Ao Nang pier that the ferry leaves for the Phi Phi Islands. At Ao Nang beach, a long tail boat can be arranged to visit Railay Beach, Phra Nang Beach, and Phra Nang Cave. The easiest way to get to Phi Phi Islands is by speedboat. The cheapest way to get to the Phi Phi Islands is by the ferry. If traveling by ferry, plan to stay overnight at Phi Phi. This way you will have ample time to rent a long tail boat to visit the islands and it’s many beautiful locations, including Maya Bay and Phi Ley Bay. Aside from visiting the Phi Phi Islands (about 90 minutes by ferry from Ao Nang Pier and 1 hour by speedboat), there are several other islands closer to Krabi that can be explored. Koh Hong, Chicken Island, Koh Poda, Koh La Ding, and Koh Phak Bia (just to name a few) are stunning islands that are far less crowded than the Phi Phi Islands (Koh = Island). They are also closer to Ao Nang (20 minutes by speedboat, or 40 minutes by long tail).
what to know before visiting thailand:
This part of Thailand is very hot. The high temperature is between 80-90 degrees Fahrenheit (25-30 degrees Celsius) year round. Wear a bathing suit and bring a change of clothes so you can easily get in and out of the water. Bring plenty of sunscreen and insect repellant while island hopping in Thailand. Re-apply often and generously. Bring plenty of cash to pay for tuk tuks, long tail boats, food, and park fees. Certain protected places (like Hong Island and Maya Bay) are national parks and have small fees that are collected on arrival. When spending time on these small islands, remember that if you didn’t bring it, it is unlikely to be there. So bring a towel, a sun umbrella, and snacks. Maya Bay has a small and limited snack bar, but Hong Island does not. Get up early to make the most of your day as the sun will set around 6 pm.
How to get to krabi:
While Thailand’s beaches are all very beautiful, there is nothing quite like the landscapes and backdrops in and around Krabi. Cheap flights to Bangkok can be found through local Asian carriers, and then you can fly to Krabi (airport code: KBV) from Bangkok (airport codes: BKK and DMK). If you are flying into Phuket (airport code: HKT) or staying in Phuket, Ao Nang is a 2 to 3 hour drive depending on traffic. It is best to arrange a driver ahead of time if you are planning to drive between Phuket and Krabi. To get to the Phi Phi Islands, you can take a ferry from the Ao Nang Pier or a speedboat. Speedboats are the fastest and most convenient way to get to Phi Phi and allow you the most freedom to explore the hidden parts of these islands. If taking the ferry, plan to spend at least one night in the Phi Phi Islands as the journey is longer. Some travelers may choose to travel from Phuket to Krabi via the Phi Phi Islands, as a ferry runs between these destinations.
what not to miss in thailand:
When visiting this area of southern Thailand, be sure to see Railay Beach, Phra Nang Cave, Maya Bay, and one of the many beautiful isolated islands (Koh Hong, Koh Lao La Ding, Koh Poda to name a few) in the Andaman Sea. Rent a long tail or speedboat for the day from Krabi, and explore the tiny islands off the Krabi Coast. Phang Nga Bay is also famous for its gorgeous scenery and is about half way between Phuket and Krabi. Thrill seekers should book a rock climbing excursion ahead of time.
Snorkeling is also a nice way to pass the time in this unique part of the world. Finally, end a long day of swimming with an affordable (5 to 10 USD for 60 minutes) Thai massage (the G rated kind). No need to book this ahead of time as there are several places on each street. Party-goers can find nightlife in nearby Phuket. While Krabi and Ao Nang have less of a party scene, the landscapes of Krabi are unbeatable.
A day trip to this spectacular snorkel spot can be easily made from Waikiki. Hanauma Bay on the island of Oahu is home to 400 species of fish. It is known for having an abundance of green sea turtles and colorful parrotfish. This is a protected state park, and it is against the law to mistreat the marine animals. While snorkeling you should avoid touching or walking on coral heads. These look like large rocks on the bottom of the ocean. Additionally, having contact with certain marine life here carries the risk of cutting your skin which can then lead to an infection. It is really expensive to rent snorkel equipment here- better off buying your own before visiting! Your food options are limited near the snorkel area so consider bringing snacks and water with you. The best time to visit is early in the day, as the sun goes behind the cove of the preserve in the afternoon.
WHEN TO VISIT Hawaii:
November through March are considered Hawaii’s “rainy season.” The rain, however, usually only lasts a few hours and the weather tends to be warm and pleasant in between. Budget travelers may be interested in traveling during this time. For a better chance at good weather and less crowds, visit slightly early in the summer months between May and June. Late June into September is a popular time for families to travel to Hawaii so hotel and flight prices may be higher. Hanauma Bay is specifically closed on Tuesdays. Visit early in the day for the most sun!
WHAT TO Bring to Hanauma Bay:
Remember to bring a bathing suit, a change of clothes, a towel, sunscreen, snacks and snorkel gear. There is a small entrance fee so bring some cash.
HOW TO GET TO Hanauma Bay:
Non stop flights to Honolulu are available from both JFK and Newark at the time of this post. For those on a budget, one stop flights can be slightly cheaper, and usually stop in California. Once in Honolulu, you can catch the #22 bus from Waikiki to get out here or rent a car. There is a parking lot on site but it tends to fill up early in the morning, so plan accordingly. Specific details regarding bus cost, shuttle options, entrance fee and parking can be found at the state park’s website.
We took a lancha 1.5 hours from Cartagena to the Rosario Islands, an archipelago off the coast of Colombia. Some of the islands are tiny and have just one house on them. The largest
in the archipelago is La Isla Grande. You can take any boat (una lancha) out to the cluster of islands from Cartagena- but then find a local guide on La Isla Grande. A speedboat can efficiently take you around the perimeter to get a close up view of the now empty and insanely vast vacation / party complex of drug lord Pablo Escobar. Our guide, Marcelo, also took us to a nearby reef to snorkel 😎 with some really colorful fish. This area was founded as a National Park in the late 1980’s to protect the beautiful coral reefs of this region. This area offers some of the best snorkeling in the caribbean sea. After a long day in the sun here, return to colorful Cartagena for dinner in the walled city.
Blue Beach (also known as La Chiva) on the Caribbean island of Vieques is quite aptly named. Vieques, which used to be a US Naval Base, boasts some of the world’s most beautiful and unspoiled beaches. Because many of the island’s idyllic beaches are protected (no hotels can be built on the beach) you will need to rent an off-road vehicle to properly explore this slice of heaven. Remember you will have to bring everything with you- including towels, umbrellas and snacks- as this beach is isolated and not commercialized. You can reach Vieques (which is part of Puerto Rico) by taking a short 18 minute flight from San Juan.
The Icelandic village of Vik is about 180 kilometers from Reykjavik (about a 2 hour drive). The basalt rock columns seen in this photo rise above the sea and provide a dramatic backdrop during sunset. The folklore behind these striking columns is that they are former Trolls who were trying to drag their boats out to sea, but were caught by the sunrise. Because trolls are creatures of the night, the daylight froze them into the columns you see rising from the Atlantic. Vik is particularly famous for its black sand beaches – the black sand being the black basalt. Another interesting find here is the Puffin bird- it can be spotted in the Vik beaches during its nesting season.
BEST TIME TO VISIT Iceland:
Plan a visit in late June, July or August when the weather is the warmest and the days are the longest. Summer travel, while more expensive, allows you to make the most of your time there. During the longest days in the summer, the sun will set after midnight and rise again around 3 am! If you want to get the best deals on hotels in Iceland, you may choose to travel in May or September. Remember, because of Iceland’s proximity to the North Pole, the days become shorter quickly, leaving less time to explore Iceland’s natural beauty. The near 24 hours of daylight plummets to 11 hours of daylight by mid September. Although that is still plenty of time to explore, Vik is two hours from both Reykjavik and Jökulsárlón. Thus, long drives between destinations, especially at night, is more challenging on poorly lit roads.
WHAT TO BRING / WEAR:
In the summer months you will need plenty of layers. During the day the temperature could be 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit (or about 15 degrees Celsius), but at night it can drop as low as 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring waterproof boots as well. Even though it may not rain, the beach at Vik is cold and damp-definitely not the traditional “toes in the sand” situation. If you plan to travel off season, bring a winter coat, hat, and gloves. Made obvious by the country’s name, it is cold here.
HOW TO GET TO Vik, Iceland:
The easiest way is by renting a car. Several tour companies will also offer tours from Reykjavik (379 kilometers away) to Jökulsárlón, which will stop in Vik along the way. However, this will limit the amount of time you can spend here. For the most freedom, rent a car, and plan to stay overnight in Vik. Vik is located right off the Route 1 ring road.
The cheapest way to get to Vik is to hitchhike or take a bus. Although I did not hitchhike, if there’s any country to try it in, this would be it. There is one major road in the country and it has the lowest crime rates. Another option is taking Strætó, which provides bus service in the capital and to other parts of Iceland. Bus route 51 travels from Reykjavik (the bus stop in the capital city is called “Mjodd”) to Vik as well as Jökulsárlón.
WHAT NOT TO MISS IN ICELAND:
In addition to Vik, Jökulsárlón is one of Iceland’s most famous sites. It is 2 hours from Vik. Along Iceland’s southern coast, you will also find the striking waterfall of Skogafoss. Closer to the capital city, is the famous Golden Circle route which covers geysirs, the Thingvellir National Park, and Gulfoss (another waterfall).
This photo was taken in the underrated sand dunes of Northern and Western Michigan. What so many travelers do not know is that Michigan’s landscape, particularly near Lake Michigan is anything but ordinary. The dramatic sand dunes dive into the the enormous lake below. Silver Lake Dunes is about a 3 hour drive from Detroit and will allow adventure enthusiasts to rent dune buggies. Sleeping Bear Dunes is further from Detroit and more north but boasts close proximity to Traverse City which is a well known resort destination amongst Michigan residents. You don’t need to head half way around the world to experience this landscape!
Taylor Bay on the island of Providenciales or Provo is one of the most spectacular sites on the island. The water is shallow, calm and clear for nearly a mile out. Turks and Caicos travelers staying on a resort on the Grace Bay side of the island will have to rent a car to get here. But it is well worth it. The bay is adjacent to Sapodilla Bay and although seemingly approachable when looking at a map, the parking is difficult. The roads leading up to the bay are lined with elite villas all on private property. So, while the beach is public, it’s access is limited due to parking limitations. What did we do? We strapped on backpacks with snacks, sunscreen, towels and water, parked the car in a safe and legal (we think) place, and used GPS on our phones to get us down there. It was so breathtaking, we did it again the next day. And the next. Happy travels! PS. There is little shade so bring a beach umbrella!