Just a quick 6 hour drive from New York City, Montreal is a cultural and culinary playground just across the Canadian border. Escape the muggy heat in NYC, and head to cooler pastures in our friendly neighbor to the north. We made our drive a little longer and drove through the scenic Adirondacks, rather than sticking to highway driving. Aside from eating late night poutine and feeling bad about yourself, reasons to escape to Montreal in the summer are (1) Everything is cheaper in Canada! (2) It’s been called a poor man’s Paris (3) You are a poor man and can’t take your girl to Paris… yet. (4) Everything is cheaper in Canada! and finally (5) There’s a rumor that Canadians are nicer than us. Here’s a quick guide to exploring the city in a long weekend. Remember to bring your passport!
Start where the city itself began, exploring a mix of cobbled streets, cozy restaurants and boutiques that make Old Montreal a stroller’s paradise. Station Place-d’Armes is the closest metro station to the area; the district lies east and is focused around Place Jacques Cartier.
Built in 1656, this is Montreal’s oldest church and a key Old Montreal landmark. Inside, the blaze of carvings, sculptures and stained glass may be a little gaudy for some tastes, but they’re certainly impressive and unmissable. This Gothic Revival basilica is one of the Montreal’s most remarkable sights. It is decorated with beautiful wood carvings.
It was a home of French governors in the 18th century. Nowadays it is a repository of Québec history, there are over 20 thousand pieces of art and furniture.
Montreal City Hall
This building is built in the Second Empire style. It is famous for Charles de Gaulle’s speech from its balcony. Admission is free!
Walk along Vieux Port
The old port experienced the pinnacle of its glory days in the 19th century as one of the most important inland harbors in North America, but its importance declined throughout the 20th century. By the end of the 1980’s, however, it experienced a breath of new life as it was transformed into a recreational area. Now, whether it’s the cycling in the summer or skating on rinks in the winter, the old port’s 12.5 km of waterside walkways adds to the charm of this popular district of Montreal.
Pointe-a-Calliere Archeology Museum
This has to be one of the most interesting museums that we have ever been to, and if we go back to Montreal, it would be worth checking out a second time! Built on top of excavated building foundations and water systems from the 17th century, this setting makes the perfect setting for learning about Montreal’s fascinating history and the role it has played in Canada’s history as a whole. Just don’t visit on Monday- they are closed.
Shopping and lunch at Underground Street
A glorified mall to some but a refuge from severe weather for many, Montreal’s Underground City is a 30 kilometer labyrinth of climate-controlled subterranean passages. They are replete with restaurants, shops, cinemas, museums and metro stations.
Parc du Mont Royal
This mountain park offers wonderful view of the city of Montreal. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park.
St. Joseph’s Oratory
This magnificent oratory is dedicated to St. Joseph who is Canada’s patron saint. It is built in the Italian Renaissance style.
Evening at Crescent Street
This busy street of pubs and restaurants intersects with Sainte-Catherine at the southern end of Downtown and is well worth a visit at the end of the day for food, drinks and people- watching. Unwind here before making the drive back to New York City!
When visiting the southern part of France, the cities of Nice, Monaco, Cannes, Avignon and Provence are popular choices on traveler itineraries. However, be sure to add some of these lesser known places to your travel plans. While the French rail and bus system can get travelers just about anywhere, the best way to explore the list below efficiently is by renting a car. Travelers who are able to drive manual / stick shift cars will save money on their car rental!
The Ruins at Glanum
Just 12 miles south of Avignon lies the ancient town of Glanum. This fortified town was founded in the 6th century BCE and was then destroyed by the Alamanni (a confederation of German tribes) in 260 AD. The people of Glanum abandoned the area and moved north to found what became the present day town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is well known as being the location in which Van Gogh spent the last years of his life.
St. Remy is a charming little town a 30 minute drive south of Avignon. Spend a day wandering the streets, stopping into shops, and visiting St. Paul’s Asylum, where Van Gogh spent the last years of his life. In the Van Gogh Field, located on the psychiatric hospital grounds, there are several reproductions of the painter’s work on the actual sites where he painted them. Travelers are able to see what Van Gogh saw as he painted the scene in front of him.
Travel about 1.5 hours east of St. Remy to visit the lavender fields near the Luberon and Sault regions. They are in bloom from June to August, which is prime tourist season for visiting this part of France. Try some of the locally made lavender honey, and bring home some lavender soap.
Gorges Du Verdon
Continue further east from Luberon to visit the magnificent Gorges Du Verdon, or “Europe’s Grand Canyon.” Park your car near the kayak and paddleboat rental, and spend an hour or two exploring this site. If you have more than two people, you may want to look into pre booking a larger boat. For small groups, there is no need to make a paddleboat reservation ahead of time.
Leave Gorges du Verdon and head south towards the French Riviera. Before you get to the larger cities of Nice, Cannes, or Marseille, visit the idyllic fishing port of Cassis. Rent a boat or kayak from Cassis and swim in the blue waters of Calanque d’en Vau. If you are up for an enduring hike, trek to the beach at En Vau (secluded but a 2 hour hike each way). The boat tours from Cassis into this area are usually not allowed to dock at the beach, so, if you want to spend time on the beach itself, you will likely need to trek there.
Just beyond the hill-stations of Himachal and Srinagar and just before the inhabitable upper Himalayas lies the sparsely populated region of Ladakh, the ‘Land of the High Passes’. A pocket of Tibetan culture carved into Indian borders, Ladakh is an oasis of valleys thriving amongst a harsh Himalayan ranges that slice through the land. Excursions from Leh, the sleepy, monastery-filled capital, are recommended to the Nubra Valley, a major stop in the ancient Silk Road, and Pangong Lake, a massive clear-blue lake that straddles India and China.
Start the morning drive early and rise out of Leh through one of the highest mountain passes in the world, the Khardung-La Pass, which peaks at a staggering 5602 meters (18,379 feet). There’s a cheeky chai station at the top reminding you that you’re on top of the world.
After conquering Khardung-La, your view opens to the sanctuary that is the Nubra Valley. A small pocket of monasteries, homes, and camel farms remain of what once used to be a large trading post between China and India on the Silk Road. In the distance, the Siachen Glacier can be glimpsed where both India and Pakistan maintain forward army posts at inhumane elevations.
Backtrack to Leh and cross the mighty Chang-La pass and be greeted by the colossal, shimmering-blue Lake Pangong: a saline lake that sits at 4350 meters (14,270 ft), covers 604 square kilometers, and is 134km (83 miles) long.
The barren, immense moonscapes of Ladakh have an incredible way of making you feel small.
When to Visit Ladakh:
The tourist season is short, from June to September with peak tourism combining with flower blooms in the valleys in late-July, early-August—a truly remarkable sight. We went in late April and combatted avalanches, blizzards, and sub-zero evening temperatures, which surely instructs you to the power of the region but is not recommended.
What to Wear/What to Bring to Ladakh:
Layers are a must. After a hike to a monastery you want to rip every off, but after sitting in the car passing over 18,000 feet you’re reaching for the earmuffs. We would sleep in multiple sweaters and hibernate in winter coats. Great boots are essential. Gloves, a camera, and a penchant for adventure are all else that you need.
How to get around Ladakh:
Purists would advocate renting a motorcycle and driving the entire long, unpredictable route on Royal Enfield like a Bollywood movie star. However, it’s safer and faster to fly from Delhi to Leh and hire a local driver who will skillfully transport you around the region. Of note, all foreign nationals are required to purchase the Protected Area Permit (600 INR) to enter the Nubra Valley and the Pangong Lake regions. Each town outside of Leh sports a few comfortable and affordable accommodations for you to rest after conquering each successful mountain pass.
What not to miss in Ladakh:
Do not forget to give yourself time to acclimatize! The day we arrived we felt as if someone had wrung us through a clothes-dryer; we spent a full day lying in bed trying not to move a muscle. Drink water aggressively and use Diamox if you have a history of altitude sickness—acute cerebral or pulmonary edema is serious. In lighter advise, ask your driver to take you to the roads overlooking the Indus River as it runs through Ladakh. It’s a humbling experience to see the pure water make it’s way towards the coast and contemplate its role in the creation of a civilization.
The Hungarian Parliament building is the third largest parliament building in the world, boasting 691 rooms and 12.5 miles of stairs. The building, which lies on the banks of the Danube river, was completed in 1904 and sits in Lajos Kossuth Square.
Guided tours are offered when the National Assembly is not in session and cost approximately $15 USD (4000 HUF) lasting 45 minutes. The parliament building is a popular attraction at night – viewed from across the river while illuminated makes it a very memorable sight.
Beside the parliament building lies the Shoes on the Danube, a memorial to Budapest Jews who were executed along the river between 1944 and 1945. They were forced to remove their shoes beforehand because of the value of shoes at the time. The iron shoes were created by Hungarian sculptor Gyula Pauer in 2005. Learn more about the Jewish history sites in Budapest here.
Getting to Budapest
From New York, travelers will have to connect in Europe to get to Budapest. Direct flights to Budapest (BUD) leave from Brussels, Zurich, Frankfurt, Istanbul, Munich, Vienna, and Paris. To get to the parliament building, take subway M2 to the Kossuth Ter stop. The Shoes on the Danube are beside the parliament building. To get to the Basilica, take subway line M3 to the Arany János Utca stop. Both sites are a short walk from each other.
Top Tourist Sites in Budapest
St. Stephens Basilica or Szent Istvan Bazilika is the largest church in Budapest and is dedicated to the first king St. Stephen. The basilica’s dome reaches 96 meters high –identical to the height of the Hungarian Parliament building. This commonality represents the balance between church and state in Hungary. Visitors can visit the inside of the basilica free of charge and gaze up at the intricate interiors of the dome. For a breathtaking panoramic view of all of Budapest guests can climb the 364 steps or take an elevator for $1.75 USD (500 HUF) to the domes’ observation deck.
Travelers should also leave time to visit the Hungarian Jewish Museum and The Great Synagogue, which are also top tourist sites in Budapest. To further explore the Jewish history sites in Budapest, include a trip to the House of Terror museum.
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.
Now seemingly mysterious, forbidden, and disconnected, Havana has a history and culture inextricably linked to ours. To understand Havana now, imagine yourself in the Cuba of the 1950s. Three hundred years of Spanish prosperity had blossomed Havana into one the largest, most-heavily fortified, and relevant ports in the Caribbean. A brief stint of American occupation in the early 1900s, and 40 years of independent republican rule, have created a rambunctious, flourishing, and vibrant playground for Americans, Cubans, and Europeans alike. But, life was not rosy for most-income disparity and corruption was rampant, and Fidel launched the infamous revolution that would forever change Cuba.
Property and business were nationalized, and imports largely disappeared. The Cuban people were given rooms to live in the mansions of the former elite. However, over the years and especially after the disappearance of Soviet financial backing in 1990s, the regime found it impossible to maintain their capital. You now walk amongst the dust that coats the former glitz. Havana has a complex and controversial history, but let’s focus on how to explore this unique capital.
Everything you hear about Cuba is true. The old cars, the dusty, old mansions, salsa-blaring dance parties, the warm, vivacious people–it all hits you and invites you the minute you land. But, as aforementioned it is indeed a bizarre rapture in time with ’50s-era infrastructure and ’90s-era internet connectivity. It’s easier to travel there now than ever; but it’s a place you want to go to well-prepared. Expect to be dazzled, frustrated, and inspired at the same time.
Make reservations at La Guarida. Take these dilapidated stairs in an abandoned building in Central Havana and enter a cozy, modern, beautiful restaurant with amazing cuisine.
Get lost wandering the streets of old Havana searching for the perfect salsa night–we recommend the bar in the Hotel Florida. To the east lies Old Havana, where the oldest churches, squares, and plazas are found. Just west lies Centro, a large urban residential neighborhood. Further west is Vedado, a rich suburb where the best hotels and casinos were built. Vedado is your destination for beautiful jazz clubs and cabarets. Rent a bike to get around! It’s a great way to quickly get your bearings.
THE BEST TIME TO VISIT CUBA:
The tourist (peak) season is between December to May, which coincides with the Caribbean dry season. Accommodations will be harder to find, but you will have the advantage of avoiding rain. Between December and May the high temperature ranges between 79 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit and the low between 61 and 70 degrees.
HOW TO GET TO CUBA:
Option 1: Fly through a connecting country. We booked a flight through a US aggregator (Kayak, etc) to Cancun. From the U.S., we booked a roundtrip flight on Copa Airlines’ website (you can use Cubana Airlines or Aeromexico) from Cancun to Havana. Mexico will stamp you on entry and on return from Havana. Cuban officials are unlikely to stamp an American passport and you will likely have two Mexico entry stamps within a small period of time. World Travel Hack does not promote or endorse any illegal travel, and all travelers should abide by U.S. visitation guidelines. Havana’s airport code is HAV, and non stop flights to Cuba can be found from Panama City (PTY), Amsterdam (AMS), London, Paris, Mexico City (MEX), Toronto (YYZ), and Montreal (YUL).
Option 2: Take a direct flight to Cuba from the United States. A few American carriers are now starting non stop flights to Cuba. Americans are legally allowed to travel to Cuba and spend money there if the trip falls within one of twelve approved reasons (family visitation, professional research, religious activities, etc. Learn more here). You have to declare your purpose of visitation on departure and return.
Option 3: Organize everything through a tourist agency who will charter a flight and take care of all the paperwork for you (and schedule your entire trip within the twelve approved reasons)- but that’s no fun, is it?
WHAT TO BRING TO CUBA:
Bring cash to Cuba! It was rare to find a place that accepted a credit card and our US debit cards were denied at ATMs. There’s almost no petty crime in Cuba so bring in whatever you need in hand (70-80 USD /day for mid range travelers). Money exchange services (found in airports, hotels, and the rare bank with terrible hours of operation) tax the USD 10% so we bought Euros in our home city and exchanged those. There are two main currencies: The CUC which is 1:1 to the Dollar and used for hotels, restaurants, buses, etc. There is a local CNC(pegged at 25 CNC to the Dollar) that is used by locals to buy groceries, street food, and other odds-and-ends. You will almost always use CUC but be careful not to receive back CNC from an untrustworthy cashier. If your Spanish is up to speed, you can buy your meals at local places with CNC. Other than monetary concerns, traveling to Havana is akin to traveling to any standard Caribbean destination However, Havana in particular has a lovely diversity of venues and a respect for style so bring something nice to wear out.
WHERE TO STAY IN CUBA:
Havana has some grand, government-run hotels. These were former stomping grounds for the American Mafia and elite Europeans in the ‘1950s (these were nationalized after the revolution); and, although imposing, have not been renovated adequately throughout the years. To experience local charm stay with a Cuban family in a casa particular, or homestay. These can be booked through AirBnB prior to your arrival and cost ~20-30CUC per night. The hosts will serve you a lovely home-cooked Cuban meal for 5 CUC per meal. Our casa host became our point-person for the trip: he arranged places to stay in different cities, rented us a local cell phone, acted as a currency exchange point, found us bikes to rent…you name it. Once you stay in one, you become a part of the family.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN CUBA
A cab from the airport will cost you 30CUC. Depending on which neighborhood you stay in, you may need to just walk to explore. Otherwise there are several cheap transportation options from taxis, open air tuk-tuks, pedal-taxis, and antique car rental. Negotiate your rate before hand when taking a taxi, and if renting a car, ask if a driver is included.
To move from city to city, you can reasonably split the cost of a taxi rental between a few people. Otherwise, Viazul has a tourist bus service that will move you between cities from 15-25 CUC. There is another service called a collective, which are shared taxis that run based on demand. It’s advisable to go to the main station in Havana the day before and negotiate your rate and book a ticket, as it’s not something you can do online. The key point about travel in Cuba is to expect the worst. Your car may break down, the bus may decide to cancel it’s route, or the roads might be blocked. So take your time and don’t over-plan. If you have 7 days expect to see 2 or 3 cities max.
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!
The sleepy town of Varkala is located in the state of Kerala in Southern India. The town lies on India’s west coast and is about 50 km north of the city of Trivandrum. The breathtaking cliffs lining the beach here makes for extraordinary sunsets. The gorgeous beaches are some of the most sought after for surfing enthusiasts from all over the world. The beach here is cleaner and less crowded in comparison to other beaches along the Arabian Sea coastline. The resort area has two cliffs, north and south, overlooking the beach areas. The main beach, called Papanasam, is between these two cliffs. Folklore believes that this beach has holy waters which will wash away sins. Another beach, named Black Beach is located further north. There is a sidewalk along the cliff edge that allows travelers to access the different parts of this small resort town.
Additionally, Varkala has lush greenery, coconut and banana farms in excess, beautiful backwaters, fishermen communities, great seafood and a sleepy vibe that the state of Kerala is known for. Travelers can easily rent a scooter for about $5 a day and drive around the town as well as visit historical temples. With yoga retreats and Ayurvedic massages galore, Varkala makes for a calming getaway (for all ages) from the maddening shroud that can sometimes be the rest of India.
Kerala is an extremely precious part of India with beautiful landscapes and backwaters in abundance. So, it is very important for us to be responsible tourists. I believe in supporting the manual boats and canoes rather than the bigger houseboats as those are known to be encroaching on the delicate ecosystem. The disposal of diesel into the water pollutes the marine life and the water that is used by the local fishing and farming communities.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT KERALA:
The monsoon season runs between May and October, with the heaviest rainfall historically in June, July and August. I, personally, love watching the thunderstorms over the sea, especially from up top of a cliff, so I don’t mind a visit during monsoon time. However, for travelers short on time, it is probably best to avoid the rainy season. Summer, from March to May, can be very humid and very hot. The winter months from December to February offer warm and dry weather and are the most optimal time to visit. December can be an expensive month to visit India ( in general) as it tends to be popular amongst tourists. January is a good fit for those trying to catch dry weather, escape extremes of heat, and avoid expensive markups on hotels and flights. The high temperature in January is still in the mid 80s (or around 30 degrees Celsius).
WHAT TO WEAR IN KERALA:
It is perfectly alright to wear bikinis/bathing suits/swim trunks while at the beach. However, I would strongly recommend covering up properly if moving away from the beach and/or climbing back up to the cliff area in order to be respectful of the local culture and also avoid uncomfortable stares. Wearing cotton shirts and comfortable trousers/skirts to go into town is a good idea to cover up appropriately while also remaining cool as the temperatures can get pretty high during the day.
HOW TO GET TO VARKALA:
The nearest airport is Trivandrum(TRV) and one can easily catch a taxi to Varkala for about $20. Alternatively, one can also take the train – Kanyakumari Express – to Varkala Sivagiri Station. If you plan to fly into Kochi (COK), which is another city in the state of Kerala, the train ride south to Varkala is about 4 hours. I would recommend the train, as the ride provides gorgeous views of the lush landscape. At the time of this post, non-stop flights to TRV and COK are available from Mumbai, Delhi, and Abu Dhabi. Cheap flights to India often involve at least one stop from the United States. Non stop flights from New York and Newark are available to Delhi and Mumbai on Air India and United Airlines, which often save time, but are more expensive.
BEING SAFE IN KERALA:
Although Varkala is one of the chillest and safest towns in the area, it is always a good idea to be cautious. The town goes to sleep quite early, so use caution if walking around after dark. In fact, past sunset, there is not much to do in the evening hours. You can hang out at one of the restaurant bars on the cliff, listen to the waves crash, and watch the fishing boats return home after a long day’s work.
WHAT NOT TO MISS IN KERALA:
Travelers can opt to take a quick day trip to the nearby Ponnumthuruthu Island, also called the Golden Island. While in the Golden Island you can take a relaxing manual boat rides along the water. The Golden Island is just 12 km south of Varkala. Varkala is also famous for the Janardana Swami Temple, a two thousand year old shrine, which is often referred to as Dakshin Kashi (Benares of the South). The temple is in close proximity to Papanasam beach. While Varkala is usually visited for the beach and yoga, you may also want to experience the famous Kerala Backwaters. The three most well known regions of Kerala’s backwaters are Astamudi, Vembanad, and Kannur-Valiyaparambu Backwaters (in districts of Kannur and Kasargod). The backwaters near Astamudi lake are the closest to Varkala.
The stunning Cliffs of Moher, on Ireland’s west coast, reach a maximum height of 702 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. This is not the place to be a careless idiot-unless you want to plunge quickly to your death (vacayfail). Even in the summer, it can be windy, and there is no one stopping you from getting right up to the edge of the cliff (at your own risk, of course).
We arrived here by car from Galway (just under 2 hours) and spent about 2.5 hours here. Even on a cloudy day (plenty of those in Ireland) the scenery here is remarkable. The history of the Cliffs of Moher dates back at least two thousand years. The name comes from a 1st Century BC fort that use to be where the Moher Tower stands now. The Cliffs of Moher are named after the old Irish word “Mothar” which means ruined fort. Admission to the paths to walk along the cliffs (at the time of this post) is 6 Euros, which includes parking. You can visit between 9 am and 5 pm year round, with extended evening hours in the summer. There is also a visitors center with bathrooms and some limited food options. You may find cheap flights to Ireland by flying into Shannon airport, rather than Dublin. Shannon airport is on the west coast of Ireland and is a convenient gateway to Ireland’s west coast.
BEST TIME OF YEAR TO VISIT THE CLIFFS OF MOHER:
June, July, and August for the best weather and most frequent bus service (if you do not plan to rent a car). May and September for less crowds and mild weather.
WHAT TO WEAR:
Comfortable walking shoes to walk along the paths, and multiple layers in case it turns chilly. This area is always windy and it may rain so bring a raincoat!
HOW TO GET TO THE CLIFFS OF MOHER:
The easiest way is by renting a car from either Galway or Limerick. Several tour companies will also offer tours from Galway, and Limerick if you do not want to rent your own car. Some companies will even offer one day trips from Dublin. However, keep in mind that Dublin is 3 hour drive from the Cliffs of Moher, so a tour company offering to take you to the Cliffs and back to Dublin in one day means you will be leaving very early, spending little time on Ireland’s west coast and returning very late at night to Dublin. It is really best to spend a few nights on Ireland’s west coast to explore other areas. If you are traveling in a group and can split the cost of car rental, renting a car, and spending a few nights on the west coast, is the most efficient and painless way to visit the Cliffs.
The cheapest way to get to the Cliffs of Moher, especially if you are traveling alone, is by public transport. All major cities in Ireland are connected by rail, but to get to the Cliffs you will need to take a bus from the rail station. The train journey from Dublin to Galway is 3.5 hours. From Galway you can take a bus operated by the Bus Eireann Company. They offer more frequent service in the summer months so be sure to check the schedule before planning.
WHAT NOT TO MISS:
The Cliffs are amazing, but you also should explore the Ring of Kerry as well as the Gap of Dunloe which are also on Ireland’s west coast. Dunguaire castle, which sits beside a small lake, is a great place to take some photos of a real Irish castle. It is about an hour from the Cliffs, but it is en route to Galway, so is a nice way to break up the journey. Head north after leaving the Cliffs on N67 and take the road north for approximately 50 Km and the castle sits right off the side of the road as you approach Kinvarra (just past the intersection of N67 with R347).
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.
Central Park is awesome. I took my new camera to the Loeb Boathouse on Friday to test it out. While taking some pics from the iconic Bow Bridge, a couple in a gondola came by. Just as the guy began to propose, his friends (standing on the bridge beside me) jumped up screaming “Say Yes! Say Yes!” So much fun to watch!
Yes, it is a little cheesy, but if you are a visitor to NYC or a native, renting a boat in Central Park is something to try at least once. The gondola rides are on the pricier side – $45 per half hour – so if you are planning to propose, there is no time to be shy. A more reasonable option is to rent one of the row boats- $15 per hour (cash only!) with a $20 cash deposit. Each boat holds 4 people and the Loeb Boathouse provides life jackets. Enter the park in the east 70s and rent a boat from 10 am to 6 pm (weather permitting) from April to November.