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

Banff National Park – Summer Experience

Words and pictures do not fully capture the beauty of Banff National Park. Located right outside Calgary, Banff National Park is Canada’s first National Park and is part of the Rocky Mountains. Everywhere you look is a perfect, picturesque view of nature. The air is fresh with an aromatic scent of pine, spruce, and fir. And during those moments you are engulfed with a sense of peace.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park

It is easy to see why the people here are so kind and happy! Travelers to Banff are able to relax and just enjoy the scenery or get as adventurous as their heart desires. During the summer, the days are long and sunset is between 9 and 10 PM. The most popular cities in the park are Lake Louise and Banff.

Lake Louise

You certainly won’t be disappointed with the choices of trails circling Lake Louise. Whether a novice or a time-tested hiker, the views of this breathtaking lake and mountains will continue to captivate you no matter where you are along the trail.

Lake Louise

A typical hike starts at the Fairmont Hotel and ends at one of the two tea houses at Plain of Six Glaciers or Lake Agnes. If you’re like me and can’t decide which tea house to see, I suggest starting on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail and returning home on the path of Lake Agnes. A little caveat: this is one of the longer trails, around 6 hours – but it’ll be worth it in the end. Plus, you’ll have another reason to eat that delicious homemade teahouse cookie!

Other popular hikes in the area include:

–       Consolation Lakes Trail by Moraine Lake

–       Saddleback Pass Trail

–       Helen Lake Trail.

You can also visit trails by horseback.

Canoes are available to rent on Lake Louise and Moraine Lake. For the thrill-seekers, white water rafting tours are available outside of Lake Louise.

Banff National Park

Banff National Park


The town of Banff, located 30 minutes south of Lake Louise, has a cute downtown with shops, restaurants, and bars. Besides eating delicious food in town (Park Distillery Restaurant & Bar) and listening to some great live music at night at the Fairmont Rundle Lounge, some popular activities recommended are:

–       Banff Gondola at Sulfur Mountain

–       Hiking and Biking Trails

–       River Float Trip / Boat Tour on Lake Minnewanka

–       Johnston Canyon – easy walk/hike, looking at nature within the canyon rather than out.

–       Swimming in the 104 degree hotel pool (while cold outside)

Banff National Park

Travel Tips for Banff National Park:

Direct flights to Calgary leave from New York, Houston, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Seattle. Before you fly into Calgary International Airport, it is best you have your rental car booked ahead of time. The most convenient method is to rent from the rental car companies located at the airport parking garage. From the airport, it is an easy and scenic 1.5 hour drive to Banff National Park.  As you arrive at the park gate, there is a per day park vehicle fee you must pay ahead of time. For example, if you are staying 4 nights then pay for a 4 day pass. Fill up gas before you leave Banff or have rental car reservations to include an empty tank as finding a gas station towards the airport is difficult.) Also, if you are flying out internationally, US customs is BEFORE you get on the flight. Leave plenty of time to go through customs and regular security before you get to your gate.

Banff National Park

What to pack for a trip to Banff National Park:

– Passport

– No foreign transaction fee Credit Card, much easier than dealing with paper currency as credit cards are accepted everywhere.

– Insect repellent (very much needed during hikes in Lake Louise)

– Umbrella (never know when it can rain)

– Bathing suit (hotel pools and any water activities)

– Wind breaker/jacket/sweater – to wear during the hikes, at night, or when it’s milder out. The weather can vary drastically both day-to-day and day-to-night.

– Trail shoes/hiking boots/water shoes (for white water rafting)


As much as Drake loves talking about “Views”, the best views of Canada don’t come from Toronto. Indeed, the views from Banff National Park are second to none.

Thanks to Nirali for her awesome travel tips on Banff National Park!
Thanks to Nirali for her awesome travel tips on Banff National Park!

The Golden Circle, Iceland

One of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions is the “The Golden Circle”-a must see route for travelers visiting the country. About a 300 km journey beginning and ending in the capital city of Reykjavik, a visit to the sites of the The Golden Circle can be done as a day trip from the capital. Start your journey in Thingvellir National Park, which is not only the site of Iceland’s first parliament, but also where travelers can observe the magnificent splitting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The splitting of the tectonic plates has created deep fissures in the earth.

iceland thingvellir national park golden circle

One specific fissure, called Silfra, is a crack between the North American and Eurasian continental plates, and is a popular site for snorkeling and scuba diving. Spend a few hours exploring Thingvellir National Park and then continue your journey 60 km towards the geysers at Haukadalur. There are two famous geysers- Strokkur, which is still active, and Geysir (from which the word geyser originates), which is inactive. Strokkur erupts about once every ten minutes, so you won’t have to wait long to observe this natural phenomenon.

Geysir Iceland Golden Circle Tour

Strokkur, just before erupting
Strokkur, just before erupting
Strokkur erupts once every 8 to 10 minutes
Strokkur erupts once every 8 to 10 minutes

Finally, drive to the last stop in the Golden Circle route-powerful and magnificent Gullfoss. Gullfoss is a breathtaking waterfall created by the Hvítá (White) river, which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier (Langjökull).

gullfoss iceland golden circle

Spend another hour here before making your way back to Reykjavik. The whole Golden Circle route including driving time will take about 7 to 8 hours. If you have time and energy, add on a visit to the Kerid Crater. Although, not officially part of the Golden Circle route, the crater lake here has a deep shade of blue that is worth a visit.

Traveling to Iceland

Direct flights to Iceland are available from NYC, Boston, Minneapolis, London, Washington D.C., Oslo, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Stockholm, and Baltimore. Once in Iceland, you can make the capital city your base and book a Golden Circle tour with a local company, or rent a car. Given the fact that the country is sparsely populated, driving in Iceland is easy (in good weather, of course). However, gas prices and car rental prices tend to be higher. Depending on whether you are traveling alone or with a group, booking a tour may be cheaper than renting a car.

Iceland Travel Tips

Bring plenty of layers and a waterproof or water resistant jacket. Also, remember to pack some rain boots and bring them along even when it’s sunny as the approach to the waterfalls is often muddy. During the summer months Iceland has nearly 24 hours of daylight. Bringing along some over the counter melatonin may help you fall asleep at night. During the winter months your site seeing in Iceland will be affected by limited hours of daylight, so plan accordingly. However, a visit in the winter months means a higher chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

Aurora Borealis Iceland Northern Lights Iceland

Best Time to Visit Iceland

The tourist season in Iceland runs from late June to August. Hotel and flight prices are at their highest during this time. Visitors will be able to experience nearly 24 hours of daylight, and this is the best time to visit if you plan to drive the Ring Road around the country. By mid September, the temperature and hours of daylight drop significantly. The advantage to visiting in September is that it is cheaper, there is still enough daylight to see many sites, and visitors have a chance to witness the Aurora Borealis. It is, however, significantly colder, and driving the ring road may not be possible if there road closures due to weather conditions. However, the sites on the southern coast can still be accessed easily in the early Fall.

Iceland’s Best Tourist Sites

Aside from the Golden Circle, take time to visit Iceland’s southern coast. The southern coast has several breathtaking waterfalls including Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Travel a bit further to Jokulsarlon, Iceland’s glacial lagoon. Be sure to also visit the black sand beaches in the seaside village of Vik. If you have a week in the summer, rent a car and drive the Ring Road along the perimeter of the country to visit all of Iceland’s magnificent scenery.  Either on your way to or from the airport, spend a few hours relaxing at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with water that is rich in minerals and temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

El Nido, Palawan, The Philippines

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.

El nido private beach

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.

El Nido Limestone cliff

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.

El Nido View of Helicopter and Matinloc Islands from the boat just before my night dive near Cudlao Island

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.

El Nido Dusk view of Helicopter and Matinloc Islands

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.

The view from Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island
The view from Matinloc Shrine on Matinloc Island

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.

El Nido Shuchi karst at Shimizu island
Thanks to Shuchi Vyas, a New York-based travel expert, entrepreneur, and nonprofit consultant. Shuchi spent all of 2015 globetrotting – combining her love of travel with engaging with local communities. She assisted several organizations ranging from a small organic farm in Vang Vieng, Laos, to a large Southeast Asian nonprofit based in Manila. Her favorite experiences include diving with sharks in Malapascua, zip-lining in the northern jungle of Laos, hitchhiking in Sulawesi, and biking through villages near Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Follow her on instagram @shuch_a_wanderer


Top 5 Things to Do in Split, Croatia

Along the coastline of Croatia lies Split, the country’s second largest city. Full of character, it is the perfect combination of both history and modernity. Within the old city walls are mazes, small alleys filled with quaint shops, restaurants and bars. An outdoor promenade lined with restaurants faces the sea, where you can get a glimpse of the turquoise water. It is the perfect place to enjoy a lovely lunch on the edge of old town, with a view of the sailboats, cruise ships, and locals walking by.

Split, Croatia

Just like the rest of Croatia, the best time to visit Split would be during tourist season, May- September, when the weather is warm (highs in 80’s, lows in 60’s Fahrenheit). However, to avoid crowds, mid to late April is a good time as well. Split does have its own airport (Airport Code: SPU), with flights coming in from London, Munich, Vienna, Rome and other major European cities. Flying into Zagreb or Dubrovnic and driving along the coast is another option as well. There are various bus tours that stop in Split as part of the itinerary, however we chose a private car. We had a great experience driving from Dubrovnik to Split with Blue Bay Excursions, a local family run company.

Split, Croatia

Here are the top 5 things to do while in Split:

Diocletian’s Palace

The main attraction in Split is Diocletian’s Palace, the Roman Emperor’s residence in which he lived after retirement until he died in 313 AD. Although the most of the palace had been destroyed, remnants lie throughout the old city. You can spend time walking through and looking around, and even stop by a restaurant to break for a drink. There is no entrance ticket for just the palace view, however if you wish to tour the basement halls it is 40 KN adult/20 KN child.

Diocletian's Palace Split Croatia

St. Dominus Cathedral and Bell Tower

This was originally the mausoleum of Diocletian, as it lies within the palace boundaries. To climb up the bell tower it is 25 KN, and to enter the cathedral it is 25 KN. After climbing to the top of the bell tower, you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the whole city of Split and the sea as well.

Marjan Forest Park

This site is said the be the “lungs of the city.” If the weather is nice, take a quick break and hike up to Marjan.  Not only will you get a breath of fresh air but lovely views of the city as well. There are trails running through the forest in which you can choose to hike or you can bike along the seafront (bikes can be rented from the northern entrance for about 15 KN/hour).


Gallery of Fine Arts: Located very close to the palace, this building was once the city’s first hospital. Here you can see a mix of ancient and modern Croatian art pieces. Entrance tickets are 20 KN adult/10 KN child.

Archaeological Museum: A ten minute walk from the town center, here you can see excavations from the Roman and early Christian periods. Tickets are 20 KN adult/10 KN child.

Ethnographic Museum: Get a glimpse into the old life and culture of Dalmatia.  You can see old photos, costumes and other pieces important to the citizens. Tickets are 15 KN adult/10 KN child.


There is a large selection of restaurants, mostly local Croatian, seafood, Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. There is a variety of small casual mom and pop type places, as well as modern/trendy places.

Recommended restaurants (at the time of this post):

Bokeria- Located in the old town. More on the trendy side, great variety on the menu, and presentation and atmosphere are fantastic. Lovely selection of wine and drinks as well.

Galija- Hidden gem, located inside old town. Well lit outdoor seating covered in Christmas lights.  Pizza was really good, staff was really friendly, and everything is reasonably priced.

Brasserie on 7- Located right on the promenade (Split Riva). We stopped here for a coffee break, lovely hot chocolate!  Very homey feeling, decorated in shades of aqua and sand. Gives you the feeling of being on the ocean.  Their lunch and dinner menu consists of a mix of seafood, burgers, and more.

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Thanks to Anisha, a senior at Syracuse University, for sharing her travel tips on Split, Croatia. Follow her on instagram @_pairofpassports
Thanks to Anisha, a senior at Syracuse University, for sharing her travel tips on Split, Croatia. Follow her on instagram @_pairofpassports

Galapagos, Ecuador

The birth place of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, the Galapagos archipelago is considered to be one of the most pristine ecosystems in the world. The 20 (13 major and 7 small) islands here boast amazing wildlife, making it a nature lover’s paradise. Interestingly, the Galapagos archipelago was once used as a prison camp. For a long period of time, the ecosystem was not properly cared for, resulting in depletion of natural resources. Today, there is a large effort to maintain the pristine condition of the islands and care for the many species that are native to the Galapagos. Officially part of Ecuador, the Galapagos straddle the equator off South America’s west coast. The islands were formed due to the Galapagos Hotspot and the shifting of earth’s tectonic plates. In fact, the youngest islands, Isabela and Fernandina, are still being formed through volcanic activity. Each island boasts unique sites, with luscious tropical forests covering some and barren volcanic rock making up others.

Kicker Rock in the Galapagos
Kicker Rock in the Galapagos
Sunset on San Cristobal in the Galapagos
Sunset on San Cristobal in the Galapagos

When to Visit the Galapagos Islands

Average temperatures in the Galapagos range from 69°F-84°F year round. The dry season in the Galapagos (July to December) is best for scuba diving and observing the mating rituals of the Blue Footed Boobies and the Genovesa Owls. In the dry season, daytime temperatures are usually no higher than 75 degrees Fahrenheit. The wet season, in the first half of the year (January to June), has rain daily, but is warmer (air temperature is in the low 90s and water temperatures in the high 70s or 80). Keep in mind that temperatures and rainfall fluctuate between the islands due to difference in elevation and wind patterns. Peak tourist seasons in the Galapagos is from June to September and December to January. Always book well in advance as the Galapagos National Park limits the number of tourists visiting at one time.

Sea Lion in the Galapagos
Sea Lion in the Galapagos


Travelers will need a variety of gear for this destination: swimsuit, towel, sunscreen, beach wear, followed by hiking boots, trekking pants, bug spray, and a light jacket. A pair of Teva or Chaco like sandals that can double as a beach as well as hiking shoe would also come in handy. Bring binoculars for bird watching (many exotic species here) and a camera, of course. There are plenty of places to rent snorkels, wet suits, and scuba gear in the Galapagos, so leave that at home. At the time of this post, there is a 20kg limit for checked luggage on the flight to the Galapagos.


There are two airports on the Galapagos Islands. The Seymour Airport on the Baltra Island (Airport Code: GPS) and the San Cristobal Airport (Airport Code: SCY) on San Cristobal Island. Direct flights to the Galapagos from Ecuador are offered from both Quito (Airport code: UIO) or Guayaquil (Airport code: GYE). There are three airlines that fly to the Galapagos Islands which are Tame, Avianca, and LAN. It is often more convenient to fly into San Cristobal and out of Baltra (or vice versa) as travelers typically do not stay on one island the entire time.


In terms of traveling between the islands, travelers can either stay on one island and book day tours from these islands (Puerto Ayora on the island Santa Cruz is a popular hub), or book a cruise. Plan ahead, because the Galapagos National Park require visitors to be accompanied by a licensed guide. If you are hoping to see some of the more remote islands, a small cruise (duration anywhere from 3 to 10 days) is the way to go.


Kicker Rock (on San Cristobal Island) is a snorkeling site where travelers can see sea turtles, sharks, sea lions, octopus, and schools of fish. On the island of Santa Cruz be sure to visit Puerto Ayora, which is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station,  El Chato Tortoise Reserve (giant wild tortoises) and the Galapagos National Park. Tortuga Bay, a short walk from Puerto Ayora, has a great beach and wildlife that includes marine iguanas, birds, and mangroves. On the island of Española, visitors can see the mating rituals of the albatrosses as well as the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies. Santiago, or James Island, is home to a sea lion species (called the fur seal) that is endemic to the Galapagos, as well as sea turtles, and several coastal birds. In the Galapagos, or the Enchanted Islands as they are often called, travelers can see wildlife that is found nowhere else on earth.

Galapagos Ecuador crabGalapagos ecuador sea lions

Thanks to Alissa from Villanova University for sharing her great travel tips on the Galapagos Islands!
Thanks to Alissa from Villanova University for sharing her great travel tips on the Galapagos Islands!

Otres Beach, Cambodia

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.

Otres Beach at Sunset

A laid back cafe on Otres Beach
A laid back cafe on Otres Beach
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.
View of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem from Otres Beach
View of Koh Rong and Koh Rong Samloem from Otres Beach
Koh Rong
Koh Rong… but so right.
Stay in a Treehouse on Koh Rong
Stay in a treehouse on Koh Rong!

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!
Thanks to Archana, our fabulous globe trotter, writer, photographer, and travel expert for sharing her experience in Chiang Mai!
Thanks to Archana, our totally fabulous globe trotter/writer/photographer/travel expert for sharing her experience at Otres Beach. She is currently exploring Africa!

Krabi, Thailand

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.

A long tail boat docked at Phra Nang Beach
A long tail boat docked at Phra Nang Beach
Krabi Long Tail Saya
Holding on as my long tail boat leaves Phra Nang Beach

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).
The peaceful beach at Hong Island
The peaceful beach at Hong Island


Busy but beautiful Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands
Busy but beautiful Maya Bay in the Phi Phi Islands
Longtails docked at a sandbar on Koh Phak Bia
Longtails docked at a sandbar on Koh Phak Bia
Krabi TukTuk
Tuk Tuk in Ao Nang headed to Ao Nang Pier

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.

Rock climber in Krabi
Rock climber in Krabi

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.

Feeling tiny amidst the cliffs on Koh Hong
Feeling tiny amidst the cliffs on Koh Hong

Chile’s Largest Salt Flat

Nestled in the northern region of Chile is the desert town of San Pedro de Atacama. Located within the Atacama Desert, the driest non-polar area (little to no precipitation) in the world, this town is centered around visiting the famous Chilean salt flat (Salar de Atacama), the red rock formations, and the picturesque lagoons. Originally belonging to Bolivia, Chile claimed this territory during War of the Pacific, and the Salar de Atacama is the largest salt flat in Chile. It is located 34 miles (55 km) south of the town San Pedro de Atacama and is surrounded by the mountain ranges belonging to the Andes. The salt flat here is one of the largest in the world at 3,000 km2 or 1,200 sq mi (the largest being the Salar de Uyuni in neighboring Bolivia). The small town of San Pedro de Atacama is great base for exploring this region of northern Chile.

Chile San Pedro de Atacama Piedras Rojas

The landscape surrounding the Chilean Lagunas (lakes) or Lagunas Altiplanicas located in this region
The landscape surrounding the Chilean Lagunas (lakes) or Lagunas Altiplanicas located in this region
Piedras rojas (red rocks) created by volcanic lava and ash
Piedras rojas (red rocks) created by volcanic lava and ash with a lagoon in the background
Flamencos in the Chilean salt flat or "Salar de Atacama"
Flamencos in the Chilean salt flat or “Salar de Atacama”

When to visit Chile

Remember that summer in Chile is opposite that of the Northern Hemisphere. In San Pedro de Atacama specifically, the weather is arid and warm for several months of the year. From late October to April, the highs are in the 70s (F) and lows in the high 50s. Upon arrival, allow yourself a day or two to acclimate to the altitude before heading on any strenuous hikes.

What to wear/bring to san pedro de atacama

Since the Atacama Desert is the driest place it is important to keep yourself well hydrated. Furthermore, this town sits at approximately 7,900 feet (or about 2,400 meters). At high altitudes, boiling water for at least three minutes is the best way to purify water. Bottled water is also an option. Loose, light clothing for the day is recommended but bring a sweater for the low temperatures at night. If you are prone to altitude sickness, coca leaves can be purchased from local vendors. Remember that drinking alcohol can make altitude sickness worse. Additionally, bring plenty of cash! San Pedro is known for running out of cash in their ATMs.

How to get to san pedro de atacama

Non-stop flights to Chile (Santiago Airport Code – SCL) are available from NYC and Atlanta.  Cheap flights to Chile can be obtained by choosing a one-stop option. From Santiago, fly to the El Loa Airport in Calama, which is about 60 miles (100km) away from San Pedro de Atacama. From there, take a van or taxi to San Pedro (schedule this ahead of time for ease on arrival). Travelers can also take an overnight bus from Santiago.

How to get around

Because San Pedro is such a touristy area I cannot stress the helpfulness of the travel agencies enough. Several local tour operators can arrange all the details of your visit. Compare prices at a few different agencies to ensure that you are getting a reasonable rate. To get to close by attractions and getting around town, renting a bike is a great option. Not only is it a cheap way to get around, it is a unique way to experience the landscape.

What Not to Miss in Chile

This area of Chile is famous for trekking, biking, archeological guides, astronomy tours, horseback riding, sand boarding and tours of the Lagunas. My friend and I biked to Valle de la Luna, home of the salt caverns and dunes where one can see gorgeous sunsets. The next day we went on a tour of the lagunas. During our tour of the lagunas, we experienced pastel backgrounds and striking mountain ranges. We also attended an incredible astronomy tour and workshop. As we stargazed, we learned about how to spot galaxies and their different formations. Additionally, the geysers here are a popular tourist attractions. Travelers can also spend time enjoying the hot springs in this region.  Don’t forget to visit Chiloe and Patagonia while in Chile.

Thanks to guest blogger Marley, a student at Drew University with a double major in International Relations and Spanish, who hopes to leave the world better than she found it.
Thanks to guest blogger Marley, a student at Drew University with a double major in International Relations and Spanish, who hopes to leave the world better than she found it.

Temples of Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai’s best temples

Set amidst mountains, Chiang Mai is a city in Northern Thailand that is well known for its rich history dating back to the 1200s.  There are so many facets of Thai culture to experience here, and the magnificent temples in and around this city are amongst the most visited sites in Thailand.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep:

Built in 1383 as a Buddhist Monastery on the holy hill Doi Suthep, this temple is still a working monastery. Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, often called Doi Suthep, is home to a replica of the famous Emerald Buddha of Bangkok as well as one of the world’s largest gongs. The large gong, along with many of the bells hanging around the temple, are constantly rung by devotees as a mark of worship and wishing. The impressive golden pagoda stands at the center of the temple and is surrounded by a variety of shrines. Travelers can ascend 300 steps on the Naga Serpent staircase up to the temple or use a paid service lift to access the temple complex. It also has a large terrace with an expansive view of the entire city of Chiang Mai and the surrounding mountain villages.

How to get to Doi suthep:

Located 15 km outside of Chiang Mai city limits, Doi Suthep can be accessed by tuk-tuks or songathaews for about 4 USD each way. One can also rent a scooter for about 6 USD (24 hour rental) and stop at viewpoints along the way to take in the stunning hillside landscape.

The Golden Pagoda at Doi Suthep
The Golden Pagoda at Doi Suthep
The Emerald Buddha replica at Doi Suthep
The Emerald Buddha replica at Doi Suthep
Buddhist monks at Doi Suthep
Buddhist monks at Doi Suthep
The temple bells at Doi Suthep
The temple bells at Doi Suthep

Wat Chedi Luang:

Originally planned for construction by a 14th century king in the honor of his deceased father, this temple took unusually long (up to the mid-15th century) to be completed. At the time of completion, it was the largest temple in all of Lanna or the Indianized State of Thailand. Chedi Luang was once one of original homes to the famous Emerald Buddha of Bangkok. Now, it houses a replica of it, made of black jade stone. The city pillar of Chiang Mai, named Sao Inthakin is located on the temple grounds. An elaborate 8 day Inthakin festival is held yearly in June to honor it.

How to get to Wat Chedi Luang:

This temple is located in the heart of the old walled Chiang Mai city. Once in Chiang Mai, travelers will be able to walk or take a short tuk tuk ride to the temple.
The main shrine at Wat Chedi Luang
The main shrine at Wat Chedi Luang

How to Get to Chiang Mai:

From New York, travelers will need to make a connection in Asia.  Cheap flights to Chiang Mai can be found from several cities in Asia on local carriers.  Direct flights to Chiang Mai can be found from the following cities: Bangkok, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.

What to wear to the temples:

It is mandatory to cover up appropriately before entering the temples. Make sure to cover your shoulders (at least short sleeves) and opt for long pants or a long skirt. Trousers, shirts and sarongs are usually offered for rent or purchase outside the temple if need be, but I wouldn’t suggest relying on them as they can be quite hideous (think pictures). You can also carry a thin scarf to cover up before entering.

Best time of the year to visit: 

Fall and winter are the best times to visit South East Asia in general, as summers and monsoons can get pretty hot and unpleasant. That said, these temples are open all year around. They typically close at around 5pm every day and each may take at most an hour or so to explore. It is quite easy to visit both of these temples in half a day.

What not to miss while in Chiang Mai:

Chiang Mai Cabaret:

An entry fee of 250 THB (includes one drink) or around 7 USD gets you into this dark pub, located in the middle of the Anusarn Night Bazaar of Chiang Mai. As you walk in, find yourself a seat closer to the center of the brightly lit stage as you are about to witness one of the most colorful performances in all of Thailand. The lady boys walk onto the stage with exquisite costumes and start performing to upbeat radio hits. This is a very entertaining activity after an evening of shopping.
Cabaret show in Chiang Mai
Cabaret show in Chiang Mai

Sunday Night Market:

As the name suggests, if you find yourself in Chiang Mai on a Sunday evening, this market is a great showmanship of arts and crafts exclusive of the Northern Thai communities. It begins at the Tha Pae or the East gate and continues down to more than 1Km along the main streets which are converted into walking streets as they are closed for traffic during this weekly event. There is also a food market in the center of it all, where you can walk around sampling tasty Northern Thai street foods.
The bustling Chiang Mai Night Market
The bustling Chiang Mai Night Market
A street performer at the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market
A street performer at the Chiang Mai Sunday Night Market

Tuang Thong Canyon:

More commonly known as the Grand Canyon of Chiang Mai, this dug out piece of earth is an old quarry that has now been filled with blue waters. It is a 40 minute drive outside of Chiang Mai on the way to the Hong Dong. Travelers can relax for an afternoon at the clifftop restaurant, go swimming or sunbathe on wooden rafts in the water. However, caution is advised if attempting to dive off of the cliffs, as the water depth varies at points.
Thanks to Archana, our fabulous globe trotter, writer, photographer, and travel expert for sharing her experience in Chiang Mai!
Thanks to Archana, our fabulous globe trotter, writer, photographer, and travel expert for sharing her experience in Chiang Mai!

Whales and Penguins in Chiloé

Off the coast of southern Chile is the magical Grand Island of Chiloé. It is one of 30 islands that make up the Chiloé archipelago in the Lakes Region of southern Chile. It is the first island travelers see while crossing the Chacao Channel by ferry. The island is well known for whale watching, penguins and for its palafitos, which are colorful wooden houses on stilts along the water’s edge. There are also more than 150 iconic wooden churches from the 18th and 19th centuries, several of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.  Chiloé is 118 miles from north to south and 40 miles east to west and it’s picturesque landscape, biodiversity and rich culture will captivate any traveler.

The palafitos on the water
The palafitos on the water

Due to the history of separation from the rest of Chile, Chiloé is known for having a strong sense of territorial pride. Although geographically close to the mainland, they have developed a unique culture as well as gastronomy. Additionally, the people of Chiloé are on a mission to preserve their marine resources, as well as their rain forest, which is one of the world’s few temperate rain forests. The Alfagura Project is a marine life conservation effort operated from northwest of Chiloé. Chilean whalers called blue whales “Alfaguara” and thus, the project aims to preserve the endangered blue whale species. Thanks to this project, there is a vast amount of knowledge regarding the blue whale population in this part of the world.

ferry ride to chiloe

When I went to Chiloé my experience was defined by delicious homegrown food, breathtaking views, and a unique integration into the culture of the people. I spent a day with a shepherd, visited a woman’s artesian co-op, and toured a site where penguins come to mate for the season. My many ecotourism excursions placed emphasis on promoting a healthy and loving relationship with the earth.

port at chiloe

When to Visit

Between December and April, travelers have the chance to see blue and humpback whales. February has the most temperate weather with the clearest skies. September through March is breeding season for the Magellanic and Humboldt penguins in Puñihuil. During Chile’s winter months (June-August) there is more rain and some national parks close due to muddy trails, so check on the websites before visiting.

Penguins in Chiloe
Penguins in Puñihuil

What to wear/bring

Through all of Chiloé’s diversity, the one constant is rain. You will likely experience some cloudy days, misty mornings, and light rain at least once during your stay. Bring a poncho/raincoat and sturdy hiking shoes to battle the mud and rain. Also, layers are extremely important, especially when visiting the beach, as the temperature can change drastically on the coast.

How to get to Chiloé

Non-stop flights to Chile (Santiago Airport Code – SCL) are available from NYC and Atlanta.  Cheap flights to Chile can be obtained by choosing a one stop option.  From Santiago, travelers can fly into Puerto Montt (PMC) and then take a bus to Chiloé , or rent a car to cross the Chacao Channel by ferry.  If you rent a car, the cost to cross using the ferry will be around $16. The ferry is pretty awesome because it is so beautiful and if you are lucky you will get to see some marine life! You can also take a bus directly from Santiago but this bus ride is around 15 hours. The city of Punta Arenas also offers bus service to Chiloé.

How to get around the Island of Chiloé

The best way to get navigate the different parts of Chiloé are through prearranged tours or renting a car/transportation for your time there. There is also local bus service that is frequent and inexpensive. However, if you were looking to stay the night I would recommend arranging transportation through your hotel or hostel as they often have various options at very good rates.

What not to miss in Chiloé:

The highlights of a visit to this island include whale watching, nature hikes, visiting the UNESCO World Heritage Churches, and cultural immersion.  The best place to see the palafitos is in Costanera, Castro.  Be sure to not miss the old growth forests in the Chiloé National Park and the penguins in Puñihuil.  This is a nature lovers paradise.

Thanks to guest blogger Marley, a student at Drew University with a double major in International Relations and Spanish, who hopes to leave the world better than she found it.
Thanks to guest blogger Marley, a student at Drew University with a double major in International Relations and Spanish, who hopes to leave the world better than she found it.