It happens every day when the sun dips completely below the horizon yet despite how many times we've seen them, Caribbean sunsets (at least the western-facing ones) never get old. If you're at the right place at the right time, the tie-dyed melange that is technically the start of twilight is nature's daily pageant. Bring [...]
It happens every day when the sun dips completely below the horizon yet despite how many times we’ve seen them, Caribbean sunsets (at least the western-facing ones) never get old. If you’re at the right place at the right time, the tie-dyed melange that is technically the start of twilight is nature’s daily pageant. Bring a camera and check out our list of sublime spots to take in the colorful show in the sky.
Eleven hundred feet above the Caribbean Sea with the majestic Piton Mountains as natural bookends, each suite at the Ladera Resort is really a view with a room rather than a room with a view. The only resort built on the Unesco World Heritage site that is the twin peaks, the suites are’ open-walled’ with the west side exposed for front row center seats to the greatest show in the tropical sky. For sunsets with a musical soundtrack, St. Lucia Jazz Festival takes center stage from April 30 – May 11 at the Pigeon Island National Monument.
It’s an uphill trek past military ramparts from the 18th century that was once part of the British naval base but well worth it for the unrivaled panoramas over English Harbour. Every Sunday from 5 p.m., the Look Out at Shirley Heights is a hive of fun as chefs fill bowls with goat stew and pumpkin soup; bartenders pour plenty of ‘English Harbour Five Year Rum’ and steel-pan players keep folks on their feet. You can venture to the top on your own or join the Island Routes ‘Shirley Heights Jump Up’ for the hottest sunset party in town.
Take your pick from a table at the Great House Terrace — from the patio of a posh villa or at the waterwheel that was built in the 18th century and still works — sunset spotting at The Tryall Club is a time-honored tradition in Montego Bay. Big and bold, the Club is a National Heritage Foundation site and when the sun drops behind the horizon, a fabled venue for weddings.
Get there in the late afternoon and stake your claim to a log or beach chair at Pigeon Point Beach for a spectacular show that doesn’t require an admission ticket. The most popular strip on Tobago s also the best perch for awesome glimpses of the fire-engine-red sun and the sherbet-colored clouds that look like smoothies in the sky. For dinner and a show, blink and you’d miss it and that would be a shame for the vistas from Jemma’s Seaview Kitchen in the east side hamlet of Speyside. At the treehouse-turned-eatery that is built in the boughs of an almond tree, sunset-viewing is as treasured a Tobagonian tradition as Miss Jemma’s breadfruit pie. For jazz fans, The Tobago Jazz Experience takes center stage from April 19 to 27 at various venues including Pigeon Point and Speyside.
The name says it all at the Sunset Café at the Grand Case Beach Club overlooking La Petite Plage, one of the prettiest (and smallest) beaches on the French side of the island. Under an illuminated sky, dinners synch with the green flash of the sky. With Anguilla in view just over the water, that photo you snap may end up as your favorite computer screensaver once you get home. Tuesday nights through the end of April, the tiny village hosts ‘Mardi Du Grand Case’ with steel-drum bands, chefs at the LoLo barbecues filling plates with white-conch sausage and meaty ribs, and bartenders pouring generous shots of Guavaberry Liqueur made with the little red berries that grow in the hills of the dual-nation island.
Sunsets aren’t really bigger at the largest resort in the Caribbean (3,414 rooms), they just seem that way. With a birds-eye view from one of the cavernous penthouse suites at The Reef Atlantis, the sinking sun is as rosy as it is regal. Sprawling with floor-to-ceiling windows, the terraces are coveted roosts for taking snaps of the sun setting over Paradise Beach on Paradise Island.
Despite its hard to remember the name, the tumbledown bar on the Frigate Bay Strip called Mr. X Shiggidy Shack hosts St. Kitts‘ hippest party every Thursday as the sun makes its daily exit. With Nevis across the channel, Brinley Gold rum punch in hand, and a faithful following, the action on the beach is a spectacle with fire-eaters, bonfires, DJ’s rocking the house, and barefoot foodies sharing platters of barbecued chicken and grilled lobster at picnic tables planted in the sand.
Iguazu Falls You might have seen the photos, even read about it. You might have visited other great waterfalls before. But you probably still have no idea what to expect when you come face to face with the almighty Iguazu Falls, on the border of the Argentina province of Misiones and the Brazilian state [...]
You might have seen the photos, even read about it. You might have visited other great waterfalls before. But you probably still have no idea what to expect when you come face to face with the almighty Iguazu Falls, on the border of the Argentina province of Misiones and the Brazilian state of Parana. Unlike over-hyped destinations that can leave you feeling disappointed, Iguazu Falls instantly turns even jaded travelers into a raving fan. Judging by the sheer number of visitors — more than one million a year — its pulling power is showing no sign of weakening.
“Unlike any other waterfall on earth”
Spanning 2.7 kilometers, Iguazu Falls is made of 275 waterfalls or cataracts.
To describe the Iguazu Falls without gushing superlatives is a futile exercise.
With water cascades as far as the eye can see — some massive and powerful, some small and dainty — the Iguazu Falls are a shock to the system.
Even the late U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt was reportedly so impressed when she saw them that she purportedly said “Poor Niagara.”
“Iguazu Falls always catches you by surprise,” says Martin Ruffo, Intrepid Travel’s regional product manager for Latin America. “They’re truly a magnificent display of nature.
“Their size and scale are unlike any other waterfall on earth.”
That’s no exaggeration.
By any measure, Iguazu Falls is a monster.
It’s made up of a system of 275 waterfalls or cataracts, with the exact number depending on the season.
It spans an area 2.7 kilometers wide.
The tallest of these waterfalls, called the Devil’s Throat, drops by more than 80 meters into a milky abyss that creates a permanent cloud of mist.
To put that in perspective, Iguazu Falls is nearly twice as tall as Niagara Falls and rivaled only by South Africa’s Victoria Falls, which is taller at 108 meters.
It’s nearly three times as wide as Niagara Falls and significantly wider still than Victoria Falls.
The amount of water pouring from these falls to the Iguazu River is equally staggering.
On average, about 1,500 cubic meters of water flows every second.
Depending on the time of the year, the rate of water flow can be as much as 13,000 cubic meters per second — enough to fill five Olympic swimming pools — especially during the rainy months of November to March.
It’s little surprise then that the river that the water flows into, as well as the waterfalls, are both named Iguazu, which literally means “big water” in native Guarani Indian language.
Straddling the border of Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
In 2011, it was selected as one of the winners of the New Seven Wonders of Nature competition.
It’s easy to see why it’s piling up awards and accolades.
It’s located within one of the few remaining inland rainforests in South America, the Atlantic rainforest, which has been wisely preserved by both Argentina and Brazil.
The lush, sub-tropical national parks surrounding it are teeming with wildlife. This is a haven for more than 2,000 plant species, about 400 bird species, 80 types of mammals and countless insects and invertebrate species.
According to local tour guide Francis Almeida Barros, it’s not uncommon here to encounter colorful toucans, monkeys, and even jaguars on the way to the waterfalls.
This jungle experience, albeit briefly, sets Iguazu Falls apart from its more popular global rival.
Unlike Niagara Falls, which is surrounded by development such as casinos, a revolving restaurant, and Starbucks, Iguazu Falls is pure nature.
Devil’s Throat: The largest water curtain
For many visitors, the first glimpse of Iguazu Falls is an emotional experience.
But it pales in comparison to getting up close to the falls.
The Argentinean side offers this experience with a walking route along with a series of rustic-looking boardwalks that take visitors close to the action.
With around two-thirds of the waterfalls located here, there’s plenty of opportunities to get intimate with the falls and get soaked in the process.
It’s possible to explore the spectacular Devil’s Throat waterfalls by speedboat.
Most people head straight to the main attraction, that being the Devil’s Throat (Garganta del Diablo in Spanish). Shaped like a horseshoe, the Devil’s Throat is the largest water curtain in the whole system and includes 14 waterfalls.
It’s possible to take a speedboat to the falls, but be prepared to get really wet as these boats take you right under the falls.
You could easily spend the whole day exploring this side of the waterfalls without even noticing time passing.
After getting soaked, the Brazilian side of the falls offers a more sedate but equally gratifying view.
While you don’t get as close to the falls, the Brazilian side offers incredible panoramic views that help deepen an appreciation for their grandeur.
Iguazu’s remote location makes flying the most practical way of getting here.
From Buenos Aires, it’s a 90-minute flight to Puerto Iguazu on the Argentinean side.
From Rio de Janeiro, it takes two hours to fly to the Brazilian town of Foz do Iguacu.
Most tourists stay in either town when visiting Iguazu Falls.
Both offer ample dining and hotel options for every type of traveler.
They’re also relatively close to the falls — about 12 kilometers away.
The trek to the lost Incan city of Choquequirao is one of the most difficult in Peru. From the town of Cachora, located 161km west of Cusco, it’s an 18km walk to Capuliyoc Mountain, then down to Playa Rosalinas, where travellers camp for the night. Waking early, trekkers then have to cross the Apurímac River [...]
The trek to the lost Incan city of Choquequirao is one of the most difficult in Peru. From the town of Cachora, located 161km west of Cusco, it’s an 18km walk to Capuliyoc Mountain, then down to Playa Rosalinas, where travellers camp for the night. Waking early, trekkers then have to cross the Apurímac River and traverse 8km of gruelling uphill switchbacks to reach the campsite close to the ruins. Then, the next morning, it’s another 2km hike up to the ruins themselves, 3,100m above sea level. To get back? Well, it’s the same way you came.
“I’ve had people in their 60s and 70s do it,” said Juan Barrios. “[But] some people come out thinking that because it’s only 28km from the drop off they can do it in a day. Six or seven days for the trek is best.”
It makes sense, then, that Choquequirao draws only about 30 people a day during the high season (June through August). Compare that to the 2,500 people who arrive each day at the famed Incan city of Machu Picchu.
But for those who make the strenuous journey, the rewards are plentiful: lush wilderness, sweeping mountain views at every turn, and the chance to explore fascinating ancient ruins nearly alone.
Believed to be created around the same time as Machu Picchu, in 1445, Choquequirao is actually larger than its better-known, higher-trafficked counterpart. But very little has been written about Peru’s other lost city and archaeologists are still uncovering new parts of the ruins, leaving life on the mountain relatively untrammelled. Only about 30% of Choquequirao has been restored.
Exploring Choquequirao. (Cynthia Kane)
But the crowds may not stay away for long. Officials estimate that construction on the first cable car to Choquequirao will be finished sometime in 2016, shortening the several-day trek to a 15-minute tram ride. As a result, the handful of hikers that currently make the journey each week could turn into 3,000 visitors per day.
And campsite owners are already seeing an influx of trekkers following the August 2014 completion of the Puente Rosalina bridge, which spans the Apurímac River. Now tour operators can easily cross the bridge on horseback, instead of using a hand pulley system to transport them across the river one by one or hiring another set of horses to be waiting on the other side.
The Puente Rosalina bridge. (Cynthia Kane)
Considering the bridge took six years to build, some locals believe that the construction of the cable car is still a ways off. In fact, the completion date has already been pushed back two times. “Too much fighting,” said Julian Cobarruvias, the owner of the Santa Rosa Baja campsite. “Ego. One side wants this, another that.”
But one thing is for certain: Choquequirao is spectacular now because of how untouched and remote it is. Even though the lost city was discovered (by Spanish explorer Juan Arias Díaz in 1710, and excavations began in the 1970s, the ruins still make you feel as though you’re the first to find them. (In comparison, Machu Picchu was discovered in 1911, and excavations began the next year.)
Exploring Choquequirao. (Cynthia Kane)
As I sat in the stillness of the morning, looking out over the ruins and the Apurímac Gorge, surrounded by snow-capped mountains of Ampay, Panta and Quishuar, I was amazed, not just at the beauty in front of me, but also with the power of the Incan Empire. I admired the detail of Pachacutec’s unfinished royal estate, which was divided into a lower and upper half. Everything was built with such precision: the water fountains made of large rocks, so they wouldn’t wear away; the houses with double doors to announce the wealth and power of their inhabitants; the flat slabs underneath the windows to store food for refrigeration.
The attention to detail continued down the stairway off the main plaza, where each terrace was decorated with white rocks in the shape of a llama. Llamas were used to transporting food and supplies to the slaves, and the images were created to show the Inca’s appreciation. Archaeologists have determined that slaves from the neighbouring villages, likely in the north, built Choquequirao, using vertical stonework and small stones (limestone and granite).
Each terrace was decorated with white rocks in the shape of a llama. (Cynthia Kane)
There will certainly come a time when Choquequirao will change; when cable cars are built, facilities are expanded and tourism is burgeoning. But for now, Choquequirao rewards the adventurous few who make it there with an intimate look at a lost city that almost seems never to have been found.
The ideal way to reach Choquequirao is with a guide. Adventure Life offers five-, six- and 12-day treks with groups of up to 12 people. Most tour companies provide nearly everything that trekkers need: tents, food, snacks, water, sleeping bags and walking sticks, and horses are used to help carry most bags.
Discovering a secret town? Well that's one way to get off the beaten path. We've seen a few hidden towns in our day (mostly in America), but never one quite as beautiful as the town of Monemvasia, Greece. Perched on an island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, Monemvasia's name means "single entrance" in [...]
Discovering a secret town? Well that’s one way to get off the beaten path. We’ve seen a few hidden towns in our day (mostly in America), but never one quite as beautiful as the town of Monemvasia, Greece. Perched on an island off the east coast of the Peloponnese, Monemvasia’s name means “single entrance” in Greek. The “hidden” spot boasts a massive Byzantine fortress (hence the nickname “fortress town”), but one thing is definitely in plain sight — the huge selection of nearby beaches, open to tourists and locals alike.
Though if you’re in for a bit of adventure, the best attraction on the island is theKastania Cave.
Described as a must-see attraction by tourists, the cave took millions of years to form and is packed full of rare geological wonders. And right next door, you’ll find a cafe and a church that was once visited by pirates. Sign us up!
Experts say Greece is great in the winter, meaning now is a perfect time to go. Escape crowds, indulge in the delicious Mediterranean cuisine, and explore the ancient history of Monemvasia.
You can reach Monemvasia by cruise or bus, and a ferry is available during the summer months. We’ll see you there!
Each year, more than 50,000 people set out to climb Africa’s highest peak, joining a revered tribe of dedicated adventurers. But in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, nestled in the foothills, another tribe reigns supreme. The Chagga clan, one of more than 260 tribes in Tanzania, has been living in the laidback village of Marangu [...]
Each year, more than 50,000 people set out to climb Africa’s highest peak, joining a revered tribe of dedicated adventurers. But in the shadow of Mt Kilimanjaro, nestled in the foothills, another tribe reigns supreme. The Chagga clan, one of more than 260 tribes in Tanzania, has been living in the laidback village of Marangu since the 19th Century, and their descendants, the Bantu people, began migrating to this area along the slopes of Kilimanjaro in the early 11th Century. The village’s mountain landscape, interlaced with streams and picturesque waterfalls, gave Marangu its name, meaning “place of water.”
More than just a starting point for the mountain’s most popular climbing route, Marangu welcomes those who spend more time here with green gorges, fields awash in banana groves and coffee plantations. It also gives insight into a fascinating local lifestyle and culture – an experience that most travelers miss. For those who linger, a cultural tour led by a dedicated guide is the key to discovering Marangu’s charms, for beyond its modest, one-road center, the rest of the village – hidden by swathes of the jungle – is difficult to navigate alone.
We met our guide Ludovic Tilya outside the Babylon Lodge, a handsome budget hotel with simple but comfortable rooms set amid lush tropical gardens, located a short stroll from the center of town. The previous night’s rains had cleared to reveal glorious blue skies, and we set off on a winding muddy track that led to the village’s forest-fringed back streets. Locals threw curious glances our way; in these lesser-traveled lanes, mzungu (white people) visitors are few and far between.
Scenes from Marangu. (Richelle Harrison Plesse)
We weaved in and out of luxuriant banana groves peppered with the odd coffee plant, Royal Poinciana tree (also known as the flamboyant tree due to its flamboyant display of brilliant, flame-red flowers) and yucca. The latter, Ludovic said, holds spiritual significance for the Chagga people, who also use its leaves for weaving, healing purposes or as a symbolic means of settling disputes (much like the offering an olive branch). A smattering of pretty, petite houses peered out from behind manicured gardens, a surprise against the surrounding untamed greenery.
Rounding a corner we crossed a clearing, where a trio of young children was playing a game of Ring Around the Rosie. There were shy giggles when they spotted us, but they let their guard down as soon as they saw our cameras, insisting on playing with the dials and scrolling through the pictures we’d taken. A few steps away was a local primary school where recess had begun, and where boisterous boys and girls in cobalt blue uniforms laughed and chatted excitedly. Happily posing for a few snaps, they jostled for our attention, but stern words from the headteacher sent them running and they disappeared in an instant.
Leaving the kids behind, we set off in search of a local banana beer brewer. Bananas are big businesses in Tanzania – in fact, the succulent yellow fruit is the staple food of the local Chagga people and the twice-weekly Marangu market is the country’s largest for the sale of the regional specialty. Banana buyers come from all over the country, with local women clad in brightly patterned kangas (cotton wraps) peddling their finest, freshest produce.
The twice-weekly Marangu market. (Richelle Harrison Plesse)
We found the “brewery” – a small wooden hut set among a banana plantation – deeper in the Marangu jungle. An elderly, heavy-set woman pruned the banana trees, while an enormous cauldron filled with the fruity tipple bubbled over a nearby open fire. Known locally as mbege, the concoction of millet and bananas is the traditional brew of the Chagga people. With most of the work done by hand without any help from modern technology, its production is a lengthy and labor-intensive process. The result is a sweet, slightly sour boozy beverage, one that’s knocked back at several Chagga festivities, including weddings, births, rites of passage, and even wakes. Later in the day, we came across a group of locals gathered at an open-air bar to pay tribute to a deceased loved one, swigging from small buckets to drown their sorrows after the funeral.
While the beloved banana beer is an ever-present feature of contemporary Chagga culture, the open-air Chagga Live Museum offers a glimpse into the tribe’s traditional way of life. The museum’s vast underground cave – a hideout during ancient tribal wars – is a must-see. Entire Chagga families – up to 60 at any one time – would seek refuge in this elaborate system of narrow tunnels during the Maasai raids, bringing livestock along with them. For centuries, the rival tribe would steal cattle and take Chagga women and children as slaves, a practice that reached its height in the 19th Century and continued until the mid-20th Century. When we climbed down a rickety ladder into the dark chamber, the smell of damp was overwhelming.
Coming up for air, we headed for the approximately 50m-tall Ndoro Waterfall, reached after a steep, unnerving walk into a deep gully. Our guide Tilya constantly pleaded with us to go “pole pole”, which means “slowly” in Swahili.
The scenery was a handsome reward for our efforts; the cascade was flanked by towering cliffs blanketed in dense forest, home to the rare Colobus monkey. We cooled off with a quick dip in the rock pool’s icy waters and the blistering afternoon sun was quick to warm our shivering bodies when we emerged.
As the sun showed signs of disappearing behind the trees, we began our return trip to the lodge, stumbling upon a choir rehearsal along the way. Standing on the lawn outside of a church, Around two dozen men and women formed a semi-circle around a conductor; the woman in the center kept time with a small drum while everyone else stamped their feet in unison.
A choir rehearsal in Marangu. (Richelle Harrison Plesse)
Our 18km trek through Marangu was, of course, nothing compared to the Kilimanjaro challenge that draws most travelers to the village. But listening to the choir’s uplifting melodies and perfect harmonies, I realized there was no tribe I’d rather have gotten the chance to be a part of.
We’ve all heard of the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal. But what about the world’s undiscovered architectural wonders: the man-made marvels where most crowds don’t stray? Related article: Friends want life advice? Tell them to travel more To uncover a few of those hidden structures, we turned to question-and-answer [...]
We’ve all heard of the Colosseum, the Great Wall of China, and the Taj Mahal. But what about the world’s undiscovered architectural wonders: the man-made marvels where most crowds don’t stray?
Palace of the Parliament, Romania The world’s largest, most expensive and heaviest civilian administrative building, Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament is truly an unknown wonder. “Built by hated communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu… the building is so huge that it is difficult to take a photograph that does its scale justice,” said Quora user Jann Hoke, a lawyer who worked in the palace in the mid-1990s.
The Palace of the Parliament in Bucharest, Romania has some 3,100 rooms covering 330,000sqm. (Thinkstock)
Built in 1984, the neoclassical building has 12 stories (with eight additional stories underground), and some 3,100 rooms covering 330,000 sqm. The project cost an unprecedented 3.3bn euros, but it also cost the people of Bucharest much of their city. To build the Palace of the Parliament, one-fifth of central Bucharest was razed, including most of its historical districts, more than 30 churches and synagogues, and some 30,000 homes.
“The patterned carpets on the main level, which run through hundreds of yards of wide corridors, were woven inside the building during construction,” Hoke said. “Weaving them outside and bringing them in was not feasible due to their sheer size.”
Great Mosque of Djenne, Mali Built in 1907, the Great Mosque of Djenne is the largest mud structure in the world, constructed almost entirely of sun-baked earthen bricks, sand, and a mud-based mortar and plaster. It is considered one of the greatest achievements of the Sudano-Sahelian architectural style and was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1988.
The Great Mosque of Djenne, in the Niger Delta region in central Mali. (Francois Xavier Marit/Getty)
The mosque’s three minarets are decorated with bundles of Rodier palm, which double as scaffolding for the annual repairs – a tradition that’s become a local festival in April and May.
“The brutal North African summers bring out cracks in the mud and weaken it over time,” said Quora user Abishek Lamba. “Before the yearly rains that follow, the locals get together and re-coat the entire building with clay from a dried-up pond.”
Derawar Fort, Pakistan A fortress of monumental proportions, Derawar’s 40 stunning bastions rise from the desert in a striking square formation. Combined, the fort’s walls form a circumference of some 1,500m and stand some 30m high.
To visit the Derawar Fort, visitors must hire a guide with a four-wheel-drive vehicle and make the daylong trip through the Cholistan Desert. (Nadeem Khawar/Getty)
“This is a magnificent structure in the middle of the Cholistan Desert,” said Quora user Faisal Khan. “Many people don’t know about the Derawar Fort. Even most Pakistanis don’t know of it.”
And for good reason: to get to the fortress, visitors must hire a guide with a four-wheel-drive vehicle to make the day-long trip from the city of Bahawalpur, Pakistan through the Cholistan Desert to the fort, where special permission from the amir, or local leader, is needed to go inside.
Chand Baori, India One of the most overlooked landmarks in India, Rajasthan’s Chand Baori is a spectacular square stepwell, 13 stories deep, with walls lined with scores of double staircases that descend some 30m to the bottom of the well, where a pool of emerald green water awaits.
The symmetrical steps of Rajasthan’s Chand Baori stepwell make a mesmerizing maze. (Thinkstock)
The mesmerizing maze of symmetrical steps “appears to form a never-ending path deep underground,” said Quora user Vipul Yadav. With its 3,500 steps, Chand Baori is “one of the deepest and largest of its kind in the world”.
Built by King Chanda of the Nikumbha Dynasty between 800 and 900 AD, Chand Baori was designed to be as practical as it was pretty. Due to the structure of the well, the bottom of it remains cooler than the surface, critical in the hot, arid landscape of Rajasthan.
Stari Most, Bosnia-Herzegovina If every great architectural landmark has a story, Bosnia-Herzegovina ‘s Stari Most has a comeback story.
“The Old Bridge, or Stari Most as it’s called by locals, was built of 456 blocks of local stone in 1566 by the Ottoman Turkish architect, Mimar Hajrudin,” said Quora user Haris Custo. “It was the heart of our city for 427 years.”
A diver tests his bravery by diving off Bosnia’s Stari Most into the icy waters of the Neretva River below. (Getty)
The hump-backed bridge is located in the city of Mostar, where it crosses the Neretva River. At 4m wide, 30m long and 24m high, it is one of the country’s most recognisable landmarks and is one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in the Balkans.
But in the 1990s, the bridge was destroyed by Bosnian Serb and Croat forces during the Bosnian war. After the war, the city – and the bridge – began rebuilding. “It took almost 10 years to make that idea come to life, and in July of 2004 a new ‘old bridge’ was open again,” Custo said.
While the bridge has changed since its reconstruction, one long-time tradition remains: locals still dive off the bridge into the icy waters of the Neretva to show off their bravery and skill.
Great Wall of India “We have all heard of the Great Wall of China, but few know that India also has its own Great Wall, which has been long overshadowed by its neighbor to the East,” said Quora user Ayush Manu. The Great Wall of India, also referred to as Kumbhalgarh, is the second-longest wall in the world, after the Great Wall of China. Located in Rajasthan, the wall is 4.5m thick in some areas, extends for 36km and has seven fortified gates.
The Great Wall of India, or Kumbhalgarh, remains an unknown treasure to most of the world. (Thinkstock/Franck Camhi)
Rana Kumbha, a local ruler, commissioned the wall in 1443 to protect his fort, situated on a hill above.
“Legend has it that despite several attempts, the wall could not be completed,” Manu said. “Finally the king consulted one of his spiritual advisers and was advised that a sacrifice be made, and a volunteer offered his life so that others will be protected. Today, the main gate stands where his body fell and a temple where his severed head came to rest.”
The wall was enlarged in the 19th Century and now protects more than 360 temples located within its walls, but it remains an unknown treasure to most of the world.
Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque, Iran Quora user Mona Khatam described the Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque – an architectural masterpiece of SafavidIranian architecture – as “a study in harmonious understatement”.
Located in Naghsh-i Jahan Square in the city of Isfahan, the stunningly elegant mosque was built between 1603 and 1619 during the reign of Shah Abbas I. It is named after the ruler’s father-in-law, Sheikh Lotfollah, a revered Lebanese scholar of Islam.
Iran’s Sheikh Lotfollah Mosque is “a study in harmonious understatement”, said Quora user Mona Khatam. (Thinkstock)
The mosque is unusual in that it features no minarets or courtyard. “This was probably because the mosque was never intended for public use, but rather served as the worship place for the women of the shah’s harem,” Khatam said.
As such, the prayer hall is reached through a long, twisting, underground hallway, and the decoration on the mosque is extraordinarily exquisite.
“The dome makes extensive use of delicate tiles that change color throughout the day, from cream to pink,” said Khatam. “Inside the sanctuary, you can marvel at the complexity of the mosaics that adorn the walls and the extraordinarily beautiful ceiling, with its shrinking, yellow motifs. The shafts of sunlight that filter in through the few high, latticed windows produce a constantly changing interplay of light and shadow.”
Taking a simple walk had never seemed so dangerous. Gathered around a camp table set up with maps, field guides – and gin and tonics – we plotted our stroll into the late afternoon heat. Normally jovial, our guide Paul Ditiro looked around the group, fixing us with a serious look. “The first rule is [...]
Taking a simple walk had never seemed so dangerous. Gathered around a camp table set up with maps, field guides – and gin and tonics – we plotted our stroll into the late afternoon heat. Normally jovial, our guide Paul Ditiro looked around the group, fixing us with a serious look. “The first rule is no running – at all,” he said, his usual glimmer of mirth buried in the gravity of the moment. “And we will walk in a single file line, with me at the head. We have four of the big five out there – and you can easily stumble into them. This is the best way to truly encounter nature. You can smell and touch and taste and feel it. It’s a truly unique thrill.”
I was at Footsteps Across the Delta, a small, remote camp deep in the heart of Botswana’s famed Okavango Delta. As its name suggests, Footsteps focuses exclusively on “walking safaris”, small hikes that bring people out from the jeep – and their comfort zone – and onto the dry, African soil. Here, I would take two daily hikes, always accompanied by an armed guide. The Okavango surrounds travelers with a plethora of bird and animal life, but I was here seeking just one thing: big cats.
Our group was an unlikely band of adventurers – a middle-aged doctor-lawyer couple from Scotland, an elderly but able Spanish couple from Barcelona, and me: a tenacious – but slightly terrified – travel writer. As we ambled out of camp, headed for a small pond known as Paul’s Pan (so-named by our leader, after himself), poufs of dust billowed out from under our boots. The Okavango is part of the Kalahari Desert, and nothing but a thin layer of scorched grass and 300m of sand lay under our feet. Botswana is a perennially thirsty country, a place that’s 70% desert, where a drop doesn’t reach the ground for 10 months of the year. Perhaps to appease the gods of precipitation, the country has named both its currency and its national road system pula – in English, rain.
Paul Ditiro, leading the pack. (Tim Johnson)
But being here just a few weeks before the start of the annual December rains gave us a strategic advantage in our search for felines. During the dry season, animals don’t have the luxury of shady, green hiding places. They’re flushed out onto the barren, brown savannah, and forced to gather at the few sources of water not yet sapped by the relentless and unforgiving sun.
Indeed, not 10 minutes into our first walk, we came across some wildlife – two giraffes, which we caught in the middle of a rather private moment. The jokes flowed naturally. “Ah, look at those two necking,” one of the Scots said. “She only wanted a back rub,” chipped in one of the Spaniards. Ditiro used this as a teachable moment. As the giraffes decided to make trails away from us – looking none too happy – Ditiro explained that humans have binocular vision, something that we share with all other predators. When prey animals (zebras, antelopes, giraffes) see eyes on the front of the head, they instinctually know that the animal (lion, leopard, or human) is a threat.
Giraffes at sunrise. (Cameron Spencer/Getty)
Ditiro then switched gears, kneeling down over a big, dry pile of scat. “You see, even elephant dung is fascinating,” he said, picking through it with a stick. He proceeded to open it up, showing us what the animal had eaten, and explaining how, in years past – and sometimes, even now – the stuff was used in the day-to-day lives of locals. “This dung can have medicinal qualities, and when you burn it, it keeps away mosquitoes,” he explained.
We proceed farther out from camp, skirting both Paul’s Pan and another small pond, the latter inhabited by a single, ornery hippo who snorted his displeasure as we passed. “He is showing us how tough he us,” Ditiro explained with a smile. As we walked, Ditiro shared stories from more than a decade of guiding at Footsteps – from the time their resident hyena, nicknamed Fat Albert, snuck in and sunk his teeth into a fire extinguisher, causing it to explode (he was fine, and back in camp scavenging again a few nights later) – to the night a leopard brought her kill into camp and ate it in a tree, right over top the campfire (fortunately, everyone was safely ensconced in their tents).
But the friendly banter stopped when Ditiro spotted something unusual: a couple of vultures in a nearby tree. Motioning to them, he said, “when you get 10 or 15 of those, then you know you have barbecue down below.” But as we walked toward them, more and more vultures gathered, landing on the leafless tree and swooping overhead. “We have a curious situation,” Ditiro said, suddenly serious. “Stay close, and single file everyone – no gaps.”
We passed the vulture tree – all of us keenly aware of the danger that may be all around us – and emerged into a large, open area that would be a meadow after the annual rains.
Disappointingly, there was nothing. No big cats or other predators insight.
We ventured out on the plains and pans several more times over the next few days, but the encounter with the vultures was the closest we would come to see any big-time hunters at Footsteps. While lions and leopards are commonplace in the Okavango, sightings are never guaranteed, and these creatures can be fickle – staying and sleeping in one area for days, then stalking dozens of miles away, at the drop of a hat.
But Ditiro assured me that we would see one – there had been sightings at other camps reported over the radio network that connects these far-flung spots – so he and I left the group to visit another camp, Kanana, to continue our search.
Few of the Okavango’s more than 60 safari camps are connected by road, and access is provided by a handful of small Cessna airlines, which shuttle visitors from camp to camp, bumping down on grass or dirt landing strips and tarrying only long enough to drop one load of guests and pick up another.
We touched down at Kanana, quickly getting down to business. There, our excursions mixed driving and walking, taking a jeep deep into the hinterland, then hoofing it through tall, brittle grass and across vast, scorched savannah. Camp managers told us that lions had been spotted in the area – two males, in their prime. As we drove down the sandy road, Ditiro – one hand on the wheel – leaned a long way out of the open side of the vehicle, spotting and dismissing, one by one, different sets of tracks. “No, just baboon,” he would say, quietly, or “far too old”. But then he saw what we were looking for – lion tracks, fresh ones. “The tracks are the most important thing,” he said. “The tracks lead you to the animal.”
Finding a lion’s print. (Tim Johnson)
Ditiro parked the jeep and slung a big .458 rifle (sometimes inelegantly known as an “elephant gun”) over his shoulder as we trudged back into the long grass. At first, there was no sign of lions, but Ditiro read the behavior of the animals around us – or lack thereof. The fact most of the prey had vacated the area was a good sign that the lions were here.
We made a big, crazy circle on foot – from the jeep, through several meadows, around a big pan and back to the jeep – but we still couldn’t find them. On a whim, Ditiro decided that we should turn back – and that’s when we saw them, two big boys hunkered behind a set of bushes. We had walked within a few meters of them earlier, completely unawares.
On the prowl. (Cameron Spencer/Getty)
Ditiro cocked the gun as one of the lions sat upon his haunches, eying us with an intensity that I had never before encountered. I was now prey, and nothing but a bit of African savannah, Ditiro’s elephant gun, and the whim of a cat stood between me and certain death. It was terrifying.
As the lion slowly waved his tail, Ditiro told me to hold steady. “He is deciding whether or not to charge,” he said, as my heart pounded in my ears. “He’s about 50m away. He could close this distance in less than two seconds.” I had never before felt so exposed – just a guy standing on his own two feet staring down one of the greatest predators in the animal kingdom.
“Look at those muscles, look at those claws,” Ditiro told me, in hushed tones. “He’s a pure killing machine.” After a few minutes – maybe five, maybe 15 – it was time to go, and the lion didn’t charge. Bumping back to camp, I felt the adrenaline coursing through my veins, a natural high that I will never forget. In the rosy glow of that rush, I felt eternally fortunate. Happy to have had such an amazing experience. And lucky to be alive.
Standing on the sun deck of the Spirit of Freedom, a live-aboard tour boat on the Great Barrier Reef, I noticed something was missing: land. The shoreline had disappeared overnight and now there was just sky and sea – nothing else – for 220km in every direction. Related article: The Great Barrier Reef, a fragile [...]
Standing on the sun deck of the Spirit of Freedom, a live-aboard tour boat on the Great Barrier Reef, I noticed something was missing: land. The shoreline had disappeared overnight and now there was just sky and sea – nothing else – for 220km in every direction.
Also missing were the crowds, a nearly unavoidable part of the more popular day trips that launch from Cairns, the gateway city to Australia’s most popular natural attraction. Every day, tour boats bring hundreds of holidaymakers to the mega-pontoons stationed on the reef, offering a Disney-fied experience of the world’s largest living structure.
I chose instead to board a live-aboard boat and tour the Coral Sea over a number of days and nights. It’s a holiday that evades the day-trip crowds, allows for more than a day’s diving on the reef and affords travelers a much closer look at the pulsating, psychedelic-looking, 2,300km-long ecosystem that scientists predict could be overrun by seaweed by 2050.
After a three-hour flight from Sydney to Cairns, and an hour-long flight to Lizard Island (so named by Captain Cook for its suitably large population of monitor lizards), I motored out to my new home for the next four days, joining 26 other passengers and 10 crew on the decks of the 37m-long Spirit of Freedom.
A large population of monitor lizards earned Lizard Island its name. (Ethan Teas)
Once we settled in, the small cabins didn’t matter. Days were spent on the deck, with passengers draped over every available surface, napping or holding up a book to shade their eyes. The boat’s close confines meant making friends was inevitable.
Three Chinese students, a German veterinarian, an elderly Kenyan free diver – our group came from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.
Of course, the one thing that most of us had in common was a love for diving and a desire to see the Great Barrier Reef like no day-tripper ever would. We got below the surface nearly five times a day.
Rarely did we dive in the same place twice. More often, each excursion explored a new section of the reef’s coral-covered walls, which dropped off into to unexplored shadows, the sea floor resting 2,000m below.
There was always something new and exciting to see – blue spotted ribbontail rays, clownfish nestled amid the noodle-like tentacles of their anemone, mind-bogglingly big manta rays and bursts of colour and light from schools of iridescent fish suddenly changing direction. Four dwarf minke whales appeared during a dive on our second-to-last day and lingered for two hours, passing improbably close to those of us who were suspended in stillness, staring.
Schooling trevally at the Great Barrier Reef. (Spirit of Freedom)
With the right currents, divers could drift along the wall, passively enjoying the changing scenery while surrounded on three sides by the unbroken blue of open ocean. Closer to the surface, sunlit pinnacles of coral pierced the gently sloping beds of sand.
Eventually, when our eyes just couldn’t take anymore beauty – and our tanks ran low on air – we would kick towards the light and climb back aboard the only dry surface for miles. After a shamelessly lazy hour on the sun deck, I was always ready to do everything all over again.
Practicalities Spirit of Freedom and Mike Ball Dive Expeditions offer four-day live-aboard trips to the outer reaches of the Great Barrier Reef and the Coral Sea year round. They also have the permits needed to bring divers close to dwarf minke whales – the whales migrate to the area between June and July to mate and calve in the warmer reef waters.
Cyclone season lasts from November to May. The wet season is from December to February but can offer up great visibility and calm waters because of low winds and warmer water temperatures.
Peak season is during the dry months of June to October. June to August is the winter season with cooler air and water temperatures (bring a jumper for brisk nights).
When booking a vacation, we're obviously always trying to get the lowest prices possible on airline tickets, hotels and rental cars. But aside from the usual tips (book trips 54 days in advance, choose the right day of the week, etc.), there's one secret weapon to nearly always ensuring a good deal: using a travel [...]
1. They’re likely to get you the lowest price possible.
George Hobica, travel expert and founder of Airfarewatchdog, says, “Travel agents have tricks up their sleeves that automated websites have never heard of.” That means knowing when a price is actually at its lowest point or using unorthodox methods (like ferries or trains) to get you to your destination for less.
2. They’ve got better connections than the Internet.
As Shulem points out in his Reddit AMA, travel agents have resources and connections that the Internet does not. “We have discounted air, we have over 800 hotels where we throw in breakfast and a $100 resort credit, (and) we have cruises where we can get you upgrades and cruise credits and many times a better price,” he wrote.
3. They’ve got the most “pull” with hotels.
Hotels are extra-careful to keep travel agents happy so that they’ll continue to book in the future, writes a travel agent who goes by the name of Tychonaut on Reddit. “A hotel can tell you (a private customer) ‘no’ without a problem. But if they are dealing with an agent they have a bigger incentive to turn that ‘no’ to a ‘yes,'” he writes.
4. They’re especially great at finding group discounts.
If you’re going to Disney World, taking a corporate trip, or planning a romantic vacation, it’s best to let travel agents do the work for you. They’ll research the best deals for 2+ people, find coupons for going out to eat, and try their best to upgrade your suite or hotel room to make it the best experience possible. Think of the time you’re saving… researching alone would take days.
Say your flight gets canceled unexpectedly, or you’re really, really unhappy with your rental car. Never fear, your travel agent is here! As Shulem explains on Reddit, “…the trend is to look to the travel agent to save you time and help you out should a mishap arise.” Travel agents act as a safety net and can sometimes get extra help regarding canceled tickets that you, acting alone, could not.
6. They can find the best cruises and cruise activities for you.
Need help finding a cruise ASAP, booking the perfect cabin or sorting through pages of off-the-boat excursions? Travel agents can get a cruise certification to help them navigate the cruise-planning waters like a total pro, and they’re usually the first to find out about the best cruise deals or activities.
From offering plentiful bike paths and thriving farmers’ markets to ensuring cleaner air, a city’s environmental efforts don’t just help the planet – they benefit residents too. Related article: Living in – the world's friendliest cities According to the Siemens Green City Index, an ongoing project researched by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the world’s greenest [...]
From offering plentiful bike paths and thriving farmers’ markets to ensuring cleaner air, a city’s environmental efforts don’t just help the planet – they benefit residents too.
According to the Siemens Green City Index, an ongoing project researched by the Economist Intelligence Unit, the world’s greenest cities score high marks in CO2 emissions, transportation options, water and waste management, and overall environmental governance.
Different urban areas have different sustainability strengths, so we talked to residents in the top-ranked cities across the globe to find out what living in them is like.
Vancouver, British Columbia Compared to other cities of its size, Vancouver scored incredibly well in C02 emissions and air quality, due in part to the city’s emphasis on promoting green energy and its use of hydropower. Vancouver has vowed to reduce emissions by 33% by 2020.
One of Vancouver’s many gardens. (AFP/Getty)
That commitment doesn’t surprise resident Lorne Craig, who moved to the city from Calgary in 1985 and writes the Green Briefs blog. “Vancouver has been home to a deeper green counter-culture since the 1960s and is recognized worldwide as the birthplace of Greenpeace,” he said. “Mountains tower over the city. It reminds everyone here that we are part of something bigger and more beautiful.”
As other cities continued building freeways that promoted driving and sprawl, Vancouver remained committed to urban living, as evidenced by the development of Granville Island, a pedestrian-friendly peninsula where residents frequent large public market and art studios.
Plenty of other Vancouver neighborhoods are eco-friendly too. A large network of bike routes makes cycling around town easy, especially West 10th Avenue, where people regularly cruise on bikes, electric scooters, and even unicycles. Craig said the neighborhoods of Commercial Drive and Strathcona, both east of downtown, are “more left-wing green” – meaning, more politically active – while Kitsilano to the west and the Main Street neighborhood to the south of downtown is “more the Prius type of green” – wealthier, with a more laid-back approach to activism.
Curitiba, Brazil Of all the cities on the South American Siemens Index, only Curitiba scores above average in the green rankings. After building one of the planet’s first large-scale, rapid-transit bus systems in the 1960s and developing a world-leading recycling program in the 1980s, the southern Brazilian city continues to be environmentally forward-thinking. In fact, the heavy use of public transportation means Curitiba has one of the highest air qualities in the index.
However, the city could use some revitalization, according to resident Stephen Green, who moved to Curitiba 15 years ago from London and writes the city lifestyle blog Head of the Heard. While Curitiba plans to build a metro system and an additional 300km in bike routes, the projects are expensive and the city needs more funding to complete them. Still, compared to other cities in the region, “Curitiba is excellent,” Green said.
Green lives in Merces, a traditional city-center neighborhood that’s popular with older residents. “We have a good market on Sundays, decent public transport links and the biggest park in the city is close by,” he said. Farmers’ markets move around the city, helping residents find local organic produce.
Copenhagen, Denmark Though fellow Scandinavian cities Oslo and Stockholm trail close behind, Copenhagen consistently ranks as Europe’s greenest city. Almost all of the residents live within 350m of public transportation and more than 50% regularly use a bicycle to commute. As a result, Copenhagen has extremely low C02 emissions for a city its size.
Windmills off Copenhagen. (Tore Johannesen/Getty)
While the entire city is bike-friendly, the districts of Nørrebro in the northwest and Frederiksberg in the west are especially committed to cycling, said Copenhagen native Mia Kristine Jessen Petersen. “They’ve spent a lot of money creating “Den Grønne Sti [the Green Path], a 9km-long path for walking and biking,” she said. “The Green Path is made to help cyclists get through the city fast and easy in the beautiful scenery. But the path isn’t just a path; it’s also filled with parks, playgrounds, benches, and different terrain, so the scenery shifts at every turn.” Grønne Sti ends in Valby, 4km outside of downtown, a district popular with families who live there for its plentiful parks, schools and safe streets.
In addition to their love of cycling, Copenhagen residents are passionate about recycling and composting, as well as conserving electricity and heat. “Danes see nature as a sacred haven,” Petersen said. “We do whatever we can to take care of the nature we have in the cities and to get more.”
San Francisco, California San Francisco ranks as North America’s greenest city in the index. The city has a long history of environmental consciousness stretching back to the founding of the Sierra Club environmental group in the 19th Century. San Francisco has a 77% recycling rate, one of the highest in the world, made possible through city mandates requiring the separation of recyclable and compostable materials from regular garbage.
Recycling at a San Francisco restaurant. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
“We are surrounded by stunning natural beauty, and we have a history of progressiveness and open-mindedness,” said Donna Sky, who moved to the city from Costa Rica nine years ago and founded the locally produced hummus company Love & Hummus. Local farms also contribute: Many residents care where and how their food is produced and strive to eat food produced nearby.
To that end, many neighborhoods have their own farmers’ markets, each with a distinctive character. North of the Panhandle – NoPa for short – has a market that’s open throughout the year, whereas the Mission and central Haight-Ashbury (famous for its hippie culture and Victorian houses) have seasonal markets.
All three neighborhoods are also bike-friendly due to their flat topography, said Jarie Bolander, a long-time Bay Area resident and past president of the North of Panhandle Neighborhood Association. “Each of these neighborhoods has its own unique vibe,” he said. “NOPA is primarily young professionals and civically minded, while the Haight is a healthy mix of aging hippies and hipsters.”
Cape Town, South Africa South Africa’s second-largest city is making some of the biggest environmental strides in Africa, in part by pushing for more energy conservation and greater use of renewable resources. In 2008, Cape Town started using energy from the country’s first commercial wind farm and now aims to get 10% of its energy from renewable resources by 2020.
These efforts are transforming life in the city. “More bike routes are becoming available, farmers markets are very popular, and chefs definitely place a premium on sourcing ingredients and produce locally,” said resident Sarah Khan, who moved to Cape Town from New York City in 2013 and writes The South African blog. Still, she believes the city could do more to improve public transportation and prevent the electricity shortages that are becoming increasingly common.
Cycling Camps Bay, Cape Town. (Franz Marc Frei/Getty)
Locals tend to have an “outdoorsy nature” and aren’t afraid to hop on a bike to get around. “The most bike-friendly areas to live within the city are definitely Seapoint and Greenpoint, where there is great cycle infrastructure,” said Leonie Mervis, the founder, and director of urban cycling campaign Bicycle Cape Town. Though the city center itself doesn’t have as many dedicated cycling routes, bikes are allowed for free on the My Citi rapid bus service, making the city easy to get around in without a car.
Mervis lives in Hout Bay, a neighborhood 20km south of the central business district that’s home to many creative types and environmentally conscious residents. “Many people living in our community have solar energy systems and grow their own vegetables,” Mervis said. “We also have an environmental committee that works to support green initiatives and rehabilitate and care for the surrounding open space system.”