Monthly Archives: July 2014

Enjoy the beautiful beaches at Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by wordpress.com

The best islands and beaches in Sihanoukville, Cambodia

If hot and sunny weather with an abundance of small islands and beaches and to lounge upon, cheap accommodation, food, and drinks, combined with friendly locals appeals to you, make then exploring the best islands and beaches in Sihanoukville, Cambodia should be your next travel destination.

Enjoy the beautiful beaches at Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by wordpress.com

Enjoy the beautiful beaches at Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by wordpress.com

Best islands and beaches in Sihanoukville

The town of Sihanoukville is a province of Cambodia surrounded on three sides by the Bay of Thailand. From the beaches and surrounding hills, many of the country’s small islands can be seen and easily reached. There’s plenty to do and see here, but the main attraction is the array of sandy beaches Sihanoukville has to offer.

The set up at Occheuteal Beach, Sihanoukville. Photo by staticflickr.com

The set up at Occheuteal Beach, Sihanoukville. Photo by staticflickr.com

Many of the beaches have grass-hut restaurants and bars in which to fill your belly with affordable and delicious local cuisine and drinks. Once you’ve had your fill of sun, sand, and food, check out the Buddhist temples, try your hand at mountain biking or dirt biking, cool off by scuba diving or snorkelling, walk around downtown and the central market, dabble in some shopping, and emerge yourself in the Cambodian culture.

Snuggle up and watch the sunset on the beach. Photo by tumblr.com

Snuggle up and watch the sunset on the beach. Photo by tumblr.com

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches in Sihanoukville. The beaches that line the west contour of the city from north to south are Victory Beach, Lamherkay Beach, Koh Pos Beach, Independence Beach, Sokha Beach, Serendipity Beach, Ochheuteal Beach and Otres Beach. Tourists can take water taxis to the nearby islands for diving, snorkeling, and game fishing.

Ochheuteal Beach and Serendipity Beach

Watch the sunset from Occheuteal Beach. Photo by staticflickr.com

Watch the sunset from Occheuteal Beach. Photo by staticflickr.com

Ochheuteal Beach is a long and narrow strip of beach lined with casuarina trees, grass umbrellas, rental chairs and little drink huts as well as bigger restaurants and night-time party spots.

Take a walk on the beautiful Serendipity Beach. Photo by lostmanproject.com

Take a walk on the beautiful Serendipity Beach. Photo by lostmanproject.com

The northern section has become known as Serendipity Beach and is a popular beach with western tourists, noted for small guesthouse rooms right on the beach. Aside from the guest houses on the beach, there are around 30 beach huts serving good value meals and a wide selection of drinks.

Otres Beach

Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Photo by nomadicnotes.com

Otres Beach, Sihanoukville. Photo by nomadicnotes.com

Beyond a small headland at the south end of Ochheuteal is Otres Beach, which is far less developed but is well-known for its long stretch of clean, white sands, making it a great spot for sunbathing and exploring. Otres Beach is the quietest beach in Sihanoukville, so retreat here if you want to relax and get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Sokha Beach

Sokha Beach Hotel. Photo by hindiakosikat.files.wordpress.com

Sokha Beach Hotel. Photo by hindiakosikat.files.wordpress.com

Sokha Beach is located just west of Serendipity Beach. This beach is privately owned by Sokha Beach Hotel, the first five-star luxury beach hotel in Cambodia. It provides luxurious facilities and has a wide white sandy beach, but hotel security may prevent visitors who are not guests from going onto the beach.

Independence Beach

Independence Beach is located next to Sokha Beach on its west. The beach was named after the old Independence Hotel, as the Independence Hotel is located at the northern end of the beach. This beach offers a good stretch of clean sand suitable for soaking up the sun.

Victory Beach

Victory beach is situated at the furthest north of the peninsula of Sihanoukville. It was the original backpacker beach and is still popular with budget travelers. The deep sea port is found at the northern end of the beach. Apart from white sand and blue sea, this beach offers a perfect spot to enjoy the sunset.

The small islands in Sihanoukville

Take a boat ride and visit the small islands. Photo by lifesgreatadventures.com

Take a boat ride and visit the small islands. Photo by lifesgreatadventures.com

There are more than a dozen islands off the coast of Sihanoukville for tourists to hop around and explore. Only a select few of them have been developed for overnight stays, and many guesthouses, travel agencies and restaurants on Ochheuteal and Serendipity beaches offer trips and packages to a handful of these islands.

Koh Russei, also known as the Bamboo Island, is a medium sized island located a few kilometers out from Otres Beach. There is a small navy base located here, and some beach bungalows to stay overnight in.

Koh Russei, Bamboo Island, Sihanoukville. Photo by cambodia-entertainment.com

Koh Russei, Bamboo Island, Sihanoukville. Photo by cambodia-entertainment.com

Koh Rong Island is situated west of the Sihanoukville coast. It offers a fantastic strand of beach on its southwest coast, stretching about 5 kilometres. It has fresh water resources on the island and a bustling fishing community on the southeast which makes it a prime spot for sourcing fresh seafood.

Koh Rong Island, Sihanoukville. Photo by kohrong-islandtravel.com

Koh Rong Island, Sihanoukville. Photo by kohrong-islandtravel.com

Koh Rong Samloem Island is slightly smaller than Koh Rong and situated on its south. Beautiful beaches are on the east coast, where a large heart-shaped bay with some shellfish cultivation is located. The marine life around Koh Rong Samloem is very diverse and is a great spot for scuba diving or snorkelling.

Koh Rong Samloem Island, Sihanoukville. Photo by pining.com

Koh Rong Samloem Island, Sihanoukville. Photo by pining.com

Koh Tang Island is located a fair distance from the main shoreline of Sihanoukville, requiring travellers to stay onboard overnight. It offers interesting diving spots – most of which are not frequently explored. The island is home to a military outpost and boat travelers should expect to be boarded by military personnel when travelling out at the island.

Dive in the waters of Koh Tang Island, Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by Giorgio, flickr

Dive in the waters of Koh Tang Island, Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by Giorgio, flickr

Koh Pos, also known as Morakot Island or Snake Island, is located 800 metres from Victory Beach. It is under development by Russian investors to become a luxury holiday destination. It was linked to the mainland with a bridge in July 2011, but the bridge is not currently open for traffic.

 

Koh Dek Koul is a small private island 7 kilometres from Victory Beach. The luxurious Russian-owned Mirax Resort is located on this island, which is a great option for travellers to Sihanoukville who wouldn’t mind splurging a little.

Getting around

Small long-tail boats and medium size cruising boats can be hired for sightseeing, fishing, diving, and drinking trips at most beaches in Sihanoukville. Bookings can be made through guesthouses, travel agencies and diving operators.

Sail across the crystal clear water in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by aboveusonlysky.net

Sail across the crystal clear water in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by aboveusonlysky.net

Streets in Sihanoukville downtown are mostly in good condition but enforcement of international norms is poor. There’s an overabundance of motorbikes due to the lack of public transportation, and the city is considered unsafe for driving. Drivers of motorbikes don’t tend to use helmets, mirrors are rarely used, and it is common to see motorbikes with more than two passengers.

The city doesn’t have a public transportation system, so there’s an informal urban transportation system of motor-taxis and tuk-tuks to help people to get around. This isn’t controlled by authorities, and anybody can become a motor-taxi or tuk-tuk driver in Sihanoukville. Bearing this in mind, there’s no price control of services so travellers should confirm prices before using any of these services. It also pays to ask advice from tourist agencies and hotels.

Where to eat

Devour fresh seafood in Sihanoukville. Photo by ggpht.com

Devour fresh seafood in Sihanoukville. Photo by ggpht.com

With the ocean easily accessible in Sihanoukville, there’s no shortage of fresh seafood to be found. All the beaches have seafood restaurants and downtown has a nice selection, but if seafood isn’t your thing you have plenty of other options to tempt your palette.

Have a drink in one of the many quirky beachside bars. Photo by sihanoukville-cambodia.com

Have a drink in one of the many quirky beachside bars. Photo by sihanoukville-cambodia.com

A dollar gets you a meal and a drink at many of the small Cambodian restaurants on the street, so dining out certainly won’t put a hole in your wallet here. Sihanoukville is also the location for the main production plant of Cambodia’s national beer, Angkor Beer, which is worth a try while in the area.

Accommodation

Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by travelnation.co.uk

Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by travelnation.co.uk

A few of the islands off the coast of Sihanoukville have rooms (or a hammock) from $2 USD to $3,000 USD a night. Most of the rooms are beachside bungalows which are normally around $5 to $50 USD a night. The more you pay the better the amenities and the location become.

When to visit

Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by tumblr.com

Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by tumblr.com

The best time to visit Sihanoukville is between the beginning of November and the end of February as the weather is cooler but sunny. Low season is between the begining of July until the end of October due to heavy rain. March to June starts to get hotter and more humid without too much rain, and October sees a little rain everyday which helps to cool things down.

How to get there

Downtown Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by sihanoukville-cambodia.com

Downtown Sihanoukville, Cambodia. Photo by sihanoukville-cambodia.com

From Thailand, just fly from Bangkok to Phnom Penh (about a 45 minute flight), then take the five hour ride by taxi or bus to Sihanoukville. Travel by bus or car from Koh Kong, at the South-Eastern Thai border near Trat, to Sihanoukville, which takes about four hours. The Sihanoukville International Airport is located 18 kilometres away from Sihanoukville downtown, along the NR4.

A private infinity pool at one of the Villas at Hanging Gardens. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

Five reasons to visit the Ubud Hanging Gardens in Bali

Located in the heart of Bali is Ubud, a spiritual town known for over a century as the hub of fine arts, culture, dance and music. What makes the Hanging Gardens so unique is their approach to sanctuary and serenity amongst some of the most beautiful landscape in Bali.

All of the pools at Hanging Gardens are located in thick jungle. Photo via easytotravel.co.in

All of the pools at Hanging Gardens are located in thick jungle. Photo via easytotravel.co.in

Nestled amongst hills, rice fields, temples, small villages, palaces and a Holy river is the Hanging Gardens resort. Here we list the five reasons why you must check out this outstanding place of magic and healing.

Visit the Ubud Hanging Gardens in Bali: The location

A private infinity pool at one of the Villas at Hanging Gardens. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

A private infinity pool at one of the Villas at Hanging Gardens. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

The resort is located quite literally amongst some of the most luscious parts of Bali and that’s what makes it so special. Most of the resort is hidden, away from the hustle and bustle normally affiliated with the Indonesian island.

It is said that Ubud is the place to which people travel in seek of healing due to the surrounding environment and the plants that grow in the area. It is also great for those who are in need of clarity, inspiration and peace. The hotel has 38 private suites and individual villas with thatched roofs. Guests are in close proximity to some of the most wonderful temples and palaces in Bali.

The pool is like an oasis in the jungle

The split infinity pools. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

The split infinity pools. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

The stunning split infinity pool located within the resort is easily one of the highlights and it is said to be one of the most photographed pools in the world. The pool is lined with Batu Chandi stone and has a geometric wall lined with volcanic ash.

Because of the split design and layout of the pool, it often gives the impression to guests that they are swimming above the treetops of the thick surrounding jungle. And just when you think it couldn’t get any better – there are both food and drink served poolside so guests are truly spoilt on their stay.

The villas are so comfortable you won’t want to leave

Inside the suites at the resort. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

Inside the suites at the resort. Photo by Pavel Koelio, flickr

There are a few different options when it comes to choosing a villa at the Hanging Gardens. What makes each unique is the style; modern Balinese style. The villas are scattered around the grounds of the resort and offer spectacular views of the ancient forests and hanging gardens.

The stunning villas offer spa baths and open plan living. Photo via o.homedsgn.com

The stunning villas offer spa baths and open plan living. Photo via o.homedsgn.com

Suite villas offer king size bedrooms, with separate lounging rooms and views of both the infinity pool and surrounding jungle. The Panoramic rooms have their own private terraces with infinity pools and outdoor dining pavilions with panoramic views of the jungle valley. The Riverside villas are authentic Balinese with expansive decks and private pools, as well as views of the river and the Family villas are the largest, with two levels and two bedrooms each with additional bathrooms and decks and views of the valley.

The Spa will leave you feeling relaxed and revitalised

Enjoy a massage or body rejuvination at the spa. Photo via fast.swide.com

Enjoy a massage or body rejuvination at the spa. Photo via fast.swide.com

The onsite spa at the Hanging Gardens is of world class standard, offering healing and revival body therapy, massages and beauty regimes – and all for really great prices. All of the spa staff are trained therapists and professionals who work at helping you achieve peace of mind and serenity.

The spa offers full body treatment, chi rejuvenation, massages, pedicures and foot therapy, skin cleansing, body wraps and baths, facials, hand rejuvenation, scalp and hair care and hair washing and styling. The menu even caters to the younger market with mini-options available for guests aged 6 to 13.

Why not go all out and get a spa package that lasts up to four hours? It includes a bit of everything on the menu, and only costs $US300.

The activities are plentiful and exciting

Enjoy a romantic meal on a bamboo deck in the jungle. Photo via visualitineraries.com

Enjoy a romantic meal on a bamboo deck in the jungle. Photo via visualitineraries.com

Because of the location of the resort, there are actually so many activities offered to guests that involve a great amount of culture and fine arts. You can travel into the local village of Ubud and go on a cultural treasure hunt; or learn to paint traditional Balinese style paintings. Perhaps you prefer to do Yoga or some meditation?

Lounge about on the decks above the treetops. Photo via dotawci.com

Lounge about on the decks above the treetops. Photo via dotawci.com

You can join a trained professional for both yoga and meditation in the tranquil jungle grounds – or maybe visit a local temple and go on a spiritual journey through the valley, passing by the Holy River. No matter what you prefer, you won’t be short of options.

A guide leads a camel through Erg Chebbi nearby Merzoug. Photo by Chris Ford, Flickr

Dangerous journeys: Crossing the Sahara by camel

The Sahara Desert is a vast expanse of undulating sand dunes. Photo by hdeb89, Flickr

The Sahara Desert is a vast expanse of undulating sand dunes. Photo by hdeb89, Flickr

Vast, undulating mounds of sand baking in the hot desert sun make up the majority of the Sahara desert. These mounds extend into and beyond the horizon in every direction making an estimation of distance practically impossible. Crossing the Sahara by camel is incredibly dangerous. Wind sweeps the top-layers of sand into never ending ripples that allow dark shadows to dance among them.

The Tenere Desert  is one of the most beautiful areas of Sahara. Photo by Matthew Paulson, Flickr

The Tenere Desert is one of the most beautiful areas of Sahara. Photo by Matthew Paulson, Flickr

This is an ocean of sand as dynamic as it is immense and there is a very good reason it acted as a barrier to human movement for so long. It is also the reason that humans, even today, yearn to cross it. It is difficult, it is dangerous and it is daring and that is exactly what makes it such an adventure. Crossing the Sahara by 4-wheel drive is a brilliant escapade in itself, but to travel this most difficult landscape on camelback is an authentic experience that will last a lifetime.

The Sahara is so large it can be seen from space! Photo from NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center

The Sahara is so large it can be seen from space! Photo from NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Crossing the Sahara by camel: Things to remember

Camel trips can be difficult and demanding, but a rewarding experience. Photo by upyernoz, Flickr

Camel trips can be difficult and demanding, but a rewarding experience. Photo by upyernoz, Flickr

To travel for any meaningful length of time in the Sahara, a major shift in perception is required because suddenly there is a tangible element of danger. One slip-up and you might never be seen again, so careful preparation and groundwork is key, as is giving up the self-reliance that many travellers grow fond of. Out here, the expertise of others is crucial to your survival and it is the most fundamental thing for potential visitors to remember. The second is that travelling the Sahara is not easy. The size alone, the Sahara is the biggest desert in the world outside of the Arctic and Antarctica, means that any trip is likely to take days or even weeks.

Merzoug's desert is a popular destination for camel safari. Photo by Christiaan Triebert, Flickr

Merzoug’s desert is a popular destination for camel safari. Photo by Christiaan Triebert, Flickr

Any supplies you bring must be carried on your back including food, water and camping equipment and that limits what can be taken. Above anything else though, you will be travelling through a desert and thus exposed to harsh sun, dust clouds and extremely cold nights. If you are looking for a luxury holiday, or even a relaxing one, the Sahara by camel shouldn’t be top of the list. What it does offer is adventure, nights under the African stars and an unforgettable experience.

Where to go

Berber people have been wandering the desert for hundreds of years. Photo by Antonio Cinotti, Flickr

Berber people have been wandering the desert for hundreds of years. Photo by Antonio Cinotti, Flickr

This is the first and most crucial question to ask when planning a trip by camelback into the Sahara. Some intrepid souls (John Hare did the trip twice) have gone so far as to travel from Mauritania on the western coast, through Mali, Niger and Libya, to finish on the eastern coast in Egypt. This is rare and the logistics of such an endeavor are multidimensional. Various entry and exit permits are required for entry into these nations and they can be dangerous to travel in. You would need an expert guide, professional solar-powered GPS equipment, food and water, professional first aid equipment, good-quality camping gear and perhaps a satellite phone.

The Air Mountain's climate allows more agriculture than other areas. Photo by willemstom, Flickr

The Air Mountain’s climate allows more agriculture than other areas. Photo by willemstom, Flickr

One camel simply can’t take you the whole distance, back-up camels would also be required and possibly pit-stops to buy more in Saharan cities. Not to mention that on camel this type of trip would take months. Travelling by camelback from one side of Africa to the other might sound romantic in theory, but a few weeks of heat and saddle sores will probably dampen your enthusiasm. Most travellers choose to take shorter trips, and there are a few locations that offer far more comfortable, if less daring, excursions into the Sahara.

Morocco

A guide leads a camel through Erg Chebbi nearby Merzoug. Photo by Chris Ford, Flickr

A guide leads a camel through Erg Chebbi nearby Merzoug. Photo by Chris Ford, Flickr

By far the most common form of travel in the Saharan Desert takes place in southern Morocco, where there are a number of tourist operators offering both short and long trips into the desert. The small towns of M’Hamid, Arfoud and Merzouga are well known as desert oases that act as a gateway to the fabled golden dunes that lay nearby. The tallest (some reaching 50m high) and most impressive dunes in Morocco can be found at Erg Chebbi near Merzouga, with 3-5 day camel safaris relatively easy to organise in town. Another fantastic spot for dune watching is Erg Chicaga, which is harder to get to but has a more dynamic landscape.

Egypt

A view of the Black Desert region of the Egyptian Sahara. Photo by Peng Jun Jason, Flickr

A view of the Black Desert region of the Egyptian Sahara. Photo by Peng Jun Jason, Flickr

Egypt is another option for Saharan Desert safaris and tour operators here generally offer long trips up to two weeks on camelback. The southern towns of Al-Kharga, Dakhla and Farafra are best for 4-wheel drive tours but most of the camel safaris depart from Cairo. One of the more popular tours here involves a 12-day round trip departing Cairo, which combines several hours on camels per day with various local attractions and visits to secluded desert oases. Camp is set up each night in open desert with the sky bright with stars. One of the most interesting aspects on these tours is the transition from beige to black sand as you enter the Black Desert area of the Sahara nearby the Bahariya oasis.

Niger (not for the faint-hearted)

The white sand and rock formations bring many visitors to Egypt. Photo by Alfie lanni, Flickr

The white sand and rock formations bring many visitors to Egypt. Photo by Alfie lanni, Flickr

Both Morocco and Egypt offer safer, shorter trips through the desert that are highly popular with visiting tourists. For those seeking something with more adventure and isolation though, Niger has some of the best desert treks in the Sahara. Tourism isn’t as highly developed in Niger and political tensions in the region mean it is far harder and more dangerous to visit than Morocco, Egypt and Tunisia. Potential visitors should think carefully before planning a trip here, and only commit to it if they have experience with similar places and trips in Africa.

A man pushes a wheelbarrow of watermelong past Agadez Mosque. Photo by Matthew Paulson, Flickr

A man pushes a wheelbarrow of watermelong past Agadez Mosque. Photo by Matthew Paulson, Flickr

Those that think the risk is worth the reward will be delighted by a vibrant local people and some of the most beautiful parts of the Saharan Desert. The trip from Agadez to Bilma through the Ténéré is a historic pilgrimage in Niger with the Erg du Bilma a simply dazzling desert sea. The journey takes up to two weeks and a lack of tourism operations means that you will have to buy a camel and hire a guide yourself in Agadez. This is as authentic a desert experience as you can get though, and a side-trip to the more habitable Aïr Mountains region might give you a totally new perception of the Sahara. The climate here supports a wide variety of life as well as numerous farming communities.

Wellington, New Zealand. Photo by travelphotoadventures.com

What to do in Wellington City in New Zealand

What to do in Wellington City

Surrounded by ocean and hill, Wellington merges big city culture with small town charm and lively energy pulses through what is celebrated as New Zealand’s artistic and culinary capital. With just under 400,000 residents, Wellington is the second most populous urban area of New Zealand and balances a modern cityscape with untouched natural beauty.

Wellington, New Zealand. Photo by travelphotoadventures.com

Wellington, New Zealand. Photo by travelphotoadventures.com

Wellington is located at the south-western tip of the North Island on Cook Strait, separating the North and South Islands. Its exposure to the winds blowing through the Strait created its nickname “Windy Wellington”, and for good reason. Ask any local about Wellington weather and you’ll soon discover it is commonplace for Wellington to have four seasons in one day. While the weather is rather unpredictable, Wellington city can’t be beaten on a clear, sunny day – meaning the best time to visit is during spring or summer, between the months of September and March.

Take a stroll along Wellington's waterfront. Photo by victoria.ac.nz

Take a stroll along Wellington’s waterfront. Photo by victoria.ac.nz

The narrow entrance of Wellington harbour contains the dangerous shallows of Barrett Reef, where many ships have been wrecked – the most famous was the inter-island ferry ‘Wahine’ in 1968. Wellington harbour has three islands: Matiu/Somes Island, Makaro/Ward Island and Mokopuna Island, but only Matiu/Somes Island is large enough for habitation. It has been used as a quarantine station for people and animals, and was an internment camp during World War I and World War II. It is a conservation island, providing refuge for endangered species, and can be accessed by the public via the Dominion Post Ferry.

Foxglove Bar and Restaurant on the waterfront. Photo by no-surcharge.co.nz

Foxglove Bar and Restaurant on the waterfront. Photo by no-surcharge.co.nz

Wellington is known as a socially and environmentally conscious city. Declared nuclear weapon free over 30 years ago in 1982, it was also the first capital city in the southern hemisphere to gain Fair Trade status. There is a network of bush walks and reserves maintained by the Wellington City Council and local volunteers, and the Wellington region has 500 square kilometres of regional parks and forests to explore.

Capital of Culture

Long celebrated as New Zealand’s arts and culture capital, Wellington is home to the country’s major arts institutions such as Royal New Zealand Ballet, NZ Symphony Orchestra and Te Papa Tongarewa – the National Museum of New Zealand. It is home to Weta Workshop which is the mastermind behind critically acclaimed films like The Lord of the Rings, King Kong, Avatar, and many other international blockbusters.

Every September Wellington showcases WOW; World of Wearable Art attracting an audience of over 50,000 people to the shows. This is one of Wellington’s success stories for the last 25 years, combining fashion and art.

Wellington Parliament, the Beehive. Photo by cloudfront.net

Wellington Parliament, the Beehive. Photo by cloudfront.net

Home to New Zealand’s parliament building nicknamed the “beehive” for its unique design, the central business district is Wellington’s economic engine-room and community meeting place. Boutique and high street shopping can be found down Lambton Quay and the surrounding streets, while the bohemian quarter is found on Cuba Street.

Find out why it’s the culinary capital of New Zealand

Try the award winning cuisine at Matterhorn. Photo by stuff.co.nz

Try the award winning cuisine at Matterhorn. Photo by stuff.co.nz

Wellington restaurants have taken out the supreme Cuisine Restaurant of the Year award more times than should be fair. Tucked between two of New Zealand’s finest wine and producing areas, the city is part of a region of exceptional taste. Wellington is said to have more bars and restaurants per capita than New York, and is considered the craft beer capital.

Have a coffee on Cuba

Cuba Street was named after an early 1840 settler ship of the same name, not an island country in the Caribbean, but a few of the street’s residents have since run with the latter theme. Fidel’s Café at 234 Cuba St is one of many tasty spots locals love to chew the literal and philosophical fat. Just around the corner on Wigan Street is Havana, a local favourite for tapas, cocktails and live music.

See the quirky bucket fountain on Cuba Street. Photo by sandalroad.com

See the quirky bucket fountain on Cuba Street. Photo by sandalroad.com

Cuba Street is a creative and culinary melting pot of buskers, art galleries, graffiti-filled alleyways, cool cafes, nationally acclaimed restaurants, and community exhibition spaces. The “bucket fountain” is an icon of Cuba Street, reflecting the quirkiness of the area well. Cuba Street is a meeting of minds, menus, and culture, and is the best place for vintage shopping in New Zealand – thanks to a trail of second-hand boutiques.

Tucked down a quiet corridor at number 106, Matterhorn is Cuba Street’s most famous bar. With more awards than you can shake a cocktail at, the Matterhorn is a well known and a must see while exploring the area. Try a few signature cocktails off their extensive list and enjoy their fine cuisine.

Become part of Wellington’s buzzing nightlife

Wellington city comes alive at night. Photo by dreams.efusionerp.com

Wellington city comes alive at night. Photo by dreams.efusionerp.com

Wellington’s nightlife is best known for its trail of stylish cocktail bars tucked away in the city’s corners. The entertainment district of Courtenay Place is packed with dance clubs and pubs, while those looking for live music from local indie bands should head to Cuba Street. Every weekend is a raging party in Wellington City – not to mention “student night” which takes place each Wednesday.

Have a cocktail and read a novel or two at the Library Bar. Photo by stuff.co.nz

Have a cocktail and read a novel or two at the Library Bar. Photo by stuff.co.nz

The city’s entertainment and theatre district is centered around Courtenay Place, Blair and Allen streets. Start with The Library, a lounge bar where cocktail vouchers can be found hidden within the leaves of books. Malthouse is a must for craft beer fans, and the New York loft-style Apartment and Bangalore Polo Club are also popular spots. Four Kings is New Zealand’s leading sports entertainment venue and has more than 70 plasma and LCD screens – perfect for watching the rugby or having a flutter on the horses.

Lounge on bean bags at St Johns Bar. Photo by wordpress.com

Lounge on bean bags at St Johns Bar. Photo by wordpress.com

When the sun’s out, grab a bean bag at St John’s Bar, or an outdoor table at Foxglove on the waterfront. Enjoy views of the harbour with a cocktail or craft beer in hand, and appreciate Wellington city on a beautiful day.

Step into history at Te Papa Museum

Te Papa Museum. Photo by wordpress.com

Te Papa Museum. Photo by wordpress.com

Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum renowned for being bicultural, scholarly, innovative, and interactive. The Māori name, ‘Te Papa Tongarewa’, literally means ‘container of treasures’, which is what you will find inside the gigantic museum. Find out about the history of New Zealand and Maori culture at Te Papa, located at 55 Cable Street. Admission is free, visit http://www.tepapa.govt.nz/ for more information.

Watch a game at the Stadium

The Cake Tin Stadium. Photo by Andy Radka, photonewzealand.com

The Cake Tin Stadium. Photo by Andy Radka, photonewzealand.com

Wellington Regional Stadium – commercially known as Westpac Stadium – is a major sporting venue in Wellington with 34,500 seats. Due to its round shape and silver colour, it is known as “The Cake Tin” to Wellingtonians, and hosts sports games, expos, and concerts. The stadium was opened in 2000 and is a five minute walk from the train station. If you can’t make it to a game you’re bound to drive past it a few times while in the area – it can’t be missed.

Take a ride in the Cable Car

Take a ride on the iconic Cable Car. Photo by zoom.me.com

Take a ride on the iconic Cable Car. Photo by zoom.me.com

The Wellington Cable Car is a funicular railway located between Lambton Quay, the main shopping street, and Kelburn, a suburb in the hills overlooking the central city. It is widely recognised as a symbol of Wellington and any trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without a ride of the Cable Car. Have a coffee at the cafe at the top and walk around the beautiful park, there’s also an observatory which is a popular tourist attraction.

Walk through Weta Workshop

Explore the Weta Cave. Photo by nxstatic.com

Explore the Weta Cave. Photo by nxstatic.com

The Weta Cave Workshop Tour is a movie based visitor experience in the heart of Miramar, Wellington. Guided tours start and finish in the famous Weta Cave and provides a unique behind-the-scenes glimpse into the workings of Weta Workshop. The story of the creative process is told by members of the crew from the workshop floor using the props, models, and weapons they helped make for the movies. A tour takes approximately 45 minutes and costs around $20 USD per person. Located at 1 Weka St, Miramar, Wellington, Visit http://www.wetanz.com/cave/ for more information.

Spend a day at the Zoo

The city is balanced with nature. Photo by wikimedia.org

The city is balanced with nature. Photo by wikimedia.org

Now over 100 years old, Wellington Zoo was New Zealand’s first Zoo and has 13 hectare dedicated to over 100 different species of fauna from across the globe. From $20USD per person, expect to see cheeky Meerkats, Red Panda, Monkeys, Giraffes, Bats, Kiwi, and more. Located at 200 Daniell St, Newtown.

Where to stay

The CQ complex of Comfort Hotel and Quality Hotel is set within a stylish heritage building in the heart of Cuba Street. Nestled between local boutiques and a few steps away from Cuisine Restaurant of the Year 2009 Logan Brown, this is the perfect location for those to base themselves in the cultural heart of the capital. Rooms start from $100 USD per night for two people. Located at 213-233 Cuba Street, visit http://www.hotelwellington.co.nz/ for more information.

The character filled Museum Hotel. Photo by bookit.co.nz

The character filled Museum Hotel. Photo by bookit.co.nz

The Museum Art Hotel is luxurious, artistic, and has plenty of character – not to mention it’s one of the largest buildings to have been moved from one site to another. Weighing an estimated 3,500 tonnes, this reinforced concrete building was moved from its original site, now the location of the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum, to 90 Cable St 180 metres down the road. The relocation started in May 1993 and was completed just over five months later. Stay here from $180 USD per night, visit http://www.museumhotel.co.nz/ for more information or to book.

The Ice Hotel is just as much art as it is accommodation. Photo by jonathanirish(.com)

Staying at the Icehotel in Sweden

Icehotel in Sweden

An ice palace wouldn’t be complete without chandelier. Photo by buncee.com

Made anew each year by a crack team of architects, engineers and ice sculptors, the Icehotel in Sweden Lapland was the first of its kind. Located about 1500 kilometres north of Stockholm in the tiny village of Jukkajärvi, the entire structure is made in winter using snow and ice from the nearby Torne River. Entire bedrooms including fixtures and décor, a bar with full glassware, and even a chapel popular with young couples are made entirely of frozen water. As far as romance goes, there are few hotels in the world that can rival this masterpiece.

But the attraction of the Icehotel doesn’t lie solely in sleeping in a giant ice sculpture. Jukkajärvi is over 200km inside the Arctic Circle and the uninterrupted natural beauty of this place is just as much a draw card as the hotel itself. Whether it be watching the Aurora Borealis from a mountain top, cuddling up with reindeer or sipping hot cocoa by the fire, there are a number of reasons to stay at Sweden’s Icehotel.

The Ice Hotel is just as much art as it is accommodation. Photo by jonathanirish.com

The Ice Hotel is just as much art as it is accommodation. Photo by jonathanirish.com

Staying at the Icehotel in Sweden: How to get there

A select few expensive tour operators offer direct flights from European cities to Jukkajärvi. These are expensive but for those willing to splurge they provide a mind-boggling view of this tiny village and the rugged Arctic landscape surrounding it. The far more frequented journey is to fly into the capital, Stockholm and take a train or bus into the north. The scenery is spectacular along this route but it is a long ride. Another option is to fly into the popular tourist destination of Kiruna, Sweden’s northern most town. From here it is just a 30 minute bus ride to Jukkajärvi.

Icehotel in Sweden

The main hall in the lobby of Sweden’s Icehotel. Photo by Fredo, Flickr.

The artistic experience is worth the cold

There is no debating that the Icehotel in Sweden is one of the coldest places on Earth and staying in a room made completely of ice doesn’t suit everyone’s idea of a holiday getaway. The management has recognised that issue however, making every effort to ensure the comfort of potential visitors. A conventional hotel complex next door to the Icehotel has heated rooms and a common area, plus a sauna to relax in. Bedtime is where you venture into the massive ice structure to find your room with thick walls, floor and ceiling made completely of ice. Room temperature is -5C but the polar tested cocoon of a sleeping bag makes you impervious. Once inside you can marvel at the work of art that is your room. Each is completely unique and all the fixtures and décor are sculpted from ice, even down to the artwork. It might feel like a freezer, but it’s actually a stunning feat of human ingenuity.

Take advantage of the natural scenery by taking a dogsled through the woods. Photo by Gerard McGovern, Flickr.

Take advantage of the natural scenery by taking a dogsled through the woods. Photo by Gerard McGovern, Flickr.

Take an adventure into nature

Remember that this is just about as close you can be to the North Pole and still be in some kind of civilisation. This is the Arctic Circle and though it is a harsh and unforgiving place, it is also home to some of the world’s most remarkable wildlife and gorgeous landscapes. During the winter months a short snowmobile ride up the nearby mountain gives you the unique opportunity to see the green, blue and red swirls in the night sky that we call Aurora Borealis. If this isn’t to your fancy take a dog sled trip through ancient forests of fir trees, try your hand at ice skating or fishing on frozen lakes or ski some of the most isolated powder in the world.

Icehotel in Sweden

Lights in a room at the Ice Hotel. Photo via My Modern Met.

Spend some time in the village

The Icehotel undoubtedly brings most of the visitors to Jukkajärvi during the months it is open but this tiny village has more to offer than just the hotel. The land here is frequently home to the nomadic Sami people who roam from Sweden all the way to Russia tending their reindeer herds. Many have set up tourist operations in the village enabling visitors the chance to get a close look at these magical creatures. The rustic Sami church dates back to 1608 and is a great example of Scandinavian architecture. During the warmer months when the Icehotel is not in operation the Absolut Ice Bar opens in town.

Walk down the aisle of the Ice Hotel church. Photo via carrier.co.uk.

Walk down the aisle of the Ice Hotel church. Photo via carrier.co.uk.

Take a day trip

About 100km further north of Jukkajärvi is the Abisko national park, which has the clearest skies in Sweden. It’s bitingly cold but if you want a clear view of the Northern Lights this is the best place in the world to see it. Spend the evening at the Aurora Sky station on top of Nuolja Mountain and watch the sky light up with a light show of cosmic proportions.

The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar. Photo by www.therockrestaurantzanzibar.com

10 of the most unusual things built by humans

In recent years, a number of strange buildings, and monuments, have been built, some with the sole purpose of attracting tourists. While some of these constructions make sense, and even make a great holiday destination, others make us wonder how they were thought of to begin with. While we couldn’t list every unusual construction, below are 10 of the most unusual things built by humans.

Unusual things built by humans: World’s tallest chained carousel

The world's tallest chained carousel in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Pixi, Flickr

The world’s tallest chained carousel in Vienna, Austria. Photo by Pixi, Flickr

Located in Vienna, Austria, this swing carousel called ‘Prater Turm’ is 117 metres tall and is operated by Funtime HandelsgmbH. Usually a fairground/theme park ride, the creators took it to the extreme. In September 2010, it was placed in the Guinness World Records.

The Rock

The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar. Photo by www.therockrestaurantzanzibar.com

The Rock Restaurant, Zanzibar. Photo by www.therockrestaurantzanzibar.com

This unique restaurant is located on a rocky island on the east coast of Zanzibar, and is the perfect place to relax with a glass of wine surrounded by the sea. Depending on the tide, the restaurant can be reached by foot or by boat.

Office of Selgas Cano

Office of Salgas Cano in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Office of Salgas Cano in Madrid, Spain. Photo by Iwan Baan.

This aerodynamic office allows workers to feel as though they’re working in the middle of the forest. Dug into the ground, the office’s sunken floor gives employees an eye level view of the forest floor. Half of the office is made of windows, giving it amazing natural light during the day.

Star Sower Monument

The Star Sower Monument in Lithuania only makes sense at night. Photo by Linda Chumbley, Pinterest

The Star Sower Monument in Lithuania only makes sense at night. Photo by Linda Chumbley, Pinterest

In the city of Kaunas in Lithuania stands a very unusual statue. During the day, the monument seems to make no sense. During the night, however, all is revealed when you see the statue’s shadow.

The Tunnel Log

Tunnel Log in Sequoia National Park, California. Photo by Anuradha Ghose, Pinterest

Tunnel Log in Sequoia National Park, California. Photo by Anuradha Ghose, Pinterest

This unusual tunnel in California’s Sequoia National Park was carved from a fallen sequoia that fell across a road in Crescent Meadow in 1937. The tunnel has been in use since 1938, and measures 5 metres wide and 2.5 metres high.

Bronze Statues

Bronze Statues in France by Bruno Catalono. Photo by Hyathiz, Pinterest

Bronze Statues in France by Bruno Catalono. Photo by Hyathiz, Pinterest

Created by Bruno Catalano, these strange statues in France might make you do a double take. Their invisible bodies are said to represent a world citizen, or a metaphor depicting the missing things in an individual’s life.

The Happy Rizzi House

Happy Rizzi House in Braunschweig, Germany. Photo by Gloria Tupper, Pinterest

Happy Rizzi House in Braunschweig, Germany. Photo by Gloria Tupper, Pinterest

This colourful building in Braunschweig, Germany, was built in 2001 by German architect Konrad Kloster, and decorated by American pop artist James Rizzi. The building is located on the ruins of an ancient farm of a ducal palace, making it an important historical monument.

Banpo Bridge

The colourful Banpo Bridge in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Catarina Tavicenko, Pinterest

The colourful Banpo Bridge in Seoul, South Korea. Photo by Catarina Tavicenko, Pinterest

Over the Han River in Seoul, South Korea, is the Banpo Bridge. This is where you’ll find the Moonlight Rainbow Fountain, the world’s longest bridge fountain. The fountain was installed in 2009 and stretches for more than 1 kilometre.

Balcony of Floor 103 of Sears Tower

Glass balcony of floor 103 of Sears Tower. Photo by Sumbal Fraz, Pinterest

Glass balcony of floor 103 of Sears Tower. Photo by Sumbal Fraz, Pinterest

Willis Tower, more commonly known as Sears Tower, boasts the best view of the city of Chicago from its 103rd floor. From the tallest building in the Western hemisphere, reaching 412 metres, visitors can step out a further 1.3 metres from the Skydeck in this glass box.

Crescent Moon Tower

Crescent Moon Tower in Dubai, UAE. Photo by Karen Fu, Pinterest

Crescent Moon Tower in Dubai, UAE. Photo by Karen Fu, Pinterest

Only in Dubai could we find a building in the shape of a crescent moon. The 33 story building is located on the banks of the Caspian Sea, and will accommodate a children’s library, a conference facility, a restaurant, cafes, and much more.

Laguna Beach, California. Photo by lagunabeachrealestate.com

10 of the best beaches in California

The sunshine state of the United States, California, boasts a complementary mix of glorious beaches and bustling big city culture. Take a stroll along the Strand, catch a wave or two, and watch the locals spiking up a storm in a heated volleyball match on the beach. Here is a list of the top 10 beaches to visit in the sunshine state.

Best beaches in California: Santa Monica

Santa Monica Beach pier. Photo by beachesandsunsets.com

Santa Monica Beach pier. Photo by beachesandsunsets.com

Santa Monica is one of Los Angele’s most famous beach communities. It’s an upscale city with a vibrant, urban character, and is home of some of the most sophisticated restaurants, hotels and shopping in the LA area. There’s never a shortage of seaside fun at Santa Monica Pier where the beach meets the boardwalk in a festive display of amusement park rides, aquarium wonders, and tasty festival food.

There’s always something to see or do in Santa Monica, but you may be disappointed if you were looking for a secluded seaside retreat as the beach and pier are usually jam-packed with people. But there are places to walk, people to watch, and shops to splurge in. Bike rentals are available near the pier, and renting a bike in Santa Monica is a great way to spend the day.

Santa Monica beach. Photo by viewwallpaper.com

Santa Monica beach. Photo by viewwallpaper.com

Santa Monica has some of the area’s most deluxe ocean front hotels, but like almost all hotels in Santa Monica, they don’t come cheap. Santa Monica itself has a polished bus system for getting around, and although it isn’t “central” for visiting Los Angeles, it’s as central as any beach area gets.

Venice Beach

Venice Beach, California. Photo by sqlj.org

Venice Beach, California. Photo by sqlj.org

No beach in the world is quite like Venice Beach if you’re looking for unusual beachside culture. While other California beaches have sand, surf and sunshine, they don’t all have a street circus complete with artists, trash-talking hoopsters, weightlifters, or barefoot sand sculptors. This activity takes place on Ocean Front Walk which is a boardwalk splattered with stores, fast-food spots, flea markets and artists.

Venice Beach. Photo by ggpht.com

Venice Beach. Photo by ggpht.com

Venice is the beach just to the south of Santa Monica and is famous for its “arts” community, and the Oceanfront Walk which is filled to the brim with interesting characters and stalls. The walk from central Santa Monica to central Venice takes about 40 minutes, and the two beaches blend together.

While Venice Beach is an interesting place to visit with a distinct personality, it’s not the best place for a family vacation. Getting around is easy as a number of regional bus lines serve the area, including buses to Santa Monica and Westwood, Downtown LA and Culver City.

Laguna Beach

Laguna Beach. Photo by bcre.com

Laguna Beach. Photo by bcre.com

Laguna Beach is one of Orange County’s most fashionable towns as well as one of the most culturally rich – and the beach is an alluring aspect. The water at Laguna is clean and calm, though occasionally the Pacific tends to be cool with strong tides. Laguna’s sands are perfect for strolling, taking part in competitive volleyball matches, or unwinding on a blanket to watch the surf and sunset.

Laguna Beach, California. Photo by lagunabeachrealestate.com

Laguna Beach, California. Photo by lagunabeachrealestate.com

Laguna is known for its mild year-round climate, scenic beaches, coves, and artistic community. Tourism is the primary industry here with about three million people visiting annually. Annual large events include the Pageant of the Masters, Festival of the Arts, Sawdust Festival, Art-A-Fair, and Kelpfest.

Malibu Beach

Malibu Beach, California. Photo by hqdeskop.net

Malibu Beach, California. Photo by hqdeskop.net

Malibu is the “brand name” beach community of Los Angeles County world-famous for being a location of celebrity beach homes and an ideal surfing destination. Most of Malibu’s coastline is a narrow stretch of beach with some of it private without public access. Think high-class beachside living, with a focus on playing “spot the celebrity.”

Malibu has a single bus line along Pacific Coast Highway which connects to Santa Monica, it’s an elongated community with beaches, stores, and restaurants strung out along the road. It is north of Santa Monica, beyond the narrow beaches of Pacific Palisades, and is on the outer edge of the major urban area of Los Angeles.

Malibu's Zuma Beach. Photo by wallpapersdesign.net.

Malibu’s Zuma Beach. Photo by wallpapersdesign.net.

Heading much farther west in Malibu, views of the ocean increase and you will find beaches with excellent public access, such as Zuma beach. Zuma is known for its long, wide sands and excellent surf, not to mention it consistently ranks among the healthiest beaches for clean water conditions in Los Angeles County.

El Matador Beach

El Matador Beach, California. Photo by besttropicalbeachvacations.com

El Matador Beach, California. Photo by besttropicalbeachvacations.com

If you’ve come to El Matador to savour the beach rather than get sucked into the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles, then you’re in luck. There’s little else to do here other than bask on Malibu’s most glorious stretch of beach. The best way to enjoy your time is to check the tide schedule, pack a picnic lunch or sunset dinner, grab a blanket, and make tracks to one of El Matador’s hidden coves to enjoy the romantic atmosphere.

El Matador Beach. Photo by staticflickr.com

El Matador Beach. Photo by staticflickr.com

El Matador State Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Malibu, with sea caves and large rocks decorating the beach. The views from the upper cliffs are incredible, looking down on large boulders and deep blue water filled with forests of kelp. The beach is long and there is plenty of sand for sunbathers to gently toast themselves in the Californian sun.

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach Pier, California. Photo by manhattanbeachca.wordpress.com

Manhattan Beach Pier, California. Photo by manhattanbeachca.wordpress.com

Manhattan Beach is a coastal city located in southwestern Los Angeles County. The city is on the Pacific coast, south of El Segundo, and north of Hermosa Beach. Manhattan Beach is a hot spot for beach volleyball and surfing, and every August the city hosts the Manhattan Beach Open Volleyball Tournament and the International Surf Festival which never fails to draw a large crowd of spectators.

Manhattan-Beach at sunset. Photo by californiasurveillanceinvestigators.com

Manhattan-Beach at sunset. Photo by californiasurveillanceinvestigators.com

The Downtown area of Manhattan Beach is a mix of trendy restaurants, family friendly dining, shops, and is topped off by the Pier where you can watch volleyball and the surfers. It’s a quieter alternative to Santa Monica Beach for families and couples due to the relaxed culture, but there is still plenty to see and do.

Redondo Beach

Redondo Beach waterfront. Photo by redondobeachrealestateonline.com

Redondo Beach waterfront. Photo by redondobeachrealestateonline.com

 

Redondo Beach is located in the South Bay region of the greater Los Angeles area. The primary attractions here include Municipal Pier, and the delicately sandy beach. Although a vibrant community in its own right, much of the Redondo Beach lifestyle is a blend of neighbourhoods, activities, and people.

A paved path called The Strand runs from Torrance through South Redondo, north to Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, and eventually to Santa Monica. A typical day on this path will see thousands of people on foot, bicycle, skateboard, roller-blade, wheelchair, and stroller enjoying the sun and surf.

Surfing is a key element of the South Bay lifestyle year-round, and beach volleyball is another important aspect of Redondo Beach’s lifestyle. The wide and flat beaches provide the perfect venue for the sport. Fox’s The O.C. was seen filming at Redondo, and Redondo Beach was home to the filming of the classic television series Baywatch.

Hermosa Beach

Hermosa Beach, California. Photo by wavehuggers.com

Hermosa Beach, California. Photo by wavehuggers.com

Hermosa Beach is a beachfront city bordered by Manhattan Beach to the north and Redondo Beach to the south and east. The city’s beach is popular for sunbathing, beach volleyball, surfing, and its nightlife. By day, the Strand is a thoroughfare for bikers, bladers, joggers and strollers. At night, the Strand is a great people-watching spot as crowds fill nearby the restaurants and bars.

Situated on the Pacific Ocean, Hermosa’s average temperature is 70 degrees in the summer and 55 degrees in the winter. Westerly sea breezes lessen what can be high summertime temperatures in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the county, and help keep the smog away 360 days of the year.

Coronado

Coronado Beach, California. Photo by sandiego.org

Coronado Beach, California. Photo by sandiego.org

Coronado Central Beach stretches 1.5 miles behind the great houses along Ocean Boulevard. Swimmers, surfers, boogie boarders, sand sculptors, tide poolers and whale watchers all take to the sand and sea. North Beach attracts surfers in the morning, and at the extreme north is Dog Beach, where man’s best friend can run free and play in the surf.

Relax on Coronado Beach. Photo by mgroupinvestment.com

Relax on Coronado Beach. Photo by mgroupinvestment.com

Coronado, also known as Coronado Island, is an affluent resort city located in San Diego County. For well over a century Coronado’s beaches have been its fortune, namely the seaside in front of the glamorous Hotel Del Coronado which has been open since 1888.

La Jolla Cove

La Jolla Cove, San Diego. Photo by amazonaws.com

La Jolla Cove, San Diego. Photo by amazonaws.com

With its small crescent of sand tucked between towering sandstone cliffs, La Jolla Cove is one of the smallest beaches along the Southern California coastline. While it may be small this beach is beautiful, and things are just as lovely below the water’s surface, making it a popular spot for scuba-diving and snorkelling.

The swells that often roll in from the open ocean here can be rather large and strong, so being in the water at the Cove is not always suitable for people who don’t have good water skills. During very low tides, a lot of interesting tide pools are revealed, which makes a great time for exploration.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego. Photo by wikimedia.org

La Jolla Cove, San Diego. Photo by wikimedia.org

La Jolla Cove is rich in marine life and is a marine refuge area so surfboards, boogie boards, and inflatable mattresses are not permitted. No fishing is allowed, nor is collecting dead specimens or seashells. In other words, look but don’t touch.

Incredible archepeligo of Raja Ampat

A guide to exploring Raja Ampat islands

Little known until the last few decades, the 1600 mostly uninhabited islands that make up Raja Ampat leaves visitors spellbound by its stunning natural beauty, absorbing local history and world-best marine ecosystems.

Lying just off the coast of Irian Jaya (West Papua) in Indonesia is one of the most eclectic mixes in the world of jungles, caves, lagoons, white-sand beaches and above all wildlife.

 

Simply put, this magnificent archipelago is mesmerizing both above and below water and its relative unknown status makes it all the more special.

Exploring Raja Ampat islands

There are very few places in the world as untouched as the Raja Ampat. Photo by Max Mossler, Flickr

There are very few places in the world as untouched as the Raja Ampat. Photo by Max Mossler, Flickr

In recent years regulation has been put in place to facilitate tourist operators making Raja Ampat much more accessible to the average traveller whilst ensuring the sustainability of human activity in the area. This is important, as in 2006 the Nature Conservancy found that over 75% of the world’s known coral species can be found in these waters, along with over 1000 species of fish.

Stunning equatiral ocean sunset from the Raja Ampat islands. Photo by yohancha, Flickr

Stunning equatiral ocean sunset from the Raja Ampat islands. Photo by yohancha, Flickr

 

It makes Raja Ampat the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world and a highly important conservation project. That said, the area is still very isolated and there are limited resources for the common traveller. Prepare yourself correctly though and there are few places in the world that can compare to Raja Ampat.

How to get to the Raja Ampat Islands

These islands are some of the most untouched places on our planet and as a result getting there isn’t as easy as your average holiday. To get to Raja Ampat you must first fly to Sorong, the capital of Irian Jaya, which can be done via most major Indonesian cities including Denpasar and Jakarta. Be aware that most of these flights will actually involve changing planes in either Makassar or Manado and at certain times of year it may be necessary to overnight in one of these cities.

Locals in Raja Ampat still survive on local fish. Photo by Max Mossler, Flickr

Locals in Raja Ampat still survive on local fish. Photo by Max Mossler, Flickr

From Sorong, your mode of transport to the Raja Ampat islands depends entirely on the form of accommodation you choose. Liveaboard dive ships are by far the most common form of accommodation and provide convenient departure from Sorong. Divers are well represented in this part of the world with diving resorts the second most common accommodation.

Just one of the amazing untouched beaches that these islands are blessed with. Photo by Tony Shih, Flickr

Just one of the amazing untouched beaches that these islands are blessed with. Photo by Tony Shih, Flickr

These usually offer pick up from Sorong by private speedboat and head directly to the island of Waisai (the capital of Raja Ampat). There is a public ferry service from Sorong to Waisai daily at 2pm and the few resorts that do not offer pick up from Sorong will pick guests up from Waisai. The least frequented accommodation in Raja Ampat is the homestays that dot various islands nearby Waisai, which have only popped up in the last decade. There is no public ferry directly from Sorong to these islands so visitors should arrange a pick up with their homestay from Waisai.

Whale sharks freqently stop off for a quick feed in Raja Ampat. Photo by Constantine Alexander

Whale sharks freqently stop off for a quick feed in Raja Ampat. Photo by Constantine Alexander


 

Where should you stay in paradise?

There are only three types of accommodation in Raja Ampat and by far the most popular are the liveaboard dive ships. These have been guiding eager divers to mesmerising underwater landscapes for decades and expert divers that experienced these wonders and couldn’t leave are usually the chaperons.

The rocky islets and azure shallow waters of Wayag lagoon. Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr (2)

The rocky islets and azure shallow waters of Wayag lagoon. Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr (2)

Departing from Sorong for various lengths of time from one week up to three months, liveaboards are without a doubt the best way to explore the spectacular marine ecosystem of Raja Ampat. Access to the best diving spots in the islands is provided using small rubber boats, whilst the ships themselves are usually warm and comfortable if not glamorous. Operators also undergo rigorous safety procedures to ensure the wellbeing of patrons.

6 - A liveaboard is the best way to experience Raja Ampat's diving. Photo by Lakshmi Sawitri, Flickr

A liveaboard is the best way to experience Raja Ampat’s diving. Photo by Lakshmi Sawitri, Flickr

Diving resorts are your next best bet if you love diving but aren’t interested in spending weeks living on board a ship with 10 or more other people. Resorts won’t have the range of diving sites as a liveaboard, but they will provide their own diving boats to take patrons to various sites. Visitors have more control over where and when they want to dive and as an added bonus can arrange their own trip by renting a boat. There are resorts catering to all different types of traveller from the budget backpacker to honeymooners looking for luxury so shop around to find one within your budget.

This archipelago is home to the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world. Photo by Tony Shih. Flickr (2)

This archipelago is home to the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world. Photo by Tony Shih. Flickr (2)

The final option for accommodation in Raja Ampat is staying in a homestay on one of the islands nearby Waisai. These cheaper options have opened up in recent years catering mainly to those who are in Raja Ampat for activities other than diving. Speed boats can usually be rented from the owner of these homestays allowing visitors to create their own day plans. Most owners will also be able to connect you with guides or tourist operations for jungle or village excursions in the area.

Top things to do on the Raja Ampat Islands

If you are thinking about visiting Raja Ampat, chances are it’s for the once-in-a-lifetime diving opportunities. This archipelago is the most diverse marine ecosystem in the world (more so than the Great Barrier Reef) with a unique combination of isolation and geography creating a stunningly colourful marine landscape.

If you aren't into diving, you can always explore one of Raja Ampat's caves. Photo by Max Mossler, Flickr

If you aren’t into diving, you can always explore one of Raja Ampat’s caves. Photo by Max Mossler, Flickr

Over 75% of the world’s coral species can be found here along with sea turtles, whales, dolphins, sharks and over 1300 species of fish and stingrays. Divers claim that the nudibranch here are the most diverse in the world and Raja Ampat is one of the few places visitors can dive with manta rays. Experienced divers are encouraged to try one of the many wreck dives or undertake a completely different underwater experience at night. Simply put, putting your head beneath the surface in Raja Ampat will leave even the most experienced diver stunned.

Raja Ampat has some of the most colorful corals found anywhere on Earth

Raja Ampat has some of the most colorful corals found anywhere on Earth

Though life underwater is certainly a highlight in Raja Ampat, the rocky islands, white sand beaches and dominating jungle above the surface is just as impressive. Some of the world’s rarest species of bird including huge hornbills and magnificent birds of paradise make their homes in the canopies of these islands and some species of the curiously cute couscous are only found in their trees.

The remoteness of this archipelago means that human impact has been limited and very little has changed here in thousands of years. Trek through ancient jungle to discover pristine waterfalls or set up camp for a night under the stars on untouched beaches. Wherever you go, you’ll be one of very few people on the planet to have set foot there.

Some birds of paradise can only be found in the Raja Ampat islands. Photo by markaharper1, Flickr (2)

Some birds of paradise can only be found in the Raja Ampat islands. Photo by markaharper1, Flickr (2)

The isolation of the Raja Ampat islands has not only impacted the flora and fauna here but also the various tribal groups that live here. The lack of outside influence is highly noticeable, with many tribes even exhibiting cannibalism until the last few decades. Life hasn’t changed much since people arrived and most still survive on a diet of locally caught fish, locally grown rice and the ever-present coconut.

Incredible tropical waters and white sandy beaches in Raja Ampat. Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr

Incredible tropical waters and white sandy beaches in Raja Ampat. Photo by Elias Levy, Flickr

The local culture displayed on these islands is both rich and diverse, with over 20 native languages still spoken. On North and West Weigeo you can see locals perform with traditional bamboo flutes. Tomolol boasts caves painted by ancient cave dwellers of human palms and local animals whilst Asmat artists teach the fine art of wood sculpture. There are very few places in the world where you can see tribal cultures as intact as they are in Raja Ampat.

Georgous cerulean waters and perfect skies are everyday things in Raja Ampat. Photo by World Holiday Wide

Georgous cerulean waters and perfect skies are everyday things in Raja Ampat. Photo by World Holiday Wide

How to prepare for this trip of a lifetime

The isolation of Raja Ampat is what makes it so special, but it is also what makes it a more troublesome travel destination than many others. Malaria is a big problem in the area so potential visitors should prepare accordingly. Travel insurance is a must and it would be wise to bring anti-biotic pills and cream in case of infections. Diving in the Raja Ampat archipelago is only allowed with a special permit, which can be obtained from the local Papua police station in Waisai. Liveaboards will usually provide this permit as part of the service.

Incredible archepeligo of Raja Ampat

Incredible archepeligo of Raja Ampat

4 - The Katikies hotel pool in Santorini has iconic stone wrapped around the edges and breathtaking views of the Med. Photo via Luxury Homes

7 incredible swimming pools with amazing views

Visually stunning and usually set to a beautiful backdrop, a holiday just isn’t a holiday without spending hours in or by a luxurious pool. Ancient civilisation was aware of this and today we also recognise that the best pools have captivating views and are surrounded by beautiful scenery. Today, our love of a quick dip has culminated in an assortment of spectacular swimming pools with amazing views.

7 incredible pools with amazing views: San Alfonso del Mar, Chile

The San Alfonso del Mar pool is the biggest outdoor pool in the world. Photo by keepitsurreal, Flickr

The San Alfonso del Mar pool is the biggest outdoor pool in the world. Photo by keepitsurreal, Flickr

With more than 66 million gallons of crystal clear seawater, San Alfonso del Mar resort in Chile holds the record for the world’s largest outdoor pool. You would need to swim 20 Olympic sized pools to swim just one length of this man-made lagoon and it is more than twice the length of the next biggest outdoor pool. Costing over $3 million it is so big that visitors can sail small boats or paddle kayaks around it. The San Alfonso is located beside the city of Algarrobo on a particularly scenic part of the Chilean coastline and boasts panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean.

Marina Bay Sands Hotel, Singapore

The infinity pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore has breathtaking views of the city. Photo by luca.sartoni, Flickr

The infinity pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore has breathtaking views of the city. Photo by luca.sartoni, Flickr

Officially the world’s most expensive building in history, the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore is the ultimate in luxury. With a whopping price tag of $5.7 billion and the best architectural design money can buy they certainly did not skimp when it came to the pool. In the renowned Skypark you can sample decadent cocktails whilst enjoying some of the best views of the Singapore skyline available from a mind-boggling 150m infinity pool. At night this magnificent skyline lights up in a hive of glittering activity.

The One & Only Resort Reethi Rah, Maldives

The One & Only Resort Reethi Rah has an amazing infinity pool. Photo by Sarah Ackerman, Flickr

The One & Only Resort Reethi Rah has an amazing infinity pool. Photo by Sarah Ackerman, Flickr

The Maldives is the ultimate in luxury and the infinity pool at the One & Only Resort Reethi Rah oozes class. It is over 30 metres long and extends into the heart of the stunning azure lagoon that surrounds this island. The views are spectacular from any angle and the pool features a ‘bubble bed’ where guests can chill out and enjoy this laid back part of the world.

Katikies Hotel, Greece

4 - The Katikies hotel pool in Santorini has iconic stone wrapped around the edges and breathtaking views of the Med. Photo via Luxury Homes

The Katikies hotel pool in Santorini has iconic stone wrapped around the edges and breathtaking views of the Med. Photo via Luxury Homes

The Katikies Hotel in Santorini is built with the iconic architecture of the Greek islands. Whitewashed walls and staircases are perched on the Santorini cliffs with an exceptional view of the volcanic caldera and Aegean Sea. This is one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world and the architects knew this when they were constructing the pool. The beautiful infinity pool lies on an open-air sunbathing deck that overlooks this majestic view and is coupled with an outdoor jacuzzi for those looking for relaxation.

The Sheraton Waikiki, USA

The Sheraton hotel in Waikiki has a lagoon-like pool leading onto the world famous beach. Photo by 4nitsirk, Flickr

The Sheraton hotel in Waikiki has a lagoon-like pool leading onto the world famous beach. Photo by 4nitsirk, Flickr

On the famous Waikiki beach on the Hawaiian island of Oahu there are a great number of hotel options to choose from. Truly though, if you are looking for traditional Hawaiian hospitality with a bit of style and substance behind it, the Sheraton should be your first point of call. Palm trees and sunbeds surround the lagoon-like pool with staff waiting on your every beck and call. If that isn’t enough then the optical illusion created by the infinity pool should do it.

Joule Hotel, USA

The pool at the Joule Hotel extends out over the city which gives excellent views of down town Dallas

The pool at the Joule Hotel extends out over the city which gives excellent views of down town Dallas

The Joule Hotel was once the Dallas National Bank until it was bought and converted into a luxurious city hotel. One of the additions during these renovations was a stunning pool extruding from one of the hotel balconies. From here you can get a spectacular view of the Dallas city skyline and the glass front panel means the skyline can be seen from under the surface of the pool.

Bondi Icebergs, Australia

Swimming laps beecomes special at the Bondi Icebergs pool in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Michelle, Flickr

Swimming laps beecomes special at the Bondi Icebergs pool in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Michelle, Flickr

A Sydney institution for over 80 years, the pool at the Bondi Icebergs club lies on Australia’s most famous beach, Bondi. Traditionally a lap pool, swimming is special here as you look across the beach, cliff and oceans. At the beginning of winter each year, the club holds a party where a giant ice cube is thrown into the pool to commemorate the hardness of Aussie swimmers. The water might be chilly, but the views more than make up for it.

Dive into an underwater world. Photo by Marc Henauer, nationalgeographic.com

Scuba diving in Austria’s Green Lake in Tragöss

Hike through the alpine in the winter and scuba dive in the summer. Photo via Huffingtonpost

Hike through the alpine in the winter and scuba dive in the summer. Photo via Huffingtonpost

Green Lake is an alpine meadow in Tragöss, Austria, with a point of difference. Each spring, melting snow from the Hochschwab Mountains seeps into the valley, flooding the flowering meadows and submerging it in 10 metres of pristine glacier water, turning it into an underwater wonderland for Scuba Divers.

During the winter the lake is only a couple of metres deep, and the surrounding area is used as a county park. When spring arrives, the temperature rises and the snow melts, causing the basin of land below the mountains to fill with water. The name “Green Lake” came about because of its emerald-green water, due to the light refracting through the water off the grass and rocks below.

It’s hard to believe that an alpine meadow can survive underwater. And yet, in the Austrian municipality of Tragöss in Upper Styria, just outside the small mountain hamlet of Oberort, one can experience this surreal waterscape first-hand every May, June and July. Once summer comes to the mountains, the water begins evaporating, returning the park to the hikers once again.

Scuba diving at Green Lake

Swim across bridges in Green Lake. Photo by nationalgeographic.com

Swim across bridges in Green Lake. Photo by nationalgeographic.com

During the warmer months visitors trade in hiking boots for flippers and scuba gear to explore the lake. Scuba divers from around the world gather in May and June for one of the most unique diving experiences in the world, passing over gravel paths, bushes, and swimming through the seasonal Atlantis-style environment.

The lake supports some aquatic life, such as small fish and underwater insects, but nothing larger than trout, so there’s no need to worry about losing a limb to the fearsome grass shark or evade any vicious crustacean – just enjoy the outdoors, as it sits blissfully underwater.

Dive into an underwater world. Photo by Marc Henauer, nationalgeographic.com

Dive into an underwater world. Photo by Marc Henauer, nationalgeographic.com

The water remains cold, and while swimming is not prohibited only those willing to brave the cold venture past wading. The temperature of the lake itself is between 4 and 8 °C, yet this doesn’t deter a swarm of divers each spring eager to explore the underwater majesty of the green lake.

Diving at Green Lake is controlled, and divers must possess the appropriate diver ID card. A hotel-restaurant near the shore offers the only legal access for divers to enter the water, and also provides air tank refills and gear rental.

There is also hiking at Green Lake

Breathtaking views of the lake can be seen from hiking trails. Photo by Jemack Natulie

Breathtaking views of the lake can be seen from hiking trails. Photo by Jemack Natulie

For most of the year it’s a good place for an Alpine hike. In the mountains with crisp air, away from the city, visitors come for a day of walking around the smallish body of water, a mountain meadow and the surrounding forest. The nature reserve offers hiking trails, park benches, bushes, grasses, and flowering plants until warm spring days bring water from the thawing mountain peaks to drown it all.

Many hiking and mountain biking trails originate in Tragoess, making the area a favourite holiday destination. A number of guest cottages, hostels and inns welcome visitors to the region year round. In winter, several ski resorts and snow-based recreational destinations make the Tragoess area popular, with cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and dog sledding available on the trails.

The State of Styria calls itself the ‘green heart’ of Austria, with Green Lake one of its most picturesque sights. Water from the snow melt in the region provides much of the drinking water for the city of Vienna.

When to go to diving in the Green Lake

The natural beauty and bizarre nature of Green Lake. Photo by Thomas Aichinger. Photo by Photoshelter.com

The natural beauty and bizarre nature of Green Lake. Photo by Thomas Aichinger. Photo by Thomas Aichinger (Photoshelter.com)

The lake reaches its maximum depth of around 12 m from mid-May to June and is claimed to look the most beautiful at this time. In July, the water begins to recede. The lake is popular among divers who can observe the green meadows in the edge zone of the lake particularly in June when the water is at its highest.

The lake supports a variety of fauna such as snails, water fleas, small crabs, fly larvae, and different species of trout. The flora is not abundant because of the rocky bottom of the lake, but the underwater views are amazing nonetheless.

Which operator should you dive with?

Scuba dive through an alpine meadow. Photo by pinimg.com

Scuba dive through an alpine meadow. Photo by pinimg.com

There aren’t many diving operators in Grünersee, but the St Martin Chalets Resort organizes trips from the resort to Scuba Dive in Green Lake in June, depending on water levels. An up to date diving license and an active dive log book are required, and the three day trip costs $600 USD per person. Visit Holidays to Austria for more information.

The St Martin Chalets Scuba Diving trips include:

  • Self-catering accommodation in the St Martin Chalets resort
  • All equipment hire including air
  • Pre-dive check in swimming pool
  • Diving fee for Grünersee
  • 2x dives in Grüner See
  • Guide / Divemaster
  • Transfer to and from Grüner See
A trip to Fernando de Noronha is like a dream come true. Photo by cruisingoutpost.com

Why a trip to Fernando de Noronha is a dream come true

Brazil’s Fernando de Noronha has a reputation of being both an eco-wonderland and a beach-lovers’ paradise. When visiting, expect the most spectacular beaches in all of Brazil, along with warm emerald waters teeming with playful dolphins and turtles. It seems like Mother Nature strategically planned every detail here. The shades of turquoise in the water, the whimsical shape of the mountains, and the bay of tranquil waters that welcomes marine life combine to make a picture-perfect destination.

Planning a trip to Fernando de Noronha

A trip to Fernando de Noronha is like a dream come true. Photo by cruisingoutpost.com

A trip to Fernando de Noronha is like a dream come true. Photo by cruisingoutpost.com

The archipelago comprises of 21 islands, 354km offshore from the Brazilian coast. Only the largest of the islands is inhabited with a few thousand people, and visiting the other islands requires special authorization from the environmental authority, as they are protected areas of a National Maritime Park.

The marine and coastal environment is well preserved, thanks largely to the Fernando de Noronha Marine National Park and conservation projects based there. It’s a fiercely protected eco-wonderland, favoured by naturalists and marine biologists.

For enjoying the natural attractions and experiencing a little bit of colonial history a trip to Noronha requires a few days at least. There are countless activities and tour options to cater to different tastes, and they all allow travellers to submerge themselves in the natural beauty of the islands.

Prices here can be quite high due to the cost of transporting goods from the mainland, but as a guaranteed highlight of any trip to Brazil, Fernando de Noronha is well worth the expense.

It has amazing beaches

The beautiful beaches of Fernando de Noronha are popular among tourists. Photo by nataltouristguide.com

The beautiful beaches of Fernando de Noronha are popular among tourists. Photo by nataltouristguide.com

Fernando de Noronha is home to the top two beaches in Brazil – Praia do Leão and Baía do Sancho. These beaches have crystal clear water with areas for swimming and snorkeling, with the life above and below sea being the main attraction of the island. Sea turtles, dolphins, albatross and many other species can be spotted around these pristine beaches.

There’s plenty to do

The water is warm and clear at Noronha, Brazil. Photo by cnfle.com

The water is warm and clear at Noronha, Brazil. Photo by cnfle.com

Although Noronha used to be the domain of regulated package tours, it’s now easy for independent travelers to visit. Give yourself plenty of time because it’s a wonderful place for doing things based both in water and on land. Recreational activities include diving, surfing, snorkeling, hiking, and horseback riding. Be sure to dine in one of the many great restaurants on the island, and enjoy the sunset with a cocktail in hand.

Snorkelling in Fernando de Noronha is fantastic

Meet friendly sea turtles. Photo by natalpraias.com

Meet friendly sea turtles. Photo by natalpraias.com

Despite what several travel guide books say, snorkeling at Praia da Atalaia is no longer unrestricted, but you’ll have to register at the ICMbio, near the Projeto Tamar. The pool can only be visited at low tide, and the number of visitors is restricted to 100 per day.

The tide pool itself is about 18-24 inches deep but has plenty to look at. Lobsters, octopi, and numerous fish species inhabit the pool, along with the possibility of meeting a friendly shark or two. The tidal pool is monitored by the government of the island, and rules apply. Visitors are not allowed to wear suntan lotion as the oils from the lotion can pollute the tidal pool, and snorkeling is limited to 25 minutes at a time.

It’s easy to get around

Explore the tide pools of Noronha. Photo by infinity-tours.com

Explore the tide pools of Noronha. Photo by infinity-tours.com

There is one road that circles the main island and connects many of its attractions. It is possible to rent a car or a buggy for about US $50 – 70 a day or a motorbike for $35 – 40 a day The easiest way to get around is by bus which goes back and forth along the main road from the Port on one end of the island to Praia de Sueste on the other.

Another option is to hitchhike as almost all the local people and sometimes the odd taxi or dive truck will be happy to pick you up and give you a ride if you are going in their direction. If you choose to hitchhike, try and learn at least some Portuguese so you can tell them where you want to go and say thank you at the end of the ride.

When to go

Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. Photo by abeachaday.com

Sunset over the beautiful beaches of Fernando de Noronha, Brazil. Photo by abeachaday.com

The climate is tropical with two well-defined seasons for rainfall and temperature. The dry/high season is from September to March, and the rainy/low season is from April to August. Accommodation prices rise in the high season, which is the best time to go, but all year round the islands remain warm and beautiful.

How to get there and where to stay

The daybeds by the poolside at Pousada Maravilha. Photo by blogspot.com

The daybeds by the poolside at Pousada Maravilha. Photo by blogspot.com

The local population and travellers can get to Noronha by plane or cruise from Recife (545 km) or by plane from Natal (360 km). A small environmental preservation fee is charged from tourists upon arrival by Ibama, the Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources.

Pousada Maravilha

Pousada Maravilha. Photo by viajeaqui.abril.com

Refreshing cocktails and fresh juices are available at Pousada Maravilha. Photo by viajeaqui.abril.com

This hotel offers a 360-degree view of one of Fernando de Noronha’s most beautiful sights – the Sueste Bay. Everything at Pousada Maravilha frames the view: the vanishing pool, the wide balconies in each of the eight rooms which have their own hot tubs and hammocks, and the dining area which houses one of Noronha’s best restaurants.

When night falls, guests can enjoy the indulgences of the bungalows and apartments, like bed sheets of Egyptian cotton and cable TV with over 100 channels. A charming multi-brand boutique rounds out the hotel’s offerings. Among the hotel’s exclusive services are the new day spa, and a number of excursions tailored to meet the personal needs of guests who wish to experience Noronha the way the island deserves. Stay from $650 USD per night. Visit Pousada Maravilha for more information.

Pousada Zé Maria

Relax at Pousada Zé Maria. Photo by societeperrier.com

Indulge in a relaxing massage at Pousada Ze Maria resort. Photo by Jacob Kidd

This hotel mixes comfort and elegance with simplicity. To fit in with the ecologically sustainable surroundings this hotel was constructed without cutting a single tree. Enjoy accommodation in beautiful surroundings and soak up the sun by the pool. Stay here from $290 per night. For more information click here Pousada Zé Maria

7 Indulge at Jade Mountain and get a room with an infinity pool. Photo by Best of St Lucia, flickr

5 of the best romantic resorts in the Caribbean

Located just southeast of the Gulf of Mexico and the North America mainland are a group of islands, islets, reefs and cays that make up the Caribbean Plate. With sparkling blue water and forested land sure to make any other country envious, there is no doubt why the Caribbean is an ongoing popular holiday destination for celebrities and every day folk alike.

The best romantic resorts in the Caribbean

The Parrot Cay resort is located on the beautiful island of Turks and Caicos. Photo by JLMphoto, flickr.jpg

The Parrot Cay resort is located on the beautiful island of Turks and Caicos. Photo by JLMphoto, flickr

Some of the bigger, more recognized islands that make up the Caribbean Plate are the Bahamas, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the British Virgin Islands and Saint Lucia. Overall, there are over 700 islands that make up the land total, most of which have room for tourists; offering only the most luxurious and grandest of resorts for guests to indulge in.

Parrot Cay by COMO, Turks and Caicos

Enjoy your dinner on the beach in a candlelit pavillion. Perfect for a romantic evening! Photo by comohotels.com.jpg

Enjoy your dinner on the beach in a candlelit pavillion. Perfect for a romantic evening! Photo by comohotels.com

Located in the Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of islands is Parrot Cay, a private island resort rich in hidden coves and pristine beaches. The resort has been given an internationally recognized ranking of 4.5 stars out of five, and for all of the right reasons. Parrot Cay is particularly popular amongst celebrities, so keep your eyes peeled.

Parrot Cay is dedicated to having high standards, with great facilities offered to travellers of all kinds. The resort offers a retreat, consisting of nine treatment rooms with private cottages, Japanese baths and an infinity pool with a sundeck. The retreat also offers guests a private yoga studio, a pilates hut, steam room, outdoor Jacuzzi and gym.

Adventure time comes easy when staying at Parrot Cay, with complimentary watersports included in your stay, such as sailing, windsurfing, snorkelling, kayaking and paddle boarding.

Where to eat

For dining out, visit the sophisticated and gourmet restaurant, Lotus, serving Thai and Japanese cuisine every night. The Terrace restaurant serves Mediterranean cuisine, with a contemporary Italian twist. If eating out isn’t your thing, you can have your dinner delivered to your villa – or in a romantic spin of things, enjoy dinner on the beach in a candlelit hut; perfect for a romantic getaway.

The St. Regis Bahia Beach, Puerto Rico

4 The plantation house at the St Regis Bahia Beach resort. Photo by St Regis Hotels and Resorts, flickr

The plantation house at the St Regis Bahia Beach resort. Photo by St Regis Hotels and Resorts, flickr

Nestled in the romantic and secluded area of a Caribbean coconut plantation is the St Regis, a resort with plenty to offer. On one side of this beautiful resort is a lush green national forest, and on the other, pristine blue water and white sand beaches; simply put, paradise. This is the type of resort that’s perfect for a couples retreat or for honeymooners.

The rooms offered by the St Regis range in price depending on the size of accommodation and the view. There are suites that have tropical garden views, one with views of the pristine green of the golf course, there are ocean front rooms, and for those parties that are bigger than two, you can book the Governors suite, which houses four people. No matter which room you choose, you will be greeted with stylish and sleek furnishings and a comfortable bed; great for after a full day of water sports.

The St Regis offers guests the choice of lounging pool side, playing tennis or golf on the superb green. There are spa facilities, where you can indulge in only the best of body treatments, salon services, massages and skin care services. For those more active, the St Regis is located on two miles of unspoilt coastal area, known as Bahia Beach. It’s here that you can participate in water sports including paddle boarding, snorkelling, kayaking, sailing and fishing.

Jade Mountain, St Lucia

7 Indulge at Jade Mountain and get a room with an infinity pool. Photo by Best of St Lucia, flickr

Indulge at Jade Mountain and get a room with an infinity pool. Photo by Best of St Lucia, flickr

A resort that rises above the rest, Jade Mountain is nestled amongst a mountain and is a resort quite unlike any other. The layout is the work of the owner and architect, Nick Troubetzkoy, and is most recognized for the infinity pools and stone faced columns built into each room. What makes the Jade Mountain resort so unique is that it is technology-free.

Say goodbye to your mobile phone, and don’t expect a television in your room, either. The only place internet is available is at front reception upon request – all in the name of complete sanctuary.
Each room on offer at Jade Mountain comes with its own private infinity pool – each with stunning views of the lush forest and beach below. Aside from the 24 infinity pool suites, there are sky suites, each with Jacuzzis and the fourth wall open, offering views and a sea breeze, perfect on a summer evening.

What to expect and what to do

The resort that has it all, Jade Mountain offers serenity, infinity pools, views and beach front. Photo by wbeem, flickr

The resort that has it all, Jade Mountain offers serenity, infinity pools, views and beach front. Photo by wbeem, flickr

Jade Mountain has extraordinary spa experiences, yoga and fitness classes offered to guests. All of the services offered at the sister resort of Anse Chastanet, located below the Jade Mountain resort, are shared between the two. For example, if you are a guest of Jade Mountain and wish to use the facilities of the Anse Chastanet resort, you are more than welcome to do so.

The spa facilities also offer asyurvedic and holistic services. Yoga classes are complimentary to guests, and private lessons can be arranged if necessary. Aside from these services, there is a fitness studio featuring cardio and strength building equipment. There are also escorted daily walks and hikes offered to guests of the 600 acre estate surrounding the resorts.

The Cove Atlantis, Bahamas

8 The Atlantis Towers are home to The Cove resort, with 12 pools in total for guests to enjoy. Photo by johopo, flickr

The Atlantis Towers are home to The Cove resort, with 12 pools in total for guests to enjoy. Photo by johopo, flickr

Known for its hotels and resorts, the Atlantis is always sure to please even the most fussy of travellers. Located in the tourist hub of the Bahamas, the Cove Atlantis is everything that you want from a resort – and more.

Indulgence is a way of life at The Cove, with each room offering stylish and sophisticated furnishings, and an ocean view. Guests are given access to the adults-only pool, a place of relaxation, as well as access to the adventure waterpark, 11 other pools, marine exhibits, library, fish feeding activities, movies in the Atlantis Theatre and shuttle between each of the towers of the Atlantis. Surrounding the resort and hotels are three impeccable white sand beaches, sure to impress.

Dining at The Cove is an experience in itself, with delectable cuisine from all over the world to choose from throughout all stages of the day. Indulge in seafood and fresh sushi at Nobu restaurant. Custom-make your meal at Mosaic, where the food is Mediterranean influenced and cooked fresh, right in front of you. Try out Casa D Angelo, where the cuisine is Tuscan themed, with a southern Italian twist.

What to do in the cove

Day or night, the Cove has plenty of activities on offer. There’s a casino, and the Aura nightclub. You can go swimming with dolphins, visit Cain at the Cove – the adults only pool with private pavilions, head for drinks at the Sea Glass or go shopping at one of the many boutiques. There’s also a world class golf course and a spa, for those of us who need to relax after shopping.

Viceroy Anguilla, Anguilla (British West Indies)

Relax by the pool at the Viceroy Anguilla. Photo by Minamish, flickr

Relax by the pool at the Viceroy Anguilla. Photo by Minamish, flickr

Located on a small island in the British West Indies, the Viceroy is considered to be one of the most exclusive resorts in the Caribbean due to its secluded location. It is located close enough to other islands – just five miles from St Maarten – for easy access, however. The resort is one of modern sophistication and style, nestled nicely between the pristine beaches of the area and the surrounding forests and plantations.
This resort is particularly aimed at spa and wellbeing, offering guests only the best facilities possible when it comes to spa treatments, yoga and fitness. Men do not go unnoticed at the spa, with an array of treatments aimed particularly for them. There is also an abundance of sun beds, available ocean side or poolside for guest relaxation and convenience.

How to spend your time

Aside from yoga and the fitness studio, the Viceroy offers a number of water activities for guests, including kayaking, paddle boarding, boogie boarding, windsurfing, snorkelling and sunfish sailing – all of which are complimentary. There is also a golf green and tennis courts on offer. Meads Bay Beach, located at the forefront of the resort is great for swimming and amazing sunset walks. On land, there is also rock climbing available, as well as basketball courts and shopping indoors at the resort boutique.