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Jul
25

5 Things to Do in Cancun This Summer

Cancun isn’t just for Spring Breakers hoping to escape Mom’s and Dad’s watchful eyes. Though high schoolers and college students descend upon Cancun for one party-hardy week each spring, the rest of the year tends to be much more mellow. But maybe you don’t know what Cancun has to offer beyond the ubiquitous souvenir t-shirt from Senor Frogs. If that’s the case, here are six things to do in Cancun this summer.

1. Swim With Whale Sharks

Whale sharks, the largest animal in the seas, spend four months of the year (May-September) off the coast of Cancun, and visitors can see them—and even swim with them—by taking an excursion with a licensed tour operator. The whale sharks are gentle giants, gliding slowly through the water as they feed. You can watch them from your tour boat or swim alongside them with a guide; this activity is recommended for travelers ages 10 and up.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo: CollazoProjects.com.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun. Photo: CollazoProjects.com.

2. Swim With Dolphins

If whale sharks seem too overwhelming or if you’re prone to seasickness, you can stay on land and swim with dolphins in the Cancun Interactive Aquarium’s pool. You’ll be introduced to the animals by a professional trainer, who will stay with you in the pool throughout your session. During your time with the dolphins, you’ll see how they’re trained and watch the commands they can fulfill. This option is also better for younger children, as there is no minimum age limit to participate. Before or after your swim, you can also visit the aquarium’s museum, which features touch tanks and other displays.

Swimming with dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

Swimming with dolphins at the Interactive Aquarium. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

3. Go to the Zoo

Cancun isn’t just about marine animals; at CrocoCun Zoo, you can also have one-on-one encounters with land mammals and reptiles, including parrots, crocodiles, snakes, monkeys, and more. A professional guide leads you on an hour-long tour through the well-kept, humane zoo; during the tour, you are invited to touch, hold, or feed most of the animals.

Kids touch a crocodile at CrocoCun Zoo. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

Kids touch a crocodile at CrocoCun Zoo. Photo: CollazoProjects.com

4. Explore Mayan History

2012 is a particularly important year in Mayan history, as the Mayans’ long-calendar reaches its end. Travelers with a particular interest in archaeology and indigenous history have been visiting Cancun’s and the Riviera Maya’s Mayan sites in large numbers this year; why not join them? You can take a day trip drive to the most-renowned site, Chichen Itza, which is 60 miles from Cancun proper, or you can stay closer to the city and visit El Rey, a 47-structure site in Cancun. Other sites within 60-80 miles’ driving distance include Tulum, Xcaret, Xel-Ha, and Ek-Balam.

The main temple at Ek-Balam, a Mayan site. Photo: Donna Arioldi.

The main temple at Ek-Balam, a Mayan site an hour outside of Cancun. Photo: Donna M. Airoldi

5. Take a Day Trip to an Isla

Cancun has several islands—Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and Isla Contoy—off its coast that are increasingly gaining the attention of visitors. Mujeres and Holbox are known for their laid-back, takin’-it-easy pace, while Contoy is a national park that invites supervised eco-tourism visits limited to 200 people per day. Ferries run from Cancun’s Puerto Morelos to the islands; though you could easily do a day trip to Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy, it’s recommended that you stay at least overnight to have time to enjoy Isla Holbox, which requires a longer trip from Cancun. Once there, you can relax on the beach, snorkel, fish, or kiteboard.

Limiting visitors to Isla Contoy means you're likely to find a stretch of beach to yourself. Photo: Alaskan Dude.

Limiting visitors to Isla Contoy means you're likely to find a stretch of beach to yourself. Photo: Alaskan Dude

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Jun
20

6 Most Beautiful Places to Take a Leap of Faith

Craving a rush of air, adrenaline and great views? Check out these stunning jump-off spots that will leave you breathless in more ways than one.

1. Bungee jumping at Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe

Located between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is the largest waterfall in the world – so it should go without saying it is an ideal place to fall 111 meters with a cord attached to your ankles. We wonder if the fall’s namesake Queen Victoria ever felt the rush of plummeting off this waterfall? We guess not.

Image: On The Go Tours/Flickr

2. Base jumping from the Sky Tower, New Zealand

People from all over congregate to the 328m Sky Tower, distinguished as one of the tallest free-standing structures in the Southern hemisphere. Feeling the need for speed? This base jumping spot is the place for you – jumpers reach up to 85km/hr while on their way down. On top of this fast and extremely high fall, you also have to worry about wind entering your equation. Fortunately, base jumpers use a guide-cable-controlled to avert the jumper from bumping into the building.

Image: Andy Beal Photography/Flickr

3. Skydiving over Lake Taupo, New Zealand

Take skydiving to the next level by flying above one of the last active volcano regions in New Zealand. It is very popular for people to experience one minute of freefalling in this 15,000 feet drop. Also, if you are a skydiver on a budget, skydiving over Lake Taupo is known for low-cost jumps. We’re not sure if this is a good thing or not.

Image: Antoine Hurbert/Flickr

4. Hang gliding the mountains of Bariloche, Argentina

Hang gliding in Bariloche, Argentina is said to be an incredible experience any time of the year, but summer has been recognized as the truly best time.

Image: patrícia soransso /Flickr

5. Zip lining the treetops of Durango, USA

If you are an adrenaline junkie jonsing for the great outdoors, then it is time for you to zip line through the treetops of Durango, Colorado. As you travel high up amongst the trees, you can spot reptiles and birds from an incredible vantage point. Sounds like an ideal day to us.

Video: Gary Gaurdreau/Vimeo

6. Paragliding Babadag Mountain, Turkey

In October the small resort town of Oludeniz hosts an annual Air Games week for all the air lovers around the world. Located at the foot of Babadag mountain, be one with nature as you para-glide through the mountains, cedar forests and shores of the Mediterranean.

Image: babadag.com


Love this topic? Read the whole post on the NileGuide blog

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Jun
15

9 Secret Cave Cities

There were two recurring themes that surprised us while researching cave dwelling cultures from around the world:

1. Mongols.

2. George Lucas.

Read on to see where we’re going with this.

1. Cappadocia, Turkey

Image: Curious Expeditions/Flickr

Image: sputnik 57/Flickr

The Cappadocia region of central Turkey has some of the strangest, most incredible geology anywhere on earth. And for 3,500 years, humans have managed to build 200 incredible cities in this rocky, mountainous terrain. Lucky for modern day visitors, the cave cities in Cappadocia provide thousands of years of history and miles of caves to explore. And on top of that, all the artifacts found within the caves have been incredibly well maintained over the centuries. The dry, arid weather inside the caves has made for almost perfect conditions for preserving the artifacts, and there is still undoubtedly much more to be discovered.

Image: whl.travel/Flickr

Image: drreagan/Flickr

Along with constructing incredible cave complexes, the multiple groups that have called Cappadocia home also utilized the unique Fairy Chimney rock formations native to the area – turning them into homes. Found only in a few places on earth, the formation looks like a tall pyramid with a large rock balanced on top. Native cultures hollowed them out and used them as freestanding dwellings. Pretty cool huh?

Image: Vin60/Flickr

2. Vardzia – Southern Georgia

Image: en.wikipedia.org

We certainly don’t envy any 12th century monarch. With the Mongols terrorizing Europe, it must have felt like your chances for survival where slim. So when Queen Tamar of the Caucasus heard that the Mongol army was at her doorstep, she demanded the impossible: Build an impenetrable fortress on the side of the Erusheli mountain. Although it seems barely feasable by modern day standards, in 1185 construction began.

When the complex was completed it had 6,000 apartments on 13 levels, a throne room, a church, and an exterior of terraces for growing crops. Incredibly Vardzia also had an irrigation system and a secret entrance only accessible via a hidden tunnel.

Image: onbangladesh/Flickr

Image: zigurdszakis/Flickr

Luckily, it worked in protecting the queen from the Mongols. Unluckily, a hundred years later a massive earthquake in 1283 destroyed much of the complex, exposing the interior apartments that were originally hidden inside the mountain. Even after the damage, monks continued to live in what was left until being attacked by Persians in 1551.

It is now open to visitors, and a small group of monks maintain the incredible ruins.

3. Petra – Jordan

Image: paalia/Flickr

The Nabataeans established Petra around the 6th Century BCE as their capital city. An important stop on the Middle Eastern trade route, Petra’s iconic structures weren’t built until around zero AD. The most famous ruin, Al Kjazneh or “The Treasury”, has an incredibly detailed facade carved out of a sandstone rock face.

Image: To Uncertainty And Beyond/Flickr

Image: tympsy/Flickr

Many of the details of the Greek-influenced architecture has been lost over the years, but it still makes for an incredible site. Although it isn’t known what The Treasury was constructed for, it was deemed a World Heritage Site is 1985. But perhaps even more exciting than that, it was also in Indiana Jones an the Last Crusade.

Image: archer10(Dennis)/Flickr

4. Coober Pedy – Northern Australia

Image: DuReMi/Flickr

The small town of Coober Pedy has 3 great things going for it. 1: It is the Opal Capital of the World; 2: It is the set location for 3rd Mad Max movie; and 3: It was used while filming Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Other than that, living there is pretty rough. Located in a desolate strip of land in northern Australia, temperatures hover at around 105 degrees Fahrenheit for most of the summer. Along with the sweltering heat comes 20% humidity. Not such a comfy place to live – especially since power to run air conditioning is pretty expensive all the way out in the middle of nowhere.

Image: DuReMi/Flickr

Image: DuReMi/Steel Wool/Flickr

To combat the insufferable temps the original opal prospectors in 1915 built underground homes, and to this day that’s how most of the town lives. One of the only modern additions? Chimneys that can be seen from above ground.

Since it’s become somewhat of a tourist attraction in the past 20 years, Coober Pedy offers a few underground hostels in case you’re dying to live like the locals.

Image: whale05/Flickr

5. Uplistsikhe – Eastern Georgia

Image: Lidia Ilona/Flickr

Located 5 miles from Gori, the city of Stalin’s birth, Uplistsikhe is an ancient town built into the soft rocks of eastern Georgia. Some structures have been dated all the way to the Early Iron Age, but Uplistsikhe really began to hit its stride in the Middle Ages when it was a major stop in the Silk Road. At its peak the city housed a population of around 20,000 residents who lived in 700 caves. Unfortunately in the 13th century, Mongol invasions left the city ravaged. Already weak, subsequent earthquakes struck soon after, which severely damaged the rock city and left it largely uninhabitable.

Image: masterplaan/Flickr

Image: masterplaan/Flickr

Today only around 150 caves remain, many of which have barely survived. One of the most incredible structures still left standing is the 9th century church of Uplistulis Eklesia. Although the church was Christian, it was built directly over a previously constructed pagan sun temple. No matter what your religious bent the views from the church are pretty darn incredible.

Image: SusanAstray/Flickr

Image: Mart Laanpere/Flickr

6. Yaodong in the Loess Plateau – China

Image: Next Stop Beijing

For centuries, inhabitants in the Loesses Plateau in northern China have been building their houses into the side of steep cliffs. Cave dwelling may seem like an ancient tradition, but recently Yaodongs have been praised for their eco-friendly construction and sustainability. Modern Yaodongs are constructed carefully with proper precautions, but this wasn’t always the case. When the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake hit northern China, an astonishing 85K people died when their cave homes caved in on them.

Image: Clare’s Research Trip 2010-2011

Image: en.wikipedia.org

Today there is an estimated 40 million people who call Yaodong home including one famous former resident, Mao Zedong.

7. Matmata – Southern Tunisia

Image: Panegyrics of Granovetter/Flickr

If the interior of these buildings look familiar it’s probably because you’ve seen one before. Remember in the beginning of the first Star Wars movie? Yep, Luke Skywalker’s Aunt and Uncles home was actually filmed in a troglodyte house in Matmata, Tunisia. Troglodyte complexes have been built by the Berbers that live in this region for centuries, possibly even since Egyptian times. They are created by digging a large central pit, and then creating artificial underground caves around it.

Image: 10b travelling/Flickr

Image: Syromaniac/Flickr

Even though these homes are ancient, it wasn’t until 1967 that they were “discovered” by the outside world. After 22 days of consistent rain, the small and private community of Matmata were forced to contact authorities when many of their homes began collapsing. It was previously thought that only nomadic tribes lived in the area, and officials were shocked when they came to investigate and found the troglodyte homes.

Image: matee, but who cares?/Flickr

In response to the flooding, above ground homes were built, but as soon as the underground dwellings could be repaired the new homes were abandoned.

8. Bamyan – Central Afghanistan

Image: AfghanistanMatters/Flickr

The modern story of Bamyan is a tearjerker, so prepare yourself.

Bamyan was once an important religious center for Buddhists, and at one point 2,000 monks built their homes in caves in the sandstone cliffs above the city of Bamyan. In addition to creating magnificent paintings inside the caves, the monks also built two massive statues of Buddha between 544-644. Standing 180 and 121 feed high, these were the largest standing statues of Buddha anywhere in the entire world – modern day included. Tragically in 2001 the Taliban intentionally destroyed the statues, calling them an “affront to Islam” and blowing them up with dynamite.

Image: United Nations Photo/Flickr

Previously the Taliban also used the monks’ caves to store ammunition, but once they were driven out of the region the caves became reoccupied with locals looking for homes. Amazingly, the new cave dwellers have found more treasures in the caves, including the world’s oldest oil paintings and a 62-foot reclining Buddha statue.

Image: Tracy Hunter

Image: Tracy Hunter

9. Kandovan – East Azerbaijan Province, Iran

Image: basheem/Flickr

When the Mongols invaded Iran in the 13th century, Iranians fled all over the country. A community ended up in northwestern Iran, and found a bizarre rock formation they decided to call home. These cone structures were created by eroded volcanic ash, and have made incredibly temperate and sturdy houses for the past 700 years.

Image: Eliza_Taibihi/Flickr

Most homes built in Kandovan are between 2 and 4 stories tall, and have actually made this very remote village a popular tourist destination within Iran.

Image: basheem/Flickr

Read the whole post on the NileGuide blog

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Oct
25

Every year, Frommer’s releases their must-do travel list, and it’s always sure to include at least a few eyebrow-raisers. Beirut, Lebanon? You might not know that it’s a sophisticated coastal city bustling with energy. Kansas City, MO? The world-class Kauffmann Center for the Performing Arts just opened, attracting some of the biggest names in dance and music.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Photo credit: Flickr

Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Photo credit: Flickr

Check out the full list here for some other surprising – and not so surprising – travel ideas.

Oct
04

Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” to Make Inaugural Flight in October

Boeing’s newest and highly-anticipated aircraft, the 787 “Dreamliner” finally took off for Tokyo last week. It is scheduled to make its first commercial flight on October 26, with Japan’s All Nippon Airways (ANA).

The Dreamliner provides unprecedented fuel efficiency and travel comforts, and many industry experts expect the aircraft to revolutionize commercial flight.

Photo credit: Boeing

Photo credit: Boeing

The Dreamliner is faster, lighter and more eco-friendly, thanks to new fuel-efficient technology and an external structure of composite materials instead of aluminum.

Travelers will experience more natural light from wider windows, a wider variety of in-flight entertainment, and higher humidity to alleviate dry eyes and headaches. The plane also sports larger drop-down luggage bins, and buttons to adjust light coming into the cabin, in place of window shades.

Experts consider the new 787 to be the prototype of air travel in the future, and that future may be here sooner than you expect. According to Boeing, there are 821 planes on order so far, which means you might be booking your own flight on a 787 in the not-too-distant future.

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Sep
29

Offensive Hand Gestures To Avoid

When traveling internationally, it’s not easy to anticipate how an innocent flick of the hand or “OK” sign might be interpreted. Body language varies wildly from culture to culture, and it’s not a bad idea to brush up on local hand gestures and other movements in order to avoid a misunderstanding – or even an altercation. You might think you’re flashing the peace sign to your new buddies, while they might take your gesture rather differently.

Photo credit: Flickr

Photo credit: Flickr

Check out this “handy” guide to some gestures that might not mean what you think – and should probably be avoided in places including Italy, Turkey, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and more. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!

Flipping The Pájaro: A Multicultural Guide To Rude Gestures, from The Huffington Post

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Sep
20

Travel & Leisure’s Top Cities Worldwide

Every year Travel+Leisure invites readers to vote in its 16th annual World’s Best survey, rating cities on things including overall value, sights, shopping and more.  The results include some perennial favorites, and some surprising new additions.

Rome, Italy - Coliseum

Rome, Italy - Coliseum

Florence, Rome and New York City are annual favorites, and this year is no exception. Readers love the culture, cuisine and character of these cities, and they flock to them in droves.

Istanbul is back in the top 5, with its glittering mosques and super-trendy culinary delights. Siem Reap, Cambodia is another top choice that may not be on everyone’s bucket list, but it should: it has evolved from a cluster of riverfront villages into a full-fledged destination complete with art galleries and boutique hotels.

See them all in the World’s Top Cities Slideshow.

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Jul
02

Trip Photos: Temple of Kukulcan

The Temple of Kukulcan, also known as El Castillo, is a Meso-American step pyramid located at the Chichen Itza archeological site in Yucatán, Mexico. Thanks to ewen and donabel for posting incredible photo.

Photo: ewenanddonabel

Photo: ewenanddonabel

Plan your trip to Mexico on TravelMuse.

Want to share your recent trip photos and have them featured on TravelMusings? Add your photos to our TravelMuse Flickr group or TravelMuse Facebook page, and we’ll publish our favorites.

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Jun
18

China, more formally known as the People’s Republic of China, is an incredible country full of history, tradition and culture. Plum blossoms, one of China’s most beloved flowers, decorate the country in the wintertime. In addition to being known for their beauty, plum blossoms serve a variety of culinary purposes including being used in juices and liquor, being pickled and eaten as a salty treat and serving as the base for plum sauce. Thanks to lentodolce for posting this photo.

Photo: lentodolce

Photo: lentodolce

Plan your trip to China on TravelMuse.

Want to share your recent trip photos and have them featured on TravelMusings? Add your photos to our TravelMuse Flickr group or TravelMuse Facebook page, and we’ll publish our favorites.

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Jun
15

Trip of the Week: Amsterdam & London

Congratulations to Laurie from Ringoes, N.J., our second winner of Trip of the Week and recipient of a Frommer’s day by day guide to Hawaii.

Laurie and her husband have never been to London or Amsterdam, so they built out this excellent European Trip on TravelMuse to help them along the way.

Amsterdamn and London2

I asked Laurie a few questions about her upcoming trip and here’s what she had to say:

Why are you taking this Trip?

My husband and I have not been to either Amsterdam or London and would love to see both cities.  We think it would be thrilling to see the vast histories and cultures of both places and hopefully relax on an overnight boat ferry in between.

What are you most excited about seeing/doing?

I am very interested in seeing the castles of England and having traditional tea. I also think it will be fascinating to see the houseboats in Amsterdam and, seasonally permitting, the famous show of tulips.

Any other interesting facts/considerations about the trip?

Luckily my husband and I enjoy similar activities on vacation and would both be excited to shop in the many boutiques and markets, try the various cuisines, take copious photographs, and peruse the art and history of various museums.

Hope you both have a blast, Laurie! All of us at TravelMuse wish you safe and exciting travels.

*****

Tell us about your Trips and you could be featured in Trip of the Week–win one of the new Frommer’s Day by Day Guide Books and be entered to win a FREE, luxury Trip for 2 to Waikiki!

Hawaii_contest2

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