Best Local Experiences in Nosara, Costa Rica

Not many people have heard of Nosara, a small village on the western coast of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. This quaint town is in the Blue Zone, which is one of the rare places in the world that supports longevity and good health. People who live in the Blue Zone often live over the age of 100. There are lots of yoga centers, outdoor activities, local restaurants, quiet beaches, and places to relax on a long vacation in Nosara. Away from the hustle of the capital and touristy beach towns, Nosara offers a chance to live the “pure vida” or the good life. It is no wonder that Nosara is not only an upcoming vacation spot, but one of the best places in the world to retire and work remotely.

Here are some of the best local experiences you can have in Nosara…

Nosara views
Tranquil views of Nosara from Tierra Magnifica resort.

Drive To Nosara

The fastest way to get to Nosara is to fly into Liberia airport. You can then rent a car and drive 2.5 hours to Nosara or book a shuttle transfer. Another option is to drive from the capital of San Jose, which takes about 5 hours. Roads in Costa Rica are mostly very good (100x times better than the first time I drove there in 2007). There are a few bumps and dirt road on the last half-hour stretch, but overall, it is an easy drive into Nosara. I recommend renting with a reliable local company such as Adobe Rent A Car, and paying for car rental insurance, to avoid any stresses later on.

Nosara has windy hilly roads and lots of unpaved areas, so many tourists prefer to rent an ATV to get around. If you go this route, make sure to rent helmets and be very careful driving on the sharp turns. Most tour companies also offer transfers, but it is more convenient to have your own vehicle while in Nosara. That way you can check out some of the local beaches and restaurants on your own.

local hotel in Nosara
Tierra Magnifica feels like a luxurious treehouse setting.

Stay at a Chic Boutique Hotel

There are lots of hostels, small hotels, and home rentals in Nosara. The most luxurious of them is family-owned and run Tierra Magnifica Resort. Nestled on top of a hill, in a quiet residential area, the expansive resort has some of the most stunning views of the bay and surrounding jungle. I stayed at the newly unveiled decadent 1,500 sq. ft. master suite, with a living room, separate bedroom, 1.5 baths, and a huge balcony overlooking the resort and the coastline ahead. In the afternoons, I could see howler monkeys right outside the room swinging from the mango trees.

The architecture of the resort is minimalistic, yet elegant, blending in with the natural environment. There’s a restaurant on the property that is very popular even among locals. It has exquisite food, an extensive wine list, and a tropical backdrop that is worth stopping for.

locally sourced fruit pancakes
You will want to order these delicious pancakes over and over again!

Nourish Your Body and Soul

Each morning, my husband and I would walk pass the swimming pool, down to the yoga barn located a few steps away from our room, and practice self guided yoga surrounded by chirping birds. You can also book a lesson with one of the resort’s instructors (the owner’s son). Then, we would walk down trough steep staircases to a waterfall on the property and get our exercise for the day. We would then nourish ourselves with a huge brunch at the resort’s Huacas Restaurant. Breakfast is a big meal in Costa Rica and choices included fresh fruits, homemade granola, smoothie, purple corn pupusas, avocado toast, breakfast burrito and many vegan options. My favorite were the fluffy Huacas pancakes topped with red berry and hibiscus sauce. Most ingredients are sourced locally, which is why they taste fresh and wholesome.

meet locals at Tierra Magnifica
Hob nob with locals from Nosara at Tierra Magnifica’s July 4th BBQ party!

We returned to Huacas for dinner on many of the evening, for a chef tasting with Chef Paulo Valerios, and to celebrate Fourth of July with the owner’s family and other friendly Americans who live in Nosara. There was a BBQ party and live music that evening, but you can find themed nights (sushi, taco, etc.), wine paired events, and other festivities at Tierra Magnifica through the year.

Swim and Surf in The Pacific

Nosara is an emerging surfing capital in Costa Rica. It is common to see dozens of surf shops and surfing schools around town. Many travelers book a week-long trip to Nosara with the sole purpose of learning to surf. Probably the best part about surfing in Nosara is the long stretch of beaches with consistent waves and few crowds. There are no umbrellas and beach chairs here. You will need to walk through shrubs and sand to go for a swim or surf in the sea. This helps preserve the natural beauty of the place and doesn’t disturb the flora and fauna as much.

Guests at Tierra Magnifica Resort enjoy unlimited complimentary access to the posh Beach Club at The Gilded Iguana. Here you can get lockers, towels, and showers. There’s also games, TV’s and an open air cafe where you can enjoy coffee and snacks after your surf.

local beach in Nosara
Must watch the sunset at Playa Paladas.

The most popular beaches are Playa Pelada and Guiones, though the best kept local secret is Nosara beach. The most pristine beach was Playa Garza. It has blue water, white sand, and a handful of village homes. Sunset at Playa Pelada is a must! This is where most locals gather with their families, friends and dogs in the evenings.

zip line Costa Rica
Fly through the world’s longest canopies.

Zip Line The Highest and Longest Canopies

I have been zip lining all over the world, but the zip lining adventure in Nosara is the most unique. Miss Sky is the longest Canopy Tour in the world traversing over 11 km or 7 miles. You definitely feel how long the lines are and there are 21 of them! Also, they are situated in a way that you don’t have to climb trees or ladders. The lines are located on ground. But you will be taken on a military vehicle to the top of the forest. Then you will need to hike for a short time, but it’s worth the effort. Zip lining above lush green valleys, rivers, and waterfalls felt like I was flying in the sky. The guides do a great job of guiding you through and even taking photos for you.

The the zip lining in Nosara is an adrenaline junkies dream come true. But it is safe and enjoyable for all ages. I saw kids as young as 5 years old having a great time doing it!

nesting turtles costa rica
This is the closest you will get to see turtles in the wild.

Watch Nesting Sea Turtles

If you happen to be in Nosara right before a new moon, make sure to watch one of the largest turtle nesting and hatchings in the world. Thousands of Olive Ridley turtles lay their eggs at Ostional Beach each year. You can book a tour with a local guide to see them at daybreak or sunset. We did an evening tour where we walked on the beach in pitch darkness, with only an infrared torch. We saw giant turtles swim up from the sea, dig holes in the sand, and lay 100 eggs at a time. The mother turtles covered the nests with sand and returned back to the Pacific Ocean, to never see their hatchlings again. Only a fraction of the eggs survive. It is a surreal experience to see these magnificent creature out in the wild!

The local tour guides from Ostional Wildlife Refuge escort people in small groups, and educate them about the turtles. Most of the turtles that come to nest near Nosara are the Olive Ridley sea turtles, but you can also see leatherback and pacific green turtles during certain months. There may be up to 500,000 turtles covering the entire beach, allowing no room for humans to walk.

water sports with locals
Paddle board with locals from Experience Nosara.

Kayak Responsibly

There are lots of outdoor activities in Nosara. You can horseback ride, paddle board, bird watch, sport fish, scuba dive, and mountain bike.

Book the tours through independent local operators. Costa Rican (or Ticos) generally pride themselves in taking care of the land, while giving visitors a good experience. We did a kayaking tour with Rio from Experience Nosara. His family has lived in Nosara for over 300 years. Many of his family members lived up to be centurions. Rio says that the secret to their longevity is staying active, being outdoors, eating local, and having a good social life.

Like many local businesses, Experience Nosara promotes ecotourism by organizing guided activities in a responsible way. You can enjoy a day kayaking or paddle boarding on the rivers and oceans of Nosara, but make sure to respect the environment as well. Some of things visitors can do are – pick up trash, not touch the trees/ branches (as they may have delicate nests), and not interact (feed, touch, take selfies) with wildlife.

Riviera Nayarit is The New Luxury and Wellness Capital of Mexico

Have you heard of Cabo and Cancun, but don’t care for the 20-something party scene? Here’s an alternate beach destination for you in Mexico that offers character, luxury and nature. With a number of upscale resorts, pristine beaches, and a new airlift into Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit is positioning itself as a new capital of luxury and wellness in Mexico.

The state of Nayarit on the western coast of Mexico, offers 192 miles of coastline and 23 coastal towns. It’s a new frontier for travelers looking to expand upon their knowledge of Mexico’s Pacific Coast, especially travelers who are already familiar with Puerto Vallarta and are looking for the next “it” destination.

Here are three places to stay to experience the ultimate in luxury and wellness travel in Mexico…

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
The pool at Grand Velas is the perfect place to recharge

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit 

Located only 15 minutes drive from Puerto Vallarta (PVR) airport, this Mexican-owned all-inclusive luxury resort is the ideal destination for those looking to pamper themselves. The lush resort is covered by pink and purple bougainvillea flowers. There’s a beachfront gazebo terrace, and ocean gardens perfect for a destination wedding, or simply relaxing. You can enjoy water sports, long walks on the beach, and romantic bonfires right outside your doorstep. Surrounded by the blue waters of Banderas Bay and Sierra Madre mountains, Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit is the ultimate luxury resort in this part of Mexico.

The 267 all-suite accommodations range in size from spacious suites to multiple bedrooms with kitchens. The wellness suite comes with your very own private rooftop with a jacuzzi and patio. With in-room gym equipment, healthy snacks, and a huge balcony overlooking the ocean, you can enjoy a wellness getaway without leaving the hotel room!

Grand Velas Riviera Nayarit
Private rooftop floor included with wellness suite

Though venturing downstairs would include indulgence in a 16,000 square foot spa. Se Spa by Grand Velas is one of the largest spas I have ever seen. It has a men’s and women’s section fitted with jacuzzi, sauna, eucalyptus inhalation, aromatherapy steam room, hot and cold lagoon, and reflexology pool.

Riviera Nayarit beach bonfire
Sunset at the beach with a private bonfire

There are also five globally-inspired gourmet restaurants at the resort – all inclusive of course. You can enjoy some of the best Asian, Italian, Mexican and French cuisine in town, paired with an extensive wine selection.

luxury pool at St Regis
The infinity pool at The St Regis is inviting on a warm sunny day

The St. Regis Punta Mita Resort 

Punta Mita is an exclusive and luxurious neighborhood located on a peninsula at the northern tip of the Bay of Banderas in Riviera Nayarit. The quiet luxurious enclave is home to a few high-end resorts, including The St Regis. 

luxury accommodations at St Regis
Villas at The St Regis Punta Mita make you feel at home

Set on 22 lush acres, the individual villas with private swimming pools and a series of gardens, make you feel more at home than at a hotel. Plus, there is golf, tennis and watersporting opportunities on site. The main attraction is the beach, of course. From the room to the restaurant, pool to dining, spa to bar – you will never be a few yards away from the beach at The St Regis Punta Mita.

The 10,000 square-foot Remède Spa features all the elements one requires for ultimate indulgence. The award-winning spa offers access to sauna, steam room, fitness center, salon, Jacuzzi, cold plunge pools and relaxation gardens, as well as outdoor treatment options under shady canopies.

For dining, there’s a wide selection of al fresco terraces to enjoy the warm ocean breeze. There’s beachfront seafood truck called Mita Mary Boat Bar and Bistro, and Carolina – the only Five Diamond experience in the Riviera Nayarit, among others.

Mexico village
Village of Chacala is a less touristy area in Riviera Nayarit

Mar de Jade

For a more affordable, yet luxurious, wellness and yoga retreat, head further north to the village of Chacala. Mar de Jade is a family-owned and operated resort that focuses on sustainability. The beach front property has a variety of room categories, ranging from rustic to luxury, to accommodate every budget. There’s a farm-to-table restaurant, spa with a native sweat house, swimming pools, yoga lessons, and spectacular beach views. There are not many tourists in this part of Riviera Nayarit, which makes it a more secluded and local destination.

Moreover, proceeds from your stay at Mar de Jade support a number of causes around the village. For example, they have an organic farm where they employ local Mexicans and train them how to farm sustainably. Farm supplies are used in the resort’s kitchen to create healthy and delicious buffets, which are including with your stay. They also make and bottle fruit jams, hibiscus syrups, peanut butter and vegetable sauces, that you can bring home.

The owners of Mar de Jar run a nonprofit Montessori El Jardin, and TAO de Jade trade school. This is where they teach youth hands-on carpentry, electric, plumbing, food processioning and stitching. As a result, the furniture, lamp shades and decorative pillows seen around the property come from the trade school students.

Mar de Jade
Relaxed bar and dining at Mar de Jade using locally made products

9 National Parks To Visit in 2021 (Pictures and Tips)

Here are some of the best national parks in the USA that I visited during the pandemic. I have included some tips on how best to avoid crowds, be safe and have a memorable experience.

One good thing that came out of 2020 was a desire to get outdoors, and having all the time in the world to do so. Once all my travels got cancelled, I started doing road trips and discovering some of the most beautiful national parks in the USA that I never had the time to go to before. National Parks are often packed with families and international visitors through the summer, so the idea of waiting in long lines at parking lots and restrooms dissuaded me from going to some of these places. But in 2020, crowds were thinner as most facilities remained closed. Some of the parks limited the number of vehicles coming in. They suspended tour groups and shuttle buses. Others reduced capacity at campgrounds and hotels. So all of this made visiting national parks even more enjoyable past year.

Having a strategy for visiting the park definitely came in handy. With the pandemic still looming, I had to account for carrying food, water, PPE equipment, maintaining social distancing, and planning restroom breaks.

Here are the National Parks I visited and some of the insider tips I can offer from my firsthand experience. Following these will make your trip safer and more pleasurable.

Most of the parks are open year-round, but you must check for wildfires, snowy weather and road closures daily, as mountain weather changes very often.

elks
Elk sighting at Rocky Mountain National Park.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Fly in to Denver, Colorado and drive to Rocky Mountain National Park (about 90 minutes). It is best to start your journey at Grand Lake in the west of the park, and end at Estes Park on the east. Grand Lake is a lot less crowded and has a few Swiss style chalets located along the magnificent blue waters.

When you enter Rocky Mountain National Park through Grand Lake, you will see wooded forests, lush meadows, wildlife and rivers. The trails here will be less crowded too, so I highly recommend doing your hiking and picnicking in this area. Continue along the 49 miles long Trail Ridge Road, which is the highest continues paved road in the United States, reaching an elevation of 12,183 feet. Cross the Continental Divide at Milner Pass, see glaciers, mountain peaks and snowfields, grasslands covered with elk and much more.

Note that driving Trail Ridge Road is not for the faint hearted. The roads are narrow, with high elevations, and no barriers. Get a stable car or SUV and keep your eyes on the road. Also, the road closes at the higher elevations from mid October until Memorial weekend.

Loop around Bear Lake for an easy hike with this view.

Toward the east entrance of the park, you will see glacier lakes that are very popular. If you plan to walk the trails around Bear Lake, do so in the late afternoon. If you are lucky, you may even spot double rainbows like I did!

Exit the park at Estes Park, which is a bustling mountain town with motels, cabins, restaurants and souvenir shops. There is a wide variety of cuisines in this small town but it’s best to make reservations in advance. Stay at Tiny Town Cabins at Trout Haven Resorts for a typical Colorado cabin experience. The small but functional 19 individual cabins are located alongside the Big Thompson River, just minutes away from Rocky Mountain National Park.

Yellowstone National Park
Sulphur springs in blue, gold, white and black colors can be seen all over Yellowstone.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and perhaps the first national park in the world. The park spans an area of 3,468.4 sq miles comprising lakes, canyons, rivers, and mountain ranges. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest high-elevation lakes in North America. It is centered over the Yellowstone Caldera, the largest super volcano on the continent. There are numerous recreational opportunities, including hiking, camping, boating, fishing, and sightseeing. Lava flows and geothermal pools are spread across the mountains and forests at Yellowstone. So you have to be very careful when hiking and should always stay on marked trails.

Yellowstone is quite large spanning into Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. You can access it from either of these states, but the nearest big airport is Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Here you can take a break for couple of days to visit Grand Tetons National Park, Teton Village’s ski lifts, and then continue on to Yellowstone (1.5 hours). Downtown Jackson Hole is also really hip, filled with gourmet restaurants, art galleries and jewelry stores.

I highly recommend staying at least a couple of nights inside Yellowstone, so you don’t spend a lot of time driving in and out everyday. The lodges inside are more expensive though, without many frills, and are sold out months in advance. However, you are paying for the great location and will have the park all to yourself in the late evening and early morning, when most of the visitors have left.

Grand Prismatic Spring
The natural colors at Grand Prismatic Spring look surreal.

If you take the Loop Road starting in the South, you won’t get lost and most of the attractions will fall along this road. Account for a full day to see West Thumb golden hot spring, the Continental Divide over Craig Pass, famous Old Faithful geyser, colorful Grand Prismatic Spring, and Artist Paint Pods. You will need to do some walking/ light hiking to get to some of these up close, but they also have handicap accesses.

Mammoth Hot Spring Terrace
Visit Mammoth at sunrise for a mystical experience.

The next day, go to Hayden Valley for wildlife spotting, Sulphur Caldron and Yellowstone Lake. If the weather cooperates, take a boat ride or enjoy some of the water sports on the lake. On the third day, head north to see valleys along Gibbon River and raggedy rocks at Sheepeater Cliff. The Mammoth Hotel is a good place to stay near Mammoth Hot Spring Terraces. Access the Terraces early in the morning when the sun reflects on the foggy white, gold and black rocks.

Note there is no cell reception inside the park (even at the hotels), and road closures are quite frequent (due to accidents, fires, wildlife, repairs, etc) with no alternate route options. Check the notice board at your hotel reception and at all the visitors centers, gas stations and gift shops thought the day to get latest updates.

Grand Tetons National Park
Hike to the Hidden Falls inside Grand Tetons National Park for a great view.

Grand Tetons National Park, Wyoming

Grand Teton National Park is only 10 miles (16 km) south of Yellowstone National Park, connected by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway. Along with surrounding national forests, the protected areas constitute the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, one of the world’s largest intact mid-latitude temperate ecosystems.

Grand Teton National Park is named for Grand Teton, the tallest mountain in the Teton Range. The park includes the major peaks of the 40-mile-long (64 km) Teton Range, numerous lakes, including 15-mile-long (24 km) Jackson Lake, as well as the upper main stem of the Snake River.

Grand Tetons
The Grand Tetons tower over Jackson Hole & surrounding areas.

Stay at Jackson Hole, a year-round destination for outdoor adventures, from hiking, biking and rafting in the summer, to skiing in the winter. The Fireside Cabins provide easy access to Grand Teton, where you can spot glaciers, rivers, wildflowers and bisons! The best way to explore Grand Teton National Park is via their well networked paved biking trails. But if that’s not your thing, drive the Moose-Wilson road (partially gravel) that links Moose, Wyoming (the southern entrance) to Teton Village. This road is great for viewing wildlife, stopping at outlooks and going for long or short hikes. One of the must ones is at Jenny Lake. Here, you need to take the water ferry to cross the lake and do a loop back.

Glacier National Park
Hairpin turns, narrow roads & tunnels in Glacier.

Glacier National Park, Montana

With over 700 miles of trails, Glacier National Park is a hiker’s paradise for adventurous visitors seeking wilderness and solitude. Getting to Glacier requires flying into the small airport of Kalispell, MT and driving a short distance to the park. Stay in the town of Whitefish, where you can explore the downtown with lots of coffee shops, bars, and a lake.

Timing is everything when going to Glacier. The famous Going-to-the-Sun Road is only open from June – September. This is when you will find hikers from Canada (northern part of Glacier), U.S., and all over the world flocking to the park. However, I went to Glacier in the first week of October, after the season was over. Luckily, the temperature was around 70F, Fall colors in full bloom, and the crowds had left.

St Mary's Lake Glacier
Take a break at St Mary’s Lake near Rising Sun.

Enter the park at West Glacier early in the morning and see the mist rising above Lake McDonald. The 50-mile Going To The Sun Road loop takes you through narrow passes, mountain overlooks, rising glaciers and alpine villages. Again, this is no easy drive with hair bending turns, so rent an all wheel drive.

Exit the park at Rising Sun, on the western side of the park. However, this was closed due to COVID-19, so I had to turn around and do the loop again. Thats not necessarily a bad thing, as you get to see the Going To The Sun Road from another perspective. The afternoon is a good time to get some hikes in too. Make sure to explore the less visited western side of the park, where the gorgeous Bowman Lake is located. On your way back, grab fresh and warm huckleberry bear claws at Polebridge Mercantile and Bakery, located inside the park.

Drive in Zion
If you’re lucky, drive your own car in Zion National Park.

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is located in southern Utah near the city of Springdale. I drove from Moab to the east entrance of Zion, and exited at the south entrance in Springdale. From here I drove to the town of St George (1 hour), where I stayed at Red Mountain Resort. The resort is located away from the touristy areas, and offers guided tours to Zion as well as other parks in southwest Utah. From there, I flew out of Las Vegas (2 hrs). You can also fly to Salt Lake City and drive to Zion.

Zion National Park
Perfect fall sunset at Zion National Park

Now, Zion National Park is one of the most visited parks in the whole country. So you can imagine how hard it is to navigate and enjoy driving through its narrow roads. During peak times, you will be required to leave your car (if you can find a spot) in the parking lot, and ride the free shuttle to your hiking trails. But if you go between November – March, like I did, you can breeze through the park in your own vehicle. Remember Zion is beautiful year-round, but some of the trails are closed depending on weather conditions.

You definitely don’t want to miss the sunset over the towering red mountains and the Virgin River.

Congaree National Park
The 2 mile boardwalk is an easy walk in nature.

Congaree National Park, SC

Congaree National Park near Columbia, SC is not as well known, but worth a visit. It preserves the largest old-growth floodplain forest forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies remaining in the world. You can walk on paved paths and boardwalks surrounded by swamps, oaks, national and state champion trees. Some of it looks like scenes from Lord of the Rings!

Large animals possibly seen in the park include bobcats, deer, feral pigs, feral dogs, coyotes, armadillos, turkeys, and otters. Its waters contain interesting creatures like amphibians, turtles, snakes, and many types of fish, including bowfin, alligator gar, and catfish.

There is over 20 miles of backcountry hiking trails, canoe tours, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, birding, nature study and talks. You can visit Congaree in a day, or spend a few if you want to do all the activities.

view of Arches National Park
Red, white and blue at Arches National Park.

Arches National Park, Utah

Moab is the adventure capital of southern Utah, with access to hiking, rafting, canyoning and more. Moab is a city in eastern Utah. It’s a gateway to massive red rock formations in Arches National Park, mesas and buttes at Canyonlands National Park, Native American rock art, and dinosaur tracks at sites like Bull Canyon Overlook and Copper Ridge. The town itself has tons of cafes, restaurants, shops and a motels. Stay at Moab Springs Ranch, a locally-owned, eco friendly resort with individual cabins and townhouses that are well equipped with kitchen and parking spaces. There is a walking trail, biking trail, hammocks and relaxing garden on site so you can relax with a backdrop of red rocks and cottonwood trees.

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch is the most famous arch in the park, but requires a vigorous hike to get to.

Bordered by the Colorado River in the southeast, Arches has over 2,000 natural sandstone arches. Start your day early at sunrise at Arches National Park, so you have the entire day to explore and watch the rock colors change with the sun. Sunrise and sunrise give the best photo opps. The park itself is not too big if you drive through the loop road, though you will do injustice if you didn’t get out of your car. Many of the arches can be seen from the road, but offer a better view with a short hike.

There are no restaurants or stores inside the park, but it is only minutes away from downtown Moab, so you can pack food for the day or return to the city for dinner.

canyonlands
The vast expanse of Canyonlands with no other being in sight.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Also a few minutes drive from Moab, Canyonlands National Park is the largest national park in Utah and requires 2-3 days to explore, especially if you plan to do any backcountry or overnight hiking. However, if you only have one day, plan to drive the paved Island in the Sky road atop a massive 1500 foot mesa. Here you can stop at different pullouts to see panoramic overlooks, dramatic desert landscape carved by the Colorado River, towering rock pinnacles known as the Needles, the remote canyons of the Maze and the Native American rock paintings in Horseshoe Canyon. There are many hiking trails too, so combine some physical exercise with driving time.

The bookstore and gift shop inside Canyonlands offers some sodas and packaged foods only, so plan to bring your picnic basket and lots of water from Moab. Also, it is much colder and windier at higher altitudes inside the park, so make sure to bring additional warm layers.

Virgin Islands National Park
Relax at secluded beaches in the US Virgin Islands.

Virgin Islands National Park, USVI

Virgin Islands National Park is more than just beautiful beaches. Here you can hike to plantation ruins to learn about a time when sugar dominated the island, visit the ancient petroglyphs carved by the Taino Indians, and snorkel the coral reefs to discover hidden marine life.  The park covers 60% of St John, 9 sq mi of adjacent ocean, and nearly all of Hassel Island, just off the Charlotte Amalie, Saint Thomas harbor.

You can fly in to St Thomas or St John islands and spend a few days exploring the beaches, towns and beautiful waters. St Thomas is much bigger and well connected to major airports, while St John is more pristine. You can combine your trip and move between the islands by passenger and vehicle ferry, so you can take your rental car with you too.

The best way to explore St John many pristine white sand beaches and hiking trails that make up US Virgin Islands National Park is by car. There are taxis, open air jeeps and shuttle tours, however, having your own vehicle allows you to stop wherever you want and safely distance. Note, most facilities are still closed at St John, not because of COVID, but they never fully recovered from hurricanes Irma and and Maria in 2017.

beach at St Johns USVI national park
Discover some of the best natural sites at St Johns.

Virgin Islands Eco Tour is a local company that offers kayaking, snorkeling, hiking and boat tours around the National Park. Start at Cruz Bay and spend a half or full day with a knowledgeable guide to learn about marine life, geology and flora of the islands.

Typically, entrance to each national park ranges between $20-50/ day. Save money by purchasing America The Beautiful annual pass. For only $80, you can visit over 80 national parks and over 2,000 Federal recreation sites across the USA.

Road Trip Through Charming Towns in The Outer Banks

Outer Banks, North Carolina is a road trip enthusiast’s dream. This iconic chain of barrier islands linked by coastal highway NC 12 is home to some of the largest tracts of undeveloped beaches on the East Coast. There are endless undeveloped coastlines, preserved wildlife, great fishing and historic landmarks.

outer banks
Though I did see many dolphins around OBX, this picture is courtesy of outerbanks.org

Known collectively as the “OBX,” the four islands are home to six towns and 12 coastal villages – all with very different personalities ranging from quintessential beach towns to traditional fishing villages. If you are unfamiliar with OBX, it can be hard to decide where to start your journey and what all to explore! You can spend as little as 4 days if you want to just get a feel for the OBX, or stay for a week in each of the four islands and get a taste for the local life.

However, if you are planning a quick summer road trip to the Outer Banks, here’s what you must include in your itinerary…

outer banks
Sanderling is one of the best luxury resorts in OBX.

Relax at a Resort in Duck

Check into Sanderling Resort in Duck, a relatively quieter part of OBX, occupied by large beachfront holiday homes. Sanderling is an upscale hotel with a North Carolina bungalow charm that spreads across a large area, so families can enjoy private time. Here you can walk along secluded beaches, dip in one of the swimming pools, relax at the spa, or simply watch dolphins playing in the Atlantic right from your balcony.

outer banks
Lifesaving Station Restaurant is a historical landmark!

Dine at Delicious Restaurants

The Lifesaving Station at Sanderling is not just one of the best restaurants in Duck, it is also one of the original rescue stations from 1870s. You can see the many pictures and memorabilia of wayward passengers and crew aboard shipwrecked vessels along the Atlantic shores, while dining on Carolina delicacies – blue crab and corn chowder for dinner or crab Benedict for breakfast.

outer banks
These warm cake donuts are to die for!

For breakfast, bike or walk along the tree shaded sidewalks to Downtown Duck to eat some of the best cake donuts in the world! This is the birthplace of the famous donut chain – Duck Donuts. Made to order, hot and fresh, you can create any kind of decadent concoction you want, or choose from some of their fan favorites. My personal favorites include Hynoduck, Pina Colada, and Blueberry Pancake, but the expression on little kids faces digging into their boxes, is priceless!

Grab dinner, watch the sunset or shop at the boutiques in the Town of Duck.

Spend the afternoon exploring the Town of Duck which features 11 acres of trails through the maritime forest and willow swamp, and shops and restaurants located on the Duck Boardwalk. This is also a good place to watch the sunset over the Bay while dining outdoors at The Blue Point. The restaurant prides itself on featuring local farmers, fisherman and independent suppliers on its menu. 

Commemorate the first flight in the world!

Take a Lesson in Aviation History at Kill Devil Hills

This is where you want to come for a history lesson in aviation. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is the most famous landmark in Kill Devil Hills. There, Wright brothers achieved the world’s first heavier than air, powered, controlled flight in 1903.

Stop for drinks and lunch at the Outer Banks Brewing Station, the oldest wind powered brewery in the US! Take a tour of the brewery and watch how wind energy is harvested to make beer.

Walk or jump over the natural sand dunes in the Eastern US!

Stop for an Adventure in Nags Head

Continue your Outer Banks road trip to the adjacent town – Nags Head, known for the towering sand dunes, salt marshes and quiet beaches. Being the entertainment hotspot, this OBX town is dotted with souvenir shops, fast food restaurants, mini golf courses and fishing charters.

You would never know how fun it is to hang glide over sand dunes until you try it for yourself!

For a unique experience that can be enjoyed by adventurers of all ages, try Hang Gliding at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. It’s a 426-acre park with the tallest and largest natural sand dune system in the Eastern United States. The Kitty Hawk Hang Gliding school offers a chance to safely experience flying over soft sand dunes with the assistance of two instructors. You get 5 attempts to perfect your landing and you don’t even have to worry about falling. This sport is super fun and easy!

For other Outer Banks thrills, try jet skiing, kayaking or parasailing. Kitty Hawk is the largest adventure company with locations all over the OBX, offering a wide range of bike and paddle rentals, surf and kite flying lessons, to scenic bi plane and full moon kayak tours.

Bodie Island Lighthouse has been moved from its original location due to the southward migration of the inlet.

Dreamy lighthouses make for picture perfect backdrops and climbing up the towers offer great vistas. Note: Some lighthouses are currently closed due to Covid-19, but you can still visit them from outside with social distance and face covering. At the tip of Nags Head, visit the 156-foot tall horizontally-striped Bodie Island Lighthouse. It is not the tallest in the area, but the marsh walk around it makes for good wildlife viewing as well.

Soak in Nature’s Beauty in Hatteras

The drive from Duck to the end of Hatteras Island is 83 miles. However, it is highly recommended. Along the way, you can stop at the islands mentioned above, or just spend an entire day exploring the rugged natural beauty of Hatteras Island. Most people who live in these rustic villages of Hatteras have fishing boats. You can charter a sport fishing boat here or watch one of the professional fishermen and women bringing in their fresh catch each afternoon to the Hatteras Harbour. Needless to say, this is also a great place for seafood lovers! Also, all the restaurants you will find in Hatteras offer daily caught shrimp, crab, tuna, grouper and mahi mahi on their menus.

Most seafood in OBX is locally sourced and sustainable.

Enjoy the Surround Wildlife

Pack your walking shoes and a hat and prepare to spend a couple of hours at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge (around mile marker 31). The Refuge is a great spot to spot 365 species of local wildlife, including birds, reptiles, mammals and amphibians. In addition, explore on your own walking along one of the trails, or join refuge staff for programs on topics ranging from sea turtles to life in the sound, to bird adaptations.  

Learn how to volunteer at Pea Island

The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is the tallest brick beacon in the world!

Continue on to Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (also known as America’s Lighthouse), because it is the tallest brick beacon in the world, standing at 210 feet, and originally constructed in 1870.

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Horseback ride through the forests and beaches in the southern tip of Hatteras.

Another unique way to explore the southern end of Hatteras Island is on horseback. You will find families of all ages, coming for generations for Equine Adventures Horseback Tour. The guided trail ride goes through the thick maritime forest of Frisco, crossing deep water pools (especially after a good rain), and the beaches of the Carolina coast. You have a chance to gallop your horse on the wide-open beaches, or leisurely stroll with your experienced guide. You’ll have a memorable adventure while getting wet!

Catch a sunset cruise behind The Tranquil House at Manteo Waterfront.

Slow Down The Pace in Manteo

The town of Manteo located on Roanoke Island is a charming North Carolina coastal town, where you can enjoy history, shopping, dining and a quieter pace. Stroll around the downtown near Manteo waterfront to soak in its unique architecture, local boutiques, and coffee shops. Learn about the first English colonies on North American soil at Roanoke Island Festival Park, or watch the seasonal blooms at The Elizabethan Gardens.

Because sunsets in the coastal barrier islands of North Carolina are spectacular on most days, book yourself a private sunset sail on a 41-foot Gulfstar. Captain Dan will sail you from downtown Manteo Waterfront into the Roanoke and Albemarle Sounds. There, you’ll also spot dolphins and birds, and listen to a lot of interesting stories. For dinner, head over to BlueWater Grill for the best tuna tartare and crab cakes in Manteo!

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Respect the guidelines when you travel.

Travel Sustainability in OBX

There are not many fast foods or big retailers in Dare County. Most businesses have signs at the door stating which local charities they donate a portion of their proceeds too. In the Outer Banks, you are likely to only see locally caught seafood at restaurants, which is generally fresh, tasty and a lot more sustainable.

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Businesses in Dare county give back to the community.

Due to COVID-19, businesses are mandating keeping social distance indoors and at public parks and beaches. Individuals must wear a mask indoors, especially when entering restaurants and retailers. Many of the hotels have reduced capacities. A large majority of the accommodations found in the OBX are also holiday rentals.

To get to OBX, start your road trip in Raleigh, NC or Norfolk, VA if you want to save a few hours.

Virtual Visits for Nature Lovers

While the Coronavirus pandemic has caused the world’s attractions to temporarily closed, there are still ways to experience its beauty online. There are thousands of virtual museum tours, living room concert performances, and even some guided tours that have come about in the past few weeks. But if you crave for something more outdoors, here are some of the most refreshing virtual travel destinations for nature lovers.

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Clearwater beach, Florida

Walk Along Florida’s Beaches

Visit Florida has captured images along the Sunshine State’s 825 miles of beaches using Google’s Street ViewTrekker technology. These 360-degree images captured ‘one footstep at a time’. In addition, Google Maps is integrated. They enable you to experience interactive views of Florida’s beaches. Just “tune” your preferences, choosing from adventurous or laid back, family-friendly or romantic; action-packed or secluded and manicured or natural, and take a walk along the beach.

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Northern Flicker Woodpecker in Denmark

Watch Rare Birds in Denmark

Want to go birdwatching in Denmark? The Danish ornithological society, DOF BirdLife, streams live from the nest of a majestic white-tailed eagle on Lolland. The nest currently has three eggs ready to hatch.

You can also see murmurations of starlings as they cut beautiful shapes in the air before they roost. These are filmed at the Wadden Sea. There, tours of the best black sun sites take place at key points throughout the year.

Millions of tulips bloom during springtime at Keukenhof

Blooming Tulips in The Netherlands

Keukenhof, also known as the Garden of Europe, is one of the world’s largest flower gardens. Within The Netherlands, it is in the town of Lisse. According to the official website, Keukenhof Park covers an area of 32 hectares. Approximately 7 million flower bulbs are annually planted. The best times to see the blooms are the last 2 weeks of April and the first week of May. Though closed for 2020, the spectacular tulip garden is still available virtually.

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Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Best Parks in the USA

Have you dreamed of visiting every national park in the U.S.? Google Arts & Culture is hosting interactive documentaries on a number of contrasting U.S. National Parks include Kenai Fjords in Alaska, Hawaii Volcanoes in Hawaii, and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. Moreover, there is Bryce Canyon in Utah, and Dry Tortugas in Florida. You can get 360-degree video tours through some of the United States’ most remote and breath-taking landscapes, with a local ranger as a guide. You will already know a lot when you ready to take the actual trip!

7 Places In Bali Can Make You A Better Person

Many travelers claim that the spirit of Bali has the power to seep into your unconscious mind and radically change your thoughts, beliefs, and actions. If you are capable of finding a sense of awe in watching colored puffs of incense rise from small flower offerings and centuries-old Balinese temples scattered throughout stunning natural settings, then no other place on this planet is more ideal for you than Bali. There is a good chance that if you visit these places in Bali, you may go back home as a better person.

The Holy Waters of Gunung Kawi Sebatu – Ubud

This temple is unique and infrequently visited. Lush and scenic, it is perched upon a forested hillside drawing water from holy mountain spring-fed water sources. It was embellished with statues, ornamental fish ponds, water shrines, and bathing spots around the temple complex. You can think of the Gunung Kawi Sebatu temple as one of the finest tranquil and soothing retreats that stands far away from the busy streets and the bustle of Ubud. From here, go to the Pura Dalem Pingit, which is revered as a purification spot among the Balinese Hindus.

Pyramids in Sea – Semeti Beach

The test of this place is that to reach the vantage point for a phenomenal view, you will have to cross an extremely rough and rocky path on Semeti Beach. The stones on this beach share an uncanny resemblance with the crystal box in planet Krypton. But after you reach there, you will be able to see pyramid-like rocks rooted in the sea and crossing these towards your vantage point will call on a lot of your conviction and perseverance.

Bali Spirit Festival – Ubud

This is an annual event taking place in March. Yoga practitioners and instructors from Bali and all around the world, artists, dancers and musicians performing colorful concerts gather for this event. Participate in yoga workshops, Dharma Fairs that have health bazaars and organic food stalls. The stage acts as the center of attraction and many world musicians keep up the vibe of the celebrations throughout the day.

An Almost Private Island – Gili

Some of the Gili Islands are so isolated that they will feel like your own private island! So, if you’re looking for a place to self-exploration and retrospect whilst island-hopping in Lombok, then the white sandy shores of the Gilis are made for you. Here, you can sunbathe, swim, snorkel or even explore the marine life around the breathtaking coral reefs. Gili is just one of many beautiful islands that scatter the seas around Bali. If you wish to explore these tropicals paradises, companies like Jettly’s private jet rentals can provide you with your own plane so you can hop from island to island.

Magic Tree in Trunyan Village – Kintamani

This is an ancient and remote village on a Balinese lakeside which is known for odd burial rites and a magic tree. The magic tree, locally known as Taru Menyan, grows in this village’s open-burial cemetery and releases a strongly fragrant resin which interestingly neutralizes the odors coming from the decomposing dead bodies. The silence of this remote area coupled with the chilling sight of graveyard skulls and bones will most likely unnerve you, but your close encounter with the ancient and upheld traditions of this place will teach you to be accepting.

Battles of Tenganan Pegringsingan – Candidasa

The old Balinese village is only a 15-minutes north of Jalan Raya Candidasa road. The age-old tradition of the Perang Pandan ‘battles’ is a highlight event of this place and is unique to only this village. This ritual is actually dedicated to the Hindu Mythology god of war and sky, Indra. The battles entail friendly duels between male villagers who are each armed with a rattan shield and a tied packet of the thorny pandan leaves. This ritual highlights their sportsman’s spirit and comradeship.

The Twin and Spiritual Gitgit Waterfalls – North Bali

Gitgit is Bali’s most popular waterfall that is both a beautiful natural attraction and an important spiritual destination for visitors. You will be able to reach its base after a few minutes trek by foot, after which you can enjoy the tall twin spouts that constantly crash into a rocky pool. For spiritual travelers, another bonus waterfall awaits near Gitgit that can be reached via forested pathways adorned with cacao trees, called the Jembong waterfall, which is considered to be a place for spiritual purifications and healing.

There are a lot of unexplored and unconventional places in Bali that have a completely different energy than the regular tourist places. So, coming here and exploring something that may not be on your regular itinerary can make you see things, think of them and feel their significance like you have never done before.

~ By guest blogger, Palak Narula. Palak is a full-time travel writer who visited Bali in 2017. She lives for good conversations, holistic experiences and the beauty of words. Follow her on Instagram @Wordbeatle

To book a personalized sustainable individual or group trip to Bali with a focus on spirituality, yoga or volunteering, contact us.

11 Fun Things To Do in Myrtle Beach

“Are you going to play a lot of mini golf?” smirked my boyfriend, as I told him about my planned trip to Myrtle Beach, sponsored by the tourism board.

And hey, it’s not a bad question. Actually, Myrtle Beach is known as the “Miniature Golf Capital of the World,” with over 50 courses to choose from.

But that’s not what I would be focusing on for my trip. Instead, my goal was to go beyond the guidebook to discover Myrtle Beach activities beyond the green. And while I did spend time around the “Grand Strand” — Myrtle Beach’s waterfront strip showcasing 60+ miles of beaches — I added other atypical experiences to my itinerary.

Stay: North Beach Plantation

This luxury resort sits on the Atlantic Ocean in North Myrtle Beach. Onsite you’ll find pretty much everything you could need: beach access, free Wi-Fi, restaurants, a 2.5-acre waterpark, multiple indoor and outdoor pools, a hot tub, a fitness center and incredible spa (tip: get the Fijian Ritual!) and more.

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Along with two towers full of various sized condos, they have standalone villas and vacation rentals with shops dotting the blocks, giving it a suburban neighborhood feel. It’s large, and there’s a free shuttle that can help you get around if needed.

Tip: Spring for the waterfront views, especially as even the one-bedroom condos have balconies. They’re actually pretty budget-friendly for what you get, especially if you go in September (about $200 or less per night!).

Airbnb also offers a slew of great Myrtle Beach options! Click here to snag $40 off your first Airbnb stay!

So what kinds of Myrtle Beach activities exist beyond mini golf? Check out the video above. Then, scroll down to read my trip highlights (so you can add them to your itinerary, too!).

1. Savor Local Wine Culture

While typically vineyards in the US grow grapes like chardonnay, merlot and pinot grigio, in South Carolina there’s only one variety that flourishes: the muscadine. There are over 300 varieties of muscadine, many of which you can try at La Belle Amie Vineyard in Myrtle Beach.

I never expected Myrtle Beach to have a vineyard and winery. A tasting room maybe, but actual rows of grape vines next to olive bushes? I felt like I was in Italy.

Or France, as they also sell wine from their family vineyard in the South of France. You can read the full (and inspiring) story of how that partnership came to be here.

Vicki Weigle, La Belle Amie Vineyard’s owner, believes you only need to know two things about wine: if you like it or if you don’t. This fun philosophy can be felt throughout the property, including Wine Wednesday’s live outdoor music and the creative wines with fun names offered at the tasting bar. How about a glass of “What Was I Thinking?” or an “Ice Queen” ice wine made without freezing the grapes?

By the way, it’s just $5 for six tastings + surprises like mulled wine and wine slushies. Yum!

2. Learn A New Water Sport

There are so many water sports to choose from in Myrtle Beach! Two on my itinerary were new to me: wakeboarding and surfing.

While inclement weather cancelled the wakeboarding, I did visit Shark Wake Park to see what the course looked like. It’s a controlled pool with ramps if you’re up for doing tricks. Cables pull you as you try to stand on what looks like a snowboard. Sitting back and watching the advanced wakeboarders is also an option.

I did get to try surfing near Springmade Pier at the softest beach I’ve ever stepped on with Jack’s Surf Lessons.

Wow, was surfing hard! The waves were pretty high — about three feet — so it definitely presented a fun and exciting challenge for a newbie.

Actually, here’s me (below) standing for 0.3 seconds until I came crashing down so hard I lost my GoPro to the Atlantic Ocean despite it being on a headstrap tied into my hair. I just hope a school of fish has found it and is putting it to good use. Sigh.

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Despite the technical issues, I had a lot of fun trying something new. Plus, Jack is such a cool, laid-back dude he had the group laughing the whole time.

Just leave the GoPro on the beach unless it’s really affixed.

3. Indulge In Some Boozy Brunch

You know those beautiful wood accented spaces with high ceilings and lots of natural light flowing in? And maybe a case of colorful macarons beckoning you to stay a while? That’s Croissants Bistro & Bakery.

And while they do make some incredible baked goods (salted caramel brownie, anyone?), you also won’t want to miss their savory fare. Of course, shrimp and grits is a local favorite, especially as these grits are laced with pimento cheese. Make it a boozy brunch by adding on a mimosa or Bloody Mary with your choice of vodka!

4. Get High (Literally)

Myrtle Beach’s boardwalk stretches for 1.2 miles along the waterfront, showcasing quirky restaurants (some jokingly claiming to be the “8th Wonder of the World”), arcades, various Ripley’s Believe It Or Not attractions, rides and more.

While a walk down this wooden stretch is a must on a list of Myrtle Beach activities, another way to take it all in is with a ride on the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel.

The giant enclosed Ferris wheel takes you 200 feet high for an aerial perspective of the beach and boardwalk.

While I rode the SkyWheel during the day, I was told by many locals it’s actually best at night when it’s all lit up.

Tickets are $14 per person.

5. Stretch It Out (On The Beach)

A true highlight of my trip was doing a morning yoga class on the beach with Dawn Yager, owner of Shanti Yoga. I love yoga anywhere, anytime; but there’s something truly therapeutic about going through Sun Salutations while actually being washed in the sun’s loving glow.

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I must have felt inspired, because I held Crow Pose for my longest time ever! Just a few simple shifts like moving my gaze beyond my hands and digging my fingers into the ground helped so much.

Tip: If you’re visiting during September, Shanti Yoga offers discounts on classes at their Myrtle Beach studio for National Yoga Month.

6. Photograph The Gorgeous Live Oaks

You can see Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss all over Myrtle Beach; however, in historic Conway — a city founded in 1732 located about 25 minutes from the coast — you can take a tour of them.

They’re so whimsical; the gnarled branches adding a gothic beauty to the area. In Myrtle Beach they’re prevalent and protected. You can wander the very walkable neighborhood yourself using the free Historic Trail guide (pick it up free at the Conway Visitor Center). Additionally, here is a link to a self-guided Conway tour using a map and/or QR codes.

Tip: After seeing the gorgeous trees, take a walk along the Waccamaw River on the 1.5-mile River Walk.

7. Savor The Local Craft Beer

While Myrtle Beach isn’t a craft beer hub, it does have some quality beer offerings. Hop heads can check out New South Brewing, featuring a large tasting room with plenty of space to chill with some board games and a nut brown ale, or talk suds with the brewmasters.

While they don’t have flights, 6-ounce pours are only $3. Also, there are tastings included when you book a tour in advance ($7).

If you try one beer only, make it their famous “White Ale.” The brew is a take on a classic Belgian wheat ale, with notes of coriander and citrus.

They’re also known for their canned beers; in fact, their slogan is “The beer from here. Hand crafted. Hand canned. Hands on.” You can purchase a 6-pack to-go ($9) or create a mixed case ($30).

Tip: The local grocery chain, Lowes Foods, features a Beer Den with craft beers on tap and a growler program!

8. Wander Brookgreen Gardens

I love wandering without a plan, especially when that wandering involves being immersed in lovely live oaks, inspiring sculptures and gorgeous gardens. Brookgreen Gardens is that place, a sculpture garden (the country’s largest) and wildlife preserve featuring thousands of acres of nature.

Take a pontoon ride on the onsite creek to see alligators and osprey while learning about the property’s rice farming heritage (cultivated by past African and Indian slaves). Made up of four former plantations, one pre-Brookgreen Gardens homestead was actually home to Aaron Burr’s daughter, Theodosia.

While the tour was interesting, my favorite part of the visit was just wandering the gardens without a plan, taking moments to regroup and admire Mother Nature.

9. Bird Watch In Huntington Beach State Park

Nearby is another natural beauty: Huntington Beach State Park. The two main attractions in this 2500-acre park are the beach and the trails, including a nature walk and a boardwalk over the marsh.

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Oh, the Marsh Boardwalk! One of the most peaceful places I’ve ever seen and one of my favorite Myrtle Beach activities. I spotted so many birds — egrets, herons, cormorants — as well as a variety of crabs dancing in the mud. I stood in silence and awe for a good 30 minutes just taking it all in.

Here’s a printable birding checklist for the park if you want to create a fun challenge for yourself! According to the park, a full day of bird watching could very well get you 100 different species sightings.

10. Try Hook-To-Plate At Wicked Tuna

You’ve probably heard of farm-to-table; but what about hook-to-plate?

Murrells Inlet is where many locals — especially local restaurants — claim the freshest seafood in South Carolina comes from. At The Wicked Tuna they make use of their uber fresh location, employing their own fleet of fishing boats to head out each day and catch what’s served on your plate.

Fresh catch, lobster tails and sushi rolls are all part of the fun, typically with a twist. While the pan-seared scallops might be dressed in a cauliflower puree and tamarind brown butter, a soft shell crab might be topped with cilantro oil and sweet potato flakes.

I was obsessed with my “Dragon Egg” appetizer: a halvedavocado filled with cream cheese, smoked salmon, blue crab, king crab and spicy crab and gowned in tempura sweet potato, spicy mayo and sweet glaze. Paired with my wasabi- and basil-laced “Wicked Lemonade” (pictured above), my taste buds were certainly dancing.

Everything was superb, complimented by a prime waterfront view from the patio!

11. Indulge Your Inner Carnivore

The name River City Cafe may sound simple; but actually, this meat-focused eatery has a dizzying list of delicious burgers you must try.

While I was tempted to try their Short Rib Cheeseburger featuring short rib meat mixed with prime beef, I had to savor the “Kitchen Sink Burger.” This enormous sandwich showcases two patties topped with chili, hickory-smoked bacon, grilled onions, spicy jalapeños, mushrooms, Swiss and cheddar cheeses, lettuce, tomato, pickles, mustard and mayo. And that’s not all. That setup is then placed neatly (yea right) between two grilled cheeses, accompanied by fries, onion rings and coleslaw.

Luckily this was a trip full of active Myrtle Beach activities!

Turkey, chicken and veggie burgers are also available for those seeking a healthier meal.

What are your favorite Myrtle Beach activities beyond golf? Have a travel question? Please share in the comments below!

~ By New York city based award-winning travel blogger, Jessica Festa. Find her at Jessie on a JourneyFacebookTwitterGoogle+ and Pinterest. This post originally appeared on her blog

Must Have Bajan Experiences in Barbados

The term Bajan or Barbadian is referred to the people of the Caribbean island of Barbados. Bajan is also an English based creole language that is spoken on the island. It can be quite confusing to a native English speaker, as the locals have a very fast slang way of running the words together.

During my recent visit to Barbados, I discovered that one can discover the authentic cuisine and culture at all-inclusive resorts as well. Elegant Hotels is a Bajan company that employs a majority local staff, from the chefs, waiters and beach ambassadors, to the management. They pride themselves in creating experiences that expose guests to the Barbados style of living – be it engaging in a game of road tennis, tasting rum while “liming”, or taking lessons in steel pan drumming. Here are a few Bajan experiences offered by two of the resorts that are in the western and southern parts of the island.

Crystal Cove is on the platinum west coast of Barbados where the gentle waves lap at the stunning shoreline with the resort on an elevated position offering fantastic views out to sea. The all-inclusive four-star property is in a charming traditional Bajan style and has an elegantly intimate feel that makes it popular with families and parties. Crystal Cove features three freshwater lagoon swimming pools, a swim-up bar, two restaurants, complimentary watersports for all guests, two tennis courts and a free water taxi to other Elegant Hotels Group properties on the west coast.

New Elegantly Bajan initiatives at Crystal Cove include:

Oistins Night – A weekly culinary sensation, Oistins Fish Fry on a Friday night is where locals and tourists alike head to the south coast to savor some rustic dining on local seafood and enjoy the buzzing atmosphere. Crystal Cove recreates the vibes of Oistins with a range of local authentic dishes at Drifters Restaurant for some beachside dining. Dine on a feast of local fish marinated and cooked live on George’s BBQ grill. Delicacies include granny’s fish cakes with Mount Gay Rum cocktail sauce, fried flying fish with Bajan pepper sauce, grilled sweet potato, fried plantain, calypso rice and pumpkin & ginger soup. Musical entertainment is in the form of a local popular DJ mixing sounds of Oistins with everything from calypso to reggae, as local artisans at the resort display local crafts and souvenirs.

Bridgetown Heritage Tour – Barbados’ capital is often overlooked by guests and offers a genuinely fascinating array of attractions for visitors to the island. Exclusively for Crystal Cove guests, this day long tour will soak up the most beautiful architecture and historic buildings in the capital as well include visits to the Mount Gay Visitor Centre, Kensington Oval, St. Mary’s Church, Parliament Buildings, Garrison Savannah and the Prime Minister’s Office. There will even be time in the itinerary for some duty-free shopping in Bridgetown followed by lunch and a trip to one of Barbados’ most beautiful beaches, Brown’s Beach, for a spot of snorkeling and relaxation.

Heritage Night – For an evening like no other, Crystal Cove puts on a Caribbean cabaret floor show with dancers wearing carnival costumes and performing a range of dances and feats including fire eating and limbo dancing. This is accompanied by the Tuk Band and the famous Calypso King; authentic dishes from around the Caribbean and The Chattel House Bar which serve a variety of coconut cocktails.

Steel Pan Classes – One of the quintessential sounds of Barbados, this is a chance for travelers to get to grips with the steel pans and have a go at producing well known songs as well as calypso classics with some of the best professionals on the island.

Road Tennis Classes – Road tennis is the little known national sport of Barbados – unique and exclusive to the island, road tennis involves a ‘skinned’ tennis ball, a stretch of road for a court and wooden paddles to bat the ball between two players. Easy to learn and fun to play, Crystal Cove staff show guests how to master this local sport as well as set up some tournaments for a vigorous work out.

Rum Shop initiation – It is said there is a rum shop on every corner of Barbados and that liming (Bajan slang for relaxing) at a local village rum shop is an essential part of the Bajan experience. To test this theory, Crystal Cove staff coach guests on how to ‘lime’ and really learn to relax, chill and clear their minds of any stress, by teaching them rum shop games. Dominos is a national obsession in Barbados and Crystal Cove staff teaches guests how to play slam dominos like a real Bajan as well as drink some rum based forfeits. Guests can also sample local rum shop snacks including corn beef and biscuits as well as cheese cutters made with local salt bread.

Turtle Beach, on the south coast offer a host of Elegantly Bajan experiences for families, couples and parties alike. A premium all-inclusive property in the lively St Lawrence parish of Barbados, Turtle Beach is popular with families and couples who love the relaxed atmosphere, 1,500ft beach and general feeling of space and tranquility the resort offers. With two swimming pools, three restaurants and bars, two tennis courts and the infamous Captain Sam’s watersports center with free water-sports including dinghy sailing and surfing.

Bajan initiatives at Turtle Beach include:

Turtle Pioneers – Get the inside scoop from locals. Turtle Pioneers – Hermanius, Maradonna, Nigel and Captain Sam are an elite team of Barbados experts and are a powerhouse of knowledge about what to do, where to go and when to do it in Barbados.

Pastry School – Guests at Turtle Beach can take part in a weekly pastry class with award winning dessert chef Ezra Beckles. Known for his sinfully tasty treats, Ezra uses unusual ingredients including noni flour and cactus as well as traditional ingredients from Barbados including local tamarind, cherries and coconut. He takes guests through how to create local delicacies and most importantly, how to enjoy them!

Here’s Where to Start Planning Your Trip to Phuket, Thailand

Dense rainforests, pristine beaches, picturesque bays against a backdrop of limestone cliffs – the island of Phuket has remained a popular destination among foreign tourists for good reason. Phuket is one of the most beautiful destinations in Thailand. It has a unique personality with upscale villas, ancient culture, varied nature, an active nightlife and emerging dining scene.

Here’s where you need to start planning your visit to Phuket:

Unwind at a Luxury Beach Villa

If you want to avoid the herds of tourists crowding Phuket’s many resorts, consider villa rentals in Thailand. Phang Nga or Natai Beach are the best locations in Phuket for renting a villa with easy access to beaches, nightlife and dining. Feel like royalty staying at beachfront estates designed to look like elegant Thai temples, surrounded by mythical rock formations. Starting at just $1000/ night, many of the villas come with an infinity swimming pool, jetted tub, home theater, sauna and steam rooms, yoga pavilion, chef and butler. Pampering has no limits!

Feel the cool Andaman Sea breeze as you dine on freshly prepared seafood at your own private dining room or gazebo. A vacation rental in Thailand makes for an ideal honeymoon getaway. Some of the larger villas available in this area can accommodate up to 20 guests, making it ideal for weddings, corporate retreats and family reunions.

There are also many properties for sale if you loved the location so much that you wanted to return as many times as you like. Purchasing a property through one of the best buy to let mortgages company can help you to also make a return on your investment from renting out the property when you are not using it, making it a great purchase for anyone looking for a vacation home.

Watch a Cultural Performance

There are a few venues in Phuket that offer a chance to see traditional dances and cultural performances, but Siam Niramit Phuket is the most authentic. Guest can walk through an entire village scene surrounded by a forest and river, which showcases traditional wooden homes, costumes and foods from different parts of Thailand.

You also have the option to purchase dinner buffet with the ticket package. While the restaurant has a lot of options, with Chinese, Thai and Western stations, the food is mediocre, served in a casual setting. There are also few handicraft stores selling souvenirs and clothes at reasonable prices.

The show itself is comparable to Cirque du Soleil or Broadway. Elaborate sets that change with every scene, high caliber dancers jeweled in rich costumes, and even elephants make their way to the stage! This will be an evening you will remember for a long time.

Stroll Down Old Phuket Town

Thalang Road is the main street in the European style old town with well-preserved colorful Sino-colonial buildings. Dotted with museums and coffee shops, plan to spend an entire day walking with a self-guided tour around the old town. Along the way, don’t miss the historic sites and mansions. Each one has a unique story behind it! Take a taxi to the summit of Kha Rang (Rang Hill) to get an overview of the city with Big Buddha, beaches and forests in the vista.

Make sure to come back in the night when some of the bars and clubs come alive. This is a good place to see the expat community living in Thailand.

Taste Specialty Local Foods

Due to the high number of visitors, Phuket is gaining a strong reputation in having very good selection of Thai and international restaurants. Casual cafes, street vendors, open air beachfront restaurants and wine bars are a few options to choose from. However, there are a few dishes you must taste while visiting Phuket.

These are roti – Thai crepes stuffed with bananas and topped with condensed milk, made to order and served hot; sweet fresh mango with sticky rice with coconut cream topping – a favorite Thai dessert; kanom jeen – rice noodles with spicy coconut crab curry; and different flavors of cashews (my favorite are Tom Yum), a product native of Phuket and available at one of the many cashew nut factories.

You can also sign up for a cooking class, or arrange one at your private rented villa.

Pray at a Buddhist Temple

There are 29 Buddhist temples on the island, so it is impossible to see them all unless you are planning to stay for a couple of weeks. If you must pick two places, go to Wat Chalong and the Big Buddha. Wat Chalong is one of the most important temples for Buddhist people because it is said to contain a splinter of Lord Buddha’s bone. As in most temples, there are richly adorned pagodas and Buddha statues throughout.

Phuket’s Big Buddha is located on top of the Nakkerd Hills and can be spotted from many places on the island. Made of white jade marble, the 45-meters tall Buddha statue sparkles in the sun, while a smaller brass Buddha statue stands next to it.

Island Hop Through the Weekend

Rent a speedboat to take you around some of the most beautiful islands and beaches around Phuket. Some of the more popular destinations for day trips include Phi Phi Islands, James Bond Island (featured in the movies “Man with the Golden Gun” and “Tomorrow Never Dies”) and . Swim, snorkel and dive as you enjoy the colorful coral reef and diverse marine life in the crystal-clear water of the Andaman Sea. Ao Phang Nga National Park is a good place to try your hands-on sea kayaking, sea caving, and canoeing.

Soak in the Views

No visit to Phuket is complete without getting a panorama view of the island or watching a picture-perfect sunset. To get a 360 view of the beaches and lush vegetation, go to Kata, Larm Singh or Panwa viewpoints. Couple of other unique places are Samet Nangshe offering stunning views of the Phang Nga Bay’s limestone islets and star studded night sky, as well as the Windmill viewpoint in south Phuket where you can see windmills that look like airplane propellers.

Another option is to sip a cocktail and catch a romantic sunset at one of the restaurants or bars.

Best Day Trips from Tokyo, Japan

Most first time travelers to Japan never leave the capital of Tokyo. While the big city offers many cool attractions, great nightlife and shopping, the real charm of Japan is in the countryside. Here are some places that are within a couple of hours reach and make for great weekend getaways and day trips.

NIKKO

Nikko had been a center of Shinto and Buddhist mountain worship for many centuries. It is a charming small town near the hills designated a World Heritage Area. When you arrive, there are shops selling local ice creams and cheesecakes right by the train station. Walk about 20 minutes or take the local bus to the temples and shrines entrance.

Walk through oak and cedar forests to see the mythical Shinkyo Bridge. There are a few restaurants near the bridge that offer Japanese set menus.

See one of the largest wood tori gates in Japan and a complex of shrines at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and the Buddhist temple next door. Toshogu is Japan’s most lavishly decorated shrine and the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa shogunate. Plan to walk for couple of hours if you want to see everything.

Nikko National Park also offers scenic landscapes, mountainous landscapes, lakes, waterfalls, hot springs, wild monkeys and hiking trails. Being able to see what this park has to offer through activities like a hike could add even more adventure to this trip. It may even be worth checking out sites like Crow Survival for tips on how to get through hikes successfully, no matter where you choose to visit. Additionally, Nikko Mational Part is a spectacular place to see fall colors.

KAMAKURA
Located only an hour drive from Tokyo, Kamakura is home to the second largest bronze Buddha statue in Japan at Kotoku-in Temple. The statue was cast in 1252 and originally located inside a large temple hall, destroyed and later rebuilt in open air. You can even go inside the statue for a small fee
There are also a dozen other temples in the area, but my favorite place was the Hokoku-ji Temple, a resting place for the samurai. Here, you can stroll through tall bamboo forests and have a cup of tea overlooking peaceful nature. Also, check out the dove shaped peace cookies popular in the area.
Kamakura is located by the sea and has resorts and apartments overlooking sand beaches, as well as boating, sailing, swimming and surfing sites.
HAKONE
Hakone is part of the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park, less than one hundred kilometers from Tokyo, approximately 1.5 hours by train.
This is a great place to see Mount Fuji, the sacred volcanic mountain of Japan. Take a boat ride in Lake Ashinoko to catch the best views.
Watch volcanic activity in action on the Hakone Ropeway through Owakudani Boiling Valley. The sulphur has strong odor and can burn your eyes when it’s windy so bring protective covering. There are also a number of open air museums in Hakone. Many people prefer to stay overnight at a ryokan in the area to enjoy the natural hot springs.
To book a similar experience in Japan, contact US based tour operator Flo Tours.