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Archive for the ‘Beach’ Category

Readers, I’m really excited to post the following itinerary from a trip that my friends recently took to Sri Lanka. I seriously want to pack my bags and leave stat.  Their itinerary highlights the local people, culture and most importantly the food! Coming soon…I’ll be blogging about my trip to Paris and Burgundy, from a vegetarian’s point of view:)

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Sri Lanka (July, 2010)

Sri Lanka was a place for all of our senses – it is the most untouched country we have visited – not yet hit by tourism and all of the changes that come from being fully globalized, but yet devastated from the 2005 Tsunami and parts of the country only recently being opened up after the civil war involving Tamil rebel groups. As a result, there were a lack of tourist resources (cars, hotels, buses, trains, etc) that made our trip really special, but a little more expensive than anticipated.

In checking around for ticket prices, it ended up being cheaper for us to fly into India first and then nest in a trip to Sri Lanka (although we did get held up with some additional paperwork at Indian immigration on the return because of the new law which bars tourist re-entry within two months). We landed in Colombo and began our search for where we were headed, how we would get there, and where we would stay. The most common method of travel for tourists who want to see the whole country, and not waste a lot of time, is by private car (other methods of transport are infrequent and/or non-existent), which we negotiated at the airport – but this comes with a heavy price. We spent half of our entire trip budget on a car, but in the end it was worth it because we were able to see parts of the country very seldom traveled.

Our first stop was the famous beach town, Hikkaduwa, along the southwest coast of the country – the area is known for incredible scuba diving and a really great beaches. Unfortunately, however, we came during the wrong season for scuba diving – during this time of year, the coast experiences the most incredible, awesome, angry sounding 10-foot waves. We picked a random (keyword: Available) spot right over the water, kept our windows open, and slept with the breeze and thes sound of the waves surrounding us. Our first meal was at a no-name spot right across the popular Moon Beam hotel/restaurant. Sri Lanka is known for their rice and curry, and this meal was the most fantastic, tasty dish we could have imagined having. I seriously stuffed myself beyond belief and only regret not eating more. After a few days, we headed north to the beautiful and massive tea/hill station, Nuwara Eliya, stopping along the road in Kalutara to pick up and devour my favorite fruit – mangosteen. The beautiful rolling hills of tea leaves that stretch for miles are a must see – I have never seen a green quite like this. We also stayed at the first available spot we could find – fortunately it was on top of the hills and we had an incredible view of our surroundings (The Rising Lion). Our only memorable meal (although not quite as good as the rice and curry our first night) was fresh idli and string hoppers at the “Vegetarian Restaurant” adjacent to the De Silva Food Centre.

Next stop was Sigiriya, to climb the humongous rock/castle. We stayed at the only available spot we could find, The Grand Tourist Holiday Resort, which turned out to be a great deal – it felt like we had been transported to the middle of a campsite and awoke to find all kinds of furry critters amongst us. Only complaint was that you’re so far away from any restaurants or shopping that your meals are at the restaurant – it was nothing to write home about. The climb up Sigirya rock was the most memorable – I’m not sure if it was the structure of the rock, the time of day, or the month of year – but we experienced the most powerful wind that cooled us on the climb up and were so strong that you just had to stand and enjoy it blowing around you.

We quickly moved on to Trincomalee, in the northeast region of the country, and an area that was only recently opened up for visitors. There were small military bases every 100 feet or so – we didn’t get stopped but we also made it a point to drive only when it was light out.  We spent the next few days on the untouched beaches just north of Trincomalee, Uppuveli and Niraveli, scuba diving, snorkeling, walking along the coast, and reading. Absolute bliss. Scuba diving is far less expensive in Sri Lanka than other countries we have traveled – although there is not a lot of technical diving in this part of the country, we did see some incredible marine life (reef shark, humongous turtle, lion fish) and soaked up the heat of the Sri Lankan sun. Hotels were hard to come by and very expensive due to the lack of resources – our food options were limited to what the hotels served, which was a big disappointment, because most hotels prefer to serve a tourist version of Sri Lankan food rather which is tasteless and uninspiring.

It was hard to move away from Trincomalee, but we made our last stop at Anuradhapura to get a glimpse of the country’s rich history. The only saving grace was that we stayed at the Boa Vista guest house, and met Shani (shanidacunha@live.com), a really cool Sri Lankan woman who runs the guest house and was kind enough to entertain our insistence on having a real Sri Lankan dinner, even though we arrived at the guest house after the kitchen was basically closed. Well, the wait was so worth it – we had an incredible feast of 5 different vegetables, dhal, rice, curry and were finally sated. It was also a perfect ending to our trip because Shani represented all that we had experienced from Sri Lankans during our trip – they were the most gentle and humble people and made our trip (the food helped, too).

 

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Have you ever wondered what all the fuss about Turks & Caicos is? Well see below….This post comes from my newly married friend Elizabeth who just returned from her relaxing honeymoon in Turks & Caicos….Thanks Elizabeth!

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We flew out of Laguardia Sunday morning and arrived in Turks & Caicos about three hours later.

We picked up a rental car at Hertz, paying in USD for a British-wheeled car.  (TCI is a British territory, so the road rules are British, but the American dollar is its currency).  We drove without a hitch to our hotel, the Windsong, in Provo (maybe 15 minutes from the airport).  The resort is smaller than the TCI mainstays (Gansevoort, Club Med, Beaches) but has wonderful grounds and pool and direct beach access.  The restaurant, JoJo’s Cafe, is nothing to write home about, but it does make the drinks that are brought to you pool- or ocean-side.

The first room we booked into was part of a set of two rooms that shared a common locked entrance that could be adapted for a family with children.  Unfortunately, that meant the bed we got was not a king mattress but instead two smaller mattresses put together.  The crack in the middle was not ideal for the first night of nuptial bliss, so we’d recommend specifically requesting a king mattress before you arrive.  We requested a move, and after a couple of follow-ups were moved to a room with a solid mattress, where we stayed happily the remainder of the week.

The rooms have mini-kitchens with a microwave and a refrigerator, so we went grocery shopping on the first day to stock up.

We spent the rest of the week reading on the beach and by the pool and trying the various restaurants around.  The staff set up the beach chairs and umbrellas every morning and remove them in the evening, so all we had to do was roll out of bed and walk a few steps and lie back down.  *Bliss*.  White sands, turquoise and clear waters, coral reefs to scuba right in front of the hotel (although they are still recovering and serious scuba enthusiasts will prefer a boat trip out to more healthy reefs).  Our hotel was happily rather sleepy, with a few young couples, a couple of older couples and a couple of families.  We brought some dressier clothes just in case but didn’t need them, even for the nicest dinners.

The Somewhere Cafe next door was a favorite, as was Horseye Jack’s (which requires a car).  [Hole in the Wall was also good; the pizza place was fine but outdoors and buggy.  The Saltmills Cafe & Diner was pleasant.]  The French bakery was good but a little disappointing (selling a key lime tart that tasted more like lemon merengue), despite the obvious French-ness of its baker.  Despite being surrounded by water, it seemed that the only local fish in Provo was grouper and (during the season which starts late summer) lobster.  The Gansevoort (a ten minute walk up the beach from Windsong) served good breakfast and the late night scene felt like the Meatpacking District transported to the beach.

We took a day trip to Middle and North Caicos – walked around one of the old abandoned sugar plantations, took a look at the artisan’s coop and attached cafe, and were impressed by the contrast of the rural feel compared to Provo, but were overall somewhat disappointed with the excursion.  The ferry ride may have been the best part.  Perhaps it would have been better had we hired a guide?

All in all, wholeheartedly recommended as a place to lie by the beach or pool with a book for a long weekend, up to a week.  Beautiful and peaceful.  Do bring your suntan lotion and your bug spray if you are going during bug season.

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editor’s note

for some more info check out http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2007/pf/0703/gallery.honeymoon_hotspots.moneymag/2.html

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It’s about that time of year when you’re calculating whether spring is really around the corner or whether we are going to have to suffer through some long rainy months. Usually on vacation I want an action packed trip, but after some long nights at work, the idea of sitting back with a mai tai on the beach sounds pretty good.

Last week, an alert went out to TravelZoo subscribers informing them about a  92 hour sale on Bookit.com I don’t generally act on these emails and have never really used TravelZoo, but Bookit.com had some amazing deals last week. We ended up booking an all-inclusive package to the Dominican Republic that went on sale last week. I’ll be blogging from Punta Cana on the first weekend of April. Check out some other quick getaways on the Times.

We booked a package for two, including airfare, all meals, and drinks at the NH Real in Punta Cana for less than what a ticket to Vegas would cost you about now. Be on the lookout for deals fellow readers...they do exist!

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Kauai Day 2

Day 2 Kauai – Napali Coast

On our 2nd day in Kauai, we decided to go sailing off the Kauai Napali coast with the Blue Dolphin company.  http://www.kauaiboats.com/

The Napali coast is off the Northwest side of Kauai.  It’s dramatic and ruggedly beautiful – and basically inaccessible to cars.  However, you can view the coast from a helicopter or a boat. We chose sailboat because the idea of being up in a helicopter for a half hour and paying an arm and leg wasn’t as appealing as a nice day out on a boat. Besides, when you go out on  the water with a charter company like Blue Dolphin you get beer and wine, lunch, interesting companions, and the added pleasure of seeing dolphins frolicking next to you boat.

After enjoying a great day sailing around Kauai, we spent the rest of the day swimming at other beaches in southern Kauai.

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Kauai Day 1

It’s finally time to blog about one of my favorite places in the world, Kauai! My husband and I went to Kauai and the Big Island for our honeymoon in September.  Originally, when our other plans fell through I turned up my nose at the idea of going to Hawaii for our honeymoon because it suggested we were a hum drum typical honeymooner couple.  I was soooo wrong!  Hawaii is everything that everyone talks about and more. Because each island is vastly different it’s possible to visit three different climates on one island in one day. Contrary to popular belief, Hawaii isn’t just for couples, and really offers a ton of activity for any adventurous traveler.

As we began to plan out our Hawaii vacation we realized that you really do need about a week on every island because there is so much to do on each one!

We  began our trip in Kauai. Kauai is where the idea for this blog was born. My husband and I were hiking one of the best trails in America on the North Shore of Kauai when we both said to each other that we wish travel planning and itinerary sharing was much easier, and so an idea was born.

Kauai is vividly beautiful, it’s where they filmed the incoming shots of Jurassic Park.  It is also a moody island as clouds roll in frequently on the North Shore and rain is an everyday occurrence.  The South Shore on the other hand (i.e. Poipu) is sunny and cheery pretty much everyday. Kauai is the western most island in Hawaii and the west side of Kauai is the western most point of the United States. The island is very small, about 50 miles all around, but renting a car will make your trip all the more easier and fun.

Below is day 1 from our Kauai itinerary.  I hope you enjoy reading and dreaming. Please comment if you any tips as well!

Where to stay

Because we were on a honeymoon and wanted a nicer place to stay for this leg of our journey we chose the Grand Hyatt in Poipu (south side of Kauai). The Grand Hyatt has great service, delicious brunch, and is near Poipu beach, which has some of the best snorkeling and body boarding on the Island.  But, when I go back next time, I may switch gears and stay on the North end of the Island at the Princeville, which is a bit more dramatic. In the alternative, there are a ton of b&bs on the island that probably offer a better rate than the chains. (ie. check out frugal traveler at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/12/28/travel/frugal-traveler-a-cottage-of-one-s-own-in-kauai.html?pagewanted=1)

Regardless of where you stay on the island, it’s fairly small and you can get around easily to either side as long as you rent a car.

What to do

Day 1 – Poipu Beach

Wake up early and grab brunch at your hotel’s buffet or check out Kalaheo Cafe and Coffee Company for an awesome cheap brunch of pancakes/eggs. Kauai has some of the best coffee (in fact we brought several bags home) so enjoy it while you’re there! http://www.kalaheo.com/

Drive to Poipu Beach (less than 3 or 4 miles from the Grand Hyatt- your gps will recognize this beach if you enter in places/recreation). Rent your snorkeling gear from the local shop to the left of the parking lot if you don’t have your own ($6 daily rentals). Poipu offers some of the best snorkeling on Kauai. The water is shallow and calm, which allows you to swim out to the little reef and observe all the native fish in their habitat. On our first day snorkeling there, we saw a ton of fish, and a few sea turtles. We did this all for $6 a person, without a tour guide or a boat taking us to some remote location.

After you tire of the snorkeling, and chilling on the beach, walk down the road to Brennecke’s Beach, which is literally part of the same park as Poipu Beach.  http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g29218-d155134-Reviews-Brennecke_s_Beach-Kauai_Hawaii.html

Brennecke’s is one of the top body surfing and body boarding places in the world. The waves break throughout the year consistently because of the sheltered cove that it is sits on.  On an interesting day, you’ll see local kids riding the waves like pros and tackling each wave with a lack of fear. My husband literally probably stayed in the water for 4 hours straight just riding the waves. What makes this beach ridiculously fun is the backlash wave from the rocks on the beach, which allows people to ride 2 waves simultaneously at the same time. Even if you’re a bit timid of the water, Brennecke’s is still fairly shallow, so novice swimmers could get in the water and ride a few waves on their boogie boards.

After a rollicking day in Poipu, if you’re in the mood for an upscale nice dinner, try a nice Italian dinner outdoors at Donderos.http://kauai.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/entertainment/restaurants/index.jsp#1823

Check out Frugal Traveler’s article for more tips..http://travel.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/travel/27Hawaii.html?ex=1359262800&en=afd4eefbbcb6a0a0&ei=5124&partner=permalink&exprod=permalink

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As winter descends on the city and snow blankets the ground, I wouldn’t mind escaping to a sunny beach where I can forget about the winter chill and have a mai tai. The following itinerary from my friend Elizabeth highlights how easy it is to escape from the city and find your inner beach diva. For more tips on the newest websites and blogs that compile travel data for savy travelers check back to my blog for my newest post.

72 Hours in the Dominican Republic
Friday morning
Fly JetBlue from JFK to Santo Domingo.

Friday afternoon
Arrive in Santo Domingo, buy $10 mandatory tourist pass, breeze through customs. A DR rum maker greeted us with free drinks on the other side, which many of us proceeded to consume while standing in line for rental cars. (The drinks were fairly light and it took about 45 minutes to get the car we reserved at Hertz. My traveling companion — and driver — abstained, leaving me with two…excellent).

We had reserved a compact car. In retrospect, this was insane. DO NOT attempt this trip without an SUV. Seriously. If you don’t mind getting poured on, and don’t have much luggage, a motorcycle, dirtbike or horse would all be more reasonable than a compact car.

Google maps had basically no roads other than major highways, and our host (Walter @ Rancho La Cueva) had provided only the following directions:

Hato Mayor – Seibo – Miches – El Cedro (24 kilometers in direction Higuey) – Playa Limon (500 meters after El Cedro you find the entrance to the beach Playa Limon – 4 kilometers to the Hotel La Cueva)

So, we paid the extra $30 or so for 3 days of GPS. Unfortunately, ours didn’t work – it seemed to think that no matter which way we were driving, it was always North. (While the egocentrist in me appreciated this, the traveler who did not want to be lost in dowtown Santo Domingo – the opposite direction from where we needed to go – did not. We also felt pretty silly having followed the GPS when we could see the ocean and ought to have known which way was which…).

We finally found our way out of Santo Domingo and back onto Highway 3 East along the south coast. We drove east along Highway 3 and then made a left onto Highway 4 in San Pedro de Macoris, parting ways with the pack of travelers bound for the resorts in the Southeast (Romana, Punta Cana, etc). We drove North along Highway 4 to Hato Mayor and then continued following it East to El Seibo. In El Seibo, locals pointed us to a detour to get to Highway 107 North to Miches (pronounced “Mee-chay”) because the usual entrance was blocked with piles of dirt.

This is when the road quality deteriorated severely, and it started getting dark. This is also where we stopped to ask for directions from a member of the Dominican military and ended up with him in our back seat. We dropped him off in a town halfway to Miches and continued on along an increasingly unfinished/potholed, winding mountain road. (We’d strongly advise making this drive in daylight. It’s quite scenic, and a lot easier to deal with the road quality).

We got to Miches in pitch darkness and again got out to ask locals for directions to El Cedro/Playa Limon. (There are extremely few street signs and, in any event, we didn’t have that level of specificity in our directions). We eventually got on our way to El Cedro and, shortly after passing El Cedro, found the entrance to the road to Rancho La Cueva (after a few turnarounds and chats with locals). The road to Rancho La Cueva is entirely unpaved and not of insignicant length.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot at Rancho La Cueva, a chorus of cheers went up from the small group of fellow travelers who were congregating in the dining area. They greeted us warmly in Spanish and we were promptly presented with more rum and, not long after that, freshly fried fish and accompaniments. Everyone was patient with our lack of Spanish skills and encouraged our halting attempts to participate in the conversation.

We had a few too many and went to bed (US$40 for a double room).

Saturday morning

We slept in Saturday morning, ate a quick breakfast (US$6 each for eggs, cheese, ham and toast) and then headed back to Mitches to get cash – about an hour and a half round trip (Rancho La Cueva takes DR dollars and US dollars but nothing else, and there is no closer ATM). (We took out DR$15,000 – approximately US$500 – and it was more than enough for the weekend).

We returned, walked to the beach (Playa Limon), where we didn’t see another soul. We returned to Rancho La Cueva for lunch and a nap. We had mafongo (traditional DR dish of smashed plaintains) and a chicken dish, both of which were fine but not as good as the fish the previous night.

Saturday afternoon

We came down as a group of nuns and a family with two small children returned from an ox-driven cart ride around the (large) property, and decided to join the remaining folks for a ride.

Afterwards, we had an excellent dinner of lobster and fish over more conversation with the other guests, followed by the delicious dulces postres (some sort of sweet coconut concoction – highly recommended if avaialable). We had a few Presidente beers and then turned in early.

Sunday morning

After another US$6 breakfast and coffee, we went horseback riding (US$10) along the beach. It was incredible. We asked to go a bit faster; we went up to a trot and it felt (to this inexperienced rider who hasn’t been on a horse since she was six) like we were flying. No helmets, no instructions.

Sunday mid-day

We settled up (US$250 all-in) and had difficulty figuring out what to do about a tip. We left a tip with a member of the staff, who didn’t seem to understand why we were leaving more money than the amount on the bill. At the airport later on, a restuarant menu noted a 10% ‘legal’ “propina”…

Sunday afternoon

We drove back the way we came, stopping on the highway from Miches at a restaurant (Oasis) that had been crowded both times we had driven by. We had very good chicken and what I think was goat (chivo/chiva?) for about US$5 each and Coca-Cola. The bathrooms were clean and stocked with green soap in a plastic cup.

We picked up yummy, fresh dulce de leche for DR$500.

Driving back on the way to San Pedro de Macoris, our tire blew out somewhere south of Hato Mayor after a particularly rough pothole. We pulled over and were immediately surrounded by locals wanting to assist. Although we had a spare tire and the relevant equipment, it was actually really helpful to have a crowd to alert other cars and bikes as they came flying by so they would steer around us a bit and not hit us while we were kneeling down around the tire. The women were eager to chat (in Spanish or French) and the men eager to help; the children seemed mostly curious to watch the entertainment. At the end, the two smallest boys did hang around a bit, and asked hopefully for money, but none of the adults did…all in all consistent with the interactions we had with the folks we talked to along the way.

We continued along our way, still a bit ahead of schedule despite the flat, and took a short detour through Boca Chica (which has history but has been eclipsed by the resorts farther east) before getting gas and returning our rental car at the airport. The GPS folks (conversing in Spanish only) gave us a customer service number to call to try (which we haven’t done yet); the Hertz folks were very professional in dealing (in English) with the tire.

We picked up cheap liquor and cigars at the duty-free shop but had less luck with cologne (a lot of the testers were empty; no tester strips out…). We had a couple of drinks at Mango, an unsurprisingly mediocre airport restaurant that reminded me a bit of the quality level in many of the places in Penn Station.

All in all, a good adventure if you want a bit more local flavor and are willing to sacrifice the ease of the resorts farther east to get it.

Sunday late night

Arrive at JFK; quick trip through customs and immigration and no wait for a cab back home to Jackson Heights.

Editor’s Note – for more info on planning your DR vacation check out this informative article from the NYTIMES at http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/travel/25dominican.html?scp=2&sq=dominican%20republic&st=tcse and Travel Muse at http://www.travelmuse.com/plan/discover.htm?dpath=/tag/destination/DO/00-dominican-republic.xml&&dname=Dominican%20Republic, a newer travel site that lets you search the web for travel tips and save it to your own tripfolio.

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