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March 08, 2011

Moons Over Mexico: Five Reasons the Yucatan Breaks Stereotypes

Mayan Ruins,Yucatan(Shannon Donnelly)-can use as much as we like
The remnants of one of the greatest indigenous cultures of the ancient Americas, Mayan ruins are scattered throughout Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula (Shannon Donnelly)

It's a common (and unfortunate) misconception among many wary travelers that all of Mexico is either violently unsafe or unauthentically commercialized. And while this may be true of many areas, we determined discoverers don't give up so easily at the mention of such mass generalizations. And that's how we've come to love the Yucatan. Here are five reasons to look past the beachfront mega-resorts and racks of sombreros of Quintanna Roo hot spots like Cancun and the Riviera Maya and travel deeper into the Mexican countryside.

The cosmopolitan and culturally vibrant city of Mérida is located about four hours west of Cancun on the Yucatan's lesser-trammeled Gulf Coast. A home to many expats, the city is not without its modern-day deprivations (there's a Wal-Mart and Home Depot lurking on the outskirts of town), but it's in the heart of the city where you'll find architecture, culture, and history beyond compare. Be sure to visit the breathtaking campus of the Yucatan University, check out the 100-year-old churches hidden in every square, and visit the Anthropology Museum. Perhaps most importantly, however, be downtown on a Friday or Saturday night when the streets are closed down and Mariachi bands, food and handmade souvenir stalls, as well as hundreds of festival-goers speckle the streets.

Merida Travel Guide

Continue reading "Moons Over Mexico: Five Reasons the Yucatan Breaks Stereotypes" »

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Related Topics: Central America Travel · Mexico Travel

January 14, 2011

Best Belizean Bed & Breakfasts on a Budget

By Guest Blogger

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Rio Frio River, Cayo District, Belize, Central America, National Geographic 72768541
Rio Frio River, Cayo District, Belize (National Geographic)

You might consider Belize to be the sole domain of honeymooners ready to splash the cash at exclusive eco-lodges and beachside villas. Or you may think of this Central American country as a hippy hangout for backpackers seeking a spot to pitch their tent or hang a hammock. You'd be right to assume Belize caters to both ends of the spectrum. But what if you want to stay somewhere clean, charming, and comfortable without breaking the bank or returning to your student days? Belize caters to you comfort-seekers as well. Characterful lodging can be surprisingly affordable and suitably stylish in this Caribbean-facing oasis, provided you're in the know. Here are five of the best bed and breakfasts in each of Belize's five districts.

Crooked Tree Lodge
Crooked Tree, Belize District
Double room from $60
One of my favourite B&Bs in Belize is perched on the southeastern edge of Crooked Tree lagoon. All five hand-crafted, hardwood cabanas—with lagoon-facing verandas—are tastefully decorated in neutral tones with soft, ivory bed linen. Embroidered, sequined textiles—fashioned into wall-hangings—add a touch of sparkle. Born and raised in Crooked Tree, owner Angie Webb serves excellent, home-cooked meals in the open-plan lodge, decorated with eclectic artwork from husband Mick's travels (they met when he was serving in Belize with the British army). I sat out by the fire pit and shared stories with the Webb family as night fell and wildlife called. I wouldn't leave without going birding by canoe with their neighbor and friend, Glenn Crawford. This gracious gent is one of Belize's best birding experts.

Hickatee Cottages
Punta Gorda, Toledo District
Double room from $60
When a business is a labor of love it shows. Owners Ian and Kate Morton could easily charge more for their beautiful Caribbean-style cottages, but of course I hope they don't. They're equipped with comfortable beds, soft cotton linens, local rattan and hardwood furniture, and ceiling fans (no A/C). With fantastic food—including Kate's Belizean breakfast pastries—and complimentary tea and coffee delivered to your garden-facing verandah every morning, you'll wonder what the catch is. As far as I can deduce, there isn't one. This delightful British couple's unmistakable passion for Belize makes them keen to share Toledo's natural and cultural treasures. Borrow a bike to explore Punta Gorda, Belize's southernmost district capital, or take a stroll on their carefully tended trails. They're really plugged into Toledo life—comes in handy when you need help deciphering those elusive village buses to get you to the nearby Lubaantun ruins or sparkling waterfalls just like a local.

Continue reading "Best Belizean Bed & Breakfasts on a Budget" »

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Related Topics: Central America Travel

December 08, 2010

Luxury Belizean Jungle Jaunts

By Guest Blogger

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Cayo—Belize's largest district—conceals a magnificent history of memorable lodging. The ancient Maya made their homes here inside epic citadels from Caracol to Xunantunich. Modern visitors not only come to admire these early civilizations, they seek out total relaxation among the foothills of the Maya mountains and along the jungle-fringed coast.

You don't have to rough it to convene with nature in Belize. Here are four jaw-droppingly elegant eco lodges from each of Belize's cardinal points to get you into its varied and verdant landscape.

West is Best: Hidden Valley InnHidden valley
Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve; double rooms from $165.
Western Belize is bursting with exemplary jungle lodges but I believe Hidden Valley has the edge. This birders' haven hides out inside the Mountain Pine Ridge within a 7,200-acre private reserve. Its guides are among the best in Belize. Service is personal, attentive, and sincere, making it possible to learn the names of every member of staff after only a two-night stay. Even a cup of coffee, grown on the reserve, is roasted just for the guest. Ninety miles of creative trails, cut by landscaper Peter Durhager, enable guests to explore this hidden valley—on foot or by bike—without seeing another soul. Peter is no longer maintaining the trails (it's being handled internally by the hotel) and, while he lived in South Africa for many years, his nationality is Austrian. Sociable sorts chat by the fireplace (it can get surprisingly chilly at night), which forms the bar's focal point. Alternatively, cozy up by your private hearth in one of 12 cottages nestled in the grounds. For extra comfort, two deluxe suites include elegantly screened porches, slung with hammocks for hanging out with a good book. Outside showers mimic the reserve's natural cascades. Romantically minded guests reserve private waterfalls for the day ($120 including lunch and sparkling wine). Find your inner peace on one of their yoga pavilions, in handy hiking distance of the lodge.
(Photo Credit: Hidden Valley Inn)

Continue reading "Luxury Belizean Jungle Jaunts" »

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Related Topics: Central America Travel · Eco-Tourism

November 26, 2010

Hotel Spotlight: Jicaro Island Ecolodge

By Lacy Morris

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(Jicaro Island Ecolodge)

Jicaro Island is part of Nicaragua's Las Isletas Archipelago, some 365 tiny islands formed in 1570 when the northeast wall of the erupting Mombacho volcano started to avalanche, sending debris spewing into nearby Lake Nicaragua. Four hundred and thirty-seven years later, Karen Emanuel, a London native, noticed a flyer in a restaurant proclaiming "Island for Sale," and in early 2010 her dream became reality in the form of Jicaro Island Ecolodge, a secluded island retreat. Nine private two-story casitas line the outskirts of the island, the top floor being a romantic king-size bedroom looking out onto the lake. They are made entirely from Rainforest Alliance-certified wood reclaimed from timber that fell as a result of 2007's Hurricane Felix—sticking true to the resort's philosophy of "Take only photos; leave only footprints; try to do something to help preserve this amazing world we live in." Jicaro employs local staff and uses local vegetables, fruit, chicken, and beef in their fine-dining kitchen—all of which is included in your room rate. No air conditioning (it's not needed with the breeze from the lake), solar-panel heating, and a strong recycling program are all Karen's efforts to participate in sustainable tourism.

Check out's Top Ecolodges Guide for other resorts like Jicaro around the world.  

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Related Topics: Central America Travel · Eco-Tourism

April 21, 2010

In the Saddle: Biking the Americas Q&A


Working in the travel industry, I have the privilege to visit, explore, and read about some of the world's great destinations. I also have the good fortune to meet the people out there experiencing the trips and places we love. Witness 25-year-old Chip Albright, a Van Wert, Ohio, native who has been traveling the world for over four years and is currently over halfway through his quest to bike the Americas from north to south. We caught up with Chip via email in Baja, Mexico, on his way north toward the U.S. border after over a year in the saddle. You can follow Chip's progress toward his final destination, Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, at

Away: Where are you now?
Chip Albright: I am currently on the east coast of Baja, Mexico, in the small little village of Santa Rosalía, heading north on Highway 1. I'm about 600 miles south of the U.S.-Mexico border in Tijuana.

What's next on your adventure?
Next on the list is the United States, starting with southern California. Once I cross the border, I will head up through Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve before traversing Arizona from the west and entering southwestern Colorado through the Four Corners region. Colorado is going to be a treat, with six mountain ascents ranging from 8,000 to 10,000 feet. I will also be biking through Rocky National Park and making my way up into Wyoming, where I'll stop in Yellowstone National Park before hitting Glacier National Park in Montana.

Tell us a bit more about your journey.
The idea to bike from South America's southernmost point (in Argentina) to North America northernmost point (in Alaska) started over a handful of beers with my roommate, Chris Foster, while we were enjoying ski season in Wanaka, New Zealand. Before we knew it, it was Christmas Day 2008 and we were starting this journey up the Americas from Patagonia in southern Argentina. The idea started with two guys shooting the breeze, which then turned from a "what if?" to a "why not?" Fourteen months later, I'm still trucking along toward Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.

Continue reading "In the Saddle: Biking the Americas Q&A" »

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Related Topics: Central America Travel · Dispatches from the Road · Mexico Travel · Outdoor Adventures · South America Travel

March 19, 2010

Water While Traveling: What You Need to Know to Stay Healthy

By WorldNomads

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Editor's Note: Thanks to Chris Cranshaw, founder of Hydropal, for providing this information. Chris is a seasoned traveler who has been working to help the environment and provide safe drinking water for 15 years.

Water is something most of us take for granted until we step on a plane and head out into the world. Then we suddenly realize that this precious liquid so necessary to sustain life can also cause serious ill health and even worse.

Nothing ruins a good trip like a bout of diarrhea, nausea, feeling totally exhausted, feverish, and in no mood for anything but bed! Waterborne illness is one of the leading sources of health problems for travelers, and can have serious immediate consequences and after-effects for months.

Where are you at risk?
High-risk areas include Central America, most of Africa and Asia and the Middle East. Moderate-risk areas include Eastern Europe, Russia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, and the Caribbean. Even developed countries aren't necessarily risk-free.

Basically if you want to be safe, assume the worst and plan accordingly.

Continue reading "Water While Traveling: What You Need to Know to Stay Healthy" »

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Related Topics: Africa Travel · Asia Travel · Central America Travel · South America Travel · Travel Tips

February 01, 2010

The Coastal Challenge: Route of Fire

By Guest Blogger

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Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, Erika Lloyd
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica (Erika Lloyd)

Editor's note: blogger Ty Stevens is keeping us, and you, posted on his epic race through coastal Costa Rica, jungle and all. His first post is below. Check back often for updates on the race and the sights and sounds of Costa Rica.

My resolution in 2010: fruition. 

The first commitment: to complete The Coastal Challenge, a six-day foot race covering 200k+ of exotic and varied Costa Rican countryside. This epic event is hosted by TCC Adventures & Expeditions, an adventure travel company that offers a variety of purpose-driven adventure events in Costa Rica, Panama, and Bolivia. Its mission is to inspire authentic adventure and discovery through some of the most breathtaking, remote, and challenging running routes in the world. 

Continue reading "The Coastal Challenge: Route of Fire" »

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Related Topics: Central America Travel · Dispatches from the Road

January 28, 2010

Top Five Family Vacations, From a 12-Year-Old Perspective

NZ_Arthur's Pass sheep herd_Simon Russell-Photodisc-Getty-83298051
HERD CROSSING: Bring your brood to Arthur's Pass, New Zealand, where sheep have the right-of-way (Simon Russell/Getty)

As the founder of an adventure-travel company, I often have the chance to speak with our guests about their travels. One question I hear a lot is, "How do I know if my kids are ready for a trip to Europe?" (or Costa Rica, or New Zealand, or Peru...)

A recent conversation I had with my oldest son illustrates why I think it's never too soon to introduce kids to the big, wide world.

Jack, now 12, has been traveling abroad with us since he was an infant. (In his first passport photo, aged 11 months, he's wearing a Winnie the Pooh sleeper.) On a recent river-rafting trip, I seized just the right father-son moment to ask him which trips he remembers most fondly and why. With little or no prompting, he offered me the short list of his all-time top five.

5. New Zealand's South Island
While you won't spot any hobbits from the Lord of the Rings movies that were shot here, the whole family will find plenty of miraculous discoveries. Walk on amazing beaches, swim with the world's smallest dolphins, and explore a parrot-filled jungle with its own glacier. At a high-country sheep station, you can spend the day checking on baby lambs and watching the sheepdogs do their work. There's even jet-boat rides on the Dart River. Adults can enjoy sipping their way through award-winning wineries as well as some of the most scenic walks on Earth. New Zealand is a friendly country that captures the imaginations of all ages.

Continue reading "Top Five Family Vacations, From a 12-Year-Old Perspective" »

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Related Topics: Africa Travel · Central America Travel · Exotic Escapes · Family Vacation · Outdoor Adventures · South America Travel · Trip Ideas

January 26, 2010

Five Great Reasons to Visit Panama

By Guest Blogger

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Panama Beach (Barefoot Panama) STRAND US HERE: The crystal-clear waters of Panama (Barefoot Panama)

1) Accessibility
Panama is a crossroads between the Americas and is served by major airlines with direct flights from countries including the United States, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom. It is only two and a half hours from Miami and four from Houston. An increasing number of flights to Panama mean they're getting less expensive, too. Most people don't need a visa, just a $5 tourist card that you can buy at the airport for single-entry tourist visits (note U.S. citizens now require a passport valid for up to 90 days). You can also travel by bus to Panama from Costa Rica and fly or take a boat from Colombia. With Spain, France, the U.S., and many other countries influencing the history of this country, you will find a lot of people speak more than one language. The currency is the U.S. dollar, officially known as the balboa though locals also colloquially use the term dólar.

Continue reading "Five Great Reasons to Visit Panama" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Central America Travel

November 04, 2009

Belize: Top 5 Insider Travel Tips

TRUE BLUE: Diving the Blue Hole, Belize (Nathan Borchelt)

This guest post comes courtesy of Joshua Berman, author of the recently updated Moon Belize travel guidebook.

- 1. If you find yourself on a tight budget after the plane fare to Belize blew most of your wad, choose a budget accommodation from the Toucan Trail, an association of small, often family-run hotels in Belize that charge less than $60 per night. Despite Belize's reputation for being an expensive Central America destination, there are over 100 of these budget options, located throughout the country. Saving money on your hotel every night means you can devote more cash to tours, activities, and restaurants.

- 2. Go on a cave trip in Cayo. The jungle-draped pyramids of Xunantunich and Caracol archeological sites are the most obvious above-ground attractions in Belize's western highlands, also known as the Cayo District. But to get a peek at Xibalba—the Maya underworld—grab a headlamp and sign up for a trip to one of the area's numerous caves. Each is different—some caves, like Barton Creek, you float through in canoes; others, like Actun Tunichil Muknal, force you to hike, swim, crawl, and climb to reach its treasures. Most caving companies are based next door to each other on Burns Avenue in San Ignacio, the area's main town.

Continue reading "Belize: Top 5 Insider Travel Tips" »

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Central America Travel · Scuba & Snorkeling

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