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May 22, 2012

Don't Believe the Hype: Mexico Is Safe

A deserted beach on Isla Espiritu Santo (Nathan Borchelt)

The grisly discovery of 49 decapitated bodies in northern Mexico understandably populated national headlines last week. But one very important fact gets lost amid the gore and violence: Parts of Mexico are still perfectly safe.

Two weeks ago—the same time that the gruesome discovery was made just outside of San Pedro—I was in La Paz, Mexico. This gem of a city sits on the southern Baja peninsula, a world away from the drug wars unfolding across Mexico’s northern mainland. In La Paz, as well as throughout Baja Sur, crime is exceptionally low; the murder rate for South Baja is 2.58 per 100,000 people, which is lower than Los Angeles (9.6), Detroit (18.1), and Washington D.C. (24), according to the FBI Uniform Crime Report.

La Paz also defies another common perception of Mexico. Though it’s only two hours from Cabo San Lucas—a realm of time-shares, congested traffic, and towering, all-inclusive resorts—La Paz embraces an island mentality more akin to the Caribbean than Mexico. Clear coastline rims the city of 200,000, with a long boardwalk—or Malacón—that attracts local families who wander up and down the walkway, playing soccer in the sand, watching the setting sun, and embracing the cool breeze that rolls off the Gulf of California. Kayakers and stand-up paddlers ply the mellow waters, while locals and tourists at the waterfront Bismarkcito restaurant dine on fresh ceviche, fish tacos, and the famed chocolate clams, best eaten from the shell with a spray of fresh lime and a dollop of soy and habañero hot sauce.

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Related Topics: Mexico Travel · Outdoor Adventures · Scuba & Snorkeling · Travel Raves

September 29, 2011

Top Five Adventures in Bonaire (Besides SCUBA)

By Guest Blogger

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Bonaire Dive Community (Thinkstock)

Divers have been doing their best to keep Bonaire a secret for decades. They've long considered this Dutch municipality in the Caribbean a veritable home away from home, and happily allowed the rest of the world to think its highly protected reef park is the only thing going for it. But today Bonaire is on the rise, and non-divers are starting to take notice.

From incredible island hiking to world-class windsurfing, Bonaire is an all-around outdoor paradise. Better yet, unlike neighboring Aruba and Curacao, there's not a chain hotel in sight, and its easy roads and well-marked attractions make it eminently explorable, with or without a tour guide. Throw in super-friendly, Dutch-infused locals with an infectious love for their natural landscape, and you've got the DIY traveler's trifecta.'s Bonaire Travel Guide

Explore Bonaire for yourself with this lineup of the island's top five outdoor adventures—no SCUBA tanks required.

1. Washington Slagbaai National Park
With rolling desert hills and towering cactuses dominating the landscape, the rugged Washington Slagbaai National Park feels more like the American southwest than the Caribbean, except for one thing: You can't turn the bend of a dusty West Texas trail to find a deserted white-sand beach where rolling waves seem to be catered to body surfing. From hiking and mountain biking to bird watching, kayaking and cliff jumping, this park has adventures to top any visitor's must-do list. Car- and bike-friendly roads run alongside hiking trails that include a flat walk through the prickly pears out to Chikita Beach and a not-so-flat climb to the top of Branderis, the island's highest point. Aside from the visitor center at the entrance, the only facilities are found at Slaagbai, a white sand beach on the west side of the park with a single food vendor and picnic area among historic harbor buildings.'s Washington Slagbaai National Park Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Caribbean Travel · Scuba & Snorkeling · Trip Ideas

August 29, 2011

See Migrating Whale Sharks—At a Discount

The big migration: A whale shark as it passes through the waters off Cancun (Villa del Parmar)

Villa del Palmar Cancun just announced a $500 reduction in their annual Whale Shark Adventure Package, which runs through this September.  For $1,598, you get five days and four nights at this plush resort, along with easy access to the migrating whale sharks. Personally, we think swimming with those massive fish is reason enough to drop everything and head south. But the resort sweetens the deal with a cache of other options, like two 50-minute massages, round-trip airport transfers, use of all non-motorized water and land toys, and more. All meals, snacks, and premium-brand alcoholic beverages are covered, and up to two children under 12 stay and eat for free when with their parents.

Editor's Note: An earlier draft referred to whale sharks as "mammals". They are, in fact, fish; their name refers to their massive size.  Thanks to ND Buffington

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Cheap All-Inclusive Trips · Cheap Trip Ideas · Scuba & Snorkeling · Travel Deals

August 19, 2010

Do the Great Barrier Reef in Style

Great Barrier Reef(Jeff Hunter,Photogs Choice,Getty)
Great Barrier Reef divers (Jeff Hunter)

If the Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Wonders of the World, then spending the night on a boat above it should be the eighth. Unlike other live-aboard experiences being offered up and down Northeastern Australia, Fantasea Adventure Cruising is less about how many dives you can log a day and more about having a good time. The docked pontoon is located 45 miles off the coast of Queensland and sleeps a maximum of six guests. Every Reef Sleep booking comes with your own host who is on hand to prepare your first-class meals and to organize activities (snorkeling, scuba diving, or extras like helicopter rides and massages). The Fantasea is also open every morning to a boatload of day-trip guests shuttled from shore to the pontoon, where they can explore the reef and enjoy the submarine viewing station, waterslide, and buffet meal. But when the boat pulls out after lunch, the only people left are the overnight guests.

My husband and I did this during our travels through Australia, and because of the unseasonal weather we had the place to ourselves, with the exception of the staff. One staff member was a 27-year-old American who had been living in Australia for the past six years, the last three working as Fantasea's onboard marine biologist. We asked Dominique about her experience and what it was like living and working Down Under.

What brought you to Australia?
I came here for school. I'm originally from Tucson, Arizona, but I did my post grad and two masters (one in ecotourism and the other in marine biology) nearby in Townsville at James Cook University.

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Related Topics: Exotic Escapes · Scuba & Snorkeling

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.

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

May 22, 2009

Video: Freediving World Record Set at 288 Feet!

In April of 2009 an astounding mark was set at the Vertical Blue freediving competition in the Bahamas. Will Trubridge established a new world record for constant-weight, no-fin freediving at 288 feet. Check out this video of the dive in its eerie, utterly inhuman entirety here:

As Trubridge explains in the YouTube comments, the reason he starts to sink at the 1:20 mark is because, at a depth of around 60 meters, the body becomes negatively buoyant, letting him free fall the rest of the way. But, Trubridge explains, "This obviously works against you in the ascent, as you feel heavy after the turn at the bottom and have to swim all the way back to the surface." He also wears nose plugs and liquid-filled goggles to reduce the degree of equalization needed as he descends.

The deepest I've ever been is 110 feet—and that was with a full scuba tank. This guy, he's just amazing.

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Related Topics: Caribbean Travel · From Around the Web · Outdoor Adventures · Scuba & Snorkeling · Travel Videos

May 07, 2009

Greater Fort Lauderdale Really Is Greater

Pompano Beach Pier (courtesy, Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau)

Have you ever been to Pompano Beach? It's one of those waterfront towns, perhaps the quirkiest and most colorful of a string of beach communities that make up Greater Fort Lauderdale. And it is pretty great. It's the kind of Atlantic seaside community that put Florida on the tourism map. It's the kind of place that hard-working Americans with families travel to on vacation and then vow to one day retire in. It's like Miami’s South Beach—in 1960.

It’s also one of the great, warm-water dive destinations (80-plus degrees) in the continental United States. No, the coral reefs are not as rich as they used to be, not by any means, but there’s still some biological diversity below the surface. And it’s a great, non-threatening place to learn to dive. The folks that run the dive shops are cool and fun to hang with.

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Florida Vacation · Scuba & Snorkeling

August 12, 2008

Cenote Excursions: Perfect Rain or Shine

By Liza Prado

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LIGHT IN THE TUNNEL: Cave diving, Riviera Maya, Mexico (courtesy,

The Riviera Maya is world renowned for its spectacular white sand beaches, where you can spend weeks on end laying in the sun, margarita in one hand, trashy novel in the other. But there will be days when it rains. Or simply days when you want a break from the beach. Cenote diving or snorkeling is a perfect alternative if you're looking to do something different.

Cenotes are sinkholes that are carved out of the Riviera Maya's extensive underground river system. They line the coast from Playa del Carmen all the way to Tulum. All are filled with crystalline water and often are connected to one another by tunnels. Some are open air, but the best, at least in my opinion, are those in caves and caverns.

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Mexico Travel · Scuba & Snorkeling

March 19, 2008

Snorkeling With Whale Sharks off Isla Holbox (Mexico)

By Liza Prado

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"When the captain cuts the engine, jump out of the boat and start swimming as fast as you can," said our guide. We'd been on the water since daybreak and had just arrived at the site. I looked out over what appeared to be a sea of floating mattresses. Huge ones... all moving. We were bobbing above a shoal of 30-foot-long whale sharks. I adjusted my mask and snorkel and asked, again, "You're sure they won't hurt us, right?"

I was in the middle of a two-month tour of the Yucatán with my husband, and we'd seen an island on the map—Isla Holbox—that we'd never heard of. On a whim, we went. A three-hour bus ride from Cancun and a quick ferry ride landed us in the sort of place people dream of: a one town island with sand streets, no cars, Caribbean-style clapboard houses, a handful of eco-friendly hotels, and miles and miles of windswept beaches. That, and from June to September, one of the best places in the world to see whale sharks. They're the largest fish in the world, growing up to 40 feet and weighing between ten and twenty tons. Fortunately for those wanting to swim alongside them, whale sharks aren't man-eaters, sticking instead to plankton, macro-algae, and krill that they skim off of the surface. Tour operators also follow strict conservation guidelines to prevent stressing out the sharks; only two snorkelers and a guide are allowed in the water with any individual whale shark and the duration and number of swim-alongs are limited.

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Related Topics: Beach Vacation · Scuba & Snorkeling

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