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June 20, 2012

What to Drink in Puerto Rico

As the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and countless Captain Morgan commercials testify, rum is the drink of the Caribbean. But if you’re like me—cursed in college by a night of ill-advised overindulgence—rum is palatable only when disguised in a mixed drink like a piña colada or a dark and stormy. Until, that is, I went to Puerto Rico.

It was late evening, and after wandering the cobblestone streets of San Juan for a few hours, I searched out a bar stool at El Batey, a dive near the famed El Convento Hotel. Medalla Light, the local beer, is surprising flavorful… but I needed a bit more punch to cut through my aching feet (those scenic cobblestones can take its toll), so I ordered my standby: Jameson’s on the rocks.

“Why don’t you try the local rum,” said the bartender, a brusk young woman with a mop of brown curls made wild by the island humidity. She wore a New York Knicks jersey, and carried herself as if she hailed from the edgier part of the Lower East Side; her suggestion was more a command than a question.

I said sure, figuring I’d muscle through what I predicted to be the sickly-sweet, oh-so-uninspired rum on the rocks placed before me.

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Related Topics: Food and Drink · Travel Raves

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

January 16, 2012

The Freshly Minted Feel of Paradisus in Playa del Carmen

La Esmerelda, Paradisus, in Playa Del Carmen

New resorts, somewhat like new cars, have a different feel than those that have a few tourist seasons under their belts. Everything is neat, clean, and pristine, yet lacking that certain lived-in feeling. The staff is on their toes and fresh out of training but miss the little things, like pointing a sleepy-eyed wanderer in the direction of the nearest coffee bar at 7 a.m. For the past three days, I was at a conference in the freshly minted Paradisus Resort in the Grand Coral resort enclave just north of Playa Del Carmen. It had a soft opening November 15, and the road into the lush, humongous compound is still under construction, passing through a neighborhood of concrete block housing before arriving at the marble gates of the resort. Paradisus is split into two sides: kid-friendly La Esmerelda and adults-only La Perla. No small amount of confusion comes from the fact that the layout, even some of the restaurant names, are nearly identical on both sides. Thankfully, La Esmerelda and La Perla’s 906 suites, 16 restaurants, 12 bars, and numerous wrap-around pools and cabanas come with plenty of "You Are Here" maps. You can hardly walk through this all-inclusive resort without tripping over a swanky padded lounge chair. If you do, chances are you’ll have a waiter standing over you offering margaritas or cervezas before you can get up. At times during my stay, it seemed like the hotel had more staff than guests. When not stuck in conference rooms, my days at Paradisus consisted of reading by the pool in one of the palapa-style cabanas or walking along the turquoise-blue oceanfront just steps from the Gabi nightclub. For all the Mexican hospitality (and it comes in thick here), the place was still too new to really have a soul, and the food left this chili aficionado wanting—with hot dogs, burgers, and other gringo food more common than traditional Mexican fare. Still, though, I couldn’t help applauding the architects and interior decorators for creating such a nouveau riche feel, and luxury travelers looking for a spot to relax for a few days in Caribbean Mexico will be well-served by Paradisus long after that new resort feel melts away.'s Playa del Carmen Travel Guide

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Related Topics: Mexico Travel · Travel Raves · Travel Tips · Trip Ideas

October 06, 2011

New York City for Families: My Top 3

T-Rex at American Museum of Natural History, New York City (asterix611/Flickr)

New York City is the perennial king of worldwide tourist destinations. It's the place of 1,001 different experiences, tastes, sights, sounds, and perspectives. In fact, there's so much to see and do in the Big Apple, that planning a trip there can seem downright bewildering (and hey, urban lore holds that there are some New Yorkers who've never stepped foot off Manhattan). To add to that Tower of Babel stew of opinions about this great city, here are my three favorite travel experiences with kids in tow in New York City. Don't agree? Got more to add? Tell us in the comments section!

Best Place to Learn: American Museum of Natural History, Upper West Side
The American Museum of Natural History is an impressive space that lays out the world and its wonders for ages young and old. As befits a place that explores the natural world from the beginnings of time (and those places in the cosmos beyond temporal constraints), New York's vast American Museum of Natural History requires days of exploration to do it justice. Tourists with only a day (if not, hours) to spare will want to hit the Hayden Planetarium, Milstein Hall of Ocean Life, and dinosaur exhibits on the fourth floor. Plan ahead to see which special exhibits are showing and to help map out your route, so you're not overwhelmed once you arrive. Among the museum's various hands-on kids' installations, the first-floor Discovery Room is an excellent spot in which to while away an hour or more with children ten and younger. Activities include a dino dig (complete with Perspex goggles and archaeology tools) and a fun scavenger hunt around a faux baobab tree. The museum's website is also packed with educational features, downloadable activity kits, and even a link to a free interactive dino app for the iPhone. Pack a picnic and enjoy lunch in adjacent Central Park once you've had your fill of fossils, dioramas, and planets.

American Museum of Natural History Travel Guide

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June 03, 2010 Hosts Twitter's Traveler's Night In (#TNI) on Family Travel

By awayblog

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TravelersNightIn Today will have the pleasure of hosting a Family Travel-themed "Travelers Night In," a.k.a. #TNI, on Twitter. #TNI, is a weekly gathering of travel professionals, connoisseurs, institutions, and wayfarers, every Thursday from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM EST using Twitter. #TNI was started by the travel team at, an online community-based travel website focused on destinations. The format is simple: A host is chosen to ask ten questions every ten minutes on a specific travel-related topic. Participants are encouraged to tweet their answers to the questions followed with the hashtag #TNI, fueling 90 minutes of lively discussion.

How it works
When we participated in our first #TNI on the Worst of Travel a few weeks ago, questions ranged from the resourceful (ex., your best travel tips) to the colorful (ex., your worst luggage disaster). Over the past few weeks of participating, one common theme has emerged, #TNI is less about broadcasting your "travel know-how" and more about sharing stories, tips, to-do's, must-see's and questions with a collective group of individuals who are keen on travel.

How to participate
To join in on this social-media goodness, follow the hashtag #TNI either on Twitter, TweetGrid, or using a third-party app (HootSuite or Tweetdeck, search for #TNI).

This week's topic: Family Travel
While the topic of "family travel" may not seem as spicy as some of the past topics (Worst of Travel, Adventure Travel, Sun and Fun), we've got some fun questions lined up to help de-mystify the good, bad, and occasionally ugly (screaming children, anyone?) of traveling with kids, as well as some helpful tips and lessons learned along the way.

Join us today (Thursday, June 3rd) at 3:30 PM EST on Twitter. Follow us @awayblog for more details!

... if we're not enough to get you jazzed, you can also win a trip to Cancun just by participating!

Yucatán Holidays is sponsoring this week's #TNI. Ten participants will win five days/four nights of hotel accommodation in Cancun for two adults and up to two kids. Winners have the choice of two beautiful hotels: Ocean Spa Hotel or Laguna Suites Golf + Spa!

More details on #TNI, its founders, and future events can be found on the website, here.

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March 16, 2010

Google Announces (Sort of) Bike-Friendly Direction Generator

A Tale of Two Cities: The theoretically bike-friend route generated via Google Maps (left), and the one modified by a bike commuter with ten years on the road.  The short diagonal jag on the right will help my sister avoid the hell that is 16th Street, NW, during rush hour.

Last week Google announced that their mapping system can now generate routes for cyclists. Select “By Bicycle” in the dropdown when getting directions, and the route generated will be the most bike-friendly—at least in theory; a cursory survey of the new feature by five dedicated commuting cyclists in our DC office showed that, while the idea is sound, the suggested routes are less than inspired.   

The map does show three types of bike-friendly routes, each denoted by green lines; solid dark green indicates bike paths, light green marks dedicated bike lanes on a street, and dashed green lines highlight bike-friendly streets. Except that most of the bike lanes in the District of Columbia aren’t marked on the map, and the suggested bike routes either directs you into chaotic traffic or forces you to cycle well out of your way to stick to a dedicated bike path. My sister is about to start biking to work from upper Northwest to Dupont Circle, and Google would have her pedaling down 16th Street for most of her trip, a road that’s so congested during rush hour with daredevil motorists that a cyclist feels like Han Solo dodging asteroids.

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June 22, 2009

Miami's Art Scene

By Karen Chen

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LARGER THAN LIFE: An artist in front of his painting at the ArtCenter/South Florida (Karen Chen)

No one really goes to Miami for the art, do they? It's the beaches, the bars, the booze, and the... bikini-ed babes... that draw hordes to South Beach's golden shores.  But as I'm always on the lookout for great places to satisfy my culture craving—even when my main objective is to get a tan—I'm happy to report that Miami's actually got an art scene that is alive and flourishing.

One of the coolest places in South Beach—and one of the coolest places I've stumbled upon in a long time—was the ArtCenter/South Florida on the popular Lincoln Road pedestrian mall.  We happened upon the unassuming art depot while strolling along the road looking for a place to eat.  If you manage to get away from all the hawkers vying for your business at the restaurants, stop in at these collective artists' studios for a break from the crowds.

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Related Topics: Florida Vacation · Travel Raves

June 08, 2009

Vancouver: A City on the Move

Granville Island in Vancouver (Al Harvey/courtesy, Tourism Vancouver)

Okay, a show of hands: Is there anyone out there who hasn't witnessed how beautiful Vancouver is? If you’ve never been there, go. Take the kids. Show them an extraordinary place.

This way-cool city on Canada’s raw West Coast is pretty much Ground Zero for X-Gamers. Every way-out-there-sport has a venue in this city—from kayaking alongside whales to scare-your-mother mountain biking on the infamous North Shore. Next February, Vancouver hosts the Winter Olympic Games. But the time to visit Vancouver is summer.

From seemingly endless sandy beaches to salmon-spawning streams flowing from tree-lined Olympic ski slopes, Vancouver is a foaming double-espresso of wild nature sprinkled with vibrant city. This is the poster child for the Pacific Northwest. Make that the YouTube clip of the Pacific Northwest, because this is a city on the move. Everyone is cycling, sailing, running, kayaking, swimming, cliff-jumping, golfing, or just plain old paragliding. Life doesn’t get much richer for vacationing families who can't wait to Just Do It.

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Related Topics: Family Vacation · Outdoor Adventures · Travel Raves · Trip Ideas

April 09, 2009

Best Cheap Eats in Washington, D.C.

By Karen Chen

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The back terrace of The Tabard Inn (courtesy, The Tabard Inn)

I was in New York City last weekend and ate at some really great spots, all on the suggestion of friends who lived in the city.  It occurred to me then that the best travel guides for any given place are its residents, especially true for food recommendations if you have friends who love to dine out.  They've already figured out the area's best joints for pizza and burgers, they've sought out the best brunch spots to nurse a hangover with an eggs Benedict and Bloody Mary, and they know which restaurants are really worth the $25 for the salmon fillet and which ones aren't. 

In that spirit, I give you my picks for the best bites in my current hometown (and of the last six and a half years), Washington, D.C.  And to sweeten up the pot, these places are cheap, too.  Sure, some of the best meals you can have in any city will set you back a good $200, but like my philosophy with movies, the tried-and-true favorites are the ones you can go back to over and over again and not get bored—or go bankrupt.  Especially with money as tight as it is for most, all you really need is a good healing bowl of $6 noodle soup. 

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Related Topics: Budget Travel · Food and Drink · Travel Raves

November 24, 2008

Head to the Heel of the Boot: Puglia, Italy

BRICK BY BRICK: Trulli houses in Alberobello, Puglia (Peter Adams/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty)

Tuscany has been hyped ad nauseum, leaving the rest of Italy open to folks who prefer not to follow the masses.  This is especially true in fall, when most of the backpackers have left the country with guidebooks in tow and the Italians return from their summer vacation.  One of my favorite parts of the country is in the southeast, Puglia, known as Giardano d’Italia, the Garden of Italy.  With its rich soil, the region is known for its bounty of fruits, vegetables, and wines.  Families can bike through olive groves, picnic on the Adriatic shores, visit the Roman ruins of Egnazia, and spend an afternoon hiking through the beehive-like buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Alberobello.  Spend your nights at Masseria Torre Coccaro in Savelletri, where acres of olive groves and gardens surround a 14th-century watchtower.

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Related Topics: European Travel · Travel Raves · Trip Ideas

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