The 10 best islands in the world, according to travelers

Summer is approaching, making it a great time to start planning a tropical getaway.

TripAdvisor has just announced the winners of its 2016 Travelers’ Choice Awards, which named the top 10 islands to visit around the world.

The islands were chosen based on reviews of the attractions, restaurants, and hotels they offer, as well as increased booking interest on TripAdvisor.

The travel site also included the average nightly rates of all bookable hotels for each destination, as well as what you can expect to pay each season.

From Jamaica to Santorini, here are the world’s top 10 islands, as chosen by travelers:

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No. 10. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
No. 10. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
TripAdvisor
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $394

Average seasonable hotel rates: spring — $375, summer — $401, fall — $423, winter — $450

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 17%

No. 9. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
No. 9. Bora Bora, French Polynesia
TripAdvisor
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $635

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $593, summer — $649, fall — $642, winter — $558

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 9%
No. 8. Phuket, Thailand
No. 8. Phuket, Thailand
TripAdvisor
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $67

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $77, summer — $65, fall — $84, winter — $126

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 39%

No. 7. Mauritius, Africa
No. 7. Mauritius, Africa
Shutterstock/hessbeck
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $193

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $216, summer — $185, fall — $236, winter — $286

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 24%
No. 6. Majorca, Balearic Islands
No. 6. Majorca, Balearic Islands
iStock/LUNAMARINA
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $163

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $145, summer — $173, fall — $162, winter — $200

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 28%

No. 5. Bali, Indonesia
No. 5. Bali, Indonesia
iStock/Zephyr18
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $102

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $92, summer — $106, fall — $99, winter — $99

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 13%
No. 4. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
No. 4. Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
TripAdvisor
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $463

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $604, summer — $424, fall — $451, winter — $697

Average shoulder-season savings during fall: 35%

No. 3. Jamaica, Caribbean Sea
No. 3. Jamaica, Caribbean Sea
iStock/fallbrook
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $235

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $262, summer — $234, fall — $227, winter — $304

Average shoulder-season savings during fall: 25%

No. 2. Santorini, Greece
No. 2. Santorini, Greece
TripAdvisor
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $224

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $166, summer — $256, fall — $195, winter — $186

Average shoulder-season savings during spring: 35%

No. 1. Maui, Hawaii
No. 1. Maui, Hawaii
TripAdvisor
Average nightly rate of all bookable hotels: $330

Average seasonal hotel rates: spring — $346, summer — $339, fall — $315, winter — $412

Average shoulder-season savings during fall: 24%

 

Source: BusinessInsider

Fyodor Konyukhov to circle Earth in balloon in new record attempt

Russian traveler Fyodor Konyukhov, who has conquered both the North and South poles and the seven highest peaks in the world, has announced he plans to break the record set by American adventurer Steve Fossett, who was the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world in a balloon.

“I have fear of every trip, I have not lost that feeling, and that’s good,” Konyukhov admitted at a press conference in Moscow.

“It helps me that the training takes several years, and it helps me to relax a little.”

The traveler has nurtured the idea of a balloon flight for 20 years, inspired by two successful round-the-world flights – by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones in 1999 and by Fossett in 2002.

Konyukhov hopes to make the flight at the first attempt – something his predecessors failed to do. His solo flight on a balloon made by the British company Cameron Balloons is scheduled to start from the west coast of Australia in June 2016.

“Nobody in the world makes better balloons that the Brits, so our balloon is being made by Cameron Balloons, and it will fly on Russian helium,” said Konyukhov.

According to preliminary calculations, the flight will last between 13 and 15 days at an altitude of 36,000 feet with a maximum speed of 186 mph (300 km/h).

The 64-year-old traveler will fly over the Australian desert, the Tasman Sea and New Zealand, the Pacific Ocean, Easter Island, the south of Chile and Argentina, the Atlantic Ocean and South Africa, the Indian Ocean. The total distance is 20,506 miles, or 33,000 km.
Source:RBTH.com

Cappadocia

This rocky landscape is honeycombed with networks of ancient underground settlements and outstanding examples of Byzantine art.

* * *

Erosion shaped the incredible landscape of the Göreme valley, but thousands of years ago humans took a cue from Mother Nature and began carving an incredible chamber and tunnel complex into the soft rock. Beginning in the fourth century A.D., an urbanized—but underground—cultural landscape was created here.

Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only its harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet (40 meters) into the sky.

But human hands performed equally incredible works here. The rocky wonderland is honeycombed with a network of human-created caves; living quarters, places of worship, stables, and storehouses were all dug into the soft stone. In fact, tunnel complexes formed entire towns with as many as eight different stories hidden underground.

Göreme was inhabited as early as the Hittite era, circa 1800 to 1200 B.C. and later sat uncomfortably on the boundary between rival empires; first the Greeks and Persians and later the Byzantine Greeks and a host of rivals. This precarious political position meant that residents needed hiding places—and found them by tunneling into the rock itself.

The site became a religious refuge during the early days of Christianity. By the fourth century Christians fleeing Rome’s persecution had arrived in some numbers and established monastic communities here. The monks excavated extensive dwellings and monasteries and created Byzantine frescoed paintings in cave chapels beginning in the seventh century, which endure in well-preserved isolation to this day.

Göreme is rich with history, but not all of Cappadocia’s troglodyte dwellings are museums. Some still serve as homes and others as hotels, which offer a truly unique hospitality experience.

The primary threats to this World Heritage site come from the forces that created it in the first place. Erosion is returning some human endeavors to a more natural state, and extensive preservation efforts are meant to ensure that the wonders of Göreme survive for another millennium. With increased tourist trade, however, humans have brought modern development and damage or destruction to some of the ancient sites they once created.

How to Get There

The town of Göreme is the main visitor center for visitors to the park, though Nevsehir, Avanos, and Urgüp also have tourist facilities. These towns can be reached via bus from Kayseri airport. Long-distance buses also run from Istanbul and Ankara to the Cappadocia region.

When to Visit

Cappadocia is settled on a high, dry plateau in the middle of Turkey. The region is one of hot, dry summers and cold, sometimes snowy, winters.

How to Visit

In gateway towns, tours and guides abound to share the highlights of the park and the Cappadocia region. Those who wish to explore a bit on their own can rent bikes, scooters, or even cars in Göreme.

SOurce:nationalgeographic

Oulanka National Park, Finland

Did You Know?

• Far North Forest A vast boreal forest of Scotch pines, spruces, and silver birches, Oulanka contains a striking biodiversity despite its northerly location near the Arctic Circle. Under the canopy the forest is thick with heather and lingonberry bushes and lichens, and, in autumn, plentiful mushrooms.

• Ant Architects Notable among the 7,000 insect species in the park are wood ants, which build tall nests some three feet (one meter) high and can be seen at work everywhere on the forest floor.

• Magic Ingredient The secret to Oulanka’s rich growth is its soil, but the soil’s secret is the limestone beneath. This rock, rather unusual in Scandinavia, neutralizes acids in local soils and helps provides nutrients that boost plant growth.

• Ice Age Effects The glacial era that ended some 11,000 years ago left a major, enduring mark on the Oulanka landscape. Waterways like the Oulankajoki River carved canyons and crevices, and melting ice punched out “kettle hole” basins.

• Animal Denizens The park’s reindeer population is semidomesticated; look for their identifying ear tags. Local herders have grazing rights in the park, and their animals wander freely, browsing on greens, lichens, and mushrooms during the warmer months. The animals are herded up in fall and spend the winter in corrals.

• Arctic Orchids Two magnificent orchids can be found here near the Arctic Circle. The lady’s slipper grows in the marshlands, and the calypso serves as the symbol of the park itself. Calypso is in bloom from the end of May to mid-June.

How to Get There

Oulanka National Park is in a rather remote upland region of North Ostrobothnia and Eastern Lapland, along the Russian border. Buses run from Salla and Kuusamo, which is also the closest airport to Oulanka. Kuusamo is about 37 miles (60 kilometers) from the visitor center in the middle of the park.

When to Visit

Boating, either on calm waters or the park’s notable rapids, is a warm-weather activity. But Finns also love to ski, and groomed trails are available for those longing to explore a quieter park cloaked in the white of winter.

How to Visit

The Karhunkierros (Bear’s Ring) Trail is a popular hiking trail; a three- to four-day wander takes walkers through many of the park’s wonders, including gorges crossed by suspension bridges, from the Hautajärvi Visitor Center to the village of Ruka. Shelters and huts dot the route for overnight accommodation. The Little Bear’s Ring (7.5 miles/12 kilometers) is a shorter, but still scenic, loop that takes in waterfalls in the Juuma vicinity.
Source:nationalgeogrpahic

Olympus National Park, Greece

Did You Know?

• Myth-Laden Mountain Greece’s highest mountain, Olympus is also the legendary abode of the gods. The favor of the deities gave the mountain an honored place in Classical Greek culture and that mythical status has been passed down through the centuries, across Western civilization.

• Pantheon The mountain’s highest peak, Mytikas, tops out at 9,573 feet (2,918 meters). The ancients called Mytikas “Pantheon” and believed it was the meeting place of the deities. The 12 gods were believed to have lived in the alpine ravines, which Homer described as the mountain’s “mysterious folds.”

• Olympian Games The village of Dion, on the mountain’s flanks, was a Macedonian holy city where King Archelaus (r. 414-399 B.C.) held nine days of games to honor Zeus. Today Dion houses a remarkable archaeological site, where work is ongoing, and an archaeological museum in which much of the region’s rich Classical history is on display. In the summer the Olympus Festival includes performances at the ancient theater.

• Climate Olympus is a Mediterranean mountain; summers are typically warm and dry and winters are wet. High elevations are typically covered in snow for a full seven months (November to May). During any season the climate is apt to change as one climbs—for each 100 meters of ascent the average temperature typically drops by half a degree Celsius.

• Plant Life More than 1,700 plants are found on Mount Olympus—representing 25 percent of all Greek flora. Diversity is high here because of the mountain’s different elevation zones and its proximity to the sea. Deciduous trees and bushes dominate to about 1,640 feet (500 meters), then give way to stands of black pine and fir. Higher on the mountain are cold-tested conifer forests, including the rare Bosnian pine (Pinus heldreichii). Above the tree line, at about 8,202 feet (2,500 meters), forests give way to low vegetation and, in season, wide expanses of wildflowers.

• Animal Life Larger animals prowling the park include wolves, jackals, wild cats, foxes, chamois, and deer. More than a hundred bird species live in Olympus National Park, including rare and threatened woodpeckers and golden eagles. The park is also famed for the colorful array of butterflies found here.

How to Get There

A primary base for Olympus exploration, Litochoro is 258 miles (416 kilometers) from Athens but just 57 miles (92 kilometers) from Thessaloniki. The town is nestled in the mountain’s foothills, just three miles (five kilometers) from the Aegean Sea. It’s linked by train and bus to Athens and Thessaloniki. Other park entrance points are at Dion, Petra, Karya, and Kokkinopilos.

When to Visit

The region of Olympus National Park boasts a history that is second to none, as well as a vibrant modern culture. A year-round calendar features cultural, religious, and athletic events.

How to Visit

Hiking and climbing are very popular on the mountain and there are routes for all levels of ability and enthusiasm. There are nine refuges for overnight stays; each one sleeps dozens of people and many have kitchens or even restaurants. Some refuges are seasonal so plan any visits accordingly.
Source:nationalgeographic

Brazil’s top culinary destination draws foodies for annual gourmet festival

Brazil’s city of Petrópolis, celebrated for being one of the country’s top culinary destinations, welcomes food lovers to town on Friday for the fifteen-year anniversary of the Petrópolis Gourmet food festival.

The event will run until 29 November, with approximately sixty restaurants participating in the Circuito Gastronômico (Gastronomic Circuit) and offering menus that include a main course and dessert with a base entrance fee. Fare will feature ingredients from local gourmet kitchens, including edible flowers, snails, beer, and a variety of cheeses. In addition to the food, festival goers can enjoy street markets in the city parks with free outdoor workshops and meet-and-greets with chefs who will prepare dishes for tasting in public spaces. Read more: riotimesonline.com

SOurce:lonelyplanet

Sydney gets its first floating hotel and it’s pretty amazing

Sydney just got its first floating hotel and it’s a pretty glitzy affair. Afloat in the middle of Sydney Harbour, the hotel is comprised of 2 shipping containers and is a 20 feet-long super ultra-luxurious space. The Spontaneity Suite as it’s called, has floor-to-ceiling windows, a jacuzzi, rooftop terrace, room service and (obviously) boat transfers to the little luxe island.

It comes with Apple TV and Netflix. But it comes at a price. The room is AU$36,000 a night and is only available for one-night-only bookings. However, hotel booking service HotelTonight are dropping the price to AU$99 for a short time between 14 and 15 November.

Source:lonelyplanet

Culinary Quito: An Introduction

A great confluence of indigenous, Spanish, and African traditions, Ecuadorian cuisine is a true melting pot of flavors that has managed, in large part, to remain undiscovered.

From its perch high in the Andes and dead-on the Equator (Ecuador is Spanish for Equator), Quito represents one of the most biodiverse regions in the world, offering up an abundance of intriguing fruits, vegetables, and spices.

Here are seven things to know about the Ecuadorian capital city’s unique culinary offerings:
1. Quito is juice heaven.
Freshly squeezed juices or batidos (juices “shaken” with milk) made from the region’s unique produce can be found all over the city. One of my favorites is the white and frothy juice of the taxo, or banana passionfruit, which comes with a bite.

For a breakfast jolt, Ecuadorians prefer the pungent, coral-colored tamarillo, or tree tomato, but my go-to is the mora de castilla. This bright fuchsia fruit, a type of blackberry, occupies a favored spot in Quitenian kitchens. Tart and terrifically tangy, the juice of the mora, sweetened with sugary panela, tastes great—and feels like shooting stars on the tongue.

2. For true Ecuadorian flavors, go to an open market.
Mercado de Santa Clara is a short walk from tourist-saturated Amazonas Street in the city’s Mariscal district. Locals head here for gallon-sized jugs of mora, taxo, and naranjilla juice, roasted pigs on a slab, and deep-fried whole sea bass.

And there is, always, fritada, Ecuador’s iconic national dish. Fritada means fried—and that’s what you get. Pork fried in fist-sized chunks, sliced plantains, corn kernels fried whole. It’s an exuberant, salty, decadent snack, served on a bed of fat white hominy. Whatever variety you choose, it will be cheap—about $4 USD.

3. Every region in Ecuador has its favorite tamal.
Pale, petite, and wrapped in corn husks, the humita is the most common tamal in Quito. It’s made simply, with masa (cornmeal dough), a dash of lard, and cheese.

Quitenians may eat humitas for an everyday meal, but when they celebrate or get together for coffee, they do it with a quimbolito. This white fluffy desert tamal is a steamed corn cake wrapped in dark green achira leaves and can be accented by raisins or rich chocolate. The airy cake rises as it bakes, puffing up like a bird’s belly.

If you’re on the hunt for either of these popular treats, you won’t have to look far—humitas and quimbolitos can be found in street stands all over the city.

4. Ecuadorian ceviche will surprise your palette.
With ingredients like red onions, orange juice, shrimp, ketchup, and cilantro, Ecuadorian ceviche is a relaxed, playful version of South America’s beloved dish.

The sour and the crunch will slap the jet lag out of you, and it’s a legendary cure for a chuchaqui, the Quichuan word for hangover.

Though ceviche is sold in mega conglomerate franchises throughout Ecuador, some of Quito’s best offerings can be found in shacks. The famous Los cebiches de la Rumiñahui serves up the most traditional variety, citrus-cured shrimp—with a pinch of mustard.

5. Quito’s Centro Historico is a special place for traditional sweets.
Early morning, the warm smells of cinnamon and sugar waft through the narrow cobblestone streets of the Quito’s UNESCO-protected colonial center, Centro Historico.

Along these paths, you’ll find vendors stirring immense vats of nuts and corn in bubbling caramel. Dulce de higos—glistening figs bathed in molasses-like panela—simmer alongside.

The figs, their skins a deep ebony, are presented piping hot to customers with a simple slice of cheese.

6. Most Quitenians have soup for lunch, every day.
The traditional soup Quitenians eat is called locro. A salve in the city’s mountain chill, locro starts as a boil of Andean potatoes, milk, sofrito vegetable base, and cheese, but there are endless variations.

In the town of Guayllabamba, about an hour’s drive to the northeast of Quito, is where you can find some of the freshest soups in the sierra. El Tipico Locro serves the most authentic and traditional of all locros, yahuarlocro.

Yahuar means blood in Quichuan, and the soup certainly has that. It’s boiled with the stomach and intestines of a lamb, as well as herbs and potatoes. A heaping bowl of the lamb’s blood—fried—is served on the side. Again, not for everyone, but a true taste of Ecuador.

7. It’s true—in Quito, guinea pig is on the menu!
Guinea pig isn’t eaten every day, or by everyone in the Ecuadorian Sierra. However, the rodent, called cuy, is still revered by many and serves as a centerpiece at special celebrations.

And it tastes great. The smooth, rich meat is much more complex than chicken or pork. In Quito, cuy is traditionally served over potatoes, and sometimes with a lively egg and onion sauce.
Source:nationalgeographic

Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal is an iconic example of Mughal architecture and one of the most well known buildings in the world.

* * *

The Taj Mahal is widely considered one of the most beautiful buildings ever created. The exquisite marble structure in Agra, India, is a mausoleum, an enduring monument to the love of a husband for his favorite wife. It’s also an eternal testament to the artistic and scientific accomplishments of a wealthy empire.

Shah Jahan, “the King of the World,” took control of the Mughal Empire throne in 1628 very much in love with the queen he dubbed Mumtaz Mahal or “Chosen One of the Palace.” The poets at Agra’s Mughal court said her beauty was such that the moon hid its face in shame before her.

The Mughals were at the peak of their power and wealth during Shah Jahan’s reign, and India’s rich lode of precious gems yielded him much wealth and power. But he was powerless to stop Mumtaz Mahal’s death during childbirth in 1631. Legend has it that she bound him with a deathbed promise to build her the most beautiful tomb ever known.

Promise or no, Shah Jahan poured his passion and wealth into the creation of just such a monument. It is said that 20,000 stone carvers, masons, and artists from across India and as far as Turkey and Iraq were employed under a team of architects to build the Taj Mahal in the lush gardens on the banks of Agra’s Jamuna River. They completed the epic task between 1631 and 1648.

While the arch-and-dome profile of clean white marble has become iconic, other beauties lie in the Taj Mahal’s painstaking details: inlaid semiprecious stones and carvings and Koranic verse in calligraphy create an enchanting interior space where Shah Jahan came to visit his wife’s remains before he was eventually interred at her side.

The Taj Mahal’s familiar marble domes are framed by four minarets from which Muslims are called to prayer. Each is designed with a slight outward lean, presumably to protect the main mausoleum in case one of them should collapse.

Two red sandstone buildings also flank the main mausoleum on either side. One, to the west, is a mosque. The other is a former guesthouse.

These buildings are set within lush gardens, complete with an enormous reflecting pool that regularly does what no human has ever been able to accomplish—duplicate the beauty of the Taj Mahal.

Shah Jahan himself gazed upon that beautiful image until the end of his days—but as a prisoner, not a ruler. His son Aurangzeb seized the Mughal throne and imprisoned his father in Agra’s Red Fort (itself a World Heritage site and popular tourist attraction). Whether as consolation or torture, Shah Jahan commanded a view of the Taj Mahal from his window.

How to Get There

Agra is a major city in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh and well accustomed to visitors—some three million people visit the Taj Mahal each year. The city is accessible by bus, train, and (limited) air service and has a wide range of tourist amenities. Access to the Taj Mahal complex is on foot.

When to Visit

The Taj Mahal is a year-round attraction and often busy, though new ticketing systems have thinned crowds at peak times. Visitors in search of more solitude might try coming early or late in the day. One time NOT to visit is on Friday, when the Taj Mahal is closed.

How to Visit

The mausoleum’s interior is a striking (if smallish) space that begs some leisurely exploration. But a good part of any visit to the Taj Mahal will be spent looking at the building from the outside. The mausoleum’s clean white marble shifts in color and tone to match the mood of the world outside—a transformation so enchanting that it’s worth lingering to gaze at the building in different conditions, such as the rosy glow of dawn or the magical light of a full moon.
Source:nationalgeographic

Galápagos Islands

Reason: This “living laboratory” of evolution helped to inspire Charles Darwin 175 years ago and continues to offer a unique opportunity to explore a pristine natural ecosystem.

* * *

The Galápagos Islands are located 620 miles (1,000 kilometers) from the South American mainland but a world apart from anywhere else on Earth. The archipelago and its surrounding waters, located where three ocean currents converge, are famed for the unique animal species that piqued the interest of Charles Darwin in 1835. Decades later Darwin drew on his experiences here when penning his landmark theory of evolution by natural selection.

The actively volcanic islands are home to fascinating creatures found nowhere else on Earth, including marine iguanas, giant tortoises, flightless cormorants, and a diverse variety of finches. Darwin noted that although all of the islands shared similar volcanic compositions, environment, and climate, each isolated isle was home to its own set of unique species. Darwin suspected that these species had adapted to a unique diet and the microenvironment of their locale.

Most exciting for visitors is the lack of fear and even curiosity with which the Galápagos animals typically regard humans. Incredible, up-close encounters are the norm here. And while the islands are a living laboratory of evolutionary change, their ecosystems have remained remarkably unchanged. Some 95 percent of the islands’ pre-human biodiversity remains intact—a remarkable figure. But even this paradise hasn’t remained totally pristine.

Threats from high levels of poorly regulated tourism (the islands welcome some 100,000 annual visitors), overfishing, and the introduction of invasive species landed the site on the List of World Heritage in Danger in 2007.

But this first of all World Heritage sites has experienced some positive changes in recent years. The committee has recognized Ecuador’s progress in strengthening conservation measures designed to protect the priceless area, and the Galápagos were removed from the threat list in July 2010.

How to Get There

The islands have two airports, Isla Baltra and Isla San Cristóbal, which are serviced by regular flights from mainland cities Quito and Guayaquil.

How to Visit

Accommodations are available on several islands, and public boat and plane services allow visitors to move about the archipelago. But perhaps the best way to experience the Galápagos is by boat tour. Whether your interests lie in bird watching, diving, snorkeling, surfing, or other activities an appropriate tour option exists—including National Geographic’s own.

When to Visit

There is never really a bad time to visit, but part of the government’s plan to protect these islands includes limiting the number of visitors to each island at any given time. Tour itineraries are coordinated with this regulation in mind, and most crowding issues occur from peak season of mid-June through September and again in mid-December to mid-January.

From December through May the islands tend to be quieter (excepting the holiday period mentioned above), but frequent sunshine is also punctuated with almost daily rain showers. As water temperatures change and seasons shift, different types of wildlife become more or less plentiful—so it’s worth keeping a “must-see” species list in mind when planning your itinerary.
Source:nationalgeographic