7 Incredible Grand Tours You Can Actually Afford
Sometimes a one-week vacation just isn't enough, especially when you wake up the last morning of your trip and don't want to leave yet—it's too soon, and you've just begun to discover what makes your destination so special. Luckily, there are longer grand tours that provide you with enough time to fullly explore a new place, whether it's a month-long journey through Southeast Asia or an in-depth two-week Ireland adventure. We've scoured the world of extended travel deals for packages that give you the most bang for your buck, listed here in order from the least amount of money you'll spend per day to most. At first it might seem like you are spending a little more than usual on some of these trips, but the perks included—meals, intra-country transportation, airport transfers, professionally guided small-group tours with a personal touch—and the unique travel experiences you'll get more than make up for any initial sticker-shock.
India: basics on a budget
Highlights: Visit ancient forts and colorful modern cities throughout Northern India.
Looking to do some traveling abroad while on a budget? This three-week tour of Northern India and Rajasthan is full of unique experiences—an overnight camel safari in the desert, anyone?—and gives you just enough free time to explore the cities on your own. You'll also get guided tours of New Delhi, Bikaner, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Pushkar, Udaipur, and Jaipur, plus the chance to experience sunrise at the Savitri temple in Pushkar and wrap things up with a scenic boat trip down the River Ganges during a candle flower ceremony.
The breakdown: This three-week tour of Northern India and Rajasthan will cost you about $67 per day including 19 nights' accommodations, all ground transportation within the country, and several guided tours. G Adventures, from $1,349 per person for a 20-day trip. Average group size: 10-16 people.
Central America for the trail-blazing history buff
Highlights: Tour ancient ruins and jungles in Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica.
Dreaming of visiting the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum, Palenque, Chichén Itzá, Tikal, and Copán? This extensive small-group tour starts in Mexico City with a vast cultural tour of Mexico—explore the colonial buildings of Puebla, Oaxaca, and San Cristobal de las Casas before heading north to the Yucatán cities of Palenque, Mérida, and Playa del Carmen. Next, you'll cross the border to Belize and soak up the Central American sun in Caye Caulker, before heading south to Flores, Guatemala—shop for the perfect souvenir at the local markets of Chichicastenango and take time to roam the colorful city of Antigua. Ponder the past at the Mayan ruins in Copán and relax on the beaches of Roatán Island during your time in Honduras. From here, the tour heads south through Granada and Ometepe Island in Nicaragua before finishing up with trips to Costa Rica's tropical cloud forests, Arenal Volcano National Park, and San José, the country's capitol city.
The breakdown: You'll end up spending $71 per day including all ground transportation, guided tours, and 45 nights' accommodations in hotels, one night in a local homestay, and one night on an overnight bus. Intrepid Travel's Central America Explorer, from $3,295 for a 46-day trip. Average group size: 16 people.
New Zealand: affordable island-hopping for nature lovers and adrenaline junkies
Highlights: Tour New Zealand's North and South Islands for less.
Get to know this intriguing kiwi nation with a three-week trip through both islands. The tour starts and ends in Auckland, and includes some truly "only in New Zealand" experiences like Maori cultural encounters, sea kayaking in the Doubtful Sound, surfing lessons in Raglan, and a trip to Franz Josef National Park. Other adrenaline-pumping activities include a mountain biking excursion and the chance to take on the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, one of the most popular one-day treks in the country. Hiking, biking and opportunities to skydive and bungee jump are also available if you're feeling extra gutsy.
The breakdown: You'll spend $112 a day including all intra-country transportation, 20 nights' worth of accommodations, guided tours, and most meals. G Adventures, from $2,359 per person for a 21-day trip. Average tour size: 12 people.
An African safari adventure from Kenya to Cape Town
Highlights: Meet the locals and spot the Big Five in Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.
If you're an adventurous animal lover with a month and a half to spare, this tour is right up your alley. Keep your eyes out for the Big Five as you zig-zag your way through eight African countries and stop to see the animals they're known for on a number of game drives and walks through the African bush. You'll also get to visit spice plantations in Zanzibar, feel the spray of Victoria Falls, and relax on the beaches of Lake Malawi. Get to know the locals by staying in several African villages along the way, giving you the chance to see what everyday life is like in the jungles and deserts of this intriguing continent.
The breakdown: You'll end up spending $118 per day for this 45-day African adventure including 44 nights' accommodations, all ground transportation, guided tours, and most meals. Intrepid Travel, from $5,310 per person for a 45-day trip. Average tour size: 22 people.
Best of the U.S.
Highlights: An epic cross-country adventure from San Francisco to New York City and back, stopping at national parks and big cities around the country.
Starting and ending in San Francisco, this 32-city tour of the United States' best attractions includes visits to Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, Niagara Falls, Badlands National Park, Devil's Tower, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Park. The first half of the tour takes you through the heartland—gamble in Las Vegas, experience southwest culture in Santa Fe, and visit Elvis at Graceland—while the rest of it works through the big cities of the Northeast before sending you back through the northern states—ride to the top of the Sears Tower in Chicago, experience the Wild Wild West in South Dakota, and pay a visit to Old Faithful on your way back to the Golden State.
The breakdown: This 44-day trip breaks down to $120 per day including all of your ground transportation in an air-conditioned van, 43 nights' accommodations, and guided city tours of San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Washington D.C., and New York City. This package also covers most meals as well as entrance fees to all included National Parks, the Maid of the Mist boat tour in Niagara Falls, a trip to Arlington National Cemetery, and a beer tasting in Milwaukee. G Adventures, from $5,299 per person for a 44-day trip. Average tour size: 10-13 people.
The ultimate tour of Southeast Asia
Highlights: Visit temples, beaches, and historical spots throughout Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
On this 29-day Southeast Asia adventure, you'll get to visit ancient temples like Chiang Mai, Wat Po, and Wat Rong Khun, sail down the Mekong River, spend the night at a homestay in a local Laotian village, and watch a traditional Vietnamese water puppets show. And that's just the first half of your trip—the rest has you cruising around Halong Bay, visiting the Royal Tombs in Hue, exploring historic Hoi An, touring the Cu Chi tunnels near Ho Chi Minh City, and cruising the Mekong Delta before you head into Cambodia for a sobering historical tour of the Killing Fields and guided tours of Angkor Wat's spectacular temple complex.
The breakdown: You'll spend $121 a day including all guided tours, entrance fees, ground transportation, regional flights and boat rides between countries, accommodations, and most meals. G Adventures, from $3,499 per person for a 29-day trip. Average group size: 10-15 people.
Grand tour of Ireland
Highlights: Visit Dublin, Killarney, Belfast, Derry, Blarney, Galway, Kerry, Cliffs of Moher, Dingle Peninsula, and experience a traditional medieval dinner in an Irish castle.
Erin go bragh! This grand tour of Ireland gives you eleven days to explore both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. You'll visit legendary places like the Giant's Causeway and get guided tours of twenty major sites and attractions including Trinity College's Book of Kells, the Guinness Brewery Storehouse, city tours of Belfast and Galway, a trip to the Titanic Belfast Experience, scenic tours of the Cliffs of Moher, Ring of Kerry, and Dingle Peninsula, plus a traditional medieval dinner in an Irish castle. Just don't forget to bring your camera!
The breakdown: Round-trip multicity airfares between New York City, Dublin, and Shannon start from $697 in early October (Aer Lingus). The land-only portion of this trip ends up being about $1,702 per person, or $131 per person per day. SmarTours, from $2,399 per person for an 11-day trip including international airfare from New York City. Average tour size: 35-40 people. Book this package by Nov. 6th before prices increase by $400.
10 "Hidden Gems" You'll Love This Summer!
Psst. Can you keep a secret? If you're looking for a world-class vacation minus the crowds, Budget Travel has got a hot tip. Well, actually we've got 10 of them. Over the past year we've visited some of America's most amazing parklands and unique small towns. Stretching across the U.S., our list of beautiful hidden gems includes ocean spray, lapping lakeshores, forests, mountains, and some of the nicest hosts you'll ever meet. What all these places have in common is that you might have never heard of them without BT's spilling the beans. Enjoy! SEE 10 BEAUTIFUL AMERICAN PARKS! 1. VALLEY OF FIRE STATE PARK Nevada One of the state's best-loved parks is the Valley of Fire, 42,000 arid acres about an hour's drive northeast from Las Vegas. The park delivers its own kind of high-stakes drama, trading neon and nightclubs for 150-million-year-old sandstone formations and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs (images carved in rock). You could even say it has star quality: The surreal, burnt-sienna landscape stood in for Mars in the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you're embarking on your own photo safari or DIY sci-fi flick in Nevada's largest state park, don't miss Arch Rock, Elephant Rock, or the Beehives, all of which are essentially solid-stone versions of exactly what they sound like. And be sure to take snapshots with and without people in the frame—the structures are even more outstanding when you can get a sense of their scale. Most important of all: Bring lots of water with you. There are few facilities within the park, and the sandy stretches of some hikes make them more strenuous than you'd think, particularly in the summer, when Mojave Desert temperatures top 120 degrees. Best to come in spring or fall for a more comfortable trip. Where to stay: The park contains 72 campsites, including RV spots with water and electrical hookups (campsites cost $20 per night plus $10 for hookups; There is a $2 discount for Nevada residents). If that's not your speed, the family-run North Shore Inn has a pool, in-room fridges, and powerful air conditioning (northshoreinnatlakemead.com, doubles from $85). 2. BEAUFORT North Carolina Captain Horatio Sinbad is what you might call a friendly pirate. He's got six cannons on his 54-foot brigantine, the Meka II, but he's also got Wi-Fi. He's got a gold tooth and a gold hoop in his left ear, but his mate lovingly wears the matching earring on a chain around her neck (and brings him coffee on deck). He makes his living as a pirate, sailing the East Coast to lead mock invasions—"historical entertainments," as he calls them—then dutifully returns to Beaufort, N.C., every chance he gets. "The water is clean, the fishing is great, and the people are friendly," he says. "This is home port for me." If you'd just dropped into Beaufort, you might be surprised to find that a pirate has weighed anchor there. Perched on an especially serene stretch of the North Carolina coast, the town has an air of Southern gentility about it, with restored 17th- and 18th-century buildings that flank the local historical society. Feeling a shiver in your timbers? A cup of rich gumbo and a slice of salty, pillow-soft French bread at the Beaufort Grocery restaurant and bakery will warm you up nicely (117 Queen St., beaufortgrocery.com, cup of gumbo $4.25). There's even a thriving health-food store, the Coastal Community Market (606 Broad St., coastalcommunitymarket.com, locally made hummus $4). And yet Beaufort's got a wild side, starting with the undomesticated horses you'll see roaming just across Taylors Creek. Blackbeard himself sailed those waters, and his spirit pops up at the North Carolina Maritime Museum (315 Front St., ncmaritimemuseums.com, admission free), the Queen Anne's Revenge restaurant (510 Front St., qarbeaufort.com, crab-stuffed shrimp $15), and beyond. If he were alive, you'd almost certainly find him on a stool at the Backstreet Pub, a dive-bar-like joint that also serves as a live-music venue and a lending library for sailors. Owner Liz Kopf likes to call her place the funkiest bar from Maine to Venezuela: "I always say there are more characters per capita in here than anywhere in the state" (124 Middle Lane, historicbeaufort.com, beer $2 on Mondays and Tuesdays). Where to stay: Confederate jasmine and animal topiaries frame the Langdon House B&B (135 Craven St., langdonhouse.com, doubles from $108). 3. LUDINGTON STATE PARK Michigan Snug between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake, this nearly 5,300-acre park has seven miles of sandy, dune-strewn beaches, a historic lighthouse you can climb, more than 20 miles of hiking trails (plus paths for biking and cross-country skiing), and the shallow, clear Big Sable River, which is perfect for drifting down in an inner tube. No wonder Ludington has been a Great Lakes-area favorite since it was established 76 years ago. Where to stay: Ludington's four campgrounds fill up quickly; reserve campsites six months in advance or cabins and yurts one year out, when openings are posted (midnrreservations.com, camping from $16). You can also try the Lamplighter Bed & Breakfast, an 1892 home with an original oak banister, leaded-glass windows, and a porcelain-tiled fireplace (ludington-michigan.com, doubles from $115). 4. HAMMONDSPORT New York Hammondsport, N.Y., may well be the recycling capital of America. Not garbage recycling (though they do that, too). We're talking about the vintage seaplanes restored and flown by the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum (8419 State Rte. 54, glennhcurtissmuseum.org, admission $8.50). The birdhouses made of scrap wood in front of the Aroma Coffee Art Gallery (60 Shethar St., 607/569-3047, birdhouses from $40). Even the cypress paneling in the Bully Hill Vineyard's lower dining room came from old wine barrels (8843 Greyton H. Taylor Memorial Dr., bullyhill.com, smoked pulled pork sandwich $13). "When my husband and I came back to live here, the first thing he did was start restoring old boats," says Nancy Wightman, whose husband, Ed, grew up in the Finger Lakes region. "It's not just about loving history. You get the sense that's who the people here are." It's tempting to say that there's something in the water, but Hammondsport's passion for the past really comes via the wine. The Pleasant Valley Wine Company, opened in 1860, was the first in the Finger Lakes region (8260 Pleasant Valley Rd., pleasantvalleywine.com, bottles from $6). In 1962, a Ukrainian viticulturist further transformed the local wine industry at his Dr. Konstantin Frank Vinifera Wine Cellars by successfully planting European grapes in the colder New York climate (9749 Middle Rd., drfrankwines.com, bottles from $9). Today, both those wineries—and several more—are mainstays of the landscape. That's literally true of Dr. Frank's, which sits on an impossibly green piece of land overlooking its vineyards and sparkling, Y-shaped Keuka Lake. The vineyard is run by Fred Frank, Konstantin's grandson. "I enjoy hearing stories about children sitting on my grandfather's knee 40 years ago," says Fred. "That's very rewarding." Also rewarding: After all these years, tastings at Dr. Frank's are still free. In fact, many of the best things in Hammondsport are. Sunbathing on condo-less Keuka Lake, kicking back on the town square for outdoor summer concerts on Thursday nights, jam sessions in the basement of the Union Block Italian Bistro—spring for one of the plus-size meals, such as linguini and clam sauce (31 Shethar St., unionblockitalian.com, linguini with clam sauce $19). "We're pretty darn proud of what we've built here," says Mayor Emery Cummings, who has lived in Hammondsport for every one of his 54 years, "and we're hoping to keep it the way it's always been." Where to stay: You'll find a spiral staircase, crown moldings, and bits of vintage wallpaper in the octagonal 1859 home that has been converted into the Black Sheep Inn (8329 Pleasant Valley Rd., stayblacksheepinn.com, doubles from $149). 5. CACHE RIVER STATE NATURAL AREA Illinois There are more famous swamps than the one in Cache River State Natural Area, a nearly 15,000-acre Illinois state park 30 miles from the Kentucky border. The Everglades, say, or Okefenokee. But who wants a crowd along? One of the northernmost examples of a true Southern swamp, the delightfully under-the-radar Cache River park gets only about 200,000 annual visitors—that's about one visitor per acre per month. Other life forms aren't nearly so scarce here: The park's wetlands, floodplains, forests, and limestone barrens harbor more than 100 threatened or endangered species. It's best explored by canoe, along six miles of paddling trails that bring you face-to-face with massive tupelo and cypress trunks. There are also 20 miles of foot trails in the park and a floating boardwalk that leads to the center of Heron Pond, which is carpeted in summer with a bright-green layer of floating duckweed. BYO boat, or rent one from White Crane Canoe and Pirogue Rentals in Ullin, Ill., about 12 miles west (whitecranerentals.com, canoe rental $15 per person per day). Where to stay: A half-hour drive west of the park, Anna, Ill., has a handful of antiques shops, a pottery museum, and the Davie School Inn, an 11-room, all-suite B&B in a converted 1910 schoolhouse (davieschoolinn.com, doubles from $100). 6. WEAVERVILLE California You expect certain trappings in any Gold Rush town. A saloon, a main street, maybe a hitching post. Also a 138-year-old working Chinese temple. No? You'll find one in Weaverville, where the Joss House State Historic Park is a testament to the town's unsung history of tolerance (630 Main St., parks.ca.gov, admission $4). Chinese immigrants, facing discrimination in ports such as San Francisco, were welcomed here and ultimately accounted for up to 25 percent of the Rush-era population. "Some of our staff looks at this place as a museum piece you just have to keep clean and take care of," says guide Jack Frost. "But Chinese people who work in the parks system say it's a national treasure." Maybe it's the mining connection, but Weaverville is a place where you often strike it rich in unexpected places. The 1854 drugstore and bank are now home to the La Grange Cafe, which features a wildly creative menu of boar, rabbit, and buffalo-as well as an impressive wine cellar in the old bank vault (520 Main St., 530/623-5325, buffalo burger $11). Mamma Llama Eatery & Cafe hosts a surprisingly funky roster of live musicians: Gypsy jazz, junkyard percussion, even didgeridoo (490 Main St., mammallama.com, hoagie $5.75). Where to stay: One place that hews to a more period Old West experience is the 132-year-old Weaverville Hotel, which features four-poster beds, clawfoot tubs, and a peaceful Victorian library (481 Main St., weavervillehotel.com, doubles from $99). 7. BLACKWATER FALLS STATE PARK West Virginia Blackwater Falls's namesake cascade isn't just the most picturesque spot in this 2,456-acre park—it's also one of the most photographed places in the state. The area is equally eye-catching when it's dressed in the bright greens of spring, the Crayola-box colors of autumn, or silvery winter, when parts of the falls freeze into man-size icicles. The falls themselves—more brown than black—get their distinctive hue from tannic acid that leaches into the river from hemlock and red spruce needles upstream. Where to stay: Outdoorsy types can pitch a tent at 65 campsites, or upgrade to one of 26 deluxe cabins with full kitchens, private bathrooms, and fireplaces—but not A/C. For that creature comfort, you'll need to book a night in the 54-room lodge, which also has a game room and an indoor pool (blackwaterfalls.com, camping from $20, lodge rooms from $84). 8. DAMASCUS Virginia If you decide to drive to Damascus, you'll likely be in the minority. This is hiking and cycling heaven, where seven major trails intersect, including the undulating Virginia Creeper and the granddaddy of them all: the 2,180-mile Appalachian Trail. In a nifty bit of irony, six of the seven trails converge in a parking lot, at Mojoes Trailside Coffee House (331 Douglas Dr., mojoestrailsidecoffee.com, lattes from $3.50), where most mornings you'll find a clutch of locals and through-hikers chatting about travel plans. Breakfast is the big meal in town, and the more energy-boosting calories the better. Yet the carbo-loading, hard-core trekkers you'll find in Damascus don't always look as you'd expect. "Mamaw B." (her adopted trail name) was in town beginning her usual 15- to 18-mile hike. She's 71 and has been backpacking for 31 years. "The secret to good health is to remain active and to always have something to look forward to," she says, as she sets off from Mojoes toward-where, exactly? She just smiles and points north. Where to stay: The Lazy Fox Inn is famous less for its trailside location than for its legendary country breakfast that includes cheese grits, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, biscuits and gravy, and sausage (133 Imboden St., lazyfoxinn.com, doubles with private bath from $85). 9. KATY TRAIL STATE PARK Missouri The largest rails-to-trails conversion in America, the 240-mile Katy Trail spans Missouri's midsection, from Clinton in the west to Machens in the east, along the former track of the Missouri-Kansas-Texas (MKT) Railroad (a.k.a. the Katy). The mostly flat path is open to hikers and cyclists—and in some sections, horseback riders—and traverses historic railroad bridges, tunnels, forests, valleys, and open fields. In spots, it skirts the edge of the Missouri River. Some hardy souls tackle the whole trail (a roughly five-day undertaking for an experienced cyclist). Those who prefer a more leisurely trek should consider a day-trip between Rocheport and Boonville, two early-19th-century towns (the latter established by Daniel Boone's offspring) separated by 12 miles of nature preserves, vineyards, and river views. Where to stay: There are no campgrounds in the park, but you can have your pick of small-town inns along the route. Some cater to cyclists with extras such as free laundry service, double-size whirlpool tubs, and free bike storage and tune-up tools. Rocheport's School House Bed & Breakfast, in a three-story brick schoolhouse from 1914, sweetens the deal with fresh-baked cookies at check-in (schoolhousebb.com, doubles from $149). 10. OHIOPYLE STATE PARK Pennsylvania If ever there were an all-purpose park, southwestern Pennsylvania's Ohiopyle State Park is it. Looking for waterfalls? It has four (including the one in our slide show above, which seems as if it must have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater house, just five miles away). Trails? Hikers get 79 miles of them—plus 27 miles for cyclists, 11 for folks on horseback, and nearly 40 for cross-country skiers. And why not throw in a natural water slide or two? The lifeblood of the 20,000-acre park, however, is the Youghiogheny River Gorge—a.k.a. the Yough. The Middle Yough, which flows to Ohiopyle from Confluence, Pa., is the gentler section, with Class I and II rapids for rafters and kayakers; the Lower Yough, downstream, gets up to Class IV whitewater. Combined, they attract a good chunk of the 1 million people who visit the park every year. Where to stay: The quietest campsites in Ohiopyle's Kentuck campground are the walk-in sites numbered 51-64 and 103-115; however, some folks have found the camp's firm 9 p.m. quiet hours a little too restrictive. If your brood tends to get livelier as the night wears on, consider a vacation rental in Hidden Valley, Pa., or Seven Springs, Pa., both less than 30 miles to the northeast; these two ski towns have solid selections of rental condos and homes that can be deeply discounted in the off-season (vrbo.com).
Ireland's 10 Best Attractions
Whether you're headed to the Emerald Isle any time soon or simply window-shopping, we've rounded up 10 of the best attractions Ireland has to offer, from natural wonders on the Atlantic coast to Dublin's literary highlights, a world-famous castle, and traditional music and merriment. SEE OUR READERS' BEST IRELAND PHOTOS Davy Byrnes Pub This establishment on Dublin's Duke Street is mentioned in Irish novelist James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses, and attracts visitors from around the world for precisely that reason. Stop in for a pint of stout and a taste of the famed Dublin wit at the heart of Joyce's work. Abbey Theatre Having presented the work of playwrights such as William Butler Yeats, John Millington Synge, and Samuel Beckett, Dublin's Abbey Theatre can rightly claim to be the treasure house of Irish literary culture. Catch a play, then follow the actors to a favorite nearby haunt, the Flowing Tide, for refreshment. Trinity College Founded in the 16th century by Queen Elizabeth I, this college, on the south bank of the River Liffey in central Dublin, boasts alumni that include Jonathan Swift, Oscar Wilde, and Samuel Beckett. Today, it is home to the iconic Book of Kells, a spectacular illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. Newgrange In County Meath, about 30 miles northwest of Dublin, this prehistoric passage tomb (a narrow passage made of large stones with a covered burial chamber) takes you back to 4000 B.C., a thousand years before England's Stonehenge. During the winter solstice, the rising sun shines through a small opening above the tomb's doorway, illuminating the chamber. Blarney Castle Yup, it's as touristy as it gets, but countless visitors have made the five-mile pilgrimage from Cork City to this impressive tower to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone (by some thoroughly unreliable accounts, a fragment of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall) in hopes of acquiring the gift of gab. Before you schlep all the way, be warned: In order for your lips to reach the storied stone, you have to lean backward over a parapet with an attendant holding your legs to keep you from falling. Aran Islands A short boat ride from Rossaveal or Doolin will take you to these islands off the Atlantic coast where the Irish language is still spoken. The smallest of the islands, Inisheer, is like a time capsule of ancient Ireland, with its patchwork of fields and stone walls; the Hotel Inisheer is famed for traditional Irish music and merrymaking. Cliffs of Moher Towering 700 feet above the roaring Atlantic Ocean, these shale and sandstone cliffs, near the village of Liscannor about halfway between Kerry and Connemara, make you feel as if you are standing on the edge of the world. A visitors' center offers guided tours and on clear days you can see past the Aran Islands all the way to Connemara. Skellig Michael A 700-foot-high rock that rises from the sea off the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, Skellig Michael can be reached by an hour-long boat ride from Valentia Island. But when you disembark your journey isn't complete; you can climb 650 small steps cut out of the rock to see the remains of a 7th-century Christian monastery. Maamturk Mountains Galway has been a mecca for cyclists for years, and the Maamturk Mountains offer gentle climbs that take you past pristine lakes and bogs, plus the opportunity to coast down into tiny Leenane, where the Atlantic Ocean flows into Killary Harbour. Glenveagh National Park North of Galway, this isolated park is home to red deer and falcons and offers some of the most beautiful hiking, such as the Derrylahan Trail and the Glen Walk through the Derryveagh Mountains.
Meet America's Coolest Small Town!
How would you feel if your town was named Coolest in America? I recently spoke with Kelly Withum of Lititz, PA, winner of Budget Travel's 2013 Coolest Small Town in America, and couldn't help asking that very question. "Fantastic," says Withum, the executive director of the Lititz Farmers Market and Venture Lititz. "It's wonderful to be recognized. So many of the organizations within the Lititz community work very hard to make this a special place to live." So, what's so cool about Lititz? After all, we had thousands of nominations to consider, then after we chose 15 finalists the real action began—with thousands more readers casting the votes that led to this inviting Pennsylvania hamlet of more than 9,000, founded as a Moravian community in the 18th century, being named the coolest of the cool. What makes Lititz a standout among standouts? First off, its location, in rural Lancaster County, is the kind of setting a film scout might choose—and one actually did. Rolling farmland and the traditional Amish communities made famous by the Harrison Ford thriller Witness have turned this corner of Pennsylvania into one of America's favorite long-weekend destinations. Lititz wears its colonial-era heritage on its sleeve, but that doesn't mean it forgoes contemporary pleasures. Next time you're in the area (Lititz is a 90-minute drive west of Philadelphia), these are some of the delights you'll find in America's Coolest Small Town: Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery was the first commercial pretzel bakery in the U.S., founded in 1861. Take a bakery tour, including learning hands-on pretzel-making, and visit the bakery shop to take home treats with a twist. Wilbur Chocolate Company runs an old-fashioned candy store on the ground floor of its factory. Watch them make their own fudge, and pick up a package of distinctive Wilbur Buds, little chocolates sold by the pound. Historical sites abound in this town that was founded in 1756 by Moravians from Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic); must-sees include the Lititz Historical Foundation, the Johannes Mueller House (a re-creation of a Moravian home), the Moravian Church, and a historical cemetery known by locals as God's Acre. Restaurants dominate Lititz's downtown, and while some burghs may seek "revitalization," Lititz has instead campaigned for downtown "vibrancy," and it shows. Eating establishments and watering holes are too numerous to list here, but favorites include Tomato Pie Café, Café Chocolate, Bulls Head Public House, Appalachian Brewing Company, Savory Gourmet, Olio, and Zest. General Sutter Inn is a comfy B&B with a decidedly un-quaint angle: Six of its rooms have been decorated with rock-n-roll stage equipment courtesy of a Lititz entertainment cluster that is responsible for the staging, lighting, and sound for major rock acts. Lititz Springs Park, in the middle of downtown, is ideal for the little ones, who will have a chance to feed the ducks and maybe even see a family of quackers cross busy Route 501, as in the classic picture book Make Way for Ducklings. We're psyched to have Lititz join the ranks of Budget Travel's Coolest Small Towns, and Withum suggests that just participating in the competition—let alone winning it—has been good for the town. "This contest has been a remarkable community builder," she says. "Our online campaign went viral, and we had people who had visited Lititz from all over the world voting. Our sign company put up a banner on Route 501! We thank Budget Travel for this great honor."
9 Most Colorful Beaches in the World
Most beaches need umbrellas and blankets to brighten up the landscape. Not these nine stretches of sand. From iconic pink sand beaches in the Bahamas to a green beach in Hawaii, we've rounded up nine beaches around the world that you have to see to believe—and we show you exactly how to get there. SEE THE WORLD'S MOST COLORFUL BEACHES! BLACK SANDMuriwai Black Sand Beach, New ZealandBlack sand beaches are typically a result of an island's explosive volcanic past—the rich color is a result of a mixture of iron, titanium, and several other volcanic materials. New Zealand's stunning Muriwai Black Sand Beach is a 37-mile stretch of sparkling black sand and home to New Zealand's largest colony of Gannet birds. Hike up the scenic trail at the southern end of the beach to two viewing platforms for great ocean views and a peek at the birds in their natural habitat, where nearly 1,200 pairs nest between August and March each year. See it for yourself: Just a 40-minute ride west of downtown Auckland, Muriwai Black Sand Beach can be a day trip, or book a room at the Lodge Escape at Muriwai for from $120 a night. Feeling gutsy? Try a two-hour lesson from the Muriwai Surf School (from $60 per person including equipment). GREEN SANDPapakōlea Beach, Big Island of HawaiiLocated on the southern tip of Hawaii's Big Island, Papakōlea Beach is more commonly referred to as Green Sand Beach. And for good reason. The sand here is made of tiny olivine crystals from the surrounding lava rocks that are trapped in the 49,000-year-old Pu'u Mahana cinder cone by the waters of Mahana Bay. The density of the olivine crystals keeps them from being washed away by the tide, resulting in a striking olive-green accumulation along the coastline. Swimming is allowed but waves on the windy southern coast can be particularly strong. And while it's tempting, it's bad form to take the sand home with you. See it for yourself: Papakōlea Beach is equidistant from both Kona and Hilo, and well worth the scenic two-hour-and-15-minute drive on Highway 11 (look for signs for Ka Lae, or South Point between mile markers 69 and 70). You can also take the two-mile hike along the southernmost point in the U.S.A. for a glimpse of the uniquely olive-green sand. RED SANDRed Beach, Santorini, GreeceSantorini's Red Beach (also called Kokkini Beach) is set at the base of giant red cliffs that rise high over crystal-blue Mediterranean waters. The colorful red sand is a result of the surrounding iron-rich black and red lava rocks left over from the ancient volcanic activity of Thira, the impressive volcano that erupted and essentially shaped Santorini in 1450 B.C. Nowadays, the beach is popular with sunbathers, though you'll want to rent beach chairs to avoid sitting directly on the coarse sand. And it's best to visit in the early morning hours—the sand heats up under the warm Mediterranean sun. See it for yourself: The easiest way to reach Red Beach is by boat from Akrotíri or Períssa on Santorini. Pair your trip to the beach with a visit to the ancient Minoan Ruins of Akrotiri, a 10-minute walk away. PINK SANDPink Sand Beach, Harbour Island, Eleuthera, BahamasA lot goes into making this Pink Sand Beach so… pink. The three-and-a half-mile-long stretch gets its hue from thousands of broken coral pieces, shells, and calcium carbonate materials left behind by foraminifera (tiny marine creatures with red and pink shells) that live in the coral reefs that surround the beach. The pink sands can also be found on Harbour Island's Atlantic side and along the Exuma Sound—Lighthouse Beach, Surfer's Beach, Winding Bay Beach, and French Leave Beach are also famous for their rosy sand. See it for yourself: Several flights to Eleuthera are available through Bahamasair from South Florida, or opt for one of several ferries or water taxis from the other Bahamian islands. The five-hour Eleuthera Express from Nassau costs $35 per person one-way. To get to Harbor Island from North Eleuthera Airport, take a 10-minute taxi ride (about $5 per person) to the boat dock and a 10-minute water taxi (also about $5 per person) across to Harbor Island—bicycles, scooters, and golf carts are available for rental once on the island, while walking tends to be the preferred form of transportation. PURPLE SANDPfeiffer Beach, Big Sur, CaliforniaHave you ever heard of purple sand? Head to the northern coastline of Pfeiffer Beach, where patches of violet and deep-purple sand can be found. The source is large deposits of quartz and manganese garnet originating in the nearby hills being washed down from the creek to its final resting place along the Pacific. The purple sand is more likely to be seen after storms during the winter. Swimming is not recommended because of strong currents and a number of sharp purple rocks offshore, which also contribute to the beach's rare coloration. See it for yourself: Pfeiffer Beach is located just outside Big Sur State Park about an hour south of Monterey, or roughly two hours and 45 minutes south of San Francisco along Pacific Coast Highway 1. Keep an eye out for Sycamore Canyon Road just past mile marker 45.64 and continue through Los Padres National Forest—if you are driving from Northern California, turn right approximately 0.66 miles after you see the park ranger station. Parking is available for $5 per vehicle. ORANGE SANDPorto Ferro, Sardinia, ItalyThe northern corner of Italy's island of Sardinia is home to Porto Ferro, a one-and-a-quarter-mile stretch of oddly orange-colored sand thanks to a unique mixture of the area's native orange limestone, crushed shells, and other volcanic deposits. You can also find 65-foot-tall ochre-colored sand dunes behind the beach on the way to Lake Baratz, Sardinia's only natural salt lake. The area is known for its scenic bike and hiking paths, and three Spanish lookout towers—Torre Negra, Torre Bianca, and Torre de Bantine Sale—that date back to the 1600s. Boating is the best way to explore this pristine area of Sardinia, which is also a popular spot for diving, surfing, and windsurfing. See it for yourself: Ryanair offers affordable round-trip flights from many Italian cities to the town of Alghero on Sardinia, with prices from Rome's Ciampino Airport starting at around $69 per person. Once on the island of Sardinia, Porto Ferro is just 19 miles outside Alghero—drive northwest toward the town of Capo Caccia, turn right, and continue up the coast to reach Porto Ferro. WHITE SANDCrescent Beach, Siesta Key, FloridaA lot of places boast that they have white-sand beaches, but it doesn't get much whiter than Crescent Beach, located on Siesta Key, a barrier island just off the coast of Sarasota, FL. The sand here is 99 percent pure quartz, which has traveled down Florida's rivers from the Appalachian Mountains. The best part about this sand's fine texture: Not only does it feel like you're walking through powdered sugar, but because of its unique quartz makeup, it will never heat up no matter how hot the Florida sun beats down. You'll also find coral and other diverse rock formations at the southern end of the beach at Point of Rocks that make this a great area for diving and snorkeling. Alas, it turns out there may be one beach with whiter sand: Hyams Beach in Australia is now listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as having the whitest sand in the world. See it for yourself: Siesta Key is about a 20-minute drive from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport—travel south on U.S. 41 (Tamiami Trail) to Siesta Drive, turn right and go over the bridge to Siesta Key, bear left at the first traffic light, follow State Highway 758, and make a right at the second traffic light at Beach Road. Park in the lot on the left and walk five minutes south to reach Crescent Beach. GRAY SANDShelter Cove, Humboldt County, CaliforniaOne word best describes Shelter Cove: remote. It's worth the trip to see the gray-colored sand, the result of years of erosion of the nearby gray-shale cliffs along the shore. The area is also known for its scenic coastal drives, hikes, and an abundant source of wildlife at the nearby 68,000-acre King Range National Conservation Area, home to sea lions, bald eagles, and Roosevelt elk—even Bigfoot himself has been spotted roaming the woods here. See it for yourself: Make the four-and-a-half-hour drive north from San Francisco on Highway 101 to Northern California's Humboldt County. Shelter Cove is along "The Lost Coast" just above Mendocino County and about an hour south of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Look for the Redway-Shelter Cove exit on U.S. Highway 101 and drive onto Briceland Road to get to the northern part of the beach. MULTICOLORED SANDRainbow Beach, AustraliaRainbow Beach makes up for its small size (just 0.62 miles) with its many colors. There are 74 different hues, a clandestine combination of erosion and iron oxide buildup that has been occurring since the last ice age, and the makeup changes. There is a sad romantic story behind the colors as well. According to an ancient Aboriginal legend, the sands became colorful as a result of the rainbow spirit falling onto the large 656-foot tall beachside cliffs after losing a battle over a beautiful woman, leaving his beautiful colors to rest on the beach for all of eternity. See it for yourself: Rainbow Beach is a three-hour drive north of Brisbane on the Sunshine Coast of northeast Queensland. Greyhound Australia offers shuttle bus service to Rainbow Beach from Brisbane International Airport—prices for a round-trip adult ticket start from $114 per person including taxes. Another bus company, Premier Motor Services, offers similar routes for from $60 per person for a round-trip ticket.
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