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Insider Secrets of Rome

By The Editors of Budget Travel
March 27, 2013
The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, Italy
Courtesy Kaeli Conforti
With the newly elected Pope moving in and Easter approaching, the old adage about all roads leading to you-know-where seems especially true these days. Here, Budget Travel shows you how to enjoy Rome like a Roman.

Heaping plates of light-as-air pasta. Art by Michelangelo, Raphael, and Bernini. Some of the most entertaining people-watching on the planet. Rome is a city like no other. But as welcoming as it can be, to the first-time visitor Rome can also feel a little like an upscale hazing ritual, with winding ticket lines, expensive meals, and crowds, crowds, crowds. With the help of actual Romans and some well-traveled BT editors, we've put together some can't-miss tips for making yourself at home in the Eternal City.

SEE 25 BEAUTIFUL PHOTOS OF ROME!

Eat Like a Local

It's easy to eat great in Rome, but keeping the tab reasonable is another story. We turned to Rome resident Elizabeth Minchilli, author of the bestselling app Eat Rome and host of the blog Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome, for affordable restaurant recommendations. Her picks:

Forno dei Campo dei Fiori. "This outpost of the famous bakery sells one thing only: Panini," says Minchilli. "The bread is actually the bakery's much-loved pizza Bianca and filling includes mortadella, mozzarella and tomatoes, and frittata." (Vicolo del Gallo 14)

Enoteca Corsi. This wine shop also does a brisk business as a working-class restaurant. "The real action is in back," says Minchilli. "Paper-topped tables and wooden chairs are all original. A daily menu is thrown on the table, with dozens of Roman specialties like meat-stuffed zucchini, osso buco, and thick and delicious faro soup. Don't miss the gnocchi on Thursdays!" (Via del Gesu 87)

L'Asino d'Oro. With creative riffs on traditional Umbrian and central Italian cuisine, this restaurant is jammed and pricey at night. "But at lunchtime, the fixed menu is one of the best deals in town at $17," says Minchilli. "Three full courses, plus wine and water, but it's cash-only at lunch and make sure you reserve ahead." (Via del Boschetto 73)

See the Vatican After-Hours

With one of the greatest art collections on earth, it's no surprise that the Vatican Museums are packed during the day. Time was you needed to hand over hundreds of extra euros for a less-crowded tour during the evening. But each Friday between May 3 and July 26, and September 6 and October 25, the Vatican Museums will be open from 7p.m. to 11 p.m., with the last entrance at 9:30 p.m. For $21 at mv.vatican.va, you can enjoy relative peace and quiet on a self-guided tour of the Pio Clementino collection; Raphael Rooms, the galleries of the Candelabra, Tapestries, and Maps; and the Sistine Chapel. Bring binoculars to view Michelangelo's paintings on the Chapel's ceiling, but remember that photography is not allowed (the company that funded the chapel's recent renovation was given rights to the iconic images and does not allow them to be photographed by visitors).

Beat the Lines at the Colosseum

The most famous site in Rome is remaining open to the public during a $30 million, 2+ year renovation that will create an underground visitors' center and expand access to underground tunnels. While the amphitheater has been thrilling visitors for 2,000 years, that doesn't mean you should have to wait for centuries at the back of a seemingly endless ticket line. Instead, buy your tickets (about $14) to the Colosseum, Forum, and Palatine Hill at the Palatine box office on Via di S. Gregorio 30. Then, you can proceed right past the line to the entrance turnstiles. (If you have visited Rome over the past 10 years or so, you may recall that the Forum was once free, but now tickets are required.)

Get Into the Galleria Borghese

Don't make the rookie mistake of showing up at the popular Galleria Borghese without tickets. Only 360 visitors are admitted every two hours (at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m., and 5 p.m.), and advance tickets (about $14) are required before you can see the heartbreakingly beautiful works here, including those by Titian and Bernini. You can drop by a day or two in advance to make your reservation for a specific date and time, or reserve at galleriaborghese.it. Then, collect your tickets in person at least 30 minutes before your scheduled admission time.

Don't Eat Ice Cream on the Spanish Steps!

Sure, Roman Holiday may be the most, well, romantic movie ever, and the sight of Audrey Hepburn eating gelato on the Spanish Steps is indelible. But if you try parking on the steps—or any other public space—to chow down these days, you may end up being slapped with a fine. Last year, Rome's mayor was horrified when he saw the city's historic landmarks jammed with people scarfing pizza and panini and licking ice cream cones. A new ordinance forbids eating and drinking anywhere in Rome with "particular historic, artistic, architectonic, and cultural value" (yeah, that's pretty much everywhere). And we're not talking about a minor traffic ticket here—fines can total up to more than $600.

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Insider Secrets of Hawaii

Thinking of taking a trip to Hawaii? Having spent most of my childhood living on the island of Oahu, I've been able to assemble some great tips for visiting the Hawaiian Islands over the years. This comes in handy especially when my friends and family ask about the best places to visit and how to find the best airfares—always check for flight specials on Hawaiian Airlines, which has been offering great sales ever since they started offering non-stop service from New York's JFK airport back in June, and if you don't see anything you like there, browse Budget Travel's Hawaii travel deals to find air and hotel packages to the islands. From the historical sites of Oahu to the out-of-this-world volcanic landscape of the Big Island, here are 20 tips to keep in mind the next time you head to Hawaii. (Special note: you will need a car to reach most of the places mentioned). OAHU 1. If you want to see Pearl Harbor, reserve your tickets ahead of time onlineNothing ruins a trip more than not planning ahead and getting locked out of a major attraction you came all the way to see. Anyone interested in World War II history will want to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial, a moving reminder of the attack that launched the United States into World War II in the Pacific. Reserve your tickets ahead of time (you'll have to pay a $1.50 convenience fee per ticket but other than that, it's free.) Each historic tour is about an hour and 15 minutes long, and includes a boat ride to the site of the USS Arizona Memorial, where you can see the remains of the battleship just below the water's surface. 2. Make time to venture out of Waikiki and HonoluluSome of the island's best attractions are located out of the main tourist zone of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, but are still worth checking out. The Bus, Hawaii's main form of public transportation, offers a variety of options for as low as $2.50 a ride with free transfers, or you could even hop on one of the Circle Island Tours, which last anywhere from 2.5 to 4.5 hours depending on where you board. Of course, the other option is to rent a car and travel around the island at your own pace. Spend a day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, a protected nature preserve on Oahu's southeast coast that rents out snorkel gear and a supply of fish food guaranteed to work the wildlife into a tizzy you'll never forget. Tickets start at $7.50 per person, free for children under 3 and Hawaii residents and it costs $1 to park. Open daily except Tuesday. Go for a drive up the windward coast on Kalanianaole (pronounced "ka-la-nee-ah-nah-oh-lee") Highway, where you'll have Koko Head, a dormant yet impressive-looking volcano on one side, and sharp cliffs leading into the bluest ocean you've ever seen on the other. Further down the road in Kailua, take in the beauty of Lanikai Beach, constantly voted as Hawaii's number one beach by the Travel Channel, and still off the beaten path enough to not be bogged down with tourists. Visit Oahu's North Shore and spend a day exploring the Polynesian Cultural Center, kind of like Disney's EPCOT, in the sense that every culture from Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Fiji, Hawaii, and several other islands showcases their cultural dances, food, music, and other traditions (tickets start at $49.95 for adults, $39.95 for kids). 3. Explore Hawaiian food specialtiesEvery time someone asks me what to see and do on Oahu, food automatically ends up in our conversation. If you're staying in the Waikiki Beach area, don't miss the chance to have dinner at Duke's Waikiki, a restaurant named after surf legend Duke Kahanamoku, with a buffet full of Hawaiian favorites like fresh poke, kalua pork, and huli huli chicken among other options. If you're venturing up to see the sights of Oahu's North Shore, make sure you stop by Giovanni's Shrimp Truck just outside the town of Laie—their shrimp scampi is still something I think about, even though it's been eleven years since we moved. The North Shore is also home to Oahu's legendary shaved ice spot, Matsumoto Shave Ice, in the historic town of Haleiwa. They're known all over the island for having a unique variety of flavors like tangerine, green tea, and creamsicle among others, so choose wisely. MAUI 1. Pick a beach, any beachBeaches are probably the first thing that come to mind whenever people mention the Hawaiian Islands, and Maui has its fare share of picturesque options. We stayed primarily on the western side of the island, where the big attraction is Ka'anapali Beach, located just outside the historic whaling village of Lahaina. If you actually hit the point where you need a break from sun and sand, try a day of shopping at nearby Whalers VIllage or take some time to check out the art galleries and historic trails in the area. In the mood to snorkel or dive the coral reef? Try a day-trip to Molokini, a submerged crater and marine preserve only accessible by boat. 2. Take a whale watching cruise from Lahaina HarborDecember thru April is prime whale-watching season in Maui, when humpback whales migrate from the cold waters of Alaska to Hawaii's warm waters to breed and raise their young. The Pacific Whale Foundation says whale sightings can start as early as late September and last as long as mid-May. We were lucky enough to visit in early May both times, and took a whale-watching cruise from Lahaina for a better look. There's nothing quite like having a mother whale and her baby swim up alongside your boat for a look at you! 3. Visit Mt. Haleakala with all the other touristsMaui's most popular attraction is definitely Haleakala, the 10,023-foot-tall dormant volcano that rises above the island-the only other point taller in all of Hawaii is Mauna Kea on the Big Island, which you can see from the top of Haleakala. You will need a car to visit this popular tourist spot (unless you're part of a tour group) and be warned that it takes at least two hours to drive the long and winding road up to the summit. We learned the hard way that it's pretty cold at the top of the mountain—as in 35 degrees cold, because of the altitude—so pack a jacket! There are several lookout points on the way up, but nothing beats the view from the top. Some people recommend driving up in the very early  morning to be there in time to watch the sun rise from the summit for the most stunning view, but we have yet to do that (our family prefers to do things a little later in the day.) Haleakala National Park offers horseback riding and a number of hiking trails through the crater. There's also the opportunity to bike down the volcano, something I'm definitely doing the next trip. 4. Experience Hawaiian Culture at a LuauIf you get a chance, don't miss a night of traditional Hawaiian food—kalua pork cooked in an underground imu oven, anyone?—music, and of course, hula performances that will make for one of the best memories of your trip. We went to the Old Lahaina Luau, but there are others throughout the island as well. Don't be shy, since most luaus have a tradition of welcoming visitors up on stage to learn the hula—shed your inhibitions and shake your hips to the rhythm of the islands, enjoy the music, and make sure someone is snapping photographic evidence of your new dancing skills. 5. Brave the Hana HighwayThe scariest, most scenic road in the islands is the Hana Highway. Located on the easternmost side of Maui, it is a long, winding, one-lane road that stretches the length of the coastline from north to south, giving you gorgeous views of the Pacific, and all the mountains, cliffs, and valleys Maui has to offer. A number of lookout points, waterfalls, and natural pools are available road-side, and you'll take on 620 curves and 59 bridges, making the drive about two to four hours long one-way for those brave enough to try it. The views and bragging rights alone make this trip worth it. KAUAI 1. Visit Waimea Canyon, "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific"The western side of Kauai is home to Waimea Canyon, about an hour's drive on scenic curvy roads that offer views of the nearby island of Ni'ihau (only accessible to native Hawaiians) and gorgeous views of the mountains, valleys, and the bluest ocean you've ever seen. "The Grand Canyon of the Pacific" features many of the same geological traits as its namesake—think crested buttes, deep gorges, and colorful rock formations—and is more than 3,600 feet deep, measuring 14 miles long by one mile wide. Stay on Waimea Canyon Drive and keep driving until you reach the Waimea Canyon Overlook. 2. Honeymooners—Elvis fans—shouldn't miss a trip to the Fern GrottoIf thoughts of Kauai have you picturing scenes of The King in Blue Hawaii, the Fern Grotto is a spot you shouldn't miss. Entry to the grotto used to be forbidden to all except Hawaiian royalty, but nowaways anyone can catch a 40-minute cruise down the Wailua River to the site for about $20 per person ($10 for children ages 3-12) and take in views of one of Kauai's greatest natural wonders. Folks have been known to get married or renew their vows here, and if you're engaged, newlyweds, or celebrating a wedding anniversary, be prepared to come forward for a slow dance to Elvis Presley's Hawaiian Wedding Song—the Hawaiian lyrics in it were sung here long before the film. 3. Hike, kayak, camp, and explore Kauai's secluded Na Pali CoastIf you're an outdoorsy person, nature lover, or just want to see some of the best views on the island without dealing with the tourist crowds, make sure you visit Kauai's beautiful Na Pali Coast. There are no roads on the westernmost side of the island, making it one of the last isolated, untouched, natural places in the Hawaiian Islands. Determined travelers can view the rocky terrain from the air with any number of helicopter tours, or view the coastline from a boat tour or guided kayak trip, while more adventurous types can try hiking the 11-mile Kalalau Trail from Kee Beach to Kalalau Beach—the full hike is best broken up into a two-day trip, and camping permits are available for $20 per person per night (with a five night maximim stay) thorugh the Hawaii State Parks Department. Kokee State Park offers more challenging hiking trails, like Awaawapuhi Trail, that lead to scenic overlooks while other hikes like Cliff Canyon and Black Pipe Trail are better suited for family hiking trips. 4. Drive up to a beautiful waterfallKauai is home to a number of impressive waterfalls, two of which are accessible by car alone. Wailua Falls is located just a few miles from downtown Lihue and can be viewed from the road, so there's no need to hike for a great view. Just drive north from Lihue to Ma'alo Road in Halamaulu, and follow the road uphill for another three miles. Another beautiful waterfall, Opaeka'a Falls, is viewable from Kuamo'o Road, but those wanting a closer look can brave the tough half-hour hike from the two-mile marker past the lookout point on Highway 580. 5. Get a slice of Hawaiian historyHanapepe Town on Kauai's southwest coast is home to a bustling Hawaiian art scene, with an art celebration every Friday night from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when the town's painters, sculptors, and other artists open their gallery and studio doors to showcase their work. Those seeking an authentic trip into Hawaii's past should visit the museums and historic sites along the Koloa Heritage Trail—visit the Kihaha'ouna Heiau (an ancient Hawaiian temple), Poipu Beach Park (home to the island's endangered Hawaiian monk seals), and other sites dating back to Kauai's former days as a sugar plantation hotspot. The Kilohana Plantation in Lihue is a 16,000 square-foot restored plantation estate that offers a chance to see what life was like in Kauai during the 1930s—also on-site is the Koloa Rum Company, where you can sample the island's best rum every half hour on the half hour beginning at 10 a.m. daily. Located on Kauai's North Shore about a 45 minute drive north of Lihue is the historic Kilauea Lighthouse, great for stunning views of the Pacific and access to the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a safehaven for a number of native bird species found on the island including the endangered state bird, the nene goose. THE BIG ISLAND OF HAWAII 1. Get up close to an active volcanoRemember all those earth science classes you took about volcanoes and lava rocks? Visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to see the real thing in action. Not only will you get the chance to drive right up to the caldera—don't miss the Crater Rim Drive, an 11-mile road that passes through the various volcano landscapes from tropical rainforest to the desert-like crater itself, with scenic overlooks all along the way—there's also the opportunity to walk inside the Thurston Lava Tube, no longer an active part of the volcano, that allows you to walk 1/3 mile inside Kilauea where lava once flowed a few hundred years ago. Expect to pay $10 per vehicle that enters the park, or $5 per individual if you enter by foot, bicycle, or motorcycle. Don't forget to get a park map from staff on your way into the park, and stop by the Kilauea Visitor Center and Jaggar Museum to learn more about what you're viewing. Free camping and hiking opportunities are also available, as are park ranger-led walking tours, but be sure to check the website for updates on volcanic activity in the park before you head out. Always stick to the marked paths and never try to get closer to the lava, no matter how great you think your photo might turn out. You're still on an active volcano, after all. 2. Walk on dried lava at KalapanaJust outside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park is Kalapana, or more accurately, the remains of Kalapana, a town overrun with Kilauea's lava flow back in 1990. Miraculously, everyone survived the eruption that destroyed 182 homes, as locals had already evacuated the town, taking the Star of the Sea Church with them. Now, Kalapana serves as a reminder of how powerful nature can be. Free hikes are offered daily from 2 P.M. to 10 P.M. with the last cars allowed to park at 8 P.M. Just keep driving down Highway 130 in Puna until the road in front of you is stopped by a wall of hardened, black lava. Wear sturdy shoes and tread carefully as the hardened lava rocks can be sharp if you fall. As you walk, you'll see street signs and other parts of the former town break the surface of the rock, and you'll be rewarded with views of a beautiful black sand beach at the end of the hike, although it is considered unsafe for swimming due to the proximity of the volcanic activity. Kalapana is also an excellent spot to view the active, molten lava that flows from Kilauea's Pu'u O'o vent into the sea in the distance, causing clouds of smoke to rise out over the ocean as the hot lava meets the cool Pacific. As always, stay on the marked path, and check for updates before you go. 3. Don't take lava rocks as a souvenir, it's bad luckThere are any number of souvenirs you could buy and take home from the Hawaiian Islands, but taking lava rocks  from their natural place is considered a major no-no. Tourists from all over the world have been known to send back lava rocks to the Hawaii Visitor's Bureau with letters saying they've had an unusual streak of bad luck lately, which locals claim is just a little dose of revenge from Pele, the goddess of the volcano. Some Hawaiians say not to buy souvenirs containing fragments of lava rocks, and even go as far as shaking out their shoes after a hike so as not to accidentally take any lava dust home with them. Even if you're not the superstitous type, don't say I didn't warn you. 4. Live like a Paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy)For a uniquely "only in Hawaii" experience, visit Parker Ranch, near the center of the island, for a taste of Paniolo life. Back in 1809 when Captain James Cook first visited the Hawaiian Islands, one of his men, John Parker, abandoned his duties and hid among the Hawaiians, eventually being charged with important jobs by King Kamehameha I, and starting Parker Ranch in 1815. The ranch later served as a U.S. Marines training ground from 1942 to 1945 as they prepared for Pacific battles against the Japanese in World War II. Nowadays, tourists can visit the working ranch for a chance to see what it's like to live as a Hawaiian cowboy, and take in great views of the island since it's located between two impressive, though dormant, volcanoes, Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Try a two-hour long horseback riding tour of Parker Ranch for $79 per person for a more authentic feel. Rides start at the Blacksmith Shop on Pukalani Road, and are available Monday thru Saturday at 8:15 a.m. and 12:15 p.m. for anyone over the age of seven. 5. Visit the Hilo Farmers Market and nearby Akaka FallsYou can't visit the Big Island without stopping in Hilo, home to the Hilo Farmers Market, named by the Huffington Post as one of the top ten farmers markets every food lover should visit. Every Wednesday and Saturday from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., over 200 local farmers and crafters share their goods with locals and tourists alike, offering the best deals on local produce, arts, and crafts around—coupons are also available on their website for more discounts. A wide selection of Hawaiian food vendors, clothing, coffee and tea, honey, and fresh flowers are also available, and keep an eye out for free live musical performances offered twice a week. Just a 25-minute drive north of downtown Hilo is 'Akaka Falls State Park, home to one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the islands. Admission is a mere $5 per vehicle and the photo-ops are endless. 6. Go stargazing at Mauna KeaAt 14,000 feet, Mauna Kea is Hawaii's highest point and home to the world's biggest telescopes at the Mauna Kea Observatories. Drive 90 minutes from Hilo on Route 200 up the twisting, winding, Saddle Road, and stop at the Visitor Information Station of the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy to learn more about the dormant volcano, see the giant telescopes, and buy souvenirs. Brace yourself for cold temperatures and the occasional snow drift at such high altitudes (yes, it does sometimes snow in Hawaii), and if weather and road conditions permit, drive to the 14,000-foot summit for a view of the main observatory. For $200 a person, Mauna Kea Summit Adventures will pick you up from certain locations in Kailua-Kona, and loan you cold-weather parkas and gloves for an educational trip to Mauna Kea's summit, and the stargazing opportunity of a lifetime using their large portable telescopes. The tour can last anywhere from seven to eight hours, and includes dinner at the Mauna Kea Visitors Center. LAST BUT NOT LEAST... Toss a flower lei into the ocean before you leave—it means you'll be back someday.At some point during your trip, treat yourself to a beautiful and fragrant flower lei. Wear it around as much as you want, then toss it into the ocean on your last day, and start counting the days until your next Hawaiian vacation. Or just listen to the Na Leo Pilimehana channel on Pandora for enough Hawaiian music to hold you over til then. Aloha!

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10 Stylish Steals in the Caribbean!

Admit it—you've had the Caribbean on your must-see list for years. What's stopping you? For starters, the very word may inspire you to keep one hand on your wallet. But the truth is there's never been a better time to take the plunge—both figuratively and literally—into those turquoise waters. Here, words of wisdom from your favorite experts—the editors of Budget Travel—about enjoying the white sand, world-class restaurants, and rich culture of the Caribbean without breaking the bank. Plus, for each destination, we share a Stylish Steal that will help you book a stay that feels luxe at a smart price. SEE THE ISLANDS! 1. BAHAMAS  From northernmost Grand Bahama, with its three national parks, underwater caves, and urbane nightlife, to the bustling port of Nassau, home to gorgeous Cable Beach and historic Bay Street lined with shops and cafes, the Bahamas remain a favorite for savvy travelers (airfares fell 4 percent in 2012 and hotel prices fell 2.5 percent from 2011 to 2012). While in Nassau, you can hop a three-hour ferry to the beach of your dreams on Andros Island, join a deep-sea fishing trip for blue marlin, wahoo, billfish, and tuna, and get a taste of authentic Bahamas cuisine at Twin Brothers with its grilled seafood combo platters including conch, snapper, and grouper starting at $20.50. Stylish Steal: Wyndham Nassau Resort & Casino, on Cable Beach, is a good home base for exploring Nassau and New Providence Island. Three bars and four restaurants are onsite and the casino offers table games and slots (wyndhamnassauresort.com, from $112). 2. ARUBA  Sure, the western side of this Dutch island is dominated by high-end hotels, casinos, and chic shopping. But venturing off the ritzy path, Aruba offers staggering natural beauty and outdoor activities. Take a jeep tour of cactus-studded Arikok National Park, go snorkeling, horseback riding, or get a bird's-eye view of it all on a skydive. Near the island's northwestern tip, Malmok Beach is a mecca for snorkelers and divers thanks to the sunken Antilla, a 400-foot German World War II freighter that is now a diverse mini-ecosystem that includes ruby sponges, colorful coral, and tropical fish. Take a detour from the wreck to swim in secluded Boca Catalina Bay. Stylish Steal: MVC Eagle Beach is a 19-room inn with ocean-view terraces, all-white bedding, and dark-wood furniture (mvceaglebeach.com, from $95). 3. DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  Punta Cana has been a popular beach destination for Europeans for years, but Americans are now getting in on this inexpensive paradise just a stone's throw (well, a two-hour flight) from Miami. Bavaro Beach is the area's busiest, but its white sand, clear water, and offshore coral reef make it worth a visit. Take day-trips to the country's historic capital, Santa Domingo, with its Spanish colonial architecture, and Indigenous Eyes Park, a private nature reserve and jungle park featuring waterfalls and lagoons for swimming. You can also try a surf lesson at Macao Beach, explore the Cordillera Septentrional Mountains, and soak up some history at Casa Ponce de Leon, a museum dedicated to the explorer. Stylish Steal: NH Punta Cana is a colorful and stylish resort on Bavaro Beach with plenty of modern perks like complimentary Wi-Fi and satellite TV (nh-hotels.com, from $130). 4. JAMAICA  "Liming" in Jamaica means relaxing. And with miles of beaches, Rastafarian culture, and amazing food, this is the place to lime! Doctor's Cave Beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay, a short walk from many hotels, and Seven Mile Beach is a few minutes' drive away. Jamaica's beaches offer not only the sun and fun you'd expect but also tasty jerk chicken and the national beer, Red Stripe. Montego Bay Marine Park is an underwater nature reserve with tropical fish and anemones; it's an ideal place to try snorkeling. Up for something more adventurous? Venture to 180-foot Dunn River Falls in the rain forest in nearby Ocho Rios. Stylish Steal: Casa Blanca Beach Hotel is a classic Jamaican hotel with old-world styling situated in the middle of Montego Bay's Hip Strip near Doctor's Cave Beach (Casa Blanca Beach Hotel, from $80). 5. PUERTO RICO  One of the delights of visiting Puerto Rico is that you're still in the U.S. yet a world away at the same time. Old San Juan's narrow cobblestone streets and pastel houses—not to mention its salsa-driven nightlife—invite you to join the party. Stop in at Bodega Chic or Nono's for a drink, or join in a public sing-along in Plaza del Mercado, nicknamed "La Placita." For a great view of the Atlantic, head to El Morro, an old fort that's stood here since the 16th century. The most popular beaches in San Juan are in the Condado neighborhood on the eastern side of the city; get there early to grab a prime spot on the golden sand. Stylish Steal: Numero Uno Guesthouse is a darling 15-room inn right by the beach in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan (numero1guesthouse.com, from $149). 6. MEXICO Quick! What's the number one overseas destination for Americans? Venice? Paris? Guess again. It's Cancun, on Mexico's Caribbean coast. Here on this islet, 14 miles of beach and legendary nightlife draw hordes during Spring Break, but the real Cancun, with its Mayan roots, offers something much deeper than a party scene. The beach at Playa Tortugas is festive, with bungalow restaurants and bars under the palms; Playa Delfines, in contrast, is an escapist white-sand beach for aspiring surfers and those who crave some quiet. Don't miss a day-trip to the Riviera Maya with its beachfront ruins at Tulum and the jungle temples of Coba. If you insist on indulging in Cancun's nightlife, head to Coco Bongo, a 1,800-person temple to excess with dancing, nightly trapeze acts, and rock-star impersonators. Stylish Steal: The Royal Islander is a beachfront resort with humdrum décor but a great location (and a seaside pool) in the Zona Hotelera of Cancun (royalresorts.com, from $120). 7. U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS St. Croix is a bit of a curiosity in the Virgin Islands. It's bigger than St. Thomas and St. John put together, but draws the fewest visitors because of its remoteness and relatively undeveloped landscape. It also happens to be the easternmost point of the United States. That means that, without a passport, you can immerse yourself in a culture that blends Caribbean, Dutch, French, British, Spanish, and Danish influences all in a package less than 23 miles long and eight miles wide. With all the expected to-dos you associate with an island paradise (swimming, snorkeling, sunbathing, fine dining, and golf), St. Croix also offers the old-world architecture of Christiansted, with homes dating back to the 18th century, and a "rain forest" near the western shore. (It's not technically a rain forest, but private land open to visitors, with a bounty of tropical flora and colorful hummingbirds, warblers, and other birds.) Stylish Steal: Hotel Caravelle is near Christiansted's historical sites and has a restaurant, bar, outdoor pool, and spa onsite (hotelcaravelle.com, from $136). 8. BERMUDA  Sitting all alone in the Atlantic Ocean 650 miles east of North Carolina, Bermuda is a true outlier. It's not anywhere near the Caribbean Sea, and its food, architecture, and customs are far more British-colonial than tropical paradise. Still, the island (actually an atoll) has found an easy alliance with its neighbors to the south, sharing in tourism efforts and reaping the benefits of their counterbalanced seasons: The Caribbean booms in the winter, while peak season in Bermuda runs from spring through fall. Though Bermuda is always pricey—four of the five most expensive destinations in the Caribbean are here—visitors traveling off-season can find lower airfares, reduced golf fees, and hotels that may be more than 40 percent off summer rates. It's not quite sunbathing weather: December days average 70 degrees. Stylish Steal: The 200-year-old main house of the Greenbank Guesthouse & Cottages incorporates cedar beams that were used as ballast in transatlantic trading ships (greenbankbermuda.com, from $145). 9. CAYMAN ISLANDS  The Caymans are practically synonymous with two wealthy pursuits: deep-sea diving and offshore banking. Dive 365, an initiative launched by the islands' Tourism Association, inspired by the notion that the Cayman's should provide a unique diving experience for each day of the year, is making at least one of those more accessible to regular folks. One of the most noteworthy dive projects is the decommissioned U.S. naval ship Kittiwake, a 251-foot submarine rescue vessel that now sits in 62 feet of water off Seven Mile Beach. Because the top is only about eight feet below the surface, the vessel is also accessible to snorkelers. Stylish Steal: Affordable hotels on Grand Cayman are rare, but one good pick is 130-room Sunshine Suites, just a stone's throw from the Ritz-Carlton; each room has a fully equipped kitchen (sunshinesuites.com, from $158). 10. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO  Tobago is like Trinidad's backyard, a 116-square-mile haven just a 20-minute flight on Caribbean Airlines from its bigger, noisier sibling. Where Trinidad has restaurants, nightclubs, and 96 percent of the country's population, Tobago has empty beaches, calm bays, and spectacular brain-coral reefs. There are also almost three times the number of exotic bird species as there are hotels, and the birds have free rein in the Main Ridge Forest Reserve, one of the oldest protected forests in the western hemisphere. Stylish Steal: When it comes to human nesting, it doesn't get more peaceful than the four-room Gloucester Place Guest House in Parlatuvier, on the island's north coast. Shaded by coconut palms and mango trees, the guesthouse even has its own natural waterfall and an infinity pool overlooking the Caribbean (gloucesterplace.com, from $100).

Inspiration

7 Beautiful Cable Car Rides Around the World

Cable cars and aerial trams around the world give you access to brilliant panoramic views without having to go through the effort of hiking a long, winding trail up a mountain or trekking through the wilderness in search of the perfect vantage point. We scoured the globe to find the most travel-inspiring views, whether you're seeking a relaxing ride in Rio or want to try capturing a different angle of the New York City skyline. All you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy. And don't forget your camera! SEE THE VIEWS! Sugarloaf Mountain Aerial Tram Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Sugarloaf Mountain has always been a major Rio de Janeiro landmark—the city itself was founded at the mountain's base in 1565. The Sugarloaf Mountain Aerial Tram was built in 1912, turning Rio de Janeiro into a major tourist destination. Able to carry up to 65 passengers at a time, the cable car offers two rides—first the 722-foot climb to Morro da Urca, then the 1,300-foot rise to the Sugarloaf Mountain summit—and 360-degree views of Copacabana, Ipanema, Guanabara Bay, and the Corcovado Mountains, as well as a peek at the statue of Christ the Redeemer that this area is known for. Take a lunch or shopping break mid-way at Morro da Urca and visit the Bondinho exhibit at the mountain's summit for a look at the role Sugarloaf Mountain has played throughout modern Brazilian history. How to ride: Tickets cost $27 for adults and $13 for children ages 6-12; children six and under ride free. Cable cars depart every 20 minutes between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. Click here for directions from touristy Copacabana and Downtown Rio de Janeiro. Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Cape Town, South Africa Treat yourself to 360-degree views of Cape Town, the Helderberg Mountains, Blue Mountain Beach, Sunset Beach, Devil's Peak, Camps Bay, Robben Island, Signal Hill and Lion's Head, the Cape Town Stadium, and the 12 Apostles with a ride on the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway. Cable cars depart every 10-15 minutes and make the 3,559-foot climb up the 260-million year old Table Mountain in under five minutes. More than 20-million visitors have taken a ride since the Cableway opened in 1929. At the top, buy a souvenir, dine in a restaurant while enjoying gorgeous mountaintop views, opt for a short nature walk through Table Mountain National Park or try a longer hike along the top of the mountain down to the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden or the Silvermine Nature Preserve. Sip wine while watching a magnificent sunset, or if you're feeling especially gutsy, Abseil Africa offers the opportunity to rappel down the side of Table Mountain, sure to be a memorable experience, if you're brave enough to do it. How to ride: The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is located 15 minutes from the city center on Tafelberg Road in Cape Town. Adults pay $20 for a round-trip ride while children ages 4-18 pay $10 when tickets are ordered online; children under age four ride free. The Cableway will be closed between July 22nd and August 25th, 2013, for annual maintenance. The Yellow Mountains Cable Cars Huangshan, China Located in the remote hills of China's Anhui Province, Mt. Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain, is home to some of the country's most striking natural wonders—you can visit hot springs, waterfalls, and unique rock formations like Lion Peak, the Flying Stone, Monkey Gazing at the Sea, as well as popular tree formations like Black Tiger Pine, Lovers' Pine, and Two Immortals Playing Chess, that the area is known for. Hiking enthusiasts flock to the area's vast trail system with pine trees, streams, and jagged rocks on one side of the path and nothing but sheer cliffs on the other. Yellow Mountain boasts three cable car systems, carrying visitors to various scenic points on the mountain since 1986—the Yungu Cableway takes you from Cloud Valley to White Goose Peak, the Yuping Cableway takes you from the Mercy Light Pavillion to the Jade Screen Pavillion, and the Taiping Cableway takes you from the Pine Valley Nunnery to Pine Forrest Peak. One-way trips last about 8-12 minutes and cost $13 for adults and $7 for children from March 1st and November 30th (prices are $11 for adults and $6 for children from December 1st to February 28th). How to ride: Several options are available to help you get to the area: hop a flight from Shanghai to Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), take a 13-hour long overnight train from Shanghai to Tunxi, or ride one of the seven public buses from Shanghai's South Bus Station to Tangkou, a small village near the Huangshan scenic area where the cable cars are located. Skyline Gondola Queenstown Queenstown, New Zealand First opened in 1967, the Skyline Gondola Queenstown offers 220-degree panoramic views of some of New Zealand's best natural highlights including Coronet Peak, Walter Peak, Cecil Peak, The Remarkables, and Lake Wakatipu as you rise 1,476-feet over Queenstown. A variety of activities are available once you reach the top of Bob's Peak—try a scenic nature walk or take advantage of one of the many area bike trails. The Skyline Queenstown Luge is open year-round, and you can choose between the easy-going scenic track with simple turns and dips, and the advanced track with steeper hills and sharper turns. A special section of the mountain is reserved especially for stargazing—there is no light to obstruct your view of the universe, and with access to telescopes, you'll be able to spot planets and an endless array of stars. For a unique cultural experience, catch a performance of Kiwi Haka, a show celebrating traditional Maori music, dance, and legends. Activity prices may vary—check the website for ticket packages that combine gondola rides, dinner, and the Kiwi Haka performance. How to ride: Skyline Gondola tickets cost $26 for adults and $15 for children, or you can pay $74 for a family pass for up to four people. Gondolas run from 9 a.m. thru 9 p.m. while the luge is open from 10 a.m. thru 5 p.m. in the winter and until 9 p.m. during the summer months. Grindelwald-Männlichen Gondola Cableway Grindelwald-Männlichen, Switzerland Deep in the heart of the Swiss Alps, and about a 25-minute drive from Interlaken, lies the 7,687-foot tall mountain, Männlichen, a haven for nature lovers, and home to the Grindelwald-Männlichen Gondola Cableway—stretching for more than 3.72 miles, it is the world's longest. Opened to the public in 1978, the cableway was built to provide visitors with easy access to hiking and skiing areas, and to cater to families wanting to get closer to nature—breathtaking views of the nearby Jungfrau massif and Bernese Alps also made the ride popular with visitors. Hikers and mountain bikers flock to the region during the summer months, while skiing, snowboarding, and sledding remain popular winter activities. Families visiting the Jungfrau region should check out the Felix Trail, a special family-friendly route between Männlichen and Holenstein where kids can learn about the different animals and wildlife living on the mountain and participate in other fun, educational activities. How to ride: Tickets cost $61 for ages 16 and up, while children ages 15 and under pay $31 for the round-trip ride. The gondola cableway is open from 8:15 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from June to late September, and runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the winter months. Roosevelt Island Tramway New York City Originally built in 1976 as a way to help Queens residents reach their offices in Manhattan, the Roosevelt Island Tramway is now a part of New York City's transportation system, making it the only commuter cable car in North America. The Tramway carries up to 125 people at a time and crosses 3,100 feet at 16 miles an hour in less than five minutes, all while providing scenic views of the Queensboro Bridge, the East River, and the Upper East Side. After crossing from Roosevelt Island, the Tramway leaves visitors at 2nd Avenue between 59th and 60th streets, allowing easy access to subways that connect you to the rest of the city, or on a nice day, opt for a 15-minute walk through the Upper East Side to Central Park. The best part: the Roosevelt Island Tramway is all yours with the swipe of a regular New York City Metrocard, the same card used to ride subways and buses throughout the five boroughs. In other words, you'll get a memorable ride with stunning views for $2.75, the cost of a subway ride. How to ride: Trams operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday thru Thursday, and from 6 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Please note that morning rush hour takes place between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. with evening rush hour between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Prepare for large crowds during those times and plan accordingly. Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Palm Springs, California Located about two hours from Los Angeles and San Diego, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was opened in 1963, providing visitors with a beautiful 2.5-mile ride through the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, an area featuring rugged mountains, abundant wildlife, and magnificent vistas. A number of hiking trails through Mt. San Jacinto State Park are available from the Mountain Station at the top of Chino Canyon, as well as a concrete pathway to Long Valley, a popular picnic area during the warm summer months. Free, guided nature walks are also offered from Memorial Day thru Labor Day from the Natural History Association store. Visit the Winter Adventure Center for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing rentals or to buy a $5 per person permit for camping, available year-round. Dine at the top of Chino Canyon at Peaks Restaurant (fine-dining) or at the Pines Café (a cafeteria-style restaurant), both of which offer stunning views of the Coachella Valley below. How to ride: Tickets cost $23.95 for adults, $16.95 for children ages 3-12, and $21.95 for seniors ages 62 and up. Trams depart every half hour starting at 10 a.m. Monday thru Friday, and starting at 8 a.m. on weekends and holidays, with the last tram at 9:45 p.m. The Tramway will be closed for annual maintenance from August 10-30, 2013.

Inspiration

Mark Your Calendar: The National Cherry Blossom Festival

It's that time of year again. Washington D.C. is gearing up for its 101st annual National Cherry Blossom Festival, set to take place this year from March 20th to April 14th—peak days, when at least 70 percent of the blossoms are open, will be from Tuesday, March 26th, thru Saturday, March 30th. Don't miss The National Cherry Blossom Festival Parade from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. between 7th and 17th streets, NW, along Constitution Avenue on Saturday, April 13th, featuring performances by pop star Mya and singer Elliot Yamin from American Idol among a variety of floats, balloons, and marching bands. Grandstand seating costs $20 per person, but you can stand along the parade route free of charge. Download the free festival app for your iPhone or Android for the latest updates. SEE OUR READERS' BEST PHOTOS OF CHERRY BLOSSOMS AROUND THE WORLD OnBoard Tours runs a guided bus tour featuring the best places to view the cherry blossoms, stopping at the U.S. Capitol, Lower Senate Park, The White House, The Old Post Office, the FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, World War II Memorial, and Washington Monument during the three-hour tour. Tours are available for $69.99 for adults and $59.99 for children ages 12 and under—enter promo code NCBF001 for a $5 discount per person when booking online. Hotels in and around Washington D.C. are getting in on the action and offering special rates in honor of the Festival—click here to view all the options ranging from the Sheraton Pentagon City for from $87 a night to splurges like the Mandarin Oriental Washington D.C. for from $265 a night. Eleven Kimpton Hotels throughout Washington D.C. and Virginia are participating in the Blossoms & Bubbles Package, offering perks like a $30 room credit per stay (to use towards parking or dining), a bar of locally handcrafted cherry blossom soap, bubbles for kids, complimentary sake during wine hour at the hotel, and rates ranging from $135 to $185 per night depending on the hotel. Use promo code BLOOM when booking online between March 20th and April 14th.

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