Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago: More Than 800 Untouched Tropical Islands
In a world where it seems every potential tourist spot is becoming yet another site for fast food franchises, Myanmar offers many locations that are unbelievably unspoiled. Formerly known as Burma, the country is vast and offers a wide range of ecosystems that can be enjoyed. Among them are tropical islands, such as those that make up the Mergui Archipelago to the south of the country. Because they only became opened to tourism recently (in 1997), there are not that many visitors as of yet, allowing you a chance to visit a place that few people in the world have ever been. It's the perfect spot for enjoying the surf and the sand. You can go boating, snorkeling, diving, and fishing here in turquoise water that is unbelievably clear. Or you can just laze on the pure white sand and do nothing at all except enjoy a refreshing drink. The choice is yours.
On land, you'll be able to spot a number of different species including deer, wild boar, lizards, monkeys, and many tropical birds. In the water, there is abundant marine wildlife, including sharks, rays, dolphins, and an almost impossible myriad of colorful fish.
As interesting as the animals are, so too are the local people called the Moken, or sea gypsies. They live primarily on the water and have a unique culture that is almost magical to behold. Today, they build their boats and fish much as their ancestors have done for centuries. They are superb swimmers and divers, making the bulk of their living by diving for pearls, shells, and other marine treasures.
To get to the islands, you can fly from Yangon, Myanmar, or take a boat from Kawthoung or Dawei. Flights don't leave every day, so be sure to check the schedule when planning your itinerary. It's also possible to cruise there.
The best part of the islands is the lack of infrastructure, so you're not going to find your pick of 5-star resorts here. The lodging of choice is the Myanmar Andaman Resort. While it is called a resort, don't think Club Med—it's more like an eco-lodge, but what it lacks in the facilities of a true resort, it more than makes up for in its proximity to nature at its unspoiled best. The hotel does offer kayaking and snorkeling trips and it's even possible to take most PADI courses here for those who wish to improve their diving abilities.
If staying landside doesn't appeal to you, take a look at one of the many cruise options. They are available in a variety of lengths from as little as three days on up to 10. Of course, the longer a cruise you choose, the more you will be able to see and do. When choosing your cruise, you will have options as to the class of boat you would like—remember that you will be living aboard the ship for the duration of your tour, meaning you should choose the same comfort level that you would prefer in a hotel. Also, if your particular interest is in diving, be sure to look at one of the many vessels that offer that as a specialty.
This article was written by Maureen Santucci. Originally from the U.S., Maureen has made Peru her home for the past five years. She writes for Fodor's Travel Guide as well as various travel blogs when she isn't escaping off to the mountains to hike, teaching Tai Chi, or treating patients in her acupuncture clinic.
Wildlife Hotspots in Lima, Peru
This article was written by Andreas Ambarchian, a freelance journalist from England who writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife, and sports. He wrote this article on behalf of the Tambo Blanquillo, a family-owned lodge offering ample opportunities for wildlife viewing in the Peruvian Amazon. For all the dense rainforest in Peru, the capital of Lima is better described as a concrete jungle than a haven for animals. Yet, despite the heavy traffic congestion and inexorable building development in Lima's inner city, there is still plenty of wildlife to see along the coastal region. Palomino IslandsAlthough a city in its own right, Callao is fully integrated into the Metropolitan Area of Lima—it is off the coast of this important port that the Palomino Islands are situated. The islands are home to a large colony of sea lions, with boat tours to the area taking around 30 minutes to reach the destination. Life jackets are provided, as are light snacks and refreshments. Depending on weather and water conditions, visitors are offered the chance to swim among the animals. Tours to the islands also pass by the naval base of San Lorenzo Island, which is home to a number of Humboldt penguins and the old prison island of Fronton. Inner City BirdwatchingThe inner city of Lima is well built up, however even in the most urban districts, such as Barranco and Miraflores, it is possible to find public parks. Although often quite busy, these spaces can be peaceful and are very popular with the wildlife in the area. Vibrantly colored song birds often forage for food in the parks, while flocks of parakeets and hummingbirds can also be seen. One of the largest and best maintained public parks in Lima is Parque El Olivar, located in the business district of San Isidro. The green space has lots of trees, and you can visit a library, an art gallery, a pond, and some early 20th century mansions nearby. [Parque Kennedy in Miraflores is also worth a visit, especially if you're a cat lover—the park is full of clean, happy neighborhood cats!] The CoastLong stretches of boardwalks make much of the coast visible from inland Lima. From here, sea birds, such as cormorants, can be seen plunging into the ocean below. There is also a circuit of beaches making the ocean easily accessible for scuba divers. The water is quite cold so a wet suit would be required. The Pacific Ocean off Lima is inhabited by an array of marine life. In all, Peru has over 1,000 species of fish, some 1,400 species of mollusks, and more than 300 species of shellfish. One of the most popular dives in the area is in the south of Lima, off the coast of the Pucusana district, home to the remains of a 60-foot boat wreck. ZoosLima is home to two zoos, the Zoologico de Huachipa and the Parque de las Leyendas. The first, the smaller of the two, is a privately owned park in the Ate district of the city, close to Central Lima. Here, there are a wide variety of different animals including tigers, giraffes, zebras, and kangaroos, as well as a few indigenous species like monkeys, llamas, and parrots. Inside the botanical garden are around 600 species of exotic, native, and endangered plants. Meanwhile, Parque de las Leyendas is located in a pre-Columbian complex in the San Miguel district. There are various ruins inside the park as well as animals like bears, vicunas, penguins, and big cats.
Lock in an Unbeatable Ski Deal NOW
World-class snow-peaked Rocky Mountain lodging from $99 a night. Oh, and kids ski for free. Sounds good, right? Wait. It's only May! Didn't the ski season just wind down? Yep. But if you want to lock in great rates, don't wait until next season's snow starts coming down before booking a ski getaway. Keystone Resort (800/328-1323, keystoneresort.com), in Colorado, may be America's best ski deal, and booking now means you can save up to 40 percent on lodgings, not to mention the resort's kids-ski-free policy, which has no exceptions or blackout dates. Last November, I published our Ski Resort Survival Guide, in which I confessed that I'd never been skiing, and I promised to learn. The folks at Keystone read that story and emailed me, suggesting that my family and I join them for ski lessons. We did just that, spending a week at Keystone in February, and had a blast learning to ski (I'll share that story in Budget Travel's November/December 2014 issue). We also came away feeling that Keystone not only offered exceptional deals but also a gorgeous, second-to-none setting. If a deal is high on your winter 2014/2015 list, check out the Inn at Keystone in November or early December, where you can lock in rates from $99 a night. I loved the comfortable feel of the rooms at the Inn, the fact that you can walk to Keystone's fantastic Mountain House ski runs on Dercum Mountain (including an amazing ski school that my daughters adored), nab a complimentary hot breakfast every morning, and even bring your dog if that's your thing. The vibe around the Mountain House ski runs is laid back and friendly. The Inn's comfy convenience is just one of Keystone's many lodging options, and you can get downright spectacular if your budget permits. But even upscale digs like the Keystone Lodge and Spa, and a number of condos, remain firmly in the range of smart travelers like you. And as appealing as the resort's Mountain House runs are, the River Run ski area, with an incredible gondola ride to the 11,000+ foot summit, has more star power. Most visitors divide their time between the two areas, and of course there's plenty of exploring to do. (There's also a traditional chairlift for those who prefer to kick it old school, and for the occasions when the winds require the gondola to shut down.) Staying at Keystone also means you can take part in the Epic ski pass program, which gets you onto the runs at other major Colorado resorts, including Vail and Breckenridge, plus resorts in Japan, Switzerland, and France. Keystone also has an array of dining options, all of them exceptional. (My favorite is Keystone's Sleigh Ride Dinner, which takes guests on a two-horse open sleigh to a homestead-style cabin for a cowboy-cooked dinner, live music, and, on a cold, clear night, one of the most spectacular night skies you'll ever seen.)
America's Most Beautiful Sunsets (Plus Deals to Get You There!)
Want to check out these amazing sunsets in person? Here are deals to get you to all of them: Maui, HI How does six nights at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel sound? Delta Vacations puts you right on the beach, including airfare, six nights, and hotel taxes for around $1,200 (depending on where you're flying from). Bradshaw Mountains, AZ Spend some time exploring Arizona with an Expedia deal that includes airfare and five nights, usually for less than $700! The stunning Bradshaw Mountains are in Prescott National Forest, about a two-hour drive northwest of Phoenix. Virginia Hunt Country The Marriott Ranch, in Hume, Virginia, is about 50 miles outside Washington, D.C., but is a decidedly rural environment. You can book day trips, including a "City Slickers" ranch experience, "Twilight Dinner Rides," and a four-night "Western Vacation Package (including all riding equipment) for under $700. Texas Hill Country You can book a flight and three nights in Austin via Expedia, usually for under $500, and explore Hill Country must-sees like Fredericksburg (about a 90-minute drive due west), with its thriving wineries, inns, and restaurants. Sault Ste. Marie, MI The gorgeous sunsets behind freighters in the Soo Locks here are an unlikely pair, but it's all part of the spectacular landscape to be found around Lake Superior, the largest body of fresh water on earth. Fly into Minneapolis (typically under $400 on U.S. Airways from New York) and explore the lakeshore, including Minnesota, Michigan, and Ontario, at your own pace in a rental car. California Wine Country From the sunny valleys to the mist-shrouded mountains, the warm days the cool nights, the climate in Northern California isn't just ideal for growing grapes but for the perfect romantic getaway as well! Gate 1 Travel offers package deals that include airfare, hotel, and car rental in San Francisco and wine country, often for less than $800! See our readers' best photos of sunsets around the world!
Five Unforgettable Vacations for Under $100/Night!
Here at Budget Travel, we know nobody wants to skimp on vacation—it’s the time for great food, luxurious surroundings, and breathtaking scenery. But what if we told you that all that can be yours for less than $100 a day? Contributing Editor Darley Newman joined Today show hosts Kathie Lee and Hoda to share five “real” budget destinations: MYRTLE BEACH, SOUTH CAROLINA Why we love it: This is a gorgeous, warm American beach that’s a road trip away for most Easter Coasters. What to do: Relax! Miles of warm sand and gentle surf are perfect for families or girlfriend getaways. Nightlife includes oceanfront seafood buffets, local micro-brews, and boardwalk rides (like the Twist ‘n Shout roller coaster) that turn grownups into kids. Where to stay: Westgate Myrtle Beach Oceanfront Resort includes beach access, a heated pool, and a kids-eat-free policy (from $75/night). 7-DAY CARIBBEAN CRUISE ON THE NORWEGIAN GETAWAY Why we love it: A super-stylish new Norwegian Cruise Line mega-ship is hitting knockout destinations like St. Maarten and St. Thomas—and you can totally afford it. What to do: The brand-new mega ship Norwegian Getaway (featuring chic Miami-themed food, entertainment, and decor!) departs from Miami and leaves plenty of time for you to explore the beaches, open-air markets, and shops of St. Maarten, St. Thomas, and Nassau. Bottom line: This seven-day cruise starts at $449 (that’s less than $65/day!). DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: IBEROSTAR COSTA DORADA ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORT Why we love it: “All-inclusive” means you may not have to reach for your purse the entire stay! And unlike some resorts, this place pours top-shelf cocktails for no extra charge! What to do: Hang a do-not-disturb sign on the door of your thatched-roof lodgings! Or indulge in cuisine that includes Brazilian, Mexican, and international menus. Lounge on the beach or beside the massive pool, or get adventurous with kayaking or diving lessons in a tropical paradise. Bottom line: The Iberostar Costa Dorada, just 10 minutes from Puerto Plata, completely renovated its 500+ rooms in 2011. All-inclusive lodging, three a la carte restaurants, and top-shelf drinks from $75 per person per night based on double occupancy. CHICAGO Why we love it: With world-class food, theater, and art, the Windy City is second to none in style! What to do: Enjoy the peerless art collection at the Chicago Art Institute (including Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte”); see a great play at Steppenwolf Theater; have a ball on the classic Navy Pier (one of Budget Travel’s “most awesome boardwalks in America”); take a cruise on the Chicago River; explore some of America’s most noteworthy architecture (including some of the highest observation decks in the world!); and take your pick of cuisine—from heaped-high hot dogs to an under-$30 lunch at the fantastic Café des Architectes restaurant. Where to stay: Hotel Blake is in a lovely 19th-century building a short walk from the upscale shops and boutiques of State Street, from $95/night when booked via Expedia. ATLANTIC CANADA Why we love it: Step back in time in an 18th century fishing village. Enjoy the friendly locals, freshest seafood EVER, and a European feel right here in North America! What to do: Old Town Lunenburg is a lovely 18th-century century heritage site in Nova Scotia. Stroll past brightly colored wood-framed houses painstakingly preserved by Lunenberg’s citizens. Buy a $10 ticket to the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic and its wharves to behold floating replicas of famous trawlers and schooners. Grab an amazing bowl of chowder and traditional Lunenburg fish cakes at local favorite, The Knot Pub. Where to Stay: Quaint and cozy, the Smugglers Cove Inn is right by the docks. For $5 a night, you can even rent a Beta fish, which the hotel calls "a free 'therapy' session to help you relax." (From $99/night) See the video here: