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Sweet Tahiti getaway

By Sean O'Neill
updated September 29, 2021
blog_tahitiimagetwo_original.jpg

You already know that Tahiti is a set of serene islands in the South Pacific. But you may not know that it was once the home of indigenous tribes that practiced unusual customs. For example, the typical victorious warrior used to "pound his vanquished foe's corpse flat with his heavy war club, cut a slit through the well-crushed victim, and don him as a trophy poncho," according to anthropologist Lawrence Keeley.

Um, on second thought, never mind about the customs.

Tahiti is bliss incarnate, which is why you should consider booking a last-minute air-hotel package for a six-night stay from Air Tahiti Nui, starting at $1,252 per person….

From now until April 20, Air Tahiti Nui is discounting selected vacation packages. For example, nonstop airfare and a six-night stay at Club Bali Hai, Moorea, with departures from Los Angeles for $1,252 per person and New York City for $1,403.

The package includes the fuel surcharge and insurance portion of the airfare, plus resort taxes. Additional taxes total $82 per person. Departure dates from Los Angeles are April 17, 24, May 8, 17, 31, June 9, 13, 20. Departures from New York City are April 6, 13, 27. Learn more by clicking here.

You'll find other fantastic Real Deals, vetted every weekday by BT editors, when you click here. For guidelines on evaluating deals, click here.

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Inspiration

Top 10 Most Visited Cities in the World

Where do Americans travel most outside the states? That was the question asked when compiling Budget Travel's Top 10 Most Visited Cities by U.S. Travelers. Paris? Definitely, no doubt. Florence? Maybe… what about Bermuda? Thanks to the travel experts at Expedia and their analysis of U.S. hotel bookings and flights abroad, we now know the answers. And to go along with our Top 10 Most Visited list, we've created a mini-guide for each city with the three must-see, must-do attractions for both new arrivals and return visitors. Can you guess all 10 top cities? Some of the answers may surprise you.SEE THE CITIES AMERICANS LOVE #10 NASSAU, BAHAMAS  The Bahamas attracts millions of U.S. visitors to its busy capital ever year with picture-postcard promises of beautiful beaches and lazy seaside resorts. The reality—a busy capital filled with cruise ship day-trippers and beaches that are sometimes less than pristine—is a bit different, but the city still has its historic charms and the real paradise is just a boat ride away. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSBay Street The main concourse of downtown Nassau is a pleasant waterfront promenade with great dockside cafés and shops, although it can get overcrowded with tourists when cruise ships are in port.Beaches of Andros Island Sadly, the beaches in Nassau leave much to be desired, with the exception of Saunders Beach and Cable Beach to the west. Going further west, off the island and out to sea, a fast ferry ride to Andros Island (around three hours) will deliver you to the castaway beaches you were promised when you booked your trip.Queen's Staircase & Fort Fincastle Built by freed slaves in honor of Queen Victoria for emancipating the islands, the 65 limestone steps off an alley in downtown Nassau are a journey back to the 18th-century Bahamas, rising to Fort Fincastle, a defense fort for the British Royal Navy during the Caribbean's pirate days. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSFishing on the Bahamas The Bahamas is big fish country, with blue marlin, wahoo, billfish, and tuna all offshore and waiting for a lure. Renting your own charter boat for fishing is a bit pricey, but you can jump onto a group trip with other anglers through local companies like Born Free Fishing. Graycliff Manor The famous Graycliff Manor is a bit formal (jackets required for the gents). But for a taste of the Bahamas high life, it's an enchanting setting to enjoy an evening cocktail or glass of wine on the terrace of the 18th-century plantation house and watch the sun set over the Caribbean sea.Atlantis Resort Okay, so you skipped it last time, but if you have the cash ($100 for a non-guest day pass), head across the Nassau causeway to the ridiculous mermaid castle/casino/resort that occupies Paradise Island. Atlantis is a must-see for the sprawling extravagance of the beachfront megaplex, with many secret beaches for relaxing in the sun. OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: The antithesis of the big-money resorts in Nassau, Orange Hill Inn on West Bay Street is a quiet family-owned inn right on the beach (orangehill.com; doubles from $135). #9 PUNTA CANA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC  The secret is out on Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Already a popular beach destination for Europeans, the beach town is now on the American holiday radar as an inexpensive paradise within flight-hopping distance (it's just a two-hour flight from Miami). 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSBavaro Beach It's the busiest beach in Punta Cana, crowded on the weekends with resort guests and lively with restaurants and shopping plazas along the shore. But it's also one of the prettiest—a white-sand beach of crystal-clear water and offshore coral reefs that stretches for six miles, so there are plenty of opportunities for you to claim your own private spot in the sun.Santa Domingo The historic capital is a must-do day trip for any first-time visitor to the Dominican Republic. As evidenced by the numerous statues of Ponce de Leon and Christopher Columbus, the city takes its history seriously and many of the Spanish colonial buildings date back to the discovery of America, in 1492, when Columbus made landfall on Hispaniola (the island shared by Dominican Republic and Haiti).Indigenous Eyes Park Just inland from the beaches in Punta Cana is this jungle park of beautiful waterfalls and lagoons for swimming. It's a private nature reserve run by Punta Cana Resort & Club (non-guests can buy a pass, for $65, to spend the day hiking and swimming in the lagoons, which are also known as "indigenous eyes"). 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSSurfing on Macao Beach The sea may be rougher at Macao Beach, a stretch of golden sand shaded by palm trees to the north, but it's a much calmer and quieter beach than Bavaro. It's better for surfing, too; you can rent gear and take lessons at Macao Surf Camp (two-hour lessons from $60 per person) and afterward reward yourself with fresh grilled fish, fried plantains, and cold El Presidente beer at one of the local beach shacks on the sand.Canyoning in Cordillera Septentrional Adventurous travelers should head into the Cordillera Septentrional mountains for a chance to rappel down waterfalls into the gorgeous river canyons. (Tour outfitter Iguana Mama runs trips from $195 per person.)Casa Ponce de Leon Ponce de Leon may be buried in Puerto Rico, but the best museum dedicated to his life is located in his historic house in Santa Domingo (011-809/551-0118, $1.27 to enter). OUR FAVORITE HOTEL 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; doubles from $60). #8 BARCELONA, SPAIN  Barcelona beats Madrid for the top city in Spain visited by U.S. travelers, especially 20-somethings on holiday in Europe. It's an arty, youthful city on the sea with a labyrinth of narrow streets and gorgeous plazas, branded by fairy-tale architecture from the quirky godfather of modern Catalonian architecture, Antoni Gaudi. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSLas Ramblas This wide boulevard slopes through Barcelona from Plaça de Catalunya in the city center all the way to Port Veil on the shore. The tree-shaded sidewalks are lined with shops, cafés, and souvenir kiosks; in the center of the road, street performers entertain the daily parade of tourists. Barceloneta The seaside neighborhood of Barceloneta is a perfect spot for an afternoon of wandering the quaint channel streets with a view of the ocean through gaps between tenements. Once you find your way to the beach, sit down and enjoy a glass of vino and tapas at Bar Electricitat in the market square.Parc Güell Set on the outskirts of the city, Barcelona's version of Central Park is a storybook land of strange stone pavilions designed by Gaudi among the green hills and trees. The park trails meander through the 37 wooded acres with mythical mosaic sculptures and curved terraces that look out over the city. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSEl Born This lovely neighborhood of narrow labyrinthine streets is a great spot to hang out with the locals, shop for vintage fashions, and taste the best of Catalonian cuisine at cubby-hole cafés and bars such as Casa Delfin.Sagrada Familia Love it or hate it, there's no escaping the sight of Gaudi's gargantuan drip-castle cathedral wherever you are in Barcelona. So if you skipped a visit the first time, it's worth a trip to the neighborhood of Exiample for a view of Sagrada Familia up close. It's a playful and profound structure that blends the whimsical curvature of Art Nouveau with the dark angularity of Gothic architecture. Barri Gotic This historic neighborhood of Gothic monuments reminds visitors of Barcelona's medieval past, before Gaudi put his stamp of eccentric modernity on the city. The wide plazas provide impromptu venues for Dark Ages-themed street performers. OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: Hotel Curious is a friendly boutique hotel near Las Ramblas in central Barcelona (hotelcurious.com; Doubles from $115). #7 MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA  The all-inclusive resorts on Montego Bay (and a chance to experience Rastafarian culture) make Jamaica one of the top Caribbean destinations for U.S. travelers. "Liming" (otherwise known as relaxing) on the beach is the order of the day and many vacationers don't venture far from their umbrella-shaded lounger. But if you do, there's plenty to explore on this Caribbean island. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSLiming on Doctor's Cave Beach and Seven Mile Beach Doctor's Cave Beach is the most popular beach in Montego Bay and chances are your hotel will be within flip-flop distance. If you have wheels, Jamaica's most famous stretch of sand, Seven Mile Beach, is a short drive away in Negril. On either beach, be sure to look out for the famous jerk stands and kick back Jamaica-style with spicy grilled chicken and the national beer, Red Stripe.Montego Bay Marine Park The coral reef from Tropical Beach to Rum Bottle Bay is an underwater nature reserve that's shelter to a wide array of exotic fish and sea anemones… and great snorkeling territory for visitors. Watch out for the Lion Fish, cute but poisonous!Dunn River Falls Nearby in Ocho Rios, a short adventure into the rain forest will bring you to Dunn River Falls, a 180-foot waterfall that you can climb down, passing from lagoon to lagoon as the river rambles downstream. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSLiming in Port Antonio So you've seen the tourist beaches of Montego Bay and you're looking for something more low key? Head east to Port Antonio and its magnificent beaches for a day in the sun.Rose Hall Great House One of the oldest plantation estates on the island, the 18th-century Georgian mansion on the hill is a glimpse at the colonial past of Jamaica when it was a British stronghold for the export of sugar cane. Beware: The house is said to be haunted by the ghost of Annie Palmer, a voodoo practitioner and wife of the plantation owner, who was murdered in her sleep during the slave uprising of 1830. If you're feeling brave, book the night tour ($30 per person for a two-hour tour).Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park A hike through the forests of this misty mountain park will introduce you to the oldest inhabitants of Jamaica—its species of exotic birds, monkeys, lizards, and the rare Giant Swallowtail Butterfly. OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: 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 (876-952-0720, doubles from $80). #6 ROME, ITALY  A modern city risen among the ruins of the greatest empire in history, Rome is No. 6 on our list as Italy's most popular destination for U.S. travelers. From the stone amphitheater of the Colosseum to the Roman Forum, where Caesar once spoke, and the immaculate Vatican City, Rome is a living monument to the ancient history of Europe. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSAncient Highlights: the Colosseum, the Forum, and the Pantheon Follow the shouts of the tour guides and trinket hawkers to the ruins of the Colosseum, where the spectators of ancient Rome cheered on gladiator death matches and lion fights from the stands. The historic steps of the Roman Forum and the House of Nero just around the corner, and the massive temple dome to the pagan gods, the Pantheon, is a short walk west with many lesser ruins along the way.Vatican City One of the most beautiful plazas in Rome leads to St. Peter's Basilica and the entrance to Vatican City. Of course, we sinners aren't allowed inside the Holy See, but the soaring marble interior of St. Peter's Basilica is a marvel worth its copper and no stop to Rome would be complete without a gander inside the Sistine Chapel at Michelangelo's Last Judgment.Villa Borghese North of the city center is Rome's largest public park, which is just as grandly designed as any of Rome's wonders, with 148-acres of trees from all over the world, lakes, and ancient villas. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSMAXXI The 21st Century of the Arts museum, designed by renowned architect Zaha Hadid and opened in 2010, is Rome's grand foray into the modern art world. There are two museums here: the MAXXI collection of contemporary art featuring the likes of Maurizio Cattelan, and the MAXXI museum of architecture, dedicated to the art of architectural design and the modern-day wonders of the world (entrance $14 per person).Circus Maximus & Avertine Hill The former chariot-racing grounds aren't much to look at these days when compared with the other ruins, but the verdant Avertine Hill above Circus Maximus is an amazing lookout perch and great retreat from the tourist hordes.Testaccio & Ostiense These twin neighborhoods across the aqueduct from the ancient city center are the perfect place to wander, eat, drink, and experience modern-day Roman life (click here for a quick guide to the neighborhoods.) OUR FAVORITE HOTEL:  Hotel Mimosa is a cheery 14-room palazzo within a short stroll of Vatican City (hotelmimosa.net; doubles from $92). #5 TORONTO, CANADA  The modern city of Toronto straddles the shore of Lake Ontario with its blocky downtown of skyscrapers and needle-nose CN Tower. The fifth largest city in North America, the diverse population creates a vibrant cultural scene with many culinary delights. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSKensington Market Squared between Dundas Street W. and Spadina Avenue, this market neighborhood lined with ethnic groceries, fresh produce and spice stands, and tiny cafés is a great place to taste Toronto's amazing food scene. Be sure to stop by on Sunday when Kensington Market becomes a no-car zone.CN Tower The CN Tower, an olive-on-a-toothpick skyscraper rising 1,122 feet up into the Toronto skyline, has breathtaking views over the city, especially from a glass-walled elevator that takes you to the top at a snail's pace. There's even a rotating 360-degree restaurant for a sit-down meal afterward, if you can stomach it without getting dizzy.Distillery District The 19th-century warehouses and distilleries that once produced the famous Gooderham & Worts Canadian whiskey have new life as a meandering 13-acre complex of vaulted-ceiling restaurants, patio cafés, and art galleries set inside the historic brick buildings. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSHockey Hall of Fame Even if you're not a fan of the game, this hallowed hall of hockey inside Brookfield Place is a uniquely Canadian experience. Moody lighting fits the cathedral-esque interior, where visitors wander halls of lithograph portraits of NHL greats like Wayne Gretsky, gander at trophies and jerseys from championship games, and perhaps try their puck skills in the Be a Player exhibit (entrance $18 per person.)Queen Street West The center of the Canadian broadcast television and film industry, the neighborhood of Queen Street West has more than its share of artsy cache in a clutch of contemporary galleries, hip bars and restaurants, and trendy boutiques.Art Gallery of Ontario The turn-of-the-century museum holds the largest collection of Canadian art in the world, with more than 80,000 works from the first century A.D. to today, including a sculpture center dedicated to the work of Henry Moore. Especially impressive is the new glass-façade by Frank Gehry on Dunda Street West. OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: Hotel Victoriais a century-old grand dame with a modern interior in central Toronto (hotelvictoria-toronto.com; doubles from $130). #4 PARIS, FRANCE  Millions of U.S. travelers flood the city of Paris every year to walk the romantic cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter, kiss on the pedestrian bridges over the River Seine, marvel at the Gothic facade of old Notre Dame, or ride the elevator up the elegant iron legs of the Eiffel Tower for a grandstand view of the City of Light.  And then, of course, there's the food… whether it's nibbling a fresh baguette from a riverside bakery or tucking into steak béarnaise at a tiny Montmartre bistro, everything tastes better in Paris. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSExplore the Latin Quarter It's hard not to fall in love with Paris's famous Latin Quarter. Whether you're sipping espresso at the Café de Flore (once the squatting grounds of Simone de Beauvoir and John Paul Sartre), listening to jazz at the underground club on Rue de la Huchette,  or browsing books at Shakespeare & Company, you'll soon be lost in the nostalgia of Paris's storied past.Visit the Eiffel Tower You don't have to visit the Eiffel Tower to appreciate its 1,050-foot-high majesty of iron; it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. But you should: The lines can be long and the surrounding area mobbed with tourists, but it's worth a ride to the top to see the City of Light from above ($11 to the 2nd floor observatory, $18 to the top). Wander Jardin des Tuileries and check out the Louvre (if you can get in) Musée du Louvre is by far the most famous museum in Paris (if not in all of Europe), so don't be surprised if you wait for hours to explore the Egyptian collection or for that glimpse of Mona Lisa behind glass (entrance $13 per person, closed Tuesdays). If you tire of the wait, don't distress: the grounds of the Louvre Palace and its adjoining Jardin de Tuileries is one of the most beautiful spots in Paris. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSNotre Dame The cathedral of Notre Dame on the Île de la Cité is something to behold even if you're just passing by on your way to the Latin Quarter. Inside, the soaring Gothic chamber of stained glass, pillars, stone crosses, and statues of the saints high above the grand altar are a treasure that the city holds dear.Rodin Museum The Rodin Museum is elegant in its simplicity, especially when compared with the Louvre Palace across the River Seine (entrance, $8). The 18th-century mansion of Hotel Biron holds a collection of Rodin's greatest work inside and out in the estate's gardens where visitors can explore and ponder for a while with The Thinker and other sculptures. Nightlife in La Bastille Still an icon of the French Revolution, the neighborhood of La Bastille is a nightlife playground for the youth of Paris, chockful of bistros, bars, music venues, and tiny nightclubs, especially along Rue de la Roquette. OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: But wait, what about the Montmartre? Well, if you take our advice, you'll be staying in Montmartre at Ermitage Hotel Sacre-Coeur, a 12-room B&B set inside a turn-of-the-century apartment building that's within walking distance to that beautiful white cathedral on the hill, the Sacre-Coeur (ermitagesacrecoeur.fr; doubles from $130). #3 SAN JUAN, PUETRO RICO  Yes, it's a U.S. territory, but Puerto Rico can feel like a world apart. The laidback atmosphere of San Juan with its narrow cobblestone streets and pastel-color houses will make any traveler feel at home, especially after a night in Old San Juan, where young and old drink, play music, and dance to salsa music until the early hours. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSNightlife in Old San Juan It can get rowdy late at night in Old San Juan, especially on weekends, when everyone and their uncle mobs the streets for a wandering bar crawl with drinks in hand. But there's no better time to drink up the culture alongside the locals—join in with the locals at bars like Bodega Chic and Nono's and possibly get silly enough to participate in a sing-along in Plaza del Mercado (a.k.a. La Placita).El Morro This beautiful old citadel fort commands a sweeping view of the Caribbean Sea on the northwest tip of Puerto Rico and has held its own against time and the island's seaborne enemies since the 16th century (entrance $3). Beaches of Condado The seaside neighborhood of Condado has the most popular beaches in San Juan proper, a stretch of golden-sand shore on the eastern side of the city. Arrive early on the weekends to claim your beach-towel territory against the droves of resort guests and local families. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSSalsa Dancing at the Nuyorican Café Hidden off an alley inside a former Spanish convent, this tiny nightclub has been an Old San Juan institution for decades, renowned for its jazz music and weekend salsa dancing. A eclectic crowd of locals and tourists brave the crowds on the weekend to test their moves on the dance floor; if the line is too long or too tedious, pop over to Rumba, a newer salsa club down the street. Catedral de San Juan Bautista The second oldest Cathedral in North America is a rather modest Spanish colonial structure. Inside, you'll find the hallowed chambers of stained glass and statues worthy of worship (and the tomb of Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon underneath). Day trip to Vieques Island In a paradise like Puerto Rico, where do the locals go to vacation? The answer is the castaway island of Vieques, a 45-minute ferry ride from the port of Farajado on the east coast. The main town of Isabella is quiet and pretty, but the real reason for the trip is the pristine beaches on the south coast (be sure to pack a picnic basket… there are few places to eat nearby the beaches). OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: Numero Uno Guesthouse is a darling 15-room inn right by the beach in the Ocean Park neighborhood of San Juan (numero1guesthouse.com; doubles from $99). #2 LONDON, ENGLAND  London certainly hasn't lost its regal charms in the long march to modernity. And because the city is a gateway for further excursions into Europe, millions of travelers spend at least a day or two visiting the historic sites on the red double-decker lorries, attending theatre performances by Britain's greats, and enjoying a cool English pint (or three) while munching on fish-and-chips at one of the city's famous pubs. Just remember to mind your manners and your wallet: The British pound reigns supreme, at nearly twice the value of the U.S. dollar. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSRoyal Highlights: Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, and the Tower of London The throne of the British Empire and the city's most famous historic sites are clustered within a short walk of one another in central London. Commoners can tour Buckingham Palace from July through September (or sneak a peek through the gates any other time of year); just down the road is Westminster Abbey, the iconic Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. A short cab ride along the Thames brings you to the Tower of London (which arguably offers the best tour and a chance to see the Crown Jewels).West-End Theaters London's West End neighborhood is the Broadway of England, known affectionately as "Theaterland." New London Theatre and Queen's Theatre are two great venues for new plays performed by Britain's greatest thespians, while smaller theaters like the Noel Coward Theatre often showcase well-known plays by British playwrights (like, say, Noel Coward), including new productions of Shakespeare plays. British Museum It was once said that the sun never set on the British Empire, and this museum dedicated to British history is true to that globe-spanning scope, with a collection that ranges from the armor of William the Conqueror to the 19th- and 20th-century colonial history of British ambitions. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSTate Modern Converted from a riverside power station on the Thames, the Tate Modern is a marvel of contemporary architecture and one of the most impressive art museums in the world, famous for its enormous (and often interactive) art installations and a collection of modern art from the early 1900s to today (entrance is free).East End Nightlife The once-gritty East End has been gentrified into the new epicenter of London nightlife—a haven of hip pubs, edgy art galleries, and nouveau restaurants, especially in the neighborhoods of Shoreditch and Hoxton.  The London Eye Who wouldn't want to get into a Ferris wheel that soars up over 400 feet in the air? Don't worry, the wheel moves at a turtle speed and the bird's-eye views over London from the enclosed-glass observatories are absolutely spectacular ($24 per person). OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: Umi Hotel is a simple and fashionable hotel comprised of adjoining 150-year-old townhouses in London's Notting Hill neighborhood (umihotellondon.co.uk; doubles from $99). #1 CANCUN, MEXICO  Cancun remains the No. 1 top destination for U.S. travel abroad, thanks to cheap flights from the States, 14 miles of beaches, and carnival-style nightlife that transforms the Z-shaped islet off the Yucatan Peninsula into a 24-hour party scene for college students every Spring Break.  But if you think this former Mayan trading city is just a sloppy boozefest on the beach, you haven't experienced the real Cancun. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR FIRST-TIMERSSun, Sand, and Waves at Playa Tortugas and Playa Delfines The beaches of Playa Tortugas and Playa Delfines offer the full-spectrum of the Cancun beach scene: Playa Tortugas is a festive party beach with calm, tranquil water and bungalow restaurants/bars under the palms; Playa Delfines is an escapist beach with white sand for travelers looking to get away from the crowds (and perhaps catch a few waves).Day Trip to the Mayan Ruins Integrated into the downtown area, the plaza ruins of El Ray remind travelers of the city's ancient history as a Mayan trading port and give the urban layout a uniquely mythic look (and a kitschy cache to bankroll tourist dollars). But for a more immersive experience, take a day trip drive down Riviera Maya to the beachfront ruins of Tulum and the jungle temples of Coba (they're far less crowded and closer than Chichen Itza).Coco Bongo It would be a shame to leave Cancun without a glimpse of the most explosive, extravagant club the party city has to offer. Coco Bongo is a temple of excess to ridiculous proportions—a massive 1,800-person nightclub with nightly trapeze acts, rock-star impersonators, a rainbow blitz of roving spotlights, and hundreds of partiers dancing to DJ-spun hits on any platform they can climb onto. 3 MUST-SEE ATTRACTIONS FOR RETURN VISITORSIsla Mujeres This tiny island off the coast of Cancun is a quiet escape from the madness of the mainland. The palm-shaded beaches are perfect for laying out in the sun after an intimate lunch at one of the island's restaurants, and the azure water seems made for an afternoon swim.Dipping Into the Cenotes The rain forest of the Yucatan peninsula creates a unique experience for travelers looking for adventure in the form of sunken cenotes—subterranean rivers and lakes that you can access via rappelling into caverns.Underwater Museum of Art Sure, Cancun and the Riviera Maya have plenty of offshore dive sites. But if your tank skills are up to par, one of the coolest spots to scuba dive is the Underwater Museum of Art, designed by British artist Jason de Caires Taylor, which, true to its name, is an underwater museum of sculptures laid out at the bottom of the sea. New to scuba? No problem. Scuba Cancun can set you up with a beginner's diving lesson and then a museum dive for $80. OUR FAVORITE HOTEL: 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; Doubles from $120).

Inspiration

Take a Heartland Road Trip!

His great-great-grandfather founded the town in the late 1880s. At its pre-WWII peak, the population of Nenzel, Nebraska, reached 125. Today, it’s got all of 13 people. But that hasn’t stopped Neal Nollette, a Roman Catholic priest, from launching an outfitting company, 2 the Ends of the Earth, which runs river trips down a cliff-lined stretch of the Niobrara that’s often short of—well, water. SEE OUR HEARTLAND ROAD TRIP! To bypass that inconvenient truth, Nollette invented the sport of “nyobrafting,” which he defines as navigating a waterway by any method necessary, though in practice it means repeatedly climbing out of your kayak and dragging it across the river’s many sandbars. As Father Neal says, “If you have a little bit of imagination and creativity, you can turn almost anything into a business.” Welcome to the Sandhills, home to whooping cranes and prairie chickens, cowboys and cattle, plus some of the more ingenious tourism attractions either side of the Mississippi. Like much of the nation, these remote, sparsely settled grasslands—rolling some 19,000 square miles across north central Nebraska and reaching as high as 400 feet—have been hit by economic tough times. But the can-do spirit that built this country runs deep in these parts. Ever been to a 300-mile-long yard sale (known as the annual Junk Jaunt)? Or an art show that makes a stop at the Sinclair gas station in Dunning, where hand-crafted pottery shares the shelves with the Hamburger Helper and pickles? In a word: delicious. DAY 1 Omaha to Burwell 193 miles “Where the West begins and the East peters out,” reads the restaurant sign my son and I spy in Burwell, home to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo. After a four-hour drive from Omaha, we’re ready for some cowpoke action. At the Northside Bar and Cafe, around the corner from the Dry Creek Western Wear store and saddle shop, a man in a white cowboy hat plays gin rummy with his buddies at a corner table (223 Grand Ave., Burwell, 308/346-5474). We’ve dropped by to see the hundreds of photos, posters, and other memorabilia decorating the walls of the pub’s rodeo museum. Perhaps other picture galleries double as a saloon, but surely this is the only one serving bull calf testicles. “Last Friday, we sold a whole case,” says Tammy Miller, waitress, bartender, and occasional curator. “Breaded and deep fried.” Thankfully, my son is hankering for something sweet. We’re directed to the Sandstone Grill in the old tin-ceilinged Burwell Hotel, where two foodies—sisters who moved here from Seattle and Kansas City—serve a long list of salads (Caesar, Asian, “sweet blue,” etc.) along with Nebraskan classics like sour cream raisin pie, which we order à la mode (416 Grand Ave., Burwell, 308/346-4582, sandstonegrill.com). Sunlight is starting to wane as we reach Calamus Outfitters, near Nebraska’s third-largest swimming hole, Calamus Reservoir. We toss our bags into our rustic lodge room on the grounds of the Switzer Ranch, then hightail it outside for a sunset Jeep tour of 12,000 acres of grazing cattle (83720 Valleyview Ave., Burwell, 308/346-4697, calamusoutfitters.com). Lying on the central flyway of some 500,000 cranes and 10 million other migratory water fowl, these are the Sandhills at their prettiest, dipping and rising like a roller coaster, blanketed with bluestems and tall bunchgrasses. In spring, you can watch the sharp-tailed grouse strut their stuff during their elaborate predawn mating dance. In summertime, there’s tubing and horseback riding. In the morning when I ask what we can do to help around the ranch, we’re told to saddle up and spend the next several hours rounding up stray cattle. DAY 2 Burwell to Mullen 112 miles The late Charles “On the Road” Kuralt counted Highway 2, running alongside the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and a seemingly endless row of black-eyed susans and golden sunflowers, among America’s 10 most beautiful routes. We pick it up in Dunning and follow it west through what was once the Pawnee and Sioux tribes’ bison-hunting range. In Mullen, we have a date with Glidden Canoe Rental to go “tanking”—a popular Nebraskan sport that consists of floating down a river in a livestock watering tank. Some tanks come with picnic tables and lawn chairs. Ours is nine feet in diameter, made of galvanized tin, and outfitted with benches. Even with paddles, we’re at the Middle Loup River’s mercy. A red-tailed hawk soars overhead as the current crashes us into the bank, tangling us up in fallen branches. Eventually I learn it’s less jarring if I sit upright, not touching the sides of the tank. My son does just the opposite, naturally. Apparently what I call whiplash, he calls fun (Off Highway 2, Mullen, 308/546-2206, gliddencanoe rental.com). Afterward, we grab a bite at the Rustic Tavern, in Mullen’s scruffy downtown. The kitchen is closed for remodeling, but the cook whips up a daily special in the smoker out back. This evening it’s BBQ brisket and the place is hopping with takers, many in boots and spurs (104 E. 1st St. Mullen, 308/546-2993). We order seconds before settling in for the night near Thedford at the Middle Loup River Ranch Guest House. There aren’t always animals, and most of the ranch is about 50 miles away, but what’s in a name? Besides, the two-bedroom place is comfy, all ours, and in the morning our host stops by with gooey cinnamon rolls (Highway 2, between Halsey and Thedford, 402/450-2268, middleloupriverranch.com). DAY 3 Mullen to Nenzel 121 miles North up Highway 83, the Sandhills take on a vast, rugged beauty, dotted with pristine lakes and spring-fed marshes and sweeping wide in every direction. In Valentine, we turn west for Nenzel and our 12-mile nyobrafting trip (402/389-2242, 2theendsoftheearth.com). It ends up taking all day, including the part where our shuttle van runs out of gas and we somehow land at Father Neal’s brother’s place to see his four-acre vineyard and the new pine-paneled wine-tasting room occupying the ground floor of his house. They don’t have a liquor license yet, nor do they have a name for their label. Still, Father Neal and his brother are optimistic that this venture (unlike the family’s erstwhile weekend cowboy cookouts) will soon be raking in the crowds. Watch out, Napa. Tiny Nenzel is on your tail!

Inspiration

One-Tank Escapes From 8 American Cities

Shenandoah Valley, Va. 107 miles from Washington, D.C. A collection of 10 independent cities make up the Shenandoah Valley, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, an idyllic watercolor landscape and outdoor adventure haven. SEE OUR SUMMER ROAD TRIPS! Shenandoah National Park is famous for its outdoor beauty, accessible via both easy and difficult hiking trails, some of which are part of the park's 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail (540/999-3500, nps.gov/shen, $15 per vehicle, $8 per person). The Limberlost Trail takes you past lush mountain laurel; Old Rag Mountain offers panoramic vistas. To refuel, perch in the Pollock Dining Room's taproom at Skyland Resort Lodge and order a Prohibition Punch, featuring local (legal) moonshine ($7.50), and a slice of famous blackberry ice cream pie, made from scratch from the season's harvest (540/999-2212, visitshenandoah.com/dining/skyland-restaurant, Prohibition Punch $7.50, blackberry ice cream pie $6). Not outdoorsy? Stroll through downtown Winchester with a guided tour of the Patsy Cline Historic House, where the country star lived for five years (540/662-5555, celebratingpatsycline.org, $8), or pick your own flowers in the fragrant fields at White Oak Lavender farm in Harrisonburg (540/421-6345, whiteoaklavender.com, tours $5). WHERE TO STAY Instead of camping out with her hubby FDR in Shenandoah National Park in 1936, Eleanor Roosevelt opted for luxury in Luray: "Franklin, you can rough it if you want, but I'm staying at the Mimslyn," she allegedly told the president. Even today, the property has opulent touches like Doric columns, formal gardens, and fine dining courtesy in the hotel's "upscale Southern" Circa '31 restaurant—necktie recommended (800/296-5105, mimslyninn.com, from $160). DRIVING TIP I-81 runs the length of the valley and connects large towns like Winchester, Harrisonburg, and Stanton. Consider jumping onto Skyline Drive to take in some of the most beautiful mountain vistas in the U.S. Yountville, Calif. 56 miles from San Francisco A walkable mecca for wine and food enthusiasts, Yountville offers glasses of big California reds, award-winning bites, and lush Napa Valley scenery that's a refreshing change from San Francisco's cityscapes. To sample vino, hop the Napa Valley Wine Train that chugs through the heart of town: It serves meals onboard, and visits local wineries for tours (800/427-4124, winetrain.com, from $135). Or go rogue and create your own tasting of five wines at Cornerstone Cellars (707/945-0388, cornerstonecellars.com). Get Michelin-star-quality flavor for less at chef Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc restaurant by partaking in the evening family-style four-course menu (707/944-2487, adhocrestaurant.com, $45); also, make time to walk through Keller's French Laundry Garden, which nurtures fresh vegetables and fruits used at French Laundry and Bouchon Bistro—it's free and open to the public. On a weekend morning, stop by Bouchon Bakery for the somewhat elusive chocolate doughnut—brioche dough filled with decadent chocolate pastry cream and topped with chocolate frosting and chocolate-covered Rice Krispies. But go early (it opens at 7) to score one (707-944-2253, bouchonbakery.com/yountville). Then float above the horizon on a group hot air balloon ride for eight to 12 passengers or take a romantic trip à deux with Napa Valley Balloons (800/253-2224, napavalleyballoons.com, from $210). WHERE TO STAY For a French country feel, book a room at Maison Fleurie, a B&B with a morning breakfast buffet and complimentary wine, tea, and hors d'oeuvres in the afternoon. Borrow bicycles from the front desk and go for a leisurely ride when you tire of tippling (800/788-0369, maisonfleurienapa.com, from $145). DRIVING TIP The most direct route from San Francisco is I-80 East, over the Bay Bridge, to Highway 37 West and then Highway 29 through Napa Valley. New Braunfels, Tex. 175 miles from Houston If you visit New Braunfels and don't (a) eat German food or (b) get wet, you're doing something wrong. The town is well known for the innovative 65-acre Schlitterbahn Water Park, but its German history, food, and freshwater activities are equally compelling. Floating down the spring-fed Comal River on giant inflatable "toobs" is essential in New Braunfels. Rent one for the day or take a guided group trip at Rockin 'R' River Rides (830/629-9999, rockinr.com, call for a group trip quote). Quell your post-river appetite with one of 10 types of schnitzel, pan-fried bouletten (meatballs), or classic brats at Friesenhaus, one of the area's specialty German restaurants (830/625-1040, friesenhausnb.com, schnitzel from $15). No German meal is complete without a hearty dessert, so pop into Naegelin's Bakery, "the oldest bakery in Texas, since 1868," for a big hunk of apple streudel—a whole one is more than two feet long (830/625-5722, naegelins.com). WHERE TO STAY The 30-unit Greune Mansion Inn, right on the Guadalupe River, has a quiet, Victorian feel, with multiple historical buildings broken up into residences that guarantee each guest his or her own entrance and porch. Many of the units have river views (830/629-2641, gruenemansioninn.com, from $190). DRIVING TIP Take I-10 to I-46, making sure to avoid Houston rush hour if you can help it. Hood River, Ore. 62 miles from Portland Orchards, wineries, and outdoor recreation are all hallmarks of this Columbia River Gorge destination. Taking a drive on the whimsically named Fruit Loop steers you through 35 miles of orchards, vineyards, forests, and farmland (541/386-7697, hoodriverfruitloop.com). Sampling the area's up-and-coming viticulture is another must: Columbia Wine Tours shuttles from two to 24 people to four wineries in four hours and provides bottled waters and snacks along the way (541/380-1410, hoodrivertours.com, two-person tour $140). Or if you prefer hops to grapes, swing by the Full Sail Brewing Company Tasting Room & Pub for a sip (or three) of Full Sail Amber (541/386-2247, fullsailbrewing.com). Dubbed the "windsurfing capital of the world" by some, Hood River is an ideal place to test your mettle on the water: Hood River Waterplay offers five different levels of windsurfing classes, plus equipment rental if you need it (541/386-9463, hoodriverwaterplay.com, from $69). WHERE TO STAY Seven Oaks Bed and Breakfast describes itself as a "garden oasis," surrounded by two acres of flowering plant life and fenced in by Douglas firs. The four-unit house (plus separate cottage) provides storage for recreational equipment and serves organic eggs, jams, and pastries (541/386-7622, sevenoaksbb.com, $160). DRIVING TIP I-84—a.k.a. the Columbia River Highway—is a straight, gorgeous shot from Portland. Look for both mountains: Mount Hood and Mount Adams. Harbor Country, Mich. 26 miles from Chicago Hitting the beach in the heart of the Midwest is possible at Harbor Country, a group of eight towns on the white-sand beaches of Lake Michigan. The southern beaches of New Buffalo and Warren Dunes State Park are biggest, but individual townships have access too (harborcountry.org). Charter a fishing boat in the New Buffalo Harbor with Cap'n D Charters to hunt down salmon, trout, bass, and blue gill (574/232-0436, capndcharters.com, $500 for up to four people for six hours) or try surfing or stand-up paddleboarding in New Buffalo or St. Joseph, assisted by Third Coast Surf Shop (269/932-4575, thirdcoastsurfshop.com, $75 for a 90-minute private lesson). Afterward, head to Three Oaks to the brand-new organic Journeyman Distillery, nestled in a former corset-making factory, and kick back in the tasting room for a sample of Featherbone Bourbon, a nod to the turkey feathers that the corsets were fashioned out of (269/820-2050, journeymandistillery.com). Soak up the booze at Skip's in New Buffalo, famous for its ultra-tender prime rib (269/469-3330, skipsrestaurantandcatering.info, from $22). WHERE TO STAY Directly across the road from its own private beach, the 31-room Lakeside Inn, built in the late 1800s, has a front porch filled with rocking chairs, plus an on-site café (269/469-0600, lakesideinns.com, from $80). DRIVING TIP Stick to highways 90 or 94. Creatively taking the back roads will only lead you into stop-and-go traffic. Clarksville, Tenn. 207 miles from Memphis How to describe Clarksville? "Think Carrie Bradshaw meets Dolly Parton," suggests the Clarksville Chamber of Commerce's website. With entertainment offerings just as diverse as those two pop culture icons, Clarksville manages to be a little bit country, a little bit rock 'n' roll. The tobacco trade—specifically stemmeries—brought in the big bucks in Clarksville in the late 1800s: Tour the Greek Revival/Italinata-style Smith-Trahern mansion, built in 1958 by a wealthy tobacconist - the slaves' quarters out back are still standing, as is an adjacent 1700s cemetery (931/648-5725, fceclarksville.org, $2). Continue exploring the past via the trails at Fort Defiance Civil War Park, between the Red and Cumberland rivers. The site was a Confederate fort that fell to Union soldiers in 1862; soon after, it served as a safe place for freed and runaway slaves (931/472-3351, fortdefianceclarksville.com). Or, hike one of three trails at Dunbar Cave State Park—the caves were once mined for gunpowder (931/648-5526, tn.gov/environment/parks/dunbarcave). Cool off afterward amid 1870s architecture downtown, at the Blackhorse Pub & Brewery, which makes its own beer onsite, including the signature Barnstormer Red Ale, made with Bavarian Hallertau hops. Pair it with one of the eatery's specialty pizzas, like the Whitehorse, a pie topped with alfredo sauce, fresh spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, feta, provolone, and mozzarella (931/552-3726, theblackhorsepub.net, from $15.50). WHERE TO STAY For an authentic 1800s experience, drive 15 miles southwest of Clarksville to Lylewood Inn Bed & Breakfast in Indian Mound, run by Mandy Williams. The rich antebellum décor—some rooms have claw-foot bathtubs—is matched in decadence only by the group meals: In addition to the requisite country breakfast, home-cooked dinners can include glazed pork loin, garlic cheese biscuits, and fresh berry cobbler (931/232-4203, lylewoodinn.com, from $75). DRIVING TIP Take Highway 40 to Highway 24, but don't fear the backroads. Visit the Tennessee Trails and Byways website for multiple mapped driving routes from different destinations - like the "Screaming Eagle" trail that begins in Nashville (tntrailsandbyways.com). Excelsior Springs, Mo. 28 miles from Kansas City, Mo. Soak up the late-18th and early-19th century history of Excelsior Springs, a Missouri town that boomed due to its wealth of pure, natural springwater. Early tourists came from miles around to bathe in the mineral-rich H2O and hopefully heal their ailments, and the city has preserved that craze via historic buildings and walking tours. Belly up to the world's longest water bar, housed in the Art Deco-style Hall of Waters and Cultural Museum, built in 1937, where you can taste the mineral waters that put Excelsior Springs on the map (816/637-2811, visitesprings.com). A few blocks down, stop into Oooey Gooey Chocolates for a chocolate-dipped Twinkie on a stick—your choice of either milk or white chocolate (816/630-9255, oooeygooey.com, $2.25). Or get away from it all at the 40-acre Knott Nature Sanctuary, which features education and recreation programs that include hiking, camping, and gardening and landscaping (816/630-2872). WHERE TO STAY Notorious characters Al Capone and Bugsy Malone reportedly threw their own bathtub gin and gambling parties at The Elms Resort and Spa, which reopened this year for its 100th anniversary after a multi-million-dollar renovation that includes a spa with a hydrotherapy grotto. The hotel is perhaps best known, though, for being the place Harry S. Truman found out he'd defeated Dewey for the presidency in 1948 (816/630-5500, elmshotelandspa.com, from $139). DRIVING TIP The quickest way to get to Excelsior Springs: Catch I-35 North from downtown Kansas City, then take Highway 69 to Excelsior. Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. 30 miles from New York City Indulge your love of literature, the arts, and lifestyles of the rich and famous in this storied region north of New York City. Ichabod Crane and the Headless Horseman live on (in spirit, anyway) in the Sleep Hollow Cemetery, which author Washington Irving name-checked in his 1820  story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." Walk the grounds for free and visit cemetery residents including Irving himself, Andrew Carnegie, Elizabeth Arden, and William and J.D. Rockefeller, or take a two-hour, lantern-lit guided evening tour—if you dare (914/631-0081, sleepyhollowcemetery.org, guided tour $25). For a quick bite, select a hot "Fleetwood original" calzone (stuffed with pepperoni, sausage, peppers, onions, mozzarella, and tomato sauce) from Fleetwood Pizzeria, founded by the Guzzo family in 1965 (914/631-3267, fleetwoodpizza.com, $5.75). Drive two miles northwest, on Bedford Road, to Pocantico Hills to see how the other half lived at Kykuit: The Rockefeller Estate. Drift through the main rooms of the six-story stone house, past the fountains and sculptures dotting the expansive gardens, and tour the underground art galleries, replete with works by Picasso and Warhol (914/631-8200, hudsonvalley.org/historic-sites/kykuit/tours, from $23). WHERE TO STAY Venture eight miles north of Sleepy Hollow to bunk at the Alexander Hamilton House, an eight-unit Victorian B&B with an eight-foot-deep swimming pool and a giant lawn chess set in the backyard (914/271-6737, alexanderhamiltonhouse.com, from $135). DRIVING TIP Allow traveling time for New York City traffic—the 25-mile drive can take much longer than an hour, even during off-peak hours.

Inspiration

10 Most Sacred Spots on Earth

When we modern folks visit a beautiful natural site, the experience may evoke a sense of peace, a feeling of awe...or just the need to snap a million photos. For our ancient forbearers, though, these places were so much more. Throughout history, civilizations all over the globe have attached spiritual or religious importance to natural spots (ie. not man-made places) that played key roles in their respective cultures. From the mythological homes of powerhouse gods like Zeus and Shiva to the serene spot where the mortal Buddha achieved enlightenment, these are the places of legends. Some are still used for age-old rituals, others have been lost to time, but all crackle with a special energy and, if you're lucky, just a little bit of leftover magic. SEE THE SACRED PLACES! 1.ULURU-KATA TJUTA NATIONAL PARK, AUSTRALIA  Located in Australia's Red Centre, in the heart of the continent, these two natural rock formations are the main attractions in the World Heritage Site Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park. One of the country's more recognizable landmarks, Uluru is a flat-topped sandstone rock standing about 1,100 feet high and almost six miles around, with a soulful, deep-red hue that changes throughout the day. (The site is also known as Ayers Rock, so named by the colonial surveyor who "rediscovered" the place in 1873.) About 30 miles away, Kata Tjuta (a.k.a. The Olgas) is made of more than 30 domes of varying rock types, including granite, sandstone, and basalt; the tallest point is almost 1,800 feet high.  Both sites are sacred to the Anangu people of the Pitjantjatjara Aboriginal tribe, who believe the rocks were built during the ancient creation period and are still inhabited by ancestor spirits. (Archeologist work suggests there were humans in this area over 20,000 years ago.) Owned by the Anangu and leased by the government, the park is open to the public, though tribespeople continue to perform rituals and ceremonies in various locations, such as the sacred "Dreamtime" track that runs near the modern hiking trail. The park also houses a Cultural Center and Aboriginal rock art sites, and ranger guided tours are available. Getting There: Visitors can drive or join a bus tour to the park from Alice Springs (280 miles away), or fly to Ayers Rock Airport/Connellan (AYQ); Qantas and Virgin Australia offer direct flights from several major domestic cities. There are only a few accommodation choices in the area, in different price ranges, and all are owned by Voyages Indigenous Tourism. (Camping is not allowed in the park.) Note that while hiking Uluru is not technically forbidden, the Anangu ask that visitors not climb the rock out of respect for its significance, and also ask that photos not be taken of certain sacred sites. Guests should also not pocket any rocks as souvenirs—those who have say it brings bad luck, and often mail the rocks back to the park. Admission is $25 for a three-day pass. 2. CENOTE SAGRADO, MEXICO  The ancient Maya revered water for its life-sustaining power, and worshiped Chac, the god of rain, because of this awe of H20. Many areas of Mexico are dotted with cenotes—natural underground sinkholes—and the Maya believed that some of these sites were visited by Chac himself. As a result, some cenotes were designated as "sacred" and kept for rituals, offerings and sacrifices, while others were set aside for bathing, drinking and crop water. One of the most notable of the sacred springs is Cenote Sagrado, located near the major Mayan archeological site Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula. Created from a natural limestone cave, with steep sides stretching about 60 feet above the water line, this cenote was specifically used for ceremonies and occasional sacrifices; for the latter, men, women, and children were thrown in during drought times to appease the water gods. When archeologists dredged the spring in the 20th century, they found gold bells, masks, cups, rings, jade pieces, and more (many from the post-Spanish period) along with human bones. Getting There: One of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico, Chichen Itza can be reached by car or organized bus tours (typically about $35 per person) from nearby tourist hubs like Cancún or Cozumel, or via infrequent public bus service; the ride is about two-and-a-half hours from Cancún. The entry fee is about $8 and includes the evening light and sound show; headphone tours are $2. Cenote Sagrado is part of the Great North Platform section of the site. 3. MAHABODHI TREE, BODH GAYA, INDIA  According to Buddhist traditions, around 500 B.C., when the ascetic Prince Siddhartha was wandering through what's now the state of Bihar in India, he took rest under a native bodhi tree. After meditating there for three nights, the prince awoke with enlightenment, insight and the answers he had been seeking, which developed into the teachings he went on to spread to his disciples. Naturally, the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment is one of the most sacred sites for Buddhists, and has been a major pilgrimage destination for centuries. Today, a temple complex surrounds what is believed to be a direct descendant of the original majestic tree itself, which sits in the middle of a courtyard surrounded by protective carved panels. A beautiful Buddha statue under the tree marks the significant spot.   Getting There: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Mahabodhi Temple Complex is in the Bodh Gaya area of Bihar, India. The site is about three miles from the Gaya Airport and about seven miles from Gaya City. Car service, public buses, and bus tours are also available from the holy city of Varanasi; public buses run about $8.   4. MOUNT KAILAS, TIBET  This black rock mountain in western Tibet is something of a holy hat trick, since it is sacred to Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains and is thought to be the mythical Axis Mundi, the center of the universe. Hindus believe it is the residence of Lord Shiva and the land of eternal bliss, and have celebrated the mythical Kailas in temple carvings throughout India. Tantric Buddhists say the mountain is the home of Buddha Demchog, who represents supreme bliss, and that three key Bodhisattvas live in the surrounding hills, while Jains believe it is the site (which they call Mount Ashtapada) where the first Jain attained nirvana. The peak is part of the Gangdise Mountain range and is set near the source of some of the longest rivers in Asia, including the Sutlej, the Indus, and the Ghaghara (a tributary of the holy Ganges River). Nearby Lake Manasarovar, considered the source of purity, is another major pilgrimage site for both Hindus and Buddhists. Getting There: Despite being such a mythical sacred site, Mount Kailas is also one of the least visited, due to its remote location in the Tibetan Himalayas. From Lhasa, it's about a four-night journey over the plateau to the small pilgrim outpost, where there are a few basic guesthouses. From this base, most pilgrims set out on foot, pony, or yak to circumnavigate the base of the mountain, a journey of about 32 miles. There is no record of anyone having attempted to climb Mount Kailas. 5. MOUNT SINAI, EGYPT  Some of the basic tenets of Judeo-Christian-Islamic beliefs can be traced back to this mountain on Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, for it was at the top of this peak that Moses is said to have received the Ten Commandments from God. Though there is not much archeological evidence confirming this as the exact place, and biblical scholars have theorized for years about the mythical mountain's location, early Christian monks believed this was the sacred site and established several monasteries in the area. Getting There: In the past, visitors could start at St. Catherine's Monastery at the base of the mountain, then climb to the summit, where there is the small Holy Trinity chapel and stunning views, especially at sunrise, however in September 2013, The Guardian reported that St. Catherine's Monastery was forced to close as a result of a shaky economy following the country's uprisings. The mountain can only be reached by road; Dahab and Nuweiba are both about two hours away by car, while it's about three hours from resort hub Sharm al-Sheikh. Most hotels on the peninsula can set you up on a bus tour, and many of these arrive at the base around 1 a.m., so visitors can be at the summit for sunrise. There are two ways to climb: by foot (which takes between 45 minutes and three hours, depending on your pace, or by camel, which is about three hours; note that if you choose the latter, you will still have to walk the final 750 steps up to the top. Guests are required to hire a local guide at the entrance for about $15 (the rate is negotiable.) Because of its peaceful silence, the mountain is also popular with visitors who practice yoga and meditation. 6. GLASTONBURY TOR, ENGLAND  Rising out of the middle of the Summerland Meadows in Somerset, England, is a hill that has long had magical connection. For centuries, Glastonbury Tor (Celtic for "hill") has been a source of myths: Some ancient Celtic civilizations considered it the entrance to the home of the Gwyn ap Nudd, alternately regarded as Lord of the Underworld and King of Fairies (a theory that resurfaced in the 19th century), while pagans may have used it for ceremonies celebrating the Goddess. Later, the site was considered a possibility for King Arthur's Avalon, since Arthur and Queen Guinevere's coffins were supposedly discovered at the top of the hill in the 12th century. And even more recently, theorists have linked the hill to the quest for the Holy Grail. To further add to all the speculation, archeologists have found remains of seven deep, symmetrical terraces on the hill's slopes, which could be anything from Middle Age crop land to a Neolithic labyrinth. Whatever the history, the hill is still thought to have spiritual energy, as visitors often report feeling more hopeful and positive after a walk on its slopes. Topped by the remains of the 15th century church of St. Michael, the hill is managed by the National Trust of the United Kingdom.  Getting There: The Tor is a short walk or bike ride from the center of Glastonbury, which is linked to London by frequent train service. The nearest station to the hill is Castle Cary. Admission is free. 7. CRATER LAKE, OREGON  Formed nearly 8,000 years ago after an alleged massive eruption caused Mount Mazama to collapse, this deep blue, freshwater caldera lake in south-central Oregon plunges nearly 2,000 feet below ground, making it the deepest in the United States and the seventh deepest in the world. The Native American Klamath tribe has long considered the lake a sacred site: Their legends say a battle here between the Chief of the Above World and the Chief of the Below World led to the destruction of Mount Mazama. (Historians believe the Klamath people may have witnessed the actual implosion of the mountain.) The tribesmen used Crater Lake in their vision quests (tasks may have included scaling the crater walls), and it is still considered a spiritual spot. The lake is now part of Crater Lake National Park. Getting There: Crater Lake National Park is about 60 miles from the airport in Klamath Falls and 80 miles from the airport in Medford; cars can be rented in both locations. (There is no public transport service available.) The park is open year-round, but some areas may be inaccessible in winter. A seven-day pass is $10 for cars and $5 per person for pedestrians, bicyclists, or motorcycles. Check the official park website for a list of official free days each year. 8. MOUNT PARNASSUS, GREECE  Towering above Delphi in central Greece, this limestone mountain looms large in Greek mythology. In addition to being sacred to the god Apollo, who often visited the nearby Oracle at Delphi, the mountain was thought to be the residence of the Muses and, as a result, the home of poetry and song. The three Corycian Nymphs, each of whom was romanced by a major god, were born of springs located on Parnassus, and the mountain was also the setting for many minor myths. Today, the only sacred activity takes place on the slopes: The mountain is topped by two popular ski centers and is dotted with scenic hiking trails. Getting There: Mount Parnassus is a winding, two-hour mountain drive from Athens. Day trips and overnight bus tours are also available (Key Tours offers Delphi tours from $120 per person). After exploring the slopes, don't miss a visit to the ancient ruins in Delphi, set in the shadow of the mountain. 9. LAKE ATITLÁN, GUATEMALA  Set up in the Guatemalan Central Highlands, and bordered by three volcanoes, Lake Atitlán is the deepest lake in Central America at 1,114 feet. Along with its natural beauty, the lake is famous for the Maya villages that ring its shores, many of which have been there for centuries. Ninth-century Panajachel, one of the largest, has been drawing tourists since the 1960s, while in Santiago Atitlán, residents are known for their worship of Maximo, a local idol that fuses Mayan gods, Catholic saints, and Spanish legends. Mayan ceremonies still take place at various sites around the lake, from caves to the top of an adjacent hill. The lake's shores are also strewn with archeological sites and ruins of pre-Spanish towns, including Chiutinamit, a mythological "underwater city." Getting There: Lake Atitlán is located in western Guatemala, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Guatemala City or Antigua. Companies like Transport Guatemala can arrange for bus or van service (from $25 per person from Guatemala City, from $15 per person from Antigua). There are a wide array of accommodations, from luxury to budget, in towns like Panajachel, along with tourist activities and dining options. 10. VORTEXES, ARIZONA  Sedona, Arizona, has long drawn people interested in healing, spirituality, mysticism, and metaphysics, who come for more than just the dramatic, red-rock beauty. The area is famous for its vortexes, powerful centers of kinetic energy that can have a deep effect on those who visit them; there are four main ones spread around town, including one near the airport. The ancient Native American Yavapai people knew about these centers, and celebrated this "Great Mother" energy with petroglyph paintings and sacred dwellings. Today, visitors can easily walk or hike to the four spots (the one in Boynton Canyon is among the most popular), and once there, can meditate or just soak up the good vibes. Many feel recharged and uplifted after visiting a vortex, and some guests even report having visions or deeper experiences while in town. Getting There: Sedona is a scenic two-hour drive from Phoenix, home to an international airport, and 45 minutes from the smaller commercial airport in Flagstaff. Maps highlighting the four vortexes are available at most hotels and online.