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Monthly Archives: April 2012

2012 Top Honeymoon Destinations – #6

Exotic. Beauty. Beaches. Adventure.

6. Thailand

Thailand continues to surprise visitors with its ever-expanding roll call of hidden beaches, offshore reefs, wildlife parks, mountain forests and cascading rivers that host year-round outdoors adventure – perfect for an active honeymoon holiday.

Where to go:

  1. Ko Samui: Thailand’s most popular honeymoon destination is Ko Samui. This large island in the Gulf of Siam has plenty of pretty beaches to choose from and the interior of the island is covered with coconut trees and soft, rolling hills. The island is part of the Angthong Marine National Park and is just a couple of hours by boat from Ko Phangan and Ko Tao, so there are ample opportunities for exploration and activities, including kayaking, snorkeling and diving. Samui used to be known as a backpacker destination but these days luxury resorts seem to dominate the available accommodations.
  2. Krabi: Secluded Krabi is a little less popular than Samui and Phuket but no less beautiful or romantic. The dramatic cliffs, clear water and relative peace and quiet make this mainland beach destination a great place for couples.Krabi is also very close to Phuket and the other islands in the Andanman Bay (including Phi Phi) so it’s a great place to use as a base if you want to explore the rest of the region. Railey Beach, which is only accessible by boat, might just be the perfect place for a romantic getaway.
  3. Phuket: Thailand’s largest island offers visitors just about any experience they could want, including romance and luxury. Although the big, popular beaches such as Patong and Kamala are fun, if you’re looking for something romantic opt for one of the smaller beaches either in the north or south of the island. Surin Beach, Kata Beach and Naj Hark Beach are all more peaceful and relaxed than the average beach.
  4. Chiang Mai: Ancient temples, charming boutiques and vibrant street life make the city of Chiang Mai a great romantic break for history and culture lovers and foodies. If the great outdoors is more your speed, the mountainous area surrounding Chiang Mai is lush and green and offers plenty of outdoor adventure, from elephant rides to river rafting. Visitors to the Chiang Mai region typically head out on multi-day hikes, which often involve roughing it, but there are also some exceptionally beautiful luxury resorts for those who want to indulge. Within the city of Chiang Mai there are more and more small boutique hotels and resorts opening every year. Outside of the city, there are a few very romantic, very beautiful and very expensive resorts.
  5. Khao Yai: Just a few hours by car from Bangkok is the Khao Yai region, a mostly rural, mountainous area with small villages, lush greenery and the country’s largest national park. If hiking and camping under the stars aren’t what you consider romantic, the region also has a number of wineries that offer tours and tastings. They’re close enough to each other that you can easily visit the three main ones – PB Valley, Village Farm and Gran Monte – in one day. You can camp at Khao Yai National Park and the park even rents tents so you don’t have to worry about bringing gear. The wineries listed above also have their own resorts which look rustic but are in fact quite comfortable.

Things to do and see:

Sway gently atop an elephant en route to a remote hill tribe village north of Chiang Mai, hike the elevated montane forests surrounding Umphang, cool off with a swim beneath the cascades of Thee Lor Su, white-water raft the rapids of Mae Khlong or cycle alongside the famed Mekong River before crossing by ferry and biking less-travelled byways in the neighbouring country of Laos. Thailand offers an amazing choice of outdoors adventure activities, including:

  1. Trekking – The hills of northern Thailand offer a wide range of trekking adventures that not only provide stunning mountain and rainforest vistas but also lead to close encounters with hospitable ethnic hill tribes. From Chiang Mai, the centre for trekking in northern Thailand, hike into the undulating hills and valleys northwest of the city to meet Lisu, Yao and Akha hill tribe people, witnessing their traditional way of life. The town of Nan on the border of Laos and Mae Hong Son on the border of Myanmar also offer hill tribe village treks. Stay overnight and learn some of the unique customs, traditions and lifestyle of each tribe. Combine this with a thrilling long-tail boat ride down the river or a white-water rafting experience or admire scenic panoramas from atop a swaying elephant.
  2. Scuba diving – Head to the Andaman Sea for exceptional diving opportunities around Phuket Island, including nearby Racha Yai and Racha Noi islands, the distant Similan Islands and the Burma Banks. Further south in Krabi Province lie numerous dive sites located around Rai Leh, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta, which include Hin Daeng (Red Rock) – Thailand’s deepest wall dive at more than 60m. Dive centres are located in Phuket’s Chalong Bay, Ko Phi Phi and Krabi’s Ao Nang Bay. For beginners, Phuket offers great dive training areas right off the beach in Kata, while those at Patong Bay, Freedom Beach, Paradise Beach and Bang Tao Beach offer easy diving in shallow 5m-deep water close to shore.  Across the Thai Peninsula, Koh Tao is one of the best dive spots in the Gulf of Thailand, followed by Ko Lak Ngam; both islands are located within the Chumphon Marine National Park.
  3. Elephant trekking – Discover the jungles of northern Thailand from atop a swaying elephant or explore the countryside around Phuket on a half-day elephant safari – great fun for the whole family!
  4. White-water rafting – Head to the northern Thai town of Pai for some of the country’s best white-water rafting adventures. Shoot rapids, paddle nature reserves and glide past canyon walls encrusted with fossils. Or try the Mae Khlong and Umphang rivers in central Thailand for serious rafting thrills.
  5. Snorkelling – The waters around the islands of the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand are perfect for snorkelling. Almost every beach resort can give advice on the best local snorkelling spots and many dive centres allow snorkellers to tag along for a fraction of the cost of scuba diving.
  6. Sea kayaking – Paddle a kayak around Krabi’s Phang Nga Bay, exploring jagged isles riddled with caves, limestone cliffs and stunning beaches. Head over to Ko Phi Phi and the east side of Ko Lanta for more sea kayak adventures.
  7. Game fishing – Hook up a charter from Phuket, available year round, and chase marlin, sailfish, queenfish, sea bass, barracuda, giant trevally and mangrove jack. Local charter boat captains are familiar with the best waters for catching migratory species and can also help you land king mackerel, yellowfin tuna and wahoo. Or head across the peninsula to the island of Koh Tao and fish the Gulf of Thailand.
  8. Rock climbing – The limestone karsts that lie scattered along southern Thailand’s Andaman Coast are ideal for rock climbers. Head to east Rai Leh and Ton Sai beaches in the Krabi Province for the most challenging climbs. Local climbing schools offer tuition for beginners and provide all the necessary gear. Ko Phi Phi and Ko Yao Noi also offer interesting climbs.
  9. Mountain biking – Northern Thailand offers biking adventures from Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son, where you can explore the surrounding hills and forest, bike to isolated hilltop villages and meet friendly hill tribe people.
  10. Eco-hiking tour – Experience the wild side of Thailand’s interior with a guided trek through some of the country’s finest national parks. Look out for Brahminy kites and white-bellied sea eagles on a hike through the pristine landscape of Phuket’s Sirinat National Park or try to spot some of the more than 184 bird species and 48 species of animal that live in the evergreen forests and grassland of Khao Yai National Park.
  11. Hot-air ballooning – Lift off for a pre-dawn flight over emerald rice paddies and spy distant, mist-covered mountain ranges on a ballooning adventure from Chiang Mai.
  12. Thai cooking classes – You too can discover the art of Thai cooking – just choose your favourite region and spend an afternoon or a week learning to cook some of Thailand’s tastiest dishes. Chiang Mai is especially renowned for its choice of excellent Thai cooking schools.
  13. Thai long-tail speedboat – Discover unspoiled coves, pristine beaches and soaring limestone cliffs from a long-tail speedboat on a day trip from Phuket to Koh Phi Phi. Don’t miss Maya Bay – the snorkelling here is excellent. Or head to the klongs (canals) of Thonburi in Bangkok to get a different perspective of Thai life.
  14. Shopping – Best buys include Thai silk in lengths or ready made clothes, imitation designer fashion, silver, bronze, nielloware, jewellery, plates, bowls, ornaments, temple bells, wood carvings and antiques (but beware of exquisitely-made fakes).

When to go:
The best time to visit Thailand is between November and February, when the country is mainly dry and not too hot typically averaging 83°F. Rafting is best between July and October when most rivers are swollen with monsoon rain. Both biking and trekking are best in the dry season from November to early March – but bring a sweater, as nights in northern Thailand can get pretty chilly.

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2012 Top Honeymoon Destinations – #7

Black sand beaches. Mountain backdrop. Romance. Water Sports. Shopping. Spas. Fine Dining. True island living.

7. Tahiti

Created as the result of volcanic activity, Tahiti is the largest and highest island in French Polynesia. Known for its black sand beaches and striking mountainous landscape, Tahiti can be your honeymoon of serene relaxation or divine exploration. Rent a bungalow situated directly over the water and spend your week wrapped up in romance, or explore the waterfront and Le Marche in search of local treasures. Be sure to reserve a day for the coveted circle-island tour, a 71 mile route around the island!

Things To Do while in Tahiti:

  1. Snorkeling – Enjoy snorkeling in a beautiful site and dive down below the ocean’s surface in the warm current, where you can see schools of colorful fish nibbling on the coral reef. Watch hundreds of silvery needlefish asthey dart about in perfect sparkling unison.
  2. Scuba Diving  – Tahiti has a variety of sites for all levels of divers and is a good place to get certified. There are a variety of dive sites in Tahiti, with subjects ranging from wrecks to sharks. The Aquarium is where one goes to feed fish by hand. Fish come in such abundance that it is sometimes difficult to see a few yards ahead.
  3. Catamaran Cruise – The popularity of bare boat charters in Tahiti has grown tremendously over the last five years. See the island from an entirely different angle. Literally.
  4. Mountain Safari by Quad – Crossing Tahiti via the Papenoo valley. The interior of the island can be crossed on a trail that follows the large valley, rich in archaeological sites and spectacular views of impressive waterfalls, river crossings, and pure mountain streams. You can also go over to Mount Marau for a half- or full-day trip in the luxurious tropical forest.
  5. Surfing – The north coast offers good surfing, where there are both beach breaks and reef breaks. The best time to surf is actually in the winter, where there are big waves caused from storms in Antarctica and New Zealand. The southern coast of the island has the most breaks, with the exception of the Papara waves. Some of the popular reef breaks are: Taapuna pass (PK 10), Paea (PK 14,5) , Papara ( PK 36).
  6. Deep Sea Fishing – Deep-sea fishing is a very popular recreational activity for visitors to French Polynesia. Game fish include marlin, yellow fin tuna, sailfish, swordfish, mahi mahi, barracuda and other pelagic fish.
  7. Hiking – Climbing Mount Aorai (2,066 m.) is a very pleasant walk and can be done without a guide. There are many professionals offering different levels of hikes and mountain climbing of 1-4 day circuits.
  8. Explore the Three Waterfalls of Fa’arumai – Leave the circle island road at PK 22 in Tiarei to reach these three waterfalls in the valley. The Viamahuta waterfall is 90 m. (295 ft.) high and is easily reached by walking across a bridge and following a well-defined path under a cool canopy of trees. The other two cascades require more effort and time. This is a “must” stop for most visitors to Tahiti and is worth the effort.

When to Go:

Tahiti’s peak season is during the summer months of June, July, and August, when the weather is dry. Temperatures  average 75 degrees during the day. In June, the largest cultural festival in the country, Heiva i Tahiti, takes place in Papeete’s To’ata Square. Expect music, dance, arts, and other pageantry. Almost every weekend in summer brings a sporting event, be it world-class surfing, a sailing regatta, an Ironman competition, or outrigger canoe races. A favorite among islanders is the Tahiti Traditional Sports Championship in mid-June, when contestants climb coconut trees and lift heavy boulders.
September and October are delightful months on the island. The July and August crowds are gone, yet you still have the same dry weather. Be on the lookout for Mahana Pae, a traditional dance show performed at Place Vaiete in Papeete throughout the month of September. A number of handicraft shows that feature local artisans dot the town this time of year.
As the calendar hits November, the humidity rises and the rainy season begins, lasting through April. This being the tropics, the rain is usually a torrential downpour that moves out quickly, with sunshine returning again. Be aware that a cyclone might threaten the island in the months of January, February, and March.

How to Save Money on your Honeymoon:

  • Off Season:Pick a travel time to visit the French Polynesia islands when it is off season. For Tahiti bungalow rentals, consider traveling at another time besides in the months of June through October. June through October is the island’s high season for tourists and rentals of Tahiti bungalows. The weather generally is always beautiful on the islands.

  • See Different Parts of Tahiti: Save money on Tahiti bungalows by splitting your vacation stay up. Consider staying half of your time in Tahiti bungalows and the other half in a regular hotel. Tahiti bungalows average anywhere from $200 – $400 per person a night and are 30% more in cost than hotel rooms.

  • Plan Ahead: Schedule your stay in Tahiti bungalows at least 6 months in advance. You might be able to save costs by booking early. The more time that is closer to your travel departure, the more you will end up paying. Also, by scheduling to rent your Tahiti bungalows early, you will be able to request and receive better amenities such as asking for hut that has a glass floor for viewing oceanic wildlife, satellite television, and choosing a secluded hut that is on the end away from other tourists.

  • Research, Research, Research: Research your options for staying in Tahiti bungalows. Different resorts, when you travel to Tahiti, offer different amenities such as a canoe breakfast. When you stay in The Manini Pearl Resort Tahiti bungalows, servers paddle your breakfast out to you. Luxurious baths in your Tahiti bungalows are included at Intercontinental Bora Bora Resort and Thalasso Spa. Some even offer private balconies off of the huts which may be cheaper than another resort.

2012 Top Honeymoon Destinations – #8

 

Breathtaking beauty. Ancient culture. Beaches. Mountains. Rainforests. Oh, my!

 

8. Peru

 

 

Enter magical (temperate) Peru.  Machu Picchu has always been high on our bucket list. With a little research, this trip could actually be affordable without sacrificing the little luxuries for your special week celebrating you as a couple. There will be equal parts romance, relaxation, sightseeing, and adventure. 

Machu Picchu

Some top things to do while in Peru:

  1. Machu Picchu: Located in the mountains of south-central Peru, Machu Picchu is not to be missed. These fifteenth-century Incan ruins are one of the most dramatic sites on the planet — and one of the most crowded. Machu Picchu gets half a million tourists a year, mostly in May through September when the weather is drier. From Cusco (the historic capital of the Incan empire and a good base for travel), it’s a four-hour journey by train to Aguas Calientes, the town nearest Machu Picchu (see train options at PeruRail.com). Bus service or, for the adventurous couple, a steep hour-plus hike brings you to your destination. An easy way to do it all: Shop around for packages that include all transportation, admission to the park, and guided tours, which abound online and make your trip planning hassle-free.
  2. Sacred Valley: Bear in mind that Peru’s Sacred Valley, located near Cusco and traveled through on the train to Machu Picchu, is among its most beautiful areas. Towns located in this valley near Cusco like Pisac and Chinchero (both of which offer lively markets) are worth a visit and are accessible by bus or taxi. Buy a Cusco boleto turistico (tourist pass; 084-227-037) to keep your sightseeing costs to a minimum. This gets you admission to numerous Incan sites (such as Sacsayhuaman, Pikillacta, Tipon, etc.) and several museums in Cuzco. For a pleasant budget-friendly stay, consider the Casa Andina Classic Cusco Koricancha, or go more upscale at the Casa Andina Private Collection-Cusco (for information on both, go to Casa-Andina.com).
  3. Rainforests: Peru’s rainforests are amazing, and ecotourism is a huge draw for adventurous honeymooners. In southeastern Peru, you’ll find the Tambopata National Reserve, which boasts an easily accessible and spectacular jungle (with all rainforest trips, you’re likely to be roughing it, making transit more time-consuming). Stay in nearby Puerto Maldonado. It’s also a good idea to arrange your jungle treks through an outfitter there or through your hotel. The bungalows at Wasai Puerto Maldonado Lodge (Wasai.com) offer a comfortable retreat, and the riverfront restaurant is considered a must. Additionally, the hotel conveniently offers eco-tours that include stays at the Wasai Tambopata Lodge and Research Center — you’ll see monkeys, macaws, and more.
  4. Beaches: Despite the great expanse of ocean to its west, Peru isn’t well known for its beaches. Most of its 1,800-mile coastline is strewn with desert, which, although pretty in its own right, isn’t exactly the country’s strong suit. If you’re after sun and surf, its neighbors Colombia and Ecuador are much better choices. But, Peru isn’t completely stripped of sand. The northern regions have some very decent beaches, stretching from the uppermost point, Putumayo River, to about midway down the coastline. Even Lima, the capital, has a few stretches of sand that get filled with locals and tourists on weekends. If you feel like venturing out of Lima, most experts agree that Trujillo, Tumbes, and Piura are among the best spots. Here the beaches boast wide sandbars and gentle to moderate waves, perfect for a day of surfing or swimming. Not all of them offer child-safe swimming, though, so make sure to check ahead. Close to the Ecuador border, about an hour’s drive from Tumbes, is arguably one of the best beaches in the country. Punta Sal offers scenic views and abundant sun, but also a wealth of activities, including scuba diving, windsurfing, and deep-sea fishing, on top of the usual swimming and beach volleyball. A close contender to Punta Sal is Mancora Beach, about a thirty-minute drive away. Surfers flock to Mancora to ride its powerful waves, which sometimes reach 6 feet tall. It’s also a popular stop for people fresh off the Inca Trail hike—who wouldn’t want to crash on a beach after walking for days? Both beaches are a long way from Lima, so if you don’t want to go too far from the capital, Piura may be a better option. The city is just a two- to three-hour drive up north. Some 30 miles outside the city proper is La Tortuga Beach in Paita, which boasts some of the best sunsets and relatively calm waters.

    Mancora Beach

The Best Time to Go

May through October are the driest months in Peru and tend to attract the most visitors, particularly in July and August. June to September (winter in Peru) are clear months and often cold, particularly at high elevations. However, if it’s mountain trekking you’re after, this can be an ideal time to visit, as visibility is best.

January through April tends to be wet and should be avoided — roads are often rendered impassable, so you may find yourself stuck in one spot for a few days. Also, remember that depending on where in Peru you’re headed, temperatures and local weather will vary; the dry highlands are quite different from the rainforests in the east. (For more general info on weather and other aspects of trip planning, check out Peru.info.)

Avoid the Christmas, New Year, Carnaval, Easter, and Peruvian Independence Day holidays (July 28) — rates go up, and hotels and flights will be harder to come by. Beyond just Christmas, you’ll generally see higher rates from mid-December through mid-January.

The Best Ways to Save

Though more expensive than Ecuador and Bolivia, Peru is still extremely inexpensive by US standards. Many restaurants, hotels, and other businesses will accept payment in US dollars, so always check whether the prices you’re seeing are in American or Peruvian currency. Lima and Cusco (near Machu Picchu) tend to be significantly more expensive because these areas host so many tourists. Staying nearby rather than in either of these areas will save you a good chunk of cash.