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Top 10 Most Beautiful Underrated Caribbean Islands


The Caribbean is too-often associated with simply being a destination of family cruises, where one is taken out into the ocean on a big boat, dumped onto a tourist-friendly block of an island and swooped back up twelve hours for another jaunt to the next location. The truth is, the Caribbean offers many islands that are worth the flight and hotel expense not only because of the impeccable weather, but variety of rich, cultured experiences available on virtually every island. Especially great is the remote nature of these islands as off-the-beaten path destinations for quiet vacations.

Additionally, this beautiful expanse of islands is mistakenly summed up by thinking of a few locations only – Jamaica, Bahamas and Aruba being those that stand out when individuals and couples search for the best islands in the Caribbean. Fortunately, there is so much more to be seen and experienced out of the 28 island nations in the Caribbean, as well as the more than 7,000 individual islands! There are a million reasons to travel to the Caribbean, but here are some of our favorite under the radar locations and why we think you should go!

Curaçao

Part of the sister islands that make the ABC islands (along with Bonaire and Aruba), Curacao boasts incredible beach-fronts, crystal-clear water and some of the best and most affordable resorts in the Caribbean. Part touristic, part untouched, Curacao has something in mind for the beach-goer and party-goer, including some of the most stunning vistas in the Caribbean as well as a thriving nightlife in downtown Willemstad, the capital. Lastly, the ABCs are technically removed from the hurricane belt, making weather a nearly non-factor year-round for the gorgeous utopia.

Perhaps the most truly differentiating things on the island to experience is the shipwreck on Klein Curacao, a small island just off the mainland. Curacao is, in fact, a hot-bed of shipwreck activity with several notable locations to dive or snorkel around shipwrecks such as the Superior Producer, which went down in 1978.

Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

Most come to the Dominican Republic for Punta Cana, the coastal city littered with all-you-can-eat packages and Caribbean tourists who want to be in the Caribbean without actually being in the Caribbean. However, Bayahibe offers a truer and less stale experience than Punta cana. Take advantage of the locally-prepared seafood dishes and scuba diving by day, and the numerous, thriving and vibrant live music establishments by night. Kviar Show Disco & Casino Bayahibe is a favorite place that doubles as a location to dance the night away, have some drinks, and risk a few bucks on the blackjack table.

Bonaire

 

There are countless reasons to visit Bonaire, and its not only our favorite place in the Caribbean, but arguably our favorite place in the world. Small, unspoiled and untouched, Bonaire is a water-lover’s dream, featuring some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world, as well as a vibrant nightlife and excellent cultural experiences.

Make sure to visit Klein Bonaire, a small swath of land directly opposing the primary tourists’ area in the capital of Kralendijk, where daily boats will take you on a short ride to experience a completely unfettered snorkeling experience. Don’t forget to take your own food and drink, however, because Klein is completely uninhabited. Bonaire is ridiculously romantic, and absolutely perfect as a Caribbean get-away for couples!

Nevis

Nevis is small. Very small, at only 36 square miles. However, what the tiny island lacks in size it makes up for in richness. There is simply so much to do in this idyllic paradise, including volcano exploration, hiking, camping, snorkeling and diving – to name a few.

Additionally, Nevis doubles as the birthplace of Alexander Hamilton, 18th century American statesman and the 1st Treasury Secretary in national history. Hamilton is honored throughout the island, including a casual trip through the now-museum that sits at the site of his birthplace. You’ll have to fly from Miami into into neighboring St. Kitts to reach Nevis, but the extra layover is absolutely worth it.

Grenada

Grenada is rolling and stunning, although often overlooked in favor of many of its neighbors. It is possibly one of the most unspoiled islands in the West Indies, and retains original colonial charm as well as a casual atmosphere and amazing food. St. George, the island nation’s capital, is a cultural landmark full of historic museums and inviting people.

The Coyaba Beach Resort is the place to stay, as it includes reasonable prices, beautiful rooms and one of the best restaurants on the island – the Arawakabana

Saba

Saba is the smallest Dutch-Caribbean island, and certainly one of the most beautiful. Called the “Unspoiled Queen”, the island houses less than two-thousand residents, making it an ideal choice for those looking to truly disappear off the grid.

In addition, Saba has some of the highest elevation in the Caribbean, making it the perfect location for hiking and mountain biking, at more than 1,200 feet in elevation. The lifestyle on Saba is different from much of the Caribbean – slow and old-fashioned with little nightlife, even with the emergence of an ecotourism industry in the last few decades.

Tobago

Just north of Venezuela sits Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost country in the Caribbean. Trinidad is unquestionably the bigger brother of the two, being larger, more industrialized and more acclimated to tourism, but Tobago offers much. Low-key and unspoiled, there are a few resorts in Tobago such as the Le Grand Courlan Spa Resort where the ocean is warm year-round, completely calm and untampered. Additionally, Le Grand Courlan is a perfect couples resort because of its adults-only policy!

Tobago is scenically stunning due to a natural feature most Caribbean islands lack in volume – bays. Tobago has numerous well-known bays that are ideal for boating, diving or simply swimming. What’s better is that many of these are away from what few “touristy” areas there are, while remaining perfectly safe.

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman

Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are stunning visually and even more interesting historically, as a remaining location where the infamous pirate Blackbeard allegedly hid his treasure – estimated at more than $14 million according to record. Accessible through the Grand Cayman, these islands offer superb adventures for scuba divers, cliff divers and windsurfers.

Legend has it that Blackbeard’s treasure is hidden along an area of rocky shoal that outlines the beautiful Cayman Brac. This shoal reaches high and vast, attracting rock climbers and hikers in addition to the already-present divers and treasure hunters! Beyond the shoal lie vast caves scattered along the coastline where small amount of gold, silver and jewels have been found over the years!

Barbados

Barbados is a natural wonder, complete with beautiful, scenic nature that is perfect for calm, casual walks throughout the island. Botanical gardens, forest trails and caves are virtually everywhere, making Barbados a perfect off-the-grid location to reconnect with nature. Harrison’s Cave is a wonderful location for a truly unique Caribbean experience, and afterward you could east to the stunning Bathsheba Beach or to the south, where the Mount Gay Rum distillery has been in operation since 1703.

On Barbados’ Platinum Coast, the calm water is ideal for swimming, snorkeling or simply doing nothing.  For culinary enthusiast, the coastal fishing town of Oistons is ideal to try your hand at fry fishing with locals and familiarizing yourself with authentic Caribbean cuisine!

Vieques Island, Puerto Rico

If you visit Puerto Rico, and you should, make sure to take a small ferry over to Vieques Island, a small and quiet paradise filled with lavish resorts, mangroves, wildlife and picturesque beaches. The Vieques Wildlife National Refuge is a must-see feature of this island, as it retains much of the natural Puerto Rican wildlife to be left undisturbed and protected.

Just eight miles east of the mainland Puerto Rico, Vieques features some of the most beautiful black-sand beaches in the Caribbean, as well as Bahía Bioluminiscente. Also called “Bio Bays”, these are bodies of water that contain millions of micro-organisms, called “dinoflagellates”, that glow in the dark for a second when agitated. It is a rare, natural wonder that you can easily experience while visiting Puerto Rico. Have your camera ready!

There’s more to the Caribbean than cruises or Jamaica. With an area so moving, so beautiful and so vast, the numbers of island nations are far more varied than most imagine and offer myriad unique experiences for anyone willing to take a chance. Often, these more “out of the way” locations are the ones that will simply amaze you with things you never imagined, food you never tasted and the kind of people you could only meet far from the general eye of tourism. Take a step away from the places you know, venture further, and experience all the Caribbean has to offer.

 

 

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5 Free Things To Do In Munich


Munich is a rare city that one could say is, in fact, uniquely its own. The history, each the good, bad, and notoriously dreadful, are all uniquely her. The site of the nationalistic uprising that resulted in Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Munich has grown from its treacherous past and is today an impeccably serene, peaceful and idyllic place. From Bavarian architecture and face-sized pints of Weissbier to its understanding and growth from its war-torn history, Munich is utterly unmistakable from any other.

What few know and understand about Munich is that it’s also a great budget travel city, and one in which you’ll find yourself often dumbfounded by brilliance simply by standing, walking or looking up. Here, we’ve covered five great, free ways to make the most of the Old Bavarian capital.

Free Walking Tour

One of the most enjoyable and rewarding experiences in Munich is the Free Walking Tour, offered by a handful of independent crews that work by donation throughout the city center. Mostly beginning in front of the Marienplatz, the city’s main square since 1158, you’ll have the opportunity to tour Munich by foot and learn about the deep, rich history of the city.

The one we chose was Sandeman’s, which convened in the city center in front of the Marienplatz. It’s best to check ahead for availability and space, especially weather pending, but actually setting up to attend the tour is quite easy. The tour guides are fantastically knowledgeable about Munich, and will share with you the epic details behind locations such as Marienplatz (and the Glockenspiel that adorns its tower), Englischer Garter, Munich Residenz, Altes Rathaus and the five famous Munchen breweries including the ubiquitous Hofbrauhaus, which dates back to 1589! Other spots include Odeonsplatz, the site of numerous early Nazi speeches and beside the area where Hitler was allegedly shot during the Beer Hall Putsch in 1923. Truly, Munich comes alive on this tour that brings all stories to the forefront – both the known and the unknown of the city.

Make sure to have a camera handy, as the walking tour offers much of what you expected to see in Munich, a few surprises, and plenty of scenic beauty around this beautiful city center. The free walking tours are a must see, even if you’re only looking for something to fill up one day in Munich.

The Gardens at Nymphenburg Park

Nymphenburg Palace is a place of unspeakable beauty, finished in 1675 and once home to such luminaries as King Ludwig II, who was born there in 1845. While the palace itself is a for-pay attraction, the gardens outside are stunning and free to walk about.

Nearly 500 acres in size, the Gardens at Nymphenburg are bejeweled by stunning fountains such as The Grand Cascade, impeccably manicured hedgerows and beautiful lakes that can be viewed year-round. The grounds retain much of the old Bavarian feel, as they’ve remained largely unchanged beyond a few minor additions and alterations made in the latter 19th century. There are numerous attractions on the grounds, including the Royal Bathing House known as Badenburg and Pagodenburg, a royal teahouse built in beautiful, traditional 19th century majesty.

While there are entrance fees to enter Nymphenburg much of the year, off-times of the year where entry can be had for free – especially if bundled with the palace.

Stroll the Englischer Garten

A popular site on the walking tour, the Englischer Garten shocks one at its mere size – which is larger than both London’s Hyde Park and New York’s Central Park.

Englischer Garten surprises, as it’s both fantastical and diverse – including a Japanese Teahouse given to the City of Munich by Japan during the 1972 Summer Olympics as well as the popular Eisbach, a standing wave artificially produced in a stream and serves as a popular spot for surfers who long for the ocean.

Most commonly, Englischer Garten is a wonderful place to relax. Revelers can be seen soaking in the sun in summer months, either resting on a bench to read a book or decompressing on a blanket with perhaps a few sandwiches in hand. It is this that makes the garden an ideal place to sit, renew the soul and simply watch the city pass you by.

Hofbrauhaus

The already-mentioned Hofbrauhaus is central to Munich’s history, as the site of the city’s most famous brewery since 1589.

Forcibly restored since sustaining extensive bombing damage during the raids of World War II, Hofbrauhaus maintains its original character including vaulted, masterfully-painted ceilings and authentic Bavarian music played live alongside the gigantic steins of liquid courage. Yet, you don’t need to have a pint of the good stuff to enjoy Hofbrauhaus, as its halls and historic upstairs dining area are all must-see attractions that are free and open to tourists year-round.

If you do want to shell out a few Euros while on site, Hofbrauhaus is an essential place to experience one of those over-sized beers along with your first helping of schnitzel! Tracy and I sat for hours, sitting the beautiful, golden lager and listening to a traditional polka band play in the lower hall of Hofbrauhaus, a massively stunning work of art that also boasts excellent acoustics for such a performance.

Olympic Park

Olympiapark, built for the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics, still is operational, beautiful, and open to the public. During the summer months, Olympiapark serves the city with a series of free concerts on its beautiful grounds. The stadium still hosts numerous annual events, such as Holiday on Ice and the Six-Day-Run, both of which are widely attended and fantastic for tourists.

Outside the stadium itself is Olympiaberg, another great free attraction and a high hillside that serves picnickers as well as blanket-toting music lovers who would rather hear the sounds of Olympiaparks major concerts from afar – and without cost. These free attractions are where Munich begins, but certainly not where it ends. Full of mystery, beauty and historical significance, it’s a city that presents boundless opportunities to delve deeper.

What are your favorite free things to do in Munich?

 

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7 Thing You Didn’t Know About St. Patrick’s Day


Today is the big day. If you’re Irish, claim Irish descendancy or are just looking for a good reason to get drunk, you know what March 17th is. You count down to it. You plan for it. You celebrate it, plan off work for it. And guess what? It’s here.

St. Patrick’s Day.

What is St. Patrick’s Day, and who is St. Patrick? Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick, is a cultural and religious celebration held on the traditional death date of Saint Patrick in 461 AD, the foremost patron saint of Ireland. Made an official holiday by the Catholic Church in the early 17th century, the celebration honors the 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop, who baptized thousands of people in Ireland and ordained the earliest Catholic priests in the country.

Why do we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? What makes this a day of indulgence with green beer, shamrocks and parades of such augmented measure as to scale entire cities? Here are seven things you probably don’t know about St. Patrick and the day that bears his name!

Shamrocks

Historical legend credits St. Patrick with teaching the Irish about the Holy Trinity by showing people the shamrock, a three-leafed plant, using it to illustrate the Christian teaching of three persons in one God. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older. The shamrock has since become a central symbol for St Patrick’s Day.

It is also commonly thought that the Shamrock could be a mixed Celtic reference, as many of their symbolic deities came in threes, which often was representative of the cyclical nature of being – live, death and afterlife.

Driving the Snakes from Ireland

Legend has it that St. Patrick was personally responsible for driving all of the snakes (yes, literally snakes) from Ireland, an event coming after which he was attacked by snakes upon a 40-day fast on a hilltop.

The true story is much more symbolic, however, as “snakes” is likely representative of the Pagan people and Celts that St. Patrick was responsible for converting to Christianity – thus, driving the “snakes” out of Ireland.

Blarney Stone

The St. Patrick’s Day legend of the Blarney Stone, a block of limestone built into Blarney Castle, is one wrought with confusion. The most prevailing story of the Blarney Stone involves Clíodhna, a banshee/goddess figure who Cormac Laidir MacCarthy appealed to while involved in a lawsuit.

Reportedly Clíodhna told MacCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court. He did so, and with great eloquence and a little deceit, plead his case and won. It is because of this that the Blarney Stone is said to impart “the ability to deceive without offending”. In fact, the word blarney has come to meaning flattering or deceiving in speech, a blatant derivation from MacCarthy’s success.

What’s interesting to note about the tradition of kissing the Blarney Stone is that it is, in fact, in a very precarious position within the castle. The act of actually kissing the stone isn’t easily done,  as it is incurred with some risk by scaling to the top of the castle and bending over backwards along the castle’s parapet.

St. Patrick’s Blue

Despite the well-known Kelly Green color associated with St. Patrick’s Day, history points quite convincingly to the fact that the original color of his sainthood was a light blue. Once the familiar clover became the recognizable symbol of nationalism in the late 1700’s, in the wake of the Irish Rebellion, the color merged to it’s now traditional green. Seen everywhere from the dyed waters of the Chicago river to the isles of Ireland itself, this color is now the hue of the fun and festive worldwide celebration.

St. Patrick’s Day is a Celebration… of his Death!

As a member of the Catholic faith, St. Patrick was revered as the primary Saint of Ireland, and is credited with introducing Christianity to the country. Ironically, this holiday tends to celebrate his life on March 17th, and the life of the revelers in his name no matter which religion our fellow party goers subscribe to. Of all the St. Paddy’s Day traditions, the fact that St. Patrick’s Day honors his death as much as his life surprises many.

Lost to time, St. Patrick’s legacy actually started with his origins in Roman Britain (modern England), not Ireland, where he was captured and enslaved to watch over his captor’s animals. He later escaped after six years of servitude to his home in England, just to later return to Northern Ireland.

The Bars Were Closed

Due to the overwhelming Catholic population in the early 1900’s, the holiday, while recognized, could not be celebrated with the now familiar jaunty revelry in local pubs. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that you could find partakers cheering the Saint over a pint during Lent, which happens to fall during the celebration of the Irish Saint. While they tried to stave off the celebrations as best they could, in 1961 the Irish government came to their senses, and the breweries rejoiced, as they repealed their version of March 17th prohibition and let the locals imbibe to their delight!

St. Patrick’s Day Parades – An American Tradition

St. Patrick himself might be surprised by this one! The inaugural “parade” to celebrate his day was actually held in none other than New York City, not Ireland. In 1762, with soldiers of Irish origin serving in the army across the pond, many marched through the streets to show their loyalties. Since then, the rest of the country has happily joined in, and that act of Irish patriotism became what we know today across so many U.S. cities – the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. In fact, Chicago celebrates the day by dying the entire  Chicago River in St. Patrick’s green!

Whatever you know or don’t know about St. Patrick’s Day, make sure to enjoy with friends, a cold pint and a cheers to Ireland!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!