Photo Of The Day: “Working From Home” In Santorini

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We’ve posted about Greece a fair amount lately. From rare animals to nude beaches, the topics have run the gamut. And today, we feature a more simple focus. Reddit user Andromeda321 is visiting Santorini, Greece for a work-related conference all week. They report daytime highs of 80° and cheap rent for week-long stays. And with a view like this, what’s not to love?

We’d love to feature your photos and videos on Gadling, so please add them to our Flickr Pool (with Creative Commons licensing!), tag @GadlingTravel on Instagram or email us at OfTheDay@gadling.com.

10 Greek Islands To Visit During Shoulder Season

greece If you haven’t booked your summer vacation yet, don’t fret. While most people go away in June, July and August, a trip to the Greek Islands is actually a great destination in September and October. Visitors will still enjoy the beautiful, balmy weather and warm, azure waters while also getting away from the crowds and experiencing the destination in a more budget-friendly manner.

I got the chance to visit these beautiful islands last September. After hearing about how crowded the popular ones like Santorini, Ios and Mykonos were, I was surprised to experience the exact opposite. Not that it was completely empty, but you can visit popular sites without feeling like a sardine in a can. Additionally, while my friends who had gone in July had spent about $1,800 for a round trip flight from New York to Athens, I spent only $875 going in mid-September. Not only are flights cheaper, but accommodation and ferry tickets often are, as well. Many cruises also offer special discounts in September as they reposition their cruise season. Additionally, there are many worthwhile events to attend, and you can go without having to fight other travelers for ferry reservations.

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Aside for the Halkidiki peninsula and the islands of Samothrαki and Thαssos, most of the Greek Islands are perfect to visit during shoulder season and will still cater to tourists. While each island has something special to offer, 10 that I highly recommend are Ios, Mykonos, Santorini, Paros, Naxos, Crete, Delos, Corfu, Rhodes and Skiathos.Santorini

Santorini is a pristine island, often visited by those who want a romantic getaway. Visiting the beautiful beaches, like Kamari Beach and Red Beach, is worthwhile, as well as seeing historical sites like Ancient Thira, an archaeological site from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras and Ancient Akrotiri, a former Minoan outpost from the 16th century that was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. Additionally, you can attend the International Music Festival of Santorini in the first few weeks of September. This year’s event will be from September 2 to 16. Furthermore, 2012 will also offer the Santorini Bienniale, an art and culture event, which runs from now until the end of September.

Crete

Crete is an island with a lot to see and do. Some of the great beaches include Elafonissi, Falasarna and Preveli. If you don’t mind putting in a bit of effort, Balos Lagoon in the Kissamos area is difficult to get to, but well worth it for the crystal warm water, white sand and rugged beauty. If you like animals, Aquaworld Aquarium is a popular site, which can be visited until October 31. They have a large variety of marine species, and only take in animals that are in need of care. For a scenic experience visit Samaria Gorge National Park, often said to be one of the most beautiful national parks in Europe. In early September, you can attend the Labyrinth Musical Workshop with classes and events to learn about local and world music. Furthermore, in mid-October you can celebrate their annual Chestnut Festival, a fun day honoring the arrival of fall and chestnut-inspired foods.

ios greece Ios

While known as a wild party island, Ios calms down considerably by September. That’s not to say there isn’t nightlife – you’ll still be able to party and have fun – but it won’t be as crazy as when the backpackers arrive in the summer. For many, this is a blessing, as it offers a chance to explore the beauty of the island in a more peaceful manner. When I went, I stayed at Far Out, which has a hotel, bungalow and camping option literally right across from Mylopotas Beach. Ios is often touted as having the “Top 10 Beaches in Europe” when surveys are done, so exploring this and Maganari Beach is a must. Until mid-October, you’ll be able to enjoy water sports like windsurfing, waterskiing, wakeboarding, kneeboarding, kayaking, surfing, banana boats and tube rides. Other worthwhile activities include boutique shopping and admiring the whitewashed buildings in Chora, visiting the Venetian castle of Paleocastro and seeing Homer’s Tomb, the resting place of one of the greatest Greek poets in history.

Mykonos

This cosmopolitan destination is one of the most popular of all the Greek Islands, and for good reason. Because it tends to get overcrowded in the summer, visiting during shoulder season is a good idea. Visit the destination’s iconic windmills, stroll through the charming streets and get a cocktail in Little Venice, take in panoramic views from Armenistis Lighthouse, visit the Byzantine Church of Paraportiani and get educated at the Folklore Museum. And of course, a visit to one of the many beaches, like Panormos, a quiet beach with a mountain backdrop, Platis Gialos, a beach featuring calm water and a plethora of eateries and Elia, a clothing optional beach, is a great way to waste away the days in a beautiful setting. For a fun event, the Mykonos International Gay Film Festival will take place from September 10 to 16, 2012.

Paros

Paros is the second-largest island in the Cyclades, and features unique beaches, each of which has a different vibe. For example, Santa Maria has a Caribbean Island feel, while Kolymbithres Beach is unspoiled with unique rock formations, colorful water and no music or fancy lounge chairs to take away from the untouched feel. Other fun activities include visiting the first century Panayia Ekatondapiliani Cathedral, the old-world village of Lefkes and the Marathi Marble Quarries, which features a high-quality marble only found in Paros.

beach Naxos

Naxos is the largest island of the Cyclades, with opportunities for relaxation, adventure, culture and history. If you want to experience true paradise, head to Plaka Beach. This isolated beach features fine white sand, turquoise waters, barely any wind and even a clothing-optional section. For those seeking adventure, head to Agios Prokopios Beach where you can partake in water sports or sign up for a snorkeling or diving trip to see marine life and shipwrecks. For a bit of history, check out the iconic Portara, a marble gate from sixth century B.C., on the islet of Palatia in Naxos Harbor. It is the sole remainder of a temple dedicated to Apollo. And, for great photo opportunities, the Castro, or old walled city, is elevated above the harbor, awarding excellent views. Check out evening concerts at the Venetian Museum from September 1-30.

Delos

According to mythology, Delos was the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis, and there are many opportunities to explore this part of history. Visit the three temples of Apollo, the sacred lake where Apollo was born and The Alter of Dionysos. You’ll also get the chance to visit Cleopatra’s House, named after the two headless Cleopatra statues found inside. A theatre from the second to third century B.C., the Archeological Museum of Delos and the Avenue of Lions, a street from seventh century B.C., lined with ancient lion statues, are also worthwhile sites to check out.

Corfu

Located in the Ionian islands, Corfu has a history of being controlled by foreign powers like the British and the Venetians. Its rich history combined with its natural beauty make this a destination for all types of travelers. Moreover, the rainy season doesn’t come until November, so those looking to go in September and October will still be able to enjoy the sunny weather. During a visit to Corfu, make sure to explore the various villages on the island. There is Nymphes, full of waterfalls and legends of bathing nymphs and Roda, a mix of traditional fishing village and modern tourism. Moreover, Lakones features 18th and 19th century homes and churches while Kynopiastes has old mansions from the 17th and 19th centuries, a 17th-century monastery, a marble church and a museum dedicated to the olive tree. For something historical and peaceful, the British Cemetery offers a tranquil garden, hundreds of British graves and over 200 years of history. And, of course, the many beaches can keep you occupied for hours. Wine lovers will be able to take part in the annual Arillas Wine Festival, happening from September 7-8.

snorkeling Rhodes

One of the largest Greek Islands, visitors to Rhodes will experience beaches, a medieval town, archeological sites and a rich history that goes back to Neolithic times. This island often has more than 300 days of sunshine per year, making it a great destination even during shoulder season. Travelers love visiting Rhodes for the mix of sandy and rock beaches, all with different atmospheres. While Lindos is a sandy and trendy beach, Gennadi is a popular surf spot. Additionally, Faliraki is a mix of sand and rock and is the island’s only legal nude beach, although tanning in the nude is tolerated in some areas of Tsambika. For some adventure with stunning views, climb to the top of Mount Attavyros. The climb takes about two to three hours and will take you up 3,986 feet in elevation. Moreover, some historical sites of the island include the Acropolis of Lindos, the medieval fortress and city sites of Ancient Rhodes, the Church of Panagia and the Palace of Grand Master of Knights. Some events to check out include Timiou Stavrou, a Greek dancing festival taking place from September 13 to 14, and the religious festival of Aghios Loukas on October 17.

Skiathos

Part of the Sporades Islands, Skiathos is a mix of cosmopolitan luxury and medieval history. While the main strip is more loud and boisterous, the other areas feature great hikes and quiet retreats. For some medieval history, visit Kastro, which was the largest medieval town from the 12th century until 1830. It was built upon a cliff sticking out into the ocean at the north end of the island, and although today the site is mostly ruins, it still offers expansive views of Skiathos and its surroundings. For a bit of relaxation, head to the beach. A beautiful sandy beach that allows nudity is Banana, which is actually composed of three beaches – Little Banana, Nameless Banana and Big Banana. Moreover, Koukounaries is the most popular and thought to be the “best in the Aegean,” Kanapitsa is good for water sports and Asselinos is quiet and romantic. My personal favorite beach on the island, however, is Lalaria. It is only accessible by boat, and features gray marble pebbles, unworldly rock formations and crystal clear water you can see through even in the deep areas. From September 19 to 22, visitors can attend International Festival Burtzi Skiathos, a Mediterranean folklore festival.

[Images above via Big Stock and Jessie on a Journey; Gallery images via Big Stock]

Hospitality: What We Can Learn From The Greeks

greeks giving directions greek hospitalityTwenty minutes into an uphill walk on a sizzling hot day on the Greek island of Syros, we gave up and decided to take a taxi. My wife and I were pushing a 2-year-old in a stroller, and cajoling our 4-year-old to brave the heat, much to his chagrin, but realized that our destination, the Catholic neighborhood of Ano Syros, perched high above the city, was too far away.

But taxis don’t randomly patrol the streets of Ermoupoli and I doubted there was a public bus that could get us there anytime soon. I saw a matronly woman in her 30s sitting on a second floor balcony and asked her if she knew where we could get a taxi. She seemed not to understand me, and disappeared momentarily, before emerging a few moments later on the street.

“Tell me,” she said, using a phrase you hear all the time in Greece.

“I think we need a taxi up to Ano Syros,” I said.

She said she’d call one for us and then went back into her apartment. I thought we’d never see her again but a minute or two later, she came back out onto the street, crossed to the other side and popped a phone card into a pay phone. We had no mobile phone and assumed that she had either a landline or a mobile in her home and hadn’t even entertained the possibility that she could afford neither.”Car number nine will be here for you in 10 minutes,” she told us after crossing back to the shady side of the street to meet us.

Her name was Uranus, and she refused to accept any money for the phone call. She told us that she had studied to be a hairdresser but was never able to find a job.

“The crisis,” she explained. “There is no work here.”

ano syros greeceShe had no job and no phone but like most Greeks, she hadn’t lost the tradition of hospitality. After spending a few hours exploring Ano Syros (right), we were again at a loss to find a taxi with no mobile phone. But on a whim, I asked a man who was getting into his car if he was heading our way, and sure enough, he was happy to drive us back to our hotel, or anywhere else we wanted to go for that matter.

Over the course of a six-week trip through Kos, Patmos, Samos, Syros, Santorini and Crete, we’ve experienced remarkable hospitality in Greece, despite the economic crisis or perhaps because of it. Like any where else, we’ve had a couple of run-ins here or there with unscrupulous or unfriendly people, but for every negative encounter, there have been dozens of positive ones.

On the island of Kos, we found ourselves stranded in the humdrum town of Kefalos, thanks to an extremely limited bus schedule, and I walked into a pharmacy and asked a woman named Sevy, a Greek-American who had moved back to Kos, how to get to a nearby beach. There was no way, she said, but she insisted on having one of her colleagues drive us there in her car. It was a good 20-minute ride and they refused to take any money.

Hotel managers almost everywhere have redefined the concept of customer service. In Santorini, the owners of Rena’s Suites gave our children a whole host of toys and some waffles with ice cream upon arrival, and a bottle of wine on departure.

Lila at Lila’s Guesthouse in Syros insisted on washing all our clothes, free of charge, and picking us up at the port, also free, despite our 2:30 a.m. arrival time. And Yianni at the Afroditi Hotel in Rethymno, Crete, picked us up, dropped us off, gave us a bottle of wine, a plate of fruit and some little gifts upon departure even though we stayed with him just one night at the ridiculously low rate of 40€.

Hotel staffs have a vested interest in keeping travelers happy but we met kind people everywhere we went. In Crete, a group of locals welcomed me like a long lost friend during the EURO 2012 tournament. On the island of Syros, I accidentally barged into someone’s kitchen in a remote village and was invited in for a meal and entertained with some live music. Monks in Patmos made me coffee, served me cookies and invited me to worship with them. And on Election Day in Naxos, the mayor of a small village offered to personally show me around and insisted on buying me drinks.

Aside from the Middle East, where hospitality is almost like a religion, and neighboring Macedonia, where guests are also treated like gold, I can’t recall such a warm welcome anywhere in the world. Greece has a lot of problems, and there are many things that Greeks can learn from Americans (for example, having some gas in the tank of a rental car when you pick it up would be nice!). But I think that anyone who works in the hospitality industry should be required to come to Greece to see how it’s done right.

A Sunset Mosh Pit In Santorini

santorini oia sunset mosh pitTourism is supposed to be way down in Greece this year, right? Then perhaps someone can explain why there were approximately 35,000 tourists jostling and clawing for space to capture the perfect shot of the setting sun last night in Oia, on the island of Santorini?

I knew before we arrived that Santorini is the most popular (and expensive) of the 200 or so inhabited Greek islands, and I visited the place once before, 15 years ago. But I wasn’t prepared for the tsunami of tourists that descended on the dramatically situated blue and white town that has 813 jewelry shops but just one supermarket and school.

Oia is renowned for being a beautiful place to watch the sunset, and so scores of tour operators bus package tourists into the town right around sunset to capture some memories. As we made our way through the town, I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw at least 4-5 vantage points, each clogged beyond belief with a few hundred people jostling and competing for the perfect spot to photograph the sunset.Watching the setting sun is supposed to be a tranquil, romantic, intimate thing to do while on vacation. But we found ourselves in a veritable mosh-pit of mostly Asian tourists, who were intent not only on photographing the setting sun, but also on photographing themselves in front of the setting sun in various glamour poses.

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We saw young men and women climbing up and over walls and fences, onto private property, to try to stake out higher ground, despite the risks. We witnessed two verbal fights that appeared as though they were going to degenerate into physical ones, as people argued over who had the right to stand on what spot. And I saw more than a few people physically push others aside in order to get the shot they wanted.

To say that it was a circus would be a huge understatement. I thought that the first vantage point we saw (in the video above) was crowded but soon realized it was by far the least crowded of the bunch. We’ve spent the previous month in the much lower-key islands of Kos, Patmos, Samos and Syros, where we encountered no busloads of Asian tourists, and only a couple of Americans, all cruise ship passengers.

mexican restaurant in santorini senor zorbasSo when we arrived in Santorini for just a short two-day stay en route to Crete, we felt a bit like country bumpkins arriving in the big city, as an armada of tour buses left the port, all in a long line, creating a ferocious traffic jam leading up into Fira, which reminds me a bit of the tourist sprawl in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the gateway to Smokey Mountain National Park.

As we waited for the sun to set, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone had a camera, myself included. I wondered what the hell we were all doing there, in the same spot, and concluded that we weren’t there to experience the beauty of a sunset. No, we just wanted a photo of the damned thing.

oia santorini sunsetBut I was curious to see this magical sunset. I assumed that the hordes of people were there for a good reason and was expecting to see the most glorious setting sun of my lifetime. Oddly enough though, it was just an ordinary sunset. Beautiful, sure, but no different or more beautiful than one I’d experienced in a lovely and completely empty restaurant with a great view in the town of San Michalis in Syros just days before.

The crowd in Oia broke out in applause when the sun set behind the horizon, but I couldn’t help but feel like we’d all just been party to something very, very strange. I was initially put off by the pushy crowds of camera toting tourists but then I became intensely interested in the bizarre spectacle.

We had traveled a long way to see a glorious sunset, but it felt like being stuck on a crowded commuter train in Tokyo at rush hour. But tourism is way down in Greece by all accounts. So just imagine how crowded this same place must have been last year or the year before that! And it’s only June, wait till July and August when the crowds really form, locals said. Greece needs the money and I hope the place gets even more crowded. That is, as soon as I leave.

We’ve had the luxury of time and have been fortunate to be able to explore the Greek islands at a leisurely clip on this and other trips, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for anyone in the crowd who was about to get on a bus never to see another sunset in the Greek islands. I wanted to tell them about the sunset we saw in Syros, maybe give them the address of the restaurant. But why? So that place could become the next Oia?

There’s a lot of natural beauty in Santorini and if you get out past the most well known places, you can find serenity, even in this intensely touristic island. The geography of the place is undeniably unique. I know people who love Santorini and have the ability to enjoy the beauty and ignore the rampaging sorority girls on quad bikes, tacky tourist traps and hordes of package tourists.

I’ve always sought to avoid intensely touristy places like Santorini, but for one night, I was there with the masses, clicking away. The funny thing is, I think most of us were so busy taking pictures we missed the actual sunset. Maybe it was better than we realized.

(Photos and videos by Dave Seminara)

10 Extraordinary Islands To Visit On Your Next Vacation

vacation islands

Summer is the time of island vacations. It is time to put as much distance between you and the real world as possible. It is time to stand outside of your everyday life and to see how it all looks from a paradise perspective. Here is a collection of islands for escape – places to recharge, gain perspective and explore. From an island in the land of the gods to a tropical Amsterdam at the edge of an ocean trench, each of these ten destinations provides something extraordinary.

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vacation islands

Santorini (Greece)
Abstract: As legends change hands, the stories transform. Storytellers take liberties, moving to impress wide-eyed audiences with tales of glorious antiquity. With each telling, they speak of monsters that grow stronger, of men who grow bolder, of explosions that tear apart the earth and take along with them civilizations that grow greater. These stories come from places like Santorini – a Greek paradise perched on the thin edge of a circular archipelago where the earth once swallowed a city whole.

Maybe that city was Plato’s Atlantis and maybe it was not, but what it is today is one of the most stunningly gorgeous and unique places on earth. Whitewashed villas adorned with oceanic blue domes cling to volcanic rock mountainsides in the most romantic of settings. Greece is the land of old gods, and Santorini is where those gods likely vacationed.

Highlights: Sailing to Volcano Island, hiking from Fira to Oia, and visiting Red Beach
High end lodging: Oia Castle Hotel
Mid-range lodging: Zorzis Hotel
Get there: Fly to Santorini for cheap on Easyjet from London or Milan. Flying from Athens is also a simple and inexpensive way to reach Santorini.


vacation islands

Gili Trawanagan (Indonesia)
Abstract: Gili T feels like the last party at the edge of the world. And it could be so, perched on the precipice of a trench that tears over 5 miles into the ocean floor, the Gilis are an outpost at the edge of a tectonic plate that tore away from Asia eons ago.

Gili Trawanagan is one of three islands in the Gili island chain. Gili T is known for dawdling sea turtles, plush white sand beaches, reggae jams, and mushroom shakes. Reached by just a short boat ride from the eastern coast of Bali, each island is governed by village elders substituting for a proper Indonesian Police force. An Amsterdamian party scene has developed and thrived in the absence of these formal police forces. The Tropical Amsterdam is like an upstart Ibiza with all-night parties and hung-over beach rehab. After partying all night, catch a ride home via horse taxi as no motorized vehicles are allowed on the islands.

High end lodging: Luce d’Alma or Marta’s
Mid-range lodging: Rumah Kundun
Get there: Take a boat from the eastern coast of Bali over across the Lombok strait with Gili Cat or one of the other transfer services.

vacation islands

Borneo
Abstract: Borneo is an ancient land of wild beasts and peculiar flora. It is one of the largest islands in the world and stocked with mysteries hidden deep within its ancient rain forests. It covers three countries: Malaysia, Indonesia and tiny Brunei. There are mysterious cultures like the ex-headhunting Dayak, massive orangutans and some of the best dive sites in the world. It is also one of Asia’s top budget destinations.

Beyond dusk boat rides in search of Proboscis monkeys or long jeep safaris into the heart of the lost world, Borneo also has some unexpectedly nice beaches. Off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, several islands bask in tropical waters with great reefs and nice sandy shores. For orangutan sightings, head to Sepilok nature reserve near Sandakan. The orangutans in Borneo grow to much larger sizes than their Sumatran brethren. This is supposedly due to the evolutionary effect of an absence of tigers in Borneo. In Sumatra, the orangs must take to the trees to stay safe, but in Borneo, the “orange men of the forest” have no need for tree-dwelling. Sadly, nothing can protect them from encroaching humanity.

Highlights: Climbing Mt Kinabalu, diving Sipidan, exploring the lost world of Danum Valley
High end lodging: Bunga Raya Island Resort near Kota Kinabalu
Mid-range lodging: Hotel Eden 54 in Kota Kinabalu
Get there: Flights to Kota Kinabalu are cheap from Hong Kong, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpur on AirAsia.

vacation islands

Perhentian Islands (Malaysia)
Abstract: These sun soaked islands in Malaysia once served as a stopping off point for Malaysian traders bound for Thailand. Today, The Perhentians are a jewel in the crown of otherworldly Malaysian beaches. It is the kind of place where you could misplace an entire lifetime, bound to the gravity of simple island life.

The islands are surrounded by seas rich with biodiversity and corals, and it is one of the least expensive places to learn how to scuba dive. The snorkeling here is also top notch and some attest to its superiority over diving. Be sure to visit between April and October, when the monsoons are away. Accommodation is pretty inexpensive across the board, and it is easy to get a room for under $25 a night.

Highlights: Snorkeling with sharks, jungle trekking, and finding an appropriate stretch of white sand to waste a day or three
High end lodging: Perhentian Tuna Bay Island Resort
Mid-range lodging: Abdul’s Chalet (book early as they fill up way in advance)
Get there: Take a speed boat from Kuala Besut, which can be reached by bus from Kuala Lumpur


vacation islands

Tasmania (Australia)
Abstract: One of the last stops before Antarctica, Tassie is Australia’s wild frontier island. With about 40 percent of land being national parkland, Tasmania is a well-protected gem boasting fascinating wine regions, gigantic kelp forests and some of the most perfect beaches in the world.

While visiting, rent a car and explore the Tasmanian countryside. Be sure to spend a few days checking out the Bay of Fires on Tasmania’s northeastern coast. While it is winter down under from June to August, it is possible to enjoy off-season rates. But, if you really want to enjoy the beaches, wait until winter hits the northern hemisphere. After all, the Bay of Fires sandy curves have recently been named one of the best beaches in the world. The crystalline turquoise waters and pillow-soft sand beaches welcome travelers with their unencumbered magnificence and laid back vibe. Inland, waterfalls, mountains and Tasmanian devils await intrepid travelers.

Highlights: Bay of Fires, Tasmanian Devils, and road trips through old forests
High end lodging: Islington Hotel (Hobart) or Saffire Freycinet (Wineglass bay)
Mid-range lodging: Fountainside Hotel (Hobart)
Get there: Fly to Hobart non-stop from Melbourne, Sydney, or Brisbane


vacation islands

The Maldives
Abstract:
An ethereal water-nation where the highest point is less than 8 feet, the Maldives defy imagination, budgets and reality with their perfect islands and hyper-luxury resorts equipped with private yachts and planes. The islands are the kind of place where work seems unimaginable, and the “real world” feels as though it must, too, be on hold somewhere out there thousands of miles from these sun-bathed atolls.

Few places deserve a distinguished “The” prior to their name, and the Maldives are almost never uttered without the obligatory distinction. This is because they are a place unlike anywhere else. They are THE Maldives.

Highlights: Snorkeling with sea turtles, diving with Manta Rays, exploring Maldivian villages and finding the perfect beach
High end lodging: Cocoa Island Resort
Mid-range lodging: Kurumba Maldives
Get there: Flights are possible from Dubai, Colombo, Kuala Lumpur and London (Gatwick)

Galapagos (Ecuador)
Abstract: Great thinkers and artists throughout time have all had their muses. Darwin had these islands in the Pacific Ocean. Filled with giant tortoises, swimming iguanas and warm weather penguins, the Galapagos are a last bastion of wilderness smack dab in the middle of nowhere.

With new restrictions year after year, the Galapagos will continue to become less accessible and more expensive. As one of the top eco-locations globally, these wild islands hold natural treasures that can be found nowhere else on earth.

Highlights: Cruising around the islands, swimming with sea lions and bird watching
High end lodging: Red Mangrove Aventura Lodge or book a live-aboard tour with Cheeseman’s
Mid-range lodging: Book a cheap live-aboard cruise by arranging a tour locally, though the available boats are generally sub par. Organizing a trip through tour companies in Quito is a good middle ground for value.
Get there: Flights can be arranged from Quito or Guayaquil

vacation islands

Corsica (France)
Abstract: This French island is Europe’s sleeper destination. With snow-capped mountains, white sand beaches, old world citadels and the legendary GR 20 hiking trail, Corsica does many things at once and does them all incredibly well. Known as the island of beauty, it holds up this moniker with particular strength from its sandy shores to the almost 9,000-foot-high Monte Cinto.

The GR 20 hiking trail is a 15-day-long distance trail that takes travelers through some of Europe’s most stunning vistas. Walk through clouds along the backbone of Corsica, passing small refuges and bonding with other travelers. At the seaside, Corsica’s aquamarine waters do not disappoint and boast some of the best shores in Europe, including the beaches of Plage de Saleccia, Palombaggia and Santa Giulia.

Highlights: Calanche Cliffs, the perfect little island of Iles Lavezzi, trekking the island’s interior, and beaches – lots of beaches
High end lodging: Demeure Loredana
Mid-range lodging: Rocca Rossa
Get there: Take a ferry from Nice or Marseilles. In the air, Easyjet flies to Corsica from Geneva, London and Paris.

vacation islands

Palau
Abstract: With more than 250 islands and roughly 20,000 inhabitants, Palau is a sparsely populated gem of an island chain. While places like Bora Bora and Fiji get all the airtime, Palau idles by humbly, welcoming well-informed travelers to its cerulean waters and sandy beaches perched under dark limestone outcroppings.

Thousands of years ago, a bay on the island of Eil Malk slowly closed off to the surrounding ocean. As a result, the jellyfish in the lake changed. Due to a lack of natural predators in their paradisiacal enclave, the golden and moon Jellyfish of the “fifth lake” abandoned millennia of evolutionary adaptation. The translucent beings lost their ability to sting and as a result, you can swim through armies of bobbing jellyfish as though you just ate an invincibility star.

Highlights: Swimming with friendly jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake, basking on a sun soaked beach, and buying ornately carved wooden storyboards
High end lodging: Palau Pacific Resort
Mid-range lodging: Caroline’s Resort
Get there: Reach Koror, Palau by plane from Tokyo, Manila, Seoul and Guam

vacation islands

St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands
Abstract: The largest of the Virgin Islands, St. Croix beckons travelers with tales of swashbucklers, golden beaches and old, Dutch charms. Since St. Croix is part of the United States, there is no need for a U.S. passport, and getting in is as simple as flying into Christiansted and finding the nearest beach, in which there are plenty. Beaches along Cane Bay and Buck Island are prototypes for paradise.

St. Croix has a number of old world Dutch Forts and much of the Christiansted area is stocked with preserved colonial gems and abandoned sugar mills. At dusk, take to Salt River Bay in clear kayaks not far from where the Columbus expedition ran ashore in 1493. Due to bioluminescent sea creatures, the clear kayaks become fringed with color as the water glows beneath. It feels like rowing through a microgalaxy. Dive into the dark waters and your entire body glows in the dark.

Highlights: Night swimming in the Bioluminescence of Salt River, visiting Buck Island, and exploring abandoned Dutch forts
High end lodging: Palms at Pelican Cove and The Buccaneer
Mid-range lodging: Hibiscus Beach Resort
Get there: Fly in from Puerto Rico, Miami and Atlanta

[All unattributed photos by the author]