Conrad Maldives hotel offers guests a chance to spot whale sharks

The Conrad Maldives offers the chance to swim with whale sharksThe Conrad Maldives Rangali Island hotel has announced that it is once gain joining forces with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. This unique partnership gives visitors to the resort a rare opportunity to view and interact with those amazing aquatic creatures while research is conducted on their behavior, migration patterns, and habitat.

The whale shark is the largest fish on the planet, sometimes stretching as much as 40 feet in length and weighing over 20 tons. Despite their great size however, they are known to be docile and gentle creatures who inhabit warm ocean waters like those found in the Maldives. In fact, the island nation happens to be one of the few places on Earth where whale sharks are known to congregate year round.

For the 5th year in a row, the MWSRP will be working in conjunction with the Conrad Maldives hotel on their research project, which will continue through February. Until that time, the hotel is offering its guests daily excursions out into the Indian Ocean to view whale sharks in their natural setting. The price of those excursions is $200, which includes transportation aboard a speedboat/luxury cruiser to dive and snorkeling sites that are inhabited by the large fish.

For adventurous travelers who love interaction with unique animals, this is an amazing opportunity. Diving in the Maldives provides the chance to not only see the whale shark, but also manta rays, moray eels, grey reef sharks, and sea turtles. Having just returned from a trip to the Virgin Islands, during which snorkeling and diving were frequent activities, I can safely say that I would jump at the chance to do this as well.

[Photo credit: Jaontiveros via WikiMedia]

Watch Shark Week on Discovery Channel, have a shark encounter of your own

Shark Week returns to the Discovery ChannelThis Sunday marks the return of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, one of the most popular annual events on any cable network. Now in its 24th year, Shark Week manages to pull in millions of viewers who are both fascinated by, and terrified of, the notorious predators from the deep. And after watching sharks on television all week, if you should happen to find yourself inspired to see them in person, Discovery can help you with that too.

This year, Discovery has enlisted the aid of Saturday Night Live‘s Andy Samberg to help host their fin-filled prime-time specials. Samberg has been named CSO (Chief Shark Officer) for Shark Week, which will see the return of some of the most popular shows from the past, as well as seven new shark-centric programs. One of those new shows actually sends Samberg himself to the Bahamas where he gets up close and personal with some of the local sharks.

Discovery knows that Shark Week is extremely popular with their audience, which is why they also give us the opportunity to have a shark experience of our own. The network’s adventure travel company Discovery Adventures offers four unique itineraries to the Galapagos Islands, where travelers will have the opportunity to see a variety of shark species –including Reef Sharks, Whale Sharks, and Hammerheads– in their natural environments.

For a complete listing of the shows that will air during Shark Week click here, and don’t forget to tune in on Sunday to get your shark fix. And when Shark Week ends for another year, book your own shark adventure to help ease the wait for Shark Week 2012.

[Photo courtesy Terry Goss via WikiMedia]

Video of the Day – Underwater in the Galapagos


I’m not one to shy away from a good adventure. I’ve bungee jumped Victoria Gorge, plummeted from a plane at 15,000 ft, and stood atop the summit of Kilimanjaro.

But the thought of strapping a cylinder to my back and descending into the depths of the ocean mildly terrifies me.

If there was one video that could change that and make me reconsider my fear, it would be today’s Video of the Day from underwater videographer Darek Sepiolo. Captured along the coast of the Galapágos Islands with a Sony EX1, this 7 minute adventure displays some of the incredible sea life that the Galapágos is famous for. From sea lions and exotic schools of fish, to hammerhead and whale sharks; it’s a stunning glimpse into an entire world that all too often goes unnoticed.

Do you have underwater pictures or video that we should see? Have you faced your fears while traveling? Leave a comment below and it could be tomorrow’s Video/Photo of the Day!

Spring Breakers head to Mexico despite drug wars

Spring Break Mexico

While drug war violence has sent Mexican PR into a whirlwind, spring breakers have been unswayed by the persistent safety warnings and bad press. According to the AP, spring break reservations to Mexico remain resilient in the face of such setbacks, even growing slightly over last year. The big three of the Yucatan peninsula – Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya, are the top destinations according to reports.

The students, party-monsters, and brus hit these resort communities for good reason and with high confidence. With patrolling guards and a resort safety buffer, a city like Cancun is likely safer than St. Louis. While the resort areas in Mexico are generally quite tame, Acapulco is a recent example of how bad things can get. Acapulco, the original Mexican beach destination on the Pacific Coast, saw a string of gruesome gang violence earlier this year in the form of 14 beheadings. There is no priceline deal to Acapulco that can fill the void left by that kind of press. Predictably, travel to this region has lapsed dramatically.

The beautiful beaches, low prices, and an 18 year old drinking age form an alliance of desirability that many students adore. This spring break, grenade horns will sound and tank draped bros will mockingly shout “Cabs a’here” at every feasible opportunity, but there will almost certainly be no gang violence in tourist areas. As with all travel, as long as vacationers exercise caution and stay in the resort comfort zone, all will be fine. In fact, I will be visiting the Mayan Riviera in June, and my only concern is whether I will have time to go swimming with Whale Sharks.

flickr image via PriceTravel Pictures’

In the Heart of Central America: Diving the Bay Islands of Honduras

Honduras’ Bay Islands – the large islands of Roatan, Utila and Guanaja, plus Cayos Cochinos and the Swan Islands – sit about 40 miles off the coast of the mainland in the Caribbean Sea. While the islands are as beautiful as any others in the Caribbean and offer long sandy white beaches, turquoise water, and lush jungle landscapes, the biggest draw for most visitors is the area’s superb and low-cost diving.

Most visitors stay in Roatan, the largest and most developed of the islands. Home to about 35,000 people, it is the most-visited spot in Honduras. Flights take about 15 minutes from La Ceiba – as soon as the plane rises above the clouds, it starts its descent to the island – or an hour from San Pedro Sula (including a brief stop in La Ceiba). The flight on Taca Regional costs about $90 from La Ceiba or $250 from San Pedro Sula. There are other flight options, but for a fearful flyer, Taca’s modern planes were the most attractive.

Direct flights from the US are offered by several airlines. Taca arrives from Miami on Saturday and Sunday and Continental arrives from Houston on Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and from Atlanta on Saturdays. Even if you are flying within Honduras, it’s wise to know the large carrier schedules as lines at the airport can triple at times when flights to the US depart.The island is accessible by ferry as well. The Galaxy Wave carries up to 460 people at a time, takes just under an hour, and costs about $50. Private yacht charters are also available for $50 per person each way. Unfortunately, there is currently no land or air connection (unless by charter) between Roatan and Utila. You’ll have to backtrack through La Ceiba.

Roatan is the largest of the Bay Islands, but it is still quite small at about 30 miles long and 3.5 miles across at its widest point. At certain spots along the main road you can actually see the Caribbean Sea on both sides of your window. The island’s east side is much more undeveloped than the west, so if you are looking for a little bit of nightlife to go with your diving, stay in West End, a small one-lane collection of open-air restaurants, bars and shops that are just a few yards from the beach. Be sure to try some of the island’s fresh-from-the-sea seafood like shrimp, lobster and conch.

Roatan recently completed a new Port, located near the island’s capital of Coxen Hole, a collection of brightly-colored homes that house most of the island’s residents. The houses were painted so vibrantly so that early postal workers could identify houses that didn’t have addresses. Letters were simply addresses to Name, color of house, Coxen Hole. During high season, cruise ships will be docking every day (even twice a day sometimes) so steer clear of this otherwise mostly residential area if you want to avoid crowds. If you are arriving via cruise ship, you can book activities in advance and hop in a cab at the Port. Cab fare to most destinations on the island’s west side will cost under $10 each way. Just negotiate your fare before getting in.

There are over two dozen dive companies operating on Roatan. One of the most popular is Anthony’s Key, a full-service dive resort that’s been in operation for over 40 years. Rooms are located in wooden cabanas that are a short boat ride across the Lagoon from the main grounds and accommodations include three meals per day. Seven-night high season dive packages start at $2000 and include all meals, three days dives, two night dives, and additional excursions.

For kids and adults, one of the most exciting aspects of Anthony’s Key is the on-site Dolphin encounter. During the summer, the resort, in cooperation with the Roatan Institute for Marine Science (R.I.M.S.) offers kids the chance to be a dolphin trainer, with a week-long Dolphin Scuba Camp. The also offer dolphin encounters, dives, and snorkel activities. During the dolphin encounter, guests learn all about dolphins, how they interact, feed and survive in the wild. They can pet the dolphin, watch it perform tricks, and mug for the camera as the dolphin gives a soft, wet kiss on the cheek.

Snorkelers can swim freely with the dolphins, watching as the dolphins swim around and below them and play with one another. Dolphin dives are also available. During the dives, the dolphins are released into the open water and then interact with the divers near a shallow reef wall. At the end of the dives, sometimes the dolphins come back to the enclosure and sometimes they don’t. If not, the dolphin trainers say, they’ll always come back with the next boat.

If you’re looking for cheaper accommodations than those offered by Anthony’s Key, stay in West End and arrange for dives with a tour operator. In West End, you can also hit the beach, rent a jet ski for the day, or just relax with a few Salva Vida beers and some live music as you watch the sunset at places like The Dive Bar.

For divers on a budget, or those who want to get certified, Utila may be a better option than Roatan. Like Roatan, the waters around Utila are teeming with life. Divers can often encounter whale sharks, dolphins and manta rays as they swim along reefs and around shipwrecks and deep drop-offs. Both islands have easy access to the Mesoamerican reef, the largest reef in region. It’s over 1000km long and is home to over 500 species of fish, 1000 manatees, and several species of dolphins.

Known as the cheapest place in the world to get SCUBA certified, Utila is home to several operators offering very attractive prices. One dive with the Utila Dive Center is $35, a package of ten dives is $250. They also offer courses to become a certified SCUBA instructor. Rooms at the attached Mango Inn start at $10 for a dorm room to $70 for a deluxe room for two. Three nights in a deluxe room with PADI certification is $339 per person.

With beautiful beaches, some of the best and cheapest diving in the world, delicious fresh seafood, and a laid back lifestyle, the Bay Islands are the perfect place for dive enthusiasts and budget beach-bums to enjoy the Caribbean.

This trip was paid for by the Honduras Institute of Tourism, but the views expressed are entirely my own.

You can read other posts from my series on Honduras here.