Photo Of The Day: Alhambra’s Palacio De Carlos V

Capturing a stunning combination of architecture and weather, Flickr user Mike Rowe took this black and white photo at the palace of Charles V, contained within the Alhambra in Grenada, Spain.

Commissioned as a royal residence close to the Alhambra palace, the 16th-century building is a square, two-level structure done in the Renaissance style. It’s also home to two museums: the Museo de la Alhambra and the Museo de Bellas Artes. With this photo perspective, you certainly get a feel for the grandiose scope the building.

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Three Island Destinations Rarely Visited By Cruise Ships

Cruise ships love to call on island destinations. Those that live on those islands are glad to see them and their cash-spending passengers too. But for travelers who just happen to be on a land vacation at the time a cruise ship calls, this is bad news. Almost instantly, a quiet, serene island paradise can be overrun with thousands of cruise passengers trying to cram a whole lot of island into a little bit of time.

Still, there are some island destinations rarely visited by cruise ships that are host to some of the best beaches and island life in the world. Here are three of them to enjoy.

Tobago (pictured) is one of the two southern Caribbean islands that make up the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, northeast of the island of Trinidad and southeast of Grenada. Tobago is known for its Carnival, is the birthplace of the limbo and sees few cruise ships – mostly small ones.Tikehau is a coral atoll in the Palliser Islands group, part of the Tuamotu Archipelago in French Polynesia, known for its pink sand beaches. To get there, a daily flight between Tahiti and the Tikehau airport delivers travelers to the island paradise. Cruise ships do not stop here.

Manihi is also a coral atoll in French Polynesia, popular with snorkelers for its beautiful and diverse marine fauna. Home to a number of pearl farms, Mahini is largely uninhabited and home to the Mahini Pearl Beach Resort.

[Flickr photo by nosuchsoul]

Exploring Grenada: do as locals do

Of all the Caribbean islands to visit, Grenada is arguably the most out of the way. A little time in St. Maarten and Grand Cayman piqued my interest in island life long before I found myself out of the way, far away, hanging out in Grenada: a 133 square mile island with a population of 110,000 just northeast of Venezuela.

Before taking off for the trip, my father and my boyfriend’s father, and maybe even some other fathers I’m dismissing from my memory, cracked a joke or two about the relationship with Americans they assumed Grenadians would have.

“Careful out there! They’re probably not too happy with Americans after that invasion”.

But if there was any truth lurking in these cautions, I found no trace of it during the week I spent in Grenada. Murals and praises for Barack Obama and the U.S.A. graffitied more than a couple walls I spotted while driving around on my own (Note: Grenadians drive on the left. Accidentally reverting back to driving on the right is a bad idea). These painted walls are still damaged from Hurricane Ivan–a calamitous Category 3 hurricane that hit the island directly in 2004. The storm damaged or destroyed 90 percent of the homes on the island. A much less severe Hurricane Emily followed Ivan in 2005 and caused an estimated $110 million USD in damages despite her modesty. Although Grenada has recovered impressively from these blows, the skeletons of buildings torn through still stand, exposing their disillusioning vacancy as an ongoing reminder: life can end at any moment, so live each day to the fullest.
%Gallery-114506%Grenadians embrace this concept naturally instead of intentionally. The island way of life is engrained in the psyche of Grenadians–they seem to be predispositioned to relax. And who can fault them? I’d relax if I lived in a tropical paradise, too.

With a pungent distaste for tourist clusters and an insatiable desire to submerge ourselves in the island way of life, photographer Ben Britz and I set off to explore Grenada our preferred way–by following the advice of locals. And this required renting a car.

If you’re planning a trip to Grenada (pronounced greh-NAY-duh), the island of spice, do yourself a favor and leave the beautiful, but obvious, Grand Anse Beach. Here’s where you should go instead:

1. BBC Beach
BBC Beach is just around the corner from Grand Anse. Literally. You can walk from one to the other. The difference is an important one, though: BBC is a local treasure; Grand Anse is a tourist Mecca. BBC Beach is properly named Morne Rouge Beach and that’s how you’ll find it identified on maps. But locals call it BBC after a popular night club, now called Fantazia, that once operated on the beach. You’ll have these (predictably) teal waters all to yourself and a few locals at BBC, where the water is warm and calm. Grab a drink from Fantazia and enjoy vacation the way it’s supposed to be… peaceful. Tip: Bring your own chairs/blanket. Also, if you buy a drink, the nice people of Fantazia will let you park in their lot.

2. Patrick’s
If you want to eat some local homestyle cooking, Patrick’s is the needle in the haystack you’re seeking. Birthed from the mind and palate of the late Patrick Levine, his spirit lives on in his recipes. Although he never wrote down a single recipe, he trained the present owner, Karen Hall, in person, and she has creating this soulful food down to a science. For less than $25 a person, she’ll serve up local dishes that are, no exaggeration, perfect.

Breadfruit fritters and crab legs are just two of the twenty-some dishes they serve at Patrick’s for this low but all-inclusive price. Without even a modicum of good-restaurant haughtiness to match the good food, dining at Patrick’s is a delightfully casual experience. And lucky for you, the cottage-style restaurant is conveniently located in St. George’s. Tip: Call early and let them know the size of your party, especially if it’s a big one. Patrick’s is cozy in the only-a-dozen-or-so-people-can-fit kind of way, so you’ll want to be sure there’s room for all of you.

3. Gouyave Fish Fridays
You don’t want to miss this. Even if you have to stop in multiple towns along the winding dark road up to Gouyave asking porch-sitting folks for directions to the ‘Fish Fry’, directions which they’ll only disclose if you promise to bring them back a piece of fish, it’s well worth it. The town of Gouyave closes off streets and sets up for a charmingly raucous party every Friday–one that’s mostly meant for and mostly attended by locals.

Gouyave is a fishing village about 45 minutes away from the hotel district near St. George’s. From 6pm to around 1am every Friday, locals fry, grill, bake, steam, stir, and serve up seafood your taste buds won’t forget. St. Francis and St. Dominic streets line up with vendors ready to feed you and, by all means, let each of them feed you. A palatable aroma of freshly prepared seafood fills air. Fish cakes, shrimp, kebabs, lobster, conch, barbequed snapper… they have something for everyone.

Tropical juices, beers, and even Grenadian Chocolate ice cream are also available, ready to be paired with the meal of your choosing. If you want to experience a rollicking Friday night like a local, don’t miss out on the fish fry. Tip: Make the drive up in the daylight if possible. Kill some time in Gouyave before the frying begins. Why? Because driving the twisting waterside roads that lead there in the island’s pitch black is, as it turns out, kind of scary.

And finally, in closing, I leave you with this general tip for traveling in Grenada: Don’t be (overly) alarmed by the men who walk around carrying machetes. Sure, sometimes they’re used as weapons, but more often than not in Grenada, they’re used as tools.

[photos by Ben Britz]

Ten budget-friendly Caribbean destinations

If you get all your information about the Caribbean from travel magazines, you might find yourself convinced that a night’s stay in the region will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $500. The Caribbean’s super posh reputation has its roots in the region’s tourism history; until relatively recently, tourism in the Caribbean was largely restricted to the very rich. And as one might expect in a region that has historically catered to the rich, there are lots of impossibly exclusive luxury properties in the Caribbean today.

But these resorts do not and should not define tourism in the region. There are many spots across the Caribbean where costs are low and the quality of experiences on offer is high. Here are ten destinations where low hotel rates, exciting activities, and compelling local culture make for real budget-friendly value.

If you find this post interesting, be sure to check out Gadling’s archive of budget-friendly travel stories.

1. Carriacou, Grenada. North of the main island of Grenada is the laid-back island of Carriacou. There are some great beaches on the island (see above for evidence.) A fantastically budget-friendly place to stay is the lovely Green Roof Inn (from $40 for one; from $70 for two) north of Hillsborough, the island’s main settlement.

2. Havana, Cuba. Day-to-day expenses in the Cuban capital can be quite cheap. Casas particulares (owner-occupied bed-and-breakfast establishments) can be found for about $30 for two, and meals can be cobbled together for very little. Cultural events are astoundingly cheap, and reasonable taxi rates can be negotiated. For a listing of good casas particulares, check out CubaParticular and Casa Particular.

3. Big Corn Island, Nicaragua. It is often forgotten that the Caribbean Sea extends to Central America. Big Corn Island off the coast of Nicaragua presents a fascinating mélange of English-speaking Creoles and Spanish- and Miskito-speaking transplants from the mainland. Though undeniably hardscrabble, Big Corn Island has some beautiful territory and some unbelievably cheap hotels. Try Princesa de la Isla (from $60, with excellent Italian meals on offer) and Martha’s Bed and Breakfast (from $50). These are, by the way, among the most expensive places to stay on the island.

4. Saba. Referred to by locals as the “Unspoiled Queen,” Saba is one of the most beautiful and least well-known corners of the Caribbean. A mountain jutting out of the sea, it has no beaches and few obvious tourist draws beyond diving. Visitors discover cute villages full of houses with gingerbread trim, lush hiking trails, and outstanding views. Check out the Ecolodge Rendez-Vous (from $75) and El Momo (from $50 for one; $65 for two).

5. Anegada, British Virgin Islands. It takes a concerted effort to get here, but once on this furthest-flung of the BVIs, accommodations can be quite reasonable. The limestone island boasts some of the loveliest beaches in the entire region, yet has seen surprisingly little tourist development. Neptune’s Treasure offers double rooms starting at $110 in high season.6. Montserrat. Hit in 1995 by a major volcanic eruption, Montserrat saw most of its inhabitants decamping to the UK and elsewhere. Though many Montserratians have returned since then, the island’s tourism numbers have not. This fact translates into all sorts of great deals for visitors, who can busy themselves on the verdant island with beachcombing, hiking, rum shop tours, and visits to the Montserrat Volcano Observatory. Lodging at relaxed Gingerbread Hill begins at $45 for two.

7. Dominica. This very green island is no typical beach destination. It sees few typical Caribbean tourists, drawing instead eco-minded sorts who come to bask in its physical beauty. Highlights include hiking activities, national parks, striking waterfalls, hot springs, and all sorts of fascinating geological oddities, including the island’s awe-inspiring Boiling Lake. Stay at the remarkable Papillote Wilderness Retreat (from $100) or go fully rustic at the impressively eco-minded 3 Rivers (from $70; camping plots from $15).

8. Bonaire. Divers flock to this bone-dry Dutch island at the southern end of the Caribbean. There are other draws, too: snorkeling, historical tourism, and beachbumming on offshore Klein Bonaire. The island’s budget-friendly secret? Its stock of inexpensive bungalows and inns. Among other picks, check out Lagoen Hill (from $72), Lizard Inn (from $70), and Ocean View Villas (from $100).

9. Guadeloupe. On the surface, this overseas department of France doesn’t appear to be a good place to locate bargains. It’s expensive to access from North America and it uses the euro. But below the surface is Guadeloupe’s collection of very cheap gîtes–essentially b&bs, though often with a mandatory week-long stay required. Another plus is Guadeloupe’s appealing diversity of landscapes, from the mountains of Terre-Basse to the sleepy rum-producing island of Marie-Galante and the terribly cute isle of Terre-de-Haut. Find more than 200 gîtes on Guadeloupe listed by Gîtes de France.

10. Tobago, Trinidad & Tobago. This southern Caribbean island has seen considerable tourist development at its southwestern end. Journey to the island’s opposite extremity and find jungle-encircled beaches that never get packed, and cute fishing towns like Charlotteville where inns and house rentals are inexpensive. Cottages at beachside Man-O-War Bay Cottages begin at $60 for two.

Take off that swimming suit in Grenada

The Caribbean island of Grenada has banned bathing suits! Unfortunately, they don’t want to see your bits and pieces; they want you to put on something else.

Wearing your g-string at the beach is still okay, but walk around inland with just your bikini top on? You could be slapped with a $270 Indecent Exposure fine. No shirt, no shoes, no Grenada.

It’s fair enough, we suppose, considering that walking around in your swimming suit is akin to walking around in your underwear — and they don’t like that, either, the law also applies to low-slung gangsta pants.

Recently, a group of tourists who were at a Grenada fort in beachwear were sent back to their cruise ship to change. This ain’t no St. Tropez!

[via The New Zealand Herald]