Swim through the Panettone Reef in Maldives with schooling bannerfish in this video. These bannerfish are native to areas near Africa and although they are strikingly similar to the Moorish idols, the bannerfish and Moorish idols are only distantly related. The Panettone Reef in Ari Atoll is a popular spot for diving. Not only is Maldives the smallest Asian country in both land area and population, but Maldives is also the world’s lowest country with an average above-ground level just short of 5 feet. With widespread worry over the future of Maldives and whether or not the islands will soon be covered completely with water, this country is on my “URGENT: Travel To Soon” list.
The Galapagos Islands are well known for their endemic wildlife, unique flora and strong ecological philosophy. However, the destination isn’t the only place in the world to experience an unparalleled natural setting. In fact, islands in Asia, South America, Europe and even the continent of Antarctica all feature one-of-a-kind encounters for those interested in seeing something new in the outdoors.
Scuba dive one of the most diverse coral reefs in the world in Vanuatu, relax on pristine white beaches on Brazil‘s Fernando de Noronha and witness the hundreds of sunbathing sea lions on Kangaroo Island in Australia. These are just a few of the experiences to be had in these worthwhile destinations.
For a more visual idea of these Galapagos alternatives, check out the gallery below.
While the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are known for being extremely expensive, once you pay for the flight and $100 entrance fee, it is possible to explore this beautiful area on a budget. After going there myself, I discovered these tips for saving money in this ecologically unique destination.
Don’t Book Your Cruise In Advance
If you want to do a cruise, fly into Baltra Island and take a cheap bus to Puerto Ayora in Santa Cruz. This is the port where most cruises leave from. You’ll be able to book a last minute cruise for half the original price. For example, two backpackers I went diving with told me about how an eight-day cruise that was originally almost $3000 cost them a mere $1,200. And, that’s only because they chose first class. You can also try booking a last minute cruise from Quito or Guayquil before you go, although Puerto Ayora is where you’ll find the best deals. Note: If traveling during high season, you may not get the exact dates you want.Skip The Cruise Altogether
While a cruise of the Galapagos Islands is a great experience, some people are operating on a budget, or may just want to spend more time on land. For me, there were certain things I wanted to do, like diving, swimming with sharks and sea lions, laying on white sand beaches, hiking and seeing giant tortoises. I was able to do all these things without the help of a cruise. For instance, many of the hikes and beaches were free and didn’t require a guide. Furthermore, diving with sharks and sea lions was $120, or $50 if you wanted to snorkel. And, a tour of the highlands of San Cristobal, including El Ceibo, a 300-year-old treehouse and bar, El Junco, a crater lake in a volcano, La Lobaria, a white beach littered with sea lions, Puerto Chino, a soft-sand beach with crystal-clear water and the Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises was $35 including lunch.
From April to June and from September to December it’s shoulder season for the Galapagos Islands. During this time, you’ll be able to book cruises for about 30 percent cheaper than you usually would. Just make sure to check that the activities you want to do will still be available. It’s also easier during this time to get the dates you want for the cruises last minute.
Take Day Trips From Puerto Ayora On Santa Cruz Island
In Puerto Ayora, the main hub of Santa Cruz, you’ll be able to book cheap day trips to other islands in the Galapagos for under $100. For example, a day excursion to Floreana will cost you $70.
Barter For Tours
While the agencies work together for certain tours, there are others where you’ll be able to get better deals from certain operators. For example, when looking to do a tour of the highlands in San Cristobal, one agency quoted me $50. I walked around the corner to a different agency, who offered me the same exact trip for $35 including lunch. Look around, and see who offers the best packages and deals.
Not every site in the Galapagos Islands has an entrance fee. For example, some free attractions on the islands include:
- Playa Mann- One of the more popular beaches due to its central location, the waters are decently calm and there are many sea lions that play here.
- Interpretation Center- An informational museum on the history and ecology of the Galapagos. There are also relaxing hiking trails onsite.
- Las Tijeretas- This area provides an array of activities. First, there is an excellent lookout point at the top of the mountain. A cove below makes for a great snorkeling spot, to see turtles, sea lions and various birds. It is located within walking distance of the Interpretation Center.
- El Junto- Here you’ll view a crater lake inside an active volcano. It’s fun to hike around the rim of the volcano and explore some of the forest trails.
- La Loberia- About a 30 minute walk from town, this beach attracts many snorkelers and surfers, although the water can be a bit rough. The scenery is beautiful, though, and you’ll see numerous sea lions lounging on the shore.
- Puerto Chino- Although a bit far out of town, this white sand beach offers calm, clear waters and the chance to see a lot of wild life and unique rock formations. Climb to the top of the big, black volcanic rock formation for aerial views of the clear water and marine life. When I was here, I actually witnessed a shark jumping out of the water.
- Jacinto Gordillo Breeding Center of Giant Tortoises- Here you’ll see the giant tortoises that the Galapagos Islands are so famous for. You’ll also see baby tortoises, walk through an informational museum and possibly see the tortoises in the mating process.
- Darwin Research Center- An easy walk from the center of town, here you’ll find a giant tortoise and iguana breeding center.
- Ship Ports At Night- Visit the ship ports at night for some shark viewing. The animals are attracted to the lights given off by the docks. You may have to wait a bit, but if you’re patient, there’s a good chance you’ll see some. When I was there I saw baby sharks, manta rays, sea lions and many tropical fish.
- Bahia Tortuga- A white sand beach that’s home to crabs, marine iguanas and many different bird species. This is a popular beach for surfers due to the big waves.
- El Chato Tortoise Reserve- Located in the highlands of the island, you’ll be able to observe giant tortoises and an array of bird life like Darwin Finches, Short-eared Owls, Vermillion Flycatchers and Paint-billed Crakes. Here, you’ll also have the option to visit El Chato Lagoon.
- Garrapatero Beach- A popular swimming beach featuring flora and fauna like birds, poison apple trees, mangroves and marine iguanas. You can also camp here, with permission.
- Hike to Media Luna Hill- Media Luna means “half moon” in English, and the hill is named after the shape of this ancient volcanic crater. It’s about a two-hour uphill hike from Bellavista.
- Volcan Sierra Negra- This picturesque hike will allow you to see great views of northern Isabela.
- Laguna Salinas- This is a pristine spot where you can view wildlife, especially flamingos.
- Wall of Tears- This historical site was created by prisoners who were forced to build this wall from 1945-1959. Thousands died during its construction, and the site is supposedly haunted by their ghosts. There’s also a really nice beach here with plentiful marine life.
- National Park Tortoise Reserve- Here, you’ll be able to see a species of tortoise that isn’t found anywhere else in the world.
- Laguna Concha Perla- This is a prime snorkel spot where there are manta rays, sea lions, fish, penguins, sea turtles and more.
Know The Flight Schedule
Only TAME, AeroGal and LAN fly to the Galapagos Islands, all going from Quito or Guayaquil. TAME is the cheapest of the airlines, but doesn’t fly everyday. Don’t even bother trying to call them or book online. It won’t work, and you’ll just get frustrated. Instead, email GT Tours at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask them to help you make a reservation. Likewise, if you can fly from Quayaquil instead of Quito, the flight will be shorter and cheaper.
If you do decide to book your cruise in advance, check for agencies that give discounts with flights. For example, if you book a cruise on GalapagosIslands.com, you get free round-trip flights when booking an eight-day cruise on a luxury boat, and one free round-trip flight when booking a cruise for two people on an eight-day first class ship.
Camping is your cheapest option for accommodation on the islands. You’ll just have to make sure you’re in a designated camping area. For example, on San Cristobal you can camp for $5 a night at El Ceibo, the area that’s home to the largest tree on the island. You can also camp at Puerto Chino with permission from the park. In Santa Cruz, it is possible to camp at Garrapetero Beach with permission from the owners. Basically, if it’s private land, just ask for permission.
While there are a lot of pricey hotels on the islands, it’s also possible to stay in comfortable budget hotels for a fraction of the price. On San Cristobal, I stayed at Leon Dormido, a clean accommodation located 10 steps from the water. I paid $25 a night for a single room with air conditioning, television, Wi-Fi, hot water and a comfortable bed. Other affordable hotels in the area include Hostal Casa de Laura, Mar de Azul, Hotel San Francisco and Casa de Nelly. In Santa Cruz, budget hotels include Casa Hospedaje Germania, Galapagos Best Home Stay, Los Pinguinos, El Castillo Galapagos and Hotel Verde Azul. On Isabela Island, check out The Jungle Hostal, Caleta Iguana and Brias del Mar.
If you’ve ever wanted to volunteer abroad, I can’t think of a better place than the Galapagos Islands. Here you’ll not only be helping the environment and immersing yourself in a unique ecosystem, you’ll also be saving money. Ecuador Eco Volunteer offers an affordable program based in Santa Cruz, helping get rid of invasive plant species and cleaning up beaches. Moreover, there are various WWOOFing projects on the islands, where you’ll be able to volunteer on an organic farm in exchange for room and board. If you’ve got a couple months to spare, the Charles Darwin Foundation accepts volunteers and helps them get discounted airfare and accommodation. For an excellent year-long program, check out World Teach, which costs $5,490 for the year for room, board, flights and park entrance fees. Volunteers will also receive a stipend to help offset the high cost of living in the Galapagos Islands.
Purchase Non-Organic Groceries Before You Arrive
A lot of food is imported to the Galapagos Islands, meaning groceries are more expensive there than in Quito or Guayaquil. Try to stock up on snacks and water before you go. Just know you won’t be able to enter the islands with organic produce.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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)
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
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.
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
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]
Scuba diving is a hobby that many travelers enjoy. People traverse the globe looking for the best dive sights and new adventures. While most scuba divers consider any excursion in which they see a new fish or sea creature a success, the young man in this video had a bigger catch in mind: his girlfriend. He proposed underwater in Riviera Maya, Mexico after plotting with the dive crew for six months leading up to the trip. The YouTube video description provides more details:
Once in the water, we dived for approximately 25 minutes until we both sat on the bottom of the ocean floor with fish, turtles, and lobsters all around. Once we sat, Emily thought we were actually taking a group picture. She had no idea she was about to be engaged!
I pulled out a board that I had written on, “I love you so much. Will you marry me?” I pulled the ring out of a shell that I had hidden it in. She was so confused she didn’t know what to do. Also, with scuba diving, you can’t give a thumbs up, because it simply means to surface, so we we’re left to enjoy out satisfaction with the “OK” sign.