National Parks Foundation picks 5 most romantic park getaways

The National Parks Foundation picks five romantic getaways.Valentine’s Day may be over, but that doesn’t mean you can’t continue to incorporate a little romance into your life, especially if it happens to involve travel as well. Earlier this week, the National Parks Foundation selected their five most romantic national park escapes, and they are so good, they’re practically guaranteed to score you points with your significant other.

The five romantic getaways include watching the sunset at Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in California; paddling together through Florida‘s Everglades National Park; taking a scenic wagon ride in Oxon Cove Park, Maryland; going birding along the Padre Island National Seashore in Texas; and strolling along the beach in the Virgin Islands National Park.

What I like about this list is that it incorporates a little something for everyone. Active couples can paddle, hike or even snorkle, while those looking for a bit more relaxed experience have several options as well. These parks are scenic, and somewhat lesser known, but most definitely romantic all year round. I’ve personally been to several of the places on the list, and can attest to how wonderful they are – both as a couples escape and as an adventure travel destination.

So, if you missed the mark on Valentine’s Day, or are already planning ahead for next year, this is a great list to give you some ideas. Of course, if you’re a hopeless romantic at heart, why wait? Start planning your romantic national park getaway now.

Exploring the diverse scenery of East Java, Indonesia

indonesia The area of East Java in Indonesia is home to beautiful and diverse landscapes that include beaches, volcanoes, mountains, plantations, lakes, natural reserves, and a lot more. There are also many natural, cultural, and adventure activities to partake in, like scuba diving, hiking volcanoes, surfing, witnessing traditional ceremonies, hearing folklore stories, learning the cultivation process of tea, and photographing wild animals like zebras and cheetahs.

To get to East Java you can fly into its capital, Surabaya, via their international airport, Juanda Airport (SUB).

If you’d like to explore East Java from the comfort of your computer chair, check out the gallery below.

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The diverse diving destination you probably haven’t heard of: Raja Ampat

raja ampatLocated off the northwest point of the Bird’s Head Peninsula on the island of New Guinea in Indonesia is Raja Ampat, an archipelago full of diverse habitats. The name literally means “Four Kings” and is a great destination for adventure travelers who want to get off-the-beaten path and explore a location with more fish, coral, and invertebrate species than anywhere on the planet.

To experience Raja Ampat, travelers can catch a connecting flight from Jakarta or Bali to Sorong. While Sorong is not actually in Raja Ampat, most Raja Ampat resorts pick up their guests here and transport them to the facilities. If you plan on scuba diving, liveaboard dive boats pick up guests in Sorong and motor them to the dive areas. While Raja Ampat is not typically a tourist destination, it should be as there is a lot do in terms of exploring the waters and marine life, from kayaking and snorkeling to diving and beach combing.

I got the chance to speak with Burt Jones, who has spent the last three years in Raja Ampat doing photography diving tours for Secret Sea Visions and consulting for Conservation International. He explained to me how, while Raja Ampat is full of life and beauty, it is also in need of help, especially because not a lot of people have heard of it.

“If we, as a people, can save any place on the planet, Raja should be high on the priority list,” he explains. “It has the highest marine biodiversity of any tropical reef system on the planet, but fewer than 8,000 people visit Raja Ampat yearly. Part of our job [at CI] is to promote tourism within the region so that it will be considered as a viable local income resource. Most Raja Ampat villages profit very little from their land’s natural resources: timber, fishing or mineral wealth. And, exploiting these resources damages the environment while sustainable marine tourism promotes environmental protection and directly benefits local people through jobs. In our books, we explain local customs and encourage traveling divers to stop by receptive villages where casual contact can enrich both hosts and visitors.”

For more information on diving in Raja Ampat or taking a tour with Secret Sea Visions, click here. And, to get a better idea of just how beautiful Raja Ampat really is, check out the gallery below.

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Gadling gear review: Hummingbird Carry-on Zip

The Hummingbird Carry-on Zip duffel bagPicking the right bag to carry with us on our travels can be almost as important as selecting the items we put inside of it. Our baggage must be versatile, rugged, distinctive, and now days, easily fit inside an overhead compartment. The Carry-on Zip from Hummingbird meets all of those criteria, and then some, providing travelers with a simple, but very useful, bag for active excursions. Especially ones involving water.

Before getting into what the Carry-on Zip brings to the table, it is important to understand what it doesn’t. In terms of design, this is most definitely a no-frills, minimalist bag. There aren’t a lot of pockets – in fact there is just one large 40-liter compartment – and the bag doesn’t have wheels or feature a retractable handle. It is, for all and intents and purposes, a simple duffel bag.

But to call the Carry-on Zip “just a duffel bag” is to greatly underestimate its value for travelers. This bag is designed for those that prefer to travel light and are looking for something they can take with them anywhere they go. Made from a tough, but flexible, vinyl material, the Carry-on Zip takes a beating without showing the wear and tear that comes from frequent travel, and its large, comfortable shoulder straps make it a cinch to carry, even when packed to the brim with gear. Those same straps can be easily adjusted to wear the bag like a backpack, and its single, cavernous, compartment has plenty of room to store everything you need for weekend escapes, or even week long adventures.

The vinyl material that makes the Carry-on Zip such a tough, durable travel option also makes the bag waterproof as well. Hummingbird has matched those materials with heavy duty zippers that when locked into place, they seal the bag up tight, keeping everything inside safe from the elements. The waterproofing is so good in fact, that I recently carried this bag on a trip to the Virgin Islands, where I spent my days snorkeling, scuba diving, and sailing the beautiful ocean waters there. Thanks to the Carry-on Zip, I was able to take my camera, cell phone, and laptop with me where ever I went, without fear of damaging those expensive items within. On more than one occasion, I found myself wading into chest and neck deep waters to meet a waiting boat, and each time this bag kept my gear completely dry. It was very reassuring to know that I could trust this pack with my most fragile gear, even while swimming in the Caribbean.As the name implies, this bag was designed to carry-on any flight, and it does indeed store nicely overhead. But upon returning from the Islands, circumstances dictated that I check the bag on my return home. Waiting at the baggage carousel as the luggage was unloaded from the flight, I discovered another great feature of this bag – it is very easy to spot in a crowd. The distinctive bright yellow coloring and unique shape of the Carry-on Zip allowed me to identify it from a distance and grab and go very quickly. That might not be a feature on the manufacturers spec sheet, but being able to quickly pick-out your bag from the sea of other luggage is greatly appreciated, especially when you’re not use to waiting for the airline to offload it in the first place.

Hummingbird designed the Carry-on Zip to be highly packable in its own right. That means that while it may not be your primary bag on an extended trip, it can still be taken along very easily. This is piece of gear that is highly useful in a variety of situations ranging from a simple day at the beach to an extended kayaking excursion through remote regions of the world. The waterproof nature of this bag makes it very unique and useful for adventure travelers and beach combers alike, and with a price tag of just $149.95, it is affordable enough to add to your gear closet without breaking the bank.

The Carry-on Zip certainly isn’t for everyone, but anyone who spends a decent amount of time in or around water will definitely appreciate what this bag has to offer. Paddlers, surfers, and scuba divers will especially find it valuable, although I think plenty of other travelers will as well.

Adventure Vacation Guide 2012: Belize

Belize is the only country in Central America with English as the official language. The small country, measuring 180 miles long and 68 miles wide, is a popular vacation destination for tourists whose native language is English. But Belize is good for much more than just lounging in white sand while watching the shimmering teal waves roll in and out while drinks, ordered in English, are replenished. Behind the luxurious resorts and relaxing vacation packages, Belize is an adventure destination.

With the lowest population density in Central America and, simultaneously, the highest growth rate in the region, 2012 is the year to visit Belize–it’s still spacious and remote in most places, but it doesn’t appear as though this quality will serve Belize permanently. People everywhere are beginning to now catch onto what natives have always known–Belize is not only gorgeous, rich in history, and filled with Mayan cultural treasures, but the small country packs in a big punch with adventure and thrill-seekers. Inexpensive and lush, the untainted waters and landscapes await you.Explore Belizean caves littered with Mayan ruins. The ATM Cave, near the city of San Ignacio, boasts still-in-tact skeletons and pieces of once-blood-holding pottery from Mayan sacrifices; these were offerings to the gods during times of desperate drought. But there’s a catch to seeing something as rare as these remnants–you have to get to them first. Getting through ATM cave is no easy feat. You must first hike through thick rainforest terrain for an hour before facing the cave’s entrance, which is a waterway. The only way in, and out, is to swim through the chilly water in the pitch-black, damp cave with your headlamp serving as your only guiding light. After you’ve made it in and out of the water portions of the cave, relatively challenging climbs and tight squeezes await you as you journey through this spooky cavern.

Zip-line through the forests surrounding this cave and many others while you’re inland. Stop to observe wild jaguars if you can while in the Jaguar Paw area. While at Jaguar Paw, take the opportunity to go for a tubing trip through a cave. Hike through thick and challenging terrain and cool off via waterfall rappelling. Scuba dive down into the famous-for-a-reason Great Blue Hole, a submarine sinkhole that measures 984 feet across and 407 feet deep. Widely regarded as one of the best diving spots in the world, the aerial shots of this gaping Caribbean hole will make your heart skip a beat (just Google it). If diving is too much of a commitment for you, spend your time a bit more leisurely and follow a shining school of fish while snorkeling. Weave around the shoreline and throughout the inland rivers by kayak or go kayak sailing into the rising sun. Spend your time doing daily yoga at one of the country’s yoga retreats or yoga-friendly resorts, fully immersed in a tranquil environment, or test your boundaries with a sky diving, parasailing, base-jumping, or bungee jumping excursion.

Whether your on a shoestring budget or looking to spend your hard-earned money on all of the finest adventures Belize has to offer, you’ll find a sweat-inducing, adrenaline-spiking experience in Belize that suits your wallet and lifestyle. With a landscape like the Belize landscape, adventure waits outside your door with free admission to the mountains and beaches. And with organized companies like the ones you can find in Belize with minimal research, sky’s the limit for your guided adventure in this small, but incredibly rich, Caribbean country.

[flickr image via jayhem]