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Canada Travel news and opinion

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    (Relaxnews) - Cruises let us get away from it all, leaving our troubles and everyday life on the shore. For an even more dramatic change of scenery, forgo the massive ocean liners and book a berth in one of these authentic and charming sailing yachts.

    Cruise The Indonesian Isles Aboard The Alila Purnama
    This traditional Phinisi ship, made of teak wood, measures 46 meters from stern to bow and has three decks. The Alila Purnama can accommodate 10 passengers along with its 16 crew members. Guests are lodged in five luxury suites, including one with a panoramic view. Coral reef explorations and spa visits are among the activities included in the Komodo Isles or Raja Ampat cruises. A seven-day cruise for two people is priced at around $10,500. Managed by Alila Hotels & Resorts.

    alila purnama

    Board The Largest Sailing Yacht In Service: The Royal Clipper
    The majestic, five-masted Royal Clipper, measuring 134 meters, is touted as the largest sailboat still in service today. With the capacity to take on 227 passengers, the luxurious boat includes three pools and a gym. Depending on the season, the Royal Clipper sails through the Caribbean or the Mediterranean. More information is available through Star Clippers.

    star clippers

    Cross The Atlantic On Le Ponant
    This three-masted sailing yacht, measuring 88 meters in length, accommodates 64 passengers alongside its 32 crew members in a refined ambiance. Passengers will find a pool, a sauna and two restaurants aboard the ship. Le Ponant sails through the Mediterranean in the spring and summer and in the French Antilles and Cape Verde in the winter. Twice per year, travelers can board the ship for a non-stop journey across the Atlantic (prices start at €1,250 or around $1,700). More information is available through Compagnie du Ponan.

    françois lefebvre

    Explore The Coast Of Thailand In A Catamaran
    Leaving from Phuket, an eight-cabin catamaran sails the turquoise waters of the Andaman Sea, stopping at some of Thailand's most exceptional island destinations, including the lagoons on Koh Phanak, the Koh Phi Phi beach, and Koh Lanta. The 10-day "Thai Boat" cruise is available starting at €2,053 (around $2,989) per person.

    catamaran thailand

    An Active Cruise In The Greek Isles
    On a monohull measuring between 10 and 17 meters, a small crew takes passengers on a tour of the Greek islands from Santorini to Mykonos, giving them an opportunity to participate in manning the ship. Passengers sleep peacefully in their cabins at night, and during the day they learn how to maneuver the craft using the sails. Swimming and excursions are also part of the experience. The cruise is available through the French travel agency Comptoir des Voyages from May to October, with prices starting at €1,130 (roughly $1645) per person.

    escale yatching

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    Iceland is full of quirky things that bring a smile to your face or at times, make you think or say "huh?" Over the course of a month or so, I discovered many quirky, fun, amusing and interesting things, most of which brought a smile or made me think about the world in a different way, which is so much what travel is about, at least for me.

    Here is my top 20 list of quirky things, a list which keeps growing so there may be a version two or three of this article at some juncture. Bear in mind as you read through this, particularly if you're Icelandic, that most of these quirky things on the list were shared verbally so if there are any errors, feel free to reach out and let me know in addition to posting in the comments.

    1. Iceland's Hidden People: In Iceland, people believe in elves, otherwise known as Hidden People.

    Regardless of where I went or who I talked to, the subject of elves, trolls, and "hidden people," came up. Tale after tale, the folklore around them was rampant. Apparently 10 percent of the population don't believe in them, 10 percent adamantly believe in them and 80 percent are not really sure and think there could be 'something' to elves. Stories included construction companies which made a detour around larger rocks to avoid hurting or disturbing any Hidden People who might be living inside.

    In 1982, 150 Icelanders apparently went to the NATO base in Keflavík to look for "elves who might be endangered by American Phantom jets and AWACS reconnaissance planes and in 2011, elves (also referred to as huldufólk) were believed by some to be responsible for an incident in Bolungarvík where rocks rained down on residential streets. Some Icelanders have also built tiny churches to convert elves to Christianity. And so, the stories unfolded along the southern shores, in the West Fjords, in the very north and even on the outskirts of Reykjavik. That was then and in June, I found the same unfolding of stories time and time again across the country.

    2. The Islendiga Mobile App: There's a mobile app that tells you whether you're related to a person or not. To put this into perspective, remember that there are only around 320,000 people living in Iceland so the population is very small.

    It's an Android app that was built by a team of students from the University of Iceland as part of a contest to find creative uses for Islendingabok, which a website aimed at the same thing and is fairly comprehensive. The idea is to cross reference other names to see if you're related and the joke is, "before you kiss on a date." Additionally, you can access all the information on the online database, which will include reminders for your relatives birthdays. Says the Associated Press on the incestuous piece of it,"Most Icelanders share common descent from a group of ninth-century Viking settlers, so really, the danger probably lies more in kissing your second cousins."  We'd call this quirky and funny, but also downright useful.

    3. Phone Book Listing Directory: I was told about the phone book directory verbally by several people so hopefully Icelanders can flesh out the details in the comments. There's a phone book that lists people alphabetically by first name (not last) and there's also a directory where you can look anyone up by their cell phone number called Ja.  Why this is particularly useful has to do with number four on this list.

    4. Voice Mail: For some reason, people don't use voice mail. When I first heard this, I thought they were kidding, but if you call someone and they don't pick up, chances are they will probably call you back when they refer to the missing number. When I asked for the logic behind it, there wasn't any really, other than it wasn't a cultural thing that Icelanders do. So not productive I thought but also amusing unless you actually need to get a lot of things done quickly. That said, it's somewhat logical in a country where everyone seems to trust each other....and know each other.

    5. Painted Cars & Trucks: It's not as if you find brightly painted cars and trucks scattered throughout Reykjavik or the country but I saw them enough to raise an eyebrow. In a country that is mostly rural, cars and trucks with this much colorful energy simply stand out when you see one.  Creative and most definitely quirky!


    6.  Whale & Puffin Everything: You'll likely think of whales when you think of Iceland but what about puffins? I didn't even know it was a bird until after being in the country for three days. Puffin stuffed animals and toys are everywhere and hard to miss. Puffins are nothing short of adorable and while some people eat them, I find them too cute to dare. Below is a shot I took of one in the West Fjords, another part of the country that stole my heart.

    While there's also plenty of whale stuffed animals, you can order whale on many restaurant menus and even buy it in the supermarket. While this may fall into the more interesting category than quirky, I'd also add it to the yum and must try category.  Be sure to pick up some whale jerky in the local grocery store for nibbling on your long trips into Iceland's nature wonderland.

    7.  $9 Nature Condoms: Back to the quirky list. Ever see a condom individually wrapped in various colors and designs, all centered around nature? You know, Icelandic nature, meaning there's volcanoes, fire and ice photos on the wrapper. Yes, really. They're individually wrapped and cost around $9 a pop for one of these masterpieces. I found it hilarious especially since I saw this display at tourism gift shops but also at the petrol station rest stops along the main drag north. I even saw a display in a bakery. Quirky? You betcha and oh so amusing!

    8. TV Ban: In the 1970s, there was not only no television on Thursdays but TV was banned during the entire month of July as well. Several people confirmed this and I had a chuckle when I kept meeting so many people in their thirties who were born in the month of April, nine months from July. One person told me it was because TV was under resourced while another said it had to do with decreasing the amount of time families spent watching it to improve home life.  Either way, quirky, but like most things in Iceland, interesting.

    9. Beer Ban: Prohibition in Iceland went into effect in 1915 and lasted, to some extent, until March 1, 1989, which has since been celebrated as "Beer Day". The ban had originally prohibited all alcohol, but from 1935 onward only applied to "strong" beer which was with an alcohol content of 2.25 percent or more. What's ironic is that beer was banned for longer than stronger liquor and alcohol even though a main purpose for the ban was to decrease the consumption of alcohol in Iceland. Go figure! Definitely on the quirky list! Of course today, everyone drinks beer and wine everywhere and as far as I know, hard liquor too.

    10. The Quirky Mayor of Reykjavik: I heard about Reykjavik's colorful mayor before I left for Iceland from folks I met on Twitter. A real comedian, Reykjavik Mayor Jon Gnarr dressed up in a full Jedi getup while casting his vote in Iceland's election.

    He's been in power since 2010, and has been called the "most interesting mayor in the world." He's a former comedian, dresses in wild colors at times, is known to play "full out" at Gay Pride and has played in a punk rock band. He's someone I wanted to meet while I was there, but we'll have to leave that for a future trip. For now, I'm enjoying reading the countless quirky stories about him and hearing them from locals who claim that it was a joke when he ran for mayor and a surprise to him and his party when he actually won.

    11. The Latins of the Nordic: I heard from a random person who read that the Icelanders have been referred to as the Latins of the Nordics. After being there for a few weeks, I could see why. While it has been awhile since I've been to Scandinavia, Icelanders have many of the cultural nuances that the Nordics possess, particularly the Norweigans, yet there's a raw wildness about them that is just "nice" and frankly, sexy. The Latin force of this region? Sure, I can see it but then again, I personally found the Viking men in Iceland pretty hot.

    12. Words That Screw With Logic: I realize that Icelandic is a different language and shouldn't necessarily have any connection to the English language whatsoever. That said, how on earth does Appelsinusafi come to mean Orange Juice? C'mon, really? How do you expect me to learn a language with a crazy illogical twist like that? Then again, I'm still trying to pronounce the word Akureyri correctly, it took me a week to say Snaefellsnes without adding ten more S's and don't even get me started with Signyjarstadir, Stykkisholmur and Arnarvatnsheidi in the west.

    OR, how does "Flatbaka" sound instead of pizza? Or "Nautakjöt" in stead of beef? Or "Veitingastaður" instead of Restaurant? Or "Leðurblökumaðurinn" instead of Batman? You get the idea.

    13. Descriptive Words & Phrases: I was constantly told that Icelanders have many more ways to say the same thing we might say in English, adding more texture and depth to an idea. I love that notion since frankly, I think that English has become very bland and watered down, at least in the west. I was told on a long van ride that there were over forty words to describe the weather and a friend tells me that there's nearly 50 words to describe snow.

    14. Unique Words For Things: Speaking of words, I was also told on another long van ride that they don't necessarily create a translation for a new word, but they come up with one that means something unique for them. This is hard to translate how it was described to me so let me give you an example. Said a local man in his forties, "TV set is Sjonvarp, which essentially translates to something along the lines of vision throwing or vision thrower. Simi, which is a phone means a "line" or a "thread" so by using the word "Simi" for telephone, it is referring to connecting people via a rope (aka a telephone line). Far Simi means a mobile line more literally."

    15. Banana Plantations: Did you know that Iceland has the largest banana plantation in Europe, made possible because of the volume and success of Iceland's greenhouse energy? Oh so quirky and oh so very cool.

    16. Dancing Around the Christmas Tree: At the holidays, people stand around a Christmas tree and dance, circling around the tree.  When I went to college in London, my Danish girlfriend told me that her family also did this so I guess this is perhaps a Nordic thing. That said, it was one of those things that brought a visual smile when I heard about it for the first time.

    17. 13 Santa Clauses: While we're on the subject of holidays, did you realize that Iceland celebrates 13 Santa Clauses?  Well, sort of.

    "Well of course," says Gummi, my guide for a day as we drove some 12 hours or so talking about Iceland's history and culture.  In fact, there are no fewer than 13 Icelandic Santa Clauses, called jólasveinar ("Yuletide Lads"; singular: jólasveinn) and their parents are Grýla, a mean old woman who drags off naughty children, and Leppalúði, who is apparently is not so mean.

    As children, Icelanders are told the story of Grýla, the ogress living in the Icelandic mountains, who is evil in nature, part troll and part animal and the mother of 13 precocious boys otherwise known as the Yule Lads. Grýla lives in the mountains with her third husband, her thirteen children and a black cat except for each Christmas, when she and her sons come down into the towns in search of naughty children to boil in her cauldron and the boys in search of mischief. She can only capture children who misbehave but those who repent must be released. Wow, right?  Each Yuletide lad has a specific idiosyncrasy and therefore, behaves in a particular quirky manner. Oh, this is most definitely on the quirky, amusing and I'll add "endearing" list.

    18. Bright Green Plastic Bags of Hay: On my first trip out of Reykjavik, it was drizzling so when I first saw a pile of bright green plastic bags heaped in the middle of a field, I ignored them, but then I saw them again an hour later so I asked my driver to confirm that they were in fact bags of hay. Indeed they are, he said. While I realize they have to do something with their hay, I was thinking barns might be a logical solution especially with so much land or at least a covered shelter area given how often it rains or snows. While there's logic to the decision, they pop out of a field like a rollercoaster might on Volcanic lava. (Apparently someone wants to build one of those btw, so keep your eyes and ears open).

    They also use a lot of white plastic bags as well which equally stand out. Below you can see them scattered across a field, but they are typically piled in a large bunch in the middle of a field.

    19. Surnames: If you've spent any time at all in Iceland, you know about the naming structure for people's names. Unlike western surnames, which are based on patronymic, reflecting the father's last name, Icelanders use the father's first name. A person's surname indicates the first name of the person's father (patronymic) or in some cases mother (matronymic). Take a look at the naming tree below. Note that Jon is the father of Olafur and Sigridur yet the children's surname both reflect Jon's first name, not his last name.  Olfaur is the SON of Jon and so logically, his surname is Jonsson (son of Jon) and Sigridur is the daughter, so naturally she's Jonsdottir,  (daughter of Jon).

    I happen to find this very cool although I can't imagine it doesn't get confusing from time-to-time, or at least it would if their population of 320,000 grew dramatically in size.

    20. Shacking Up & Kids Without Papers: A number of times within the first week, I met people who had kids with one or two people but weren't married to either of them. Many of these pregnancies happened in their twenties during an early love affair but then they moved onto another relationship but maintain custody together. It seemed to be such a common story, I started to ask people about it and many women and men didn't feel the urgency to run to the altar, children on the way or not. That said, I met plenty of married couples as well and when I asked about that, a couple of people said, "it depends on the year. Sometimes marriage is in fashion and sometimes its not." They were so matter a fact about it, which is one of the things I love about Icelandic culture and attitudes.

    Then, there are just odd things you come across walking through the streets of Reykjavik from time-to-time.


    Photo credits: Elves/Hidden People:  Second shot of mayor in pink suit by Aleksandar Radulovic. Santa Clauses: IcelandNaturally. com. Bags of hay: All other photos by Renee Blodgett.

    Ghere for more on Iceland hotels / top Iceland hotels, and for food in Iceland / Iceland restaurants / top Iceland restaurants. General content on Traveling to Iceland / Iceland travel can be found here.

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    2013 has been a great year for international travel, despite all the challenges around the world that might have caused travelers to stash away their passports and stick to familiar, home turf. While many people are choosing traditional vacations, more and more travelers are taking advantage of new ways to explore the world.

    Here are five travel trends that we've uncovered for 2013, with all indications pointing to a continuation of growth in these areas for the coming year.

    1. Travelers want active touring.

    That means they want to do more than get on and off a touring coach. They want to hike, climb, bike, and explore -- physically as well as intellectually. They're traveling off the beaten path, and exploring destinations such as Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, and Cuba. Here there are opportunities to put on crampons and trek up a glacier, scuba and snorkel among pristine corals, and ride a horse through colonial towns and tobacco fields.

    2. Travelers want to give back.

    As they visit the far-flung places of the world, travelers get up, close and personal with the wonders of each new place. At the same time, they witness the less positive aspects of life, such as poverty, lack of basic conveniences like electricity and clean water, and other problems. Many travelers are inspired to reach out and help those they meet, and to fill that desire, many tours now include an element of outreach. Some examples include providing educational supplies to children in a local community or supporting the construction of a well that provides clean drinking water to residents.

    3. More families are choosing to travel internationally.

    Forget Disney World -- more families are taking flights to international destinations, including ever-popular European cities, as well as exotic locales. Among the favorites are China, where parents and children are equally thrilled to see the pandas and climb the Great Wall, and Kenya, where everyone, young and not-so-young, can delight in the magnificent creatures of the wild by day, and sleep in their very own tent in the bush at night. And that's just for starters. In response to this trend, many tour operators, including Friendly Planet, are offering family-friendly programs that include activities that are kid and adult-friendly, at prices that are truly affordable, making international family travel accessible for families with serious wanderlust.

    4. Food is front and center for many while traveling.

    Foodies unite! Choosing organic, locally sourced food has become a large focus for many at home. Lots of us are also learning to be serious gourmet cooks, and our food preferences are ever expanding to include foods from faraway places. For many travelers, enjoying the local specialties, sampling new and different foods, and even going outside their comfort zone makes the experience of travel complete. Tour operators are keen to offer foodie travelers lots of opportunities to learn about the food they eat abroad -- how it's grown, prepared, and served. Visits to local markets and lessons in preparing foods under the guidance of local chefs have become really popular inclusions as well, adding a new -- and delicious -- cultural gastronomy component that everyone can enjoy.

    5. Wine, beer and spirits, anyone?

    It's not just the food that has travelers rushing to dust off their passports, but the beverages of choice that accompany those gourmet adventures that get the travel juices flowing. Whether you're exploring your roots in Ireland, trekking on a glacier in Patagonia or viewing the Taj Mahal in India, you're bound to find travelers sampling the local wine, beer and spirits. In today's world, most countries have found ways to offer their beverage of choice to tourists, and help them fall in love, sending sales at airport duty-free shops soaring. For example, you can't visit Peru without enjoying a pisco sour -- a light, lemony cocktail reminiscent of gin and tonic. In Cuba, mojitos are as ubiquitous as salsa dancing and posters of Che, and you can't make it through a day without enjoying two or three of the beverage. And microbreweries are cropping up everywhere -- from Munich, the holy land of beer, to Beijing. Wine, beer and spirits aficionados are looking closely for opportunities to learn about and, of course, sample their beverages of choice and often make choices about where to go based on what's being served.

    Read more of Peggy's insight on the travel industry on

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    As a travel writer, and a freelance travel gift guide curator for newspapers and magazines, I try out lots of gear, clothing and accessories. I toss the ungainly, impractical, and downright ugly. I usually eschew expensive labels. I just want something to take along that will keep me warm, keep me cool, keep me safe, and make my trip easy and stylish. That's it.

    Tried And True Travel Gifts, Clothing, Accessories and Tours

    Lately, I've discovered Exofficio outer and inner-wear, and it's become my go-to company for lightweight deep-winter jackets, bug-free soft as baby's breath hoodies and some of the sexiest lace drip-dry panties ever to grace a hotel bathroom laundry line. For more on this, as well as intel about a humorous "faux" haute couture tote for your teacup dog, a great idea for the NYC history buff who has everything, the perfect travel pants for high-crime cities, and a wardrobe extender that adds class to your cleavage, read on. Your Christmas/Hanukah list might just begin and end here:


    For Your Sexy Adventuress

    Three layers of sexy for the adventurous woman in your life starting with the sleek, soft and toasty insulated Storm Logic Jacket ($150) which keeps everything you need (sunglasses, phone, wallet) in interior hidden pockets when on tour or hike, and stuffs into itself to create a cloud-like pillow for plane and car. Bugs-Away Lumen Hoody ($60) -- thin and soft for summer backwoods or layered under warmer clothes on cool Spring or Fall evenings -- is as fashionable as Insect Repellent gets. Lacy Travel Panties ($16.50) classes up those normally Communist-era drip-dry briefs, adding lace and je ne sais quoi for your frisky camper. All together, this ensemble takes up barely any space in a suitcase or backpack.


    For Your Daring Dude

    Pick Pocket Proof Pants, P Cubed Travel Pants

    Shorts $85; Pants $110. These pants have stood the test of Mumbai, Buenos Aires and other high theft cities. Garnering fans around the world, Pick Pocket Proof Pants, sporting double zipper pockets with button tabs, are impervious to pilfering rascals and are easy to wear and rugged to boot.


    For The Stylish Gal Who Can't Stand to Be Separated From Her Pup

    Bark 'N Bag

    The coveted Hermes Birkin Bag starts at $10,000 and goes up from there, but you can carry your pooch in a Bark n Bag for just a drop in that bucket. $40 will get you a look-a-like tote for your teacup doggie with fashionable "Weekenders" starting at $60 for larger pets. Styles include "Embossed Croco" and "Embossed Ostrich" just like the real deal.


    For the New Yorker Who Has Everything

    AIA Architect Tour/ NYC; $ 64 or $76 pp. for 3+ hour tour.


    There's nothing like studying the chronology of Manhattan's landmark buildings, bridges and neighborhoods from the water while being pampered on a classic 1920's wooden yacht with drinks (the first is complementary) and appetizers. You'll circumnavigate Manhattan while learning about visionaries and marvelous feats of engineering. Narrated by an in-the-know architect, this is one of the most popular tours of NYC and the perfect gift for your New York City history buff.


    Wardrobe Expander You Can Fit In Your Purse


    Can a woman expand her wardrobe with a simple, stretchy band of Spandex or lace? Absolutely. This clever accessory can broaden a travel wardrobe while taking up practically no space in the suitcase. Say you're traveling to a country where showing too much skin is frowned upon; these bands can lengthen a too-short shirt or cover up a plunging neckline instantly. And if you need to conceal your bikini-bottom, but not too much, it's a perfect stretchy add-on. $25.


    For these and more ideas for travel gifts and stocking stuffers, check out

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    Belize has become one of the top travel destinations in the world because of its spectacular and intriguing attractions like the Great Barrier Reef, gigantic blue hole, white sandy beaches, numerous cayes and islands, pristine rainforests and jungles, abundant wildlife, eclectic and colorful cultures, and laid-back atmosphere.

    From scuba diving its warm and turquoise Caribbean waters to hiking an ancient Maya city, Belize has something for everyone.

    If you are looking to escape to a cozy and sunny destination that offers a potpourri of adventure and fun filled activities this winter, then you might want to consider Belize.

    From north to south and east to west, here are the top best places to visit in Belize.

    San Ignacio Town

    2013-12-03-sanignacio.jpeg Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    San Ignacio Town is the main town in the Cayo District of western Belize and is an ideal base to explore ancient Maya cities like Caracol and Xunantunich, ceremonial caves like Barton Creek and Actun Tunichil Muknal, and cascading water falls like Rio on Pools and Big Rock waterfalls in the Mountain Pine Ridge Nature Reserve.

    Hiking, kayaking, bird watching and horseback riding are also top rated outdoor activities in the area.

    San Ignacio is also an important en route to and from Guatemala since it is one of the last towns in Belize before entering Guatemala where many travelers go to visit Tikal - one of the largest archaeological site in the country.

    Caye Caulker


    Caye Caulker is a small and beautiful island off the coast of Belize and is an ideal base for snorkeling and diving adventures.

    Its white sandy beaches, cool breezes, fresh seafood, turquoise Caribbean waters and a magnificent barrier reef at its doorstep are top reasons why you have to visit this island.


    2013-12-04-placenciabelize.jpeg Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    Located in the Stann Creek District, Placencia is a long, narrow and sandy peninsula along Belize' Caribbean coastline and offers a laid-back ambience with various accommodations, and the best restaurants in Southern Belize.

    It is a perfect destination for scuba diving, snorkeling, kayaking, and fly-fishing. And during the full moons of May and June, you can go on a whale shark expedition at the Gladden Spit Reserve where the gentle giant whale sharks come to span.

    Inland tours like Monkey River and the Cockscomb Basin Jaguar Preserve can also be explored from Placencia.

    Ambergris Caye

    2013-12-04-ambergriscayebelize.jpeg Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    Ambergris Caye is the largest and most popular island in the northern waters of Belize and measures 25 miles long and 5 miles across. It is located just 35 miles northeast of Belize City and can be reached on a 10-minute plane ride or an hour and half boat ride.

    The great Belize Barrier Reef lies on the east side of Ambergris Caye and it is the island's biggest tourist attraction since it is only a quarter mile from the beach.

    Scuba diving, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, or sail boating to other islands or cayes are just a few reasons why you have to visit and just today, Trip Advisor named Ambergris Caye as a Travelers' Choice Destination on the rise.



    Hopkins is a tranquil Garifuna village on the coast of Stann Creek District and is considered by many Belizeans as the cultural center of the Garifuna population in Belize.

    Some of the major activities to do in the area are snorkeling, scuba diving, Garifuna drumming and singing and even Garifuna cooking.

    For travelers looking to experience a colorful and unique culture with a fascinating history, Hopkins is the destination to visit.

    South Water Caye

    2013-12-04-southwatercayebelize.jpeg Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    South Water Caye is a lovely and underrated Caye and is perched on top of the great Belize barrier reef. It is located only 10 miles off the coast of Dangriga and Hopkins in southern Belize.

    The size of South Water Caye is just 15 acres and is part of Belize's world heritage site which has been zoned to protect fishing nurseries and unique marine habitants; however the Caye is a perfect base for snorkeling, fishing, diving and educational activities.


    2013-12-04-dangriga.jpeg Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    Dangriga is the largest town in Stann Creek District in Southern Belize and is considered a major capital of the Garifuna people.

    The name "Dangriga" is derived from a Garifuna word meaning 'sweet water' and the town is also the birthplace of punta rock -- a fusion of acoustic Garifuna and electric instruments.

    While vacationing in Dangriga, you can visit the Gulisi Garifuna Museum that highlights the culture and history of the Garifuna people or the Pen Cayetano Gallery, which showcases the artwork of Pen Cayetano.

    Other stops of cultural interest include the Drums of my Father Monument, the National Garifuna Council headquarters, and the Thomas Vincent Ramos Monument.

    Punta Gorda

    Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    Locally known as P.G, Punta Gorda is the southernmost town in Belize and is also the capital of the Toledo District.

    The population is comprised of around six thousand people and consists of Garifuna, Maya, East Indians, Creoles and some Lebanese and Chinese.

    The Town is an ideal base to explore the stunning and unspoiled beauty of Toledo District. Pristine rainforests and jungles, offshore cayes, coastal lowlands and an extensive network of caves are just a few of the top attractions in the area.


    2013-12-04-sarteneja.jpeg Photo credit: Gaby Silva

    Located on the Shipstern Peninsula in the Corozal District, Sarteneja is a quaint and picturesque Mestizo and Creole community that sits on a unique and tropical bay setting at the North Eastern Sea point of Belize.

    Sarteneja is derived from the Yucatec Maya "Tzaten-a-Ha" which is thought to translate as "water in the rock".

    Two of the town's main industries are lobster fishing and pineapple farming however in recent years tourism has increasingly become significant as a source of income.

    The Shipstern Wildlife Reserve is one of the top attractions in the area and is comprised of 31 square miles of tropical forest. The reserve is owned and operated by a non governmental organization and is habitat to a wide array of flora and fauna.

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    2013-12-06-RockCenterNYC_FCC_petercruise.jpg(photo: petercruise/Flickr Creative Commons)

    'Tis the season for family togetherness and, hopefully, a chance to get away with the kids for a few days. Here are five places that make for an unforgettable December escape.

    New York, New York
    The magic of the holiday season is easy to find in New York City, from the elaborately decorated storefronts on Fifth Avenue to the skating rink at Rockefeller Center to the Rockettes Christmas spectacular. A December visit may not be cheap, but it will surely be memorable.

    (MORE: Read parents' reviews of kid-friendly hotels in New York City.)

    Park City, Utah
    2013-12-06-ParkCity_FCC_Enjayfilmz.jpg(photo: Enjayfilmz/Flickr Creative Commons)

    This beautiful ski town is renowned for its annual holiday festivities, which kick off this year on Dec. 15 with Santa and his reindeer descending via a sleigh chairlift from above Park City's historic Main Street, while free hot chocolate and cookies are served below. You can also spy Santa shooshing down the Park City Mountain slopes throughout the day on Christmas Eve, before he leads more than 100 skiers in the traditional torchlight parade down the mountain at nightfall.


    Less than a two-hour flight from Northeast gateway cities, Bermuda not only makes for an easy escape, but it is more affordable nowadays, too, thanks to a sweet promo from the Bermuda Department of Tourism. Book now and receive a third, fourth or fifth night free at 14 participating resorts on the island, based on the best available average daily rate. Properties offering a third night free include the Fairmont Southampton, Fairmont Hamilton Princess, Rosewood Tucker's Point Resort, Grotto Bay Beach Resort, and Elbow Beach Bermuda. This offer can be booked through April 25, 2014 for travel through April 30, 2014.

    Channel Islands National Park
    2013-12-06-ChannelIslandsNP_FCC_jpmckennaBackfromBoston.jpg(photo: jpmckenna - Back from Boston/Flickr Creative Commons)

    Made up of five islands off the coast of Southern California, this national park's famous gray whale-watching season begins in mid-December. A whopping 27 species of cetaceans -- that's about a third of the world's species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises -- can be viewed here throughout the year, but winter belongs to gray whales. For optimal viewing, take a whale-watching cruise. Some of the best shore vantage points are Point Dume in Malibu, the Palos Verdes Peninsula near Los Angeles, and Point Loma in San Diego.

    (MORE: View a family trip itinerary: 4 days in Los Angeles with kids.)

    Skaneateles, New York

    For the 20th year, one of the most picturesque towns in New York's Finger Lakes region is celebrating the Dickens Christmas festival, taking visitors back to 1842, as Charles Dickens is gathering research for his soon-to-be-written classic, "A Christmas Carol." Every Saturday and Sunday through December 24, Dickens and his cast of more than 50 characters in period dress interact with passers-by in the town's streets, stores, and restaurants. Highlights of the festival include a Christmas parade, Christmas carol sing-alongs, street performances of A Christmas Carol, horse-drawn wagon rides and free refreshments.

    --Suzanne Rowan Kelleher contributed this to

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    Let's face it: after a breakup, sitting teary-eyed on your couch while eating copious amounts of chocolate can get old pretty darn fast.

    And while the thought of being alone may be horrifying and emotionally impossible, a new adventure may be just what you need to rediscover yourself.

    After all, no one ever said a broken heart would be easy, but it doesn't have to be boring.

    1. Make new friends in Bocas Del Toro, Panama.
    bocas del toro
    This charming group of Caribbean islands will slow down your life in all the right ways. Conde Nast Traveler's Peter Stevenson describes the pace of the islands' capitol as "deliciously slow and seductive." And what better way to forget the-one-who-shall-not-be named than by sharing stories with backpackers who are "happy and dusty and somewhere between drunk and stoned."

    2. Find zen in Bali, Indonesia.
    bali indonesia
    You can Eat, Pray, Love yourself back to happiness in one of the most majestic places on Earth. There are a slew of intricate temples and yoga and wellness retreats that will help you clear your mind and make sense of all the chaos in your life.

    If quiet time just isn't your thing, you can zip through the island on a motor bike and visit the charming villages and friendly locals that will put the warmth right back into your heart. A trip to Kuta, the center of Bali's nightlife, will be a welcome distraction as you dance your worries away until dawn.

    3. Feel at one with nature on the island of Kauai, Hawaii.
    Put yourself in the middle of a lush green valley and try to remember what you were upset about, we dare you. Hawaii's island of Kauai is less crowded than touristy Oahu or Maui and it's lifestyle is all about embracing nature. The incredible ocean views from the Napali Coast is a surefire way to erase your mind of any anguish you had back at home and the swift flowing streams and light pour of rain will reinvigorate you.

    4. Feel small at the Iguazú Falls in Brazil/Argentina.
    iguazú falls
    These powerful falls and dramatic cliffs you will make you feel very, very small -- but in the best way possible. Let the deafening waterfalls drown out any haunting memories and allow them to wash away with the river. The metaphorical cleansing will feel restorative. The falls, which straddle the Brazil-Argentina border and are one of the seven natural wonders of the world, will make you forget that you were ever hurting in the first place.

    5. Reevaluate your problems in the Philippines.
    A trip to the Philippines can be a very humbling experience, putting your romantic problems into perspective. In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, the Philippine Tourism Board has been urging people to plan their next vacation in the Philippines in order to help boost the country's tourism industry and local economy.

    You can donate some of your time and services to the country's most impacted islands on Leyte and Samar, or you can visit any of the other 7,000 islands in the Philippines, many of which rely heavily on tourism. You may just find that helping to heal a community in need is the perfect way to heal yourself.

    Hang in there, we're rooting for you!

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    The risk of an oil spill from the Northern Gateway pipeline is the focus of a new online game that was trending on Reddit on Friday, but it's not clear who designed the game itself.

    "Great Bear Gamble" invites players to navigate an oil tanker around a series of islands near Kitimat as a tracker counts your CO2 emissions, while the theme from TV show "Danger Bay" plays in the background.

    You can try your best to avoid grazing an island but you'll inevitably crash into a corner, cause an oil spill and "utterly ruin the Great Bear Rainforest."

    It's basically impossible to beat.

    northern gateway game

    Whoever designed the game is a mystery. The website states that it was created by an "anonymous Canadian citizen with no connection to any organizations including The Dogwood Initiative, Enbridge or The Canadian Government."

    The site also has links to various environmental organizations such as the David Suzuki Foundation and the Dogwood Initiative, as well as news stories about the proposed pipeline.

    A Whois search showed the domain name registered to an "Olive Oil" at a Victoria address, while a phone number associated with the site belonged to a Kelowna business.

    An individual who answered the phone said they had no knowledge of the game.

    This isn't the first time that game developers have tackled environmental issues in B.C.

    The tablet game "Pipe Trouble" caused a stir in Dawson Creek last March when Mayor Mike Bernier accused the developer of capitalizing on a series of bombings that rocked the region in 2008 and 2009.

    Nevertheless, "Pipe Trouble" went on to be the first video game ever featured at the Cannes Film Festival.

    So who knows how long it will be before the mysterious creator of "Great Bear Gamble" steps forward and finds themselves walking a red carpet?

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    2013-12-06-VailSquare.jpg(photo: Vail Resorts)

    What's the holy grail of family ski vacations? How to get more snow for less dough. Keeping costs down is always a challenge, so here are six ways to grab great value at family-friendly ski resorts.

    Vail Mountain Resort
    Where: Vail, Colorado Why: Because tony Vail has an offer that promises the best savings of the year if you are flexible on timing. Book the Ski Free, Stay Free package and get either your third or fourth night free, depending on travel dates, plus one free day of skiing. Lodging options include the family-friendly condos at Mountain Haus, located in the heart of Vail Village yet close to ski lifts. Available through Apr. 21, 2014, but blackout dates apply.

    (MORE: Find more top kid-friendly ski destinations.)

    Okemo Resort
    Where: Ludlow, Vermont Why: Because this Vermont family ski favorite is offering a super incentive to play a little hooky this winter. The two-night-minimum Midweek Madness Ski & Stay package bundles in a ton of value, with a 25 percent savings on lodging, between $50 and $100 in resort credit, a free afternoon of skiing or riding on your arrival day, plus discounts on lift tickets, lessons, dining, and shopping. Available Sunday to Thursday all season during non-holiday periods.

    Keystone Ski Resort
    2013-12-06-KeystoneResort.jpg(photo: Keystone Resort)

    Where: Keystone, Colorado Why: Because one of Colorado's most family-friendly ski resorts has a season-long deal that's a boon for budget-minded parents. Book a stay of at least two nights and two kids 12 and under ski and ride free. Available the entire 2013-2014 ski season with no blackout dates.

    (MORE: Whoopee! More resorts where kids ski free!)

    Omni Mount Washington Resort
    Where: Bretton Woods, New Hampshire Why: Because this luxurious mountain resort is offering a wallet-friendly way to ski at New Hampshire's largest ski mountain all season long. Book the Stay Here, Ski Free package and get two free adult lift tickets at Bretton Woods for every night you stay. Additional lift tickets are available at a discount. Available through Apr. 13, 2014.

    Beaver Creek Ski Resort
    2013-12-06-OspreyatBeaverCreek.jpg(photo: Osprey at Beaver Creek/RockResorts)

    Where: Beaver Creek, Colorado Why: Because the savings multiply at this kid-friendly ski destination when you visit for a few days during off-peak periods. Take advantage of the best rates of the season and get a third night free when you avoid peak holiday windows. Lodging options include the Pines Lodge and the Osprey at Beaver Creek. Available all season but blackout dates apply.

    (MORE: Find more kid-friendly things to do in Beaver Creek.)

    Mount Tremblant
    Where: Mont Tremblant, Quebec Why: Because this kid-friendly Quebec ski mecca has a good-value lodging offer that shaves a chunk of green off your snow-white holiday. Book the Ski & Stay Offer and save up to 20 percent on lodging. Available through Feb. 11, 2014, except the week of Dec. 27-Jan. 3, 2014.

    --Suzanne Rowan Kelleher contributed this to

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    (Relaxnews) - Saudi Arabia launched a new tourist visa program this week that allows foreigners to visit the kingdom’s tourist and historical sites.

    Announced out of the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities earlier this year, visitors are now able to apply for a tourist visa under the Extended Umrah Tourism Programme and stay in the country for up to 30 days.

    According to the Saudi Gazette, foreigners from 65 countries will be eligible for the new tourist visa. Before this week, only tourists from Gulf Cooperation Council states -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates -- were allowed visa-free entry into the country.

    Saudi Arabia is home to two of the holiest mosques in Islam: Masjid al-Haram (also known as the Grand Mosque) in Mecca and Al-Masjid al-Nabawi (also known as the Prophet’s Mosque) in Medina, home of Muhammad’s tomb.

    Tourism is the second biggest industry for Saudi Arabia, which saw revenues rise 10 percent, mostly from Islamic pilgrimages.
    It’s estimated that about 3 million people undertake the Hajj pilgrimage to the Grand Mosque every year.

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    Air Canada's dreams for new, larger planes will soon be a reality.

    The airline is expected to debut their new line of Boeing 787 Dreamliners in July 2014 after the planes complete a series of short training flights from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to London's Heathrow Airport in March, according to the Toronto Star.

    Once that's over, the planes will make their inaugural flight from Toronto to Tel Aviv. On Friday, the airline announced a second route for their Dreamliner: Tokyo. The new route is the only non-stop flight to Japan's Tokyo-Haneda airport.

    Passengers on board will have plenty of time to acquaint themselves with the Dreamliner's cabins during the lengthy trip. Air Canada will feature three cabin types on the 787s: economy, premium economy and the new international business class.

    in flight entertainment

    Seats in each class will feature a built-in touch screen for in-flight entertainment with a USB outlet for charging personal electronics and an universal power outlet.

    economy class

    Passengers upgrading to premium economy get a bit more personal space with 38 inches for legroom and 19.5-inch wide seats with seven-inches of recline.

    premium economy seats

    International business class mixes things up with larger in-flight touch screens and pods capable of transforming into flat beds with an adjustable pneumatic cushion system with massage features. Oh, and there's a new espresso and cappuccino service.

    business class

    Air Canada's purchase of six 787-8s Dreamliners faced some scrutiny after Boeing's planes suffered battery problems prompting a world-wide grounding. In November, Boeing released an warning about engine icing problems, cautioning pilots to not fly the planes near high-level thunderstorms, Bloomberg News reports.

    The new planes will replace some of Air Canada's Boeing 767 since they're reportedly lighted, more fuel efficient and can carry more passengers. Air Canada is expecting a total of 37 Dreamliners by the end of 2019.

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    One of the thrills of traveling is the feeling -- however misguided -- that you have discovered a destination before the masses have. You were in Angkor Wat before restoration projects began, you saw Bruges before Colin Farrell publicized it as a f-ing fairytale, and Croatia? Please, you were there before Lonely Planet named it the top destination for 2005.

    Thanks to, there is now an easy way to search for and predict the next top destination. Each year, the site quantifies the greatest increases in positive traveler feedback and traveler interest to pinpoint which destinations are up-and-coming and, therefore, about to explode.

    Trip Advisor recently released its results for 2013. Book your flights early and you may still beat the crowds.

    Kailua-Kona, Hawaii: Top Destination On The Rise In The U.S.

    Once the "residence of kings," according to Trip Advisor, Kailua-Kona has something for everyone: gorgeous nature, fragrant coffee plantations and even a volcano to boot. While Oahu and Maui are seasoned -- some might even say cliched -- tourist destinations, Kailua-Kona offers a still quaint Hawaii alternative.

    kona hawaii

    Havana, Cuba: Top Destination On The Rise In The World

    Currently enjoying a "cultural renaissance," Havana is dusting off the cobwebs and gearing up for more business. Get in now to enjoy the historic city's unique energy, pleasant tropical weather and sip your mojito in peace.


    Corralejo, Spain: Top Destination On The Rise In Europe

    And you thought every corner of Europe had been ruined by tourists. Enter Corralejo, which is part of Fuerteventura, a volcanic island. Its scenic beaches and windmill are perfect, according to Trip Advisor, for a tranquil, restorative getaway.

    corralejo spain

    Cusco, Peru: Top Destination On The Rise In South America

    If you somehow manage to get every other amazing destination in South America checked off your list, its time to add this one. Cusco was once the capital of the Inca Empire and it's intrigue now is in its layers of cultures as "indigenous features blend with colonial architecture and modern nightlife."

    cusco peru

    Kathmandu, Nepal: Top Destination On The Rise In Asia

    Ok, ok so maybe you've already considered this one. But apparently now is the time to go. "Kathmandu is a mystical and magical place, according to Trip Advisor, a trove of ancient structures that are enveloped in folklore."

    kathmandu nepal

    Christchurch, New Zealand: Top Destination On The Rise In The South Pacific

    You don't need to be a fan of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy to fall in love with New Zealand. Christchurch is known as the “gateway to the Antarctic,” and it "features dramatic vistas and adventure sports," that shouldn't be missed.

    christchurch new zealand

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    Heff's grotto looks like a grimy bathtub compared to these mindfucking natural wonders.

    Photo by: jabbusch

    Cenotes are natural sinkholes with waterfalls, caves and all kinds of crazy underworld type shit. They are formed when water wears away the limestone (weak ass rock) of an underground cave and causes it to collapse into itself. Ancient Mayans gave cenotes their name and thought the formations worthy of praise and sacrifice. Filled with ground-filtered rain water, the naturally formed pools of cenotes are super clean and clear, but also scrotum scrunchingly cold. Dive into the depths of these five mindfucking natural wonders from around the world.

    Playa Del Carmen, Mexico

    Photo by: Brendan Bryant

    Cenotes have sunk in all over Mexico's Yucatán peninsula over the past few million years because the land is mostly made up of porous limestone. You can check out any one of the region's estimated 7,000 cenotes, but to really get your mind blown, don't miss a trip down in Angelita. This cenote creates the underwater illusion of a river beneath a river, all below the ground. The magic is actually called halocline and it separates waters with different salt levels into individual layers. Don't forget which way is up if you decide to dive down.

    Bimmah Sinkhole
    Bayt al-Afreet, Oman

    Photo by: pippasperegrinations

    130 feet wide and sixty feet deep, the Bimmah Sinkhole connects all the way to the ocean and makes for a postcard-perfect place to strip and jump in. A long jump from the top of Bimmah's outer rim, the descent is a ball-flapping sixty feet up above the water. Hold your breath and cannonball into this bright blue oasis. Cenote too shabby.

    Ewens Ponds
    Mt. Gambier, South Australia

    Photo by: Liz Rogers Photography

    From crustacean spiny crayfish to rainbow-colored algae, Ewens Ponds makes a great dive site for any of you flora and fauna fanatics. The Ponds is in a conservatory park and part of South Australia's Mount Gambier region which is mostly limestone and thus littered with cenotes. Go way down under and explore through the whole site-Ewens ponds is three bodies of freshwater connected by long and dark, cenoteworthy tunnels.

    Great Blue Hole
    Lighthouse Reef, Belize

    Photo by: Wikipedia

    A perfect dark blue circle in a sea of surrounding cyan, the Great Blue Hole is consistently ranked among the top diving spots in the world. Jacques Cousteau famously loved this spot so much that he blew up parts of it to bring his ship, the Calypso, inside to investigate. Even today, divers examine the death-inducing depths of Discovery Channel's #1 Most Amazing Place on Earth, trying to find new tunnels and connecting caves within its waters.

    Dos Ojos
    Quintana Roo, Mexico

    Photo by: Wikipedia

    Mexico's got this stunning cenote shit on lock and Dos Ojos is the mackdaddy of them all. A two-fer, Dos Ojos is comprised of two humongous, circular cenotes connected by an even bigger cave system between them. This place was founded in the late 1980s and continues to grow every year. In 2012 the system was conjoined with the Sac Actun caves (which house some of the area's biggest cenotes, like Gran Cenote), extending Dos Ojos' total length to nearly 200 miles. The rooms and cavernous hallways of this network of endless cenote-hopping, are organized by name. Our favorite? The Bat Room.

    Cenotes are another reminder of why Mother Nature is still the boss of all things natural. Whether you swim, snorkel or dive into their depths, they will offer you a deeper knowledge of our world below the surface and it's absolute bananas down there.

    Written by: Chris Platis

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  • 12/06/13--15:49: 13 Adventurous Hiking Tales
  • 2013-11-18-headerhiketothesummit.jpg

    Have you ever marvelled at the scale and magnificence of those great, immoveable giants of nature, the mountains? Have you ever felt the cool caress of a snow-scented breeze from distant peaks, or seen the first long sun rays of dawn dispel shadows as light creeps up to the heights? Have you ever stumbled, half-delirious with fatigue and joy, onto the summit of a mountain?

    From the inaugural Storytelling Theme on Maptia, we bring you the inspiring tales of thirteen mountainous adventures from all over the world. You can see them laid out on the map below.


    Each of the featured stories touches on a different aspect of hiking, whether it is the mental and physical endurance required, the sublime feelings of insignificance evoked by the majestic surroundings, the relationships forged through adversity, or the jokes and laughter shared along the way.

    “The mountains are calling and I must go.”

    —John Muir

    There is both stunning photography and remarkable narrative to be savored in the stories below, and we hope that you will be inspired to get out there and start exploring. It's time to don your cold weather jackets, and settle down for a series of gripping and adventurous tales from mountains all over the world.

    1 | A Personal Everest

    5 min read · By Cindy Fan · Read the full story on Maptia

    Cindy Fan regales sublime moments on the steep path up to Kala Patthar, peppering her beautiful narrative with existential musings and honest reflections, as she fought above the clouds to reach a shimmering peak in the Everest Region of the Himalayas.

    “Sunlight begins fighting its way through. Stronger it grows, dissolving the mist, vanquishing the clouds. As if curtains have been thrown aside, the world is suddenly revealed.”

    —Cindy Fan


    2 | Mountain of the Crescent Moon

    7 min read · By Yoav Bar-Ness · Read the full story on Maptia

    Set in Tungnath, which literally means ‘Lord of the Peaks’, Yoav Bar-Ness captivated us with this visceral account of his ascent along a winding pilgrim’s path. Interspersed with reflections on planetary equinoxes, lunar companions, and sacred mountains, this story recalls his hike to pierce the clouds that cloak the jagged peaks of India.

    “It was the first Himalayan peak I had ever visited. Emotionally, I was pulled in three ways. I could not quite balance awe, reverence, and disgust: sublime terrain, sacred religion, and human pollution.”

    —Yoav Bar-Ness


    3 | The Changing Arctic

    10 min read · By Duncan Geere · Read the full story on Maptia

    Duncan Geere followed his curiosity all the way to a polar research base nestled in Sweden’s highest mountains. He recollects the days he spent in these still pristine and breathtaking landscapes, weaving a story with a sobering message that inspires you to care about our fragile Arctic ecosystems. It is a powerful reminder that no matter how much we think we understand climate change on an intellectual level, there is no substitute for seeing the changing planet with your own eyes.

    “The undulating waves of green and purple light hang in vast curtains across the sky... watching them dance, you get a compelling sense of how special this part of the world is.”

    —Duncan Geere


    4 | Summit Day

    11 min read · By Dean Fischer · Read the full story on Maptia

    Not many can claim to have been the highest people on the planet, yet even if just for a short moment Dean and Dorothy (two of Maptia’s co-founders) were the highest of humans in the world as they reached the summit of Mount Aconcagua. This thrilling, nail-biting story of their journey to the top will have you catching your breath as they reach the summit. Dean also deserves special credit for carrying his guitar up to Base Camp at 4,300m.

    “I carefully tied my boots, knowing that I could not take them off again until I had either made it or I had failed.”

    —Dean Fischer


    5 | With our Heads in the Clouds

    3 min read · By Jason Brewer · Read the full story on Maptia

    Many of us wish to travel with a child’s view on the world. To be filled with curiosity, to see the world around us without preconceptions, and to feel as if we are experiencing everything for the first time. Jason Brewer’s account of climbing up to the highest point in Texas with his 5-year-old son is a wonderful example of this. We challenge you to read his story through and not be left with a warm, fuzzy feeling and an ear-to-ear grin.

    “This would be my son’s toughest hike to date, but a challenge that he greeted with excitement, The Adventure Boys were back in action.”

    —Jason Brewer


    6 | Conquering Kilimanjaro

    5 min read · By Samantha Phelan · Read the full story on Maptia

    We mentioned in a previous post over on the Maptia Blog how our sense of time is often warped whilst travelling and we imagine that the five hours and 25 minutes it took Samantha Phelan to summit Kilimanjaro must have felt like an eternity. Sam’s story is a gripping account of how grit, determination, and a little adrenaline can get you through the toughest of times and help you achieve that which, at moments, seemed impossible.

    “It was undeniably one of mother nature’s best kept secrets; conjuring up emotional responses in you that you didn’t know you could conjure up!”

    —Samantha Phelan


    7 | Trekking Nepal’s Langtang Valley

    7 min read · By Kristen Zipperer · Read the full story on Maptia

    Leaving Kathmandu behind her, Kristen Zipperer fell down a rabbit hole and into a Tibetan wonderland filled with snowy cathedrals, ancient monasteries, and carefree yaks. Her story requires a slow read, you will first need to grasp the outline of the Langtang Valley in your mind, and then you will be able to appreciate the marvellous details that colour her journey.

    “Kyanjin is the last settlement of any kind at that end of the valley—beyond it lies wilderness and the Tibetan frontier.”

    —Kristen Zipperer


    8 | Dwarfed by Towering Peaks

    9 min read · By Colin Henderson · Read the full story on Maptia

    Not only will you be seduced by Colin Henderson’s glorious photography of the surreal Patagonian landscapes, this heart-in-mouth account of his expedition to find the finest view of the Fitz Roy Massive will have you gripped.

    “Perhaps it was the uncommon lack of wind and the resultant silence, or more likely my jangly nerves, but the further I walked into this deep glacial cirque the more the surroundings began to affect me.”

    —Colin Henderson


    9 | Snowed in at 5,000m

    13 min read · By Dorothy Sanders · Read the full story on Maptia

    Caught in the extremes of unpredictable weather, Dorothy and Dean (two of the co-founders at Maptia) spent nearly a week in the Cordón del Plata mountains building up their high altitude experience, sometimes in blazing sunshine, and at other times in a raging blizzard. Surrounded by towering peaks, snow-dusted and craggy, they were in true glacial country.

    “There was no wind in that moment, and in the stillness a great shining moon hung like a glowing orb in the sky, surrounded by thousands of stars. A shining king among his courtiers.”

    —Dorothy Sanders


    10 | Lost on the Roof of IndoChina

    9 min read · By Marc Surchat · Read the full story on Maptia

    No one ever said that hiking was meant to be easy, but Marc Surchat demonstrates real stoicism as he navigates through dense jungle with inaccurate maps and along abandoned trails. Dodging the fog in search of an unforgettable view and a thoroughly earned sense of personal accomplishment, Marc tells the tale of his expedition to the summit of Phan Xi Păng.

    “Mike Horn’s teaching had left a strong belief in me. Giving up had never been an option.”

    —Marc Surchat


    11 | Three Days in Yosemite

    3 min read · By Julian Bialowas · Read the full story on Maptia

    We were lost for words to describe these evocative, sun-tilted photos that Julian Bialowas took while hiking in Yosemite. That is until one of our community members coined the term ‘wondermazement’, and the elusive word which we had been grasping for materialised. Julian’s beautiful photos make us want to head for the hills with a tent, and seek that moment of stillness as early morning mists lift above valleys and peaks.

    “We slept atop mountains...”

    —Julian Bialowas


    12 | Vast Wilderness in the Great American SW

    5 min read · By Kat Carney · Read the full story on Maptia

    We had never seen an ‘entrenched meander’ before either, but it turns out that they can be rather spectacular. Kat Carney’s photo essay of vivid memories hiking in the wilderness of the Great American Southwest provide twelve wonderful reasons to explore what’s just around the bend.

    “The sun rising in the Grand Canyon was one of the coolest things I have ever the sun peeked around the corner, shining its first rays throughout the entire canyon.”

    —Kat Carney


    13 | Colorado’s 14ers—Pikes Peak

    8 min read · By Justin Wild · Read the full story on Maptia

    Justin Wild and his fiancé have embarked on a bold mission, to climb every single one of Colorado's peaks above 14,000 feet. Each peak presents its own unique challenges, scenery, and beauty. Join them on their journey as they climb their 22nd peak, with the tantalising smell of those famous Pikes Peak doughnuts spurring them on.

    “At about 13,200 ft, we take a rest near The Cirque, a 1,500-ft deep bowl that looks like it could hold the Moon.”

    —Justin Wild


    We hope that you enjoyed this collection of hiking adventures from the inaugural storytelling theme on Maptia—originally published over on the Maptia Blog. If you feel suitably inspired, please do tweet this post and @mention any mountain-loving friends who you think might also enjoy perusing these stories.

    For Huffington Post readers who would like the chance to become a founding storyteller on Maptia, drop us an email at with a 200-word snippet and a photo for the first story you would like to tell on Maptia, and we will shuffle your invite right to the front of the queue. To learn more about our vision and about storytelling on Maptia, take a look at our recent illustrated launch post and our about page.

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    It's true...many of us are pretty lousy at keeping up our New Year's resolutions. But this year, vow to stick to it and master something anything on your list.

    Here's what we're working towards in 2014...

    Work less, play harder.

    DON'T overpack.
    packed suitcase

    Overcome a fear. Any fear.
    bungee jumping

    Take at least one de-stressing break, even if it's only for a day.
    woman swinging in hammock

    Combine your talents, i.e. painting with a local charity that helps construct homes in a place you want to go.
    habitat for humanity

    Get lost.
    traveler walking city

    Vow to learn a little.
    travelers learning

    Take better pictures...and create better keepsakes of the moments.
    traveler taking pictures

    Start a conversation with a local.
    local talking to tourist

    Read something on the history of your destination before you get there.
    travel planning

    Stop being all Type A and let someone else handle the planning details (at least a few of them).
    travel planning

    Be spontaneous and open to straying from your itinerary.
    lost traveler

    Stop obsessing over Yelp reviews and going to the "best" place.
    locals restaurant

    Be nice and helpful to tourists...which, yes, contradicts everything we ever say about tourists.
    local directing tourists

    Travel within your own hometown.
    new yorker sightseeing

    Use all your vacation days and use them wisely. Take a buffer day to recuperate.
    vacation days

    Create a travel piggy bank and make a habit to add to it.
    piggy bank

    Pick out one specific location you've always wanted to go and research how to get there, save up and GO.
    travel planning

    Don't put off to tomorrow what you can book (and enjoy) today.

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    Minutes after landing in the South, I realized I was somewhere very, very different from California or New York. The air indoors was perfumed with fried chicken. The air outdoors felt humid and rich. People were... smiling. For no reason that I could see.

    For a few warm, smiley days, my eager (read: eager to party) hosts led me in the Southern way of life. The things they taught me (between beers) have made my real life all the better.

    1. It's ok to take a nap.
    On the whole, big-city dwellers measure success in productivity. Hours worked. The ability to maneuver our cars first onto the freeway or squish ourselves last onto the subway. Southerners, however, consider the day a success if it left them feeling fulfilled. We'd hate to think that it means leaving a task unaccomplished, but taking time to slow the hamster wheel of your mind is crucial for wellness. There's no shame in napping. And if that nap takes place in a porch hammock, all the better.

    2. It's nice to be conservative.
    Like when you wear a polo shirt to school instead of a tank top. Like when boys ask you out to dinner instead of back to their man cave. Like when you address the cashier with "ma'am" and not with "hey." The South adheres more closely to conservative, traditional social norms than most other parts of the country. Back home, I might feel a little embarrassed to admit that I prefer these behaviors to edgier ones that are the norm in other places. But in the South, they feel just right.

    3. Civic pride is personal pride.
    Southerners take their cities -- and the Southern symbols and Southern sports teams and Southern virtues that come with them -- seriously. In South Carolina, it's more common to see a car marked with the state's palmetto tree and crescent moon emblem than without one. And in New Orleans, Saints football players volunteer around the community. In the South, people act like they're in this together. Like they share some higher cause, even if it's just a state logo. The attitude leaves you feeling bizarrely confident and ready to tackle life, because you know your city is behind you.

    4. Fried okra is a vegetable.
    ...and so are fried onions. And so is cornbread. And chicken fried steak, grits, and hush puppies are totally passable entrée options. Southerners savor their comfort food-- they seem like they refuse to fret about the impact it'll have on their physique or their health. This philosophy, of course, may have its downsides. But it's also a comforting reminder to the quinoa-munching, juice-cleansing, yuppie rest of the nation that it's okay to follow our taste buds.

    5. History is cool.
    It sounds cliché, indeed. But there isn't much history on the other side of the country, where states are young and empty spans of land are developed into strip malls every day. It's a foreign concept to us Westerners that you can see Civil War cannons in Mississippi or casually cross Andrew Jackson's lawn on a typical day in Nashville. In the South, history isn't something you visit in a museum. It's on the streets, where you're forced to pay attention to it unless you want to feel like an ignorant dingbat.

    6. Country music is real music.
    It's just got so much heart. Which would cause you to think more: an Auto-Tuned ditty about "shakin' it in the club," or a ballad that explores disease, death, and moving on, all in the span of a chorus? In its finer moments, country music has forced me to gauge what's important in life, whether I felt like it or was merely subjected to the stereo of my friend's pickup truck.

    7. Being outside is kinda fun.
    In the South, Chacos are typical footwear, and fishing shirts complete an outfit. This is because Southern folk spend a disproportionate amount of time outdoors compared to the rest of the nation (official stats are unavailable, but I'm preeetty sure it's true). In the South, temperatures are warm and the trees stay green forever. There are ponds and creeks and muddy swamps, and you have to drive past them to get to your dinner destination. People make a sport of catching fireflies. Heck, some people even make their living on a farm. It only takes a few days in the Southern pattern of life before you start wishing nature were more present in your own.

    8. Hospitality is a virtue.
    In my experience, the stereotype is true: Southern people are more apt to hold open doors, comp your beers, and ignite conversation in the middle of the supermarket. After a few of these random acts of kindness, I decided I should make a more conscious effort to bring that charming culture into my less-hospitable hometown, even though it's not as natural there. Nothing beats the feeling when somebody improves your day without expecting anything in return. And in the South, that's kinda every day.

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    LONDON (AP) — Scores of flights were delayed or canceled at Britain's busiest airports Saturday because of a technical problem at a main air traffic control center.

    National Air Traffic Service, which controls the crowded airspace over England, said it was having a problem switching between nighttime and busier daytime operations at its control center in Swanwick, southern England. Spokeswoman Juliet Kennedy said the glitch was preventing staff opening new control positions to deal with busier daytime traffic, meaning the service was struggling to handle the volume of flights.

    "At the moment we don't know when we will be able to rectify the problem," she told the BBC.

    The Association of British Travel Agents said the trouble was unlikely to be resolved before 2 p.m. (1400 GMT, 9 a.m. EST).

    Heathrow Airport — Europe's busiest — had delays of an hour or more on many morning departures, and canceled several dozen short-haul flights to destinations such as Nice, France; Milan; and Istanbul.

    London's Stansted airport said departing flights were delayed between 30 minutes and two hours because of restrictions on air space and the flow of planes. Gatwick airport said 20 percent of flights were being delayed.

    Spillover delays were reported across Britain and at Dublin airport in Ireland.

    The air traffic service normally handles up to 6,000 arriving and departing flights a day from its bases at Swanwick and at Prestwick in Scotland.

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    When the hikers are away, the bears will play.

    Those who know the Alberta Rockies, and who have a fear of bears, know to stay away from Waterton Lakes National Park.

    But for those who crave the slow rhythm of life in the mountains, epic views and better-than-average chances of spotting the apex predators of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the park has few equals.

    And a new video posted recently by Parks Canada shows exactly why. There are a lot of bruins in them mountains.

    Grizzlies and black bears are often seen on meadows, on lake shores or next to roads.

    Now, a video shot by one of the park's wildlife cameras shows just how prolific the large animals are in Waterton's backcountry.

    The time lapse footage was taken over a period of four months after much of the park's backcountry was closed to humans due to damage sustained during the June flood.

    The lack of human activity along one particular trail prompted human-weary bears to slowly venture into the trails, turning the mountain paths into virtual bruin highways.

    Elk, lynx and a wolverine all make an appearance. But it's the abundant quantity of bears that is the highlight of the video.

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    It's Christmastime in Vancouver. And though it rarely snows in the city, a series of colorful light displays may yet turn it into a winter wonderland.

    Here's a list of light attractions that are not to be missed this holiday season.

    Bright Nights in Stanley Park

    The Stanley Park Miniature Train and its surrounding area become settings for kitschy, kid-friendly sets featuring Scrooge McDuck, the "Peanuts" gang and the citizens of Whoville. The Christmas Train provides even more holiday entertainment, taking visitors through luminous sights that will excite children and adults alike. Bright Nights runs until Jan. 5, 2014.

    Canyon Lights at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park

    Afraid of heights? This is a great reason to get over it. North Vancouver's freaky bridge and its surrounding park play host to a gorgeous light display in the heart of nature, with lights adorning the bridge, forest trails and the Cliffwalk, an attraction that takes visitors around trees and along a granite wall. Organizers have a special treat in store this year: a 46.4-metre Douglas fir adorned in lights, the tallest living Christmas tree in the world! Partial proceeds will benefit the B.C. Professional Firefighters' Burn Fund. Canyon Lights runs until Jan. 4, 2014.

    Check out Christmas light displays in Vancouver from past years. The story continues below the slideshow:

    Carol Ships Parade of Lights

    A tradition that has lasted 50 years, the Parade of Lights sees sailors set their boats aglow in thousands of bright bulbs before sailing through areas such as False Creek, Burrard Inlet, Coal Harbour and Deep Cove. As many as 50 ships with over 100,000 lights have taken part in past years. You can even book cruises on the ships or, if you don't feel so inclined, take part in shoreside events. The last ships sail on Dec. 23.

    Christmas at Canada Place

    Canada Place is staking its claim as ground zero for downtown holiday entertainment as it hosts a series of activities throughout December. The waterfront venue will host a skating rink with a Northern Lights theme, tours of the Woodward's windows and a holiday train. Christmas at Canada Place runs until Dec. 31.

    Christmas at FlyOver Canada

    Canada Place's flight simulator is hosting a special ride this holiday, inviting visitors to help Santa Claus find Rudolph and save Christmas! Guests will also enjoy a special Christmas Plaza with live music, Santa's Arctic Art Workshop with ice carving demonstrations, and Leonida's Chocolate Cafe and Swiss Style Nuts. FlyOver Canada's Christmas ride runs until Jan. 5, 2014.

    Elm Grove at English Bay

    The Vancouver Parks Board has decked out a massive tree at Beach Avenue and Bidwell Street with 12,000 cascading SLED lights (seasonal light emitting diodes) that look like electrified moss. The tree remains lit until Jan. 7, 2014.

    Festival of Lights at VanDusen Botanical Garden

    Over a million twinkling lights are expected to brighten the many plants and trees at VanDusen Botanical Garden. The festival will host two nightly sessions of Dancing Lights at Livingstone Lake, in which an elaborate display brightens and darkens to the rhythm of Christmas music, while children can enjoy photos with Santa against a background of colourful bulbs. Music artists including The Christmas Revelers and the VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir will entertain guests at the festival's performance stage. The Festival of Lights runs from Dec. 11 to Jan. 4, 2014.

    Giant Sequoia in George Wainborn Park

    The parks board has decorated this Yaletown tree in 5,000 white lights, similar to the Elm Grove in English Bay. You'll find it lit up on False Creek at the foot of Richards Street until Jan. 7, 2014.

    Lights of Hope at St. Paul's Hospital

    Every year, the St. Paul's Hospital Foundation covers the building's brick exterior with stars and strings of light as a fundraising event . Donors who contribute $1,000 have their names listed in the courtyard, while the names of people who donate at least $2,500 are lit up in stars on the side of the building. Lights of Hope runs until Jan. 6, 2014.

    Lost Lagoon Fountain

    In the summer, it's a fountain. In the winter, it becomes a display that's pretty enough to distract drivers as they head into Stanley Park. The Vancouver Parks Board has lit up the fountain with 6,000 multi-coloured SLED lights that reflect beautifully off the water when it's dark out. The Lost Lagoon Fountain will remain lit until Jan. 7, 2014.

    Luminescence at the Vancouver Aquarium

    Sea creatures at the Vancouver Aquarium have been looped into the holidays as part of Luminescence, an exhibit that sets anemones, cuttlefish, corals and jellyfish all aglow. The event features a floor-to-ceiling installation that shows what happens in the ocean after the sun sets, Jelly Swarm, an installation that shows jellyfish lit up by LED lights, and, of course, the electric eel-powered Christmas tree, a longtime crowd favourite. Luminescence runs until Jan. 22, 2014.

    Tree Lighting Celebration at Jack Poole Plaza

    Jack Poole Plaza at the Vancouver Convention Centre plays host to a beautiful tree lighting celebration that will see the 50-foot Vancouver Christmas Tree lit up alongside three smaller ones near the Olympic Cauldron. The trees will remain lit from Dec. 6 through Jan. 3, 2014.

    Trinity Street Christmas Light Festival

    Every year, residents of 2400 to 2900 Trinity Street turn their East Vancouver community into a parade of lights as neighbours compete for the titles of best house and best block. Visitors vote for their favourite houses as they walk along the route, while donations are collected for Harbourview Daycare and St. James Cottage Hospice. The festival runs until Jan. 5, 2014.

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    This week's Moment of Travel Zen comes to us from Alessandro Tomassetti. Of his trip to Argentina he says:

    Two years ago I traveled around the world and snapped pictures and blogged all along the way. There were zen moments in all the countries I visited but one that stands out was during a hike to the Upsala glacier in El Calafate, Argentina. The wind was so strong and loud that I couldn’t hear any of the other hikers so most of the hike was about the jaw-dropping beauty and my own thoughts. The shades of blue seen in the glacial lakes, the sky and the ice itself, were like nothing I had encountered before: pure, clear and saturated. The clouds, which were being moved around by the winds, ranged from wispy and white to grey and angry, and the terrain itself changed from lush green to a rainbow of natural stone.

    From lively cities like Buenos Aires to vast national parks there's no shortage of adventure in Argentina. A journey to Patagonia or Iguazú National Park is sure to be a zen, altering experience.

    Where have you traveled for a moment of zen? Email with your travel zen or submit below!

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