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500 Extraordinary Islands

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500 extraordinary islands

G R E E N L A N D
Beaufort Sea Baffin Bay

vi Da i tra sS t

a nm De

it Stra rk

Hudson Bay Gulf of Alaska
Vancouver Portland

C A N A D A
Calgary
Winnipeg

Newfoundland
Quebec

Minneapolis

UNITED STATES
San Francisco Los Angeles San Diego Phoenix Dallas

Ottawa Montreal ChicagoDetroitToronto Boston New York OF AMERICA Philadelphia Washington DC St. Louis Atlanta New Orleans

Houston Monterrey

NORTH AT L A N T I C OCEAN

MEXICO
Guadalajara Mexico City

Gulf of Mexico

Miami

Havana CUBA

GUATEMALA HONDURAS b e a n Sea EL SALVADOR NICARAGUA
Managua

BAHAMAS DOMINICAN REPUBLIC JAMAICA San Juan HAITI BELIZE C a r PUERTO RICO ib
TRINIDAD &

Caracas N TOBAGO A COSTA RICA IA M PANAMA VENEZUELA UYANRINA H GU C U G Medellín

A

PAC I F I C OCEAN

Galapagos Islands

COLOMBIA ECUADOR

Bogotá Cali

S

FR

EN

Belém Recife

Lima

BR A Z I L
PERU
La Paz Brasélia Salvador Belo Horizonte Rio de Janeiro ~ Sao Paulo

BOLIVIA

PARAGUAY
CHILE
Cordoba Santiago

Pôrto Alegre

URUGUAY
Montevideo Buenos Aires

ARGENTINA

FALKLAND/MALVINAS ISLANDS

South Georgia

extraordinary islands 1st Edition

500

By Julie Duchaine, Holly Hughes, Alexis Lipsitz Flippin, and Sylvie Murphy

Contents
Chapter 1 Beachcomber Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 Aquatic Playgrounds 2 Island Hopping the Turks & Caicos: Barefoot Luxury 12 Life’s a Beach 14 Unvarnished & Unspoiled 21 Sailing Along 32 Island Hopping The Bahamas Out Islands: Out on the Water 36 Diving’s the Thing 38 Storied Sand & Surf 45 Archipelagos & Atolls 51 Chapter 2 Garden Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .57 Beautiful Bounty 58 Island Hopping the Florida Keys: Stringing the Pearls 62 Blooming Wonders 64 Wet & Wild 68 Island Hopping the Apostle Islands: Return to the Wild 78 Manicured Gardens 81 Lush Life 85 Chapter 3 Wildlife Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .93 Unique Species 94 Island Hopping the Galápagos Islands: Intimate Encounters with Extraordinary Creatures 100 Birding Meccas 103 Sea Life 116 Run Wild, Run Free 125 Island Reserves 130 Island Hopping the Maldives: The Sunny Side 138 Chapter 4 Island Escapes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .144 City Getaways 145 Island Hopping the Faroe Islands: Nordic Retreats 152 Wild Things 154

Great Outdoors Untouched Retreats Beautiful Beaches Island Hopping the Seychelles: Indian Ocean Castaways Islands to Get Stranded On Places of Worship

158 164 174 176 184 189

Chapter 5 Treasure Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .194 American Classics 195 Jewels of the South Seas 200 Priceless Places 205 Island Hopping the Lofoten Islands: Midnight Magic 206 Colonial Outposts 215 Civilization Unplugged 224 One of a Kind 227 Island Hopping the Shetland Islands: The Furthest Isles 234 Natural Wonders 236 Chapter 6 Pleasure Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .245 Party Animals 246 Island Hopping St. Vincent & the Grenadines: Trim the Sails 252 The Aristocrats 255 Beach Bums with Culture 263 Laid-Back Rhythms 269 Island Hopping the Whitsunday Islands: Turquoise Bliss 272 Chapter 7 Leisure Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .277 Take a Hike 278 The Sporting Life 283 Amphibious Attractions 287 Island Hopping Around the Champlain Islands: Vermont’s West Coast 288 Out & About 299 The Caribbean Unplugged 308 Remote Adventures 314 Island Hopping the San Juan Islands: Orcas & Evergreens 316

Chapter 8 Islands of History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .323 Myth & Legend 324 Island Hopping the Dalmatian Coast Islands: Nature & History on Display 331 War & Intrigue 332 Otherworldly Landscapes 348 Exploration 349 Pirates 358 Prisons 364 Island Hopping the Orkney Islands: 1,000 Years of History 370 Pilgrims 372 Famous Islanders 378 Chapter 9 Islands of Mystery . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .387 Ancient Marvels 388 Island Hopping on Lake Titicaca: Jewels in the Crown 392 Otherworldly Landscapes 397 Spiritual Centers 402 Historic Haunts 407 Island Hopping the Marquesas: Mystical Spires in the South Seas 408 Chapter 10 Island Cities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .413 Capitals 414 Showcases 419 Island Hopping Around the Venetian Lagoon: Watery Escapes from La Serenissima 420

Chapter 11 City Islands . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .429 Magnets 430 Parks 447 Island Hopping the Aeolian Islands: La Vita Lava 454 Enclaves 458 Chapter 12 Island Nations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .470 Archipelagos 471 Going It Alone 476 Island Hopping the Cape Verde Islands: Land of Mountains, Desert & Sea 482 Preserving the Old Ways 484 Hot Spots 489 Chapter 13 Ends of the Earth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .494 Walk with the Animals 495 Island Hopping the Aleutian Islands: North to Alaska 500 Remarkable Ecosystems 503 Historic Frontiers 507 Island Hopping the Cook Islands: Truly Cast Away 512 Real Adventures 515

Geographical Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .521 Alphabetical Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .527

Published by:

Wiley Publishing, Inc.
111 River St. Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774 Copyright © 2010 Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise, except as permitted under Sections 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, 978/750-8400, fax 978/6468600. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, 201/7486011, fax 201/748-6008, or online at http://www.wiley.com/go/permissions. Wiley and the Wiley Publishing logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and/or its affiliates. Frommer’s is a trademark or registered trademark of Arthur Frommer. Used under license. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners. Wiley Publishing, Inc., is not associated with any product or vendor mentioned in this book. ISBN 978-0-470-50070-5 Editor: Jennifer Reilly Production Editor: Heather Wilcox Photo Editor: Cherie Cincilla (with special thanks to Susan Barnes) Interior book design: Melissa Auciello-Brogan Production by Wiley Indianapolis Composition Services Front cover photo: France, Normandy: Le Mont Saint Michel with reflection in water © Nagelestock.com/Alamy Images Back cover photos: Moai on Easter Island, Chile © Russell Kord/Alamy Images; Giant tortoise on the Galápagos © Blickwinkel/Schmidbauer/Alamy Images; Manhattan, New York © Scott Murphy/Ambient Images/PhotoLibrary; Aitutaki Atoll, Cook Islands © Greg Balfour Evans/Alamy Images For information on our other products and services or to obtain technical support, please contact our Customer Care Department within the U.S. at 877/762-2974, outside the U.S. at 317/572-3993 or fax 317/572-4002. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic formats. Manufactured in the United States of America 5 4 3 2 1

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About the Authors
Julie Duchaine has been a freelance writer for the past 25 years. Most recently, she contributed to Frommer’s 500 Places to See Before They Disappear, Frommer’s 500 Places for Food & Wine Lovers, and Frommer’s 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up. She lives in Milwaukee. Holly Hughes has traveled the globe as an editor and writer. A former executive editor of Fodor’s Travel Publications, she edits the annual Best Food Writing anthology and is the author of the bestselling 500 Places to Take Your Kids Before They Grow Up, 500 Places to See Before They Disappear, 500 Places for Food & Wine Lovers, and Frommer’s New York City with Kids. She has also written fiction for middle graders. New York City makes a convenient jumping-off place for her travels with her three children and husband. Alexis Lipsitz Flippin is a writer and editor who lives in New York City. She is the author of Frommer’s New York City with Kids, Frommer’s New York Day by Day, Frommer’s Portable Turks & Caicos, and Frommer’s Portable St. Maarten/St. Martin, Anguilla & St. Barts. Sylvie Murphy has lived and worked in Rome as a travel writer and travel guide and currently resides in Kansas City. She is also the author of Frommer’s Day by Day Rome and a contributor to Pauline Frommer’s Italy.

Acknowledgments
Julie Duchaine would like to thank her editor, Jennifer Reilly, for her clear, helpful directions and good cheer. It helped a great deal in writing these reviews. Holly Hughes thanks her family for crossing every bridge and hopping on every ferry with her. She’s grateful to all the other Frommer’s writers who shared their own favorite islands—what a great worldwide team you are! And she sends a million thanks to her editor, Jennifer Reilly, for steering this complicated yacht safely into harbor. Alexis Lipsitz Flippin says she could not have completed this fascinating and challenging assignment were it not for the unerring good sense, unflagging support, utter graciousness, and reassuring serenity of her editor, Jennifer Reilly. She is a dream to work for. Thanks, too, to her husband, Royce, for his unflagging support. Sylvie Murphy would like to thank all her island-junkie friends and family for their extraordinarily helpful tips and insights.

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An Invitation to the Reader
In researching this book, we discovered many wonderful places. We’re sure you’ll find others. Please tell us about them so we can share the information with your fellow travelers in upcoming editions. If you were disappointed with a recommendation, we’d love to know that too. Please write to: Frommer’s 500 Extraordinary Islands, 1st Edition Wiley Publishing, Inc. • 111 River St. • Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774

An Additional Note
Please be advised that travel information is subject to change at any time—and this is especially true of prices. We therefore suggest that you write or call ahead for confirmation when making your travel plans. The authors, editors, and publisher cannot be held responsible for the experiences of readers while traveling. Your safety is important to us, however, so we encourage you to stay alert and be aware of your surroundings. Keep a close eye on cameras, purses, and wallets, all favorite targets of thieves and pickpockets.

Frommer’s Icons
We use six feature icons to help you quickly find the information you’re looking for. At the end of each review, look for: Where to get more information

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Nearest airport Nearest boat service/port Nearest train station Driving information Recommended hotels

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Frommers.com
Now that you have this guidebook to help you plan a great trip, visit our website at www. frommers.com for additional travel information on more than 4,000 destinations. We update features regularly to give you instant access to the most current trip-planning information available. At Frommers.com, you’ll find scoops on the best airfares, lodging rates, and car-rental bargains. You can even book your travel online through our reliable travel booking partners. Other popular features include: • • • • • • Online updates of our most popular guidebooks Vacation sweepstakes and contest giveaways Newsletters highlighting the hottest travel trends Podcasts, interactive maps, and up-to-the-minute events listings Opinionated blog entries by Arthur Frommer himself Online travel message boards with featured travel discussions

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About This Book
That Robinson Crusoe fantasy runs deep. Its perpetual appeal lies behind the success of movies and TV shows from South Pacific to Swiss Family Robinson to Castaway, Gilligan’s Island to Lost. The tried-and-true chat-show quiz—“What five books (or five CDs, or five people) would you take if you were stranded on a desert island?”—causes us all to mentally drift off for a moment, plotting our getaway. So what is it about islands that makes them so intriguing? Whether it’s a tropical speck in the midst of a vast ocean, or a tree-shrouded hummock in the river of a great city, it’s still somehow set apart, unique, proud, lonely, even mysterious. The waters around it ineffably define it, in a way that no plot of mainland can be defined. And because effort is required to get there—whether it’s simply driving across a bridge or chartering a private plane—once you’ve reached its shores, you know you’re somewhere different.

Why These Islands?
As with other books in this 500 Places series, 500 Extraordinary Islands began to take shape as a sort of life list—how many islands have you been to, and which have you always dreamed of seeing? When we four writers began this project, we all had our favorite islands to nominate. In some cases, we had to draw straws to decide who’d get the honor of writing about certain beloved places. But as our final list evolved—500 is a lot of islands, but there were thousands of others we might have included—we found ourselves broadening the definition, expanding our concept of what makes an island alluring. After all, even a peninsula can qualify as an island, if it still feels cut off from the land to which it is technically attached, if only at low tide. So many different forces gave birth to these islands—some are the protruding tops of tropical coral reefs or the geothermal peaks of volcanoes, while others were rockcarved by glaciers or softly piled-up silt and sand. Some are entirely man-made; on others, nature now runs wild over ancient relics of habitation. An entire country—even a continent, like Antarctica—can be considered an island if its character has been defined by its strategic isolation. (Great Britain and Australia tempted us, but we knew we couldn’t cover them fairly in a one-page write-up—so we compensated by covering dozens of their outlying islands, fascinating in their own right.) Does an archipelago qualify as a single destination (like the Philippines) or should we treat its various islands separately (as we did with Indonesia)? In compiling our list, we ended up trusting our travelers’ instinct—what routes are best developed, and what do most visitors go there for? We debated how to include New Zealand, Japan, and Greece, nations composed of several large islands, each with its own history and character and natural beauty. Rather than give their various islands short shrift, we’ve sprinkled them liberally throughout the book. Our main criterion was simple: We wanted to offer the 500 islands you’d most want to visit—or perhaps stay on forever.

How This Book Is Organized
Traditional travel guides are usually arranged geographically—but this is no traditional travel guide. As a traveler, you already know what aspects of a destination you’re most interested in. That’s why we’ve organized this book to showcase each island’s most compelling reason to visit (although certain islands could have fit into any of several chapters). The first chapter, “Beachcomber Islands,” is for travelers who always want to chalk up some sun worshiping, snorkeling, and diving. If you find yourself drawn instead to the lush greenery behind the beach, or the rolling farmlands at the island’s heart, then the next chapter, “Garden Islands,” is for you. Nature lovers who bring their binoculars and cameras

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on vacation, hoping to spot native birds and animals, should pore over “Wildlife Islands,” a rich trove of places where island isolation has allowed endemic species to flourish. Island isolation is also the key to “Island Escapes”—that chapter highlights islands that are especially quiet, laid-back, relaxing, and off the beaten track. “Treasure Islands” is devoted to island jewels that offer unique, one-of-a-kind qualities. “Pleasure Islands” covers sybaritic spots where nightlife and creature comforts rule; “Leisure Islands” focuses on destinations geared for active travelers, who prime their vacations with sports and outdoor adventures. “Islands of History” looks at islands with a vivid heritage, from bloody battles to pirate raids to literary associations. “Islands of Mystery” are just that— places with a slightly spooky or surreal aura, created by natural phenomena, baffling history, spiritual associations, or native myths. “Island Cities” celebrates bustling modern cities that are set entirely on islands, whereas “City Islands” looks at island refuges tucked away within various metropolitan areas. “Island Nations” celebrates several self-contained island countries whose history has been defined by their island status. The last chapter, “Ends of the Earth,” explores especially remote destinations—hard to get to, but well worth the effort. Threaded throughout the book, you’ll also find our Island Hopping features—overviews of island chains well worth skipping around. Why content yourself with the traditional entry point when the chain’s real charm may lie on its smaller, more remote islands? When it comes time to plan your vacation, flip to the geographic index at the end of the book—that’ll help you locate all the islands in geographic proximity to your chosen destination.

A Note on Transport, Tours & Hotels
By definition, an island requires some extra effort to get to. An essential element of every island write-up, therefore, is information on how to reach the place—whether you drive across a bridge, take a ferry or excursion boat, rent a sailboat or kayak, or fly into an island airport. (Sometimes the trip is half the fun!) In some more far-flung cases, tour operators provide the most reliable means of reaching the island, and we’ve added that information where applicable. Many islands are also highly seasonal in nature, cut off by rough water or harsh weather at certain times of year, all hotels and attractions shut up tight, ferry services closed down. We’ve made special note when that is the case. Note that phone numbers listed begin with international dialing codes—if you’re dialing from within that country, drop the first set of numbers and add 0 before the regional dialing code. (In some cases, a 0 may need to be added or deleted before the regional dialing code when dialing from abroad.) U.S. and Canadian numbers, however, don’t list the international prefix, which is 1. At the end of every write-up, you’ll also find a couple of brief recommendations of places to stay while visiting that island. (For more choices and detailed information, consult the corresponding Frommer’s guide or www.frommers.com for that destination.) In some cases, it may be the only hotel on that island; in others where there are no lodgings, the best we could do was to suggest a hotel near the ferry docks or bridge. Hotel rates are noted in three price ranges—$$$ (expensive), $$ (moderate), and $ (inexpensive)—but that’s relative to local hotel rates, which vary wildly around the world. (A $125-per-night motel room in Indonesia would be extravagant, but you’d be lucky to find something minimally decent for that rate in Manhattan.) In the timehonored Frommer’s tradition, we list affordable options when available—but when it comes to islands, that’s often trumped by the law of supply and demand. If you want to stay on certain islands, you’ll have to pay for the privilege. Of course, on other islands the only options are humble indeed—you won’t pay much, but don’t expect luxury!

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1 Beachcomber Islands
Aquatic Playgrounds . . . 2 Life’s a Beach . . . 14 Unvarnished & Unspoiled . . . 21 Sailing Along . . . 32 Diving’s the Thing . . . 38 Storied Sand & Surf . . . 45 Archipelagos & Atolls . . . 51

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Aquatic Playgrounds

1

Fraser Island
Where Sand Is King
Australia
Sand is just sand, right? Well, Fraser Island may change your mind about that. Lying just south of the Great Barrier Reef, this is the world’s biggest sand island, an ecological marvel where ancient eucalyptus rainforest actually grows out of dunes up to 240m (787 ft.) high. You’d expect it to have beaches, but to have an uninterrupted surf-foamed Pacific beach running the length of the island for 120km (75 miles)—now that’s something special. Only problem is . . . you can’t swim there. The currents offshore are just too strong, and the shark population is just too, well, sharky. But there’s an easy way around that: Go inland, where Fraser Island offers so many places to swim, it’s like nature’s biggest water park. Set into the sand dunes of Fraser Island are more than 100 little freshwater lakes, ringed with dazzling white sand that’s pure silica—whiter sand than the big Pacific beach, in fact. Some, like brilliant blue Lake McKenzie, sprang up when water filled hardened hollows in the dunes; others, like emerald-green Lake Wabby, were created when shifting dunes dammed up a stream. Shallow, swift-flowing Eli Creek is as much fun as a lazy river ride—wade up the creek for a mile or two and then let the current carry you back down. You should, of course, spend some time on 75-Mile Beach—it’s actually a highway you can drive along with a fourwheel-drive vehicle (the only cars allowed

Previous page: Cape Hatteras beach. Above: Fraser Island.

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KOH PHUKET on this island). A rusted wrecked luxury steamship, the Maheno, sits right on the beach, offering a rare chance for nondivers to see a shipwreck up close; just north of the wreck loom gorgeous erosionsculpted ocher cliffs called the Cathedrals. At the northern end of the beach, you can dip into the ocean in the spalike bubbling waters of the Champagne Pools (also called the Aquarium for their tide-pool marine life), shallow pockets of soft sand protected from the waves by a natural rock barrier. With no towns and few facilities apart from low-profile ecotourism resorts, Fraser Island has been maintained as a nofrills destination for folks who love wildlife better than the wild life. It’s a place for camping out, bird-watching, and bush walking through eucalyptus woods and low-lying “wallum” heaths that offer a spectacular wildflower display every spring and summer. Its fringing wetlands feature pristine mangrove colonies and sea-grass beds, where dugongs and swamp wallabies thrive. And from August to October, Fraser Island is one of Australia’s best sites for seeing humpback whales returning to Antarctica with their calves in tow (book whale-watching tours, as well as dolphin- or manateespotting tours, from local resorts). Dingoes even run wild here, one of the purest populations anywhere—what’s more Australian than that? —HH Tourist information, 262 Urraween Rd., Hervey Bay (& 61/7/4215 9855 in Australia, or 1800/811 728; www.frasercoast holidays.info), or www.fraserisland.net.

( Hervey Bay (15km/9 ⁄ miles).
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45 min. by catamaran or barge from Hervey Bay.

$$ Fraser Island Backpackers YHA, Happy Valley (& 61/7/4127 9144; www.fraserislandco.com.au). $$$ Kingfisher Bay Resort, West Coast (& 61/7/ 4120 3333, or 1800/072 555 in Australia; www.kingfisherbay.com).

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Aquatic Playgrounds

Koh Phuket
Pearl of the Andaman Coast
Thailand
This classic volcanic island not only has beaches but also has fabulous views of beaches—and of shimmering turquoise seas and emerald green hills dotting the horizon. Before Phuket was devastated by the tsunami that struck Indonesia on December 26, 2004, the beautiful island province of Phuket (pronounced Poo-get), on the Andaman Coast of Thailand, enjoyed a bubbling tourism market drawn to its stunning beaches, balmy Indian Ocean seas, and mellow vibe. In fact, during high season, the island’s prime beaches were packed with holiday revelers (and some of the island towns, like Patong, took on a certain seedy overdevelopment), and Thailand’s largest island quickly went from a hideaway of the beach-loving cognoscenti to the country’s leading holiday destination. Then the tsunami struck, killing some 7,000 people in Thailand and virtually wiping out resorts on Phuket’s beautiful west coast. Today this island has rebounded spectacularly from the catastrophe, with most of the destroyed properties rebuilt and new luxury resorts rising up all over the island. The seas are clear, and underwater

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS coral gardens are reputedly back to pretsunami splendor (fishermen even report spotting large schools of fish they haven’t seen for years). Phuket is directly connected to the Thailand mainland at the island’s northern tip by the Sarasin Bridge. Renting a car is the best way to see the island, but driving the cliff-hugging roads on hairpin turns can be heart-stopping—on the roads in Phuket, anything goes. With a car, you can beach-hop the west coast and stop in at Phuket Town to shop and see colonial mansions built by the moneyed set when the island economy revolved around tin and rubber production. You can head to the island’s last rainforest, located in the Khao Phra Thaw Royal Wildlife Reserve. Here you can hike and stand beneath waterfalls and perhaps spot the bloom of the rare Rafflesia—the “corpse flower”—which looks and smells like rotting flesh. The island’s west coast offers the most cinematically beautiful palm-fringed beaches, many of which have starred in such Hollywood films as The Beach, Rescue Dawn, and The Man with the Golden Gun. Kata and Karon, on the island’s southwest coast, are two of Phuket’s finest beaches. Just north of Patong, Kamala Bay, Surin Beach, and Bang Thao Beach have secluded resorts on smashing beaches for those who want to hit the action in Patong but don’t want to sleep there. North of the main resort areas, Nai Yang, part of Sirinat National Park, has few facilities but a fantastic beach fringed with casuarina pines. A coral reef just offshore makes for great snorkeling. You can participate in just about any watersports on the island, but the diving around Phuket is particularly world-class. Fantasea Divers (& 66/7628-1388; www.fantasea.net) offers dive packages and PADI certification courses in addition to full-day dives around Phuket. Scuba Cat, in Patong (& 66/7629-3120; www. scubacat.com), offers a full range of trips for anyone from beginner to expert. The snorkeling is great on Phuket, too, with right-off-the-beach opportunities at places like Nai Harn Beach and Relax Bay. You’ll have no trouble finding a viewing spot that offers cozy seating and sundowners to watch the red-tinged sun melt into the darkening sea. Of course, if you’re after more bustling nightlife, head to the 3km (13⁄4-mile) beachside strip at Patong. Lit up like a seedy Las Vegas in miniature, it’s got bars, nightclubs, discos, malls, and such familiar Western chains as Starbucks. It also has hundreds of “hostess” bars, so you may want to take the family elsewhere. —AF Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), 191 Klang Rd., Phuket Town (& 66/ 7621-2213; www.tourismthailand.org).

( Phuket International Airport.

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$$ Indigo Pearl Resort, Nai Yang Beach and National Park (& 66/76327006; www.indigo-pearl.com). $$$ Le Royal Meridien Phuket Yacht Club, 23/3 Viset Rd. (& 800/225-5843 in the U.S. and Canada; www.lemeridien.com).

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THE LIDO DI VENEZIA

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Aquatic Playgrounds

The Lido di Venezia
The Lido Shuffle
Italy
Yes, Venice itself is an island, or rather a huddled mass of islands. There’s water everywhere. Nevertheless, when the Venetians want a day by the sea, they head to another island: the Lido. While some adventurous tourists make it out to the Venetian lagoon’s other islands (p. 420), very few opt to spend their precious days in Venice at the local beach. If you’re traveling in the summer, however, know that Venice can get mercilessly muggy and few hotels offer swimming pools. With kids in tow on my last visit, I knew we needed to include a beach day in our vacation. The Lido was the perfect solution. Centuries ago, the Doge’s navy sailed out from this long, thin barrier island, which separates the lagoon from the Gulf of Venice, an arm of the Adriatic Sea. Nowadays it’s easily reached by the ACTV waterbus—there’s a direct boat from the train station (#35), though the #1 vaporetto also sails over once it’s finished cruising the Grand Canal. The lagoon side of the island is traced by a shady promenade with superb Venice views, while a strip of beach runs along the 18km-long (11-mile) gulf front; they’re linked by the Gran Viale, which leads from the waterbus landing to the beach. Facing the sea across palm-lined Lungomare Marconi, you’ll find two sister bastions of old-world resort elegance, the Hotel des Bains and the Westin Excelsior; each has its own private beach, a Riviera-style strand with deck chairs and cabanas. (Visconti’s classic film of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice was filmed at the Hotel des Bains and its beach.) The more egalitarian public parts of the Lido beach (along Lungomare G. D’Annunzio) are more of a family hangout, though you can expect to see a few topless sunbathers and men in incredibly skimpy Speedos. (And there were my boys in their baggy surfer jams.) The broad strip of finegrained golden sand was convivially crowded, so we could combine sunbathing with people-watching. Protected by a system of outlying dikes, the waters lapping the beach are calm and shallow, great for youngsters (our youngest was only 4 at the time), and almost ridiculously warm, practically like a bathtub. The bottom’s a little sludgy, but blessedly free of the rocks or sharp shells that make wading a problem in the New England waters we were used to. During the Venice Film Festival every September, the Lido is a hot spot, thanks to the 1930s modernist Palazzo del Cinema, and the adjacent Art Deco Casino, which has become a secondary venue since it closed for gambling in 1999. —HH Tourist information, Fondamente San Lorenzo (& 39/041/5298711; www. turismovenezia.it).

( Aeroporto Marco Polo.
$$$ Locanda Ai Santi Apostoli, Strada Nuova, Cannaregio (& 39/041/ 5212612; www.locandasantiapostoli. com). $$ Pensione Accademia, Fondamenta Bollani, Dorsoduro (& 39/041/ 5210188; www.pensioneaccademia.it).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Aquatic Playgrounds

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Majorca
Vamos a la Playa
Balearic Islands, Spain
The most recreationally tricked-out of Spain’s playground Balearic islands, Majorca is also the largest and most popular of the archipelago. With a holiday atmosphere that lasts almost all year and fun beachy things to do for all ages and tastes, Majorca has much more to offer the active traveler than the one-trick-pony party isle of Ibiza or the tiny, trendy . getaway of Formentera Majorca (note that the island’s name is just as often spelled “Mallorca,” which is the Catalan version—double L or single J in the middle, it’s the same place) holds the dubious distinction of being one of the global “pioneers” of package tourism. In the 1950s, droves of sun-starved Brits and Germans began streaming in on charter flights, and the trend has never really let up. Majorca remains the no-brainer beach getaway for much of northern Europe. When chalky-white, soon-to-be-lobstertoned mainlanders take over the shores of Majorca every summer—and the situation is most extreme in August—Majorca can cease to feel like a place with any kind of cultural identity. However, that’s typical of many sunny Mediterranean locales— Spain’s Costa Brava and Costa del Sol aren’t much different. So what if the best beach real estate has been snapped up by sterile hotels that look like a tangle of beached cruise ships? That kind of in-yourface holiday atmosphere can be great fun as long as you know what to expect. Majorca still has plenty of unspoiled corners along its pretty coastline of pinebacked coves, and if you’re looking for a social holiday, you certainly won’t be disappointed. Majorca’s capital city of Palma is a vibrant and charming metropolis with a population of a quarter million, as well as splendid architecture and colorful street life. From June to August, Majorca’s northern and eastern coasts are packed to the gills, as that’s where the best beaches are. Party animals should head for El Arenal, south of Palma, where the revelry transitions seamlessly from the sand to enormous discos that feel like Oktoberfest-by-the-Sea. North of Palma, you’ll find almost exclusively Brits—and lots and lots of merriment—at Magaluf beach. Nearby Santa Ponça is where the Scottish and Irish go, and the resort’s Celtic-themed architecture is supposed to make them feel right at home. Puerto de Andratx is not yet overrun with the package tour set, so go now before the buildings and golf course that are underway here draw in the masses. Halfway up the northwest coast, the seaside town of Valdemossa is quieter (practically dead at night) and is where Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones have a house. Over on the east coast, Port d’Alcúdia is an altogether stress-free place, great for families. On any of these beaches, you’ll find the full complement of watersports, though jet skis remain the most fashionable waterborne thrill on Majorca. The flip side to the potentially chaotic coastal scene is that Majorca is blessed with the most dramatic interior of any of the Balearics, and exploring that splendid mountain scenery is a highlight that too few visitors take advantage of. You’ll need a car to get around even a fraction of the 3,640-sq.-km (1,405-sq.-mile) island. The Serra de Tramuntana mountain range dominates the northwest coast—take a day away from the sand to drive up to the island’s spectacular highest point, Puig Major (1,445m/4,741 ft.). Away from Palma and the coast is also

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GRAND BAHAMA ISLAND where the best self-catering villas and agriturismos are to be found, often in panoramic hilltop locations. —SM www.illesbalears.es or www.mallorca spain.net.

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From Barcelona (31⁄2 hr.), and from Valencia (4–7 hr.). Transmediterránea (& 34/90-245-46-45).

( Palma-Sont San Joan.

$$ Can Furios, Camí Vell Binibona, Binibona (& 34/97-151-57-51; www.canfurios.com). $$$ La Residencia, Son Canals, Deià (& 34/97-163-90-11; www. hotel-laresidencia.com).

Aquatic Playgrounds

Grand Bahama Island
Grand Vacationland
The Bahamas
On a map, Grand Bahama Island looks like a razor-tooth saw, its spindly fingers of sand stretching out into the deep blue sea. The history of this island is rife with tales of ships wrecking on the shallow reefs that trace the island’s 97km (60-mile) shoreline. Its very name, in fact, is derived from the Spanish phrase for “great shallows”: gran bajamer. From the air, the island is distinguished not so much by the landscape as by the seascape, flashing that sumptuous Bahamas blue, which segues from teal to turquoise in a flicker of sunlight. Here in The Bahamas the land and the sea are eternally intertwined. This coral reef archipelago is a low-lying chain of some 700 islands, 2,000 cays, and scores of rocky outcroppings dotted along the southern Atlantic Ocean—see p. 36, , and for info on more islands in the chain. The northernmost island of The Bahamas is Grand Bahama, just 84km (52 miles) due east of Palm Beach, Florida. This 155km (96-mile) island has all the best attributes of a typical Bahamas island (and some say a few of the worst, including overdevelopment, particularly in bustling Freeport, the island’s largest city). Largely flat, sandy scrubland, Grand Bahama has fine, snow-white beaches; calm, shallow coves perfect for swimming and snorkeling; some of the best scuba diving opportunities in the world (The internationally renowned diving school UNEXSO [www.unexso.com] is here); and a well-developed tourist infrastructure in the resort cities, with lots of hotels, restaurants, casinos, golf courses, and watersports operators. But dig deeper, and you’ll discover another, less-frenzied Grand Bahama, one that is rich in history. This was the island, after all, where slaves freed by the British in the pre–Civil War years settled and staked a claim. Many of the older towns on the island were founded by these slaves and still bear their names. Grand Bahama is also the site of some significant Lucayan archaeological sites from a couple of centuries before Columbus threaded these islands in 1492. A Lucayan Indian burial ground is located in the world’s largest underground system of limestone caves in what is now Lucayan National Park. Descendants of slaves still live on Grand Bahama; the Lucayans were wiped out by disease and hardships brought on by the European expeditions. Like many other Bahamian islands, Grand Bahama has plenty of quiet pleasures. On its East End are idyllic, unpopulated beaches with names like Fortune Beach and Barbary Beach. (Of course, if you prefer beaches with a little more action, head to the island’s southwest

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS coast to popular spots like Xanadu Beach.) In Lucayan National Park, on the island’s north coast, wooden walkways lead through a mangrove swamp to one of The Bahamas’ most beautiful beaches, Gold Rock Beach. It’s a stretch of sand that reaches far into clear, shallow waters, with stingrays painting fleeting shadows on the waves. Even amid the bustle of Freeport you can discover the soul of The Bahamas, in the local straw crafts sold at the Port Lucaya Marketplace and the infectious goombay music played at Junkanoo celebrations and parades. —AF www.bahamas.com.

( Nassau (New Providence Island).
$$$ Old Bahama Bay, West End ( 242/350-6500; www.oldbahamabay. com). $$ Pelican Bay at Lucaya, Seahorse Rd., Lucaya (& 242/373-9550; www.pelicanbayhotel.com).

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Lucayan National Park.

Aquatic Playgrounds

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Isla Todos Santos
Surf’s Up!
Mexico
Uninhabited but for shorebirds, sea lions, and harbor seals, tiny Isla Todos Santos is an oasis of peace and serenity in the Bay of Ensenada off Baja’s Pacific coast. Just offshore is another story: Here in the cold, clear waters, the surf spits out monster 15m-high (49-ft.) waves during winter swells. The prime reef break is “Killers,” where waves can reach heights of 18m (59 ft.) and over. It’s found at the northwest tip of the island. Actually two islands, Sur and Norte, Isla Todos Santos, located 97km (60 miles) below the California/Mexico border, has become such a major spot for giant waves that it has drawn big-time competitions, such as those leading up to the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave awards (www. billabongxxl.com), considered the Oscars of big-wave surfing. The surfing world has come a long way since the goofy, giddy days of the famous Windansea Surf Club, formed in the early 1960s by a community of surfers from La Jolla, California. It was this group of surfing fanatics who first discovered, in their Endless Summer quests for the perfect wave, the monsters at Isla Todos Santos. Why such huge waves in a spot where every other nearby beach has waves half the size? Like the perfect storm, the perfect wave is dependent on a number of factors. Surfers say that at Isla Todos Santos, the reef points directly into the mouth

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MARCO ISLAND of the swells, and a deep underwater canyon works to double the size of any wave that comes its way. Once the site of abalone farms, the island now has a lovely cove and is also a favorite spot for kayakers, who paddle the bay in the company of dolphins and the occasional whale. Humboats Kayak Adventures, in Eureka (& 52/707/4435157; www.humboats.com), offers combo camping/kayaking expeditions to Isla Todos Santos. Nature rules here, with superb tide-pooling, stargazing, and watching the occasional migrating gray whale cruise by. The fishing is pretty impressive here, too, with exceptional catches of large bonito, rock cod, whitefish, and yellowtail. For fishing expeditions, contact Ensenada Sportfishing Works (& 52/646/156-5151; www. ensenadasportfishingworks.com), which offers day and overnight trips and leaves from Ensenada, 19km (12 miles) away. The island’s pristine state can be directly tied to its inaccessibility: Isla Todos Santos can be reached only by boat. (Don’t confuse Isla Todos Santos, the island, with Todos Santos, the town—the latter is a coastal town located on the Pacific Coast side of the Baja California peninsula.) And if you come to surf, know that you don’t just walk off the beach and catch a wave at Isla Todos Santos—in most cases, you need to be towed to the big reef breaks. If you don’t have a boat, you can rent out a panga (skiff) with a driver in Ensenada. You can also get information on boats leaving for the island by visiting the San Miguel Surf Shop, Avenida López Mateos between Gastelum and Miramar, Ensenada (& 52/646/178-1007). Here you can get local surf reports and rent longboards, shortboards, and wet suits (you’ll need the last in the frigid waters). —AF www.visitmexico.com. Tijuana or Ensenada (airport being built at press time). $$$ Casa Natalie, Carretera Tijuana-Ensenada Km 103.3, Ensenada (& 888/562-8254 in the U.S., or 52/646/ 174-7373; www.casanatalie.com).

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Ensenada (19km/12 miles).

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Aquatic Playgrounds

Marco Island
Mangrove Magic
Ten Thousand Islands, Florida, U.S.
On the map, the southern Gulf Coast of Florida almost looks like it’s dissolving into the sea, with a maze of inlets and channels shattering the land into thousands of tiny islands. The largest mass, Marco Island is anchored to the mainland by an extension of Naples’s Collier Boulevard, arcing over the water just enough to let boats skim underneath. Even Marco looks half-waterlogged because it’s bisected by so many man-made canals. Marco Island is the gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands, many of them wildlife preserves teeming with dolphins, manatees, shorebirds, alligators, and the elusive Florida panther. Runaway real-estate development in the 1960s turned Marco itself into a condo-packed haven for snowbirds from the Northeast, but what it lacks in historic charm, Marco makes up for in sports options. Granted, most Marcoites—residents as well as visitors—seem content to lounge in front of the high-rise resorts that line the island’s 31⁄2-mile-long (5.6km) crescent of sugar-sand beach, waiting for spectacular sunset views. But

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS boaters and fishermen know that with just a little exploring, you can rediscover what made this island such a draw in the first place. Game fishing is one of Marco’s strong points, whether you go for tarpon, redfish, pompano, and snapper in the islands’ calm backwaters, or head out into the Gulf for deep-water prey like grouper, king mackerel, barracuda, and cobia. Show up at the Marco River Marina, 951 Bald Eagle Dr. (& 877/864-0588 or 239/3942502; www.marcoriver.com), or the Cedar Bay Marina, 725 Elkcam Circle (& 239/642-6717; www.cedarbayrentals. com), to rent boats or charter fishing tours; or reserve ahead of time with Sunshine Tours (& 239/642-5415; www.sunshine toursmarcoisland.com), Six Chuter Charters (& 239/389-1575; www.six chutercharters.com), or Marco Island Sea Excursions (& 239/642-6400; www. seaexcursions.com). To penetrate into the heart of the Ten Thousands Islands, however, kayaking or canoeing is your best bet. Just north of Marco Island, there’s a self-guided canoe trail around Rookery Bay at the Southwest Florida Conservancy’s excellent Briggs Nature Center, on Shell Island Road, off Fla. 951 between U.S. 41 and Marco Island (& 239/775-8569; www.conservancy. org), which also has a half-mile boardwalk trail through a pristine example of Florida’s disappearing scrublands. At CollierSeminole State Park, east of Marco Island off U.S. 41 (& 239/394-3397; www. floridastateparks.org/Collier-Seminole), you can rent canoes to explore a 131⁄2-mile (22km) canoe trail along the twisting mangrove-lined Blackwater River. For more experienced canoers and kayakers, there’s the Paradise Coast Blueway, a network of paddling routes marked via GPS waypoints from Everglades City, at the tip of Everglades National Park, up the coast to the fishing village of Goodland, just southeast of Marco Island. Along the route, you’ll pass through the mangrove estuary of the 10,000 Islands National Wildlife Refuge (& 239/353-8442; www. fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index. cfm?id=41555) and the orchid-draped cypress slough of Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve (& 239/695-4593; www. floridastateparks.org/fakahatcheestrand), where rangers occasionally lead guided canoe trips. This is what Florida looked like before the condos sprouted, and you’ll have it all to yourself. —HH Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, 1102 N. Collier Blvd. (& 800/ 788-6272 or 239/394-7549; www.marco islandchamber.org).

( Naples.
15-mile/24km drive from Naples. $ Boat House Motel, 1180 Edington Place (& 800/528-6345 or 239/6422400; www.theboathousemotel.com). $$ Olde Marco Inn & Suites, 100 Palm St. (& 877/475-3466 or 239/394-3131; www. oldemarcoinn.com).

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Aquatic Playgrounds

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Vieques Island
Glow-in-the Dark Swimming
Puerto Rico, U.S.
It’s almost like something out of a horror movie—the eerie blue-green glow of the waters around you, responding to every flitting fish and swirling oar. But far from being some ghastly chemical calamity, the phosphorescence of Vieques Bay is a 100% natural phenomenon, and one you have to see to believe.

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VIEQUES ISLAND

A beach on Vieques Island.

In 2003, the U.S. Navy closed its installation on the island of Vieques (pronounced Bee-ay-kase), off the coast of Puerto Rico, and since then Vieques has begun to boom as an ecofriendly—and still charmingly scruffy—destination. With some 40 palmlined white-sand beaches, and reefs of antler coral offshore, Vieques—7 miles (11km) off the big island’s east coast, only an hour by ferry—has an obvious sand-and-sun appeal. For years, Vieques has been where Puerto Ricans go to get away from the tourists on the main island. Snorkeling, kayaking, and fishing (both spin casting and fly-fishing) are hugely popular here, and the waterfront of the island’s main town, Isabel Segunda, is lined with watersports operators, all of whom seem to be related to one another and cheerfully share business. That small-town casualness is one of the island’s strongest appeals. On the south coast, the panoramic crescent of Sun Bay (Sombe) public beach is a longtime favorite, located near the pretty fishing village of Esperanza, where

several watersports outfitters have shops as well. But since the Navy moved out, the beautiful white sands of Red Beach (Bahia Corcha) and Blue Beach (Bahia de la Chiva) have been opened to the public as well, as part of the huge Vieques National Wildlife Refuge (office on Rd. 200, Km 0.4; & 787/741-2138). The refuge is also a prime destination for superb bird-watching; endangered species such as the sea turtle, the manatee, and the brown pelican inhabit its mangrove wetlands and sea-grass beds. Vieques’s most unique feature is Mosquito Bay, just west of Isabel Segunda. It’s nicknamed Phosphorescent Bay for the way its waters glow in the dark, thanks to millions of tiny bioluminescent organisms called pyrodiniums (translation from science-speak: “whirling fire”). They’re only about one-five-hundredths of an inch in size, but when these tiny swimming creatures are disturbed, they dart away and light up like fireflies, leaving bluewhite trails of phosphorescence, clearly

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS

Island Hopping the Turks & Caicos: Barefoot Luxury
Overnight, it seems, this sun-kissed archipelago has become synonymous with tropical island luxury. A nation of low-lying coral islands just below The Bahamas, the TCI seemed content to be a laid-back place where you could soak up the sun and sip a sudsy Turks Head beer in a ramshackle beach shack. Sure, beach bums and divers already knew about these islands: The dry, flat scrubland terrain may be fairly underwhelming, but there was no way those turquoise seas, rich marine life, and luscious white-sand beaches could go unnoticed. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that the Turks & Caicos took on a new persona. That’s when a newly elected government opened its doors to development of the high-end variety. Today on the island of Providenciales, the 19km (12 miles) of Grace Bay Beach, the country’s most famous stretch of sand, has a lineup of luxury resorts, each one the last word in barefoot luxury. And though said government is gone—its premier forced to resign amid allegations of corruption that included being perhaps a little too helpful to developers— the islands have emerged as one of the region’s top destinations. In spite of the ramped-up development, this British Protectorate has managed to retain its laid-back, “no worries” feel; even the upscale resorts have absorbed the warm, wry TCI outlook—no attitude here, thank you. If you’re looking for scintillating nightlife—bone-rattling discos, say—you’ll be sorely disappointed. On the TCI, the low-key beach-shack-and-cold-beer ethos still reigns. Most visitors island-hop by puddle jumper, although you can charter a boat (pricey) to get from one Caicos island to another, and a ferry runs between Provo and North Caicos, weather depending. This is not to say that visitors can’t get their fill of outdoor thrills. You can scuba-dive a vertical undersea wall where the continental shelf drops a heart-stopping mile deep, swim alongside humpback whales and stingrays, cast a line for bonefish, or free-dive 6m (20 ft.) to the sea bottom for fresh conch. Big Blue Unlimited (& 649/946-5034; www.bigblueunlimited.com) is one of the islands’ top outfitters for watersports; they also offer kayaking eco-tours into North and Middle Caicos. Here is what you won’t experience on the Turks & Caicos islands: You won’t hear the roar of jet skis or an army of motorboats—the shallow coral reef is part of a protected national park. You won’t spend your beach time stepping over sunbathers packed like sardines or fending off pushy hucksters. But if you dream of lying on a parcel of sugary sand encircled by emerald seas, or want nothing more than to spend your days bubbling about a splendid coral reef with mask and snorkel, this is the place for you. Grace Bay beach lies on the northeast coastline of 98-sq.-km (38-sq.-mile) Providenciales (Provo), the archipelago’s most developed island. This is where the action is, with the bulk of the country’s lodging, dining, tours, and activities. Still, don’t expect a bustling metropolis: Provo remains sleepier than most other Caribbean islands; that’s a big part of its charm. The Caicos Cays, also called the Leeward Cays, are gorgeous little spits of sand. Some of these former pirate lairs are

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ISLAND HOPPING THE TURKS & CAICOS: BAREFOOT LUXURY

now private islands with secluded resorts; others are uninhabited except by daytrippers beachcombing and snorkeling the shallows. Beach cruises among the cays is one of the TCI’s most popular activities; Silver Deep (& 649/946-5612; www. silverdeep.com) offers a range of excursions that let you snorkel, swim, fish, or hunt for sand dollars. The projected site of the second TCI boom is North Caicos; it has lovely secluded beaches and lush tidal flats. A causeway now links North to Middle Caicos, the largest island in the Turks & Caicos. Middle has a remarkably varied landscape. Soft green slopes overlook beautiful Mudjin Harbor, where you can snorkel in bottlegreen shallows. Crossing Place Trail is a raised 18th-century pathway named for the shallow sandbar that connects Middle and North at low tide. At Bambarra Beach the sunlit aquamarine waters stretch long into the horizon. South Caicos, a stillsleepy fishing community of some 1,200 people, is hearing faint rumblings of tourist development. With its excellent diving and bonefishing opportunities and historic Bermudan-style architecture, “Big South” is an up-and-coming spot. Separating the Caicos archipelago from the two Turks islands, to the east, is the Turks Island Passage, also known as the Columbus Passage. Christopher Columbus sailed into the New World via this waterway, and many historians believe the explorer made landfall on the island of Grand Turk. Today this small gem of an island, the nation’s capital and the keeper of the country’s rich heritage, is recovering from a devastating 2008 hurricane. Still standing are the 150-year-old lighthouse, 19th-century Bermudian homes, and abandoned salinas from the salt-raking era. Grand Turk is one of the world’s great diving spots, where the dramatically steep “wall” of the continental shelf lies just minutes from shore. Blue Water Divers (& 649/946-2432; www.grandturk scuba.com) is one of the area’s top dive operators. You can swim in the shallow water with stingrays at nearby Gibbs Cay. If getting away from it all is your bottom line, head to tiny Salt Cay (pop. 60), little more than a spit of sand in turquoise seas. Salt Cay is missing many of the basic accouterments of 21st-century civilization, like ATMs and cars, but don’t be fooled by its modest demeanor: People come from around the world to snorkel, dive, and whale-watch in the luminescent green seas and to comb its secluded beaches for flotsam and jetsam. Salt Cay is admittedly small (6.5 sq. km/21⁄2 sq. miles), but it is a place of haunting beauty and enormous heart. —AF
Turks & Caicos Tourist Board, Stubbs Diamond Plaza, Providenciales (& 800/241-0824 in the U.S. or 649/946-4970; www.turksandcaicostourism.com).

( Providenciales International Airport.
$$$ Grace Bay Club, Providenciales (& 800/946-5757 in the U.S., or 649/946-5050; www.gracebayclub.com). $$$ Parrot Cay (& 877/754-0726 in the U.S., or 649/946-7788; www.parrotcay.como.bz).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS discernible on a cloudy, moonless night. (Note: Don’t come here during a full moon—you’ll see almost nothing.) You can swim in these glowing waters, a sensation that’s incredibly cool. Island Adventures (& 787/741-0720; www.bio bay.com) operates 2-hour nighttime trips in Phosphorescent Bay; you can get even closer to those glow-in-the-dark waters on a nighttime kayak tour offered by Blue Caribe Kayak (& 787/741-2522; www. enchanted-isle.com/bluecaribe). —HH www.enchanted-isle.com.

( Vieques.
Isabel Segunda (11⁄4 hr. from Fajardo, Puerto Rico). $$ The Crow’s Nest, Rte. 201, Barrio, FL (& 877/CROWS-NEST [276-9763] or 787/741-0033; www.crowsnestvieques. com). $$ Trade Winds Guesthouse, Calle Flamboyan 107, Esperanza (& 787/ 741-8666; www.enchanted-isle.com/ tradewinds).

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Life’s a Beach

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Isla Partida & Isla Espíritu Santo
Paradise in the Sea of Cortez
Mexico
There are beautiful beaches, and then there are beaches that literally take your breath away: Pristine coastal ecosystems where the living inhabitants—here, dolphins, manta rays, seals, and more—are in such elegant sync with their environment that they seem almost airbrushed into the picture. Set inside a quarter-moon crescent of sand ringed by honeycombed cliffs, Ensenada Grande is all that and more. With lusciously clear cerulean seas, Ensenada Grande is just one of several magnificent beaches fronting the Sea of Cortez on Isla Partida, an uninhabited, completely uncommercialized island on Mexico’s Baja California Sur coast, and its bigger sister island Isla Espiritu Santo, also uninhabited and owned by the Nature Conservancy. The two islands are connected by a mere sandbar, and are UNESCO Biospheres. Most itineraries encompass both islands. Both Isla Partida and Isla Espíritu Santo offer superb, unspoiled beaches and some of the Western Hemisphere’s most exceptional sea kayaking, snorkeling, and wildlife-watching opportunities. The conditions are pristine—it’s basically you and the sea, sky, and sand. The good news is that it looks like things will stay that way. The Sea of Cortez, also known as the Bay of California, has protected UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The bay contains an astonishing 39% of the world’s total number of species of marine mammals and a third of the world’s marine cetacean species. As for the islands, both are UNESCO Biosphere reserves. The best way to see Partida and Espirito Santo islands is on a guided boat trip or island safari, with opportunities to camp out on the islands under the stars. A number of solid tour guides operate out of La Paz, the capital of the state of Baja California Sur—a 2-hour boat ride away from the islands. Baja Quest (& 52/612/123-5320; www.bajaquest.com.mx) offers 3- to 5-night sea kayaking and camping expeditions to Espiritu Santo, with lots of time built in for snorkeling the waters and exploring the islands. Sea & Adventures (& 800/355-7140 in the U.S. or 52/612/ 123-0559; www.kayakbaja.com) also offers kayaking and camping trips to Espiritu Santo with expert guides.

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GRAND CAYMAN
Baja Camp (www.bajacamp.com) operates overnight camping stays in big, comfortable tents on one of Espiritu Santo’s most beautiful beaches, Ensenada del Candelero, from June through September out of the marina at La Paz. You can kayak or swim alongside sea lions and seals, snorkel amid manta rays and sharks, and fish for your dinner—a gourmet chef will prepare it for you as you relax with your feet in the sand in a beachside tent, watching the last sunbeams of the day pirouette on the sparkling bay. —AF www.explorebajasur.com.

( La Paz.
$ Hotel Mediteranne, Allende 36, La Paz (& 52/612/125-1195; www. hotelmed.com). $$ La Concha Beach Resort, Carretera a Pichilingue Km 5 (& 52/612/121-6161; www.laconcha. com).

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2-hr. ride from La Paz.

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Life’s a Beach

Grand Cayman
Easy Fun Under the Caribbean Sun
Cayman Islands
It’s cleaner, safer, and more organized than many other islands in the turquoise Caribbean sea, and if there’s one drawback to this state of affairs on Grand Cayman island, it’s that you might wonder why you’ve come all this way for somewhere about as exotic as . . . your own backyard. However, if you’re looking for a vacation with reliable sunshine, tropicalcliche beaches, and amazing undersea exploration, in a place that’s fun and family-friendly, you could do a lot worse than Grand Cayman. Though Hurricane Ivan inflicted serious damage here in 2004, the rebuilding of the island was an excuse to make some much-needed improvements to many facilities, and Grand Cayman is looking better than ever. Surrounded by coral reefs and dramatic drop-offs in all directions and endowed with perpetually warm and clear waters, Grand Cayman is a major diving and snorkeling destination—it’s said to be the birthplace of recreational Caribbean diving; scuba pioneer Bob Soto opened the island’s first dive shop in 1957. What’s especially nice is that most sites, marked by moorings in the water, are easily accessible right from the beach—there’s no need to spend a bunch of money on boat dive trips. If you do want something organized and guide-accompanied, look no further than the excellent Red Sail Sports (& 345/945-5965; www.redsailcayman. com), which has locations all over Grand Cayman. In fact, Red Sail is your one-stop shop for just about every activity under the sun or on the waves: If it’s a watersport, they’ll either rent you the equipment or take you out for an excursion. Beach going on Grand Cayman is practically synonymous with spreading your towel and soaking up the scene on the sugary sands of Seven Mile Beach. Not only is this the most intrinsically spectacular beach on the island, but it’s also where all the action is. Parasailing and jet-skiing are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the water-based fun here—the sea is shallow and inviting all along the beach, and you can rent ocean kayaks, aqua trikes, view boards, paddle cats, and paddleboats to explore at your leisure. The calm conditions make this an ideal

15

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS which welcome nonguests at their dining facilities) that line the beach. Other notable beaches on Grand Cayman are Cemetery Reef (great for snorkeling), Smith Cove (a diminutive strip of sand perfect for swimming and a quiet picnic), and remote Rum Point, an oasis of Caribbean seclusion with lots of shady palms and an atmospheric beach cafe. The classic Cayman wildlife encounter is Stingray City, a shallow, open-water site about 3km (13⁄4 miles) east of the island’s northwestern tip where you can dive among and feed near-domesticated stingrays. (Book an excursion through Red Sail Sports or any of the touts on Seven Mile Beach.) It’s thrilling, though certainly not without its risks: The animals are not normally aggressive, but they still possess dangerous stingers. —SM www.caymanislands.ky. Grand Cayman–Owen Roberts International.
Diving in Grand Cayman.

(

place to teach little ones how to snorkel. After a day playing in the surf and sand, take your pick from the dozens of bars and restaurants (most attached to hotels,

$$ Beach Club Colony Hotel & Dive Resort, 719 W. Bay Rd., Seven Mile Beach (& 345/949-8100; www.beach clubcolony.ky). $$$ The Ritz-Carlton, W. Bay Rd. (& 800/241-3333 in the U.S. and Canada or 345/943-9000; www.ritz carlton.com).

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Life’s a Beach

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Anguilla
Love Shack
On my first visit to Anguilla, I was ready to be wowed. This was Anguilla, after all, island of posh resorts and fabulous beaches, and playground of the rich and famous. But once I got off the ferry I felt . . . underwhelmed. Where was the glamour, the pizazz? All I saw were goats munching dry scrub brush, sandy roads with no stoplights, and a flat, dull horizon of more scrub brush. Once I arrived at my unprepossessing inn, a place that had obviously seen better days, I felt my heart sinking. It was time to hit the beach, for better or worse. The sand was blindingly white, the sea a transparent blue. Fronting the beach was a shady stand of palm trees. A lone dog tripped down the beach. Otherwise, the wide, curving strand was empty: no touts, no hawkers, no jet skis buzzing, no radios

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ANGUILLA blaring. Just powdery sand, sparkling turquoise seas, and a goofy-looking dog making his merry way along . . . one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. It was noon, I had been in Anguilla all of 1 hour, and it was the start of a full-blown love affair. Anguilla is many things: It’s justly famous for its laid-back luxury hideaways on stunning beaches, with some of the priciest rooms in the region. A British dependency, having been colonized by English settlers in the 17th century, it’s also an old-fashioned sort of place, with a modest and unassuming but welleducated, tightly knit community of some 14,000 people. The influence of the Christian Council has successfully kept cruise ships, casinos, and other potential bogeymen at bay. You won’t see bus loads of camera-toting visitors being led from one attraction to another. Frankly, Anguilla has few attractions to begin with—if you can call a handful of rickety old colonial relics scattered about “attractions.” The Valley, the island’s main center, has full-service banks and grocery stores, but it’s not a charmer to tour, like Gustavia on neighboring St. Barts , which competes with Anguilla for the title of poshest Caribbean island. The landscape is typical coral and limestone; flat, dry scrubland with lowlying salt ponds; and a few hills for panoramic views. You hit scenic gold when you get to the beaches. Most of the best (Barnes, Maundays, Meads, Rendezvous Bay, Shoal Bay West) are on the west end of the island. Rendezvous Bay is a long, curving ribbon of satiny, pale-gold sand that stretches along the bay for 4km (21⁄2 miles). In the northeast, 3km (13⁄4-mile) Shoal Bay is Anguilla’s most popular beach, with powder-soft sands and a lively beach bar scene. The hook—if Anguilla has a “hook” other than wonderful beaches and correspondingly fine watersports activities—is the island’s ultracasual, ultrainclusive, sublimely pleasurable beach shack scene. Anguilla has some of the finest restaurants in the Caribbean, but if you want to chill out the barefoot way over barbecue and mellow reggae, hit the beach. Even the most uptight financialservices nerd will feel his backbone slip watching a fine Anguilla sunset with his feet in the sand, a beer in the hand, and a grilled lobster smoking on the coals. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the Dune Preserve (& 264/4972660). Owned by reggae star and Anguilla native Bankie Banx, the oceanfront bar/ restaurant is a beehive of salvaged boats and beach detritus. At Upper Shoal Bay, check out Gwen’s Reggae Bar & Grill (& 264/497-2120), where Gwen Webster serves barbecued chicken in a shady palm grove with hammocks. Uncle Ernie died in 2007, but a photograph of him watches over the action at Uncle Ernie’s (& 264/497-3907) on Shoal Bay, where you can get chicken and ribs and cold Red Stripe beer. Down a bumpy road to Junk’s Hole is Nat Richardson’s Palm Grove Restaurant (& 264/497-4224). There you can snorkel in warm, clear seas until your lobster comes off the grill. Some say this is where Brad and Jennifer bid each other adieu. Romance may be fleeting, after all, but true love—we’re talking mine for Anguilla—is here to stay. —AF Anguilla Tourist Board (& 264/4972759; www.anguilla-vacation.com). St. Maarten (Princess Juliana International Airport; 16km/10 miles). Small commuter airlines fly into Anguilla’s Wallblake Airport from St. Thomas, San Juan, and Antigua. Public ferries run between Marigot Bay, St. Martin, and Blowing Point, Anguilla (& 264/497-6070); or privately run charter boats and ferries deliver passengers between Anguilla and the airport in St. Maarten. $$$ CuisinArt Resort, Rendezvous Bay ( 800/943-3210 in the U.S. and Canada or 264/498-2000; www.cuisin artresort.com). $$ Frangipani Beach Resort, Meads Bay (& 866/780-5165 in the U.S. and Canada or 264/497-6442; www.frangipaniresort.com).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Life’s a Beach

20

Ilha de Santa Catarina
Sizzle in Floripa
Brazil
If you’re looking for the hottest beach scene on the planet these days, you may want to bypass Miami, San Juan, and Ibiza and head straight to Brazil. Santa Catarina Island (Ilha de Santa Catarina), aka the island of Florianópolis, has become one of the most popular destinations in Brazil, with miles and miles of gorgeous beaches offering world-class surfing. First, what’s the difference between Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, and Floripa? Florianópolis the city is the capital of the state of Santa Catarina, about a 1-hour flight from Säo Paolo. Half of the city is also located on the island of Santa Catarina. Island and city together are just referred to as Florianópolis, which people often shorten to Floripa. Floripa is easily accessed via a bridge from the mainland. Much of Floripa’s appeal has to do with its 42—yes, 42—beaches, not a stinker in the bunch. The north end of the island is made up of modern resorts and calm waters; it’s an urbanized, heavily touristed beach scene, particularly in the high summer months of December, January, and February. Yet even amid all the action, the beaches are perfectly swimmable, even picturesque. If you like your beaches less trammeled, check out Santinho, a quieter spot on the rocky northern coast with a beautiful, expansive beach, the island’s only five-star resort, and a quaint village. Farther south in the center of the island, the Lagoa da Conceição is a large lagoon wrapped in sand dune and verdant vegetation. Nearby, the quiet little community of Lagoa da Conceição boasts some of the best restaurants in the region. Barra de Lagoa has vintage fishing-village charm, more good beaches, and del Morro de Barra, a lovely section of town linked by a lagoon (crossed by a hanging bridge) where no cars are allowed. Just to the east are the spectacular beaches of Galeta, Mole, and Joaquina—wide, sandy strands enveloped in verdant green hills and blessed with large, surfable waves. Mole is a happening hangout for gorgeous bodies and skimpy swimsuits. Lovely Galeta doesn’t even bother with the suits: It’s the island’s only clothingoptional beach. Farther south toward Campeche, the handsome beaches become more rugged and the rolling waves are like catnip to surfers—and the partying goes well into the night here. To the west side of the island facing the mainland, the quaint Azorean fishing village of Riberão da Ilha is accessible only via a narrow, winding seaside road with views of the Bahia Sul and the lush hills of the mainland across the bay. Wherever you are, you won’t be far from restaurants and cafes offering delicious regional seafood. Local camarão (shrimp) figure prominently on menus, as do local oysters, farmed right here in the seas around Riberão da Ilha. —AF www.braziltour.com.

( Florianópolis International Airport.
Rodoviaria buses link Florianópolis with every major city in southern Brazil (& 55/48/3222-2260; www.rodoviariasbr. com.br). Pousade Penareia, Rua Hermes Guedes da Fonseca 207 (& 55/48/33381616; www.pousadapenareia.com.br). $$ Praia Mole Eco Village, Estrada Geral da Barra da Lagoa 2001 (& 55/48/32397500; www.praiamole.com.br).

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SANIBEL ISLAND

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Life’s a Beach

Sanibel Island
Seashells, Seashells, by the Seashore
Florida, U.S.
I’m the sort of beachgoer who could spend the entire day walking up and down the strand, searching for seashells—in fact, once I get started, I hardly notice anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m a Midwesterner, but I still get a ridiculous thrill out of finding shells in the sand, even relatively common things like whelks, olives, scallops, sand dollars, and conch. And I’ve never found a better place to indulge this obsession than down on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where a little apostrophe of coastal keys, attached by a long causeway to Fort Myers, offers the most amazing concentration of seashells I’ve ever seen. Sanibel Island is a superb beach destination for other reasons, too—fine sugary white sand and healthy stands of palm trees, the local curbs on high-rises and tacky development, the amount of land devoted to wildlife refuges—but I’ll freely admit that it was the shells I went for, and they did not disappoint. Some 200 species of shells can be found on Sanibel’s wide, placid beaches. Prime time for shell hunting is February to April or after any storm; low tide is the best time of day. Shells can be sharp, so wear Aqua Socks or old running shoes whenever you go walking on the beach. Just make sure to peer into the shell to check whether living creatures are still inside—Florida law prohibits taking live shells from the beaches. Shoot, there’s even a shell museum here: the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum, 3075 Sanibel-Captiva Rd. (& 888/679-6450 or 239/395-2233; www. shellmuseum.org), devoted solely to saltwater, freshwater, and land shells. Shells

Fishing on Sanibel Island.

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS from as far away as South Africa surround a 6-ft. (1.8m) globe in the main exhibit hall, showing their geographic origins. Most important for my purpose, though, was the Wheel of Fortune–shaped case identifying shells likely to wash up on Sanibel. To find really rare shells, you can always head for the adjacent shoals and nearby small islands; Captiva Cruises (& 239/ 472-5300; www.captivacruises.com) runs shelling trips, departing from the South Seas Resort on nearby Captiva Island, and several charter-boat skippers also will take guests on shelling expeditions (you can find several of them at the Sanibel Marina on North Yachtsman Dr., off Periwinkle Way east of Causeway Blvd.). Maybe next time I’ll get around to that—I’ll just need an extra suitcase to tote all my treasures home. —HH Tourist information, 1159 Causeway Rd. (& 239/472-1080; www.sanibelcaptiva.org). Fort Myers International (14 miles/ 23km). 5-mile (8km) drive on Sanibel Causeway (FL 867) from Fort Myers. $ Palm View Motel, 706 Donax St. ( 877/472-1606 or 239/472-1606; www. palmviewsanibel.com). $$$ Sundial Beach Resort, 1451 Middle Gulf Dr. (& 866/ 565-5093; www.sundialresort.com).

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Life’s a Beach

22

Green Island
Coral Cay Paradise
Australia
Reportedly, the local aboriginal population regarded this 6,000-year-old island as wunjami—a place haunted by spirits, to be avoided if possible. But those days are long gone: Reachable by a 45-minute catamaran ride from the mainland city of Cairns, this gorgeous, 15-hectare (37-acre) coral cay island has become a favorite destination for Aussie day-trippers, who come to enjoy the sun, sand, and flora and fauna. Located 27km (17 miles) off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Green Island offers natural beauty—in addition to its spectacular beaches and reefs, it’s the only one of the Great Barrier Reef’s 300 sand cays with its own rainforest—and some of the world’s best snorkeling and scuba diving right off the beach. Green Island has always emphasized ecofriendly tourism, dating back to its designation as a national park in 1936. Today, it teems with tropical birds, more than 120 species of native plants, and all manner of marine life, from the fish that inhabit the coral gardens ringing the island to the Marineland Melanesia Aquarium, Museum and Crocodile Farm (& 61/7/4051 4032), where you can have hands-on encounters with sea turtles and the smallest of the establishment’s 30-odd crocs. Glass-bottom-boat tours are a specialty here—in fact, Green Island is thought to have been the first place on earth to employ this boating innovation— and the island also boasts the world’s oldest underwater observatory. For those inclined to immerse themselves in the surrounding sea, snorkeling and scuba gear can be rented, and diving boat trips to the nearby Great Barrier Reef itself are also available. Insiders know that the true Green Island experience begins after the last ferry leaves the island at 4:30 each afternoon. Then, the overnight guests of Green

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PHU QUOC
Island Resort—the island’s sole hotel, as well as the only five-star resort in Queensland—have the little island to themselves. The resort features 46 luxury suites set in the midst of the island’s rainforest, and a stay grants access to the underwater observatory, windsurfing, canoeing and snorkeling equipment, a glass-bottom-boat tour, and a guided nighttime nature tour. Scuba instruction and certification is also offered. Guests of the resort can have a great time just exploring on their own, though, as they’re given the run of an island with a circumference that can be walked in a little under an hour. In addition to the marine life, guests give particularly high marks to the sunset, the empty stretches of beach, and the opportunity to spot offshore fish feeding at twilight—an event that sharks have been known to attend. If you’re not staying on the resort, you can still visit the island on a day trip—a number of tour operators offer boat trips that include stops on the island. Great Adventures (& 1800/673-366 or 61/7/ 4044 9944; www.greatadventures.com. au)—owned by Quicksilver, the same company that owns Green Island Resort— runs day tours to Green Island from Cairns. With Sydney a good 4 hours away by plane and boat, Green Island remains a bit off the beaten track. And if you’re lucky enough to claim the island for your own, you may find yourself hoping the rest of the world heeds the old aboriginal legends and keeps away—at least for a night or two. —AF www.destinationqueensland.com or www.queensland.com.sg.

( Cairns (4 hr. from Auckland).
$$$ Green Island Resort (& 1800/ 673-366 or 61/7/4052 1511; www.green islandresort.com.au).

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45-min. ride from Cairns.

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Unvarnished & Unspoiled

Phu Quoc
Wild & Pungent
Vietnam
There are plenty of island paradises in Southeast Asia (like Bali and Koh , to name a few) that have been Samui discovered by Western tourists, but Phu Quoc is not one of them—for now, anyway. Just west of mainland Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, this island falls squarely in the category of “go now” destinations around the globe. Resort developers and Vietnamese tourism authorities are grooming Phu Quoc to be the next big ecotourism vacation spot in Southeast Asia. But until modern infrastructure arrives, Phu Quoc is a superauthentic island getaway, where luxury hotels are still very affordable and golf courses are nonexistent, and where touring is done by moped down dusty red-dirt roads that lead to secluded beaches. Phu Quoc is best suited to those with a sense of adventure and a love of unvarnished culture. While Phu Quoc has some of the best and least trodden beaches in the region, getting to those unspoiled stretches of sand often means renting a scooter and threading your way down unmarked dirt roads or arranging casual rides with local fishermen or motorists. (Even with prearranged boat or fourwheel-drive tours, you never really know what you’re going to get, which is certainly half the fun.) Head for the north and northeast part of the island to find the emptiest, most gorgeous beaches. Ganh

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Dau Beach even has a view of Cambodia, just 18km (11 miles) away. If you do set out on your own exploration of Phu Quoc, always pack a lunch and plenty of water, though even the smallest towns and quietest beaches usually have some sort of restaurant where you can sample the delicious, seafood-rich island cuisine. The main town on Phu Quoc is Duong Dong, on the west coast of the emeraldshaped island, where the airport, seaport, and most hotels and services are located. An Thoi, on the southern coast, is the next town of any size; it’s a bit too remote to function as a base, but is close to the pristine white-sand beaches of Bai Sou and Bai Kem. Sprinkled up and down the coasts of Phu Quoc are smaller, less developed villages where visitors can have a truly genuine encounter with island culture. One is Cua Can, interesting for its old wooden bridges and where impromptu tours up the Cua Can River can be arranged with local fishermen. For just about anything water-based, Famous Tony organizes tours for individual groups (& 84/913/197334; info@tonyanh.com). Anywhere you visit on Phu Quoc, you’ll need to get used to the island’s smell. Because Phu Quoc is one of the premier manufacturers of fish sauce in Vietnam, the scent of dried fish literally permeates every corner of the island. If you’re interested in touring one of these factories, the largest is Hung Thanh (& 84/77/846124; www.hungthanhfishsauce.com.vn), in Duong Dong. Attempting to transport a souvenir bottle of fish sauce out of Phu Quoc is another story: The airlines have banned them because of the risk of breakage and accompanying stench in the cabin and cargo hold! Because of its limited transportation connections (you can fly here from Ho Chi Minh City or take a ferry from Rach Gia and Ha Tien, on the west coast of Vietnam), Phu Quoc is usually visited as part of a longer trip to Vietnam and Cambodia. When the new international airport is completed— sometime around 2011—more direct flights from more cities will surely bring a new kind of tourism here. —SM www.discoverphuquoc.com. Duong Dong airport (50 min. from Ho Chi Minh City).

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Duong Dong Express from Rach Gia, 21⁄2 hr. (& 84/77/3981648; www. duongdongexpress.com.vn).

$$ Cassia Cottage (& 84/77/ 3848395; www.cassiacottage.com). $$$ Grand Mercure La Veranda (& 84/77/ 3982988; www.laverandaresort.com).

Unvarnished & Unspoiled

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Lombok
Not the Next Bali
Indonesia
Travel writers and tourism board officials in search of catchy tag lines love to compare Lombok to Bali , that much more famous Indonesian island 40km (25 miles) to the west: Lombok, they say, is “what Bali was like 30 years ago,” or “an unspoiled version of Bali.” These descriptions are only partly apt. Lombok is predominantly Muslim, whereas Bali gets much of its distinctive flavor from its unique Hindu traditions. Lombok’s geography is quite different, and it’s generally much drier here than in Bali. But unlike Bali’s well-developed tourism infrastructure, tourism is in its early stages on Lombok: Despite recent resort development, the overall atmosphere that prevails on Lombok is that of an authentic

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TIOMAN ISLAND
Indonesian culture, largely undiscovered but welcoming of outsiders, with some excellent beaches and awesome surfing spots thrown into the mix. The brooding cone of Gunung Rinjani (Mount Rinjani, a 3,726m/12,224-ft. stratovolcano) dominates the profile of Lombok, which is shaped a bit like a stingray whose “tail” trails off to the southwest. Hiking to the top of Rinjani is the favorite pursuit of many backpackers who stay on the Gili Islands, off Lombok’s west coast. Mataram is the largest city on Lombok, where you’ll find fascinating local flavor in the streets and markets but not much in the way of Western tourism. Lombok’s hotel strip lies to the north of Mataram in an area called Senggigi. Surfers will want to make a beeline for Kuta on the south coast (not to be confused with Bali’s übertouristy Kuta Beach), which has some of the best waves in the world. At Grupuk Beach (in the Kuta area) swimmers can enjoy the calm waters of the cove, while boarders can take outrigger canoes to the waves beyond the point. The biggest waves are usually at rugged Seger Beach, 2km (11⁄4 miles) from Kuta. Offshore, snorkeling and diving opportunities abound, and charter boats that can deliver you to prime dive sites are easy and cheap to organize—Gili Islands–based Blue Marlin Dive (& 62/370/632424; www.blue marlindive.com) is a reliable outfitter. Lombok’s interior of gently rolling hills is filled with rural villages and waterfalls that make for fun and edifying day trips when you need a break from the sun and sand. Arts and crafts collectors will find Lombok immensely satisfying, as the island specializes in pottery, baskets, and woven textiles that are still very affordable. All throughout Lombok, you’ll also receive a warm and hospitable reception from locals—and especially children, whose smiles are infectious. Political unrest in Indonesia in the early 21st century had a dramatic impact on the growth of tourism on Lombok, and it’s just now beginning to pick up again, as foreign investors pour millions into luxury resorts and golf courses. My advice is to travel to Lombok now, on the cusp of its tourist boom, before it truly becomes another (overcommercialized) Bali. —SM www.lombok-network.com.

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Traditional ferry or fast boat from Bali, 21⁄2–5 hr.

$$$ The Oberoi Lombok, Medana Beach, Tanjung (& 62/370/638444; www. oberoilombok.com). $$ Qunci Villas, Jalan Raya Mangsit, Senggigi (& 62/370/ 693800; www.quncivillas.com).

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Unvarnished & Unspoiled

Tioman Island
Dragon of the Sea
Malaysia
Legend has it that Tioman Island, 58km (36 miles) off Malaysia’s east coast, is actually a dragon princess who stopped here to rest, fell in love with the beauty of the place, and never left. It’s a sentiment many visitors share. The largest island in a string of volcanic atolls in the South China Sea, Tioman is indeed shaped like a sleeping dragon. Although it’s a treasured destination for many Malaysian vacationers, Tioman is still fairly raw and largely undiscovered, with nowhere near the development of sister Malaysian islands Penang and Langkawi , on

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS the country’s west coast. The business of tourism is a modest one on Tioman, with one large resort and a smattering of understated lodges, chalets perched in the jungle canopy, and traditional huts set in the sand. The island has no asphalt roads (except in the main town of Tekek) or cars (just bikes and four-wheel-drives)— in fact, the most expeditious way to get around is by hopping a boat from one part of the island to the other. The waters surrounding Tioman are part of the protected Tioman Marine Park. A controversial marina project that reportedly cut into the fragile coral reef enveloping the island was allowed to move forward and is now open, and the island has been awarded duty-free status. Little Tioman may be on the verge of a development boom. Tioman Island first entered the global consciousness when the movie South Pacific was filmed here in 1958. In its role as the paradisiacal Bali Ha’i, Tioman was trumpeted as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. It’s still spectacularly lovely. Emerald cliffs rise dramatically from pale-sand beaches. The fringing coral reef, gin-clear waters, and balmy year-round water temperatures draw divers and snorkelers from around the world. The snorkeling is especially good—even right off the beaches. One of the best places to snorkel is in Air Batang, where you can swim amid coral gardens packed with colorful fish and turtles. Tioman Dive Centre (& 60/9/4191228; www.tioman-dive-centre.com) offers dive and snorkeling trips. Scuba professionals Dive Asia (Salang and Tekek; & 60/9/419-5017; www.diveasia. com.my) offers dive safaris and PADI-certified courses. For such a relatively small island—it’s only 22km long and 11km wide (14×63⁄4 miles)—Tioman is incredibly diverse, a magnificent hodgepodge of rainforest, mist-shrouded granite spires, mangrove swamp forest, and coral reef. Much of the island interior is tangled jungle vegetation and protected nature reserve. The woods are filled with rare and exotic breeds, including the long-tailed macaque, binturong (Asian bearcat), pythons, and some 138 species of birds. Trekking trails through the steamy jungle interior take in waterfalls, rapids, and natural pools. Note: November to February is monsoon season, with frequent rain showers and rougher seas. —AF Tourism Malaysia (& 60/3/26158188; www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my). Tekek Airport (40 min. from Singapore). From Tanjung Gemok (1 hr., 15 min.), Fast Ferry Venture (& 60/9/4131997). From Mersing (2 hr.), Blue Water Express (& 60/7/799-5015). $$ Berjaya Beach, Golf & Spa Resort, Tioman Island, Pahang Carul Makmur (& 60/9/419-1000; www.berjaya hotels-resorts.com). $$$ JapaMala Resort (& 60/3/4256-6100; www.japamala resorts.com).

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Unvarnished & Unspoiled

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Kamaran Island
Red Sea Reefs
Yemen
Kamaran gets its Arabic name, “two moons,” for the unusual double reflection of the moon that it’s possible to see, just as the moon is rising in the early evening, in the waters off the northern end of the island. Located at the strategic southern

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KAMARAN ISLAND tip of the Red Sea, Kamaran was occupied over the centuries by the Portuguese, the Ottoman Empire, and the British, before being handed over to Yemen in the mid– 20th century. Interesting remnants of those eras remain scattered over the island, but Kamaran’s most compelling draw for visitors is its excellent diving and opportunities to experience a very traditional way of life, practically untouched by tourism. Long and thin, 108-sq.-km (42-sq.-mile) Kamaran is a mostly flat shelf of sand and rock, unrelieved by vegetation except for some green pastures in the north where wild camels and deer graze. Look in almost any direction, and the panorama consists of two colors: beige and turquoise. Tawny stone buildings left over from Kamaran’s most prosperous era, when the Ottomans used it as a quarantine station for pilgrims on their way to Mecca, blend almost imperceptibly into the backdrop of gently rolling dunes. The island’s sparse population is divided among three dusty, yet fascinating and friendly, authentic villages where visitors can mix with friendly locals and sample the delicious (and cheap) typical island food. The coastline of Kamaran descends into the tantalizing, wildlife-rich waters of the Red Sea: It’s this embarrassment of undersea vitality, contrasting so starkly with the barren scene on land, that makes a visit here so worthwhile for divers and snorkelers. Kamaran is surrounded on three sides by coral reefs, with dense mangroves taking up the fourth side. While the perimeter of Kamaran itself is riddled with places where you can swim among schools of grouper and rays or explore archaeological remains of the island’s previous eras, some of the best dive sites lie off such uninhabited nearby islands as Zubayr and Ogban, which have endless mazes of coral channels and caves and an awesome spectrum of fish, sea turtles, sharks, and dolphins. Tourism on Kamaran is decidedly primitive: There are no palm-lined drives, no golf courses, no shopping centers. The only “hotel” on the island is really a camp of sorts, Kamaran Tourist Village (see below). Accommodations are seaside tihama huts (mud-and-thatch constructions typical of the Red Sea coast) with traditional cots or western-style beds and mosquito nets. Toilets and showers are in another building a short walk away. By day, the tourist village organizes diving excursions and tours (by donkey or by pickup) of Kamaran’s historical sights; by night, communal feasts and performances by traditional local musicians bring guests together in the central mafraj (sitting room). This bare-bones state of affairs seems poised to change soon, however, as Egyptian development companies have recently signed agreements with Yemeni officials to invest $500 million in infrastructure and resort facilities on Kamaran. Until those projects are carried out, for anyone not interested in Red Sea diving, or complete peace and quiet in a place that is still culturally authentic, Kamaran can feel desolate, and the sun and moist heat on the Red Sea, need I remind you, are unrelenting. —SM www.kamaran.net. Kamaran airport, with connections to Sana’a. (Or fly to Sana’a, then drive or bus to Salif and make a 20-min. boat transfer.)

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$$ Kamaran Tourist Village (& 967/ 7771-1742; www.kamaran.net).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Unvarnished & Unspoiled

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Los Roques
Sail Away
Venezuela
Like La Blanquilla , Los Roques enjoys the same sparkling turquoise seas and warm trade winds as its more popular counterparts in the Caribbean. But this island chain is much more gloriously untouched, with rudimentary tourist infrastructure and pristine ecosystems. Largely free of the civil unrest and political upheaval that bedeviled many Latin American nations in the late 20th century, the Venezuelan archipelago of Los Roques offers an embarrassment of riches when it comes to experiencing the Caribbean of old. The archipelago Los Roques is made up of some 300 islands—224,749 hectares (555,367 acres) of sea and land that includes more than 42 cayos, or coral cays, and 250 spectacularly colorful coral reefs. Only a handful of the islands and cays are inhabited. A national park since 1972, the islands of Los Roques compose the largest marine reserve archipelago in the world. Los Roques is protected by not one but two barrier reefs. The archipelago is a sailor’s dream; constant winds range from 10 to 15 knots, and the barrier reefs ensure that the waters are protected. In fact, many people charter a crewed sailboat or motored yacht in Los Roques and dip from one jewel-like cay to another, stopping to snorkel or fish in brilliantly clear, warm lagoon waters. Others take up residence in one of the many family-owned posadas (inns) on Gran Roque, the largest island in the archipelago and the only island with lodging options (it’s also the site of the airport). Strict regulations ensure that the island is not overrun with megaresorts: None of the posadas is higher than two floors, and none has more than 15 rooms. A good half of the posadas are owned by Italian expats, which explains the island’s oldworld Mediterranean vibe—cafe menus include such Italian classics as carpaccio. The boat-filled Gran Roque beach is a great place to promenade, but it’s not the beach you’ve come from miles away to experience—you find it in the breathtaking little cays strewn throughout the archipelago. A stay in a posada lets you enjoy the culture of the island and get your Robinson Crusoe fix, too: Most offer full-service day trip excursions to a lovely, uninhabited cay nearby to which you’re delivered by boat, with a picnic basket of food, a cooler of beer, and a big umbrella. Ah, paradisio! The diving and snorkeling in and around Los Roques is world-class. Lost World Adventures (& 800/999-0558 in the U.S. and Canada or 404/373-5820; www. lostworldadventures.com) offers diving, fishing, and sailing tours in and around the island. Many fishermen come from around the globe to go bonefishing in Los Roques; called “the gray ghost of the shoals,” the bonefish of Los Roques are big, weighing up to 5.4kg, and spirited. The seas are full of tarpon, jacks, barracuda, tuna, and bonito. Gran Roques is also garnering attention as a terrific kitesurfing spot; the constant winds fill billowing sails and send boards skimming across the seas. Keep in mind that if you plan to charter a boat in Venezuela, the boat should be licensed by the Venezuelan authorities and a Venezuelan marinero (mariner) must be onboard. So if you want to explore the Venezuelan archipelagos bareboat (without a crew), you’ll need to board the boat in another country—nearby Grenada is a good choice. Otherwise, any boat you hire in Venezuela comes with a crew—not a bad idea if you’re unfamiliar with these waters.

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NEVIS
The protected status of Los Roques is good news for the future of the islands. Only the northeast corner of the national marine park is allowed to have accommodations for visitors, and the islands have virtually no cars or trucks—people get around largely by golf cart, bicycle, or good old feet. Being on land is a temporary state of being, however; most everyone is lost in a liquid Caribbean dream. —AF www.los-roques.com.

( Caracas to Gran Roque (35 min.).
Boat charter from Caracas or Puerto la Cruz (mainland Venezuela). $$ Posada Acuarela (& 58/212/ 953-6455; www.posadaacuarela.com). $$ Posada El Botuto (& 58/416/621-0381; www.posadaelbotuto.com).

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Unvarnished & Unspoiled

Nevis
Liming It
The sleepy, laid-back counterpart to its busier, more touristed sister island, St. Kitts , Nevis is the unvarnished, unspoiled Caribbean. It’s lovely, all right, with bejeweled coral reefs and palmfringed, white-sand beaches. Still, goats and donkeys roam the largely rural 93-sq.km (36-sq.-mile) island, and untamed bougainvillea spills onto dirt roads and over colonial windmills. It’s no vision of manicured perfection, and for many travelers, that’s not a bad thing. Nevis (pronounced Nee-vis) was built on sugar cane, and the 18th-century ruins of the sugar trade can be found all over the island. Nevis, one-half of a two-island federation (the larger St. Kitts is the other half separated from Nevis by a 3.2km/2mile channel), was under British control for 200 years until it achieved independence in 1983. The island’s capital and main port, Charlestown, is a living-history relic from colonial times, its streets lined with Georgian-style structures. The island was slowly building a reputation for gracious West Indies–style hospitality when Hurricane Omar hit the region in 2008. Damage from the hurricane closed down the island’s largest and swankiest property, the Four Seasons Nevis, and put hundreds of islanders out of work (the resort was scheduled to reopen in summer 2010). The handful of other island properties, many of them small-scale inns charmingly rejiggered from centuries-old sugar plantations, are soldiering on in a weakened world economy. Still, quiet seclusion has its fans, and Nevis is increasingly on the radar of those rich and discerning folks who are weary of glitzy resorts and who appreciate discreet, character-filled tropical hideaways far from the cruise ship crowds. (It’s been called a rustic alternative to St. Barts .) Painter Brice Marden recently bought the Golden Rock Plantation Inn, an old sugar plantation that was converted into an inn in 1958. It doesn’t hurt that Nevis is blessed with a stunningly scenic landscape that takes in velvety volcanic peaks, beautiful beaches, and lush rainforest. You can hike up 955m (3,133-ft.) Mount Nevis with biologists on fascinating nature hikes through Top to Bottom (& 869/469-9080; www.walk nevis.com). You can stroll amid vividly hued tropical flora and tangled vines in the Botanical Gardens of Nevis (Montpelier Estate; & 869/469-3509; www.botanical gardennevis.com). You can take a fabulous

27

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS

Gardens on Nevis.

snorkel trip on the MV Rum (& 869/4691060), cruising the unspoiled reefs along the island’s leeward coast. You can head underwater for a dive trip in virgin seas with the pros at Scuba Safaris (& 869/ 469-9518; www.scubanevis.com). Nevis has a number of fine beaches, including Oualie, which lies in a sheltered cove with sunset views, and Pinney’s, a 4.8km-long (3-mile) stretch of velvety white sand and Caribbean seas. You can sail, windsurf, and fish to your heart’s content, or you can golf, hike, and play tennis—but really, put down that tennis racket and put up your feet. Nevis is about succumbing to the island’s old-fashioned West Indian charm and meditating on a grain of sand. Taking it easy is called

“liming” here, and if someone back home asks you what you were doing on Nevis, the proper answer is “Liming!” —AF Nevis Tourism Authority (& 866/55NEVIS [556-3847] in the U.S. and Canada or 869/469-7550; www.nevisisland.com). Antigua (20 min.), St. Maarten (20 min.), and San Juan (60 min.).

(

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St. Kitts (ferry companies don’t take reservations; 45 min.).

$$$ Montpelier Plantation, St. John Figtree (& 869/469-3462; www. montpeliernevis.com). $$ Oualie Beach Resort, Oualie Beach (& 869/469-9735; www.oualiebeach.com).

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PADRE ISLAND

29

Unvarnished & Unspoiled

Padre Island
Sun & Surf, Texas-Style
Texas, U.S.
No, I’m not talking about South Padre Island, which might conjure up images (unpleasant or otherwise) of cheap hotels and raucous bar crawls—a scene best left to college spring breakers. Just to the north lies Padre Island National Seashore, a 70-mile (113km) stretch of sand, low dunes, and prairie grasses where south Texans come for fun in the sun and surf. Everything’s bigger in the Lone Star State, and Padre Island is doing its part to make the adage ring true: This is the longest section of undeveloped barrier island in the world. Easily accessed from Corpus Christi or Galveston , Padre Island National Seashore is barely a mile wide and bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on the seaward side and the Laguna Madre on the landward side. Hairline channels separate Padre Island from Mustang Island to the north and the resort hotels of South Padre to the south. Laguna Madre is a hypersaline lagoon (meaning its salt content is higher than the ocean’s), one of only six such lagoons in the world. On both sides of the seashore, the water is warm and salty, which gives everything that floats in it extra buoyancy. For such a narrow strip of land, Padre Island is teeming with wildlife. Coyotes, badgers, raccoons, opossums, rats, squirrels, and bats make up the diverse mammal population among the low grasses.

A sunset over the Gulf of Mexico.

29

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
The island is positioned along the Central Flyway, a major bird migration route, and many species stop at Padre to winter or to breed and nest. All told, some 350 species of birds have been documented along the national seashore. The rich sea life in the area includes many fish and sea turtles, four different species of which nest here. Summertime visitors might be lucky enough to witness the Park Service’s hatchling release program of Kemp’s Ridley turtles in action. Several species of venomous and nonvenomous snakes live here, too, though they’re rarely seen. However, visitors should be on the lookout for three species of poisonous snake: the western diamondback, the massasauga, and the Texas coral snake. Although it’s under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, don’t expect a totally pristine encounter with nature here: Vehicles are allowed right on the beach in most places, and you’ll likely have to contend with convoys of SUVs on weekends and holidays and whenever the weather’s nice. Furthermore, plenty of flotsam from the Gulf of Mexico makes its way to the shores of Padre Island, meaning that avid beachcombers can find treasures like shells and driftwood among the metal, glass, and plastic that washes up here. At the northern end of the seashore, Malaquite Beach is the most unspoiled beach in the area—it’s closed to vehicular traffic—with simple wood-frame picnic shelters where you can set up for a day of shore exploration. For those wishing to stay a bit longer at Padre Island, the Bob Hall Pier area, also at the northern end, is the only part of the island where you’ll find hotels and restaurants. —SM Malaquite Visitors Center, Milepost O (& 361/949-8068; www.nps.gov/pais).

( Corpus Christi International.
43-mile (69km) drive from Corpus Christi. $$ Bahia Mar, 15201 Windward Dr., Corpus Christi (& 361/949-2400; www. bahiamarsuites.com). $ Camping permits available at park visitor center (see above).

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Unvarnished & Unspoiled

30

Cape Hatteras
Graveyard of the Atlantic
North Carolina, U.S.
Hwy. 12 runs the length of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and at times this curving two-lane road feels like a ride in an amusement park. Over here you can see the waters of the mighty Pamlico Sound, a huge estuarine breeding ground for marine life. Over there is the mighty Atlantic Ocean, milky whitecaps and sea spray visible above the dune line. You are basically riding a slender thread of blacktop between two massive bodies of water. Driving Hwy. 12 gives you a good idea of how narrow and fragile this sliver of land is, and how easily a good nor’easter can breach it, sending waves crashing into the sound. Which it does, every so often— this, after all, is how inlets are formed. The Cape Hatteras National Seashore runs 70 miles (113km) along North Carolina’s Outer Banks from Whalebone Junction to Ocracoke Island . At the Cape itself, the land juts deep into the ocean

30

CAPE HATTERAS where two currents meet—you can actually see the warm, blue Gulf Stream crashing into the chilly Labrador current. The largest lighthouse on the East Coast is here, shining its 1,000-watt beam to mariners maneuvering this elbow of land, but even that powerful beam of light is sometimes not enough: The shifting shoals around Cape Hatteras are littered with the bones of some 2,000 wrecked ships—the reason the area is called “The Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Here lie schooners, steamships, warships—even a 987-ton Civil War ironclad, the USS Monitor, discovered in 1974. For today’s tourists, however, the Cape Hatteras National Seashore is a watersports paradise, with small villages separated by miles of undeveloped, unspoiled beaches forever protected against commercial growth. It’s one of the East Coast’s top beach recreation spots, with plenty of surfing, sailing, windsurfing, fishing, and scuba diving opportunities. For top-notch kite boarding, surfing, and windsurfing lessons and rentals, head to Kitty Hawk Kites (& 252/986-1446; www.kittyhawk. com), which has locations on Hatteras Island in Hatteras village, Avon, and Rodanthe. For sportfishing, Hatteras Harbor Marina (& 800/676-4939; www. hatterasharbor.com) offers half- and fullday inshore and offshore fishing charters, gear, and bait. What makes this seashore so captivating is its beautiful wildness, and wild it will stay; only 12% of the island can ever be developed (the rest is protected federal or state parkland or wetlands). The wind is a constant, and currents can be unpredictable. The sea air is pungently salty. The national seashore is, after all, an unprotected strip of sand that stretches out into the Atlantic almost to the Continental Shelf. The land and the sea are in a constant dance; the sand rolls underneath the banks and comes up the other side. Boundaries shift; the bones of old ships disappear. Coming from the north, the drive down Hwy. 12 takes you past Oregon Inlet, where waves crash and tumble on the shoals and fishermen in waders wrestle puppy drum onto the beach. Oregon Inlet was formed in 1846, when the sea split the land in a roaring gale. In between stretches of national seashore are old fishing villages and new beach houses. Wrecked ships figure large in the history of the old lifesaving station at Chicamacomico; the original building from 1874 is still on-site, as is the 1911 station, its weather-beaten shingles silvery with age. The black and white stripes of the 1870 Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, in Buxton, spiral up the length of the 200-ft. (61m) tower. Cape Hatteras is an informal, barefoot kind of place. You can easily beach-hop from one stretch of tawny sand to another—just pull into one of the park’s beach-access parking lots, cross a wooden boardwalk over dunes of sea oats, and find a spot to lay your towel. The waves, the sand, the seagulls flying overhead: It’s all blessedly wild, untamed by little more than the elements. —AF www.nps.gov/caha and www.hatteras guide.com.

( Norfolk, Virginia (2 hr.).

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Ocracoke (coming from the south, 40 min.; www.ncdot.org/transit/ferry).

$$ Breakwater Inn, 57896 Hwy. 12, Hatteras Village (& 877/986-2565 or 252/986-2565). $$ Comfort Inn, 46745 NC Hwy. 12, Buxton (& 877/424-6423 or 252/995-6100; www.outerbankscomfort inn.com).

31

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Sailing Along

31

Tortola
Bareboatin’
British Virgin Islands
In the opinion of many travelers, a “bareboat” vacation—in which you and your companions charter a sailboat for a week or so, load it with provisions, and head wherever the trade winds and your imagination take you—is the ultimate way to explore any island chain. And there’s no better place to launch your own sailing adventure than in the bareboat capital of the world: Tortola, the largest (19×4.8km/12×3 miles) and most populous of the British Virgin Islands. In terms of convenience, safety, affordability, and sheer number of attractive places to drop anchor, the 60-plus islands and cays of B.V.I. are tailor-made for the do-it-yourself island hopper. The capital of the British Virgin Islands, Road Town, nestled on Tortola’s mountainous southern coast (the island’s beaches are all on the northern, Atlantic side), is home to dozens of charter companies with wellmaintained catamarans and single-hulled boats to choose from. (Powerboats and full-sized yachts with crew are also available.) Sail out of the town’s well-protected natural harbor, and you’ll find yourself a couple of hours away from Norman , Peter, and Cooper islands, all awaiting with white-sand beaches, reefs perfect for snorkeling, sheltered coves for anchoring overnight, and waterfront bars and restaurants that cater to the seaborne set. The larger islands of Virgin Gorda , to the northeast, and Jost Van Dyke, off Tortola’s northern flank, are both less than a day’s sail away. Scattered about are scores of uninhabited islets that are yours for the claiming. The key to any successful bareboat vacation is advance planning. Charter companies all ask you to submit a “sailing resume” proving you have enough experience to handle their boats. The official B.V.I. tourist site, www.bvitourism.com, has a long list of reputable charter companies with links to their websites. While prices vary, bareboat vacations tend to be remarkably affordable, typically costing about as much as a cruise. If you’re worried about rusty sailing skills, you can charter a boat with an extra sleeping space or two and pay for your own skipper and cook. In addition to knowing the best spots to drop anchor, the crews-for-hire in Tortola are also accustomed to blending in with new boat mates. For a little extra, you can even request a captain who’s a certified sailing instructor. Sailors aren’t the only active travelers enjoying Tortola’s sparkling seas. Divers and snorkelers have much to explore here, most notably the wreck of the HMS Rhone, a British Royal Mail steam packet ship that sank here in an October storm in 1867. The wreck lies in depths from 6 to 24m (20–79 ft.) just south of Tortola near Salt Island. Reserve a dive with Blue Water Divers (& 284/494-2847; www. bluewaterdiversbvi.com) to the site of the Rhone and other gems of the deep. For those who prefer to spend their time on solid ground, Tortola has its share of fine resorts and villas, all imbued with the relaxed, friendly, non–theme park atmosphere (no casinos here, thank you!) for which the B.V.I. is known. The beaches on Tortola are actually quite wonderful, from popular Cane Garden Bay, wrapped in soft green hills, to the secluded sands of Long Bay, where you can swim and snorkel in clear, gentle seas. With half its income coming from tourism and the other half from the financial industry (the island is headquarters to

32

PAROS many of the world’s offshore companies), and a currency based on U.S. dollars, Tortola is an enchanting blend of old world and new. And when you’re out in the archipelago, the wind filling your sails, it’s all yours to discover. —AF www.bvitourism.com. Tortola: Beef Island International Airport, connected to Tortola by the Queen Elizabeth Bridge.

(

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Regular ferries from St. Thomas, U.S.V.I. (45 min.).

$ Ole Works Inn, Cane Garden Bay (& 284/495-4837; www.quitorymer.com). $$$ The Sugar Mill, Apple Bay (& 800/ 462-8834 in the U.S., or 284/495-4355; www.sugarmillhotel.com).

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Sailing Along

Paros
A Break from Greek Cultural Overload
Greece
Paros should be a required stop on any traveler’s itinerary through the Cyclades islands. Not only because it’s the archipelago’s transportation hub—lying halfway between the more well known islands of Mykonos and Santorini —and has great beaches but also because its lack of any single must-see historical sight makes it a sort of cultural free-pass for anyone suffering from antiquities overload (a common affliction in Greece). Make no mistake, Paros has history and some of the islands’ quaintest darn villages, but the bulk of your time on Paros is much more likely to be spent sunbathing or learning to windsurf, blissfully unobligated to traipse through yet another hot and dusty archaeological site. Most visitors arrive by ferry at busy Parikia—as Greek port towns go, it’s not the most compelling, though it is quite lively. But watersports fans won’t much care about staying in town, for Paros is known first and foremost as the windsurfing capital of Greece. Thanks to constant, strong winds along the strait between Paros and Naxos (off the east coast of Paros), conditions are excellent from late spring to early fall. Serious windsurfers tend to avoid the peak months of July and August, when all too many “amateurs” take to the water. Go ahead and join them: The free Paros Windsurfing Guide, available at tourist offices island-wide, provides resources for equipment rentals and lessons; I like the F2 Windsurfing Center on Golden Beach (& 30/22840/41878) and Santa Maria Surf Club on Santa Maria Beach (& 30/22840/52490). If heaving water-logged sails out of the water seems like too much hassle on your Greek holiday, just take yourself and a towel to the beach. The best all-around strip on Paros is 1km-long (2⁄3-mile) Chrissi Akti (Golden Beach), on the island’s southeast coast. It’s blessed with omnipresent breezes that keep windsurfers happy and tan-seeking landlubbers from feeling too sun-fried on the sand. With smooth and chalky rock formations dividing the bay into pretty coves, Kolimbithres is the most picturesque beach on Paros, with basic facilities and snack bars. Rounding out the big three of Paros beaches is Santa Maria (also a favorite spot for windsurfers), on the northeast tip of the island. It’s very unGreek-looking in that the fine golden sand stretches back from the water quite a way, and the waves that gently lap at the shoreline are a shallow, clear turquoise.

33

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Venture inland to visit the medieval hill town of Lefkes (which also has the island’s best hotel, the Lefkes Village Hotel), with its postcard-perfect square and cafes. The fishing village of Naoussa, across the bay from Kolimbithres beach, is utterly charming and getting more gentrified by the season as trendy shops and upscale restaurants move in. Art junkies or mineralogists familiar with such masterworks as the Venus de Milo may want to check out the defunct marble quarries at Marathi. Parian marble was highly prized by the ancient Greeks and Romans alike, who once had hundreds of thousands of slaves working here day and night to export chunks of the luminous white stone for use all over the Mediterranean world. —SM www.parosweb.com or www.paros life.com.

( Paros Airport.

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From Piraeus (3–6 hr.), and other Cyclades islands (1-3 hr.), to Parikia.

$$ Hotel Petres, Naoussa (& 30/ 22840/52467; www.petres.gr). $$$ Lefkes Village Hotel, Lefkes (& 30/ 22840/41827 or 30/210/6748470 during winter; www.lefkesvillage.com).

Sailing Along

33

Tjörn
Yachting & Trekking Among the Rocks
Sweden
Every summer, yachties and sun seekers from mainland Sweden flock to this island, causing the population to double, from 15,000 to more than 30,000. The rest of the year, the people lucky enough to live and work on Tjörn have one of western Sweden’s most diverse recreational areas in their own backyard. Like so many Scandinavian islands, Tjörn has a coastline defined by countless rocky inlets and infinite offshore skerries. The protected, azure waters of the Skagerrat Strait, which runs from Tjörn’s west coast, between Denmark and Norway, to the North Sea, are a magnet for the sailing crowd. The annual Tjörn Runt regatta (held in Aug) circles the island and brings with it thousands of colorful boats. Tjörn’s intricate topography also makes for some wonderful exploring, whether along the shore or into the island’s wild interior. Trekking is a year-round activity here, taking in such varied scenery as green pastures, dense groves of trees, and unspoiled beaches. While cycling or hiking in the Tuveslatt district, you might come across ancient rock carvings and ruins of Stone Age dwellings. Whether you’re looking for a protected cove or sandy stretch of shore, Tjörn offers plenty of places to swim in summer. Believe it or not, the water up here does get warm enough in July and August for a dip, though it’ll be a bracing one! Skärhamn, halfway up Tjörn’s western coast, is the island’s municipal seat and

34

TJÖRN

Tjörn Island and sailboats.

main harbor. The marina swells to capacity in the summer months with the boats of vacationers, and a lively holiday atmosphere permeates the town, which, at 58 degrees north latitude, stays light almost all night long. In fact, the unique quality of light on Tjörn has been drawing artists for centuries. Be sure to visit the very worthwhile Nordic Watercolour Museum (Södra hamnen 6; www.akvarellmuseet. org), set in a striking modern building on the water’s edge in Skärhamn. The inhabitants of Tjörn have traditionally drawn their livelihood from the sea. Fishing is as important today as it was in the island’s early history, but the construction of the Tjörn Bridge in 1960 greatly facilitated the island’s leap from isolated fishing community to thriving community

of industry, with the growth of prosperous canning, shipping, and shipbuilding businesses. (With this modernization, too, has come the construction of thousands of summer cottages for vacationing Swedes.) Fortunately, the stewards of Tjörn’s growth and progress have been careful to ensure that development does not infringe on the island’s natural treasures. —SM www.tjorn.se.

( Gothenburg (61km/38 miles).
Tjörn Bridge, 664m (2,178 ft.) to Stenungsund.

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$$$ Salt & Sill Floating Hotel, Klädesholmen (& 46/304/673480; www. saltosill.se).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS

Island Hopping The Bahamas Out Islands: Out on the Water
More than 700 islands make up the Bahamas archipelago, but many visitors never venture farther than the two main islands, Grand Bahama and New Providence (Nassau)— and, of course, Paradise Island, a single bridge away from Nassau and home to the massive Atlantis resort. More and more, however, travelers are heading on to a chain of beautiful and historic islands that stretch south from Grand Bahama. Known as The Bahamas’ Out Islands—or “the Family Islands,” as the tourism department calls them— these silky strands of sand have some of the finest and most pristine natural resources in the entire archipelago: gorgeous beaches and vibrant undersea coral gardens; sublime fishing, diving, and snorkeling; and prime sailing waters. The Out Islands also teem with historic sites, from the ruins of sugar plantations to the Victorian cottages in Dunmore Town, The Bahamas’ former capital. Direct flights from the U.S. are now making these tropical isles easier to access, but not to worry: The islands and cays are still remote enough to stay peaceful and secluded and slightly rough-hewn. Built on a backbone of coral, the Out Islands owe much of their inaccessibility and lack of development to the fringing reefs and shifting shoals that have made navigation dangerous for big ships for hundreds of years. The closest islands to Grand Bahama are the 26-cay Abacos, which have a famously beautiful beach, Treasure Cay. The Abacos are a major sailing center, with the largest marina in The Bahamas and a number of celebrated regattas. According to Cruising World, The Bahamas are blessed with some of the clearest, cleanest seas to navigate in the world, in large part because of the absence of industry and river runoff. If you’re itching to charter a sailboat and get out on the water, contact Abaco Sailing (www.abacosailing. com); they also offer lessons. The Abacos have been called “Nantucket under the Palms,” for the vintage Sailing by the Abacos. New England–style clapboard cottages built by the island’s first settlers, British Loyalists who fled America in the wake of the War of Independence. Divers flock to The Bahamas’ largest island, Andros, which has the third-largest coral reef in the world. Anglers come to battle the fighting bonefish that live in the sparkling shallows. For a fly-fishing expedition in a shallow-draft flats boat, contact Phillip Rolle’s North Andros Fly Fishing (& 242/329-2661; www.northandrosfly fishing.com). Just beyond the reef is the “Tongue of the Ocean,” a steep drop-off that harbors big game, including blue marlin, sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, king fish, mackerel, tuna, snapper, and grouper.

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ISLAND HOPPING THE BAHAMAS OUT ISLANDS: OUT ON THE WATER

Eleuthera may be the Out Islands’ most touristed spot, with an international airport that is seeing increasing traffic from major airlines. The long, narrow island (177×4km/110×21⁄2 miles) has lovely sugary-sand beaches ringed by teal water, and colonial-era villages and plantations. Just 3.2km (2 miles) east is Harbour Island, a favorite destination of the rich and trendy and the site of the former capital of The Bahamas, Dunmore Town. This lovely little village has colorful clapboard homes rimmed by white picket fences and draped in bougainvillea. Harbour Island’s most famous beach, Pink Sand, is 4.8km (3 miles) of luminous, salmon-hued sand. For castaway seclusion on magnificent beaches, head to Cat Island, 209km (130 miles) southeast of Nassau. Legend has it that the island was named after Arthur Catt, famous British sea captain or notorious pirate; take your pick. Cat Island was settled in the late 1700s by British Loyalists from the Americas who built prosperous cotton plantations here with slave labor. Today the island is littered with the ruins of their 18th-century plantation homes. The 365 islands and cays that compose the beautiful Exuma chain are a sailing paradise, with secluded coves, uninhabited cays, and excellent anchorages. Ecotourism is also big here, with the 456-sq.-km (176-sq.-mile) Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park (www.exumapark.info), the Caribbean’s first marine fishery reserve. Some people think Long Island may be the prettiest of The Bahamas’ Out Islands. It’s another slender thread of land, just 97km long by 2.4km wide (60×11⁄2 miles). The beaches are classic strands of Bahamian pink and white sand, lapped by clear, gentle seas. Long Island is also the site of Dean’s Blue Hole, the world’s deepest blue hole, plunging 203m (665 ft.) into the ocean floor. (A blue hole is generally created when the ceiling to a limestone cave collapses in the ocean.) Dean’s Blue Hole is a fabulous spot to snorkel: You just paddle in off the white-sand beach with snorkel and flippers; the depth quickly drops from 1.5 to 180m (5–591 ft.). This is also one of the world’s prime free-diving spots, and you can take free-diving lessons here from world-record-holder William Trubridge at Vertical Blue (www.verticalblue.net). Rounding out the Out Islands is Bimini island, one of the top sport-fishing capitals of the world—it’s reviewed separately on p. 242. —AF www.myoutislands.com or www.bahamas.com.

( Nassau (New Providence Island).

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Ferry service between Nassau and Eleuthera, Andros, Harbour Island, and Great Exuma (Bahamas Ferries; & 242/323-2166; www.bahamasferries.com).

$$ Green Turtle Club Resort and Marina, Green Turtle Cay, Great Abaco (& 866/5280539 in the U.S., or 242/365-4271; www.greenturtleclub.com). $$$ Rock House (& 242/3332053; www.rockhousebahamas.com).

37

BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Diving’s the Thing

41

Buck Island
Lucky Buck
U.S. Virgin Islands
The largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Croix has plenty of attractions—relaxing beach resorts, stands of lush rainforest, historic plantation houses, and a thriving rum factory. But many visitors come here mainly to go scuba diving along the drop-offs, reefs, and wrecks that line the island’s north coast, or snorkeling around the reefs of the west end. And among St. Croix’s many dive sites, it’s generally agreed that the premier spot is the pristine marine garden surrounding nearby Buck Island, now owned by the National Park Service. Some divers declare it’s the finest dive spot in the whole Caribbean. A tropical speck lying a mile and a half off St. Croix’s northeast coast, Buck Island is only about 1km wide and 1.6km long (2⁄3×1 mile), but it is nearly surrounded by an elkhorn coral barrier reef—the only elkhorn reef in U.S. waters, in fact. The waters here are so clear, visibility can be up to 30m (98 ft.). There’s an underwater snorkeling trail laid out among the grottoes at the eastern end of the island, where the water’s only 3.6m (12 ft.) deep and landmarks are clearly marked with underwater signs; sun dapples the submarine labyrinths as a wealth of reef fish, like queen angelfish and smooth trunkfish, flit in and out. There are also two approved mooring spots for scuba divers, where relatively shallow water—9 to 12m (30–39 ft.)—surrounds haystack formations of

A beach on Buck Island.

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BONAIRE elkhorn coral. Marked walking trails bisect the island—it’ll take about 45 minutes to hike across—where you’ll pass through dry tropical forests of tamarind, frangipani, and pigeon-berry trees to get a spectacular oceanview panorama from the island’s gentle crest. Hawksbill turtles, leatherback turtles, brown pelicans, and least terns are among the endangered species that thrive along Buck Island’s shoreline; be sure to respect their nesting areas when you’re enjoying the island’s unspoiled white coral beaches. You can reach the island either by private boat (you must get a permit from the park visitor center in St. Croix’s capital, Christiansted) or on a half- or full-day tour by one of the boat operators licensed to serve the island, including Caribbean Sea Adventures (& 340/773-2628; www. caribbeanseaadventures.com), Captain Heinz (& 340/773-3161; teroro@via powernet.net), and Llewellyn Charters (& 340/773-9027). —HH Buck Island Reef National Monument visitor center, 2100 Church St., Christiansted (& 340/773-1460; www. nps.gov/buis). Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, Estate Mannings Bay, St. Croix. 8.8km (51⁄2 miles) by boat from Christiansted: 40 min. by motor boat, 11⁄2 hr. by sailboat. $$$ The Buccaneer, Gallows Bay, St. Croix (& 800/255-3881 in the U.S. or 340/712-2100; www.thebuccaneer.com). $ Holger Danske Hotel, 1200 King Cross St., Christiansted (& 340/773-3600; www.holgerhotel.com).

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Diving’s the Thing

Bonaire
Friendliest Diving in the Caribbean
Think of Bonaire as the Caribbean, version 2.0—an island of slower paces and authentic encounters, perhaps to try out after you’ve exhausted the nonstop activities and crowded beaches of other islands like Aruba . Boomerang-shaped Bonaire, just 80km (50 miles) north of Venezuela, is desertlike, with just a few stretches of rocky beach, so travelers with a major sunbathing agenda should look elsewhere. However, what draws people here over and over is Bonaire’s world-class diving and snorkeling: Its reef-lined western coast is an amazing, uninterrupted chain of shore-accessible sites with turquoise waters. The island’s yellow, five-character license plates say it all: “BONAIRE, N.A.—DIVERS PARADISE.” Upon arrival on Bonaire, divers pay a onetime fee of $25 for the Bonaire National Marine Park “nature tag.” Then, you hit the road and keep your eyes peeled for yellow stone markers pointing the way to one of the island’s 53 shore dive sites. Once under the crystal-blue water, feast your eyes on a magnificent array of nearly 500 species of reef fish, sea turtles, rays, sharks, and dolphins. For a diver, Bonaire is pure heaven: Your days are filled with easily accessible, diverse sites, and the island’s omnipresent, outgoing outfitters make the practical side of diving—filling tanks, getting tips on where to see whale sharks, and so on—a breeze. With a population of about 10,000, Bonaire is very much a tight-knit community, and one of the best ways to experience this is to get into the local diving culture. For a more targeted approach to diving here, the official website of Tourism Corporation Bonaire (see below)

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS has a comprehensive list of the island’s 22 accredited dive operators. For nondivers, there are still enough natural attractions above the waterline to make for a satisfying short stay. The north half of the island is the hilliest and most scenic: The drive north from the capital of Kralendijk takes in turquoise sea on the left and coral cliffs on the right. Along this road, there are lovers’ lookouts aplenty, and paths suitable for hiking or biking leading off the shoulder. The wildlife preserve of Washington Slagbaii National Park (& 599/785-0017; www.washington parkbonaire.org) takes up 6,000 hectares (14,826 acres) of northwestern Bonaire: Here you can see tropical birds, visit the romantic black-sand beach of Boca Chiquito, and dive into remote bays like Wajaca, whose reef shelters turtles and octopuses. As if the airport terminal—Flamingo International, painted bright pink— weren’t enough to tip you off, Bonaire is famous for its flamingos, which spend most of their time in the salt flats in the southern part of the island. Slaves once worked to extract salt from here (you can see some remnants of their stone huts nearby), but the salt pans today are run by the International Salt Company, which employs many a local. Also in the south of Bonaire is the island’s best area for beach bumming, Lac Bay, with its sandy shores, gin-clear waters, and vivid coral reef. One of the most endearing places in the Caribbean is to the northwest—Donkey Sanctuary (& 599/95/607-607; www. donkeysanctuary.org), where abandoned or injured animals (originally brought over from Spain for hard labor in the 1600s) are cared for and given a comfortable and loving home on the range. —SM Tourist information, Kaya Grandi 2, Kralendijk (& 599/717-8322; www.tourism bonaire.com). Flamingo Airport, connections through Aruba, Curaçao, and St. Maarten. $$ The Deep Blue View, Kaya Diamanta 50, Santa Barbara Heights (& 599/ 717-8073; www.deepblueview.com). $$$ Harbour Village Bonaire, Kaya Gobernador N. Debrot 17, Playa Lechi (& 599/7177500; www.harbourvillage.com).

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Roatán
Coral Reef Paradise
Bay Islands, Honduras
You know a destination has “arrived” in savvy travel circles when people refer to it only by its first name. “We’re heading to Roatán,” someone confides, and everyone nods knowingly. That would be Roátan, Honduras, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, you soon will: It’s the Caribbean in an unspoiled state, with pristine sugary-sand beaches and lush coral reefs. It also has some of the best diving, offered at the cheapest prices, anywhere in the world. This beautiful tropical island is the argest of the Bay Islands (which include Utila and Guanaja) off the Caribbean coast of Central America. It’s 65km (40 miles) long and comprises 127 sq. km (49 sq. miles). Roátan is a serious dive and snorkel destination, with warm, diamondclear waters that are protected as a marine park. It sits on the second-largest barrier reef in the world, a magnificent necklace of coral that is alive with sponges, turtles, eagle rays, and fish in a paint box of vivid colors. The diverse underwater topography is one of dramatic ridges, channels, and vertical walls.

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AMBERGRIS CAYE
The island has several dive shops that can get you onto the reef in under 30 minutes. On West End—home to the island’s best beaches—Ocean Connections (www.ocean-connections.com) is a PADIcertified dive center that offers recreational diving, diving courses, and dive packages on Roátan. Its dive center is just 15 minutes away from the coral reef. On land, the vibe is laid-back and refreshingly unpolished. Visitors shouldn’t be surprised if the electricity goes out for a few hours, and the nightlife essentially consists of hanging out, barefoot and sunburned, with new island pals over sundowners. If you get bored with the water activities during the day, you can hit the iguana reserve just outside French Harbour—it holds 2,500 iguanas of four distinct species; or go horseback riding through the Gumbalimba Nature Park, a forested jungle reserve filled with colorful tropical birds like parrots and native macaws. You can even take a Jungle Canopy Tour along several platforms in the park, where the views of forest and sea are superb. For info on all park tours, go to www.gumbalimbapark.com. The lodging scene here largely comprises small inns and hostels—and a few diving resorts like Anthony’s Key (see below)—and there is only one spa on the island (at Parrot Tree Plantation, a planned development). But Nikki Beach is opening up one of its upscale resorts in 2010. Roátan also has been targeted by not one but two major cruise lines (Royal Caribbean and Carnival), which are greatly expanding their Roátan presence—by 2010, the island could be visited by some 200 ships and around 700,000 cruise passengers annually. And airlines are now offering direct flights from Miami, Houston, and Newark into the international airport at Coxen Hole, the island capital. Prices and crowds on this lovely, supremely relaxed Caribbean outpost remain reasonable for now—but I recommend diving in as soon as you can, before that changes. —AF www.hondurastips.honduras.com.

( La Ceiba (30 min.).

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La Ceiba (11⁄2 hr.): M.V. Galaxy Wave (& 504/445-1795; www.safeway maritime.com). $$$ Anthony’s Key Resort, Sandy Bay ( 954/929-0090 [U.S.]; www. anthonyskey.com). $$ Mayan Princess Resort, West Bay (& 504/445-5050; www.mayanprincess.com).

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Diving’s the Thing

Ambergris Caye
Coral Reef Paradise
Belize
Coral reef systems around the world are under threat; in fact, it’s estimated that one-third of all coral reefs in the world may be damaged beyond repair. Nestled in the crook of the arm of Central America is one of the world’s most stunning examples of a living, breathing, thriving coral reef—an exquisitely fine-tuned ecosystem that experts say is under threat from rampant development and the destruction of critical mangrove habitat. The degradation of Belize’s coral reef would have serious repercussions: The Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is the longest continuous barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere, 306km (190 miles) of rich and diverse marine habitat less than half a mile

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS

Diving in Ambergris Caye.

offshore. The diving and snorkeling along this reef is first-class, and the water quality and visibility are consistently excellent. It’s a vital life source for marine species and a significant habitat for such threatened species as marine turtles, manatees, and the American marine crocodile. It is also the country’s top tourist attraction. In 2009, after UNESCO officially placed the reef on its Danger List, the Belize prime minister called it a “wake-up call” for the country. Among the hundreds of sand cays and atolls strung along Belize’s coral reef, the largest island, Ambergris Caye, enjoys a prime position in this marine ecosystem: The island’s 40km (25-mile) shoreline runs almost parallel to the barrier reef. Just 15 minutes by puddle jumper from Belize City, Ambergris Caye is the most developed island in the country, home to most of the cays’ lodgings and restaurants. But don’t expect high-gloss hospitality: A trip to Ambergris Caye is a journey back to an oldfashioned Caribbean, leisurely and laidback. If a road is paved at all, it’s paved with cobblestones. It has neither glitzy nightlife nor megaluxe resorts, but you can get a cold bottle of the local lager, Belikin,

for about $2. Ambergris Caye doesn’t even have classic Caribbean beaches, more like short spurts of white sand between mangrove forests and sea. Wade into the shallows, and you’re up to your ankles in sea grass. The fishing village of San Pedro (pop. 7,000) has grown to be the largest town on Ambergris Caye. This is where the action is—the island hub for restaurants, cafes, and nightclubs—and where most of the islanders live. San Pedro has a funky, joyful vibe, where the sandy streets are filled with bicycles and golf carts, and the occasional taxi. As for the lack of big, wide classic beaches, do as the locals do: Swim off one of the many piers that extend beyond the sea grass. Or do your swimming during your forays to the coral reef, when you’ll be immersed in warm, sparkling blue waters. The coral reef is the major draw for visitors, and Ambergris has incredibly easy access to world-class dive and snorkel sites. Shark-Ray Alley and Hol Chan Marine Reserve are two justifiably popular snorkel spots just off the island, where close encounters with green moray eels,

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ROCK ISLANDS groupers, stingrays, and nurse sharks are abundant. Both sites are about 6.4km (4 miles) southeast of San Pedro Town. For reliable scuba diving service, contact Amigos del Mar (& 501/226-2706; www. amigosdive.com), Aqua Dives (& 800/ 641-2994 in the U.S. and Canada, or 501/226-3415; www.aquadives.com), or Gaz Cooper’s Dive Belize (& 800/4993002 in the U.S. and Canada, or 501/2264455; www.divebelize.com). Among the operators who specialize in snorkeling trips here is the very personable Alfonse Graniel and his launch Li’l Alfonse (& 501/ 226-3537). —AF www.belizetourism.org, www.go ambergriscaye.com, or www.ambergris caye.com. Belize City to Ambergris Caye (15 min. on Tropic Air or Maya Island Air). Water taxi (45 min.–1 hr.): Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association (& 501/ 223-5752; www.cayecaulkerwatertaxi. com). $$ Tides Beach Resort, Boca del Rio Dr. (& 501/226-2283; www.ambergris caye.com/tides). $$$ Victoria House (& 800/247-5159 in the U.S. or 501/2262067; www.victoria-house.com).

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Diving’s the Thing

Rock Islands
Really Big Fish
Palau, Micronesia
They almost seem to float on the shimmering surface of Palau’s Southern Lagoon, rounded knobs of ancient coral formations mantled in dense emerald-green foliage. Though most of them are uninhabited, this spatter of tiny islands 805km (500 miles) west of the Philippines has become famous among divers for its rich diversity of marine life. The warm blue waters are so clear (up to 30m/98-ft. visibility) that even snorkelers get quite a show, but scuba divers report truly awesome experiences here, with breathtakingly deep drop-offs and immense submarine caverns. Walldiving sites such as the Blue Corner, the Blue Holes, the German Channel, the Peleliu Wall, and the Ngmelis Drop-Off have achieved almost legendary status among divers in the know. It’s the big fish that give the Rock Islands their special claim to fame. Commercial fishing has been banned in Palau for more than a decade, and as a result, threatened shark, barracuda, and wrasse species, as well as turtles and dolphins and giant clams, thrive around the island’s spectacular reefs. Tallies vary widely, but there are somewhere around 300 islands in the group, spread over some 161km (100 miles) of ocean south of Palau’s largest island, Babeldaob. Three ocean currents converge here, which means that hundreds of migratory fish species pass in and out of these waters. Several World War II shipwrecks provide underwater landmarks to explore; you can also swim through tunnels in certain islands’ coasts to reach inland marine lakes, populated with rare stingless jellyfish, a snorkeling experience you’ll never forget. For a great overview of the Rock Islands, take a speedboat tour from the main tourist town of Koror, about 20 minutes from the airport. These tours will whiz you around to secluded coves, jewel-like lagoons, and the most dazzling strips of white-sand beach. When it’s time to get down to some serious diving, leading dive-boat operators include Fish and Fins (& 680/488-2637; www.fishnfins.com),

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Neco’s Marine (& 680/488-1755; www. necomarine.com), and Sam’s Tours (& 680/488-7267; www.samstours.com). For a little variety, you can also try kayaking and sport fishing around the islands; there are plenty of watersports shops in Koror, as well as at the leading resorts. Exotic as Palau may seem, English is spoken everywhere, and the U.S. dollar is the main currency. You can easily base yourself in Koror, or book a berth on a liveaboard boat such as the Eclipse (book through Sam’s Tours, above) or the Ocean Adventure I and III (book through Fish and Fins, above). —HH Palau tourist office (& 680/4882793; www.visit-palau.com). Palau International Airport, Babeldaob Island. $$ Dolphin Bay Resort, Peleliu Island (& 680/345-5555; www.dolphin bay-resort-peleliu.com). $$$ Palau Pacific Resort, Koror (& 680/488-2600; www. palauppr.com).

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Onemaba Island
The House Reef Rules
Sulawesi, Indonesia
When Swiss-born diver Lorenz Mäder launched the Wakatobi Dive Resort in the mid-1990s, this remote island cluster in the Banda Sea barely registered on the world map of premier dive sites. But that was what Mäder liked about it: Remote and pristine, these Indonesian islands offered warm, clear, shallow waters around superb biodiverse reefs, with no tourist hordes to contend with. If you were serious enough about diving to make the effort to get here, underwater nirvana was yours for the taking. Word quickly spread; eventually no less a submarine authority than Jacques Cousteau pronounced Wakatobi possibly the finest dive site in the world. The resort itself is set on the scrubby, flat island of Onemaba, which means “long white beach” in the local language—and fittingly, the resort buildings front onto a gorgeous white-sand beach, fringed with nodding palms. What began as a sort of bare-bones destination located in a single traditional longhouse has morphed into a high-end resort for some 50 guests at a time, with private air-conditioned bungalows furnished with canopied beds, soaring teak-beamed ceilings, sleek volcanic stone floors, and huge windows overlooking the sea. Amenities include Internet access, top chefs serving gourmet fusion cuisine, and a private airstrip, where charter flights from Bali arrive bearing resort guests. If you don’t want to stay on land, the resort also has its own luxury live-aboard motor yacht, the MY Pelagian. Lodging includes all meals and three daily 70-minute dive expeditions out to the surrounding Wakatobi islands of Wangi, Kaledupa, Tomea, and Binongki, all of which have thriving reefs; there are more than 40 dive sites available, where you can do everything from drift diving to exploring calm coral bowls, pinnacles, and bommies. With a ratio of one guide to every four divers, these outings tend to be highly productive; during a 10-day stay, you can easily rack up 40 hours or more of bottom time. Don’t expect fake shipwrecks and artificial seawalls; do expect incredibly healthy reefs with brilliantly colored coral, hard and soft, and an astonishing variety of marine life from clown fish to rays, wrasses, eels, and sharks, including exotics like pygmy sea horses, ghost pipefish, leaf scorpionfish, and cuttlefish.

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KOS
Even better, Wakatobi Dive Resort has an excellent house reef right off that white beach, a fringing reef that’s accessible via tender boat 24 hours a day. Given all the other great dive opportunities here, that house reef is the icing on the cake—but oh, what icing! —HH www.wakatobi.com.

( Wakatobi Dive Resort, 2 ⁄ hr. from Bali.
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47 Kos

Storied Sand & Surf

Temple of Healing
Greece
The world of medicine made a giant leap here in the 4th century B.C. Kos is the birthplace of the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, whose followers founded the Kos Asklepeion, a healing temple that became a pioneering hospital and medical school specializing in the therapeutic principles laid out by Hippocrates. It was Hippocrates who led the way in separating superstition from fact in the practice of clinical medicine and whose belief in taking a whole-body approach to medicine was light-years ahead of its time. The ruins of the sprawling Asklepeion are among the many archaeological treasures of this, the third-largest island in the Dodecanese chain. The healing properties of Kos are not limited to its hospitals. This largely flat island, studded with two small peaks, is a sun-splashed, soul-lifting slice of Greek island paradise. It has gorgeous beaches, picturesque villages, and a lively sociability. Tourism is the island’s main industry, and the capital, Kos Town, can sometimes seem overrun with buzzing beach resorts and besotted youth, but if you get out into the serene countryside, amid ruins and verdant farm fields, colorful villages and rustic tavernas, you get to experience Kos at its most authentic. Because the island is largely flat, it’s easily seen by bicycle, and bikes can be rented throughout the island. You might start your sightseeing by biking along the northern coastline to Tigaki Beach, just 10km (61⁄4 miles) from Kos Town. Tigaki’s shallow waters and gentle surf make it a fine beach for families; ditto for Marmari Beach, just 10km (61⁄4 miles) west of Tigaki. For a little more wave action, head just 5km (3 miles) west to Mastahari, which has lots of family-owned restaurants fronting the beach. On the south side of the island (which can be reached by bus or car from Kos Town), beautiful Kefolos has sparkling seas and ivory sand. It’s an easy swim to the small island just off the beach, which holds the monastery of St. Nicolas. The Kos beaches are bliss, but a visit to the Asklepeion is a must for visitors to Kos. The ancient ruins lie in an area just 4km (21⁄2 miles) west of Kos Town. The buildings are set dramatically upon four terraces linked by a marble staircase. Among them, the Temple of Asklepeion is a Doric temple that was built in the 2nd century B.C. The Stoa here once housed Hippocrates’s medical school. More antiquities can be found around the port of Kos Town, where excavations of the ancient city have uncovered ruins from a range of civilizations, from the classical-era Agora to a 15th-century castle built by the Knights of St. John. It’s

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS a remarkable architectural timeline tracing this island’s rich history. —AF www.hippocrates.gr or www.visit greece.gr. run in high season between Kos and Rhodes (2 hr.) and other Aegean islands, including Agathonisi (21⁄2 hr.), Kalymnos (35 min.), Leros (11⁄2 hr.), Lipsi (2 hr.), and Patmos (21⁄2 hr.). Reservations: www.ferries.gr. $$ Alice Springs Hotel, 100 Lambi, Kos Island (& 30/22420-23473; www. alicespringshotel.com). $$$ Hotel Plantanista, Psalidi, Kos Island (& 30/2242022400; www.platanista.gr).

( Athens (55 min.).
Year-round regular ferry service from several islands, including Piraeus (10 hr.), Rhodes (3 hr.), Mykonos (9 hr.), and Syros (61⁄2 hr.). Daily hydrofoils (fast ferries)

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Santa Maria
The Yellow Island
The Azores, Portugal
Geographically speaking, Santa Maria is an island with a split personality. Half of it is flat as a pancake, with golden beaches and ubiquitous sunshine, while the other half, the eastern end, is hilly and almost wild with lush vegetation and frequent rainfall—and the island only measures 17km (11 miles) end to end. Like all the Azores, Santa Maria is a traditional place and quite remote, but with its sparkling seacoast, upcountry scenery, and truly untouched feel, there’s plenty to draw the visitor in search of an offbeat, beachy island destination. The southernmost of the Azores archipelago, and the closest, along with São Miguel , to the Portuguese mainland, Santa Maria is sometimes called the “Yellow Island” for the vivid hues of sunny yellow wildflowers that bloom here as early as February. But Santa Maria is an island of many colors—it’s known for its whitewashed and basalt-trimmed architecture, some of which dates back to the 15th century when the Portuguese first settled here. In the high country, you can’t miss the fertile dark-red soil. Santa Maria is also referred to as the “island of the sun” for the indisputable meteorological fact that Santa Maria is drier and has better weather year-round than its fellow Azores. Despite its diminutive size, Santa Maria has excellent unspoiled beaches that are integral to the island experience here; the bathing areas are basically divided between São Lourenço Bay, on the northeast coast, and Praia Formosa, a wide bay along the southern coast. Swimmers and aesthetes will want to return to São Lourenço Bay, again and again. This crescent of soft sand, punctuated by dramatic rocks, and backed by neatly defined vineyards that terrace up to muscular-looking, verdant hills, is one of the most stunning bathing spots in the Azores. But perhaps the best beach for those who love wide expanses of gorgeous sand is Praia Formosa, well equipped with watersports and refreshment facilities. At 590m (1,936 ft.), Pico Alto is the highest point on the island, with breathtaking views in every direction. The main town on Santa Maria, Vila do Porto, is also the oldest in the Azores, with characteristic winding streets that lead all the way up to a panoramic fortress on a cliff overlooking the port. The village of Anjos earned its place on the tourist circuit of Santa Maria

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RÜGEN by being the first European spot where Christopher Columbus landed on his return from the Americas. There’s a bronze statue of Columbus near the chapel of Ermida de Nossa Senhora dos Anjos, one of many historic churches on the island, but one that gets special status because it’s where the explorer and his crew prayed for continued safe travels. —SM www.azores.com. Santa Maria ( São Miguel. from Airport, connections

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$$ Hotel Colombo, Rua Cruz Teixeira, Vila do Porto (& 351/296/820200; www.colombo-hotel.com).

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Rügen
Bathing in the Baltic Sea
Germany
Beautiful island beaches may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Germany, but this Scandinavian-flavored gem is definitely worth a visit for its sand and shore, especially if you have kids in tow. It’s already been discovered by thousands of travelers who flock here for long, leisurely summer holidays. Located in the Baltic Sea off Germany’s northeast coast, 976-sq.-km (377-sq.-mile) Rügen Island is Germany’s largest island, with enough land to encompass

Children playing on Rügen beach.

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS family-friendly seaside resorts, sandy beaches, a chalk-cliff coastline, preserved wetlands, and fairy-tale forests. Its location by the sea keeps temperatures temperate and fresh breezes constant, and its northerly latitude extends daylight hours in summer well into the evening; it gets a hundred more hours of sunshine annually than Munich. Rügen is home to 70,000 people, who live in four towns and scores of municipalities including the capital, Bergen. In the 19th century it was an elegant Baltic spa resort. It continued to be a popular vacation destination after World War II when it was part of the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), and German reunification did nothing to blunt its popularity. Today the population swells to include visitors on holiday enjoying Rügen’s numerous recreational opportunities. The long, fine-sand beach and gentle surf in the seaside town of Binz make it ideal for small children (it also has dogfriendly and clothing-optional beaches). Hiking and biking trails trace the island along level, well-maintained pathways. You can rent bikes at Weiradhaus Deutschmann, which has two offices in Binz (near the railway station and the petrol station; & 49/38393-32420). Children of all ages delight in the Rasender Roland (www.rasender-roland. com), a kid-size narrow-gauge railroad steam train that travels from Putbus (west of Binz) to Gohren, with stops at the resort towns of Sellin and Baabe and at Jagdschloss, a 19th-century hunting castle set at the highest point in a 1,200-hectare (2,965-acre) beech forest. In the evenings, folks in Binz stroll down its famous wooden beachside promenade past elegant, beautifully preserved 19th-century villas with Art Nouveau grace notes. If the stars are out, it’s an impossibly romantic scene. You can get to Rügen by traveling over the Rügenbrucke Bridge, which connects the island by road and rail with the city of Stralsund on the mainland, and crosses over the Strelasund. If you don’t have a rental car, Rügen has a reliable public bus system (RPNV; & 49/3838-8229-55). Whether you take a bus or rent a car, a ride in the countryside reveals the island’s impressive assortment of vintage palaces (schloss) and manor houses, many of which offer accommodations and cultural events. —AF www.ruegen.de or www.ostseebadbinz.de.

( Berlin (3 ⁄ hr. from Rügen).
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Glewitz ferry (www.weisseflotte.com) between Rügen and the mainland (Stahlbrode-Glewitz). Scandlines (www.scandlines.com) transports passengers and autos from Sweden (Trelleborg) to Rügen’s Sassnitz harbor, about 10km (61⁄4 miles) north of Binz. $$ Steigenberger Resort Hotel, Neddesitz 18 (adjacent to Jasmund National Park; & 49/6966-5644-60; www. ruegen.steigenberger.com). $$$ Travel Charme Kurhaus Binz, Strandpromenade 27, Ostseebad Binz (& 49/38393-6650; www.travelcharme.com).

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Antigua
A Beach for Every Day of the Year
Here’s how you might spend a fine day on the eastern Caribbean island of Antigua. It would start in a boat skimming sparkling green seas where you might spot a hawksbill turtle moving gracefully below the glassy surface. You put down anchor

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ANTIGUA when you find the right beach. Will it be a soft crescent of secluded white sand? A palm-fringed gathering spot with lilting calypso rhythms and barbecues smoking? A sheltered cove of sparkling blue water? Take your pick; all are public. You dive into the warm, sun-splashed seas, water so buoyant you practically float atop the waves. You’ve brought provisions, of course, picnic fare, drinks, and—most important—snorkeling equipment. The coral reef delivers calm, protected waters packed with underwater eye candy. With flippers and snorkel, you commune with parrotfish, angelfish, grouper, sponges and sea fans, and more big, lumbering turtles. A fine day, indeed. It’s been said that Antigua is more or less a beach with an island in the middle. It’s also been said that Antigua has a beach for every day of the year. Even if they number only 364, Antigua’s beaches would still rank among the Caribbean’s finest. (The locals have their secret favorites.) The gentle waves and powdery sand make Dickenson Bay, on the northwest coast, popular with families. The kicked-up Atlantic surf at Half-Moon Bay, on the island’s southeastern coast, is a windsurfer haven. Some of the island’s best snorkeling can be had on Long Bay, Galleon Beach, and Pigeon Beach. If you’re looking for great dive sites, head to the southern or eastern shores, where marine life teems among the steep walls and ledges. Big John’s Dive Antigua (& 268/462-DIVE [4623483]; http://diveantigua.com), which has PADI-certified instructors and 25 years’ experience diving on Antigua, can help arrange many trips. Antigua is the largest English-speaking nation in the Leeward Islands; the island nation includes Barbuda and Redonda. Throughout the island, you can see the crumbling relics of the island’s days as a sugar-processing workhorse for the British Empire. These days, many of the remnants of 18th-century sugar plantations have been converted into tourist properties or lie in splendid ruins in a tangle of lush vegetation. The historic town of English Harbor was once the Caribbean headquarters of the British Navy and is now part of the restored Nelson’s Dockyard National Park. Antigua’s notso-distant colonization (it achieved full independence from Britain in 1981) is evident in the island’s lilting British/Caribbean accents and the tradition of afternoon teas. Most of the islanders are descendants of the African slaves the British brought over to work the sugar plantations. The island’s strong sailing tradition is also a likely offshoot of the British occupation, when a young Horatio Nelson arrived in Antigua in the late 18th century to develop the naval facilities and dockyard (he stayed in his quarters on the ship, calling the island “a vile place”). Regattas and races sponsored by local yacht clubs give the island a fizzy, celebratory ambience year-round. Even if you’re not a sailor, you can get out on the water any number of ways, from cruises to eco-tours, to speedboat charters. Antigua has a pretty sophisticated tourism infrastructure and plenty of smallscale luxury resorts, each with its own splendid chunk of beachfront real estate. But if you’re the adventurous sort—and even if you’re not—it’s highly recommended that you take to the water and discover your own little slice of sandy paradise. —AF www.antigua-barbuda.org.

( V.C. Bird International Airport.
$$$ Carlisle Bay Antigua (& 268/ 484-0000; www.carlisle-bay.com). $$ Sibonney Beach Club (& 268/462-0806; www.caribbean-resort-antigua-hotelsiboney-beach.com).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Storied Sand & Surf

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Oahu
The Hawaiian Icon
Hawaii, U.S.
Though it’s sometimes dismissed by island aficionados as either too populated or too Vegas-y to be a proper vacation destination, Oahu is in many ways the most Hawaiian island of the archipelago. Legendary, one-of-a-kind sights like Waikiki Beach, Pearl Harbor, and the North Shore surf breaks make Oahu a must-see, even if only for a few days en route to Maui , , or the Big Island . This is the Kauai Hawaii of classic TV and movies, from the tiki idol episode of the Brady Bunch to From Here to Eternity, with appealing retro-Polynesian style all over the island. In 2008, Oahu also received a very welcome publicity shot in the arm when native son Barack Obama, the pride of Makiki (a neighborhood in the capital city of Honolulu, on the south side of Oahu), was elected President of the United States. Surfers need no more compelling reason to book a trip to Oahu than the promise of being able to ride the waves that crash on the fabled North Shore. When winter brings 30-ft. (9m) swells, the worldclass breaks of Waimea Bay, the Banzai Pipeline, and Sunset Beach are for experts only. In summer, the waters are much calmer, and these become idyllic snorkeling spots. The funky town of Haleiwa is known as Surf City, U.S.A., with all the midcentury memorabilia and hangloose atmosphere you’d expect—a little kitschy, but fun.

Surfing in Oahu.

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BAZARUTO ARCHIPELAGO
Of course, you haven’t seen Oahu until you’ve done Waikiki beach. Essentially a suburb of Honolulu, Waikiki’s famous pinksand beach is lined with glitzy hotels, excellent dining and shopping, and great places to people-watch. It’s hard to find any kind of Polynesian soul in Waikiki, but the dramatic promontory of Diamond Head volcano, at one end of the beach, is an undeniably iconic symbol of Hawaii. All along the beach here are watersports vendors offering everything from snorkeling equipment rentals to outrigger canoe excursions. Oahu’s “day of infamy”—the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941—is chillingly recalled at the USS Arizona Memorial (www.nps.gov/usar). The monument spans the sunken remains of the ship where 1,177 crew members died during the Japanese aerial attack. Also at Pearl Harbor, the enormous USS Missouri battleship (www.ussmissouri.com), where Japan signed its surrender in 1945 to end World War II, is now open to the public as a museum ship. Since the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama tourism has become a lucrative addition for island guides—as much a part of the modern Oahu experience as surf lessons on Waikiki beach or visiting the Arizona memorial. For a fee, entrepreneurial locals will sell you a map that marks all the places on Oahu where the various generations of Barack’s family have ever set foot, and organized tours will take you to the 44th president’s favorite burger joint, Kua ’Aina Sandwich Shop (66-160 Kamehameha Hwy.; & 808/637-6067), or bodysurfing spot, Sandy Beach, on Oahu’s southeastern tip. —SM www.gohawaii.com/oahu or www. visit-oahu.com.

( Honolulu International.
$$$ Royal Hawaiian, 2259 Kalakaua Ave., Waikiki (& 808/923-7311; www. royal-hawaiian.com). $$ Waikiki Parc, Lewers St. (& 800/422-0450 or 808/9217272; www.waikikiparchotel.com).

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Archipelagos & Atolls

Bazaruto Archipelago
Pearl of the Indian Ocean
Mozambique
Glorious Mozambique is like Rip Van Winkle awakening from a deep sleep. Held back by years of iron-fisted colonial rule, devastating civil wars, and drought, this East African nation is emerging as one of the world’s most unspoiled, undiscovered destinations. Among its treasures is the beautiful Bazaruto Archipelago, whose pink-coral beaches and dazzling Indian Ocean seas have been largely untouched by civilization for decades. It’s a seascape so magical, so environmentally exquisite, that the government has wisely designated the entire archipelago as a protected national marine park. It’s a remarkably forward-thinking directive aimed at maintaining the region’s ecological and social integrity. The archipelago is composed of five islands lying in the Indian Sea off the southern coast of Mozambique: Bazaruto, Benguerua, Margaruque, Banque, and Santa Carolina. Margaruque is a private island owned by a Zimbabwean millionaire. Banque is tiny and completely undeveloped. The largest island, Bazaruto, has voluminous sand dunes whose color changes with the light, from Namibian red to blindingly white. Both Bazaruto and the second-largest island, Benguerua, have interiors of glittering freshwater lakes,

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS home to large crocodiles—evidence of the island’s ancient past. Benguerua also has high, beautiful dunes, from which you can watch the moon set and the sun rise. One way to experience this amazing landscape is on horseback; Mozambique Horse Safari (& 258/82-7639249; www. mozambiquehorsesafari.com) offers day rides on Benguerua’s empty white-sand beaches past flocks of flamingos skimming the tidal flats. Cashew nuts, once the country’s major export, still grow on indigenous trees on Benguerua, as do wild orange trees, coconut palms, and sisal plants. The rich and famous haunted Santa Carolina island (also known as Paradise Island) from the 1940s to the 1960s, when Mozambique was still a Portuguese colony. Bob Dylan wrote the song “Mozambique” on a piano in the sumptuous 250-room Art Deco Hotel Santa Carolina; the piano is now in safekeeping at the Indigo Bay Island Resort (see below) because when the Portuguese abruptly fled the country in 1975, they abandoned the hotel; it now lies in ruins. Rani Resorts, which runs several resorts in Mozambique, have been granted the rights to redevelop the island and plan to re-create the hotel as it was in the 1940s; look for a 2010 opening. The islands in the Bazaruto archipelago are largely sand, sea, and tropical flora and fauna. There are no towns on the islands, no shops, no streets, and no cars. Tourism is in its infancy here, and large-scale development is not in the cards for the archipelago. The handful of resorts on the islands follow the conservation-minded example of the high-end, low-volume, low-impact bush lodges of Botswana: pampered luxury in pristine surrounds, at a price. Foreigners are not allowed to own land in Mozambique but can build (eco-conscious) concessions with long-term (99-year) leases. Even though the island “attractions” are few, there’s plenty to do here. Activities include superb deep-sea diving and snorkeling on unspoiled coral reefs; saltwater fly-fishing; and big-game fishing for whopping marlin, sailfish, king mackerel, and bonito (tag and release, of course). Bazaruto also has the largest remaining population of dugong in East Africa. This extremely rare mammal is a sea cow (and relative of the manatee) and though it has been hunted to the brink of extinction, it can be spotted on boat tours. You can arrange any of these activities through your lodging. It’s not difficult to get to Bazaruto. You can fly into the coastal city of Vilanculos, on the Mozambique mainland, from Maputo (Mozambique’s capital) or Johannesburg, South Africa. Most resorts then arrange for charter flights from Vilanculos to the islands or set up boat transfers. Non–hotel guests are not allowed onto the islands with resort properties. —AF www.mozambiquetourism.co.za. Vilanculos, Mozambique (from Maputo, Mozambique, 1 hr., 20 min.; Johannesburg, South Africa, 2 hr., 30 min.). Charter flights on CFA Air Carters from Maputo. Lodges arrange boat transfers (30 min.). $$$ Indigo Bay Island Resort & Spa, Bazaruto Island (& 27/011/658-0063; www.indigobayresort.com). $$$ Marlin Lodge, Benguerua Island (& 27/012/4609410; www.marlinlodge.co.za).

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SAN BLAS ISLANDS

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Archipelagos & Atolls

San Blas Islands
Kuna Yala
Panama
Imagine this: The San Blas Islands were once simply a place you passed through on the way to the Panama Canal. Boy, have times changed: The sleepy little San Blas Islands are still sleepy—that’s their charm—but these idyllic, sun-dappled tropical isles off the northeast coast of Panama are now a big lure for nature lovers and beach bums. The pristine islands in the Caribbean Sea were even selected one of the top two “best cruising destinations in the world” by Cruising World magazine, and CBS’s Survivor TV show visited one San Blas island, Sapbeinega. Composed of approximately 365 islands and cays, the San Blas Islands are part of the Comarca de Kuna Yala, an autonomous territory controlled by the native Kunas, who call it Kuna Yala (“Kuna Territory”). Only 60 of the islands are inhabited; the others are largely uninhabited white-sand atolls fringed with palm trees and ringed by pulsing coral reefs and clear, sparkling emerald seas. It’s an impossibly gorgeous seascape. The capital of Kuna Yala is the island of El Porvenir, a 20-minute flight from Panama City. If you decide to stay in the Porvenir area, head to Island Perro (Dog Island) for some great snorkeling just off the beach around the wreck of an old cargo ship. Other top snorkeling spots include the Cayos Holandes, a group of remote and largely uninhabited cays in the northeast quadrant of the archipelago. Some 50,000 Kunas currently live in Panama. One segment of this indigenous tribe lives on just a handful of the islands in thatched-roof villages—theirs is a closeknit community in the most literal sense. The rest of the San Blas islands have an almost primitive, castaway feel, with no one else for miles around. Coral reefs support a vital population of spectacularly hued marine life—you can snorkel-hop from one island to the next with joyous abandon. One of the most fascinating things to do in the San Blas Islands is take an expedition to a Kuna village and learn more about the Kuna culture. The Kunas move from one island to another in motorized cayucos (dugout canoes), and many of the lodges are owned and operated by the Kunas. You can even buy traditional (Keith Haring–like) mola embroidered textiles. The Kuna women wear traditional colorful dresses (women travelers should wear one-piece suits or coverups, if possible, to avoid offending the Kunas). Ancon Expeditions of Panama (& 507/269-9415; www.anconexpeditions.com) offers solid Kuna Village and San Blas expeditions. If you’re interested in taking combination kayaking and snorkeling trips of the San Blas Islands, contact Adventuras Panama (& 507/260-0044; www.aventuras panama.com). Full-service 3- to 21-day sailing trips of the island archipelago are offered by San Blas Sailing (& 507/3141800; www.sanblassailing.com), with plenty of mooring stops to snorkel, swim, and soak up the scenery. —AF www.visitpanama.com. Panama City, then small plane (Air Panama or Aeroperlas) to El Porvenir. $$ Coral Lodge, near San Blas (& 507/232-0200; www.corallodge.com). $$ Sapibenega The Kuna Lodge, Iskardup island (& 507/215-1406; www. sapibenega.com).

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS
Archipelagos & Atolls

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Turneffe Islands Atoll
Life on the Atoll
Belize
From the shallows to the deep, the marine ecosystem in Belize is so vibrant that the waters pulse with life everywhere you look. For fishermen chasing hard-fighting bonefish in sparkling saltwater flats and divers exploring tropical coral gardens, the Turneffe Atoll is one of the most vital places in the world. In fact, according to the Oceanic Society, which operates a marine research center here on Blackbird Caye, Turneffe is the most biologically diverse atoll in the Western Hemisphere. At 48km long and 16km wide (30×10 miles), the Turneffe Islands Atoll is the largest of three atolls (coral reefs ringing a shallow lagoon) off the coast of Belize. Some 200 islands, or cayes, make up the atoll, some mere dollops of sugary white sand, others blanketed by mangrove forests or swaying coconut palms. The islands represent the tip of a submerged volcanic rim that rises from deep offshore waters, and the surrounding vertical wall makes for world-class diving with excellent visibility (down to 24–30m/80–100 ft.). Sightings include eagle rays, turtles, green morays, jewfish, nurse and reef sharks, grouper, snapper, and horse-eye jacks. Close by, the Elbow offers huge gorgonians and sponges in current-driven drift dives. A little farther out, Lighthouse Reef features the famed underwater sites Half Moon Caye and Blue Hole. It was Jacques Cousteau who blazed the trail to the Blue Hole in 1972. This circular limestone sinkhole, 300m (984 ft.) wide and more than 120m (394 ft.) deep, is actually a massive Ice Age cavern whose roof collapsed to create a cobalt-blue ocean hole. It’s filled with giant stalactites and stalagmites and large pelagics, fat groupers, and rays. You can get to Turneffe by a 2- to 3-hour boat ride from Belize City for day trips on the atoll, or you can take overnights on full-service dive boats operating out of Belize City or Ambergris Caye ; the Aggressor Fleet (www.aggressor.com) offers weekly dive trips to the Turneffe Atoll on the Belize Aggressor II out of Belize City. But perhaps the most thrilling way to experience Turneffe is to stay at one of the three well-run resorts on the atoll, all of which have excellent fishing and dive operations and offer fishing, dive, and general vacation packages. The oldest (40 years) is the 5.6-hectare (14-acre) private island resort Turneffe Island Lodge (see below), considered one of the Caribbean’s top saltwater-flats fishing destinations. Blackbird Caye has two resorts: Turneffe Flats and Blackbird Caye Resort. Avid divers and anglers have long known about Turneffe, but it’s a little off the radar of most mainstream travelers, perhaps because the atoll lies 56km (35 miles) from the mainland, and the tourism infrastructure of this unspoiled landscape is, well, little more than water and sand. Things may be shifting, however. Conservationists are raising warning flags that the balance of this exquisite ecosystem could be tipped in the near future by illegal fishing and the private purchases of public land—slices of the atoll are up for sale. Much is riding on the preservation of these marine habitats: According to the Ocean Society, the expanses of mangrove and sea-grass habitat serve as a huge nursery area for crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, and invertebrates. Underwater sponges provide rich feeding grounds for

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TUVALU the endangered hawksbill sea turtle. Endangered and threatened nesting species of birds include the least tern, the roseate tern, and the white crowned pigeon. If you simply can’t get enough of unspoiled coral atolls, head just south of Turneffe to Glover’s Reef. It was named for the 18th-century British pirate John Glover, who used the atoll as a base from which to plunder passing Spanish galleons. This marine reserve and UNESCO World Heritage Site has a no-fishing zone (over 75% of the area) that ensures a rich and diverse marine life along the 207-sq.km (80-sq.-mile) coral reef. —AF www.travelbelize.org. Belize City (48–56km/30–35 miles from Turneffe).

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Boat transfers to island from airport (about 90 min.).

$$$ Turneffe Flats, Blackbird Caye ( 888/512-8812 in the U.S. or 501/ 220-4046; www.tflats.com). $$$ Turneffe Island Lodge, Little Caye Bokel (& 713/ 236-7739 [U.S.]; www.turnefferesort.com).

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Archipelagos & Atolls

Tuvalu
Somewhere in the South Pacific . . .
At the remote coordinates of 9 degrees south latitude and 179 degrees east longitude, Tuvalu may just be the most far-flung independent monarchy in the world. Its name, pronounced Tu-vah-loo, means “eight standing together,” for the eight islands that originally composed Tuvalu. There are now nine, together covering a grand total of 27 sq. km (10 sq. miles) in area, making it the fourth-smallest country in the world land-wise; the population, at just over 11,000, isn’t much bigger. The South Pacific island of Tuvalu is one very remote spot, with little tourism infrastructure, but if you do find your way there— perhaps sailing between Hawaii and the Cook Islands (p. 516) or French Polynesia— you’ll find broadly smiling locals and a number of interesting sights and activities to keep you happily occupied as you hop around the atolls. Five of the islands of Tuvalu are atolls while the other four are the tops of more solid pinnacles of land. None of the islands of Tuvalu reaches an elevation of more than about 4m (13 ft.), and all are covered with sugary white sand and coconut palms. Funafuti atoll is the capital of Tuvalu, and its village of Fogafale is where the island’s few services are to be found. Bicycles are the preferred mode of transportation here and far outnumber motor vehicles. The Australian dollar is the local currency. Tuvalu’s attractions do not include any mountains, hikes, or waterfalls. Instead, it’s all about the uninterrupted, blissinspiring (and potentially stir-crazy-making) expanses of ocean in every direction, and outstanding snorkeling amid the coral reefs. Great distances of open water separate the islands of Tuvalu, so if you’re looking for the truly unspoiled South Pacific, this is it. Tuvaluans perform their Polynesian dances for each other—not outside visitors, though they’re welcome, too— and play an ancient ballgame called te ano that also involves singing, dancing, and traditional dress. During World War II, Tuvalu was occupied by the Americans, and this provides a

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BEACHCOMBER ISLANDS bit of historical sightseeing around the islands. The remains of warplanes are nestled in the shrubs along the Americanbuilt airstrip on Nanumea; and on that same island, the wrecks of small American landing craft are still visible in the low surf. The principal “archaeological” site on Funafuti is not war-related but Darwinrelated: It was here that several holes were bored more than 300m (984 ft.) to prove Darwin’s theory on the formation of atolls. The boreholes can still be seen today at the site called David’s Drill, after the scientist who led the experiment. Although it’s unlikely that tourism will be sufficiently developed here to provide a significant source of income, Tuvalu has benefited greatly from the Internet age: Its national domain suffix “.tv” is hungrily sought by media corporations worldwide, and Tuvalu is only happy to sell, providing the tiny island nation with millions of siterights dollars every year. —SM www.timelesstuvalu.com or www. tuvaluislands.com. Funafuti International Airport (connections to Tarawa, Kiribati and Suva, Fiji). $$ Vaiaku Lagi, Funafuti (& 688/ 20501; vaiakulagi@gmail.com).

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2 Garden Islands

Beautiful Bounty . . . 58 Blooming Wonders . . . 64 Wet & Wild . . . 68 Manicured Gardens . . . 81 Lush Life . . . 85

GARDEN ISLANDS
Beautiful Bounty

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Corfu
Emerald Isle
Greece
If Greece had a nurturing Mother Nature, Corfu would fit the bill. Bathed in sunshine, Corfu is all about man and the natural world coexisting in exquisite, joyful harmony. The warm Mediterranean climate nourishes classic flora that has grown here since Homer’s time: olive and fig trees, grapes, and pomegranates. In fact, during Venetian rule, groves of olive trees were planted throughout the island to support the burgeoning olive oil industry; today the island terrain holds some five million olive trees. Fruit trees bearing oranges, lemons, and kumquats cover verdant slopes, and some 600 varieties of wildflowers blanket the hillsides. During harvest season, the air is scented with the perfume of ripened grapes. The weather is so temperate, subtropical even, that banana trees thrive in spots. The northernmost of the Greek Ionian islands, Corfu—known as Kerkyra in Greek—lies in the Adriatic Sea. Its lush greenness sets it somewhat apart from other Greek islands, but it also has the classic Greek island lineup of stunning beaches, dramatic rocky outcroppings, and picturesque villages. Paleokastritsa, the largest beach on the west coast, has two bottle-green bays enclosed by cliffs— James Bond cavorted here in For Your Eyes Only. You can snorkel in the tranquil waters off Kassiopi, a vintage fishing village on the island’s northeast coast. Aside from its bountiful natural attributes, Corfu has a rich and interesting history. The Phoenicians who first occupied the island made sure their creature comforts were well taken care of and were considered hospitable hosts, reportedly showing Odysseus a fine time. The 400year reign of the Venetians (which ended at the dawn of the 19th c.) is evident in the handsome neoclassical architecture in Corfu Town, the island’s capital; its Old Town was named a World Heritage Site in 2007. The town dates back to the 8th century B.C., and among its most impressive buildings are three forts designed by esteemed Venetian engineers, built to defend the trading interests of the Republic of Venice against the Ottomans. The magnificent gardens on the grounds of the neoclassical Achillion Palace, high atop Corfu in the village of Gastouri, only look ancient—they were planted amid Greek statuary as a summer retreat for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria (known as “Sisi”) in the late 1900s. The palace lost its beloved mistress in 1898, when Sisi was assassinated by an Italian anarchist, and was vandalized during World War II. But today the restored palace and grounds, where vines of purple wisteria drape stone statuary, is one of the island’s biggest attractions. Stop in at a local taverna for a taste of classic Mediterranean fare, here and there revealing the Italian influences of the Venetian era, such as pastitsado, a meat stew served over pasta. You might wash it down with some of the locally made wines, many produced from the white Kakotrygis and red Petrokoritho grapes grown on island vineyards. And don’t leave the island without a bottle of kumquat liqueur, made from the Chinese fruit that has been cultivated on this lush and lovely island since the late 1800s. —AF

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GRENADA http://ionian-islands.com and www. corfuonline.gr. and ports in Italy, such as Ancona, Bari, Brindisi, Trieste, and Venice. $$ Cavalieri, 4 Kapodistriou (& 30/ 26610/39041; www.cavalieri-hotel.com). $$$ Corfu Palace Hotel, 2 Leoforos Demokratias (& 30/26610/39485; www. corfupalace.com).

( Athens (50 min.).

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Beautiful Bounty

Grenada
The Spice Island
At one time, Grenada produced more nutmeg than any other spot in the world, except for Indonesia. Richly endowed with ideal conditions for growing tropical fruits and spices, the “Isle of Spice,” in the southeastern Caribbean Sea just north of Venezuela, grew more spices per square mile than any other place on earth, kitchen staples like nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, bay leaves, and mace. But in 2004, crops in Grenada suffered a devastating hit from Hurricane Ivan (followed, the next year, by a cruel drenching from Hurricane Emily). The storms wiped out 85% of the island’s nutmeg trees—Grenada’s “black gold” and biggest export, a $20-million industry. Today, the bounty of the Caribbean is back in full flower on Grenada, which is actually the largest island in the three-island independent nation of Grenada (the other

Grenada.

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GARDEN ISLANDS islands are Carriacou and Petit Martinique). The island interior—a lush oasis of rainforest and mountains—is a riot of blooms, from hibiscus to bougainvillea to frangipani, ringed by classic sugary-sand beaches, some 40 palm-fringed crescents lapped by turquoise seas. Fruit trees hang heavy with mangoes, papaya, carambola, and breadfruit, and sugar cane fields dot the landscape. Nutmeg trees have been replanted, but it’s still too early to tell if the industry can rebound to pre-Ivan levels (it takes 7 or 8 years for the trees to bear fruit—and it turns out the farmers may have planted more male trees than female). If spices are what you’re after—nutmeg included—you’ll have no trouble finding fresh dried spice packs to take home. Head to Market Square, in Grenada’s capital St. George’s, or other marketplaces on the island. You can also tour the old spice estates and processing factories to see just how the local crops go from tree to table. (Cinnamon, interestingly, is extracted from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree.) Take a tour at the Dougaldston Spice Estate, just outside Gouyave, a weather-beaten relic from the 19th century. Tours are also offered at the Nutmeg Processing Stations in Gouyave and Grenville, the island’s largest nutmeg processing factories. But perhaps the island’s biggest agritourism attraction is the 17th-century Belmont Estate (& 473/ 442-9524; www.belmontestate.net), a working organic farm where cocoa has replaced nutmeg as the top crop— the estate has allied with the Grenada Chocolate Company to make fine organic dark chocolate. Visitors can tour Belmont’s gardens, heritage museum, goat dairy, and the cocoa processing facilities and dine in the estate cafe. Grenada also has three rum distilleries where the local sugar cane crops are processed and where exotic blends that draw on the island bounty are produced—how about rum flavored with cinnamon and passion fruit? Take a guided tour at the historic River Antoine Rum Distillery (& 473/442-7109), the oldest waterpropelled distillery in the Caribbean. Sample the potent (70% alcohol) white rum, distilled in much the same way as when the factory was built in 1785. Of course, you can always leave the touring to others and take advantage of the island’s top-notch water-based activities. The diving on Grenada is world-class, and includes the vivid marine life found around the World War II–era Bianca C., the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean, which lies a mile offshore. Or you can pick one of the island’s lovely beaches—Grand Anse, perhaps, or Anse La Roche—and simply drift away to the music of the sea and the lingering perfume of spices in the air. —AF www.grenadagrenadines.com.

( Point Salines International Airport.
$$ La Sagesse, St. Davids (& 473/ 444-6458; www.lasagesse.com). $$$ Spice Island Beach Resort, Grand Anse Beach (& 473/444-4258; www.spiceisland beachresort.com).

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Prince Edward Island
Beyond Green Gables
Canada
Sometimes it gets a bit much, all the Anne of Green Gables hoopla around Prince Edward Island. How can a century-old series of children’s books define an entire Canadian province?

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PRINCE EDWARD ISLAND

Green Gables.

But cross the Confederation Bridge from New Brunswick and drive around PEI’s low rolling hills blanketed in trees and crops, and that bucolic past celebrated in Lucy Maud Montgomery’s books makes sense after all. Explore beyond the jagged coast with its inlets and historic fishing villages, and you’ll discover that small farms make up the island’s backbone—onequarter of Prince Edward Island is dedicated to agriculture, with more than 2,300 individual farms, many of them devoted to the island’s most famous crop, potatoes (there’s even a Potato Museum in O’Leary). Maybe it’s just the Midwesterner in me, but I find this fertile, placid farmland totally alluring. Relatively flat and compact, Prince Edward Island is a great place to explore by bicycle—it was the first province to complete its section of the TransCanada Trail, with the Confederation Trail crossing the island from Tignish in the west to Elmira in the east. Covering 270km (168 miles), the trail is built along the abandoned route of the Prince Edward Island Railway, so it’s conveniently level-graded with bridges across gullies and sparkling

rivers and boardwalks built over marshy areas. Curving like a snake along the island’s spine, it passes through woodlands, wetlands, croplands, and quaint villages, giving you a wonderful cross section of the island terrain. East of the lively capital, Charlottetown, it’s worth a detour to visit Orwell Corner Historic Village (& 902/6518515; www.orwellcorner.ca), which recreates life in a small agricultural town in the 1890s. North of Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island National Park stretches along the coast of the surprisingly warm Gulf of St. Lawrence, a lovely swath of redsand beaches, placid inlets, vast salt marshes, and wind-sculpted dunes topped with marram grass. Outside the park, you can get in touch with the island’s Acadian heritage at the five Rusticos: the coastal villages of North Rustico, South Rustico, Rusticoville, Rustico Harbour, and Anglo Rustico. Which inevitably brings you to Cavendish, the vortex of Anne of Green Gables country. Plenty of tacky amusement parks and motels line this stretch of Route 6, but you really should see the farmstead that

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GARDEN ISLANDS

Island Hopping the Florida Keys: Stringing the Pearls
Like a gigantic real-world game of connect-the-dots, the Overseas Highway skips from island to island through the Florida Keys, with 42 bridges linking some 30 islands of this 400-plus-island archipelago. Sure, you can fly directly into Key West or the mid-Keys hub of Marathon, but that almost feels like cheating—there’s something intriguing about following that highway all the way through this 150-mile-long (242km) string of islands, like pearls in a necklace. Built in 1938 to replace Henry Flagler’s railroad (which had been destroyed by a hurricane—that’s South Florida for you), the Overseas Highway is a jumping-off point for the Keys—most islands are still accessible only by boat, many of them unpopulated. Divers, snorkelers, sport fishermen, and kayakers may depend on the highway to get here—addresses in the Keys generally refer to U.S. 1 mile markers—but as soon as possible they leave its inevitable traffic jams behind and get onto the water. And the farther you go, the more exotic and unspoiled the Florida Keys still seem. Many divers get no farther than the first large island off the mainland, Key Largo (originally Rock Harbor, it was renamed after the 1948 Humphrey Bogart film), where John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (Mile Marker 102) protects part of the only living coral reef in the continental United States. Glass-bottom boat tours are the classic way for nondiving tourists to view this undersea preserve’s shallow waters, populated with 40 species of coral and more than 650 species of fish. For a more serene experience, rent a canoe to paddle through Pennekamp’s narrow mangrove channels and tidal creeks. Less well-known is Key Largo’s other gem, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park (C.R. 905, off Mile Marker 106), a fascinating remnant of West Indian tropical hardwood hammock (which is an elevated piece of land above a marsh), created by seeds dropped by migratory songbirds flying north from the Caribbean. Over 6 miles (9.7km) of nature trails display 84 protected species of plants and animals, including several rare birds (white-crowned pigeons, mangrove cuckoos, black-whiskered vireos) and an incredible number of butterflies. You can also get close to nature at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center in Tavernier (Mile Marker 93.6), a much-loved sanctuary for injured local birds where you can hike a nature trail; watch pelicans, cormorants, herons, and roseate spoonbills feeding in the shallows; and learn about the Keys ecosystem. A scrum of marinas and charter-boat operations tells you that sport fishing is king in the next community, Islamorada (actually four islands: Plantation Key, Windley Key, Upper and Lower Matecumbe Keys). From Islamorada, take a ferry or rent a powerboat to visit Lignumvitae Key (visitor center at Mile Marker 88.5), another rare fragment of virgin tropical forest. Named for the lignum vitae (“wood of life”) trees found there, it still has several lush hammocks which botanists have painstakingly restored so that only truly native species live here. Don’t miss the splendid botanical gardens surrounding the park’s main structure, the coral rock Matheson House, built in 1919. Past Islamorada, Long Key—once Henry Flagler’s exclusive fishing 62

ISLAND HOPPING THE FLORIDA KEYS: STRINGING THE PEARLS

retreat—is almost entirely occupied by the 965-acre (391-hectare) Long Key State Recreation Area, sited atop the remains of an ancient coral reef. Here you can hike or canoe through several distinct habitats, including beaches where sea turtles nest in season (humans can observe from a respectful distance). Once you cross Long Key, you’ve reached the somewhat more laid-back Middle Keys, with its main town of Marathon (covering Vaca, Fat Deer, and Grassy Keys). Sun worshipers flock to Sombrero Beach, one of the few really good beaches in the Keys, but for nature lovers the highlight is the Crane Point Nature Center (Mile Marker 50), a 64-acre (26-hectare) property containing what is probably the last virgin thatchpalm hammock in North America. The visitor center has some wonderful exhibits on local ecology; walking trails meander through several habitats, from a butterfly meadow to a freshwater pond to stands of red, white, and black mangroves. For a glimpse of vintage Keys life before the highway arrived, take a ferry from Knight’s Key (Mile Marker 47) to historic Pigeon Key, a palm-fringed 5-acre (2-hectare) island under the old Seven-Mile Bridge where Flagler’s railroad workers lived in modest yellow wood-frame cottages. While cars today soar over the water on its modern replacement, the original Seven-Mile Bridge—itself a major engineering feat for its time—has become an alternative route for cycling and other “green” modes of transport; if you have time, you can walk the 21⁄4 miles (3.5km) over it to Pigeon Key. Crossing the Seven-Mile Bridge, you’ll pass from the Middle Keys to the Lower Keys and soon reach Bahia Honda (Mile Marker 37.5), a 524-acre (212-hectare) state park with one of the most beautiful coastlines in South Florida. The whole range of Lower Keys ecosystems are represented here: coastal mangroves, tropical hammocks, beach dunes, and even a small white-sand beach. Bahia Honda is a magnet for bird-watchers, with rare species like reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills, mangrove cuckoos, blackwhiskered vireos, and white-crowned pigeons. The most famous residents of Big Pine Key are the tiny Key deer: Only about 300 of these delicate creatures exist in the world, two-thirds of them at the National Key Deer Refuge (entrance at Mile Marker 30.5). Hit the walking trail through the hammocks in early morning or late evening, when these gentle dog-size creatures come to the rock quarry to drink. You may have started down the Overseas Highway thinking that Key West was your destination; at moments like this, you’ll realize it’s all about the journey. —HH
Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 106 (& 800/822-1088 or 305/451-1414; www.keylargo.org). Islamorada Chamber of Commerce, U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 82.5 (& 800/322-5397 or 305/664-4503; www.islamoradachamber.com). Greater Marathon Chamber of Commerce, U.S. 1 at Mile Marker 53.5 (& 800/262-7284 or 305/7435417; www.floridakeysmarathon.com).

( Miami International Airport, Key West International Airport, or Florida Keys Marathon Airport.
$$ Conch Key Cottages, 62250 Overseas Hwy., near Marathon (& 800/330-1577 or 305/289-1377; www.conchkeycottages.com). $$$ Little Palm Island Resort, 28500 Overseas Hwy., near Little Torch Key (& 800/343-8567 or 305/515-4004; www.littlepalmisland.com).

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GARDEN ISLANDS started it all, Green Gables (2 Palmers Lane; & 902/963-7874; www.pc.gc.ca), a solid white mid-19th-century farmhouse with green shutters (and, naturally, green gable points) that belonged to cousins of author Montgomery. Parks Canada owns the site and has meticulously furnished the rooms according to descriptions in the books. Walking trails from the house lead to outdoor settings from the novel such as Lover’s Lane and the Haunted Woods. It’s also worth stopping at Avonlea (Rte. 6; & 902/963-3050; www.avonlea village.com), a “re-creation” of Montgomery’s fictional version of Cavendish: Among the faux vintage buildings are a few real historic structures imported from elsewhere in the region, including a schoolhouse where Montgomery once taught and a church she attended. —HH Tourist office, Gateway Village, by the Confederation Bridge (& 800/463-4734 or 902/368-4444; www.gov.pe.ca or www. tourismpei.com).

( Charlottetown.

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Wood Islands (75 min. from Caribou, Nova Scotia).

$$$ Barachois Inn, Church Rd., Rustico (& 800/963-2194 or 902/9632194; www.barachoisinn.com). $$ Cavendish Beach Cottages, 1445 Gulf Shore Rd., Cavendish (& 902/963-2025; www. cavendishbeachcottages.com).

Blooming Wonders

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Flores
Island of Flowers
The Azores, Portugal
Portugal’s Azores islands are beautiful, tranquil, and sparsely inhabited. Flores, the “Flower Island,” is blessed with shimmering lakes, hills carpeted with greenery, dramatic miradouros (viewpoints) along rocky promontories, and a charmingly bucolic old-world tableau of seaside villages, vintage water mills, and clip-clopping oxcarts. Oh, and tourists are few and far between. Sounds perfect, right? Well it is—but Flores is also an isolated speck in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and historically difficult to access, which explains the small, tidy number of inhabitants and visitors to this part of the world. But with air travel picking up between the Azores and the rest of the world—Flores is now just a 4-hour nonstop hop from such cities as Boston and Montreal—it’s becoming more and more popular with North American East Coasters. The Azores, a chain of nine islands strung across 644km (400 miles) of sea, stretches the boundaries of Western Europe deep into the mid-Atlantic. The tiny island of Flores, which lies a good distance away from the other islands in the archipelago, is Europe’s westernmost point. Flores has been called “a garden floating on the foam of the sea” for the flowers that blanket hill and dale in summer, particularly hydrangeas. The hydrangea’s flower head varies in color according to the acidity of the soil—so the hues of these big, showy blooms can be white, blue, lavender, or dusty pink depending on the soil in which its roots are planted. (In fact, a neighboring island, Faial , has so many blue hydrangeas it’s often referred to as the “Blue Island.”) These and other luxuriant plants thrive here on Flores because of the island’s proximity to the Gulf Stream, which makes the climate moderate enough to grow a range of exotica, from wild ferns to Japanese

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TRESCO cedars, Brazilian lantana, Asian camellias, and African dragon trees. Neither the hydrangea nor the flower for which the island was named—the yellow-hued cubre—is native: Both were likely introduced by colonists from Europe—whether explorers, pirates, farmers, or whalers— who began arriving in the 15th century. Flores is nature at its most glorious— from the depths of the island’s seven glassy lakes, trimmed in flowers, to the heights of its mountain peaks (Sete Pes, Burrinha, Marcel, and the 900m/2,953-ft. Morro Alto, the highest point on the island). Waterfalls tumble down island cliffs into the sea; the Ribeira Grande waterfall, in Fajazinha, drops some 300m (984 ft.). The Hotel Ocidental (see below) is the activities center for the island, offering walking tours, whale-watching excursions, and scuba diving. —AF www.visitazores.org or www.visit azores.travel. João Paulo II Airport on the island of Sao Miguel (SATA Azores Express; 50 min.). $$ Aldeia da Cuada (& 351/292/ 590-040; www.aldeiadacuada.com). $$ Hotel Ocidental, av. Dos Baleeiros (& 351/ 292/590-100; www.hotelocidental.com).

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Blooming Wonders

Tresco
A Blooming Miracle
The Scilly Isles, U.K.
It lies just 47km (29 miles) across the water from rugged Land’s End, Cornwall, from where it takes only 20 minutes to get here by helicopter. You’d think the outlying location would serve up nothing but harsh Atlantic winds and waves, but the Isles of Scilly will surprise you: Thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, the islands have a unique microclimate where semitropical plants spring lushly from the granite soil. The islands’ main export, in fact, is flowers, blooms that appear weeks ahead of their mainland cousins; in summer the isles are simply a mass of colorful blossom. Of the five inhabited Scilly islands, St. Mary’s is the largest, the one where planes land and ferries dock, and there’s no doubt it’s charming—a fine place to cycle and beachcomb and bird-watch. But if gardening’s your passion, head straight for its tiny neighbor Tresco. Only 1.6km wide by 3.2km long (1×2 miles), Tresco is technically private property, but visitors are its bread and butter. Presiding over this island estate, Tresco Abbey is an Italianate stone manor built in the 19th century by Tresco’s Lord Proprietor Augustus Smith beside the ruined arches and crumbling walls of the old 12th-century Benedictine abbey of St. Nicholas. Scilly islanders led a hardscrabble existence from the 15th to the 19th century— the islands’ location at the mouth of the Channel left them exposed to every foreign threat from the Spanish Armada to Napoleon’s navy—but under Smith’s leadership, prosperity finally came to Tresco. You can’t visit the house (Smith’s descendants still live there), but the surrounding Abbey Gardens (& 44/1720/ 424108) are the real point of visiting Tresco. Encouraging Scilly farmers to pursue the flower trade, Smith set an example by planting his own showcase gardens, transforming a barren moorland into one of Britain’s horticultural showplaces; today it features more than 5,000 species of plants from 80 different countries. Notice the south-facing terraces, which expose the semitropical plants to the

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GARDEN ISLANDS

Tresco.

greatest amount of sun, and the system of walls and California pine and cypress trees cleverly arranged to protect the plants in winter when gales of salt air whip over the islands. Plant groups from all Mediterranean-climate regions of the world are represented, from Chile and Mexico to South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. Don’t miss Valhalla, a collection of nearly 60 figureheads from ships wrecked around the islands; the gaily painted figures from the past have an eerie quality, each one a ghost with a different story to tell. If time remains after you visit the gardens, wander around the meadows and coastal fields that surround them, following trails to the bird-rich Great Pool or to unspoiled beaches with heather-shrouded

dunes and surprisingly tame seabirds. You can’t bring a car to Tresco—the only cars here belong to Tresco Estate staff—but you can rent bikes by the day, the best way to explore this island where the garden is king. —HH Tresco Estate (& 44/1720/422849; www.tresco.co.uk or www.simplyscilly. co.uk).

( Helicopter from Penzance (20 min.).

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Launch from St. Mary’s (Bryher Boats; & 44/1720/422886), 20 min.

$$$ Island Hotel, Long Point (& 44/ 1720/422883). $$ New Inn, New Grimsby Quay (& 44/1720/422844).

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MARTINIQUE

68

Blooming Wonders

Martinique
France in the Tropics
The local Carib Indians called the island Madinina—“The Flower Island”—and if you are here between February and May, you will see Martinique in full bloom. Everything, from bougainvillea and hibiscus to lotus, will be flowering amid dense, intensely green vegetation. Even Christopher Columbus, a man who’d been around the block a time or two, couldn’t stop gushing: “This land is the best, the most fertile, the most gentle, and the most charming in the world. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. My eyes never tire of seeing such greenery,” he wrote in 1502. The second-largest island in the West Indies, the 1,101-sq.-km (425-sq.-mile) Martinique is blessed with a hot and humid tropical climate, abundant precipitation, and loamy volcanic soil—all the ingredients for a voluptuous garden ecosystem. The landscape is equally voluptuous, swooping and dipping between volcanic peaks and fertile valleys, a terrain embroidered with fields of sugar cane and pineapple and banana plantations. Two-thirds of the island is protected nature park. Like many islands in the West Indies, Martinique was colonized by France centuries ago, and today is an overseas department and region of France. The island remains trés French: French is the official language (although you’ll hear many people speaking a Creole patois), the place names are French, and the food is a delicious marriage of French and Creole cuisines. The French settled the island in 1635, growing sugar cane and importing slaves from Africa to work the plantations. (Reportedly, Christopher Columbus introduced sugar cane to Martinique. Now 12 varieties of sugar cane are grown on 3,035 hectares/7,500 acres of land to make rum agricole.) Today, southern Martinique has many of the most popular beaches and gets much of the tourist business, but northern Martinique looks as it might have when the French first arrived, a wild, untouched landscape of rainforest, black-sand beaches, sinuous rivers, waterfalls, and exotic flowers. Gardens are everywhere on Martinique. Named for its balata gum trees, Le Jardin de Balata has hundreds of vivid floral plantings planted by Jean-Philippe Thoze on his grandmother’s estate (& 596/ 596/64-48-73; www.jardindebalata.fr). Thoze has also been transforming the creek gardens of Habitation Latouche (& 596/596/78-19-19), in Carbet, a plantation estate whose mansion was destroyed in the horrific 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée, which killed 30,000 people and has been described as the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. On the Céron Plantation (& 596/596/52-94-53), you can dine in an alfresco restaurant overlooking the ruins of an old mill and beautiful grounds; land that once grew coffee, cocoa, and bananas now grows fields of avocados. The 13-hectare (32acre) Clément Plantation (& 596/596/5462-07) has a lovely 18th-century Creole plantation house and grounds holding more than 300 plant species. It also has a rum distillery, where you can take a tour and sample the wares. A note for art lovers: Before there was Tahiti , there was Martinique—for painter Paul Gauguin, that is, who lived here for several months where he was inspired to do some 12 paintings of the island and its people, particularly around Carbet, his favorite village. A man who appreciated lush landscapes and rich, saturated color, Gauguin was able to capture the island in full, voluptuous flower. —AF

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Martinique Tourism Authority (www.martinique.org). International Martinique Airport Aimé Césaire (connecting flights from San Juan or Miami). $$$ Cap Est Lagoon Resort & Spa, Quartier Cap Est (& 800/633-7411 in the U.S. and Canada or 596/596/54-80-80; www.capest.com). $$ Diamant Beach Hotel, Ravine Gens Bois (& 596/596/7616-16; www.diamant-beach.com).

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Wet & Wild

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Dominica
Caribbean Green
If you’re a moviegoer, maybe you’ve already been to Dominica—or, at least, to a slightly Disneyfied version of it. Taking advantage of Dominica’s unspoiled and soaring, camera-ready natural scenery, some of the lushest sequences in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise were shot here. The real Dominica—an independent commonwealth lying between the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe —may not have swashbuckling pirates, but it is a nature lover’s paradise, a sort of tropical Switzerland whose mountainous terrain is blanketed in rainforest and partitioned by a seemingly endless supply of rivers and waterfalls. Sculpted by rainfall and volcanic activity, Dominica (pronounced Dom-in-ee-ka) rises from the sea, its brawny contours swathed in green. The traditional Carib name for the island is the apt Waitukubuli, meaning “Tall Is Her Body.” Careful stewardship, combined with the fact that Dominica is practically beachless, has kept mass tourism and development at bay (and prices much lower than on some neighboring islands). This 751-sq.-km (290-sq.-mile) gem lives up to its nickname, “Nature Isle of the Caribbean,” with a wealth of exploration opportunities, from leisurely river cruises to extreme hikes through untouched rainforest and past bubbling hot springs. Adventurous travelers should make a beeline for Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the southern half of the island and home to Dominica’s greatest hits of nature: tropical forest, rushing waterfalls, and exotic bird life. The inland village of Laudat is the best starting point for treks through Morne Trois Pitons; you’ll find plenty of guides here (recommended). For an unforgettable rainforest swim, seek out Emerald Falls. The higher reaches of Morne Trois Pitons, where Dominica’s strangest volcanic phenomena lie, are for experienced hikers only, but those willing to take on the extreme conditions here (slippery trails, steep terrain, and windy exposures) should head for Boiling Lake, the secondlargest flooded fumarole in the world. Elsewhere on the island, you’ll find less challenging hikes, past idyllic waterfalls and swimming holes and arcadian tropical landscapes, but going with a guide is highly recommended here: Arrange one at the office of the Dominica National Park, in the Botanical Gardens in Roseau (& 767/448-2401). Dominica has 365 rivers—one for every day of the year, locals joke—and getting out on these inland waterways is a must. The Layou is Dominica’s longest, and tube rides past spectacular cliffs and enchanting rainforests are the most popular way to experience it. The primordial, mangrove-lined Indian River, which empties in the northern coastal village of Portsmouth, was featured in those eerie, candlelit river scenes in Dead Man’s Chest. The crystal-clear rivers of Dominica can be

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ISLA DAMAS lazy or dangerously swift, so be sure to check on conditions before you take the plunge. The beach scene on Dominica is—let’s face it—nonexistent, but there is an interesting swimming site at Champagne, where volcanic vents puff steam into the ocean; swimmers have likened the effect to swimming in the bubbly. Also recommended is a whale-watching trip. More cetaceans pass through the waters off Dominica than anywhere else in the Caribbean, and you’re likely to spot entire pods of great sperm whales, pilot whales, and dolphins. I like the tours offered by the Anchorage Hotel, at Castle Comfort (& 767/448-2638; www.anchoragehotel. dm/main/). —SM

& 767/448-2045; www.dominica.dm.

( Canefield Airport and Melville Hall Airport.
L’Express des Iles (www. express-des-iles.com) from Guadeloupe, Martinique, and St. Lucia. $$$ Jungle Bay Resort & Spa, Point Mulatre (& 767/446-1789; www. junglebaydominica.com). $$ Sea Cliff Cottages, Hodges Beach (& 767/4458998; www.dominica-cottages.com).

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Wet & Wild

Isla Damas
Window into the Wild
Costa Rica
It may be little more than dense mangrove wetlands threaded by silky estuaries, but Isla Damas packs an ecologically impressive punch in its small 6km (33⁄4-mile) frame. Isla Damas offers a window into the wild, a steamy estuarine jungle alive with white-faced capuchin monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, silky anteaters, boa constrictors, crocodiles, Sally lightfoot crabs, caimans, and green iguanas. A variety of bird life thrives here too, including swallows, mangrove wrens, and shorebirds. This is an intricate food web at its source, and Costa Rica at its purest. Isla Damas lies off the country’s central Pacific coast, 5km (3 miles) from the mainland town of Quepos, a good place to base yourself for a boat tour or kayak excursion to the island and neighboring Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica’s most popular national park. Glassy estuaries snake through tangled thickets of coastal mangroves—the lifeblood of many a marine ecosystem. A healthy mangrove forest provides essential habitat and nutrition for numerous marine and terrestrial organisms, including many threatened or endangered species. Mangroves provide refuge and vital nursery grounds for crabs, shrimp, and fish and are a critical feeding and nesting habitat for migratory birds. Isla Damas is a mangrove jackpot, with three types of mangrove forests: white, black, and red. To get up close to this rich wildlife diorama, you can take one of many excellent covered boat tours out of Quepos into the mangrove lagoons, passing farmland and palm plantations on the way. In addition to the numerous tour operators in Quepos that offer excursions to the island, a number of hotels also arrange boat tours and kayak expeditions to Damas, just 20 minutes by boat from Quepos. More independent sorts can paddle sea kayaks into these protected inland waterways. Operators for kayaking expeditions include H20 Adventures (& 506/2777-4092;

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A boat tour in Isla Damas.

www.h2ocr.com) and Rio Tropicales (& 866/722-8273 in the U.S. or 506/22336455; www.riostropicales.com). —AF www.visitcostarica.com. Quepos, from San José (Sansa Airlines or Nature Air; 35 min.).

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Private or tour operator boats make the 5km (3-mile) trip from Quepos.

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$$ La Sirena Hotel, 50 mt West Banco Nacional, Quepos (& 800/4938426 in the U.S. or 506/2777-0572; www. lasirenahotel.com).

Wet & Wild

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Ilha Grande
Jungle in the Bay
Brazil
Who says a trip to Rio has to be all about Copacabana and Ipanema? Even the most die-hard hedonists are bound to crave refuge from the city’s constant partying, so why not trade the urban jungle for a real one? The nature reserve of Ilha Grande (“Big Island”) lies an easy half-day’s journey from downtown Rio de Janeiro (and just across the water from Angra dos Reis) and offers fantastic upcountry hikes, gorgeous beaches, and practically zero commercialism. If you’re looking to score Brazilian ecotourism insider points, look no further than Ilha Grande. (The wildliferich Cagarras Islands are closer to the city but have much less land where you can disembark and explore, and no dining or accommodations.) Like many South American islands with aggressive native flora, Ilha Grande once housed a notorious prison. In fact, no public visitors were allowed here until after the

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ISLA DE OMETEPE prison closed, in 1994. What touristic development there is has been low-impact, rustic, and focused on appreciating and protecting the natural environment. All the hotels and restaurants—which are strictly small, independent operations—are in the main town of Abrãao, from which the island’s many hiking trails and eco-excursions depart. Camping is also possible here, but only at specified sites along the northeast coast (Ensenada las Palmas, Abrãao, and Ensenada des Estrelhas), and at Aracatiba on the northwest coast. For active travelers, Ilha Grande has a well-signposted system of trilhas (trails) out of Abrãao. Most of the hikes require at least a half-day commitment, and it’s always wise to hire a guide to accompany you to make sure you don’t get lost in the jungle, and to educate you on whether the plants and animals you encounter along the way are friend or foe. Ilha Grande’s 193 sq. km (75 sq. miles) comprise one of the most important remaining swaths of Brazilian Atlantic rainforest. It’s a teeming ecosystem, with squawking parrots and screaming monkeys in the trees overhead, and iguanas, snakes, and capybaras scurrying and slithering along the jungle floor on either side of the trail. The classic bragging-rights trek on Ilha Grande is the climb to the top of Pico do Papagayo. This 990m (3,248-ft.) monolith (second in height to 1,031m/3,383-ft.-tall Pico da Pedra d’Agua) is the island icon, and depending on your vantage point, can resemble any number of creatures, from its namesake papagayo (parrot) to a dog, rat, or elephant. The ascent is a challenging and exciting trail past sheer rock faces and into rainforest. Take the T2 trilha from Abrãao to Cachoeira da Feiticeira (“Waterfall of the Sorceress”) for an enchanting hike past a ruined aqueduct and the barred archways of the old quarantine hospital, all evocatively overgrown with heavy vines. And if all that jungle vegetation gets too intense, just head for one of Ilha Grande’s beaches, like Lopes Mendes (with great surfing), Green Lagoon and Blue Lagoon (with calm natural swimming pools where dolphins play), Dois Rios (with a virgin stretch of white sand against a forested mountain slope), or the “urban beach” of Abrãao Cove. Perhaps the most memorable way to take in the full scale of Ilha Grande’s chiseled perimeter, however, is on a full-day escuna sailing tour around the island. These festive Brazilian schooners are a great way to meet fellow vacationers, so you may even experience a bit of Rio-style fun while onboard. —SM www.ilhagrande.com.ar or www. braziltour.com. Rio de Janeiro-Galeão, then bus to Angra dos Reis. $$$ Pousada Naturalia, Abrãao (& 55/24/3361-9583; http://pousada naturalia.net).

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From Angra dos Reis (11⁄2 hr.).

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Wet & Wild

Isla de Ometepe
Sweetwater Island
Nicaragua
Rising from the “sweet waters” of Lake Nicaragua, Isla de Ometepe is the largest freshwater-lake island in the world. Essentially two volcanic islands connected by a slender sinew of land, the 276km (171-mile) Ometepe is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. The tropical island has two magnificent volcanoes rising from its blue waters—the dormant Maderas and the active Concepción—and volcanic ash

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GARDEN ISLANDS has made the soil exceptionally fertile, nurturing rainforests and crops such as coffee, tobacco, and plantains. The undulating landscape is lush and green, with an amazing range of habitats and species. Lovely, unspoiled, and remote—and certainly a challenge to reach (see below)— Ometepe is being developed as an ecotourism hot spot, with adventure hikes up volcanic slopes, jungle canopy tours, beautiful beaches, and stays on organic farms and plantations—but the industry is in its bare-bones infancy, so expect to rough it a bit. Most tours and activities are arranged through your hotel or inn. During the Somoza dictatorship, this was prime farmland, much of it owned or controlled by the Somoza family. When the Sandinistas took over the government in the 1980s, the farmland was confiscated and turned into state cooperatives, of which only one or two survive today. Because Ometepe’s tourist infrastructure is rudimentary, roads here are potholed, bumpy, and dusty—if you plan to get around on your own, you’ll need a 4WD or a motorcycle. Mountain bikes are a good way to see the scenery (bike and motorcycle rentals are available on the island or through your hotel). Your hotel can also arrange to have a car and driver show you around. The island bus system is cheap but slow. It’s highly recommended that you hire a guide to take you on the treks up the volcanoes, especially Concepción, the more strenuous hike. The trails up Concepción are very steep, and the entire hike can take 8 hours; but you do pass atmospheric coffee and banana farms, tropical forest, and scenic viewing points. The hike up Maderas takes less time (6 hr.), ascends through forested terrain (and mud—wear good hiking boots), and ends up at the volcano’s crater lake. The forests ringing the volcanoes are the home of mantled howler monkeys and white-faced capuchin monkeys, the Mexican anteater, the Northern naked tail armadillo, and the yellow-necked parrot. For a change of pace, many visitors follow a rough hike with a day or two on the lovely black-sand beach at Playa San Domingo, the most “resorty” spot on the island. —AF www.visitaometepe.com or www. visitanicaragua.com. Managua, then bus or express shuttle (or taxi) to Rivas (1–3 hr.); then 5-minute taxi to San Jorge. San Jorge (1 hr.) or Granada (31⁄2 hr.) to Moyogalpa: Transportes Lacustre (& 505/278-8190) or Ometepe Tours (& 505/563-4779). $ Finca Magdalena (& 505/84981683; www.fincamagdalena.com). $$ Hotel Villa Paraiso (& 505/563-4675; www.villaparaiso.com.ni).

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Kiawah Island
Prince of Tides
South Carolina, U.S.
I was stung by a jellyfish once while swimming on the beach at Kiawah Island. Earlier that day, my springer spaniel had jumped into the resort pool, unbidden and definitely unappreciated. Ladies shrieked; kids hooted. Look, the dog was hot—summers get brutal here on the South Carolina coast—and the pool was filled with cool, refreshing water. I dragged my dog by the scruff of his neck and led him onto the big,

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KIAWAH ISLAND wide Kiawah beach. We galloped down the dunes into the sparkling seawater and rode the steel-gray swells. It was only after I got out of the water that I started to scratch. Everything itched, my ears, my arms, my legs. And in the wake of the scratches grew long, purple blotches. My ears started to swell, then my nose. I felt sick to my stomach. Luckily, a doctor staying at Kiawah gave me medicine that slowed the swelling and eventually tempered the jellyfish bite. But what I remember about that day was not so much the discomfort or the swelling or even the dog jumping in the resort pool. I certainly don’t remember seeing a jellyfish. No, it was the softness of the late afternoon air, the vast sweep of the beach, the delicious sparkle of the surf. Dipping into the warm south Atlantic on that big, wide stretch of Kiawah sand was that wonderful. I think of it still. Just 25 miles (40km) from the antebellum cobblestones of Charleston, Kiawah Island is blessed with copious natural beauty. The island is both magnificently wild and comfortably civilized. The island has some of the finest beaches on the East Coast, but it also has a maritime forest tangled with pines, sand palms, and sea myrtle. Live oaks are draped in Spanish moss, and a sea of gold-tinged marsh grass extends to the horizon. Wildlife rustles in the thick brush—fox, deer, river otters, raccoons, bobcats, some 300 species of birds, and 30 species of reptiles and amphibians (including alligators)— and the tidal creeks hold sweet shrimp, crabs, and fish. In the years before the English colonized this part of the New World, the only inhabitants on the barrier island were the Kiawah Indians. Throughout the 18th century, private owners used the island for growing indigo and raising cattle. Big development arrived here in the 1970s, when an investment group from Kuwait built a handsome resort inn, villas, and a golf course. The group set an early—and remarkably forward-thinking—tone in their commitment to conservation and eco-sensitivity on Kiawah. The island has some 30 miles (48km) of biking and hiking trails that weave through pristine

Kiawah beach.

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GARDEN ISLANDS marshland and more than 100 acres (40 hectares) of protected parkland and bird sanctuaries. You can kayak or canoe the shimmering saltwater tidal creeks. The inn now lies dormant, and a revolving door of private development groups have come and gone; but a new luxury resort has sprung to life, along with seven world-class golf courses. Visitors can stay at the hotel or rent a private villa to access all that Kiawah has to offer. Much of the island is still wild and untamed, including that glorious sweep of southern Atlantic beach, 17 miles (27km) of steel-gray swells and pillowy sand. —AF www.kiawahisland.com.

( Charleston International Airport.
25-min. drive from Charleston. $$$ The Sanctuary Hotel at Kiawah Island Golf Resort (& 877/683-1234; www.kiawahresort.com).

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Livingstone Island
Island with a View
Zambia
It’s quite a sight, whether from above or below. But perhaps the best place to see and experience Victoria Falls, one of the great natural wonders of the world, is on Livingstone Island, which sits on the lip of the falls, mere feet away from the roaring curtain of water. For many travelers, a trip to Livingstone Island is the adventure of a lifetime—imagine a place where you can not only picnic above the falls but also take a dip in a calm, crystalline pool just inches from the edge of the abyss. It was in a dugout canoe on the mighty Zambezi River, accompanied by members of the local tribe, the Kololo, that the Scottish doctor and explorer David Livingstone first glimpsed what the tribesmen called Mosi-Oa-Tunya (“The Smoke that Thunders”). From afar, the massive columns of spray were accompanied by a thunderous pounding. The natives rowed to the tiny island in the middle of the river so that the 42-year-old Livingstone, who had been coming to Africa since he was 27, could get a closer view. Livingstone was enthralled—he called it the most wonderful sight he had ever seen in Africa. “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England,” he wrote. “It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” Livingstone had discovered the largest column of falling water in the world. He named it “Victoria Falls” after Queen Victoria, and the tiny island in the river, known to the natives as Kaseruka, was later named Livingstone in the explorer’s honor. The island had been highly revered as sacred burial grounds for tribal chiefs. The constant spray from the falls also made the island very lush, and when Livingstone arrived it was brimming with tropical blooms. He called it “The Garden Island.” Today the view from the island is unparalleled—this, for many visitors, is the best place to see the falls. But it’s recommended that you go through one of the local lodgings to do so. (In the dry season, it’s possible to walk across the lip of the falls to the island.) Livingstone Island was opened in 1995 exclusively to lodges and tour operators on the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides of the falls for picnics and expeditions during the drier months of July to March. Trips are subject to water

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BORA BORA levels, and only 12 guests are allowed to visit the island at one time. If you’re not staying at a local lodge, you can arrange a trip through an outfitter such as Wildlife Tours and Safaris (& 260/213/323726; www.wildsidesafaris.com), which operates morning, lunch, and high-tea trips to the island from its base in the town of Livingstone, Zambia. The boat trip to the island through the fast-moving currents of the Zambezi is a thrill in itself. Once on the island, you can picnic on the edge of the falls, stand in shallow water just a couple of inches from the lip, and swim in Devil’s Pool, a gentle bowl of water literally feet from the top of the falls. The lush island can be muddy, and the flowers that greeted Livingstone are largely gone, trampled by elephants; but the spectacle is unforgettable, almost too breathtaking for words. But Livingstone gave it a good shot: “The snowwhite sheet seemed like myriads of small comets rushing on in one direction, each of which left behind its nucleus rays of foam.”—AF Zambia Tourism Board (www. zambiatourism.com). Lusaka, Zambia (Lusaka International Airport) or Livingstone Airport. $$$ The River Club, Livingstone, Zambia (& 44/1980/849160; www.the riverclubafrica.com). $$$ Tongabezi Lodge, Private Bag 31, Livingstone, Zambia (& 260/3/327450; www.tongabezi.com).

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Bora Bora
Romantic Heaven on Earth
Totemic South Pacific mountains slope down to a lagoon striped with bands of deep-blue-green to neon-turquoise water. Around the lagoon, palm-fringed atolls and coral reefs trace a wispy pentagon, and everywhere, suspended boardwalks lead tentacle-like to this island’s irresistible lodging cliche, the over-water bungalow (OWB). The whole ensemble is romantic, tropical-getaway perfection: Nothing says “ultimate honeymoon” quite like Bora Bora. The word is out—and has been for some time—about this French Polynesian island’s extraordinary natural beauty, and though newlyweds seem to compose the overwhelming majority of vacationers here, Bora Bora’s remoteness and high prices have kept the island’s luxurious mystique intact. Enchanting Bora Bora belongs to the exclusive, so-preposterously-gorgeousit-doesn’t-seem-natural club of travel destinations. Even the most jaded of globe-trotters duly drops his jaw when confronted with the spectacle of the lagoon and the iconic silhouette of Mount Otemanu in the background. Many visitors, in fact, never get farther than that perfect tableau of paradise—they stick to their OWB love nests and resort dining, signing up for every watersport offered on the crystal-clear lagoon (shark feeding is the signature activity), and admiring the blissful views from parasail harnesses. But excursions to the main island and its lofty interior are how you’ll get to the real heart of Bora Bora. Tearing yourself away from the plush lagoon life may seem counterintuitive, but as you ascend the lush slopes and the hum of jet skis fades away, you’ll be glad you made the effort. The basalt pyramid of Mount Otemanu (725m/2,379 ft.) lords over Bora Bora like a petrified Polynesian god, mantled in dense tropical flora. Just next to it, the spiketopped Mount Pahia is only slightly lower

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Bora Bora.

(660m/2,165 ft.). Treks to the summit regions of either peak are for experienced hikers only and should be undertaken with a guide: Try Pahia Heights Adventure (& 689/677773). Otherwise, 4x4 excursions over the mountain roads of Bora Bora will whisk you up to forested heights and fabulous views—it’s a thrill ride and nature discovery outing all in one. A gentler way to feel adventurous and still take in those rapturous island panoramas is by hiking along splendid Matira Beach (keep to the road that starts at Hotel Bora Bora and make your way southeast toward Matira Point). The flat, 3km (13⁄4-mile) walk, skirting Rofau Bay, is probably the most scenic in the South Seas. However you choose to spend your time on Bora Bora, there is one place you must go before you fly back home: Bloody Mary’s (& 689/9677286). Part barbecue

fish joint, part island watering hole, this beloved spot incorporates elements of the Polynesian to great effect, from the thatched-roof dining room to the sugarysand floor (you eat barefoot) to the rustic tables and stools made of coconut palm wood. The food, drink, and service are all top-notch. —SM Bora Bora Comité du Tourisme, Vaitape (& 689/677636); also www.tahititourisme.com. Bora Bora-Motu Mute (connections to Tahiti, Moorea, Huahine, and Raiatea, on Air Tahiti Nui). $$$ Four Seasons Bora Bora, Motu Tehotu (& 689/603130; www. fourseasons.com/borabora). $$ Hotel Maitai, Matira Point (& 689/603000; www.hotelmaitai.com).

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HAINAN ISLAND

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Hainan Island
The Chinese Hawaii
China
Big and sprawling, China has a wide range of landscapes, but it’s hard to picture a tropical island—Polynesian palms, curvy crescents of white sand—in the mix. Yet the “Hawaii of the Orient” does indeed exist, a lovely slice of the tropics floating in the South China Sea in the steamy monsoon zone. Hainan Island’s palm-fringed beaches and surfable waves are being discovered by beach bums and surfers and travelers looking to holiday on uncrowded sand. The air is clean, the water is a sparkling blue, and mossy green hills framing sun-dappled beaches present a picture-postcard Polynesian silhouette. Situated 48km (30 miles) below the country’s southernmost tip, Hainan was long China’s unloved stepchild, a place of exile for dissidents and undesirables through centuries of dynastic rule. After the Japanese occupation during World War II, Hainan continued to get no respect: Its forests were unceremoniously stripped to plant cash crops in the warm, wet climate. But since tourism became the main source of income, Hainan has been on the upswing. The island is now a regional breadbasket, growing mangoes, coconuts, pineapples, and sugar cane; and succulent tropical fruit is on the menu wherever you go. The island has even been designated the latest space launch center for the country’s space program. In recent years, Chinese mainlanders have helped make Hainan the country’s second-most-visited destination. Though these visiting mainlanders disdain basking in the sun à la Coppertoned Westerners, resorts and international hotel chains (RitzCarlton, Hilton, Marriott, Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn, Sheraton) have elbowed their way onto Hainan’s comely coastline. The island’s capital city, Haikou, on Hainan’s north coast, is the major entry point. Just 15km (91⁄4 miles) southwest of the city is the Haikou Shishan Volcanic Cluster Geopark, where you can see the 10,000-year-old remnants of volcanic clusters and lush “lava landscapes” that include an ecological garden and a volcanic crater garden. After seeing Haikou and the park, most people head to the port city of Sanya, on the island’s southern coast, and its national resort district. (A new railway linking Haikou and Sanya is expected to be completed in late 2010.) Twenty-four kilometers (15 miles) east of Sanya is Yalong Bay, perhaps the island’s prettiest beach; also popular are Tianya Haijiao (which is pictured on the Chinese two-yuan note) and Dadonghai Bay. Golf courses are popping up like mushrooms; the island now has 16 courses. And if you’ve never surfed, this is a good place to learn; Surfing Hainan & 86/ 135/198-00103; www.surfinghainan.com) provides lessons in prime spots like Houhai Bay. If you’re a seasoned surfer, know that the best surfing waves arrive in fall and winter—and if you can wait out the typical ankle-biting wavelets of summer, a typhoon sweeping by is guaranteed to kick up some wicked peaks. —AF The People’s Government of Hainan Province (www.hi.gov.cn) or the China National Tourist Office (www.cnto.org).

( Hong Kong (90 min.) or Shanghai (3 hr.) to Sanya.
0 Regular train ferries from Guangdong to Haikou and Sanya (11–15 hr.).
$$ Haikou Treasure Island Hotel, Lantian Rd. 16, Haikou (& 86/898/66763388; www.treasureisland-hotel.com). $$$ The Ritz-Carlton, Sanya, Yalong Bay National Resort District, Sanya (& 86/ 898/889-88888; www.ritzcarlton.com/en/ Properties/Sanya).

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Island Hopping the Apostle Islands: Return to the Wild
Imagine how the old French voyageurs felt, gliding in their quiet canoes into this long arm of Lake Superior, between the topmost tip of modern-day Wisconsin and Minnesota’s long northern hook. How deftly they must have had to paddle around this scattering of forested islands, flung outward from the Bayfield Peninsula into the world’s largest freshwater lake. Early explorers, counting 12 main islands, named them the Apostles—and though modern maps show 22 islands, that old name still seems perfect for the spiritual calm of these densely wooded islands, their sandstone cliffs rising loftily above the lake’s cold, cobalt-blue depths. Being so close to shore, in relatively shallow (though often rough) waters, the Apostles were already settled by the native Ojibwa people; over the next few centuries, loggers, farmers, fishermen, and quarrymen also left their marks. Yet today they stand uninhabited, a playground for kayakers, hikers, sailors, anglers, and campers, with a flourishing second-growth forest of hemlock, white pine, and northern hardwood. Look carefully and you’ll still find patches of old-growth forest on the six islands which were reserved for lighthouses, essential for guiding ships through treacherous currents. The Apostle Islands National Park headquarters lies in the mainland town of Bayfield, but most of the park is accessible only by boat. You can island-hop in relative ease on a narrated 55-mile (89km) island cruise with the Apostle Islands Cruise Service, departing from the Bayfield city docks. You can also take the car ferry (a 20-min. ride) from Bayfield to the largest Apostle island, Madeline Island. The only inhabited Apostle Island, Madeline is not part of the national park, and has more conventional tourist facilities—restaurants, pubs, shops, marinas, and even a few inns and tourist cabins. Here you can cycle along lakeshore roads, play golf, beachcomb or camp at Big Bay State Park, or learn about the French fur trading era at the Madeline Island Historical Museum, a set of historic log structures in the village of La Pointe, site of a 17th-century trading post founded by Pierre La Sueur. Day excursions are also scheduled in summer from Bayfield out to a couple of the most popular islands. You might, for example, visit small Raspberry Island, in the heart of the island cluster, where park rangers run guided tours of the restored 1863 lighthouse and lightkeeper’s home. Set on a spectacular bluff-top site, the substantial red-roofed white frame house below the square wooden light tower is a historical treasure, carefully furnished to demonstrate what life was like for the 19th-century lightkeepers and their families. Or if beaches are your pleasure, try Stockton Island, the second largest in the archipelago, which has 14 miles (23km) of hiking trails and three beautiful sand beaches at Quarry Bay, Presque Isle Bay, and Julian Bay. The most unusual beach curls around Julian Bay, where the “singing” sand squeaks underfoot. Crossing the narrow bridge of sand out to Presque Isle Point, gaze around you at a rare geologic feature called a tombolo, a wildlife-rich mosaic of

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bogs, dunes, lagoons, savannas, and pine forests. Just be careful if you’re planning to camp on Stockton—the island is densely populated with black bears, who swim with ease from island to island. In the spirit of the voyageurs, the best way to explore the Apostles is still by kayak— the islands are close enough together that day trips are entirely feasible. Local outfitters offer rentals, kayaking instruction, and guided excursions; having a guide is a huge plus, allowing you to paddle directly to the most interesting beaches, caves, and coves. Picturesque little Devil’s Island, lying out on the archipelago’s northern fringe, has an impressive set of sea caves in the base of the red sandstone cliffs on its north shore, reachable only via kayak. After exploring them, anchor at the South Landing and follow a 1-mile-long (1.6km) trail winding through a primeval boreal forest of paper birch and balsam fir. Devil’s Island also has a lighthouse dating back to 1891, the last-built of the Apostle’s chain of lights. At the western end of the Apostles, the much larger Sand Island is a textbookperfect example of the return of wild nature to previously settled lands. Until very recently, Sand Island was one of the few Apostles with no white-tailed deer, which means you can still see here a lush undergrowth of Canadian yew, the deer’s favorite browsing shrub. Hiking the 2-mile (3.2km) trail from the East Bay campground to the Sand Island Lighthouse, you’ll pass through an overgrown farm, view the Swallow Point sea caves (reachable only by kayak from the water), journey through a 250-year-old virgin white pine forest, and end up on an overlook with a panoramic view of Lighthouse Bay. The lighthouse itself is a striking octagonal tower of locally quarried sandstone blocks, with a Victorian Gothic-style keepers’ house snuggled around its base. In the woods near group campsite “A” on Sand Island, look for a low masonry foundation, the remains of a one-room schoolhouse built long ago for the children of Sand Island’s farmers and fishermen—just another historical relic beneath the tangled woodlands of the Apostles. —HH
Apostle Islands National Park visitor center, 415 Washington Ave., Bayfield (& 715/ 779-3397; www.nps.gov/apis).

( Hayward, Wisconsin (75 miles/121km); Bessemer, Michigan (75 miles/121km).
Apostle Islands Cruise Service (& 800/323-7619 or 715/779-3925; www.apostle island.com). Madeline Island Ferry Service (& 715/747-2051; http://madferry.com).

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$$ Bayfield Inn, 20 Rittenhouse Ave. (& 800/382-0995 or 715/779-3363; www.bayfield inn.com). $$ The Inn on Madeline Island, La Pointe (& 800/822-6315; www.madisland. com). TOUR Kayak outfitters include Living Adventure (& 866/779-9503 or 715/779-9503; www. livingadventure.com), Trek and Trail (& 800/354-8735; www.trek-trail.com), and Whitecap Kayak Excursions (& 906/364-7336; www.whitecapkayak.com).

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Yakushima
Forest of the Sea
Japan
To the Japanese, Yakushima is a mystical place, and it’s little wonder why: The island holds some of the country’s oldest living trees, a primeval forest tableau of ancient Japanese cedars (Yakusugi), some more than 3,000 years old. One famous tree, Johmon Sugi, is said to be 7,000 years old, with a massive and muscular trunk that measures 16m (52 ft.) around. It’s not the only thing on Yakushima that’s outsized. Giant loggerhead turtles emerge from the sea to lay their eggs—in 2008 alone there were 5,700 reported turtle landings on the beach at Nagata—3,000 of which lay eggs. A subtropical island lying off the southern coast of Kyushu in the East China Sea, this World Heritage Site has been called the “Forest of the Sea.” This is the place that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s celebrated anime movie, Princess Mononoke; one area of the forest, Mononoke-hime no Mori, is even named for Princess Mononoke. Three-quarters of the island is forested mountains, and the rainy climate keeps things wet and wild; in fact, this is the wettest place in Japan. It’s water, water everywhere: Moss blankets the undergrowth, and waterfalls tumble into sun-dappled plunge pools. All this humidity, combined with the fertile volcanic soil, makes for a bonanza of flora, with some 1,900 species and subspecies. Mountaineering is a popular activity on Yakushima; the season begins in May. Hiking trails lead up to the summit of Mount Miyanouradake, the island’s highest peak, but you can find trails all over the island. Even though trails are clean and well-marked, it’s recommended that you have one of the official Yakushima guides lead you on a hiking trek into the densely wooded mountains. Most visitors use a rental car to get around the island; agencies are located near the ferry docks and the airport. In high season, a shuttle bus runs from the Yakushima Museum to the entrance to the Arakawa Trail, which leads to the Johmon Sugi tree—the only way to see the ancient cedar. —AF www.jnto.go.jp.

( Kagoshima (25 min.).
Kagoshima into Miyanoura or Anbo port (Yakushima Ferry; www. f2.dion.ne.jp/%7Eorita.k/; 4 hr.). Hydrofoil from Kagoshima into Miyanoura or Anbo port (Cosmo Line; www.cosmoline.jp; approx. 2 hr.).

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$$$ JR Hotel, 136-2 Onoaida (& 81/ 9/9747-2011; www.jrhotelgroup.com/ eng/hotel/eng154.htm). $$ Yakushima Cottages (& 81/9/9749-8750).

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Kyushu
The Samurai Garden Club
Japan
Here in the land of cherry-blossom viewing and ikebana, you’d expect to find a fair number of gardens, especially in semitropical Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands, traditionally considered the cradle of Japanese civilization. Indeed, Kyushu has gardens, and beautiful ones they are—but beautiful in a distinctly Japanese way, serene and delicate and artfully designed. Start in the south in Kagoshima, an easygoing city of palm trees, flowering trees, and wide avenues. It’s been nicknamed “the Naples of Italy”—like Naples, it sits on a wide bay, Kinko Bay, and even has its own Vesuvius, the active volcano Sakurajima, rising dramatically from water’s edge. Historically, Kagoshima was so far from the shoguns of Kyoto and Edo that its ruling clans were powerfully independent, and had much more contact with other nations (it is, after all, closer to Seoul and Shanghai than to Tokyo). The beautiful 300-year-old garden of the Shimadzu clan’s estate Sengan’en (9700-1 Yoshinocho; & 81/99/247-1551) is still the city’s biggest attraction. Notice how the garden incorporates Sakurajima and Kinko Bay into its design, a principle known as “borrowed landscape”; a bamboo grove here, an artificial waterfall there, a stone lantern set by a perfectly sited carp pond, all dramatically frame the panorama. It’s the last Japanese garden with a kyokusui, or poemcomposing garden, an idyllic spot where the lord of the manor would challenge guests to complete a poem in the time it took a sake cup to float down a tiny brook.

Sengan’en.

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For another window on the samurai past, visit the 18th-century castle town of Chiran, standing amid tea plantations 31km (19 miles) south of Kagoshima in Minamikyushu. Along Samurai Lane, lined with moss-covered stone walls, you can visit seven exquisite small gardens (& 81/99/358-7878) that warriors built as status symbols around their homes, inspired by journeys to Kyoto and Edo with their feudal lord. Notice how the gardens cunningly imitate in miniature the landscapes in the distance. In some, a tiny pond stands in for the sea, with rocks as mountains and undulating hedges for horizons; others dispense with water altogether and substitute a patch of dazzling white sand, carefully raked into wavelike ripples. Kyushu’s other star garden is up in Kumamoto. Beside historic Kumamoto Castle, Suizenji Garden (8-1 Suizenji Koen; & 81/96/383-0074) is a tiny jewel that was laid out around a spring-fed pond in the 1630s as a tea-ceremony retreat. The design, which took 80 years to complete, is ingenious: 53 miniature landscapes that represent the 53 stages of the ancient Tokaido Highway from Kyoto to Tokyo. You probably won’t know them all—not unless you’ve studied Hiroshige’s famous Tokaido wood block prints—but near the garden’s entrance you’ll see the Nihonbashi (Bridge of Japan), and along the circular path you can’t miss the coneshaped grassy mound that imitates Mount Fuji. Afterward, sip tea in a thatched-roof teahouse overlooking the pond—what you’ll really be drinking in is serenity. —HH Kagoshima tourist office, Kagoshima Chuo train station (& 81/99/253-2500). Kumamoto tourist office, Kumamoto station (& 81/96/352-3743); also www. jnto.go.jp.

( Kagoshima or Kumamoto.
2 hr. from Tokyo) or Kumamoto (9 hr. from Tokyo, or 11⁄2 hr. by bullet train). 1

0 Kagoshima (7 ⁄

$$$ Castle Park Hotel, 41-1 Shinshoin-cho, Kagoshima (& 81/99/2242200; www.shiroyama-g.co.jp). $$ Kumamoto Hotel Castle, 4-2 Joto-machi, Kumamoto (& 81/96/326-3311; www. hotel-castle.co.jp).

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Isle of Gigha
Pocket of Green
Scotland
The Isle of Gigha is, in the native parlance, a “wee place,” just 11km (63⁄4 miles) long and 1.6km (1 mile) wide. The southernmost island in the Inner Hebrides is inhabited by only 150 people and a sprinkling of Highland cows. But even the mighty Vikings considered the island to be a treasure; they used it to stash their plunder wrested from Scandinavian settlements. This picturesque spot has bays and lochs and seas full of dolphins and seals. But what draws most visitors to Gigha (pronounced Gee-ah) are the island’s remarkable gardens. It’s unusual for rhododendrons and camellias to prosper in a place as wind battered as Scotland’s west coast. The Isle of Gigha owes its temperate climate to the island’s proximity to the Gulf Stream. But it’s not just the warm currents and dry air that help the gardens thrive. Walls that surround and protect the plants most susceptible to wind and cold add to the unique microclimate. The 20-hectare (49-acre) Achamore Gardens (1.6km/1 mile from the ferry dock at Ardminish; & 44/1583/505-267)

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MAINAU has a wildflower meadow, great swaths of rhododendrons and azaleas, and preening peacocks. It’s a remarkably dense pocket of green on an island ringed by sandy beaches. In August, the gardens are abloom with lavender hydrangeas, white and yellow daisies, bluebells and pink foxglove, creamy white morning glories, and even blazing red hibiscus. The gardens were the creation of Col. Sir James Horlick, who owned Achamore House, the baronial mansion on the garden grounds, from 1944 to 1972. You can experience the gardens much the way its former owners did by staying in one of the rooms at the Achamore House, now a bed-and-breakfast. Little Gigha has other enticements, and to see them, do like the locals do and head out on foot on one of several walks detailed in the “Walk Gigha” booklet (available at the Gigha Hotel). You will pass pastures, sand beaches, rocky shores, bracken and bramble-covered hillsides, and heather-clad hilltops. On a clear day you can even see the coast of Antrim in Ireland to the southwest. Gigha is now owned by its residents, who orchestrated a groundbreaking community buyout in 2002. The community has big plans for the island, including using green energy to help power its electric grid. By the time you read this, Gigha should have Scotland’s first communityowned, grid-connected wind farm up and running. It’s estimated that the windmills will provide approximately two-thirds of the island’s electrical needs. —AF www.gigha.org.uk.

( Glasgow (2 ⁄ hr. from Tayinloan).
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From Tayinloan (Caledonian Macbrayne ferry; & 44/1475/650-100; www.calmac.co.uk; 20 min.). $ Achamore House Bed and Breakfast (& 44/1583/505-400; www. achamorehouse.com). $$ Gigha Hotel (& 44/1583/505-254; www.gigha.org.uk).

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Manicured Gardens

Mainau
Island Abloom
Germany
It’s no wonder plant lovers flock to Mainau from all over the world; the entire island is one big, spectacular garden. A million visitors make the trek annually to this little jewel of green in Lake Constance. The freshwater alpine lake (also spelled Konstanz) lies on the Rhine River at the foot of the Alps and stretches into three northern European countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. With such close proximity to the Alps and the lake’s heritage as an Ice Age glacier, it would make sense that the island’s growing season——and repertoire of plants—would be limited. But Mainau has long been ambrosia for plant lovers for its miraculous microclimate, which owes much to natural windbreaks and the surrounding waters. These unique conditions nurture plants that normally thrive in warm-weather locations, with something in bloom year-round. Even exotica like orange and lemon trees and palms enjoy a long season here. The gardens are very much a labor of love, for love is what set in motion the design of the gardens you see today. For centuries, the island was the domain of fervent “gardeners”—Hungarian princes and Baden dukes—from various royal and ducal dynasties, each of whom built upon the botanical construction left by the previous owner. In 1932, the island was a gift

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GARDEN ISLANDS

Palace gardens on Mainau.

to Prince Lennart Bernadotte of Sweden from his father in the wake of the prince’s marriage to a commoner—which effectively ended his claim to the Swedish throne. Bernadotte chose love over the crown, and in the bargain gained an island home. It was Prince Lennart (thereafter downsized to Count Lennart) who dedicated himself to reshaping, reorganizing, and modernizing the island. He opened it to the public, and adopted ecofriendly gardening techniques that have earned the garden numerous environmental awards. The Count died in 2004, but the family created a foundation to maintain the island— and his heirs continue to live in the baroque 18th-century Castle of the Teutonic Order, the architectural centerpiece of the island. The 45-hectare (111-acre) island is a pleasure to stroll. Pick up a map and hit the neatly manicured pathways. Among the garden highlights are the Italian Flower and Water Staircase, a cascade of flowers and conifers; the Mediterranean-tinged

Arena of Fountains, a terraced garden surrounded by tropical plants; and the 20,000 roses abloom in the Rose Gardens. Kids love the whimsical topiary, Germany’s largest Butterfly Gardens, and the farm, where ponies, donkeys, sheep, and rare farm breeds live the good life. Mainau is easy to get to: You can access the island either by tour boat from the town of Constance or by walking across the small footbridge connecting the island to the mainland. The island has four restaurants but no lodging. —AF www.mainau.de/htdocs/en/start.htm or www.bodensee.eu. and Alten( Friedrichshafen, Zürich, Mainau. rhein, then train or bus/car to

0 Konstanz is on the main KonstanzSingen-Villingen-Offenburg rail line, the Schwarzwaldbahn, with frequent connections to the major cities of Germany (& 49/1805/996-633).

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MOOREA
Bodensee-Schiffsbetrieben (& 49/7531/3640-389; www.bsb-online. com).

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$ Barbarossa, Obermarkt 8, Constance on Lake Constance (& 49/7531/

128-990; www.barbarossa-hotel.com). $$$ Steigenberger Inselhotel, Auf der Insel 1, Constance on Lake Constance (& 800/223-5652 in the U.S. and Canada, or 49/7531/1250; www.konstanz. steigenberger.com).

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Lush Life

Moorea
Bali Hai
It is, without exaggeration, one of the most eye-poppingly gorgeous islands in the world. In fact, Moorea is such a stunning South Seas locale that it’s been featured in countless movies that aren’t even set here. When you actually see it for yourself, you may find it hard to believe that the scenery isn’t computer-generated: The jagged mountain contours of Moorea are so dramatically faceted as to seem man-made, and the dense vegetation blanketing every surface of the island has the lush look of green velvet. Writer James Michener called Moorea “a monument to the prodigal beauty of nature” and was so inspired by Moorea’s captivatingly good looks that he based the mythical island of Bali Ha’i (in Tales of the South Pacific) on this real-life French Polynesian gem. Nearby Bora Bora and its irresistible lagoon tempt you with ways to get out on the water. Moorea, on the other hand, is more about experiencing nature on the island itself and moving at a slower pace. The island is shaped roughly like a heart, but with two clefts instead of one. Those clefts are Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay, both deep, fingerlike bodies of water that are surrounded by soaring, pointed peaks. The trademark mountain on Moorea is Moua Roa, the cathedral-like incisor of black stone that rises 880m (2,887 ft.) above sea level at the end of a series of smaller rock “teeth.” Equally photogenic is the 830m-tall (2,723-ft.) Moua Puta, which has a tiny hole at the top. At 1,207m (3,960 ft.), Mount Tohiea is the highest point on the island, but the best peak to climb is Mount Rotui (800m/2,625 ft.), which commands the South Pacific’s most magnificent vista, from its Belvedere lookout over the twin bays of Cook and Oponuhu. The best way to get around Moorea is by rental car (or numerous outfits on Moorea can provide a four-wheel-drive vehicle and driver/guide for you). The circle drive around the island is a must; you can do the quickie version in a few hours, but if you have the time, allow several days to see all the sights along the 62km (39-mile) circuit. Stop for the short hike to Atiraa waterfall (near Afareaitu), where the water cascades 32m (105 ft.) down a glistening black rock cliff to a small pool where you can swim. Experienced hikers can also take to Moorea’s many nature trails, but be sure to bring plenty of water and bug spray. Though sea activities aren’t nearly as central to vacationers’ enjoyment of Moorea as they are on Bora Bora, Moorea still offers plenty of ways to dip into that crystal-clear Polynesian water. For a lazy day on the beach, Temae Plage Publique is Moorea’s best stretch of public sand. At the Moorea Dolphin Center (www.mooreadolphincenter.com), visitors can swim with docile cetaceans. Another unforgettable South Seas adventure, swimming with and petting rays, can be arranged at the Moorea Lagoonarium, at Haapiti near the Intercontinental Hotel (& 689/563875; www.dolphinlagoon arium.com).

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GARDEN ISLANDS
As for accommodations, luxurious over-water bungalow resorts can be found all along the dramatic northern coast near Cook’s Bay and Oponuhu Bay, but the island is also full of casual fares (guest houses) for a more authentic Polynesian experience. —SM Moorea Visitors Bureau, Le Petit Village, Haapiti (& 689/562909; www. gomoorea.com). Temae airport, connections from Papeete, Tahiti.

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From Papeete, high-speed catamarans (30 min.) arrive at Vaiare (on Moorea’s east coast).

$$$ Hilton Moorea Lagoon Resort & Spa (& 689/551111; www.hilton.com). $$ Hotel Lestipaniers, in Haapiti (& 689/ 561267; www.lestipaniers.com).

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Tutuila
A Yank in the South Seas
American Samoa
One of the newest entrants on the roster of U.S. national parks, and the only one south of the equator, is in the South Pacific island territory of American Samoa. Established in 1988, the National Park of American Samoa is spread over several islands in a remote archipelago halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand. Tutuila is the largest and most visited island of the group, with striking coastal landscapes and mountain rainforests, as well as unique opportunities to get close to the millennial traditions of the Samoan people. The natural harbor town of Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa, is the point of entry to this magnificent natural treasure. Head for the northern coast of Tutuila, where the park areas are located. Do keep in mind that this national park is young and relatively undeveloped: facilities, where they exist, are very basic. Locals still own the land (the park service has a 50-year lease) and subsistence farm on it. In exchange, your reward is the feeling of being the first to discover one of the most untouched paradises in the South Pacific. Much of the rugged coastline may remind you of Big Sur or Oregon, and then, in other places, it transforms into postcard-perfect Polynesia—without the condos and bungalows. Jagged Mount Alava dominates northern Tutuila, and a hiking trail (9.7km/6 miles round-trip) leads up to the 483m (1,585-ft.) peak past glistening ferns, vibrant orchids, and persistent banyan trees, which grow from the top down by invading and eventually strangling the host tree. Because Tutuila is such a small and narrow island (140 sq. km/54 sq. miles total, and less than 4.8km/3 miles wide at this point), the view from the top of Mount Alava encompasses both the north and south sides of the Pacific coast and the deep inlet of Pago Pago harbor. Just east of Mount Alava is the Amalau Valley, where verdant hillsides hide away beautiful, ribbon-like waterfalls and a thriving population of flying foxes (a type of fruit bat), which may well swoop overhead. It’s a long way from the American mainland, but throughout this exotic and far-flung place you’ll spot the brown-and-white signs of the U.S. park service. Vatia Bay may be Tutuila’s most scenic area, however. This finger-shaped inlet is backed by imposing and multifaceted mountains cloaked in green. A steep ridge

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KAUAI curves around Vatia’s west side, leading to the most photographed spot in Tutuila, the offshore rock feature of Pola Island. From Vatia village, there’s a trail that goes to a pebbly beach where you’ll get the best landside views of Pola. North Shore Tours (& 684/258-3527) runs boat tours to the island. Accommodations in and around the park are few, so you may opt to stay in Pago Pago (which is quite easy; the driving distances and bus services are very manageable on Tutuila). But for a more memorable encounter with the island, consider a home stay with native Samoans in Vatia or another village within the park. The National Park Service website (see below) has more information on what this entails. —SM National Park Service: Pago Plaza Shopping Center, Pago Pago (& 684/6337082; www.nps.gov/npsa); also www. amsamoatourism.com. Pago Pago (connections through Honolulu on Hawaiian Air).

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$$$ Turtle and Shark Lodge, Vaitogi, Pago Pago (& 684/699-3131; www. turtleandshark.com).

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Lush Life

Kauai
The Garden Isle
Hawaii
The opening scenes in the film Jurassic Park show a helicopter swooping over an impossibly green, incredibly lush island landscape. Special effects? Computer imaging? Nope, just the mossy backbone of Kauai ringed by the sparkling blue Pacific. The Hawaiian Islands are all beauties, of course, but Kauai is Hawaii gone native, a tropical Eden blissfully devoid of high-rises and megaresorts. And it should stay that way; a local ordinance has decreed that no building taller than a coconut tree (four stories high) can be built on the island. Kauai is Hawaii unvarnished and almost primeval, with 50 miles (80km) of some of the world’s most spectacular beaches, breathtaking cliffside seascapes, and waterfalls tumbling into rainforest jungle. Under 5% of the island is zoned for commercial and residential use; the rest is protected parkland or farmland. This is where many Hawaiians themselves go to relax amid sumptuous and serene natural environs. Kauai is the ideal spot for those who not only enjoy scenic splendors but can’t wait to plunge in. The outdoor adventures here are world-class—and in this climate, you can enjoy them all year-round. You can hike Waimea Canyon, the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” its burnt-red lava beds sculpted by an ancient earthquake. The raw and remote Na Pali Coast—with its spectacularly eroded sea cliffs—can be seen by sea kayak or helicopter tour. The all-purpose Kauai Kayak (& 800/4373507; www.kayakkauai.com), with locations in Hanalei and Kapaa, has been taking visitors on guided sea kayak tours of the Na Pali Coast for more than 20 years. It also offers hiking tours (including of the Waimea Canyon), snorkeling tours on the calm Puupoa Reef (“The Blue Lagoon”) on the Hanalei River, and whalewatching tours. Also highly recommended is Outfitters Kauai (& 888/742-9887; www.outfitterskauai.com), which has a tantalizing array of outdoor adventures, such as kayaking Hawaii’s largest tropical

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GARDEN ISLANDS tours, snorkel trips, helicopter tours, zipline outings, and even traditional luaus. Of course, if zip-lining here and adventure trekking there isn’t your idea of relaxing, there are plenty of other ways to enjoy Kauai’s natural wonders. For some people, lying on the beach will do the trick—and Kauai’s beaches are among the world’s best. Try the 17-mile (27km) Polihale State Park, on the island’s west coast, or the beauteous Anini Beach, which overlooks a blue lagoon—look (or listen) for Barking Dogs Beach nearby, where bare feet walking on sand sounds like dogs barking. Speaking of animals, you may be surprised to see so many chickens and roosters roaming free on the island— local lore has it that when Hurricane Iniki devastated Kauai in 1992, it knocked down a chicken farm. And the freed chickens bred like, well, rabbits. —AF Kauai Visitors Bureau (www.kauai discovery.com).

( Honolulu into Lihue, Kauai (40 min.).
Na Pali Coast State Park.

river, the Wailua, and hiking through rainforest to a 100-ft. (30m) waterfall. Another well-known general outfitter is Snorkel Bob’s (several locations; & 800/262-7725; www.snorkelbob.com), which offers boat

$$ Hanalei Colony Resort, 5-7130 Kuhio Hwy., the North Shore (& 800/6283004 or 808/826-6235; www.hcr.com). $$$ Waimea Plantation Cottages, 9400 Kaumualii Hwy., Western Kauai (& 866/ 77-HAWAII [774-2924] or 808/338-1625; www.waimea-plantation.com).

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St. Lucia
Colorful Caribbean
Life is lush on this colorful Windward Island in the Eastern Caribbean. Abundant precipitation, rich volcanic soil, and tropical sunshine provide a dynamic breeding ground for flora and fauna. When it rains here, it really rains: Clouds turn black, the heavens rumble, and the skies cut loose with a thunderous pounding. And when the sun breaks through, hibiscus and bougainvillea blooms muscle through thick green underbrush. The sweet sounds of birdcall fill the air, and a fine mist lifts off simmering black tar. St. Lucia is a vivid place to be. Everywhere is color, from saffron frangipani to red spikes of torch ginger to the

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ST. LUCIA islanders’ traditional dress—a sunny patchwork of blues and oranges and yellows. Roads coil around vine-covered cliffs ringed in blue mist. The island’s mossbacked Pitons, twin volcanic “plugs” that rise up some 600m (1,969 ft.) out of the sea, are St. Lucia’s visual touchstones and everyone’s favorite photo prop—neither Piton has a bad side. (Perhaps that’s why the local beer is called Piton.) European explorers first arrived on the island in the 15th century, encountering a tribe of fierce Amerindian warriors known as the Kalinago, who were able to stave off entrenchment by the Europeans until their expulsion to Dominica and St. Vinin the mid–17th century (a small cent tribe of descendants still lives on the island’s southwest coast). By then, the black volcanic soil of St. Lucia was feeding the region. The island’s role as breadbasket to the Windward Islands—not to mention its superb protected harbor—underscored St. Lucia’s value to the European settlers. Thus began a 200-year tug of war between the British and the French for control of the island. Although St. Lucia ultimately became a British protectorate and English is widely spoken, it is the French influences that predominate today, from the rich Creole patois to place names to the Frenchinfused cuisine. A visit to St. Lucia is a plunge into nature at its ripest. At breakfast your morning companions will be scores of gorgeously hued birds hovering, eager to plunge a beak into a pot of honey. (Some resorts give their guests water guns to playfully shoo the birds away.) You can hike one of the many rainforest trails up into the hills and see wild orchids, waterfalls, and rare birds such as the St. Lucia parrot. Amid the dense foliage of the Forestiere Rainforest Trail are giant fig trees and ferns. The waters surrounding St. Lucia are home to a thriving and colorful marine world, with divers and snorkelers exploring steep undersea slopes filled with exotic fish, coral, sponges, and turtles. On Mount Soufriére in the Sulphur Springs is what is billed as the “world’s only drive-in volcano,” active sulfur fields that give off steaming clouds of sulfuric gases reportedly strong enough to tarnish

St. Lucia.

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GARDEN ISLANDS silver jewelry. You can’t actually drive into the volcano, which last erupted some 40,000 years ago, but you can watch the action from viewing stations. Consider, if you will, that out of a similar witch’s brew of heat and sulfur came the creation of all that surrounds you on lush and lovely St. Lucia. —AF St. Lucia Tourist Board (& 800/4658242 in the U.S.; www.stlucia.org). Vieux Fort (Hewannora International Airport). $$$ Anse Chastanet, Soufrière ( 800/223-1108 in the U.S.; www.anse chastanet.com). $$ Mago Estate Hotel, Soufrière (& 758/459-5880; www.mago hotel.com).

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Isla del Coco
The Last Paradise
Costa Rica
Isla del Coco (Cocos Island) has no inhabitants, no stores, no hotels or resorts, no cool rum punches waiting at the dock. It’s easily one of the most remarkable islands in the Western Hemisphere, however—both a national park and a World Heritage Site. It’s a place so full of natural treasures—and so isolated from the civilized world—that it’s become an ecological case study, a critical laboratory for research into the marine ecosystem and its evolution. Jacques Cousteau once described it as the most beautiful island in the world. Michael Crichton’s book Jurassic Park: The Lost World—which told the tale of an insular island untrammeled by civilization—was reportedly inspired by Cocos Island. Cocos is the earth as it used to be. Cocos has all the physical attributes of a lush volcanic island in the tropics. But it has much more than natural good looks. It’s the largest uninhabited island in the world. The only inhabitants are the park rangers who are paid to protect it. It’s the only island in the eastern Pacific Ocean with a tropical rainforest and the only cloud forest island in the world. It’s also a Ramsars wetlands site of international significance (www.ramsar.org). Cocos Island is located 483km (300 miles) southwest of Costa Rica. Only around 2,000 tourists visit the island annually (most of them divers or fishermen), and for good reason: The only way to get here is via a 36-hour boat ride from Puntarenas, Costa Rica; you cannot fly in. Most people charter multiday trips on full-service dive boats and yachts (see below for recommended operators). In spite of its remoteness, Cocos has a storied history of explorers, pirates, and buried treasure. It appeared on a world map as early as 1542, as the Isles de Coques. Today the waters and coral reefs surrounding the island are considered some of the most pristine in the world. Divers consider it among the best places on the planet to view large pelagic species such as sharks, rays, tuna, and dolphins. It has the world’s largest population of hammerhead sharks. In fact, the island is considered to be ground zero for the earth’s shark population, although the illegal poaching of shark fins in these shark-rich protected waters is threatening Cocos’s exquisite marine ecosystem. More than a thousand different species of flora and fauna are found on the island, many of them endemic. Of its 100 species of birds, the native espiritu santo, or Holy Spirit bird, will flutter mystically around your head while you walk. Cocos has some 70 waterfalls to swim in and 235

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LA PALMA species of flowering plants that bring vivid color to the mossy jungle backdrop. The island owes its lushness and vivid green vegetation to precipitation: It gets more than 7,000m (275 in.) of rainfall every year. It all adds up to one hot and steamy tropical landscape, a terrain of such richness and vitality that it almost breathes with life. —AF www.cocosisland.org.

( Puntarenas, Costa Rica.

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Aggressor Fleet (www. aggressor.com) charters dive trips to Cocos Island, as does the Undersea Hunter (www.underseahunter.com).

$$ Hotel Alamar, Paseo de los Turistas, Puntarenas (& 506/2661-4343; www.alamarcr.com).

Lush Life

La Palma
Unspoiled Volcanic Gem
Canary Islands, Spain
Brits and northern Europeans who’ve outgrown the all-night parties of Ibiza and Tenerife need not abandon the idea of a Spanish island holiday: The Canary Islands’ La Palma is a completely different kind of getaway, perfect for nature lovers seeking a slower pace in a place that remains off the radar of mass tourism. Nicknamed La Isla Bonita (“the pretty island”), La Palma has lush flora and gorgeous volcanic topography and is widely regarded as the most physically beautiful of the seven Islas Canarias. Built on black volcanic rock, the anvilshaped island is one of the steepest in the world. La Palma is only 50km (31 miles) long and 30km (19 miles) across at its widest point, though its highest point rises to an elevation of 2,423m (7,949 ft.). The summit of La Palma is a treeless area with rock outcroppings called the Roque de los Muchachos, home to a world-renowned astronomical observatory. More often than not, Roque de los Muchachos is above the clouds, which, combined with the island’s minimal light pollution, makes for outstanding viewing of the heavens. La Palma’s northern end is dominated by the Caldera de Taburiente, and one of the most popular activities on La Palma is trekking to the summit and into the Barranco de las Angustias—the ominously named “Valley of Fear”—a hikeable canyon that goes right inside the dormant crater. To the south, the lavic ridge of Cumbre Vieja is the most volcanically active on the island, having last erupted in the 1970s. (On a doomsday geological note, some scientists hypothesize that a significant future eruption along the Cumbre Vieja, which already has a rift, could cause the entire mass to break off and slip into the ocean, propelling a tsunami westward across the Atlantic.) A good place to base yourself is the east-coast port town of Santa Cruz, the island’s most charming inhabited area, but you’ll find a wealth of accommodations in the Los Cancajos beach development, just south of Santa Cruz. Cancajos also offers myriad ecotourism services like trekking excursions. All over the island, you’ll find smaller, welcoming towns and villages where you can rent simple holiday apartments and have a more authentic experience, sampling Canarian cuisine in local restaurants and partaking of La Palma’s excellent and inexpensive red and white wines, made from grapes grown on the island’s volcanic slopes.

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Before contemplating a trip to La Palma, it’s key to bear in mind that this is not your typical Spanish island paradise. The name might conjure up images of sun-drenched beaches, but La Palma is frequently overcast and wet. (Sun seekers hoping to come home with a tan might want to pick another island.) La Palma is well away from the mainland, 200km (124 miles) west of Morocco, and it’s in the Atlantic Ocean— not the Mediterranean Sea—so the waters are quite chilly and rough for much of the year and the vegetation denser and more forest-like than what you might associate with Spain. Bottom line: Come to La Palma for its spectacular natural attractions, regardless of the weather, not for lazing on the beach. —SM www.turismodecanarias.com.

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$$ Hacienda San Jorge, Brena Baja 34/92-218-10-66; www.hsanjorge.co).

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3 Wildlife Islands

Unique Species . . . 94 Birding Meccas . . . 103 Sea Life . . . 116 Run Wild, Run Free . . . 125 Island Reserves . . . 130

WILDLIFE ISLANDS
Unique Species

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Kangaroo Island
Marsupial Bliss
Australia
Think of Australia and what do you picture? Koalas and kangaroos. Of course, those iconic Australian marsupials are proudly displayed at wildlife parks and attractions all over Oz. But if you really want to see these unique critters in the wild, there’s no place better than the aptly named Kangaroo Island. It’s like a textbook example of the virtues of island isolation. Lying across the strait from metropolitan Adelaide, Kangaroo Island was lucky enough to never be colonized by the dingo, Australia’s “native” dog that’s really a feral scavenger introduced from Asia some 4,000 years ago. Not even any foxes or rabbits ever arrived to prey on the native animals. There are kangaroos here, but not just any kangaroos—they’re a distinct Kangaroo Island species. The underbrush is still primarily native eucalypt scrub, all along the unlandscaped roadsides. To preserve all this, strict regulations monitor what visitors bring on and off the island; tourists are asked to wash the soil off their shoes and car tires, and drivers are encouraged to drive slowly, especially at dusk, when koalas, echidnas, bandicoots, and kangaroos may wander onto the roads. Of the many preserves on the island (about one-third of the island is a conservation area), you’ll score the most wildlife sightings at Flinders Chase National Park on the western end of the island. Birders have recorded at least 243 species here; koalas are so common they’re almost falling out of the trees (the government has in fact had to take steps to reduce the koala population). Kangaroos, wallabies, and brush-tailed possums are so tame that a barrier was erected around the Rocky River
Previous page: A koala on Kangaroo Island.

Campground to stop them from carrying away picnickers’ sandwiches. Platypuses have been sighted, too, but they’re elusive—to see one, you might need to wait next to a stream in the dark for a few hours. At Cape du Couedic, the southern tip of the park, the hollowed-out limestone promontory called Admiral’s Arch is home to a colony of some 4,000 New Zealand fur seals (despite the name, a legitimately native species). Rangers at the southern coast’s Seal Bay Conservation Park (& 61/8/8559 4207) lead guided tours along boardwalks through the dunes to a beach where Australian sea lions congregate. Up on the north coast, Lathami Conservation Park, just east of Stokes Bay, is a superb place to spot wallabies in the low canopy of casuarina pines. If you want to see Little Penguins—which stand about a foot high—the National Parks & Wildlife South Australia (& 61/8/8553 2381) conducts tours of their colonies around Nepean Bay at both Kingscote and Penneshaw. Last but not least, Clifford’s Honey Farm (& 61/8/8553 8295) is the home of the protected Ligurian honeybee, found nowhere else on earth but on this seemingly magical island. —HH Tourism Kangaroo Island, Howard Dr., Penneshaw (& 61/8/8553 1185; www.tourkangarooisland.com.au). Kangaroo Island (30 min. from Adelaide).

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Penneshaw (40 min. from Cape Jervis, South Australia).

$$ Kangaroo Island Lodge, Scenic Rd., American River (& 61/8/8553 7053; www.kilodge.com.au). $$$ Ozone Seafront Hotel, The Foreshore, Kingscote (& 61/ 8/8553 2011; www.ozonehotel.com).

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KOMODO ISLAND

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Unique Species

Komodo Island
Here Be Dragons
Indonesia
It takes a tough species to survive on a place like Komodo Island. This jagged volcanic island off the northwest tip of Flores, Indonesia, some 200 nautical miles west of Bali , is wickedly hot and dry 8 months of the year—and then the monsoons drench it. Much of the island is rocky and barren, with patches of hardy savanna, mossy bamboo cloud forest on higher ridges, and an orchid-rich tropical forest in the valleys, full of fan palms and other trees that are water-retention specialists. Not many species can make it here, but the king of the island looks perfect for the job: the Komodo dragon, world’s biggest lizard, a scaly monster 2.4 to 3m (8–10 ft.). long that hasn’t evolved much in 4 million years. This hefty reptile weighs anywhere from 45 to 150kg, depending on how recently it has gorged on carrion. But it’s no mere scavenger: The Komodo lies in wait in the grass, springs out and slashes its victim (Timor deer, wild pigs, buffalo) with powerful serrated teeth, and then lets them struggle off into the bush to die, poisoned by bacteria in the Komodo’s saliva. Flicking its forked yellow tongue, the lizard “tastes the air” to detect the scent of rotting flesh, then ambles over to the corpse and feasts. Komodos are not only carnivores but cannibals; they’ll even eat their young, who are forced to spend their first few months of life in the rainforest canopy to escape being devoured. (Luckily, they hatch just after the Jan–Feb rainy season, when there’s plenty to munch on up there.) There are nearly 6,000 of these “dragons” (really a giant monitor lizard) on

A komodo on Komodo Island.

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Komodo and a few neighboring islands; they’re the main attraction for most visitors to Komodo National Park, established in 1980 specifically to conserve the Komodo dragon. A viewpoint at Banugulung is baited to draw Komodos for tourist viewing; the hike there and back from the Loh Liang ranger station takes about 2 hours. While most visitors make this a tour-boat stop, if you stay overnight in the spartan ranger stations, you may also catch the dragons basking in the sun in the early morning, raising their body temperatures (they are, after all, cold-blooded) before slinking off to hunt. While you’re waiting for the dragons, you can also get in some great bird-watching, with more than 150 species including sulphur-crested cockatoos, collared kingfishers, and imperial pigeons. The waters between the islands also attract scuba divers to their sea-grass beds, mangrove forests, and coral reefs, fed by a unique confluence of tidal currents; there are more than 1,000 species of fish as well as dugong, sharks, manta rays, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles. Unfortunately, the health of these reefs is increasingly compromised by the local villages’ destructive fishing practices. Park entrance fees support conservation efforts, to protect the unique biodiversity of this very special island. —HH Komodo National Park, Labuanbajo, Indonesia (& 62/358-41004; www. komodonationalpark.org).

( Bima (42km/26-mile drive to Sape).

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57km (35 miles) from Sape (Sumbawa Island) or 42km (26 miles) from Labuanbajo (Flores Island).

$ Ranger stations at Loh Liang or Loh Buaya (Rinca Island); no advance reservation needed. TOUR Flores Exotic Tours, Labuanbajo, Flores (& 62/385-21824; www.komodo island-tours.com). Floressa Bali Tours (& 62/361-467625; www.floressatours. com).

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Borneo
The Wild & the Wealthy of Southeast Asia
If you’re going to claim, as Borneo does, to be the “most biodiverse place on Earth,” you’d better be able to back that up. Indeed, this astonishingly rich island—the third largest in the world at nearly a quarter of a million square kilometers—is an ecosystem on steroids, whose extraordinary richness even the non–biologically trained can easily comprehend. Dense tropical rainforests carpet nearly all of Borneo and shelter populations of many unusual and endangered species like the Bornean orangutan, the clouded leopard, the Asian pygmy elephant, and the Sumatran rhino. Under the canopy, the explosive colors of tropical flora and the screeching of birds seem too vivid and untamed to be real. Three nations hold territory on Borneo; the lion’s share belongs to Indonesia, which calls its portion of Borneo Kalimantan. Nearly a quarter of Borneo, along the northern coast, comprises the states of Sarawak and Sabah, both part of Malaysia. The wealthy independent nation of Brunei Darussalam is made up of two unconnected states, totaling 6,000 sq. km (2,317 sq. miles), on the north coast. As vast parts of Borneo’s interior remain unexplored, this is largely an extreme destination (with ethnic strife, in places, as wild as the animals). For the best of both

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CHANNEL ISLANDS worlds—Borneo’s cultural history as well as its ecology—consider staying in the amenity-filled capital of Brunei, Bandar Seri Begawan, and making that your base for forays into the island’s visitorfriendly nature parks. Within Brunei itself, Ulu Temburong National Park is accessed by an evocative jungle cruise; hearing the calls of proboscis monkeys, gliding past orchids of colors and dimensions you’ve never seen before, you’re in for a wonderful introduction to Borneo’s natural treasures. For a raw adventure into the wilds of Kalimantan, take a river cruise with Kalimantan Tour Destinations (& 62/ 536/32-22099; www.wowborneo.com). Departing from the Central Kalimantan capital of Palangkaraya, these 3- to 5-day journeys aboard refitted rungkan vessels navigate jungle waterways to remote villages and past the orangutan habitats protected by the Borneo Orangutan Survival Fund. (The simians, like so many of the rare animals and plants on Borneo, are threatened by logging, mining, and hunting.) The Malaysian provinces of Sarawak and Sabah also have a number of outfitters offering ecotourism expeditions, but keep in mind that tourism in general is a new frontier in Borneo: Be sure to get references before booking anything. After getting to know the wild heart of Borneo, you can get reacquainted with civilization back in Brunei. The centuriesold sultanate contains plenty of glitzy shopping and dining opportunities (though the predominantly Muslim nation is alcohol free) and glittering monuments and museums exalting its royal heritage. Like a gilded saddle on an exotic beast, modern Brunei sits atop the untamed bulk of Borneo. —SM www.tourismbrunei.com.

( Bandar Seri Begawan.
$$ Rimba Lodge (& 62/370/6829957; www.orangutanexplore.com). Ulu Ulu Resort, Temburong, Brunei (& 62/ 673/244-1791; www.uluuluresort.com).

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Channel Islands
Channel-Surfing
California, U.S.
Off the coast of Santa Barbara sits an archipelago of rugged beauty and ecological diversity that proves that the natural treasures of California don’t end with the Golden State’s sun-kissed coastline. Channel Islands National Park consists of five islands—Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara— that offer visitors a chance to see California’s Pacific habitats as they once were, and to encounter species of flora and fauna that exist nowhere else on Earth. Some 150 species of endemic plant and animal have been identified in the Channel Islands, from island foxes and skunks to the Channel Island lizard to a subspecies of a classic California tree, the Torrey pine. As the islands are 20 to 80 miles (32– 129km) from the mainland, their isolation for so many millions of years has allowed these diverse life-forms to grow and adapt to their particular environment. Many of the animals and plants here exist on only one of the five islands in the National Park. For instance, there’s a bird—the island scrub jay—on Santa Cruz Island that you won’t find on Anacapa, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, or Santa Barbara islands, even though only a few miles of ocean separate them.

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At 96 square miles (249 sq. km), Santa Cruz is the largest of the Channel Islands (and it’s the largest island in California) and the one that represents the best cross-section of biological diversity in the archipelago. It’s also the most physically impressive, with a coastline of jagged cliffs and a 2,450-foot-tall (747m) peak called Mount Diablo. Painted Cave, along the northwest coast, is one of the largest sea caves in the world. Excursion boats take visitors to see the natural attractions that are accessible only by sea, but for those who wish to set foot on the island, the boats also dock at one of two harbors here, from which you can set off on numerous hiking trails of varying length and difficulty. Positioned in the heart of coastal California’s rich biosphere, the Channel Islands’ waters are teeming with marine life. One-third of the world’s species of cetaceans are regularly spotted in the Santa Barbara Channel, including gray, blue, humpback, sperm, orca, and pilot whales and dozens of dolphins and porpoises. Whale-watching—whether from shore observation points or from boat charters from Santa Barbara or Ventura— is possible year-round, though the most popular time is gray whale migration season (Dec–May). Humpbacks and blues are most commonly sighted in the summer. It’s also inevitable that you’ll see California sea lions or harbor seals any time of year, as the Channel Islands provide well-established colonies for these pinnipeds. Preservation and maintenance of the Channel Islands’ natural resources is strictly supervised: This means that virtually no services exist on the islands apart from a few basic facilities. Visits are day trips or overnight stays at one of several simple campgrounds, the largest being the Scorpion Ranch Campground on eastern Santa Cruz Island, which is open year-round, though reservations are required. —SM Visitor center, 1901 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura (& 805/658-5730; www.nps.gov/ chis).

( Santa Barbara Airport (25 miles/40km).

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Transport available through tour operators (see below).

$ Campgrounds (& 877/444-6777 or www.nps.gov). $$$ Inn of the Spanish Garden, 915 Garden St., Santa Barbara (& 805/564-4700; www.spanishgarden inn.com). TOUR Island Packers, 1691 Spinnaker Dr., Ventura (& 805/642-1393; www. islandpackers.com). Truth Aquatics, 301 W. Cabrillo Blvd., Santa Barbara (& 805/ 963-3564; www.truthaquatics.com).

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Moresby Island
The Other Galápagos
Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada
The Queen Charlotte Islands are often referred to as the Galápagos (p. 100) of the north; a claim justified by its diverse plant and animal life and rugged landscape. Moresby Island is the second largest in this chain of about 150 off the coast of British Columbia, Canada, and is dominated by the San Christoval Mountains, which peak at about 1,000m (3,280 ft.). Most of the west coast gets dramatic exposure to wind and rain, creating forests that are boggy and stunted, supporting hearty species like western red cedar and hemlock. On the eastern side, you’ll find temperate rainforests dominated by western hemlock, Sitka spruce, and western red cedar.

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MORESBY ISLAND
Because of its unique landscape, the island’s flora and fauna have evolved differently than that on the mainland—an abundance of unique wildlife is one reason UNESCO named the Queen Charlotte Islands a World Heritage Site. Sightings of bald eagles, cormorants, rhinoceroses, auklets, pacific loons, and grizzly bears are common. (A significant subspecies here is the black bear, which is larger than its mainland counterpart.) You can also spot more common animals like Sitka blacktailed deer, raccoons, and beavers. As an added bonus, the island is on a migratory path, so you can catch birds migrating if you visit in the spring or fall. People come to Moresby primarily to enjoy its unspoiled beauty and wildlife but also for the chance to visit ancient Haidan villages. Sometimes referred to as the Vikings of the Pacific, the Haida were mighty seafarers, and during raiding forays, ranged as far south along the Pacific Coast as Oregon. The Haida were also excellent artists, carvers of both totems and argillite, a slatelike rock that they transformed into tiny totemic sculptures and pendants. The Haida today make up about half of Moresby’s population of 1,000. Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and the Haida Heritage site, which covers the bottom third of the island archipelago, is home to totem poles that have stood for centuries. Perhaps the most famous site in the park is SGang Gwaay ’Ilnagaay, or Ninstints, on Anthony Island, an ancient Native village revered as sacred ground by the modernday Haida. Since there are no direct roads to Gwaii Haanas, as on much of the island, the only way to get there is by boat or floatplane. Only a small number of tourists are allowed in the park during the day, making this remote spot seem even more isolated. Before going, you are required to make a reservation and register your trip with the park. You’ll also be asked to attend an orientation session; call Super Natural British Columbia (& 800/4355622) for details. By far the easiest and most convenient way to visit Gwaii Haanas is by joining a guided tour, however—see below for options. Trips can be long and costly out here, but, for your troubles, you will get stunning views of the wilderness and wildlife, in addition to a chance to soak in a 10,000-year-old culture. For a less rigorous adventure, Mosquito Lake is a popular fishing spot and campsite—a great home base for visitors seeking to enjoy outdoor adventures, just southwest of the town of Sandspit. There, you’ll find anglers vying for cutthroat and dolly varden. You can rest assured that the lake is named after World War II fighter planes, rather than the troublesome insect. Most of the island’s population lives in Sandspit, located on the northeastern tip. The town is the only area of the island where you’ll find paved roads. Before taking to the island’s unpaved terrain, be sure to call & 250/637-5323 for road conditions. Otherwise, as on Gwaii Hannas, you’ll have to get around by boat or floatplane. —JD Queen Charlotte Visitor Information Center (& 250/559-8316; www. qcinfo.ca/centre.html).

( Sandspit Airport (via Vancouver).
$ Bayview Garden Bed & Breakfast, 401 Beach Rd., Sandspit (& 250/6375749; www.bayviewgardenbandb.com/ index.html). $ Moresby Island Guest House, 385 Beach Rd., Sandspit (& 250/ 637-5300). TOUR Butterfly Tours Great Expeditions (& 604/740-7018; www.butterfly tours.bc.ca). Ecosummer Expeditions (& 800/465-8884 or 250/674-0102; www. ecosummer.com).

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www.bcferries.com.

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Island Hopping the Galápagos Islands: Intimate Encounters with Extraordinary Creatures
Christmas-colored iguanas that swim in the ocean? Seabirds with blue feet the color and texture of a rubber kiddie pool? Hundred-year-old tortoises that look like they’ve just walked off the set of a dinosaur movie? No wonder Charles Darwin was so taken with the Galápagos Islands. As a destination for lovers of wildlife, or for anyone who needs a thorough cleansing from the rigors of modern life, this pristine and superbly isolated archipelago tops even the safaris of Africa. Among our planet’s many outstanding natural wonders, there are none quite so intimate as the encounters with wildlife you’ll have in the Galápagos. The unusual animals here, whether reptile, bird, or mammal, are completely unafraid of people, and it’s this opportunity to commune with wildness in its most natural, unguarded state that makes the Galápagos such an unforgettable destination. The magic of the Galápagos Islands, which straddle the equator 966km (600 miles) west of Ecuador, reveals itself to you slowly. The landforms here aren’t exactly beautiful—so don’t come here if you’re looking for a tropical paradise of endless palm-treed, sandy beaches. With rough volcanic surfaces and scrubby vegetation in many places, the islands in the archipelago have a bizarre, even forbidding, aspect. But once you take your first shore excursion and greet the islands’ unique inhabitants as they go about their business, unconAn iguana on the Galápagos. cerned about your presence, you’ll fall under the same spell that bewitched Darwin. These islands may be the most scientifically important in the world, but on a more basic level, they’re also the most delightful. Due to their particular topography, weather, and sea conditions, each island in the Galápagos is a distinct wildlife habitat, though many species are present on multiple islands. All but a handful of the islands are uninhabited and have no signs of civilization besides some marked trails. Access to most is by sea only and carefully controlled by the Galápagos National Park; touring the archipelago is best done with accredited ship-based outfitters. Santa Cruz is the most populated island of the archipelago; its main town, bustling Puerto Ayora, is home to the Charles Darwin Research Station and the famous Galápagos tortoise Lonesome George. Española is undoubtedly one of the archipelago’s greatest treasures: Here, visitors can walk on a broad, sugary beach where hundreds of adorable sea lions romp, either playfully curious or totally oblivious to their human interlopers; or you can hike

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ISLAND HOPPING THE GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS: CREATURES

the path that skirts Española’s western end, where there are delightful sideshows of seabird antics at every turn. Blue-footed boobies dance and court, frigate birds perform acrobatics, and waved albatrosses take off and land on a windy “airstrip.” Isabela is the largest island and perhaps the most beautiful. It’s made up of six shield volcanoes whose bases fused together above sea level to make up one mountainous island. Isabela’s rugged seacoast is riddled with dramatic coves and rock walls where snorkelers and divers can swim right alongside sea turtles, sea lions, and Galápagos penguins. The youngest in the archipelago is Fernandina, an otherworldly landscape of black lava where very little vegetation exists. Despite the scant flora, Fernandina supports thriving communities of marine iguanas—basking in the sun, usually underfoot! Flightless cormorants, yet another unusual Galápagos species, which lost its ability to fly because it had no predators, nest on Fernandina every summer. Tiny Bartolome, with its gorgeous crescent beach and spiky rock formation in the quiet bay, is the iconic image of the Galápagos, featured in the film Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World and countless marketing materials. Sailing between any of the islands, you’re likely to spy whales, dolphins, rays, and sharks, or the coolest pelagic fish of them all—the enormous mola mola, or ocean sunfish—launching its entire body out of the water. As the full wealth of the Galápagos Islands can be visited only by sea and with government permits (tour operators arrange these up to a year in advance), it’s essential to do your homework and find a reputable outfitter that suits your needs and traveling style. The small cruise ships that sail in the Galápagos are equipped with a full range of ways to explore the archipelago and its wildlife and have more comfortable accommodations, while the intimate catamarans offer more of a “roughing it” type of experience. Most expeditions last from a week to 10 days, though the longer you spend in the Galápagos, the tougher it is to reenter the civilized world. —SM www.galapagos.org. Baltra, the islands’ only airport, is served by Aerogal and charter flights from Guayaquil and Quito, Ecuador. TOUR Geographic Expeditions (& 800/777-8183 in the U.S. and Canada; www.geoex.com). Lindblad Expeditions (& 800/397-3348 in the U.S. and Canada; www.expeditions. com). A garza bird on the Galápagos.

(

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
Unique Species

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Jersey
Durrell’s Island Ark
The Channel Islands, U.K.
Gerald Durrell had worked in zoos—long before he became a well-known nature writer—and he knew they didn’t work. So when, in 1959, he set up a park for breeding endangered species, the word “zoo” was never used. Yes, people could visit, but the animals would be housed in humane, naturalistic environments, and individuals bred in captivity would be returned to the wild whenever possible. Durrell’s “nonzoo” worked so well, it became the model for modern wildlife parks all over the world. Raised in an unconventional globe-trotting family (his classic memoir My Family and Other Animals is set in Corfu ), the selftaught Durrell already had quite a menagerie in his older sister’s garden in Bournemouth when he finally had enough money to build his dream park. He chose a site across the Channel in Jersey, notable for its salubrious climate. Though Jersey is only 91 sq. km (35 sq. miles), it’s like Britain in microcosm, from the bracken-clad cliffs of the north to the broad golden beaches of the south, with an interior plateau of rich farmland and wooded valleys full of songbirds and scampering red squirrels. On the west coast, the wild sandy sweep of St. Ouen’s Bay offers a breathtaking vista of dunes, reedy marsh, rock pools, and freshwater ponds. Today the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust (Les Augres, Trinity; & 44/ 1534/860035; www.durrell.org) lies in the heart of the island, packed onto 13 hectares (32 acres) of gardens and parkland. It’s home to some 1,400 mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians that Durrell conservationists have brought from around the world—Sumatran orangutans, Western Lowland gorillas, and black Andean bears; Assam pygmy hogs and Mallorcan midwife toads; and all sorts of lemurs and tamarins and pheasants and pigeons. Entrance fees help fund Durrell’s conservation projects around the world, so you might as well pay extra for a guided tour (call to arrange one in advance), which may give you access to animals not viewable by the public; you may even get to help with daily feedings. Durrell’s exotics may steal the limelight, but Jersey’s native species deserve your attention as well. With an unusually wide fluctuation between high and low tides, Jersey has a broad intertidal zone, rich with shorebirds and sea creatures. The coastal path that circles the island is essential for bird-watchers, from the gulls of the northern cliffs to the skylarks, sand martins, and lapwings of St Ouen’s Bay. And let’s not forget Jersey’s namesake dairy cows, which you’ll see grazing on pasturelands all across the interior. In the heart of St. Lawrence, Hamptonne Country Life Museum (La Rue de la Patente; & 44/1534/633374; www.jerseyheritage. org) is a restored 17th-century farm, built of the island’s distinctive rough pink granite, with costumed interpreters, a nature trail, and farm animals—Jersey calves, chickens—just waiting to be hand-fed. —HH Tourist office, Liberation Place, St. Helier (& 44/1534/448800; www.jersey. com).

( Jersey.
Condor Ferries (& 44/845/ 6091026; www.condorferries.com). St. Helier, from St-Malo (1 hr.), Guernsey (1 hr.), Weymouth (31⁄2 hr.), Poole (3 hr.), Portsmouth (101⁄2 hr.). $$ Les Charrieres Country Hotel, St. Peter, Jersey (& 44/1534/481480; www.lescharriereshotel.co.uk).

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PHILLIP ISLAND

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Birding Meccas

Phillip Island
The March of the Penguins
Australia
Who doesn’t love penguins? Even hardhearted cynics find it hard to resist those adorable flightless seabirds, waddling across the grainy brown beach in the gathering dusk to snuggle into their burrows on the sand dunes. Australia’s most popular animal encounter, the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island spotlights a cast of hundreds of Little penguins, also known as fairy penguins—Australia’s only native penguins, foot-high charmers with darkblue heads, backs, and flippers. Even though the Penguin Parade on Phillip Island has commercialized the experience, with spectators packed into concrete bleachers to watch the nightfall ritual, those plucky little penguins somehow redeem it, night after night. Phillip Island has all the virtues of convenience—handily connected by causeway to the mainland, it’s only a 2-hour drive from Melbourne. Once you get here, you discover that there’s a lot more to enjoy than just your cocktail hour with the penguins. On the scrubby, wind-swept Summerland peninsula, just past the Penguin Parade beach (& 61/3/5951 2820; www.penguins.org.au), you’ll find Australia’s largest colony of fur seals mobbed onto the basalt outcropping called (what else?) Seal Rocks, viewable from observation decks on The Nobbies headland. Inside the Nobbies visitor center (1019 Ventor Rd.; & 61/3/5951 2883), monitors display close-ups of the seals, relayed from cameras on Seal Rocks. In the center of the island, cuddly koalas drip from the eucalyptus trees at the Koala Conservation Center (Phillip Island Rd. at Ventnor Beach Rd.; & 61/3/5952 1610). Just north of here, more koalas, as well as wallabies, echidnas, owls, and bats, can be found along the eucalyptus-scented trails of the Oswin Roberts Woodland (Cowes-Rhyll Rd.); continue north and east to the protected wetlands of Rhyll Inlet, where boardwalks wind through a mangrove estuary teeming with spoonbills, oystercatchers, herons, egrets, cormorants, and the rare bar-tailed godwit and whimbrel. Heading back toward the causeway, turn left to visit tiny Churchill Island, where the restored farmstead at Churchill Island Heritage Farm (& 61/3/5956 7214) features ambling Clydesdale draft horses and shaggy red Highland cattle. Then detour south to the rocky heights of Cape Woolamai, where trails cross heath lands to fabulous coastal views; from September to April, thousands of short-tailed shearwaters (also known as mutton birds) cover its pink-granite headlands. The trick to enjoying Phillip Island is avoiding the day-trippers. Staying here overnight helps enormously—that way you can explore the other nature attractions at your leisure, and get to the koalas before midafternoon when the buses arrive. It’s also worthwhile to upgrade your Penguin Parade ticket: Book the lesscrowded Penguins Plus boardwalk, where rangers provide commentary; the elevated Penguin Sky Box (no children allowed, unfortunately); or the Ultimate Penguin Tour (no children 15 and under), held on a separate, more secluded beach with its own penguins. Or come early for a ranger-guided behind-the-scenes tour of Penguin Parade’s research operations. However you do it, in peak season reservations are essential. —HH Visitor center, 895 Phillip Island Tourist Rd., Newhaven (& 61/3/5956 7447; www.visitphillipisland.com).

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( Melbourne.
140km (87-mile) drive from Melbourne. $$$ Glen Isla House, 230 Church St., Cowes (& 61/3/5952 1882; www. glenisla.com). $ Seahorse Motel, 29–31

Church St., Cowes (& 61/3/5952 2003; www.seahorsemotel.com.au). TOUR Gray Line (& 61/3/9663 4455; www.grayline.com) arranges Penguin Parade day trips.

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Birding Meccas

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Lord Howe Island
The Lords of Lord Howe Island
Australia
There are a lot of outdoor things to do on a Lord Howe Island holiday—swim in a crystal-clear lagoon, marvel at tropical fish in a coral reef, hike trails through palm and banyan forests—but sooner or later the place turns every visitor into a birdwatcher. Not only does it have a lot of birds, but it has rare birds—and, best of all, they aren’t shy of people. Possibly Australia’s best birding site, Lord Howe Island is a carefully preserved nature sanctuary, where only 400 tourists are allowed at a time. Seventy-five percent of the island, including much of the southern mountains and northern hills, is a permanent protected nature reserve. Many of its 350 residents are ancestors of the island’s first 18th-century settlers. Life here is slow-paced; people get around on bikes instead of cars and just about everybody diligently recycles. Lord Howe Island is home to more than 130 bird species, between residents and migratory visitors. There are 14 species of seabird alone, which roost and nest here in huge numbers. Walking trails along the island’s ragged east coast offer great views of seabirds such as terns, boobies, noddies, and shearwaters. Star among them is one of the world’s rarest birds, the Providence petrel, which nests near the summit of Mount Gower. This sturdy-looking seabird is so trustful of humans that it can sometimes be called out of the air— and might even decide to rest in your lap. The rarest resident of all is the Lord Howe Island woodhen, found nowhere else but Lord Howe Island. This flightless brown bird, about the size of a bantam rooster, is listed as an endangered species, but the combined efforts of Australia’s national wildlife service, the Lord Howe Island Board, and the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife have resulted in a successful breeding program, and they now populate many parts of the island—some have even nested in residents’ backyards. The best place to see them is on the 3km (1.75-mile) Little Island trail, where you can also see some beautiful emerald ground doves. For impressive aerial feats, look to the skies, especially over the tropical forests of the northern hills, and you’ll see the beautiful red-tailed tropic bird, with its elegant red tail streamers. When courting, it will fly backward, fly in circles, and, for good measure, throw in some vertical displays. It’s a splendid sight, and one few birders ever get to see. A speck off of Australia’s east coast, equidistant from Sydney or Brisbane, Lord Howe Island is only a 2-hour plane ride from the mainland. Conveniently, there are just enough hotels on the island to handle all 400 visitors. —HH

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STEWART ISLAND
Visitor center (& 61/2/6563 2114; www.lordhoweisland.info).

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( Lord Howe Island.

$$ Blue Lagoon Lodge (& 61/2/ 6563 2006; www.bluelagoonlodge.com). $$$ Pinetrees Resort Hotel (& 61/2/ 6563 2177; www.pinetrees.com.au).

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Birding Meccas

Stewart Island
Last Stop for Kiwis
New Zealand
New Zealanders love their national bird, the kiwi; they even proudly refer to themselves as “kiwis” from time to time. But these days it’s well-nigh impossible to see one of these funny little flightless brown birds in the wild—that is, except on Stewart Island. New Zealand’s third island is also the farthest south, just across a 30km (19mile) strait from the South Island , with a wonderful temperate climate and so much wildlife you won’t believe it. (Only 1% of the island is inhabited.) The Maori name for it is Rakiura, which means “Land of Glowing Skies,” referring to the vivid colors of dawn and the twilight skies on this still-unspoiled island. Hiking, kayaking, and diving are the main forms of entertainment here; head for the visitor lodge for Rakiura National Park (& 64/3/2190009; www.doc.govt.nz), only a 5-minute walk up Main Road from the ferry terminal, to get trail information and hut passes. The park encompasses 85% of the island,

Stewart Island.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS which means loads of protected wilderness for wildlife, and some outstanding bird-watching: You can easily view uniquely New Zealand species like the kaka, tui, weka, kereru, and korimako, though you probably won’t be able to see the nearly extinct kakapo and kokako. Frequent sightings of the famously shy kiwi are the icing on the cake. All it takes is a little luck—or a little extra effort, like booking a nighttime kiwi-spotting boat tour with Bravo Adventure Cruises (& 64/3/219-1144) or Ruggedy Range Tours (& 64/3/219-1066; www.ruggedy range.com). Though kiwis were not originally a nocturnal species, they’ve come to prefer nighttime forays, to avoid predators. Taking only 15 passengers at a time so as not to spook the kiwis, these 3-hour tours involve prowling the length of remote Ocean Beach with flashlights. The plump, spiky-feathered kiwis can be found poking around the washed-up kelp, sniffing out food with the nostrils located at the end of their long pointed beaks. Darting and skittering about in their ungainly, comical way, the kiwis take a little patience to see, but they’re worth it. Technically, Stewart Island’s kiwi is its own species, slightly different from the spotted kiwis and brown kiwis found on the North and South Islands or on Kapiti Island ; the Stewart Island kiwi has larger legs, a longer beak, and slightly lighter-colored plumage. But on the mainland, kiwi populations are declining at alarming rates, preyed upon by dogs, ferrets, stoats, and feral cats, while their natural habitats—the native forest and scrub—are being converted to pastureland and residential development. Stoats and ferrets haven’t made it over to Stewart Island yet, though, and human settlement is still sparse. For now, the Stewart Island kiwis still have a stable population. Their cousins on the mainland should have it so good. —HH Tourist office, Red Shed, 12 Elgin Terrace, Oban (& 64/3/219-1400; www. stewartisland.co.nz). Stewart Island (service from Invercargill, South Island). Oban, 1 hr. from Bluff, South Island (& 64/3/212-7660; www.stewart islandexperience.co.nz).

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$$$ Port of Call, Leask Bay Rd. ( 64/3/219-1394; www.portofcall.co.nz). $ South Sea Hotel, Elgin Terrace, Oban (& 64/3/219-1059; www.stewart-island. co.nz).

Birding Meccas

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The Skelligs
Into the West
Ireland
In high tourist season, scores of tour buses trundle around the Ring of Kerry, a 177km (110-mile) route around the Iveragh Peninsula of County Kerry. Shimmering seacoast views, picturesque fishing villages, thatched-roof cottages, ancient ring forts, moody bog lands, breathtaking mountain panoramas—yep, the Ring of Kerry fulfills every Irish tourism cliché. But detour off of the main road, N70, and you’ll escape the day-trippers and find one of Ireland’s most memorable experiences: two tiny offshore islands known as the Skellig Rocks. These pyramid-shaped pinnacles of wind-scoured sandstone jut straight up from the sea, and yet on one of them—craggy Skellig Michael—a crew of Early Christian monks built a monastery on

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TEXEL ISLAND a 200m-high (656-ft.) cliff. And on the other—Small Skellig—vast flocks of seabirds practice their own form of communal living, turning the bare rock pinnacles and cliffs into their summer nesting grounds. Follow R565 to Portmagee, and then cross the bridge over a marshy channel to Valentia Island, where you can learn all about the history, flora, and fauna of these islands at The Skellig Experience (see below). Besides a number of artifacts and audiovisual displays, the exhibit features a re-created sea cliff to give you an up-close idea of the seabirds’ habitat. From there, you can board a 2-hour cruise with Skellig Boat Trips (& 353/66/947-6120) that circles the Skelligs, which lie about 12km (71⁄2 miles) west of Kerry’s Atlantic coast. Warning: The sea crossing can be rough, and is sometimes cancelled when conditions aren’t favorable (May–Oct are the best months to visit). If you want to actually get off the boat and climb the 1,000 stone steps to the monastery, which is a World Heritage Site, be sure to take one of the many longer trips offered by boat captains in either Valencia or Portmagee that add a 2-hour stop at Skellig Michael, aka The Rock. (Note that only a limited number of people per day are allowed to visit the monastery.) Though passengers aren’t allowed to go onto Small Skellig (An Sceilg Bheag in Gaelic), the boats do pull close enough for you to distinguish individual birds and even the details of their nests, resourcefully patched together from fishing nets, bits of rope, plastic bags, and whatever else the birds could find. An estimated 27,000 pairs of gannets live on Little Skellig yearround, the second-largest colony in the world; these massive seabirds, with their black-tipped 2m (61⁄2-ft.) wingspans, can often be seen dive-bombing into the water for fish. Penguin-like black-and-white guillemots perch upright on their cliff-face niches; adorable orange-beaked puffins and petite black storm petrels nestle in tiny crevices, and shearwaters skim dramatically over the surface of the water, while grey seals sun themselves on rocky ledges at the island’s base. If you’re lucky, you may also see dolphins or even a minke whale from the boat. In its own way, it’s just as much of a religious experience as the monastery visit. —HH The Skellig Experience, Valencia Island (& 353/66/947-6306; www.skellig experience.com; open Mar–Nov).

( Kerry County Airport.
0 Killarney Railway Station.
$$ Derrynane Hotel, off N71, Caherdaniel (& 353/66/947-5136; www. derrynane.com). $$ Earls Court House, Woodlawn Junction, Muckross Rd., Killarney (& 353/64/663-4009; www.killarneyearlscourt.ie).

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Birding Meccas

Texel Island
Wadden Sea Eco-Paradise
The Netherlands
When the tides pull out from Texel Island, they leave behind broad glistening mud flats, where the North Sea had been lapping only hours earlier. That enormous displacement of water stirs up so many vital nutrients that a variety of animals thrive here, from plankton to seals to as many as 300 species of birds. Prowl around the flats at low tide and you never know what you’ll find crawling about underfoot.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
Running along the entire 24km-long (15mile) North Sea coast of Texel (pronounced Tess-uhl)—the largest and most populated of the Wadden Islands archipelago—the Dunes of Texel National Park is a fascinating intertidal ecosystem, from its mud flats to stretches of gently waving marsh grass dotted with sea lavender and sea aster. South of the coastal village of De Koog, the wildlife biologists at the Wadden Islands research center Ecomare, Ruijslaan 92 (& 31/222/317-741; www. ecomare.nl), are invaluable guides to this coastal dune system’s natural wonders. They not only conduct guided “mud excursions” at low tide but also lead tours of three protected nature reserves: De Schorren, De Bol, and Dijkmanshuizen, where the bird-watching is superb. Expect to see healthy numbers of spoonbills, oystercatchers, Bewick swans, eider ducks, Brent geese, avocets, marsh harriers, snow buntings, ringed plovers, kestrels, short-eared owls, and bar-tailed godwits. Ecomare also runs a rehab program for birds affected by environmental hazards, particularly oil spills, which are deadly for bird populations: Ecomare estimates that only 10% of birds immersed in oil wash ashore alive—and those that do are given a spin in Ecomare’s special bird-washing machine and rehabbed in the sanctuary pool. Texel Island is a sunny, serene place to get close to wildlife, with much of the island dedicated to nature preserves. Its cinematically picturesque landscape is a mix of sea and mud flat, sand dunes and meadows. But communing with nature isn’t the only attraction on Texel: The island has seven charming villages, many with historic 16th- and 17th-century Dutch architecture and cobblestone streets (one, Den Hoom, is enveloped in flowering fields of bulbs in the spring). Den Burg is the central town. Not all the wildlife on Texel is wild— there are just as many sheep residing here as people (14,000 permanent residents). Texel has been raising prized Texel lamb since the 15th century—the lean, muscular animals are free to roam the heatherrich pastures, and the sea air infuses the lamb meat with a naturally salty flavor. You can be sure to see Texel lamb on the menu at the many celebrated island restaurants, as well as smoked fish and other local specialties. The 20-minute trip across the Marsdiep Strait to Texel is an attraction in itself, aboard the largest ferry in Netherlands waters, the Dokter Wagemaker. From its “panorama deck” you can enjoy 360-degree views of the Wadden Sea and great gulps of invigorating salt air. —AF Tourist office, Emmalaan 66, Den Burg (& 31/222/314-741; www.texel.net). Den Helder (small private planes can land on Texel).

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TESO car ferry (& 31/222/369691; www.teso.nl). From Den Helder, 20 min.

$$ Hotel de Lindeboom, Groeneplaats 14, Den Burg (& 31/222/312-041; www.hotelgroeptexel.nl). $$$ Hotel Greenside, Stappeland 6, De Koog (& 31/222/327-222; www.hotelgroep texel.nl/en/greensidekamers).

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HAWAR ISLAND

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Birding Meccas

Hawar Island
The Last Frontier
Bahrain
The Persian Gulf doesn’t have many undisturbed island habitats left—which makes Hawar Island feel like a last frontier. The largest island in the 130-sq.-km (50-sq.mile) Hawar Islands archipelago, the long crescent of Hawar Island (full name Jazarit Hawar) has natural wetlands, mud flats, and sea-grass beds of such beauty and environmental purity that scientists from all over the world are drawn to it. How did the pristine habitat of Hawar and its sister islands survive in a country (and region) that is one of the most densely populated places in the world? After all, the coastline of Bahrain has become so degraded by human activity that the country decided to dredge sand from the Gulf to create new prime waterfront property, a la Dubai. On completion, the seaside city resort of Durrat Al Bahrain, on Bahrain’s southern coast, will consist of 13 man-made islands covered with hundreds of villas, hotels, shopping centers, and even an 18-hole golf course; to the north, the Amwaj Islands will contain homes, high-rises, and a marina. But 25km (16 miles) off the southeast coast, this group of 36 desert islands remains sparsely inhabited, for two critical reasons: isolation and lack of water. The islands of Hawar have no surface or aquifer water, which kept human settlement to a minimum over the years. And Bahrain is taking steps to ensure that they retain their uniquely primeval habitat, even applying for World Heritage Site recognition. For birds and birders, Hawar is paradise. Hawar Island is a nesting and breeding site for countless birds and provides critical habitat for several endangered species. Hawar has the largest colony in the world of Socotra cormorants, some 200,000 birds, as well as large numbers of sooty falcons, white-cheeked terns, linnets, chaffinches, and pied kingfishers. For the latest bird-watching sightings, go to the Bahrain Bird Report (www.hawarislands.com). To arrange wildlife tours and packages, including bird-watching trips, contact Alreem Environmental Consultation and Ecotourism (& 973/710868; www.alreem.com); tours are located under “Ecotourism” on the website. Few places in the Arabian Gulf have such pristine marine ecosystems, either. Among other species, the seas around Hawar are an important winter feeding ground for the endangered dugong, a sea cow related to the manatee. The gentle dugong can live to be 70 years of age, but elsewhere its existence is threatened by hunting and fishing, predators, and human encroachment. If World Heritage status is ultimately conferred, the dugong will have an all-important refuge in Hawar. —AF www.bahraintourism.com or www. hawar-islands.com. Bahrain International Airport in Muharraq.

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Southern Tourism Company, Ad Dur jetty, Manama (45 min.; www.eskan bank.com/en).

$$$ Tulip Inn Hawar Beach Hotel and Resort, Hawar Island (& 973/17535000; www.goldentulip.com).

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
Birding Meccas

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Cape Sable Island
Raw & Wild
Canada
Bedeviled by fog, nor’easters, and hurricanes, Cape Sable Island is nature raw and unfiltered. Known to locals as Cape Island, Cape Sable (not to be confused with Sable Island , to the east) lies in the Atlantic Ocean off the southwest coast of Nova Scotia. Over 11km (7 miles) long and 4.8km (3 miles) wide, it’s home to some 1,000 residents—fishermen, boat builders, sea captains, and the sons and daughters of sea captains—who live by the whims of the currents and the tides. Cool Atlantic breezes and warm currents make this island a rich and diverse ecosystem for wildlife, both on land and offshore. A major pit stop for migratory birds in spring and fall, Cape Sable has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA). It’s an essential habitat and breeding ground for shorebirds of every stripe: piping plovers, Atlantic brandt (some 6% of the global species), semipalmated sandpipers, sanderlings, and short-billed dowitchers. In the evening thousands of Atlantic brandt take to the skies en masse after feeding in the salt marshes—on a moonlit night you can see them bobbing on the waves of the Atlantic. The island is also a prime spot for water birds—loons, egrets, herons, sea ducks, and the like— and is the only site in Canada for the American oystercatcher. The prime birdwatching spot is on the island’s southern tip at The Hawk beach, which has another fascinating attraction: a 1,300-year-old “drowned forest” that reappears at low tide. Cape Sable Island is easy to get to; it’s connected to mainland Nova Scotia by a causeway that crosses a narrow strait known as the Barrington Passage. When the weather kicks off and the fog sets in, this can be a dangerous place for a ship to navigate. In 1860, the Canadian steamer SS Hungarian wrecked on the island shoals in a fierce gale, one of the worst maritime disasters in Canadian history. As a result, the next year the first Cape Sable Lighthouse was built—at just over 30m (100 ft.) high, it’s the tallest lighthouse in Nova Scotia. The lighthouse is located on an offshore islet just south of Cape Sable Island; you can see it from the beach at The Hawk. Conditions may be rough at times on Cape Sable, but its raw beauty is undeniable, a gothic stew of wind, sea, and fog. Canada’s southernmost point has miles of uncrowded white beaches; a shoreline boardwalk runs the length of the island from the tourist office to the wharf at Clarks Harbour, the island’s main port. Even the island’s main road hugs the coastline in a scenic loop. It seems that no matter where you are on Cape Sable, the sea is front and center. —AF www.capesableisland.ca or www. destinationsouthwestnova.com.

( Halifax or Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.
1-hour drive from Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, or 3-hour drive from Halifax. $ Island Breeze Inn, 4 Penny Beach Rd., Cape Sable Island (& 902/745-0807; www.island-breeze-inn.com).

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PELEE ISLAND

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Birding Meccas

Pelee Island
The Tropics of Canada
Canada
You can’t get much farther south in Canada: Plunked down into Lake Erie, Pelee Island looks as if it had come unmoored from Ontario and was drifting toward Ohio. For migrating birds and butterflies heading north on the Atlantic flyway, it’s a welcome sight every spring, the first bit of dry land where they can rest their wings after soaring across the great lake. Pelee Island is a freak of nature—but in a good way. Surrounded by warm, shallow waters, it has an unusually warm microclimate for this latitude, and seeds dropped by migrating birds have only added to its biodiversity. (Where else in Canada can you find prickly pear cactus?) Early-19thcentury settlers ravaged the island, hacking down its red cedar forests for timber and quarrying its glacier-carved stone, but from the mid-1800s on, farmers moved in to exploit that long growing season, with acres of vineyards thriving in this surprisingly Mediterranean climate. Recently, as more of that deep-soiled farmland has reverted to the wild, the limestone savannas and forests have rebounded magnificently, now covering almost a quarter of the island and harboring species that long ago disappeared from the Ontario mainland. Nutrient-rich local waters attract fish to spawn and raise their young, thus luring to the island’s shores large colonies of the water birds that feast on those fish. For visitors, there’s not much to do here but enjoy nature, but that slow pace suits the birds to a T. Just north of the ferry docks, the Pelee Island Heritage Center (1073 W. Shore Rd.; & 519/724-2291; www.peleeisland museum.ca) is a great place to start, with exhibits on the island’s natural history as well as its human history. Projecting from the island’s southwest corner into Lake Erie, Fish Point is Pelee’s number-one birding site, with a lagoon full of blackcrowned night herons and other waders, and shorebirds flocking all over its flat, woodland-bordered beach. If you’re here in spring or fall, during the busy migration season, contact the Pelee Island Bird Observatory’s field station at Fish Point (& 519/724-2829; www.pibo.ca) to join one of its education programs. Head east from Fish Point to ramble around another rare ecosystem, Stone Road Alvar (Stone Rd.). Alvar is an Estonian word for this kind of limestone plain, covered with a patchy mosaic of thickets, oak and hickory trees, red cedar savanna, and prairie grass. That mixed vegetation harbors a number of rare snakes and butterflies, as well as threatened songbirds

Pelee Island lighthouse.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS like the blue-gray gnatcatcher and yellowbreasted chat. The northeast headland of Lighthouse Point (East Shore Rd.) is another wonderful nature preserve; bring binoculars to spot aquatic birds in the wetlands behind its restored 19th-century lighthouse. The island’s conservation-minded authorities are expanding its network of bike and walking paths so that visitors can “go green” and leave their cars behind when they explore the island. You can bike around the island’s rim in about 4 hours— if you don’t stop to bird-watch. But hey, that’s a big if. —HH www.pelee.org. Pelee Island airport (Griffing Air Service, & 419/626-5161). Pelee Island Transportation (& 800/661-2220 or 519/724-2115; www. ontarioferries.com; Apr–Dec). From Leamington, Kingville, or Sandusky, 11⁄2 hr. $$ Anchor and Wheel Inn, 11 W. Shore Rd. (& 519/724-2195; www. anchorwheelinn.com). $$$ Wavecrest Bed and Breakfast, 79 E. Shore Rd. (& 519/724-1111; www.wavecrestpelee. com).

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Birding Meccas

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Sandy Island
Red Cockades in Gullah Land
South Carolina, U.S.
Once a rice plantation, now inhabited only by a few descendants of former plantation slaves, peaceful Sandy Island is less than an hour’s drive from the frenetic attractions of Myrtle Beach; on its northeast border lies Brookfield Gardens, a popular historic-home attraction. It’s scary to think that not so long ago, in 1993, developers planned to build a bridge to connect this isolated Gullah community to the mainland. The 3-year legal battle to block bridge construction turned on an environmental issue: protecting Sandy Island’s most endangered species, the red-cockaded woodpecker. For once the environmentalists won. These beautiful woodpeckers were once abundant; now they may be reduced to only 4,500 family groups, their preferred habitats eliminated by logging and agriculture. The red-cockaded woodpecker is a handsome bird, but very picky: It will nest only in live pines in large open stands. And how many of those are left these days? To make matters worse, in 1989 Hurricane Hugo destroyed many of the trees that give them shelter and sustenance. Fortunately for the birds, Sandy Island makes an ideal haven. This pristine freshwater island lies tucked between two rivers, a rich mix of cypress swamps, longleaf-pine and oak forests, salt marshes, and sand hills rising as high as 78 feet (24m). Those longleaf pines are perfect for red-cockaded woodpeckers, who feed on the beetles, ants, roaches, wood-boring insects, and spiders that live in pines. Pecking vigorously at the pine trunks, the birds also release sticky resin that flows down the trees, thus setting up a handy barrier to thwart predators like snakes. Other trees just don’t offer that feature. Once the red-cockaded woodpeckers find those perfect pines, they’re real homebodies. They don’t migrate, they keep the same mates for several years, and they live in communal groups of five to nine birds that all pitch in to help with sitting on nests and raising chicks. After fledging, the young commonly stay

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TRINIDAD with the group—another generation of homebodies. Thanks to that environmental battle, you still have to catch a boat to visit Sandy Island. When you get here, you won’t find visitor facilities—just forest, wetlands, and wildlife. The 120 or so residents of the island live in their own tight-knit community, away from the nature preserve part of the island (although you can visit their community with local guide Rommy Pyatt, who organizes a boat tour to the island; contact him at & 843/408-7187; www. toursdesandyisland.com). You may, however, see other mainlanders boating over for a peaceful day of bird-watching and beach strolling, especially if it’s a lovely weekend day. Bring your binoculars so you can pick out the red-cockaded woodpecker that saved this island: He’ll be the one with the black-and-white barred back, large white eye patches, black cap, and small red streak on each side of the head, like an ornament on a hat. Chances are good he’ll be in a pine tree. —HH Sandy Island tourist info, near Murrell’s Inlet (no phone; www.nature.org). Myrtle Beach International Airport (42 miles/68km).

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Private boat landings at Sandy Island, Wacca Wache, Samworth Wildlife Management Area, Yauhanna.

$$ Hampton Inn, 150 Willbrook Blvd., Pawley’s Island (& 800/426-7866 or 843/235-2000; www.pawleysisland hamptoninn.com). $ Holiday Inn Express, 11445 Hwy. 17 S., Pawley’s Island (& 888/465-4329 or 843/235-0808; www.ichotelsgroup.com).

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Birding Meccas

Trinidad
The Birds of Eden
Every year, Trinidad’s capital city, Port of Spain, is swept up in a famously festive Carnival celebration. Meanwhile, a short distance away in the Caroni Swamp, Trinidad’s national bird, the scarlet ibis, flits about, decked out more brilliantly than any Carnival reveler. The sixth-largest island in the Caribbean, lying just 11km (63⁄4 miles) off the Venezuelan coast, Trinidad has such a varied ecosystem—mountainous rainforests, plains, several major river systems, extensive wetlands—that it supports some 400 species of birds, more than 600 species of butterflies, and 97 native mammals, including exotics like the red howler monkey, the ocelot, and the collared peccary (a type of boar). The crown jewel of Trinidad’s natural world is the Asa Wright Nature Center (www.asawright. org), a 607-hectare (1,500-acre) wildlife sanctuary located in a former coffee, citrus, and cacao plantation high in the lush rainforest of Trinidad’s hilly Northern Range. Day visitors can hike around miles of forest trails, take a guided nature tour, or have a buffet-style luncheon of local cuisine; you can also stay overnight in the Asa Wright Center Lodge, occupying an old plantation house and surrounding cottages. The bird-watching at Asa Wright is unparalleled: The center’s 150plus species list includes such rarely spotted birds as the violaceous trogon, the channel-billed toucan, the copperrumped hummingbird, purple and green honeycreepers, the silver-beaked tanager, bearded and golden-headed manakins, the bearded bellbird, and a nesting pair of ornate hawk-eagles. Twenty-nine types of bats have also been spotted in the area, as have leaf-cutter and army

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS ants, nine-banded armadillos, iguanas, and tegu lizards. Visitors staying for 3 or more nights are allowed to peek in on the world’s most accessible colony of rare, nocturnal oilbirds, which nest by day in a cave on the property. Trinidad’s increasingly threatened wetlands are also favorite destinations for birders. A top site is the Caroni Swamp on the west coast, where the scarlet ibis feasts on a shellfish diet that turns its plumage bright red. During peak season (Oct–Mar), the ibis population can reach 15,000. A boat tour through the swamp’s marshes, lagoons, mud flats, and mangrove forests may reveal 190 other bird species, including egrets and herons, as well as tree boas, caimans, silky anteaters, raccoons, oysters, crabs, and 24 varieties of fin-fish. The 1,538 hectare (3,800-acre) Nariva Swamp on Trinidad’s southeast coast is the largest wetlands in the Caribbean, a varied mosaic that includes Moriche palms, wild rice, and scattered hardwood forests. Birders can find 171 species here, from the Amazonian parrot and whistling duck to the rarely spotted red-bellied macaw and the endangered seed-eating finch; boating through the swamp, you may spot everything from butterflies and giant snails to opossums, anteaters, porcupines, anacondas, and manatees. You may also want to visit the PierrePoint Wildfowl Trust bird sanctuary (Flagstaff Hill, Long Circular Rd.; & 868/ 658-4230)—located, oddly enough, beside an oil refinery—and, between March and August, make nighttime visits to the beaches along Trinidad’s northeast coast to view leatherback turtles laying their eggs. —AF www.gotrinidadandtobago.com. Piarco International Airport, 30 min. east of Port-of-Spain.

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$$$ Asa Wright Nature Center & Lodge, Spring Hill Estate, Arima (& 800/ 426-7781 in the U.S., or 868/667-4655; www.asawright.org). $$ Kapok Hotel, 16–18 Cotton Hill (& 868/622-5765; www.kapokhotel.com). TOUR Caribbean Discovery Tours (& 868/624-7281; www.caribbean discoverytours.com). Nanan’s Tours (& 868/645-1305; www.nanecotours. com).

Birding Meccas

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Little Cayman Island
Booby Bonanza
The Cayman Islands
If this scene had a soundtrack, you’d hear ominous drumrolls and deep bassoons: Cue up a massed horde of red-footed boobies, thousands of them, hovering tensely at twilight above the Caribbean Sea. Now enter, stage left, a circling crew of magnificent frigate birds, marauders famous for stealing other birds’ food, stretching their 2.4m-wide (73⁄4-ft.) pointed black wings. The boobies spiral upward in a column, wheel swiftly, and dive like torpedoes toward shore. The frigate birds dart in to attack. Who will win this battle for survival? This drama is played out every evening in nesting season on Little Cayman Island, an isolated, sparsely inhabited scrap of coral and sand in the Caribbean Sea due south of Cuba . About 10,000 nesting

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LITTLE CAYMAN ISLAND pairs of red-footed boobies—the largest colony in the Western hemisphere—hatch their chicks each February in the landlocked saltwater lagoon of Little Cayman’s 162-hectare (400-acre) Booby Pond Nature Reserve (& 345/948-1010). Buffcolored or white, with a wingspan of nearly 1.5m (5 ft.), the boobies have dark wingtips, blue bills, and, of course, unmistakably bright red feet. By day, they roam long distances from Little Cayman, flying as far as Cuba or Jamaica , to fill their crops with squid and small fish to take back to their chicks—that is, if they can get past the frigate birds first. Nowadays Little Cayman’s chief tourism draw is snorkeling and scuba diving (Jacques Cousteau once declared it one of the world’s top-three diving spots), with no fewer than 60 dive sites, including the spectacularly sheer coral wall of Bloody Bay. Fishing is also an attraction; the milky-looking mud flats of South Hole Sound offer world-class bonefishing, and loads of tarpon are waiting to be caught in a brackish inland pool aptly named Tarpon Lake. But long before those sports became so popular, this former pirate haven (treasure may still be buried here) was known as a bird-watcher’s paradise. Though you can’t go into the wetlands where the birds nest, lookout platforms have been built around the edges of the pond where you can watch that nightly twilight battle; there are also telescopes on the veranda of the visitor center, a traditional Caymanian gingerbread bungalow. Besides the boobies and the frigate birds, you’ll see other rare water birds around the pond, including the shy West Indian whistling duck, and a lot of

A booby on Little Cayman.

snowy egrets, pure-white long-necked birds with startling yellow feet and a distinctive shaggy plume at the back of their heads. For a peak birding experience, come here the first 2 weeks of November, when the migratory birds are passing through as well. Little Cayman also has the largest population of rock iguanas in the entire Caribbean, outnumbering the island’s human population by well more than 10 to 1— drive carefully, because they have the right of way on Little Cayman’s roads. —HH Cayman Islands tourist info, Cricket Square, George Town, Grand Cayman (& 345/949-0623; www.caymanislands.ky).

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$$ Pirates Point Resort, Preston Bay, Little Cayman (& 345/948-1010; www.piratespointresort.com).

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
Sea Life

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Islas Ballestas
Peru’s Pacific Playground
Peru
Red rock arches spanning a cobalt sea, cliffs riddled with caves and crevices—the capriciously formed Islas Ballestas are a haven for marine life that almost seems like a man-made playground. Humboldt penguins, Inca terns, boobies, cormorants, and flamingos can all be seen hopping about this group of three small rocky Pacific islands just west of the Peruvian coast, and the undersea wildlife is equally rich. Tourists are not allowed to go ashore on the Islas Ballestas (whose name means “crossbow”), but excursion boats can get you close enough to smell the guano and snap some great photographs. The highlight for many visitors to the Islas Ballestas is the show put on by the resident sea lions. These pinnipeds love to ham it up for the tourist boats and routinely perform flips and leaps worthy of Sea World within inches of their human admirers. Occasionally, you can also catch sight of marine otters and even the odd condor, which swoop down from the Andes from time to time to go fishing in the Pacific. The white guano (bird droppings) covering much of the surface of the islands is actually necessary for the birds’ nesting as it adds stability, but every 4 to 7 years, when it gets too thick, it’s harvested and converted into fertilizer for farms on the mainland. Boat excursions to the Ballestas depart from the town of Pisco, 25km (16 miles) away, from December to March, leaving in the morning and generally lasting a few hours. The tours also include a viewing of the famous Candelabra of the Andes, a mysterious 180m-long (590-ft.) hillside geoglyph (man-made carving in the earth) in a shape that various observers see as

Sea lions on Islas Ballestas.

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FERNANDO DE NORONHA either a candlestick or a trident; its ancient origins may go back as far as 3,000 years. The Candelabra is best seen from the sea, so this is a great opportunity to combine some South American archaeology with your nature observation. The other great wildlife viewing in the area is at Paracas National Reserve, often included on an Islas Ballestas excursion. A spectacular landscape where the desert meets the sea, Paracas is known as Peru’s Galápagos (p. 100) for its variety of unique species, from the desert’s condors and rare marine cats to the dolphins, octopuses, squid, and purple crabs of the sea. Situated 260km (162 miles) south of Lima and a few kilometers west of the PanAmerican Highway, Pisco itself is a lively fishing town worth at least a half-day’s exploration, although much of the traditional adobe architecture still shows the effects of the devastating 8.0 earthquake that struck here in 2007. You may also recognize the name Pisco from the popular Peruvian cocktail called Pisco Sour, made with a grape brandy traditionally aged in a cone-shaped pottery vessel, also called a pisco. —SM www.peru.info. Lima (260km/162 miles), then bus to Pisco (3-4 hr.). Day trips from Pisco with Peru Adventure Tours (& 51/54/221-658; www.peruadventurestours.com). $$$ Hotel Paracas, av. Paracas 173, within Paracas National Reserve (& 51/56/ 545-100; www.hotelparacas.com). $ Hotel Villa Manuelita, San Francisco 227 (& 51/56/535-218; www.villamanuelita hostal.com).

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Fernando de Noronha
Bay of Dolphins
Brazil
“Here is paradise,” wrote explorer Amerigo Vespucci upon his arrival on the island in 1504. The largest of 21 islands on the Brazilian archipelago of the same name, Fernando de Noronha is one place that lives up to its billing. It has some of Brazil’s most beautiful beaches, diamond-clear waters bathed by warm African currents, and an undersea world populated with healthy numbers of large pelagics, billfish, sea turtles, and especially its large population of resident dolphins—spinner dolphins, to be exact, so named for the exuberant spin they do as they leap out of the water. The tidal pools and lagoons of the Baía dos Golfinhos are transformed at low tide into a natural aquarium, where some 600 spinner dolphins live and breed. No wonder Fernando de Noronha was awarded World Heritage Site status in 2002 as an “oasis of marine life.” Fernando de Noronha owes much of its eco-purity to its remote location, approximately 483km (300 miles) off Brazil’s northeast coast. Fernando do Noronha has another invaluable asset: a highly responsible conservation ethos. Seventy percent of the island archipelago is national parkland, and development is rigidly controlled through the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (IBAMA). The government limits the coming and going of visitors, allowing only 460 nonresidents on the island at one time. The dolphins’ bay is a perfectly lovely 2.3km (11⁄2-mile) crescent of sand, but it’s strictly off-limits to visitors—although you can watch the dolphins from a cliff overlooking

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Pig Bay, Fernando de Noronha.

the beach (binoculars help). At the Praia de Atalaia beach, only 100 people are allowed to visit each day, and snorkeling is permitted in the shallow tidal pools for only 25 minutes—and no suntan lotion, please, if you plan to swim in the pools. Strict controls are also exercised during turtle-hatching season at Praia do Leão (named for the rock offshore that resembles a sea lion), a critical nesting site for turtles. Don’t worry: You’ll have no trouble finding accessible, white-sand beaches, including two of Brazil’s finest: Praia do Leão (see above) and Baía do Sancho, both with excellent swimming and snorkeling opportunities. The island is actually the tip of an undersea mountain range in the southern Atlantic Ocean. Beaches are rimmed in mossy volcanic hills and peppered with oddly shaped rock formations—seismic hiccups from long ago. The island’s interior is largely scrub brush, with dune buggies (the preferred mode of transportation) kicking up dust on the dry red-dirt roads.

Fernando de Noronha is a surfing mecca, particularly in December and January when the winds change direction, kicking up frothy, voluminous swells that draw longboards from around the world. But it’s in the diving world that Fernando de Noronha truly rocks, especially during the winter months (July–Oct), when visibility can extend to 50m (164 ft.). Experts attribute the low incidence of shark attacks on humans to a perfectly balanced marine ecosystem; sharks have plenty to eat here, thank you! —AF Tourist office, Palácio São Miguel, Vila Remédios, Fernando de Noronha (& 55/81/3619-1352; www.noronha.pe. gov.br). Fernando de Noronha (1 hr., 40 min. from Recife; 1 hr., 10 min. from Natal). $$$ Pousada Maravilha (& 55/81/ 3619-0028; www.pousadamaravilha. com.br). $$ Pousada Solar dos Ventos (& 55/81/3619-1347; www.pousada solardosventos.com.br).

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SEAL ISLAND

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Seal Island
A Smorgasbord for Great White Sharks
South Africa
If you’ve ever tuned into Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, chances are you’ve already seen Seal Island. Sixty thousand cape fur seals inhabit this rocky outcrop near Cape Town, and that constant supply of fresh red meat is a honey pot for the ocean’s most fearsome predator—great white sharks. Their spectacular hunting behaviors, which involve those aerial feats so often shown on sensationalist nature programs, are not found in any other white shark habitat in the world—bad news for the seals of Seal Island. The great whites that feed in False Bay, which surrounds Seal Island, are especially famous for their surface breaching: The sharks launch their entire bodies out of the water in order to snatch an unlucky seal from the surface. Whales normally leap all the way out of the water like this, for reasons unrelated to killing prey, but breaching takes on a whole new terrifying dimension when it’s a menacing 2,000kg shark doing the deed. Air Jaws became the most successful shark show in history when it introduced TV audiences to the unique shark breaching off Seal Island. What’s also striking is how close to shore these shark-on-seal attacks take place—almost within sight of Simonstown harbor in some cases. For those who care to witness this extremely violent link of the food chain in person, there are plenty of charter outfits along False Bay, near Cape Town, that operate boat excursions to Seal Island— though the boats seem alarmingly small and flimsy given the size and acrobatic capabilities of the sharks touted in their marketing materials. (If surface viewing is all a bit too tame for you, very adventurous types can also find outfitters that will put you face to face, through a shark cage, with carcharidon carcharias.) Within a certain distance of Seal Island in each direction, there’s a sweet spot called the Ring of Death where the sharks wait for unsavvy seals—usually, the young, old, or infirm ones—to make a mistake. If the seals cross the Ring of Death near the murky bottom of the bay, they’ll pass under the sharks unnoticed and make it to the open sea safely. But if they swim too near the surface, it’s only a matter of time until a great white attacks, and that’s almost always a fatal encounter. Though you can get close enough to hear and smell the teeming seal population there, Seal Island itself cannot be visited—and you probably wouldn’t want to, anyway. The attraction here is undoubtedly the wildlife interaction offshore, not any sort of natural beauty onshore. The rocks are thick with seal guano, and there’s no soil or vegetation on the island, which reaches a maximum “elevation” of just 6m (20 ft.). To lay eyes on Seal Island from the water, it doesn’t look like land at all, just a heaving mass of intertwined seals that have survived another day inside the Ring of Death. —SM www.capetown.travel.

( Cape Town (35km/22 miles).

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Transport available via tour operator (see below).

$$ Four Rosmead, 4 Rosmead Ave. ( 27/21/480-3810; www.fourrosmead. com). $$$ Mount Nelson, 76 Orange St. (& 27/21/483-1000; www.mountnelson. co.za). TOUR African Shark Eco Charters, Simonstown (& 27/21/785-1947; www. ultimate-animals.com). Boat Company Tours, Simonstown (& 27/83/257-7760; www.boatcompany.co.za).

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
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Ile Sainte Marie
The Island of Humpback Whales
Madagascar
To the native Malagasy people who call Ile St. Marie home, humpback whales were known as “Zagnaharibe” or “Trozona”— which translates to the “Great Gods.” All it takes is a boat excursion into the whalerich waters off this tiny tropical Indian Ocean island and you’ll start to understand why. It’s easy to think, in this hyperconnected world, that there are no undiscovered tropical isles left on the planet. Well, take a look at this sleepy little gem. Ile Sainte Marie—also known by its Malagasy name, Nosy Boroha—lies just 8km (5 miles) from Madagascar , off the southeast coast of Africa. This serene, underthe-radar paradise for beach bums, divers, and nature lovers is not your average tropical isle. It’s got a luxuriant and biodiverse landscape of coco trees and rare orchids, along with world-class diving and snorkeling. It’s got fine palm-fringed whitesand beaches studded with black rocks. It’s got pirate shipwrecks and a pirate cemetery (with the official pirate logo— skull and crossed tibia bones—on a tombstone). But most intriguingly, it has humpback whales. From July to September, the whales travel from Antarctica to the warm Indian Ocean to breed. (Good news for whalewatchers, who are likely to see young calves swimming alongside their mothers.) The playful long-finned humpback is remarkably acrobatic for its size—it can grow up to 15m (50 ft.) long and weigh 35 tons—tail-slapping and leaping out of the water. The humpback was almost driven to extinction by hunting, but bans on hunting have helped the population recover to about 20,000 worldwide. The waters surrounding Ile Sainte Marie are a designated whale sanctuary. Whale-watching expeditions from Ile Sainte Marie can be arranged through Il Balenottero Diving Center (& 261/2057-400-36; www.ilbalenottero.com), which partners with Megaptera, the international whale association, to document humpback sightings. That means that whale-watching safaris become scientific expeditions on which passengers help catalog the sightings—making these trips both thrilling and rewarding. Who knew a laid-back trip to a tropical paradise could be so fulfilling? —AF www.madagascar-tourisme.com or www.madagascarconsulate.org.za.

( Ivato airport, Madagascar.

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Fastest service is Cap Sainte Marie (& 261/20-57-404-06; www. cap-sainte-marie.com), Ambodifotatra, 1–3 hr. from Soanierana-Ivongo.

$ La Crique (& 261/20-57-902-45; www.lacrique.net). $ Soanambo Hotel (& 261/20-22-640-54; www.hsm.mg).

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LIZARD ISLAND

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Sea Life

Lizard Island
Creatures of the Great Barrier Reef
Australia
When Captain James Cook first landed here in 1770, the thing that most impressed him about this little coral island in the Great Barrier Reef was the number of goannas, the local monitor lizards, muscular scaly creatures as much as 1.8m (6 ft.) long. Well, the lizards are still there— you may run into one or two on the island’s walking trails, their forked tongues darting in and out—but otherwise Captain Cook would hardly recognize the place today. This 10-sq.-km (33⁄4-sq.-mile) private island resort, with 24 luscious white-sand beaches ringed by fringing coral reefs, is the kind of special, exclusive, drop-deadgorgeous place that is catnip to honeymooners, celebrities, and even royals. It’s known as a world-class diving and snorkeling destination, and the 40-villa luxury resort (see below for info) consistently wins top honors as the number-one hotel on the continent. This is the kind of blissed-out place where a simple float in a pale blue lagoon can be utterly transforming. The waters surrounding Lizard Island have been a protected marine national park since 1939; you can grab a snorkel and mask and step right off the beach into rainbowhued coral gardens at Watsons Bay, North Point, or the Blue Lagoon. The offshore snorkeling and diving on the island’s inner and outer reefs is equally spectacular (you can arrange half- and fullday dive expeditions through the resort). While you’re here, don’t miss an expedition to the Giant Clam Garden, a short boat ride from the island. Five species of giant clams live off Lizard Island, and they can be quite beautiful, distinguished by

Hiking on Lizard Island.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS colorful flesh in iridescent greens and blues or swirling patterns. Giant clams, the world’s largest living bivalve mollusk, can weigh more than 400 pounds and measure 1.2m (4 ft.) across—quite a sight for those more familiar with littlenecks. The terrifying clam of yore, the one that clamps down on some poor soul and won’t let go, is a bit of a myth. It will shut its shell only as a defensive move if, say, you accidentally step into one—so don’t. The massive clamshells are crusted with algae and sea squirts like the hull of an old schooner. Lizard Island’s waters seem to specialize in megaspecies—there’s also a dive site known as the Cod Hole where giant potato cods in the 200- to 300-pound range are thriving and friendly (they like to be fed by hand). Potato cods are not cods at all but groupers, apparent to anyone who knows groupers—these fellows have the classic grouper pout. You can experience Lizard Island in one of two ways. You can be a guest at the resort, of course. Or you could do volunteer work at the Lizard Island Research Station (owned and operated by the Australia Museum), where scientists are studying coral reefs to best learn how to conserve this increasingly vulnerable resource. You’ll need to get permission to arrange stays at the research station. Learn how by going to www. lizardisland.net.au. —AF Voyages Lizard Island Resort: See hotel info below. Lizard Island (60-min. flight from Cairns).

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$$$ Voyages Lizard Island Resort ( 61/2/8296 8010; www.lizardisland. com.au).

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Dirk Hartog Island
Landfall at Shark Bay
Australia
Shark Bay—what a great bloodthirsty name for a vacation spot. Yet most visitors come here not to wrestle sharks but to ooh and aah over bottlenose dolphins as they cruise into the knee-deep waters of the Monkey Mia Resort every morning, gliding past dutiful rows of tourists standing stock-still. Yet there’s so much more adventure to Shark Bay. With its immense sea-grass beds and shallow sandbar-stippled waters, it’s poised at the intersection of three climate zones, making it one of the world’s most biodiverse marine sanctuaries. Among its 323 fish species are masses of dolphins and manta rays, the world’s largest population of dugongs (manatees), and of course sharks. So why hang around the inner reaches of the bay, when you can breeze out to the very westernmost edge of Australia—Dirk Hartog Island. This long crescent of barrier island, 19 nautical miles across the strait from the Peron Peninsula, was in fact the first Australian soil where Europeans set foot. Blown off course—way off course—en route from South Africa to Indonesia, Dutch sea captain Dirk Hartog landed here on October 25, 1616, an event he commemorated by tacking a pewter plate to a post. (Today a stout 1909 lighthouse marks the headland, now known as Cape Inscription.) But over the centuries, Western Australia remained a lonely frontier. In the 19th century, the island was a remote sheep-farming outpost—there are still a few sheep left—with a couple of guanomining operations and pearling camps. In

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TURTLE ISLAND
1968, Sir Thomas Wardle bought it, after failing to convince the government that it should become a historic monument. Since 1994, his family has developed it as an ecotourism destination. On the boat over, peer down into the clear blue waters to observe Shark Bay’s rich marine life, especially the dugongs (Sept–May) and migrating humpback whales (June–Oct). Once on the island, visitors buzz around on four-wheel-drive vehicles, whipping around alabaster-white sand dunes topped with prickly saltbush on the Shark Bay coast, or gazing out over the Indian Ocean from the west coast’s rugged limestone cliffs, where waves crash fiercely against rock while water gushes skyward through cliff-ledge blowholes. Recreational fishing is huge here— game fishing out to sea, sport fishing in the sheltered east coast inlets, and spectacular cliff fishing on the west coast. Scuba diving is extraordinary (bring your own gear), with a long checklist of tropical and subtropical species to look for; there’s also fine snorkeling around the coral bommies off Surf Point and Sandy Point. Come here in March and you can even watch loggerhead and green sea turtles laying their eggs at night on Turtle Bay. It’s possible to make this a day trip from Denham, sailing over with Jetwave Boat Charters (& 61/8/9384 0449; www.jet waveboatcharters.com.au) or flying in with Shark Bay Air (& 61/8/9948 1773; www. sharkbayair.com.au). But for the full experience, stay overnight in the renovated sheepshearer’s quarters, now a sleek seven-room lodge, or rough it in one of six campsites set around the island. —HH

& 61/8/9948 1211; www.dirkhartog island.com.

( Shark Bay.
$$$ Dirk Hartog Homestead, Dirk Hartog Island (& 61/8/9948 1211; www. dirkhartogisland.com). $$ Monkey Mia Dolphin Resort, Monkey Mia Rd. (& 61/8/ 9948 1320; www.monkeymia.com.au).

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Turtle Island
Night of the Living Hawksbills
Sabah, Borneo
In the dead of night, the mother turtle crawls onto the beach. She digs a huge pit, and then lays her eggs—anywhere from 50 to 200 eggs at a time, trying to overcome with sheer numbers the vast odds against any one egg’s surviving. Then she covers the pit in sand and crawls back into the ocean, never to see these offspring again. This magnificent drama is enacted every summer night on a tiny tropical island off the coast of exotic Borneo . Pulau Selingan—aka Turtle Island, for obvious reasons—is one of three islands in a state-run nature sanctuary in the Malaysian part of Borneo, that big island in the South China Sea. (Borneo itself is divvied up between Brunei, Malaysia, and Indonesia). Lying 40km (25 miles) offshore from the town of Sandakan, the sanctuary accepts only 50 tourists per night (book with a local tour company). Accommodations are extremely basic, and you have to stay overnight—because this show only plays nighttime performances. After arriving by speedboat from Sandakan, you’re free to laze around on the beach all afternoon, lulled by the tropical sun and the beautiful blue waters of the Sulu Sea. Here’s the extent of your daytime entertainment options: Study turtle exhibits in the park headquarters (two

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS species nest here, green turtles and hawksbills), visit turtle hatchlings being raised in an outdoor nursery, or snorkel on the shallow coral reef that surrounds the island, busy with tropical fish. On the soft white-sand beaches, you may notice some curious tracks, evidence of last night’s turtle invasion—deep round flipper scoops on either side of a wide shallow groove where the shell drags along. As darkness falls, all visitors are confined to the park headquarters, waiting for a signal from a ranger. Curtain time could be anywhere from dusk until dawn, and you can’t wait on the beach—if the turtles detect humans when they crawl ashore, they turn right around and swim away. Once the signal comes, guests go with a guide down to the beach to watch the female turtles deposit their ping-pong ballsized eggs into a hole they’ve scooped in the sand. The next act is even more memorable: the audience-participation part of the show. Rangers move the new-laid eggs to a nursery to incubate for the next 60 days—a measure that has dramatically increased the survival of these endangered creatures—and then a number of already-hatched baby turtles are brought down from the nursery for guests to release back into the sea. You actually get to hold a sturdy little hatchling, set it down on the beach, and watch it hustle back into the sea. It’s completing the cycle of life— and you helped! —HH Sabah Park headquarters, Kota Kindalu (& 60/88/211 881; www.sabah parks.org.my).

( Sandakan. and TOUR Nasalis Larvatus Tours, Lot 226, 2nd Floor, Wisma Sabah, Jalan Tun Abdul Razak (& 60/88/230 534; www.nasalislarvatustours.com).

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Schiermonnikoog
Wadlopen: A Walk on the Sea
The Netherlands
Low-lying Schiermonnikoog is like the pearl in a necklace of islands known as the West Frisian Islands on the Netherlands’ northern shore. At 16km (10 miles) long and 4km (21⁄2 miles) wide, Schier, as it’s known to the locals, is the smallest of the inhabited islands in the Wadden Sea, and possibly the prettiest. But at low tide, something magical happens: The shallow sea actually disappears and you can walk all the way to the next island. Mud flat hiking—wadlopen—is a wildly popular summer pastime around these parts. Hiking on these soggy surfaces lets you see up close and personal just how alive the mud flats can be, with worms, shrimp, crabs, and fish providing sustenance for a wide range of fauna. You can actually mud-walk from the village of Kloosterburen to Schiermonnikoog (8km/ 5 miles). If you’re game for a wadlopen, however, don’t even think about doing it alone—Dutch law prohibits self-guided mud-walking. Always go with a tour operator or outfitter (see below) and be sure to reserve a spot well in advance—fools sure do love company. Since 1989, the whole island of Schiermonnikoog has been protected as a national park, a remarkable collection of habitats that range from birch forests to broad, white-sand beaches along the North Sea coast. In its salt marshes and wetlands you’ll find thousands of migratory seabirds, with plenty of gulls, terns, and spoonbills. Ducks, herons, and reed

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ASSATEAGUE ISLAND birds gather around the freshwater Westerplas pond; seals sun themselves on sandbanks off the northwest coast. Rare plants like tiny orchids and Parnassus grass can be found around the moss- and lichen-covered dunes. Most vacationers visit between spring and fall; only a hardy few brave the winter gales. Some privately owned property is not included in the park—notably the dairy farms on the reclaimed polder land on the south shore, and the island’s one village, also called Schiermonnikoog, with picturesque 18th-century gabled houses and neat landscaping. As in much of the rest of this green nation, most people here get around on bicycle; visitors aren’t even allowed to bring motor vehicles. Tourists can also take covered-wagon tours drawn by sturdy little draft horses. Bike paths are everywhere throughout the island; pick up a map with cycling and walking routes at the Schiermonnikoog visitor center. Tip: Buy a combined ticket from the tourist information office in the departure hall for the ferry and a bicycle rental—you’ll avoid long lines. —AF Visitor center, Torenstreek 20 (& 31/ 519/531-641; www.nationaalpark.nl/ schiermonnikoog). Tourist office, Reeweg 5 (& 31/519/531-233; www.vvv schiermonnikoog.nl).

( Amsterdam (2 hr. to Lauwersoog).
$ Hotel van der Werff, Reeweg 2 (& 31/519/531-203; www.hotelvander werff.nl). $ Pension Westerburen, Middenstreek 32 (& 31/65/221-2287; www. westerburen.nl). TOUR Stichting (& 31/59/552-8300; www.wadlopen.com).

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45 min. from Lauwersoog.

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Run Wild, Run Free

Assateague Island
Do the Pony on the Eastern Shore
Maryland & Virginia, U.S.
Misty of Chincoteague was one of my favorite books as a child—it’s practically required reading for any girl in her Horse Phase—and as every Misty lover knows, they may be called Chincoteague ponies but they are really from Assateague Island. Neighboring Chincoteague Island comes into the picture because every July, Chincoteague townsfolk row over to uninhabited Assateague, round up the tough feral ponies, make them swim across the narrow channel separating the two islands, and sell the foals to raise money for the local fire department. Legend has it that the ponies swam ashore from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon centuries ago, washing up on this 37-mile-long (60km) barrier island off of Virginia’s Eastern Shore. The truth may be a little more prosaic—more likely they were put there in the late 1600s by English settlers who found the island a natural corral—but at this point it hardly matters. They’re shaggy, sturdy little wild horses, running free on this one narrow barrier island. Assateague is also a prime Atlantic flyway habitat where peregrine falcons, snow geese, great blue heron, and snowy egrets have been sighted. Dolphins swim off shore; bald eagles soar overhead. Like most of the Eastern Shore, it’s a tranquil, wind-ruffled shore land with a lot of wildlife refuges and weather-beaten charm. Every year, however, the island moves closer to the mainland, as its oceanward beaches erode and sediment fills in the landward shore.

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Horses on Assateague Island.

You can drive via causeway from the mainland right onto Chincoteague, an old fishing village that was settled by the English in the late 1600s; from there, take another causeway to Assateague, which was settled by wild horses at about the same time. (Go early in the day, because a strict quota system controls the number of cars on Assateague at any one time.) The island lies partly in Maryland, partly in Virginia; half of the horses live in a state park on the Maryland side, while the other half live in Virginia’s national wildlife refuge. It’s the herd from this Virginia refuge that supplies ponies for the annual Chincoteague roundup, which sustains the herd at a manageable size; the Maryland herd, unculled, sometimes threaten to overrun their marshy grazing lands. The paved 7.2km (41⁄2-mile) Wildlife Drive, which runs through the marshes, is the best place to see the wild ponies. Ranger-narrated bus tours cruise along periodically, and pedestrians and cyclists

can enjoy this flat, easy loop all day long; automobiles can’t go onto Wildlife Road, however, until after 3pm. At the end of the main road, you come to the Assateague National Seashore, a pristine beach with bathhouses, lifeguards, and a visitor center. It’s a great place to settle on the sand, feel the wind in your face—and imagine the ghost of a wrecked Spanish galleon. —HH Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Assateague Island, Virginia (& 757/336-6162; www.nps.gov/asis).

( Ocean City, Maryland.
20-mile/32km drive from Ocean City. $$$ Island Motor Inn Resort, 4391 N. Main St., Chincoteague (& 757/3363141; www.islandmotorinn.com). $$ Refuge Inn, 7058 Maddox Blvd., Chincoteague (& 888/257-0038 or 757/336-5511; www. refugeinn.com).

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ANTELOPE ISLAND

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Antelope Island
Brigadoon for Buffaloes
Utah, U.S.
Stranded in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, it’s pretty surprising to find pronghorn antelope grazing. In fact, the animals that Kit Carson and John Fremont so admired in 1843, when they first named Antelope Island, were soon hunted to extinction; vanished for over a century, the antelopes were finally reintroduced only in 1993. But while you’re looking for the antelope, wham! You run into the real stars of this Rocky Mountain island, a huge herd of American buffalo, those shaggy big-shouldered icons of the Wild West. On an island. How cool is that? Considering that 50 to 60 million bison once roamed North America, the willful decimation of this species in the 19th century—by 1900 there were fewer than a thousand left—is one of natural history’s sadder chapters. That’s why conservationists in 1893 introduced a small number to this island, a former ranch, to preserve and rebuild the species. Currently the freeranging herd stands 600 strong, one of the largest publicly owned herds in the nation. In the spring, look for the new calves trotting after their mothers—you can spot them easily in the herd, with their light tan coats. Isolated for so many generations on this lake island, the bison haven’t interbred with domestic cattle the way so many of America’s other bison have; that genetic purity makes them especially sought-after for breeding into other herds to improve their stock. Every November, visitors can attend the annual roundup,

A bison on Antelope Island.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS where cowboys (some of them in helicopters) drive the herd up to corrals on the island’s north end, where they vaccinate and then cull the herd—some are sold for breeding stock, and a few are released for an annual bison hunt. By far the largest of the Great Salt Lake’s 10 islands, and the closest to Salt Lake City, Antelope Island is easily reached at the north end by a long, low causeway (it was actually submerged for most of the 1980s, when the lake was at record high levels) that attaches it to the town of Syracuse, only 11km (63⁄4 miles) west of I-15. Antelope Island’s coruscated rocky ridges, snowtopped in winter, make it look barren and rugged from afar, but once you get here you discover a great sweep of tawny sagebrush grasslands that support plenty of wildlife besides the antelopes and bison— rangeland dwellers like mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, bighorn sheep, badgers, porcupines, and jack rabbits, as well as curlews, owls, and hawks. Meanwhile, the lake’s unique swarms of brine flies and shoals of brine shrimp make its salt marshes an important stop for migrating birds, from avocets, sanderlings, and black-necked stilts to eared grebes, California gulls, and the Wilson’s phalarope. The island has several sand beaches at the north end, a sailboat marina by the causeway, and hiking tracks crisscrossing the island; a 6-mile (9.7km) paved loop road and 20 miles (32km) of gravel trails make it a great place for cycling and horseback riding. —HH Park visitor center, 4528 W. 1700 S., Syracuse (& 801/773-2941; www.state parks.utah.gov).

( Salt Lake City.
35-mile (56km) drive from Salt Lake City. $ Antelope Island campgrounds ( 800/322-3770). $$ North Salt Lake Best Western CottonTree Inn, 1030 N. 400 E., North Salt Lake (& 800/662-6886 or 801/292-7666; www.cottontreeinns.com).

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Admiralty Island
Fortress of the Bear
Alaska, U.S.
The human world may be fast closing in on wildlife habitat, but one place stands out as an oasis for flora and fauna. On Alaska’s Admiralty Island, brown bears and other wildlife live the good life, unencumbered by encroaching development or compromised environment. The natural habitat is so healthy here, in fact, that the island holds the country’s highest density of brown bears in North America, a population that outnumbers Admiralty’s human counterparts three to one. And it looks like things will stay that way. Here on Admiralty, humans have wisely ensured that the wildlife will have plenty of room to run wild and free in perpetuity. Most of the island, which lies in the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska, is federally protected wilderness. The Admiralty Island National Monument Wilderness (& 907/586-8800; www. fs.fed.us) contains a whopping million acres of wilderness land, much of it oldgrowth rainforest, perfect habitat for brown bears. It’s no wonder the native Tlingit people called this island Kootznoowoo, or “Fortress of the Bear.” The wilderness habitat is ideal for other wild things as well—fat salmon fill the island creeks; salmon runs from July to August bring out the bears in high numbers. The Seymour Canal has the greatest known

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SABLE ISLAND concentration of nesting bald eagles in the world. Seals, sea lions, orcas, and whales can be seen in the canal, chasing the massive schools of Pacific herring that arrive here to spawn. (Fishing the island waters is one of Admiralty’s top attractions.) A great way to experience all this raw, wild beauty is to stay in one of the U.S. Forest Service cabins, a number of them sturdy, rough-hewn antiques built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Many are set directly on lakefronts, with views of shimmering forests and snow-capped mountains across the water. The CCC also built the Cross Admiralty Canoe Route (you can buy a detailed map of the route from the U.S. Forest Service), portages linking seven mountain lakes in the heart of Admiralty Island’s Kootznoowoo Wilderness. (It’s recommended that you have intermediate to advanced paddling skills to attempt this route.) You will see floatplanes above but few people along this route; if solitude amid pristine surrounds are what you’re looking for, this is the route for you—you can even stop and stay in a forest cabin along the way. About those brown bears: All of Admiralty is brown bear country, and you will see signs of bears throughout the island. According to the Forest Service, conflicts between bears and humans are extremely rare. Visitors are advised to use good “bear-country etiquette.” Hang your food at least 12 feet (3.7m) above the ground or use bear-resistant food containers. Of course, if sleeping within sight and sound of brown bears is not your idea of fun, you can take a 30-minute floatplane flight to northeast Admiralty to the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area, where you can watch bears and other wildlife from a comfortable distance. Pack Creek contains a 400-acre (162-hectare) mud flat brimming with bear treats like clams; in July the creek becomes a veritable brown-bear feeding trough when pink and chum salmon return to their natal creek to spawn. —AF Admiralty Island National Monument (& 907/586-8800; www.fs.fed.us).

( Juneau, then 20- to 45-min. floatplane.
Public-use cabins and campgrounds on Admiralty Island (National Recreation Reservation System; & 877/444-6777; www.recreation.gov).

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Run Wild, Run Free

Sable Island
Of Seals & Horses
Canada
Little more than a long, curving spit of sand in the north Atlantic sea, Sable Island is a monochromatic landscape of sand, salt marshes, tawny beach grass, and more sand. No trees, no rocky headland, just sand—hence the name “sable,” French for sand. When the fog rolls in— and it does roll in; it’s foggy here one-third of the year—the whiteout effect can be discombobulating. Sable Island is a fairly inhospitable place, especially in winter. But it has a sweeping, elemental beauty, and in the summer months green grass and colorful heather blanket the dunes. The island is perhaps most known as a home to a celebrated herd of wild horses, from 200 to 350 in number, in fact a relatively tame crew that are descendants of animals brought to the island in the 1700s.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
The horses are protected by the Canada Shipping Act, which makes access to the island extremely limited. You can see the horses just about everywhere—on the beach, in the dunes dining on beach grass, or scratching their backs against a weather-beaten cottage. Sable Island is also home to the largest colony of grey seals in the world; you can see them in the surf and on the beach. Grey seals can grow up to 800 pounds, but even the biggest ones are no match for a great white: These seals are a favorite meal of the sharks that cruise the waters surrounding Sable. The island is so close to the Gulf Stream that in summer the water is warm enough to swim in—a rather unappetizing thought, as one researcher noted, when you see chunks of seal remains floating in the waves. It’s not easy to get to—the weather can make flying in and out tricky. Oh, and forget about a sweet little scenic ferry chug-a-lugging into port: Sable Island lies more than 161km (100 miles) offshore. Today, only a handful of full-time residents live on Sable Island, most of them employees at a scientific research station that tracks weather and pollution. No one is allowed on the island without written permission from the Canadian Coast Guard (see below). Much like its sister island to the west, Cape Sable Island , Sable is one of the most dangerous places in the world for ships to navigate. It’s little more than an exposed sandbar in the path of major shipping lanes and prime fishing grounds— and it’s constantly changing shape. It’s believed that the Andrea Gail—the swordfishing boat described in The Perfect Storm, which was lost in violent stormtossed waters in 1991—went down near Sable Island. —AF Canadian Coast Guard (www.ccggcc.gc.ca).

( Halifax, Nova Scotia (2–3 hr.).

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Arrange with the Canadian Coast

$$$ Delta Barrington,1875 Barrington St., Halifax (& 877/814-7706 or 902/429-7410; www.deltabarrington. com). $$ Waverly Inn, 1266 Barrington St., Halifax (& 800/565-9346 or 902/4239346; www.waverleyinn.com).

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Island Reserves

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Isla Magdalena
Penguin Island
Chile
A penguin is a penguin is a penguin, you might say, especially when you’ve seen a few hundred thousand milling around in one place. But oh, those webbed feet! Those eyes! That waddle! Admit it: You’re a goner. Well, you’re not alone. Penguins are one of the rock stars of the ecotourism circuit. Folks will go out of their way to see these adorable birds—and they have to; penguins cleverly thrive in frigid, end-of-theworld, out-of-the-way places. Penguins are birds who, by the way, cannot fly: They lost their aerodynamic chops years ago as they put on heft and solid bone to become spectacular swimming machines. Birds gotta fly and penguins gotta swim—the better to catch their favorite food, fish. Isla Magdalena, Chile, lies inside the Magellan Strait at the southern end of South America, at the tail end of Patagonia and just north of Antarctica . It is a small, uninhabited island that during the summer months (Oct–Mar) becomes a

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GORGONA breeding colony for some 120,000 Magellanic penguins. The rawness of the landscape, the sweep of the sea, the softly undulating hills, and the thousands of penguins make it a spectacular sight. The Magellanic penguin—named, like so much in this part of the world, after the 16th-century Portuguese explorer who circumnavigated the world—is found only in southern South America and the Falkland Islands . It’s a medium-size penguin with a black back, a white stomach, and two distinctive black bands between the head and chest. Studies show that while the penguin population in the Falklands is declining—overfishing is the likely culprit, but oil spills have also played a part—the numbers in Chile have stayed robust. Even ecotourism, which is bringing more people to Isla Magdalena than ever before, has not diminished the vitality of the rookery. This is one thriving ecosystem. Isla Magdalena has no tourist facilities: no stores, no lodging, no dining options. To get here, you take a scenic 50-minute ferry ride from Punta Arenas through the Strait of Magellan; it’s also an area visited by small cruise lines, like Silversea. In 1983, the island was declared a protected national monument, Los Pingüinos Natural Monument, and its only occupants are park rangers there to protect and monitor the penguin population, as well as educate the human population who drop in. Visitors walk on marked trails from the beaches to the highest point on the island, where a lighthouse serves as the island’s Environmental Interpretation Center. Penguins are virtually everywhere; you’ll also see cormorants, sea wolfs, and sea lions—and great views from the cliffs above the sea. —AF www.islamagdalena.com.

( Punta Arenas (35km/22 miles).

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Turismo Comapa, Punta Arenas (& 56/61/200200; www.comapa.com).

$$$ Hotel Cabo de Hornos, Plaza Muñoz Gamero 1039, Punta Arenas (& 56/ 61/715000; www.hoteles-australis.com). $ Hotel Plaza, José Nogueira 1116, Punta Arenas (& 56/61/248613; www.hotel plaza.cl).

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Island Reserves

Gorgona
Welcome to the Jungle
Colombia
It hasn’t taken long for nature to regain complete control of Gorgona island. From the 1950s to the 1980s, this 26-sq.-km (10-sq.-mile) landmass in the Pacific was a maximum security prison—Colombia’s Alcatraz—but since the facility was closed and Gorgona declared a Parque Nacional Natural (Natural National Park) in 1985, the jail buildings are now evocatively overgrown with dense vegetation, complete with monkeys swinging from vine to vine. Like its more remote cousin to the west, the shark-diving destination Malpelo , Gorgona is one of those places where the natural environment is almost comically inhospitable to humans. Poisonous snakes slither along the floor of the rainforest here, and menacing sharks patrol the waters just offshore. (No doubt, this state of affairs helped with inmate detainment during the island’s prison years.) Visitors who come ashore at Gorgona today are strictly supervised, limited to groups of 80 at a time, and forbidden from wandering too far away from the coastline, for fear of encountering those deadly critters. Nature is nothing if not fierce on Gorgona.

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A whale swimming by Gorgona island.

As with so many ecosystems that have been isolated from the mainland for thousands of years, Gorgona shelters a wealth of endemic plant and animal species in its rainforests, including the small (and endangered) blue lizard of Gorgona. It’s said that a permanent cloud hangs over the top of Gorgona, as its mountain peaks are perpetually shrouded in mist. Of course, this moisture acts as a sort of steroid for the already aggressive tropical flora here. There is only one place to spend the night on Gorgona, and only one place to eat: The handsome lodge and dining room are both run by the park service and look like something out of Swiss Family Robinson. With the interior of the island mostly off-limits to visitors, tours of the island are limited to its perimeter, which has plenty of well-marked nature trails (though going with a guide is highly recommended); there it’s possible to get a good look at the

unique marine birds, reptiles, and plant life that have grown up and evolved here. Snorkeling and diving among the coral reefs in the emerald waters off Gorgona is excellent (as long as sharks don’t make you flinch), and humpback whales even pass by the island from August to October with their calves. Gorgona also has some of the finest sandy beaches in Colombia, backed by palm trees and a thick curtain of green, letting you know that the creepy-crawly jungle is never far away on this island. —SM www.parquesnacionales.gov.co.

( Charter flights from Guapi, 30 min.

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Cargo ship (8–10 hr.) or chartered speedboat (4–6 hr.) from Buenaventura.

Book through park service (& 57/ 1/382-1616) or tour agency. TOUR Aviatur (& 57/1/382-1616; www. concesionesparquesnaturales.com).

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COIBA ISLAND

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Island Reserves

Coiba Island
Take a Walk on the Wild Side
Panama
You’re walking through an uninhabited tropical island. Overhead a flock of scarlet macaws takes flight, their distinctive squawks and screams filling the air. But don’t spend too much time taking in the spectacle—you might miss the howler monkeys on the tree next to you. After hiking for hours, you’ve seen more exotic birds and animals than you could ever imagine, and you are falling under the breathtaking spell of Coiba Island, an untamed mosaic of forests, beaches, mangroves, and the second-largest coral reef in the Eastern Pacific, far off the coast of Central America. Coiba stayed in this wild state almost by accident: From 1919 to 2004, it was Panama’s version of Devil’s Island —a prison, and a very effective one too. Far from the mainland, covered with wild jungle, surrounded by shark-infested waters—who would even try to escape from such a place? As a result, settlers who might have harvested Coiba’s magnificent hardwood forests or cleared the land for housing never moved here. The prison is now closed, and Panama’s National Authority of the Environment (ANAM) has taken over Coiba and several neighboring islands, protecting this precious and rare rainforest biosphere. You must get permission from the park office to come onto the island; various tour companies in nearby Santa Catalina organize Coiba eco-tours. While many visitors remain offshore, diving around Coiba’s pristine reefs and mangrove lagoons, the entire 495-sq.-km (191-sq.-mile) island is open to hikers, with trails that even amateurs can walk with ease, as well as socalled “machete” trails which require— well, you get the picture. Along with the scarlet macaw, Coiba is a haven for the crested eagle, which can be seen soaring overhead looking for prey. Easily identified by the frill of upstanding feathers on top of its black head, the crested eagle loves to fish, but it also has a special fondness for snakes— and Coiba has many snakes, some of them extremely poisonous (another deterrent to prison escapes). There’s plenty of prey on Coiba for the crested eagle, and it plays an important role in the habitat, keeping down the numbers of certain species that might overrun this little slice of Eden. With 147 species of birds, along with 36 species of mammals, it’s incredibly biodiverse. Four whale and dolphin species can also be spotted in offshore waters, including killer whales (orcas), humpback whales, and the rare pantropical spotted dolphin. The flora is so lush and abundant, botanists have yet to finish categorizing it. —HH Coiba National Park (& 507/9984271; www.coibanationalpark.com). Santiago, Panama (1 hr. from Panama City).

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11⁄2 hr. from Santa Catalina (11⁄2-hr. drive from Santiago).

$ ANAM ranger station, Coiba Island (& 507/998-0615). $ Casa Dos Palmas, Santa Catalina (& 507/66143868; www.dospalmascatalina.com). TOUR Fluid Adventures, Santa Catalina (& 647/282-8167 in the U.S. or 507/8322368; www.fluidadventurespanama.com). Santa Catalina Boat Tours, Santa Catalina (www.santacatalinaboattours.com).

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Island Reserves

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Kapiti Island
The Bush That Came Back
New Zealand
Talk about romantic pasts—back in the 1830s, the famous Maori chieftain Te Rauparaha was making daring raids on the mainland from his base on Kapiti Island, while American and Australian whaling ships cruised in with loads of blubber, harvested from nearby whale nursery waters, to be processed into precious whale oil. (You can still see relic blubber pots around the island.) In the mid-1800s, things got a little more humdrum; farmers razed its forests and grazed sheep and goats on its steep hillsides. But in the late 1800s, naturalists cast this fertile island, only 5km (3 miles) off the North Island’s southwest coast, in its most dramatic role ever: as a world-class bird sanctuary. It took some doing, but a century later bush land has gradually replaced farmland, covering Kapiti’s high-peaked interior with a dense green tangle of scrub and restored native forests of kohekohe, tawa, and kanuka trees. Sheep, goats, feral cats and dogs, opossums, and finally even rats were eradicated—one of the few habitats where this has been successfully accomplished—to make the habitat safer for native species. Beginning with the brown kiwi and little spotted kiwi, which were reintroduced around 1900, a long list of rare native birds have been returned here, with mellifluous names like piwakawaka, takahe, kokako, miromiro, and toutouwi. With so few predators about, these rare birds have become so trusting and fearless—with the exception of the still-elusive kiwis—that they’re easy to spot. Now that the island is finally back to its natural condition, conservation officials aren’t taking any chances. Only 50 tourists per day can come ashore, and only with access permits from the Department of Conservation (see below). Once you have your permit, book a trip with one of two licensed boat operators (no private boats allowed). You can go either to Rangatira or to the North End, but not both—that is, unless you stay overnight at Kapiti Nature Lodge (see below), located in the north end in a small valley still belonging to native Maoris. From Rangatira Point, midway along the landward coast, you can hike through forest to the island’s peak, Tuteremoana (521m/1,709 ft.); along the way you’ll see (and hear) woodland birds such as the tui, bellbird, weka, kaka, kereru, and North

A kereru on Kapiti Island.

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COUSIN ISLAND SPECIAL RESERVE
Island robin. North End expeditions pass through a variety of habitats—grassland, shrub land, forest, freshwater lagoon, shoreline—where you can see not only forest birds but also water birds (grey and brown teal, black swans, scaup, royal spoonbills) and shorebirds (gulls, oystercatchers, herons, and white-fronted terns). The Kapiti Nature Lodge runs several guided tours, including a nighttime excursion to observe the little spotted kiwis. But wait! There’s more! The clear waters off Kapiti’s coasts are now designated marine reserves, a rare intersection of three different undersea habitats: boulder bottom, sheltered reef, and sand bottom. Even from the ferry, you’ll spot dolphins and New Zealand fur seals, but divers and snorkelers get the best view of these waters, from the natural rock arch of Hole in the Wall to intricate coral structures rich with vividly colored sponges and flitting reef fish. —HH Department of Conservation: Wellington (& 64/4/384-7770; for online permits, http://booking.doc.govt.nz). Paraparaumu tourist office: Coastlands Parade (& 64/4/298-8195; www.nature coast.co.nz). Wellington (1-hr. drive from Paraparaumu dock). Kapiti Marine Charter (& 64/4/ 297-2585; www.kapitimarinecharter. co.nz). Kapiti Tours (& 64/4/237-7965; www.kapititours.co.nz).

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$ Kapiti Nature Lodge (& 64/6/ 362-6606; www.kapitiislandalive.co.nz). $$ Ocean Lodge Motel, 42–44 Ocean Rd., Paraparaumu (& 64/4/902-6424; www.oceanmotel.co.nz).

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Island Reserves

Cousin Island Special Reserve
Where the Birds Watch You Back
Cousin Island, the Seychelles
Such a cheeky bird, the magpie robin. With bold black-and-white plumage similar to the European magpie, and a friendly, curious personality like the tame European robin, it’s fearless toward humans—especially when the humans in question have food. They’ll follow you as you walk down the beach, and even seek out dinner on your kitchen table, if you’ve been careless enough to leave an open window or door. One of the few places in the world to see this big-personality bird is Cousin Island, a tiny granite speck of an island in the Indian Ocean. Small as it is, this former coconut plantation has been restored to its original cover of lush tropical forest, and it’s become known as an amazing haven for birds. Cousin Island—the world’s first internationally owned bird reserve, owned by Nature Seychelles and administrated by Birdlife International— was established in 1968 to protect the endangered Seychelles warbler, a melodious bird whose call is similar to the human whistle. Today, however, this island sanctuary preserves a wide range of habitats that support rare species, from forests to wetlands to seashore. In addition to the magpie robin and Seychelles warbler, it hosts the Seychelles fody, a small yellowish bird that was once hunted to the verge of extinction because it competed with humans for the eggs of seabirds. There’s the Seychelles blue pigeon with its bright red cap, the Seychelles sunbird with its curved black beak, and a host of terns, noddies, and shearwaters hanging out along the shore.

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
It’s not all birds, either: Cousin Island is also the area’s most important nesting site for hawksbill turtles. Up to 100 turtles at a time come ashore to bask in the daylight, where you can easily observe them. On other beaches on the island, they nest and lay their eggs under cover of dark. Cousin Island has its own giant tortoises, which at one time were nearly eradicated from the Seychelles; a plethora of geckos, skinks, and other lizards also call it home. More than 10,000 nature lovers visit Cousin Island each year, binoculars in tow, and many educational groups also make the trek. There is no lodging on the island—apart from bird nests, of course—and you must travel with an approved tour operator, but the boat ride takes only about 90 minutes from Praslin , an island well-stocked with hotels, fabulous beaches, and breathtaking mountain views. Plan your trip to coordinate with the sanctuary’s hours, open Tuesday to Friday between 10am and midafternoon. —HH Cousin Island Special Reserve (& 248/718-816; www.natureseychelles. org).

( Praslin Seychelles.

Airport, Grand Anse, the

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$$ Indian Ocean Lodge, Grand Anse Beach, Praslin (& 248/233-324; www.indianoceanlodge.com). $$ Villas de Mer, L’Amitié, Praslin (& 248/233972; www.seychelles-holidays.com). TOUR Creole Travel Services, Victoria, The Seychelles (& 248/297-000; www. creoletravelservices.com). Masons Travel, Victoria, The Seychelles (& 248/288-888; www.masonstravel.com).

Island Reserves

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Cypress Island Preserve
The “Island” in the “Lake”
Louisiana, U.S.
This here is Cajun country, darlin’, and it looks just like you thought it would—all bayous and swamps and gnarled cypress trees dripping with Spanish moss. Technically, there isn’t one single Cypress Island here—that’s just what they’ve named this 9,500-acre (3,845-hectare) preserve, after the many dense stands of cypress trees— but then Lake Martin, the dark and shallow spread of water that surrounds it, doesn’t look like much of a lake, either. Water and land are so commingled here, it’s hard to tell where one starts and the other stops. It’s like a dense carpet of floating vegetation, and all the trees just complicate things further—ridges of oldgrowth live oak, the tangled roots of cypress and tupelo, and pockets of hardwood forest, the kind that thrives only in boggy bottomland. But that’s just what the water birds like about it. Some 20,000 or more water birds nest here, including so many herons, egrets, and ibis that it’s perhaps the largest wading bird rookery in North America. February through July, the rookery waters are off-limits, when the birds are breeding, but you can see plenty from the walking trail, built along a levee that circles the western and northern shores of the lake. You can also see a fair amount from the road that completes the lake circuit. Boat tours of the swamp (see below) are the best option for getting close to the nesting birds. At the south end of the lake, where the trail begins, a thick stand of cypress and buttonwoods is home to little blue herons, night herons, great egrets, snowy egrets, cattle egrets, a blizzard of white ibis, and even a few gaudy roseate

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SANDY ISLAND spoonbills. Peer up into the trees to glimpse owls (barred and great horned), woodpeckers (pileated, red-bellied, downy, and hairy), and yellow-throated warblers—even if you can’t see them, wait silently for a few minutes and you’ll hear them. Forge ahead and you may see green herons, Louisiana herons, and stately blue herons stalking through the shallows as you round the lake, as well as osprey, anhingas, and bald eagles scrutinizing the water from high boughs, and wood ducks paddling around the surface. Note that the trail is shut down June through October to protect nesting alligators (you really don’t want to argue with nesting alligators). The southern end of Lake Martin is managed by the Nature Conservancy (www.nature.org), which leases the land from an oil company—don’t be surprised to see oil rigs in other swampland nearby. The birds don’t seem to mind, though, so long as they can raid neighboring crawfish farms to feed themselves. (Needless to say, the birds aren’t so popular with the local crawfisheries.) Although much of the lake is nature preserve, duck hunting and fishing are permitted here—it’s a good place for catfish, bream, largemouth bass, and crappie, or as the Cajuns call them, sac-a-lait. —HH Rookery Rd., off Hwy. 353 from Lafayette or Hwy. 31 from Breaux Bridge. Tourist office, 1400 NW Evangeline Thruway, Lafayette (& 800/346-1958 in the U.S., 800/543-5340 in Canada, or 337/2323808; www.lafayettetravel.com).

( Lafayette, Louisiana. and TOUR Champagne’s Swamp Tours (& 337/845-5567; www. champagnesswamptours.com). De la Houssaye’s Swamp Tours (& 337/2982630; www.delahoussayes.com). $$ Aaah! T’Frere’s Bed & Breakfast, 1905 Verot School Rd., Lafayette (& 800/984-9347 or 337/984-9347; www. tfreres.com). $$ La Maison de Belle, 610 Girard Park Dr., Lafayette (& 337/2352520).

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Sandy Island
Those Dam Eagles
Missouri, U.S.
Just a few miles north from metropolitan St. Louis is an astonishing spectacle, better than any nature special on TV: nesting American bald eagles, roosting by the hundreds in the tall silver maples and cottonwood trees. It’s like a cross between Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and a Fourth of July patriotic film montage: You can almost hear “God Bless America” playing in the background. It happens every January and February at the Sandy Island Bald Eagle Sanctuary, on the banks of the Mississippi River. Few other eagle wintering spots are quite as impressive—and as accessible—as Sandy Island. The sanctuary’s location is no accident: It’s just downstream from Lock and Dam No. 25, built in 1939 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places—in fact, Sandy Island hardly seems like an island anymore, with all these levees and causeways built around the dam. But that broad stretch of open water created by the dam is a godsend for fish-eating birds like bald eagles. You reach the sanctuary by driving right over to the lock from Highway N, then walking from the parking lot along the dam’s levee to view the eagles. The forested acreage of the sanctuary is technically closed

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Island Hopping the Maldives: The Sunny Side
For those folks inclined to view global warming with a jaundiced eye, you can put off that dream trip to the Maldives for now. True believers, on the other hand, book your trip right away. Climate change may mean a discomfiting rise in temperatures for some people and volatile weather for others, but for the Maldivians, global warming is about sheer survival. Climatologists predict that unless the current warming trend is arrested, sea levels will rise .9m (3 ft.) by the end of the century. The Maldives, an archipelago of sun-splashed coral islands in the Indian Ocean, lies so low in the water that its highest point is—you guessed it—a mere 3 feet above sea level. Yikes. The only thing protecting each of these islands from being devoured by rising waters is the coral reef surrounding it. That coral reef, not to mention the luminous seas, palm-fringed atolls, and milk-white sand, is what draws hundreds of thousands of visitors each year to this delicate island ecosystem. The Maldives is a collection of 1,190 coral islands grouped into 26 coral atolls lying 483km (300 miles) south-southwest of India. Of these, 198 islands are inhabited, and by the time you read this, 100 islands will have been developed as resorts. Stranded, as they are, out in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Maldives are not easy to get to, but travelers make the extra effort; it’s estimated that some 600,000 people visit annually, and tourism has supplanted fish and coconuts as the nation’s top industry. The Maldives straddle the equator—with hot, humid, subtropical weather to prove it—and are incredibly beautiful—so beautiful, in fact, that the entire nation is A pier in the Maldives. one of the final nominees to make the “Seven New Wonders of the World” list. Visitors are allowed on only 11 of the 26 atolls, however: North Malé, South Malé, Ari, Felidhu, Baa, Lhaviyani, Addu Atoll, Meemu, Faafu, Dhaalu, and Raa. In trying to keep its citizenry separate from the impact of tourism, the government has placed restrictions on unauthorized visits to uninhabited and fishing islands—which makes independent island hopping here tough unless you’re traveling in an officially sanctioned live-aboard boat (see below) or on a guided island-hopping tour aboard a local dhoni (handmade motorized sailboat) from your resort base. Malé is the nation’s capital, the point of entry, and the point from which flights go out to the other islands—no island is more than a 45-minute flight away. Malé (pronounced Mah-lee) is also the world’s smallest capital city, a tidy 2.6 sq. km (1 sq. mile) where 100,000 people jostle for space. If you’re looking for a place in Malé to drink to your good fortune, forget about it: This Muslim nation bans the consumption of alcohol except in the resorts, on live-aboards, or at the airport (of course, expats have a

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ISLAND HOPPING THE MALDIVES: THE SUNNY SIDE

monthly alcohol allowance, and the black market for booze is thriving). Once you arrive in Malé, you will be transferred by seaplane or speedboat to your island resort or hop aboard a live-aboard boat. These floating “safari yachts” are popular and comfortable ways to see the Maldives and experience the island’s world-class diving opportunities. The safari boats also offer dolphin- and whale-watching expeditions, where you’re likely to see spinner dolphins and blue whales, maybe even a pod of orcas. Maldives Scuba Tours (& 44/1284/748010; www.scubascuba.com) offers liveaboard and diving/snorkeling cruises through the atolls to dive sites as well as excursions to fishing islands and a range of resort islands on the way. Among the island resorts Scuba Tours travels to are the house reef surrounding Angaga (South Ari Atoll; www.angaga.com.mv); the surfing island of Chaaya (North Ari Atoll; www. chaayamaldives.com); the sandbanks and beautiful lagoon at Komandoo (Lhaviyani Atoll; www.komandoo.com); and the luxurious Kunfunadhoo Island, home to the resort Soneva Fushi (Baa Atoll; www.sixsenses.com/Soneva-Fushi). Many visitors combine 7-night stays on the boat with a 7-night stay at an island resort. Maldives Liveaboards (www.maldivesliveaboards.com) also offers live-aboard cruising and diving trips to some of their favorite dive spots, including the HP Reef, on the North Malé Atoll, featuring spectacular coral outcrops and lots of pelagics; Kandooma Thila, in the South Malé Atoll, with its vibrant marine life (gray reef sharks, white tip sharks, eagle rays), corals, and reef formations; and Rasdhoo Madivaru, just off Madivaru Island, famous for one of the most breathtaking reef formations in the Maldives, an underwater ridge that attracts hammerhead sharks (before dawn), gray reef sharks, white tip sharks, Napoleons, eagle rays, jacks, and tuna. Another great way to appreciate the beauty of these islands is on a flight by seaplane. Seaplanes are used to spirit guests to the island resorts, giving visitors a keen sense of how low-lying—and vulnerable—these island atolls really are. The Maldives have already experienced the potential damage of rising waters: The island archipelago was severely damaged by the 2004 Indonesian tsunami. Although the loss of life was relatively small—83 people died—some 20,000 people were displaced and the country suffered damages totaling a half-billion dollars. The country has rebounded, resorts have been rebuilt, and the coral reef system is thriving. Maldivians are back to work—but with an eye on the future and, perhaps, the slowly rising tides. —AF www.visitmaldives.com or www.maldives.com. Hulhule International Airport, Malé (visitors from the U.S. need to go through Singapore or the U.K.).

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$$$ Angsana Ihiru, North Malé Atoll (& 960/664-3502; www.angsana.com). $$$ Cocoa Island, South Malé Atoll (& 960/664-1818; www.cocoaisland.como.bz).

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS
November through February to protect the eagles’ nesting grounds, but you can still get a good view of these magnificent birds soaring over the water, casting wide shadows—some adult birds have wingspans of up to 8 feet (2.4m)—as they peer hungrily into the swirling currents of the Mississippi, churned up by the dam. During warmer months, you won’t get the eagle display, but you can hike around 28 acres (11 hectares) of wilderness here, and pack in plenty of other prime bird-watching. These majestic birds, who live an average of 25 years, are known for mating for life. The female lays one to three eggs per year, and chicks remain in the nest for 10 to 11 weeks. The term “bald” is of course a misnomer; they earned that name at a time when the word “bald” meant “white.” (Eagle spotters, a special subset of birdwatchers, have nicknamed bald eagles “baseballs” because that’s what their easily spied heads look like from a distance.) Bald eagles do have distinctive white heads, but they don’t get those until they’re adults—don’t expect to see whiteheaded chicks peeping out of those nests. A couple of decades ago, the bald eagle was nearly extinct, due to DDT contamination of their prey and habitat. But the species has made such an impressive comeback, it’s been promoted from “endangered” to merely “threatened” on the Endangered Species list. Currently, there are approximately 65,000 bald eagles in North America—and the Sandy Island sanctuary is doing all it can to keep those numbers growing. —HH Sandy Island Bald Eagle Sanctuary, Hwy. N, 3 miles (4.8km) east of Winfield (no phone; www.nature.org).

( St. Louis.
33-mile (53km) drive from St. Louis. $$ Drury Inn Union Station, 201 S. 20th St., St. Louis (& 800/378-7946 or 314/231-3900; www.druryhotels.com). $$$ Hyatt Regency St. Louis Riverfront, 315 Chestnut St., St. Louis (& 800/2331234 or 314/655-1234; www.stlouisriver front.hyatt.com).

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Island Reserves

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Plum Island
Plum Beautiful
Massachusetts, U.S.
Come here in May and you’ll know exactly where that name comes from: A riot of white shadbush and pink beach plum burst into blossom against the pale dunes of the island’s long Atlantic beach, your first promise that summer is on its way. But the first time I ever saw Plum Island was in autumn, and that’s still my favorite time of year here. When you drive across the causeway, leaving prim colonial-era Newburyport behind, a magical calm seems to descend. Goldenrod and other tiny fall wildflowers pepper the grasses along the dunes’ edge, and dizzying numbers of shorebirds pass through on their journey south, not to mention swarms of monarch butterflies. So what if it’s too cold to swim? You can still canoe or kayak around the creeks, ramble on walking trails through the scrubby thickets and silvery marshlands, or just stroll down that pristine beach under a sky that seems to go on forever. North of all the rocky drama of Cape Ann, where seafaring towns like Gloucester and Rockport seem pitted against the wild Atlantic, the last stretch of Massachusetts’s Atlantic coast has a more modest

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METOMPKIN ISLAND wind-swept charm. Since 1942, this fragile coastal terrain has been preserved as one of the most important links in the Atlantic Flyway’s bird migration route. This 13km-long (8-mile) barrier island is barely separated from the mainland—by the Merrimac River on the north, the Parker River to the west, and Plum Island Sound to the south—and the residential northern end of the island is packed with a jumble of scruffy beach shacks and weekend showplaces on tiny lots. But turn right after the causeway and you’ll find that the southern three-quarters of Plum Island is all park— and what a park it is. The Parker River Wildlife Refuge covers 4,662 acres (1,887 hectares) of Plum Island; the last 77 acres (31 hectares) at the island’s farthest southern tip is Sandy Point State Park (& 978/462-4481), but you’ll hardly know you’ve passed from one to the other. West of the refuge road lies a crazy quilt of creeks, mud flats, thickets, grasslands, and marshes, both salt- and freshwater; here herons and egrets wade, redwing blackbirds sing, woodcocks and bobolinks dart through the grass, and hawks and kestrels circle overhead. Rangers have erected nesting boxes for purple martins and waterview platforms for ospreys. The eastern side is all beach, a stunning 6-mile (9.7km) stretch of white Atlantic sand; from April to June, however, you’ll have to be content to view it only from observation platforms, because the shoreline has been surrendered to nesting piping plovers, those adorable endangered little brown-and-white shorebirds. Don’t worry, there are plenty of better swimming beaches in the area, notably Ipswich to the south and Salisbury to the north. In August, Plum Island’s beach is open for business again—just in time for mosquito and greenhead fly season. Hey, it’s nature. —HH Refuge headquarters, 6 Plum Island Turnpike, Newburyport (& 978/4655753; www.fws.gov/northeast/parker river).

( Boston Logan Airport (35 miles/56km).
Plum Island Turnpike (31⁄2 miles/5.6km east of U.S. 1). $$$ Blue, The Inn on the Beach, 20 Fordham Way, Plum Island (& 978/4657171; www.blueinn.com). $$ Essex Street Inn, 7 Essex St., Newburyport (& 978/ 465-3148; www.essexstreetinn.com).

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Island Reserves

Metompkin Island
Pit Stop on Delaware Bay
Virginia, U.S.
It’s hard not to love the jaunty little red knot. Though it’s only 10 inches (25cm) tall, weighing less than 5 ounces (142 grams), that’s big for a sandpiper. Just watch this robust little shorebird strut along the tidal mud flats on short, stout black legs, poking its straight beak into the sand. All it wants is to gorge itself on horseshoe crab eggs, double its body weight in 2 weeks, and then fly on north. Way north. Don’t let its size fool you: The red knot is one of the world’s most prodigious longdistance fliers, breeding every summer in northern Canada, Alaska, and Siberia, then heading some 10,000 to 15,000 miles (16,100–24,140km) south—as far as Tierra del Fuego in South America—for the winter. That makes its springtime stop-off on the Delaware Bay all the more important: If it doesn’t fatten up then, what will it live on when it gets to the tundra, where

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WILDLIFE ISLANDS the ground’s still too frozen to peck for insects? As many as 90% of the American red knot subspecies arrive all at the same time on Delaware Bay every spring, and two of their prime landing places are the undeveloped barrier islands of Parramore and Metompkin—some 3,000 red knots were counted there during one recent May period. Once heavily hunted in North America, the red knot is now a protected species; its feeding grounds on Parramore and Metompkin islands are refuges. But if it’s not one thing, it’s another: A recent drastic decline of horseshoe crabs in the Chesapeake waters spells serious trouble for the red knot, which is so dependent on eating those crab eggs to gain strength for the last leg of its migration. Parramore Island can be visited only for research purposes, but Metompkin is open to the public for hiking, bird-watching, and fishing (its north end is part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge; its south end is in the Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve). You’ll need a boat to get here—one nearby boat ramp is at Gargathy Neck in Accomac, Virginia. The channel between Metompkin Island and the beaches may be closed off to human visitors during migration, but on this flat marshy island it’s easy to view the red knots when they descend en masse. Bring binoculars to zoom in on the details: Notice how, below their mottled gray backs, the red knots’ dull-white underbelly is beginning to turn pink. By the time they get up to the tundra to breed, the breast and head will be robin-red, making them the most colorful sandpipers around. —HH Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (& 757/336-6122; www.nps.gov/ asis). Virginia Coast Reserve (& 757/ 442-3049; www.nature.org). Ocean City, Maryland (59 miles/95km) or Norfolk, Virginia (80 miles/129km).

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Private boat transfer from Accomac, Virginia.

$$$ Island Motor Inn Resort, 4391 N. Main St., Chincoteague (& 757/3363141; www.islandmotorinn.com). $$ Refuge Inn, 7058 Maddox Blvd., Chincoteague (& 888/257-0038 or 757/336-5511; www. refugeinn.com).

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Otter Island
Loggerhead Getaway
South Carolina, U.S.
Tucked in between glitzy resort islands like Kiawah , Seabrook, and Hilton Head lies a whole other world, primitive and mysterious. You’d never expect 135,000 acres (54,633 hectares) of undeveloped tidal marshes, upland forest, peat bogs, and alligator-rife creeks so close to Savannah and Charleston. The ACE Basin—so named because the Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto rivers come together in St. Helena Sound—is officially a National Estuarine Research Reserve, a protected habitat for waterfowl and migratory birds along the Atlantic Flyway. Stop by the excellent education center at Edisto Beach State Park, at the south end of palmettofringed Edisto Island, and you’ll soon become an expert on the ecology of this critical watershed. There are no bridges or ferries to uninhabited Otter Island, a marshy 2,000-acre (809-hectare) barrier island at the mouth of the bay, just south of Edisto Island; to get here, you’ll need a boat (see below for

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OTTER ISLAND info). Bennett’s Point, on Mosquito Creek at the end of Hwy. 26, is a good launching spot: Head south from the landing into the Ashepoo River, then east about 6 miles (9.7km) to Day Marker #2—Otter Island will be on your left. Despite the name, otters aren’t the star citizens here these days—it’s loggerhead sea turtles, which swim in nightly to deposit their eggs on its protected beaches between May and September. With their big heads and powerful jaws, loggerheads may weigh up to 350 pounds (159kg), with reddish-brown shells that can measure 3 feet (.9m) long. The hatchlings, however, are only about 2 inches (5cm) long when they emerge from the sand (also at night) and, by the light of the moon, scurry instinctively back into the water. That’s precisely why overnight camping is allowed only from October to April (call the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, & 843/844-8822, for permits)—after the loggerheads have all safely returned to sea. Day visitors are still welcome from May to September, however, when you may see the turtles basking in the sun on the narrow quartz-sand beaches. You can always witness the egglaying activity over on Edisto Island, where the state park runs turtle-viewing nights in nesting season. Still, it’s thanks to the loggerhead that Otter Island has been left in such a primitive state, and that’s good news for wildlife lovers. The shoreline is fronted by a ridge of old sand dunes, now covered with forest scrub. Anchor your boat here and hike into its pine forests, following trickling creeks or the trails left by white-tailed deer (there are no formal trails). Raccoons, deer, feral hogs, and songbirds live in these woods, and pairs of bald eagles often nest here— and watch out for rattlesnakes. Reach the edge of a wind-swept marsh and you can commune with wood storks, osprey, and other water birds. Ah, unspoiled wilderness—no wonder the loggerheads like it here. —HH Edisto Beach State Park Interpretive Center, Palmetto Rd. (& 843/8694430; www.southcarolinaparks.com), or www.nerrs.noaa.gov/ACEbasin.

( Charleston (60 miles/97km).
Rent a canoe or kayak, or set up a guided outing, from ACE Basin Outpost (& 800/785-2925; www.southsport online.com). $ Edisto Beach State Park campground and cabins (& 866/345-PARK [345-7275] or 843/869-2756; www.south carolinaparks.reserveamerica.com). $$ Wyndham Ocean Ridge Resort, 1 King Cotton Rd., Edisto Beach (& 843/8692561; www.wyndham.com).

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4 Island Escapes

City Getaways . . . 145 Wild Things . . . 154 Great Outdoors . . . 158 Untouched Retreats . . . 164 Beautiful Beaches . . . 174 Islands to Get Stranded On . . . 184 Places of Worship . . . 189

WAIHEKE ISLAND

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City Getaways

Waiheke Island
Auckland’s Offshore Jewel
Auckland, New Zealand
You could do it as a day trip, really; Waiheke Island is just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Auckland by ferry. Plenty of Waiheke islanders commute into the city each day, and plenty of Aucklanders buzz out here for an afternoon of fun and sun. But once you’re here, why not kick back and stay awhile? Though it’s only 19km (12 miles) long, hilly Waiheke Island is New Zealand’s third-most-populous island, after the North and South islands, which means it’s a sophisticated retreat— no roughing-it required. Though most of the attractions are clustered on the more populous western end, the island’s just big enough to present a challenge for those who didn’t bring their cars over on the car ferry (and that’s a lot of visitors, given how tough it is to get car-ferry reservations at peak travel times). The trick is to figure out what you’re interested in, because there are many different sides to cultured Waiheke. There’s art, for example—several artists have made the island their home, giving it a distinctly Bohemian vibe; grab a copy of the Waiheke Island Art Map from the visitor center to find out which ones welcome visitors to their studios. Or check out some of the award-winning wineries that take advantage of Waiheke’s Mediterranean-like climate—most of them also have excellent restaurants attached (get a comprehensive list at www.waihekewine.co.nz). Weekend

Previous page: Lewis Farm on Block Island. Above: The ferry to Waiheke Island.

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ISLAND ESCAPES winery tours at Stonyridge (80 Onetangi Rd.; & 64/9/372-8822; www.stonyridge. com), Te Whau Vineyard & Restaurant (218 Te Whau Dr.; & 64/9/372-7191; www.tewhau.com), and Passage Rock Wines & Restaurant (438 Orapiu Rd.; & 64/9/372-7257; www.passagerock wines.co.nz) come highly recommended. And where there’s wine, there’s bound to be olive oil—discover the superb extravirgin stuff at Rangihoua Estate (1 Gordons Rd., Rocky Bay; & 64/9/372-6214; www.rangihoua.co.nz). If you’re a history nut, you can explore all the layers of Waiheke’s history, from the old Maori settlement site at the Waiheke Island Historic Village & Museum (165 Onetangi Rd.; & 64/9/372-7143) to the World War II gun emplacements and tunnels at Stony Batter (Man O’ War Bay Rd.). Almost half of Waiheke’s 90km (56 miles) of coastline is beach, and we’re talking fine white sand here. The longest, and probably the best, is stunning Onetangi Bay, where you can swim and surf in crystal-clear water with views as far as the eye can see. Little Oneroa, near the main shopping town of Oneroa, is another popular beach; for more of a wilderness setting, try the crescentshaped beach of Whakanewha Regional Park, where the warm shallow waters are great for kids. (The nearby wetlands are great for bird-watching as well.) The rocky cove of Blackpool attracts kayakers, Putiki Bay gets the boating crowd, and Surfdale is a top location for, you guessed it, surfers. —HH Tourist office, Artworks Courtyard, Oneroa (& 64/9/372-2941; www.waiheke nz.com).

( Auckland.

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Matiatia, 35 min. from Pier 2, Auckland; car ferry from Half Moon Bay to Kennedy Point on Waiheke.

$ Midway Motel, 1 Whakaite Rd., Ostend (& 64/9/372-8023; www.waiheke motel.co.nz). $$$ Te Whau Lodge, 36 Vintage Lane, Te Whau Point (& 64/9/3722288; www.tewhaulodge.co.nz). TOUR Ananda Tours (& 64/9/372-7530 or 64/27/233-4565; www.ananda.co.nz). Fullers (& 64/9/367-9111; www.fullers. co.nz). Jaguar Tours (& 64/9/372-7312; www.waihekejaguartours.co.nz).

City Getaways

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Sandhamn
Yachters & Stockholm Day-Trippers
Stockholm, Sweden
A city of islands itself, Stockholm is just the beginning of an archipelago that stretches eastward to the Baltic Sea, with thousands of skerries and islets; some are large and densely inhabited, some are developed for tourism, and many are just rocky outcroppings to sail around. But among the Swedish capital’s extensive collection of islands, there is one summer resort that is beloved above all others: Sandhamn. “Sand Harbor,” as the name translates in English, lies at the eastern edge of the archipelago, a 2-hour boat ride from Stockholm. For the boaters of the region, Sandhamn is synonymous with sailing, as many summer weekends see important and glamorous regattas take to the waters off the island. But for nonyachters simply looking for a day trip or weekend getaway from the city, little Sandhamn is also just an idyllic place with a slow pace and rustic nature. Technically, this barely 3-sq.-km (11⁄4-sq.-mile) island is called Sandön, but

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SEURASAARI everyone calls it by the name of the marina and village, Sandhamn. From June to September, the 350-boat harbor is often filled to capacity, the biggest weekend being the Gotland Runt (Round Gotland Race, the most prestigious in the Baltic) at the beginning of July. Typically Swedish clapboard architecture lines the harbor, where the charming hotels and cafes are always abuzz with summer residents or day-trippers waiting for the boat back to Stockholm. Among the village’s restaurants, Sandhamns Värdshus is one of the most popular, with an alfresco wooden deck overlooking the port. Head away from the water, and Sandhamn town quickly fades away to lovely pine groves crisscrossed by flat walking and biking paths. Here and there, set discreetly among the trees like set pieces in an Ikea country-living spread, are the summer cottages of those lucky enough to own property here. Though they were once affordable, even the most diminutive resort homes on Sandhamn now cost hundreds of thousands of euros. Still, Sandhamn is refreshingly not a glitzy or exclusive-feeling place. Everyone, from the Swedish superrich to mere mortals, gets around on foot or bicycle, and every outing is invigorated by the fresh scent of pines. The sand- and pine-fringed shores of Sandhamn have some of the best beaches in the Stockholm archipelago, but the favorite spot for sunbathing and swimming is a beach called Trouville on the southern side of the island, about a 15-minute walk from Sandhamn town. Even in the height of summer, however, the waters of the Baltic Sea remain cold; many Swedes brave the low temperature and swim anyway, while visitors from warmer climates may find the water too frigid to take the plunge. Locals have a jokingly disparaging term for them— badkruka (“bath pot”)—and this epithet is to be avoided at all costs: I suggest you brace yourself and jump in. —SM www.sandhamn.se or www.sand hamn.com.

( Stockholm Arlanda.
From Stockholm (Strandvägen), Waxholmsbolaget, 2 hr. (& 46/8/6795830; www.waxholmsbolaget.se).

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$$$ Sands Hotell, 130 39 Sandhamn (& 46/8/57153020; www.sands hotell.se).

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City Getaways

Seurasaari
Museum Among the Woods
Helsinki, Finland
In 1890, this Helsinki island’s woods, wetlands, and rocky slopes became a public park. It was at this immediately popular picnic and party spot that Finns got their first exposure to such summertime staples as fireworks and ice cream. But Seurasaari saw its most important development as a recreational area in 1909, with the inauguration of the Seurasaaren Ulkomuseo (Seurasaari Open-Air Museum). Based on the model of the Skansen open-air park in Stockholm (see Djurgården ), Seurasaari’s characteristic Scandinavian landscape became home to dozens of examples of historic Finnish architecture, folksy wooden structures that were moved here in their entirety from every region of Finland. The capital of Finland is not an urban jungle to begin with: Even central Helsinki

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ISLAND ESCAPES

Celebrants at a Seurasaari festival.

is sprinkled with plenty of parks and green areas. Seurasaari, then, removed from downtown by a mere 5km (3 miles) but never inhabited, feels positively rural. Before its incarnation as a park, in fact, the island was known as Fölisö (Foul Island, as it was a grounds for grazing animals whose stink could get pretty rank). The animals are long gone, and year-round—it’s enchantingly deserted in winter—visitors can stroll beneath the bowers of pines and spruces and enjoy the quiet of peaceful Seurasaari. Summer, however, is the only time when it’s possible to enter the 87 transplanted farmsteads, churches, and traditional houses of the Open-Air Museum. Seurasaari is at its most festive during the Midsummer celebration (dates vary, but in 2010, it’s June 25), with traditional crafts displays, folk dancing, and music performances. Every year, one newlywed couple is chosen to light the huge bonfire along the coast of Seurasaari, igniting the main event of this island’s Midsummer party. The warm weather and long-light season is also when Helsinkiers take to Seurasaari with provisions in tow for lazy picnics, whether on the island’s Baltic beaches or on the smooth rock slopes that seem tailor-made for lounging. Most

beachgoers wear bathing suits on Seurasaari, but it may be worth knowing that the island has a nudist beach—one of only three in Finland—though the men’s and women’s areas are strictly separated. Finns are known for their daredevil winter swims, and on Seurasaari they can find a patch in the ice, equipped with a swimming platform and ladder, where they can make like polar bears and plunge into the frigid sea. Unfortunately, the “traditional sauna” building of the Open-Air Museum is not available to them afterward! Until the construction of the wooden Seurasaari bridge in the 1890s (connecting the island to the Meilahti district of Helsinki), boats were the only means of transport here. In summer, ferries still run between central Helsinki’s Market Square and Seurasaari. —SM www.hel.fi or www.nba.fi/en/seurasaari_ openairmuseum.

( Helsinki (6km/3 ⁄ miles).
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From Market Square (Kauppatori), 15 min. $$$ Hotel Glo, Kluuvikatu 4 (& 358/ 9/5840-9540; www.palacekamp.fi).

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PONZA

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City Getaways

Ponza
Roman Summer Holiday
Rome, Italy
Ask any hip Roman what’s the best nearby island to escape to in summer, and you’ll get the same answer over and over: Ponza. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone, even among seasoned Italy travelers. While the more famous islands of Capri and , to the south, are well known to Ischia foreign tourists, Ponza has been the insider domain of Italians for decades, untainted by mass tourism. Surrounded by calm emerald waters, crescent-shaped Ponza is an island of striking natural beauty, from its lizard-like contours to its moonscape-y rock formations. All over the island, yellow broom and prickly pear flourish on verdant hillsides. And thanks to Ponza’s ancient roots—it’s believed to be the island where Circe detained Odysseus in the Odyssey—there are some fascinating archaeological remains here that you won’t find, or be able to explore quite as casually, anywhere else in Italy. While there’s a definite upscale feel here, the island’s style is resolutely simple and low-key. You won’t find any ritzy hotels or glitzy nightclubs, no megayachts or high-end shopping, no ambitious gourmet restaurants, and not even much English spoken—and that’s exactly the way regular visitors and year-round ponzese residents like it. Most accommodations are summer villas or apartments that vacationers either own or rent for weeks at a time, though for shorter stays, there are a few hotels and B&Bs. Restaurants are folksy and family-friendly, serving fresh seafood caught by local fishermen. Spectacular Chiaia di Luna beach is the crown jewel of Ponza’s natural attractions (accessed from the port via one of the many ancient Roman tunnels on the island). Its name, “half-moon,” refers as much to the curve of the bay here as to the stunning and very lunar-looking wall of limestone that towers 200m (656 ft.) above the beach. Shaded by the rock wall in the morning and enjoying full sun all afternoon, Chiaia di Luna is Ponza’s most popular beach and one of the few on the island with a broad stretch of sand. A bus connects the port with the island’s other inhabited areas, but the ideal way to experience Ponza is to rent a small rubber motorboat (gommone): There are dozens of rental outfits, and it’s a hassle-free affair given the safe sea conditions and Italy’s lax attitude toward liability. Rudder in hand, you can explore the enchanting coves and promontories of Ponza’s squiggly coast at your own pace. Navigate your way around Spaccapurpi (a natural arch that looks uncannily like a pair of pants), and then drop anchor at Cala Felce, a tiny, secluded beach with shallow, crystalline waters perfect for swimming. When seas are calm, you can set your gommone on full throttle and zip over to the nearby island of Palmarola, whose virgin coves and sea grottoes make for beatific bobbing under the Mediterranean sun. Before bringing your boat back into port, don’t miss Ponza’s Grotte di Pilato, a series of arched caves where an ingenious Roman-era murenario (eel traps and tanks) is preserved. Besides boating, swimming, and taking in the beauty of the island, the “action” on Ponza centers around the picturesque port, where people who all seem to know each other stop for a caffè freddo (iced espresso) or grab a seat on the orange stucco wall above the harbor to watch the comings and goings of ferries. For the younger crowd, the de rigueur social activity is hopping on a shuttle boat from the

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ISLAND ESCAPES port to the beach at Frontone for loud music and cocktails at sunset. —SM www.ponza.com. Caremar (& 39/081/3172999; www.caremar.it) operates several boats June–Sept from Anzio. 2 hr.

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Rome-Leonardo da Vinci (67km/42 miles to Anzio).

$$$ La Limonaia a Mare B&B, Via Dragonara (& 39/077/180511; www. ponza.com/limonaia).

City Getaways

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Isla Taboga
Away from the Masses
Panama City, Panama
Visitors to bustling Panama City have long drifted over to fragrant Isla Taboga, which is just a 19km (12-mile) ferry ride from the city. Known as the “Island of Flowers,” for its abundance of bougainvillea, hibiscus, and jasmine, it’s a great place to unwind and spend a day on the beach. The ferry ride over is a treat in itself: It offers great views of Panama City and ships waiting to transit the canal. No cars are allowed on the island, but it’s only 4km (21⁄2 miles) long, so most of its 1,000 residents get around by foot or golf carts. It’s a short walk from the beach to the fishing village of San Pedro, where you’ll find a few restaurants and hotels. The most famous attraction here is the Iglesia San Pedro, the second-oldest church in the western hemisphere, located in the center of town. Throughout the town, you’ll find shrines devoted to the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of fishermen throughout Latin America. There are a few other historic buildings and ruins nearby, but most of the island comprises the simple homes of the island’s fishermen along with the weekend homes of Panama City residents. The west side of the island is devoted to the Taboga Wildlife Refuge that protects nesting brown pelicans, but it’s mostly off-limits to visitors. History buffs should find Isla Tobago’s role in Panama’s development fascinating. The island was established in 1524, and became the starting point for conquistador Francisco Pizarro on his way to conquering Peru. In the 17th century, the 150 island was the haunt of treasure-seeking pirates, including famous Welsh buccaneer Henry Morgan. Evidence of pirate booty was found in 1998, when more than 1,000 silver coins dating to the 17th century were unearthed. In the 19th century, the island became a port for the Pacific Steamship Navigation Company, which attracted hundreds of Irish immigrants. It also played host to painter Paul Gauguin in 1887 and was a training ground for the U.S. military during World War II. If you’d like to get into the water and explore, most of the hotels here will rent snorkel gear. The best beach is Playa Restinga, in front of the old Hotel Taboga (now closed), going past the pier after the end of town. Like all beaches on the island, this beach is free; the best time to visit is during the weekday since it gets more “crowded” during the weekend. Getting here is easy anytime, however: Just hop a ferry from Panama City and you’ll be away from it all in less than an hour. —JD www.taboga.panamanow.com.

( Panama City.
The Calypso Queen and The Calypso Princess (& 507/314-1730). 45 min. from the Isla Naos pier on the Amador Causeway. $$ Cerrito Tropical, Tobago (& 507/ 6489-0074; www.cerritotropicalpanama. com). $$ Vereda Tropical Hotel, Tobago (& 507/250-2154; www.veredatropical hotel.com).

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ILE D’ORLÉANS

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City Getaways

Ile d’Orléans
The Market-Garden of Québec
Québec City, Canada
As urban centers go, Québec City is already remarkably quaint. Still, when its denizens want to trade its picturesque alleys, fortresses, and castles for a more rural storybook setting, where do they go? Downriver to Ile d’Orléans. Whether it’s biking the island’s perimeter and taking in majestic vistas of the St. Lawrence River, or stopping at family-run farms to pick fresh fruit, Ile d’Orléans offers day-trippers a real back-tothe-farm experience, with plenty of scenery and recreation thrown in for good measure. Lying within easy striking distance (20km/12 miles east) of Québec City, the island sits in the middle of the St. Lawrence River like a giant pair of lips. Its surface, 34km (21 miles) long by 6km (33⁄4 miles) wide, is a patchwork of long, slatlike farm plots that make it the primary market source for Québec City’s gourmet food shops and farm-to-table restaurants. Against the Technicolor blues of sky and river, the green and golden fields yield grains for bread and cereal, plus seasonal fruit like apples and strawberries, and maple trees for—what else?—all things maple, the official flavor of Québec. The island is circumscribed by the Chemin Royal, or “royal road” (Rte. 368), and the classic excursion involves driving or biking along the road, pulling over at any farm stand that looks tempting. Ile d’Orléans is divided into six villages, of which three— Saint-Jean, Saint-Laurent, and SaintePétronille—are regularly listed among the Most Beautiful Villages of Québec. Near the westernmost village of Sainte-Pétronille, a lookout point affords marvelous views of the Québec City area’s most celebrated natural attraction, Montmorency Falls, just across the river. The Huron nation knew Ile d’Orléans as Minigo, and explorer Jacques Cartier, who set foot here in 1535, dubbed it Ile de Bacchus—after the Roman god of wine—for its abundance of wild grapes. Later it was renamed Ile d’Orléans in honor of the then king of France. The island was one of the first parts of Québec to be settled by the French, and an astonishing number of French Canadians today can trace their ancestry to the early western inhabitants of Ile d’Orléans. Until 1935, the island was reachable only by ferry. Although ferries still run from the Québec City docks, nowadays drivers can easily reach the island by crossing over the Pont de l’Ile (also known as the Taschereau Bridge). Though the island is now less isolated, the stewards of the island’s culture have done an outstanding job of preserving the long-standing traditions here—Ile d’Orléans really does feel like a step back in time. —SM Tourist office: 490, côte du Pont, Saint-Pierre-de-l’Ile-d’Orléans (& 418/8289411; www.iledOrleans.com).

( Québec City–Jean Lesage.
15km (91⁄3 miles) west of Québec City. $$ B&B Dans les Bras de Morphée, 225, chemin Royal, Saint-Jean-del’Ile-d’Orléans (& 418/829-3792; www. danslesbrasdemorphee.com). $$$ Dominion 1912, 126 rue Saint-Pierre, Québec City (& 888/833-5253 in the U.S., or 418/692-2224; www.hoteldominion. com).

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ISLAND ESCAPES

Island Hopping the Faroe Islands: Nordic Retreats
The Faroe Islands lie in the heart of the Gulf Stream about halfway between Scotland and Iceland. Its archipelago of 18 islands—an autonomous province of Denmark— covers over 1,295 sq. km (500 sq. miles), much of it coastline; so it’s not surprising that the primary occupation of its inhabitants is fishing. These slow-paced, relaxing islands are rocky, with low peaks and cliffs dominating the coastline, and are home to wildlife like puffins and fulmars. Its original residents were believed to be Gaelic hermit monks who arrived in the 6th century, introducing sheep and oat cultivation. Norsemen followed about 100 years later and their mark is felt in the Faroese language, which is rooted in Old Norse and spoken here in addition to English. Vágar Island is the first island you’ll see upon arriving in the Faroes by plane, as it hosts the airport. Visitors are greeted by breathtaking vistas as they approach the island, including great views of the quaint village of Sørvágur. Vagar connects with many other Faroe islands through a tunnel under the Vestmanna sound, which makes it a great home base. (Islands not served by the tunnel have car-ferry connections, so it’s easy to hop around all of them by car.) Vagar means “bays” and gets its name from three bays that surround its villages, the most famous being Sandavágur, the best preserved ancient village in the chain. The church of Sandavágur is home to a stone bearing 13th-century runes, an artifact of the island chain’s Viking past. Eysturoy Island is the second-largest island in the chain and is often referred to as the only bridge over the Atlantic, spanning the channel of Sundani to connect with the island of Streymoy (see below). The rugged landscape boasts over 60 mountain peaks, including Slaettaratindur, the highest peak in the archipelago. A road barrels under the mountain leading to the quaint village of Eiôi, which is situated on an isthmus granting fantastic views of Slaettaratindur. The village of Oyndarfjørôur here is primarily known as a hiking site but is also home to a beautiful church that features an altarTórshavn, Faroe Islands. piece by Danish painter Eckersberg.

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ISLAND HOPPING THE FAROE ISLANDS: NORDIC RETREATS

The largest island in this chain, Streymoy Island is divided into southern and northern regions. The capital city of Tórshavn is located in the south, and began as a Viking settlement. A walk through the capital’s narrow streets, dotted with tiny black-tarred houses, is like a trip back into the Middle Ages. A visit to the Faroese Natural History Museum (V. U. Hammershaimbs gøta 13; & 298/31-23-06) and the open-air museum Føroya Fornminnissavn (& 298/31-07-00; www.natmus.fo) in the nearby village of Hoyvík are both great places to put what you’re seeing into perspective. Northern Streymoy is broad and mountainous. It’s known for Fossa, the highest waterfall in the Faroes, as well as the Vestmanna Birdcliffs—a prime spot to see puffins, guillemots, fulmars, and kittiwakes. A boat tour can take you through its grottos and narrow sounds; visit www.puffin.fo/en for info. Suôuroy Island is on the southernmost tip of the archipelago, and its distance from the other islands has led to the development of a language and culture different from the rest of the Faroes. It is said that its people are more open and approachable than the other island inhabitants and its landscape is idyllic, with green hills and steep cliffs favored by birds. Like the other islands in the chain, its back faces the Atlantic, while the east opens onto fjords. It is home to many villages, notably Tvøroyri, which was at one time an important trading spot; its buildings have been rehabbed and now include a museum. You’ll also find tranquil fishing villages, some with lovely old churches. The village of Hov is rumored to be where Viking chieftain Havgrimur ruled, and it takes its name from his pagan alter where sacrifices were made. His grave is the only chieftain burial site on the islands. Visitors can reach the last major island in this chain, Kalsoy Island, the traditional way, via a wooden mail boat that makes its way to the spectacular green mountains of this northern isle and small villages like picturesque Mikladalur, the home of several famous Faroese painters. —JD www.faroeislands.com. ( Vagar Airport.

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Syðradalur or Kalsoy. www.aferry.co.uk/faroe-islands-ferries-uk.htm.

$ Hotel Bolid, Niels Finsensgota, 51, FO-100, Tórshavn, Streymoy (www.faroeislands hotels.com/hotelbolid.htm). $$ Hotel Streym, Yvirir vio Strond 19, FO-110, Tórshavn, Streymoy (& 298/35-55-00; www.hotelstreym.com).

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Wild Things

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Grand Isle
The Cajun Bahamas
Louisiana, U.S.
A few things you’ll notice as you swing off the causeway and onto the last stretch of Hwy. 1: seagulls circling and screeching overhead; brown pelicans perched on weathered pier posts; the pervasive odor of fish, from sport fishermen piling onto chartered boats at the crack of dawn to seafood restaurants frying and fricasseeing well into the night. Most of all, you’ll notice how many of the houses are built on stilts— a haunting reminder that the Gulf Coast is also a hurricane coast, and these barrier islands are always the first hit. A delicate filigree of islands, bays, lakes, and bayous, the southern coast of Louisiana looks like it’s disintegrating into the Gulf of Mexico, and in fact Grand Isle is—it loses a serious amount of beach every season, though an aggressive beach replenishment scheme counters that loss. Like the rest of the Gulf Coast, Grand Isle took a battering in 2005 from Hurricane Katrina, but Grand Islers are stubborn folks, fiercely attached to this fragile strip of sand and marsh at the mouth of Barataria Bay; they rebuilt at once. Hurricane Gustav in 2008? Grand Isle took a licking and kept on ticking. The only inhabited barrier island in Louisiana, with a current population of around 1,500, Grand Isle was first settled in the 1700s, with smugglers Jean and Pierre Lafitte among its early residents. In the 19th century it was a fashionable resort—the adulterous heroine of Kate Chopin’s 1899 novel The Awakening first met her lover while summering on Grand Isle. Today, however, it’s much more laid-back, a mecca for recreational and commercial fishermen, handily located only a couple of hours south of both New Orleans and Baton Rouge. Premier among its annual events is the Tarpon Rodeo, the nation’s oldest fishing tournament, which has been held every July since 1928. The island itself is 8 miles (13km) long; marinas and motels line the highway until it ends in 100-acre (40-hectare) Grand Isle State Park (& 985/ 787-2559 or 888/787-2559; www.crt.state. la.us/Parks), with its fine yellow beaches, fishing piers, nature trail, and campgrounds, on the eastern tip of the island. With more than 280 species of fish swimming in its warm clear waters, Grand Isle is often listed as one of America’s top10 fishing destinations. You can head out into the gulf for tarpon, sailfish, and marlins; surf-fish in the bay for speckled trout and redfish; or drop a line from the Old Fishin’ Bridge for croaker and drum. Those oil rigs off the coast? They may spoil the view, but the legs of the rigs shelter so many fish, the anglers aren’t complaining. Fishing is so popular that most local motels provide a fish-cleaning room, and have kitchenettes in the rooms as well as barbecue pits outdoors, so that guests can feast on the catch of the day. Even little kids get into the action, taking nets into the shallow waters to go crabbing. A fresh crab you just caught yourself makes a mighty fine dinner, after all. —HH Tourist office, GI Port Commission Building (& 985/787-2997; www.grandisle.com).

( New Orleans.
95-mile (153km) drive from New Orleans. $$ Cajun Tide Beach Resort, 3032 Hwy. 1 (& 985/787-4726; www.cajun tidebeachresort.com). $$ Island Paradise Suites, 140 Coulon Rigaud Lane (& 985/ 787-7800; www.islandparadisesuite.com).

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KODIAK ISLAND

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Wild Things

Kodiak Island
Bear Bonanza
Alaska, U.S.
Kodiak Island is sometimes referred to by Ireland’s nickname, “the emerald isle,” but that nickname doesn’t do this Alaskan island’s varied terrain justice. In reality, Kodiak is an island of contrasts where visitors can enjoy mountainous terrain in the north and east or travel the 100 miles (161km) to the southern end to find tundra, bushes, and grassland. As the second-largest island in the U.S. and home to one of the country’s largest and most remote National Wildlife Refuges—it encompasses two-thirds of the island’s available land—this is the perfect place to leave civilization behind and reconnect with nature. The island was formed 20,000 years ago by shifting glaciers, which left jagged peaks and fjordlike valleys. Today, it is the busiest fishing port in the Gulf of Alaska, best known for its salmon and crab, and many of its 13,000 or so residents work in canneries. Some are members of the native Koniaga tribe, or descendents of Russian fur traders who appeared on the scene in the 18th century. Kodiak is also known for having the largest Coast Guard station in the U.S. Kodiak’s biggest claim to fame, however, has to be the Kodiak bear, the world’s largest carnivore. One of these full-grown bears can grow up to 10 feet (3m) tall and weigh over 1,500 pounds. To count on seeing one of these big bears, you need to get out on a plane or boat and visit at the right time of year. The easiest way is on a Kodiak-based floatplane. Landing on the water, you don rubber boots and walk up to half an hour to get to where bears congregate. In early July to early

Bears on Kodiak Island.

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ISLAND ESCAPES
August, depending on salmon runs, flights land on Frazer Lake for viewing at Frazer fish pass. A .75-mile (1.2km) walk on a dirt lane leads to the viewing area. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (& 888/ 408-3514 or 907/487-2600; http://kodiak. fws.gov) controls the viewing area. Once you’re done ogling the island’s bears, you’ll find plenty of other activities on hand, from whale-watching to fishing to kayaking to simply lounging on one of Kodiak’s beaches. Top off your visit with a trip to the city of Kodiak (on the northeast part of the island), where you’ll find shops full of native art as well as Russian arts and crafts, and a couple of museums. There are two ways to get to Kodiak: by air or ferry. It’s a 1-hour flight from Anchorage, or 10 hours by ferry from Homer. The ferry ride is an adventure in itself, as the boats make their way through the Barren Islands, sometimes chartering choppy waters along the way. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service provides a naturalist on each ferry, so the trips are informative as well as scenic. Once on the island, most visitors opt to rent a car to get around. Driving through this beautiful wilderness is an experience you won’t forget. But don’t forget to get out of your car—it’s the best way to take in sightings of the island’s abundant wildlife. —JD Kodiak Visitor Information Center, 100 E. Marine Way (& 800/789-4782 or 907/486-4782; http://kodiak.org).

( Anchorage (251 miles/404km).

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Tustumena and Kennicott, Alaska Marine Highway System (& 800/ 624-0066 or 907/486-3800; www.ferry alaska.com).

Best Western Kodiak Inn, 236 W. Rezanof Dr. (& 907/486-5712; www. kodiakinn.com). $$ A Smiling Bear Bed & Breakfast, near Fort Abercrombie (& 907/481-6390). TOUR Helios Sea Tours (& 907/4865310; http://home.gci.net/~len/newhelios).

Wild Things

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Isla Holbox
Swimming with Whales
Mexico
It’s only about an hour from the raucous beach party that is Cancun, but Holbox Island is everything Cancun is not. Pronounced “Hole-bush,” Holbox is a return to a slower, more leisurely time. The island has the feel of an old-fashioned Caribbean destination, where the streets are dusted with sand and fishermen head out at sunrise to bring in the day’s catch. Even though all that separates the island from mainland Mexico is a shallow lagoon, Holbox is a genuine escape from the long arms of civilization: The island has no banks, no ATMs, no high-rises, and no cars; the preferred mode of transportation is golf cart—head to a rentadora and pick out a shiny one for yourself. U.S. dollars and Mexican pesos rule; credit cards are taken only at the larger hotels and restaurants. The island’s one beach bar is set down in the sands in front of the Hotel Faro Viejo (av. Juárez y Playa S/N; http:// faroviejoholbox.com), where you can watch the sun melt into oranges and pinks on the milky horizon. A sandy strip of coral island off the northeastern corner of the Yucatán Peninsula where the Gulf of Mexico meets the Caribbean Sea, Holbox Island has one village, also called Holbox, home to 1,600 residents. For years, this sleepy little backwater was an insular hideaway, home to a

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FRENCH ISLAND tight-knit population, descendants of pirates and Mayan Indians, and most of them fishermen. But all that may be changing. Tourists are coming to Holbox in increasing numbers not just for the laidback lifestyle; they are coming to swim alongside the hundreds of migrating whale sharks that began showing up some six years ago. The largest fish in the ocean—it can grow to 15m (49 ft.) long and weigh 10 tons—whale sharks have found the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico a hospitable summer feeding and mating ground. Swimming with these gentle giants is the undersea equivalent of a day on Holbox: quiet, dreamy, and positively reinvigorating. The waters surrounding the island are a marine sanctuary, the Yum Balam Ecological Reserve, but to further protect the whale sharks, the Mexican government has decreed Isla Holbox to be the only port allowed to offer trips to swim with the whale sharks. A number of experienced operators and resorts run whaleshark excursions, including Holbox Tours & Travel (& 52/305/396-6987; www. holboxwhalesharktours.com). Holbox also has 11km (63⁄4 miles) of flat, white-sand beaches lapped by shallow, placid, bottle-green seas. You can dip into the water right off the beach or head for a swim in the cool, clear waters of the freshwater lagoon that separates Holbox from the mainland, Yalahau Lagoon. —AF www.holboxisland.com or www.travel yucatan.com.

( Cancun to Chiquila (1 hr.).

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Chiquila (10–45 min., depending on ferry; www.holboxmonkeys.com.mx).

$$$ Casa Sandra (& 52/984/8752171; www.casasandra.com). $$ Villa Delfines (& 52/984/875-2196; www. villasdelfines.com).

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Wild Things

French Island
Back to the Bush
Australia
The ferry ride over here from Phillip Island takes only 30 minutes—but what a difference. Instead of smartly developed Wildlife Attractions, what you get on French Island is just . . . wildlife. And you’ll have to bushwalk, kayak, or cycle to see even that. For most of its existence, French Island seemed more of a place you want to escape from than a place you want to escape to. Aboriginal Bunarog hunters were massacred here by the Gippsland tribe; hardscrabble 19th-century settlers cut down all the big trees to fuel their chicory kilns and salt evaporators; ragtag prisoners labored in the fields of a dreary prison farm, from 1916 to 1975. One early explorer described it as “a useless mass of scrub, with scarcity of water and barren soil.” But as nearby Melbourne boomed and the mainland became more developed, an uninhabited backwater like French Island began to be a rare commodity. Those extensive mud flats, salt marshes, and mangrove lagoons may have been useless to farmers, but an incredible number of bird and fish species thrived there. As the tea tree scrub grew back with a vengeance, koalas and Sambur deer, not to mention rare potoroos (ratlike cousins of the kangaroo) multiplied in this predatorfree environment. In the 1960s, when it was still a prison, the government had big expansion plans for French Island—plans that included an

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ISLAND ESCAPES airport, steel works, and other factories. Local environmentalists raised an outcry, believing that this isolated ecosystem was worth preserving. Thankfully, the government listened. Today the northern threequarters of French Island, plus a swath of seagrass-rich waters off its north coast, is all national parkland; the wetlands in the northwest are designated RAMSAR sites, where 33 different species of wading birds live. The park is home to the largest colony of koalas in the state of Victoria, though you’ll have to spot them in the wild for yourselves. Orchids bloom all over the island, more than 100 different kinds, many of them found only here. At high tide, the beaches at Fairhaven and McLeod are lovely, quiet, sandy stretches, though there’s a muddy bottom at low tide. With a canoe or kayak, you can also explore stands of rare white mangroves, whose spreading roots harbor all sorts of shoreline species, as well as thick swarms of mosquitoes in summer. Even today, only about 60 or 70 people live here, mostly sheep and cattle farmers, descendants of the original settlers. There’s only one shop; there are no power lines or sewers. You can bring a bike over on the ferry, but not a car—the only cars here are owned by residents and local tour guides, and the few roads are unsealed. Close as it is to Melbourne, it’s still a well-kept secret, with surprisingly few visitors. French Island may fall short of groomed perfection, but that’s not the point. For tranquillity and rough-and-ready charm, French Island can’t be beat. —HH Tourist office (& 61/3/9585 5730 or 61/3/5980 1209). Park office, by the Tankerton jetty (& 61/3/5980 1294; www.parkweb.vic.gov.au).

( Melbourne (60km/37 miles).
From Stony Point, 15 min., or ), 30 min. from Cowes (Phillip Island $$ McLeod Eco Farm, Freeman’s Point ( 61/3/5980 1224; www.mcleod ecofarm.com). $$ Tortoise Head Lodge, Tankerton (& 61/3/5980 1234; www. tortoisehead.net). TOUR French Island Eco Tours (& 61/ 1300/30-70-54 or 61/4/2917 7532; www. frenchislandecotours.com.au). French Island Tours (& 61/3/5980 1241; www.frenchislandtours.com.au). Wildlife Coast Cruises, Cowes (& 61/3/5952 3501; www.wildlifecoastcruises.com.au).

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Great Outdoors

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Fasta Åland
Rugged Slice of Sweden
Åland Islands, Finland
Though Fasta (or Mainland) island, the largest in an archipelago of nearly 6,500, is an autonomous province of Finland, its culture is decidedly more inspired by Sweden—even the official language is Swedish. Because it’s situated between Finland and Sweden in the Baltic Sea, the island is popular with vacationing Swedes and Finns alike, who come for its beautiful scenery and nature trails. The rugged landscape encompasses fields, meadows, and dense woods—plus lots of red granite that lends a distinctive hue. This diversity of habitats provides a home for an equally diverse amount of wildlife, all of which are protected by the government. This island’s natural beauty comes most alive at its nature preserves. You can choose to visit these on short guided tours that focus on nature or ones that also offer

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FASTA ÅLAND

Fasta Åland.

background into local history and culture. Book a tour through Getout Adventures, Svinö Färjfäste c/o Café Ingela, 226 30 Lumparland (& 358/40-871637). Mariehamn, the capital city, is home to 40% of the island’s population, and features two busy harbors, one at its eastern shore and another on its western shore. The town, a picturesque place that’s filled with wooden houses and colorful gardens, bustles with Baltic ferries that stop principally because Åland is not a part of the E.U. customs zone—meaning duty-free goods may be sold abroad. Those who wish to explore the island’s nautical history can visit the maritime museum Sjöfartsmuseum (Hamngatan 2; & 358/ 18-19930; www.sjofartsmuseum.aland. fi), or the Museum Ship Pommern (www. mariehamn.ax/pommern) here. As a maritime center, Fasta island also offers many opportunities to get out on the water to ski, bodyboard, and fish. Although the island has a number of traditional hotels (see below), you can opt to stay in luxury campgrounds, with spacious

tents complete with fireplaces, if you prefer to sleep in the great outdoors. Just don’t leave this rugged wilderness behind without treating yourself to one of Finland’s most relaxing experiences— a good, hot sauna. Alandia Adventures, Stornasvagen 5 22410, Godby (& 358/ 40-5417413), can arrange outdoor activities, including camping, as well as spa treatments. —JD Åland Tourist Information, Storagatan 8, Mariehamn (www.visitaland. com/en).

( Mariehamn Airport.
Ålands Ferry, which is run by the Viking line (www.vikingline.fi/ reservations); departs from Kappelskär and lands in Mariehamn. $ Park Alandia Hotel, Norra Esplanadgatan 3, Mariehamn (& 358/1814130). $ Pommern Hotel, Norrgatan 8–10, Mariehamn (& 358/18-15555; www.hotellpommern.aland.fi).

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ISLAND ESCAPES
Great Outdoors

158

Ile au Haut
The High Island Lowdown
Maine, U.S.
Like its neighbor, Mount Desert Island , much of Ile au Haut—over half—is dedicated to Acadia National Park. Yet very few park visitors make it over to this other Penobscot Bay island, well south of the main park territory. Mount Desert has a nice solid causeway linking it to the Maine shore; Ile au Haut depends on a little mail boat, which chugs back and forth across 6 miles (9.7km) of water to the mainland. Only about 75 people, many of them lobstermen and their families, live here yearround; the population doubles (to a whopping 150 or so) in summer. There is a school on the island, but only about half a dozen kids go there, and for high school they have to commute by boat to the mainland. That fancy French name—“high island”—came from explorer Samuel Champlain on his 1604 voyage up the Maine coast, and considering the mini– mountain range that cuts across this 6-mile-long (9.7km) island, it certainly fits. But fancy French names seem at odds with the laid-back small-town quality of Ile au Haut; say it like the islanders do, “Eyela-Ho” (rhymes with “Idaho”) and you’re much more in tune with the place. The island was the last community in the U.S. to stop using crank telephones—that tells you all you need to know about the time warp quality of the place. If you don’t have your own bike, you can rent one on the boat, and that’s a good idea, because you’ll want to explore beyond the quaint fishing village—for a start, head south of town to check out the Ile au Haut Lighthouse, less than a mile south of town, on Robinson’s Point. Built in 1907, this stout little brick lighthouse was the last traditional-style lighthouse built along this coast, and though it’s now automated—the keeper’s house has been turned into a bed-and-breakfast inn—it’s still a working light. A park ranger meets every mail boat run in summer to give hikers bound for the park all the maps and advice they need. There are 18 miles (29km) of walking trails roaming around the park’s wooded hills, marshes, and rocky coves. The Long Pond trail loop heads to narrow mile-long Long Pond, a freshwater pond that’s great for swimming. The Goat trail is rewarding for bird-watchers, leading from the salt marshes to Squeaker Cove, where harlequin ducks bob on the water. The Western Head trail loops around the south tip of the island, where seals flop around the granite boulders and gulls circle overhead. Outside of the park on the eastern shore, Boom Beach is more smooth rocks than sand, but it’s a lovely place nonetheless; the Thunder Gulch trail is great on a hot summer day, shaded by spruce forest until it emerges on an ocean’s-edge rock ledge continually spritzed with sea spray. The word “picturesque” doesn’t even begin to cover it. —HH

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www.isleauhaut.com.

From Stonington Maine to the town landing (45 min.); summers only, from Acadia National Park to Duck Harbor (1 hr., 15 min.). The Mail Boat (& 207/ 367-5193).

$ Acadia National Park campground (& 207/288-3338; www.nps.gov/ acad). $$$ Inn at Ile au Haut (& 207/3355141; www.innatileauhaut.com).

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SHELTER ISLAND

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Great Outdoors

Shelter Island
Gimme Shelter
New York, U.S.
Like a prize clutched in the long pincer claw of Long Island, this quiet residential island nestles between the down-to-earth North Fork and glam-packed South Fork, protecting Peconic Bay from wide-open Gardiners Bay and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Car ferries shuttle continuously back and forth, one north to Greenpoint, the other south to North Haven, near Sag Harbor; Route 114 connects the two ferry landings, cutting across the belly of this ragged triangular island, moth-holed with coves, ponds, and inlets. Yet accessible as Shelter Island is, once you’re here you’ll feel that it’s a world unto itself. Shelter Island was very much a shelter in its early years—its first settlers, in 1652, were royalist refugees from Cromwell’s England, as well as prominent Quakers seeking religious freedom. At first Shelter Island was devoted to farming, but with the rise of the whaling era, islanders turned to the sea (both Sag Harbor and Greenpoint were big whaling ports). Then, in 1871, Shelter Island discovered a new source of income: summer vacationers. Hotels, bathing pavilions, and yacht clubs sprang up, and farmland turned to summer homes—from camp-meeting cottage communities (like Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard ) to elaborate beachview sprawls of Victorian gingerbread. Today Shelter Island’s year-round population of 2,500—which includes several descendants of pre-Revolutionary settlers— swells to 8,000 in summer; many of the summer folk count as longtimers too, their families having summered here for four or five generations. There are four public beaches and a public golf course, but much of the island’s social life revolves around the private golf, beach club, and yacht club. All of which begs the question: Can you come here for just 1 or 2 days and not feel like an outsider? Of course you can. Don’t expect a lot of culture and nightlife—there is minimal shopping, and no theaters, cinemas, or night clubs, for residents pride themselves on the island’s lack of “buzz”; there are only a few fine restaurants, which book up quickly in season. For nature lovers, however, the island couldn’t be better. Its southeastern third has been set aside as the 2,039-acre (825-hectare) Mashomack Preserve (off Rte. 114; & 631/749-1001), where several walking trails explore a rich mosaic of tidal creeks, salt marshes, and tranquil beaches where piping plovers nest in spring. With all those calm, protected bays, Shelter Island provides plenty of scenic kayaking; Shelter Island Kayak Tours (& 631/7491990) offers rentals and guided tours. Beaches here tend to be narrow strips of sand, but the protected waters are perfect for swimming; head to Crescent Beach or Silver Beach, both on the southwestern side of the island. You can also walk around the Heights Historic District, the Victorian-era summer community southwest of Dering Harbor, or visit the Shelter Island Historical Society’s restored Havens House, 16 S. Ferry Rd. (& 631/749-0025; www.shelter islandhistorical.org). Sylvester Manor, the estate of the island’s 17th-century English owners, isn’t open for tours, but a new young Sylvester heir is converting it to an ambitious organic farm—a sure sign that Shelter Island is meeting the future in its own freethinking way. —HH

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ISLAND ESCAPES www.shelter-island.org. JFK Airport (98 miles/158km), LaGuardia Airport (96 miles/154km).

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Dering Harbor, 10 min. from Greenport; South Ferry, 10 min. from North Haven.

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Greenport (2 hr., 50 min. from Manhattan).

$$ Candlelite Inn, 3 S. Ferry Rd. ( 631/749-0676; www.thecandleliteinn. com). $$ Ram’s Head Inn, 108 Ram Island Dr. (& 631/749-0811; www.shelterisland inns.com).

Great Outdoors

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Campobello Island
FDR’s Rugged Getaway
Canada
In the summer, when Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt wanted to escape the pressures of political life, they took their family to the rustic island getaway of Campobello. FDR looked upon the island as his second home—his son Franklin, Jr., was born there and he fell ill with polio during one of his summer retreats on Campobello. (This incident was the inspiration for Sunrise at Campobello, a play and movie chronicling the story of FDR’s stubborn refusal to let his affliction get in the way of his destiny.) Over the years, this rocky New Brunswick island has held a place for both native fisherman and wealthy families. Today, you can still see the grand houses built as summer homes sharing space with the homes of residents. You can also see the 34-room Roosevelt home, nestled in Roosevelt Campobello International Park. The park is a symbol of the friendship between Canada and the United States, and draws thousands of visitors each year. They are greeted by a series of buildings that include quaint cottages, a visitor’s center, and flower gardens. Outside, over 2,000 acres (809 hectares) of nature is on hand to explore, including walking trails, beaches, bogs, and oceanfront with fantastic rock formations. The island is only about 20 miles (32km) long, located at the entrance of Passamaquoddy Bay. It is part of New Brunswick, Canada, but is also connected to Lubec, Maine, via the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Bridge. Besides the park, the island offers abundant opportunities to enjoy nature: It’s an excellent site for birding, providing the opportunity to spot osprey and eagles in abundance. Unspoiled Herring Cove Provincial Park is located on the eastern coast. It features a mile-long sand and pebble beach and a 9-hole golf course. The adjacent campground offers shady or sheltered sites with niceties like showers, kitchen shelters, and playgrounds. Activities include guided nature walks and a whale-watching tour. For reservations, call Herring Cove Provincial Park and Golf Course (& 506/752-7010). The island’s iconic East Quoddy Lighthouse is one of the most photographed lighthouses in the world, and a trip here wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Bay of Fundy to gaze at this picturesque structure. Although now automated, it keeps its 150-year vigil, signaling to boats on foggy nights. Intrepid souls can wade out at low tide for a better look, but it’s also a striking sight for those who would rather stay on land. —JD

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ROTA ISLAND
The Campobello Welcome Center, 44 Rte. 774, Welshpool (& 506/752-7043; www.campobello.com). 23km (14-mile) drive from Whiting, Maine. $ Lupine Lodge, 610 Rte. 774 (& 888/912-8880 or 506/752-2555; www. lupinelodge.com). $$ Owen House, A Country Inn & Gallery, 11 Welspool St. (& 506/752-2977; www.owenhouse.ca).

( St. John, New Brunswick.

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East Coast Ferries (& 506/7472159). Ferries run from Deer Island June– Sept (30 min).

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Rota Island
Getting Your Feet Wet
Mariana Islands, Micronesia
Come on in, the water’s fine. The tropical island of Rota, part of a U.S. commonwealth within Micronesia, about 64km (40 miles) north of Guam , is a volcanic formation that rises some 488m (1,601 ft.), creating a spectacular backdrop for its unspoiled beaches. It draws people looking for a peaceful getaway, and is particularly popular with divers and snorkelers who come to explore its clear sparkling waters, coral reefs, and many shipwrecks—Rota and the 14 other islands of the Marianas played a significant role in World War II naval battles. Most dives are just a 10- to 15-minute boat ride away from the island, and there are trips designed for divers of all skill levels. At Coral Garden, experienced divers can explore the remains of one of three World War II Japanese auxiliary submarine chasers scattered on the bottom of the ocean floor. Beginners can delight in dives where small, colorful fish swim along with them. It’s also easy to get a good view of stingrays gliding along the sand flats. You can set up a dive with Dive Rota (www.diverota.com/index.htm). The western side of the island is known for its natural swimming hole, where you can take a refreshing dip after a long day in the sun, or just float along watching an unforgettable sunset. Of course, there really are no bad views on the island, and you may find it tempting to just lounge on the beach, taking it in. The island is known for its unhurried pace and welcoming islanders; about 3,000 residents live here year-round, many of them descendents of the native Chamorro and Carolinian tribes. Rota is also home to many species of exotic flora and fauna. Don’t miss the chance to visit the Sagua’gaga Seabird Sanctuary, which features dozens of species, or Taisacana’s Botanical Gardens and Nature Trail, a great place to learn about indigenous plants. Other natural draws are the Tonga Cave, a natural stalactite cavern that served as a hospital for Japanese soldiers during the war, located in Songsong village. Just a mile away is the Rota Cave Museum, a giant limestone cave, thought to be about 10 million years old and featuring artifacts from the native Chamorro tribe to the World War II era. When you’re ready to take some postcard-perfect shots, go to Songsong village, the island’s largest, and aim your camera at Wedding Cake Mountain, a formation that looks like—you guessed it— an elaborately layered cake. Such sweet scenery is just one reason this island is a decadent natural wonder. —JD Mariana Visitors Authority (& 670/ 664-32001; www.mymarianas.com).

( Rota International Airport.
$ BP Hotel and Restaurant ( 670/532-0468). $$ Rota Resort and Country Club (& 670/532-1155).

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Untouched Retreats

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Block Island
The Word on the Block
Rhode Island, U.S.
Many a visitor has landed on this windwhipped glacial outcrop, 12 miles (19km) off the Rhode Island coast, and thought immediately of Ireland—those dramatic clay cliffs, hundreds of sweet-water ponds nestling in the rolling green interior, drystone walls overgrown with moss, wild roses clambering over beach dunes. For centuries, since the first Europeans landed in 1661, Block Island was considered a desperate outpost, fit mostly for pirates, smugglers, and scavengers. Then the post–Civil War tourism boom hit, and Block Island found its calling. Today, most of its hotel rooms are still in those original rambling Victorian-style seaside inns; though there are only around 900 yearround residents, tens of thousands of visitors arrive every summer. Somehow Block Island has been able to reap the benefits of tourism without letting it spoil the island’s throwback charm. Development so far remains under control—you won’t find any fast-food franchises or chain stores. Police officers tool around on bikes, and children tend lemonade stands in front of picket fences. There’s not much point in bringing a car over on the ferry, since the island is a mere 7 miles long by 3 miles wide (11×4.8km); there’s only one gas station, anyway. Most visitors make do with bicycles or mopeds, or call a taxi when they need to get somewhere faster. Most of the action—and in summer it’s active indeed—is in Old Harbor. After you’ve strolled through the Block Island Historical Society Museum, Old Town Road at Ocean Avenue (& 401/466-2481), and pedaled out to tour the two 19th-century lighthouses—Southeast Lighthouse, on Mohegan Trail a couple miles south of Old Harbor, and North Lighthouse, on Corn Neck Road north of Crescent Beach—you’re done with sightseeing and ready to hit the beach. Block Island has 17 miles (27km) of beach, so there’s always a place to spread your towel. Only two beaches have lifeguards, food service, and rental facilities—Pebbly Beach, just south of the Old Harbor, and 3-milelong (4.8km) Crescent Beach, north of Old Harbor. Other beaches, at the end of dirt roads off Corn Neck Road or West Side Road, may offer more solitude, if that’s what you’re after. On Block Island’s winding scenic roads, cycling isn’t just transportation, it’s a way to coast down hills, cool off in patches of shady woods, stop for a dip in a pond, or admire sweeping ocean panoramas from the south coast’s 150-foot-high (46m) Mohegan Bluffs. You can also gallop on horseback along a beach (Rustic Rides Farm, W. Side Rd.; & 401/466-5060), tramp along 17 miles (27km) of walking trails laid out by the Nature Conservancy (nearly a quarter of the island is conservation land), go parasailing (Block Island Parasail; & 401/864-2474; www. blockislandparasail.com), or kayak around Great Salt Pond—rent a kayak from Pond & Beyond (New Harbor; & 401/466-5105; www.blockisland.com/kayakbi) or Champlin’s Resort, on Great Salt Pond (& 401/ 466-2641; www.champlinsresort.com). Sailboats bob in the marinas, and sunburned guests sip cold drinks on the long porches of those historic inns. Yes, Block Island does summer vacation right. —HH Tourist office, Old Harbor ferry landing (& 800/383-BIRI [383-2474] or 401/466-2474; www.blockislandchamber. com).

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SMITH ISLAND
Block Island, 15-min. flight from Westerly, Rhode Island, on New England Airlines (& 800/243-2460; www.blockisland.com/nea).

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Block Island Express; & 860/444-4624); Montauk, New York (1 hr., Viking Fleet; & 888/358-7477).

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From Newport (2 hr.) or Point Judith (30-min. passenger ferry, 1-hr. car ferry; www.blockislandferry.com); New London, Connecticut (1 hr., 15 min.;

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$$$ Atlantic Inn, High St. (& 800/ 224-7422 or 401/466-5883; www.atlantic inn.com). $$ Spring House Hotel, 902 Spring St. (& 800/234-9263 or 401/4665844; www.springhousehotel.com).

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Smith Island
Where the Past Comes to Life
Maryland, U.S.
Imagine a lazy summer day spent nosing along in a kayak or fishing in the heart of Chesapeake Bay. Then imagine having the bay practically to yourself, and you’re in Smith Island—the shallow waters around this Chesapeake Bay island lure herons, egrets, ibis, osprey, and pelicans in greater numbers than people. If it’s peace you’re looking for, Smith Island won’t disappoint—it’s still every bit as tranquil and untouched as Tom Horton described in his 1990s memoir Island Out of Time. Smith Island is actually a cluster of islands making up Maryland’s largest inhabited offshore community. Its population of fewer than 300 people are scattered among the villages of Ewell, Rhodes Point, and Tylerton—the last of which is separated from the other villages by water. All three are bound together by the island chain’s seafood industry and strong Methodist roots. Change comes slowly to this remote part of Maryland, and both residents and visitors like it that way. Islanders even have their own distinctive brogue that’s similar to the West Country of England, passed down from the settlers who arrived here in the 1600s from Cornwall and Wales. Most visitors are drawn to these remote islands to kayak, bird-watch, fish, and enjoy some excellent fresh seafood and a famous dessert, the multilayered Smith Island cake. This sugary concoction made of crème, frosting, and sometimes crushed candy bars is as closely associated with the island as Key lime pie is to Key West. You won’t find many shops, but the ones on hand often have the cake on offer, accompanied by fresh preserves. And you won’t find any bars, period. The island is dry. If you are staying at a B&B, check with the owners to see if they’ll allow you to bring your own liquor. The boat that takes you here from the mainland will let you off in Ewell, where you can rent golf carts and bicycles (cars are not allowed) next to the Bayside Inn Restaurant. Before leaving Ewell, though, be sure to visit the Smith Island Center (& 410/425-3351) on Smith Island Road to get a sense of the island’s layout and history. On Ewell, you can also make a stop at the Middleton House on Caleb Road, the center for the Martin National Wildlife Refuge, which manages over 4,000 acres (1,619 hectares) of marshland. The refuge itself is not open to visitors, but it does host exhibits about area wildlife. If fishing is your heart’s desire, head to Tylerton and venture out with Chesapeake Fishing Adventures, 2997 Tylerton Rd. (& 410/968-0175; www.cf adventures.com), which offers a variety of

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ISLAND ESCAPES charter packages from a lazy afternoon of casting to multiday trips. Fishing season in Maryland is from mid- to late April to December and it’s best to make reservations beforehand. Since Tylerton is separated from the island chain’s other villages, you’ll need to get there by boat. Try either the Captain Jason 11 (& 410/425-4471 or 410/251-4954) or Captain Waverly Evans (& 410/968-1904). The Captain Jason 11 can also be charted for birdwatching excursions. —JD The Crisfield Visitor Center, 1003 W. Main St. (& 410/968-1543; www. visitsmithisland.com). Crisfield Airport, then 12-mile (19km) boat ride.

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Crisfield City Dock, Captain Otis Ray Tyler (& 410/968-1118).

$ Inn of Silent Music, Tylerton ( 410/425-3541 or 970/724-3809; www. innofsilentmusic.com). $$ Susan’s on Smith Island Bed and Breakfast, 20759 Caleb Jones Rd., Ewell (& 410/425-2403).

Untouched Retreats

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Pawleys Island
Shabby Chic
South Carolina, U.S.
It’s fitting indeed that Pawleys Island’s signature gift item should be a rope hammock—what better way is there to enjoy a summer afternoon than to sling yourself between two trees and let the ocean breeze rock you to sleep? Anyone who’s ever sweltered through a muggy, buggy Low Country August can sympathize with the 18th-century rice planters who packed up their households and moved to this breezy coastal strip every summer. Over the years, everyone from George Washington to Franklin Roosevelt to Winston Churchill followed suit. It’s more of a peninsula than an island, really, divided from the mainland only by the Waccamaw River, which runs parallel to the beachfront for about 30 miles (48km), from Murell’s Inlet to Wynah Bay. Technically, Pawleys Island is one 3-milelong (4.8km) section between Pawleys Inlet and Midway Inlet, a narrow strip of houses along one road that’s set apart from the rest of the peninsula by a swath of tidal creeks and marshes, great for kayaking, bird-watching, and crabbing. However, the adjoining communities of Litchfield and Murrell’s Inlet also claim a Pawleys Island postal address, and although they are a little more built-up than historic Pawleys Island, development has still been kept at a minimum and the pace is laid-back. What really matters is the Atlantic Ocean side of the peninsula, a nearly unbroken stretch of pale gleaming sand that’s cleaner and better-kept than almost any other part of the Grand Strand. Public access to the beach on Pawleys is often complicated, though, for most of the oceanfront land was snapped up years ago by private owners. Don’t be surprised by how ramshackle some of these century-old wooden beach houses look; that “arrogantly shabby” appearance is all part of the Pawleys Island vibe. For many visitors, coming to Pawleys means renting one of those houses near the beach, usually available on a weekly basis; local rental agencies to contact (months in advance) include Pawleys Island Realty (& 843/ 237-2000; www.pawleysislandrealty.com), Lachicotte Company (& 800/422-4777 or 843/237-3366; www.lachicotte.com), or

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PAWLEYS ISLAND

Fishing on Pawleys Island.

the Dieter Company (& 800/950-6232 or 843/237-2813; www.dietercompany. com). If you weren’t lucky enough to rent a beachfront property for your stay here, there’s still prime beach to be had nearby. Head north from Pawleys, past Litchfield Beach (also beautiful) to Huntington Beach State Park, along Hwy. 17, 3 miles (4.8km) south of Murrells Inlet (& 843/237-4440), a 2,500-acre (1,012hectare) park that features a wide, firm orangish beach. It’s a great place for birdwatching, crabbing, and bicycling down the boardwalk, as well as camping, fishing, and swimming. The golf courses aren’t technically on Pawleys Island, either, but there are at least a dozen superb courses a few minutes’ drive away, starting with the Jack Nicklaus–designed course at Pawley’s

Plantation; just across Hwy. 17, you’ll find The Heritage Club, Caledonia Golf Club, and True Blue Golf Club. Contact the Waccamaw Golf Trail (& 888/293-7385; www.waccamawgolftrail.com) for booking tee times at discounted rates. —HH Tourist office, Hwy. 17 at the Planter’s Exchange (& 843/237-1921; www. visitgeorgetowncountysc.com).

( Myrtle Beach International Airport.
20-mile (32km) drive from Myrtle Beach. $$ Pawleys Plantation Golf & Country Club, 70 Tanglewood Dr. (& 800/ 367-9959 or 843/237-6100; www.pawleys plantation.com). $$ Seaview Inn, 414 Myrtle Ave. (& 843/237-4253; www. seaviewinn.net).

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Untouched Retreats

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Molokai
The Hawaiian Outsider
Hawaii
Though it’s separated from the wellgroomed resorts of West Maui only by the 9-mile-wide (14km) Pailolo Channel, Molokai is a world away from the entrenched tourism of the more famous Hawaiian islands. Beyond the geographical sense of the word, long and narrow Molokai truly is an island—isolated and unique, with a strong local flavor that has developed in spite of (or perhaps because of) its welltrodden Hawaiian brethren. More ethnic Hawaiians live on Molokai than anywhere else in the archipelago, so if you’re looking for what’s left of the “real” Hawaii—the good and the bad—give this island a try. There’s no glamour or luxury here; unlike its neighbor to the west, Lanai , Molokai has not emerged as a swank destination for the private jet set. However, for outdoor enthusiasts, the attractions of Molokai are unforgettable and intimate, and the north shore of the island has the highest sea cliffs in the world, at over 3,000 feet (914m) tall. Molokai’s slender, slightly undulating shape, accented by a few peninsular notches, has earned it comparisons to the shape of a fish (many locals say it’s a shark), or, to less marine-inclined eyes, some sort of old-fashioned footwear. To get your bearings on Molokai, it helps to think of the island as a bedroom slipper. The heel is at the west, and the toe is at the east. Virtually all the western half of the slipper is a bare, red-dirt surface, while the eastern half of Molokai is mountainous and lush. Along the top of the slipper, from the instep to the

A mule tour down the Kalaupapa cliffs.

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CORN ISLANDS toe, is where Molokai’s famous sea cliffs plunge dramatically toward the ocean. Molokai’s de rigueur tour is the breathtaking mule ride down the sea-cliff trail to Kalaupapa, a former leper colony and National Historic Site. There are no high-rise hotels or condos here—“no buildings taller than a coconut tree,” as the marketing literature for the island proudly states. In the interest of preserving their island’s mana (Hawaiian traditions and way of life), residents have staunchly resisted “selling out” and following the lucrative tourism model of Maui and others. Their admirable stewardship, however, has caused them to have the highest unemployment rate of all the Hawaiian islands. Most attempts at resortstyle developments—which would guarantee hundred of jobs—have failed on Molokai. In 2008, even the ecofriendly Molokai Ranch, the island’s largest employer, shut down all its operations (leaving 120 jobless) after coming up against stubborn local resistance to its plans for expansion. With its sleepy red-dirt towns and relatively few options for dining and accommodations, Molokai works well for many visitors as a day trip from Maui, whether by air from Kahului or boat from Lahaina. Several helicopter tours from Maui fly over the Pailolo Channel for panoramic views of Molokai, including a dazzling mid-air view of those towering cliffs on the island’s northern coast. —SM The Moore Center, 2 Kamoi St., Ste. 200, Kaunakakai (& 800/800-6367; www. molokai-hawaii.com), or www.gohawaii. com/molokai. Molokai ( Honolulu airport (interisland flights from and Maui). From Lahaina, 90 min. MolokaiMaui Ferry (& 866/307-6524; www. molokaiferry.com).

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$$ Dunbar Beachfront Cottages, Kainalu (& 800/673-0520; www.molokaibeachfront-cottages.com).

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Untouched Retreats

Corn Islands
The Real Deal
Nicaragua
Imagine a lush and lovely tropical island (or two) with unspoiled beaches and vibrant coral reefs, a friendly, low-key paradise that’s largely undiscovered by the globetrotting hordes. A dreamy little place where there are no cruise ships, no malls, no celebs fleeing the paparazzi. For anyone who has a yen to live the laid-back caribeña lifestyle, this may be the spot for you. The Corn Islands—Big and Little—are one of the best-kept secrets of the Caribbean. Just 81km (50 miles) off the coast of Nicaragua in the western Caribbean, the Corns are not luxe, by any means. Restaurants are open-air and topped by thatched roofs—and not of the Disney fauxthatched-roof variety, mind you. You will not be swathed in perfumed sheets or wrapped in cool minimalistic furnishings, but you can stay at charming and colorful little posadas, many run by European expats with style and panache. Looking to get somewhere fast? Golf carts are the preferred mode of rapid transit. And if it’s a sizzling nightlife you’re after, head to Aruba or St. Maarten —although the restaurant/disco Nico’s, located on Big Corn island’s south end, is a rocking good time on Sunday nights.

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For lovers of tropical heat, the weather is obliging, with average temps of 29°C (84°F) year-round and winds from the east—people staying on the windward side of the islands get a nice little breeze at night to rock them to sleep. And both islands are ringed by stunning azure seas and coral reefs teeming with marine life. You’ll see huge staghorn coral formations, anemones, sea fans, sea stars, and all manner of fish, from sea devils to spotted drum. Dive Nautilus (& 505/575-5077; www.divebigcorn.com), on Big Corn, offers dive, snorkeling, fishing, and glassbottom-boat trips on both Big and Little Corn islands. Dive Little Corn (www. divelittlecorn.com), that island’s only dive shop, offers dive and snorkeling trips as well as dive courses taught by PADI-certified instructors and kayak rentals. One favorite dive spot is the rock/coral formation known as “Blowing Rock.” It rises 30m (98 ft.) from the sea floor, its craggy top visible above the ocean surface, with a colorful array of fish both small and large—including shark and barracuda. Fishing, in fact, is still the main industry here, and you will dine like a king on fresh fish and Caribbean lobster pulled from the sea—accompanied by homebaked coco (coconut) bread, of course. Little Corn is even more primitive than Big Corn; it has no paved roads and no cars, which suits a growing number of travelers just fine. In fact, some prefer Little Corn’s über-laid-back quality of life to the “fast” lanes of Big Corn. Just about a square mile in size (versus 6-sq.-kmlong/21⁄2-mile-long Big Corn), the island is little more than gorgeous white-sand beaches and tropical forest. To get from one place to the other, you bike or walk (or travel on horseback). When you’re not biking or walking, you’re paddling about in the clear emerald sea. English is the main language on both islands; Nicaragua was a British colony until 1894, and its natives are descended from the original British settlers and freed slaves. The name “Corn Island” has nothing to do with corn, by the way. It’s an English bastardization of the Spanish word for meat, carne. The islands were used to store supplies, including meat, back in the 16th and 17th centuries. —AF www.bigcornisland.com. Big Corn: Managua or Bluefields (La Costena airline; 3 hr.).

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Little Corn (water taxi from Big Corn: 30 min.).

$$ Casa Canada, Big Corn Island ( 505/644-0925; www.casa-canada. com). $ Casa Iguana, Little Corn Island (www.casaiguana.net).

Untouched Retreats

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Caye Caulker
The “Go Slow” Island
Belize
For anyone who’s ever had the urge to flee the rat race and parachute onto a tropical island with velvety air and a breezy, barefoot lifestyle, Caye Caulker would likely fit the bill. It’s the kind of laid-back, sun-saturated spot that’s as inoculated to the rat race as a civilized place can be. It’s Mayberry in the tropics. Located 1.6km (1 mile) west of the Belize Barrier Reef, this funky fishing village is an 8km-long (5-mile) island that’s situated a few miles south of Ambergris Caye . The vegetation is lush and tropical, houses are wooden clapboard, the streets are soft sand, and shoes are optional. The island motto is “Go Slow,”

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CAYE CAULKER and the languid pace might drive Type A folks batty—especially when it comes to getting what they want when they want it—but others appreciate the leisurely, meditative vibe. Belize is a flavorful stew of cultures, of Creole, Chinese, Mestizo, Indian, Maya, and more—and Caye Caulker has an authentic Belizean feel. Although tourism is now the island’s major industry, big business has not intruded here; visitors are catered to in small, personal ways. Lodging largely consists of family-run inns, gaily painted guesthouses, and weatherbeaten motels on stilts planted in the sand. Dining is local and home-cooked. Look for fish, rice and beans, and curries. In lobster season, which begins in June and ends 9 months later, you can eat local spiny lobster just about every night at modest prices. In spite of its modest, no-frills demeanor, Caye Caulker has a fairly spectacular draw: the Belize Barrier Reef, the longest continuous barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and one of the last unspoiled coral reefs in the world. It runs for 306km (190 miles) of rich and diverse marine habitat less than half a mile offshore. The diving and snorkeling along the reef is world-class. Just 16km (10 miles) north is the Hol Chan Marine Reserve, one of the most popular diving and snorkeling sites with a spectacular variety of marine life. Many people think the best diving in Belize lies on the outer atolls, just 20 minutes from Caye Caulker. Turneffe, the largest of the atolls, has a beautiful and varied underwater terrain. Recommended tour operators include Belize Diving Services (& 501/226-0143; www. belizedivingservice.com), which has been operating full-service dive trips out of Caye Caulker since 1978, and Frenchie’s Diving (& 501/226-0234; www.frenchies divingbelize.com), whose divemasters and captains have a combined 70 years of dive experience. You can enjoy sailing, diving, birding, jungle tours, fishing, and windsurfing in the clear azure waters of the Caribbean here. One thing Caye Caulker does not have is big, wide, white-sand beaches. Sand beaches tend to be squeezed between mangrove forests and ocean, and sea grass grows in the wading shallows. Most people

Caye Caulker.

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ISLAND ESCAPES swim off the public piers that extend beyond the sea grass or at the Split, a gathering place to sip the local Belikin beer and watch the sunset. Go slow indeed. —AF www.belizetourism.org or www. cayecaulker.org. Belize City to Caye Caulker (Tropic Air; 15 min.).

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Water taxi (45 min.) between Belize City, Caye Caulker, and San Pedro (Ambergris Caye): Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association (& 501/223-5752; www.cayecaulkerwatertaxi.com). $$ Iguana Reef Inn, Back St. ( 501/226-0213; www.iguanareefinn. com). $ Seaside Cabanas, Front St. (& 501/ 226-0498; www.seasidecabanas.com).

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Guadeloupe
The Butterfly
Guadeloupe moves to its own gentle rhythms. This French Overseas Territory has no grand resorts to compete with upscale neighbors like Antigua and St. Barts , and the shopping is certainly not as cosmopolitan as that on nearby Martinique . But then, a stay at an upscale hotel might hermetically seal you off from the soul of Guadeloupe, which lies in its small inns and B&B-style gites, rustic harborfront cafes, and beachside seafood shacks. The language and laws here are Gallic (the island has been a French administrative center since the 18th c.), but the flavor is pure Caribbean Creole, saucy and exuberant. If luxury linens and sleek minimalist surrounds mean a lot to you, head elsewhere—but if a quiet getaway to an authentic slice of the French West Indies sounds more to your liking, by all means come to Guadeloupe. Physically, Guadeloupe is stunning. Its nickname, “The Butterfly Island,” comes from the shape of its two main islands, which are separated by a narrow channel called the Rivière Salée. Grand-Terre is largely flat and dry, with fine-sand beaches and sugar plantations. Basse-Terre is wild, lush, and mountainous, with an active volcano in Mount Soufriére, Guadeloupe’s highest peak. The Guadeloupe National Park is a real wonder: a 29,987-hectare (74,100-acre) park named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, with a protected tropical forest, dense stands of giant ferns, and tumbling waterfalls. The beaches are classic Caribbean: The seas surrounding the island are teal blue and shadowed by palm-fringed beaches. Some, like Grand Terre, have incredibly soft white sand; others, like the west end of Basse Terre, have strands of black volcanic sand. Jacques Cousteau once described the waters off Guadeloupe’s Pigeon Island as “one of the world’s 10 best diving spots” and the whole island still offers excellent opportunities for scuba diving. The allure is the relatively calm seas and La Réserve Cousteau, a kind of French national park with a number of stellar dive sites, where the underwater environment is rigidly protected. For information, contact the Centre International de la Plongée (C.I.P. Bouillante), Lieu-Dit Poirier, Malendure Plage, Pigeon (& 590/98-81-72; www. cip-guadeloupe.com). Renting a car is the best way to get around and see the island. Keep in mind that many of the roads are winding and often the thoroughfare of choice for meandering goats, cows, and stray dogs. Life on Guadeloupe moves to a languorous, lilting beat, and music and food play important roles in the day-to-day culture. For music, you won’t have to listen long to

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QUIRIMBUS ARCHIPELAGO hear the irresistible double beat of zouk, the popular French West Indies music (by way of West Africa). For dining, the classic French food and wine in Guadeloupe are excellent, but the local Creole cuisine is divine; try land crab sautéed in coconut and hot pepper or fat freshwater crayfish (quassous) drenched in a spicy Creole sauce. Then toast to your good fortune with the island’s famous Ti-Punch, a sassy mix of rum, cane sugar juice, and lime. —AF www.go2guadeloupe.com or www. guadeloupe-info.com.

( Pole Caraibes International Airport.
$$$ Hôtel Fleur d’Épée (& 590/ 90-40-00; www.hotel-fleur-depee.com). $$ Tainos Cottages (& 590/28-44-42; www.tainoscottages.com).

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Quirimbus Archipelago
Painted Faces & Pristine Beaches
Mozambique
All too often, the conservation of precious resources becomes a consideration only when said resources are on the brink of extinction. In Mozambique, the Quirimbus Archipelago is a brilliant example of a nation putting measures in place to protect its natural treasures while they’re still in an unspoiled state. Even more amazing is that these bold and visionary steps were carried out by a government that coalesced only 10 years ago, following centuries of brutal colonial rule, civil wars, and natural disasters. By declaring both the Quirimbus Archipelago and the southern coast’s Bazaruto Archipelago protected national parks, Mozambique has, in the words of the World Wildlife Fund, become a “global leader in conservation.” In the process, it has helped preserve two of the most exquisitely untouched regions in the world. A 250km (155-mile) stretch of 27 coral islands that traces the country’s northern coastline, the Quirimbus Archipelago has breathtaking Indian Ocean seas and pristine coral beaches where the sand is so white it almost burns your eyes. Some of these islands have never been developed; others, like historic Ibo Island, burned brightly as vital trading posts centuries ago but now exist in a suspended state of grand decay. In contrast with the Bazaruto Archipelago, which has a slightly more sophisticated feel, these northern isles have a sleepy, spellbinding charm—it’s like stepping back hundreds of years into an Africa of ancient mosques, natives with painted faces, and faded colonial architecture. The islands have some of the richest, most pristine coral reefs in the world, and the government is taking great pains to oversee any tourism initiatives (in fact, the handful of resort operators are not only employing locals but also providing needed aid in healthcare and schools). A lovely slip of sand in a turquoise sea, the 1km-long (1⁄2-mile) Medjumbe Island has gentle surf and outstanding diving, snorkeling, deep-sea fishing, and windsurfing. New reefs are still being discovered. A stay in one of the resort’s 13 chalets is like owning your own tropical isle. In the southern end of the archipelago, Matemo Island not only has a luxury resort but is also the home of several indigenous villages, where locals make a living on subsistence fishing and build traditional wooden dhows. The island turns

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ISLAND ESCAPES into Little Italy in August, when beach-loving Italians come for month-long stays. From Matemo, it’s a 30-minute boat crossing to Ibo Island, next to the Ilha de Mozambique . This island was once East Africa’s most important trading center. Some historians trace the island’s origins back to 600 A.D., when it developed into a port for Arab traders, who dealt in gold, ivory, and slaves. The Portuguese took control of the archipelago around 1590, erecting a star-shaped fort, a cathedral, and beautiful public buildings—built on the burgeoning slave trade. Today, the once-elegant buildings are abandoned, left to rot when the Portuguese fled the country in 1975. Blanketed in mossy vines, the village is rich with the ghosts of the past: faded Portuguese tiles, rusted ironwork, old prison cells. Many of the Ibo Island native women wear white painted faces—a practice known as Muciro painting, a beauty regimen using a cream made from an indigenous plant. Be sure to look for the beautiful filigreed silver jewelry made locally, a native art that may be dying out. The best time to visit the Quirimbus islands is from May to October; the region is hottest in December and January, and February and March mark the rainy season. —AF www.mozambiquetourism.co.za. Flights from Johannesburg, South Africa; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Nairobi, Kenya, to Pemba. Fly from Pemba to Quirimbus on charter flights arranged by lodges (20 min.–1 hr., depending on the island). $$ Ibo Island Lodge (& 27/ 021/702-0285; www.iboisland.com). $$$ Matemo Resort (& 27/011/658-0633; www.matemoresort.com). $$$ Medjumbe Resort (& 27/011/658-0633; www.medjumberesort.com).

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Caladesi Island
Blue Ribbon Beach
Florida, U.S.
Every year, Florida geologist Stephen Leatherman—aka Dr. Beach—publishes a list of America’s top beaches. Every year, Caladesi Island is right up there in the top 10—or at least it was until 2008, when Caladesi was named the number-one beach in America. After that, it’s now officially retired from competition. Considering how many fine beaches there are along this Tampa–St. Petersburg coast, what makes Caladesi so special? For one thing, it’s uninhabited and undeveloped—a breath of fresh air among the densely built-up string of barrier islands fringing the St. Pete peninsula. Its calm, shallow waters are extraordinarily clear, much clearer than those of the next island to the south, the one actually named Clearwater. Its 4-mile-long (6.4km) gulfside beach is dazzling white sand that’s remarkably pristine—and because it isn’t raked daily like so many resort beaches are, you can find all sorts of unusual shells. As for sun-worshiping hordes, you won’t find them on Caladesi, despite all Dr. Beach’s accolades—you can’t get here except by boat, and the number of visitors is purposely kept low. Only 62 passengers at a time can come over on the small ferry from neighboring Honeymoon Island, and they are allowed to stay only 4 hours; if you arrive on your own boat, you can moor at the marina at the island’s north end, but with only 108 slips, it tends to fill

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TINHARÉ up in high season. There’s no hotel or campground (although many boat owners sleep overnight on their boats). Come here at the right time and you may well feel as if you have the island to yourself. Caladesi (Spanish for “beautiful bayou”) once was the southern half of the unromantically named Hog Island, until a 1921 hurricane severed it in two. Honeymoon Island, the other half, is now connected to the mainland by the Dunedin Causeway, but Caladesi was left cut off by water. That isolation, however, turned out to be Caladesi’s strongest asset. Now a state park, Caladesi has been provided with a few useful amenities, clustered near the marina—picnic tables, showers and restrooms, a playground, a cafe, and a beach concession, where you can rent kayaks and canoes for exploring the mangrove forest on the other side of the island. Walkways have been built through the dunes, preserving their fragile ecosystems of sea oats, wildflowers, and palm trees; there’s also a marked nature trail through the pine flatwoods of the interior (keep your eyes peeled for ospreys, armadillos, and gopher tortoises). But on the whole, it’s a quiet, unpruned bit of beachy wilderness, which makes it extremely popular with birds, from the beach’s shorebirds—American oystercatchers, black skimmers, royal and least terns, Wilson’s and piping plovers—to the water birds that hang around the mangroves, including pelicans, egrets, roseate spoonbills, and herons. Loggerhead and green turtles nest on the beaches, too. It’s the perfect antidote to the Tampa metro sprawl, so close and yet so totally different. —HH Caladesi Island State Park (& 727/ 469-5918; www.floridastateparks.org/ CaladesiIsland).

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20 min. from Honeymoon Island State Park (Caladesi Island Connection; & 727/734-1501). $ Barefoot Bay Resort & Marina, 401 E. Shore Dr., Clearwater Beach (& 866/ 447-3316 or 727/447-3316; www.barefoot bayresort.com). $$ Sheraton Sand Key Resort, 1160 Gulf Blvd., Clearwater Beach (& 800/325-3535 or 727/595-1611; www. sheratonsandkey.com).

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Beautiful Beaches

Tinharé
Paradise Found
Brazil
No wonder so many honeymooners choose this tropical island as their getaway; it’s as remote as you can get. Morro de Säo Paulo boasts four beaches facing the open sea, with turquoise waters, natural swimming pools, and coral reefs. Inland, you’ll find lush vegetation along with exotic birds and monkeys. There are no cars and few street lights on the island. Once you land you’ll be greeted by locals offering to take your bags by wheelbarrow up the steep uphill trail from the docks to the main village. On the winding path, you’ll see small stores selling native wares, along with little restaurants and bars. After you are settled in your pousada (inn), you can get around like the natives do: by horse, donkey, tractor, or foot. Morro de São Paulo is the largest town on the historic island of Tinharé, located in the region known as the Dende Coast. It suffered many attacks by French and Dutch ships during the 16th century and was considered an easy target by pirates. This legacy is evident by the presence of one of the island’s main features: a

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Island Hopping the Seychelles: Indian Ocean Castaways
A sprinkling of pearls in a sea of ethereal blue, the 115-island archipelago of the Seychelles is one of the world’s most idyllic beach destinations. Set down in the West Indian Ocean some 1,800km (1,118 miles) from Africa’s east coast and only 4 degrees south of the equator, these once-isolated tropical isles have become synonymous with castaway island luxury. Only 16 islands currently have accommodations, but a big part of the Seychelles’ appeal is hopping from one stunning stretch of sand to another, snorkeling, diving, sailing, and soaking up the shimmering, sunsplashed atmosphere along the way. The pristine beauty of these islands belies their fragility, and the Seychelles government is taking the high road in sustainable tourism—as in demanding small-scale, environmentally responsible development. What that means for the consumer are luxe, uncrowded accommodations, supremely personalized service, and correspondingly high rates. Fourteen islands are already protected marine reserves—in fact, 45% of this island nation is fully protected conservation land and nature reserves. Good thing, because these are the oldest living oceanic islands on earth, with 80 endemic species of flora and 2,000 endemic species of invertebrates.

A beach in the Seychelles.

The Seychelles are divided into two island clusters: the raised granite Inner Islands and the low-lying coral cays and atolls of the Outer Islands. Of the Inner Island group, Mahé is the nation’s largest island and the entry point for people flying into the Seychelles and the transportation hub for excursions to other islands in the archipelago, whether you go by air, ferry, or private or tour boat. It’s also the site of the country’s capital, Victoria. Mahé is the most populated island in the nation, by far: 90% of Seychelles citizens live on Mahé, some 72,000 people. Which goes to show how underpopulated these islands really are: The Seychelles has the smallest population of any nation in Africa. Mahé may be the country’s financial, cultural, and social heart, but in the tradition of its sister islands it also has fabulous beaches, including the secluded Port Launay and Beau Vallon, a popular beach lined with lodgings and restaurants. But if you’ve just arrived and are itching to find a remote and uninhabited desert island, head to the Sainte-Anne Marine Park, a sea-and-sand sanctuary ringing six beautiful little islands: Sainte-Anne, Moyenne, Longue, Cerf, Round, and Cachèe. It’s a stupendous place to snorkel and noodle about in sparkling-clear seas, with thousands of colorful fish under your flippers. You can arrange full- and half-day trips with the Marine Charter Association (& 248/22-46-79). Praslin and La Digue. In The two other main islands of the Seychelles are Praslin, the UNESCO World Heritage Site the Vallée de Mai (& 248/32-17-35; www. 176

ISLAND HOPPING THE SEYCHELLES: INDIAN OCEAN CASTAWAYS

sif.sc) is a remnant of a prehistoric palm forest that some believe is the original Garden of Eden. It’s a richly biodiverse ecosystem, home to 6,000 Coco de Mer palms; these trees can live up to 400 years and produce the world’s largest seed. The forest is also the last refuge of the endangered black parrot, the national bird of Seychelles. Praslin may be the most touristed island in the archipelago; a number of excursions to neighboring islands leave from here. Some travelers think that La Digue is the most beautiful island in the Seychelles, and there are countless magazine covers to prove it. The island has a leisurely, old-world pace and some of the nation’s most stunning beaches, including Anse Source d’Argent, a white-sand beauty studded with large granite boulders. Bird Island, the northernmost island in the archipelago, is aptly named—from May to September, millions of sooty terns arrive here to nest. But it could just as well have been called Tortoise Island, for the giant land tortoises that make their home here. Bird Island is an eco-tourist’s dream: Only 7% of the island is used for development, but the island’s one 24-bungalow lodge lets you experience the wild island habitat in laid-back luxury. On North Island, an 11-chalet luxury ecotourism lodge is run by one of the world’s most respected outfitters, Wilderness Safaris (www.wilderness-safaris. com), which is truly going wild here: working to return the island habitats to their native state, weeding out invasive species, and reintroducing indigenous species. The entire island of Cousin (p. 135) is a nature sanctuary where some 250,000 birds nest. Of the Outer Islands, only two have accommodations: Alphonse and Descroches. Each of these islands has one luxury lodge, lovely beaches, and opportunities for fly-fishing and diving. But for some, the Outer Island of St. François is the Seychelles’ most beautiful tropical isle, a palm-fringed reef surrounded by sand flats that offer superb bonefishing. A must-see in the Outer Islands is the country’s second World Heritage Site, the Aldabra Atoll, the largest raised coral atoll in the world; at its center is a massive lagoon with a vibrant marine environment. Aldabra is the home of the world’s largest population of giant land tortoises: Some 150,000 tortoises—the largest of which grows to nearly 360kg—live and thrive on this truly idyllic spot. —AF www.seychelles.travel or www.sif.sc. Seychelles International Airport (on Air Seychelles; www.airseychelles.com). Air Seychelles and Helicopter Seychelles (www.helicopterseychelles.com) provide charter flights to/ from most of the Inner and Outer islands.

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High-speed catamaran Cat Cocos (www.catcocos.com) operates round-trips between Mahe and Praslin (45 min.).

$$ Clef de les Ilets, Beau Vallon, Mahé Island (www.clefdesiles.com). $$$ North Island Seychelles, North Island (& 248/29-31-00; www.north-island.com).

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ISLAND ESCAPES fort near the harbor built in the 17th century, close to the island’s beautiful lighthouse. Both offer panoramic views of the beaches and provide great places for dolphin spotting. The true attractions here, though, are the beaches, all beautiful, and each with its own personality—all are named in reference to their distance from the main settlement. First Beach attracts surfers during the winter months, when the waves are at their most challenging. During the summer, visitors enjoy this beach’s crystalclear waters and seaside restaurants, serving up spicy fare. Second Beach draws the young and young at heart with nightly luaus and music. Spirited parties are known to go on here until morning. Third Beach offers a more placid experience, drawing divers and snorkelers with its large barrier reef. Those who truly want to get away from it all can choose peaceful Fourth Beach, also known as the enchanted beach. If your ideal soundtrack is a light breeze stirring a palm tree, this is the island for you. Although most pousadas and restaurants on the island accept credit cards, there’s no bank and just one ATM—so it’s best to bring some extra cash. If you’re getting to the island by water, your best bet is to go by catamaran, leaving from behind the Mercado Modelo in downtown Salvador. As you approach, you’ll see the remains of the fort that once protected this island paradise. —JD CIT (Central de Informações Turisticas), Praça Aureliano Lima s/n (& 55/ 75/3652-1083; www.morrodesaopaulo. com.br). Tinharé from Salvador International Airport (30 min. on Addey or Aerostar). Catamarans depart from downtown Salvador from the Terminal Maritimo do Mercado Modelo. Lancha Ilhabela (& 55/71/9118-2393 or 55/71/91328262); Catamarã Farol do Morro (& 55/ 71/3319-4570); and Catamarã Biotur (& 55/75/3641-3327). 2 hr. $$ Anima Hotel, Fourth Beach ( 55/75/3652-2077; www.animahotel. com). $$ Pousada o Casarão, Praca Aureliano, Lima s/n (& 55/75/3652-1022; www.ocasarao.net).

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Barbuda
Pink Pearl
From above, Barbuda looks like nothing so much as a pink pearl dropped into a rippling green sea. It’s small (just 176 sq. km/ 68 sq. miles), a mere dot in the ocean compared with its sister island, Antigua , 48km (30 miles) due north. It’s sparsely populated, with only 1,200 inhabitants, most of whom live in the island’s only village, Codrington. It’s sparsely visited: slightly off the beaten path and not easy to reach. The landscape is flat and scrubby, and most roads are unpaved. You can count the lodging options on one hand. That’s the iffy news. The good—no, great—news is that Barbuda has some of the most breathtaking beaches in the entire Caribbean. Blushing pink-sand beaches and sugary white-sand beaches, take your pick—all lapped by gentle, azure seas. And, even better: The island is the ideal getaway for those looking for peace, quiet, and a lovely beach to call their own. It’s the kind of place where having nothing to do isn’t a complaint; it’s a blessing. The island’s 27km (17 miles) of softsand beaches are protected by barrier reefs. Beaches on the southwestern shore

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FORMENTERA rimming the Caribbean Sea stretch to the horizon for 16km (10 miles) and are best for swimming. Among them, the pictureperfect sand of Pink Sand Beach owes its blushing pink hues to crushed coral. Beaches on the island’s eastern shore fronting the Atlantic, such as Hog Bay and Rubbish Bay, are good for strolling and shell collecting. If you want to see more of the island beyond the beaches, you can rent a fourwheel-drive or have a taxi driver give you a tour. In the 18th century, the island served as a breadbasket for the workers on Antigua’s sugar plantations and also supplied slave labor to work the sugar cane fields (all slaves were freed in 1834). The Codringtons, the family who leased much of Barbuda back in high colonial days, remain a ghostly presence on the island. The ruins of the 1720 Codrington estate, Highland House, are located on the highest point on the island. Other places to visit include the Frigate Bird Sanctuary, located in the island’s northwestern lagoon and accessible only by boat. The sanctuary contains more than 170 species of birds and is home to some 5,000 frigate birds. —AF www.antigua-barbuda.org. Antigua, V.C. Byrd International Airport (15 min.). Barbuda Express (& 268/5607989; www.antiguaferries.com; 90 min.). $$$ Coco Point Lodge (& 268/4623816; www.cocopoint.com). $$$ Lighthouse Bay Resort (& 888/214-8552; www.lighthousebayresort.com).

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Beautiful Beaches

Formentera
Cool Antidote to Crazy Ibiza
Spain
For the young and style-conscious bella gente (beautiful people) of Italy, there is no summer escape with more cachet than the Spanish island of Formentera. Trendy Romans and Milanese come here in droves every July and August to soak up the island’s laid-back hippie vibe and pristine, sun-drenched, nudist-friendly beaches. The smallest of the Balearic islands, and only a 3km (13⁄4-mile) ferry ride from the legendary party isle of Ibiza , Formentera offers a different kind of hedonism for vacationers who prefer intimate bonfires over a raging club scene and Moroccanmotif boutique hotels to big, splashy resorts. And in certain circles, there is nothing like the smug satisfaction that comes from being able to tell people about your trip to insider-ish Formentera, province of gorgeous soccer players, their welltanned showgirl flings, and the paparazzi who sell photos of them canoodling to the European tabloids. Most who come to Formentera—it draws everyone from high-profile fashion designers wanting to keep a low profile to 25-year-old wannabe bohemians—choose the island because it’s so diametrically opposed to the Ibiza experience; some just come as a day’s detox trip from Ibiza when the wild revelry there gets to be too much. Though package tours are an increasingly popular way of getting to Formentera, there are still no high-rise condos, and no tacky all-inclusive “tourist villages.” Accommodations are independently run, small, and low-key, and the same is true of the dining and entertainment options on Formentera. The price tag for almost everything on the island is still fairly low by Mediterranean island standards.

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This 83-sq.-km (32-sq.-mile) island is stretched out along three axes like an upside-down Y, and the best way to get around is on a moped, available for rent near the ferry dock in La Savina. The shoreline of Formentera is mostly rugged, with rocky coves and cliffs, but there are some truly beautiful beaches, where the sugary sand is blindingly white, and the crystal-clear water is a sublime shade of stony light green and perfect for snorkeling. Just off the northern tip of Formentera is the islet of Espalmador; the two are connected by a sandbar that you can walk across when the tide is low. The busiest and best-equipped beach is Platja de ses Illetes, near La Savina; it’s a bathtub-like bay where yachts bob at anchor, their billionaire owners trolling the sands for younger babes. At Formentera’s other beaches, you’ll find none of that kind of atmosphere—just near-empty sands and idyllic spots for swimming. Almost all sunbathing here involves nudity of some kind— women tend to go without their bikini tops and men often sport “the full Monty.” Other than relaxing on the beach and swimming, however, there isn’t a whole lot to do on Formentera: The island has no centralized “scene” to speak of, and anyone with an appetite for culture would actually do better wandering the old streets of Ibiza. For shoppers, Formentera’s boutiques, proffering ethno-chic woven items, are concentrated in the hamlet of Sant Ferran de Ses Roques. But the island’s slow pace and lack of drama (though there is a fair amount of posturing among the beautiful people who escape their stresses here, and among the yacht set at Platja Illetes) makes Formentera perfect if you need to catch up on sleep, or reading, or writing your own novel. And of course that blistering Mediterranean sun will send you home enviably bronzed. —SM www.illesbalears.es.

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From Ibiza (Eivissa) 30 min., Trasmapi (www.trasmapi.com) or Umafisa (www.umafisa.com). $$$ Sa Volta, Miramar 94, Es Pujols 34/97/132-81-25; www.savolta.com).

Beautiful Beaches

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Kefalonia Island
Wish Fulfillment
Greece
When people think of a Greek island, most conjure up an image that is tidily fulfilled by the beautiful island of Kefalonia. This place has it all, including breathtaking mountains, forests bejeweled with tropical flowers, beaches with sparkling blue water, historic landmarks juxtaposed with new architecture, and a lively nightlife. As a sailing and trading capital in the region, it also has a cosmopolitan gloss that many of the other Greek islands don’t—but it’s nicely tempered by the down-to-earth beauty of its many beaches. Myrtos, the island’s most famous beach, is located just north of Argostoli, its capital city, located on the southern part of the island. It is arguably one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, surrounded by striking vertical cliffs. Visitors flock to enjoy its crystal-clear waters, or lounge on the beach looking out on passing boats. You’ll find other beautiful, but less crowded, beaches scattered throughout the island, many of them winners of The Blue Flag Award, Europe’s gold standard for clean, environmentally sound

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USEDOM beaches and marinas. It’s easy to visit a different beach every day; just rent a car, moped, or motorcycle and be on your way. Away from the beaches, the island boasts many attractions. Assos Castle, just outside of Argostoli, stands as an excellent example of a 16th-century Venetian fortress. The castle includes a domed building intended for convicts, and the prison yard and cells are still intact. You can drive part of the way there, but be prepared for a long walk up the hill to see the castle up close. Another popular spot for a day trip is Spili Melissani, a small enclosed lake known for its deep-blue color. You can take a guided rowboat and marvel at the sun playing off the brilliant hue of the water, creating a kaleidoscope of colors. Kefalonia is also known for its excellent wines, and a visit wouldn’t be complete without your sipping one of its excellent vintages. A laid-back afternoon could include a trip to Calliga Vineyard or Gentilini Vineyard, both near Argostoli. You can arrange a tour through the tourist office (see below for info). Although Kefalonia is not known as a party island, there are plenty of bars and clubs to enjoy after the sun goes down, many of them located in Argostoli or on private resorts. If you go during summer, you may also be able to find a party on the beach. When all is said and done, perhaps the greatest gift that the island has to offer is relaxation. However you choose to spend your day, you definitely won’t need a watch to enjoy this island getaway. —JD Argostoli Tourism Office, Port Authority Building on Ioannis Metaxa (& 30/26710/22-248). Kefalonia Airport (8km/5 miles outside Argostoli).

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Strintzis Line (& 30/21082/36011 in Athens, 41⁄2 hr.). $$ Hotel Ionian Plaza, Vallianou Square (& 30/26710/25-581). $ Mirabel Hotel, Vallianou Square (& 30/26710/25381; www.mirabel.gr).

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Beautiful Beaches

Usedom
The Singing Island
Germany and Poland
On the map, it looks like a curve of Baltic coast that somehow broke loose from Western Pomerania, with the Achterwasser and Stettiner Haff lakes rushing in to fill the gap. Though anchored to the German coast with bridges at both north and south ends (and a railway over the northern bridge), Usedom lies so far east that the eastern tip is actually part of Poland—you can walk down the beach from Ahlberg to the large commercial port of 2winouj1cie. But it’s the German side that’s the tourist magnet, a beloved getaway since the early 19th century. Only 250km (155 miles) from the German capital, Usedom has been nicknamed the “Bathtub of Berlin.” I prefer Usedom’s other nickname, though—“the singing island,” so called because the white sand of its 40km-long (25-mile) strand is so fine, it squeaks when you walk on it. The most popular section is southeast, from Bansin through Heringsdorf to Ahlberg—you can hardly tell when you’re leaving one town and entering the next—known collectively as the Dreikaiserbäder, or “three imperial spas.” (A fourth resort, Zinnowitz, lies up the coast to the northwest.) The architecture of these

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ISLAND ESCAPES

Usedom beach.

towns is enchanting—elegant pale hotels and brightly painted villas, in the historicist or Art Nouveau styles of the late 19th century. A handful of “wellness hotels” and thermal baths preserve old-world spa traditions. Landscaped garden promenades, open-air concert pavilions, and tree-lined side streets hark back to genteel seaside holiday traditions; note the canopied chairs lined up for rent on the beaches. Each resort town also has a long pleasure pier extending into the Baltic, where you can still envision a parade of ladies with parasols and bustled dresses and gents in well-cut linen suits. (Upscale Heringsdorf has the longest pier, with a restaurant at the end.) Horse-and-carriage rides along the promenades, pleasure-boat excursions from the piers—it’s the antithesis of spring-break beach-party madness. For more rural atmosphere, try Koelpinsee, located on the narrow strip of land dividing Achterwasser from the Baltic shore; it’s only a short walk from treecovered dunes to serene panoramas of wooded lakeshore and gliding swans.

Northwest of Koelpinsee, the old fishing village of Koserow is another relaxing resort, where you can hike up Streckelsberg Hill for horizon-wide vistas of island and sea. Several small towns along the waist of the island—Zempin, Trassenheide, Loddin—still look like old farming villages, with thatched cottages and weathered beachside huts for salting fish—though, never fear, they too have resort accommodations. For a break from the beach, investigate the hilly wooded interior—easily explored, with more than 400km (249 miles) of hiking trails and 100km (62 miles) of bike paths. To find picturesque sleepy villages with tiny medieval churches, check out the 16th-century castle in Stolpe and the medieval town gate in Usedom, the southern gateway to the island. Don’t expect charm, though, at the infamous town of Peenemünde, on the northwestern tip—the top-secret World War II research center here produced the deadly V2 missile, a high-tech history now explored in several museums in town. —HH

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KOH PHI PHI
Tourist office, Waldstrasse 1, Bansin (& 49/38378/477110; www.usedom.de). $$ Ringhotel Ostseehotel Ahlbeck, Dünenstrasse 41, Ahlbeck (& 49/ 38378/600; www.seetel.de). $$$ Travel Charme Strandhotel Zinnowitz, Dünenstrasse 11, Zinnowitz (& 49/30/42439/650 or 49/38377/38-000; www.travelcharme. com).

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( Heringsdorf.
2winouj1cie, 11 hr. from Copenhagen, 61⁄2 hr. from Ystad, Sweden. Contact Polferries’ U.K. agents (& 44/871/22233312; www.directferries.co.uk).

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Beautiful Beaches

Koh Phi Phi
Loungin’ Below Limestone Cliffs
Thailand
Endowed with the kind of preposterous natural beauty that tropical dreams are made of, Thailand’s Phi Phi islands are a classic side trip from the larger resorts of Phuket , 48km (30 miles) away, and Krabi, 42km (26 miles) away. Phi Phi Don is the larger of the two islands, and the one where all the facilities are, while the nearby, uninhabited Phi Phi Leh is an excursion destination for snorkeling and one jaw-dropping sandy bay made famous by the film The Beach. Phi Phi Don’s infrastructure was all but wiped out by the tsunami that swept across the Andaman Sea in December 2004; much has been rebuilt (if irresponsibly so), and the waves of day-trippers and backpackers continue to wash in as before. Given its magazine-cover good looks, you might think Koh Phi Phi would be an exclusive, luxury destination—something along the lines of French Polynesia’s Bora Bora . However, as with Thailand’s other resort islands, development here has lacked stewardship, and the result has been a hodgepodge of hotels and services accessible to all budgets, but not the most careful protection of the environment. A profusion of wallet-friendly guesthouses in Tonsai Village, along Phi Phi Don’s iconic hair-thin isthmus, has made the island a haven for backpackers who don’t seem to mind the maintenance issues of those accommodations. (The island’s laid-back and permissive attitude, though it’s not nearly as wild as Phuket, is another boon for the shoestring set.) A few luxury resorts—appreciably removed from the hubbub of the backpacker strip— provide the total escape package for families and couples looking to splurge a bit, with pampering facilities, spas, and private beaches in what is undeniably one of the most awesome natural locations in Southeast Asia. Even if you’ve never read the book or seen the movie The Beach, you’ll want to see Maya Bay (hire a longtail boat from Phi Phi Don to do so), a principal location for the film adaptation of Alex Garland’s 2000 bestseller. Located on Koh Phi Phi Leh, this is a stunning bay of turquoise water surrounded on three sides by limestone cliffs; the fourth side is white sand. Keep in mind that this is the most famous single attraction in the Phi Phi islands and swarming with tourists and speedboats. Though it’s a madhouse most of the time, you can try coming in the early morning or after 5pm for something a bit more like the postcard images. The clear water and rich marine life around the Phi Phi islands attract divers and snorkelers, and there are plenty of operators on Phi Phi Don that will rent you equipment and shuttle you out to the

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ISLAND ESCAPES area’s coral wonderlands. For an up-closeand-personal encounter with the islands’ trademark limestone cliffs, seek out Cat’s Climbing Shop in Tonsai Bay for rockclimbing trips. Daredevils can also embark on exhilarating cliff jumps of up to 16m (52 ft.) over Tonsai Bay (book tours in Tonsai Village). —SM www.phiphi.phuket.com.

( Seaplane landings from Krabi and Phuket, 30 min.

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From Krabi, 90 min.; from Phuket,

$$$ Phi Phi Island Village Beach Resort & Spa, Lo Bah Gao Bay (& 66/2/ 54157-2224; www.ppisland.com).

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Islands to Get Stranded On

187

La Blanquilla
Castaway in the Caribbean
Venezuela
A fan-shaped island built of limestone and sand, 186-sq.-km (72-sq.-mile) La Blanquilla is a dream destination for wannabe castaways. With milky-white beaches and glassy tide pools, it’s a favorite anchorage for certain discriminating Caribbean cruisers. Yet this “white island”—so named for its shimmering alabaster beaches—is one of Venezuela’s most unspoiled federal dependencies (offshore islands) in the western Caribbean Sea. Other than those occasional tour groups on desert-island adventures, no one comes here but the Guardia Costera (Coast Guard) and daytripping fishermen. La Blanquilla offers wonderful snorkeling and diving opportunities: The undersea “wall” is only 20m (66 ft.) offshore, and because of the island’s remoteness, marine life is abundant and healthy. The reefs around the island are known for their wealth of rare black coral. You can also spot blueheads, French angelfish, porcupine fish, balloon fish, red-lipped blenny, queen and princess parrotfish, and flying fish. On land, keep an eye peeled for colorful parrots, owls, iguanas, lizards, hermit crabs, and wild donkeys. The best way to see La Blanquilla is by chartered boat. You’ll see the odd sailboat or two bobbing in the coves north of Americano Bay (located north of Playa El Yaque), which has a spectacular and secluded white-sand beach of sparkling blue waters. But note that in Venezuelan waters you have to embark aboard a crewed boat licensed by the authorities and with a Venezuelan crew. Explore Yacht Tours (& 58/212-635-2166; www. explore-yachts.com) is a Caracas, Venezuela–based company that charters fullservice crewed powerboats and sailboats in Venezuela’s southern Caribbean seas; it also offers dive, fishing, and cruising packages. Lost World Adventures (& 800/9990558 in the U.S. and Canada; www. lostworldadventures.com) can offer a customized trip to La Blanquilla by air from Porlamar on Isla Margarita or on an allinclusive chartered sailboat departing from Los Roques or Juan Griego on Isla Margarita. If you plan to explore the island beyond its white-sand beaches, be sure to wear shoes (even socks)—prickly-pear cactus is everywhere, and the barbs can be tenacious. Just follow the donkey paths, and you’ll avoid most of it. If you come by boat, you can enjoy secluded anchorages north of Americano Bay. Though there are only a handful of palm trees, shade is at hand in caves along the shore. And it’s never a bad idea to bring along a few small bottles

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TOBAGO of cheap rum to barter for fish fresh from the Caribbean, from tuna to red snapper to spiny lobster. —AF www.venezuelatuya.com or www. think-venezuela.net. Puerto La Cruz (mainland, 172km/107 miles); Porlamar (Isla Margarita, 81km/50 miles); Los Roques (161km/100 miles).

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Los Roques; Juan Griego (97km/60 miles); Puerto La Cruz (mainland); Porlamar (Isla Margarita, 113km/70 miles).

$$ LagunaMar, Porlamar, Isla Margarita (& 58/295/400-4035; www.laguna mar.com.ve).

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Islands to Get Stranded On

Tobago
Robinson Crusoe’s Paradise
When Daniel Defoe wrote his adventure classic castaway tale Robinson Crusoe, he couldn’t have chosen to set it on a more stunning island than Tobago. (Although Isla Robinson Crusoe in Chile disputes that Tobago was the setting, it’s hard to quibble when you are enjoying such an inspiring setting.) Since Defoe’s day, it has gone on to inspire nonfictional explorers, including Jacques Cousteau, who was enchanted by its turquoise waters and coral reefs. This island of pristine white sand is only 32km (20 miles) northeast of bustling Trinidad , but the pace here is

Scarborough beach.

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ISLAND ESCAPES so relaxing that many Trinidadians come here for weekend escapes. It also draws travelers wishing to laze on the beaches or explore the green mountains of Tobago’s rainforest with its glorious flora and fauna, including exotic birds and darting green iguanas. Tobago is approximately 42km (26 miles) long and 9.7km (6 miles) wide, so you’ll want to rent a car or hire a taxi to get around. Its capital, Scarborough, provides a beautiful view of the nearby mountains from its position on the southern coast. While on this part of the island, be sure to climb the hill to Fort King George, just above the town. It was built by the English in the late 18th century, but frequently changed hands as other countries invaded. The fort’s old barracks serves as the Tobago Museum (& 868/639-3970). Also on-site are the ruins of a military hospital. Those who love marine life can follow in Cousteau’s webbed footsteps and enjoy a day of snorkeling or diving in the clear, warm water that surrounds the island. You’ll see a vast variety of colorful tropical fish, sponges, and nearly 300 varieties of coral. The cliffs and volcanic formations are home to large sea creatures like whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles, and squid. A variety of snorkeling tours can be arranged at www.mytobago.info/ snorkelling05.php. If you prefer to stay on dry land, consider a 5-hour naturalist-led tour to get a closer look at the incredible tropical birds and other wildlife on the island. You’ll pass through the rainforest, coconut plantations, and dazzling waterfalls while on your tour. For details, contact Newton George, Speyside (& 868/660-5463 or 868/754-7881). Although most people come to Tobago to enjoy the island’s tranquillity, lively nightlife can be had. This is, after all, the region that produced calypso, soca, and steel drum music. Local hotels and bars play everything from karaoke music to the laidback sounds of reggae, perfect soundtracks for a vacation away from it all. —JD Tourism Division of the Tobago House of Assembly, airport office (& 868/ 639-0509), or I. B. Mall in Scarborough (& 868/639-2125).

( Tobago.
$$$ Arnos Vale Hotel, Scarborough (& 868/639-2881; www.arnosvalehotel. com). $$ Blue Waters Inn, Batteaux Bay, Speyside (& 800/448-8355 in the U.S., or 868/660-4314; www.bluewatersinn.com).

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Islands to Get Stranded On

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Tangier Island
Getting Crabby in the Marshes
Virginia, U.S.
Perched proudly in the wide expanse of Chesapeake Bay, 12 miles (19km) from the Eastern Shore of Virginia, Tangier Island is defiantly remote—so remote that the natives haven’t yet lost their ancestors’ distinct Elizabethan brogue. The roads here, laid out in the 17th century, are so narrow you can barely drive a modern car along them, and so there are no cars; islanders get around instead on traditional flat-bottomed shove boats and sleek motorboats. Houses on Tangier are more likely to use their back doors, which face the creeks, than the front doors that face the lanes. Touristy it ain’t—and that’s just why you’ll feel like going native within a few hours of arriving on Tangier. Some countrysides have walking trails laid out; Tangier Island has water trails, five of them, lacing through the marshes,

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YAP channels, and lagoons. The Orange Trail circles the main body of the island, ducking under bridges that link the island’s various low-lying landmasses. It winds up in the harbor amid a working fleet of wooden-hulled Chesapeake Bay deadrise boats, used for crabbing and oystering (note the crab shanties set on pilings in the water, where peeler crabs are kept in tanks until they shed their shells to become soft-shell crabs). The Yellow Trail branches off across the southern lagoon to an outlying hook of white-sand beach where terns and black skimmers nest in tranquil solitude. The Green Trail zips across the channel to outlying Port Isobel, a nature preserve owned by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, where a walking trail has been laid out through the marshes. The Blue Trail slips through the marshes of the island’s southwest corner, gliding under the Hoistin’ Bridge, the island’s highest bridge, a traditional trysting spot for young couples. The Pink Trail circles a large northern lobe of the island, the Uppards, where you’ll view haunting relics of the days when this was a thriving community, before it sank into marshland. Visitors can rent golf carts or bicycles, or take buggy tours to see the sights. It’s a good idea to start at the new Tangier History Museum (16215 Main Ridge Rd.; & 302/234-1660; www.tangierhistory museum.org), where you can learn about the island’s war history, its unique isolated culture, and the natural forces that are gradually breaking up the island’s landmass. The museum lends visitors kayaks and canoes for the water trails, and also has mapped out a fascinating walking tour of the main island, pointing out island landmarks that shed light on its quirky customs (such as why you’ll see mossy gravestones of ancestors in so many front yards here). Perhaps the best way to understand what Tangier Island is all about is to book an overnight stay that includes a “waterman’s tour”—a visit to a crab shanty, followed next morning by an excursion on a working crab boat. Contact either the Bay View Inn (see below) or Hilda Crockett’s B&B (& 757/891-2331) for details. —HH www.tangierhistorymuseum.org or www.tangierisland-va.com. Norfolk International Airport (112 miles/ 180km). From Reedville, Virginia (11⁄2 hr.); Onancock, Maryland (1 hr.); or Crisfield, Maryland (45 min. or 11⁄4 hr.). $$ Bay View Inn, 16408 W. Ridge Rd. ( 757/891-2396; www.tangier island.net). $ Sunset Inn, 16650 W. Ridge Rd. (& 757/891-2535; www.tangierisland sunset.com; open Apr–Oct).

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Islands to Get Stranded On

Sorcerers & Stone Money
Micronesia
Occupying its own remote, isolated corner of the vast Pacific Ocean, the island of Yap has a native culture as fascinating and richly textured as any on the planet, one that encompasses sorcerers, stone money, and bawdy dances featuring men in colorful hibiscus skirts. A reef-fringed tropical paradise where the seas are a cozy 28°C (82°F) year-round, Yap is indeed lush and lovely. But don’t expect to run into anyone you know while you’re here; Yap gets fewer than 5,000 visitors a year, and for good reason: It’s a long, long way from anywhere. Yap lies in

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ISLAND ESCAPES the northwestern Pacific just 9 degrees above the equator, 805km (500 miles) southwest of Guam and 483km (300 miles) northeast of Palau . Yap is actually one of a cluster of islands that stretch for some 966km (600 miles) across the Pacific and one of four states that make up the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The indigenous population can trace its roots back thousands of years and has maintained its customs through sometimes harrowing 20th-century occupations (during Japanese rule, islanders were forced into labor gangs). Following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, the American soldiers swept in, bringing with them modern schools and healthcare. But even those islanders who have had a thorough primary and secondary education and speak fluent English often opt to live out the local traditions and customs. One of those entrenched customs is the continued use of gigantic stone discs as money, a tradition that experts suggest may go back as far as 125 A.D. These stones can reach up to 3.6m (12 ft.) in diameter—and even more remarkably, they come from the neighboring island of Palau, several hundred miles away. The Yapese, excellent navigators, quarried the stones in Palau and carried them back to the island by outrigger canoe—a rough journey made even more perilous by the sheer weight of the stones. Amazingly, each individual stone’s value is different, determined by a number of factors, including size, shape, the quality and texture of the stone, and how arduous it was to haul it to the island. Most of the stones are now kept in Stone Money Banks in each village. Yap is increasingly on the radar of tourists as a world-class dive spot, where underwater visibility often exceeds an impressive 45m (148 ft.). The marine scenery is superb, where table corals are reportedly the size of dinner tables, and divers may encounter huge mounds of blue staghorn, golden elkhorn, and giant brain corals. Yap has the largest concentration of manta rays in the world, fed by the rich plankton in the surrounding mangroves. With wingspans of 4.8 to 6m (16– 20 ft.), manta rays can weigh up to 1,350kg (2,976 pounds), and unlike stingrays— which have spines or stingers on their tails—they pose no threat to divers. The snorkeling is equally rewarding here, particularly in the area around Manta Bay Channel and along the inner reef; the seas are alive with clown fish and turquoise parrotfish. Most of the resorts offer dive or snorkel packages, as well as cultural tours to local villages. You can even sail on traditional outrigger canoes, the same seaworthy vessels the Yapese have been navigating for thousands of years. The canoes are beautifully handcarved and decorated with geometric designs. A visit to Yap is an immersion in a unique culture, and as such, respect for the islanders’ traditions and lifestyle is paramount. The tourism bureau recommends that you always ask permission before photographing someone, and dress modestly—bathing suits should be worn for swimming and sunbathing poolside only. —AF www.visityap.com.

( Yap Palau).

(connections from Guam or

$$ Manta Ray Bay Resort (& 691/ 350-2300; www.mantaray.com). $$$ Traders’ Ridge Resort (& 691/350-6000; www.tradersridge.com).

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OJIMA ISLAND

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Places of Worship

Ojima Island
The Red Bridges of Matsushima
Japan
Why would anybody need a getaway from Matsushima? This beautiful bay, dotted with hundreds of pine-covered islets, has for centuries been classed as one of Japan’s top-three scenic wonders (the other two are Miyajima in Hiroshima Bay and Amanohashidate on the north coast of Honshu). Gazing across the sweep of the bay from Matsushima town is like looking at a gigantic version of a pond in a Japanese bonsai garden: Gnarled pine trees writhe picturesquely upward from the islands, most of them little more than humps of volcanic tuff and white sandstone. Even the great 17thcentury haiku poet Basho was so overwhelmed when he finally beheld its beauty, he could only write, “Matsushima, Ah! Matsushima! Matsushima!” And yet for Buddhist monks from Matsushima’s powerful Zuiganji temple, seeking a place for spiritual retreat, gazing upon that panorama wasn’t enough. That’s why they took over tiny wooded Ojima Island, literally a stone’s throw from the mainland (it’s connected to the town by the gentle arch of red Togetsu Bridge). Here, as part of their

Ojima Island.

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ISLAND ESCAPES ascetic discipline, young monks-in-training patiently carved out 108 shallow caves— 108 being a significant number in Buddhist thought—and decorated them with scriptures, Buddhist images, and sutras that would help focus their prayers and meditations. As befits a monkish refuge, women were strictly forbidden to set foot here, at least until after the reforms of the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Only about half of the caves have survived, and nowadays the island has a distinct air of neglect; the stone images are crumbling and worn, moss-covered and water-stained. Yet somehow, that gentle sense of decay makes this tranquil island seem even more otherworldly. There’s no entrance fee, there’s no gate, and the bridge never closes. You can walk around the entire island in about 20 minutes, tallying up how many images of the Buddha you spot. Along the graveled paths, look for the monument to Basho, inscribed with a haiku by his traveling companion Sora. You can almost picture the island as it was when Basho and Sora arrived in 1689 to view the meditation rock of a renowned Buddhist hermit, the Venerable Ungo. You can’t miss the monks’ other island, Godaido, set right by the ferry pier in the center of town; it’s one of Matsushima’s most iconic postcard images. Built in 809— it’s completely man-made—Godaido is just big enough to hold one pagoda, which shelters five holy statues that are displayed to the public only every 33 years (their next scheduled appearance is 2039). It too is connected to land by a bright red bridge. Farther out in the bay an even longer red bridge skims over the water, leading to Fukuurajima, a rather overgrown botanical garden island. It’ll take an hour or so to walk around it, reading the labels on various shrubs, flowers, and trees. It’s not quite as much of a spiritual experience as Ojima—but then, very few things are. —HH Tourist office, Kaigan station (& 81/ 22/354-2263) or Kaigan Pier (& 81/22/3542618); also www.pref.miyagi.jp.

0 Matsushima-Kaigan.

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Matsushima-Kaigan pier, 50 min. from Hon-Shiogama.

$$ Matsushima Century Hotel, 8 Senzui, Matsushima (& 81/22/354-4111; www.centuryhotel.co.jp). $$ Taikanso, 10–17 Inuta, Matsushima (& 81/22/3545214; www.taikanso.co.jp).

Places of Worship

192

Putuo Shan
Sacred Peak
China
Just an hour’s flight from Shanghai, Putuo Shan is worlds away from the bustling Chinese metropolis. This tiny, 12-sq.-km (42⁄3-sq.-mile) island, 32km (20 miles) off the China coast in the East China Sea, is an oasis of calm, with little vehicular traffic, no chain stores, and no flashing billboards. It is filled with temples and green gardens and ringed by scenic beaches with soft, smooth sand. Most important, it is a holy place for Buddhists from all over the world, who make pilgrimages to the peak in the center of the island known as Mount Putuo, one of the four most sacred mountains in Buddhism. A trip to this “garden in the ocean” is a serene, rejuvenating escape from urban China. The ancients called this small island the “Number One Buddhist Paradise in China.” An imperial order in the 13th century

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MAJULI ISLAND decreed Putuo Shan and its temples sacred to the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara, a goddess of mercy and compassion (known in its female form as Guanyin). Much of the island was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution in 1949, but with the atheist Chinese government apparently opening its arms to Buddhism lately, Mount Putuo and its remaining monasteries and temples have undergone a renaissance: The island now has some 33 temples, and of the 3,000 permanent residents, 1,000 are monks. Climbing Mount Putuo is not for the faint-hearted; although it rises only 300m (984 ft.), it has more than a thousand steps to ascend. You can take a cable car instead up the mountain. The island’s main temple is also its largest, Fuji, which traces its origins back a thousand years; its golden glazed roofs signify that it was designated a royal temple, with its buildings tucked into 1.6 hectares (4 acres) of manicured gardens. The most prestigious, however, is the royal temple Fayu, originally built in the 16th century and surrounded by ancient trees; inside the temple is a 1,000-year-old gingko—the leaves still turn a golden yellow in the autumn. The Fayu temple is known for its fantastic dragon ornamentation and sculpted stone slates, as well as a pure gold statue of Guanyin that survived the Cultural Revolution purge. The third major temple on Putuo Shan is Huiji, known as the “garden temple,” which lies pillowed in trees and the creases of Fodsing Shan (“Folding Mountain”). Tourism is booming on this and the other islands in the Zhoushan (or Zhejiang) province; a million people visit Mount Putuo annually, many taking the ferry across the small inlet from nearby Zhoushan Island. Many come to Putuo Shan simply to enjoy its lovely beaches, including the Hundred Step Beach and the Thousand Step Beach, where sunbathing, sand sculpting, and “sandbathing” are the main activities—although you’ll see some people in the water, reports are that the fetid East China Sea may not be fit for swimming. Be sure to ask around before you take the plunge. —AF Putuoshan Scenic Area Management Committee (& 86/580/319-1919; www.mtputuo.com).

( Shanghai to Zhoushan Island (1 hr.).
From Shanghai (4–12 hr.) or Zhoushan Island (15 min.). $$ Xilie Villa, 1 Xiang Hua St., Putuo Shan (& 86/580/609-1505; www.xlxz hotel.com).

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Places of Worship

Majuli Island
The Sacred in the Everyday
India
Majuli is one of the largest freshwater-river islands in the world, with abundant bird life and long-standing cultural traditions. But it is best known for its importance in Vaishnavism, a simpler form of traditional Hinduism, initiated in the early 15th century by the religious reformer Srimanta Sankardev, whose approach toward faith was steeped in prayer and the love of one god rather than idol worship. Sankardev believed that Vishnu-Narayana is the one supreme God and all other gods and creatures are subservient to him. Sankardev focused on the importance of faith in everyday life through dance, theater, and art, and established 65 satras

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ISLAND ESCAPES
(monasteries) on Majuli, some of which still stand and are used to train young disciples. They are also open to visitors for overnight stays. Outside of the satras, people gather at the namghar, or temple, to sing and pray. In keeping with the philosophy of union between the sacred and mundane, temples are also used as gathering places to discuss village concerns. Although Vishnu-Narayana is looked upon as the supreme god, other Hindu deities are also celebrated at festivals on the island. Because Krishna was thought to have played with his consorts on Majuli, nearly every islander takes part in the 3-day song, dance, and theater festival of Ras Purnima, in the month of Kartik (Oct– Nov). It’s a great time to visit and participate in a joyous demonstration of faith. Majuli sits in the enormous, and often rough, Brahmaputra River. It has about 20 villages, home to nearly 150 residents, most of whom come from the Deori and Sonowal Kacharis tribes. Most residents work in agriculture, tending to rice fields, or make their living fishing or dairy farming. The women of the island are expert weavers, creating beautiful textiles of cotton and silk. Many types of rice are grown, including bora, a sticky brown rice used to make the traditional dessert peetha, produced especially for the spring festival. Some native crafts are also linked to festivals; local pottery is made during the Ali-ao-lvignag festival in February and March, and mask making is done at the end of winter for the Paal Naam festival. As a study in contrasts, you may want to include a visit to the cosmopolitan city of Jorhat, about 20km (12 miles) away on the mainland, in your trip. The city is known for its traditional tea gardens as well as its cultural vigor. It’s produced historians, journalists, and writers, including Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya, a recipient of India’s most prestigious prize for literature, the Jnanpith Award. The ecosystem here is host to an abundance of flora and fauna, including many rare and endangered species. The Gibbon Wildlife Sanctuary is a popular attraction, notable for its fine collection of primates. Visiting birders will get a chance to spot the greater adjutant stork, pelican, Siberian crane, and whistling teal. Before visiting, though, bear in mind that rainfall is frequent and often heavy here. The best time to visit is during the dry season from November to March when most of the music, dance, and theater is performed, providing prime opportunities for spiritual renewal and escape. —JD Assam Tourism, Station Road, Guwahati, Assam (& 91/361/2547102). Jorhat from Guwahati. (From Jorhat take a boat to the island.)

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Government ferry services to Majuli run from Nimatighat. Private boats may also be rented. $$ Hotel Brahmaputraashok Ashok, M.G. Road, Guwahati (& 91/ 361-2602281; www.hotelbrahmaputraa shok.com).

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SIMI ISLAND

194

Places of Worship

Simi Island
Isle of Churches
Simi, Greece
The tiny island of Simi boasts one of the most beautiful harbors in Greece. Visitors arriving by ferry are rewarded with views of pastel-colored mansions scattered on the steep hillsides—a reminder of its prosperous past as a center for shipbuilding, trading, and sponge diving. But the island’s biggest claim to fame is its many churches and monasteries. Natives like to say that you can worship in a different church every day of the year, making this island retreat a perfect place for spiritual renewal. The most famous holy landmark of all is located in the village of Panormitis. The Venetian-style Monastery of the Archangel Michael, dedicated to the patron saint of the island and the protector of sailors, was founded in 450 A.D., and renovated in the 18th century. Through the years, it has provided a home for Greek Orthodox monks, and today it has become a destination spot for those who appreciate sacred art. It boasts many stunning artifacts, including a silver icon of Michael and paintings from the Byzantine period. The monastery still functions as a home for monks, who live in cells within the building. It’s even possible to rent one of these cells for an overnight stay. Call the guest office (& 30/22410/72-414) for more information. If you are taking a day trip, be sure to reserve at least an hour to visit the cells and the two museums onsite, where you’ll see thousands of offerings from pilgrims seeking favors. Simi is made up of four areas: Yialos, the main harbor; Chorio, its uppermost town; Pedi Bay, the valley below Chorio; and Nimborios, the community to the north of Yialos. The island has only about six taxis—all leaving from the stand at the center of the harbor. You can also rent mopeds, but, since there are few roads, you are better off walking or using public transportation. Most visitors arrive by boat from Rhodes on a day trip. Just don’t be surprised if you fall in love with this laid-back island and decide to stay here longer— many visitors make return pilgrimages to Simi’s sandy beaches and rites like the Simi Festival, offering an international roster of music, theater, and film performances each June through September. —JD Symi Visitor center (www.symi visitor.com).

( Rhodes Airport (11km/6 ⁄ miles).
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Three boats connect Rhodes to Simi: the car ferries Proteus and Simi (1 hr., 40 min.), and the hydrofoil Aegli (about 1 hr.).

$$ Aliki Hotel, Akti Gennimata (& 30/22410/71-665). $$ Hotel Nireus, Akti Gennimata (& 30/22410/72-400).

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5 Treasure Islands

American Classics . . . 195 Jewels of the South Seas . . . 200 Priceless Places . . . 205 Colonial Outposts . . . 215 Civilization Unplugged . . . 224 One of a Kind . . . 227 Natural Wonders . . . 236

BALBOA ISLAND

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American Classics

Balboa Island
Taffy Town
California, U.S.
It’s not much bigger than a postage stamp, 3 blocks deep and a mile long, but Balboa crams a lot of old-fashioned seaside charm into its small space. It’s got quaint Cape Cod–style architecture; fine, sandy beaches; and a vintage-Americana feel. In June, the Balboa Island Parade marries smalltown celebration (costumed dogs and decorated golf carts figure prominently) with big-time bonhomie. The parade was begun in 1993 to celebrate the restoration of the 1927 Balboa Fire Station, for years the only government building on the island, home to the fire department, public offices, and a drunk tank during the boisterous days of Prohibition. Now a proud part of the city of Newport Beach, Balboa Island at the turn of the 20th century was more or less swampland. At low tide it would appear as a mud flat locals referred to as Snipe Island. An enterprising fellow named W. S. Collins dredged up some of the swamp and filled in the land to form Balboa, where he carved up neat little lots (he sold the ones with prime harbor views for a whopping $600). The charm—and the selling point— was a sunny, laid-back holiday-by-the-seaside. The reality, in those early days, was a little more rough-hewn, with no electricity or gas until around 1920. But as the infrastructure grew, so did the island populace, including Hollywood celebrities. Balboa’s proximity to the harbor was catnip to recreational boaters, including such famous yachtsmen as James Cagney and John Wayne. Originally parceled out for as little as $250 a lot, Balboa Island now holds some of the priciest real estate in California. Today Balboa looks pretty much like it did nearly a century ago, but its honkytonk heart is now strictly G-rated. A boardwalk is lined with shops, art galleries, and the old-fashioned pleasures of a seashore town. Saltwater taffy is sold in big barrels in candy stores. Walking is the favored mode of transportation, and the evening stroll is a nightly ritual. You can take a cruise from one of the many yacht charters (see the Balboa Island website, below). A small amusement park with timeless carnival rides—including a carousel and Ferris wheel—is a foolproof draw for younger children. Picturesque bungalows, white picket fences, puppies, kids, and blue California skies: Balboa Island is a little slice of all-American apple pie. —AF www.balboa-island.net. John Wayne Airport or Long Beach Airport. 15-min. drive from John Wayne airport or 25-min. drive from Long Beach.

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$$ Balboa Inn, 105 Main St., Newport Beach (& 877/BALBOA9 [225-2629]; www.balboainn.com).

Previous page: Newport.

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American Classics

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Nantucket Island
Scrimshaw Gem
Massachusetts, U.S.
The old whaling captains knew a good thing when they saw it. Walk around tiny Nantucket—the only town on the island— and you’ll gape at stately Greek Revival sea captains’ mansions, one after the other, lining the brick sidewalks. Though the whaling trade died in the 1870s, outof-the-way Nantucket—30 miles (48km) off the Massachusetts coast—escaped redevelopment, and the town still exudes a prim New England-y charm. Modern-day captains of industry have built showplace beach “cottages” around the island’s 110mile (177km) coast, attracting designer boutiques and chichi restaurants; ferries from Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard regularly disgorge crowds of day-trippers to wander the brick sidewalks and gape at the mansions, ice-cream cones in hand. But it’s easy to get out of town and discover Nantucket’s sandy, wind-scrubbed natural beauty. Like any summer resort, Nantucket gets overrun in July and August—try to get a last-minute reservation to bring your car over on one of the six daily car ferries from Hyannis. It’s far better to take a highspeed passenger ferry and get around on foot and by bicycle. Get the historic lowdown at the state-of-the-art Whaling Museum, 13 Broad St. (& 508/228-1894; www.nha.org), where you can also hook

Nantucket lighthouse.

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MACKINAC ISLAND up with a Historical Society walking tour of town. But there’s so much more to Nantucket than just the historic district. Flat, sandy, treeless Nantucket is heaven for bicyclists, with paved bikeways leading in all directions and rental shops right by the wharf. My favorite route is the 17-mile (27km) loop out to Siasconset Beach (’Sconset to locals). At ’Sconset, you can ramble along panoramic bluffs, and then head north along coastal Polpis Road, stopping off for the classic Nantucket photo op in front of the red-and-whitestriped 1850 Sankaty Head lighthouse (moved from its eroding cliff to a safe spot beside the Sankaty Head golf course). Also along Polpis Road, explore the fringes of sea and land on nature trails at Windswept Cranberry Bog or the CoskataCoatue Wildlife Refuge. Getting out on the water is an essential Nantucket pastime, whether you join a deep-sea fishing excursion (several boats depart from Straight Wharf), rent a kayak or sailboard at Jetties Beach (North Beach St., just west of town), or just splash around in the surf at popular Surfside Beach south of town. For sunset beach strolls, the place to be is Madaket Beach, at the western end of Madaket Road. Stay overnight and you’ll discover a different island, once the ferries have left port. On clear summer evenings, it’s a super place for stargazing, far from bigcity light pollution. Just south of town, the hilltop Loines Observatory, 59 Milk St. Extension (& 508/228-9273), is open to the public Monday, Wednesday, and Friday nights; if there’s an interesting sky event, like the close orbit of Mars the summer I visited, there’s bound to be a line out the door. Standing in line with the locals, listening to how everyone spent their day—that’s a pretty fine way to get in tune with Nantucket. —HH Nantucket Visitor Services, 25 Federal St. (& 508/228-0925; www.nantucketma.gov).

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Nantucket town, service from Hyannis, Harwich Port, or Martha’s Vineyard.

$$$ Beachside at Nantucket, 30 N. Beach St. (& 800/322-4433 or 508/ 228-2241; www.thebeachside.com). $$ Jared Coffin House, 29 Broad St. (& 800/ 248-2405 or 508/228-2400; www.jared coffinhouse.com).

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American Classics

Mackinac Island
Car-Free, Carefree
Michigan, U.S.
First of all, you pronounce it “Mack-i-naw,” like the raincoat—the nearest mainland town is spelled Mackinaw City, so out-oftowners will get it right. Cropping out of the narrow Straits of Mackinac, which divide the Upper and Lower Peninsulas of Michigan, this summer resort island is a Victorian period piece of white frame houses and trim gardens. Nowadays, the great green Mackinac Bridge spans the Straits, connecting the peninsulas. But at the height of summer, when getting from here to there becomes less important than getting away from it all, that bridge is beside the point. What you want instead is the passenger ferry from Mackinaw City, heading away from the bridge to the time warp of Mackinac Island. Long before the bridge was built in 1957, Mackinac was one of the Midwest’s

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TREASURE ISLANDS

Mackinac Island.

favorite summer resorts, and it’s still a cherished holiday destination—and still blissfully car-free, which means you have three options for getting around: on foot, by horse-drawn carriage, or on a bike. Pedaling happily along the limestone cliffs overlooking the straits, you may wonder why the automobile was ever invented. A complete circuit of the island on trafficfree Lake Shore Road is only 8 miles (13km); you can rent bikes in town. You’ll have to stop along the way, of course, to drink in the views—don’t miss Arch Rock on the east coast, a boulder pierced with a gaping 30×40-foot (9×12m) hole gouged by waves and glaciers, or Sunset Rock on the west bluff above town. Most of the island is covered by Mackinac Island State Park (& 906/436-4100; www.mackinacparks.com), with 70 miles (113km) of paved roads and trails where cyclists can explore the cedar- and birchforested interior. Above the town, you can also cycle up to Fort Mackinac, 7127 Huron Rd. (& 906/436-4100; www.

mackinacparks.com), built by British soldiers during the American Revolution to keep the Straits open for the lucrative fur trade. Costumed interpreters are on hand to shoot off rifles and cannons and perform military band music. The cliff-top site was chosen specifically for sentries to watch over the lakes, so you can just imagine how fantastic the views are. Of course, if you’d rather take in the scenery from a rocking chair, you can always plunk yourself down on the white colonnaded veranda—the world’s longest front porch—of the landmark Grand Hotel (see below), built in 1887. Even if you’re not staying here, you can tour the historic premises. Or shop your way along downtown’s Main and Market streets, lined with flower-bedecked balconies; be sure to pick up some of the island’s trademark rich fudge. Mackinac has three golf courses, but it also has two butterfly conservatories (the Butterfly House, downtown at 296 McGulpin St., and Wings of Mackinac, up past the carriage tour barns

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OCEAN CITY on Surrey Hill). That’s the sort of vintage charm that summer memories of Mackinac Island are made of. —HH Mackinac Island Chamber of Commerce (& 877/847-0086; www.mackinac island.org). Mackinaw City, 12 miles (19km) from ferry docks. (& 800/542-8528; www.arnoldline.com). Shepler’s Ferry, 16 min. (& 800/8286157 or 231/436-5023; www.sheplers ferry.com). Star Line, 16–18 min. (& 800/ 638-9892 or 906/643-7635; www. mackinacferry.com). $$$ Grand Hotel, W. Bluff Rd. ( 800/33-GRAND [334-7263] or 906/8473331; www.grandhotel.com). $$ Mission Point, 6633 Main St. (& 800/833-7711 or 906/847-3312; www.missionpoint.com).

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Depart from Mackinaw City or St. Ignace. Arnold Transit, 15–45 min.

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American Classics

Ocean City
Family Fun on the Jersey Shore
New Jersey, U.S.
It doesn’t get much more old-time American than summer on New Jersey’s “OC.” With a real wood-planked boardwalk lined with carnival rides and funnel-cake vendors, plus long stretches of sandy beach and activities galore for kids, Ocean City is a uniquely family-friendly seaside resort. And because it’s a dry community—no booze is sold here or consumed in public places—Ocean City is a world away from other, raucous, partyfocused Jersey Shore locales. So much of Ocean City hearkens back to a simpler, sunnier era, readily apparent in its appealingly retro (though some are downright tacky) lineup of motels and vacation rentals, most within a few blocks of the beach if not right on the water. It may not be a destination for aesthetes, but for many families in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic who vacation here every year, Ocean City is an island paradise. From the “mainland,” you can drive over one of four bridges or take the ferry from Cape May to reach Ocean City. The island itself is a narrow strip covering an area of just 7 sq. miles (18 sq. km); it’s much longer north-south than it is eastwest, with clean beaches of fine sand fronting the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the bay on the west. Once you’re here, Ocean City’s simple grid layout of numbered streets makes it easy to get around on foot or by bike. Setting the tone for Ocean City’s particular brand of old-fashioned summertime fun is its classic boardwalk. The 21⁄2-mile (4km) promenade is filled with kids of all ages playing arcade games or miniature golf, fighting losing battles with melting ice-cream cones, or squealing down a waterslide. The smells from food stalls here—saltwater taffy, fudge, and french fries—really do transport you to another time. Best of all, the boardwalk is safe at all hours. Away from the boardwalk, Ocean City teems with ways to stay active under the sun, almost all of which are kid-focused or kid-friendly. There are sports camps and leagues, sailing schools, and summer programs of all kinds here, but for less structured fun, you can also take to the water with a kayak or WaveRunner (available for rent at many outfitters), or go on parasailing, tubing, water-skiing, and even fishing excursions. Of course, for the most basic

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TREASURE ISLANDS summer pleasure of all—being a beach bum—Ocean City has 8 miles (13km) of silky oceanside or bayside shore. In the evenings, summertime residents—many of whom rent houses or apartments here by the week, month, or season—congregate at the Music Pier, off the boardwalk, for nightly concerts. For nightlife with a little more pizazz, adults can turn to the bright lights and casinos of Atlantic City, only a 30-minute drive away. Also within easy striking distance, for day trips of the nonwatery variety, are the Cape May County Park and Zoo, the Atlantic City Aquarium, and historic villages, homes, and lighthouses. —SM Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce, 16 E. 9th St. (& 609/3991412; www.oceancitychamber.com). Atlantic City or Philadelphia International.

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Three Forts Ferry from Delaware City, 5 min. Cape May-Lewes Ferry (& 800/64-FERRY [643-3779]; www.cape maylewesferry.com).

19-mile (31km) drive from Atlantic City or 71-mile (114km) drive from Philadelphia. $$$ Flanders Hotel, 719 E. 11th St. ( 609/399-1000; www.theflandershotel. com). For vacation rentals, consult www. oceancitynj.com.

Jewels of the South Seas

199

Raiatea & Tahaa
Secret Slices of Paradise
Bora Bora and Moorea may be the current darlings of French Polynesia, but for those who like to stay ahead of the curve, the Society Islands of Raiatea and Tahaa offer some less-touristed slices of paradise. Raiatea is the most sacred island in the South Seas, with the best-preserved archaeological site in Polynesia. Separated from Raiatea by a thin lagoon, the “vanilla island” of Tahaa is even more traditional, and is home to one of the most luxurious resorts in the region, Le Taha’a Private Island & Spa (see below). Caressed by omnipresent trade winds, both islands are dripping with enchanting lore and remain (unlike some of their Tahitian sisters) blessedly untouched by modern life. Most people who visit Raiatea and Tahaa do so as a day trip or short excursion from nearby Bora Bora or Moorea (both of which are a 45-min. flight away). Though they’re technically two separate islands, a shared lagoon makes Raiatea and Tahaa function as a single destination with diverse and complementary attractions; their proximity has made their history and cultures inextricably linked. One of the reasons Raiatea isn’t as wellknown as its more famous neighbors in French Polynesia is that its lush and rocky coastline, however picturesque, has no sandy beaches. But don’t let this deter you—the waters around Raiatea and Tahaa are dotted with motus, tiny uninhabited islets that are the definition of tropical fantasy. (Seen on countless PC screensavers, your basic motu is a strip of sand, backed by a mound of green, punctuated by perfect palm trees, and surrounded by crystalline turquoise water.) Rent a motu for a few hours or the day, have a picnic, and act out your own episode of Lost, comfortable in the knowledge that someone will pick you up well before sundown. But the highlights of visiting Raiatea and Tahaa aren’t limited to the sea and watersports. The stone temple, or marae, at Taputapuatea is Raiatea’s spiritual treasure and the most extensive archaeological

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RAIATEA & TAHAA

A marae on Raiatea.

site in the South Seas, second in importance only to Easter Island . Set in a coconut grove on the shore of the lagoon, Taputapuatea is marvelously evocative of the pre-European era here. Raiatea’s Mount Temehani is not the island’s tallest peak (it’s 792m/2.598 ft. high) but its most sacred one. As the place where ancient Polynesians believe their souls ascended after death, the mountain is inextricably linked with Polynesian mythology. Mount Temehani is also the only place in the world where the fragrant tiare apetahi flower grows, its petals opening each morning with a crackling sound. Also on Raiatea, the Faaroa River is the only navigable waterway in French Polynesia, and trips along the river in powered outrigger canoes give you a glimpse of the island’s lush and mountainous interior. To the immediate north of Raiatea lies Tahaa. According to legend, Tahaa was detached from Raiatea by a sacred eel, and in the lagoon that separates the two islands are shipwrecks that divers and snorkelers can explore. Tahaa is commonly known as the “Vanilla Island” because of its many vanilla plantations—80% of Tahiti’s vanilla is grown here, and you can smell the richly aromatic bean being harvested all over the

island. As on Raiatea, four-wheel-drive vehicles are the best way to discover all the hidden corners of the island and are easily rented in town. Ferries, informal charters, and water taxis operate shuttle services between Raiatea and Tahaa. The deep-water harbors of Raiatea and Tahaa make both islands popular hubs for sailing—whether you bring your own vessel or begin a South Seas charter from here—as well as larger cruise ships, which dock periodically at the Gare Maritime in Utaroa, on Raiatea. When cruise ships are in port, thousands of passengers spill onto shore, inundating the islands. Try to plan your organized activities for days when cruise ships are not expected. —SM www.raiatea.com. Raiatea airport (served by interisland flights from Papeete, Tahiti; Bora Bora; Moorea; and Huahine).

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$$$ Le Taha’a Private Island & Spa, Motu Tautau, Tahaa (& 800/6573275; www.letahaa.com). $$ Raiatea Lodge Hotel, Uturoa (& 689/600-100; www.raiateahotel.com).

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Jewels of the South Seas

200 Fiji

Bula Bula
For many travelers, Fiji is the quintessential South Pacific island. It’s the tropical paradise you imagine hitching a steamer trunk to escape to. The place you daydream about during long winter workdays. The island whose images of waving palm trees, beautiful beaches, and grass-skirted dancers are practically tattooed into the wanderlusting globe-trotter’s brain. Well, guess what? Fiji lives up to its billing. Its coral reefs are rebounding after decades of rising ocean temperatures. Its beaches are as spectacular as ever. Fiji is safe, clean, and incredibly hospitable to visitors, and its tourism infrastructure is sophisticated and designed for ease of travel. The Fijian culture remains strong, built on family, ritual, and a sunny outlook. Everywhere you go, you’ll be greeted with a warm Fijian “Bula,” which can mean “cheers” or “welcome” or even a hearty “hello.” This South Pacific island archipelago comprises some 333 islands, some of which are home only to traditional Fiji villages. Its two main islands are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. Viti Levu is where Nadi, the gateway to Fiji (and the main airport) is located; here is where you’ll find hotels, restaurants, and shopping. On the northwest coast of Viti Levu is Yasawa, home to many of Fiji’s best beaches and resorts as well as transfers, by seaplane or boat, to other islands. The Mamanuca Islands are a beach and watersports paradise of coral reefs and shimmering blue seas. The Coral Coast is situated on Viti Levu’s western coast and contains many of the nation’s top resorts. It’s a colorful stretch of coastline, with blue lagoons and breathtaking beaches. Suva, Fiji’s capital, has a stately, vintage appeal, with Victorian architecture from its days as a colonial outpost. The Outer Islands are perfect specks of palm-fringed white beach dropped into the South Pacific waters (much of the movie Castaway was filmed on one of the Outer Islands). A day trip from Suva to Levuka, the country’s original capital, always highlights a visit to Fiji. The old town has retained its 19th-century appearance, and the backdrop of sheer cliffs makes it one of the South Pacific’s most beautiful places. A visit to Fiji is as much about experiencing colorful Fijian culture as it is about perfect beaches and world-class watersports. Don’t leave without being entertained during a meke, where islanders wearing costumes of printed bark cloth (tapa) perform traditional songs and dance. Watching a Fijian fire-walking performance (actually a Hindu religious observance) is thrilling. And definitely attend a lovo, a traditional Fijian feast featuring a whole roast pig and food wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an earth oven over hot stones. It’s the perfect example of South Seas hospitality. Bula! —AF www.fijime.com.

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$$ Rydges Hideaway Resort Fiji, Viti Levu (& 679/650-0177; www.hide awayfiji.com). $$$ Turtle Island (& 800/ 255-4347 in the U.S., or 679/672-2921; www.turtlefiji.com).

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BALI

201 Bali

Jewels of the South Seas

Island of the Gods
Indonesia
Bali is one of those enchanting island paradises that doesn’t seem diminished by modernity or rising tourism numbers. This Indonesian island, tucked between Java to the east and Lombok to the west, has even rebounded from the horrific bombings that shook it in 2002 and 2005. Today, some two million people visit Bali annually—it’s the country’s top tourist attraction, by far. But no matter how many people flock to Bali, it has managed to retain its peace-loving nature, deeply engrained culture, sanguine outlook, and enduring spirituality. Bali’s distinctive civilization may have something to do with its isolation as a Hindu majority in a country that is the largest Muslim country on the planet. Of its population of three million people, more than 90% are Hindu. Ancient and modern temples dot the countryside (some 10,000 in all), and life in Bali revolves around Tri Hita Karana, a spiritual principle espousing the wisdom of maintaining a harmonious three-way balance between man and God and the environment. But Bali is blessed with much more than a rich culture and benevolent spirituality. Simply put, Bali is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It has breathtaking beaches and steep mountain slopes, terraces embroidered with green rice paddies and lush vegetation. If you’re looking for a beautiful swimming beach with gentle surf, tawny sand, cinematic sunsets, and a mystical vibe, head to Sanur, on Bali’s south coast. If you’re looking for a little more wave action, head to Uluwatu, on Bali’s southern tip—it’s one of the world’s most famous surf spots, with awesome breaks in Temples, The Peak, and Race Track. On Bali’s western tip is Labuan Lalang, an uninhabited island with some of the best diving on Bali. Nearly 7,000 hectares (17,297 acres) of marine waters and pristine coral reef are protected as part of the Bali Barat National Park, including Menjangan Island. Ubud is a charming central town away from the coasts; it’s the island’s center of arts. Balinese arts are justly celebrated around the world; be sure to take in a Balinese dance performance, featuring beautifully costumed dancers. Bali is a big island (5,633 sq. km/2,175 sq. miles), so if you want to explore as much as possible, you may want to rent a car. Many visitors hire a private taxi (car and driver/ tour guide)—an inexpensive and enlightening way to experience the island through the eyes of an insider. Bike tours of rural Bali are popular; you pass villages, fields of rice, and coffee plantations, and sample Bali cuisine; a number of operators are based in Ubud. Try Happy Bike Cycling Tours (& 62/81/999-260-262; www. happybiketour.com) or Banyan Tree Cycling Tours (& 62/81/338-798-516; http://banyantree.wikispaces.com). —AF www.balitourismboard.org or www. indo.com. Denpasar’s Ngurah Rai international airport (48km/30 miles). $$$ Chedi Club at Tanah Gajah, Jalan Goa Gajah, Tengkulak Kaja (& 62/ 361/975-685; www.ghmhotels.com). $$ Poppies Cottages, Poppies Lane I (& 62/361/751-059; www.poppiesbali. com).

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TREASURE ISLANDS
Jewels of the South Seas

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Sumatra
Where History & Beauty Meet
Indonesia
Sumatra was once known as Swarnadwipa, the Sanskrit term meaning “Island of Gold,” for gold deposits found by the island’s first settlers, members of the Hindu empire of Srivijaya, who arrived in the 7th century. Over the centuries, other groups would try to claim this tropical paradise for their own, beguiled by its striking volcanic Barisan mountain chain, with peaks averaging over 610m (2,000 ft.). The highest peak rises over 3,658m (12,000 ft.) in the middle of the range. The mountains make a majestic backdrop for its lush rainforests, home to exotic animal species like tigers, elephants, and rhinoceros. Sumatra has the distinction of being both the largest island in Indonesia and the sixth-largest island in the world. Despite its geographical significance, it is less touristy than better known islands like Bali and Java , making it more of a bona fide getaway. Although Hinduism dominated its early history, Islam began making inroads here during the 13th century. The first Europeans to settle were the Portuguese, who staked their claim in the 1500s. They were followed by the Dutch and English about a century later, and the Dutch influence can be seen in the architecture in the capital city of Medan. The Dutch struggled with the native Atjehnese, a Muslim tribe, in sometimes bloody battles. Another chapter opened during World War II, when Japanese forces commanded the island from 1942 to the end of the war. The island won its freedom from the Dutch in 1950, and was officially declared part of the Republic of Indonesia, but that did not spell an end to conflict; the Atjehnese led a rebellion in 1958, and tensions still sometimes flare up. Another factor to consider is the devastating earthquake that hit the island in October 2009. At press time, thousands were believed dead or missing and many buildings were leveled. It’s best to check on the current situation before planning a trip. Once on the island, you could do worse than spend a day or two discovering the city of Medan and its environs. Medan is in North Sumatra, a province resplendent with rainforests, jungles, volcanic lakes, and lovely beaches. The town is notably home to the Museum of North Sumatra, which houses prehistoric artifacts that reflect the island’s changing leadership: Buddhist statues share space with weaponry and Arabic gravestones. Nearby Maimoon Palace is another example of the island’s history. It was built in 1886 by an architect blending Asian, Western, and Middle Eastern influences. Gang Bangkok Mosque—the oldest mosque on the island—is also worth a visit while you’re in the Medan area. Be aware that Medan is a major port, home to more than two million people. If you want to get away from the crowds, I recommend renting a motorcycle or car and taking in the island’s natural glories beyond this port. Sumatra’s flora and fauna outside this hub make for breathtaking sights. The island is home to 10 national parks, including 3 that are listed as World Heritage Sites. You can climb smoking volcano craters in the town of Berastagi, or see an orangutan in the rainforest canopy of Bukit Lawang. The rainforests host unique species including the Rafflesia arnoldii, the world’s largest flower—just one of this island’s rare treasures. —JD

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THE WORLD
Tourist Office, Jl. Jend Ahmad Yani No. 107, Medan (& 62/61/453-8101). $$ Grand Angkasa Hotel (& 62/ 61/455-5888; www.grand-angkasa.com). $ Tiara Medan Hotel (& 62/61/457/4000; www.tiarahotel.com/).

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Priceless Places

The World
A Global Archipelago
Dubai
Leave it to the Las Vegas of the Middle East to come up with the idea to build an artificial archipelago in the shape of the world map—but hey, if you’ve got the financial resources of Dubai, why not? The concept—to create from scratch some 300 islands that, pieced together and viewed from above, resemble the landmasses of planet Earth, and to give it the grandiose name “The World”—was dreamed up in 2003. The contract, with overall development costs estimated at $14 billion, was awarded to Dubai’s premier developer, Nakheel (the same group behind Dubai’s Palm Islands, man-made islands just off the mainland that form the shape of a palm tree trunk and fronds), and assembly of the islands of The World was completed in early 2008. At press time, construction was underway (but temporarily stalled) on the dozens of islands that have already been sold to investors worldwide for reclamation as glitzy shopping districts, resorts, and residential complexes. The engineering behind the project, located just 4km (21⁄2 miles) off Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach, has been an enormous and ingenious undertaking (made somewhat easier by the relatively calm and shallow waters of the Persian Gulf—known in the Arab world as the Arabian Gulf). To form the ersatz archipelago, sand was dredged from the ocean floor and deposited in piles of appropriate size and shape. To create a stronger foundation for each island, and to promote the kind of lush vegetation that would attract investors, organic materials like plants and soil were mixed in with the sand that forms each island. Including the wispy, man-made sandbars that are The World islands’ ovalshaped breakwater, the entire development occupies 9×6km (51⁄2×33⁄4 miles). The individual islands range in size from 2 to 8 hectares (5–20 acres), with anywhere from 50 to 100m (164–328 ft.) of seawater between them. To handle the flow of water traffic between The World and Dubai (a boat ride of under 10 min.), four transportation hubs have been set up within the archipelago and dubbed North (somewhere near London), South (Antarctica), East (Tokyo), and West (Los Angeles). For interisland transit, dozens of waterways and intricate right-of-way regulations have been established. There are no bridges to The World; it can be accessed only by sea or helicopter. Unconfirmed reports hint at several celebrities buying into the development: Tommy Lee apparently expressed interest in purchasing Greece as a getaway for his ex-wife, Pamela Anderson. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have denied rumors that they put down a deposit on Ethiopia. With Dubai’s economy currently on the rocks, and much of the ambitious archipelago still for sale, now may be the time for you, too, to own a piece of The World—still priced out of most people’s budgets, they’re going for a mere $10 million and $45 million apiece.

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TREASURE ISLANDS

Island Hopping the Lofoten Islands: Midnight Magic
Imagine, if you will, a string of northerly isles where colorful fishing shacks stand against a backdrop of craggy granite cliffs, where red-cheeked children play in the shadow of rugged gray pinnacles. Beautiful and awe-inspiring, the Lofoten Islands are a Grimms’ fairy tale come to life. The Lofotens are a remote island archipelago in the north Atlantic and a district in the county of Nordland, Norway. The landscape is breathtakingly cinematic, with ice-tipped peaks fringed by deep blue seas and a rocky shoreline fronted by sandy beaches. The Lofoten Islands stretch 250km (155 miles) south-southwest from the fjord of Ofoten to the outer Røst islands. Although the islands lie north of the Arctic Circle, the passing Gulf Stream keeps temperatures relatively mild. The air is fresh and clean, kissed by sea spray and Hamnøy. Arctic breezes. The main islands are Austvågøy, Gimsøy, Vestvågøy, Flakstadadøy, Moskenesøy, Varøy, and Røst. On the eastern coast of Austvågøy, Svolvær is the largest town in the archipelago. A Norwegian fjord, the Vestfjorden, separates the islands from the mainland. This body of water is the heart of the Norwegian cod fisheries. The world’s largest cod-fishing event, Lofotfiske (www.lofotfiske.net), takes place between January and March. You can even stay in old traditional fishing cabins, here known as rorbuer. Many of these cabins hug the shoreline, built on stilts above the water’s edge. If fishing for monster cod is on your agenda, head to the old fishing camp of Henningsvar, with its quaint waterfront, rorbu cabins (www.henningsvar-rorbuer.no), and fish-drying racks—nicknamed “Lofoten’s cathedrals.” In late autumn, when the herring return to the Vestfjorden for the winter, they are chased by between 500 and 700 hungry orcas, also known as killer whales. Orcas can grow up to 4 to 5 tons, live to be 60 years old, and hang out with their family their entire lives. (Well-mannered, too; they eat only one herring at a time.) You can take a “killer whale safari” to see these amazing animals up close with one of several outfitters, including Orca Tysford (& 47/75-77-53-70; http://tysfjord-turistsenter.no/ safari), which takes visitors out on the sea by large boat or inflatable dinghy and—if you’re really crazy—lets you snorkel as a pod of killer whales passes by. GoArctic/ Orca Lofoten (& 47/45-83-27-10; www.goarctic.no) offers “Nature, Seabird & Orca Excursions” from October to mid-January. Perhaps the most dramatic experience in Lofoten is a tour over turbulent waters— the “Lofoten Maelstrom” (called the Moskestraumen by local fishermen), one of the

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world’s strongest tidal currents in open waters. The treacherous strait separating Moskenesøy from the offshore island of Varøy to the south has been called “the world’s most dangerous waters.” Take a ride on the Maelstrom—or just go fishing— with Moskstraumen Adventure (& 47/97-75-6021; www.lofoten-info.no/ moskstraumen-adventure) in the town of Å. There’s a lot of history in these stone mountains; human settlement traces back 6,000 years to Stone Age hunters. The Vikings built 10 to 15 chiefdoms in northern Norway during the Iron Age, one of them in the town of Borg on the island of Vestvågøy. Excavations in the 1980s uncovered the 6th-century remains A fishing boat in the Lofotens. of the largest building ever found in Europe from the Viking era; experts believe it was the home and farm of a rich and prosperous chieftain. Among the artifacts uncovered were goblets and pitchers, dinnerware, no doubt, for he-man Viking banquets. You can see these and the remains of the farm at the Lofotr Viking Museum (& 47/76-08-49-00; www.lofotr.no). All of the inhabited islands are linked by ferry. You can rent a car and cruise one of the great drives in the north of Norway: the E10, from Hamnøy in the extreme northeast of Austvågøy island to the southwestern tip of Moskenesøy; the region’s first ferry-free road connection with the mainland was completed along this route in 2007. But walking or cycling Lofoten’s beautiful little fishing villages is a fine way to appreciate the dramatic juxtaposition of gaily painted fishing shacks and sheer mountain cliffs—a scene reflected, for extra drama, in the glassy seas. Begin in the north at little Hamnøy and stroll south through Sakrisøy, Reine, Moskenes, and Sørvågen. Dramatic scenery is not the region’s only natural draw. Here, in northern Norway, the skies give the mountains and the sea a run for their money. The aurora borealis (northern lights) paint the evening skies from September to April, and in the summer the Lofotens become the light-filled Land of the Midnight Sun. —AF www.lofoten-info.no or www.visitnorway.com.

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From Skutvik, take the 2-hr. ferry to Svolvær. Ferry information and reservations: Lofotens og Vesterålens Dampskibsselskab A/S (aka DDF; & 47/94-89-73-34 or 47/81-03-00-00; www.ovds.no for reservations and information). $$$ Anker Brygge, Lamholmen, Svolvær (& 47/76-06-64-80; www.anker-brygge.no). $$ Nusfjord Rorbu, Flakstadoy (& 47/76-09-30-20; http://nusfjord.no).

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To suit the project’s needs, the architects of The World have taken some liberties with the Earth’s geography. For instance, South America isn’t one big landform but rather a collection of more than 20 islands laid out next to each other. The channels that run between the islands allow for some nifty shortcuts that would actually work well in the real world, such as the waterway running straight from the Persian Gulf to the North Sea. Some further geological nit-picking: There are no towering sand dunes to replicate the Alps and the Himalayas, and no mechanism is in place beneath The World to re-create plate tectonics. Of course, climate can’t quite be reproduced on The World islands, either, and that means it’s all global warming, all the time: The temperature on the glittering sand beaches of Antarctica reaches an iceberg-scorching 40°C (104°F) in the summer. Note: As of press time, the World Islands project was stalled—proving that even high-rolling Dubai could be affected by the global credit crunch. Though much of the land reclamation for the islands’ creation has been completed, construction on the islands has been halted for the time being. Developers still plan to carry out the project, though it may take a few more years. —SM www.theworld.ae.

( Dubai International Airport (15km/9 ⁄ miles).
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From Jumeirah Harbor or Umm Suqeim Harbor, about 10 min.

$$$ Emirates Towers, Sheikh Zayed Rd., Dubai (& 971/4/330-0000; www. jumeirahemiratestowers.com). $$ Novotel, 2nd Zaabeel Rd., Sheikh Zayed Rd., Dubai (& 971/4/318-7000; www.novotel.com).

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Sea Island
The 24-Carat Golden Isle
Georgia, U.S.
How much does it cost to vacation on Sea Island? If you have to ask, you probably can’t afford it—the island’s only hotel, The Cloister, is the poshest resort on the Georgia coast, with the rest of the island occupied by the vacation homes of some very serious movers and shakers. Anybody can drive over to Sea Island, however, following the Sea Island Causeway from St. Simons Island, itself accessible by causeway from the mainland. Soon after you’ve reached the island, a left-hand turn will lead you up the Cloister’s main drive; continue along Sea Island Drive as it doglegs left and you can cruise along the beachfront, following Sea Island Drive, aka Millionaire’s Row. The wide-open view out over the Atlantic is breathtaking, and the lavish homes lining the road are pretty gape-worthy too. While all of the nearby barrier islands— collectively known as the Golden Isles, for very good reason—boast exclusive resorts, The Cloister outdoes them all. Developed in the late 1920s, soon after causeways were built to connect the mainland to this flat, wind-swept spit of marsh and sand, the Cloister was always conceived of as a haven for the elite. The original hotel building, a stunning Addison Mizner structure in a jazzy Spanish-Moorish style, was replaced in 2006 by a new 175-room building that replicates the white stucco towers and red-tile roofs of

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Sea Island.

the original. But that’s just the centerpiece of this sprawling palm-shaded resort, a vast landscaped compound with three 18-hole golf courses, three curvaceous outdoor pools, 10 tennis courts, riding stables, a shooting range, a yacht club, a full-service spa, extensive children’s programs, four restaurants, and a beach club presiding over a 5-mile-long (8km) strip of pristine sand. All rooms are exquisitely appointed, and the service is legendary; in 2009 four different components of the complex each won a Mobil Five-Star award. Book a meal at one of the restaurants (the Georgian is the resort’s haute cuisine star), even if you’re not staying here, to sample Cloister-style luxury. With the renovation, The Cloister developed more options for prospective guests—you can also stay at the Cloister Beach Club, set near the pools and beach, or The Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club, a faux–English manor perched on the edge of the Plantation golf course. Around a

third of the island’s 600-some private homes—quaintly referred to as “cottages”—are also available for guests, with rental including access to all of the hotel’s considerable amenities. Though The Cloister has a devoted clientele, many of whom return year after year, the increased number of rooms has given the Cloister a little more negotiability on room rates than it once had. Scout around, and you just may find a vacation at Sea Island more affordable than you think. —HH www.seaisland.com. Savannah, Jacksonville, Brunswick Glynco Jetport, or McKinnon Airport on St. Simon’s Island (private jets only). 84-mile (135km) drive from Savannah or 18-mile (29km) drive from Brunswick. $$$ The Cloister, 100 First St. (& 800/SEA-ISLAND [732-4752] or 912/638-3611; www.cloister.com).

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Priceless Places

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Jekyll Island
Welcome to the Club
Georgia, U.S.
Back in the late 19th century, only folks like the Vanderbilts and the Rockefellers— la crème de la crème—got to visit Jekyll Island. From 1886 to 1942, it was the private domain of the exclusive Jekyll Island Club, a society of such wealth and privilege that at one time its members represented one-sixth of the world’s wealth. The rambling verandas and creamcolored stucco turrets of the Jekyll Island Club still stand—as the Jekyll Island Club resort—but nowadays the island is owned by the state of Georgia and open to all. In fact, Jekyll Island proudly refers to itself as a “public golf resort,” because its three championship golf courses (plus the club’s original 9-hole Great Dunes Course, a pitch-perfect imitation of a Scottish links) are available to anyone, not just resort guests, unlike on other coastal islands. (The three courses share a clubhouse at 322 Captain Wylly Dr.; & 912/635-2368). The same is true of the 13 superb clay courts at the Jekyll Island Tennis Center, 400 Captain Wylly Dr. (& 912/6353154). Once you’ve paid the $3 “parking fee” to cross the soaring causeway to the island, you’re as good as a member. Set off the mainland just south of St. Simons Island and Sea Island , Jekyll Island also has 10 miles (16km) of beautiful white-sand Atlantic beaches, including three public beaches. It’s a typical Low Country landscape, full of gnarled oaks and towering palmettos and wetlands (nearly two-thirds of this little island is

Jekyll Island Club.

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NEWPORT marshland), and a significant Audubon birding site on the Atlantic flyway (call & 877-4JEKYLL [453-5955] or 912/635-3636 for details). The topography is flat, making it a great place to tour on secluded bicycle trails or on horseback gallops along the beach. And on a sweltering Georgia summer afternoon, what could be better than the waterpark Summer Waves, 210 S. Riverview Dr. (& 912/635-2074). Once you’re here, of course, it’s hard to resist gawking at the Gilded Age splendors that would have excluded you in another era. The Jekyll Island Club National Historic Landmark District covers 240 acres (97 hectares) of the island’s western side, where you can visit several of the showplace shingled “cottages” those tycoons of yore erected. Guided tours depart hourly from the Jekyll Island Museum on Stable Road (& 912/635-4036), including stops at the Rockefeller family’s Indian Mound Cottage and the du Bignon Cottage. Other cottages have been converted to art museums, including the Goodyear Cottage (& 912/635-3920) and Mistletoe Cottage (& 912/635-4092). Or check out the two-story ruin of Horton’s Brewery, founded on the northwest end of the island in 1742 by Georgia founding father General Oglethorpe. Its walls were built of colonial Georgia’s most typical building material, tabby, made of—what else?—the crushed shells of Low Country oysters. —HH Tourist office, 901 Jekyll Island Causeway (& 912/635-3636). Jekyll Island Authority (& 877/4JEKYLL [453-5955]; www.jekyllisland.com). Savannah, Jacksonville, or Brunswick Glynco Jetport. 90-mile (145km) drive from Savannah, 65-mile (105km) drive from Jacksonville, or 21-mile (34km) drive from Brunswick. $$ Jekyll Island Club Hotel, 371 Riverview Dr. (& 800/535-9547 or 912/ 635-2600; www.jekyllclub.com). $$ Jekyll Oceanfront Resort, 975 N. Beachview Dr. (& 800/736-1046 or 912/635-2531; www.jekyllinn.com).

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Priceless Places

Newport
Money Talks
Rhode Island, U.S.
Driving around Newport, I can’t help but gawp at the century-old mansions— Italianate palazzi, Tudor-style manors, faux French châteaux, all set in elegant formal landscaping, with imposing gates to keep out the hoi polloi (for example, you and me). It’s incredible to imagine the sort of wealth that built these homes, even more incredible to realize that these were just these families’ summer houses (offhandedly referred to as mere “cottages”). Poised at the southern promontory of Aquidneck Island, set coolly adrift in Narragansett Bay, Newport has a quirky, independent history. Founded in 1639, it was an early haven for religious freedom; it has the nation’s oldest Jewish synagogue (85 Touro St.) and a Quaker meetinghouse founded in 1699 (Broadway and Marlborough sts.). But Newport was also at various times a pirate hide-out, the epicenter of the New England slave trade, and a major manufacturing spot for whale oil. The tony Newport we see took off only in the mid– 19th century, when wealthy Southern planters began to build summer refuges on these breezy New England shores. Northern industrialists soon followed, and for several years the socialites vied to see who could build the grandest villas.

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Many homes are still private property, but several are open to the public for guided tours. I’m partial to The Breakers (Ochre Point Ave.), a 70-room 1895 mansion designed for Commodore Vanderbilt by Richard Morris Hunt and patterned after Italian Renaissance palazzi. Hunt also designed the classically porticoed Marble House (596 Bellevue Ave.), modeled after Versailles’ Petit Trianon. The French chateau look is carried on at The Elms (567 Bellevue), an imposing golden-stone mansion with wonderful gardens. Rounding out the Bellevue Avenue lineup, Beechwood, 580 Bellevue Ave. (& 401/8463772), was built for the famous Mrs. Astor, who personally maintained a list of who counted and who didn’t in New York and Newport society. In the Gilded Age spirit of one-upmanship, New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett, Jr., in 1880 hired McKim Mead & White to design a club to outdo the reigning Newport Reading Club. His upstart Newport Casino—a rambling shingle-style edifice with dark-green turrets and verandas—provided a grass court for a novelty sport called lawn tennis; as the sport’s popularity skyrocketed, its national championship, first held here in 1881, eventually became the U.S. Open. The Horseshoe Court is still a working grass court (there’s also a walled court for court tennis, the nearly extinct ancestor of lawn tennis), and the elegant wood-paneled club rooms now hold the International Tennis Hall of Fame, 194 Bellevue Ave. (& 800/457-1144 or 401/849-3990; www. tennisfame.org). Though in the 1960s it became connected to the mainland by the soaring Newport Bridge, Newport still gives off a country-clubbish summertime vibe, with sailboats and yachts bobbing in the harbor, and a string of arts festivals including the notable Newport Folk Festival and the JVC Jazz Festival. In the end, I always wind up driving or cycling along the coastal loop of Ocean Road, where the wide-open skies, empty sweeps of marshland, and salty breezes remind me why the wealthy came here in the first place. —HH Tourist office, 23 America’s Cup Ave. (& 800/326-6030 or 401/849-8048 www. gonewport.com). T.F. Green Airport, Providence (28 miles/45km). $$$ Hyatt Regency Newport, 1 Goat Island (& 800/233-1234 or 401/8511234; www.hyatt.com). $$ Mill Street Inn, 75 Mill St. (& 800/392-1316 or 401/849-9500; www.millstreetinn.com). TOUR Preservation Society of Newport County, 424 Bellevue Ave. (& 401/8471000; www.newportmansions.org).

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St. John
The Rockefeller Gift
U.S. Virgin Islands
Sleepy, laid-back, unspoiled St. John is the gem of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and intentionally so. The impetus originally came from Laurance Rockefeller, who bought up nearly half the island and in 1956 donated all the land to the United States; today two-thirds of the island and most of its offshore waters are protected as Virgin Islands National Park (& 340/7766201; www.nps.gov/viis). Tropical greenery, dense with orchids, vines, and more than 140 species of birds, has grown over what was once a series of Danish-owned sugar plantations; expect to stumble upon

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ST. JOHN charming ruins along its roughly 20 miles (32km) of hiking trails (the Annaberg Trail is a prime place to explore). You’ll come out suddenly upon panoramic views of turquoise waters so sparkling you’ll catch your breath. Too small to have its own airport (something I consider a good thing), St. John is an easy 20-minute ferry ride from St. Thomas. You’ll arrive in its chief port and largest town, cruise ship–free Cruz Bay, a pastel-painted village so laid-back that the streets don’t even need names. Though the island’s resorts have some excellent high-end restaurants, eating in one of Cruz Bay’s casual open-air restaurants is a much more authentic West Indian experience. The island’s relative prosperity means that locals are invariably friendly and welcoming, with none of that uneasy haves/have-nots dynamic that can so easily sour an island paradise. Those inviting turquoise waters inevitably make watersports some of the island’s chief attractions. One of my first snorkeling experiences ever was at Trunk Bay, where the National Park Service has set up the 675-foot (206m) Underwater Trail along a reef where undersea features are labeled with signs 5 to 15 feet (1.5–4.5m) beneath the water’s surface. For a novice like me, it was a fantastic way to learn various coral structures or the difference between a sea fan and an anemone. Bright parrotfish flit by, and if you’re lucky you may even spot hawksbill or leatherback sea turtles. More adept snorkelers can head for remote places like Waterlemon Cay, Salt Pond Bay, or Haulover Bay, where the snorkeling is a lot more challenging. Scuba diving, windsurfing, kayaking, deep-sea fishing, and sailing are also popular; equipment rentals are available from suppliers in Cruz Bay, in the Trunk Bay park visitor center, or in the higher-end resorts. The full spectrum of accommodations is available on the island, from top-class resorts like refined Caneel Bay down to some of the Caribbean’s most comfortable and well-run campgrounds at Cinnamon

St. John.

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Bay and Maho Bay, with several handy condos and charming bed-and-breakfasts in between. Reserve well in advance, however, for—by design—there’s a limited stock of rooms. Once you’re here, you’ll be oh so glad of it. —HH Tourist information, near the Battery in Cruz Bay (& 340/776-6450).

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Cruz Bay, 20 min. from St. Thomas.

$$ Cinnamon Bay Campground, Cruz Bay (& 340/776-6330; www. cinnamonbay.com). $$$ Westin St. John Resort, Great Cruz Bay (& 888/627-7206 or 340/693-8000; www.westinresort stjohn.com).

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Pantelleria
An Exotic Black Rock Between Continents
Italy
As a warm-weather destination, it is, at first blush, a peculiar choice: Pantelleria’s black-lava coastline has zero sandy beaches (though the waters that surround it are calm and clean, and smooth volcanic rocks double as lounge chairs or diving boards) and little “scene” to speak of. Yet there’s no denying the quiet chicness and subtle exoticism of Pantelleria, and for much of Italy’s fashion set and intelligentsia, summering here, in a restored dammuso, is the epitome of the Mediterranean good life. Giorgio Armani was one of the first celebrities to buy property here, and he still comes back every year to Pantelleria, a place that, in many parts, looks like one of his magazine ads. It may fly the flag of Italy, but Arabinflected Pantelleria is cultural crosspollination personified, one of those wonderful Mediterranean oddities that’s just remote, small, and strange enough to have stayed under the radar of mass tourism. Situated just 48km (30 miles) from the continent of Africa between Sicily and Tunisia, the island has been ruled by the Romans, the Arabs, the French, and the Turks over the centuries. Many villages of Pantelleria—Khamma, Rekhale, Bukkuram, Bugeber—still bear the names given them in the 9th century, when Arabs conquered this part of the Mediterranean and named the island Bent el Rhia (Daughter of the Wind). The island’s architectural hallmark, the dammuso, are dry masonry buildings (with a special domed roof for capturing rain on an island where fresh water is scarce) dating back at least a millennium. All in all, the man-made structures of Pantelleria have much more in common with the Middle Eastern desert than anything in Rome or Florence. As for what to do on Pantelleria, the first thing is to rent a moped. The island’s rural 83 sq. km (32 sq. miles) are easily explored with two wheels and 125 cubic centimeters. While the coastal terrain is rocky and chiseled, it’s gloriously green and fertile farther in, with loamy volcanic soil ripe for both prized capers and the Zibibbo grape, from which the island’s famous passito dessert wine is made. A picturesque lake, the Specchio di Venere (Venus’s Mirror) is inland Pantelleria’s most popular attraction. Here, in waters given otherworldly shades of blue by the underlying volcanic sand, bathing in the purportedly therapeutic mud is a timehonored activity. On the southern part of the island, a lovely pine wood ends in a spectacular line of cliffs, known as Salto la Vecchia (the old jump), rising 300m (984 ft.) above the sea. Wine buffs shouldn’t miss a

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ST. MARTIN/ST. MAARTEN visit to the vineyards where passito and moscato are made. I like Donnafugata, on the northern coast (& 39/0923/915649; www.donnafugata.it). After exploring Pantelleria from the land, take a boat tour around the island. Whether you rent your own small craft or hire a charter (both options are available at the village of Scauri), this is the best way to sample the island’s alluring coves and bathing spots. Pantelleria’s signature geological formation is called the Arco dell’Elefante, a natural arch of lava that resembles an elephant’s trunk, dipping into the sea. Island tradition has it that in times of drought, the good-natured elephant would use this trunk to procure water for the islanders. —SM www.italiantourism.com.

( Pantelleria.
From Trapani, ferries (7 hr.) operated by Siremar (& 39/0923/545455; www.siremar.it); hydrofoils (21⁄2 hr.) operated by Ustica Lines (& 39/0923/22200; www.usticalines.it). $$$ Il Monastero (& 39/02/581861; www.monasteropantelleria.com).

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Colonial Outposts

St. Martin/St. Maarten
Two Nations on One Island
French St. Martin and Dutch St. Maarten share an island, an arrangement that’s worked out nicely for more than 300 years. In fact, this little 96-sq.-km (37-sq.mile) island is the world’s smallest landmass shared by two sovereign states. Many colorful yarns have been spun about how the island was divvied up, but as with many places in the Caribbean that were fought over and traded and coin-tossed during the years of European colonization, the reality is probably too dull for legend. Today, if you’re not paying attention, you won’t even know you’ve crossed over from one side to the next—there’s no sign or gate or Customs to announce it for you. It’s that neighborly. The differences are there, however. St. Maarten is much more Americanized, with comfortingly familiar fast-food restaurants and well-known hotel chains. English is spoken everywhere. As someone once said, St. Maarten is Caribbean 101 for those who prefer to ease into exotic locales. St. Maarten is more developed than St. Martin (some say too developed), and your first glimpse of the island (if you’ve arrived by plane) is a visual cacophony of casinos, high-rise hotels, and that irritating bugaboo of too much crammed into too small a space: traffic gridlock. Philipsburg, St. Maarten’s capital, is the cruise ship capital of the Caribbean and a duty-free paradise for shoppers looking for deals on jewelry, watches, and electronics. Philipsburg itself is much improved with its new boardwalk, which faces the sandy beach and the sea and the ruins of Fort Amsterdam, a 1631 garrison that was the Dutch’s first bastion of defense in the New World. St. Martin is, on the other hand, determinedly French, from its French cafes and bistros to the quaint, innlike lodgings tucked up into hillsides that look out, French Riviera style, onto the sparkling Caribbean. People speak French (and English, bien sur), and the grocery stores sell French cheeses and wines and even French toiletries. St. Martin has in the little village of Grand-Case one of the top culinary towns in the region, with one restaurant

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TREASURE ISLANDS after another perched beachside serving some of the best food on the island. The main town of Marigot has wonderful outdoor cafes around the waterfront and some serious shopping. Of course, both sections of the island have beautiful beaches and wonderful spots to go swimming, snorkeling, sailing, or sunbathing. But perhaps my favorite spot on either island is another little island that lies in the French cul-de-sac just off Orient Beach, on St. Martin. It’s a 10-minute boat ride to the Ilet Pinel, a tiny, uninhabited isle that allows visitors during the day. It has a perfect lagoon, fringed with coconut palms, set on a crescent of beach with mist-shrouded hills in the distance. Sink into the clear, warm waters, and listen: no jet skis, no motorboats, no worries. It’s the Caribbean of your dreams. —AF www.st-maarten.com or www.stmartin.org. St. Maarten (Queen Juliana International Airport). $$$ Hotel L’Esplanade, GrandCase, St. Martin (& 866/596-8365 in the U.S.; www.lesplanade.com). $ Mary’s Boon Beach Plantation, Simpson Bay, St. Maarten (& 599/545-7000; www. marysboon.com).

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Montserrat
The Emerald Isle
Drinking green beer and tucking into corned beef and cabbage on St. Patrick’s Day makes perfect sense if you’re in Dublin, say, or Manhattan . But celebrating St. Paddy’s on a Caribbean vacation? That’s blarney. A tropical island with more than a little Irish in its bloodlines, Montserrat is the only spot in the Caribbean where St. Patrick’s Day is a full-fledged public holiday. That’s because in the 17th century the island became a refuge for Irish Catholics who were forced to leave other Caribbean countries under the British flag. The culture that developed on Montserrat was largely informed by the Irish colonists who made their home here. Today, however, that culture is shot through with the singular sizzle of the West Indies—from reggae to pepperpot soup to calypso. It makes for an intoxicating stew. This British Overseas Territory is one of the Leeward Islands, and on a clear day the folks in Antigua have a good view of the island’s undulating terrain. Ireland’s nickname, the Emerald Isle, easily applies here: Montserrat is lush and green, with emerald hills that rise seductively above the sea. Most of the islands surrounding Montserrat are built on foundations of coral, accumulated slowly and methodically over time. Montserrat came into the world in a shudder of violence, when an undersea volcano split the sea bottom. In 1995, the Soufrière Hills volcano erupted, sending out a blinding ash cloud, raining lava onto the streets, and literally burying the island’s 2-centuries-old capital town, Plymouth. Two-thirds of the island’s inhabitants were forced to flee, and Plymouth became a modern-day Pompeii, its buildings halfburied under volcanic debris and the town abandoned. The tourist industry was devastated (it had already been hard hit by Hurricane Hugo in 1989). Today Montserrat is still rebounding, which means that

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Soufrière Hills volcano.

tourist facilities are not as developed as those of neighboring islands (the island has only one hotel but numerous guesthouses and villas), the pace is not nearly as frenetic, and the vibe is a lot more casual. All that makes this a lovely, laid-back, almost pastoral place to fully enjoy all that the Caribbean has to offer without the crowds and the big-ticket prices. You want beaches? Montserrat’s are made of soft gray volcanic sand and lapped by luscious aquamarine seas. Crave some serious diving or snorkeling? Surrounding coral reefs provide prime opportunities to see exotic sponges and corals, reef fish, and hefty sea turtles. Plan an underwater outing with the Green Monkey Inn & Dive Shop (& 664/491-2960; www.divemont serrat.com). You can even do some volcano viewing. The Soufrière Hills volcano still sends out little spurts of steam; but it’s set well away from civilization, and the island has several prime vantage points from which to watch the action. If you’ve got

weather-mad kids, be sure to visit the new interpretation center at the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (& 664/491-5647; www.mvo.com), which has actual volcanic artifacts on display. When you’re in Montserrat, be sure to try the national dish, goat water. It’s a local version of traditional Irish stew. And just so you don’t forget where the island’s roots are firmly planted, the folks at Customs stamp passports with a nice green shamrock. May the roads rise up to meet you when you come! —AF www.visitmontserrat.com.

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The sailboat Ondeck (& 268/ 562-6696; www.ondeckoceanracing.com) leaves from Antigua; 4 hr.

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$ Bunkum Beach Guest House ( 664/491-5348; www.bunkumbeach guesthouse.com). $$ Tropical Mansion Suites (& 664/491-8767; www.tropical mansion.com).

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Colonial Outposts

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St. Kitts
Sweet Stuff
Sugar cane is the engine that drove the world economy in the 18th century, and this little Caribbean island was a sugarproduction workhorse for its British overseers for many decades. At one time there were 68 sugar plantations chugging along on this 28-hectare (69-acre) island—built, of course, on the backs of slaves who were imported here to do the heavy lifting. Today, the now-independent two-island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis has a rich sugar cane heritage that it has turned to its advantage. Many of the visitors who come to this island stay in captivating inns set in vintage plantation houses. The island has some 200 historic sites that date from the British settlement. The island’s capital, Basseterre, is a living-history tableau of British colonial architecture; the town square, known as the Circus, was a favorite post-dinner promenade spot for plantation owners. At the square’s center is the Victorian Berkeley Memorial Clock. And believe it or not, St. Kitts shut down its last sugar cane factory only in 2005. Fields of sugar cane still flourish next to crumbling stone windmills; some of that sweet stuff now goes into making rum—whether at the St. Kitts Rum Company or in moonshine stills—as well as the national drink, Cane Spirits Rothschild (CSR). St. Kitts is twice the size of its sister island, Nevis, and has three times as many inhabitants, many of them descendants of the slaves brought to the island in the 18th century. But in comparison with other popular Caribbean islands, little St. Kitts is still at heart a sleepy tropical backwater— that’s part of its charm. It’s also one of the region’s friendliest spots; Kittitians are known for their laid-back geniality. Tourism is fast becoming the island’s number one industry, however: St. Kitts sees an increasing amount of cruise ship traffic into Basseterre harbor; it has one of only two ports in the Caribbean large enough to berth a ship the size of the Queen Mary II. Like Nevis, St. Kitts has a surfeit of natural beauty: green volcanic hills rising from turquoise seas; lush vegetation and a profusion of colorful tropical blooms; and, of course, lovely beaches—some of the best for swimming and sunbathing are Cockleshell Bay, Banana Bay, South Friar’s Bay, and Frigate Bay. Scuba diving and snorkeling are popular activities; Pro Divers, in Basseterre (& 869/466-DIVE [4663483]; www.prodiversstkitts.com), offers PADI diver training and fun dives. Bluewater Safaris, in Bassetere (& 869/4664933; www.bluewatersafaris.com), does day sails, snorkel trips, sunset cruises, and fishing trips in customized catamarans. A good way to get around the island is by rental car or taxi. Taxi drivers double as guides and are happy to give you the lay of the land; just be sure to settle on a flat fee before you head out on a 2-hour tour with the meter ticking. But perhaps the most fun way to see St. Kitts is a 3-hour scenic tour on the St. Kitts Scenic Railway (Basseterre; & 869/465-7263; www. stkittsscenicrailway.com), where railroad cars wind around mountain slopes, cruise past secluded black-sand beaches, and time-travel through fields of sugar cane, back 300 years to the days when sugar was king. —AF www.stkittstourism.kn. Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport. $$$ Ottley’s Plantation Inn (& 800/ 772-3039 in the U.S. or 869/465-7234; www.ottleys.com). $$$ Rawlins Plantation Inn (& 800/346-5358 in the U.S. or 869/ 465-6221; www.rawlinsplantation.com).

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PAQUETÁ

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Colonial Outposts

Paquetá
Colonial Brazil
Brazil
Join the boatloads of cariocas (cityfolk) who live and work in Rio de Janeiro for a relaxing day trip to Paquetá. You won’t hear car horns blaring on this 1-sq.-km (1⁄3-sq.-mile) island—cars are not allowed— but you will get a taste of 19th-century Brazil. Paquetá has changed little from its days as a pleasant retreat for the Portuguese aristocracy. The streets are filled not with the exhaust of car engines but the melodious clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and parades of cyclists. Charming colonial buildings and historic homes are framed in cascades of bougainvillea. The island, once a plantation breadbasket for Rio, is lush with royal palm and coconut trees, breadfruit and mango groves, and the African tree baobab, an import known here as Maria Gorda (Fat Mary). Paquetá is one of 130 islands in Guanabara Bay in the Brazilian state of Rio de Janeiro. The lovely beaches are the main draw—the island has 11 small stretches of sand. Although you may see locals swimming in the bay, you might want to reconsider joining them. Industrialization has polluted the waters, not only making swimming risky but also effectively ending a fishing trade that thrived for centuries. Still, sunbathing remains a popular activity, and the views of the bay and surrounding mountains are worth the trip alone. In the early 19th century, the king of Portugal (and then Brazil), Dom João VI, had a summer home on Paquetá. He and his family had been exiled to Rio in 1807 in the wake of France’s invasion of Portugal. In an odd twist, his own sons would help lead the rebellion in Brazil that won the country’s independence from Portugal in 1825; his eldest son, Pedro, became Brazil’s first emperor. The quietest and nicest times to visit Paquetá are from April to November, which is winter in Brazil. Weekends are the busiest times on the island, when families fill the ferries that leave from Rio’s Praca XV; both 80-minute ferries and fast ferries (hydrofoils) make daily runs to and from the island. Cars are not allowed on the island, so you get around on foot, by renting a bike at one of the many suppliers on the island, or by hiring a horse and buggy for an old-fashioned tour. Paquetá’s big event is St. Peter’s Festivity, honoring the patron saint of fishermen; St. Peter’s remains a major celebration despite the decimation of the fishing industry. —AF www.ilhadepaqueta.com.br/paqueta. htm.

( Rio de Janeiro.
Barcas S/A (& 800/704-4113 [Brazil]; regular ferry [1 hr.], 55/21/25337524; fast ferry, 55/21/2533-4343; www. barcas-sa.com.br). $$ Hotel Farol (& 55/21/33970402; www.hotelfaroldepaqueta.com.br). $$ Hotel Lido (& 55/21/3397-0182; www.hotellido.portalpaqueta.com.br).

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Colonial Outposts

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Gorée Island
House of Slaves
Senegal
Tourism has its darker, more contemplative sides. There’s grief tourism, where people make pilgrimages to scenes of unimaginable tragedy. War tourism encompasses a range of destinations, from battlefields to concentration camps. Here on Gorée Island another sort of pilgrimage is played out daily, when travelers come to honor the millions of West Africans who were forced into slavery hundreds of years ago. Now a World Heritage Site, Ile de Gorée lies just 3.2km (2 miles) from the west coast of Dakar, the capital of Senegal. It’s the country’s top tourist destination, and its playful charm is drawn from the saucy mix of Senegalese and French colonial cultures. It’s a tiny, picturesque place with sun-dappled palms and fading colonial architecture. For many Senegalese, it’s a tranquil respite from the urban jungle of Dakar. But Gorée Island is best known for its place in history: as a port of call for the slave trade during its heyday in the 18th century, when 10 to 15 million African slaves were shipped out of West Africa to the Americas. The island’s most famous historic attraction is the Maison des Esclaves (House of Slaves), the first thing you see when you ferry in to the island harbor. This reconstructed late18th-century structure is billed as a holding place where slaves were imprisoned before their journey overseas. It has a fortresslike exterior; you cross through a “Door of No Return” to an interior with twin stone stairs, thick walls, forbidding basement cells, and an aura of gloom. It turns out, however, that Gorée’s role in the Atlantic slave trade may be much less significant than earlier believed, and the story behind the “House of Slaves” may be nothing but a fanciful tale. Historian Philip Curtin contends that the island was too small and too inconveniently located to have played a major role in the slave trade, exporting no more than 200 to 300 slaves a year in important years and none at all in others. This is in contrast to nearby Saint-Louis , where the lucrative business of slave trading was conducted briskly, with some 10,000 slaves processed annually. Scholars also debate whether the House of Slaves—actually a wealthy traders’ home—was ever a holding cell for slaves in transit. No matter: Some 200,000 people visit Gorée and the House of Slaves every year, including heads of state (George Bush, Pope John Paul II, Bill Clinton) and dignitaries from around the globe. Its importance as a pilgrimage site for the descendants of slaves and as a symbol of the brutal slave trade remains undiminished. First settled in 1444 by the Portuguese (whose explorers conceived of the slave trade), Gorée was later held by the Dutch and the British before the French—who had settled on nearby Saint-Louis— wrested control in the late 1600s. The island would remain under French control for nearly 300 years until Senegal achieved independence in 1960. Connected to the mainland by a 20-minute ferry, Gorée Island is an easy day trip destination from Dakar. Pick up a selfguided walking-tour map from the dockside Syndicat d’Initiative (see below) and stroll

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SAINT-LOUIS the narrow streets of gaily painted brick houses with wooden shutters and roofs of red clay tile. It’s quiet and peaceful—the island has no cars or trucks—a fitting memorial to a tumultuous time. —AF Syndicat d’Initiative (& 221/823-9177).

( Dakar.

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Dakar (20 min., pedestrian only).

$ Hostellerie du Chevalier de Boufflers (& 221/822-53-64).

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Colonial Outposts

Saint-Louis
French Kiss
Senegal
Saint-Louis is one of those exotic and quixotic places that can seem a tangle of contradictions. This French colonial city is set down on the sandblasted plains of the West African sub-Sahara. Here, bougainvillea spills over pastel walls with peeling French lettering; goats scratch in the dirt for food. Colorful houses with wroughtiron balconies seem plucked straight out of New Orleans’s French Quarter; other architectural relics crumble with decay. Under palm trees and feathery ferns, vendors sell fruit from wooden carts; a block away you can buy pastries at a storefront patisserie. Locally caught prawns and crawfish are served in an elegant sauté of butter and pastis. Saint-Louis’s faded grandeur belies its heritage as one of the most important and powerful cities in West Africa, the first French settlement in Africa and a vital trading center, through which flowed gold from Ngalam, gum arabic from the Sahelian steppes, and ivory from the Sudan. It was the center of French culture in Africa, but it was also a major crossroads for slave traffic. It’s believed that as many as 10,000 slaves a year passed through the island in the 18th century, many of them routed from the African interior to the Americas. Founded by French colonists in 1659, the island was baptized Saint-Louis-du-Fort to honor the French king Louis XIV. By the late 1700s, the city was inhabited by 10,000 people. Intermarriages between French traders and freed slaves produced a class of Creoles known as the Métis. The Métis women, known as signares, were famously beautiful and famously industrious. Saint-Louis was named the capital of Senegal in 1872, but its decline began soon after; Dakar replaced it as capital in 1958. Today this remarkable collection of original colonial architecture has been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The geography of the island is just as remarkable as its history. Saint-Louis is ringed by the Senegal River, but the Atlantic Ocean is only a narrow spit of land away. Little more than a dune bordered on either side by tawny beaches, the Langue de Barbarie—some 25km (16 miles) long—is all that separates the river Senegal and the roaring Atlantic. As a result, Saint-Louis is very much a seafaring and fishing center. (The city itself sprawls beyond the island, where its center lies, to the mainland.) This proximity to so much water also means that this low-lying area—including the old city—is under serious threat from rising sea levels.

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The island lies in the Sahel, a desert zone that separates the dry Sahara from the wet savanna. In the dry season, the island is swept by sandstorms; in the wet season, tidal pools become fertile feeding grounds for flamingos and other birds (in fact, the world’s third-largest ornithological park, the National Park of the Birds of Djoudj, lies 60km/37 miles north of Saint-Louis). When the pools dry up, the salt that remains is raked and sold at market. You reach the city of Saint-Louis from mainland Senegal by walking or driving over the Pont Faidherbe, a 19th-century cast-iron bridge said to have been built to drape over the Danube but shipped here instead. The best way to see the town and such historic buildings as the Cathedral—a handsome 1828 neoclassical building that was the first church in West Africa—is on foot. You can pick up a walking-tour map of the town at the Initiative Syndicate of Saint-Louis (see below). —AF Syndicat d’Initiative Office de Tourisme de Saint-Louis BP, 364 Saint-Louis du Sénégal (& 221/339-61-24-55; www. saintlouisdusenegal.com).

( Dakar.
5-hr. drive from Dakar. $ Hotel de la Residence (& 221/ 339-61-12-60; www.hoteldelaresidence. com). Hotel du Palais (& 221/339-61-1772; www.hoteldupalais.net).

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Lamu
Exotic Enclave
Kenya
If it’s your first time traveling to Africa, do the obvious: Go on a safari. And if, after you’ve seen the lions, rhinos, and elephants, the special history and culture of the continent gets under your skin, consider a different, nonzoological type of African destination the next time around. For many, mostly European habitués, that destination is the island of Lamu. Just 2 degrees south of the Equator, off the east coast of Kenya, Lamu is a place that seems stuck in time. For centuries, it was a bustling Indian Ocean port of call and an important link in the spice trade, and that atmosphere is totally palpable here today. Lamu is like an exotic stage set that also happens to have amazing beaches. The streets of Lamu are quiet, cool, and car-free, lined with thick-walled white stone buildings, their arches and decorative cutouts evoking the centuries of Muslim influence here: Lamu was founded by Arab traders in the 1400s. Virtually every house has a roofed veranda on the top floor. The entire island has one proper town—the busy Lamu Town, which, as the oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Monuments here include the turreted Lamu Fort and Riyadha Mosque (both from the 19th c.), but the most interesting sights are the much more ancient, nameless traditional houses, some of which date back to Lamu Town’s 14th-century foundations. Elsewhere on the island, there are a handful of lesser villages; one of the most well known for visitors is Shela. Here, guesthouses line gorgeous golden sandy beaches where traditional dhows and brightly colored fishing boats with names like Beyonce loll in the surf. Dolphins swim in the waters offshore, and you’ll probably meet a few when you’re out for a dip. There isn’t a single automobile on the island; instead, you’re shuttled around by boat, donkey,

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LAMU or scooter when you aren’t using your own two feet. There may be donkey droppings in the streets and Swahili spoken in the markets, but Lamu tourism is an exclusive affair. Some of the most famous families in the world have holiday property here, and for all the island’s African authenticity, the cuisine on Lamu is surprisingly inflected by haute-European culinary trends. With its beautiful, simple architecture (most is Swahili, from the 19th c.), gorgeous people (a mix of African and Arab ethnicities), and rich heritage, relaxing Lamu is a magnet for well-heeled travelers looking for something with more cultural cache than the been-there, done-that south of France. What makes Lamu so attractive—that it’s completely exotic and romantic, without the blight of extreme poverty that plagues so much of Africa—is also what makes vacationing here a surreal and perhaps even guilt-ridden experience. Going for drinks at the friendly and fabulous colonial-style Peponi Hotel (where everybody meets at some point while on Lamu), you might well rub elbows with princes (or Prince himself), and revel in the absurdity of finding such glamour here, a place whose economy hinged for centuries on the slave trade, while just across the water is an entire continent struggling to meet basic human needs. Getting to Lamu involves flying first to Nairobi, and from Nairobi, catching a small plane to Manda Island. (For a lot more money, you can also fly to Lamu itself, where there’s an airstrip served by small charter planes from Nairobi.) Because Lamu isn’t easy to reach, and because its rhythms take some time to get to know, it’s the kind of place you should plan to visit for at least a week. —SM www.magicalkenya.com. Lamu airport (all international flights connect through Nairobi). $$$ Peponi Hotel, P.O. Box 24 (& 254/020/8023655; www.peponi-lamu. com).

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25-min ride from Manda Island.

A mosque on Lamu.

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TREASURE ISLANDS
Civilization Unplugged

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Isla Contadora
The Pearl of Panama
The Pearl Islands, Panama
For some U.S. audiences, the name “Pearl Islands” conjures one image: that of CBS reality show Survivor, which was shot here in 2003. Although development is still minimal in this archipelago sprinkled throughout the gulf of Panama, it’s also a place where comfortable hotels and tourist services have grown up amid the jungle vines, and where you can have a slightly less tribal experience than what the contestants of Season 7 had to deal with. The “resort island” of Contadora has the most amenities of the 200-plus Pearl Islands, though it’s by no means luxurious or sophisticated. Anyone seeking a truly cushy getaway would do well to seek out another Central American destination. The advent of the resort business has not diminished the local spirit of Isla Contadora, and it’s still the Pearl Islands’ top destination for an authentic Panamanian experience. Contadora’s principal attractions are its beaches, a dozen public stretches of sand where sunbathers laze and snorkelers strap on gear to explore the offshore reefs. High tide and low tide can vary by up to 5m (16 ft.) of water depth off Contadora, so the snorkeling is decidedly better during low tide. Close to the beaches of Playa Larga and Playa Sueca (the only nude beach in Panama), you can often spot sea turtles and sharks—some startlingly large, up to 4m (13 ft.) long. A number of species wiggling in the reef here are venomous, so before you set out, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with anything that could be harmful. Besides its sand and sea, Contadora has a palm-treed golf course where you can play under the steamy Panamanian sun. Beyond that, don’t expect too much culture here: Contadora has no ruins or historical sites, and bugs are omnipresent. But its people are warm and welcoming, and it’s a great place to unplug from civilization for a few days or a week. As you wander around the island, which can be traversed on foot in about an hour, you’ll pass the ritzy vacation homes of wealthy Panamanians who come here to escape their daily rigors. And, of course, if you’re inclined to relive a slice of Survivor: Pearl Islands, you can always grow out your hair and invent an “immunity challenge” for your traveling companions. Contadora has plenty of rustic landscapes that look the part. On the flight into Contadora from Panama City (which is how most foreign visitors arrive), be sure to get a window seat: The flight takes you right over the Panama Canal, where you can get a fascinating aerial view of ships negotiating the passage and the elegant mechanics of the canal locks. You’ll also get a sweeping panorama of the hundreds of other, as yet uninhabited, Islas de las Perlas. —SM www.visitpanama.com or www.think panama.com. Contadora airport (20-min. flight from Panama City).

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$$ Punta Galeon (& 888/790-5264 in the U.S. or 507/250-4220; www.punta galeonhotel.com).

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ANDAMAN ISLANDS

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Civilization Unplugged

Andaman Islands
Escape from the Modern World
India
For a vacation that blends tropical relaxation and edifying colonial history all at a very affordable price, the Andaman Islands in the Indian Ocean’s Bay of Bengal are a very attractive spot. They also have the added cachet of being a far-flung, authentic destination where Western-style tourism has yet to arrive. The Andaman Islands—around 550 in the archipelago, of which 26 are inhabited—are historically and politically part of India, though ethnically, they do not belong to the subcontinent. Until recently, the population consisted of mostly aboriginals. Geographically, the islands are much closer to Thailand and Myanmar than to India, with a similar landscape of long, sandy beaches backed by dense rows of palm trees, mangroves, and, in the interior, lush rainforests exploding with tropical flora and fauna. The city of Port Blair is the Andamans’ capital, located on the 1,536-sq.-km (593-sq.-mile) Middle Andaman Island. Though the historic urban core of Port Blair is busy and dirty, there are plenty of worthwhile tourist attractions within a short drive or boat ride. Just 9km (52⁄3 miles) from the city, Corbyn’s Cove is a classic palmfringed beach ideal for swimming and sunning in the balmy waters of the Bay of Bengal. The best nature trail in the vicinity is on Mount Harriet, where you can trek for 5km (3 miles) among lush tropical vegetation, butterflies, and birds. Offshore, divers and snorkelers will find one of the richest coral ecosystems in the world, where a vast array of tropical fish swim along the colorful reefs. A bit farther out, the waters teem with sharks, including hammerheads, nurse sharks, and leopard sharks. Sport-fishing excursions allow tourists to try their hand at reeling in a biggame prize like tuna or marlin. Though most vacationers prefer to spend their time on the beaches and wildlife areas of the island, Port Blair city offers several historical sights that should not be missed, including the infamous Cellular Jail, where British authorities imprisoned and executed freedom fighters during the Indian struggle for independence, when the Andamans were used as a penal colony. A steamer cruise along the harbor is one of the best ways to take in the panorama of the old port town. Port Blair is often visited in conjunction with Havelock Island (57km/35 miles away by ferry), a smaller island where ecotourism is being heavily promoted. Havelock’s “Beach No. 7,” also known as Radhanagar Beach, is one of Asia’s most stunning. Another island that’s a short hop from Port Blair is Ross Island, which was the British headquarters in the Andaman Islands prior to Indian independence. The island is now a wildlife lover’s dream, with wooded nature walks and resident species of exotic birds. Chidiya Tapu (31 km/19 miles from Port Blair), also known as “Bird Island,” is covered in mangroves and has a lovely west-facing beach with spectacular sunsets. Part of the Andamans’ appeal is how untouched by modern life they remain. Western tourists do not come to the Andaman Islands in large numbers, so expect that some facilities may be a bit more primitive than those found in more developed parts of the world. —SM

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TREASURE ISLANDS www.andamanisland.com. Port Blair airport (via domestic Indian airlines from mainland cities Chennai and Kolkata).

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South Point, Port Blair (& 91/3192/227824; www.sinclairshotels.com). TOUR Andaman Holidays (& 91/3192/ 234924; www.andamanholidays.com).

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$$ Megapode Nest, Haddo, Port Blair. $$$ Sinclairs Hotel Bayview,

Civilization Unplugged

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Koh Tonsay
Sandy Retreat from Culture
Cambodia
For a well-rounded Cambodian holiday, first go the temples at Angkor Wat, then tour the city of Phnom Penh, and then kiss the cultural overload goodbye with some deserved beach time on the country’s southern coast. The tiny, practically deserted island of Koh Tonsay, just south of the resort town of Kep, is Cambodia’s bestkept secret for seaside relaxation among the natural splendor of the Gulf of Siam. Koh Tonsay, which means “Rabbit Island” in Khmer, though the etymology is disputed, is most commonly visited as a day trip from Kep, but if you’re looking for a real back-to-basics getaway, consider spending several days here. The island covers barely 2 sq. km (3⁄4 sq. miles) and remains blessedly primitive. There are no cars or motorbikes on Koh Tonsay, and a generator provides electricity from 6 to 9pm only. The only residents of the island are seven families who make their living from fishing and coconut farming. So why come here? For the beaches. Koh Tonsay’s two main stretches of white sand are absolutely pristine and usually empty, and the shallow, calm waters are a shade of turquoise that makes for some glorious, I’m-in-paradise swimming. All in all, this couldn’t be farther from the overwhelming sense of cultural obligation at Angkor Wat. If you do decide to extend that day trip from Kep, bamboo huts on stilts near the beach are the only overnight option on Koh Tonsay. Your shower and toilet might be outside on the sand, but the units are a bargain at about $7 per night. In the evening, don’t miss a chance to go swimming in the bioluminescent waters off the island, where plankton emit glowing phosphorous, creating a twinkle on the water that perfectly reflects the millions of stars in the unpolluted sky overhead. Simple restaurants on the island are run by local fishermen and their families, who literally pluck your seafood out of the water minutes after you order. Kep, the base for travel to Koh Tonsay, is notable in its own right for its history as a retreat for wealthy French-Cambodians in the 1920s—though many of the Art Deco villas there still bear the scars of Khmer Rouge destruction, it’s a charming base for exploring southern Cambodia. The 20-minute longboat hop from Kep to Koh Tonsay covers only 5km (3 miles), but once you reach those coconut-lined island shores, you’re a world away from civilization, eastern or otherwise. Enjoy it while you can, because some southeast Asian travel mavens warn that it’s only a matter of time before Koh Tonsay becomes another overdeveloped resort like Thailand’s Phuket. —SM

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THE SOUTH ISLAND www.thaigov.go.th or www.tat.org. Phnom Penh (148 km/92 miles), then bus (4 hr.) and private boat.

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$ Bamboo Huts, Koh Tonsay (no phone or website; inquire in Kep). $$ Champey Inn, 25 av. de la Plage, Kep (& 855/12/501-742).

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One of a Kind

The South Island
The Kiwi Playground
New Zealand
Cloven in half by narrow Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand has something of a split personality. Though the South Island is larger by far than the North Island , it only has one-fourth of North’s population—which gives it a lot more room for natural beauty and invigorating sports adventures. On successive days you can surf off a golden-sand beach, sail up a misty fiord, and ski down the face of a glacier; and you can backpack through green misty wilderness for days, then sip sauvignon blanc at posh wineries. Most visitors fly into Christchurch, known for its formal gardens and graceful Victorian architecture. If you’re an oenophile, however, take the ferry from Wellington right into the quaint waterfront village of Picton, a handy jumping-off point for the Marlborough wine region, where more than a hundred wineries produce easily half of New Zealand’s wine output, and the top-end half at that. Contact Marlborough Wine Tours (& 64/3/ 578-9515; www.marlboroughwinetours. co.nz) to arrange a tour. North of wine country, one of the jewels in the national park system, Abel Tasman National Park, hugs a dramatic stretch of balmy coast, a great place for sea kayaking and hiking. Abel Tasman Wilson’s Experiences (& 64/3/528-2027; www.abel tasman.co.nz) can arrange journeys there. Fly into Queenstown, in the island’s midsection, if you have a yen for adrenaline sports—bungee jumping, hang gliding, sky diving, rock climbing, hot-air ballooning, white-water rafting, the whole shebang. Skiers flock here from around the world in winter, that is, June through September, when the northern hemisphere’s snows have disappeared (check out www. nzski.com for the skiing lowdown). Unfortunately, the word is out about Milford Sound, that stunning narrow 22km-long (14-mile) fiord off the Tasman Sea that’s now jampacked with daylong bus tours from Queenstown. Base yourself instead in the charming lakeside resort of Te Anau, where your drive to Milford Sound is a dramatic 2-hour adventure through the primeval landscape that director Peter Jackson captured in Lord of the Rings— vertiginous waterfalls, pristine lakes, virgin forest, and steep peaks surrounding deepgouged fiords. Vast Fiordlands National Park has several breathtaking long-distance hiking trails: the Milford, the Hollyford, the Kepler, and the Routeburn tracks. The classic 53km (33-mile) Milford Track walk takes 4 days, but Trips ’n’ Tramps (& 64/3/249-7081; www.milfordtours walks.co.nz) offers guided 1-day samples. The entire west coast, in fact, seems like one huge parkland. North of the Fiordlands, the Franz Josef and Fox glaciers in

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Fiordlands National Park.

Westland National Park, State Hwy. 6 (& 64/3/751-0807; www.glaciercountry. co.nz), plunge spectacularly to the sea, and make this a superb place for guided walks and heli-hikes. Inland, New Zealand’s highest mountain, snowcapped Mount Cook, is a magnet for skiers and mountaineers (Sir Edmund Hillary trained here before climbing Mount Everest). Try a half-day hike on the Hooker Valley trail in Mount Cook/Aoraki National Park (& 64/3/435-1186; www.doc.govt.nz): You’ll cross two swinging bridges over gorges, pass two pristine lakes and alpine meadows full of wildflowers, cross a boardwalk over boggy tussocks, and wind up

right at the frosty face of a glacier. That’s South Island in a nutshell for you. —HH www.purenz.com.

( Christchurch or Queenstown.
$$ Glencoe Lodge, Terrace Rd., Mount Cook Village (& 64/3/435-1809; www.mount-cook.com). $$ Milford Sound Lodge, Hwy. 94, Te Anau (& 64/3/2498071; www.milfordlodge.com). TOUR Canterbury Trails (& 64/3/3371185; www.canterburytrails.co.nz). Real Journeys (& 64/3/249-7416; www.real journeys.co.nz).

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TAIWAN

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One of a Kind

Taiwan
Unexpected Splendors Beyond Taipei
Let’s face it: Taiwan doesn’t generally leap out as a vacation destination. Chances are your notion of Taiwan (which is technically part of China) is that of a densely urban island, its streets clogged with traffic and garish neon lights, leading to a sprawl of semiconductor factories. Well, there’s that, but there’s also the other 95% of Taiwan, which holds some eye-popping surprises for visitors. Dubbed Ilha Formosa (“the beautiful island”) by Portuguese sailors in the 16th century, Taiwan is striking and steep, with hills and mountains accounting for twothirds of its area. Those dramatic landscapes are traversed by scenic highways that can be traveled with your own car, or for far less hassle, by coach bus (ask for a kuokuang ticket when booking, as this will ensure a more comfortable ride and timely schedule). By far the most popular natural attraction is Taroko Gorge, an out-of-thisworld mix of marble and red-rock canyons, crystalline water, and lush vegetation. Trains are a romantic way to get around, since the country has many original 19thcentury depots. Taiwan’s premier train experience is the Alishan Forest Line, a narrow-gauge alpine railway that chugs to the top of Alishan National Scenic Area with spectacular vistas of the sunrise, the sunset, or the sea-of-clouds phenomenon hanging over the dense trees below. Taiwan Railway Administration offers special tourist trains that include accommodations; you’ll ride in fancy salon and dining cars, where guests can even sing karaoke. The ancient city of Tainan is Taiwan’s cultural capital, with hundreds of temples and almost constant festivals. Within easy day trip distance of Taipei, mountainous Wulai has stunning waterfalls and breathtaking panoramas from its cable car. For the Taiwanese version of a gold rush town, visit the old mining town of Chiufen, whose traditional architecture and teahouses feel like a time warp. Hot springs are abundant in the geological hot spot of Taiwan, and you’ll find no shortage of hotel-resorts where you can soak in the therapeutic waters: Two of my favorite areas are Chihpen and Taian. Kenting National Park at the southern tip of Taiwan and the Penghu archipelago (to the west) are Taiwan’s no-brainer choices for beaches and watersports. Parts of the island were hard hit by Typhoon Morakot in 2009 and, at press time, several villages in southern Taiwan were still recovering from the devastating floods and landslides. The throbbing capital of Taipei may not inspire love at first sight, but there’s still good reason to give this dynamic metropolis some of your time. The food, for one, is irresistible, whether at proper restaurants or (even better) at roadside vendors, from dumplings to crab cakes to seafood stews. Without a doubt, the cultural trove of Taipei is the National Palace Museum (& 886/2/2881-2021; www.npm.gov.tw), where in 1949 the Kuomintang installed the 10th-century treasures from Beijing’s Forbidden City. The collections here— 600,000 artifacts, estimated to be 10% of China’s artistic wealth—are so vast that only 1% are on display at a time. Another highlight in the capital is the ascent to the top of Taipei 101 Tower (& 886/2/81018899; www.taipei-101.com.tw), currently the tallest skyscraper in the world (though another contender in Dubai will surpass it in late 2009). Taipei 101’s segmented shape recalls telescoping pagodas, or a bamboo stalk, or stacked Chinese takeout boxes of glass and steel. —SM

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TREASURE ISLANDS www.go2taiwan.net. Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, Taipei.

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$$$ Landis Taipei, 41 Min Chuan E. Rd., Section 2, Taipei (& 886/2/2597-1234; http://taipei.landishotelsresorts.com).

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Ischia
The Green Island
Italy
Capri may have the fame and notoriety, but beautiful Ischia is bigger, less crowded, and more reasonably priced than its swanky neighbor to the southeast. Pronounced Ish-kee-ah, this rocky volcanic island is 10km (61⁄4 miles) long and 7km (41⁄3 miles) wide. Its long and sometimes turbulent history owes much to a strategic location in the Gulf of Naples along the Amalfi Coast as well as the presence of healing thermal springs, which have drawn visitors for centuries. Over the years, Ischia has been ruled by the Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, barbarians, and various pirates and privateers. Ischia is known as the “Emerald Island” for its moss-backed volcanic curves, hillside vineyards, and groves of scented pines. Flowers bloom spectacularly in the rich volcanic soil. Whereas Capri is jet set (Jackie O bought her first set of capri pants here), Ischia is laid-back and bucolic. It was not really a tourist destination until the 1950s, when folks escaping the hordes on Capri were casting about for another beautiful island to conquer. Even now, with tourism the main industry, the island is not nearly as crowded as Capri in the height of summer. Some people like to hit Capri, just 30km (19 miles) away, for a couple of days and then settle in on Ischia for the rest of the week. Many Western Europeans come to Ischia specifically for its health spas, the centerpiece of which are the hot springs and volcanic mud warmed by volcanic gases rising up from deep below the island’s long-dormant volcano, Monte Epomeo, which last erupted in the 14th century. The island also has lovely sandy beaches, including a few where seawater and hot springs commingle for a doubletonic effect. Most of the activity is concentrated in Ischia Porto, around the main harbor (porto means harbor), and Ischia Ponte (ponte means bridge), by the bridge to the island promontory that flanks a small natural harbor. The promontory was the site of the original settlement, fortified by a castle erected as far back as the 5th century B.C. The castle, Piazzale Aragonese, Ischia Ponte (& 39/081/992834; www.castellodischia.it) you see today was built by the Aragonese over the ruins of the earlier fortifications. You can climb up for panoramic views of the stunning coastal landscape, with glittering blue seas guarded by rugged volcanic cliffs. The public bus system SEPSA (& 39/ 081/991808 or 39/081/991828) is very reliable and a good way to see the sights. Or you can do like the locals do and rent a scooter and zoom around on the curving roadways. Either way, Ischia provides a way to experience la bella vita, islandstyle, without the crowds and the high price tags. —AF AACST tourist office of Ischia, Corso Vittoria Colonna 116 (& 39/081/5074231; www.infoischiaprocida.it).

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Medmar (& 39/081/5513352; www.medmargroup.it) runs ferries from Napoli to Ischia Porto and from Pozzuoli to both Ischia Porto and Casamicciola. Caremar (& 39/081/0171998 from abroad, or 892123 from anywhere in Italy; www.caremar.it) runs ferries to Ischia

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Porto and Casamicciola from Pozzuoli, Procida, and Naples. $$ Albergo Il Monastero (& 39/ 081/992436; www.albergoilmonastero. it). $$$ Hotel Regina Isabella (& 39/081/ 994332; www.reginaisabella.it).

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Naxos
Substantial in the Cyclades
Greece
Santorini and its spectacular crater apart, the Cyclades islands aren’t generally known for their intrinsic natural beauty. There are other attractions—whether nightlife, archaeology, or beaches—that draw visitors to this mostly scrubby Greek archipelago set amid the wine-dark seas of the central Aegean. But green and fertile, hilly Naxos is the exception. It’s the largest island in the Cyclades—about three times the size of nearby Mykonos —and still a place where tourism hasn’t ruined the local flavor. From the moment you land at the ferry port below Naxos town (also known as Chora), it’s clear that this isn’t just another vacationer-swamped Greek island. The development here far predates tourism, and though visitors will certainly find warm Greek hospitality, the island doesn’t depend on summer traffic for its livelihood. Naxos is self-sufficient—agricultural income from olives and fruit pays most of the bills—and you really get the sense that the rhythms of life here are for and by the locals. To get into the swing of things on this island, it’s recommended that you stay at least a few days. Naxos has been continuously inhabited for about 6,000 years, and there are remarkable vestiges of its long and storied past just about everywhere. Architecturally, the island is perhaps best known for its Venetian castles and towers dotting the landscape. These were built from the 13th to the 16th century, when Venice’s maritime republic ruled the island. In those days, the wealthy lived in a walled citadel above Chora town called the Kastro. Today, this area is Naxos’s main tourist

A church facade on Naxos.

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TREASURE ISLANDS attraction, where visitors can wander among evocative arched alleyways and gaze up at the impressive residences of the powerful Venetian families who lived here 800 years ago. One of the palaces has been converted into the excellent Domus Venetian Museum (& 30/22850/22387), with exhibits and tours that bring the bygone aristocratic era to life. Earlier arthistorical treasures on Naxos include many Byzantine chapels, which have fine frescoes from the 9th to 13th century. In the island’s interior, don’t miss a trip to the upcountry village of Apiranthos, with its handsome architecture, laid-back pace, and shady plateas (squares) filled with men playing backgammon. Of course, who plans a trip to the Greek islands without at least some sunbathing on the agenda? Fortunately, Naxos also has some of the Cyclades’ best beaches, like Agios Prokopios, Plaka, and Agios Georgios, whose long strip of golden sand comes as a shock after you’ve seen what passes for a “beach” on most Greek islands. The water offshore is a blissful turquoise, and the seafront is lined with atmospheric tavernas where you can break up the sunning and swimming with some fresh grilled seafood, or a handpicked salad of local veggies, and a glass of crisp white wine. Naxos’s central location in the Cyclades, a new airport, and frequent ferry connections from north and south make it very easy to incorporate into any Greek islands itinerary. Accommodations tend to be small, independent affairs with quirks (there are no real resort hotels here), so don’t come expecting five-star luxury and amenities. —SM www.gnto.gr. Naxos (served by domestic flights from Athens on Olympic Airways).

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From Piraeus, daily ferry (6 hr.) and high-speed ferry (4 hr.); www.gnto.gr.

$$ Hotel Glaros, Agios Georgios ( 30/22850/23-101; www.hotelglaros. com).

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Dominican Republic
Colorful Caribbean Tapestry
Thanks to a profusion of affordable vacation packages, the sugary beaches of the Dominican Republic have lately emerged as one of the most popular Caribbean destinations for sun-seeking North Americans and Brits. Most make a beeline to the so-called “Coconut Coast,” the eastern tip of the island, which is home to the wellknown resort of Punta Cana. But the D.R., which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti , to the west, is more than just the all-inclusive hotels of Punta Cana. The Dominican Republic is a lively amalgam of cultures, with a rich history that runs from Taino Indians to Christopher Columbus to Major League baseball. In travel circles, the name Punta Cana has become shorthand for “inexpensive warm-weather getaway.” With nonstop flights from much of the U.S. to Santo Domingo lasting only a few hours, it’s even conceivable to go for a long weekend from North America. Miles of brilliant whitesand beach lined with leaning palms and a festive assortment of watersports, beach bars, and boutiques make Punta Cana a great place to unplug and still enjoy lots of amenities. It would be a shame, however, to limit yourself to the resort bubble while so many sights, and the real pulse of the D.R., lie so close by.

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A baseball game in the Dominican Republic.

On arrival in or departure from the D.R., be sure to carve out at least a few hours to tour old Santo Domingo. The colors and vibrant spirit here are infectious, and the crumbling colonial architecture is wonderfully evocative of the capital’s history as a crossroads for all—French, Spanish, Africans—who fought for control of Hispaniola. Columbus landed here on his famous voyage in 1492, and the cathedral of Santo Domingo houses a funerary monument that may indeed be Columbus’s final resting place (though this is disputed by Seville, Spain, which claims to have the explorer’s bones). Not far from the resorts of the Coconut Coast, the cultural pride and joy of the Dominican Republic is, curiously enough, a replica of a Mediterranean village, called Altos de Chavon (www.altosdechavon. com). Complete with Renaissance plazas, churches, and shops that look like something out of the Italian or Spanish countryside, Altos de Chavon is de rigueur as a day trip. The village also hosts a music festival, with open-air concerts taking place in its Greek-style amphitheater.

For die-hard sports fans, of course, a mention of the Dominican Republic calls to mind baseball greats. Beisbol is a way of life here, and as a result, the D.R. has been a reliable producer of Major League star players over the decades, from Manny Mota to Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz. One of the most fun ways a visitor and sports enthusiast can get into the local passion for baseball is to catch a game in the sugar-factory town of La Romana (near Punta Cana). Here, at Michelin Baseball Stadium, the home team is called the Azucareros (“Sugar Bowls”), a nod to the Dominican Republic’s deep roots as a sugar cane plantation island. —SM www.godominicanrepublic.com.

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$$$ Hotel Santo Domingo, av. Independencia (& 800/877-3643 in the U.S., or 809/221-1511; www.hotelsanto domingo.com.do). $$ Iberostar Bavaro, Punta Cana (www.iberostar.com).

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Island Hopping the Shetland Islands: The Furthest Isles
“Breathtaking” doesn’t begin to describe them. The Shetland Islands simply stun visitors with their unconventional beauty—stark, wind-swept, and treeless, with ruffled bogs, wildflower-spangled heath, and jaw-dropping sea cliffs. Shaggy native ponies graze the moors, seals and sea otters slither around rocky coves, and a full 10% of all of Britain’s seabirds nest here in midsummer, when the sun barely sets (Shetlanders call it “the Simmer Dim”). Three oceans—the Atlantic, the Arctic, and the North Sea—collide around this string of 100 islands, only 17 of them inhabited. Lying at Scotland’s northern extremity, they are so ragged in shape, so deeply indented, they have a combined 4,860km (3,020 miles) of coastline. Wherever you stand on the Shetland Islands, you’re never farther than 5km (3 miles) from the sea. Though the ancient Romans called them Ultima Thule—“the furthest isle”—the Shetlands aren’t nearly as remote as they used to be, since the oil industry has come to town. North Sea oil has been a mixed blessing, bringing economic prosperity and up-to-date facilities but also introducing a flood of short-term residents with little connection to local customs. And Shetlanders fiercely prize their heritage, which is more Viking than Celtic—the Vikings ruled here from A.D. 800 until 1469, when the islands became a Scottish possession, often ruled harshly by its feudal lords. Shetlanders still resist identifying themselves as Scots. By far the largest island is southernmost Mainland, where the capital, Lerwick, sits halfway down the eastern coast. An old smuggler’s haven, later the center of Northern Europe’s herring trade, Lerwick has long been surprisingly cosmopolitan. The Shetland Museum (on the waterfront at Hay’s dock) is packed with artifacts and exhibits explicating Shetland’s unique culture and history. Drive north of Lerwick and you’ll enter a landscape that must have reminded early Norse settlers of the fjord lands (check out the tiny village of Voe, with its little wooden houses). At the narrow isthmus of Mavis Grind, you can throw a rock to the right into the North Sea and another to the left into the Atlantic Ocean. Head west to Esha Ness to hike along the west coast’s spectacular jagged cliffs. South of Lerwick, check out the Crofthouse Museum in Boddam, set in an old thatched croft house that demonstrates traditional Shetland rural life. Farther south, near Sumburgh airport, Jarlshof is an amazing archaeological museum where excavations have uncovered relics of seven distinct civilizations, from the Bronze Age up to a 15th-century manor house and an entire Viking village. Puttering around Mainland is fun, but the true Shetland spirit lives on outlying islands—for example, Papa Stour, off the west coast of Mainland (catch the ferry in West Burrafirth). Sparsely populated Papa Stour (the name is Old Norse for “island of priests”) was the site of a 6th-century Celtic monastery, but Viking chieftains prized its strategically sheltered harbor—the Norse lords didn’t surrender this island until the 1600s. An ancient stone circle sits above the beach at Housa Voe, and an

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ISLAND HOPPING THE SHETLAND ISLANDS: THE FURTHEST ISLES

excavated Norse house at Da Biggins. Legend has it that the wildflowers grow so profusely on the heathy uplands of Papa Stour, fishermen could use the scent to guide them in from many miles out to sea. Even farther west lies far-flung Foula, a tiny island only 5km (3 miles) wide by 8km (5 miles) long, one of the world’s most extraordinary birding sites. Its towering sea cliffs are home to about 3,000 pairs of the world’s great skuas, known in the local dialect as “bonxie,” among many other rare species. With a population of only 400, there are more sheep than humans on Foula; until the early 1800s, Old Norse was the main language spoken. The once-a-week mail boat to Foula takes 21⁄2 hours, but in summer you can also fly here, making it a doable day trip from Mainland. A 20-minute ferry ride from the town of Toft on Mainland, peaceful Yell is the second-largest island in the Shetlands, but the peat lies so thick on its soil that farming is a challenge. Only about 1,000 people live here, mostly on traditional croft farms hugging the coast. Take a bracing coastal hike, and don’t forget to look down at the water’s edge, where hundreds of otters burrow in the peaty shoreline. As you drive north, stop off in Burravoe at The Old Haa Visitor Centre, a museum of local crafts and history set in a merchants’ house dating to 1672. From Yell, the outermost Shetland island, Unst is a 5-minute ferry ride from Gutcher. Unst is loaded with historical sites—a short drive east from the ferry landing at Belmont, there’s Muness Castle, a fine rubble-cast tower house built for Scottish lord Laurence Bruce in 1598; on the southwest coast at Underhoull there’s an excavated 9th-century Old Norse longhouse; nearby Lund offers the ruins of a medieval church. On the northern tip of Unst, the Hermaness Bird Reserve is one of Britain’s most important ornithological refuges, its 182m-high (600-ft.) cliffs loaded with kittiwakes, razorbills, guillemots, and the inevitable puffins. On your way back south, stop off at Baltasound and mail your friends a postcard from the northernmost post office in the British Isles—oh, that’ll make them jealous. —HH
Tourist office, Market Cross, Lerwick, Mainland (& 44/1595/693-434; www.visitshetland. com). Sumburgh Airport, Mainland, 1 hr. from Aberdeen via Flybe (& 44/871/700-2000; www. flybe.com). Tingwall airport near Lerwick flies to Fair Isle, Foula, Papa Stour, and Out Skerries via Directflight airways (& 44/1234/757-766; www.directflight.co.uk).

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Overnight car ferry from Aberdeen to Lerwick, 14 hr., via NorthLink (& 44/845/6000449; www.northlinkferries.co.uk). Interisland ferries from Mainland to Yell, Unst, Whalsay, Fetlar, Bressay, Papa Stour, Out Skerries, and Fair Isle: Shetland Islands Council (& 44/ 1595/743-970; www.shetland.gov.uk/ferries).

$$ Baltasound Hotel, Baltasound, Unst (& 44/1957/711-334; www.baltasound-hotel. shetland.co.uk). $$$ Grand Hotel, 149 Commercial St., Lerwick, Mainland (& 44/1595/692826; www.kgqhotels.co.uk).

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Natural Wonders

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Tasmania
Classy Tassie
Australia
Like the dot under an exclamation point, Tasmania punctuates the Australian continent. Island isolation gave Australia a menagerie of unique species, but Tasmania kicks it up another notch. While Australia’s climate is mostly tropical, Tasmania lies in the temperate zone, which puts an entirely different spin on its ecosystem. Tasmania’s got wallabies, bandicoots, wombats, and opossums, but it’s got different wallabies, bandicoots, wombats, and opossums. It’s also a land of unique tree frogs and parrots, a place of such ecological rarity that its wilderness (some 20% of the island) has won World Heritage status. Named after Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer who first mapped this part of the world in the 17th century, Tasmania wasn’t really settled until the early 19th century, when the English government needed a far-flung spot to stash convicts; the sobering remains of a famously harsh penal colony have been preserved on the southeast coast at Port Arthur. Take a 2-hour drive on the state-of-the-art Heritage Highway the convicts built between the island’s capital, Hobart, and the next largest city, inland Launceston; you’ll be continually tempted to stop by the splendid assortment of Georgian and Victorian architecture en route. In order to properly appreciate Tasmania, however, you have to get into the wilderness. Visitors are often surprised by Tasmania’s size—it’s the 26th-largest island in the world—yet its dense rainforests, mountain peaks, alpine meadows, great lakes, eucalyptus stands, and fertile farmland are all easily accessible. Nearly a third of the island is protected within 14 national parks; only a couple hours’ drive from Hobart, you’ll find yourself in a rugged terrain of incredible beauty.

Cradle Mountain.

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Running through it like a spine is the 85km (53-mile) Overland Track (www. overlandtrack.com.au), the best-known hiking trail in all of Australia. At one end the trail is anchored by Cradle Mountain, a spectacular jagged gray ridge face with four craggy peaks; at the other lies the long narrow glacier-carved Lake St. Clair, Australia’s deepest freshwater lake. The trek between them traverses high alpine plateaus, marshy plains of rare button grass, springy heathland, fragrant eucalypt forest, dusky woods of myrtle beech (one of the few Australian native trees that isn’t an evergreen), and one of the planet’s last temperate rainforests. The path is well marked and improved, including stretches of boardwalk and a series of public sleeping huts. Tour companies run 5-to-10-day guided treks along its length; plenty of shorter hikes are available as well. Along the way, you’ll run into quolls, red-bellied pademelons (the kangaroo’s Tasmanian cousins), and hordes of other scampering marsupials. As for the Tasmanian devil—well, despite their cartoon image, there’s nothing cuddly about those stocky, sharp-snouted little black scavengers. But Tasmanians are perversely fond of these ornery little mascots; they rallied to protect them when news came out of a rare facial cancer ravaging the species. Perhaps that’s because Tasmanian devils are part of what sets Tasmania apart from the rest of Australia, a wondrous land unto itself. —HH Tourist office, 20 Davey St., Hobart (& 61/3/6230 8233; www.hobarttravel centre.com.au); also www.discover tasmania.com.au.

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$$$ Cradle Mountain Lodge, Cradle Mountain Park (& 61/2/8296 8010; www.cradlemountainlodge.com.au). $$ Macquarie Manor, 172 Macquarie St., Hobart (& 61/3/6224 4999; www.mac manor.com.au). TOUR Tasmanian Expeditions (& 1300/ 666 856 in Australia, or 61/3/6339 3999; www.tas-ex.com).

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Devonport (10 hr. from Melbourne).

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Langkawi
Colorful Legends & Ancient Nature
Malaysia
Its undulating terrain, studded by the “rival” mountains of Gunung Macinchang and Gunung Raya, is covered in a blanket of lush rainforest. Where it meets the warm waters of the Andaman Sea, the squiggly coast of Langkawi is fringed with long stretches of soft sandy beach, coconut palms, and casuarina trees. But what sets Langkawi apart from other tropical paradises is its heart: Centuries-old folklore permeates the local culture, and just steps away from the five-star waterfront resorts and golf courses there are still real Malaysian villages where life happily drawls along at a slow pace. Langkawi is the largest and most inhabited of the Langkawi archipelago, a group of 99 islands off the northwestern coast of peninsular Malaysia. Its name is said to mean “island of the reddish-brown eagle” in Malay, and though there are other legends surrounding the etymology of Langkawi, the eagle one has a passionate following, and a huge 12m-tall (39-ft.) statue of an eagle greets arrivals at Dataran Lang (Eagle Square) in the main port of

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Kuah. (Folklore alert: Kuah [“gravy”] gets its name because gravy was spilled during a fight that broke out during a wedding between the two families of the mountain’s Gunung Macinchang and Gunung Raya.) Kuah is the only real town on the island, while the rest of Langkawi consists of kampungs (villages), rice fields where buffalo wallow, and flourishing tropical flora. With an impressive array of natural attractions, Langkawi has been designated a UNESCO World Geopark. The island was part of the primordial landmass of Gondwanaland, and many of the forests and mineral deposits here are more than 500 million years old. A ride on the Langkawi Cable Car up to the peak of 710m (2,329-ft.) Gunung Macinchang provides breathtaking views over the canopy of a Cambrian rainforest. Throughout the island, more than a dozen intriguing caves exhibit elaborate limestone stalactites and stalagmites. Among the island’s several waterfalls, Telaga Tujuh in the northwest corner of Langkawi is the most visited. Its name means “seven wells” for the seven pools of water that are created by the cascade, which flows gently and picturesquely over smooth rock framed by verdant vegetation. Of course, beaches are the initial draw for most who book a trip here. For gorgeous sand and the best action, tourists and locals alike congregate at Pantai Cenang. Sunbathe or swim along 2km (11⁄4 miles) of palm-backed beach, and then grab your sari and hit the food stalls, markets, and bars of this lively strip. Tanjung Rhu is Langkawi’s “Casuarina Beach” and notable for the striking black rock formation standing in the calm, clear, chalky-blue water just offshore. Secluded Teluk Datai is where the island’s most exclusive and expensive resorts have been developed, and its relative isolation makes it most suitable for romance or anyone seeking a real escape. From any of these beaches, you can arrange watersports and excursions, like island-hopping snorkeling trips or kayaking out in the archipelago. Though Langkawi has always had many attractions to lure vacationers, tourism didn’t really begin to take off until the past decade. As locals will tell you, this is no coincidence. The most prominent story in Langkawi folklore is that of Mahsuri, a beautiful young maiden who was wrongly accused of adultery. When, as the Islamic tradition dictated, she was put to death by stabbing, white blood ran from her wounds, thus proving her innocence. As she gasped her last breaths, Mahsuri cursed Langkawi to have seven generations of bad luck. Mahsuri died in 1819, and only now—after seven generations—has Langkawi begun to see prosperity. —SM Langkawi Tourist Information Centre (& 60/4/966-7789; www.langkawigeo park.com.my). Langkawi International, connections to Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Singapore.

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$$$ Casa del Mar, Jalan Pantai Cenang, Mukim Kedawang (& 60/4/9552388; www.casadelmar-langkawi.com).

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Santorini
Island of Epics
Greece
It’s the poster child of Greek Island tourism, with whitewashed towns precariously balanced atop the red rim of an ancient volcanic crater that towers over the cobalt waters of the Aegean. The romantic image of Santorini (known as Thira to Greeks) has

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SANTORINI single-handedly sold countless vacations to Greece. Once a volcanic cone, Thira blew its top sometime around 1600 B.C., and everything but the outline of the crater fell into the sea. This episode gave rise to the myth of the lost city of Atlantis, the existence of which archaeologists have been able to neither prove nor refute. But whether it was the legendary Atlantis or not, no other island—in Greece or anywhere else—possesses quite the same brand of epic natural splendor as Santorini. When you arrive by ferry at the larger port of Athinios or the smaller Skala, the full drama of Santorini’s spectacular topography comes into focus: The island is steeper and taller than you’d imagined, and you have to crane your neck to see the towns perched on top. Another reality of visiting Santorini—one that’s downplayed in the marketing brochures— reveals itself when you disembark at the dock; that is, you’re not the only one who made the journey here. Especially in summer, expect to share the 13-sq.-km (5-sq.mile) island with thousands of tourists, honeymooners, and cruise passengers. The island’s principal town, Fira, has a prime location on the edge of the caldera, looking west over the wine-dark sea and the island’s densest concentration of hotels, restaurants, and accompanying mass-tourism junk. The aerielike hamlet of Oia, on the highest part of the crater rim, is romance central and where you’ll find those impossibly gorgeous vistas—blue church dome in foreground, glittering sea beyond—captured in so many photographs of Santorini. As sublime as the views are from these two towns, the key to experiencing Santorini’s authenticity is to spend time away from Fira and Oia once you’ve had your sunset cocktails and snapped your photos—or to time your strolls through the villages for the early morning or early evening, avoiding the day-tripper crush. Or just come in the off season (Sept–May). Sunning and swimming in the Aegean are valid pursuits here, though you have to head down from the caldera rim and its hypnotic views, of course, to reach the water. Santorini’s beaches are concentrated on the southern and eastern coasts of the island (not on the inner curve of the crater, but along its slightly less impressive outer edge). Most shorelines consist of black or red sand, which absorb the sun and get brutally hot and crowded in summer—another good reason to schedule your trip for months other than July and August. Ancient-history buffs shouldn’t miss Santorini’s two small but fascinating archaeological sites, Akrotiri and ancient Thira. The former is a mesmerizing time capsule of life during the height of Minoan civilization, just before the catastrophic eruption of 1600 B.C. wiped it out. You can also take boat tours across Santorini’s “lagoon” to another speck of the caldera, the island of Thirassia. On the way, you’ll pass the smoldering Nea Kameni, which emerged from the sea only 300 years ago as a sober reminder of Thira’s violent natural history. —SM www.santorini.net. Santorini (Thira) Island International Airport (served by Aegean Airlines and Olympic Airways via Athens). Blue Star Ferries (www.blue starferries.com) and Hellenic Seaways (www.hellenicseaways.gr) from AthensPiraeus, other islands in the Cyclades, and Crete.

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$$$ Astra Apartments, Imerovigli ( 30/22860/23641; www.astraapartments.com).

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Natural Wonders

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Lampedusa
Italian Traditions in an African Landscape
Italy
Named for the lampa (light) that guided sailors safely around its perimeter, Lampedusa hovers in a sort of Mediterranean limbo south of Sicily and northeast of Africa. Here, in a desertlike landscape where agave, prickly pear, and goldenwhite limestone bake in the sun, you’ll find one of the most exotic places you can travel to and technically still be in the European Union. And because it’s not easy to access from mainland Italy, Lampedusa is one of the few surviving Italian islands with a real sense of local culture, undiluted by mass tourism. Lampedusa has never been terribly fashionable, and it probably never will be. You won’t find glamorous resorts or nightlife (though the breezy luxury at Il Gattopardo di Lampedusa hotel, carved out of traditional stone structures called dammusi, will impress the style-conscious). Yet there’s something oddly appealing about this scrubby, sometimes derelict island that makes first-time visitors want to become regulars season after season. The island has no historical sights—a nice change of pace for those who feel overwhelmed by the wealth of heritage on display everywhere else in Italy. Even the buildings in town, most of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s, lack architectural character—although the main drag, Via Roma, is lined with elegant bars and bakeries that could have been plucked out of Rome or Florence. Here you can cool down with an espresso granita, sugar up with a fresh cannolo, and toast the simplicity of life on this working Italian island. The time-honored traditions of Italian community life are alive and well on Lampedusa, and more authentic here than in other more obvious Italian seaside destinations like Capri or Portofino. In the evening, everyone comes together for a collective passeggiata (stroll). Cleaned up from a day’s work, fishermen hold their children’s hands while teenage boys on motorini show off for the opposite sex. The film Respiro, which was shot entirely on Lampedusa, perfectly captures this daily rite and the rhythms, sights, and sounds of Lampedusa in general. For beach lovers, Lampedusa has a real treasure. On the south side of the island, about 5km (3 miles) west of town, is one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy, called Isola dei Conigli, which refers to the “Island of Rabbits” just offshore. The beach itself is on the Lampedusa side, and is a crescent of sand with waters as close to Caribbean turquoise as you’ll find in the Mediterranean. The bay is so shallow and calm that even kids can wade the 50m (164 ft.) from the mainland to Isola dei Conigli. In summer, caretta caretta sea turtles lay their eggs here, at which time naturalists close off part of the beach. —SM www.italiantourism.com. Lampedusa airport (flights from Palermo).

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From Palermo, 9 hr.

$$$ Il Gattopardo di Lampedusa, Cala Creta (& 39/011/8185270; www. gattopardodilampedusa.it).

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AERO ISLAND

240

Natural Wonders

Aero Island
Fairy-Tale Island
Denmark
There are places that work hard to create magic. Then there are those real-life spots that feel truly touched by fairy dust. Aero Island is one such place. It’s a small island in the Danish Baltic Sea, 30km (19 miles) long and 8km (5 miles) wide, lined with villages with cobblestone streets and 17thcentury cottages, medieval churches, farms built on patchwork hills, and quiet, idyllic beaches. It’s a warm, happy place, not least because Aero gets more sunshine than any other spot in Denmark— summers may be short, but the sun doesn’t go down until 11pm. Some 7,000 people live on Aero Island, where locked doors are a rarity. There are no bridges to the island; the only way to get here is to take a 1-hour car ferry. Biking is a favored mode of transportation. But for all its old-fashioned charm, Aero is a 21st-century pioneer at the vanguard of sustainable energy. The island has the world’s largest solar power plants and the world’s largest solar collector system for heating. Its goal is to be 100% self-sufficient in renewable energy, and it’s almost there. In 2008, Aero achieved 80% selfsufficiency in electric and heating usage. It’s a remarkable achievement for such a small, off-the-beaten-track place. You have to really want to get to Aero Island—it’s not an easy place to access. Once you’re there, you can get around by bike, car, or bus (Fynbus; www.fynbus.dk), which links the villages including the island’s largest town and main port, Marstal. Of the island’s 14 communities, little Aeroskobing looks like something straight out of Hans Christian Andersen, a Lilliputian jewel box of remarkably preserved half-timbered cottages hugging neat, one-lane streets—you almost expect to see dolls in 17th-century garb emerging from the gabled facades. But people live and work in these structures, many in thoroughly modern interiors set behind storybook exteriors. The countryside is no less magical. The rural landscape is one of wheat fields and dairy farms punctuated by the occasional old windmill. Three massive modern windmills were added in 2002; today they are responsible for providing 50% of the island with its electricity. —AF www.aeroeisland.com. Aeroskobing Turistbureau, Vestergade 1 (& 45/62/5213-00).

( Copenhagen.
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Copenhagen, Svendborg.

Odense,

or

Svendborg: Aerofaergerne A/S (& 45/62/52-40-00; www.aeroe-ferry.dk). $$ Hotel Aeroehus, Aeroskobing ( 45/62/52-10-03; www.aeroehus.dk). $$ Pension Vestergade on Aero, Aeroskobing (& 45/62/52-22-98; www. vestergade44.com).

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TREASURE ISLANDS
Natural Wonders

241

Bimini
Hemingway Fished Here
The Bahamas
Ernest Hemingway put Bimini on the map when he came here to fish and write (but mostly fish) in the 1930s. In fact, it was a 230kg marlin caught off the waters of Bimini that inspired Papa Hemingway to write The Old Man and the Sea. When he wasn’t fishing and he wasn’t writing, Papa was hanging out at the Compleat Angler bar, built—appropriately enough—out of abandoned liquor boats. With a prime position in the Gulf Stream, whose warm waters favor big game fish like marlin, Bimini is considered by many to be the sport-fishing capital of the world. Despite the tourism industry that’s grown up around Bimini’s extraordinary fishing, the islands—there are actually two, North and South Bimini—have retained a certain tropical rumrunner mystique. It may have something to do with Bimini’s roguish beginnings. Settled in the 1920s by freed slaves from Nassau, the island prospered as a rumrunning port during Prohibition in the United States. (Unfortunately, the same strategic location that favored Bimini during Prohibition has made it a popular station in the drug trade between South America and the U.S.) The most developed part of Bimini is the north island, which measures 12km (71⁄2 miles) long and, in places, just 200m (656 ft.) wide. Here, in crowded Alice Town, the trappings of tourism are inescapable. But it’s also in Alice Town where you find Bimini’s nightlife. Sadly, one of the town’s most famous structures, the historic Compleat Angler hotel and bar, which was filled with Papa Hemingway memorabilia, burned to the ground in 2006. South Bimini and its main town of Port Royale are quieter and more laidback, with family-friendly condos. The two islands are connected by an easy, 2-minute ferry ride. Whether you’re an avid fisher or a beach bum, Bimini has plenty to offer the watersports enthusiast. The island has a wealth of scuba- and snorkel-friendly dive spots, from half-submerged shipwrecks like the SS Sapona, which ran aground during a 1926 hurricane, to the mysterious Bimini Road. This intriguing “pavement” of flagstones, lining the sea floor under 5 to 10m (16–33 ft.) of water off the north end of North Bimini, looks uncannily manmade, though there are also convincing geological explanations for its neat rectangular layout.

Fishing in Bimini.

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THE BIG ISLAND
For the simple pleasures of sun and sand, the beach that runs along much of the western side of North Bimini is lovely— and all yours midweek in winter. Contrary to other Bahamas destinations, Bimini’s high season is the summer. Even though the weather and sea conditions from December to March are ideal for a relaxing vacation, calmer waters mean better fishing. And few sportsmen would want to miss the chance to go on a fishing charter here. Charters can be easily arranged from any of the marinas on North or South Bimini, or from south Florida, just 81km (50 miles) to the west. Ponce de León came to South Bimini in the 16th century in search of the Fountain of Youth, and though historians say he never found it, the mere fact that he even sought the miraculous waters here has spawned a tourist attraction. Less farfetched is a saltwater pool called the Healing Hole, whose lithium- and sulfur-rich waters are said to have curative properties. Not surprisingly, local guides are happy to profit from tours to the places associated with these myths. —SM www.bahamas.com. Bimini North Seaplane Base and South Bimini Airport (served by charter and scheduled flights from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and Nassau). $$ Bimini Big Game Resort & Yacht Club, King’s Hwy. (& 800/7371007 in the U.S., or 242/347-3391; www. biminibiggame.com). $$$ Bimini Sands Condominiums, South Bimini (& 242/ 347-3500; www.biminisands.com).

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242

Natural Wonders

The Big Island
Feel the Mana
Hawaii, U.S.
They don’t call it the Big Island for nothing: The largest island in the Hawaiian chain, Hawaii is big in many other ways as well. It has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, and the world’s largest, Mauna Loa. It has not one but several natural microclimates, from misty rainforest around Hilo on the east coast to rolling upcountry hills to blasted lava-rock shelves on the northwest Kohala Coast. Endemic island species abound, from tropical ohia and koa trees to rare lobelias, from elusive little honey-catchers to majestic Hawaiian hawks. Yet for all its outsize attributes, it’s the least populated island in the chain, a place where you can get away from the crowds and really relax into island life. The Big Island’s economy isn’t dominated by tourism either, thanks to cattle ranching and farming; some of the world’s best coffee and macadamia nut crops thrive along the Kona Coast. With not one but five volcanoes brooding over the island, it’s easy to sense that connection to essential life forces that native Hawaiians call mana. To see Kilauea’s redhot lava still bubbling through the earth’s crust, take a helicopter ride over Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (Hawaii Belt Rd. [Hwy. 11]; & 808/985-6000; www.nps.gov/ havo); you can also drive the park’s Crater Rim Road to really experience the sulfuric smells and hot steam of this turbulent landscape. On snowcapped Mauna Kea you’ll feel you can almost touch the sky, 13,255 ft. (4,040m) above sea level, at one of the world’s great astronomical observatories. Take an excursion to the summit to view its

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TREASURE ISLANDS

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

13 powerful infrared telescopes, and then join nighttime stargazing sessions at the visitor center, halfway up Summit Road, off Hwy. 200 (& 808/961-2180; www.ifa. hawaii.edu/info/vis). The northwest Kohala coast is still encased in hardened black lava flow, where—paradoxically, perhaps—the island’s cushiest resorts have been cultivated in oases of manicured greenery. Many of these coastal enclaves were originally the estates of Hawaiian kings; check out the vestiges of the royal preserves at the Mauna Lani resort (68-1400 Mauna Mani Dr., off Hwy. 19; & 808/885-6622), including a set of ingenious fishponds and, alongside the Fairmont Orchid golf course, the Pacific’s largest rock-art site, the spectacular Puako Petroglyphs (Holoholokai Beach Park, N. Kaniku Dr.; & 808/8851064). While the resorts provide plenty of topclass golf and tennis, watersports are the Big Island’s ace in the hole—including fantastic diving and kayaking in the calm eastside waters and big game fishing off the west coast. If eating local is your passion,

you’ve chosen the right island, too. On the southwest Kona Coast, some 600 small coffee plantations line 32km (20 miles) of the Mamalahoa Highway, many of which welcome drop-in visitors (check out www. bigisland.org for a list). Mid-island, around Waimea, prime beef cattle graze on impossibly green slopes; several stables offer horseback riding around those sprawling ranches. Merriman’s, perhaps the island’s best restaurant (65-1227 Opelo Rd. [Hwy. 19], Waimea; & 808/885-6822; www. merrimanshawaii.com), showcases local produce and meats in its creative Hawaiian regional cuisine. —HH Big Island Visitors Bureau (& 808/ 961-5797 or 808/886-1655; www.big island.org).

( Kona (west coast) or Hilo (east coast).

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$$$ The Fairmont Orchid, 1 N. Kaniku Dr. (& 866/540-4474 or 808/8852000; www.fairmont.com/orchid). $ Volcano House, inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (& 808/967-7321; www. volcanohousehotel.com).

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6 Pleasure Islands

Party Animals . . . 246 The Aristocrats . . . 255 Beach Bums with Culture . . . 263 Laid-Back Rhythms . . . 269

PLEASURE ISLANDS
Party Animals

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Koh Pha Ngan
Full Moon Frenzy
Thailand
Before booking your trip to this beachparty isle in the Gulf of Thailand, consult the lunar calendar. Just how wild your stay on Koh Pha Ngan will be depends on whether you time your visit to coincide with the infamous Full Moon Party. Then again, with other lunar-ruled bashes like the Half-Moon Festival and Black Moon Party going on the rest of the month, the chance to get loose and let it all hang out under the tropical night sky is never more than a week away. Traveler-revelers in the know go to Koh Pha Ngan for one reason only: the Full Moon Party (http://fullmoonpartythailand.com) at crescent-shaped Haad Rin beach. Each month, these enormous beach extravaganzas draw upwards of 25,000 people from all over the globe for 1 night of pure, unadulterated, check-yourinhibitions-at-the-shore transgression. Multiple stages and sound systems, blaring music spun by the hottest DJs on the international club scene, ensure something to suit everyone’s party style. Somewhere between the techno beats, the sideshow fire-eaters and jugglers, and impromptu displays of pyrotechnics, partygoers go for a dip in the moonlit bay off Haad Rin. The twice-monthly Half-Moon Festival (www.halfmoonfestival.com) at Baan Tai village is almost as crazy. While those moon-centric parties are without a doubt the headlining act on Koh Pha Ngan, there is also a wide range of perfectly relaxing activities to pursue here, from bumming it on a quiet beach like Chaloklam Bay to snorkeling off the Mae Haad sandbars and diving at Koh Ma (a deserted island connected to Koh Pha Ngan by a sandbar, with colorful fish
Previous page: A celebrant on Paradise Island.

and coral). Local guides can take you on jungle treks into the island’s interior, where you’re likely to spot monkeys, wild pigs, and all manner of native birds. Than Sadet is a national historic site with idyllic green pools and a waterfall, once frequented by the kings of Siam. Yoga facilities, meditation centers, and massage treatments also abound on the island. Koh Pha Ngan figured prominently in Alex Garland’s 2006 novel The Beach, about backpacker hedonism in Thailand. Since then, the island’s tourism infrastructure has matured considerably, and with it, so has the age bracket of the average visitor. Whereas the island was once the sole province of the blotto backpacker set, who crashed in hostels or huts or just somewhere on the beach, Koh Pha Ngan now also caters to couples and families with fully equipped resorts, many quite secluded and exclusive. In many ways, Koh Pha Ngan seems to be following the pattern of neighboring island Koh Samui , but with a more careful eye on conservation. Recent growth aside, don’t expect a lot of glitz and glam here: Koh Pha Ngan is still a place that’s ruled by the laid-back rhythms of beach life, coconut palms swaying in the breeze. —SM www.kohphangan.com.

( Koh Samui (15km/9 ⁄ boat.
1

3

miles), then

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From Koh Samui, about 30 min.

$$$ The Diamond Cliff Resort & Spa, 284 Prabaramee Rd. (& 66/76/340501; www.diamondcliff.com). $$ Drop In Club Resort, 157/1-10 Haad Rin, Baan Tai (& 66/77/375-444; www.dropinclubresort andspa.com).

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HVAR

244

Party Animals

Hvar
Lavender Fields & Trendy Nightlife
Croatia
With its attractive mix of historical sites, gorgeous nature, and affordability compared with the rest of the Mediterranean, Croatia has been a top insider pick of travel experts for some years. In summer, Croatia’s hottest destination is the long and skinny island of Hvar, in the Dalmatian archipelago (p. 331). By day, hit the beach and catch some rays, safe in the knowledge that you’ve come to the sunniest destination in the eastern Adriatic. By night, glam it up for one of the trendiest summer nightlife scenes in Europe. Thanks to its size, geological diversity, and history, Hvar offers vacationers a variety of ways to enjoy the island, from daytime outdoor adventures to all-night revelry. It would be just as valid to spend your time on Hvar exploring the island’s dramatic coastal coves by sea kayak as sleeping in until 3pm and then heading down to an après-beach party, where the dance music gets turned up and the drinks start flowing before sunset. Hvar has some excellent beaches, but the best are actually just offshore, at the Pakleni islands, which are a short hop by boat from Hvar town. Like an open-air potpourri sachet, Hvar is filled with the soothing and luxurious scents of rosemary, lavender, heather, and sage— walk down any path or road of the island’s interior and you can’t miss the heady fragrance. The lavender fields may look wild, but the flowers are carefully cultivated for use in the lucrative production of essential oils and perfumed soaps. Hvar is also one of Croatia’s most venerable wine regions, and most of the vineyards are concentrated in the western half of the island. A tip for anyone wishing to do the winery circuit: Rent a bike and pedal your way around, as the territory is mostly flat and distances are manageable; the handy cycling website www.pedala.hr outlines some different routes. (If instead you choose to drive your own car and are stopped by local authorities after you’ve had a few glasses, even a low blood alcohol reading is enough to get you a stiff fine.) Hvar has recently become one of the Med’s “it” destinations for yachtsetters and hip young things, and their ground zero for nightlife is Hvar Town. The harbor is lined with floodlit palm trees and chockablock with outdoor bars like Carpe Diem (& 385/21/742369; www.carpediem-hvar.com), where it’s de rigueur to show up with a fashionable outfit and golden tan to match. If that sounds like too much effort (or just a bit obnoxious), skip Hvar Town and head for the quieter hamlets of Jelsa and Stari Grad instead for a mellow night out. —SM

Hvar.

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PLEASURE ISLANDS www.tzhvar.hr. (

From Split and Dubrovnik (via Split) in Croatia (1–11⁄2 hr.); from Pescara and Ancona in Italy (8–10 hr.).

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Split (75km/47 miles), then ferry.

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$$$ Hotel Podstine, Pod Stine ( 385/21/740400; www.podstine.com). $$$ Sun ani Hvar Hotels Group, various locations (& 385/21/750750; www.sun canihvar.com).

Party Animals

245

Mykonos
Chic Greek
Greece
The most cosmopolitan island in Greece may lack Santorini’s showstopping crater, but it’s one of the best places in the Aegean to visit if you’re in search of a good time. Mykonos greets you with its agreeable vibe as soon as you step off the ferry. The energy here is palpable, and after stopping off at other, sleepier Cycladic islands like Paros and Naxos on your way to Mykonos, you finally have the sense that you’ve called at a port with a little action. In fact, the “action” on Mykonos can be as little or as much as you want, depending chiefly on what time of year you go and how late you stay up. In July and August, the 85-sq.-km (33-sq.-mile) island is filled to capacity with hedonistic 20-somethings, who party all night in Mykonos’s tavernas and clubs. Boutiques stay open until 2am, enabling much shopping under the influence, and the next day, while everyone sleeps off those hangovers, the beaches are quiet until well after lunchtime. If that’s not your rhythm or age group, just avoid those peak summer months and you’ll enjoy Mykonos in all its Mediterranean sophistication. The island is often called a Greek St. Tropez, and for good reason. Mykonos town, also known as Chora, is a bewitching maze of whitewashed, cubic houses and everyone’s introduction to the island, and where you’re sure to get hopelessly lost at one time or another. The most picturesque quarter of Chora is Little Venice, with its stylish waterfront bars that are packed from late afternoon to sunset. Up on a hill behind town are the signature windmills emblazoned on so many Mykonos postcards. Chora and its port are also the departure point for ferries to the island of Delos , one of the most popular day trips in the Aegean for its important archaeological site. Mykonos is mostly flat, with little vegetation, so don’t expect any jaw-dropping nature; but it does have its share of excellent beaches. Two of the most famous beaches, Paradise and Super Paradise, are places where nudist sunbathing is allowed and where dance music blares all day long. For a more relaxing day of sun and surf, try Ornos or Kalo Livadi. If you’re seeking respite from the action, book a hotel on the “back,” or north and east, sides of the island, which are much quieter than the highly developed west coast. —SM www.gnto.co.uk.

( Mykonos, connections to Athens.

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From Piraeus (4 hr.) and other Cyclades islands (45 min.–2 hr.), Hellenic Seaways (www.hellenicseaways.gr) and Blue Star Ferries (www.bluestarferries. com). Schedules and bookings at www. ferries.gr.

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$$ Argo Hotel Mykonos, Platys Gialos 84 (& 30/22890/23405; www.argomykonos.gr). $$$ Belvedere Hotel, School of Fine Arts District (& 30/22890/ 25122; www.belvederehotel.com).

IBIZA

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Party Animals

Ibiza
Fiesta Capital of Europe
Spain
Survey any fun-loving Italian, Brit, or German, and you’re sure to uncover some wild tales involving a vacation on the Spanish island of Ibiza—the rental car that ended up in the surf, the missed flights, the inexplicably lost pieces of clothing. . . . In the western Mediterranean, there is no place whose name is more synonymous with extreme partying. As the little sister of the larger and more popular Majorca , Ibiza was fairly unknown until the middle of the 20th century, when it became a favorite sundrenched destination for hippies and artists. Nowadays, this second largest of the Balearic islands has evolved—or devolved—a long way from its flower-childtourism roots and become one of the most legendary destinations in Europe for summer revelry. Most visitors here, who come in droves during the sweltering months of July and August, are middle-class Europeans on air-and-hotel package tours, but the island is also a mecca for glamour girls like Kate Moss and Jade Jagger (both firm fixtures here in summer) and gays, which ensures a certain amount of chic amid the mass-market, alcohol- and drug-fueled madness. The main towns on Ibiza are Ciudad de Ibiza (often referred to as Ibiza Town or Eivissa in local Catalan dialect) and San Antonio, which are also the island’s biggest nightlife destinations with legendary clubs and bars like Pacha (& 34/97-13136-00; www.pacha.com) in Ibiza, and Café del Mar (& 34/97-180-49-46; www.cafe delmarmusic.com) in “San An.” Hotels in San Antonio traditionally draw heavily on the British soccer-hooligan demographic, especially in San Antonio’s notorious West End, so for something slightly more relaxing between rounds of clubbing, it’s worth spending a bit more for a private villa on or near the beach somewhere. Whatever you do, don’t show up on Ibiza in high summer without accommodations already booked. Ibiza, for all its focus on hard-partying, does offer more than all-night strobe lights and pounding bass: The beaches are quite beautiful—and because most people on vacation here spend much of the day sleeping off the previous night’s excesses, you can have them largely to yourself for the entire morning and early afternoon. Broad and brilliant white Es Pujols is the most popular beach, while horseshoeshaped Es Cana is another good choice with plenty of watersports and beach bars. The beach of Playa des Cavallet is clothing-optional and very gay-friendly. For a break from the sun and sand, Ibiza’s dramatic coastline even hides away some wonderful caves like Cova de Can Marçá, near Puerto de San Miguel. Ibiza is also an island with historic roots, and wandering around the charming old architecture of Ibiza town is a great antidote to all the craziness. The island’s interior contains some lovely countryside— between omnipresent billboards touting this nightclub or that. The writers and artists who pioneered tourism to Ibiza from the 1950s to 1970s used to frequent Bar Anita (& 34/97-133-50-90) in San Carlos, a sort of community center that still retains a bit of that bohemian atmosphere. You can also visit the two famed “hippie markets” of El Canar (at Es Cana beach) and Las Dalias (in Eivissa) for more tastes of this heritage. It’s worth noting that the authorities on Ibiza are not as permissive as their island’s free-wheeling reputation would lead you to believe: Heavy fines and deportation are not uncommon for drunk and disorderly conduct. —SM

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PLEASURE ISLANDS
Passeig Vara de Rey, 1, Ibiza Town (& 34/97-130-19-00; www.illesbalears.es). Es Codolar International Airport, Ciudad de Ibiza. $$$ Cas Gasi, Cami Vell a Sant Mateau, Apartado 117 (& 34/97-119-7700; www.casgasi.com). $$ El Hotel Pacha, Paseo Marítimo, Ibiza Town (& 34/ 97-131-59-63; www.elhotelpacha.com).

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247

Tenerife
Canary-a-Go-Go
Canary Islands, Spain
The “land of eternal spring,” this colorful, fizzy island has a reputation as a party place—and really, you’d have to be a Scrooge-size grump to not enjoy yourself amid so much sun-splashed beauty. The largest of Spain’s Canary Islands, Tenerife is a celebration, all right, of buttery yellow sun, blue sky, flowering hillsides, golden beaches, and swooping volcanic slopes. It has in the historic village of La Laguna a UNESCO World Heritage Site and in its melting-pot culture a world of flavors. Tenerife owes much of its sunny exoticism to its location, 100km (62 miles) off the coast of continental West Africa, and to its ancestral people, the aboriginal Guanche tribe, the Canaries’ earliest and now extinct inhabitants, having been conquered (and largely decimated) by the Spanish 500 years ago. But even though Tenerife enjoys a tropical climate and is closer to Africa than it is to Spain, the island’s infrastructure is thoroughly modern and über-European—little wonder it’s such a popular holiday spot for travelers from Europe and the U.K. Although Tenerife gets knocked for its “concrete coastline”—that would be the raft of megaresorts and tourist traps along the island’s popular southwest shore—it shouldn’t stop anyone from missing the island’s plentiful charms. Tenerife is a multidimensional vacation spot. If you want to bring the family, it has plenty for kids to do (great swimming, snorkeling, sailing). Ecotourists thrill to the mountainous interior and botanical gardens. Pico del Teide (rhymes with “lady”) is the tallest mountain in Spain, a snow-dusted peak that rises to 3,718m (12,198 ft.) amid soft green shoulders; it’s actually a dormant volcano. Scuba divers thrill to the island’s underwater volcanic rocks and rich marine life; the Dive Center Corralejo, on the northeast coast (& 34/92-853-59-06; www.divecentercorralejo.com), offers PADI-certified training courses and recreational dives to offshore reefs and islets. Beach bums can luxuriate on the island’s natural black-sand beaches (the goldensand beaches are imports from the Saharan desert). History lovers can hit the cobblestoned streets of charming oldworld villages like La Laguna and La Orotava. The main town on the north coast, Puerto de la Cruz, has a 17th-century fort, Castillo de San Felipe and Botanical Gardens (& 34/92-238-35-72) that date from 1788. And throughout the island, the pleasing and colorful architecture—houses with plant-filled interior courtyards, woodwork of beautifully carved Canary Island pines, gingerbread frills—makes everyone happy. Of course, Tenerife has its party-animal side, with discos and nightclubs that go-go till the wee hours—the concrete coast being the nerve center for the island’s nightlife. But

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KEY WEST this stretch of shore represents just a tiny fraction of island real estate—so get out into the beauteous countryside and experience the real Tenerife. The Canary Island archipelago, composed of seven large and six small islands, lies in the east Atlantic Ocean, but the excellent transportation system (including airports and ports on every island) makes it easy to get to and hop from island to island. The best way to explore the island is by car; Tenerife has more than 100 carrental locations. —AF www.webtenerifeuk.co.uk, www. abouttenerife.com, or www.turismode canarias.com. Sur airport ( Tenerife(12 miles) from(Reina Sofía), about 20km Playa de las Américas. $$$ Hotel Botanicao & the Oriental Spa Gardens, Puerto de la Cruz (& 34/92-238-14-00 or 902/080-000 in Spain; www.hotelbotanico.com). $$$ Hotel San Roques, Garachio, Isla Baja (& 34/92-213-34-35; www.hotelsan roque.com).

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Party Animals

Key West
Last Mango in Paradise
Florida, U.S.
Key West is an anything-goes, party-hearty destination that seems the complete antithesis of the nature-oriented, familyfriendly Florida Keys (p. 62). And for many visitors, that’s exactly why they choose Key West. Old-time “conchs” (pronounced conks), as the locals call themselves, habitually gripe that their island paradise has been ruined. What was once a slow-paced, slightly scruffy port of call for sport fishermen and social dropouts has become a commercialized cruise ship stop, with boisterous restaurants, bars, and T-shirt shops lining the heart of Old Town, Duval Street. Every evening, revelers grab a gocup and crowd the docks behind Mallory Square for the traditional Sunset Celebration, a rowdy carnival of sketch artists, acrobats, food vendors, and other buskers (not to mention pickpockets) trading on the island’s bohemian image. The revelry kicks up yet another notch during Fantasy Fest (around Halloween) and Hemingway Days (in July). But others defend Key West’s live-andlet-live mentality as its greatest asset. Over the years, writers as diverse as Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, and S. J. Perelman have found inspiration in its palm-shaded precincts. No one has defined the genial Key West spirit better than musician Jimmy Buffet, whose Parrothead acolytes still launch into choruses of “Margaritaville” at bars like Sloppy Joe’s (201 Duval St.) and Captain Tony’s Saloon (428 Green St.). Key West’s gay social scene is legendary, with rainbow flags fluttering outside gay hangouts, nonstop dance clubs and drag performances, and a stream of same-sex couples happily strolling hand in hand. You can’t deny the refreshing sense of freedom at gay-magnet Higgs Beach or around the swimming pools at the many guesthouses with a predominantly gay clientele. Laid-back Key West still exists, but you have to seek it out: in tropical backyard gardens, side streets lined with the verandas and gingerbread trim of Victorianera homes, the coral beaches and calm Atlantic waters on the island’s south side, or funky Bahama Village, where pet

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Island Hopping St. Vincent & the Grenadines: Trim the Sails
The largest island of the 32-island independent nation known as the Grenadines, St. Vincent may not be the tourist magnet of some of its sister islands, but it does have a storied history that may help explain why. St. Vincent was one of the last holdouts of native resistance against European settlers in the region. The Caribs (Kallinagoes) fought off both the British and the French through two fiercely fought Carib wars until 1796, when the warrior natives waved the white flag and were unceremoniously shipped off to Honduras. In fact, the first permanent settlers of St. Vincent were not Europeans at all but black slaves who were shipwrecked on the island in 1635 and gradually absorbed into the tribe; their progeny was known as the Yellow Caribs. Today most of the people who live on St. Vincent are descendants of black slaves (brought to the island in later years by European colonists to work the sugar plantations) and the sprinkling of Black Caribs who remained on the island after the Carib surrender. St. Vincent may lack large-scale tourism, but it is a scenic wonder, with lush vegetation and dramatic topography. It’s also a pleasure capital, with a lively music scene— the sweet night air is filled with the sounds of calypso, soca, and steel drums. The region’s administrative center, St. Vincent is also the breadbasket of the Grenadines. The island’s volatile volcano, Mount Soufriére, has been both a blessing and a curse. Major eruptions in 1812 and 1902 took the lives of thousands of islanders and did untold damage, but volcanic ash is nature’s primo fertilizer. The rich St. Vincent soil grows a prodigious supply of mangoes, papayas, bananas, breadfruit, and coconuts—a bounty on full display daily at the Kingstown Market, in the capital city, Kingstown. The volcanic activity has also produced dazzling gold- and black-sand beaches on the western coastline, while the east is rugged and mountainous. The island’s largely undeveloped terrain is also encouraging a burgeoning ecotourism industry. Sea Breeze Nature Tours (& 784/4584969; www.seabreezenaturetours. com) offers dolphin- and whale-watching tours, snorkeling trips, and tours of locations featured in the film Pirates of the Caribbean. The Grenadines archipelago extends 72km (45 miles) southwest of St. Vincent and includes Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, Union Island, Palm Island, Petit St. Vincent, and the Tobago Cays. These are some of the world’s finest sailing waters, where you can opt for bareboat or charter, sail or power cruise—and just let the gentle trade winds carry you from one delicious (and uninhabited) sugary-sand cay to another. You can also snorkel off the boat along fringing reefs, home to rich marine life, or anchor on one of the Grenadines islands for lunch or dinner—radio ahead to reserve a spot. Bequia may be one of the Caribbean’s best-kept secrets; it’s the largest of the Grenadines and just 14km (82⁄3 miles) south of St. Vincent. The island has secluded

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beaches and a laid-back ambience—and an excellent anchorage for visiting yachts in Port Elizabeth. You can rent watersports equipment on the white sands of Friendship Bay. Industry Bay and Lower Bay are both beautiful beaches shaded by palms, with good swimming and snorkeling. Dive Bequia, at the Gingerbread House in Admiralty Bay (& 784/458-3504; http://bequiadive.com), specializes in diving and snorkeling trips where you might spot tarpon, damselfish, and chain morays. Note that you can also get to Bequia via ferry from St. Vincent (& 784/4583348; www.admiralty-transport.com). The elite mystique of little Mustique has much to do with its reputation as an exclusive luxury hideaway for the rich and famous. The privately owned island has been a favorite of Princess Margaret, Mick Jagger, and other boldfaced names. Mustique enjoys the requisite tropical-island attributes: velvety beaches lapped by turquoise seas, lissome palms, and a necklace of coral reef. It also has an architectural look that has become synonymous with Mustique style: the neo-Palladian mansions designed by stage designer Oliver Messel. So far, 18 of Messel’s 30 house plans have been realized. You can stay here in a Messel-style villa (www.mustique-island.com) or reserve a room in the island’s only hotel, the Cotton House (www.cottonhouse. net), or the one guesthouse, the Firefly (www.mustique-island.com). Another privately owned island is one of the world’s top honeymoon destinations. Petit St. Vincent (pronounced Pet-ty St. Vincent). Four yellow Labrador retrievers have the run of the place, and you will too, if you get to stay in one of only 22 stone cottages on the 46-hectare (114-acre) island. The cottages have no phones or televisions, but if you’ve got a craving for a rum punch, just put a note in your mailbox, run up the attached flag, and your wish will be granted. The Atlantic Ocean side of the island is great for snorkeling; the gentle Caribbean side, perfect for lazing about. Finally, you wouldn’t want to visit the Grenadines and miss the Tobago Cays (www.tobagocays.com), an archipelago of five uninhabited islets and a 567-hectare (1,400-acre) lagoon encircled by coral reef. It’s one of the top spots to snorkel in the Caribbean. This protected national marine park can be reached only by water. You can take day charters or boat excursions from nearby island resorts or other islands; the closest islands are Union, Mayreau, and Canouan. Tread lightly when you’re there, if you will; degradation of the reef from overuse by visiting yachts, cruise ships, and fishermen has become cause for concern. —AF www.svgtourism.com. St. Vincent via Barbados (35 min.), Grenada (30 min.), Martinique (45 min.), St. Lucia (20 min.), Puerto Rico (2 hr., 20 min.), and Trinidad (1 hr.); charters to most islands via St. Vincent.

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$$ The Frangipani, Bequia (& 784/458-3255; www.frangipanibequia.com). $$$ Petit St. Vincent, Petit St. Vincent (& 800/654-9326 in the U.S. or 954/963-7401; www.psvresort.com).

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PLEASURE ISLANDS chickens and stray cats roam the streets outside trendy cafes and B&Bs. To rediscover the charms of vintage Key West, tour some of the vacation retreats of its past visitors: Key West Heritage House Museum, 410 Caroline St. (& 305/2963573; www.heritagehousemuseum.org); Audubon House, 205 Whitehead St. (& 305/294-2116; www.audubonhouse. com); the Ernest Hemingway Home, 907 Whitehead St. (& 305/294-1136; www.hemingwayhome.com); and the Harry S Truman Little White House, 111 Front St. (& 305/294-9911; www. trumanlittlewhitehouse.com). Some folks never left at all—read the wacky epitaphs on their gravestones at the quirky Key West Cemetery (701 Passover Lane). Ease into the mood by taking one of the town’s ubiquitous sightseeing tours, whether by trolley, train, bike, or on foot (several are listed at www.historictours. com/keywest). Forget about bringing a car; the best way to get around Key West—which, after all, is only 2×4 miles (3.2×6.4km) and flat as a pancake—is by bicycle or moped. —HH Tourist office, 402 Wall St. (& 800/ 527-8539 or 305/294-2587; www.key westchamber.com). Key West or Miami International Airport (159 miles/256km). $$ Ambrosia Key West, 622 Fleming St. (& 305/296-9838; www.ambrosia keywest.com). $$ Oasis, 822 Fleming St. (& 800/362-7477 or 305/296-2131; www. keywest-allmale.com).

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Paradise Island
Activities Abound at Atlantis
The Bahamas
There is probably only one island in the world where you can swim with dolphins, see the Jonas Brothers in concert, and shop at designer boutiques all in the space of a few hours: that place is The Bahamas’ Paradise Island, a 3.2km-long (2-mile) strip just across from The Bahamian capital of Nassau on New Providence Island . If you’re looking for authentic island charm, choose another Bahamian destination, but if all you want is hassle-free fun in the sun and nonstop entertainment, within a few hours’ flight of most of North America, then waste no time booking a trip to Paradise Island—and, specifically, to the Atlantis resort (see below for contact info). Leaf through any travel publication and you’ll no doubt see advertisements for the megaresort that is virtually synonymous with Paradise Island. The astounding Atlantis conglomeration counts a staggering 3,769 guest units between hotel rooms, suites, cottages, and oceanfront villas. There are other resorts and hotels on Paradise Island, but even guests of the tony One and Only Club here confess that Atlantis is where all the action is, and where everyone who comes to Paradise Island ends up spending most of their time. With more than 35 restaurants, helmed by the hottest chefs on the global dining scene, and a huge water park with rides and wildlife encounters, Atlantis is the most unabashedly over-the-top vacation destination in the Caribbean. The savvy marketing folks at Atlantis have made sure that the resort appeals to the broadest possible base. Billions of dollars have been poured into state-of-the-art facilities that exist nowhere else in the Americas. For animal lovers of all ages, the resort’s Dolphin Cay offers visitors a

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ISLE OF WIGHT chance to swim with the Atlantis’s resident dolphins (a few of which are rescues from aquariums forced to evacuate during Hurricane Katrina) in a 5.6-hectare (14acre) lagoon and beach area. Kids also love Atlantis’s Aquaventure, a 57-hectare (141-acre) water park with innovative slides, rides, wave pools, rapids, and a mile-long lazy river. And for when, if ever, you feel overstimulated by Atlantis’s packaged attractions, there are long stretches of beautiful beach nearby, like Paradise Beach, with its chikees (thatched huts) providing relief from the baking sun. Paradise Island also has a gorgeous 18-hole, Tom Weiskopf–designed golf course, whose greens abut the turquoise sea. Sundown is when the grown-up entertainment at Atlantis really comes alive. Celebrity chefs Nobu Matsuhisa, Bobby Flay, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten have all loaned their names to restaurants in the Atlantis sprawl, and there’s a happening casino here as well. Big-name concerts— pop sensations like the Jonas Brothers, or adult-contemporary mainstays like Gloria Estefan—also come to Atlantis throughout the year. Between all that and the onsite bars and nightclubs, the partying goes on into the wee hours. Recover the next day, perhaps, with a treatment at the resort’s luxurious Mandara Spa. Atlantis has thought of everything, though none of it comes cheap: Rack rates start at $300 per night, which doesn’t include any meals or dolphin encounters. You can save a good deal of money by booking a room at one of Paradise Island’s more proletarian accommodations, then wandering over to Atlantis and paying for its attractions a la carte—the prices are the same whether or not you’re a resort guest. —SM www.nassauparadiseisland.com. Nassau-Lynden Pindling International (14km/82⁄3 miles). $$$ Atlantis, Casino Dr. (& 888/ 877-7525; www.atlantis.com). $$ Comfort Suites Paradise Island, Paradise Island Dr. (& 242/363-3680; www. comfortsuitespi.com).

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The Aristocrats

Isle of Wight
Victoriana by the Sea
Channel Islands, U.K.
Blame it on Queen Victoria. In 1845 the young Queen made this Channel island all the rage when she began coming here for seaside holidays with her beloved consort Prince Albert; you can still tour their Italianate mansion, Osbourne House (outside Whippingham, south of East Cowes; & 44/1983/200022), its cozy clutter of personal objects perfectly preserved, including the bed where 81-year-old Victoria died in her sleep in 1901. Following the queen’s example, 19th-century celebrities from Tennyson to Julia Margaret Cameron to Charles Dickens flocked here to enjoy Wight’s mild climate, sandy beaches, and panoramic walks over dramatic chalk downs. By the turn of the 19th century, there were 10 pleasure piers dotted around the island, of which three—at Ryde, Sandown, and Yarmouth—still stand. The U.K.’s oldest theme park, Blackgang Chine (& 44/1983/730052; www.blackgangchine.com), opened in 1843 on the southwest side of the island; it’s still in operation, with many of its oldfashioned attractions intact. Yachtsmen, too, favored the Isle of Wight, especially the port of Cowes, which

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Victorian-era esplanade. Ryde, on the northeast coast, and steeply terraced Ventnor on the south have also preserved their Victorian-era beachfronts. The restored Isle of Wight Steam Railway (Havenstreet; & 44/1983/882204; www. iwsteamrailway.co.uk) is another stepback-in-time experience. Walking remains an Isle of Wight specialty, with the 106km (65-mile) Coastal Path circling the island, taking in stunning views of its chalk cliffs. Every May the 2-week Isle of Wight Walking Festival kick-starts the tourist season, with more than 300 themed walks scheduled for visitors. Amid all this prim Victoriana, imagine the impact of 600,000 rock fans in 1970 for the third annual Isle of Wight Rock Festival, where among other acts Jimi Hendrix blew fans’ minds. Revived in 2002 (www.isleofwightfestival.com), that festival books many of the U.K.’s top acts for a long weekend in June (the 2009 lineup included everyone from the Zombies and Neil Young to Razorlight and the Ting Tings). Held in Seaclose Park in mid-island Newport, the island’s capital and largest town, the festival includes a huge campground where many concertgoers hang out for 3 days, rain or shine. Even Queen Victoria might have been amused. —HH Tourist office, 67 High St., Shanklin (& 44/1983/862942; www.iwight.com).

Isle of Wight.

lies directly south of Southampton across a 4.8km-wide (3-mile) channel, the Solent, known for its treacherous tidal currents— where better to hone one’s sailing skills? The annual Cowes Week regatta was launched in 1826; in 1851 the first America’s Cup race took place around the island; and in 1854 the Royal Yacht Squadron moved into an old Tudor castle overlooking Cowes harbor. Unlike many 19th-century resorts, however, the Isle of Wight is still going strong. Yachts still fill the harbor at Cowes, with the Cowes Week regatta returning every August. The twin towns of Sandown and Shanklin still share a 9.7km-long (6-mile) sweep of golden beach on the east coast, where shallow waters and abundant sunshine (Sandown holds Britain’s record for most days of sunshine per year) draw holiday-making families to a well-preserved

( London Heathrow (145km/90 miles).

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Ryde (20 min. from Portsmouth), West Cowes (22 min. from Southampton), East Cowes (55 min. car ferry from Southampton).

$$ Bourne Hall Country Hotel, Luccombe St., Shanklin (& 44/1983/ 862820; www.bournehallhotel.co.uk). $$$ The George Hotel, Quay St., Ryde (& 44/1983/760331; www.thegeorge. co.uk).

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Isle of Islay
Queen of the Hebrides
Inner Hebrides, Scotland
Only 26km (16 miles) of cold grey sea lie between the Kintyre peninsula, on Scotland’s west coast, and the Isle of Islay. Still, that’s more than enough distance to keep Islay (pronounced Eye-la) isolated and unspoiled. That romantic remoteness long ago gave Islay its greatest claim to fame: Far from the mainland’s tax officers, Islay’s distillers did quite a business in freebooting whisky in the 18th century. Once the excise tax was lifted, the island swiftly became a whisky powerhouse. Islay whisky isn’t for everyone, but its fans consider it the finest and truest expression of malt whisky. Islay’s brown peaty water infuses the local malts with an earthy tang, adding hints of briny salt air and even a little mossy seaweed. It’s a strong flavor, further concentrated by the antiquated pot-still methods that Islay’s distillers proudly preserve. Nearly all these distilleries run weekday tours year-round (call ahead for appointments). Begin down south in the island’s main resort town, Port Ellen, where three famous distilleries are strung along the coast east of town (note the sheer coastal cliffs, riddled with caves where illegal stills and smuggling rings once operated). Laphroaig (1.6km/1mile east of Port Ellen; & 44/1496/302-418; www.laphroaig. com) was officially founded in 1815, though illegal stills had operated here for years. Since 1994, sweet smoky Laphroaig has held a prestigious royal warrant from Prince Charles. Laphroaig’s longtime rival, Lagavulin (3km/13⁄4 miles east of Port Ellen; & 44/1496/302-730; www.malts. com), uses unique pear-shaped stills and a distilling process that adds extra time at every stage—distilling, fermenting, aging— to give this dark, peaty whisky an especially deep, rounded flavor. Up the coast another mile or so, 19th-century Ardbeg (& 44/1496/302-244; www.ardbeg.com) closed down in the 1980s but was revived in 1997 by Glenmorangie, which restored its old stills, copper-topped kilns, and mash tuns to produce a classic peaty Islay malt. Fortified with a few drams, you may commune with the Celtic past at the mossy ruins of Dunyvaig Castle, above Lagavulin, and up the coast at Kidalton (12km/71⁄2 miles from Port Ellen), where a superb 9th-century stone cross stands in the roofless church. Along Loch Indaal, which deeply notches Islay’s west coast, you’ll find two more fine distilleries. In Bowmore, Islay’s capital, Bowmore Distillery (School St.; & 44/1496/810-671; www.morrison bowmore.com) is the island’s oldest, founded in 1779; here you’ll see one of the country’s last old-fashioned malting floors, where a maltman gently hand-turns the malting barley with a wooden shovel. (Don’t miss Bowmore’s round church, craftily built with no corners where the devil might hide.) Then head around the loch, stopping in Bridgend to buy heathery tweeds at the Islay Woollen Mill (& 44/1496/810-563), which wove all the cloaks and kilts worn in the movie Braveheart. Continue around the loch to small privately owned Bruichladdich (& 44/1496/850-190; www.bruichladdich. com), which produces small batches of an especially delicate malt, using unpeated barley and clear spring water, in another revived 19th-century distillery. Ah, so many single malts, so little time! —HH

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Islay Airport, Glenegedale.

Port Ellen or Port Askaig (2 hr. from West Tarbert, Kintyre, via MacBrayne steamers; & 44/1475/635-235; www. calmac.co.uk).

$$ Bridgend Hotel, Bridgend (& 44/1496/810-212; www.bridgendhotel.com). $$$ Harbour Inn, The Square, Bowmore (& 44/1496/810-330; www. harbour-inn.com).

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Capri
The Mediterranean Jewel That’s Always in Style
Italy
First of all, get the pronunciation right: It’s Cah-pree, not Ca-pree. What many call the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean, and whose iconic name has been co-opted for everything from 1950s automobiles to cropped pants, may have had its heyday several decades ago, but the captivating idea of Capri remains. The marina is frequently filled to capacity with billion-dollar yachts (the moorage fee here is sky-high), and international celebrities party at venerable nightclubs like Anema e Core. Capri’s secluded bathing spots are filled with glamazons right out of a Dolce & Gabbana ad, and nearly every backdrop on the island oozes a quiet sense of privilege. And if the allure of hobnobbing with modern-day Jackie O’s isn’t enough, Capri is one of the most naturally splendid places in Europe: Marvel at the island’s rock formations and grottoes, its wild forests and manicured lemon groves, and the ultracivilized lifestyle that’s been carved out here over the past 2,000 years. A jagged monolith of sheer limestone cliffs studded with tenacious pine trees, Capri presents a rugged profile to anyone arriving by sea, and no matter how many times you’ve been here, that arresting appearance takes your breath away each time you sail into port. The island’s stunning landscape and its convenient location in the Bay of Naples made it a popular retreat as early as ancient Roman times. The emperor Tiberius built no fewer than a dozen villas here—the Villa Jovis, on the impossibly tall northeast tip of the island, is the best preserved of them. In more recent history, Capri was a darling of the international jet set, whose heyday on the island peaked in the 1960s. Though most hotels and restaurants in Capri remain deliberately priced out of most travelers’ budgets, and the harbor is still filled with astounding yachts in high season, its luxury status is somewhat undermined by omnipresent day-trippers from Sorrento and Naples. The key to enjoying Capri is to avoid the most congested tourist areas, Capri Town and the port of Marina Grande, between 10am and 5pm. Get out on the water with an island circumnavigation tour (& 39/081/8377714; www.moto scafisticapri.com), or use your own two feet to explore the quieter, wilder sides of the island, which is a hiker’s paradise. Whether it’s the gentle trek to the top of Monte Solaro (also accessible by chairlift) or the Pizzolungo trail that skirts the most dramatic part of the island, between the Faraglioni rock formations and the Arco Naturale, you’re never far from vistas that’ll give you vertigo and glamorous backdrops for vacation photos. The Blue Grotto (or Grotta Azzurra) is Capri’s single main “attraction” and an unabashed tourist trap that will cost you an arm and a leg.

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Capri.

Yet the giddy experience of being in the tiny dinghies that go through the 1m-tall (31⁄4-ft.) cave entrance—and seeing the electric blue water once you’re inside—is worth all the hype. Whereas Capri Town is where all the glitzy storefronts and cafes are to be found, the island’s other inhabited center, Anacapri, represents a mellower, more authentic alternative with its own warren of labyrinthine lanes and whitewashed houses. A hair-raising, ribbon-thin “highway,” where orange municipal buses seem poised to careen off the precipice at every turn, connects the two towns. —SM

Capri Tourist Board, Piazza Umberto I, Capri Town (& 39/081/8370686; www. capritourism.com).

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From Naples or Sorrento, hydrofoil or ferry (20 min.–1 hr.).

$ Hotel Tosca, Via Birago 5, Capri Town (& 39/081/8370989; h.tosca@ capri.it). $$$ Punta Tragara, Via Tragara 57, Capri Town (& 39/081/8370844; www.hoteltragara.com).

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The Aristocrats

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Büyükada
Car Free in the Sea of Marmara
Princes Islands, Turkey
When the warm weather arrives, Istanbulites leave their cars behind and board a ferry to the elegant retreat of Büyükada. Historic architecture, clean air, pine trees, and a slow pace reign at this largest and most beloved island in the Sea of Marmara’s Princes archipelago (büyük means “big” and ada means “island”). One of the most appealing aspects of Büyükada— and what makes it such a welcome contrast to chaotic Istanbul—is that no motor vehicles are permitted on the 5.4-sq.-km (2-sq.-mile) island; instead, public transportation is by horse-drawn carriages. Princes and empresses of old (and one exiled Leon Trotsky) made this island their favorite retreat, and anyone visiting Istanbul in the summer should try to fit in at least a day trip: The relaxing and scenic ferry ride alone, not to mention an abundance of creature comforts, is enough to recharge any traveler’s batteries. Life on Büyükada centers around the fin de siècle Iskele Meydani (Dock Square), where lively cafes, bakeries, ice-cream shops, and stands selling lahmujun (Turkish pizza) perfume the air around the landmark clock tower. Phaetons (the local term for Büyükada’s signature horsedrawn carriages) depart from here for tours of the island, whether you want a quick overview of the seaside near the port or a more in-depth look at historical sites of the interior and the magnificent garden villas of the Nizam district. Prices are fixed by the local government—no haggling necessary. Bicycles, the other chief means of getting around the mostly flat island, can also be rented in the square. Farther inland, a donkey terminus serves those who wish to make the ascent up 202m-high (663-ft.) Yüce Tepe hill to Hagia Yorgi church, much revered for its supposed wish-granting and healing properties. And although the water in the Sea of Marmara never really gets all that warm, there are a few good—if crowded— beaches, like Prenses Plajı, where you can go for a swim. In the evenings, as during the day, the island population congregates at Dock Square, perhaps for calamari and the divine chocolate soufflé at Milto (& 90/ 216-382-53-12), or for ice cream and a waterfront stroll in the moonlight. For those seeking a bit more action, Büyükada has several energetic casinos and clubs where you can dance the night away with Istanbul’s hot young things. Despite the nightlife, however, Büyükada is a wonderfully safe getaway, and you’ll see children playing in town at all hours. (You’ll also see well-groomed phaeton horses wandering loose in the streets after their workday is finished.) Though most who overnight on Büyükada are the well-to-do Turks who own homes here, there are a few hotels in town. (For weekend stays in summer, it is essential to book months in advance.) For period atmosphere, the top address is the Splendid Palace Hotel (see below), which was built in a subtly Orientalized Art Nouveau style in 1906, on the model of the Hotel Negresco in Nice, France, and hasn’t been updated much since. —SM www.tourismturkey.com. Istanbul Ataturk (16km/10 miles to Kabatas port, then ferry).

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IDO ferry (www.ido.com.tr) from Istanbul’s Kabatas port (90 min.).

$$$ Splendid Palace Hotel, 23 Nisan Caddesi (& 90/216-382-69-50; www.splendidhotel.net).

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SANTA CATALINA

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Santa Catalina
Double Your Pleasure
California, U.S.
When chewing-gum magnate William Wrigley, Jr., fell in love with Catalina Island in 1915, he did what any self-respecting tycoon would do: He built an exclusive resort town and invited A-list friends like Laurel and Hardy, Cecil B. DeMille, John Wayne, and even Winston Churchill to enjoy it with him. But luckily, Wrigley was also a nature lover. Determined to preserve his own private Eden, he kept 88% of the island off-limits to development. Wrigley’s forethought ensured that this little island, only 22 miles (35km) off the Southern California coast, would remain a world unto itself, a haven of clean air, untrafficked roads, and crystal-clear water. In 1975 Wrigley’s estate deeded most of the rugged, hilly interior outright to the Catalina Island Conservancy, which has vigorously protected his legacy. Arriving in Avalon, the island’s port and only town, you’ll notice swarms of varicolored golf carts—this is the only city in California authorized to limit the numbers of cars on city streets, so locals use golf carts or even Segways (rent your own near the dock). Avalon still bears the Art Deco look of Catalina’s heyday, most prominently at the round white Casino, overlooking the bobbing yachts in the harbor. Posh boutiques line Crescent Avenue, and the town features an immaculately groomed vintage golf course, built in 1892 for those early Wrigley guests; on a knoll above town, visitors can dine at the California Revival landmark Catalina Country Club. While you’re in town, be sure to visit the Wrigley Botanical Garden (& 310/ 510-2288), designed by Mrs. Wrigley to showcase the unique botany of California’s coastal islands.

Casino at Santa Catalina.

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Lush stands of giant kelp offshore make this one of the West Coast’s most fascinating snorkeling and scuba sites, with underwater visibility of 40 to 100 ft. (12–30m) on a good day. At several marine reserves— Lover’s Cove, Casino Point, Toyon Bay, and Blue Cavern Point—artificial reefs have been built to protect fish from the industrial chemicals that still contaminate the waters closer to Los Angeles. Contact Diving Catalina Island (& 877/ SNORKEL [766-7535]; www.diving catalina.com) or Catalina Divers Supply (& 800/353-0330 or 310/510-0330; www. catalinadiverssupply.com) to rent gear or set up dive tours. To explore the unspoiled interior, there are plenty of trails for hiking or mountain biking; you can also book a naturalist-led Jeep tour with the Conservancy (& 310/ 510-2595; www.catalinaconservancy. org), or take Santa Catalina Island Company’s 4-hour bus tour (& 310/510-8687; www.visitcatalinaisland.com), which includes a visit to the Wrigleys’ famous Arabian horse ranch (SCICo also offers 45-min. underwater tours of the kelp forest and nighttime trips to observe flying fish). Don’t be surprised if you see buffalo roaming the range, the offspring of a few movie-prop bison imported in 1929—just another of the quirks that make Catalina so special. —HH Catalina Island Visitors Bureau, Green Pleasure Pier, Avalon (& 310/5101520; www.catalina.com). Los Angeles International (45 miles/ 72km). Catalina Express (& 800/4813470; www.catalinaexpress.com) from San Pedro or Long Beach; Marina Flyer (& 310/305-7250; www.catalinaferries. com) from Marina del Rey; Catalina Flyer (& 800/830-7744; www.catalinainfo.com) from Newport Beach. $ Hotel Catalina, 129 Whittley Ave. ( 800/540-0184 or 310/510-0027; www. hotelcatalina.com). $$ Hotel Vista Del Mar, 417 Crescent Ave. (& 800/601-3836 or 310/510-1452; www.hotel-vistadelmar. com).

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St. Barts
St. Tropez of the Caribbean
In spite of its reputation as a ritzy, sunblazed stopover for celebrities, the St. Barts I know is a place of quiet pleasures: magical villas tucked away on flower-filled cliffs; wave-lapped, light-dappled cul-desacs; a sunny disposition and a distinctly French sensibility. Most of the islanders, in fact, are of French or Swedish descent. And the beaches—considered by many to be the most beautiful in the Caribbean— are rarely crowded, never cluttered. Yes, there are European-style discos and bars that go-go all night and flashy yachts elbowing their way into the little seaport of Gustavia, the island’s enchanting capital. Old and new money also feed a vibrant luxury-goods market. But the island has no clanging casinos or giant cruise ships blocking harbor views. And a number of factors ensure that things will stay that way. For one thing, the island is quite small, just 21 sq. km (8 sq. miles); you can get from one end to the other in under 30 minutes. Plus the terrain is vastly different from that of its neighbor, St. Maarten , where flat, sandy scrubland is the prevailing landscape. St. Barts is a volcanic island, where the creases and folds of the landscape translate to roads with Monte Carlo–style hairpin curves and roller coaster dips and rises.

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Another reason St. Barts (which is officially called St. Barthélemy) has retained its quaint character is the simple fact of getting there. The flight from St. Maarten is just 10 minutes long, but for many people, landing a tiny plane on a tiny airstrip lined up between two volcanic hills and braking mere feet from sunbathers on the beach is 10 minutes of white-knuckle terror. Those who go by boat or high-speed ferry have the unpredictable, sometimes stomachchurning seas to contend with. Local authorities, keenly sensitive to the perils of overdevelopment, have placed style and size restrictions on new resorts, which cannot have more than 12 rooms (the largest resort has 68 rooms); most are tastefully tucked into the glorious landscape. And by and large, St. Barts can be prohibitively pricey, from the luxury resorts and upscale restaurants to the ultrachic designer boutiques. But it doesn’t have to cost a fortune to stay here: You can rent a villa or private home (half the visitors who come here do), cook your own meals, and beach-hop with the rest of the islanders—all the beaches are public and free. So what do you do on St. Barts? You arrive at the airport (or the ferry landing) and rent a car so you can do as the locals do: beach-hop from one glorious strand of sand to the next. (The best known beach is St-Jean Beach, which is actually two beaches divided by the Eden Rock promontory.) First stop in at Match, the grocery store across from the airport, for supplies. (Check out the French canned goods and household items—even the toothpastes have more than a soupçon of style.) You can then take advantage of the myriad water activities—parasailing, snorkeling, scuba diving—and world-class spa treatments. You let your hair get tousled and sun-bleached, and you dine alfresco amid flickering candlelight. And, yes, you may spot a celebrity living it up, but then again, you may be too busy living it up yourself to care. —AF Office du Tourisme, quai du Généralde-Gaulle (& 590/27-87-27; www.stbarths.com). Flights connect through St. Maarten (10 min.). Voyager vessels (& 590/87-1068; www.voyager-st-barths.com); 45 min. from St. Maarten. $$$ Hotel Guanahani, Grand Cul-de-Sac, 97133 St. Barthélemy, F.W.I. (& 800/223-6800 in the U.S., or 590/2766-60; www.leguanahani.com). $$ Les Ilets de la Plage, Plage de St. Jean, 97133 St. Barthélemy, F.W.I. (& 590/2788-57; www.lesilets.com).

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Aruba
One Happy Island
This little island packs a lot into its small, 181-sq.-km (70-sq.-mile) frame. On its southern coast are quintessentially beautiful Caribbean beaches and gentle, sparkling seas; on its windward northern shores are beaches rimmed by rugged cliffs and boulders. Its most populated coastlines are filled with high-rise resorts, timeshares, budget motels, casinos, nightclubs, and supersize cruise ships—there to meet the needs of the 600,000 visitors who arrive annually. And why wouldn’t they come? Aruba is sunny and dry most all the time, with average temps hovering around 28°C (82°F) and an average of 51cm (20 in.) of rain a year. It’s not called “One Happy Island” for nothing: This is fun in the sun on a neardaily basis.

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A golf course on Aruba.

Aruba is one of the southernmost islands in the Caribbean, a mere 24km (15 miles) from the South American coastland. In fact, the first Arubans boated over from Venezuela about 4,500 years ago. Since the mid–17th century, Aruba has been largely a Dutch protectorate, and today its official language is still Dutch, although its polyglot population comprises some 60 nationalities. But most everyone speaks English, just one factor that makes Aruba extremely popular among North Americans. In fact, the island is one of the most Americanized in the Caribbean (70% of its visitors come from the United States), with most prices given in dollars and lots of American-style eateries and chains. But the Dutch influence is evident everywhere, from the fanciful and colorful Dutch colonial architecture in its capital, Oranjestad, to such relics from the Dutch settlement as the 1796 Fort Zoutman, the island’s oldest surviving historical structure. But it’s the sunny island pastimes that most define Aruba. Every watersport under the sun is available here, from snorkeling to kayaking to deep-sea fishing to

sailing. The calm surf and sandy bottom make Arashi Beach, near the California Lighthouse at the island’s northwestern tip, one of Aruba’s best swimming sites. The island’s mecca of windsurfing is just minutes south at Hadicurari, or Fishermen’s Huts; the shallow water is also excellent for swimming. Home of highrises, Palm Beach is Aruba’s best spot for people-watching. Boca Grandi, a virtually deserted expanse of dramatic sand dunes and sea grasses, is reminiscent of Cape Cod, but the aqua, azure, and sapphire waters are unmistakably Caribbean. For sheer tranquillity and open space, Manchebo Beach, also known as Punto Brabo, is top-notch; the sand here stretches 110m (361 ft.) from the shore to the hotels. The island also has four golf courses and a world-class tennis center. But most of all it has those gorgeous, sugary-sand beaches, lapped by turquoise seas and framed by impossibly blue skies some 345 days a year—give or take an odd rainy day. —AF

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Aruba Tourism Authority (& 800/ TO-ARUBA [862-7822]; www.aruba.com). (& 800/932-6509 in the U.S. and Canada, or 297/527-1100; www.amsterdammanor. com). $$$ Radisson Aruba Resort & Casino, Palm Beach/Noord, J.E. Irausquin Blvd. 81 (& 800/333-3333 in the U.S. and Canada, or 297/586-6555; www.radisson. com/palmbeachaw).

( Queen Beatrix International Airport.
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Jamaica
The Caribbean’s Most Distinct Flavor
From Bob Marley and the unmistakable sounds of reggae to headline-making Olympians—the 1988 bobsled team and, more recently, Beijing games sprinting star Usain Bolt—Jamaica has earned more publicity for the Caribbean than any other island. For anyone seeking some real living culture along with their tropical beach getaway, Jamaica should be high on the list. The superlatively turquoise waters of the Caribbean may be elsewhere, at Turks and Caicos (p. 12) or the Caymans and , but the seas and sand here are plenty clean for beach bums. Without a doubt, Jamaica has the most interesting and robust local flavor— complete with all the hang-loose, dreadlocked Rastafarians you’re imagining—of any island in this fabled sea. For the majority of visitors, especially first-timers, a trip to Jamaica means Montego Bay, which is fully equipped with glitzy hotels, clubs, and restaurants and even has its own airport, eliminating the need to fly to Kingston (130km/81 miles away by car). The megasize cruise ships spill out thousands of passengers here daily, encouraging touts to roam the beaches with pitches for watersports, reggae clubs, and pub crawls. With all that action, however, comes a citylike vibe: Mo’ Bay can feel a little hectic—not what everyone expects from a Caribbean beach holiday. But no trip to Jamaica is complete without a stop at Time N’ Place (& 876/954-4371; www. mytimenplace.com) in Falmouth (just east of Montego Bay) for a daiquiri. Sure, it’s touristy, but the laid-back beach hut, where you can sip daiquiris and Red Stripes in hammocks, is an unforgettable, “I’m in Jamaica, mon!” experience. Honeymooners and families often prefer the newer resort area of Negril, on Jamaica’s far western tip, for its romantic 7-Mile Beach and pampering all-inclusive resorts. Ocho Rios, almost due north of Kingston, is another significant resort area that offers a lot of natural beauty; “Ochie” is where you’ll find the famous Dunn’s River Falls, which cascades some 212m (696 ft.) to the sea. Near the eastern end of Jamaica, Port Antonio is more of an elite enclave and a still-untouched part of the island. Rafting trips on the island’s Rio Grande depart from here. For wildlife enthusiasts, boat “safaris” on the Black River (east of Negril, on the south coast) put you face to face with American crocodiles and one of the richest swamp ecosystems in the Caribbean. Jamaica is a big island (11,396 sq. km/4,400 sq miles), and getting around it takes some time; so pick your base wisely depending on what sort of vibe you’re after. But no matter which area you choose, you’ll be surrounded by mellow Jamaican music and smiling locals bedecked in the green, red, and yellow of

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PLEASURE ISLANDS the public at its Mavis Bank facility for plantation visits and factory tours. Venture away from the established resort spots, and you’ll discover Jamaica’s more authentic nooks and crannies, not all of which are savory: Poverty and crime are a problem on many parts of the island, and it pays to be a savvy traveler when visiting these areas. Kingston, for instance, on the southern coast and toward the eastern end of Jamaica, several hours from Montego Bay and Negril, is a vibrant city of 750,000 that may tempt you with its cultural offerings, but it’s best to keep your touring there to daytime hours and to go in a group. The South Coast of Jamaica remains largely undeveloped for tourism and offers plenty in the way of hidden treasures, but don’t expect it all to be well-scrubbed and hospitable. For better or worse, going off the beaten track is always going to involve some sketchiness, and that’s part of why you come—to see the real Jamaica, away from the resort bubble. —SM
Zip-lining in Jamaica.

the country’s flag, and have no trouble finding fantastic little places to eat the delicious island cuisine. Jamaica’s well-established tourist infrastructure also means activities galore, from horseback riding on the beach to zip-lining in the forest to swimming with dolphins. Coffee beans are grown in the mist-shrouded mountains of eastern Jamaica; the famous brand Blue Mountain (www.bluemountaincoffee.com) welcomes

& 800/233-4582 in the U.S., or 876/952-4425; www.visitjamaica.com.
Montego Bay-Sangster International (for Montego Bay, Negril, and Ocho Rios) and Kingston-Norman Manley International (for Kingston and Port Antonio). $$$ The Caves, Negril (& 876/9570270; www.thecavesresort.com). $$ Royal Decameron Montego Beach, Montego Bay (& 876/952-4340; www. decameron.com).

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263 Maui

Hawaii’s Irresistible All-Arounder
Hawaii, U.S.
You could travel halfway around the globe, to more exclusive and exotic island locales, and still not find the sort of stunning terrain, world-class recreation, and sunny relaxation that Maui offers. It’s no wonder this Polynesian paradise has been voted

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“Best Island” in the world numerous times by the glossy travel press. Locals have a saying for their island: Maui No Ka Oi (“Maui is the best”), and on many, many counts, I’d have to agree. Hawaii neophytes often pick Maui for their first foray into the archipelago and find such bliss here that they never bother to check out Kauai , the Big Island , or Oahu . While those other Hawaiian islands have their unique appeal and attractions, there’s something about Maui that screams “vacation,” and it lures you back again and again when all you want from your trip is to unplug and have a good time. Maui is without a doubt the most pampering of the Hawaiian islands, with the greatest variety and number of amenities and opportunities when it comes to rest and relaxation, cultural exploration, or adventure travel. On maps, Maui is shaped roughly like a human head and shoulders (the head’s at the west end, with the popular beach resort area of Kaanapali along the “forehead”). With seemingly endless sandy beaches, gentle salty breezes, and spectacular sunsets, Maui’s west-facing resort developments are popular for good reason. Along that coast, the historic, pedestrian-friendly town of Lahaina is full of shops, restaurants, and galleries. In the evening, make your way to the Old Lahaina Luau (& 800/248-5828; www. oldlahainaluau.com) for some traditional Polynesian culture—hula dancing, pigs roasting on a spit, and classic island dishes like po (mashed taro root). At busy Black Rock Beach in Kaanapali, you’ll find some of the best snorkeling in this part of the Pacific. All beaches on Maui, even those in front of the ritzy resorts, are public. In winter, don’t miss a chance to go on a whale-watching excursion: Humpbacks migrate to the waters off Maui every year to mate or birth their calves. Another highly recommended day trip is a Trilogy (& 888/225-MAUI [2256284]; www.sailtrilogy.com) sailing and snorkeling outing to Lanai . The rural interior of the island offers the Hawaiian version of cowboy country, in towns like Makawao, and the formidable volcanic crater of Haleakala (3,055m/ 10,023 ft.). When you need a break from the sun and sand, take a trip back in time to the untouched earthly paradise of Hana, along the southeast coast.

Haleakala National Park.

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Maui’s five-star resorts (concentrated mostly at Wailea and Kapalua) are legendary, but for a less cocooned atmosphere, I recommend booking a condo somewhere near Kaanapali: The location is perfect for exploring everything on the island, and you’ll be well-positioned for any and all watersports and excursions you choose. —SM

& 800/525-MAUI (525-6284); www. visitmaui.com or www.gohawaii.com.

( Kahului International and KapaluaWest Maui.
$$$ Four Seasons Resort Maui at Wailea, 3900 Wailea Alanui (& 808/8748000; www.fourseasons.com/maui). $$ Kaanapali Beach Rentals (& 800/8877654; www.kaanapalibeachrentals.com).

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Penang
British Trading Post Turned Playground
Malaysia
Golden sands and shimmering blue seas, along with a rich history and delicious local cuisine, have earned this popular Malaysian getaway the marketing nickname of “Pearl of the Orient.” Certainly, Penang has everything you could ask for from an island holiday: fun beaches, beautiful resorts, cultural attractions, and scrumptious food—its namesake curry is a staple on Southeast Asian menus worldwide. If you have only a short time to visit Malaysia but want to take in as wide an experience as you can and catch some rays, Penang is a great choice. While Penang is largely a tourist destination these days, it didn’t start out that way. Originally called “Pulau Pinang” (Isle of the Betel Nut), Penang was ceded to the British East India Company in the 18th century and became a vibrant trading center where merchants of many ethnicities and cultures met and melded. Much of that heritage is still plenty evident today, especially in the historic city of Georgetown. Spending a few hours touring the sights in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, on foot or by trishaw, is a must for any visitor to Penang. Georgetown also has the best bars and clubs on the island. Hands down, the prime beach destination on Penang is along the northern shore, on the sandy, resort-filled strip called Batu Feringgi. The beachfront here is backed by hotels of every kind, and you can just stroll down the sand until you find a spot you like. Tanjung Bungah and Teluk Bahang are the other major beach areas on the island. Owing to Penang’s rich and varied pan-Asian history, street food is also a big part of the island experience. Head for the tantalizing stands along Gurney Drive, or just stop anywhere you see hawkers and smell something good. For a great panorama of the island, take the funicular up to the top of Penang Hill. From here, beyond the green slope, you can spot the colorful spires and rooftops of places of worship from every religion that’s ever come to the island—Buddhist, Hindu, Christian. The intrepid can check out the Snake Temple in Sungai Kluong, a Buddhist shrine where live pit vipers are still kept. Shopping is also an important pursuit on the island, whether you choose to browse the western-style plazas of Gurney Plaza and Queensbay, or traditional flea markets like Rope Walk. Famous products include wood carvings and silver jewelry, as well as a wondrous array of nutmeg-based oils and food items—no surprise, considering Penang’s history in

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Madeira
Captured Sunlight
Portugal
This sun-dappled tropical isle is an exotic mix of old-world Europe and West African sizzle. The “pearl of the Atlantic,” Madeira is an autonomous region of Portugal but is actually closer to Africa than it is to the motherland. The island is lush and mountainous, its deep folds and creases swathed in green vegetation, blue jacaranda and birds of paradise, and fruit gardens. Beautiful terraced vineyards and fields of sugar cane are carved out of steep slopes, surrounded by a bright blue sea. The island’s capital, picturesque Funchal, sits on a hillside overlooking a wide bay, with high sea cliffs looming in the distance. Only 57km (35 miles) long and about 21km (13 miles) across at its widest point, the island is a favorite holiday destination for Europeans (although for good beaches, you’ll need to go to sister island Porto Santo). Madeira is ambrosia for wine lovers, home to perhaps the most famous wine in the world, the eponymous Madeira. Grapes don’t normally take hold in tropical climates—the humidity and rich soil usually mean poor quality and disease. Yet Madeira is blessed with a singular terroir. Its volcanic soil is perfect for hardy, exotic, strangely named grapes like Bastardo and Strangled Dog. Over the years, the island’s inventive winemakers discovered that if they fortified the local wine with alcohol they could produce a rich port that would last for literally centuries. Geographic location also blessed Madeira, for it could handily supply the New World with wine; the heat it endured on such journeys only improved its taste. (That heat is now simulated in ovenlike lofts on the island.) Madeira has long had a legendary following among wine connoisseurs. In 1478, when the Duke of Clarence faced execution for treason in the Tower of London, he chose to drown himself in a tub of Madeira rather than face the axe. Shakespeare referred to it in his plays (in Henry II, the Prince of Wales is accused of selling his soul for a glass of Madeira and a chicken leg), and Madeira was the wine used to toast the American Declaration of Independence (George Washington reputedly could not get by without a pint a day). Madeira wine is currently going through a quality renaissance, led by innovative island winemakers. The prizewinning wines of Henriques & Henriques (& 351/29/ 194-15-51; www.henriquesehenriques.pt) consistently garner top spots in international blind tasting competitions; you can tour the headquarters in the town of Càmara de Lobos. The quaint white town house of the Madeira Wine Company (& 351/29/174-01-10; www.madeira winecompany.com), in Funchal, features creaky lofts piled high with oak, mahogany, and satinwood casks, as well as a woodraftered tasting room where shelves hold

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100-year-old wine—captured sunlight from Victorian times. Madeira is about much more than just wine, however. The beautiful countryside is ripe for exploring on foot; in fact, 2,500km (1,553 miles) of walking trails trace the old levadas, or irrigation aqueducts, over mountains, into rural countryside, and past rock pools, waterfalls, and breathtaking seascapes. Guided tours along the levadas are offered by Madeira Explorers (& 351/29/176-37-02; www. madeira-levada-walks.com). —AF www.madeira-island.com, www. madeirarural.com, or www.visitportugal. com. Madeira International Airport (flight from Lisbon: 1 hr., 25 min.).

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Cozumel
Carefree Recreation off the Yucatán
Mexico
The idea of going down to coastal Mexico on vacation is enticing enough, but in a country known for its relaxing rhythms and warm weather, Cozumel ups the ante by being an island with all the advantages of a Mexican beach holiday, yet little of the mass-market feel and spring-break craziness that plague such tourist-magnet places as Cancún. Since 1996, Cozumel’s marine habitats have been a national park, and well before then, they’ve been recognized—since Jacques Cousteau started filming his documentaries here in the 1960s—as one of the best dive spots in the entire world. There’s no need to show up already an expert: The island’s many friendly diving outfitters, along with the protected conditions of the coral reefs, make this a great place to get scuba-certified. Palancar, Santa Rosa, and El Cedral reefs are some of the island’s most famous sites, along with the tunnels of Devil’s Throat. You can also explore the undersea world of Chankanaab Lagoon park (www. cozumelparks.com) on the Atlantis Submarine (& 866/546-7820 from the U.S. and Canada; www.atlantisadventures. com), which dives to depths of 30m (100 ft.) among awesome coral towers and Technicolor schools of tropical fish. As for beaches, Cozumel’s unique geographical position means that gentle breakers lap at the western shore of the island, where the waters are aquariumcalm, while the eastern side gets lashed with strong waves. Cocktail-hour catamaran excursions are ideal for romantics eager to explore these waters, while snorkeling with rays at Stingray Beach or swimming with dolphins at Dolphin Discovery (& 52/998/193-3360; www. dolphindiscovery.com) are great activities for the young and adventurous. For those who wish to spend more time above the water’s surface than below it, there’s plenty to keep you busy on Cozumel. ATV and Jeep tours are a fun way to explore the island’s junglelike interior and evocative Mayan ruins. All island travel agencies can arrange these, but for something really memorable, try the horseback tours at Rancho Palmita (no phone) on the Costera Sur highway, across from the Occidental Cozumel resort.

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Snorkeling in Cozumel.

Of course, what would a trip to any part of Mexico be without the local cantina culture? San Miguel is the island’s only real town and where all the action is. While the party-loving crowd will be relieved to find the full complement of Señor Frog’s– type bars and clubs in San Miguel, the scene tends to be more mature than at similar establishments in, say, Cancún. For visitors seeking something a bit more authentic, plenty of restaurants in town specialize in traditional Mayan recipes. Every Sunday evening, locals congregate around the main plaza of San Miguel with their families for live music and socializing in the balmy air. The best and most commonly used accommodations on Cozumel are vacation rentals; whether you opt for a large beach house or a smaller condo, the units

generally come with staff that will do all your cleaning and cooking, if you wish. Any agency you book accommodations with can also arrange every imaginable excursion and tour. —SM www.islacozumel.com. Cozumel Airport or Cancun Airport (45 min. to Playa del Carmen, then 30-min. ferry).

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$$ El Cantil Oceanfront Condominiums, av. Rafael Melgar, San Miguel (& 52/987/869-1517; www.elcantil condos.com). $$$ Presidente Intercontinental Cozumel, Costera Sur Km 6.5 (& 800/327-0200 in the U.S., or 52/987/ 872-9500; www.intercontinentalcozumel. com).

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Island Hopping the Whitsunday Islands: Turquoise Bliss
Off the coast of Queensland, forming a pleasure- and relaxation-oriented way halfway between the mainland and the Great Barrier Reef, the Whitsunday Islands are many an Australian’s idea of the perfect holiday. This chain of 74 islands (8 are inhabited) is an idyllic palette of gorgeous light aqua, sugary-white sand, and swathes of unspoiled green. There’s a common theme to many of the Whitsundays: Often, there’s only one resort on the island, and the rest is protected parkland veined with hiking trails. The beaches and reefs tend to offer the same spectrum of recreational opportunities from island to island—snorkeling, sea kayaking, and wind- and motor-powered watersports—yet each of the Whitsundays has its own special character and appeal. Most foreign travelers who visit the Whitsundays do so as part of a Great Barrier Reef trip; Australians are more likely to use the islands as a destination in and of themselves. Airlie Beach, Queensland, is the jumping-off point for the Whitsundays, and though it’s not an island itself, its broad array of excursions and outfitters makes it a valid base for exploring the archipelago. Island-hopping around the Whitsundays is perfectly doable on your own with regularly scheduled ferries and shuttles; otherwise, there are cruise outfitters that will give you a comprehensive tour. Even better, charter a sailboat, as these can access smaller and more secluded coves, where you can drop anchor and spend unforgettable nights under the Austral sky. Whitsunday Island is the largest in the group; though it’s uninhabited parkland, it receives more traffic than any other part of the archipelago because it lays claim to the Whitsundays’ iconic postcard attraction: Whitehaven Beach is a stunning vision, unique in the world, of white silica sand swirled with light turquoise over the shallows of pristine Hill Inlet. It’s among Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday the most photographed sites in Australia and inunIsland. dated with day-trippers all day, every day, but you simply can’t come to the Whitsundays and miss Whitehaven Beach. Excursions are offered from anywhere in the archipelago, and when booking, be sure that your tour includes Hill Inlet (the bigger boats don’t). Any holiday in the Whitsundays will include at least a brief stop on Hamilton Island, the largest and best-equipped, services-wise, and a major gateway to Great Barrier Reef. Most all Whitsundays interisland boats stop at Hamilton, and it has the islands’ main airport; the constant comings and goings of vacationers make for a lively energy. When it comes to entertainment and activities, Hamilton has it all, as well as accommodations for all tastes and budgets. This was also the island featured in Tourism Queensland’s “Best Job in the World” promotional contest: In 2009, a Brit named Ben Southall was chosen from a field of international applicants

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ISLAND HOPPING THE WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS: TURQUOISE BLISS

to be the Whitsunday Islands caretaker; he was based on Hamilton and blogged about his experiences at www.islandreefjob.com.au. Daydream Island Resort and Spa is the only game on the eponymous Daydream Island. This is one of the Whitsundays’ most family-friendly options, with its manmade outdoor aquarium (reef lagoons with controlled habitats of fish and coral), miniature golf course, swimming pools, and kids’ programs like outdoor movie nights. The swankiest place in the Whitsundays by far is Hayman Island, home to the one-name luxury boutique resort, Hayman. Discerning and deep-pocketed travelers come from far and wide for the pampering atmosphere and hip modern aesthetics of Hayman, and for the wide range of well-organized, hassle-free watersports offered from the beach in front of the resort, from catamaran sailing and windsurfing to sea kayaking and water-skiing. Hayman is the ultracivilized antidote to some of the more rough-and-tumble islands in the group. Nature lovers will want to plan a day or two on Brampton Island, which is almost entirely National Park. Paths and trails afford hikers easy access to the island’s wooded interior, which includes an ancient forest of melaleuca (paperbark) trees. All manner of excursions and entertainment are organized from the island’s single resort, Voyages Brampton Island, which offers great value and an escape from Whitsundays day-trippers. Brampton is fringed by coral reef where you can snorkel and dive practically alone—just you and your mask and fins and teeming marine life all around. Abundant jellyfish rule out ocean swimming off Long Island, but there are beautiful views from this island with three secluded resorts on quiet bays. Couples-oriented Long Island is very tropical-feeling, and any of the bars here will make up potent Long Island Iced Teas for you to sip while watching the sunset. Students and backpackers in the Whitsundays have long preferred South Molle, where the no-frills Koala Adventure Resort has an appealing summer-camp feel, with shared bunks, tons of outdoor fun by day, and rollicking Aussie revelry by night. Party-loving singles—and not many others—will love Lindeman Island, home to the Whitsundays’ only Club Med resort. The rest of Lindeman is an undeveloped 670 hectares (1,656 acres) of world heritage park. —SM

& 61/7/4945-3711; www.tourismwhitsundays.com.au or www.whitsundaytourism.com.

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Cruise Whitsundays and Fantasea Adventure Cruising operate ferries from Airlie Beach to Hamilton Island, and from there to the smaller island resorts.

$$$ Hayman, Hayman Island (& 61/7/4940 1234; www.hayman.com.au). $$ Water’s Edge Resort, Airlie Beach (& 61/7/4948 2655; www.watersedgewhitsundays.com.au).

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PLEASURE ISLANDS
Laid-Back Rhythms

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Isla de Margarita
The Caribbean, Venezuela-Style
Venezuela
If you’re looking for a slightly raffish Caribbean island that’s a little off the beaten path, but with plenty of shopping, nightlife, and restaurant options—and decidedly un-Caribbean-like prices—it’s hard to beat Isla de Margarita, 40km (25 miles) off Venezuela’s northeastern coast. It’s got all the physical attributes of the quintessential Caribbean island: gorgeous beaches, warm breezes, and turquoise seas. Strands of sugary sand are fringed in green, with volcanic hills rising up in the tropical haze. Best of all, it exudes an earthy, laid-back charm that’s a refreshing break from the cool, ultraluxe homogeneity that has pervaded the hospitality business of late. Mainlanders head to this biggest island in Venezuela’s Nueva Esparta state to play on and off the beaches and stock up on duty-free goods. Isla de Margarita has two large towns, Porlamar (with a population of 85,000) and Pampatar (with a population of 50,000), both on the island’s more populous eastern coast, and here is where the nonbeach action is—and there’s plenty of it. It’s a jumble of shopping malls, casinos, and restaurants. Porlamar, home to a third of the island population, is also the island’s nightlife center. Prettier Pampatar, 10km/6 miles northeast of Porlamar, has upscale restaurants and shops; it’s also the site of the Castillo de San Carlos Borromeo, a 17th-century stone fortress. The rest of the island is composed of sleepy little fishing villages and lovely beaches, some chock-full of tourist facilities, others just sand and sea. Jeep tours give you a good sense of the range of sights and island habitats; try Walter’s Tours (& 58/0295/274-1265 or 58/0416/ 696-2212; www.margaritaislandguide.com). Margarita is a little rough around the edges—stray dogs and cats roam small towns, upkeep can be dodgy, and hawkers work the beaches with an impressive vigor. Yet the island’s growing presence on the tourism radar screen means that prices are going up. The island has no mega-luxury resorts, but a few international chains have muscled in to compete with a handful of big, sprawling hotels and palm-fringed inns. Many beachside lodgings, however, are composed of a smattering of apartments around a pool, with clean, basic rooms; don’t expect 400-thread-count linens, and you won’t be disappointed. Do, however, expect to pay less than you’d spend on holiday on most other Caribbean islands—and getting around is certainly a bargain in oil-rich Venezuela. Christopher Columbus landed here in 1498, greeted by the native Guaiqueries, who were later enslaved by the Spanish. It wasn’t until 1814 that the island won its independence from Spain and became the country’s first free territory. Margarita was once known as the “Pearl of the Caribbean” for the pearl-rich oyster beds Columbus discovered nearby. The beds, and the pearls, are long gone, plundered by the treasure-mad conquistadors. These days, the biggest treasures left to claim are the fine beaches, the perfect tropical climate—hot, hot, hot (average temp: 31°C/88°F), with little rain and low humidity—and the opportunity to play in the warm seas and pounding surf. Not only is Margarita a paradise for heat-seeking beach bums, but Playa El Yaque, on the south side of the island, is also one of the world’s top kite-surfing and windsurfing locations, where the waters are

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FIRE ISLAND smooth and the winds average 18 to 22 knots year-round (best time to go: Dec– May). For boards and lessons, try El Yaque Paradise (& 58/0295/263-9418; www.hotelyaqueparadise.com) and El Yaque Motion ([tel/fax] 58/0295/2639742; www.elyaquemotion.com). A boat tour in the Laguna La Restinga national park cruises a natural lagoon through mangrove forests filled with bird life (including the blue-crowned parakeet) and the occasional ocelot. Although it looks peaceful and vibrant, the park is currently classified as “critically endangered” in large part because of illegal commerce and human encroachment—another reason to see Margarita Island now. —AF www.margarita-island-venezuela.com. Porlamar or Caracas, 40-min. flight to Margarita.

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Conferry (& 58/0212/7828544), Punta de Piedras, on the southern end of Margarita. La Guaira (30 min. from Caracas, on the coast), and Puerto La Cruz and Cumaná (a few hours east of Caracas, on the northern coast), 2–4 hours, depending on the ferryboat.

$$$ Hesperia Isla Margarita, Playa Bonita (& 58/0295/400-7111; www. hesperia.com). $$ Hotel Costa Linda Beach, Playa El Agua (& 58/0295/2491303; www.hotelcostalinda.com).

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Fire Island
New York’s Small-Town Secret
New York, U.S.
Everyone’s heard about the Hamptons, of course—that chichi beach enclave at the far eastern end of Long Island, where wealthy New Yorkers gravitate in packs every summer. But plenty of folks who wouldn’t be caught dead in the Gossip Girl–ish Hamptons have their own summer getaway: Fire Island. Sure, the houses are smaller and more closely packed together; and you can’t roll in by car, but have to take a ferry, then get around on foot and by bicycle. But what Fire Island lacks in social cachet, it more than makes up for in friendliness and small-town feeling. Much of this long, skinny barrier island—it’s only a half mile wide but 32 miles (51km) long—is national seashore and parkland, separating clusters of houses in several distinct cozy hamlets. About halfway along, Ocean Beach is the hub of island activity, with most of the island’s hotels and restaurants, accompanied by a lively weekend singles scene. Singles also gravitate to the beach-house shares of (from west to east) Kismet, Fair Harbor, Corneille Estates, Ocean Bay Park, and Davis Park. Other towns are definitely family-oriented, prizing quiet and a 1950sera vibe—from west to east, Saltaire, Dunewood, Atlantique, Seaview, and Point O’Woods. For other visitors, Fire Island is synonymous with a vibrant gay social scene, centered on two adjacent towns to the east of Ocean Bay Park, Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines. The quieter community of the Pines attracts gay men, while party-central Cherry Grove draws a crowd of women and men; the woods between Cherry Grove and The Pines, affectionately known as the “Meat Rack,” hosts some extraordinary scenes of its own. With the exception of the private Fire Island Summer Club, Fire Island’s beaches are open to all, free of charge. There are

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PLEASURE ISLANDS beaches on both the north shore, fronting the Great South Bay, and the south shore, fronting the Atlantic; each town has its own beach, sometimes two, and often a marina as well. At the far ends—near the east-end wildlife preserve of Watch Hill, and around the west end’s historic lighthouse—beaches are clothing-optional, though going topless is tolerated everywhere. The wide, dune-edged beaches of Smith Point, at the far eastern tip, are a magnet for surfers. If you’re coming over on the ferry for only a day, the most convenient beach is the broad white strand of Sailor’s Haven, between Ocean Bay Park and Cherry Grove; here you can also wander around the stunning Sunken Forest, a marshy 40-acre (16-hectare) maritime forest with its trees twisted and bleached by salt air and sea wind. Fire Island is very much a summer destination; when Memorial Day hits, the hamlets fill with warm-weather revelers, but after September, almost everything shuts down. The biggest day of the year out here is July 4th, but not for the usual patriotic reasons—that’s the date of the annual Invasion of the Pines, when boatloads of drag queens from Cherry Grove come and “terrorize” the posh Pines. —HH www.fireisland.com or www.nps.gov/fis. Kennedy International (39 ( John F.LaGuardia (48 miles/77km). miles/63km); From Bay Shore to Ocean Beach/ Kismet/Ocean Bay Park, Fire Island Ferries (& 631/665-3600; www.fireisland ferries.com). From Sayville to Cherry Grove/The Pines/Sunken Forest, Sayville Ferry (& 631/589-0810; www.sayville ferry.com). From Patchogue to Watch Hill, Davis Park Ferry (& 631/475-1665; www.pagelinx.com/dpferry/index.shtml). $$ Clegg’s Hotel, 478 Bayberry Walk, Ocean Beach (& 631/583-5399; www.cleggshotel.com). $$ Grove Hotel, Cherry Grove (& 631/597-6600; www. grovehotel.com).

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7 Leisure Islands

Take a Hike . . . 278 The Sporting Life . . . 283 Amphibious Attractions . . . 287 Out & About . . . 299 The Caribbean Unplugged . . . 308 Remote Adventures . . . 314

LEISURE ISLANDS
Take a Hike

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Wizard Island
Wizard of OR
Oregon, U.S.
Crater Lake is such a piercing color of blue that it looks like a digitally enhanced ad for something bracing and pure, like aftershave or mountain spring water. The lake, which is the caldera that formed when the ancient volcano Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago, is the deepest in the United States (almost 2,000 ft./610m). Its basin is bare volcanic rock, and its waters are only rain and snowfall; there are no streams or rivers to dump sediment into the lake, which explains its penetrating, practically silvery hue. The only relief to the mirrorlike surface of Crater Lake is Wizard Island, a cinder cone that rises like a sorcerer’s hat, studded with hemlocks and pines, near the western shore of the lake. A hike to the summit of Wizard Island— which is 6,933 feet (2,113m) above sea level but only 755 feet (230m) above the surface of the lake—provides an unforgettable panorama of American Northwestern natural beauty, with 360-degree views of that sublimely glassy water and the pristine slopes of the ancient crater rim all around you. Based on tree-ring dating alone, Wizard Island could be as young as 800 years, though it’s likely been around since a subsequent eruption of Mount Mazama 6,000 years ago. The island is a significant (dormant) volcano in its own right, rising over 2,700 feet (823m) above the floor of the lake. Access to Wizard Island is by park-concessioned tour boats only, which run for just a few months in the summer. Be aware that it takes planning and the best part of a day to do the Wizard Island excursion; it’s not something you’re likely to experience on a visit passing through to see Crater Lake National Park. From early July to
Previous page: Wizard Island.

mid-September only, Volcano Boat Tours (& 888/774-CRATER [774-2728]; www. xanterra.com) will take you to Wizard Island as part of a lake circumnavigation and fascinating natural history lecture. Boats depart from Cleetwood Cove on the north shore of the lake twice daily, at 9:55am and 1pm, and advance purchase of the $37 roundtrip tickets is recommended. To reach the Cleetwood Cove boat landing, you’ll need to park at the Cleetwood Cove Trailhead and hike (a steep 1-mile/1.6km downhill) to the dock. Once on Wizard Island, you can choose to stay either 3 hours or 6 hours (return boats come by at 1 and 4pm and sometimes even later to pick up stragglers, as overnight camping is prohibited). Bring a picnic and plenty of water. The summit hike is 1.75 miles (2.8km) round-trip, with a moderate elevation to cover (you start at 6,176 ft./1,882m and climb to 6,940 ft./2,115m). Near the base of Wizard Island, you’ll walk along a path shaded by hemlocks and Shasta red firs that have rooted in the hard volcanic rock. As you follow the switchbacks toward the top of the cinder cone, the trees thin out, the path steepens as loose pumice crunches underfoot, and the lake views, through tenacious stands of Whitebark pines, get even more sublime. At the very top, you’re rewarded with the crater known as the Witches’ Cauldron, 500 feet wide and 100 feet deep (152×30m). Hardly a belching pit of nefarious volcanic gases, the crater is the quiet home to pioneer grasses, wildflowers, and pines. Before heading back on the tour boat, extreme types can even go for a swim in Crater Lake, but beware, those glittering waters are bracing indeed, at an average summer temperature of 55°F (13°C). —SM

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MANITOU ISLANDS www.nps.gov/crla. Klamath Falls, Oregon (60 miles/97km), and Medford, Oregon (80 miles/129km), connections to western U.S. airports.

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Cleetwood Cove, on the north shore of Crater Lake (3 miles/4.8km).

$$$ Crater Lake Lodge, 565 Rim Dr., Crater Lake National Park (& 888/7742728; www.craterlakelodges.com).

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Take a Hike

Manitou Islands
Outdoor Fun Atop Mishe Mokwa’s Cubs
Michigan, U.S.
Geologists will tell you that the Lake Michigan islands of North and South Manitou, part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, were formed by glacial activity thousands of years ago, but the Native American explanation for their existence is far more endearing. Chippewa legend relates that long ago, a mother bear named Mishe Mokwa and her two cubs fled the Wisconsin shore of the lake when a forest fire broke out. The bears took to the lake waters and swam east, toward the Michigan shore, but only the mother bear survived the journey. Her cubs, exhausted by the rough waters, drowned within sight of land. North and South Manitou islands, it’s said, were raised by the Great Spirit over the places where they perished, and the mainland stretch of Sleeping Bear Dunes is where mama kept a vigil for her little ones.

North Manitou shoal light.

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LEISURE ISLANDS
Located within easy striking distance of the Traverse City area (the ferry leaves from Leland, Michigan), the uninhabited Manitou islands are a wonderful recreation destination with leisurely hikes, bird-watching, hunting and fishing opportunities, and a smattering of homesteads and other abandoned buildings from the island’s 19thcentury settlements. North Manitou is more than twice the size of its southern sister, with 22 sq. miles (57 sq. km) to South Manitou’s 3 sq. miles (7.8 sq. km). Generally speaking, North Manitou is more of a DIY wilderness experience than the south island, with fewer facilities and sights. Shaped like a bulbous isthmus that’s broken off from the mainland, North Manitou is traversed by well-maintained trails that make for satisfying day- or overnight hikes. The island’s policy of “free camping” means you can choose your own site (though you’ll still have to pay a fee). On the southwestern tip of North Manitou, near Dimmick’s Point, is a nesting area for the endangered piping plover. Elsewhere on the island, birders regularly sight bald eagles and raptors such as hawks. Lake Manitou, practically in the dead center of the island, has decent fishing. South Manitou is dominated by a wide, round bay on its eastern side, where the ranger station and dock are located; over the years, the bay has saved a lot of cargo and human lives, as it was used by ships plying the waters between Chicago and the Straits of Mackinac as a safe harbor in times of rough weather on Lake Michigan. Accessible by a moderate round-trip, 7-mile (11km) hike from the dock, the Valley of the Giants is a magnificent grove of centuries-old cedars, the most ancient of which may be over 500 years old, with a trunk circumference of 18 feet (5.5m). En route to the cedars, you’ll see the shipwreck of the Francisco Morazan, a package freighter that didn’t make it to the protected bay of South Manitou in time and foundered in 1960 off the southern shore of the island. Sitting atop high limestone bluffs that overlook Lake Michigan, the Perched Sand Dunes take up most of the western coast of South Manitou. Throughout the island, which is equipped with campsites and trails, you’ll come across schoolhouses, barns, and lighthouses—ghosts from South Manitou’s period as a rest and refueling station for ships on Lake Michigan and as a (failed, due to sandy soil) agricultural settlement. Don’t care to embark on either island’s hiking trails? Take one of Lake Manitou Transit’s sunset cruises (round-trip from Leland and offered most evenings in summer; see ferries below for contact info), which take in the island highlights that are visible from shore. —SM Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore, U.S. National Park Service (& 231/ 326-5134; www.nps.gov/slbe). Traverse City–Cherry Capital Airport (30 miles/48km to Leland), connections to the upper Midwest.

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From Leland, Michigan, 1 hr. to North Manitou, 11⁄2 hr. to South Manitou. Manitou Island Transit (& 231/2569061; www.leelanau.com/manitou).

$ Camping (& 877/444-6777; www. nps.gov/slbe).

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CAPE BRETON ISLAND

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Take a Hike

Cape Breton Island
North America’s Highland Wilds
Canada
A superstar in the environmental world, an outdoor adventurer’s playground, and a beauty with a litany of accolades to prove it—the island was named one of the top island destinations in the world by Travel + Leisure magazine—Cape Breton is the northernmost island in Nova Scotia and linked to the province’s mainland by the Canso Causeway. The island’s distinctly Scottish culture—Gaelic is still spoken in certain areas here—is rooted in the migration of thousands of Scots settlers here in the 18th and 19th centuries. Cape Breton also has a vivid Arcadian presence; French colonists settled the region in the 18th century. It’s an intensely flavorful cultural stew, and music is the common language. There’s some serious fiddlin’ going on around here: Cape Breton is one of the few places in North America where Celtic céilidhs (traditional dances) are common. The Scots who settled this part of Canada were generally Highlanders who’d rebelled against the English Crown. The Scottish Highlands don’t have a scenic coastal highway, but the North American version does: the Cabot Trail (www.cabottrail.com), a 300km (186-mile) loop built in 1939 to take advantage of the island’s astounding sea views. Along the way, you pass through the Cape Breton Island National Park (www. pc.gc.ca), a starkly beautiful wilderness with a split personality: In the interior rises a melancholy plateau of wind-stunted evergreens, bogs, and barrens, a fitting home for druids or trolls; around the edges, the

Cape Breton Island.

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LEISURE ISLANDS mountains tumble to the sea suddenly in a dramatic landscape of ravines and ragged, rust-colored cliffs. The gateway to Cape Breton park is the Acadian town of Chéticamp, the most French-speaking part of the island. The Cabot Trail circuit takes around 6 to 8 hours to drive and has literally dozens of hikes, from short hops of under an hour to half-day treks of varying difficulty. For detailed hiking information, go to www. cabottrail.com. The road has lots of braketesting steep climbs and whooshing descents, and drivers will want to stop at many pullouts. The most gorgeous stretch is the 44km (27 miles) from Chéticamp to Pleasant Bay along the western coast. You’ll lose the water views for a time after Pleasant Bay, as you cut across the headlands to Cape North, where it’s believed English explorer John Cabot first set foot on the North American continent. Going down the eastern coast, you’ll pass through a series of towns with Scottish names—Ingonish Centre, Ingonish Ferry, South Ingonish Harbour—and then make a precipitous climb to the promontory of Cape Smokey, where panoramic views explode on every side. Stop and stretch your legs on some of the hiking trails that head inland from the road. The best ones are the .8km-long (.5-mile) Bog Trail, which follows a boardwalk into the gnarled bogs of the tableland, and the .8km (.5-mile) Lone Shieling loop, which enters a verdant hardwood forest that includes 350-year-old sugar maples; a re-creation of a Scottish crofter’s hut is a highlight of the trail. An 11km (6.8-mile) trail leads along the bluffs of Cape Smokey; even if you don’t go all the way to the tip, it’s worth walking partway just to feel the headland winds and taste the salt air. —AF http://novascotia.com, http://cbisland. com, or www.pc.gc.ca. Halifax (282km/175 miles); some connections into Sydney Airport. Bay Ferries (& 888/249-7245; www.catferry.com) operates ferries on the Bar Harbor–Yarmouth and PortlandYarmouth routes. $ Cape Breton Highlands Bungalows, Cabot Trail, Ingonish Beach (& 902/ 285-2000). $$ Inverary Resort, Shore Rd., Baddeck (& 800/565-5660 or 902/ 295-3500; www.capebretonresorts.com).

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Great Barrier Island
Tramping It Up on the Barrier
New Zealand
In a country already overflowing with outdoor adventures, it might seem like overkill to set your sights on a remote island. But then again, why not? Separated from the North Island by the Hauraki Bay (100km/62miles from Auckland), “the Barrier” is an unspoiled playground for hikers, boaters, surfers, divers, and bikers. Its diverse, hilly terrain is veined with more than 100km (62 miles) of well-maintained paths, and its meandering coastline is a virgin setting for exhilarating water activities. All of this, and it’s still considered a “suburb” of Auckland. The Maori called the island Motu Aotea (island of the white cloud), but its dry, matter-of-fact English name came when Captain Cook observed that the 285-sq.-km (110-sq.mile) island formed a barrier between the open waters of the Pacific Ocean and the

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HILTON HEAD protected Hauraki Bay. The contrast between the ocean-facing east coast and the bay-fronting west coast is striking. On the east coast, wind-swept dunes give way to beach sand worn to a fine, white grain from thousands of years of erosion by the Pacific surf. Surfing, in fact, is the principal activity on the east coast, at the reliably good breaks of Medlands Beach, Whangapoua Beach, Awana Beach, and Kaitoke Beach. The sheltered west coast is blessed with a seemingly endless supply of picturesque bays and islets ideal for sailing and kayaking. (For either activity, you can rent equipment or, even better, join a tour with one of the seasoned outfitters in Port Fitzroy or Tryphena.) Paddling around these clear and shallow waters, you’re likely to see dolphins, rays, penguins, and even whales from time to time. Down under, hiking is called tramping, and paths are called tracks; you’ll hear both terms frequently on The Barrier. The New Zealand Department of Conservation (www.doc.govt.nz) maintains Great Barrier’s extensive network of tracks, though for the best tramping experience, it’s often better to go with a guide; Discover Great Barrier is the only DOClicensed outfitter for walks. The most rewarding excursion for many is the relatively short hike to the top of Windy Canyon. From here to Kaiaraara, a full-day walk takes you to the summit of Great Barrier’s highest point, Mount Hobson (Hirakimata in Maori, 621m/2,037 ft.), with tremendous only-in-New-Zealand views down verdant slopes, spiked with crags, to the azure sea. The contrasting sea conditions around the island have, on two notorious occasions, been tragic for ships negotiating the extreme north and south points of Great Barrier. Off the remote northern tip of the island, the SS Wairarapa sank in 1894, killing the 140 men onboard. 1922 saw the foundering of the SS Wiltshire off the southeast edge of Great Barrier. Both wrecks are now dive sites. Great Barrier doesn’t have any centralized electricity, and even some of the posher-looking guesthouses are little more than glorified cabins. Facilities islandwide are mostly primitive, and there’s a great small-community feel to the villages (total native pop. 852). Luxurious post-hike pampering is not what Great Barrier is about, which is great news to the relatively small number of outdoor enthusiasts who visit every year. —SM www.greatbarriernz.com. Great Barrier Island Airport, service from Auckland (30 min.).

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From Auckland, SeaLink (www. sealink.co.nz; year-round, 41⁄2 hr.) and Fullers (www.fullers.co.nz; Oct–Mar, 21⁄2 hr.).

$$ FitzRoy House, Glenfern Rd., Port FitzRoy (& 64/9/429-0091; www.fitzroy house.co.nz).

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The Sporting Life

Hilton Head
Ace in the Hole
South Carolina, U.S.
Ever since a cadre of transplanted Scotsmen founded America’s first golf club in Charleston in 1786, South Carolina has been a golfing mecca. But few spots are as devoted to the game as this 12-mile-long (19km) barrier island, which boasts no fewer than 24 fastidiously manicured golf courses—that’s more than 400 holes, artfully designed over the past 50 years by just about every major golf course architect,

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LEISURE ISLANDS

Hilton Head.

from Robert Trent Jones to Pete Dye to George and Tom Fazio. Connected to the mainland by two bridges, Hilton Head is hardly an isolated outpost, but development has been carefully monitored to preserve the natural beauty of its broad Atlantic beaches, the gentle sea marshes on the sound, and stands of live and water oak, pine, bay, and palmetto trees. A surprising amount of the island has been set aside as nature reserves, where everything from osprey and egrets to alligators, bobcats, and white-tailed deer live undisturbed; loggerhead turtles lay their eggs on the beaches, and bottlenose dolphins cavort just offshore. The resorts here—or “plantations” as they are traditionally called—strive more for low-key elegance than for glitz or bright lights; even the lower-priced lodgings—and there are plenty—seem rustically toned down. Everything seems to be designed to get visitors outdoors, cycling along tucked-away bike paths, kayaking through salt marsh creeks, galloping through maritime forest preserves, or taking an early-morning jog along the firmpacked broad beaches.

Still, golf is the jewel in Hilton Head’s crown. Among the island’s most fascinating courses are the island’s oldest, the Ocean Course at Sea Pines (see below), where the landscape of live oak, pines, and tidal marshes has been so well preserved that it is not only a golf course but also an Audubon bird sanctuary. Another classic course at Sea Pines, the Harbour Town Golf Links challenges golfers to bring their best shot-making finesse. At Port Royal, the marsh-edged Robber’s Row course was laid out on a Civil War battleground and is thickly strewn with historic markers. And if there’s a single course in the area you “must” play, it’s the public Hilton Head National course just over the causeway in Bluffton (Hwy. 278; & 843/842-5900; www.golfhiltonhead national.com), a Gary Player 18-holer with gorgeous scenery that evokes Scotland, complemented by an additional 9-hole Bobby Weed layout. The challenge is in figuring out how to hit as many different courses as possible while you’re here. The obvious first step is to book into one of the island’s top golf resorts, such as Palmetto Dunes or Sea Pines (see

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ISLE OF ANGLESEY below), each of which has three top 18-hole courses to sample. Another four golf clubs on the island cooperate under the umbrella Heritage Golf Group (www.heritagegolf group.com): the Port Royal Golf Club, Palmetto Hall Plantation, Oyster Reef Golf Club, and the Shipyard Golf Club. Another strategy is to book a golf vacation that will line up rounds for you on several different courses, such as the packages offered by Golf Island (& 888/465-3475; www.golfisland.com). —HH Tourist office, 100 William Hilton Pkwy. (& 843/785-3673; www.hiltonhead island.org).

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$$ Palmetto Dunes Resort, 4 Queens Folly Rd. (& 800/827-3006 or 843/785-1161; www.palmettodunes.com). $$$ Sea Pines Resort, 32 Greenwood Dr. (& 866/561-8802; www.seapines.com).

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Isle of Anglesey
Coasting to Glory
Wales
To many travelers, the Isle of Anglesey is just a blur from the train window as they speed from London to the western port of Holyhead, to catch a ferry to Ireland. Others stop off briefly for the novelty value of having a photo snapped beside a signpost for the world’s longest town name, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch (known for convenience’s sake as Llanfair PG). But Anglesey is well worth a longer stay, especially if you’re interested in sports and the outdoors. Isolated from the Welsh mainland by the narrow Menai Strait, low-lying Anglesey offers a startling contrast to the mountainous drama of neighboring North Wales. Instead of plunging cascades, stark gray cliffs, and terraced slate-mining towns, it’s a mellow rural backwater, a land of whitewashed cottages dotting flat farmland. Kissed by the Gulf Stream, Anglesey has a surprisingly mild climate, and as soon as you cross the famous 19th-century cast-iron suspension bridge across the Menai Strait— a groundbreaking engineering feat in its day—you may well feel inspired to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Nearly all of Anglesey’s remarkably unspoiled coastline has been designated a national Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty; it’s a snap to pick up any section of the 201km (125-mile) Anglesey Coastal Path, which circles nearly the entire island, passing seaside cliffs where puffins nest and a proliferation of wide flat golden beaches (among the best are Trearddur Bay, Porthdafarch, Benllech, Llandona, and Llanddwyn). Gone are the strenuous Methodist dictates of North Wales; on Anglesey, relaxing and enjoying yourself are positively encouraged. The town of Beaumaris, just north of the Menai Strait, is a popular yachting center, with an almost Mediterranean atmosphere, while surfers gravitate to the beaches around Rhosneigr on the southern coast. East of Rhosneigr, the 750-hectare (1,853-acre) Newborough Forest Preserve is a great place for hiking through dusky stands of Corsican pines, planted to protect the wide beaches and coastal dunes of adjacent Llanddwyn Island; nearby Maltraeth Marsh is a notable wetland site for bird-watching.

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Golf and tennis are played yearround—buy an Isle of Anglesey Golf Pass (& 44/845/450-5885, golf@nwt.co. uk) and you can try out five of the island’s nine excellent golf courses. Pony trekking is perennially popular, with riding stables in Dwyran, Trearddur Bay, and Llanddona, and several bridleways around the countryside. The island also makes the most of its flat topography by offering four signposted cycling routes along back lanes, taking in ruined medieval churches, Roman relics, and Neolithic burial chambers, as well as shops, villages, and nature preserves. —HH Wales Tourist Board visitor centers, Railway Station Site, Llanfair PG (& 44/1248/713-177), or Holyhead, Port Terminal (& 44/1407/762-622); also www.islandofchoice.com.

( Anglesey (connect through Cardiff).

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Holyhead, ferries to Dublin and Dun Laoghaire, Ireland (1 hr, 45 min. to 3 hr., 30 min.).

$$ Cleifiog Uchaf, off Spencer Rd., Valley (& 44/1407/741-888; www.cleifiog uchaf.co.uk). $$$ Tre-Ysgawen Hall, Capel Coch, Llanfegni (& 44/1248/750750; www.treysgawen-hall.co.uk). TOUR Anglesey Adventures (& 44/ 1407/761-777; www.angleseyadventures. co.uk). Anglesey Outdoors (& 44/1407/ 769-351; www.angleseyoutdoors.com).

The Sporting Life

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Isle of Arran
Scotland in Miniature
Scotland
Set at the mouth of the Firth of Clyde on Scotland’s west coast, Arran seems almost like a greatest-hits version of Scotland. Its northern end is a rugged Highlands landscape of mountains and glens, perfect for paragliding, rock climbing, gorge hiking, and mountain biking; in the gentle green hills of the south, you can stroll through formal gardens, relax on a beach, or kayak around the ragged coast and offshore islands. Golf? There are no fewer than seven courses here, laid out variously on parkland, heath, or seaside links. As for history, the island has its share of ruined castles and standing stones, as well as any number of sites associated with 14th-century rebel hero Robert the Bruce—you can’t get any more classically Scottish than that. Best of all, you can easily do an entire circuit of the island by bicycle, following the main coast road (A841), which makes a neat 97km (60-mile) circuit. While it’s possible to do it in 1 day, I recommend booking a hotel on the west coast so you can cycle for 2 days—that way you’ll have time for all sorts of delightful detours en route. Heading clockwise around the island from Brodick, you’ll pass through Lamlash, a pleasant seaside resort, then King’s Cross Point, where Robert the Bruce is said to have sailed for the mainland after hiding out on Arran for months. The road climbs to Dippin Head, then swings around the southern shore, with great views of the Ailsa Crag lighthouse. Coast downhill toward Sliddery, with its overgrown old Norse keep; at Tormore, north of Blackwaterfoot, detour a mile inland to visit some standing stones. Drumadoon Point on the west coast has basalt columns and the remains of an old fort, and King’s Hill has caves where Robert the Bruce hid out from his enemies for months.

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GREAT KEPPEL ISLAND
Climb to the craggy northern end of the island, where you can check out the castle ruins at Lochranza, reputedly Robert the Bruce’s hunting seat. Back on the east cost, you’ll pass dramatic Glen Sannox and the Fallen Rocks, huge sandstone boulders that have tumbled off the cliffs. On your right looms the island’s highest mountain, Goat Fell (“mountain of the winds”); at its foot you’ll find red sandstone Brodick Castle, ancestral home of the dukes of Hamilton (check out its extraordinary gardens), and the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum, a series of restored buildings tracing life on Arran from prehistoric times to the present. It’s like a condensed version of this compact mini-Scotland—a wee wonder indeed. —HH Tourist information, The Pier, Brodick (& 44/1770/303-774; www.visitarran. com).

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Brodick, 55 min. from Ardrossan. Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries (& 44/ 9705/650-0000; www.calmac.co.uk).

$$$ Auchrannie Country House Hotel, Auchrannie Rd., Brodick (& 44/ 1770/302-234; www.auchrannie.co.uk). $$ Best Western Kinloch Hotel, Blackwaterfoot (& 44/1770/860-444; www. bw-kinlochhotel.co.uk). TOUR Arran Adventure, Auchrannie Rd. (& 44/1770/302-244; www.arran adventure.com).

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Great Keppel Island
Bushwalking & Beaches
Australia
Who says the Great Barrier Reef region is all about diving and underwater pleasures? Great Keppel Island offers a very strong argument that this part of Australia is a landlubber’s adventure paradise, too: There’s not a high-rise resort—yet (see below)—in sight on Great Keppel, but there’s still plenty to keep active types entertained, whether it’s watching seabirds or bush walking in the interior. And at only 13km (8 miles) from the mainland city of Yeppoon, this is an easy getaway even for a weekend. The island’s small size, just 14 sq. km (51⁄2 sq. miles), makes it easy to get to know the place well in a short period of time. One of the most rewarding activities is exploring its natural side—90% of Great Keppel is designated bush land of the Keppel Bay Islands National Park. Locals can point you in the right direction for bush walks of varying length and difficulty, but it’s best to pick up a copy of Allan Briggs’s A Concise Guide to the Walking Tracks of Great Keppel Island if you’d rather set off on self-designed adventures. Walking is also the way to reach the best swimming on Great Keppel, which boasts 27km (17 miles) of gorgeous beaches. Whereas some other islands off the Queensland coast are prone to tides that sometimes wash away the beaches for hours at a time, Great Keppel’s beaches have sugary shores and turquoise water all day long. The ocean here is crystal clear, and yes, there’s great snorkeling in the undersea coral gardens offshore. Accommodations on the island tend to be guesthouses or self-contained holiday rental units, all of which are affordable and attractive to nature-loving backpackers or families seeking serenity. For something a bit more social, the Great Keppel Island Holiday Village (see below) organizes activities like kayaking and motorized canoe excursions. Development on Great Keppel,

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Island Hopping Around the Champlain Islands: Vermont’s West Coast
Whether you’re coming east out of New York’s stately Adirondack Mountains, or west out of the gentler Green Mountains of Vermont, there’s a wonderful Ahhh! moment when you crest the last hill and see vast Lake Champlain glittering before you. The sixth-largest freshwater lake in the United States, Champlain’s strategic location on the border of Canada made this inland sea a hotly contested prize in the Seven Years’ War, the American Revolution, and even the War of 1812. Today, Champlain’s chain of islands are one of New England’s choicest vacation secrets, an unspoiled wonderland for fishing, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, and biking (contact Lake Champlain Bike Trails, www.champlainbikeways.org, for a map of scenic cycling routes), as well as swimming off Biking by Lake Champlain. landlocked Vermont’s only sand beaches. Connected by bridges, causeways, and roads, these islands are easy to get around, but they offer few amenities for tourists—a handful of accommodations and only slightly more restaurants. The main road, U.S. Hwy. 2, takes 30 miles (48km) to run the length of the islands from the Vermont shore back to the Alburg peninsula, the last bit of Vermont before you reach the Canadian border. It’s a straight, quick shoot, and if you’re tempted to gawk at the scenery, locals in pickup trucks will impatiently whiz past you or hug your tail. When the opportunity arises, veer off on one of the side roads and take it slowly, or pull over at one of the many parks to enjoy the scenery. One thing you’ll notice as you’re tooling around these parts: The odd place name “Hero.” That’s because the central string of islands—originally called North Hero, Middle Hero, and South Hero—was deeded to a group of Revolutionary War heroes, most notably Ethan Allen and Samuel Herrick of the Green Mountain Boys. In 1783, Ethan Allen’s cousin Ebenezer Allen was the first of those war vets to settle on South Hero, later opening a tavern on the southernmost tip of the island, now called Allen’s Point. The largest island, Middle Hero, was later renamed Grand Isle. (South Hero is still there, but it’s a separate town on the same island.) On the side roads of South Hero, look around for a scattered handful of quirky miniature stone castles erected in the early 20th century by Swiss immigrant Harry Barber, a local gardener who erected them to remind himself of the Alps. Along U.S. 2 on Grand Isle, you can visit a relic of the early settlers, the Hyde Log Cabin, built of cedar logs in 1793—the oldest log cabin in New England—with a log schoolhouse dating to 1814 next door. Grand Isle State Park, east of U.S. 2 halfway up Grand Isle’s east coast, is a popular

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spot with a beach, plenty of campsites, and superb lake views from its steep shoreline—a good place to try to sight Champ, a cousin of the Loch Ness monster that locals claim inhabits the depth of Lake Champlain. Farther north, cross a drawbridge to charmingly rural North Hero, which is mostly quiet farmland with a couple of unspoiled villages. At its southern tip, Knight Point State Park is a lovely spot to gaze over the channel—aka “The Gut”—at Grand Isle, from the vantage point of the historic Knight Tavern, built here in the 1790s when interisland ferries (the only way to get around the islands) docked here. The earliest European visitors to the islands, of course, were the French—Samuel Champlain, for whom the lake is named, first set foot on the islands 4 centuries ago, in 1609. Follow Route 129 west from Alburg, Vermont, to the other large island in the group, Isle La Mott, where the French built a fort in 1666 to protect settlers from Indian attack. Though the fort was torn down long ago, a shrine to St. Anne where the troops worshiped is still there, although the current buildings are more modern. While the shrine is Isle La Mott’s most popular tourist attraction, an even more remarkable feature of this remote, lightly populated island lies all around its southern end—the ancient coral fossils and rock formations of the Chazy Reef, the world’s oldest coral reef (480 million years old), its dark limestone thrusting from the earth’s crust. Head for the Fisk Quarry on West Shore Road to see parts of the fossil reef; the quarry itself is famous for its black marble, prominently used in buildings all over the islands. If your interests are more water-based, check out the smaller islands lying in the protected waters of the lake between Grand Isle and the Vermont shore. Of these, the most popular is Burton Island, reachable via a 10-minute ferry ride from Kill Kare State Park, south of St. Albans, Vermont. With its overnight campsites, a 100slip marina, a swimming beach, and a number of marked nature trails, this low island dotted with ancient hemlocks, stout cedars, and slender birch trees makes a great getaway. With your own boat, you can also visit neighboring Knight Island and Woods Island, also state parks. —HH
Lake Champlain Islands Chamber of Commerce, North Hero, Vermont (& 800/2625226 or 802/372-8400; www.champlainislands.com).

( Burlington, Vermont, or Plattsburgh, New York.
Lake Champlain Ferries (& 802/864-9804; www.ferries.com) makes the 12-min. run to Grand Isle from Plattsburg, New York. $$$ Shore Acres, 237 Shore Acres Dr., North Hero Island (& 802/372-8722; www. shoreacres.com). $$ Thomas Mott Homestead, 63 Blue Rock Rd., Alburg (& 800/348-0843 or 802/378-4270; www.thomas-mott-bb.com).

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LEISURE ISLANDS despite its popularity as a tourist destination, has been minimal so far, but there are plans afoot to build a megaresort on the western side of the island, with 300 hotel rooms, 500 villas, a large marina, and a golf course. The resort’s backers say it will be ecofriendly despite its large footprint (and infringement on the surrounding reef), but most Great Keppel regulars are opposed to the prospective newcomer. —SM www.greatkeppelisland.org. Great Keppel Airport (connections to Queensland airports).

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From Rosslyn Bay, Queensland. Keppel Tourist Services or Freedom Fast Cats (30 min.).

$$$ Great Keppel Island Holiday Village, off Rockhampton (& 61/7/4939 8655; www.gkiholidayvillage.com.au).

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Achill Island
Wet Suits & Hiking Boots
Ireland
Mention West Coast surfing, and most people picture the broad golden sands of Southern California. Yet this craggy Atlantic island off Ireland’s wild west coast has lately become its own magnet for kayakers, surfer dudes, scuba divers, and other wet-suited types. Hugging close to the less-traveled coast of County Mayo, north of Galway—you can drive right onto the island on a road bridge from the Currane Peninsula—Achill is Ireland’s largest island, and it may not be quite as unspoiled as tiny Clare Island to the south, which travel writers tend to rave about. But Achill offers a lot more action, while maintaining the atmospheric Irish backdrop of humble cottages, rambling drystone walls, native Gaelic speakers, machair grasslands spangled with wildflowers, and turfy upland tracks. To begin with, Achill has no fewer than five beaches granted Blue Flag status for their water quality, natural beauty, and services. Going clockwise around the island, they are picturesque Dooega, in a protected cove off spectacular Atlantic Drive on the south coast; near Keel, photogenic Trawmore Strand, a 3km-long (13⁄4mile) beach that challenges surfers, windsurfers, and sea kayakers with its tricky rollers and riptides; horseshoeshaped Keem Bay on the western promontory; and on the north coast near Dugort, sprawling Silver Strand and Golden Strand. Farther inland, you’ll find freshwater Keel Lake, cupped dramatically in the highlands, a superb spot for trout fishing and for a somewhat calmer windsurfing experience. Shore fishing and surf-casting are popular all around Achill, and anglers also venture out into the Atlantic in charter boats for catches that may include cod, ling, conger, pollock, wrasse, mackerel, skate, dogfish, ray, blue shark, thresher, and porbeagle sharks. Most of these charter boats are also available for scuba diving and sightseeing excursions. Lest you get too waterlogged, reserve some time while you’re in Achill for hillwalking, which some visitors end up enjoying even more than the watersports. The rugged island has two sizable peaks, Slievemore and Croaghaun, the latter of which falls off dramatically into the sea on the northeast coast, forming the highest sea cliffs in Europe. With most of the island’s interior held as common land, almost everything is accessible along public walking trails, with a number of designated routes taking you from sea cliffs to

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ISLE OF GREAT CUMBRAE sandy beaches to peat bogs, past ancient lichen-crusted megaliths, ruined stone towers, and deserted villages left behind when the mid-19th-century Great Famine so radically depopulated Achill. Of course, if you’d rather explore on horseback, upland pony trekking and wind-stirred gallops along Keel Beach are available as well (contact Calvey’s Equestrian Centre; & 353/87/ 988-1093; www.calveysofachill.com). Drop-dead views, invigorating rocky climbs, and the evocative scent of peat smoke and heather—what other surfing mecca could add all this to the mix? —HH Tourist office, Cashel (& 353/98/ 47353; www.achilltourism.com/index. html). Knock International Airport, Charlestown. 96km (60-mile) drive from Charlestown. $$ Achill Cliff House Hotel, Keel ( 353/98/43400; www.achillcliff.com). $$ Lavelle’s Seaside House, Dooega (& 353/98/45116; www.lavellesseaside house.com). TOUR Achill Adventures, Slievemore Rd., Dugort (& 353/98/43148; www.achill adventures.com); Colm Ciara charter boat (& 353/86/3603057); Cuna Na Cuime charter boat (& 353/98/47257).

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Isle of Great Cumbrae
Making the Circuit
Scotland
On a clear day, you may find yourself at the highest point on Great Cumbrae, 127m (417 ft.) above sea level, beside a hulking rock known as “The Glaidstone.” The triangulation pillar points out all the far-flung places you can see: Ben Lomond to the north, the Isle of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula to the southwest, Ailsa Craig to the south, and even—if you’re lucky— Northern Ireland in the misty distance. It’s a wind-whipped panorama indeed, exciting enough to make you forget how your calves ache from pumping your bicycle up that hill. Despite that impressive name, Great Cumbrae is a tiny island, no more than 6.4km long and 3.2km wide (4×2 miles). The B896 road that circles its coast is only 18km (11 miles) long with very light traffic, a classic cycling route; to reach the Glaidstone, cut over to the inner circle road (B899), which climbs to the summit of this hilly island. (Rent your bike in the main town, Millport, from Mapes & Son, 3–5 Guildford St.; & 44/1475/530444.) It’s an intriguing island to explore, punctuated with unusual rock formations, thanks to the island’s location on a geological fault line; the islanders have given the rocks fanciful names like Crocodile Rock, Indian Rock, Lion’s Rock, and Queen Victoria’s Face (they’ve even given Crocodile Rock and Indian Rock corny paint jobs, so you can’t miss their garish features). On the quiet west coast, waterfalls plunge over old sea cliffs and you’ll find a number of raised beaches, especially around Bell Bay. Seals flop around the coves, and seabirds nest in the cliffs. Of course, some watersports enthusiasts never get farther than Sportscotland’s National Centre Cumbrae (& 44/ 1475/530757), conveniently by the ferry slip on the northeast coast, where you can take sailing, windsurfing, powerboating, and sea-kayaking lessons. Just south of

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LEISURE ISLANDS the ferry slip, scuba divers can explore the wreck of a Catalina flying boat from World War II. Though the summer crowds have lessened somewhat, Cumbrae is a time-honored day trip destination from Glasgow (the ferry ride from Largs, on the western Ayrshire coast, takes only 10 min.), especially for families headed for Millport’s soft sandy beach and old-fashioned seaside amusements. I have to admit to a soft spot for this sort of faded Victorian-era seafront, with its tearooms and ice-cream parlors; come here out of season and you’ll feel like you’ve got the place to yourself. Appropriately, tidy little Millport boasts the world’s narrowest housefront (The Wedge, only as wide as its front door) and one of the world’s smallest cathedrals, the lovely 19th-century Gothic Revival Cathedral of the Isles (College St.; & 44/1475/530353). On a rainy weekday, you can amuse yourself at the University of Glasgow’s Robertson Marine Life Museum & Aquarium (Marine Parade; & 44/1475/530581; www.gla.ac.uk/ centres/marinestation). —HH Tourist office, 28a Stuart St., Millport (& 44/1292/678100).

( Glasgow/Prestwick (1 hr.).

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10 min. from Largs. Caledonian MacBrayne ferries (& 44/9705/6500000; www.calmac.co.uk). $ College of the Holy Spirit, College St., Millport (& 44/1475/530353; www.island-retreats.org). $ Westbourne House, Westbay Rd. (& 44/1475/530000; www.westbourne-house.com).

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Zitny Ostrov
Europe’s Largest River Island
Slovakia
A trip through Eastern Europe usually means traipsing from one fairy-tale village or city to the next. When you’ve had your fill of Hungarian hamlets and Czech charm, hop off the train in Bratislava, and then venture east to explore the Danube River isle of Zitny Ostrov. Also known as “Rye Island,” this is the biggest river island in Europe, at nearly 1,900 sq. km (734 sq. miles), and Slovakia’s most fertile agricultural region. Zitny Ostrov stretches the definition of island just a tad: Its southern boundary is the formidable Danube; its northern boundary is the meandering Little Danube, a gentle tributary that separates Zitny Ostrov from “mainland” Slovakia by little more than 50m (164 ft.) in places. The calm flow of the Little Danube, however, is a smallboater’s dream: Rowing and kayaking are both favorite activities here, providing Disney-esque scenery of farms and alluvial forests along the way. Zitny Ostrov is also wonderful for cycling, and one of the most popular bike routes on the island is the round-trip circuit (92km/57 miles total, mostly flat) from Bratislava to the Gabcikovo Water Works, where boats negotiate fascinating navigation chambers to overcome the 20m (66-ft.) altitude difference between the bottom and the top of the dam. Water, and the exploitation of it, has always been the lifeblood of Zitny Ostrov, and today it has Central Europe’s largest supply of high-quality drinking water. In the north-central part of the island, you can drive or bike to the ancient water mills of Jahodná, Tomásikova, Jelka, and Dunajska Klátov. These intriguing constructions, with

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VALDES ISLAND wooden paddle wheels, are all set impossibly picturesquely along the shady green banks of the Little Danube. As is common throughout Slovakia, resorts have been built around Zitny Ostrov’s several reservoirs, so if you don’t feel like boating or biking anywhere, you can go for a swim in any number of freshwater public swimming pools or manmake lakes, many of which have therapeutic thermal waters. Try the wellequipped and family-friendly (it has a water slide) Thermal Park Dunajská Streda (in the eponymous main town of Zitny Ostrov; & 421/31/552-40-91; www. thermalpark.sk) or Termalpark Vel’ky Meder (& 421/31/555-21-04; www. termalsro.sk). Round out your tour with a day or two seeing the highlights of Bratislava, the Slovakian capital that lies just north, across the Little Danube, from Zitny Ostrov. Have coffee on the historic square of Hlavné Námestie, tour the Primate’s Palace, take a Danube cruise, and climb up to Bratislava Castle, the 16th-century landmark that dominates the city. —SM www.slovakia.travel.

( Bratislava, connections throughout Europe.
40km (25 miles) from Bratislava.

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$$$ Hotel Bonbón, Alžbetínske nám. 1202/2 (& 421/31/557-52-22; www. bonbon.sk).

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Valdes Island
Kayaking the Sandstone Coast
Canada
As one of the top destinations for kayaking in British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, Valdes is most definitely a place to be seen from the water. The knife-shaped island’s perimeter is a series of dramatic sandstone cliffs, atop which sit weathered firs, oaks, and pines. A few broad and sandy beaches offer idyllic shore rest as well as front-row seats for some of the most spectacular sunsets in British Columbia. On Valdes, it’s all about the coastal adventure, but kayakers can also leave their boats on the northern tip of Valdes and stretch their legs along one of the forested trails in Wakes Cove Provincial Park. Once out on the water, paddle toward the north shore of Valdes and the island’s magnificent sandstone galleries. Carved by thousands of years of winter storms, these towering tawny cliffs feature one amazing, supremely photogenic feature after another—from honeycombed caves to bulbous rock protrusions, to umbrellatype overhangs where kayakers can pull over and get out of the rain (this is the Pacific Northwest, after all; precipitation is part and parcel of the experience). Just be aware that the same powerful forces of nature that sculpted the sandstone could also pummel you—pay attention to tides and incoming weather. The best place on Valdes to go ashore and take a break from the paddling is at Blackberry Point, on the western shore of the island, toward the southern tip. This is a lengthy stretch of beach (about 120m/394 ft.) where big, gnarled pieces of driftwood lie strewn as if by an artist. With its western exposure and views across the Trincomali Channel to other islets and Vancouver Island , sunsets here are phenomenal: The whole scene is a Northwest watercolor in the making. Overnight camping is possible at Blackberry Point;

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LEISURE ISLANDS the only other campground is at Wakes Cove Provincial Park (see below) on the northeast side of Valdes. The 205-hectare (507-acre) park was opened in 2002 and has hiking trails, picnic areas nestled among old-growth Douglas firs, and a protected anchorage for kayakers. While in the area, most kayakers also visit the neighboring Gulf Islands of Gabriola (north of Valdes, known as Petroglyph Island for its ancient and mysterious stone carvings), Galiano (across Porlier Pass to the south, with a great campground at Dionisio Point), and on the way back to Vancouver Island, Thetis, which is most notable for its warm and welcoming pub (& 250/246-3464; www.thetisisland. com), where paddlers reward themselves with hot food and cold beer. Going ashore on any of these islands, you’ll find quiet, hiker-friendly roads and trails that invariably lead to stunning lookouts. Valdes has no public boat docks, restaurants, hotels, or electricity. (The vacation homes here are powered by solar energy.) A third of the island is a First Nations Reserve for the Lyacksun First Nation. Much of the rest of the island is now owned by the Weyerhaeuser logging and paper corporation, which maintains the small campground at Blackberry Point. To reach Valdes, you’ll need to put in somewhere along the northeastern coast of Vancouver Island; the town of Ladysmith, which is a 45-minute drive south of Nanaimo, is the most popular jumpingoff point for kayaking in the Gulf Islands. If you don’t have your own equipment, Sealegs Kayaking (& 877/KAYAK-BC [529-2522] or 250/245-4096; www. sealegskayaking.com), in Ladysmith, is a full-service outfitter that rents boats, provides lessons, and offers multiday tours of the Gulf Islands. —SM www.vancouverisland.com. Floatplane to Valdes, or commercial flights to Nanaimo (40km/25 miles from Valdes).

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$$ Hawley Place Bed & Breakfast, 302 Hawley Place, Ladysmith (& 250/ 245-4431; www.bbcanada.com/9973. html). $ Wakes Cove Provincial Park camping (& 250/539-2115; www.env. gov.bc.ca).

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Wellesley Island
Water Under the Bridge
Thousand Islands, New York, U.S.
In a way, the Thousand Islands region is the inverse of the nearby Adirondacks: The ’Dacks is a mass of thick forest dotted with specks of blue water, while the Thousand Islands is a span of blue water dotted with specks of thick forest. The name is a bit misleading, though—how many granite outcrops actually pepper these 35 miles (56km) of the St. Lawrence River is anybody’s guess. Threading around its labyrinthine channels, you can easily lose count, you’ll be so busy camping, picnicking, bird-watching, and hauling in record catches of muskie, walleye, pike, perch, and king salmon. The point of visiting here is to sample many islands, but a good place to start is Wellesley Island, in the shadow of the Thousand Islands Bridge, spanning the St. Lawrence. (On adjacent Hill Island, a stone’s throw across the border into Canada, the 1000 Islands Skydeck [& 613/659-2335; www.1000islandsskydeck.com] offers sweeping 360-degree views of the region.)

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Wellesley Island’s Boldt Yacht house.

Wellesley Island State Park covers almost a third of this large island; the rustic park contains the area’s largest camping complex, a 600-acre (243-hectare) nature center laced with miles of hiking trails, a sandy beach, a 9-hole golf course, and a marina with canoe and fishing boat rentals (& 315/482-2722). Many of the park’s wilderness campsites are so secluded, you can reach them only by foot or boat, but there are also some waterside cabins and a set of fully outfitted two- and three-bedroom cottages, rentable by the week. Outside of the park, don’t miss the Thousand Island Park historic district on the southwest tip of the island, a beautifully preserved community of gingerbread cottages, relics of a Victorian-era “camp meeting” religious retreat. While the fishing around the island is excellent, to widen your options head for nearby Alexandria Bay, on the New York shore of the St. Lawrence, where several charter boats are based (check out www. alexbayfishingguides.com for a list of local operators). Alex Bay is also the jumpingoff point for boat tours to two enormous

summer “cottages” built by Gilded Age industrialists in the Thousand Islands’ resort heyday: Boldt Castle on Heart Island (& 800/847-5263) and the dramatic medieval-style Singer Castle on Dark Island (& 315/324-3275); contact Uncle Sam Boat Tours (& 315/4822611). More and more visitors to the Thousand Islands choose to explore by kayak, following the Thousand Islands Water Trail (www.paddle1000.com) from Kingston to Brockville, Ontario. Outfitters near Wellesley Island include 1000 Islands Kayaking Company, 58 River Rd., Lansdowne, Ontario (& 613/329-6265; www.1000 islandskayakingco.com), and Misty Isles, 25 River Rd., Lansdowne (& 613/3824232; www.mistyisles.ca). If wildlife is your interest, kayak over to Grass Point Marsh; it’s also fun to check out the “cottages” on Rock Island or challenge yourself by circumnavigating large Grindstone Island, just downriver from Wellesley. If boating is your passion—and why else have you come here?—don’t miss the Antique Boat Museum downriver at

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Clayton, New York (750 Mary St.; & 315/ 686-4104), which has a truly stupendous collection of some 250 vintage wooden boats. —HH Wellesley Island State Park, 44927 Cross Island Rd., Fineview, NY (& 315/4822722; www.nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/ info.asp?parkID=164).

( Syracuse, New York.
90-mile (145km) drive from Syracuse. $$$ Hart House, 21979 Club Rd., Wellesley Island (& 888/481-LOVE [4815683] or 315/482-5683; www.harthouse inn.com). $ Wellesley Island State Park campground (& 800/456-2267).

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Mount Desert Island
Acadian Idyll
Maine, U.S.
It’s fitting indeed that the name of this famous Maine island is pronounced like “dessert,” not like “desert”—it’s definitely a special treat, rather than a barren wasteland. Dominated by splendid Acadia National Park, this glacier-chiseled mound of rugged cliffs, sheltered bays, and quiet woods lies conveniently connected by causeway to the coast of Maine. Most visitors crowd onto 32km (20-mile) Park Loop Road, a spectacular drive that starts near the Hulls Cove Visitor Center and follows the rocky coast, loops back inland along Jordan Pond and Eagle Lake, and adds a detour to Cadillac Mountain—a sort of greatest-hits tour of the island. But why spend your time poking along in traffic, staring out at the ocean, when you could be skimming along the water’s surface, skirting the coast, and exploring the coves in your own light and agile sea kayak? Mount Desert’s ragged silhouette makes it perfect for kayaking, surrounded as it is by small bays and coast-hugging islands and nearly knifed in half by narrow, 7-mile-long (11km) Somes Sound, the only true fjord in the continental United States. You may want to begin in the island’s main town, Bar Harbor, set on Frenchman’s Bay, where you can rent your kayaks from outfitters including Coastal Kayaking Tours, 48 Cottage St., Bar Harbor (& 800/ 526-8615 or 207/288-9605; www.acadia fun.com); Loon Bay Kayaks, Barcadia Campground, junction of Routes 3 and 102 (& 888/786-0676 or 207/677-2963); or Aquaterra Adventures, 1 West St., Bar Harbor (& 877/386-4124 or 207/2880007; www.aquaterra-adventures.com). Frenchman’s Bay is populated by seals, osprey, and other wildlife; summer boasts even more spectacular wildlife: humpback, finback, minke, and (occasionally) right whales, which migrate to cool summer waters offshore to feast on krill and plankton. Head south from the bay and you’ll reach Atlantic waters, where popular park sights include Thunder Hole, a shallow cavern where the surf surges boisterously in and out, and Otter Cliffs, a set of 100-foot-high (30m) granite precipices capped with dense spruce that plummet down into roiling seas. From your kayak you can also enjoy open views of waterside villages and the great shingled “cottages” of the wealthy elite—Carnegies, Rockefellers, Astors, Vanderbilts—who summered here in the island’s late-19th-century heyday as a resort. Kayaking is insanely popular here, but it’s certainly not the only way to explore Mount Desert. Bike around the forested

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LANAI interior on crushed-rock carriageways laid out for Gilded Age tycoons; visit a series of geological formations using a GPS system to track down EarthCache clues; or take a catamaran cruise (contact Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company; 1 West St., Bar Harbor; & 888/533-WALE [533-9253] or 207/288-9800; www.barharborwhales. com), to see more whales in their offshore feeding grounds. Or hike the Precipice Trail, where you can get prime viewing of rare peregrine falcons, nesting in a cliff on Champlain Mountain (daily mid-May to mid-Aug, rangers lead a program describing peregrine activity). —HH Acadia National Park visitor center, State Hwy. 3 north of Bar Harbor (& 207/ 288-3338; www.nps.gov/acad).

( Trenton, Maine.
10-min. drive from Trenton. $ Bar Harbor Campground, 409 State Hwy. 3, Salisbury Cove (& 207/2885185). $$$ Harborside Hotel & Marina, 55 West St., Bar Harbor (& 800/328-5033 or 207/288-5033; www.theharborside hotel.com).

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Lanai
The Archipelago’s Exclusive Enclave
Hawaii
The most recently developed island for tourism in the Hawaiian archipelago may be the smallest, but with that petite size comes exclusivity. In the past few decades, the former pineapple plantation island of Lanai, just 9 miles (14km) across the channel from Maui , has become a luxury playground that still has much of its precious local flavor intact. When you stay on Lanai, you get the sublime feeling that this Hawaiian island belongs to you—at least for a week or so. The state tourism board has given Lanai the sobriquet of “Hawaii’s Most Enticing Island,” because Lanai (140 sq. miles/363 sq. km, with 18 miles/29km of unspoiled sandy beaches) is basically the private province of the guests who can pony up the cash to stay at its two five-star resorts—there aren’t many other accommodations options here. (Many say that Lanai really “arrived” as Hawaii’s enclave for the rich when Bill Gates rented out the Manele Bay resort for his 1994 nuptials.) In exchange for the hefty price tag of your hotel room, you’ll have free rein of the island’s outdoor activities (hiking and fourwheeling to the heights of Lanai are de rigueur, along with swimming and exploring along the 47-mile/76km coast) and an intimate window on local life in the island’s one and only town, Lanai City. Lanai City was originally the village that supported the workers of the Dole Pineapple Plantation (closed in 1992), and some institutions there, like the Lanai Plantation Store (aka Lanai City Service), which is ground zero for island gossip and groceries, feel like a time warp. On the southern side of Lanai, Hulopoe Bay has one of Hawaii’s best all-around beaches, a stunning crescent of golden sand backed by palms, picnic facilities, and clear, cobalt blue water great for snorkeling in summer. Nearby is one of the island’s two luxury resorts, the Four Seasons at Manele Bay (information below); the other property is also a Four Seasons, the inland, plantation-style Lodge at Koele (& 808/ 565-4000; www.fourseasons.com/koele).

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Jumping into Hulopoe Bay.

Beachcombers should head to Shipwreck Beach, on the northeast coast, a windswept stretch of sand unsuitable for swimming but with evocative remains of the many vessels that have foundered offshore over the years. Running for 7 miles (11km) up and over the top of Lanai’s highest point, Mount Lanaihale (3,368 ft./1,027m), the Munro Trail is a must for hikers or off-road vehicles, and provides wonderful views of neighboring Maui. Perhaps Lanai’s most unique and unusual sight is the so-called Garden of the Gods at Keahiakawelo, a garden of strange rock stacks set amid a barren landscape; come at sunset for the best color and light effects. Lanai also has two championship golf courses, attached to the two resorts; the oceanfront Challenge at Manele course was designed by Jack Nicklaus, while the upcountry Experience at Koele course is a Greg Norman masterpiece incorporating tropical geography and lofty views. If you don’t care to spend Four Seasons levels of money for the privilege of overnighting on Lanai, you can also visit the

island as a day trip from Maui with the 45-minute passenger ferry from Lahaina (much easier than flying from Maui). Unless you’re going with an organized tour group, it’s best to get a rental car with four-wheeldrive upon arrival in Lanai and a good map or set of directions from a local: Most of Lanai’s best attractions are at the end of unmarked or dirt roads. —SM Tourist information, 431 Seventh St., Ste. A, Lanai City (& 800/947-4774; www. gohawaii.com/lanai); also www.visit lanai.net.

( Lanai Airport (interisland flights only).

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Lahaina Marina, Maui (45 min.), Expeditions Lahaina (& 800/695-2624; www.go-lanai.com).

$$$ Four Seasons Resort at Manele Bay, One Manele Bay Rd. (& 808/ 565-2000; www.fourseasons.com/ manele). $$ Hotel Lanai, 828 Lanai Ave. (& 800/795-7211, or 808/565-7211; www.hotellanai.com).

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VANCOUVER ISLAND

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Out & About

Vancouver Island
Canada’s Great Pacific Adventure
Canada
From kayaking among orcas to watching grizzly bears feast on salmon, the wildlife encounters that await on Vancouver Island are stupendous. The scenery— from rocky fjords to impenetrable oldgrowth evergreen forests—is the Pacific Northwest at its most spectacular. And the postcard-perfect city of Victoria awaits when you want a dose of urban sophistication along with your natural splendors. Vancouver Island is too big, and its highlights are too diverse and numerous, to cover on a single visit, but no matter what itinerary you carve out, you won’t be disappointed. At over 32,000 sq. km (12,355 sq. miles), “Van Isle” is the largest island in Western North America—it’s about the same shape as New York’s Long Island, but 10 times the size. Most people’s point of entry is Victoria, one of the loveliest port cities in the Pacific, and which a smitten Rudyard Kipling once compared to “a little bit of old England,” set against something akin to the natural beauty of Italy’s Bay of Naples combined with the Himalayas. The city’s enchanting Inner Harbour is lined with such landmark buildings as the Fairmont Empress Hotel (721 Government St.; & 250/384-8111); stop for a drink in the hotel’s Bengal Lounge, but skip the overpriced guest rooms. Victoria’s top attraction is the marvelous Butchart Gardens (& 866/652-4422; www.butchartgardens. com), whose 20 hectares (49 acres) of painstakingly maintained, gorgeously arranged plants and flowers leave even non-garden-types agape. From Victoria, the only way to go on Vancouver Island is west: It takes about 5 hours to drive from end to end, though many remote areas are accessible only by floatplane. Killer whales are the big cheese of Vancouver’s wildlife offerings, and Telegraph Cove, near the northwestern tip of the island, is one of the best places in the world for orca watching. Here, Johnstone Strait is home to more than 100 orcas, so sightings are practically guaranteed. For boat trips, I recommend Stubbs Island Whale Watching (& 250/9283185; www.stubbs-island.com). To see the whales from land, head 17km (11 miles) south of Telegraph Cove to Robson Bight Ecological Reserve, where the orcas scratch their bellies on so-called “rubbing stones” along the shore. Sea kayaking is also possible along Vancouver’s protected waterways—with such majestic surroundings, this is always an unforgettable experience. Whether you see a pod of orcas or just a few playful porpoises, you can’t help but come away humbled by nature. The town of Campbell River, along Vancouver’s northern coast, is known as the “salmon-fishing capital of the world,” but there are plenty of spots all over Vancouver for freshwater and saltwater fishing (for steelhead, trout, halibut, rock cod and ling cod, shellfish, and five species of salmon). Grizzly watching has also become quite popular here, and the best way to see these formidable bears is with Knight Inlet Lodge’s grizzly tours (& 250/ 337-1953; www.grizzlytours.com). Viewing is from the safety of a boat cruise along shores where grizzlies are known to fish, though depending on the season, you may be able to climb tree stands to observe the bears from land. The rough and rugged west side of Vancouver is famously pounded by Pacific gales and waves in fall and winter. Storm watching is an activity in its own right here

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LEISURE ISLANDS and most awesome at Long Beach in Pacific Rim National Park (near the resort towns of Tofino and Uclulet). Gaze in amazement at the sheer power of nature lashing the shore, and then tuck in somewhere cozy and dry for a hot chocolate. When the city of Vancouver (across the Strait of Georgia) hosts the Winter Olympics in 2010, visitor numbers—and prices—are likely to go up all over the region as soon as Bob Costas and crew show TV audiences worldwide just how breathtaking, and jampacked with outdoor activities, this part of the world is. —SM www.hellobc.com or www.vancouver island.com. Victoria International Airport, Comox Valley Airport, and Nanaimo Airport, connections to Vancouver, Calgary, and Seattle. For more remote destinations, floatplanes and seaplanes are widely available.

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Many routes to Victoria and Nanaimo from mainland British Columbia and Washington State (1–5 hr.). June– Sept, make reservations if you’re driving a car aboard.

$$ Hidden Cove Lodge, 1 Hidden Cove Rd., Telegraph Cove (& 250/9563916; www.bcbbonly.com/1263.php). $$$ Sidney Pier Hotel & Spa, 9805 Seaport Place, Sidney (& 250/655-9445; www. sidneypier.com).

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Gran Canaria
From Sand Dunes to Majestic Mountains
Canary Islands, Spain
Venture up to the green ravines and forests of Gran Canaria’s interior, and you might be reminded of the mountain ranges of the American West, while just 25km (16 miles) away, there are coastal dunes, complete with camels, that look perfectly Saharan. The dramatic, diverse terrain of this Canary Island has earned it a hackneyed but ever-apt nickname: “Miniature Continent.” Don’t think of the “Gran” in the island’s name as referring to its size—it’s only the third largest in this Spanish archipelago, behind Tenerife and Fuerteventura—but to the cinematic effect of its stupendous scenery. The reality, however, is that most tourism on Gran Canaria is funneled toward the reliably hot and dry southern coast, a mecca for northern European sun seekers and party animals. Booking package trips to Gran Canaria as a holiday weekend break from their cold and damp hometowns, many visitors stick to the eyesore resort developments of the south and completely miss the hidden wonders of the interior. Of course, for the thousands of 20-somethings who flock here annually, the beach scene and manic nightlife of the south coast are enough. The oldest and principal resort town here is Maspalomas, the uncontested highlight of which is its 6km (33⁄4-mile) stretch of rolling dunes that slope, terraced by the wind, to gorgeous Atlantic waters. (Tip: Spare yourself the leg cramps and make the trek across the shifting sands by camel.) All over the southern coast, the usual array of watersports and excursions—jet-skiing, paragliding, dolphin watching, booze cruises—are in plentiful supply and well patronized by fun-loving vacationers. If and when you do fancy a break from the south coast’s manufactured entertainment, the natural treasures of Gran Canaria are only a short car or bus ride away. Go for a tour of the island’s amazing

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MENORCA rock formations, like the 80m (262-ft.) monolith of Roque Nublo (a stunning photo op, especially at sunset), or to Pico de las Nieves (at 1,950m/6,398 ft., the highest point on the island), overlooking majestic valleys and ridges of pine forest. Each of these naturalistic highlights has numerous paths for hiking, and outdoors enthusiasts can also avail themselves of the newly restored caminos reales (“royal roads,” or ancient pedestrian paths) that radiate from Cruz de Tejeda, in the center of the island, and provide opportunities for challenging hikes and leisurely walks of all kinds. On the northern part of Gran Canaria, Cenobio de Valerón is an archaeological site where hundreds of grain silos are carved into the mountains. The Museo y Parque Arqueólogico Cueva Pintada (www.cuevapintada.org), near Gáldar, is the island’s most important archaeological area, with painted caves dating back to the pre-Hispanic era. Gran Canaria is also one of the few Canaries with a robust living culture beyond the cookie-cutter beach hotels. The bustling capital of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is the largest town in the archipelago and offers historic architectural sights as well as vibrant local color. Over on the east coast, Agüimes is a wonderfully evocative Canarian village, and the nearby area of Guayadeque Ravine is famous for its cave dwellings (and fun, if kitschy, cave restaurants). Scuba divers will find the island’s best dive spot at El Cabrón Marine Reserve, just southeast of Agüimes, with an incredibly diverse undersea life and great visibility. —SM Centro Insular de Turismo, av. España, Centro Comercial Yumbo, Playa del Ingles (& 34/92-877-15-50; www.gran canaria.com). Gando Airport,16km (10 miles) south of Las Palmas, with connections to mainland Europe.

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$$ Riu Palace Maspalomas, Playa del Ingles (& 888/748-4990 in the U.S.; www.riu.com). $$$ Seaside Hotel Palm Beach, av. del Oasis, Maspalomas (& 34/ 92-872-10-32; www.seaside-hotels.de).

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Menorca
Family-Friendly in the Balearics
Spain
Smaller than Majorca and more, ahem, wholesome than Ibiza , Menorca (also spelled Minorca) has steered clear of mass tourism and kept its island traditions intact. Yet its beaches are some of the best in Spain, with an abundance of watersports and (mostly) uncrowded expanses of sand on which to play and bronze. So if you’ve outgrown the flash of the other Balearic Islands but are still attracted to this part of the Mediterranean, Menorca is an ideal choice for a relaxed getaway with just enough action. The southern coast of the island is relatively smooth, and it’s here you’ll find Menorca’s longest stretch of sandy beach, Son Bou. Cala Galdana, in the township of Ferreries, is known as the Queen of the Calas (coves) for its stunning setting amid the pines. The curvy northern coast is rockier and home to Menorca’s most dramatic coves and inlets, where deeper water affords snorkelers and divers a good view of the local fish and crustaceans. Most every cove or patch of sand has free or inexpensive parking nearby,

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A lookout in Menorca.

some kind of beach bar, and opportunities to go out on the water, whether for a parasailing session or windsurfing lessons. Hiking in the island’s nature reserves is also rewarding, as the trails offer wonderful panoramas and the fresh scent of pine trees all around: Try Cap de Favaritx, Cap de Cavalleria, and S’Albufera. Many of the same trails can also be explored by bike, and you’ll find numerous rental outfits all over the island. Menorca’s relative lack of traffic and manageable distances—50km (31 miles) from east to west, and 20km (12 miles) from north to south—make it easy to pursue a variety of activities while being based in one hotel or rental property. Lying at the eastern extremity of crescentshaped Menorca, Mahón is the main city on the island, with a lively and picturesque harbor filled with impressive British colonial architecture. A leisurely walk along the Mahón waterfront at sunset, camera at the ready, is one of the must-do’s while on Menorca. The smaller city of Ciutadella, at the western end of Menorca, is a gem,

with Moorish and baroque architecture. Don’t miss the Ciutadella cathedral, a fantastically embellished church built on top of an ancient mosque. Menorca was a British possession from 1708 to 1802; the popularity of gin on the island is undoubtedly a vestige of that history. Tours of the island’s Xoriguer Distillery are a fun way to sample several different Menorca-made liquors. From July to August, be sure to catch a balmy evening performance of the Festival de Música d’Estiu (summer music festival) in Ciutadella, when classical concerts are held in evocative churches and historic places. —SM www.illesbalears.es. Menorca-Mahón, connections through Spanish and European hubs. $$ Hotel Port Mahón, av. Fort de L’Eau, Mahón (& 34/97-13-626-00; www. sethotels.com). $$ Visit Menorca rental villas and apartments (& 34/90-21-10111; www.visitmenorca.com).

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SÃO MIGUEL

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Out & About

São Miguel
Volcanic Vitality
The Azores, Portugal
Of the nine islands that make up the Atlantic castaway archipelago of the Azores, São Miguel is the largest (760 sq. km/293 sq. miles) and most populated (150,000) with the most action on offer for leisureseeking travelers, whether it’s whalewatching or soaking in hot springs or simply hiking and driving around its striking landscape. While describing São Miguel’s diverse scenery—which ranges from lakes and mountains to green plains and blue ocean—promotional materials for São Miguel liken the island to a love child of Switzerland and Hawaii. It’s an awfully poetic comparison, alright, but not an exaggeration. São Miguel is known as the “Green Island” of the Azores, and sure enough, the first thing you’ll probably notice is that just about everything seems to be covered in a carpet of lush foliage. Arriving by air or by sea, most visitors’ introduction to São Miguel is its cosmopolitan capital, Ponta Delgada. Here, lovely architectural squares and cobblestoned streets are full of historic charm as well as contemporary flair: It would be easy to spend several days just sampling all the restaurants, bars, and oceanfront cafes in town. Ponta Delgada’s lively marina is also the departure point for swim-with-the-dolphins, whale-watching, sport fishing, and other waterborne excursions (see www.azores.com for a full listing of outfitters). But the real splendor of the island, and what makes it such an original getaway, is the countryside. With an average width of 10km (61⁄4 miles) and an overall length of 64km (40 miles), São Miguel is refreshingly manageable in size, with good roads, though it’s essential to have your own wheels to reach the island’s many natural attractions. Many of São Miguel’s most interesting sites have to do with its natural history as a volcanic island—there are four stratovolcano calderas here. In the center of São Miguel, the Lagoa do Fogo (Fire Lake) is a dream for day hikers: After completing the well-marked trail through velvet-green hills, you arrive at the water-filled (with beach!) caldera of an extinct volcano. Farther to the east, the caldera of Furnas is still very much alive, with geysers emitting spouts of boiling water. Locals use the natural environment around Furnas (which means “ovens”) as a place to cook traditional meals, burying pots of meats and vegetables right in the hot ground. Or you can go for a soak in the natural thermal pool at the Terra Nostra Garden Hotel and Botanical Park (see information below). Near the western end of São Miguel, the twin lakes atop Sete Cidades crater are another sublimely tranquil hiking spot. The toughest hike on the island, however, is to the summit of Pico da Vara (1,103m/3,619 ft. and São Miguel’s highest point). São Miguel’s rugged mountain scenery can make you forget you’re on an island that also has some terrific beaches for swimming, though with such dramatic coastal features, you do have to know where to go to find the sandy strips. The standout for swimmers and sunbathers is the accessible-by-boat-only Ilheu, off the resort town Vila Franca do Campo. The tiny triangular landform is blessed with a perfectly circular natural swimming pool in the center. In Vila Franca do Campo itself, the best beach is Vinha d’Areia, where there’s also a small water-slide park. Praia dos Moinhos, in Porto Formoso, is an isolated beach that is home to the ruins of an old fortress. —SM

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$$$ Terra Nostra Garden Hotel, Rua Padre Jose Jacinto Botelho 5, Furnas (& 351/296/549-090; www.terranostra hotelazores.com).

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Samos
A Walk in the Woods
Greece
According to Epicurus, the ancient philosopher born on Samos in 341 B.C., life is supposed to be about happiness and tranquillity. Several millennia later, his native island is still a pretty good place to achieve that goal. Mountainous and densely forested Samos (picture the landscape in the movie version of Mamma Mia!) is a world away from the scrubby, mostly flat topography of so many other, more popular Greek islands, though it still boasts some superbly inviting beaches. On a map, the shape of Samos recalls a vertically squashed, miniature Australia. Most visitors arrive at Vathi, a deep natural harbor near the eastern tip of the island. If there’s one blight on gorgeous Samos, it’s some of the recent development along the eastern coast, where generic resort towns have become magnets for European package tours—the kind of fly-me-anywhere-there’s-sun travel that begets soulless beachfront hotels and often obnoxious group behavior. Pythagoras, the Samian native mathematician who devised one very famous theorem, would probably turn over in his grave if he could see the circus of sunburned hordes that one of those port towns, his namesake Pithagorio, has become. While the masses crowd the rocky beaches of eastern Samos, you should head inland, to the island’s most interesting villages and wonderful hiking and cycling paths, or to the northern coast, with its fabulous sandy beaches of Megalo Seitani and Micro Seitani, accessible only by boat or a 45-minute scenic hike from Karlovassi. The interior region of Platanakia is Samos at its most picturesque: Here, the charming hill towns of Manolates, Vourliotes, and Stavrinides are hidden among woods and streams that foiled the pirates who repeatedly invaded the island. Leisurely walks along the shaded roads between those villages are some of the most rewarding pursuits on Samos and provide a much-needed respite from the Aegean sun. The eastern tip of Samos is barely 1km (2⁄3 mile) from Turkey, and the most popular day trip from Samos is the excursion to the archaeological site of Ephesus, truly one of the best collections of ancient ruins in the Eastern Mediterranean, with splendors from both the Greek and the Roman eras. From Vathi, there are a few boats per day to Kusadasi, Turkey, from which it’s a short trip to Ephesus. Samos also has its own archaeological attractions, the most noteworthy being the Efpalinion aqueduct (access from Pithagorio), a 1,000m-long (3,281-ft.) tunnel that connected coastal Vathi to the mountain streams of the interior. Much of the aqueduct is walkable, but claustrophobes should beware. —SM

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The Samos waterfront.

www.samosguide.com. Samos-Aristarchos International, connections to Athens, Thessaloniki, Mykonos, and Santorini.

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Piraeus, but the fastest and most frequent connections are to Kusadasi, Turkey (11⁄2 hr.).

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Samos’s Vathi port is served by ferry from many other Greek islands and

$$ Daphne Hotel, Platanakia, Agios Konstantinos (& 30/22730/94493; www. daphne-hotel.gr).

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Out & About

Skyros
Unspoiled Getaway in the Sporades
Greece
Tourism hasn’t arrived in a major way on this southernmost island of the Sporades archipelago, and that’s a very good thing—and probably a temporary one in a country whose islands have almost all become magnets for sun-seeking summer crowds. For now, Skyros is very much ruled by a calm and relaxing vibe, whether you’re exploring the island’s wild landscape, swimming at its secluded sandy beaches, or soaking up the local rhythms of its traditional villages. Linaria is the port of entry for all boats to Skyros (which don’t call nearly as frequently as on other islands, part of why Skyros remains relatively untrodden).

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From here it’s a short ride (your own car or moped is recommended for getting around the island—public transportation is limited) to the Skyrian capital of Chora (aka Skyros town), with its characteristic Greek isle architecture of whitewashed cubes. This is a traditional village where local men still wear Greek fishermen’s caps and sandals, but you’ll find plenty of lively, traveler-friendly spots for eating and drinking on Chora’s main drag. Climb the narrow streets that lead from the market to the Byzantine kastro, which includes the monastery of Agios Georgios, Skyros’s big-deal historical-religious site—famous for its 10th-century blackfaced icon of St. George, brought from Constantinople. The citadel has magnificent views over town and off a sheer cliff that drops to the sea. The topography on Skyros is divided between the dense pine forests of the northwest (ideal for hiking) and the more barren and rugged terrain of the northeastern and southern parts of the island. The best beaches are in the north, including Molos beach (3km/13⁄4 miles from Chora), which is the largest and sandiest on the island; accordingly, it’s also Skyros’s most heavily developed and well used. Windsurfing is popular here, and a bit away from the main beach stretch there are sections of sand suitable for nude sunbathing. A number of midrange hotels line the beachfront of Molos, and there are many casual tavernas perfect for sunset cocktails. About 10km (61⁄4 miles) west of Chora, take your pick between the neighboring beaches of Pefkos and Agios Fokas: The former is a narrow crescent of golden sand backed by lush Mediterranean greenery; the latter, even more beautiful, feels more secluded and is reminiscent of a perfect lake beach, with pebbly shores and a calm bay. Skyros is also home to a rare breed of especially small ponies that were introduced to the island as far back as the 8th century B.C. Though the armies of Alexander the Great are said to have ridden these sturdy animals in battle, and they’re believed to be the short horses depicted on the Parthenon friezes, most Skyrian ponies are now under the protection of nonprofit agencies (in other words, don’t expect any pony rides, unless you spot one in someone’s pasture and can convince the owner to let you hop on for a minute). Otherwise, you can see the animals at the Skyrian Pony Center on the way to Atsitsa Bay. —SM www.gnto.gr. Skyros Airport, 4km (21⁄2 miles) from Chora; connections to Athens and Thessaloniki. From Kymi (2 hr.). Skyros Shipping Company (& 30/22220/91790; www.sne.gr). $$ Skiros Palace Hotel, Yirismata ( 30/22220/91994; www.skiros-palace. gr).

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Out & About

302

Koh Samui
Beach Bliss in Thailand
Thailand
Not so long ago a laid-back and slightly scruffy bohemian beach hangout, with thatched bungalows on the beach and dusty red-dirt roads, Koh Samui has made the leap into the big time. It’s now neck and neck with rival Koh Phuket in the competition for most popular beach destination in Thailand. Boutique resorts on

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KOH SAMUI beautiful beaches sell increasingly higher standards of pampered luxury. What Koh Samui lacks are high-rise hotels and discothumping nightlife—reason enough, for some folks, to choose Koh Samui over Phuket. Thailand’s third-largest island, Koh Samui has all the attributes of a tropical island dream getaway: blissfully warm seas, velvety air, and crescents of pristine white-sand beaches fanned by coconut palms. Samui’s most beautiful (and popular) beaches are Hat Chaweng and Hat Lamai, both fronting the Gulf of Thailand on the island’s east coast. At 7km (41⁄3 miles), Chaweng is a long drink of sand and water, and plenty crowded in high season. The smaller Lamai is quieter and just as pretty. Ngam beach is the west coast’s top spot, with powdery white sand and superb sunset viewing. Renting a car is a good way to see all that Koh Samui offers; you can do a loop along the island’s coastline in about 21⁄2 hours (but don’t miss the island’s lush and mountainous interior). The hairpin turns on the hilly roads should keep you on your toes. Perhaps the most efficient way to get around is by “the poor man’s taxi” or songtaew, covered pickup trucks that follow Route 4169, the ring road, around the island. Hail one anywhere along the highway and beach roads—and be sure to barter the fare; it’s acceptable and even expected, especially at night, when prices go up. Like Phuket, Koh Samui has exceptional diving and snorkeling opportunities. The Samui International Diving School (at the Malibu Resort, Chaweng Beach; & 66/ 7742-2386; www.planet-scuba.net) is a full-service dive center, with PADI courses and daily dives. Some of the better snorkeling off Koh Samui is found along the rocky coast between Chaweng Noi and Lamai bays. Koh Samui is not the first place you’d go to see important Buddhist wats (temples) in Thailand, but it does have a few worthwhile sites. The most important landmark for local islanders is the 11m-tall (36-ft.) Big Buddha, in Wat Phra Yai. It’s located on Koh Faan, a small islet connected to the shore by a causeway, with shops and restaurants at the base. Two temples in Samui hold the bodies of mummified monks; most people visit Wat Khunaram, on Route 4169 south of Lamai, where the mummified body of monk Loung Pordaeng is in the same meditation position as when he died nearly 40 years ago. And, curiously, he wears sunglasses. If you simply can’t get enough of the sun and sea, take a boat trip 30km (19 miles) offshore to the Angthong National Marine Park, composed of 42 limestone islets rimmed by coral reefs. It’s a spectacularly scenic area, with white-sand beaches kissed by cerulean seas. On the park’s largest island, Koh Wua Talab, take a hike to the central peak and bring your camera—the views of the surrounding islets and seas are killer. —AF Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), Thawi Ratchaphakti Rd. just north of the main ferry terminal, Nathon (& 66/ 7742-0504; www.tourismthailand.org); also www.kohsamui.org.

( Bangkok to Koh Samui airport (1 hr.).
Songserm (& 66/7728-7124 in Surat Thani; www.songserm-expressboat. com) runs a loop from Surat Thani pier to Samui in 2 hr. $ Milky Bay Resort, Koh Pha Ngan ( 66/7723-8566; www.milkybay.com). $$$ Saboey Resort & Villas, Big Buddha Beach (& 66/7743-0456; www.saboey. com).

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The Caribbean Unplugged

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Isla Mujeres
Escape from Cancún
Mexico
Never mind that there are other islands in the area—like the larger and more established resort destination of Cozumel . Thanks to its informal, laid-back vibe, Isla Mujeres is known to one and all in the Yucatan by its one-word nickname, Isla. Though it’s only 8km (5 miles) from and easily visible from the mainland, tiny Isla Mujeres is a tantalizing 180-degree personality shift from crazy Cancún and a boon for anyone whose definition of a Mexican vacation involves not only beachy fun in turquoise waters and a steady supply of cerveza but also the actual possibility of relaxing. If you need to chill out, hop on that 20-minute ferry to Isla, and feel your muscles start to unwind. The knobby, triangular spit at the northern end of the island is where the port and only town are located. The town is a walkable grid of fewer than a dozen streets with small, independent lodging and dining—no international chains here. If you opt for accommodations in town, you can grab your beach towel and walk less than 5 minutes to reach Playa Norte. This excellent stretch of fine, sugary sand is all the beach you need on Isla; it’s equipped with watersports and friendly bars where you can sip tropical drinks from shady hammocks. Playa Norte is angled slightly to the west, making it one of few beaches in this part of Mexico that gets a great view of the sunset. (The sun sets over

Isla Mujeres beach.

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UTILA
Cancún, and while vacationers in the highrises there primp and prep for a wild night of partying, you’ll still be rubbing your feet through the sand, no big evening plans afoot, and happy as a clam about it.) Southeast from town, Isla Mujeres extends, like a skinny barracuda, for about 6.4km (4 miles) before disappearing into the Caribbean; for any exploration of Isla beyond the confines of town, a golf cart is practically obligatory (rent one at the ferry dock). Puttering around on a golf cart is in fact integral to the Isla Mujeres experience: Distances are short and, in keeping with the island’s sleepy tempo, you’ll never need to go faster than about 20 mph. Though most get around Isla with the help of a motor, you can also rent pedal bikes for next to nothing; mountain bikes are recommended as some of the island’s best hiking and biking paths aren’t paved. The main leisure attraction on the southern end of the island is Garrafón National Park (& 52/998/193-3360; www.garrafon.com), a full-service reefside “eco-park” run by Dolphin Discovery. Water activities on offer here run the gamut from snorkeling to transparent canoes to an overwater zip line. (The swim-with-the-dolphins programs cost extra; see www.dolphindiscovery.com.) Back in the golf cart, visit the Turtle Sanctuary (& 52/998/877-0595), a successful and privately funded facility where guests can even take part in the turtle-hatching releases (usually scheduled May–Oct). Rounding out Isla’s roster of quick and easy sites are the Mayan temple of Ixchel, a ruin on a bluff near the lighthouse at the southern tip of the island, and the Hacienda Mundaca (Carr. Garrafón, Km 6), a former pirate’s fortress turned zoo—with reptiles, monkeys, and a jaguar— in the middle of the island. By late afternoon, day-tripping hordes from Cancún have been loaded back onto their tour boats to the mainland, and Isla Mujeres town returns to its chilled-out self. Maybe you cap off the day with a yoga class—an increasingly popular activity on the island, and available in poolside palapas at hotels like the Na Balam (& 52/998/877-0279; www.nabalam. com)—or maybe you just walk back to Playa Norte, crack open that guilty-pleasure paperback and a cold cerveza, and bask in the glow of sunset. —SM Av. Rueda Medina 130 (& 52/998/8770307; www.isla-mujeres.net).

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From Puerto Juarez (Cancún), Ultramar (& 52/998/877-0307; www.gran puerto.com.mx).

$$$ Casa de los Sueños, Carretera a Garrafón 9a/b, Fracc. Turquesa (& 52/ 998/877-0651; www.casadelossuenos resort.com). $$ Hotel Belmar, av. Hidalgo 110 (& 52/998/877-0430; www.rolandi. com).

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Utila
Hangin’ with Whale Sharks
Bay Islands, Honduras
Like Roátan , its sister Bay Island to the east, Utila lies along the Mesoamerican barrier reef system (number two in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier), and most who have even heard of the island are divers who know that it offers one of the best chances on the planet to spot the elusive whale shark. These gentle giants, which can measure up to 12m (39 ft.) in length, are the world’s largest fish and are

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LEISURE ISLANDS present in the waters around Utila yearround (though they’re most typically seen Feb–May and Aug–Sept). In fact, this animal is so central to the Utila tourism economy that the spotted silhouette of the whale shark—emblazoned on shop signs, restaurant menus, and charter boats— has practically become the official logo of the island. Of course, nothing is guaranteed when it comes to wildlife sightings, and even if you aren’t lucky enough to spy a whale shark through your mask, the rest of the diving scene on Utila is still plenty satisfying. This little island (11×4km/63⁄4×21⁄2 miles) is a true unspoiled tropical paradise, with 60 never-crowded dive sites. Under the water, enjoy a kaleidoscopic and encyclopedic array of Caribbean marine creatures, from octopus to sea turtles to eagle rays to reef fish of every stripe. Shipwrecks like the 30m (98-ft.) transport vessel Halliburton, just off Eastern Harbor, are great fun to explore, with all kinds of hatches to swim through and portholes to stick your head through. There are about a half dozen dive resorts on the island that include scuba equipment and excursions as part of a package rate, or you can stay in simpler accommodations—dorm-style beds can cost as little as $2 per night— and independently arrange your own equipment rentals and boat dives with a PADI-certified operator like Underwater Vision (& 504/425-3103; www.under watervision.net). Nondivers can visit the caylitos (little cays), off the southwest end of the island. The quintessential private island of Water Cay has absolutely no facilities, but you can take the 30-minute ride from Eastern Harbor for a blissful day of sunbathing and picnicking on a picture-perfect, palmfringed sandy shore. The pristine islets of Sandy Cay and Little Cay are also available to rent out for as little as $100 per night—that’s for a totally charming bungalow that sleeps up to 14. Back on Utila, nature lovers can visit the Iguana Breeding and Research Station (www. utila-iguana.de), which also runs informative guided hiking tours that take in the varied island landscape. Granted, Utila doesn’t offer a full range of watersports, and there isn’t much action here: The slow pace of the island seems to mimic that of the lumbering whale shark. Eastern Harbor is the only real town on the island, with one hotel, restaurant, and shop-lined main street that takes 20 minutes to walk end to end. All the dive operators have a presence at Eastern Harbor’s Municipal Dock, and Chepes Beach, at the far end of town, is good for swimming and lazing on the sand. So while the Honduran Bay Island of Roátan sits poised to become the Caribbean’s Next Big Thing, with all the cruise ship tourists, upscale development, and direct flights that go along with it, Utila looks to remain fairly unchanged—remote and authentic—for the foreseeable future. With lodging and food so affordable on Utila, the island is especially appealing as a longerterm stay for backpacker types or for those taking a dive master course. —SM www.aboututila.com. Utila Municipal Airport, connections to mainland Honduras.

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From La Ceiba (1 hr.). Utila Princess (& 504/425-3390; www.utila princess.com).

$$ Private islands of Sandy Cay and Little Cay (& 504/425-2005; www. aboututila.com). $$$ Utopia Dive Village (& 504/3/344-9387; www.utopiadive village.com).

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SABA

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The Caribbean Unplugged

Saba
Tiny Haven with Transportation Thrills
As far as sheer geographical extent goes, Saba is the “least” of the Lesser Antilles islands. In spite of its mere 8 sq. km (3 sq. miles), however, this Dutch West Indies isle manages to contain the highest point in the entire Kingdom of the Netherlands: Its volcanic summit is 873m (2,864 ft.) tall. Tiny, sleepy Saba is a haven for nature lovers and relaxation seekers—the absolute flip side of bigger and busier Caribbean destinations. For one thing, there are no beaches here, though the coastal waters teem with marine life and excellent dive spots. No-drama Saba is best suited to avid divers, hikers, or those who want to unplug from “real life” and aren’t looking for the typical Caribbean formula of lolling on the sand. Saba is a gorgeously eroded extinct volcanic cone, and the dramatic topography you see on land continues as a mountainous slope below the surface. It bears repeating that the island’s steep shoreline is completely devoid of palm trees and sand. One of the biggest activities here is simply taking in the glorious scenery from a hotel terrace or other vista point. Hiking on Saba is satisfying, and relatively easy, given the short distances. The Saba Conservation Foundation (& 599/4163295; www.sabapark.org) maintains the trails and can provide information about the flora and fauna along the way. The island’s dive sites are under the aegis of the Saba Marine Park (see Saba Conservation Foundation, above) and include four underwater mountains (2km/11⁄4 miles offshore) and coral reefs. There’s also a (difficult) snorkeling trail marked by buoys. Due to the depths and sea conditions here, it’s best to set out for any undersea exploration with a reputable outfitter. A good bet is Sea Saba Dive Center (& 599/416-2246; www.seasaba. com), which offers 4-hour day-boat dives and experienced guides/instructors. Because of Saba’s small size and lack of beaches, many who visit the island do so as a day trip from St. Maarten . From that island’s Queen Juliana Airport, it’s a 12-minute hop to Saba. Whether you come for the day or stay a bit longer, you will experience one of the Caribbean’s most hair-raising airplane landings: Occupying the sort-of-flat northeast edge of the island, Juancho Yrausquin Airport has the shortest commercial airstrip in the world, only 394m/1,293 ft. (the length of five Airbus 380s, which do not fly here). Takeoffs are even more thrilling: Within a few seconds of the engines propelling you down the runway, Saba disappears below you and you’re somehow aloft over the deep blue sea. Flight buffs should book the jaunt from St. Maarten for this adventure alone. The other unmissable component of any trip to Saba is also transportationrelated: The island is traversed by an adrenaline-pumping mountain highway, known to one and all as The Road. The work of visionary Saba local Josephus Lambert Hassell (foreign engineers said it couldn’t be built), the 31km (19-mile) motorway climbs like a corkscrew from the airport to the lofty settlement of Windwardside (elev. 541m/1,775 ft.) before descending to a Dutch village called, appropriately enough, The Bottom. The Road is frequently and fittingly compared to a roller coaster for its flying curves, heart-in-your-throat vistas, and

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LEISURE ISLANDS the fact that for every uphill stretch, Hassell added a significant dip, possibly just for the fun of it. Alas, there’s no loop-deloop. —SM www.sabatourism.com. Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport; all flights are through St. Maarten (connections to North America, South America, and Europe). $$ The Gate House, Hell’s Gate, Zion’s Hill (& 599/416-2416; www.saba gatehouse.com). Willard’s of Saba, Booby Hill (& 800/504-9861 in the U.S., or 599/416-2498; www.willardsofsaba.com).

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The Caribbean Unplugged

306

St. Eustatius
Dive into the 1700s
To visit this unspoiled and diminutive West Indies island today, you’d never know that St. Eustatius—“Statia” to habitués—was once a bustling hub of Caribbean trade, its main port of Oranjestad filled with hundred of ships loading and unloading cargo, salty types streaming in and out of harbor taverns and places of ill repute throughout the day. During the Revolutionary War, Dutch-held Statia supplied the American colonies with guns and ammo, and when the war was over, Statia was one of the first places to recognize the United States of America as a new and separate nation. What irony, then, that so few North Americans know anything about Statia. Like its Antilles neighbor Saba (30km/19 miles northwest), Statia is not a beach bum’s island, but divers take heart: At sites like Crack in the Wall, you’ll find astounding pinnacles of coral shooting up from the ocean floor and can swim among barracudas, black-tip sharks, and rays. Snorkelers can also get into the action on the Caribbean side of St. Eustatius. The underwater scene at Crooks Castle Beach, near Oranjestad, is a fascinating marine archaeological site with remnants of an 18th-century man-of-war and the walls of warehouses, taverns, and ships that sank below the surface more than 200 years ago. Full-service Dive Statia can arrange any sort of diving or snorkeling excursion (& 599/318-2435; www.dive statia.com). The prettiest beaches on Statia, though they’re few, face the Atlantic, where rough waves and undertows are a turnoff for swimmers. Still, beachcombing on the island can be quite rewarding if you’re lucky enough to uncover one of Statia’s fabled treasures—blue-glass beads, manufactured by the Dutch East India company and used as currency for such products as rum, tobacco, and even slaves. The beads tend to appear on shore after storms, and the beach that yields them most frequently is Crooks Castle. Statia consists of two extinct volcanic summits, the Quill and Little Mountain, joined by a valley so narrow that the St. Eustatius airport runway cuts across half of it. Hiking on the Quill is a marvelous journey through a primeval rainforest filled with brilliant tropical flowers and lush greens. To get a primer in Statian flora all in one spot, visit the Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden, on the Atlantic side of the Quill. This sprawling and panoramic spot is an excellent place to bring a picnic. The one and only town on Statia is historic Oranjestad, whose anchorage once saw the comings and goings of all those merchant ships centuries ago. The 1636

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VIRGIN GORDA bastions of Fort Oranje were painstakingly restored for the U.S. centennial in 1976, and the ramparts are still lined with old cannons. Oranjestad today is a quaint but quiet town, with no nightlife to speak of. In fact, what passes for a big night out on Statia is crab catching on top of the Quill. The 610m (2,001-ft.) crater is a breeding ground for the crustaceans, which come out after dark only to be snatched up by Statians who take them home and turn them into the local delicacy, stuffed crab. Of course, if that doesn’t sound like enough excitement for you, you can always pop over to Statia as a day trip from St. Maarten air. —SM , 17 minutes away by

www.statiatourism.com.

( Franklin D. Roosevelt Airport; all flights are through St. Maarten (connections to North America, South America, and Europe). $$ King’s Well Resort, Oranje Bay Rd.-1 ( 599/318-2538; www.kingswell statia.com). $$ The Old Gin House, Oranjebaai 1, Oranjestad (& 599/318-2319; www.oldginhouse.com).

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The Caribbean Unplugged

Virgin Gorda
Marine Playground
British Virgin Islands
Oh, for the days of the age of exploration, when you could discover a new place and name it any old thing that popped into your head. In 1493, on his second voyage to the New World, Christopher Columbus was running out of names; the ocean was littered with dots grandiosely titled “Columbus.” When the explorer came upon an island whose mountain looked like nothing so much as a reclining woman with a big belly, he pronounced it Virgin Gorda, or “Fat Virgin,” and sailed on. Tortola may be the biggest and most populous island in the B.V.I., but many people consider Virgin Gorda—in spite of its inelegant name—the crown jewel of the 60-island chain. It has softly undulating volcanic hills with excellent hiking trails, azure seas, and pristine, secluded beaches. At its center is the pregnant belly of Columbus’s imagination: Gorda Peak, at 408m (1,360 ft.) the island’s highest point and a great summit to climb. The most photographed beach in the B.V.I. is The Baths, on the island’s southwest shore, where immense granite rocks are strewn along the powdery whitesand beach, forming lovely grottoes and hidden pools. Most scientists believe these granite boulders exploded onto the scene eons ago by undersea volcanic fireworks. Virgin Gorda is the third largest of the British Virgin Islands, but at 22 sq. km (81⁄2 sq. miles), it’s not a big place by any means. Even so, the island is uncrowded and unpretentious, with goats and cows scratching in the dry scrub and a genuinely congenial populace. If you’re looking for quiet, pampered seclusion, Virgin Gorda neatly fits the bill—the lodging model here is one of boutique resorts of impeccable taste and understated luxury. Laurance Rockefeller established the tone in the 1960s, when he built an ultraprivate “wilderness beach” resort on Little Dix Bay. Other major resorts followed, much in the same vein. You might even say the island is undercommercialized, certainly when it comes to nightlife and shopping. And that’s just fine with the visitors who keep coming back year after year.

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Like Tortola, Virgin Gorda is a sailor’s paradise, with sublime anchorages in protected waters. A trip to Virgin Gorda is as much about getting out on the water as it is about pampered privacy. Boat and tour operators, too numerous to list here, offer crewed or bareboat charters, day sails, and cruises; an extensive list of operators is available on the B.V.I. official tourism website (see below). Spend a day exploring the sparkling coves and islets of the North Sound (also called Gorda Sound), on the northeast coast of the island. The North Sound is the largest noncommercial deep-water harbor in the Caribbean, with sheltered anchorages, gentle trade winds, and excellent snorkeling; it’s one big marine playground. Some of Virgin Gorda’s best beaches are found on the surrounding small islands. Unspoiled Prickly Pear Island is a 98-hectare (242-acre) national park; head to Vixen Point for a memorable swim and snorkel. Plan your visit around lunchtime, when you can join the peripatetic sailors and yachties at the supremely casual Sand Box Bar and Restaurant (& 284/495-9122), at Vixen Point, for conch fritters and fresh lobster salad. —AF www.bviwelcome.com. Tortola (Beef Island International Airport; 19km/12 miles). Ferry from Tortola (several companies including Speedy’s: & 284/4955235; www.speedysbvi.com; 30 min.) or private resort boat pickup. $$$ Biras Creek Resort (& 877/ 883-0756 in the U.S. or 310/440-4225; www.biras.com). $$ Nail Bay Resort, Nail Bay (& 800/871-3551 in the U.S., or 284/494-8000; www.nailbay.com).

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Remote Adventures

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Cumberland Island
Just You & the Birds
Georgia, U.S.
It takes some effort to reach this barrier isle and national seashore at the southern end of the Georgia coast, practically into Florida—unless you’ve got your own boat, you’ll have to take a 45-minute ferry ride from St. Mary’s. Once you get there, you may be surprised to find its gleaming sands deserted. What kind of a national seashore is this? But that’s all part of Cumberland Island’s subtle charm. Originally a cotton plantation and then a summer retreat for the Carnegies, Cumberland Island has been mostly uninhabited since 1972, with only a few private owners remaining in clustered compounds. Over the years, the wilderness has gradually closed in, until the main road through the interior seems a mere tunnel through a vine-draped canopy of live oaks, cabbage palms, magnolia, holly, red cedar, and pine. Only 300 people are allowed on the island at any given time, many of them overnight guests at the island’s only lodging, the stately turn-ofthe-century Greyfield Inn (see below). (There are also two bare-bones campgrounds for visitors who prefer roughing it.) Although the island has a few historic sites—a restored Carnegie mansion, a tiny African-American meetinghouse—most visitors tend to be nature lovers, fond of hiking (there are over 50 miles/81km of hiking trails), bicycling along the old carriage roads (rent bikes at the Sea Camp Dock), and kayaking through the silent salt marshes. Cumberland’s sloping 16-mile-long (26km) beach isn’t just a bland strip of

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Cumberland Island beach.

powdery sand, like some manicured oceanfront resort. Little meadows nestle among the dunes, creeks cut their way to the sea from freshwater ponds, and tidal mud flats glisten. The beach runs the entire length of the island, affording plenty of space for beachgoers to find their own patch of secluded sand. It’s not a place to come for high-octane watersports, but the shell hunting is superb, especially early in the morning after a storm. The waters are relatively shallow and calm for swimming, although there are no lifeguards. Nor are there snack bars, showers, or changing rooms—it’s just you, the sand, and a wideopen sky. In late spring and summer, in fact, birds far outnumber humans on Cumberland Island. Bring your binoculars, because this is a major destination on the Atlantic flyway, with more than 335 species showing up throughout the year to nest on the tidal flats or build their nests behind the dunes. (Please respect cordoned-off beach areas in season.) Inland you’ll also find alligators, armadillos, raccoons, deer, wild turkeys, and loggerhead turtles, as well as a herd

of nearly 300 wild horses that graze on the marsh grasses. Those who return to Cumberland Island year after year do so for its unhurried pace, a lifestyle attuned to the rhythms of nature. It’s not a place to visit in a hurry, barging in and then charging out. Give yourself a day or two to slow down, breathe the salt air, and get sand between your toes—you’ll be glad you did. —HH Cumberland Island National Seashore, St. Mary’s, Georgia (& 912/8824336, ext. 254; www.nps.gov/cuis); also www.cumberlandisland.org. Jacksonville, Florida (30 miles/48km to St. Mary’s). 45 min. from St. Mary’s (reservations recommended; & 912/882-4335 or 877/860-6787).

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$$$ Greyfield Inn, Cumberland Island ( 866/401-8581 or 904/261-6408; www.greyfieldinn.com). $ Sea Camp or Stafford campgrounds (reservations: & 912/882-4335 or 877/860-6787).

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LEISURE ISLANDS

Island Hopping the San Juan Islands: Orcas & Evergreens
Mist hovers over the dark water. The perfect silence is broken only by the black dorsal fins of killer whales knifing through the surface. At continent’s edge, in the upperleft-hand corner of the United States, lies an unspoiled landscape of deep blue waterways, evergreen forests, mountain vistas, and every opportunity for active types to get out and explore it. Washington State’s San Juan Islands are a Pacific Northwest paradise for boating, kayaking, and hiking. Orcas, which swim in large pods here much of the year, are an emblem and major attraction of the San Juan Islands, and whalewatching opportunities abound in the archipelago. Microsoft execs have built vacation homes here, but development remains unobtrusive and the local character down-toearth. Man has just enough of a presence here for recreation to be easy, but the San Juans are still very much a place where the water and the trees are in charge. Just a 2-hour drive north of Seattle, the town of Anacortes, on Fidalgo island, is most people’s jumping-off point for the San Juans. Anacortes is a real working town with loads of marine charm—get a taste for it at 100-year-old Marine Supply & Hardware Co. (202 Commercial Ave.; & 360/293-3014; www.marinesupplyand hardware.com), or simply wander around Cap Sante Marina, where boat charters of all kinds are available (Skyline is the island’s other full-service marina, on the western end of Fidalgo, and close to stunning Deception Pass, which leads to nearby Whidbey Island). Before heading to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal (for Washington State Ferries to the San Juan Islands), spend an hour or two wandering the shops and restaurants of Commercial Avenue, Anacortes’s main strip. The first island you’ll reach on the ferry from Anacortes is Lopez, the most rural of the three major San Juans, and the friendliest: Locals wave as they drive by (and you’re expected to do the same), and you can get a taste of this close-knit, eccentric community by spending time at the shops and cafes of Lopez Village, the heart of island life. Be sure to pick up a jar or two of locally made Lopez Larry’s specialty mustards. Low-key Lopez is great for biking and kayaking and has several public stretches of beach that are perfect for lazy beachcombing as well as wooded trails that make for invigorating hikes. The largest of the San Juans is Orcas island. On a map, it looks like a cloak draped around a central fjord called the East Sound. (A note on the pronunciation of Fisherman Bay and Lopez Village. Orcas: the s is soft.) At the isthmus that connects the two halves of the island, the town of Eastsound is the hub of local culture and commerce on Orcas. On the eastern half of the island, don’t miss a drive to the top of 2,409-foot-tall (734m) Mount Constitution; it’s the highest point in the San Juans,

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ISLAND HOPPING THE SAN JUAN ISLANDS: ORCAS & EVERGREENS

with breathtaking views of the entire archipelago. Moran State Park, which leads up to the summit, is also home to two lakes suitable for swimming and fishing, as well as miles of hiking trails for all levels. A thriving artist community makes up a sizable chunk of the year-round population on Orcas, and the island is especially well known for its pottery. Most visitors with limited time in the archipelago head straight to San Juan Island, and for good reason: It has the most services and the best whale-watching. The lively port town of Friday Harbor has plenty of restaurants, galleries, shops, and the Whale Museum (62 1st St.; & 360/378-4710; www.whale-museum.org). On the west side of the island, Lime Kiln Point State Park is one of the best shore vantage points for watching killer whales, which frequently swim along the channel between San Juan and Vancouver Island (p. 299). From much of the western and southern coasts of San Juan Island, there are also majestic views of the Olympic Mountains. Well-rounded San Juan also has oyster and alpaca farms, as well as a winery, that welcome visitors. Roche Harbor, on the west coast of the island, is the toniest resort in the archipelago. Ferries from Anacortes to Lopez, Orcas, and San Juan islands also stop at the very private, 8-sq.-mile (21-sq.-km) Shaw Island along the way. For nearly 3 decades, Franciscan nuns who lived on the island greeted visitors—in full habits and reflective orange safety vests—at the ferry dock and sold them wares from their small general store; an encounter with these women of the cloth was the island’s major draw, but in 2004, the sisters left. Now, Shaw is occupied only by about 200 residents, who have passed several measures barring lodging, restaurants, and retail stores, making it clear that tourists aren’t particularly welcome here. The San Juans are a perfect destination for nature lovers who like a slow pace. They’re not a place for sun seekers and swimmers. Even in summer, it’s often cool and damp, and the water stays at a temperature the orcas like—nice and cold. Accommodations range from campgrounds to upscale resorts, but in the summer it’s always essential to book your stay well in advance and, if you’re planning on taking a car on the ferry (recommended), to be in line at the ferry terminal at least 2 hours before your scheduled sailing time. —SM

& 888/468-3701; www.visitsanjuans.com.
By small plane or seaplane from Seattle or Sea-Tac International (65 miles/105km to Anacortes, then ferry). From Anacortes (Fidalgo Island), Washington State Ferries (1–2 hr. for interisland trips; & 206/464-6400; www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries). $$ Anaco Bay Inn, 916 33rd St., Anacortes (& 360/299-3320; www.anacobayinn.com). $$$ Roche Harbor Resort, San Juan Island (& 800/451-9810; www.rocheharbor.com).

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Remote Adventures

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Isle Royale
Serenity Among Moose & Wolves
Michigan, U.S.
As its promotional materials like to point out, Isle Royale National Park gets as many visitors in a year as Yellowstone gets in a day. Remote and untouched, Isle Royale is a narrow strip of wilderness in the northwest part of Lake Superior, 2 hours by boat from the nearest mainland port. Extensive hiking trails (165 miles/266km total) and myriad inland waterways for canoeing and kayaking make this an ideal north-woods getaway for rugged, adventurous types. No cars, nor wheeled vehicles of any kind, are allowed on Isle Royale, so any getting around on the 45-mile-long, 9-milewide (72×14km) island is under the power of your own two (hiking) feet or (paddling) arms. Isle Royale’s two towns, with park service information centers, groceries, and boat rentals, lie at opposite ends of the island: Rock Harbor, where the island’s one hotel is located and where ferries from Copper Harbor and Houghton, Michigan, land, is at the eastern tip; smaller Windigo, where boats from Grand Portage, Minnesota, arrive, is at the western edge. Between the two is a vast wilderness of ridges covered with spruce and fir trees where you’ll enjoy backcountry solitude and perhaps spot a moose or two. Isle Royale’s ecosystem supports both eastern timber wolves and moose in a delicate predator-prey relationship: When the population of one thrives, so does the other. Traversing the interior can be done solely on foot (you’ll often see troops of Boy Scouts here to earn their 50-Mile Hike merit badges) or as a sort of biathlon of hiking and boating. Isle Royale’s center is peppered with lakes, each with their own rocky islets, and portage routes for canoers and kayakers are clearly marked. Ryan Island, in skinny Siskiwit Lake, along the island’s southern shore, holds the odd distinction of being the largest island on the largest lake on the largest island on the largest freshwater lake (Superior) in the world. Throughout Isle Royale, there are basic campgrounds, many with Adirondack shelters, available on a first-come, first-served basis. For adventures involving less commitment, you can also embark on any number of day hikes from either Rock Harbor or Windigo, with the possibility of rangerguided interpretive walks. Lake Superior’s weather can be notoriously harsh and unpredictable, even on what appears to be a mild summer day. Boats are strongly discouraged from venturing out to the open lake waters, where

The Isle Royale coast.

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ISLA BASTIMENTOS even close to shore, random squalls pose a serious threat to small craft like canoes and kayaks. As testimony of nature’s wrath in this part of the country, a number of larger shipwrecks can be seen (by scuba divers willing to brave the chilly waters of Superior) in the shoals off the western edge of Isle Royale. To really unplug from civilization, you’ll want to spend a few days on Isle Royale. Camping at one of the island’s 36 campsites is certainly an economical and invigorating option, but considering the potentially inclement weather of Lake Superior, I highly recommend booking accommodations at Rock Harbor Lodge. After a windy or rainy day in the outdoors, you can at least retire to the lodge’s cozy dining room, be warmed by the fireplace, and enjoy the camaraderie of fellow islandgoers. Note that due to severe winter weather, Isle Royale is open only from mid-April to late October. —SM National Park Service (& 906/4820984; www.nps.gov/isro). Seaplane (30 min.) from Houghton County Memorial Airport, Michigan.

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From Houghton, Michigan (61⁄2 hr.), and Copper Harbor, Michigan (41⁄2 hr.), and Grand Portage, Minnesota (2–3 hr.). $ Camping contact info is the same as for the National Park, above. $$$ Rock Harbor Lodge (& 906/337-4993 in summer or 866/644-2003 in winter; rockharbor lodge.com); open only May–Sept.

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Remote Adventures

Isla Bastimentos
Jungle Fever
Panama
The word is out on Panama, spread by savvy globe-trotters, nature lovers, surfers and divers, eco-tourists, and beach bums. If you’re looking for an unspoiled tropical paradise, packed with rainforest jungles, palm-shaded, sugary-sand beaches, sparkling turquoise seas, and nature at its ripest, head here. Panama, they say, is the Costa Rica of 30 years ago—which is to say that its extraordinary natural treasures remain relatively undiscovered. And fortunately for one lush and biologically diverse region of the country, it’s going to stay that way. The Bocas del Toro archipelago, a ribbon of seven meltingly lovely tropical islands and hundreds of islets off the northern coast of Panama, is largely a nature reserve, thanks to the foresight of the Panamanian government. Bastimentos Marine National Park (Parque Nacional Marino Isla Bastimentos), designated national parkland in 1988, comprises 13,233 hectares (32,700 acres) of island, barrier reef, and sea. The park takes up about a third of Isla Bastimentos, one of the largest islands in the archipelago, and dense jungle takes up most of the island. Bastimentos also has secluded lagoons, coral gardens, caves, and stunning beaches with names like Red Frog Beach (named for the strawberry-colored frogs that dart about in the surf). You can hike into the jungle past waterfalls and tropical blooms, or along beaches under shady palm trees and over cool creeks. Keep in mind when you visit that this part of the world is wild in the purest sense—it’s nature unplugged and unbridled. You can stay in one of several pioneering ecolodges where blue butterflies alight on your bedpost. Right outside your door, monkeys fly through the trees; lizards slink along the

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LEISURE ISLANDS floors. Birds come in a paint box of electric colors, filling the jungle with bone-rattling cries and shrieks. The multitude of frogs alone is worth a trip; how about frogs with polka dots? Bromeliads in pastel hues climb the jungle canopy. The beaches have no umbrellas or vendors hawking their wares—just nesting sites for sea turtles. And much of civilization is far away—the island has no roads or cars and is accessible only by boat. In fact, this region is called the “Venice of the Caribbean” for its ease in getting from place to place by boat. Much of the island’s offshore marine sanctuary has yet to be explored—it’s that unspoiled. But the hammer and nail of civilization may not be that far away. A luxury resort, with villas, a boutique hotel, a 100-slip marina, and a spa, is back on track after a long strike and financial restructuring. The Red Frog Beach Resort (www.redfrog beach.com) will enjoy a prime location just outside the park boundaries on Red Frog Beach. Whether the strawberry frogs stick around to frolic in the surf when the construction crews arrive remains to be seen. —AF www.islabastimentos.com or www. bocasdeltoropanama.info. Isla Colón (transfer from Panama City or San Jose, Costa Rica).

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Water taxis leave the mainland from Almirante (35 min.) and Changuinola (45 min.). You can also take a 10-min. boat ride from Bocas del Toro.

$$ La Loma Butterfly Farm and Jungle Lodge (& 507/6619-5364; www. thejunglelodge.com). $$$ Tranquilo Bay Eco Adventure Lodge (& 713/5896952 in the U.S., or 507/380-0721; www. tranquilobay.com).

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Hokkaido
Japan’s Last Frontier
Japan
Think of it as Japan’s version of the Wild West. The most northern island in the Japanese archipelago, Hokkaido is a land of sparsely settled mountains and forests that still feel like frontier territory. Unlike the rest of overpopulated Japan, Hokkaido, with its large number of huge wilderness parks, actually offers solitude and room to breathe. Though few foreigners make it this far north, despite the 1988 opening of the Seikan railway tunnel, outdoorsy young Japanese flock here in droves for backpacking, skiing, backcountry camping, and long-distance cycling. Skiing and winter sports are Hokkaido’s biggest claim to fame—after all, it was the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo that first put this region on the international radar. Sapporo is not only Hokkaido’s main city but Japan’s largest town north of Tokyo (and, yes, it’s the home of Sapporo Beer—enjoy an evening at the Sapporo Bier Garten on the grounds of its original red-brick brewery: N7 E9; & 81/11/742-1531; www. sapporo-bier-garten.jp). From Sapporo, skiers generally head west to the Teine Highland and Olympic ski area (& 81/11/ 681-3191; www.sapporo-teine.com), site of Olympic alpine, bobsled, and toboggan events, which is easily reachable by train; or, even better, travel west to Niseko (www.niseko.ne.jp), a 31⁄2-hour bus ride from Sapporo, which has three interconnected ski areas blessed with fine powder, off-piste skiing, and extensive night-lit runs. Those oh-so-skiable mountains, of course, were heaved up by the same volcanic forces that created all of Japan, so there’s something quintessentially Japanese about basking in hot springs on any

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HOKKAIDO

Snowboarding in Niseko.

Hokkaido vacation. An hour or so south of Sapporo, one of the highlights of popular Shikotsu-Toya National Park is the coastal resort Noboribetsu Onsen, known for its curative hot springs. Pre- or post-soak, you can hike through nearby Hell Valley for a view of the bubbling hot water that made Noboribetsu famous. In contrast to the rest of Japan, Hokkaido’s summers are not muggy but bright and clear, which makes it an ideal time to brave far-flung Shiretoko National Park (the name means “end of the earth” in ancient Ainu), a ruggedly remote peninsula at the island’s northeastern tip. Cut off for centuries by jagged volcanic ridges, its virgin forests are still home to endangered Yezo sika deer and Hokkaido brown bears. Seals and seal lions flop around the rocky coves on its dramatic waterfall-laced western coast, which you can view on a boat tour from the gateway town of Utoro. Hiking and camping are the main draw for Shiretoko—its northern quarter has no roads at all, offering a real into-the-wild experience. If all you want

is a gentle taste, only 15km (91⁄3 miles) from Utoro you can tramp on easy trails around the peaceful forested Five Lakes area, or wade up a warm mountain stream to Kamuikukka Falls, where you can loll around the hot springs at its base. Think of it as the Wild West with a spa experience built right in. —HH Hokkaido-Sapporo Tourist Information Center, Sapporo Station (& 81/11/ 213-5088). Also www.visit-hokkaido.jp/en or www.snowjapan.com.

( New Chitose Airport, Sapporo (1 ⁄ hr. from Tokyo).
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0 Hakodate (6 hr. from Tokyo), Sapporo (9 hr. from Tokyo).
$$$ Hotel Shiretoko, 37 Utorokagawa, Shari Cho, Utoro (& 81/152/242131). $ Nakamuraya Ryokan, N3 W7, Chuo-ku, Sapporo (& 81/11/241-2111; www.nakamura-ya.com). $$ Oyado Kiyomizu-ya, 173 Noboribetsu Onsen-machi, Noboribetsu (& 81/143/84-2145).

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Réunion Island
The Extreme Island
If you’ve ever traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii , Réunion may seem oddly familiar, like a French cousin on the other side of the globe. Dwarfed by Madagascar , 805km (500 miles) to the west, and overshadowed by high-profile Mauritius , its nearest neighbor to the east, this volcanic blip in the Indian Ocean is a dramatically beautiful gem that savvy French tourists have been keeping to themselves. With its rugged mountains and offshore coral reefs, it’s a natural hot spot for those addicted to high-adrenaline sports. Réunion’s most distinctive feature is the three cirques, or natural amphitheaters created by collapsed volcanoes in the island’s interior. The wildest and most remote, Cirque de Mafate in the northwest, is completely sealed off by mountains—it can be reached only by a strenuous hike or a stunning helicopter flyover. The largest cirque, Cirque de Salazies, is tops for picturesque scenery, from its emeraldgreen vegetation, waterfalls, and dramatic mists, to the charming mountain village Hell-Bourg, once voted the prettiest village in France (never mind how far away from the rest of France it is). A heart-stoppingly tortuous mountain road makes a dramatic entrance into Cirque de Cilaos, in the heart of the island, a world-famous canyoning destination where you can also “take the waters” at the historic hot springs in the town of Cilaos. Nearly a thousand kilometers of hiking trails crisscross the cirques, as well as steep tracks that challenge mountain bikers. While the Piton des Neiges that formed the island is extinct, Réunion also has one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Piton de Fournaise (Furnace Mountain) on the southeast coast, and most visitors feel compelled to view the bubbling yellow-and-red lava of its caldera, by either hiking to the rim or flying over in a helicopter (some hardy souls even dare to camp there overnight). Given how strong the thermal drafts are throughout these plunging valleys, it’s no surprise that Réunion has become known as a great place for hang gliding, parasailing, and sky diving, as well as for whitewater rafting on the rapids coursing through the cirques. A coastal road circles the island, connecting the various towns that have sprung up on its flat, gentle coastal areas (there’s also a cross-island road from St-Benoit to St-Pierre). But even on the coast, thrill seekers can get their kicks, with fine scuba diving and deep-sea fishing off the west coast near St-Gilles-les-Bains, and surfing around the black-sand beach of St-Leu. Settled by French traders in 1642, Réunion has a wonderful polyglot culture; most of its 700,000 inhabitants speak French or Creole, but their ancestors come from Africa, China, India, and Malaysia, as well as France. That variety is reflected in the local cuisine as well—good news for those who like a fabulous meal after a day of extreme sports. —HH Tourist office, 2 place Etienne Regnault, St-Denis (& 262/262/418300). Also www.reunionisland.net or http://reunion. runweb.com. Roland Garros Airport, Réunion (connections to Paris, Singapore, Madagascar, and Mauritius). $$ Iloha Seaview Hotel, Pointe des Chateaux, St-Leu (& 262/262/348989). $$$ Le Saint Alexis, 44 route de Boucan Canot, St-Gilles-les-Bains (& 262/262/ 244204; www.hotelsaintalexis.com).

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8 Islands of History

Myth & Legend . . . 324 War & Intrigue . . . 332 Otherworldly Landscapes . . . 348 Exploration . . . 349 Pirates . . . 358 Prisons . . . 364 Pilgrims . . . 372 Famous Islanders . . .378

ISLANDS OF HISTORY
Myth & Legend

317

Crete
Goin’ Minoan
Greece
Traveling around mainland Greece, it’s easy to feel awed by the glories of classical Greece. But take an overnight boat trip south to Crete, and classical Greece suddenly seems like yesterday’s news. On this austere cypress-dotted island—Greece’s largest, and the fifth largest in the Mediterranean—you’ll stroll around landmarks dating back to the Bronze Age, and hunt down traces of the ancient gods themselves. Get your first taste in Iraklion, Crete’s largest city, at the Archeological Museum (1 Xanthoudidou; & 30/2810/226-092), its galleries chock-full of Minoan art and artifacts, decorated with distinctively Minoan motifs of bulls and dolphins. (Though under renovation until 2010, the museum still displays its chief treasures in an annex.) While Iraklion itself is a gritty modern seaport, you can still see relics of its centuries-long glory as a Venetian trading center (1204–1669)— two impressive city gates, defensive walls, a stout harborside fort, and an arsenal (don’t miss the grave of native son Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ, in the southwestern corner of the walls). You’ll want to devote an entire day to Crete’s greatest tourist attraction, just 5km (3 miles) south of Iraklion: the Palace of Knossos (Knossos Rd.; & 30/2810/231940). Historians believe this was the original labyrinth of King Minos, designed by the architect Dedalos—as legend claims, to imprison the Minotaur, a grotesque bullman monster who fed on human sacrifices. As I wandered around its walkways, I did feel distinctly as if I were in a maze—some 1,300 interconnected rooms sprawl over 2.4 hectares (6 acres), encompassing not only a royal residence but also a ceremonial center, administrative headquarters, and endless storerooms and workshops, grouped around a vast central courtyard. The British archaeologist Arthur Evans, who excavated Knossos in the early 1900s, made a controversial decision to rebuild several portions, replacing walls, floors, and stairs, and hired artists to repaint the gaudy frescoes and tapering red columns. Archaeologists may see it as sacrilege, but I have to admit, it sure made it easier for me to imagine ancient Minoans actually living here. Take another day to cross the scrubby Messara Plain, nearly to the southern coast, to the palace of Phaestos (& 30/ 2892/091-315), said to be the domain of Minos’s brother Radamanthis. Set on a dramatic jutting prow of land, Phaestos stands as an evocative sun-bleached ruin, though you can get a fair idea of its original splendor from the ceremonial staircase and the great stone-paved court with its breathtaking panorama. A longer day trip south from Mallia into the Lasithi Plain, in the craggy center of the island, takes you even further back in time: to the Diktaion Cave (outside the village of Psychro), regarded since ancient times as the birthplace of Zeus, where he hid from his father Cronus. Descend a slippery path into the narrow cavern, where guides can explain the mythological significance of various pools and rocky chambers. Entering this rift in the earth is a spooky primal experience—no wonder the ancient Cretans felt their gods speaking to them here. -—HH

Previous page: Mont-St.-Michel.

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THE NORTH ISLAND
Tourist office: 1 Xanthoudidou (& 30/ 2810/246-299). $$ Lato Boutique Hotel, 15 Epimenidou, Iraklion (& 30/2810/228-103; www. lato.gr). $$$ Megaron Hotel, 9 Beaufort, Iraklion (& 30/2810/305-300; www.gdm megaron.gr).

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Iraklion or Chania, 6–10 hr. from Piraeus/Athens. www.ferries.gr.

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Myth & Legend

The North Island
A Maori Old Time
New Zealand
Scenic, sophisticated, sports-loving New Zealand is a vacation mecca for many reasons. But lots of other countries have beaches, ski resorts, wine regions, and historic cities; nowhere else on earth has Maoris. New Zealand’s aboriginal peoples are still a force to be reckoned with here, proudly preserving their ancient myths and customs against a uniquely New Zealand backdrop of sulphur springs, geysers, and volcanoes. The tried-and-true place to start any visit to the North Island is the hot-spring valley of Rotorua, set a few miles inland from the curve of the island’s north coast. With a population that’s about one-third Maori, exhibits of Maori culture are one of the bigger tourism draws here. There are several replica Maori villages open to the public, including Te Puia, Hemo Road (& 64/7/ 348-9047; www.nzmaori.co.nz); the Tamaki Maori Village, 1220 Hinemaru St.

A geyser in Rotorua.

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(& 64/7/349-2999; www.maoriculture. co.nz); and Mitai Village, 196 Fairy Springs Rd. (& 64/7/343-9133; www.mitai.co.nz). All of these offer a nighttime hangi, or traditional Maori feast with cultural performances, sort of a Maori version of a luau. (Several of the big hotels in town host hangis as well.) To get into the Maori spirit, you can paddle your own wara (Maori canoe) on Lake Rotorua (contact Mana Adventures, Memorial Dr.; & 64/7/348-4186; www.manaadventures.co.nz). South of town, the small village of Te Wairoa, or Buried Village, on Tarawera Road (& 64/7/362-8287; www.buried village.co.nz), is Rotorua’s version of Pompeii, an excavated townscape dug out of the lava that destroyed it when Mount Tarawera erupted in 1886. For a glimpse of a modern, real-life Maori village, visit Whakarewarewa Thermal Village, 9a Tukiterangi St. (& 64/7/349-3463; www. whakarewarewa.com), on the south edge of town. Most New Zealand visitors make it to Rotorua; many fewer get over to explore the island’s northeast corner, where nearly half the population is Maori. Begin in Gisborne, site of Captain James Cook’s first 1769 landing. Towering over the city, Mount Hikurangi—the first place in New Zealand where the sun alights each morning—is sacred to the Maori, with nine carved figures at its peak; to climb to the top, get permission from the Ngati Porou tribal authorities in Ruatoria (& 64/6/864-8660; www.ngatiporou.com). At the foot of Gisborne’s Kaiti Hill, you can marvel over the finely crafted wall panels and rafters at the large Te Poho-o-Rawiri Marae meetinghouse (& 64/06/868-5364). Then head north out of town on Hwy. 35, a panoramic 334km (208-mile) coastal drive that rolls through several memorable Maori attractions, including Whangara, the setting for the film Whalerider (contact Whalerider Tours; & 64/6/868-6139); four marae, or traditional meetinghouses, around sweeping Tokomaru Bay; the wonderfully ornate St. Mary’s Church at Tikitiki, commemorating Ngati Porou soldiers who died in World War I; Te Araroa, with its landmark 600-year-old pohutukawa tree; on Hicks Bay, the richly carved Tuwhakairiora meetinghouse; and around east on Cape Runaway, Whangaparaoa, where legend says the great migration canoe Tainui first landed, some 800 years ago. —HH Rotorua tourist information, 1167 Fenton St. (& 64/7/348-5179; www. rotorua.co.nz). Gisborne tourist information, 209 Grey St. (& 64/6/868-6139; www.gisbornenz.com).

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$$$ Peppers on the Point, 214 Kawaha Point Rd., Rotorua (& 64/7/3484868; www.peppers.co.nz). $ Te Kura Bed & Breakfast, 14 Cheeseman Rd., Gisborne (& 64/6/863-3497; www.tekura. co.nz).

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Tahiti
Quintessential Polynesia
The idea of Tahiti—an exotic, tropical paradise with an especially gracious local culture—grabbed hold of the world’s imagination early in the age of exploration. European explorers returned enraptured from their South Seas voyages with tales of Tahiti’s natural beauty and the contentment of the natives. This image of Tahiti has stuck to this day: The island has one of those poetic names that’s more than a travel destination; it’s become synonymous with a certain lifestyle, used to

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TAHITI market luxurious home scents and bath products around the globe. Tahiti and its neighboring islands, now known collectively as the Society Islands of French Polynesia, were settled during eastward migration of south Asian peoples several millennia ago, a time when gods and mortals coexisted on the island, to hear the oral histories still recounted today. The history of Tahiti is interwoven with its colorful mythology: One such story relates that the shape of Tahiti—it’s composed of the volcanic mountains Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Iti, separated by a narrow isthmus—looks like a fish because once upon a time, Tahiti “swam away” from the waters of Havai’i, the lagoon between nearby Raiatea and Tahaa . The ancestral Tahitians, the Maohi (ethnically and linguistically related to the Maori of New Zealand and to native Hawaiians), made their living off the fertile soil of the island and from fishing in their hand-carved wooden outrigger canoes. The first Europeans—in their odd “ships without outriggers”—sailed by Tahiti in the 16th century, but surprisingly enough, it took another hundred years before any westerners actually landed in Tahiti and attempted to trade with the locals. The British were the first to do so, in the 1760s, and the legendary Captain Cook brought home with him thousands of illustrations of the amazing flora and fauna he found there, which must have looked positively psychedelic back in dreary England. The European influence, however, did much to corrupt the traditional Tahitian way of life. Western visitors introduced such vices as prostitution and alcohol, as well as foreign diseases like smallpox, typhus, and influenza, which decimated the local population by the end of the 18th century. Perhaps the most famous single European to become an expatriate on Tahiti was the late-19th-century artist Paul Gauguin, who painted local women and landscapes with rich colors evocative of the strange, faraway, and most serene island life. Tahiti has been a French overseas territory since 1946. International tourism came to the island in the mid–20th century, but tourism to Tahiti proper is now a bit past its prime: Travelers to French Polynesia today favor the “easier” and more pristine islands of Bora Bora and Moorea , with their overwater bungalows that cater to the honeymoon set. On Tahiti itself, parts of the island, especially around the capital city of Papeete, can feel too busy and developed for someone who has flown halfway around the world to find an unspoiled South Seas paradise, but look deeper within Tahiti, and there’s plenty of authentic culture to be found— and plenty of full-service resorts, too. A great place to go for an overview of Tahiti’s history, from the geological to the cultural, is at the Musée de Tahiti et Ses Isles (Punaaiua; & 689/583476), west of Papeete. Displays on everything from handicrafts to religion are wonderfully easy to digest and accompanied by placards in English. Visit the Musée Gauguin (Mataiea, 51km/32 miles west of Papeete; & 689/571058) for interesting exhibits about French artist Paul Gauguin’s time in Tahiti (after which he “defected” to the Marquesas; see p. 408). Modern-day Tahitians work hard to keep their ancient ways alive, and there’s no better time to visit than in July, when the annual Heiva I Tahiti festival is held. During the festival, which is based in Papeete, there are abundant crafts displays, ancient sports competitions, and traditional dance performances. —SM www.tahiti-tourisme.com.

( Tahiti-Faa’a, Papeete.

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$$ Hotel Le Royal Tahitian, 4km (21⁄2 miles) east of downtown (& 689/ 504040; www.hotelroyaltahitien.com). $$$ Intercontinental Resort Tahiti, Faa’a, Papeete (& 689/865110; www. tahiti.interconti.com).

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Myth & Legend

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Gotland
Reliving the Middle Ages
Sweden
In some other parts of hip and cuttingedge Sweden, the country’s medieval attractions are relegated to a touristy strip filled with shops selling kitschy Viking souvenirs. On the island of Gotland, however, the Middle Ages are treated much more reverentially: Gotland is rightly proud of its history, and throughout the island, cultural programs actively perpetuate the time warp aspects of its impressive millennial heritage. Ground zero for Gotland’s historical offerings is Visby, which offers an intimate encounter with the daily life of an important medieval city and one-time Viking seaport. The atmospheric old town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995, greets visitors with an imposing ring of 13th-century limestone walls. Along the fortifications, 50 original watchtowers still stand, and the entire circuit is bordered by a moat. Inside the 4km (21⁄2-mile) circuit lies a pristine skyline straight out of a children’s fable: Visby is a lovingly preserved medieval townscape of shops, churches, and suggestive old alleys. All the architectural elements you’d expect—vaulted stone cellars, steep gabled timber roofs, and Gothic churches—are represented here. There’s even a restaurant, Clematis, occupying a 13th-century warehouse, where you eat off wooden plates, drink out of jars, and eat your food with one utensil only—a knife. But Visby is much more than a manicured museum: Throughout the year, but

A Gotland Medieval tournament.

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DAUFUSKIE ISLAND especially in the summer, Visby is the stage for all kinds of historical reenactments that bring the Middle Ages to life for all ages and all senses. Medieval Week (usually the first week in Aug; www. medeltidsveckan.se) is the absolute culmination of these events, when jousting tournaments are held in the grassy common, ceremonial parades file down the streets, and a central market offers sideshows and traditional food stalls and crafts displays. Visitors who really want to get into the spirit can even rent period dress from the event’s costume warehouse. Although the medieval period is the main era promoted on Gotland, the island has a history that goes back over 10,000 years and is thought to be the original homeland of the “barbarian” Goths. Rich archaeological finds include embellished coins and medals and intriguing rune stones. All over the island, some 94 churches in the Gothic and Romanesque styles still stand as evocative witnesses of Gotland’s illustrious past. A visit to the Gotland Historical Museums in Visby helps tie all the centuries of heritage together. And—this being Sweden—you can be assured that even as you relive the Middle Ages on Gotland, you never have to forgo design hotels, cool museum shops, and trendy cafes. —SM Tourist office, Skeppsbron 4–6, Visby (& 46/498/201700; www.gotland.info).

( Gotland (connect through Stockholm).
$$$ Medeltids Hotellet, Norra Kyrkogatan 3–7, Visby (& 46/498/291230; www.medeltidshotellet.se). $ Villa Alskog, Alskog (& 46/498/491188; www.villaalskog.se).

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Daufuskie Island
The Spirits of the Gullahs
South Carolina, U.S.
Like its fellow Low Country sea islands, Daufuskie has a picturesque landscape that borders on steamy Southern Gothic. Live oaks wreathed in silvery Spanish moss frame dense woods, where unseen critters croak and twitter. Thick, salty air hangs in beams of sunlight, its perfume pungent and primeval. Tidal flats stretch long, bony fingers into the sea. It seems only natural that the island is rife with ghosts. Daufuskie’s rich black loam once grew cotton so silky it had its own name—Sea Island cotton—and in the years leading up to the Civil War, the island was the site of 12 prosperous cotton plantations. West African slaves were brought to this isolated place to work the cotton fields, and over the years they developed a unique culture that married African traditions with the customs of the New World. In the postwar period, after the slaves were freed and white plantation owners fled the island, its isolated position—with no causeways to the mainland—kept the old traditions alive. “Gullah” refers to the descendants of those slaves, their culture, and their language, a musical hybrid of English and West African. Most of the old places on the island are haunted, it’s said, including the 1883 lighthouse at Bloody Point, where Daufuskie legend Arthur Ashley “Papy” Burn once lived. Papy had four wives; he made wine from sweet scuppernong grapes, elderberries, and pears, and stored it in the Lamp Room that once housed the lighthouse’s back range light. He called the little

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A house on Daufuskie Island.

brick structure Silver Dew Winery, and it’s still here. Other historic structures on the island include the white-frame First Union Baptist Church, built in 1864, and the two-room schoolhouse, the Mary Fields Elementary School, where a young Pat Conroy taught for a remarkable year, later immortalized in his autobiographical novel The Water Is Wide (made into a movie with Jon Voight called Conrack). As you travel around the island (golf carts are the favored mode of transportation), check out the old Gullah homes: You’ll spot a peeling blue windowsill here, a faded blue roof there, even a whole house done up in brilliant sky blue, for the Gullahs believed that painting the window trim blue kept the evil spirits away. Success seemed forever to elude Daufuskie. The boll weevil wiped out the cotton crop in 1921; another local treasure, the Daufuskie oyster, was doomed by environmental pollution, the oyster beds shut down in 1959. Mid-20th-century Daufuskie had a dwindling but tight-knit populace of Gullah-speaking African Americans eking out a meager island existence in peaceful isolation. But today, as oldtimers die out and real-estate develop-

ment creeps in (though at nowhere near the pace of Hilton Head), Gullah heritage tours have become a popular tourist activity. Big oaks that withstood hurricanes and bulldozers stand guard over sprawling “Low Country–style” homes and golf courses. The Daufuskie oyster is back, growing plump and creamy in newly pristine waters; the waters brim with fish, shrimp, crabs, and the occasional gator. The spirit of the Gullahs resides on Daufuskie still. —AF www.daufuskievacation.com.

( Hilton Head, South Carolina ( ⁄ away).
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hr.

40 min. from Hilton Head: Calibogue Cruises (& 843/342-8687; www. daufuskiefreeport.com; departing Broad Creek Marina); or Palmetto Ferry Company (& 843/684-7819; departing Salty Fair Marina).

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Villas and condos (& 800/445-8664; www.daufuskievacation.com).

TOUR Guided bus tours: Calibogue Cruises (& 843/342-8687; www. daufuskiefreeport.com).

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ISLAND HOPPING THE DALMATIAN COAST ISLANDS: NATURE & HISTORY ON DISPLAY

Island Hopping the Dalmatian Coast Islands: Nature & History on Display
The Croatian coast has more than 1,000 islands, all of them temperate jewels along the Adriatic Sea, luring celebrities and ordinary visitors alike who come to enjoy relaxing beach getaways and to explore some of the beautiful historical towns that cling to the region’s rocky terrain. But perhaps the country’s most enticing islands are off its southern coast, known as lower Dalmatia. Island hopping is one of the chief delights here; each lower Dalmatian island has its own vibe and attractions, and no trip would be complete without touring at least one or two—all are well connected by ferries (visit www.korculainfo.com/croatia/jadrolinija for info) and not too spread out. Given their long history, it’s easy to feel like you are walking through the centuries on these islands, taking in castles, palaces, and battlefields spanning over 10,000 years. Whichever islands you choose to visit, you will find most delightfully free of tourist traps and modern developments. (The Dalmatian island of Hvar is covered separately because it’s more built up and has a decidedly trendy nightlife scene.) The largest island in lower Dalmatia, Brac is a study in contrasts: Beautiful beaches lie next to sparkling azure waters and dusty quarries of sandstone and dolomite, once mined by the Romans for its cities, amphitheaters, and temples. The island’s largest town and Korcula. landing point, Supetar, comes to life in summer with free concerts and festivals. Farther south, the town of Bol is home to what may be Croatia’s most publicized beach Zlatni Rat (Golden Cape). Korcula, which is just a little over a mile from the mainland across the Peljesac Channel and south of Brac, once was covered with so many pine trees that the sight led the Greeks who settled here around 400 B.C. to dub the island Black Corfu. Today, tourists are drawn by Korcula Town’s well-preserved walled city and its medieval attractions, plus the city’s claim that it is the birthplace of legendary explorer Marco Polo. Mljet Island, south of Korcula, is legendary as the holiday island of Ulysses. National Park Miljet takes up one-third of this lush island, and boasts two salt lakes surrounded by dense pine forests. To the west of Mljet, Lastovo is home to many vineyards and more than 30 churches and chapels, some dating all the way to the 5th century; many of the island’s buildings are dotted with emblematic chimneys that mimic the minarets of mosques. The main church is Saint Cosmas and Damian, known to islanders as the Lastovo cathedral. Northwest of Lastovo, Vis offers a winning blend of nature and history. A wharf, a castle built by the Venetians, a 17th-century church, and several beaches are the main attractions in its town of Komiza. Tiny Bisevo, a piece of land southwest of Vis, is the site of the Blue Cave, a sea cave that “lights up” in shades of blue and silver for an hour each day. —JD
For hotel and visitor information in Hvar, see p. 247.

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War & Intrigue

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Magna Carta Island
Checkmate by the Thames
England
Dateline: June 15, 1215. As dawn rose over the Thames, King John of England was encamped with his retinue at Wraysbury; south of the river, several of his feudal barons gathered on the silvery water-meadows of Runnymede. When the river mists parted, the despised king and his disaffected barons met midway, where John averted civil war by signing the Great Charter, or Magna Carta—a revolutionary document that officially limited royal power and guaranteed inalienable rights to his subjects. But where was that halfway meeting point? Historians are still debating. Was it in the buttercup-spangled meadows of Runnymede, an ancient place of council named after the magical charms, or runes, consulted there? Was it on the north bank, under the sacred yew tree of Ankerwycke, near the 12th-century Benedictine priory of St. Mary? Or did King John and the barons meet in a neutral spot in between, on the wooded slip of island just off the north bank? The Magna Carta specifically attests that it was signed in Runnymede, but considering how the marshy course of the Thames shifts, back in 1215 this island could well have been part of Runnymede. Victorian author Jerome K. Jerome in Three Men in a Boat wrote, “Certainly, had I been one of the Barons, at the time, I should have strongly urged upon my comrades the advisability of our getting such a slippery customer as King John on to the island, where there was less chance of surprises and tricks.” In 1834, the Harcourt family, lords of the manor at Ankerwycke, promoted Magna Carta Island as the site, digging out the channel between it and the riverbank and erecting a Gothicstyle stone cottage, decorated inside with the coats of arms of all 25 Magna Carta barons. Nearby lies a large flat stone— popularly called the Charter Stone— where, tradition claims, the barons laid the document for King John to sign. The National Trust nowadays owns both Ankerwycke (amazingly enough, that 2000-year-old yew tree still stands in the park, beside the priory’s ruins) and the meadows of Runnymede. Magna Carta Island, however, is privately owned, though you can see the Charter Stone and the cottage clearly from the upstream end of Runnymede park. You can easily spend an afternoon strolling around the broad green fields of Runnymede (& 44/1784/ 432891), which is dotted with memorial oak trees and monuments, including the marble plinth of the John F. Kennedy Memorial, a classical pagoda erected by the American Bar Association honoring the Magna Carta, and, commanding the crest of Cooper’s Hill, the marble cloister of the Air Forces Memorial. You can hike to Runnymede on the Thames towpath; you can drive there on the A308; or—the best way to appreciate the site—you can take a boat ride up the Thames (contact French Brothers; & 44/1753/581900; www. boat-trips.co.uk), which will bring you even closer to Magna Carta Island. It’s a perfect add-on to a tour of Windsor Castle, only 5km (3 miles) to the north—for if King John hadn’t signed that paper, there might not even be a Windsor Castle today. —HH Runnymede Estate, Windsor Rd. (& 44/1784/432891; www.nationaltrust. org.uk).

( Heathrow.
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$$ Royal Adelaide Hotel, 46 King’s Rd., Windsor (& 44/1753/863916; www. theroyaladelaide.com). $$$ Runnymede Hotel & Spa, Windsor Rd., Egham (& 44/ 1784/436171; www.runnymedehotel.com).

GUERNSEY

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War & Intrigue

Guernsey
Where the Nazis Dug In
Channel Islands, U.K.
Though it’s been officially part of the English kingdom ever since William the Conqueror, Guernsey—along with its neighboring island Jersey —lies tantalizingly close to France, nestled in the Gulf of St. Malo only 48km (30 miles) from the Normandy coast. Guernsey has always had an ambiguous relationship to Britain; during the Hundred Years War it passed back and forth from French to English possession, and its rocky inlets made natural hideouts for French pirates from nearby St-Malo . Nowadays Guernsey’s beautiful beaches and cliff-top walks recommend it as a quick getaway for English holidaymakers, but it’s even more popular as a tax haven for corporations and equity funds, which take advantage of Guernsey’s offshore tax status (it’s legally an independent Crown possession, with its own currency, and not part of the European Union). On my last visit to the island, I stumbled upon relics of one of the most fascinating periods in Guernsey’s history—from 1940 to 1945, when German soldiers occupied the Channel Islands as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defense. Guns, casemates, and observation towers are dotted all around the Guernsey coast, though, not having planned ahead, I missed going inside—the relics are maintained by local history buffs, and are open only limited hours, usually on weekends April through October. Just south of the airport, however, in a whitewashed farmhouse just inland from the island’s spectacular southern cliffs, The German Occupation Museum (rue de Les Houards; & 44/1481/238205; www. festungguernsey.supanet.com) keeps

German Occupation tower and corn fields on Guernsey Island.

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ISLANDS OF HISTORY more regular hours and evocatively recreates day-to-day life during those Occupation years with several striking dioramas, from a humble kitchen scene to a full streetscape. Once I started looking for them, I noticed defensive tunnels honeycombing the hills around picturesque St. Peter Port, the island’s largest town (St. Peter Port’s streets are so steep, it became known for its nimble cart-pulling donkeys). The La Vallette Underground Military Museum (& 44/1481/722300) displays artifacts from the Occupation years in airconditioned tunnels originally built to store fuel for U-boats, in the headland just south of the harbor; another section of tunnels nearby now houses The Guernsey Aquarium (& 44/1481/723301). Just west of town, a meticulously restored communications bunker (& 44/1481/ 700418) sits in the extensive gardens behind the La Collinette Hotel (see below), which was a gracious private villa when the German Naval Signal Corps commandeered it in 1942, taking advantage of its panoramic hilltop position. Perhaps the spookiest site lies in the heart of the island, in St. Andrews parish: the German Military Underground Hospital (La Vassalerie Rd.; & 44/ 1481/239100). All you can see of it aboveground are the entrances and the square holes of escape shafts, but underground lies an immense labyrinth of tunnels, hewn out of solid rock by Nazi prisoners of war from France, Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Belgium, Holland, Poland, and Russia. —HH

& 44/1481/723552; guernsey.com.

www.visit

( La Planque airport, Guernsey.

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St. Peter Port. Condor Ferries (& 44/845/6091024; www.condor ferries.com).

$$ The Clubhouse at La Collinette, rue St. Jacques, St. Peter Port (& 44/1481/710331; www.lacollinette. com). $$ Le Friquet Country Hotel, rue de Friquet, Castel (& 44/1481/256509; www.lefriquethotel.com).

War & Intrigue

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The Isle of Skye
Lair of the McDonalds
Inner Hebrides, Scotland
In Gaelic, it’s called Eilean a’ Cheò, or “the misty isle”—a fitting name for this rugged beauty, the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, its coastline sliced deep by fiordlike lochs, the jagged black Cuillan Hills bristling across its Highland interior. The first time I visited Skye, you had to take a ferry over the narrows from Lochalsh, but in 1995 a bridge finally opened to link Skye to the west coast of Scotland. Islanders still aren’t sure this was a good thing. Skye has always treasured its island independence. For nearly 4 centuries in the Dark Ages, the Norse Vikings who settled here (those fiords must have made them feel at home) became increasingly estranged from Norway. Their Norse-Gaelic descendants became the Lords of the Isle, ruling the Western Isles almost as a separate nation until the 15th century. The last Lords, the powerful McDonald clan, were also involved in one of the most romantic chapters in Scots history, when gallant 24-year-old Flora MacDonald in 1746 helped Bonnie Prince Charlie flee his captors after his defeat at Culloden. Soon after you cross the bridge from Kyle of Localsh to the island, head about a

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RHODES half-hour’s drive south on A851 to Armadale (there’s also a direct ferry from Mallaig), where you can learn all about Clan Donald at Armadale Castle (& 44/1471/ 844-305; www.clandonald.com). Flora was married here in 1750, though the castellated gray stone manor you see today was built later. On your way back north on A851 through the green and gentle Sleat peninsula, check out the picturesque remains of the McDonalds’ ancient Knock Castle (Teangue, near Kilbeg, off A851) and Dunsgiath Castle (over on Sleat’s west coast at Tokavaig). From Broadford, you can also detour south on B8083 to Elgol, where a 4km (2.5-mile) walking trail from the jetty leads to a tiny cave where Prince Charlie hid out his last night on Skye. From Broadford, pick up A87 and head north through an increasingly craggy landscape, past Portree, Skye’s largest town, to Uig (departure point for ferries to the Outer Hebrides). A mile and half north of Uig sits restored Monkstadt House, the slate-roofed farmhouse where Flora first brought Prince Charlie, who was disguised as her maidservant. Continue 8km/5 miles north on A855 to Kilmuir, where Flora is buried under a tall stone cross in Kilmuir churchyard; also in Kilmuir, the Skye Museum of Island Life (& 44/1470/552206; www.skyemuseum.co.uk) illuminates Skye’s traditional crofter lifestyle in a series of restored thatched cottages. An additional 3.2km (2 miles) north on A855, there’s another mossy ruined McDonald castle at Duntulm. The McDonalds weren’t Skye’s only clan—follow A850 west from A87 to the village of Dunvegan, where the chiefs of Clan MacLeod have lived for 800 years at glorious Dunvegan Castle (& 44/1470/ 521-206), said to be Britain’s oldest inhabited castle, perched on a rocky promontory once accessible only by boat. Nearby, check out one of Britain’s finest restaurants, The Three Chimneys (see The House Over-By, below) up the western shore of Loch Dunvegan in Colbost. It’s only fitting that this rebel Highland island should also boast one of the country’s finest whiskys. Complete your Skye circuit by continuing south from Dunvegan on A863; swing a couple of miles west on B8009 to tiny Carbost, on the shore of Loch Harport, where the Talisker Distillery (& 44/1478/614-308; www.malts. com) has been making award-winning single-malt whisky since 1830. —HH Tourist office, Bayfield House, Portree (& 44/1478/612-137; www.skye.co.uk).

( Inverness (128km/80 miles).

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Armadale (30 min. from Mallaig;

& 44/1475/635-235; www.calmac.co.uk).
Kylerhea (from Glenelg; www.skyeferry. com). From Kyle of Localsh via A87. $$$ The House Over-By, Hwy. B884, Colbost (& 44/1470/511-258; www.threechimneys.co.uk). $$ Sligachan Hotel, Sligachan (& 44/1478/650-204; www.sligachan.co.uk).

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Rhodes
Greek Colossus
Greece
Imagine an island so powerful, so mighty, that astride its harbor entrance stood a colossal statue fashioned from iron, bronze, and marble. No, I speak not of Manhattan , whose massive Statue of Liberty welcomes visitors to modern-day America, but of its progenitor, the legendary Colossus of Rhodes. This 36m (118-ft.)

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ISLANDS OF HISTORY statue announced entry to the Greek island of Rhodes when it was a burgeoning center of trade and power in the Aegean. The Colossus was built sometime around 280 B.C. to honor Helios, the Sun God. The statue’s fall—it literally tumbled over during an earthquake around 226 B.C.—presaged the fall of the Greek empire. The largest island in the Dodecanese island chain, Rhodes remains a vital regional center and it’s easily one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Dodecanese. It’s the quintessential Greek island, encapsulating all that Greece is famous for, including superb beaches, dazzling whitewashed villages, vineyards climbing undulating hills, and world-class antiquities. Its obeisance to the sun god has its rewards—the sun shines on the island some 320 days of the year. Just 24km (15 miles) from the coast of Turkey, Rhodes has long been the prize of conquerors from both East and West. The Old Town of the capital (also called Rhodes) is a World Heritage Site, where the architectural gumbo includes Gothic, Byzantine, Arab, and Venetian styles. Leap into the 21st century in New Town, which offers Versace and a McDonald’s for the current occupation of shoppers and tourists. That, in a nutshell, is modern Greece. Luckily, the countryside is littered not with fast-food wrappers but with antiquities, including the Acropolis of Rhodes (& 30/22410/27674), ruins from the Hellenistic period. It’s perched on a rocky plateau above the village of Lindos, with splendid views of the blue Aegean. The mountainous interior is great for mountain biking and hiking. And the Valley of the Butterflies, a national park in Lindos filled with thousands of beautiful butterflies, is a must-visit. The beautiful village of Lindos, on the island’s east coast, has charmingly crooked alleyways and whitewashed houses. The beaches here are justifiably popular, crescents of sugary white sand lapped by turquoise seas. Like many other beaches on the island’s eastern coast, these sheltered sands offer gentle waves, perfect for families with young children. The meltemi wind kicks up the surf on west coast beaches (like Ixia), making them ideal spots for windsurfing. You can get expert instruction and windsurfing rentals at Planet Windsurf (www.planetwindsurf.com/ destinations/rhodes/windsurfing.asp). Before leaving, don’t miss a taste of Rhodes wine—wine has been cultivated in the island’s fertile soil since the Phoenician occupation, nearly 7,000 years ago. In Rhodes, past and present commingle as naturally as the sea and sky. Why, there’s even talk of rebuilding that glorious monument to the once-great Greek empire and the gods who watched over it—albeit with a 21st-century twist: the Colossus of Rhodes reborn as a light sculpture. —AF Hellenistic Tourism Organization (South Aegean Tourist Office, at the intersection of Makariou and Papagou; & 30/ 22410/23255; www.ando.gr/eot); also www.rhodes.ws. International Airport ( Diagorasfrom Rhodes Town). (14km/8 ⁄ miles
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Kos (2–7 hr.), Piraeus (11 hr.), Athens (12–17 hr.), Santorini (7–14 hr.), Marmaris, Turkey (1 hr.). www.ferries.gr.

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$$$ Atrium Palace Lindos, Kalathos Beach (& 30/22440/31601; www. atrium.gr). $$ Spirit of the Knights Boutique Hotel, 14 Alexandridou, Old Town (& 30/22410/39765; http://rhodesluxury hotel.com).

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Sicily
Crossroads of Mediterranean Culture
Italy
As the largest and most strategically located island in the Mediterranean Sea, it’s no wonder that Sicily has a pedigree on par with the most illustrious civilizations in world history. In the past century, Sicily has made headlines mostly for its organized crime operations and Godfathertype mob bosses, but long before there were Mafia dons, there were Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, and Normans here. From east, west, north, and south, they conquered and inhabited this sun-soaked triangle off the toe of Italy, endowed the island with fascinating monuments and works of art, and enriched the cultural patchwork that is still so magnificently evident in Sicily today. The key factor in shaping the particular character of bella Sicilia is that the island has been a crossroads of diverse populations for millennia. Suspended between the continents of Europe and Africa, Sicily has an exotic air all its own that’s difficult to pin down—the scenery and wealth of cultural attractions vary dramatically over the 25,000-sq.-km (9,653-sq.-mile) island. In the capital city of Palermo alone, you can walk down Parisian-inspired boulevards that empty into bazaars with a decidedly Middle Eastern feel. Wherever you go in Sicily, whether it’s to the chaotic cities of Palermo and Catania, or to laid-back seaside towns like Siracusa, or to destinations in the island’s rugged interior, you’re never lacking for things to see and do. Sicily is very easy to get around, whether by rental car or by the island’s extensive bus and train networks, and it’s also more affordable than “mainland” Italy. The earliest, most important group to settle on Sicily were the Greeks, who came in the 8th century B.C. and made the island part of Magna Graecia. The Greeks flourished for more than 500 years on Sicily, but wars with Carthage eventually left them vulnerable to Rome, which expanded here in the 3rd century B.C. Nevertheless, some of the greatest landmarks of all Greek civilization, rivaling even the masterpieces of ancient Athens, are in Sicily. The most glorious are at Agrigento’s Valley of the Temples, where seven Doric temples stand in various stages of preservation along a dramatic rocky ridge. In the western part of Sicily, the archaeological sites of Segesta and

Sicilian ruins.

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Selinunte also have impressive Greek remains, and on the island’s southeastern tip, Siracusa’s Parco Archeologico della Neapolis (& 39/0931/66206) is a fine place to explore a broad range of Greek and Roman ruins in one setting. Evidence of the Romans’ occupation of Sicily is scattered all over the island, though the most notable site is the Villa Romana del Casale in Piazza Armerina. Here, in mountainous central Sicily, a wealthy Roman built a villa in the 3rd century A.D., and adorned the floor of the entire complex with polychrome marble mosaics that depict everything from bikini-clad babes lifting weights to ferocious animal hunts. In the Middle Ages, it was Islam’s turn to reign in Sicily. Muslims from North Africa, Spain, and Persia all settled here, though eventually their infighting left them vulnerable to invasion by Norman forces, who conquered Sicily in the 11th century under Roger I. The castles and cathedrals that were built during the Norman period in Sicily are some of the island’s most unique and fascinating architecture, as they are a clear result of the artistic cross-pollination between Muslim and Christian traditions. Visit the Palazzo dei Normanni (& 39/ 091/7051111) in Palermo and the Cathedral of Monreale to see the dazzling mosaics that were commissioned during this time. And while the Renaissance, which transformed cities like Florence and Rome in the 15th and 16th centuries, largely skipped over Sicily, the island got its fair share of the next period—the Baroque— whose delightful artistic flourishes can be seen in the southeastern cities of Noto, Modica, and Siracusa. Of course, if and when you tire of the relentless history and culture that Sicily tosses your way, you can turn your attention to other pursuits. Mount Etna is the largest active volcano in Europe, and going to the summit is an unforgettable encounter with the forces of nature. The coast of Sicily offers plenty of beaches for sunning and swimming, particularly on the east coast, near Taormina, and along much of the southern coast, where the sand is sugary and the sea placid. —SM www.regione.sicilia.it/turismo.

( Palermo and Catania airports.

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From Naples or Civitavecchia (near Rome), Snav sails overnight to Palermo (& 39/091/6014211; www.snav.it). Grand Hotel Timeo, Taormina (& 39/0942/23801; www.framon-hotels. com). $$ Villa Fabbiano, Taormina (& 39/ 0942/626058; www.villafabbiano.com).

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Qeshm
The Persian Gulf’s Long Island
Iran
To look at the rocky and mostly barren coastline of Iran’s Qeshm island, it’s not immediately obvious how Cassell’s Bible could consider Qeshm a possible site of the Garden of Eden. Yet the interior of this sandy strip in the Strait of Hormuz holds sites so historic and naturalistic as to make the designation a bit more convincing. In addition to being an island that has seen epic battles and cultural commingling for thousands of years, Qeshm is also notable for its ecotourism attractions, from unique caves and rock formations to forests growing in its salty coastal waters. Though Iran is heavily associated with Islam today, Qeshm’s roots predate that religion by at least a millennium. Historians assert that two ancient sources, Ptolemy

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KOTLIN ISLAND and the Roman writer Ammianus Marcellinus, knew of this island and referred to it as “Alexandria.” Countless wars between Arabs and Europeans alike have been waged over Qeshm for its geopolitically important location near the mouth of the Persian Gulf—trade routes between China, Africa, and India all passed through here. The battle led by the Portuguese for control of Qeshm was among the island’s most ruthless, and evidence of their destructive occupation can still be seen. During an Anglo-Persian attack on Qeshm in 1622, English explorer William Baffin was mortally wounded on Qeshm. There has even been carnage here as recently as 1988: At the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. Navy guided missile cruiser Vincennes mistakenly shot down Iran Air flight 655— official reports state that the Navy thought the aircraft was an F-14 military fighter jet—resulting in 290 civilian fatalities. Qeshm, whose Arabic name, Jazirat AtTawilah, means “long island,” is 135km (84 miles) long by 40km (25 miles) at its widest point. At 1,200 sq. km (463 sq. miles), it’s the largest island in the Persian Gulf, and getting around to the sights takes some time; allow a few days to see it all and consider visiting with a tour operator (that’s the most common way for westerners to travel here). The evocative Portuguese castle, a striking amalgam of European fortress design and unmistakably Middle Eastern tawny stone and desert vegetation, is among the most visited man-made attractions on the island. The interior of Qeshm has some truly arresting natural features, like the Kharbas caves, which were formed 3,000 years ago by water erosion, and are believed to be sites of pre-Islamic worship places—perhaps by adherents of the cults of Mithras or Zoroaster. The otherworldly rock formations in Chahkouh Valley and Stars Valley have wind-swept escarpments that look like something out of Star Wars. The Hara sea forest is a protected area where the native hara tree grows in dense mangrove clusters in the coastal saltwater. In 1991, Qeshm was made a free trade zone. At the same time, the island’s tourism infrastructure was built up, making this a more congenial place to visit than you might expect. In the future, a bridge connecting Qeshm to Bandar Abbas, on Iran’s southern coast, will make connections even easier. —SM www.qeshm.ir. Qeshm-Dayrestan (served by Iran Air, via Tehran). From Bandar Abbas, fast ferry (25 min.) and regular car ferry (40 min.).

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$$$ Qeshm International Hotel, Qeshm City (& 98/763/522-4906). TOUR Iran Guided Tours (www.iran guidedtours.com).

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Kotlin Island
Headquarters of the Baltic Fleet
Russia
For most of us, the words “Russia” and “navy” call to mind images of the type propagated in such films and books as The Hunt for Red October. Stern commanders barking orders from spiritless control centers while wind and rain whip up fierce seas outside—that kind of thing. But the history of Kronshtadt, on Kotlin island, Russia’s most venerable naval port, goes much further back than the Cold War. From its position in the narrowest part in the Gulf of Finland, Kronshtadt and its forts

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ISLANDS OF HISTORY have been guarding St. Petersburg (Lenin) for 300 years. grad in the Soviet era; The sea fortress at Kronshtadt is among the most formidable in world history, and it has never been taken by foreign military force. Peter the Great founded Kronshtadt in 1704, after confiscating Kotlin island from Sweden. The body of water—the Gulf of Finland—where Kronshtadt sits is rather shallow and stays frozen for at least 4 months of the year. This allowed for some ingenious engineering and beefing-up of protection for the harbor of St. Petersburg: Workers hauled great wooden frames across the frozen sea, drilled holes in the ice, and constructed several entire islands on either side of Kronshtadt to completely block off the approaches to St. Petersburg. In the 19th century, Kronshtadt was fortified even further with 11 new batteries, armed with heavy turret guns. Kronshtadt’s most notorious chapter came in the early 20th century, when, on February 28, 1921, sailors from the battleship Petropavlovsk issued a resolution against the standing Bolshevik government and called for a return of political freedoms. Political leaders—Lenin and Trotsky chief among them—did not receive the rebellion well, of course, and in the aftermath of the Kronshtadt uprising, 8,000 people—civilians and sailors—left Kronshtadt to live in Finland, 527 people were killed, and 4,127 were wounded. Opened to visitors in the mid-1990s, the Kronshtadt of today has a slightly different look than it did in its heyday as headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet. For one, the church of St. Andrew, once the artistic pride and joy of the island, was demolished under the Communist regime in 1932. The early-19th-century Naval Cathedral—a striking monument in the neo-Byzantine style—is now the main architectural sight on Kronshtadt. Furthermore, sweeping changes in Russian political history over the past century, combined with engineering works, have physically changed the topography of the island. Several forts disappeared with the construction of the St. Petersburg Dam, and some of the forts can now be reached from the mainland without a boat. Among the most important surviving, visitable forts are Fort Konstantin, Fort Rif, Fort Chumnoy, and Fort Totleben. Even on a modern map, however, the slender shape of Kronshtadt and Kotlin Island is uncannily reminiscent of a warship, its bow patrolling the Baltic Sea. —SM www.russia-travel.com.

( St. Petersburg (30km/19 miles).

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From St. Petersburg, 1 hr.

$$$ Kempinski Moika 22, Moika river embankment 22, St. Petersburg (& 7/812/335-9111; www.kempinski.com).

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Puerto Rico
Really Old Old San Juan
The United States
On so many Caribbean islands, the past seems wiped away, eradicated in favor of palm-fringed beaches, cruise ship ports, and luxe resorts. Puerto Rico has beaches and resorts too, but I soon get bored with too much beach time—that’s why I was so happy to prowl around the narrow cobbled streets and courtyards of Old San Juan, the Caribbean’s biggest historic district. In 1540, long before any English settlers set up in North America, the staunch old fort of El Morro (the name means

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San Juan fortress.

“headland”) was built by Spanish colonists to guard the entrance to San Juan Bay. This massive battlement of sand-colored stone withstood many onslaughts over the centuries, from the first attack from Sir Francis Drake in 1595 down to the 1898 Spanish-American War bombardment that finally made Puerto Rico a U.S. possession. Over the years it grew from one stout round tower into a labyrinth of dungeons, barracks, vaults, lookouts, iron grates, and bulwarks that my kids scampered around with delight. Even more impregnable, the newer (1634) and larger Fort San Cristóbal was designed to protect the city from land-based attack while El Morro protected it from the sea. Connected to El Morro by tunnels and bastion walls, it’s a marvel of strategic design, with 150-foot-high (46m) stone walls and overlapping fortifications that cover 27 acres (11 hectares). Check out the Devil’s Sentry Box, a lonely little round tower on a triangular point, from which sentries often mysteriously went AWOL. Combined as the San Juan Historic Site, the two forts sit a mile apart along Calle Norzagaray (& 787/729-6960; www.nps.gov/saju).

Where else in the Western Hemisphere can you find so many 16th- and 17th-century buildings? On Plaza de San Jose (look for the statue of Ponce de León in the center), the tidy white colonial church of San Jose was founded by Dominican friars in 1523; the settlement’s first governor, Ponce, was buried here until 1913, when his remains were moved 2 blocks south to a marble tomb in the grand cream-colored Cathedral of San Juan, founded in 1521. The sprawling governor’s palace, La Fortaleza (Calle Fortaleza; & 787/721-7000), was begun in 1533, and the arcaded city hall, Alcaldía (Calle San Francisco; & 787/724-7171), dates from 1604. But the grand prize belongs to the castellated white Casa Blanca (Calle San Sebastian; & 787/7251454), the oldest extant house in the Western Hemisphere, which was built in 1521 for the de León family. To envision what Columbus saw when he first sighted the island back in 1493, you’ll need to head 25 miles (40km) east of San Juan to visit El Yunque, Route 191 (& 787/724-8774; www.fs.fed.us/r8/ caribbean), a 28,000-acre (11,331-hectare)

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ISLANDS OF HISTORY patch of virgin forest that encompasses four separate rainforest microclimates. On its walking trails, you can spot orchids blooming in the treetops and incredibly tall ferns swaying among the tree trunks, and hear the trademark soundtrack of any Puerto Rico visit—the peep of millions of tiny coqui tree frogs. —HH

& 800/866-7827; www.gotopuerto rico.com.

( San Juan International.
$$ Comfort Inn, Calle Clemenceau 6, Condado (& 877/424-6423 or 787/7210170; www.comfortinn.com). $$$ RitzCarlton San Juan, av. de los Gobernadores 6961, Isla Verde (& 800/542-8680 or 787/253-1700; www.ritzcarlton.com).

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Beaver Island
The Island Kingdom
Michigan, U.S.
Remote and inaccessible, this pastoral island on Lake Michigan’s northern shore doesn’t seem like much—a sparsely populated (with only around 500 year-round inhabitants) land of hushed forests and serene natural beauty. It’s hard to fathom the high drama that enfolded Beaver Island back in the mid–19th century, when a “king” ruled here, and his followers were forced to take drastic action against a power-mad tyrant. The first human occupants of Beaver Island were Native Americans, who used it as hunting and fishing grounds. White settlers arrived in the early 1800s, fishing, trapping animals for fur, and trading for goods from passing ships. By midcentury, however, a little community of Mormons had settled here, led by charismatic James Strang. A few years earlier, Strang was one of many who had claimed the leadership position of the Mormon movement when its head, Joseph Smith, was killed. Brigham Young eventually won that position, and Strang and a band of followers decided to strike out and find a place to build their own colony, settling on Beaver Island. As the colony grew, it clashed with resident non-Mormons, who were ultimately driven off the island. With the “gentiles” gone, Strang grew increasingly power-mad. He crowned himself “king” of the island he called “the Kingdom of St. James,” and embraced polygamy, which he had opposed for years. During their 8 years on the island, the Mormons were extremely productive, building infrastructure and turning profits, but growing more and more unhappy with their leader. Defectors tried to oust Strang through legal channels. When that failed, two followers took the law into their own hands and shot King James in the back at the water’s edge; he lived for 3 weeks before succumbing at age 43. (No one served time for the shooting.) Soon after, the 2,600-person Mormon colony on Beaver Island was forced off the island by a mob from nearby Mackinac Island . Fishermen from Ireland became the next wave of settlers. Today little obvious evidence of the “Kingdom of St. James” remains. The Old Mormon Print Shop Museum (& 231/ 448-2476; www.beaverisland.net), built in 1850, is one of the few structures left of the Mormon settlement; it now holds the Beaver Island Historical Society and has a room devoted to Strang and his island brethren. But the Mormons are still

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WASHINGTON ISLAND here in other, more subtle ways. If you decide to rent a bike to explore the 54-square-mile (140-sq.-km) island—a popular activity for seasonal visitors—keep in mind that the roads you’ll travel along were likely built by the Mormons, and the open fields where deer and snowshoe hare frolic were first cleared by the Mormons. Hardworking and industrious, the Mormons who settled this little slice of earthly paradise were eventually undone by a man who would be king of Beaver Island. —AF www.beaverisland.org beaverisland.net. or www.

( Charlevoix Michigan (14 miles/23km).
2 hr. from Charlevoix: Beaver Island Boat Company (& 888/446-4095; www.beaverislandboatcompany.com). $ Beaver Island Lodge, 38210 Beaver Lodge Rd. (& 231/448-2396; www. beaverislandlodge.com). $ Shanoule B&B, 27715 Paid Een Og Rd. (& 231/448-2092; http://beaverisland.org/shanoule).

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Washington Island
Refuge at Death’s Door
Wisconsin, U.S.
Thrusting into Lake Michigan like the thumb on Wisconsin’s mitten, the resort region of Door County is like a mellow Midwestern version of Cape Cod, a summer getaway spot full of dunes and rambling beaches, panoramic sea cliffs, tiny fishing villages (now tiny resort towns), and charming B&Bs. But what if you need to get away from Door County? Seven miles away, across a swirling channel, perches Washington Island, a welcoming haven throughout centuries of stormtossed history. First it was the Potawatomi Indians, who camped out here when the warlike Winnebagos drove them from the peninsula. Unfortunately, when the Potawatomis paddled 300 war canoes back over to attack their enemies, they drowned in the treacherous strait, forever after known as the Door of Death. In 1617, the island provided refuge for Huron Indians hiding out from the armed rampage of Iroquois Indians from New York. The French called the strait Port des Morts; in 1679, it apparently claimed the fur-laden ship of famed French explorer Robert LaSalle. In 1816, the yetunsettled island got its modern name from the crew of an American ship, the Washington, who were stranded here for days after getting separated from their fleet. Eventually, Death’s Door became safer to navigate, after lighthouses were built around the strait—you’ll see two on Pilot and Plum islands as you steam across on the car ferry from Door County. While most visitors today come to Washington Island each June to August for beaches, nature walks, and fishing, in earlier generations it offered safe haven to all sorts of refugees—a pre–Civil War settlement of runaway Negro slaves, Irish immigrants fleeing the Great Famine, and a sizable population of Scandinavian fishermen, hoping for a new start in the Great Lakes. An overwhelming number were Icelanders, who first came here in 1870 (it’s America’s second-oldest Icelandic community). On Main Road, look for an assemblage of traditional Norwegian carved log buildings called Den Norske Grenda; there’s a wonderful handcrafted Norwegian Stave Church across from the Trinity Lutheran Church on Town Line Road; and the Norse Horse Park (1391 Main Rd.; & 920/8472373; www.norsehorsepark.com) raises

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ISLANDS OF HISTORY several heritage breeds of Scandinavian horses, sheep, and poultry. Then what if you need to get away from Washington Island? On the island’s east end, in Jackson Harbor, a pedestrian-only ferry will take you on a 15-minute journey to tiny Rock Island. Though it’s now a state park, for many years Rock Island was the private retreat of C. H. Thorardsen, an Icelandic immigrant who made a fortune in electrical manufacturing in Chicago, and his wife, a daughter of Washington Island’s Icelandic community. Their summer home here is now open to the public, a traditional Scandinavian stone boathouse decorated with Icelandic-style runic carvings. Rock Island’s other attraction is the oldest lighthouse in northern Lake Michigan, now restored to its 1910 appearance, and aptly named after—who else?—the Potawatomi Indians, those first refugees to brave Death’s Door. —HH www.washingtonisland.com. Austin Straubel Airport in Green Bay, Wisconsin (85 miles/137km). Washington Island Ferry (30 min. from Northport Pier; & 800/2232094 or 920/847-2546; www.wisferry. com). Island Clipper (30 min. from Gill’s Rock; & 920/854-2972; www.island clipper.com). $$ Findlay’s Holiday Inn, 1 Main Rd. ( 800/522-5469 or 920/847-2526; www.holidayinn.net). $$ The Washington Hotel, 354 Range Line Rd. (& 920/8472169; www.thewashingtonhotel.net).

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Ship Island
The Original Six Flags
Mississippi, U.S.
It doesn’t look like much on the map—a skinny crescent of land 11 miles (18km) from shore, across the shallow Mississippi Sound from Gulfport and Biloxi. But there’s a very good reason it was named Ship Island: It has the only deep-water harbor between Mobile Bay and the Mississippi River. And in the checkered history of the Gulf Coast, that was a critical asset indeed. Today Ship Island’s pillowy white beaches are part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which stretches from Pensacola, Florida, to Gulfport, Mississippi. While Florida’s close-to-shore barrier islands are reachable via causeway, most of Mississippi’s are so far out, you need a private boat to get there. Ship Island is the big exception, with half- and full-day boat trips run out of Gulfport (see below). Before hitting the beach, look for park rangers waiting at the dock so that you can tour the park’s top historic site: Fort Massachusetts. There’s a lot of history for those ranger tours to cover. Over the years, six different flags have flown over this flat, scrubby little island—French (it was discovered in 1699 by explorer Pierre d’Iberville), British (acquired at the end of the Seven Years’ War), Spanish (ceded by Britain after the Revolutionary War), and then American (acquired in 1810 with the Louisiana Purchase). The British took it over again during the War of 1812 and used it as their base for a failed attack on New Orleans. Though it reverted to the U.S. after that war, when Mississippi seceded from the Union in 1861, the stars-and-bars of the Confederate flag were hoisted over the half-built circular fort on the western tip of Ship Island. Then the Union ship USS Massachusetts anchored offshore

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TYBEE ISLAND and bombarded the ragtag fort; eventually the Confederate soldiers abandoned the island, and Union troops moved in. Giving it the geographically confusing name of Fort Massachusetts (in honor of their ship), they built the brick casements you’ll see today, though the fort was never fully completed. For a few months things were really jumping—that precious harbor provided a vital base for Admiral Farragut’s fleet, which attacked New Orleans in April 1862 and Mobile in 1864. In later years of the war, however, this increasingly desolate outpost became a prison for Confederate POWs and a lonely home base for one segregated regiment, the all-black 2nd Regiment of Louisiana Guards. Remote and undeveloped, Ship Island lies at the beautiful mercies of the Gulf of Mexico. In 1969 Hurricane Camille sliced the island in two, creating East and West Ship Islands; there used to be a lighthouse here, too, but Hurricane Katrina knocked it down in 2005. In 2008, Hurricane Ike nearly submerged both East and West Ship Island. But repairs continue, and after all, that wind-swept drama is part of the Ship Island mystique. —HH

& 850/934-2600 or 228/875-9057, ext. 100; www.nps.gov/guis.

( Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.
Apr–Oct half-day tours run by Ship Island Excursions (& 866/466-7386 or 228/864-1014; www.msshipisland.com). $$$ Courtyard by Marriott Gulfport Beachfront, 1600 E. Beach Blvd., Gulfport (& 800/442-0887 or 228-8644310; www.marriott.com). $$ Holiday Inn Gulfport/Airport, 9515 Hwy. 49, Gulfport (& 888/465-4329 or 228/679-1700; www.ichotelsgroup.com).

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Tybee Island
The Lighthouse Keeper
Georgia, U.S.
Heading east on U.S. 80 out of the romantic port town of Savannah, you drive across a mass of barrier islands, separated by mazy narrow channels and nested inside each other like Russian dolls. Whitemarsh, Wilmington, Talihi, McQueens, Cockspur— often you don’t know when you’ve passed from one to the other. When you finally run into the crashing waves of the Atlantic, you’re on Tybee Island, a land’s-end sort of site that just cries out for a lighthouse. Today Tybee Island is the Savannah area’s top beach getaway, known for its wide 3-mile-long (4.8km) strand of soft white sand, where sea turtles nest and dolphins cavort just offshore. Way back in 1732, however, Georgia’s founding father, General James Oglethorpe, shrewdly sited the colony’s first lighthouse here. The Tybee Island Light Station (30 Meddin Dr.; & 912/786-5801; www.tybeelight house.org) survives as one of the country’s few complete light-station complexes—a towering lighthouse (Georgia’s tallest) and two spick-and-span white-frame cottages, one for the assistant lightkeeper, a larger one for the head lightkeeper and his family, recently restored and furnished in keeping with the historical period. Actually, the slim tapering black-andwhite masonry tower you see today is the fourth lighthouse on this site. The first two were set too close to the water and had to be replaced, but the third time seemed to be the charm—completed in 1773, that lighthouse survived the American

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ISLANDS OF HISTORY down. After the war, a new lighthouse was erected on the 60-foot-high (18m) base remaining from the 1773 lighthouse; its state-of-the-art Fresnel lens, 9 feet (2.7m) tall, was installed in 1867. (Climb 178 steps to the top to see it up close.) After it was converted to electricity, the last lighthouse keeper retired in 1948, though the U.S. Coast Guard still maintains the light. Just a couple miles west across the channel, you can also visit Fort Pulaski, named after the Polish general who died defending Savannah in the Revolutionary War. Nowadays it’s open to the public as the Fort Pulaski National Monument (off Hwy. 80, McQueens Island; & 912/ 786-5787; www.nps.gov/fopu). Built in 1847, it has the era’s typical pentagonal layout with brick walls 71⁄2 feet (2.3m) thick; artillery shells from 1862 are still embedded in the walls. On a rocky islet just off the eastern tip of Cockspur Island, notice the stumpy little white Cockspur Lighthouse, which somehow survived Fort Pulaski’s bombardment—it’s so short, the cannon shells miraculously arced right overhead. —HH Tourist office, 802 First St., Tybee Island (& 800/868-2322 or 912/786-5444; www.tybeevisit.com or www.tybeeisland. com).

Tybee Island lighthouse.

Revolution, when Savannah fell into British hands, and was still shining its beacon when the Civil War started. But being so close to Fort Pulaski, on neighboring McQueens Island, the Tybee light was in a risky position. In April 1862, Union forces under General Sherman landed on Tybee Island, set up artillery on the beach, and poured a relentless cannon fusillade at the fort, eventually breaching its masonry walls. Before fleeing, Confederate troops—determined not to let the enemy have a working lighthouse to guide its ships into the captured harbor—burned it

( Savannah.
18-mile/29km drive from Savannah. $$ DeSoto Beach Hotel, 212 Butler Ave., Tybee Island (& 877/786-4542 or 912/786-4542; http://desotobeachhotel. com). $$$ The River Street Inn, 124 E. Bay St., Savannah (& 800/253-4229 or 912/234-6400; www.riverstreetinn.com).

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Pea Patch Island
Reenactments at Fort Delaware
Delaware, U.S.
It’s 1864 all day, every day, at this Civil War island fort. Staff, decked out in period costumes and armed with a wealth of colorful lore, play the roles of laundresses, blacksmiths, ammunition sergeants, and even Confederate prisoners to help the heyday of Fort Delaware—the main event on Pea Patch island—come alive for visitors. Constructed between 1849 and 1859 in a strategic position in the Delaware River, Fort Delaware (& 302/834-7941; www. destateparks.com/park/fort-delaware) became an important Union fortress that protected the cities of Wilmington and Philadelphia when the Civil War broke out. The main fort building, a pentagon of cold, grey stone with mere slits for windows, is appropriately austere. The corners of the fort are imposing battlements, and the entire structure is surrounded by a forbidding moat. Once you’re within the fortress precinct, it’s a much less intimidating place, where you can easily imagine the everyday goings-on here in the 19th century, when Pea Patch was on active military duty. Tours of the fortress are a must, if a bit hokey, as guides are exceptionally well trained and entertaining and can relate fascinating tales of what went on here, such as how many soldiers and prisoners alike left detailed letters about life and conditions at Fort Delaware, including how badly the moat stank in the warm weather, or how POW patients were cared for at the fort’s hospital. For younger visitors, the fort offers all kinds of interactive, educational programs that really help bring the “dry” subject of Civil War history alive. As a day trip spot, Pea Patch is a great option for families who want a mix of activities. After filling up on history at the fort, which occupies only a fraction of the 300-acre (121-hectare) island, visitors can enjoy a picnic in one of the island’s nature areas. Throughout Pea Patch, there are trails that take you past the habitats of marsh birds that call the island home, including herons, egrets, and ibis. Pea Patch owes its folksy name to an old legend: At some unspecified “once upon a time,” a ship carrying peas ran aground at this island, spilling its cargo in the vicinity and giving rise to a new crop of peas on the land here—hence the name, Pea Patch. —SM www.visitthefort.com.

( Philadelphia (35 miles/56km).

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Three Forts Ferry from Delaware City or Fort Mott, New Jersey (5–10 min.; & 877/98-PARKS [987-2757]). $$$ Hotel du Pont, 11th and Market sts., Wilmington, Delaware (& 800/ 441-9019; www.hoteldupont.com).

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Otherworldly Landscapes

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Ternate Island
Scaling Heights & History
Maluku Islands, Indonesia
Ternate has been known for centuries as “Spice Island,” a nod to the time when it was the world’s only source of cloves, a commodity so prized that multiple nations fought to claim the island as their own. It’s located at the gateway to the north Maluku Islands, west of New Guinea , and is visually dominated by 1,721m-high (5,646-ft.) Mount Gamalama, an active volcano with three enormous peaks. In 1999 and 2000, Ternate made headlines when it was plagued with religious violence between Muslims and Christians that affected many parts of Maluku; it’s best to check into current political conditions before visiting this fascinating island. Most tourists today come here mainly to glimpse the volcano and its ash-scattered beaches, bordering surprisingly clear waters. Though Ternate’s 56,000 residents now raise corn, sage, coffee, pepper, and fruit along with cloves and do so in an awfully competitive market, the island’s history as a spice capital is still very much a draw for visitors. From the 12th to the 17th centuries, Ternate was dominated by various powerful sultans in the region. The island’s status as a trading mecca resulted in its being the first Maluku island to accept Islam, which is thought to have been introduced as a faith by traders from Java in the 15th century. In the capital town of Ternate, you can visit an old Sultan’s palace, which is now a museum. After the Portuguese arrived in the 15th century, a number of power struggles ensued until the 17th century, at which point the sultanates granted a spice monopoly to the Dutch. Evidence of the many forces that struggled for control here can be seen in the presence of Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch forts scattered around the island. Ternate changed hands again during World War II when it was occupied by the Japanese, after which it became part of the republic of Indonesia, which it remains today. In addition to its historic sites, Ternate boasts a number of natural attractions. Toiler Besar Lake, on the north side of the island, is a crater so deep that the water is far out of reach; that’s for the best perhaps, considering that it is thought to be populated with crocodiles. The lake is surrounded by forests, and is popular with birders who enjoy sighting many of the island’s exotic species, including cockatoos. A more modest site is also the most emblematic of the island: an enormous clove tree located on the middle of the island. Legend has it that it is the ancestor of clove trees the world over. It stands as a reminder of a time when the island was a trading heavyweight. Of course, many visitors will want to set their sights not on history but on hiking up Mount Gamalama. The views from the volcano are stunning, but there is risk involved: The volcano erupts frequently. The largest recent eruption was in 1980, when 30,000 people were forced to flee to the nearby island of Tidore. Guided tours can be arranged through Indonesia Volcano Trekking (& 65/370/692-225; www.indonesiavolcanoes.com). If you plan to hike, it’s best to go during the island’s dry season, which falls between May and September. —JD http://indonesia-tourism.com/northmaluku/accom.html.

( Babullah Airport.
$ Hotel Indah, Basoiri No. 3 (& 62/ 921/312-1334). $ Hotel Sejahtera, Jl Salim Fabanyo No. 21 (& 62/921/312-1139).

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ST. CROIX

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St. Croix
Columbus’s American Landing
U.S. Virgin Islands
It must have looked inviting when Christopher Columbus discovered it—the lush north coast of this 45km-long (28-mile) Antilles Caribbean island is the largest of its neighbors. Columbus promptly christened it Santa Cruz (Holy Cross), anchored his fleet of 17 ships, and sent some men ashore to the village to find fresh water. Naturally, along the way the crewmen decided to pick up a couple of the native Tainos for slaves. But they didn’t expect the Carib Indians—themselves aggressive invaders who’d only recently taken over the island—to come at them with spears and arrows. By the time the Europeans sailed away, one Carib and one Spaniard lay dead. And so began the history of European settlement in the United States. Columbus’s first landing on what is now U.S. territory was recorded as November 14, 1493, in the logbook from his second New World expedition; on the 500th anniversary of that landing, this coastal area was renamed the Salt River Bay National Historical Park (Rte. 75 to Rte. 80, Christiansted; & 340/773-1460; www.nps.gov/ sari). All the layers of St. Croix’s history are found here—vestiges of a prehistoric settlement, the remains of a ceremonial Taino ball court, the ruins of a 17th-century Dutch colonial fort—although you’ll have to hunt for them along hiking trails meandering around the tangled forest surrounding the bay. From 1880 on, the site’s original excavators were little better than plunderers, selling artifacts to museums around the world; current park managers hope to recover them to display in the new visitor center, a hilltop white estate house from St. Croix’s plantation era. In the meantime, Salt River Bay also boasts the largest remaining mangrove forest in the Virgin Islands and a submarine coral canyon; it’s fun to visit by kayak from Salt River Marina (try Caribbean Adventure Tours; & 340/7781522; www.stcroixkayak.com). After Columbus left, St. Croix had many different rulers over the years—the Spanish, the Dutch, the English, the French, even the Knights of Malta—but after the Danish took over in 1733, St. Croix really boomed. Sugar cane was its claim to fame—only Barbados produced more sugar—not to mention potent liquors distilled from the dregs of the sugar cane refining process. At one point, some 150 St. Croix plantations had factories for making molasses and rum. The sole survivor today is the Cruzan Rum Factory (pronounced like “Crucian,” the nickname for St. Croix residents), on the island’s lush western end (Estate Diamond 3; & 340/692-2280; www.cruzanrum. com/). Exploring the property on a half-hour guided tour, you’ll see many original plantation features, such as a green wooden greathouse, a 19th-century square stone chimney, and the ruined base of an old windmill (St. Croix was once thickly dotted with windmills). The sugary aroma throughout the plant is intoxicating, and it’s not hard to imagine that the laid-back islanders impart some of their own mellowness to the drink. —HH St. Croix Chamber of Commerce (& 340/733-1435). Henry E. Rohlsen Airport, Estate Mannings Bay.

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$$$ The Buccaneer, Gallows Bay, North Shore (& 800/255-3881 or 340/7732100; www.thebuccaneer.com). $$ Chenay Bay Beach Resort, 5000 Estate Chenay Bay Rte. 82, East End (& 800/ 548-4457 or 340/773-2918; www.chenay bay.com).

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Exploration

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Curaçao
Tropical Holland
Most people’s idea of a Caribbean island getaway involves unadulterated lazing on the beach and swimming in turquoise waters, but on Curaçao, those pursuits are decidedly secondary to cultural experiences. The largest of the Dutch Antilles, Curaçao is by far the most European island in the Caribbean, with Dutch-influenced architecture in the capital city of Willemstad. All over the island, forts from the colonial era still stand, giving Curaçao the feel of a Dutch Gibraltar. Curaçao is also well known for its warm people and distinctive local traditions. So if you’re one of those people who get bored after about an hour on the beach, but you still want a dose of Caribbean culture, then Curaçao may be the perfect island for you. In 1499, on an exploration voyage for Spain, Amerigo Vespucci spotted Curaçao, which had been previously inhabited only by the Arawak natives. Never the most peaceful colonists, the Spaniards proceeded to exterminate all but 75 of the Arawaks. The Spanish, however, would be ousted in turn by the Dutch, who occupied Curaçao from 1634. The island became an important outpost for the Dutch—even bigwig Peter Stuyvesant was sent to rule here in 1644—who endowed Curaçao with its most significant monuments and characteristic Caribbean-meets-the-Continent flavor. Thanks to its striking Dutch architecture and dramatic harbor, Willemstad was inducted into the UNESCO roster of World Heritage Sites in 1997. Parts of the city indeed have the uncanny feel of a tropical Amsterdam, with perfect rows of houses with steep gabled roofs lining cobblestoned streets. The pastel paint and the orange Spanish roof tiles are the only architectural reminders that you’re in the Caribbean, not northern Europe. A central

Houses on Curaçao waterfront.

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NEWFOUNDLAND canal divides Willemstad into two halves— old-world Punda and contemporary Otrabanda (“the other side”). The Queen Emma Pontoon Bridge, a sight in its own right, as it swings open throughout the day to let ships pass, connects the two districts. While in Willemstad, don’t miss the Waterfort Arches, an evocative stretch of 9m-high (30-ft.) barrel-vaulted stone built in the 17th century. This is one of the nicer parts of the city and has lots of restaurants on a breezy terrace facing the sea. Lively casinos and excellent duty-free shopping (concentrated in Punda) have given tourism a presence on Curaçao, and there are certainly water activities enough to satisfy swimmers and divers. A tour on the Seaworld Explorer submarine is a highly recommended way to check out the offshore treasures of Curaçao, including submerged shipwrecks and coral reefs teeming with sea life, while staying completely dry. Yet unlike some other Caribbean islands, which count on their high-rise resorts and sparkling beaches to bring revenue, Curaçao owes most of its current prosperity and multicultural atmosphere to the enormous refinery built here, by the Shell company in the early 20th century, to process crude oil from Venezuela, which lies just 56km (35 miles) to the south. Willemstad is also a big baseball town that has produced such MLB stars as Andruw Jones and whose Little League team has made it all the way to the World Series for the past decade. And what about that blue liqueur that’s named after the island? Blue Curaçao was in fact invented here, though the eerie color isn’t natural: The potion is actually a colorless spirit made from laraha (a type of orange), then dyed blue to make it look more festive on bar shelves around the world. —SM Tourist office: On the Punda side of Queen Emma Bridge (& 599/9/434-8200; www.curacao.com).

( Curaçao International (7km/4 ⁄ miles from Willemstad).
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$$$ Floris Suite Hotel, John F. Kennedy Blvd., Piscadera Bay (& 599/9/4626111; www.florissuitehotel.com). $$$ Hilton Curaçao Resort, John F. Kennedy Blvd, Piscadera B (& 800/774-1500 in the U.S. and Canada, or 599/9/462-5000; www.hilton.com).

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Exploration

Newfoundland
Land of Cod
Canada
It’s a chilly, harsh environment, prone to fog and long winters and leaden gray skies. The land is cursed with few natural resources save a raw, wind-swept beauty. In the early days of European exploration, this inhospitable landscape, known as Newfoundland—literally, new founde lande—was a favored landfall but slow to develop permanent settlements: Countries staking claims in the New World erected temporary fishing camps here and sailed home with their bounty. It’s believed that Newfoundland was the first place in the New World discovered by European explorers. Archaeological digs have uncovered evidence of a Norse settlement (perhaps Leif Ericsson’s Vinland) from around 1000 A.D., and Italian navigator John Cabot, working for the British, arrived in 1497—with such an

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Newfoundland.

inhospitable landscape, it was among the last places in North America to develop permanent settlements. L’Anse aux Meadows National Historic Site (& 709/ 623-2608; www.pc.gc.ca/eng/lhn-nhs/nl/ meadows/index.x) was discovered by an international team of archaeologists in 1960 and declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978. Visitors can see three reconstructed Norse structures here as well as Viking artifacts. When the navigator Cabot made landfall in 1497, he exclaimed, “O, buena vista!” Today, on the docks of the town that grew up around Cabot’s landfall, Bonavista, there is a replica of Cabot’s 20m (66-ft.) caravel, The Matthew, which is open for tours from mid-May to late September (& 709/4681493; www.matthewlegacy.com). But Newfoundland was more than a strategic pit stop for sailing ships arriving from northern Europe. It held a treasure that would prove as invaluable as gold or silver: In the Grand Banks island off the shores of the island was an immense fishing ground. The waters were so dense

with codfish, goes the legend, that you could leave your boat and walk on their backs to shore. For centuries the Atlantic cod was, as one writer put it, “the engine of the Newfoundland economy.” Cod caught on the Grand Banks during the age of exploration was salted and stored on ships destined for European tables. By the 1950s, the industrial world got in on the act, sending out supertrawlers to bring home tons of fish—a move that would prove disastrous. By the 1970s, the cod stock had dropped precipitously. Quotas were set, and fishermen found themselves having to travel farther out into more dangerous seas to make a living. But even quotas could not save the cod fishery from collapse. In 2004 a complete moratorium on cod fishing was imposed by the Canadian Department of Fisheries & Oceans. The cod may be gone, but Newfoundland—still sparsely populated, with only 480,000 people in a 108,003-sq.-km (41,700-sq.-mile) territory—has numerous other attractions, including spectacular whale-watching opportunities (some 20

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MOZAMBIQUE ISLAND species come through annually) and a thriving ecotourism trade, in which kayaking, boating, and hiking the water’s edge are bringing new generations to Newfoundland’s bounteous shoreline. Newfoundland’s capital, St. John’s, was founded in 1605, which gives it claim to being the oldest English-founded town in North America (1605), and it has a number of historic sites remaining from colonial times. Be sure to visit Signal Hill (& 709/772-5367), the city landmark, which rises up above the entrance to the harbor and is topped with a craggy “castle” complete with flag fluttering overhead. Flags have flown atop this hill since 1704, and over the centuries a succession of military fortifications have occupied these strategic slopes. —AF http://visitnewfoundland.ca.

( St. John’s.

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$$ At Wit’s End, 3 Gower St., St. John’s (& 877/739-7420; www.atwitsinn. ca). $$$ Winterholme Heritage Inn, 79 Rennies Mill Rd., St. John’s (& 800/5997829; www.winterholme.com).

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Exploration

Mozambique Island
Trading Post to the World
Mozambique
The name Mozambique conjures up images of steamy tropical nights, foreign intrigue, and exotic glamour. But in reality, this tropical nation on Africa’s southeast coast is far less glamorous—the longexploited Portuguese colony declared its independence in 1975, only to become entangled in a brutal 16-year civil war, complicated by drought and famine in 1982. Though it emerged from the shadows with a democratically elected government in the mid-1990s, much of old Mozambique was ravaged by the war; its future as a tourist destination depends mostly on its beautiful sun-kissed offshore islands like Bazaruto . Yet there’s one place where Mozambique’s colonial Portuguese past has been preserved: on the tiny Ilha de Moçambique (Mozambique Island), just 4km (21⁄2 miles) off the country’s northeast coast. Originally a thriving Arab port, the island was taken over by the Portuguese in the late 15th century, who saw its potential as an important trading post for the flow of spices and exotica from the East. Vasco da Gama even sailed here around 1498, pretending to be a Muslim to curry favor with the local sultan, until his ruse was uncovered. His parting shot to the angry mob that chased him to his ship was just that—a cannon shot onto the island. The Portuguese built the Fort of San Sebastian around 1558 to protect their precious new port, which soon became the colony’s most important settlement—and, indeed, the capital of Portuguese East Africa. In the late 19th century, however, the island’s fortunes plummeted. First the slave trade, one of its chief sources of wealth, was abolished. Then, in 1898, the capital was shifted to the mainland city of Maputo. By the time the Portuguese abruptly pulled out in 1975, the glittering former gateway to the country was abandoned and left to decay. That abandonment, however, helped to preserve not only the 16th-century fortress but an entire town filled with grand and richly ornamented 400-year-old architecture. Its wondrous mélange of Portuguese, Arab, Indian, and even Italian styles reflects the island’s cosmopolitan place in the 16thand 17th-century world. As the oldest

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European settlement in Africa, the site is of such historic significance that the entire island was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Today, Mozambique Island feels frozen in a time when the trade winds blew in from faraway lands. To get onto the island, you cross over a narrow one-lane causeway that’s 3.5km (21⁄4 miles) long; the bus or chapa (minibus) from the mainland city Nampula drops you off on the island’s southern tip. You can easily walk from one end of this tiny island to the other within a half-hour. Many of the historic buildings lie on narrow streets in “Stone Town,” on the island’s northern end; the majority of the island’s residents live in remarkable reed houses on the southern end. You can’t miss impressive Fort San Sebastiano, with its ingenious underground system of rainwater collection developed 400 years ago to compensate for the island’s lack of fresh water. Other fascinating structures include the grand and newly restored 1674 Palace of Sao Paolo, in Stone Town’s main square, and a 1522 chapel built in the Manueline architectural style from the Portuguese Middle Ages. A major restoration and rehabilitation project is currently underway to protect the buildings from further deterioration. —AF Mozambique Island tourist office (& 258/26/610081; www.mozambique tourism.co.za).

( Nampula.
180km (112 miles) from the island by bus or car.

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$$ Omuhi’piti (& 258/6/526351).

Exploration

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Zanzibar
Spices, Ivory & Slaves
Tanzania
Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, ginger, and pepper, which thrived in the tropical climate and fertile soils of Zanzibar, gave it and Pemba, the other main island that makes up the semiautonomous nation of Zanzibar, the nickname of “Spice Islands.” Yet Zanzibar hardly needs a tag line: Its name, with those double z’s and exotic “bar” at the end, has got to be one of the most evocative in the world of a bygone era of trade and exploration. The reality of Zanzibar’s history, however, hasn’t always been so romantic. Along with its sultry beaches and suggestive bazaars, Zanzibar has had a turbulent past that it’s still grappling with. Capitalizing on Zanzibar’s convenient location for trade—off the eastern coast of Africa and easy to defend—the first settlers, Arabs, came to the island in the 8th century. In fact, the first known mosque to be built in the southern hemisphere still stands here in the village of Kizimkazi, at the southern tip of the island. In the 15th century, Portuguese colonists arrived on Zanzibar and occupied the island for about 200 years, building up the port of Stone Town as their headquarters. But other European and Arab powers also vied for control of Zanzibar: The Portuguese were eventually ousted by the sultanate of Oman in 1729. Without a doubt, it was during the sultanate’s occupation, which lasted until the late 19th century, that Zanzibar experienced its most luxurious era—for the sultan and his court, who built opulent residences like the House of Wonders in Stone Town and kept numerous wives and concubines—as well as its darkest depths,

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JAVA for the slaves who became one of the principal trade commodities of these new Arab settlers. Zanzibar effectively became a major “processing center,” operated by and profiting the sultans, for slaves from East Africa who would go on to work in European plantations in the Indian Ocean region as well as the Americas. It’s estimated that some 50,000 slaves passed through Zanzibar in an average year in the 1700s and 1800s. Following military threats from and diplomatic relations with Britain, the Zanzibar slave market finally ended in 1873. Zanzibar’s favorable agricultural conditions made it an important growing and export center for the spice trade. Cloves were introduced in the early 19th century and exploded as a cash crop for the sultans who owned all the slave-staffed plantations. The heady aroma of the spices grown here would become synonymous with the romantic notion of Zanzibar. The island was also a chief exporter of ivory for many years. Several notable explorers also made their way through Zanzibar in the 19th century: Burton and Speke, on their quest to find the source of the Nile, made “cosmopolitan” Zanzibar their base camp. The first European to see Mount Kilimanjaro, John Rebmann, set off on his expedition from Zanzibar. Dr. David Livingstone also spent time here, and several of his personal effects are kept in the National Museum (Creek Rd., Stone Town). Owing to its long period of Arab influence, Zanzibar is predominantly Muslim and Swahili is the main language spoken, though there are other ethnic groups and religions here. The island has been independent of Britain since 1963 and is now a part of Tanzania. Although the “Spice Islands” atmosphere still lingers in its carved-wood doorways and vestiges of the sultanate’s tenure, Zanzibar is decidedly less prosperous today and has significant social and infrastructure problems. Still, historic Stone Town and the island’s excellent beaches draw plenty of tourists each year, who also provide Zanzibar with its main source of income. —SM www.zanzibar.net. Zanzibar-Kisauni International, 10km (61⁄4 miles) from Stone Town.

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Azam Marine Ferry from Dar Es Salaam, 2 hr.

$$ Zanzibar Palace