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Where in the World Do You Want to Go?

Where in the World Do You Want to Go?
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By Mary Jane Horton

We asked Fifty Is The New Fifty readers on Facebook: “If you were free to pack up and leave today … where would you go?”  The answers spanned the globe from Paris to New York City, a road trip, all of Europe, California, Wisconsin, Sonoma County, and Tennessee. And then there were the tropical locations that seemed to win out over all of the others. So, I guess when it comes right down to it, you want to go to a place where you can loll on the beach while taking in an unusual culture. Herewith some of the top tropical locales on the list:

Hawaii 

Hawaii, which came up several times on the list, isn’t just one tropical paradise; its different islands, their unique flavors and charms, make this island grouping a myriad of destinations in one.  Each island has its own essence that follows through with its offerings of unique sightseeing opportunities and natural wonders. Oahu is “energizing;” Kauai “rejuvenating;” Maui “captivating;” and the Big Island “inspiring.”

Oahu

Oahu, often referred to as the “heart of Hawaii,” offers the largest city on the islands – Honolulu – as well as bustling beach at Waikiki, the majestic Koolau Mountain range, and the tranquil beaches of the North Shore.  Honolulu is energizing in the way that many big cities are, with its shops, restaurants, and sightseeing venues.

Options for sightseeing include Pearl Harbor, which is home to five historic sites that immortalize the events of World War II. And downtown Honolulu is also the site of Hawaiian landmarks such as the Iolani Palace, the only official state residence of royalty in the United States; the King Kamehameha I Statue; and the Kawaiahoa Church, which is known as the “Westminster Abbey of the Pacific,” because it was the first Christian Church built on Oahu.

Kauai

Wide open spaces, beautiful vistas of white sandy shores and blue skies, far from the madding crowds. This is what Kauai offers – a place to get away from it all, but with lots to do. Kauai has some of the most spectacular natural sites in the islands, such as the emerald green mountains of the Napali Coast with its cascading waterfalls, narrow valleys and rugged terrain.  The only access is via the Kalalau Trail, an 11-mile trail that starts at Kee Beach, crosses five different valleys and ends at Kalalau Beach.

The tranquil Wailua River weaves by gorgeous waterfalls and lush, jungle landscapes. It is the only navigable river in Hawaii. The 20-mile river has two easily accessible waterfalls – Opaekaa Falls and Wailua Falls – and can be explored by kayak, outrigger canoe, or boat. Open-air boats also offer guided tours of the Fern Grotto a natural lava rock cave sheltered by draping ferns.

Maui

Maui, often called the Magic Isle, is full of the kind of natural wonders that will pull you in and make you want to stay. Haleakala National Park is probably the most famous of all Maui tourist attractions and contains two dormant volcanoes. Haleakala is actually the largest dormant volcano in the world and the highest mountain on Maui at 10,023 feet above sea level. Visitors—and locals—wake up early to drive up to the Haleakala Visitor Center (9,740 feet), the best spot to watch the sunrise where, on a clear morning, the sunrise is an unforgettable experience.

Hana is another popular destination, a quaint little town located at the end of the beautiful “Road to Hana” drive. The legendary road to Hana is only 52 miles from Kahului, however the drive can take anywhere from two to four hours since it’s fraught with narrow one-lane bridges, hairpin turns and incredible island views. The road leads you through flourishing rainforests, flowing waterfalls, plunging pools and dramatic seascapes.

Visitors can also delve into the island’s past, in a more “metropolitan” venue in the enthralling historic whaling town of Lahaina. Once known as Lele, which means “relentless sun” in Hawaiian, Lahaina is a historic town that has been transformed into a Maui hot spot with dozens of art galleries and a variety of unique shops and restaurants.

Big Island

Natural beauty is breathtaking on the big Island The awe-inspiring power of the Kilauea Volcano and the glorious waterfalls can be seen on the ground or via many helicopter tours. One of the most beautiful places, the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park, established in 1916, displays the results of 70 million years of volcanism, migration, and evolution. The park encompasses diverse environments that range from sea level to the summit of the earth’s most massive volcano, Mauna Loa at 13,677 feet.  Kilauea, the world’s most active volcano, offers scientists insights on the birth of the Hawaiian Islands and visitors views of dramatic volcanic landscapes.

The Outrigger Keauhou Beach Resort is an intriguing part of history – it is built around and among sacred and historical grounds, among them King Kalākaua’s Vacation Home and Bathing Pond, the Fish God lava rock monument, the Ali’i (Royalty) Birthing Pond, and several Heiau (Temple) ruins toward the ocean shoreline. The adjoining property to the South has a number of important Heiau ruins as well, which are currently being restored and made part of a cultural center and public park.

Bora Bora 

You can’t get much more exotic than Tahiti. And Bora Bora, which is over 100 miles form the main island of Tahiti, is the most remote island in the country. It has become a major tourist destination in recent years.  When I visited – in the 80s – there were only a handful of hotels on each island, now Bora Bora alone has over a dozen with all of the large companies – Four Seasons, St. Regis, Le Meridien, Sofitel, and Hilton – represented.

The flavor of Bora Bora is a wonderful mixture of South Pacific and French. Its tropical slopes and valleys blossom with hibiscus and white-sand beaches lead to emerald waters where colored fish animate the coral gardens as they greet the giant manta rays. It is quite simply one of the most beautiful islands in the world. While one could just plop down by the beach, look out at the horizon, and have a wonderful time, there are lots of activities.

Snorkeling is, of course, a favorite pastime for visitors.  The shallow turquoise waters of the lagoon are perfect for taking a peak underneath the sea. Watch the graceful stingrays in their natural environment, and get up close and personal with black tipped reef sharks. Besides snorkeling to see these beautiful creatures, you can take a walk under the water with an air-supplied helmet, on an underwater scooter, or a small submarine. The lower you get the more you will see – there are jack fishes, snappers, lemon shark, and damselfish, just to name a few. You might even see a turtle or moray eel. The water is so clear that you can also see all of the creatures from another perspective – from the air in a helicopter.

But, there is no better way to gain a sense of everyday Tahitian life and experience the culture of French Polynesia, than passing through the small villages on a circle-island tour. There is a coastal road following the lagoon shores, and you can either drive around the island by rental car or take a guided bus tour. Explore the island interiors on a 4×4 safari, guided nature hike, or horseback ride. Skim across the lagoons on a motorized canoe, sailboat, or powerboat.

Shopping and eating

Bora Bora isn’t a place where you think about doing major shopping but there is one item that is irresistible – black pearls. The world-renowned iridescent luster of these gems can only be created in Tahiti warm lagoon waters. Each Tahitian cultured pearl ranges in size and shape and the colors range from the darkest black to shimmering shades of green, blue, bronze, aubergine, or even pink.
When it comes to food, Bora Bora is expensive, as much of it has to be brought in from somewhere far away. So it is better – and cheaper – to eat like a local. The fish in French Polynesia is good. Go for ocean fish, rather than lagoon fish. Poisson Cru is a favorite Polynesian dish of tuna marinated in lime and coconut. It is delicious and healthy. The ‘fish of the gods’ (name in French is Saumon des diex) is wonderful, its taste and texture is like a combination of tuna and salmon. For an authentic Tahitian dining experience eat at the small roadside “snacks” and roulettes on the side of the road. They offer tasty, inexpensive meals. The best restaurants for fine dining include: the Bora Bora Yacht Club Restaurant, where you can eat in a relaxed, lagoon-side setting; Bora Bora Maikai Restaurant, with French Fusion cuisine; and the St. James with Polynesian fusion cooking.

Maldives

Probably not the first destination spot to pop into anyone’s mind (except the person who answered our question), the Maldives Islands are fairly isolated and many are uninhabited. The islands – actually an island nation — consist of a double chain of 26 atolls (ring-shaped coral reefs) about 250 miles southwest of India. The islands of Maldives are along the trading route of the Indian Ocean. Therefore visitors from neighboring regions and around the world have come in contact with the islands for as long as history has been recorded. The influence of many people and their cultures has had a long-term affect on the Maldivian people, the language, beliefs, arts, and attitudes.

The mixing of cultures is very much seen in Maldivian arts. The music played with the local bodu-beru (big-drum) resembles that of African drumming. The dhoni (a unique Maldivian sailboat) is an art form built with skilled craftsmanship, with significant similarities to the Arabian dows. The fine artistry of Maldivians, seen in the intricate details on wooden beams in antique mosques, represents influences from Southeast Asian architecture. The culture has continued to evolve with the times. Locals still eat fish and fishermen still spend days out at sea, but tourism now takes a standing prominence.

For those who want an island vacation in the truest sense, Maldives has deep blue seas, turquoise reefs, white sandy beaches and palm trees. While it is the perfect place to sit on a beach and watch a sunset with a cocktail balanced on your hand, it is also a geographical marvel where there are thousands of fish swimming around the vivid corals just a few feet away from where you sit. Aside from the island capital Malé, outsiders are only permitted onto inhabited islands for brief visits, thereby limiting their impact on traditional Muslim communities. Most tourists are taken straight to their island hideaway by seaplane or speedboat, where they are free to drink alcohol and get luxurious spa treatments, insulated from the everyday Maldives, where alcohol is outlawed and skimpy beachwear frowned upon. The 100 resorts spread through the nation are all quite luxurious, and all mini-cities unto themselves. Fish is the best thing to eat here, as it is abundant and fresh.

Malé

On the main island there are many four-and five-star resorts with outstanding spas and water activities. The island capital of the Maldives teems with high rises and narrow streets, all ringed by seawalls. Shopaholics can savor Male’s flavors in the local markets, which are packed with fresh produce, and along Chaandanee Magu, the spot for local souvenirs, such as carved wooden dhonis, miniature replicas of the boats dotting area waters. The golden-domed Friday Mosque presides over the landscape, while the underwater riches of the atolls lure scuba enthusiasts from around the globe.

Addu Atoll

The area is known as the “second city” of the Maldives. With 25 great diving locations, the island is perfect for those that love to see great reefs and underwater mammals including the manta ray, green turtles and lobsters. Unlike other atolls of Maldives, Addu city possesses a natural anchorage within the city basin, as the atoll is land-locked with large islands surrounding the atoll. This results in a natural harbor that is very calm and safe for sea vessels at all times, and is not affected by seasonal changes.

Naifaru

This is one of the most romantic islands in the country and perfect for honeymooners. The white beaches and vibrant blue sea make it a heavenly location in which to relax with a loved one. The sand mountains are also a great place to explore.

Seychelles

Another Indian Ocean paradise, the Seychelles Islands are just south of the equator about 1,000 miles away from mainland Africa. The Republic of Seychelles, which is part if the African Union, is an archipelago of tranquility and harmony, and it is famous for its amazing beaches and great natural diversity –from lush forests down to the warm azure ocean. Of its 115 islands, 41 interior islands constitute the oldest mid-oceanic granite islands on earth while 74 outer islands form the 5 groups of low-lying coral atolls and reef islets.

Seychelles is home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the legendary Vallée de Mai on Praslin where the unusually shaped Coco-de-mer nut grows high on ancient palms and fabled Aldabra, the world’s largest raised coral atoll, first seen by early Arab seafarers of the 9th century A.D.

The Inner Islands, mostly large, cluster around the principal islands of Mahé, Praslin and La Digue, forming the cultural and economic hub of Seychelles, as well as the center of its tourism industry. Together they are home to the majority of Seychelles’ accommodation facilities as well almost the entire population of the archipelago.

The cosmopolitan Seychellois are a colorful blend of peoples of different races, cultures and religions.  At different times in its history, people of African, European and Asian origin have come to Seychelles, bringing with them their distinct traditions and customs and contributing to the way of life and to the vibrant Seychellois culture. One can see these influences at work throughout the domains of local art, cuisine, music, dance and architecture.

The architectural design of some of the grand old houses with their steep roofs are representative of a style adapted for comfortable living in the tropics that displays influences from Seychelles’ French and British colonial heritage. Modern architecture attempts to assimilate traditional styles with practical features designed to capture the island breezes.

Local artists continue to exhibit diverse styles that echo the multi-ethnic backdrop of the islands and bear testament to the various influences that have come to bear.  Creole music and dance have their roots in African, Malagasy and European cultures with rhythms traditionally accompanied by simple drums and string instruments that, today, include such recent imports as the violin and guitar.

Mahé

Mahé is the largest island, cultural and economic hub of the Inner Islands, and the international gateway to Seychelles. It is home to the international airport and the nation’s capital, Victoria. The island is home to almost 90 percent of the total population (or approximately 72,200 people) and reflects Seychelles’ diverse ethnicity and descent from African, Indian, Chinese and European populations. With a backdrop of towering 1000m granite peaks, Mahé is an extraordinary treasure trove of flora that has evolved over centuries of splendid isolation.

Praslin

Praslin, with a population of 6,500 people, is Seychelles’ second largest island. A leisurely tour around the island by car will take approximately two hours. The island features truly exquisite beaches such as Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette, both appearing on the top-10 list of world’s best beaches in recent years. Praslin stands at the forefront of Seychelles’ tourism industry with a strong tradition of hospitality and wide range of accommodation facilities. It also provides a base for excursions to neighboring islands, some of which are important sanctuaries nurturing rare species of endemic flora and fauna.

La Digue

Close neighbor to Praslin and to its satellite islands of Félicité, Marianne and the Sisters Islands, La Digue is the fourth largest island in Seychelles.

La Digue’s forests also contain a wealth of flora in the form of delicate orchids, tumbling vines of vanilla, as well as trees such as Indian almond and takamaka. Gardens blaze with hibiscus and nepenthes against a backdrop of swaying coconut palms. La Digue is an island where time stands still and time-honored traditions such as travelling by ox-cart and bicycle are still king. Traditional methods of boat building and refining of coconut products (copra) are still. And he friendly atmosphere of this intimate island with its languid pace of life, traditional architecture and breathtaking beaches, make it a must-see for visitors. La Digue has numerous and diverse accommodation for visitors, and its picturesque satellite islands are ideal for snorkeling and diving excursions.

 

 

 

 

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